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

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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.”



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