The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 27th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 27th 2013

Hello

I am an 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.

 

NOTE: I will be delivering a keynote address at the 19th Annual Annual SMCouncil Executive Forum on Microsystems and CMC 2013 Symposium October 16th entitled “Broadband Backwater:  Is it too late for Canadian Technology?” I believe the presentation will be posted online, however, if you wish to attend you can register at http://www.cmc.ca/en/NewsAndEvents/Events/Symposium2013

 

 

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.        RSA warns developers not to use RSA products

Always a good sign, however, RSA is the security company which had its own data hacked in 2011 (http://www.engadget.com/2011/03/18/rsa-hacked-data-exposed-that-could-reduce-the-effectiveness-o/) so you really have to wonder. The point I need to stress is that a ‘backdoor’ is visible to anybody smart enough to recognize it (and a lot of math PhDs graduate every year) and hackable by anybody with the desire and the resources. While it is true NSA have huge resources, they are also working on a huge number of difficult problems at the same time. Any effort focused on one backdoor at one business could be successful, given enough time.

“In today’s news of the weird, RSA (a division of EMC) has recommended that developers desist from using the (allegedly) ‘backdoored’ Dual_EC_DRBG random number generator — which happens to be the default in RSA’s BSafe cryptographic toolkit. Youch.”

http://blog.cryptographyengineering.com/2013/09/rsa-warns-developers-against-its-own.html

2.        Chaos Computer Club breaks Apple TouchID

Well that didn’t last long. Mind you, most phone thieves are louts without the brains nor the predisposition to undertake such a project.

“The biometrics hacking team of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) has successfully bypassed the biometric security of Apple’s TouchID using easy everyday means. A fingerprint of the phone user, photographed from a glass surface, was enough to create a fake finger that could unlock an iPhone 5s secured with TouchID. This demonstrates – again – that fingerprint biometrics is unsuitable as access control method and should be avoided.”

http://www.ccc.de/en/updates/2013/ccc-breaks-apple-touchid

3.        Why Is Microsoft Setting More Money on Fire with Surface 2?

It is an interesting fact that managers tend to double down on bad strategies – after all, admitting defeat would imply they were wrong in the first case. A bit more money, a bit more time, and they’ll be proved right. In retrospect, the error seems obvious. Also see below regarding Dell.

“Pop quiz: Imagine you spend millions of dollars—and an untold number of engineering and design hours—on a new product that you hope will prove a bestseller on the open market. Instead, that product crashes and burns so badly that you’re forced to take a $900 million write-off on unsold units. Do you… A.) Discontinue a product that nobody seems to want. B.) Continue to sell the product, but resolve to never throw good money after bad by building a follow-up. C.) Pump a whole lot of money into creating a next-generation version of the product, but don’t radically alter its fundamental properties.“

http://slashdot.org/topic/cloud/why-is-microsoft-setting-more-money-on-fire-with-surface-2/

4.        Dell drops Windows RT, only Microsoft remains selling the OS

Windows RT is an interesting product – it is a ‘Windows like’ OS but it runs on ARM processors. When the product was announced, many commentators thought this would be a huge success due to all the applications written for ‘real’ (i.e. x86) based Windows. Obviously the fans knew nothing about software: it is a major undertaking to move software from one CPU architecture to another, and few companies would bother given the modest market potential.

“In the fall of 2012, five companies offered tablets or PCs that ran on Microsoft’s new ARM-based Windows RT. Now just one company is actively selling such a product and it happens to be Microsoft. This week, the last remaining third party Windows RT hardware provider, Dell, stopped selling its lone product that used the OS, the XPS 10.”

http://www.neowin.net/news/dell-drops-windows-rt-only-microsoft-remains-selling-the-os

5.        Applied, Tokyo Electron Agree to $29 Billion Merger

Most tech acquisitions make no sense whatsoever while others appear to make sense at first blush. This deal will create a combined company which will be, by far, the largest in the industry. Unfortunately, the industry is not growing, and is unlikely to grow, and it is dominated by a small number of large customers. Those customers are not keen on having a single large supplier of capital equipment, so you can bet that, over the new few years, they are likely to move business to the new #2 (ASML).

“Applied Materials Inc., the world’s largest chipmaking equipment supplier, and Tokyo Electron Ltd., ranked No. 3, have agreed to a merger that values the combined entity at about US$29 billion (about 2.8 trillion yen).”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319589&

6.        Worldwide semiconductor manufacturing equipment spending to decline 8.5 percent in 2013

This ties in to the previous article, however, you should take the growth forecasts with a grain of salt. Actually, given that it is Gartner Group, I’d suggest about 20 kilos of salt: in late 2010, their forecast for 2013 was for $47.7 billion in sales, a 27% miss.

“Worldwide semiconductor manufacturing equipment spending is projected to total $34.6 billion in 2013, an 8.5 percent decline from 2012 spending of $37.8 billion, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said that capital spending will decrease 6.8 percent in 2013, due to diminishing 28nm investment from a softening in the mobile phone market.”

http://electroiq.com/blog/articles/2013/09/worldwide-semiconductor-manufacturing-equipment-spending-to-decline-8-5-percent-in-2013/

7.        Data Broker Giants Hacked by ID Theft Service

More fun and games with network security also demonstrating the challenge with centralized (i.e. cloud) services: there is a big payoff for hacking the site so a lot of effort is so directed.

“An identity theft service that sells Social Security numbers, birth records, credit and background reports on millions of Americans has infiltrated computers at some of America’s largest consumer and business data aggregators, according to a seven-month investigation by KrebsOnSecurity.”

http://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/09/data-broker-giants-hacked-by-id-theft-service/

8.        T-Mobile US will no longer stock BlackBerry in stores

Blackberry’s abysmal pre-announcement came out just after last week’s Geek List, so I didn’t have the opportunity to comment. The company’s sales dropped about 50%, and were about half of expectations, despite new product launches, etc.. Those few still positive on the name suggest the company’s large subscriber base will sustain it, however, that customer base will rapidly dwindle as people drop off the network and are not replaced by new Blackberry buyers.

“David Carey, executive vice president for corporate services told Reuters about the plan on Wednesday, a few days after BlackBerry said it would no longer market to consumers because of drastically weakening smartphone sales.”

http://news.yahoo.com/t-mobile-us-no-longer-stock-blackberry-stores-210620089–finance.html

9.        BlackBerry’s Descent Begets Cheapest Tech Deal: Real M&A

It is hard to believe Fairfax intends to run the company as a going concern since sales are collapsing (a situation which is rarely rectified) and it will likely burn through its cash in fairly short order. Rather than sailing off into the sunset, like any once great ship, most likely Blackberry will be broken up and its pieces sold as scrap.

“The smartphone maker said yesterday it reached a tentative agreement for a $4.7 billion buyout by a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., its biggest shareholder. Including net cash, the proposal values the Waterloo, Ontario-based company at an 80 percent discount to its book value and just 0.17 times its sales, the cheapest revenue multiple on record among similar-sized North American telecommunications or technology acquisitions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-24/blackberry-s-descent-begets-cheapest-tech-deal-real-m-a.html

10.   Nokia Admits Giving Misleading Information About Elop’s Compensation

What a happy coincidence for all concerned – except company shareholders of course. It is a pity that the analysts following Nokia, and, presumably, providing valuable investment advice, didn’t bother reading the public filings of the company. Not to worry – all water under the bridge now.

“Nokia’s board of directors seems caught in a tragicomedy of epic proportions. The latest twist is Finland’s largest newspaper claiming that Nokia made a false statement about CEO’s bonus package last Friday. Pressed by Finnish and international media last week, chairman Siilasmaa had claimed then that the bonus structure of Stephen Elop’s contract in 2010 was “essentially the same” as the one the previous CEO had received. But the largest daily of the country, “Helsingin Sanomat”, decided to dig into SEC filings to investigate the matter. By early Tuesday morning, the newspaper had uncovered evidence that Nokia’s board had made fundamental changes in Elop’s contract compared to his predecessors.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/terokuittinen/2013/09/24/nokia-admits-giving-misleading-information-about-elops-compensation/

11.   Judge orders patent troll to explain its ‘Mr. Sham’ to jury

One gets the sense that the IP licensing ship has sailed. Perhaps the Nortel patent sale was the high mark for the trade.

“…District Court Judge William Alsup – he of Oracle v. Google fame — rendered a decision that was likely less palatable to NPS than had he dismissed the suit outright: He ordered NPS to essentially teach the jury a course in Patent Trolling 101 by defending the dirty tricks that got the case tossed out of Texas.”

http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/judge-orders-patent-troll-explain-its-%E2%80%98mr-sham%E2%80%99-jury

12.   Seriously, Samsung? Sorry, roamers, but the new Galaxy Note 3 is region-locked

If true (you never know) this is the most stupifyingly idiotic moves in tech history: people buy unlocked phones so they can use whatever mobile service they wish. If Samsung has actually region-locked the phone, people simply should not buy it.

“I really thought the days of region-locking were dying with the DVD, but it seems I was wrong – Samsung has decided to revive the odious practice with its Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. Yes, if you buy an unlocked Note 3 in Europe and travel to, say, the U.S., you will not be able to use a local SIM card. The same applies the other way round. In other words, you will be forced to pay for your carrier’s outrageous roaming fees or go Wi-Fi-only.”

http://gigaom.com/2013/09/26/seriously-samsung-sorry-european-roamers-but-the-new-galaxy-note-3-is-region-locked/

13.   20% of Yelp reviews are fake

Not surprising, really – most evaluation systems can be gamed and, for the most part, on line systems are easiest to game thanks to anonymity. It is worth considering, for example, how easy it would be to move an e-book to best-seller status through phantom downloads: the distribution costs (Amazon’s cut) could be simply viewed as part of the marketing budget …

“On Monday, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that 19 companies agreed to cease their practice of writing fake online reviews and pay hefty penalties for false advertising and deceptive business practices. Dubbed “Operation Clean Turf,” his investigation found that these businesses – ranging from bus companies to teeth whitening services — systematically tried to game the system by paying freelance writers from Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe between $1 to $10 per review. Schneiderman’s office cited a 2011 study by Michael Luca, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, which said a one-star rating hike on Yelp can mean a 5% to 9% rise in restaurant revenue.”

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/20-of-yelp-reviews-are-fake-2013-09-24

14.   Groundbreaking Results for High Performance Trading with FPGA and x86 Technologies

High speed trading disturbs me on several levels: it is quite clear the practice games information imbalance and favors large financial institutions. It is also probably destabilizing as nobody really knows how any algorithm is going to react to all circumstances. Of course, you can find economists who claim it is good for the market because it provides liquidity, but then again you can find economists who justify insider trading, which is a criminal offense.

“Working with Arista Network’s 7124FX Application Switch which includes an Altera FPGA with hardware-level access to 8 of its 24 10Gb Ethernet ports and an x86 domain based on Intel’s Xeon processors and using the test harness developed for the Finteligent Trading Technology Community program, the latency measured was reduced by a factor of 25 over pure x86 designs tested by the program. For the measured leg in the test harness, latency was reduced from a previous best of 4,600ns to 176ns for algorithmically generated trades executed to the simulated market.”

http://low-latency.com/article/groundbreaking-results-high-performance-trading-fpga-and-x86-technologies#!

15.   Google’s Gmail Keyword Scanning May Violate Wiretap Law

I don’t follow the legal theory, but I do see the point: if you email me or I email you, how can you implicitly agree to Google’s legalese licensing terms?

“Google’s Gmail automatic keyword scanning might violate laws in the United States against wiretapping, a federal judge ruled on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said that by automatically scanning Gmail users’ emails to provide targeted ads and filter spam, Google may be in breach of Federal and California state wiretapping laws, which prohibit the unauthorized interception of communications.”

http://mashable.com/2013/09/26/gmail-keyword-scan-wiretap/

16.   This Scoop of Mars Soil is Two Percent Water

Given all the trace evidence of water this result is not all that surprising. Despite the lack of trace methane on the planet (a possible sign of life) I tend to think it likely life once on the planet and maybe still does.

“By now, we probably all know that there was once significant quantities of water on the Martian surface and, although the red planet is bone dry by terrestrial standards, water persists as ice just below the surface to this day. Now, according to a series of new papers published in the journal Science, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has found that the Mars topsoil is laced with surprisingly high quantities of the wet stuff.”

http://news.discovery.com/space/this-scoop-of-mars-soil-is-two-percent-water-130926.htm

17.   Troll-Killing Patent Reform One Step Closer

Apropos my prior item on patent ‘trolls’ there may be some action from the US Congress. I believe one item (loser pays) would clear up a lot of the mess: currently in the US, losing litigants almost never have to pay the other party’s legal fees, which sets up an asymmetrical risk/reward profile in favor of threatening a suit with no real prospect of victory.

“Patent reform is heating up in Congress. Today House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte released a second discussion draft aimed at preventing abusive patent troll litigation. Chairman Goodlatte has suggested he will move quickly to hold a hearing and committee vote on this legislation.”

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/09/troll-killing-patent-reform-one-step-closer

18.   First carbon nanotube computer to help extend Moore’s Law?

Nanotech, and in particular graphene and nanotubes, have tremendous potential once they figure out how to make the stuff reliably. Yes, this is a primitive computer, yes it is based on nanotubes, but it is a long way from being a practical device.

“Stanford researchers have created a basic system that shuns silicon in favor of imperfect lines of carbon atoms that could one day deliver even more performance and efficiency than current technology.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57604663-1/first-carbon-nanotube-computer-to-help-extend-moores-law/

19.   Man Controls Bionic Leg with Thoughts

If you read the article the headline is somewhat misleading, but the direction of the research is encouraging. In fact, the leg moves thanks to redirected nerves stimulating an existing muscle, and the response is enhanced through signal processing. In the future, we can imagine a nerve/computer interface will reliable control the limb without stimulating the muscle.

“A 32-year-old man who lost his leg below the knee after a motorcycle accident four years ago now has a robotic prosthesis he can control with his mind, according to a new report of his case.”

http://news.discovery.com/tech/biotechnology/man-controls-bionic-leg-thoughts-130926.htm

20.   The Wonderfully Mundane New iPhone

Speaking of waves which may have crested (i.e. patent litigation) it is looking increasingly obvious the era of smartphone innovation is at an end. As I have mentioned several times in the past, this speaks to significant pricing and margin pressure looming in the space.

“The new iPhones look like the old iPhones. They sound like the old iPhones. They do the same things as the old iPhones. Just slightly better, more colorfully, and less expensively than the old iPhones. This might seem disappointing: even Apple’s phones are boring now. But this is an ideal state of affairs.”

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/09/the-wonderfully-mundane-new-iphone.html

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 20th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 20th 2013

Hello

I am an 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.

 

NOTE: I will be delivering a keynote address at the 19th Annual Annual SMCouncil Executive Forum on Microsystems and CMC 2013 Symposium October 16th entitled “Broadband Backwater:  Is it too late for Canadian Technology?” I believe the presentation will be posted online, however, if you wish to attend you can register at www.cmc.ca/en/NewsAndEvents/Events/Symposium2013

 

 

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.        SSDs do die, as Linus Torvalds just discovered

Well, duh. Of course, Solid State Drives (SSDs) die, everything has a failure rate: just last night I took apart the dash of my car because the ‘AUX’ input stopped working (bad solder joint). The issue is not whether SSDs die, but whether they are more reliable than hard drives (they are) and whether they offer a significant cost/benefit trade-off (they do). One interesting thing about SSDs is that, unlike HDs, failure is rarely catastrophic, and data recovery is often possible without too much trouble. Remember – always keep backups.

“While SSDs are vastly better performers than hard disk drives and are considered more reliable for mobile devices because they have no mechanical parts to break, they do have a limited lifespan. With some early SSDs, that lifespan ended up being less than a year, depending on the quality and use of the drive.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9242367/SSDs_i_do_i_die_as_Linus_Torvalds_just_discovered

2.        Googlers turn Raspberry Pi into Web server that teaches you to code

Despite its closed architecture, the Raspberry Pi appears to be the winner in the ARM Open Hardware development space. The good news is, Coder is bound to be ported onto other platforms and thereby become widely available. Google’s motives for such an undertaking are unclear me, however.

“The Google Creative Lab is hoping to change that with a new open source project called “Coder,” which turns the Pi into a “personal Web server and Web-based development environment.” After installing the Coder image on a Pi’s SD card and hooking it up to your network, you’d log into it from a browser on a Windows, Mac or Linux computer connected to the same network. It works in Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and any “relatively modern browser.””

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/09/googlers-turn-raspberry-pi-into-web-server-that-teaches-you-to-code/

3.        Rooftop solar panels become new enemy of U.S. firefighters

This little detail escaped my attention: does a firefighter want to spray water onto a roof with solar panels given the potential for electric shock? Would a firefighter climb onto a roof amid potentially dangerous voltages? How do you fight a fire between panels (and their supposedly robust frames) and a flammable surface? I am not even sure high voltages are present in solar panels, but if I were a firefighter I certainly wouldn’t want to find out.

“Loved by the green movement, solar panels pose a growing threat to firefighters, who may suffer electrical shocks from panels that typically cannot be turned off, said John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories. Even when systems are equipped with shutoffs, any light can keep panels and their wires energized, Drengenberg said.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/06/us-usa-solar-fire-idUSBRE9850V220130906

4.        Silicon Sees Schizophrenic Forecast

For what it is worth. After all, you don’t stay ling in the business of selling forecasts if you are pessimistic. Of course, my immediate question would be “how, exactly, do you discover growing demand for semiconductors when the large end markets for semiconductors are all maturing or declining?” Of course I have been asking that question for the last decade or so of moribund industry performance, and yet industry analysts sell their inevitably wrong forecasts for tens of thousands of dollars a copy.

“Economically, the semiconductor industry is headed for good times as the global economy pulls out of prolonged recession led by slow growth in Europe. Technologically, chip vendors are facing challenges that ultimately could undermine their business model. That was the appropriately schizophrenic forecast offered by Bill McClean, president of IC Insights, in his annual fall forecast here. “In general the trend for growth in semiconductors will improve in the next 10 years,” McClean said.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319479&

5.        After Edward Snowden’s revelations, why trust US cloud providers?

You didn’t need Snowdon to distrust US cloud providers – it is written into the ‘Patriot Act’. In any event, local or remote storage, regardless governments, other spies, and even competitors can gain access to anything stored outside your direct control. So the message is, use the cloud for the banal, keep important stuff local.

“Outside of the United States, for example, people suddenly began to have doubts about the wisdom of entrusting their confidential data to cloud services operated by American companies on American soil. As Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president responsible for digital affairs, put it in a speech on 4 July: “If businesses or governments think they might be spied on, they will have less reason to trust the cloud and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out. Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets, if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes? Front or back door – it doesn’t matter – any smart person doesn’t want the information shared at all. Customers will act rationally and providers will miss out on a great opportunity.””

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/15/edward-snowden-nsa-cloud-computing

6.        Is That Quantum Computer for Real? There May Finally Be a Test

I do not really understand this article, but there seems to be enough interest in D-Wave to merit its inclusion in this week’s Geeks List. The articles I have read about the computing performance of D-Wave’s system make me wonder what exactly it is, since those articles did not really benchmark against the sorts of problems quantum computers are expected to do well it. It appears that such tests exist, so, hopefully, somebody can apply them to D-Wave’s system and answer the question once and for all.

“In early May, news reports gushed that a quantum computation device had for the first time outperformed classical computers, solving certain problems thousands of times faster. The media coverage sent ripples of excitement through the technology community. A full-on quantum computer, if ever built, would revolutionize large swaths of computer science, running many algorithms dramatically faster, including one that could crack most encryption protocols in use today.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/08/quantum-cryptography-computing/

7.        Culture is not about aesthetics. Punk rock is now enforced by law.

This is actually a pretty good analysis of why the music industry is suffering and why it will probably continue to suffer. The fact is, lots of people play musical instruments, some better than others. The “golden age” of music was simply a disconnect in the distribution system – some musicians were easy to listen to via a record or radio, while the vast majority remained inaccessible. Now everybody can be a recording ‘artist’, meaning there is an abundance of choice and no pricing power.

“Record companies complain the Internet will destroy music. Musicians complain that they can’t make a living any more. The unsympathetic public, feeling the squeeze themselves, tell them to get a proper job. The problem isn’t piracy — it’s competition.”

http://rocknerd.co.uk/2013/09/13/culture-is-not-about-aesthetics-punk-rock-is-now-enforced-by-law/

8.        A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

This sounds like it is potentially really, really important. As a backgrounder, Richard Feynman developed Feynman diagrams, which look like cartoons, but are, in fact, a symbolic calculus which allows the prediction of the interaction of quantum particles. I did not know that the complexity of this approach explodes, limiting their use. This development apparently allows rapid calculation of even more complex interactions, thereby providing not just a solution, but insight into the actual structure of reality. Hat tip to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality. “This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.””

https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130917-a-jewel-at-the-heart-of-quantum-physics/

9.        Google swaps out MySQL, moves to MariaDB

MySQL is a broadly used open source Structured Query Language (SQL) program, which is now controlled by Oracle. Not surprisingly, the Open Source community is distrustful of Oracle, and MariaDB (which has its roots in MySQL) provides a viable alternative. It seems clears MariaDB will substantially displace MySQL over time.

“Google is migrating its MySQL systems over to MariaDB, allowing the search company to get away from the Oracle-backed open source database. The news came out at the Extremely Large Databases (XLDB) conference in Stanford, California on Wednesday, one month after El Reg reported that Google had assigned one of its engineers to the MariaDB Foundation. News of the swap was not an official announcement by Google, it came out during a presentation by Google senior systems engineer Jeremy Cole on the general state of the MySQL ecosystem.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/12/google_mariadb_mysql_migration/

10.   Researchers’ smartphone ‘microscope’ can detect a single virus, nanoparticles

An interesting project, but it is hard to fathom why they would select a smartphone for a camera: you can build a much more powerful computing engine with a much better imaging system for a lot less money than even a cheap smartphone has to offer. The real story here is not the ‘smartphone’ angle, but the fact that a combination of clever science and engineering can deliver such an instrument for minimal cost.

“Your smartphone now can see what the naked eye cannot: A single virus and bits of material less than one-thousandth of the width of a human hair. Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his team have created a portable smartphone attachment that can be used to perform sophisticated field testing to detect viruses and bacteria without the need for bulky and expensive microscopes and lab equipment. The device weighs less than half a pound.”

http://phys.org/news/2013-09-smartphone-microscope-virus-nanoparticles.html

11.   GM aims at Tesla with new, long-range electric car

Of course, it is not necessarily the case that GM will bring such a product to market, but this sort of underscores the position I have held for some time: despite the breathless hysteria surrounding Tesla, there is nothing difficult in building an electric car – in the unlikely event the market takes off, once the segment has been proven as viable, the market would be flooded with entrants.

“As automakers race to make cheaper electric cars with greater battery range, General Motors is working on one that can go 200 miles per charge at a cost of about $30,000, a top company executive said. Vice President of Global Product Development Doug Parks wouldn’t say when or if such a car will be built, however.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/09/16/gm-general-motors-electric-car/2823601/

12.   Windows Phone: India’s second largest smartphone platform

It sounds like a success story for Windows, but, realistically, if #2 has only 5.4% market share the only message here is the staggering dominance of Android in the India market.

“The IDC Asia Pacific Mobile Phone Tracker (April-June, 2013), released in August 2013 has revealed that for the third consecutive quarter, Windows Phone is the second most widely used smartphone platform in India. With a market share of 5.4 percent, Windows Phone has maintained its lead over competing platforms – namely, Apple iOS and Blackberry.”

http://www.ciol.com/ciol/news/195767/windows-phone-india-s-largest-smartphone-platform

13.   Counter Argument: 3 Reasons We Need V2X

The auto industry tends to proceed at a glacial pace due to the large stakes involved, however, automotive technology is an area with a significant potential payoff for society. V2V and V2I are emerging markets which are worth some attention.

“In an interview with EE Times, Egil Juliussen, IHS Automotive’s principal analyst responsible for infotainment and ADAS, predicted that Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication “can address 75 percent plus of all accidents,” while Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) “can address most remaining accidents categories.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1319514&

14.   iPhone 5S haters: here’s how you steal a fingerprint

Though, to be fair, most mobile phones are going to be stolen or pickpocketed by common thieves who aren’t going to grab your thumbprint that easily. Mind you, every phone has a unique ID and it would be trivial to render stolen phones useless in any event.

“So, the iPhone 5S has a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. Pretty secure, am I right? Nooo! You can steal someone’s fingerprint. For all Apple haters everywhere …”

http://www.tgdaily.com/mobility-brief/79776-iphone-5s-haters-heres-how-you-steal-a-fingerprint

15.   Stem cells made with near-perfect efficiency

This looks like a potentially major breakthrough, not so much because of the high level of efficiency (which should make production of stem cells much cheaper), but the development mentioned in the final paragraph where they were able to produce stem cells without inserting new genes into them. The problem with genetic programming is, if you can’t subsequently switch the novel genes of you can cause all kinds of problems down the road. No genetic reprogramming might eliminate those concerns.

“Researchers have for the first time converted cultured skin cells into stem cells with near-perfect efficiency. By removing a single protein, called Mbd3, a team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, was able to increase the conversion rate to almost 100% — ten times that normally achieved. The discovery could clear the way for scientists to produce large volumes of stem cells on demand, hastening the development of new treatments.”

http://www.nature.com/news/stem-cells-made-with-near-perfect-efficiency-1.13775

16.   $199, 4.2” computer is Intel’s first Raspberry Pi competitor

Hmm. Let’s see: it’s about 3x the size, 4 – 6x the price, is probably very power hungry, and is, fundamentally, a PC, meaning it is *very* difficult to do real world interfacing with. This is not a competitor in the embedded system market, but a relatively cheap (but not cheapest) PC compatible platform. It stands no chance of gaining measurable share in any market segment.

“With the Raspberry Pi, Arduino Due, and BeagleBone, the world is full of cheap, tiny computers that can be used by creative developers in everything from robots to space flight. One thing these platforms have in common is an ARM processor. Now they have some competition from Intel with its “MinnowBoard,” a $199 computer in the form of a 4.2″ x 4.2″ board with an Intel Atom processor.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/09/199-4-2-computer-is-intels-first-raspberry-pi-competitor/

17.   Linux development by the numbers: Big and getting bigger

Talk to people about Linux and their eyes tend to roll – after all, on the desktop it is a pretty geeky thing. However, most people don’t realize their Android phone and/or tablet is running Linux, so the Open Source OS is actually becoming mainstream. It still might be some time before it displaces Windows on the desktop, but it’ll happen.

“Linux is growing — that we knew. Now we know how fast. In the last two years, the number of developers who collectively create Linux has increased from 1,131 with version 3.0 in July 2011 to 1,392 with version 3.10, released in June 2013, according to the Linux Foundation’s latest annual Linux development report. Also on the rise: the lines of code in the project, the number of changes accepted into each new version, and the frequency at which those changes arrive.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57603216-94/linux-development-by-the-numbers-big-and-getting-bigger/

18.   Ballmer calls Google a ‘monopoly’ that authorities should control

Here is a delicious irony: Microsoft, which has, through much of its history, used predatory and anti-competitive activities to build and sustain its monopoly, laments that Google is somehow a monopoly (which it might be, sort of). Remember, Microsoft is also the company which extorts a fee from Android phone manufacturers – just because.

“Microsoft unveiled its new Bing logo and design this week, and yesterday CEO Steve Ballmer opted to highlight his concerns over Google’s business practices. During a presentation at Microsoft’s financial analysts meeting, Ballmer discussed how Microsoft might generate money in consumer services. “Google does it,” he noted. “They have this incredible, amazing, dare I say monopoly that we are the only person left on the planet trying to compete with.” Asked by an analyst how Microsoft can attack Google’s dominance in search and advertising, Ballmer explained “we’re the only guys in the world trying,” with the Bing search engine.”

http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/20/4751516/ballmer-calls-google-a-monopoly

19.   This is how the fear of government snooping takes its toll on tech companies

It makes a lot of sense for the US government to avoid using “foreign” equipment, in particular from China, especially for secure applications. In fact, you have to wonder who ever thought this deal might go through – the NSA is, no doubt, aware that Chinese intelligence does to their gear what the NSA does to US manufactured gear. All in, the assumption has to be made that all communications are insecure, and behaving as though they were borders on being irresponsible.

“Two very different technology offerings were dropped on Thursday because of fears that the US and China might be trying to spy on the customers using them. In Baltimore, Maryland—just down the road from the headquarters of the National Security Agency in Ft. Meade—a US company called CyberPoint International lost a contract to provide a videoconferencing system to the federal government after US Customs determined that CyberPoint’s offering was in fact Chinese, substantially made by telecom equipment maker ZTE.”

http://qz.com/126495/this-is-how-the-fear-of-government-snooping-takes-its-toll-on-tech-companies/

20.   The U.S.’s crap infrastructure threatens the cloud

In many ways this article encapsulates what my presentation “Broadband Backwater …” (see intro) will be about: telecommunications policy in North America, and in particular in Canada, has been crafted to benefit the service providers and nobody else (certainly not the broader national interest). It turns out that Canada ranks below the US is all relevant benchmarks, and the US is mediocre – and deteriorating.

“According to the broadband testing firm NetIndex, U.S. consumer broadband speeds rank 33rd in the world, right behind the Ukraine. Personally, I pay more than $1,500 per month for 30/30MB fiber for our office. This is ridiculously expensive and slower than the average household Internet in many other countries. It’s a serious impediment to the United States maintaining its economic competitiveness — and to enabling all of us to take full advantage of the cloud, which is clearly the next phase of computing.”

http://www.infoworld.com/d/application-development/the-uss-crap-infrastructure-threatens-the-cloud-226917

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 13th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 13th 2013

Hello

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.

 

 

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

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1.        iSpy: How the NSA Accesses Smartphone Data

This was a big story this week, and the revelation extends beyond spy v spy. If the NSA has access to stuff, anybody working for the NSA has access to stuff, including the numerous covert foreign agents who certainly work there. After all – what if Edward Snowden were working for the Chinese government, or General Electric? These revelations (and all the others) could lift the delusion of online security especially that associated with US firms. This could have significant long term business impact.

“The US intelligence agency NSA has been taking advantage of the smartphone boom. It has developed the ability to hack into iPhones, android devices and even the BlackBerry, previously believed to be particularly secure.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/how-the-nsa-spies-on-smartphones-including-the-blackberry-a-921161.html

2.        The signs are that 3D printing is transforming manufacturing, but not in the ways you might expect

Much of the mainstream focus on 3D printing of late has been associated with ‘personal’ systems which some believe will find their way into every home. I do not share that view: few enough people have hand power tools, let alone know how to use them to stop their toilets from running. That said, more affordable 3D printers will likely find use in certain applications, even if ‘more affordable’ means $10,000.

“EVER since 3D printing—the ability to construct solid objects by building them up, a layer at a time, in plastic or metal—hit public consciousness a couple of years ago, comment has veered towards two extremes. Fans, often in America, insist it will have a dramatic impact, undermining the economics of mass production and repatriating jobs to the West. According to the Harvard Business Review, “China will have to give up on being the mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world.””

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21585005-signs-are-3d-printing-transforming-manufacturing-not-ways-you-might?fsrc=scn/rd_ec/from_dental_braces_to_astronauts_seats

3.        Internet experts want security revamp after NSA revelations

What’s this? They feel betrayed because they let the NSA write the standards and have discovered (what betrayal!) that the NSA wrote the standards so they could easily crack the systems? Whatever next? How can people who are, presumably, operating at genius level in software be so fundamentally stupid about things a common street thug would understand? Fortunately, universities grind out PhDs on security and encryption and a lot of them aren’t going to find work at the NSA.

“Leading technologists said they felt betrayed that the NSA, which has contributed to some important security standards, was trying to ensure they stayed weak enough that the agency could break them. Some said they were stunned that the government would value its monitoring ability so much that it was willing to reduce everyone’s security.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/08/us-internet-security-idUSBRE98701J20130908

4.        The multiplexed metropolis

The tag caught my eye because I am to give a speech on this subject in October. I don’t know about ‘proving their case’ after all, The Economist is about, mostly, economist stuff, and economists have never been shown to have predictive or even utilitarian skill. Nonetheless, the article is actually about a bunch of loopy ideas (starting with well-run cities), and, no networking technology is going to fix them. However, how would cities be if telephone were service spotty, expensive, often inaccessible, and unreliable?

“Enthusiasts think that data services can change cities in this century as much as electricity did in the last one. They are a long way from proving their case.”

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21585002-enthusiasts-think-data-services-can-change-cities-century-much-electricity

5.        Textbook Case of Inflation Hammering Students: Chart of the Day

Faculty do not seem overly concerned with the fact the textbooks they assign are becoming astronomically expensive despite the fact little actually changes in them. Students have a choice: pay the piper or pirate. Fortunately, piracy sites are springing up all over the place and students shouldn’t have to look far to find one. Always remember to use a secure browser, though.

“The CHART OF THE DAY shows university textbook prices surged 102 percent through July from December 2001 while the costs for recreational books declined 1.5 percent. Over the same period, the consumer price index measuring the cost of all goods and services rose 32 percent.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-05/textbook-case-of-inflation-hammering-students-chart-of-the-day.html

6.        Bank? What bank? Orange, Visa and the changing face of Africa’s mobile money

Another in a series of articles about how the mobile revolution has impacted the economies of the poorest countries in the world. Experience with micro-credit (Gramin Bank) show the poor are generally poorly served by ‘legitimate’ financial institutions, giving rise to black markets and worse. It’s hard to run an economy with a trustworthy financial sector.

“In a bid to expand its reach into Africa — in many ways the unexplored continent for financial services —  US-based Visa has cut a deal with mobile giant Orange, bypassing the formal banking sector and taking advantage of a very African innovation. As of last month, subscribers to Orange’s mobile money system, Orange Money, in Botswana have been able to link their mobile money accounts to the Visa network, opening up access to Visa’s services even to those with no bank accounts at all.”

http://www.zdnet.com/bank-what-bank-orange-visa-and-the-changing-face-of-africas-mobile-money-7000020348/

7.        Scientists calculate the energy required to store wind and solar power on the grid

Good to know somebody is looking into it, although I believe these types of analysis have a significant flaw, namely the impact of massively increased demand on pricing of certain commodities. For example, grid level storage would require enormous amounts of (for example) lithium, which would probably result in significantly higher prices for the batteries.

“Renewable energy holds the promise of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But there are times when solar and wind farms generate more electricity than is needed by consumers. Storing that surplus energy in batteries for later use seems like an obvious solution, but a new study from Stanford University suggests that might not always be the case.”

http://phys.org/news/2013-09-scientists-energy-required-solar-power.html

8.        Sneak peek: 3D-printable mini spectrometer

More of a laugh than anything else, but it does show the sorts of things the maker community gets up to. The blogger is probably hoping somebody with more expertise in the field can suggest some fixes and those will probably be forthcoming. I suspect 3D printing of optics is not the way to go regardless.

“This first spectrograph design has a 3D printed slit, and uses an inexpensive 1000-line/mm diffraction grating of the kind you can find on diffraction grating slides for classroom experiments. I read a paper a while ago on using deconvolution to post-process the data from slit spectrometers and basically sharpen the point-spread function (or PSF) to effectively increase the resolution of the instrument. Inspired by this, I decided to leave out the relay optics between slit-to-grating and from grating-to-detector to see if I could use post-processing to effectively sharpen up the overly broad PSF and have an even simpler and less expensive instrument.”

http://www.tricorderproject.org/blog/?p=206

9.        All You Ever Wanted To Know About Jet Engines

http://www.rolls-royce.com/interactive_games/journey03/index.html

10.   Intel prepares ultra-small chips for Dick Tracy-style gadgets

We’ll see if Intel’s System on a Chip efforts make any headway. It is a long overdue strategy, meaning that most foundries are all ready, willing, and able, to produce ARM based devices and so competition is steep from Intel’s perspective. Still, provided pricing, performance, and power consumption are all competitive there are good reasons to go with an x86 based platform.

“Intel is working on a new line of ultra-small and ultra-low-power microchips for wearable devices like smartwatches and bracelets, a bid by the company to make sure it will be at the crest of the next big technology wave after arriving late to the smartphone and tablet revolution.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/10/us-intel-chips-idUSBRE9890YI20130910

11.   Intel’s new Atom for tablets: how it performs

More news on Intel’s plans, this time with a bit more information on their tablet products. The telling comment for me is the observation from the end of the piece, namely that Intel is backing the wrong horse with a Windows tablet. Of course, objections to the OS could be overcome with a sufficiently low price, but low price and Windows are rarely uttered in the same breath. If Intel’s new devices are not made available in Android tablets, they could be DOA.

“Twice the speed of the previous generation – that’s the familiar cry from Intel regarding its latest Atom processor, codenamed Bay Trail. It’s the big thing coming out of this year’s mobile-focused Intel Developer Forum and so we found ourselves in Intel’s Santa Clara offices with a reference design tablet to play with.”

http://www.techradar.com/news/computing-components/processors/intel-s-new-atom-for-tablets-how-it-performs-1180261

12.   Apple announces the iPhone 5c: 4-inch Retina display, plastic design, available in five colors starting at $99 on-contract

I don’t know what it is with people: contract pricing is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things because it is simply a marketing decision. At the end of the day what matters is the unsubsidized price, or what you actually sell it for, because somebody has to end up paying for the thing. If you have a very expensive ($549) phone, unless you have loads of room to discount, you aren’t go to be price competitive with a $399 phone, and there are plenty $199 phone going to come to market. Of course, features and hype may fill in some of that spread, but the Apple reality distortion field ain’t what it used to be.

“Available in blue, white, pink, yellow and green, the 5C will set you back $99 on a two-year contract for the 16GB version, or $199 for the 32GB (off-contract options run $549 and $649). Those looking for a bit of added protection can also opt for one of the new cases that Apple has designed to match the phone — they’ll set you back $29 apiece.”

http://www.engadget.com/2013/09/10/apple-announces-the-iphone-5c/

13.   Did the FBI Lean On Microsoft for Access to Its Encryption Software?

The fun thing about ‘back doors’ is that other people can figure them out to. So, if the FBI, KGB, or whoever, place a back door in an encryption system then the other team (including criminals) can exploit it as well.

“The NSA is reportedly not the only government agency asking tech companies for help in cracking technology to access user data. Sources say the FBI has a history of requesting digital backdoors, which are generally understood as a hidden vulnerability in a program that would, in theory, let the agency peek into suspects’ computers and communications.”

http://mashable.com/2013/09/11/fbi-microsoft-bitlocker-backdoor/

14.   iPhone 5S: The 64-bit A7 chip is marketing fluff and won’t improve performance

He’s right, but the author clearly doesn’t know much about computers. Yes, a 64 bit system generally gives a greater address space but so does paging: programs aren’t usually going to run over 1 gigabyte anyway. Wider registers allow faster computation which can be advantageous in a variety of contexts. But what matters is not how fast you can calculate a cubed root: system performance matters and a smartphone will always be significantly constrained in terms of resources. The interesting thing for me about articles like these is that people are starting to think even slightly skeptically about Apple’s hype machine.

“There are two reasons to adopt a 64-bit architecture. First, there’s RAM addressing. 32-bit systems are limited to 4GB of RAM in theory and typically 2-3GB for any single application depending on OS parameters. 64-bit operating systems allow for up to 16 exabytes of memory. The push to move ARM CPUs to 64-bit architectures has been discussed almost entirely in terms of servers because that’s where the actual benefits to memory addressing are.”

http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/166244-iphone-5s-the-64-bit-a7-chip-is-marketing-fluff-and-wont-improve-performance

15.   Robohand uses 3D printing to replace lost digits

More fun with makers and 3D printers, this time for something which people really need, namely an affordable, useable prosthesis. Still, there are many people who do without, so this would be a real boon. I wonder if somebody has looked into an affordable lens grinding machine: lots of people in the developing world can’t afford eyeglasses, which should only cost a couple dollars to make.

“After my accident, I was in pain, but wouldn’t take painkillers. I barely slept, and the more pain I had the more ideas I got,” he told The Associated Press. “Sometimes you have to chop fingers off to start thinking.” He decided to build his own hand. After seeing a video posted online of a mechanical hand made for a costume in a theater production, he reached out to its designer, Ivan Owen, in Seattle. Enter Robohand—a device that Van As and Owen invented that is made from cables, screws, 3D printing and thermoplastic.”

http://phys.org/news/2013-09-robohand-3d-lost-digits.html

16.   California Bill Gives Electronic License Plates the Green Light

If you think about it, an electronic tag for vehicles makes complete sense however an e-ink plate is probably not the best approach even though it is not a completely dumb idea. For example, a tag which transmitted on impact would make it easy to catch hit and run drivers, especially is hit vehicles could capture that information. It is just a matter of time before police can simply shut down a vehicle remotely.

“While forward-thinking drivers are considering the implications of supercharging stations for their Tesla vehicles and the impending arrival of Google’s driverless cars, another, far more personal technological development is coming to roads in California. A bill allowing the use of electronic license plates passed the state’s assembly last week, and is slated to be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.”

http://mashable.com/2013/09/08/california-bill-gives-electronic-license-plates-the-green-light/

17.   Hackers find weaknesses in car computer systems

A reasonable counter point to increased intelligence in vehicles, though jacking in through the diagnostic port is not exactly that hard. Presumably, car manufacturers will need to employ security experts as systems evolve.

“In recent demonstrations, hackers have shown they can slam a car’s brakes at freeway speeds, jerk the steering wheel and even shut down the engine — all from their laptop computers.”

http://www.ecnmag.com/news/2013/09/hackers-find-weaknesses-car-computer-systems

18.   Europe plans to end mobile phone roaming charges

Roaming charges are like “long distance”, namely an artificial concept which might have made sense once, but no longer has any basis in reality. Doing away with them makes perfect sense.

“The European Commission is proposing to scrap mobile phone roaming charges across Europe as part of a raft of measures to reform the telecoms market. The Commission described the reforms as “the most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms market reform”. It said the measures will reduce consumer charges and simplify red tape for mobile companies.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24056369

19.   Should we trust the NIST-recommended ECC parameters?

I don’t know anything about cryptography and I can tell you with some degree of confidence that and is “No – you should not trust the cryptography recommendations of an organization which has an interest in being able to break your codes.” And the reason is not just that you don’t want the NSA to read your tweets (legal strategies, proprietary know how, etc.) it is because the NSA is not, in fact, uniquely capable of figuring this stuff out: there are other smart people in the world, and, given the information the code has a weakness (presumed by the ‘recommendations’) then they can reverse engineer it.

“Recent articles in the media, based upon Snowden documents, have suggested that the NSA has actively tried to enable surveillance by embedding weaknesses in commercially-deployed technology — including at least one NIST standard. The NIST FIPS 186-3 standard provides recommended parameters for curves that can be used for elliptic curve cryptography. These recommended parameters are widely used; it is widely presumed that they are a reasonable choice.”

http://crypto.stackexchange.com/questions/10263/should-we-trust-the-nist-recommended-ecc-parameters

20.   No format war as 4K Blu-ray discs spin closer

Prices of 4KTVs are coming down rapidly, but limited availability of content means that any 4KTV is just an expensive conversation piece. The recently announced upgrade of HDMI plus a viable disc format could change that. Of course, most people would hardly recognize a difference, and, even as it stands, most HD content distributed by cable and satellite is anything but HD. So, we’ll all end up with 4KTVs eventually but it won’t change the industry.

“Brushing-off fears that consumers are now more interested in streaming from the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm than in collecting optical discs, Marty Gordon, Philips’ Vice President for Alliances & Communications and spokesman for the BDA, promised an announcement of an ‘enhanced’ Blu-ray format ‘soon’”

http://www.techradar.com/news/video/blu-ray/no-format-war-as-4k-blu-ray-discs-spin-closer-1180129

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 6th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 6th 2013

Hello

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.

 

 

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

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1.        Rumor pegs Windows 9 release for next year, Windows 10 as a cloud OS

I can see why Microsoft would want to distance itself from Windows 8 as soon as possible, so a quick rebranding from 8.2 to 9 would make sense from a marketing perspective, even if it is the same unusable steaming pile of crap. I can also see why Microsoft would want to foist a ‘cloud OS’ on an unsuspecting public, however, for the life of me I cannot fathom why anybody would actually use it. Besides the security holes (not counting NSA access) and the Patriot Act (which is different from NSA/PRISM), a cloud OS is useless without low latency broadband. Any business which would actually use such a system would place its existence in the hands of a company with a very modest reputation regarding reliability. Cloud OSs might be fine for videogames but nothing critical.

“A user calling himself WZOR had a few insights to offer about the next versions of Windows. Apparently Microsoft plans to leap straight from Windows 8.1 to Windows 9, with retail availability coming next year. The new OS is said to be “similar” to its predecessor, which stands to reason. Microsoft can’t really afford to shake things up dramatically again — not so soon after releasing Windows 8.”

http://www.geek.com/microsoft/rumor-pegs-windows-9-release-for-next-year-windows-10-as-a-cloud-os-1568563/

2.        HDMI 2.0 officially announced: 18Gbps bandwidth, 60fps 4K, 32 channel audio HD

HDMI 2 is pretty important to the success of 4K TV (see below), so you really don’t want to go near a 4K TV which doesn’t have it, and none do yet, for obvious reasons. Owning a 4K TV without HDMI 2 will be like owning an HDTV without HDMI – it’ll still work, it just won’t work properly.

“Only just after it leaked out, the folks at HDMI Licensing are announcing HDMI 2.0 officially. Arriving just in time for the wide rollout of a new generation of Ultra HDTVs, it adds a few key capabilities to the connection standard. With a bandwidth capacity of up to 18Gbps, it has enough room to carry 3,840 x 2,160 resolution video at up to 60fps.”

http://www.engadget.com/2013/09/04/hdmi-2-0-official-4k-60fps-32-channel-audio/

3.        Reversing Sinclair’s amazing 1974 calculator hack F- half the ROM of the HP-35

This is a great read if you are an old geek, like me, or if you have some interest in math. These antique calculators didn’t have much in the way of computational resources so they have to figure out how to deliver results with what they had. In contrast, even a cheap ARM processor has full floating hardware point capability.

“In a hotel room in Texas, Clive Sinclair had a big problem. He wanted to sell a cheap scientific calculator that would grab the market from expensive calculators such as the popular HP-35. Hewlett-Packard had taken two years, 20 engineers, and a million dollars to design the HP-35, which used 5 complex chips and sold for $395. Sinclair’s partnership with calculator manufacturer Bowmar had gone nowhere. Now Texas Instruments offered him an inexpensive calculator chip that could barely do four-function math. Could he use this chip to build a $100 scientific calculator? Texas Instruments’ engineers said this was impossible – their chip only had 3 storage registers, no subroutine calls, and no storage for constants such as π. The ROM storage in the calculator held only 320 instructions, just enough for basic arithmetic. How could they possibly squeeze any scientific functions into this chip?”

http://files.righto.com/calculator/sinclair_scientific_simulator.html

4.        The Internet’s next victim: Advertising

More on ad blocking – I had trouble reading the article because of ad-blocking and other safeguards I have in place! Personally, I don’t give a damn as to the travails of any web service: if they go broke, I’ll go to something else. I do care about my privacy and my staggeringly expensive bandwidth costs. If Adblock were to go broke, somebody will just put out an open source browser with blocking built in.

““Everyone agrees that advertising on the Internet is broken,” says Till Faida, CEO of Adblock Plus, creator of by far the most popular ad-blocking software on the Web. The soft-spoken German, visiting the San Francisco Bay Area to network and drum up support for his company’s “Acceptable Ads” initiative, sketches out a distressing scenario: Ads aren’t generating enough revenue, so websites are forced to run ever more “aggressive” ads — a maddening deluge of pop-ups, blinking banners, and autoplaying video and audio commercials. But as ads steadily become even more annoying, users click even less, forcing revenues down even further.”

http://www.salon.com/2013/09/02/the_internets_next_victim_advertising/

5.        Oyster: A Gorgeous New App Offering Unlimited Books for $9.95 a Month

I can’t imagine reading a book on a smartphone, but a 7” tablet (or a phone with a similar size display) is about the same as a Kindle. This is an interesting application if you are a ‘volume reader’ – at 3 or more ‘books’ a month – depending, of course, on what sort of books they carry. Mind you, many public libraries ‘lend’ ebooks for free.

“By now, we’ve all gotten pretty used to not owning stuff—at least in the traditional, hold-it-in-your-hands sense. If you’re anything like me, your DVD collection stopped growing a few years back once Netflix and Hulu bolstered their offerings. And that CD storage stand (hell, even your iTunes account) has probably gathered dust thanks to Spotify and Rdio. But books? Turns out, we’re still content to pay $10 for a paperless novel that we’re not even certain we’ll like or finish. The publishing industry is among the last holdouts in the ongoing transition from owning media to accessing it through a monthly service, but that’s about to change with the launch of Oyster, an app released today for the iPhone that’s looking to transform the way you read and pay for books.”

http://www.wired.com/design/2013/09/is-this-netflix-of-books-the-next-big-thing-in-publishing/

6.        Germany’s Energy Poverty: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good

Spiegel is one of the few European publications to look beyond the veneer of politically inspired alternative energy schemes. There are serious, unmet challenges associated with an intermittent energy source and those problems because larger the more significant solar and wind become as part of the mix. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself: at the limit, can a modern industrial economy system function with electricity rates of $0.50 per kilowatt hour, which would be the case if a significant component of power generation was ‘green’.

“On the other hand, when the wind suddenly stops blowing, and in particular during the cold season, supply becomes scarce. That’s when heavy oil and coal power plants have to be fired up to close the gap, which is why Germany’s energy producers in 2012 actually released more climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2011.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/high-costs-and-errors-of-german-transition-to-renewable-energy-a-920288.html

7.        Lasering in on tumors

Some impressive science here: the brain is pretty much fatty goo and any surgeon trying to remove a tumor has to device whether he wants to be conservative and risk rapid return of the tumor, or be aggressive and risk seriously harming (or killing) the patient. I can’t help but wonder if the next step isn’t coupling the imaging system to a laser cauterizer, perfecting the ‘clean up’ of the margin.

“In the battle against brain cancer, doctors now have a new weapon: an imaging technology that will make brain surgery dramatically more accurate by allowing surgeons to distinguish between brain tissue and tumors at a microscopic level.”

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/09/lasering-in-on-tumors/

8.        Honda Demonstrates Advanced Vehicle-to-Pedestrian and Vehicle-to-Motorcycle Safety Technologies

Probably the start of a good idea, however, it is a little hard to believe I’m going to carry around a device with an application designed to fend off Hondas. That being said, an active system which could alert drivers to pedestrians or cyclists could save lives, unless, of course, the net effect is to encourage reckless drivers who could then mow down people without said system.

“Honda today demonstrated two experimental safety technologies aimed at reducing the potential for collisions between automobiles and pedestrians and between automobiles and motorcycles. These advanced Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) and Vehicle-to-Motorcycle (V2M) technologies, while still in the research and testing phase, demonstrate Honda’s vision to advance safety for all road users, including pedestrians and motorcycle riders, as well as automobile occupants. These new technologies are part of a comprehensive effort being undertaken by Honda to develop leading-edge safety and driver assistive systems that can help predict and avoid traffic accidents through advanced sensing and communications technologies.”

http://www.honda.com/newsandviews/article.aspx?id=7352-en

9.        Researchers discover breakthrough technique that could make electronics smaller and better

It took me a while to figure out what was going on here: basically the problem appears to be how to you remove excess metallization. The solution is ingenious, however, tapes generate enormous voltages which might cause other problems. It is probably not coincidence that the solution involves Scotch Tape and was discovered at the University of Minnesota, home of 3M.

“An international group of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Argonne National Laboratory and Seoul National University have discovered a groundbreaking technique in manufacturing nanostructures that has the potential to make electrical and optical devices smaller and better than ever before. A surprising low-tech tool of Scotch Magic tape ended up being one of the keys to the discovery.”

http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2013/UR_CONTENT_455024.html

10.   Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is a smartwatch like no other

I don’t get the point of these ‘smartwatch’ gizmos – so now I have to carry around another device in order to help me use my smartphone/tablet? Plus, maybe, a Bluetooth headset? And I’ve gotta charge it every day, along with the phone? The watch I have right now never needs to be charged and adjusts itself to the atomic clock reference every night. True – it doesn’t alert me to ‘tweets’, but I figure that is a good thing.

“The Galaxy Gear, Samsung’s latest foray into the smartwatch category, is now official and it’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. Yes, it’s a smartphone accessory that can pick up notifications, control music playback, and keep time with a rich variety of watch faces, but Samsung takes it a few steps further by integrating a 1.9-megapixel camera, a speaker, and two microphones — allowing you to shoot short 720p movies and even conduct phone calls with the Galaxy Gear.”

http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/4/4692824/samsung-galaxy-gear-features-specs-release-date-price

11.   R.I.P. Windows

This article is mostly drivel, but it may reflect how a significant portion of the world looks at the Microsoft/Nokia acquisition. The idea that you make more money selling hardware and software implies you can sell your hardware above cost, and how much above cost depends on a number of factors ranging from marketing (Apple’s forte) to the value an utility of the software. Software, being intangible has no variable cost, but it costs money (or at least sweat equity) to develop. There is no reason whatsoever to assume Microsoft will be more successful selling both that it was (or wasn’t) selling just the software.

“Finally, vertical integration helps Microsoft’s bottom line. Today, for every Windows-powered phone that Nokia sells, Microsoft gets less than $10 in software licensing fees. When it owns Nokia, Microsoft will be able to book profits on hardware, too. Rather than make less than $10 per phone, it will make more than $40.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/09/microsoft_nokia_deal_a_great_idea_that_came_too_late_and_killed_windows.html

12.   N.S.A. Foils Much Internet Encryption

There is some question as to whether the story is correct in its details, but this is probably more accurate than inaccurate. Frankly, I’m surprised the NY Times published it – perhaps they still have flashes of journalistic integrity. In any event, none of this is surprizing, but it does provide a segue to a discussion regarding how secure any system is (after all, if the ‘good’ spooks can do it, so can any other variety, and so can crooks, though it’s getting hard to tell the difference). If nothing else, this should drive the adoption of fully open standards and software so at least these hack can be exposed in due course. Needless to say, the businesses compromised by the NSA sell closed equipment, which is now shown to be insecure.

“The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/nsa-foils-much-internet-encryption.html?hp&_r=0

13.   Good news: Boom times for Carrier Wi-Fi hotspots and Wi-Fi networks

One simple solution to wireless spectrum congestion is to simply offload things onto the wired Internet as quickly as possible. This is a pretty brief article, but it shows there is a growing market in ‘carrier class’ WiFi solutions.

“Carriers — a euphemism for phone and cable companies — are known to hate any new technology that threatens their existing business models. For phone companies, it is always about getting back to billable minutes. For cable companies, it is all about charging more for the bundle and channels no one really watches. This group of reluctant technology adopters also hated Wi-Fi and fought it tooth-and-nail using all sorts of nasty tricks.”

http://gigaom.com/2013/09/06/good-news-boom-times-for-carrier-wi-fi-hotspots-and-wi-fi-networks/

14.   Why Apple’s iPhone 5C pricing is fraught with peril

Another unfortunately brief article which just touches on the challenges of pricing when you have a premium brand. There is no reason to suspect Apple has a cost advantage since they use more or less off the shelf components produced by others, and I firmly believe smartphone pricing is due for significant downward pressure. Gross Margin percentages might be maintained by deft advertising, but Gross Margin dollars are bound to drop.

“If you enjoy watching high-wire acts, then you should be closely fixated on how Apple will price its budget iPhone 5C that will launch next week. Enders Analysis strategy consultant Benedict Evans runs down all the pros and cons of possible prices for the iPhone 5C and concludes that there’s no easy way for Apple to strike a happy balance between sales volume and high margins.”

http://bgr.com/2013/09/06/apple-iphone-5c-pricing-analysis/

15.   Intel’s Laser Chips Could Make Data Centers Run Better

Because optical interconnect has been around for some time, I suspect the major breakthrough here is the cost of the system or at least price/performance. Optical has numerous benefits over copper besides speed, and the only drawback, besides cost, is that the cables require special termination. Most copper cables are too fine to be terminated by a human nowadays, so perhaps this issue is becoming less and less significant. All in, optical interconnect is the way to go.

“The initial version of what Intel calls its silicon photonics technology can transmit data at speeds of 100 gigabits per second along a cable approximately five millimeters in diameter. Intel will offer it for use connecting servers inside data centers, where it can take the place of PCI-E data cables that carry data at up to eight gigabits per second and networking cables that reach 40 gigabits per second at best. The latest version of the USB standard common in consumer gadgets can move data at only five gigabits per second.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/518941/intels-laser-chips-could-make-data-centers-run-better/

16.   Pirates Plan to Beat Up Amazon & Disrupt the Ebook Market

The publishing industry is certainly due for further disruption and even the publishers are probably not keen on Amazon’s dominance of the business. The German situation is not unique – there are plenty of places where book prices are controlled by government fiat (most recently this has been discussed for Quebec). Mind you, when dealing with bits and bytes, a deft buyer can circumvent any such restrictions.

“Last week we reported on Torboox, an unauthorized download site causing waves in the German eBook market. Speaking with TorrentFreak the site’s operator has revealed a plan to disrupt the status quo and bring book publishers to the negotiating table. Working with Toorbox will not only be in the publisher’s best interests, the admin explains, but will also help them to bring down a shared rival – distribution giant Amazon.”

http://torrentfreak.com/pirates-plan-to-beat-up-amazon-disrupt-the-ebook-market-130906/

17.   Sony’s New 4K Film Service Will Obliterate Your Bandwidth Cap

This goes without saying, however, the problem is probably that Sony thinks Japanese (and Korean) access speeds are the norm. They aren’t, especially in North America. So, setting aside the questionable benefit of 4K TV, online distribution is going to be a challenge in most markets. Incidentally, 4K TVs pricing is falling rapidly and I suspect they will sell at a modest premium to mainstream HDTVs within a year or two so you might as well wait.

“Sony today held a press conference to unveil a number of new 4K TVs and cameras, though most interesting perhaps to our readers being their new 4K Film download service. The new “Video Unlimited 4K” service will launch this fall and requires Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD Media Player (FMP-X1), though Sony has stated previously they’ll offer 4K downloads via the Playstation 4.”

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Sonys-New-4K-Film-Service-Will-Obliterate-Your-Bandwidth-Cap-125653

18.   The average global smartphone user has downloaded 26 apps

An ecosystem is important for a successful smartphone platform (as Blackberry and Microsoft/Nokia has discovered) but that doesn’t mean there is a lot of money in selling apps. Indeed, I suspect that the ‘spread’ of paid apps is very wide – besides the odd one, few sell in any volume and they simply aren’t worth developing to sell.

“According to Google’s Our Mobile Planet data, the average global smartphone user downloads just 26 apps, a bit over 20 free apps, and a bit over 5 paid apps each. Of course, depending on where you live, your region will likely have different numbers. South Korea, unsurprisingly, comes in number one on the list with the average smartphone user there downloading about 40 app, although South Korea is also the least likely of the top countries to go for paid apps as 37 of the average 40 downloads are free apps.”

http://www.phonearena.com/news/The-average-global-smartphone-user-has-downloaded-26-apps_id47160

19.   The patent troll crisis is really a software patent crisis

Well sort of, but not really. The problem lies in the fact the US Patent Office allows you patent anything, more or less, because it has largely adopted the view that the courts should sort things out. Software and business processes should not be patentable to begin with, but there are still a lot of garbage patents issued which are neither software nor business processes. Because it is unlikely the USPTO will change (it would require a lot of money and introduce long delays) I humbly offer a solution which would be completely effective starting almost immediately: introduce “loser pays” into patent litigation rules. This means the overwhelming majority of real ‘patent trolls’ would be forced to pay all legal expenses in the event they lose so only bona fide cases would proceed to trial. Problem solved.

“That’s because trolls are filing an unprecedented number of expensive lawsuits. Over 5,000 firms were named as defendants in patent troll lawsuits in 2011, costing them over $29 billion out-of-pocket. Today’s patent trolls are wreaking damage on a scale not seen in the past. And there’s a specific reason for this: The last two decades saw a dramatic increase in the number of patents on software, and these patents are particularly prone to abuse, both by trolls and by other types of patent holders.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/09/03/the-patent-troll-crisis-is-really-a-software-patent-crisis/

20.   Survey: Almost 90 percent of Internet users have taken steps to avoid surveillance

This is a funny article because it shows the limited value and utility of surveys: 90% of people answering a survey about something they don’t understand and going back to their Facebook account or using any service offered by Google or practically any other provider. Even if the NSA weren’t on the prowl you are pretty much an open book unless you take extreme action, and nobody is going to bother, not even me.

“A majority of U.S. Internet users polled in a recent survey report taking steps to remove or mask their digital footprints online, according to a report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and Carnegie Mellon University. While 86 percent of the Internet users polled said they made some attempt hide what they do online, more than half of the Web users also said they have taken steps to avoid observation by organizations, specific people or the government, according to the survey.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2048170/almost-90-percent-of-internet-users-have-taken-steps-to-avoid-surveillance-survey-finds.html