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

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


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

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1) Latest CAFC Ruling Suggests A Whole Lot Of Software Patents Are Likely Invalid

I have been looking for signs the broken US patent is getting fixed but really haven’t seen many. It seems to be impossible for congress to pass legislation (probably because there are competing pools of money) and the courts have been inconsistent in leaning for or against bad patents. Things might be changing but, As Lenin said, “one step forward, two steps back”.

“Some more good news on the patent front. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in the Alice v. CLS Bank case, there has been some question about how the lower courts would now look at software patents. As we noted, the Supreme Court’s ruling would seem to technically invalidate nearly all software patents by basically saying that if a patent “does no more than require a generic computer to perform generic computer functions” then it’s no longer patentable. But that, of course, is basically all that software does. Still, the Supreme Court’s ruling also insisted that plenty of software was still patentable, but it didn’t give any actual examples.”

2) Tablet sales dip, as market matures

This should not be a shock as the utility of tablets is rather limited (great for e-reading, web browsing, etc., though). It is frustrating the industry analysts continue to jabber about the unit sales of things like tablets, which is relatively meaningless compared to revenue. I figure tablet pricing will come under significant pressure, especially now that market growth is slowing. You can safely ignore the forecasts they provide: they have no predictive value whatsoever.

“Year-over-year tablet sales fell for the first time, analyst firm NPD DisplaySearch reported, evidence that the stratospheric growth of the tablet market may be leveling off somewhat. NPD declined to break out specific numbers, but the firm said that based on its sales data for the first quarter, tablet sales had declined compared with the same period last year. About 285 million tablets will be sold in 2014, the firm said, representing a lower number than it had originally expected. In 2014, the year-over-year growth rate of tablet PCs will fall to just 14 percent and by 2017 will slow to single digits.”

3) Hidden network packet sniffer in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert

Golly, this can’t be right: Apple has explicitly stated it doesn’t spy on its users on behalf of governments (despite the NSA revelations), and, even recently they attacked claims by the Chinese government that iPhones were bad for national security.

“Zdziarski’s analysis shows that 600 million iOS devices, particularly those running the most recent version 7 builds, have data discovery tools that are separate from those used by Apple for standard backup and storage. These include a file-relay service that can snoop out data, bypassing the Backup Encryption service offered by Apple.”

4) Apple denies new allegations that iOS provides backdoor access for forensic snooping

Ah – but they didn’t start denying it until they stood accused, did they? Seriously, nobody should assume any piece of equipment, especially equipment produced under the guidance of the NSA and “Patriot Act” is an more secure than something out of Mother Russia or China. We are past that. Even the denials sound absurd.

“We have designed iOS so that its diagnostic functions do not compromise user privacy and security, but still provides needed information to enterprise IT departments, developers and Apple for troubleshooting technical issues. A user must have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer before that computer is able to access this limited diagnostic data. The user must agree to share this information, and data is never transferred without their consent.”

5) Driverless cars could change everything

I agree with the thesis that driverless cars – actually autonomous vehicles in general – will transform modern society almost to the same extent the horseless carriage did. This article touches some points but the major question in my mind remains “starting when?”

“For now, it seems like a novelty – cars that can operate independently of human control, safely cruising down streets thanks to an array of sensors and pinpoint GPS navigation. But if the technology avoids getting crushed by government regulators and product liability lawsuits, writes the Federalist’s Dan McLaughlin, it could prompt a cultural shift similar to the early 20th century move away from horses as the primary means of transportation.”

6) Coming in 2015: A Faster, Sharper Way to 3D Print

It is not abundantly obvious what the advantage of a spinning 3D printer is and the article really doesn’t do much to explain it. The advantage to laser scanning is that the scanning system is very low mass, precise, and relatively low cost. A rotating platform would also result in forces being applied to the object which would not be present in a fixed platform, potentially resulting in distortions. I guess we’ll see if and when the machine gets to market.

“The core idea of the Helios One, a desktop 3D printer that Orange Maker plans to release in 2015, is that it can print continuously. Instead of moving a light source back and forth across layers of resin, the platform on the Helios One rotates as resin hits the surface. Objects are printed in a spiral instead of as one flat layer on top of another. In doing this, the printer doesn’t need to pause as it severs resin between layers. The development team also traded in the standard SLA light source, UV lasers, in favor of one they say is better suited for continuous printing. Though the team won’t reveal what the light source is, they claim it reduces the risk of botched prints.”

7) The Web never forgets: Persistent tracking mechanisms in the wild

The website summarizes a 16 page paper which is linked to at the top. Long story short, they discuss a number of novel (to me, anyhow) tracking techniques. There has been some discussion as to whether or not these (in particular canvas fingerprinting) can be blocked. No doubt they can be, but only if users make an effort to do so. You might remember that “Do Not Track” was recently introduced as a privacy mechanism and is also largely ignored. Among other things, these show why the Internet industry – or any other industry for that matter – cannot be allowed to self-regulate.

“Canvas fingerprinting is a type of browser or device fingerprinting technique that was first presented by Mowery and Shacham in 2012. The authors found that by using the Canvas API of modern browsers, one can exploit the subtle differences in the rendering of the same text to extract a consistent fingerprint that can easily be obtained in a fraction of a second without user’s awareness.”

8) California very much in running for Tesla Gigafactory

“Winning” in this sense is a bit like “winning” an auction in which 32 people were bidding for the same house – you are the idiot who paid more than the other 31 people thought it was worth. Alternative energy mega projects are mechanisms for moving taxpayer’s money, through subsidies, into the pockets of the “visionaries” who promote them. Besides the scale of the subsidies to crank out these batteries, there is nothing revolutionary about a battery factory, no matter how big: it’s just putting goo into packages.

“Tesla has a decision to make, and soon. Where to build a “Gigafactory” employing 6,000 people churning out batteries, not only for Tesla’s range of electric vehicles, but for solar panels and other energy-saving devices, which analysts believe could truly disrupt the auto industry and a whole lot of others.”

9) Japan PM says will offer about $20,000 subsidy for fuel-cell cars

Another example of alternative energy projects being taxpayer funded boondoggles, though, at least in this case, the Japanese government probably hopes the subsidy kick starts the manufacture of vehicles so taxpayers in other countries can subsidize their purchase. In other words a fuel cell version of the Tesla business model. The problem is this: you make hydrogen out of natural gas or electricity, two energy sources Japan really doesn’t have much of. Given the poor efficiency of hydrogen manufacture and distribution, does it make any sense whatsoever to waste either so you can pretend your fuel cell car emits no CO2?

“Japan will offer at least 2 million yen ($19,700) in subsidies for fuel-cell vehicles, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said according to media, as the government and Japanese carmakers including Toyota Motor Corp join forces to speed up the introduction the vehicles. The subsidy would mean that consumers would pay about 5 million yen for Toyota’s fuel-cell sedan, which is set to go on sale by the end of March 2015 and priced at about 7 million yen.”

10) Dumping an open source Honeypot on Rachel: FTC reloads on liquidating robocallers

It is interesting to see that the US government takes robocalls, telephone fraud, and “do not call” lists seriously. In contrast Canada which maintains a do not call list but apparently does no enforcement. In other words, Canada takes robocalling, telemarketing, telephone fraud, etc., as seriously as it takes securities fraud and insider trading: technically illegal, but don’t expect to see many prosecutions. It has gotten to the point that I no longer answer my mobile if I don’t recognize the number of the caller. In fact the number of robocalls I get actually went up after I signed up to the ‘do not call’ list.

“The Federal Trade Commission today announced the rules for its second robocall exterminating challenge, known this time as Zapping Rachel Robocall Contest. “Rachel From Cardholder Services,” was a large robocall scam the agency took out in 2012. The Zapping Rachel contest will take place at DEF CON 22 in Las Vegas Aug. 7-10, and offers partakers $17,000 in cash prizes for developing open-source packages that could be used to build an advance robocall honeypot, circumvent or trick a honeypot, or analyze data from an existing honeypot, the FTC said.”

11) Will Science Burst the Multiverse’s Bubble?

I have to wonder what idiot wrote that headline or why the article raises the issue as being somewhat philosophical. At best, philosophy poses questions that science can answer but it doesn’t answer questions. Things exist or do not exist. If they exist and are testable you will discover a test for their existence. If they exist and are not testable it is the same as they do not exist. Either way, if multiverses exist and have, or had, an influence on our universe there should be a trace of that interaction. Given the scientific hypothesis is a relatively new one, it is not surprising it will take a lot of thinking to devise an experiment to test it.

“Physicists aren’t afraid of thinking big, but what happens when you think too big? This philosophical question overlaps with real physics when hypothesizing what lies beyond the boundary of our observable universe. The problem with trying to apply science to something that may or may not exist beyond our physical realm is that it gets a little foggy as to how we could scientifically test it. A leading hypothesis to come from cosmic inflation theory and advanced theoretical studies — centering around the superstring hypothesis — is that of the multiverse, an idea that scientists have had a hard time in testing.”

12) The relentless (and annoying) pursuit of eyeballs

It can be useful to hear the enemy perspective. I say enemy because, well, this is an industry which is legally entitled to lie and mislead (all within its ‘code of ethics’), which gleefully propagandizes for the most heinous governments or policies, which promotes dangerous products such as homeopathy and other “natural” cures, etc.. Fundamentally, all advertizing is bad and people in the industry are soldiers in that war. Nevertheless, I sort of agree with the article (except about CNN – why would anybody watch a CNN video?). Well I would agree with his point, except I run Firefox and Opera web browsers and the first thing I do is install the Adblock Plus plugin. So I don’t see any ads.

“As a longtime ad guy, I now confess: I have a love-hate relationship with the products of my own profession. I love ads that draw me in with intelligence and wit. I hate ads that barge into my life uninvited. When I was a wide-eyed junior copywriter, I came to appreciate the code of ethics that guided the high-quality ad agencies.”

11) 3D printing could revolutionize supply chains at Maersk

No. No it won’t. I really don’t know that much about ships, but the few I have been on are honking big boxes with a huge engine in them. 3D printers, especially ones which print in ABS might be able to allow you to replace a knob or something, but I’m guessing that if part of that engine, or anything else important, breaks you are pretty much boned unless you have the parts and expertise on board to do the repair. I wonder what inspired them to do this?

“In the future, 3D printing technologies could be used to print out spare or repair parts as a solution to current high logistical cost. When advanced manufacturing and 3D printing becomes widely available, more companies are exploring how 3D printing can be used as an at-sea manufacturing technology.”

12) Transplanting Gene into Injured Hearts Creates Biological Pacemakers

A biological repair is probably going to perform better than a pacemaker since it might be able to directly respond to the natural environment of the heart. Plus, there are no batteries to run down. Unfortunately, there may be complications to using stem cells as well so we’ll have to wait for more research to find out how effective this is.

“Cardiologists at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have developed a minimally invasive gene transplant procedure that changes unspecialized heart cells into “biological pacemaker” cells that keep the heart steadily beating. The laboratory animal research, published online and in today’s print edition of the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine, is the result of a dozen years of research with the goal of developing biological treatments for patients with heart rhythm disorders who currently are treated with surgically implanted pacemakers. In the United States, an estimated 300,000 patients receive pacemakers every year.”

13) Kids are not waiting for schools to go online

Online courses have considerable potential, but the folks who run them often report that far more people sign up than actually use them. Given the low (or zero) costs, this is not entirely surprising, and it may just be too early to gauge the impact of online education. I am somewhat skeptical of the results of this survey – self reporting on this sort of thing is not necessarily reflective of reality. For example, far more people claim to attend church regularly than actually attend church regularly. People often reply based on what they aspire to do, or what they think they are expected to do.

“My grandson Oscar will enter the 9th grade this fall and he and a friend are working their way through Algebra II at the Khan Academy this summer. No one told them to do it — no one assigned it – they just decided to do it on their own. It turns out that Oscar and his friend may not be all that unusual. UCLA conducts an annual survey of incoming first-time, full-time college freshman and they included two questions about student’s experience with online classes in the 2013 survey: …”

14) Super-Dense Computer Memory

It has been at least a few months since a revolutionary memory technology has been announced and its a slow news week so I figured I’d mention this one. First the caveats: in the past 25 or so years no novel memory technology has actually gone mainstream (the last one was Flash), so the odds are pretty long on this one. Plus, the article mentions 5 nanometer ‘holes’, which I am pretty sure are rather hard to make, and it mentions an ability to switch ‘hundreds of thousands’ of times, which is orders of magnitude less than what you need for a proper storage system. So it is good to see that the research if progressing but don’t go and short memory stocks just yet.

“A novel type of computer memory could, in theory, let you store tens or even hundreds of times as much data on your smartphone. Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated a more practical way to manufacture it. The type of memory in question, resistive random access memory (RRAM), is being developed by several companies, but fabrication usually requires high-temperatures or voltages, making production difficult and expensive. The Rice researchers have shown a way to make RRAM at room temperature and with far lower voltages.”

15) School accused of causing bullying through iPad scheme

Assuming this story is true (you never know, especially with with UK media) it is an outrage. Not the bullying as much as the fact these twits are asking parents to pay for iPads, of all things, when better and much less expensive alternatives are readily available. In fact the very idea of making parents pay for fragile, expensive, soon to be obsolete, technology is absurd. The proper way for something like this to work is to take the money for the purchases out of the budget for administrators’ salaries.

“A school which has asked parents to buy iPads for their children to use in class has been accused of creating a “two-tier” education system in which pupils who can’t afford the gadgets are bullied by their richer peers. The state-funded Biggleswade Academy in Bedfordshire has asked parents of children in years five and six to pay up to £300 for the Apple tablets, which it says will help to “personalise” their learning. It is offering monthly payment options for families who can’t pay up front and discounts for children on free school meals.”

16) What the Internet Can See From Your Cat Pictures

Most mobile phones now have GPS and ‘tag’ the photos you take with the coordinate of the where you took the photo. This can be handy but it can also result in you unknowingly posting your address online. Think about that if you take a picture of some nice jewelery or something and post it online: you are essentially advertising to burglars. There are applications which can ‘scrub’ photos of personal information but few people use them.

“Your cat may never give up your secrets. But your cat photos might. Using cat pictures — that essential building block of the Internet — and a supercomputer, a Florida State University professor has built a site that shows the locations of the cats (at least at some point in time, given their nature) and, presumably, of their owners.”

17) Payment apps aplenty

I think the only payment app I see used regularly is the one from Starbucks, which appears mostly designed to make people wait longer in line while the guy/gal with the Starbucks payment app fiddles with their phone, tries a few times, etc.. This is from (I think) a South African blogger, and I have heard that phone based banking and payments are far more broadly used in Africa than in Europe or North America because the banking system was never really set up for electronic funds transfer until recently. I don’t know if the article is representative of the broader African experience (there is a big difference between South Africa and Sudan) but clearly these things are more broadly used there than here.

“I think the title says it all – Payment apps aplenty. We’re getting inundated with smartphone apps that claim to make shopping a breeze. For us, SnapScan leads the pack but a few developers have followed suit with other offerings.”

18) Why some workers are begging to get their BlackBerrys back

Having worked at a ‘well-known’ investment firm I can tell you that, most likely, people are pissed off at the ham-handed incompetence of the IT people and the policies implemented along with BYOD. The problem is that these firms actually believe they own you, all your data, and so on, even if it is your own device. I never used a corporate laptop for similar reasons. Given a choice between carrying around a modern smartphone which the IT department had access to, or an additional rudimentary device you could conveniently switch off when you left the office, I’d always go for the latter. The thing is, it ain’t the device that is the problem.

“At a well-known investment firm in New York City, something strange is happening: Mobile app performance issues and privacy concerns have sparked a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolt, and now many employees are asking for their corporate BlackBerry back.”

19) GE releases instructions for 3D-printable jet engine

A rather misleading headline, unfortunately. After all, an actual working jet engine would be a cool thing to make. Nevertheless, printing and assembling the 3D models would make an interesting project for kids. Who knows: maybe 3D printing of models will become a hobby, especially since scale models have become staggeringly expensive.

“If you’ve ever felt your life didn’t have enough jet engines in it, now there’s a way you can get one of your very own; just don’t expect it to actually power anything. The engine in question is actually a 3D-printed model, designed by GE. Although its parts move in the same way as a real jet engine, it’s scaled down, simplified, made of 3D printer material, and powered not by combustion but by a hand crank.”

20) An introduction into the disruptive innovations that will shape the future of the smartphone industry

Did I mention this is a slow news week? Well, futurology and futuromentry are pretty pointless exercises but somebody has to do it so we can make fun of them in the future. I’d say most of these predictions are unlikely to come to pass. Yes, prices will plummet as we reach “feature saturation” (the point beyond which nobody gives a damn). I remain unconvinced that payment applications will take off in areas with a modern banking system (and who wants Google to know what they have been spending money on). Battery life will improve, but that will be mostly because of better semiconductors than better batteries. The marker has shown little interest in wearables, Google Glass, or health monitoring, etc.. As a general rule the future is really hard to predict because the predicitons are invariably based on what is interesting today.

“We aim to introduce you to some of the these disruptive changes in the future of the smartphone industry. We then conclude suggesting that the innovations in the next 10 years in the smartphone industry will make the last 10 years look embarrassing. But for this expectation to become a reality there most be a rapid increase in the rate of innovation in batteries.


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

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


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

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

1) Most of Microsoft’s Android patents commercially irrelevant, those affected could seek free alternatives

The problem with a patent portfolio is that they can get you on a single claim of a single patent. As the world’s largest patent troll Microsoft’s tactic has thus far, apparently, been to keep its allegations secret while shaking down every Android manufacturer. They seem very careful to avoid suing anybody for actual infringement, probably because that would raise the specter of having at least some of their patents invalidated. I doubt whether this will have an actual impact on them, however.

“For years, Microsoft has been claiming that its patents are used in Android, and rightly so, but it never revealed which patents were exactly involved. Until last month, when the Chinese Ministry of Commerce disclosed all the 310 Microsoft-owned patents. We know that Google pays a heck of a lot of amount of cash to the Redmond-giant every year for licensing those patents. But how useful are these patents? And more importantly, can Google look for other alternatives? M-Cam surely hopes so.”

2) 2013 Tesla Model S: Drive Unit IV: The Milling

Well now, having to replace a major component of a vehicle three times in a year or so shouldn’t be a major concern, should it? Frankly, I’d be outraged if I have only the other repairs mentioned on this post, let alone the litany of problems recorded on this blog (and these are not unique if you read the comments). Given the astronomical cost of the battery and its short life, I figure these things should have a zero resale value after 5 or so years even if the rest of the car was good for another 200,000 km. And no, I don’t think being an ‘early adopter’ excuses any of these issues. They are wise to unload the car to an unsuspecting chump as soon as they can or at least until word gets out they are less reliable than Ladas …

“Around midday, I received a call from Omar with an update on the repairs. “The technician sent a recording of the milling sound to our engineers and they gave us the OK to replace the drive unit.” It was a unique way of diagnosing the issue. All the work was set to be finished by the end of the day, but there was an issue with the new drive unit. It had a broken logic connector. This meant that Tesla would need yet another drive unit, which it got from another one of its shops across town. But that meant I wouldn’t have the car back that day. Plus, the techs spotted a few other items that needed repairs.”

3) 2013 Tesla Model S P85+ Long-Term Update 3

Now I’m not the sort of person who confuses “Automotive Journalist” for “journalist”, but this is pretty funny. Two “reputable” (irony intended) organizations have been “long term testing” a vehicle and are delighted – delighted I tell you – over the fact that the company replaces drive trains (@$15,000 each) whenever they fail, which is at roughly 10,000 mile intervals (i.e. one oil change if you use synthetic oil). A quick web search shows that Tesla appears to be quite busy replacing these drive units, under warranty, meaning there is a good chance they have negative revenues on some of their fleet. However, Motortrend is more concerned with tire wear and no doubt they continue to be pleased they don’t have to change the oil. Presumably, like Edmunds, they’ll be so pleased with the vehicle they’ll want to sell it while it is still under warranty.

“I read it again. Replaced the Drivetrain! “There was nothing wrong with the power unit” they noted, “but we heard a clicking in the transmission. The power unit isn’t serviceable in the shop so we decided to be proactive.” As if they were replacing a windshield wiper. Wow. The new motor might have a bit more low-speed hum but otherwise, the car drives exactly the same. And let me guess — you’re tapping your fingers right now thinking Motor Trend’s long-term Model S is simply being given the red carpet treatment. Well, I guess it’s possible. But frankly, the sense I got from the service guys was that the whole episode amounted to just another day at the office. Which makes for an extraordinary level of service in my opinion.

4) ‘Lemon-law’ lawyer declares victory against Tesla

The third times the charm. I didn’t go looking for this story, it just popped up on one of my news feeds. Tesla apparently tried claiming the fuse problem (which was only one of his problems) was of his own doing but the court didn’t buy it. As is customary, most of the commentary regarding this news is met for Tesla and derision for the unfortunate former consumer. Note that the Edmunds article (item 2) speculates on whether they would have a claim under California’s Lemon law. (OK a fourth which covers drive failures with a tiny amount of balance).

A Milwaukee attorney says he’s won a settlement in his lemon-law suit against Tesla Motors on behalf of a Wisconsin owner who had big problems with his Model S. Attorney Vince Megna, the self-declared “lemon-law king,” said Monday that the electric carmaker agreed to buy the car back for $126,836, including accessories and extras and $18,500 in attorney fees. “We got back every penny we asked for,” he says.”

5) Google Inks a Deal With Novartis to Make Smart Contact Lenses

A while back Google announced they had developed a contact lens which could monitor certain biochemical markers, including those associated with diabetes. It is interesting they have now teamed with Novartis to produce the device, however, it is not clear to me such a thing would have broad market appeal beyond a subset of diabetes sufferers who also happen to wear contact lenses and who are dissatisfied with current monitoring systems. Cost is bound to be a factor as well.

The Google X project is now officially in lock step with healthcare giant Novartis, the parent of Alcon, which produces some of the most-widely used contact lens products on the market, including Air Optix, FreshLook and Dailies. Novartis will work on turning Google’s lab project into smart contact lenses for people around the world.”

6) MakerBot 3D printers go on sale at The Home Depot

This has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard: it is hard enough to find somebody in a Home Depot which knows what a Grade 8 bolt is, let alone anything technical such as how to operate basic power tools. Even the customer base of Home Depot are not, characteristically, the sort of customer who would be interested in 3D printing. You would think that the folks at MakerBot would know better.

Home improvement chain The Home Depot is making the plunge into the 3D printing with a new pilot project that brings the MakerBot Replicator to a dozen stores nationwide. The pilot marks The Home Depot’s first foray into the burgeoning 3D printer space.”

7) Patent trolls now account for 67 percent of all new patent lawsuits

Of course, it would depend on what you mean when you say “patent troll”. A true patent troll basically shakes down alleged infringer (as does Microsoft) with threats of litigation because the cost of litigation, and the almost inevitable settlement (over 90% of patent litigation is settled prior to trial) exceeds the initial demand for “damages”. Proposed “loser pays” rules would greatly reduce the burden on the courts.

Despite the sudden collapse of patent legislation in Congress earlier this year, most policymakers agree that patent trolls are a huge drag on the U.S. economy. By filing one frivolous lawsuit after another, trolls extract enormous payments from companies simply by claiming infringement — they don’t have to do very much to back up their assertions, nor do they have to be using the patents to sue.”

8) Introducing the iPhone 6, made in China by a robot

It is worth noting that almost all the really difficult assembly work, namely circuit board assembly, has been done for many years. In fact, automation is so advanced that many board can’t really be assembled, except by robots. The tasks done by hand are difficult for robots but trivial for people and it boils down to the payback period for a new design of robot (which will coincidentally deliver better quality) vs. a low wage, low skilled human. Bet on the robot over the long term.

The worst kept secret of Apple and its Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn isn’t their poor labor conditions. It isn’t even the fact that they use robots to help bring together all the pieces that make up an iPhone. It’s that their robots are now performing more and more human-like functions. In the past, it’s always been people that put the finishing touches on the popular devices. Well, that’s all about to change.”

9) New York state proposes sweeping Bitcoin regulations—and they’re strict

Not surprisingly, governments lack the pseudo-Libertarian zeal of Bitcoin proponents and have a fundamental problem with people circumventing money laundering rules, funding criminal enterprises, etc.. These sorts of rules, which in no way legitimize Bitcoin, allows prosecution under existing legal frameworks. Canada introduced similar rules a few weeks ago.

“The New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) has issued proposed regulations for Bitcoin and other related cryptocurrency businesses that operate in the Empire State. The most significant change is that anyone doing business with a firm operating under these rules won’t be pseudonymous, much less anonymous—in direct contradiction to one of the defining characteristics of Bitcoin.”

10) New Fastpass system opts for counter-intuitive central processing architecture.

This is not exactly an earth-shaking development, but it does sound promising: after all, the Internet, besides being a series of tubes, is essentially a series of bottlenecks and improving any bottleneck is bound to result in a better experience. It is worth noting that, if this technique shows practical applications engineers can develop and optimized central arbiter to further improve performance. Because it is centralized this should not have a significant impact on cost.

“A group of MIT researchers say they’ve invented a new technology that should all but eliminate queue length in data center networking. The technology will be fully described in a paper presented at the annual conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Data Communication. According to MIT, the paper will detail a system – dubbed Fastpass – that uses a centralized arbiter to analyze network traffic holistically and make routing decisions based on that analysis, in contrast to the more decentralized protocols common today.”

11) Nissan adding autonomous driving features

Frankly, I don’t see the appeal of automated parking – it is a basic skill and parking should not occupy that much of your time. I can see the merit of automatic navigation in stop and go traffic, especially if such capability becomes widely adopted in the car fleet. The vagaries of human driving skills results in a massive slowdown for modest cause and a car that knows when to move would probably speed things up for everybody.

“Following up on last year’s promise of self-driving cars by 2020, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn detailed the technologies that will make autonomous cars production-ready during a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. Ghosn said that by the end of 2016, Nissan will make fully automated parking, and a feature called Traffic Jam Assistant available in its vehicles. Traffic Jam Assistant lets the car drive autonomously in very slow or stop-and-go traffic. Ghosn did not specify whether the fully automated parking feature would require a driver in the car.”

12) Cosmologists Prove Negative Mass Can Exist In Our Universe

Well this is unexpected. And to think that just the other day I was making fun of the idea of anti-gravity systems. I am not in a position to comment on the correctness of their mathematics, but I recently heard Brian Greene (the string theorist) opine that when when we have discovered something that is permitted by mathematics, we eventually discover a corresponding phenomenon in the universe. In other words, hoverboards may not be that far into the future.

“Negative mass is the hypothetical idea that matter can exist with mass of the opposite sign to the ordinary stuff. Instead of 2 kg, a lump of negative mass would be -2 kg. Nobody knows whether negative mass can exist but there have nevertheless been plenty of analyses to determine its properties. In particular, physicists have investigated whether negative mass would violate various laws of the universe, such as the conservation of energy or momentum and therefore cannot exist. These analyses suggest that although the interaction of positive and negative mass produces counterintuitive behaviour, it does not violate these conservation laws.”

13) PC Shipment Slump Bottoms Out

One always has to be leery of “unit sales” figures in technology as prices tend to go down. In the specific case of PCs prices at the low end may have bottomed, however, there is plenty of room for the high end to come down. I do not believe the decline in PC sales had much to do with the surge in tablet sales, except to the extent consumers only have so much money to spend. The secular problem with the PC industry isn’t tablets, it is the fact that pretty much everybody has all the PCs they need, so it is becoming like any other consumer electronics business like TVs, sound systems, etc..

“A two-year slump in personal computer sales ended in the second quarter, helped by improving demand in developed markets like North America and Europe. PC sales have fallen in recent years, hurt by surging demand for tablets and other mobile devices. Tough economic conditions around the world have also disrupted sales. But quarterly figures released Wednesday by the research firms Gartner Relevant Products/Services Inc. and International Data Corp. show the global slump is easing.”

14) FBI warns driverless cars could be used as ‘lethal weapons’

I kinda see their point: after all, a “drive by shooting” would be 33% more lethal if the driver and two passengers where shooting than just the passengers. Mind you, the problem is more the underlying crime than the actual getaway. The FBI might just want to think out of the box and ask what other common, readily accessible things might be used as weapons. Like, for example, weapons.

“Google’s driverless car may remain a prototype, but the FBI believes the “game changing” vehicle could revolutionise high-speed car chases within a matter of years. The report also warned that autonomous cars may be used as “lethal weapons”. In an unclassified but restricted report obtained by the Guardian under a public records request, the FBI predicts that autonomous cars “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.””

15) Could a Brain Scan Protect U.S. Troops from Insider Attacks?

Because the headline ends with a question mark, I can safely answer “No” even before reading the article. Furthermore, since no “lie detection” system has ever been shown to actually detect lies, the answer is “No”. Since any such system would easily be spoofed, leading to a false sense of security, the answer would be “No”. Since any such helmet would probably (correctly) assign me as dangerous, based on what I know, the answer is “No” (well in my case maybe it would be correct). Thanks to my friend Avner Mandelman for this article.

“A Pentagon report, revealed by The New York Times over the weekend, showed that the American troops working alongside Iraqi forces were at risk of harm from Sunni extremists who had infiltrated the Iraqi Army (and, perhaps, from the pro-Iranian Shiite militias that effectively are the Army.) On Monday, Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters that “it would be imprudent, irresponsible not to think about the insider threat.” The threat is real in Afghanistan as well where insider threats, so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, have killed several U.S. troops in recent years.”

16) Chrome Blocks uTorrent as Malicious and Harmful Software

This is pretty strange, especially because it isn’t the first time. Even though the music and film industry have managed to position BitTorrent with piracy, it is also a way huge amounts of software and media are legitimately shared. This particular branding of uTorrent as malicious probably has more to do with a problem in the software bot Google uses to flag websites than anything else.

“With millions of new downloads per month uTorrent is without a doubt the most used BitTorrent client around. However, since this weekend the number of installs must have dropped quite a bit after Google Chrome began warning users away from the software. According to Chrome the BitTorrent client poses a serious risk.”

17) French blogger fined over review’s Google search placing

I don’t know if the Streisand Effect (attempting to block something from the Internet causes it to become more broadly known) is operative in France. Perhaps it is called the Jerry Lewis effect there. Regardless, this seems to show a pretty lax attitude towards freedom of expression, at least as regards businesses. The only thing which should matter is whether the bloggers comments are true, not their search ranking and, in any event, she has little control over the search ranking. You have to wonder what would have happened if a print newspaper had printed the same.

“A French judge has ruled against a blogger because her scathing restaurant review was too prominent in Google search results. The judge ordered that the post’s title be amended and told the blogger Caroline Doudet to pay damages. Ms Doudet said the decision made it a crime to be highly ranked on search engines. The restaurant owners said the article’s prominence was unfairly hurting their business. Ms Doudet was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled “the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”.”

18) Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year

Thermoelectrics sound awfully interesting as you can generate electricity from waste heat. Unfortunately the materials which have been available have been very expensive, making it an impractical source of power. In theory a cheap, durable, lightweight, efficient thermoelectric generator could turn waste heat from car engines or industrial processes into useful electricity. However, as is often the case with such ‘breakthroughs’ this article leaves a number of unanswered questions (such as durability) unanswered, so it is a bit early to get excited about it.

“California-based Alphabet Energy plans to begin selling a new type of material that can turn heat into electricity. Unlike previous thermoelectrics, as such materials are known, it is abundant, cheap, and nontoxic. Thermoelectric materials can turn a temperature difference into electricity by exploiting the flow of electrons from a warmer area to a cooler one. Thus, they can theoretically turn waste heat into a power source.”

19) Mathematics makes strong case that “snoopy2” can be just fine as a password

Long story short, you can’t remember all those passwords and password managers are themselves vulnerable. So what you want to do is remember really hard passwords for really important stuff and use Password123 for everything else.

“By now, most readers know the advice cold. Use long, randomly generated passwords to lock down your digital assets. Never use the same password across two or more accounts. In abstract terms, the dictates are some of the best ways to protect against breaches suffered by one site—say, the one that hit Gawker in 2010 that exposed poorly cryptographically scrambled passwords for 1.3 million users—that spread like wildfire. Once hackers cracked weak passwords found in the Gawker database, they were able to compromise accounts across a variety of other websites when victims used the same passcode.”

20) Are Rolls-Royce’s ‘robo-ships’ the future of seafaring?

There is a lot to be said about autonomous ships since the ocean is mostly empty. Plus, they are really, really big, and, for most of the journey, “navigation” mostly consists of pointing the ship in the general direction of where you want to go. One can’t help but suspect that the crew of a modern ship does other things than simply navigate like maintain the vessel and its systems, keep an eye on cargo, and so on. Frankly, I find the fuel savings of 15% a bit hard to believe.

“Ship captains of the future won’t be salty sea dogs with their hand at the helm, and the ocean at their feet. They won’t even step on-board a boat, if revolutionary new technology is given the green light. As Google unveils its driverless car, and Amazon tests out drones delivering goods to our door, could the high seas be the next frontier for robotic transport? Crewless cargo ships, operated by remote control, could be sailing our globe within the next decade says luxury engineering company Rolls-Royce.”

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

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


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

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

1) 3D printing helps surgeons save 5-year-old’s life

This is another interesting application for 3D printing: basically to make a model of a difficult surgical situation and allow the surgeons to plan and practice on it. It makes you wonder if this couldn’t be used more generally: mass produce (for example) hearts with common defects and let surgeon ‘learn’ on models before tackling the surgery on an actual human.

“A practice surgical procedure on a 3D-printed tumor has helped surgeons successfully remove the tricky real one from a 5-year-old boy in Spain. The boy was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a common form of cancer in children that typically occurs around the stomach. Because of the locations of these types of tumors, surgery to remove them requires copious skill to not slice an artery and put the patient’s life in danger. After two unsuccessful attempts to remove the child’s tumor, it appeared inoperable.”

2) Bitcoin Price Still Looking for New Floor after EBA Report

Bitcoin seems to be mostly past the hype-cycle, however there remain many true believers. Not surprisingly, most governments are less than enthusiastic for the pseudo-Libertarian dreams of an untraceable currency beyond state control. After all, if you don’t control your currency, you can’t really claim sovereignty. Nonetheless, the staggering number of Bitcoin related frauds haven’t dissuaded the true believers so its hard to believe laws will have an immediate impact.

“The European Banking Authority, a financial regulatory institution in the European Union, has released a 46 page paper voicing its opinion on the legal status of Bitcoin and crypto-currency in general. The paper, titled “EBA Opinion on ‘virtual currencies,’” outlines several things that the European Banking Authority believes are risks that individuals face when participating in the Bitcoin network.”

3) Judge denies Silk Road’s demands to dismiss criminal prosecution

I saw a few online comments which suggested that, based on this ruling, Bitcoin had to be money, which is kind of absurd. After all, you can use postage for money laundering but that does not make postage money. Regardless, if I were him, I’d be somewhat more concerned about the murder for hire charges.

“In a scathing opinion and order on Wednesday, the federal judge presiding over the Silk Road case denied the defense’s motion to dismiss all four criminal counts, rejecting every argument made. Absent a plea deal, the case will now go to trial scheduled for November in a New York federal courtroom.”

4) Automotive Grade Linux brings open source to the auto industry

Blackberry fans appear convinced the auto industry will standardize on QNX, the company’s real time operating system. Frankly, I consider that almost improbable: no industry is going to find itself in the position the PC industry found itself relative to Microsoft. More likely, a standardized open source alternative will be adopted and the most likely candidate is a fork of Linux. The customization angle mentioned in the article is, for the most part, silly. The auto industry is not interested if making it easy for you to customize (and screw up) your controls because the suport costs would be astronomical.

Open source seems to be popping up everywhere. The collaborative nature of the license makes for the perfect foundation for which to develop a system, platform, application, etc. And open source isn’t content with being confined to your PC, laptop, or mobile device. Open source wants to travel… and travel it will. A brand new distribution of Linux, Automotive Grade Linux (AGL), is coming to fruition that targets the automotive industry. I’m not talking about embedded systems running the machines that build the cars you drive, but the cars themselves.”

5) Hints of Life’s Start Found in a Giant Virus

Giant viruses are pretty interesting critters (or however you classify them) and the article goes over some interesting topics. I can sort of understand the concept that life originated as self-replicating RNA, however, I don’t entirely follow the reasoning that that somehow leads to viruses as the first life form.

“In the world of microbes, viruses are small — notoriously small. Pithovirus is not. The largest virus ever discovered, pithovirus is more massive than even some bacteria. Most viruses copy themselves by hijacking their host’s molecular machinery. But pithovirus is much more independent, possessing some replication machinery of its own. Pithovirus’s relatively large number of genes also differentiated it from other viruses, which are often genetically simple — the smallest have a mere four genes. Pithovirus has around 500 genes, and some are used for complex tasks such as making proteins and repairing and replicating DNA. “It was so different from what we were taught about viruses,” Abergel said.”

6) New screen technology paves way for digital contact lenses

Being able to assemble something using an atomic force microscope is a bit far away from mass production as contact lens displays would have to be. Regardless, for the most part, people prefer not to have something sitting on their eyeball unless they have good reason to. I don’t see much future in this type of technology except in very specific applications.

“Imagine having an ultra high-resolution display built directly into a pair of contact lenses. This could be the future of digital displays thanks to scientists at Oxford University, who have adapted a material currently used to store data on DVDs and transformed it into a radical new display technology.”

7) Scholarly journal retracts 60 articles, smashes ‘peer review ring’

“Publish or perish” leads to some pretty strange behavior by scientists, for example, breaking a single, banal paper down in into ‘Least Publishable Units’ or LPUs in order to get 5 publishing credits out of some work rather than a single one. There there are the internecine dynamics of reviewers being easy on papers written by ‘respected’ scientists who could destroy the reviewer’s professional career if they should be too picky about a paper. This one takes the cake and it makes for some amusing reading. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal. Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once. The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A “peer review and citation ring” was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.”

8) Google, Dropbox band together to fight patent trolls

This is how is should be, and has been for many years in certain industries, though in most cases it is an informal arrangement. For example, car companies do not spend their days suing one another because they realize that only the lawyers win in such a scenario. This will not have a measurable impact on patent-trolling however because the trolls don’t really need good patents. Indeed, the world’s largest patent troll is Microsoft and it is not even clear they have a relevant patent portfolio.

“Members of Lotnet retain full ownership and licensing rights of their patents, but they agree to provide each other with a royalty-free license should any of the patents ever be sold. That means if Dropbox, for instance, sells a patent on data storage to a third party, Google and the other members will first receive a license to the technology. That should insulate them from any lawsuits brought by the patent’s new owner.”

9) Foreign airport scrutiny focuses on electronic devices

Security theater at its very best: any self respecting terrorist would be able to provide enough of a battery to endure the “turn on” test. Even I can figure that out. You have to wonder if TSA officials sit around trying to find frivolous rules to harass paying customers. Think about it: tons of drugs and contraband are smuggled through airports every day, mostly by co-opting airport employees so what’s to stop them from using the same channel for moving a ‘special package

“Don’t bring dead phones or laptops to those overseas airports for flights heading to the USA. Department of Homeland Security officials warned last week that security would tighten at airports where flights head directly to the USA but without providing much detail about how the scrutiny would change. But security officials said Sunday that the attention is focused on explosives that could be disguised as electronic devices.”

10) Truck of the future aims to drive itself

This is a pretty timid test of a self-driving truck but it is a sign of the times. I can see an extended period where humans act as co-pilots for the computers, if for no other reason than to have a fail-safe. Mind you, its hard to pay attention to driving if you are a passenger and driver boredom will probably be a major challenge.

“Tractor-trailer drivers, if you text while driving in the middle of the freeway, then the future may belong to you. If you can afford a Mercedes truck, that is. The German vehicle maker sent an 18-wheeler barreling down the Autobahn recently, while the driver surfed the Internet for food recipes on tablet computer — at least that’s how media photos told the story. Its test drive was brief, covering about three miles, German media reported.”

11) Algorithm-Generated Articles Don’t Foretell the End of Journalism

I can’t disagree with the article, but I disagree about the end of journalism. Take business journalism, for example. Time was newspapers had actual business journalists following companies. Over time they increasing relied on wire services for their business coverage and, fairly quickly, the wire services moved all its “business reporting” to boiler rooms, often in India (as did much of Wall Street research). So, what is happening is that the now content-free summary of press releases (I’m referring to the journalism, not the Wall Street research) is being replaced by algorithms. This does not mean the end of journalism. That is coming about because very little of what makes its way into print nowadays is actual journalism. Journalists still exist, they just can’t make a living.

“Earlier today, the Associated Press announced that the bulk of its corporate earnings stories will be, starting in July, written automatically. The new project is powered by a company called Automated Insights, whose algorithms will constantly trawl the servers of Zacks Investment Research for new earnings information and then publish stories about those figures in seconds.”

3) Lettuce See the Future: Japanese Farmer Builds High-Tech Indoor Veggie Factory

I had this idea a number of years ago: since plants only use a narrow part of the spectrum and you can customize the output of LEDs so you could develop energy efficient grow lights which only emit at those wavelengths. Its easy to bash the idea of growing food under artificial lighting but it is actually pretty common. After all, it boils down to the cost of the electricity for growing vs. the costs of transporting the product. Another benefit to ‘grow-LEDs’ is that a major cost of lighted greenhouses is air-conditioning, and that burden can be reduced when less power is wasted.

“Humans have spent the last 10,000 years mastering agriculture. But a freak summer storm or bad drought can still mar many a well-planted harvest. Not anymore, says Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura, who has moved industrial-scale farming under the roof. Working in Miyagi Prefecture in eastern Japan, which was badly hit by powerful earthquake and tsunamis in 2011, Shimamura turned a former Sony Corporation semiconductor factory into the world’s largest indoor farm illuminated by LEDs. The special LED fixtures were developed by GE and emit light at wavelengths optimal for plant growth.”

13) Gartner Raises 2014 Chip Market Growth Forecast

Its funny what a decade can do to an industry. Not long ago, this headline would have read “Gartner slashes 2014 Forecast!!!”. Like the boiling frog experiment, as semiconductor industry growth has dropped to a modest amount over global GDP growth, nobody seems to have noticed. I fully expect mobile and tablet sales, measured in dollars, to drop due to pricing pressure and see no other growth (let alone high growth) market on the horizon. In the future, 6% growth may be looked upon as good times.

“The global chip market will be worth $336 billion in 2014, up 6.7 percent from 2013, according to market analysis company Gartner Inc. This is higher than the forecast of 5.4 percent growth Gartner gave three months before. The sequential growth of the second quarter of 2014 is outpacing previous expectations Gartner said.”

14) 14,000 draft notices sent to men born in 1800s

Cast your mind back to the late 1990s and the looming Y2K crisis. Planes were going to fall from the sky, nuclear reactors were going to melt down and modern society was in peril. Or so we were told by the various consultants, etc., who offered their expensive services to save us from our fate. Billions were spent by governments and corporations, except in Italy, which characteristically never got around to it, and emerged unscathed. The few calamities which did emerge were like this one. I assume the recipients of these draft notices can safely ignore them.

“No, the United States isn’t trying to build a military force of centenarians. It just seems that way after the Selective Service System mistakenly sent notices to more than 14,000 Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897, ordering them to register for the nation’s military draft and warning that failure to do so is ‘‘punishable by a fine and imprisonment.’’”

15) Amazon Goes After Box, Dropbox And Huddle, Launches Zocalo For Secure Enterprise Storage

The Porter business model is a pretty powerful analytical tool and it shows why you have to be very careful when investing in cloud based businesses. These run the gamut from having very high barriers to entry (i.e. hosted proprietary software) to almost no barriers to entry (cloud storage like Dropbox). One item of note is that there is no such thing as “Secure Enterprise Storage” on the cloud. It might make for good marketing but I would be astonished if the EULA carefully avoids responsibility for actual security, let alone reliability.

“E-Commerce giant Amazon has made huge competitive inroads into the cloud services market with Amazon Web Services, and today it’s adding another feature that will put it into direct competition with the likes of Box and Dropbox: It’s launching Zocalo, a secure enterprise storage service. The company is launching Zocalo — Spanish for plaza or town square — in a limited preview from today.”

16) Kickstarter project spent $3.5M to finish a working prototype—and ended in disaster

This is an object lesson in the perils of crowd funding, at least from the perspective of the crowd funders. Ideally, a Kickstarter campaign should be used to gauge demand for a product through pre-sales and then to use the proceeds to pay for the manufacture of the unfortunately, there is very little in the way of quality control (it is pretty easy to mock up a prototype) and the system can easily be gamed for those keen to do so. As the recent “Solar Roadways” showed, crowd funding can devolve into an auction house for dreams.

“Delivery of the final gadget was promised by September 2013. Yet over the next 18 months, Arkami and its product became a case study for mismanagement. Only a small number of myIDkeys have actually shipped, and numerous backers who received one complained about failing buttons and freezing displays. In the end, all $3.5 million was spent without much to show for it.”

17) LG Display unveils flexible TV panel that can be rolled up to 3cm

There is considerable potential to OLED displays, however, pricing has been an issue for larger ones. I rather doubt the ability to roll up a display is significant for consumers but having a truly flexible display would significantly extend their application. For example, a flexible display would be easier to use as advertisements on, say, the sides of buses.

“LG Display has come up with a new flexible TV panel that people can roll up just like a newspaper. The South Korean company on Thursday unveiled two 18-inch OLED panels — one that’s rollable and another that’s transparent. This means televisions using this type of technology can be easily hidden on home and office walls. According to LG, the flexible panel has a high-definition class resolution of 1,200×810 with almost 1 million megapixels. And the panel can be rolled up to a radius of 3 centimeters without affecting the function of the display.”

18) 10 Jobs That Robots Will Dominate Within 20 years

Frankly, this is a silly story and should be read as such. Robotics is not really advanced enough to do more that rote tasks and some of the tasks, such as waiter/waitress are actually selling tasks (i.e. interpersonal roles), not simply shlepping food. Then there are occupations like pharmacists and medical doctors which are highly regulated in order to erect barriers to entry. After all, even today, why do you need anything other than a vending machine to dispense the same pills you’ve been taking for the past five years? One job robots would be very good at is tech support. That is because tech support provides little to no actual service besides to frustrate consumers.

“Oxford University recently released a study concluding that almost half of today’s jobs performed by humans will be taken over by robots and software automation within the next two decades. Bill Gates has warned us that “technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of the skill set … 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.” It’s hard to imagine a world where half of today’s jobs have been transferred over to robots, but it’s coming. Here are some of the most likely candidates.”

19) SK Hynix Licenses BeSang’s 3D IC

Integrated circuits are more or less two dimensional devices so a number of companies have tried to ‘stack’ ICs in order to increase circuit density. These efforts have been not entirely successful for a variety of reasons. One issue that would be hard to deal with is power dissipation: ICs give off heat, and, for the most part, the more powerful the computer or faster the memory the more heat is given off. Traditional packaging, along with the occasional heat sink, manage to keep temperatures down but ‘stacking’ would increase the amount of heat given off while limiting the paths through which it can be dissipated, so this is not a panacea.

“SK Hynix Inc. in Icheon, South Korea, has licensed the 3D chip technology of BeSang Inc. of Beaverton, Oregon. SK Hynix, which mainly makes DRAM and flash memory chips, will license what BeSang (which in Korean means “flying high”) calls its “True 3D IC” process, which uses a low-temperature process to build multilayer 3D integrated circuits one layer at a time using traditional vias, instead of stacking finished die using through-silicon-vias (TSVs).”

20) Tablet market to lose attention as competition rises in wearable industry

Well that’s a shocker. Actually it isn’t: tablets are nice devices for consuming content but not much else. Once you’ve got a decent tablet (readily available for less than $199) you don’t need to replace it until you drop it so the market saturated pretty quickly and as a result prices are dropping fast. The problem with the article’s thesis is the assumption that ‘wearables’ will be the next big thing. Unfortunately, there has not been a ‘wearable’ product put on the market which had any significant consumer appeal. Nonetheless, the tech media are breathlessly awaiting Apple’s offering based on the assumption it will somehow rock your world. It will not.

“As tablet shipment growth for 2014 is expected to only reach less than 5%, and Apple’s iPad sales also declined 16% sequentially in the first quarter, the IT industry is gradually turning conservative about tablet’s future, according to sources from the upstream supply chain. Several first- and second-tier vendors have significantly reduced the number of new projects and order volumes for tablets, and turned to focus on wearable devices.”

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

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


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

Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe

1) A step closer to bio-printing transplantable tissues and organs: Study

Bioengineering organs with 3D printers in an interesting field, however, one can’t help but feel that getting the various tissues to collaborate might be a major challenge. After all – chemical and neural signaling do not happen in isolation. Nonetheless, it may be that the more of an organ you print, the quicker the turnaround in, say, a vat of stem cells.

Researchers have made a giant leap towards the goal of ‘bio-printing’ transplantable tissues and organs for people affected by major diseases and trauma injuries, a new study reports. Scientists from the Universities of Sydney, Harvard, Stanford and MIT have bio-printed artificial vascular networks mimicking the body’s circulatory system that are necessary for growing large complex tissues.”

2) 3D printer makes parts for ankle replacement surgery

One application for 3D printing which probably does show near term potential (and has, indeed, had some great success) is the custom construction of bones and joints for replacement. For example, your ankle and my ankle are probably very similar but our life experiences (minor and major trauma, disease, weight gain, etc.) almost certainly means that every ankle is different enough that a custom replacement would work much better than a standardized one.

“Arthritic ankles can make it nearly impossible for sufferers to walk. A 3D printer is taking the pain out of the joint and giving patients a much easier stride.”

3) Google, Detroit diverge on road map for self-driving cars

The auto industry may be managed by dinosaurs (well – dinosaurs would have recalled vehicles with a known lethal key switch defect) however, they do know a thing or two about mass producing vehicles. Google et als know a lot about technology but nothing about mass producing vehicles. I’d give greater odds the car makers can develop the technology than Google can mass produce cars.

In 2012, a small team of Google Inc engineers and business staffers met with several of the world’s largest car makers, to discuss partnerships to build self-driving cars. In one meeting, both sides were enthusiastic about the futuristic technology, yet it soon became clear that they would not be working together. The Internet search company and the automaker disagreed on almost every point, from car capabilities and time needed to get it to market to extent of collaboration. It was as if the two were “talking a different language,” recalls one person who was present.”

4) 19th Century Math Tactic Gets a Makeover—and Yields Answers Up to 200 Times Faster

I’d be lying if I said I understood the math, but this sounds interesting, however, it might have been useful to understand how this technique performs relative to state of the art algorithms rather than one which hasn’t been used for decades. I like that they explain that 200x faster means something which would have taken 200 days now might take 1 day. Who knew?

“With just a few modern-day tweaks, the researchers say they’ve made the rarely used Jacobi method work up to 200 times faster. The result, they say, could speed up the performance of computer simulations used in aerospace design, shipbuilding, weather and climate modeling, biomechanics and other engineering tasks.”

5) Russia wants all personal data stored on Russian soil by 2016

One might be tempted to blame this on the Snowden revelations or the revival or Russian authoritarianism. Actually the Patriot Act, which is publicly available, should have forced all governments to adopt the same approach, Snowden or not. So, while Russian authoritarianism provides an added incentive for their moves, national governments who are actually concerned about their citizen’s privacy should adopt the same rules.

“The Russian government is attempting to implement a new set of rules that could change the face of the Internet for businesses (and individuals) that operate within its confines. A new bill passed through parliament yesterday and states that any data stored online about Russians must be done so inside the country. But it goes further, stating that such data cannot be transmitted outside of Russia without guarantees are first given and accepted about its storage.”

6) Connected devices waste $80 billion in electricity annually

My friend Duncan Stewart addressed a similar report recently on his blog ( The IEA report may or may not be accurate, and it may or may not reflect current rules and regulations. For example, it is only fairly recent that regulators introduced standby power requirements for devices which should, in any event, be so low as to be unmeasurable (i.e. micro-watts). I always like to point out that not all electric power is wasted: it is used to heat your house so the idea of “waste” has to be carefully adjusted.

“A report by the International Energy Agency, an organizations that advises developed nations, released on Wednesday did just that and the sum is astounding. Over $80 billion in power was spent unnecessarily in 2013 because of inefficiencies with the world’s 14 billion online electronic devices, including printers, gaming consoles and televisions.”

7) (Korean) government says, “we will break away from OS dependency with open source software by 2020”

The discontinuation of Windows XP support has placed a lot of governments, businesses, charities, and private individuals in the unfortunate position of keeping an insecure operating system (with known, advertized insecurities) or replacing much or their hardware and software (including, in some cases, custom written software which cannot be replaced). Good for Microsoft and the PC industry but not good for anybody else. Some organizations which to be spared this trauma in the future and are making noise about moving to Linux and other open-source platforms. This may be legitimate or simply bluster in order to negotiate a better deal from vendors.

“As the support for the Microsoft (MS) Windows XP service is terminated this year, the government will try and invigorate open source software in order to solve the problem of dependency on certain software. By 2020 when the support of the Windows 7 service is terminated, it is planning to switch to open OS and minimize damages. Industry insiders pointed out that the standard e-document format must be established and shared as an open source before open source software is invigorated.”

8) Ninety-nine percent of the ocean’s plastic is missing

An interesting report, but one which is very frustrating to read. “We do not know” does not provide justification for a litany of calamitous predictions about the ecosystem. “We don’t know” means exactly that: you don’t know, even if funding might benefit from apocalyptic predictions. As for missing, well modern analytical techniques can detect parts per trillion so if you “think” critters are eating the stuff you should be able to find the stuff in the critters. Fact is, you don’t know so propose an experiment to find out.

“Millions of tons. That’s how much plastic should be floating in the world’s oceans, given our ubiquitous use of the stuff. But a new study finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility: Fish are eating it. If that’s the case, “there is potential for this plastic to enter the global ocean food web,” says Carlos Duarte, an oceanographer at the University of Western Australia, Crawley. “And we are part of this food web.””

9) Google right to be forgotten ‘to get messy’ after BBC story disappears

The EU Court’s recent “right to forget” ruling has been having unintended consequences, however, I rather doubt they are as profound as granting human rights to corporations as the US Supreme Court has done repeatedly over the past few years. Regardless, there should be a distinction between having searches scrubbed of false, defamatory, or criminal (i.e. child porn) content, and having factual information deleted from history. Shades of the USSR.

“The removal of a BBC article from Google’s search results in Europe has prompted the broadcaster to express its worries over the implications of stories vanishing from the search giant’s system — but experts say online life in the wake of the “right to the forgotten” ruling is only going to get trickier. BBC economics editor Robert Peston reports that on 2 July, Google informed the BBC that a blog post from 2007 titled “Merill’s Mess” would be removed from search results conducted using European versions of Google. The removal is required of Google following a May ruling by the European Union Court of Justice that said individuals could ask Google to change or delete search listings that refer to them.”

10) LED lighting to comprise nearly 94% of street lighting sales by 2023

This does seem like a rather high figure but, given the high cost and short lives of traditional streetlights and the corresponding cost savings associated with LED illumination, it would seem to be an obvious choice for municipalities. As the article points out, however, once the transition is done the market will decline markedly. I recon the market should collapse to about 5-10% of its current size due to cost reduction and the long lives of LED fixtures.

“The market share of LEDs in street lighting worldwide will grow from 53.3% in 2014 to 93.8% in 2023, as falling prices for LED street lights are spurring a global transition from older lamp technologies to newer, more efficient, and more controllable LEDs, according to Navigant Research’s report ‘Smart Street Lighting: LEDs, Communications Equipment, and Network Management Software for Roadway and Highway Lighting: Global Market Analysis and Forecasts’. The whiter light of LED street lights offers city residents improved nighttime visibility, while the greater energy efficiency and longevity offer city managers cost savings from reductions in both energy consumption and maintenance costs.”

11) Cornell University: We didn’t review Facebook’s mood-manipulation experiment

A number of years ago I read an article about whether it was ethical to use data derived from the horrific ‘experiments’ perpetrated by Nazi and Japanese scientists on prisoners during WWII. I don’t recall the conclusion but I do recall that it was not an easy ethical quandary to resolve: do you sanitize unethically gathered data by producing legitimate research? Is the value of research mitigated by the fact the experiments cannot be repeated and therefore the conclusions are unverifiable? Cornell seems to have arrived at the conclusion that, as long at it didn’t actually break the rules on human research it was without blame. How objective and non-self serving of them.

“Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results— and not to any data at any time—Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required,” the statement said. Cornell’s Institutional Review Board approves, monitors, and reviews “human subjects research.””

12) Millions of dynamic DNS users suffer after Microsoft seizes No-IP domains

This sounds pretty awful and, in some ways, it is: No-IP is a service you can use to give your home network a named domain without having a static IP address (which, incredibly, Internet Service providers charge for). This is very useful and a real boon for people working on Internet of Things projects because it separates you from the vendor. Unfortunately, according to Microsoft (and a judge) the particular service was used by criminal organizations to work their evil schemes. The net result is service disruptions for a load of people, including those who may not be able to set up a workaround. The ultimate solution is a modernization of DNS and static IP processes in general.

Millions of legitimate servers that rely on dynamic domain name services from suffered outages on Monday after Microsoft seized 22 domain names it said were being abused in malware-related crimes against Windows users. Microsoft enforced a federal court order making the company the domain IP resolver for the No-IP domains. Microsoft said the objective of the seizure was to identify and reroute traffic associated with two malware families that abused No-IP services. Almost immediately, end users, some of which were actively involved in Internet security, castigated the move as heavy handed, since there was no evidence No-IP officially sanctioned or actively facilitated the malware campaign, which went by the names Bladabindi (aka NJrat) and Jenxcus (aka NJw0rm).”

13) Advancing our encryption and transparency efforts

Yet another Microsoft story, but one that makes me giggle. Not so much due to the email security, which may or may not be important, but the idea of “Transparency Centers”. Are we to believe that governments, who have no clean hands in the matter of network security, are going to ‘vet’ Microsoft’s source code and detect back-doors? Imagine, for a moment, this was the case (and the government in question had a problem with back-doors, which is, actually, today, not the case). A week later, and indeed, weekly, Microsoft could push out a security update which includes a back-door. This is pretty thin damage control and they should know better.

“Third, I’m pleased to announce that today we opened the first Microsoft Transparency Center, on our Redmond, Wash. campus. Our Transparency Centers provide participating governments with the ability to review source code for our key products, assure themselves of their software integrity, and confirm there are no “back doors.” The Redmond location is the first in a number of regional transparency centers that we plan to open. We continue to make progress on the Transparency Center in Brussels that I announced in January, with other locations soon to be announced.”

14) NSA targets the privacy-conscious

Not surprisingly, paranoid security agencies can’t distinguish between people with legitimate concerns over security (which probably comprise 99.999% of users) and Dr. Evil types and terrorists bent on mayhem (who, if they have any self-respect or professionalism have workarounds). So the answer is to assume anybody concerned about security is a dangerous threat. Personally, I’d embed encrypted messages in pictures of kittens for church magazines, but that’s just me. Not that I’ve ever thought about it. This is a long article which summarizes the most recent disclosures. It appears to be mostly translated from German except parts of the web page are not, so at the bottom the 1 2 3 4 5 are page numbers.

“It is a small server that looks like any of the other dozens in the same row. It is in a large room devoted to computers and computer storage, just like every other room in this industrial park building on Am Tower Street just outside the city of Nuremberg. That the grey building is surrounded by barbed wire seems to indicate that the servers’ provider is working hard to secure their customers’ data. Yet despite these efforts, one of the servers is targeted by the NSA.”

15) Goldman says client data leaked, wants Google to delete email

Speaking of Dr. Evil types, Vampire Squid Incorporated seems to have decided that the best way of keeping a screw-up quiet is by demanding a court order compelling an innocent (at least in this case) third party “disappear” a misdirected email. I can only imagine how important that data might be, so if I had received it I probably would have cc’d my entire address list just to piss them off. Why this should be Google’s concern escapes me, but I guess it is a good thing the documents weren’t lost in the (snail) mail.

“Goldman Sachs Group Inc said a contractor emailed confidential client data to a stranger’s Gmail account by mistake, and the bank has asked a U.S. judge to order Google Inc to delete the email to avert a “needless and massive” breach of privacy. The breach occurred on June 23 and included “highly confidential brokerage account information,” Goldman said in a complaint filed last Friday in a New York state court in Manhattan.”

16) Many employees won’t mingle with enterprise social software

Here’s a shocker: companies spend millions to set up corporate social media and employees don’t use the sites. Not that I understand the likes of Facebook, but I due understand corporate cultures, most of which are vile. For example, lay off a bunch of people then have a “team-building” exercise for the ones you haven’t laid off yet. Or give temp empowerment training and demand they justify trivial courier charges or the hotel they choose to stay at. This is just a money making exercise for management consultants.

“In a great IT industry irony, enterprise social networking (ESN) software, designed to boost interaction and collaboration, is often ignored by users and ends up forgotten like the proverbial ghost town with rolling tumbleweeds. The promise of a successful ESN deployment is appealing to businesses: implement a Facebook- and Twitter-like system for your workplace, with employee profiles, activity streams, document sharing, groups, discussion forums and microblogging, and watch employee collaboration bloom.”

17) ESB and Vodafone to invest €450 million in broadband

Some countries seem to realize that broadband infrastructure is as important to a modern economy as electric power was in the early 20th century. And then there is North American and Canada in particular which is content to sit back and watch as the future recedes further from view.

“ESB and Vodafone have signed a joint venture agreement to invest € 450 million in building a 100 per cent fibre broadband network across Ireland. The network will offer speeds of 200 Mbps to 1000 Mbps propelling Ireland into the ranks of the world’s fastest broadband countries. Ireland will also become the first country in Europe to utilise existing electricity infrastructure to deploy fibre directly to homes and businesses, initially reaching 500,000 premises.”

18) VMware End-User Computing Blog

I can only guess that VMware intends to launch a suite of Mac-related products. BYOD is a pretty profound and important trend and is, by nature, going to lead to an heterogeneous mobile device environment. BYOPC, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster. Besides being incredibly overpriced and at least a half or full generation behind, Macs are only made by one company. Consumers may want to subsidize their companies by overpaying for a Mac because they are “cool” (at least to those who don’t know any better) but it is hard to believe these will significantly displace much cheaper, and often far more advanced PCs. If I were in a BYOPC environment I’d opt for the cheapest laptop I could find and I’d probably steal office supplies to make up for my expense.

“Microsoft Windows has dominated enterprise desktops for close to three decades but it appears its reign is coming to an end. As BYOPC and BYOD continue to transform the enterprise, Macs have become a popular and preferred option compared to Windows PCs. However, complex questions and challenges have risen around the support of these two very different platform.”

19) Android’s share of global mobile usage may soon top iOS for the first time ever

Frankly it is surprising this didn’t happen some time ago but I guess it makes sense. iPhones were largely bought by early adopters and tend to belong to a more affluent user in richer countries whereas much of Android’s growth came from later adopters and in lesser markets. I can’t agree that the launch of the iPhone 6 will somehow disrupt the trend: as with Macs, iPhones are losing ground technologically and the best they could do right now is catch up to existing top tier Android devices.

“In terms of monthly shipments, Android devices surpassed Apple’s iOS lineup long ago. Apple executives and Apple bloggers repeatedly point to a different stat, however, that paints an interesting picture: Despite Android’s huge lead in terms of shipments, iOS remains the global leader in usage as measured by companies that monitor web traffic. Unless the current trend is reversed in the next month or two, however, there will soon be a changing of the guard.”

20) Making Dreams Come True : Making Graphene from Plastic?

As a rule of thumb, whenever you read a headline which ends with a question mark, the answer is usually “No”, however, this article is probably translated from Korean so the punctuation (and indeed headline) should be “Researchers develop novel technique for mass production of graphene. In any event, graphene is a material with tremendous potential for application in a variety of fields, however, its production has been very expensive. There are a variety of techniques which have been developed over the past year or so which appear to be progressing towards affordable mass production.

“Graphene is gaining heated attention, dubbed a “wonder material” with great conductivity, flexibility and durability. However, graphene is hard to come by due to the fact that its manufacturing process is complicated and mass production not possible. Recently, a domestic research team developed a carbon material without artificial defects commonly found during the production process of graphene while maintaining its original characteristics. The newly developed material can be used as a substitute for graphene in solar cells and semiconductor chips. Further, the developed process is based on the continuous and mass-produced process of carbon fiber, making it much easier for full-scale commercialization. In recognition of the innovative approach, the research was introduced on the cover of Nanoscale, a high impacting peer-reviewed journal in the field of nano science.”