The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 29th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 29th 2013


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

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. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Please note that I will be hunting in rural Michigan for the next couple weeks. Although wireless Internet access is much cheaper and more available in the US than in Canada (even when it is a 1 hour drive to the nearest store), I don’t know if I will be able to produce a Geek’s List for the next couple weeks until I actually connect.

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.        Bioengineer: the heart is one of the easiest organs to bioprint, we’ll do it in a decade

Possibly a bit optimistic given the state of the art however, it does make sense to have stretch goals. My understanding is that the underlying ‘skeleton’ of the heart is a very complex structure and that is a major nut to crack.

“A team of cardiovascular scientists has announced it will be able to 3D print a whole heart from the recipients’ own cells within a decade. “America put a man on the Moon in less than a decade. I said a full decade to provide some wiggle room,” Stuart K Williams told”

2.        Video: Two-seat Volocopter Completes First Flight

Quite an interesting concept, except for the fact it appears to be intended to be electrically powered. Multiple electric motors should make it more stable and safer (since you’d need to lose several motors to be in danger), however a small jet engine/generator would almost certainly provide longer flight times, and greater reliability.

“E-volo, the developer of a series of new concept helicopter derivatives the company calls volocopters, has achieved an important milestone, successfully launching its first commercially viable two-seat version, the VC200. The maiden flight occurred on November 17 inside the Dm-arena in Karlsruhe, Germany. The VC200 was remotely controlled and its 18 electrically powered rotors had no trouble lifting the aircraft off the ground. According to an E-volo press release the initial flight test “exceeded all expectations.””

3.        Fed up with slow and pricey Internet, cities start demanding gigabit fiber

A tech entrepreneur recently told me “if you have Internet, you have everything – I can make my own electricity, but I can’t make my own Internet.” Broadband infrastructure today is as important as electricity and telephone service was in the 20th century, however, many governments, do not take this seriously and are doing nothing to advance their competitiveness (Canada and the US among them). Some cities are taking the lead, but these are the sort of programs which require a national plan.

“”We pay 34 times more, 34 times, not percent, 34 times more than peer cities that have already implemented fiber,” said James Benham, a software company owner and elected City Council member in College Station, Texas, which is served by Verizon and SuddenLink. “If you compare our pricing to Chattanooga and Lafayette, who have already done citywide fiber to the home, and fiber to business networks, our commercial rates per megabit are 34 times higher. Our residential rates are 15 times higher. If that was our electric rates or our water rates there would be riots in the streets.””

4.        Linux Desktop’s Missed Opportunities

The expected end of support for Windows XP and the abomination which is Windows 8 presents an opportunity for Linux. Even though the remarkable success of Android may have ‘primed the pump’ for acceptance of Linux, few businesses seem keen to even consider it. Mind you the NSA revelations demonstrate the extent to which governments might be able to interfere with use of computers by foreigners, and many XP machines are located outside the US.

“I’ve always said that the two biggest benefits of running a Linux distribution over a proprietary operating system are: freedom of choice and the Linux community. Despite these advantages, Linux on the desktop needs work in one key area: seizing great opportunities. Two huge opportunities for the Linux desktop right now are the end of Windows XP support and the less than amazing reception of Windows 8 by casual users. In this article, I’ll explore why I believe Windows XP and Windows 8 are fantastic opportunities for an increase in Linux adoption.”

5.        Is It The End Of The Line For The Landline?

It is hard to make the case for continued investment and maintenance of traditional landline infrastructure given declining revenues. Carriers also likely have a desire to move from a regulated to an unregulated, Internet based revenue model. Unfortunately, broadband customers tend to be most profitable in urban areas, leaving rural and small town consumers looking forward to virtual isolation from the modern, connected, world.

“America’s traditional phone system is not as dependable as it used to be. Just last month, the Federal Communications Commission told phone companies to start collecting stats on calls that fail to complete. According to one estimate, as many as 1 in 5 incoming long-distance calls simply doesn’t connect. The problem may be in the way those calls are being routed — often via the Internet, which is cheaper. It may also have something to do with the gradual decay of traditional landline infrastructure.”

6.        NSA infected 50,000 computer networks with malicious software

These revelations get better and better. It is worth reiterating that any vulnerability inserted or exploited by ‘white hats’ can equally be exploited by ‘black hats’, though, in this case, figuring out who the good guys are and who the bad guys is not exactly straightforward.

“The American intelligence service – NSA – infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden and seen by this newspaper, prove this.”

7.        Ink-Jet Printing for OLED Displays Debuts

Breakthroughs in OLED display production used to be announced with remarkable regularity, however, this looks promising. Raster (back and forth) based systems tend not to be ideal for high volume production, however.

“Organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays have richer colors, are thinner and lighter, and can be fabricated for curved, bendable, wearable, or even roll-up displays. While OLEDs come at a high price, a California startup claims to have a less expensive solution to manufacturing.”

8.        Sudden Progress on Prime Number Problem Has Mathematicians Buzzing

This sounds like a real breakthrough but I am not smart enough to fully understand the ramifications. It does make you wonder if there might be an impact on cracking encryption systems, though.

“On May 13, an obscure mathematician — one whose talents had gone so unrecognized that he had worked at a Subway restaurant to make ends meet — garnered worldwide attention and accolades from the mathematics community for settling a long-standing open question about prime numbers, those numbers divisible by only one and themselves. Yitang Zhang, a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, showed that even though primes get increasingly rare as you go further out along the number line, you will never stop finding pairs of primes separated by at most 70 million. His finding was the first time anyone had managed to put a finite bound on the gaps between prime numbers, representing a major leap toward proving the centuries-old twin primes conjecture, which posits that there are infinitely many pairs of primes separated by only two (such as 11 and 13).”

9. and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

This is a very interesting read, not so much because of the specifics (the fiasco) but the proudly tech ignorant mindset that led up to it – a mindset which is typical in most organizations. I have noted that “captains of industry” and government officials tend to laugh off my concerns about Canada’s abysmal and deteriorating communications infrastructure (the US is just as bad), almost certainly because they are oblivious to the long term consequences, likely for the same reasons. Hat tip to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“For the first couple of weeks after the launch, I assumed any difficulties in the Federal insurance market were caused by unexpected early interest, and that once the initial crush ebbed, all would be well. The sinking feeling that all would not be well started with this disillusioning paragraph about what had happened when a staff member at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the department responsible for, warned about difficulties with the site back in March.”

10.   BlackBerry Ltd: Does BBM have a future as a social network?

When I saw the headline I thought it was meant as a sort of antilogy, like “military intelligence”. I admit, I don’t know much about social networking but my understanding is you have to have a growing user base to have a future as one.

“Jeff Deline, vice president of global partnerships at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., says he is banking on BBM becoming the latest social engagement tool for the company, as it seeks to connect fans with its various properties, namely the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC.”

11.   NSA Spying Risks $35 Billion in U.S. Technology Sales

Well, the damage has been done, but it is worth noting that tech buyers don’t have much of a choice: buy US and help the NSA or buy Chinese and help Chinese security services. Meanwhile, tech companies are working their hardest to convince customers they were horrified – horrified – to discover the backdoors and other systems they installed for the NSA were actually used. What cannot be secured will be corrected via propaganda and assurances they have learned the error of their ways.

“International anger over the National Security Agency’s Internet surveillance is hurting global sales by American technology companies and setting back U.S. efforts to promote Internet freedom. Disclosures of spying abroad may cost U.S. companies as much as $35 billion in lost revenue through 2016 because of doubts about the security of information on their systems, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a policy research group in Washington whose board includes representatives of companies such as International Business Machines Corp. and Intel Corp.”

12.   Solar silicon wafers below 20c/watt

It is impossible to separate subsidy from pricing impact in the solar business. I looked at the balance sheets of several large Chinese manufacturers, all of whom sell well below cost. These companies are bankrupt but remain in operation only because Chinese banks keep lending them money, doubtless under government direction. In other words, prices will stay low until the Chinese government stops throwing money at them. No useful pricing information can be extracted under conditions such as these.

Average silicon solar wafer manufacturing costs for vertically integrated tier 1 makers are now forecast to fall yet another 6 percent in 2014 to a record low of US$0.20 per watt (W), according to the NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly report (editor’s note: the cost of silicon wafers made up close to half the cost of a complete solar PV panel module last year). Since 2008, solar PV wafer manufacturing costs (the combined costs of polysilicon and wafer processing) have declined more than 16 percent per year.

13.   UK ordered to install 70,000 electric vehicle charging points by 2020

In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. The EU (and UK) grids are creaking under the weight of about a decade of ‘alternative energy’ mismanagement and underinvestment, so it only makes sense lawmakers should oblige further subsidies towards what will become a catastrophic policy. If we assume they subsidize the purchase of 100 EVs (the only way even the wealthy can afford them) for every charging station that would be 7 million EVs pulling power off the grid. Makes perfect sense, I guess.

“European law-makers have passed a resolution that will compel the UK to install a network of 70,000 electric vehicle recharging points as well as hydrogen and natural gas stations by 2020. The European Parliament today endorsed a draft directive that aims to reduce dependence on oil and boost take-up of alternative fuels, so as to help achieve a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2050.”

14.   ARM is Already Considering 128-bit Mobile CPU

Meh – the primary advantage of a 64 bit processor is to increase program address space, which is far more important on PCs than on mobile devices. After all, 64 bit integer calculations are rarely needed or used, at least where there is much of an advantage, against, especially on a mobile device. A 128 bit processor is pointless marketing, and little more.

“Earlier this year, Apple made headlines with its 64-bit SoC for the iPhone 5S. That SoC is now present in the iPad Air and the new iPad Mini Retina. Since the launch of the iPhone 5S, we’ve been hearing talk of a 64-bit Exynos from Samsung. Now ARM has confirmed that the chip is coming. The Korea Herald cites a senior manager at ARM as saying executives from Samsung and ARM met this week and discussed the ARM 64-bit chip expected to be used in a Samsung device next year.”,25149.html

15.   Microsoft Enlists Pawn Stars To Mock Google’s Chromebooks

This is a little sad – engaging “reality TV” louts on a 3rd tier network to make fun of the competitor’s products. Why stop there? Or, maybe they could spend a little less money on promotion and a little more money on making products people want to buy. Just saying.

“Microsoft’s anti-Google Scroogled campaign is showing no signs of slowing down. Its latest target is Google’s Chromebook. Microsoft has enlisted the stars of the successful reality TV series Pawn Stars to lampoon what it wants you to perceive as the Chromebook’s limitations (“It’s not a real laptop!”).”

16.   Google’s Role In Woodland Child Pornography Arrest Raises Privacy Concerns

I want to go out on a limb here and declare myself entirely against child pornography. Nonetheless, you have to look at this sort of thing through a wide-angle lens. What if, for example, Google (or government) decided to troll through your images looking for evidence, say, you were gay (which is illegal in certain countries) or “radical” or atheist, or belonged to the “wrong” religion? History has shown that a surveillance society rarely follows civil bounds over time.

“A child pornography arrest helped by Google is raising privacy concerns. Federal investigators arrested a Woodland man on child pornography charges after Google found images on his computer. Google’s cyber criminal investigators are faceless servers, looking across the Internet for child pornography. Each image that’s uploaded to the Web has its own unique digital fingerprint.”

17.   A Prediction: Bitcoin Is Doomed to Fail

Let’s agree that stateless, anonymous, crypto-currencies have no future in general, and conspiracy theories by loonie libertarians aren’t needed to explain why. Bitcoin, of course, is almost certainly a massive fraud and failure is predestined.

“The developers of bitcoin are trying to show that money can be successfully privatized. They will fail, because money that is not issued by governments is always doomed to failure. Money is inevitably a tool of the state. Bitcoin relies on thoroughly contemporary technology. It consists of computer-generated tokens, with sophisticated algorithms guaranteeing the anonymity, transparency and integrity of transactions. But the monetary philosophy behind this web-based phenomenon can be traced back to one of the oldest theories of money.”

18.   Microsoft ready to kill Windows RT

This may explain rumors I’ve heard about special ‘employee discounts’ of 50% at distributors – you want to sell the inventory, if you can, rather than throw it in the dumpster.

“Larson-Green, who is executive vice-president of Devices and Studios at Microsoft, said that the aim of Windows RT was “our first go at creating that more closed, turnkey experience [that Apple has on the iPad]…” but that Microsoft now has three mobile operating systems: “We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We’re not going to have three.””

19.   Research ethics: 3 ways to blow the whistle

I doubt that outright fraud is a major problem in science though, when it happens, a lot of damage can be done. These cases are probably not that typical: most fraud is probably spotted by juniors who chose their career over whistle blowing – not that I blame them.

“Are more people doing wrong or are more people speaking up? Retractions of scientific papers have increased about tenfold during the past decade, with many studies crumbling in cases of high-profile research misconduct that ranges from plagiarism to image manipulation to outright data fabrication. When worries about somebody’s work reach a critical point, it falls to a peer, supervisor, junior partner or uninvolved bystander to decide whether to keep mum or step up and blow the whistle. Doing the latter comes at significant risk, and the path is rarely simple. Some make their case and move on; others never give up. And in what seems to be a growing trend, anonymous watchdogs are airing their concerns through e-mail and public forums. Here, Nature profiles three markedly different stories of individuals who acted on their suspicions. Successful or otherwise, each case offers lessons for would-be tipsters.”

20.   Why you shouldn’t buy a 4K TV this year

I recently went to see a movie and, in the preshow they repeatedly ran ads for (I think) Samsung 4K TVs. The major selling point of the ad was something along the lines of imagine having your friends over to watch a hockey game in 4K! Well, you can imagine all you want, because even if you get a 4K TV, all you’ll see is the sub-HD signal distributed by the cable company. Do not buy a 4K TV, at least until the price is almost the same as an HDTV, which won’t be long.

“Ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K televisions are sure to be on many holiday shopping wish lists this season, but industry experts say now is not the time to buy. For one, they’re still pricey: Most UHD TVs large enough to showcase their better picture quality – that is, 65-in. or larger — cost $5,000 or more. There’s also a lack of 4K content that can be viewed, and industry standards that need to be hammered out.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 22nd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 22nd 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


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.        Snap Out of It: Kids Aren’t Reliable Tech Predictors

The young are an interesting market: they are keen early adopters, but they don’t have money. Of course, for many web businesses, were profit is derived from the sales to a gullible public rather than rendering valuable services, the difference is moot. In any event, this is a great article. Hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“I believe the children aren’t our future. Teach them well, but when it comes to determining the next big thing in tech, let’s not fall victim to the ridiculous idea that they lead the way. Yes, I’m talking about Snapchat.”

2.        Hackers’ guide to grounding drones

Despite the headline, this is about non-military drones (which can also be spoofed and/or jammed) but the sort of hobbyist and low end drones with limited capacity. On the subject of military drones, it will be interesting to see how long these slow moving machines last in a real shooting war: they will be sitting ducks.

“Flying drones can be crashed using cheap tools available on eBay, a researcher has revealed. The navigation systems used by autonomous drones can be interfered with using tools including GPS jammers and do-it-yourself high energy radio frequency guns. Drones could also be set to earth by flying machines close by that have powerful radio systems.”,hackers-guide-to-grounding-drones.aspx

3.        Small, Fast and Cheap, Theranos Is the Poster Child of Med Tech — and It’s in Walgreen’s

I treat most stuff out of Singularity Hub with the deepest of suspicion, but this seems legit: a start-up offering a wide range of blood tests using an automated system, at low cost (see Some details in the article are wrong (no – you don’t need a dedicated vial for each traditional blood test), and the turnaround time of 4 hours might be too long for many hospital applications, however it is easy to believe the system will be improved over time.

“A number of startups are selling portable diagnostic laboratories that require just a drop of the patient’s blood, made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics. But perhaps lab tests can be made faster, easier and more accurate with a turn-of-the-last century technology: automation. That’s the bet the Silicon Valley company Theranos is making, and the company recently sealed a deal with Walgreen’s Pharmacy to deliver on-site laboratory services to many of its stores.”

4.        Musk Lashes Back at Tesla Fire Controversy

My statistics professor frequently opined “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Yes, there are a couple hundred thousand gasoline vehicle fires in the US every year, out of a fleet of about 250 million. A significant proportion of those are the result of arson, dropped cigarettes, etc.. Vehicle fires tend to be associated with older, poorly maintained vehicles. Peruse, in particular Page 19, “Collision or overturn” and do the math yourself.

“A small handful of Tesla electric cars have caught fire, driving down the company’s stock price, and finally prompting CEO Elon Musk to tackle the issue in a new blog posting. “Since the Model S went into production last year, there have been more than a quarter million gasoline car fires in the United States alone, resulting in over 400 deaths and approximately 1,200 serious injuries (extrapolating 2012 NFPA data),” he wrote in that posting. “However, the three Model S fires, which only occurred after very high-speed collisions and caused no serious injuries or deaths, received more national headlines than all 250,000+ gasoline fires combined.””

5.        Dropbox Could Be A Bargain At An $8 Billion Valuation

If there was any doubt that investors can be idiots, it is quite clear we are experiencing Dot Com 2.0: between Twitter and numerous private financings, companies with no significant barriers to entry are suddenly worth billions. True, they may have revenues, but little prospect of significant income. Dropbox is a useful service: you can share files stored on the cloud, over multiple computers. They have a free service of 2GB of storage and I’m guessing that is the bulk of their user base. If somebody developed a similar service (such development would cost a few hundred thousand dollars), and offered 4GB free, I’d probably move my files to that platform. Why not?

“According to BloombergBusinessWeek, cloud file storage firm Dropbox is looking to raise an additional $250 million at a valuation of around $8 billion.”

6.        The Smithsonian Will Let Anyone 3D Print Recreations Of His

A lot of the things you see in museums are replicas – after all, you don’t want kids climbing on rare fossils. These are often produced by casting and rework by artists, an expensive and time consuming process. It is pretty easy to product a 3D scan of an artefact and, once you have a scan, easy and cheap to produce a facsimile with a 3D printer. This could make it easy to ‘share’ collections among museums, or perhaps, print and sell relics for personal ownership. Another hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“Just when you thought 3D printing was only going to be used to make guns and other stupid crap no one actually needs, the world’s largest network of museums has come up with easily the best use for the ground-breaking invention yet. Yesterday, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. introduced Smithsonian X 3D, a web portal that allows online visitors to create 3D renderings of some of its historical artifacts.”

7.        Carriers Buck Against Smartphone Kill Switch

Of course the carriers are disinterested in doing anything which might cost them money, regardless of the benefit to users. What puzzles me is why their input is even being considered – did they consult with pawn shops before drafting possession of stolen property laws?

“The kill switch for smartphones as advocated by the New York attorney general and the San Francisco district attorney is overkill as there is already a database for stolen smartphones. And it works. All the big carriers in the U.S. are participating. It’s easier to create that database than to create 25 different kill switches, said analyst Roger Entner.”

8.        Software patent reform just died in the House, thanks to IBM and Microsoft

Patent trolling is a double edged sword: if you are a big, profitable company it can be an annoyance at the same time as a major source of profit. Efforts at patent reform are primarily directed to keeping the riff-raff out while providing free reign to the Fortune 500. You might hope that sanity will prevail, but it won’t as long as lobbyists are involved.

“On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation aimed at reining in abusive patent litigation. But one of the bill’s most important provisions, designed to make it easier to nix low-quality software patents, will be left on the cutting room floor. That provision was the victim of an aggressive lobbying campaign by patent-rich software companies such as IBM and Microsoft.”

9.        Research gets donor hearts beating again

This seems to be part of a trend – keep organs alive by getting them to think they are still in a living body rather than just on ice. The heart would be the biggest challenge, of course, because it’s job is pretty much to be that living body. This small machine provides lung function, etc., to keep the hear alive. It is a great idea.

“The waiting list for donor hearts could be slashed by pioneering research from Sydney doctors that could increase the supply of the organs by up to 50 per cent. The team from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital have discovered a way to protect hearts that have already stopped beating, in what is known as circulatory or cardiac death, and bring them back to life outside the human body.”

10.   LG Smart TVs logging USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers

If true, a massive violation of privacy and probably illegal in some countries. You really have to wonder where it will end.

“Earlier this month I discovered that my new LG Smart TV was displaying ads on the Smart landing screen. After some investigation, I found a rather creepy corporate video advertising their data collection practices to potential advertisers. It’s quite long but a sample of their claims are as follows …”

11.   Smartwatches Won’t Sell Until Someone Figures Out What They’re For

The article makes a good point: the smartwatch is a product in search of a use. Heck, that is pretty much what fashion is all about, however, carrying around an expensive, fundamentally useless piece of technology might not send a positive message to those around you.

“Samsung says it has moved 800,000 of its widely panned Galaxy Gear smartwatches. At least, that’s the word from Reuters. It’s a little hard to tell whether that number refers to watches actually sold to paying customers or merely shipped to retailers. (Samsung didn’t immediately respond to our efforts to clarify the matter.)* Either way, the figure feels like it came from the mouth of Dr. Evil.”

12.   Sony Nears Breakeven Point on PlayStation 4 Hardware Costs

If they have $18 in gross margin, they surely aren’t breaking even on the console after taking into account shipping, warranty returns, marketing, R&D and so on. Regardless, the money is made in the sizeable royalties associated with software sales, not the box. Some have claimed AMD will clean up with its estimated $100 processor, however, you can be that Sony doesn’t leave a lot of money on the table when it negotiates price – AMD’s margins are likely modest on their contribution.

“For the past seven years, Sony Corp. has offered various revisions of the PlayStation 3 console, many of which were sold at a loss. However, with the new PlayStation 4, Sony has produced a design whose component and manufacturing costs are starting out lower than its price tag—paving the way for the company to quickly attain profitability on hardware sales, according to preliminary results from the Teardown Analysis Service at IHS Inc. Furthermore, the PlayStation 4 delivers major upgrades where it counts, with a processor and memory subsystem that pushes the envelope in terms of performance and product design.”

13.   Switch to e-books was ‘an unmitigated disaster’, says school principal

You have to wonder about the intelligence of somebody who expects good things to happen when they replace books with an $800, fragile, piece of equipment. Then again you want to question the sanity of anybody who selects a Windows 8 tablet for any reason. I note the parents had to pay for this brilliant program. Hopefully this is an expensive private school.

“A principal has called the move to switch students from books to tablets “an unmitigated disaster” and has ordered new books for the first year classes. The ‘book to e-book’ move was deemed a disaster following major technical issues with the majority of the HP Elite Pad tablet devices. Families of students at the Mountrath Community College in Laois paid €550 for the devices at the beginning of the school-year.”

14.   Microsoft sues patent troll, saying it broke contract to license mobile tech

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Microsoft is the biggest patent troll in technology, shaking down Android manufacturers for “royalties” associated with intellectual property it may (like does) not even possess. Not to worry: why innovate when you can litigate? Actually these types of suites are often pre-emptive and to designed establish venue, etc..

“Microsoft sued Acacia Research Corp. today, accusing the company of breaking a contract “to license various smartphone and mobile computing technologies to Microsoft,” Reuters reported. The suit was filed in US District Court in New York, but it’s currently under seal, which means that details are thin. The Microsoft accusations come in response to recent suits Acacia subsidiaries filed against Microsoft that allege infringement of more than a dozen patents. Acacia filed these lawsuits despite the fact that “in 2010, Microsoft agreed to pay an Acacia subsidiary to license a portfolio of patents related to smartphones and tablets ultimately owned by Tokyo-based Web browser firm Access Co.,” Reuters wrote.”

15.   New Qualcomm Snapdragon chip will bring 4K video to mobile devices

Well this makes perfect sense – after all, most people can’t actually see 4K resolution on a large (i.e. 60”) display, there is no content, 4K is a huge bandwidth and memory hog, and, oh, by the way, I don’t think there are many 4K mobile displays on the market.

“Qualcomm has introduced a mobile chip that will play back 4K video on smartphones and tablets in addition to supporting the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The Snapdragon 805 chip, announced on Wednesday, could be Qualcomm’s fastest performing chip. The quad-core chip operates at a clock speed of 2.5GHz and has the latest Adreno 420 graphics engine, which can process 4K or UltraHD video at a 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution.”

16.   Fairphone, the world’s first ‘ethical smartphone’, launches in London

If there anything which can’t be greenwashed? After all, if you can sell people expensive “organic” foods (which are worse for the environment than, presumably “inorganic foods”), why not pretend you have a phone which is ‘fair trade’? I guess people dumb enough to fall for it deserve it.

“It’s not the technology that makes the Fairphone unique, rather the mission of the team behind it: to create a fairer smartphone economy by building a phone of their own. The eponymous notion of fairness is wide-ranging; it includes extracting raw materials come from conflict-free mines, ensuring manufacturers are paid a living wage, and running an open source operating system that anyone can modify.”

17.   HP 100TB Memristor drives by 2018 – if you’re lucky, admits tech titan

More of an update on Memristors, a novel circuit element which was discovered by HP a number of years ago. The ‘drives’ being referred to are Solid State Drives, and should be much faster than those currently on the market. This should be interesting and may transform HP back into an actual tech company.

“HP has warned El Reg not to get its hopes up too high after the tech titan’s CTO Martin Fink suggested StoreServ arrays could be packed with 100TB Memristor drives come 2018. In five years, according to Fink, DRAM and NAND scaling will hit a wall, limiting the maximum capacity of the technologies: process shrinks will come to a shuddering halt when the memories’ reliability drops off a cliff as a side effect of reducing the size of electronics on the silicon dies.”

18.   Insight: For Intel, Hollywood dreams prove a leap too far

It has never been clear to me how Intel, Apple, or anybody else will ‘transform’ the TV industry. They may make gadgets or gizmos, but the value is in the content, not the device or the channel, and the content folks are not going to turn their profits over to tech companies.

“Earlier this year, Intel Corp rented temporary retail space in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for a splashy launch of Intel TV, a new Internet entertainment service that the chipmaker promised could revolutionize the television industry. But when customers walk into those stores this holiday season, they will not find any set-top TV boxes or programming services for sale. Instead, they will see ultra thin laptops and new tablets from a variety of vendors that Intel hopes will help boost its massive but flagging computer chip business.”

19.   Listen to this: Research upends understanding of how humans perceive sound

I thought this article was interesting for several reasons: first, it is always good for science when somebody challenges a pre-existing model, especially when that challenge leads to a new and unexpected finding. Second, you have to wonder how it is that a model based on research in frogs and turtles, which are evolutionarily separated from mammals by several hundred million years, wasn’t followed up before now. Mind you a few months ago I heard a vocal proponent of certain antidepressants emphatically claim, that, despite a complete absence of evidence they worked on humans, he knew they worked because they worked on lobsters (from which we are separated by some 450 million years of evolution).

“The traditional explanation for how adaptation works, based on earlier research on frogs and turtles, is that it is controlled by at least two complex cellular mechanisms both requiring calcium entry through a specific, mechanically sensitive ion channel in auditory hair cells. The new study, however, finds that calcium is not required for adaptation in mammalian auditory hair cells and posits that one of the two previously described mechanisms is absent in auditory cochlear hair cells.”

20.   Stores Sniff Out Smartphones to Follow Shoppers

A little creepy, yes. It’s starting to feel like it’s just a matter of time before we are all permanently tagged like migrating gazelles. I’m starting to wonder if I might want to carry my mobile under my tinfoil hat.

“You’ve just tossed a jar of peanut butter in your grocery cart when your smartphone buzzes. You glance down at the screen to see a message that seems downright clairvoyant: Buy some jelly. Get $1 off. Convenient? Certainly. Creepy? Maybe.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 15th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 15th 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


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.        Driverless cars to be introduced in Milton Keynes

Well, they aren’t really cars as much as futuristic golf carts, and the driverless versions  aren’t expected for four years, but it is a suggestion of what may be coming with real cars which will be driverless 10 to 20 years hence.

“The “pods”, which will travel at 12mph (19km/h), will ferry people around Milton Keynes on designated pathways. Twenty driver-operated vehicles will be running by 2015, but it is hoped 100 fully automated versions will be introduced by 2017, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said.”

2.        ‘Safer alcohol’: No hangovers, plus an antidote to sober you up

This sounds a lot like “synthehol” from Star Trek. The problem is, governments generally separate drugs into classes, with alcohol and tobacco being ‘good’ despite well documented ill-effects, and everything else as ‘bad’. So, regardless of how much safer these would be, they’ll be illegal.

“Imagine having a few drinks to ease your nerves before a key meeting or a big date. Maybe you even get a little tipsy, but right before show time you take a special antidote, and within minutes all traces of impairment are gone and you’re fully sober and good to go.”

3.        How long do hard drives actually live for?

We can rest assured the drive vendors know the failure rates are as high as these (and they are high), but it is rather odd this data is not more available. Frankly, looking at these awful figures – along with my own experience – all backups should be to RAID (i.e. fault tolerant) storage. SSDs look better and better all the time. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this link.

“For more than 30 years, the realm of computing has been intrinsically linked to the humble hard drive. It has been a complex and sometimes torturous relationship, but there’s no denying the huge role that hard drives have played in the growth and popularization of PCs, and more recently in the rapid expansion of online and cloud storage. Given our exceedingly heavy reliance on hard drives, it’s very, very weird that one piece of vital information still eludes us: How long does a hard drive last?”

4.        Spain’s solar police to kick in your door

Spain’s solar program threatened to bankrupt the country, cause skyrocketing power prices, and destabilize the grid. It seems that, under Spanish law, they couldn’t just tear up the contracts, but governments can tax anything they want, so that is the path they chose to undo the damage. Nonetheless, how easy can it be to hide a solar panel – after all, they are big and need to be in the sun …

“As if Spaniards had not already been dissuaded by the potential €60 million fines they face for illegally generating their own solar power, they now have to look forward to a knock on the door from the ‘solar police’. A change to the ruling Popular Party’s (PP) Energy Law allows inspectors to “raid” properties they are suspicious of, armed only with administrative authorization.”

5.         $4.1m goes missing as Chinese bitcoin trading platform GBL vanishes

Rational discourse with the idiots who “invest” in Bitcoin is nearly impossible. By and large, they are paranoid conspiracy theorists who have neither a basic understanding of capital markets, the history of scams, and, in particular, they have no interest in understanding they are the greater fool. In any event, a popular scam seems to be to set up a Bitcoin “exchange” or “bank” and either make off with or “lose” “customer” (i.e. fool) Bitcoin through a hack. Imagine if banks were unregulated and uninsured as all Bitcoin operations are and the “manager” ensured criminals knew the combination to the safe. Another hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“Bitcoin is surging in China, but the explosion in digital currency trading has been accompanied by possible fraud and theft. GBL, a Chinese bitcoin trading platform that claimed to be based in Hong Kong, recently shut down – an event that might not be worthy of note had ¥25m ($4.1m) worth of users’ money not disappeared with it.”



6.        Renault Introduces DRM For Cars

Well, if you are indeed signing a rental agreement, a system which prevents you from absconding makes sense. A battery rental system for EVs makes sense as well as batteries represent much of the value of the vehicle and wear out fairly quickly (as Tesla owners will soon discover). Now the real issue is, will Zoe have an obligation to continue supplying batteries at an affordable price once they realize it is a black hole for money?

“When you buy a Renault Zoe, the battery isn’t included. Instead, you sign a rental contract for the battery with the car maker. In a Zoe owner’s forum, user Franko30 reports that the contract contains a clause giving Renault the right to prevent your battery from charging at the end of the rental period. According to an article in Der Spiegel, the company may also do this when you fall behind on paying the rent for the battery.”

7.        Why Should Filmmakers and Critics Rethink 3D?

A good, albeit, albeit technical read. I don’t like 3D because it’s not 3D, it’s not realistic, and it is annoying. In fact, I’m disappointed when a movie is 3D. Hopefully the film industry will give up on the format, at least for another few decades.

“At the Tag DF technology forum in Mexico City last July, director James Cameron publicly slammed Hollywood’s abuse of 3D. Neither Iron Man 3 nor Man of Steel needed to be converted, he argued. Cameron has always been a vocal critic of films converted to 3D in post-production, and he is certainly not alone. However, unlike many of 3D’s opponents, the Avatar director could clearly explain why he thinks the 3D does not work.”

8.        Reconciling 2 Worlds With Windows 8.1

You have to get to the second page to read the author’s comments about how absolutely disastrous Windows 8 and 8.1 is from a user perspective. Like almost all seriously bad errors made by companies and governments in the past, Microsoft is doubling down on its incredibly stupid strategy. They’ll eventually realize their mistake, but a lot of damage will have been done first.

“Just about one year ago, Microsoft gave us two new operating systems. One was a new version of Windows: the one for use with mouse and keyboard, the one whose desktop at this moment lights up hundreds of millions of screens, the one with a software library of four million programs. …”

9.        Android dominates 81 percent of world smartphone market

Potentially interesting facts and figures, however, the comments about Microsoft are silly: their share is up 156% to less than 5%, with almost all units sold by Nokia (i.e. Microsoft).

“For the first time ever, Android has hit more than 80 percent market share for smartphone shipments worldwide. The new Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker was released on Tuesday by IDC, which detailed third-quarter numbers for all smartphone shipments worldwide. A total of 261.1 million smartphones were shipped during this quarter, 81 percent of which run Google’s operating system. A study by Strategy Analytics last month revealed nearly the same numbers, showing that Android gobbled 81.3 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter.”

10.   Feds say 3D printed guns explode, can injure users

The ATF has simply demonstrated what I said a number of months ago – plastic phones will explode, resulting in injury and/or death. The unfortunate halfwits who make them will, no doubt, ignore these warnings.

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) this week released videos of tests of plastic guns made with 3D printers that show some exploding on the first shot. The explosions could injure users, the testing found.”

11.   Cisco’s disastrous quarter shows how NSA spying could freeze US companies out of a trillion-dollar opportunity

Of course, there are likely numerous reasons for Cisco’s disappointing results than the NSA revelations, however, in the developing world at least, I can believe that the old “Cisco good – Huawei bad” routine doesn’t play as well as it once did.

“Cisco announced two important things in today’s earnings report: The first is that the company is aggressively moving into the Internet of Things—the effort to connect just about every object on earth to the internet—by rolling out new technologies. The second is that Cisco has seen a huge drop-off in demand for its hardware in emerging markets, which the company blames on fears about the NSA using American hardware to spy on the rest of the world.”

12.   Smartphones 55 percent of global mobile phone sales in third-quarter

As a general rule, when the developing world becomes the “new buyer” of a technology, said technology is nearing the end of its growth phase.

“Smartphone sales accounted for 55 percent of global mobile sales in the third quarter as customers in China and Latin America swapped their old phones for the higher end of the range gadgets, research firm Gartner said on Thursday. Worldwide smartphone sales rose nearly 46 percent from last year to 250.2 million units, it said, while overall mobile phone sales were up less than 6 percent at 455.6 million.”

13.   Motorola announces the $179 Moto G, a lot of smartphone for not a lot of money

Speaking of which, this is yet another example of a low cost smartphone targeting developing markets, but you can’t keep them out of any other market. The $179 is the “unlocked, unsubsidized, price” (I find it rather frustrating when commentators, in particular, blather on about pricing of subsidized phones). I firmly believe the trajectory of smartphone and tablet pricing is down, and margins will come under strong pressure.

“Following the expansion of its Moto Maker service and a price drop for the Moto X earlier this week, Motorola today announced the Moto G, a new low-cost entry-level smartphone for global markets. The Moto G doesn’t skimp on features, but Motorola is selling it for a rock-bottom price: $179 unlocked and without contract. The company says that its partners plan to offer it for even less.”

14.   Wireless spectrum needs to be used, Ottawa warns telecoms

What’s this? The government of Canada has decided to grow a pair with respect to dealing with the communications oligopoly? Just to recap, the robber barons who are the Canadian telecom oligopoly bought a huge block of spectrum “independently” then colluded to park said spectrum out of use by competitors. They even went so far as to form a JV, because that isn’t anti-competitive or anything is it? As a result, I pay $300/month to said oligopoly for 4 MPBS Internet. Welcome to the third world. I can’t help but wonder and hope if this is not an opening shot.

“Industry Canada says telecom companies that have been sitting on wireless spectrum for years will have to use it or lose it starting next March. In a news release Thursday, Industry Minister James Moore said wireless companies will lose the right to use wireless spectrum they already paid for if it’s not being used to offer services to Canadians by March 2014. The spectrum is in the 2,300- and 3,500-MHz band and unrelated to the upcoming auction of new, more powerful 700-MHz spectrum.”

15.   Graphene Supercapacitors Ready For Electric Vehicle Energy Storage, Say Korean Engineers

Graphene is great, graphene is wonderful, but until production costs come down a few orders of magnitude, treat all such breakthroughs with deep skepticism. Also, supercapacitors have use in EVs: I have seen them used in hydrogen fuel cell powered forklifts.

“Conventional batteries take so long to charge that they cannot efficiently store braking energy. But now graphene supercapacitors that store almost as much but charge in just 16 seconds could do the job instead.”

16.   Advertising, Bundling, Community and Criticism

Sourceforge was once a safe repository for open source software. Like many such communities, once it had a large enough database it was sold to a larger company which, understandably wanted to see a return on investment. Sourceforge elected to begin distributing malware (unwanted software, toolbars, etc., that are difficult to uninstall). Not surprisingly users – and, in particular software developers – have reacted by abandoning the site as word spread that it was distributing malware. Now they are doing damage control. Options abound, so I recommend you not download from Sourceforge, unless you want to spend an hour or two figuring out how to strip malware from your computer.

“Over the last days, we heard a number of concerns around how our business practices affect the community sentiment. A few concerns were expressed by several developers, included the GIMP community, about confusing ads on SourceForge pages. Along with that, we also heard complaints about the DevShare program. We want you to be assured that we are always listening to you, learning from you, and taking action on your feedback.”

17.   With BlackBerry’s Future Uncertain, Pentagon Readies a Contingency Plan

I don’t know how important this is, but as Blackberry circles the drain it is topical. Like many cloud services, the Blackberry network requires that Blackberry’s servers remain up and running, so if the company is sold (more likely it will be broken up as scrap) any customer had better hope the owners continue operating those servers as the number subscribers evaporates. At some point, the plug is going to get pulled, and all units if the field will, effectively ‘go’.

“The Defense Department, owner of 470,000 BlackBerrys, is distancing itself from the struggling vendor while moving ahead with construction of a departmentwide app store and a system for securing all mobile devices, including the latest iPhones, iPads, and Samsung smartphones and tablets.”

18.   Inside Ad Tech Fraud: Confessions of a Fake Web Traffic Buyer

Given market hysteria over social networking stocks it is worth ruminating on how easy it is to fake page views, web traffic, membership, etc.. Like carbon credits, in many ways this is a situation where neither the buyer nor the seller is truly interested in knowing the truth about the commodity.

“Online advertising has a fraud problem. Millions of ad impressions are being served to bots and non-human traffic, and ad tech companies are doing little to stop it. Digiday spoke with a former publishing executive who said he knowingly purchased fraudulent traffic and sold it on to advertisers in the past year. In fact, it was his former company’s business model. Here’s what he said: …”

19.   Complete Image with Asterisk and FreePBX

Asterix and FreePBX are both open source switching and PBX software for Linux. The fact that these now run on a $45 BeagleBone Black (or, indeed Raspberry Pi) shows how powerful these inexpensive devices are, and how Open Source/Open Hardware can pressure traditional business models.

“As an open source, web-based PBX solution, FreePBX ( is easy to customize and adapt to your changing needs. FreePBX can run in the cloud or on-site, and is currently being used to manage the business communications of all sizes and types of businesses from small one person SOHO businesses, to multi-location corporations and call centers. The FreePBX Ecosystem provides you with the Freedom and Flexibility to custom design business communications around your needs.”

20.   Quackcast Podcast

I really enjoy this podcast. The creator is Dr. Mark Crislip, an infectious disease specialist who really hates SCAM (Supplements, Complimentary, And Alternative Medicine) and delights in destroying the published “research” associated with this nonsense. He has a great sense of humor and you can learn a lot about the practice of (real) medicine as well as the weakness of anti-vaccine arguments, and so on.



The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 8th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 8th 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


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.        It’s Finally Dawning On Tech Companies That All This NSA Stuff Is Bad For Them

The US tech industry is deeply intertwined with the security/defense industry through the massive subsidy program which is defense spending. The two simply cannot be separated, especially at the larger firms, so “this NSA stuff” might be bad for them, but not bad enough to offset the good. What is going on is damage control, not remediation.

“We’ve been arguing since the beginning of the Snowden leaks, that the tech industry should be much angrier than it is about all of this, because the fallout and blowback from this is going to impact these companies quite a bit. To date, the big tech companies have been fighting back, but it’s mostly focused on the transparency issue, arguing in court that the gag orders barring them from talking about what the government has legally compelled them to do, is a violation of their First Amendment rights. And that’s correct and an important fight, but we’ve been disappointed that the tech companies haven’t supported even greater reforms and changes, including greater privacy protections. But that might be changing.”

2.        How internet will transform online sharing in future

The structure of the Internet was determined but antediluvian technologies of the 1970s. A distributed approach, analogous to bit torrent, would have considerable merit and likely offer superior performance at lower cost.

“Researchers have taken the first step towards a radical new architecture for the internet, which they claim will transform the way in which information is shared online, and make it faster and safer to use. A revolutionary new architecture aims to make the internet more ‘social’ by eliminating the need to connect to servers and enabling all content to be shared more efficiently.”

3.        Synaptic transistor learns while it computes

Neural networks are very good at finding ‘good’ answers to difficult problems quickly, but usually not good at finding exact answers (i.e. you recognize photos better than computers, but the computers do better with arithmetic). Of course, there are applications for both types of computers, so that doesn’t mean this isn’t significant, though is does sort of sound like a novel kind of memristor.

“Materials scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have now created a new type of transistor that mimics the behavior of a synapse. The novel device simultaneously modulates the flow of information in a circuit and physically adapts to changing signals.”

4.        Windows 8 uptake slows, ditch-XP movement decelerates

I find the claim that Microsoft is trying to scare people with a 2/3 increase in malware infections amusing, unless, of course they are planning on helping the malware authors.

“Windows 8’s user share in October climbed past the 10% milestone for the first time since the launch of the radically-overhauled OS a year ago, an analytics company said Friday. The operating system’s share of all computing devices running Windows, a tally that included Windows 8.1, rose to 10.2% in October, according to California-based metrics company Net Applications.”

5.        An Attempted Entrapment

The amazing thing is the ‘polygraph’ (which should be sarcastically referred to as the ‘lie detector’) has no demonstrated utility whatsoever – it does not detect lies, nor has it been shown to have any law enforcement value whatsoever beyond intimidating often innocent people into confessing.

“In May 2013, I was the target of an attempted entrapment.1 Whether it was a federal agent attempting to entrap me on a contrived material support for terrorism charge or simply an individual’s attempt to embarrass me and discredit remains unclear. In this post, I will provide a full public accounting of the attempt, including the raw source of communications received and the IP addresses involved.”

6.        Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem

Whenever I walk into a pharmacy I am disturbed by the wide array of fraudulent products (vitamins, ‘supplements’, etc.) on the shelves. The best which can be said about these products is that they are expensive placebos touted by huge corporations (some rivaling the size of evil drug companies) and sold under the cloak of legitimacy in pharmacies. Now we discover many such (ineffective) subsidies aren’t what is even on the label and may even include dangerous allergens. I doubt it’ll hurt sales though.

“Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.”

7.        Patent war goes nuclear: Microsoft, Apple-owned “Rockstar” sues Google

Patent trolls at play. As things stand, Microsoft is believed to net a couple billion per year shaking down Android manufacturers (despite a lack of evidence they have any IP whatsoever associated with Android). You’d think dinosaurs would concern themselves with that big, glowing object coming towards them.

“Patent insiders knew that the Nortel portfolio was the patent equivalent of a nuclear stockpile: dangerous in the wrong hands, and a bit scary even if held by a “responsible” party. This afternoon, that stockpile was finally used for what pretty much everyone suspected it would be used for—launching an all-out patent attack on Google and Android. The smartphone patent wars have been underway for a few years now, and the eight lawsuits filed in federal court today by Rockstar Consortium mean that the conflict just hit DEFCON 1.”

8.        Driverless cars predicted by end of decade

A somewhat optimistic view of adoption, however some of the predictions regarding cost are interesting.

“The Eno Center for Transportation released a paper that predicted a nation full of driverless “autonomous” vehicles could save $447 billion and 21,700 lives annually by preventing 4.2 million crashes and reducing fuel consumption by 724 million gallons. Still, switching from highways full of drivers to highways full of computers won’t be simple.”

9.        Linux Desktop In The Enterprise: Ubuntu Vs. Windows

As I have written in the past I think Windows 8 is complete pile of garbage and I did, in fact delete it from my new laptop and replaced it with Ubuntu. The article is interesting, however, I believe even Ubuntu is a bit rough around the edges for the average user.

“Now, with shrinking technology budgets and rising Microsoft licensing fees, it’s time for IT to seriously consider desktop Linux deployment as an alternative to Windows. The timing for this couldn’t be better: Windows 8.1 was just released, as was the latest version of Ubuntu, 13.10. Windows XP has just five months of support left, so companies need to make the switch to something new. Ubuntu may just have what companies need to support their desktop OS needs. I’ll look at various considerations for making the Linux desktop switch, including training and support, as well as potential complications.”

10.   Storing solar energy for a rainy day

Lord. People need to learn to follow the money. Solar is ‘economic’ because of forced subsidies whereby the local power company has to pay a huge premium for ‘green’ power through feed in tariffs (FITs) So, you sell power for 10x and buy it back for X. (Those same FITs cripple the return on capital for the utilities, leaving the grid in steady decay, but that is for another day). If you buy a staggeringly expensive battery system (you are only going to get a few kW Hr for $10K) you are, indeed, using your own power, but not benefitting from the FIT so your solar system is no longer remotely economical.

“One of the great — and somewhat obvious — shortfalls of solar power is that these systems cannot generate electricity when the sun’s not shining. Now a number of companies including Tesla (TSLA), BYD, and Bosch are offering a new generation of lithium ion battery storage systems — similar to those used to power electric cars — to capture electricity generated by residential solar systems. Put a big battery in your home, and store the electricity generated by your rooftop system for a rainy day.”

11.   Tesla reports third fire involving Model S electric car

There have been about 18,000 Teslas sold, most within the last three quarters. And 3 have caught fire in the past six weeks, a rate of one per month. That seems a little high to me: about 100,000 passenger vehicles accidentally catch fire in the US, out of a population of 254 million, however, many of those are vulnerable due to age, poor maintenance, etc.. Imaging if 3 2014 Camries out of a fleet of 18,000 had caught fire in the past six weeks …

“Tesla Motor Inc’s Model S electric car has suffered its third fire in six weeks, sending its shares down nearly 9 percent in Thursday midday trading.”

12.   Wireless Device Converts “Lost” Energy into Electric Power

You might think the folks at Duke or the peer reviewers at Applied Physics Letters would have a basic grasp of physics: the microwave energy is not “lost” and “harvesting” it is not a free lunch, in particular for the guy who owns the transmitter who now has to drive this additional load. This is a bit like claiming that I invented a device which converts “lost” hydro power by stealing it from the grid.

“Using inexpensive materials configured and tuned to capture microwave signals, researchers at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have designed a power-harvesting device with efficiency similar to that of modern solar panels.”

13.   As IPO nears: Do Twitter’s active user claims add up?

Investors truly can be fools, but mostly they are victims. The Wall Street hype machine, aided and abetted by the idiots on investment themed specialty channels, are great at unloading garbage on an unsuspecting public, especially when private equity and VC firms can make a killing. Facts and financial statements don’t matter here. Meanwhile the fraudulent “bitcoin” currency hits new highs. Party like its 1999.

“With one of the most highly hyped Internet IPOs only days away, an independent developer who is intimately familiar with the makeup and behavior of Twitter users says his analysis of 1 million random accounts does not support the company’s claims of 215 million active monthly users and 100 million active daily users.”

14.   Big Cable may have felled Seattle’s mayor, but it couldn’t stop this Colo. project

Forward thinking city administrations (i.e. those not high on crack cocaine) realize that broadband infrastructure is as important as decent roads and a reliable grid to economic development. Despite a complete lack of interest in Canada, these problems are actually easier to address here than in the US due to the regulatory environment. Of course, first there has to be a political will to do the right thing. Sigh.

“In 2009, Vince Jordan was one of a handful of Coloradans hoping to flip the switch on a next-generation fiber optic network in his area. Longmont’s 17-mile loop of fiber would have been capable of connecting Jordan to the Web at speeds 100 times faster than the national average. The city owned the cables already. All it needed was approval from the city’s voters. But Jordan, the broadband manager for Longmont’s public electric utility, failed to anticipate one thing: The cable companies.”


15.   Monkeys Use Minds to Move Two Virtual Arms

I have been following this work for a number of years, since the researchers managed to train monkeys to move a robotic arm via a brain interface. This is the sort of development which could lead to a huge improvement in quality of life for many people.

“In a study led by Duke researchers, monkeys have learned to control the movement of both arms on an avatar using just their brain activity. The findings, published Nov. 6, 2013, in the journal Science Translational Medicine, advance efforts to develop bilateral movement in brain-controlled prosthetic devices for severely paralyzed patients.”

16.   The ‘warrant canary’ in Apple’s compliance report

Large US technologies companies who have been gleefully collaborating with the NSA and then caught with their pants down are trying their very best at damage control. Note how carefully worded the disclosure is. Hypothetically, would a company which volunteered access to its customer’s data be able to make the same claim?

“There was an interesting nugget we glanced over regarding Apple’s report detailing its compliance with various government information requests.”

17.   World’s first 3D-printed metal gun successfully fires over 50 rounds

Unlike the original plastic 3D printed gun, which, mark my words, will lead to serious industry and death, a metal 3D printed gun is bound to be a lot safer. However, 3D metal printers are very expensive and guns are easy to make with a lathe and a milling machine. Then there is the question of the tricky bit for any gun: the barrel, which for accuracy needs to be made on a highly specialized machine.

“Solid Concepts has successfully produced what it claims to be the world’s first 3D printed metal gun. And unlike the Liberator before it, this one looks a whole lot closer to the traditional firearms you’re used to seeing. According to its creators, the metal gun functions without issue and has already fired off over 50 rounds. Building it involved the process of laser sintering — which helped them manufacture over 30 individual components for the gun — and various powdered metals. The point of all of this, Solid Concepts says, is to provide yet more evidence of 3D printing’s potential; that the technology of far more than making “trinkets and Yoda heads.””

18.   Tesla Considers Building The World’s Biggest Lithium-Ion Battery Factory

Musk has replaced Steve Jobs as the all-seeing, all knowing tech CEO who can do no wrong. I have to wonder if the folks who are hysterical about this pronouncement have ever seen a battery factory: it is a low tech manufacturing business which parenthetically, has low margins because placing goo between foil isn’t exactly rocket science. The margins in the EV business come from working subsidies, not actually making stuff.

“Tesla Motors TSLA -3.14% is looking at building a lithium-ion battery factory that will likely be the biggest in the world, said CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday.”

19.   GE experimenting with ‘3D painting’ to repair metal parts

Interesting, but not entirely revolutionary. Resurfacing and hardening with welding have been around for a long, long time, and this is just an updated version of those techniques. Any part created or repaired in this way would have to be heat-treated and machined, so the benefit over existing techniques is not abundantly obvious.

“Everyone is already all over this whole 3D printing thing. But 3D painting? It’s a much emptier field. GE is experimenting with such a technology called “cold spray” that slowly builds up layers of metal by spraying metal powder at extremely high velocities.”

20.   MEMS Market to Top $22 billion by 2018

Some interesting data, but I caution readers that industry research is rarely accurate, and the predictions are almost never correct. Nonetheless, I find it credible the MEMS market has considerable opportunity for long term growth.

“The market for micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) chips will grow from about $12 billion last year to over $22 billion by 2018, according to market analysts at this week’s MEMS Executive Congress US 2013 in Napa, Calif.”



The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 1st 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 1st 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


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.        Bright Lights, Big City: NYC Swapping All 250,000 Street Lights To LED

I was an early proponent of LEDs for general purpose lighting, however the street lamp market is pretty compelling not so much due to energy savings but the fact the much longer lives of LED streetlamps result in enormous savings in expensive, unionized labor for semi-annual replacement.

“New York City will be seen in a whole new light over the next few years, as an effort to switch to LED street lights continues. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced all of the city’s 250,000 street lights will be changed over to light-emitting diodes in a four-year initiative.”


2.        Opinion: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Scientists and science journalist are being increasingly open about major flaws in much of the data and ‘known knowns’ assumed true for many decades. Of course, science is self-correcting and remains the best method for uncovering the mysteries of nature, however, flawed research can lead other researchers down the rabbit hole, and the current environment leads to a situation where the overwhelming majority of published, peer-reviewed research is flat out wrong, a situation which benefits no one. Fortunately, articles such as these should lead to eventual solutions.

“Recently, I was the lead author on a paper demonstrating that about 40 years and many millions of dollars of US nutritional surveillance data were fatally flawed. In most research domains, such a finding might be monumental; yet in nutrition epidemiology—the study of the impact of diet on health, hereafter referred to simply as “nutrition”—these results are commonplace. In fact, there is a large body of evidence demonstrating that the systematic misreporting of energy and macronutrient intake renders the results and conclusions of the vast majority of federally funded nutrition studies invalid.”–A-Wolf-in-Sheep-s-Clothing/

3.        Mixing Nanoparticles to Make Multifunctional Materials

A really interesting approach especially for prototyping novel materials. As usual, the scalability of the process (and cost) is an important question. After all, there is nothing revolutionary about a material which can only be made, at huge cost, in small quantities. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a general approach for combining different types of nanoparticles to produce large-scale composite materials. The technique, described in a paper published online by Nature Nanotechnology on October 20, 2013, opens many opportunities for mixing and matching particles with different magnetic, optical, or chemical properties to form new, multifunctional materials or materials with enhanced performance for a wide range of potential applications.”

4.        Graphics Chips Help Process Big Data Sets in Milliseconds

No doubt this will be promoted by those bullish on the prospects for the moribund Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) industry as opening up new vistas for the devices. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be the case: exactly how many people or companies need to, or want to, do this sort of processing? The answer is approximately none relative to the number of gamers using the devices. So GPU may transform ‘big data’, but ‘big data’ is not going to have a measurable effect on demand for GPUs. (Also, see item 20).

“New software can use the graphics processors found on everyday computers to process torrents of data more quickly than is normally possible, opening up new ways to visually explore everything from Twitter posts to political donations.”

5.        New pricing, features revealed: DVR for cord cutters will retail for $250

There have been one or two Over The Air (OTA) PVRs on the market, however, little was done to really promote them. Given the growing number of ‘cord cutters’ abandoning usurious cable TV fees, may be a product whose time has come.

“’s new DVR for cord cutters will come with a sticker price of $250 and go on sale in mid-December, according to a product page on”

6.        Terrapower

The failure of early generation reactors at Chernobyl and Fukushima have cast a pall on the nuclear power industry. Later generation reactors are inherently safe and some designs are not even capable of producing material for weapons. Here is one such design, bankrolled by none other than Bill Gates.

“TerraPower’s Generation IV traveling wave reactor (TWR) offers a safe and economic form of low-carbon energy that meets base load demand for electricity. It offers enormous environmental benefits, high barriers to proliferation, and uninterrupted energy security that significantly address many of the issues faced by today’s reactors.”

7.        Are online comments full of paid lies?

This is an annoying trend, but actually entirely consistent with ‘mainstream’ advertising, which has raise the art of lying and misdirection to high art. After all, when some half-wit celebrity endorses a product, it is their fee and not their life experience which is talking. The advantage of the Internet was that ‘real’ people and not shills gave opinions, at least for a while. I find forums useful because discussions about products tend to be dialogues and shill get shouted down.

“Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission this week fined Korean conglomerate Samsung $340,000 for “astroturfing.” Specifically, the Taiwanese FTC said Samsung paid two “marketing firms” more than $100,000 to hire people to “highlight the shortcomings of competing products,” engage in the “disinfection of negative news about Samsung products,” positively review Samsung products and, (in a bizarre turn of phrase), do “palindromic Samsung product marketing,” whatever that means.”

8.        Windows 8 Adoption Slows Ahead Of Windows 8.1

The article reads as though the writer is very keen on promoting Windows 8 (and 8.1) and hardly sounds objective. Given the market reaction to Windows 8, and the near complete rejection by business users, it is hard to believe anybody is champing at the bit for Windows 8.1.

“Windows 8 expanded its desktop market share only modestly in September, its last full month before Windows 8.1 hits the market, according to the newest figures from Web tracking firm Net Applications. Microsoft’s newest OS placed third overall, behind first-place Windows 7, which actually gained more users in September than Windows 8 did, and Windows XP.”

9.        Why is broadband more expensive in the US?

It is worth noting the OECD figures are unreliable – my analysis showed they were derived from advertised cost and claimed speeds. At least in Canada, only the Federal government and the OECD believe claimed speeds are even remotely associated with actual bandwidth. Actual, measured speeds in the US and Canada are generally much (i.e. 50%) lower.

“Home broadband in the US costs far more than elsewhere. At high speeds, it costs nearly three times as much as in the UK and France, and more than five times as much as in South Korea. Why? Men’s haircuts, loaves of bread… it is surprising how much more expensive some things are in the US than the UK. Now home broadband can be added to that list.”

10.   Hardware is now open (sourced) for business

An overview of the trend toward open source hardware by a member of the ‘mainstream media’. You know a trend is well entrenched when CNBC mentions it.

“The open-source hardware movement is migrating from the garage to the marketplace. Companies that follow an open-source philosophy make their physical designs and software code available to the public. By doing so, these companies engage a wave of makers, hobbyists and designers who don’t just want to buy products, but have a hand in developing them”

11.   Motorola announces Ara, an open hardware project to create customizable smartphones

It is hard to fathom the benefit of this approach, but it has moved from a crazy crowd funded concept to a project supported by Motorola/Google.

“If you thought Motorola and its Moto X Maker helped you customize a unique smartphone, then prepare for even more. The Google-owned company has just announced Ara, a hardware platform that is entirely open to customization — essentially letting tinkerers develop their own smartphones.”

12.   Chinese appliances are shipping with malware-distributing WiFi chips

That’s one way of supporting low prices: enable fraud by embedding piracy tools in your products. For anybody who has ever tried to get a legitimate product with embedded WiFi to log into a network, you know how frustrating it can be but these devices apparently manage to do it all by themselves. These guys should ‘go legit’.

“Was the iron in the last hotel room you stayed in made in China? Bad news: it may have been hiding an insidious little chip designed to infect your computer with spam-serving malware.”

13.   The Government wants to teach all children how to code. Here’s why it’s a stupid idea

I tried to find the background of the author Willard Foxton, but I could not confirm whether he is a completely uneducated lout, or simply an arts graduate. His assertion that programmers are “dull weirdos” suggests either is likely the case. Most engineers and programmers have wide interests, spanning numerous domains, often including the arts (in particular music). “Dull weirdos” is a phrase which evidently can apply to some journalists, however.

“As a subject, it only appeals to a limited set of people – the aforementioned dull weirdos. There’s a reason most startup co-founders are “the charming ideas guy” paired with “the tech genius”. It’s because if you leave the tech genius on his own he’ll start muttering to himself.”

14.   Apple censors Lawrence Lessig over warranty information; iOS 7 mess grows

This is one way to make sure that people are satisfied with your products: censor any discussion of fiascos such as this one. Perhaps Apple hasn’t heard of the “Internet”, which is a novel medium which ensures their fiasco, and associated censorship, will not go unnoticed (except, perhaps, by fanboys).

“A significant number of Apple users have lost Wi-Fi functions after its glitch-ridden iOS 7 update. Ignored since September, Apple Support Communities members are now watching their solutions be deleted by Apple. And according to Lawrence Lessig, Apple is also preventing its users from posting innocent questions about the deletions.”

15.   Exclusive: Intellectual Ventures faces novel attack on patent business

I can’t imagine this legal theory will be accepted. After all, if the law were to decide that something was only worth what somebody paid for it, the same could apply to mineral exploration claims. Regardless, I thought the fact Intellectual Ventures has only raised $3 billion from $6 billion in investment pretty revealing. Of course, there is always the possibility the real payoff is the ancillary benefit of crippling competitors of its investors (including Microsoft, Intel, Sony, Nokia, Apple, Google, Yahoo, American Express, Adobe, SAP, Nvidia, and eBay)

“Seven years ago, Intellectual Ventures bought a patent on technology that helps detect malicious software embedded in digital content. The price? $750,000. Now Intellectual Ventures is arguing in a Delaware courtroom that Internet security firms Symantec and Trend Micro should pay roughly $310 million combined for a license to that patent through the end of last year.”

16.   Big data heralds return of the Cray supercomputer

Meh – I am not sure I buy the thesis. With the US government responsible for 2/3rds of revenue it seems more likely growth (if any emerges over the long term) will be a consequence of a paranoid national surveillance state than legitimate business applications.

“”The assumption was that supercomputers were cliche five years ago. People thought, ‘I can run my simulation on my laptop’,” said Barry Bolding, a Cray vice president, at the company’s Seattle headquarters last week. “That may have been true, so long as the data associated wasn’t growing as well. But raw data is being created in exabytes as we sit here. More data means bigger computer, bigger computer means more data.”

17.   Does anyone really want smartwatches?

I believe smartwatches are more of an Internet meme than a product category. The fanboy hysterics over the ever-looming launch of the Apple iWatch takes as a given the idea that people are champing at the bit for yet another redundant gadget. Frankly I’ll believe it when I see it.

“We have covered smartwatches with increasing frequency over the past year here at BGR, and almost every time we do, we can’t help but wonder what exactly is behind the surge in interest. Most recent offerings seem like an answer to Apple’s “iWatch,” which doesn’t even exist yet, of course. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear in particular feels like a rushed product that had no business launching in its current state. Logic suggests that smartphone vendors are desperately searching for the “next big thing” as high-end, high-margin smartphone and tablet sales slow. But countless market research firms still seem to think smartwatches sales are indeed set to explode. According to a new report, however, consumers aren’t buying it.”

18.   Amazon’s top reviewers get free products in exchange for write-ups

This would be news is it were not for the fact this has been standard practice for newspapers, magazines, etc., for decades. The major difference is that Amazon discloses the conflict whereby those other media rarely do. (It is one reason Consumer Reports buys cars rather than borrows them from their biggest advertizers).

“Amazon’s customer reviews aren’t all put together by thoughtful buyers: as it turns out, Amazon has a program that sends free products to some of its top-ranked reviewers in exchange for a write-up. The program is called Amazon Vine, and though it’s been running since 2007, a new NPR report is bringing it some renewed attention. “I’ve had everything from very cheap earbuds, to $500 multifunction laser printers,” Michael Erb, Amazon’s current top ranked reviewer, tells NPR. “I’ve gotten a spin bike, which is probably valued at closer to $1,000.””

19.   IDC: Apple’s iPad fell to 29.6% tablet share in Q3 2013, Samsung took second with 20.4%, Asus third with 7.4%

I always caution readers regarding industry research, which usually has little value. The market share figures might be interesting, though. With segment growth beginning to moderate, the obvious strategy for new entrants is to discount, a move which will have to be matched by market leaders. Expect extreme pricing pressure in this space (and smartphones).

“The tablet market is still growing. Q3 2013 saw 47.6 million units ship worldwide, up from 34.8 million the same quarter last year. Apple’s iPad once again took first place, although it dropped to 29.6 percent market share, while Samsung grew its share to 20.4 percent to keep second place. The other three players in the top five also all grew: Asus kept its third place position by grabbing 7.4 percent, Lenovo jumped to 4.8 percent to take fourth, and Acer took fifth with 2.5 percent. Amazon notably fell out of the list.”

20.   If you are considering a video card upgrade, look at your monitor first

A reality check for those who believe demand for ever more powerful GPUs will continue forever. In any interface application you run into the sad reality that your senses have practical limits, and, as a consequence, past a certain point you get minimal benefit from incremental performance. I’d argue that time has already passed for GPUs, but it is arguable it ends with the current generation. The interesting thing is this puts a ‘hard limit’ on how powerful cheap, integrated graphics need to be, meaning a commercially viable discrete GPU market should pretty much disappear within the next five years or so.

“While CPU performance seems to be leveling off, GPU performance continues to rise at a considerable pace, with each generation leaving the last generation in the dust. That may be great for gamers and graphics professionals, but depending on the monitor you use, there might be no point in upgrading any more.”