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

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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.



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