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.”


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