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


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


Brian Piccioni

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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.”

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!”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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”.”

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.”

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