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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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’.
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.”