The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 5th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 5th 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 edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

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1) HP Destroys a Dream Computer to Save It

This is extremely disappointing news. The “Machine” was intended as a demonstration platform for memristor memory, a novel technology which has the speed and durability of DRAM but is non-volatile. Memristor memory would be ideal for a computer architecture with a single memory map as there would be no slow “disk drive” for non-volatile storage. It has always been possible to create DRAM based single memory map computer, but without the right memory technology (i.e. memristors) there was no reason to do so. Clearly, HP has realized it will not meet its memristor commercial production targets and is now putting lipstick on the pig. Unless they can produce the devices in a relatively short time frame the very considerable cost of the development of the Machine will have been entirely wasted. My major concern is for the development of commercial memristor memories, which I remain hopeful will eventually occur – after all, memristors were only discovered in 2008.

“On Tuesday, however, Martin Fink, HP’s chief technology officer, repositioned the Machine as a “memory-driven computer architecture,” which focuses on the large amounts of data stored, rather than the processing power. Memristors were barely in sight. A prototype of the new computer could be out next year, Mr. Fink said, based on more conventional DRAM memory. Instead of a special-purpose computer operating system, he said, the Machine will initially have a version of the popular Linux system. The major reason for the change is that HP has no idea when, exactly, it will be able to produce memristors in commercial quantities. “We way over-associated this with the memristor,” Mr. Fink said in an interview. “We’re doing what we can to keep it working within existing technology.””

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/03/hp-destroys-a-dream-computer-to-save-it/?_r=1

2) World’s first biolimb: Rat forelimb grown in the lab

This is really the stuff of science fiction movies, but it shows how far lab grown body parts have come. Essentially, what the scientists have done is created a scaffold from a donor limb and grown a new one on that scaffold. It looks like a limb, and the muscles work, but, based on the article it still lacks bones and other cell types, including, probably most importantly, nerves. So as much progress as this represents, the difficult bits remain.

“IT MIGHT look like an amputated rat forelimb, but the photo above is of something much more exciting: the limb has been grown in the lab from living cells. It may go down in history as the first step to creating real, biologically functional limbs for amputees. “We’re focusing on the forearm and hand to use it as a model system and proof of principle,” says Harald Ott of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who grew the limb. “But the techniques would apply equally to legs, arms and other extremities.””

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630243.300-worlds-first-biolimb-rat-forelimb-grown-in-the-lab.html

3) Driverless taxis to become a major form of transport ‘in 10 years’

I chuckled when I read the headline because I thought it was an impossible goal given the state of the art. However, as the article explains, these are low speed (30 km/hr) vehicles, not typical automobiles, and that probably makes the goal a lot more achievable. Urban traffic tends to move at a crawl and managing these low speeds robotically is much more manageable than even 60 km/hr, especially if infrastructure improvements are made to simplify the problem.

“People in cities will shift from using private transport to using self-driving public taxis, as fleets of shared, low-speed electric cars are introduced over the next decade, according to European researchers working on the future of automated transport. By contrast, travel in rural areas and for long journeys will continue to rely on private cars, although these will become more and more automated to increase safety and comfort. Dr Michel Parent, an advanced road transport expert at INRIA, the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, has been working on various EU-funded projects since the 90s to develop self-driving cars that would operate in city centres. He says that fleets of on-demand driverless vehicles that pick people up from their homes and connect them with mass public transport networks could be operational within a decade.”

http://horizon-magazine.eu/article/driverless-taxis-become-major-form-transport-10-years_en.html

4) Patent Act Clears Senate Committee With Compromises Aimed at PTAB

There have been a number of attempts at patent litigation reform over the past decade, so it is hard to know how far this one will get. I figure the key feature is “loser pays” which would raise the pain threshold for troll patent lawsuits considerably. Of course, not all patent litigation, even those started by Non Practicing Entities (NPEs) are “trolls”, however, there is a lot of patent trolling which goes on. True patent trolls are law offices who essentially shake down all manner of businesses (for example, those who use WiFi) figuring they can extort settlements due to the low risk that, even if their cases are thrown out of course their only cost is time whereas the business owner has to pay for a costly defense.

“Tech companies got one step closer to patent reform Wednesday as a Senate committee voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation that includes fee-shifting, heightened pleading requirements and limits on demand letters. But the 16-4 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee came with a price: tweaks to the postgrant review process before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)—a reform that’s proven effective the last few years. An amendment added to the PATENT Act Tuesday night and approved Thursday provides that patents would start inter partes review with a presumption of validity. The amendment also narrows the PTAB’s claim-construction standard to conform with district courts, while allowing patent holders to amend claims and to submit expert testimony earlier in the case.”

http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202728456419/Patent-Act-Clears-Senate-Committee-With-Compromises-Aimed-at-PTAB

5) Tesla Battery Swap Invites Go Out, $80 Per Swap

Tesla is in the business of converting taxpayer’s money into market capitalization, and the gravy train in California requires meeting range targets which are impractical given battery technology. Fortunately, there is a workaround: by allowing a small number of drivers to swap batteries, the subsidies keep flowing. As is frequently the case, the company is being liberal with the facts: $80 may be “slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan”, however, if that sedan is a BMW 760, which has an 80 liter (21.1 USG), a fill up with premium gas is $72 in San Francisco. What is truly interesting is that a doctoral thesis could be written about the economics. If you swap batteries, you are either going to get a newer one, an older one, or, very unlikely, one the same age as the car you drive. Now, batteries are about $30K and if yours is a few years old, if the average swap is a new battery, you can save a pile of money by swapping for $80. On the other hand, unless you know, for a fact, you’ll get a new battery, unless your car is a few years old you want to stay away from a swap. Then there is the impact on the car’s battery warranty, which excludes “wear and tear”.

“It’s been more than six months since Elon Musk announced Tesla’s battery swap pilot station in Harris Ranch, California, though since then there’s been little movement or news on the alternative to Superchargers. Finally though, the first Tesla Model S owners have received their invites to test out the battery swap stations for themselves, though there are some caveats that come with the invite. The invite, which you can read for yourself above, lays out what Model S owners can expect from their first, and subsequent visits to the battery swap station. This includes: A swap time of three to five minutes (though the first swap takes 10 to 15 minutes), The need to schedule an appointment (currently two days ahead of time), Will cost “slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan” (about $80).”

http://gas2.org/2015/06/05/tesla-battery-swap-invites-go-out-80-per-swap/

6) New technology could put an end to drunken driving, officials say

I have little sympathy for drunk drivers and the development of technologies and systems to keep them off the road would be welcomed. I see problems with these types of systems, however: a skin sensor could be easily defeated with a tissue paper and an ambient breathalyzer would probably produce false positives, especially if a designated driver was ferrying about a group of drinkers (not behaviour you want to discourage). The potential liability of the manufacturer if a car let a drunk drive is another matter.

“A technological breakthrough that could virtually eliminate the drunken driving that kills 10,000 Americans each year was announced Thursday by federal officials, who said it could begin appearing in cars in five years. The new equipment won’t require a driver to blow into a tube, like the interlock devices some states require after drunken-driving convictions. Instead, either a passive set of breath sensors or touch-sensitive contact points on a starter button or gear shift would immediately register the level of alcohol in the bloodstream.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/new-technology-could-put-an-end-to-drunk-driving-federal-officials-say/2015/06/04/1cd31176-0a5b-11e5-9e39-0db921c47b93_story.html

7) SourceForge locked in projects of fleeing users, cashed in on malvertising

You might recall that some time ago we lamented that SourceForge, once a leading repository for open-source software, had become a platform for distributing malware. It is not at all unusual for crowdsourced platforms and software to transition to a profit driven model eventually, but they have to watch their step. Like uTorrent, which was found to be distributing malware along with a recent “upgrade”, if you push a bit too far, things hit the fan. SourceForge’s corporate overlords probably realize that now but the damage has likely been done.

“The takeover of the SourceForge account for the Windows version of the open-source GIMP image editing tool reported by Ars last week is hardly the first case of the once-pioneering software repository attempting to cash in on open-source projects that have gone inactive or have actually attempted to shut down their SourceForge accounts. Over the past few years, SourceForge (launched by VA Linux Systems in 1999 and now owned by the tech job site company previously known as Dice) has made it a business practice to turn abandoned or inactive projects into platforms for distribution of “bundle-ware” installers. Despite promises to avoid deceptive advertisements that trick site visitors into downloading unwanted software and malware onto their computers, these malicious ads are legion on projects that have been taken over by SourceForge’s anonymous editorial staff. SourceForge’s search engine ranking for these projects often makes the site the first link provided to people seeking downloads for code on Google and Bing search results. And because of SourceForge’s policies, it’s nearly impossible for open-source projects to get their code removed from the site. SourceForge is, in essence, the Hotel California of code repositories: you can check your project out any time you want, but you can never leave.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/06/sourceforge-locked-in-projects-of-fleeing-users-cashed-in-on-malvertising/

8) Batteriser is a $2.50 gadget that extends disposable battery life by 800 percent

Example #436 of how any discussion of energy results in people’s IQs dropping by 50 points. Yes, it is true that once AA battery’s voltage drops below about 1.35 volts there is a lot more power left in it (see http://www.powerstream.com/AA-tests.htm), depending on a variety of factors. This device, which is a simple (and probably inefficient) step-up voltage converter, called a “joule thief,” keeps that voltage up until the battery is well and truly drained. However, this characteristic of batteries is well known and, in fact, many devices are more than happy to keep functioning until the per cell voltage is as low as it will go. No only that, but if there was a net advantage, device makers would simply incorporate a step-up voltage converter for the few pennies it costs. Nevertheless, like many “energy miracles” it’ll probably sell like hotcakes.

“A completely new alkaline battery is rated to generate 1.5 volts, but once its output drops below 1.35 or even 1.4 volts, it effectively becomes useless to many devices. The battery’s chemical cocktail is still loaded with juice, but the circuitry in many gadgets (especially more sophisticated ones, like Bluetooth keyboards and bathroom scales) considers the battery dead. This is where Batteriser comes in. It’s essentially a voltage booster that sucks every last drop of useable energy from ostensibly spent batteries. So, instead of using just 20 percent of all the power hidden inside of your Duracells and Energizers, Batteriser makes effective use of the remaining 80 percent.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2928997/batteriser-is-a-250-gadget-that-extends-disposable-battery-life-by-800-percent.html

9) Bell Media president says using VPNs to skirt copyright rules is stealing

I really don’t know what planet the Bell Media president thinks she’s on, though it is probably the same one where Bell Media management dictates news coverage of regulatory issues as did her predecessor. She did provide the entire Internet with a good laugh at her expense. I have never heard of anybody feeling bad or being criticized for using a VPN to bypass fundamentally stupid rules. In many cases, the alternative is piracy. On the other hand, plenty of people despise Bell and its thus far successful program of crafting government regulations to restrict or eliminate anything which even vaguely looks like competition in its markets. I suspect that without the mountains of laws which exist to protect it Bell would implode as fast as its customers could find options.

“Watching U.S. Netflix in Canada by using location-hiding services such as VPNs is stealing and needs to be more frowned upon, the new president of Bell Media says. At a keynote speech at the Telecom Summit in Toronto on Wednesday, Mary Ann Turcke said Canadians who skirt copyright laws by finding ways of accessing digital content hurt Canadian culture and jobs and need to stop. “It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix,” she said, “like throwing garbage out your car window — you just don’t do it.””

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/bell-media-president-says-using-vpns-to-skirt-copyright-rules-is-stealing-1.3099972

10) How mobile internet killed off cyber cafés in Nigeria

Cyber cafes are one way a population can cope with an abysmal telecommunications infrastructure. It is unrealistic to assume wired service will be deployed any time soon in poor countries since it doesn’t even exist in many rich countries, albeit for reasons of inept policy rather than cost. One obvious solution is wireless Internet, and this is what this story is about. Unfortunately it does not provide much in the way of detail, however, it is interesting to note the prices: a sim card for $0.25 and Internet access for $0.16/day. I doubt those are for 4G speeds, however, it does make you wonder.

“Today, almost a decade after their heyday, most cyber cafés have either closed shop or converted to other business interests. Only a negligible few—now shrunken—have weathered the storm. They lost relevance due to bad management, inefficient internet service providers, unreliable power supply, and, perhaps most important of all, mobile internet. In most developed countries cyber cafes were a blip in history as most people soon had relatively satisfactory internet connections in the privacy of their homes. In many Nigerian cities these were much more important as it opened the rest of the world to us in a way that even satellite television was unable to do. But mobile phones—and eventually mobile internet on feature phones–changed that very quickly and killed off most cyber cafés that once dotted many Nigerian cities.”

http://qz.com/412745/how-mobile-internet-killed-off-cyber-cafes-in-nigeria/

11) Microsoft WiFi will offer ‘hassle-free Internet’ to Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone users

Microsoft appears to be making an effort to transform itself from clueless laggard to, at very least, topical (though I admit rumors of negotiations to buy Salesforce.com undermine that trajectory). It seems Windows 10 is also due for timely release (see item 20). If done correctly, this leaked initiative could push Microsoft back into the big leagues as they are one of a few companies with the resources to pull this off and WiFi is a hot commodity. We’ll have to see what strings are attached before deciding.

“Microsoft is working on a new service called Microsoft WiFi, details of which leaked today at microsoftwifi.com. While the website has since been pulled, it described the service as offering “hassle-free Internet access around the world” so users can be “productive on the go.” Microsoft WiFi was first spotted by Twitter user h0x0d, the same guy who recently discovered Microsoft Earn. We reached out to Microsoft for more information. “We can confirm that we are working on a new service, called Microsoft WiFi, that will bring hassle-free Wi-Fi to millions,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We look forward to sharing additional detail when available.” As most of Microsoft’s initiatives nowadays, the Microsoft WiFi app will be a cross-platform affair. Before it was pulled, we saw Microsoft WiFi app downloads links for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.”

http://venturebeat.com/2015/06/02/microsoft-wifi-will-offer-hassle-free-internet-to-windows-mac-android-ios-and-windows-phone-users/

12) A Bay Area Startup Spins Lab-Grown Silk

A while back there was a fair bit of interest in transgenic goats whose milk produced spider silk proteins. These researchers have taken things a fair bit further by creating yeast which do the same thing. Yeast can easily be grown in vast quantities and do not require milking so this approach probably has greater potential to make more silk for less money. Of course, like any revolutionary advance, getting to market might be a lot more difficult than it appears.

“Spiders are territorial and cannibalistic—try to farm them, and they end up eating each other. But scientists have long believed that if spiders would only cooperate, fabric made from their silk would be well-suited for use in military and medical equipment, like wound sutures or artificial tendons, as well as in high-performance athletic clothing and other garments. Bolt Threads has ditched the live spiders but held on to this goal. The company has developed a synthetic alternative to spider silk by engineering proteins identical to the natural threads stretched across the nooks in your basement. It’s raised $40 million from Silicon Valley venture capital firms Foundation Capital, Formation 8, and Founders Fund to commercialize its technology and turn those proteins into fabric. “Over the past few decades, as clothing companies squeezed on price, they’ve taken the innovation out of apparel,” says Dan Widmaier, a graduate of the UCSF Ph.D. program in chemical biology and Bolt’s chief executive officer.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-03/a-bay-area-startup-spins-lab-grown-silk

13) Graphene Coating Could Save Millions in Power Plant Energy Costs

Apparently, a hydrophobic coating on condenser pipe results in drops being formed, rather than a thin coating of water which acts as an insulator and inhibits heat exchange. Plastics could fit the bill but the ones which are not themselves insulators do not last very long in this environment. Graphene is an excellent conductor of heat, hydrophobic, and, apparently durable. Unlike many applications for graphene, this does not require production of the bulk material, which is staggeringly expensive. Copper can be coated with graphene through chemical vapor deposition, a common industrial process so the researchers believe the stuff could be in use within a year. Furthermore, the thickness can be adjusted if durability does turn out to be an issue. A couple percent improvement in efficiency in a power plant is a big deal economically.

“In research published in the journal Nano Letters, the MIT team addressed one of the basic elements of steam-generated electricity: heat transfer in water condensation. In a steam-powered power plant, water is heated up to create steam that turns a turbine. The turning of the turbine produces electricity. In this process, the steam is condensed back into water and the whole process begins again. The MIT team looked at these condensers and found that by layering their surfaces with graphene they can improve the rate of heat transfer by a factor of four. The researchers believe that this graphene surface could improve condenser heat transfer so that an overall power plant efficiency could be improved by as much as 2 to 3 percent based on figures from the Electric Power Research Institute.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/energy/fossil-fuels/graphene-coating-could-save-millions-in-power-plant-energy-costs

14) Mystery company blazes a trail in fusion energy

We recently carried an item about how a small amount of lithium ions had a dramatic effect on the duration plasma could be maintained in fusion experiments. This company seems to be taking a novel approach to the issue of containment, however, I don’t know how significant this advance is. While the article refers to a 10x improvement and implies a further 20x to 1 second is required for fusion breakeven, it appears that other researchers have already produced a 30 second plasma pulse (http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/11/fusion-reactor-achieves-tenfold-increase-in-plasma-confinement-time/). Of course, an expert would know whether a 1 second contained FRC would be better than a 30 second plasma pulse. I don’t.

“In papers published last month in Physics of Plasmas and Nature Communications, the Tri Alpha team reveals how fast ions, edge biasing, and other improvements have enabled them to produce FRCs lasting 5 milliseconds, a more than 10-fold improvement in lifetime, and reduced heat loss. “They’re employing all known techniques on a big, good-quality plasma,” Wurden says. “It shows what you can do with several hundred million dollars.” Tri Alpha is supported by “a very diverse group of investors,” Binderbauer says, including venture capital companies, billionaire individuals, and the government-owned Russian Nanotechnology Corp. To achieve fusion gain—more energy out than heating pumped in—researchers will have to make FRCs last for at least a second. Although that feat seems a long way off, Santarius says Tri Alpha has shown a way forward. “If they scale up size, energy confinement should go up,” he says. Tri Alpha researchers are already working with an upgraded device, which has differently oriented ion beams and more beam power.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/physics/2015/06/mystery-company-blazes-trail-fusion-energy

15) Microsoft Gives Details About Its Controversial Disk Encryption

This is not really a Microsoft story as much as a story about encryption. The author, oddly, recommended Microsoft BitLocker and was called upon to justify that decision. He tries but ultimately fails because he does not grasp that trust, in particular in a US tech company, cannot be a factor in choosing an encryption scheme. The Snowden revelations showed conclusively that major US technology companies are enthusiastic supporters of the national security state (as are, no doubt, Chinese and Russian of their respective governments). If you want something “sort of” encrypted, meaning you want it to be difficult for the average person to crack, closed source products are probably good enough. If you want serious encryption, for example, to keep proprietary business information secret, you need something which is open sourced and is constantly being scrutinized for strength and “back doors”.

“Recently, I wrote a guide explaining how to encrypt your laptop’s hard drive and why you should do so. For the benefit of Windows users, I gave instructions for turning on BitLocker, Microsoft’s disk encryption technology. This advice generated an immediate backlash in the comments section underneath the post, where readers correctly pointed out that BitLocker has been criticized by security experts for a number of real and potential shortcomings. For example, BitLocker’s source code is not available for inspection, which makes it particularly vulnerable to “backdoors,” security holes intentionally placed to provide access to the government or others. In addition, BitLocker’s host operating system, Microsoft Windows, provides an algorithm for generating random numbers, including encryption keys, that is known to have been backdoored by government spies, and which the company’s own engineers flagged as potentially compromised nearly eight years ago. BitLocker also lost a key component for hardening its encryption, known as the “Elephant diffuser,” in the latest major version of Windows. And Microsoft has reportedly worked hand-in-glove with the government to provide early access to bugs in Windows and to customer data in its Skype and Outlook.com products.”

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/06/04/microsoft-disk-encryption/

16) I Made an Untraceable AR-15 ‘Ghost Gun’ in My Office—And It Was Easy

I included this article because it mentions the “Ghost Gunner”, a $1,500 open source general purpose NC milling machine (https://ghostgunner.net/). The article makes for an interesting read as well, but not so much because of the gun angle: bizarrely, legally, the “gun” part of an AR-15 assault rifle is the lower receiver, which the article shows is pretty easy to make, not the barrel, which is very difficult to make. Paranoid gun nuts in the US have therefore made the “Ghost Gunner” NC milling machine to enable people to make “ghost” (unrecorded) guns in case the government should decide to confiscate their AR-15s. Needless to say, they could simply ask the local machine shop (heck I have a milling machine) or buy the arms from a private individual on a cash basis (which is, legally, off the books), but I kinda like the NC milling machine angle.

“I did this mostly alone. I have virtually no technical understanding of firearms and a Cro-Magnon man’s mastery of power tools. Still, I made a fully metal, functional, and accurate AR-15. To be specific, I made the rifle’s lower receiver; that’s the body of the gun, the only part that US law defines and regulates as a “firearm.” All I needed for my entirely legal DIY gunsmithing project was about six hours, a 12-year-old’s understanding of computer software, an $80 chunk of aluminum, and a nearly featureless black 1-cubic-foot desktop milling machine called the Ghost Gunner. The Ghost Gunner is a $1,500 computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) mill sold by Defense Distributed, the gun access advocacy group that gained notoriety in 2012 and 2013 when it began creating 3-D-printed gun parts and the Liberator, the world’s first fully 3-D-printed pistol.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/06/i-made-an-untraceable-ar-15-ghost-gun/

17) NASA wants to cut travel time to Mars “in half” with new propulsion tech

A big challenge with space travel is getting there – space is really, really, big, and, while rockets, which are essentially bombs open at one end, are great for getting off the planet, they only work for a few minutes and then run out of fuel. Electric power (nuclear or solar) would allow for gentle but continuous acceleration, resulting in pretty astounding speeds over a matter of days. As the article shows, getting there quicker has numerous benefits and that even goes for unmanned craft as well. You can click through to some of the numerous non-chemical engines if you are interested.

“The main problem with getting humans to Mars is that, with our current liquid-fuelled rocket engines, it takes a very long time to get there; about eight months or so. If we can cut the journey in half, we significantly reduce the amount of food and water needed—which in turn cuts down the weight of the spacecraft, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel needed, which in turn feeds a very positive feedback loop. Less time in outer space means astronauts will be bombarded by less radiation too. Finding a propulsion technology that’s better than liquid fuel, though, has proven difficult. NASA has been looking at a variety of different technologies for decades. An In-Space Propulsion roadmap (PDF) from 2010 lists no less than 41 different propulsion methods. One of the most promising propulsion techniques, at least in the short term, is solar-electric propulsion—gathering solar energy with photovoltaic cells, which then powers some kind of electric engine like a Hall effect ion thruster.”

http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/06/nasa-wants-to-cut-travel-time-to-mars-in-half-with-new-propulsion-tech/

18) Diabetes Has a New Enemy: Robo-Pancreas

Insulin injections sure beat dying, however, the need to monitor and inject has its issues. Children, the elderly, and others may not be able to keep to the rigors of looking after themselves, and, in any event, this is a discrete, rather than continuous, solution: what goes on between tests and injections is important. A self-contained system which continuously monitors blood glucose and administers only the appropriate dose of insulin would result in better outcomes and this is what the article is about. At this time, artificial pancreases are devices worn outside the body but it is not hard to imagine an implantable device with an insulin reservoir which only require occasional refills.

“Now, after half a century of work, a solution at last is in the offing: the artificial pancreas. It links data from an implanted blood-sugar sensor to a computer, which then controls how a pump worn on the hip dribbles insulin under the skin through a pipette. In its fully realized form, the machine would take the patient out of the decision-making loop, which is why it is often called a closed-loop system. “It is a classic problem in control technology, which is the methodology used in process control,” says Ahmad Haidar, an electrical engineer working on the problem at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM). Such technology is used, for instance, to guide a spacecraft or to govern the processing of crude oil in a refinery. Haidar’s group is one of a number of academic and corporate teams vying to create a closed-loop system for an artificial pancreas.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/bionics/diabetes-has-a-new-enemy-robopancreas

19) IoT Gets Sane Forecast at Event

Insane industry forecasts are the ones other industry forecasters put out, though, even if all forecasters agree there is little chance the number is the right one. Trimming expectations from 50 to 1.9 billion devices may seem extreme but even 1.9 billion is a 500% increase over 5 years, a 140% CAGR, so it is not exactly a pessimistic forecast. For the record I do expect a very large number of IoT devices to ship, though I have no opinion on whether the right number is 500 million or 4 billion by 2020. What is important to understand is that these are going to be very cheap devices and they will use very little data, so the direct impact on semiconductor demand and network infrastructure will be negligible.

“Forget the 50 billion devices on the Internet by 2020 as preached by networking giant Cisco Systems. That over-quoted fantasy projection includes all PCs, smartphones, tablets and probably a few iKitchen sinks. At his first event dedicated to the Internet of Things, Linley Gwennap will roll out his own forecast. The veteran market watcher estimates 1.9 billion new IoT devices will ship in 2020, up from about 200 million annual shipping today, mainly in the industrial space.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1326761&

20) Upgrade to Windows 10 for free

And, finally, Microsoft more or less officially announced the launch date for Windows 10 as July 29, 2015. What is interesting is that they have confirmed a free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8, probably so they can temper the support burden associated with Windows 7 and, essentially, erase the disastrous Windows 8 from history. From what I have read, Windows 10 has the good bits of Windows 8 without confining you to the idiotic user interface of that abomination, and reviews seem to suggest it is a pretty good OS. Given the impact Windows 8 had on PC sales, this might provide a bump for both Microsoft and Intel. I’ll let you know in August.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-10-upgrade?ocid=win10_auxapp_LearnMore_win10

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