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

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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.”


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