The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 25th, 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 25th, 2013

Hello

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

 

 

1.        9 Windows Start menus for Windows 8

A ‘Start Menu’ application makes Windows 8 a lot easier to use, although it doesn’t do anything about the idiotic touch centric user interface (such as bizarre fly-out menus when you move across magic areas of the screen). I use Classic Shell now.

“Search as you might, you won’t find a single bigger source of ire in Windows 8 than the new Modern UI (aka “Metro”) Start menu. Defenders of the new full-screen, touch-based app launcher and notifications dashboard claim that Windows users were just as antsy about the original Windows 95 Start menu. Remember all the “Classic File Manager” replacements from that time? All true, but Windows 8’s Start menu has thrown many people — seasoned veterans, early adopters, and new users alike — for a curve. And Microsoft has been adamant that the old Start menu is gone for good.”

http://www.infoworld.com/d/microsoft-windows/9-windows-start-menus-windows-8-208963

2.        Microsoft May Back Dell Buyout

I have maintained for some time that tech companies with more cash than they need prefer to give that cash to the shareholders of other companies rather than their own. If Microsoft shareholders thought owning part of Dell made sense they don’t need Microsoft to make that decision for them. Of course, why anybody would want exposure to a dying company with an obsolete business model in an moribund sector is beyond me. Hopefully, this is just a bad rumor.

“The effort to take Dell private has gained a prominent, if unusual, backer: Microsoft. The software giant is in talks to help finance a takeover bid for Dell that would exceed $20 billion, a person briefed on the matter said on Tuesday. Microsoft is expected to contribute up to several billion dollars.”

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/microsoft-may-back-dell-buyout/

3.        Microsoft won’t release study that challenged success of Munich’s Linux migration

Microsoft seems to have learned from Joe McCarthy: wave the documents around, just never show them. They have no reason to hide any study in any event: most such documents are, at their core, crap – you can conjure up high ‘costs of ownership’ from whole cloth and this tactic is often used to ‘prove’ a cost advantage.

“Microsoft and Hewlett Packard won’t share a study claiming that the German city of Munich had its numbers wrong when it calculated switching from Windows to Linux saved the city millions — although an HP employee did provide the data to a German publication that reported on the results.”

http://www.itworld.com/open-source/337658/microsoft-wont-release-study-challenged-success-munichs-linux-migration

4.        Want to explain memory technology to family? Try video.

Some interesting videos: the first is familiar to anybody who has worked in electronics and is representative of how modern hardware is made. I found the last video intriguing because of how long I could still make out the painting.

“My quandary—and I suspect many of you share it—is that I have this great job where I learn about cool and fun and exciting technology every day, but outside of work and buddies from school, no one gets it. As much as I love what I do, I have no way to get the excitement across to anybody who’s not technical.”

http://eetimes.com/electronics-blogs/food-for-thought/4405431/Want-to-explain-memory-technology-to-family–Try-video-

5.        Everyone wants a slice of Raspberry Pi

I am getting a little tired of the deification of those associated with Raspberry Pi, however, the product has been an incredible success, despite all odds. There is nothing inherently difficult about putting a System On a Chip onto a small board, and it is a matter of time before a truly open source variant hits the market.

“I am standing in the dark, watching people mess around with computers. Scruffy young men take cables out of plastic carrier bags and plug them into the back of television screens. They connect up keyboards, slot in SD cards, bung long leads into USB jacks. Parcel tape is slathered over stray cords to stick them in place. Somehow, I thought that Cern, the closest thing to a Bond lab on the planet, would be more sophisticated than this.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/nov/04/raspberry-pi-programming-jam-cern?INTCMP=SRCH

6.        Samsung, Apple dominate as 700M smartphones ship in 2012

It would be folly to assume that Samsung’s position is secure any more than assuming Apple’s position was secure. Samsung makes great products and, unlike Apple, they are vertically integrated. Nonetheless, there is always plenty of room at the bottom, especially as it is becoming clear the market is maturing.

“A record 700 million smartphones shipped last year, with Samsung and Apple together accounting for half the market, according to new research released today. While global smartphone shipments increased 490.5 million units over 2011, the 43 percent growth rate slowed in comparison to 2011’s growth rate of 64 percent over 2010, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics. The research blamed saturation in North America and Western Europe for the slower growth.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57565780-94/samsung-apple-dominate-as-700m-smartphones-ship-in-2012/

7.        Apple slips, BlackBerry slides and Windows Phone stalls in December

Whatever the inherent merits of Blackberry 10 or the next iPhone, it looks like Android has pretty much won the war. One advantage had for some time is the broad based support of its products through various accessories, which is one advantage of a limited product offering.

“Kantar Worldpanel’s December smartphone market share numbers are out. And they are as fascinating as ever. Kantar pegs the BlackBerry market share in America as 1.1% last month, down from 1.4% in November. Surprisingly, Windows Phone’s market share also ticked down to 2.6% in December from 2.7% in November. That might be a statistical artifact, but it is surprising not to see a substantial boost in Windows share considering the marketing support and new devices from AT&T (T).”

http://bgr.com/2013/01/22/smartphone-market-share-us-december-2012-301514/

8.        Unlocking Cellphones Becomes Illegal Saturday in the U.S.

Good to see that lawmakers have their priorities straight. I would never buy a locked phone and being indentured to a carrier for three years in order to save $100 makes no sense at all. Even so, most ‘unsubsidized’ phones are still locked to the seller’s network! So buy an unlocked Android (or whatever) phone from Newegg.com or Tigerdirect.com, save a bundle, and have the flexibility to use whatever carrier you want, even when you travel.

“In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress, who determines exemptions to a strict anti-hacking law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), decided that unlocking mobile phones would no longer be allowed. But the librarian provided a 90-day window during which people could still buy a phone and unlock it. That window closes on Jan. 26.”

http://mashable.com/2013/01/23/unlocking-cellphones-illegal/

9.        Maximizing Mobile 2012 Infographic

I don’t like this format of ‘infographics’, however, some might fund the information interesting. Phone penetration has to be taken with a grain of salt as many people have multiple phones and plans.

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINFORMATIONANDCOMMUNICATIONANDTECHNOLOGIES/Resources/IC4D_Infographic-1.png

10.   Google hints at possible “X Phone” with long battery life, wireless charging, and an unbreakable case

Not much in the way of details, but interesting. I suspect that a rugged, waterproof phone that doesn’t look like a rugged, waterproof phone would find a read market. I am not sure about the appeal of a bendable screen, however. NOTE: This page does not render properly in Firefox so you may have to open it in some other browser.

“Google really wants you to know that as early as spring of 2013, something big is coming from Motorola, the mobile phone manufacturer Google acquired in May 2012. And while Google executives didn’t mention it in today’s earnings call, that thing is very likely to be the Google “X Phone,” a mobile device as advanced as Google can possibly make it.”

http://qz.com/46411/google-x-phone-with-long-battery-life-wireless-charging-and-an-unbreakable-case/

11.   LED manufacturing investment declines as industry contemplates future directions

Some interesting information, though I would not take the forecast that seriously. A predicted decline may be the result of a plateau in demand for display backlight LEDs (which are already pretty ubiquitous) before a surge in demand for general purpose lighting. Note that the statistics are in 4” equivalents whereas most non-LED semiconductors are made on 12” wafers. I am doubtful the market will saturate as early as predicted because LEDs penetration in general purpose lighting is minimal. Long lifecycles mean the market will probably decline rapidly once saturated.

“Spending on LED fab manufacturing equipment will decline 9.2% in 2013 as the industry faces weak long-term demand and consolidates manufacturing capacity. According to the SEMI LED/Opto Fab Forecast, spending on LED fab manufacturing equipment will drop to $1.68 billion in 2013, down from $1.85 billion in 2012. Global LED manufacturing capacity will continue to grow this year, reaching an estimated 2.57 million 4-in. wafer equivalents, a 24% increase over 2012. The outlook for equipment spending in 2014 is currently projected at less than $1 billion, as manufacturers assess an uncertain competitive environment and potential alternative manufacturing strategies.”

http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/2013/01/led-manufacturing-investment-declines-as-industry-contemplates-f.html

12.   LEDs Emerge as a Popular ‘Green’ Lighting

As we predicted a number of years ago, LED lighting is entering the mainstream. Still rather pricy but they work a lot better than compact fluorescent lamps and are far more flexible.

“The lighting industry has finally come up with an energy-efficient replacement for the standard incandescent bulb that people actually seem to like: the LED bulb.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/business/leds-emerge-as-a-popular-green-lighting.html?smid=re-share&_r=0

13.   Professor Invents The Best New Lightbulb In 30 Years

Interesting, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Possible issues would be light output per unit area, which could limit the range of applications.

“So far the main alternatives to the common bulb have been compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which can produce the same amount of light as traditional bulbs while using way less energy. Soon, a third lighting option will be thrown into the mix. It’s called the FIPEL, which is short for field-induced polymer electroluminescent technology.”

http://www.businessinsider.com/fipel-lighting-technology-david-carroll-wake-forrest-2013-1

14.   Faster, Sooner: Why The U.S. Needs ‘Gigabit Communities’

I keep working on a ‘think piece’ aligned with exactly this thought: high speed, ubiquitous Internet will be as important to the Industrial Revolution of the 21st century as steam, electricity, and roads were to prior ones. It is a pity the middle age men who run governments cannot grasp this.

“Some broadband providers say the need for gigabit networks is overblown. They cite the lack of consumer demand for applications requiring gigabit speeds. One cable industry leader called the focus on top-end network speeds an “irrelevant exercise in bragging rights.””

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2013/01/18/faster-sooner-why-the-u-s-needs-gigabit-communities/2/

15.   Cuban Fiber: Completo?

I read somewhere that the Cuban government has loosened travel restrictions recently. Hooking up a more advance Internet infrastructure might presage a loosening of restrictions on the use of the Internet. Maybe they read the Forbes article (above).

“Cuban Internet connectivity continues to evolve by the hour, with a new, faster mode of operation in evidence as of this morning. Our measurements from around the world suggest that Cuban technicians may have completed the work they began a week ago, creating the first bidirectional Internet paths that are free of satellite connectivity.”

http://www.renesys.com/blog/2013/01/cuban-fiber-completo.shtml

16.   Dutch architect to build “endless” house with 3D printer

This is an interesting experiment, though the ‘house’ is pretty ugly. I like the idea of printing a form and filling it with concrete: I constructed my house from Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF), which are basically giant Styrofoam Lego blocks. It’s very solid and super-insulated.

“Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars (39) from Universe Architecture in Amsterdam designed a one-piece building which will be built on a 3D printer. He hopes the so-called Landscape House can be printed out latest in year 2014.”

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20130115-dutch-architect-to-build-endless-house-with-3d-printer.html

17.   3D printed ‘tech couture’ dresses hit the runway at Paris Fashion Week

I suspect a lot of ‘haute couture’ is done to see how far you can go without somebody laughing at you and then going a lot farther. Regardless, this is a relatively novel application for 3D printing. One has to wonder what the hats will look like at English horseraces in the near future …

“At Paris Fashion Week, technology and fashion collided when a model walked down the runway in a striking 3D printed dress. The simple black dress (pictured above) is not particularly avant-garde, but fashion critics are fascinated by the way it was made.”

http://venturebeat.com/2013/01/22/3-d-printed-tech-couture-dresses-hit-the-runway-at-paris-fashion-week/

18.   Ford’s open-source kit brings era of smart car apps

I am more than a little surprised Ford has done this, given the antediluvian nature of the auto industry. Hardware ‘hooks’ (both wired and wireless) and standardization (as hinted) could make this interesting.

“Car maker Ford has just released OpenXC – an open-source hardware and software toolkit that will let the hacker community play around with the computer systems that run modern cars. While the first apps may add nothing more exciting than internet radio, the open nature of the system should eventually lead to custom apps that give drivers far more control over their car’s performance.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21729015.700-fords-opensource-kit-brings-era-of-smart-car-apps.html

19.   Barracuda Security Equipment Contains Hardcoded Backdoors

Just to be clear, this company makes security equipment. And they have ‘backdoors’. And they admit it. And they can’t close them all. I guess you have to wonder why people worry about the security threats from Chinese companies.

“Multiple Barracuda appliances — including its firewall, SSL VPN server, and load balancer devices – have security flaws that can be exploited by attackers to remotely access and gain shell-level access to the appliances. That warning over hardcoded backdoor accounts, as well as a “critical SSH backdoor,” was sounded Thursday in a security warning released by Austria-based information security consultancy SEC Consult.”

http://www.informationweek.com/security/vulnerabilities/barracuda-security-equipment-contains-ha/240146890

20.   Crunching the numbers to boost odds against cancer

This story demonstrates the impact of Moore’s Law on healthcare. The DNA sequencing story history is particularly interesting: when I was doing my degree, sequencing a single gene was a multi-year project. I am surprised nobody has proposed an open database which combines diagnosis, treatment, and outcome. This could be ‘mined’ to spot optimal outcomes and alternative approaches.

“Software engineers are moving to the fore in the war on cancer, designing programmes that sift genetic sequencing data at lightning speed and minimal cost to identify patterns in tumours that could lead to the next medical breakthrough.”

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/11/01/uk-cancer-tech-idUKBRE8A00GV20121101

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 18th, 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 18th, 2013

Hello

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

 

1.        TMT Predictions 2013

For those of you who missed Deloitt’s TMT Predictions 2013 launch, this page links to the full report. There is good stuff here – but, as they say, it is the beginning of a discussion.

“What new funding trend could complement your existing venture capital efforts in 2013? How could your company leverage the “Bring Your Own Computer” policy as a key tool? These are just a few of the insights your company will gain in reading Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions 2013.”

http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_CA/ca/industries/tmt/tmt-predictions-2013/index.htm

2.        Google Declares War on the Password

This is consistent with the Deloitte Prediction 2013 regarding the death of password only security. I rather doubt it has to get this complicated: a 1024 byte random password stored on an USB device or NFC device which might be stored on phone or, even in multiple places. When used in junction with an actual password this would frustrate most scams. Loss or theft of the token could be dealt with through more complex schemes.

“This may be closer than you think. Google’s security team outlines this sort of ring-finger authentication in a new research paper, set to be published late this month in the engineering journal IEEE Security & Privacy Magazine. In it, Google Vice President of Security Eric Grosse and Engineer Mayank Upadhyay outline all sorts ways they think people could wind up logging into websites in the future — and it’s about time.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/01/google-password/

3.        Worldwide PC shipments slipped 6.4% in the fourth quarter to 89.8 million units

I don’t think this is caused by Windows 8, but Microsoft’s fiasco may have the effect of encouraging people to seek alternatives rather than buying a new PC with a touch centric operating system which actually lacks a touch input device.

“In the fourth quarter of 2012, worldwide PC shipments declined 6.4%, sliding to a total count of 89.8 million units, according to IDC. For the year, 352 million PCs were sold. Compared to 2011, that figure represents a 3.2% decline.”

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/01/11/worldwide-pc-shipments-slipped-6-4-in-the-fourth-quarter-to-89-8-million-units/

4.        ARM suppliers join Facebook Open Compute Project

I had to choke back both laughter and tears when this got so much coverage on the web the other day. If nothing else it is a sure sign the major qualification to write about tech is to have a complete ignorance of the past and present of technology. This is how things were done until about 20 years ago. There is a reason it isn’t done this way anymore: what you gain in flexibility you lose in performance and cost. You don’t keep stuff as one part become obsolete because all the components are always becoming obsolete. Plus, hardware and software maintenance of an heterogeneous hardware environment is a nightmare.

“Facebook’s Open Compute Project is being expanded to incorporate ARM processors, providing new options for companies shopping for low-cost hardware to build out cloud computing environments. Chip vendors from both the ARM and x86 sides of the house announced they are working together to develop a “common slot architecture” that will allow ARM and x86 processors to coexist side by side on the same motherboard.”

http://www.infoworld.com/d/computer-hardware/arm-suppliers-join-facebook-open-compute-project-210977

5.        Dell’s bold plan to reinvent itself: A USB-sized PC that gives access to Windows, Mac OS, Chrome OS

God help me: I have been working with computers since I was 17 years old (that was unusual back then). Like clockwork, or a recurring rash, every few years or so, somebody rehashes this idea in one form or another. Besides all the questions regarding security (i.e. what happens when Dell closes its doors or a new private equity owner decides to increase service charges, holding your data and applications hostage) what do you do when the network goes down like happened in Ontario the other day?

“Dell is working on a projected currently called “Ophelia” that is “a complete, self-contained PC” that also happens to be as big as a USB thumb drive. But the killer feature of Ophelia is that it uses “virtual instances of… operating systems running in the cloud” to give users access to “Windows, Mac OS, Google’s Chrome OS, Dell’s custom cloud solutions, Citrix cloud software, and even Google’s Chrome OS.” Let’s take a step back and think about what this really means. If you plug Ophelia into a flat-panel television, it will connect to the nearest Wi-Fi network and give you access to any type of operating system or app that is running virtually somewhere in the cloud.”

http://bgr.com/2013/01/15/dell-reinvention-plan-project-ophelia-292404/

6.        London Calling: Are ARM’s core days numbered?

An interesting article but I do not see how the title aligns with the discussion. Companies have outsourced their CPU designs for a long time, either to ARM or Intel, so nothing really changed except the business model. Differentiation tends to come from software, in any event.

“Time was when a great many companies had their own processor architectures. It was a pinnacle of electronic and semiconductor achievement and many digital engineers wanted to have a crack at designing one and feeling the glow of watching software execute on an electronic machine of their own devising.”

http://eetimes.com/electronics-news/4404834/London-Calling-ARM-cores-to-reduce-in-significance

7.        Is Apple’s iPhone No Longer Cool To Teens?

The mention of the Microsoft Surface tablet makes me a bit skeptical (though against all odds I saw one in the wild today), however, I have believed for some time that the smartphone business (and much of technology) has become the fashion business. If true, this is very bad for Apple.

“On the sliding scale of coolness, teens place most adults firmly on the uncool side. It goes without saying that no teen wants to show up dressed identically as the science teacher.  And unfortunately for Apple, this teen logic may also apply to smartphones. They don’t want to same device as their mom, dentist, and coffee barista.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2013/01/09/is-apples-iphone-no-longer-cool-to-teens/

8.        The Chinese smartphone invasion begins

Smartphones will rapidly commoditize, thanks in part to the overwhelming market share of Android. This should drive prices (and margins) down fairly quickly. I don’t see the inherent benefit of a ‘name brand’ smartphone if the features are there and the price is right.

“Tech giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft were no-shows at CES this week in Las Vegas, which worked out just fine for Chinese vendors looking to establish a name for themselves with U.S. consumers. Telecom suppliers Huawei and ZTE, in particular, have set their sights on breaking into the U.S. market for smartphones and tablets.”

http://www.infoworld.com/t/smartphones/the-chinese-smartphone-invasion-begins-210609

9.        Google’s ultrafast Internet draws startups to KC

This is entirely predictable: businesses which need water set up shop near lakes and rivers, businesses which need cheap electricity set up shop where electricity is cheap. I have no doubt whatsoever that the focus of new technological products (i.e. not just entertainment and social networking) will require fast, affordable web service. Where does this leave countries like Canada?

“Inside a small bungalow on the street separating Kansas City, Kan., from its sister city in Missouri, a small group of entrepreneurs are working on their ideas for the next high-tech startup, tapping Google Inc.’s new superfast Internet connection that has turned the neighborhood into an unlikely settlement dubbed the “Silicon Prairie.””

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/googles-ultrafast-internet-draws-startups-kc

10.   China tackles last-mile fiber problem, decrees all new homes must have it

This sort of building code change makes a lot of sense however it would take many decades to have a measurable impact on availability of fibre. A regulatory regime which encourages, or even requires, services to be made available at a reasonable cost makes more sense.

“But in China, the word is a new government policy from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will require, according to the state-run China Daily, that “all newly built residences, if they are located in counties and cities where a public fiber optic telecom network is available, have to be equipped with fiber network connections.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/01/china-tackles-last-mile-fiber-problem-decrees-all-new-homes-must-have-it/

11.   In The Fight Between Netflix And Cable Operators, High-Quality Streaming Video Is Being Held Hostage

Fundamentally, ISPs should be competitive with cable, telephone, and wireless companies, but due to poor regulation, most are also in those businesses. The cable/telephone/mobile business model is irrelevant, but the privileged positions those companies (especially as ISPs) hold remains.

“One cable provider is arguing that because Netflix isn’t offering it Super HD or 3D content, that it is essentially discriminating against ISPs based on whether they deploy Open Connect boxes.”

http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/16/netflix-cable-blah-blah-blah/

12.   Facebook loses 1.4 million active users in U.S.

I have seen a number of similar data points for different countries in the past few days. Perhaps the bloom is off the Facebook rose (I wouldn’t know since I am not a member) or, maybe, they have managed to purge the numerous false users.

“The number of Americans using Facebook fell by nearly 1.4 million in early December, according to new data from social media monitoring company SocialBakers. While Facebook FB -2.74%   has more than 167 million users in the U.S. and 1 billion worldwide, the recent drop in monthly active users is still akin to losing the entire population of San Antonio, Texas.”

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-loses-14-million-active-users-in-us-2013-01-15?link=MW-FB

13.   Stanford Battery Lasts 5X Longer

Yet another quantum advance in battery technology. This and the silicon anode technology sounds encouraging, however, cost is an important consideration and nano-materials are currently expensive to produce.

“SLAC and Stanford scientists have set a world record for energy storage, using a clever “yolk-shell” design to store five times more energy in the sulfur cathode of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery than is possible with today’s commercial technology. The cathode also maintained a high level of performance after 1,000 charge/discharge cycles, paving the way for new generations of lighter, longer-lasting batteries for use in portable electronics and electric vehicles.”

http://menlopark-atherton.patch.com/articles/stanford-battery-lasts-5x-longer-30a7fc6c?ncid=newsltuspatc00000001

14.   OLED and 4K at CES 2013: The fantasy and the reality

Given a choice, I’d pay an extra $1,000 for an OLED TV than a 4K TV, but the spreads are about 10x and 20x that right now. Both are spectacular, but the gamut and contrast on OLED is awesome. I believe OLED has significant potential for cost reduction, possibly below the cost of LCD.

“… according to the vast majority of Las Vegas cab drivers I’ve surveyed this week, 4K and OLED sets are what most CES showgoers are talking about, too. All that attention is warranted. If you’ve seen an OLED or 4K set in action, you probably want one. If you want one, you probably can’t afford one. And if you can afford one, you probably should be watching it right now instead of reading this story. Shame on you, moneybags.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2024911/oled-and-4k-at-ces-2013-the-fantasy-and-the-reality-video-.html

15.   UV Light Emitting Machine Disinfects Hospital Rooms In Minutes

UV light is commonly used to sterilize things so it is a bit surprising to hear that somebody had to come up with this idea. Even a ‘robot’ seems superfluous: a set of moving UV lamps on a time should be enough to clear an infected room.

“It’s a staggering modern-day irony that the most common complication for hospital patients is acquiring an infection during their visit, affecting 1 in 20 patients in the US. It’s a problem estimated to cause millions of infections with 100,000 or so leading to death per year and a whopping $45 billion annually in hospital costs. If this isn’t bad enough, the tragedies from deadly superbugs within healthcare facilities are on the rise and will likely continue as the last lines of antibiotics fail without any new drugs moving fast enough up the pipeline to help. Fortunately, an alternative to medication promises to vastly improve the disinfection of hospital rooms, thanks to a UV light-emitting robot from Xenex Healthcare.”

http://singularityhub.com/2013/01/13/uv-light-emitting-robot-disinfects-hospital-rooms-in-minutes/

16.   Toshiba creating nuclear reactor for mining Canada Tar Sands

This makes perfect sense from a number of perspectives, including an environmental one. Modern nukes are far safer than the Gen 0 and Gen 1 plants behind historical disasters, though I admit the environmentalist has a point about a combined earthquake and tsunami (I suspect the cause of a tsunami in Alberta would be greater concern than the wave itself, and I do not believe Alberta is exactly earthquake prone). In any event, I predict any actual deployment of nuclear technology will be vocally opposed by the usual collection of celebrities and starlets, whatever its merits.

“Nikkei reported this week that the company had completed design of a small 10,000kw reactor and had asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval to begin construction in the United States, but the process had been delayed in connection with a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. The company also planned to seek approval from Canadian authorities.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/01/17/toshiba-creating-nuclear-reactor-for-mining-canada-tar-sands/

17.   Paul Krugman is Wrong about the Rise of the Robots

The author (and Krugman) both have disparate political orientations which no doubt frame their opinions. Plus, both come at it from a typically American perspective – blithely ignorant of the possibility other economic arrangements even exist. Realistically, every ‘labor saving machine’ has engendered fear and created economic displacement, and yet we live as kings did a couple centuries ago: with the obvious exception of weaponry, progress is generally good and uplifting for the broader population.

“In a recent post, Krugman says the following: Smart machines may make higher GDP possible, but also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots. I think there is a fundamental problem with this way of thinking: as jobs and incomes are relentlessly automated away, the bulk of consumers will lack the income necessary to drive the demand that is critical to economic growth.”

http://econfuture.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/paul-krugman-is-wrong-about-the-rise-of-the-robots/

18.   Nokia releases 3D printer kit for home-made Lumia 820 cases

A surprisingly intelligent move out of Nokia albeit one which will probably find few adopters due to the early stage of the 3D market. You can bet more and more companies will embrace the potential promotional advantages of 3D printing while an even greater number try to litigate.

“Nokia has published the files necessary for people to 3D print their own Nokia Lumia 820 cases. Harking back to the days of the 3310, when interchangeable fascias were the height of cool and the Baha Men were stumped over who allowed some canines to escape, the files allow you to design your own case for the Windows Phone phone.”

http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/nokia-releases-3d-printer-kit-for-home-made-lumia-820-cases-1125952

19.   Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries?

Every objective study I have seen suggests biofuels consumed more energy to produce than they deliver.  In other words, it takes more than one litre of fuel to grow, harvest, transport, and process one liter of biofuels. This strongly suggests biofuel subsidies are not environmentally positive (because they cause a net drawdown on fossil fuels) but simply a cash cow for agribusiness.

“If you were to take every gram of crops produced anywhere in the world for all purposes — and that includes every grape, every ton of wheat, every ton of soybeans and corn — and you were to use that for biofuels and essentially stop eating, those crops would produce about 14 percent of world energy.”

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/16/169538570/could-some-midwest-land-support-new-biofuel-refineries

20.   How a ‘model’ employee got away with outsourcing his software job to China

This is an amusing ‘real life’ incarnation of a Dilbert cartoon. The company he works for probably outsources customer service to India, so he is just beating them at their own game The net outcome of this amusing episode will most certainly be the employer’s loss of a good manager whi they thought was a developer.

“Bob was his company’s best software developer, got glowing performance reviews and earned more than $250,000 a year. Then one day last spring, Bob’s employer thought the company’s computer system had been attacked by a virus. The ensuing forensic probe revealed that Bob’s software code had in fact been the handiwork of a Chinese subcontractor.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/how-a-model-employee-got-away-with-outsourcing-his-software-job-to-china/article7409256/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 11th, 2013

Hello

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

 

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

 

 

1.        Will Windows 8 Be the End of Intel’s Dominance in the CPU Arena?

This is my first ‘think piece’ on The Geek’s Reading List’ blog. I haven’t figured out how to distribute those so recommendations would be welcome. Just to be clear: I do not expect most people to agree with my views, but I do hope they think about them.

“Let’s take our first attempt at a touchscreen based operating system for PCs and sell it on mouse-based desktops and laptops which have no touch screen. Because people will resist this change, we’ll strip out all the mouse-based user interface components. Unlike prior editions of Windows, we’ll change the licensing agreement so you can’t ‘downgrade’ to Windows 7 on the most popular platforms. Then, we’ll convince many PC manufacturers not to offer Windows 7 drivers, so even if a consumer is willing to pay us they won’t be able to install Windows 7 on their new hardware. Finally, we’ll impose this UEFI ‘secure boot’ feature on vendors to make it really hard to find a measure of mercy installing Linux or Android.”

https://thegeeksreadinglist.com/2013/01/09/will-windows-8-be-the-end-of-intels-dominance-in-the-cpu-arena/

2.        Microsoft: Kill the Craptops Before They Destroy Windows!

It just goes to show that not only Apple fanboys are idiots: Microsoft fanboys may be rare, but they are just as clueless. The argument seems to be that Microsoft should ‘do something’ to limit the low cost laptops that people actually want to own, in order to promote the merits of its most recent release of bloatware. If the low end Windows laptop market were to disappear, it would simply be replaced by a low end Linux/Android market (see Amazon’s top selling laptop doesn’t run Windows or Mac OS, it runs Linux), with devastating consequences for Microsoft.

“Release after release, Microsoft pushes Windows forward. Yet the operating system is continually undermined by the “value-focused” low-end machines pushed by the majority of OEMs. This race to the bottom has tarnished Windows for a decade and now threatens to derail Windows 8. Microsoft must do something to stop the crap before it’s too late!”

http://blog.fosketts.net/2013/01/07/microsoft-kill-craptops-destroy-windows/

3.        US MacBook sales drop 6% over 2012 holidays, NPD says

I don’t know how significant this is, but it does reaffirm my view that the era of PC growth is in the past, mostly because the market is mature and there is no impetus to replace a perfectly functional machine. The fact the slow-down is happening concurrent with the Windows 8 debacle is interesting, however.

“NPD Group’s Weekly Tracking Service revealed on Friday that Apple’s MacBook sales from Nov. 18 through Dec. 22 were lower than the same period in 2011. Despite slower sales, the average selling price of MacBooks was up nearly $100 from a year prior to $1,419.”

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/01/04/us-macbook-sales-drop-6-over-2012-holidays-npd-says

4.        Amazon’s top selling laptop doesn’t run Windows or Mac OS, it runs Linux

This caught my eye because it is so unexpected, though I don’t really know how significant Amazon is as a PC vendor. I believe the Windows 8 fiasco may be the beginning of the end for the traditional WinTel PC (see my lead article). Time will tell.

“We all know now that Windows 8 sales have been…. disappointing. You can blame the hardware. You can blame Windows 8’s mixed-up interfaces. You can blame the rise of tablets and smartphones. Whatever. The bottom line is Windows 8 PC and laptop sales have been slow. So, what, according to Amazon, in this winter of Windows 8 discontent has been the best selling laptop? It’s Samsung’s ARM-powered, Linux-based Chromebook.”

http://www.zdnet.com/amazons-top-selling-laptop-doesnt-run-windows-or-mac-os-it-runs-linux-7000009433/

5.        USB 3.0 getting a speed boost to 10 Gbps

This probably signals the death of Thunderbolt, which will simply be another in a long list of orphaned standards which never took off. SuperSpeed USB will have the advantage of backwards compatibility.

“The USB 3.0 Promoter Group has used CES 2013 to announce an enhancement to the USB 3.0 (aka SuperSpeed USB) standard that will see the throughput performance of USB 3.0 double from 5 Gbps to 10 Gbps. The speed boost will come courtesy of enhanced USB connectors and cables that are fully backward compatible with existing USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices.”

http://www.gizmag.com/usb-30-enhancement-10-gbps/25654/

6.        Intel, Plastic Logic and Queen’s U build the PaperTab: a flexible e-paper tablet

Cool video, but it is quite clear even the display is rough around the edges. This sort of thing might find a market (sans dirty big cable) if prices drop to the tens of dollars range.

“The prototype runs a Sandy Bridge-era Core i5 processor that lets it stand on its own, but it’s ultimately designed to work as part of a team: position awareness lets multiple PaperTabs join together to share a work area, and tapping one tablet with content can send it to a waiting document in another. The bendy nature isn’t just for durability and a paper-like feel, either, as readers can flip through pages just by bending the relevant side.”

http://www.engadget.com/2013/01/07/intel-plastic-logic-and-queens-university-build-the-papertab/

7.        Battle for Canadian wireless airwaves about to heat up

It’s hard to have an auction when only three or four bidders are permitted due to protection against ‘foreign’ competition, and a lack of domestic capital to fund deployment of a network. I believe this will be the first truly open spectrum auction in Canada and it should attract well-funded foreign bidders: after all, the incumbents are bloated, non-competitive, and highly profitable.

“Things will be considerably different from the previous auction in 2008. For one, Wind, Mobilicity and Public didn’t exist then – that auction brought them into being through special rules, which reserved a portion of licenses for new players. More importantly this time around, foreign investors will be much freer to participate. With an amendment to the Telecommunications Act this past summer allowing majority ownership and control of infrastructure-based companies, foreigners can now actively get involved in the Canadian market.”

http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/blogs/insight/battle-canadian-wireless-airwaves-heat-160244512.html

8.        iPhone 5 now available with unlimited service, no contract on Walmart’s $45 Straight Talk plan

I’ve had a Straight Talk phone for use in the US and they offer amazing deals: you can walk out of the store with a new phone and service for less than a SIM card costs in Canada. An interesting thought about this deal – consumers tend to associate the cost of the service with the cost of the device, so a discounted service suggests a more cost sensitive consumer.

“Straight Talk’s $45 monthly plan requires no contract and includes unlimited calling, messaging and data. Unlimited international calling to select destinations can be added for an additional $15 per month.”

http://bgr.com/2013/01/09/iphone-5-straight-talk-unlimited-286468/

9.        The trouble with 4K TV

Distribution (having something to watch) is going to be a major challenge for UHDTV, but it is not the only one: I doubt most people will appreciate the difference in terms of image quality on the sorts of TV set sizes which fit in to the average room. However, set manufacturers are desperate for something to drive prices up, so we’ll see a big push to get these to market.

“There’s no other way of describing the technology: the latest ultra-high-definition (UHD) television sets look absolutely amazing. From television to cinema, the “4K” resolutions on offer represent a new frontier in entertainment. But the industry faces a big and perhaps even insurmountable challenge: distribution.”

http://www.techcentral.co.za/the-trouble-with-4k-tv/37344/

10.   Answer Calls in the Shower With Sony’s Flagship Android Phone

I’d buy one, if the price is reasonable, though, unfortunately, Sony products are rarely reasonably priced. Humidity is a major killer of phones and there is no reason waterproof phones should not be the norm – after all you can buy waterproof GPS units for under $100. A weatherproof phone would be a hit among people who do outdoor sports, and I have to keep mine in a plastic bag while hunting.

“You don’t have to worry about Sony’s newest flagship smartphone getting wet in a rainstorm. Called the Xperia Z, the Android handset is both dust and water resistant — IP55 and IP57, specifically — and can survive the rain or even an accidental swim in your local pool.”

http://mashable.com/2013/01/07/shower-sony-flagship-android-phone/

11.   FCC to free up additional Wi-Fi spectrum to boost speeds

This is great news however the comment at the bottom that the FCC is working to free up unlicensed spectrum at lower bands is very encouraging, especially if they raise the permitted power output. What is needed is long-haul WiFi, especially for rural areas.

“The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday plans to free up 195 megahertz of wireless spectrum in the 5 gigahertz band to help increase Wi-Fi speeds and alleviate congestion in high-traffic areas.”

http://ces.cnet.com/8301-34435_1-57563148/fcc-to-free-up-additional-wi-fi-spectrum-to-boost-speeds/

12.   Satellite Internet: 15Mbps, no matter where you live in the US

There are two problems with satellite broadband services, beside poor reliability, and latency issues (you can’t change the laws of physics: c is the fastest speed there is). First is that you are trying to pay for a spacecraft with a rapidly shrinking market as mobile services become more and more available. Second, high speed with low bandwidth caps is nonsense as the two have to rise proportionately or there is no value to either.

“ViaSat’s Exede service launched last year as a major improvement over WildBlue. It offers 12Mbps down and 3Mbps up across all of its plans, differentiating tiers not by speed but by data usage. Usage is unlimited from midnight to 5am, but metered at all other times of the day. $50 a month gets you 10GB per month, $80 equates to 15GB, and $130 provides 25GB.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/01/satellite-internet-15mbps-no-matter-where-you-live-in-the-us/

13.   Garmin’s K2 ‘glass cockpit’ will change the way you interact with your car, we go hands-on at CES (video)  Hands-on

This is a very interesting concept, though it is hard to know when it will come to a car near you. I believe it is OEM only (so you won’t be able to retrofit your Corolla), which means Garmin will have to bring an auto manufacturer on board, if they haven’t already done so. The issue of cost is another concern as things like OnStar require a subscription, and apparently consumers often opt out. Finally, the greatest leverage would probably come through an open standards approach so you’d get greater leverage from more systems in vehicles.

“Infotainment platforms are a dime a dozen these days, but Garmin’s K2 “glass cockpit” is definitely one system that you’re going to want to take seriously. You’ll be interacting with a 10.4-inch capacitive touch screen, which is positioned front and center, while a squat 12-inch digital gauge and information readout console is fixed just behind the steering wheel. The system pulls its real time data from Garmin’s servers through your connected smartphone, or, if vehicle manufacturers opt to include it, you may be able to maintain a constant connection by adding a dedicated modem. Then, you’ll have access to realtime traffic information, fuel rates at local gas stations, along with email, text messages and other data feeds, including news and sports scores.”

http://www.engadget.com/2013/01/08/garmins-k2-glass-cockpit-hands-on/

14.   iTwin Connect Lets You Browse Restricted Sites From Your Work PC

As corporate IT departments get more and more hysterical about security, counter measures are attractive to employees. My former employer encrypted everything I wrote to a USB drive, but I could email anything I wanted to, so I did, in fact, email unencrypted files to myself. It is a matter of time before the corporate IT priesthood disables all communications completely because it’ll make their jobs easier.

“The iTwin Connect is a tiny USB device made up of two identical halves. To use the Connect, you detach one end and plug it into your home or office PC, and then carry the other, the “key,” around with you for browsing on the go. When you’re ready to browse, plug the key into another computer to create a secure VPN (virtual personal network) tunnel to the home or office computer where the other end is connected.”

http://mashable.com/2013/01/08/itwin-connect/

15.   Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms

I kind of agree that tablets might be useful in the classroom once they get to the $100 range, which they will in a few years, so this makes an interesting overview.

“I have used all sorts of “smart” classroom tools and devices. Electronic whiteboards, clickers, projection systems, video capture systems and classroom control systems are just some of the devices that have entered my classrooms and my IT repair bench over the years. As a CIO in higher education, my budgets have felt the strain of some of these devices. Some were good and some were bad and, all too often, the ROI was hard to show. But now, finally, classroom devices are becoming smarter with the advent of tablet computing.”

http://www.informationweek.com/why-tablets-will-kill-smart-boards-in-cl/240145886

16.   Leading Environmental Activist’s Blunt Confession: I Was Completely Wrong To Oppose GMOs

Well, you have to give him some credit for admitting he was wrong. Yes, genetic modification can be used for ill, however, the major problem I see is the harassment of farmers by multinationals. Ultimately, opposition to GMOs has more to do with what ‘environmentalism’ has become: namely knee-jerk opposition to development and change.

“So I guess you’ll be wondering—what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/01/03/mark_lynas_environmentalist_who_opposed_gmos_admits_he_was_wrong.html

17.   Sensory hair cells regenerated, hearing restored in mammal ear

This sounds profoundly important, however, I can’t evaluate whether the technique is transferable to humans. The use of a drug, rather than stem cells is particularly interesting: presumably the drug is only administered to the appropriate region in the ear, which might limit the risk of adverse side-effects.

“In the Jan. 10 issue of Neuron, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School researchers demonstrate for the first time that hair cells can be regenerated in an adult mammalian ear by using a drug to stimulate resident cells to become new hair cells, resulting in partial recovery of hearing in mouse ears damaged by noise trauma. This finding holds great potential for future therapeutic application that may someday reverse deafness in humans.”

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-01-sensory-hair-cells-regenerated-mammal.html

18.   Full sight restored to blind mice using new stem cell therapy

So, in one month they have restored sight and hearing in mice. This is the best write up I’ve found on this advance, though it seems to be translated from another language. I don’t think we can conclude ‘full sight’ was restored, though the video clearly shows a response to light. Maybe if they can teach the mice to read an eye chart we will know for sure. That’s next month.

“Researches have been conducted, in order to determine the possibility of restoring full sight of blind mice. The studies have been made on a batch of 12 mice which were suffering from lack of photoreceptors sensible to light. The method used was to insert cells in state of development into the eyes of the mice, and observe the progression within a period of time. The cells used were precursor cells extracted from mice. Signs of redevelopment of a new layer of cells sensitive to light have appeared within an estimated time of two weeks.”

http://www.doctortipster.com/12479-full-sight-restored-to-blind-mice-using-new-stem-cell-therapy.html

19.   Abolishing patents: Too soon or too late?

The article is not as bad as the title suggests – after all without patents few inventions would find funding for their production. Realistically, a series of bad decisions has resulted in a system which is exploited by industry titans and ‘patent trolls’ to the detriment of a wide swath of industry. First, abolish software patents and business process patents. Second, subject any patent which is subject to litigation to a full and open review, paid for by the plaintiff as soon as a complaint if filed and prior to pretrial proceedings, with particular attention being paid to ‘obviousness’. None of this will happen, of course: too many politicians are lawyers.

“”Patents are here to stay.” This is the sort of statement that makes me uneasy. I guess in the 17th century the common wisdom was “slavery is here to stay.” In the 18th century giving voting rights to women seemed absurd and foreseeing open borders between France and German was crazy talk in 1945. At a certain point, fortunately, those things changed for the better. Is it time to change the common wisdom on patents as well? Is the time ripe—will it ever be?—to utter the frightening word abolition? I do not have the privilege to know the answer, but I regard the question as a legitimate one. According to some patent experts, however, questioning the very existence of patents seems blasphemous.”

http://opensource.com/law/13/1/abolish-patents-too-soon-late

20.   Warp Field Mechanics 101

You read it here first. Well, second.

“Since the expansion and contraction of space does not have a speed limit, Alcubierre developed a model (metric) within the domain of general relativity that uses this physics loop hole and has almost all of the desired characteristics of a true interstellar space drive, much like what is routinely depicted in science fiction as a “warp drive”.”

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20110015936_2011016932.pdf

21.   DRONENET The next BIG thing.

Most likely unworkable for a number of reasons (parcel sizes vary, and the lifting capacity of drones is quite modest and doesn’t scale well), however the general idea of robotics delivery has some long term potential. After all, if driverless cars are coming, why not driverless delivery vehicles?

“More quickly than most people think once it gets going, since most of the infrastructure required to put it into motion is already in place. What is it? It’s an Internet of drones.”

http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2013/01/dronenet-the-next-big-thing.html

Will Windows 8 Be the End of Intel’s Dominance in the CPU Arena?

“Let’s take our first attempt at a touchscreen based operating system for PCs and sell it on mouse-based desktops and laptops which have no touch screen. Because people will resist this change, we’ll strip out all the mouse-based user interface components. Unlike prior editions of Windows, we’ll change the licensing agreement so you can’t ‘downgrade’ to Windows 7 on the most popular platforms. Then, we’ll convince many PC manufacturers not to offer Windows 7 drivers, so even if a consumer is willing to pay us they won’t be able to install Windows 7 on their new hardware. Finally, we’ll impose this UEFI ‘secure boot’ feature on vendors to make it really hard to find a measure of mercy installing Linux or Android.”

As you read the above paragraph the deficiencies of Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy becomes obvious. Therefore, you have to conclude that nobody within Microsoft actually had the courage to utter those same words. One can only hope there is panic in the boardrooms at Microsoft, because, if there isn’t there should be: unlike the Windows Vista fiasco, Windows 8 could mark a turning point for the PC industry.

Windows 8 by itself is probably a bit better in certain regards to Windows 7, despite its weird, distracting, and ultimately annoying ‘tiles’ interface. When my recently purchased HP laptop started up, the screen was filled with tiles providing me real time updates about things like the weather in Buenos Aries and the News in Tel Aviv. Why in hell I would give a tinker’s damn about either is unclear, but it only took me about an hour to figure out how to remove most of the distracting bloatware. (Right-click on a tile, select uninstall).

Of course, starting up my Windows 8 notebook was another ordeal completely – you have to register with Microsoft’s version of an ‘app store’ and, in order to do so, you have to have an email account. Needless to say, it took me a while to figure out how to deal with this (ironically I used my Android phone), by which time the install had timed out (why would it do that) and I now have to figure out how to remove an ‘orphaned’ user account (because you are required to enter a satisfactory password, and I hope I can remember which permutation of the dozens of passwords I have to use nowadays in order to delete it. I remain hopeful.

In the decision to eliminate a familiar mouse based user interface, Microsoft had the inspiration to remove the familiar ‘start’ button and require you to move to ‘magic’ areas on the screen which causes little menus to arise. So, no ‘start’ to open or search for a program, help, or settings, rather you move your mouse pointer to the upper right hand corner and a series of choices, like ‘Search’ appears. Fair enough – you could get used to that, I suppose, even though you now have to switch to typing (is this easy on a touchscreen?). If you enter something like ‘Power Off’ or ‘Restart’ (after all, why would you expect a user to want to do either), you get nothing as a result. Until, of course, you ask to search settings (this is a setting?) and discover that powering off in now in the notification menu.

Look – I can get used to a different way of powering off my computer, but how is this an improvement, let alone consistent?

Closing a program can be a similar sort of ordeal: move to the upper right (where the little ‘X’ used to be) and click and drag down to the bottom. Some programs (like Windows Explorer) still have the little ‘X’, so you have to believe a Microsoft employee is doing penance for that inconsistency. Still, what used to be a mouse move and click is now move, click and hold and drag. Why? Happily, Alt-F4 seems to work (though, of course, that may vary from program to program). I remain optimistic that, over time the idiocies and inconsistencies of the user interface will become second nature or, alternatively, that I can learn enough ‘hot-key’ sequences to work around them. In other words, I am optimistic that the same skills I needed mastering WordPerfect in 1988 will assert themselves a full 25 years later. In the meanwhile, I and going to explore ‘Accessibility’ settings in Windows 8 because I am hoping that even Microsoft would draw the line in messing with those.

The effect on Microsoft would be obvious, unlike the Vista experience, people have more of a choice nowadays. Those who have a choice will look at spending their money on something else, though in my case spending 3x for an Apple laptop is of little interest, especially since all the software development and CAD tools I use are only available under Windows or Linux. Businesses will almost certainly avoid Windows 8 for as long as possible and only consider buying PCs which come with ‘downgrade’ rights and which have Windows 7 drivers, which eliminates a whole swath of the low-end systems favored by businesses. Linux or Android might be an option, but even that has been frustrated and complicated by Microsoft imposing UEFI ‘secure boot’ on hardware vendors. Either way, over the near term, through downgrades, installation of Linux (since you end up paying for a Windows 8 license anyway), Microsoft continues to tax technology.

You could, of course, opt for a Windows 8 based system with a touch screen (typically much more expensive than a mouse based system, and, in any event, not as useful), but if you are going to go ‘touch’ why not go with a popular platform such as iOS or Android? In other words, faced with a hard to use, touch screen based operating system, more consumers might be driven to move towards touch-screen devices like tablets, especially as costs come down as they surely will.

The success of Android (a touch screen ‘fork’ of Linux which is now the dominant mobile operating system) suggests to me that consumers who would not have considered it as an alternative for their desktop or laptop could easily be won over. After all, the Chromebook appears to be gaining some traction in the marketplace, being the top selling laptop on Amazon currently.

Over the near term, Microsoft may dream of winning consumers over to Windows 8, but unless they move quickly, odds are they are simply going to drive them to new platforms like Linux and Android. You might dismiss this as an impossibility, but take a look at Research in Motion’s implosion – they ignored the web, believing, falsely, that they knew better, and that, in any event, their overwhelming dominance in the enterprise was not assailable. They were wrong. Microsoft is wrong in believing that its position as the dominant PC operating system is unassailable. Their best hope as this juncture is to release a service pack or overlay which at least restores some level of usability to Windows 8. Then they can hope that, all evidence to the contrary, touchscreens will take off in the PC market and they’ll have a ready solution already out there. It will be a damned close run thing, even if they enter damage control mode immediately.

Now, how might this impact Intel? Well, nobody really cares much about the CPU their gadgets are using. They really don’t because they interact with software, not caches or bus interface units or cores. Users do care about performance, up to a point, and beyond that point they are indifferent. Consider the success of video game consoles: are they bought for what they do or the elegance of the underlying platform?

If you are running Windows, you care a lot about which processor you have, because if it isn’t Intel or AMD, very little of your software is going to run. That is the flaw in the Windows/ARM fantasy: yes, something which looks like Windows may be running, but none of your application software will run unless it has specifically been re-written for Windows/ARM. A similar reality holds if you are running a Linux, however, in that case, most of the applications are open source and have already been (or soon will be) modified and tested for whatever platform you may be running, be it ARM or x86.

In other words, as interest shifts from Windows 8 towards something which may or may not be better, but certainly isn’t much worse, indifference as to CPU architecture shifts accordingly. Once an heterogeneous PC environment emerges, Intel will be in serious trouble. Unlike Microsoft, which could operate as a cash cow for many years, Intel needs to spend a lot of money on R&D and capital investment in order to maintain its lead on the pack. Take a look at AMD to see what could be in Intel’s future.

Intel can only hope sanity prevails at Microsoft before it is too late.

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 4th, 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 4th, 2013

Hello

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Happy New Year everybody!

 

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

 

1.        Semi upswing seen for 2013

If you are an industry forecaster you want to get your optimistic forecasts out early on so you have plenty of time to revise them downwards as the months go by. Two issues of note –  first: people who are buying smartphones are not buying dumb phones (which weren’t that dumb anyway) so there is an offset, even in a growth market. The second issue is stock market related: why do semiconductor companies, few of which grow beyond single digit percentages (and fewer yet generate free cash flow) trade at valuations above brick companies?

“Strength in mobile devices and weakness in PCs will characterize the coming year and drive global semiconductor market growth of 4.9 percent in 2013 after a flat 2012, according to market forecast firm International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.).”

http://eetimes.com/electronics-news/4404058/Chip-market-to-turn-up-in-2013–says-IDC

2.        Fujitsu to miss sales target due to ‘weak’ Windows 8 demand

I don’t think you can entirely blame Windows 8 (though, I admit I wished I could have bought a non-Windows 8 laptop when I bought a new one recently). The consumer only has so much money and with smartphones and tablets costing more than the average PC, replacing a perfectly functional notebook is no longer a priority so replacement cycles continue to extend.

“Japan’s biggest IT services company said it will miss its annual shipment target for personal computers amid sluggish demand for Windows 8, according to Bloomberg. Fujitsu President Masami Yamamoto was speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Thursday.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561176-75/fujitsu-to-miss-sales-target-due-to-weak-windows-8-demand/

3.        Is Windows 8 Adoption Rate Really Trailing Vista’s?

I am not really certain that the statistics are meaningful. Online usage share is bound to be impacted by the nature of the applications installed, age of the user, etc.. Oddly enough though, in this case, you’d think the bias would actually favor Windows 8.

“Data compiled by Web analytics firm Net Applications put Windows 8’s online usage share at just under 1.6 percent through Dec. 22 as measured in relation to all desktop and laptop PC operating systems. Microsoft made its next-gen PC and tablet platform available on Oct. 26. Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer tabbed back through the data to find that Vista, after the same period of time following its 2007 release, had shown up on 2.2 percent of all Windows systems (you can access the same data by clicking back through the Net Application report.)”

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2413621,00.asp

4.        Lessons in Technology and Innovation from the iPad 3 Graphics and Display

An interesting write up which looks into the iPad 3 and, indirectly, how Apple uses a Jobsian reality distortion field to convince people they need something they really don’t get. They use marketing to position a display (which Apple doesn’t make) as a ‘breakthrough’ despite a lack of needed performance to exploit its capabilities. This does provide a stepping stop for further enhancements, but most companies would not be able to get away with it. Fortunately, Apple has legions of fanboys to smooth out the wrinkle in the distortion field. For now.

“As a company, Apple’s success is not due to superior technology, nor to customer service, and certainly not to low prices. Apple’s unique niche is discerning untapped or unmet consumer needs and designing products that unlock or reshape markets. While Apple is rarely first to a market, the products are typically far better suited to the majority of customers. Largely, this is a combination of excellent aesthetics, industrial design, and adopting the right technologies for the product.”

http://www.realworldtech.com/ipad3-graphics/

5.        Apple Killed the Netbook

What an idiot! I would have thought that it was becoming politically acceptable to not assign Steve Job’s brilliance to every market shift in technology land, but no, it seems you have to find an Apple Angle (probably patented) in everything. You see, Macbook Airs are, actually netbooks, albeit expensive ones. What killed the netbook is the fact that you can now buy a 15.6” quad core notebook computer with 500Gb to 1Tb HDD and 6 to 8Gb of DRAM for about $400. That meant that, outside of fanboy land there is no room for a ‘netbook’, though, last I looked, Apple still sells them (at an astronomical price).

“Netbooks were terrible machines, a technological blight that threatened to become the future of computing. They had awful, nearly unusable keyboards, very slow processors, and they ran versions of Windows or Linux that were a trudge to use on tiny screens. Yet despite their awfulness, they were embraced by the world’s largest tech firms—Intel, Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Lenovo were all gaga for them.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/01/what_happened_to_netbooks_apple_s_ipad_and_macbook_air_killed_the_400_former.single.html?mrefid=twitter

6.        Report: TSMC building A6X chips for Apple

Suing your largest supplier on multiple fronts is bound to have negative ramifications for both parties. Samsung can do without Apple as a customer, and Apple can do without Samsung as a semiconductor supplier (though displays may be another matter). That being said, changing foundries is not without risk, especially at the bleeding edge.

“The Taiwanese-based TSMC has reportedly been tapped to manufacture future batches of Apple ARM-based A6X chip that currently powers Cupertino’s most recent iPad. According to the Taiwan Commercial Times, trial production of the mobile chips on a 28nm process (as opposed to Samsung’s 32nm) will kick off during the first quarter of 2013.”

http://www.tgdaily.com/hardware-features/68457-report-tsmc-building-a6x-chips-for-apple

7.        Docomo joins smartphone OS project / New device may reach market in 2013

I rather doubt the objective here is to compete with Google and Apple on the global stage as much as to provide a proprietary ‘Japan friendly’ alternative. What works in Japan is not necessarily reflective of what would work anywhere else on the planet.

“In an effort to compete with U.S. tech giants Google and Apple, NTT Docomo Inc. is jointly developing a new operating system for smartphones that it hopes to put on the market next year, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. Docomo, Japan’s largest mobile communication company, has joined with South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and other firms to develop a system that will take a larger slice of the smartphone pie. Google and Apple hold a 90 percent share of the market.”

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/business/T121230002722.htm

8.        Amazon spinning out Kindle’s Lab126?

It certainly looks like something is going on with Amazon’s Kindle lab, though the author’s speculation may be only one of a set of possible outcomes. With $99 tablets on the way one has to wonder about the future of e-readers, especially when they are purportedly being sold at cost. Amazon probably has the choice of getting in to the tablet business with both feet, or getting out of it altogether and focusing on the software (books, etc.).

“The Kindle team is apparently on fire (excuse the bad pun). It aims to hire everything short of a CEO and dishwasher. The broad and diverse set of openings made me wonder whether Amazon might be spinning Lab126 out as a stand-alone company.”

http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4404056/Will-Amazon-spin-out-Kindle-s-Lab126-

9.        Foursquare updates privacy policy to show users’ full names publicly and share more data with venues

Golly – a system which lets anybody see my name associated with a physical location. What could go wrong with that? After all, thieves would usually prefer you not be home when they break and enter, and stalkers need a break sometimes as well.

“Foursquare has sent an email to its users detailing changes to its privacy policy that are due to come into effect late next month. The company says that the changes are aimed at making the way it displays users’ names less confusing and allowing businesses to see more visitors who have recently checked in at their venues. It has also published a new document called Privacy 101, which explains the principles of Foursquare’s approach to privacy in plain English.”

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/12/30/foursquare-privacy-policy-change-28-january/

10.   U.S. Internet Users Pay More for Slower Service

I was surprised to see this article on Bloomberg, though it does accurately portray the anti-competitive tactics used by the large players. I do think Internet services should be a utility (after all – how are they different from electricity or telephone services?), however, regulation would almost certainly be structure to benefit the large players and frustrate innovation. I’d prefer a ‘clean slate’ approach and eliminate many of the antiquated rules regarding installation of wireline and the structure and nature of wireless licenses.

“Push-back from the local telephone company, BellSouth Corp., and the local cable company, Cox Communications Inc., was immediate. They tried to get laws passed to stop the network, sued the city, even forced the town to hold a referendum on the project — in which the people voted 62 percent in favor. Finally, in February 2007, after five civil lawsuits, the Louisiana Supreme Court voted, 7-0, to allow the network.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-27/u-s-internet-users-pay-more-for-slower-service.html

11.   ‘The Hobbit’ Creates Big Data Challenge For Moviemaker

A major challenge for movie cameras is dealing with the rather massive amounts of data which comes out of them. This, in turn, results in enormous files, though at least you can deal with that in non-real time. Every advance creates a new bottleneck, and those bottlenecks get solved. This will be ho-hum technology in a few years.

“When it comes to manipulating massive amounts of digital information, few creative industries can match the data-intensive workloads of movie and TV production. And the advent of cutting-edge motion picture and HDTV technologies, including high frame rate (HFR) 3-D and 4K TV, will generate even more data.”

http://www.informationweek.com/big-data/news/big-data-analytics/the-hobbit-creates-big-data-challenge-for-moviemaker/240145406

12.   CES 2013: The Year the “Connected Home” Becomes a Reality?

We are seeing an increasing number of CE products which use WiFi to deliver connectivity. Unfortunately, many such devices have byzantine set up procedures which are likely beyond the capacity of the average homeowner. Probably this is because routers need a ‘gadget’ device class to simplify set up and use, especially out of the box.

“But at this year’s International CES it could be the smaller home devices that win the spotlight — likely a Wi-Fi connected spotlight.”

http://allthingsd.com/20130103/ces-2013-the-year-the-connected-home-becomes-a-reality/

13.   Wireless Power May Cut the Cord for Plug-In Devices, Including Cars

Wireless charging makes some sense for low powered, portable devices like mobile phones, tablets, and so on. Fewer connectors means better reliability and the inefficiencies inherent in wireless charging are offset by the convenience. That being said, I am a little curious about what happens to your credit and debit cards in the presence of ‘resonant magnetic fields.’

“In the bumper of an electric BMW coupe, WiTricity has placed a wireless coil that receives power from a resonator embedded in the floor beneath the car. The system can transmit up to 3,300 watts per hour and takes four to six hours to fully charge the vehicle.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/12/121228-wireless-power

14.   Toyota sneak previews self-drive car ahead of tech show

In my opinion, the major obstacle to commercialization of the ‘self-driving car’ is lawyers, not technology. I was listening to a podcast recently (http://thefutureandyou.libsyn.com/the-future-and-you-december-19-2012) which included a brief discussion of the ramifications to society and the auto industry. I think they got some bits wrong (beyond the limits of this comment, in any event), but there could be profoundly positive effects to society and the need to completly restructure certain industries. After all – self driving cars would be the first practical robotic servant.

“The car maker revealed a video clip of a Lexus fitted with safety features designed to minimise car crashes. The technology includes on-board radar and video cameras to monitor the road, the surroundings, and the driver.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20910769

15.   Micro stars, macro effects

Actually, the fact is economics has a pretty abysmal history, though you would not expect The Economist to acknowledge such. Seriously – this is a ‘science’ which lacks any evidence (let alone proof) of predictive skill. Yes, if you work at it, you can find economic theories which worked, once or twice, and laud those occasions as proof of their utility. I believe economists have the societal utility of poets: they sometimes tell interesting stories. Sadly, however, policies are determined by the popular economist stories of the day …

“ON THE face of it, economics has had a dreadful decade: it offered no prediction of the subprime or euro crises, and only bitter arguments over how to solve them. But alongside these failures, a small group of the world’s top microeconomists are quietly revolutionising the discipline. Working for big technology firms such as Google, Microsoft and eBay, they are changing the way business decisions are made and markets work.”

http://www.economist.com/news/21567079-meet-economists-who-are-making-markets-work-better-micro-stars-macro-effects

16.   Bill may recoup lost gas tax revenue

One of the things I find amusing about ‘alternative energy’ proposals (including the ‘Hydrogen Economy’) is the fact that so much of the ‘advantage’ arises from subsidy and differential taxation rather than the merits of the particular approach itself. This is not, in general, how things get started. However, the reality is the bills have to be paid and if enough cars were made to run off electricity or whatever, you’d have to tax that to pay for the roads. Mind you, Oregon could simply raise the tax on gasoline, which would also raise the ire of their pickup truck driving constituents. (Mind you my pickup truck gets pretty good mileage …)

“Drivers of certain fuel-efficient vehicles who skirt paying a gas tax at the pump may have to pitch in to fund the state’s roads. The state Legislature is expected to consider a bill that would require drivers with a vehicle getting at least 55 miles per gallon of gasoline or equivalent to pay a tax per mile after 2015. Drivers would also have the option of paying a flat amount annually.”

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130102/news/301020088/1103?gcheck=1

17.   Indiego’s 2012 In Crowdfunding: Campaigns Raised 20% More Than In 2012

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasing popular option for entrepreneurs, though it is not without its challenges. Entrepreneurs and small businesses have been more or less shut out by investment banks, who prefer to help foist the latest private equity fiasco in waiting onto an unsuspecting public. I suspect crowdfuding will grow in size and scope and eventually take over the low end of the capital markets industry, provided regulation doesn’t prevent it.

“All told, campaigns launched in 2012 raised 20 percent more than they did on average in 2011, and ran for only 49 days. In 2011, the average campaign not only brought in less cash, but also ran for 60 days, or 22 percent longer. Among successful campaigns in 2012, the funding periods were even shorter: on average, projects that met their goal lasted for only 39 days. This decrease in the time required for a project to meet its goals, coupled with higher funding amounts, pretty clearly points to an increase in the overall comfort level and popularity of crowdfunding with the general population: more funders more eager to donate would definitely lead to this kind of result.”

http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/03/indiegogos-2012-in-crowdfunding-campaigns-raised-20-more-than-in-2011-with-shorter-funding-periods/

18.   Outmaneuvered at Their Own Game, Antivirus Makers Struggle to Adapt

Every now and then scare stories emerge regarding the threat from viruses and other malware. I am not saying it is not a problem, but asking the anti-virus remedy vendors about a threat is probably not going to yield much in the way of objective information. My experience is that, over the years, less and less traffic I see is virus or malware related and more and more is ‘legitimate’ spam: why do I need three emails a day from Amazon or Expedia?

“Consumers and businesses spend billions of dollars every year on antivirus software. But these programs rarely, if ever, block freshly minted computer viruses, experts say, because the virus creators move too quickly. That is prompting start-ups and other companies to get creative about new approaches to computer security.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/technology/antivirus-makers-work-on-software-to-catch-malware-more-effectively.html?hp&_r=2&

19.   Wind turbines ‘only lasting for half as long as previously thought’ as study shows they show signs of wearing out after just 12 years

Why do I think that the UK government’s response will be to increase subsidies (and thereby the cost of electric power in the UK), rather than question their starting assumptions? The problem seems to be that large wind turbines may be more efficient, but they don’t last as long. The idea that some magical solution will arise regarding wind turbine reliability is laughable: a machine is a machine.

“Wind farms have just half the useful lifespan which has been claimed, according to new research which found they start to wear out after just 12 years. A study of almost 3,000 turbines in Britain – the largest of its kind – sheds doubt on manufacturers claims that they generate clean energy for up to 25 years, which is used by the Government to calculate subsidies.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2254901/Wind-turbines-half-long-previously-thought-study-shows-signs-wearing-just-12-years.html

20.   Great Barrier Reef corals found at ‘mind-blowing’ 410 feet deep

I find it interesting they do not reflect upon the temperatures found at that depth. I’m guessing around 50 degrees, give or take, vs. near 80 degree close to the surface. In any event, coral appear to be able to thrive over a wide range of temperatures (as they have done over the past few hundred million years) and we are expected to believe they are all going to die off from predicted a couple degree shift over the next century. Perhaps the ones living at 10 feet depth will move to 11 feet, and the ones at 450 feet will move to 451 feet.

“The common coral Acropora is living 410 feet (125 meters) below the ocean’s surface, a discovery that expedition leader Pim Bongaerts of the University of Queensland called “mind-blowing.” The group had previously seen the coral living in the reef at a depth of about 200 feet (60 m).”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/50346746/ns/technology_and_science-science/#.UOTeYW8kJrM