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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
PS: Sorry if this week’s list is a bit weak as we are dealing with another death in the family.
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.”
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” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There%27s_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 (http://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?_refineresult=true&ic=16_0&search_constraint=0&search_query=pre+paid+mobile&search_sort=4&cat_id=3944_542371_1072335_1056206. 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.”