The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 11th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 11th 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.        American and British spy agencies targeted Tor network with minimal success

Winston Churchill once remarked “In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” The same goes for intelligence in general. That which you believe is true likely isn’t, leaks can be manufactured, and ‘secrets’ can be planted for eventual leak and discovery. Maybe Tor was secure, maybe it was never secure and just a ‘honeypot’, maybe it is still secure. You never know with these things.

“Considering the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been trying to thwart encryption on the internet, it comes as no surprise that the two have spent significant resources trying to crack the Tor network. Tor, as some of you may know, is designed to keep a person’s identity, location and activity anonymous and protect him or her from surveillance. Before panic sets in, know that Tor remains largely secure — the agencies had only limited success in trying to identify users.”

2.        Adobe source code breach; it’s bad, real bad

I avoid Adobe bloatware as much as possible the stuff is massive and seems to be forever having to be updated for security reasons. Of course I can’t fault them for being hacked, however the single point of weakness in their system not only cost them their source code (aka crown jewels) but it cost millions of their customers their credit information. Presumably class action lawyers are smacking their chops right now.

“The theft of source code for Adobe Acrobat, Cold Fusion and other products poses a wide-spread threat given the installed base of these products, particularly Acrobat, security specialists said. Adobe disclosed the issue in a blog post on Thursday.”

3.        Intel’s Internet of Things roadmap led by low-power chips

It is about time the x86 crowd noticed Internet of Things (IoT), but you have to wonder if it might be too late: first there is a very narrow product offering (two devices) and proprietary software (McAfee and Wind River) which is alright if you are leading the charge, not so much when you are banging on the door asking to be let in.

“Intel tapped into some of the bigger brands under its umbrella for a number of new Atom processor products being unveiled this week — namely the family previous known as “Bay Trail-I.” These new products make up the processor giant’s new roadmap based on buzzy trend disrupting IT and beyond: the Internet of Things.”

4.        Department of Basic Education bans Free and Open Source Software in SA Schools and mandates programming an ancient, moribund language …

You see something like this and you might conclude that the people responsible for the decision were corrupt, stupid, or both. Being Canadian, I find it easier to believe public officials are corrupt instead of stupid, but maybe it is different in South America. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Today I received a copy of a Circular S9/2013 from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) that made me as angry as I have ever been in my life. In effect it destroyed any initiative in schools that offer the subjects “Computer Applications Technology” (CAT) and “Information Technology” (IT) and that use open source software. For CAT, the DBE has indicated that only Microsoft Office can be used and that this will only be MSO2010 and MSO2013 as from 2014. I learned that in IT they have dumped Java, effectively from 2013, and have prescribed Delphi, a language that is not in general use today and is basically Pascal with a Graphical User Interface.”

5.        10% of Amplify Tablets Broke in Their First Month, One North Carolina School District Reports

Golly – give children expensive, fragile, devices and they break them! That would never happen in my house! Setting aside the abundantly questionable educational value of tablets, until they can literally make them bullet proof, this is going to be a common experience. A second hat tip to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Newscorp’s entry into the education market, the Amplify tablet, didn’t receive a lot of user reviews before being sold to waiting school districts; that may have been a mistake.               One school district in NC put their 1:1 program on hiatus just one month into the school year. They discovered that some 10% of the Amplify tablets issued to students were being returned with cracked screens or suffering from malfunctioning power supplies.”

6.        ‘Look ma, no hands’ on the car steering wheel still some way off

You can imagine how unnerving it must have been to sit in an early horseless carriage, or even one with an automatic transmission. That being said, consumer resistance will probably disappear in due course, but it is still many years off.

“When General Motors Co Vice Chairman Steve Girsky slid into a Cadillac SRX luxury crossover vehicle specially equipped to drive itself, his reaction echoed that of many consumers as more self-driving technologies are rolled out. “It’s a little unsettling at first when you take your hands off the wheel and then it’s one of these ‘Oh wow’ moments,” Girsky said in a September 27 interview about the vehicle he test drove over a year ago.”

7.        HP Admits What We Already Knew: Microsoft Is At War With Its OEM Partners

Things are bad when one of your largest customers called you out as a threat. Right now HP doesn’t have much choice but to play by Microsoft’s rules, but that could change.

“HP sells software, services, and devices. So does Microsoft. Here’s the key quote from HP CEO Meg Whitman: “Current [HP] partners like Intel and Microsoft are turning from partners to outright competitors.” Microsoft is no longer content or able to mint money by selling software to partners, corporate clients, and the public. As it moves into services and devices, companies that were partners will retain that status, but also garner a new classification: adversary.”

8.        IDC: PC industry bleeding slows as Q3 global shipments beat estimates

If the best you can say about disappointing numbers is that they weren’t as bad as expected, they were pretty bad. Ultimately, this trend will plateau, but when is anybody’s guess. By the way: unit figures are less than half the story, we keep score in dollars.

“For most of 2013, the narrative of the PC industry has been on the verge of becoming a bloody horror story. But the bleeding has finally slowed, based on the latest figures from the IDC. The market research firm published its third quarter report on Wednesday after the bell, with analysts affirming that worldwide shipments of 81.6 million units beat expectations.”

9.        What is the Hardware Revolution?

I am not entirely sure I agree with the assertion (but I would be very happy if it were true) simply because the level of effort and skill required to create a hardware product is significantly different from creating software. That being said, it makes for an interesting read.

“We are at the very beginning of an amazing change in the way we build, buy, consume, and experience devices. It’s been called a whole bunch of different names over the past decade, but now that things are (finally) heating up the name that feels like it’s going to stick is “hardware revolution”. I want to dive into how this all came to pass. Where we are in the resurgence of hardware. What the triggers were and what needs to continue to happen. For starters: why. What has actually happened?””

10.   Your car is about to go open source

What makes this article so interesting is not that they would move to open source but why they would move to open source, namely the challenge of maintaining and updating numerous custom made closed source applications. This sort of trend tends to be self-fulfilling as it becomes more true as more manufacturers adopt open source. I don’t like the idea of sophisticated GUIs on IVI systems in cars, however – it is a safety disaster waiting to happen.

“Automakers are working to standardize on a Linux-based operating system for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems that would make it easier for cars to act more like smartphones. An IVI is the “black box” that powers a car’s audio and entertainment systems, as well as hands-free phone service and satellite navigation systems. Most IVIs today have touchscreens and can be voice-activated, but many car buyers pass up those options.”

11.   The Linux Backdoor Attempt of 2003

One might immediately be tempted to blame the NSA for this but I suspect they are more diabolical. One thing about Linux is, once an exploit was successful the community would have promptly discovered the ‘back door’ and closed it. More likely this was just a ham handed attempt by some crooks.

“Josh wrote recently about a serious security bug that appeared in Debian Linux back in 2006, and whether it was really a backdoor inserted by the NSA. (He concluded that it probably was not.) Today I want to write about another incident, in 2003, in which someone tried to backdoor the Linux kernel. This one was definitely an attempt to insert a backdoor. But we don’t know who it was that made the attempt—and we probably never will.”

12.   802.11ac ‘gigabit Wi-Fi’ starts to show potential, limits

This seems highly technical but it provides some insight into what is coming in the near future. Nonetheless, unless spectrum is freed up, it seems we are getting near the end of the road in terms of increased WiFi speeds.

“Vendors have been testing their 11ac products for months, yielding data that show how 11ac performs and what variables can affect performance. Some of the tests are under ideal laboratory-style conditions; others involve actual or simulated production networks. Among the results: consistent 400M to 800Mbps throughput for 11ac clients in best-case situations, higher throughput as range increases compared to 11n, more clients serviced by each access point, and a boost in performance for existing 11n clients.”

13.   Police Arrest 8 In International Silk Road Busts

I guess a bazar for illegal activity has the same weakness as any other cloud service: a common point of failure. In other words, once you are in, you are in. Note how the arrests came within hours of the capture of “Mr. Big” implying he either kept a little black book or, more likely they already knew who they were going to arrest before they caught him because they had hacked the site.

“Authorities in Britain, Sweden, and the United States have arrested eight more people following last week’s closure of Silk Road, a notorious black market website which helped dealers to sell drugs under the cloak of anonymity, officials and media said Tuesday. In the U.K., the country’s newly-established National Crime Agency warned that more arrests were on the way.”

14.   Apple reportedly cutting iPhone 5C production in half

I have no idea how credible this report is, however, for a ‘cheap’ iPhone the 5C is damned expensive – maybe that is the root of the problem.

“Apple is said to be cutting production of the iPhone 5C in half, from 300,000 to 150,000 units per day, according to a new report from Chinese Web site C Technology.”

15.   Canadian spies met with energy firms, documents reveal

The news flash that Canada had spied on Brazil’s mining and energy ministry had me amused the whole week – I mean, seriously people everybody spies on everybody else. As for why, well it could be for national security purposes, fun, or profit. After all, a number of bond films are based on commercial spying. In any event, if you worked for CSEC you could gather this information and tip off your brother in law who could make a fortune on insider trading.

“The Canadian government agency that allegedly hacked into the Brazilian mining and energy ministry has participated in secret meetings in Ottawa where Canadian security agencies briefed energy corporations, it has emerged.”

16.   Fotoforensics

I came across this photograph of raccoons cooperating to access food. I doubt whether the photo is legit (however, nothing raccoons do surprises me). In any event, further research brought me to which purports to allow you to automatically check a photograph for tricks. And I got and excuse to show you the picture of the raccoons.

17.   Unscientific spoof paper accepted by 157 “black sheep” open access journals – but the Bohannon study has severe flaws itself

I carried the story about this ‘experiment’ recently. I don’t find it altogether surprising that ‘bad’ papers are accepted by open access journals since enough of them are accepted by ‘reputable’ journals. This item is a reasoned critique of the earlier piece.

“This week, the journal Science has published a news article about the apparent lack of proper peer-review at many open access journals. The author, contributing Science reporter John Bohannon, concocted a spoof paper with scientific problems, which ended up to be accepted in 157 out of 304 open access journals.”

18.   Why tablet magazines are a failure

Some good points and some interesting figures. I have never paid for a tablet magazine so I don’t really have an informed opinion on the matter – not that that has ever stopped me from commenting before. It could simply be that tablet magazines are trying to impose a traditional format into a new media. Usually it takes a few years for that sort of thing to get worked out.

“We’re starting a new magazine,” the entrepreneur told me. “We have a potent niche to cover, and advertisers are dying for us to deliver interactive ads.” Another woman I met with wanted to launch a tablet magazine about renewable energy. “It’s global and I have all the right connections to get it out there,” she said. “And I’ve found an out-of-the-box software solution to power it.” Both projects impressed me. From an editorial point of view, they both nailed it. The entrepreneurs’ energy was great. A few years ago I would have been all in with them.”

19.   New strategy lets cochlear implant users hear music

The real story hear is not so much the music, but the idea that external signal processing software can be upgraded to the extent that patients can hear music, which probably has significance for normal hearing.

“For many, music is a universal language that unites people when words cannot. But for those who use cochlear implants — technology that allows deaf and hard of hearing people to comprehend speech — hearing music remains extremely challenging.”

20.   How to lose half a trillion euros

I get the sense that the “renewable energy at any cost” policies in certain EU countries is leading to disaster. Unfortunately, as governments eventually discover, it is much easier to fall behind than to catch up, especially with respect to infrastructure. The thought of coal plants ramping up while cleaner natural gas plants are mothballed only adds to the story.

“ON JUNE 16th something very peculiar happened in Germany’s electricity market. The wholesale price of electricity fell to minus €100 per megawatt hour (MWh). That is, generating companies were having to pay the managers of the grid to take their electricity. It was a bright, breezy Sunday. Demand was low. Between 2pm and 3pm, solar and wind generators produced 28.9 gigawatts (GW) of power, more than half the total. The grid at that time could not cope with more than 45GW without becoming unstable. At the peak, total generation was over 51GW; so prices went negative to encourage cutbacks and protect the grid from overloading.”


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