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.”

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