The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 26th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 26th 2014


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

This has been another very slow tech news week. News was dominated by the fawning (and not so fawning) reviews of the iPhone 6, and, in particular, the ‘Mr. Gumby’ bendyness users complained about. As is typical with Apple, they seem to have used their marketing prowess to get ahead of the story, and this morning I even read some conspiracy theories regarding the issue. A word to the wise is don’t put your iPhone 6 in your pocket unless you want a conversation starter

Brian Piccioni


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1) The Strongest, Most Expensive Material On Earth

I often comment on graphene because the material has tremendous potential in a wide variety of applications. Unfortunately, as this very brief article shows, the cost to manufacture graphene is astronomical, despite the fact it is made from carbon. As the video shows, it takes a fair bit of work to get a microscopic sample of the material and scotch tape and tweezers will probably never scale to a factory scale. Nonetheless, I am confident the mass production challenge will be solved, even though it might take decades. Once that happens the basic research into the material will bear fruit.

“It was so simple. Take a small flake of graphite and put it on piece of regular old Scotch tape. Pinch it in between the tape, peeling off layer after layer until it leaves only the vaguest, most transparent of marks. Transfer those dustings onto a chip; stick the chip under the microscope. Congratulations, you’ve just made graphene—the strongest material humans are aware of. It’s only one layer of atoms thick, which means to slice it any thinner would require dividing atoms into their elementary particles.”

2) First Direct-Diode Laser Slices Through Metal

For decades, lasers were expensive and hard to make glass tubes. Laser diodes came on the scene about 20 years ago and lead to more compact and robust devices – two important considerations for a machine tool. The use of lasers in manufacturing has no become commonplace: my wife recently showed me some fabric which had “laser-cut” patterns in the material. Despite the advantages of laser diodes, these still needed to be made into complex assembly. Assuming this company can produce ‘direct diode lasers’ in volume at a reasonable price (two assumptions you can never make about a start-up) this could be a cost breakthrough.

“Start-up company TeraDiode, Wilmington, Mass., has taken technology developed in MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory to develop the first metal-cutting machine that uses only laser diodes — there are no intervening crystals for amplification or focus. The new machine, dubbed TeraBlade, is said to be more efficient (40%) and less expensive than other industrial lasers, including carbon-dioxide, but is just as powerful. The company claims its 4-kW direct-diode laser puts out 2,600 MW per square centimeter per steradian and can slice through a half-inch of steel.”

3) Hard Drive Reliability Update – Sep 2014

Backblaze’s business model is to use redundant consumer grade hard drives in its cloud storage solution. They are agnostic with respect to vendor and they buy a lot of drives, which provides excellent insights with respect to reliability. Fortunately, they have elected to share that information and provide regular updates on their experiences. Because these results should impact manufacturers’ warranty costs and reputation, the information might be useable for investment decisions as well as influencing your next storage purchase choice. The comments on the reliability of ‘enterprise grade’ hard drives being similar or even worse than ‘consumer grade’ hard drives despite a greater than 100% price premium are particularly interesting.

“The good news is that the chart today looks a lot like the one from January, and that most of the drives are continuing to perform well. It’s nice when things are stable. The surprising (and bad) news is that Seagate 3.0TB drives are failing a lot more, with their failure rate jumping from 9% to 15%. The Western Digital 3TB drives have also failed more, with their rate going up from 4% to 7%. In the chart below, the grey bars are the failure rates up through the end of 2013, and the colored bars are the failure rates including all of the data up through the end of June, 2014.”

4) $200 Million Bitcoins Sought After By Hedge Fund GABI

A word to the wise: no size asset buyer announces their intention to take a large stake in an asset because that causes the cost to rise. Therefore, you can safely conclude that, if anything, GABI, is unloading Bitcoin, or somehow shorting them, to the hapless rubes who still believe this scam.

“Bitcoin Hedge Fund Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment (GABI) has begun buying Bitcoins and will invest up to $200 million in their first 6 months on operation. An article on Morning Money first mentioned the $200 million number. CoinDesk has reported in this article, that GABI is buying the Bitcoins over the counter through DigitalBTC, an Australian company, that is Australia’s first publicly listed Bitcoin company.”

5) Bitcoin-mining computer company faces shutdown by US authorities

Let’s imagine for a moment Bitcoin isn’t the scam it is and, instead of being a scheme where you convince presumably lucid, sober people, to exchange actual money for a number. And, lets forget than a staggering portion of Bitcoin exchanges haven’t been ‘hacked’ (or, more likely, pillaged by the folks who set them up. OK, lets play pretend. Now, you’ve developed a machine which produces these magic numbers for less than the cost of the machine and the electricity to run it. Do you sell the machine, or keep it to yourself? Well if the machine works, you don’t sell it. If it doesn’t work, you do. QED.

“US regulators have moved to shut down Butterfly Labs, a Missouri-based company they allege deceptively marketed computers designed to produce the virtual currency Bitcoin. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the company charged thousands of consumers between $20m-$50m for its Bitcoin computers and services, but then failed to provide the computers until they were practically useless, or did not do so at all.”

6) Law Enforcement Freaks Out Over Apple & Google’s Decision To Encrypt Phone Info By Default

About 25 years ago I heard a news item where the RCMP was lamenting that criminals were using then new cellular technology to avoid being “tapped” by police. Since I had designed early generation mobile phones, I knew how this problem could be solved so I mentioned to my neighbor, who was a detective, that if they needed such a device I could design it for them. The neighbor got back to me after a week or so and let me know that his contacts in Ottawa thanked me for the offer, but they had the necessary equipment, and that it was, in fact easier to record mobile calls than wireline calls. The news story was just misdirection so the geniuses who make up the underworld would use mobiles and be more candid in their discussions. Just sayin’ …

“One Justice Department official said that if the new systems work as advertised, they will make it harder, if not impossible, to solve some cases. Another said the companies have promised customers “the equivalent of a house that can’t be searched, or a car trunk that could never be opened.” Andrew Weissmann, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation general counsel, called Apple’s announcement outrageous, because even a judge’s decision that there is probable cause to suspect a crime has been committed won’t get Apple to help retrieve potential evidence. Apple is “announcing to criminals, ‘use this,’ ” he said. “You could have people who are defrauded, threatened, or even at the extreme, terrorists using it.””

7) PrintAlive: 3D Bioprinter Creates ‘Living Bandage’ Skin Grafts to Treat Burn Victims

Yet another innovative used of 3D printers in medical applications. In this case the device is used to produce skin grafts from patient’s own tissue quicker than was previously possible. It hasn’t been used on people yet but trials are expected in a few years. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Engineering students from the University of Toronto have developed a 3D bioprinter that can rapidly create artificial skin grafts from a patient’s cells to help treat burn victims. … In severe burn injuries, both the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and the dermis (inner layer) are severely damaged, and it usually takes at least two weeks for skin cells to be grown in a laboratory to be grafted on to a patient.”

8) Coke machines in SA to dispense free Wi-Fi

This is probably a good way to sell a lot of soft drinks while, perhaps inadvertently, doing some good. You can imagine the machines are already pretty secure (otherwise the drinks and/or money would soon disappear, so the hotspot should itself be physically secure. Perhaps there is a business model for advertiser funded hotspots as well.

“South African consumers will soon be able to quench their thirst and check their e-mail at the same time. Coca-Cola and BT Global Services have announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi Internet access in impoverished communities using Coke’s vending machines. BT – formerly British Telecom – will provide connectivity, support and business training as part of the roll-out. The pilot project has been launched in the rural Eastern Cape and in rural Mpumalanga. Sites were chosen for their accessibility to local communities, the companies said.”

9) We can now remotely control paralyzed rats, letting them walk again: Humans are next

Bionics has been making a fair bit of progress as implants and control systems have improved. It is hard to tell how contrived the demonstration is: after all, rats rarely walk up stairs on their hind feet and in a harness. It would be more impressive to me if I saw a rat moving more or less the way rats usually move. However, such a system might be more applicable to a human than a rat because a human could be taught how to control the system through moving a joystick or something.

“In the void left by the anticlimactic World Cup exoskeleton adventure, other efforts to make the paralyzed walk again are recapturing the spotlight. Chief among them is Grégoire Courtine’s research group at the EPFL in Switzerland. Their latest breakthroughs, just published in Science Translational Medicine, suggest that a more grounded approach is to repower the locomotive effort at the level of the spinal cord. The researchers were able to get the paralyzed rats to walk on their hind two legs with the help of a treadmill and harness.”

10) Remote exploit vulnerability in bash CVE-2014-6271

This is a very big deal, especially coming so hot on the heels of ‘Heartbleed’ from a few months ago. You might think you are safe if you don’t run Linux at home but most of the Internet and almost all mobile devices are derived from Linux and/or Unix.

“A remotely exploitable vulnerability has been discovered by Stephane Chazelas in bash on Linux and it is unpleasant. The vulnerability has the CVE identifier CVE-2014-6271 and has been given the name Shellshock by some. This affects Debian as well as other Linux distributions. You will need to patch ASAP. Bash supports exporting shell variables as well as shell functions to other bash instances. This is accomplished through the process environment to a child process.”

11) Wearable Artificial Kidneys Begins Safety Tests

One would probably have to walk in the shoes of a dialysis patient in order to appreciate the importance of this new machine. As the video shows, it is a lot larger than you might think from the photograph so you would not expect people to run a marathon with the machine attached. However, being able to move about, travel, etc., while undergoing dialysis would probably be a significant improvement in the quality of life for those suffering kidney failure.

“Nearly identical to a traditional dialysis machine in its mechanics, the WAK has reduced the size of a dialysis machine by leveraging breakthroughs in miniaturization, batteries, materials, and most crucially, the amount of water required to filter blood. In the past, cabinet-sized dialysis machines required 151L (40 gallons) of water to clean a person’s system. However, with the WAK that volume has been slashed so that only a half-liter (1 pint) of water is needed to filter a person’s entire circulatory system.”

12) Modern Life Without a Pancreas

This article sounds like a complaint but it actually demonstrates how modern technology has simplified life for people with diabetes – or at least people with enough money to afford these gizmos. A closed system artificial pancreas, where you simply tank up the insulin reservoir, or an actual lab grown replacement would probably be better, but this beats the heck out of diabetic coma or death.

“My hiking shoes were just laced up when there was a frantic vibrating in my pocket. I reached inside, took out the iPod-sized medical device and checked the screen. Up at the top, where my blood glucose would normally read, was a series of glowing question marks. Great. It had been over a week since I’d inserted my last continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensor and it had started acting up earlier that morning, with missed readings. Each of these disposable sensors lasts for about a week, transmitting the number representing my blood sugar level in real time to a small handheld receiver.”

13) How did the ‘Berlin patient’ rid himself of HIV?

Imagine curing somebody of a disease with an otherwise 100% mortality rate and then realizing you could not replicate what you had just done. That pretty much is the case of the ‘Berlin patient’ who was cured of AIDS and remains disease free. The fact he was cured shows there is a protocol which can work, in at least some patients, although a marrow transplant would normally be viewed as a last ditch procedure for most diseases. Hopefully, careful replication of the ‘cure’ will lead to repeatability. This is not the first time this has happened in the history of science.

“Researchers are closer to unraveling the mystery of how Timothy Ray Brown, the only human cured of HIV, defeated the virus, according to a new study. Although the work doesn’t provide a definitive answer, it rules out one possible explanation.”

14) Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use

Frankly I’m surprised the FAA’s permission was needed since I have seen so many drone videos. Were all these done illegally? I am not sure some of the rules make a lot of sense (for example why should the operator require a pilot’s license?), but some degree of regulation is necessary when you are flying machine with rotating parts in the general vicinity of people. Contrast this cautious reality with the hype and hysteria associated with Amazon’s drone delivery service. Either way, prospects are probably dimming for helicopter pilots in the film biz.

“The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday with the help of Hollywood. The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska. Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.”

15) DHL begins drone delivery in Germany

Evidently the German government is taking a less cautious stance than the US with respect to commercial applications for drones, or, perhaps, the legal environment is different enough to let this pass. To be clear, this is not delivery of packages to random destinations but delivery of high value, low weight items (i.e. drugs) to a specific destination which present particular logistical challenges. A number of years ago I proposed the government of Canada use drone blimps to deliver cargo to remote first nations villages, but I don’t think I was taken seriously.

“Deutsche Post DHL says it is starting Germany’s first drone package delivery service, a test program transporting medicine to a pharmacy on a North Sea island. The company said the quad-rotor “DHL Paketkopter 2.0” will begin daily flights Friday, bringing a maximum load of 1.2 kilograms of medicine to the German island of Juist. The island has about 1,500 inhabitants. It’s usually served by one ferry per day and an occasional small-aircraft flight, depending on the weather.”

16) Why the Uber-for-X Wave Should Stop

When I was young the local grocery store would always have some kid with a special bicycle who would deliver a few bags of groceries for a tip. You don’t see this as much anymore for a reason: delivering stuff is expensive and inefficient. It is much better for people to come to stores (or in the case of, say, Costco, warehouses) and pick their stuuff up themselves. The important thing about Uber is that it is, first and foremost, a regulatory arbitrage which makes use of modern technology for dispatch. As the article notes, ‘on-demand’ has been the nature of the taxi business from day one. In any event, just as the last dot-com bubble lead to the emergence of all kinds of inherently money losing businesses, these will crash and burn once investors wise up.

“Delivery startups are cropping up everywhere, which is great in the age of Everything-as-a-Service. But why are they all jumping on Uber’s black on-demand bandwagon? Being able to promise hyper-fast deliveries is neat, but at what cost? Most on-demand startups are probably running on losses and battling a constant last-minute scramble day in and day out. So before you promise on-demand, let’s consider the alternative of scheduling your deliveries.”

17) This Palm-Sized Laser Could Make Self-Driving Cars Way Cheaper

I included this article in order to show how far we are from having self-driving cars. Even though this device is roughly 1/10th the cost of the unit used on Google’s self-driving cars, it is at least 50 times too costly to be useable on even a premium vehicle, especially when you take into account an autonomous vehicle would have to have multiple redundancy in terms of imaging devices and imaging technologies. Ultimately, of course, these challenges will be solved as the market emerges but at $7,999 we are still very far away.

“Which brings us to the Puck, Velodyne’s miniaturized version of that technology. Instead of 64 lasers, it has just 16, resulting in a tenfold reduction in price. It’s also smaller, just 4 inches tall and 1.3 pounds—compared to 10 inches tall and 29 pounds for the unit on each of Google’s robocars. At $7,999, it’s small and cheap enough for mass-market vehicles, a big help for automakers intent on offering cars that drive themselves in the next decade.”

18) iPhone camera evolution: How does the iPhone 6 camera compare to previous iPhone cameras?

Because this is a slow news week, I’m including a few bizarro world stories to sort of pad things out. You see, the reality of thing is that all smartphone cameras are crap and unless and until people are willing to carry around a large lens they will always be crap. The quality of a photo is a function of the sensor and the lens and if you could get a decent picture out of a sensor the size of a piece of confetti and a lens the size of an aspirin tablet, Sony, Nikon, etc., would have figured that out long ago. A smartphone camera is convenient and cheap (they cost a few bucks each), which make them nice features in case you happen to encounter a UFO. But don’t for a moment think they are good cameras or ever will be.

“In the past seven years, each new advancement in iPhone camera technology has made dramatic improvements to image quality. The iPhone 6 is no different. Besides being faster to shoot and easier to focus, the images taken with the iPhone 6 camera show greater detail and are significantly better in low-light. In this follow-up post to my iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 comparisons, I present an 8 iPhone comparison from all iPhone versions taken with Camera+ including, the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, and the new iPhone 6 in a variety of situations to test the camera’s capabilities.”

19) I ate crickets because they’re the future of food

I have nothing against people who eat bugs. After all, what is a lobster but a bug that lives in the ocean? You’ve eaten a lot of bugs as well, especially in the form of processed vegetables, in particular tomato sauce (a fact the vendors do not, curiously, advertise). The thing is, eating insects is a cultural thing and, unless you can predict the future of culture, you don’t know the future of food. Imagine explaining sushi to your great grandfather, unless, of course, he was Japanese. So, even though you shouldn’t hold your breath, it is interesting to read about it.

“Next Millennium Farms (NMF), located about 90 minutes outside of Toronto, Ontario, is part of a movement to introduce crickets — fried, baked, or milled into flour — to the North American menu. The insect’s nutritional benefits, combined with mounting concerns over the environmental impacts of meat production, is prompting conscious food producers to see the pest in a new light, turning cricket meal into everything from protein bars to cookies.”

20) Salt water-powered electric car approved for roads in Europe

I guess the world’s energy problems are solved: salt water powered cars are clearly the future. I mean we have oceans of salt water, don’t we? Except this is not a salt water powered car, it is a car with a flow-cell battery (this is a battery where the electrolyte is a liquid so you can can, essentially, recharge the battery by replacing the electrolyte as it operates. The unanswered yet extremely important question is how much it costs in energy and dollars to produce the electrolyte to refuel the vehicle. Because there is no data with respect to the cost of the flow-cell or the electrolyte, it is probably astronomical.

“In development for 14 years, the four-seated car measures roughly 5.25 metres in length and sports what its creators say is an entirely new kind of energy storage system, also called Nanoflowcell. The company claims that the automobile is capable of speeds of 350 kilometres per hour and acceleration of 0-100 kilometres per hour in just 2.8 seconds, and can travel distances of 600 kilometres with a full tank of a petrol made from a salt water solution. … An electrochemical reaction is created by combining two liquids with metallic salts acting as the electrolyte. These solutions are pumped through a fuel cell where an anode or cathode electrode is located, creating electricity that is then forwarded to super capacitors within the car. ”




The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 19th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 19th 2014


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni

ps: This was a bad week for tech news. Most of the first part of the week was speculation about the “revolutionary” new products fashion company Apple would launch, along with ground breaking features. In the second half of the week, most stories were either 1) people making fun of the abject banality of the products Apple launched or 2) people praising the genius of Apple’s latest products. While both postmortems were amusing to read (for different reasons) they were probably repetitive, suggesting sock-puppetry and/or other efforts at manipulating the coverage were in force.

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1) Got iTunes? You got a U2 album. Here’s how to delete it.

We have all been in meetings where people say stupid things like “maybe we should tell our customers about the bug” and stuff like that. So you can imagine a meeting where somebody at Apple said – aloud – “Hey, I like U2, we all like U2, everybody in the world likes U2, so let’s push the latest U2 album onto all our customer base’s devices!” What’s even worse is the thought that, apparently the leadership at Apple went along with this brilliant idea, oblivious to the fact that many of their customers were toddlers the last time U2 had a major hit. Mark 2014 as the year Apple invented musical malware.

“Do you own an iTunes account? Congratulations. You also own at least one (quite possibly only one) U2 album. Apple marked the iPhone 6 launch by slipping a copy of the ageing Irish band’s latest album into every account, deliberately infecting gadgets with some people’s idea of musical malware. Think of it as a surprise Christmas present from a relative who doesn’t know you very well. Or knows you really well, if you like U2. If you DO like U2, great. It’s a Beautiful Day* and you’ll probably find Songs of Innocence an uplifting collection of soft-rock ballads. If you don’t, you’ll probably want to get rid of it, pronto.”

2) Apple releases U2 album removal tool

As a follow up, the complexities of the deadly embrace which is iTunes and related cloud services meant that removing the aforementioned US album was not easy. After all, whats the point of malware if it is easy to remove? I can’t wait for a class action suit to arise out of this fiasco. I stripped iTunes off of all my gear for the same reason I removed Adobe PDF reader: any piece of bloatware which needs to be updated on a weekly basis is not something I want running on any computer I own.

“Apple has released a tool to remove U2’s new album from its customers’ iTunes accounts six days after giving away the music for free. Some users had complained about the fact that Songs of Innocence had automatically been downloaded to their devices without their permission. It had not been immediately obvious to many of the account holders how to delete the tracks. The US tech firm is now providing a one-click removal button.”

3) Why most people aren’t downloading apps anymore

It stands to reason the early adopters of smartphones would also be the sort of people most likely to experiment with apps, so, as the smartphone market matures, the average new buyer is less likely to download a pile of apps. Furthermore, there tends not to be much in the way over novel apps, though plenty of “me too” products with marginally better (or worse) features and functions. All this is to say that the “app factory” gold rush is probably as over as over can be right now.

“In August, a widely reported report from comScore, a measurement firm, concluded that the majority of smartphone users in the United States download precisely zero apps in any given month. “One possible explanation is that people just don’t need that many apps, and the apps people already have are more than suitable for most functions,” speculated Quartz’s Dan Frommer at the time. New data from Localytics, an app analytics firm which tracks 28,000 apps across 1.5 billion global devices, lends some evidence to this theory.”

4) Radical New DNA Sequencer Finally Gets into Researchers’ Hands

For those who don’t know, DNA is composed of four nucleic acids (Cytosine, Thiamine, Adenine, and Guanine), and the sequence of those nucleic acids directly code for every known living thing. Traditional DNA sequencing is a chemical process whereby the end of a sequence are identified one nucleic acid at a time. Despite massive improvements to sequencing equipment, the fact it is a chemical process means it takes a fair bit of time to complete. This novel approach proposes to pull a strand of DNA through a tiny pore and measure the change in charge as each nucleic acid goes through. Apparently, the process is prone to error, which is not surprising given the scales involved, however, I suspect that statistical techniques could be used to essentially provide error correction to the results. This would result in extremely rapid, low cost DNA sequencing.

“One day in 1989, biophysicist David Deamer pulled his car off California’s Interstate 5 to hurriedly scribble down an idea. In a mental flash, he had pictured a strand of DNA threading its way through a microscopic pore. Grabbing a pen and a yellow pad, he sketched out a radical new way to study the molecule of life. Twenty-five years later, the idea is now being commercialized as a gene sequencing machine that’s no larger than a smartphone, and whose effects might eventually be similarly transformative.”

5) Progress rarely glows blue: EEStor and the lure of new technology

I have a theory that whenever the word “energy” is invoked, people’s IQ drop by at least 50 points. That makes for some interesting investment outcomes and, needless to say, I have to be cautious about what I say in order to not get sued. The author seems to fail to recognize that he fell hook, line, and sinker for a series of effusive claims and press releases without evidence (let alone proof) any of these were reflective of reality. And that is the problem with “long shots”: first you eliminate the ones which defy the laws of physics, then you use common sense to evaluate what remains. Admittedly, common sense ain’t so common when your IQ has taken a 50 point hit, but it is also useful to remember that tiny, obscure companies rarely deliver breakthroughs in physics or chemistry.

“I wrote about it several times, saying, “If the Texas company EEStor is running a scam, it’s a frakking brilliant one” and “If this is a bluff, it is one of the ballsier, more elaborate bluffs the cleantech world has ever seen.” Gold star if you can guess where this is going. In April, while I was on break, I saw this headline: “ZENN Motor Company’s EEStor technology fails again after year of excuses.””

6) Wave Power’s Uncertain Future

On a related note, we see a retrenchment on the “wave power” front. The idea is an appealing one: since water is in constant motion, and because water is much more dense than air, it should be possible to extract significant amounts of energy from ocean currents. Based on what I have read the problem with wave power is that the stresses on the systems move over several orders of magnitude due to storms so it is hard to design a system which is at the same time cost effective and able to sustain extreme forces.

“Buried in wave power device company Ocean Power Technologies’ latest quarterly report and press release is a seemingly backwards move: one major project in Australia has been terminated, while another signature project in Oregon is in the process of “winding down.” A company determined to build commercial-scale wave power facilities is apparently not interested, at least at the present moment, in building commercial-scale wave power facilities. Instead, OPT will focus their efforts on “next generation designs,” an idea that experts say is probably the only way to go at the moment.”

7) The Idea Builder: Dremel Releases a Mass-Market 3D Printer

Dremel has been a popular vendor amount hobbyist for many years. They sell a premium product and have a fair bit of shelf space in the retail channel. Their entry into the 3D printer market is intriguing, though I am still not convinced there is a mass market for the product. Nonetheless, the presence on retail shelves, and the comfort of knowing the unit will be supported by a recognized brand might prove me wrong.

“With a combination of accessible features, smart packaging, and a $999 price point, it’s obvious that the Dremel 3D Idea Builder is a machine aimed squarely at the mass market. The Idea Builder, announced today at MakerCon in New York City, is the first 3D printer to be released by a major tool manufacturer, and represents further maturation of at-home additive manufacturing. With initial sales being handled by traditional tool-sales outlets Home Depot, Amazon, and Canadian Tire, it promises to help expose 3D printing to a new range of users.”

8) Study: Cities with super fast Internet speeds are more productive

One always has to be careful confusing correlation and causation and, in particular “studies” often invoke questionable assumptions. Nonetheless, it follows that a state of the art infrastructure would empower the development of state of the art business models and hence improved productivity. Unfortunately, some governments, notably the Canadian government does not seem to grasp this.

“It’s become an article of faith among politicians, investors and entrepreneurs that the Internet — and access to it — is an economic engine. It helps connect Americans to education and government services. It serves as a platform for new ideas and companies that wind up changing the world. And it reduces costs for consumers and businesses everywhere.”

9) India Wants To Build Massive Digital Infrastructure To Cover 800 Million Rural Citizens by 2019

As a follow on to the previous item, developing countries recognize the importance of a modern telecommunications infrastructure and are planning to deploy them in order to spur economic development. Although coverage of 800 million people represents only part of the India population, the fact the Indian government has this objective is praiseworthy. In contrast Canada, which has a wired infrastructure in place – meaning deployment of true broadband would be even easier and cheaper – has no such goal, or indeed, any broadband strategy worth discussing.

“A $17-billion government program to build a national optical fiber network that will connect India’s gram panchayats, or village-level governments, aims to cover the entire country in three years and could be a game changer, an Indian minister told Forbes. Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of communications and IT, and the head of the advisory group which supervises the implementation of the Digital India program, as it is called, said the program was approved by the Indian cabinet last month, and aims to cover 50,000 gram panchayats this year, 100,000 next year and the remaining 100,000 the following year. India’s 600,000 villages where over 800 million live, are administered by these local self-governments.”

10) Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota

This is a surprising result and it will be interesting to see if the results can be replicated and/or are transferable to humans. Gut bacteria are increasingly recognized as important to human health (leading to the development of procedures for fecal transplants) so the ‘prior plausibility’ of this result is relatively high.

“Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) are among the most widely used food additives worldwide, regularly consumed by lean and obese individuals alike. NAS consumption is considered safe and beneficial owing to their low caloric content, yet supporting scientific data remain sparse and controversial. Here we demonstrate that consumption of commonly used NAS formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota. These NAS-mediated deleterious metabolic effects are abrogated by antibiotic treatment, and are fully transferrable to germ-free mice upon faecal transplantation of microbiota configurations from NAS-consuming mice, or of microbiota anaerobically incubated in the presence of NAS. We identify NAS-altered microbial metabolic pathways that are linked to host susceptibility to metabolic disease, and demonstrate similar NAS-induced dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in healthy human subjects. Collectively, our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage.”

11) 18 Views of the Silicon Horizon

Take the predictions of any industry analyst with a large sack of salt: they are rarely close to what actually happens and are even frequently directionally wrong. In particular, I would question any growth rate greater than growth in GDP since there are few large, rapidly growing end markets, and most those are replacing other shrinking markets, so its a bit of a wash. The thing to know is that some people make investment decisions based on these staggeringly expensive industry reports.

“The semiconductor industry will see “good but not great growth,” with rates in the high single digits, in 2014 and beyond, according Bill McClean, president of the market watcher IC Insights. Electronic system sales will rise 5% this year, nudging chip sales up 7%. Capital equipment spending is rebounding from a 3% decline last year and will grow 12% this year (see below).”

12) Apple’s New IPhones Seen Fueling Switch From Android

I used to work with a sell-side analyst who did “channel checks” which consisted of calling a few Radio Shack stores to see how sales were doing. Actually, that was nothing: I know of another analyst, still on the job, who just makes stuff up. So, I figure the value of RBC’s comments regarding iPhone 6 demand are about as reliable as those of IC Insights concerning the future of the semiconductor industry (see previous item). That being said, given all the hype and hysteria generated by Apple it is credible that their willingness to bring their products closer to the state of the art would evoke some converts. So what?

“When Apple’s main product, featuring bigger displays and faster chips, goes on sale starting in Australia, they may be best remembered as the generation of iPhones that won over consumers from rival smartphones. Trade-ins of Samsung phones with smartphone reseller Gazelle Inc. tripled last week and about a quarter of potential iPhone 6 buyers are new to Apple’s ecosystem, according to RBC.”

13) Audi gets first official California self-driving permit

A sign of things to come: as the article shows most of the industry is preparing real life trials of autonomous vehicles, suggesting this are moving along nicely. I continue to expect this technology to lead to another “industrial revolution”.

“Audi is the first auto manufacturer to receive an official permit from California to test its self-driving cars on the state’s highways. California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida are the only states to date permitting such testing. Cars have already been seen in on-road tests in California, but the state now requires registration and is issuing testing permits.”

14) LG Chem’s super-efficient OLED lighting has life of 40,000 hours

As the article notes, the problem with OLEDs is that they are currently quite expensive, however, this may represent the beginning of the cost curve with significant opportunity for improvement down the line. One advantage of OLED is that they emit light over a sizable surface area, rather than a point emission as with LEDs. As a consequence, you don’t need diffusers and complex optics and this may offset some of the cost of the fixture.

“Korea JoongAng Daily, providing details last week, said that LG Chem, Korea’s largest chemical company, has developed an OLED panel with the world’s best luminous efficacy and longest life. “The company under LG Group said its OLED panel has a luminous efficacy of 100 lumens per watt, almost double compared to 60 lumens per watt achieved before, and a life of 40,000 hours.” LG Chemical plans to focus on markets in North America and Europe and it has already secured 50-plus lighting companies, including Atlanta, Georgia-based Acuity Lighting, said Korea Bizwire.”

15) New data center protects against solar storms and nuclear EMPs

Protection against solar storms should be pretty straightforward: enclose the data center in a Faraday cage and isolate the power supplies. Protection against a nuclear EMP is another matter entirely: will you really care about your cat pictures if you emerge into a post-nuclear holocaust hell-scape?

“In Boyers, Pa., a recently opened 2,000-sq.-ft. data center has been purpose-built to protect against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), either generated by a solar storm or a nuclear event. The company that built the facility isn’t disclosing exactly how the data center was constructed or what materials were used. But broadly, it did say that the structure has an inner skin and an outer skin that use a combination of thicknesses and metals to provide EMP protection.”

16) Vilified Bitcoin Tycoon After Losing $500 Million: My Life Is at Risk

Pro-tip: if you are going to run a ‘bank’ for a ‘currency’ mostly used for money laundering you had better be prepared for the consequences if said ‘currency’ gets ‘stolen’. A bonus pro-tip: if you are Frenchman, there are better places to hide from potential assassins than Japan. He kinda stands out.

“What was once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, filed for bankruptcy protection in February this year after disclosing that a half-billion dollars worth of virtual currency had disappeared into the blue, allegedly hacked. A Japanese police investigation was launched in late July to try to find where the money went and how the bitcoins were swallowed, or if other crimes had been committed. An independent group of IT specialists living in Tokyo, headed by Jason Maurice of Wiz Technologies, began its own independent probe. Now the race for the truth is picking up speed.”

17) How Close Are We to Star Trek Propulsion?

The answer is not close at all, but at least there are people looking at the math. The opening reference to the ‘impossible’ drive system is not really on topic as that system would not allow for relativistic speeds, however it would allow for trips within the solar system to take weeks instead of years, and therefore is more analogous to Star Trek’s ‘impulse drive’ than ‘warp drive’. Don’t hold your breath in either event – these are not easy problems to solve and even if they were it would require massive investment to development them.

“You may have heard about a new experimental NASA engine, as the story was circulating at warp speed less than a month ago. Stories have been quite optimistic, with headlines such as “Impossible NASA engine may actually work.” And now, because of inclusion of the word “impossible,” there’s been some backlash of skepticism based on a rationale that goes something like “How could it be that an engine violates Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction)? Surely NASA is more likely to be wrong than Newton.” We don’t know how the story will turn out, but for the record let’s establish one thing: if the new engine works, it does not violate Newton’s third law.”

18) The Uber effect: how San Francisco’s cab use dropped 65-percent

I always considered San Francisco – and otherwise great city – to have an abysmal taxi service. You’d wait 45 minutes for cabs which never showed up, etc.. Uber has completely disrupted that market by providing a reliable and cost effective service. The taxi industry is fighting back through efforts at re-regulation and through the adoption of apps allowing you to have some degree of confidence your cab will arrive. All in, it seems like a win for consumers. Needless to say, both the cab industry and Uber’s critics are saying that drivers can no longer earn a living from the activity. If this is the case then drivers will simply drop out of the labor pool and move things into balance.

“Hailing a ride has never been easier — just take out your phone, tap on an app and wait for your internet-wrangled chauffeur to arrive. Companies like Uber and Lyft are reinventing the transportation industry, and traditional taxi services are feeling it. According to Kate Toran, interim Taxis and Accessible Services director for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the average taxi is only making about 504 trips per month. Two years ago (specifically, in March of 2012) the average trip per taxi averaged at 1,424.”

19) Sony Forecasts $2B Loss as Its Smartphones Lag

Sony is simply the recent example of what happens to substantially all consumer products companies over time: they because successful by providing a high quality solution to consumer’s needs. Over time they moved into a premium pricing model, but at least you were getting a superior product at a higher price. Eventually they dropped innovation and superior quality and simply maintained a premium price. Consumers eventually figure these things out and, as has happened with so many companies, stop being willing to pay a brand premium. This has happened before and it will happen again. I’m looking at you, Apple.

“Sony expects its annual loss to swell to $2 billion and has canceled dividends for the first time in more than half a century after writing down the value of its troubled smartphone business. Citing intense competition, especially from Chinese rivals, Sony said Wednesday it anticipates a net loss of 230 billion yen ($2.15 billion) for the fiscal year that ends March 31, 2015. Its previous forecast was for a 50 billion yen ($466 million) net loss.”

20) Leading tech investors warn of bubble risk ‘unprecedented since 1999’

Whenever the market is going up you can find all kinds of folk calling it a bubble. In this case I don’t disagree, however, I’d view the market as being bifurcated: there are weird valuations, companies run by CEOs who are just out of puberty, and so on, while there are real companies trading at modest valuations. Unless and until rising tech stocks become the lead item on the news, and microcap stocks are bid up to the stratosphere on the basis of an oblique relationship to a hot technology, it is nothing like 1999.

“Two of the world’s leading tech investors have warned the new wave of tech companies and their backers are taking on risk and burning through cash at rates unseen since 1999 when the “dotcom bubble” burst. Bill Gurley, partner at Silicon Valley-based investor Benchmark, sounded the horn of doom on Monday warning that “Silicon Valley as a whole or that the venture-capital community or startup community is taking on an excessive amount of risk right now.””

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 12th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 12th 2014


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni

ps: This was a bad week for tech news. Most of the first part of the week was speculation about the “revolutionary” new products fashion company Apple would launch, along with ground breaking features. In the second half of the week, most stories were either 1) people making fun of the abject banality of the products Apple launched or 2) people praising the genius of Apple’s latest products. While both postmortems were amusing to read (for different reasons) they were probably repetitive, suggesting sock-puppetry and/or other efforts at manipulating the coverage were in force.

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1) Yale professor makes the case for Supercool Metals

Smartphones are topical and all, but something tells me a material like this might have broader application. I particularly like the idea the stuff becomes plastic at supercool temperatures. Who ever heard of such a thing?

“Someday, digital citizens around the world may have a Yale professor to thank for the supercool, extra-durable case protecting their smartphones. Jan Schroers, who teaches mechanical engineering and materials science, has created a thin, lightweight smartphone case that is harder than steel and as easy to shape as plastic. Schroers developed the technology for the cases in his Yale lab; now he’s ready for a partner to bring the product into mass production. “This material is 50 times harder than plastic, nearly 10 times harder than aluminum and almost three times the hardness of steel,” Schroers said. “It’s awesome.””

2) Is LibreOffice 4.0 Better than Microsoft Office 2013?

I use LibreOffice, but the answer to this – and most headlines ending with a question mark – is no, no it is not. Personally I think Office 2013 was a step backward but Office products are better integrated and more stable. Nonetheless, the question should be one of value: is the free LibreOffice suite a better package than Office, and the answer to that is, unless you can somehow get a deal on on it (I paid $10), Office is simply not worth the extra cost.

“In 2010, Open Office, an open-source freeware alternative to Microsoft Office, got into some conflict with one of its partners at that time – Oracle. People who were behind the development of Open Office couldn’t stand this monopoly. So they decided to part their ways, and formed a non-profit called The Document Foundation. Later they released their Office suite named as LibreOffice. Last month, its version 4.0 came out – a version which is fully mastered and has what it takes to, if not defeat its rival competitor Microsoft Office, stand along it.”

3) Apple payments service may boost sales of larger iPhones

In the reality distortion field which permeates Apple product launches, there is no past – only the glorious future lead by the genius that is Apple. In the real world, a slightly larger screen size (available from many vendors for several years), a first generation “smart watch” (a market which has not met with measurable success) and a payment system (which has been tried and flopped) all scream “welcome to 2012” (note: this was written before I found item 6, below). The payment system is particularly baffling: why would somebody pay double the going rate for a smartphone in order to use a payment system few retailers are likely to adopt? Why would retailers adopt a payment infrastructure which can only serve a small set of a modest part of the smartphone market?

“The addition of a mobile payments service to Apple Inc’s next iPhone could help to boost sales of the larger-screen phones and claw back market share lost to mobiles running on Google Inc’s Android platform. Apple shares rose as much as 1.3 percent on Wednesday, a day after the launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch – the first new product introduced by Chief Executive Tim Cook.”

4) Apple Watch: Much ado about nothing

As Apple slides from (arguably) innovator to fast follower to just plain follower, even the fanboys (such as this author) are finding it harder and harder to justify their bizarre allegiance to the firm. For a blogger this is a dangerous path as the company deals with its critics brutally (see last week’s GRL) and, as a guy who had the temerity to suggest Nortel was overvalued in 2000, I know what that is about. Alas, as the separation between reality and marketing gets wider and wider, the ability to suspend disbelief takes more and more effort. Eventually, something gives.

“I don’t get it. Based on my demographic standing; by sheer dint of my position within the tech press; as someone who grew up with the first Macintosh in his house and a subscription to Macworld, I should be standing and applauding and ferociously tweeting my awe and amazement at the unveiling of Apple Watch. Yet, I am not. Apple did not save wearables, as many thought it would. Apple caved to the incredibly high bar of expectations set by the public. Apple unveiled something, at best, lukewarm. At most, it’s prettier than the smartwatches that’ve come before, and that’s likely its greatest innovation.”

5) How Apple’s Launch Event Distorted Reality — Again

This is another effort by a member of the Apple fanboy cult to see what he wants to see despite evidence to the contrary. Any criticism is tempered by reflecting a “love” for the company. What intelligent person “loves” a company? Companies provide a bundle of benefits for a price: the value of that bundle of benefits exceeds the price you should prefer it over other products. If you “love” a company you are a fool and if you write about your “love” for a company you are an admitted idiot and your opinion should have no value. Regardless, what I found interesting about coverage of the Apple launch is the high proportion of apologetic critiques of the event: when many of your fans (or paid mouthpieces) find it had to say something nice about your newest products, you have a problem.

“Abandon objectivity, all ye who enter an Apple product launch event. ‘Reality distortion field’ is a phrase long associated with this company, and with good reason. It goes back to 1981, when Apple manager Bud Tribble first used it to describe Steve Jobs’ absolute unshakeable certainty that the Macintosh computer was going to ship in 1982. (In fact, it wasn’t ready until 1984.)”

6) Android Fans Are Laughing Over This Graphic Showing Why iPhone 6 Is 2 Years Behind The Curve

This is good for a chuckle and pretty much sums things up.

“This image, which compares the specifications of the new iPhone 6 and a Nexus 4, an older Android device, is all over the internet today. It was put together by the Ars Technica reviews editor Ron Amadeo. The infographic, which got retweeted nearly 16,000 times and favorited by more than 7,000 users on Twitter, highlights that most of the new iPhone’s specifications are matched by the Nexus 4 — when it was released way back in 2012.”

7) US electric car maker Tesla is developing technology that could see vehicles run on “full auto pilot” in as little as five or six years, according to its chief executive Elon Musk.

Of course, the modern epitome of reality distortion has to be Tesla: a company which produces vehicles which, by their nature disposable – due to the use of a staggeringly expensive, inherently short lived battery – with, by all reports, the reliability of a Trabant and despite this are very highly rated by all and sundry. Now we hear (and there is no reason to believe he was kidding) the CEO of a company which has no particular experience in the field will be first to market with a “full auto pilot” on their vehicles. Sure. Why not? Good luck with that.

“US electric car maker Tesla is developing technology that could see vehicles run on “full auto pilot” in as little as five or six years, according to its chief executive Elon Musk. “The colourful entrepreneur said his firm was stepping on the accelerator in the race against rivals such as Google and Volvo to create a driverless car, which could revolutionise the road by drastically cutting mortality rates. “The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies,” Musk told reporters in Tokyo Monday. “I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability,” added Tesla’s 43-year-old head.””

8) GM will introduce hands-free, foot-free driving in 2017 Cadillac

I’ve never owned a GM product and likely never will, but like the other major car companies (i.e. the ones who do not subsist off subsidy programs, tax credits, and specially crafted regulatory regimes) they actually know a few things about mass producing vehicles. GM and all the other real car companies understand the challenges of autonomous vehicles and are taking a much more cautious – and realistic – approach to the problem.

“GM is to offer what it is calling “Super Cruise” in a new Cadillac model that Barra didn’t name. The system will allow drivers to switch the vehicle into a semi-automated mode in which it will automatically keep the car in its lane, making necessary steering adjustments, and autonomously trigger braking and speed control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.”

9) 3D printing: From racing cars to dresses to human tissue

This is a good overview of some of the real applications of 3D printing. While I don’t think race car duct work is a mainstream application, I visited a factory once where they had spent about $250,000 on similar duct work, to be produced in similar volume, even though could have had it 3D printed even then.

“”Concept to final product used to be a minimum of maybe four weeks, whereas now it can be the next day.” Strakka Racing’s Dan Walmsley is talking about their new prototype car, the Strakka Dome S103. It’s a racer that has to be hardy; it’s designed for the World Endurance championship, a series that includes the Le Mans 24 hour. In that one race it will travel further than a F1 vehicle does in an entire season.”

10) The Revolutionary Technique That Quietly Changed Machine Vision

I was previously unaware that a revolution had taken place in the machine vision as recently as a couple years ago. The local angle is nice as well. The use of simulated neural networks is particularly intriguing as memristor technology has the potential to significantly speed up, and cost reduce, the production of neural nets. What is not clear from the article is whether these machine vision advances have the same performance in a real world context or just for artificial benchmarks. There is always a difference.

“Computers have always had trouble identifying objects in real images so it is not hard to believe that the winners of these competitions have always performed poorly compared to humans. But all that changed in 2012 when a team from the University of Toronto in Canada entered an algorithm called SuperVision, which swept the floor with the opposition. Today, Olga Russakovsky at Stanford University in California and a few pals review the history of this competition and say that in retrospect, SuperVision’s comprehensive victory was a turning point for machine vision. Since then, they say, machine vision has improved at such a rapid pace that today it rivals human accuracy for the first time.”

12) Findings questioned when clinical trials get a closer look

The scientific method is, without a doubt, the best mechanism for understanding the universe. Science never runs in a straight line, however, despite the occasional wrong turn it is ultimately self correcting. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, the funding model for most research has lead to a situation where “new’ findings get funded and or published while null outcomes or, worse yet efforts to verify published research, get short shrift. The net effect of this bias is that mistakes can become part of “settled science” for much longer than should be the case. Ultimately this will take care of itself, however, until then there will be a lot of duplication and wasted effort. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Clinical trials rarely get a second look—and when they do, their findings are not always what the authors originally reported. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which compared how 37 studies that had been reanalyzed measured up to the original. In 13 cases, the reanalysis came to a different outcome—a finding that suggests many clinical trials may not be accurately reporting the effect of a new drug or intervention.”

13) Rethinking the basic science of graphene synthesis

As we have noted in the past, the problem with revolutionary applications for graphene is that the material is extremely expensive to make rending most such applications far from economical. Graphene is like diamond: though made of extremely cheap carbon, production is very difficult. I fully expect there will be a breakthrough eventually. After all, metallic aluminum used to be more precious than platinum, despite the abundance of the ore.

“A new route to making graphene has been discovered that could make the 21st century’s wonder material easier to ramp up to industrial scale. Graphene — a tightly bound single layer of carbon atoms with super strength and the ability to conduct heat and electricity better than any other known material — has potential industrial uses that include flexible electronic displays, high-speed computing, stronger wind-turbine blades, and more-efficient solar cells, to name just a few under development.”

14) In Wake of Confirmed Breach at Home Depot, Banks See Spike in PIN Debit Card Fraud

Oddly enough this exploit received much less coverage than a similar attack on Target. Perhaps the media has become used to these stories or perhaps Home Depot managed the fallout more adeptly. This is a problem on many levels: companies like Home Depot are vacuuming up customer information and lax in protecting it. They lack fundamental security efforts and somehow manage to permit the installation of malware on their systems. US companies and banks are not demanding the use of chipcard/PIN systems and banks are lax in allowing PIN changes. What a mess.

“Nearly a week after this blog first reported signs that Home Depot was battling a major security incident, the company has acknowledged that it suffered a credit and debit card breach involving its U.S. and Canadian stores dating back to April 2014. Home Depot was quick to assure customers and banks that no debit card PIN data was compromised in the break-in. Nevertheless, multiple financial institutions contacted by this publication are reporting a steep increase over the past few days in fraudulent ATM withdrawals on customer accounts.”

15) Intel Releases Edison, a Computer Slightly Larger Than an SD Card

Like I said above, it was a slow week for tech news. Intel may have released Edison, but it doesn’t seem to be broadly available. More and more large semiconductor companies, having witnessed the success of Arduino and Raspberry Pi are supporting “maker” culture with a hope that their devices will find their way into mainstream Internet of Things type products. Edison has potential: most similar offerings lack native wireless support while it has WiFi and Bluetooth, which are critical for almost any IoT application.

“The key feature of the Edison is, of course, the Intel CPU. It’s a 22nm SoC with dual cores running at 500 MHz. Unlike so many other IoT and micro-sized devices out there, the chip in this device, an Atom Z34XX, has an x86 architecture. Also on board is 4GB of eMMC Flash and 1 GB of DDR3. Also included in this tiny module is an Intel Quark microcontroller – the same as found in the Intel Galileo – running at 100 MHz. The best part? Edison will retail for about $50. That’s a dual core x86 platform in a tiny footprint for just a few bucks more than a Raspberry Pi.”

16) Facebook’s Messenger App Is Tracking a Lot More of Your Data Than You Think

As I have noted in the past, Facebook puzzles me – I don’t see the appeal and I don’t understand the success. This analysis of their messenger app is simply another of a long list of privacy violations and abuses by the company. Why people put up with this sort of thing is a mystery.

“It should come as no surprise that most mobile apps run some sort of analytics on user behaviour. But in the case of Facebook, the social network’s Messenger app for iOS apparently tracks quite a bit more than most users likely realize. iOS forensics and security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski spent Tuesday morning disassembling Facebook Messenger’s iOS binary, at one point declaring via Twitter that “Messenger appears to have more spyware type code in it than I’ve seen in products intended specifically for enterprise surveillance.””

17) Armchair merchant sailors, your drone ship may pull in soon


A minor update on the subject of autonomous ships. The approach has appeal: not having a crew on board can save costs and free up space for more cargo. Potentially, not having a crew may allow for more fuel efficient, albeit slower, route. Unfortunately, not having a crew also means not having anybody on board in the even something goes wrong. Perhaps they can develop a sort of “flying squad” which can board robot ships in the even of a problem.

“A European Union-funded research project called MUNIN is looking to make international cargo shipping more energy and cost efficient, essentially turning “seafaring” into a desk job. Named for one of the Nordic god Odin’s raven sidekicks, the goal of the MUNIN project is to create autonomous ships that can sail themselves from port to port. This would reduce energy consumption by lessening lighting, eliminating fresh water production, and getting rid of an onboard crew. The project is the subject of a workshop at the SMM maritime conference in Hamburg, Germany, today.”

18) LED market to grow at 13.5% CAGR to $42.7bn in 2020

Industry research is not worth the paper it is printed on, however, this forecast is likely directionally correct. I replaced most of the lights in my house with LEDs a couple years ago and I can report they are superior to CFL in all respects except for price. Of course we can expect the price to drop significantly over time. One industry challenge is the fact that LEDs are robust and long-lived so the replacement market will be a fraction of what it was for incandescent lights or CFLs and even at higher prices that will lead to a collapse in revenue once the market approaches about 60% penetration.

“The LED (chips and components) market is forecast to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5% from 2014 to $42.7bn by 2020, according to a report ‘Global Light Emitting Diode (LED) Market (Technology, Application and Geography), 2013 – 2020’ from Allied Market Research (AMR, a market research and business-consulting wing of Allied Analytics LLP).”

19) The MOOC Revolution That Wasn’t

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) have significant potential but for one important fact: people may think they want to learn stuff but few are willing to put the effort into doing so. I like the idea of free tuition, but the cost of tuition provides an incentive to attend the classes and do the needed work. A student needs to be highly motivated in order to complete a MOOC and there is always a shortage of highly motivated students.

“Three years ago this week, Sebastian Thrun recorded his Stanford class on Artificial Intelligence, released it online to a staggering 180,000 students, and started a “revolution in higher education.” Soon after, Coursera, Udacity and others promised free access to valuable content, supposedly delivering a disruptive solution that would solve massive student debt and a struggling economy. Since then, over 8 million students have enrolled in their courses. This year, that revolution fizzled. Only half of those who signed up watched even one lecture, and only 4 percent stayed long enough to complete a course.”

20) Surging Carbon Dioxide Shows Clean Tech Failure

Clean Tech fantasies usually have their roots in politics and, unfortunately, politics does not lead to careful analysis. Energy is a complex subject and, while it may sound “good” to subsidize the production, purchase, installation, and operation of solar cells, it is not necessarily the case there is a system wide benefit no matter how you measure it (except to the folks who make, sell, and install the things). Politics is about what feels right, not what is optimal for the economy or the environment. One thing I find perplexing is that corporations in the “clean tech” space appear to be hailed as “good”, despite the fact they are principally parasites on taxpayers without any demonstrable benefit for the environment.

“Wind, solar, and other clean energy technologies have sprouted around the world in recent years, and deployment surged in 2013. Yet taken together, they still failed to prevent 2013 from notching the largest single-year growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations since the mid-1980s. The World Meteorological Organization reported this week that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere last year experienced the largest one-year spurt since 1984. With a jump of 2.9 parts per million, the year-average concentration now stands at 396 parts per million. That’s about 42 percent higher than in 1750, before humans began digging up and burning coal, oil, and natural gas at a vast scale.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 5th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 5th 2014


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni


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1) When You Flip Through an IKEA Catalog, 75% of the ‘Photography’ You See is CGI

I figure the reason they have to use CGI is because even IKEA can’t find what they want in stock for catalog photography. Seriously, though, the use of CGI for catalogs makes perfect sense, especially for a company like IKEA which uses the most cutting edge design and manufacturing technology. Since the product exists in 3D CAD long before it is manufactured, the files are there and can be rendered photo-realistically, from any angle, whatever the lighting. Plus they can make the catalog as the product is being manufactured, reducing time to market.

“This photo isn’t actually a photo. From the furniture to the beautiful light falling on the countertops and wood floors, what you’re looking at is a CGI rendering that has replaced 75% of the ‘photos’ in the IKEA catalogs the college kids, divorced men and NYC residents in your life have lying around. This fact, and all of the interesting technical details behind it, is revealed in a fascinating article on The Computer Graphics Society website, where they took some time a couple of months ago to speak with Martin Enthed, the IT Manager for the in-house communication agency of IKEA.”

2) Google’s Self-Driving Car Can’t Navigate Heavy Rain Or Most Roads

The other day I was speaking to an Uber driver who was concerned self-driving cars would put him out of business. That will happen, but perhaps 20 or 30 years in the future, not today. It is remarkable these vehicles exist and are capable of driving at all but there are lots of things which have to be figured out before they become commercially available. Nonetheless, this article misses the point: not all technologies take a TV season to develop and nobody with any understanding of the state of the art would believe otherwise.

“Apparently the famous Google self-driving car isn’t that close to giving us hands-free transportation after all. While Google’s fleet has safely driven more than 700,000 miles, the autonomous model relies so heavily on maps and detailed data that it can’t yet drive itself in 99 percent of the country, according to an MIT Technology Review report. “The public seems to think that all of the technology issues are solved” with Google’s self-driving vehicle, said Steven Shladover, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies. “But that is simply not the case.””

3) Computer Science Majors, Your Degree May Not Be As Valuable As You Think

Whenever an industry booms there comes a time when companies can’t hire the best so they hire the rest. So, for example, I got a job programming microprocessors despite only a rudimentary amount of skill because, at the time, schools were not teaching that sort of thing. I became pretty good at it, but even with the expertise I had, after about 10 years or so it because evident that “being good” wasn’t sufficient when HR departments use a checklist which requires “A BSc or equivalent in computer sciences”. Once the market normalizes, and they all do after a few years, it becomes much easier and lower risk for an HR person (or, nowadays an HR ‘bot’) to screen out anybody without a formal education for a technical role. Articles like these to a major disservice to young people looking for a job in software today: go to a “code camp” in lieu of university and you’ll get a job today but you will be unemployable tomorrow.

“Those who are interested or capable of studying computer science may see these figures and decide to choose this as their major, believing that they will find a high paying job with relative ease upon graduation. This is true, generally, but may not be the best route to take. Companies in the industry are finding more and more with each passing day that graduates, despite their intensive studies, are often ill prepared for the work force. This is because the courses taught in virtually all computer science curriculums focus on theory, and they only dabble in teaching practical programming skills.”

4) Is Apple’s iCloud safe after leak of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities’ nude photos?

The answer to most headlines which end with a question mark is “No” and this is not the exception. No cloud service is secure and the insecurity lies at many levels: you rely on the company to implement a secure environment (and to stay in business), you rely on that companies employees not to look at your data (if your password can be reset, it can be reset by them), and, most of all, you rely on a hacker not being attracted to a large cache of valuable data. Fundamentally, all cloud systems are a potential single point of failure and they should not be used unless you are willing for the data to become public domain. Of course, the real joy of many cloud services on smartphones is, they are hard to opt out of but that is an issue for lawyers to deal with.

“The apparent leak of hundreds of naked photos purportedly belonging to more than 100 high-profile singers, actors and celebrities has raised questions of the safety and security of digital services. On Sunday night, images of 101 high-profile stars, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, Kate Upton, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Kirsten Dunst and Selena Gomez, were posted on 4chan, an online image sharing forum, in an apparent hacking leak linked to the Apple iCloud service.”

5) California cell-phone ruling poses big BYOD challenge

It is hard to believe that somebody would have to sue over such a thing, but BYOD does present challenges with respect to cost allocation. After all, if the company pays the bill, it is subsidizing its employees (and that can get expensive), but employees are bound to take issue with paying their bill for company work. Regardless, as services have become increasingly data driven, allocation which activity is used for what purpose and who should pay for it becomes a big, albeit solvable, problem.

“A recent California appellate court ruling could hurt efforts to implement bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies nationwide, analysts agreed Tuesday. On Aug. 12, California’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled that companies with employees in California must reimburse those employees for work-related voice calls on their personal cellphones. The ruling came in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service.”

6) Russian Communications Ministry Develops Means of Replacing Foreign Software – Reports

Setting aside the current excitement in Ukraine and the Snowden/NSA revelations, it makes little sense for countries to base their respective economies on software (such as Windows) where a foreign government essentially controls the “off” switch. The same goes for networking gear, etc.. There is very little in the way of novelty in software or hardware today so efforts to diversify supply makes some sense, even if driven by nationalism.

“Russian Communications Ministry has developed a number of measures to support domestically produced substitutes for imported software, the newspaper Vedomosti reported Tuesday, citing the department’s letter to the Ministry of Industry. “The department proposes to establish a 15 percent price preference in the procurement of domestic software. If the foreign software is purchased while it has domestic counterparts, it will be necessary to write a justification and post it on a public portal,” Vedomosti reported, citing the letter by the Communications Ministry.”

7) Conscious Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Using Non-Invasive Technologies

This is pretty amazing stuff, if true and replicable. The abstract concludes that this technology could transform society, and it could, especially if developed to the extent predicted in science fiction (The Terminal Man, Brainstorm, and others). Taken to the extreme, this would allow us to share emotions (and other activities) with significant others, and so on. Perhaps we could even strap one on a cat and begin to understand them. I am very skeptical about this article, but the possibilities are, truly, incredible.

“Here we demonstrate the conscious transmission of information between human brains through the intact scalp and without intervention of motor or peripheral sensory systems. Pseudo-random binary streams encoding words were transmitted between the minds of emitter and receiver subjects separated by great distances, representing the realization of the first human brain-to-brain interface. In a series of experiments, we established internet-mediated B2B communication by combining a BCI based on voluntary motor imagery-controlled electroencephalographic (EEG) changes with a CBI inducing the conscious perception of phosphenes (light flashes) through neuronavigated, robotized transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), with special care taken to block sensory (tactile, visual or auditory) cues. Our results provide a critical proof-of-principle demonstration for the development of conscious B2B communication technologies.”

8) Drone Developers Consider Obstacles That Cannot Be Flown Around

The prospect of amateurs and/or companies filling the sky with small flying machines is not one I look forward. After all, aircraft don’t just fly wherever the pilots want and at least birds have the good sense to avoid running into things. All things considered I think it is a matter of time before government steps in and regulates the use of drones. Only once the rules have been established will it be possible to predict how the industry will evolve.

“But for all the Tomorrowland wonder of a potential delivery-by-drone service, plenty of issues will be tricky to solve. Drone technology has not been thoroughly tested in populated areas, and commercial use of drones is not allowed in the United States. Even if it were, it is not clear that companies could make a profit using advanced, helicopter like vehicles to deliver dog food, toothpaste or whatever else a modern family might need.”

9) The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Now Completely Online

I have not had the opportunity to read or listen to the Feynman Lectures on Physics, but these are supposed to be a classic, and delivered by one of the great physicists of all time. There is a lot of stuff to digest, and no doubt some of it (quantum mechanics in particular) might appear out of date. After all, I recently listened to a presentation on cosmology and the recording, which was only a few years old, had to be stopped mid-way through and updated regarding dark matter. You get to Volume II and III by clicking the arrow on the upper right hand corner.

“Last fall, we let you know that Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website joined forces to create an online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. They started with Volume 1. And now they’ve followed up with Volume 2 and Volume 3, making the collection complete. First presented in the early 1960s at Caltech by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, the lectures were eventually turned into a book by Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands. The text went on to become arguably the most popular physics book ever written, selling more than 1.5 million copies in English, and getting translated into a dozen languages.”

10) Uber banned in Germany by Frankfurt court

Not surprisingly there is push back associated with Uber and Airbnb. It takes time for regulatory frameworks to catch up (see the item on drones), and, in many countries, a lot of really rich and politically connected people own the taxi rights. As president, consider the fact that many countries outright banned VoIP since it disrupted the power of existing telecommunications monopolies. As a consumer it is unclear why I should care about how brings me from my hotel to a restaurant, but a lot of these rules were put in place during the era of gentlemen and horse-drawn coaches so you can’t expect them to change overnight.

“A court in Frankfurt ruled that the firm lacked the necessary legal permits to operate under German law. It has emerged that the firm was told last week that its “low-cost” UberPop service could no longer take passengers and faced a fine if it continued. But an Uber spokesman said it had decided not to suspend the service, adding that the ban was not enforceable while an appeal process was ongoing. “Germany is one of the fastest growing markets for Uber in Europe,” he said.”

11) Deep sea ‘mushroom’ may be new branch of life

I guess we really won’t know whether this is significant or not until they do the DNA sequencing and it is a pity the beasties were preserved in formaldehyde since that destroys DNA. (the significance of that decision was not understood until DNA sequencing became a mainstream technique, which occurred only recently). Finding a primitive branch of life which may be represented in fossils from the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ – which actually took tens of millions of years – would be very exciting.

“A mushroom-shaped sea animal discovered off the Australian coast has defied classification in the tree of life. A team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen says the tiny organism does not fit into any of the known subdivisions of the animal kingdom. Such a situation has occurred only a handful of times in the last 100 years. The organisms, which were originally collected in 1986, are described in the academic journal Plos One. The authors of the article note several similarities with the bizarre and enigmatic soft-bodied life forms that lived between 635 and 540 million years ago – the span of Earth history known as the Ediacaran Period.”

12) Silicon Valley’s Most Hated Patent Troll Stops Suing and Starts Making

Its well and good that IV has decided it wants to go legit, and that makes some sense as and increasing number of ruling seem to be going against patent trolls, but I don’t understand why any inventor would go to a company like this for commercialization. After all, there are all kinds of companies with relevant domain expertise in various industries, as well as factories, a distribution channel, and so on, so why would you go to a company whose area of expertise is exclusively in a specific set of legal practice? Smart people, PhDs and so on, are impressive, but a marketing guy and a good factory manager are actually useful.

“Raisioagro next started looking for a partner that could help turn Benemilk into a global blockbuster. It needed expertise in patenting the ideas behind its cattle chow, making contact with large-scale dairies in other countries, and perfecting its feed recipe to maximize milk production. Raisioagro tapped Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue (Wash.)-based technology investment company. The move made sense on one level: IV certainly knew how to handle the dirty work of protecting the ideas behind Benemilk. Less clear was how this loathed company, the supposed enemy of innovation, could help create a hit product.”

13) Sparks Fly as NASA Pushes the Limits of 3-D Printing Technology

A technology which is over-hyped for near term impact but will probably make a huge impact down the road is 3D printing. Consumer units are mostly good for printing chess pieces nowadays but even these can be used to speed production of jewelery and other custom parts when used by an expert. Here we have an example of how the unique capabilities of a high end 3D printer can be used to improved an ultra high end application despite very low volume production.

“NASA engineers pushed the limits of technology by designing a rocket engine injector –a highly complex part that sends propellant into the engine — with design features that took advantage of 3-D printing. To make the parts, the design was entered into the 3-D printer’s computer. The printer then built each part by layering metal powder and fusing it together with a laser, a process known as selective laser melting. The additive manufacturing process allowed rocket designers to create an injector with 40 individual spray elements, all printed as a single component rather than manufactured individually. The part was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines and similar in design to injectors for large engines, such as the RS-25 engine that will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars.”

14) Low-cost 3D printers and crowdfunding suicide

This article has a look at one of the ‘cutting edges’ of the 3D printer market, namely the latest, greatest, ultra cheap, consumer grade, crowd-funded, 3D printer. The conclusion is stark: most will never fly for straight up business reasons. Of course, this does not preclude a low cost 3D printer from being successful, but it displays the odds starkly. Unless and until a use for them is found the issue is moot: don’t expect volume demand for a machine few people would ever use, and whose primary application is the production of chess pieces.

“I am writing this article recently as I have been following the development of many Kickstarter 3D printers for over a year and the market has reached a point this month where I feel like legitimate companies are being damaged by cash-grab start-ups. Businesses with fraudulent financing models are dragging this entire industry down but it seems too many people give these companies the benefit of the doubt for being young and naive. I believe a harsher reality check is needed, the optimistic 3D printing public needs to be warned about these companies which will fail and the companies themselves need to be warned of their own shortcomings before bankrupting themselves. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone, even people who don’t back any 3D printers on Kickstarter.”

15) Named Data Networking Consortium makes its debut in LA

This is the first I’ve heard of this proposed Internet architecture. The existing architecture is pretty long in the tooth and was developed in an era where computing was expensive, networks unreliable, etc., so it makes sense an upgrade is required. I haven’t read enough of it to understand the advantages (see, but the time has come. Speaking from past experiences I can confidently predict a slew of small companies bursting onto the scene promoting their “leadership” in NDN but these will be scams and or hotly promoted IPOs. You can ignore them: NDN will be done at the grown ups table.

“Big name academic and vendor organizations have unveiled a consortium this week that’s pushing Named Data Networking (NDN), an emerging Internet architecture designed to better accommodate data and application access in an increasingly mobile world. The Named Data Networking Consortium members, which include universities such as UCLA and China’s Tsinghua University as well as vendors such as Cisco and VeriSign, are meeting this week at a two-day workshop at UCLA to discuss NDN’s promise for scientific research. Big data, eHealth and climate research are among the application areas on the table.”

16) Google Launches Effort to Build Its Own Quantum Computer

It sure in interesting that, having carefully evaluated the D-Wave computer, Google decided to engage D-Wave’s major critic, who, not-coincidentally, is an actual published expert on quantum computing, to built a ‘real’ quantum computing. You can draw your own conclusions.

“Google is about to begin designing and building hardware for a quantum computer, a type of machine that can exploit quantum physics to solve problems that would take a conventional computer millions of years. Since 2009, Google has been working with controversial startup D-Wave Systems, which claims to make “the first commercial quantum computer.” And last year Google purchased one of D-Wave’s machines. But independent tests published earlier this year found no evidence that D-Wave’s computer uses quantum physics to solve problems more efficiently than a conventional machine.”

17) Scientists discover how to ‘switch off’ autoimmune diseases

This sounds like a potential breakthrough, but you have to wonder why this hasn’t been done before. After all, if allergists can desensitize the immune system against certain allergens, why can’t the same technique be used against autoimmune diseases? Of course, the proof will be in the pudding: if this group can cure a single one of these terrible diseases with this approach they’ll be in line for a Nobel Prize. Stranger things have happened (such as the discovery H. pylori causes ulcers), so it is worth a shot.

“Scientists have made an important breakthrough in the fight against debilitating autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis by revealing how to stop cells attacking healthy body tissue. Rather than the body’s immune system destroying its own tissue by mistake, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered how cells convert from being aggressive to actually protecting against disease. … It’s hoped this latest insight will lead to the widespread use of antigen-specific immunotherapy as a treatment for many autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, Graves’ disease and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).”

18) Is there a creativity deficit in science?

If there is a pool of money around there is always going to be a lot more people asking for it than money available so you need some systematic approach to allocate it. This leads to committees and consensus decisions which structurally favor the status quo and the “known quantity”. I don’t like the invocation of Berners-Lee as a reference point but that was probably there to grab the attention of the audience. One issue of great concern is, as the article highlights, the disproportionate allocation of money to “established” scientists, despite the tendency for breakthroughs to be made by the young. Nonetheless, this is what you would expect from a committee. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Rather than have peers assess the innovative potential of an idea, preliminary data and publication records are now the dominant parts of the evaluation. Funding is so tight and proposals are so heavily critiqued that any one reviewer can kill a grant proposal based on arbitrary metrics of quality—or even if they suspect the idea just won’t work. Yet relying only on peer-review misses something about the nature of scientific innovation: some of the biggest discoveries are deemed crazy or impossible by experts at the time.”

19) Nvidia sues Qualcomm, Samsung over graphics patents

This doesn’t seem like the most intelligent move, strategically speaking. I can, grudgingly, understand suing Qualcomm, though this invites counter-suit, but suing one of the largest handset manufacturers in the word – and therefore the largest potential customer for your handset products – only makes sense if you’ve given up hope of ever getting share in that market segment. Note that the article contains an error in the fifth paragraph as it implies Qualcom, not Nvidia, is suing.

“Nvidia Corp has sued rival chipmakers Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics, accusing both companies of infringing its patents on graphics processing technology. The U.S. chipmaker vies with Qualcomm in the business of providing chips for smartphones and tablets. It said on Thursday that Qualcomm and Samsung had used Nvidia’s patented technologies without a licence in Samsung’s mobile devices, including the just-launched Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge. Nvidia said Samsung devices made with graphics technology from Qualcomm, Britain’s ARM Holdings and Imagination Technologies infringed on its patents.”

20) The west wind blows afresh

We have seem an increasing number of articles about drones and such being used for service provision in the developing world. I dismissed these as publicity stunts, but this article raises a point I had not considered: at $25,000/kg the launch costs of satellites are staggering, and therefore, because satellites are so expensive to launch they tend to be over-designed and made in small quantities (typically custom made). Then there is the limited number of orbital slots and so on. Mass produced, cheap drones – probably costing $10,000 or less each, eventually – would make excellent radio transponders at a fraction of the cost. Their low cost would allow for redundancy, ensuring service, and quick repair or turnaround.

“If spacecraft are so precarious, then perhaps investors should lower their sights. But not in terms of innovation; rather in altitude. Airbus, a European aerospace company, thinks that developing satellite-like capabilities without satellites is the answer. Hence the firm’s recent trial, at an undisclosed location (but one subject to Brazilian airspace regulations) of Zephyr 7, a high-altitude “pseudo-satellite”, or HAPS for short.”