The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 31st 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 31st 2014

Hello,

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly there were lots of interesting tech pieces this week, though no theme emerged. The Internet was in a virtual frenzy over developments, or rather lack of developments, with Apple’s mobile payment system, which I believe is doomed to failure. There were a number of developments in networking and computing technology as well as further signs of “blow back” associated with the Snowdon/NSA revelations.

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

Brian Piccioni
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1) Google’s Secretive DeepMind Startup Unveils a “Neural Turing Machine”

Neural networks are based on a simplified model of the function of a brain. Not a “human brain” per se because brains work pretty much the same way across species. Brains are very good at certain things (consider the complex behavior of a mosquito, despite a microscopic brain) such as pattern recognition and adapting to varying conditions, but not very good at other things like repeatability and math. This appears to be a novel type of neural network, however, it is not clear that such a design is useful for any real-world application.

“One of the great challenges of neuroscience is to understand the short-term working memory in the human brain. At the same time, computer scientists would dearly love to reproduce the same kind of memory in silico. Today, Google’s secretive DeepMind startup, which it bought for $400 million earlier this year, unveils a prototype computer that attempts to mimic some of the properties of the human brain’s short-term working memory. The new computer is a type of neural network that has been adapted to work with an external memory. The result is a computer that learns as it stores memories and can later retrieve them to perform logical tasks beyond those it has been trained to do.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/532156/googles-secretive-deepmind-startup-unveils-a-neural-turing-machine/

2) Retailers are disabling NFC readers to shut out Apple Pay

The Internet jungle drums beat mightily all this week after this news broke, prompting an unrelenting slew of increasingly hysterical defenses of Apple’s offering as well as condemnation (complete with allegations of conspiracy) of a rival technology. Frankly, it is hard to believe so many people give a damn which payment system, if any is successful. Such is the might of marketing in the Internet age. For the record, I believe the odds of Apple’s system being successful are next to zero: their market share is too low, especially among the ranks of, say, Walmart shoppers. The most likely successful payment system, assuming one emerges, is bound to not be tied to any smartphone OS or vendor.

“The fight for control of the mobile payments market is opening a rift between merchants and banks. Banks and credit card companies have enthusiastically supported Apple Pay, seeing it as a way to increase the number of purchases people make with their credit cards. But Apple has struggled to get merchants on board. A quick look at Apple’s website explaining the service highlights just 34 retail partners that support the system. Eight of those are different flavors of Foot Locker. One is Apple itself.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/10/25/7069863/retailers-are-disabling-nfc-readers-to-shut-out-apple-pay

3) Big Factories Won’t Solve High Cost of Electric Vehicles, Carnegie Mellon Researchers Say

There is a popular misconception that battery prices have been plummeted, aided and abetted by the cult following around Tesla, jabbering idiots on Wall Street, and the traditional wishful thinking among the “green” energy crowd. Batteries are very simple things: containers with metal and chemicals inside. They are not significantly more difficult to manufacture than cans of soft drinks and, as a consequence, the process is highly automated and continuous. Similarly, the materials are industrial commodities made in enormous volumes and not amenable to significant improvements to the cost of production. Nonetheless, the expectation persists that an enormous factory will somehow make a difference – at least among those who know nothing about batteries.

“”Electric vehicle batteries are expensive,” Michalek says. “Federal and state governments have been subsidizing and mandating electric vehicle sales for years with the idea that increasing production volume will reduce costs and make these vehicles viable for mainstream consumers.” Tesla’s planned Gigafactory has a similar hope, promising major cost reductions at higher volume. “But we found that battery economies of scale are exhausted quickly, at around 200-300 MWh of annual production. That’s comparable to the amount of batteries produced for the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt last year,” Michalek said. “Past this point, higher volume alone won’t do much to cut cost.””

http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2014/october/october21_costlyelectricvehicles.html

4) 255 Terabits/s: Researchers demonstrate record data transmission over new type of fiber

This announcement made headlines, and it is pretty impressive. Plus, the multi-core approach seems to be the sort of thing which might be expanded and probably should be relatively straightforward to manufacture. However, the problem is not that fiber isn’t fast enough but that it doesn’t go to enough places, mostly because it is expensive to run the cable. So expensive, in fact, that cables often contain a multiplicity of individual fibers, even if most are left “dark”. So, what we really need is an incentive to string more fiber-optic cables to more places, not faster fibers.

“Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands and the University of Central Florida (CREOL), report in the journal Nature Photonics the successful transmission of a record high 255 Terabits/s over a new type of fiber allowing 21 times more bandwidth than currently available in communication networks. This new type of fiber could be an answer to mitigating the impending optical transmission capacity crunch caused by the increasing bandwidth demand.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-10-terabitss-transmission-fiber.html

5) ESB and Vodafone to invest €450 million in 100% fibre broadband network

This ties to the prior article: electric power distribution companies are natural partners for the deployment of true, fiber-optic based broadband. After all, wherever electricity goes there is a need for broadband, especially as the Internet of Things emerges. Because fiber does not conduct electricity and is unaffected by electricity (unlike, say cable or telephone cables) there is no problem at all keeping fiber and even high voltage cables in close proximity so every pole, tower, or conduit which carries an electric cable can also carry fiber. It is a pity so few electric power distributors have the imagination to exploit this opportunity.

“ESB and Vodafone today signed an innovative joint venture agreement to invest €450 million in building a 100% fibre-to-the-building broadband network offering speeds from 200 Mbps to 1000 Mbps, propelling Ireland into the ranks of the world’s fastest broadband countries . Ireland will also become the first country in Europe to utilise existing electricity infrastructure on a nationwide basis to deploy fibre directly into homes and businesses, initially reaching 500,000 premises in 50 towns. The fibre will be deployed on ESB’s existing overhead and underground infrastructure, ensuring a fast and cost efficient roll-out to every county in Ireland and reversing the digital divide between the capital and regional towns.”

http://www.esb.ie/main/press/pressreleaseWS.jsp?id=4074

6) Netflix and other OTT giants use ‘net neutrality’ rules to clobber EU rivals

I confess to being baffled by those who defend the Internet Service Provider side of the “net neutrality” debate. Obviously, if, through some accident of history, I owned a footpath that people had to use I would be delighted at the opportunity to gouge them at every opportunity. However, ISPs exist only because of inept (or corrupt) regulation – they don’t develop technology, they do not create content, they add nothing of value: they are simply exploiting an historical right of way. Simply put, ISP do not deserve more than a nominal return on invested capital and, ultimately, they will be pushed to side.

“Cable giant Netflix and other big firms are using calls for greater net neutrality to drive down the prices they pay, according to recently published research. Referring specifically to the Dutch internet market, late last week John Strand of Strand Consulting said: “Net neutrality law (which limits operators’ ability to manage networks and recover costs) is meant to herald a flowering of internet innovation and content. Instead, it rolls out the red carpet for the American giant [Netflix]. Netflix, already larger than any cable company in the world by subscribers, is not a company in need of corporate welfare,” added Strand. “It’s time to stop Netflix’s abuse of the political and regulatory system.””

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/28/netflix_and_us_giants_use_europe_digital_agenda_against_it/

7) Hungary internet tax canceled after mass protests

The singular obliviousness of many governments to the importance of Internet services to the common folk (and all businesses) is breathtaking. Consider the proposal by Hungary to tax traffic at $0.60 per gigabyte, a tax which would increase the cost of residential service dramatically – imagine paying an additional $60 per month for your Internet. Of course, one would not expect a group of middle aged politicians to know better as is demonstrated by the telecommunications policy framework in most countries.

“Hungary has decided to shelve a proposed tax on internet data traffic after mass protests against the plan. “This tax in its current form cannot be introduced,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday. Large-scale protests began on Sunday, when demonstrators hurled old computer parts at the headquarters of Mr Orban’s ruling Fidesz party. The draft law – condemned by the EU – would levy a fee on each gigabyte of internet data transferred. The protesters objected to the financial burden but also feared the move would restrict free expression and access to information. The levy was set at 150 forints (£0.40; 0.50 euros; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29846285

8) Huge potential FCC ruling sets the stage for Apple and Amazon to replace your cable company

We’ll see whether the broadcast lobbyists let this actually happen. As the Canadian example shows politicians have a bit of a problem when they try and enact rules which as not favorable to the media as the media would like. It is interesting that this ruling comes after the Aereo decision, which seems to have shut down a similar business model. I believe “over the top” delivery of video is the future, at least in jurisdictions where broadband is affordable and available. This will spell disaster for the traditional cable TV business model, however, it will create significant opportunity for content creators. Currently, of course, cable operators are the same companies as those who deliver broadband, however that is an historical artifact and not an inherently stable situation. Eventually that will change as well. Thanks to my friend Rami Nasser for alerting me to this development.

“We’ve known for a while that over-the-top Internet streaming will be the future of television and now a new potential rule change from the Federal Communications Commission could make that future closer than ever before. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday proposed a new rule-making process in which the FCC would consider revising its rules to ensure that over-the-top Internet streaming services are given the same treatment as cable companies and satellite television companies. This means that broadcasters would be barred from stopping online video providers from carrying their content and that online video providers would be empowered to negotiate fair licensing deals with content providers.”

http://bgr.com/2014/10/28/cable-vs-netflix-fcc/

9) The Social Network That Pays You to Friend

One valid criticism of social networks is that the users provide almost all the value for no real remuneration. Indeed, some prominent bloggers who draw thousands of advertisement watching users, have been forced to pay for the privilege of posting their content. It is interesting to speculate as to what alternative business models might arise.

“Asked about the inspiration for Tsu, the social network he’s just launched, Sebastian Sobczak doesn’t immediately mention Facebook or Twitter. Instead, he talks about Ed O’Bannon. Mr. O’Bannon, a former U.C.L.A. basketball player, sued to challenge N.C.A.A. rules banning athletes from making money from their own images — in August, the Supreme Court decided in his favor. And for Mr. Sobczak, he’s a sort of personification of Tsu’s ethos: People should get paid for the content they produce. While Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for failing to share their profits with those who post on their platforms, Tsu pledges to do just that: It will give 90 percent of its ad revenue back to users.”

http://op-talk.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/the-social-network-that-pays-you-to-friend/

10) KMG Q3 Report: Mobile Spend 117% Up from a Year Ago

The likes of Google and Facebook appear to have finally figured out mobile ads. Mobile ads are pervasive in “free” apps howeverI remain highly skeptical of such nuggets as “Hot Penny Stock Tips” in a 1 cm banner when I check my stock quotes but apparently there is a market there. The technology for blocking mobile ads is not as advanced as in PCs but you can do something about them, at least under Android (https://adblockplus.org/en/android-install).

“On 14 October, KMG released its Digital Marketing Report Q3, which details massive growth in most areas of the paid search sector. KMG compiles data from its own clients, 50 of whom are members of the Internet Retailer Top 500. Search engines and social networks alike experienced big growth since the third quarter of 2013, demonstrating that it is more important than ever for companies to carefully explore search data.”

http://adthena.com/maximise-smartphone-marketing-2014/

11) Drones could 3D-map scores of hectares of land in just a few hours

I remain skeptical of most non-defense applications of drones: it is unlikely governments are going to permit swarms of autonomous machines with sharp blades flying about, and the payload of most such drones is way too low to be of any use for delivery. Larger drones raise the prospect of failed machines dropping to earth and maiming people. One viable application for drones would be photo surveillance (i.e. taking pictures of accident scenes after an accident, inspection, and mapping. All would be done by trained pilots under careful control of their aircraft, of course. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Unmanned drones aren’t just for warfare. In recent years, they’ve been used to map wildlife and monitor crop growth. But current software can’t always handle the vast volume of images they gather. Now, researchers have developed an algorithm that will allow drones to 3D-map scores of hectares of land in less than a day—an advance that is important for cost-effective farming, disaster relief, and surveillance operations. “It is revolutionary for the problem of mosaicking large volumes of imagery,” says computer scientist Dalton Rosario of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, who was not involved with the study.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/technology/2014/10/drones-could-3d-map-scores-hectares-land-just-few-hours

12) Lowe’s replacing (some) humans with robots

You would have thought Home Depot would be the first to show off a “shopping robot” since there are very few sales associates in their stores, and, should you hunt one down, they are generally clueless as to the products they carry or their application. No doubt the OSHbot is simply a publicity stunt with little practical value, however, it is kinda cool. Store could solve a lot of customer problems just by providing a touchscreen or app which would direct people to the products they are looking for and what the stock is.

“If you plan to shop at Lowe’s (LOW) Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. next month, you might find your sales associate replaced by a 5-foot-tall talking robot. These robotic shopping assistants, or OSHbots, will be the first of their kind in the country. They will greet customers, ask them if they need help and show them through the store to the customers’ desired products. The robot will also feature screens on its front and back which will display ads for products as well as allow customers the option to videoconference with an in-store sales associate.”

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/not-science-fiction–lowe-s-to-debut-robotic-shopping-assiciates-150411173.html

13) HP embraces ‘blended reality,’ dives into 3D printing

The headline, along with HP’s position in the printing market, might lead you to believe there are entering the 3D printing market with a consumer product. This is not so: not only is the device directed at commercial applications, but it uses a novel approach which results in impressive specifications and a compelling price. If Multi Jet lives up to its billing this could be a disruptive product.

“HP today announced a new 3D printing technology called Multi Jet Fusion that it said will enable mass production of parts with a technology traditionally reserved for rapid prototyping. The new industrial 3D printer, about the size of a washing machine, is 10 times faster and 50% less expensive than current systems on the market, HP said. The printer can also use a myriad of colors and materials.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2840555/hp-embraces-blended-reality-dives-into-3d-printing.html

14) Banning mobile phones in cars saves lives. No it doesn’t. Yes it does. No it doesn’t.

The question of laws against “distracted driving” makes for an interesting conversation but it is a separate issue from whether texting while driving is likely to lead to more accidents and deaths: it surely does, as does fixing your hair, reading while driving, etc.. There is nothing wrong with laws against distracted driving (laws which are regularly flaunted), however effective publicity campaigns such as the ones used against drunk driving might yield better results.

“Restrict cellphone use in cars and accident rates go down, right? Not necessarily. The results are mixed. Some studies show a correlation between using a phone while driving and a higher incidence of accidents. Now comes a new study on California drivers that shows virtually no meaningful change in accident rates before and after a cellphone ban took place. Unless this study is refuted, the best safety advocates can say is that cellphone bans may improve road safety.”

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/193013-banning-mobile-phones-in-cars-saves-lives-no-it-doesnt-yes-it-does-no-it-doesnt

15) How Far Can the P2P Revolution Go?

I thought this was about Peer-to-peer networking but it is actually about Peer to Peer services such as Airbnb. There are clear potential hazards to the use of P2P business services, not the least of which is being ripped off or having substandard or even dangerous work done. Governments have reason to be concerned due to the potential loss of tax revenue, though that is a risk unlikely to be mitigated by banning such practices. Since the Internet revolution now provides a means distribution and pricing visibility which was non-existent previously, these sorts of business activities (which include the emergence of eBay) are not going away. If you think about it, this is not entirely novel: neighbors used to sell produce and crafts to each other, have boarders, and so on. All that has changed is the ability to cast a broader net.

“How far can the peer-to-peer revolution be pushed? It’s time we start to speculate, because history is moving fast. We need to dislodge from our minds our embedded sense of what’s possible. Right now, we can experience a form of commercial relationship that was unknown just a decade ago. If you need a ride in a major city, you can pull up the smartphone app for Uber or Lyft and have a car arrive in minutes. It’s amazing to users because they get their first taste of what consumer service in taxis really feels like. It’s luxury at a reasonable price. If your sink is leaking, you can click TaskRabbit. If you need a place to stay, you can count on Airbnb. In Manhattan, you can depend on WunWun to deliver just about anything to your door, from toothpaste to a new desktop computer. If you have a skill and need a job, or need to hire someone, you can go to oDesk or eLance and post a job you can do or a job you need done. If you grow food or make great local dishes, you can post at a place like credibles.co and find a prepaid customer base.”

http://fee.org/the_freeman/detail/how-far-can-the-p2p-revolution-go

16) Ubuntu’s Unity 8 desktop will remove the Amazon search ‘spyware’

The introduction of a partnership with Amazon confounded many Ubuntu users, leading to a lot of criticism, and, no doubt, the choice by some to abandon the distribution for a more philosophically consistent open source package. One can understand the desire to make money from there efforts but the open source community is downright touchy about such things. It is good they are withdrawing the “feature” and, hopefully, they have learned a lesson.

“Unity 8, seen in the Ubuntu Desktop Next images and Ubuntu Touch phones, removes a controversial feature branded “spyware” by some and fixes one of Ubuntu’s most long-standing complaints. When Unity 8 is stable and ready, Ubuntu won’t send your local searches over the web and show you Amazon product results anymore, quelling some longstanding fears in the open-source community.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2840401/ubuntus-unity-8-desktop-removes-the-amazon-search-spyware.html

17) China will upgrade all PCs to Linux by 2020

A number of years ago I read an interview with a government official from a developing country who mused whether it was wise to install software on their computers which came with an “off switch” installed in Redmond, Washington. Chinese authorities have, no doubt, arrived at the same conclusion – after all, why would you risk your spies’ computers being delivered with their spies’ software? Recall that until 20 or so years ago the US government placed sever restrictions on the export of technology, now it is the other side which is beginning to restrict the import of technology. I believe this suspicion is warranted, and it is is probably a matter of time before governments migrate away from Intel architectures for the same reasons. This move would be simplified by a transition to Linux, of course.

“China have announced a new time frame in which they will move to a new operating system. It will consist of 15% of government computers being switched to Linux per year. The report by Ni Guangnan outlining the transition won government approval and by 2020 the Chinese Government’s transition to Linux should be complete. Earlier this year the Chinese Government decided that they would ban the use of Windows 8 and upwards on Government computers due to security concerns about the operating system, it was assumed that China would seek to move to a Linux distribution for government computers, this has been confirmed and they plan to make the complete switch by 2020.”

http://www.themukt.com/2014/10/30/china-will-uprade-pcs-linux-2020/

18) Brazil-to-Portugal Cable Shapes Up as Anti-NSA Case Study

This article provides some insight into the rolling ramifications of the US spy program and the willing cooperation of technology giants in the program. To repeat my earlier comments, the NSA revelations only provided specifics as to what was broadly understood and probably came as no surprise to national security officials in foreign countries. However, having incontrovertible proof of the activities of the US and the active cooperation of all of the large US technology companies is something governments and businesses cannot afford to ignore. This isn’t 1995: most technology has been commoditized and governments and companies have choices, especially if they do not need cutting edge gear.

“Brazil is planning a $185 million project to lay fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean, which could entail buying gear from multiple vendors. What it won’t need: U.S.-made technology. The cable is being overseen by state-owned telecommunications company Telecomunicacoes Brasileiras SA (TELB4), known as Telebras. Even though Telebras’s suppliers include U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), Telebras President Francisco Ziober Filho said in an interview that the cable project can be built without any U.S. companies.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-30/brazil-to-portugal-cable-shapes-up-as-anti-nsa-case-study.html

19) A victory for free software over the “Microsoft tax”

This was an interesting and very promising legal decision which was long in coming: the purchase of a PC is really two separate transactions, namely the purchase of the machine from the vendor and then the agreement to the EULA (End User License Agreement) which completes the licensing of the operating system. What happens if you bring your new computer home and you do not agree to the EULA, even though you like the computer? An Italian court has ruled, correctly in my view, that you should get a credit for the Operating System, provided you refuse the EULA and do not use it. I rather doubt other courts will follow suit, but it would be a great thing if they did, though, admittedly, not so for Microsoft.

“The Italian Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) issued a judgment1 that bans the “Microsoft tax,” a commercial practice that discourages users from converting their PCs to GNU/Linux or other free operating systems by forcing them to pay for a Windows license with their PCs. PC producers in Italy now cannot refuse to refund the price of the license to purchasers that will not run Windows. The ruling definitively concludes the case filed in 2005 against a hardware producer by Marco Pieraccioli, with the support of the Consumer Association ADUC, and affirms Marco Pieraccioli’s right to a refund for the price of the Microsoft Windows license for the computer he purchased.”

https://fsf.org/blogs/community/a-victory-for-free-software-over-the-microsoft-tax

20) Weeks after winning a Nobel Prize for his microscope, Eric Betzig just revolutionized microscopy again

I heard this guy being interviewed shortly after learning he had one a Nobel Prize. Clearly, he is extremely intelligent, but more significantly, he appears to think far “outside the box”, which leads him to invent simple, yet elegant, solutions to very difficult problems in microscopy.

“Earlier this month Eric Betzig shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on high-resolution microscopes — specifically the one he’d designed and built on a friend’s living room floor. But when Betzig, a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, got news of his win, his best work yet was still a few weeks away from being published. Thursday in Science, he and a team of his colleagues reported on a new microscopy technique that allows them to observe living cellular processes at groundbreaking resolution and speed.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2014/10/23/weeks-after-winning-a-nobel-prize-for-his-microscope-eric-betzig-just-revolutionized-microscopy-again/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 24th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 24th 2014

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This has beenanother slow tech news week. There were a few apparent medical breakthroughs announced, which is good, and the usual litany of bitcoin ripoffs (its seems fools, and libertarians, are easily separated from their funny money). Otherwise, news is just a hodgepodge of mostly unrelated items.

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

Brian Piccioni
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1) This Google Motherboard Means Trouble for Intel

I used to be quite skeptical of the thought Intel would be displaced from certain large markets by ARM and other CPU architectures. As I wrote almost two years ago, the unmitigated fiasco that is Windows 8, combined with the emergence of rival operating systems (most notably the Android variant of Linux) has led me to reevaluate that position. I find the fact Google has selected Power8 as a processor intriguing, however, it is worth recalling that IBM has “opened” its Power architecture, meaning that many of the variants can be manufactured by whoever wants to make them. Of course, this may simply be a gambit by Google to get Intel to drops its prices.

“It’s not just that people are buying iPads and Android phones built with low-power ARM processors instead of PCs and phones and tablets powered by Intel chips–the main reason the Chandler plant was put on hold. It’s that the big online companies, including Google and Facebook and Amazon, are now looking to run their operations on computer servers that use chips made by someone other than Intel. And the first trend may ultimately feed the second. The latest blow to Intel’s future arrived on Monday in the form of a red server motherboard touted by Gordon MacKean, the man responsible for building the hundreds of thousands of servers that power Google’s online empire. In a Google+ post, MacKean said he was “excited” to show off the red motherboard, which was built using not an Intel chip, but IBM’s Power8 processor.”

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

2) LED Lights Are A ‘Transformative Technology’ In The Developing World

A number of years back we predicted that LED lighting would substantially replace other forms of lighting due to its superior energy efficiency and longer life. We did not anticipate this development, however, it does make sense. We knew that an LED light requires perhaps 10% of the power of other lighting, and it runs off a low voltage power supply, it is ideal for battery powered applications. Since small batteries are fairly easy to charge using hand cranked generators, solar cells, etc., the technology promises to bring light to the developing world at a modest cost. By the way: you can buy a pretty cheap, cigar sized LED flashlight which outperforms any large, heavy, old fashioned flashlight for about $10 right now. Its the way to go.

“Less familiar is the illumination revolution LED bulbs have helped set off in the developing world. For a growing proportion of the more than a billion people who live without reliable sources of electricity, LED lights, in tandem with solar panels, have been a godsend. Nearly 5 percent of Africans without access to electricity, or some 28.5 million people, now use solar-powered LED lights. That’s up from 1 percent five years ago, according to figures released this month by Lighting Africa, a project of the International Finance Corp., the private-sector investment arm of the World Bank. There’s a growing market in South Asia, too.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/10/13/354845893/led-lights-are-a-transformative-technology-in-the-developing-world

3) Rest in Peace, Google Glass: 2012-2014

This might be overstatement, however, I admit to not having had to punch a single dumbass Google Glasses wearer in the nose, despite my efforts to find one to attack. It is easy to see the utility of things like Google Glass, but only in limited situations and, even though surveillance cameras of all types are becoming ubiquitous, I figure most people would find having their conversations filmed pretty off putting. So I’d like to see the technology evolve for the applications in which it would be useful, just not something everybody is walking around with.

“Wearers were gung ho and constantly extolled the virtues of Google Glass. I wrote at the time that the entire product was a hoax. Although ridiculed for the column, one year later, in April 2014, articles began to appear about how all the early adopters stopped wearing the glasses because they were useless and led to personal ridicule. But there was more to it than that. The sudden disappearance of Google Glass reminds me of a couple of other odd fads that came and went. The first was the overwhelming popularity of VCRPlus, a mechanism that allowed you to punch in a simple number into a video cassette recorder (VCR) for it to record a desired show. On the TV listings these numbers appeared almost by magic overnight in much the same way almost the way vinyl records disappeared from “record stores.””

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2469916,00.asp

4) Avast Antivirus Was Spying On You with Adware (Until This Week)

I guess if a product is free, then you are the product. Immediately upon reading this I removed Avast from my system and I won’t be going back.

“So Avast has stopped integrating the spying extension, but this is about the principle: you should be able to trust your antivirus provider. Why are they adding a feature that spies on your browsing, inserts ads… and all without properly notifying you? And why, at the same time, are they claiming to stop spyware, even uninstalling other shopping extensions from other vendors, while they were doing the same thing they are supposed to stop?”

http://www.howtogeek.com/199829/avast-antivirus-was-spying-on-you-with-adware-until-this-week/

5) Robot can perform brain surgery through the patient’s cheek

Laparoscopic, or ‘key hole’, surgery has been around for some time now. Once the technique is mastered, surgeons can manipulate special instruments through small incisions to do things like remove gallbladders. There are many advantages to the technique, not the least of which is that the wounds, being smaller, heal much quicker. This is a much more advanced approach which would permit minimally invasive brain surgery. It looks very promising. Thanks to my friend Avner Mandelman for this item.

“For a percentage of epilepsy patients, medication is less effective at controlling seizures, or it doesn’t work at all. For these patients, there is another option: brain surgery. This is usually a deeply invasive procedure, wherein the section of the patient’s brain is either removed, stimulated or disconnected; afterward, recovery can take up to three months. A robot five years in the making by researchers at Vanderbilt University may be in line to make the surgery less time consuming, less invasive and with a shorter recovery time.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/robot-can-perform-brain-surgery-through-the-patients-cheek/

6) Paralysed man walks again after cell transplant

You probably saw this on the news as it was pretty widely reported, however, it is potentially very significant so I figured I would include it. Essentially, what the surgeons have done is take nervous tissue which is naturally capable of regenerating and used the cells to patch the spinal cord. In this case, the spinal cord was almost severed, so the repair seems to be a near-miracle. Caution is called for, however: it is not certain this result can be replicated, nor is it certain the improvement was not at least in part due to the rigorous training the patient underwent. Furthermore, the long term effect has not yet been determined. Nonetheless, this is very promssing.

“A paralysed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London. Details of the research are published in the journal Cell Transplantation.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29645760

7) Australian doctors transplant ‘dead’ hearts in surgical breakthrough

This looks like another impressive result. Since some organs are typically harvested from brain dead (but otherwise still alive) patients, you have to find a brain dead patient who just happens to be a match for the recipient. If the supply of donors can be expanded to those who are completely dead (i.e. their heart has stopped) then, presumably, more patients can be helped.

“Australian surgeons said Friday they have used hearts which had stopped beating in successful transplants, in what they said was a world first that could change the way organs are donated. Until now, doctors have relied on using the still-beating hearts of donors who have been declared brain dead, often placing the recovered organs on ice and rushing them to their recipients. But Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have developed a technique which means hearts which had been still for 20 minutes can be resuscitated, kept beating and transplanted into a patient.”

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-10-australian-doctors-transplant-dead-hearts.html

8) British serial entrepreneur missing as $1.4m bitcoin is apparently stolen

One thing about bitcoin is that the “virtual currency” is closely tied to tragedy. I mean, here you have this honest entrepreneur who just wanted to make the world a better place running a series of businesses which “went bust” even after he changed his name. And now his latest bitcoin venture has been hacked, everybody’s money is gone, and he can’t be found. Its almost like bitcoin itself is a scam!

“Almost $1.5m of bitcoins formerly held by cryptocurrency exchange Moolah have gone missing, after the exchange declared bankruptcy. The cash is believed to be in the personal wallet of the company’s founder and chief executive, Alex Green, who has not been heard from since Moolah went bust. In the last public communication from Green on 19 October, he revealed that he was previously known as Ryan Kennedy until a name change by deed poll “in an attempt to start my life over and have some peace”.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/23/british-serial-entrepreneur-missing-bitcoin-apparently-stolen

9) BitTorrent performance test shows how much faster Sync is compared to Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox

This is obviously a contrived test, however, it gives me the opportunity to mention BitTorrent Sync, which is an alternative to cloud storage services. I like it because the way it works is I own the storage: I am not reliant on Dropbox or any other provided to maintain, protect, and back up my data, or, indeed, to stay in business. The application is also currently free, meaning you have a free, superior, alternative. The only drawback is that like all the other alternatives BitTorrent Sync is closed source, however, open source alternatives are being developed.

“The company transferred a 1.36 GB MP4 video clip between two Apple MacBook Pros using two Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapters, the Time.gov site as a real-time clock, and the Internet connection at its headquarters (1 Gbps up/down). The timer started when the file transfer was initiated and then stopped once the file was fully synced and downloaded onto the receiving machine. Sync performed 8x faster than Google Drive, 11x faster than OneDrive, and 16x faster than Dropbox”

http://venturebeat.com/2014/10/22/bittorrent-performance-test-shows-how-much-faster-sync-is-compared-to-google-drive-onedrive-and-dropbox/

10) Bitcasa Ends Unlimited Storage

And this is another of many reasons you might want to stay away from cloud storage. Imagine you store your personal or corporate files on the cloud. Once you get to a few terabytes, which is not that hard to do, your provider decides that prices are going up, say from $10 to $50 per terabyte. Now, it’ll take a long time and a lot of bandwidth for you to move your data, assuming of course your service provider allows you to do that. It looks like Bitcasa has invented the “Cloud extortion” business model. Take my advice: even if you insist in using cloud storage, install something like BitTorrent Sync to maintain a local copy. Then ask yourself: “if I have my own cloud, why do I need a cloud storage provider?”

“Bitcasa, a cloud storage service that initially made waves with a low cost unlimited storage offer is scrapping this option entirely — claiming it’s not being used enough to justify the high costs of dealing with a small group of what it dubs Terms of Service abusers. Bitcasa is a former TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield finalist. It started out, back in 2011, offering unlimited cloud storage for just $10 per month. Less than three years later that unlimited promise is no more.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/24/bitcasa-no-unlimited/

11) Apple’s Mac computers can automatically collect your location information

Somebody is going to have to explain to me how it is that Apple gets away with this sort of thing, especially after the Snowden/NSA revelations, or let alone how it can position itself as “a leader in privacy” after the celebrity photo debacle. Just as I unhooked Avast! once I discovered they were spying on me, I would surely do the same once I discovered Apple was doing fundamentally the same thing.

“Apple has begun automatically collecting the locations of users and the queries they type when searching for files with the newest Mac operating system, a function that has provoked backlash for a company that portrays itself as a leader on privacy. The function is part of Spotlight search, which was updated with last week’s launch of new Mac computers and Apple’s latest operating system, Yosemite OS X, which also is available for download to owners of older machines. Once Yosemite is installed, users searching for files – even on their own hard drives — have their locations, unique identifying codes and search terms automatically sent to the company, keystroke by keystroke. The same is true for devices using Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/10/20/apples-mac-computers-can-automatically-collect-your-location-information/

12) Apple apologist hack hit by instant karma

Apple fanboys really grate on me, though I confess there are many “anti-fanboys” out there as well. Apple’s latest invention is its payment system which was launched this week, three years after Google apparently copied the idea from Apple. I remain skeptical as to why anybody would want such a thing, however, those are not the sorts of questions which are asked about Apple innovations, at least in polite company. Clearly, in this instance, they have a bug in their software which will be discretely correct and then forgotten. Nonetheless, it is pretty funny.

“It seems that not just the design geniuses at Apple need firing for the iPhone 6, but the programmers should also get a written warning and a lecture from HR. Jobs’ Mob’ much over praised Apple Pay double charges users for no apparent reason. Multiple users have reported being charged twice for a single purchase when using the new NFC-based mobile payments system, which just went live on October 20.”

http://channeleye.co.uk/apple-apologist-hack-hit-by-instant-karma/

13) Advantages of an Android TV Box

This article looks like it was written by a bot, but I have a point to make. A month or two ago I was in a satellite TV shop and asked about free satellite (i.e. not piracy, but actual free satellite) and the guy gestured to a stack of Android TV boxes and said “that business is dying, but these are flying off the shelves”. Subsequently, over perhaps a half dozen visits to other shops, mostly computer shops, I have seen customers standing at the checkout with their new Android TV boxes for purchase. (http://www.mygica.ca/). I know media streamers, Netflix, Chrome, Apple TV, etc., have been around for some time, but it is remarkable to seem people standing in line with a particular device, especially if it is not even being advertised. I suspect we may be seeing a seismic shift similar to what I predicted 20 or so years ago regarding the wholesale displacement of broadcast TV.

“Android TV boxes have suddenly become very popular. Even though companies like Apple and Roku have sold many set-top boxes, another option has hit the market – the Android TV box. Also known as a ‘Google TV’ or XBMC Steaming player, these devices are simple. They are available for as little as $60 and as much as $100. This android device is a small box shaped product that is about 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall. This product has access to apps and functions that you can find on other android devices. However, it is able to run a variety of Android apps, games and even a web browser.”

http://www.atlasrtv.com/advantages-of-an-android-tv-box.html

14) Reinvention of Broadcast TV: 10 Things to Know

This is a very lengthy article you should probably only read if you have a deep interest in the broadcast industry. My belief is that it is rather unlikely 4KTV will see broad adoption, especially in the broadcast space. The reasons for this are complicated, but one thing to remember is that broadcasters had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the HD era, and part of that transition was driven by government desire to free valuable spectrum. I believe it is highly unlikely a government mandate to 4K broadcast will occur, and, therefore, any adoption would be reluctant. Of course, I could be wrong.

“As US consumers grow more comfortable with streaming video on mobile devices while continuing to watch cable and satellite TV, terrestrial broadcasters find themselves fighting, as a matter of survival, to redefine an over-the-air digital broadcast system that’s now almost 20 years old. Broadcasters, their future hanging in the balance, hope to prove that they can become friends, rather than foes, of mobile broadband. Their big bet in this high-stakes game is a new standard — still in the making — called ATSC 3.0.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1324366

15) Investors in anti-Facebook startup have no idea how it will make money

I wrote about Ello a little while ago and it does seem to be gaining traction. I avoid social media like the plague so I can’t comment on its merits compared to Facebook or any other site. What I can say is that, from a business perspective, I rather doubt that the document being referenced has any legal force whatsoever, and if it did, I am pretty confident a decent lawyer could find a workaround. That is what investors are banking on.

“Ello, the notably stripped-down, ad-free social network, announced Thursday that it has taken $5.5 million in venture capital and re-incorporated as a “Public Benefit Corporation.” The company’s founders and investors also published a one-page document in which they declared: 1) Ello must never make money from selling ads; 2) Ello must never make money from selling user data; 3) In the event that Ello is ever sold, the new owners would also have to comply by these terms. So how is Ello going to make money? Even its investors don’t know.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/10/investors-in-anti-facebook-startup-have-no-idea-how-it-will-make-money/

16) Machine-Learning Maestro Michael Jordan on the Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts

We hear a great deal about “breakthroughs” in machine learning, vision, and so on. Indeed, a near cult (transhumanism) has emerged to exploit these emerging technologies. Color me skeptical, especially with respect to Artificial Intelligence – how can we replicate something we fundamentally do not understand? This lengthy article provides a sanity check against all the claims. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“The overeager adoption of big data is likely to result in catastrophes of analysis comparable to a national epidemic of collapsing bridges. Hardware designers creating chips based on the human brain are engaged in a faith-based undertaking likely to prove a fool’s errand. Despite recent claims to the contrary, we are no further along with computer vision than we were with physics when Isaac Newton sat under his apple tree.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/artificial-intelligence/machinelearning-maestro-michael-jordan-on-the-delusions-of-big-data-and-other-huge-engineering-efforts

17) Internet-Connected Battery Could Bring Smoke Alarms Online

This is a good idea, but one destined for commercial failure. There certainly is value to an Internet connected fire alarm as it could alert homeowners, property managers, fire departments, etc., of a potential fire. The Nest device provides an example, however, it is stupidly overpriced since the cost of WiFi would add perhaps $5 to $10 to the retail cost of a smoke detector and I can safely predict such devices will become commonplace. Early adopters are more likely to buy new units than to retrofit existing ones with an expensive, short lived, stopgap solution.

“A startup has come up with a simple way to make smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors more useful: a nine-volt battery with built-in Wi-Fi. The battery can alert you on your smartphone if the alarm goes off or the battery itself is about to die. Roost, the Sunnyvale, California-based company behind the battery, plans to sell the batteries starting next year for $25 to $35.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532021/internet-connected-battery-could-bring-smoke-alarms-online/

18) Florida lizards evolve rapidly, within 15 years and 20 generations

This is a pretty interesting example of evolution in action but it is not exactly the first (the classic example is peppered moth coloration changing due to soot in the air http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppered_moth_evolution). Nonetheless, it is a perfect example of evolution being driven by changes in the ecosystem (an invasive species) and competition. Most likely, this has not yet resulted in true speciation (i.e. the ‘new’ lizard can probably interbreed with the old ones), however, over time this will almost certainly occur.

“Scientists working on islands in Florida have documented the rapid evolution of a native lizard species — in as little as 15 years — as a result of pressure from an invading lizard species, introduced from Cuba. After contact with the invasive species, the native lizards began perching higher in trees, and, generation after generation, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found higher up. The change occurred at an astonishing pace: Within a few months, native lizards had begun shifting to higher perches, and over the course of 15 years and 20 generations, their toe pads had become larger, with more sticky scales on their feet.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141023142306.htm

19) Wi-Fi is now free when you visit the UK, if you have a MasterCard

This is a pretty clever idea by MasterCard and will, no doubt, be aggressively marketed, especially if it is successful, in which case it will be rolled out in many markets. It is probably a pretty low cost option, however, what I don’t understand is what would prevent Brits from downloading the apps and pretending to be tourists and getting free WiFi.

“Credit card and payment services company MasterCard has signed up with British Wi-Fi provider The Cloud for free Internet connection in thousands of public places when you come to visit. Download the MasterCard Priceless London WiFi mobile app, available today from Google Play or the Apple App Store, and you’ll be wirelessly connected to the Web faster than a politician spotting 20p on the floor (that’s British for “very quickly”) without having to pay out a single pound, shilling or queenpence (that’s British for “money”).”

http://www.cnet.com/news/wi-fi-is-now-free-when-you-visit-the-uk-if-you-have-a-mastercard/

20) Bootstrapping a profitable dropshipping websit

I liked this article because it shows how easy it is to set up a web based retailing business today. Access to the technology is minimal and even a self-professed slacker can pay somebody a modest amount of money to replicate the best features of competitive websites. Of course, the choice of product (trailer hitches) is a poor one, especially since he had trouble getting suppliers. Long story short, the barriers to setting up a web based business are minimal and the differentiator is the product. If you have exclusive rights to a product you stand a much better chance of being successful.

“Around April 2011 I wanted to build a dropshipping website to make some passive income. Most people build something and then get zero traffic because their site is not addressing real pain points people have. I knew that if I were to build a site as someone with no industry contact, no physical store, heck no office at all, I’d have to do something unique. I had to figure out what product to sell and what would be my Unique Selling Proposition (USP).”

http://nicksid.com/how-i-built-a-profitable-dropshipping-website-from-scratch/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 17th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 17th 2014

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This has beenanother very slow tech news week. The big news was multiple announcements of “breakthroughs” in fusion research. Unfortunately, the “breakthroughs” which were announced did not include the fusion reactor producing more energy than they consumed, which is actually the only thing which matters. Also of note was the release of some Apple and Google product refreshes, which were greeted with yawns with the exception of their respective fanboy sites.

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

Brian Piccioni
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1) Lockheed Claims Breakthrough on Fusion Energy

I counted at least three “breakthroughs” in fusion energy over the prior week, but this particular item got, by far, the most coverage. At least 6 people sent stories to me, and I am very appreciative. Unfortunately, none of the purported breakthroughs actually announced true breakeven, or where the reactor produces as much energy as it consumes. There have been prior announcements of breakeven, but these designs were only breakeven if you count the energy impinging on the fuel, not the entire system. I have a lot of respect for Lockheed and, while it is easy to be cynical, I believe fusion will become viable. Just not today.

“Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready in a decade. Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work. Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire said.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lockheed-claims-breakthrough-on-fusion-energy1/

2) Here’s how Google’s Nexus 9 stacks up against Apple’s iPad Air 2

You might have missed the announcements associated with a few Google and Apple products this week. The Apple hype machine seemed to have sputtered, at least with respect to the latest iPad and Google never gets the same coverage out of product releases in either event. Mind you, the future of tablets ain’t what it used to be, and I consider both products to be significantly overpriced, probably by at least a factor of two (you can get a decent tablet for less than $200 nowadays. As this shootout shows, with the exception of “thinness” there isn’t a lot of differene between the two devices. Save your money and buy a cheaper one.

“In the span of two days, the two hottest tablets of the fall have been announced. On Wednesday, Google took the wraps off the Nexus 9, a spectacular new high-end tablet manufactured by HTC. Thursday, Apple announced the iPad Air 2, a modest upgrade to last year’s stellar iPad Air. Naturally, one runs iOS 8 and its associated apps, and one runs Android Lollipop and its apps. For many users, that’s difference enough to choose one over the other. If you’re not married to either ecosystem, and you want to know where to dive in, consider these points of comparison.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2834503/heres-how-googles-nexus-9-stacks-up-against-apples-ipad-air-2.html

3) Xiaomi, Not Apple, Is Changing the Smartphone Industry

I have remarked frequently that pricing trends for smartphones (and tablets) is decidedly down, especially for the “new” buyer. You can get a pretty decent, unlocked, name brand, Android smartphone for less than $200 nowadays and, fashion statements to the contrary, it is hard to make a case to spend much more. I’ve never seen a Xiamoi phone so I don’t know what the quality is like, however, I expect this model with dominate in the future, with the expection that vendors will, in fact, cut prices over time. As a result, companies with high margins will see them evaporate.

“To sell high-quality cell phones at so low a price, Xiaomi keeps each model on the market far longer than Apple does. On average, a new version of a phone is launched every 265 days in the industry – down from 345 days in 2009. But Xiaomi doesn’t renew its product for two years. Then, rather than charge high prices to cover the high cost of state-of-the-art components, Xiaomi prices the phone just a little higher than the total cost of all its components. As component costs drop over the two-year period by more than 90%, Xiaomi maintains its original price, and pockets the difference. So essentially its profit formula is the opposite of Apple’s, which collects its highest profits with the introduction of each model and needs to come up with new model after new model to keep those margins up.”

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/10/xiaomi-not-apple-is-changing-the-smartphone-industry/

4) Giant Battery Unit Aims at Wind Storage Holy Grail

I find it interesting that most people think battery prices will drop precipitously, with the notable exception of actual battery experts. After all, we are talking about a low tech electrochemical assembly, not a semiconductor device. Nevertheless, the byzantine world of alternate energy pricing, which demands distributors buy power from wind or solar regardless of demand leads to some pretty strange things where the distributors end up paying industrial customers to use power in order to stabilize the grid. If you get paid to take power and can resell at peak rates, maybe short lived, expensive, batteries make sense. Thanks to my friend Luigi di Pede for this item.

“Electric-car battery prices already have fallen by 50 percent since 2010 to about $500 per kilowatt hour, and “by drawing on auto-battery technology, battery makers may also be able to supply storage batteries at a lower price,” Citigroup said in a Sept. 25 report. Tesla Chairman Elon Musk said in July that battery packs for electric cars will drop to $100 in the next 10 years. The Tehachapi batteries are supplied by LG Chem Ltd. and are the same type used in General Motors’ Volt.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-10-13/giant-battery-unit-aims-at-wind-storage-holy-grail-commodities.html

5) Maybe Better If You Don’t Read This Story on Public WiFi

I use public WiFi all the time, without much thought so this article really hit home. You should read it, especially if you are responsible for corporate security.

“Wouter removes his laptop from his backpack, puts the black device on the table, and hides it under a menu. A waitress passes by and we ask for two coffees and the password for the WiFi network. Meanwhile, Wouter switches on his laptop and device, launches some programs, and soon the screen starts to fill with green text lines. It gradually becomes clear that Wouter’s device is connecting to the laptops, smartphones, and tablets of cafe visitors. On his screen, phrases like “iPhone Joris” and “Simone’s MacBook” start to appear. The device’s antenna is intercepting the signals that are being sent from the laptops, smartphones, and tablets around us.”

https://medium.com/matter/heres-why-public-wifi-is-a-public-health-hazard-dd5b8dcb55e6

6) Dark matter may have been detected – streaming from the sun’s core

The odds are pretty high that this finding is in error, however, it is worth noting that some of the greatest scientific discoveries start with an unexplained resulted that somebody notices and bothers to investigate. So, as cool as it would be if this was dark matter, it probably isn’t, and even if it isn’t, it could lead to impressive science. Cosmology is progressing at a remarkable rate: I was listening to a planetarium presentation this summer and they had to pause the playback to update the audience on findings which had been made in the past year.

“An unusual signal picked up by a European space observatory could be the first direct detection of dark matter particles, astronomers say. The findings are tentative and could take several years to check, but if confirmed they would represent a dramatic advance in scientists’ understanding of the universe.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/16/dark-matter-detected-sun-axions

7) CBS Offers Web Service as TV Unbundles Itself

As I predicted in 1996, substantially all TV will be delivered over the Internet and bandwidth increased. In many countries this will lead to disintermediation, first with respect to “broadcasters” from cable companies (think Netflix) then production companies from “broadcasters”. Of course, this is unlikely to happen in Canada as a result of the disturbing degree of concentration of media and telecommunications, and the fact that our Internet infrastructure is on a par with the third world, and falling. Setting all of that aside, I simply can’t imagine paying CBS, or all networks combined, $5.99 per month for their garbage programming.

“CBS announced a new subscription Internet streaming service on Thursday that allows people to watch its live television programming and thousands of its current and past shows on demand without paying for a traditional TV subscription. The new “CBS All Access” service, costing $5.99 a month, is the first time that a traditional broadcaster will make a near-continuous live feed of its local stations available over the web to non-pay-TV subscribers. At its start, the live stream will be available in 14 markets in the United States.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/business/cbs-to-offer-web-subscription-service.html

8) The Day the Cloud Died: Planning for Cloud Failure

Cloud services are all the rage, however, they also represent a single point of failure. While I doubt Amazon will shut its cloud services any time soon, a business user of cloud services has to wonder what if their provider is hacked, what if the system goes down temporarily for whatever reason, what if the provider sells its operation to an undesirable new supplier, etc., etc.. This article simply looks at a couple basic “what ifs”. It’s not a pretty picture.

“One other thing to think about before even starting down the path of a plan B is what happens to your data if you cannot get it out of a cloud that has gone belly up? Having a detailed understanding of the fine print in the contract might not just be a good idea – it might save your business. Examples could include whether creditors would hold your data hostage. Who own the rights to your data? Who has the decryption keys? Just some food for thought as you start to think about what to do and what not to do.”

http://www.enterprisestorageforum.com/backup-recovery/the-day-the-cloud-died-planning-for-cloud-failure-1.html

9) NTU develops ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years

This has been a great week for energy dreamers. Besides numerous “breakthroughs” in fusion (see item 1) we had a major announcement in the battery world. Well, maybe. Almost. Possibly. Suffice it to say that battery technology moves at a glacial pace and that I could probably have done 20 items a week about battery breakthroughs over the past 10 years if I had wanted to. The problem with breakthroughs like these is that they tend to never be heard from again. Besides, it’s often what they don’t tell you (self discharge, internal resistance, etc.), which matters most.

“Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 per cent in only two minutes. The new generation batteries also have a long lifespan of over 20 years, more than 10 times compared to existing lithium-ion batteries. This breakthrough has a wide-ranging impact on all industries, especially for electric vehicles, where consumers are put off by the long recharge times and its limited battery life.”

http://media.ntu.edu.sg/NewsReleases/Pages/newsdetail.aspx?news=809fbb2f-95f0-4995-b5c0-10ae4c50c934

10) Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

I had never heard of Whisper before, but if I had I would have been deeply suspicious of its claims of anonymity. It turns out that this may be more of a whistle-blower ‘honeypot’ that an an anonymous mechanism for whistle-blowing as the Guardian seems to have discovered. Of course, the service denies everything, as this update http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/17/-sp-whisper-tracking-location-users-facts-response shows. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for bringing this to my attention.

“The company behind Whisper, the social media app that promises users anonymity and claims to be “the safest place on the internet”, is tracking the location of its users, including some who have specifically asked not to be followed. The practice of monitoring the whereabouts of Whisper users – including those who have expressly opted out of geolocation services – will alarm users, who are encouraged to disclose intimate details about their private and professional lives. Whisper is also sharing information with the US Department of Defense gleaned from smartphones it knows are used from military bases, and developing a version of its app to conform with Chinese censorship laws.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users

11) The SIM card is about to die

Steel yourselves – I am about to say something nice about Apple: while I doubt Apple “invented” this technology, the physical SIM card is somewhat of an anachronism. In a connected world, with connected phones, mobile service can easily be enabled or disabled through encrypted tokens. Needless to say, I doubt major carriers would be keen on dispensing with the SIM card, but the smaller carriers and MVNOs probably regard it was a waste of money. The last MVNO package I got included no less than 16 SIM cards to match the phone to the network and the SIM card style to the phone.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Apple’s dealings with SIM cards in the past seven years, it’s that Apple gets what Apple wants. The little gold-plated circuits — which identify you as a subscriber on a particular carrier — plug into phones, tablets, and basically anything else with a cellular radio. Customers of GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have been using them since time immemorial; CDMA carriers like Sprint and Verizon have started using them since switching to LTE. Apple hates SIMs, and has hated them for as long as the iPhone has existed: it is known to have explored the use of embedded, non-removable SIMs in the past.”

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/the-sim-card-is-about-to-die/ar-BB9ujaT

12) This tiny device turns every corner store into a convenient ATM

The are many problems in the developing world (don’t get me started about the hoops getting a birth certificate from Egypt) but access to the banking system by the poor is a major issue. Micro-credit providers like Grameen bank in Bangladesh address some of the challenges, but simply getting at your money is a major challenge which this system appears ot help solve.

“How would you like if your neighborhood mom-and-pop store could also double up as an ATM? A Bangalore-based payments processing company has made that its mission. Ezetap, which can be thought of as a service similar to Square, has tied up with State Bank of India (SBI) and is trying to reach millions of mom-and-pop stores in the country with its new service—’Chota ATM’—aiming to bring ATMs to every neighborhood. Chota is Hindi for small.”

http://qz.com/277168/this-tiny-device-turns-every-corner-store-into-a-convenient-atm/

13) IC Industry Slowdown: True or False?

It is truly remarkable what passes for growth nowadays. There was a time when sub 10% growth in the semiconductor industry was characterized as recession! Unfortunately, like the apocryphal “boiling frog” experiment, investors have been lulled into looking at relative growth rather than objective measures such as free cash flow. Long story short, the semiconductor industry is not going to grow any faster than the respective end markets, which are simply not growing.

“Did Microchip Technology get ahead of itself last week by suggesting that its downward revenue forecast was a negative bellwether for the whole semiconductor market? Or is there a macro-economic weakness, foreshadowed by Microchip, that bodes ill for the chip industry? Some in the industry are now describing signs of decline in the current quarter as “seasonal.” Others are calling it “a cycle” but not a correction.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1324295

14) Google looks to test ultra-high-speed wireless Net technology

There are many advantages of wireless Internet, most significantly rapid roll out and modest infrastructure costs, but the main drawback is low speeds. One has to be cautious about tests such as these, and not just because of the technical challenges, which are likely surmountable. The problem is that most governments have come to rely on spectrum auctions as cash cows, and, in an auction, the guy with the deepest pockets wins. As a consequence, unless the auctions and associated license rights are carefully designed (and the never are) existing telecom companies simply scoop them up and effectively block innovation.

“Google is seeking FCC permission to test new technology that could marry the speed of Google Fiber to wireless services. In an application to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday, the tech giant requested permission to conduct tests in California across wireless spectra. Of particular interest, as noted by Reuters, is a rarely used millimeter-wave frequency that’s capable of transmitting vast amounts of information through the air.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/google-looks-to-test-ultra-high-speed-wireless-net-technology/

15) Prints

Somewhere in my house I have a thousand feet or so of paper tape which has the source code for a z80 assembler on it. I have no use for the assembler, but if anybody wanted to read that tape they could construct a paper tape reader for $20 and had at it. Not so much for the 8” floppy discs I have, let alone more advanced media. As this article suggests, 50 years from now, much of the data we have will be simply inaccessible due to deterioration and technological shifts. Thanks to my son Ali Piccioni for this article.

“A hundred years from now, there will be far fewer photo caches to find. Although the transition to digital photography has made photos almost unimaginably commonplace—one estimate puts the number of shutter activations at a trillion images worldwide per year—very few of those images become artifacts that can be left in a shoe box. We live in what has been named a Digital Dark Age. Because digital technology evolves so fast, we are rapidly losing the ability to understand yesterday’s media. As file formats change, software becomes obsolete, and hardware becomes outmoded, old digital files become unreadable and unrecoverable.”

http://commandcenter.blogspot.ca/2014/08/prints.html

16) Apple’s iPhone 6 Finally Makes Its Debut in China

Its funny I didn’t see this get the same sort fo fawning coverage most Apple launches receive in the media. Of course there are excuses: mail order, etc., but good marketing brings all kinds of excuses. I do feel rather sorry for people who “feel great” just because they bought a new gadget. Get a grip – its just a bloody phone.

“Apple launched its latest iPhone in China on Friday morning. But unlike some past debuts for its new gadgets, the event was decidedly low-key. About 100 customers waited in line Friday morning outside Apple’s store in Beijing’s upscale Sanlitun shopping district, which opened its doors at 8 a.m. for buyers who had pre-ordered their new wares—the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+. That was in part because the phone also went on sale at midnight elsewhere, including offices of China’s biggest telecom carriers.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/10/17/apples-iphone-6-finally-makes-its-debut-in-china/

17) Watersports-friendly e-reader: Kobo’s Aura H2O is literary when wet

My friend Duncan Stewart predicted the emergence of water-resistant and ruggedized phones and I completely agree with him. After all, as a hunter, I’d willingly pay an extra $25 for the $1 worth of o-rings needed to make a phone waterproof, even if I never use a phone in the shower. Frankly, I’m surprised any e-reader is still being manufactured since a cheap tablet does the same. Nonetheless, if I wanted an e-reader, I’d probably want a waterproof one, all other things being equal.

“In recent months Barnes and Noble has announced a partnership with Samsung to make Nook tablets. Meanwhile Sony has announced no new e-reader products in the last year and has closed down its content market altogether, redirecting users to the Kobo shop. Still, Bookeen continues to do business in French-speaking areas and, despite stoking up its Fire range of Android based tablets, Amazon has the Kindle Voyager e-reader waiting in the wings. Putting up a serious fight with some keenly priced tablets and e-readers is Kobo. Based in Canada, the company has continued to upgrade its E Ink models and its premium Aura range has now been expanded to include the H2O – the world’s first e-reader which can be totally immersed in water and live to tell the tale.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/17/review_kobo_aura_h2o_e_reader/

18) Researchers find LEDs attract more flying invertebrates than conventional lighting

Well, I guess if you have bugs that are attracted to blue light and you use a blue light to attract them and compare that to a less blue light, you are going to find more bugs at the blue light. Which is probably how they actually determined, long ago, that bugs are attracted to blue light. The whole LED angle is pretty much irrelevant up to this point, except for the fact it is pretty easy to craft the spectrum of LED lights if, indeed, the looming environmental calamity is realized. So, you just make outdoor LED lamps which do not emit blue light. QED.

“To find out just how much more attractive moths, flies, etc., find LEDs (as compared to sodium vapor lamps) the researchers set sticky paper next to both types of lights out in a field for a period of time at night, then collected the results and counted how many specimens they’d captured. They found that the paper next to the LEDs had approximately 48 percent more bugs than those next to traditional lighting. This could be a problem they suggest because it could mean LEDs are interfering with food webs or drawing more flying critters into urban areas—in one extreme example they note putting LED lights at seaports could contribute to the spread of invasive species such as gypsy moths.”

http://phys.org/news/2014-10-invertebrates-conventional.html

19) Time for affordable metal 3D printing?

A bit of a correction to the article – they are not arc welding, but MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, which is a different process. It looks like they are using a standard Miller or Lincoln MIG welding head, much like you’d use in any welder, or welding robot. Essentially they produce crude castings which are then machined to the finished product. It is not immediately obvious what the advantage of this approach is, since they lack the fine detail of other metal printing techniques and they require machining with all the inherent limitations therein. Perhaps if the MIG head can be further modified to use finer wire the technique can be improved.

“Weld3D, started as a couple of Aerospace Engineers camped in their garage nights and weekends trying to prove a concept for metal 3D printing. After spending a significant time printing in plastic and becoming frustrated with the lack of materials they could use. When developing a large format plastic extruding 3D printer they pondered what would happen if instead of an extruder head they put an arc welder to the motors.”

http://www.tctmagazine.com/additive-manufacturing/time-for-affordable-metal-3d-printing/

20) The Rise Of Open Source Hardware

Most people have heard of Open Source Software but only a few have heard of Open Source Hardware (OSH). It is a big deal in the hobbyist community, and I believe OSH is behind many drones and 3D printers. Some OSH developments go on to be commercial products, which is a good thing. One interesting thing about OSH is that it is, in many cases, vigorously promoted by semiconductor companies which used to go out of their way to obstruct hobbyists and small companies from using their parts, often charging ridiculous prices for development tools, software, licenses, etc.. As semiconductor industry growth has ground to a halt, a kinder and gentler approach is beginning to emerge.

“So in the summer of 2012, Petrone (then an engineer at a Portland startup) launched a site where flexible matrix boards and laser motion sensors could be sold alongside build-it-yourself weather monitoring kits and robot birds. Almost immediately, Tindie began attracting favorable attention from the indie hardware community—and then expanded from there. Today, around 600 inventors sell more than 3,000 different hardware products, which have shipped out to more than 80 countries around the world. Some customers are hobbyists like Petrone, but others are large entities like the Australian government, Google and NASA. These days, Petrone says, “NASA’s purchasing department just calls my cell phone.””

http://www.popsci.com/article/diy/rise-open-source-hardware

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 10th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 10th 2014

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This has beenanother very slow tech news week. Most websites continue to dedicate resources to promoting things like Tesla, which, late in the week launched a vehicle with two (2!) electric motors. Perhaps this is to provide redundancy as “long term” tests show the drive systems on the Model S last about10,000 miles between replacement. Perhaps the most interesting story is that Adobe’s “Digital Editions 4” turns out to have all the attributes of malware. While the “EULA” probably cover this, expect a sizable lawsuit as a consequence. Be warned: this sort of thing is increasingly common.

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

Brian Piccioni
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1) Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries

Personally I avoid Adobe software like the plague: the ubiquitous PDFreader is a 73 MB file with incredibly frequent security updates while the more functional and stable Nitro PDF reader (http://www.nitropdf.com/pdf-reader) is about 1/20th the size. I’ve never used this Adobe software, but it seems that it is needed to loan ebooks from libraries so this particular malware attack appears to be directed to those most dangerous of people: “readers”. Large software companies are faced with a conundrum: they no longer innovate and their markets are saturated. Every now and they they get brilliant ideas such as this, which is probably motivated by the desire to aggregate and exploit big data. When you have had no growth for the past four years, pay no dividend, produce little in the way of cash flow, and yet have a $33B market value, you gotta do something.

“Adobe has just given us a graphic demonstration of how not to handle security and privacy issues. A hacker acquaintance of mine has tipped me to a huge security and privacy violation on the part of Adobe. That anonymous acquaintance was examining Adobe’s DRm for educational purposes when they noticed that Digital Editions 4, the newest version of Adobe’s Epub app, seemed to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers. My source told me, and I can confirm, that Adobe is tracking users in the app and uploading the data to their servers. (Adobe was contacted in advance of publication, but declined to respond.)”

http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/10/06/adobe-spying-users-collecting-data-ebook-libraries/

2) Adobe’s Half-Assed Response To Spying On All Your eBooks

As a follow up, Adobe did, finally, address its malware problem through misdirection and deceit, finally pointing out that, indeed, it ain’t malware if you agreed to it. I can imagine this software is firmly ensconced, so there is very little chance anybody can do anything about it (except, as noted above, through a class action suit). Perhaps some bright developer can create a background task which spoofs the Adobe malware, resulting in (for example) the contents of the Library of Congress to be inserted into their database.

“Here’s Adobe’s mealy-mouthed response that was clearly worked over by a (poorly trained) crisis PR team: Adobe Digital Editions allows users to view and manage eBooks and other digital publications across their preferred reading devices—whether they purchase or borrow them. All information collected from the user is collected solely for purposes such as license validation and to facilitate the implementation of different licensing models by publishers. Additionally, this information is solely collected for the eBook currently being read by the user and not for any other eBook in the user’s library or read/available in any other reader. User privacy is very important to Adobe, and all data collection in Adobe Digital Editions is in line with the end user license agreement and the Adobe Privacy Policy.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20141008/05211928759/adobes-half-assed-response-to-spying-all-your-ebooks.shtml

3) The amazing progress of LEDs, in one chart

It is a little weird the guys who invented the blue LED got the Nobel since they built upon the work of the inventor of the LED, and he didn’t get anything. In any event, the blue LED enabled the white LED, and the white LED is having, and will continue to have a dramatic effect on the way the world is lit. Unlike compact florescent bulbs, which are fragile, relatively short lived, and often give off pretty awful light, White LEDs are the future of lighting – this time no laws will be needed to promote them. They are efficient, and getting ever more efficient, robust, and very long lived. Even the pricing has dropped steadily.

“This year’s Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three scientists who advanced LED lighting technology in the 1990s. Their work was part of a longer-term trend of rapid improvements in LEDs. The improvements have come so fast, in fact, that engineers came up with a law to track the changes. Everyone knows about Moore’s law, which says that the number of transistors in a computer chip (and, therefore, its computing power) doubles every 18 to 24 months. It has a less famous cousin called Haitz’s law. It says that every 10 years, the power of LED lighting packages will increase by a factor of 20, while the cost of these packages, per unit of illumination, will fall by a factor of 10.”

http://www.vox.com/2014/10/7/6936361/the-amazing-progress-of-leds-in-one-chart

4) Why Are We Letting Critical Infrastructure Get Regulated By A Cartoon Industry?

This article makes the very valid argument that, while economic growth in being driven by innovative connected technologies, legislation is being driven by much smaller, utterly non-innovated, entrenched businesses. The reason this is the case should be pretty clear: the entrenched businesses know how to work the system and “influence” the lawmakers who matter and most lawmakers in most countries are oblivious to technology. Frankly, discussions I’ve had indicate that, while they may or may not use technology, the demographic which comprise politicians simply cannot grasp the underlying structure or how it interrelates. Cartoons they understand.

“It stands clear that the net is by far the most critical piece of infrastructure existing today. Not only does it build all future jobs, growth, economy, and entrepreneurship; we also exercise all our civil liberties, civic duties, and spend a lot of our social activities on this infrastructure. It’s more important than any other piece of infrastructure in society. We can do without the phone network, without cable TV, even without paved roads when we have the net. So why are we letting this infrastructure get regulated by a cartoon industry?”

http://torrentfreak.com/letting-critical-infrastructure-get-regulated-cartoon-industry-141005/

5) Apple Sapphire Supplier GT Advanced Technologies Files For Bankruptcy

I first heard of this company in the lead up to the launch of the iPhone 6, which was rumored to have a sapphire display. As a general rule, I never invest in small supplier to companies such as Apple because they end up locked in a deadly embrace: they have one very large customer and no pricing power. Eventually that customer moves on and the supplier goes bankrupt. Event risk is not something I like, especially when I cannot predict the event. To put things in perspective when rumors flew that GTAT would supply the display glass for the iPhone 6 the stock was around $20, for a market value of $2.2B. What is odd is that their reported financial statements, which may or may not reflect the actual position of the company do not appear to predict any sort of risk of bankruptcy.

“GT Advanced Technologies, which has a supply relationship with Apple after an agreement struck late last year, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company will continue to operate as normal despite the filing, which is designed to protect its assets and operating budget from debt while it restructures and re-finances its obligations.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/06/apple-sapphire-supplier-gt-advanced-technologies-files-for-bankruptcy/

6) Send Your Name on NASA’s Mars Journey, Start with Orion

This is something which might interest space enthusiasts and kids. As near as I can figure, you submit your name and they include it on a chip to go in space. Since a 128GB flash device could probably contain the names of all the people on the planet, and since this would be a non-critical system, this is a clever, low-risk, low cost “feel good” move by NASA. It would be a get parcel to add to the next Voyager (deep space) type mission. Sign up!

“If only your name could collect frequent flyer miles. NASA is inviting the public to send their names on a microchip to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars. Your name will begin its journey on a dime-sized microchip when the agency’s Orion spacecraft launches Dec. 4 on its first flight, designated Exploration Flight Test-1. After a 4.5-hour, two-orbit mission around Earth to test Orion’s systems, the spacecraft will travel back through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.”

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-344&rn=news.xml&rst=4327

7) Sharper Image From 4K TVs Is a Gimmick Worth Having

The use of 4K or 8K in production might have merit, at least for special events like sports, however, I remain confident the 4K TV will be as much of a yawner as 3D was from the consumer perspective. 4K TV prices are dropping quickly and will soon approach the level of standard HDTVs. One should be wary of the $1,000 4K TV because you are probably going to end up with a pretty crappy TV. In terms of worth having, well, in general, cutting edge TVs might have better image processing, etc., but unless the content is there (including a 4K cabling standard) you are still going to see the typical sub-HD transcoded picture as delivered by the cable company.

“Americans have made it clear: They don’t want a lot of gimmicks in their TVs. In an effort to improve sales, though, television makers have tried gimmicks anyway. They have praised 3-D TVs. They have promoted voice controls. And they have highlighted Internet-streaming interfaces. None have really moved the needle. The latest big selling point — ultrahigh-definition displays, also known as 4K — also faces an uphill climb. But unlike many of the gimmicks and features that have been tried in years past, 4K is one we will probably adopt. And with one name-brand 4K television available for $1,000, this could be the year that starts happening.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/09/technology/personaltech/sharper-image-4k-tv-gimmick-worth-having.html?smid=re-share

8) UW fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal

This article got a fair bit of profile during the week, along with reports of successful cold fusion, proving my thesis that the very mention of the word energy causes most people’s IQ to drop 50 point. The problem with this story is pretty simple: the issue with fusion is not cost. This issue with fusion is that it doesn’t work and hasn’t even come close to working. So somebody can doodle all they want about “low cost fusion” but unless and until anybody actually designs a fusion reactor which is a net producer of power, pricing is moot. Of course that day will come: apparently there is a new cold fusion process …

“Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true – zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply. The UW’s current fusion experiment, HIT-SI3. It is about one-tenth the size of the power-producing dynomak concept. Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics haven’t penciled out. Fusion power designs aren’t cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.”

http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/10/08/uw-fusion-reactor-concept-could-be-cheaper-than-coal/

9) Shootout: How does a high-end smartphone camera compare to a $3,400 DSLR?

Every time Apple comes out with a new phone, somebody has to compare the over-hyped virtues of a camera with less than $20 in content (including an aspirin sized lens) with an actual, honest to god camera. Usually they choose an expensive camera, such as this one, and discover that, while the really expensive camera is better, the iPhone is pretty good. Realistically, what they should do is compare a cheap $200 real camera with the iPhone and have the comparison done by somebody who knows something about photography, depth of field, gamut, depth perception, etc., etc.. In which case the conclusion would be that ALL smartphone cameras are crap.

“This is a fair amount of scratch to lay down for a camera, especially when the Internet is full of examples of pro photographers going the opposite direction, ditching bags of expensive gear in favor of smartphone cameras for most applications. The idea here is that the person, not the gear, takes the picture. And there is a (likely apocryphal) story that tells the tale of an encounter between famous novelist Ernest Hemingway and famous photographer Ansel Adams. In the story, Hemingway is purported to have praised Adams’ photographs, saying, “You take the most amazing pictures. What kind of camera do you use?” Adams frowned and then replied, “You write the most amazing stories. What kind of typewriter do you use?””

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/10/smartphone-camera-vs-dslr/

10) Ultrasmall, Millimeter-Size Wireless Health Sensors Detect Pulse And Pressure

A number of years ago, Zarlink, a small Canadian semiconductor company was working with a number of vendors to develop low power wireless interfaces for this sort of application. Alas, like most Canadian tech companies Zarlink was acquired so it is hard to know what happened to the work. Regardless, this sensor technology is probably the other half of that application. Whether or not this specific approach will be commercially successful, this sort of technology is the future of medicine.

“Engineer scientists at Stanford have created a submillimeter sensor device that transmits biological health readings wirelessly. The device is very small, measuring in one realization at only 1 millimeter by 1 millimeter in length and width, and 0.1 millimeter in depth. It is also highly robust as it works well in tissue environments which are considered “lossy” as they attenuate electromagnetic signals. Finally the device has been shown capable of reading human pulse waveforms from arterial blood flow as well as intracranial pressure in a mouse. The novel invention, in guaranteeing continuous, real time readout of health signs, is a significant advance in the area of ultrasmall, wearable sensors. Such devices are 100 times smaller than equivalent commercially available products, and 10 times smaller than research devices of similar function.”

http://www.neomatica.com/2014/10/09/ultrasmall-millimeter-size-wireless-health-sensors-detect-pulse-pressure/

11) Captive orcas speak dolphin

Ah – orcas may speak dolphin, but what do they say? Seriously, my parrot speaks French, English, cat, dog, microwave, telephone, tablet, and parrot, and I actually understand what he is saying when he speaks human. I would wager that the very fact captive orcas sometimes speak dolphin means they probably mimic other animals calls in the wild. Like, for example, telling a seal there are tasty fish in the neighborhood (since orcas eat seals and pretty much anything else).

“Two years ago, scientists showed that dolphins imitate the sounds of whales. Now, it seems, whales have returned the favor. Researchers analyzed the vocal repertoires of 10 captive orcas (Orcinus orca), three of which lived with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the rest with their own kind. Of the 1551 vocalizations these seven latter orcas made, more than 95% were the typical pulsed calls of killer whales. In contrast, the three orcas that had only dolphins as pals busily whistled and emitted dolphinlike click trains and terminal buzzes, the scientists report in the October issue of The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The findings make orcas one of the few species of animals that, like humans, is capable of vocal learning—a talent considered a key underpinning of language.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2014/10/captive-orcas-speak-dolphin

12) One in three jobs will be taken by software or robots by 2025

Gartner and other industry research folks have a great thing going: they charge astronomical sums for studies which I have found, even directionally, to be little better than chance. In fact, I argue that industry research has negative value because bad information rarely leads to good decisions. Regardless, according to Gartner, robots and drones are gonna take our jobs, indeed, one third of jobs, within the next 11 years. I don’t quite understand the time frame, let alone the impact: any factory of any size uses a huge number of robots and other automated machine for practically anything which can be automated. Thanks to my firennd Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Gartner sees things like robots and drones replacing a third of all workers by 2025, and whether you want to believe it or not, is entirely your business. This is Gartner being provocative, as it typically is, at the start of its major U.S. conference, the Symposium/ITxpo. Take drones, for instance. “One day, a drone may be your eyes and ears,” said Peter Sondergaard, Gartner’s research director. In five years, drones will be a standard part of operations in many industries, used in agriculture, geographical surveys and oil and gas pipeline inspections.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2691607/one-in-three-jobs-will-be-taken-by-software-or-robots-by-2025.html

13) Chip Options Sought as Costs Rise

Every now and then I encounter a small semiconductor company and, while I wish them luck, I feel rather sad. Setting aside the overwhelming power of ODMs such as Foxconn, which strip most semiconductor companies of even a semblance of pricing power, the costs of producing a cutting edge chip are now well beyond the ability of a small company to fund. In the incredibly unlikely event the small company happens upon a profitable market segment (and it tends to be multiple small companies addressing the same segment at the same time) the most likely outcome is that titans such as Samsung, Texas Instruments, etc., who are all desperate to keep their factories busy, simply move into the space. It never ends well.

“The low cost of capital is fueling M&A across all industries, and the rising cost and complexity of making chips is pouring gas on the fire in semiconductors. It could cost $53 million to make a 20 nm chip, up from $36 million for a 28 nm part, and cost will take another leap with the 16/14 nm node, Edelstone told the crowd. “It requires a really big market to make money on such an investment, and this will have a dramatic impact on how the industry evolves. The cost per gate is going up with the [16/14 nm] FinFET generation, which changes the dynamics of the industry pretty dynamically — that tells you scale matters.””

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1324225

14) Optical Image Stabilization

This is the beginning of a somewhat larger product note put out by Rohm regarding its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) product portfolio. Despite that, the beginning tells you a fair bit about how OIS works and what the advantages are compared to Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), in case you’ve ever wondered. The deeper point is, systems have become so complex and so cheap that we can, cost effectively, wiggle lenses in two dimensions based on feedback from an equally tiny and cheap gyroscope. Amazing.

“Optical Image Stabilization or OIS is an important element in reproducing a digital replica into perfection. Without this, capturing still images and recording moving video will result in pixel blurring and the appearance of unwanted artifacts. While digital capturing devices like digital cameras, digital camcorders, mobile phones and tablets grew smaller, their need for resolution quality and pixel count density grew bigger exponentially over the last decade. The market shift to compact mobile devices with high megapixel capturing ability has created a demand for advanced stabilization techniques. Two methods, electronic image stabilization (EIS) and optical image stabilization (OIS), are the most common implementations.”

http://www.eeweb.com/company-blog/rohm/optical-image-stabilization/

15) Amputees discern familiar sensations across prosthetic hand

I tend to think of prosthetics as a stop gap until limb regeneration is figured out (yes I am serious). Of course that might take a few decades, so in the meantime this branch of research can have a significant impact in the quality of life of those missing limbs. Touch is an important component of the feedback loop for any prosthetic, in particular the hand. This article suggests a bit of a breakthrough in terms of effect and duration.

“Even before he lost his right hand to an industrial accident 4 years ago, Igor Spetic had family open his medicine bottles. Cotton balls give him goose bumps. Now, blindfolded during an experiment, he feels his arm hairs rise when a researcher brushes the back of his prosthetic hand with a cotton ball. Spetic, of course, can’t feel the ball. But patterns of electric signals are sent by a computer into nerves in his arm and to his brain, which tells him different. “I knew immediately it was cotton,” he said.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141008153624.htm

16) Teens are officially over Facebook

I tend to ascribe less reliability to equity research than industry research because I’ve met enough research analysts to develop a very low opinion of their abilities, let alone their integrity. Fortunately for them, a particular mental defect immunizes most from being able to differentiate between what they know and what they think they know. In any event, I know a lot of GRL readers are very interested in Facebook, which I am told is the leading social networking site. These folks at Piper Jaffray appear to have done a “study” which casts doubt on the level of interest among youth.

“In May 2013, they were fleeing Facebook’s “drama.” A year later, they flocked back to the network like lil’ lost sheep. Now, a pretty dramatic new report out from Piper Jaffray — an investment bank with a sizable research arm — rules that the kids are over Facebook once and for all, having fled Mark Zuckerberg’s parent-flooded shores for the more forgiving embraces of Twitter and Instagram. Between fall 2014 and spring 2014, when Piper Jaffray last conducted this survey, Facebook use among teenagers aged 13 to 19 plummeted from 72 percent to 45 percent. In other words, less than half of the teenagers surveyed said “yes” when asked if they use Facebook.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/10/08/teens-are-officially-over-facebook/

17) New technique yields fast results in drug, biomedical testing

This is another medical technology development with some promise. Unfortunately, the article seems to stress the ability to “detect drugs” which I do not consider to be a priority. In fact, I predict that a cheap test which would allow parents to test their kids for illegal drug use would probably lead to more runaway kids than it would to lower drug abuse, but hey, you go where the market is. Perhaps a more focuses approach could permit this device to be used to search for disease markers, etc..

“A new technique makes it possible to quickly detect the presence of drugs or to monitor certain medical conditions using only a single drop of blood or urine, representing a potential tool for clinicians and law enforcement. The technique works by extracting minute quantities of target molecules contained in specimens of blood, urine or other biological fluids, and then testing the sample with a mass spectrometer.”

http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q4/new-technique-yields-fast-results-in-drug,-biomedical-testing.html

18) Volvos Will Soon Plot ‘Escape Routes’ to Avoid Wrecks

Gartner’s concerns to the contrary (see item 12) a major application for robotics over the coming years is likely to be autonomous vehicles. One challenge I see with stressing accident avoidance (in contrast with, for example, ‘autopilot’) is that it is hard to see the value proposition from the buyer’s perspective. Yes, there would be tremendous societal value associated with saving peoples’ lives, but that is what insurance is for (no, I am not being sarcastic – my son’s life would have been spared with such a system). Perhaps the route to rapid adoption would be through significant reductions in insurance premiums.

“The system, which is still at least five years from hitting showrooms, can detect potential accidents before they occur, even if they’re outside the driver’s line of sight. If an accident is imminent, the car can determine an “escape route” and auto-brake and even steer the car to avoid the accident. It’s the high-tech equivalent of Sylvester Stallone in that horrible movie Escape Plan: Always looking for a way out of trouble. The technology can identify different types of road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles—an important ability because they all act differently, at varied speeds, in different parts of the road. Scenarios are anticipated up to five seconds in advance, with alerts sent to the driver. If he doesn’t respond in time, the car takes action on its own.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/10/volvos-will-soon-plot-escape-routes-avoid-wrecks/

19) The cookie is dead. Here’s how Facebook, Google, and Apple are tracking you now

One thing about technology is that it keeps changing. Not that long ago the EU introduced laws requiring you give permission before a website installs a cookie on your system. Personally, I prefer a more direct approach and block them as much as possible from my end. The interesting thing is, as the cookie dies, business models associated with cookies follow it. Right now a small number of companies are taking up the slack and that is probably not a good thing.

“The lifespan of the tracking cookie is about to expire. With the rapid emergence of mobile devices, the big three — Facebook, Google, and Apple — have turned to new and more potent methods for advertisers to keep track of you across multiple devices. The impending death of the cookie can be traced to the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Apple initially restricted third-party cookies in iPhones because it believed advertisers would be able to garner too much personal information as they tracked you across websites, according to Medialets chief executive Eric Litman. Third-party cookies still work on Google’s Chrome browser and the Android OS, but they don’t function effectively on a large number of smartphones and tablets produced by other companies. Also, because cookies are not shared between the browser and apps on the same device, they have very limited relevance on mobile devices.”

http://venturebeat.com/2014/10/06/the-cookie-is-dead-heres-how-facebook-google-and-apple-are-tracking-you-now/
20) NIST Laser Comb System Maps 3D Surfaces Remotely for Manufacturing, Forensics

This is a novel approach to laser scanning which appears to speed things up greatly. As noted in the article, 3D scans do not destroy evidence as, say, a plaster cast does. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see whether such evidence is found to be admissible in court: after all, any digital file can be manipulated.

“Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated a laser-based imaging system that creates high-definition 3D maps of surfaces from as far away as 10.5 meters.* The method may be useful in diverse fields, including precision machining and assembly, as well as in forensics. NIST’s 3D mapping system combines a form of laser detection and ranging (LADAR), which is sensitive enough to detect weak reflected light, with the ranging accuracy made possible by frequency combs, as previously demonstrated at NIST.** The frequency comb, a tool for precisely measuring different frequencies of light, is used to continuously calibrate the laser in the imaging system.”

http://www.nist.gov/pml/div686/20141007_ladar.cfm

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 3rd 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 3rd 2014

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Breakthrough in LED construction increases efficiency by 57 percent

LED lights have two major advantages – high efficiency and long life. Unfortunately, despite significant price drops they remain quite expensive, even though the long life and power savings offset the cost. One problem with LED efficiency is that, in traditional designs, only a portion of the light makes it out of the package, with the rest being absorbed. This research claims to have made a breakthrough with respect to that problem. What is particularly interesting is the comment these devices are cheap to manufacture. Of course other factors, such as life span and color, are very important as well.

“With LEDs being the preferred long-lasting, low-energy method for replacing less efficient forms of lighting, their uptake has dramatically increased over the past few years. However, despite their luminous outputs having increased steadily over that time, they still fall behind more conventional forms of lighting in terms of brightness. Researchers at Princeton University claim to have come up with a way to change all that by using nanotechnology to increase the output of organic LEDs by 57 percent”

http://www.gizmag.com/organic-led-efficiency-increase-nanotechnology/33971/

2) Roadster batteries likely to perform better than Tesla predicted

This is a dated article which was brought to my attention through a web-argument. The headline sounds encouraging, especially if you don’t read the actual study, which appears to have no statistical merit – it uses self reported data from a non-random sampling of Tesla owners, for example, and it makes the rather odd assumption that you can extrapolate battery life. Of particular interest from the study itself: “A considerable number of owners reported that some or all of their battery pack had been replaced: 23 out of 122, or 18.9%.” (http://www.pluginamerica.org/surveys/batteries/tesla-roadster/PIA-Roadster-Battery-Study.pdf). My experience with car owners, in particular luxury car owners, is few them have a clue what has been done to their vehicles, especially if that service was done under warranty. In other words, you can be pretty confident that 18.9% may be the tip of the iceberg. Regardless, a 20% failure rate after one year would probably lead to widespread seppuku if Tesla were manufactured in Japan, regardless of the failure mode, because it implies a reliability nightmare over coming years. Since lithium ion batteries are extremely well characterized, there is simply no reason to believe reports such as these which fly in the face of what is known, especially if it is produced by an advocacy group.

“See, in 2006, when the Roadster was new, Tesla said the Roadster’s 53-kWh lithium-ion battery pack – good for 244 miles of range when new – would have 70 percent of its capacity after five years or 50,000 miles. With plenty of “old” Roadsters on the road, PIA studied four percent of the packs out there today and discovered (PDF) that the packs have an “average of 80- to 85-percent of capacity after 100,000 miles driven.” The numbers were self-reported to PIA’s website by Roadster owners in a project that started in January.”

http://green.autoblog.com/2013/07/15/roadster-batteries-likely-to-perform-better-than-tesla-predicts/

3) Literary Lions Unite in Protest Over Amazon’s E-Book Tactics

The ongoing battle between massive book distributor Amazon and massive book publisher Hachette is interesting, albeit absurd. Neither company works for the public good, or represents anything else of merit. Amazon may or may not practice censorship as alleged, but surely Hachettte doesn’t publish everything submitted to it either. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about either company and I find it silly authors should be supporting one of a small number of powerful publishers. In an era when an e-book costs nearly as much as a hardcover, the only option for consumers seems to be piracy.

“Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics. They also want to highlight the issue being debated endlessly and furiously on writers’ blogs: What are the rights and responsibilities of a company that sells half the books in America and controls the dominant e-book platform?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/29/business/literary-lions-unite-in-protest-over-amazons-e-book-tactics.html?_r=1

4) Surprise! Microsoft jumps to Windows 10

Is Microsoft going out with a whimper instead of a bang? After the unmitigated fiasco of Windows 8 the company eventually relented with a hybrid which covered up most of the abject stupidities of the user interface. Because I wiped my only Windows 8 computer and installed Linux, I have no idea whether Windows 8.1 would make said computer useable or not, however this Windows 7 machine is probably on its last legs and I dread buying another laptop to find out. I was hoping Windows 9 would be timely as well as useable, but the Fall 2015 release date strikes me as as a big problem. You can safely ignore whatever nifty and useable features promised for Windows 9 (even though it’ll be called 10): Microsoft rarely delivers a fraction of the advanced features it announces at such events.

“Microsoft just said no to 9. The follow-on to the current Windows 8 operating system will be known as Windows 10. Originally codenamed Windows Threshold, the new operating system essentially does away with the dependency on the tiled “Metro” user interface that Microsoft had attempted to implement across its entire device line, from desktop PCs to Surface tablets and Windows Phone devices. In its place is a combination of the so-called live tiles, present in areas like the new Start Menu, and a more classic Windows experience that aims to please both touch and keyboard-and-mouse users.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/microsoft-jumps-to-windows-10/

5) ‘Anti-Facebook’ social network gets viral surge

There was a lot of media coverage about Ello over the past week. I have no interest whatsoever in social media, so I can’t comment as to whether this will make a dent in Facebook’s market share. The promise of no ads and not selling your data are all very well and good but I rather doubt the venture will be run as a social good. In other words, they’ll probably steal something from you, one way or another.

“Because of the limited supply and strong demand, the invitations have been selling on eBay at prices up to $500. Some reports said Ello is getting up to 35,000 requests per hour as a result of a viral surge in the past week. Ello appears to have caught on with its simple message which seems to take aim at frustrations of Facebook users.”

http://news.yahoo.com/anti-facebook-social-network-gets-viral-surge-044242310.html

6) Doctors Find Barriers to Sharing Digital Medical Records

Microsoft built its huge Office business mostly on the backs of poor interoperability and shifting proprietary file standards so you can easily understand why the companies who make digital medical records software have their own proprietary format: it is designed that way. After all, Ontario has wasted $1 billion on doing the same and that is in an environment where they own the medical system so there is no profit motive involved. Unfortunately, most large IT projects, public or private, tend to devolve into a fiefdoms, tribal allegiances, etc.. But for that, this would not be a difficult problem to solve.

“As a practicing ear, nose and throat specialist in Ahoskie, N.C., Dr. Raghuvir B. Gelot says that little has frustrated him more than the digital record system he installed a few years ago. The problem: His system, made by one company, cannot share patient records with the local medical center, which uses a program made by another company.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/business/digital-medical-records-become-common-but-sharing-remains-challenging.html

7) Practice Does Not Make Perfect

I read a couple of Gladwell’s books before realizing they were crap which is best ignored. He makes a good living off his formula: find a little known theory or phenomenon, seek out about 25 examples (one per chapter) which can be construed as supporting that theory or phenomenon and write a book around each one with little more than token consideration for alternative of informed viewpoints. Market the hell out of the book and become the ‘go to’ media expert on the subject. Rinse and repeat. The problem with the 10,000 hour theory, for example, it that a lot of people are idiots and/or lack any demonstrable talents or skill. You could give me 10,000 hours of art lessons and I can assure you you would not confuse my paintings with a master (meaning, with the right press, they’d be hanging in the national gallery as modern art).

“These findings filtered their way into pop culture. They were the inspiration for what Malcolm Gladwell termed the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers, which in turn was the inspiration for the song “Ten Thousand Hours” by the hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the opening track on their Grammy-award winning album The Heist. However, recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/09/malcolm_gladwell_s_10_000_hour_rule_for_deliberate_practice_is_wrong_genes.html

8) “The TV model is broken,” says ISP that stopped offering pay-TV

As the quality of TV programming continues to drop (Duck Dynasty, Ice Road Truckers, etc.) the prices paid by distributors – and therefore consumers – of this dreck continues to rise. I predicted in 1997 that the broadcast model will eventually shift over to distribution by Internet (i.e. YouTube, Netflix, etc.). 17 years later and it is starting to happen so I no longer expect it to happen quickly. Some part of this is, no doubt posturing, and it is more likely to end up with consolidation in the cable/ISP industry before you see much of a change. I remain very confident it will happen, however.

“Programming costs are so high today that even Comcast complains about the expense. What of small Internet service providers who lack the negotiating power of the nation’s largest TV and broadband company? Some of them are dropping channels or exiting the pay-TV business altogether, says a new article in The Wall Street Journal. “I think the TV model is broken,” BTC Broadband President Scott Floyd told the newspaper. BTC stopped offering TV late last year while continuing to sell Internet and phone service.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/10/the-tv-model-is-broken-says-isp-that-stopped-offering-pay-tv/

9) Apple blacklists tech journo following explicit BENDY iPhone vid

Blacklisting for bad reviews is quite common and that alone is a good reason to ignore any non-negative review of any product. Positive reviews might be accurate but they are more likely bought and paid for by the company making the product, while negative reviews are far more likely to have been the result of objective analysis (or have been bought and paid for by the competition). Frankly I find forum discussions on a product to be far more useful: while they can be “astroturfed” real consumers usually outweigh those efforts. Regardless, I do find the efforts Apple suppressing coverage of an issue it says does not exist to be rather amusing.

“Apple has allegedly blacklisted a German tech journalist who filmed a video that proved the new iPhone 6 Plus could be bent. Axel Telzerow, editor of Computer Bild, was determined to see if the new mobe could be persuaded to take on a more curved shape, only to be “shocked” to see how easy it was to buckle the already quite curvaceous device. However, he was even more shocked to receive what he claimed was an ominous phone call from the Apple cops after posting a video of his bending activity. Telzerow claimed a fruity stormtrooper said he would never again receive Apple products for review purposes, or be allowed to come to any Apple events.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/02/apple_blacklists_german_bender_after_the_release_of_iphone_video_nasty/

10) These self-destructing SSDs will physically destroy the NAND flash on your command

A number of years ago I read about military grade hard drives with self-destruct systems which were used in surveillance airplanes and drones. The idea is probably a good one, however, no price is given and it is not even clear whether the product itself is actually available. Setting aside the likelihood it is astoundingly expensive, it would probably have a modest impact on security: in many situations data is accessed by lots of people and you get the odd halfwit (or crook) who does things like copy sensitive data from an encrypted source onto a tape, CD, or whatever, which is then lost or stolen. This happened to in the back office of a limited partnership I subscribed to a few years ago.

“It’s one thing to have your personal notebook filled with family photos, music and movies come up missing. It’s a different beast entirely when that missing notebook contains business information, trade secrets or the login credentials of your employer. In those instances, it’d be great to have a self-destructing hard drive akin to something out of a James Bond movie. As it turns out, that technology already exists and it comes from a company called SecureDrives.”

http://www.techspot.com/news/58248-these-self-destructing-ssds-will-physically-destroy-the-nand-flash-on-your-command.html

11) 4.4 billion people around the world still don’t have Internet. Here’s where they live

Not surprisingly, Internet access is mostly correlated with income, as are things like access to medical care, and so on. The suggestion that people who don’t have Internet access in rich countries because of choice is absurd: there are what are referred to as “poor people” who live in rich countries and most of them do not choose to be poor. Similarly, in backwards countries such as Canada, Internet access is simply not available in vast areas of the country including major areas of the GTA because broadband carriers would see a lower (though still very positive) return on investment and there are no government policies mandating or even encouraging access. Imagine the suggestion people without, or without access to, electricity “choose” that predicament.
“The sheer number of people unconnected in some countries is staggering. India is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s offline population; China houses more than 730 million; Indonesia 210 million; Bangladesh almost 150 million; and Brazil nearly 100 million. Even in the United States, 50 million people don’t use the Internet (though, as my colleague Caitlin Dewey points out, many of those who are offline in the United States are offline by choice).”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/02/4-4-billion-people-around-the-world-still-dont-have-internet-heres-where-they-live/

12) NetApp sticks biggest “patent troll” with $1.4M fee sanction

There are legitimate patent disputes and there are shakedowns, and this company seems to have followed the shakedown route, demanding license fees which, while not exactly token, presented the accused with the option of costly litigation or simply paying the protection money. In the earlier legal regime, as is customary in the US, “loser pays” was very rare so Summit could sue without worrying about having to pay the defendants costs even if the case was “wasteful and reckless”. The worm is beginning to turn on the patent troll business based on this and a number of other recent decisions.

“This summer, the Supreme Court made it easier for defendants to collect fees when they win patent cases. The decision is starting to have an effect—the nation’s largest patent troll just got slapped with an order to pay $1.4 million in attorneys’ fees to NetApp, which it sued in 2010. … The facts of this case demonstrate that Summit pursued an action against NetApp without any basis for infringement, delayed disclosing the existence of the Licensing Agreement for eighteen months, extracted settlements from co-defendants worth a fraction of what it would actually cost them to defend the lawsuit, and then voluntarily dismissed its claims with prejudice prior to the court issuing a ruling on the merits… The claims were frivolous—Microsoft’s initiator software [was] licensed, so no system employing it could infringe the asserted patents.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/10/largest-patent-troll-hit-with-1-4m-sanction-for-suing-netapp/

13) WiLan says loses LTE patent case against Apple

As a general rule, you don’t want to go to court unless you have a reasonable prospect of victory. Having your head handed to you in a patent case shows potential licensees your bark is far worse than your bite and it should therefore result in far more modest settlements (or none in the case of invalidated patents). Combine that with the worsening outlook for trolls (see item 12, above), and you’d think investors would be avoiding the sector. They are not: WiLan has a $420 million market cap. Go figure.

“Canadian patent licensing company WiLan Inc (WIN.TO) on Wednesday said a U.S. judge had ruled in favor of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) in a litigation case against it. “WiLan has been advised that Judge Dana M. Sabraw has issued a ruling today that grants Apple’s motion for summary judgment,” the company said in a statement, referring to Apple’s move to have two patent infringement claims relating to LTE wireless telecom technologies ruled invalid and not infringed.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/01/us-wilan-apple-idUSKCN0HQ53W20141001

14) Japan Starts World-First Stem Cell Trial, Plans More

This article sure sounds interesting, however, I don’t understand what the point of it is – in other words, do they hope to reverse macular degeneration or are they just looking into whether the injection of stem cells is safe? If they demonstrate safety but no therapeutic benefit, then will that safety data translate into, say, stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s? Because if you don’t know whether stem cells can be safely injected into the brain you may end up killing people who have a condition which, however debilitating, might not kill them for a long time.

“The first patient was treated this month in the world’s first clinical study of stem cells made from ordinary mature cells: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The cells were complex retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, but they began as a macular-degeneration patient’s simple skin cells. Those were turned into pluripotent stem cells using the Nobel Prize-winning genetic technique of Shinya Yamanaka. Yamanaka’s institute (Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, or CiRA) has assisted the trial’s sponsor, the Riken Institute.”

http://www.dddmag.com/articles/2014/10/japan-starts-world-first-stem-cell-trial-plans-more

15) A New Approach to On-Chip Quantum Computing

We seem to be hearing more and more snippets regarding progress towards real quantum computers (in contrast with claimed quantum computers which get a lot of coverage for no actual results). Unfortunately, I don’t know enough (pretty much anything, actually) about the subject to understand what this does or how significant it is. As a general rule, however, these sorts of things take a while to escape the lap. In any event, while quantum computers are very good for solving certain problems, including important ones like protein folding, don’t expect to browse the web if and when they are developed.

“Now, an international team of researchers led by professor Roberto Morandotti of INRS-EMT in Canada, is introducing a new method to achieve a different type of photon pair source that fits into the tiny space of a computer chip. The team’s method, which generates “mixed up” photon pairs from devices that are less than one square millimeter in area, could form the core of the next-generation of quantum optical communication and computing technology.”

http://www.osa.org/en-us/about_osa/newsroom/news_releases/2014/a_new_approach_to_on-chip_quantum_computing/

16) Nobody Can Win The Cloud Pricing Wars

Large companies like Google, Microsoft, etc., have staggering amounts of computing power and it is almost never all going to be used at the same time so they can essentially lease out their excess. Its a bit like having a 300 HP engine in a car (which rarely, if ever, needs that amount of power) and being able to lease out 0.000001 HP units of power to a few million companies who, themselves, are rarely using those 0.000001 HP units. So, its win/win, except for any “cloud computing” company without that sort of scale. The same reasoning applies to cloud storage, by the way.

“Earlier this week, Google lowered prices 10 percent across the board on their Google Compute Engine cloud platform . The cost is getting so low, it’s almost trivial for anyone to absorb the costs of running infrastructure in the cloud, but you have to wonder as the cloud pricing wars continue, how low can they go and if it’s a war anyone can win. The end game is obviously zero, but these companies have overhead and while the Big Three cloud computing companies –Google, Amazon and Microsoft –run their Infrastructure as a Service as a side business, chances are their stock holders don’t want to see them giving it away for nothing, a point we seem to be approaching quickly.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/02/nobody-can-win-the-cloud-pricing-wars/

17) 3D printed, perfectly transparent optics to replace injection molding

This item is essentially a press release for the launch of a service offering, and the service ain’t cheap, starting at 500 euros. Nonetheless, it does make one wonder whether the advent of 3D printing would finally disrupt the eyeglass industry. After all, eyeglass lenses and frames cost very little make and are sold for astoundingly high prices, largely due to a regularly environment which has been crafted to favor the industry at the expense of the consumer (note the 20+:1 price spread between unregulated reading glasses and “normal” glasses). There would probably be a regulatory arbitrage opportunity in a 3D printer which could produce eyeglass lenses are a reasonable cost.

“Injection moulding has been the main manufacturing method for optical components for a long time, but today the revolution Dutch 3D printing of optics firm LUXeXceL is launching the very first 3D printing service for functional optical components.”

http://www.tctmagazine.com/additive-manufacturing/3d-printed-perfectly-transparent-optics-to-replace-injectio/

18) Advertising firms struggle to kill malvertisements

I always run adblock plus on my computers so I don’t see advertisements of any kind, however, this is the first I’ve heard of “malvertisements”. Presumably, as ads increasingly use the security nightmare than is Adobe Flash, and other more dynamic elements, hackers have figured out how to insert malware in them. In order to frustrate detection, and thanks to the staggering number of adds, such malware is only inserted in a fraction of the ads which are served up. Needless to say, everybody involved denies responsibility and assures us their systems are “clean”, or at least they are clean until the next time. Like I said, I always use adblock plus (https://adblockplus.org/) and I always block even “unobtrusive” ads.

“In late September, advertisements appearing on a host of popular news and entertainment sites began serving up malicious code, infecting some visitors’ computers with a backdoor program designed to gather information on their systems and install additional malicious code. The attack affected visitors to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Hindustan Times, Internet music service Last.fm, and India-focused movie portal Bollywood Hungama, among other popular sites. At the center of the malware campaign: the compromise of San Francisco-based Internet advertising network Zedo, an advertising provider for the sites, whose network was then used to distribute malicious ads.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/09/advertising-firms-struggle-to-kill-malvertisements/

19) Not there yet – BlackBerry’s promised comeback has not yet materialised

Investment commentators have a great deal of difficulty differentiating “not falling quite as fast as expected” from flying so this short piece is a bit of fresh air. It takes a long time for a large company to disappear – Nortel’s management destroyed that company as quickly as they did through sustained effort and skill. Setting aside sabotage, and there is still time for that at Blackberry, a platform with a small market share is expensive to maintain, both from the manufacturers and users perspective. Similarly, 3rd parties see little incentive to include such support in applications, interfaces, etc.. If, however, the market share is growing, various parties are willing to make an investment because they want to be in on the ground floor. This is not the case when you go from a large market share to a tiny one: the cost for all concern of supporting the platform becomes astronomically large, and nobody sees the point at making that investment. Eventually the remaining high margin businesses at Blackberry will collapse (they are, after all, a legacy of purchase decisions made long ago) and, for them the war will be over.

“BlackBerry, which once dominated the smartphone industry, now accounts for less than 1% of sales worldwide. As a result, the firm is haemorrhaging money. Analysts say that the only good thing that can be said about the firm’s $207m loss last quarter was that it was slightly less than expected. However, BlackBerry’s cheery boss, John Chen, portrayed the firm’s latest results as the first part of a comeback plan, which he hopes will see the company return to profit by 2016.”

http://www.economist.com/news/business-and-finance/21620699-blackberrys-promised-comeback-has-not-yet-materialised-not-there-yet

20) Electric Vehicles Sell Power Back to the Grid

This rather appallingly stupid idea surfaces every now and then. Despite the author’s comment that “Auto makers, meanwhile, don’t know yet whether frequent charging will shorten a vehicle’s battery life” the reality is battery makers, and anybody who knows anything about batteries, knows, in fact, a lithium ion battery’s life is pretty much determined exactly by how much you charge it. There is no magic or ‘trick’: every charge applied to a battery consumes its life, So, it might be possible to convince owners of very expensive vehicles to use up their staggeringly expensive batteries providing leveling to the electric utility, and if you can, more power to you. However, if there was an economic argument in favor of using lithium ion batteries for grid leveling applications, you could bet the utilities themselves would be buying battery packs and doing it themselves.

“In the 1990s, Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware, proposed in a paper that electric vehicles could help pay for themselves by selling power back to the grid. When no one jumped on the idea, he decided to develop the technology himself. Now, the pilot project he spearheaded at the university in conjunction with power-plant operator NRG Energy Inc. brings in roughly $110 a month per electric vehicle. The operation uses software to link a minimum of nine electric vehicles, mostly Mini Coopers, together into a virtual power plant on wheels that can both draw energy from the grid and discharge energy when needed. “We’re not earning enough money to get rich,” says Dr. Kempton. But “it earns money, and it earns more money than it costs to do it.””

http://online.wsj.com/articles/electric-vehicles-sell-power-back-to-the-grid-1411937796