The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30th 2015

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

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

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

This has been a very slow week for tech news as much of it was dominated by caompanies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon reporting financial results. There were a number of interesting articles about self driving cars and some interesting scientific developments, but no really exciting (or amusing) stories. This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) Germany Set to Open Up Autobahn to Self-Driving Vehicles

While Google has gotten a lot of press for its efforts developing self driving cars, such a thing must, first and foremost, be a car, and cars are not as easy to make as some would have you believe. I have complete confidence it is easier to add technology to a car than it is to make a car around technology, therefore the market will be led by automobile manufacturers and not tech companies. The Germans take their auto industry very seriously, which is a good thing to know if you have ever driven on the autobahn. Opening up a stretch of that roadway for real world testing is an important signal as to how important the industry takes the project. Note that both the road and the vehicle will be in communication, which is probably how things will go eventually.

“Prototypes of driverless cars are set to get the go-ahead on a stretch of Germany’s busy A9 autobahn. For years, the country’s car makers have been developing models with “autonomous driving” technology —passenger vehicles and trucks that can self-drive in cities and on highways without human interference. According to an internal memo, Germany’s traffic ministry hopes to create a network in which traffic jams and pollution can be reduced, while road safety will be increased. “We will start with a digitization of the test section,” a spokesman for the ministry told NBC News. “The goal is to introduce measuring points with which we will allow vehicle to vehicle and road to vehicle communication.””

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/autos/germany-set-open-autobahn-self-driving-vehicles-n294351

2) If a Car Is Going to Self-Drive, It Might as Well Self-Park, Too

From what I have observed, the act of parking appears to be the greatest challenge faced by most drivers. It seems difficult to actually manage to position your vehicle between the lines, rather than diagonally, and, more or less centered without blocking other people’s doors. And don’t get me started about parallel parking. This solution seems a bit contrived (after all, having a map of the parking lot and all) and I rather doubt a Dick Tracy style watch to chat with your vehicle is likely to catch on. Of course, these numerous deficiencies and limitations will eventually be worked out.

“TECHNOLOGY may soon render another skill superfluous: parking a car. Sensors and software promise to free owners from parking angst, turning vehicles into robotic chauffeurs, dropping off drivers and then parking themselves, no human intervention required. BMW demonstrated such technical prowess this month with a specially equipped BMW i3 at the International CES event. At a multilevel garage of the SLS Las Vegas hotel, a BMW engineer spoke into a Samsung Gear S smartwatch.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/23/automobiles/if-a-car-is-going-to-self-drive-it-might-as-well-self-park-too.html?

3) Net neutrality: CRTC bans Bell from subsidizing data usage for mobile TV app

This was such a blatant example of anticompetitive business practices I was shocked to see it continue as long as it did. Well, not so much shocked because Canadian regulators have the get up and go of a sloth with the collective competence to boot. Note how, rather than fining the companies (or, at a minimum, demanding they disgorge their ill gotten games) and demanding they immediately stop the service they regulator very kindly offered them to continue until the end of April 2015. Welcome to the Broadband Backwater of Canada.

“Canada’s telecom regulator has ruled against a billing practice by cellphone providers that exempts certain television content streamed on wireless devices from customers’ monthly data caps. The decision, which applies specifically to mobile television applications offered by Bell Mobility Inc. and Videotron Ltd., sets a new limit on how companies that own both media and communications businesses can use television and sports content to bolster their wireless or Internet divisions.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/net-neutrality-crtc-bans-bell-from-subsidizing-data-usage-for-mobile-tv-app/article22696253/

4) James Webb Space Telescope Deployment In Detail

The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to Hubble. It has a much larger mirror, meaning it can gather much more light and have much higher resolution than Hubble. This is a comparison of the mirrors of Hubble and JWST http://i.imgur.com/MluczLu.jpg. I was very curious as to how they managed to fit such a large mirror array on a spacecraft and found this fascinating video.

“This video shows in-depth what will happen when James Webb Space Telescope deploys after launch. For more information, see this description on our website: http://jwst.nasa.gov/faq.html#howdeploy”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTxLAGchWnA

5) The language of T lymphocytes deciphered, the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the immune system

An understanding of the “language” of a major part of the immune system is key to understanding immune responses as well as, potentially, developing treatments which direct the immune system in specific ways to attack disease or even limit inflammation response. In other words, this has the potential to be an important bit of research.

“The study describes a new approach that allows deciphering the language of T lymphocytes, which are cells of the immune system that protect us from pathogens and tumours. Combining methods of Next Generation Sequencing with in vitro stimulation and analysis of specific T cells, the researchers were able for the first time to establish a complete catalogue of the immune response to pathogens and vaccines. In particular, they have catalogued all the clones that respond to a particular microorganism, determining their specificity and their functional properties, for example their ability to produce inflammatory mediators (cytokines) or to migrate to different tissues.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150123081721.htm

6) College Claims Copyright On 16th Century Michelangelo Sculpture, Blocks 3D Printing Files

I thought this story was representative of the lunacy which intellectual property law has become (I could just have easily gone with Taylor Swift’s – who is, apparently, a pop star – lawyers from trademarking English words and phrases (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/taylor-swift-trademarks-this-sick-beat-and-other-1989-phrases-20150128). Of course, all it takes is a lawyer and a defendant without the financial resources to fend off litigation. Why the bright sparks at Augustana College thought this would be a good idea is beyond me, but they must have asked a lawyer’s opinion and lawyers often give stupid advice.

“Jerry Fisher, a photographer in Sioux Falls South Dakota, was interested in 3D printing and 3D image capture. So he went and photographed two local bronze casts of Michelangelo statues, one of Moses which is on display at Augustana College and is co-owned by Augustana and the City of Sioux Falls, and another of David, which is in a local city park. He documented his efforts to take the photos and turn them into 3D printer plans. However, the folks at Augustana College demanded that he stop, arguing a bizarre mix of copyright and… “we don’t like this.” Fisher asked the city of Sioux Falls for its opinion and got back a ridiculous response …”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150122/17181429784/college-claims-copyright-16th-century-michelangelo-sculpture-blocks-3d-printing-files.shtml

7) Smart Neural Stimulators Listen to the Body

This article looks at how the technology behind implanted neural stimulators is progressing, and how these devices are being used to treat a number of serious conditions. One drawback with this sort of approach is that it involves surgery, meaning only serious problems which can’t be treated by other means are likely to be treated with these systems.

“It’s an electrifying time to be in neuroscience. Using implanted devices that send pulses of electricity through the nervous system, physicians are learning how to influence the neural systems that control people’s bodies and minds. These devices give neurologists new ways to treat patients with a wide range of disorders, including epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, and Parkinson’s disease.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/bionics/smart-neural-stimulators-listen-to-the-body

8) Prosecutors Trace $13.4M in Bitcoins From the Silk Road to Ulbricht’s Laptop

I continue to look upon Bitcoin with some amusement though it doesn’t generate quite as many funny stories as it used to. In case you don’t recall Mr. Ulbricht is alleged to have run the Silk Web website which purportedly allowed drug dealers and other criminals to ply their trade using modern technology. He is also has alleged to have ordered the contract killing of at least one person, using Bitcoin no less. Funny story: it turns out that some master criminals are a little better at covering tracks than others, and his laptop apparently provided more or less a general ledger of his transactions. I am sure his criminal customer base is even more delighted than his defense team.

“If anyone still believes that bitcoin is magically anonymous internet money, the US government just offered what may be the clearest demonstration yet that it’s not. A former federal agent has shown in a courtroom that he traced hundreds of thousands of bitcoins from the Silk Road anonymous marketplace for drugs directly to the personal computer of Ross Ulbricht, the 30-year-old accused of running that contraband bazaar. In Ulbricht’s trial Thursday, former FBI special agent Ilhwan Yum described how he traced 3,760 bitcoin transactions over 12 months ending in late August 2013 from servers seized in the Silk Road investigation to Ross Ulbricht’s Samsung 700z laptop, which the FBI seized at the time of his arrest in October of that year. In all, he followed more than 700,000 bitcoins along the public ledger of bitcoin transactions, known as the blockchain, from the marketplace to what seemed to be Ulbricht’s personal wallets. Based on exchange rates at the time of each transaction, Yum calculated that the transferred coins were worth a total of $13.4 million.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/prosecutors-trace-13-4-million-bitcoins-silk-road-ulbrichts-laptop/

9) Stick-On Tattoo Measures Blood Sugar Without Needles

This looks like another potentially promising medical development: setting aside the discomfort associated with blood sugar measurement, this sensor could also ensure continuous (vs. discrete) monitoring, which is almost certainly better from a medical perspective. Furthermore, the system would work for people, such as children, who are unable to do their own measurements. No doubt considerable testing will be required before this thing can hit the market: after all, the consequences of a failed or inaccurate sensor could be severe.

“Diabetics often prick their fingers up to eight times a day to check their blood sugar. Researchers have long looked for a solution that provides constant monitoring without being so invasive, and researchers at the University of California San Diego have come up with a new needle-free design that could turn out to be less painful, yet just as effective, as the finger-prick method. The UCSD team printed electrodes onto standard temporary tattoo paper and paired it with a sensor. After each meal, the electrodes generate a current for about 10 minutes. The current draws the glucose—a type of sugar that diabetics have trouble breaking down—up near the skin’s surface, allowing the device to read the glucose levels. The glucose is carried by sodium ions, which have a positive charge. By measuring how strong the charge is just under the skin, the sensor estimates how much glucose is in the bloodstream.”

http://www.popsci.com/temporary-tattoos-could-monitor-diabetes-less-invasively

10) 25% of Android devices are dual-SIM, but not everywhere

It may be hard for a North American to grasp, but there are many places in the world where mobile services are a competitive market. For example, a consumer might have the choice of a dozen or so providers, some of whom specialize in certain areas (data vs. long distance for example). In some places, only one carrier operates while a completely different single carrier runs the system a few miles away. Multi-SIM (usually dual-SIM) phones offer the consumer the ability to easily switch providers by simply deciding which SIM to use to connect to the network. These are still pretty rare in North America, where unlocked phones are only now becoming more common, but we are starting to see some units in shops.

“Staying connected is a challenge, which is why our mission is to help people find the best network so that they can optimise the time they spend with a mobile signal. Many differing solutions have been suggested for improving mobile network coverage, with a recent idea in the UK being to force networks to share infrastructure in order to reduce ‘partial notspots’ (areas where there is coverage from at least one operator but not all). But what if you didn’t have to choose one network? What if you could choose two, or even more? This is one of the ideas behind multi-SIM devices (usually dual) – which allow one device to access different mobile networks by using multiple sim cards within the device. The technology to do this exists, but we had always regarded these phones as a bit exotic and therefore not a workable mass solution. In the UK and US dual SIM devices are uncommon, used by under 5% of the population and so we presumed it was about the same everywhere. We were wrong.”

http://opensignal.com/reports/2015/01/android-devices-dual-sim/

11) UCI, fellow chemists find a way to unboil eggs

That’s nothing: what the world needs is a way to unscramble eggs. Actually the researchers appear to have devised a technique which cost effectively misfolded proteins and allows them to fold properly. They provide an example of cancer antibodies which are produced in hamster ovary cells in order than they are properly folded. Production with yeast or bacteria would be much cheaper, however, many of the proteins would then be incorrectly folded, making them useless. In principal, this technique would allow the volume production of proteins is cheap bio reactors, with a rapid and cost effective post production step to correctly fold them.

“Like many researchers, he has struggled to efficiently produce or recycle valuable molecular proteins that have a wide range of applications but which frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes when they are formed, rendering them useless. “It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” Weiss said. “The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material.””

http://news.uci.edu/press-releases/uci-fellow-chemists-find-a-way-to-unboil-eggs/

12) Credit card study blows holes in anonymity

This is an example of the use of big data, and the value of metadata to everybody from marketers to spies. This is not exactly news, except, perhaps, to consumers and governments who seem to take the issue of privacy less seriously by the day. Since it seems unlikely to me that the necessary regulatory changes will emerge, more likely than not our children can look forward to being endlessly hounded by marketers armed with their personal data.

“De Montjoye’s team analyzed 3 months of credit card transactions, chronicling the spending of 1.1 million people in 10,000 shops in a single country. (The team is tightlipped about the data’s source—a “major bank,” de Montjoye says—and it has not disclosed which country.) The bank stripped away names, credit card numbers, shop addresses, and even the exact times of the transactions. All that remained were the metadata: amounts spent, shop type—restaurant, gym, or grocery store, for example—and a code representing each person. But because each individual’s spending pattern is unique, the data have a very high “unicity.” That makes them ripe for what de Montjoye calls a “correlation attack.” To reveal a person’s identity, you just need to correlate the metadata with information about the person from an outside source.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6221/468.full?intcmp=collection-privacy

13) Gartner Says By 2020, a Quarter Billion Connected Vehicles Will Enable New In-Vehicle Services and Automated Driving Capabilities

As usual I caution readers to take whatever Gartner or any other industry research group has to say with a cowlick of salt – their predictions are inevitably bullish and almost always wrong. Nevertheless, the Internet of Things (IoT) is real, however, I believe it to be over hyped. For the most part, IoT devices will be as cheap and as exciting as light switches (in fact one IoT application). Application of IoT and wireless technologies to automobiles makes perfect sense and Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) has tremendous potential. Of course, V2V will only have measurable benefit with a significant portion of the fleet is thus equipped, which will take at least a decade or two.

““The connected car is already a reality, and in-vehicle wireless connectivity is rapidly expanding from luxury models and premium brands, to high-volume midmarket models,” said James F. Hines, research director at Gartner. “The increased consumption and creation of digital content within the vehicle will drive the need for more sophisticated infotainment systems, creating opportunities for application processors, graphics accelerators, displays and human-machine interface technologies,” said Mr. Hines. “At the same time, new concepts of mobility and vehicle usage will lead to new business models and expansion of alternatives to car ownership, especially in urban environments.” Gartner forecasts that about one in five vehicles on the road worldwide will have some form of wireless network connection by 2020, amounting to more than 250 million connected vehicles. The proliferation of vehicle connectivity will have implications across the major functional areas of telematics, automated driving, infotainment and mobility services.”

http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2970017

14) COB LED market to grow from $1.5bn in 2014 to $4.4bn in 2020, driven by directional and high-lumen applications

I have to do a bit of translation here: Chip On Board (COB) LEDs are pretty much LEDs – in this case white high power LEDs – which are installed with a minimal package. Since packaging costs are significant these are cheaper, however the approach requires the designer to deal with power dissipation which is a significant factor in LED liamp design. Long story short, the reason I included the article is to show growth in demand for LEDs for general lighting, a trend we forecast many years ago. One thing to remember is that LEDs last a very long time and in the no so distant future the market will saturate and demand will go negative.

“The market for chip-on-board (COB) LEDs and multi-chip array COBs will grow significantly from $1.5bn in 2014 to $4.4bn in 2020, including 40% growth from 2014 to 2015, according to the report ‘The World Market for COB LEDs in General Lighting’ from market research firm Strategies Unlimited. Long-term growth is due mainly to the increased penetration of COBs into directional and high-lumen applications. “COBs have a better light distribution and design flexibility than other package types, which makes them more adapted to applications where you need to direct light, need a large quantity of usable lumens, or both,” comments research analyst Martin Shih.”

http://www.semiconductor-today.com/news_items/2015/jan/strategies-unlimited_270115.shtml

15) Scientists use 20 billion fps camera to film a laser in flight

This article has another very cool video, this time showing a very short pulse of light bouncing off mirrors in ultra super duper slow motion. It is pretty much what you would expect to see, but it is nontheless, cool to actually see it.

“We’ve all been spoiled by the flashy lasers in science fiction to the point that the real thing can seem a little mundane. A laser, by definition, is tightly focused and all but invisible to the human eye. However, a team of physicists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK have managed to film a laser bouncing off mirrors with a new type of high-speed camera. It looks like something out of Star Wars, but it actually happened in real life.”

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/198391-scientists-use-20-billion-fps-camera-to-film-a-laser-in-flight

16) FCC Warns Businesses WiFi Blocking is Illegal

Well surprise, surprise, surprise: interfering with radios is illegal! Actually this has been illegal for decades and you might have thought the hotel in question and whoever sold them the equipment would have known as much. Nevertheless it is always nice to see that sometimes regulators can come up with the right answer.

“Willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hot spots is illegal. Wi-Fi blocking violates Section 333 of the Communications Act, as amended.1 The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal Wi-Fi hot spots on the commercial establishment’s premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference,” the Federal Communications Commission said in a statement issued this week.”

https://threatpost.com/fcc-warns-businesses-wifi-blocking-is-illegal/110728

17) Unilever Leverages 3D Printing Injection Molds, Slashing Lead Times for Prototype Parts by 40%

Most of what we read about 3D printing revolves around the production of small volume parts or those which simply cannot be made any other way. This press release covers an angle I had not seen before, namely the production of molds using 3D printing. Molds are typically made of steel using Electric Discharge Machining (EDM) which takes a fair bit of time. Depending on the steel, the resultant mold can produce tens of thousands of parts, however, it would be nice ot know if the mold itself could be improved. This quick turnaround 3D printed mold process results in molds which probably have very short production lives, but the process can prove the design of the mold. Since metal 3D printing has been possible for some time, it is not hard to imagine that 3D printing will displace EDM just as EDM displaced traditional mold making techniques.

“Stratasys 3D printing technology, we can design and print a variety of injection molds for different parts that can undergo functional and consumer testing, all on the same day,” explains Stefano Cademartiri, R&D, CAD and Prototyping Specialist at Unilever. “Before, we would have to wait several weeks to receive prototype parts using our traditional tooling process; not only would this lengthen lead times, it would also increase costs if iterations were required. With 3D printing we’re now able to apply design iterations to the mold within a matter of hours, enabling us to produce prototype parts in final materials such as polypropylene, 40% faster than before.”

http://investors.stratasys.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=892045

18) Exclusive: WinSun China builds world’s first 3D printed villa and tallest 3D printed apartment building

This is another 3D printing story, but a very different one. I suspect 3D printing will become a big part of the home building business, however, it is not clear that this building was, in fact, 3D printed in the time they suggested. Based on the photographs, it appears they (possibly) 3D printed sections and those prefabricated sections were assembled on site. Many industrial buildings are actually made in a similar fashion using precast concrete sections, so the only advantage here might be in design flexibility. I believe on site in situ printing of structures, in particular foundations, is likely how things will go.

“On March 29, 2014, ten 3D printed houses, each measuring 200 square meters, appeared in Shanghai, China. The buildings were created entirely out of concrete using a gigantic 3D printer, and each costs only 30,000 RMB ($4,800). Today, just ten months after the initial project, the company behind these 3D printed buildings, Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co, made a new announcement that will take 3D printed buildings to a whole new level: they have built the highest 3D printed building, a 5-storey residential house and the world’s first 3D printed villa. The villa measures 1,100 square meters and even comes complete with internal and external decorations.”

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20150118-winsun-builds-world-first-3d-printed-villa-and-tallest-3d-printed-building-in-china.html

19) What will Your House Look like in 10 Years?

It is hard to tell whether this article is serious or not: after all there is a lot of interest in futurology, which is, more or less, writing or talking about the future without having a firm grasp on the present. One might argue that the dream world/nightmare portrayed in the article is possible today, provided the consumer has the money. More realistically, such a future would imply several things, none of which are on the horizon. For example, open standards would be needed to create such an environment unless all the bits and pieces happened to come from a single vendor. Anybody who has ever tried to get a Samsung TV to talk to a Sony Blu-ray player using all the advanced features would know what the odds of that are. Another thing would be some sort of “permanent cloud” whereby all the various gizmos would continue to work even after the respective vendors have gone bankrupt or lost interest in the service. Since I can’t get software updates for an Audivox Bluetooth car radio a couple years after launch you can imagine what I figure the chance of that is.

“From the moment you wake up in the morning, the house reacts to your needs. The automated lights turn on slowly to wake you up at a scheduled time. From the comfort of your bed, you switch on your coffee machine so your morning cup is fresh and hot by the time you arrive downstairs for breakfast. You enter the bathroom and stand in front of your intelligent mirror. The mirror’s reflective surface springs to life with all the information you need to kick-start your day, including the weather and the morning’s top news. The device also plays your favorite music so you are always guaranteed to start the day in a good mood.”

http://www.huzoorbux.com/what-will-your-house-look-like-in-10-years_3694.html

20) FTC Warns of the Huge Security Risks in the Internet of Things

Setting aside the issues of open standards and cloud services (see item 19) one other challenge for IoT devices will always be security. Not so much that I am concerned a thermostat might be hacked but, as IoT applications expand, the odds of them being, in aggregate, secure seem pretty remote. Gadgets do not usually sell on the basis of how secure they are, and once they are off the shelf security rarely interests vendors. So you can look forward to a future in which you toaster can be hacked by the kid down the street, just for giggles.

“There’s danger lurking in the Internet of Things. At least, that’s the word from the Federal Trade Commission. On Tuesday, the government watchdog released a detailed report urging businesses to take some concrete steps in protecting the privacy and security of American consumers. According to the FTC, 25 billion objects are already online worldwide, gathering information using sensors and communicating with each other over the internet, and this number is growing, with consumer goods companies, auto manufacturers, healthcare providers, and so many other businesses investing in the new breed of connected devices.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/ftc-warns-huge-security-risks-internet-things/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 23rd 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 23rd 2015

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This has been a good week for tech news. The CEO of Blackberry embarrassed himself with an absurd letter to the FCC, there was a fair bit of noise on Bitcoin, none of which was particularly positive, idiots made stupid investments (including a Bitcoin investment, making a twofer) and no less than two groups announced plans to launch Low Earth Orbit Satellite Constellations to bring “Internet to the masses”. We will, no doubt, ridicule the investments and LEOSAT plans in the future after they fail. This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) BlackBerry wants FCC to force app developers onto BB10

This has to be the funniest thing I’ve heard in years: setting asides the question as to whether the FCC has any authority whatsoever over software development, I want to know what sort of delusional state leads somebody to believe you could ever compel software developers to support a platform in the absence of market demand? If so, where would it end? Would developers be equally forced to support Amazon, Firefox OS, etc.? Would websites be taken down because they don’t render properly on a certain device? Blackberry shareholders, if this is the sort of thinking you expect to drive a turnaround, you might want to hedge your downside.

“With its market share continuing to flounder at levels that see it lumped with others in at least one market survey, BlackBerry CEO John Chen has written a letter to US Congress members calling for the prohibition of app developers choosing to ignore BlackBerry. “Neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open, and non-discriminatory internet,” Chen said in his letter. “All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.””

http://www.zdnet.com/article/blackberry-wants-laws-to-force-app-developers-onto-bb10/

2) Coinbase, a Bitcoin Start-Up, Raises $75 Million in Vote of Confidence

Apparently, this provides a market capitalization of $490 million. The total value of Bitcoin is $3.19B. Much of this is, purportedly, in the possession of one person and a considerable proportion of the rest held by criminals (notably the folks who steal Bitcoin). Ignoring the plummeting value of Bitcoin, the limited “float”, the “currency’s” association with criminals, and the questionable legal status, this values the company at 15% of the total value of the “currency”. The total money supply (M1+M2+M3) of Canada, is C$3.6 trillion while the total market cap of the “big 5” Canadian banks is around $300B, or 8.3% of the money supply. Who says people make intelligent investment decisions? Thanks to Stephen Jakob of Osprey Capital for this item.

“In total, Coinbase has collected over $105 million in venture capital. Andreessen Horowitz, which led a $25 million investment round in Coinbase in December 2013, also participated in Coinbase’s most recent fund-raising, along with existing investors Union Square Ventures and Ribbit Capital.”

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/coinbase-a-bitcoin-start-up-raises-75-million-in-vote-of-confidence/?_r=0

3) A Startup Just Got $30 Million to Shake Up the Garbage Industry

If there was ever an industry in need of a shake up, it has to be the high margin garbage business. After all, there has to be a better way of dealing with waste than having relatively low paid, hard working men come by in a great big truck and take it away. Yes sir, this has to be the investment opportunity of a lifetime – except there are no barriers to entry, no sustainable competitive advantage, etc.. I am guessing the investors haven’t watched many seasons of the Sopranos.

“Nate Morris, CEO and co-founder of Rubicon Global, says his company is trying a different approach. It doesn’t own any landfills, or garbage trucks for that matter. Instead, its sole purpose is to help businesses cut their garbage costs and maximize the amount of waste being diverted from landfills. This strategy has earned Rubicon large contracts across the country with the likes of 7-Eleven and Wegman’s, but the company’s national footprint is set to double in the coming months. Today, Rubicon announced it has raised $30 million, which it will use to scale operations across the country and invest in new recycling technology research.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/rubicon-global/

4) Revealed: Elon Musk’s Plan to Build a Space Internet

This idea has been thought of before and was very popular during the prior dot com bubble. My rule of thumb is that, if it involves a satellite and there is any other option, it is probably a bad idea. This is because satellites take a long time and money to design and build and, in the specific case of non-geostationary satellites, the constellation has little use until the whole thing is up and running. Meanwhile, terrestrial options progress apace, and, as consequence only the company who buys the operation out of bankruptcy has any chance of making money off it. There are very rare exceptions such as satellite TV which was a regulatory arbitrage. None of this even considers the technical challenges of creating such an option at a reasonable price. There is a very low likelihood any of these proposals will ever get off the ground.

“The Space Internet venture, to which Musk hasn’t yet given a name, would be hugely ambitious. Hundreds of satellites would orbit about 750 miles above earth, much closer than traditional communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit at altitudes of up to 22,000 miles. The lower satellites would make for a speedier Internet service, with less distance for electromagnetic signals to travel. The lag in current satellite systems makes applications such as Skype, online gaming, and other cloud-based services tough to use. Musk’s service would, in theory, rival fiber optic cables on land while also making the Internet available to remote and poor regions that don’t have access.”

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2015-01-17/elon-musk-and-spacex-plan-a-space-internet

5) CERT warns satellites for planes, oil rigs and critical infrastructure are vulnerable

This actually relates to the prior article. Recall it takes a long time and a lot of money to design, build, and launch a satellite (at least a “real” one with some prospect of a long operating life). Meanwhile the technological context on Earth continues to evolve. As a general rule, spacecraft use “tried and true” (i.e. obsolete) technology (not science – technology) to ensure reliability. So, for example, security measures, which were state of the art (more likely 5 – 10 years behind the times) when the bird was first specified are woefully obsolete by the time it is launched and downright laughable near the end of its service life. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this article.

“The US Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) has issued a wave of warnings regarding a multitude of flaws in satellite communications (Satcoms) systems leaving aeroplanes, ships, oil rigs and other important forms of transport and infrastructure open to attack. The CERT team issued six alerts on a variety of different Cobham and Iridium Satcoms systems, warning that the flaws could be targeted by hackers for a variety of purposes including data theft, account hijacking and even the ability to “gain full control of the satellite terminal”. The threats are taken as particularly dangerous as the CERT reported that it is “unaware of any practical solution” to the fix the flaws.”

http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2358750/airplanes-ships-and-oil-rigs-all-at-risk-from-satellite-cyber-attacks

6) Why Billions of Exoplanets Are Suddenly Looking More Habitable

We’ve got a real space theme going! A few decades ago some people actually wondered whether there were any exoplanet (planets outside our solar system) and, if so, what proportion could support “Life As We Know It”. It turns out there are a lot of exoplanets, and a fair proportion of those might be to sustain life similar to ours. Of course, any life we do encounter outside the solar system and potentially even inside it is likely to be very different from our own.

“A team of astrophysicists has announced that this thinking could be wrong—rotational lockup is not necessarily the rule for these exoplanets. As they report in the journal Science, the simple existence of an atmosphere (even one as thin as Earth’s) can keep a planet twirling and habitable. According to Jérémy Leconte, the theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Toronto who lead the team that made this discovery, the finding means that a large number of already discovered Earth-like planets might be a lot more habitable than we thought. “Planets with potential oceans could thus have a climate that is much more similar to the Earth’s than we’ve previously expected,” he says.”

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/space/deep/earth-like-exoplanets-around-dwarf-stars

7) Every State Should Make the Bold Internet Investment New York Just Did

Yes, yes they should. Unfortunately telecommunications companies in the US and Canada are extremely powerful due to a legacy of bad policy choices so one should be skeptical as to whether such initiatives such as those announced in New York will have any effect. Regardless, it does demonstrate that at least some politicians are capable of understanding the importance of the Internet to the future of their citizens.

“In order to get funding, broadband providers will have to match the state’s contribution one-to-one and provide speeds of at least 100 Mbps (unless it’s a remote, underserved area in which speeds must be at least 25 Mbps with the promise of getting to 100 Mbps). In other words, all of that money that the government squeezed out of the criminals behind the financial crisis will now be spent on spurring economic development thanks to better, faster, cheaper internet. Good news, indeed.”

http://gizmodo.com/every-state-should-make-the-bold-internet-investment-ne-1680000358

8) Obama Sees Need for Encryption Backdoor

I don’t think an encryption backdoor is consistent with privacy and civil liberties. After all if the state can read your mail, examine your files, etc., then privacy and certain civil liberties do not exist, or they exist to the extent that the state allows them to exist. For example, consider the fight against slavery or even the civil rights movement. These were largely struggles against the state, churches, etc., and were vigorously opposed by those bodies, including the use of police to oppose them. Can you imagine what would have happened if Hoover’s FBI would have had unfettered access to all the communications of civil rights activists? Regardless I continue to assume such backdoors already exist.

“Although President Obama said he sees the need for law enforcement to gain access to encrypted data on a suspected terrorist’s digital device, he stopped short of calling for a law to require manufacturers to provide a so-called “backdoor” to break encryption on mobile devices. At a Jan. 16 White House joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama said his administration is discussing with device manufacturers and software providers ways for authorities to gain access to the encrypted data without compromising the privacy and civil liberties of citizens.”

http://www.bankinfosecurity.com/cameron-obama-a-7809/op-1

9) Hacker Says Attacks On ‘Insecure’ Progressive Insurance Dongle In 2 Million US Cars Could Spawn Road Carnage

Forgive me for not being paranoid, but the “dongle” in question attaches to the OBD II port (http://www.obdii.com/connector.html) on the car which is usually located under the dashboard near the pedals. It is primarily there for diagnostics, however, you can do a number of things with it as the hacker has shown. The thing is, you don’t need the dongle to fiddle with OBD – you can just connect up to the OBD port and have the same effect. Of course, that just means all cars are pretty much hackable though having an insecure, two way, radio communications channel probably makes it a bit easier.

“But he hasn’t gone as far to actually mess with the controls of his Toyota. By hooking up his laptop directly to the device he says he would have been able to unlock doors, start the car and gather engine information, but he chose not to “weaponise” his exploits, he told Forbes. “Controlling it wasn’t the focus, finding out if it was possible was the focus.””

http://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2015/01/15/researcher-says-progressive-insurance-dongle-totally-insecure/

10) Microsoft to deliver free upgrades to Windows 10

This is probably a good move by Microsoft. I would imagine the overwhelming majority of Windows license sales are with new PCs or associated with corporate support subscriptions, leaving a tiny portion of actual paid for upgrades. Since Windows 7 PCs are no longer available, you would have to wear the hair shirt of Windows 8 until Windows 10 came out, then pay through the nose for an upgrade, which is scarcely a good value proposition. This provides some hope that, having experienced purgatory, after a year or so you can leave it through this free upgrade. Why anybody would subject themselves to Windows 8 for even a short period of time is another matter.

“Microsoft will offer free upgrades to Windows 10 — the next version of its operating system — first for Windows 8.1 users and then for Windows 7 users, the company announced Wednesday. In the first year the software is available, the company will upgrade any devices running Windows 8 to Windows 10 for free, according to Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of operating systems. The free upgrade will also apply to Windows 7 devices and Windows Phone 8.1 devices.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/microsoft-to-deliver-free-windows-10-upgrades/

11) Hands-on: Microsoft’s HoloLens is flat-out magical

Microsoft made another interesting announcement this week, unveiling its “virtual reality” headset. You might recall that a while back Facebook paid a staggering amount of money for Oculus VR, providing a demonstration of my adage that cash rich companies prefer to give money to the shareholders of other companies through stupid acquisitions rather than to their own shareholders through dividends. There are probably a number of uses for VR headsets, mostly in gaming but also in education and training. While, there are a number of companies getting in to the market, a company such as Microsoft, with significant software development expertise and a large installed base of game consoles, will probably play a major role.

“For the second time in as many months, I feel like I’ve taken a step into the world of science fiction—and for the second time in as many months, it’s Microsoft who put me there. After locking away all my recording instruments and switching to the almost prehistoric pen and paper, I had a tantalizingly brief experience of Microsoft’s HoloLens system, a headset that creates a fusion of virtual images and the real world. While production HoloLens systems will be self-contained and cord-free, the developer units we used had a large compute unit worn on a neck strap and an umbilical cord for power. Production hardware will automatically measure the interpupillary distance and calibrate itself accordingly; the dev kits need this to be measured manually and punched in. The dev kits were also heavy, unwieldy, fragile, and didn’t really fit on or around my glasses, making them uncomfortable to boot.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/01/hands-on-with-hololens-making-the-virtual-real/

12) Supreme Court Hands Trial Courts More Power In Teva Patent Case

This was reported as positive for patent licensing companies such a Wi-Lan, although it is not immediately obvious to me why that would be the case. It is true this will probably limit the availability of delaying tactics which are typically used by the alleged infringer, but it will similarly limit options if the infringer’s lawyers manage to sufficiently befuddle the trial judge, which happens more often than you would care to think. So, trials might be sped up but that is not good if you get outlawyered.

“At issue was a judge’s ruling that challengers led by Sandoz had failed to prove that Teva’s patent on the multiple-sclerosis drug Copaxone was impermissibly vague. The judge relied on expert testimony to determine that someone skilled in biochemistry would understand what the phrase “a molecular weight of 5 to 9 kilodaltons” meant. Sandoz had argued it could have three definitions, rendering the patent invalid, and the Federal Circuit agreed, after subjecting the case to de novo review. But the Supreme Court reversed, saying only questions of law, such as claim construction or the definition of the boundaries of a patent, can be subjected to such a comprehensive review. Fact questions underpinning claims construction, such as how someone skilled in the art would interpret a specific claim, may be findings of fact that are left undisturbed unless there is “clear error.””

http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2015/01/20/supreme-court-hands-trial-courts-more-power-in-teva-patent-case/

13) Uh oh: Wi-Fi exposure may be worse for kids than we thought

Ah, leave it to a journalist to stoke hysteria regarding the horrors of electromagnetic RADIATION! Long story short, if so, then what? The power output from a WiFi device is trivial and the only thing it can do to a human is warm something up a tiny bit. The wavelengths involved are no more capable of causing a mutation than a piece of down is capable of penetrating armor plate. Besides which, every cubic millimeter of the universe has been bathed in EM radiation for billions of years and life persists. Get over it.

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IRIC) website is, for many hypochondriacs, a bit of a nightmare. The agency actually catalogs carcinogenic items, substances and sources that we encounter in everyday life. The freakiest cancer-causing forces are radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF/EMF) that come from radios, televisions, microwaves, cell phones and, most alarmingly, devices that use Wi-Fi. A new article published in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure called “Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences” analyzed previously published peer-reviewed studies on RF/EMF and found that not only are children much more susceptible to certain kinds of radiation, but that our current exposure limits may be inadequate.”

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/13/uh_oh_wi_fi_exposure_may_be_worse_for_kids_than_we_thought/

14) Drug-laden drone crashes near US-Mexico border

You have to credit criminals: they are pretty early adopters of most technologies. The great thing with drones is that they are easy to fly and very hard for law enforcement to detect or intercept (note that the same is not true for military drones, which are sitting ducks if the people you are ‘liberating’ have any military capacity whatsoever). Unfortunately, drones have limited range and very low cargo capacity as this shows. I am rather surprised they didn’t stick with large model airplanes which have most of the advantages and much greater cargo capacity.

“Police in a Mexican border city said Wednesday that a drone overloaded with illicit methamphetamine crashed into a supermarket parking lot. Tijuana police spokesman Jorge Morrua said authorities were alerted after the drone fell Tuesday night near the San Ysidro crossing at Mexico’s border with California. Six packets of the drug, weighing more than six pounds, were taped to the six-propeller remote-controlled aircraft. Morrua said authorities are investigating where the flight originated and who was controlling it. He said it was not the first time they had seen drones used for smuggling drugs across the border. Other innovative efforts have included catapults, ultralight aircraft and tunnels.”

http://www.sfgate.com/news/world/article/Drug-laden-drone-crashes-near-US-Mexico-border-6031008.php

15) Diabetic Perth boy Xavier Hames first patient in world fitted with artificial pancreas

Aussie medical researchers have made a number of breakthroughs including discovering that ulcers are caused by bacteria and thus curable, but also developing CPAP, a treatment for sleep apnea, a silent killer. This sounds like a potential breakthrough, especially for hard to manage cases. Given the pace of progress, you can easily imagine that, in the not so distant future, such devices will be fully implantable and a ubiquitous treatment for diabetes.

“Xavier Hames suffers from type 1 diabetes and is at constant risk of hypoglycaemia – when low glucose levels can result in seizures, coma or death. But in a world-first, a pancreas-like pump that can identify when sugar levels are dangerously low and halt the release of insulin, has changed that. Professor Tim Jones, from Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital, said the device would make life a lot easier for the parents of type 1 diabetes sufferers, especially at night time when the risk of hypoglycaemia is higher.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-21/perth-boy-becomes-first-patient-fitted-with-artifical-pancreas/6032388

16) Bubble-Propelled Microbots Zoom Around Inside Live Mice

Medical microbots are a potentially useful tool even if the plot of Fantastic Voyage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantastic_Voyage) never plays out. The ideal is to create targeted delivery systems for certain drugs which may be toxic or otherwise harmful to normal tissue. For example you might deliver a poison to a tumor via microbots and kill the tumor without harming the rest of the body. By necessity, such a system would almost certainly be mechanically simple and controlled externally, obviating the need for Rachel Welch and her strategically ripped shirt.

“Last year, in a lab in sunny San Diego, researchers fed a dozen mice a small drop each of a very special liquid. Inside the drops, invisible to the naked eye, were thousands of tube-shaped, microscopic motors. The motors made their way to the mice’s stomachs, embedded in their stomach linings, and released their tiny payloads: nano-size flakes of gold. The research represented a major step toward putting microbots to work in human medicine, where they could one day ferry drugs efficiently into specific organs or even specific cells.”

http://www.popsci.com/bubble-propelled-micro-motors-zoom-inside-live-mice

17) Ancient Scrolls Blackened by Vesuvius Are Readable at Last

Ancient texts are very rare and mostly exist as copies of copies of copies. Ancient scrolls even more so but they are bound to be a few hundred generations of copies closer to the original than what we have now. These were preserved by the respective eruptions but were turned to charcoal, and reading charred ink on a charcoal scroll is not as easy as you would think, even if you could manage to unroll them without destroying them. This emerging technique has the potential of allowing us to read those scrolls and is a very exciting development.

“The 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius is most famous for burying Pompeii, spectacularly preserving many artifacts—and residents—in that once bustling town south of Naples. The tumbling clouds of ash also entombed the nearby resort of Herculaneum, which is filled with its own wonders. During excavations there in 1752, diggers found a villa containing bundles of rolled scrolls, carbonized by the intense heat of the pyroclastic flows and preserved under layers of cement-like rock. Further digs showed that the scrolls were part of an extensive library, earning the structure the name Villa of the Papyri. Blackened and warped by the volcanic event, the roughly 1,800 scrolls found so far have been a challenge to read. Some could be mechanically unrolled, but hundreds remain too fragile to make the attempt, looking like nothing more than clubs of charcoal. Now, more than 200 years later, archaeologists examining two of the scrolls have found a way to peer inside them with x-rays and read text that has been lost since antiquity.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ancient-scrolls-blackened-vesuvius-are-readable-last-herculaneum-papyri-180953950/?no-ist

18) Amid Bitcoin’s Bloodbath, Silence From Silicon Valley Press

The Silicon Valley press is like any other media in the world: not altogether interested in analysis so much as writing stuff. Setting aside mostly everything we know about Bitcoin – in particular that the only successful business model has been to steal Bitcoin from fools and convert them to real money – rich folk got interested and that is pretty much all you need to know. Because, if rich folk got interested, by golly it has to be a good thing. Now that rich folk who got interested in Bitcoin are, collectively, having their clocks cleaned financially, the narrative doesn’t fit so we’ll move on to fawning articles about disrupting the garbage business (see Item 3).

“So anyway, here’s where it gets interesting. On Tuesday, the price of one Bitcoin dropped 16% and then another 22% on Wednesday. This is a big deal. Why? Because barely six months ago, in July of 2014, the Feds auctioned off 29,656 of these seized Bitcoins. The winner, beating out 44 other bidders? Silicon Valley icon Tim Draper – he of the venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and the Six Californias initiative and the Draper University of Heroes. The amount of the winning bid was private, but the Bitcoin price was $570 before the auction started and $650 right after. This was covered extensively by the Silicon Valley digerati, Pando Daily, Techcrunch, Re/Code, etc. And in the mainstream media as well. … So Tim Draper invests some $18 million in about 32,000 Bitcoin and today (wait for it…) they’re worth a whopping $6.7 million, losing 63% in six months.”

http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2015/01/16/amid_bitcoins_bloodbath_silence_from_silicon_valley_press_101490.html

19) Apple bows to Chinese demand for iPhone security audit

It is hard to see what the point of this is for either party. On the one hand, many backdoors are incredibly obscure and highly unlikely to be uncovered by a security audit (for example, exploiting non-randomness in a random number generator). On the other hand, once the audit is done, Apple can simply include a backdoor into the next software update. On the other other hand a lot of your data is stored on cloud services which you can pretty much assume are an open book to anybody, as numerous celebrities recently discovered.

“Apple has accepted Chinese demands for a full security inspection of its products to ensure that it can continue selling its hardware in the country. According to reports in the Beijing News, chief executive Tim Cook agreed that China’s State Internet Information Office could run security audits on the iPhone, iPad and Mac. Although all of Apple’s devices are manufactured in China, the hardware and software is designed in the US, leading to concern in the Chinese government that they could covertly spy on citizens.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/11364672/Apple-bows-to-Chinese-demand-for-iPhone-security-audit.html

20) The Paradoxes That Threaten To Tear Modern Cosmology Apart

I have no idea whether the issues discussed by this article (or the associated scientific paper) are real or the ravings of some whackaloon(s). Nevertheless, it might provide some fodder for dinner conversation unless you happen to have an astrophysicist over for dinner.

“These calculations suggest that the energy density of the vacuum is huge, of the order of 10^94 g/cm^3. This energy, being equivalent to mass, ought to have a gravitational effect on the universe. Cosmologists have looked for this gravitational effect and calculated its value from their observations (they call it the cosmological constant). These calculations suggest that the energy density of the vacuum is about 10^-29 g/cm3. Those numbers are difficult to reconcile. Indeed, they differ by 120 orders of magnitude. How and why this discrepancy arises is not known and is the cause of much bemused embarrassment among cosmologists.”

https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/the-paradoxes-that-threaten-to-tear-modern-cosmology-apart-d334a7fcfdb6

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 16th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 16th 2015

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This has been a reasonable good week for tech news, however, no real theme emerged. A major auto show meant there were a fair number of cars related stories (EVs and self-driving in particular). The “anonymity” of Bitcoin has been unmasked as an illusion as the first Bitcoin related trial started. Finally – and most significantly – Deloitte launched its TMT Predictions roadshow. Check with Deloitte to see if and when they are presenting in your city. This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1) GM to Introduce Electric Car With 200-Mile Range

The core problem with all Electric Vehicles is the fabulously expensive, short lived, battery pack. Battery technology has stagnated, meaning the price per kilowatt hour is not likely to drop significantly unless and until an unexpected, major technological advance occurs, no matter what any celebrity CEO has to say. In order to bring the price of an EV battery pack down, you need to either reduce the weight of the vehicle (resulting in more km/kw) or reduce the distance traveled. I suspect, in this case, the former is most likely what is planned. A $30,000 EV probably has a $10,000 battery pack, meaning it might make economic sense, depending on the price of gasoline, since you have to replace it every 8 years or so. It is worth noting that many mainstream auto vendors have released or will release EVs, likely eliminating the market for the sale of related tax credits – historically a major revenue source for Tesla.

“General Motors Co. is expected Monday at the North American International Auto Show to unveil an electric vehicle concept that gets 200 miles of electric range — a vehicle that could challenge upstart Tesla Motors Inc. — according to two sources familiar with the automaker’s plans. The concept car is named the Chevrolet Bolt and would get 200 miles or more of electric range and would be sold in all 50 states, according to a person briefed on the plans who asked not to be identified because the plans have not been made public. GM executives have talked about developing a 200-mile electric vehicle for nearly two years, but never confirmed plans to show it or what it would be named. The new Chevrolet Bolt is expected to retail for less than half the Tesla Model S — around $30,000 — and about what Tesla’s future, lower-priced car is set to cost.”

http://techinfomer.com/2015/01/11/gm-to-introduce-electric-car-with-200-mile-range/

2) People ‘horrified’ by self-driving cars, says survey, as trials begin

Survey data can be interesting, but always has to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, if I ask one of my cats their opinion of quantum mechanics, I might garner a different responses than if I ask an actual physicist. Similarly, asking the man (or woman) on the street their opinion of a technology they know nothing about, “horrified” might be an appropriate response. I wonder what the answer would be if I surveyed airline passengers how they felt about the “self flying airplane” they were flying on.

“Many British people are “horrified” by the idea of self-driving cars, according to a new survey. Autonomous cars are set to begin trials later this month in four British cities, and they took centre stage at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, but the British public are still unconvinced. Almost half of consumers wouldn’t want to be a passenger in such a vehicle, and 43 per cent wouldn’t trust it to drive safely, according to the research commissioned by uSwitch.com. And 16% of people are “horrified” by the idea of being driven in one.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/people-horrified-by-selfdriving-cars-says-survey-as-trials-begin-9968195.html

3) TMT Predictions 2015 The future in Technology, Media & Telecommunications

My friends Duncan Stewart and Paul Lee put together this extensively researched and thought provoking set of prediction every year and launch simultaneously in Toronto and London. The presentations are very good and well attended (you can download the presentation from the link, below). If you couldn’t get there this year, sign up for next year!

“ In-store mobile payments will (finally) gain momentum; For the first time, the smartphone upgrade market will exceed one billion; Print is not dead, at least for print books; The ‘generation that won’t spend’ is spending on TMT; Click and collect booms: a boon for the consumer, a challenge for retailers; The connectivity chasm deepens as gigabit Internet adoption rockets; The end of the consumerization of IT?; The Internet of things really is things, not people; 3D printing is a revolution: Just not the revolution you think; Short form video: a future, but not the future, of television.”

http://www.slideshare.net/DeloitteCanada/deloitte-tmt-predictions-2015

4) In the Silk Road trial, Bitcoin is a cop’s best friend

It’s been a while since we have heard of an entertaining Bitcoin scam, but, as we more or less predicted, the fraud itself is becoming unraveled. Bitcoin was favored by drug dealers and other miscreants because it was anonymous, or so the story went. The price really picked up when it came to the attention of “Internet Libertarians” who were attracted to the existence of a “currency” not controlled by a state. The whole thing was great fun, especially as said Libertarians were regularly robbed by said miscreants as we have frequently reported. The first major trial involving Bitcoin is under way and, it turns out, the joke is on the miscreants who have learned that, by golly, all Bitcoin transactions are completely traceable once certain conditions have been met. Of course, this is sad news if you are a drug dealer. Not that the fraud victims have any chance of getting their money back since there is no reason to believe Bitcoin theft is actually illegal.

“But now, as Ross Ulbricht defends himself against charges of running the Silk Road and profiting from drug transactions, Bitcoin may be the single biggest problem for his defense. The same features that made Silk Road possible have now turned against him, and casual observers are realizing that Bitcoin isn’t as anonymous as they thought. The public Bitcoin ledger details Ulbricht’s enormous financial holdings and a wealth of potentially incriminating transactions. Now that his wallet address has been discovered, the perfect anonymity tool has turned into the perfect source of evidence. Skeptics sometimes called the currency “prosecution futures,” and now it looks like some of those futures are coming due.”

http://www.theverge.com/2015/1/14/7546669/silk-road-trial-bitcoin-tracking

5) Is this the end of Bitcoin? Behind its falling price and many flaws

Not surprisingly, the discovery that Bitcoin transactions are traceable (see item 4) has had a profound impact on the trading value of Bitcoin itself as drug dealers, etc., appear less attracted to it. As I understand it, this has derailed a number of Bitcoin related businesses, in particular miners and vendors of mining equipment, although hope if not lost since the infinitely gullible “Internet Libertarians” remain gullible buyers. If history is to be a guide, a valuation implosion of this scale tends to lead directly to the exposure of Ponzi schemes so stay tuned.

“The strategy of mining has become Bitcoin’s achilles’ heel. The design of Bitcoin dictates that the difficulty of mining will increase as more Bitcoins are produced and more miners get involved. This has led to mining being dominated by companies that can scale to the point where they can guarantee to earn a certain percentage of Bitcoins created each day. As Bitcoin’s value has dropped, the economics of the mining operation have changed, to the point that mining ceases to be economically viable. Cloud mining company CEX.io suspended their mining operations this week, declaring that it needed the price of Bitcoin to be at least $320 before it would be able to resume its operations. Unfortunately for them, the price has dropped even further since and the likelihood of it climbing back to $320 seems slim.”

http://www.biznews.com/global-investing/2015/01/13/end-bitcoin-behind-falling-price-many-flaws/

6) FCC To Raise Minimum Broadband Definition To 25 Mbps, Further Highlighting Nation’s Pathetic Lack Of Broadband Competition

Until relatively recently (around the mid-1990s) the telecommunications infrastructure in North America was world leading, while that in Europe was a virtual laughing stock. The developing world was even worse. Twenty years of poor policy in North America and much better policy pretty much every where else has entirely inverted the situation of the mid-1990s, and, as a consequence, many developing countries have superior and more affordable telecommunications than does North America. At least US regulators (and the president, see item 7) are making noise about it, which is more than we can say for Canada.

“Over the last few months FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been making the rounds highlighting the fact that while U.S. broadband competition is fairly pathetic by any standard, it’s particularly pathetic when it comes to faster speeds. At speeds of 25 Mbps downstream, for example, nearly two-thirds of the country lack the choice of more than one broadband provider. That’s obviously (to most of us) thanks to a lack of competition, and as I’ve noted recently that’s only going to get worse as phone companies accelerate their abandonment of DSL networks they don’t want to upgrade, leaving cable companies with a stronger monopoly than ever before.”

https://www.techdirt.com/blog/netneutrality/articles/20150108/08234729632/fcc-to-raise-minimum-broadband-definition-to-25-mbps-further-highlighting-nations-pathetic-lack-broadband-competition.shtml

7) Obama calls for end to 19 state laws that harm community broadband

For some reason President Obama has decided to make a stand on the subject of broadband, including proposals to regulate it as a utility, which I believe would be an excellent idea. I believe the legacy of poor regulation in the space must be a result of abject stupidity or corruption and I tend to believe the latter is more likely. Either way, it is improbable such efforts will be approved due to lobbying or flat out corruption. Unfortunately that means North American broadband infrastructure will continue to continue losing ground to the rest of the world.

“This is the second time in recent months in which Obama has taken stances on major issues at the FCC. In November, he called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a common carrier service in order to impose net neutrality rules. After initial resistance, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now appears ready to do just that. Beyond those 19 state laws, there may be more restrictions on broadband that should be removed, the White House said. “The President is calling for the Federal Government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoptions for our citizens,” the report said. “The Council will also solicit public comment on unnecessary regulatory barriers and opportunities to promote greater coordination with the aim of addressing those within its scope.””

http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/01/obama-calls-for-end-to-19-state-laws-that-harm-community-broadband/

8) Where Cellular Networks Don’t Exist, People Are Building Their Own

Of course, not all developing economies have a better telecommunications infrastructure, but, in my defense, Mexico is part of North America so my comments about the abysmal state of North American infrastructure (see items 6 and 7) still hold. This article is about or areas in Mexico which have decided to take things into their own hands and fund and deploy their own infrastructure. Something tells me it is illegal to do what they do (it certainly is in Canada and the US), however, the great thing about a failed state such as Mexico is that the law doesn’t work so they might as well go for it.

“The tower—which Hernández, Yaee’s blacksmith, welded together out of scrap metal just a few hours earlier—is the backbone of Yaee’s first cellular network. The 90,000 pesos come in the form of two antennas and an open-source base station from a Canadian company called NuRAN. Once Hernández and company get the tower installed and the network online, Yaee’s 500 citizens will, for the first time, be able to make cell phone calls from home, and for cheaper rates than almost anywhere else in Mexico.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/diy-cellular-phone-networks-mexico/

9) Shadow IT, Latency Reduction and More: The Next Decade in Storage

It is worth noting that cloud based storage may be wonderful and cutting edge but access times, etc., will always be abysmal due to the speed of the link and the network overhead. Furthermore, while my Solid State Drive may not be idea, it is not as prone to single point failure, DOS attacks, security agency perusal, and sloppy security as are all cloud services.

“For decades we had RAM, disk, and tape limiting our storage palette. But now: Get ready for Technicolor storage in 3D. The shadow IT industry – the secretive cloud-scale IaaS suppliers – is a key piece. But so are resistance RAM (RRAM), low-latency architectures, new applications, and the commoditization of most storage. Here’s an overview of some of the most critical changes affecting the next decade in storage.”

http://www.druva.com/blog/next-decade-storage/

10) Storj, The New Decentralized Storage Solution

This is not exactly a new idea and I have seen a few business models based upon it. Besides, file torrents do more or less the same thing and a minor modification to Bittorrent Sync would amount to a similar model. From a business perspective, the main problem is that there are no barriers to entry so it is not the sort of idea worthy of funding. In fact, there are no barriers to entry to cloud storage in general meaning prices will be asymptotic to zero, or at least the cost of the electricity and bandwidth to provide them. Most such business idea assume individuals do not understand costs well enough to demand compensation, which is probably not a prudent long term strategy.

“Storj is a peer-to-peer cloud storage network implementing end-to-end encryption would allow users to transfer and share data without reliance on a third party data provider. The removal of central controls would eliminate most traditional data failures and outages, as well as significantly increasing security, privacy, and data control. A peer-to-peer network and basic encryption serve as a solution for most problems, but we must offer proper incentivisation for users to properly participate in this network.”

http://bitcoinist.net/storj-new-decentralized-storage-solution/

11) Stop threats to Canada’s online pirates, rights holders told

The start of 2015 brought a change in Canadian law which compelled Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to notify alleged pirates if requested to do so, even though most already did so voluntarily. This is considerate of them because it would lead pirates to anonymize their activities. Needless to say, the bloodsucking leaches of the legal profession saw an opportunity to use this new law to threaten Canadians with all kinds of horrors if they weren’t bought off (apparently, it ain’t extortion if you are a lawyer). Remarkably, for a government oblivious to the importance of telecommunications, the government has told them to back off on these illegal threats.

“Media companies must back off from threatening Canadians who illegally download movies, music and books with penalties that do not exist in Canadian law, the government said on Friday. “These notices are misleading and companies cannot use them to demand money from Canadians,” said Jake Enright, a spokesman for Industry Minister James Moore. Officials will be contacting Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and rights holders within days to put an end to the practice, he said.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/150109/stop-threats-canadas-online-pirates-rights-holders-told

12) Andhra Pradesh government plans 15 Mbps broadband service at Rs 150 ($3)/month

I wish we had this sort of political leadership in Canada, at least with respect to broadband. Of course, Indian politicians are known for grand pronouncements with no follow through (sort of like Canada “taking on” the mobile carriers), however, at least the gentleman understands than broadband is important to the economy. Conversations I have had with politicians, bureaucrats, and other movers and shakers in Canada so a remarkable degree of obliviousness in this regard.

“Andhra Pradesh government, led by tech-savvy Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, plans to provide broadband connections with peak speed of 15 Mbps to twelve million households for as low as Rs 150/month in the first stage of its about Rs 5,000-crore optical fibre project. The state government has asked the Centre to provide its share of funds from ongoing National Optical Fibre Project that aims to connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across the nation by December 2016.”

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/andhra-pradesh-government-plans-15-mbps-broadband-service-at-rs-150/month/articleshow/45840683.cms

13) David Cameron says new online data laws needed

It is true that there is no tragedy which cannot be exploited politically. After all, known terrorists attack a likely target in another country and the proper response can only be to use the jackboot upon law abiding citizens. Perhaps this halfwit expects terrorists to send text messages to each other regarding the timing and details of any such attack. Or at least to do so without availing themselves of techniques well known to spies and terrorists to avoid such oversight. It is a pity governments chose to do such things rather than acting against the actual perpetrators, agitators, and financial backers.

“David Cameron has promised a “comprehensive piece of legislation” to close the “safe spaces” used by suspected terrorists to communicate online with each other. If he wins the election, Mr Cameron said he would increase the authorities’ power to access both the details of communications and their content. Mr Cameron said the recent attacks in Paris showed the need for such a move. He was “comfortable” it was appropriate in a “modern liberal democracy”.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-30778424

14) Man Saves Wife’s Sight by 3D Printing Her Tumor

I doubt there is likely to be a large consumer market for 3D printers, however, they are very useful for commercial and medical applications. Most of the medical applications we have seen have been in the construction of replacement joints and the like. Some applications, such as this one, have allowed doctors to practice or plan complex surgeries. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Balzer downloaded a free software program called InVesalius, developed by a research center in Brazil to convert MRI and CT scan data to 3D images. He used it to create a 3D volume rendering from Scott’s DICOM images, which allowed him to look at the tumor from any angle. Then he uploaded the files to Sketchfab and shared them with neurosurgeons around the country in the hope of finding one who was willing to try a new type of procedure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he found the doctor he was looking for at UPMC, where Scott had her thyroid removed. A neurosurgeon there agreed to consider a minimally invasive operation in which he would access the tumor through Scott’s left eyelid and remove it using a micro drill. Balzer had adapted the volume renderings for 3D printing and produced a few full-size models of the front section of Scott’s skull on his MakerBot. To help the surgeon vet his micro drilling idea and plan the procedure, Balzer packed up one of the models and shipped it off to Pittsburgh.”

http://makezine.com/magazine/hands-on-health-care/

15) Create My Free App

I thought this was an interesting web site, but I admit I haven’t tried to use it myself as I have been very busy of late. Since many apps are essentially advanced web pages, and web page design software has been around for some time, the emergence of ‘drag and drop’ app development might have been predicted.

“How do I get started? Getting started on your free app is simple. First create a new account on our login page . From there, we will guide you through the design and publish steps. This simple, 5 minute process will give us all the information we need to design your custom app.”

http://www.createmyfreeapp.com/

16) Self-driving car technology moves to forefront at NAIAS

It makes sense that self-driving cars would be a hot topic at an industry show, but this is also a show notorious for “concept cars” which never see the light of day. I remain a big believer in the transformational impact of self-driving cars but reiterate that we are likely looking at a 20 year, rather than 5 year, time horizon for those to be on the market in any quantity. Besides, the optimal situation will be when cars, signage, and telecommunications infrastructure are all in place for true auto-pilot.

“Once relegated to convention center basements, test tracks and tech shows, self-driving cars and the technology behind them are center stage at the North American International Auto Show. Wholly autonomous vehicles for mainstream drivers may be years off, but parts of the self-driving experience are on display now at Detroit’s Cobo Center: three-dimensional cameras, lane-correction devices and other tools that increasingly remove the driver from the tasks of steering, braking and accelerating. There’s even a self-driving concept car with a sort of built-in lounge: The Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept has walnut flooring and seats that swivel to facilitate conversation.”

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/detroit-auto-show/2015/01/13/self-driving-car-technology-naias/21731773/

17) Marriott no longer wants to block guests’ WiFi devices

Call this another version of the Streisand Effect (trying to get something removed from the Internet vastly increases the audience for it). Marriott engaged in blatantly illegal “jamming” of WiFi bands and was fined. Rather than realizing the error of its ways, the chain doubled down on the stupid and petitioned for permission to illegally jam radio signals which served to widely promote its misdeeds and led to a backlash against the chain. I expected hackers to jam Marriott’s WiFi in revenge and they still might, just out of spite.

“Marriott’s (thankfully) raising the white flag and admitting defeat to Google, Microsoft and everyone else lobbying against its plans to block WiFi devices inside its hotels. The company has issued a statement that makes its new stance clear: guests can now use their own WiFi devices without having to worry that their hotspot connections will be blocked in the middle of something important. If you recall, Marriott recently paid a $600,000 fine due to a complaint that it’s been blocking guests’ MiFi and personal hotspots. The hotel chain claims it’s to protect guests from connecting to rogue hotspots set up by hackers and has even submitted a request to the FCC to let it continue doing so.”

http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/15/marriott-wifi-devices/

18) 92 Percent of College Students Prefer Reading Print Books to E-Readers

This is a surprising result, especially considering the demographic. One major problem I see with e-books is that they are so damned expensive and come with limited rights. Why would I pay near the same for (sometimes more) for an e-book as a paper copy?

“Defenders of print books usually rely on anecdote or intuition—which can make it easy to dismiss them as Luddites or romantics. And the relative lack of data has sometimes forced them to resort to the hyperbolic—Andrew Piper proclaiming that e-reading isn’t reading at all—or the petty—Peter Conrad complaining that e-readers don’t align margins the way he likes. With her new book, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, brings more data to the case for print. Baron and her colleagues surveyed over 300 university students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia, and found a near-universal preference for print, especially for serious reading. (She finds that the format doesn’t matter so much for “light reading.”) When students were given a choice of various media—including hard copy, cell phone, tablet, e-reader, and laptop—92 percent said they could concentrate best in hard copy.”

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120765/naomi-barons-words-onscreen-fate-reading-digital-world

19) Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments Grew 1 Percent in Fourth Quarter of 2014

In general I believe industry research is not worth the electrons used to distribute it, however, because so many analysts and companies pay rap attention to the figures it can be worth looking at, especially if you don’t pay for it. To begin with, like most industry research these figures reflect unit sales rather than dollars which are the only metric that matters. I do not believe that it is correct to overplay the relationship between smartphone or tablet sales and PCs except for the fact that consumers have finite funds. My guess is pricing is probably slightly declining in the PC business so overall revenues are dropping 5% and the unit sale rise has to do with replacing old machines, a choice which had been postponed as much as possible due to the abomination known as Windows 8.

“Worldwide PC shipments totaled 83.7 million units in the fourth quarter of 2014, a 1 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2013, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. These results indicate a slow, but consistent improvement following more than two years of decline. “The PC market is quietly stabilizing after the installed base reduction driven by users diversifying their device portfolios. Installed base PC displacement by tablets peaked in 2013 and the first half of 2014. Now that tablets have mostly penetrated some key markets, consumer spending is slowly shifting back to PCs,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.”

http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2960125

20) Exclusive: Samsung talks to BlackBerry about $7.5 billion buyout – source

Most likely this rumor was started by a hedge fund manager keen to manipulate the stock (yes, some do). Equally, the rumor might have some foundation in truth – 20 years of equity research taught me that you should not assume a takeover won’t happen just because it makes no economic, strategic, or technological sense. Similarly, it is not entirely unusual for dim witted boards to massively overvalue a once great company. Frankly, I believe Blackberry will be bought, but only a complete idiot would pay more than a small fraction of its current stock price. So don’t rule it out.

“Samsung Electronics recently offered to buy BlackBerry Ltd for as much as $7.5 billion, seeking its valuable patents as it battles Apple in the corporate market, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents seen by Reuters. South Korea’s Samsung proposed an initial price range of $13.35 to $15.49 per share, representing a premium of 38 percent to 60 percent over BlackBerry’s current trading price, the source said on Wednesday.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/15/us-blackberry-m-a-samsung-exclusive-idUSKBN0KN2FW20150115

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 9th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 9th 2015

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!

Perhaps I am getting jaded but, despite the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there wasn’t much interesting tech news. I believe things are afoot in the mobile space (notably Xiaomi’s rise as a device vendor in China) which are far more significant than any announcement out of Las Vegas. There was a bit of show and tell in the self-driving car space, but, like most other “concept cars” the market opportunity is years in the future. This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni
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1) Estonia’s Taxify, An Anti-Uber Taxi App, Raises €1.4M For Further European Expansion

This is the proper response to Uber. Instead of the widely reported histrionics designed to maintain the archaic taxi system, offer consumers a reliable and predictable alternative. Ultimately, whether governments preserve the rights of the wealthy to control taxi licenses, the great advantage of Uber has been superior customer service and offering that instead of the traditional taxi model will re-level the playing field. This is also why Uber is just a car service, and not the stupidly overvalued “tech” company people seem to think it is.

“Estonian startup Taxify is one of a number of taxi apps aiming to help traditional taxi firms and drivers fight back against behemoth Uber and its ilk. It does this by providing an iOS, Android and mobile web app that lets you order a cab online. This helps to bring the same convenience of Uber et al. to the licensed ‘taxi’ industry, helping it compete via technology instead of merely lobbying regulators or protesting loudly, Ubergeddon-style. Today the company has picked up an additional €1.4 million in funding, adding to the previous €100,000 raised — money it will use to consolidate what it claims is a leading position in Eastern Europe, and for further European expansion.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/12/18/anti-uber/

2) Xiaomi Confirms It Sold 61M Phones In 2014, Has Plans To Expand To More Countries

Smartphone prices will likely plummet within the next your or so. Xiaomi will probably not enter developed country markets any time soon, but it doesn’t have to. Xiaomi enjoys the same sort of cult following in the developing world – in particular China – which has been enjoyed by Apple (and previously Blackberry, Nokia, etc.). By offering an acceptable, and affordable, alternative this will blunt growth in the developing world for major vendors such as Apple and Samsung. Recall that growth is at the margins and loss or even shrinking of large potential markets has a significant impact on growth even if it does not materially impact market size. When this is combined with collapsing prices, the premium priced smartphone industry seems headed for a train wreck.

“Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker that raised $1.1 billion last month, has confirmed that it sold 61.12 million phones last year, bringing in an apparent revenues of 74.3 billion CNY ($12 billion) in the process. The new figures were released by CEO Lei Jun on Weibo and are right in line with the company’s expectation for the year. Xiaomi sold 18.7 million devices in 2013, and 7.2 million in 2012, so the four-year-old company is continuing to grow its business at a rapid rate — its recent funding round valued it at $45 billion and it is now the world’s third largest smartphone maker.”

http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/03/xiaomi-2014/

3) BlackBerry’s IoT plans start close to home: cars, asset tracking

I don’t really know how seriously to take this, but, in general, companies rarely find success in which they have no expertise. Nonetheless, IoT is a big deal for the shills on Wall and Bay Streets, you you can see the appeal. Here are two major problems: IoT will only take off as an open standards platform (not open source, open standards) and this pretty much eliminates the opportunity for proprietary standards type margins. Furthermore, while by all accounts QNX is a good operating system, only a complete idiot would adopt a proprietary OS for IoT when there are emerging open source alternatives. As a general rule, betting on the stupidity of the market is not a sound strategy.

“BlackBerry is taking the same approach with its Internet of Things platform, launched Wednesday at International CES, as it is with its handset business: Aim at its core markets. In IoT, the struggling mobile vendor has found an emerging area of technology where it may have the right combination of strengths. The company signaled as much last May when it announced Project Ion, a future cloud-based service it said would make it easier for enterprises to develop IoT software.”

http://www.itworld.com/article/2866655/blackberrys-iot-plans-start-close-to-home-cars-asset-tracking.html

4) Autonomous Audi A7 concept steers itself from San Francisco to Las Vegas for CES

The advent of autonomous vehicles will be transformational in the developed world. It will have a profound positive impact across the economy. However, that day is long off – likely 20 years in the future. Plus, it will not be a stepwise change: cars will become increasingly autonomous with various capabilities and safety systems gradually taking over from the driver. These sorts of demonstrations are quite interesting but do not detract from the reality that the systems have limited capabilities and tend to function well under controlled conditions. Nevertheless, the technology is extremely important and merits close attention.

“Audi is making two world premieres at this week’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of which is an autonomous A7 concept that drove to the event itself, after starting off Saturday in San Francisco. The total distance traveled was more than 550 miles, with a number of engineers and journalists given time behind the wheel. Not only is the stunt being used to gather data for an eventual production autonomous car from Audi, it’s also a means of demonstrating the viability of a self-driving car in existing traffic and road conditions. The trek took the A7 concept across roads in California and Nevada, both of which have given a number of automakers permission to test autonomous cars on public roads.”

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2015/01/05/autonomous-audi-a7-concept-steers-itself-from-san-francisco-to-las-vegas-for/

5) The cars of the future?

One doesn’t tend to encounter many Canadian autonomous car stories so I had to include this one. I suspect 2023 is rather optimistic given the state of the art. In particular, Canada’s weather challenges are bound to be a major hurdle as is our 3rd world telecommuncations infrastructure.

“It seems fantastical, but automated vehicles are coming and will nearly certainly be on the roads in the coming decades. Many car manufactures are working on self-driving cars, and Google has been testing self-driving vehicles on open roads. A handful of states already have put legislation governing autonomous vehicles on the books. California is supposed to develop rules so the public can use them by Jan. 1. While Google is estimating its technology could be in public hands before 2020, Godsmark said that technology will not work everywhere all of the time yet. “So in terms of Canada, the figure I’ve been telling everyone is expect autonomous vehicles capable of all-year-round operation by 2023,” he said. There are also different technologies out there – Godsmark is an enthusiast for the fully autonomous vehicle, but there’s also what Godsmark calls a “parallel technology,” connected vehicles. Connected vehicles communicate with each other, but also the infrastructure and a central “brain” that will optimize everything.”

http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141227/SAG0801/312279991/-1/sag

6) Sony is trying to make the Walkman cool again

Once upon a time I worked for Philips, which was well regarded for selling high quality state of the art consumer electronics at a premium. Over time, they lost their reputation for quality and being state of the art but they tried to retain premium pricing. That’s the problem with having idiots running a business: running it badly only shows up after a number of years. Sony seems destined to follow Philips’ lead in this regard. For about 15 years you could get good enough products at a lower price from, for example, Samsung, and now you can get better products at a better price from lots of companies not named Sony. I suspect a $1,200 Walkman targets mostly Sony executives because that’s roughly who they’ll sell it to.

“Sony’s latest take on its classic music player, the ZX2, supports high resolution audio playback and is Wi-Fi-, Bluetooth- and NFC-enabled. At first glance, the Walkman ZX2 looks more like an oddly shaped smartphone than a music player. The Android-powered device (it runs Android 4.2, Jelly Bean) features a touchscreen, and supports Android apps via the Play Store. ut its real power— and the reason for its $1,200 price tag — lies in its S-Master HX processor, which enables the high-resolution audio, though you’ll need headphones or a speaker that supports high-res audio to enjoy it.”

http://mashable.com/2015/01/05/sonys-high-res-walkman/

7) BitTorrent Adds First Feature Film And Pay-What-You-Want Option To Its Bundle Model

Torrents have a bad reputation because they have been used for piracy. They are also used for the distribution of open source and public domain material, facts which do little to counter that bad rep. BitTorrent has a number of interesting products, including Sync, and are trying to monetize their torrent technology for legitimate use. I am not sure that “Pay-as-you-want” is a viable large scale business model, though it might work for certain types of product. Nonetheless, a paid torrent system (no doubt with discounts for seeding) is probably a viable means to distribute paid content.

“Another step ahead in BitTorrent’s bid to expand its Bundle business model to all kinds of content, and all kinds of payment options. The company today said it would soon post a full-length feature film directed by David Cross, HITS, and people can get it by paying whatever they want. The film is set to go up on BitTorrent on February 13. HITS first debuted at Sundance in 2014 and this will be its first wide release, alongside another not-too-conventional push in physical theaters. Cross is also currently running a Kickstarter to get the movie to a select number of cinemas, also in a pay-what-you-want model for moviegoers.”

http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/07/bittorrent-adds-first-feature-film-and-pay-what-you-want-option-to-its-bundle-model/

8) Has Curiosity Found Fossilized Life on Mars?

A bit of a stretch but worthy of a read. Relatively low resolution photography shows what might be fossilized bacterial or algal mats similar to what we see on Earth. Even though this is in the “too good to be true” file, these sorts of theories lead to the formulations of experiments by Curiosity or subsequent spacecraft to test the hypothesis. It would be very cool indeed if it were true.

“Time and time again, as we carefully scrutinize the amazing high-resolution imagery flowing to Earth from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, we see weird things etched in Martian rocks. Most of the time our brains are playing tricks on us. At other times, however, those familiar rocky features can be interpreted as processes that also occur on Earth. Now, in a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, a geobiologist has related structures photographed by Curiosity of Martian sedimentary rock with structures on Earth that are known to be created by microbial lifeforms. But just because the structures look like they’ve been formed by microbes on Mars, does it mean that they were?”

http://news.discovery.com/space/alien-life-exoplanets/has-curiosity-found-fossilized-life-on-mars-150106.htm

9) Body of Knowledge: New Machine Can See Bones, Organs in Stunning Detail

You really have to look at the article because the images are absolutely amazing. They look like something out of a science fiction movie they are that good. As I understand it, this novel CT scanner can take images in a fraction of a second, leading to much faster imaging in general but also the ability to track movement of things like heart valves and so on. It also means the patients do not have to be immobilized. Unfortunately, they do not mention the cost of the unit but you can imagine it is very, very expensive.

“In 2013, GE introduced a new, superfast scanner called Revolution CT that allowed doctors to routinely obtain clear images of the beating heart, lungs, liver and other organs. Starting in September 2014, the West Kendall Baptist Hospital in Florida became the first medical facility in the U.S. to use the machine. Its combination of low-dose exposure, organ-wide coverage and motion correction technology allows doctors to reduce radiation and still obtain high-resolution images of blood vessels, soft tissue, organs and bones.”

http://www.gereports.com/post/107344100845/body-of-knowledge-new-machine-can-see-bones

10) Samsung’s latest SSD is remarkably fast and consumes roughly zero standby power

Most of the “new product” announcements arising from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past week were disturbingly banal. This was pretty esoteric but it shows where Solid State Drives (SSDs) are headed and reinforces my view the Hard Disk Drive is destined to go the way of the floppy. No doubt, as a market leading product these are very expensive in absolute and “bang for the buck” terms, but you can safely expect prices to drop rapidly. In any event, the ultra low standby power means, for example, a laptop vendor can reduce the size and weight of their product and still offer either longer battery life or a smaller battery.

“Samsung Electronics has announced that it is mass producing a high-performance, low-powered PCIe SSD designed for use in both ultra-slim notebook PCs and workstations, the SM951. The SM951 is extremely small for space constrained applications. It comes in M.2 form factor, which is 80mm x 22mm or about one-seventh the size of a standard 2.5″ SSD. It also only weighs six grams but can run up to 512GB of capacity.”

http://www.digitalwack.com/2015/01/samsungs-latest-ssd-is-remarkably-fast.html

11) Netflix: VPN crackdown claims ‘false’, says executive

This rumor caused a lot of excitement since the content available on Netflix is usually licensed on a regional basis. For example, a particular movie or documentary might be available in the US but not the UK, or vice versa, due to licensing. Tech savy users can bypass licensing restrictions through the us of VPNs (similar methods can be used to pirate with relative impunity). Frankly, I’m surprised the CEO would deny the claim of a “crackdown” since the licensees would at least want him to engage in theater to the effect they take the license terms seriously.

“The company denied reports it had stepped up its attempts to block access via virtual private networks (VPNs). Netflix said its existing policy against the use of VPNs to circumvent geographical content barriers remained unchanged. But it said its service would still work via some VPNs. “The claims that we have changed our policy on VPN are false,” said Netflix’s chief product officer Neil Hunt. Speaking at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, he said: “People who are using a VPN to access our service from outside of the area will find that it still works exactly as it has always done.” He was speaking in response to widespread claims that the popular media streaming firm had begun a crackdown on customers who used VPNs at the behest of studios unhappy at their licensing arrangements being ignored.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30726631

12) Netskope Report Reveals High Frequency of Compromised Credentials in Enterprise Cloud Apps

Frankly I am not sure the numbers add up, but the general risk is very real. The great thing about cloud services is that they represent a single point of failure and therefore the greater the number of people using them in a company, the greater the odds of a breach since only one person needs ot download one malware app (or even lose their phone). Nevertheless, cloud computing is seen as the way to go by most CIOs so growth will probably continue. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for directing me to this item.

“Recent research has identified that only one in ten cloud apps are secure enough for enterprise use. According to a report from cloud experts Netskope, organisations are employing an average of over 600 business cloud apps, despite the majority of software posing a high risk of data leak. The company showed that 15 per cent of logins for business apps used by organisations had been breached by hackers. Over 20 per cent of businesses in the Netskope cloud actively used more than 1,000 cloud apps, and over eight per cent of files in corporate-sanctioned cloud storage apps were in violation of DLP policies, source code, and other policies surrounding confidential and sensitive data.”

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/netskope-report-reveals-high-frequency-of-compromised-credentials-in-enterprise-cloud-apps-300017649.html

13) FCC chairman hints the Internet will soon be regulated as a public utility

North American broadband and mobile services are a morass of bad policy decisions which conveniently happen to have been made in favor of the service providers. While the US is not as bad as Canada, these bad decisions have lead to a steady erosion in position in the past 15 to 20 years, shifting us from world leading to third world status. Neither broadband providers nor mobile service providers generate value add: they simply exploit “rights” which they have purchased or, in many cases, been given, by governments. Both should be regulated as public utilities, but in a manner which would foster competition, instead of suppress it, as is the case today. Unfortunately, while the FCC chairman may have the best interests of the consumer in mid (though I doubt that) the consumer doesn’t stand a chance against the powerful and well financed lobbyists in Washington and Ottawa.

“In a speech given this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Wheeler spoke favorably of reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, saying that this would allow for “just and reasonable” regulation with “the best protections” for consumers. The FCC will vote on final regulations next month, and reporters say Wheeler’s CES speech is a strong indication that the Commission is leaning in favor of supporting the President’s stance on net neutrality.”

http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2015/0108/FCC-chairman-hints-the-Internet-will-soon-be-regulated-as-a-public-utility

14) Revolutionary implant enables broken spinal cord to function again

A number of years ago we covered experiments which showed rats walking subsequent to spinal cord injury using electrical stimulation and drug treatment. Apparently, the major problem with the approach was that the implants were not well tolerated by the immune system. This new implant promises to last longer, though I should add that it would have to last many years ot be truly useful. Nevertheless it seems significant progress is being made in this area, which is a good thing.

“A team from EPFL and NCCR Robotics lead by Profs Stéphanie Lacour, Grégoire Courtine and Silvestro Micera published an article in Science today describing their e-dura implant that could revolutionise how we think about and treat paralysis. Until now, implants placed beneath the dura mater of the spinal cord have caused significant tissue damage when used over long periods. Research shows that the new e-dura implant is viable for months at a time in animal subjects. The team is now moving on to clinical trials in human subjects and is developing their prototype to take to market.”

http://robohub.org/revolutionary-implant-enables-broken-spinal-cord-to-function-again/

15) Computer Masters Texas Hold’em, Poker Face and All

I don’t play poker because I’m not good at it, which means I always lose and I can’t see the point in financing my education any further. This development made the evening news, which is a bit surprising. Apparently, the researchers have developed a mathematical strategy which pretty much guarantees a win, provided enough hand are played. Of course, this only works for a very simple form of poker so you don’t have to worry about it being a major issue for online gambling sites which will simply continue to cheat in order to clean up. After all, who needs math when you have a crooked dealer and a rigged deck?

“If you lose at Texas Hold’em, don’t blame your cards. A breakthrough in artificial intelligence has allowed a computer to master the simplest two-person version of the poker game, working through every possible variation of play to make the perfect move every time. When performed without mistakes, just like the childhood game tic-tac-toe, there’s no way to lose. In this case the player is Cepheus, an algorithm designed by Canadian researchers.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-08/texas-hold-em-mastered-in-months-by-computer-with-no-wrong-moves.html

16) Quantum hard drive breakthrough

More of a quantum memory breakthrough in terms of the duration the quantum states can be stored. The article is a fair bit above my pay grade, but it sounds important.

“Physicists developing a prototype quantum hard drive have improved storage time by a factor of more than 100. The team’s record storage time of six hours is a major step towards a secure worldwide data encryption network based on quantum information, which could be used for banking transactions and personal emails. “We believe it will soon be possible to distribute quantum information between any two points on the globe,” said lead author Manjin Zhong, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE).”

http://phys.org/news/2015-01-quantum-hard-breakthrough.html

17) The Voltera V-One Makes Circuit Boards In Minutes

This sounds promising but I suspect the market is not likely to be as large as imagined. First, the price is way too high for home hobbyists, though some maker clubs might be enticed. Second, any buyer would be dependent on Voltera to continue to supply consumables, which is a dubious proposition for any start up. Third, the system uses no vias (holes from one side to the other), which limits the types of components you can use (or, limits the boards you can use the unit for. Finally, it seems it doesn’t really do two sided boards, meaning components are going to have to be all on one side. All this being said, if a company such as HP were to produce the product, thus delivering a low cost platform with high cost consumables, though from a reliable supplier, it would probably be quite successful.

““The Voltera V-One goes beyond printing single layer circuits on paper. We’re the first to be able to print two layer circuits onto FR4 (the industry standard substrate) with a product of this size and cost. But it doesn’t stop there… the printer is also cable of dispensing solder paste and baking the board to attach all the small components,” said Almeida.”

http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/06/the-voltera-v-one-makes-circuit-boards-in-minutes/

18) New lie detector relies on full-body suit for better accuracy

Even though lie detectors have been shown to be pseudoscience, and there are simple techniques which can be used to spoof even the pseudoscience, some employers and law enforcement authorities use them. This test is an example of the problem: they claim “much better accuracy”, and I won’t dispute that claim. The problem is, the folks likely to lie – criminals – tend to be skilled liars so the only meaningful test would be to see if the system detects lies told by skilled liars, not regular folk. Besides, even at 75% accuracy, most people are honest, not guilty, and telling the truth so the number of false positives is very high.

“When you are hooked up to a polygraph lie detector there is only a 60 percent chance a skilled examiner will spot a lie, giving you pretty good odds to get away with one or two untruths. However, Dutch and British scientists have found a way to amp up the accuracy of lie detection to 75 percent by monitoring a suspect’s movements with a full-body suit. Current lie detection methods aided by polygraphs are only slightly better than what people can achieve on their own. Without a machine, most people can only tell truth from lies about 55 percent of the time.”

http://www.itworld.com/article/2864675/new-lie-detector-relies-on-fullbody-suit-for-better-accuracy.html

19) Microsoft unveils Nokia 215, a $29 phone with Internet access

This probably belongs with item 2 about Xiamoi, but this product is actually directed towards the extreme poor in areas like sub-Saharan Africa. I was initially very skeptical as to whether a market for mobile services would emerge in such areas but I have been pleasantly surprised. Banking and all manner of services are being rolled out, resulting in a significant positive impact to standard of living. Many such services used cheap ‘candy bar’ phones and texting so even basic 2G Internet would be a major improvement. Not that this somehow makes Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia seem rational, but it is an interesting piece of kit.

“Smartphones may be more affordable than ever, but, for quite a few people, they are still too expensive. And they offer short battery life, pretty much across the board. It is not a winning combination, especially for those living in developing markets, looking to be connected to the Internet while on the go. Enter Nokia 215, a dirt-cheap Internet-ready phone, which Microsoft announced earlier today. It packs some of the most-important features people want in a smartphone, but without any of the major drawbacks. The software giant calls it its “most affordable Internet-ready entry-level phone yet”, costing just $29.”

http://betanews.com/2015/01/05/microsoft-unveils-nokia-215-a-29-phone-with-internet-access/

20) Tech manufacturers join forces to bring cinema picture quality into our homes

This is a good first step along the way to UHD products which actually work together (how novel!), however, do not expect the technology to move the needle in the consumer electronics market. Marketing hype aside, the human eye is only so good at detecting detail and even then that depends on the size of the screen and the distance you are from it. UHD might be useful for games, especially when you are close to your screen, but even then not much. I figure that eventually all the TVs will be UHD for the same reason most are 3D: because there is little or no price gap. However, very few consumers will replace their existing TVs with UHD, or even pay more than 10% for a UHD set because there simply is no significant benefit.

“Major brands at global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show CES have promised to do more to get high resolution in our homes, and have formed an alliance to prove it. Announced earlier this week by Samsung alongside their new SUHD TV line-up, the UHD Alliance is a partnership between the big name manufacturers, including themselves but also LG, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony as well as movie studios and streaming services.”

http://home.bt.com/tech-gadgets/tech-news/alliance-to-work-on-high-resolution-11363953706612?con_social_rd_st

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 2nd 2015

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!

Another blindingly slow week in tech. Most articles were “best of” and other filler. Nothing of any significance or importance seemed to be announced. Next week should be a bit better as many announcements are timed to coincide with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, whether those are CES related or not. This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Happy New Year!

Brian Piccioni
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1) ‘Connected life’ at the heart of CES electronics show

Internet of Things (IoT) may be the hottest topic in tech right now but I don’t buy into the idea it is what people think it is. Yes, there are all kinds of connected products being announced but most represent a solution in search of a problem. Besides inter-connectivity and a lack of standards, the cost/benefit analysis appears to be missing most of the benefit bits. It remains to be seen whether the average consumer is capable of setting these things up, or if CE firms can deal with the myriad of issues associated with wonky router set ups, etc.. And then there is the fact most such products use a cloud service, meaning the functionality will be present only up to the point where it will be actively supported.

“In the air, in your car, on your back—new technology at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show is showcasing the growing number of ways to live the “connected life.” The so-called “Internet of Things” is leading to a wider range of wearable tech, from sports shirts to smart watches to sleep monitors to connected refrigerators. The vast 2015 International CES, one of the world’s biggest electronics fairs to be held in Las Vegas January 6-9, shows how technology is permeating virtually all sectors of life—from entertainment to automobiles to kitchen appliances, in sectors including health, fashion and sports. “The ‘Internet of Things’ is the hottest topic in tech right now,” said Karen Chupka of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the annual event.”

http://phys.org/news/2015-01-life-heart-ces-electronics.html

2) Police suspect fraud took most of Mt. Gox’s missing bitcoins

File this under “no sh*t Sherlock.” (Some email servers bounce swear words. Sorry). I could, and did, say as much when the first Bitcoin hacks were announced. The less regulated a financial structure, the higher the probability of fraud and, therefore, an unregulated financial structure has a near 100% probability of fraud. Not only that, but there has never been a successful prosecution of theft or fraud of a virtual currency, so “stealing” Bitcoin isn’t even illegal, making it the perfect crime. It is even hard to pity the victims.

“Nearly all of the roughly US$370 million in bitcoin that disappeared in the February 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox probably vanished due to fraudulent transactions, with only 1 percent taken by hackers, according to a report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing sources close to a Tokyo police probe. Of the 650,000 bitcoins unaccounted for — worth about US$208 million today — only about 7,000 appear to have been purloined by hackers, the newspaper reported on New Year’s Day, adding that investigators have yet to identify who was responsible.”

http://www.csoonline.com/article/2863967/cloud-security/police-suspect-fraud-took-most-of-mt-goxs-missing-bitcoins.html

3) Grocery delivery start-up Instacart raises $210 million from investors

If you have any doubts as to whether we are in Dot Com Bubble 2.0, the fact that anybody, let alone purported “experts” would invest in a grocery delivery business, no matter what the valuation, should put those to rest. Of course, the hope among the venture capitalists is not that this rather stupid and well worn business model would make money, but that they can IPO the pig and cash in before the music stops. Stories such as these help build legitimacy to banal ideas, as they did last go around. The public markets haven’t really gone parabolic yet, but when they do you can start the countdown clock to implosion.

“Venture capital funding is pouring into the space. More than $1.6 billion was invested last year into food-related tech companies, up 33% from $1.2 billion in 2012, according to a report by consulting firm Rosenheim Advisors. Instacart shoppers browse online and pick out groceries at supermarkets that have partnered with Instacart. Once an order is placed, Instacart dispatches a “personal shopper” who will polish off the list and then deliver the bags to a buyer’s doorstep.”

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-instacart-investor-20141230-story.html

4) How Tesla Boosted Its Roadster’s Range by 50 Percent

Even the Tesla news this week wasn’t significant. My read on this is simple: the last Roadster was made in 2011, suggesting the average age of the fleet if probably around 5 years. Over the next 3 years an increasing number of Roadster owners are going to lean a cold reality of EVs: battery packs are staggeringly expensive and don’t last long. Therefore a cynic might conclude this is simply an effort to mask that problem. I would not be surprised if the “upgrade” is heavily subsidized by the company because the looming PR disaster would have a greater impact on Model S sales than the subsidy would cost. Of course, having to replace the drive system in every vehicle sold in Norway hasn’t impinged upon the company’s somewhat undeserved reputation for quality, so why worry?

“Part of the Roadster’s range boost will come from using tires with less rolling resistance and from making modifications to the car’s body that improve its aerodynamics. But the biggest improvement comes from increasing the energy density of the battery pack. Each pack contains thousands of cylindrical battery cells that look similar to AA batteries. “Cell technology has improved substantially” since Tesla designed the Roadster, the company said in its announcement. For the upgrade it will replace the original cells with new ones that store 31 percent more energy.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/533846/how-tesla-boosted-its-roadsters-range-by-50-percent/

5) Samsung pulls ahead of Apple in consumer satisfaction

Frankly, this is a rather baffling result. Apple spends gazillions on ad campaigns to convince Apple owners their gadgets are the latest breakthrough in technology, despite being in most cases overpriced, well behind the curve, and derivative. Apple also spends a lot of money offering a top notch customer experience. Fundamentally, marketing is responsible for Apple’s astronomical margins, not technology. Meanwhile, Samsung takes a nonchalant approach to promoting its wares and has, at best, a mediocre customer experience. Of course, if these results are true, then the Apple model is breaking down and they are in serious trouble. I believe it is too early for that. It will happen, but it is not happening.

“Customers in 2014 who bought a Samsung smartphone are more satisfied than those who purchased an Apple device, according to a new report from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. The report, which was formally released today, details American consumers’ happiness with smartphones and other mobile cellular devices. In 2013, the ACSI found that 81 percent of consumers were satisfied with their Apple smartphones, while only 76 percent of consumers were satisfied with Samsung. But the two fierce mobile competitors nearly swapped places in 2014, with Samsung taking the lead at 81 percent satisfaction – a 6.6 percent change from 2013, and an 11 percent change from the first year of data, all the way back in 2004 – and Apple dropping to only 79 percent satisfaction, a loss of 2.5 percent.”

http://www.neowin.net/news/samsung-pulls-ahead-of-apple-in-consumer-satisfaction

6) Review: IPhone user tries to go back to BlackBerry

Frankly I was expecting the conclusion: going from a modern smartphone to a Blackberry is a bit like going back to a flip phone. I prefer a keyboard, but a keyboard isn’t going to get me back onto a tired platform. Near the end of the review he hits upon the reason Blackberry’s problems are terminal: you can’t really run most of the apps you want to run. If you’ve never used a modern smartphone, that might not be a big deal, but that’s why Blackberries can only ever appeal to a shrinking subset of existing Blackberry owners. Plus your buddies make fun of you.

“More importantly, BlackBerry lacks several apps I’ve come to depend on. The Classic will run some Android apps through Amazon’s app store, but it’s a subset of what’s available for Android. It doesn’t even run everything that would run on Amazon’s Fire phone. Apps need to be tweaked for the phone’s 3.5-inch screen (The display is smaller than most phones because the physical keyboard takes up much of the bottom). There’s no Instagram, no Uber car service—at least without relying on unofficial apps or complex, backdoor installation methods.””

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-iphone-user-blackberry.html

7) Ultra HD 4K and beyond: Rec. 2020 glimpses the future of TVs

There are two aspects to HDTV: one is the sale of consumer sets and the other is the sale of broadcast and studio infrastructure equipment. I believe 4K TV sets are a bit like 3D HDTVs in that few people will have any interest in them until the price gap between 4K and HD becomes essentially zero – as is rapidly becoming the case. I do not believe we will see the same transition to 4K as we saw with HDTV on the broadcast side. An HD studio had to be end-to-end HD in order to be HD, whereas 4K can be reserved for special events and may not even be broadcast as such. For example, a sports event might be captured in 4K but, because of the superior resolution, the director could “post zoom” on a goal or other event. Either way, 4K is not going to make much of a dent in the market.

“The International Telecommunications Union is the regulatory body that establishes the parameters by which all TVs and their related paraphernalia (cameras, etc.) work. Without them, every TV show would look different on every TV. To help with the adoption of Ultra HD, otherwise known as “4K,” they’ve put out the sexy sounding Recommendation ITU-R BT.2020. What does it mean for you?”

http://www.cnet.com/news/ultra-hd-4k-and-beyond-rec-2020-glimpses-the-future-of-tvs/

8) Uber shuts down in Spain after telcos block access to its app

Well, that’s one way of making sure your taxi-drivers don’t have any competition! I don’t know enough about the situation in Spain, however, I strongly suspect the now monotonous rage against Uber has more to do with the fact, at least in North America, most taxi licenses are owned by politically connected rich people who rent them out to drivers who make a very modest income. That is an obsoleted system, but the status quo has a way of looking after itself – consumers be damned. Not that I think Uber is a sound investment: the technology is pretty commonplace and easily replicated. Heck, even cab companies are starting to use dispatch apps.

“Uber Technologies temporarily shut down in Spain late Tuesday evening, several weeks after a judge ordered the company to suspend its ride-sharing service. The San Francisco-based car services company has run into similar roadblocks across the world as it tries to take on the taxi industry, one of the most heavily regulated. Authorities from Nevada to New Delhi have ordered Uber to shut down. But in Spain, the courts went a step farther. A judge on Dec. 9 ordered payment companies to stop working with Uber and telecom companies to block access to the service. On Christmas, telecom companies began to comply, blocking access to uber.com and connectivity to the smartphone app.”

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uber-shuts-down-in-spain-after-telcos-block-access-to-its-app-2014-12-31-810381

9) The Patriot Act Is Cannibalizing America’s Economic Edge

The only thing the Patriot Act did was formalize what was happening illegally in the background. Even so, despite the fact the rules had changed under the guise of national security this was all hiding in plain sight – we were writing about it years before the Snowden revelations. Since US tech titans were largely the perpetrators, these changes most affect foreign customers. Most foreign governments would have been well aware of the spying, with the friendly ones collaborating and the unfriendly ones being cautious. The real damage would be to foreign companies who were made aware cloud services (US based or otherwise) are not trustworthy, that their networks has NSA back doors (which could be exploited by anybody, really). This should cause a permanent impairment to the competitiveness of US tech firms but I doubt it will. After all, we see the countermeasures frequently now (Microsoft “fighting” for its customers privacy, etc.) even though this is mostly theater.

“You would think that when tech companies, the ACLU and the NRA unite for the same cause, the federal government would listen. That was not the case in this year’s USA FREEDOM Act vote where the Senate voted against reforms that would stop the NSA from collecting phone metadata. The majority opinion prioritized protectionism—the idea that phone-record collection could stop threats like ISIS from endangering U.S. citizens—over economic growth. Such myopic attachment to the tools of defense, without consideration of their big-picture relevance, puts the $5.7 trillion U.S. IT industry in danger of losing its competitive advantage.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/12/31/the-patriot-act-is-cannibalizing-americas-economic-edge/

10) (Indian) Government blocks over 60 websites including github & sourceforge on anti-terror advisory

Talk about a brute force approach: some clown figures out that some content on these website is being used by ISIS so they block the sites, even though they could have been far more selective and even though it will take all of a few minutes for ISIS to move its content to other sites. Since Github, Sourceforge, and other such sites are also (mostly, in fact) used to distribute Free and Open Source Software, something which might be of considerable value to the Indian economy, you have to wonder what they are thinking.

“Over 60 websites and links, including popular online tools like Github and Sourceforge used by thousands of programmers have been blocked in India, triggering angry protests by Internet users. The websites were blocked for hosting content that is pro terrorist group ISIS and not cooperating with government investigations, officials said.”

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/government-blocks-over-60-websites-including-github-sourceforge-on-anti-terror-advisory/articleshow/45704384.cms

11) Politician’s fingerprint reproduced using photos of her hands

Fingerprint authentication is a simple method for securing things such as smartphones and laptops. Like any such system, it can be spoofed as these enterprising hackers have demonstrated. I wouldn’t worry: this is a lot of work to go through and, unless you are a celebrity with compromising photos on your smartphone you probably don’t need to be concerned someone will do this to you. Cool nevertheless.

“Last week at a Chaos Computer Club (CCC) convention in Hamburg, Germany, German hacker Starbug claimed he reproduced a fingerprint belonging to German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen using nothing but some commercially available software and a number of high-resolution photos of her hand. Starbug, whose real name is Jan Krissler, said that he used a close-up photo of von der Leyen’s thumb that was taken with a “standard photo camera” at a press conference from a distance of three meters (about 10 feet). He also used several other pictures of her thumb which had been taken from different angles at different times. Then, according to VentureBeat, Starbug used a program called Verifinger to recreate the print.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/12/politicians-fingerprint-reproduced-using-photos-of-her-hands/

12) The rise and fall of fitness trackers

I reiterate that the predictions of the likes of Gartner are probably not as good as chance (chance doesn’t preach to a payign choir). Predictions based up the assumption a new product will displace an existing product assume said new product will be successful. Thus far, “smartwatches” have been a flop and there is no reason whatsoever to assume Apple’s will be any different. Besides if you confront consumers with imaginary choices they give you imaginary answers. I believe the wearables market – smartwatches or fitness trackers – will remain an irrelevant sideshow in the technology world.

“Wearable tech is dedicated to staying on your wrist, but its face is changing fast. Headed into 2015, the wearable market will soon be bidding a slow farewell to the dominance of screen- and app-less fitness wristbands and trackers, like the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP, and welcoming in the era of smartwatches, with the Apple Watch front and center. The global fitness wearable market, which includes fitness wristbands, sport watches and smart garments, is expected to shrink next year from 70 million units sold to 68 million, according to a November report from analyst firm Gartner. Smart wristband shipments are expected to fall by 15 percent to 17 million units, while smartwatches are expected to jump 17 percent to 21 million shipments, eclipsing the former as the most successful wearable design to date.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/fitness-trackers-rise-and-fall/

13) Robber barons and silicon sultans

Many years ago I read a fair bit about the “robber barons” and their various misdeeds (few of which are detailed in this article, despite being very seriously bad). For example, it might be a chuckle to read about Henry Ford trying to teach farmers, but his role in anti-Semitic newspapers and publishing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was somewhat less amusing and should provide a warning for what happens when the very rich involve themselves in politics. Mind you, unlike the original robber barons, no Silicon Valley billionaire has used heavy machine guns to disperse crowds. Yet. Appearances ot the contrary, the interests and the objectives of the very, very rich do not align with those of the common man. They didn’t then and they don’t now.

“Both groups started dreaming ever bigger dreams. The robber barons turned their hands to solving social problems. Ford led a peace convoy to Europe to put an end to war. When he arrived in Norway and gave the locals a long lecture on tractor production in faltering Norwegian, a local commented that you have to be a very great man to say such foolish things. In the Valley, extending life to 100 or 120 is a passion; Mr Thiel even talks about abolishing death. Reforming the state is another hobby; again Mr Thiel takes things to the limit with a project to establish a collection of floating city states in international waters outside the reach of governments. Reinventing food—creating meat substitutes in particular—is another recent craze: Messrs Brin, Gates and Thiel have invested in alternative food companies.”

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21637338-todays-tech-billionaires-have-lot-common-previous-generation-capitalist

14) The One Mistake Google Keeps Making

I do wish he hadn’t chose Tesla (a regulatory arbitrage which will collapse with subsidies or when enough Teslas outlive their batteries) or Virgin Galactic (an amusement ride for rich celebrities who think that a short suborbital flight will make them astronauts). Nonetheless, one should not confuse Google, Apple, or Microsoft, with normal businesses as the author does at the end of the piece. They are different and as a result spin off so much cash that nobody really cares how much they could be making if they didn’t waste it. One favorite waste of cash among such firms is acquiring staggeringly overpriced small companies o the theory that it is better to give the money to the shareholders of other companies than your own. I’m not entirely sure all of Google’s adventures are mistakes, however. If the company believes that extending and expanding Internet use is important to its core business, they might be looking at the indirect return on investment.

“And great ideas keep coming from Google. Yet the company continues to make the same mistake. Over and over. I don’t mean the ones that result in product failures (and there have been quite a few over the years). I mean something a little more fundamental. Take Google Glass. For those that haven’t seen it, it’s a pair of glasses that understands your verbal commands so that it can instantly perform tasks for you, like snapping a photo, taking a video, providing driving directions or searching a database. Glass is a great idea with great technology. It demonstrates the future power of the Internet of Things. There’s just one problem: no one is buying it.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2014/12/29/the-one-mistake-google-keeps-making/

15) Google to FCC: if the internet is a Title II utility, let us expand Fiber

Speaking of dumb ideas, one what was tagged as such when announced was Google Fiber. The regulatory environment in the US and Canada is very much constructed to limit competition in telecommunications services. Different systems are used (for example, in Canada, foreign ownership rules pretty much ensure no well capitalized challengers), but the result is the same. Government regulators are too stupid or too corrupt (I prefer to believe the latter as the former is too frightening to consider) to do anything about it. The cost of Internet services should have dropped dramatically but the US and Canada lags much of the world in terms of price or speed of service. This article provides an example as to why this might be the case, at least in the US.

“Google is often forced to dig trenches for its Fiber internet, limiting the highly sought service to just a few communities so far. That’s because access to poles, ducts and conduits (at a tenth the cost) is limited by federal law to traditional cable TV and telecom suppliers. Google doesn’t legally fit that definition, even though it provides internet-based TV and telephone services. It has had pole access hassles in the past with carriers like AT&T, which said last year that that it would cooperate more with Google only when it “qualifies as a telecom or cable provider” under federal law.”

http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/01/google-letter-fcc-title-ii/

16) United Airlines sues 22-year-old who found way to get cheaper plane tickets

Unfortunately, the US has a very limited ‘loser pays’ rule meaning being sued can be as financially devastating as losing, providing ample opportunity for anti-competitive moves by corporations. In this case, we have some kid who is simply providing publicly available information and allowing a sort of schedule arbitrage. The should be plenty of examples for this since so little of airline fares make sense (it can often cost more to fly directly to an airport than to take a 2 stop flight and get off early). Needless to say, Zaman will probably be shut down, but hopefully, somebody else will simply replicate the service offshore. After all, the solution to irrational pricing is not lawsuits but making the pricing rational.

“United Airlines and Orbitz filed a civil lawsuit last month against 22-year-old Aktarer Zaman, who founded the website Skiplagged.com last year. The site helps travelers find cheap flights by using a strategy called “hidden city” ticketing. The idea is that you buy an airline ticket that has a layover at your actual destination. Say you want to fly from New York to San Francisco — you actually book a flight from New York to Lake Tahoe with a layover in San Francisco and get off there, without bothering to take the last leg of the flight.”

http://kdvr.com/2014/12/29/united-airlines-sues-22-year-old-who-found-way-to-get-cheaper-plane-tickets/

17) Apple sued over iPhone, iPad storage

Speaking of the US tort system, we have hear an example of humanity’s head lice, namely US class action lawyers. The game here is to manufacture outrage by finding some gap between what is and what should be. In this case, presumably, no OS upgrade should occupy more storage than the original one, regardless of enhanced functionality. Assuming the suit gets certified, as undoubtedly it will, accusations will fly and there will be a settlement: “aggrieved” Apple owners will get a coupon worth a few dollars discount off their next purchase whereas 40% or so of the “justice” will be meted out to the imaginative lawyers who made the whole thing up.

“Ever wonder why there never is enough space on your iPhone or iPad? A lawsuit filed this week against Apple Inc. alleges that upgrades to the iOS 8 operating system are to blame, and that the company has misled customers about it. In the legal complaint filed in California, Miami residents Paul Orshan and Christopher Endara accuse Apple of “storage capacity misrepresentations and omissions” relating to Apple’s 8 GB and 16GB iPhones, iPads and iPods. Orshan has two iPhone 5 and two iPads while Endara had purchased an iPhone 6.”

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/apple-sued-for-allegedly-misleading-consumers-over-iphone-ipad-storage/

18) Microsoft builds IE’s younger brother, codenamed Spartan: report

This is how slow a week it has been: there were dozens of stories about how Microsoft is coming out with a new browser. Whoop de freakin’ do! Perhaps it won’t be as bad as Internet Explorer, whose market share is an ongoing source of bafflement to me, but people will still have to keep a copy of Internet Explorer on their system to access websites which are so badly written you can only use IE to access them.

“When Windows 10 ships next year, it’ll include a new browser – but the software, code-named “Spartan,” might not be an update to Internet Explorer. Microsoft may be building an entirely new, light-weight browser to better compete with Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, according to a report from CNET’s Mary Jo Foley.”

http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2014/1230/Microsoft-builds-IE-s-younger-brother-codenamed-Spartan-report

19) New Clues In Sony Hack Point To Insiders, Away from DPRK

The first source for this was the World Wide Socialist Website, but I figured most folk wouldn’t want to be pitched Trotsky in the GRL. The second was Time Magazine, which isn’t much better, propaganda wise. It was remarkable how quickly the media accepted the narrative blaming North Korea, though, admittedly, it was a logical conclusion (unlike, say, the narrative Iraq was responsible for 9/11). If I were an ex-Sony employee who had perpetrated the hack I would now be very, very worried: stealing proprietary data is one thing, threatening terrorist acts is another.

“A strong counter-narrative to the official account of the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment has emerged in recent days, with the visage of the petulant North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, replaced by another, more familiar face: former Sony Pictures employees angry over their firing during a recent reorganization at the company. Researchers from the security firm Norse allege that their investigation of the hack of Sony has uncovered evidence that leads, decisively, away from North Korea as the source of the attack. Instead, the company alleges that a group of six individuals is behind the hack, at least one a former Sony Pictures Entertainment employee who worked in a technical role and had extensive knowledge of the company’s network and operations.”

https://securityledger.com/2014/12/new-clues-in-sony-hack-point-to-insiders-away-from-dprk/

20) Academic Journals: The Most Profitable Obsolete Technology in History

This is a very frustrating subject for me, but it might be an object lesson in how to run a “cash cow” type business. Setting aside the evil which is Elsevier, they probably recognize that their era is drawing to an end thanks to the Internet so they are probably structuring their subscriptions to squeeze the maximum amount of money out of universities and hospitals as they can. After all they know these institutions are not exactly paradigms of efficiency, however, if they squeeze too hard, they will accelerate their own demise, and if they squeeze too soft they won’t maximize their cash flow. Incredibly, despite the fact it should be self evident their days are numbered and that they are the next Encyclopedia Brittanica, the stock has been on fire since 2012 …

“The music business was killed by Napster; movie theaters were derailed by digital streaming; traditional magazines are in crisis mode–yet in this digital information wild west: academic journals and the publishers who own them are posting higher profits than nearly any sector of commerce. Academic publisher Elsevier, which owns a majority of the prestigious academic journals, has higher operating profits than Apple. In 2013, Elsevier posted 39 percent profits, according to Heather Morrison, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Information Studies in contrast to the 37 percent profit that Apple displayed.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-schmitt/academic-journals-the-mos_1_b_6368204.html