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

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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.  “

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