The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 4th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 4th 2013


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


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



Brian Piccioni

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1.        Miniature monocentric camera records details of scene while maintaining extremely wide field of view

There have been a number of apparently novel lenses covered over the past year or so. I don’t know enough about optics to say how significant this is, but is sure looks interesting. It may be the traditional lens industry is due for disruption.

“A monocentric camera lens developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) achieves the optical performance of a full-size wide-angle lens in a device less than one-tenth of the volume. In a monocentric lens, all lens surfaces have a common center of curvature, giving the lens spherical rotational symmetry: this means that there is no particular optical axis, the image field is spherical, and, barring lens misalignments and tolerance errors, all points in the field have exactly the same point-spread function (PSF).”

2.        Stanford’s new linear accelerator is just three millimeters long

The headline is a bit premature: yes, it is a linear accelerator, but it is not yet a particularly useful one. If the mechanism is scalable it might lead to miniature systems, or, perhaps, be used to start the process going. I’m sure it would be pretty embarrassing for the folks working on the Large Hadron Collider if the whole thing could be made on a desk top.

“Stanford researchers unveiled a new kind of linear accelerator in Nature today, both smaller and more powerful than its enormous predecessors. Instead of using microwaves like traditional accelerators, the new accelerator works by accelerating electrons to near light-speed through conventional techniques, then run through an intricately cut glass prism in combination with laser light, which increases their energy without increasing their speed. Nanoscale ridges in the prism allow particles to interact the laser light in asymmetrical patterns, boosting energy levels at 10 times the rate of devices at the more conventional Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.”

3.        F.T.C. Targets Patent Companies

One cannot help but wonder if the worm has turned on the patent licensing industry. This would not be a complete surprise as IP laws tend to move in fairly long cycles, swinging from highly restrictive to a near free for all. Time will tell.

“The Federal Trade Commission voted to begin an inquiry into “patent assertion entities,” businesses whose only purpose is to stockpile patent portfolios and use them to sue companies like software designers and smartphone makers, the agency announced Friday.”

4.        ‘Free Unix!’: The world-changing proclamation made 30 years ago today

The GNU project is really the heart of Open Source software, which thanks to Android (a Linux) is now the most used operating system on earth. I continue to believe that acceptance of Android will ultimately be the undoing of Microsoft (also, see item 19, below).

“It was 30 years ago today that the seeds were planted for both Linux and the open-source software movement, though neither is called that name by the man who help set both of them into motion, the irascible Richard Stallman. On that day, Stallman, then working at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted on the net.unix-wizards and net.usoft newsgroups about an ambitious new project he was embarking on. ”Free Unix!” began the missive.”

5.        Physicists inch toward atomic-scale MRI

MRI is a remarkable achievement of science though it is a little hard to understand how it could possibly work on objects as small as a virus. Nonetheless, it appears to be doable, and, these things usually work, it we can imagine it, we can do it.

“A team of physicists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University is working on a novel MRI technique that has achieved nanoscale resolution — meaning scientists could soon view biological samples such as influenza viruses very clearly.”

6.        Has a quantum computer solved the ‘party problem’?

The back and forth associated with D-Wave (claim, counter claim, etc.) leaves me a little baffled. After all, a true quantum computer should be so remarkably different from anything else that the results of any test should be beyond dispute. In either event, the applications for such systems are probably rather limited.

“A quantum computer made by the Canadian company D-Wave Systems has been used to solve a famous puzzle in mathematics known as the party problem – according to a team of physicists in Canada and the US that has done the work. D-Wave describes the result as one of the most significant achievements for its devices to date, but some physicists are being party poopers by remaining unconvinced there is anything to boast about.”

7.        Are We Witnessing the Decline of Ubuntu?

I use Ubuntu and it is far from perfect, however, it seems a lot friendlier to a new user than most other Unix distributions (I threw in the towel after spending a weekend trying to install Debian). It is, however, quite clear Ubuntu is falling out of favor with purists, which may or may not be important to its long term outlook for the unwashed (like me).

“History is written years after the events it describes. But when the history of free software finally is written, I am increasingly convinced that this last year will be noted as the start of the decline of Ubuntu.”

8.        Let’s Talk About Truckerless Trucking

I suspect that we will see a transformation in logistics over the next 20 or so years as autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles result in faster and more efficient deliveries. This is bound to be disruptive in a number of industries and is, at least, worthy of discussion.

“Automation is the future of transportation, but Canada is stuck grinding its gears. Google’s self-driving cars have quietly logged hundreds of thousands kilometers on public roads since 2010, and now a growing number of auto manufacturers—including GM, Toyota, Volvo, Audi and Mercedes—are working on driverless cars of their own. Just last week, Tesla Motors announced a plan to include an auto-pilot feature in their electric cars by 2017.”

9.        Stolen phones blacklist launches in Canada

The IMEI has been around for decades, and an equivalent scheme was around when I designed my first cellphone in the 1980s. The fact that this sort of system is being launched in late 2013 shows how slothful the industry is. Needless to say, the claim a blacklist system would cost $20 million to implement is laughable – unless, of course the industry is as inefficient at software development as it is at everything else. $200,000 is probably a better estimate.

“Cellphones, tablets and other wireless devices that have been reported lost or stolen can no longer be activated — and therefore used — on most wireless networks in Canada, following the launch of a new national “blacklist” of such devices Monday.”

10.   I cheated YouTube for 5 months and finally got caught

This article provides an example of how to game the system. Not a significant accomplishment in this context but certainly important to anybody planning a ‘viral’ marketing campaign.

“After more than five months, $500 spent, and more than half a million views, YouTube has finally deleted the video that I blatantly juiced with fake views all winter.”

11.   Scientists discover possible cure for noise-induced hearing loss

If this proves to actually work it could be a very big deal indeed. This sort of hearing loss is not solely associated with a handful of DJs and musicians, but many working people or even hobbyists involved in noisy activities without proper hearing protection.

“Scientists have found a potential cure for permanent deafness caused by loud noise exposure, infection and toxic drugs, using a drug that stimulates the inner ear. Until now, it has been regarded as impossible to restore the sensory hair cells responsible for hearing once they have been lost, and the type of deafness often suffered by musicians and DJs was assumed to have been incurable.”

12.   FBI shuts alleged online drug marketplace Silk Road

One is tempted to think of computer criminals as geniuses but they are often not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. After all, if you were running a black market for drugs and were visited by the FBI wouldn’t you flee the country? Most of the details of how they caught him are probably a smoke screen to hide the likely fact the entire network has been compromised so it could be interesting for a few months. One interesting side-note: this is the second bust of a major Bitcoin exchange, and the price of the ‘currency’ promptly bounced back. What non-fraudulent commodity maintains its price despite the collapse of a major end market?

“U.S. law enforcement authorities have shut down Silk Road, the web marketplace for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine as well as criminal activities including murder for hire, and arrested its alleged owner, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Wednesday.”

13.   Could Apple be forced into charger redesign by EU?

The comments by the nitwit analysts are somewhat amusing: there is nothing to prevent Apple from having a micro-usb port for charging and a ‘wider’ connector for charging and other applications. In either event, other vendors somehow manage to comply so they should suck it up.

“Apple could be forced to scrap its iPhone chargers under EU plans to make a universal phone charger law. Under the proposals, mobile phone manufacturers would have to make devices compatible with the universal charger which would hit companies like Apple who have their own design.”

14.   Intel launches Galileo, an Arduino-compatible development board

A week or so ago a company announced an Intel based ‘open source’ platform with no chance of success due to its staggering cost. This might have better odds as x86 compatibility, Arduino ‘shield’ support, and the likely backing of the Arduino community are a good combination. The only wild card is price, which is, as yet, undisclosed.

“Notice how so many maker projects require open-source hardware like Arduino and Raspberry Pi to function? Intel has, and the company is leaping into bed with the former to produce the Galileo development board. Galileo is the first product packing Intel’s Quark X1000 system-on-chip, Santa Clara’s new low-power gear for wearables and “internet of things” devices. Don’t imagine, however, that Intel is abandoning its X86 roots, as Quark’s beating heart is a single-thread Pentium-based 400MHz CPU.”

15.   Sham science: bogus research paper exposes shoddy standards of some journals

This article explores the dark side of scientific research: basically sham publications willing to put anything out, for a price. Given the importance of publication to the careers of most scientists the emergence of these publications is not entirely surprising. Of course, Science, and most other ‘legitimate’ publications are a huge and profitable business so there are no clean hands here. It is also worth noting that highly ‘reputable’ publications such as The Lancet are scarcely beyond reproach, having published the infamous Wakefield anti-vaccine article. Hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“Pseudonyms, foreign bank accounts, IP traces, and an intentionally botched body of work. The elements of a newly unveiled sting operation sound like a top-secret, high-tech undertaking to bring down some criminal mastermind. But in reality, the sting’s target was something far more mundane: a league of peer-reviewed scientific journals that want to give research away for free.”

16.   Ex-Amazon Engineer Builds Library for World’s Software Code

This is a really good idea however I find it rather odd that the system does not seem to index ‘c’ language software which is the lingua franca of Linux and much of the open source movement.

“In building software, modern companies rely on all sorts of code and tools they don’t develop themselves. This includes open source software that’s freely shared with the world at large, but also application programming interfaces, or APIs, that provide hooks into online services across the web. The open source search engine Ohloh spans 20,656,731,705 lines of publicly available code, and the API tracking site The Programmable Web lists over 10,000 publicly available APIs.”

17.   L.A. Unified takes back iPads as $1-billion plan hits hurdles

Truly a predictable outcome: give some kids expensive, fragile toys and limit what they can do with them. Eventually one of the kids (or a big sister) figures out how to unlock the expensive, fragile, toy, and that information spreads like wildfire. The unlocked toy is now outside the control of teachers and, being unlocked, is a valuable commodity which can be ‘lost’ and resold. I have to wonder if and when the remaining third of devices will be returned.

“Los Angeles school officials have taken back iPads from students at Westchester and Roosevelt high schools and possibly other campuses as well until further notice, the latest fallout from student hacking of the devices. The move is another complication in efforts to provide an iPad to every student as part of a $1-billion technology plan in the nation’s second-largest school system.”,0,270074.story

18.   French Gendarmerie: “Open source desktop lowers TCO by 40%”

Not exactly the sort of thing which Microsoft likes to hear, but likely true. A couple things about Linux worth considering: no annual subscriptions (most software companies are pushing customers into annual contracts and/or cloud services) and a lower likelihood of a back-door. The online commentary I read about this article really illuminated the challenges faced by small businesses as a consequence of annual fees, especially during times of economic uncertainty.

“Using an open source desktop lowers the total cost of ownership by 40%, in savings on proprietary software licences and by reducing costs on IT management. Using Ubuntu Linux massively reduces the number of local technical interventions, says Major Stéphane Dumond. “The direct benefits of saving on licences are the tip of the iceberg. An industrialised open source desktop is a powerful lever for IT governance.””

19.   Windows 7 outpacing Windows 8 adoption

You have to wonder how it feels if sales of your older generation product are increasing faster than your latest product. Of course, my view has been that Windows 8 is an abject failure from a user perspective and Microsoft’s licensing games (disallowing ‘downgrades’ on most systems) only rub salt in the wound. I still run Windows 7 on one home machine and at the office, but stripped Windows 8 off my development system and replaced it with Ubuntu.

“Latest NetMarketshare figures suggest Windows 7 is outpacing Windows 8’s adoption, despite a rapid reduction in Windows XP usage over the past quarter. Over the past month, Windows 8’s share has increased by 0.61 percentage points, rising to 8.02 percent of the total share. Whereas, on the other hand, Windows 7’s share increased by 0.8 percentage points, rising to 46.3 percent of the market.”

20.   The Much-Hyped 3D Printer Market Is Entering A New Growth Phase, Says Gartner

Gartner forecasts are, in general, not word the electrons they are distributed with, however, there are some interesting facts and figures in this article. 3D printing is having a growing impact on manufacturing, though I remain skeptical about home adoption – after all, how many chess pieces do you want to make yourself? Eventually, service businesses will pop up and you will be able to order up custom manufactured items with little difficulty, and no need to learn a CAD program. A second hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“3D printing remains a nascent market, despite high levels of hype around the technology’s potential — such as, most recently, news that astronauts will be using a 3D printer in space next year. The hype may be a little overblown but there’s no doubting the technology’s trajectory. Enter analyst Gartner with a new report, which predicts worldwide shipments of sub-$100,000 3D printers will grow 49% this year, to reach a total of 56,507 units.”


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