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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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.”
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.”