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

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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.”

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