The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 29th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 29th 2014

Hello,

I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Kreyos smartwatch is just the latest crowdfunded, wearable horror story

Crowdfunding is a powerful tool to startups and for marketing. As with any situation involving money, there are outright scams, “best efforts” failures, and the occasional success. Some of the failures might be scams but pressing money into the hands of people with no prior business or manufacturing experience is not usually going to end well. Even then, most hardware projects end up behind schedule due to unexpected challenges, “feature creep”, or broken promises by suppliers Consumer should be very care before giving money to crowdsourced projects unless they do it for entertainment.

“Android Police also claims to have photos of Kreyos co-founder Steve Tan posing with a Ferrari, and, in a separate photo, with a mound of shopping bags from high-end retailers. Assuming these photos exist and reflect actual purchases, even if Tan didn’t pay for these luxuries with crowdsourced money, the images don’t look good to backers who haven’t received what they paid for.”

http://www.techhive.com/article/2597562/kreyos-smartwatch-is-just-the-latest-crowdfunded-wearable-horror-story.html

2) Vehicle-to-Vehicle: 7 Things to Know About Uncle Sam’s Plan

Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Roadway (where traffic lights and so on tell you what’s up) have the potential to make a significant impact on vehicle safety and even fuel efficiency. Not only that but the technology is inherently easier than autonomous vehicles and probably comes with fewer potential litigation issues as well, meaning near term adoption is much more likely. Even though the article refers to the possibility of retrofitting vehicles I doubt that will be done much, unless mandated by government or insurance companies. As a result, it will take a long time before a significant portion of the fleet is equipped with V2V and the full benefit realized.

“Now that Google has autonomous cars up and running in California, and more new cars are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s unveiling this week of its plan to require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technologies in all new passenger cars might seem too little, too late. But, with the announcement, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the proposed V2V technology “the next great advance in saving lives.””

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1323617

3) For many, the once-hyped tablet has become dead weight

Well I never hyped it, even though I ended up buying once when the prices went below $200. Tablets are OK for sitting around browsing the web but they are portable (or connected) enough to be phones and they aren’t powerful enough, and lack the I/O and storage, to replace laptops. When coupled with specific applications (such as for a menu at a restaurant, or a check-in counter) they can be useful in business but they are not really useable in a corporate environment. I don’t think tablets will go away completely, but the folks who built the hype around now have to find something to write about and “the end of the tablet” is topical.

“Ryan Libson of Bloomington owns two portable-computing devices, his Google Nexus 7 tablet and his Google Nexus 5 smartphone. He uses the phone continually, while the tablet typically gathers dust. The reasons for this are simple: “The Nexus 5 is big enough for 90 percent of my Web usage,” he said, and his smartphone also performs splendidly for email and pulling up work documents. The larger tablet is now deadweight. Libson is hardly the only one to feel this way. With many tablet proprietors finding the devices to be redundant lately, for a variety of reasons, it is no wonder this once-hyped flavor of computing device is having a bad year with lagging sales and diminished buzz.”

http://www.twincities.com/technology/ci_26388772/many-once-hyped-tablet-has-become-dead-weight

4) Apple Said to Prepare New 12.9-Inch IPad for Early 2015

Apple’s hype machine (see the last article) is busy stoking the media frenzy of what might be when the company releases its latest versions of a tired product line in a few weeks. Will they deliver a bigger phone? A smaller tablet? Sapphire screens? Maybe – could it be – a modern, multitasking Operating System? I take this report with a large grain of salt as a slightly larger tablet has only slightly different (not necessarily better) utility than what they sell already. Some wits have suggested the product name would be the iPad Max or Max iPad.

“The new iPad will have a screen measuring 12.9 inches diagonally, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Apple currently produces iPads with 9.7-inch and 7.9-inch displays. The Cupertino, California-based company has been working with suppliers for at least a year to develop a new range of larger touch-screen devices, said the people.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-26/apple-said-to-prepare-new-12-9-inch-ipad-for-early-2015.html

5) First ever 3D-printed vertebra successfully implanted in 12-year-old cancer sufferer

This is another potentially significant medical application for 3D printers: the child had a tumor removed, which also entailed the removal of a vertebra. Vertebra are all unique so there wasn’t a good option for replacement until now. I am confident use of 3D printing in bone and joint replacement surgery will become commonplace. Oddly, the caption refers to the device being made of aluminum powder, however, it is made from titanium, which is biocompatible, whereas aluminum is not.

“Chinese surgeons have successfully implanted a 3D-printed vertebra into the spine of a 12-year-old boy suffering from bone cancer. The surgery, which the doctors say was the first of its kind, took five hours in total, with the replacement vertebra constructed from titanium powder and incorporating tiny pores to allow the bone to grow into 3D-printed part.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/first-ever-3dprinted-vertebra-successfully-implanted-in-12yearold-cancer-sufferer-9691685.html

6) How Microsoft’s predictive modeling could make streaming gaming tolerable

I am told this technology could make online games a lot more playable. Even fast internet connections are affected by perceptible ‘ping’ times (1/20th of a second or more) and there are the inevitable delays at the server end. Not only that but latencies can vary as Internet segments get loaded, etc.. By predicting the player’s next moves this technology can render frames in advance so the latency is reduced to levels below human perception. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of bandwidth, however, in the civilized world (outside of Canada) bandwidth is abundant and cheap so this should be moot.

“No matter how fast your Internet connection is, streaming game services like OnLive and PlayStation Now always bump up against a hard latency limit based on the total round-trip time (RTT) it takes to send user input to a remote server and receive a frame of game data from that server. The hope for these systems is that broadband speeds and server connections will eventually improve enough so that trip is quick, to the point of being nearly unnoticeable for end users. Until then, a team at Microsoft research seems to have done an end run around the RTT latency limit, using predictive modeling to improve apparent performance even when the server trip takes a full quarter of a second.”

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/08/how-microsofts-predictive-modeling-could-make-streaming-gaming-tolerable/

7) TiVo Releases A $49.99 Over-The-Air DVR For Cord Cutters

An Over-The-Air DVR isn’t exactly rocket science, especially now that ATSC (i.e. HDTV) tuners are pretty cheap. Given the success of Netflix and other streaming services – and the plummeting quality of almost all cable TV- more and more consumers are “cutting the cord” and leaving cable. Unfortunately, the quality of broadcast TV is also falling so the utility of an OTA DVR is somewhat questionable, unless you are into sports. I even PVR the CBC news so I can skip the crap and watch what matters in 15 minutes instead of 60. The major problem with this device is the $15 monthly subscription – that’s a lot of coin for an online TV Guide.

“Much of TiVo‘s growth in recent years has come from partnerships with cable and satellite companies, which have made its DVRs available to their subscribers. But with the release of a new, cheaper over-the-air DVR, the company is going after the cord cutter set. TiVo today is announcing the release of its TiVo Roamio OTA DVR, a $49.99 device that will give customers who don’t have cable or satellite service. Instead, they will be able to connect the DVR up to an antenna to record shows broadcast on channels available through over-the-air digital signals.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/25/tivo-roamio-ota/

8) Backoff Malware Spread Might Have Been Contained With Basic Defenses

The Target hack of a few months ago has moved the focus of security to the retail business. After all, if you are a hacker, what better target than a Point-Of-Sale (POS) terminal that sees thousands of transactions a day. Not surprisingly the folks at corner stores are not experts in computer security and the POS terminal business is an inherently low margin one. So the POS providers have no incentive to maintain their software (let along upgrade the Operating Systems) and the merchants have little interest or knowledge in solving the problem. The only real solution is to move towards PINs and other systems which pass through highly secure terminals.

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued an alert to businesses throughout the United States about a malware infection that invades point-of-sale (POS) systems and sends the credit card information of people to cyber-criminals. The malware, which is being called Backoff by security researchers, operates by gaining access to POS systems through an administrator account, according to DHS. … The single overarching theme is that retailers are getting hit by malware because they aren’t following even the most basic security practices. Simple things such as upgrading their POS software or the operating system on their computers would prevent most attacks.”

http://www.eweek.com/security/backoff-malware-spread-might-have-been-contained-with-basic-defenses.html

9) Spark of life: Metabolism appears in lab without cells

Abiogenesis, or the creation of life from non-life, is a major puzzle for biologists and many theories have been advanced. Unfortunately, none of those theories have produced useable results in the lab. Of course, this was likely a process which occurred in stages over a few hundred million years or so and took advantage of the entire surface of the planet and all its resources. Since we lack complete knowledge of the detailed chemistry of the planet, let alone the environment of every niche, it is a tough problem to solve. This is an intriguing result, but there have been many false starts along the way.

“Metabolic processes that underpin life on Earth have arisen spontaneously outside of cells. The serendipitous finding that metabolism – the cascade of reactions in all cells that provides them with the raw materials they need to survive – can happen in such simple conditions provides fresh insights into how the first life formed. It also suggests that the complex processes needed for life may have surprisingly humble origins.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25471-spark-of-life-metabolism-appears-in-lab-without-cells.html

10) Fish raised on land give clues to how early animals left the seas

According to this study, when you raise amphibious fish on land their skeletal structure adapts to the various loads and stresses you’d expect a walking fish to encounter. This is not entirely surprising as you can see the same result in people (manual labor is reflected in bone structure). Nonetheless, one can see how the critters whose bones adapt best and fastest would be the most successful and as a result this would lead to fish like amphibians. In case you are wondering (I was) this is was a bichir looks like http://alturl.com/9nps3)

“When raised on land, a primitive, air-breathing fish walks much better than its water-raised comrades, according to a new study. The landlubbers even undergo skeletal changes that improve their locomotion. The work may provide clues to how the first swimmers adapted to terrestrial life. The study suggests that the ability of a developing organism to adjust to new conditions—its so-called developmental plasticity—may have played a role in the transition from sea to land. “It was a very adventurous study, and it paid off,” says Richard Blob, an evolutionary biomechanist at Clemson University in South Carolina who was not involved in the work. “They are bringing in a novel perspective and got some very thought-provoking results.””

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/08/fish-raised-land-give-clues-how-early-animals-left-seas

11) Whole organ ‘grown’ in world first

Another strep forward in stem cell therapies. This experiment used fetal stem cells which would make for a difficult ethical context as well the the challenge of matching fetal tissue to the patient to avoid rejection. This was probably done for convenience for the researchers as mouse lawyers have little sway in the court of public opinion. No doubt human trials will involve the patient’s own stem cells.

“A whole functional organ has been grown from scratch inside an animal for the first time, say researchers in Scotland. A group of cells developed into a thymus – a critical part of the immune system – when transplanted into mice. The findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, could pave the way to alternatives to organ transplantation. Experts said the research was promising, but still years away from human therapies. The thymus is found near the heart and produces a component of the immune system, called T-cells, which fight infection.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28887087

12) Revolutionary handheld DNA diagnostic unit allows lab-quality analysis in the field

I first found this being reported as a handheld DNA sequencing machine, which it is not. A bit of research led me to this article which is both readble and more likely accurate (you have to love the state of science reporting). DNA based diagnostics would allow doctors to begin to treat certain illnesses much earlier since the cause of the infection could be quickly determined instead of waiting for cultures, etc..

“A revolutionary handheld and battery-powered DNA diagnostic device invented at the University of Otago is poised to become a commonly used field tool for rapidly detecting suspected viruses or bacteria in samples while also determining the level of infection.”

http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago077848.html

13) Sorting cells with sound waves

Sorting cells is a bit of a problem. Flow cytometry is used to automate blood tests, but looking for metastatic cancer cells is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. This system has the potential of separating out normal and abnormal cells, which greatly reduces the size of the haystack. It looks very promising.

“Researchers from MIT, Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie Mellon University have devised a new way to separate cells by exposing them to sound waves as they flow through a tiny channel. Their device, about the size of a dime, could be used to detect the extremely rare tumor cells that circulate in cancer patients’ blood, helping doctors predict whether a tumor is going to spread.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140826205729.htm

14) The final ISA showdown: Is ARM, x86, or MIPS intrinsically more power efficient?

RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computers) and CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computers) are the big endian/little endian debate of the computer industry. Long story short, companies like Intel and AMD (and formerly others) design CISC. ARM (which is in most smartphones, tablets, etc.) is RISC. Most ARM processors have been designed for low power use so plenty of folks confuse the RISC/CISC issue with low power vs. high power vs. performance. This article looks at the data and concludes that relationship does not hold. Unfortunately, another axis worthy of consideration, namely cost vs. power and power efficiency is not considered.

“One of the canards that’s regularly trotted out in discussions of ARM vs. x86 processors is the idea that ARM chips are intrinsically more power efficient thanks to fundamental differences in the ISA (instruction set architecture). A new research paper examines these claims using a variety of ARM cores as well as a Loongson MIPS microprocessor, Intel’s Atom and Sandy Bridge microarchitectures, and AMD’s Bobcat.”

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/188396-the-final-isa-showdown-is-arm-x86-or-mips-intrinsically-more-power-efficient

15) Airbnb to Expose 124 Hosts to New York Attorney General

Airbnb and Uber (the taxi like service) are facing regulatory push back in many places. This is not all bad: an unregulated market is easily abused. Nonetheless, the push-back is probably more due to entrenched interests than a concern for consumers. I am currently writing this from an Airbnb apartment in San Francisco where I used Uber several times a day for the past week. The appartment is better and cheaper than a hotel and Uber is cheaper and more available than cabs (try getting a cab in San Fran). In fact, many rides are cheaper than the subway when you travel as a family. You can see the problem if you own a hotel or a taxi license.

“Airbnb plans to hand over the names and addresses of 124 hosts on its service to the New York attorney general, the company said in a blog post Friday. The apartment-rental site agreed in May to provide Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with anonymous information on about 16,000 hosts in the city as well as the names and contact information of individual users the regulator chooses to investigate for possible enforcement action.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/08/22/airbnb-to-out-124-hosts-to-new-york-attorney-general/

16) Building Water Splitters to Store Energy

Hey – we’ve subsidized the hell out of ‘alternative energy’ like solar and wind power which is unreliable and sporadic. Since this wrecks havoc on the electrical grid and causes energy prices to plummet (at least for those hapless unsubsidized ‘big’ energy companies), why not waste most of their power to create hydrogen? No doubt the next move will be to subsidize fuel cell vehicles to do something with all that excess hydrogen. You gotta love government.

“Germany, which has come to rely heavily on wind and solar power in recent years, is launching more than 20 demonstration projects that involve storing energy by splitting water into hydrogen gas and oxygen. The projects could help establish whether electrolysis, as the technology is known, could address one of the biggest looming challenges for renewable energy—its intermittency.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/530331/germany-and-canada-are-building-water-splitters-to-store-renewable-energy/

17) “Spooky” Quantum Entanglement Reveals Invisible Objects

Now, this is cool. They entangle two wavelengths of light and pass one through an object to image. Due to ‘spooky action at a distance’ the other beam of light, which never sees the object, produces the image. So, you could ‘image’ using a wavelength with is good for seeing the object but bad for creating an image and create the output using a wavelength which is good for creating the image but not for seeing the object. Too cool.

“The images, of tiny cats and a trident, are an advance for quantum optics, an emerging physics discipline built on surprising interactions among subatomic particles that Einstein famously called “spooky.” A conventional camera captures light that bounces back from an object. But in the experiment reported in the journal Nature, light particles, or photons, that never strike an object are the ones that produce its picture.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140827-quantum-imaging-cats-undetected-photon-science/

18) Rival may have roasted Keurig’s coffee-pod DRM

Or, as the article points out, they may simply have paid a license fee. I almost see the appeal of a coffee machine which squirts out a small cup of expensive mediocre coffee because it is convenient. Even so, I remain old school with respect to my coffee: I use a Capresso machine. At least the coffee is cheap if you disregard the cost of the machine. Regardless it would be a cold day in hell before I bought a DRM locked coffee pot just on principle.

“Back in March, Keurig announced plans to lock down its popular coffee pod system in an effort to make third-party pod makers pay for a license. But the company’s plans may be foiled; a press release last week from Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee suggests that the Keurig “DRM” used to lock out third parties has been cracked and that Mother Parkers is now making coffee pods that can work in Keurig’s brewing machines.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/08/rival-may-have-roasted-keurigs-coffee-pod-drm/

19) Researchers suggest lack of published null result papers skews reliability of those that are published

This research was regarding “social sciences” (which should always be in quotes) but the conclusions certainly apply to all domains. There is a heavy publication bias towards positive results (those which confirm the author’s hypotheses) and very little published which does not, or even which suggests an already published paper, especially one by a senior research, might be wrong. This leads to confidence in false results and hypotheses and an enormous amount of effort following the wrong path, even wrong paths other researchers have shown – but only to themselves – are wrong.

“The answer lies in the domain of published results, if respected journals only ever publish strong result papers, an impression is created that only research that provides strong results is important, which of course is nonsense. It also leaves the science open to wasted effort when other researchers come up with the same hypotheses and the same result.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-08-lack-published-null-result-papers.html

20) Seeing Through the Illusion: Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media

This is a long article but if you want insight into how the Apple mythology was created and sustained, a lot if it is here. Essentially, Apple has a small team of master media manipulators and propagandists who build hype and crush any criticism, or even those who are not fully on board. I’d never read about the specific techniques before, but they are all very familiar to anybody who has read Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent”. Getting people hysterically excited about old technology is not, apparently, much different from building support for illegal wars. You really have to read this article whether you are interest in Apple, the Media (and how it is managed), or just politics.

“Apple’s public relations (PR) department is probably the best in the world — certainly more impressive at shaping and controlling the discussion of its products than any other technology company. Before customers get their first chance to see or touch a new Apple product, the company has carefully orchestrated almost every one of its public appearances: controlled leaks and advance briefings for favored writers, an invite-only media debut, and a special early review process for a group of pre-screened, known-positive writers. Nothing is left to chance, and in the rare case where Apple doesn’t control the initial message, it remedies that by using proxies to deliver carefully crafted, off-the-record responses.”

http://9to5mac.com/2014/08/29/seeing-through-the-illusion-understanding-apples-mastery-of-the-media/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 22nd 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 22nd 2014

Hello,

I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

Click to Subscribe

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1) Emerging Solid State Storage And Higher Endurance Flash

We predicted that Solid State Drives would replace Hard Disk Drives in most applications a number of years ago. There are limits to SSDs which concern some people, and most of those relate to the flash storage technology found in SSDs. Of course, flash has not been optimized for SSDs until recently so there is plenty of room for improvement, as well as the introduction of novel alternative storage systems. Most new memory technologies are never commercialized, but that doesn’t mean flash is the only alternative.

“HGST, a Western Digital company, demonstrated an SSD architecture that combined a PCIe-interface and phase change memory (45 nm 1 Gb PCM chips from Micron) to provide 3 million random read input/outputs per second (IOPS) with 512 byte blocks in a queued environment and with a random read access latency of 1.5 microseconds in non-queued applications. These are performance levels that are much higher than most flash storage devices available today. To take advantage of the faster performance HGST said that they developed a low-latency PCIe interface optimized for performance.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomcoughlin/2014/08/17/emerging-solid-state-storage-and-higher-endurance-flash/

2) SanDisk’s Ultra II SSD offers prices as low as 44 cents per gigabyte

This isn’t meant to be a product placement, simply a reflection of pricing in the SSD market. A 240 GB SSD is more than adequate for most Windows laptops and, at $115 this is an easy and relatively inexpensive upgrade to almost any laptop: you get significantly increased speed and battery life and a more durable (i.e. drop proof) mass storage system. Most laptops are also easy to upgrade with an SSD.

“The Ultra II is the follow-up to the SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD released early last year. At the time of its announcement, the Ultra Plus SSD came in capacities from 64GB ($75 retail price) to 256GB ($210 retail price). The new Ultra II SSD comes in 120GB ($80), 240GB ($115), 480GB ($220), and 960GB ($430).”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9250471/SanDisk_s_Ultra_II_SSD_offers_prices_as_low_as_44_cents_per_gigabyte

3) Sea plankton discovered outside space station

Needless to say, I’d be happier if the source were not ITAR-TASS, but if true this finding is supportive of the ‘panspermia’ hypothesis that life can travel in space as a result of impacts (ejecting bacteria, etc., along with rocks) or other causes. If, indeed, the space station happens to harbor life on its external surfaces, perhaps weather is enough to launch single celled organizams into space.

“Russian scientists conducting experiments on the outside surface of the International Space State made a puzzling discovery, one made all the more remarkable because it’s something that whales eat. Samples taken from illuminators and the surface of the space station were found to have traces of sea plankton and other microorganisms, but scientists are baffled as to how they got there, the Russian chief of the orbital mission told the ITAR-TASS News Agency.”

http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/nature/post/sea-plankton-discovered-outside-space-station/

4) Ridiculous Patent Troll Gets Stomped By CAFC, Just Months After Being Awarded A Huge Chunk Of Google’s Ad Revenue

Things seem to be moving slowed against the true “patent troll” business model although it is too early to suggest the business is finished. The prototypical patent troll extorts via threats of litigation and that only really works if they have a reasonable chance of winning at litigation or costing their targets more in legal fees than they would spend for a settlement. Unless and until ‘loser pays’ is frequently enacted against trolls who lose at trial that approach will continue to bear fruit.

“We’ve written a few times about Vringo, a patent troll (which got its name, and public stock status, from a reverse merger with a basically defunct public “video ringtone” company and a pure patent troll called I/P Engine). The company was using some very broad patents (6,314,420 and 6,775,664) to claim that Google and Microsoft were infringing based on how their search ad programs worked. In effect, Vringo, whose patents were at one time associated with Lycos, was trying to pull off another Overture move — patenting a basic idea for search ads, and then cashing in from Google actually making it work. The case took a slight detour into the bizarre when Microsoft not only settled with Vringo for $1 million — but also with a promise to pay 5% of whatever Google had to pay.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140816/03043628231/ridiculous-patent-troll-gets-stomped-cafc-just-months-after-being-awarded-huge-chunk-googles-ad-revenue.shtml

5) Baylin Technologies (BYL) Posts Quarterly Earnings Results, Misses Estimates By $0.09 EPS

I included this article not because of the company – don’t get me started about the company – but because it is more likely automatically generated. Not that most actual investment research contains much useful investment information, but now even the news services churn out worthless garbage like this. If it isn’t automatically generated, I’d suggest “Micah Haroldson” find another job.

“Baylin Technologies (TSE:BYL) released its earnings data on Thursday. The company reported ($0.14) EPS for the quarter, missing the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of ($0.05) by $0.09, Analyst Ratings Network.com reports.”

http://www.watchlistnews.com/baylin-technologies-byl-posts-quarterly-earnings-results-misses-estimates-by-0-09-eps/89195/

6) Gigabit broadband speed spreads throughout state

Northwest Wisconsin is a pretty rural area so it is interesting to see the reach of broadband. On the one hand, in the grand scheme of things broadband is pretty cheap to run (about $25,000/km) so if you pass 10 homes per km (typical in rural areas) that’s only $2,500 per home. On the other hand, not everybody living in the country is wealthy so the rates may be out of reach of many of those people. Nevertheless, the fact this is doable in rural Wisconsin shows it is doable in most places if the will is there. Unfortunately in Canada there appears to be little interest in broadband policy at any level of government, despite the fact we continue to fall from a globally competitive communications infrastructure 20 years ago to sub-third world status today.

“In the Village of Siren, a community of about 900 people surrounded by nearly 300 lakes in northwest Wisconsin, you can get Internet speeds up to 50 times faster than what most people have in their homes in Milwaukee or Madison. Internet providers in Siren and a handful of other rural towns offer what’s called gigabit broadband speed, roughly 1,000 megabits per second, compared with 15 to 20 megabits per second for a typical cable Internet connection around here. The national broadband average is 10 megabits per second.”

http://www.jsonline.com/business/gigabit-broadband-speed-spreads-throughout-state-b99333840z1-271937991.html

7) Decoding the Orwellian ‘doublethink’ around Munich’s open source switch

News broke this week that Munich was ‘planning’ to drop Linux in favor of Microsoft products. Unfortunately, the original German article essentially said they were evaluating such a switch based on purported problems with the user experience. Needless to say, few people read the German article, but they did read the articles written by people who had read articles written by people who had read articles about the looming transition. The reality is somewhat more complicated and there is, apparently, no switch imminent.

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” wrote George Orwell in his much-quoted dystopian classic 1984. The German city of Munich’s decade-long migration to its own open source Linux operating system probably isn’t what Orwell had in mind when discussing the Party’s focus on ‘reality control’. Or as they called it in Newspeak: ‘doublethink’.”

http://www.cio.co.uk/insight/change-management/orwellian-doublethink-munich-open-source-switch/

8) These are the secrets Google wanted to keep about its self-driving cars

I thought this was interesting, but not as scary as the headline suggests: Google did not really lobby to have information related to the safety of its self-driving cars as self-driving cars kept under wraps. Both the state (the DMV) and the industry are trying to figure out how to regulate these things while keeping as much proprietary information proprietary while coming up with sane regulations. It turns out the government, in this case anyway, got its way, which is the important thing.

“Google’s experimental self-driving cars have traveled more than 700,000 miles on California’s roads with nothing more serious than a fender bender, and that one while a human was driving. But if the company had gotten its way, you might not know about the episode. According to documents obtained under freedom-of-information legislation and seen by Quartz, Google lobbied Californian regulators for permission to keep minor accidents secret, as long as the car was not driving itself at the time. Ron Medford, director of safety for Google’s self-driving car program, wrote that the regulations “should be amended to limit required reporting to accidents involving vehicles operated in autonomous mode.””

http://qz.com/252817/these-are-the-secrets-google-wanted-to-keep-about-its-self-driving-cars/

9) GPS III: Where Are We? And Where Are We Going?

Besides the questionable reference to Flight 007 (which may or may not have actually strayed off course when flying over restricted Soviet military airspace) this is an interesting history of GPS as well as a look forward as to what if coming down the pipe with the 3rd generation service.

“We take GPS for granted as a ‘commodity’, a grand gift from Regan-Era Star Wars Cold War MADness that occasionally teaches high schoolers about relativity. The depressing fact is that GPS (or GNSS as it was classified at the time) was only made available to the public after an eerily familiar airline disaster. In 1983 – just five years after the first NAVSTAR satellite was launched – Korea Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down after crossing into Soviet airspace due to pilot navigation error. The global response to the loss of the 269 souls aboard was anguished but tinged with Cold War Politics, and President Ronald Reagan announced that GPS would be made available to the world for free to prevent such a tragedy.”

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/gps-iii-going/

10) Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE

I am not a believer in 4K TV but I would call it “done” just yet. Low end 4K TV sets are crap, but high end sets are pretty good and it is a matter of time before the price of 4K TVs converge with those of HDTVs. After all, the poor souls in the TV business have invested billions in their plants and they have to keep coming up with differentiators so they come up with the exact same features as every other set manufacturer. The root problem is that there is very little 4K content and it is unlikely much will arise, except, perhaps, movies. Unless and until a 4K connection standard, 4K set top boxes, disc players, etc., are ubiquitous, you won’t get much benefit from the format.

“Only 6 per cent of broadband homes are “moderately” or “highly likely” to buy a 4K TV, and 83 per cent of consumers are completely unfamiliar with the term Ultra HD. These are the major findings from a new report from The Diffusion Group (TDG) and should be particularly worrying for any business pinning its hopes on 4K revitalising TV sales. TDG says short term demand for 4K is inhibited by the lack of awareness and hindered by the prices of the sets, which range from $1,500 at the low end to $10,000 for OLED 4K units. TDG found that even those consumers who were aware of the benefits of 4K were put off by the price.””

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/28/4k_tv/

11) Monkey’s selfie cannot be copyrighted, US regulators say

This is a remarkable decision and I’m sure monkeys everywhere are celebrating because humans can’t rip off their creative works for profit. Presumably painting by elephants, etc., are similarly in the public domain. Since a lot of wildlife photography (well, the stuff that isn’t actually done in zoos, which makes up most of it) is done by automated cameras, you have to wonder if that should be copyrightable as well. After all, if a lion walk in from of a camera and the camera takes the picture, can the camera own the copyright?

“United States copyright regulators are agreeing with Wikipedia’s conclusion that a monkey’s selfie cannot be copyrighted by a nature photographer whose camera was swiped by the ape in the jungle. The animal’s selfie went viral. The US Copyright Office, in a 1,222-page report discussing federal copyright law, said that a “photograph taken by a monkey” is unprotected intellectual property.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/08/monkeys-selfie-cannot-be-copyrighted-us-regulators-say/

12) FDA approves tech that turns smartphone into stroke warning system

Well, really, its a simplified sort of ECG which allows diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, which is linked to stroke and all kinds of other unpleasantries. The fact they can get a useful signal out of a couple of sensors is interesting, but I guess atrial fibrillation can be determined from the pulse signature whereas real ECGs can tell a lot more but require many more electrodes. The iPhone angle is interesting but unnecessary: all you really need is a display and some computing power and that is available in any number of smartphones or tablets today.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted AliveCor clearance to sell technology that enables an iPhone or Android smartphone phone to record atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat. AliveCor’s Heart Monitor comes as an iPhone case with two electrodes that can detect a heart rate when gripped by both hands of a user. An automated analysis process (algorithm) instantly detects if patients are experiencing AFib through real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings taken on the mobile phone based AliveCor Heart Monitor.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9250566/FDA_approves_tech_that_turns_smartphone_into_stroke_warning_system

13) Quebec Seeks to Tax and Regulate Airbnb Out of Existence

To be fair to Quebec, they are not alone in this. Airbnb represents a change to the established order of things and it has the potential to mess with a tidy regulatory framework which the bureaucracy have doubtless grown very fond of. Regardless, people have been renting out spare rooms for ever and there is not much the government can do about it. I expect a more visceral attack on Uber, the taxicab disruptor, since politically powerful and wealthy people own almost all taxi licenses, relegating drivers to near serfdom and loss of that position will not likely be tolerated.

“Airbnb matches individuals who have extra space in their apartments with tourists who need places to stay — much like a friend or acquaintance giving you his room for a small fee. It’s a small, voluntary exchange, and it allows individuals to use Airbnb’s payment infrastructure, along with its terms and conditions to handle disputes. Using it allows me to experience a city through the eyes of a local, without the need for plain hotel rooms, and exorbitant costs.”

http://panampost.com/yael-ossowski/2014/08/20/quebec-seeks-to-tax-and-regulate-airbnb-out-of-existence/

14) There are 18,796 distinct Android devices, according to OpenSignal’s latest fragmentation report

That is a pretty staggering number, however, the graphs show that most devices are made by a small number of companies, as would be expected. Fragmentation sounds like a bad thing but it really isn’t: it allows vendors to experiment with various architectures which meet various market needs in terms of features and price. The real challenge, of course, is that apps may run well on one platform but no at all on another. This may be a burden for app developers, but ultimately it will be the device manufacturer’s responsibility to resolve compatibility issues or they will lose market share.

“The much-maligned Android fragmentation problem has blighted the mobile operating system for years, though Google has been steadily taking corrective measures in recent times. The issue? So many different devices and form-factors, running a multitude of Android versions which purportedly cause developers no-end of pain when striving to cater for the increasingly-dominant mobile platform. But how serious is the problem? OpenSignal sheds some light on this today, with its 2014 Android fragmentation report.”

http://thenextweb.com/mobile/2014/08/21/18796-different-android-devices-according-opensignals-latest-fragmentation-report/

15) New Era in Safety When Cars Talk to One Another

A lot of my focus has been on autonomous vehicles, which I figure will transform society as much as the invention of the automobile itself. As a transitional technology, ‘linked’ cars make a lot of sense with respect to safety. For example, if a series of cars are proceeding down the highway and the lead vehicle hits the brakes (i.e. to avoid something) other vehicles can immediately react, avoiding a ‘chain reaction’ situation. Similarly, traffic lights could inform approaching vehicles as to their state, and so on. There is considerable potential in these things but one can’t help but be concerned about diagnosis and repair: most mechanics are not trained in this sort of thing.

“A driver moves along in traffic, the forward view blocked by a truck or a bend in the road. Suddenly, up ahead, someone slams on the brake. Tires screech. There is little time to react. Researchers here are working to add time to that equation. They envision a not-too-distant future in which vehicles are in constant, harmonious communication with one another and their surroundings, instantly warning drivers of unseen dangers.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/business/new-era-in-safety-when-cars-talk-to-one-another.html

16) Metamaterial Superconductor Hints At New Era Of High Temperature Superconductivity

There has been considerable progress in superconductors, but even ‘high temperature’ super conductors work at really low temperatures. This research is intriguing because it is novel and may represent a path to the development of materials with much better performance. Unfortunately, their efforts with tin only raised the critical temperature by 0.15K, which is a lot considering the normal temperature is 3.7K, but is it still a long way from being practically applicable.

“Nevertheless, a way of increasing the critical temperature of existing superconducting materials would be hugely useful. Today, a group of physicists and engineers say they have worked out how to do this. The trick is to think of a superconductor as a special kind of metamaterial and then to manipulate its structure in a way that increases its critical temperature. Vera Smolyaninova at Towson University in Maryland and colleagues from the University of Maryland and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, have even demonstrated this idea by increasing the critical superconducting temperature of tin.”

https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/metamaterial-superconductor-raises-critical-temperature-of-zero-resistance-3da6c4657baa

17) BrightSource solar plant sets birds on fire as they fly overhead

If this was an oil sands operation and a few dozen ducks had landed in a tailings pond and died, you’d have Greenpeace protests and it would be on the national news. I’m not sure if its because the birds are cooked instead of poisoned, or maybe its the inherent appeal of ducks (seriously – who doesn’t like ducks?) but, incinerating tens of thousand of birds seems not to be a problem. It turns out there are ‘good’ companies and ‘bad’ companies and solar companies are, inherently, ‘good’. If birds don’t want to take one for the team, well that’s there problem.

“Federal wildlife investigators who visited BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version. The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/brightsource-solar-plant-sets-birds-on-fire-as-they-fly-overhead-1.2739512

18) FarmBot: An Open Source 3D Farming Printer That Aims to Create Food For Everyone

Lord. Where to begin? First, there is no food shortage, there is a money shortage. Poor people don’t starve because there isn’t enough food to grow, they starve because they don’t have the money to use even 1900 era mechanization and fertilization on their food plots, or because they lack the money to buy the copious amount of food which is produced today. Setting that aside, actual experts in agricultural technology have been increasingly applying advanced technology to automate certain functions like milking, cleaning barns, etc.. Unlike the ‘Ted Talk’ crown, these companies actually know that agriculture is extremely hard on equipment – just think of a plow: you are pulling multiple 1 foot by 2 foot pieces of steel through ground and rocks. That takes a lot of power and durability. A machine such as the one described in this article would not last an hour in an agricultural environment.

“The FarmBot employs a similar system to that of typical Cartesian (xyz) based 3D printers, and as you can tell by the photos, it looks very similar to most FDM 3D printers. Instead of printing in your typical PLA or ABS plastics, this machine has the ability to do most of the typical farm jobs that would normally require hard labor and/or individual machines. It can be equipped with different tools, in a similar way as a CNC machine is. Some of those tools include seed injectors, plows, burners, robotic arms (for harvesting), cutters, shredders, tillers, discers, watering nozzles, sensors and more. The hardware used is completely open source and totally scalable for use on any sized farm/garden plots.”

http://3dprint.com/12325/farmbot-3d-farming-printer/

19) Tesla removes mileage limits on drive unit warranty program

The Internet loves its heroes, and the hero du jour is Elon Musk, and of all Musk’s projects (most of which persist due to the generosity of investors and, in particular taxpayers) none is more loved than Tesla. Alas, ‘long term’ tests of Teslas (i.e. used for a year) by Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and Motortrend, as well as numerous owner reports, show that Teslas come with a litany of problems, including, but not limited to, frequent major repairs such as replacement of the $15,000 drive unit. Of course, these are largely engineering problems, unlike the short lived and staggeringly expensive battery, which is the Achilles heel of any EV. Musk has a remarkable capacity of getting ahead of public relations disasters and this is no exception. The issue is moot, however: these vehicles have so many problems (including the inherent and unsolvable battery issue) their resale value should be nil after 8 years, assuming they can be made to last 8 years.

“In a Friday blog post, Elon Musk wrote that Tesla will remove mileage limits on its warranty policy for all Tesla Model S drive units. The warranty, which will still span eight years, won’t have a cap on the number of owners for each vehicle. People who purchased Teslas before today were told that the warranty period for the drive unit expired after eight years or once the car logged over 125,000 miles. The revised warranty applies to new vehicles and Model S cars that are already on the road.”

http://arstechnica.com/cars/2014/08/tesla-removes-mileage-limits-on-drive-unit-warranty-program/

20) Experts say robots will take 47% of our jobs is this true? And if so is it a problem? A guide to the coming robot revolution

As a general rule you should not take any predictions, especially those about the future, seriously. In particular if the article cites Kurzweil, except to make fun of him and the gibberish he churns out, you can safely ignore it. Nonetheless, robots “taking our jobs” is pretty thematic, especially since mechanization has been “taking our jobs” since the start of the industrial revolution: where are all the scythers? One example of why you shouldn’t worry too much about this is shown in the the large infographic, which makes predictions like “by 2015 30% of cars may be intelligent, driverless vehicles”. This prediction was made sometime after 2008 and nobody who knew anything about the state of the art would thought such a thing was possible.

“Voltaire a prominent author during the Enlightenment era said “Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need”. A paper by Frey and Osborne of Oxford University, has suggested we could face these vices sooner rather than later, with 47 per cent of all American jobs having the potential to be automated in “a decade of two”[1] . But is the number really this high? Even if robots are taking our jobs is it really a bad thing? And what about creative or social jobs, surely in the future there can’t be a moon walking robot Michael Jackson?”

http://www.tumotech.com/2014/08/04/experts-say-robots-will-take-47-of-our-jobs-is-this-true-and-if-so-is-it-a-problem-a-guide-to-the-coming-robot-revolution/

 

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 15th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 15th 2014

Hello,

I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Consumer Reports: Tesla Model S has ‘more than its share of problems’

Time was, Consumer Reports was a credible magazine whose reviews you could trust. Then they ranked the Tesla Model S, an unproven design with inherent major deficiencies, as a top rated car. Presumably the zen of the situation demanded wide eyed glee at a “green” car (which isn’t green) despite good reasons to believe they would end up being a nightmare for owners. Edmunds, Car and Driver, and now Consumer Reports have published ‘long term’ tests of vehicles (where ‘long term in this case means more than a weekend and a bit longer than the break-in period. Unlike Edmunds or Car & Driver, they don’t mention replacing the drive system every 10,000 miles or so, but then again their ‘sample of one’ has less than 16,000 miles on it. Thus far all ‘samples of one’ who have done ‘long term tests’ of the Model S have reported the vehicle is a reliability nightmare. Presumably they’ll all sell their cars to hapless rubes before warranties expirer and/oor the inherently short lived batteries stop working.

“Consumer Reports, which last year gave top marks to electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc’s Model S sedan, now says the car it owns has had “more than its share of problems.” While the car has impressed staff at the influential U.S. consumer magazine with its “smoothness, effortless glide and clever, elegant simplicity,” there have been many quirks that might dampen consumers’ experiences, Consumer Reports said in a statement on Monday.”

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/08/consumer-reports-tesla-model-s-has-more-than-its-share-of-problems/index.htm

2) Password manager LastPass goes titsup: Users LOCKED OUT

A traditional password manager is simply a locally run application which stores your passwords for you and presents them to various websites, etc., as required. Obviously if you have multiple devices you might want a cloud hosted password manager. The problem with that is, like any other cloud based system, if it goes down, out of business, or is hacked, well you are pretty much screwed. Like this.

“We started using LP for secure password management about a year back and have a number of systems that accept LP Single Sign On for convenience. Very, very annoying and currently LP seem to be saying nothing whatsoever to their users. Disappointing as a paid-for enterprise customer,” he said in an email.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/08/12/lastpass_outage

3) Four Billion Year-Old Mystery of Last Universal Common Ancestor Solved

Geeze. Even science websites write their headlines as click bait. No, the mystery has not been solved but an hypothesis has been advanced which may solve the mystery. It may or may not be complete bunk, but until its proved this isn’t the answer. Nonetheless the hypothesis is pretty interesting.

“A four billion-year-old mystery surrounding the one common ancestor of all life on Earth has been solved by scientists. All life evolved from a single celled organism known as life’s Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). However, few details are known about what it looked like, how it lived and how it evolved. Now scientists at University College London (UCL) have discovered that LUCA had a “leaky membrane” which allow it to absorb energy from light, while still holding the other components necessary for life inside it. Researchers discovered this by modelling how the LUCA’s membrane changed to enable its decedents to move to more challenging environments, and eventually evolve into two distinct types of single-celled organisms: bacteria and archaea.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/four-billion-year-old-mystery-last-universal-common-ancestor-solved-1460866

4) Amazon undercuts Square and PayPal with its own mobile card reader

Square had a good idea and now everybody and their pet monkey is free to copy it. After all this isn’t rocket science so any manufacturer of credit card verification machines should be able to get in on the action if they choose to.

“Square’s grand plan to democratize credit card payments has inspired a clutch of imitators, the latest of which is Amazon. The company has just announced Amazon Local Register, a credit card reader and app combination that’ll enable small businesses to take payments they wouldn’t otherwise get, as long as they have a smartphone or tablet lying around. The retailer is savagely undercutting both Square and PayPal Here, offering a flat charge of 1.75 percent per payment until the start of 2016, a full percent lower than the 2.75 and 2.7 percent asked by the other two.”

http://www.engadget.com/2014/08/13/amazon-square-rival/

5) Internet routers hitting 512K limit, some become unreliable

Earlier this week there was panic in some circles as web routers (i.e. the big ones) stopped working. It turns out that the problem was limited to older units which has been manufactured with limited Content Addressable Memory (CAM) and that CAM was full meaning they could not add additional routes. The growth chart is pretty interesting but this is not exactly a crisis as newer machine do not have the problem and the older ones will simply be changed out or upgraded, as required.

“From performance issues at hosting provider Liquid Web to outages at eBay and LastPass, large networks and websites suffered a series of disruptions and outages on Tuesday. Some Internet engineers are blaming the disruptions on a novel technical issue that impacts older Internet routers.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/08/internet-routers-hitting-512k-limit-some-become-unreliable/

6) The Limits of Moore’s Law Limits

The end of Moore’s Law (the tendency for computing price/performance to double every two years) has been looming for some time. I think it is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang as the rate of improvements slow but never really stop. Even if Moore’s Law does slow down, there is plenty of lousy software out there which can be drastically improved to deliver better performance if need be. This article looks at some of the real and fictitious limits ot Moore’s Law.

“Every engineer is worried whether Moore’s Law (that the density of transistors will double every two years) can be extended forever. So far, merely scaling to smaller sizes has kept Moore’s Law in play, but now that we are approaching the atomic scale, many see the handwriting on the wall: When you get down to one atom per memory cell, Moore’s Law has to end — or has it?”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1323507

7) Smarter Software Speeds Up Smartphone Charging

Based on the number of announced “breakthroughs” its just a matter of time before batteries charge instantly, cost nothing, and last forever. Realistically that isn’t going to happen. It seems this company claims to have developed a ‘smart’ charger which might be able to make a marginal improvement to charging in certain circumstances. Current chargers are already pretty smart, so it is hard to believe the claims will ever be met.

“One of the most frustrating things about smartphones—how long they take to recharge—could soon be one-third as frustrating. A startup called Qnovo, based in Newark, California, uses a technology that constantly checks and adjusts the flow of power during recharging to charge batteries faster and increase their lifespans.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/529746/smarter-software-speeds-up-smartphone-charging/

8) Worldview-3 – The Satellite That Could Allow Google and US Government to See Your Face From Space

This nonsense made the rounds over the past week. The headline and most of the commentary is utter rubbish. At 1cm resolution you might be able to determine something is a face and not a ball but that is about it. Of course, the face in question would have to be looking directly at the lens as the satellite zipped by at 10 km/sec without suffering whiplash. So you can remove the disguise and take of the tinfoil hat. For now.

“Two months ago, the U.S. government imposed legal restrictions on high-detail satellite imagery, although military satellites were free to use higher resolutions. Companies like DigitalGlobe were limited to capturing satellite imagery from 50 centimeters square of ground space per pixel, but are now free to capture satellite imagery up to 25 cm resolution — twice as detailed as the previous limit.”

http://thehackernews.com/2014/08/worldview-3-satellite-that-could-allow_12.html

9) The Gyroscopes in Your Phone Could Let Apps Eavesdrop on Conversations

Here’s another one for the tinfoil hat brigade. While they are hiding from spy satellites the “gyroscope” in their phone is recording every word! Setting aside the question of whether phones have gyroscopes inside them (they do have accelerometers, but I don’t believe they qualify as gyroscopes, and, maybe you could use them to record sound. Well, sort of, because if you sample at 200 Hz, you are maybe going to pick up 100 Hz, just a bit above the hum of AC power. In other words, if you are talking to a bee you have something to worry about. Mind you, phones have microphones which are pretty much optimized for recording sound. So what you want to do is wrap your phone in tinfoil and keep it in a soundproof box. Now that is a product idea.

“In a presentation at the Usenix security conference next week, researchers from Stanford University and Israel’s defense research group Rafael plan to present a technique for using a smartphone to surreptitiously eavesdrop on conversations in a room—not with a gadget’s microphone, but with its gyroscopes, the sensors designed measure the phone’s orientation.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/gyroscope-listening-hack/

10) Have You Bought a Tablet Yet?

I figure the real reason tablet sales are slowing down is that the device is not particularly useful, which limits demand while at the same time resulting in extended replacement cycles. For example, in the early years of the PC revolution, utility increased with every generation providing a strong incentive to upgrade hardware. Tablets (and indeed PCs) are more or less as powerful and feature rich as they need to be so once you’ve got one you don’t need to replace it unless it breaks. As prices plummet, penetration might increase but that will come at the cost of profitability for the vendors.

“As it turns out tablet sales are slumping. Both Apple and Samsung report much lower sales. Maybe all those who wanted a tablet now have them and others are still getting along just fine with a smartphone and a laptop. In fact, some say that tablets are truly a fad anyway. A tablet is that thing between the smartphone and laptop that was more a want rather than a real need. That is how I see tablets, nice but just not as useful as our phones and PCs. And I certainly don’t want to turn into a tablet zombie as many have. Is that tablet affliction or addiction? Or both?”

http://electronicdesign.com/blog/have-you-bought-tablet-yet

11) How Shark Week screws scientists

I recently heard an interview with a paleontologist who has stopped watching anything dinosaur related on TV because special effects has displaced fact on “documentaries” on dinosaurs. As it is there is very little science, but a lot of pseudoscience, paranormalism, etc., on things like Discovery. It is really a pity that television gravitates towards lowest comment denomination despite the success of the recent relaunch of Cosmos. Unfortunately, network news works the same way: they’ll interview you for 45 minutes and pull out the 3 second soundbite which aligns with the producer’s preconceived angle regardless of what you to say.

“Discovery’s Shark Week reached an important milestone this week: it hit an all-time ratings high, which the network partially attributes to an increase in female viewership. But instead of receiving acclaim, Discovery is getting pummeled by the media. A sample of recent headlines include “Shark Week is once again making things up,” “Shark Week isn’t just misguided, it’s downright dangerous,” and “More Sharknado than Science.” Of course, this isn’t the first time Shark Week has experienced backlash for its negative portrayal of sharks and its tendency to rely on fiction rather than fact, as last year’s Megalodon documentary was widely trashed for suggesting that extinct sharks still roam Earth’s waters.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/13/5998745/how-shark-week-screws-scientists

12) Android, iOS gobble up even more global smartphone share

This is pretty much as expected, though a couple thoughts come to mind (besides traditional cautions regarding anything published by IDC, Gartner, or the others). First, these are unit volumes, not revenues – and revenues are all that matters – so Apple is currently doing much better than the numbers would suggest. Nevertheless, as prices continue to decline I firmly believe the high end of the market will disappear as the utility of a $600 device will not be that much different from a $200 device. Second, it should be clear from this that Blackberry is doomed and Windows will persist only as long as Microsoft continues to throw the money it extorts from real smartphone manufacturers via its patent trolling. Shareholders of both companies might take note.

“According to IDC, the total combined market share of Android and iOS swelled to 96.4 percent during the second quarter, up from 92.6 percent a year ago. That left just 2.5 percent of the market to Windows Phone, down from 3.4 percent in a year’s time.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2465045/android-ios-gobble-up-even-more-global-smartphone-share.html

13) Who needs hackers? ‘Password1’ opens a third of all biz doors

Funny headline – and interesting results – but the figures don’t add up. The four most popular passwords totaled 10,000 out of 576,533 so that is only 1.6%. It was lazy passwords (i.e. 8 characters or symbols) which allowed hackers equipped with sophisticated gear – and a list of hashes – which allowed them to break into a third of business systems. As a note at the bottom suggests, a song lyric or mnemonic, with modification (i.e. first few letters of each word) would be a more effective password for extremely secure needs.

“Hundreds of thousands of hashed corporate passwords have been cracked within minutes by penetration testers using graphics processing units. The 626,718 passwords were harvested during penetration tests over the last two years conducted across corporate America by Trustwave infosec geeks. The firm’s threat intelligence manager Karl Sigler said in a post that half of the plundered passwords were cracked within “the first few minutes”.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/08/15/hundreds_of_thousands_of_corporate_passwords_cracked_in_minutes/

14) The Phone whisperer: using sound to charge mobile phones

Words like “energy” or “battery” cause people’s IQs to drop by 50 points. Making electric power out of sound is not exactly novel – it is the basis by which most microphones work. And the piezoelectric effect is not exactly new either: its the way flint-less lighters produce that nasty spark. The issue boils down to how much electricity from how much vibration, and what is the cost? As desirable as grant money might be you probably aren’t going to change the world with ancient science – even if you use the word “nano” in the research.

“Dr Joe Briscoe and Dr Steve Dunn from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science discovered that solar cells improved in performance when pop and rock music was played. Working on the research with Nokia, a team at QMUL developed an energy-harvesting prototype, what they call a nanogenerator, to use to charge a mobile phone and for power they decied to use everyday background noise such as crowds at a football match, traffic, music, or the voice of the user.”

http://www.tgdaily.com/mobile/124656-the-phone-whisperer-using-sound-to-charge-mobile-phones

15) Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP

Japan is a strange place. I read recently that fax machines are a fixture of every home, so its hardly surprising that telegrams are still in use. Not that Japan is backwards, they are just different.

“Throughout Japan, an army of workers stands ready to ensure important messages are delivered as quickly as possible. But they don’t work in data centers maintaining email servers. They deliver telegrams. Staff from Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), one of the world’s largest telecom companies, still drive around big cities and even board ships to remote Japanese islands hand-delivering telegrams from friends, loved ones and business partners.”

http://www.itworld.com/unified-communications/431519/telegram-not-dead-stop-alive-evolving-japan-stop

16) German Startup Says Its New Chip Halves Bitcoin Mining Energy

Frankly I’m shocked the German government isn’t pouring money into this firm as a “greener, more environmentally friendly Bitcoin fraud.” Not that I am suggesting there is anything fraudulent about the company – though if I could mint money out of thin air I wouldn’t have much trouble raising funds and I certainly wouldn’t sell my printing press. Its just that, you know, Bitcoin is pretty much fraud and anything to do with it should be treated as such.

“A German start-up is looking for funding to produce a new high-performance microchip that it says would make bitcoin mining much less energy intensive, and thus cheaper. This is important because ‘mining’ the cryptocurrency—essentially a process of solving complex mathematical problems —requires vast computing power and cooling systems so that the purpose-built processors, called application-specific integrated circuits [ASICs], don’t overheat.”

http://www.doxcole.com/2014/08/german-startup-says-its-new-chip-halves.html

17) Why BitTorrent is selling itself like potato chips

Torrenting has been vilified by the music and movie industry for piracy but the tool is actually a very good way to distribute files of all kinds. BitTorrent (the company) has introduced a number of interesting and useful products lately including BitTorrent Sync which does pretty much everything DropBox does except you control your storage. The advertising is probably positioning for investors as much as anything else.

“BitTorrent — perhaps best known in the tech world for providing the Internet plumbing for Pirate Bay, a notorious site frequently used to illegally share copyrighted material — is now making a play for the mainstream.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/08/14/why-bittorrent-is-selling-itself-like-potato-chips/

18) The Rise of 3-D Printed Guns

It is a remarkable thing that even in a gun happy culture like the US there are lots of people – including nearly all journalists – who don’t know the first thing about guns. It is also peculiar that most of the excitement about 3D printed guns comes out of a nation where gun laws are so lax pretty much anybody can legally own most types of guns and its really easy for even convicted criminals to buy them. The major risk of 3D printed guns is to the fools who make them and actually put a couple rounds of ammunition through them, not to the general public.

“This week, instead of walking into a gun shop and handing over my credit card to buy firearms, bullets and grenades, I decided to try a different route: I downloaded highly detailed schematics — like blueprints for a house — of dozens of functional weapons and bullets.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/14/fashion/the-rise-of-3-d-printed-guns.html

19) Bullish Toyota admits hydrogen won’t be cheap

When I followed the fuel cell sector I was always puzzled by the idea hydrogen gas, which is produced in vast quantities for industrial use, would somehow be expected to plummet in price once it was used in cars. How would they conclude something like that? Fuel Cell and Electric vehicle owners also benefit from the fact that currently their energy sources are untaxed, which is well and good, however, if the optimists are right and these vehicles become commonplace, the net effect would be a sizable burden on society. In other words, all of the numerous subsidies and programs promoting these cars will have to be eliminated eventually.

“Toyota anticipates that the cost of the hydrogen that will power its fuel cell sedan will initially be greater than gasoline. Speaking at the JP Morgan Auto Conference in New York, Toyota’s senior vice president Bob Carter said that Department of Energy estimates suggest that a full tank of compressed hydrogen will cost around $50. This will fall to $30 in time, however. Toyota’s ‘mass production’ fuel cell car will have a range of 300 miles when in arrives in California next summer. Refueling will takes minutes, while the Japanese giant says it has modeled “specific locations” that will enable the majority of owners to reach a station in just six minutes.”

http://ecomento.com/2014/08/13/bullish-toyota-admits-hydrogen-wont-be-cheap/

20) Starwood Introduces Robotic Butlers At Aloft Hotel In Cupertino

Robots have been used to shuffle mail around some offices and parts around some factories for some time now so frankly it is probably more a reflection of dropping costs, rather than technological advances, which enables these robotic butlers. One question might be whether guests would accept a robot in lieu of a real person. Frankly, I’d prefer a robot any day.

“Starwood, one of the world’s largest hotel companies, is rolling out two robotic “Botlrs” inexplicably named A.L.O. in their Cupertino Aloft Hotel. The robotic butlers, built by Savioke, are able to perform tasks in the front of the house and the back of the house, as well as navigate around guests and use elevators. For the most part, it seems that the Botlrs will be delivering amenities to guest rooms in lieu of actual humans, “freeing up existing talent’s time and allowing them to create a more personalized experience for guests.””

http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/13/starwood-introduces-robotic-butlers-at-aloft-hotel-in-palo-alto/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 8th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 8th 2014

Hello,

I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Hotel fines $500 for every bad review posted online

Setting aside the question of whether or not this is legal (one could argue credit card fraud) it should be a textbook example of how not to manage reputation. Any establishment this worried about bad reviews probably deserves them. I’d steer clear of any place with such a policy.

“A hotel in tony Hudson, NY, has found a novel way to keep negative reviews off Yelp and other sites — fine any grousing guests. The Union Street Guest House, near Catskills estates built by the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, charges couples who book weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review posted online by their guests.”

http://pagesix.com/2014/08/04/hotel-charges-500-for-every-bad-review-posted-online/

2) Free Mobile Data Plans Are Going to Crush the Startup Economy

Well, boo hoo. Various startups have made a business distributing software (music, etc.). This isn’t exactly rocket science: once the business model has been shown to be viable it makes sense that the owners of said software will cut deals such that they replicate the service. In this case, carriers are getting a cut but eventually even they will be bystanders.

“The deal sounds great: Stream unlimited music without any data charges. The offer from T-Mobile includes popular services such as Spotify, iTunes, and Pandora. These apps will no longer count against your data plan, the company announced recently, no matter how much you stream across its 4G LTE network. Or consider Sprint’s new offer, via its Virgin Mobile pre-paid service: unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest for just $12 per month. Unlimited access to all four is $22 monthly, and $5 more also gets you unlimited music.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/free-mobile-data-plans-are-going-to-crush-the-startup-economy

3) Extracting audio from visual information

Spies have used lasers modulated by vibrating windows to eavesdrop for some time: its a great system because you can use an invisible infrared beam and thus leave no trace of your presence. This method is similar as the video analysis is extracting the modulation of ambient light by sounds. The challenge is that frame rates need to be pretty high to get any fidelity, however, one can rest assured spies will be so equipped.

“Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.”

http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/algorithm-recovers-speech-from-vibrations-0804

4) Robotic suit gives shipyard workers super strength

The problem I would see with this approach is the meaty bits inside the suit are prone to getting cut and/or squished by the heavy stuff being moved about. What you probably need is a full body suit complete with interlocks and other safety systems. Or a forklift.

“AT A sprawling shipyard in South Korea, workers dressed in wearable robotics were hefting large hunks of metal, pipes and other objects as if they were nothing. It was all part of a test last year by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, at their facility in Okpo-dong. The company, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, wants to take production to the next level by outfitting staff with robot exoskeletons that give them superhuman strength.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329803.900-robotic-suit-gives-shipyard-workers-super-strength.html

5) Dear NASA: Fuel-Free Rocket Thruster Is Literally Too Good to Be True

We covered the report that NASA had confirmed the operation of an “impossible” drive system in last week’s GRL. Subsequently there has been a large amount of criticism of that confirmation, which is actually a good thing. This particular commentary seems to pivot mostly on the idea that since it is impossible, there must be something wrong with the experiment, which is a valid comment, except, of course that it may be that the people doing the experiment (which was itself a replication of previous experiments) are not completely stupid. Most likely, this is some sort of mistake and the drive does not, in fact, work. Nonetheless, it would be interesting if it did. This article http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-08/07/10-qs-about-nasa-impossible-drive is a rebuttal of some of the comments made in this and other critiques.

“That’s a simplified version of a fundamental law of physics, known as the conservation of momentum. That law governs all sorts of phenomena, including rocket engines, collisions between electrons, and car wrecks. It’s well established by a huge number of experiments, so it’s not something you can jettison lightly. Yet, that’s what a new proposed thruster is supposed to do, and while no reputable physicists are taking it seriously, a small semi-independent lab under the NASA umbrella has given it an official stamp of approval.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/04/dear-nasa-fuel-free-rocket-thruster-is-literally-too-good-to-be-true.html

6) Scientists introduce new cosmic connectivity: Quantum pigeonhole paradox

Like most quantum experiments I have no idea what this means or what the ramifications are. It does sort of sound like the theory that a positron (an antimatter electron) is an electron traveling backwards in time, though I ma not even sure if I understand what that means either.

“In the 20th century, two revolutions in physics shook the world. One of them was relativity, discovered by Einstein. It revealed that spacetime is not what we experience in everyday life. For example, if you travel close to the speed of light, then you will age more slowly than somebody who stays on Earth. The second revolution was quantum theory, the microscopic theory of particles, such as electrons, atoms, or photons. Quantum theory showed that nature is not deterministic — as Einstein put it, “God plays with dice.” After a century of careful testing, most physicists believe that the “chanciness” or “capriciousness” of the microscopic world is fundamental.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140805132526.htm

7) Wikimedia refuses to remove animal selfie because monkey ‘owns’ the photo

You have to look at this article just to see the ‘selfie’ of the monkey. While Wikimedia takes an interesting position on this question I doubt the courts will side with them. After all, if I place a camera in the woods and a bear strolls by, I own the picture because I own the camera even if the bear’s actions triggered the camera.

“Slater now faces a legal battle with Wikimedia after the images were added to the collection of royalty-free images. Wikimedia Commons is a collection of over 22 million images and videos that are in the public domain. Wikimedia’s position is that because the monkey took the photo, he “owns” the photo. However, non-humans cannot own copyrights — which is why Wikimedia placed the photo in the public domain.”

http://myfox8.com/2014/08/06/wikimedia-refuses-to-remove-animal-selfie-because-monkey-owns-the-copyright/

8) Jack Campanile’s tumour removed without radiation or surgery at SickKids

Fortunately this tumour is believed to have been benign, which may have affected the choice of treatments (after all, if the treatment was unsuccessful its not like it would have spread or anything). It is not clear from the article whether this technique could be used more broadly. If so, this could represent a major breakthrough because radiation treatments or surgery can have various short and long term side effects. One issue I could see is that hours in an MRI is quite expensive.

“A Brampton, Ont., teenager has become the first person in North America to have a benign tumour near his hip removed without radiation or surgery. Doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto used high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) waves, guided by an MRI machine, to burn off the tumour of 16-year-old Jack Campanile two weeks ago.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/jack-campanile-s-tumour-removed-without-radiation-or-surgery-at-sickkids-1.2728535

9) CRISPR Corrects Blood Disorder Gene

Gene replacement has been attempted before using viruses to effect the editing but this can be problematic as it can be hard to confine the viruses to specific tissues. This experiment modified stem cells which went on to produce ‘cured’ red blood cells. Unfortunately, the experiment was done in vitro so it is not certain this will result in a cure. However, once the technique is prefect, it is possible the modified stem cells could be reimplanted in a patient’s marrow, resulting in a long term cure.

“The genome-editing method involving CRISPR and Cas9 has been called into duty for a wide variety of jobs, from cutting integrated HIV out of the human genome to turning off genes in primates. In a new development published today (August 5) in Genome Research, researchers have used CRISPR/Cas9 in human cell lines to rewrite a mutant gene that causes a blood disorder called β-thalassemia.”

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40691/title/CRISPR-Corrects-Blood-Disorder-Gene/

10) The Russian ‘hack of the century’ doesn’t add up

The computer security/antivirus business survives on paranoia, even if much of that paranoia may be appropriate. Here we have company which claims to have discovered a major hack of passwords then conveniently offers a fix (which isn’t really a fix) for the nominal sum of $120. A cynic might suggest that your $120 gets you a log in code which gets you into a website that randomly spits out a “you have been hacked” response. Or maybe you pay to disclose all your information to these researchers.

“Yesterday, The New York Times dropped an exclusive account of what reporter Nicole Perlroth called “the biggest hack ever.” By the numbers it certainly held up: 1.2 billion accounts, covering 500 million unique email addresses over 420,000 websites. The data had been captured by a Russian hacker group called CyberVor, and revealed by Hold Security. But as the smoke clears, the hack seems to be less of a criminal masterwork than the article might have you believe.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/6/5973729/the-problem-with-the-new-york-times-biggest-hack-ever

11) Tektronix Uses DMCA Notice To Try To Stop Oscilloscope Hacking

You might think a company like Tecktronix would have a better grasp of the impact of DMCA takedown notices. I am pretty sure you can now find this information all over the Internet, and in particular in places where DMCA doesn’t apply. Of course, Tektronix might have a vested interest in keeping such information quiet as there is a good chance expensive features of its products can be unlocked through this and similar approaches.

“Another day, another abuse of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions to stop things that have nothing whatsoever to do with copyright. As pointed out by Slashdot, the Hackaday site recently had a post about how to clone some Tektronix application modules for its MSO2000 line of oscilloscopes. The post explained a simple hack to enable the application module to do a lot more. And… in response, Tektronix sent a DMCA takedown notice demanding the entire post be taken down.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140806/07155928127/tektronix-uses-dmca-notice-to-try-to-stop-oscilliscope-hacking.shtml

12) The Surface Damage Is Mounting At Microsoft

When you are the world’s biggest patent troll you can use the money you shake out of innovative companies on projects such as the Surfacce tablet. Setting aside for a moment the fiasco which is Windows 8, Microsoft has been unable to legitimately establish a footprint in either the mobile or the tablet space. As the mobile industry faces margin compression and demand for tablets dries up, perhaps the company is hoping somebody its enormously expensive offering will fill the gap. Pity they gave up leading in the 1990s …

“With close to $2 billion down the tubes and a new CEO more interested in operating systems than devices, the days of the Microsoft Surface tablet could be numbered. Microsoft has lost $1.7 billion on Surface tablets since the series first launched in 2012, Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer reports. In a breakdown of the company’s SEC filings, Keizer calculates that the Surface business lost $363 million in the July 2014 quarter, its largest single-quarter loss yet.”

http://readwrite.com/2014/08/06/microsoft-surface-billion-loss-tablet

13) It’s Official – the Sony Reader is Kaput

Speaking of once great companies, Sony is a prototype for what happen happens when you stop innovating. Time was Sony had expensive but high quality and leading edge products but now they just have expensive products. It has been a long time since I saw a Sony Reader and now I know why. Perhaps they could team up with Microsoft and attack the tablet business.

“Sony has confirmed today that they will not be making another ebook reader – not even for their sole remaining market in Japan. There will be no PRS-T4, and lesen.net reports that the remaining stock of the Sony Reader PRS-T3 will be sold until it runs out. That device was was launched last fall in Europe but never shipped in the US, so I’m not sure how many people actually have one.”

http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/08/01/official-sony-reader-kaput/

14) NetScout Sues ‘Pay-to-Play’ Gartner

Its about time somebody sued Gartner but I doubt NetScout’s has much chance of prevailing. I have no idea as to whether they actually shake down companies as alleged but I wouldn’t put it past them. Basically Gartner research, and almost all “independent” industry research I have seen is complete crap and not worth a plug nickle. The sad thing is business strategies and investment decisions are made on that research. Gartner et als are exploiting the fact people don’t know any better and I doubt you can sue over that.

“Service assurance vendor NetScout is taking on Gartner, suing the consulting and research giant for unfair trade practices and claiming Gartner’s well-known “Magic Quadrant” ratings are heavily skewed in favor of the clients that pay it big consulting bucks. “Gartner, an information technology (‘IT’) research giant, markets itself as an ‘independent and objective’ company offering actionable technology research from an ‘unbiased source.’ In fact, Gartner is not independent, objective or unbiased, and its business model is extortionate by its very nature,” the NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT) lawsuit states.”

http://www.lightreading.com/spit-%28service-provider-it%29/test-and-measurement/netscout-sues-pay-to-play-gartner/d/d-id/710276

15) 10 waterproof Android phones for those rainy days

My friend Duncan Stewart and the team at Deloitte predicted interest in ruggedized devices (http://www2.deloitte.com/fi/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/2014prediction-ruggedized-devices-at-250.html), a prediction I fully support. After all, with prices headed down manufacturers have to do something to differentiate themselves and ruggedization is a cheap way to add value. The interesting thing about this article is the narrow selection of vendors with a product offering but that will change.

“Who says electronics and water don’t mix? Smartphones that can handle the rain, a dunk in the bath, or a tumble into a puddle are one of 2014′s biggest trends, and there are more on the way. We’re not only talking about underpowered, basic phones covered in chunky rubber either; over the past 12 months we’ve seen flagship phones become less afraid of the wet stuff, too.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/best-waterproof-phones/

16) Home Depot Invests in Home Automation

Maybe its different in other places but I have enough trouble finding an employee in a Home Depot, let alone finding one who knows anything about where what I am looking for is or how to use the products they offer. I doubt any technology sold by them would be well supported or even work and I am a pretty knowledgeable guy so I can just imagine how it would work out for the typical consumer.

“Most of the big chain home improvement stores seem to be trying to carve a small slice of the automation market share out for themselves. Lowes debuted their “Iris” Home solutions kits earlier this year and while the response has been mediocre, it’s more telling that Home Depot has now opted in to the field as well with their promotion of the “Wink” app and the Wink enabled devices.”

http://www.smarthomeinfo.net/?p=74

17) From cameras to keycards, everyday devices killed off by the smartphone

I don’t agree with all items on the list: the smartphone replaced cameras only to the extent that people don’t seem that their priceless memories are now low resolution and shot through a lens which would have been high end on a Kodak Instamatic; and smartphones only replace low end computers to the extent you don’t need a computer. Still the article shows how disruptive the smartphone has been to so many businesses.

“Hotel keycards are to become the latest thing to be killed off by smartphones, as the Hilton chain announces a $550m investment in replacing key cards with smartphone technology. But the list of dead and dying technologies smartphones have left in their wake is long.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/04/cameras-keycards-everyday-devices-killed-off-by-the-smartphone-gadgets

18) Nerve implant retrains your brain to stop tinnitus

Tinnitus can be debilitating and this technique sounds encouraging, however, an invasive procedure which helps half the patients who get it does not sound like the sort of thing which is likely to catch on. I can’t help but wonder how they find out if a rat has tinnitus.

“GOT that ringing in your ears? Tinnitus, the debilitating condition that plagued Beethoven and Darwin, affects roughly 10 per cent of the world’s population, including 30 million people in the US alone. Now, a device based on vagus nerve stimulation promises to eliminate the sounds for good by retraining the brain.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329794.000-nerve-implant-retrains-your-brain-to-stop-tinnitus.html

19) Tablets really are the new PCs; nobody needs to buy them any more

Well, yes and no. Markets saturate and the tablet market is saturating because the devices have limited utility and, once you’ve got one, you don’t need to replace it until it breaks. The PC was different in that as the capability of the device increased, its utility increased, resulting in ever greater demands on the hardware and premature replacement. Once software innovation stopped in the late 1990s that virtuous cycle ground to a halt as I had predicted. A similar situation will evolve with smartphones though it’ll take a long time before everybody on the planet has a smartphone. The big question I have is who buys computers or tablets from Best Buy?

“The tablet market is tapped out. We saw signs of this when Apple reported that its iPad sales were down year-on-year and we’re seeing a similar message from retailers. Re/code’s Walt Mossberg recently talked to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly, who said that tablet sales had “crashed.” Global tablet sales are still rising—though less quickly than they once were—but in developed markets the tablet boom may be over. As Apple CFO Luca Maestri said in the company’s earnings call, iPad sales were still growing in developing markets. The slowdown is all in the developed world. Samsung also reports that profits are down after tablet demand fell.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/08/op-ed-tables-really-are-pcsbecause-theres-no-point-in-buying-new-ones/

20) IBM Chip Processes Data Similar to the Way Your Brain Does

The article appears to discuss a research project at IBM rather than a commercial project. Neural networks have been around for some time those this seems pretty cutting edge. The challenge with neural networks is programming them or, more correctly, mapping problems onto neural nets as solutions. Actual brains have the benefit of being structured such that they are mostly self programming once they get going. I suspect HP’s memristors will lead to breakthroughs in neural network design, however, they still won’t solve the programming problem.

“A new kind of computer chip, unveiled by IBM today, takes design cues from the wrinkled outer layer of the human brain. Though it is no match for a conventional microprocessor at crunching numbers, the chip consumes significantly less power, and is vastly better suited to processing images, sound, and other sensory data.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/529691/ibm-chip-processes-data-similar-to-the-way-your-brain-does/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 1st 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 1st 2014

Hello,

I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 10 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

ps: slow news week and I have to travel, so an abbreviated list.

 

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1) Two South African Cancer Patients Receive 3D Printed Titanium Jaw Implants

This is another excellent example of a high value application for 3D printing. The problem with bodily joints is that each one is slightly different based on the life history of the patient. Bones, and jaws in particular, are also different from person to person: after all they grew there. 3D printed custom bone replacements could revolutionize joint replacements or even allow for replacement of long bones (arms, legs) for these reasons. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Today we got word out of South African that the second and third 3D printed jaws ever, have been transplanted into two different patients who had been suffering with facial disfigurations after battling cancer. The procedures were done by Dr Cules van den Heever, who is well known in the field and has extensive experience implanting prosthetic jaws.”

http://3dprint.com/10210/3d-printed-jaw-south-africa/

2) Nonablative Laser Light Increases Influenza Vaccine Response 4 to 7-fold

This is another promising sounding medical innovation. Apparently, the idea is to stimulate an amplified immune response by causing minor tissue damage. This has been tried in the past with less than promising results. Since the procedure is safe and the laser is commonly available for essentially useless cosmetic procedures and is therefore approved and widely available, this proceedure might become commonplace.

“Influenza imposes a heavy annual health burden, and lies historically at the heart of a number of global pandemics that killed tens of millions. Medical researchers are searching for ways to strengthen or extend the power of influenza vaccines, stockpiled or not. Now a team of scientists in Boston have just developed a new method of using laser light to stimulate and enhance the immune response to a vaccine by a remarkable 4 to 7-fold against disease agents. Such treatments that assist vaccines but are not vaccines themselves are known as adjuvants.”

http://www.neomatica.com/2014/07/28/nonablative-laser-light-increases-influenza-vaccine-response-4-7-fold/

3) ‘Milestone’ for child malaria vaccine

Even a modestly effective malaria vaccine would be a huge advance for the developing world since malaria is so widespread. The fact this vaccine may be ready for regulatory approval is extremely encouraging.

“Experts say the world’s first malaria vaccine could be approved for use in 2015. Reporting in PLOS Medicine, researchers found that for every 1,000 children who received the vaccine, an average of 800 cases of illness could be prevented. And in continuing trials it went on to provide protection some 18 months after the injections were given. Manufacturers GSK have now applied for regulatory approval – making this the first vaccine to reach this step.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28541939

4) German Utilities Bail Out Electric Grid at Wind’s Mercy

One of the many problems with ‘alternative energy’ (wind, solar) is that you can’t rely on sun or wind, and yet the grid has to be stable or you get brownouts or worse. Excess power production can be dealt with by heating stuff up, pumping water, etc., but there are no real solutions for sudden drop in production. German fossil fuel power producers are adapting plants to meet this challenge, which is fine and good, however, usually, thermal systems take some time to move to their optimal operating point. It would be interesting to have somebody do a ‘net benefit’ analysis from a cost or even environmental perspective. Of course, ‘alternative energy’ is good politics and that is all that matters.

“Germany’s push toward renewable energy is causing so many drops and surges from wind and solar power that the government is paying more utilities than ever to help stabilize the country’s electricity grid. Twenty power companies including Germany’s biggest utilities, EON SE and RWE AG, now get fees for pledging to add or cut electricity within seconds to keep the power system stable, double the number in September, according to data from the nation’s four grid operators. Utilities that sign up to the 800 million-euro ($1.1 billion) balancing market can be paid as much as 400 times wholesale electricity prices, the data show.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-24/german-utilities-bail-out-electric-grid-at-wind-s-mercy.html

5) Materials database proves its mettle with new discoveries

With the advent of nanotechnology, materials research has come back in vogue. Of course, not all novel materials are associated with nanotechnology: some are just combinations of known materials. It is rather surprising this hadn’t been done previously, but ‘big data’ type applications and cheap enough hardware are likely enablers.

“Trying to find new materials, to improve the performance of anything from microchips to car bodies, has always been a process of trial and error. MIT materials scientist Gerbrand Ceder likens it to setting out from Boston for California, with neither a map nor a navigation system — and on foot. But, he says, after centuries of doing materials research the old-fashioned way, a significant revolution is underway, thanks to a massive computerized database and simulation system that can sort through thousands of potential materials in the time it previously might have taken to study just one. The system is called the Materials Project; while only about three years old, it has already produced significant new findings.”

http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/materials-database-proves-its-mettle-with-new-discoveries-0204

6) NASA’s JPL develops multi-metal 3D printing process

This is a twofer: materials science and 3D printing! Certain materials, especially metals, can alloy but are not very easy to join or weld so if you need the characteristics of both you end up having to use a mechanical fastener or similar approach. This can lead to other problems, most notably failure of the fasteners. NASA’s gradual alloy approach should allow for the development of, for example, lightweight parts with a high wear resistance out surface.

“The technology to 3D print a single part from multiple materials has been around for years, but only for polymer-based additive manufacturing processes. For metals, jobs are typically confined to a single powdered base metal or alloy per object. However, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory say they are in development of a 3D printing technique that allows for print jobs to transition from one metal to another in a single object. According the JPL researchers, these gradient metals have been created previously in a lab setting but NASA’s process is the first to make usable objects that take advantage of the mechanical and thermal properties of the various metals used.”

http://www.design-engineering.com/general/nasas-jpl-develops-multi-metal-3d-printing-process-132113

7) NASA validates ‘impossible’ space drive

A few weeks ago we had the possibility if negative mass, now we have a (potential) thruster which generates thrust without moving mass. Sounds funky, but, from what I can gather from this article, and I sure can’t understand the scientific paper, the device is based upon relativity, which is always a good starting point. The function of the device seems to have been independently confirmed but more work is needed.

“NASA is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that “impossible” microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or NASA has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.”

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-07/31/nasa-validates-impossible-space-drive

8) 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

For most cars the first 30,000 miles (50,000 km) are the most trouble free but, apparently, for a Tesla Model S owner – and Edmunds is not the only such report – it is a nightmare of major repairs and replacements. The idea that these are problems because the vehicle was an early production model is absurd: by the time they replace your drive train 3 times, that 4th drive train should have most of the bugs worked out. The Tesla Model S is clearly an unreliable vehicle but the problems listed are likely a result of the sort of engineering which would not have been acceptable at the Trabant factory. Bad engineering can be fixed (as always, the first step is to admit you have a problem) but the Achilles Heel remains the short lived, spectacularly expensive, battery pack. Nobody who knows anything about batteries believes the price or life expectancy of Lithium Ion batteries is going to improve any time soon. So, the next time you see a Tesla owner doing his part for the environment, ask yourself what the environmental impact of all those repairs might be. And for the love of all that is holy do not buy a Tesla until they have at least demonstrated the reliability of a car made in the former Soviet bloc. Thanks to my friend Luigi di Pede for this item.

“Cons: Extensive list of repairs necessary, interior amenities don’t match other luxury sedans in its price range, latest active safety systems not available, needs at least a Level 2 charger to make it useful as a daily driver. Bottom Line: The Model S is a fast, comfortable and technologically brilliant luxury sedan, but numerous problems with its touchscreen, tires and drivetrain make it hard to recommend.”

http://www.edmunds.com/tesla/model-s/2013/long-term-road-test/wrap-up.html

9) Android grabs record 85% smartphone share

This is as expected given Apple falling farther and farther behind the pack with respect to features. Even the comment by the analyst that “Millions of Android users worldwide will likely switch to the bigger-screen iPhones later this year” is laughable as Android is available on a wide variety of large screen phones, so why would somebody switch if Apple introduces one. The real concern for Apple shareholder should be margins: Apple’s premium pricing might have been justified when they were feature leaders, but now it is based upon relentless marketing. Eventually people figure it out.

“Google’s dominance of the smartphone market has reached new heights, with its Android operating system now accounting for a record 84.6% share of global smartphone shipments, according to research by Strategy Analytics. The growth in Android phones during the second quarter of this year came at the expense of BlackBerry, Apple iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone, the research firm said Wednesday.”

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9250077/Android_grabs_record_85_smartphone_share

10) Why does my old iPhone seem to get slower before a new release?

This seems like a silly story, despite its wide distribution. It is credible a new release of iOS might place a greater drain on the hardware, however, it is equally likely users – and iPhone owners tend to be ‘special’ – are trying to convince themselves they ‘need’ a new iPhone in order to justify the latest and greatest.

“Does your iPhone feel like it gets slower the moment the latest Apple smartphone gets released? You’re not alone. Google Trends shows a spike in searches from people simply for “iPhone slow” the moment Apple releases its latest iPhone, showing that people perceive their older iPhones to suddenly slow down. The Havard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan presented Google Trends data on the New York Times to posit that this could be a deliberate, preprogrammed action, to spur people to buy new iPhones.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/29/old-iphone-slower

11) Driverless cars heading onto British roads in 2015

We are seeing more and more governments modifying legislation to permit the operation of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles. This is an important step in the development of the technology (after all, how can you test the vagaries of driving without actually driving) and, because accidents are bound to happen, provide some opportunity for case law to develop around the resulting litigation.

“Driverless cars will start appearing on British roads next year, ministers will announce on Wednesday. The Government wants to change the rules to allow companies to start running trials of cars that do not need a human driver on UK streets, industry sources said. It means the first computer-controlled vehicles will be seen on quiet British streets by January next year.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/10999149/Driverless-cars-heading-onto-British-roads-in-2015.html

12) Would you buy a self-driving car?

Not long ago the consensus was that, since people like to drive their cars, there would be limited interest in autonomous vehicles. I was never sure about that: my grandfather worked for a while as a milk man and, as my grandmother enjoyed telling it, the horse knew the route better than he did. This survey suggests considerable consumer interest, however consumers offering an opinion is not the same as spending money.

“While self-driving cars may seem like some far-off, futuristic technology, they are edging closer to reality. Not only are several mainstream car manufacturers working on either semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles, but people are also warming to the notion of owning an automobile that can drive itself. A recent survey found that more than 75 percent of Americans said they’d consider buying a self-driving car. The survey was conducted by Insurance.com, the car insurance comparison-shopping website, which polled 2,000 licensed drivers, half men and half women, in June.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/would-you-buy-a-self-driving-car/

13) Attackers install DDoS bots on Amazon cloud, exploiting Elasticsearch weakness

If there is a large computing resource, whether an insecure network or computing cluster, hackers will find a way to exploit it. One might think that cloud providers would have an audit process to keep track of bots or, more importantly, whether insecure software is being run on their computers. Apparently not. One can imagine that if DDoS bots can be installed on the cloud services other such malware (including credit card scrapers) can be as well.

“Attackers are exploiting a vulnerability in distributed search engine software Elasticsearch to install DDoS malware on Amazon and possibly other cloud servers.”

http://www.itworld.com/security/428920/attackers-install-ddos-bots-amazon-cloud-exploiting-elasticsearch-weakness

14) Valencia Linux school distro saves 36 million euro

This EU website has a list of examples of cities, etc., which have saved significant amounts of money by moving to Open Source software. One might be able to entertain an argument as to whether this Linux distribution, or LibreOffice, is ‘better’ than the Microsoft or Apple alternatives, but that is moot: if they are good enough for the task, and save money, transitioning to open source is a no brainer.

“The government of the autonomous region of Valencia (Spain) earlier this month made available the next version of Lliurex, a customisation of the Edubuntu Linux distribution. The distro is used on over 110,000 PCs in schools in the Valencia region, saving some 36 million euro over the past nine years, the government says.”

https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/community/osor/news/valencia-linux-school-distro-saves-36-million-euro

15) Service Drains Competitors’ Online Ad Budget

Frankly it is surprising this is not a more popular service. Yes, the company featured is using a botnet to provide the service, and that is illegal, however, a distributed, legal, cloud based system would probably just cost a bit more – after all, this is not a computationally complex problem so you wouldn’t need much. Heck, one could pay people to run the code on their smartphones. And it is win/win for the company and Google. Not so much for the competitor but that is capitalizm.

“The longer one lurks in the Internet underground, the more difficult it becomes to ignore the harsh reality that for nearly every legitimate online business there is a cybercrime-oriented anti-business. Case in point: Today’s post looks at a popular service that helps crooked online marketers exhaust the Google AdWords budgets of their competitors.”

http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/07/service-drains-competitors-online-ad-budget/

16) Podcasting Patent Troll Realizes Podcasters Don’t Make Any Money; Desperately Tries To Escape Adam Carolla Lawsuit

The life of a patent troll can be a pretty easy one. Threaten people with bogus infringement claims and they’ll usually pay up, especially in the US, because the cost of litigation is likely going to be higher than the cost of a settlement. For true trolls – like Microsoft, for example – you don’t want to be in the position where you land in court because your likely trivial patents might be invalidated. Lucky for Microsoft, they have essentially infinite financial resources so few companies would ever challenge them. These guys were not so lucky.

“The company’s original patent lawsuits against podcasters were directed at Adam Carolla, HowStuffWorks and Togi Entertainment. The company chose poorly. Carolla isn’t exactly one to back down from a bully, and kicked off a big crowdfunding campaign to “save podcasting,” roping in a bunch of other podcasters to alert their audiences as well. The campaign has raised almost half a million dollars.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140729/18073928049/podcasting-patent-troll-realizes-podcasters-dont-make-any-money-desperately-tries-to-escape-adam-carolla-lawsuit.shtml

17) Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

It’s a little hard to see how the findings support the headline or the conclusions of the lead researcher, but it is rather cool to think that theropods were basically large chickens.

“Almost all dinosaurs were probably covered in feathers, Siberian fossils of a tufted, two-legged running dinosaur dating from roughly 160 million years ago suggest. Over the past two decades, discoveries in China have produced at least five species of feathered dinosaurs. But they all belonged to the theropod group of “raptor” dinosaurs, ancestors of modern birds.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140724-feathered-siberia-dinosaur-scales-science/