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.”

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