The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 29th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 29th 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

PS: Sorry if this week’s list is a bit weak as we are dealing with another death in the family.

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1.        Global LED lighting market will be worth $25.4 billion in 2013

As usual, don’t take industry research as being any better than a guess at predicting the future. Nonetheless, there are some interesting numbers here.

“The global LED lighting market will be worth $25.4 billion in 2013, representing 54% growth on the 2012 figure of $16.5, while the LED lighting penetration rate will also rise to 18.6%, according to a new DIGITIMES Research Special Report titled “Global high-brightness LED market forecast.””–25-4-billion-in-2013.html

2.        LED-on-microwire startup raises $13 million

I wasn’t able to find out how ‘real’ this technology is. After all, there are a variety of parameters which have to be optimized to deliver a salable product (cost, durability, stability, etc.) and these sorts of announcements tend to focus on only one. Nonetheless, there is no reason why the existing LED process can’t be improved upon and this sure does sound encouraging.

“The 3-D GaN-on-Silicon microwire technology was developed over a six-year period at the LETI research institute in Grenoble and the claim is that Aledia’s LEDs will have a production cost of one quarter that of conventional planar LEDs.”–13-million

3.        NAND flash market hits record high

It is not surprising that NAND is doing so well, though I doubt the smartphone and tablet market is the cause. NAND is broadly used in practically every consumer product today, as well as PCs (in particular the rapidly growing SSD market). Unfortunately, the memory industry tends to quickly get ahead of itself so I’d expect a pricing crash within the next 18 months, which would be good for consumers.

“The PC market remains weak and the overheated smartphone and tablet market seems to be slowing down as well, but NAND makers are reporting their best quarter in history. According to IHS iSuppli, NAND industry revenue in the last quarter of 2012 hit a new record, $5.6 billion. The market was up 17 percent from the third quarter, despite the slowdown.”

4.        Google’s white spaces trial will beam broadband to ten South African schools

‘White space’ (the gap between TV channels) has tremendous potential for use in wireless broadband, in particular in places where there are few TV channels. Needless to say, broadcasters seem to think spectrum they don’t own they should have control over and so they are fighting this trend tooth and nail. As is often the case, the developing world is a good place to try this sort of thing out.

“Google just announced a TV white spaces trial that will provide broadband connectivity to ten schools in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Launching the test network is Google’s most direct effort yet to demonstrate the potential of white spaces (unused channels in TV spectrum) as a means of delivering faster internet connectivity to the developing world and other rural areas.”

5.        How hard is it to ‘de-anonymize’ cellphone data?

Data tends to be anonymous only in isolation: given enough data and enough processing, that anonymity disappears through correlation. This study shows that the amount of data doesn’t have to be very much, which is kinda scary. Watch for the black helicopters.

“The proliferation of sensor-studded cellphones could lead to a wealth of data with socially useful applications — in urban planning, epidemiology, operations research and emergency preparedness, among other things. Of course, before being released to researchers, the data would have to be stripped of identifying information. But how hard could it be to protect the identity of one unnamed cellphone user in a data set of hundreds of thousands or even millions?”

6.        DIY cellphone

This is a fun project, but otherwise meaningless: cell phones, in particular low end cellphones, are so cheap and available that there is absolutely nothing to gain by building your own.

“David Mellis at the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab built a DIY Cellphone, making a custom circuit-board and laser-cutting his own wooden case. The files are hosted on GitHub in case you’d like to try your hand at it.”

7.        Why the Mobile Phone ‘Subsidy’ is a Myth

I can’t vouch for the numbers, and these are doubtless relevant to the US, however, it stands to reason that a mobile phone ‘subsidy’ is anything but: you are saving chump change in exchange for a commitment by you to spend thousands on mobile services. Why would you do that?

“You may have heard the news: T-Mobile announced a new mobile phone plan this week that involves no contract, and no phone subsidies. What’s most interesting about this news, and what nobody is talking about, is that other carriers don’t have subsidies, either.”

8.        Adobe: Fly to US for cheaper software

Software vendors have been placed on the hot seat in Australia because of the huge gap in pricing. This may have occurred in the same was as happened in Canada for many goods as the currency appreciated. It is astonishing to hear an executive suggest Australians suggest ‘grey market’ purchases as a solution. Besides hurting their distributors, they have apparently just given permission for a legal grey market to develop!

“Australians can go to the US if they want lower American prices on boxed Adobe products, or buy the company’s cloud-based offering, an Adobe official told a Parliamentary panel today. In a hearing about higher IT pricing in Australia compared to other markets, Adobe managing director of ANZ, Paul Robson, dodged and slapped back a flurry of volleys from the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications.”

9.        LibreOffice adoption soaring, but OpenOffice still open source king

I don’t have a horse in this race, however, it seems like LibreOffice has the momentum here, whereas OpenOffice has the installed base. LibreOffice seems to be evolving fairly rapidly while OpenOffice seems stalled. The same could have been said about WordStar and WordPerfect, or Word and WordPerfect at various times in the past. Of course, being open source projects, it’s a pity they don’t play nice.

“More than two years after LibreOffice came into being, it’s hard to call the open source office software anything but a success. There are possibly tens of millions of people who use it—or at least have it installed on their computers. But how close is LibreOffice to overtaking OpenOffice, the king of open source productivity suites? The short answer is that LibreOffice has a long way to go.”

10.   Study shows one-third of electric car owners in Japan will not buy one again

Frankly, I’m surprised the number who wouldn’t buy another is so low, but then again, most people probably haven’t owned the cars long enough to deal with the financial nightmare of replacing the battery (or, more likely, scrapping the car). Mind you, due to a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, bizarre government policies, energy prices in Japan have no apparent relation to reality.

“Business management consultancy McKinsey and Company released a study today showing that almost one-third of people in Japan who bought electric cars said that they will never again buy another. It would seem, however, that the reason for discontent is that they were not properly informed about the battery-powered vehicles. The low cost of power, the government handouts, as well as a smooth test drive of the vehicle is what seduced many electric car owners in the country to purchase a model.”

11.   Discovery opens door to efficiently storing and reusing renewable energy

This could be really significant. Many catalysts are based on rare metals like platinum. Every now and then we read about new ‘non-platinum group’ catalysts being developed, in particular for fuel cell related applications. Unfortunately, these never seem to get to market, likely because they are too expensive, don’t last long, or do not perform well. This group claims their catalysts are as good as existing catalysts are 1,000 times cheaper (presumably cost 0.1% of, say platinum – see the backgrounder If this is even partly correct, this truly could be a major advance- after all, at 0.1% of the cost you don’t care if they last 50% as long – and not good news for the platinum/palladium industry as applications would extend well beyond alternative energy.

“Two University of Calgary researchers have developed a ground-breaking way to make new, affordable, and efficient catalysts for converting electricity into chemical energy.”

12.   Gartner Says Early Adopters of 3D Printing Technology Could Gain an Innovation Advantage Over Rivals

Of all the industry analysts I heap the greatest scorn on Gartner. Mind you, even Gartner should be able to do regression on pricing curves. The prediction seems in the ball-park, however, this might be a situation where cheap 3D printers are effectively subsidized with very expensive consumables, just as laser and inkjet printers are now.

“By 2016, Enterprise-Class 3D Printers Will Be Available for Under $2,000. 3D printing is disrupting the design, prototyping and manufacturing processes in a wide range of industries, according to Gartner, Inc. Enterprises should start experimenting with 3D printing technology to improve traditional product design and prototyping, with the potential to create new product lines and markets. 3D printing will also become available to consumers via kiosks or print-shop-style services, creating new opportunities for retailers and other businesses.”

13.   Rackspace/Red Hat Hand Uniloc A Quick And Significant Defeat

The early dismissal of this case in the Eastern District Court of Texas (a well know ‘patent owner friendly’ court) has been viewed by some as an indication that court is somehow becoming less favorable to ‘patent trolls.’ I don’t see how you can arrive at that conclusion: the patent owner should never have been granted a patent and, in any event, was rather silly to go to court with such a weak position in law. If I understand the law correctly, collateral estoppel will limit Rackspace’s efforts to monetize this patent in the future.

“Call them non-producing entities or patent trolls, it makes little difference when entities like Uniloc are so quick to run to court to extract their tolls from the high tech community. That’s what makes yesterday’s major defeat for Uniloc even more satisfying. Not only did Uniloc lose, but it didn’t even survive a 12(b)(6) motion in which Rackspace/Red Hat challenged the validity of Uniloc’s patent and won.”

14.   Japan breaks China’s stranglehold on rare metals with sea-mud bonanza

Frankly, it is hard to see how mining the sea bed would not be disruptive to sea life, and, given Japan’s disregard for the global environment, I am rather skeptical as to that claim. However, because Japan really doesn’t seem to care about the environment, they are likely to proceed with this regardless, and that could have a significant on availability and pricing.

“We have found deposits that are just two to four metres from the seabed surface at higher concentrations than anybody ever thought existed, and it won’t cost much at all to extract,” said proffessor Yasuhiro Kato from Tokyo University, the leader of the team.”

15.   Taking a stand on open source and patents

This is a promising announcement, but you’d expect this sort of thing from Google. After all, they aren’t in the ‘closed source’ software business so they have nothing to lose from open source development. On the other hand, they have a belief that greater use of the web will benefit them, and from that perspective you can see that facilitating application development at other’s expense would be better than blocking it.

“At Google we believe that open systems win. Open-source software has been at the root of many innovations in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the Internet generally. And while open platforms have faced growing patent attacks, requiring companies to defensively acquire ever more patents, we remain committed to an open Internet—one that protects real innovation and continues to deliver great products and services. Today, we’re taking another step towards that goal by announcing the Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge: we pledge not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked.”

16.   Molecular cages to end crystallisation nightmare

X-ray crystallography is an important tool for determining the structure of complex molecules, and, in most cases, structure says a lot about function. The technique was key to the determination of the structure and, thereby function, of DNA, for example. Unfortunately, it has only been applicable to a small set of molecules which can be crystalized – until now.

“X-ray crystallography has shaped modern chemistry. It is arguably the most powerful tool for molecular structural analysis. But it suffers from one big drawback: it can only analyse materials that form well-defined crystals. This may now be about to change. Researchers in Japan have used ‘crystal sponges’ to hold molecules that can’t be crystallised, allowing them to be analysed using x-ray crystallography.”

17.   Open access: The true cost of science publishing

The article is far more balanced than I would expect from a member of the science journal oligopoly. This is a big business and the ‘value add’ is dubious. After all, when papers needed to be printed and distributed you needed the capital assets and the distribution channel. All of the stuff that matters is done for free by peer review and, as we have seen repeatedly, publication in a prestigious peer reviewed journal is no guarantee of quality (see I doubt science publication was a big business 50 years ago, and I doubt it will be 20 years from now.

“Michael Eisen doesn’t hold back when invited to vent. “It’s still ludicrous how much it costs to publish research — let alone what we pay,” he declares. The biggest travesty, he says, is that the scientific community carries out peer review — a major part of scholarly publishing — for free, yet subscription-journal publishers charge billions of dollars per year, all told, for scientists to read the final product. “It’s a ridiculous transaction,” he says.”

18.   Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab

This is an interesting and rapidly developing field of research. I used to think that availability of ‘scaffolds’ might be an issue (but a much smaller one than finding a transplant ‘match’), however, there is a good chance ‘scaffolds’ could be harvested from otherwise unusable organs, or even animals. After all, the major problem with ‘xeno-transplants’ has been rejection, not function.

“Reaching into a stainless steel tray, Francisco Fernandez-Aviles lifted up a gray, rubbery mass the size of a fat fist. It was a human cadaver heart that had been bathed in industrial detergents until its original cells had been washed away and all that was left was what scientists call the scaffold. Next, said Dr. Aviles, “We need to make the heart come alive.”

19.   Climate science A sensitive matter

As a general rule, I find that primary effects are pretty easy to figure out, second order effects much more problematic and third and higher order effects are almost impossible to predict. Similarly, a model that can’t predict the past is pretty useless, so most do at least that, however, if it begins to diverge from reality, you have a serious problem.

“Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models (see chart 1). If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.”

20.   Bitcoin May Be the Global Economy’s Last Safe Haven

I’m telling you: this is going to end badly, perhaps so badly that there might be a need to update “Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”. Seriously: people are bidding up numbers on an uncontrolled private network on the assumption that these numbers, which neither represent nor assert value or control, have value or are controlled. Not only that, but they are being priced at the margin – meaning my number has spontaneously ‘increased’ in ‘value’ by virtue of perceived scarcity and risk associated with traditional currency. Because, after all, a number is a safe haven. People can be morons sometimes.

“One of the oddest bits of news to emerge from the economic collapse of Cyprus is a corresponding rise in the value of Bitcoin, the Internet’s favorite, media-friendly, anarchist crypto-currency. In Spain, Google (GOOG) searches for “Bitcoin” and downloads of Bitcoin apps soared. The value of a Bitcoin went up to $78. Someone put out a press release promising a Bitcoin ATM in Cyprus. Far away, in Canada, a man said he’d sell his house for BTC5,362.”

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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

PS: Sorry if this week’s list is a bit weak as we are dealing with another death in the family.

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1.        Microsoft’s $100-per-app bounty is both too much and not enough

This is a downright silly idea. Think about it – if you are attracted by a $100 bounty rather than potential sales of the app then you are essentially assuming the app would not produce more than $100 of revenue. Absent a high degree of quality control, this will likely lead to ‘app spam’ – basically trivial crapware created for the $100 bounty.

“Publish an app in the Windows Store by June 30 and Microsoft will give you a $100 Visa card. Developers can submit up to 20 applications for a total of $2,000 in rewards.”

2.        New Wi-Fi delivers more data faster, but at a cost

A fairly superficial review of a couple products employing the latest WiFi variant, WiFi AC. The cost and compatibility comments could have easily applied to any of the predecessor technologies – give it a couple years and they’ll be just as cheap.

“If you think Wi-Fi is a goofy name, the technology’s real name is worse — IEEE 802.11. Behind these numbers you find more letters that identify the version of Wi-Fi that you use. Most of us now rely on 802.11 B, G, or N routers. The new standard is called AC, like the famous brand of spark plugs. Good choice of name, because an AC router will give your home network quite a jolt.”

3.        LibreOffice for Android “frustratingly close” to release

Availability of a credible office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) for Android could have a significant impact on demand for Android based tablets and notebooks, so release of LibreOffice for Android could be a big deal.

“LibreOffice developers have been working on bringing the open source office suite to Android for more than a year. But aside from a remote control app that lets you use your phone to control presentations running on a desktop, nothing has yet hit the Android app store.”

4.        Samsung Galaxy S4 BoM pegged at $236

Note how the major cost differential appears to be the display, not the semiconductors. The thing with display resolution is it has decreasing marginal utility as demonstrated by, among other things, the price of flat panel TVs and monitors. In other words, so-called ‘retinal’ displays are pretty much the peak in terms of utility and prices should begin to roll over soon.

“The HSPA+ version of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s Galaxy S4 smartphone carries a bill of materials (BoM) of $236, significantly higher than its predecessor, according to a virtual teardown conducted by market research firm IHS iSuppli.”–236

5.        BlackBerry’s U.S. launch: Turning point or last gasp?

A relatively balanced article covering the US launch of the Blackberry Z10. I happen to believe that, for them, the war is over however I could be proved wrong. I do wish people would stop blathering about the number of ‘apps’ available for a particular devices – what made the PC so successful was a relative handful of useful applications, not an infinite variety of what amounts to noise.

“For a company still eyeing a comeback in the brutally competitive smartphone business, the U.S. launch of the device represents a particularly critical turning point. Despite the BlackBerry falling from grace here, the U.S. is still the device’s largest market, representing 20 percent of total subscribers, according to an analyst. A successful launch that attracts old and new users alike could provide BlackBerry with the fuel to turn itself around. But should the Z10 come out cold, BlackBerry could be looking for a buyer within a year.”

6.        OPEL Technologies achieves milestone in Planar Optoelectronic Technology

I hadn’t heard of this company before. While the technology sounds impressive, attrition among start-ups is very high in the semiconductor industry. What generally happens is one or more of the following: the niche never evolves, or if it does evolve, the giants (Intel, TI, etc.) fill the void. Technologically, what seem to be quantum advances become fairly humdrum due to Moore’s Law by the time they are ready for commercialization. Still I wish them well.

“Toronto-based OPEL Technologies Inc. has achieved Milestone 4, the next key milestone in its Planar Optoelectronic Technology (POET), achieving radio frequency and microwave operation of both n-channel and p-channel transistors.”

7.        Micro 3-D Printer Creates Tiny Structures in Seconds

As Feynman once opined, “there is plenty of room at the bottom” ( The problem with microstructures is that they are hard to make in small volumes as the process is similar in many regards to the manufacture of semiconductors. The ability to create prototypes quickly and inexpensively would be a boon to industry and education – analogous to ‘printing’ a single integrated circuit.

“Nanoscribe, a spin-off from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, has developed a tabletop 3-D microprinter that can create complicated microstructures 100 times faster than is possible today. “If something took one hour to make, it now takes less than one minute,” says Michael Thiel, chief scientific officer at Nanoscribe.”

8.        13 Smart LED Bulbs: The Future of Lighting Control?

There were a couple of articles about ‘smart’ light bulbs this week each with different angles. This is not as crazy an idea as it might sound, however, reliability is bound to be an issue, and that is significant when your lights cost a fortune. Furthermore, this is bound to be standardized and early adopters will almost certainly regret whatever choice they made.

“If CES 2013 and Kickstarter are anything to go by, our current centralized lighting control paradigm may soon give way to smart light bulbs and sockets wisened by the Internet of Things (WiFi), 6LoWPAN, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth and possibly a new RF protocol from Google under its Android@Home initiative.”

9.        New Reasons to Change Light Bulbs

This article is, in general, positive towards LED lighting, a technology whose time has come. Unfortunately the article dwells excessively on “smart” lights, which, as noted, are bound to be problematic and likely displaced by a standardized approach (early adopters will be ‘orphaned’). I did find the idea that a vendor requires you open an online account to operate their light bulb – who on Earth thought this was a long term viable business model?

“People sometimes have trouble making small sacrifices now that will reward them handsomely later. How often do we ignore the advice to make a few diet and exercise changes to live a longer, healthier life? Or to put some money aside to grow into a nest egg? Intellectually, we get it — but instant gratification is a powerful force. You don’t have to be one of those self-defeating rubes. Start buying LED light bulbs.”

10.   Lighting Science issues recall of 554,000 LED bulbs because of fire hazard

A third item about LED lighting, and one which likely shows the importance of the non-LED component of the lighting system, in particular, the power supply. We don’t know the details, but most LED lamps work off the mains power supply, which necessitates a high voltage AC to low voltage, constant current, DC for the LED. Most likely it is this part of the design which causes the fire hazard. The power supply has to be at least as reliable as the light source and is the most likely thing to fail in the unit. Eventually, we’ll wire the house with DC for lighting.

“Lighting Science Group, the Florida-based makers of Home Depot’s EcoSmart LED bulbs as well as branded products for other companies, has issued a recall for a reported 554,000 of its LED bulbs. The bulbs are being called back due to their being a possible fire hazard after internal components overheat. This is a voluntary recall that affects bulbs sold under the Sylvania, Definity, EcoSmart, and Westinghouse brand names.”

11.   Chinese Solar Panel Maker Falters as Prices Plunge

The Chinese government supports solar companies so they can take advantage of Western subsidy programs for solar power. The net effect was an artificial market which could not be sustained without continued subsidy at both the supply and demand end of the spectrum. If, as the article states, profit margins were negative, this could only end one way.

“Ocean Yuan, the president of Grape Solar, an importer of solar panels that is based in Eugene, Oregon, said he foresaw a series of bankruptcies by big Chinese solar panel manufacturers, some of which have very high debt like Suntech. Chinese manufacturers lost as much as $1 for every $3 of sales last year as they struggled to keep factories open despite plummeting prices.”

12.   The Country Most Gouged By Telecom Companies? Canada

I’m always amazed that people can assert that Canadians aren’t being screwed blind for wireless, Internet, and cable services. You simply have to travel – even just a day trip to the US – to see how badly we have it. Sight unseen, I can assume the Scotia Capital report was written by someone so ignorant of the facts they couldn’t bother to walk into a Wal-Mart in Buffalo, NY or even go to their web page ( Of course, it is possible they are simply willfully ignorant (and/or corrupt). After all – Bell and Rodgers own mobile, Internet, TV and radio stations, specialty channels, cable TV assets, retail stores, magazine, newspapers, sports teams, etc., and they pay a lot more investment banking fees than the clients do.

“Last week, I made an effort to investigate some of the findings of a recent Scotia Capital report, which itself sought to dispel some of the alleged myths pervading the Canadian wireless market. Some of my conclusions were based on slightly older numbers, taken from a 2011 version of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix. Since stats such as revenue and profits don’t change that quickly over the course of a year, I felt it was okay to use those numbers.”

13.   GoPro doesn’t like their Hero 3 compared to Sony’s AS15?

GoPro was an early entrant to the ‘action camera’ segment. I have two of their units and almost never use them because the user interface is absolutely abysmal. In any event, they appear to have invoked the iron fist of the DMCA to take down a negative review of their product. This is probably illegal, but absolutely profoundly stupid: the news hit the Internet in a big way and probably drove 10x more traffic to the review than it would have otherwise seen. Plus, the press for GoPro on this matter has been universally negative.

“It appears that our friend at San Mateo doesn’t like us comparing their latest product to the Sony AS15. Earlier today we have received a DMCA take down notice from GoPro for mentioning their trademarks “GoPro” and “Hero” without their authorisation. They say “you learn something new everyday”, and this is clearly an eye-opener for us here. It appears that we’ll need their authorisation to review their products.”


14.   Japan invents one-man robot car that can drive itself

I’ll assume the silly headline is bad translation (countries don’t invent, people do), but this is the sort of technology you want to keep an eye on. A small robotic car which would communicate with other vehicles could revolutionize transportation and industry. Even the inherent problems of electric vehicles could be relatively insignificant if operated as a service rather than a product.

“The Japanese tech conglomerate Hitachi unveiled on Tuesday a small one-man electric car that can drive itself. The car takes the passengers from one place and leaves them to another without them having to do a thing.”

15.   Pre-Viking tunic found on glacier as warming trend aids archaeology

Similar finds are being made in the Arctic. One thing I’ll never understand is why nobody wants to ask the obvious question: doesn’t it imply that the earth was that much warmer back then? After all did Hannibal’s elephants wear snowshoes?

“A pre-Viking woolen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday. The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing — suitable for a person up to about 5 feet, 9 inches tall (176 centimeters) — was found 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway. Carbon dating showed it was made around the year 300.”

16.   Bringing Back the Passenger Pigeon

It is easy to compare these sorts of projects to Jurassic Park, but resurrecting a recently exterminated species is a different matter than a dinosaur or even a mammoth. Not only is relatively intact DNA fairly abundant but the ecosystem should be able to tolerate reappearance of the species and the species would likely thrive within the ecosystem.

“The first purpose of the daylong meeting was to explore the technical plausibility of reviving the iconic extinct bird, Ectopistes migratorius, through genomic engineering.  The last passenger pigeon remaining of the billions that once dominated the forests of eastern America died a century ago, in September 1914.”

17.   Web Money Gets Laundering Rule

I can’t help but wonder if the US government is going to be as serious about this regulation as it has been about the likes of HSBC and UBS (who received slaps on the wrist for their massive operation). It makes sense that ‘web money’ should be regulated, however, they should start with enforcing the laws they already have. In any event this seems to have boosted the fortunes of BitCoin, for the perverse reason that people think it won’t be regulated. That is supposed to be a good thing.

The U.S. is applying money-laundering rules to “virtual currencies,” amid growing concern that new forms of cash bought on the Internet are being used to fund illicit activities. The move means that firms that issue or exchange the increasingly popular online cash will now be regulated in a similar manner as traditional money-order providers such as Western Union Co. They would have new bookkeeping requirements and mandatory reporting for transactions of more than $10,000.

18.   Google’s Android unit reportedly building a smart watch

The recent fixation on the possibility Apple and others might launch a watch is baffling. Either the device is going to be a multi-function Dick Tracy style device, or a watch. Unfortunately, the small size limits battery size and battery size determine how long the device will operate. You may want a wrist mounted iPod nano, but I don’t think you want a want that needed weekly or daily care and feeding.

“According to a recent report from The Financial Times, Google might also be getting into the smart watch game. And unlike Glass, which was developed in the company’s experimental X Lab, the watch (not pictured above) is said to be under development by the Android unit, possibly indicating that Google sees it as a more immediately viable product. According to FT’s source, the Google watch is separate from Samsung’s recently-announced effort.”

19.   Liver kept alive outside of body in transplant first

This seems to be the trend – later in the week I read an article about a successful ‘breathing lung’ transplant. The idea is, not surprisingly, that keeping an organ alive is better than keeping a dead organ on ice.

“A human liver kept alive and functioning outside of the body has been successfully transplanted in a world first that may revolutionise the procedure. Using a new device developed at Oxford University, doctors at King’s College Hospital were able to keep the liver functioning as normal after removing it from the donor. The liver was then successfully transplanted into a patient.”

20.   World’s smallest blood monitoring implant tells your smartphone when you’re about to have a heart attack

This is the sort of product whose time has come – continuous health monitoring will most likely be used on people at high risk such as those with diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.. This would have two advantages: besides early detection and rapid diagnosis, the data gathered from numerous patients could be analysed to develop a better understanding of their respective diseases.

“A team of scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed the world’s smallest medical implant to monitor critical chemicals in the blood. The 14mm device measures up to five indicators, including proteins like troponin, that show if and when a heart attack has occurred. Using Bluetooth, the device can then transmit the data to a smartphone for tracking.”


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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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.        Microsoft Is Basically Screwed In The Tablet Sector, IDC Says

The usual caveats regarding industry analyst research apply here, even though I agree with the conclusion. Besides a fundamentally flawed approach to the market, Microsoft is late to the game and really doesn’t offer much in the way of differentiation, unless you absolutely need some form or real or imagined Windows compatibility.

“When Microsoft said that it would fork its new Windows 8 operating system in two to support both x86 and ARM-based chips, most pundits figured that was a good idea. Windows had for too long been stuck in the world of x86 and was missing the Mobile Revolution with its reluctance to adopt ARM. Henceforth, two types of Windows tablets were born: Windows 8 on x86 and Windows RT on ARM. And both have more or less flopped.”

2.        The coming Windows 8 mini tablets: Netbooks revisited?

Frankly, it’s hard to believe Microsoft can get $120 for Windows 8 (or any other version of Windows), especially in an OEM version. I believe we’ll see Android tablets priced well below $200 in the coming year or so, and that won’t leave much room for even a $30 license fee to Microsoft.

“The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that according to its sources, Microsoft is offering its PC partners Windows 8 plus Office at a substantial discount — $30 per copy price — as opposed to the $120 one that they’ve supposedly been paying for Windows 8.”

3.        Four months in, Windows 8 needs help

Yes, exactly: people refer a desktop mode when using a desktop or laptop. They prefer a tablet mode when using a tablet. Selling an operating system which runs a tablet/touch user interface on a desktop or laptop, especially one without a touch screen, is a dumb idea. How could Microsoft not get that?

“There were certain decisions that Microsoft made that were in retrospect flawed. Notably not allowing people to boot into desktop mode and taking away the start button. Those two things have come up consistently. We’ve done some research and people miss that. And there are a lot of people that as soon as they boot into Windows 8, they go to desktop mode and do most their work there and occasionally back to Metro. But the point being they’re much more comfortable with desktop mode.”

4.        How I ditched the security risks and lived without Java, Reader, and Flash

I recently uninstalled Adobe reader, so I now have one less weekly software update. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to get rid of Java since a number of electronics development tools are written in it. Flash is surely on the way out – which makes you wonder about Adobe’s long term outlook.

“Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Oracle’s Java. All three are virtually ubiquitous on modern-day PCs, and all three provide handy-dandy functionality—functionality that, in the case of Flash and Java, can’t be directly reproduced by a third-party solution. If we lived in a vacuum, it would be hard to argue that the trio doesn’t deserve its spot on computers around the globe. We don’t live in a vacuum, though.”

5.        Apple’s mobile dominance is done for now, analyses find

When they turn against you, they turn in a big way, as this story and the next demonstrate. The real problem is not so much Apple’s apparent decline as the natural propensity to deify successful CEOs and their respective companies. Every technology company follows an arc: it can be long or short, and very rarely (as in the case of Apple), it’s a double arc. They may be able to make it a third time, but the market is reflexive and nowadays driven more by fashion than anything else. Witness the current hype over Samsung’s newest smartphone release.

“Apple (AAPL) has dominated the mobile device market since basically inventing the sector with the iPhone and iPad, but tablets running the Android operating system will overtake the iPad in 2013 much as smartphones utilizing Google’s (GOOG) offering already have, according to a study released Tuesday.”

6.        Adblock Plus for Android removed from Google Play store

One thing that is certain is Google knows what side of the bread the butter is on. It is worth noting that at least under Android you don’t have to use their site to load apps. At least not for now.

“In a rather surprising move, Google removed Adblock Plus and other ad blocking apps from the Google Play store due to “interference with another service or product in an unauthorized manner.” This looks like a course change at Google, until recently the main distinction between Android and iPhone was that Android allowed you to install any app as long as it wasn’t malicious (meaning that it’s obvious what the app does).”

7.        Samsung, Apple to step into path toward wireless charging for smartphones

‘Wireless charging” is a bit is a misnomer as these are simply inductively coupled. I have an electric toothbrush which does the same thing. It is convenient, but not rocket science. One nice thing about inductive charging, especially when coupled with a touch screen, is that you can easily make a weatherproof device.

“Following the steps of Nokia, LG Electronics and HTC, Samsung Electronics and Apple are expected to add wireless charging capability to their flagship models in 2013, according to industry sources. Samsung is expected to adopt Qi wireless charging technology run by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) for its next flagship model, the Galaxy S IV, the sources indicated.”

8.        SXSW: How Mobile Devices Are Changing Africa

Mobile technology does several things, but most of all it is a communications technology. In North America, that means tweeting about the latest celebrity. In Africa it means a transformed economy as pricing visibility improves. It also means the hair shirt of corruption is made less visible, which is a bad thing for the status quo.

“Mobile phones are kicking off a revolution in Africa, with everyone from farmers to villagers relying on apps to make electronic payments, check on expiration dates for medicine, and predict future storms or the best prices for produce. In a SXSW session titled “The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa” (which would also be a pretty good name for one of the indie films playing at this massive convention), Tech4Africa founder Gareth Knight explained the contours of this revolution.”

9.        With Mobile Apps And Hardware, YC-Backed Automatic Launches To Help You Get More Out Of Your Car

This is a brilliant idea, and it makes you wonder why nobody else has done it. The major barrier to adoption will likely be the need to hook something up to the OBD connector (I’m assuming that’s what you need to do) because that connector is rarely in an obvious location. It’s high time automobile OEMs switched to WiFi anyhow.

“People spend a ton of money on their cars every year, from car payments to insurance to gas to maintenance. But for such expensive assets, most people normally don’t know a whole lot about what’s happening under the hood, or how they can drive or maintain their cars better over time. The folks at Automatic want to change all that, with a smart combination of hardware and mobile apps to keep people better informed of how their cars are doing.”

10.   31% of Kenya’s GDP is spent through mobile phones

Another example of how the advent of mobile telephony is transforming the developing world. Evidently, Kenyan banks, like so many financial institutions, had it too cosy for too long. One cannot help but imagine to what extent the Kenyan GDP is understated as a consequence of the ‘Black’ economy. Who knows – maybe the use of things like M-Pesa will improve visibility in that regard and result in more efficient tax collection as well.

“Pundits like to talk about how developing countries can “leapfrog” rich countries by skipping certain stages of development—for example, by going straight to an economy based on renewable energy without first passing through a phase of messy fossil-fuel based industrialization—but it rarely happens. M-Pesa, the system of mobile payments first launched in Kenya, is an exception.”

11.   Patient has 75 per cent of his skull replaced by 3D-printed implant

A bit of a misleading headline in terms of area, but an impressive application nonetheless. I can see a time when entire bones are replaced with custom made 3D printed implants.

“The un-named patient in the United States had his head imaged by a 3D scanner before the plastic prosthetic was crafted to suit his features. Oxford Performance Materials in Connecticut then gained approval from US regulators before the printed bone replacement was inserted in his skull during a surgical procedure earlier this week.”

12.   New Balance uses 3D printing technique to customize track shoes

It’s been a big week in 3D printing announcements. I am not sure that the market for custom printed spikes is a large one however one can imagine that custom fitted footwear (especially the lowers) could emerge. After all the rather disreputable orthotics market could simply be displaced by $20 inserts printed “while you wait.”

“In a press release, New Balance said it has “developed a proprietary process for utilizing a runner’s individual biomechanical data to create hyper-customized spike plates designed to improve performance. The process requires race-simulation biomechanical data which the New Balance Sports Research Lab collects using a force plate, in-shoe sensors, and a motion capture system. Advanced algorithms and software are then applied to translate this data into custom 3D printed spike designs.”

13.   Leading supplier lauds 3D printing as jewellery industry “shape changer”

The jewelry business is an obvious place for 3D printing due to the low volume/high mix nature of the product. I am rather surprised they are push 3D sintering, especially given the cost of the ‘toner’: I would have expected them to produce a wax replica and use traditional ‘lost wax’ techniques to produce the final product.

“Speaking to BBC News, chief executive of Cookson Precious Metals Stella Leyton said as a result of new developments, high street shoppers can expect to see more personalised jewellery offered by retailers. The technique used in jewellery-making is known as laser sintering and is being employed by the company to produce jewellery from computer designs. There are many advantages to adopting this method – which has been used within the industry for some time – as it allows for complex designs to be made more expediently, while they can be quickly altered and produced.”

Another interesting 3D printing app

14.   Makerbot announces new desktop 3D scanner—you know, to go with your 3D printer

3D scanners have been around for some time, but this is the first ‘consumer grade’ product I’ve seen. Frankly this is the sort of thing even an enthusiast would use rarely – there is probably a market for Staples or a similar company to offer professional quality 3D scanning as a service.

“We are super excited to be able to announce at SXSW Interactive that we are developing the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner,” said Bre Pettis, the company’s CEO, in a statement on Friday. “It’s a natural progression for us to create a product that makes 3D printing even easier. With the MakerBot Digitizer, now everyone will be able to scan a physical item, digitize it, and print it in 3D—with little or no design experience.”

15.   Netflix Chief Product Officer: expect 4K streaming within a year or two

I am, frankly, surprised at the position Netflix is in as I would have expected the content producers to simply set up their own distribution systems, or, perhaps, establish a cooperative venture like Netflix. In any event, there is some interesting reading here. I remain unconvinced that 4K will attract much in the way of consumer interest, however.

“Neil Hunt is likely the most important Netflix executive that nobody’s ever heard of. While everyone in tech media knows CEO Reed Hastings and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, Hunt’s kept a low profile despite the pivotal position he holds as the company’s chief product officer. Hunt looks after the video service’s technology, including the streaming platform, as well as the tech behind the new feature announced yesterday, which will enable subscribers to share what they watch with their Facebook friends.”

16.   Ink v electrons Range anxiety

I don’t pay attention to automobile ‘driving tests’ because they don’t tell me anything I need to know about a car: namely how long it is going to last and whether I’ll be happy with my purchase in two or three years. Reviews of electric cars tend to be staged and avoid the major issue: the short life and high cost of batteries. In any event, anybody commenting on Telsa should have a good look at their balance sheet.

“What’s clear is that Elon Musk is not someone to readily brook criticism. A few years back, for instance, the co-founder of PayPal, an online payment service, and, more recently, the founder of Tesla Motors, a maker of battery-powered cars, went to war with the BBC over a story on the cheeky Top Gear, a wildly popular car show. He ultimately lost.”

17.   The 500MW molten salt nuclear reactor: Safe, half the price of light water, and shipped to order

Every now and then we read about novel reactor designs which promise to be safe than existing ones. I actually expect they are safe, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful: the ‘Green’ crowd is well experienced at making everybody afraid of everything which smack of innovation on the energy front, except the ‘deemed Kosher’ ones like solar and wind power. Unfortunately, public policy is drive by experiences with Gen 0 and Gen 1 reactors, which is a bit like basing aviation regulations on the safety record of the Wright Flyer.

“Nuclear power basically comes down to two issues: Safety and cost. Nobody denies that mass nuclear has the raw production capacity to provide for our energy needs through the remotely foreseeable future, but some argue that doing so would either bankrupt us, sicken us, or both.”

18.   Anatomy of a problem – Bitcoin loses 25% in value due to a long-missed bug

Unfortunately, I don’t really understand much of the technical discussion however this does show the weakness of an ‘algorithmic’ currency. By currency, of course, I mean a recognized token of exchange. Like tulip bulbs once were …

“We’ve written several times about the controversial decentralised digital currency known as Bitcoin. Bitcoin is an algorithmic currency, backed not by printed banknotes or government assurances, but by a database of cryptographic proofs-of-work.”

19.   Infinite loop: the Sinclair ZX Microdrive story

This article is a fun walk down memory lane. I had forgotten the Microdrive story, and, in retrospect, it is rather surprising that a smart guy like Sinclair would have gone for a solution based on the notoriously problematic ‘8 track’ model. After all roads used to be littered with discard 8 track tapes which had failed and that problem would only be worse with thinner tape and higher transport speeds.

“They would, Clive Sinclair claimed on 23 April 1982, revolutionise home computer storage. Significantly cheaper than the established 5.25-inch and emerging 3.5-inch floppy drives of the time – though not as capacious or as fast to serve up files – ‘Uncle’ Clive’s new toy would “change the face of personal computing”, Sinclair Research’s advertising puffed. Yet this “remarkable breakthrough at a remarkable price” would take more than 18 months more to come to market. In the meantime, it would become a byword for delays and disappointment – and this in an era when almost every promised product arrived late.”

20.   Irreversible Evolution? Dust Mites Show Parasites Can Violate Dollo’s Law

Unfortunately this story (and similar dumb headlines) got a lot of attention on various science websites over the past few days. I say unfortunately, because, well, nobody should assume the opinion of scientist should count for anything, especially if that opinion is 100 years out of date. And, this will give the babbling proponents of creationism something to prattle about. Evolution is not likely to ‘reversible’ for the simple reason that ‘undoing’ a series of mutations is mathematically improbable. Of course, Dollo would not have known that because they had no idea what drove evolution back then. If you think about it, if a bacterium or blue-green algae could evolve into humans, a tapeworm should be able to evolve into an elephant like creature, given enough time and the appropriate selection pressures.

“In evolutionary biology, the notion of irreversibility is known as Dollo’s Law after the Belgian paleontologist that first hypothesized it in 1893. He stated that once a lineage had lost or modified organs or structures, that they couldn’t turn back the clock and un-evolve those changes. Or, as he put it, “an organism is unable to return, even partially, to a previous stage already realized in the ranks of its ancestors.”

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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

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1.        Microsoft could make lemonade

You may recall the hysteria over the announcement of “Windows for ARM”, which has now become Windows RT. The problem with Windows for ARM is that it isn’t really Windows (though it looks like Windows 8), and despite the apparent ignorance of the author, you can’t move an application to a radically different platform, in most cases, by simply recompiling the code. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but, trust me, it ain’t easy, especially with stuff running on Windows. That is probably the reason for many of the apparently arbitrary restrictions on even Microsoft software. That aside, why on earth would somebody want to own an expensive tablet running an incompatible OS is beyond me.

“Ever since it was announced, I’ve had skepticism about the purpose and value of Windows RT, Microsoft’s version of Windows that runs on ARM computers. The upside of Windows RT—cheap devices and long battery life—was diluted by Intel finally managing to beat its Atom processor into shape. The downside—incompatibility with almost every Windows application ever written—seemed substantial.”

2.        Microsoft reverses course, says Office 2013 licenses can now be transferred to new PCs

Microsoft may be suffering from corporate senility (how else can we explain Windows 8, Windows RT, and their tablet strategy), but their hearing still seems to work. The decision to allow Office on a single machine would have only forced users to adopt LibreOffice and alternatives – which they should consider anyways.

“There were plenty of Office users none too pleased with Microsoft’s recent decision to tie Office 2013 retail licenses to the PC they were originally installed on, and it looks like the company has been listening to them. Microsoft announced in a blog post today that it’s changing the policy, and will now allow users to transfer the license if they get a new PC or the old one fails. The company says that it will update the actual license agreement included with the software in a future release, but makes it clear that the change is effective immediately.”

3.        Why Intel can’t seem to retire the x86

The article doesn’t really answer the headline, but it is a nice walk through memory lane. The fundamental problem is most of the software written for x86 is, fundamentally, crap held together with gum and bailing wire. This is probably due to the dominance of Microsoft (which gave up trying 15 years ago) and the closed source nature of Windows and Office. If open source comes to dominate, as I believe it surely will, the architecture of the CPU matter less.

“It’s rare that technology can last multiple decades, but it does happen. Bob Metcalf invented Ethernet while working at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s and it still runs the Internet, TCP/IP was a DARPANet creation of the early ’70s and sendmail, used in SMTP email routing, was created in 1979. So for all the modernity of technology, we’re still using a lot of stuff that’s middle-aged in human terms. The x86 microarchitecture is another aged technology, and it has survived more assassination attempts than Fidel Castro.”

4.        BlackBerry coup confirmed: iPhone, Android users make up half of Z10 sales in Canada, one-third in UK

Wow – that sure sounds exciting, until you think about it for a few seconds. RIM’s market share is a rounding error. They could take customers from the vanishingly small pool of existing Blackberry owners, they could take them from the much larger pool of non-Blackberry smartphone owners, or they could get them from people who have never owned a smart phone, therefor, unless sales are collapsing, they’d pretty much have to make sales to former iOS and Android users. What matters is what their market share and total sales are, not whet their customers owned the day before.

“We now know Z10 sales to date are likely nothing to scoff at, however — BlackBerry’s Z10 is outselling the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S III at a major Canadian retailer — and BGR has confirmed an even more important indicator of BlackBerry’s early success: Half of BlackBerry Z10 sales in Canada and one-third of UK sales have been made to users coming from other platforms.”

5.        Seagate to Cease Production of 7200rpm Mobile Hard Drives This Year.

This, most likely, signals the beginning of the end for the hard disk industry. While they have (currently) unbeatable densities, the electromechanical subsystem is, essentially, a fixed cost and this sets a lower limit on pricing. Unfortunately, for Seagate, appetite for storage in a PC (especially a laptop) tapers off beyond 1T, and other considerations such as performance and power consumption tend to become more significant, and for these SDDs are unbeatable.

“Seagate Technology, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hard disk drives, plans to cease production of mobile hard drives with 7200rpm spindle speed late this year as the mainstream market demand will shift to different products, such as solid-state hybrid drives (SSHDs). The company will continue to offer 5400rpm HDDs for value notebooks.”

6.        Lime forms open-source ‘Arduino for RF’

In the olden days, semiconductor companies gave you a data sheet and their best wishes. Then they started providing limited design support (often at a cost of thousands of dollars), then ‘design platforms’. The trend is clearly to supporting the open source hardware community which consists of as many professionals as hobbyists. This means design times are shortened and more projects get made, creating demand for chips. Unfortunately, this model will likely not work as well in the RF domain since regulatory approval is required for products which transmit at over a few mW.

“Lime Microsystems Ltd., a developer of configurable multi-band radio transceiver ICs, has launched an open-source RF hardware project that it says is intended to further innovation in wireless systems. The non-profit initiative has been launched under the name Myriad-RF with a website and includes pre-made RF boards with editable design files that developers can download and use in their own designs.”

7.        Embedded developers prefer Linux, love Android

This makes perfect sense – besides the cost advantage (it’s hard to beat free), there is a vast library of open source drivers and other software available for the Linux platform. Closed platforms do not have a chance.

“Developers plan to use Linux in half of their upcoming embedded projects, according to preliminary data from an annual EE Times embedded market survey. And Android leads the Linux pack.”

8.        Can a $10 LED bulb finally convert the incandescent masses?

As we predicted a number of years ago, LED will displace incandescent lighting in substantially all applications. I recently replaced most of the lights in my house with LED, and you can’t really tell them from incandescent. A $10 price point should rapidly drive adoption, but I would consider this Phase I – after all, the Edison base really has to go. In any event, LED permit sophisticated control and packaging due to low power consumption and high reliability.

“Cree, a manufacturer and supplier of high-quality LEDs, has launched its own line of LED light bulbs that will compete directly with Philips, GE, and generic bulbs from the likes of Best Buy. The cheapest of Cree’s LED bulbs costs less than $10, and they’re all backed by a (rather uncustomary) 10-year warranty. Perhaps most importantly, though, Cree’s LED bulbs are shaped just like an incandescent bulb, and emit a light pattern and color temperature that is also very reminiscent of incandescent bulbs.”

9.        Teardown: LED light shrinks size, cost with non-isolated driver

The focus in LED has been the actual LED, however, the power supply is an extremely important component – it is, after all, the most likely source of failure. The challenge of LED power supply design is the need to work off mains (110 or 220) and fit into antiquated form factors. Separation of the power supply from the actual lamp would, and powering off a DC supply would make things a lot easier.

“LED bulb prices are dropping. A year ago you could expect to pay $50 for a Philips dimmable 60W-replacement LED bulb, while today you can go to Best Buy and purchase its house brand 8W, 800 lumens Insignia 60W-replacement bulb for just $17. What has changed in LED bulb design to allow this price drop? Tearing apart the bulb gives us a look into some design trends in LED lighting, such as how the LEDs are placed within the bulb and what driver architecture is used.”–LED-light-shrinks-size–cost-with-non-isolated-driver

10.   ‘Bandwidth Divide’ Could Bar Some People From Online Learning

This is a good outline for why I believe legislation is needed to guarantee equal access to affordable broadband.A private sector solution would be preferable, however, the broadband industry has benefitted from a legacy in incompetent oversight. Think about it – bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper to provide (following a Moore’s-type cost curve) but prices and profits remain high.

“The e-textbooks used in the project, run by the Fairfax County Public Schools, worked only when students were online—and some features required fast connections. But it turns out that even in such a well-heeled region, many students did not have broadband access at home and were unable to do their homework, sparking complaints from parents that led the school system to approve the purchase of $2-million in printed textbooks for those who preferred a hard copy.”

11.   FreedomPop Launches Free Home Broadband Plan

This is probably a good marketing ploy however, what I found interesting was the use of WiMax. WiMax never took off, due, to a significant extent, to ham-handed regulation, however the fact remains that it can offer decent speeds at reasonable cost. If ‘dial up’ is still a thing, why can’t WiMax be used in a similar way to bridge the digital divide? An interesting side note, in Canada, WiMax licenses were snapped up by the telecomm oligopoly and ‘parked’ in a classically anticompetitive move aided and abetted by the regulators.

“FreedomPop today launched a very low cost home broadband plan for extremely low-intensity users, with 1GB monthly for free and 10GB for $10.”,2817,2416257,00.asp

12.   Why 3D Printing Is Going To Kick Ass

An interesting video about 3D printing – full of ideas and business models.

13.   The Ten Principles of 3D Printing

This looks like an interesting book, however, one has to wonder if they cover the limitations as well. I am a big fan of additive manufacturing, however, it is not, and likely never will be, suitable for all applications in all markets. Volume matters. A lot.

“Predicting the future is a crapshoot. When we were writing this book and interviewing people about 3D printing, we discovered that a few underlying “rules” kept coming up. People from a broad and diverse array of industries and backgrounds and levels of expertise described similar ways that 3D printing helped them get past key cost, time and complexity barriers.”

14.   Deutsche sees “sustainable” global solar market in 2014

You can’t blame them – there is a lot of money that needs to be raised in an industry which does not produce actual net cash flow and which exists entirely due to the largest of governments and gullibility of investors. So, they had to figure out how to paint a positive picture of a smoking ruin in order to keep those banking fees coming. As for “minimal or no incentives” it is my understanding that Chinese manufacturers have been hemorrhaging cash and have been propped up by banks under the direction of their government.

“Analysts at Deutsche Bank have predicted that the global solar PV sector will transition from a subsidised market to a sustainable market within a year, citing the arrival of “grid parity” in a number of key markets, unexpectedly strong demand and rebounding margins. The Deutsche Bank team said key markets such as India, China and the US are experiencing strong demand and solar projects are now being developed with minimal or no incentives.”

15.   Artificially-engineered material pushes the bounds of superconductivity

This sounds pretty important, however, the article provides virtually no information regarding the improved superconducting characteristics of the new material. I suspect the breakthrough is actually the ability to create this particular material.

“A multi-university team of researchers has artificially engineered a unique multilayer material that could lead to breakthroughs in both superconductivity research and in real-world applications.”

16.   Nuclear Fusion in Five Years?

Usually when one hears of a radical advance in fusion technology, it is often associated with a member of the “tinfoil hat” crowd. However, this is Lockheed-Martin, and they have managed to accomplish a number of things over the past few decades, and they are worth paying attention to. Unfortunately, the presentation is quite vague and non-specific. The odds are very low this will happen, however, you never know.

“Lockhead Martin’s Skunk Works is famous for developing advanced technologies. Now Skunk Works Program Manager Charles Chase has outlined their plan for creating a 100 MW Fusion prototype by 2017.”

17.   Why cyber currency Bitcoin is trading at an all-time high

I think the title should have a question market at the end of it. If I understand the article correctly, a company which is answerable to no one manufactures tokens. Those tokens have become accepted, for some reason, as currency despite the complete lack of accountability, oversight, etc., involved in their manufacture. Speculation runs rampant on these tokens, which somehow reinforces the idea that they have value. You could easily change the word Pokemon for Bitcoin and see the folly (except at least Nintendo has some oversight). Why should this not end badly?

“Bitcoin sounds like something from science fiction: A purely digital currency, created by an anonymous hacker, that operates outside the world’s traditional banking systems. The four-year-old currency is very real, though, and it’s trading an all-time high, tripling in value in the last two months alone.”

18.   Human Brain Cells Make Mice Smart

I can’t help but wonder if any of the mice were name Algeron. It doesn’t appear that scientists are keep to develop a race of super-intelligent mice (though I reiterate my interest in a talking mouse) but testing the hypothesis established over one hundred years ago that neurons do the processing in the brain. Apparently the “Neuron Doctrine” as steered brain research since then, despite apparently being on shaky ground. And people wonder why I mock people like Kurzweil, who seem to think a human brain like computer is just around the corner.

“A team of neuroscientists has grafted human brain cells into the brains of mice and found that the rodents’ rate of learning and memory far surpassed that of ordinary mice.  Remarkably, the cells transplanted were not neurons, but rather types of brain cells, called glia, that are incapable of electrical signaling.  The new findings suggest that information processing in the brain extends beyond the mechanism of electrical signaling between neurons.”

19.   Ground breaking treatment that enabled paralysed animals to walk again will be tested on HUMANS within months

As near as I can figure out, distal stimulation is an important component to the rewiring, and once the rewiring is done, the subject can be weaned from it. I am also pretty sure that while the rats walk again, they do no become bipedal as suggested by the video …

“Scientists behind ground breaking research that enabled rats with severed spines to run again after two weeks have outlined their plans for human trials. The technology brings fresh hope to sufferers of spinal cord injuries, and the team say they hope the first humans could be implanted with the technology within months. Using a cocktail of drugs and electrical impulses, researchers hope to begin testing the project to ‘regrow’ nerves linking the spinal cord to the brain in five patients in a Swiss clinic.”

20.   BookOS

20,000,000 scientific articles for free

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe



1.        We Aren’t the World

This is potentially the most significant article I’ve read in a few years. What it suggests is that much of the basis for many ‘soft sciences’ are based on faulty premises. The data derived from a small subset of people appear mostly relevant to that small subset of people and the conclusions associated with that data can, at best, be only applied to that small subset of people. The ramifications for economics, in particular, are profound.

“The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich. He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments. At the heart of most of that research was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West.”

2.        A tantalising prospect

This is potentially a very significant development. “Rare Earths” are not rare, and titanium is one of the most abundant elements. Unfortunately, purification of these and some other metals is very expensive and complicated, as once was the case for aluminum. If this process can be scaled commercially, there would be a disruptive effect on many industries. Cost effective production of nanomaterials could also be similarly disruptive.

“ALUMINIUM was once more costly than gold. Napoleon III, emperor of France, reserved cutlery made from it for his most favoured guests, and the Washington monument, in America’s capital, was capped with it not because the builders were cheapskates but because they wanted to show off. How times change. And in aluminium’s case they changed because, in the late 1880s, Charles Hall and Paul Héroult worked out how to separate the stuff from its oxide using electricity rather than chemical reducing agents. Now, the founders of Metalysis, a small British firm, hope to do much the same with tantalum, titanium and a host of other recherché and expensive metallic elements including neodymium, tungsten and vanadium.”

3.        Defense Department opens contracts for Apple, Google

This is not unexpected however it is very bad news for RIM. Just as Department of Defense adoption of RIM helped RIM penetrate government and even corporate markets, loss of that endorsement will surely work against them.

“The U.S. Department of Defense announced today that it was further dropping its exclusive BlackBerry contract and opening all of its mobile communications networks to Apple, Google, and other device makers.”

4.        Samsung Knox: a work phone inside your personal phone (hands-on)

This may not be a new idea, but it may be an idea whose time has come.

“”BYOD” — Bring Your Own Device — is one of the hottest buzzphrases in business right now, the idea of users bringing in their own smartphones to use with their corporate email accounts rather than taking a company-issue BlackBerry that they don’t really want. Samsung’s Knox software tries to capitalize on that: your company installs it on your Galaxy device and you’ve got two distinct, secure environments for personal and business use.”

5.        HP’s $170 Android Tablet Is Devastating News For Microsoft (MSFT, HPQ, GOOG)

I don’t think the introduction of anything by HP is a problem for Microsoft. What could become a problem is the concurrent pricing pressure on tablets and smartphone and the availability of a credible alternative to Windows. A $170 tablet is something I would consider buying.

“For years, pundits have been calling for the demise of Microsoft And for years, Microsoft has just kept on trucking along. And perhaps, that’s what’s going to happen, yet again. Perhaps, Microsoft will be fine. But, this time it’s really starting to look different.”

6.        Next-gen consoles can’t compete with PCs, says Crytek boss

I get the sense that the game industry is due for some sort of paradigm shift. Traditionally console vendors (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft) subsidized proprietary platforms and profited from massive royalties associated with software sales. Meanwhile, PC performance continues to rise, while prices continue to fall, putting pressure at the high end, while open source hardware is becoming more common and higher performance. Consoles seem due for a squeeze.

“Whatever Sony and Microsoft have up their sleeves for the next round of console wars, Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli says the next-gen boxes won’t be able to compete with existing PCs on horsepower. Speaking with Eurogamer to promote the launch of Crytek’s Crysis 3, Yerli said the math just doesn’t work out in the console makers’ favor.”

7.        Android’s enterprise market share dropped in the fourth quarter

I have no confidence in industry research, but these data may be of some interest. However, given trends in the marketplace, I have to say these do not seem ‘right’.

“Despite increasing efforts from vendors to appeal to business customers, a new report found that Android’s enterprise market share actually declined in the fourth quarter. In the latest Device Activation Report released by Good Technology, iOS was found to be at the top of the enterprise market with 77% of all activations, an increase from 71% in 2011, and it captured eight of the 10 spots for most popular devices. Enterprise activations for Android devices fell 6.3% year-over-year for a 22.7% share of the market, while Windows Phone came in at a distant third with 0.5% of activations.”

8.        Windows 8 swells to 2.7% of OS market

Since it is nearly impossible to buy a new PC without Windows 8, and since ‘downgrading’ to Windows 7 is expensive (due to egregious new license terms) and indeterminate (due to the unprecedented step by vendors of not supporting Windows 7) increased penetration is scarcely surprising. However, until Microsoft fixes Windows 8, consumers would be advised to buy pretty much anything else, or simply defer purchases.

“Windows 8 is winning over more users, but it’s doing so at a snail’s pace. Microsoft’s latest OS took home 2.67 percent of all global traffic seen by Web tracker NetApplications last month. That put it in fourth place among all operating system versions, just ahead of Mac OS X 10.8 and behind Windows Vista. But that was only a slight rise from January’s figure of 2.26 percent, which itself jumped from 1.72 percent in December and 1.09 percent in November.”

9.        Torvalds clarifies Linux’s Windows 8 Secure Boot position

Microsoft’s latest kludge attempt at security is causing lots of problems for open source software. I am sure this is just a coincidence. One cannot help but wonder if the time has come for ‘clean’ hardware, devoid of Microsoft’s dictates.

“No one, but no one, in the Linux community likes Microsoft’s mandated deployment of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Secure Boot option in Windows 8 certified PCs. But, how Linux should handle the fixes required to deal with this problem remains a hot-button issue. Now, as the debate continues hot and heavy, Linus Torvalds, Linux’s founder and de facto leader, spells out how he thinks Linux should deal with Secure Boot keys.”

10.   What Is the Point of Google’s Chromebook Pixel?

When I saw the announcement of the latest Chromebook, I was certain there was a typo – why would anybody pay a super-premium for a laptop which has limited utility? After all – with a Window’s Ultrabook (even with the repugnant Windows 8 OS) you get much more capability and a vast array of applications. I’d consider an Apple laptop before buying a Chrombook Pixel at this price – I and I would never consider buying an Apple computer of any type. What are they thinking?

“That’s the baffling news from Google’s latest offering, the Chromebook Pixel. It’s a high, high, high-end version of the earlier laptop that made so much sense at $250.”

11.   Raspberry Pi and the rise of small computers

I was designing embedded systems in the 1980s and that’s really all these devices are. What has really changed is that these ‘small computers’ are being placed into the hands of non-engineers. Of course thanks to Moore’s Law these things have a lot more horsepower than I had access to back then. Many such units (not Raspberry Pi) are open source, meaning they can be extended at will, and the support network is much stronger. It is surprising that the semiconductor companies have not really caught on to this and introduced their own open platforms.

“In the same way that people buy a smartphone to browse on the move, if they want to try their hand at coding, they opt for the Raspberry Pi or one of its rivals. Similarly, if they want a home media server for their DVDs, they pick Intel’s NUC or perhaps something from Zotac or Xi3. The prices of these small form factor machines varies widely but all these gadgets can, with a little help from a few add-ons and peripherals, do anything that used to require the services of a fully functioning, and quite hefty, desktop PC.”

12.   Bill would force ‘patent trolls’ to pay legal costs

One of the bizarre things about the US legal system is that the loser rarely pays the winner’s legal expenses. This opens the doors for all kinds of frivolous and harassing legal actions since the downside risk to the complainant is usually limited to their legal fees while the downside to the defendant starts at their legal fees and goes up from there. Carefully crafted legislation to make ‘loser pays’ the default should significantly reduce harassing patent litigation and devastate the business model of patent licensing firms.

“The Saving High-tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (SHIELD) Act from Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) would force plaintiffs to pay for the defendant’s attorney fees and other legal costs if their patent lawsuit fails in court.”

13.   Code Found In Youtubes Most Recent App Update All But Confirms Pay To View Channels Are Coming

A paid Youtube option makes perfect sense, and it is one means by which Google might hope to extend Android in to the same domain as iTunes. Ideally, customers would have a choice: pay for view/listen or opt in to advertising.

“Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal suggested that Google is in talks with record labels to start its own Spotify-like music streaming service. In the same article, the newsgroup also reported that El Goog is looking to do something similar with YouTube, and launch pay-to-view channels, though no specific details past that were given. Now, some code found in the most recent YouTube app update basically confirms the service is on its way.”

14.   Freescale preps IoT attack with tiny MCU

Freescale is nowhere near the top of my list of most favored vendors however the article sheds some light on the state of the art with respect to miniaturization. If I recall correctly, this device has significantly more computing resources than the Apollo command modules, so that’s pretty impressive for 3.8 square millimeters.

“Freescale Semiconductor is preparing for what it thinks will be the next driver of microcontroller sales, the Internet of Things (IoT), with the introduction of a 32-bit microcontroller measuring just 1.9-mm by 2.0-mm. That’s the not the die size but the complete Kinetis KL02 MCU–in its chip-scale packaging.”

15.   Self-driving trucks tested in Japan, form a close-knit convoy for fuel savings

It seems increasingly likely that ‘self-driving vehicles’ will be the first common robots. As this article shows, autonomous vehicles will not just be for lazy drivers, but also significantly reduce labor costs and improve productivity. Eventually, vehicles will be built for this application. Within a few decades expect small courier trucks to show up and deliver packages without human intervention.

“As Google and others ramp up their plans to develop self-driving cars, one government-funded corporation in Japan is already making headway with autonomous heavy duty trucks. In order to save fuel, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) has programmed a convoy of four trucks to drive just four meters (about 13 feet) apart. That cuts down on air resistance, reducing drag (and thus improving fuel efficiency) similar to drafting with a race car.”

16.   Volvo To Unveil Permanent High Beam Headlamp Technology

This is a great idea, but a rather bizarre choice of implementation. LED headlamps can be made through an array of devices with different projection patterns, and it would be easier, cheaper, and more reliable to control those instead of a contraption to mask a xenon headlamp.

“Volvo will be showing off its Active High Beam technology at the Geneva Motor Show next week. The system will allow drivers to use their high beams all the time and adds another responsibility to the cameras mounted by the rearview mirror, making them detect traffic ahead, whether it be another car or a truck or motorcycle and in the same lane or oncoming. When a vehicle is detected, a special projector in the Xenon lamps can block out only the portion of the high beam that would impair the other driver. Volvo says the system is accurate down to a 1.5-inch margin around another object.”

17.   Leeds University submerges a server in liquid, cuts cooling costs 97 percent

What’s old is new again. Liquid cooling makes perfect sense, which is probably why the Cray III used in in the mid-1990s. This approach – incorporating it in to a ‘blade’ enclosure, has its merits, but individual servers are so reliable you might as well immerse the whole rack. By the way: I suspect that locating server farms near the arctic is silly: broadband and electricity costs are likely to be extremely high, unless maintained at artificial levels through subsidy.

“Datacenters use a lot of energy to power the thousands of servers they each contain. But a significant proportion of that cost comes from actually keeping those servers cool. To minimize the costs of cooling, novel approaches have been taken such as reusing the waste heat, running entire datacenters very hot, or even building a datacenter 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Leeds University has figured out how to bypass such extreme measures, however, by coming up with a new way of cooling servers in a liquid. So efficient is this so-called wet server, it can cut the cost of energy consumption related to cooling by up to 97 percent.”

18.   Rodent Mind Meld: Scientists Wire Two Rats’ Brains Together

This is interesting, though a bit disturbing. There appears to have been a number of seminal advances in machine/brain interfaces coming out of this lab recently. As suggested in the article, this sort of advance could be helpful to paralysed patients.

“It’s not exactly a Vulcan mind meld, but it’s not far off. Scientists have wired the brains of two rats together and shown that signals from one rat’s brain can help the second rat solve a problem it would otherwise have no clue how to solve.”

19.   Automakers Oppose FCC’s Proposal to Free Up Wireless Spectrum for Wi-Fi

Since the Great Spectrum Gold Rush, any organization which has any ‘rights’ to spectrum of any sort of spectrum has fought vigorously to keep it, even if they have never attempted to exploit it. This suppresses innovation. Personally, I’d strip rights from any spectrum licenses or grantee unless the spectrum has been used in a timely fashion. That alone would open up vast swaths of what is, in any event, no longer a scarce commodity.

“Automakers aren’t too happy about a recent U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal, which uses part of the wireless spectrum assigned to vehicle-to-vehicle technology for Wi-Fi instead.”

20.   Rats: Scratch and sniff landmine detection

It is a pity that landmine detection is an issue, however, there’s lots of money in land mines – even if they leave a devastating legacy – so don’t expect the US or Russia to abide by relevant treaties any time soon. Poor people in poor countries need cost effective solutions, and HeroRats seem to fit the bill. I can’t wait for PETA to get involved.

“When the first of Apopo’s furry and four-legged HeroRats were released into a landmine-ridden field of Mozambique, there was understandable skepticism among the various government officials in attendance. “In Mozambique we eat rats,” joked Alberto Augusto, the director of Mozambique’s national demining institute, “so it was very strange to see them working and demining. We were thinking to grill them.””