The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 27th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 27th 2013

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

I apologize for the small number and quality of articles this week. This is probably due to the holiday season.

Happy Winter Solstice!

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’.

 

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1.        Exclusive: Secret contract tied NSA and security industry pioneer

Well, well. Not only were they compromised, they were (allegedly) corrupt as well. Of course, they now disclaim any responsibility whatsoever, and are shocked – shocked! – to discover they were aggressively promoting compromised software. Mind you NOW they are honest and trustworthy, unless of course, new facts arise. I can only hope lawyers are champing at the bit to sue them to penury.

“As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/20/us-usa-security-rsa-idUSBRE9BJ1C220131220

2.        Obituary for software patents

I’ll believe it when I see it: after all, the biggest patent troll by far is Microsoft, and the largest tech companies are not the victims of a broken patent system but the main beneficiaries.

“AT LAST, it seems, something is to be done about the dysfunctional way America’s patent system works. Two encouraging events over the past week suggest the patent reformers are finally being heard.”

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/12/difference-engine-0

3.        Chinese Bitcoin Exchange Accused of Faking Trade Data

Whatever next? After all, if you are dealing in a fundamentally fraudulent commodity, you should at least use more customary market manipulation methods used in the legitimate markets like ‘high closing’, wash trades, talking your book, etc..

“Once China’s second-largest bitcoin exchange, OKCoin is claimed to have published unrealistically high trading volumes in the wake of the Chinese central bank imposing a ban on financial institutions handling the crypto-currency. The ban saw several exchanges halt all incoming deposits, but OKCoin’s trading data failed to show the dip experienced by fellow exchanges.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/chinese-bitcoin-exchange-accused-faking-trade-data-1430122

4.        Wearable Robot

This article is more of an update on an emerging technology than a report on a breakthrough. Unfortunately, I suspect these systems will be staggeringly expensive which will place them out of the reach of many patients.

“For the millions of people worldwide suffering from some form of paralysis, the only mobility option remains the same as it did centuries ago – a wheelchair. But in the US, engineers have developed a wearable robot which allows people with paralysis to stand and walk. The battery-powered ‘exoskeleton’ uses a combination of motors, sensors and the patient’s own balance and body positioning. Currently the device is used for research and rehabilitation and can only be worn with medical supervision, but engineers are now designing a model that can be used at home.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/thecure/2013/06/201362384057310764.html

5.        A New Twist in International Relations: The Corporate Keep-My-Data-Out-of-the-U.S. Clause

This is not a new development, but, regardless, the impact on privacy would be negligible. Under the terms of the Orwellian “Patriot Act” US companies are required to comply with requests for data regardless of where that data is located, and I rather doubt I’ll see a CEO go to prison to protect the privacy of customers. Furthermore, most intelligence agencies have data sharing arrangements which means that snooping is not an NSA problem but a global one. Not that it guarantees security, but at a minimum you want to keep sensitive information off the cloud altogether.

“By now, we’ve heard from tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Cisco Systems that the National Security Agency’s spying poses a threat to their international business and, in Cisco’s case, is already hurting it. So what does that threat look like, exactly, at ground level? Some companies are apparently so concerned about the NSA snooping on their data that they’re requiring – in writing – that their technology suppliers store their data outside the U.S.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-24/a-new-twist-in-international-relations-the-corporate-keep-my-data-out-of-the-u-s-clause.html

6.        Security company RSA denies knowingly installing NSA ‘back door’

Of course, they would deny it. What would you expect them to say? Like all other tech companies caught up in the NSA revelations the tactic has been deny, deny, deny, then plead for an end to the spying once the denials are no longer credible. Mind you there is no reason whatsoever to believe these companies will ever change their ways: the US government is a big customer for pretty much everything. The only hope is the use of open systems.

“The security company RSA has denied that it knowingly weakened the encryption it used in its products as part of a secret contract with the US’s National Security Agency. A report from the Reuters news agency on Friday alleged that RSA arranged a $10m contract to use a mathematically weaker formula in a number of its products, which would in effect have created a “back door” for cracking encrypted messages or communications.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/23/security-company-rsa-denies-installing-nsa-back-door

7.        Novel Circuit Shrinks Laptop Chargers, Could Improve Appliance Efficiency

Laptop chargers have gotten pretty small (the Apple ones are particularly impressive) as power supplies have been designed to operate at high frequencies, which convey multiple benefits. Nonetheless, if prices appropriately (and laptop power supplies rarely are) this product would fly off the shelves.

“A startup called FINsix has developed laptop power adapters that are 75 percent smaller than their conventional counterparts. The technology employed could also be used to improve the efficiency of a wide variety of devices and appliances, including washing machines and air conditioners.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/522841/novel-circuit-shrinks-laptop-chargers-could-improve-appliance-efficiency

8.        How Google Is Cleaning The Web Of Comment Spam

Spammers are scum and I favor summary execution. My blog was plagued with comment spam until I realized I could moderate comments, so spam comments never see the light of day. They are pretty obvious to people because they contain web links, but I didn’t understand until now why this was the case. Google’s approach makes a lot of sense, at least until they can be hunted down like dogs.

“Over at The Awl there’s a nice little piece about how Google has set about stopping that bane of webmasters, comment spam. There’s also a nice piece from my colleague, Joshua Steimle, on the same subject but from the SEO point of view. For the technical details read either of them. The point that interests me is that Google is cleaning all this mess up by changing the incentives to spam. And as all people interested in economics know, the first thing you need to know is that incentives matter (the second is of course “opportunity costs”). By changing what it is in peoples’ own best interests to do Google is thereby changing what they actually do.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/12/15/how-google-is-cleaning-the-web-of-comment-spam/

9.        As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You

The e-book business seems like another scam to me: pricing for many e-books is on a par with the paperback, despite zero cost of production and distribution. Sometimes, in fact, the e-book costs more. Not surprisingly, we now know companies not only know what you read with your e-book, but how you read it. I am sure this will have a positive impact on the quality of books being published. It is worth noting that whereas you read paper books, in Soviet Russia (or the Orwellian Internet era), books read you…

“Before the Internet, books were written — and published — blindly, hopefully. Sometimes they sold, usually they did not, but no one had a clue what readers did when they opened them up. Did they skip or skim? Slow down or speed up when the end was in sight? Linger over the sex scenes? A wave of start-ups is using technology to answer these questions — and help writers give readers more of what they want.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/25/technology/as-new-services-track-habits-the-e-books-are-reading-you.html?ref=technology

10.   Italy Approves ‘Google Tax’ on Internet Companies

It is a matter of time before countries move against parasitic companies who game the tax system. I figure moral suasion (condemning the companies by name at every opportunity) could work, however laws are probably a better measure. One such law would simply list tax cheat corporations by name and make corporate expenses associated with those companies non-deductible for income tax purposes. For example, if Google doesn’t pay a fair share of tax in Canada or Italy, corporations buying ads from Google would not get to deduct those expenses.

“Italy’s Parliament today passed a new measure on web advertising, the so-called “Google tax,” which will require Italian companies to purchase their Internet ads from locally registered companies, instead of from units based in havens such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda. The tax has stirred controversy, with some lawyers saying it probably violates European Union laws regarding non-discrimination over commercial activity and could be subject to legal challenges.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-23/italy-approves-google-tax-on-internet-companies.html?

11.   SSDs Cheaper Than Hard Drives? Not In This Decade

I agree on the cheaper part, I disagree on the “hard drives will still be going strong in 2020” part. The thing is, it’s not just cheap which sells storage: SSDs are faster, use less power, and are more reliable. In an ideal world, they would be cheaper as well, but that doesn’t really matter – I recently upgraded both my laptops with 240 gigabyte SSDs. In both cases the existing hard drives (500Gb and 750 Gb) hard drives had loads of unused space despite being loaded with numerous files which had not been accessed in years.

“I regularly hear people, including many that should know better, predicting that in just a few years we’ll evict all the hard drives from our data centers as SSDs become less expensive than spinning disks. While the decline in SSD prices has been dramatic over the last year or so, I’m betting that hard drives will still be going strong in 2020.”

http://www.networkcomputing.com/storage-networking-management/ssds-cheaper-than-hard-drives-not-in-thi/240164894

12.   Schwann Cell Grafts Work in Rat Models of Spinal Cord Injury

This sounds like a potentially positive development along with a number of other procedures for spinal injury treatment I have read about in the recent past. Of course, aiding in limb functional recovery is different from having functional limbs – for humans, the limbs may be too weak to allow standing upright, for example. Nonetheless, any progress is good.

“A study carried out at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for “The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis” has found that transplanting self-donated Schwann cells (SCs, the principal ensheathing cells of the nervous system) that are elongated so as to bridge scar tissue in the injured spinal cord, aids hind limb functional recovery in rats modeled with spinal cord injury.”

http://www.alnmag.com/news/2013/12/schwann-cell-grafts-work-rat-models-spinal-cord-injury

13.   Linux is Everywhere. We show you exactly where

The article doesn’t live up to its title because it leaves out the majority of smartphones and tablets, which are based on Android, as well as much of the Internet infrastructure. Under different guises, Linux, and expertise in Linux, is become more and more important, albeit often behind the scenes.

“Linux is Everywhere. From Space Stations to Microwave Ovens, Linux powers everything.” You might have heard that a lot and have always wondered “Is that just a phrase or is it actually true?” Be assured, it is true. World’s biggest companies use Linux in one way or another but you are not going to believe unless I take names. Well, get ready for a roller coaster ride across the globe where I show you where and how Linux is used.”

http://www.linuxfederation.com/linux-everywhere/

14.   Chromebooks charge into business market, capture 20% of commercial notebooks

I don’t trust industry research, and I am very skeptical about this figure: 20% is a lot and I would expect to see a lot of these machines being used by people if this was the case, though I haven’t. Perhaps it is dependent on how they have defined the market. I tend to think of Chromebooks as tablets with keyboards, so it is believable they would find a market niche. If that ends up being 20% or more of the commercial notebook market it would constitute a potential nightmare for Microsoft.

“Sales of Chromebooks exploded from basically nothing in 2012 to more than 20 percent of the U.S. commercial PC market, analyst firm NPD reported on Monday, while Windows PCs and Macs remained flat at best.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2082310/chromebooks-charge-into-business-market-capture-20-of-commercial-notebooks.html

15.   Ultra HD televisions slow to attract consumers

Not a very good article, but 4K comes up now and then. It may be that all HDTVs end up being 4K, just as many are 3D even though the 3D function is rarely used. The problem is that little content is not likely to end up in 4K due to the production and distribution costs and the fact most people would not have a large enough set and a large enough room to put it in, to notice. After all most cable and satellite “1080p high definition” has been transcoded and downgraded such that it is nowhere near HD quality and most people don’t even notice.

“There probably aren’t huge numbers of Boxing Day shoppers scouring flyers for a deal on a 4K Ultra HD TV, the next standard of high definition video. Dec. 26 is a day for seeking out bargains and history has shown crowds of consumers will shiver for hours in the cold if it means snagging a cut-rate TV — even if it’s a low-end model made by an obscure manufacturer — for a few hundred bucks.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/ultra-hd-televisions-slow-to-attract-consumers-1.2476552

16.   China approves pilot to open mobile telecoms market, boost competition

It would be interesting to know the details behind this. In Europe, MVNOs’ are a real bargain, though in Canada most are just brands of the existing carriers and simply offer the illusion of competition with minimal cost advantage.

“China has approved a pilot scheme allowing private companies to piggy back on the country’s three dominant telecommunications providers to offer own-brand mobile services, opening the world’s largest mobile phone market to increased competition. Authorities have approved 11 private “virtual carriers” to resell mobile telecommunications services, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said in a statement on its website on Thursday.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/26/us-china-telecommunications-idUSBRE9BP05G20131226

17.   A Neuroscientist’s Radical Theory of How Networks Become Conscious

It’s been a pretty slow week in tech news otherwise I wouldn’t include this silly article. The neuroscientist just says stuff about consciousness without any basis whatsoever. Even Internet transistor count (which he almost certainly has wrong) has little to do with complexity. Ultimately, thus far these sorts of theories haven’t result in much of value, besides providing jobs for academics.

“It’s a question that’s perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades: Where does consciousness come from? We know it exists, at least in ourselves. But how it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery. Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. That’s just the way the universe works.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/11/christof-koch-panpsychism-consciousness/all/

18.   First time in the country, ED raids a Bitcoin seller in Ahmedabad

It is promising to see that the governments of India and China (last week) are taking steps against Bitcoin. Of course, they are probably not doing so to protect their citizens as much as to retain currency controls. It occurred to me this week that, since there is not proprietary with Bitcoin an infinite number of ‘virtual currencies’ could exist – a bit like everybody printing their own money. After all, what could go wrong with that?

“A couple of days after the Reserve Bank of India issued an advisory to public not to indulge in buying-selling of Bitcoins, the first raid in India was undertaken in Ahmedabad by Enforcement Directorate (ED) on an entity that provide platform to trade in this illegal but virtual currency.”

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-first-time-in-the-country-ed-raids-a-bitcoin-seller-in-ahmedabad-1941187

19.   Rumor: Chinese company pays $1 million to sponsor jailbreak for Apple’s iOS 7

Makes sense – but it seems like a lot of money. Perhaps they should run a contest with a more modest reward for the first successful jailbreak. Mind you, it would be hard to do that on the QT.

“Soon after “evasi0n” — iOS 7’s first-ever untethered jailbreak — was released, the exploit’s Chinese users began reporting that Taig’s third-party storefront had replaced stalwart alternative app store Cydia on their devices. Further testing confirmed that any user whose default language was set to Chinese would have the Taig store installed, while those using other languages would still receive Cydia.”

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/12/23/rumor-chinese-company-pays-1-million-to-sponsor-jailbreak-for-apples-ios-7

20.   Neural Net Learns Breakout Then Thrashes Human Gamers

Interesting and good fun, however, these types of games are not exactly strategy based so they are exactly the sorts of thing you’d expect a machine learning program to master.

“Today, Volodymyr Mnih and pals at DeepMind Technologies in London say they’ve created a neural network that learns how to play video games in the same way as humans: using the computer equivalent of hand-to-eye co-ordination.”

https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/bfc25f2ffe03

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 20th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 20th 2013

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

I apologize for the quality of articles this week. This is probably due to the holiday season.

Happy Winter Solstice!

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’.

 

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1.        Grim forecast for e-waste as technology trash to top 65m tons by 2017

e-waste has become a hot button in some countries. In Ontario, for example, you can end up paying a 20% ‘levy’ (a private sector tax) for certain electronic devices, while other things chock full of electronics has no such tax, because it isn’t considered an electronic device. Then there are hypocritical companies like The Home Depot which charge for paint recycling then direct you to municipal facilities for waste paint (I am sure most people just throw paint, and e-waste, in their regular garbage). One thing outstanding about the article is the lax journalism: if you want to get facts, talk to Greenpeace – they have ‘spokespeople’ whose primarily qualification is that they are spokespeople.

“They are on our person, in our homes and in our workplaces, many of them harbouring heavy metals and toxic materials which are dangerous to people and the environment unless they are properly recycled. Yet the soaring international demand for electric and electronic products is fuelling a global rise in e-waste, which is set to reach 65.4 million tons annually by 2017.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grim-forecast-for-ewaste-as-technology-trash-to-top-65m-tons-by-2017-9005446.html

2.        Bitcoin plummets as China’s largest exchange blocks new deposits

Here’s a shocker: Chinese regulators seem to be more on the ball than Western ones. Of course they might know who is responsible for Bitcoin fraud, and only want to play one side of that game. Apparently rival fraudulent ‘cyber currencies’ have skyrocketed in price (value implies value), showing that idiots never learn.

“The price of bitcoin has plummeted following an announcement from China’s largest bitcoin exchange that it would no longer be accepting new yuan deposits.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/18/bitcoin-plummets-china-payment-processors-digital-cryptocurrency

3.        The end of roaming?

An interesting solution, however, there are companies which accomplish a similar thing just by having decent international roaming charges. Needless to say, roaming charges are simply an artefact of inept regulation (see below) and they should not exist at all.

“Roaming is synonymous with steep bills for many mobile phone users travelling outside their own country. An Israeli startup, Cell Buddy, is trying to find a solution by developing a universal SIM chip that would turn any smartphone into a local one.”

http://www.euronews.com/2013/12/18/the-end-of-roaming/

4.        Canada to cap domestic wireless roaming rates

It will be interesting to see how far the government goes with reigning in Canada’s communications oligopoly. It should be a simple thing, however, the fact Rogers, Bell, and Telus also own substantially all media (newspaper, radio, TV), etc., means it is also a politically very difficult thing. I advocate breaking them up, nationalizing significant components of the businesses, or establishing a non-profit, government owned alternative, mainly because Canada’s expensive yet 3rd world communications infrastructure will negatively impact economic growth for generations.

“Canada will introduce legislation to cap roaming rates that big telecom providers charge their smaller rivals, the government said on Wednesday, aiming to breathe life into its sputtering drive to foster competition in the wireless industry.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/18/us-telecom-idUSBRE9BH0RI20131218

5.        Feeling a Bit Obsolete in the Driver’s Seat

More of an advertisement for the vehicle (and all car reviews are) but an informative overview of some of the technologies showing up in cars nowadays. It seems to me that most such technologies effectively compensate for bad drivers, and prices are going to have to come down a lot to have an impact on the behavior of enough bad drivers to make a difference.

“Infiniti’s G37 has long been the star of Nissan’s luxury brand, largely because it’s been a hands-on car. Now, girding for an autonomous future, Infiniti is trying hands-off instead.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/automobiles/autoreviews/feeling-a-bit-obsolete-in-the-drivers-seat.html

6.        Computers Can Be Hacked Using High-Frequency Sound

Meh – this is news? This is much how acoustic coupler modems work, except not in ultrasonic frequencies because telephone wires can’t handle them. The comments by the security expert are a tad worrisome, simply because he should know that. I would not be concerned about this in either event as your device has to be infected before this could be an issue.

“Using the microphones and speakers that come standard in many of today’s laptop computers and mobile devices, hackers can secretly transmit and receive data using high-frequency audio signals that are mostly inaudible to human ears, a new study shows.”

http://www.insidescience.org/content/computers-can-be-hacked-using-high-frequency-sound/1512

7.        Cable Industry Finally Admits That Data Caps Have Nothing To Do With Congestion

Of course this is true, and the same could be said about text messages, roaming charges, long distance calls, etc., etc.. These businesses are masters at screwing over consumers.

“For years, the key rationale given by broadband providers for implementing data caps was that it was the only way they could deal with “congestion.” Of course, for years, independent researchers showed that this was bogus, and there was no data crunch coming.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130118/17425221736/cable-industry-finally-admits-that-data-caps-have-nothing-to-do-with-congestion.shtml

8.        One charger to power nearly every laptop coming from standards group

The makes perfect sense and should have been done a long time ago. After all, desktops use universal power supplies. You might need two or three classes of charger with different maximum power outputs and compatible plugs. I think the move to universal mobile chargers has been a godsend and I don’t know why they permit Apple to exempt itself. Perhaps they might consider an “eco-levy” on their products to encourage them to conform.

“While non-Apple mobile phones are generally powered by micro-USB, allowing a charger for one device to be used with another, notebook computers still come with an assortment of chargers that are incompatible with one another. This week, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) announced “the first globally relevant Technical Specification for a single external charger for a wide range of notebook computers and laptops.””

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/12/one-charger-to-power-nearly-every-laptop-coming-from-standards-group/

9.        Open Hardware Repository

Open Hardware is becoming increasingly significant, however, until now there has not been a github like repository for projects.

“Welcome to the Open Hardware Repository, a place on the web for electronics designers to collaborate on open hardware designs, much in the philosophy of the free software movement.”

http://www.ohwr.org/

10.   RSA Key Extraction via Low-Bandwidth Acoustic Cryptanalysis

There must be a conference about computer decryption and sound as this is the second “hacking with sound” article to come out. I am a bit skeptical – not as much about the possibility of acoustical signatures, but the numerous permutations of systems and algorithms which would be out there. This is somewhat reminiscent of Tempest, which may or may not ever have been used for espionage in real life.

“Many computers emit a high-pitched noise during operation, due to vibration in some of their electronic components. These acoustic emanations are more than a nuisance: they can convey information about the software running on the computer and, in particular, leak sensitive information about security-related computations. In a preliminary presentation, we have shown that different RSA keys induce different sound patterns, but it was not clear how to extract individual key bits. The main problem was the very low bandwidth of the acoustic side channel (under 20 kHz using common microphones, and a few hundred kHz using ultrasound microphones), many orders of magnitude below the GHz-scale clock rates of the attacked computers.”

http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/~tromer/acoustic/

11.   Sources: Target Investigating Data Breach

You’d think the credit card companies would prefer large retailers not maintain a database of cards. Note that this impacted store purchasers, not online purchasers: why would a retailer want to (or be permitted to) keep valuable banking information on customers after the point the purchase has been approved. This probably is a lot deeper and more sinister than just a data breach.

“Nationwide retail giant Target is investigating a data breach potentially involving millions of customer credit and debit card records, multiple reliable sources tell KrebsOnSecurity. The sources said the breach appears to have begun on or around Black Friday 2013 — by far the busiest shopping day the year.”

http://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/12/sources-target-investigating-data-breach/

12.   London leaps aboard electric bus revolution

City governments seem keen to spend money on all kinds of projects ‘just because’. For example rental bicycles which have become an expensive fiasco in Montreal and Toronto. Note the article doesn’t mention costs of electric buses, nor their expected useable life (the costs are doubtless staggeringly scale high, and the useable life a fraction of a diesel bus). Of course, it is being done for the environment, and a ribbon cutting ceremony, no doubt much more the latter than the former.

“Two electric buses have hit the streets of London as part of a trial to see if the technology is suitable for shorter routes around the capital. The 12-metre single deck buses will service Victoria, Waterloo and London Bridge stations running on routes 507 and 521 from today until August 2016.”

http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2319836/london-leaps-aboard-electric-bus-revolution

13.   Liquid metal printer could enable development of personal electronics

This is more a 2D printer than a 3D printer, but 3D has been all the rage for some time now. Printed circuits of the type shown have been around for several decades – this is how they make keypads in many cases though the silver based ink is silkscreened. A printer which could quickly produce a small number of circuits at a reasonable cost would be useful, but only in a limited sense. Most electronic devices have numerous ‘vias’ (holes from one side to the other) and often are comprised of multiple layers of board.

“3D printing becomes very popular in a wide range of applications, although the manufacture of electronic equipment using spatial printing techniques is still rather limited and restricted to a narrow selection of suitable materials and production methods. However, a team of engineers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Tsinghua University (Beijing, China) are working to make this technology available for personal use.”

http://www.technology.org/2013/12/19/liquid-metal-printer-enable-development-personal-electronics/#.UrNe0STsjQs.reddit

14.   Biologically inspired: How neural networks are finally maturing

Neural networks are very useful at solving the sorts of problems brains and not computers are good at: things like pattern recognition, for example. The problem is, neural networks are essentially analog things and software can only approximated their behaviour. I believe memristors may provide the breakthrough researchers have been waiting for.

“More than two decades ago, neural networks were widely seen as the next generation of computing, one that would finally allow computers to think for themselves. Now, the ideas around the technology, loosely based on the biological knowledge of how the mammalian brain learns, are finally starting to seep into mainstream computing, thanks to improvements in hardware and refinements in software models.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2081360/biologically-inspired-how-neural-networks-are-finally-maturing.html

15.   Why gamafication s serious business

This article touches lightly on a number of different approaches, probably because Accenture is keen to have you engage them to set something along these lines up. I would be careful about using Internet interaction to define a product – consider “Snakes on a Plane!” (a movie you may not have heard of, for good reason).

“In 2011, Volkswagen Group invited consumers in China, its largest and most important market, to help the company develop new versions of the “people’s car.” Participants were given a tool to help them easily design their new vehicle, and they were able to post their designs for others to view and to pick their favorites. The results were tracked on leaderboards so contestants and the general public could see how the competing designs were faring.”

http://www.accenture.com/us-en/outlook/Pages/outlook-journal-2013-why-gamification-is-serious-business.aspx

16.   3D Printed Metal Gun Will Sell to Lucky 100

This is not the plastic hand destroyer which caused so much excitement earlier in the year, but a (mostly) 3D printed metal gun printed on a very expensive machine, then, no doubt, significantly machined using traditional techniques. I don’t see why anybody would waste so much money on a 3D printed 1911 copy when you could by a traditionally made 1911 of superior quality for a small fraction of the price.

“Solid Concepts announces a limited sale of the 1911 3D Printed metal gun that made manufacturing history last month. Only one-hundred of the 1911 3D Printed metal guns will be manufactured and sold by the company using the same file, process and engineering as the very first 3D Printed metal gun.”

http://www.solidconcepts.com/news-releases/3d-printed-metal-gun-will-sell-lucky-100/

17.   Energy storage devices are powering up

To be clear, these are primarily small system level storage systems and the “new materials” (in particular graphene) can be astoundingly expensive though production breakthroughs will probably occur eventually.

“Energy storage devices are key components for a successful and sustainable energy system. Some of the best materials and types right now are Lithium-ion/lithium-sulfur/lithium air cells, supercapacitors, and beyond. Research in this area has greatly improved electrode materials, enhanced electrolytes, and conceived clever designs for cell assemblies with the goal of increasing specific energy (Wh/kg) and pushing the power envelope (W/kg).”

http://www.edn.com/design/power-management/4425346/Energy-storage-devices-are-powering-up

18.   IDC: Hobbyist programmers on the rise

I find it surprising IDC would produce such a study, but it does likely reflect the rising importance of things like open source, advanced hobbyists, etc., in the technology world.

“An increasing amount of programming is being conducted by non-professional programmers, a new IDC study has found. Of the 18.5 million software developers in the world, about 7.5 million—roughly 40 percent—are “hobbyist developers,” which is what IDC calls people who write code even though it is not their primary occupation.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2082140/idc-hobbyist-programmers-on-the-rise.html

19.   How to steal Bitcoin in three easy steps

The easiest way is touched on in the article: namely set up am ‘exchange’ wait for enough people to place deposits, then steal the Bitcoins. And the great thing is, it isn’t even clear that “stealing” Bitcoin, or even the Bitcoin fraud itself, is illegal. The fact that idiots are willing to exchange a number for money doesn’t mean that any part of that is illegal.

“Earlier this month, someone pulled off the largest heist in the history of Bitcoin, the virtual currency that approximates cash on the internet. The illegal drug bazaar Sheep Marketplace was plundered, either by hackers or insiders, and about $100 million worth of the currency was stolen from customers. Bitcoin heists are actually not uncommon. In June of 2011, a user named Allinvain was the victim of what is arguably the first recorded major Bitcoin theft. Allinvain awoke to find that a hacker had stolen about half a million dollars’ worth of bitcoins. “I feel like killing myself now,” he wrote at the time.”

http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/19/5183356/how-to-steal-bitcoin-in-three-easy-steps

20.   Scientists losing data at a rapid rate

I like the idea of requiring data be submitted to repositories, provided those are not owned by the sorts of corporations who own substantially all research publications (and there is no need they be). Another problem is that many researchers consider their data “proprietary” and only parcel it out to “friendly” researchers, ensuring no criticism. That these scientists manage to publish their papers without making their data available is a scandal.

“In their parents’ attic, in boxes in the garage, or stored on now-defunct floppy disks — these are just some of the inaccessible places in which scientists have admitted to keeping their old research data. Such practices mean that data are being lost to science at a rapid rate, a study has now found.”

http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-losing-data-at-a-rapid-rate-1.14416

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 13th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 13th  2013

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Note: there is a nasty computer virus going around which affects email (apparently) and is undetected by some anti-virus programs (AVG in my case). Be warned.

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’.

 

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1.        Federal Patent Court of Germany invalidates Microsoft FAT patent, appeals court may disagree

This could be significant if it survives appeal. Patent trolling is a bad thing, and the worst of the worst, and biggest, is Microsoft which shakes down all kinds of companies to enforce its largely bogus IP. It is a pity software patents even exist, but it is hard to imagine most of them were even granted.

“Today the Bundespatentgericht (Federal Patent Court of Germany, BPatG) held a full-day nullity (invalidation) trial at the conclusion of which Judge Vivian Sredl, who presides over the Second Nullity Senate, announced the ruling that EP0618540 on a “common name space for long and short filenames” is invalid in its entirety (including Microsoft’s proposed amendments) because the court found that all of the elements distinguishing the patented invention from the prior art (which includes a Linus Torvalds post to a mailing list) did not satisfy the technicity requirement under European patent law.”

http://www.fosspatents.com/2013/12/federal-patent-court-of-germany.html

2.        Deadly blades: US offers 30-year permits for killing eagles under plan to boost wind industry

Kill an eagle and you can be charged under federal laws, unless, of course, you are an ‘alternative energy’ industry, in which case you get a pass – you know for the love of the environment (and the bottom line). Meanwhile the death of a dozen ducks (which are not protected) in an oil-sands tailings pond is headline news complete with celebrity outrage. I guess the alternative energy mega-corporations have better PR than the fossil fuel mega-corporations …

“Under pressure from the wind-power industry, the Obama administration said Friday it will allow companies to kill or injure eagles without the fear of prosecution for up to three decades. The new rule is designed to address environmental consequences that stand in the way of the nation’s wind energy rush: the dozens of bald and golden eagles being killed each year by the giant, spinning blades of wind turbines.”

http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/234758021.html

3.        The Sad Story of the Battery Breakthrough that Proved Too Good to Be True

Go figure: a novel battery technology which doesn’t live up to its promise. A few rules of thumb are: batteries for EVs have the most stringent requirements for cost, durability, cold start, charge time, power to weight ratio, discharge rates, etc.; and any announced novel battery technology almost certainly won’t achieve one or more of these requirements. Hat tip to my friend Rami Nasser for this article.

“We’ve previously reported on a startup, Envia Systems, that claimed its batteries could store twice as much as conventional ones—and could cut costs in half. That could have made electric cars with a couple of hundred miles of range per charge affordable. But according to court documents from a lawsuit against the company, Envia hasn’t been able to reproduce its stunning results, and as a result, it has lost its funding and a key relationship with GM, which had hoped to use the technology its electric cars (see this article from GigaOm for more on the court documents and “A Big Jump in Battery Capacity” for background on Envia).”

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/522361/the-sad-story-of-the-battery-breakthrough-that-proved-too-good-to-be-true/

4.        ZENN Motor Company Announces Testing Update

I have to be very careful what I write, but I have to wonder if this is the last straw for Zenn investors and EEStor. Then again, the company just raised another $3.7 million from investors, despite a press release on their website (www.zenncars.com/press_rel/10_13/ZENN-Motor-Company-Provides-Further-Update-On-Testing.pdf)  stating “In the testing of the layers it purchased, ZENN has to date not been able to confirm similar results to those reported by EEStor’s testing company on the EEStor tested layers.” Mind you, if you read that test report (www.zenncars.com/press_rel/10_13/Tescom-report-Oct-11-2013.pdf) it says the tests were actually performed by EESTOR staff. Details, details. Oh, and a syphilitic monkey should be able to test a capacitor for discharge: it ain’t rocket science. Mind you the stock has bounced back a fair bit, which just shows you.

“Evans has reported that it has developed testing procedures that measure energy-in and energy-out. It has tested the procedures on known capacitors to verify reliability and accuracy of the tests. Based on these tests, Evans has advised that the EESU layers tested did not show any meaningful levels of energy discharge (energy-out). Evans did find in its testing that certain layers exhibited high resistance.”

http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/zenn-motor-company-announces-testing-update-tsx-venture-znn-1860864.htm

5.        “We cannot trust” Intel and Via’s chip-based crypto, FreeBSD developers say

The problem, of course is that achieving true randomness through software is near impossible. Perhaps what is needed is a semiconductor based on physical principles which cannot be hacked or gamed.

“Developers of the FreeBSD operating system will no longer allow users to trust processors manufactured by Intel and Via Technologies as the sole source of random numbers needed to generate cryptographic keys that can’t easily be cracked by government spies and other adversaries.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/12/we-cannot-trust-intel-and-vias-chip-based-crypto-freebsd-developers-say/

6.        The stats don’t lie: Windows 8.1 seriously underperforming compared to Windows 7

The funny thing is, the looming end of support for Windows XP is actually likely to increase adoption of Windows 7. Of course, Microsoft doesn’t care, at least for now: you send them the money whether you like the product or not. Eventually, of course, the chickens will come home to roost.

“Following Windows market share on NetApplications, as I do every month, it’s clear to me that Windows 8.x isn’t the hit Microsoft hoped for. There are several reasons for this, all of which I’ve discussed previously — dwindling PC sales, users dislike of touch and the Modern UI, and so on.”

http://betanews.com/2013/12/09/the-stats-dont-lie-windows-8-1-seriously-underperforming-compared-to-windows-7/

7.        Elsevier is taking down papers from Academia.edu

Like so many businesses academic publishing is now dominated by a small number of players, Elsevier being the largest. This is a bizarre situation: researchers need to crank out as many papers as possible to be published in ‘high impact’ journals, so they can qualify for additional (mostly taxpayer funded) research grants, whereupon taxpayer funded universities s get to pay obscene subscription rates for these high impact journals, basically because Elsevier owns the marques. This will roll over and die, eventually: all arbitrages collapse in time.

“Lots of researchers post PDFs of their own papers on their own web-sites. It’s always been so, because even though technically it’s in breach of the copyright transfer agreements that we blithely sign, everyone knows it’s right and proper. Preventing people from making their own work available would be insane, and the publisher that did it would be committing a PR gaffe of huge proportions.”

http://svpow.com/2013/12/06/elsevier-is-taking-down-papers-from-academia-edu/

8.        Microsoft might make Windows Phone and Windows RT free

That could certainly speed adoption, although free and open are two different things. It would be interesting to see Microsoft continue to shake down Android vendors with bogus IP claims while at the same time giving away a competitive product. I still rather doubt I’d own a Windows phone, though.

“SOFTWARE HOUSE Microsoft might challenge Android by making its Windows Phone and Windows RT mobile operating systems free for device makers, no doubt in a bid to increase market share.”

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2318606/microsoft-might-make-windows-phone-and-windows-rt-free

9.        Whistler’s hydrogen buses to be scrapped, replaced by diesel

I always say politicians do political things for political reasons, and this is a perfect example. Buses cost a lot of money, and, while I doubt these will be scrapped, the program was neither rational economically or environmentally. The decision to ship “green hydrogen” from Quebec almost certainly meant that much more diesel was burnt in transporting the fuel than would ever have been used running a diesel bus network.

“Whistler’s flirtation with the hydrogen highway has come to the end of the road. The municipality accepted 20 hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses to showcase the technology in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics, but the program comes to an end in March and the buses are being replaced with diesel.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/whistlers-hydrogen-buses-to-be-scrapped-replaced-by-diesel/article15900241/

10.   Microsoft’s licence riddles give Linux and pals a free ride to virtual domination

Another sign of corporate senility: in this case the product is not the problem (as with most of Microsoft’s other products) but a Byzantine licensing scheme. Perhaps they need more engineers and fewer lawyers and marketing people.

“While researching the Register Guide to Windows Server 2012 last year, I talked to a lot of people about Microsoft virtualisation compared to the competition: users, vendors and people implementing it. The results were not quite what you might expect. Everyone acknowledges that Hyper-V 3 is a huge improvement over previous versions and that it equals or exceeds the capabilities of VMware. But most vendors said that this was irrelevant, because while VMware’s licensing scheme is clear and simple, licensing virtualised Windows is horrifically complex …”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/12/12/feature_microsoft_caught_in_virtual_monkey_trap/

11.   U.S. Government Nastygram Shuts Down One-Man Bitcoin Mint

There are many remarkable things about the Bitcoin scam, but one of the most remarkable is the belief of its proponents (i.e. victims) that somehow governments will simply ignore it. After all, most governments reserve the exclusive right to issue currency, and they have anti-money laundering laws and tax-codes. True, some governments, such as the Swiss, are more than happy to allow people to cheat other governments, but never their own, so you can bet even they won’t tolerate Bitcoin. I like the bit about “counterfeiting bitcoins”.

“Mike Caldwell spent years turning digital currency into physical coins. That may sound like a paradox. But it’s true. He takes bitcoins — the world’s most popular digital currency — and then he mints them here in the physical world. If you added up all the bitcoins Caldwell has minted on behalf of his customers, they would be worth about $82 million.”

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/12/casascius/

12.   Munich open source switch ‘completed successfully’

Good to see the project finally gone done, but it took a long time. Of course, that is normal for government projects, and government IT projects seem to be the most vulnerable to delays and blown budgets. That being said, it gone done and should provide a prototype for other governments.

“Munich’s switch to open source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration’s users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said today. In one of the premier open source software deployments in Europe, the city migrated from Windows NT to LiMux, its own Linux distribution. LiMux incorporates a fully open source desktop infrastructure. The city also decided to use the Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, instead of proprietary options.”

http://www.cio.co.uk/news/change-management/munich-open-source-completed-successfully/

13.   Blackout? No Problem For Leaf-Powered Office Building

There is something about Electric Vehicles which brings out the stupid in people. Batteries are the most expensive thing in an EV and all batteries get used up – the more you charge and discharge, the more used up they get. Now, peak shaving may save a few bucks in electricity but those car batteries get used up and, well, once the batteries are gone you might as well scrap the car. But hey – for the environment …

“Japan’s geological instability poses a real energy problem for the country–as witnessed during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Generating power and transmitting it to homes and businesses can be difficult following an earthquake or Tsunami, which is why several Japanese automakers have explored electric vehicle-to-building systems.”

http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1089042_blackout-no-problem-for-leaf-powered-office-building

14.   Thompson, Ritchie, And Kernighan: The Fathers Of C

Unix and the c programming languages were and are extremely important to computing so this might seem like ancient history, but it is an interesting walk down memory lane. I was previously unaware that Kernighan is Canadian.

“Bell Labs was home to many technologies and inventions, but the C programming language developed there had one of the biggest impacts on embedded computing. Many people have worked on C to make it what it is today, the most used programming language around. Three stand out, though: Ken Thompson (Fig. 1) and Dennis Ritchie (Fig. 2), who created it, and Brian Kernighan (Fig. 3), who authored The C Programming Language with Ritchie.”

http://electronicdesign.com/dev-tools/thompson-ritchie-and-kernighan-fathers-c

15.   Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code

I don’t really understand the discovery and I doubt the article does justice. Some details (i.e. a second codon table) or a diagram would probably help.

“Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.”

http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/12/12/scientists-discover-double-meaning-in-genetic-code/

16.   Yogaglo Patent Issued

Yoga isn’t my thing, but evidence that lunatics have taken over the US Patent Office is something which should concern us all. Seriously: the USPTO has issued a patent on filming something – I’m surprised nobody thought of this before. Oh, wait, they have, except apparently the cretins who approved the patent.

“On September 23rd, Yoga International broke the news that they (among others) had received a cease-and-desist letter from another website which also offers yoga videos for streaming (soon revealed to be YogaGlo). It turns out, that YogaGlo had filed a patent application for their method of filming online yoga classes, and that some of YI’s early content fell under the broad description in the patent application: …”

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yogaglo-patent-issued

17.   RAM prices will continue to climb – last year’s rock-bottom prices will probably never return

Sure – companies selling a non-differentiable commodity with perennially dropping production costs will not lower their prices in response to falling demand. It could happen. After all it is possible Bitcoin is not a fraud, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The DRAM industry goes through occasional periods of supply demand imbalance and this is just one of them.

“Two months ago, a fire at a Hynix factory created a shortage in DRAM inventory and exacerbated the gradual climb in DRAM prices. While the fire wasn’t all that severe — Hynix has sworn that its memory capacity will ramp back to full in fairly short order — its impact on the market has been significant.

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/172634-ram-prices-will-continue-to-climb-last-years-rock-bottom-prices-will-probably-never-return

18.   After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought

None of this is surprising. After all, learning is hard and requires work and there are a lot of lazy people out there. Not only that, there are a lot of stupid, lazy people who think they are really smart and figure they just have to sign up for something to “learn it”. What should matter is the net benefit: 4% of a very big number can be a big number.

“Two years after a Stanford professor drew 160,000 students from around the globe to a free online course on artificial intelligence, starting what was widely viewed as a revolution in higher education, early results for such large-scale courses are disappointing, forcing a rethinking of how college instruction can best use the Internet.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/after-setbacks-online-courses-are-rethought.html?_r=0

19.   One in four cloud providers will be gone by 2015

Things have to be pretty bad in an industry for Gartner to say anything negative about it – usually they stoke expectations of hyper-growth to sell their expensive, but generally worthless, research. There is no reason cloud services providers should be profitable as they offer a non-differentiable service. Contracts are usually on a month to month basis and their customers have no problem at all migrating their applications from one provider to another.

“Cloud adopters face serious risk in the next two years because of the strong possibility that their provider will be acquired or forced out of business, according to Gartner. The research firm is predicting a major consolidation in cloud services and estimates that about 25% of the top 100 IT service providers in the infrastructure space won’t be around by 2015. “One in four vendors will be gone for whatever reason — acquisition, bankruptcy,” said William Maurer, a Gartner analyst. Most of the time, the changes will come through acquisition.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9244694/One_in_four_cloud_providers_will_be_gone_by_2015

20.   Open source option wins WA cloud deal

Another publicly funded open source project. This ties several of this week’s articles together: Munich, Cloud Services, and Microsoft licensing. The problem with open source, besides distrust of decision makers (aided by FUD from proprietary providers) is that there are so many choices, even excluding ‘forks’, and not enough expertise available.

“The Western Australian Institute for Medical Research will today take ownership of a private cloud solution built almost entirely of open source technologies to prepare for an influx of researchers over the coming weeks.”

http://www.itnews.com.au/News/366315,open-source-option-wins-wa-cloud-deal.aspx

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 6th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 6th  2013

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Please note that I will be hunting in rural Michigan for the next week. 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 next week 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’.

 

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1.        Self-driving planes, trains, trucks will lead supply chain redesign

While I feel comfortable laughing off Amazon’s “delivery drones” (see below) I strong believe robotic vehicles, in particular cars and trucks, will transform society within about 20 years. The greatest impact will be in logistics – why pay somebody to drive a tractor trailer loaded with lettuce from California when the truck will be able to drive itself?

“Are robo-trucks already taking drivers off the road? It’s a possibility, though an indirect one, suggests Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. And truck-driving jobs won’t be the only ones impacted by technological changes coming to the supply chain.”

http://www.ccjdigital.com/self-driving-planes-trains-trucks-will-lead-supply-chain-redesign/?full-article=true

2.        Sheep Marketplace Scam Revealed, $40 Million Stolen

Given the dynamics of the Bitcoin “marketplace” I am utterly convinced it is a fraud – most likely a “pump and dump”. After all, what commodity skyrockets in price when sources of liquidity are eliminated? One spin on this fraud is the setting up “Bitcoin Marketplaces”, which are essentially unregulated, anonymous, banks. Once enough sham currency has been accumulated the “bank” is “robbed” and the “money” disappears – no doubt to be laundered in useful hard currency.

“Bitcoin and online drug markets seem to fit together perfectly and unfortunately, sometimes they are “too good” to be true. While there are handful of these sites which still appear to be legitimate and not based around a scam, a growing number of illegal drug marketplaces are randomly shutting down and taking millions in Bitcoins with them.”

http://www.tapscape.com/sheep-marketplace-scam-revealed-40-million-stolen/

3.        Delivery drones are coming: Jeff Bezos promises half-hour shipping with Amazon Prime Air

I am a big believer in robotic logistics however this is nothing but a publicity stunt. Yes, it is possible to move a small amount of mass a short distance with a small, electrically powered drone. However, the have an array of rotating blades in the general vicinity of people is not wise. Nor is it practical to deliver to most addresses (apartments, offices, etc.) with such a system. Between HyperLoop and this announcement it seems that all you have to do to do to ‘invent’ is to be famous nowadays – actually making something work isn’t needed.

“Jeff Bezos is nothing if not a showman. Amazon’s CEO loves a good reveal, and took the opportunity afforded by a 60 Minutes segment to show off his company’s latest creation: drones that can deliver packages up to 5 pounds to your house in less than half an hour. They’re technically octocopters, as part of a program called “Amazon Prime Air.””

http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/1/5164340/delivery-drones-are-coming-jeff-bezos-previews-half-hour-shipping

4.        Bittorrent Sync

Torrents are not just for piracy, despite what most people think. Bittorrent recently introduced Sync, which I have been using for about a week now. Bittorrent Sync uses torrent technology to synchronize selected files across multiple PCs, sort of like Drop Box. The thing is, you can get a home or office NAS (ALWAYS get a RAID NAS – mine is by QNAP) and install Sync in the NAS. This allows you to have your own synced storage system (which you control) and you can access or update your files from anywhere. It is awesome.

http://www.bittorrent.com/sync

5.        Kantar Worldpanel: WP breaks 10% market share mark in Europe

I don’t find industry research to be of much value, but for what it is worth, this company recons demand for Windows Phones is skyrocketing. Of course, the methodology is opaque, and the conclusion is bizarre – how can it been that WP, which is supported by, more or less a single vendor (Microsoft Nokia) has a 10% share when you never see the devices?

“Market analyst company Kantar Worldpanel has released its report for the 3-month period ending in October 2013. The study saw Windows Phone climb past the 10% market share mark in Europe. This is double what the OS had for the same period of 2012. Back then Microsoft’s mobile operating system was at a 4.7% market share. According to Kantar, most of the phones running WP were from the low-end spectrum, but that’s hardly a surprise considering that Lumia 520 alone accounts for about a quarter of all WP devices.”

http://www.gsmarena.com/kantar_worldpanel_wp_breaks_10_market_share_in_europe-news-7298.php

6.        Flash Shortages Drive SSD Shifts

This is not so much a story about Solid State Drives but how tech CEOs tend to blow their shareholders’ money on dumb acquisitions. Seriously an SSD is a controller plus Flash memory, so who in their right mind would think there would be a future for independent SSD makers? What possible competitive advantage would an independent bring to the market a Flash manufacturer could not?

“The dynamics of the solid-state state drive market are shifting, and for Abhi Talwalkar it’s been a disappointing shift in 2013. The chief executive of LSI hoped the market for SSD controllers from Sandforce, a startup he purchased in 2011 for $370 million, would grow as much as 35% this year. Instead it grew just 10%.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1320207&

7.        Canadian broadband slow, expensive: Ookla

In other news, water is wet and fire is hot. This hugely understates the situation: while Canadian broadband is almost, but not quite, as bad and the US, most OECD countries have an actual broadband strategy and their service is getting better, more affordable, and more ubiquitous. Unfortunately, market driven solutions are not working and Canada is slipping further into the back of the pack.

“The folks at Ookla have released their latest Net Index broadband comparisons, so we all know what that means: it’s time for Fun With Charts (patent pending)! It’s also time for bad news for Canada, which is something that anyone who follows this stuff should be used to by now. But first, a note on Ookla’s methodology.”

http://wordsbynowak.com/2013/12/03/net-index/

8.        Volvo to put 100 self-driving cars on Swedish roads in pilot project

Having owned three Volvos I’d be far more interested if I heard that the company had figured out how to make their cars run for more than a year without a major repair. Despite a record of unreliability, Volvo has somehow garnered a reputation for innovation, so this project will be closely watched.

“Volvo is about to take its biggest step yet towards bringing a self-driving car to market with a pilot project that’ll put 100 such vehicles onto public roads in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. The project, called ‘Drive Me’, will involve the autonomous cars using around 30 miles (50 km) of selected roads in the city, dealing with everyday driving conditions and situations.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/volvo-put-100-self-driving-cars-swedish-roads-pilot-project/

9.        Automation, Not Domination: How Robots Will Take Over Our World

People have a vision of robots as human looking things, but the term really applied to automated machinery. By that definition, the robotic revolution has been underway for a few decades now – after all, ‘word processor’ used to refer to a person. The labor force adapts to technological change. It always has.

“The first question people tend to ask when they find out you are a roboticist is, “When are robots going to take over the world and become our masters?” The answer to this question is a big “Never!””

http://footnote1.com/automation-not-domination-how-robots-will-take-over-our-world/

10.   BOOM: A Major Wall Street Bank Just Initiated Coverage On Bitcoin And Identified A Fair Value

Assuming this is not an Onion parody (Wall Street and Bay Street research has become so bad, it is hard to tell), it should serve as a warning regarding how pathetic said research has become. The people orchestrating the Bitcoin fraud must be laughing themselves into seizures as their sucker game has, apparently, been legitimized by Bank of America. This genius has determined a “fair market value” for a speculative intangible asset – a number – with no utility, no oversight, no backing, etc., just the faith that some other idiot will exchange it for real currency. Staggering – why do I think Bank of America figures there are investment banking fees in Bitcoin?

“We believe Bitcoin can become a major means of payment for e-commerce and may emerge as a serious competitor to traditional money transfer providers,” wrote Bank of America currency strategist David Woo in a 14-page note to clients this morning. “As a medium of exchange, Bitcoin has clear potential for growth, in our view.”

http://www.businessinsider.com/baml-initiates-coverage-on-bitcoin-2013-12

11.   Silicon Savannah: Africa’s Transformative Digital Revolution

An update on the impact of technology on the lives of Africans, though perhaps an optimistic one. It can take generations for infrastructure to catch up with the needs of an emerging economy, even without intense government corruption and frequent wars.

“In a loft with high windows, wooden floors and long tables, young women with their hair in small braids and men in colorful T-shirts sit bent over their laptops. They are students, bloggers, web designers and programmers. Their office, called iHub, could be somewhere in tech-obsessed California, but is actually located in a place few people associate with cutting-edge tech culture — Nairobi.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/silicon-savannah-how-mobile-phones-and-the-internet-changed-africa-a-936307.html

12.   NSA spy scandal prompts China push to favor local tech vendors

The article makes it clear that the Chinese government had moved to favor domestic vendors prior to the NSA revelations. Nonetheless, given how Western government had repeatedly accused Chinese vendors of being a security risk, it’s hard to blame them for that stance, especially after Snowden.

“While China’s demand for electronics continues to soar, the tech services market may be shrinking for U.S. enterprise vendors. Security concerns over U.S. secret surveillance are giving the Chinese government and local companies more reason to trust domestic vendors, according to industry experts. The country has always tried to support its homegrown tech industry, but lately it is increasingly favoring local brands over foreign competition.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9244515/NSA_spy_scandal_prompts_China_push_to_favor_local_tech_vendors

13.   The Rise and Fall of Australia’s $44 Billion Broadband Project

I don’t know enough about Australian politics to understand why a good idea (near ubiquitous fiber broadband to the home) became a fiasco, but I suspect political had more to do with it than anything else. Fiber is as easy to run as telephone wire and I strongly suspect most homes in Australia have electricity and wired telephone access. The country was probably wired at a time when governments had vision and they told companies what they were going do, rather than the other way around. Regardless, even the present Australian plan shows how pathetic the broadband situation in Canada is.

“In April 2009, Australia’s then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, dropped a bombshell on the press and the global technology community: His social democrat Labor administration was going to deliver broadband Internet to every single resident of Australia. It was an audacious goal, not least of all because Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/the-rise-and-fall-of-australias-44-billion-broadband-project

14.   Anti-Vaccination Movement Causes a Deadly Year in the U.S.

I got the flu prior to the vaccine being available and suffered a serious (and potentially fatal) complication. I am a big believer in vaccines and, while it is easy to dismiss the opinions of celebrity halfwits and naturopathic scammers, I remain astonished at the number of educated people who don’t “believe” in the flu vaccine, as though they are any different from the quacks.

“Disease outbreaks have killed millions of people, and scientists have spent generations developing ways to save those in jeopardy. Still, many people don’t think it’s a good idea to protect themselves or their children from preventable diseases, and choose to forego vaccinations. Even in 2013, the anti-vaccination movement continues to leave the door open to outbreaks of diseases that have been all but eradicated by modern medicine. These diseases include measles, polio, whooping cough, and more.”

http://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-anti-vaccination-movement-leads-to-disease-outbreaks-120312

15.   Secure communications service Perzo will be open source

The only way you can ever hope to have secure communications, cloud services, etc., is if they are open source. Such visibility will permit experts to examine the code for flaws, backdoors, etc., and to create corrections and countermeasures.

“INDUSTRY STALWART and Skype co-founder David Gurle has told The INQUIRER that his new venture Perzo will be released as open source software. Gurle explained that is the only way to prove his software product’s secure credentials.”

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2317480/secure-communications-service-perzo-will-be-open-source

16.   GaN-on-Si LEDs to grow at 69% CAGR from 1% market share in 2013 to 40% in 2020

Gallium Nitride on Silicon could have a significant impact on LED pricing as alternative substrates are extremely expensive and available only on small wafer sizes. The impact on price would be so large that even if the results parts were inferior (not that they will be) they would sweep the market.

“The penetration of gallium nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) wafers into the light-emitting diode (LED) market is forecast to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 69% from 2013 to 2020, by which time they will account for 40% of all GaN LEDs manufactured, according to a new report from market research firm IHS Inc.”

http://www.semiconductor-today.com/news_items/2013/DEC/IHS_041213.shtml

17.   Worldwide semiconductor revenue grew 5.2 percent in 2013

It’s that time of year when we discover how badly the semiconductor industry performed. If we are to believe Gartner’s figures (and there is no reason to do so) the industry grew a whopping 5.2%, which would have been a debacle 10 or 15 years ago. Looking into the future it is worth reiterating that there are no large, fast growing end markets for semiconductors (smartphone and tablet growth is surely slowing), so the future looks even worse.

“Worldwide semiconductor revenue totaled $315.4 billion in 2013, a 5.2 percent increase from 2012 revenue of $299.9 billion, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. The top 25 semiconductor vendors’ combined revenue increased 6.2 percent, a significantly better performance than the rest of the market, whose revenue growth was 2.9 percent. This was, in part, due to the concentration of memory vendors, which saw significant growth in the top ranking.”

http://electroiq.com/blog/2013/12/worldwide-semiconductor-revenue-grew-5-2-percent-in-2013/

18.   Microsoft moves to assure international business customers on spying

The Orwellian-named (and Orwellian themed) “Patriot Act” requires that US companies are required to turn over customer data to security agencies, regardless of where that data is located, so Microsoft can say whatever it wants. It would be foolhardy for any domestic or foreign company to rely on the assurances of any supplier that they will not be spied on: spies lie and there is little reason to believe Microsoft or any other large tech company gives a damn about your or your data beyond what the law compels. And the very thought customers would be able to inspect code for ‘back doors’ is absurd: ‘back doors’ are not flagged as such in the code and the next ‘security’ update could well include sanctioned malware.

“Microsoft Corp pledged late Wednesday to fight in court against any attempt by U.S. intelligence agencies to seize its foreign customers’ data under American surveillance laws, one of a series of steps aimed at reassuring nervous users abroad. The maker of the world’s most popular computer operating system said it had never turned over any such data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and did not believe that authorities are entitled to the information if it is stored abroad.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/05/us-usa-security-microsoft-idUSBRE9B404L20131205

19.   Israeli Startup Develops Wireless Mobile Chargers Using Infrared Light

This is another article which could easily be a joke as a description of a new technology. Mind you, they went through the effort of making an animation of their magical device, so you know it has to be true! Here’s the thing: a watt is a watt and you need a lot of watts to transfer power to charge a device. Maybe that’s the punch line: Infrared Light is heat, and they refer to a hotspot. At least it’ll keep your lunch warm.

“Every cellphone owner has experienced the depressing moment when their battery dies at the most inconvenient of times.  Veteran Israeli entrepreneurs Victor Vaisleib and Ortal Alpert joined together to create a radical solution to charge a phone without a charger – using infrared light.”

http://nocamels.com/2013/12/israeli-startup-develops-wireless-mobile-chargers-using-infrared-light/

20.   The Moore’s Law blowout sale is ending, Broadcom’s CTO says

The “end of Moore’s Law” has been forecast many times so it is tempting to laugh this off. That being said, there are physical limits to the size things can be made before quantum effects come to dominate. I believe Moore’s Law will never die, just fade away: increments will become smaller and smaller and further apart. All in, we can look to breakthroughs in nano materials such as graphene to propel technology in the future. This does not necessarily imply faster or smaller transistors, but better batteries (by an order of magnitude) stronger materials, etc..

“At a wine bar in San Francisco on Wednesday, Broadcom Chairman and CTO Henry Samueli delivered some sobering news: Moore’s Law isn’t making chips cheaper anymore. The famed law of microprocessors predicts that packing more transistors onto a silicon wafer will make processors smaller, faster and cheaper with each generation. The ability to get more chips out of each wafer should cut the cost per transistor with each new generation, according to the logic of the law, which was first proposed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in the 1960s.”

http://www.itworld.com/hardware/385701/moores-law-blowout-sale-ending-broadcoms-cto-says