The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 25th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 25th 2014

Another bad week for tech news, probably due to the Easter holidays.

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) Rethinking wind power

This item is over a year old but thought it was worthwhile – you can’t keep milking the cow and, yes, having a bunch of windmills close together might make for more efficient use of land, but it comes at a cost in efficiency.

“People have often thought there’s no upper bound for wind power—that it’s one of the most scalable power sources,” says Harvard applied physicist David Keith. After all, gusts and breezes don’t seem likely to “run out” on a global scale in the way oil wells might run dry. Yet the latest research in mesoscale atmospheric modeling, published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the generating capacity of large-scale wind farms has been overestimated.”

http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2013/02/rethinking-wind-power

2) Man Compares His $42k Prosthetic Hand to a $50 3D Printed Cyborg Beast

This might say as much about the limitations of available prosthetics as the inherent merits of a particular 3D printed replacement. Still, that is a heck of a price spread and one advantage of 3D printing is that it can be very cheap to iterate a design so it is entirely possible 3D printed prosthetics will improve considerably as a result.

“Over the last several months, some of the more inspiring stories around 3D printing have had to do with the printing of prosthetic devices, particularly hands. From war torn Sudan, where 3D printing is making the lives of hundreds of injured children and young adults easier, to people here in the United States, who are saving significant amounts of money by 3D printing their own prosthetics, these stories certainly are eye openers.”

http://3dprint.com/2438/50-prosthetic-3d-printed-hand/

3) Make graphene in your kitchen with soap and a blender

This is, of course, a bit of a joke as the article makes clear. Nonetheless, note the comment that a 10,000 liter vat could produce 100 grams an hour – not exactly newsprint level production. Nonetheless, coming as it does on the heels of Samsung’s announcement they could produce graphene for wafer scale applications suggests progress is being made.

“First, pour some graphite powder into a blender. Add water and dishwashing liquid, and mix at high speed. Congratulations, you just made the wonder material graphene.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25442-make-graphene-in-your-kitchen-with-soap-and-a-blender.html

4) Organ Repair, Hemostasis, and In Vivo Bonding of Medical Devices by Aqueous Solutions of Nanoparticles

This is a scientific paper, but a readable one. What the researchers have discovered is that by coating both sides of a wound with these (apparently cheap) nanoparticles, the sides of the wound absorb them and make a sort of natural Velcro. If the wound is then held together for a minute you get a complete closure: no sutures, etc..

“Herein, we demonstrate using Stöber silica or iron oxide nanoparticles that nanobridging, that is, adhesion by aqueous nanoparticle solutions, can be used in vivo in rats to achieve rapid and strong closure and healing of deep wounds in skin and liver.”

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/anie.201401043/

5) For world’s biggest troll, first patent case ends up in tatters

I have mentioned repeatedly that the worm may be turning in the ‘patent troll’ business. There seems to be an increasing number of adverse decisions coming out of courts at all levels. All that being said, one rule is not to take things in front of a judge unless you are pretty sure you know how things are going to turn out. You’d think Intellectual Ventures would know that.

“Intellectual Ventures (IV) is the world’s biggest patent-licensing company and boasts of having collected tens of thousands of patents since it was founded in 2000. It’s raised about $6 billion from investors over the years, and to recoup that money, it started filing lawsuits over patents a few years ago. In 2013, it launched a new salvo, filing 13 lawsuits against major US banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Capital One. The Capital One case ended last Wednesday, when a Virginia federal judge threw out the two IV patents that remained in the case.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/for-worlds-biggest-troll-first-patent-case-ends-up-in-tatters/

6) Forensic Ballistics: How Apollo 12 Helped Solve the Skydiver Meteorite Mystery

You might have seen the video of the skydiver who was “almost hit by a meteorite” which made the rounds a few weeks ago. This odds of such a thing being recorded are incredibly remote, but hey, the improbable does happen. This interesting analysis looks at the video and (spoiler alert) comes to disappointing conclusion.

“The news went viral a couple of weeks ago. A team in Norway announced that a skydiver was almost struck by a meteorite in flight over the ØstreÆra airstrip near Rena, Norway. Their evidence was this video. … If confirmed as a meteorite, this would be the first time one had ever been filmed during its “dark flight,” the portion of its trajectory after the fireball when it has gone cold and is falling essentially straight down at terminal velocity.”

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/2014/0419-forensic-ballistics.html

7) Tapping Solar Power With Perovskites

Familiar solar cells (you know, the ones which spent most of the winter covered in snow and are now being repaired from wind damage) are made from silicon and are almost like large integrated circuits. There are significant costs to such and approach, and even though those costs have come down – thanks in large parts to manufacturing subsidies – novel materials might offer a much more cost effective alternative. One issue with perovskites which I have been unable to resolve is the question of durability, namely how long they last when exposed to sunlight. Thanks to my friend Avner Mandelman for this item.

Every now and again, a well-studied research topic explodes with new life. Long after carbon materials filled chapters of dated textbooks, for example, that field’s soul was reenergized around 1990 after buckyballs and carbon nanotubes were discovered. It happened again in that field about a half-dozen years ago when graphene took the world by storm. It’s happening now in photovoltaics.”

http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i8/Tapping-Solar-Power-Perovskites.html

8) IBM Opens Chip Architecture, in Strategy of Sharing and Self-Interest

This is an interesting move by IBM, though not unprecedented – I believe Intel has opened a number of its architectures such as the fantastically useful 8051 – it is probably an effort to breath some life into a withering design. This may or may not be a long term threat to companies such as ARM if the Power architecture can be implemented as a low power solution. I don’t know the answer to that question but it is pivotal to what happens over the longer term.

IBM’s chip business needs help. So the company has opened up the technology of its Power microprocessors, inviting others to modify and manufacture Power-based designs pretty much as they see fit. This open, liberal licensing initiative is conducted under the auspices of the OpenPower Foundation, which was incorporated in December.”

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/ibm-opens-chip-architecture-in-strategy-of-sharing-and-self-interest/

9) Implant Injects DNA Into Ear, Improves Hearing

This is an interesting experiment, even though I am almost as interested in knowing how they test a guinea pig’s hearing so I can test my cats. I suspect they are completely deaf, except to my wife’s invocation to come and eat which they respond to unfailingly. The idea is that you direct local cell development to cure the very common loss of sensory hair. The problem at this early stage is that the ‘cure’ is only temporary.

Many people with profound hearing loss have been helped by devices called cochlear implants, but their hearing is still far from normal. They often have trouble distinguishing different musical pitches, for example, or hearing a conversation in a noisy room. Now, researchers have found a clever way of using cochlear implants to deliver new genes into the ear—a therapy that, in guinea pigs, dramatically improves hearing.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/04/implant-injects-dna-ear-improves-hearing

10) Your T-shirt’s ringing: Printable tiny flexible cell phones for clothes?

This may be a potentially useful electronic device, however, the article barely addresses that question. I don’t know why people find it necessary to benchmark technology relative to mobile phones, because this almost certainly has no application therein, but it seems to be something you have to do to get attention.

“A new version of “spaser” technology being investigated could mean that mobile phones become so small, efficient, and flexible they could be printed on clothing.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140424102850.htm

11) Goodbye, Net Neutrality; Hello, Net Discrimination

There is a lot of conflicting information around at the moment as to whether or not this “policy” is, in fact, policy. Given the massive amounts of money at stake for the carriers it is easy to believe they would have convinced the FCC – through bribery or other means – to permit the destruction of net neutrality. The problem is, this would have a very negative impact on the US, a country whose infrastructure is already approaching third world status. Governments often fly trial ballons to see how far they can go. Stay tuned.

“If reports in the Wall Street Journal are correct, Obama’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, has proposed a new rule that is an explicit and blatant violation of this promise. In fact, it permits and encourages exactly what Obama warned against: broadband carriers acting as gatekeepers and charging Web sites a payola payment to reach customers through a “fast lane.”

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/04/the-end-of-net-neutrality.html

12) Consumers are meh about 3D printers

I offer my traditional caveats about the value (which is close to zero) of industry research, however, this is a conclusion I agree with: I don’t think there is likely to be much of a mass market for 3D printers or at least nothing along the lines of PCs, smartphones, etc.. Few consumers have power tools or make things and I don’t see how having a 3D printer would change that. There real applications will be in industry, service centers, and so on.

“3D printing technology has yet to capture the consumer’s imagination, according to a report by Juniper Research. At the same time, killer applications with the appropriate eco-system of software, apps and materials have yet to be identified and communicated to potential users. Juniper notes that these are still very early days for the consumer offering.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247857/Consumers_are_meh_about_3D_printers

13) Tech Titans Launch ‘Core Infrastructure Initiative’ to Secure Key Open Source Components

The Heartbleed Bug arose from OpenSSL, software which is in broad commercial use but which had almost no financial support from industry, unlike, for example Linux or Firefox. Even closed source proponents such as Microsoft have a stake in a secure SSL solution because there is a good chance their software will connect to OpenSSL at the other end. Its good they are stepping up, but it would have been better if it happened two years ago.

“Industry heavyweights including Microsoft, Google, Intel, and Cisco are banding together to support and fund open source projects that make up critical elements of global information infrastructure.”

http://www.securityweek.com/tech-titans-launch-core-infrastructure-initiative-secure-key-open-source-components

14) Apple Fixes Serious SSL Issue in OSX and iOS

Just to show that it isn’t only OpenSSL with security holes: the closed and paranoid have their problems as well.

“Apple has fixed a serious security flaw that’s present in many versions of both iOS and OSX and could allow an attacker to intercept data on SSL connections. The bug is one of many that the company fixed Tuesday in its two main operating systems, and several of the other vulnerabilities have serious consequences as well, including the ability to bypass memory protections and run arbitrary code.”

https://threatpost.com/apple-fixes-serious-ssl-issue-in-osx-and-ios/105631

15) Talking Points: General Mills Reverses Lawsuit Change

This closes a rather amusing episode where General Mills, showing appallingly poor judgment and flat out corporate stupidity, thought they could pull a fast one on users of social media and trick them into signing away their consumer rights. Did nobody ask whether this was a good idea, let alone legally enforceable?

“It was just a few days ago that Minnesota-based General Mills quietly put up new terms on its website for anyone downloading coupons, entering any of their sweepstakes or even liking them on Facebook. The terms said anyone doing any of those things was giving up their right to sue in the case of a dispute. Instead, General Mills said any disagreement would have to be settled by arbitration.”

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/04/20/talking-points-general-mills-reverses-lawsuit-change/

16) Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue

No surprise here. I haven’t seen a single study which demonstrates than any part of biofuel production ends up producing more energy than it consumes (liter of diesel in vs. equivalent out). This would obviously be the case when dealing with low energy byproduct.

“Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases/2014/04/20/Study+casts+doubt+on+climate+benefit+of+biofuels+from+corn+residue

17) IBM’s 3D Printer to Revolutionize Chip Prototyping

Not wanting to quibble, but 3D printing is usually additive manufacturing and this is subtractive (like a milling machine). Nonetheless, it is a pretty cool technology which may have significant application in development, as , presumably, the market for microscopic magazine covers and maps of Canada is pretty small.

“IBM Research in Zurich today unveiled a microscopic 3D printer capable of writing nanometer resolution patterns into a soft polymer, which can subsequently be transferred to silicon, III-V (gallium arsenide — GaAs), or graphene substrates. Unlike electron-beam (e-beam) lithography, the patterns can be both written and read for verification in real-time while the engineer watches under a microscope.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1322091

18) How I learned to stop worrying and love my smartwatch

I just most consumers as being very skeptical of the outlook for smart watches. Of course, not everybody feels the same way, as this article shows. I clicked through to a review of this product (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/gadgets/samsung-gear-fit-1227866/review) and I have to say that there is as much chance of me buying such a thing as me wearing a hockey helmet to office. Its big, gaudy, has a short battery life, and, frankly, I don’t see a real use for it.

“For the first time, we have a smartwatch that isn’t pants. I’ve tried a load of them over the years, with the best being the Pebble (nice, niche but a bit boring) and they’ve always left me a bit flat.”

http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-my-smartwatch-1245241

19) How to Track and Secure Your Lost or Stolen Phone, No Matter Who Made It

I thought this was a really useful article and I hope to configure my devices accordingly later today.

“But you don’t have to wait until next summer to enable security tools on your beloved smartphone. Manufacturers have provided device-tracking apps for years now, and there are a variety of services that will help wipe a smartphone’s data or prevent reactivation if a phone is lost or stolen. Here’s a brief guide to ensure that your phone — and all the data on it — is as safe as can be.”

https://www.yahoo.com/tech/how-to-track-and-secure-your-lost-or-stolen-phone-no-83728804256.html

20) Apple Sales Numbers Show iPad Fever Is Officially Cooling

I figured I had to mention this. The problem is that Apple has priced themselves out of the market. I recently purchased an Acer tablet with a quad-core processor, etc., for $199 retail. I simply can’t fathom why anybody would pay double, or more, for an iPad. This article has more insight http://www.knowyourmobile.com/tablets/apple-ipad-air/22081/ipad-sales-down-android-tim-cook-explains-what-happened.

“For the first time, analysts, investors, and the public widely expected Apple to post a drop in iPad sales numbers during its second quarter earnings today. And the numbers didn’t lie: The public is not gobbling up iPads like they used to. Analysts projected iPad sales would reach 19.7 million, an only marginal increase from the 19.5 million iPads sold during the same time period in 2013. In fact, Apple sold 16.35 million iPads, a drop of roughly 16.4 percent since last year.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/04/apple-q2-earnings-2/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 18th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 18th 2014

Another bad week for tech news, probably due to the Easter holidays.

 

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

 

 

 

Click to Subscribe

 

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1.        Bitcoin Mining Boom Sputters as Prospectors Face Losses

A few weeks ago we covered a guy who had set up a large Bitcoin mining operation where he charged rent plus a percentage of Bitcoin mined, which we thought was pretty good evidence that the market value of a Bitcoin (I’m thinking Bitcon might be a better label) was less than the expense which went into creating it. Here is further evidence. Of course, I think Bitcoin’s value is only in fleecing the gullible.

“The bitcoin mining rush is sputtering. Speculators, known as miners, use powerful computers to solve complex software problems and verify transactions to unlock new bitcoins. They’re finding that the enterprise isn’t as profitable as it once was.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-11/bitcoin-mining-boom-sputters-as-prospectors-see-real-cash-losses.html

2.        Dangerous GU10 LED Spot Light is Cheap and Bright but could kill you

I thought this video was well done, even though it might be hard to follow if you don’t understand electricity. Long story short, this (presumably) non-UL/CSA approved LED light is so badly designed it could kill you. Never buy anything which can plug into a household power unless you know it is UL or CSA approved and you know the people you are buying it from are not pirating that approval.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keaE7QTKTYE&feature=share

3.        TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing

Well here is a shocker: a corporation which profits off an inefficient government system is lobbying the government to keep that system inefficient. If you think about it there is no reason the government can’t do most of your taxes for you and offer a system which allows you to make corrections (i.e. medical expenses, etc.) saving everybody except the parasitic tax companies a lot of money and, in particular, heartache.

“Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic. Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn’t have the resources to fight inaccurate returns.”

http://www.propublica.org/article/turbotax-maker-linked-to-grassroots-campaign-against-free-simple-tax-filing

4.        The inventor of everything

It is a pity these sorts of articles aren’t written more often, instead of the fawning hero worship garbage we see 99.99% of the time. The vision of the genius cranking out rocket engine designs, novel energy systems, revolutionizing production, etc., is a fabrication of the ignorant and the media, even when that individual is rich. Fortunately there are always lots of gullible investors out there or investors who simply don’t care whether it is a scam so long as they can flip the shares.

“I’m here to meet Mike Cheiky, the founder of Cool Planet and a prolific inventor and entrepreneur. In 1975, he started Ohio Scientific, one of the earliest personal-computing companies. He followed that with a string of startups whose innovations included biofuels, touchscreens, batteries, voice recognition, and fuel injectors. Cheiky’s ventures have always done well raising money. Two weeks ago Cool Planet announced a $100 million round of funding from names like Google Ventures, British Petroleum, General Electric, and ConocoPhillips. All told, his last three companies — Cool Planet, Zpower, and Transonic — have raised at least $300 million from some of the biggest players in Silicon Valley.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/14/5561250/cool-planet

5.        Does Musk’s Gigafactory Make Sense?

Well, let’s see: we are gonna make a factory, preferably on the taxpayer’s dime, that will make 20x the current market need for said batteries. Better yet, the factory is going to be vertically integrated despite decades of business experience which shows that specialization and not verticalization is the way to optimize production. So, yeah, it makes perfect sense provided you are Tesla and the taxpayer will foot the bill.

“Tesla sold 23,000 cars last year. The gigafactory, which would start production in 2017, would by 2020 make enough batteries for 500,000 electric cars. (It would produce enough batteries annually to store 35 gigawatt hours of electricity, hence the name). Second, battery companies normally announce factories only after they’re funded and a site is selected. And they typically scale up gradually. Why announce plans to build such an enormous factory —especially when electric car sales so far come nowhere close to justifying it?”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/526126/does-musks-gigafactory-make-sense/

6.        SSD vs. HDD Pricing: Seven Myths That Need Correcting

A particularly badly written, though exhaustive, look at pricing of SSDs and HDDs for enterprise use. I don’t completely disagree with the conclusions – after all, tape backup is still used – however the laptop market will almost completely switch to SSDs within the next year or two which lead to financial ruin for HDD manufacturers and impact their respective abilities to meet cost goals and launch new products. HDDs will end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

“This month I am going to take a look at SSD vs. HDD pricing. In my opinion, the claims by some vendors are over the top; their assertions about SSD pricing and density and HDD pricing and density simply do not match the market realities. It is time expose the real data.”

http://www.enterprisestorageforum.com/storage-hardware/ssd-vs.-hdd-pricing-seven-myths-that-need-correcting.html

7.        Preventing Heat From Going to Waste

This is my silly energy story of the week. Not that thermoelectric systems have no use, but that they are not a very good way to make electricity from a cost or efficiency perspective. While heat may be ‘wasted’ you are not likely to extract anywhere near enough power to pay for the system even if the system was very cheap. Note how a “… ZT of 3 that most researchers consider the minimum for widespread applications” is not referenced or explained.

“Fossil fuels power modern society by generating heat, but much of that heat is wasted. Researchers have tried to reclaim some of it with semiconductor devices called thermoelectrics, which convert the heat into power. But they remain too inefficient and expensive to be useful beyond a handful of niche applications. Now, scientists in Illinois report that they have used a cheap, well-known material to create the most heat-hungry thermoelectric so far.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/chemistry/2014/04/preventing-heat-going-waste

8.        44 Percent of Twitter Accounts Have Never Tweeted

I confess to not understanding Twitter: I see no value in adding noise to my day even when said noise originates from a celebrity, or more likely a firm engaged by said celebrity to generate noise. All things considered, when you have a business largely valued on a poorly defined metric such as ‘users’ it is a fair assumption that metric will be gamed to the extent possible by the company.

“According to the site, approximately 44 percent of Twitter’s 947 million accounts or so have never sent a single tweet. Of the number that have — approximately 550 million — just under half of these accounts are reported to have sent their last tweet more than one year ago (43 percent). Only 126 million have sent any kind of tweet at any point in the past 30 days.”

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2456489,00.asp

9.        Does Heartbleed Disprove ‘Open Source is Safer’?

The only thing Heartbleed shows is that Open Source is no perfect and this experience makes it more likely, in my opinion, that critical applications will likely be more carefully audited in the future. After all the world’s largest software company sees fit to regularly download security patches onto my laptop and they aren’t doing that because closed software is particularly secure.

“As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote, “‘Catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.” Almost as devastating, however, is the blow Heartbleed has dealt to the image of free and open source software (FOSS). In the self-mythology of FOSS, bugs like Heartbleed aren’t supposed to happen when the source code is freely available and being worked with daily.”

http://www.datamation.com/open-source/does-heartbleed-disprove-open-source-is-safer-1.html

10.   We need phones that help us stop killing each other while distracted

I agree with the general thrust of the article, however, it would be very hard to design a phone which would not be useable by a driver while the car is in motion and fully functional by a passenger. Since I see several drivers a day with a phone pressed to their ears despite the large penalties in Ontario, it is quite clear that sanctions don’t work either.

“We U.S. drivers, for the most part, like our cars, our smartphones, and our freedom of choice. We also truly dislike boredom. This leads to some of us, too many of us, being injured or dying, because we are far too confident we can handle our familiar phones while driving. That is why we have not demanded that our phones offer us a smart way to let us drive and ignore all the things they beg us to do. Nothing—not research, statistics, stories, or fancier car systems—can seem to stop us.”

http://www.itworld.com/mobile-wireless/414278/we-need-phones-help-us-stop-killing-each-other-while-distracted

11.   A Mathematical Proof That The Universe Could Have Formed Spontaneously From Nothing

I don’t understand the summary so I rather doubt I would understand the full paper either. Nonetheless, the conclusion has to be fairly obvious unless the cosmos is eternal, which it very well might be. Of course, time sprang into existence with the universe, so even the idea of eternity has to be a flexible on. People interested in the idea of a universe from nothing might want to read Lawrence Krause’s book “A Universe From Nothing.”

“Cosmologists assume that natural quantum fluctuations allowed the Big Bang to happen spontaneously. Now they have a mathematical proof.”

https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/ed7ed0f304a3

12.   It’s Time to Encrypt the Entire Internet

If you thought the web was secure before the Heartbleed bug, you haven’t been paying attention – the Snowdon/NSA revelations show how insecure all systems are and you can be sure that if the NSA can exploit backdoors, etc., so can anybody else. Nonetheless, an encrypted web would probably keep most teenage hackers at bay.

“The Heartbleed bug crushed our faith in the secure web, but a world without the encryption software that Heartbleed exploited would be even worse. In fact, it’s time for the web to take a good hard look at a new idea: encryption everywhere.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/04/https/

13.   You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to find Google alarming

A worthwhile, though short, read. The problem is that people value pictures of cats more than they value their own privacy and governments clearly like the idea of an Orwellian surveillance state which requires the collusion of companies like Google.

“Google doesn’t need us. But we need Google. We are afraid of Google. I must state this very clearly and frankly, because few of my colleagues dare do so publicly. And as the biggest among the small, perhaps it is also up to us to be the first to speak out in this debate. You yourself speak of the new power of the creators, owners, and users.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/18/google-alarming-no-conspiracy-theorist

14.   The dismal state of SATCOM security

The interesting thing about space systems is that they tend to be well behind the curve in terms of technology. It takes a long time to finance, design, build, test, and launch a satellite and the costs are such that you can’t risk using start of the art systems. So, by the time you start using the thing your systems are already out of date by a decade or so. Meanwhile, terrestrial capabilities continue apace, meaning ‘secure’ 10 years ago is not secure today. I don’t know about the idea of removing firmware updates, etc., from public view: rule 1 of security is to assume the attacker has access to things like this.

“Satellite Communications (SATCOM) play a vital role in the global telecommunications system, but the security of the devices used leaves much to be desired, says Ruben Santamarta, principal security consultant with IOActive.”

http://www.net-security.org/secworld.php?id=16709

15.   The internet of things is great for chipmakers and a challenge for Intel

As devoid of value any market research is, prediction of the number of unit sales of processors is particularly meaningless. If you look at HIS’s chart unit sales only double from 2014 to 2017. The very nature of IoT systems on a chip is that it is a brutally competitive market and therefore price per unit will likely drop by more than 50% over the same period. In other words, expect revenue to actually decline as units double. As for Intel, well, they have no place in the IoT, except, perhaps, in servers.

“(HIS) calls this market “sensor hubs,” and defines it as any processor that takes in and compute sensor data to avoid using a device’s application processor (if it’s a phone) or microcontroller if it’s a smaller device. It estimates that worldwide shipments of sensor hubs in 2014 will reach a projected 658.4 million units. From then until 2017, the market is pegged to increase 1,300 percent to shipments of 1.3 billion units (see chart below).”

http://gigaom.com/2014/04/16/the-internet-of-things-is-great-for-chipmakers-and-a-challenge-for-intel/

16.   CTIA and Participating Wireless Companies Announce the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment”

It is kinda funny they should claim they have the safety and security of wireless users as a top priority since this has been possible since the first mobile phones were developed and the industry has pretty much fought tooth and nail against it since then.

“The safety and security of wireless users remain the wireless industry’s top priority, and is why this commitment will continue to protect consumers while recognizing the companies’ need to retain flexibility so they may constantly innovate, which is key to stopping smartphone theft.”

http://www.ctia.org/resource-library/press-releases/archive/ctia-announce-smartphone-anti-theft-voluntary-commitment

17.   Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow

This is a pretty good overview of the potential of graphene. One correction though: graphene is anything but inexpensive. It is staggeringly expensive, even though the raw material, carbon, is virtually free. The challenge is to figure out how to make it in industrial quantities at a price which makes these experimental results viable commercial products.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. No, fans of “The Graduate,” the word isn’t “plastics.” It’s “graphene.” Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And get ready for this: It is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.”

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/bend-it-charge-it-dunk-it-graphene-the-material-of-tomorrow/

18.   Here’s why it took 2 years for anyone to notice the Heartbleed bug

Yet another article on the Heartbleed bug but still worth a read. I repeat that security bugs are also common in proprietary software however they tend to be quietly fixed. Indeed, worms and viruses mostly exploit said bugs so every time you hear of one you are really learning about a bug. Heartbleed will probably result in a more formal process for signing off critical open source contributions.

“What caused the Heartbleed Bug that endangered the privacy of millions of web users this week? On one level, it looks like a simple case of human error. A software developer from Germany contributed code to the popular OpenSSL software that made a basic, but easy-to-overlook mistake. The OpenSSL developer who approved the change didn’t notice the issue either, and (if the NSA is telling the truth) neither did anyone else for more than 2 years.”

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/12/5601828/we-massively-underinvest-in-internet-security

19.   Awesome FingerReader Gadget Lets the Blind Read Printed Text

Given the very low cost of cameras and the advance state of Optical Character Recognition, it is rather surprising nobody has done this before. Still it is a good idea and it is easy to see how the device to be reduced in size to a ring or something along those lines.

“FingerReader is the name of a wearable gadget that could help visually impaired people read printed text in books and even on electronic devices, thus opening up additional possibilities to them. Developed by MIT researchers, FingerReader wants to help the blind access more resources than what’s already available in Braille format. TechCrunch reports that, according to a recent study from the Royal National Institute of the Blind in Britain cited by one of the researchers, in 2011 only 7% of books are available in large print, unabridged audio, and Braille.”

https://www.yahoo.com/tech/awesome-fingerreader-gadget-lets-the-blind-read-printed-83091898650.html

20.   First potentially habitable Earth-sized planet confirmed: It may have liquid water

This is, of course, big news, though it was entirely expected: there is no reason to believe rocky planets within a certain arbitrary orbital radius are particularly rare, even though they might be hard to spot. No doubt an inventory of such planets will be created over the years and an imaging system developed to observe them directly. It is a pity all media reports used the “artist’s rendering” of the planet since it is impossible observe with existing systems, and, though liquid water is possible there is yet no evidence it actually exists on this planet.

“The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory. The initial discovery, made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes. It also confirms that Earth-sized planets do exist in the habitable zone of other stars.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-04-potentially-habitable-earth-sized-planet-liquid.html

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 11th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 11th 2014

Reminder: I have moved to MailChimp for distribution in order to lower the odds of readers being spammed.

Tech news was dominated by the “Heartbleed” bug, so the quality of articles is quite low this week.

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.        A rough guide to spotting Bad science

This is an excellent set of “rules of thumb” for spotting bad science and it is particularly important given the amount of bad science in the media and on the web. Of course, I rather doubt the media will pay attention as there is more interest in the exciting and wrong than the banal and right. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

http://www.compoundchem.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Spotting-Bad-Science.pdf

2.        Apple iWatch release date, rumours & images – Apple will become “irrelevant” if it doesn’t launch iWatch within 60 days

Rather dated, but a truly appalling piece which glues together speculation, rumor, and, presumably hallucinations, to arrive at … well, frankly I couldn’t read it through it was so bad. “Smart’ watches have proved to have almost no consumer appeal and there is little reason to suspect a product, however imagined, from Apple will be any different. A hat tip to my friend Allan Brown for this article.

“Everyone is talking about Apple’s rumoured iWatch. Evidence to suggest that an iWatch release date isn’t far away flooded in throughout 2013, and, now that 2014 has arrived, speculation about the smartwatch has become an even hotter topic. Will this be the year Apple releases a wearable device?”

http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/apple/apple-open-up-siri-for-integration-with-third-party-apps-on-iwatch-3425479/

3.        ScienceShot: Oldest Cardiovascular System Found in Ancient Shrimplike Creature

This is pretty cool stuff, and not just because of the conclusion, but the fact 520 million year old specimens were well enough preserved that you can actually make out the inner structures.

“They were crushed. Without warning, 520 million years ago an ancient tsunami or storm trapped 50 shrimplike creatures under layer after layer of fine dirt particles and mud in the seabed that formerly covered much of southwest China. But rather than pulverize them, the powdery silt and Cambrian oceanic chemicals preserved the 6-centimeter-long animals, known as Fuxianhuia protensa, with impeccable statuesque detail.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/04/scienceshot-oldest-cardiovascular-system-found-ancient-shrimplike-creature

4.        Heartbleed

The news of the Heartbleed bug dominated the tech landscape over the past week and probably will for a few more weeks. Some have commented that this is an inherent peril with open source software but I think that misses the point: closed source means nobody but the authors and criminal hackers would check for errors and only the criminal hackers would have a financial incentive for doing so. The fact the bug was spotted is in many ways an endorsement of open source software, although, presumably, more caution will be exercised in the future.

“Basically, an attacker can grab 64K of memory from a server. The attack leaves no trace, and can be done multiple times to grab a different random 64K of memory. This means that anything in memory — SSL private keys, user keys, anything — is vulnerable. And you have to assume that it is all compromised. All of it. “Catastrophic” is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.”

https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2014/04/heartbleed.html

5.        DNA nanobots deliver drugs in living cockroaches

This is kinda spooky stuff, especially if you happen to be a cockroach (note: all readers of the Geek’s List are welcome, regardless of phylum). Nonetheless, it seems clear that similar techniques could be used to develop highly specific drugs, at least once all the bugs are worked out so it doesn’t only work in bugs.

“It’s a computer – inside a cockroach. Nano-sized entities made of DNA that are able to perform the same kind of logic operations as a silicon-based computer have been introduced into a living animal. The DNA computers – known as origami robots because they work by folding and unfolding strands of DNA – travel around the insect’s body and interact with each other, as well as the insect’s cells. When they uncurl, they can dispense drugs carried in their folds.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25376-dna-nanobots-deliver-drugs-in-living-cockroaches.html

6.        Blind-tested soloists unable to tell Stradivarius violins from modern instruments

When previous tests showed that nobody could tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a modern violin the results were attacked from all sides. After all, how could so many experts have been deceived? And then there is the idea the market is always right! This time they carefully designed the study to satisfy the numerous complaints (well the coherent ones, anyhow) and arrived at the same result. It turns out that, whether or not a Stradivarius is a superior violin, humans have lousy hearing and so they can’t actually tell the difference. Oh well. Another hat tip to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“A modern instrument was the clear winner and a Stradivarius the loser in a double-blind test of old Italian and new violins, conducted at the Auditorium Coeur de Ville in Vincennes, Paris. In a follow-up to the controversial experiment conducted in Indianapolis in 2010, ten professional soloists compared the tonal qualities of twelve instruments – six by 18th-century Italian luthiers and six by contemporary makers. The results, published on 7 April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed those of the 2010 study, which showed a general preference for new violins and that players were unable to reliably distinguish new violins from old.”

http://thestrad.com/latest/news/blind-tested-soloists-unable-to-tell-stradivarius-violins-from-modern-instruments

7.        The silencing of the Deaf

Tribalism is a powerful, and in my opinion malignant, feature of humanity. We like to divide ourselves down into ‘us’ and ‘them’ however we can work it: religion, ethnicity, language, etc.. In this case we have linguistic tribalism among the profoundly deaf who perceive Deaf Culture is under threat by technology. As a parent it is hard to be sympathetic: would I rather child get implants or thrive in Deaf Culture only to be run over by a bus. It ain’t for nothing we have hearing.

“Parenting is full of big decisions. But in the first year or so of Ellie’s life, when other parents are focused on helping their kids to walk and talk, Christine and Derek had to think about an issue that many parents never even contemplate: They had to decide which culture their daughter should be a part of. Ellie could join their world, the hearing world, if she received cochlear implants. Yet implants don’t work perfectly. Everyday conversation can remain a challenge, for instance, especially when there’s a lot of background noise. What’s more, implants might cut Ellie off from a community that, some would argue, is her birthright: the Deaf world, where lack of hearing is an identity to be celebrated, not a disability to be cured.”

https://medium.com/matter/22979c8ec9d6

8.        Raspberry Pi’s Eben Upton: How We’re Turning Everyone Into DIY Hackers

Raspberry Pi has been tremendously successful and I figure this has to be a good thing – as more and more people use computers the function of the device has become so abstracted many don’t know how they work. More to the point, as the potential utility of computers has increased by orders of magnitude, that abstraction has obscured that utility ever more completely. Their new compute module (http://www.raspberrypi.org/raspberry-pi-compute-module-new-product/) may have even greater potential as you can more or less decide on which parts of the System On A Chip you want to use.

“I’ll never forget my first time seeing a Raspberry Pi. The tiny, credit-card sized computer is powerful enough to operate as a” home PC, a media center, a gaming console, or anything you can dream up. At only $35, it’s a bargain for tinkerers of all ages who want to try out hardware and software experiments without worrying about bricking their pricier family computers.

http://readwrite.com/2014/04/08/raspberry-pi-eben-upton-builders

9.        NHMRC rule homeopathic remedies useless for human health

Reading the comments shows the problem: placebos “work” on ill-defined maladies, misdiagnosis, and things which care for themselves. People are, frankly, too stupid to rely on their own experience for these sorts of decisions and it is a pity governments let these and other SCAM remedies be sold, even in pharmacies of all places. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“AFTER a lengthy investigation the nation’s peak medical research body has delivered its verdict on homeopathic remedies — they are useless for human health. The judgement is likely to influence a crucial government review which is deciding whether the 30 per cent tax rebate for private health insurance coverage of complementary therapies should continue. Australians spend almost $4 billion a year on complementary therapies like vitamins and herbs and almost $10 million on homeopathic remedies.”

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/lifestyle/health/nhmrc-rule-homeopathic-remedies-useless-for-human-health/story-fni0diac-1226878166107

10.   Man who introduced serious ‘Heartbleed’ security flaw denies he inserted it deliberately

I feel sorry for the guy as this is not going to look good on a resume. Nonetheless, as I understand it, this sort of mistake is the most common sort exploited in a security flaw and it should have been checked every which way by other working on the project. Regardless, success has many parents while failure is an orphan so he’ll just have to wear it.

“The German software developer who introduced a security flaw into an encryption protocol used by millions of websites globally says he did not insert it deliberately as some have suggested. In what appears to be his first comments to the media since the bug was uncovered, Robin Seggelmann said how the bug made its way into live code could “be explained pretty easily.”

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/security-it/man-who-introduced-serious-heartbleed-security-flaw-denies-he-inserted-it-deliberately-20140410-zqta1.html

11.   MEP Tarand: “EU should switch to ODF standard”

I don’t know about the other proposals (having an EU Linux distribution for example) but it should be quite clear that allowing a proprietary (i.e. Microsoft) document standard locks a government, and to some extent its citizens, to the software which can use that proprietary standard. You can’t have an open government if you need expensive proprietary software to look at its documents.

“The European institutions should switch to using the Open Document Format ODF as their internal default document format, says Member of the European Parliament Indrek Tarand. Speaking at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Free Software User Group (Epfsug), last week Wednesday, MEP Tarand said: “Moving to ODF would allow real innovation, and real procurement.””

https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/community/osor/news/mep-tarand-eu-should-switch-odf-standard

12.   Dyn discontinues free DynDNS service to clean up its DDNS network

It is now common for paid cloud services to offer a ‘free’ version in order to build membership and then to discontinue, or severely degrade, these free services once critical mass has been achieved or some financing is anticipated. DynDNS is baked in to a lot of routers and other hardware (my NAS and load-balancing router but support it) so this will cause pandemonium, especially for people who relied on people to set up their networks. There are alternatives, of course, but until a system has been developed which can’t be shut off, you should thread carefully.

“Dyn offers a whole passel of DNS-related products, but the company is most famous for its free DynDNS service: it lets users associate often dynamic IP addresses with hostnames, as long as those users “check in” once a month. It’s a boon for people wanting to slap an easily remembered, fully qualified domain name onto their home ISP connections without dropping the money to actually register a domain—and it’s vanishing on May 7, 2014.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/04/dyn-discontinues-free-dyndns-service-to-clean-up-its-ddns-network/

13.   Ultra HD Displays Are The Next Big Thing

4K TVs have dropped in price at an astonishing rate – I recently saw an ad for a 65” Samsung UHDTV for $5,000. My thesis is that, provided there is only a small price difference, yes, people will choose UHDTV, however, it is improbably they will witness 4K content, except in video games. Right now most “HD” content is nowhere near HD – being compressed to near SD quality – and cable operators would rather serve you 200 channels of crap quality and call it HD than 50 channels of HD. There might be a small market for streaming, however, you’d hit your bandwidth caps pretty quickly if you streamed real UHDTV. Of course I still wouldn’t buy one today because they haven’t figured out cabling standards yet.

“A 1080p display offers 1920- by 1080-pixel resolutions. Like the lower-resolution 720p format, 1080p and Ultra HD both provide a 16:9 aspect ratio. 1080p also has a quarter the number of pixels compared to Ultra HD. The jump from 720p to 1080p is only a factor of 2. As with 1080p, the high resolution will dominate the high end of the product spectrum, but it eventually will push its way down the food chain. Cost is the main issue, though the improved resolution is more important with larger screens.”

http://electronicdesign.com/displays/ultra-hd-displays-are-next-big-thing

14.   Raising the Bar: Crossbar’s Entirely New Type of Memory

Novel memory technologies are always interesting, but it is worth noting that only a very tiny number ever make it to market (in my 35 year career I can think of only two). Nonetheless, there is a compelling need for something which picks up where Flash stops and maybe Crossbar (or Memristors) will be it. The folks at EEWeb should be taken out and shot for their near unreadable web design. To make it slightly more readable, click the ‘two squares’ (third from right) and full page (rightmost) icons.

“Crossbar is a groundbreaking memory technology company based in Santa Clara, California. The company turned heads last year when they unveiled a new category of high performance resistive RAM (RRAM) technology that can scale up to 1 terabyte on a chip the size of a postage stamp. This highly scalable technology performs around 20x faster than today’s NAND Flash memory and has 10x the endurance at half the die size. With these unparalleled specifications, Crossbar’s technology will enable the next generation of high-performing electronic devices.”

http://issuu.com/eeweb/docs/pulse_issue_122_-_crossbar/35?e=7607911/7339113

15.   Two Big Steps Toward the Quantum Computer

I’d like to say I understand this, but I don’t even though it is in a Popular Mechanics article. A couple things worth noting about quantum computer is that these systems will only be useful for figuring out very specific classes of problems (decryption being one) and, while they may have some use in scientific research, they will likely have no real commercial application.

“Two research teams, at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, have just announced that they have independently forged the building blocks for tomorrow’s quantum computers. As they published today in the journal Nature (1, 2), the scientists discovered a way to hook up atoms and particles of light to create a new type of switch and logic-gate‚ quantum versions of the connecting structures that link bits of data in modern computers.”

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/extreme-machines/two-big-steps-toward-the-quantum-computer-16682595

16.   Navy researchers demonstrate flight powered by fuel created from seawater

I just *had* post this item once I saw it was on Kurzeil’s site because it shows me how abjectly oblivious the guy is. Pronouncements about brains being downloaded and charts relating extinctions to an increasing pace of paradigm shift are transparent drivel, but this – this is beautiful! No kidding: if you put enough energy into a system you can get a small amount back out! What better use of a few thousand kilowatt hours (I’m probably being generous) of power than a few teaspoons of ‘clean’ hydrocarbon? Don’t they teach physics in high school anymore?

“The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a technology for simultaneously extracting carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater and converting the two gases to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel, as a possible replacement for petroleum-based jet fuel.”

http://www.kurzweilai.net/navy-researchers-demonstrate-flight-powered-by-fuel-created-from-seawater

17.   Apple demands 20 times more for a patent from Samsung ($12.49) than from Motorola ($.60)

I guess we’ll see if and when a verdict comes down (and what happens on any subsequent appeal), however, however, my read of this article reinforces the view that the legal system is beginning to despair of ‘IP litigation as strategy’ and seems to be ring fencing some of the absurd damage claims. If true, this won’t just impact Apple and other large patent trolls like Microsoft, but “IP licensing companies” in general.

“We’re approaching the end of Apple’s case-in-chief in Apple v. Samsung II. Rutgers law professor Michael Carrier has noted on Twitter that the first week of this trial did not go as well for Apple as in 2012 because it’s “not clearly winning on themes” while Samsung manages to show that the patents-in-suit are “not central”. Professor Carrier appears to feel that Apple’s case gets bogged down in detail: “The more time spent in the minutiae, the less a huge damages award or injunction for Apple seems appropriate.” He added: “And minutiae also don’t support themes from 1st trial of Apple as revolutionary innovator and Samsung as flagrant copyist.””

http://www.fosspatents.com/2014/04/apple-demands-20-times-more-for-patent.html

18.   How to Get a BMW i3 Electric Car for Just $18 a Month: Use Teslanomics

Tesla fanboys, who only rival Apple fanboys in zeal, are a sight to behold. The most recent outrage on their faith was the fact some states were requiring they obey the same rules other car vendors must. Apparently, this is an assault on the “free market” a rich comment associated with a car company which only exists due to generous subsidies and other government financial support. This is a tongue in cheek, though accurate, look at the thinking used to promote the vehicles. “Teslanomics” is used by most other “green” products, but they raised it to high art.

“Automakers are always trying to find new ways to make their cars look cheaper to buy — and Tesla is no exception. But what happens when you take other plug-in cars and use the same Tesla logic to advertise them?”

http://transportevolved.com/2014/04/09/get-bmw-i3-electric-car-just-18-month-use-telsanomics/

19.   Windows 8.1 Update woes pile up: Errors 80070020, 80073712, 800F081F, 80242FFF, 800F0922

People who have had OS updates go rogue tend to be pretty vocal about it. After all, it is very frustrating to upgrade a fully functional system only to have it no longer be functional at all. Therefore, it is hard to know whether this is a big problem or not. Nonetheless, you probably want to put off upgrading to 8.1 until the wailing dies down.

“Microsoft released Windows 8.1 Update a little less than 48 hours ago, and users’ cries of pain fill the air. With five weeks to go for Windows 8.1 users to install the Update so they can continue to receive Windows 8.1 patches, and almost no acknowledgment — much less fixes — of the problems, Microsoft’s repeating some old bad behavior.”

http://www.infoworld.com/t/microsoft-windows/windows-81-update-woes-pile-errors-80070020-80073712-800f081f-80242fff-800f0922-240249

20.   Spinal stimulation helps 4 patients with paraplegia regain voluntary movement

I don’t know what to make of this: it seems like a breakthrough, but is the voluntary movement significant from the patients’ perspective or more of a novelty? I’m not being critical, I really don’t know. Regardless, perhaps more advanced stimulation techniques will lead to a more significant outcome. In either even this is probably good news for those with spinal injury.

“Four people with paraplegia are able to voluntarily move previously paralyzed muscles as a result of a novel therapy that involves electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The participants, each of whom had been paralyzed for more than two years, were able to voluntarily flex their toes, ankles, and knees while the stimulator was active, and the movements were enhanced over time when combined with physical rehabilitation. Researchers involved in the study say the therapy has the potential to change the prognosis of people with paralysis even years after injury.”

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-04/niob-ssh040214.php

 

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 4th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 4th 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.        The rechargeable revolution: A better battery

This is a pretty good overview of battery technologies, however, you have to read through it to get the benefit. It boils down to this: interesting stuff on the horizon, but nothing ‘big’ which is ready for commercialization. To put it bluntly, if you think there will be commercially available batteries which meet the 2017 DoE targets, give your head shake. I’m looking at you Tesla owner.

“The mobile world depends on lithium-ion batteries — today’s ultimate rechargeable energy store. Last year, consumers bought five billion Li-ion cells to supply power-hungry laptops, cameras, mobile phones and electric cars. “It is the best battery technology anyone has ever seen,” says George Crabtree, director of the US Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which is based at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, Illinois. But Crabtree wants to do much, much better.”

http://www.nature.com/news/the-rechargeable-revolution-a-better-battery-1.14815

 

2.        Exclusive: NSA infiltrated RSA security more deeply than thought – study

The excitement of the NSA revelations has died down considerably, and I’m sure there are many reasons for that. This article shows how the agency coopted a (formerly) highly regarded standard. The naivety of the comment that “only the NSA could likely break it” is breathtaking – the NSA does not have the patent on smart people, nor are they the only ones with computer. A breakable code is breakable by anybody with the time and resources.

“Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the agency also aimed to subvert cryptography standards. A presidential advisory group in December said that practice should stop, though experts looking at the case of Dual Elliptic Curve have taken some comfort in concluding that only the NSA could likely break it.”

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/03/31/technology/31reuters-usa-security-nsa-rsa.html

 

3.        Microsoft to offer Windows for free on phones, tablets

This had been rumored for some time. It is not abundantly clear to me why this would make a difference- because the system is closed source (unlike Android) Microsoft could easily withdraw the offer or change the terms of use. This would leave the vendors who developed products twisting in the wind. One thing is clear: giving the OS away does not reinforce the idea the mobile platform shows any promise of being successful.

“Microsoft Corp is to give away its Windows operating system to makers of smartphones and small tablets for consumers as it seeks to make more of an impact on those fast-growing markets and counter the massive success of Google Inc’s free Android platform. Microsoft’s move, announced at its annual developers conference in San Francisco, is an attempt to broaden the small user base of mobile versions of Windows, in the hope that more customers will end up using Microsoft’s money-making, cloud-based services such as Skype and Office.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/02/us-microsoft-windows-idUSBREA311OX20140402

 

4.        EU votes net neutrality into law, abolishes mobile roaming charges

Good news on two fronts, if you happen to live in the EU. It is odd that after 100 years of downright stupid telecommunications regulations the EU seems to be the only place on the planet which ‘gets it’. I see no reason why running a network should somehow lend privilege to carriers and the EU seems to share that view.

“Blocking and throttling Internet traffic will become illegal in the European Union following a parliamentary vote on Thursday.Members of the European Parliament voted to close loopholes in a proposed law that some believed would have created a two-tier Internet. The so-called Telecoms Package originally described “specialized services,” which would have allowed ISPs to charge more for more data-intensive content services such as voice over IP and streaming video.” After months of negotiations, the European Parliament has today adopted my proposal to close the last remaining loopholes in the text, in order to enshrine net neutrality in European law.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247411/EU_votes_net_neutrality_into_law_abolishes_mobile_roaming_charges

 

5.        Wearables: one-third of consumers abandoning devices

Frankly, I never understood why I would want to wear a watch which has to be recharged every day or so, especially when the primary use is to talk with my mobile in my pocket or tell me how far I’ve walked. Perhaps things will change if and when battery lives increase by a couple orders of magnitude or somebody finds a compelling use for them.

“The advert was blunt: a second-hand Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch for sale, priced at “£100 ONO”. For a device which cost £299 in September, surely that’s a bargain? Yet after a week advertised on the intranet of a non-technical organisation with more than 10,000 staff, it was still unsold. “Nothing hangs around our noticeboard that long,” one who saw the ad told me.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/01/wearables-consumers-abandoning-devices-galaxy-gear

 

6.        NHTSA Requires New Cars To Have Backup Cameras, Automakers Push For Cameras To Replace Side Mirrors

Given the number of fatalities associated with people backing over children, ‘backup’ cameras make perfect sense as would other vision systems. It’s worth noting that mobile phone cameras, which would be perfectly adequate for the jobs, cost less than $1, and even display systems are pretty cheap, so this likely won’t result in a boom for semiconductor companies.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday proposed a rule requiring rear visibility camera technology in all new vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, meaning all cars, SUVs and minivans as well as most small trucks and busses. The rule is expected to be finalized within the next two months, after which automakers have until May 1, 2018 to have the technology implemented.”

http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1091190_nhtsa-requires-new-cars-to-have-backup-cameras-automakers-push-for-cameras-to-replace-side-mirrors

 

7.        WD ‘restoring connections’ after WEEK of MyCloud outages

Chapter 962 in the continuing saga of “why cloud services can be problematic”. You’d think a company like Western Digital would know a thing or two about cloud servers, but apparently not. Unfortunately, they have not apparently provided any information as to how this could have happened or why it is taking so long to fix – after all, the cloud may not be secure but it should be resilient.

“WD’s MyCloud has been up and down all week, with users unable to connect across the internet to their storage devices. MyCloud refers to a set of ARM-powered, single drive external storage products from WD and a way of accessing then remotely across the Internet. Its MyBook line of basic desktop NAS boxes were rebranded MyCloud in October last year. The WD2Go mobile access application was rebranded MyCloud as well. With capacious MyCloud device storage of up to 4TB, then, MyCloud was an alternative to DropBox and similar services which have smaller free capacity but higher speed data upload facilities.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/04/03/wds_mycloud_outage/

 

8.        The Almost Completely Open Source Laptop Goes on Sale

That is one ugly and expensive laptop! All things considered, though, the idea is a good one: provide an open computing platform and laptops are the most popular. Frankly, I’m surprised the laptop manufacturers haven’t offered even relatively open systems – I recently discovered I could only update the BIOS on my HP laptop if I reinstalled Windows!

“Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Sean “xobs” Cross want to sell you a laptop you can completely trust. Earlier this year, the two Singapore-based engineers fashioned a laptop made almost entirely from open source hardware, hardware whose designs are freely available to the world at large. They called it Project Novena. Anyone could review the designs, looking for bugs and security flaws, and at least in theory, that meant you could be confident the machine was secure from top to bottom, something that’s more desirable than ever in the post-Edward Snowden age.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/04/novena/

 

9.        Chips Face Tough Times, Says Sanghi

We warned that the semiconductor industry’s growth would slow to a crawl about 12 years ago. Pretty much that is what has happened, though stock valuations have not collapsed as I predicted. Yes, a capital intensive business which usually generates little in the way of free cash flow is going to have a tough time of it.

“The semiconductor industry’s business model “is really broken” with more belt tightening and consolidation ahead, said Steve Sanghi, the chief executive of Microchip, speaking in a candid interview from the EE Live! show floor. “We are evolving to a slower-growth industry, and even though Microchip is still growing we will eventually converge to the mean,” said Sanghi who has led the microcontroller vendor through generally increasing revenues since 1990.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1321761

 

10.   Nest Halts Sales Of Protect Smoke Alarm Over Safety Concerns About ‘Wave To Dismiss’ Feature

Heck – who needs a working smoke detector? Well – I did when our GE self-cleaning oven went non-linear and set our kitchen ablaze on Monday. Frankly, I want my smoke detector to be as stupid as possible: the one thing it should do, reliably and without fail, is to go off when it detects smoke. It appears the Nest smoke detector is too clever by half.

“Nest CEO Tony Fadell has just issued a notice recommending users disable the Protect smoke alarm’s ’wave to dismiss’ feature. In testing, it was discovered that people could accidentally trigger the dismiss feature, delaying a smoke alarm. Sales of the Nest Protect have also been halted.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/03/nest-disable-protect-smoke-alarm-halts-sales/

 

11.   New discovery gives hope to spinal injury patients

There has been incremental progress in the science of nerve regrowth over the past few years. Unfortunately, this does not sound like a breakthrough with near term therapeutic application.

“Spinal cord injuries are currently irreparable. When nerve fibres in the central nervous system are damaged there is, as yet, no way of reversing this. But research we’ve been doing has led to the discovery of a mechanism for regrowing damaged nerve fibres.”

https://theconversation.com/new-discovery-gives-hope-to-spinal-injury-patients-25107

 

12.   Microsoft open sources more of its .Net technologies

Gee – they make Windows Mobile free and now they actually open source .Net! It makes you wonder what is going on at Microsoft (except the fact the CEO is no longer a founder). Perhaps the idea is to make .Net available on a wide variety of platforms (such as Internet of Things) which would not normally have considered it, opening those up to Windows and other proprietary Microsoft products. It will be a major undertaking to get open source community support for Microsoft strategies, however – after all these are the guys who patent troll Android device manufacturers.

“In a move few would have ever imagined coming to pass, Microsoft is open sourcing more of its .Net developer framework and programming languages. Company officials announced the move on April 3 at Microsoft’s Build 2014 developer conference. Execs also revealed they are partnering with Xamarin to create a new .Net Foundation, which will be responsible for the newly open-sourced bits.”

http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-open-sources-more-of-its-net-technologies-7000028031/

 

13.   Google reportedly wants to launch its own wireless network

It sort of seems like a logical extension of their Google Fibre strategy, however, operating as an MVNO comes with limitations. Ideally, they would want spectrum and country wide-coverage.

“Google is reportedly considering running its own wireless network. Sources tell The Information that company executives have been discussing a plan to offer wireless service in areas where it’s already installed Google Fiber high-speed internet. Details are vague, but there are hints that it’s interested in becoming a mobile virtual network operator or MVNO, buying access to a larger network at wholesale rates and reselling it to customers. Sources say that Google spoke to Verizon about the possibility in early 2014, and that it talked to Sprint about a similar possibility in early 2013, before the company was officially acquired by Softbank.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/3/5578100/google-reportedly-mulling-its-own-wireless-network-in-fiber-cities

 

14.   Samsung Claims Progress on the Next Wonder Material

Graphene and other nano-materials have tremendous potential, however, despite using nearly free input (carbon in this case) they are extremely expensive to make. Personally, I would not have lead with flexible displays as an application, but that’s just me.

“A group of researchers supported by Samsung Electronics said Friday that they’ve developed a technique for synthesizing graphene–an ultra-thin material of unusual strength and flexibility–that brings commercialization a step closer.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/04/04/samsung-claims-progress-on-the-next-wonder-material/

 

15.   LED makers get smart to rise above price war and growth cliff

As we predicted LED prices are dropping rapidly, but they are by no means cheap (that will come). Frankly, I don’t see much value in ‘clever’ light bulbs so I doubt these will me any more than a small niche. What we really need is a low voltage wiring standard so in bulb power supplies (a major source of failure) can be simplified.

“Lighting companies like Philips and Osram are scrambling to develop more advanced technology as a price war for LED bulbs threatens to eat into profits and bring on a period of low growth as the long-life bulbs become more common. The market for light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is growing rapidly as companies, hotels and shops switch from incandescent light bulbs, which are being banned in countries around the world, to these more efficient and durable lights.”

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/03/us-lighting-technology-idUSBREA3211S20140403

 

16.   Bitcoin crackdown in China halts bank transfers for two exchanges

China is slowly turning the screws on Bitcoin, which is probably a good thing for Chinese. It might make bypassing currency restrictions a bit harder, though.

“China may be tightening the noose around Bitcoin: two exchanges dealing in the virtual currency have been forced to suspend bank transfers from customers depositing yuan to buy bitcoins.”

http://www.itworld.com/internet/412901/bitcoin-crackdown-china-halts-bank-transfers-two-exchanges

 

17.   Newegg and friends crush a patent troll

Some companies have taken an aggressive stance against patent trolls, which is probably a good thing. It is worth noting that proposed ‘loser pays’ rule would have stopped Macrosolve in its tracks long ago.

“Macrosolve is a company that got a lot of (generally negative) attention when it turned full-blown “patent troll” in 2011, suing dozens of companies (including small app development shops) over patent No. 7,822,816, which it claims covers using questionnaires on a mobile app. Now, a coalition of defendants led by Newegg and Geico Insurance has stopped Macrosolve in its tracks. Macrosolve has dismissed all remaining cases, and it has admitted that it can’t proceed to go forward with a trial that was scheduled to take place this June in East Texas.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/newegg-and-geico-stop-patent-troll-that-sued-dozens-over-forms-on-apps/

 

18.   How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion

The problem with studies like these is that they treat the US as some sort of the special domain: religious affiliation was been dropping in the developed world long before the Internet became mainstream. The real question is: why has the US lagged the general trend with respect to religious affiliation (I suspect an abysmal education system and the rise of the religious right has a lot to do with it). Before hailing the Internet as being responsible for a rise in general skepticism, it is worth pointing out that the web is a hotbed for disinformation, conspiracy theories, SCAM medicine and all variety of nonsense.

“Back in 1990, about 8 per cent of the US population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 per cent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion. That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?”

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/526111/how-the-internet-is-taking-away-americas-religion/

 

19.   Climate Change May Lead to Food Shortages, Civil Conflicts, Scientists Warn

These sort of reports make my skin crawl. No doubt a lot of thinking went in to the report, however, people are hungry because they are poor, not because the world can’t produce enough food. A single farmer, some equipment, fertilizer, and diesel fuel, can produce more food than hundreds of farmers used to be able to with horse and plough. Not only that, but farmers have the intelligence to change what they grow in order to accommodate the climatic conditions and they have always done so. So, climate change or not, the problem of hunger is political and unless there is political change the climate won’t matter.

“In particular, the report cites the effects increased temperatures and heat waves have on essential food crops — in most cases lowering productivity — and warns of food availability and price swings that could lead to civil unrest in countries that are already having problems meeting the basic needs of their citizens. Climate change has already begun to hold back wheat and maize yields, the report found.”

http://mashable.com/2014/03/30/climate-change-to-lead-to-food-shortages-civil-conflicts-climate-panel-warns/

 

20.   Off the shelf, on the skin: Stick-on electronic patches for health monitoring

The folks at Zarlink Semiconductor were talking about this sort of thing 10 years ago (they had some interesting ultra-low power radio technology which is central to this application). The idea make perfect sense – if you are in a hospital, or even at risk of heart attack or stroke, such a system would keep track of heart rate, blood pressure, and raise an alarm in case of a crisis. There is no doubt this is the future.

“Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University have demonstrated thin, soft stick-on patches that stretch and move with the skin and incorporate commercial, off-the-shelf chip-based electronics for sophisticated wireless health monitoring.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140403212615.htm