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

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


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!

I blog at


Brian Piccioni

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1.        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.”

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.”$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.”

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 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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?”

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 …”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”


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