The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 22nd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 22nd 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.        Windows 8: Microsoft’s Progress Debated

I find the “numbers of apps” a pretty pointless figure for any platform. Most “apps” are trivia – essentially little more than webpages. This is especially the case for Windows Phone because they are essentially ported from Android and it is quite clear that app development is not the road to riches it was expected to be. In any event, only Microsoft knows how Windows 8 is doing at the moment. My personal view is “not well”.

“If you just read the headlines, it might seem that Microsoft is on a roll with its new Windows products. In the first half of February, Windows Phone posted a 150% year-over-year improvement in market share, Windows 8 users gained access to 750,000 additional apps and analysts speculated that Microsoft Office might be sitting on billions in untapped revenue. The news might sound encouraging to Redmond fans and, in some ways, the enthusiasm is warranted. The bigger narrative, though, is how these developments reaffirm the obstacles Microsoft faces in executing its Windows 8 strategy.”

2.        Exclusive: Millions of printers open to devastating hack attack, researchers say

This could turn out to be a nightmare for HP – although the fire it is a bit over stated because, as HP points out there is a thermal cut off which prevents this from happening (and usually these self-reset, so the printer doesn’t really self-destruct). This hacking problem is a particular issue within the context of this news item from a few weeks ago . So, we have 80,000+ easily hackable online printers which, supposedly, cannot easily be fixed. Excellent.

“Could a hacker from half-way around the planet control your printer and give it instructions so frantic that it could eventually catch fire? Or use a hijacked printer as a copy machine for criminals, making it easy to commit identity theft or even take control of entire networks that would otherwise be secure?”

3.        All to play for

Social media and video games are two things I just don’t understand. Nonetheless, it is a very big business. There is a close relationship between hardware performance and software utility. Software is limited by human factors what hardware proceeds according to Moore’s Law. Early on, hardware limits software, eventually software limits the ability to exploit hardware (I call this decreasing marginal utility). We are probably there with video games. Of course, the platform vendors can simply come out with new platforms and discontinue the old ones, but that is a risky strategy. Ultimately, I believe open platforms will win out, which will marginalize the platform vendors.

“THESE days video games rival films as a form of entertainment. Sales figures are murky, but most estimates put annual revenues at between $60 billion and $70 billion. So the launch by Sony, on February 20th, of the PlayStation 4, its latest games console, was appropriately full of razzmatazz. Those attending the launch in New York were treated to a dazzling light show and images of goblins and ice goliaths from games for the new gizmo, which goes on sale towards the end of the year.”

4.        MIT researchers build Quad HD TV chip

Higher resolution TV requires advanced compression systems in order to fit the signal into the available bandwidth. HEVC is an emerging standard, and this device is actually a decoder, not a compressor. Compression tends to be more challenging, but can be done non-real time for many applications. Decoders tend to have to work real-time (which can be a challenge) but have to be cost effective: after all, in most applications you have many more receivers than transmitters.

“At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference this week, MIT researchers unveiled their own HEVC chip. The researchers’ design was executed by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, through its University Shuttle Program, and Texas Instruments (TI) funded the chip’s development.”

5.        Open Source Storage Changes Industry Cost Structure

Open source hardware is coming along however, as we have seen with open source software, there is considerable resistance among companies and institutions to adopt these types of platforms. That reticence will disappear, eventually. I suspect universities and schools will be more enthusiastic early adopters of Open Source Storage.

“Backblaze made their first generation “Storage Pod” design open source in 2009 and they have just announced the third generation of the Storage Pod.  Prior Storage Pod designs have been built into many build-it-yourself storage systems and some commercial OEMs have also picked up on the design.  The third generation increases storage capacity to 180 TB using 4 TB HDDs and allows multiple boot-drives, including SSD drives.  This product is open source like the earlier designs and the estimated cost of the boxes is $1,950 without drives.  With drives they estimate storage costs are about $0.06/GB, close to the naked HDD costs of about $0.04/GB.”

6.        How Big Business is Stymying Makers’ High-Res, Colorful Innovations

IP protection is good but this article makes a good point. We can consider ourselves fortunate that the use of patents to stifle innovation was not a dominant business theme when the semiconductor industry emerged – I figure we’d still be using 4 bit processors if that was the case. Perhaps some form of enforced licensing scheme is the answer.

“The past year was a breakout for desktop 3-D printing. MakerBot released two new models, Formlabs debuted the first prosumer 3-D printer to use high-accuracy stereolithography, and a slew of innovative, printed projects lifted awareness and desirability of additive manufacturing for the general public. But the year ended with a legal hiccup. Formlabs will be dealing with a patent infringement lawsuit brought against them by 3D Systems, one of the biggest players in the industry. The hobbyist segment of the industry has been built on the back of expired patents, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, many patents that will be required to advance the state of the art will not expire for years or even a decade.”

7.        For $19, An Unlimited Phone Plan, Some Flaws

I don’t really understand why there should be a problem with mobile phone which prefers VoIP over WiFi: my home phone uses Vonage and audio quality is not a concern. Besides, most smartphone use is not for voice.

“But I’ve been testing an Android smartphone from an upstart carrier that charges just $19 a month for unlimited data, voice and texts—with no contract. That’s right: $19 a month, unlimited.”

8.        BlackBerry Z10 sales estimate slashed by 83% due to slow launch, upcoming competition

Channel checks #1 of #2. When I was an analyst, hearing the words “channel check” was equivalent to hearing “this is some bullshit I just made up”. Of course, occasionally “channel check” was a disguise for release material non-public information (which happens more often than you would like to believe). To be fair, few analysts have a grasp of basic statistics, so you can’t blame them.

“Some industry watchers had high hopes for BlackBerry’s (BBRY) first next-generation smartphone in its debut quarter, but it looks like they may have gotten ahead of themselves. Now, the Street is revising its estimates in light of a slower than expected rollout and what appears to be a softer launch than many had hoped for.”

9.        Don’t Believe Everything You Hear, The Z10 Sales Are Going Strong

Channel checks #2 of #2. Of course, I’m not saying the analyst is wrong – sometimes dipping you hand in the ocean actually does pull up a representative sample. Nonetheless, one should use caution when reacting to such news.

“What is strange to me is the timing and the fact of how erroneous that statement is. This piece of “news” actually has affected the stock negatively. According to our checks BlackBerry has sold out in many countries including the United Emirates. Pre-orders in Saudi Arabia are extremely high and most of the United Kingdom was sold out on day 1. Canada has seen a large volume of sales and some people are still on a wait list for Rogers. Also keep in mind the device is constantly being introduced to more markets.”

10.   FCC votes to ease Wi-Fi congestion

I believe an emphasis should be placed on freeing up as much spectrum for unlicensed use as possible as there will be a great need for more such spectrum in the coming years, if just to support machine to machine communications.

“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously on Wednesday to move forward with a plan to set aside additional frequencies for Wi-Fi devices. The commission said the proposal would increase the capacity of Wi-Fi networks and would help to relieve congestion on hotspots at hotels, airports and other crowded areas.”

11.   Firefox 19 launches with desktop PDF viewer, Android themes and lower CPU limits to support 15m more phones

This is a great upgrade because of the PDF viewer. I have finally uninstalled Adobe’s PDF reader because it was sucking up bandwidth and demanding an update every few days (or so it seemed). For a standalone reader, SumatraPDF or Nitro (which is more full featured) are much superior to Adobe’s product.

“Mozilla on Tuesday officially launched Firefox 19 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The improvements include a built-in PDF viewer on the desktop and theme support on Google’s mobile platform.”

12.   Media mafiosos: Is Adblock Plus shaking down websites for cash to let ads through?

If true, this is pretty disgusting behaviour. I use Adblock, but bock all ads (it isn’t that hard to do). In any event, there is nothing complicated about Adblock and there is no reason a ‘fair’ Adblocker will not emerge to get around any abuses.

“Now, according to a source who works for a major online publisher (and would only speak on the condition of anonymity), Adblock Plus approached the company and offered to push ads through the extension’s filters in exchange for a third of the profits generated by the advertising. Put another way, the Adblock Plus allegedly will allow its definition of acceptable advertising to be determined by a dollar amount.”

13.   Retinal implant restores vision for eight blind people

This technology has been advancing in leaps and bounds, as befits any semiconductor process driven by Moore’s Law. It is hard to evaluate whether the patients have a significant improvement to their lives. Nonetheless, we can safely assume that pixel counts will be in the millions within a few years, and that should begin to approximate ‘normal’ sight.

“Developed by researchers at the University of Tübingen, Germany, the Alpha IMS has a few benefits over the Argus II. It has 1,500 electrodes compared to the Argus II’s 60, offering much higher resolution and clarity. Because it’s implanted behind the retina, patients can look around naturally by moving their eyes — the Argus II requires its wearer to turn their head. It’s also able to take advantage of the “natural processing power” of the neurons in the retina, which help to process motion and contrast.”

14.   Wireless Electricity Transmission Being Deployed to Power Korean Mass Transit

One has to assume the Internet hasn’t ever heard of ‘transformers’ because there is no magic here. The problem is that you’ll have to place a coupler every so many meters along a train track so the cost wold be astronomical.

“Engineers say the transmitting technology supplies 180 kW of stable, constant power at 60 kHz to passing vehicles that are equipped with receivers. The initial OLEV models above received 100 kW of power at 20 kHz through an almost eight-inch air gap. They have recorded 85 percent transmission efficiency through testing so far.”

15.   Audi’s New Matrix Headlights Face Opposition In The US

The interesting thing is, the problem is with the fact the headlights steer, not whether they are LED or traditional. This issue has been brought up in the past: Citroen introduced tracking headlights which were required to be disabled in North America. Those where mechanically controlled, which make a lot more sense to me than running them off the navigation system. LED headlamps will be common within a few years as they should permit much greater design flexibility and even fuel savings along with a longer life.

“The new Matrix LED headlights unveiled by Audi January 2013 are a great example of how LED lights on a vehicle can help make the driving experience safer. The headlights consist of several LED lights in a grid pattern that work in conjunction with reflectors and lenses and function as the cars high beams. They can detect when there is an oncoming vehicle and dim or shut off individual LED bulbs accordingly, giving the driver one less thing to worry about while on the road.”

16.   Perils of the long range electric car

Building an electric car is not hard. In many ways it is easier than building a gasoline powered car. The hard part is the battery and the battery pack on an electric vehicle is the most expensive part, by far. It is the equivalent of double the cost of a new engine and transmission for a gasoline power car. All batteries wear out after a certain number of charge cycles. Battery technology, being chemistry, evolves very, very slowly. Unlike an engine, when a battery is used up, it is finished – you can’t repair it. I have put over 300,000 km on several cars. The most expensive repair I have ever done (replacing a head gasket) would have cost about $1,000 at a dealer. Even an engine replacement would cost well below $5,000. There is a good chance that, within 5 years an electric car will need a new battery, and it will almost certainly need a new battery within 10 years. The cost to replace the battery is $10,000 or more (much more). That means that a 5 year old electric car has very little value, while I can keep any gas powered vehicle going for decades provided I do occasional repairs. The trailer idea surfaces now and then. It is silly: beside the difficulty of driving with a trailer rather than renting a trailer, you could just rent a normal car. If you needed a trailer often, you’d be better off owning a normal car.

“You’ve probably seen the battle going on between Elon Musk of Tesla and the New York Times over the strongly negative review the NYT made of a long road trip in a Model S. The reviewer ran out of charge and had a very rought trip with lots of range anxiety. The data logs published by Tesla show he made a number of mistakes, didn’t follow some instructions on speed and heat and could have pulled off the road trip if he had done it right.”

17.   The Future of the Internal Combustion Engine – Inside Koenigsegg

An interesting video of an experimental technology which forgoes the camshaft of an internal combustion engine. This has been tried before, however the approach seems novel. It gets really interesting at the end when he discusses regenerative breaking. The one question I have (besides cost) is where the compressed air would come from to actuate the valves at start up.

18.   France to invest €20bn in high-speed broadband for the entire country

It is hard to believe that Canada and the US once ranked at the top in the world for telecommunications infrastructure at the same time it took a year to get a phone line installed in Europe. That era also, coincidentally, saw the emergence of North American global leaders in telecom equipment. The fact France, of all places, is making catching up’ a national priority simply underlines the decline in competiveness here.

“”High-speed broadband strengthens [France’s] businesses competitiveness and the quality of [its] public services. [It] will bring more fluidity, more simplicity for communications between business, their customers, and the public sector as well,” Hollande said on Wednesday, adding the rollout could directly generate 10,000 jobs.”

19.   Why do Canadian broadband rates vary so much?

We not only pay too much, we get terrible service. It’s hard to believe Canada once had a world leading telecom infrastructure (oddly enough, that was when population densities were even lower than they are now).

“When comparing the price of internet services with those in other countries, Canadians think they’re paying too much for too little — but in some ways, it’s the variance in rates across the country that really stands out. Compared with similar telecom services like wireless and television, the cost of broadband internet across Canada varies greatly between provinces. Western Canadians tend to pay the least, while prices in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are the highest.”

20.   The Stupidest Thing Ever Said

I stopped watching Mercer after he did those advertisements for the government because I figure you are either a comedian, or a shill. Nonetheless, thanks to this, I just might start watching again. Interestingly, the CBC has had two items on Canada’s abysmal telecom infrastructure and market recently. Given the reticence of the media (largely owned by the telecommunications oligopoly) to take on the telecommunications oligopoly, it is refreshing.

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 15th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 15th 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.        Flash will ride DRAM bus in 2014, says Micron

This could truly disrupt the SSD market because access times on any DDR DRAM bus are going to be orders of magnitude faster than the SATA III serial bus. Besides this approach gets rid of all the crap associated with the 25 year old PC hard disk interface, so SSD controller vendors should be very concerned. Operating System support will likely be required for this to take off, however, and that tends to take a while.

“Memory chip vendor Micron Technology Inc. plans to place NAND flash along with DRAM on memory modules that ride the DDR4 bus when arrives in about 18 months. The company believes Microsoft Windows will support the so-called Hybrid DIMMs that could pack more than 256 Gbytes of memory.”–says-Micron

2.        Ten chip sectors tipped to grow

I don’t consider industry research to be worth the electrons it’s transmitted as, but some people are interested. I’d give 10:1 odds against total IC growth of 6% or more this year as there are no significant end markets growing at that rate and there are plenty of negative growth segments. In any event, most manufacturers play in growth and non-growth segments, so there is little in the way of useful information from an investment perspective. The only investment theme worthy of note is consolidation: large semiconductors companies wasting shareholders’ money buying smaller ones.

“Ten product categories, led by tablet processors and mobile phone application processors, are projected to enjoy a growth rate of 6 percent or better in 2013, according to market analysts IC Insights. The firm forecasts that the total IC market will grow 6 percent this year.”

3.        Worldwide LED component market grows 9% with lighting

The usual cautionary comments about industry research apply. The only interesting part of the LED market from my perspective is general purpose lighting (replacement of incandescent and CFL bulbs). Unfortunately for the lighting industry, better pricing on LEDs, combined with their long lives will do the boat business what fiberglass boats did to wooden boats.

“LED component revenue for lighting applications reached $3.11 billion in 2012, narrowly dethroning the large area display backlight segment at $3.06 billion, according to Strategies Unlimited, a market research firm covering the LED industry.  The worldwide market for LED components was $13.7 billion and is expected to grow to $16.4 billion in 2017, for a CAGR of 3.7%.”

4.        Retail copies of Office 2013 are tied to a single computer forever

There is some discussion as to whether or not this is truly the case, though I can readily believe it. There hasn’t been much of value added to Office with the days of Windows XP, so Microsoft has to do something to keep the cash flowing. Forcing you to buy a new copy of Office with every computer would do the trick, however, OpenOffice and LibreOffice continue to improve and make headway into the market.

“With the launch of Office 2013 Microsoft has seen fit to upgrade the terms of the license agreement, and it’s not in favor of the end user. It seems installing a copy of the latest version of Microsoft’s Office suite of apps ties it to a single machine. For life.”

5.        Microsoft brings solar Wi-Fi to rural Kenya

Just to show Microsoft isn’t all evil.

“Solar-powered Wi-Fi is being installed in the area that will give local people easy access to the internet for the first time. The pilot project – named Mawingu, the Swahili word for “cloud” – is part of an initiative by Microsoft and local telecoms firms to provide affordable, high-speed wireless broadband to rural areas. If and when it is rolled out nationwide, as planned, it will mean that Kenya could lead the way with a model of wireless broadband access that in the West has been tied up in red tape.”|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news

6.        Fast fibre: A community shows the way

As guy living on a farm just outside Canada’s largest city without real broadband, this article gave me some hope.

“How fast is your home broadband? Seventy to 80 Mbps if you’re one of the few with the very fastest fibre broadband services? Perhaps 10Mbps if you’ve got an average connection, maybe under 2Mbps if you live some miles from your nearest exchange. So how would you fancy a 500Mbps download scheme? That is what I’ve seen on Harry Ball’s quite ancient computer – not in the heart of London but in a village in rural Lancashire.”

7.        Linux Foundation releases Windows Secure Boot fix

The launch of Windows 8 was accompanied by a ‘secure boot’ system, pioneered by Microsoft, which conveniently wreaked havoc on non-Windows 8 operating systems. The open source community has been working overtime to deliver a workaround.

“James Bottomley —  Parallels’ CTO of server virtualization, well-known Linux kernel maintainer, and the man behind the Linux Foundation’s efforts to create an easy way to install and boot Linux on Windows 8 PCs — announced on February 8 that the Linux Foundation UEFI secure boot system was finally out.”

8.        IBM’s Watson Gets Its First Piece Of Business In Healthcare

I find the density and performance increase claims rather dubious, unless the original Watson had been poorly cobbled together (which seems unlikely). Still, it is interesting to see this technology find its way into real-world applications and lord knows, the healthcare business is rarely cutting edge from an IT perspective.

“Pricing was not disclosed, but hospitals and health care networks who sign up will be able to buy or rent Watson’s advice from the cloud or their own server. Over the past two years, IBM’s researchers have shrunk Watson from the size of a master bedroom to a pizza-box-sized server that can fit in any data center. And they improved its processing speed by 240%. Now what was once was a fun computer-science experiment in natural language processing is becoming a real business for IBM and Wellpoint, which is the exclusive reseller of the technology for now. Initial customers include WestMed Practice Partners and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine & Blood Disorders.”

9.        Facebook error that hijacks thousands of websites isn’t just an ‘inconvenience’

As noted many times in the past, I am not in to social media, and don’t see the point of Facebook. How Facebook could be in the position where this could happen is a matter for advertisers and users to ponder. Big Brother is corporate.

“Thousands of major — and not-so-major — websites found their traffic redirected to a Facebook error page yesterday, a phenomenon that lasted upward of an hour, according to varying accounts. Although the social networking site dismissed the event as the result of a Facebook error that was “quickly repaired,” it would be imprudent to blithely view the event as a glitch or mere inconvenience. It’s downright concerning, both from a business and a privacy perspective.”

10.   Interest in BlackBerry 10 surges while iPhone loyalty slips

The headline is misleading, and I am not sure what you can conclude from the data. This is about existing owners purchase intentions, so the few remaining Blackberry owners may have been holding out for the new product, while Samsung and, especially iPhone owners may simply be satisfied with their existing phones.

“The latest YouGov report on smartphone brand perception and purchase intent is out, and this one is a keeper. According to the data, the proportion of BlackBerry owners planning to purchase a new BlackBerry (BBRY) within six months has rocketed from 18% to 43% since the spring of 2012. Over the same time period, the same number for iPhone owners has slipped from 92% to 85% while the number for Samsung (005930) Galaxy owners has ticked up from 46% to 53%. The interesting part here is how close the BlackBerry purchasing intent level is now to Galaxy’s level. One could argue that the iPhone slippage was unavoidable in the period after the iPhone 5 launch and before the rumor mill on the new models kicks into high gear.”

11.   BlackBerry Creative Director Alicia Keys Is Tweeting From Her iPhone (Updated)

A number of years ago I was astonished to discover that people actually believe that paid celebrity endorsements carry weight with some people. Setting aside the question of what some half-wit singer might know about mobile phones, she is being paid to pretend she likes this one. I guess whoever authors her ‘tweets’ didn’t get the message and screwed up.

“The Apple device is definitely her side piece, if not her number one gadget, despite that awkwardly long metaphor she made on stage last month about breaking up with iOS at the launch of BlackBerry 10. Perhaps two weeks in, she got sick of the Z10 and said screw it. No one likes a cheater, Alicia.”

12.   Android phones are connecting without carrier networks

SPAN would make a useful tool though I don’t understand why the article focuses on voice. Most smartphone use is for data, especially in a disaster, and an ad-hoc network would be far more resilient with asynchronous (vs. isochronous) data.

“The Smart Phone Ad-Hoc Networks (SPAN) project reconfigures the onboard Wi-Fi chip of a smartphone to act as a Wi-Fi router with other nearby similarly configured smartphones, creating an ad-hoc mesh network. These smartphones can then communicate with one another without an operational carrier network.”

13.   Samsung Emerges as a Potent Rival to Apple’s Cool

It is interesting to note how the press builds you up, then cuts you back down again. It would be imprudent to conclude Apple is out of the game though loss of the reality distortion generator is going to be hard to overcome. The same hack who whipped consumers into a frenzy over Apple’s latest gadget are now raising another hero on their shoulders. Mark my words: Samsung’s tenure will also be brief.

“Apple, for the first time in years, is hearing footsteps. The maker of iPhones, iPads and iPods has never faced a challenger able to make a truly popular and profitable smartphone or tablet — not Dell, not Hewlett-Packard, not Nokia, not BlackBerry — until Samsung Electronics.”

14.   3D printing’s next level: economy cars (w/ video)

This is an interesting story and video, but the actual application is completely non-viable: 3D printing is unlikely to ever become a substitute for, or competitive with, traditional mass production techniques and more than machining has displaced casting.

“You can produce a lot of things on 3-D printers nowadays — fantasy figurines from World of Warcraft, prototypes for implantable medical devices, jewelry, replacement joints, precision tools, swimwear, a replica of King Tut’s mummy. Jim Kor is printing a car.”

15.   Copyright Boss: ‘It’s Great Mechanics Now Need To Know About Copyright’

Intellectual Property protection is legitimate, but it has really gone off the deep end. It is unclear to me how you can actually copyright data (which is what error codes are) and I’d hope and expect that if you could a large pirate network will emerge to neutralize this nonsense.

“We’ve talked a few times about how abuses of copyright law have created messes for industries that you might think would never have to deal with copyright on a regular basis. Take, for example, mechanics. What does repairing your car have to do with copyrights? In the past, absolutely nothing. More recently, however, it’s been a huge deal. That’s because automakers have used copyright to lock up diagnostic codes and information concerning onboard computers.”

16.   Why are there so many Russian dash cam videos on the internet?

The article shows why there are so many dash cam videos from Russia, however, it makes you wonder why dash cams aren’t more common in the rest of the world.

“You can’t peruse videos on the internet for long before coming across shocking footage of a car crash recorded by a dash-mounted camera. The overwhelming majority of such videos are captured on Russian roads, but have you ever wondered why? It’s a little disconcerting when you first notice the trend. Are Russians just more prone to accidents? Well, that’s actually a surprisingly small part of the puzzle. Dash cams turn out to be nearly indispensable for Russian drivers.”

17.   Mice Fall Short as Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills

This is a great article about science: it shows the good parts and the bad parts. The idea that scientists as Spock-like researchers only interested in the truth, rather than humans with their own biases is a definite negative. The good bit is that, eventually, the facts win out. Of course, it remains to be seen as to whether the research covered in this article turns out to be correct.

“For decades, mice have been the species of choice in the study of human diseases. But now, researchers report evidence that the mouse model has been totally misleading for at least three major killers — sepsis, burns and trauma. As a result, years and billions of dollars have been wasted following false leads, they say.”

18.   Study Reveals Potential Of Manganese in Neutralizing Shiga Toxin

This is a really interesting potential scientific breakthrough. If I were suffering from one of these infections and given a poor prognosis, I’d sure ask for manganese – once the acute phase was over, any excess metal could be treated with standard chelation therapy.

“University researchers have discovered that an element commonly found in nature might provide a way to neutralize the potentially lethal effects of a compound known as Shiga toxin. New results published in the Jan. 20 issue of Science by Carnegie Mellon biologists Adam Linstedt and Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay show that manganese completely protects against Shiga toxicosis in animal models.  “

19.   Librarians Rally Behind Blogger Sued by Publisher Over Critical Comments

Another example of the academic publishing industry run amok. The appropriate response by the librarians would be simply to cancel their subscriptions.

“A university librarian who is being sued after writing a critical blog post about a scholarly publisher is finding support from professors and librarians around the world. In 2010, Dale Askey, now a librarian at McMaster University, in Ontario, wrote a blog post about Edwin Mellen Press on his personal Web site, Bibliobrary, referring to the publisher as “dubious” and saying its books were often works of “second-class scholarship.” For a few months afterward, several people chimed in in the blog’s comments section, some agreeing with Mr. Askey, others arguing in support of the publisher.”

20.   PeerJ

Academic publishing has devolved into a brutally profitable business as a consequence of consolidation.  There is no reason for this to be the case in the Internet era, but it will take some time for alternatives to establish themselves. I have bookmarked PeerJ and hope to work my way through articles (to the extent I can work through the jargon).

“PeerJ provides academics with two Open Access publication venues: PeerJ (a peer-reviewed academic journal) and PeerJ PrePrints (a ‘pre-print server’ coming in March). Both are focused on the Biological and Medical Sciences.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 8th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 8th 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

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1.        New report shows Windows 8 sales remain sluggish; no significant growth in sight

I am not sure these types of surveys have much in the way of statistical rigor, however, the PC is a mature market, consumers are favoring network appliances (aka tablets) over PCs in new purchases, and Windows 8 provides a disincentive to replacing an existing PC so the results feel right.

“The latest NetApplications figures for January show Windows 7 with a 44.48 percent market share, Windows XP with 39.51 percent, Windows Vista with 5.24 percent, Mac OS X 10.8 with a 2.44% market share, and Windows 8 with 2.26 percent. Microsoft can’t be pleased. As CNet notes, at a comparable time in Windows 7’s release cycle, it had already garnered 7.71 percent market share, more than three times Windows 8’s uptake.”

2.        Windows exec: Surface Pro isn’t expensive — you’re just thinking about it wrong

Here is some background as to Microsoft’s strategy regarding the Surface. I don’t buy it: offering a single overpriced device as a cheap alternative to two overpriced devices makes no sense to me, especially then an Ultrabook have much more resources, notably storage. After all, a lot of the Surface’s 64GB is taken up by bloatware.

“Why did Microsoft price the new 64 GB Surface with Windows 8 Pro tablet at $899 without a keyboard? The obvious answer: It runs full Windows 8, unlike the Surface RT, and its specs are comparable to touch-screen Windows 8 Ultrabooks, many of which cost more than $1,000 — roughly the same as the Surface Pro after buying one of the device’s signature keyboard.”

3.        Surface Pro versus MacBook Air: Who’s being dishonest with storage space?

This author makes a good point, and one which is not in opposition to the comments made by the Microsoft executive in the article above. However, I was referring to the comparison between the Surface Pro and the Ultrabook – I don’t understand why people pay what they pay for MacBook Air’s either.

“Microsoft has been absolutely pummeled in the press and in reader comments this week by pundits and customers alike. They feel cheated by the amount of free storage space available to them on the new line of Surface Pro devices. But is that criticism fair or even valid?”

4.        Microsoft Looking At Office For Linux In 2014

I can see Microsoft investigating Office for Linux, but I can’t imagine them actually releasing a product. Too many companies have systems running off the Office infrastructure and the cost to transition would be enormous. They are thus bound to Windows and Office and any options in that relationship would be a negative for Microsoft.

“It seems thanks to the increasing market-share of Android devices and the rise of Linux on the desktop thanks to the many commercial Linux gaming initiatives that have been shared in recent months, Microsoft is being forced to take a serious look at Linux and a meaningful look at releasing their popular Office software for Linux in 2014.”

5.        LibreOffice goes for “cleaner and leaner code base” with major update

Speaking of Office, LibreOffice is a viable and high quality open source alternative. If lacks the Office ecosystem (macros, etc.), which means it will not free any corporate customer, however, anybody not using those features really shouldn’t waste their money on an Office license.

“LibreOffice was launched in 2010 to overtake OpenOffice as the preeminent open source office suite. Google Docs may still be the biggest threat to Microsoft Office, but LibreOffice has carved out a niche for itself, becoming the default productivity software on many popular Linux distributions.”

6.        BlackBerry Z10 vs Samsung Galaxy S III

One of many product comparisons between the Z10 and competition. I am not sure I’d want to be compared to a product which will have been on the market for a year by the time the Z10 is broadly available. Although not addressed in this article, I found the ‘channel check’ comments made by sell-side analysts amusing: when will investors realize that talking to a couple of people at Best Buy is not statistically relevant.

“History buffs be aware! Some of us might forget it, but 2008 surely turned out to be a banner year in the history of smartphones. At the time, BlackBerry smartphones were hotly sought out by people for both their consumer and enterprise features, but when Android officially launched on a device in the fall of 2008, it signaled a changing of the guard of some sorts. Fast forward to the present, the Samsung Galaxy S III has seemingly become the prized darling for the mature platform – while the BlackBerry Z10 is intent on starting yet another revolution of its own. Will BlackBerry’s flagship have what it takes to sway people from the mighty features set found with the Samsung Galaxy S III?”

7.        Microsoft and Huawei debut Windows Phone for Africa

I don’t know how this will sell in Africa, however, there is likely a sizeable market. However, at $150, these devices would sell like hotcakes everywhere else.

“Microsoft and Huawei announced today that they’re partnering to bring a new Windows Phone to Africa. The two companies are targeting the continent, which is one of the fastest growing technology markets in the world but has seen few smartphones to date and whose majority of users still rely on feature phones.”

8.        Intel’s NUC illustrates why the company struggles in a post-PC world

I was a little confused as to what Intel’s NUC is (he gets to that later in the article), but the author makes a clear case against its odds of success. There is an opportunity here for AMD, if they were to go against their very nature and think strategically: a sub $100 x86, open, platform would probably find a ready market. Unfortunately, the full article is paid only, however most of what needs to be said is in the free part.

“Intel is desperately trying to save the PC from the quick death looming above it, and the NUC is their latest ill-conceived master plan. More importantly, they need to do this in a market that is quickly moving from proprietary to commodity devices. Trying to get a bigger share of a shrinking BoM is decent business, but it has limits. To make matters even more grim, the consumer market has spoken and it is saying that the current Wintel path is one is not wanted, regardless of price. Technology, marketing, and consumers all add up to the NUC crashing and burning in a spectacular fashion.”

9.        Ouya preorders start today; retail availability set for June

This is the sort of thing AMD (or Intel, for that matter) could make a bundle on, except they are too conflicted to bring it to market. The game console market is lucrative of game console makers and much less so for game vendors. The platforms are extremely proprietary and yet, in this day and age, not that difficult to pull off. A low cost, open platform could be boon to game developers.

“Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in an interview published today, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said that the console will be made available at retail in June. At that time, a host of retailers, including GameStop, Best Buy, and Target, will be selling the hardware. Amazon will also be carrying the device. Until then, gamers will be able to place preorders starting today.”

10.   Valve co-founder Gabe Newell: Linux is a “get-out-of-jail free pass for our industry”

These emerging trends within the gaming industry may be significant, and creep into other digital entertainment as well.

“He talked a lot about user-generated content and the importance of it. Newell said Valve has people who are making $500,000 a year selling content in the Steam Workshop. “Years ago, a game’s content was privileged. Now we’re seeing users doing a better job of generating content than we are. It’s all about enabling that productivity and engagement.” He also thinks that users should be able to go in and create their own versions of stores that can sit on the front end of the Steam store.”

11.   Hard Disk Drive Market Revenue Set for Double-Digit Decline This Year

The Hard Disk industry will become marginalized in the future as these devices are displaced by SSDs in particular. It won’t go away completely: neither has the data tape industry, but it will morph back from whence it came namely, a product for institutional data rooms. This is why industry consolidation makes sense, at least for the sellers.

“Facing a relentless onslaught from tablets, smartphones and solid state drives (SSD), global hard disk drive (HDD) market revenue in 2013 will decline by about 12 percent this year, according to an IHS iSuppli Storage Space market brief from information and analytics provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).”

12.   CompTIA Weighs in on Expanding Unlicensed Spectrum

Modern spread spectrum technologies make the century old, Marconi inspired spectrum licensing framework obsolete. Massive expansion of unlicensed spectrum would almost certainly result a boom in wireless applications, so we can only hope this goes through.

“The 2010 National Broadband Plan introduced the idea of incentive auctions as a tool to help meet the nation’s spectrum needs. Incentive auctions are a voluntary, market-based means of repurposing spectrum by encouraging licensees to voluntarily relinquish spectrum usage rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds from an auction of new licenses to use the repurposed spectrum. The incentive auction idea is the latest in a series of world-leading spectrum policies pioneered in the U.S., including unlicensed spectrum uses such as WiFi, Bluetooth, near field communication and other innovations, and the original FCC spectrum auctions in the 1990s.”

13.   No, free Wi-Fi isn’t coming to every US city

The aforementioned proposed expansion of unlicensed spectrum resulted in a flood of articles suggesting this would result in ‘free WiFi for all’. You can’t really get there from the proposal: after all somebody would have to pay for the gear and infrastructure. Mind you, with ample unlicensed spectrum of the right sort, one could see the emergence of different business models such as non-profits and co-ops. The largest barrier to entry to a wireless service is a spectrum license, and it is what allows carriers to charge rent.

“The headlines were literally too good to be true, and so outlandish no one should have written them in the first place. “FCC Proposes Free Wi-Fi For Everyone In The US,” Popular Science reported. “FCC wants free Wi-Fi for all,” said The Daily Caller. On Mashable, it was “Government Wants to Create Free Public ‘Super Wi-Fi’,” and Business Insider breathlessly reported  “Telecom Corporations Are Trying To Stop The Government From Offering Free ‘Super Wi-Fi'”

14.   When Will the Rest of Us Get Google Fiber?

I have started reading “Captive Audience” which looks at the reestablishment of monopoly pricing power in the telecom industry in the US (it applies even more to Canada). If you think about it, this is completely the opposite of what should have happened due to the Internet. In any event, it is quite clear that eventually this must change: either through government action (which I favor) or technological innovation (which will happen in any event).

“Call it the miracle on Francis Street. Last year Ryan and Jenny Carpenter got a deal seemingly too good to be true in their Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood: an installer from Google Fiber wired their bungalow to give them at least 50 times their previous Internet access speed and a substantially better TV service, all for only $125 a month, tax included—just a few dollars more than they’d been paying Time Warner Cable.”

15.   As Music Streaming Grows, Royalties Slow to a Trickle

This story got a fair bit of interest, but it is nonsense: setting aside the rather dubious question that anybody who plays a musical instrument can earn a living from it (few do, especially cellists), Ms. Keating should be celebrating the fact she earned more than a dollar or two for her works, because if she had had 100 plays on a radio station with an audience of 20,000 each time, that is roughly what she would have been paid. People are not ‘buying’ her stuff – they are listening to it and the royalty model is different. You can be the number of people who would pay $0.01 each time they listen to avant-cello is pretty small.

“Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play.”

16.   intelliPaper Disposable Paper USB Flash Drive May Save Paper & It’s Wireless Too

I have been seeing a number of articles about what amounts to disposable electronics lately. This sort of thing has many potential applications, especially in advertising, if the costs come down.

“All of the intelliPaper products have electronic components embedded into paper with the added capability of containing not only printed data, but also digital data which can be displayed or copied onto any computer via a standard USB port through small electrical contacts that are on the surface of the paper.”

17.   Facebook: two thirds of users log off for weeks at a time

I don’t see the point of social networking, and I believe most usage figures are highly suspect. That being said, it is just a matter of time before people move on to the next big thing. Maybe it is already happening: no worries, Facebook’s private shareholders have already made a bundle selling stock to Muppets, so they’re good.

“Two thirds of Facebook users have taken a voluntary break from the site for several weeks or more, citing reasons ranging from “excessive gossip or drama from their friends” to “concerns about privacy”, according to new research.”

18.   The Threat of Silence

This is a good idea whose time has come, but it might be a mistake to assume that a US based company (based in Washington), offering “highly secure encryption” services isn’t a front for the NSA or some other organization. Even if it isn’t (and my security professor told me to assume every encryption scheme has a back door) it is a subscription service, meaning governments have a ready-made “highlighter” for who has something to hide. An app like this should only be trusted if it is anonymous and open source.

“Back in October, the startup tech firm Silent Circle ruffled governments’ feathers with a “surveillance-proof” smartphone app to allow people to make secure phone calls and send texts easily. Now, the company is pushing things even further—with a groundbreaking encrypted data transfer app that will enable people to send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button.”

19.   Block Telemarketers and Robocalls for Good with the Raspberry Pi-Powered Banana Phone

This is a great idea however a Raspberry Pi is probably overkill. This sort of application could comfortably sit on a cheap micro-controller. Telemarketers could dream up counter measures, but an open source project could keep ahead of them, especially if a random assortment of techniques is used. A smartphone app would probably be a good idea as well. Expect to see this become main stream pretty quickly.

“Here’s how the banana phone works. When a robocaller or automated dialer calls you, the Banana Phone picks up, plays a song (in this case, it’s Raffi’s earworm we all know) and while the song plays, text-to-speech tells the caller to enter a four-digit passcode in order to be connected to the actual line they’re calling. Automated dialers would give up at that point, but real humans would enter the number and get connected right away.”

20.   Canadian Chamber Of Commerce Wants To Legalize Spyware Rootkits To Help Stop ‘Illegal’ Activity

I didn’t even know there was a Canadian Chamber of Commerce. In any event, I am pretty sure most organizations would like to be able to break the law, infringe on privacy, and so on. I like the part where companies get to enforce the laws of foreign states – after all, why shouldn’t a company be permitted to enforce, say, Sharia Law? Governments are suckers for this sort of thing, but any company which would actually do this would probably find recourse through the courts the least of its worries.

“… the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is proposing a very troubling idea: allowing rootkit spyware to be installed surreptitiously for the purpose of stopping illegal activity. As Geist notes, the last time this battle was fought, it was fresh on the heels of the Sony rootkit debacle, so there wasn’t much support for these concepts. But, with a few years distance, the industry groups are trying again. Specifically they either want to remove language that prevents the surreptitious installation of spyware — or they want specific exemptions.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 1st 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 1st 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.        Microsoft blames OEMs for slow Windows 8 sales, plans February “relaunch”

According to Microsoft the problem is not that they have developed an operating system which behaves in a many people do not want on the hardware they want to buy, it is that the OEMs (i.e. Microsoft’s customers) seem to have given consumers a choice, at least on the hardware side.

“Somewhat unsurprisingly, the report also indicates that OEMs have turned the tables, assigning blame for lackluster Windows 8 sales to Microsoft. The primary reason computer-makers didn’t strictly follow Microsoft’s internal guidelines is that few companies were willing to risk producing millions of expensive, high-end devices that customers weren’t guaranteed to snap up.”

2.        Acer Sees Success in Chrome; Windows Fails to Drive Sales

A customer’s perspective on the Windows 8 debacle. It is interesting to note the significance of Chromebooks for Acer, though I suspect netbooks were similarly successful until recently.

“Chrome-based models accounted for 5 percent to 10 percent of Acer’s U.S. shipments since being released there in November, President Jim Wong said in an interview at the Taipei-based company’s headquarters. That ratio is expected to be sustainable in the long term and the company is considering offering Chrome models in other developed markets, he said.”

3.        Apple Core Rot: Introduction

Being a cult has its benefits, but it can also work against you: when people turn, they turn. I have never used a Mac (too expensive, poor price performance, closed system, doesn’t run the sort of software I need) so I have no idea whether the comments are valid and I am even less certain as to the business effect of frustrating software developers. What I do find interesting is the increasing number of articles by present and former cult members and the unpaid propagandists of the media who have become critical of Apple. Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned.

“Over the past few years a semi-conscious unease has been steadily growing in my mind: OS X is not getting more reliable and more stable, it is instead developing more and nastier problems that range from interference with getting work done to potential data loss. This unease is now consciously realized, hence my decision to publish this series of pages and to no longer ignore the eruption of a serious bug, but to document it.”

4.        Are U.S. Carriers Really Enthused About BlackBerry 10?

I figured I had to include something about the BlackBerry 10 launch, even though the odds are very, very, low that RIM (now BlackBerry) can turn it around. After all, few tech companies who have got themselves into the position they have are ever resurrected, so, most likely, for them the war is over. Most likely they’ll end up being bought within the next year or two.

“There’s a major disconnect between what BlackBerry is saying about U.S. carriers’ enthusiasm for its platform, and what the carriers themselves are saying. Unless this gets cleared up, BlackBerry 10 could be headed for an even weaker launch than Windows Phone saw here in the U.S.”,2817,2414948,00.asp

5.        Android and Apple won’t dominate mobile forever

The headline sure sounded interesting, but I don’t think the article lives up to its promise: there can be little doubt that something will replace Android (as Android is replacing iOS), however, there is not much chance RIM (sorry – Blackberry) will claw back much market share and Microsoft has been trying to crack the mobile device market for years with little success.

“However, despite Apple’s and Google’s current dominance of the lucrative mobile sphere, analysts at ABI Research believe the future won’t be quite as duopolistic as it seems now. Indeed, according to ABI Research analyst Aapo Markkanen, 2013 should be seen as a time of relative success for both Microsoft and BlackBerry.”

6.        Huawei shocks smartphone market with 3rd place finish in 2012: IDC

I believe there is plenty of room at the bottom for low cost Android phones and the market matures and the opportunity for differentiation disappears. Companies like Huawei, ZTE, Acer, and others have an opening if they act quickly.

“This week we’re having a bit of a double-take on the IDC’s release outlining the fourth quarter mobile device market share breakdown for the end of 2012, with none other than Huawei taking third place. This is absolutely surprising as all get-out as Huawei has never before cracked the top 5 smartphone vendors in the world – it’s only been inside the top 10 before now. Groups like LG, Motorola, and Nokia do not appear in the top 5 for smartphone sales in the quarter, while Nokia sits pretty in second place for total mobile phone “Vendors, Shipments, and Market Share” for 2012 (that includes non-smart phones).”

7.        HTC Mini is your Butterfly’s candybar remote control and handset

Given the increasing size of phones (phablets), this seems like a good idea to me. What they should do is make the device generic rather than HTC specific so it would find a greater market. No doubt someone will.

“HTC doesn’t have a smartwatch like the Pebble, but it does have the HTC Mini, an NFC-equipped remote control and handset accessory which will be exclusively offered in China alongside the HTC Butterfly. The svelte handset – resembling an old candybar-style dumbphone – hooks up via Bluetooth to your Butterfly, so HTC suggests, and can be used for making calls without pulling the smartphone out of your pocket, as well as other things.”

8.        Are you ready for a phone call so clear you’ll want a cigarette?

Good to see that the problem of crappy mobile voice quality is at least being worked on. The Fraunhofer solution seems superior to my ear, however, quality is not always what determines a successful standard.

“Mobile technology has moved in leaps and bounds over the past decade. So why is it that call quality is still so terrible? HD Voice is starting to be more available, but Fraunhofer, the inventors of the .mp3 and .AAC, don’t think it’s earned the title of HD. The organization has its own solution, Full-HD Voice, which could be available right now.”

9.        Android processor core is royalty free

I don’t recall having heard of this company before, and, unfortunately, data sheets for the company’s products are not freely available. Depending upon the price of a license, a royalty free model has considerable virtue, especially for high volume manufacturers.

“Processor IP licensor Beyond Semiconductor d.o.o. has introduced the BA25 royalty-free 32-bit processor, which provides a performance improvement over the established BA22 RISC processor. Beyond Semi (Ljubljana, Slovenia) classes the BA25 as roughly equivalent to an ARM Cortex-A7 or Cortex-A8 and is pitching the core at Linux and Android applications. The core includes an optional floating point unit.”

10.   Google to give schools Raspberry Pi microcomputers

If you do the math, this is a brilliant stroke by Google: for a paltry few hundred thousand dollars (likely tax deductible) they got a whole lot of media coverage and, for several months at least, their donation will directly affect tens of thousands of students. There might even be a societal benefit as well!

“Schools around the UK are to be given 15,000 free microcomputers, with a view to creating a new generation of computer scientists. Funded by Google, the Raspberry Pi Foundation hopes the free devices will inspire children to take up coding. The pared-down Raspberry Pi, launched a year ago, is already a huge success.”

11.   The Internet Is A 21st Century Utility And We Deserve Better

I have observed an interesting trend in the mainstream media regarding the need to offer state of the art Internet services. I am sure the motive is selfish: someone these corporations reckon this will help them, just as you never see this topic covered by the Canadian media (radio, TV, newspaper, magazine) which is owned by the same oligopoly which profits handsomely by providing high priced sub-third world Internet and wireless services to Canadians.

“If you had to give up your internet or your home phone, which would it be? Without hesitation I’d give up my phone—in fact I did that over a decade ago. I’m not alone either. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than one third of American homes no longer have a landline. Conversely, Nielsen recently reported that over 212 million Americans were active online last September with close to 300 million with access—a number that has continued to grow.”

12.   TechCrunch Admits That Using Facebook Comments Drove Away Most Of Their Commenters

A while ago I started encountering blogs and forums which required you join Facebook to comment or even read their comments. I don’t really see why the blog or forum operator would do such a thing as the benefits would largely accrue to Facebook through bloated and non-representative user numbers. Besides, lots of people participate anonymously, and even with different ID. At least TechCrunch seems to have realized the error.

“So I was actually surprised a few years ago when TechCrunch moved to switch all of its comments to Facebook comments, claiming that one of the good things about it was that it required you to provide your real name. Apparently that wasn’t actually such a good thing for lots and lots of commenters — as after nearly two years, TechCrunch has dumped Facebook comments and is pleading for commenters to come back.”

13.   Meet the American Company Helping Governments Spy on “Billions” of Communications

Bill Maher recently observed that Americans are defending their right to bear arms because it provides them with a means to defend the other rights which they are willingly surrendering. This is a case in point. It is interesting to note that US constitutional protections, which apparently no longer applies to Americans, explicitly doesn’t apply to anybody else. What happens to the information conveyed in an Englishman’s email for a colleague in Japan is now a matter of the free market, not law.

“Every day, billions of emails and phone calls flow through communications networks in countries across the world. Now, one American company has built technology capable of spying on them all—and business is booming. Verint, a leading manufacturer of surveillance technologies, is headquartered in Melville, N.Y., in a small cluster of nondescript buildings that also includes the office of a multinational cosmetics supplier and some electronics companies.”

14.   Instagram Asking For Your Government Issued Photo IDs Now, Too

This is downright scary. Why anybody would enable a company to compile a database of government IDs is beyond me. If I were involved in social media, and I am not (I recently figured out how to delete my LinkedIn account – woohoo1), this would make me drop it.

“Over the past week, a number of users of the popular photo sharing app Instagram and parent company Facebook have been locked out of their accounts and prompted by both services to upload images of their government issued photo IDs to regain access, as CNET first reported on Tuesday.”

15.   Silicon Valley Companies Lobbying Against Europe’s Privacy Proposals

It will be interesting to see what is more important: money or fundamental human rights. The is a tremendous potential irrevocable harm to be done by exposing private data on the Internet, and these companies consider all data to be there properties. The potential for harm is more than emotional: people lives could be ruined if they hold views or belong to persecuted minorities: blasphemy laws (which can cost you your life in some countries) and similar attempts to legislate morality are some examples of why rights should remain rights.

“Several proposed laws working their way through the European Parliament could give 500 million consumers the ability to block or limit many forms of online Web tracking and targeted advertising. All the major American tech companies have directed their lobbyists in Brussels, where the Parliament is based, to press to weaken or remove these proposals from the European provisions.”

16.   How-to stop getting tracked in your Browser.

Some useful tools and settings, though you should not assume that these are completely effective. I figure the more I can do to deny cash flow to companies (i.e. the trackers) with whom I have no commercial relationship, the better. Why is this even legal?

17.   New type of LED produced with simple, low cost process

We often hear of these sorts of revolutionary advances, but few ever make it to market. LEDs have come a long way but are still relatively expensive to produce. This process seems like it could make a difference.

“Professor Yue Kuo of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University has fabricated a new type of LED, capable of producing a wide spectrum light while operating for long periods of time at atmospheric conditions. This device is based on a new concept of light emission from an ultra-thin amorphous dielectric layer.”

18.   Thunderbolt vs. USB 3.0: The Definitive Showdown

There is more to technology than performance: cost and availability are a little important. After all, you can actually find a number of USB 3.0 devices on the market, as well as a whole lot of PCs which support it. Backwards compatibility is a significant factor as well. Thunderbolt? Not so much.

“With its promise of 10Gb/s‑per‑channel throughput, what self-respecting power user wouldn’t opt for a Thunderbolt-based external backup solution? Well, before you get too excited, let’s compare T-bolt point-by-point with its natural competitor, USB 3.0. After all, there’s more to a technology than pure performance, as we found out.”

19.   Mandatory smart meters? Not anymore

I can’t help but wonder if this is the result of a campaign against smart meters lead by ignorant morons posing as environmentalists. They were, it appears, concerns about the fact the devices use wireless communications. The government would have an easy fix: charge the full cost of manual meter reading back to customers. As more and customer opt for automated reading, at least the morons will have to pay the full cost of their ignorance and move ‘off grid’.

“B.C. Hydro says it won’t install smart meters if households don’t want them, even after the B.C. Liberal government insisted for years that the program was mandatory. In a statement Wednesday, B.C. Hydro’s smart-meter spokesman, Greg Alexis, said the utility would work with customers who don’t want the new meters, but did not make clear whether it would install them only if the households agreed.”

20.   Affordable Injection Molding Transforms Tinkerers Into Tycoons

I have heard of Protomold before and this is an interesting story. While the domestic injection molding business was being decimated by low cost (and low quality) Chinese competition, Protomold used technology to become a massive success story. Besides cost, quality, and quick turnaround, you don’t have to worry about your design being ripped off as often occurs in China.

“Protomold has stepped in to provide servicing to those makers who need small orders by being able to produce 50-5,000 injection-molded parts in one business day with prices starting at $1,495 for a production tool, and each produced part costing a couple dollars or less. The experience isn’t much different than ordering business cards online. A designer uploads their CAD file, chooses from a few preset options, and shelf-worthy injection-molded parts arrive on their doorstep.”