The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 31st 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.        Google to Fund, Develop Wireless Networks in Emerging Markets

Google is experimenting with gigabit Internet in the US, and now wireless Internet in the developing world. I don’t know for sure, but the capital costs associated with either suggest they are trying to stimulate action by other companies as much as deploying the respective networks themselves. More and better Internet means more customers spending more money for Google which is good. I wonder if they’ll ever take on the telecoms morass which is Canada? Nah: sub-Saharan Africa is probably easier.

“Google Inc. is deep into a multipronged effort to build and help run wireless networks in emerging markets as part of a plan to connect a billion or more new people to the Internet. These wireless networks would serve areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia to dwellers outside of major cities where wired Internet connections aren’t available, said people familiar with the strategy.”

2.        Broadband cord cutters? If this is a thing, ISPs, regulators and Silicon Valley have utterly failed

Physics likely determines that wireline broadband will always outperform wireless broadband despite whatever misleading nonsense wireless providers offer. However, wireless does offer portability and that can be an extremely important consideration depending on lifestyle. Therefore, wireless does not have to be as good as wireline for substitution to occur it just has to be good enough within the context of need and pricing. I should note that rising bills may reflect different utility (i.e. use of VoIP instead of landline, Netflix instead of cable).

“A story today on wireline broadband cord cutters fails to focus on the real issue — if people really are cutting wireline broadband because it costs too much and offers too little, consumers and industry are in trouble.”

3.        Light-beam ‘twins’ take data farther

Differential mode signalling (sending a signal and its inverse) is quite commonly used – it is how we send Ethernet over twisted pair wiring – but it is rather surprising that it works with optical cable, and even more surprising nobody thought of it before. The idea is that the same ‘noise’ is collected by both of the pair, so when you subtract the two, it is mathematically removed. Unfortunately, the comparison with ‘four times faster than the best commercially available speeds’ is of no value and the evil oligopolists of Nature want you to pay for the article, so I don’t know what the real situation is.

“An idea similar to that of noise-cancelling headphones has proved useful in increasing the data-carrying properties of light. Researchers reporting in Nature Photonics suggest putting not one beam of light down a fibre, but a pair, each a kind of mirror image of the other. When recombined on the receiving end, the noise that the signals gather in the fibre cancels out.”

4.        Carna Botnet Analysis Renders Scary Numbers on Vulnerable Devices

We had an earlier article on some preliminary results from this exercise, and it is worth revisiting. Long story short, a significant portion of Internet connected devices use default credentials (i.e. user: admin, password: admin) leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of attack. We aren’t just talking about your WiFi router here, but also important and sometimes critical equipment. Companies which leave their systems so readily open to attack potentially face litigation when those attacks occur.

“The Carna botnet, more formally known as the Internet Census 2012, stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy when it was unveiled in March to a number of popular security mailing lists. An unidentified researcher had found more than 420,000 embedded devices that were accessible online with default credentials, uploaded a small binary to those devices and used them to conduct an Internet scan of the IPv4 address space.”

5.        Windows 8.1 will resurrect the Start button, but not the Start menu

If this is true – and there good reason to suspect it is – Microsoft shareholders should demand blood. Launching a touch-centric operating system into a market where a small minority of systems have touch capability is stupid enough, forcing that paradigm on customers is downright idiotic. Given the pushback by customers, you would think that Microsoft would be keen to at least deal with those concerns, instead they are doubling down. The mind boggles – people are starting to realize they have choices.

“According to the latest leaked build of Windows 8.1 (Blue), the Start button and menu will make their triumphant return — but they won’t look or work like the Windows 7 Start menu. With Windows Blue you’ll get a Start button in the bottom left corner — but when you click it, it’s the Metro screen that’ll jarringly greet you, not a resurrected Windows 7-style Start menu.”

6.        IDC predicts semiconductor market to experience 3-4% revenue growth in 2013

It takes a certain amount of genius to be an industry analyst. After all, you churn out reports and forecasts (which are rarely accurate) and you charge tens of thousands of dollars for the stuff despite its complete lack of utility. I predicted the end of growth in the semiconductor industry 10 years ago, in writing, for free. What is truly remarkable, and a complete mystery, is why semiconductor companies continue to be value as growth companies despite a lack of actual growth in most cases!

“Worldwide semiconductor revenues decreased by 2.2 percent year over year to $295 billion in 2012, according to the latest version of the International Data Corporation (IDC) Semiconductor Application Forecaster (SAF). The industry witnessed a slowdown during the second half of 2012 on weak consumer spending across PCs, mobile phones, and digital televisions (DTV), as well as in the industrial and other market segments. The European economic crises and a slowdown in China also had an impact on global demand while the lackluster launch of Windows 8 failed to stimulate PC sales and turn the tide. Meanwhile, competitive suppliers from China continued to pressure average selling prices, dragging down overall revenue growth. IDC expects the semiconductor market to return to growth in 2013 with revenues forecast to increase by 3.5 percent this year.”–revenue-gro.html

7.        Intel, ARM on even footing in Net of Things, says IDC

As usual, I express by skepticism regarding forecasts produced by industry researchers (I even don’t believe their historical figures). Nonetheless, this article covers some interesting ground. The Internet of Things (IoT) is what used to be called Machine To Machine (M2M), except there is no assumption cellular networks will be involved, and IoT is real.

“Intel, ARM and others are on a fairly even footing in the still emerging Internet of Things that will surpass 25 billion units and $4 trillion in 2020, a market watcher said. International Data Corp. aims to help form a trade association to provide education on the market it believes could ship 11 billion units using 20  billion processor cores by 2017.”–ARM-on-even-footing-in-Net-of-Things–says-IDC

8.        BSA Study Demonstrates Open Source’s Economic Advantage

This is actually a full frontal assault on a piece of drivel put out by software propaganda association in the UK. Sorry – I should reword that – it is a piece of drivel, etc., based upon the sort of garbage economists crank out by the ton. (I’ve always though it a pity that the actual skill of economics research and/or modeling has not, in fact, ever been demonstrated.) In any event, a good read and lots of fun.

“Long-suffering readers of this column may recall my previous discussions of these reports and their egregious flaws. For example, back in 2010, I pointed out that the BSA’s claim that reducing PC piracy by 10% would create $142 billion in new economic activity was nonsense – the money saved by piracy does not simply disappear, but is spent elsewhere. In 2011, I noted that the BSA used the misleading phrase “commercial value of software piracy”, something repeated in 2012, when the BSA spoke of the “commercial value of this shadow market of pirated software” as if that had any relevance to what was happening on the ground.”

9.        Video Software Compresses Time, Aids Police

This application could have tremendous application across many fields besides law enforcement. In essence, it constructs an index of video information. For example, if you are reviewing a video for information, you want to know when something interesting is going to happen, such as the appearance of a potential miscreant. This zips you to that point and you can then either scan the video or watch it in real time.

“A computer scientist in Israel has developed a clever technique to help law enforcement track down criminals and terrorists. The software compresses hours of video into just minutes, enabling police to quickly review action captured on surveillance cameras.”

10.   Why almost everyone gets it wrong about BYOD

I used to work for a bank which crippled corporate smartphones in the name of security. Similarly, any filed copied to a USB drive was encrypted, and a sort of virus was installed on said USB drive to ensure proper use. Meanwhile, you could email, unencrypted, any file to anybody from your computer, which was my preferred way of moving data around. In any event, BYOD presents some challenges in this regard: if it is my device, how can you draw the line between corporate security and even scrutiny for compliance purposes?

“The lead on just about every story these days has something to do with BYOD (bring your own device). It’s either a story about how many companies allow you to bring your own device, how CIOs are struggling with BYOD, or the fact that within three years most companies will require you to BYOD. Following that lead, it doesn’t take long for the talks and articles to spring up and mention why BYOD is such an issue or what pitfalls are posed by BYOD.”

11.   German railways to use mini drones to stop graffiti

It’s beginning to look like the skies will soon be thick with drones! Actually, this is a fairly benign application, unless you happen to be a vandal. The real power is probably not in catching people but in signalling that people will be caught, pursued, or even interrupted before completing their masterpieces.

“GERMANY’S railway operator plans to deploy mini drones to catch vandals who deface its trains with graffiti, with the aerial vehicles shooting thermal images of its train depots at night.”

12.   Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels

Combine an industry which is losing prodigious amounts of money (see next article) with a long term payback period and combine that with dubious business ethics and you are going to get this sort of problem. As a general rule, it is worth noting that suitability of a product has multiple dimensions (i.e. cost, performance, durability, etc.). Wall Street, and, indeed the general public, often fixate on one or two of these parameters (such as ‘price per watt’) which leads us to fiascos like this. I do have to wonder in what other industry can manufacturers of shoddy products hide behind ‘confidentiality agreements’?

“The solar panels covering a vast warehouse roof in the sun-soaked Inland Empire region east of Los Angeles were only two years into their expected 25-year life span when they began to fail. Coatings that protect the panels disintegrated while other defects caused two fires that took the system offline for two years, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues.”

13.   Sunny uplands Alternative energy will no longer be alternative

Here is a counterpoint to the skepticism in the prior article, however, I think it is worth noting that Moore’s Law was not an interesting observation, but is based on a sound understanding of the physics behind semiconductors (in other words, there’s a damned good reason it is true). No such relationship holds for solar panels. Besides economies of scale, what has pushed solar prices lower has been the fact that solar manufacturers in China have seen fit to sell panels far below cost, egged on by central planners. Eventually that well will run dry, and then we’ll see what happens to pricing. Indeed, SunPower runs 10% Gross Margin and has chronically lost money, details which appear to have escaped ‘The Economist’. You can sell a lot of stuff if governments are willing to subsidize their purchase, and you pack them in dollar bills for shipment.

“Swanson’s law, named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower, a big American solar-cell manufacturer, suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. The upshot (see chart) is that the modules used to make solar-power plants now cost less than a dollar per watt of capacity. Power-station construction costs can add $4 to that, but these, too, are falling as builders work out how to do the job better. And running a solar power station is cheap because the fuel is free.”

14.   Don’t deflate the party

There has been considerable coverage in certain circles regarding the looming depletion of the US Federal Helium Reserve and the negative consequences associated therewith. Now, it’s good to know that the US has a strategic helium reserve, which was formed to supply military airships (i.e. Zeppelins), but you have to wonder how airships with factor in any future wars. Presumably, the reserve served as a net buyer of helium for the past 90 years or so, which would have distorted pricing and demand. Natural resource ‘shortages’ tend to sort themselves out over time, and I always figured that if there truly was a short I wouldn’t see kids walking around with helium balloons. Mind you, with the looming threat of Zeppelin attack, we may be in trouble.

“To date, extractors have been slow in developing helium supplies. This means the helium supply floats, if you will, at the mercy of the natural gas market. A decrease in natural gas prices has led to lower crude helium production overseas.”

15.   The better to see you with: Scientists build record-setting metamaterial flat lens

Metamaterial lenses are a potentially disruptive technology: imagine being able to produce superior lenses using lithography instead of grinding. However, this article is not about cameras because the lens is designed to work in the ultra-violet, rather than visible, spectrum. Nonetheless, the capabilities appear to have significant potential.

“For the first time, scientists working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated a new type of lens that bends and focuses ultraviolet (UV) light in such an unusual way that it can create ghostly, 3D images of objects that float in free space. The easy-to-build lens could lead to improved photolithography, nanoscale manipulation and manufacturing, and even high-resolution three-dimensional imaging, as well as a number of as-yet-unimagined applications in a diverse range of fields.”

16.   Atom by atom, bond by bond, a chemical reaction caught in the act

Nanomaterials (along with robotics) will probably lead us to the next industrial revolution. The problem is that manufacturing costs remain astronomical excluding the most promising, carbon based materials, from commercial application. Therefore, research into nanomaterial production is extremely important, so this is an interesting article in that regard. Plus, the pictures are amazing! Whoever thought we would have actual micrographs of simple carbon rings?

“When Felix Fischer of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) set out to develop nanostructures made of graphene using a new, controlled approach to chemical reactions, the first result was a surprise: spectacular images of individual carbon atoms and the bonds between them.”

17.   New wireless electronics could heal wounds and then dissolve

I find the technology interesting, but two things stand out: first, many semiconductor functions do not avail themselves to organic chemistry; second, if heat helps with wound healing, why don’t we have Band-Aids with little heaters built into them?

“Nestled inside a wound, a remote-controlled device perks up and begins releasing bacteria-killing heat, a form of thermal therapy that can fell even the most drug-resistant microbes. After it does its job, the electronic heater dissolves, and its biocompatible ingredients become part of the person it has helped to heal.”

18.   Electric-Battery Startup Better Place to Fold

It is not that complicated to build an electric car, in fact it is easier than building one with an engine. The problem is with the batteries, which are too expensive, have short lives, and take a long time to charge. Better Place’s business model had two major advantages over other firms: the batteries were constantly being replaced, meaning you effectively leased them, and replacement (equivalent to charge time) was very quick.

“Better Place Ltd. Sunday said it has filed for liquidation, citing the lack of commercial success of a novel battery-switching system for electric cars that the Israeli company had developed in a partnership with French automotive group Renault. The financial collapse of Better Place, 28%-held by shipping-to-fertilizer conglomerate Israel Corp. is a blow for Renault and its chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who had championed the technology as one of the pillars of the French auto maker’s ambitious €4 billion ($5.17 billion) electric-vehicle strategy.”

19.   Bio-Hackers, Get Ready

Bio-Hacking is really scary. Consider the example of a ‘glow in the dark’ tree: fun stuff, until it leaves the lab, as numerous examples of invasive species have shown. People who get hysterical about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ might consider what wold happen if somebody ‘Bio Hacked’ anthrax so it became more easily contagious to humans or even livestock. And there are some fungal strains which … well, I don’t want to give anybody ideas, but let’s just say it is very difficult to treat fungal infections.

“Using Drory’s software, a person can load up existing sequences for different life forms like plants and then manipulate them by inserting or taking out various genes. It corrects the code for basic errors like not having three codes for an amino acid or having a stop and a start code in the wrong place. “Wouldn’t it be nice in the future if someone could just load up a tree’s genetic code, drag another app from a file and make it glow in the dark?”

20.   Bacterium Planococcus halocryophilus Offers Clues about Microbial Life on Enceladus, Mars

The interesting thing about life is that you can find it pretty much anywhere you look on (or in) the planet. This does not imply that life emerged in these extreme environments because many chemical processes require certain conditions to occur, and temperature is not unimportant. Once life emerges, however, evolution results in organisms which are resilient to all kinds of conditions. This seems to imply that ‘Earth-like conditions at some period during the planets history’ may be more a prerequisite to finding life than current conditions.

“A novel aerobic, gram-positive bacterium that is able to thrive at minus 15 degrees Celsius  – the coldest temperature ever reported for bacterial growth – offers clues about microbial life on both Mars and the Saturn moon Enceladus, where similar briny subzero conditions are thought to exist, says a McGill University-led team of researchers.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 24th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 24th 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

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1.        McKinsey: The $33 Trillion Technology Payoff

I haven’t had the time to read the full report, and I deeply suspect the accuracy of economic projections in general, however, it looks like a worthy read. I would probably rank advanced materials, Advanced Robotics (and Autonomous Vehicles, which are the same thing) much higher for economic impact.

“The “next big thing” lists are a well-worn staple of technology analysts and consultants, typically delivered just before the calendar turns to a new year. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm, delivers a twist on the art form, and the difference is more than the timing. The 154-page report not only selects a dozen “disruptive” technologies from a candidate list of 100, but also measures their economic impact.”

2.        Apple Seen Losing Innovation Magic by 71% in Global Poll

Apple produced some good products, however, those products were, for the most part, not as revolutionary as the hype implied. During the Time of Jobs, Apple was very effective at convincing people a slightly improved version of somebody else’s technology was truly revolutionary. That reality distortion field is what has really changed.

“Now, 71 percent of poll respondents say the Cupertino, California, company has lost its cachet as an industry innovator, which includes 28 percent who say it is permanent and 43 percent who say it may be a temporary hiccup. There are still true believers; 23 percent said Apple remains the best in the business. Six percent were unsure.”

3.        New report shows a drop in satisfaction with Microsoft

The headline is a tad misleading: given the catastrophic debacle that is Windows 8, customer satisfaction has not, in fact, dropped as much as you might expect. Mind you, a different result might be arrived at if they had only surveyed the tiny portion of the market which actually has adopted the most recent version of the flagship software.

“Ever since Redmond-based Microsoft introduced their latest operating system, Windows 8, there has been much grumbling about the radical change, confusion on how to find your way around on the new system and bad promotion. With all that it was no surprise that when the May ACSI (American customer satisfaction index) report came out today that customer satisfaction with the Redmond-based company went down. The drop wasn’t all bad news for the Redmond-based software giant.”

4.        Europe launches $12 billion chip support campaign

You’d think that the EU has enough problems that it would be hesitant to spend money subsidizing (as near as I can tell) the production of ICs. I don’t know what it is that gives the EU the idea that it is a better judge of how money should be spent than its taxpayers are, but it seems to be a big part of their existence. Of course it could be worse – they could be wasting the money on defense programs …

“The European Commission has launched a campaign of public investment in micro- and nanoelectronics with the aim of doubling chip production on the continent to around 20 percent of global production.”

5.        Telecom’s Big Players Hold Back the Future

The article (but mostly Crawford’s book) make the point that monopolists have gamed government regulation to control telecommunications pricing and performance in a manner which is very much against the public interest, at least in the US (I suspect that, if she were to look at Canada, her head would explode). This will undoubtedly cripple innovation in knowledge sectors, at least in the areas in which it holds. Fortunately, there are countries (i.e. Korea and Japan) where telecommunications are, indeed, managed for the public good. Already these areas are a generation or more ahead, and at much lower costs. Their knowledge industries will prosper and our will fall further and further behind.

“If you were going to look for ground zero in the fight against a rapidly consolidating telecom and cable industry, you might end up on the fifth floor of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.”

6.        Spot satellite-powered Global Phone keeps adventurers connected for $499

This price point is pretty attractive for a satellite phone and is the sort of thing a group of campers or hunters might consider sharing. A big question would be the terms (duration, etc.) of the contract – after all, even the most avid amateur adventurer spends only a modest amount of time in the bush.

“Sick of that spotty (read: non-existent) cell coverage 1,000 miles off the coast of Alaska? This time, you can’t blame AT&T. There is an option for getting connected, though, and it’s not quite as pricey as you think. Spot, a subsidiary of satellite communications giant Globalstar, recently announced its new Global Phone, a fairly basic lightweight handset that supports phone calls, SMS and compressed data at speeds of up to 28 kbps for $499.”

7.        Stuxnet virus may have actually helped the Iranian nuclear program

I remain skeptical as to the effectiveness and utility of Stuxnet (public information on such matters is never to be trusted), however, this is a common phenomenon when a new weapon or tactic of any sort is first used: the consequences are often that the enemy redoubles efforts and finds effective countermeasures.

“Common wisdom was that the Stuxnet worm had significantly delayed the Iranian’s production of nuclear weapons by causing the country to rebuild a large part of its nuclear power plants’ hardware and software. According to a report by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) based on data gathered by the International Atomic Energy Commission, that was not the case.”

8.        Data Center Managers Worn Out by PUE Chase

A ‘green’ data center makes some sense, since operating costs has a lot to do with power consumption, and the air conditioning, uninterruptable power supply (UPS) and a few other things are sized in according to wattage. However, at the end of the day this should be a financial decision – does the cost of compliance to an arbitrary standard exceed the benefit? Of course, I know a ‘green’ grocery store with hybrid auto parking and no free bags and which has no doors on its freezers, so pretending to be ‘green’ obviously fools some people.

“While many data center managers and administrators are paying lip service to being “green,” i.e. doing everything they can to reduce power consumption and costs, the fact is most are still not stepping up to be accountable. That’s the findings of a survey from the Uptime Institute, released this week at the group’s Symposium conference in Santa Clara, Calif., which suggests something it calls “green fatigue” is setting in when it comes to making data centers greener.”

9.        Bad news for patent trolls, in one chart

Large tech firms lament the impact of ‘patent trolls’ on their businesses, however, the largest patent troll in history is Microsoft, who extracts royalties for Android, a technology in which they have not even asserted IP infringement . In any event, smaller firms tend to be the ones who bear the costs of shakedowns by law offices and the Microsofts of the word, so the prospect that software patents (and a few other classes of patents) might fall into the dustbin of history is probably a good thing.

“The chart comes courtesy of Dennis Crouch, a law professor at the University of Missouri. He originally posted it in October. Above is an updated version that accounts for all of 2012. It shows the number of times courts have cited Parker v. Flook, the 1978 case in which the Supreme Court took its strongest stance against patents on software. The case focused on using a computer to update the “alarm limit” for a chemical process. The court held that the patent effectively claimed a mathematical algorithm, which is too abstract to be eligible for patent protection.”

10.   Patent lawyers: Help! The evil Makers won’t let us apply for bullshit 3D printing patents!

This is a good read, and rather amusing. Now that you mention it, 3D printing has been around for a long time (I first used it in 1992), and it really hasn’t changed much since then. One benefit of the Open Source/Maker community is that it can run roughshod over patent trolls, as it should.

“These patent lawyers are upset because the evil Makers (capital-M and all!) are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to examine bad 3D printing patents submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office. The problem is that 3D printing is 30 years old, so nearly all the stuff that people want to patent and lock up and charge rent on for the next 20 years has already been invented, and the pesky Makers are insisting on pointing out this inconvenient fact to the USPTO.”

11.   Is this the first 3D-printed BULLET?

People really are idiots with respect to firearms, as articles like this clearly demonstrate. Where to begin? First, I have personally loaded thousands of shotgun shells so this is something I know about. Second, shot (‘BBs’) for shot shells can be made by anybody with access to lead like wheel weights and fire. Bullets made of plastic are relatively harmless because they don’t have much mass, and as such cannot transfer much in the way of energy from the gunpowder explosive. Now I’d prefer to not get shot, but, believe me, I’d take a plastic bullet over some home-made lead projectile any day of the week – one would hurt, the other would leave a fist sized wound.

“A video showing what is thought to be first ever 3D-printed bullet being fired has appeared on YouTube. In the video, from user Taofledermaus, three bullets of different weights and shapes are fired at various targets using a Mossberg 590 shotgun. According to the video, each plastic pellet has been 3D-printed. A small lead shot was then added to give the bullet weight.”

12.   Surveillance and the Internet of Things

Some good points on privacy, however, some of these issues should probably be dealt with in law. Nevertheless, consumers concerned about privacy might consider only dealing with firms who don’t share their data – at least if and when it is an option.

“The Internet has turned into a massive surveillance tool. We’re constantly monitored on the Internet by hundreds of companies — both familiar and unfamiliar. Everything we do there is recorded, collected, and collated — sometimes by corporations wanting to sell us stuff and sometimes by governments wanting to keep an eye on us.”

13.   Google Glass, What’s Not To Like? Quite A Lot Actually

A worthwhile read, though some caveats are in order: Google Glass is a ‘Mark 1’ type product – sort of an early prototype of what is to come. Of course it will have deficiencies, some of which will be easy to correct, some less so. Similarly, you can’t expect applications to have been developed which think outside the traditional User Interface model since this is such a radical departure. We’ll really see the capabilities when Mark 3 or Mark 4 versions come out.

“From the moment Glass was announced it was positioned as the must-have accessory for the new class of daredevil entrepreneurs. When a Glass wearer wasn’t solving the world’s hardest problems, he was jumping out of airplanes or strutting down a fashion runway flanked by supermodels.”

14.   Google’s Driverless Future

The author makes some interesting points however, mobile phones already provide much of the same information he seems concerned about. Despite the probably deserved paranoia – which could be solved by simple buying a ‘non-Google’ driverless vehicle (there will be many choices) the benefits he lists are real.

“The Google self-driving cars, of which there are now a dozen or so, have the company’s familiar, friendly logo plastered on their doors. Their roofs sport laser scanners rotating on spoilers so clunky they seem purpose-built to make the cars seem less technologically disruptive than they really are. “That thing?” you can’t help but ask when you look at one. “That’s the thing that’s going to make Mothers Against Drunk Driving as pointless as a radiator in a Tesla factory?”

15.   A Benz With a Virtual Chauffeur

It’s “the right conditions” part that has me guessing, plus the need for the driver to be behind the wheel – how do you remain attentive enough to take over in the event you are needed? It seems reasonable that vehicles which can do many things are a first step to fully autonomous (people not required) vehicles. I think Google’s five year projection is a bit optimistic – they are not, after all, in the car business – however, it will happen a lot faster than most people believe. One question worth asking is who is going to fix these things?

“The 2014 S-Class, which goes on sale in September at an estimated starting price of $100,000, is a significant advance in the development of autonomous autos. That is, while it still requires a human behind the steering wheel, in the right conditions the car can steer itself through city traffic or drive on the highway at speeds upward of 120 miles an hour using an array of radar, infrared and optical sensors to track lane markings or the car ahead — even around curves.”

16.   In Tomorrow’s Wars, Battles Will Be Fought With a 3-D Printer

If you happen to have a device like a 3D printer, which can produce a wide variety of components in a wide variety of materials, you might want to have one around to help out logistics. However, the reality is that, in times of need, logistics would boil down to the function of a machine or a group of machines, which would leave vulnerability. I can see a 3D printer as being an important part of a shop (like a lathe or milling machine) but not a revolution in this application.

“A 3-D printed drone is shot down by insurgents near a far-flung base manned by the U.S. military. Within hours, a small lab dropped onto the base by a helicopter days before churns out a replacement — along with plenty of ammunition and reinforced shelters for the troops. A few miles off a nearby coastline, a naval ship-turned-factory harvests resources from the sea and uses on-board printers to make everything from food to replacement organs.”

17.   Baby’s life saved with groundbreaking 3D printed device from University of Michigan that restored his breathing

This is an interesting application for 3D printing, though – as is often the case with these sorts of things – it is not entirely clear why 3D was used rather than machining. In any event, the fact the FDA approved the procedure (and, as importantly, that it seemed to work) suggests similar applications are going to be more common.

“Green and his colleague, Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M, went right into action, obtaining emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to create and implant a tracheal splint for Kaiba made from a biopolymer called polycaprolactone.”

18.   “Bionic Eye” Implants Will Hit the U.S. Market This Year

A sign of things to come, though, as usual, early iterations will have limited utility. Still, some vision is better than none at all. In any event, progress is being made with bionics and stem cell therapy, so many of the blind might be able to hope for some level over vision restoration within the next decade.

“Today’s the kind of day when you can see the future. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment that can restore (limited) eyesight to (some) blind people. Despite the caveats, it’s an exciting milestone.”

19.   D-Wave: Truth finally starts to emerge

This is a long and complex article, and I do not know enough about the subject to understand many of the points, however, the author’s skepticism appears well grounded.

“Among the many interesting comments below, see especially this one by Alex Selby, who says he’s written his own specialist solver for one class of the McGeoch and Wang benchmarks that significantly outperforms the software (and D-Wave machine) tested by McGeoch and Wang on those benchmarks—and who provides the Python code so you can try it yourself.”

20.   Matternet Building Quadcopter Drone Network To Transport Supplies

I am a big believer in autonomous vehicles – including drones – but what idiot would decide on an electric/battery based system for delivery of relief supplies? A small gasoline engine such as used on gardening equipment is cheap, far more powerful, and the range would be hugely extended. Plus, you could refuel in a few minutes, which you can’t do with batteries. I guess the need to appear ‘green’ outweighs actual utility.

“Last summer, drones took to the skies over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. These flying bots weren’t on a military mission, nor were they conducting police surveillance. They belonged to audacious Singularity University Labs startup, Matternet. Matternet wants to leapfrog road infrastructure in developing countries by building a futuristic Pony Express—with drones.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 17th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 17th 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

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1.        Microsoft drops the Blue codename, confirms Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade available later this year

There have been plenty of rumors as to what Windows Blue will do, and I reserve judgment until I actually install it. Correcting a catastrophic product release is a good idea (if that is indeed what they plan), however, a December release date mean I may actually end up using a laptop I bought in January 2013. Excuse me for being less than happy.

“One of the worst kept secrets rattling around Microsoft’s campus is Windows Blue, the forthcoming update to Windows 8 that addresses users’ bugbears about the OS. Now, Microsoft is officially rechristening the platform, and with a more staid name: Windows 8.1.”

2.        Apple orders hint at iPad Mini shipment decline

I like the fact people take shots at DigiTimes because pretty much all ‘news’ sources nowadays are unreliable, even with respect to facts. In any event, another interpretation could be that Apple is shifting suppliers and adjusting orders at a particular vendor accordingly.

“Apple’s iPad Mini could be entering a rough few months, according to the latest information the sometimes-spotty DigiTimes. The blog on Friday reported that AU Optronics, the company that supplies panels for Apple’s iPad Mini, will only ship 2.5 million to 2.8 million units to manufacturers in the second calendar quarter, down from the 4 million it shipped in the first quarter.”

3.        Gartner Says Asia/Pacific Led Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales to Growth in First Quarter of 2013

I treat figures from industry analysts with considerable caution, nonetheless, as I expected the ‘smartphone’ craze is rolling over, a trend which will likely have profound consequences for smartphone vendors and the supply chain. Expect prices to plummet. Note further, the implosion of the Blackberry OS in terms of share and absolute numbers. For them, the war is over.

“Worldwide mobile phone sales to end users totaled nearly 426 million units in the first quarter of 2013, a slight increase of 0.7 percent from the same period last year, according to Gartner, Inc. Worldwide smartphone sales totaled 210 million units in the first quarter of 2013, up 42.9 percent from the first quarter of 2012. The Asia/Pacific region was the only region to show growth in mobile phone sales this quarter, with a 6.4 percent increase year-on-year.”

4.        Hands-on with BBM Channels: BlackBerry’s trojan horse social platform

I confess to not understanding social media, and I never used BBM when I had a Blackberry. However, despite some fawning commentary, opening BBM to other platforms is nothing but a belated attempt to stop hemorrhaging users to other platforms. Once upon a time, you got a Blackberry because your upper middle class teenage friends used BBM. Now, if you have a Blackberry you can no longer communicate with BBM because you are the only one with a Blackberry. And they make fun of you because of it. So, Blackberry hopes enough Android and iPhone users will use BBM to keep the connection alive. It won’t happen, but they can dream, can’t they?

“”It’s more like Tumblr.” That’s how one BlackBerry rep described BBM Channels to us, the company’s new social networking service announced this past week at BlackBerry Live in Orlando. While Channels, alone, may initially seem like nothing new — it’s an iteration of a social communication model we’ve seem countless times before — the service actually speaks more to BlackBerry’s forward-facing strategy for BBM as a device-agnostic mobile solution.”

5.        The Archos ChefPad tablet filters cooking apps and takes splashes like a boss for $210

(In the voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons) “The dumbest tech idea ever.” See, here’s the thing: you might be able to sell a crippled tablet into a segment of the market for a steep discount if you have a business plan that exploits that subsidy. Targeting a sub-market with a full priced version: well, that’s plain stupid.

“Chef apps” will filter apps on Google Play, showing you only those geared towards cooking, like recipe apps and cookbooks. A potentially useful tool Archos says may also be applied to future tablets.”

6.        Samsung wants to bring 5G online by 2020

A sign of things to come in the wireless broadband space. I should note that actual performance in mobile broadband tends to be about an order of magnitude less than advertised performance, but this still sounds promising.

“Samsung Electronics is said to have developed the core technology for 5G wireless networks, after it managed to successfully transmit data at a speed of 1 gigabits per second (Gpbs).”

7.        Google pushing for quick adoption of their new open source VP9 video codec

Compression technologies essentially trade off computing performance for bandwidth. Computing price/performance improves with time (as does bandwidth, except in Canada), however, a shift in appetite occurs towards ‘richer’ sources as they become available. Video  compression is easier than it sounds, and what looks good to one person might look awful to the next. I haven’t seen VP9, but it sounds impressive and I expect widespread adoption. Once adoption hits critical mass, expect to see a lot more HD, and maybe even ultra-HD content.

“VP9 is an open source and royalty free video compression technology under active development by Google with which they hope to replace the popular H.264 standard. The development of VP9 begain in late 2011 with two goals in mind, to provide a 50% reduced bit rate compared to the older VP8 codec while maintaining the video quality, and also optimizing it to the point that it becomes superior to the latest High Efficiency Video Coding (H.264) standard as well.”

8.        Drones: Coming Soon To The New Jersey Turnpike?

More news from the whacky world of drones, however, despite reservations, police use of drones makes a great deal of sense: they are bound to be more cost effective to own and operate, and probably easier to deploy as well, setting aside the obvious potential for abuse. I figure private sector applications in things like surveying, repair (consider high voltage power wires) and security are just around the corner.

“The Federal Aviation Administration predicts  that 30,000 drones will patrol U.S. skies by 2020, but New Jersey drivers could see these unmanned aerial vehicles hovering above the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway much sooner than that — by 2015.”

9.        Drones move one step closer to unmanned pizza delivery

This in an obvious military application for drone helicopters, but one which also shows a significant potential commercial application as well. An aircraft with human pilots has to carry them along with hundreds of pounds of seats, displays, safety gear (including armour in the case of military aircraft). Plus, you have to send people plus equipment in harm’s way, rather than just equipment. Ultimately, remotely piloted helicopters could be purpose built, which would make them more efficient and probably more efficient and effective. After all, bags of meat have physiological limitations which do not apply to computers.

“An unmanned K-MAX helicopter eased into a hover and gently descended until a pallet of ammunition dangling beneath it touched the ground. The cargo hook released itself and the helicopter rose again, turned and flew off. The K-MAX, the only drone cargo helicopter in the U.S. military’s fleet, made two more runs to the embattled outpost, dropping off more supplies each time.”

10.   Navy’s Historic Drone Launch From an Aircraft Carrier Has an Asterisk

Military announcements tend to be full of hyperbole, and, while I am not an expert in naval aviation, I suspect launching an airplane fron a hanger deck is really not all that difficult: after all, you are flinging an aircraft into the air and cruise missiles have been doing this for decades. Landing an aircraft on a platform moving in 3 dimensions is another matter altogether. Well, landing in one piece.

“At 11:19 a.m. today, for the first time in history, a plane without a pilot in it executed one of the most complex missions in aviation: launching off an aircraft carrier at sea. Only the Navy can’t yet land that drone aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an even harder but necessary maneuver if large drones are really going to operate off carriers.”

11.   Micromirror development tool takes aim at 3-D printing

There are a number of different 3D printer technologies, but the two main ones for plastic are based on extrusion and laser catalysis in which a laser or pair of lasers causes a resin to solidify. These have usually been ‘flying dot’ scanning lasers, so a DLP micromirror ‘engine’ (which contains thousands of mirrors) could speed the process up considerably.

“Texas Instruments Inc. has created the DLP LightCrafter 4500 development tool to help engineers use digital light processing based on its micromirror chips for applications beyond projectors. The subsystem is an upgrade to previously supplied DLP development tools that provides a starting point for higher brightness and higher resolution applications in indusrial, medial and scientific applications, the company said.”

12.   The Consequences of Machine Intelligence

This is a rather dated article, but I only came across it as a result of secondary coverage this past week. He makes some interesting points, but misses the mark on at least two factors: first, Machine Intelligence is not really advancing at a measurable rate, though fantasies about it a proceeding geometrically, thanks to the likes of Kurzweil. After all, even the most impressive feats, like ‘winning Jeopardy’ or playing chess, are essentially parlor games framed around arbitrary definitions of intelligence. The other thing is touched on in the article, namely that innovation displaces workers, though it invariably leads to a general improvement in standard of living: after all, not that long ago the majority of workers were involved in agriculture compared to a trifling amount today.

It is in the context of the Great Recession that people started noticing that while machines have yet to exceed humans in intelligence, they are getting intelligent enough to have a major impact on the job market.”

13.   Introducing Strongbox

Judging from the Whitehouse’s legal crackdown on whistleblowers, this could be a great idea. Unfortunately, the global media has mostly devolved into a lapdog for the status quo, so, something which might have been of use in golden era of journalism is not as relevant today. Wikileaks exists and is being harassed because it actually releases whistleblower leaks traditional media won’t touch until they have been released.

“This morning, The New Yorker launched Strongbox, an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity. It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented.”

14.   Appeals court ruling could be ‘death’ of software patents

A promising first step in the legal morass call the patent system; software, business methods, and genes (which are simply data) should never have been granted patent protection. Given the massive amounts of money involved and the effectiveness of lobbying, I doubt the egg will be readily unscrambled.

“A U.S. appeals court has ruled that an abstract idea is not patentable simply because it is tied to a computer system, signaling what one judge described as the “death” of software and business method patents. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Friday that four patents held by electronic marketplace Alice are too abstract for a patent, despite a long-standing legal assumption that software running on a computer is eligible for patents.”

15.   Could Federal Seizure Be the Beginning of the End for Bitcoin?

Let me think: an unregulated ‘currency’ with no oversight and which is favored by criminals and speculators – is anybody surprised the Feds shut it down? Two amusing side notes – Bitcoin proponents are screaming blue murder and conspiracy, and, apparently, the ‘price’ of Bitcoin has not collapsed. Now, I ask you, in an efficient market, what would normally happen if the major source of liquidity were withdrawn, and such a precedent set? This all but confirms the fraudulent nature of the market.

“In what may be the first move toward a federal shutdown of the wildly popular online currency known as Bitcoin, the Department of Homeland Security today issued an order that has restricted the transfer of funds in and out of Mt. Gox, the Bitcoin exchange that handles some 60 percent of the transactions.”

see also

16.   Credit card fraudsters quickly exposed

An interesting read, however, I am not entirely convinced banks take fraud that seriously. I had a brand new credit card which was used in 20 fraudulent transactions after a single legitimate use in a New Orleans hotel. I knew exactly the one person other than me who had touched the card and neither the police nor the Bank of Montreal (who reversed the fraudulent charges) expressed any interest in pursuing the villain.

“Our software analyzes recent transactions that are stored in the credit card company’s database. Depending on the size of the company, there can be as many as one million data sets per month,” says Dr. Stefan Rüping, group manager at IAIS. “For these transactions, the software searches all possible rules and selects the ten to one hundred best options. The best thing about this program is that it finds the most suitable rules in 30 minutes to an hour.”

17.   Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD

If you want to get really depressed, read a book about psychoactive drugs and the science (or lack thereof) behind them. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I really have my doubts as to whether the drugs exist to treat the maladies or the maladies exist to treat the drugs. The good news for the drug business is that the brain’s plasticity makes the drugs effectively highly addictive. So, this begs the question: why do some populations need to be heavily drugged, and others do not?

“In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?”

18.   Carbon in Alaskan soils stays stored despite warming

Computer modeling of complex non-linear systems is an interesting exercise, but the results are not something you should generally ever confuse with what is actually going to happen. Back in the olden days, biology students learned about things like the carbon cycle, and while it is simple in concept, it is infinitely complex in practicality and attempts to simplify what will happen to a biological system when you alter the inputs are doomed to fail, which brings us to this result. (By the way, we also learned the oceans are buffered, so don’t get me started about ‘ocean acidification’.)

“The other place that scientists have been watching nervously is the Arctic. About half the carbon stored in the Earth’s soil is in the Arctic, where it’s locked in place by permafrost and low metabolic activity caused by the cold. As those regions melt, the worry is that bacteria in the soil will start feeding on the carbon trapped there, releasing it into the atmosphere as CO2 that causes further warming. A new study that looks at 20 years of changes in Alaska, however, suggests that this won’t necessarily take place.”

19.   Why is Science Behind a Paywall?

Some business models are predicated on the past. In the olden days you had to distribute a tangible product, which meant physical production and a distribution channel. Consolidation of the industry lead to boom times for certain publishers – after all, you don’t pay for content and you sell at high (and rising) prices to a captive market. That era will draw to a close fairly quickly. While name recognition is important, scientists benefit from the broadest possible dissemination of their work, and the customers benefit from lowest possible costs. Soon enough the science journal oligopoly will go the way of Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Although the act of publishing seems to entail sharing your research with the world, most published papers sit behind paywalls. The journals that publish them charge thousands of dollars per subscription, putting access out of reach to all but the most minted universities. Subscription costs have risen dramatically over the past generation. According to critics of the publishers, those increases are the result of the consolidation of journals by private companies who unduly profit off their market share of scientific knowledge.”

20.   Cardiff University: X-rays ‘read’ ink in historic scrolls

Vast numbers of scrolls are around in libraries, and some have even been found in Herculaneum (Pompeii’s lesser known twin). The problem is, unrolling them destroys them, so many sit unread. While this is a huge breakthrough, this technique only works on scrolls prepared with a certain type of ink. Nonetheless, it is possible a similar methodology could be used on more ancient inks with different composition. Still, very cool.

“X-ray technology which scans the iron used in ancient ink has been developed by scientists at Cardiff University to help them read historical documents. The breakthrough allows scholars to see virtually the contents of parchments which are too fragile to unroll.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 10th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 10th 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

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe



1.        Windows 8: Microsoft’s New Coke moment

The difference between Coke and Microsoft is that Coke still had a massive distribution network and a single significant rival. Microsoft has a rival, but it is not all that significant, and it is free. Of course, Coke actually learned from its mistake and promptly changed course. Microsoft is still telling people they don’t get it.

“Everyone knows that New Coke was a total disaster for Coca-Cola. Except, of course, that isn’t actually what happened. Yes, New Coke, like Windows 8 for Microsoft, was a total market failure, but that wasn’t the end of the Coca-Cola story, and Windows 8 may not be the end of Microsoft’s Windows tale.”

2.        Microsoft prepares rethink on Windows 8 flagship software

Microsoft is doing the Dance of the Seven Veils with respect to ‘fixing’ Windows 8. They haven’t really confirmed anything, which is a shame because they might be able to win over a few friends if they just kept digging deeper into this debacle. Note the ‘New Coke’ meme is repeated here.

“Microsoft is preparing to reverse course over key elements of its Windows 8 operating system, marking one of the most prominent admissions of failure for a new mass-market consumer product since Coca-Cola’s New Coke fiasco nearly 30 years ago.”

3.        Microsoft’s most profitable mobile operating system: Android

There are patent trolls and there are patent trolls. The biggest of them all, it appears, is Microsoft. Personally I consider this to be evidence enough that software patents should be banned, however, the article suggests there may not even be actionable patents here – just fear and power. I would hope that Microsoft either loses in court eventually or that vendors start selling units with no Operating System and just a ‘boot loader.

“To some, Windows 8 is a marketplace failure. But its flop has been nothing compared to Microsoft’s problems in getting anyone to use its Windows Phone operating systems. You don’t need to worry about Microsoft’s bottom line though. Thanks to its Android patent agreements, Microsoft may be making as much as $8 per Android device. This could give Microsoft as much as $3.4 billion in 2013 from Android sales.”

4.        International Space Station switches from Windows to Linux, for improved reliability

It was a lot funnier before I realized they were upgrading from Windows XP. Still, the details regarding other ‘big science’ projects running Linux are pretty interesting. I continue to believe the success of Android has provided a segue for adoption of Linux in the broader market.

“The United Space Alliance, which manages the computers aboard the International Space Station in association with NASA, has announced that the Windows XP computers aboard the ISS have been switched to Linux. “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable.”

5.        HDD vs. SSD: The Battle for PC Storage Supremacy Continues

Some interesting facts and figures, but I never assume industry research is accurate and ascribe no value to their predictions. However, as I remarked a few years ago, the HDD industry is doomed. Never bet against digital.

“Hard disk drives (HDD) for PCs will continue to face declining shipments this year while rival solid state drives (SSD) in computers exert pressure on their much bigger competitors with outsized triple-digit growth, according to an IHS iSuppli Storage market tracker report from information and analytics provider IHS.”

6.        How Microcontrollers Work

A long read, but a good soup to nuts explanation for anybody who has ever wondered. Of course, a lot of detail is missing.

“Microcontrollers are small computers that contain a central processor, memory, and input/output circuitry all on one integrated chip. Computers in general contain all these components with varying degrees of integration. Most people are familiar with the CPU acronym which refers to the central processing unit. The core of a microcontroller is also a central processing unit and is also the focus of this article.”

7.        Here’s why new car tech is four years out of date

Many years ago, the telephone companies demanded a particularly high degree of quality and reliability from their networks. This was a great idea in theory but it did not apparently provide a barrier to massive adoption of mobile technology. The auto industry will eventually learn that in order to stay in the game they’ll have to learn a few lessons from the computer and consumer electronics industries.

“As you pore over the technical features built into Ford’s latest vehicles, one spec you’ll notice in those that include a SYNC entertainment system is the 10GB hard drive for storing music. No, they didn’t drop a zero. That’s a 10. Ford isn’t alone when it comes to offering skimpy hard drives. Most automobile companies are two to four years behind the consumer technology curve, according to industry experts.”

8.        Garmin’s Glass Cockpit

This is the sort of thing the car companies have to learn how to do – right. An integrated ‘glass cockpit’ could provide a lot of utility for consumers and have a big ‘wow’ factor. Of course, this sort of initiative could easily be screwed up. Mind you, Garmin knows what it is doing.

“Consumers want in-car navigation—it’s a popular feature. Yet once they have it, they’re often dissatisfied. Nearly half of them downloaded apps to supplement the system in their car, according to a 2012 J.D. Power study. Dissatisfaction with other infotainment functions is significant, too. They can be difficult to use and don’t always work as intended.”

9.        M2M is dead: long live IoT

Acronyms matter, I guess. Wall Street has positioned Machine to Machine (M2M) as being associated with mobile data services. In fact, I suspect the overwhelming majority of M2M takes place over WiFi, which is a lot cheaper and almost as ubiquitous. If you think about it, most places you are going to find machines, you are going to find WiFi, and it is a lot cheaper than mobile data as well. This speech provides a good overview of what it now being called the Internet of Things (IoT).

“M2M was the closest thing yet to the vision of devices communicating with other devices without human interaction. But the greater opportunity was still elusive, tethered to the cord of a cellular module. A SIM card is the foundation of M2M but it is at the same time a limitation. Its economics and technical character limited it reaching the full potential of the market. And so as part of the natural order of things, it died. But by doing so, it gave birth to its ultimate incarnation – Internet of Things. Billions of connections, access and device agnostic, the true potential of market finally reachable.”

10.   Broadcast Video Will Soon Be Packed into Smartphone Signals

This approach makes a good deal of sense, though adding a TV receiver is probably not that expensive. Mind you, carriers always want to dip their beak in new services and that would make this approach a lot more appealing, at least for them.

“If you want to watch video on your phone or tablet, you’ll find that many networks can’t always serve up the data fast enough. So your choices are either to find a Wi-Fi hotspot, take your chances on congestion and high data charges on a cellular network, or plug in a special dongle that picks up TV broadcasts.”

11.   Dwave 439 qubit system was 3600 times faster than a 2.4 Ghz quadcaore computer on some problems

The interesting thing is that 3600 times faster is not an impressive figure for a machine contrived to solve specific problem. General purpose computers (such as a 2.4 GHz quad core PC), are just that – general purpose. GPUs are far more efficient at certain types of problems, and DSPs at others and not just because of brute force: architecture matters a lot. Similarly, reprogrammable hardware can be made to solve certain equations orders of magnitude faster than general purpose machines. So, 3600 faster is good if you have to solve the Traveling Salesman problem but how does it compare to other optimized approaches?

“A computer science professor at Amherst College who recently devised and conducted experiments to test the speed of a quantum computing system against conventional computing methods will soon be presenting a paper with her verdict: quantum computing is, “in some cases, really, really fast. Dwave’s quantum computer system is capable of solving problems thousands of times faster than conventional computing methods can for some problems.”

12.   Teardown: Samsung Galaxy S4

Not the best teardown I’ve ever read, but just in case you were wondering. Most of the good stuff is in the first few pages.

“Now incorporating a 5-inch OLED display (taking a cue from the success of the Galaxy Note family of hybrid tablet-phones), certain models of the Samsung Galaxy S4 will also incorporate the first processor to utilize eight cores–he Samsung Exynos Octa. Using Android’s Jelly Bean 4.2.1 operating system, the Galaxy SIV features some technical firsts such as smarter eye-tracking software,  for example Smart Pause and Smart Scroll, and a “hovering” feature that utilizes air gestures and finger movement to navigate through the OS.”–Samsung-Galaxy-S4

13.   Analyzing 450 million lines of software code

I’d be interested in knowing how they do the analysis – after all, if you can identify so many coding errors per million lines of code, you should be able to fix them. Whatever the methodology, the message seems to be that proprietary code and open source code are roughly the same in terms of coding errors. Mind you, meeting customer requirements is a major aspect of ‘quality’.

“Code quality for open source software continues to mirror that of proprietary software–and both continue to surpass the industry standard for software quality. Defect density (defects per 1,000 lines of software code) is a commonly used measurement for software quality. The analysis found an average defect density of .69 for open source software projects that leverage the Coverity Scan service, and an average defect density of .68 for proprietary code developed by Coverity enterprise customers.”

14.   Skype beware, Viber flies past 200M users, lands on desktop

I have never heard of Vibe before, but I use both netTALK and Vonage to make free VoIP calls. It makes you wonder how anybody is going to make money doing this.

“Add Viber to the list of insanely popular messaging services that have more than 200 million users. The 2-year-old mobile messaging and VoIP service, developed by Viber Media, announced the new stat Tuesday, saying that it has 200 million members spread across 193 countries. The company also revealed Viber Desktop for free calling and messaging on PCs and Macs.”

15.   Staples First Major U.S. Retailer to Announce Availability of 3D Printers

It’s good to be first, I guess, but this printer is particularly expensive and the consumables are expensive and proprietary. Still, this move could introduce a lot of people to the technology.

“Staples, the world’s largest office products company and second largest e-commerce company, today became the first major U.S. retailer to announce the availability of 3D printers. The Cube® 3D Printer from 3D Systems, a leading global provider of 3D content-to-print solutions, is immediately available on for $1299.99 and will be available in a limited number of Staples stores by the end of June.”

16.   Meet The ‘Liberator’: Test-Firing The World’s First Fully 3D-Printed Gun

The only novelty here is the use of a 3D printer. Plastics have been around for a long time and are mostly easy to machine, plus there are plastics which are much tougher than anything which can be 3D printed. Some epoxies are incredibly tough and you can readily cast them. Most cartridges produce tremendous pressures (many thousands of pounds per square inch) and plastics cannot stand that type of pressure. Yet nobody produces a plastic or mostly plastic gun, probably because they know a bit more than a 20 something whiz kid. I wonder who will be sued when a hand or face gets blown off when the gun explodes? If you want to know how to make a cheap and effective gun, Google ‘zip gun’.

“A tall, sandy blond engineer named John has just pulled a twenty-foot length of yellow string tied to a trigger, which has successfully fired the world’s first entirely 3D-printed gun for the very first time, rocketing a .380 caliber bullet into a berm of dirt and prairie brush.”

17.   New device can extract human DNA with full genetic data in minutes

Just to be clear, this is a system for rapidly purifying DNA from a sample. Traditionally, this is a fairly time consuming process involving a number of steps, so this system would save money and time. Plus it is another example of the power of nanotech.

“Take a swab of saliva from your mouth and within minutes your DNA could be ready for analysis and genome sequencing with the help of a new device. University of Washington engineers and NanoFacture, a Bellevue, Wash., company, have created a device that can extract human DNA from fluid samples in a simpler, more efficient and environmentally friendly way than conventional methods.”

18.   Antibiotics could cure 40% of chronic back pain patients

This is an exciting finding: chronic back pain can be debilitating and sufferers seek all manner of cures and treatments. The possibility a course of the right type of antibiotics could actually cure the problem is remarkable. You have to wonder how many other inflammatory diseases (arthritis, etc.) have bacterial causes.

“Up to 40% of patients with chronic back pain could be cured with a course of antibiotics rather than surgery, in a medical breakthrough that one spinal surgeon says is worthy of a Nobel prize. Surgeons in the UK and elsewhere are reviewing how they treat patients with chronic back pain after scientists discovered that many of the worst cases were due to bacterial infections.”

19.   Tesla drives California environmental credits to the bank

The hysteria over Tesla’s profitable quarter drove the stock to incredible highs. The company is, apparently, in the business of manufacturing environmental credits (which don’t actually exist outside the US). Government subsidies and credits come in at the front end (manufacturing) and the demand end (tax credits for buyers). Their Balance Sheet remains a mess, I continue to have significant doubts as to the durability of the battery packs, and, above all, there is nothing difficult about making an electric car.

“When Tesla Motors reports its first-ever profit Wednesday, much of the money will come courtesy of the state of California. In its zeal to push electric cars into the market, the state has created a system in which Tesla can make as much as $35,000 extra on each sale of its luxury Model S electric sports sedans. That’s because the Palo Alto company qualifies for coveted state environmental credits that it can turn into cash.”,0,3647114.story

20.   Cheap Nanotech Filter Clears Hazardous Microbes and Chemicals from Drinking Water

There are lots of interesting things being done with nanomaterials nowadays however the barrier to commercialisation has generally been cost so a lot of impressive announcements never make it to market. Nonetheless, it will be very good if this works (and costs) as expected.

“Thalappil Pradeep and his colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras developed a $16 nanoparticle water filtration system that promises potable water for even the poorest communities in India and, in the future, for those in other countries sharing the same plight.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 3rd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 3rd 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!

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Brian Piccioni

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1.        AMD Unveils its Heterogeneous Uniform Memory Access (hUMA) Technology

This sounds pretty revolutionary, but I don’t expect much to change as a consequence. GPU performance figures are not really comparable to CPU performance figures because the internal structure og a GPU is optimized for the sorts of computations which are only rarely encountered outside of graphics and image processing. AMD’s (relatively) novel approach may generate some buzz among gamers – which is always a good thing – and possibly move them up the list for supercomputer applications, but this will have little or no effect on sales.

“To illustrate this, consider the following example: in 2002, the Radeon 9700 Pro could provide a performance of 31.2 GFLOPS of performance, 5 years later the Radeon HD 2900 XT offered 473.6 GFLOPS and by 2012, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition was capable of computing 4301 GFLOPS  – an increase of 13,700% when compared to the Radeon 9700. Though this change can reasonably be attributed to Moore’s Law and the continued decline of the $:GFLOP ratio, it is important to note that CPUs have not kept pace with the exponential growth of GPUs’ computing power as between 2002’s Pentium 4 “Northwood” processor and 2012’s Core i7-3970X processor, the computing ability rose by “just” 2600% from 12.24 GFLOPS to 336 GFLOPS.”,22324.html


2.        Spain’s Extremadura starts switch of 40,000 government PCs to open source

I am frankly surprised at the glacial pace of open source adoption in the public sector, especially within the context of global austerity. Of course, then again, government is rarely the cutting edge of anything. Regardless, I think we’ll see more and more of this, and the path has been greased by widespread adoption of Android (aka Linux) by consumers.

“The government of Spain’s autonomous region of Extremadura has begun the switch to open source of it desktop PCs. The government expects the majority of its 40,000 PCs to be migrated this year, the region’s CIO Theodomir Cayetano announced on 18 April. Extremadura estimates that the move to open source will help save 30 million euro per year.”

3.        Why an Android Laptop is a Great Idea. No, Really!

I am not so sure of the reasoning here, because I find touch interfaces to be a major pain in the ass most of the time and almost unusable in traditional PC type applications, though that may be my Neanderthal brain (or because its faster to move my thumb than my while arm). I continue to believe the success of Android in the mobile space has paved the way for broad adoption of Android and other Linux forks in the laptop/desktop space.

“Misleading and misunderstanding blogging and reporting this week is leading everybody into falsely believing that Intel plans to ship or support Android-based laptops. This has sparked debate over the wisdom or folly of Android laptops. I’ll make a case for why Android laptops are a great idea, but first let’s kill the myth that Intel announced Android laptops.”

4.        Why I won’t buy another subsidized Android phone (and why you shouldn’t, either)

All good points, but he closes off with misinformation: a subsidized phone is not going to be cheaper than an unsubsidized phone because you are financing it through the carrier. I haven’t had a subsidized phone or mobile contract for over a decade and I don’t think anybody should ever sign a mobile contract.

“The root of the problem is this: With subsidized Android phones, your carrier takes away your control of your phone in exchange for that subsidy, which has direct, negative consequences for your security, privacy, and battery life. Because of my experience with this I won’t be buying another subsidized Android phone, and I think you should consider avoiding them, as well.”

5.        Pentagon Expects to Enlist Apple, Samsung Devices

If true (and it likely is) this should have limited direct impact on Blackberry because the end market is relatively small. However, the importance of such an approval on demand by security conscious customers (bankers, lawyers, etc.) is probably significant, so this would be a negative for Blackberry over the longer term. I like the idea of a ruggedized smartphone provided pricing is reasonable.

“The U.S. Department of Defense expects in coming weeks to grant two separate security approvals for Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones, along with iPhones and iPads running Apple’s latest operating system—moves that would boost the number of U.S. government agencies allowed to use those devices.”

6.        BlackBerry CEO Heins: Tablet Market is Kaput

Full disclosure: I don’t own a tablet, however, I think this is a pretty silly thing to say, especially if you are less than a rounding error in the market. There may not be much of a business model for tablet manufacturers once prices collapse to the $100 – 200 range, as I figure they will within the next year or so, whereupon volumes will explode, albeit at tiny margins. There is nothing inherently profitable about making tablets, but, at the right price, they’ll sell a lot of them.

“BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins believes that tablets will be dead within the next five years. In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” he told an interviewer at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles, according to Bloomberg. “Maybe a big screen in your workplace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.”

7.        Qualcomm Proposes a Cell-Phone Network by the People, for the People

I can see the advantages for the carriers here: they replace a small number of expensive installations with a much larger number of very cheap, almost disposable, installations. This could save a lot of money for the carriers. What I don’t understand is what possible benefit this would provide for the consumer, who usually feels less than charitable towards carriers.

“Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and some U.S. wireless carriers are investigating an idea that would see small cellular base stations installed in homes to serve passing smartphone users. That approach is believed to be a more efficient way of meeting the rising demand for data and fixing patchy coverage than building more traditional cell-phone towers.”

8.        Kenya’s new cellphone money model could disrupt global banking industry

The headline is silly, but the technology is real. To put it mildly, the developing world is rarely well served by traditional banks as success of Gamine Bank showed. The overhead per loan or transaction is relatively unaffected by the size of the transaction, so small transactions can be very expensive. This is probably good for Africa but it doesn’t represent a threat to the ‘global banking industry’.

“M-Shwari is a new banking platform that allows subscribers of Kenya’s biggest mobile network, Safaricom, to operate savings accounts, earn interest on deposits, and borrow money using their mobile phones. It expands on Kenya’s revolutionary use of sending money by mobile phone — known as M-Pesa, “mobile money” in Swahili — launched in 2007 and now widely used across the east African nation, where some 70 percent of people have mobile phones.”

9.        London Calling: Cell phone carriers pile in to M2M

On the one hand, it’s probably encouraging that carriers are starting to take Machine to Machine communications seriously on the other hand it seems likely to me that the mobile frequencies are probably not the most suitable for this type of application. After all, mobile (even voice) is relatively broadband and isochronous while M2M is, for the most part, narrow band and asynchronous. Then there is the issue of wavelengths which go through walls, etc..

“There is a race going on and it looks set to be won by the mobile phone service operators. It is the race to market for machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things. However, in the long-term those services may well not be operated on existing cell phone frequencies.”

10.   Disruptions: Brain Computer Interfaces Inch Closer to Mainstream

While I can see the merit of the technology for disabled people, I am pretty skeptical regarding mainstream adoption of Brain Computer Interfaces. Let’s face it: the Internet has a lot of utility and can be a tremendous tool, but the average person is not exactly a very bright bulb. Perhaps flooding the average brain with sports scores and celebrity gossip is a business model but I just don’t see it.

“But don’t expect these gestures to be necessary for long. Soon, we might interact with our smartphones and computers simply by using our minds. In a couple of years, we could be turning on the lights at home just by thinking about it, or sending an e-mail from our smartphone without even pulling the device from our pocket. Farther into the future, your robot assistant will appear by your side with a glass of lemonade simply because it knows you are thirsty.”

11.   Simple Trick Turns Commercial Polymer Into World’s Toughest Fiber

This is pretty cool –and easy to understand. The problem, I guess, is weaving fabric with slip knots built in, but, then again, they can do some pretty remarkable things with looms. One thing worth noting regarding things like armor is that, while you might be able to stop penetration, the kinetic energy is still going to be there. In other words, while I wouldn’t want a hole from a 50 calibre BMG round through my chest, the kinetic energy would probably kill me just as dead.

“Today, Nicola Pugno at the University of Trento in Italy reveals a remarkably simple trick that dramatically increases the toughness of almost any kind of fibre. Indeed, Pugno says he has used the technique to create the world’s toughest fibre. The new idea is deceptively simple–it involves no more than tying a slip knot in the fibre, creating a loop of extra fibre that can passes through the knot as it comes under tension.”

12.   Robotic Fly Takes to the Air, Briefly

This is a pretty impressive first step however, the tricky bit is bound to be the power source.  As things get smaller and lighter, air seems more like a liquid than a gas, so, in many ways, flying gets easier. However, because of air currents, which are more or less random at that scale, navigation gets trickier. It kind of puts the accomplishment of a mosquito in context, doesn’t it?

“First there were drones, then there were quadcopters. Now there’s RoboBee, which really looks more like a fly. After more than a decade of work, engineers have built an insect-sized robot that can take off, fly back and forth, land, and take off again.”

13.   The online drug marketplace Silk Road is collapsing – did hackers, government or Bitcoin kill it?

A website favored by drug dealers and ne’er-do-wells and criminals which operates exclusively using a (likely) fraudulent currency is the victim of blackmail? Whatever next?

“At 6am this morning, I got an email from one of my sleazier contacts. It simply said “looks like Silk Road has collapsed”. I fired the Tor browser you need to connect to the site and, indeed, it wasn’t there. At the time of writing, it’s still not back up. A look around on assorted forums linked to Silk Road finds lots of panic and not many hard facts. What’s clear is that the site has been crippled by a series of denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involve flooding the site with traffic.”

14.   Study: 45 percent of Bitcoin exchanges end up closing

Just when I figured Bitcoin itself is a massive fraud, I see two more business models: 1) set up an exchange and ‘fail’ taking the customer’s money with you and, even better 2) set up an exchange and have confederates ‘steal’ the customer’s Bitcoins. A bit like lending bank robbers the safe for the weekend, no?

“A study of the Bitcoin exchange industry has found that 45 percent of exchanges fail, taking their users’ money with them. Those that survive are the ones that handle the most traffic — but they are also the exchanges that suffer the greatest number of cyber attacks.”

15.   Toyota cuts cost of hydrogen-fuel cell cars

Of course prices have come down, if for no other reason that Fuel Cell Vehicles have been more or less hand-crafted. Companies have made significant advances in cost, reliability, and performance of fuel cells as well. However, my beef has never been with the fuel cells – it’s the hydrogen. Hydrogen is expensive to produce and difficult to transport. It has also been used in prodigious quantities in industry for decades so it’s not like there is much room for a breakthrough in that regard.

“The cost of making a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car has fallen so dramatically that the same vehicle that cost about $1 million in past year can now be made for as little as $50,000 when it goes on sale in the U.S. in 2015, a top Toyota engineer says.”

16.   A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage

If you think about it, more energy is going to go in to making some than you are ever going to get out of it by burning it. So, it’s a great thing to burn garbage (beats landfill), the energy output can only ever be a by-product and not a major source of grid electricity. I’m sure the folks in Napoli are delighted to sell their copious waste to the denizens of Oslo, and I can imagine it is the butt of a lot of jokes.

“Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.”

17.   Freaky Friday: Autonomous Tissue Grabbers Are On Their Way

This is pretty cool and a little scary – I have to believe ‘nanorobots’ nibbling away at your innards would make for a good science fiction story. Recovery is obviously an issue unless they are confined to external surfaces such as the digestive tract. Perhaps they could consider a self-destruct mechanism where the beasties dissolve after a while.

“Johns Hopkins engineers are testing out what they call “untethered microgrippers” as a better way to investigate hard-to-reach places. They have launched hundreds of these things, which look like miniature ninja throwing stars, inside the body of animal to retrieve tiny pieces of tissue for biopsies.”

18.   ‘Time Crystals’ Could Upend Physicists’ Theory of Time

I have no idea what this is about, however, it sounds potentially significant. I don’t think ‘perpetual motion’ in the context of the article means what it usually means but even then I am not sure. After all, electrons are in ‘perpetual motion’ around protons, but that doesn’t mean you can do much with that phenomenon.

“In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.”

19.   Hollywood Studios Fuming Over BitTorrent, Cinedigm ‘Deal With the Devil’

Hollywood moguls have never been the most ethical folks in the world, so I take some pleasure in their torment. However, BitTorrent is actually a very effective distribution system and I don’t really see why they should care how what amounts to an extended trailer actually gets distributed. For Cinedigm this looks like a brilliant move, unless, of course, studios exercise their influence over theaters to blackball the company as a punishment.

“Hollywood studios are furious that BitTorrent, synonymous in the movie industry with piracy, has partnered with independent studio Cinedigm to promote “Arthur Newman,” TheWrap has learned. “It’s a deal with the devil,” one studio executive told TheWrap. “Cinedigm is being used as their pawn.”

20.   What If We Never Run Out of Oil?

This is not exactly a technology story, but it is interesting nonetheless. Te idea of mining gas hydrates has been around for some time, but I think it is unlikely it will be exploited in the current ‘cheap gas’ environment. Obviously, countries such as Japan and Korea, which lack fossil fuels, are bound to drive adoption due to the high cost of LNG. I continue to expect the spread between oil and gas prices to collapse, but it sure does seem to be taking a while.

“As the great research ship Chikyu left Shimizu in January to mine the explosive ice beneath the Philippine Sea, chances are good that not one of the scientists aboard realized they might be closing the door on Winston Churchill’s world. Their lack of knowledge is unsurprising; beyond the ranks of petroleum-industry historians, Churchill’s outsize role in the history of energy is insufficiently appreciated.”