The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 5th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 5th 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.        Norton Mobile Insight Discovers Facebook Privacy Leak

It sure is interesting to note that Facebook is gathering this information surreptitiously. Of course they would never think of violating your privacy, or selling that data, even though that is their business model.

“Of particular note, Mobile Insight automatically flagged the Facebook application for Android because it leaked the device phone number. The first time you launch the Facebook application, even before logging in, your phone number will be sent over the Internet to Facebook servers. You do not need to provide your phone number, log in, initiate a specific action, or even need a Facebook account for this to happen.”

2.        How Nokia makes money on a $20 phone

The developing world is a burgeoning market for low cost phones. The problem for Nokia is that there are no barriers to entry into the low end phone business and there are countless other companies who would be happy to make even less money off a $20 phone.

“Nokia’s ultra-low-cost handsets might not be as sexy as the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. But they are a much-needed source of cash for the ailing Finnish company, as well as a staple of the telecom networks of the developing world. If you—like a good many of the people on earth—need a phone that’s water- and dust-resistant, can last a month on standby between charges, and only costs $20, Nokia’s new Nokia 105 is the way to go. And even at this price, reveal the industry analysts at IHS, Nokia is making money on the phone.”

3.        Nokia Debuts $68 Mobile Phones Designed for Fast Internet Access

More of the same, actually, however, Nokia executives will soon learn that establishing a low-cost market segment is one thing, however, defending it is another. This only works if you control the supply on input and have low cost producer status – neither of which applies to Nokia.

“Smartphones may comprise a majority of mobile-phone shipments worldwide, but a sizeable number of handset users still prefer basic feature phones. Nokia catered to the latter market on Wednesday by debuting two 3G-capable feature phones — the 207 and 208 — that are specifically designed to provide users with quick Internet access.”

4.        Technical hurdles have been overcome for the first human head transplant

This is pretty interesting, but ghastly, especially if it doesn’t end up well: you’d have a sentient head on top of a useless body – pretty much a worst case scenario for me. Sometime ‘can’ doesn’t mean ‘should’.

“The technical hurdles have now been cleared thanks to cell engineering. As described in his paper, the keystone to successful spinal cord linkage is the possibility to fuse the severed axons in the cord by exploiting the power of membrane fusogens/sealants. Agents exist that can reconstitute the membranes of a cut axon and animal data have accrued since 1999 that restoration of axonal function is possible. One such molecule is poly-ethylene glycol (PEG), a widely used molecule with many applications from industrial manufacturing to medicine, including as an excipient in many pharmaceutical products. Another is chitosan, a polysaccharide used in medicine and other fields.”

5.        World’s first telescopic contact lens gives you Superman-like vision

This looks like pretty interesting technology, though the ‘Superman-like vision’ bit is nonsense: having an extremely narrow field of vision/depth of field would not be a good thing compared to ‘normal’ vision – unless the alternative is near blindness.

“An international team of researchers have created the first telescopic contact lens; a contact lens that, when it’s equipped, gives you the power to zoom your vision almost three times. Yes, this is the first ever example of a bionic eye that effectively gives you Superman-like eagle-eye vision.”

6.        Unclean at Any Speed

This is a good overview of the net environmental impact of electric cars. I rather doubt the IEEE is in the pocket of ‘big oil’ though that accusation will no doubt service. For me, even setting aside questionable environmental benefit, the cost/benefit doesn’t cut it: batteries are too damned expensive, and likely to remain so, to make it economically viable.

“Last summer, California highway police pulled over pop star Justin Bieber as he sped through Los Angeles in an attempt to shake the paparazzi. He was driving a hybrid electric car—not just any hybrid, mind you, but a chrome-plated Fisker Karma, a US $100 000 plug-in hybrid sports sedan he’d received as an 18th-birthday gift from his manager, Scooter Braun, and fellow singer Usher. During an on-camera surprise presentation, Braun remarked, “We wanted to make sure, since you love cars, that when you are on the road you are always looking environmentally friendly, and we decided to get you a car that would make you stand out a little bit.” Mission accomplished.”

7.        With BlackBerry reportedly hacked, is anything secure?

The comment that “There’s no reason to doubt that RIM is being honest when it confirms that there is no back door designed into its systems to allow decoding of user data streams” is absurd: that’s not how it works.

“Is anything secure anymore? The National Security Agency (NSA) leaks have produced a number of side effects. What we assumed was a safe form of communications is perhaps not so secure after all. The gold standard of secure mobile messaging, BlackBerry, may have been compromised!”

8.        Best Days for Smartphone Stocks Have Passed

File this under “No Sh*t Sherlock” (yeah – some email servers block naughty language). This started happening about a year ago as reflected in these very pages. The sad fact is, every device has a sort of ‘utility limit’ determined by its nature and the limits of the human brain. PCs kept going for 25 years because as they became more capable software evolved to exhaust those capabilities. Smartphones have, due to their size, limited capabilities, so they saturated much quicker. Who knows – at this rate, maybe 6 months from now some top Wall Street analysts will figure this out.

“Samsung’s falling stock price over the past month – down over 14% – was just the latest example of a smartphone maker to see its once high-flying shares tumble. It may be the last of the majors to tank but its decline marks the beginning of a new era of slower gains for smartphone stocks.”

9.        GM Chevy Spark electric car’s price 38 percent less than sibling hybrid Volt’s

A range of 82 miles (probably half that in the real world) has some utility, but the real value here, from GM’s perspective, is the manufacture of ZEV (‘Zero’ Emissions Vehicle) credits. Interestingly, the sale of ZEVs to other manufacturers is the only reason Tesla is ‘profitable’, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes as other car manufactures put more affordable vehicles on the road.

“The Chevrolet Spark all-electric subcompact car will cost U.S. buyers as much as 38 percent less than what it takes to buy its larger sibling, the hybrid Volt, General Motors Co said on Thursday. The 2014 Spark EV, which goes on sale next month in California and Oregon, will sell for as low as $19,995 after accounting for the full federal tax credit of $7,500, GM said. The larger Chevy Volt, which was introduced in the fall of 2010, sells for about $32,500 after the tax credit.”

10.   Sony’s 4K Ultra HD Player Now Available for $699

I find the compatibility comment amusing: whatever the reason it shows that Sony hasn’t learned much from its long slide: they are releasing a product which would only appear to the subset of 4K TV buyers (already a small set) who are buying Sony 4K TVs.

“Early adopters of a 4K-enabled Sony TV can now purchase the company’s 4K Ultra HD media player, originally announced at CES in January. Available through Sony’s online store and retail locations now, the 4K set-top box comes preloaded with 10 4K films and video shorts, including The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall (2012), The Other Guys, and more. The box will cost $699 and comes with 2TBs of internal storage for 4K video downloads when Sony’s Video Unlimited 4K service launches later this year.

11.   Human liver tissue transplants in mice raise stem cell treatment hopes

I don’t understand the part about taking on 30% of the function of a normal liver function. If it takes months to grow tiny little mouse livers, I’d guess it’ll take years to grow a decent size adult human liver, unless they can somehow combine the ‘buds’.

“Scientists have made pieces of human liver from stem cells and, by transplanting them into mice, have shown they behave like healthy organs. Tiny clumps of liver tissue were hooked up to the animals’ blood supplies soon after the operations. They took on the normal jobs of the liver, such as clearing toxins from the blood.”

12.   Who ate all the flash pie: Samsung, ‘course, but hang on… GOOGLE? (SSD Market Info)

It’s rather a pity that The Register finds it necessary to write idiotic headlines to otherwise good stories, but then again some websites (Business Insider) write idiotic headlines to iditic stories, which is even worse. In any event, some interesting facts and figures regarding the SSD market which continues to grow apace. The Google bit is irrelevant: when they find it advantageous they make their own commodity hardware. In any event, HDD is dead.

“Tech analyst Gartner has lifted the lid on its numbers for SSD shipments in 2012 and thanks to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers, El Reg has some pie chart eye candy for you. First of all, it looks like the startups are catching up with the big vendors in some sectors, which is good news for competition. Also, Google is apparently an SSD player.* Yes, you read that correctly.”

13.   ARMs Race: Licensing vs. Manufacturing In Mobile

Not a bad read, however, I turn the argument on its side: if you are an ARM licensee, you design the system and it that differentiation which can provide superior margins – or bankrupt you if you design the wrong system. Intel offers a turn-key solution, which determines most of the system attributes which matter and this lack of potential differentiation is why PC vendors have tiny margins. The thing is, Intel could offer limited core licensing for select components and manufacture them on its advanced process technology, and AMD should have done so years ago.

“Last week, we paid a visit to ARM’s headquarters in Cambridge, England and sat down with the company for multiple deep dives into its structure, processor architecture, and the future of its product design. The semiconductor market for mobile and hand-held devices has changed dramatically in the past six years and ARM has had to evolve along side it. This is the first in a series of articles designed to profile different aspects of the company and its competition with Intel.”

14.   Europe and Japan Aiming to Build 100Gbps Fibre Optic Internet

Some interesting research projects which may or may not bear fruit. These types of things are not intended for consumer use, but for the backbone, unless and until everybody has fiber to the home.

“The European Commission (EC) and Japan have announced the launch of six joint research projects, supported by £15.3m+ (€18m) in funding, that aim to build networks which are “5000 times faster than today’s average European broadband ISP speed (100Gbps compared to 19.7Mbps).”

15.   Android flaw allows hackers to surreptitiously modify apps

I do find it interesting that the researcher somehow finds the gumption to immediately leap to the defense of Google, presuming safeguards, etc., already exist, especially since Android apps do not require Google for installation.

“Researchers said they’ve uncovered a security vulnerability that could allow attackers to take full control of smartphones running Google’s Android mobile operating system.”

16.   Researchers build an all-optical transistor

Good basic research, but they have a long way to go before anything even remotely practical would arise out of this work. Besides have a switch is one thing, having a system (interconnects, memories, etc.) is another altogether.

“Optical computing — using light rather than electricity to perform calculations — could pay dividends for both conventional computers and quantum computers, largely hypothetical devices that could perform some types of computations exponentially faster than classical computers.”

17.   Big Three cell phone providers take Canadians and regulator to federal court in attempt to delay 2 year contract change in Code of Conduct

Canada’s communications oligopoly are an interesting lot: they are so used to getting their way through political influence, lobbying, and, no doubt ‘other’ means they react like 2 years olds when they don’t get their way. This may not work as they hoped: there is an ember of realization among the political class that consumers are looking for something to be done and rumors ‘real’ competition might arrive via Verizon entering the Canadian market. Oligopolies tend to fare poorly when they lose their privileged status.

“Late last night received this notice from our lawyers notifying us that Bell, Rogers, and Telus had filed a motion with the Federal Court of Appeals in an attempt to delay the June 2015 implementation of the CRTC’s new Code of Conduct for cell phone service in Canada. The court filing specifically mentions “members of the public” along with several public interest groups, including, as respondents to the motion.”

18.   A Year of the Linux Desktop

You often hear about schools, businesses, or governments, adopting Linux but you rarely hear how it went. I suspect the major challenge in schools is always going to be the teachers as kids tend to adapt to new technology without hesitation.

“Around a year ago, a school in the southeast of England, Westcliff High School for Girls Academy (WHSG), began switching its student-facing computers to Linux, with KDE providing the desktop software. The school’s Network Manager, Malcolm Moore, contacted us at the time. Now, a year on, he got in touch again to let us know how he and the students find life in a world without Windows.”

19.   Mastercard and Visa Start Banning VPN Providers?

The Update July 4 at the bottom casts some doubt as to what exactly is going on here, however, it is credible that credit card companies would have been pressured to take on these services. After all, financial institutions loyalties do not lie with their customers and larger forces (i.e. Hollywood lawyers) may be at play. This won’t change anything, of course, because zero cost services will simply fill the void. There is lots of computing power out there and it is just a matter fo time before a Torrent-style distributed anonymizing system is developed, if it hasn’t already been.

“Following the introduction of restrictions against file-sharing services, Mastercard and Visa have reportedly started to take action against VPN providers. This week, Swedish payment provider Payson cut access to anonymizing services after being ordered to do so by the credit card companies. VPN provider iPredator is one of the affected customers and founder Peter Sunde says that they are considering legal action to get the service unblocked.”

20.   Boxee Cloud DVR shutting down July 10th in wake of Samsung acquisition

Reason number 1,117 as to why you don’t want to rely on cloud services: a company can ‘change their business model’ and leave you plumb out of luck. For example, I have a ‘cloud-enabled’ thermostat and web-camera, and those things are just recyclables if the companies decide to stop supporting them. Will those companies even be around in 5 years? Will the thermostat company keep supporting a thermostat in 10 years after technology has shifted significantly? Of I knew that when I bought them: most people and businesses, not so much.

“Boxee has confirmed the acquisition on its own site, and states that while Boxee is working to ensure there will be only “minimal interruption” to current users, the beta Cloud DVR functionality of the Boxee TV will be turned off July 10th, and no existing recordings will be available after that date.”

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