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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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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.”
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 www.theranos.com/). 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 www.nciaai.com/articles/doc_download/92-vehicle-firetrends, 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.”