The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 30th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 30th 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

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’.


Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe




1.        Student Attacks Publishing Cartels to Make Textbooks Open Source

A while ago I read an interview in which the gangster Al Capone wondered how it was that he could deliver bootleg whisky cheaper than milk. The cost of textbooks is a scandal at all levels of education and can only be explained by collusion among publishers (with the inexplicable support of the education industry). If nobody is willing to step up and deal with the problem through legal means, the only option is piracy.

“With a new college year looming, students will soon be expected to empty their bank accounts to buy textbooks to accompany their chosen course. These expensive books are controlled and published by large companies and their approach has been likened to that of a cartel. For one student it’s all become too much and he’s now on a mission to dismantle the cartel by informing students everywhere where to download textbooks for free. The EFF are a little worried but other lawyers are offering encouragement.”

2.        Pirate Bay co-founder plans Hemlis, an encrypted messaging app where ‘no one can listen in’

Certainly the sort of application which might be of interest. Mind you, it could easily be a ‘honey pot’ operation run by a security agency. Of course, if the application is open source that would tilt things in favor of legitimacy.

“In the wake of recent revelations about NSA surveillance efforts, the co-founder of The Pirate Bay has launched a drive to crowdsource funding for a new mobile messaging app — one so secure that its creators say they couldn’t turn over people’s messages even if they wanted to. Hemlis (it means “secret” in Swedish), is being developed by Peter Sunde, one of the individuals behind The Pirate Bay, along with Linus Olsson and Leif Högberg.”

3.        FCC: Cable operators lost 2.5M subs from 2010 to 2012

The loss of cable subscribers may be due to technology shifts or due to the weakened economic environment, especially given the astronomical cost of cable services nowadays. That being said, I suspect the model for TV will shift gradually in favor of a client/server model and away from traditional broadcast (which is what cable essentially is).

“Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other cable operators lost about 2.5 million video subscribers between 2010 and 2012, according to the FCC’s annual video competition report. Cable operators counted 57.3 million subscribers at the end of last year, down from 59.8 million in 2010, the FCC said Monday. DirecTV Inc. grew its subscriber base by 700,000 to 19.9 million during the same period, while Dish Network remained flat at 14.1 million, the FCC said.”

4.        Giant Robotic Mining Trucks Love the Australian Desert

It is not clear from the article whether the trucks are robotic or driven remotely, nonetheless this is an excellent example of what is to come and the Australian desert is the perfect proving grounds. I believe robotic vehicles will replace drivers in long haul trucking applications and eventually offer door-to-door delivery.

“In the dusty red earth of Western Australia, robot trucks haul iron ore. The trucks themselves weigh about 500 tons when loaded — they are truly massive. They operate more or less on their own, navigating mining roads connecting the sprawling Pilbara iron mines with a guidance system provided by global positioning satellites, radars and lasers. It’s part of $13 billion mining operation by Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining firms.”

5.        Nissan plans to begin selling self-driving cars by 2020

There must be a robotic vehicle conference going on this week given the profusion of related stories. 2020 seems a little soon, however, I have no doubt this is the future.

“Nissan Motor Co Ltd said it will be ready to bring fully self-driving vehicles to market by 2020. The Japanese automaker said it plans to offer “multiple, commercially viable” vehicles that are capable of autonomous operation without driver input. The self-driving vehicles will be sold “at realistic prices for consumers,” the company said at a media event in Irvine, California.”

6.        “thereisnofatebutwhat­wemake”—Turbo-charged cracking comes to long passwords

When you type in your password, the system creates a ‘hash’ of that input and compares that hash with an internal database. This brute force system assumes the hacker has access to the hash database, which is, alas, not as rare as you might hope. Hardware hashing (where the result of the comparison is made available, but not the actual hash database which is ‘write only’) might mitigate the risk associated with this form of hacking.

“For the first time, the freely available password cracker ocl-Hashcat-plus is able to tackle passcodes with as many as 55 characters. It’s an improvement that comes as more and more people are relying on long passcodes and phrases to protect their website accounts and other online assets.”

7.        Samsung and Sony make 4K TVs more affordable with huge price cuts

One might question whether a $5,500 55” 4K TV is much more salable than a $6,500 one but it wasn’t that long ago either would be a bargain price for an HDTV. Outside of conspicuous consumers it is hard to believe there is much demand for 4K TVs, especially at super-premiums. Ultimately, HD TVs will find a floor price and 4K TVs will end up not costing much more than that. It is unlikely that much in the way of content will become available in either event.

“Samsung and Sony are cutting $1,000 or more from the prices of their latest 4K TV sets, sending their prices down toward something a bit more affordable. Both companies are cutting about $1,000 from their 55-inch models, bringing Samsung’s UN55F9000 down to $4,499.99 and Sony’s XBR-55X900A down to $3,999.99. Even more is coming off of their 65-inch sets — about $1,500 — bringing Samsung’s UN65F9000 down to $5,999.99 and Sony’s XBR-65X900A down to $5499.99. According to Twice, which first reported the price cuts, Samsung’s changes went into effect on Sunday, matching cuts announced by Sony about two weeks prior.”

8.        Researcher controls colleague’s motions in 1st human brain-to-brain interface

Definitely super cool stuff, however, a controlled twitch is distinct from ‘control’. We saw an example of a rat’s tail twitching a few weeks ago, and this really isn’t much better. Nonetheless, the ‘non-invasive’ angle is quite novel and exciting.

“University of Washington researchers have performed what they believe is the first non-invasive human-to-human brain interface, with one researcher able to send a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motions of a fellow researcher. Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco’s finger to move on a keyboard.”

9.        Google considering turning self-driving cars into a ‘robo-taxi’ service

Even more on self-driving cars. Whether or not Google actually rolls this out, ‘robo-taxis’ are in the future. Think about it: a swarm of vehicles waiting for you to summon one, which can arrive at your doorstep in a couple minutes, bring you to your destination, and go away to drive somebody else when you are done. Why would you own a car if this was an option?

“Although Google’s self-driving cars have been a technological success the search-giant has had difficulty finding a method of getting the vehicles into mainstream use. However, new reports now suggest that the company is considering using their vehicles to create an autonomous ‘robo-taxi’ service. The self-driving vehicles would pick-up and drop-off passengers without human intervention, and would presumably be paired with a mobile application.”

10.   Kevin Spacey: television has entered a new golden age

A fascinating speech by somebody who actually seems to sound like he knows what he is talking about. I should know – I predicted this in 1997. It is not obvious to me that he is suggesting the likes of Netflix will replace traditional TV or coexist.

“TV has entered a “third golden age”, with the small screen now home to high-quality drama including Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Homeland and Breaking Bad, one of Hollywood’s best-known stars has told the Edinburgh Television Festival. Kevin Spacey, who started out on the stage before winning Oscars for The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, said on Thursday that the medium had come into its own as an art form, eclipsing film in terms of character-driven drama.”

11.   Deep microbes live long and slow

Life is, above all, adaptable, and we find it on Earth pretty much wherever we look. What is interesting about this finding is that it provides some level of support for a mechanism for panspermia: if bacteria can live in 100 million year old rock, they can make the trip from star system to star system as well, and certainly from planet to planet.

“A diverse range of life forms exists deep below Earth’s surface, scientists have concluded, but they survive at an incredibly slow pace. Long-lived bacteria, reproducing only once every 10,000 years, have been found in rocks 2.5km (1.5 miles) below the ocean floor that are as much as 100 million years old.”

12.   Moore’s Law Dead by 2022, Expert Says

Maybe it’s me but he seems to be saying the earliest it’ll stop is 2020. In any event, the music has to stop sooner or later and you run into quantum limits eventually. That being said, nano-materials provide some potential for continued technological advancement, even if that is not propelled by semiconductor advances.

“Moore’s Law — the ability to pack twice as many transistors on the same sliver of silicon every two years — will come to an end as soon as 2020 at the 7nm node, said a keynoter at the Hot Chips conference here.”

13.   Home 3D printers take us on a maddening journey into another dimension

A surprisingly well written article. It is completely understandable that the low cost Printrbot was a pain in the butt to use, but the performance of the Makerbot is disappointing. None of this is unusual, of course, early a technology’s lifecycle, however, the Makerbot is marketed as ‘ready for prime time.’ Eventually this will be sorted out, but a lot of people will be disappointed in the meanwhile.

“What I found as I dug in was a pit without a bottom—an absolute yawning Stygian abyss of options and tweaking and modifications and endless re-printing. To own and use a 3D printer is to become enmeshed in a constant stream of tinkering, tweaking, and upgrades. It feels a lot like owning a project car that you must continually wrench on to keep it running right. Almost from the moment I got the Printrbot out of the box and printing, I had to start the tweaking. And as a total 3D printing newb, it really soured me on the Printrbot and on the entire concept of low-cost 3D printing in general.”

14.   Canada’s Wireless Wars: Bell Media Exec’s Memo to News Directors

When Canada’s telecommunications oligopoly started buying substantially all of the media in the country, they assuaged concerns by swearing they would not interfere with editorial content. Of course, such assurances are nonsense: journalists (those few who remain) know what side of the bread the butter is on and they would have short careers if they investigate or criticise any part of the oligopoly. Regardless, tacit control is apparently not enough: explicit interference shows why media should be independent by law.

“Some employees at Rogers and Bell, for instance, report being brow-beaten by managers to email a form letter in support of the companies to the government. More troubling, and a point that has not yet seen the light of day, is a chain of emails originating from Kevin Crull, the President of Bell Media – the largest media enterprise and one of the largest news organizations in the country — calling on news execs and journalists across CTV, CTV2 and local TV channels and radio stations across the country to give ample coverage to a study that suggests that the state of wireless in Canada is not as bad as its critics claim. A copy of the emails, with the names of non-executives removed, can be found here.”

15.   Hippies and libertarians have become unlikely allies in a war against solar power

I don’t agree with the author’s position, but it looks like things are getting interesting. The one question I keep coming back to is this: if you need to pay 10x for solar power in order for people to install it, doesn’t that mean that electricity bill have to go up by at least 10x to pay for it or are you going to cap solar production at a couple percent of the total?

“A weird thing is happening with solar power. For years derided as a sideshow energy source that was only for environmentalists, solar is now being seen as an imminent threat to both the mainline energy industry and at least one national economy. As a result, those harmless people with the shiny panels on their rooftops are suddenly being seen as dangerous freeloaders and, in some potential bellwether cases, are being threatened with punitive taxes to dissuade them from their pursuit of self-generated power from a renewable resource: the Sun.”

16.   For First Time Graphene and Metal Make Super Strong Composite

Very interesting, however, as the article mentions scaling up the process will be the real breakthrough. Nonetheless, even at high cost and small batch sizes this material would likely have use in aerospace applications.

“One of the characteristics of graphene that is often mentioned but seldom exploited is its strength compared to other materials. Its tensile strength has been measured at 130 GigaPascals, making it 200 times as strong as steel. Now researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have put graphene’s tensile strength to work by using it in a composite consisting of copper and nickel. The graphene makes the copper 500 times as strong as it would be on its own and the nickel 180 times as strong.”

17.   US-Made Moto X’s Cost Comparable to Asian-Assembled Smartphones, IHS Teardown Reveals

News items based on this reports carry a variety of confused and contradictory analysis regarding the findings. The objective reality is that a lot of the ‘labor’ involved in tech goods is robotic, and people are used when they are cheaper – even if the net cost advantage is minimal. The challenge in domestic manufacture is the logistics trade-off of being closer to your customers yet farther away from your suppliers.

“Conventional wisdom says it’s cheaper to produce things in Asia than in North America, which is why U.S. electronics brands have steadily outsourced nearly all their product manufacturing to companies based  in the Far East during the last few decades.”

18.   Wearable Robots Getting Lighter, Putting Paralyzed People Back On Their Feet

I have been tracking these developments for a number of years and it looks like manufacturers are getting close to a viable product. The prices are too high but there is no reason they won’t come down quickly.

“When Michael Gore stands, it’s a triumph of science and engineering. Eleven years ago, Gore was paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident, yet he rises from his wheelchair to his full 6-foot-2-inches and walks across the room with help from a lightweight wearable robot.”

19.   How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class

Well, fair enough, but how do you unscramble the egg? Over history mundane low-skill labour ends up being displaced by capital investment – the market for ditch diggers is not coming back and the same goes for low skill positions in factories. Having a blue-collar background, I am no unsympathetic, however, the economy will eventually realign itself to this new reality.

“Are we in danger of losing the “race against the machine,” as the M.I.T. scholars Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue in a recent book? Are we becoming enslaved to our “robot overlords,” as the journalist Kevin Drum warned in Mother Jones? Do “smart machines” threaten us with “long-term misery,” as the economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Laurence J. Kotlikoff prophesied earlier this year? Have we reached “the end of labor,” as Noah Smith laments in The Atlantic?”

20.   Sales of BlackBerry’s Q10 Keyboard Phone Fall Flat

Disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. RIM zigged when it should of zagged when HTML email came out and it pretty much missed the emergence of the Internet as a factor for consumer smartphones. This has nothing to do with touchscreen vs. QWERTY (which I prefer) but with trying to market a dying platform in an ecosystem which limits the number of platforms to 1 or 2.

“Chris Jourdan, who owns and operates 16 Wireless Zone stores in the Midwestern U.S. that sell Verizon Wireless products, said customers didn’t show up for the Q10 as expected. His stores only ordered a few of the devices per location and “the handful that sold were returned. “We saw virtually no demand for the Q10 and eventually returned most to our equipment vendor,” he said.”



The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 23rd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 23rd 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

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’.


Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe




1.        Microsoft CEO Ballmer to retire within 12 months

This is probably the best news for Microsoft shareholders in a long time: a failed mobile strategy which spilled over to a disastrous Windows 8 launch (a disaster which the company appears to be doubling down on) all in the context of a mature PC market. They needed a change 4 years ago …

“Microsoft Corp said on Friday that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer would retire within the next 12 months, once it has selected a successor, sending its shares up almost 9 percent. Ballmer said in a statement that he would have timed his retirement in the middle of Microsoft’s announced transformation to a devices and services company. But he said: “We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.””

2.        How to Save the Troubled Graphene Transistor

It’s hard to see how you would classify graphene transistors as ‘troubled’ since it is a novel material: it is simply a matter of time before physicists figure out how or (or whether they can) exploit its characteristics. The devil may be in the details, of course – are special conditions (i.e. cryogenic temperatures) necessary for this to work?

“Unlike conventional semiconductors, graphene cannot be switched off, a problem that threatens to scupper its use in future generations of transistors. Now physicists think they’ve found a solution.”

3.        Printed Graphene Transistors Promise a Flexible Electronic Future

More fun and games with graphene – but doesn’t this article contradict the preceding one? You have to watch speed figures because they aren’t really what they seem to be, but still a 25 GHz transistor is a useful thing – flexible or not. Of course, cost, yield, etc., all have ot be optimized before you end up with a useful product.

“This week in the journal ACS Nano, Akinwande and University of Texas materials scientist Rodney Ruoff describe record-breaking 25-gigahertz graphene transistors printed on flexible plastic. Communications circuits have to be able to switch on and off billions of times per second—2.4 gigahertz for Bluetooth, and about 1 gigahertz for cellular communications. To really work for practical applications, the transistors in these circuits have to be rated about 10 times faster than that, says Akinwande. The University of Texas graphene transistors make the cut.”

4.        120,000 Apps in BlackBerry World (Spoiler: 47,000 Made by One Developer)

This is actually very bad news for Blackberry, and it shows the banality of reports concerning the number of apps for a particular platform. This number is so large it is clear the company in question has developed an ‘app generator’ platform and simply exploits the Blackberry user group. Not a promising context for a struggling company.

“A cursory review of BlackBerry World, the company’s app store, reveals that upward of 47,000 of the applications it offers for download are being peddled by a single developer, S4BB. There were 120,000 apps available in BlackBerry World on May 14, when BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins touted the number during his BlackBerry Live conference keynote”

5.        The Biggest-Little Revolution: 10 Single-Board Computers for Under $100

Probably only of interest to real geeks, however, there is a message here: there are many very cheap computers available with most of the power and resources of a PC 8 years ago. Almost all are built on ARM platforms, and most present a viable option for replacement of PCs in embedded applications.

6.        Power at a negative price: an insidious effect of a market model promoting renewables

What a bizarre situation! Nonetheless, this is what happens when you create an entirely artificial market, especially one where the traditionally suppliers do not have the luxury of shutting down their plants when the sun comes from behind a cloud. I guess the politics somehow makes sense, though.

“On the weekend of 15th and 16th of June, Belgium experienced 14 hours of negative electricity prices, with a three hour peak at -200 €/MWh, when the average spot market is usually around 50€/MWh. This phenomenon has never been observed in Belgium with such duration and magnitude.”

7.        Use Of Ad Blocking Is On The Rise

It is surprising the number isn’t higher, but I guess the reason (as suggested by the article) is that more people do not know how, and popular browsers (Explorer and Chrome) don’t make it easy. What you do is, switch to Firefox and install the Adblocker add-on: there is no reason to put up with all that noise.

“Last year, Niero Gonzalez, the 35-year-old founder of video gaming site Destructoid, was browsing TechCrunch and saw an article about OkCupid’s “brilliant” move to ask users with ad blocking software to donate $5 to the site. Gonzalez became curious how many of his own readers were blocking ads, so he turned to an outside company — BlockMetrics, now called PageFair — to do a site audit. “We have a savvy, techy user base, but I was still shocked by how many were using ad blockers,” says Gonzalez.”

8.        Don’t use Windows 8 due to risk of ‘back doors’, warns German government

Coincidentally, I have given up hope on Windows 8 and removed it from my Windows 8 laptop. NSA revelations had nothing to do with it, I just realized that I would Ubuntu more than Windows 8 and I wasn’t going to pay money for a Windows 7 license. Of course, thanks to Microsoft ‘security enhancements’ you can no longer dual-boot Windows 8 with another OS, so I simply reformatted the system to remove the installation. As for the NSA, etc., well, you come to expect this sort of nonsense.

“The German government has recommended that Federal Administration and other high profile public sector departments in the country do not use Windows 8 because, it warns, it contains security backdoors that cannot be controlled or trusted, and that may be easily accessible by the NSA.”

9.         Ubuntu Edge smartphone campaign ends in failure, raising less than half of $32m crowdfunding goal

The campaign seemed to get off to a promising start, however, even though I might be interested in the product, I don’t really see why I would want to help one big business create another big business, at least without equity ownership. After all – dosen’t Ubuntu have plenty of money?

“The Ubuntu Edge campaign to build a ‘next-generation’ smartphone that interfaces with a PC may be a record-breaker for raising the highest crowdfunded donation tally ever, but it’s ultimately ended in failure after closing out more than $19 million short of its ambitious $32 million target.”

10.   Maybe Not Everybody Should Learn to Code

Maybe I’m missing something or maybe he didn’t get the memo. First, a lot of programming is not exactly rocket science: after all, you don’t get hundreds of thousands of ‘aps’ written for mobile devices from a deep talent pool. Second, exposure to some programming is of value precisely because it demystifies ‘black boxes’.

“In the past few years, programming has gone mainstream, as celebrities from Chris Bosh to President Obama jump on the “everyone should learn to code” bandwagon. The idea is that teaching kids to code will make them employable and help American students keep up with their competition abroad. But this idea has generated substantial whining among programmers—including me.”

11.   Next up for WiFi

Some businesses may be lagging, however, with the proliferation of mobile devices (including tablets) it is increasingly becoming the ‘go to’ networking technology in institutions. Internet of Things (IoT) will probably add to the burden of keeping a WiFi network running smoothly in the future.

“In banking, Wi-Fi was almost a no-go because everything is so overly regulated. Wireless here is almost as critical as wired,” Devine still marvels. “It’s used for connectivity to heart pumps, defibrillators, nurse voice over IP call systems, surgery robots, remote stroke consultation systems, patient/guest access and more.”

12.   Solar Needs 32 Acres To Power 1,000 Homes

This is not exactly news: a number of years ago I read a study which suggested a real estate ratio of 1:1 for solar was about right. Of course, the devil is in the details: most 1,400 square foot houses will have less than 700 square foot of roof, and a small part of that would be pointed in the right direction, so you are really talking about more than doubling the real estate requirements for a given house. Now, that solar real estate would be remote (to lower costs and shading effects) and that would present other issues. Fundamentally, of source, it is worth nothing the sun sets with some regularity and therefore all the traditional generation infrastructure, and associated costs, would be required.

“According to the researchers, “A large fixed tilt photovoltaic (PV) plant that generates 1 gigawatt-hour per year requires, on average, 2.8 acres for the solar panels. This means that a solar power plant that provides all of the electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land. Put another way, that’s about 1,400 square feet per home, a plot about 37 feet by 37 feet.”

13.   Ottawa watching BlackBerry carefully, wishes firm well

Ottawa did not intervene when Nortel vanished beneath the waves, so it is hard to believe they will do anything to keep Blackberry alive or out of ‘foreign’ hands. This is the natural order of things, especially tech companies – they are born, they prosper and then they die. Ultimately the company will likely be acquired, but for them the war is over.

“The Canadian government is watching smartphone maker BlackBerry Ltd carefully as it explores options including sale of the company but will not comment on its affairs, Industry Minister James Moore said on Wednesday.”

14.   Linux Hackers Rebuild Internet From Silicon Valley Garage

This sure sounds interesting, though I am not entirely convince this will ‘rebuild’ the Internet. New OSs are interesting, and the great thing about FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is that it can evolve to adapt to changing market conditions. Maybe CoreOS will be a big deal, maybe not, but, like Android, when Linux thousand flowers bloom, some come up roses.

“Inside that Palo Alto garage — the door open to the Silicon Valley summer sun, and the camping gear stacked against the wall — Polvi and his colleagues are fashioning a new computer operating system known as CoreOS. This isn’t an OS for running desktop PCs or laptops or tablets. It’s meant to run the hundreds of thousands of servers that underpin the modern internet.”

15.   Ditch Your Passwords — US Gov To Issue Secure Online IDs

The question which comes to mind is to what extent the consumers of government services are computer savvy and connected. Nonetheless, this sort of solution is bound to be a major money saver, even if it takes osme time for adoption to pick up.

“The Federal Cloud Credential Exchange (FCCX) is designed to enable individuals to securely access online services —such as health benefits, student loan information, and retirement benefit information—at multiple federal agencies without the need to use a different password or other digital identification for each service. The first federal agency to use it will be the Veterans Administration.”

16.   Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren’t Plugged In

Apropos the prior article: there is a large group of people who won’t be connected any time soon, and these tend to be the disadvantaged. The question is: what do you do about it? Cost is certainly an issue (even a modest fee can be a major burden for the poor) and that includes the question of whether they can afford a PC or tablet. Of course, as a rural Canadian I can only dream of affordable broadband …

“The Obama administration has poured billions of dollars into expanding the reach of the Internet, and nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to some form of high-speed broadband. But tens of millions of people are still on the sidelines of the digital revolution.”

17.   Fuel Cell Industry Ships 28,000 Units in 2012

I would not pay money for the report, but I suspect the unit count is not what people expect. In other words, there is very little chance these are for hydrogen powered vehicles – more likely these are for power backup, etc., and many of these have probably been shipped by Ballard Power in Vancouver.

“Driven by the increased worldwide focus on creating resilient, distributed energy systems, the fuel cell industry is experiencing a modest growth spurt. While the stationary sector continues to be the industry powerhouse, the transportation sector is also seeing acceleration in volume. The industry topped the $1 billion mark in revenue from the sale of fuel cell systems in 2012, according to a new report from Navigant Research, on shipments of 124 megawatts (MW), up 40 MW from 2011.”

18.   Smartphone eye exam app tested in Kenya

Now this is an interesting and useful application. One can imagine that smartphone apps could be developed which would bring a lot of medical diagnosis to rural villages – after all a big part of medicine is routine, and, in most cases, you don’t have to do much to provide a big benefit.

“A smartphone app to diagnose cataracts and other eye-related problems in people in developing countries is undergoing testing. The Portable Eye Examination Kit or Peek includes an app-based diagnosis tool and clip-on hardware to examine cataracts and retina problems, the London School of Hygiene and Tropic Medicine says on its website.”

19.   Interest in Electric Vehicles Held Back by Perceived Lack of Direct Personal Benefits

I am not entirely sure consumers are knowledgeable enough regarding electric vehicles to have an informed opinion regarding electric vehicles, especially since durability has yet to be established (and it is a parameter I am particularly skeptical of). The ratio of interested consumers is actually surprisingly low even though I have not read many articles not full of gushing praise for the product.

“A GfK study covering the USA, China, Japan, France, Spain, and Russia shows that, overall, over half (55%) of respondents have a favorable opinion of electric vehicles (EVs) and not far off half (43%) are somewhat or very open to buying one. However, almost a third (31%) are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ open to the idea of buying one.”

20.   Don’t do it, Nokia

It may be dark paranoia to believe Elop is essentially an agent for Microsoft even if he isn’t, simply because his strategies, bizarrely aligned with those of Microsoft, seem to be precisely calibrated to devastate sales and make Nokia palatable to only a single buyer, namely Microsoft. No actual conspiracy is required if we assume assumed he shares the singularly wrong world view of the soon to be departed Balmer. It would be a pity for Nokia is a new Microsoft CEO decides that Nokia is no longer of strategic value to Microsoft, however.

“In the darker corners of my paranoid mind, I’ve always mused about the possibility that Microsoft sent its former executive Stephen Elop to intentionally sabotage Nokia so that its share price would crash, thus making it easy for Microsoft to buy it on the cheap. While this is admittedly a delusional conspiracy theory, I think it could gain at least a little legitimacy if Nokia really does go forward with its rumored plan to release a high-end tablet based on Windows RT.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 16th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 16th 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

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’.


Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe




1.        Mystery Particle To Make Devices Even Tinier

Not a very good article, but an interesting phenomenon. Usually, however, things that require cryogenic temperature do not find their way to the marketplace.

“The particle, called a skyrmion, is more stable and less power-hungry than its conventional, magnetic cousin. Besides storing data in ultra compact media, skyrmions could lead to faster computers that combine storage with processing power and usher in smaller and smaller devices that have the same computing power as a desktop machine.”

2.        Firefox OS smartphone in the US and UK

Carriers tend to carry a narrow selection of smartphones because a broader selection makes support and marketing a nightmare. Of course, buying a phone through a carrier is simply a way of paying them to indenture you, but that is a side issue. I buy my phones unlocked and online, and I predict many more phones will be sold that way in the future.

“Smartphones running the new Firefox OS have been launched by a couple of carriers around the world (most notably by Telefónica in Spain and South America), but a widespread launch in the US and UK is still a ways off. Despite that, ZTE still wants to sell its Open Firefox smartphone to consumers willing to pay for it in those countries, so it has turned to eBay to peddle its wares.”

3.        The flattening of e-book sales

Certainly not what I would expect, however, I find e-book pricing to be fundamentally flawed. Until such a time as the cost of e-books moves close to the royalty paid to the author, instead of a dollar or so less than the cost of a paper version, I won’t be paying for e-books. That doesn’t mean I won’t be reading them …

“In a post on the first day of this year, I noted the surprisingly rapid decline in e-book sales growth over the course of 2012. The trend appears to be continuing this year. The Association of American Publishers reports that in the first quarter of 2013, overall e-book sales in the U.S. trade market grew by just 5 percent over where they were in the same period in 2012.”

4.        How Much Do Average Apps Make?

The data speak for themselves: it doesn’t pay, on average, to write apps. Mind you, there are plenty of applications for PCs and, excluding a small number of programs like Office, similar figures likely apply. What would be interesting would be to see data for average app-sales over time.

“The consensus around the industry is that Google dominates the mobile market with 900 million users, while Apple follows with 600 million iOS devices purchased, and Microsoft comes in third place with an estimated 12 million Windows Phones sold (the vast majority of those, 81%, being sold by Nokia NOK ).”

5.        Physicists Close In on ‘Perfect’ Optical Lens

I guess it is true: if the math allows it, it can be done.

“Now, following recent breakthroughs, researchers are laying the groundwork for a “perfect lens” that can resolve sub-wavelength features in real time, as well as a suite of other optical instruments long thought impossible. These devices sidestep old optical limits by bending rays of light the “wrong” way — a phenomenon known as negative refraction.”

6.        Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Microsoft Bing-bang-bungles local search

Let’s see: Microsoft will know what you are searching on your home/office computer, and we know they collude with the NSA and global security establishment to share information. So, let’s imaging you are using a PC for pretty much anything – if this allegation is true, you now are sharing your activities with Microsoft, their customers, whoever can hack Microsoft, and the world’s governments. What can go wrong?

“Talk about having things both ways! A few months ago in its “Scroogled” ad campaign, Microsoft was complaining about how Google uses your search terms and Gmail contents to deliver targeted ads. Now, Microsoft is touting how Windows 8.1 uses your search terms to deliver targeted ads, even when you’re doing searches on local drives.”

7.        ManualsLib – Search For Manuals Online

This might be a useful website when you can’t find the manual for a piece of gear you bought a few years ago.

“Looking for a manual online? ManualsLib is here to help you save time spent on searching. Our database consists of more than 1203238 pdf files and becomes bigger every day! Just enter the keywords in the search field and find what you are looking for! Search results include manual name, description, size and number of pages. You can either read manual online or download it to your computer. Moreover, documents can be shared on social networks. Welcome!”

8.        Pirate Bay’s Anti-Censorship Browser Clocks 100,000 Downloads

Given the increased footprint of government on the Internet (including the UK’s bizarre idea of filtering content) one can see how this would be a popular choice.

“Within three days of its launch The Pirate Bay’s PirateBrowser, which allows people to bypass ISP filtering and access blocked websites, has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times. The Pirate Bay team say they never expected the browser to catch on this quickly, while noting that they are determined to provide more anti-censorship tools.”

9.        Americans are starting to cut the cable TV cord, and here’s what it looks like

When one looks at recent trends it is important not to forget the economic crisis which is arguably still ongoing. The unemployed tend to spend less of frivolity, despite the allure of the Kardashians. Nonetheless, I continue to believe video on demand will displace traditional cable business models.

“Americans are starting to ditch pay television. It’s been suspected for several years that more Americans were cutting the cord—that is, going without cable—than were signing up for new pay TV subscriptions. But solid evidence of the trend had been difficult to find. Though subscriptions to pay TV began to stall in late 2009, possible explanations included market saturation and more young adults living at home.”

10.   Encryption is less secure than we thought

Why do I think the NSA already has this figured out? Assurances to the contrary, vulnerabilities are more likely associated with back doors than flawed mathematics, however, we can rest assured the flawed mathematics are being exploited by both white and black hats.

“Information theory — the discipline that gave us digital communication and data compression — also put cryptography on a secure mathematical foundation. Since 1948, when the paper that created information theory first appeared, most information-theoretic analyses of secure schemes have depended on a common assumption.”

11.   Facing taxes, Spaniards tear down their solar panels

Talk about bait and switch! When I first saw the articles about this, I thought they were joking, but it makes perfect sense: there is a massive long term liability associated with solar subsidy programs and, if the law doesn’t allow you to cancel those deals, the law certainly allows you to tax the proceeds. The only thing which makes Spain special in this regard is the government’s financial constraints – solar subsidies have created a financial millstone which will persist for decades to come.

“The Spanish government is in debt to its power producers to the tune of 26 billion euros, the results of years spent regulating costs. To make up the difference, it’s imposing a levy on rooftop solar panels — effectively negating the economic benefit of generating clean energy.”

12.   Netflix and Amazon don’t have enough content to replace cable TV

All fair arguments, especially with respect to sports. However, the future is about what will be, not what is: for the non-sports fan, cable TV has become a wasteland – cable news channels that have nothing to do with news, “History” channels that have nothing to do with history, etc., etc.. For somebody with broadband and budget constraints, losing cable is a lot easier than it used to be.

“It’s no surprise that few people love their pay TV providers. In May, Variety reported that the American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranked cable television providers last in all consumer categories. Pent up frustration with cable and satellite TV providers fuels a steady buzz that Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix will disrupt TV. These new entrants promise to offer variability in pricing and greater choice fueling notions that Americans have officially cut their proverbial cords.”

13.   Samsung could beat Apple’s smart watch to market with a Sept. 4 unveiling

I know I am an old guy, but why in hell would I want a watch to talk to my phone, especially when it has the form and feel of a manacle? Who knows, maybe people will buy these things, but I just can’t see it.

“Samsung has been teasing some new product releases for a September 4 event called Samsung Unpacked, and the fan site SamMobile, citing an anonymous source, reports that one of the things Samsung will unveil is a “Galaxy Gear” smart watch that will act as a companion to Samsung’s Galaxy phones. Samsung has previously confirmed that it is working on a smart watch, but has not announced a date for its launch.”

14.   Future looks flat for 3D TV

Just another high-profile (for Australia) cancellation of ‘regular’ 3D TV broadcasts due to lack of interest and content. I look forward to the day I can go see a movie without the distraction an annoyance of 3D.

“Vale 3D television, born 2009, died 2013. Deeply mourned by television manufacturers, hardly noticed by buyers. With Foxtel’s announcement in late July that it was ditching its no-longer-viable 3D channel, owing to a worldwide lack of 3D content production, the failure of 3D has become official. All the hype put into it by manufacturers has been cancelled out by the simple fact that no one wants to wear special glasses to watch telly.”

15.   How Elon Musk Could Change The World With A High-Speed Transportation System Called The Hyperloop

I had to include something about Elon Musk’s latest world changing invention: the Hyperloop. Not so much because it’ll change the world (it’ll never get built) or that it is an actual invention (i.e. something which does something that actually works), but it is representative of the cult of Musk which permeates the technology/tech investor world. I could address at length about why Hyperloop is expensive, impractical, and downright stupid, but what is truly interesting is how little thought, let alone critical thought, went in to coverage of this nonsense.

“Elon Musk is the most interesting technology entrepreneur in the world right now. He’s the CEO of electric car company Tesla, CEO of space exploration company SpaceX, and chairman of solar power installation company Solar City.”

16.   IBM Gives a Peek at Flash Road Map

Who knew IBM had anything interesting to say about Flash or Solid State Drives? The idea of putting storage in memory slots (DIMM) is a good one, notwithstanding Intel’s criticism. Even if this doesn’t result in a significant speed improvement it confers considerable system design flexibility: rather than selling storage as a self-contained module (as Intel does), you simply have a rack which you plug DIMM Flash modules into. Try that with a traditional hard disk.

“IBM will use the technology of startup Diablo Technologies to pack NAND flash in server dual in-line memory sockets next year. It also aims to design its own controller chip putting flash in DIMM slots.”

17.   Tablet and cellphone processors offset PC MPU weakness

I ascribe little value to industry research reports, but some people find them interesting. The reality of the microprocessor market is a slowing PC segment is far more important from a financial perspective than a rapidly growing mobile market (even as that mobile market shows signs of plateauing. The reason is simply that PC processors typically cost 10 to 100x mobile processors.

“Worldwide microprocessor sales are on pace to reach a record-high $61.0 billion in 2013 mostly due to strong demand for tablet computers and cellphones that connect to the Internet, but the ongoing slump in standard personal computers-including notebook PCs-is once again dragging down overall MPU growth this year.  Total microprocessor sales are now expected to increase eight percent in 2013 after rising just two percent in 2012, according to a new forecast in IC Insights’ Mid-Year Update of The McClean Report 2013.”

18.   New flow battery could enable cheaper, more efficient energy storage

Flow batteries are interesting because the ‘charge’ is store in liquid reactants – as a result you can recharge the batter by replacing the reactants, then recharge the reactants ‘offline’. Also, the capacity of the battery is limited by the size of the storage tank. Cool stuff all around, except actually getting one to work, at an affordable cost, is another matter. Durability, efficiency, etc., are also important factors which has to be addressed.

“MIT researchers have engineered a new rechargeable flow battery that doesn’t rely on expensive membranes to generate and store electricity. The device, they say, may one day enable cheaper, large-scale energy storage. The palm-sized prototype generates three times as much power per square centimeter as other membraneless systems—a power density that is an order of magnitude higher than that of many lithium-ion batteries and other commercial and experimental energy-storage systems.”

19.   A major American city is officially fed up with Comcast

I favor treating broadband as a utility – even to the extent of government ownership and operation of the service. This isn’t rocket science and there is no reason it should be expensive – after all, why are costs high despite the price of the equipment dropping by 50% ever few years or so?

“Comcast has the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any ISP in the United States and now it’s exhausted the patience of an entire city. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that Baltimore’s city government is hiring “a broadband Internet consultant that would help the city develop a plan for expanding Internet service provider options for businesses and residents.” At issue is the fact that Comcast has held what amounts to a monopoly in the Baltimore area for years now after it signed a cable franchise agreement in 2004 that won’t expire until the end of 2016.”

20.   How Big Data Could Help Identify the Next Felon — Or Blame the Wrong Guy

It occurred to me the other day that government and business is increasing treating dystopian science fiction (Robocop, 1984) as a source of ideas. After all, why would you not expect a for-profit prison system to generate more prisoners, or why would you not expect ‘big data’ proponents to sell the security benefits of their wares? Setting aside the questionable value of “trial through back-casting” (a common flaw present in most computer models that finds they work best when dealing with the historical data they were trained on, yet lack predictive skill), there is the real fact that honest, non-terrorists vastly outnumber bad guys, and false positives can be life destroying. All in the name of security …

“Think of it as big data meets “Minority Report.” While working as the chief privacy officer at Intelius, an online provider of background checks, Jim Adler created software that demonstrates how just a few details about a person could be used to estimate the chances of someone committing a felony. Accurately, he says.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 9th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 9th 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

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’.


Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1.        Hotter Weather Actually Makes Us Want to Kill Each Other

This is science at its best: a temperate climate makes for happy people. It sort of explains why Europe has been such a peaceful place for the past thousand years or so. Oh climate change – is there no evil you cannot cause?

“For this study, the researchers performed a meta-analysis of 60 studies, some of which contained data going back to 10,000 B.C. They found that as temperature increases one standard deviation from the mean — roughly equivalent to warming a U.S. county by 5 degrees Fahrenheit in a given month — the likelihood of interpersonal violence rises by 4 percent and that of intergroup conflict rises by 14 percent.”

2.        President Obama vetoes Samsung patent ban on iPhone 4 and select iPads

The hypocrisy just screams: Samsung’s patents were infringed and they sought legal remedy. The ITC found in their favor, and Obama overruled the ruling. He did not, apparently, find fit to overrule the damages award Apple in their action against Samsung, and he remains silent Microsoft’s patent trolling Android vendors. What use are the courts when lobbyists can overrule them?

“The Obama administration has stepped in today to veto an import ban Samsung won from the International Trade Commission to prevent the iPhone 4 and some iPads from coming into the US. The move marks the first time since 1987 that a President has interfered with an ITC order.”

3.        Simulating 1 second of real brain activity takes 40 minutes and 83K processors

The actual function of a neuron is not entirely understood and it may never be. After all a neuron isn’t a simple switch, it is a complete biochemical machine. We don’t even really know how a brain works, let alone how the mind works, which is a different thing altogether. Fundamentally, they have run a simplified model of how they think the brain works and it took 83,000 processors 40 minutes to run 1 second of that model. The singularity is near indeed.

“A team of Japanese and German researchers have carried out the largest-ever simulation of neural activity in the human brain, and the numbers are both amazing and humbling. The hardware necessary to simulate the activity of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses (just 1 percent of a brain’s total neural network) for 1 biological second: 82,944 processors on the K supercomputer and 1 petabyte of memory (24MB per syapse). That 1 second of biological time took 40 minutes, on one of the world’s most-powerful systems, to compute.”

4.        How to Ensure Your Router, Cameras, Printers, and Other Devices Aren’t Accessible on the Internet

No – this is not about NSA paranoia, just a good guide to of preventing your stuff from being hacked or compromised.

“Some people’s networked printers, cameras, routers, and other hardware devices are accessible from the Internet. There are even search engines designed to search such exposed devices. If your devices are secure, you won’t have to worry about this.”

5.        Crossbar takes on DRAM and flash storage with super fast, super long-lasting RRAM tech

Sure sounds interesting, although it is worth noting that novel memory technologies have a near zero chance of success in the market.

“Startup Crossbar emerged from stealth mode Monday to announce its version of RRAM (resistive random-access memory), a new type of memory that could be a successor to flash storage and DRAM.”

6.        Cablevision CEO on a Possible Sale and the Online Future of TV

I wrote a piece sometime in 1996 which predicted that Internet technologies were going to transform the broadcast model. This doesn’t mean that broadcasters will disappear, just that the ‘channel’ concept will disappear. Once that happens, and it will, cable TV as such will simply be broadband delivery.

“Discussing the future of TV, the 58-year-old said that “there could come a day” when Cablevision stops offering TV channels and offers broadband as its primary service. Dolan argued that the cable industry was living in a “bubble” with its focus on TV packages that people must pay for as offered.”

7.        IBM Creates Power Consortium to Take on Intel

One of the consequences of ever more complex chips is that the CPU simply becomes a small part of a large system on a chip. This freezes out architectures which cannot be licensed, so it is about time IBM came to the realization they have to license their cores. As to them “taking on Intel”, well, good luck with that: Power is a rounding error in the space and that is not likely to change.

“Big Blue will license its Power processors to other companies, enabling them to build their own servers, networking systems and storage appliances based on IBM’s architecture, company officials said Aug. 6. As part of the effort, IBM is working with the likes of Google and Nvidia to launch the OpenPower Consortium to help create a hardware and software ecosystem around the Power architecture as it looks to give organizations an alternative to Intel’s x86 chips in cloud computing and hyperscale data center environments.”

8.        Samsung mass produces industry’s first 3D NAND flash chips

Flash will eventually run its course, but 3D stacking offers the opportunity to extend memory densities for another few years. This approach will lead to very high density SSDs, however, the cost curve will probably be considerably less aggressive than that imposed by smaller device geometries.

“Samsung Electronics Monday said it is now mass producing chips that stack layers of data-storing silicon like a microscopic skyscraper, creating what will undeniably be the NAND flash technology for the immediate future. The move lets Samsung boast an industry first, three-dimensional (3D) Vertical NAND (V-NAND) flash memory that breaks through current 2D or planar NAND scaling limits.”

9.        How Much Will PRISM Cost the U.S. Cloud Computing Industry?

Companies are starting to realize that cloud computing has significant security ramifications (i.e. practically speaking there is no security). We wrote about this many times before the Snowden/NSA/Prism revelations – it is written into the US “Patriot” Act. Even so, this is not a US/NSA story are the article explains – and laws have nothing to do about it: spies (and hackers) so not obey the law. The cloud is useful for mundane things like electronic retailing. Use for anything which requires a shred of security is stupid.

“The United States has been the leader in providing cloud computing services not just domestically, but also abroad where it dominates every segment of the market. Recent revelations about the extent to which the NSA obtains electronic data from third-parties will likely have an immediate and lasting impact on the competitiveness of the U.S. cloud computing industry if foreign customers decide the risks of storing data with a U.S. company outweigh the benefits. Unless the White House or Congress acts soon, the U.S. cloud computing industry stands to lose $22 to $35 billion over the next three years.”

(PDF File)

10.   Strategy Analytics: Android Captures Record 80 Percent Share of Global Smartphone Shipments in Q2 2013

We were pretty confident as an open system (despite Microsoft’s patent trolling) Android would take over the mobile space. The challenge for Apple is that their shrinking market share makes it less and less likely they will command a premium price or that application developers will continue to zealously support their platform.

“According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone shipments grew 47 percent annually to reach 230 million units in the second quarter of 2013. Android captured a record 80 percent share all smartphone volumes worldwide, while Microsoft solidified its position in third place.”

11.   Edward Snowden’s Email Provider Shuts Down Amid Secret Court Battle

One can only surmise what is going on here, however, consider the comments by the company’s users who are, apparently, suffering as a result of the decision to shut down the service. This is a common problem for people who rely on a particular cloud or other service when it shuts down.

“A pro-privacy email service long used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden abruptly shut down today, blaming a secret U.S. court battle it has been fighting for six weeks — one that it seems to be losing so far. “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,”  owner Ladar Levison wrote in a statement. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations.””

12.   Meshnet activists rebuilding the internet from scratch

I’ve been reading more and more about this ‘movement’. It makes a great deal of sense from a societal perspective, and technologically it could easily replace the standard Internet Service Provider (ISP) model. Unfortunately, to really take off it would need high powered unlicensed spectrum and access to wired infrastructure. There are powerful economic interests which would not want to see this happen.

“THE internet is neither neutral nor private, in case you were in any doubt. The US National Security Agency can reportedly collect nearly everything a user does on the net, while internet service providers (ISPs) move traffic according to business agreements, rather than what is best for its customers. So some people have decided to take matters into their own hands, and are building their own net from scratch.”

13.   Math Advances Raise the Prospect of an Internet Security Crisis

For the longest time RSA was the gold standard for encryption. The NSA (and the Russians) abandoned it, which implies they already solved the problem. the comments about Blackberry and Certicom are interesting …

“The encryption systems used to secure online bank accounts and keep critical communications private could be undone in just a few years, security researchers warned at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas yesterday. Breakthroughs in math research made in the past six months could underpin practical, fast ways to decode encrypted data that’s considered unbreakable today.”

14.   Ultrabooks give SSD shipments a boost

Ultrabooks are fundamentally just higher priced laptops but they are not altogether that expensive. I am confident that SSD prices will continue to drop and will more or less completely displace hard disks in laptops within a year or two.

“Shipments of solid-state drives (SSDs) rocketed in this year’s first quarter and the technology is now becoming the storage of choice in thin and light laptops. SSD shipments totalled 11.5 million in the first quarter, growing from 6 million units shipped in the same quarter last year, said technology research firm IHS iSuppli in a new study.”

15.   Rogers, Bell and Telus launch campaign to combat rumoured Verizon takeover of Wind

If I were a shareholder in any of the telecom oligopoly I would have two concerns at this juncture: the first would be a collapse in profits if the market were to become competitive, and second because of the abject cluelessness being exhibited by the oligopoly in their response to a competitive threat. While protesting they are truly competitive they are transparently colluding against this threat and putting the government of Canada in the position of either bowing to their demands (with consequent political fallout) or hardening the government’s stance against their overall control of telecommunications in the country.

“The big three have also launched a sleek ‘Fair for Canada’ website that conveniently highlights online articles echoing their thoughts about the Canadian government’s current wireless industry competition policies. The goal of the site is obviously to inform the Canadian public that our government favours allowing giant U.S. corporations (mainly referring to the rumoured Verizon/Wind deal) to enter the Canadian market and allowing them to buy more spectrum than the competition.”

16.   Cameyo

This looks interesting but I am still trying to get my head around it. Be careful about the claims of ‘security’ – centralized systems are may be secure until they are no longer secure, then they are really no longer secure. This presentation seems to explain a fair bit, but I don’t understand their business model or how this might impact licensing.

17.   Why your burger should be grown in a lab

As a guy who grew up in the country, I know a lot more about where meat comes from than the average person – one of the most traumatic experiences in my life was working in a chicken farm. That’s why I prefer to kill what I eat: at least game has a life before death. People who are promoting this abomination of ‘lab grown meat’ probably go out of their way to buy (pretend) “organic” produce as well, probably because they are oblivious as to what it takes to grow what is essentially a tumor in a lab environment. I’ll stick with deer and moose.

“On Monday, three lucky diners nibbled a $325,000 burger — not in the name of luxury but in the name of science, animal rights and sustainability. The meat was grown in a lab. This in-vitro hamburger is “cultured” in many different ways: It’s the product of human ingenuity, it’s considerate of humans, animals and the planet, and it’s produced through growing cells.”

18.   Suneet Tuli plans to eradicate poverty in India with a £20 touchscreen computer

A heartwarming read but there is very little chance a tablet will eradicate a complex, multidimensional issue like poverty. That being said, the discussion of pricing offers additional insight as to the direction tablet prices is headed.

“The room contains the familiar elements of a classroom: a blackboard, posters of great inventors and a chart rewarding pupil performance with stars. But, placed between each pair of students, is something unusual in a resource-deprived, rural school in the developing world: a seven-inch capacitive touch-tablet computer.”

19.   Xerox scanners/photocopiers randomly alter numbers in scanned documents

A truly remarkable discovery and one which I am sure has class action lawyers smacking their chops in anticipation – who knew a ‘Xerox’ of something actually meant close approximation, possible wrong in the details?

“In this article I present in which way scanners / copiers of the Xerox WorkCentre Line randomly alter written numbers in pages that are scanned. This is not an OCR problem (as we switched off OCR on purpose), it is a lot worse – patches of the pixel data are randomly replaced in a very subtle and dangerous way: The scanned images look correct at first glance, even though numbers may actually be incorrect.”

20.   The Man Who Thinks He Never Has to Eat Again Is Probably Going to Be a Billionaire Soon

Vice TV, which is on HBO, is actually a great news program. It’s sort of what news used to be – actual journalists telling important stories. A lot of the other stuff produced by Vice is typical garbage and this article is a case in point. People like to eat things that taste good – only somebody who thought the automated feeding machine in Chaplain’s Modern Times was a good idea would think otherwise. Making nutritionally complete gruel is not hard and it won’t make anybody a billionaire.

“A few months ago we wrote about Soylent, an incredibly nutritious “food replacement” smoothie that Rob, a 24-year-old engineer, had been making and consuming as his only food source for almost five weeks. On one hand, it did look a bit like semen—but on the other, Rob claimed that by drinking it every day he’d never have to eat again. Given that starvation is a fairly major problem in the world at the moment and the planet’s population will likely surpass 9 billion by 2050, Rob’s invention seems like an important one.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 2nd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 2nd 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

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’.


Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe



1.        The Brave New World of Unmanned Vehicles

It might be great news for artists and photographers, but private robot flying machines zipping around is bound to negatively impact privacy. If one came onto my property, I’d probably shoot it down.

“While the FAA, other legal and regulatory agencies, and privacy advocates catch up in terms of the legality and ethics of such uses of unmanned vehicles, manufacturers are envisioning a future in which UAVs will be a prevalent part of everyday life. “It’s going to spark a lot of creativity,” said UAV manufacturer Zenon Dragan. “It’s going to be great for artists, videographers and photographers.””

2.        Los Angeles plans to give 640,000 students free iPads

What a staggeringly stupid idea: $30 million to provide 31,000 students fragile and expensive toys, with another 610,000 students to go. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on, say, teachers or musical instruments? Perhaps, if they are going to waste money on high tech teaching aids, they might consider laptops or even subsidies for broadband access?

“Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will receive 31,000 free iPads this school year under a new $30 million program launched by the district. The goal is to improve education and get them ready for the workforce with new technology skills they are not getting at home.”

3.        VCR’s Past Is Guiding Television’s Future

The article makes some pretty interesting points about legal precedent. I don’t feel too bad for broadcasters or cable channels in general as they seem to be hell bent in a race to produce the lowest tripe they can imagine. Plus, they are simply inserting ads into the ‘content’ in addition to the ads they expect you to watch between acts.

“The last few weeks have been a rugged legal stretch for incumbent television companies. First, an appeals court declined to rehear a case in which broadcasters sought to close down Aereo, a company that allows users to record and play back broadcast television over the Internet. And then last week, another appeals court declined to stop Dish Network, the satellite television company, from selling a service called Hopper, which lets viewers automatically skip ads.”

4.        Why Are Google Employees So Disloyal?

The headline sounds negative, but it isn’t: basically young employees are productive, especially for the type of work Google needs. Young employees nowadays are (correctly) disloyal because they can get other jobs and, in any event, companies are in general disloyal to employees.

“The perks Google lays on for its employees are the stuff of legend. Free gourmet food all day, the best health insurance plan anywhere, five months’ paid maternity leave, kindergartens and gyms at the workplace, the freedom to work on one’s own projects 20 percent of the time, even death benefits. No wonder the tech behemoth has topped Fortune Magazine’s list of best companies to work for every year since 2007. Why, then, aren’t Googlers more loyal to their employer?”

5.        Boffins use lasers to detect radio waves

Very cool technology which probably has immediate application for spacecraft. Longer term, this sort of approach might revolutionize medical instruments such as MRI.

“Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, DTU Nanotech in Denmark, and NIST’s Joint Quantum Institute plan to overcome the problem by not using antennas at all. Rather, they’ve developed and demonstrated a combination electromechanical and optical sensor that allows the signals to be captured on a laser beam.”

6.        Harvard creates brain-to-brain interface, allows humans to control other animals with thoughts alone

Yes, the device does allow a brain pattern to waggle a rat’s tail, but it’s a bit early to refer to this as a brain to brain interface in a general sense. The comments about telepathy are complete nonsense, however. Also I’m not too worried about Fascist mind control, however, since we don’t really understand thoughts yet: it’s much easier to control people through the media: always has been, always will be.

“Researchers at Harvard University have created the first noninvasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) between a human… and a rat. Simply by thinking the appropriate thought, the BBI allows the human to control the rat’s tail. This is one of the most important steps towards BBIs that allow for telepathic links between two or more humans — which is a good thing in the case of friends and family, but terrifying if you stop to think about the nefarious possibilities of a fascist dictatorship with mind control tech.”

7.        PCs outsell tablets in college dorms

Since tablets are content consumption devices while PCs are content consumption and generation devices, it is hard to believe tablets are going to displace PCs any time soon (see item 2, above).

“Sales of desktop and laptop computers may soon be overtaken by tablets, but there is one place the old workhorses haven’t fallen out of fashion: the college campus.”

8.        Chip Market Projected to Grow 7%

It is halfway through the year so it’s time to update the useless forecasts churned out by industry analysts. They usually start out the year wrong and then converge on the correct answer once it is historical fact. The important detail is this: because there are no large growth markets for technology, expectations of average growth over a couple of percent are plain wrong.

“Global semiconductor sales are expected to increase by 6.9 percent in 2013 to reach $320 billion, driven largely by growth in smartphone and other mobile computing devices, according to a new forecast from International Data Corp. (IDC).

9.        Windows 8 adoption rate drops back to a plod

I can’t help but suspect the number would be even lower if Microsoft hadn’t devalued its Windows 8 license terms to prohibit “downgrading” to Windows 7 on most PCs.

“Windows 8 share of the desktop OS market grew slowly last month relative to a surge in new users in June. Windows 8 gained 0.3 percent market share in July, bringing its share to 5.4 percent overall, according to figures from web analytics company Net Applications.”

10.   Are we at the limit of resolution improvements that people can notice?

The question is not so much whether you notice, but whether you care. Of course, resolution isn’t the only thing, but it is something you can easily communicate through your advertising/puffery. Gamut, contrast, etc., are all important aspects to perceived image quality. In either event with many things, and displays are one of them, there are diminishing returns to improved quality.

“I saw two things over the past two weeks that made me question whether we humans had reached some kind of landmark. They were not, thankfully, YouTube comments. One was the Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign. I wrote about how the cutting-edge smartphone was so powerful, and so custom-built for certain purposes, that it resembled the kind of bespoke suits one buys on Savile Row.”

11.   3D printers can pay for themselves in under a year

Interesting but not particularly significant: I “paid” for most of the tools in my workshop when I made my kitchen and my wife pays for her sewing machine every few weeks. However, most people aren’t going to make their own kitchen. Most people are not, by nature ‘makers’. Nonetheless, this sort of article can be used to justify buying a 3D printer, which, for a tool hound, can be a very important thing.

“By simply printing out your own shower curtain rings, iPhone case, jewelry organizer or other common products, an average homeowner could recoup the cost of a 3D printer in under a year. That’s the conclusion of a study by Michigan Technological University (MTU), which used “conservative” numbers to find that the average homeowner could save up to $2,000 a year by manufacturing just 20 common products.”

12.   Turbine Trouble: Ill Wind Blows for Germany’s Offshore Industry

German energy policy (expecting that by moving to unproven ‘alternate’ energy systems, those system will be proven) is baffling to me. Nonetheless, despite the negative sounding headline, this article appears to be more about lousy planning (no grid hook up) than inherent challenges with wind turbines. Nobody would plan a coal fired plant without planning the needed grid modifications as well.

“The new power plant 15 kilometers (9 miles) off the North Sea island of Borkum is a masterpiece of German engineering. In only 14 months, experts anchored dozens of giant rotors to the sea floor. The 150-meter (492-foot) wind turbines at the Riffgat offshore wind farm work perfectly. Providing clean electricity to 120,000 households, Riffgat was expected to become a milestone of the federal government’s shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy.”

13.   Today We Offer DevShare (Beta), A Sustainable Way To Fund Open Source Software

Actually, the headline is misleading. What they are saying is SourceForge is moving whole hg into the distribution of crapware. For non-geeks, SourceForce used to be a place you could download trusted open source distributions. Over the past few years it have become more and more a place which deceives you into downloading adware and other garbage. I am pretty confident this move will pretty quickly encourage the establishment of a trusted alternative.

“Today SourceForge it is excited to launch DevShare, a new opt-in, revenue-sharing program aimed at giving developers a better way to monetize their projects in a transparent, honest and sustainable way. DevShare is a new partnership program designed to make it easy for SourceForge developers to offer a selection of trusted open source applications to users, turning downloads into a source of revenue that can help fund their projects. This revenue will help these projects to grow and offer additional software to our users.”

14.   The UPS Store Makes 3D Printing Accessible to Start-Ups and Small Business Owners

There is a market in 3D printing services as there are numerous shops in many cities which offer them. It makes some sense UPS would get into this as they also offering (paper) printing services for small business as well. It’s also worth noting these are not typical low end hobby type printers.

“The UPS Store today announced it is the first nationwide retailer to test 3D printing services in-store. Select UPS Store locations will be offering the services to start-ups, small businesses and retail customers, beginning in the San Diego area with locations in additional cities across the United States in the near future.”

15.   The battle over the smart connected thermostat rages on

This isn’t that hard to do (I am making an Internet accessible ‘smart’ hydronic heating controller) so I find the pricing pretty baffling. The overview is interesting, though. What is rather frustrating is the idea of a patent battle over thermostats. Not to worry – I’ll open source mine. Like I said, it ain’t rocket science.

“Honeywell recently launched a fancy $249 Wi-Fi thermostat and an online energy savings calculator that aim to re-invent the company’s long-standing product line, and compete with younger, nimble upstarts like Nest and Radio Thermostat Company of America. Some of these startups are moving aggressively — despite only launching the learning thermostat in 2011, Nest has gotten it into big retail chains such as Lowe’s and Apple’s online store.”

16.   Intel’s Minnowboard open source, low-power dev board ships for $199

What a strange idea. I can buy a full up laptop for more or less the same cost, and the thing with PCs is that while they do a lot of things, they don’t do the sort of things you use a Raspberry Pi ($25), Arduino ($20) or Beaglebone ($50) for. In other words, you can’t connect an I2C 3 axis accelerometer or an SPI thermocouple sensor to a PC without a great deal of pain.

“The Minnowboard takes another approach. It’s a $199 dev board powered by an Intel Atom E640 processor. It’s aimed at developers, hackers, and other folks looking to put together a DIY system with an x86 processor as well as professional developers looking for a device that helps build prototypes for embedded systems.”

17.   If You Think 3D Printing Is Disruptive, Wait for 4D

First I’ve heard of it, and it sounds very interesting though very much ‘blue sky’ as well. I like the point about complexity being free in the 3D world, and I can see the advantages of adaptive structures, though useful adaptive structures are another matter.

“But if you think 3D printing is disruptive, then what about a technology that could in the view of one of its main evangelists “make the world editable.” That is disruption.”

18.   Samsung beats Apple (hah) in legit customer satisfaction study

I can’t agree with the comment that “the name of the game for Apple has always been innovation.” Apple’s current incarnation is all about marketing mostly other companies’ ideas as your innovation. Yes, their products work well together, but remember they do buy their components from companies like Samsung. As Blackberry discovered, all technology cults come to an end, and it looks like the cult of Apple is winding down.

“According to a smartphone brand study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI, Samsung hits a home run with its Galaxy S III and Note II, . The new study provides 2013 customer satisfaction benchmarks for 10 of the past year’s top-selling smartphone models in the United States.”

19.   Bell, Rogers and TELUS Ad Depicts Job Losses if Verizon Comes [PIC]

This is an absolutely fascinating spectacle: the Canadian telecom oligopoly is pulling out all the stops to, essentially, force the government to remove their power. Bell/Rogers/Telus control substantially all wireless and wireline communications in the country as well as most of the media. By using their might (and media outlets) to attempt to embarrass the government, they are setting up a situation where the government simply cannot back down without losing face and political capital. Besides, nobody gives is damn about their false claims about job loses: high cost, low quality telecommunications costs the country billions. Are these companies this stupid?

“The media blitz is in full swing by our wireless incumbents as today a new full page ad in the Globe and Mail has launched to depict ‘thousands of Canadian jobs’ to be lost if Verizon comes to Canada.”

20.   At Starbucks, AT&T is out and Google is in for Wi-Fi

This is completely unimportant, but it is rather incredible that, in 2013, there exists Internet service via T1 lines. T1 is a 1.544 megabit per second technology which is deliciously antediluvian: it was designed to hook up voice circuits, not data, and is incredibly primitive stuff. I swear, if we left it to telephone companies we’d have steam powered airplanes.

“Starbucks customers will soon have much faster Wi-Fi speeds, thanks to the company’s new partnership with Google. Starbucks said that Google, in conjunction with Level 3 Communications, will now be providing Wi-Fi service in Starbucks’ U.S. locations that’s up to 10 times faster than the current service powered by AT&T.”