The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 28th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 28th 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!

The US Thanksgiving holiday always a slow news period . There were some amusing developments in the Tesla saga, and a trade show led to a fair bit of coverage regarding self-driving vehicles. Uber was in the news as it was banned from Nevada and rumors emerged of a potential financing at a staggering valuation. Even though “Black Friday” made headlines, don’t expect a lot of upside in terms of profits for tech or CE companies: most markets are mature, pricing is coming down, and margins are collapsing. This should have a significant impact on suppliers as well.

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

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Uber’s tech is what taxis are missing. T-Dispatch wants to solve that problem

About 25 years ago I designed the software for a digital tax-dispatch system, and a few years after that developed, with my good friend Allan Brown, the hardware and software for a dispatch system which was still in use, at least in New York City, a few years ago. Essentially we had to develop, from scratch, all of the technologies which come on even the cheapest smartphone today. All this is to say that there is nothing particularly complicated or difficult in developing a car dispatch system as T-Dispatch, and dozens of other Uber clones are demonstrating. It makes you wonder if the valuation being placed on the likes of Uber (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-26/uber-said-close-to-raising-funding-at-up-to-40b-value.html) show the sort of disconnect from reality that Pets.com and other dot com flame-outs demonstrated. Its just a bloody dispatch system.

“While Uber and taxi companies are fighting over different regulations in court in pretty much every city out there, Berlin-based T-Dispatch found a solution that could solve part of the problem — and quietly raised 1 million euros. The problem taxi companies face with Uber is not only the price and the new competition but also the technology. While Uber operates through a simple app, taxi companies receive calls and requests through their own websites and have a hard time organizing fleets, as they do not know if a driver is available or who might be booked with other services such as mytaxi. Also, cab drivers pay up to 15 percent of their fare price when accepting a mytaxi request.”

http://venturebeat.com/2014/11/26/ubers-tech-is-what-taxis-are-missing-t-dispatch-wants-to-solve-that-problem/

2) Intel promises 10TB+ SSDs thanks to 3D Vertical NAND flash memory

We continue to believe Solid State Drives (SSDs) will substantially replace Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and they are superior in all respects except price per bit. When analyzing the purported limitations of SSDs, including pricing, it is important to understand that NAND has only been used for mass storage for a relatively short time. Unfortunately, this article does not address pricing, which is more of an issue at this time than multi-terabyte capacity. Nonetheless, we expect pricing to follow a typical Moore’s Law curve. One threat to NAND, albeit a few years out, is commercialization of HP’s memristor technology, which has the potential to disrupt the space.

“At present solid-state drives with extreme capacities are very expensive and even the best of them cannot match high-capacity hard disk drives for nearline storage applications. However, thanks to the evolution of NAND flash memory in general, and 3D vertical NAND (3D V-NAND) in particular, the situation may change soon and SSDs with 10TB or higher capacities will become reality. Intel Corp. revealed at its Investor Meeting 2014 event this week that in the second half of 2015 its joint venture with Micron Technology – Intel Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) – will start mass production of 3D vertical NAND flash memory chips with up to 256Gb (multi-level cell, 2-bit-per cell) or 384Gb (triple-level cell, 3-bit-per cell) capacity. 3D V-NAND flash memory chips will feature 32-layer vertically stacked cell arrays that are “interconnected” using four billion through silicon vias (TSVs).”

http://www.kitguru.net/components/memory/anton-shilov/intel-promises-10tb-ssds-thanks-to-3d-v-nand-flash-memory/

3) In a self-driving future, we may not even want to own cars

I tend to believe people will willingly abandon driving once they have become convinced of the reliability of self-driving cars. Furthermore, I also believe that usage of cars will tend towards a rental or taxi like system, especially in urban areas where parking is scarce. This will require a far more reliable vehicle than those which exist today, since rental vehicles will be in almost constant use and travel far more kilometers per year than the average car currently does. Of course, there are people who will still prefer to drive, just as there are people who like to ride horses today, but I doubt this will represent more than a small minority of consumers.

“A glimpse of the coming revolution can be seen in the models debuting this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Hidden under their hoods and dashboards are sensors that take the first steps toward autonomous driving. Already, cars can park themselves, slam on the brakes to avoid crashes and adjust steering to stay centered in a lane. But the disruption will go well beyond who is — or isn’t — at the controls. For a century, cars have been symbols of freedom and status. Passengers of the future may well view vehicles as just another form of public transportation, to be purchased by the trip or in a subscription.”

http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-1121-la-auto-show-future-of-driving-20141121-story.html#page=1

4) Self-driving vehicles may arrive sooner than expected

I take a more cautious view of “self-driving” cars than many people. I figure it will be at least 20 years before we see significant market penetration. Of course, a lot depends on what you mean by “self-driving”, but I mean a vehicle capable of moving, say, a child from one place to another without significant chance of a mishap. It is important to realize that critical infrastructure such as wireless broadband is missing from large parts of the planet, which will limit adoption outside of urban areas, and, even then, the technology will have to be extremely capable because there will likely be non-self-driving cars around for the next 40 or 50 years.

“A car that drives itself seems like the stuff of fanciful daydreams or science fiction movies, but it is only a few years away. Tech giant Google continues to test its self-driving car around Silicon Valley and this spring showed models without a steering wheel or pedals. Cadillac announced in September it will introduce a nearly self-driving car in 2017, featuring a “super cruise” feature that allows hands- and feet-free driving on both freeways and in stop-and-go traffic.”

http://www.abc15.com/news/national/selfdriving-vehicles-may-arrive-sooner-than-expected_73407830

5) Tesla to Replace 1,100 Defective Model S Drive Units in Norway

Tesla is endlessly fascinating to me: a large cap stock where observable reality is starkly at odds with Wall Street research. Take, for example, the easily verifiable poor reliability record of the Model S, which has been articulated by Edmunds, Motor Trend, and Consumer Reports as well as numerous posts on Tesla’s own website (see http://www.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/anyone-else-all-issues). If you want to know more, Google “Tesla drive unit failures” or “Tesla reliability” for endless reading. Whatever happens, a “tweet” by the CEO is all it takes for Wall Street – and investors – to ignore reality (“these aren’t the droids you’relooking for …”). Take this debacle, for example. (Longer articles are available in Norwegian). The “drive unit failure” problem was previously dismissed as a small issue corrected with a shim, however, somehow 1,100 units need to be replaced in Norway. Perhaps theyforgot to tell the shop floor about the shims. It doesn’t matter really – lousy engineering is the least of an EV problems: short-lived, and spectacularly expensive batteries are.

“According to a recent report, the American automaker is replacing 1,100 defective drive units on Model S sedans produced for Norway after several owners reported issues with the vehicles. Some owners stated that their vehicles made circular saw sounds or clunking noises and sensations. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent an email out to the affected owners in Norway saying, “Unfortunately, this happened when a large batch of cars were produced for Norway, affecting approximately 1,100 vehicles. Approximately 1% have experienced premature wear out of the coupling.””

http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2014/11/tesla-model-s-recalled-in-norway-for-faulty-drive-units.htm

6) Tesla’s Musk: “We don’t have inventory.” Consumer Reports: “Yes, you do.” Musk: “Making cars is really hard.”

You might recall last week we carried an article which raised the question of missing vehicles. Personally, I’d be more interesting in failures and to beat a dead battery, the fact that the batteries are short lived and very expensive. The pandemonium created by the work behind that article is somewhat amusing, and a sign of lack of transparency. This should not be a difficult question to answer and the fact it has not been is not a good sign. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“In an earlier version, CR wrote that Tesla “has about 2,300 remaining 2014 Model S cars” which the company is trying to sell at steep discounts. The Daily Kanban received similar information last week. A source claimed that the inventory consists of “pre built cars”, “orphans’ , and “service loaners,” that the steep discounts are applicable only to “inventory cars that do not have auto pilot features,” and that most of the inventory cars that should not exist are about 3-4 months old. Apparently under pressure from Tesla’s combative PR department, empowered by the boss to go on a search and destroy mission against any perceived falsehoods, CR watered down its story a few times. Most of the changes are documented in Seekingalpha.”

http://dailykanban.com/2014/11/teslas-musk-dont-inventory-consumer-reports-yes-musk-making-cars-really-hard/

7) Full steam ahead for Hyundai’s hydrogen-fuelled vehicles Add to …

Well – it’s that time of decade again for fuel cell vehicles! I wrote a research piece in the early 2000s which articulated the challenges associated with fuel cell vehicles. Its one of a few pieces I wrote which got me death threats. Go figure. In any event the problem is not the fuel cell but the fuel (hydrogen) which is expensive to make and difficult to transport, and that is a problem of physics. Massive subsidies for “zero” emission vehicles can cause all kinds of illogical things to reach the market, ranging from EVs to fuel cell vehicles. One disadvantage FCVs have over EVs is that the subsidies are in the purchase of the vehicle with the ‘gotcha’ only coming when the hapless owner discovers the EV has zero residual value once the battery needs to be replaced. FCVs, on the other hand, will require fueling with expensive hydrogen, which is only subsidized to the extent of not taxing it fully. So the FCV owner will have to deal with that every time he/she “tanks up”.

“Hyundai Corp. is looking to revive the dream of a fleet of hydrogen-fueled vehicles driving on Canadian highways as it becomes the first auto manufacturer to launch in Canada a fuel cell version of an existing car model. Hyundai will announce Wednesday that it is offering three-year leases for the Tucson FCEV to drivers in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, one of the few areas in the country that have hydrogen fueling stations that were put in place as B.C. sought to demonstrate the fuel cell hydrogen technology during the 2010 Winter Olympics.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/full-steam-ahead-for-hyundais-hydrogen-fuelled-vehicles/article21777784/

8) Population with internet access to pass 3bn next year

This study uses a pretty loose definition of Internet access – I would have preferred to know how many people would have access to Internet services at their residence, for example. Regardless, it does show the pace of adoption, which has to be much faster than any other communications technology in history. I would think that forward thinking governments would prommote such access, while dictatorships, etc., have the most to lose from it.

“The number of internet users worldwide will pass three billion in 2015, according to new estimates, increasing 6.2 per cent next year to reach 42.4 per cent of the world’s population. This year, internet user penetration will top the 40 per cent mark for the first time as the web reaches 2.89bn users across the world. By 2018, eMarketer estimates, nearly half the world’s population – or 3.6bn people – will access the internet at least once each month.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/11243324/Population-with-internet-access-to-pass-3bn-next-year.html

9) Scientists urge governments to turn old TV frequencies into free “super WiFi”

Spectrum is a valuable resource and reallocating some of the former analog TV services to Internet access would make some sense due to the reach these lower frequencies might have. I think it is unlikely we will see this come to pass, however: there are powerful economic forces lusting after that spectrum and governments can use auctions to plug gaps in their budgets. Nice try through.

“Governments should sack plans to auction off old television frequencies to the highest bidder and instead use the bandwidth for free super-frequency WiFi if they want to boost the economy, scientists have said. Old television frequencies are becoming available for other uses around the world, thanks to a switch from analogue to digital transmission. However, while governments are for the most part auctioning these off to whoever is prepared to pay the most – usually mobile phone networks – they should instead be using the frequencies to create free-to-use, wide-range WiFi, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany have said.”

http://www.factor-tech.com/connected-world/9769-scientists-urge-governments-to-turn-old-tv-frequencies-into-free-super-wifi/

10) Li-Fi Gets Ready to Compete With Wi-Fi

This idea pops up from time to time. It has its problems, like, for example, ensuring receiver and transmitter have line of sight, something which might not be practical with, for example, a smartphone in a pocket or case. It is also not abundantly obvious which problem this solves, exactly: is WiFi technology, which continues to evolve, somehow a limiting factor for most applications?

“As LEDs become a more common source for room lighting, they’re opening a new pathway for linking mobile devices to the Internet, with the potential for wider bandwidth and quicker response time than Wi-Fi. At least that’s what researchers such as Harald Haas, chair of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh, are hoping. “All the components, all the mechanisms exist already,” Haas says. “You just have to put them together and make them work.””

http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/lifi-gets-ready-to-compete-with-wifi

11) Print Thyself: How 3-D printing is revolutionizing medicine.

3D printing seems to be establishing a place for itself in the medical world, and most of the applications outlined in this article don’t really require “new science”. Presumably it is a matter of time before medical schools start introducing students to the applications of 3D printing in medical practice, after which it should really take off.

“In February of 2012, a medical team at the University of Michigan’s C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor, carried out an unusual operation on a three-month-old boy. The baby had been born with a rare condition called tracheobronchomalacia: the tissue of one portion of his airway was so weak that it persistently collapsed. This made breathing very difficult, and it regularly blocked vital blood vessels nearby, including the aorta, triggering cardiac and pulmonary arrest. The infant was placed on a ventilator, while the medical team set about figuring out what to do. The area of weak tissue would somehow need to be repaired or replaced—a major and dangerous operation in so small a patient. The team consulted with the baby’s doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital, in Ohio, and they soon agreed that they had just the right tool for this delicate, lifesaving task: a 3-D printer.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/24/print-thyself?currentPage=all

12) 3D LED printer makes a contact lens display possible

I remain skeptical that contact lenses with integral displays will be mass market, simply because people prefer not to have things sitting on their eyeball. Besides, as Google Glass appears to have shown there isn’t much demand for huge amounts of information while people are walking around. Nevertheless, there might be specialist applications for this sort of device. Of course, the article is not so much about the display and the system used to create a prototype. Long story short, you can do many interesting things with a 3D printer, even if mass production requires a different approach.

“When researchers from the University of Washington began constructing prototypes for contact lens displays, their biggest impediment was the fabrication of parts. On a theoretical level it’s not hard to build a display in a contact lens, but actually building and placing all the tiny, interrelated parts on a tiny polymer disk is difficult even today. It’s annoying to have to come up with an all-new fabrication process for every single part in a display, just because the display happens to be in the eye rather than in front of it. The most finicky part of all though, more than wireless power antennae or precise connective wiring, is the display itself. How do you fit a contact lens with something as complex as an LED display?”

http://www.geek.com/chips/3d-led-printer-makes-a-contact-lens-display-possible-1610256/

13) Viewpoint: Trapped Ions Make Impeccable Qubits

This seems to be another step forward in quantum computing: a significant improvement in the reliability of qubit storage. Of course, this is still many orders of magnitude away from the sorts of reliability in a modern digital memory, but you don’t need that degree of reliability for quantum computing since you don’t need nearly as many bits. As interesting as quantum computing is, it is important to recognize that dazzling fast computation of the sorts of algorithms amenable to quantum computing is not likely to have an impact on mainstream computing. Nonetheless, there are likely scientific applications, such as protein folding, which may benefit enormously.

“The quality of qubit manipulation in a number of physical systems has dramatically improved in the past few years [3, 4], raising hopes that a quantum computer, at a large enough scale to carry out meaningful computations, might be within reach. Now, Thomas Harty at the University of Oxford, UK, and colleagues [5] are reporting an important contribution to this goal with the demonstration that qubits consisting of trapped 43Ca+ ions can be manipulated with record high fidelities (in quantum information theory, fidelity is a measure of the “closeness” of two quantum states). Their experiments suggest trapped-ion schemes could potentially provide the basic fundamental building blocks of a universal quantum computer.”

http://physics.aps.org/articles/v7/119

14) Solar panels pose power problem for firefighters, prompting new guidelines

Solar power is somewhat of a scared cow. Because I live on a 110 acre farm, I was initially attracted to the Ontario government’s solar program. A financial analysis determined it was a poor investment with returns of a fraction of the figures touted on the government’s website. Eventually I was able to determine the government figured counted return of capital as return on capital – an error which I attempted to bring to the attention of the media and the opposition parties to no avail. As a result, countless homeowners were separated from their money while solar installers prospered. One factor I did not consider in order to simplify the analysis was external costs such as insurance. As this article shows, if you have roof mounted solar panels, you stand a much greater risk of losing your home to fire than would be the case if you do not. No doubt insurers will eventually take notice.

“A year ago, fire trucks arrived on the scene of a blaze at a cheese and deli-meat distribution facility just outside of Philadelphia. But firefighters had to keep their distance because of worries that the thousands of solar panels on the roof were still generating power, putting them at risk of electrocution. The building was completely destroyed.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/solar-panels-pose-power-problem-for-firefighters-prompt-new-guidelines/article21740616/

15) BlackBerry will pay iPhone users up to $600 to switch phones

Every now and then you come across an announcement which really leaves an impression. Such as this one. Somebody actually said, aloud, in a marketing meeting, “I know, let’s pay people to use our phones instead of an iPhone!” And other people in that meeting thought this was a good idea. Perhaps somebody might have remarked “OK, but if people do switch, the story will be that we have to pay people to use our phones, and if they don’t switch, the story will be that people won’t switch even if they are paid to” but they would have been shouted down. How sad.

“BlackBerry is trying a new tactic to lure customers back — by paying them to switch phones. The Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone maker says it will pay iPhone users as much as $600 to switch to a BlackBerry Passport phone. Canadian iPhone users with iPhone 4s or later makes are eligible for up to $400 in trade-in value, depending on the model of the iPhone, plus a $200 top-up from BlackBerry. U.S. users are eligible for up to the same amount, plus a $150 US top-up. Users with the newest iPhone models, the 6 or 6 Plus, are eligible for the highest trade-in value, up to $400.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/blackberry-will-pay-iphone-users-up-to-600-to-switch-phones-1.2848915

16) Apple ends patent war on Android, deal suggests

When is a “patent troll” not a patent troll? Well, when it is Apple, Microsoft, or any of a number of large publicly traded technology companies which use brute force and litigation to restrict competition by less well capitalized, but actually innovative, companies. I rather doubt Apple’s shenanigans are over over, or that Rockstar will be wound down because its much too much of a good thing. Nonetheless, those companies, such as Blackberry, which participated in the Nortel patent auction should be considering writing down the asset from their balance sheet.

“Apple has decided to end a bitter legal war against Google and Android phone makers, and to turn away from patent tactics that have cost the smartphone industry billions of dollars, according to reports and new court filings. The news comes in part via a landmark court order in which a federal judge agrees to stay a series of lawsuits between Google and a patent consortium known as Rockstar, that is primarily owned by Apple.”

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/apple-ends-patent-war-android-231459365.html

17) The global tablet market is slowing down, says IDC

My usual comments about the lack of value in industry research apply here. Tablets are relatively long lived devices with limited utility and it makes perfect sense the market would mature rapidly. Furthermore, as smartphones have got larger, there is less point having both a smartphone and a tablet. Of course, Apple fanboys point to the iPhone 6 as the cause of the slowdown in tablet sales, but large screen smartphones have been around for a few years now. I continue to forecast significant pricing pressure on both tablets and smartphones, which will have a profound impact on company profits.

“It’s been clear for a while that iPads and other tablets follow a much longer upgrade cycle than smartphones. A new report from IDC backs up this anecdotal trend with sales estimates. According to the report, the worldwide tablet market will only grow 7.2 percent this year, a huge drop from the 52.5 percent growth it saw in 2013.”

https://gigaom.com/2014/11/25/the-global-tablet-market-is-slowing-down-says-idc/

18) Cord-cutters shake up consumer electronics

This is a bit of a follow on to item 17, but the article covers some of the shifts going on in the Consumer Electronics (CE) space although the author seemed to have missed the memo about tablet sales. Its not so much cord cutting (which is an important trend) it is the fact that a personal mobile device can do pretty much everything you want. You can watch video, listen to audio streaming, recordings, or podcasts, browse the web, etc., without having to negotiate over who wields the remote control. Of course, this sort of flexibility is mainly available to those with access to affordable high speed Internet access. I don’t expect TV or even broadcast to disappear overnight – after all, there are still lots of FM radio stations out there. Or so I am told.

“Starting Thanksgiving Day, Americans will head out en masse to “door-buster” sales at the USA’s biggest retailers. Flat-screen televisions will be among the hottest items: Walmart stores are offering a 65-inch Vizio LED HDTV for $648, and Best Buy a Samsung 55-inch LED for $599. According to IHS, televisions will be on one-third of U.S. consumers’ shopping lists this holiday season. But Black Friday’s frenzied buying masks tectonic shifts in the $207-billion consumer electronics industry. Mobile devices are upstaging traditional TVs in what could be the biggest change in mass entertainment since television supplanted radio and the movies after World War II.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/11/27/gold-shifts-in-consumer-electronics-trends/19548011/

19) The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Chemistry Set

A few weeks ago my son participated in chemistry lab experiment involving potassium nitrate. Unfortunately, the government, in its infinite wisdom, decided it wasn’t wise to let students have access to a few grams of KNO3 because it can be dangerous, so the “lab” was actually a website. I pointed out to him that I could buy KNO3 in large quantities as fertilizer or in smaller quantities from a drugstore if he was keen to blow anything up. This led me to pine for the olden days when all the kids had chemistry sets and actually learned a lot, even if the occasional chemical burn or lost eye resulted. Ah, the good old days.

“The chemistry set had clearly seen better days. Curator Ann Seeger pulls the mid-20th-century Gilbert kit out of a glass-fronted cabinet in the back of a cluttered storeroom at the National Museum of American History and opens the bright blue wooden box, revealing that several bottles of chemicals are missing and some vials have lost their labels. The previous owners hadn’t let a few missing pieces stop them, though; the kit was supplemented with a set of plastic measuring spoons that appear to have been stolen from a mother’s kitchen. One of the museum’s librarians donated the kit; he and his brother had played with it as children. “They weren’t very good with chemistry,” Seeger says, which may explain the donor’s career choice.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-the-chemistry-set-70359831/

20) New analysis of Antikythera Mechanism reveals clues to one of history’s greatest puzzles

The Antikythera mechanism was pulled from an ancient shipwreck and is the earliest known computer. It’s invention was attributed to Archimedes, however, this may have been as much due to wanting to have something actually made by Archimedes himself. Inventors rarely develop entirely original systems out of nothing, which suggests to me that high quality clockworks, gears, etc., existed well before this device was made. I am not sure the fact the device “predicted” an eclipse prior to Archimedes’ birth means he didn’t invent it – a known event could have been a sort of calibration point.

“A new study of the world famous Antikythera mechanism has revealed fascinating new information about the puzzling artifact, including that the maths used for its eclipse prediction appears to be based on Babylonian arithmetic rather than Greek trigonometry. A detailed analysis of the eclipse predictor has also enabled scientists to determine that the device’s astronomical calculations started in 205 BC, enabling the first accurate dating of the mechanism. If this is correct, it makes it highly unlikely that its creator was the renowned ancient Greek inventor Archimedes.”

http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/new-analysis-antikythera-mechanism-reveals-clues-history-020112

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 21st 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 21st 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!

Back to slow news flow in tech. Setting aside comments made by Obama regarding “net neutrality” and the hysterical reaction on all sides, nothing really happened of significance this past week. (Net neutrality itself is a fascinating and important subject but not really the sort of thing I can cover in detail on the GRL).

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

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) The Mystery of 12,000 Missing Teslas: Overseas Boom or Waning U.S. Demand?

I have to be very careful what I say here, however, as a general rule, declining demand in the early adopter market is not a promising development for a technology company, or, in the case of Tesla, an automobile manufacturer. As with other remarkable observations regarding Tesla (fires, Trabant level reliability, etc.) no doubt a positive spin will be placed on this or, alternatively, aspersions will be cast on the data themselves. Nonetheless, as I said, declining demand in your early adopter market, especially when it is the US, is never a good sign. Never, ever, ever, a good sign.

“Tesla Motors (TSLA) is slowly ramping up production. Demand for its electric sedans allegedly remains high. Yet far fewer of the vehicles are making their way onto U.S. roads this year. In the first nine months of 2014, the number of U.S. registrations of Tesla vehicles fell by one-third to 9,331, according to an analysis of public records by Hedges & Co., an Ohio-based market-research firm. In the same period, however, Tesla said it delivered 21,821 cars—a 40 percent increase from a year earlier. What happened to the other 12,490 cars?”

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-17/mystery-of-12-000-missing-teslas-overseas-boom-waning-us-demand

2) Pay Phones in New York City Will Become Free Wi-Fi Hot Spots

This is a great idea since pay phones are not seeing a lot of use and the places pay phones have are already serviced by electricity and telephone wiring. The business case is not entirely clear, however, the cost of delivering WiFi is not that high so it might work. The major problem I can see is that the pods will have to be, almost literally, bullet proof or they won’t last long. After all, cretins do not need a financial incentive to vandalize something which looks expensive.

“The modern New York pay phone will provide no shelter from the rain, no alcove for the quarreling couple seeking a private moment to reconcile. It will afford little refuge to the prospective superhero requiring a wardrobe change. In fact, the pay phone of tomorrow will include no traditional phone at all — nor any payment, for that matter, at least for communication within the United States. But beginning next year, city officials said on Monday, the relics will evolve into something deemed far more practical: thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots across the city, providing free Internet access, free domestic calls using cellphones or a built-in keypad, a charging station for mobile devices and access to city services and directions”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/nyregion/pay-phones-in-new-york-city-will-become-free-wi-fi-hot-spots.html

3) Microsoft Azure faults knock websites offline

This is yet another reminder of the hazards of cloud services, and, in particular, hosted applications. Just as was the case previously with Amazon and Adobe, “hiccups” in Microsoft’s cloud computing platform pulled it offline disrupting the activities of countless users (including those who have been lured into using Office 365). You have to believe the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, and Adobe have a pretty good understanding of what they are doing, and yet stuff happens. There is a place for cloud services given ample layers of backup and redundancy, however, these systems do go offline and when they do chaos reigns.

“Faults with Microsoft’s cloud computing platform have knocked many third-party sites offline, as well as disrupting the US firm’s own products. Microsoft Azure’s status page says problems began at 00:52 GMT across the globe. Its European operations are taking the longest to fix. Access to Microsoft’s Office 365 online suite of apps and its Xbox Live gaming facility are among services affected. The faults could set back the company’s efforts to sell Azure. Microsoft is attempting to make gains on the market leader, Amazon Web Services, as well as IBM, Google and others offering rival products.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30111575

4) Google Glass future clouded as some early believers lose faith

The future ain’t what it used to be. Perhaps. The idea of Google Glass makes some sense though I am not entirely convinced it will ever have broad appeal. Setting aside the privacy issues (and potential bloody noses) most humans are unlikely to want to live in the same data rich environment as fighter pilots. After all, it takes brainpower to convert data into information, and all that thinking is bound to be very tiring. So the choice is to be confronted with large amounts of data on an ongoing basis, or switch the thing off. You can’t have it both ways, and, more likely than not, the device is bound to be useless for most people most of the time.

“After two years of popping up at high-profile events sporting Google Glass, the gadget that transforms eyeglasses into spy-movie worthy technology, Google co-founder Sergey Brin sauntered bare-faced into a Silicon Valley red-carpet event on Sunday. He’d left his pair in the car, Brin told a reporter. The Googler, who heads up the top-secret lab which developed Glass, has hardly given up on the product — he recently wore his pair to the beach. But Brin’s timing is not propitious, coming as many developers and early Glass users are losing interest in the much-hyped, $1,500 test version of the product: a camera, processor and stamp-sized computer screen mounted to the edge of eyeglass frames. Google Inc itself has pushed back the Glass roll out to the mass market. … Of 16 Glass app makers contacted by Reuters, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device. Three more have switched to developing for business, leaving behind consumer projects.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/15/us-google-glass-insight-idUSKCN0IY18E20141115

5) Google Glass Commercial Launch Set For 2015

On the other hand (see item 4) perhaps a more cost effective version of Google Glass combined with imaginative applications will fill some market need. After all there is not much money in developing for a platform which largely does not exist as Google Glass supplies were sharply limited. Frankly, I remain skeptical.

“Google Glass was the first project to emerge from Google’s Project X doors some two years ago. Glass is a wearable headset designed to project information in front of the right eye using an augmented reality style interface. The hardware consists of a dual core Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 processor (the same processor that was used in the first Android-powered Motorola Droid RAZR), 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of onboard storage, a 2,100 mAh battery, a bone conduction transducer in place of a speaker, plus a plethora of sensors including a microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity and magnetometer. It’s controlled by a mix of voice command and a touchpad and communicates with the wearer through sound (that natty bone conduction transducer) and projection onto a small lens set above the right eye at a resolution of 640 by 360 pixels. Glass includes built-in WiFi and Bluetooth and also has a 5 MP camera, capable of recording video at 720p resolution.”

http://www.androidheadlines.com/2014/11/google-glass-commercial-launch-set-2015.html

6) Wearable Tech: Consumer Interest On The Up: [NEW INFOGRAPHIC]

Well, that would be one interpretation, but what people say they are interested in and what they actually buy in are frequently significantly different things. For example, it is well and good that folks might be interested in an Apple “smart watch” but that interest might wane once they discover they have to own an iPhone 6 and that it really doesn’t do very much. In any event, I find the figures to be triflingly small and are more likely a result of Apple’s adept marketing than anything else.

“New consumer research from Futuresource Consulting highlights a significant increase in the consumer’s intent to purchase wearable devices. Interviewing more than 8,000 people across two waves this year (May and October) in the USA, UK, France and Germany, the study saw interest in fitness trackers and smartwatches rise by 50% and 125% respectively. However, interest in smartglasses and heart rate monitors has stalled. The overall wearables market has seen significant growth so far in 2014, with Futuresource forecasting full year sales of over 51 million units worldwide. However, it’s only just warming up, and wearables sales are expected to accelerate from 2015 as new brands enter the space.”

http://www.futuresource-consulting.com/2014-11-Wearable-Tech-Infographic-2346.html

7) Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm

A system which promises anonymity 19% of the time isn’t very anonymous, unless you are especially lucky. Of course, I don’t understand what led to this result, but if it truly was low-latency one could imagine a countermeasure which would introduce a pseudo-random delay into the system, helping confound analysis. All this, of course, presupposes that Tor is not a ‘honey-pot’ as it might, in fact, be (see Item 8)

“The Tor project has urged calm after new research found 81 percent of users could be identified using Cisco’s NetFlow tool. A research effort led by professor Sambuddah Chakravarty from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi found that well-resourced attackers such as a nation-state could effectively reveal Tor users’ identity with a false-positive rate of six percent, while an autonomous system could reveal about 39 percent of users. Chakravarty’s research, run on a high performance research server within the University, worked in part due to the low-latency design of Tor.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/17/deanonymization_techniques_for_tor_and_bitcoin/

8) How leading Tor developers and advocates tried to smear me after I reported their US Government ties

Conspiracy theories are jolly good fun and it is easy to mock those who believe in them. Intelligence agencies do, in fact, engage in pretty amazing activities, as proved by the Snowden revelations. One might imagine that Tor was a benign system to allow spies to hide or a “long game” honey-pot designed to easily identify the sorts of people spies want to watch. It is hard to tell, but I favor the “honey pot” explanation. Regardless, the claims of a smear campaign against this author do nothing to reinforce or negate this hypothesis. Smear campaigns are, pretty much the name of the game nowadays. The amount of nonsense (founded or otherwise) I read about Uber, Tesla, Apple, etc., suggest the objectivity of bloggers may be almost as impeachable as those in the traditional media.

“My article traced the history of Tor and the US military-intelligence apparatus that spawned it—from Tor’s initial development by military researchers in the mid-1990s at the US Naval Laboratory in Washington DC, through its quasi-independent period after it was spun off as a nonprofit in 2004 but continued to receive most of its funding from a variety of government branches: Pentagon, State Department, USAID, Radio Free Asia. My article also revealed that Tor was created not to protect the public from government surveillance, but rather, to cloak the online identity of intelligence agents as they snooped on areas of interest. But in order to do that, Tor had to be released to the public and used by as diverse a group of people as possible: activists, dissidents, journalists, paranoiacs, kiddie porn scum, criminals and even would-be terrorists — the bigger and weirder the crowd, the easier it would be for agents to mix in and hide in plain sight.”

http://pando.com/2014/11/14/tor-smear/

9) Bell Labs Chief Slams ‘Toy’ Networks

The alleged efforts by Google, Facebook, and SpaceX do get a fair bit of coverage on the interwebs while criticism tends to attract far less interest. Balloons, drones, and satellites, have a nice ring to them but they present major problems as well. Any wireless technology which covers a wide area has to use a lot of valuable spectrum or operate at very low bit rates, or both. Any of the proposed systems are bound to have relatively high down times, meaning that people will probably not be able to rely on them. Meanwhile other technologies, most notably mobile services continue to evolve at a rapid pace, which brings into question whether any of these proposals will ever get off the ground. Pro-tip: few space based technologies for which there is a terrestrial alternative ever succeed. The few which succeed – such as satellite TV are a regulatory arbitrage.

“Bell Labs president Marcus Weldon has condemned Silicon Valley firms for “trivializing” networks with their plans to provide connectivity with drones or balloons. Talking at the Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) Technology Symposium in New Jersey last week, Weldon said companies such as Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) “don’t value the network as it should be valued. They are talking about networks as if they’re trivial to build and based on balloons and drones. “That’s just ridiculous. That’s what you build when you don’t know how to build networks. You build toy networks.””

http://www.lightreading.com/gigabit/wireless-satellite/bell-labs-chief-slams-toy-networks/d/d-id/712135?

10) What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change

A tiny, very tiny, injection of reality into the “alternative energy” discussion. Massive subsidies at all levels have convinced a surprising number of people that windmills and solar panels can replace centralized generation in a modernized industrial economy. “Alternative energy” schemes simultaneously bleed real utilities of cash flow by forcing them to pay full retail for solar power whether they need the electricity or not, and then pay others to take the electricity off their hands, all the while leaving the grid (whose operation is never funded by alternative energy schemes) deteriorate. Eventually, of course, the chickens will come home to roost, however, don’t expect years of neglect of the grid to be fixed over night.

“Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE<C, which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D. Its aspirational goal: to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired plant could, and to achieve this in years, not decades. Unfortunately, not every Google moon shot leaves Earth orbit. In 2011, the company decided that RE<C was not on track to meet its target and shut down the initiative. The two of us, who worked as engineers on the internal RE<C projects, were then forced to reexamine our assumptions.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change

11) What To Expect Next From Sync

I guess we can now understand BitTorrent’s business model for Sync: a “Pro” version is coming down the pipes which it believes will compete with DropBox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage apps. I actually believe Sync is superior because you don’t have to rely on a third party to look after your data and maintain security. Of course, that means it is now your problem. Hopefully BitTorrent will continue to offer a free version of Sync forever, but you can’t rely on that sort of thing. There are a number of Open Source projects which hope to replicate the functionality of Sync, and hopefully will be available in the event the free version is discontinued.

“We’re continuing to invest more and more into Sync and there’s a lot of great features coming in Sync 2.0. We’re improving the free edition over what’s available in version 1.4 and we’re introducing new functionality that will be a part of a new Pro edition. Intended for individuals needing to sync and share a lot of data and those participating in collaborative professional workgroups, Sync Pro provides additional functionality necessary to help you get the job done. Capabilities like having access to very large folders, controlling ownership and permissions for shared folders, and keeping information automatically consistent across your desktop and mobile devices will now be possible.”

http://blog.bittorrent.com/2014/11/19/what-to-expect-next-from-sync/

12) Nielsen Ratings Could Become a Major Headache for Netflix

I tried to figure out who owns Time Magazine, but it doesn’t matter really. Almost all media are either owned by vertically integrated media conglomerates or hope to be owned by them, so I never expect unbiased reporting on the likes of Netflix. In any event, the article is complete rubbish: because Netflix’s business model does not rely on advertizing the only thing which matters is the number of paying subscribers and what they are paying per month. Any actor worth his/her salt will overcome whatever reservations they might have about doing anything provided enough dollar bills are waved at them. The same goes for any content provider as well.

“House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black are wildly popular hits that prove Netflix can make shows that compete with the best of cable programming…right? That’s been the narrative around the streaming service over the last year, but hard proof has been harder to come by. Netflix has never provided concrete data validating that its shows are watched by large numbers of viewers. Soon Nielsen, the standard-bearer for TV ratings, may change that.”

http://time.com/3594946/netflix-nielsen-tv-ratings/

13) Laser-Radio Links Upgrade the Internet

Sigh. I was thinking of exactly this sort of system the other day. You see, the cable and telephone companies are extracting rent because of their historical position as monopolists and continue to do so do to inept (and arguably corrupt) regulation. They do nothing of value except to exploit government given rights of way. In North America, which has a third world telecommunications infrastructure, this is a situation which screams for a solution. Very high speed, relatively long haul, wireless point to point technology with, say, WiFi access points would allow rapid deployment of high speed internet service over wide areas, short-circuiting the monopolists’ rights of way. This, or something like it, should work.

“The rise of Wi-Fi and cellular data services made Internet access more convenient and ubiquitous. Now some of the high-speed backhaul data that powers Internet services looks set to go wireless, too. Technology that uses parallel radio and laser links to move data through the air at high speeds, in wireless hops of up to 10 kilometers at a time, is in trials with three of the largest U.S. Internet carriers. It is also being rolled out by one telecommunications provider in Mexico, and is helping build out the Internet infrastructure of Nigeria, a country that was connected to a new high-capacity submarine cable from Europe last year.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532346/laser-radio-links-upgrade-the-internet/

14) Owner of ‘Polygraph.com’ Indicted for Allegedly Training Customers to Lie During Federally Administered Polygraph Examinations

This is not really a tech story, but it is funny as hell. Polygraphy is a completely debunked pseudoscience which is recognized as such by almost everybody except some US federal agencies. Besides providing no useful information – “lie detectors” cannot, in fact detect lies – it is easily spoofed through simple training or by effective liars. What is the crime here? Is training somebody to spoof a gizmo which does not do what it is supposed to do somehow a crime? How so?

“Douglas Williams, 69, of Norman, Oklahoma, was charged in a five-count indictment in the Western District of Oklahoma with mail fraud and obstruction. According to allegations in the indictment, Williams, the owner and operator of “Polygraph.com,” marketed his training services to people appearing for polygraph examinations before federal law enforcement agencies, federal intelligence agencies, and state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as people required to take polygraph examinations under the terms of their parole or probation.”

http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/owner-polygraph-indicted-allegedly-training-customers-lir-during-federally-administered

15) Facebook gives its server racks a Tesla touch

I’d really like to see the math behind this. Lead-acid “chargers” are neither complex nor expensive (basically a 14V power supply) and the batteries are cheap as dirt, especially compared to Lithium Ion. Furthermore, battery backup is rarely used, and even then, generally as a bridge to a diesel generator starting up. Note further that, besides the statutory nod to Tesla (all hail Tesla) these batteries are, in fact, not at all like the ones used in EVs. Possibly the answer lies in the short discharge time: by allowing for only 90 seconds of backup, more than enough time to start a generator, they are able to get away with much less capacity. This would hold for lithium ion or any other battery technology capable of meeting the load requirements.

“Facebook has just started testing lithium-ion batteries as the backup power source for its server racks and plans to roll them out widely next year. Lithium-ion has been too expensive until now, Corddry says, but its use in electric cars has changed the economics. It’s now more cost effective than the bulky, lead-acid batteries widely used in data centers today.”

http://www.itworld.com/article/2848233/facebook-gives-its-server-racks-a-tesla-touch.html

16) This is why the iPhone 6 doesn’t have a sapphire screen

I wish I could access the original Wall Street Journal article but hell hasn’t frozen over yet so I am not going to pay for it. Long story short, if you dance with the devil, sometimes you are going to get burned. Besides, as a general rule of thumb, small tech companies rarely make technological breakthroughs on time and on budget. That should be written on a stone tablet somewhere.

“The iPhone 6 was supposed to have a sapphire display. More than a year ago, Apple turned to GT Advanced Technologies, the now-bankrupt supplier, to solve its longstanding problems with scratched and cracked displays. But as soon as the two companies signed an agreement, their relationship became riddled with complications. In the ensuing year, as chronicled in detail by the Wall Street Journal, everything shifted. Apple originally wanted to buy furnaces with which to make sapphire itself, before changing its mind and deciding to simply buy the produced sapphire from GT. But GT couldn’t make sapphire at the volume and quantity Apple wanted, and the relationship splintered over and over until it broke.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/19/7250941/the-inside-story-of-why-the-iphone-6-doesnt-have-a-sapphire-screen

17) Corning’s newest Gorilla Glass gets twice as tough

Shattered displays are a big problem, but they are mainly due to the desire to have no bezel. In my experience, devices rarely fall “face down” but “edge on” (hence the need for a shock absorbing bezel), so I am rather skeptical of the idea this product will somehow be that much of an improvement. The invocation of “artificial sapphire” as a competitor is rather amusing given the fate of GT Advanced Technologies (see item 16).

“Corning is working on saving your phone from the dreaded front-screen spider web. The company on Thursday unveiled Gorilla Glass 4, the latest version of its leading hardened cover glass for smartphones and tablets. Corning claims the new material is about twice as tough as its predecessor, Gorilla Glass 3, which should help prevent even more cracked screens.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/cornings-newest-gorilla-glass-gets-twice-as-tough/

18) Futuristic fuel cell charger still no match for old-fashioned batteries

Let’s see: its extremely expensive, heavy, large, and one cartridge is good for 5 charges, though probably less than that, which at £10 ($17) ain’t cheap, so I don’t expect to see long lineups to buy this thing. I do wish people would give up on the “hydrogen is a clean energy source” thing. It is nothing of the sort. It is expensive, hard to produce and transport, and is usually made from fossil fuels or electricity which is produced from fossil fuels.

“Clean energy could change the world, which is why lots of people are excited about fuel cell technology. The Upp fuel cell charger is one of the first consumer fuel cell products, converting hydrogen into electricity without any harmful by-products to charge your phone when you’re far from home. The Upp is a USB charger into which you plug a cartridge£ containing hydrogen, forming a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell. It works by creating a chemical reaction that produces electricity. The only by-products are heat and water vapour.”

http://www.cnet.com/products/upp-fuel-cell-charger/

19) Monkeys Steer Wheelchairs With Their Brains, Raising Hope for Paralyzed People

The article actually covers a broader discussion than cyborg monkeys, so if you are interested in human/brain interfaces and the potential to help paralyzed people you should click through. The technology is moving at a remarkable pace and there is reason to be hopeful these systems will find there way onto the market within the next five years. I strongly suspect non-invasive systems are likely to be adopted before those requiring brain surgery, however, that probably depends on the degree of disability.

“Experimental wheelchairs and exoskeletons controlled by thought alone offer surprising insights into the brain, neuroscientists reported on Monday. Best known for his experimental exoskeleton that helped a paralyzed man kick the opening ball for June’s World Cup in Brazil, Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis presented the latest “brain-machine interface” findings from his team’s “Walk Again Project” at the Society for Neuroscience meeting.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/11/141118-exoskeleton-neuroscience-brain-monkey-wheelchair-science/

20) Android 5.0 Feature: Google Updates Smart Lock on Lollipop to Include Trusted Places

My smartphone updated itself yesterday so I am just starting to get used to the bells and whistles of Android 5.0. It would be helpful if the instructions provided by Google somehow even indirectly reflected what you are supposed to do to use updated apps, etc., but that is to dream. This feature does appear to be particularly useful, even though I can’t get “trusted places” to work because of a major bug in Google Maps.

“When Android 5.0 “Lollipop” went into a final preview build shortly after being announced by Google, we ran through a series of features to make sure you knew all about the awesomeness that was about to grace your phone or tablet. One of those features was Smart Lock, which is Google’s take on Trusted Devices, a feature that uses Bluetooth or NFC (or your face in Lollipop) to allow you to bypass secure lock screens when you are near, but securely lock the device when you need it most. We are happy to report today that Google has added a new and incredibly useful feature to Smart Lock, thanks to the latest Google Play Services 6.5 update that began rolling out yesterday. That’s right, Smart Lock just got better without a system update.”

http://www.droid-life.com/2014/11/18/android-5-0-feature-google-updates-smart-lock-on-lollipop-to-include-trusted-places/

 

 

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 14th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 14th 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!

Back to slow news flow in tech. Setting aside comments made by Obama regarding “net neutrality” and the hysterical reaction on all sides, nothing really happened of significance this past week. (Net neutrality itself is a fascinating and important subject but not really the sort of thing I can cover in detail on the GRL).

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

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS

This is a very long, sometimes tedious, story about the training a London cab driver goes through before being allowed to ply their trade. Their depth of knowledge of London is quite remarkable and I have always been impressed by their professionalism. Of course, the problem is we are not only in the GPS era but the smartphone era as well. Drivers can be guided just as well with GPS and knowledge of the local sites are just a Google search away. Sad to say, in 10 years or less, “The Knowledge” will be history.

“McCabe had spent the last three years of his life thinking about London’s roads and landmarks, and how to navigate between them. In the process, he had logged more than 50,000 miles on motorbike and on foot, the equivalent of two circumnavigations of the Earth, nearly all within inner London’s dozen boroughs and the City of London financial district. He was studying to be a London taxi driver, devoting himself full-time to the challenge that would earn him a cabby’s “green badge” and put him behind the wheel of one of the city’s famous boxy black taxis.”

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/london-taxi-test-knowledge/

2) Lyft Begins Commuter Service for Adobe to Stripe

Lyft and Uber are characterized as emerging tech titans engaged in a battle to the death over ride service supremacy. They do provide a useful service which is in many cases a lot better than traditional taxis, however, that it probably more due to the lack of motivation for improvement in the previously well-protected taxi industry. Ultimately, of course, there are no true barriers to entry to the Uber/Lyft model – no “secret sauce” and nothing either can do which the other, or a new entrant cannot easily reproduce. At the end of the day, these are just car services and not worth the valuations investors are placing on them. Thanks to my son Ali for this article.

“Lyft Inc., the mobile ride-sharing application that competes with car-booking service Uber Technologies Inc., has partnered with 29 U.S. companies to start a commuter service. Under the program, dubbed Lyft for Work, companies including mobile-payments startup Stripe Inc. and software maker Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE:US) will give their employees credits to use Lyft to get to and from work, Chief Executive Officer Logan Green said in an interview. Companies can choose when to give out the credits so workers use the service at certain times, with Stripe only giving credits so people who work late can take rides home from the office after 7 p.m., he said.”

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-11-13/lyft-begins-commuter-service-for-adobe-to-stripe

3) The pitfalls and promise of Internet.org and Project Loon

Rumors SpaceX would launch an LEOSat constellation for global Internet service caused a fair bit of excitement – at least for those who hadn’t heard of LEOSats when they we all the raged in the prior Internet bubble. In theory the idea makes sense, but in practice, well there are problems. LEOSats are inherently short-lived, and the reality of spacecraft is by the time the constellation is up and running it will be obsolete. This article provides some figures which suggest that Internet access in the developing world is moving at quite a pace which brings into question all such exotic schemes.

“Unfortunately, the understandable enthusiasm around these projects has totally outpaced their feasibility. The keystone components of each – exotic new airborne platforms to beam internet down upon the earth – are sheer technologist fantasy. Improving connectivity in the developing world is happening, and several “new billion” users are waiting to access the digital world – but very little of that will have anything to do with either Google or Facebook. Here’s why. It’s estimated that there will be three billion humans with internet access by the end of 2014. (That’s up from two billion in 2010 and and one billion in 2005 – the pace is accelerating.) For the majority of internet users today, and certainly going forward, fixed connections (PCs) are not the first or primary experience of internet connectivity – it’s mobile devices, primarily smartphones.”

http://www.bullishdata.com/2014/08/13/pitfalls-and-promise-of-internet-org-and-project-loon/

4) Mac OS X Yosemite disables third-party SSD driver support

Aw shucks! It looks like an Apple security feature also happens to disable non-Apple Solid State Drives if you have the copious misfortune to upgrade your Apple OS, even if those SSDs worked perfectly well prior to the update. Go figure! Its almost like Apple prefers you pay them a sizable premium for their own branded SSDs. I figure if you are paying over a 100% premium for last year’s hardware in a new Apple laptop, why not?

“APPLE HAS QUIETLY DISABLED software driver support for third-party solid state disk (SSD) drives in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite by default, leaving some unsuspecting Mac users with third-party SSDs as boot drives unable to boot their machines. Mac users who have Apple SSDs in their machines won’t notice, of course, but the change can present a vexing problem for professional Mac users like graphic designers and video editors who have Macs with third-party SSD drives installed and use the third-party Trim Enabler software driver.”

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2381264/mac-os-x-yosemite-disables-third-party-ssd-driver-support

5) Android User Takes Apple To Federal Court Over Undelivered Text Messages

No doubt it is just an oversight on Apple’s part than transitioning away from an Apple product results in lost text messages. Of course, it is hard to believe users of a proprietary system – especially one from Apple – would work smoothly after the change. I can scarcely claim to have complete knowledge of all such systems but people might consider moving to an app such as Viber, which is cross platform and includes remarkably high quality free voice calls.

“Apple will soon face a federal lawsuit brought on by a woman named Adrienne Moore, who, like many former iPhone users who have switched to Android, is upset that she did not receive text messages after switching from iPhone to Android. She is seeking unspecified damages, and to make the lawsuit a class action. Since the release of iOS 5, Apple has experienced issues with users not receiving text messages after switching from iMessage on an iPhone to an Android device. iMessage works by sending messages over the users data plan, theoretically saving that user money on text messages. If a message fails to go through on iMessage, it’s supposed to default back to text message.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/11/android-user-takes-apple-to-federal-court-over-undelivered-text-messages/

6) Apparently, Apple thinks a lot of you are going to buy its Watch

I have no idea whether or not 30 – 40 million units is more than investors expect, however, it doesn’t seem like a big number for Apple. In any event, wearables have shown themselves to be a solution in search of a problem and, since iWatches only work with the latest iPhones, I would be astonished if the product is a commercial success.

“According to a new report it looks like Apple is expecting a lot of people to buy Apple Watch. When Apple announced its wearable, it clearly had a lot of confidence, and it sounds like it’s putting its money where its mouth is. Chip suppliers that are involved with providing the parts for the Apple Watch have apparently been given orders for around 30 to 40 million units, according to DigiTimes.”

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/apparently-apple-thinks-a-lot-of-you-are-going-to-buy-its-watch-1272934

7) Neil Harbisson: The man who hears colour

Frankly, its hard to figure out if this story and video are a joke or the real deal. After all, it does discuss a guy who walks around with an “antenna” apparently permanently affixed to his skull. Setting aside the generalized goofiness of the this (which might actually appeal to an artist) there is the question about where the antenna goes when he wants to sleep. You’d think somebody would have mentioned that, say, an earpiece, might be a more elegant solution.

“Neil Harbisson is an artist who was born completely colour blind. His life changed when he decided to have an antenna surgically implanted into his skull that enabled him to “hear” colour. Now he identifies each colour with a particular musical note – even the ones we can’t see. In 2010 he founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organisation that helps others to permanently implant technology into their bodies.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-29992577

8) Microsoft Open Sources .NET, Saying It Will Run on Linux and Mac

Open sourcing .NET (or, rather, parts thereof) is an interesting move on the part of Microsoft. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late as so much of the web has moved to Java or open source clones of the Java Runtime Environment. Plus, there remains dark and lingering mistrust of Microsoft’s motives: in the past it has often embraced, then strangled, open formats and there is no reason to believe this decision is any different. Time will tell whether Linux developers in particular adopt .NET now they have the option to.

“Satya Nadella’s rapid reinvention of Microsoft continues. In yet another bid to make up lost ground in the long march to the future of computing, Microsoft is now open sourcing the very foundation of .NET—the software that millions of developers use to build and operate websites and other large online applications—and it says this free code will eventually run not only on computer servers that use its own Windows operating system, but also atop machines equipped with Linux or Apple’s Mac OS, Microsoft’s two main operating system rivals.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/11/microsoft-open-sources-net-says-will-run-linux-mac/

9) Lighter, cheaper radio wave device could transform telecommunications

I had to look this up. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circulator) “A circulator is a passive non-reciprocal three- or four-port device, in which a microwave or radio frequency signal entering any port is transmitted to the next port in rotation (only).” This provides isolation to the various ports, allowing, for example, an antenna to be used for receiving and transmitting at the same time as with a duplexer in a two way radio. As the article suggests, traditional circulator designs tend to be quite bulky, therefor this sounds like it could be a big deal.

“Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have achieved a milestone in modern wireless and cellular telecommunications, creating a radically smaller, more efficient radio wave circulator that could be used in cellphones and other wireless devices, as reported in the latest issue of Nature Physics.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141110124146.htm

10) LED lighting to grow to $25.7bn in 2015 as penetration of lighting market reaches 31%

My rule of thumb is that industry studies aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, and this is no exception. Nevertheless, this short piece provides some facts, figures, and forecasts, most of which are probably inaccurate. The important thing to remember about LEDs is that they are very long lived – unlike other light sources – and highly resistant to breakage. Therefore, the market will quickly plateau and decline once it is saturated.

“The global LED lighting market will reach $25.66bn and its market penetration will rise to 31% in 2015 as the overall lighting market grows to $82.1bn, according to a report by LEDinside, a division of Taiwan-based market intelligence firm TrendForce. Despite its lack of large-scale subsidies for LED lighting users, Europe is the largest LED lighting market, comprising 23% of the LED lighting market says LEDinside assistant manager Joanne Wu. She adds that in Europe (where electricity prices are high) demand for LED lighting for commercial and architectural lighting applications is increasing.”

http://www.semiconductor-today.com/news_items/2014/NOV/LEDINSIDE_061114.shtml

11) Automakers pledge to protect driver privacy

This sure sounds nice, but don’t for a moment believe it. Essentially the automakers are attempting to head off regulatory action, not provide anything remotely resembling privacy. This sort of “commitment” and self-regulation has no legal weight, and, even if it did, you can rest assured you would have to sign off an “End User License Agreement” which would force you to sign away all your privacy rights and, doubtless, even the right to sue in the event of breach. The fact is, companies cannot be trusted with your data, and the only hope the consumer has is legal restrictions on its use. Unfortunately, governments oblivious to the importance of the Internet, let alone the power of data, are unlikely to act.

“The two major U.S. auto trade associations told the Federal Trade Commission they will pledge to protect driver privacy amid a rise in vehicle technology and increasingly connected vehicles. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others — and the Association of Global Automakers, representing Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. and others — said they were backing a set of principles guaranteeing the privacy of drivers.”

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/2014/11/13/automakers-pledge-protect-driver-privacy/18947887/

12) Startups can now buy insurance against threat of patent trolls

True patent trolls are basically legal firms engaged in a traditional shakedown racket. Since the price of defending a patent suit is quite high, especially in the US where “loser pays” is only now entering the equation, they offer a comparatively modest “license fee” to avoid and expensive suit. This is, of course, much like my cousin Guido offering to “protect” you against having your legs broken by him. “Patent Troll” insurance, completes the cycle: by offering to cover legal costs, it rebalances the situation, much like Guido might offer to protect you against having your legs broken by an unnamed third party (presumably, in this case, including RPX).

“RPX is sometimes called a “defensive patent aggregator.” The company’s main business is to sell expensive memberships to big companies, then buy up patents that are being used, or could be used in the future, by “patent trolls” to sue them. It’s an extremely profitable business—this year, RPX is expecting to earn $56 million on $256 million in revenue. That’s allowed RPX to expand into other business lines. Earlier this year, it started offering protection from trolls, which RPX calls non-practicing entities or NPEs, through an old-fashioned product: insurance. By paying an annual premium, companies could get their legal fees covered if (or when) they get hit with a patent troll lawsuit. RPX also became authorized as a coverholder at Lloyd’s.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/11/startups-can-now-buy-insurance-against-threat-of-patent-trolls/

13) iPads, Chromebooks Are Winning the School Market

Once upon a time the school market was important because it set the stage for what students would use as they became adults. Today’s youth are much less wedded to specific operating systems and applications, therefore the education market probably no longer provides the leverage it once did for vendors. Nonetheless, as a parent it frustrates me to learn of a school “investing” in iPads when functionally equivalent Android tablets are available for one-quarter the price.

“While it is possible to purchase a small Windows laptop for about the same price of a basic Chromebook, the associated management and support costs are enormous in comparison. Also Chromebooks are pre-loaded with apps such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, with similar functionality to Microsoft’s Office. Schools can easily provision each Chromebook with specific educational apps, remotely wipe the entire device in seconds, and reuse the laptop for a new class without purchasing any more licenses. There is no manual setup for different users and the machines are administered throughout the school, no matter how many Chrome devices they have, or where they’re being used. Google claims that there is no manual maintenance, security patching, or time-consuming support.”

http://www.ubmfuturecities.com/author.asp?section_id=407&doc_id=526893

14) A German Cloud Company Is Offering Free Heat If You Have Room for Some of Its Servers

Sure. Why not? Consumers pay for a system which costs about as much as a standard heating system (while producing a small amount of heat) and then they get “free” heat and cold water, except, of course, they paid for the server and heat exchanger. Unfortunately, as computing performance increases, the value of the cloud services produced by said server will be less than the value of the electricity within two or three years. Meanwhile investors in Cloud&Heat finance the operation of systems which offer a commodity service with rapidly dropping costs and which have a useful life measured in months. Losers all around.

“Cloud&Heat is a cloud infrastructure company that has started distributing its servers to people who want to store them in exchange for free heat in their homes or offices. Since servers generate so much excess heat and cloud companies have to spend a lot to cool them, the idea to repurpose the waste heat isn’t new. In fact, Qarnot, a French cloud company, is working on a similar program to Cloud&Heat’s. But as Datacenter Dynamics reports, Cloud&Heat is ahead in terms of implementing the idea.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/11/11/cloud_heat_is_putting_servers_in_homes_and_offices_and_the_heat_from_them.html

15) Graphene-Based Supercapacitors Could Lead To Battery-Free Electric Cars Within 5 Years

No. No it won’t. Graphene costs upwards of $1,000 a gram so reporting any breakthrough technology involving graphene is a bit like reporting about new windows made of diamond, except diamond is cheaper. Setting aside the overblown hype, graphene is carbon and once somebody figures out how to mass produce for about 100,000 to million times less than it costs now, this sort of theoretical research will become very useful. However, while progress is being made in reducing the cost of graphene you should not expect an order of magnitude improvement per year.

“Batteries seem to be the limiting factor in the popularity of electric cars. They are one of the most expensive components of the vehicle, and have limited range compared with gasoline powered vehicles. While there have been some impressive advances in recent years, a team of researchers have created a supercapacitor film that could replace the need for a battery altogether within the next five years. The collaboration between scientists at Rice University and Queensland University of Technology resulted in two papers, published in Journal of Power Sources and Nanotechnology.”

http://www.iflscience.com/technology/graphene-based-supercapacitors-could-eliminate-batteries-electric-cars-within-5-years

16) Pansaonic Eluga S now joins ‘selfie phone’ bandwagon: Is mobile innovation slowly dying?

The article is firmly tongue in cheek, however, I agree with the overall theme, namely that new smartphones have few novel features, relying on slightly larger displays, slightly higher resolution, slightly thinner, slightly better cameras, to motivate consumer purchases. When this happens in a technology market, pricing plummets, margins contract, and there is a shake out in the market. While I do not expect them to disappear, it strikes me Apple, which occupies the premium segment of the market, is the most vulnerable to a rapid and permanent decline in pricing.

“Panasonic is the next to jump on the selfie phone bandwagon with the Eluga S. However they are not the first. Sony pipped it to the post with the Xperia C3 and Microsoft has also followed with its Lumia 720, phones that are bound to figure on every narcissist’s bucket list. We’ve also seen budget selfie phones like the recently launched Lava Iris Selfie 50. All we need now is for Samsung to join the bandwagon and we can officially put selfie-phones into a separate category. That would also help in identifying people who are buying these phones and give us enough time to dispatch them off to Mars, because selfies look better with low gravity. We have to put a stop to this madness.”

http://tech.firstpost.com/news-analysis/pansaonic-eluga-s-now-joins-selfie-phone-bandwagon-is-mobile-innovation-slowly-dying-228197.html

17) Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland

It is easy to criticize a move like this, but North Americans in particular might reflect on the fact that similar proclamations were made here with respect to electricity and telephone service in the early 1900s. Both electric and telephone are far more expensive to deploy than Internet service, however, the statesmen of the time (they existed back then) recognized these infrastructure programs where extremely important to the development of a modern industrialized economy. Alas, the vision of Finnish politicians is not shared here, where the entrenched interests of the telecommunications providers trump the needs of the public.

“Finland has become the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access a legal right. Starting in July, telecommunication companies in the northern European nation will be required to provide all 5.2 million citizens with Internet connection that runs at speeds of at least 1 megabit per second. The one-megabit mandate, however, is simply an intermediary step, said Laura Vilkkonen, the legislative counselor for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.”

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/15/finland.internet.rights/index.html

18) Seagate preps for 30TB laser-assisted hard drives

The Hard Disk industry is an excellent example of the power of innovation. Vendors have continuously pushed the envelope with respect to recording density and cost reduction, keeping pace or even exceeding the pace of Moore’s Law: a two TB hard disk is about 1 million times less expensive per bit that original PC-XT hard hard, a factor of 10, more or less, more than the improvement of the CPU. The thing is, HDD has achieved “feature saturation” meaning more storage is not as valued as the low power consumption, speed, and reliability offered by Solid State Drives. True disruption of the HDD business may occur if HP commercializes memristor storage as expected within a few years.

“Seagate Technology is boosting investments in laser-assisted hard disk drive technology that it projects will allow it to increase capacity five-fold. The laser technology, known as heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), is able to write smaller, more-stable bits onto the magnetic surface of a spinning disk. Today, Seagate’s largest capacity drive using conventional recording is 6TB. Using HAMR, that capacity could theoretically increase to 30TB.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2846415/seagate-preps-for-30tb-laser-assisted-hard-drives.html

19) Computers Are Writing Novels, But Do You Really Want To Read Them?

Most of the stuff on Singularity Hub is complete rubbish and this article is not an exception. However it does explore a number of relatively interesting topics and trends. The conclusion appears to be that if you define literature as art, and that “art” includes incoherent assemblages of words with no meaning (a la Burroughs) then the answer is yes. All things considered, such productions could be no less rambling or incoherent than a Dan Brown novel, and more likely better grounded in history or science.

“It’s 10pm, November 30th, 2013. An author, aiming to finish a novel in November, takes up his laptop and begins typing furiously. By midnight, he’s completed I Got a Alligator for a Pet. A world record? No, just a clever bit of code. I Got a Alligator for a Pet, written by a developer’s computer program, was part of National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo), a competition in which programmers write apps that automatically generate at least 50,000 words. Emulating National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—a November tradition where authors attempt to complete an entire novel (start to finish) in a month—developer and internet artist Darius Kazemi started NaNoGenMo last year.”

http://singularityhub.com/2014/11/09/computers-are-writing-novels-but-do-you-really-want-to-read-them/

20) Blackberry slowly seeing success

The implosion of large high tech firms follow a familiar path. The managers who brought the company to the heights of success and hailed as geniuses depart one at a time. New managers are brought in, individually they are first promoted as saviors, then as being “unable to execute”. What is important is what is going on behinds the scenes: the most talented engineers are usually first out the door or a close second after layoffs begin. It becomes impossible to hire creative talent to a plague ship and you end up with a hollowed out shell of a company which outwardly looks like it is turning the corner. So, no, Blackberry is not “slowly seeing success” and this article presents no support for the hypothesis. It is simply in a different phase of its slide to irrelevance.

“Blackberry has sold assets, eliminated partnerships to lower manufacturing costs and received cash by selling real estate holdings in Waterloo, Ontario; the hometown of Blackberry. The company has also expanded app offerings to help create profit. Even though the company has not turned steady profits, yet; Chen has bought small companies to help the Blackberry company towards investing in growth.”

http://www.digitaljournal.com/technology/blackberry-slowly-seeing-success/article/414252

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th 2014

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th 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 was a comparatively busy week for tech news. Despite a couple of launch failures – and one death – in the private space business, none the of the related articles were particularly noteworthy. Of all things, Hewlett-Packard generated some level of interest in a couple of apparently transformational products and there was a fair bit of news concerning automotive technology.

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

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Cree Engineers a Cheaper LED Bulb by Losing the Heat Sink

The LED lighting industry faces a conundrum: prices have to come down a lot in order for consumers to adopt the technology – despite the substantial lifetime energy savings – and yet LED lamps last so long, once the market is saturated, demand should drop precipitously. There is some hope in the prospect LED lighting is so energy efficient low prices will spur adoption in the developing world, which will broaden the market considerably. One thing about this device, however: I have to wonder about the vents: if they are not small enough, bugs will get inside (I have this problem with my smoke alarms).

“Heat sinks have made LED bulbs the freaks of the lighting world. Metal collars and other heat sinks serve to draw away heat from LEDs to ensure long life, but they also give LED bulbs an unfamiliar, bulky look and add to their costs. LED maker Cree on Tuesday is introducing a new consumer bulb that does away with the metal heat sink seen on most LED bulbs. The dimmable bulbs come with a lower cost, too: $7.97 for a 40-watt and 60-watt equivalent, down from $9.97 for a “soft white” version. The “daylight” version with whiter light costs $8.97.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/semiconductors/devices/cree-loses-heat-sink-to-engineer-cheaper-led-bulb

2) You Are Not the Product: The Coming Revolution in Social Networks

Social media is a mystery to me: why would I want to share personal details, photographs, etc., with a corporation let alone people I hardly know? Evidently, I am in the stark minority, although I am clearly not the only one concerned about corporate data mining. There has been a bit of discussion around emerging models of social media which do not make the content provider the product. Whether or not these schemes actually become successful and/or hold true to their purported mission, is another matter.

“This idea that we are just products for advertisers pops up in lots of online conversations, a reflection of the current state of our advertising-driven social networks. These networks were built on TV’s old business model of “I sell your eyeballs and give you interesting stuff to watch in exchange.” They’ve just modified that model a bit so that now, in addition to attention, we also surrender our personal data. Oh, and now we’re the ones supplying most of that “interesting stuff” to watch. That’s why I’ve gotten excited over a flurry of recent announcements painting an alternative vision for social networks …”

http://www.the-vital-edge.com/not-the-product/

3) HP’s move into 3D printing will radically change manufacturing

One can scarcely consider ill informed anonymous comments made on Reddit to be representative of market interest in the launch of HP’s novel industrial 3D printer which we covered last week. HP is a company which has made plenty of mistakes but which should not be underestimated, especially where their expertise in printing is concerned. Ultimately, we will have to reserve judgment until the new machine hits the market, however, in terms of specs it looks very impressive.

“Cynicism aside, HP is a $112 billion company whose products span the corporate and consumer marketplace, and it can bring to bear 30 years of 2D printer R&D on the 3D printer space. Simply put, the move is unprecedented. “There’s a lot of parallels between document printing and 3D printing, so our company’s been looking at HP for a long time, thinking it’s an excellent candidate to enter this market place,” said Terry Wohlers, president of research firm Wohlers Associates. Recently, Wohlers said he was given a demonstration of HP’s new Multi Jet Fusion printer and was “blown away” by the speed, quality, feature details of printed items and by the brilliant colors it produces.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2841414/hps-move-into-3d-printing-will-radically-change-manufacturing.html

4) HP’s radical new Machine could start computing by 2016

I’m not on the HP bandwagon or anything, however, this week there was also a bit more information released regarding HP’s “Machine” computer. It is not immediately clear to me launching a supercomputer with a comparatively novel architecture is destined for success, however, most likely HP has some sense of customer needs. What is most interesting is the likelihood the Machine will be the first commercial launch of memristor memory, and that could be a very big deal indeed. Memristors are high speed, non-volatile memory equally adept at main memory (i.e. DRAM) or mass storage – or so the story goes. That would be a very big deal indeed. See also http://www8.hp.com/hpnext/posts/end-necessary-evil-collapsing-memory-hierarchy#.VFRs__nF98E for more information on HP’s approach and the potential impact of memristor technology.

“Hewlett-Packard’s efforts to usher in an entirely new computer architecture, one potentially much faster and simpler, may bear fruit by the end of 2016, when the company’s lab expects to have the first prototype machine based on its design. Should HP’s Machine architecture prove successful, everyone in the IT business, from computer scientists to system administrators, may have to rethink their jobs, judging by a talk HP Labs Director Martin Fink gave at the Software Freedom Law Center’s 10th anniversary conference Friday in New York.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2842252/hps-radical-new-machine-could-start-computing-by-2016.html

5) Why Silicon Valley doesn’t care about Android

It is abundantly clear North Americans associate smartphones with iPhone and little else. The cynicism associated with Android simply ignores the fact Android has a much larger and expanding market share (see item 6), a situation which I believe will magnify as smartphone pricing collapses. The main drawback to Android is its architectural diversification, which makes development more challenging. Ultimately, that is also its strength: backing a single horse only works when that horse wins. Eventually developers will realize this.

“Based on my experience meeting hundreds of startup founders and VCs in both San Francisco and New York, few professionals in America’s tech hubs have owned an Android phone or believe in the opportunity of the platform. Meanwhile, the growth and prevalence of Android around the globe shows that there’s a massive platform shift going on right now–the type of event that historically has marked a point when one company achieves market dominance. If there is such a shift and opportunity under going on, why don’t the most innovative people in the most successful tech cities in the world care?”

http://qz.com/292044/why-silicon-valley-doesnt-care-about-android/

6) Android is edging out iOS in the global tablet market

The future ain’t what it used to be for tablets – growth of 11.5% (which is a unit figure and therefore meaningless within the context of dropping prices) would have been disappointing for declining years of the PC industry. Tablets have limited utility compared to laptops and, as smartphones get larger, they become redundant for many applications. Why carry a tablet and a smartphone if your smartphone does most everything the tablet does and costs the same?

“First it came for Apple’s smartphones and now it’s going after Apple’s tablets too: Android’s global army of low-cost tablets means that it’s gaining in terms of overall share, although Apple remains the single biggest individual vendor. Overall, the tablet market grew by 11.5 percent worldwide according to the latest report from IDC, with 53.8 million tablets sold in the last quarter. Apple may have some shiny new iPads on the market but the slice of the pie claimed by iOS has dropped to 22.8 percent from 29.2 percent at the same point last year. Android makes up the bulk of the remainder though IDC didn’t specify an exact percentage — Windows tablets and other niche platforms will account for part of those sales. Samsung has an 18.3 percent share of the tablet market worldwide, but that too has dropped from 19.3 percent in 2013.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/android-edging-ios-global-tablet-market/

7) GM to roll out Android cars in 2016, supplier says

This refers to infotainment systems (radio, navigation, etc.) and not engine control and it seems like the logical choice. Historically, infotainment system developers have built some sort of home brew OS, however, that fails to leverage the strength of existing applications, drivers, and development tools. Although Android is closely identified with Google, as an open source project auto manufacturers are not handing over the keys to the kingdom as they would with Apple’s iOS or even Windows. I expect most vendors will come to the same conclusion eventually.

“More than 1 billion mobile devices, from smartphones and tablet computers to computerized wristwatches, use Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Next up? Chevrolets and Cadillacs. So says supplier Harman International, which won a $900 million contract from General Motors in 2012 to supply a next-generation infotainment system. Harman’s system will be based on Android, and is scheduled to launch in GM vehicles in late 2016, Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal revealed last week during a conference call discussing quarterly earnings.”

http://www.autonews.com/article/20141104/OEM06/141109954/gm-to-roll-out-android-cars-in-2016-supplier-says

8) Mercedes, VW to put brakes on Google’s in-car data inroads

This is the drawback to opening your systems to the likes of Google, Apple, or Microsoft and speaks to the advantages of ‘forking’ Android, or otherwise creating a sandbox around proprietary or owner data. If nothing else, this would be desirable for safety reasons. Of course, this is a similar problem to that encountered by carriers and even end users of smartphones. Typically it is dealt with through acknowledging a lengthy EULA which nobody reads, let alone understands.

“Volkswagen Group and Mercedes-Benz called on fellow automakers to establish separate platforms for data on vehicle use to avoid handing over sensitive customer information to Google. “We seek connection to Google’s data systems but we still want to be the masters of our own cars,” VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn said Thursday at an industry conference here. “Potential conflict arises around making data available.” With consumers increasingly expecting seamless connectivity, automakers are making more Internet services available in their vehicles as well as outfitting cars with systems that allow them to communicate with one another.”

http://www.autonews.com/article/20141031/COPY01/310319952/mercedes-vw-to-put-brakes-on-googles-in-car-data-inroads

9) Former NSA’s chief lawyer: BlackBerry’s encryption efforts led to its demise

This is a pretty silly comment which got a lot of coverage this week. Setting aside the rather dubious assertion that Blackberry encryption is secure from the NSA, and whether a lawyer would have any insight into the actual operations of the NSA, if you made a list of things leading to the looming demise of Blackberry, its encryption policy would be far down the list. Nearer the top was ignoring customer needs, relying on its market position to maintain its market position, senior executive infighting, etc.. In other words, all the things which kill most other high tech one-trick ponies.

“BlackBerry’s core feature, encrypted email and messaging, was its downfall, according to former National Security Agency general counsel Stewart Baker. Speaking at Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland, Baker said (among other things) BlackBerry’s demise was in part due to its encryption efforts, which in recent months both Apple and Google have pushed to replicate. BlackBerry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now. That has not ended well for BlackBerry,” Baker told Guardian editor James Ball at the event.”

http://www.zdnet.com/former-nsas-chief-lawyer-blackberrys-encryption-efforts-led-to-its-demise-7000035459/

10) Critics chafe as Macs send sensitive docs to iCloud without warning

The great thing about cloud services which are a customary part of most new OS releases is that they provide an automatic backup for your files. The bad news is, they also provide a single point of failure for anybody keen on accessing whatever you are working on. Furthermore, the US Patriot Act requires US companies to turn over data stored on their servers, and not just because of suspected terror activity. So, if you are working on anything which is, in any way, sensitive to disclosure (say corporate documents, legal briefs, patent filings, investment research, source code, etc.) be warned.

“Representing a potential privacy snare for some users, Mac OS X Yosemite uploads documents opened in TextEdit, Preview, and Keynote to iCloud servers by default, even if the files are later closed without ever having been saved. The behavior, as noted in an article from Slate, is documented in a Knowledge Base article from December. But it nonetheless came as a surprise to researcher Jeffrey Paul, who said he was alarmed to recently discover a cache of in-progress files he intended to serve as “temporary Post-It notes” that had been silently uploaded to his iCloud account even though he never intended or wished them to be. “Apple has taken local files on my computer not stored in iCloud and silently and without my permission uploaded them to their servers,” Paul wrote in a recent blog post.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/11/critics-chafe-as-macs-send-sensitive-docs-to-icloud-without-warning/

11) Germany Proposes Bill Demanding Foreign Tech Firms’ Source Code to Combat Spying

I red somewhere that Germany had bad experiences with national security states in the past. Seriously, at least their hearts are in the right place with this initiation, even though it is practically meaningless, especially for proprietary software. First, it can be very hard to detect “back doors” in code, even if you have the source. After all, a lot of software security problems are from bad software, not malfeasance. Second, proprietary software is now updated with remarkable regularity, meaning “source code inspectors” would rapidly be overwhelmed. Switching to open source software would apply more eyes would be on the problem and allow the government to act as a gatekeeper for changes.

“Technology firms that sell software to the German government or companies critical to its security would likely be forced to reveal their top-secret source code to the authorities, as the powerful European country seeks to guard itself against snooping after revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The German government has proposed a new bill in the name of state security, potentially excluding US tech companies from its digital economy, and the proposal is expected to become law, according to media reports.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/germany-proposes-bill-demanding-foreign-tech-firms-source-code-combat-spying-1473039

12) Germany’s top publisher bows to Google in news licensing row

Call it the law of unintended consequences: who would have thought that blocking search engines results in fewer people looking at your website? Its almost like people find things on the web through search engines, rather than linearly reading websites as they do a newspaper. Who knew?

“Germany’s biggest news publisher Axel Springer has scrapped a move to block Google from running snippets of articles from its newspapers, saying that the experiment had caused traffic to its sites to plunge. Springer said a two-week-old experiment to restrict access by Google to some of its publications had caused web traffic to plunge for these sites, leading it to row back and let Google once again showcase Springer news stories in its search results.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/05/us-google-axel-sprngr-idUSKBN0IP1YT20141105

13) Pianist asks The Washington Post to remove a concert review under the E.U.’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling

You may recall that a number of months ago the EU produced a ruling which led to the “right to be forgotten”. In some ways this makes sense: if someone has been slandered, the slander can remain a “top hit” on a web search long after the slanderer has been sanctioned. Of course, like any law, “right to be forgotten” can be abused as this example shows. Whats next – removal of all bad restaurant or product reviews? I look forward to the day history can be scrubbed of all my failed predictions and bad stock recommendations.

“The pianist Dejan Lazic, like many artists and performers, is occasionally the subject of bad reviews. Also like other artists, he reads those reviews. And disagrees with them. And gripes over them, sometimes. But because Lazic lives in Europe, where in May the European Union ruled that individuals have a “right to be forgotten” online, he decided to take the griping one step further: On Oct. 30, he sent The Washington Post a request to remove a 2010 review by Post classical music critic Anne Midgette that – he claims — has marred the first page of his Google results for years.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/10/31/pianist-asks-the-washington-post-to-remove-a-concert-review-under-the-e-u-s-right-to-be-forgotten-ruling/

14) Users can’t tell Facebook from a scam

This is probably a study in the criminal mind and, in a strange sort of way, evolutionary theory. Evidently, criminals are able to parse the personalities of their victims well beyond the traditional con artist’s exploitation of greed. The form of scams are clearly dictated by natural selection as users decide which ones work – thereby infecting their systems and providing positive feedback to the criminals. One would think Facebook could screen user’s pages for malicious content and clickbait. After all, it does represent competition for them.

“A new whitepaper from antivirus company Bitdefender examined 850,000 Facebook scams over two years, showing the psychology of those who get taken in and how Facebook’s own user experience enables these scams to flourish. In analyzing 850,000 scams spreading in countries such as the US, the UK, Australia, Germany, Spain, France and Saudi Arabia since October 2012, the researchers found that scammers have infected millions of users with the same tricks over and over again — just repackaged. Bitdefender’s study found out that there’s no such thing as a typical Facebook scam victim — instead, Facebook scams rely on five kinds of user experience clickbait that are products of, and work in concert with, Facebook’s psychological fabric.”

http://www.zdnet.com/users-cant-tell-facebook-from-a-scam-7000035440/

15) With $100 Million, Entrepreneur Sees Path to Disrupt Medical Imaging

Frankly this article would be a lot more credible if the entrepreneur didn’t come across as a used car salesman. One can see the potential in a small, low cost ultrasound imaging system, however, there are problems with the solution as posed. For example, generating the image data is one thing but actually processing that data to render a useable image is another thing completely, especially to the extent suggested by the article. The computational requirements are well beyond the processing power of a smartphone or even a state of the art PC.

“A scanner the size of an iPhone that you could hold up to a person’s chest and see a vivid, moving, 3-D image of what’s inside is being developed by entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg. Rothberg says he has raised $100 million to create a medical imaging device that’s nearly “as cheap as a stethoscope” and will “make doctors 100 times as effective.” The technology, which according to patent documents relies on a new kind of ultrasound chip, could eventually lead to new ways to destroy cancer cells with heat, or deliver information to brain cells.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532166/with-100-million-entrepreneur-sees-path-to-disrupt-medical-imaging/

16) UW study shows direct brain interface between humans

This is a follow up to a development we covered a number of months ago, but this time with a larger sample set. It is really impressive stuff and has considerable potential. Nonetheless, it is a long way from, for example, telepathy.

“Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language? University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.”

http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/11/05/uw-study-shows-direct-brain-interface-between-humans/

17) Will You Buy Accident-Free Cars?

This is a long article which covers the state of the art and near state of the art in vision systems for automobiles. As computational power continues to grow problems which were, until recently, science fiction, have become realizable. Unfortunately, “accident free” will only be achievable once a significant portion of vehicles are so equipped since all car accidents are caused by the other party. Even so, until fully autonomous vehicles are perfected there will still be collisions. Nevertheless, one fairly immediate payback to this technology, besides the obvious saving of lives, would be sharply reduced insurance costs.

“In a recent interview with EE Times, Freescale Semiconductor’s CEO Gregg Lowe talked about “cars that won’t get into accidents.” He said, “Imagine you have a 16-year-old who has just begun driving. I think people will pay more for a car that is nearly impossible to get into an accident.” Suddenly, it hit me. Obviously, safety’s important. But I keep thinking that automakers are overplaying the safety card, as a ploy to mothball older, “unsafe” jalopies and jack up sales of next-generation models with advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features and lots of new semiconductors inside. … Many ADAS features today, in fact, are much more advanced than the semi-autopilot features touted by Tesla’s newly unveiled all-wheel-drive Model S.”

http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1324504&

18) Electric Turbochargers: The Next Big Thing in Fuel Efficiency

Rather surprising nobody came up with this before. Turbochargers are devices which use the exhaust gases to drive a compressor to pack air into a car’s cylinders during the intake stroke, boosting horsepower. Exhaust driven turbochargers have their problems, the most commonly know is “turbo lag”, meaning the boost only happens as more exhaust is produced. However, using exhaust as a source of power comes with other, less known challenges including the fact exhaust gasses are very hot, which presents major challenges to reliability, plus “plumbing” a turbocharger can be extremely challenging. An electric version should fix all these problems, however, I’d be hesitant to buy a car with one until reliability has been demonstrated.

“The key to the next major advance in internal combustion engine fuel efficiency could well be the electric turbocharger. At a recent fuel economy technology showcase at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Valeo showed off the motor-driven turbo it will supply to an unannounced automaker. The first production applications are scheduled to begin arriving in 2016, according to the company.”

http://www.navigantresearch.com/blog/electric-turbochargers-the-next-big-thing-in-fuel-efficiency

19) Ads Are Coming to the Comments Section of Publisher Sites: Disqus’ sponsored messages will be targeted to what you say

Comments and reviews are increasingly a platform for paid content, though discretely so. Paid shills attack political products, countries, political parties, and so on. Most product reviews, even brief ones, are of questionable provenance, and therefore the positive ones in particular are best ignored. No doubt negative product reviews are also often paid for but at least you can do meaningful research on what they say. Now we have Disqus using your comment history to serve up advertising. Where will it end?

“You can tell a lot about people by their online comments, and that’s why Disqus believes it could be sitting on an advertising gold mine. The third-party comments service, which runs the discussion section on 3 million websites, is starting to show data-targeted sponsored comment ads. Disqus has 150 million users signed up for its service, which lets people leave comments across participating websites like CNBC, The Atlantic, ABC News, Rolling Stone and more niche sites like SuperHeroHype. Disqus would not specify what publishers would feature the comment ads. The San Francisco-based company mines comments, comment votes and comment context to target ads, which will now show up looking like part of the discussion.”

http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/ads-are-coming-comments-section-publisher-sites-161168

20) The ugly afterlife of crowdfunding projects that never ship and never end

Crowdfunding is a relatively new development so it makes sense there would be growing pains. People need to understand that there is more to innovation than having a good idea: you actually need an understanding of how to put that idea into a product, and that isn’t easy. I’ve encountered entrepreneurs who think manufacturing is something done cheaply by somebody else in a place you don’t have to visit. With rare exceptions, any project of any value is going to require a number of people, suppliers, service providers, etc., to come together to make it a success. Then there are things like customer support and so on. Since the people who write the checks for crowdfunding projects are rarely as sophisticated as even the entrepreneurs, it is not surprising many project never get off the ground. What is probably needed to improve the success rate is vetting and mentoring, not more hype.

“The public life-cycle of a Kickstarter rarely ends in tragedy. Often, if a Kickstarter manages to get covered by the media before its funding round end, or even starts, it can meet its goal within days, and superfluous funds continue to roll in over the next few weeks. By the time its crowdfunding stage closes, the creators, backers, and media alike are excited and proud to have ushered this new project so quickly to a place of prosperity, eager for it to continue to grow. Plenty of projects manage to deliver the goods, even if the timeline slides a bit. That was the case with Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter game Broken Age. If creators miss deadlines, backers typically continue to receive updates via e-mail and the Kickstarter page. But sometimes the end of funding is the beginning of a slide into radio silence, which ultimately turns into few or no backer orders fulfilled, and no satisfactory explanation for why the project didn’t pan out according to the orderly delivery schedule the creators promised.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/10/the-ugly-afterlife-of-crowdfunding-projects-that-never-ship-and-never-end/