The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 1st 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 1st 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

ps: Sorry about the quality of articles. Its been another very slow news week.

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1) Tech’s Enduring Great-Man Myth

This is a worthy article, although I do not entirely agree with it’s conclusions. I believe there are, indeed, “great-men” (and women) who make huge strides in science and technology. People like Newton, Einstein, Tesla, Cray, etc., may stand on the shoulders of giants, but they were also giants themselves. Others, like Jobs and Musk, are businessmen with the aptitude to cajole others to actually invent stuff and associate their mere presence with the act of invention. The relationship is very much like Dilbert and his Pointy Haired Boss (every engineer has had a boss like that). Inventing something doesn’t consist of doodling an idea – it involves actually solving the serious problems getting the thing to actually work. The media love a hero story even if those who are closer to the technology dismiss their coverage as piffle and the actual inventors continue to work for salary, far from the reporter’s gaze. Thanks to my friends Duncan Stewart and Humphrey Brown for this item.

“The idea of “great men” as engines of change grew popular in the 19th century. In 1840, the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote that “the history of what man has accomplished in this world is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked here.” It wasn’t long, however, before critics questioned this one–dimensional view, arguing that historical change is driven by a complex mix of trends and not by any one person’s achievements. “All of those changes of which he is the proximate initiator have their chief causes in the generations he descended from,” Herbert Spencer wrote in 1873. And today, most historians of science and technology do not believe that major innovation is driven by “a lone inventor who relies only on his own imagination, drive, and intellect,” says Daniel Kevles, a historian at Yale. Scholars are “eager to identify and give due credit to significant people but also recognize that they are operating in a context which enables the work.” In other words, great leaders rely on the resources and opportunities available to them, which means they do not shape history as much as they are molded by the moments in which they live.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/review/539861/techs-enduring-great-man-myth/

2) Is a Cambrian Explosion Coming for Robotics?

I am a big believer there is a coming industrial revolution associated with robots which will have left the constraints of the factory floor. A mobile robot requires a surprising amount of computing power depending on its functionality, so it makes sense cloud computing would be applied. Consider a robotic lawnmower: rather than making it smart enough to function with built in computing power, the machine could be designed to have enough computing power to operate its safety systems and rely on substantial cloud resources to take care of the heavy lifting. Since only a small fraction of robotic lawnmowers would be used at any one time, those in operation would have access to a supercomputer via a wireless link. Unfortunately, at least three of the technical driving factors (Moore’s Law, Electrical Energy Storage, Electronic Power Efficiency) are not progressing exponentially, or at least there is some doubt as to whether they are.

“Today, technological developments on several fronts are fomenting a similar explosion in the diversification and applicability of robotics. Many of the base hardware technologies on which robots depend—particularly computing, data storage, and communications—have been improving at exponential growth rates. Two newly blossoming technologies—“Cloud Robotics” and “Deep Learning”—could leverage these base technologies in a virtuous cycle of explosive growth. In Cloud Robotics— a term coined by James Kuffner (2010)—every robot learns from the experiences of all robots, which leads to rapid growth of robot competence, particularly as the number of robots grows. Deep Learning algorithms are a method for robots to learn and generalize their associations based on very large (and often cloud-based) “training sets” that typically include millions of examples. Interestingly, Li (2014) noted that one of the robotic capabilities recently enabled by these combined technologies is vision—the same capability that may have played a leading role in the Cambrian Explosion.”

(PDF Download) http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.51

3) How Driverless Cars Could Turn Parking Lots into City Parks

I am rather skeptical of the figure that 64% of local cars were searching for a place to park but I understand the frustration. Driverless cabs (in contrast with driverless cars) would presumably be continuously in motion and not need to park, however, that still leaves the question of how to get to the city. The obvious solution would be improved mass transit, but that has been an obvious solution for decades. Intelligent parking systems (see item 7) could allow you to find and reserve a parking spot so that you would avoid the great hunt for parking and simply drive to the empty spot (or, if you have an driverless car, it could just go there by itself).

“Traffic jams aren’t exactly Zen. People are anxious about getting somewhere else instead of being happy about where they are. To make matters more frustrating: In many cases, the cars clogging roadways are often already at their destination—and just circling the blocks looking for parking. There’s plenty of research showing that a surprisingly large number of people are driving, trying to find a place to leave their car. A group called Transportation Alternatives studied the flow of cars around one Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, and found that 64 percent of the local cars were searching for a place to park. It’s not just the inner core of cities either. Many cars in suburban downtowns and shopping-mall parking lots do the same thing. Robot cars could change all that. The unsticking of the urban roads is one of the side effects of autonomous cars that will, in turn, change the landscape of cities— essentially eliminating one of the enduring symbols of urban life, the traffic jam full of honking cars and fuming passengers.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/08/driverless-cars-robot-cabs-parking-traffic/400526/

4) Review: Epson Kills the Printer Ink Cartridge

This is not a big story, and, frankly, it is high time. I gave up on inkjet printers long ago because of the high cost and inevitable gummed up cartridges. Laser printers have a high up-front cost, but they have been more reliable and have lower cost of ownership. Epson is simply doing what has been done in commercial printers a long time ago, namely using refillable ink tanks. Needless to say, the positioning as “eco” is pretty much required these days, although I have found it amusing that essentially disposable consumer products (including TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.) have not raised the ire of the environmentalist crowd.

“Epson, the maker of my nightmare printer, has finally put an end to the horror of ink cartridges, at least for people willing to throw cash at the problem up front. The five new EcoTank series printers look like normal models, only they have containers on their sides that hold gobs and gobs of ink. How much? Years’ worth. Enough that your children—or at least mine—could go on a two-hour coloring-page-printing bender and you wouldn’t even notice.”

http://www.wsj.com/ article_email/review-epson-kills-the-printer-ink-cartridge-1438683871-lMyQjAxMTE1MTAyNDAwNDQ3Wj

5) SSD vs HDD: Waiting for Price Parity is Pointless

This article compares the state of the art of Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and Solid State Drives (SSDs). Although new 3D flash (see item 6) might close the gap somewhat, the cost per bit on SSDs is likely to remain considerably higher then HDDs for some time. However, that is not all that matters: SSDs are much faster, use less power, and, while prone to wear, are more reliable. Emerging SSD interfaces should have a dramatic improvement on performance and a consequent further improvement in power consumption. I firmly believe HDDs on consumer and business PCs will be as rare as floppy disks within 5 years.

“Based on performance alone, most power users would choose the solid state drive for the operating system and frequently used programs, with the hard drive for documents and media. For some system builds, a hard drive might not even be included—just a singular SSD. But though hard drives may be on their way out as primary storage volumes, they continue to serve well for mass storage and data backup for the foreseeable future. A similar thing happened to tape backup media. Datacenters still use tape formats such as Linear Tape Open (LTO) for storage despite the fact that they’ve been outclassed by other storage types. Slow as LTO storage is, it works great for archival purposes. It sticks around because it fills a unique niche, just like how hard drives may fill another niche in the future. Even when comparing different SSDs, price/GB shouldn’t be the main focus. Performance and reliability factors should drive the purchasing decision.”

http://blog.neweggbusiness.com/news/ssd-vs-hdd-waiting-for-price-parity-is-pointless/

6) SanDisk, Toshiba double down, announce the world’s highest capacity 3D NAND flash chips

3D NAND flash technology has the potential to significantly reduce the cost per bit of SSDs. Although Intel/Micron have similar technology, this is not the same as the novel 3D Xpoint (Crosspoint) memory those companies announced a few weeks ago. 3D NAND flash is similar to stacked flash memory chips, with all the performance and endurance limitations associated with the technology. That being said, 3D NAND flash may shift the gap between SSD and HDD cost per bit sufficiently that HDDs are pushed out of the consumer and business PC markets.

“SanDisk and Toshiba announced today that they are manufacturing 256Gbit (32GB), 3-bit-per-cell (X3) 48-layer 3D NAND flash chips that offer twice the capacity of the next densest memory. The two NAND flash manufacturers are currently printing pilot the 256Gb X3 chips in their new Yokkaichi, Japan fabrication plant. They are expecting to ship the new chips next year.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/2956214/computer-hardware/sandisk-toshiba-double-down-announce-the-worlds-highest-capacity-3d-nand-flash-chips.html

7) Barcelona: The most wired city in the world

Barcelona appears to have become a test bed for what amounts to Internet of Things (IoT) applications in city management. Although I have serious concerns regarding privacy, it seems most people aren’t bothered by such things. (Heck – I’m old enough to remember when Orwell’s 1984 was considered dystopian fiction.). One must always take “cost savings” with a large grain of salt, especially when calculated by vendors and related by politicians. Nevertheless, there are some clear potential efficiency benefits, provided their public sector unions permit them.

“The boxes are no regular electricity meters. They are fine-tuned computer systems, capable of measuring noise, traffic, pollution, crowds, even the number of selfies posted from the street. They are the future of Barcelona, and in some sense they are the future for all of us too. The hard drives are just one piece of what is “unusual” on this street, in fact. Cast your eyes down, and you might spot the digital chips plugged into garbage containers, or the soda-can-size sensors rammed into the asphalt under the parking spaces. Then again, you might not notice anything. Discreet and largely unannounced, the changes in Barcelona have slipped by even observant residents and the millions of tourists who pour into Spain’s second-biggest city every summer to soak up its tapas, music, and beaches. Yet the stealthy transformation is profound and potentially so sweeping that no one is sure where it will lead.”

http://fortune.com/2015/07/29/barcelona-wired-city/

8) Fast fibre-optic internet arrives in many small towns before big cities

Of course, one challenges of a “smart city” (item 7) is that you need the infrastructure to support it. Vast amounts of data require fiber optics, even if the last 100 meters is wireless. Laying fiber optic cables is expensive but it has to be done. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment in some countries (including Canada and the US) provide no incentive for incumbent companies to do so as the net result would be reduced return on investment. It turns out that laying fiber in small towns are rural areas is relatively cheap per unit distance and forward thinking small towns are doing just that.

“These small communities, and many more, have fast internet because they have high-throughput fibre-optic cables deployed directly into homes and businesses, enabling the quickest-yet speeds of up to 1,000 megabits, or one gigabit, per second. That’s enough to stream numerous ultra HD Netflix movies at once, and many times the bandwidth of a typical home connection in urban Canada. But it’s not Rogers, Bell, Telus, Shaw, AT&T or any of the big telecom companies that are providing the services. Instead, a number of small Canadian towns and cities, like dozens in the U.S., are installing their own high-speed fibre-optic cables, or are benefiting as local companies do it — setting up homes and businesses with the fastest the internet has to offer.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/fast-fibre-optic-internet-arrives-in-many-small-towns-before-big-cities-1.3174901

9) Time to fix patents

When you hear complaints of a broken patent system they are always referring to the US patent system, which is the only one which matters, and which has been broken on purpose, much like its copyright system. Powerful forces have contrived to create a system which, in many ways ways, to create barriers to competition. Although the focus is on patent trolls, or “non-practicing entities” the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and drug companies exploit the system to much greater profit – the trolls fight over table scraps. I doubt much will change, however. Unfortunately, the article loses a lot of credibility by suggesting a “use it or lose it” requirement on patents as this shows an utter obliviousness of the role patents play in innovation.

“Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. An early study found that newcomers to the semiconductor business had to buy licences from incumbents for as much as $200m. Patents should spur bursts of innovation; instead, they are used to lock in incumbents’ advantages.”

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21660522-ideas-fuel-economy-todays-patent-systems-are-rotten-way-rewarding-them-time-fix

10) Microsoft wants you to pay $15 for DVD playback in Windows 10

As I mentioned last week, Windows 10 seems to be a huge improvement, even though my laptop has lost its ability to wake from sleep mode. Since this is a problem shared by tens of thousands of people, suggesting it will get fixed eventually. Last week we noted serious concerns regarding privacy with Windows 10 and this week I discovered there are a number of missing functions as well. I don’t have a DVD/Bluray player in my laptop, and if I did I would be plenty annoyed to discover I could no longer play discs after the upgrade. Hell not having frozen over, I would not pay money for a fix: I would find and download a free player such as VLC, which would likely be more featured in any event.

“If you partake in Microsoft’s free upgrade offer from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10, Windows Media Center will be removed without warning. In its place, a new app called Windows DVD Player has been added to the Windows Store. It costs the princely sum of £11.59, or $14.99/€14,89 if you live in the terrifyingly parched wastes outside Blighty. Microsoft doesn’t exactly hide the fact that Windows 10 forcibly deprecates Media Center, but the information isn’t in the most obvious of locations either. If you visit the Windows 10 upgrade website, and then click the “Windows 10 specifications” link in the small print at the bottom of the page, there’s a big list of deprecated features. Media Center is the main one, but you’ll be dismayed to hear that Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hearts have also been removed.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/08/microsoft-wants-you-to-pay-12-for-dvd-playback-in-windows-10/

11) Japanese court rules that bitcoin can’t be ‘owned’

You might recall the heady days of 2014 when almost every week had a story about yet another Bitcoin exchange being “hacked” (most likely by the guys running the exchange). It seems that Bitcoin may be wonderful but once you steal some you want to convert it into old fashioned untraceable cash. The most memorable “hack” was Mt. Gox, and last week the guy responsible for that was arrested in Japan for “fraud”. Now, the problem with virtual currency is that it is not clear whether law applies to it. Last time I checked, only once person had ever been convicted of stealing virtual currency had plead guilty and paid a $30 fine because his mother told him to. Interestingly, a court in Japan just ruled you can’t own Bitcoin. If that ruling stand, it calls into question the aforementioned fraud prosecution. If, in fact, you can’t own Bitcoin therefore you can’t have it stolen from you, and therefore it is the perfect crime.

“Tokyo’s district court has ruled that it’s not possible for people to own bitcoin, and therefore they can’t sue for compensation in the wake of Mt. Gox’s collapse. The ruling comes a few days after the head of what used to be the world’s largest bitcoin exchange was arrested on charges of fraud concerning its collapse. The case involved an anonymous individual who had 458 BTC in their account, roughly equivalent to just under $130,000 today. Naturally, the person was seeking to claw some of that cash back, but Judge Masumi Kurachi felt that bitcoins do not possess the necessary “tangible qualities” to constitute owned property under the country’s law. We won’t debate their wisdom here, nor the intricacies of Japanese property law, but given that Gox was holding thousands of people’s bitcoin stashes, there’s plenty more angry customers looking for compensation.”

http://www.engadget.com/2015/08/06/japanese-court-bitcoin-ownership-ruling/

12) Media Stocks Continue Slide, as Netflix Shares Shoot to Record High

At the same time as streaming becomes more and more popular, cable companies continue to raise rates. Rather than offering a high quality product, content providers seem bent on reducing the quality of their offering to base levels. For example, I used to get Discovery, which occasionally (perhaps once a week) had something worth watching. There are now four “sister” channels and I don’t think there is a watchable item on any five channels ever. I do not understand the investment thesis behind Netflix after all, it is just streaming video, almost all of which is produced by somebody else, however, the outlook for mainstream content producers and cable channels seems pretty bleak unless they up their game and drop their prices.

“The drop in media stocks Wednesday were triggered by Disney’s cut forecasts for pay-TV affiliate fee increases from “high singles” to “mid-single digit” percentages in reporting earnings, and CEO Bob Iger’s acknowledgment that ESPN has seen “some subscriber losses.” That triggered “a sky-is-falling mentality among media investors with respect to expectations on cord-cutting,” Juenger wrote in a research note. The severe reaction in the market was overblown, in Juenger’s opinion, who said he’s optimistic that the pay-TV bundle will continue to remain solid even as subscribers levels continue to slowly erode. “We believe yesterday’s dramatic selloff was much more severe than warranted by any new evidence of risk,” he wrote. There are signs the U.S. pay-TV sector is contracting at a faster rate. The industry lost a net 357,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2015 (excluding Cablevision and DirecTV), versus a decline of 151,000 subs in the year-earlier period, according to estimates by research firm MoffettNathanson.”

http://variety.com/2015/biz/news/media-stocks-continue-slide-as-netflix-shares-shoot-to-record-highs-1201557977/

13) ‘Man in the Cloud’: Hackers can access Dropbox, Google Drive accounts without the user’s password

I figure cloud storage is where you put stuff you don’t mind sharing. A consumer might not care but every business should care and never store anything of any value on a cloud server. Besides the obvious single point of failure (they go off line, you go off line), the activities of the NSA mean you are sharing everything with the US government, and by extension the Russian and Chinese governments as well. If that wasn’t enough, we now have word of a “man in the cloud” hack which allows a third party to intercept your data without you knowing about it.

“Researchers at Imperva released details about a new type of attack, called ‘Man in the Cloud’. The attack can quietly coopt common file synchronization services, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, to turn them into devastating attack tools not easily detected by common security measures. According to Imperva’s report, which was presented at BlackHat USA 2015, this next-generation attack does not require compromising the user’s cloud account username or password. “Our research has revealed just how easy it is for cyber criminals to coopt cloud synchronization accounts, and how difficult it is to detect and recover from this new kind of attack,” said Amichai Shulman, CTO of Imperva. “Since we have found evidence of MITC in the wild, organisations who rely on protecting against infection through malicious code detection or command and control (C&C) communication detection are at a serious risk, as man in the cloud attacks use the in-place Enterprise File Synch and Share (EFSS) infrastructure for C&C and exfiltration.””

http://www.firstpost.com/business/man-cloud-hackers-can-access-dropbox-google-drive-accounts-without-users-password-2380614.html

14) Design flaw in Intel processors opens door to rootkits, researcher says

This seems like an oldie but a goody: a flaw in Intel (and probably AMD) processors which allows highjacking of the machine. This may, in fact be an oversight, however, it is just as likely a contrived situation which gave access to any computer made since 1997. Similar vulnerabilities or “back doors” were discovered in random number generators used by RSA and others (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_EC_DRBG) along similar time lines.

“A design flaw in the x86 processor architecture dating back almost two decades could allow attackers to install a rootkit in the low-level firmware of computers, a security researcher said Thursday. Such malware could be undetectable by security products. The vulnerability stems from a feature first added to the x86 architecture in 1997. It was disclosed Thursday at the Black Hat security conference by Christopher Domas, a security researcher with the Battelle Memorial Institute. By leveraging the flaw, attackers could install a rootkit in the processors System Management Mode (SMM), a protected region of code that underpins all the firmware security features in modern computers.”

http://www.itworld.com/article/2965875/security/design-flaw-in-intel-processors-opens-door-to-rootkits-researcher-says.html

15) New Benefits Emerge from Traditional Public Works Infrastructure

The title should read “lots of people befuddled by free energy scheme”. Long story short, water flows through pipelines, so if you put a turbine inside those pipelines you get free electricity! I know what you are thinking: “that same water comes out of my taps so I could run a tiny turbine to charge my smartphone” and you’d be right. The problem, of course, is that whatever power is being extracted to run the turbines translates to downstream loss of pressure. The pressure is there because of the upstream pumps which are either pushing the water or pumped it into a reservoir uphill from these turbines. One way or another, there is no free lunch.

“As regions of the country seek renewable sources to replace energy from coal-fired power plants, city public works agencies are turning to new approaches for conservation and energy production. In January, the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) in Oregon flipped the on switch for the first project in the U.S. to produce energy from in-pipe hydropower in a municipal water pipeline. PWB partnered with a Portland-based startup called Lucid Energy Inc., a provider of renewable energy systems for in-pipe hydropower. The company’s system, which it says was installed at no cost to PWB or the city of Portland, uses the gravity-fed flow of water inside a PWB pipeline to spin four 42-inch turbines that are now producing electricity for Portland General Electric customers under a 20-year power purchase agreement with the utility.”

http://www.govtech.com/fs/New-Benefits-Emerge-from-Traditional-Public-Works-Infrastructure.html

16) Does Apple lie about how it powers its data centers?

Yeah, actually, that is pretty much the case. “Greenwashing” is pretty common, from branding stuff as “eco” to claiming it is “carbon free”. So, for example, I might run a completely destructive operation and claim it is “carbon free” because I buy carbon credits from somebody who pretends to plant trees to offset my purported carbon emissions. It could be worse: some claim to use “biofuels” which actually produce more carbon than an equivalent amount of diesel due to the copious amounts of diesel used to produced them.

“The trick, however, is that those same companies are buying renewable energy certificates and building facilities such as wind and solar power farms to put energy into the grid to offset the non-renewable energy that they buy to power their data centers. So while the truth is that the data centers are not powered by renewable energy, these companies are making at least an equivalent amount of renewable energy available for sale to the general public, offsetting any increase in non-green emissions, and such. The real issue here is that the Apple marketing machine, by claiming that their data centers are 100% powered by renewable energy, has made the reality of the situation as invisible as possible to their customer base and to activists such as Greenpeace, who give Apple top ratings for “using” renewable power. Apple customers who have any awareness of the power issues are able to add to their smug sense of self-satisfaction that their beloved company is doing the right thing. This explains the outraged tone of the Truthout article. Never buy into the marketing hype without checking it out first.”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/does-apple-lie-about-how-it-powers-its-data-centers/

17) Facebook unveils drone for beaming internet access from the sky

This is Facebook’s answer to Google’s Internet by balloon plan. I confess my skin crawls when terms like “gigabytes per second” are used to describe bandwidth (gigabits), but, hey, what are you going to do? It would be cool to see if these things actually work, and if they do, how reliable they would be. Even if they were reliable enough, there would probably be a need for special access point hardware, which would not be cheap. Then there is the question of what subscribers would get: would it be the real Internet, or a portal into the banality of Facebook?

“Facebook is taking to the skies. Last week, the tech giant unveiled Aquila, the drone it hopes will deliver internet to the masses. The drone has been in development for over a year as part of Internet.org, Facebook’s initiative to help underdeveloped countries get online. A video published on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page describes Aquila as having a wingspan of 40 metres, about the same as a Boeing 737. It is made out of lightweight composite materials, including carbon fibre, and is solar-powered. In the company’s long-term vision for the project, hundreds of drones will circle a large area at an altitude of 60,000 feet, remaining aloft for three months at a time. Lasers will beam information at tens of gigabytes per second between the drones and systems on the ground.”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28003-facebook-unveils-drone-for-beaming-internet-access-from-the-sky/

18) Paralyzed Men Move Legs with New Non-Invasive Spinal Cord Stimulation – NIH study

This is an update on some earlier work which used implanted electrodes to stimulate muscles of paralyzed patients. This approach is non-surgical, meaning it would be much cheaper, safer, and probably easier to upgrade as the technology evolves. It is important to realize this does not mean they can walk, just that their legs can move, though there appears to be some hope walking might be possible. What is interesting is that the stimulation appears to have a residual effect in that the men develop an ability to move without stimulation.

“At the initiation of the study, the men’s legs only moved when the stimulation was strong enough to generate involuntary step-like movements. However, when the men attempted to move their legs further while receiving stimulation, their range of movement significantly increased. After just four weeks of receiving stimulation and physical training, the men were able to double their range of motion when voluntarily moving their legs while receiving stimulation. The researchers suggest that this change was due to the ability of electrical stimulation to reawaken dormant connections that may exist between the brain and the spinal cord of patients with complete motor paralysis. Surprisingly, by the end of the study, and following the addition of buspirone, the men were able to move their legs with no stimulation at all and their range of movement was—on average—the same as when they were moving while receiving stimulation.”

http://www.nibib.nih.gov/news-events/newsroom/paralyzed-men-move-legs-new-non-invasive-spinal-cord-stimulation-nih-study

19) Space mining is closer than you think, and the prospects are great

One of my many rules of thumb states that most businesses involving space are doomed to failure. This is a pretty silly article as the excerpt shows: they are comparing the cost of sending a little rover to Mars with mining. Mining is a proven technology with centuries of experience behind it. Once you build a mine, you end up with a long lived source of a commodity for which there is a known market. Mining in space has never been done, but it would almost certainly be staggeringly expensive. Once you found the ore, you’d have to send it to some sort of space refinery to produce the platinum or whatever it was you wanted. All this has never been done, not even on a tiny scale, and while the construction of a space mine/refinery complex would be staggering, it would require a prodigious amount of power to run it. Maybe the article is right: I’m thinking maybe in a couple hundred years and it’ll only be 150.

“Despite all this activity, sceptics remain unconvinced about the prospects for space mining for reasons such as expense and time. Mining in space will certainly be expensive. The total budget of the project to send Curiosity to Mars and operate it for 14 years was US$2.5 billion. But mining on Earth is also expensive. In 2014, Rio Tinto reduced its exploration budget from US$948 million in 2013 to US$747 million. A single study can cost over US$650 million. The corresponding figures for BHP Billiton are US$1,047 million in 2013 down to US$716 million. That’s the sort of money these companies are already spending, trying to find new terrestrial deposits. So, the absolute scale of an investment in space mining is not beyond existing mining companies.”

http://www.deepstuff.org/space-mining-is-closer-than-you-think-and-the-prospects-are-great/

20) Privacy Badger 1.0 Is Here To Stop Online Tracking!

One of the major faults with the Microsoft Edge browser which comes with Windows 10 is the lack of any ad-blocking or privacy extensions. Otherwise it seems like a decent browser to use when you encounter a page which won’t load on Firefox, or which contains Flash (I never install Flash on my main browser). Until then, it is a good idea to use something like uBlock for ad-blocking and Privacy Badger to prevent online tracking. I have seen arguments against ad-blocking, though I don’t think they hold water, I have never seen an argument against Privacy Badger.

“EFF is excited to announce that today we are releasing version 1.0 of Privacy Badger for Chrome and Firefox. Privacy Badger is a browser extension that automatically blocks hidden trackers that would otherwise spy on your browsing habits as you surf the Web. More than a quarter of million users have already installed the alpha and beta releases of Privacy Badger. The new Privacy Badger 1.0 release includes many improvements, including being able to detect certain kinds of super-cookies and browser fingerprinting—some of the more subtle and problematic methods that the online tracking industry employs to follow Internet users from site to site. Other enhancements in Privacy Badger 1.0 include: significant UI improvements, translation into 4 different languages (with more on the way), easier customization of your Privacy Badger settings, improvements to stability, and support for Version 1.0 of EFF’s recently announced Do Not Track Policy.”

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/08/privacy-badger-10-here-stop-online-tracking

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