The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 18th 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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
I have been very sick with the flu for the past 10 days or so, which has probably negatively impacted the quality of articles this week. Sorry. It is a bad one – you don’t want it – get the flu shot!
ps: Google has been sporadically flagging The Geek’s Reading List as spam/phishing. Until I resolve the problem, if you have a Gmail account and you don’t get the Geeks List when expected, please check your Spam folder and mark the list as ‘Not Spam’.
1. The Forest Mafia: How Scammers Steal Millions Through Carbon Markets
Other than carbon credits, in what other market do neither the buyer nor the seller have any real interest in whether the commodity actually exists? I figure most ‘carbon credit’ schemes are likely fraudulent – though defining fraudulent sale of an intangible asset is probably challenging. If you think about it, the only real carbon credits should come when you buy lumber at the hardware store and build something with it.
“When the balding Australian first stepped off the riverboat and into the isolated pocket of northeastern Peru’s Amazon jungle in 2010, he had what seemed like a noble, if quixotic, business plan. An ambitious real estate developer, David Nilsson hoped to ink joint venture agreements with the regional government of Loreto province and the leaders of the indigenous Matses community to preserve vast thickets of the tribe’s remote rainforest. Under a global carbon-trading program, he wished to sell shares of the forest’s carbon credits to businesses that hope to mitigate, or offset, their air pollution.”
2. ‘Tonight I Strike’: bringing sci-fi to life with a $1,200 laptop
This article shows how far video effects and editing software have come, which is a long way indeed. Unfortunately, watching the short, it is not immediately obvious what the robots and sci-fi bring to the story.
“Visit a world-class facility like Industrial Light & Magic, and alongside legions of brilliant artists you’ll find racks upon racks of servers, all devoted to one task: making the impossible come to life. But as computers have become cheaper and more powerful, technological bottlenecks have opened up, allowing ambitious young filmmakers to stand out by creating low-budget shorts with big-budget effects. It’s a trend that’s brought us names like Neill Blomkamp, whose Alive in Joburg became District 9, and Fede Alvarez, who parlayed his robot-invasion short Panic Attack! into a gig directing the recent Evil Dead remake. Another filmmaker to recently walk down that path is 28-year-old Dan Gaud.”
3. Toyota plans mid-decade launch of anti-collision system and self-driving cars
I’m really looking forward to this sort of technology. Mind you, we live in a society where people blame the car when they push the gas instead of the brake pedal, and don’t seem to be aware they can just move the transmission into neutral to disengage the engine. All things considered this should save lives, however, the cost may so high that only a small number of cars on the road end up having the capabilities.
“In 2015, Toyota plans to make an advanced anti-collision system available to consumers, starting with Japan. The system uses sensors that watch for other cars, pedestrians and other obstacles and not only hits the brakes, but steers the vehicle to avoid hitting whatever is in its path. It gives the driver a chance to react first, bringing up a visual cue then setting off an audible alarm, before taking action on its own.”
4. Google’s Quantum Computer in Limbo After Government Shutdown
D-Wave generates a lot of attention, though I have a strange feeling about it. After all, some is or is not, and what D-Wave is or does seems to remain a matter of debate and discussion. I found the video to be essentially a long, over produced commercial, and, in general frustrating. It really doesn’t tell you anything.
“When Google and NASA announced plans to boot up an honest-to-goodness quantum computer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, it seemed like the beginning of something very big. Researchers from around the world would get their chance to kick the tires of a D-Wave Two — an entirely new type of computer built by a Canadian company that claims it has harnessed the computing power of quantum physics. Lockheed Martin was already running a D-Wave system operated out of the University of Southern California, but the Google-funded Ames Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab was to be the company’s second customer.”
5. Apps on iPhone 5s Crashing at Twice the Rate as on Other iPhone 5 Models
This is kinda funny – after all, with a 64 bit processor, you’d expect everything to happen twice as fast, including crashing! Seriously, however, the absolute figures seem rather low so it doesn’t look like anything to panic about.
“Whenever there is a new operating system, it’s not surprising to see apps crash at a somewhat higher rate, given all the changes. But one of the interesting things in Apple’s latest iPhone transition is that apps appear to be crashing at a much higher rate on the new iPhone 5s as on either the iPhone 5c or the iPhone 5. In its look at hundreds of millions of app launches since the debut of the latest iPhones, Crittercism says that programs crash about two percent on the iPhone 5s, as compared to just under one percent on both the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5.”
6. Protests follow Google ‘endorsed advert’ change
This is pretty evil stuff. I wonder how contract law works generally to ‘opt-out’ clauses. For example, could I start a business and decide I am going to post all the personal information regarding my customers online unless they opt-out? Perhaps I can decide to take my neighbour’s belongings unless he/she ‘opts-out’ before an arbitrary deadline.
“Google is facing a backlash over plans to put people’s faces and comments about products and places into adverts. The “shared endorsements” policy change starts on 11 November and covers the comments, “follows” and other actions people do on Google+.”
7. Intel says get ready for $99 tablets, $299 Haswell notebooks, $349 2-in-1 hybrids
It is a little unfortunate the author conflates ‘Android’ (which in an operating system) with PC (which is an architecture, and, in any event, not relevant when talking about tablets.) I would hope/expect a $99 tablet is likely to run Android as there is little room for an OS license. In either event, at these price ranges, things like displays, etc., may be of questionable quality.
Hoping for some tech bargains for the holidays? Yes? Then read on, as Intel has some good news for you. Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich says that he expects OEMs to push prices down over the coming weeks, and that this will result in $99 tablets, $299 Haswell laptops, and $349 2-in-1 hybrid tablets and notebooks.”
8. Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray
Interesting progress, but the headline is nonsense: what would throw the story of human evolution in disarray would be the discovery of a modem human from 1.8 million years ago – everything else is hypothesis and speculation. As you dig up more bones you fill in more gaps and have a better understanding of what happened.
“The spectacular fossilised skull of an ancient human ancestor that died nearly two million years ago in central Asia has forced scientists to rethink the story of early human evolution. Anthropologists unearthed the skull at a site in Dmanisi, a small town in southern Georgia, where other remains of human ancestors, simple stone tools and long-extinct animals have been dated to 1.8m years old.”
9. How Safe Is Your Information in the Cloud?
Not exactly a highly informative article and one that seems to suggest most problems are in the past. Mind you, SAP does have a horse in this race, and they might have mentioned that the very nature of cloud storage – its centralization – makes it a juicy target for hackers. Plus, no matter what, service providers always move toward low cost of operation, meaning your data will probably end up being managed in India or China.
“Today, technology continues to rapidly advance by leaps and bounds. At one time, it seemed like the (now humble) laptop was the proverbial end of the line when it came to home computing technology. Then along came the variety of mobile computing technologies we have today. So too has the means by which we store and share information. Whereas in years past, most people stored all their data on the hard drives of their home computers. Now much of our data is stored on cloud servers.”
10. Gamers solve HIV
Protein folding is an immensely complex computational problem best solved with quantum computers (since the protein is itself a quantum computer). This approach – structuring the problem as a multiplayer game – is brilliant as it exploits massive computing power as well as the ability of the human mind to quickly resolve spatial problems.
“Scientists from the University of Washington solved a ten year old problem with the HIV virus structure by packing the image off to a bunch of gamers who solve these things for fun.”
11. A mega to giga year storage medium can outlive the human race
Long term storage is an admirable goal, especially if you consider the benefit post-apocalypse. The main problem I see is simply that you specifically don’t want a machine readable format unless you know for sure the machine are going to be around when you need to read it. I figure many copies, printed in text, on a highly durable substrate like polycarbonate, is a lot more practical.
“Mankind has been storing information for thousands of years. From carvings on marble to today’s magnetic data storage. Although the amount of data that can be stored has increased immensely during the past few decades, it is still difficult to actually store data for a long period. The key to successful information storage is to ensure that the information does not get lost. If we want to store information that will exist longer than mankind itself, then different requirements apply than those for a medium for daily information storage. Researcher Jeroen de Vries from the University of Twente MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology demonstrates that it is possible to store data for extremely long periods.”
12. Apple Says iMessage Interception Would Require Re-Engineering Systems, Has No Interest in Doing So
Still, it is awfully convenient there is a comfortable back door in the system, even if they have no intention of ever exploiting ever, not even once, unless of course they were asked to.
“Yesterday, researchers made a presentation at the Hack in the Box conference arguing that Apple’s iMessage system could theoretically allow Apple or another party to intercept the encrypted messages. The concern stems in part from Apple’s use of a private server for storing users’ public keys used to encrypt messages, meaning that senders have no way of knowing whether a potentially false key has been inserted in order to intercept messages intended for a different recipient.”
13. WAIT! Before you upgrade: You simply must know a few things about Windows 8.1
I wasn’t planning on ‘upgrading’ from Windows 8 since I stripped it from the machine which was running it. Now I can see it is pretty much impractical: given my abysmal rural Canadian Internet service the download would take the better part of a few days, assuming it didn’t fail, which likely it would, and assuming it didn’t fail the download would cost $40.
“Microsoft is rolling out Windows 8.1 as a free upgrade for all Windows 8 users. But installing the new OS may not be as simple as it sounds, particularly for those with multiple computers to manage or those who installed the earlier Windows 8.1 Preview. The basics are simple enough: Windows 8 users can apply the update by downloading it from Microsoft’s Windows Store.”
14. Volvo finds a way to turn body panels into batteries
Certainly sound world changing and revolutionary, but the facts about batteries remain the same: they don’t store much energy and they wear out relatively quickly. So, a structural member or body panel which is a battery becomes a structural member or panel which has to be replaced prematurely. Mind you, the batteries of most electric vehicles are so expensive you are better off scrapping the vehicle instead of replacing the battery after 5 to 10 years, so maybe it’s a wash.
“One of the problems with designing an electric vehicle is figuring out where to fit the battery pack. Volvo – as a part of a European Union research project – is working on a way around this issue by replacing standard parts with lightweight components that double as batteries on both conventional and plug-in vehicles. The image above shows one such piece on a Volvo S80. While looking like nothing more than a carbon fiber plenum cover, the piece is actually a battery pack that can store and supply enough energy for the car’s entire 12-volt power system.”
15. Fleet of eBee drones capture the immensity of the Matterhorn
An interesting project, though I don’t really know how critical the mapping of Matterhorn is to the rest of us. The video is certainly interesting. Perhaps a more useful application would be to deliver high quality high resolution maps to farmers, etc..
“Explorers have mapped the surface of the iconic Matterhorn painstakingly by foot, by satellite, and now by drone, thanks to a partnership between drone maker senseFly and nonprofit Drone Adventures. Launching a small squadron of eBee minidrones off the summit and sides of the famous Alps mountaintop, the mission tested the navigational abilities of the system and created a staggering data-rich 3D model.”
16. Teeny Tiny Pacemaker Fits Inside the Heart
The device itself is interesting, however, I don’t like the idea of a AAA battery rattling back and forth inside a chamber of my heart: you have to wonder how hard it would be to dislodge and what consequences (likely promptly fatal) would be.
“A tiny pacemaker that doesn’t need wires to stimulate the heart has been approved for sale in the European Union. It’s the world’s first wireless pacemaker to hit the market. This device, which is about the size and shape of a AAA battery, is designed to be inserted into the heart in a non-invasive procedure that would take about a half-hour.”
17. Choose Your Own Route on Finland’s Algorithm-Driven Public Bus
This application makes sense, especially on relatively little used routes and/or in low-ridership times of day. Of course, in order for this to work, you’d have to have affordable mobile broadband, meaning Canada could not even consider it.
“Technology should probably be transforming public transit a lot faster than it is. Yes, apps like Hopstop have made finding stops easier and I’ve started riding the bus in unfamiliar parts of town a bit more often thanks to Google Maps’ route info. But these are relatively small steps, and it’s all limited to making scheduling information more widely available. Where’s the innovation on the other side? Where’s the Uber-like interactivity, the bus that comes to you after a tap on the iPhone?”
18. Amaze project aims to take 3D printing ‘into metal age’
Just to be clear, 3D printing in metal has been around for a while. That being said, aerospace is probably an ideal industry for application due to the high value associated with weight reduction and the low volumes of items produced. I find the 3D printed bearing a bit questionable, however: bearings with the slightest texture (vs. high polish) quickly self-destruct.
“The European Space Agency has unveiled plans to “take 3D printing into the metal age” by building parts for jets, spacecraft and fusion projects. The Amaze project brings together 28 institutions to develop new metal components which are lighter, stronger and cheaper than conventional parts.”
19. Brain Implants Near Milestone
You sometimes have to wonder if there is a point where too much regulation does more harm than good, especially in emerging technologies in the medical area. I’m not suggesting that doctors be allowed to install brain implants without significant checks and balances, however, the amount of suffering which may have been relieved with more timely approval is likely immense.
“The product Steve Archer started work on 14 years ago is just about to hit the market — he hopes. The NeuroPace RNS is the first implant to listen to brain waves and autonomously decide when to apply a therapy to prevent an epileptic seizure. It was developed by a company with a staff of less than 90 people, only about 30 on the core electronic, mechanical, and software engineering teams.”
20. New EU rules to curb transfer of data to US after Edward Snowden revelations
The headline and most of the article certainly sounds reassuring, however, farther on we find that, in fact, these laws do not actually apply to “security agencies” which is, pretty much the point. So you can bluster all you want but if the law don’t actually apply to the people doing the spying, it isn’t going to change anything.
“New European rules aimed at curbing questionable transfers of data from EU countries to the US are being finalised in Brussels in the first concrete reaction to the Edward Snowden disclosures on US and British mass surveillance of digital communications. Regulations on European data protection standards are expected to pass the European parliament committee stage on Monday after the various political groupings agreed on a new compromise draft following two years of gridlock on the issue.”