The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 28th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 28th, 2012


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at

Happy New Year everybody!


Brian Piccioni

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1.        The x86 Power Myth Busted: In-Depth Clover Trail Power Analysis

A very detailed exploration of power consumption and Intel’s attempt to show it is back in the game. Not surprisingly, a lot of power is used by things other than the processor, and, in any event, the choice of software (including OS) makes a difference. So, Intel is back in the mobile game, however, the game might be changing.

“Intel’s role in the industry has started to change. It worked very closely with Acer on bringing the W510, W700 and S7 to market. With Haswell, Intel will work even closer with its partners – going as far as to specify other, non-Intel components on the motherboard in pursuit of ultimate battery life. The pieces are beginning to fall into place, and if all goes according to Intel’s plan we should start to see the fruits of its labor next year. The goal is to bring Core down to very low power levels, and to take Atom even lower. Don’t underestimate the significance of Intel’s 10W Ivy Bridge announcement.”

2.        No Sales Pop for a New Version of Windows

There hasn’t been a ‘sales pop’ associated with a new OS for nearly a decade. Why would there be? Does the author (or Microsoft, or Wall Street) think people are going to replace a functioning piece of hardware just to experience a new user interface? Until such a time as new application pop up (and there are none such on the horizon) past patterns of replacement cycles are simply irrelevant.

“It used to be that a new version of the Windows operating system was enough to get people excited about buying a new computer, giving sales a nice pop. Not this time. Windows 8, the latest edition of Microsoft’s software, failed to pack shoppers into a Microsoft store in a mall here last week, at a time when parking lots in the area were overflowing. The trickle of shopping bags leaving the store with merchandise was nothing like the steady stream at a bustling Apple store upstairs.”

3.        Osram brings transparent OLEDs to industry maturity

I have never heard of transparent OLEDs before, so this caught my eye. That being said, it remains to be seen whether there are practical applications beyond sculpture.

“Osram presents a luminaire in the form of the Rollercoaster designer luminaire featuring industry-mature, transparent OLEDs for the first time. The ‘luminous glass panels’ are intended for series-production from 2014 onwards, and organic light emitting diodes will be the first choice in the future for transparent light designs.”

4.        This $5 lamp is powered by gravity (and just destroyed its funding target on Indiegogo)

LEDs are so efficient you don’t need much in the way of electricity to power them. This is a good idea, but not exactly rocket science. After all, Doc Savage had wind up flashlights in the 1930s.

“Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves have spent four years developing GravityLight, which uses the Earth’s gravity to generate enough power to light an LED bulb for half an hour — no electrical grid, batteries, or any external generator required.”

5.        Report: Few Using Smart TVs to Full Capacity

I don’t really see the point of using TVs for Twitter and Facebook, even if you can. Then again, I don’t see the point of Twitter or Facebook. It make sense to use a TV for viewing OTT video, because that’s the sort of thing you use a TV for and you use a tablet or PC for other things.

“While about 60 percent of Smart TV owners are using their sets to access Over-the-Top (OTT) video services, very few are taking advantage of available apps like Twitter and Facebook, or using their TVs to browse the Web, according to NPD.”,2817,2413565,00.asp

6.        Big Change in 2013 LCD TV Panel Supply

If I read this correctly, LCD panels are shifting up in size. This is probably because the larger the panels, the more it costs. Since yields have likely improved, it is probably just as easy to make a square inch of a 28” panel today as a 24” panel last year, so the producers want to make a small profit rather than just breaking even.

“Since Q2’12, the LCD TV panel market has witnessed a shift in screen sizes, with new models focused on 28”, 29”, 39”, 43”, 48”, 50”, 58”, and 60” displays. The rise of the new sizes has become the hottest topic in the LCD TV market. According to the Quarterly Large-Area TFT Panel Shipment Report, these new LCD TV panel sizes accounted for 12% of total LCD TV panels shipped in Q3’12, up from 5% in Q1’12 and 8% in Q2’12. We forecast that the share of these new sizes will stabilize in Q4’12 before passing 15% in 1H’13, based on panel makers’ shipment plans. We expect the new sizes to change the LCD TV panel supply in 2013.”

7.        Has 3D film-making had its day?

I recently watched the Hobbit and wished the film had been available other than in 3D (it wasn’t where I was). Although I liked the film (not much on story, but fun) the stereoscopic presentation was more annoying than anything else.

“It’s three years since audiences around the world swarmed into cinemas to see James Cameron’s Avatar. It rapidly became the biggest grossing film of all time, in part because of its ground-breaking digital 3D technology. But, in retrospect, Avatar now seems the high-point of 3D movie-making, with little since 2009 to challenge its achievement. Three years on, has the appeal of 3D gone flat?”

8.        3D printing with metal: The final frontier of additive manufacturing

The videos are pretty interesting, if you ever wondered how it’s done. I don’t see the point of the stainless steel/bronze approach since you could just as easily 3D print in wax and do a ‘lost wax’. The laser process is seriously cool, however. You can imagine what will be possible as speeds go up and costs come down.

“Few areas of technology have seen as much development in one year as that of 3D printing. Undoubtedly, the most dramatic and challenging has been printing with metal. For your enjoyment, we have assembled a few incredible videos that showcase the power and flexibility of 3D printing with metal — to not be amazed is to be numb to the technology of our day.”

9.        Maker Mom Builds Cookie-Cutter Empire With 3-D Printers

I was a little surprised to see that she was selling products which are covered by copyright, so she’ll probably get a few ‘cease and desist’ letters thank to this article. Still, one can see how a business which would not be possible prior to the development of affordable 3D printers is now viable.

“The video game designer has worked on PlayStation games like Resistance Retribution and Uncharted Golden Abyss. She’s also a self-described “jack-of-all-trades,” skilled with 3-D modeling tools like Maya, and knows how to design compelling characters with them. After having two children she decided to work from home, and in addition to keeping active in the computer graphics industry, she also created a wildly successful Etsy shop, where she sells 3-D printed cookie cutters based on nerd culture favorites Pokemon, Dr. Who and Super Mario Brothers.”

10.   Why everybody wants a slice of Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is an interesting concept and it is a little surprising it has caught on as much as it has. Unfortunately, it is not an open source platform, nor is it the engineering marvel commentators generally portray it to be: it is just a ‘System On a Chip’ (SOC) on a PCB. It’s just a matter of time before a truly open source equivalent becomes available, possibly designed by one of numerous ARM SOC vendors.

“With its rough-around-the-edges aesthetic, however, he didn’t expect it to catch on very fast and, in the early days of development, set a sales target of 10,000 units within his lifetime. But when the RPi launched in February of this year, demand far outran supply, and all 10,000 sold out immediately — crashing the distributing websites in the process.”

11.   “Neuristor”: Memristors used to create a neuron-like behavior

To build a neural network you need analog memory, and that is one of the functions of a memristor. ‘Spiking’ is doubtless and artefact of evolutionary history. In any event, I figured neural networks would be an important application for memristors some years ago.

“Computing hardware is composed of a series of binary switches; they’re either on or off. The other piece of computational hardware we’re familiar with, the brain, doesn’t work anything like that. Rather than being on or off, individual neurons exhibit brief spikes of activity, and encode information in the pattern and timing of these spikes. The differences between the two have made it difficult to model neurons using computer hardware. In fact, the recent, successful generation of a flexible neural system required that each neuron be modeled separately in software in order to get the sort of spiking behavior real neurons display.”

12.   Forsee Holiday Customer Satisfaction Study: Amazon Sets Standard; JC Penny, Apple, Dell Drop

I can’t say for certain that this is a significant finding. However, it is worth noting that the Jobsian “Reality Distortion Field” meant that Apple could do things like launch a half generation behind netbook, sell it at 3X the price, and have people fawning over their ‘innovation’. The scales may be falling away from peoples’ eyes.

Note the link to the full study at the bottom of the page.

“Though satisfaction with top retailers remains the same, a few big-name retailers suffered declines. Apple’s online retail store slides four percent to 80, slipping from a tie for second place and out of the top five entirely, registering its lowest score in four years. PC competitor also falls four percent to 77 and below the Index average. But the biggest year-over-year decline goes to, with a six percent decline to 78.”

13.   The End of the Public Phone Network

It is hard to believe the Internet and IP technology, has more or less replaced POTs in a couple decades. It is even harder to believe the treaties behind POTs are nearly a century old. This is an interesting read just for the history lesson.

“The 134-year-old U.S. public phone network is dying—a third of all U.S. households are already cellphone-only. And it’s not just cellular that’s killing it. More and more businesses and households are trading their traditional switched telephone service for voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, services. That’s led to a paradoxical situation, where a huge number of phone calls start out as Internet packets and end as Internet packets, but have to be switched to, and then from, a voice circuit in between.”

14.   Wikipedia moving from MySQL to MariaDB

I am not sure if I fully understand the situation, however, MySQL is owned by Oracle who offers a number of proprietary extensions. MariaDB is open, and superior, which suggests to me that a lot of developer support will shift over to MariaDB, leaving MySQL in the dust. Poor Oracle.

“For years, MySQL has been the dominant open-source database management system (DBMS). Recently, MariaDB, the MySQL fork created by MySQL’s founder, has been making in-roads and Wikipedia, the world’s sixth most popular Web site, is shifting over from MySQL to MariaDB.”

15.   pressureNET Data Visualization

I was not aware that smartphones even had barometers, but since they do (apparently) this seems like the sort of application which can be of some use. Above all, it shows the potential utility of a large collection of data points (location and pressure) and one which could not be envisaged prior to a mobile Internet.

“pressureNET is an open source barometer network that runs on Android and collects atmospheric pressure measurements from barometers inside phones and tablets. The project is open source on GitHub. We plan on using the collected data to improve weather forecasting models.”

16.   This Tiny Gizmo Could Be A Very Big Deal In 2013 – And Beyond

The video is pretty cool, though I confess I can’t see much in the way off applicability beyond gaming.

“The company is called Leap Motion, and if you want to get an idea of how much everyone in San Francisco is buzzing about them, consider this: A few weeks ago I was visiting a different hot new startup in San Francisco, and in the middle of their demo the executives said, “By the way, have you heard about Leap Motion?” Then they interrupted their own demo to show me a video showing what Leap Motion’s software does.”

17.   Lighter-than-air material discovered

Well, not quite, otherwise it would float away. Aerogels, which are similar in nature, can be used as super insulators, and even to stop hypersonic dust particles in space.

“One cubic centimeter of aerographite weighs just 0.2 milligrams, which is four times lighter than the previous record holder, 5,000 times less dense than water, and six times lighter than air. Aerographite is so light that it is difficult to work with it in a normal lab. Any small movement in the lab can create winds that blow the material around.”

18.   Adafruit to Teach Electronics Through Puppets in New Kids’ Show

Ladyada is a sort of leader in the Maker community and Adafruit is a great place for stuff and information (including schematics, software and so on). I think this is a great initiative, especially given the lack of education regarding electronics (arguably as important as chemistry nowadays).

“Their new online show, titled Circuit Playground, will teach the essentials of electronics and circuitry to children through kid-friendly dolls with names like Cappy the Capacitor and Hans the 555 Timer Chip. Limor “Ladyada” Fried, Adafruit’s founder and chief engineer (and 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year), will host the episodes, with her team assisting with onscreen and puppeteering duties.”

19.   Librivox – Free Public Domain Audio Books

This might be of some interest, especially to travelers.

20.   Is Growth Over?

Though I caution anybody against actually believing economists know what is going on, like many economists, Krugman sometimes says interesting things. I think the comment about GDP in in a robotic words is a profound one.

“Consider for a moment a sort of fantasy technology scenario, in which we could produce intelligent robots able to do everything a person can do. Clearly, such a technology would remove all limits on per capita GDP, as long as you don’t count robots among the capitas. All you need to do is keep raising the ratio of robots to humans, and you get whatever GDP you want.”

21.   Pocket test measures 50 things in a drop of blood

Personally, I think Kurzweil is a bit loopy, however, sometimes he has neat things. Watch the video, though: it’s a bit more balanced than the article. However, it is quite easy to see how this sort of test could be automated to ensure consistent handling.

“A new device about the size of a business card could allow health care providers to test for insulin and other blood proteins, cholesterol, and even signs of viral or bacterial infection all at the same time — with one drop of blood.”

22.   Introducing Typingpool, My Software for Easy Audio Transcription

An interesting business model, and one which may be of some actual use to the readership. I’d imagine that, once the transcription is completed, a quick review would catch most of the mistakes.

“Typingpool chops your audio into small bits and routes them to the labor marketplace Mechanical Turk, where workers transcribe the bits in parallel. This produces transcripts much faster than any lone transcriber for as little one-eighth what you pay a transcription service. Better still, workers keep 91 percent of the money you spend.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 21th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 21th, 2012


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at

Happy Winter Solstice Celebration everybody!


Brian Piccioni

ps: Some subscribers did not see the Geek’s List last week as Google Gmail classified it as spam and drop it into reader’s spam mailbox. I have ‘Subscribe’ and ‘Unsubscribe’ links below, which seem to fix the problem.

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1.        SSD prices continue to plunge

One rule of thumb is never to bet against silicon: as we predicted a number of years ago, flash memory will displace most all storage media over the coming few years. I just bought a $240 Gb SSD for less than $200 retail …

“After dropping 20% in the second quarter of 2012 alone, SSD prices fell another 10% in the second half of the year, according to data from IHS iSupply. The better deals for SSDs are now around 80- to 90-cents-per-gigabyte of capacity, though some sale prices have been even lower, according to Ryan Chien, an IHS SSD and storage analyst.”

2.        Toshiba starts GaN-on-Si LED production

Announcements like this suggest pricing for LEDs for general purpose lighting will soon plummet. Gallium Nitride over Silicon should be much more cost effective than traditional technologies, and manufacture on 200 mm wafers is a huge improvement over the current, miniscule, two or three inch wafers.

“The white LEDs are made using gallium nitride grown on 200-mm diameter wafers of silicon. Toshiba said it plans to ramp capacity up to 10 million LEDs per month and said it wants to secure a 10 percent market share by 2016.”

3.        LED lighting revenue to peak at $5.8bn in 2015

I don’t know about the timing or the size of the revenue plateau, however the general idea is probably correct: price erosion and an extended replacement cycle will mean the market for LEDs in general purpose will end up being much smaller than the market for either incandescent or CFL lamps. Nonetheless, LEDs will crush those markets as prices plummet, as they surely will. The performance of current white LEDs is, quite frankly, incredible, and the only barrier to mass adoption is price. Like I said above – never bet against silicon.

“However, IMS Research expects shipments of LED lamps to remain relatively flat from 2015 onwards. “This is mainly due to fewer replacements being required each year due to the longer-lifetime of CFL and LED lamps reducing the overall market.”

4.        Tablet PCs are shifting supply chain strategies…can you say 100M iPads?

Some interesting figures and it is interesting to ponder the fact that many component manufacturers are also device manufacturers, leading to real and potential conflict.

“Competitive conflicts are now a big concern, points out Jeff Lin, value chain analyst at NPD DisplaySearch; he cites Samsung Display planning to reduce its share in Apple and increase support to captive brands and other external customers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. New competitors in the market will seek to emphasize touch notebooks and ultraslim devices in 2013, while entrenched mobile PC competitors (Lin points to HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Acer) need solid agreements with their own OEMs. Their collective demands will strain supply-chain logistics, from panels to OEMs, he notes.”

5.        Samsung’s share of the Android market doubled in 2012

Samsung intelligently backed Android, and delivered good products which use it as a platform. OSs come and go and handsets are essentially fashion items nowadays, so it would be unwise to assume Samsung will retain its perch for long.

“Samsung (005930) has seen unprecedented growth in the mobile market. Not only has the company dominated the Android operating system, in the past year it also became the number one smartphone and overall mobile vendor in the world. Samsung has been a major player in the Android market since its original Galaxy S smartphone, however in the past year the company experienced growth like no other.”

6.        Apple achieves its highest ever Smartphone share in US

In the olden days, with technology at least, we would look to success in the US as representative of what will happen in lesser markets. It is not clear that rule of thumb still applies. Apple will remain a force for some time, but if you are in the fashion business (and that is what smartphones are) you have to realize that fashions change.

“The latest smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech shows Apple has achieved its highest ever share in the US (53.3%) in the latest 12 weeks*, with the iPhone 5 helping to boost sales. In Europe, however, Android retains the highest share with 61% of the market, up from 51.8% a year ago.”

7.        Apple kills a Kickstarter project: Portable power project POP refunding $139,170 to backers

This is a silly product, however, if you had any doubts regarding Apple’s jackboot level control of its customers this should help remove them.

“Edison Junior, the technology and design lab behind the POP portable power station, is returning the full $139,170 in funding it received from Kickstarter backers to develop the device. Unfortunately, Apple has refused to give the project permission to license the Lightning charger in a device that includes multiple charging options.”

8.        3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, Up! and Solidoodle

Unfortunately, there are too many ‘product roundup’ articles this time of year, which makes putting this list together a bit of a challenge. I have a strong interest in 3D printers, so I think this one is at least worth looking at. It should be noted that these products have considerable limitations in terms of size and material, however, they do have their uses.

“3D printing is a fascinating new technology and an exploding new market. The process involved is pretty basic actually. Heat up some plastic, and sort of like that Play-Doh Fun Factory you were so fond of as a kid, you extrude the melted plastic out to create objects of magnificence — because you built it yourself.  However, 3D printers are much more akin to their cousin the 2D inkjet printer, though objects are being printed not only on the traditional X-Y plane but with that magical third “Z” dimension of height. In addition, advancements in 3D CAD software packages like Google SketchUp (now a product of Trimble) are making it increasingly easier for the novice DIY designer and budding 3D model artist to make their own designs a reality.”

9.        Additive Manufacturing 101: Changing the Future of Product Development and Manufacturing

Most of what we see on the web regarding 3D printing is for and about enthusiasts, not for industrial use. Here is a webinar (Powerpoint and audio) by a system manufacturer which covers the subject from an industrial perspective. Unfortunately, registration is required.

“Additive manufacturing technologies are also commonly known as “Rapid Prototyping” or “3D Printing” as well as other names. And, although they are still being used by design engineers for concept modeling and prototyping, that’s not all. Manufacturing engineers are now employing these technologies for various applications such as jigs, fixtures, check gauges, and even as a bridge-to-tooling and low-volume end-use parts.”

10.   What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You

I don’t have anything to do with Facebook, and I don’t even know what Instagram is, however, it seems that the way social media works is, you gat a large enough user base then you change the legal speak in order to violate the privacy of your users more and more, and even steal, and sell, their intellectual property. That may be why I don’t have a Facebook account or know what Instagram is.

“A section of the new terms of service, titled “Rights,” notes that Instagram will also be able to use your photographs and identity in advertisements. “You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,”

11.   Thank you, and we’re listening

Funny what blowback, boycotts, and outrage will do: it was all a misunderstanding! Until next time.

“The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.”

12.   Report: data caps just a “cash cow” for Internet providers

In other news: sky is blue and water wet! I live in Canada, which has terrible and expensive Internet service. I live outside a city, so I have to use mobile internet (the same as a mobile phone). My provider, Rogers, can’t tell me my up to date usage within a 24 hour period, which makes it very difficult to avoid overage fees, for which they charge $10/Gb. Coincidence? No – it is purposeful abuse of customers by an oligopolist.

“Why do so many Americans now live with Internet data caps—and what are these caps doing to the future of broadband? Those are the questions posed by a new paper from the New America Foundation, which wants to shake up the lethargy that has descended over the data caps debate by pointing out just how odd the caps truly are. “Internet service and mobile providers appear to be one of the few industries that seek to discourage their customers from consuming more of their product,” write the paper’s authors. “The reason for this counterintuitive business model is that in the noncompetitive US marketplace, it is highly profitable.””

13.   Most Kickstarter Projects Fail to Deliver on Time

This is not all that surprising as few engineering projects are ever delivered on time, especially when it is a truly new product. I’d be interested in knowing how many projects actually ship, eventually.

“When CNN contacted the creators of the 50 highest-funded campaigns, all of which boasted estimated deliver dates of Nov. 2012 or earlier, the site found that only eight of them hit their deadline. Sixteen hadn’t even shipped yet, while the remaining 26 projects left the warehouse months late.”,2817,2413382,00.asp

14.   Calgary man stops shaking for first time in 10 years after ‘revolutionary,’ scalpel-free brain treatment

The frontiers of medicine are really starting to look a lot like Star Trek. It is interesting to note that none of this would be possible without massive and inexpensive computing power.

“He is one of only a few dozen patients worldwide to undergo the experimental procedure, part of a potential watershed in neurological treatment that is using sound waves, magnetic pulses and radiation beams to bloodlessly heal diseased brains instead of physically cutting into skull and white matter.”

15.   The Machine That Will Help End TB

Yet another example of the impact of computing and technology on healthcare. The test is expensive but cost effective relative to the lives saved and the quick treatment (or quarantine) of patients infected with resistant strains of TB, which helps mitigate transmission.

“Ngcobo’s speedy diagnosis and recovery were made possible by a machine called a GeneXpert, which sits atop a counter inside one of the trailers and resembles a high-end espresso maker. Although the advanced molecular tricks it uses to identify the DNA of M. tuberculosis would have been unimaginable outside a state-of-the-art biology lab a few years ago, the device is simple to use.”

16.   New dynamic dual-core optical fiber enhances data routes on information superhighway

It is hard to say how practical this novel fiber will be: is it stable, can it be manufactured cost-effectively and how hard is it to terminate? Nonetheless, it could lead to a new class of extremely high performance switches.

“Nanomechanical optical fibers do not just transmit light like previous optical fibers, their internal core structure is designed to be dynamic and capable of precise mechanical motion. This mechanical motion, created by applying a tiny bit of pressure, can harness some of the fundamental properties of light to give the fiber new functions and capabilities.”

17.   Detroit Is The Testing Ground For A New Open Source Wireless Network Technology

This is an interesting project, but not what I thought it was at first. It seems to be a method to establish a resilient ad hoc network which works even during natural disasters or, ahem, which cannot be shut down by the authorities ( Both are admirable goals.

“A section of Detroit will be the proving ground for a new open source wireless networking technology called Commotion. Commotion is a mesh networking technology that creates a wireless local area network for devices. The network can connect users to each other and with an Internet connection and can connect them to the greater web.”

18.   Why Your Kindle Is an Open Book to the Government

Not quite a repost, but a reiteration of the potential privacy impact of eReaders on privacy and personal security. Even if you think government oversight of your reading is a good idea, what happens if (i.e. when) the companies are hacked and the data broadly disseminated, or sold to advertisers and other companies?

“Today Americans read books on Kindles, Nooks, and iPads. But it’s a lot easier for the government to see what you’re looking at on your e-reader than to find out what you’re checking out from the library. The authorities don’t necessarily need a warrant to ask private companies that sell or lend e-books, such as Google and Amazon, to hand over private information about reader habits, from the books we buy to the digital notes we make in the margins.”

19.   We Have the Technology To Make Safer Guns

Guns are safe, people are not. There exists a spectrum of solutions ranging from securing weapons and ammunition (logic strongly resisted in the US) to the sort of nonsense used as a plot device in the latest Bond film. Why is it nonsense? Well, first because a crazed killer is simply going to use a weapon which recognizes his fingerprint, or whatever. Second, because a defensive weapon which has technology which may not work all the time (and these systems do not) is essentially suicide by proxy. Is cop going to want to draw a weapon which has to decide whether or not to fire? There is a reason Glock’s do not have ‘safeties’.

“There’s a singular exception to this general advancement: guns. Research shows that it’s possible to make safer firearms. There are a slew of sensible technologies that gunmakers could add to their products that might prevent hundreds or thousands of deaths per year. One area of active research is known as the “smart gun”—a trigger-identification system that prevents a gun from being fired by anyone other than its authorized user. (James Bond carries one in Skyfall.)”

20.   Stanford researchers advance the performance of thought-controlled computer cursors

An impressive advance and likely as sign of what will become commonplace within a few years. One major challenge is the need to implant electrodes into the brain, and the possibility those electrodes will stop working over time. Nonetheless, for someone with profound disabilities this would probably represent a huge advance.

“A team of Stanford researchers have now developed a new algorithm, known as ReFIT, that vastly improves the speed and accuracy of neural prosthetics that control computer cursors. The results were published Nov. 18 in the journal Nature Neuroscience in a paper by Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and neurobiology at Stanford, and a team led by research associate Dr. Vikash Gilja and bioengineering doctoral candidate Paul Nuyujukian.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 14th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 14th, 2012


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at  Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at


Brian Piccioni


1.        APPLE MARGIN SQUEEZE: Global Telecoms Are Now Refusing To Pay Up For The iPhone

Most of Business Insider’s stories have the feel of the National Enquirer, but they do occasional say something of value. When you are the clear market leader, you have volume and high margins. When you become a distant second, you can either have margin, or sale volumes (consider Macs, for example). Regardless of the product, there comes a time when its feature list stops expanding. This can happen due to a number of factors, but in the case of a mobile phone, size limits utility. It is reasonable to assume that we are at the ‘plateau’ phase for smart phones, and that prices and margins are only going to go down from here, and not just for Apple.

“Since launching the iPhone in 2007, Apple has been able to maintain an average price point for the iPhone of over $600, thanks to the iPhone’s superiority to other smartphones, generous carrier subsidies in major markets, and consumers’ desire for the phone.”

2.        $50 Android Smartphones Are Disrupting Africa Much Faster Than You Think, Says Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales

There are three stories here: the first relates to the above article and shows what may be possible in terms of pricing for smartphones; the second is a rebut to people who whine about the cost of smartphones and the looming curtailment of ‘subsidies’ and the third is the ongoing transformation of the economic and political environment in Africa thanks to technology.

“What phone does Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have in his pocket? An unlocked Android-powered 3G smartphone, made by Chinese mobile maker Huawei – which was selling for $85 on the streets of Kenya last year and now goes for $50.”

3.        T-Mobile isn’t paying for your phone anymore, and that’s a good thing

Phone subsidies were a clever marketing strategy when mobile phones were beyond the means of most consumers. Now they are a mechanism to get people to buy a phone and commit to services they cannot afford. Hopefully, carries will end subsidies and more consumers will realize that they come out ahead if they buy an unlocked phone, and there are plenty of choice in that realm.

“During T-Mobile’s annual investor conference in Germany, newly-installed CEO John Legere dropped two bombshells. The first was that T-Mobile USA would finally begin offering the Apple iPhone next year. The second was that T-Mobile plans to eliminate subsidies on new phones, meaning phone buyers would either have to pay the full price for a new phone up front – perhaps $300 to a very daunting $800+ – or pay off their handset in installments tacked on to their monthly bill.”

4.        Apple Infringes Three Patents With the IPhone, Jury Says

An interesting headline, because if it were another company it would be “found guilty of stealing technology” or “Patent troll found infringing” or words to that effect. No doubt the company will claim this is a misapplication of US patent law. Which it may be.

“Apple Inc. (AAPL) lost an infringement case brought by patent-licensing firm MobileMedia Ideas LLC when a federal jury decided the maker of the iPhone misappropriated protected technology for the handheld devices.”

5.        Apple Joins Google in $500 Million-Plus Bid for Kodak Patents

Such a partnership is not that unusual, actually. By outbidding smaller companies and over-paying for patents, large companies can keep them out of the reach of ‘patent trolls’ by licensing them to themselves, then either turning the patents over to a patent troll (see above item) or stifling competition by suing for patent infringement.

“Unlikely partnerships are typical in patent sales because they allow competitors to neutralize potential infringement litigation. A group including Apple, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Research in Motion Ltd. bought Nortel Networks Corp.’s more than 6,000 patents for $4.5 billion out of bankruptcy last year. Google lost the auction for those patents after making an initial offer of $900 million.”

6.        Android leapfrogs Apple

I am not sure of the ‘apps’ argument – many are free, most are cheap, and a clever marketer could contrive an exchange or rebate system to migrate customers.

“The surging popularity of Samsung smartphones has led to Australian sales of devices running on Google’s Android operating system overtaking Apple’s iOS for the first time. Figures from tech research firm Telsyte show that 44 per cent of 10 million smartphones being used in Australia are now running Android, compared with 43 per cent of iPhones running iOS.”

7.        Setback for U.S. lawyers: Cell phones still aren’t causing cancer

Pity the poor tort lawyers! How will they recover? Cell phones cannot cause cancer and this explains why

“A brand new study published in the prestigious Epidemiology journal shows that mobile phone usage still cannot be linked to gliomas, a broad range of cancerous tumors type that form in the brain or spinal cord. The study used glioma incidence statistics from four Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) over a 20-year period.”

8.        Intel and ARM vendors start server war (of words)

There was a fair bit of mostly favorable coverage regarding Intel’s release of a SOC (system on a chip) for the server market. This provides a counter-point. I must admit I am beginning to wonder whether Intel’s dominant position in the space is going to persist. Not that there will be much money in it if ARM dominates, but a shift in share looks likely, and that can only hurt Intel.

“There is a new front in Intel’s war with everyone, customers not withstanding, and that is the so called microserver market. Intel had no answer for the ARM based devices from Marvell, Calxeda, and others until earlier this week when they admitted the existence of Centerton.”

9.        GlobalFoundries urges EU to support chip industry

Subsidies just lead to a competition among governments to attract the least viable industries and, foundries, are neither huge employers nor founts of technology. The “government” of Abu Dhabi (aka the Al Nahyan family) is the largest shareholder of GlobalFoundries. If I had been suckered by AMD into buying their fabs, and AMD is circling the drain, I’d want governments to bail me out as well. Still, you have to wonder why governments anywhere would want to make good on their investment.

“The European Union should do more to support the semiconductor manufacturing or risk losing out on innovation, GlobalFoundries has said, although its status as an impartial observer is, perhaps, questionable.”

10.   Time Warner Cable: Demand Not There for Google Fiber

I have been ruminating upon Google’s Kansas City experiment for some time. It seems to me that, as things stand, the fact that telephone companies and cable companies as dominant broadband suppliers is fundamentally unhealthy. These types of companies have a legacy as bloated and inefficient utilities and bandwidth is a fundamental threat to their existence. This is why they oppose “Net Neutrality” so vigorously and promote bandwidth caps, etc., in contrast with building infrastructure. “Broadband only” businesses would only be interested in delivering broadband, not the content. I suspect Google is hoping to foster such a model.

“If there is demand for [1 Gbps] service we will provide it,” Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Rob Marcus told attendees of a conference this week while discussing Google Fiber. Speaking at the Broadcast and Cable/Multichannel News OnScreen Summit yesterday, Marcus stated that while the company may eventually have to raise speeds to compete with Google Fiber, so far the company hasn’t had to.”

11.   It’s Time to Fix the Pitifully Slow, Expensive Internet Access in the U.S.

Evidently some people disagree with Time Warner (that would probably be most of their customers). I think that Internet services (and affordable mobile) are as important to the citizens of today as electricity and telephone was in the 20th century. Back then, governments took steps to ensure electrification and a phone line for whoever wanted one. Now they are interested in filling short term budget shortfalls.

“Internet access in America remains relatively slow – particularly when it comes to upload speeds, the very feature necessary for cloud computing and creating user-generated content. Cable companies dominate wired internet access and face no real competition or pricing pressure; telcos like Verizon and AT&T have retreated to wireless, which will never be a full substitute for wired capacity; and we still have no plan for a nation-wide upgrade to fiber.”

12.   Open municipal optical fiber networks, I like them

He makes a good point: how can Bredand2 manage when I can’t get broadband 50 km outside of Canada’s largest city?

“I opted for a 50/50 Mbit/s connection via Bredband2. Measuring it via Bredbandskollen gives 50/70 Mbit/s. For this I pay 350 SEK per month (€38/$53 at the moment).  I’m more than satisfied! This is in a small town with a population of 2000 in Jämtland, Sweden.  The population density is 2,6/km².  If it can be economically viable to pull optical fiber here it should be a snap in most other places.”

13.   FCC to make spectrum sharing reality, whether carriers want it or not

I believe the spectrum license model, which is an artefact of Marconi style radio, is obsolete and counter-productive.  Modern and emerging technologies make spectrum scarcity less of an issue, however, spectrum ‘owners’ has no state in efficient use – they want to milk you for all you can. I’ll never see it, but I believe operation of the spectrum and delivery of services should be broken up by statute. The infrastructure and spectrum should be run as a non-profit (allowing for the necessary investment, and the actual use billed to consumers (which would include network operators). It’ll never change, of course.

“Two months ago, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) unveiled a bold plan to share 1,000MHz of federal spectrum with cellular providers. It wasn’t exactly what carriers were looking for. They’d prefer exclusive licenses to use spectrum whenever and wherever they need it. But the Federal Communications Commission has decided to adopt the plan, or at least its first steps. By the end of this year, the FCC announced this week, it will “initiate formal steps to implement the key recommendations of the PCAST report.” The first target is freeing up 100MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for small cell use.”

14.   Researchers Detect Big Flaws in GPS

If confirmed, this is not a surprising result: GPS was developed long ago, and, while it was advanced for the time, security issues loom larger today and the technology available to subvert the system is far in advance to what GPS’s designers could have imagined.

“According to a researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Coherent Navigation, a 45 second message broadcast could have a crippling effect on consumer and professional receivers. The findings, which included GPS receivers from brands such as Garmin, GlobalSat, Magellan, uBlox, Locosys and iFly, are especially worrying as critical services today rely on a functioning and reliable GPS network: “Until GPS is secured, life and safety-critical applications that depend upon it are likely vulnerable to attack,” the researchers concluded.”,19663.html

15.   Sharp’s 64-inch Ultra HD TV demands a lofty $31,000 price

UHDTV is awesome for things like theatres, and I don’t think Sharp or the other vendors expect to see much in the way of demand at these prices. Nonetheless, all TV vendors are desperate to rejuvenate TV sales. Personally, I think an update to TV user interface, along with a ‘self-teaching’  Wifi universal remote which would actually work with all your consumer electronics (and maybe also be an app on your smartphone) would draw more customers.

“Sharp has revealed pricing for the world’s first THX-Certified Ultra High-Definition — the new name for 4K and 8K — television, a 60-inch model named the ICC Purios. With a resolution of 3,840 × 2,160, it’ll be available in Japan from February at a cost of 2.6 million yen, or roughly $31,000 including taxes. Sharp’s TV will go head-to-head with an 84-inch UHDTV from Sony and a 55-inch model from Toshiba, which are priced at 1.68 million yen ($25,000 in the US) and 750,000 yen (roughly $9,000), respectively, highlighting the huge premium Sharp is asking for its next-gen TV.”

16.   Vision-Restoring Implants that Fit Inside the Eye

Figuring out how to connect up a few pixels to the optic nerve is the hard part: figuring out how to extend that technology to thousands of pixels is an engineering challenge. This may not help all blind people, but it has the potential to do to blindness what cochlear implants have done to deafness.

“A coming generation of retinal implants that fit entirely inside the eye will use nanoscale electronic components to dramatically improve vision quality for the wearer, according to two research teams developing such devices.”

17.   Solar Panels for Every Home

Absolutely – fragile, sail like structures fastened to the roof of your house makes perfect sense. After all, roofs are designed for a certain amount of wind and down force, so what could possibly go wrong if you increase that loading and supply lift, especially in 100 km+ winds? The article is co-authored by RFK Jr., who might have gotten over his responsibility in the death of unvaccinated children thanks to articles like this

“Having spent our careers in and around the power industry, we believe there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses. (Disclosure: Mr. Crane’s company, based in Princeton, N.J., generates power from coal, natural gas, and nuclear, wind and solar energy.) Solar photovoltaic technology can significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our dependence on the grid. Electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, on the roofs of warehouses and big box stores and over parking lots can be wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails.”

18.   Tool use by an African grey parrot

My African Grey Parrot occasionally just wanders around thousand on a ‘promenade’, which is a problem because it is the only time he is silent. If I made him one of these, he’d probably spend the day chasing the cats.

“Proving that robots aren’t just for people any longer, African grey parrot, Pepper, has learned to drive a robot that was specially designed for him. Pepper, whose wing feathers are clipped to preventing him from flying around his humans’ house and destroying their things, now manipulates the joystick on his riding robot to guide it to where ever he wishes to go.”

19.   Hipsters Who Hunt

This really says more about the media than ‘hipsters’. It was the media has created the cartoonish idea of a hunter or gun owner as a right wing lout with complete disregard for the environment. There is no connection between political affiliation and hunting. I am a hunter and most hunters I know are keen environmentalists, because you can hunt animals which aren’t there. Of course, what differentiates them from urban environmentalists is they actually know something about wildlife.

“Hunting is undeniably in vogue among the bearded, bicycle-riding, locavore set. The new trend might even be partly behind a recent 9 percent increase from 2006 to 2011 in the number of hunters in the United States after years of decline. Many of these new hunters are taking up the activity for ethical and environmental reasons.”

20.   2012 Mayan Astrology Predictions: Planetary Alignments To Trigger Earthquakes?

You know you have a credibility problem when a ‘Physic’ website reports your babbling with a question mark in the headline. Why anybody would assume a Wall Street trader would know anything besides trading (a rather limited skillset which exists only in the la-la land of the capital markets) is another matter. This is how gravitational force works: it is directly proportional to mass, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance. So, the planets might have a lot of mass, but there are very, very far away. Your chair has a greater gravitational influence  on the Earth than the planets do.

“Highly respected 50-year veteran Wall Street trader for USB, Art Cashin has been sounding the alarms recently about possible increased earthquake activity which could be driven by odd planetary and solar angles which some see developing.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 7th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 7th, 2012


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at  Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at


Brian Piccioni


1.        IHS cuts chip market forecast

I am going to save you tens of thousands of dollars in consulting reports – from now on, for the indefinite future the semiconductor industry is going to grow at the same rate as global GDP, plus or minus 3%.  Not only that, but my free forecast is likely to be more accurate than the forecasts sold by any of the industry analysts. Oh, and the HIS forecasts for 2013 and beyond – seriously, you have to be joking …

“Market research firm IHS iSuppli Monday (Dec. 3) cut its forecast for the 2012 semiconductor market for the third time in just over three months, saying it now expects the chip market to contract by 2.3 percent based on projected shortfalls in most major end markets.”

2.        Taiwan engineers defeat limits of flash memory

A more accurate headline would be “… propose a solution to vastly extend the life of Flash memory.” Nonetheless, as I have pointed out in the past, because ‘wear’ on Flash memory is a more significant consideration when the devices are used as SSDs, the industry would seek solutions to these and similar limitations. This approach promises to do away with that problem.

“They redesigned a flash memory chip to include onboard heaters to anneal small groups of memory cells. Applying a brief jolt of heat to a very restricted area within the chip (800 degrees C) returns the cell to a “good” state. They said that the process does not have to be run all that often. According to project member Hang‑Ting Lue, the annealing can be done infrequently and on one sector at a time while the device is inactive but still connected to the power source. It would not drain a cellphone battery, he added.”

3.        Update: New 25 GPU Monster Devours Passwords In Seconds

I guess we now understand why you need a password of at least 8 characters, one upper case and one lower case character, and one symbol or number: it increases the amount of time to crack by a couple seconds or so!

“There needs to be some kind of Moore’s law analog to capture the tremendous advances in the speed of password cracking operations. Just within the last five years, there’s been an explosion in innovation in this ancient art, as researchers have realized that they can harness specialized silicon and cloud based computing pools to quickly and efficiently break passwords.”

4.        FIPEL lights could replace LEDs

Polymer lighting has been a promising field for a while. I don’t know of any reason why the technology can’t replace LED, but it has been ‘just around the corner’ for some time now. Besides, there are lots of applications where you want a concentrated light.

“The lighting, based on field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology, also gives off a soft, white light, rather than the yellowish tone of fluorescents or LEDs’ bluish tinge.”

5.        Top 25 US developers account for half of app revenue

This is scarcely surprising, and I would bet that the number of companies taking the lion’s share of revenue from the PC market is even more distorted. App stores of various flavors claim hundreds of thousands of ‘apps’, most of which are essentially web pages, and few of which have any value, other than the sponsor. Think of it this way: there are reportedly 700,000 apps on iOS and Android. If the average one generated sales of only $1,000 per month, that would be 700 million in monthly revenue. Could that ever make sense?

“A small number of developers, almost entirely game companies, continue to generate the majority of revenue at the leading app stores – Apple’s App Store (iPhone only) and Google Play. Based on daily App Interrogator surveys, Canalys estimates that just 25 developers accounted for 50% of app revenue in the US in these stores during the first 20 days of November 2012. Between them, they made $60 million from paid-for downloads and in-app purchases over this period.”

6.        Google’s Explainer-in-Chief Can’t Explain Apple

Apple’s strategy does make sense in that they want spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt among Android manufacturers. They can get damages, or settle, with each of them individually and go after Google at their leisure. On the other hand, if they go after Google directly they risk losing it all, or, by settling with Google, placing Android vendors off limits. Either way, it’s a sleazy way to run a company, but then again, Apple has never been about technology.

“Apple and Google are well aware of the legal strategies of each other. Part of the conversations that are going on all the time is to talk about them. It’s extremely curious that Apple has chosen to sue Google’s partners and not Google itself.”

7.        The Next Big OS War Is in Your Dashboard

Open Source software has gotten so good it is hard to believe anybody starting a project would not give it a close look. Not only is the quality good, many developers know how to code with it and there is a vast library of readily available, good quality code (and a lot of crap as well). Even if the companies do not decide to use open source, its availability has to set a ceiling on how much closed source solutions should cost.

“The shift in focus from what’s under the hood to what’s behind the dashboard has brought a largely covert war to the auto industry over the operating systems that will control these gadgets. As in the smartphone biz, the battle line is between proprietary and open source software. The outcome will determine what these systems look like, how they work and how distinctive they are as automakers embrace walled gardens or open ecosystems.”

8.        Sales down, Microsoft raises prices radically

This is what a monopolist does: they have set up a ‘simplified’ licensing system which puts them in complete control of the customer. Because they have no apparent capacity for innovation or product improvement, they can squeeze their existing (i.e. remaining) customers a little harder each year. Their existing customers are pretty much screwed right now as they have no choice but to pay up. However, it makes Android and other open source alternatives more attractive for emerging or growing companies. Eventually this will catch up to Microsoft.

“Microsoft is going to make up for the Windows 8 sales shortfall in a brilliant move, milking the trapped. In a shock to no one, they are raising prices on their enterprise customers to cover consumer revenue potholes.”

9.        Christmas gift for someone you hate: Windows 8

One of the funnier Windows 8 reviews I have seen. I don’t think a better tablet interface would have made Windows 8 a winner – though it might have made it a viable option to an iPad, albeit, at a similar price. The average desktop or laptop user has no interest in a tablet user interface, and there are more interesting paradigms, if you wanted to offer an enhancement.

“One thing that Android and iOS do not address is how to handle the requirement of offering a legacy Xerox Alto-style mouse and windows environment. Microsoft here integrates the tablet and the standard Windows desktop in the most inconvenient and inconsistent possible way.”

10.   Here Comes the First Real Alternative to iPhone and Android

Probably not, but you never know: after all, as RIM has discovered, users are not married to user interfaces anymore – they adapt to whatever they like. If this company can gain critical mass (and a China footprint would be a good start) it stands a chance.

“Sailfish, Jolla insists, will become a legitimate alternative to the Coke and Pepsi of smartphone platforms: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Microsoft would like to accomplish the same thing, and has spent billions trying, with limited success; it has already cut back production for the new tablet running its latest OS, Windows 8. So what makes this group of fewer than 100-odd Finns, most of them refugees from the sinking ship that is Nokia, think they stand a chance?”

11.   Won’t Someone Take iTunes Out Back and Shoot It?

I stopped letting iTunes update itself about a year ago. It seems it has devolved into the same sort of massive bloatware as Adobe’s PDF reader (well, actually pretty much any piece of software Adobe produces). I just want something to stick music on my iPod: why does it have to be so big, and need a new download every couple weeks?

“I picture frazzled engineers growing increasingly alarmed as they discover that the iTunes codebase has been overrun by some kind of self-replicating virus that keeps adding random features and redesigns. The coders can’t figure out what’s going on—why iTunes, alone among Apple products, keeps growing more ungainly. At the head of the team is a grizzled old engineer who’s been at Apple forever. He’s surly and crude, always making vulgar jokes about iPads. But the company can’t afford to get rid of him—he’s the only one who understands how to operate the furnaces in the iTunes boiler room.”

12.   3D printing: The hype, the hopes, the hurdles

This is a surprisingly good article which discusses some applications, potential applications, and real challenges for 3D printing technology.

“Three-dimensional printing: hype, or hope? That’s the question industry leaders sought to answer at the Techonomy conference here in the sunny greater Tucson area. A panel of experts — Geomagic’s Ping Fu, Shapeways’ Peter Weijmarshausen and PARC’s Stephen Hoover, with CNET’s own Paul Sloan moderating — discussed the promises, pitfalls and potential of a technology that allows almost anyone to turn a digital file into a perfect copy of a physical object, from puzzle pieces to airplane wings, in materials such as plastic, metal and rubberlike polymers.”

13.   Jan Leno Sowing Off Some 3d Printing And Scanning Technology

Of course, they could have just as easily scanned the part and milled it out of plastic on a CNC to see if it fit. The 3D printer, in this example, was not necessary. However, the examples, especially the steam engine, are kind of interesting.

14.   Ultralight fractal structures could bear heavy loads

In many ways, this shows the potential impact of computational performance on engineering. Actually manufacturing these components may be a lot more challenging than designing them, however. 3D printers tend to have modest size limits and a narrow selection of materials. Nonetheless, for situations where strength/weight is extremely important (space, for example) this could be a breakthrough.

“A team of researchers in Europe has shown that the density of large structures can be dramatically reduced, if they are designed using a fractal pattern. The researchers have worked out a way to calculate an optimal “hierarchal structure” built from a certain material so that it can withstand a given load. They claim that using such techniques could help in building highly efficient load-bearing structures that could be used in solar sails, cranes or other lightweight-yet-strong constructs.”

15.   Startup to launch $199 brainwave computer controller in 2013

This product is a ‘brainwave sensing’ head-band, and it is developed by a Toronto company. It will be cool if deterministic outcomes (i.e. control, not just influencing) can be produced with this gizmo however. The video on the company website is not entirely clear on what can be done at this stage.

“Startup Interaxon today announced it’ll ship a $199 headset called the Muse next spring that will let people use their brainwaves to directly control videogames and other computing operations.”$199-brainwave-computer-controller-in-2013/


16.   First Electron Microscope Image of DNA Double Helix

Even though the structure of DNA was figured out decades ago (and X-ray crystallography was just a part of that) it is, nonetheless, pretty cool to be able to actually see it.

“The structure of DNA was originally discovered by using X-ray crystallography, which involves scattering X-rays off atoms in crystallized arrays of DNA to form complex patterns of dots on photographic film. Images were then interpreted using complex mathematics. These new images are now direct pictures of DNA strands, seen through an electron microscope, which sees electrons rather than photons.”

17.   Blurry photos: New program fixes the unfixable

This might be of some use to people.

“Load your blurry image into the program, and start monkeying with the sliders. A progress bar at the bottom of the window moves to show how the image is being processed according to each change in parameters, and on my reasonably powerful desktop machine, each change took about 15 seconds to resolve.”

18.   Groupon: from dotcom star to just another coupon business

Big surprise here: I mean, it is a coupon business which its exploited by cost sensitive purchasers who descend, like a pack of piranha, on whatever business is willing to offer deep discounts (often below cost) until it’s over then move on to the next victim. Who needs a middleman to give stuff away? (ps: this also shows why I avoid stocks with ‘multiple voting’ shares like the plague.)

“Even Mason admits the board is right to be pondering his future. “Here’s a news flash: our stock is down about 80%. It would be weird if the board wasn’t discussing whether I’m the right guy to do the job,” he said at a conference held by news site Business Insider last week. Clearly Mason still thinks he is the right guy: he survived last week’s board meeting, helped in part by shares that give him 10 times the votes of his peers. But the odds on his long-term survival are getting longer.”

19.   A123 Goes on the Auction Block: Here’s How It Got This Bad

A123 was an amazing story: a company which had promising technology which was going to revolutionize the Lithium Ion battery business. You know those disruptive battery technologies you read about every second day (the days between the disruptive solar technologies)? Well, this was one of them, except it wasn’t that disruptive, so they couldn’t get much of a premium over plain old fashioned batteries. And, while they were losing money hand over fist, investors (and government was keen to keep those very hands and fists full. Then the gravy trains stopped and, a business which was more or less built to lose money actually ran out of money. Go figure.

“So how did we end up here? It’s hard to pin down a singular cause for A123’s demise. But the company’s early filings in the bankruptcy case lay out a few key moments. It helps illustrate a blow-by-blow account—at least from A123’s perspective—of how the company’s fortunes unraveled so quickly.”

20.   CO2 emissions could feed algae biofuel bonanza

Newsflash: plant life thrives in a CO2 rice environment! So, if we make a special manufacturing plant which grows algae – we’ll do something Mother Nature never intended: converting CO2 and light into biomass! Our problems are solved! You say algae grows naturally in ponds and oceans? Enough of this foolish optimism!

“Algae is the solution to the climate-change issue,” explains Steve Martin, Pond Biofuels’ CEO. He says it’s not enough to hide carbon underground, as you would with a carbon capture and sequestration project. You need a way to fix the carbon in place.”