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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”