The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 26th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 26th 2013

Hello

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.

 

Brian Piccioni

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1.        Maybe They Should Just Call It Windows 7.8

Microsoft finds itself in a rather sticky situation with respect to Windows 8 – people don’t like it, at all, and the PC industry is weak. I think PC sales are not weak just because of Windows 8, but surely it isn’t helping. I not sure that Windows 8 without a touch interface is just Windows 7, however.

“With news emerging that Microsoft will be bringing the Start button back to Windows 8 in the “Blue” update and allowing users to boot directly to the desktop, one has to wonder whether there’s any real strategy occurring in Redmond anymore. If the goal is to make Windows 8 more like Windows 7, maybe they should forget the name Windows 8.1 and just call it Windows 7.8.”

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/maybe-they-should-just-call-it-windows-78

2.        Android notebooks? Yep, Intel says, and they’ll only cost $200

Intel makes money whenever an Intel based product is sold. It really has no ‘skin in the game’ with respect to Microsoft or Android (aka Linux). They are evidently keen on resurrecting the Netbook category (which has been renamed but never went away). Linux netbooks appeared on the scene briefly, but this was prior to the success of the Android fork. People are still afraid of Linux, but enough use Android on tablets and phones that this time it might actually work.

“Notebook prices should soon hit $200, but most of those will be Android-based devices, not Windows 8, an Intel executive said. Intel CEO Paul Otellini last week said touchscreen PCs could debut at prices as low as $200 in the coming months. At the time, he didn’t specify what operating system those products would run.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-57581500-92/android-notebooks-yep-intel-says-and-theyll-only-cost-$200/

3.        Beyond the smartwatch: how invisible machines will shape Microsoft’s future

I witnessed a company demonstrating computer translation from Chinese to English about 15 years ago. Turned out they were emailing a text and humans were translating offsite. Mind you, a computer was involved. Seriously though Microsoft has some pretty cool stuff going on in its labs.

“Late last year, Rashid demonstrated a new technology that combines speech recognition with voice translation, converting a speaker’s words into a different language in real time. During the demonstration, held at an event in China, Microsoft’s software transcribed Rashid’s words into Mandarin script almost instantly, before voicing them a few seconds later — in his own voice.”

http://www.theverge.com/2013/4/24/4260614/microsoft-research-rick-rashid-smartwatches-contact-lens-display

4.        The mysterious powers of Microsoft Excel

I am reminded of how the loss of the Columbia space shuttle was partly ascribed to the ‘PowerPoint’ culture within NASA (see www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/death-by-powerpoint/878). The problem here is not the tool (Excel) but the willingness of people to assume that rows of data plus analysis equals the truth. Of course, that reflects the broader problem with economics – namely it is a ‘science’ based on faulty math and unprovable and untestable theories.

“Did the conclusions about debt, growth and need for painful correction send the politicians of the world to the special cabinet to dust off the scourges? That debate is meaningless because the last five years of economic prediction have told us one thing: No one knows anything any more and the people who say they know something know even less.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22213219

5.        IBM Prepares to Eject Self from World of Internet Servers

IBM may or may not “make more money” from servers, but it is hard to believe they make much profit from a commodity like an x86 based servers. Furthermore, given the commodity nature of the business I don’t see why Lenovo or anybody else would pay money for the business since there is no proprietary intellectual property left in the business.

“IBM makes more money from the sale of computer servers than any other company on earth. And yet the tech giant still wants to gut its server operation, selling a third of the business to Lenovo, the same Chinese company that bought its desktop PC and notebook business nearly a decade ago.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/04/ibm-serve/

6.        Storage Pricewatch: HDDs back to pre-flood prices, SSDs grow as $/GB holds steady

Interesting facts and figures about the mass storage business. I continue to believe the HDD industry will essentially disappear over the next few years. The plateau in SSD pricing is not unusual – this sort of things happens to memory devices all the time. I believe the inflection point for SSD will be when a 500G drive costs about $120, probably in the next 12 months.

“The figures presented here are whole-market averages weighted by product popularity. They reflect what people are paying on average. SSD prices tend to vary considerably depending on product age, controller configuration, and performance — you can beat the SSD per GB figure by a fair margin if you shop around and watch for sales. The sheer size of DynamiteData’s database gives us much better visibility into price shifts across the entire internet rather than spot-checking a basket of products.”

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/153879-storage-pricewatch-hdds-back-to-pre-flood-prices-ssds-grow-as-gb-holds-steady

7.        DESIGN West: Open source hardware searching for business model

This is a good discussion, but I have to admit I am a little leery when an ‘expert’ makes a blatant mistake: Raspberry Pi is not open source hardware. In any event, I think the broader issue is missed: open source hardware is fantastic for the IC vendors (the chips aren’t open source) because it puts near zero cost development platforms in the hands of many. Also, lots of people make a living selling copies or extensions into the market, and there is nothing wrong with that.

“There’s no doubt that engineers like the idea of open-source hardware. There are an increasing number of open-source hardware board designs – Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Beagleboard and many others – that enable hobbyist projects and the reuse of board designs in commercial products. And many engineers are putting a lot of time into enabling these movements via collaborative work online and through the creation of vibrant online communities.”

http://eetimes.com/electronics-news/4412726/Open-source-hardware-show-me-the-money

8.        For your robot-building needs, $45 BeagleBone Linux PC goes on sale

I am a big believer in open source, including open source hardware. At $45, BeagleBone Black is a viable (indeed preferable) alternative to the closed source Raspberry Pi. This is a clever strategic move by TI.

“Today we have a new entrant that may provide the best bang for the buck for many types of users. It’s called the BeagleBone Black and it’s the latest in the line of “Beagle” devices that first appeared in 2008, courtesy of Texas Instruments. On sale now for $45, BeagleBone Black sports a 1GHz Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 processor from Texas Instruments, up from the 720MHz processor used in the previous $90 BeagleBone released in 2011.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/04/for-your-robot-building-needs-the-45-beaglebone-linux-pc-goes-on-sale/

9.        Further proof for controversial quantum computer

I’ve got to tell you I’m more than a little suspicious when somebody tells me they don’t “know exactly how” something they developed actually works.

“Is the world’s only commercial quantum computer really a quantum device, or a just regular computer in disguise? Controversy has long swirled around the computer produced by D-Wave, a company based near Vancouver, Canada. Now a paper published on the arXiv preprint server takes a step forward in showing that it really does operate on a quantum level.”

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/04/further-proof-for-controversial-quantum-computer.html

10.   A Messenger for the Internet of Things

The “Internet of Things” is much less exciting than the “Internet of People” because, well, it is pretty much hidden. However, communication among machines has considerable potential and more so as adoption costs drop. Standardization means lower costs because capabilities can be built in and software (often open source) is made available to exploit the standard. This also enables greater interaction among unrelated devices as a bonus.

“The vision of the Internet of Things is inspiring, if much-hyped. Billions of digital devices, from smartphones to sensors in homes, cars and machines of all kinds, will communicate with each other to automate tasks and make life better. But some daunting obstacles litter the road to this mechanized nirvana. A crucial challenge is figuring out how all the smartish gadgets will talk to each other.”

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/a-messenger-for-the-internet-of-things/

11.   Slide Show: Top 10 medical applications for MEMS

MEMS are a fascinating technology and this article offers a lot of information on medical uses. Its pretty lengthy and covers a lot of ground, so its worth the effort. Click on Read full article for a more detailed description of each device.

“MEMS devices are shaping the competitive landscape in the global medical device industry. According to a new report from Global Information, several factors are behind the increasing demand for and innovation in MEMS devices in the medical industry: growing number of MEMS applications in healthcare; innovations, revolution and growth in the personal healthcare market, including wireless implants; and rising awareness and affordability of healthcare.”

http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/slideshow/top-10-medical-applications-for-mems.html

12.   Shapeways Raises $30 Million To Bring High-Quality 3D Printing To Everyone

What makes this article interesting is not the financing, but the background information. I remain skeptical that everybody will have a 3D printer in their home, I believe the technology will have a significant impact on many forms of manufacturing over time.

“2013 is the year that digital technology got physical. Part of this is the explosion of the application of physics to the internet and part of it is the the application of bits to atoms to make them smarter. Today, another piece of the puzzle drops into place with announcement that Andreessen Horowitz has led a $30 million round of financing for Shapeways, the 3D printing company that enables anyone to manufacture high-quality products with no upfront costs or minimum run.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/anthonykosner/2013/04/23/shapeways-raises-30-million-to-bring-high-quality-3d-printing-to-everyone/

13.   ABB bets on solar power with $1 billion takeover

I have an abundance or power tools and machinery, which reflected, according to a friend, that I have ‘too much money’. When I look at most technology acquisitions I figure the same can usually be said about the buying company (though, often enough, the money is borrowed). Mind you I believe that most technology acquisitions are just a means to transfer value from the buyer to the seller, and they’d make more sense if you knew the seller was a relative of the buyer’s CEO. Perhaps somebody at ABB might have pondered why there are so many bankruptcies in the solar business. They’ll find out soon enough.

“Swiss industrial group ABB (ABBN.VX) is to buy U.S. solar energy company Power-One Inc (PWER.O) for about $1 billion, betting that growth in emerging markets will revive a sector ravaged by overcapacity and weakening demand in recession-hit Europe.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/22/us-abb-power-one-idUSBRE93L04U20130422

14.   Challenged by Google Fiber, ISPs opt to hasten their downfall

Through happenstance and deft manipulation of regulation (plus the occasional court case) broadband suppliers have set up a rather comfortable position for themselves. Nowhere is this more the case than in Canada, where they are protected from competition, but I digress. It is not clear to me that Google wants to be an ISP or simply stimulate the incumbents to action. Either way, long term it’s a win/win for US consumers.

“Last summer I posited that Google’s fiber play in Kansas City would create a ripple through other regions of the country. It appears this is happening now, albeit in ways I don’t think anyone really expected. The first surprise was the continued ostrich maneuver that some big cable and DSL providers are pulling, namely the “customers don’t want gigabit Internet” front. This could be likened to a lead paint salesman pooh-poohing latex paint because “customers don’t want their health.”

http://www.infoworld.com/d/data-center/challenged-google-fiber-isps-opt-hasten-their-downfall-216796

15.   If we are going to subsidize anything it should be broadband Internet, not mail

About 30 years ago I designed a system which allowed ‘word processors’ (which were then machines) to download files directly into a phototypesetter. I was given a tour of a printing business and shown the ‘hot lead’ production flow which the printer maintained because all government documents were required to be printed using that several hundred year old technology in order to ‘maintain the craft’. In a nutshell, that is what subsidies do. All over the world, letter post is dying and government money should not be directed to its preservation. Besides, delivering mail isn’t going to create the next Google.

“Roughly speaking, the smaller and more remote a town is, the less access it has to affordable broadband Internet. Affordable broadband Internet being the medium that all but completely eliminated the need for lettermail, it seems perverse that urban Canadians should continue to enjoy the luxury of doorstep delivery while small towns progressively lose it (if they ever had it in the first place). Cutting delivery days for letters, perhaps as opposed to parcels, would be another good option. Who cares if you get useless mail on Wednesday or on Thursday?”

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/04/24/chris-selley-if-we-are-going-to-subsidize-anything-it-should-be-broadband-internet-not-mail/

16.   If It Wasn’t the Pregnancy Tests, Why *Did* Baby Catalogs Start Arriving at Our House?

If you don’t have enough to worry about, Big Brother is, indeed, watching you. Data mining is big business, but it’s hard to believe political parties don’t or won’t start using it. I can’t help but wonder if there is room for a truly anonymous payment system – you know some sort of pper currency …

“The first one slid through the mail slot and onto the floor. My wife brought it into the kitchen and tossed it down on the table. “We’ve been made,” she said. Staring back at me was a little face surrounded by products for making that little face happy. This was it, the first real evidence that the world knew about our impending parenthood: a baby catalog, Right Start. And it was right on time. She was three months pregnant …”

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/13/04/if-it-wasnt-the-pregnancy-tests-why-did-baby-catalogs-start-arriving-at-our-house/275072/

17.   Get Ready: Driverless Cars Should Go Mainstream by 2025

A pretty good overview of driverless cars, though whether 2025 is the date is pure speculation. Advanced safety systems like pedestrian avoidance could save lots of lives, and could have saved my son. There are a number of factors which might impede progress: litigation and reliability being near the top of the list. It is also worth pondering the sort of technician you’d need to repair and maintain such vehicles.

“The auto industry’s top technologists believe by the middle of this decade new cars could largely pilot themselves in stop-and-go traffic. By 2020, cars computers could do much of the work of high speed navigation, and by 2025, fully autonomous vehicles might hit the streets in meaningful numbers, according to experts attending the SAE International World Congress in Detroit this week.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424127887324763404578428703494303658.html

18.   Cancer researchers revisit ‘failed’ clinical trials

With clinical trials you rely on statistically significant responses and ignore the occasional bits of good news. After all, spontaneous remission is not unheard of. However, what if a drug which is shown to help only 5% of patients is actually helping 95% of patients with a specific disease? Then you would focus on treating only that disease with that drug.

“….the drugs flopped in clinical trials. Companies abandoned the inhibitors — one of the biggest heartbreaks in cancer research over the past decade. For Batist’s patient, however, the drugs were anything but disappointing. Her tumours were resolved; now, a decade later, she remains cancer free. And Batist hopes that he may soon find out why.”

http://www.nature.com/news/cancer-researchers-revisit-failed-clinical-trials-1.12835

19.   Car headlamps ‘make rain invisible’

Well, not really, invisible, and, apparently, only when the car is traveling slowly. I would imagine that a ‘heads up’ display which captures an image and subtracts the reflection might be more effective.

“Car headlights that make rain “invisible” for drivers are under development and could save lives on the roads. Developers hope their brainchild will reduce the number of accidents by improving visibility for motorists in treacherous conditions so they can effectively see through rain.”

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/breakingnews/offbeat/car-headlamps-make-rain-invisible-29222382.html

20.   Bitcoin Dealers Are Running Into Problems In Canada

Unlike certain countries, Canada has laws (and actually enforces them) against things like money laundering. An anonymous ‘currency’ is a perfect mechanism for money laundering so I’m surprised it has taken them so long to act. Then there is the 99.99% probability that Bitcoin is, itself, a massive fraud however legitimate certain dealers might be. Details, details.

“Two Canadian businessmen recently got some bad news from their bank. James Grant, owner of Canadian Bitcoins, got a letter. Melvin Ng, proprietor of CADBitcoin, got a phone call. Both men run online exchanges where you can purchase Bitcoins for Canadian dollars. And both were informed their businesses’ accounts frozen by Canada’s largest banks.”

http://www.businessinsider.com/canadian-banks-closing-bitcoin-businesses-2013-4

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 19th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 19th 2013

Hello

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.

 

Brian Piccioni

ps: Sorry for the poor quality of articles this week. Tech  news was pretty thin on the ground.

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1.        Microsoft’s Windows 8 Plan B(lue): Bring back the Start

The way Windows 8 should have worked was that user could either switch between a ‘classic’ user interface dynamically, or at least have the option to configure the UI. For reasons which will be discussed in business case studies for decades, Microsoft decided to impose a touch centric UI on PCs which lacked a touch interface and went so far as restricting their ability to ‘downgrade’ to Windows 7, resulting in the fiasco known as Windows 8.

“What if Microsoft relented and granted users who are lukewarm about Windows 8 two of their biggest requests: Allow those who want to boot straight to the desktop, and bring back the Start button with Windows Blue, a.k.a. Windows 8.1? Though supposedly not part of the original plan for Blue, these two UI options are looking more likely.”

http://www.zdnet.com/microsofts-windows-8-plan-blue-bring-back-the-start-button-boot-to-desktop-7000014075/

2.        Intel’s mobile transition struggles are Microsoft’s advantage

I don’t really see the logic here however, the net result is probably the same: as the PC industry has matured, people will buy fewer PCs – it’ll be a replacement market mostly. This is bad for sales of new machines and almost nobody ‘upgrades’ their OS anymore, certainly not to the dreadful Windows 8. However, Microsoft gets a lot of revenue from its installed base, in particular in the corporate and institutional market. Intel has no such annuity, so it needs a vibrant replacement market for PCs which is unlikely, even if Windows 8 wasn’t the disaster it is.

“But the lag time between Intel’s design wins with device manufacturers and shipments is significant. Tablet shipments doubled and are expected to double again next quarter, but Intel hinted that tablet volumes would not grow materially until the fourth quarter when Intel Bay Trail processor-powered tablets reach stores for the holidays. Smartphones will have to wait for 2014.”

http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/intels-mobile-transition-struggles-are-microsofts-advantage

3.        Cheap smartphone boom bodes ill for Intel

A bit more of the same, but an interesting look at the market, though I don’t see a causal relationship to Intel’s looming woes. The company has no significant exposure to smartphones, however it would have the potential to penetrate the tablet market if they had the right sort of product and/or the right business model. I remain intrigued that AMD hasn’t realized they would have an opportunity in that space if they were to switch to a core licensing model.

“The keys to success for the next round of smartphone processors will be integration and low cost, and Intel is not well poised for the battle, according to a keynote address from a veteran market watcher.”

http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4412003/Smartphone-low-end-boom-bodes-ill-for-Intel

4.        Microsoft tries a new Windows 8 damage control message

Kind of long and rambling, but amusing and pretty much bang on. Of course, macro conditions, in particular a saturated PC market won’t help, but launching a touch centric OS into a market overwhelmingly devoid of touch interfaces (with good reason), well that’s just stupid.

“If you have never seen how a large company does damage control from the inside, the somewhat surreal proceedings are a bit hard to understand. Microsoft’s current strategy to re-brand the failure of Windows 8 is equal parts masterful and disingenuous.”

http://semiaccurate.com/2013/04/16/microsoft-tries-a-new-windows-8-damage-control-message/

5.        When the PC is obsolete, how will you do this, and this, and this?

While I called the end of the PC era quite a few years ago, I meant it as the end of the era of growth in the PC market, and the end of the dominant role played in tech. This slide show makes a few good points, but it could go a lot further. Tablets, etc., are for consuming content, not doing much else.

“At PCWorld, we wonder how humankind would survive on tablets alone. Tablets are great for casual Web browsing and catching up on email, but can they deliver everything we need in the so-called post-PC era?”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2034842/when-the-pc-is-obsolete-how-will-you-do-this-and-this-and-this-.html

6.        If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Ancient Computers in Use Today

A fun read but one by one these people will rue their decisions to run ancient software on ancient hardware. Nobody knows how to maintain or debug these systems and replacement parts are essentially unobtainable. I liken this situation to walking around with a pebble  in your shoe – you know you are going to eventually have to take it out, so why walk around in pain? Ancient computers belong in museums, not running accounting software.

“It’s easy to wax nostalgic about old technology–to remember fondly our first Apple IIe or marvel at the old mainframes that ran on punched cards. But no one in their right mind would use those outdated, underpowered dinosaurs to run a contemporary business, let alone a modern weapons system, right? Wrong!”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/249951/if_it_aint_broke_dont_fix_it_ancient_computers_in_use_today.html?mwh=1

7.        Apple Slowdown Threatens $30 Billion Global Supplier Web

CRUS was trading at $24 a few weeks ago, as is currently $17.50 from a 52 week high of $45.49, which makes it an object lesson in why you should not invest in ‘derivative’ stocks (this will do well if that does well) and never, ever, invest in a company with high revenue concentration. The major issue is the latter: if the customer stumbles, you break a leg. If the customer switches suppliers, you are dead. It happens.

“Cirrus Logic Inc. (CRUS), a maker of audio chips that gets 91 percent of its sales from Apple, this week reported an inventory glut that suggested slowing iPhone sales, and forecast fiscal first-quarter revenue below analysts’ estimates. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (2317), Apple’s top supplier, this month posted its biggest revenue decline in at least 13 years, indicating slower sales of smartphones, tablets and computers.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-18/apple-slowdown-threatens-30-billion-global-supplier-web-tech.html

8.        Archos 35 Carbon $99 Android smartphone revealed

I figure there is a sizeable market for an inexpensive (non-subsidized) smartphone, especially if and when North American consumers realise that wireless contracts are a simplistic bait and switch scam. For the record, due to the fact that smartphone and tablet specs are probably plateauing, Average Selling Prices in both segments will come down a lot over the next couple years.

“Today Archos has revealed a set of smartphones that begin on the low end with the “Archos 35 Carbon”, a $99 Vanilla Android handset you’ll absolutely have to take a peek at. This machine isn’t by any means meant to break the high-end market open with its specifications set, but at $99 USD, you might need to see how low you can go for an off-contract smartphone. It all begins with a lovely 3.5-inch 320×480 pixel IPS LCD display.”

http://www.slashgear.com/archos-35-carbon-99-android-smartphone-revealed-18278428/

9.        LED lamp shipments to grow at 44.3% from 68 million to nearly 1.3 billion units by 2021

My usual comments as to the lack of value of industry research apply here. In any event, unit volume sales are pretty much irrelevant to the fortunes of the industry. I do agree that pricing will significantly (perhaps more than) offset unit volume growth. I can help but wonder if anybody has modeled the impact of LED lighting on electricity demand.

“Unit shipments of LED lamps worldwide will grow from 68 million in 2013 to 1.28 billion annually by 2021, according to the report ‘Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets’ from Navigant Research, as falling prices and improving quality are driving widespread adoption of LEDs and affecting every part of the commercial lighting industry. The markets for every other lighting technology will contract over 2013-2021, while LED technology appears likely to surpass all others in nearly every metric of quality and efficiency, the firm adds.”

http://www.semiconductor-today.com/news_items/2013/APR/NAVIGANT_180413.html

10.   Parallella: The $99 Linux supercomputer

There are supercomputers and there are supercomputers. It looks like this is a building block for a supercomputer, rather than an actual supercomputer. Faster computers require memory, and this one ain’t got a lot. Plus, GFLOPs can be a pretty misleading figure when gaging performance because peak numbers often cannot be sustained. Nonetheless, the price/performance point seems pretty impressive.

“What Adapteva has done is create a credit-card sized parallel-processing board. This comes with a dual-core ARM A9 processor and a 64-core Epiphany Multicore Accelerator chip, along with 1GB of RAM, a microSD card, two USB 2.0 ports, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, and an HDMI connection. If all goes well, by itself, this board should deliver about 90 GFLOPS of performance, or — in terms PC users understand — about the same horse-power as a 45GHz CPU.”

http://www.zdnet.com/parallella-the-99-linux-supercomputer-7000014036/

11.   NBN customers set for world-leading download speeds to happen by end of the year

Whenever people take the time to explain why Canada telecommunications prices are so high, and performance so poor, they inevitably hit upon low population density as an explanation. One could contrast this with the situation in Australia, which, apparently, has managed to do a fair bit better. I have to assume Australia doesn’t happen to have an oligopoly which controls telephone, mobile, Internet, TV, radio, cable TV, magazines, and newspapers.

“Australians linked to the national broadband network will be able to get world-leading internet download speeds of one gigabit per second by the end of this year, the company building the network will announce on Friday. While some countries such as Japan are moving even further ahead with 2Gbps connections, Australia’s coming 1Gbps capability is the same speed as Google’s cutting edge fibre network in several US cities.”

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/nbn-customers-set-for-worldleading-download-speeds-to-happen-by-end-of-the-year-20130418-2i32b.html

12.   LG’s curved OLED TV wants to make flat screens obsolete

I didn’t make CES this year, so I missed this. OLED displays tend to have great color and contrast, though they have been very pricy. I don’t think the ‘curved’ display will be a hit with consumers, especially since the benefit may be greatest with 3D which has not exactly piqued the interest of buyers.

“At the 2013 CES in Las Vegas, LG revealed a 3D OLED screen that featured a curved design. While audiences were wowed, we assumed it was only for show. Now, the company has announced plans to bring the uniquely shaped monitor to market. So what does this mean for the faithful flat screen?”

http://www.tgdaily.com/consumer-electronics-features/71061-lg-s-curved-oled-tv-wants-to-make-flat-screens-obsolete

13.   Proceed with Caution toward the Self-Driving Car

Absolutely, proceed with caution otherwise there’ll be pedestrians flying through the air in no time. The points made about the attention bell curves are good ones and I can see that having a car which drives itself but transfers control back to the human when something bad happens might be problematic. Nonetheless, fully autonomous vehicles, in particular unmanned delivery and transportation vehicles, are probably going to have a revolutionary impact on our economy 20 years out.

“Completely autonomous vehicles will remain a fantasy for years. Until they’re here, we need technology that enhances human drivers’ abilities rather than making those abilities increasingly obsolete.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/review/513531/proceed-with-caution-toward-the-self-driving-car/

14.   Miracle mix looks like liquid but shatters like glass

Non-Newtonian fluids are seriously cool, but I admit it never occurred to me that they would have practical uses.

“WALKING on water is possible – just as long as it contains corn starch. Now it seems this miracle mixture, dubbed oobleck, can also shatter like glass. Knowing how and why could help guide its use in soft body armour and car suspensions.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21829134.300-miracle-mix-looks-like-liquid-but-shatters-like-glass.html

15.   Researchers use Moore’s Law to calculate that life began before Earth existed

This article got a lot of coverage during the week. I say article, rather than research, because it is pretty much crap, and I don’t have a problem with panspermia. Unfortunately, despite being crap, we can be sure it’ll be cited by creationists and all sorts of pseudo scientists. Here’s the thing, there is no reason to believe the evolution of life on earth was, in any way, ‘smooth’. In fact, earth’s first few hundred million years was marked by almost continuous asteroid and comet impacts, several ‘iceball earth’ cycles and numerous other mass extinction events. I guess it’s publish or perish.

“Geneticists Richard Gordon of the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Florida and Alexei Sharov of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore have proposed, in a paper uploaded to the preprint server arXiv, that if the evolution of life follows Moore’s Law, then it predates the existence of planet Earth.”

http://phys.org/news/2013-04-law-life-began-earth.html

16.   The 90% question

This research also got a lot of coverage over the past week. I call this research because somebody actually bothered to check the math on a widely cited, highly influential, economics article and found out that it was wrong. Personally, I think it stands to reason that you can only borrow so much before people stop lending to you (a lesson soon to be learned by many Canadian consumers), but I also think what passes for economics is unworthy for the bottom of a ferret cage. The idea that the math in a seminal paper wasn’t even verified is priceless.

“Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman, cited their “conclusive empirical evidence” in a budget plan calling for swingeing cuts to public spending. In a February letter to European Union finance ministers Olli Rehn, the vice-president of the European Commission, touted the “widely acknowledged” 90% limit as a reason to press on with European fiscal cuts. Such rhetoric has helped to make the Reinhart-Rogoff number the subject of bitter dispute. And this week a new piece of research poured fuel on the fire by calling the 90% finding into question.”

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21576362-seminal-analysis-relationship-between-debt-and-growth-comes-under

17.   Nano-Suit Protects Bugs From Space-Like Vacuums

Interesting work and might be of considerable use in electron microscopy. Previously, careful preparation was required to ensure that the sample isn’t distorted or otherwise affected by the vacuum and imaging process. I rather doubt it will have any long term benefit to space travel, however.

“Put a fruit fly larva in a spacelike vacuum, and the results aren’t pretty. Within a matter of minutes, the animal will collapse into a crinkled, lifeless husk. Now, researchers have found a way to protect the bugs: Bombard them with electrons, which form a “nano-suit” around their bodies. The advance could help scientists take high-resolution photographs of tiny living organisms. It also suggests a new way that creatures could survive the harsh conditions of outer space and may even lead to new space travel technology for humans.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2013/04/nano-suit-protects-bugs-from-spa.html

18.   Kidney grown in lab successfully transplanted into animal

This seems like a breakthrough, though it is hard to predict when it will be tested on humans. Apparently the device (?) does not function nearly as well as a real kidney, however, that would not be unexpected for an early prototype. In any event, it may be that a poorly functioning kidney is better than none at all. The need for a ‘scaffold’ should not be a major obstacle because this could first be obtained from an unsuitable human kidney, then later from a suitably sized animal like a pig.

“Scientists have grown a kidney in a laboratory and shown that it works when implanted into a living animal. The work is an important step towards the longer-term goal of growing personalised replacement organs that could be transplanted into people with kidney failure.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/apr/14/kidney-grown-lab-transplanted-animal

19.   Small in size, big on power: New microbatteries a boost for electronics

This item got a huge amount of coverage on science, technology, and alt energy websites. Unfortunately, the information content is pretty thin though there might be more in the journal article. Hell not having frozen over yet, I’m not going to pay for that. I don’t see any indication the device had been made or simply modeled (there is a big difference) or whether there is any assurance it can be scaled. Some of the comments in the article are gibberish – radio signal reach is not directly related to battery size or even power.

“Developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the new microbatteries out-power even the best supercapacitors and could drive new applications in radio communications and compact electronics.”

http://news.illinois.edu/news/13/0416microbatteries_WilliamKing.html

20.   Merkel’s No-Nuke Stumble May Erode Re-Election Support

Any discussion of energy – fossil fuel or alternate – should be treated with deep suspicion. There is too much money and too much smoke and mirrors involves to know what the truth it. Alternate energy proponents tend to point to Germany as a beacon, however, continental European countries have the advantage of exploiting the grid to use ‘dirty’ power to make up for whatever deficiencies might be associated with a ‘clean’ power strategy. The problem with a massive, long duration infrastructure program is that it can take many years to correct your mistake. Not that government subsidy programs are ever misdirected, of course.

“More than two years later, the chancellor’s wind farms have been slow to appear, stymied by the difficulty of planting towers in deep ocean waters, an outmoded electrical grid and investors who are losing faith in the project. The delays hammered 110-year-old Emden-based Nordseewerke, which filed for bankruptcy before DSD Steel Group GmbH bought it in February, retaining only a third of its 750 employees, Bloomberg Markets will report in its May issue.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-10/merkel-s-no-nuke-stumble-may-erode-re-election-support-energy.html

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 12th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 12th 2013

Hello

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.

Brian Piccioni

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1.        The end of Moore’s Law on the horizon, says AMD

He’s a great guy to listen to, but unfortunately, Kaku makes all kinds of pronouncements about things his has no particular expertise in. While there are physical limits on transistor size, Moore’s Law leaves room on other dimensions such as cost and performance. Plus, AMD has been enduring significant financial challenges since its ill-advised purchase of ATI, so they really aren’t the ‘go to’ guys when it comes to semiconductor technology. If Intel or Samsung or TI said this I’d start to worry.

“Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku believes Moore’s Law has about 10 years of life left before ever-shrinking transistor sizes smack up against limitations imposed by the laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics. That day of reckoning for the computing industry may still be a few years away, but signs of the coming Moorepocalypse are already here. Just ask chip maker AMD.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238117/The_end_of_Moore_s_Law_on_the_horizon_says_AMD

2.        The PC market is a horror show right now

It’s almost like somebody predicted this (http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/01/19/the-end-of-the-pc-era/). Oh, wait – here’s one from 2007 (http://books.google.ca/books/about/Intel_Corp_INTC_NASDAQ.html?id=xiWJtgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y) written by some clown named Piccioni. Once upon a time, you know, equity research was more than writing about what just happened.

“We can pretty much stop arguing about whether the PC industry is deathly ill or not: the numbers speak for themselves, with its worst quarter since tracking began in 1994.”

http://gigaom.com/2013/04/10/the-pc-market-is-a-horror-show-right-now/

3.        Is Android the new OS of the masses? Survey finds Galaxy phones simpler than iPhone

I have no horse in this race: I avoid Apple products like the plague, if for no other reason than Android is an open platform, so I have no experience with iPhones. What I find interesting is that this sort of article would have been anathema prior to the death of St. Jobs. In any event, this has potentially negative long term consequences for Microsoft and Intel: people used to Android (i.e. Linux) on their phones and tablets will not find it a large hill to climb to use in laptops or desktops.

“While Android has long been the leader in terms of smartphone operating system market share, pundits often claim that extensive vendor and carrier support are more responsible for Android’s proliferation than actual consumer desire. IOS, it is often said, is much simpler and more refined, and is therefore better suited for the mass market. There are certainly solid arguments to be made in both cases, but a new survey suggests that Android isn’t as complicated as many Apple (AAPL) pundits make it out to be.”

http://bgr.com/2013/04/10/galaxy-iphone-survey-simple-428169/

4.        Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle moan to EC about Google Android dominance

This is rather comical, if you think about it. Android (Linux) does not limit the sort of applications you can install on the devices as iOS does. Plus, probably because it is free, it has large market share, but nowhere near the share Microsoft has in the PC space. Besides showing themselves as erstwhile monopolists grappling with the novelty of competition, what do these firms expect to accomplish?

“A diverse group of companies including Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle, has filed a complaint with the European Commission about what it dubs Google’s “anti-competitive mobile strategy” of allowing free use of the Android platform.”

http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2260117/microsoft-nokia-and-oracle-moan-to-ec-about-google-android-dominance

5.        IBM Wants To Bring Enterprise the Speed of Flash

As we predicted a number of years ago, Solid State Drives will destroy the Hard Disk industry. It will take a decade or more before they are completely gone (after all, digital tape drives still exist), but for Western Digital, Seagate, et als, the war is over. Over the near term, in an enterprise setting you can use SSDs for performance critical applications and HDDs for non-performance critical tasks, sort of like a large hybrid drive, with HDDs eventually displacing tapes.

“Flash’s economics and performance “are at a point where the technology can have a revolutionary impact on enterprises, especially for transaction-intensive applications,” said IBM’s Ambuj Goyal. For transaction-based processing, such as in banking, trading and telecom, IBM said flash can deliver as much as 90 percent reductions in time required.”

http://www.toptechnews.com/story.xhtml?story_id=023001I1OW6I

6.        Why Retina Displays and 4K TVs May Not Be Worth the Trouble

This is a pretty good summary of the challenges associated with higher resolution displays. Poor quality display of low resolution image can be tempered somewhat by image processing, however, the problem with any sensory (sight, hearing, etc.) system is that human have a limited range of capabilities. Therefore, there is a decreasing marginal utility associated with further improvements. Beyond a certain point, everything else is marketing.

“When Apple unveiled its Retina screen on the iPhone 4, the world gasped. “There has never been a more detailed, clear, or viewable screen,” read a review on the tech Web site Engadget. “Staring at that screen is addictive,” said Wired magazine.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-retina-displays-4k-tvs-may-not-worth-trouble

7.        LED Lights to Cut 60-Watt Bulb to Five Watts

LEDs are not only energy efficient they also last a long time. Most office buildings have guys who go around replacing florescent bulbs, just as municipalities have crews who go around replacing streetlamps. This ends up being quite expensive. A cost effective, energy efficient, fluorescent tube replacement would probably be adopted earlier by building owners than by consumers. It is interesting to note that Philips has a massive lighting business, which is mostly a replacement business, and inevitable LED adoption would have devastating consequences for the firm.

“Philips has cut the amount of power of its overhead LED tube light in half, a sign of continuing improvements in LED lighting geared at displacing incumbent technologies. The company says it has built a prototype of a tubular overhead LED light that produces 200 lumens of light with a watt of power. Its current products produce light at 100 lumens per watt, about the same as florescent tube lights. Even though the price of LEDs will be higher, Philips thinks that they can start to displace more of the florescent tube lights that are everywhere from office buildings to parking garages based on energy savings.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/513576/led-lights-to-cut-60-watt-bulb-to-five-watts/

8.        Shodan: The scariest search engine on the Internet

While the media has been excited over the use of Chinese networking gear in the telecommunications infrastructure and mission critical applications, Shodan has shown that a huge number of web accessible devices are completely insecure or trivially hacked. Good thing the bad guys don’t know about this.

“Shodan runs 24/7 and collects information on about 500 million connected devices and services each month. It’s stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot. Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.”

http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/08/technology/security/shodan/

9.        Massive energy cost hidden in wireless cloud boom

If you want good science you really want to cite reports from an independent source like Greenpeace. I think it’s a good think these wealthy ‘neo-environmentalist’ organizations weren’t around when the steam engine was invented (i.e. the good old days) or when mail delivery began. It boils down to this: civilization and improved living standards are directly associated with the exploitation of energy sources.

“The report – “The Power of Wireless Cloud” – warns that industry has vastly underestimated energy consumption across the cloud ecosystem as more people access services using portable devices. The popularity of services like Google Apps, Office 365, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Facebook, Zoho cloud office suite, and many others delivered over wireless networks, is driving a massive surge in energy consumption.”

http://phys.org/news/2013-04-massive-energy-hidden-wireless-cloud.html

10.   Analysis – Rethinking the lithium-ion battery revolution over cost, safety

There is a rather odd consensus among electric car fans that we are in the midst of some sort of ‘battery revolution’. I suspect this is because they have never seen a battery factory (they are quaintly primitive). Physical chemistry does not changes that quickly, and Lithium Ion batteries are not likely to improve that much that fast (though there may be hope in nano-materials if anybody can ever figure out how to make them cost effectively. The major drawback with all current battery technologies is the fact they only last a certain number of charges before they need to be replaced.

“Experts are certain to point out red flags. Indeed, a growing number of engineers now say the lithium-ion battery revolution has stalled, undercut by high costs, technical complexity and safety concerns.”

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/10/uk-boeing-battery-lithium-ion-idUKBRE93904220130410

11.   Tesla’s Model S Lease and Financing Program Expensive, Misleading

If one were a cynic, one might interpret the barrage of – uh – “not what they seem” press releases and PR stunts from Telsa an attempt to boost the stock price and distract investors (and potential buyers) away from the company’s problematic balance sheet. I, for one, am keen to see how negative Gross Margins can translate to (purported) profitability on increased sales volume. In any event, they need to raise $500M to $1B to keep the lights on, and they can’t do that without a high enough stock price.

“With the help of two banks, federal tax credits for EV purchases, and math that even Wall Street would find fishy, Tesla now has an official loan program for the electric Model S sedan. Company founder (and noted pugilist) Elon Musk announced the news himself earlier this week, calling the deal a “revolutionary new finance product,” enabling buyers to get a $79,995 Model S for just $500 per month. Apart from the misrepresentation of the monthly price, there’s little that’s revolutionary about the loan deal—including the presence of hidden costs. If, then, Tesla truly is the car company of the future, one might call the company’s new financing offer the three-card Monte of the future.”

http://blog.caranddriver.com/teslas-model-s-lease-and-financing-program-expensive-misleading

12.   Do Wind Turbines Need a Rethink?

Despite the title, the article is decidedly ‘pro-wind’ and covers a number of emerging technologies. I remain skeptical about wind power for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its unpredictability and our inability to cost effectively and efficiently store large amounts of electric power. Nevertheless, I could be wrong.

“Okay, so wind power had a very good year in 2012. But that doesn’t mean that it’s gone mainstream. Hardly. It accounts for only 4 percent of the energy produced in the U.S. Plus, a big reason for the spike last year was that companies scrambled to finish projects before a federal tax credit expired at the end of December. (It was renewed as part of the end of the year tax deal, but only for one more year.)”

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2013/04/do-wind-turbines-need-a-makeover/

13.   Use for 3-D Printers: Creating Internal Blood Vessels for Kidneys, Livers, Other Large Organs

This sounds like an important breakthrough, however, other articles I have read suggest the major challenge with organ replication lies in the collagen “scaffold”. Perhaps some organs require this and others do not.

“A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come up with a sweet solution to the problem. Instead of printing an organ and its inner vessels all at once, they print a dissolvable sugar mold of the vessels and then build up the appropriate cells around the mold. Later, the mold is washed away, leaving behind the structurally sound passageways that are able to stand up to the varying blood pressure levels found in the body.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-use-3d-printing-blood-vessel-creation-kidney-liver-large-organs

14.   New Stem Cell Treatment Heals Arthritic Dogs

Assuming this story is accurate, it appears there is now an effective and inexpensive stem cell treatment for arthritis in dogs and other critters. Of course, this may not work on humans, and the introduction of stem cells may result in complications such as cancer, which may be a moot consideration for a 8 year old dog with a life expectancy of a few more years. Nonetheless, arthritis can be a terrible disease, especially for the elderly, so we can hope human clinic trial progress well. Above all, this demonstrates why there are no dog lawyers to sue over veterinary malpractice.

“Perry gave the dogs all sorts of medications, but nothing worked, and he knew such medications could result in kidney and liver damage. The dogs’ suffering became so great, Perry considered putting the pets down. But late last year he heard about a veterinarian in his area who performed stem cell therapy on dogs to regenerate and repair their joints and figured it was worth a try.”

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/arthritic-dogs-healed-stem-cell-therapy/story?id=18905289

15.   Robot hot among surgeons but FDA taking fresh look

A surgeon once explained to me that there were two major variables which governed the outcome of surgery: the surgeon’s skill and the patient’s capacity to heal. The procedure he was performing (Lasik) was significantly computer controlled and thereby less reliant on his skill. The same could be said for ‘robotic surgery’ – things are going to go wrong, surgeons are going to make mistakes, and equipment will malfunction. The question becomes “is there a net benefit?”

“The biggest thing in operating rooms these days is a million-dollar, multi-armed robot named da Vinci, used in nearly 400,000 surgeries nationwide last year — triple the number just four years earlier. But now the high-tech helper is under scrutiny over reports of problems, including several deaths that may be linked with it, and the high cost of using the robotic system.”

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/medical/article/Robot-hot-among-surgeons-but-FDA-taking-a-new-look-4419667.php

16.   Untappable Apple or DEA Disinformation?

You may recall the “leak” of a DEA document which purported to claim that Apple’s iMessage services was so secure it was out of reach of law enforcement. I suggested that this was most likely disinformation by the DEA. QED.

“Tech news site CNET has an interesting, but I suspect somewhat misleading, story today suggesting that text messages sent via Apple’s iMessage service—an Internet-based alternative to traditional cell phone SMS text messages—are “impossible to intercept” by law enforcement. Yet that is not quite what the document on which the story is based—an “intelligence note” distributed to law enforcement by the Drug Enfrocement Administration—actually says.”

www.cato.org/blog/untappable-apple-or-dea-disinformation

17.   Is Someone Recording This? It’s Harder to Find Out

I guess if you are making a movie about the mob, or espionage, or whatever, you need to build drama by hiding a ‘wire’ on the snitch with some probability the bad guys will find it. It has been a long time since recording devices have to be bigger than a button – even video cameras can be relatively easily concealed. Reality caught up with James Bond over 10 years ago.

“In the old days, they would say, ‘Let me pat you down for a wire’ and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, ‘I’m not wearing a wire,’ ” a retired undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Joaquin Garcia, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It’s become extinct. It’s all gone digital. But what are you going to say, ‘I’m wearing digital,’ instead of ‘I’m wearing a wire’? It’s just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/nyregion/secret-recording-grows-safer-as-the-wire-grows-tinier.html?_r=0

18.   ‘Dark Lightning’ Zaps Airline Passengers with Radiation”

This is rather odd – I’m surprised the gamma radiation does not affect avionics. In any event the only solution I can see is lead airplanes.

“Dark lightning” that is almost invisible within clouds may regularly blast airline passengers with large numbers of gamma rays, scientists find. However, these outbursts do not seem to reach truly dangerous levels, researchers added.”

http://www.livescience.com/28594-dark-lightning-zaps-airline-passengers.html

19.   Fool’s Gold

Media coverage of Bitcoin ramped considerably over the past week, which is unfortunate because an important part of any bubble is stoking interest in it. As is to be expected, the media relies on ‘experts’ which, in this case, appears to have been mostly loonie Libertarians predicting the end of paper money, with the occasional befuddled economist as counterpoint. I think ‘Ponzi Scheme’ is overused, and in any event, describes a specific type of fraud, which is not what Bitcoin is. Think of it this way: this in an unregulated market with no oversight, rather like buying gold bars sight unseen from a Nigerian ‘prince’. The probability of fraud is approximately 100%.

“Bitcoin is a fantasy. The Internet’s currency—a secure, private, decentralized type of money that makes possible anonymous and virtually costless transactions across borders—contains the seeds of its own destruction. More than anything else, it resembles a Ponzi scheme—and the wild claims made on its behalf reveal a great deal about a libertarian strain of thinking with deep roots in the American psyche.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2013/04/bitcoin_is_a_ponzi_scheme_the_internet_currency_will_collapse.html

20.   Self driving cars and robot truck platoons could start to appear for commercial use by 2018

I was the victim of an April Fool’s joke when I wrote about drone mail delivery in last weeks’ Geeks’ Reading List. Sorry about that – I thought I had weeded the silly out but they got me, probably because I believe we will likely have drone (robotic) delivery within the next 20 years or so provided the tort lawyers can be held at bay. As this article suggests, highway travel by self-driving trucks has its benefits and is inevitable.

In February this year, a line-up of four large trucks circled an oval test track in Tsukuba City, Japan to help get so-called “truck platooning” technology ready for real-world use. This technology aims to create semi-autonomous road trains, where convoys of vehicles enter a snaking train of vehicles under the command of the lead vehicle. The drivers of the “drones” are then free to do whatever they like – read a book, take a nap or just sit. When they are ready to leave, the driver takes back control and exits the train. In theory the technology offers several benefits, such as cutting down on accidents and improving fuel efficiency.”

http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/04/self-driving-cars-and-robot-truck.html

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 5th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 5th 2013

Hello

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.

 

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.        Memory that never forgets: non-volatile DIMMs hit the market

Rather crude, but likely effective. Maintaining a DRAM cache in front of an SSD is one way of increasing performance and extending the ‘write life’ of the SSD. A similar thing can be done in software at the OS level, of course, but this should deliver better performance due to the wider data paths, and deliverance from SATA. The external battery pack is rather silly: it would have made much more sense to add a couple pins to the DIMM connector and run a proper protected bus. In any event, I would hope that most servers have at least a few minutes of UPS to arrange an orderly shutdown.

“The server world still waits for DDR4, the next generation of dynamic memory, to be ready for prime time. In the meantime, a new set of memory boards from Viking is looking to squeeze more performance out of servers not by providing faster memory, but by making it safer to keep more in memory and less on disk or SSD. Viking Technology has begun supplying dual in-line memory modules that combine DDR3 dynamic memory with NAND flash memory to create non-volatile RAM for servers and storage arrays—modules that don’t lose their memory when the systems they’re in lose power or shut down.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/04/memory-that-never-forgets-non-volatile-dimms-hit-the-market/

2.        Micron, Samsung, Hynix agree to 3-D memory spec

This new memory standard provides a significant step up in main memory performance. I would caution against getting too excited about it, however, as most computers are plenty powerful for the applications most people use them for and, as such, this will likely not impact demand materially.

“The Micron-led Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium has issued version 1.0 of its specification for a vertical memory stack with a defined logic-layer interface. Now the group will turn its focus to higher-speed variations of a dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) module stacked using through-silicon vias.”

http://eetimes.com/design/memory-design/4410947/Micron–Samsung–Hynix-agree-to-3-D-memory-spec

3.        Tablet sales surging at PC’s expense

I predicted the end of the PC era years before the iPad was introduced into the market. While it may be true that there are only so many dollars to go around, the problem is that PCs (and their software) ‘caught up’ to consumer and business needs, resulting in an ever extending replacement cycle. Tablets are not PC replacements, but consumption devices. I predict severe pricing pressure in the segment over the coming years.

“Combined shipments of PCs, tablets and mobile phones are expected to increase 9 percent to 2.4 billion globally in 2013, even as traditional PC shipments are projected to fall meaningfully, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. Shipments of traditional PCs are expected to decline nearly 8 percent globally this year, while tablet sales are expected to surge by nearly 70 percent, according to Gartner (Stamford, Conn.). Last year the PC market contracted for the first time since 2001.”

http://eetimes.com/electronics-news/4411372/Tablet-sales-surging-at-PC-s-expense

4.        The final OUYA retail console is ready, we go hands-on

OUYA is a crowd sourced game console based on Android. I am not a gamer, but as near as I can determine this is basically a device with smartphone level power which can connect to your TV. This approach may have merit, given the price and likely affordability of the games. Of course, a lot will depend on the quality of software however the smartphone of today has the power of a premium game console a few years ago. Game producers might embrace this because they won’t be beholden to the likes of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. We shall see.

“It’s been a long time coming, and now the Android-powered, Kickstarter-funded OUYA video game console is finally heading to backers. Sure, the final retail units for non-backers won’t be available until June, but around 50,000 lucky folks who pledged over $99 to OUYA’s massively successful campaign will be receiving their units in the coming days. We’ve already heard what developers have to say about it, but this week we got our first hands-on with the miniature, Tegra 3-powered game console we’ve been hearing so much about since last summer.”

http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/28/ouya-hands-on/

5.        Low-cost LEDs for saving energy and improving health

This is just an announcement regarding a new facility in the U.K., nonetheless, the ‘backgrounder’ has a fair bit of good stuff. GaN on silicon is probably the way things are headed.

“Gallium nitride has been described as “the most important semiconductor since silicon” and is used in energy-saving LED lighting. A new £1million growth facility will allow Cambridge researchers to further reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of LEDs, with potentially huge cost-saving implications.”

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/low-cost-leds-for-saving-energy-and-improving-health

6.        Mobile video streaming drives demand for networking semiconductors in cars

I don’t have a problem with video in cars keeping the rug rats distracted during long drives, however, I have seen, on multiple occasions, drivers watching videos while driving and that is more than a little scary. Increased electronics in vehicles is a clear trend the problem with sophisticated devices is that, unlikely typical consumer electronics, the replacement cost is typically staggering. Plus stream video would likely bankrupt any motorist with the copious misfortune of crossing a border without an international data plan.

“Consumers increasingly want to use their media tablets and smartphones to stream high-definition video to displays in their cars, a phenomenon that will help to nearly double the size of the market for semiconductors used in automotive wired and wireless network applications from 2011 to 2018.”

http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/2013/04/mobile-video-streaming-drives-demand-for-networking-semiconducto.html

7.        Panasonic’s Developed a Simple Sensor Tweak That Vastly Improves Low Light Photography

This novel technology has the potential to improve the dynamic range of digital cameras meaning, if nothing else, that low light pictures will have less ‘noise’. Besides the physics, its worth noting that the required computational horsepower is only possible due to the relentless progression of Moore’s Law. You have to watch the video.

“Researchers at Panasonic’s imaging division have found a way to increase the sensitivity of digital camera sensors, which in turn equates to almost double the brightness in photos taken in low light conditions. But the discovery has nothing to do with the sensor itself; instead, the company’s improved the color processing filter placed in front of it.”

http://gizmodo.com/5992743/panasonics-developed-a-simple-sensor-tweak-that-vastly-improves-low-light-photography

8.        Apple’s iMessage encryption hindering DEA’s ability to wiretap suspects

About 25 years ago I was earning consulting money by designing ‘control units’ (the non-radio part) for cellphones. A story leaked that the police were being frustrated by criminals using the new technology because they could not tap cellphones. So I went to my neighbour, who was a detective, and told him I could design such a system if they were willing to pay for it. After about a week, word got back, discretely, that the story was a plant because, in fact, it is easier to tap cellphones than landlines. Long story short, iMessage, or another other commercial ‘secure’ communications system is not really that secure from the authorities.

“A leaked document from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has revealed Apple’s iMessage service is hindering its ability to eavesdrop on drug suspects’ communications. Obtained by CNET, the DEA’s intelligence note — titled ‘Apple’s iMessages: A Challenge For DEA Intercept’ — highlights that encryption used to secure Apple’s messaging service makes it “impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices,” obstructing agents’ attempts to obtain a complete history of suspects’ messages.”

http://www.theverge.com/2013/4/4/4182258/apple-imessage-encryption-blocking-dea-wiretap-attempts

9.        How a 3D printer gave a man his face – and his life – back

Another good example of a real world use of 3D printing for medical reconstruction. Eventually these will be permanent, functioning tissue rather than silicon however this is probably a significant improvement in Mr. Moger’s quality of life.

“When restaurant manager Eric Moger surprised his girlfriend by proposing over Christmas dinner, he could have no idea that less than a year later his life and appearance would be changed beyond recognition. As he started to make plans for his wedding to Karen Hunger four years ago, doctors discovered an aggressive tumour the size of a tennis ball growing beneath the skin of his face.”

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/how-a-3d-printer-gave-a-man-his-face–and-his-life–back-20130401-2h2a4.html

10.   How to 3-D Print the Skeleton of a Living Animal

3D printers seem to have more and more potential applications. No – this is not about getting a printed skeleton of your cat: this technique could also be used to prepare replacement bones prior to surgery, scaffolds for the creation of artificial organs, or even to prepare fossils without having to remove the matrix they are embedded in.

“The skeleton above was created by taking a CT scan of an anesthetized rat and sending the data to a 3-D printer. Similar life-size models of body parts from other animals or human patients could be used to train veterinary and medical students and to help surgeons prepare for difficult surgeries, the researchers say.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/04/3d-printed-skeletons/

11.   Architects are starting to 3D print houses—but without a house-sized printer

I thought this might be a rehash of a couple projects I already knew about, and those are discussed. However, there is also a review of different approached which makes it a worthwhile read.

“This month, another Dutch company jumped into the fray. DUS Architects plans to use a 20-ft-tall 3D printer to build a house along an Amsterdam canal. It’s also going to do it by the end of the year. Take that, Ruijssenaars.”

http://qz.com/68780/architects-are-starting-to-3d-print-houses-but-without-a-house-sized-printer/

12.   This Material Will Power the Future — If Somebody Can Profit From It

This article is an interesting overview of some of the present and potential future for graphene. The major problem with most nanomaterials is their fabrication, which tends to astronomically expensive for small amounts. Humanity has overcome such challenges in the past (aluminum used to be more valuable than gold) however, the cool thing with graphene is that you can actually produce macroscopic qualities fairly easily.

“It was a Friday evening at the University of Manchester and scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were conducting the sort of playful experiment for which they’ve earned a reputation. In the past they’d levitated a frog with a magnetic field and won an IgNoble Award. On this Friday in 2004, the two professors were toying around with a strip of Sellotape. They stuck it to a piece of ordinary graphite, and then carefully peeled up a one-atom-thin flake of the element.”

http://www.wired.com/business/2013/04/tracking-graphenes-move-from-science-project-to-money-machine/all/

13.   Ship-based Quadcopter Designed to Rescue Potential Drowning Victims

I think this is a very clever idea, though I suspect shore based modes would also have their uses for helping people out of easy reach of a life guard. One can imagine that drones could be quite useful for open sea search and rescue as well as a ‘swarm’ could cover a fairly large area. It is a pity the product is being developed in Tehran as this will almost certainly limit availability due to sanctions, etc..

“The RTS Lab in Tehran is developing Pars, an aerial rescue robot designed to save potential drowning victims. The ship-based quadcopter that responds instantly when alerted to potential victims in the ocean, locating them with FLIR, and dispensing life preservers directly over them.”

http://www.roboticstrends.com/research_academics/article/ship_based_quadcopter_designed_to_rescue_potential_drowning_victims/

14.   Mail delivering drones being tested in France

A drone is simply a flying model airplane, and this drone is too limited to have much practical application as a delivery system. However, truly autonomous delivery robots are not as far into the future are you might think and they could have many applications.

“A province in France is becoming the testing ground for a new drone-based postal delivery service. Welcome to the future.”

http://vr-zone.com/articles/mail-delivering-drones-being-tested-in-france/19460.html

15.   Regaining proper hearing at last

The hearing aid market was disrupted about 20 years ago through the introduction of digital hearing aids. Thanks to a protectionist and anti-consumer regulatory environment, hearing aids remains extremely expensive, despite the fact the ‘guts’ cost only a few dollars. In fairness, this is an interesting approach with potential benefit to those with significant hearing loss however, more people would be helped if hearing aids could be bought for $30 at the local drug store.

“Around 17 million people in Germany suffer from impaired hearing. For many of them, their hearing is so damaged that a standard hearing aid is no longer enough. A new device will improve patients’ hearing and can be implanted during outpatient surgery.”

http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2013/april/regaining-proper-hearing-at-last.html

16.   Teenager astounds scientists by building a DNA testing machine in his bedroom – and he did it to discover why his brother is ginger

This is a cool story which shows what a clever kid can do nowadays thanks to the Internet. Unfortunately, it’s hard to understand the exact details, probably because the journalist is (characteristically) clueless about the topic. He didn’t appear to build a ‘DNA testing machine’ but a DNA PCR amplifier and there are a few other misstatements in the article. However, it is still an impressive project.

“A teenager has astounded scientists by building a DNA testing machine in his bedroom in an attempt to discover why his brother is ginger. Fred Turner, 17, built the machine from items he found around his house, including an old video player, after becoming fascinated by why he has straight brown hair, while his younger brother Gus, 14, has a shock of ginger curls. Fred from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, impressed scientists so much that he has been named the UK’s Young Engineer of the Year.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2304413/Teenager-astounds-scientists-building-DNA-testing-machine-bedroom–did-discover-brother-ginger.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

17.   CO2 Emissions: Can Europe Save Its Cap-and-Trade System?

I have always found the idea of a ‘carbon credit’ market amusing. If ever there was a system designed to facilitate fraud, this was it (excluding Bitcoin, for example). After all, you are ‘trading’ intangibles. Needless to say there is fraud and there is fraud. Take ‘tree planting’ for example: a sapling doesn’t have much of an impact on carbon so there’s not much credit in it so we sell the credit for the adult tree. Assuming we actually bother to plant the trees (an unnecessary complication) in any event, a significant number of saplings never reach adulthood and their demise can readily be accelerated allowing an unending harvest of carbon credits for non-existent adult trees.

“Europe’s cap-and-trade system for reducing the release of greenhouse gases is broken, but not everybody wants to fix it. Industry has profited immensely from the plummeting prices of CO2 emissions certificates, and from lax checks on questionable environmental projects undertaken overseas.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-co2-emissions-reduction-system-is-broken-a-892134.html

18.   Smart foam furniture can be squashed to 5 percent its original size

Interesting – but I don’t see much danger of this become a commercially viable technique, at least for furniture. The durability of such an object is bound to be poor. Nonetheless, perhaps with a sort of permanently hardening coating or something along those lines, similar techniques could be used to construct emergency shelters or the like.

“Belgian designer Carl de Smet has come up with a third option that offers the best of both worlds. His furniture can be shrunk down to just 5 percent of its original size, but needs no instructions like a flat-pack. Instead, once opened the piece of furniture slowly expands into its final shape when subjected to a predefined temperature.”

http://www.geek.com/science/smart-foam-furniture-can-be-squashed-to-5-percent-its-original-size-1551231/

19.   The MOS 6502 and the Best Layout Guy in the World

I never liked the 6502: it was kind of a downsized version of the 6800, which was, itself an overly simplified device. Nonetheless, it was cheap and found many applications. This is a fun story about the birth of the device. To put things in perspective, a relatively simple and orders of magnitude cheaper, circuit board layout was almost right on the first pass back then.

“The MOS 6502 was ubiquitous in its day. The 6502 and its slight variants were at the heart of the Apple II, the Atari 2600, the BBC Micro, the Commodore 64, and the Nintendo Entertainment System, among others. It’s amazing to think that all five—each a very influential system in its own right—were all built around the same chip.”

http://research.swtch.com/6502

20.   Smart bracelet protects aid workers

I would hope for the aid worker’s that this device is removable otherwise they may end up missing an appendage. In any event, I’d suggest that Spot (www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=102) is a simpler, and probably more robust, solution.

“A hi-tech bracelet could soon be helping civil rights and aid workers at risk of being kidnapped or killed. When triggered, the personal alarm uses phone and sat-nav technology to warn that its wearer is in danger.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22038012