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

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