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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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.”
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 Staples.com 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.”
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.”