The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 19th 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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
Sorry about the quality of stories tech news has been pretty thin this week.
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1. Forget 3D printing—3D subtraction is going to arrive in your garage first
This is a rather cool gadget, and I like the approach. However, CNC routing has been around for a while and the problem is that the cost is still way too high for the small number of applications. I know because I’ve considered getting a CNC router for my home shop. The other this is, additive manufacturing allows you to do things you can’t do with a router, though, to be fair you can’t make a wooden door with additive manufacturing either.
“A funny thing happened on the way to our supposedly 3D-printed future: A simpler, older, but no less revolutionary technology made its way into every automated factory on earth, and now it’s coming to a garage near you. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s mostly because it has a completely unbankable name—CNC routing (or CNC milling.) Also, unlike the usurper technology 3D printing, which has only lately become popular, CNC milling has been around since MIT pioneered the technology starting in the 1950s.”
2. Has Intel Really Beaten ARM?
This sounds bad but it just reflects the deficiencies of benchmarking compared to ‘real world use’. Changes to benchmark occur all the time, and some are clearly optimized for certain platforms compared to others. The fact Intel comes close to ARM is probably what is significant.
“There has been a considerable amount of press around recent AnTuTu benchmark results and a recent ABI Research report claiming, “Intel apps processor [the Atom Z2580] outperforms Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Samsung.” (See Intel processor outperforms Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung ICs.)”
3. Eco-Blowback: Mutiny in the Land of Wind Turbines
The great thing about neo-environmentalism is that it generally involves solutions which impacts people and creatures far enough away that you don’t have to worry about them, at least politically. So you don’t set up heavily subsidized wind farms where there are actual people, just farmers. They can deal with all the noise, power lines, traffic, etc.. A while back I watched a cloud of bats surround a wind turbine’s spinning blades and I wondered how many of them survived the night. Then again, who cares about bats?
“Germany plans to build 60,000 new wind turbines — in forests, in the foothills of the Alps and even in protected environmental areas. But local residents are up in arms, costs are skyrocketing and Germany’s determination to phase out nuclear power is in danger.”
4. Can you picture yourself with a Nokia?
Yes, people take snapshots with cameras, and they’d prefer to take better snapshots, but, and the end of the day, the choice of phone is a system selection process and, well, Nokia smartphones run Windows. Oh, yeah, and the bit about “… the sharpest images possible by any digital camera” – that’s pretty much flat out BS: you are only as good as the lens, and a lens the size of an aspirin isn’t going to take good pictures.
“When you go to buy your next mobile phone, what will be the most important factor? The price, the operating system? Or will it be the camera? Troubled Finnish giant Nokia is betting on photography.”
5. NASA, Industry Test Additively Manufactured Rocket Engine Injector
This is not likely to result in 3D printers flying off the shelf, but it might make rocket motors a bit more affordable. Regardless, this article shows that 3D printing can make a significant improvement to manufacturing cost, etc., even in esoteric applications.
“This type of injector manufactured with traditional processes would take more than a year to make but with these new processes it can be produced in less than four months, with a 70 percent reduction in cost.”
6. Detecting DNA in space
The theory of panspermia especially with respect to Earth and Mars, makes a lot of sense due to their relative proximity. However, discovering a different form of life and/or genetic code would actually have broader ramifications for theories regarding abiogenist. Mind you, there may be extant life forms on earth which are just that and which we simply don’t recognize, or haven’t found, as a result of where they might live.
“If there is life on Mars, it’s not too farfetched to believe that such Martian species may share genetic roots with life on Earth.”
7. Healing Wonders of Hydrogel
This sounds pretty impressive, and credible. It’s hard to believe they aren’t doing human trials already. After all, I can get in bandage business without too much difficulty. Perhaps they could call it a ‘natural remedy’ and simply bypass all regulation and oversight …
“Sitting in a petri dish, hydrogel resembles a tiny jellyfish you might come across during a vacation walk along the ocean’s edge. It’s transparent, colorless, and odorless. Smear it on third-degree burns in mice, however, and its true power is revealed: Within days, those wounds begin to heal. Three weeks later, recovery is so advanced that hair is sprouting on the surface of the rodents’ tender new skin.”
8. Experimental Cancer Knife Improves Tumor Removal in Study
It’s not really the knife that’s the news it’s the mass spectrometer and computational aspects which are the big deal. It just goes to show how much depends on Moore’s Law. Mind you, it would be interesting to know the extent to which complete tumor removal impacts survival.
“The “iKnife” was 100 percent accurate in diagnosing the tissues in 91 patients, according to a study published today by doctors at Imperial College London in the journal Science Translational Medicine. It was at least as reliable as tissue testing, which takes 20 to 30 minutes. The device isn’t commercially available and requires further testing in large groups of patients, the doctors said.”
9. NASA Engineer Achieves Another Milestone in Emerging Nanotechnology
I’m not sure a “blacker black” has much application outside scientific applications, but the Atomic Layer Deposition technology likely does.
“A NASA engineer has achieved yet another milestone in his quest to advance an emerging super-black nanotechnology that promises to make spacecraft instruments more sensitive without enlarging their size.”
10. Hardly Anyone Is Buying ‘Smart Guns’
The use of a “smart guns” as a plot device in the latest Bond film Skyfall was good for a laugh but it is fundamentally a dumb idea. Yes, there are people, especially children, who are killed accidentally when some moron leaves a loaded, unlocked, gun out in the open, but morons who don’t know enough to not leave a loaded weapon around aren’t likely to buy a special gun. Because they are morons. And the rest of the people who kill people criminally are using their own guns. This is a stupid idea.
“The technology is here. So-called “smart guns” are being programmed to recognize a gun owner’s identity and lock up if the weapon ends up in the wrong hands. Entrepreneurs and engineers have been developing technology to make safer guns since the early ’90s, and by now we’ve got working prototypes of guns that read fingerprints, hand grips or even sensors embedded under the skin. But after 15 years of innovation, personalized guns still haven’t penetrated the marketplace.”
11. Microsoft must embrace ‘grim option’ of Windows cannibalization
I have witnessed bad strategic decisions made in order to avoid cannibalizing own company sales, so it is a common failing in tech companies. I am not sure the rest of the analysis offered in the article makes much sense, however. You don’t just pull compelling hardware out of a hat, and it appears that the smartphone is plateauing as a technological item, much as the PC did 10 years ago.
“Microsoft must be ready to accept, as has Apple, that it’s better to cannibalize one’s own sales than to let others do it, a research analyst said today. “This is going to be a tough shift for Microsoft, to ask them to now accept that the world is a very different place than it used to be,” said Al Gillen of research firm IDC.”
12. Russian mobile operators say ‘nyet!’ to Apple, ‘da!’ to Samsung
Russia is not a prototype for the world however you have to wonder if the reticence to kowtow to Apple’s demands might be more common as carriers realize iPhone is just another smartphone. After all, carriers are in the business of selling services, and the iPhone once attracted a unique clientele. As the market is now massively dominated by Android, the distinction of offering the latest iPhone just may not be worth the extra margin.
“VimpelCom, the last of the “Big Three” Russian mobile carriers to stock the iPhone in its stores, has reportedly discontinued the device, leaving all of Russia with just one retail supplier for Cupertinian kit. Russia is one of the world’s largest mobile markets, with over 230 million mobile subscribers, according to research firm GSMA Intelligence. The country’s three largest mobile carriers – MTS, MegaFon, and VimpelCom under its Beeline brand – together account for around 80 per cent of the market.”
13. George Osborne reveals 50% tax break for fracking firms
Britain has been well known for its bizarre solar panel subsidies (apparently, it is much sunnier in Britain than you know), so, perhaps they hope to offset that stupidity with even more subsidies, this time for fracking. I am sure the neo-environmentalist outcry will kill this over time. After all, fracking is bad, and that is all you need to know about it.
“Britain’s fledgling shale gas industry will get a major boost today as George Osborne cuts taxes on fracking profits to less than half the amount paid by conventional oil and gas producers. Under the Chancellor’s regime, shale gas producers will pay just 30 per cent tax on their profits, compared to the 62 per cent that the oil and gas industry has traditionally paid.”
14. Small Alberta town gets massive 1,000 Mbps broadband boost
This might be the early stages of a trend. If you do the math, the project cost works out to around $1,500 per resident, which seems like a lot, but I be it was a lot more expensive to run any other city service including snow removal. This impact on business will provide an offset, and there is a good chance even employment will grow as a consequence. Small towns and rural areas are ignored by the oligopolists who have no regulatory obligation to offer service to anybody. As the cost of deployment drops, we might see these sorts of plans become commonplace.
“Ultrafast internet speeds that most Canadian city dwellers can only dream of will soon be available to all 8,500 residents in a rural Alberta community for as little as $57 a month, thanks to a project by the town’s non-profit economic development foundation.”
15. Hitting China’s Wall
I don’t usually waste much time reading economics pieces – even if they are written by a guy who won a make pretend Nobel Prize – but this one is timely. Something appears rotten in the state of China, and it is bound to affect the global economy. As for what comes next, well, http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2009/01/quote-of-the-day-john-kenneth-galbraith-the-bezzle.html.
“Yet the signs are now unmistakable: China is in big trouble. We’re not talking about some minor setback along the way, but something more fundamental. The country’s whole way of doing business, the economic system that has driven three decades of incredible growth, has reached its limits. You could say that the Chinese model is about to hit its Great Wall, and the only question now is just how bad the crash will be.”
16. A Trillion Sensors Are on the Way
The Internet of Things is a pretty big deal, however, a lot of the impact will be in things people know little about. There are probably some significant opportunities for ‘big data’ type applications working on these IoT samples, once a unified standard is agreed upon.
“Intel, ARM, Cisco, and IBM are bandying around the concept of ~20 billion connected devices in the next five years. That’s a lot of chips, but just think about how many sensors might be in those devices and all around (even in) you and then the math gets crazy. SEMI.org and the MEMS Industry Group organized a keynote by Janusz Bryzek of Fairchild Semiconductor, who thinks we are looking at a trillion (yes trillion) sensors and MEMS as the big driver.”
17. Peek Inside Tesla’s Robotic Factory
I admit to being baffled when this video made the rounds on the Internet this past week. I have to assume the commentators, etc., were people who don’t know what a modern factory looks like and/or never watch “How it is Made” on TV. In any event, making and assembling body panels has to be done this way, because there is very little margin in it. What the video displays is that Musk et als have taken up the reality distortion field once wielded so effectively by Steve Jobs.
“Tesla Motors has kicked off production of the gorgeous Model S into overdrive, cranking out some 400 cars a week on one of the world’s most advanced automotive production lines. Now, a major automaker in Detroit or Japan can churn out 400 cars a day, and in fact the Tesla Motors plant had a capacity of 6,000 cars a week when Toyota and General Motors ran the place. But Tesla’s numbers are impressive when you consider the Silicon Valley automaker started just a decade ago with a few engineers and mechanics shoving piecemeal components into a rolling chassis made by Lotus.”
18. Samsung Flashes 1TB ‘SSDs for Everyone’
This is just another product announcement, really, but I’d like to make a couple points with it: 1TB is pretty much all anybody is going to need for mobile devices like laptops, so affordable SSDs at those capacities will sweep the market. Mind you, we don’t know the price yet, but I can hazard a guess Samsung sees sub $200 within 18 months. The second point is that the market will end up being dominated by the major Flash vendors who will transition to their own controllers, etc..
“What’s not to like about solid state drives? They are light, fast, require low power consumption, and easily accommodate different form factors. Samsung wants commercial and enterprise Relevant Products/Services users to remember those advantages as it sets out to become a formidable market leader in a fast-growth SSD marketplace.”
19. Cree launches LED street luminaire for challenging environmental requirements
Solid State lamps will substantially displace traditional lights over the next ten years or so. The interesting thing with street lamps is that the cost of replacing them every 2 to 3 years is a major expense for cities on account of labor costs. Longer lived LED street lamps means significant savings for towns, and it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to simply upgrade as the old ones fail. I am not convinced of the wisdom of a semiconductor company competing with its customers, however.
“LED chip, lamp and lighting fixture maker Cree Inc of Durham, NC, USA has introduced the XSP IP66 LED street luminaires, which are optimized for European and other global environmental requirements. Providing metropolitan and other municipal areas with a durable luminaire that protects critical electrical components from dust, water jets and other potentially damaging environmental factors, the XSP is claimed to be the first real alternative to high-pressure sodium (HPS) street lights with better payback, better performance and better price. Compared to its outdated predecessor, the XSP IP66 uses nearly 50% less energy and is designed to last more than three times longer.”
20. Epi-wafer market to grow to $4 billion in 2020 as LED lighting zooms to $80 billion
Always take industry analyst forecasts and analysis with a huge grain of salt. Nonetheless, this is probably directionally right, though I would expect GaN/Si to progress faster due to cost pressures on LEDs. One thing to keep in mind is that the greatest advantage of LEDs – longevity – will result in a collapse in demand as the market approaches saturation.
“As LED lighting becomes an $80 billion industry, the market for the epitaxial wafers (epi-wafers) LEDs are made from will grow to $4 billion in 2020, according to Lux Research. The vast majority of these epi-wafers are gallium nitride (GaN)-on-sapphire today. GaN-on-silicon is the leading emerging technology with a strong economic allure – silicon is just one-eighth the cost of a sapphire substrate – but technical challenges will limit it to only a 10% market share in 2020. GaN-on-silicon carbide (SiC), championed by Cree, will grow to 18 percent market share.”