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

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

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.”

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.”

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.”–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.”

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.”

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).”

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 or, 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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.””

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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