The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 28th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 28th 2014

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.

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.        ATM operators eye Linux as alternative to Windows XP

I doubt ATM machines are more than a rounding error for Microsoft’s revenues however the issue is critical for the ATM vendors. ATMs do not need constant hardware upgrades, but they do need stable and secure software. Current versions of Linux support even very old hardware, unlike Windows, so eventually shifting to a more consistent, secure, and stable, software platform would make complete sense.

“Some financial services companies are looking to migrate their ATM fleets from Windows to Linux in a bid to have better control over hardware and software upgrade cycles. Pushing them in that direction apparently is Microsoft’s decision to end support for Windows XP on April 8, said David Tente, executive director, USA, of the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA).”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247096/ATM_operators_eye_Linux_as_alternative_to_Windows_XP

2.        New strategy would drop college textbook costs to zero

Any parent knows the cost of University textbooks is obscene, and there is little value for money. At the undergraduate level in particular in most courses, little changes on the decadal level to justify the annual new editions which simply destroy the resale value of textbooks. The exact argument could be made for public schools, of course. Eventually this highly profitable industry will be disintermediated and implode. Here are two articles which shows some efforts in that regard.

“This semester, the University System of Maryland is exploring ways to bring that cost to zero with “open-source” electronic textbooks — the latest experiment in changing the way students in Maryland and across the nation are taught. Unlike electronic versions of textbooks sold by publishers, open-source textbooks are made up of materials gathered from various sources and are not protected by copyright. They are often designed to be interactive, with links to source material and multimedia elements. The materials are licensed openly, so anyone with an Internet connection can access them.”

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/bs-md-college-open-source-textbooks-20140322,0,6567208.story

and

http://thesheaf.com/2014/03/20/u-of-s-commits-to-open-textbook-program/

3.        28nm – The Last Node of Moore’s Law

This article makes a pretty good case and, regardless, it seems to be a fair bet the era of Moore’s Law is drawing to a close. This does not, of course, mean that component costs will plateau or even rise – what will happens is the rate of improvement will slow down and performance/price will move to single digit percentage annual improvement.

“We have been hearing about the imminent demise of Moore’s Law quite a lot recently. Most of these predictions have been targeting the 7nm node and 2020 as the end-point. But we need to recognize that, in fact, 28nm is actually the last node of Moore’s Law.”

http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1321536&elq=93547af6f4464bdf8196f5ae3089e92b

4.        Jimmy Wales rants at holistic healers petitioning Wikipedia

Calling the kettle black hardly qualifies as a rant if you ask me. After all, you are either going to have an online encyclopedia or a useless pile of misinformation – which is often the case with ‘controversial’ topics in Wikipedia. As the saying goes, you have a right to your own opinions, not your own facts and until a single well designed and repeatable experiment can show this nonsense actually works, we can assume the facts show it does not. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has issued a sharp response to petitioners calling for his site to “allow for true scientific discourse” on holistic healing. The petition, currently running on the Change.org site, claims that much of the information on Wikipedia relating to holistic approaches to healing is “biased, misleading, out of date, or just plain wrong”. It has attracted almost 8,000 supporters at the time of publication.”

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/387790/jimmy-wales-rants-at-holistic-healers-petitioning-wikipedia

5.        Notch cancels Minecraft Oculus Rift deal: “Facebook creeps me out”

The geniuses who run Facebook have decided investors in a Kickstarter project could use $2B more than their own shareholders, so they decided to buy it. Virtual Reality visors are not new, and I’d be surprised if there was anything novel or non-replicable in the Oculus Rift version thereof. Unfortunately there had been a lot of proposed support by game developers and enthusiasts for this VR product, and most are apoplectic over the sale.

“The Facebook purchase announced today has made him cancel plans for the deal. “I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook,” he writes. “Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform. There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me. And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.”

http://www.pcgamer.com/2014/03/25/notch-cancels-minecraft-oculus-rift-deal-facebook-creeps-me-out/

6.        IRS Decision To Tax Bitcoin As Property May Slow Efforts To Widen Its Use In Retail

This is an interesting development on many levels. It does not “legitimize” Bitcoin as a currency, however, it would place an enormous burden on any vendor who accepts Bitcoin in payment because they would have to mark to market and account for every conversion to real money in the same manner as a sale of shares. Not coincidentally, infringement of tax laws are easier to prosecute than criminal laws which may be one reason behind this decision. Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion, not murder.

“It’s a good-news/bad-news day for folks who have heavily invested in the Bitcoin virtual currency, after the IRS declared that will tax Bitcoins as property. On the one hand, that means that people who are profiting from their investment in Bitcoin will pay the lower taxes associated with capital gains, rather than the much higher taxes levied on foreign currency gains. On the other hand, it could mean an awful lot of record-keeping that may make it a hassle to use Bitcoins for everyday transactions like one would use a debit card.”

http://consumerist.com/2014/03/25/irs-decision-to-tax-bitcoin-as-property-may-slow-efforts-to-widen-its-use-in-retail/

7.        Apps in car dashboards aim to make vehicles smarter

I figure the “connected car” is inevitable, however, such capabilities present a huge problem of distracted driving. What I don’t understand is the appeal – for car companies or consumers – of an Apple solution: after all, Apple is a closed system and, to the extent the product would have an appeal it would be only to existing Apple customers. So would an Android user I be interested in a vehicle with Apple connectivity? Well, perhaps, though not willing to pay for it because it would limited utility.

“Drivers can use the Audible car app to download and listen to audio books in the car and the Kaliki car app reads news items. Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody, Stitcher, Slacker Radio, and iTunes Radio are among the many apps that stream music in vehicles.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/27/us-apps-autos-idUSBREA2Q10220140327

8.        Neurosurgeons successfully implant 3D printed skull

(Not for the squeamish) More fun and games with 3D printing in the operating room. I am very curious as to the plastic they used and the method they used to form it. There are biocompatible plastics but I am unaware of any which can be 3D printed. It is possible they used a multistep process where they 3D printed a sample then molded a compatible version of that. Presumably, the woman’s scalp was reattached. Cool stuff.

“A 22-year-old woman from the Netherlands who suffers from a chronic bone disorder — which has increased the thickness of her skull from 1.5cm to 5cm, causing reduced eyesight and severe headaches — has had the top section of her skull removed and replaced with a 3D printed implant.”

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-03/26/3d-printed-skull

9.        In rare move, banks sue Target’s security auditor

So, companies are required to be audited for compliance, but the auditors claim they cannot be held responsible if those same certified customers are breached because they obviously we not compliant, even though they passed the audit. This will have one of two outcomes: either the auditors will be held blameless because of weasel words in a contract, or if held partially responsible those weasel words will be introduced into the next generation of contracts. You have to wonder what incentive a security auditor would have to do thorough audit if they have no responsibility for the quality of said audit?

“Two banks that claim to have suffered losses from the recent data breach at Target have sued Trustwave Holdings Inc., the company that was responsible for validating Target’s compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago, Trustmark National Bank and Green Bank N.A, sued both Target and Trustwave for not doing enough to protect customer payment card data. The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, accused both companies of negligence, deceptive practices, negligent misrepresentation and other misdeeds.”

http://www.csoonline.com/article/750300/in-rare-move-banks-sue-target-s-security-auditor

10.   Who needs operating systems anymore? Not you.

I am not sure I agree with the reasoning however I have argued in the past that the OS is becoming less and less important to buying decisions for a variety of reasons. This is especially the case with mobile devices, which tend to have limited utility due to inherent size and user interface constraints. Similarly, cloud based applications are best designed with an OS agnostic interface for compatibility reason. This does not, of course, mean the OS will disappear, just become less visible. Ultimately, the tail will cease wagging the dog.

“I started working with technology in the late 1970s. Along the way, I’ve worked with IBM’s mainframe OS/360, Unix on DEC PDP-11, and that ancestor of all PC operating systems, CP/M-80. Operating systems ruled your user experience; you had to care about which one you used. But more and more, we aren’t going to care.”

https://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9246977/Steven_J._Vaughan_Nichols_Who_needs_operating_systems_anymore_Not_you.

11.   Microsoft admits reading Hotmail inbox of blogger

This is a tempest in a teapot – if you are using Hotmail or Gmail, you should probably assume those companies (Microsoft of Google) have the right to access your stuff, for no other reason than to investigate potential misuse of the service. Regardless, you have to be a special class of idiot to use Microsoft services to trade Microsoft secrets with Microsoft employees.

“On Thursday, the firm acknowledged it read the anonymous blogger’s emails in order to identify an employee it suspected of leaking information. Microsoft owns Hotmail, a free email service now called Outlook.com. John Frank, deputy general counsel for Microsoft, said it took “extraordinary actions in this case”. While the search was technically legal, he added Microsoft would consult outside counsel in the future.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26677607

12.   Meet the manic miner who wants to mint 10% of all new bitcoins

Ah, the power of faith. This guy claims to have millions tied up in this operation and that it has “It’s paid itself off [in bitcoins] many times over already.” Now, call me a skeptic, but if I had a machine which produced actual gold would I rent that machine out and take 10% of the gold or would I run it flat out and keep 100% of the gold? The answer, of course, depends on what I figured gold was worth.

“In a couple of large buildings near the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, where hydroelectricity is cheap and plentiful, Dave Carlson oversees what he says is one of the largest Bitcoin mining operations on the planet. At any given time, Carlson’s goal is to account for seven to 10 percent of the entire world’s Bitcoin mining as measured by processing or hashing power, he said. At the moment, he’s slightly below that target but doesn’t expect to remain below it for very long. The operations are fueled by thousands of mining rigs containing more than 1.4 million BitFury mining chips, while Raspberry Pis loaded with custom software direct traffic on each rig.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/03/meet-the-manic-miner-who-wants-to-mint-10-of-all-new-bitcoins/

13.   Russian Officials Dump iPads for Samsung Tablets Over Spy Fears

Not that the Samsung tablets are necessarily more secure, of course, however, Android is an open system and iOS is very much closed. Therefore Russian programmers can, at least, vet the security of the Android platform and enhance it if necessary. Furthermore, Apple, Microsoft, and cloud services providers have the ability to disconnect, disable, and wipe the hardware of unworthy customers. Given recent tensions this is an intelligent move by the Russians and should be echoed by any other government worried about falling from favor with the US.

“Russian government officials have swapped their iPads for Samsung tablets to ensure tighter security, the telecoms minister told news agencies on Wednesday. Journalists spotted that ministers at a cabinet meeting were no longer using Apple tablets, and minister Nikolai Nikiforov confirmed the changeover “took place not so long ago.” He said the ministers’ new Samsungs were “specially protected devices that can be used to work with confidential information.” “Some of the information at government meetings is confidential in nature and these devices fully meet these demands and have gone through the strictest system of certification.””

http://www.securityweek.com/russian-officials-dump-ipads-samsung-tablets-over-spy-fears

14.   Homeopathic remedies recalled for containing real medicine

Homeopathic remedies are the most amusing ‘natural’ health scams because they consist of pure water. (Strictly speaking, a magic ingredient diluted with water to the same ratio as a jug of milk in the volume of the Milky Way galaxy). Unfortunately, you can slap pretty much any label on any concoction provided you call it homeopathic or ‘natural’ and make no specific health claims. Some analysis have shown that some such remedies do not even contain the crap they are supposed to contain. In this case, by accident, the remedy actually contained an active ingredient and thus must be recalled. What irony.

“Terra-Medica creates a range of homeopathic capsules, suppositories and ointments under clinical-sounding brand names including Pleo-Fort, Pleo-Quent and Pleo-EX. The FDA has found that 56 lots of the drugs may contain penicillin or derivatives of penicillin, which may have been produced during fermentation. This is a problem, because Terra-Medica says that its products don’t contain antibiotics.”

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-03/25/homeopathy-contains-medicine

15.   UN Backtracks: Will Global Warming Really Trigger Mass Extinctions?

The problem with predictions about specific things on short times scales: you can be shown to be wrong. As a general rule I have found that second order effects are much harder to anticipate than first order, and tertiary effects almost impossible. Heck – it’s even hard with billiard balls. In summary life adapts, models are crude, and reality is very, very, complex. I get the sense from the scientists they believe they don’t really need evidence to support their hypothesis, which is disturbing.

“Global warming is said to be threatening thousands of animal and plant species with extinction. That, at least, is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been predicting for years. But the UN climate body now says it is no longer so certain. The second part of the IPCC’s new assessment report is due to be presented next Monday in Yokohama, Japan. On the one hand, a classified draft of the report notes that a further “increased extinction risk for a substantial number of species during and beyond the 21st century” is to be expected. On the other hand, the IPCC admits that there is no evidence climate change has led to even a single species becoming extinct thus far.”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/new-un-climate-report-casts-doubt-on-earlier-extinction-predictions-a-960569.html

16.   Genetic mugshot recreates faces from nothing but DNA

Well, good luck with that. They might eventually be able to produce a generic face with, more or less, the right skin tone, etc., but I would be astounded if they could ever produce something better that the laughably poor sketches which are passed about. I have always suspected those sketches simply provide an excuse for a cop to ‘bring somebody in’, but even eyewitness testimony is nearly entirely unreliable, so how valid could the sketches be?

“A MURDER has been committed, and all the cops have to go on is a trace of DNA left at the scene. It doesn’t match any profile in databases of known criminals, and the trail goes cold. But what if the police could issue a wanted poster based on a realistic “photofit” likeness built from that DNA?”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129613.600-genetic-mugshot-recreates-faces-from-nothing-but-dna.html

17.   Lens-Free Camera Sees Things Differently

There have been some interesting developments in optical systems over the past few years, though many are not ready for primetime. Using traditional curved surfaces it is very hard to make a small, useable lens. This article discusses a novel approach but it dwells more on the capabilities than limitations of this technique. For example, a miniature camera might be very useful in medical applications, but what if the image has to be a meter away to be in focus?

“Patrick Gill is excited to show me a small, fuzzy-looking picture of the Mona Lisa, printed in black and white on a piece of paper. It’s not much to look at, literally, but it’s unmistakably her, with long dark hair and that mysterious smile. More intriguing than the low-resolution image of da Vinci’s masterpiece, though, is how the picture was created: with a lens-free camera that, at 200 micrometers across, is smaller than a pencil point.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/525731/lens-free-camera-sees-things-differently/

18.   FACTUM: A “profound first” for additive manufacturing

I found this this article pretty had to understand, but it discusses a 3D printing system which is capable of producing small parts in a manner which might be competitive with injection molding or machining. That is easy to say, but it might be hard to do as many small parts are not injection molded one at a time, but by the dozens, which brings costs down a lot. Then there is the suitability of the materials to the particular application. Nonetheless, it is early stage so they have lots of time to work things out.

“Additive manufacturing through advanced polymer sintering at high speeds is being explored by University of Sheffield spin-out FaraPack Polymers, as it investigates laser sintering for low-volume applications and high-speed sintering (HSS) for low and high volumes. The team is working alongside industry partners and with Loughborough University – which owns the patents for HSS – to exploit this manufacturing process with the aim to deliver a validated supply chain and a range of example products that show the time-saving, part properties and cost benefits of choosing this technique for high-volume orders.”

http://www.tctmagazine.com/additive-manufacturing/factum-3dprinting-additive-manufacturing/

19.   Microsoft unveils Office for iPad, free for reading and presenting

This was covered with tremendous excitement on the Internet and, for the life of me, I don’t see why. The iPad is basically a large iPhone, and Office for iPhone has been available for some time so this is not exactly a technological breakthrough or some sort of defining event. Perhaps some executives who have an iPad and an Office 365 subscription will be happy because they won’t have to bring their laptop on business trips but I rather doubt this will have an impact on Microsoft’s sales. Furthermore, in the not so distant future, LibreOffice for Android should be released, which is expected to be a full feature, free office package for the increasingly popular Android platform. You can edit your Office documents on that.

“After years and years of rumors, Office for iPad is finally here. At a press event in San Francisco this morning, Microsoft Office general manager Julia White has unveiled the company’s latest mobile Office app. While Office for iPad was originally rumored for a release in 2012 and 2013, it’s available as three separate applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) in Apple’s App Store today.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/27/5553364/microsoft-office-for-ipad-features

20.   Senate panel plans to make losers pay for frivolous patent lawsuits

The rare application of ‘loser pays’ is one reason the US is so incredibly litigious. That and the fact they have so many lawyers. Under current rules the threat of patent litigation represents an asymmetrical risk/reward gambit for patent holder because, worst case, they bear their own costs, which might even be accepted on a contingency basis by their attorneys. The alleged infringer, on the other hand, faces costs plus the prospect of an expensive and potentially disruptive judgment. If the patent owner faced the prospect of paying his expenses plus those of the other side (which may include multiple parties), most cases would proceed only if there was a high degree of confidence in victory.

“U.S. senators seeking to curb frivolous patent litigation plan to add a “loser pays” amendment into a bill that many believe has a good chance of becoming law, a leading lawmaker said on Thursday. The change would require parties that lose lawsuits to cover winners’ legal bills, and is expected to deter prolonged, frivolous and vexatious litigation. Such measures have been pushed by big technology companies such as Google Inc and Apple Inc.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/27/us-usa-patents-congress-idUSBREA2Q1VW20140327

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 21st 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 21st 2014

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.

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.        Update on Metro

The backstory to this article is that so few people are interested in a Windows 8 (Metro) that Mozilla, the folks who make the Firefox web browser, are unable to get enough people to use it on a daily basis. Firefox has a 15 to 20% market share across Windows and Linux, and the trifling uptake in Metro suggests that, whatever the appeal of Windows 8, the Metro interface had not garnered much interest, at least in browsers.

“In the months since, as the team built and tested and refined the product, we’ve been watching Metro’s adoption. From what we can see, it’s pretty flat. On any given day we have, for instance, millions of people testing pre-release versions of Firefox desktop, but we’ve never seen more than 1000 active daily users in the Metro environment.”

https://blog.mozilla.org/futurereleases/2014/03/14/metro/

2.        Microsoft dangles $50 carrot in front of XP users

If I had an old XP computer I was going to throw away anyway and I was in the market for a new computer, I might be tempted to take advantage of the offer, provided the featured products are worthy. Otherwise, if I was actually using an XP computer, $50 would not be enough to convince me to trash that machine, likely all my printers, etc..

“Microsoft has anted up in its attempt to convince last-minute laggards to abandon Windows XP by handing a $50 carrot to people who buy a new Windows 8.1 device. On its online Microsoft Store, the Redmond, Wash. company is giving a $50 gift card to customers who buy one of 16 Windows 8.1 notebooks, desktops, tablets or 2-in-1 hybrids. The card is good for future purchases at the e-store.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9246994/Microsoft_dangles_50_carrot_in_front_of_XP_users

3.        Sea anemone is genetically half animal, half plant

A rather odd result: even though an anemone kinda looks like an animal/plant love child you would not expect its genetics to reflect that. Convergent evolution is not a likely explanation for this finding because usually that arises from different genetic mechanism. Very strange indeed.

“A team led by evolutionary and developmental biologist Ulrich Technau at the University of Vienna has discovered that sea anemones display a genomic landscape with a complexity of regulatory elements similar to that of fruit flies or other animal model systems. This suggests that this principle of gene regulation is already 600 million years old and dates back to the common ancestor of human, fly and sea anemone. On the other hand, sea anemones are more similar to plants rather to vertebrates or insects in their regulation of gene expression by short regulatory RNAs called microRNAs.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318113816.htm

4.        US tech giants knew of NSA data collection, agency’s top lawyer insists

Of course the ‘tech giants’ knew of the NSA data collection because they enabled it, and any claims they make to the contrary are flat out lies. Why on earth would anybody expect them to behave otherwise? If you look at what happened to secure email providers who didn’t go along with the NSA’s programs you’d understand that, even if the large firms were morally opposed (fat chance) they would still have cooperated.

“The senior lawyer for the National Security Agency stated unequivocally on Wednesday that US technology companies were fully aware of the surveillance agency’s widespread collection of data, contradicting month of angry denials from the firms.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/19/us-tech-giants-knew-nsa-data-collection-rajesh-de

5.        The Netherlands paves the way for carrier-free SIM cards

People still conflate the Internet of Things with mobile services, but unless and until mobile data is literally free, almost all of that traffic will go over WiFi and from there to wired connections. (Of course, remote sensors, etc., would still require mobile data.). The interesting thing about this development is that it could allow the introduction of phones which essentially perform a real time “Dutch Auction” (I know) to find the lowest cost service for any specific phone call, text, or data download. This is an excellent idea.

“Imagine it: a world where a SIM card is fully integrated with your device; no need to swap it out when you change carriers or travel overseas. In fact, SIM cards could be easily built into any number of devices, vastly expanding the Internet of Things. This would also end carrier-locked devices, allowing customers true freedom of choice: Any device could be used with any carrier the user chooses.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57620572-94/the-netherlands-paves-the-way-for-carrier-free-sim-cards/

6.        Why internet upload speed in Canada lags world average

A follow up on the numerous articles which demonstrate how ham-handed regulation in Canada and the US has resulted in a telecommunications infrastructure which has gone from world class to barely competitive in a couple decades. Cloud services require a high speed back channel in order to function properly so expect these to be adopted more readily outside North America. The carrier comments are amusing: no kidding that if you limit upload speeds to a small percentage of traffic then uploads will only constitute a small percentage of traffic.

“Phan has a fast internet connection for downloading in his Toronto condo, but he’s stuck in the slow lane when it comes to the other direction. His $80-a-month internet plan gives him a four-megabit-per-second upload speed – just a 10th of the download speed – and anything higher would cost significantly more. He has considered switching to the other provider available in his building, but that wouldn’t save him much time or money. Such is life in Canada, where upload connections are among the worst in the developed world.”

http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/news/story/1.2578682

7.        Lab-Grown Organs Are Out In The Wild, And More Are Coming Soon

I don’t know if trachea (windpipes) are, technically, an organ, but the approach is an interesting one. Trachea have more of a mechanical function than a biochemical one like, say, a liver. Still, if this technique can save lives and be extended to more complex innards, it is a breakthrough.

“In 2011, an Eritrean man named Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyen was dying from tracheal cancer. The tumor in his windpipe was, the doctors explained, too big to remove. There was no time to wait for a donor organ to show up. In years past, this might have been the end of the line for Beyen. Instead, he received a healthy new windpipe, made from his own cells.”

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3027468/lab-grown-organs-are-out-in-the-wild-and-more-are-coming-soon

8.        Combating bad science Metaphysicians

In the olden days, say 50 years ago before ‘publish or perish’ became the catchphrase for academia, a productive scientist would publish maybe a half dozen high quality papers in a career. As any manager knows, behavior follows the money, so now the objective is to produce as many publishable papers as possible, which is a different thing altogether. While science is self-correcting over the long term, having a vast quantity of papers which are wrong simply injects noise into a difficult enough environment. It is good to see somebody is doing something about it, but the root cause is what really needs to be addressed.

““WHY most published research findings are false” is not, as the title of an academic paper, likely to win friends in the ivory tower. But it has certainly influenced people (including journalists at The Economist). The paper it introduced was published in 2005 by John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who was then at the University of Ioannina, in Greece, and is now at Stanford. It exposed the ways, most notably the over-interpreting of statistical significance in studies with small sample sizes, that scientific findings can end up being irreproducible—or, as a layman might put it, wrong.”

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21598944-sloppy-researchers-beware-new-institute-has-you-its-sights-metaphysicians

9.        Flash is dead, long live OpenFL!

I don’t know enough about Adobe to say much, however, these comments parallel my experiences with Adobe PDF reader: a bloated, buggy program with limited function and which seemed to require weekly updates (the free version of Nitro Reader is a much superior alternative). I have since stripped all my computers of Adobe software (except, alas Flash player). Perhaps Adobe is producing high quality software in other markets but all signs suggest they are suffering from the same sort of corporate senility which has afflicted Microsoft.

“But even a long-time Flash booster like myself can read the signs of the time. Flash may not be dead, but it is certainly dying, and the killer is not Steve Jobs, mobile devices, or HTML5, but Adobe. They are slowly neglecting Flash to death.

http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LarsDoucet/20140318/213407/Flash_is_dead_long_live_OpenFL.php

10.   Last Gasp For Hard Disk Drives

I remain convinced that Solid State Drives will render Hard Disk drives as quaint as floppies. Of course this is not as obvious since the cost per byte of a hard disk remains significantly below that of an SSD. I now have SSDs in all my PCs and have relegated hard drives to a NAS (Network Attached Storage) with RAID and I can’t imagine going back. Consumer and business who are comfortable with leaving their data in the clutches of a third party and who have a decent Internet connection would probably just use cloud storage for their large data.

“Drives like this could give life to new large capacity arrays with, say, 60 drives in a 3U cabinet. A 36-terabyte box like this would deliver just 18,000 IOPS, which is far below the slowest single SSD on the market. We must remember that we have been conditioned by 30 years of performance stagnation in HDDs to think only of capacity when it comes to choosing drives.”

http://www.informationweek.com/infrastructure/storage/last-gasp-for-hard-disk-drives/d/d-id/1127799?

11.   Sound bite: Despite Pono’s promise, experts pan HD audio

Audiophiles are an amusing lot because they claim to hear stuff their ears can’t as this article clearly demonstrates. Of course, the audiophile market is a big one and probably the remaining profitable segment of the consumer electronics industry. Ironically, the problem with Pono will be the lack of content: will users ‘rip’ their existing CDs to the new format and will publisher support yet another standard. It seems unlikely Pono will encourage the traditional pirate distribution model, given its sponsor. It’s faster to torrent a CD you already own than to rip it yourself.

“Pono Music’s roaring success on Kickstarter, raising $4.3 million so far, shows that thousands of people believe better audio quality is worth paying for. The company — backed by star musician Neil Young and selling a $400 digital audio player along with accompanying music — promises people will hear a difference between Pono Music and ordinary music that’s “surprising and dramatic.” The company’s promise is based in part on music files that can contain more data than not only conventional MP3 files, but also compact discs.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57620489-93/sound-bite-despite-ponos-promise-experts-pan-hd-audio/

12.   Magnetic behavior discovery could advance nuclear fusion

The saying goes that useable nuclear fusion is a decade away, and has been for the past 50 years or so. It’s easy to make fun of these sorts of announcements, however, we know that fusion works we just don’t know how to harness it – yet. There are a lot of big brains working on the problem and it is impossible to predict breakthroughs, but they will come.

“Inspired by the space physics behind solar flares and the aurora, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton has uncovered a new kind of magnetic behavior that could help make nuclear fusion reactions easier to start.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-03-magnetic-behavior-discovery-advance-nuclear.html

13.   Giant 3D printer starts spitting out a house

This demonstration is not likely to ever amount to anything other than a performance art piece and a prolonged publicity campaign for the architectural firm. The use of plastics (which are usually quite flammable and toxic when burned) and the three year completion timeframe shows this clearly isn’t ready for primetime. Still the video is worth a watch.

“Till now, 3D printing has been used to create relatively small items — everything from iPhone cases to prosthetic fingers to aircraft parts and alien shoes. But none of those projects are a match for the full-size house Dutch architects have begun building in Amsterdam using a 20-foot-tall 3D printer.”

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57620366-1/giant-3d-printer-starts-spitting-out-a-house/

14.   Why hydrogen-powered cars will drive Elon Musk crazy

Almost exactly 10 years ago I wrote an article which was highly skeptical of the ‘Hydrogen Economy’ and which resulted in a flood of criticism of me and my analysis. I stand by the conclusion of that report – unless I am mistaken there is, as yet, no hydrogen economy. That said, the issue has always been the production and distribution of hydrogen, not the engineering challenges associated with fuel cells. I remain skeptical, however, liberal application of taxpayer’s money can cause lots of things to happen, including a few hydrogen vehicles on the road. The problem is that a subsidy model ceases to function when any more than a small fraction of hydrogen (or electric) vehicles is on the road.

“Forget the Tesla Model S. Another car of the future is finally hitting the highway. After decades of development—and no small amount of skepticism—major automakers are set to start selling hydrogen fuel-cell cars in small numbers in the US. In the coming months, a hydrogen-powered version of Hyundai’s Tucson sport utility vehicle will appear in southern California showrooms. And Honda and Toyota next year will offer Californians futuristic sedans that can travel 300 miles (480 km) or more on a tank of hydrogen gas while emitting nothing more toxic than water vapor.”

http://qz.com/186432/why-hydrogen-powered-cars-will-drive-elon-musk-crazy/

15.   Popcorn Time Is Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare, And It Can’t Be Stopped

“Popcorn Time” was online for a short time, made a big splash then went offline for some time, resulting in speculation it had been hounded out of existence by legal threats. Now it is back as an open source project. That and its torrent architecture could mean it will now be impossible to counter through legal action, though, of course, only time will tell.

“Imagine for a moment if Napster were cloned hundreds of times. If there were a NapsterStanford, a NapsterMIT, or a Napster for your high school completely independent from, yet just as powerful as, the original. Imagine what would have happened if Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker had released the source code, allowing any developer to essentially copy and build upon his software. Imagine if Napster were open source. The RIAA would have fought a war on a thousand fronts. And lost. Video piracy is on the verge of having its Napster moment.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/17/popcorn-time-is-hollywoods-worst-nightmare-and-it-cant-be-stopped/

16.   The First News Report on the L.A. Earthquake Was Written by a Robot

Actually the first news report was the US Geological Survey and the LA Times put a wrapper around it. This article represents the Kamikaze path newspapers are on: as an increasing amount of wire news (and, not surprisingly Wall Street equity research) is cranked out of boiler rooms in India and other low cost areas, the value of the content is falling asymptotically to zero. It may sound clever to have a piece of software put a few sentences around an automatically generated earthquake alert, but all that does is further lessen the relevance of the LA Times.

“Ken Schwencke, a journalist and programmer for the Los Angeles Times, was jolted awake at 6:25 a.m. on Monday by an earthquake. He rolled out of bed and went straight to his computer, where he found a brief story about the quake already written and waiting in the system. He glanced over the text and hit “publish.” And that’s how the LAT became the first media outlet to report on this morning’s temblor. “I think we had it up within three minutes,” Schwencke told me. If that sounds faster than humanly possible, it probably is.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/03/17/quakebot_los_angeles_times_robot_journalist_writes_article_on_la_earthquake.html

17.   Behind the mask of biometric security

You have to watch the video to see how they spoof various biometric security systems and how they then develop countermeasures to that spoofing. The problem is that while the countermeasures might work, it may not be possible to apply them in the field, especially on a consumer product like a smartphone or laptop. Even so, counter countermeasures are probably rapidly created and quickly disseminated via the web.

“A European research project is studying weaknesses in biometric systems in order to make them more secure. The problem for Sébastien Marcel, researcher in biometrics, at the Idiap research institute is that “biometric systems most effective at recognising a person are also potentially the most vulnerable. Every time there is a new attack we have to develop a new counter measure. So there’s still quite a bit to do before we understand why biometric systems are vulnerable.””

http://euronews.com/2014/03/17/behind-the-mask-of-biometric-security/

18.   Wireless electricity? It’s here

Here is another silly idea which pops up every few years. The strength of an electromagnetic field drops off with the square of distance and the amount of energy you can extract from a field is proportional to the effective area of your antenna. Dr. Hall might have been shocked by a glowing light bulb, but this sort of parlor trick is not new. Assuming you could create a powerful enough field to move enough energy to do anything more useful than surprize a researcher, you’d need a big antenna it would be pretty damned inefficient. Besides the “WiFi/mobile phones cause cancer” crowd would be having kittens over this sort of thing. Hat-tip to my friend Avner Mandelman for this item.

“Katie Hall was shocked the second she saw it: a light-bulb glowing in the middle of a room with no wires attached. Looking back, it was a crude experiment, she remembers: a tiny room filled with gigantic copper refrigerator coils — the kind you’d see if you cracked open the back of your freezer. She walked in and out between the coils and the bulb — and still the bulb glowed. “I said: ‘Let’s work on this. This is the future.'””

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/14/tech/innovation/wireless-electricity/index.html

19.   Samsung is getting smartphones to cure cancer while owners sleep

Power Sleep is a logical follow on to the Folding at Home project, but it might actually be more effective because people tend not to switch off their phones as they do their laptops and desktops. This means there might be, on average, more available ‘spare’ computing power from these types of devices than traditional PCs. I would suggest they modify the code to provide the option that it be working whenever the phone is connected to a charger, WiFi, and not being used.

“Considering how useful smartphones are, there’s still plenty of untapped potential. Locket has already gone some way to earn smartphone owners cash by turning their lock screens into ad space, and now a new app called Power Sleep harnesses the computational power of the devices to crunch data at a time when they’re otherwise not in use.”

http://www.springwise.com/samsung-putting-smartphones-work-curing-cancer-owners-sleep/

20.   AAA: Range of electric cars cut in cold, hot weather

Golly – chemical reactions are affected by temperature? Who knew? Seriously, though, this should be filed under “no sh*t, Sherlock”. I would be interested in knowing whether the vehicles were tested with climate control active as well. Air conditioning might be an extremely energy costly option when it is hot, but you simply can’t drive a car in the cold without heat because the windows will frost up. And where I am from, 20 degrees F is not “extreme cold”, and a lot of places don’t consider 95F that hot, either – leave a car in the sun for a few hours and you are easily pushing 100F plus. So and EV is sort of a Goldilocks vehicle: it need the conditions to be ‘just right” to get you to your destination (and back again).

“The range of electric vehicles can be greatly reduced, by up to 57% , depending on the temperature outside, auto club AAA says. The AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California found that the average range of an electric car dropped 57% in very cold weather – at 20 degrees Fahrenheit – and by 33% in extreme heat, a temperature of 95 degrees.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/03/20/cold-sharply-cuts-range-of-electric-vehicles/6622979/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 14th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 14th 2014

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.

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.        Brands’ Organic Facebook Reach Has Crashed Since October: Study

I don’t actually understand what “organic reach” means, however, any readers who do understand might find this significant.

“The days of getting any free reach on Facebook may be numbered. It’s no secret that the portion of a brand’s Facebook fans who see posts that aren’t supported by ad spend is dropping. In a sales deck sent to partners last fall, the social network acknowledged what some brands had observed for more than a year — that organic distribution of posts on brand pages was declining — but it didn’t quantify the extent of the decline to be expected.”

http://adage.com/article/digital/brands-organic-facebook-reach-crashed-october/292004/

2.        Stalking trolls

The term “patent troll” is overused, and misused, because it is generally applied to whomever wants to enforce their IP, unless they happen to be Microsoft, the largest patent troll in the industry. Nonetheless, actual patent trolls, like Microsoft, do a lot of economic damage and we hope against hope something is done to fix the situation. No doubt a ‘large troll’; exemption will be added to the law.

“At last, it seems, something is to be done about the dysfunctional way America’s patent system operates. Two recent developments suggest calls for patent reform are finally being heard at the highest levels. First, in 2013, defying expectations, the House of Representatives passed (by an overwhelming majority) the Innovation Act, a bill aimed squarely at neutralising so-called patent trolls.”

http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21598321-intellectual-property-after-being-blamed-stymying-innovation-america-vague

3.        Axion and ePower 18-Wheel Hybrid

Here’s another item on lead/carbon batteries. I don’t think they are as useable in mobile operations, but they are likely a lot more viable for grid storage than lithium ion for stationary because they are probably much cheaper and in grid storage weight and power density are not as important as cost and lifespan.

“Axion Power International’s PbC brand lead-carbon batteries are being tested on a Peterbilt 386 tractor converted to series hybrid electric operation by ePower Engine Systems of Florence, Ky. The PCB batteries’ tolerance to repeated charge cycles is enabling significant fuel efficiency gains.”

http://www.fleetsandfuels.com/electric-drive/2013/06/axion-and-epower-18-wheel-hybrid/

4.        Canadian Broadcasters Find Clever, Nasty Way To Slow Down Digital TV Revolution

Here’s some bad news for cable TV cord-cutters: You likely won’t be able to watch your favourite TV shows (legally) online for much longer. Not so much clever as abusing a position they were granted thanks to idiotic (more likely corrupt) regulatory decisions. It should be self-evident that production, carriage, and broadcast should not owned by the same companies, but this is Canada therefore so protection of cultural industries translates to gouging and abuse of position.

“Canadian broadcasters are moving to a new model for online TV, and the first and most obvious effect is that those without a cable or satellite TV subscription will often find themselves out of luck.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/08/online-tv-canada-subscriber-walls_n_4920659.html

5.        $2,400 “Introduction to Linux” course will be free and online this summer

You can learn Linux without an actual course, however, a well-structured course is probably a good idea, even though it is hard to believe anybody who doesn’t work for the government or a large business would pay $2,400 for one. Did people pay $2,400 to use Windows? Making it available for free can only encourage adoption.

“Earlier this week, The Linux Foundation announced that it would be working with edX, a non-profit online learning site governed by Harvard and MIT, to make its “Introduction to Linux” course free and open to all. The Linux Foundation has long offered a wide variety of training courses through its website, but those can generally cost upwards of $2,000. This introductory class, which usually costs $2,400, will be the first from the Linux Foundation to run as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). There is no limit on enrollment through edX’s platform.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/03/2400-introduction-to-linux-course-will-be-free-and-online-this-summer/

6.        The Nakamoto chase is a sideshow: Here’s the real story on bitcoins

A pretty good article and I enjoyed the shot about tech-savvy libertarians. Most people I know who identify with libertarianism don’t seem to have a clue what it is about except legal drugs and smaller government. What the heck – if you can’t explain it in a Tweet, it ain’t worth knowing.

“In a piece in Bitcoin magazine, Ken Griffith provides some shocking context for the Mt. Gox affair. “MtGox is not alone,” he writes. “Forty-five percent of Bitcoin exchanges to date have failed, in most cases with their customers’ money. The digital currency industry’s track record on fiduciary responsibility is abysmal.”

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-the-satoshi-chase-20140307,0,7591905.story

7.        Intel processors now get OS locked

If true, this is a pretty disturbing trend. Intel had better think twice about potentially ‘locking’ their devices to a particular OS because it will likely result in a shift towards unlocked processors, be they AMD or the numerous permutations of ARM. I would have thought they realized that the days of the Wintel market structure is waning. Perhaps Intel is afflicted from the same sort of corporate senility Microsoft is suffering from.

“In a GOLEM interview at CEBIT 2014 fair, Frank Kuypers, technical account manager at INTEL corp., proudly presented a new feature in INTEL processors, called “hooks”, beginning with the new 2014 “Merrifield” 64 bit SoC chip generation.”

https://plus.google.com/+GuidoStepken/posts/bD2VHB4LcEU

8.        Man makes surgical history after having his shattered face rebuilt using 3D printed parts

Another interesting medical 3D application, however, a similar approach has been used in the past to replace missing parts of the skull. Perhaps the day will come when healthy people undergo CAT scans in order to provide design files for reconstruction of various body parts in the event of disease or accident.

“The survivor of a serious motorbike crash has made surgical history after his entire face was rebuilt using 3D printed parts. Stephen Power is thought to be one of the first trauma patients in the world to have 3D printing technology used at every stage of the medical procedure to restore his looks.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10691753/Man-makes-surgical-history-after-having-his-shattered-face-rebuilt-using-3D-printed-parts.html

9.        Putting Electronics in People

There is considerable appeal for an implant or something along these lines. Unfortunately, these devices would also be subject to misuse by hackers, insurance companies, or the government. After all who, besides criminals and terrorists would object to an implant which government agencies could access at their whim? Prior to the Snowdon/NSA revelations only a paranoid person would worry about such a thing. Not that such concerns would limit adoption, of course.

“A baby born five to 10 years from now in a developed country may get a tattoo not long after her first feeding. It would be an integrated circuit, a discreet and flexible affair, smaller than a postage stamp and probably placed on the chest. It would monitor such biometric parameters as electrocardiogram (EKG), physical activity, nutritional status, sleep duration, breathing rate, body temperature, and hydration. By the time the child is two years old, she will have generated and stored in the cloud more biometric data than has anyone alive today, says Leslie Saxon, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/devices/putting-electronics-in-people

10.   Testing SATA Express And Why We Need Faster SSDs

I’d written a number of times about how there is an inherent mismatch between SSDs and the antediluvian SATA/ATA paradigm used to access mass storage, in particular Solid State Drives. I predict that, within 10 years or so, SATA drives will be obsolete and a SATA interface only present for backwards compatibility.

“During the hard drive era, the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO) had no problems keeping up with the bandwidth requirements. The performance increases that new hard drives provided were always quite moderate because ultimately the speed of the hard drive was limited by its platter density and spindle speed. Given that increasing the spindle speed wasn’t really a viable option for mainstream drives due to power and noise issues, increasing the platter density was left as the only source of performance improvement. Increasing density is always a tough job and it’s rare that we see any sudden breakthroughs, which is why density increases have only given us small speed bumps every once in a while. Even most of today’s hard drives can’t fully saturate the SATA 1.5Gbps link, so it’s obvious that the SATA-IO didn’t have much to worry about. However, that all changed when SSDs stepped into the game.”

http://www.anandtech.com/show/7843/testing-sata-express-with-asus

11.   Bypassing content filters: How to see the web they don’t want you to see

This might be of some use for readers – basically a template for bypassing various schemes set up so you can’t want the Daily Show, or whatever, without, for example, Bell wetting its beak. These can also be used for nefarious reasons as well, so you can expect some degree of monitoring, and so on.

“The web is supposed to be open, but behind the scenes, content filters are often busy controlling what you see. The filters could be at your school or workplace, blocking sites such as the time-sucking YouTube from being accessed. It could be a media website that streams music and movies only to users located in specific countries. An ISP or a restrictive government could also impose content filters. International travelers are often innocent victims of these filters, when they find they can’t access their digital content from wherever they’re currently located.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2106647/bypassing-content-filters-how-to-see-the-web-they-dont-want-you-to-see.html

12.   Microsoft offers Windows Phone OS free to Indian players

This really does sound like an act of desperation, however, if Microsoft had many licensees it would create something of a conflict. As it is, Windows Phone has very few licensees, the most notable being Nokia, which is Microsoft. Regardless of the price, it is not abundantly clear this will win many converts to the platform.

“NEW DELHI: Desperate times call for desperate measures. With Windows Phone failing to make a significant dent in the market share of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in the last four years, Microsoft is waiving the licence fee and offering it to at least two Indian phone makers for free.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/MS-offers-Windows-Phone-OS-free-to-Indian-players/articleshow/31924651.cms

13.   Singapore to regulate virtual currency exchanges

One can’t help but suspect that regulating Bitcoin will drive away from these jurisdictions all the legitimate, albeit criminal, users of the system and leave behind only the speculators. Unless regulation also entails bonds and capital reserve for exchanges, this won’t prevent the “oops we lost all your money” scams so prevalent in the sector.

“The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said the intermediaries, such as virtual currency exchanges, would need to verify their customers’ identities. They will also have to report any suspicious transactions. The move makes Singapore the second country after the US to impose such measures.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26556523

14.   Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem

A real long read, but a pretty good one. The point – a waste of talent on frivolous technology – is a good one, however, it is irrelevant. The talent goes where the money is and right now frivolous technology is being funded at insane valuations. What struck me most about this article was the lifestyles and work conditions almost exactly echo those reflected during the prior dot-com bubble. It is amazing how short memories are.

“The rapid consumer-ification of tech, led by Facebook and Google, has created a deep rift between old and new, hardware and software, enterprise companies that sell to other businesses and consumer companies that sell directly to the masses. On their face, these cleavages seem to be part of the natural order. As Biswas pointed out, “There has always been a constant churn of new companies coming in, old companies dying out.” But the churn feels more problematic now, in part because it deprives the new guard as well as the old — and by extension, it deprives us all.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/magazine/silicon-valleys-youth-problem.html?_r=0

15.   Why robots will not be smarter than humans by 2029

I’m glad somebody else has said this, however, he left out the most important part, namely that Kurzweil has no particular expertise in the subject and, frankly, doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about. I have no idea how it is that some people become ‘go to’ experts on subjects but this one is a particular mystery. Here’s the thing: we have only a basic understanding, at a very gross level, how the brain works and comparing the brain to a computer is like comparing the Internet to a ‘series of tubes’. Don’t hold your breath.

“In the last few days we’ve seen a spate of headlines like 2029: the year when robots will have the power to outsmart their makers, all occasioned by an Observer interview with Google’s newest director of engineering Ray Kurzweil. Much as I respect Kurzweil’s achievements as an inventor, I think he is profoundly wrong.”

http://robohub.org/why-robots-will-not-be-smarter-than-humans-by-2029/

16.   Can Science Ever Be “Settled”?

A surprisingly good read, especially the part about Global Warming, which is the source of much name calling by what I would normally refer to as skeptics (i.e. not ‘Global Warming Denier’ skeptics, but skeptics in a general sense). Claiming ‘Global Warming’ is ‘settled science’ is absurd as there is no articulated theory of global warming. As the article notes, there are many aspects of global warming which are settled science, however, I suggest that anybody who claims that a computer model represents reality should pay closer attention the next time they take a modeling course or attend an advanced calculus lecture. Because models which contain statistics or heuristics are inherently representative of those approximations and little else, all derivative conclusions are of even lesser quality. Let the name calling begin.

“Gravitation. Evolution. The Big Bang. Germ Theory. Global Warming. They’re all scientific theories, and they’re all referred to as examples of “settled science” in various circles. Yet, is that even possible? After all, one of the most important cornerstones of science is the willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom. Science advances not merely by accepting the current best explanations as a foregone conclusion, but by testing them, probing them, pushing their limits and looking for gaps. After all, what was once accepted as the consensus position is laughably inadequate in light of our present knowledge and understanding.”

https://medium.com/starts-with-a-bang/433601c3580e

17.   Google Will Start Encrypting Your Searches

Yeah, no. The only time your communications are secure is when they are encrypted by a known secure, non-‘backdoored’, encryption system end to end. Google will decrypt your searches and store that data, because that is its business model. Governments will have access to your searches , cloud data, photographs, and so on, through the helpful folks at Google, Facebook, etc., because they are required to provide such access under the ‘Patriot Act’ and because they probably find in their economic interests to do so.

“Google has begun routinely encrypting Web searches conducted in China, posing a bold new challenge to that nation’s powerful system for censoring the Internet and tracking what individual users are viewing online. The company says the move is part of a global expansion of privacy technology designed to thwart surveillance by government intelligence agencies, police and hackers who, with widely available tools, can view e-mails, search queries and video chats when that content is unprotected.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/12/google-is-encrypting-search-worldwide-thats-bad-for-the-nsa-and-china/

18.   The Powerful Promise of a Puzzling New Microscopic Combustion Engine

That’s is a pretty exciting headline, and I’ve always been interested in tiny engines as a potential solution to battery life limits because a small volume of a chemical such as alcohol can outlast a similar battery volume by an order of magnitude. Unfortunately, as near as I can tell, this is not an engine (which converts chemical energy to mechanical energy), but an electric motor. I’m sure it has its uses, but not as many as an engine might.

“Engineers have built a powerful microscopic engine that relies on the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen. One problem: nobody knows how it works.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/525496/the-powerful-promise-of-a-puzzling-new-microscopic-combustion-engine/

19.   An Airship The Size of a Football Field Could Revolutionize Travel

There must be some sort of cosmic clock which recycles bad ideas from the past. Certain bad ideas, like airships, seem to come up every decade or so, and then disappear. In the case of airships they disappear after a strong wind because large objects act as sails and lightweight large objects are necessarily very fragile.

“Airships were, at one time, the future of air travel. During the 1920s and ’30s, passengers and cargo weren’t flown, but rather, airlifted to far off destinations. In fact, DULAG, the world’s first passenger airline, operated airships that serviced more than 34,000 passengers and completed 1,500 flights prior to World War I. Fastforward to today and there are some who believe that airships are poised for a revival.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-an-airship-the-size-of-a-football-field-could-revolutionize-air-travel-180950007/

20.   Wireless Charging Revenue to Rise 40-Fold in 4 Years

Not bloody likely – even though I am not suggesting the technology will not be commonplace. The problem is this: currently, wireless chargers are around $50, which is about 5-10x the cost of an old fashion USB charger. In order for this technology to take off, it will have to drop significantly in cost, after which prices should pretty much collapse down to a bit higher than the cost of regular chargers. So, volumes will explode but pricing will collapse and the size of the industry will grow at a more modest rate.

“New products and industry partnerships are paving the way for a boom in global wireless charging technology. In the next four years, the market for wireless charging hardware used in smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices is expected to increase 40-fold, according to a March 13 report from IHS.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1321437&

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 7th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 7th 2014

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.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1.        Wash U, U of I Scientists Use 3-D Printer To Help Create Prototype Next-Gen Pacemaker

There seems to be an increasing number of medical applications for 3D printer, though it is hard to tell which, if any, will become mainstream. This device is rather interesting, but I don’t know enough about pacemakers to understand the pros and cons. It would seem to me the installation of this device would almost certainly be a more invasive, and therefore dangerous, surgery than for existing pacemakers.

“Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new device that may one day help prevent heart attacks. Unlike existing pacemakers and implantable defibrillators that are one-size-fits-all, the new device is a thin, elastic membrane designed to stretch over the heart like a custom-made glove.”

http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/wash-u-u-i-scientists-use-3-d-printer-help-create-prototype-next-gen-pacemaker

2.        Google and Postini: Why You Should Avoid Google as a Business Technology Supplier

This entrepreneur’s blog post focuses on the hazards of using Google as a business technology supplier, be he seems to miss the broader point that this is a general issue with using any cloud services of any kind for business or personal use. If, for example, you install Microsoft Office, you will be able to access your local files as long as your computer is functional. Even then, you have your files and you could almost certainly find a computer or compatible software which would allow you to access those files. If, on the other hand, your cloud services provider goes out of business, is hacked, discontinues the service, etc., you are simply out of luck.

“My company is probably one of the longest users of Postini, a service Google acquired a few years back that was designed to combat malware on Exchange and other business mail systems. Postini could be sold as a standalone product or provided as a service provider offering. The company decided to discontinue support for service providers likely to eliminate support for services that competed with Google Mail.”

http://www.itbusinessedge.com/blogs/unfiltered-opinion/google-and-postini-why-you-should-avoid-google-as-a-business-technology-supplier.html

3.        How do the chemical ghosts of dinosaurs help their preservation?

Time was ancient fossils were considered to be, pretty much, stone casts of the bones of long dead critters. Then they found that that residual chemistry for things like pigments sometimes persist, allowing colours to be determined. Even more recently it was discovered that actual biological tissue might remain, tens of millions of years after death. The mummified hadrosaur looks pretty cool if you ask me.

“For some years now, Mary Schweitzer and her team have been researching the idea that organic molecules can be preserved for millions of years, specifically within dinosaurs. They have used a plethora of chemical and biotechnological techniques to demonstrate that, within animals like Tyrannosaurus rex, it is possible to find the residue of structures such as blood vessels and even proteins. Naturally, her research has been met with a whole wad of stiff resistance from the scientific community, seemingly for no other reason than “We don’t like the sound of that..”. Scientific rigour ftw!”

http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/2014/02/26/how-do-the-chemical-ghosts-of-dinosaurs-help-their-preservation/

4.        LibreOffice: ignore Microsoft’s “nonsense” on government’s open source plans

Microsoft seems to believe consumers and businesses still have the same computer literacy they had in the 1990s. Examples such as this and its “switch from XP to Windows 8 or 9” campaign demonstrate (item 12) the company has the same level of obliviousness as a Toronto mayor.

“The makers of LibreOffice have slammed attempts by Microsoft to derail the government’s move to open source, accusing the company of protecting its own interests rather than users.”

http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/enterprise/387253/libreoffice-ignore-microsofts-nonsense-on-governments-open-source-plans

5.        20,000 megawatts under the sea: Oceanic steam engines

Newscientist thrives off ‘alternate energy’ stories and I found this one rather interesting. In real life, the ocean is prone to things like massive waves and so on, so ‘scaling up’ to real world applications is generally a lot harder than expected. Consider the staggering cost of a deep water oil platform, and their occasional demise. A generating platform or even 1,000 meter siphon, would necessarily be much larger, much more expensive, and much more vulnerable.

“The idea is brilliant. The ocean is a massive and constantly replenished storage medium for solar energy. Most of that heat is stored in the top 100 metres of the ocean, while the water 1000 metres below – fed by the polar regions – remains at a fairly constant 4 to 5 °C.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129580.900-20000-megawatts-under-the-sea-oceanic-steam-engines.html

6.        Early Treatment Is Found to Clear H.I.V. in a 2nd Baby

This sounds awfully encouraging, though it would be even more encouraging if you could convince ‘at risk’ mothers to get adequate healthcare.

“When scientists made the stunning announcement last year that a baby born with H.I.V. had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment just 30 hours after birth, there was immediate skepticism that the child had been infected in the first place. But on Wednesday, the existence of a second such baby was revealed at an AIDS conference here, leaving little doubt that the treatment works. A leading researcher said there might be five more such cases in Canada and three in South Africa.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/health/second-success-raises-hope-for-a-way-to-rid-babies-of-hiv.html

7.        Red Hat programmer discovers major security flaw in Linux

Not to panic, though – apparently, this is an old bug which was detected and eliminated, then reintroduced, so you have to wonder whether it was an accident or intentional (i.e. the NSA effect). One cannot help but believe people will be paying closer attention in the future.

“Programmer Nikos Mavrogiannopoulos who works for Red Hat, has discovered a major security problem with the Linux operating system—a bug that could allow a hacker to create a certificate that could bypass the normal authenticity checks. Red Hat sent out an immediate alert and suggests all those who use its product update their software with a fix they’ve made available.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-03-red-hat-programmer-major-flaw.html

8.        Canadian police investigating after bitcoin bank Flexcoin folds

As Bitcoin “thefts” go this is hardly newsworthy, except for the comments by the lawyer, who speaks for the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada while making a comment to the effect that, if you lose your Bitcoin, you are plumb out of luck. No mention is made of potential criminal charges, etc. Hmmm.

“Flexcoin users who lost bitcoins in the hack will likely have little recourse to recoup their funds, though one option may be a class action lawsuit like the one being considered against Mt. Gox, said Stuart Hoegner, a Toronto-based lawyer and general counsel for the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada. “Short of a class action, people might find the burden of pursuing litigation to be something that’s not very attractive,” he said.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/us-bitcoin-flexcoin-idUSBREA2503F20140306

9.        Kia rejects Li-ion for Pb-carbon in hybrid car

It is unclear to me whether this is a ‘real’ Kia product or yet another one of those stupid concept cars. I had never heard of Lead/Carbon batteries before so I figured this was newsworthy. Not also the comment at the end regarding problems associated with Lithium Ion batteries in cold weather, so you had better keep your Tesla in a heated garage.

“The system is aimed at ‘mild hybrids’ with a small electric motor that can increase the engine’s power output, and allows a car to be driven in an electric-only mode at low speeds to cut exhaust emissions.”

http://www.electronicsweekly.com/news/design/power/kia-rejects-li-ion-pb-carbon-hybrid-car-2014-03/

10.   2014’s smartphone slowdown is extremely painful for Apple

Treat any industry analyst research as, at best, a biased guess. That being said, it is usually very bullish and any forecast of rapidly decelerating growth is probably worth paying attention to. Apple has a premium brand and high margins and so slowing growth would likely impact Apple worst of all. Furthermore, they are suggesting lower unit growth, and this usually is accompanied by lower average selling prices and lower margins. On this basis I would be surprised if revenues actually grow this year.

“Globally, IDC sees smartphone unit growth dropping to under 20% in 2014. This may not seem like a weak figure compared to the death throes of the PC market, but the smartphone industry has grown utterly dependent on 40%-plus annual growth over the past decade. It’s the steepness of the growth rate decline that made the adjustment to the sudden 2001 mobile phone slowdown so painful, sending operating margins of all vendors plunging during that chilling year.”

http://bgr.com/2014/03/06/apple-iphone-sales-china-2014-2015/

11.   Imagination Tech shipments hit by smartphone slowdown

It is hard to tell whether this small firm’s troubles are directly associated with an expected slowdown of the smartphone market (see item 10), however, this data point does support that thesis. Be on the lookout for cautionary guidance from other smartphone semiconductor vendors as we move into the summer.

“Imagination Technologies has downgraded its forecast for shipments of chips containing its graphics and video technology because of lower than expected sales of top-end smartphones.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/us-imagination-idUSBREA250YU20140306

12.   Windows 9 Expected To Push Consumers Off Windows XP

The headline is nonsense: unless Windows 9 requires less computing resources than Windows 7 and all manner of driver support back to 10 year old hardware, few people are going to replace Windows XP with Windows 9 unless they are also willing to throw out all their hardware, including, most likely, their printers, scanners, and so on. Nonetheless, I am interested in Windows 9 just to see if Microsoft tries to make nice with its customers or further alienate them as per Windows 8.

“Windows 9 is probably one of the most talked about topics as of late. So far we’ve heard two release windows for the rumored platform: Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. The latter date has lingered around for a bit, while the Fall release window suggests that Microsoft may be itching to move away from Windows 8.”

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/windows-8-windows-9-upgrade-dell-windows-xp,25843.html

13.   Implementing Technology to Improve Public Highway Performance: A Leapfrog Technology from the Private Sector Is Going To Be Necessary

Policy makers and the public are becoming increasingly aware of self-driving cars (see item 19, below). I believe this technology will transform our economy, and mostly for the better, unless you are as cab or truck driver. The technology will lead to leaner supply chains, less death and injuries from collisions (with corresponding reduction of medical costs), disruption of the insurance industry, better use of infrastructure, and so on. The real question is when adoption will actually begin.

“Because policymakers have not implemented those existing technologies, the authors believe the driverless car will have to leapfrog ahead of the technology on government-run highways to improve highway performance. They note that the technology, with a 10 percent adoption rate, would reduce fatalities and injuries, save travel time and fuel – and save $40 billion annually. At a 50 percent adoption rate, it would save $200 billion per year. The promise of the cars will allow virtually all of the benefits of the above-listed technologies to come to fruition in spite of government foot-dragging.”

http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/02/improving-highway-performance-winston

14.   A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA

I find it hard to wrap my head around what, exactly, they are doing, and how it works, but it is easy to see that repairing defective genes (or ‘improving’ perfectly good ones) would be a powerful tool for good or evil.

“In the late 1980s, scientists at Osaka University in Japan noticed unusual repeated DNA sequences next to a gene they were studying in a common bacterium. They mentioned them in the final paragraph of a paper: “The biological significance of these sequences is not known.” Now their significance is known, and it has set off a scientific frenzy.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/health/a-powerful-new-way-to-edit-dna.html

15.   Gartner: 195M Tablets Sold In 2013, Android Grabs Top Spot From iPad With 62% Share

I repeat my caution regarding taking industry research – even historical figures – as gospel. Nonetheless, it is interesting that, while tablet unit sales increased 68%, Apples sales only grew 14.5%. Of course, Apple probably made more money on its shrinking market share than the rest of the industry did, but tablets and smartphones are not an inherently profitable product so margins should move to minimal levels as growth slows.

“A new tipping point in the world of tablets: today the analysts at Gartner have released their tablet sales numbers for 2013, and Android has topped the list for the most popular platform for the first time, outselling Apple’s range of iPad tablets nearly twofold. Of the 195 million tablets sold in 2013, Android took nearly 62% of sales on 121 million tablets, while Apple sold 70 million iPad tablets for a 36% share.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/03/gartner-195m-tablets-sold-in-2013-android-grabs-top-spot-from-ipad-with-62-share/

16.   5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus

I went to business school with a guy who had been a math professor at UCLA. He told me they had developed an experimental program to teach children calculus and it worked, provided the teachers truly believed kids could learn calculus. Of course, that is probably the limiting factor: how many math teachers have been exposed to enough math to understand calculus, let alone teach it?

“The familiar, hierarchical sequence of math instruction starts with counting, followed by addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. The computational set expands to include bigger and bigger numbers, and at some point, fractions enter the picture, too. Then in early adolescence, students are introduced to patterns of numbers and letters, in the entirely new subject of algebra. A minority of students then wend their way through geometry, trigonometry and, finally, calculus, which is considered the pinnacle of high-school-level math.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/5-year-olds-can-learn-calculus/284124/

17.   Batteries: What’s here versus what we need

Batteries are always very topical, especially in light of the Elon Musk effect. One always has to tread carefully when reading even slightly skeptical articles such as these. For example, for grid storage you need low price and durability and you currently have neither: lithium ion batteries are short lived, especially if they are used, and it they aren’t used, they why do you need them? I also have grave doubts on ‘super charging’ – unless this implies switching out the battery pack – because of the stress on the battery pack, let alone the local grid.

“The modern battery is largely keeping pace with our needs. But two other big potential users of batteries—the electric grid and automobiles—haven’t really found the better technology they need. Based on a panel discussion at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that’s more of a challenge than it sounds, since the two battery uses need very different things.”

http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/03/batteries-whats-here-versus-what-we-need/

18.   Drone pilot wins case against FAA

This is being reported by some as legal breakthrough in the use of drones. The problem is that a drone, or even a model airplane, can do a lot of damage, so visions of an unregulated market where the skies are thick with drones is simply not going to happen. Government regulation will catch up, eventually.

“The judge has dismissed a proposed $10,000 fine against businessman Raphael Pirker, who used a remotely operated 56-inch foam glider to take aerial video for an advertisement for the University of Virginia Medical Center. The FAA alleged that since Pirker was using the aircraft for profit, he ran afoul of regulations requiring commercial operators of “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” — sometimes called UAS or drones — to obtain FAA authorization. But a judge on Thursday agreed with Pirker that the FAA overreached by applying regulations for aircraft to model aircraft, and said no FAA rule prohibited Pirker’s radio-controlled flight.”

http://m.kspr.com/nationalnews/Drone-pilot-wins-case-against-FAA/21053270_24851746

19.   Would we ever ban human driving?

A rather thoughtful blog post on the subject of self-driving cars. I disagree with his view regarding the speed of uptake, however, he does raise some very good points otherwise. One thing to consider is the fact that the population is aging in many developed countries and this may speed adoption of the technology in places like Japan in particular.

“While my own personal prediction is that robocars will gain market share very quickly — more like the iPhone than like traditional automotive technologies — there will still be lots of old-style cars around for many decades to come, and lots of old-style people. History shows we’re very reluctant to forbid old technologies. Instead we grandfather in the old technologies. You can still drive the cars of long ago, if you have one, even though they are horribly unsafe death traps by today’s standards, and gross polluters as well. Society is comfortable that as market forces cause the numbers of old vehicles to dwindle, this is sufficient to attain the social goals.”

http://ideas.4brad.com/would-we-ever-ban-human-driving

20.   7 Trillion Devices Will Need High Speed Access By 2020

This is an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) story, hence the ‘7 trillion’ figure, which is downright silly: 7 trillion is 1,000 devices high speed devices for every person on the planet. Setting aside that absurd figure, only a small portion of IoT devices will be directly connected to the Internet, let alone 3G or 4G networks – most will exist on local networks and be accessible via the cloud or some other mechanism. Even the vast majority of wireless devices will use WiFi or emerging IoT centric wireless standards using unlicensed bands.

“At a recent seminar jointly organised by the Enterprise Europe Network South West (EEN SW), Business West and The UK’s Technology Strategy Board Mark Beach, Professor at the University of Bristol predicted that by the year 2020, over 7 Trillion devices would be connected to the global mobile network, and that the current 3G and 4G technology will simply not be able to cope.”

http://www.pressat.co.uk/releases/7-trillion-devices-will-need-high-speed-access-by-2020-e911985504cdade12c68506383800ced/