The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 26th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 26th 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


Sorry the quantity and quality of stories tech news is still pretty low this week.


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 Geeks List when expected, please check your Spam folder and mark the list as ‘Not Spam’.


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1.        New Evidence About Why Windows Phone Is Doomed In America

Alas, the article doesn’t tell you why Windows Phone is doomed, but if you had any doubts you’d know it is doomed, and not just in the US – modern smart phones are platforms and Windows is one of the distant third players in the space, meaning they do not have critical mass. Microsoft watched this market develop despite having early entrant in the race and yet it still managed to blow it. To be kind, Windows is the CP/M of the mobile space.

“Yesterday, Nokia NOK -0.25% revealed it sold only 500,000 phones in North America during 2Q 2013, despite notably broad channel support from AT&T T +0.2%, Verizon, Walmart, Home Shopping Network, etc. This is 100’000 units below what Nokia sold a year earlier. That spring 2012 was supposed to be a particularly bad period for Nokia, since the company was limping along with an ancient Symbian range and some obsolete Windows Phone 7 models, just ahead of the big Windows Phone 8 debut.”

2.        Huawei: Put up or shut up

It is kinda funny fact that members of the US intelligence community continue to lament the national security issues purported to be associated with Chinese networking gear while NSA PRISM disclosures pretty much show that ALL US Internet traffic IS being monitored by the US intelligence community. I guess it isn’t the spying, but who is doing the spying which matters.

“”Someone says they got some proof of some sort of threat? Okay,” William Plummer said in the statement. “Then put up. Or shut up.” Earlier on Thursday, former CIA head Michael Hayden told The Australian Financial Review that he believes Huawei supplies information to the Chinese government. Although he isn’t certain of how much detail the company shares, he believes that it at least involves some foreign communication systems.”

3.        Victory Lap for Ask Patents

Apparently there exists a crowd sourced patent review system which is trying to do the job the US Patent Office is supposed to do and can’t. This tells the story of how a patent filed by the world’s largest patent troll (Microsoft) was ‘killed’ but I suspect a follow up story will show that the lawyers would have resubmitted the document with slightly different wording and it will go through.

“There are a lot of people complaining about lousy software patents these days. I say, stop complaining, and start killing them. It took me about fifteen minutes to stop a crappy Microsoft patent from being approved. Got fifteen minutes? You can do it too.”

4.        Did we all just witness Windows start to die?

I don’t agree with most of the article, but here it is. The important distinction is that tablets and smartphones are content consumption devices while PCs are content creation devices. Of course, prior to tablets you had to use a PC even if you only wanted to consume content, but that is not what is important. Microsoft elected to switch the PC OS over to one which was primarily useful for consuming content. It didn’t do a very good job at that, being late to the game, but it did manage to make its PC operating system much less useful for creating content. Unfortunately for Microsoft, there is no indication whatsoever they have grasped this simple fact.

“The idea of “the death of the PC” is just that — it’s an idea. It’s a hook that, if you believe in it (and I do), it can be quite informative about what seems to be happening to the PC industry, and the wider computer industry in which it sits. I don’t think the PC is dying in a literal sense. The PC is stonkingly good at the things that it does well. But I’m a technologist — I’ve been using PCs since I was twelve years old and I like the power and flexibility. Like most technologists, the PC bends to my will like I have a superpower.”

5.        11,000-electrode reprogrammable chip takes brain-computer interfaces to a new level

This is more of a measurement tool than, say, a device to help people with a particular type of brain damage. Still, it is probably a very useful tool and interesting technology nonetheless.

“A group of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has built a powerful new chip that can be rapidly adapted to changing conditions at its interface points. Furthermore, they have used their chip to show that the speed of communication between neurons is not independent from any computations a brain might be said to perform, but rather, it is an essential component of the computation itself.”

6.        Snooping Fears: German Firms Race to Shield Secrets

I took a graduate level course in computer security in 1987 and my professor made it abundantly clear that any encryption standard should be assumed to have an NSA ‘back door’ and you should assume that, regardless, they have access to all of your data. It is interesting to see how businesses are, at least transiently, aware of this fact. I can confidently predict laws will be passed forbidding this sort of snooping and, equivalently, they will be ignored by the intelligence community.

“Stäudinger has spent years trying to enhance the security of Eirich’s data and communications. He kept telling colleagues to be careful when dealing with sensitive information. He installed extra security features on notebooks and smartphones before they were taken off company premises. Some of the firm’s 750 employees probably shook their heads at all this paranoia. But now, after the NSA revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, they all know that Stäudinger was right.”

7.        US tech firms losing business over PRISM: poll

If you are concerned about your data do not use cloud applications of any type because they can and will be hacked. If you are concerned about security in general, then avoiding service providers which cooperate with a government funded program is probably a good idea. And, at a minimum encrypt everything: not because they can’t crack it (usually the NSA has a backdoor), but at least it keeps the hackers out.

“Revelations about the US government’s vast data collection programs have already started hurting American technology firms, according to an industry survey released this week. The Cloud Security Alliance said 10 percent of its non-US members have cancelled a contract with a US-based cloud provider, and 56 percent said they were less likely to use an American company.”

8.        Chromecast – The easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV.

The interesting thing about the consumer electronics industry is that devices rarely work together cleanly, even if they come from the same vendor (consider the plethora of remotes you probably own, for example). I am intrigued by how Google claims this works on all HDTVs, and at $35 I am keen to give it a try. I would not be surprised if they license the technology to CE vendors in the event it becomes successful.

“With Chromecast, you can easily enjoy your favorite online entertainment on your HDTV—movies, TV shows, music, and more from Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, and Chrome. No more huddling around small screens and tiny speakers. Chromecast automatically updates to work with a growing number of apps.”

9.        Apple wobbles in China as rivals offer more, for less

It is great to be a premium brand while people are still clamoring for your products. Eventually the riff-raff come in to the market and they can’t afford the cachet. Besides which open platforms (which iOS is not) provide much greater flexibility to adapt themselves to the needs fo various market niches.

“A sharp drop in Apple Inc’s China revenue in April-June underscores the challenges it faces in its second-largest market as the technology gap with cheaper local rivals narrows and as Samsung Electronics keeps up a steady stream of new models across all price ranges.”

10.   Feds want cars to talk to each other

This is an idea whose time has come and dedication of spectrum for the application makes complete sense – after all, in a country like Canada (with poor coverage and high mobile prices) mobile data would often not work and push drivers to penury. In any event, a modestly short range system could allow cars to communicate with each other and, for example, indicate to drivers that somebody up front has just hit the brakes, etc. Such a system could also communicate with roadside ‘base stations’ to keep authorities informed. Many lives would be saved.

“The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for motor vehicles to be equipped with “connected technology,” machine-to-machine communications tools that could help drivers avoid accidents. The NTSB issued the call in a report filed after an investigation into a collision between a Mack truck and a school bus at an intersection in New Jersey last year.”

11.   3D TV autopsy: Did it finally die, or was it never alive to begin with?

I think I can answer the question as to why it never took off: it is, was, and always be annoying. 3D TV is not ‘3D’: it is stereoscopic, and provides a poor experience because real life simply never looks the way it looks on 3D TV. This may be passable for animation, but it simply will never work for live action.

“If you were shopping for a TV three years ago, you were probably bombarded with all kinds of talk about how cool 3D was and how it was the “next big thing” in TV viewing. Movies and sports would never be the same again, with characters and players popping out of screens and into your living room as if they were right in front of you. It’s now 2013, and 3D is but a footnote that barely measures up to smart TV features and the looming 4K Ultra HD resolution TVs. It all begs the question: Why didn’t 3D ever take off the way it was expected to?”

12.   Texas man charged with running $60M Bitcoin Ponzi scheme

It will be interesting to follow this case: yes, it was clearly a Ponzi scheme, but is it illegal to construct such a scheme when the instruments (Bitcoin) do not represent anything other than people’s gullibility. I recall, from the Tulipomania, that a court decided it was not its place to decide games of chance.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged a Texas man with running a Ponzi scheme in which he raised “at least” 700,000 Bitcoin, worth $4.5 million at the time and more than $60 million today.”

13.   Pentagon offers to share airwaves with industry, FCC seeks comment

The US defense establishment, which includes Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, and probably a half dozen other more or less independent and redundant organizations, owns vast swathes of largely unused) radio spectrum in the US. It’s good to see they are letting a sliver of it go …

“The U.S. Defense Department is proposing to share some of its radio airwaves with the private sector, a nod to growing pressure from the wireless industry and the Obama administration for federal agencies to ease their control of valuable spectrum.”

14.   How do smartphones reveal shoppers’ movements?

This sounds pretty pernicious, and it could be, however, the same result could be achieved through the use of cameras or human observers. I’d like somebody to explain to me how or why a WiFi device would broadcast where it has been (i.e. other stores). If this is true is sound like a flaw in the protocol.

“For several months Nordstrom tested a system that tracked the movements of people carrying Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones and other devices as they wandered through 17 of its stores or merely walked by.”

15.   Finding Cancer Cells in the Blood

Microfluidics allows you to do pretty cool things and I am pretty sure most blood cell counts are made using the technology. This is still early stages but it could lead to a universal blood test for whatever ails you.

“In the near future, oncologists may be using a finger-size plastic chip with tiny channels to extract a dozen or so cancer cells from a sample of a patient’s blood. Those cells, called circulating tumor cells, could then be screened for genetic disruptions that an oncologist could target with drugs best suited to attacking the tumor. Continued sampling would give doctors a way to monitor whether a treatment is working and decide whether to add or change a drug as the malady evolves.”

16.   LibreOffice 4.1: a landmark for interoperability

Microsoft’s rapidly unraveling dominance of the PC has rested on two major products: Windows and Office. I have written enough about the debacle of Windows 8, and the company has not, as yet, attempted to impose its dysfunctional vision of the future on Office users. Nonetheless, Office hasn’t improved much in the past 5 years (10, actually), making it a sitting duck for open source developers and an increasingly viable candidate for replacement by LibreOffice.

“The Document Foundation announces LibreOffice 4.1, not only the best but also the most interoperable free office suite ever. LibreOffice 4.1 features a large number of improvements in the area of document compatibility, which increases the opportunities of sharing knowledge with users of proprietary software while retaining the original layout and contents.”

17.   Replace Dropbox with BitTorrent Sync and a Raspberry Pi

This item is more about BitTorrent Sync than about Raspberry PI as the platform on which the software is running is not that important. So this is really a generic ‘how to’. Still the fact Raspberry Pi can do this is interesting. Note that the author stresses the fact you don’t need to store anything on hardware you don’t control, which is increasingly important to people post NSA PRISM revelations.

“BitTorrent Sync is a free utility that uses the bittorrent protocol to keep folders in sync across devices. It can be used with OS X, Windows, Android and Linux. It is not however open source, which might be a deal breaker for some. But if this isn’t too big a pill for you to swallow, with a little bit of work you can use btsync as a free syncing solution.”

18.   A faster Internet — designed by computers?

This is a rather interesting application of artificial intelligence. If I understand, the system finds better solutions for computationally difficult problems, in this case congestion algorithms. One challenge might be the time it takes for the system to find an optimal algorithm for a given situation: too long and the answer may become moot. Still, with faster machines (and perhaps an AI system to optimize the IP algorithm generator) you might end up with a significant improvement to throughput and latency.

“At the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication this summer, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing will present a computer system, dubbed Remy, that automatically generates TCP congestion-control algorithms. In the researchers’ simulations, algorithms produced by Remy significantly outperformed algorithms devised by human engineers.”

19.   Verizon entry would put rural markets at risk, BCE says

I heard about this while watching Bell owned CTV News and felt certain the issue would be covered by the Globe and Mail (which Bell retains a 15% ownership of), probably with follow up in the numerous other Bell and Rogers media assets. The thesis is laughable: ‘fair’ competition allows an oligopoly created by ham-handed, if not corrupt, regulation to demolish any other entrant. As for the plight of rural Canadians, it is interesting to reflect on the fate of WiMax spectrum, which was bought by the oligopoly, ‘parked’ and remains largely unused. Canadians outside of major cities, meanwhile can only dream of decent telecom services.

“BCE Inc. says it is likely to scale back efforts to bring advanced cellphone services to rural Canada if large foreign telecoms like Verizon Communications Inc. are allowed to enter the Canadian market under preferential rules.”

20.   The Last Days of Big Law

This has nothing whatsoever to do with technology, but it is well written and interesting (though long). Folks in the capital markets who read it will have a sense of déjà vu, except, in that business, they are shedding the senior people in favor of far less expensive juniors. Clients, as yet, have not figured that part out.

“Of all the occupational golden ages to come and go in the twentieth century—for doctors, journalists, ad-men, autoworkers—none lasted longer, felt cushier, and was all in all more golden than the reign of the law partner.”

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