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

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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.”

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