The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 28th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 28th 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 20 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

ps: Google has been sporadically flagging The Geek’s Reading List as spam/phishing. Until I resolve the problem, if you have a Gmail account and you don’t get the list when expected, please check your Spam folder and mark the list as ‘Not Spam’.

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1.        Cord cutters alert: 60 million Americans now use an antenna to watch free TV

Over The Air (OTA) HD picture quality is much better than cable or satellite and, as the quality of most cable shows hit new depths while prices spiral upwards, cord cutting looks more and more attractive in an era of stagnant wages. Besides, many of the good shows are readily available for download for those fortunate enough to have broadband. Cutting the cord is easier than most people think because digital TV signals generally have good error free ‘reach’ even with a simple antenna.

“Antennas aren’t just for grandma’s boob tube anymore: 19.3 percent of all US TV households get their TV fix from free over-the-air broadcasts, according to a new GfK study released this week. This means that 22.4 million households representing 59.7 million Americans get their TV for free, the market research firm estimates.”

2.        Worried about the Mass Surveillance? How to Practice Safer Communication

This article provides an easy to read, and funny, overview of some of the issues associated with online privacy. It gives you a sense for why this is important, and why metadata matters. Also, it is worth noting that, even if the NSA isn’t allowed to do something, with your communications, that doesn’t prevent a ‘foreign’ government from doing the same and sharing those results with the NSA or your competitors. In other words, NSA can spy on Canadians without restraint and share that data with whomever it wants, including industry or other national governments.

“With all the news coming out about possible mass surveillance and the relationship between an alphabet soup of federal agencies and the companies that hold huge swaths of your electronic life, it’s easy to feel powerless. But you’re not. Technology taketh away your privacy, but technology can giveth quite a bit of it back too.”

3.        UHDTV whistling past 3-D TV grave

I’d prefer to see a movie not in “3D” so I can’t get my head around the ide people would want to buy 3D TVs. UHDTV has its uses, however, the average screen is far too small for the average consumer to notice the improved picture quality. Furthermore, transcoding is bound to significantly impact the quality received over cable or satellite. I figure the manufacturers will eventually shift over to UHDTV displays, but it will not be a significant factor for consumers or broadcasters.

“I wasn’t surprised by ESPN’s tweet earlier this month, in which they subtly mentioned their plan to drop their costly 3-D TV channel later this year. Hey, who could be surprised? I was a little surprised, however, by the industry’s dogged insistence that the yet-to-be Ultra High Definition TV market won’t at all resemble the fate of 3DTV.”

4.        Dutch cable operators grope towards free national Wi-Fi

I’m not sure if it’s exactly free, because you have to subscribe in order to offer the service and you have to offer the service in order to use it. Still, it’s an interesting approach.

“The prospect of the Netherlands becoming the first country to establish a national Wi-Fi network delivering TV Everywhere services has come closer as both the country’s dominant cable operators, UPC and Ziggo, proceed with deployments across their footprints.”

5.        My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!

A few months ago I heard a cellist make a similar lament, and I thought “cellists can make a few bucks on Pandora?” The root problem appears to be the inability of musicians to do arithmetic. Pandora is paying $16.89 for 1 million listens ($0.017/thousand listens) while commercial radio paid $1,373.78 for 18,789 ‘plays’ of the song, or $0.07/play. Assuming more than around 4,500 people were listening to the radio station at the time, Pandora actually paid more per listen.

“As a songwriter Pandora paid me $16.89* for 1,159,000 play of “Low” last quarter.  Less than I make from a single T-shirt sale.  Okay that’s a slight  exaggeration.  That’s only the premium multi-color long sleeve shirts and that’s only at venues that don’t take commission.  But still.”

This article seems to support my analysis and suggests some deliberate omissions from the above screed:

6.        New Firefox earns full WebRTC

As we saw with Windows, popular add-ons to software tend to get incorporated into the main distribution. This makes things work better, but it also freezes out competitive add-ons which don’t get incorporated. All in, it’s not good to be in the add-on business.

“The debut of WebRTC, as the protocol is known, in Firefox 22 (download for Windows | Mac | Linux) is no small potatoes. “Plugins are the single largest source of security and stability issues that we see,” said Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla’s vice-president of engineering for Firefox.”

7.        Nokia and BlackBerry’s market share in India dives, as domestic rivals see tenfold annual growth

This hadn’t occurred to me before, but, given the commodity nature of Android smartphones, there is no reason to focus exclusively on leading brands when considering what might happen in the developing world. I continue to believe smartphone and tablet pricing (and margins) will come under pressure, which will rock the mobile market as much as the equity markets.

“India’s smartphone market surged an impressive 74 percent during Q1 2013, with sales of low-end Android devices driving the the nation’s ongoing adoption of sophisticated mobile devices.”

8.        Don’t Even THINK of Using Encryption Software to Escape NSA Scrutiny

It sort of makes sense that spies (government or corporate) look for stuff that is hidden, so it makes perfect sense that if you are going to spy you are going to pay special attention to stuff which is encrypted, anonymized, etc.. As to the difficulty of cracking these schemes, it’s worth noting that the more common ones likely have ‘back doors’, and some are almost certainly ‘honey pots’. Fun times.

“Bad news for fans of anonymizing Tor networks, PGP and other encryption services: If you’re attempting to avoid the National Security Agency’s digital dragnet, you may be making yourself a target, as well as legally allowing the agency to retain your communications indefinitely — and even use them to test the latest code-breaking tools.”

9.        Hands On With Windows 8.1 Preview

I’ll probably install Windows 8.1 and hope that it means I actually start using the notebook I bought in January. Quite frankly, even based on this review, it seems they have made minor changes and tweaked some features few people would use. I rather doubt I’ll be inclined to use a Microsoft cloud service, for example.

“With Windows 8.1, Microsoft demonstrates that it’s heard the criticisms, and has responded with impressive improvements for desktop and touch tablet users. The Preview version of the updated operating system was launched today at the company’s Build conference in San Francisco, and PCMag got an early look at it installed on a Surface Pro tablet .”,2817,2421010,00.asp

10.   Robocars will take us out of driver’s seat

A bit more on the progress of ‘driverless car’ technology, or, basically, robot vehicles. I believe these will transform society in the 21st century. This has huge potential as the vehicles will be able to travel tightly packed at high speed, resulting in much shorter travel times. In fact, I see a future where logistics is almost entirely handled by robots.

“The journey begins conventionally enough, with the driver turning the steering wheel to ease the car out of the driveway. But then he flicks a switch and raises his hands in the air. The laptop in the passenger seat, plugged in to the car’s electronics through an Ethernet cable, is in charge now. On a busy Saturday evening in suburban Berlin, the modified Volkswagen Passat drives itself down a tree-lined street crowded with pedestrians.”

11.   Android accounts for 92% of mobile malware, malicious apps increase 614%

This is not an entirely surprising result as malware writers concentrate on market leading platforms, plus, the open nature of Android allows for what amounts to ‘malware stores’ existing independent of the mother ship. The ‘premium text scam’ could be solved simply by carriers who are really co-conspirators in the scam – they could withhold payment to new ‘subscriptions’ until they receive approval from the phone owner.

“The latest data released on Wednesday by Juniper Networks reveals that Android malware has grown at a “staggering rate” over the last three years. In 2010, it accounted for just 24 percent of all mobile malware, while as of this March the platform accounts for nearly all of it. In the last year alone, the total number of malicious apps has grown 614 percent to 276,259. The annual Mobile Threats support also identified more than 500 third-party Android application stores worldwide that are known to host mobile malware.”

12.   Hacking and attacking automated homes

It hadn’t occurred to me before, however, these home automation systems have been around for quite some time and, like Windows, it is unlikely that high level security was built in from the ground up. Of course, anybody who wants to break in to a house simply has to give the door a good kick (I’ve done it) so you don’t exactly need a hacker to gain entrance.

“If you added a home automation system to create your version of a “smart” house, it could give you access from anywhere in the world to remotely control your lights, door locks, house temperature, electric appliances, water valves, alarm system, garage door, the ability to open and close your shades and blinds, or even to turn on music and crank up the volume. While that might seem pretty sweet, it also can be pretty vulnerable. If you use the Z-Wave wireless protocol for home automation then you might prepare to have your warm, fuzzy, happiness bubble burst; there will be several presentations about attacking the automated house at the upcoming Las Vegas hackers’ conferences Black Hat USA 2013 and Def Con 21.”

13.   Verizon bid strikes fear in the heart of Canada’s Big Wireless

I’ll be shocked if the Canadian government actually allows Verizon to enter the market, but I’ll be ecstatic if it does: Canada’s protectionist policies have created a telecommunications oligopoly which forces sub-third world services at world high prices. Perhaps if the floodgates open one or two other global players could enter the excessively profitable and inefficient market. We could end up with decent service at a reasonable price after all.

“Less than a month ago, fans of Canada’s three wireless giants were explaining what a dirty trick it was that the CRTC had introduced a code of conduct that would impact their business. … On Wednesday, some of the air was taken out of that argument, when rumours hit the wire that Verizon, a U.S. wireless operator, is seriously considering entering the Canadian market.”

14.   Cambridge Calling: The rise of the ARM clones

You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Intel had sued its competitors into bankruptcy. The thing is, you can’t patent an instruction set, and it is usually pretty easy for Open Hardware projects to work their way around patents. Perhaps the time has come for ARM clones after all.

“One wonders if it will different this time around. Or will ARM litigate into extinction any free, open-source, or rival commercial implementations of the ARM instruction set architecture, just as the company did a decade ago? Nonetheless ARM clones are coming, but given ARM’s previous determination to wipe out clones, the creators are being wary.”–The-rise-of-the-ARM-clones

15.   Graphene Gets Some Competition New building blocks for 2-D circuits

Besides robots I believe the other major driver of 21st century technology will be nanomaterials, in particular those based on carbon. 2D materials like graphene have great potential in many fields, and there are emerging ‘rival’ materials as well. This is a good overview.

““Flatland” has never looked so good. A little less than a decade ago, physicists showed they could pull away loosely bound layers of graphite to reveal graphene, a 2-D carbon structure. The material was shown to have very promising electronic properties. But graphene isn’t the only game in town. A whole host of 2-D structures are attracting attention.”

16.   The future of cinema and TV: It’s game over for the hi-res hype

This is actually a good explanation of many aspects of how humans see moving images and why most of the advertising and promotion is nonsense. He skips a discussion of color and contrast, which are two important considerations rarely discussed. While he mentions many of the misapprehensions he glosses over the fast that HD may not really be as HD, but it is a heck of a lot better than SD.

“Currently, the obsession is for ever higher pixel counts, an approach that disregards how we actually see moving images. If broadcasters have their way, we could be on course for some ridiculous format decisions.”

17.   Canadian Hacker School Goes Dark After Government Probe

The headline is misleading as ‘Hacker’ has negative connotations, but it is rather remarkable that the state (or province, in this case) can dictate the terms and conditions under which you teach people stuff. If they had been operating as a certified or licensed institution, I could see it – but this is absurd.

“For Bitmaker Labs, the trouble started with a flattering newspaper profile. In April, Canada’s Globe & Mail ran a piece on the Toronto-based hacker school, calling it “an intense program for programmers” and saying that founder Matt Grey is “dedicated to changing the world.” Two months later, Bitmaker has temporarily ceased operations. The problem? Local educational regulators read the article and — two weeks ago — came knocking on Bitmaker’s doors.”

18.   Samsung debuts Android-powered Galaxy NX camera with interchangeable lenses

This seemed like a dopey idea at first, but perhaps not. A professional photographer might have a use for an intelligent camera which can edit and distribute photographs as required.

“Samsung on Thursday unveiled a brand new take the modern camera: The Galaxy NX. Powered by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, the Galaxy NX is the first Android-based camera with support for interchangeable lenses. And unlike the NX’s predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Camera, this new model features impressive specs and is intended for serious photographers”

19.   Crowdfunding site Kickstarter to allow Canadian projects

Crowdfunding has become a sort of ‘angel capital’ source for people without many wealthy investor friends (which actually makes up the majority of engineers). It have received some negative publicity because many projects are never completed or are late. Guess what? That is how real technology is made. Opening Kickstarter to Canadian entrepreneurs should provide a source of badly needed start-up capital.

“The popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter will open up to Canadian projects starting this summer. The New York City-based company, which has funded high-profile projects such as the Pebble smartwatch, the Ouya gaming console and the Veronica Mars movie, made the announcement on its Twitter account Thursday morning. It is inviting Canadians interested in funding their projects on Kickstarter to sign up for updates about the Canadian launch.”

20.   A Stepping-Stone for Oxygen on Earth

Some interesting research through the web presentation is awful (hint: zoom in your display about 8x to read the article). One of the challenges with early evolution is that most of the ancestral forms, and even their biochemistry, no longer exist, so figuring out that certain mineral deposits have biological origins is a good starting point. Who knows perhaps once they ‘de-evolve’ cyanobacteria into a more primitive form they’ll find it easier to find the step before that.

“For most terrestrial life on Earth, oxygen is necessary for survival. But the planet’s atmosphere did not always contain this life-sustaining substance, and one of science’s greatest mysteries is how and when oxygenic photosynthesis—the process responsible for producing oxygen on Earth through the splitting of water molecules—first began. Now, a team led by geobiologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has found evidence of a precursor photosystem involving manganese that predates cyanobacteria, the first group of organisms to release oxygen into the environment via photosynthesis.  “

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 21st 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 21st 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 20 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.        Xbox One-80: Microsoft reverses Xbox One DRM features

The good news is, Microsoft is listening to its customers and game developers. The bad news is, they seem to have become the gang who couldn’t shoot straight: zigzagging through features and function, releasing half-baked products, defending them, then reversing their prior position. Never a good sign.

“Microsoft has announced an almost full reversal of the controversial digital rights management features built into the Xbox One. The console, launching later this year, will no longer require an online connection, or need to ping the Microsoft servers every 24 hours to hang on to life. It will also now play discs like any regular console and no longer place restrictions on trading games. There will also be no regional restrictions.”

2.        The Internet Just Made Microsoft Kill a Car for a Faster Horse

This article serves as a counterpoint to the above one – it suggests Microsoft erred by listening to its customers. I am not sure I follow the reasoning, however, because I can’t see how any of the now reversed changes would have benefitted Microsoft in any way. Furthermore, the author does not seem to realize that, while many people might have access to broadband services, due to cost they may not actually have broadband in their homes, which would have been a disaster if actual broadband service was a prerequisite for buying an Xbox.

“It’s most likely an apocryphal story, but there’s a quote from Henry Ford where he said, “If I had asked what my customers wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse.” Even if the quote isn’t real, its spirit is. The idea is that people who make products that actually advance industries and push everyone forward should not and cannot wait for consumers to tell them what they want.”

3.        Samsung makes first PCIe-based SSD for Ultrabooks, we see one likely customer

I have written a number of times that the SATA interface is ancient, and makes less than no sense when used with SSDs. PCIe is much faster, and, while it is not addressed in the article, even then the overhead associated with pretending an SSD is a form of Hard Disk Drive needs to go.

“Solid-state drives are so speedy these days that that even a SATA interface might not have the bandwidth to cope. It’s a good thing that Samsung has started mass-producing the first PCI Express-based SSDs for Ultrabooks, then. The new XP941 series uses PCIe’s wider data path to read at nearly 1.4GB/s — that’s 2.5 times faster than the quickest SATA SSDs, and nimble enough to move 500GB in six minutes.”

4.        More data storage? Here’s how to fit 1,000 terabytes on a DVD

This is a simplified version of a scientific paper, but it tells the shape of things to come. Of course, the challenge is not so much writing data, it is reliably reading it back at some point in the indeterminate future. Of course, even if read back were very slow, the value for archiving would be huge.

“We live in a world where digital information is exploding. Some 90% of the world’s data was generated in the past two years. The obvious question is: how can we store it all? In Nature Communications today, we, along with Richard Evans from CSIRO, show how we developed a new technique to enable the data capacity of a single DVD to increase from 4.7 gigabytes up to one petabyte (1,000 terabytes). This is equivalent of 10.6 years of compressed high-definition video or 50,000 full high-definition movies.”

5.        U.S. semiconductor market poised for long-term growth

The title is somewhat misleading as it is referring to manufacturing and the demand for capital equipment and related inputs (such as labor). However, industry suppliers (with the possible exception of direct labor) are global players and they really don’t care if they sell into China, Japan, or the US. The outlook for semiconductor sales (which is the only thing which matters for the industry) remains dim.

“The United States has rebounded to become once again one of the largest and fastest growing regions of the world for semiconductor manufacturing. In 2007, the percentage of equipment spending for chip manufacturing in the U.S. had dropped to 15 percent, an all-time low. Today, the U.S. market represents over 20 percent of world equipment spending with promising expectations for continued growth.”–semiconductor-market-poised-for-long-term-growth

6.        Nokia, Samsung, Apple victims of smartphone ‘tipping point’

This is a remarkably good article, thought its goodness is only really apparent on the second page. The author’s observations and conclusions seem spot on, though I would add that affordable, low end smartphones will probably put significant pricing pressure on high end devices such as those offered by Apple and Samsung.

“In the smartphone market, for example, we’ve seen a few critical data (and possible tipping) points in the past few months alone. During the first quarter this year, for the first time in the global marketplace, smartphones out-shipped feature phones, the International Data Corporation reported in late April. This alone, in my opinion, represents a tipping point for the mobile industry today.”–Samsung–Apple-victims-of–tipping-point–in-smartphone-market

7.        White House pushes for sharing of government spectrum

I like the fact they are talking about spectrum sharing which would significantly increase utilization and permit the emergence of novel technologies. The ideal model would be a separation of carrier from spectrum, with infrastructure either held in a coop or as a separate company. There are powerful business interests who would resist this, of course.

“On Friday, Obama signed a memorandum in which he directed the nation’s chief technology officer and the director of the National Economic Council to form a Spectrum Policy Team that will work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with guidance from the Federal Communications Commission to come up with a plan to identify and test government held spectrum that can be shared with the wireless industry.”

8.        Mobile app startups are failing like it’s 1999

It’s about time somebody wrote about the mobile app start-up craze. I don’t think the author does a very good job of describing the situation, but at least we can have a discussion. Here’s the thing: there are hundreds of thousands of apps. There are probably 10x more apps than there are PC software packages written in the history of the PC, and all these have been produced in a very short time. This is because it requires little investment of time and effort to write an app. People who invest in app companies are evidently unclear on the concepts of ‘barrier to entry’ or ‘sustainable competitive advantage.

“Today, seed stage startups can now get funded, release 1 or 2 versions of their app spread over 9 months, and then fail without making a peep. We learned the benefits of how to iterate fast on the web, and we can do better on mobile too.”

9.        IoT: Aussies prepare to ship Wi-Fi connected lightbulbs

I suggested this approach to a major semiconductor company a number of years ago. Direct WiFi connection is probably overkill because simple unlicensed RF would work just as well, provided you had at least one web-connected controller in the vicinity.

“Australian startup LIFX is preparing to ship its Wi-Fi enabled lightbulbs later this year. The ‘smart’ lightbulb, which can be controlled by a smartphone app, is the brainchild of LIFX CEO Phil Bosua. Like most good ideas, its origins are a conversation in a pub. Bosua and the other co-founders of LIFX took the idea of building a better lightbulb to Kickstarter in September 2012 and received a warm response, raising $1,314,542 on the crowdfunding platform; the team’s initial goal was $100,000.”

10.   No Country for Slow Broadband

The author is an industry spokesman for large telecom companies, so you have to take what he says with a grain of salt. For example, it is worth nothing that a high rate of improvement is easier to achieve when you are far behind. Nonetheless, here is a counterpoint to criticism of US broadband services.

“THERE is a popular story going around about the state of America’s broadband networks: service is pitifully slow, hugely overpriced and limited to the richest neighborhoods — whereas in Europe, service is cheap, fast and widespread because regulators force big companies to make room for smaller service providers. Almost none of this is true: America’s broadband networks lead the world by many measures, and they are improving at a more rapid rate than networks in most developed countries.”

11.   The NSA surveillance fallout should be a turning point for the tech industry

I don’t know why people expect large tech companies to be any better corporate citizens than Exxon, Monsanto, or Union Carbide. After all, they know which side of the bread the butter is on and they hardly treat their customers as being valuable. You don’t need companies to limit government over reach, you need voters and their politicians to limit government over reach.

“One of the many petitions circulating on the Internet in the wake of leaks about the US government’s massive surveillance programs is aimed at major Internet and technology companies. It calls on them to push Congress to investigate and stop the abuses. … Had companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo done this in the first place – and had they been as ardent to protect privacy as they are to collect data on their users – the spying programs might not have metastasized to such a degree.”

12.   Leaked NSA Doc Says It Can Collect And Keep Your Encrypted Data As Long As It Takes To Crack It

The media seems to have rapidly lost interest in this story, which is hardly surprising given where their loyalties tend to lie nowadays. It seems the NSA assumes you have something to hide if you try and hide it. Makes perfect sense, after all, except capable spies and terrorists know how to hide things so you don’t know they are hidden. For the folks who believe that they have nothing to hide and so nothing to fear from their respective spy agency, consider that the odds of being misidentified as a terrorist are likely orders of magnitude greater than being correctly so identified. Welcome to GITMO.

“If you use privacy tools, according to the apparent logic of the National Security Agency, it doesn’t much matter if you’re a foreigner or an American: Your communications are subject to an extra dose of surveillance.”

13.   How to start watching at 4K right now

With 3D TVs a resounding flop, set makers are trying to get consumers interested in 4K TV, or Ultra High Definition TV. I’ve seen it – it is very cool when you see it on a massive, wall sized screen showing native 4K content, but consumers never will see either except, perhaps, in theatres. Do not buy a 4K TV, even if you read articles written by shills such as this one. First, you probably won’t notice the difference until you have a really, really, big TV. Second, up-converted stuff is going to look like crap: you can’t magically improve the look of a picture through up-converting, especially when you are up-converting an already excessively degraded HD signal.

“While the television manufacturers will undoubtedly spend the next few years trying to one-up each other in order to make the most amazing 4K “Ultra HD” television, we consumers get to sit back and marvel at the ever-dropping prices for these impressive sets. If you find yourself ready to make the jump to 4K soon, there are more than a couple of options available now to get 4K content to your television.”

14.   Scientist out to break Amdahl’s law

Few people are aware there are strict decreasing returns for adding more and more processors to solving most problems, this is referred to as Amdahl’s Law. Some problems exist which don’t require sequential solution, but they tend to be few and far between, and many time these can be solved quickly using vector processing. It’s good to see work continues to solving the limits set by Amdahl, however, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

“Many attempts have been made over the last 46 years to rewrite Amdahl’s law, a theory  that focuses on performance relative to parallel and serial computing. One scientist hopes to prove that Amdahl’s law can be surpassed, and that it doesn’t apply in certain parallel computing models. A presentation titled “Breaking the Law” at the International Supercomputing Conference this week in Leipzig, Germany, will show how “pitfalls of Amdahl’s law can be avoided in specific situations,” according to a blog entry that provides a teaser on the presentation.”

15.   India to send world’s last telegram. Stop.

It’s rather hard to believe telegrams still exist, and really they don’t because it seems that, in India, they have already been replaced by a sort of structure email service. Regardless, even that is being shut down. Well – Morse had a good run.

“At the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India’s state-owned telecom company, a message emerges from a dot matrix printer addressing a soldier’s Army unit in Delhi. “GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION,” it reads. It’s one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram – a format favored for its “sense of urgency and authenticity,” explains a BSNL official. But the days of such communication are numbered: The world’s last telegram message will be sent somewhere in India on July 14.”

16.   Openstack: Open source software for building private and public clouds

I just found out about Openstack, which is a sort of open source alternative for VMWare, which is the hidden layer behind many cloud applications. I am a big fan of open source and I openly predicted open source projects such as Android (i.e. Linux) are disrupting the traditional dominance of Windows.

“OpenStack OpenStack is a global collaboration of developers and cloud computing technologists producing the ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for public and private clouds. The project aims to deliver solutions for all types of clouds by being simple to implement, massively scalable, and feature rich. The technology consists of a series of interrelated projects delivering various components for a cloud infrastructure solution.”

17.   View to a cell: New optics shatter the diffraction barrier, illuminating life within us

This is an overview article which covers emerging optical imagining techniques as well as a brand new one. The pictures are very cool.

“Imagine if your best knowledge of human anatomy came from viewing the body through binoculars from a mile away. You might make out the shape of a hand, but knuckles and fingernails would elude you. Experiments could tell you there’s a pumping heart inside, but to see that heart with any clarity you would have to fix it in formaldehyde or liquid nitrogen, blast it with electrons and add dyes to impart contrast. For a long time, that’s what it’s been like for biologists trying to observe cells.”

18.   Human organs ‘could be grown in animals within a year’

This sounds really interesting, and I look forward to reading about the results of the research. After all, lots of people die waiting for transplants due to organ shortages and this advance could sweep that problem aside. It is a pity the ‘red flags’ are mentioned and not described: these objections tend to be religion based and, while I am ok with somebody refusing a treatment due to their religion, it is appalling to think I might be refused a treatment due to their interpretation of ancient books.

“A panel of scientists and legal experts appointed by the government has drawn up a recommendation that will form the basis of new guidelines for Japan’s world-leading embryonic research. There is widespread support in Japan for research that has raised red flags in other countries. Scientists plan to introduce a human stem cell into the embryo of an animal – most likely a pig – to create what is termed a “chimeric embryo” that can be implanted into an animal’s womb.”

19.   Lifts and skyscrapers The other mile-high club

Carbon fibre is not really that novel so it is interesting that they finally figured this out. Elevators may be one application, but I can’t help but wonder if their would be many industrial applications which could benefit from this new rope.

“This week Kone, a Finnish liftmaker, announced that after a decade of development at its laboratory in Lohja, which sits above a 333-metre-deep mineshaft which the firm uses as a test bed, it has devised a system that should be able to raise an elevator a kilometre (3,300 feet) or more. This is twice as far as the things can go at present.”

20.   Spill a lot? NeverWet’s ready to coat your gear

I might have referred to this product in the past – what it can do is best seen by looking at the video. I have to wonder how durable the coating is, but, believe me, as soon as I can get my hands on a can I’ll try it out. This is probably the first nano-material to be made available to consumers at retail.

“Imagine spilling red wine or chocolate syrup on your shirt, only to watch it glide off as if nothing ever happened in the first place. Hogwash? No, it’s called NeverWet. Awhile back, I wrote about NeverWet, a superhydrophobic coating that can be applied to nearly any surface and repels liquids startlingly well. To bring NeverWet to the masses, developer Ross Nanotechnology licensed the product to Rust-Oleum, which recently started selling the spray for $19.97 at Home Depot.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 14th 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 20 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.        Why PRISM kills the cloud

The PRISM revelations have been the story of the week so we have several related items. We have written about the right of US officials to explore and exploit data stored in the US or under the control of US companies in the past, so the revelation of PRISM is not exactly a surprise. The idea of an “…internationally binding Bill of Digital Rights in which privacy is enshrined” is laughable: spies and national security states do not spend time worrying about legalities. Companies considering using encrypted cloud services should consider the likelihood encryption schemes have backdoors for the convenience of the espionage community. This is not paranoia: it is reality.

“The migration from desktop computing to the cloud is on every tech firm’s playlist this season, with Apple [AAPL] expected to deliver improvements to its iCloud service later today — but recent revelations regarding the US government’s PRISM surveillance technology could be the kiss of death to these future tech promises.”

2.        Why the NSA Prism Program Could Kill U.S. Tech Companies

Clearly a massive overstatement because the well informed have known about these sort of arrangements for a long time: it’s part of the Orwellian named ‘Patriot Act’ for heaven’s sake. Any spy or terrorist worth his/her salt knows how to work around this sort of thing, so, besides governments (it’s not just the US) having free access to the data of everybody and all companies, it’s pretty much a wash.

“Within 24 hours, the leak of two documents has revealed a vast network of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance operations that were authorized by FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts with the oversight of the U.S. Congress.”

3.        U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms

The thing with governments having free access to data is that you really can’t be sure what they are going to do with it: spies steal from governments all the time and they are rather juicy targets for hackers – especially if the government already knows the good stuff. Imagine you are a lawyer: do you want to keep your legal strategy, etc., on a cloud server somewhere?

“Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said. These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency.”

4.        Intel processor outperforms Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung

This is a remarkable result and potentially significant for Intel as well as its competitors. An x86 compatible processor has significant advantages over any other architecture due to the existence of a vast software library (i.e. actual software, not trivial ‘apps). One disadvantage to adopting an Intel device would be that it is likely going to be available in fewer configurations since ARM is licensed by many vendors. This means that if Intel’s engineers guess wrong, they may have a great device that misses certain features whereas there is a better chance at east on ARM licensee will have guessed right.

“The benchmarks were impressive but the real surprise was the current consumption recorded during the benchmarks; the new processor not only outperformed the competition in performance but it did so with up to half the current drain.”–Qualcomm–Samsung-ICs

5.        For the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers

This article has some interesting data on the tablet market. If the data are correct, I would expect growth would taper off pretty quickly unless folks decide to replace a Kindle with a more capable device, for example, due to the fact the product does not appear to appeal to a broad demographic (middle-aged, well off, well-educated buyers).

“Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49%) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18%) than younger age groups.”

6.        SSDs: New King of the Data Center?

SSDs (Solid State Drives) have a number of advantages over traditional storage besides speed. Unfortunately, most SSDs come with antediluvian SATA interfaces which trace back to the era of the PC/AT. Moore’s Law more or less ensures the cost spread will drop and ‘wear’ issues will be dealt with through engineering. There is no doubt SSDs will substantially replace HDDs in most applications.

“But businesses have lagged the consumer market in adoption of SSDs, largely due to the format’s comparatively small size, high cost and the concerns of datacenter managers about long-term stability and comparatively high failure rates. That’s changing quickly, according to market researchers IDC and Gartner.”

7.        Report forecasts that LED luminaire business will reach $516M market by 2016

As usual I should note that I believe industry analyst reports to be of minimal value, however, I know that people are generally interested in forecasts. As I predicted a number of years ago, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) will substantially replace traditional glass based lighting. LEDs use less power and last much longer than other lighting technologies, which confers considerably flexibility on the design of ‘luminaires’ (basically fixtures). This report seems to focus on streetlights which are expensive to buy and have a high cost of ownership, however, residential lighting will be a huge market.

“We estimate that LED luminaire revenue will reach $435M in 2013 and peak at $516M by 2016, fuelled by the increased need for energy efficiency. Growth will be driven firstly by tunnel lighting, and then relayed into highway, road, residential and amenity lighting applications starting in 2014”, explains Pars Mukish, Market and technology analyst, LED at Yole Développement. “By 2017, market size should decline because of a decreasing replacement market (due to LED-based systems’ higher lifetime) and also because of LED luminaire’s ASP.”–516m-ma.html

8.        The Memristor’s Fundamental Secrets Revealed

Memristors are a relatively new fundamental electric component which fills in a missing box with inductors, resistors, and capacitors. Basically, you can think of them as a resistor with memory and there are efforts to develop memory technologies which exploit them. Personally, I think the “killer app” will be in neural networks where memristors can serve as the weighting function for the dendrite/axon interface. We’ll see.

“You would expect that a new fundamental passive circuit element, first postulated a mere 42 years ago, and first identified in the wild in 2008, would be as rare as hen’s teeth. You’d be wrong. It turns out they’re as common as cat’s whiskers. Two researchers from mLabs in India, along with Prof. Leon Chua at the University of California Berkeley, who first postulated the memristor in a paper back in 1971, have discovered the simplest physical implementation for the memristor, which can be built by anyone and everyone.”

9.        About My Switch From Mac To Windows

For me this article is interesting beside it paints a rather pathetic picture of a ‘power’ user. It is written from the perspective of someone betrayed, but there is not betrayal here – a computer is a tool, not a lover or a religion. Nobody in their right mind would say this about hammers or spanners and nobody should forget that Apple (or Intel or Microsoft or Google) raison d’être is to make money, preferably as much as possible. Apple hasn’t been at the cutting edge of technology for years now – it is a marketing organization whose major effort is making you think they are innovative.

“This left me with few choices so I did the unthinkable for me. I started exploring Windows. Even now as I type that sentence, I find my hands shaking. I am not ashamed to say that I was a Mac fanboy. But times change and so do my opinions. Steve Jobs himself said only perpetually stupid people never change their mind. And just because I thought something was perfect 10 years ago doesn’t mean there’s a law that says I can’t adapt, find new products and change my mind. So I have.”

10.   Vacuum pumps made 300 times smaller and using ten times less power

A rather nifty example of MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical System), though I don’t know enough to comment on the actual utility of these devices. The thing with MEMS is that you produce them in bulk using similar lithographic techniques as are used in the semiconductor industry, though employing features a few orders of magnitude larger than state of the art ICs.

“DARPA-funded researchers recently demonstrated the world’s smallest vacuum pumps. This breakthrough technology may create new national security applications for electronics and sensors that require a vacuum: highly sensitive gas analyzers that can detect chemical or biological attack, extremely accurate laser-cooled chip-scale atomic clocks and microscale vacuum tubes.”

11.   Is 3D TV dead? ESPN 3D to shut down by end of 2013

As expected, 3D TV is fizzling. Personally, I hate it – even the name is misleading – and I can’t wait until I can go see a major release not in 3D. It probably made sense for ESPN to be out front in this, which probably explains the rather amusing mention of 4K TV. Not that we won’t all end up owning 4K TVs, it’s just we are unlikely to ever see much in the way of broadcast content due to the bandwidth penalty for a marginal improvement in picture. After all, most cable/satellite HD is HD in name only because transcoding, etc., seriously degrades the picture quality.

“3D TV programming may be dying before it ever really got off the ground: ESPN, which was one of the first major programmers to embrace the format, plans to discontinue its specialized ESPN 3D channel by year’s end. ESPN spokesperson Katina Arnold has confirmed the move via Twitter, squarely blaming low adoption as the reason for the channel’s demise.”

12.   A radically new 3d printing method

3D printing comes in a number of flavors but this is a new one to me. Thee video is cool to watch, and the temptation is to dismiss the system as being only for making weird looking spaghetti sculptures which hang off the wall. I see other applications: imagine you want to pour a concrete arch: you form with this material then layer fast setting concrete into your form. When the concrete sets up the result will be very strong and can all be done automatically.

“MATAERIAL – a brand new method of additive manufacturing. This patent-pending method allows for creating 3D objects on any given working surface independently of its inclination and smoothness, and without a need of additional support structures. Conventional methods of additive manufacturing have been affected both by gravity and printing environment: creation of 3D objects on irregular, or non-horizontal surfaces has so far been treated as impossible.”

13.   Printable ‘bionic’ ear melds electronics and biology

The technology is pretty interesting but I admit to being baffled as to why they elected to create an ear (which is associated with sounds) with radio reception.

“Using 3-D printing tools, scientists at Princeton University have created a functional ear that can “hear” radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. The researchers’ primary purpose was to explore an efficient and versatile method of merging electronics with tissue. The scientists used 3-D printing of cells and nanoparticles — with an off-the-shelf printer purchased off the Internet — followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating what they term a bionic ear.”

14.   Recharge Now!

This article is about Tesla, which I consider a perfect example of what is wrong with Wall Street. Here we have a company whose major claim to fame is converting subsidies and tax credits into market capitalization. A cult following has developed around the CEO of a company which makes electric vehicles, which are not that hard to make judging from the plethora of failed startups. The challenge is the battery (which Tesla nether makes nor ‘owns’) and the expectation that, through the intervention of magic, somehow costs of batteries will drop precipitously despite the absence for a reason for said price drops. Of course, cheaper batteries would make EVs cheaper to make for everybody. At least Barron’s hints at the key question: what is the resale value of a vehicle which needs a $30,000 repair (i.e. new battery) every 5 to 8 years? The answer is scrap value.

“Stubbornly costly batteries may even cause headaches when today’s Tesla’s luxury cars arrive on the used-car lot. Folks who buy $90,000 cars tend to replace them every few years, and the bid for a four-year-old Model S may prove disappointing if it’s going to need an expensive new battery in a few more years. Musk has astutely met that concern with a financing option guaranteeing resale value, but that just shifts the risk to shareholders.”

15.   Electric Bus Fast Charges in 15 Seconds

It is a pity they don’t dwell on the nature of the technology (I suspect ultra-capacitors plus lithium ion batteries), however, even so, this approach seems to make a lot of sense: if you can develop a bus with a modest range (i.e. 1km), then you only have to charge it at each bus stop, provided they are close enough together. This saves on the costly and unsightly wiring associated with urban electric busses, as well as (presumably) lowering the cost and weight of on board power storage.

“A new high-capacity flash-charging technology pioneered by ABB Group, the Swiss power and automation conglomerate, will allow electric trolleys to run without overhead power lines.”

16.   Kodak’s Problem Child

The story of Kodak should be required reading for any business student. However it wasn’t digital photography which killed Kodak – it was a nearly endless succession of appallingly stupid decisions made by management, including (but not limited to) ignoring the emergence of digital photography until it was too late. I predicted their demise in an article in 1997 and I’m not even that smart!

“At its peak, in 1996, Kodak was rated the fourth-most-valuable global brand. That year, the company had about two-thirds of the global photo market, annual revenues of $16 billion, and a market capitalization of $31 billion. At the time of its peak local employment, in 1982, the company had over 60,000 workers in Rochester, most of whom worked in Kodak Park, as it’s known to employees and locals. The campus, a private city within the city, sprawled over 120 acres with its own power plant and fire department, once stood as a monument of imaging and innovation. Today it still stands, but vastly scaled back from the days when film production was at the core of Kodak’s work.”

17.   Uber cuts ride-share prices below taxi fares

The taxi business is a weird one: on the one hand, it makes sense it be regulated, on the other hand, bizarre licensing schemes means that taxi licenses are so expensive taxi drivers cannot afford them so they end up quasi employees without benefits. It will be interesting to see whether this technology – which has its pros and cons – will triumph in the face of opposition from wealthy and influential license holders. I should not that the ‘self-driving car’ will put an end to the taxi industry because the cars will show up all by itself and take you where you want to go.

“Uber is now offering its ride-sharing service — which lets users get rides from people in their personal cars — at prices lower than taxi cabs, the company announced today. The peer-to-peer service uberX, which mimics the models of companies like Lyft and Sidecar, will now have fares in San Francisco that are 10 percent lower than taxi prices, according to Uber. San Francisco is just now seeing this competitive pricing that Uber’s other ride-share cities already have, aside from New York. UberX in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston are cheaper than taxis.”

18.   Researchers develop easy and effective therapy to restore sight

I can’t say that I would characterize a syringe needle to the eye as non-invasive, though it is probably less invasive, and less tricky, than a syringe needle to the retina. More effective delivery of corrective genes is probably a good thing as the micrographs show.

“Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed an easier and more effective method for inserting genes into eye cells that could greatly expand gene therapy to help restore sight to patients with blinding diseases ranging from inherited defects like retinitis pigmentosa to degenerative illnesses of old age, such as macular degeneration.  Unlike current treatments, the new procedure is quick and surgically non-invasive, and it delivers normal genes to hard-to-reach cells throughout the entire retina.”

19.   Supreme Court Says Human Genes Aren’t Patentable

This was truly a good day – and not just because it marks an (increasingly rare) moment of lucidity for the US Supreme Court. It simply made no sense that natural genes, which are simply data, should be patentable however I can see the value in allowing artificial genes to be patented. Now, the interesting question is, given the diversity of genes, if I find a critter with a natural version of your patented artificial gene, does that constitute ‘prior art.?

“The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that human genes isolated from the body can’t be patented, a victory for doctors and patients who argued that such patents nterfere with scientific research and the practice of medicine.”

20.   Peak soil: industrial civilisation is on the verge of eating itself

Fly over North America and there are vast tracts of farmland which are used for forage or practically nothing at all. The price of food is so low in the developed world that we throw out much of it uneaten. Agriculture has become so efficient that a tiny portion of the working population is employed in the industry – 100 years ago it was nearly 50% of the population. Even in poor countries, food production could be multiplied through the use of modern machinery and techniques. Fundamentally, we are awash in cheap food, a situation unparalleled in history. There is no problem and there is no cause for concerned.

“A new report says that the world will need to more than double food production over the next 40 years to feed an expanding global population. But as the world’s food needs are rapidly increasing, the planet’s capacity to produce food confronts increasing constraints from overlapping crises that, if left unchecked, could lead to billions facing hunger.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 7th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 7th 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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Click to Unsubscribe



1.        Chip sales: WSTS reduces 2013 market growth estimate

WSTS is more of an industry group than industry researcher so their data tends to be more credible (not their forecasts, just their data). Being half way through the year, June is when most researchers adjust their semiconductor growth forecasts downwards. If you want to save yourself some money, just assume that the semiconductor industry is going to grow at around global GDP growth, give or take a few basis points. You’ll be more accurate than the industry analysts and you can buy a new car with the savings.

“As a result of the downgrade WSTS now predicts the global chip market will be worth $297.8 billion in 2013, up 2.1 percent compared with 2012 and worth $312.9 billion in 2014, up 5.1 percent. For 2015 WSTS is predicting another low growth year of 3.8 percent.”

2.        Over 1 billion Android-based smart phones to ship in 2017

I have a couple of Canalys articles this week, so, just to be clear, I ascribe no value to the forecasts or analysis provided by industry researchers. In fact, while I agree that it is highly probably Android will be the dominant mobile Operating System in the future, I do not think there is a place for 4 major players (Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows). Most likely, the market will be dominated by Android, include some presence from iOS, and that will be it.

“Worldwide, 1.5 billion smart phones will ship in 2017, according to the latest country level forecasts from Canalys, to account for 73% of all mobile phone shipments. In North America and Western Europe, virtually all phones shipped will be smart phones. Even in Greater China, smart phones will represent 95% of all mobile phone shipments in 2017.”

3.        Samsung Galaxy S4 sales ‘to disappoint’

If true, this is not entirely surprising. The increase in utility of smartphones plateaued over a year ago, leading to my belief the market was going to plateau – after all people moving to smartphones or upgrading their smartphones is bound to be a more vigorous market than people replacing broken smartphones. Fundamentally I believe the only direction now is lower prices and smaller margins, with a consequential negative impact on vendor financial performance.

“Orders for the S4 smartphone, which went on sale last month, are slowing on weak demand in Europe that may impact profit margins, analysts led by JJ Park said in a report dated yesterday, citing supply chain checks. JPMorgan cut its share- price estimate for Samsung by 9.5 per cent to 1.9 million won and lowered its 2013 earnings estimates by 9 per cent.”

“Despite Samsung’s claims last month that its Galaxy S4 was performing quite well on store shelves, and had reached 10 million units sold in less than a month, analysts are concerned things are changing.”

4.        Analyst: Just 25 Developers Grabbed 50% Of App Revenues On U.S. App Store, Google Play Last Month; Earning $60M Between Them

If these data are correct – and one should never believe data from an industry analyst – it shows why you don’t ever want to invest in an app developer. If 50% of the revenue in the US s $60M, then the market is $120M, or about $720M for the year – roughly Microsoft Office’s quarterly revenue.

“Proof, if proof were needed, that the apps gold-rush has resulted in the majority of the riches being concentrated in a few developers’ hands: analyst house Canalys says just 25 developers accounted for half of app revenue on the two dominant U.S. app stores, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play, over a 20-day period last month.”

5.        Any iOS device can be hacked within one minute with modified charger, say researchers

Given the number of discount chargers on the market, I’d be worried if I had an iPhone. One thing worth noting is that the restriction on size due to the use of a BeagleBone as a test platform is nonsense: BeagleBone is the size it is because of the connectors and I/O support. An embedded ‘malicious downloader’ could easily fit inside any existing charger.

“Security researchers have discovered a way to push software onto an iOS device using a modified charger. The team at Georgia Institute of Technology says its charger was able to upload arbitrary software to an iOS device within one minute of it being plugged in. According to the researchers, “all users” are at risk, as the hack doesn’t require any user interaction. Hackers are even capable of hiding the applications, so they don’t show up in the device’s app list. It’s not clear if the charger is able to upload malicious code — Apple’s iOS devices, by default, are “sandboxed” and will only install and run properly signed apps — but this is a worrying development regardless.”

6.        A Tiny Cell-Phone Transmitter Takes Root in Rural Africa

A major challenge with deployment of practically anything in Africa and some other developing regions is the lack of a ubiquitous and reliable electrical grid. Low power solutions such as these (LED lighting is another) are very useful because it is much easier to supply a hundred watts than a few thousand, especially with respect to solar power, which is very expensive on a per watt basis. This might also expand the market for liquid fueled fuel cells as fueling could be limited to once or twice a month.

“Worldwide, at least a billion people don’t have access to cellular communications because they lack electricity to run traditional transmitters and receivers. A new low-power cellular base station being rolled out in Zambia could bring connectivity to some of those people.”

7.        Prosecutors push for ‘kill switch’ to prevent smartphone thefts

A while back the Toronto Star had an article about a fellow whose stolen iPhone was tracked to an Apple store in Toronto, and the employees there refused to return it to him. The odd thing is, they (and the store) should have been charged with possession of stolen property, but, being an Apple store, they appear to have some form of immunity. Implementing a ‘kill switch’ should be pretty easy with a modern smart phone and there is little reason why it shouldn’t be implemented.

“In a push to curb cellphone thefts, prosecutors for New York State and the city of San Francisco said on Wednesday they plan to meet with industry representatives to urge them to install switches to disable stolen smartphones.”

8.        NSA seizes phone records of Verizon customers

The interesting thing about this story is not that the NSA failed to learn the lessons of the Stazi (East German Ministry for State Security) that having too much information can be as useless as not having enough information because you follow so many false leads, you don’t have time to follow the real threats. No, the assumption seems to be that if you are a real, bona fide, terrorist you are not going to walk into Walmart and drop a $10 bill on an untraceable, disposable phone.

“The National Security Agency is collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order issued in April, according to a report Wednesday evening in the Guardian newspaper.”

9.        High-Tech Sensors Help Old Port City Leap Into Smart Future

This is an example of the Internet of Things (IoT) which is a rapidly growing area of technology. IoT is a sort of successor to Machine To Machine (M2M) technology, except the latter is usually associated with mobile networks while IoT tends to use whatever is available, often WiFi. The advantage of a widespread sensor network is that you fix things when they need fixing, not before and not after. This optimizes scarce resources and extends the lifespan of products which are replaced before it is necessary to do so based upon rules of thumb such as age, hours used, etc…

“Aside from the occasional ferry down from England, the old Spanish port city of Santander doesn’t get too many foreign visitors. So imagine the locals’ surprise when delegations from Google, Microsoft and the Japanese government all landed there recently, to literally walk the streets. What they’ve been flocking to see is mostly invisible: 12,000 sensors buried under the asphalt, affixed to street lamps and atop city buses. The sensors measure everything from air pollution to where there are free parking spaces. They can even tell garbage collectors which dumpsters are full, and automatically dim street lights when no one is around.”

10.   How Windows Red can fix Windows 8: The right strategy for Microsoft

This makes for an interesting read, more from the perspective that it provides on Microsoft’s oblivious and potentially suicidal Windows 8 strategy. Reviews of Windows 8.1 suggest the company is doubling down on its mistake, and it will keep giving customers what it demands they take, whether they want it or not.

“But that’s not what Microsoft did. In fact, it did the opposite: It created a horribly awkward mashup of two fundamentally incompatible approaches that worked poorly on both PCs and tablets. Microsoft made a peanut butter and pickle sandwich, and the world has recoiled at the thought ever since, with Windows 8 falling behind even Microsoft’s other big failure, Windows Vista, in adoption. As InfoWorld’s Woody Leonhard famously wrote in his review of Windows 8, “Yes, it’s that bad.””,0

11.   Government £6,000 per year per desktop spend a frightening insight into public sector IT

If true, this is a pretty staggering figure. Mind you, it is not entirely incredible: after all, I have noted that IT departments in large corporations tend to take on a life of their own, every growing and ever expanding their influence. Because governments tend to be the largest organizations and they are not known for careful management or oversight this sort of figure become believable.

“The government has always faced criticism that its IT is slow, unwieldy, inflexible, unnecessarily complex and overpriced. It’s one thing when you face this criticism from your rivals, the press or members of the public – but you know you’ve reached a dire point when it’s your own chief operating officer (COO) twisting the knife.”

12.   Graphene: the nano-sized material with a massive future

Once they figure out how to make carbon nanomaterials in volume the world will change. However, you have to wonder if anybody who knows anything edits this stuff: silicon is a fantastic insulator, not a conductor, so I have no idea what the journalists mean when they contrast graphene’s conductivity to that of silicon.

“Ever since it was discovered in 2004, graphene has been hailed as a natural wonder of the materials world destined to transform our lives in the 21st century. Graphene’s amazing properties excite and confound in equal measure. How can something one million times thinner than a human hair be 300 times stronger than steel and 1,000 times more conductive than silicon?”

13.   Metal-free catalyst outperforms platinum in fuel cell

I haven’t seen a miracle fuel cell breakthrough in a while, so we are due! Actually, this does sound encouraging (though I note they do not seem to mention or address sulfur poisoning). And, parenthetically, while the cost of platinum is an important fact, most of it is recycled at end of life anyway – the real barrier to the ‘Hydrogen Economy’ is not platinum, but hydrogen.

“Researchers from South Korea, Case Western Reserve University and University of North Texas have discovered an inexpensive and easily produced catalyst that performs better than platinum in oxygen-reduction reactions. The finding, detailed in Nature’s Scientific Reports online today, is a step toward eliminating what industry regards as the largest obstacle to large-scale commercialization of fuel cell technology.”

14.   New all-solid sulfur-based battery outperforms lithium-ion technology

Most days I come across a world changing advance in battery technology, but these typically involve very expensive materials such as graphene, which means they won’t see the light of day until somebody figures out how to make those materials cheaply. This reported advance uses very inexpensive and abundant materials so it sounds interesting. Of course, you never know the whole story regarding important parameters. Some things to ponder would be operating temperatures, self-discharge, output impedance (being able to deliver a lot of power), actual longevity (300 cycles is good, though), failure mode, etc..

“Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have designed and tested an all-solid lithium-sulfur battery with approximately four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion technologies that power today’s electronics.”

15.   Boeing using robots to boost 777 output

Robotics and nanomaterials will be the tech story of the 21st century. Of course production robots have been around for some time, and have significantly impacted manufacturing, at least in the developed world. Still, this result is pretty impressive.

“Inside a sealed building in Boeing’s Everett widebody-jet assembly plant, two robotic machines glide along tracks on either side of a 106-foot 777 wing laid flat, their heads reaching out like animatronic dinosaurs nibbling at the giant wing. These new robot-painting machines can wash, apply solvent to remove dirt, rinse and then spray two different paint types. They reach, even into complex spaces inside the open wing root that must be painted for corrosion protection.”

16.   3-D printing goes from sci-fi fantasy to reality

An interesting article, but some credibility is lost in the comment about ‘printing’ ammunition: lots of people, including me, own a simple machine which allows you to reload empty shells a lot faster than you could ever print one, assuming you could print a useful shell. A 3-D printer would not be advantageous, but a drone supply helicopter would be.

“Invisalign, a San Jose company, uses 3-D printing to make each mouthful of customized, transparent braces. Mackenzies Chocolates, a confectioner in Santa Cruz, uses a 3-D printer to pump out chocolate molds. And earlier this year, Cornell University researchers used a 3-D printer, along with injections of a special collagen gel, to create a human-shaped ear.”

17.   New vending machine aims to democratize 3D printing

I don’t know if an actual vending machine makes much sense, but a service bureau model does make a lot of sense for 3D printing. Hobby printers are cool but are limited in terms of output size, material selection, and speed. You’d get much better result from a professional machine, but they are much more (10 to 100x) more expensive. It makes better sense to print and pick up, or have the finished item shipped to you.

“There’s a new vending machine on the UC Berkeley campus, but it’ll be of no use to students during a midnight snack attack. The Dreambox is a 3D-printing vending machine, the first of its kind. Conceived and created by three Berkeley graduates, the machine is intended to democratize 3D printing, making it available to the masses.”

18.   Obama’s Patent-Troll Fight: Pundits Take Both Sides…

It sounds like a good idea but don’t expect anything to change. The root problem is that patents have been issued for nonsense (software and business process patents being two examples). The prototypical patent troll exploits laws which are in place to protect certain industries, notably pharmaceutical, and are working within the bounds of sound law (look up King Instruments Corp. v. Perego for background). Plus, the largest patent troll in history is Microsoft which is attempting to extract payment for every Android device sold. Be careful what you wish for.

“Obama’s White House is attacking patent trolls. Good news or bad? On the one hand—if it works—this package of measures should close the loopholes that have seen patent-trolling double in size year-on-year. On The Other Hand, it doesn’t address other core problems, some say.”

19.   Bionic eye prototype unveiled by Victorian scientists and designers

This device looks straight out of Star Trek (Geordi La forge’s visor) and that fictional device probably served as an inspiration. The sense I get is that the technology behind visual prosthetics is progressing rapidly and the number of ‘totally blind’ people will probably be lower in the future, at least in rich countries.

“A team of Australian industrial designers and scientists have unveiled their prototype for the world’s first bionic eye. It is hoped the device, which involves a microchip implanted in the skull and a digital camera attached to a pair of glasses, will allow recipients to see the outlines of their surroundings.”

20.   To improve today’s concrete, do as the Romans did

A bit misleading, however, the Roman’s use of concrete was pretty amazing as you would have seen if you ever visit Pompeii. Basically the Roman Empire was built out of concrete using fairly modern building techniques, in contrast with many other civilizations which were essentially carved out of stone. Nonetheless, as the article points out, the slow curing times of Roman marine concretes meant they are not so useful in the modern era.

“In a quest to make concrete more durable and sustainable, an international team of geologists and engineers has found inspiration in the ancient Romans, whose massive concrete structures have withstood the elements for more than 2,000 years.”