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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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 (http://duncanpredicts.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/no-cable-tv-boxes-are-not-the-2nd-biggest-energy-users-in-many-homes/). 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 No-IP.com 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.”