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.”

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