The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 21st 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 21st 2015


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

Brian Piccioni

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1) Here’s How Brazil Is Giving Every Citizen Free Mobile Data

This is an interesting example of companies thinking “out of the box”. Setting aside the decline in growth in demand for smartphones which is most likely in the case of Brazil due to sever income disparities. The relative lack of Internet access among the very poor means these potential customers can’t access government services or banking on line. Of course, they could be simply written off, however, by providing some level of online access banks and government can reach them. Needless to say some education, especially for older people, might be needed.

“Once considered the next great growth engine for the smartphone industry, Brazil is on the decline. With its economy shrinking and unemployment on the rise, many Brazilians are making do with dumb phones. They find the cost of an Internet-connected device prohibitive, particularly when they factor in mobile data fees. One possible solution borrows from a technical breakthrough made by AT&T half a century ago. The Brazilian government is working with local companies and Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, on a modern version of toll-free calling. A new 1-800 system for mobile data allows Brazilians to access their bank accounts for free on smartphones without incurring data costs. The government of São Paulo plans to extend free data services to some official websites by the end of the year.”

2) The realities of a $50 smartphone

Penetration of mobile services is quite high in the developing world, however, these tend not to be smartphones and most of the services are text based. The challenge is to produce a true web-capable smartphone which might fit the budget of a relatively poor person in these regions. This article breaks down how that might be possible. The article itself and the comment regarding “killing off phone subsidies” demonstrate an important trend is underway: while we may not see a $50 smartphone in North America (though we might) component pricing has dropped considerably, supporting my thesis that pricing will come down across the space.

“As mobile networks kill off phone subsidies, users might now begin to appreciate just how much their new smartphone really costs. It’s an even bigger problem in the developing world, where relatively few have the cash to buy even a mid-range phone like the Moto G. Google attempted to remedy the problem with Android One, but the first generation of “affordable” devices were far too expensive. That’s why the company is pledging to get the cost of a smartphone down to just $50 — a price that, right now, seems impossible to achieve. If Google can do it, however, it’ll be able to connect countless people in countries like India, the Philippines and Turkey. Fifty dollars isn’t a lot of money to put together a device, so what sort of phone can you get for the money?”

3) Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web

This is a bit of a rework of the article we carried last week regarding the rise of ad-blocking, however, this is from the perspective of a person in the media business. I don’t believe advertising is as important to the delivery of content as the author seems to believe as there are plenty of interesting blogs and commentary written for reasons other than financial gain. I do tend to reference the NY Times more often than personal blogs but that is probably as much due to the fact they aggregate stories and present them in a nice, edited package than because of the quality of the content. Regardless, it appears this journalist seems to acknowledge there is a problem. Many in the advertising industry believe the solution is to defeat ad-blockers, which is a war they probably cannot win.

“Advertising sustains pretty much all the content you enjoy on the web, not least this very newspaper and its handsome, charming technology columnist; as I’ve argued before, many of the world’s most useful technologies may never have come about without online advertising. But at the same time, ads and the vast, hidden, data-sucking machinery that they depend on to track and profile you are routinely the most terrible thing about the Internet. Now, more and more web users are escaping the daily bombardment of online advertising by installing an ad blocker. This simple, free software lets you roam the web without encountering any ads that shunt themselves between you and the content you want to read or watch. With an ad blocker, your web browser will generally run faster, you’ll waste less bandwidth downloading ads, and you’ll suffer fewer annoyances when navigating the Internet. You’ll wonder why everyone else in the world doesn’t turn to the dark side.”

4) Intel’s crazy-fast 3D XPoint Optane memory heads for DDR slots (but with a catch)

3D XPoint is Intel and Micron’s proprietary technology and unless they decide to license it nobody else will make it so I am not sure the historical comparison with RDRAM is an apt one. If Intel extends the DDR4 specification to make it work with 3D XPoint memory it doesn’t necessarily degrade the utility of DDR4 but it allows their chipset to exploit their memory technology. Since nobody else can make 3D XPoint at this time the issue is therefore moot. The only question might be whether Intel with decide to license the memory interface to AMD so those platforms can use the new Intel/Micron technology.

“It was clear from the beginning that Intel and Micron’s new 3D XPoint memory—which promises “1,000 times” the performance of today’s SSDs—would require a faster pathway into the PC. After all, SATA, SATA Express, and even PCIe lack the sheer bandwidth to support the levels at which 3D XPoint can perform. But this week Intel officially revealed its plans for 3D XPoint memory support: It will slip into a DDR4 slot, and it’s a decision that won’t make vendors happy. The story behind the story: When Intel and Micron introduced its jointly built memory, everything seemed rosy. But now that details of how it will be implemented are starting to trickle out, the devil’s hand is becoming apparent. … “They’re extending the (DDR4) interface,” Jim McGregor, an analyst with Tirias Research, told PCWorld in an interview. “It’s going to be electrically and pin compatible, but the way they talk will be different.” With the only source of the new type of memory coming from a fab jointly owned by Micron and Intel, no one’s going to be happy, McGregor said. ”If you don’t have multi-vendor support, the OEMs are going to backlash,” he said.”

5) Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data

Economists have a lot of difficulty pointing to a positive impact from technology. I suspect there are two problems here: one is that the way they measure probably doesn’t capture the impact, the second is that what they are measuring probably doesn’t consider technology influences. It seems quite clear that GDP has grown over the past century, and much of that growth has been accompanied by technology. For example, electric lighting, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radio, TV (and all the accompanying consumer products) were all bleeding edge technologies at the time. Similarly, people might look the PC or smartphone and question whether there has been a new economic benefit while at the same time one of the largest companies in history makes smartphones. The conclusion is clear even if the metrics are not.

“In the 1800s it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Sooner or later taxi drivers will be fretting over self-driving cars. The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload? A study by economists at the consultancy Deloitte seeks to shed new light on the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology by trawling through census data for England and Wales going back to 1871. Their conclusion is unremittingly cheerful: rather than destroying jobs, technology has been a “great job-creating machine”. Findings by Deloitte such as a fourfold rise in bar staff since the 1950s or a surge in the number of hairdressers this century suggest to the authors that technology has increased spending power, therefore creating new demand and new jobs.”

6) IBM scientists develop brain inspired chip

This is probably not that big a deal from a near term perspective, however, this device and its offspring may be important over the long term. Neural networks are modelled on the brain and they “compute” in a manner completely different from traditional binary computers. They tend to be very good at quickly arriving at a solution, even though the solution might not be optimal or even correct. For example, they are very good at pattern recognition and, as we know, even we make mistakes spotting patterns. This won’t likely ever find its way into a PC or smartphone but it might be an important technology for robotics applications such as self driving cars.

“Scientists have developed a brain inspired computer chip which mimics the neurons inside your brain. The chip consumes just 70 milliwatts of power and can perform 46 billion synaptic operations per second. Since 2008, scientists from IBM have been working with DARPA’s Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) programme. They have developed the chip, or processor called TrueNorth, which is claimed to be efficient, scalable, and flexible non-von Neumann architecture using contemporary silicon technology. TrueNorth has 5.4-billion-transistors with 4096 neurosynaptic cores interconnected via an intrachip network that integrates 1 million programmable spiking neurons and 256 million configurable synapses. It can be tiled in two dimensions through an interchip communication interface and can be scaled up to a cortexlike sheet of arbitrary size.”

7) Nearly half of listeners who try Apple Music have stopped using

There is some question as to whether or not the data is correct, however, it does seem that a significant portion of Apple Music have abandoned the service or decided not to pay for it once their free-trial is up. I would not count the service out just yet: Apple has a lot of marketing horsepower and it also has complete control over what works and does not work on its platform so it could tilt the playing field in its favor and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

“Apple Music may have more buzz than booming success. Nearly half the people who have tried the 6-week-old streaming service are not currently using it, a survey out Tuesday reveals. Apple, which earlier this month boasted that 11 million people have signed up for the three-month free trial period, may be bummed to find out that 48 percent of those who have tried it weren’t blown away and didn’t stay tuned in, according to the survey by MusicWatch.”

8) Graphene beyond the hype

This is another survey article on graphene. The article correctly points out that the material is very new so discounting the hype might be premature. Some products might be using graphene as a marketing term, much like “all-natural” or “environmental” is thrown about by marketers. The potential disruptive applications of graphene are many and the raw material, carbon, is very cheap, so I remain confident the challenge of volume production will eventually be solved.

“The wonder material. It’s just one atom thick but 200 times stronger than steel; extremely conductive but see-through and flexible. Graphene has shot to fame since its discovery in 2004 by UK-based researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, for which the University of Manchester pair were awarded the 2010 Nobel prize in physics. We’ve heard the facts. We’ve read about how graphene could push the boundaries of today’s technology in almost unlimited ways. We’ve even pictured an elephant balanced on a pencil. But looking past the headlines, it’s clear that a lot of the most exciting areas of graphene science are still in the early stages. It will be years, decades perhaps, before we see the first graphene-enhanced smartphones, aeroplanes or bulletproof vests. But beyond these pie-in-the-sky promises, the underlying research is gathering pace. ‘If anything, the progress of graphene has been quicker than other comparable materials,’ says Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre at the University of Cambridge, UK. He points out that for the first few years after graphene’s discovery in 2004, most research was restricted to academia, and was fundamental physics. ‘It was only around 2009/2010 that applied university departments and companies really started taking notice of this material – we are just four years in.’”

9) Graphene, Meet Mainstream

Hey – it’s another slow news week so while this is not much different from the preceding article, it tends to look more at the progress made in the production of graphene rather than actual applications. I am not too concerned with semiconductor applications for graphene since all semiconductor materials are used in low amounts and the value add is potentially quite high. Regardless, a graphene semiconductor would have to “play nice” with other materials used in the manufacture of semiconductors and that is often a lot harder to accomplish.

“Physicists first produced graphene—a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms— from humble graphite in 2004. It was the sort of accidental discovery that scientific legends are built on: Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov stuck plain old Scotch tape onto chunks of graphite, a substance found in pencil lead, and peeled it off. Voila, graphene. And for Geim and Noveselov, a Nobel prize. The technique was so simple that it was soon adapted for high school classrooms, but it never scaled well. In fact, graphene has been maddeningly difficult to manufacture in mass quantities, holding back an entire class of revolutionarily fast, flexible, and tiny electronic devices based on the material.”

10) Here’s what we know about the Ashley Madison hack

I admit that some of my interest in the hack and now disclosure of the Ashley Madison user database is Schadenfreude, however there are important lessons here. For those who aren’t aware, this is (probably soon to be was) a paid website dedicated to linking up married people who wanted to have affairs. The business model was such that, I suspect, many of the participants were more likely chatting with bots or others with no copulatory potential. Nevertheless, the site was hacked and the user data has now been posted online. A surprising number of those contacted claimed they were “just doing research” which is a noble cause though I’d suggest claiming identify theft is far more credible. It just shows that incompetent security can cost you more than your credit card number: it can also end up costing half of your assets. Since there are some 30 million subscribers who have been exposed, one might imagine divorce lawyers will have a field day.

“Last month, a hacking group going by the name “Impact Team” claimed that it had hacked Ashley Madison, the infidelity dating site, and published some business records online as proof. Those records quickly vanished, but Impact Team said it had a lot more, and threatened to release information about Ashley Madison’s 37 million members unless the site was taken down, along with its brother site Established Men. Now, a month later, it looks like Impact Team has made good on its claim. Today, a “Time’s Up” message appeared on a website only accessible via the Tor browser. The site included a link to a torrent for lots and lots of files that appear to include customer information for Ashley Madison users, particularly records of credit card payments that include people’s names, hometowns, and the last 4 digits of their credit cards. (Too bad Ashley Madison doesn’t take Bitcoin.) Security researchers who have started reviewing the leak say it contains credit card payments dating back seven years.”

11) First almost fully-formed human brain grown in lab, researchers claim

This is a fascinating development, though the report really needs to be verified independently. The team has created what is essentially a fetal brain from skin cells. The ramifications are a little scary (i.e. what if they allow it to develop and it begins to think), however, there are clear implications for drug research since it may soon be possible to grow human brains and use them for experiments.

“An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim scientists from Ohio State University. The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease. Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development. The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, claimed Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who presented the work today at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

12) Windows 10 Chewing Through Broadband Usage Caps

This is probably not a big deal if you have proper high speed internet, however, lots of people in lots of places have limited broadband through a mobile network, or they are simply being gouged by their ISPs. Windows 10 has an automated update feature with is difficult or impossible to shut off. As a result, updates can gobble up your bandwidth cap whether you want them or not (since most updates are not that important, costly broadband would have most people do less frequent updates). I actually lost $45 of mobile usage due to Windows 8.1 doing a major update while I out hunting. Microsoft has resisted allowing users to disable or defer updates for some reason and these sorts of problems may get them to change that position.

“While users on more “generous” American caps of 150 to 300 GB might not run into problems with Windows 10 and its forced updates, the Sydney Morning Herald notes that some worldwide consumer groups are alarmed by how quickly the auto-updates gobble up broadband usage allotments. In areas where transit and bandwidth costs are at a premium and caps are lower, the installation and updating of Windows 10 can come with a very expensive price tag: Bluesky, the monopoly telco in the Cook Islands, charges $NZ49 ($43) a month for 3.5GB of data on its broadband service, plus 4 cents per megabyte thereafter. The service is mainly delivered by satellite through a partnership with 03b Networks. By comparison, Telstra, Australia’s largest telco, charges $35 a month for a 4GB data cap 4G mobile broadband plan, and an excess data charge of only 1 cent per megabyte. Telstra’s basic plan on a faster fixed-line broadband service is $75 per month, but includes 100GB of data.”

13) Don’t Expect Too Much from This Robot, Buddy

The term robot has different meanings to different people – for example the “robotic submarine” described in item 14 could just as easily be described as “remote controlled” and remote controlled things has been around for some time. I think it is reasonable to refer to robots as things with a fair bit of autonomy rather than being under constant remote control. A Roomba could be justifiably described as a robot vacuum cleaner, even if it doesn’t walk and talk. Human interaction and utility (for example, getting a machine to learn how to do something useful such as vacuuming without being designed as a vacuum cleaner) is a much tougher nut to crack. Most “domestic robots” are bound to be little more than novelties for the foreseeable future.

“The little white robot is cute enough, attracting a crowd of curious admirers and craning its neck around from the floor as people try to talk to it. But it hardly seems very useful. Buddy could perform a few tricks, like introducing itself, describing the local weather, and doing a little dance. But it kept mishearing commands, and it was entirely unable to strike up a meaningful conversation. As the executives repeatedly shouted “dance, Buddy,” the robot’s face just rotated through a series of odd expressions, and it kept repeating the sad, confused phrase “I’m tired to talk.” After asking Buddy a few questions, I felt a little tired to talk, too. Perhaps the robot was just exhausted by the whole experience. It was just prototype after all. And maybe the finished version will be far more polished, and maybe developers will quickly build some impressive new apps.”

14) This Robot Submarine Inspects the Worst Pools Ever

As I note in item 13, there should be some controversy in calling this machine a robot. It is more correctly described as a remote controlled underwater vehicle, and while those have been around for some time this one is designed for use in nuclear reactors rather than oceanic discovery. The use of robots or remotely controlled systems in nuclear reactors is a very good idea given the exposure risks. I thought the use of a platinum radiation shield a bit odd: after all, even if it is twice as good as lead, you can buy a lot of lead for not very much money and the thing floats anyhow.

“GE Hitachi’s robot submarine, Stinger, is designed to swim around reactor pools for up to three weeks during maintenance or refueling periods. It’s about the size of a human, and is remotely operated by one, but the places it goes to clean an inspect, no human could survive. Stinger carries cameras and also a hydrolaser, which in addition to sounding awesome (although it’s really just a high pressure water nozzle), can be used to clean welds as it inspects them, which is a Very Good and Important thing. The robot is clad in a “tungsten frock,” designed to reduce the amount of radiation that it is exposed to. Tungsten is more dense than lead (it’s just about as dense as gold), and was probably chosen because a frock made of platinum, while more effective, would make Singer both lovely looking and entirely unaffordable.”

15) Is it the beginning of the end for online comments?

Reading online comments can be good fun unless you are easily offended. It is remarkable to read how an article about air travel can lead to a comment which is a screed against Obamacare, or a blanket condemnation of Stephen Harper. On the one hand, comments can often result in corrections to the article, on the other hand many can be hate filled invective. This means that publications can spend time and money managing comments, let a free-for-all ensue, or shut the process down. Not surprisingly, free-for-all and shutting down comments are the favored choices, with shutting down having the additional merit of not letting the article be criticized. The most amusing approach I saw was in a publication of a large religious organization which only allowed paid comments, ensuring both a stream of revenue and mostly favorable comments.

“The debate about comment sections on news sites is often as divisive as the comments themselves. Recently outlets such as The Verge and The Daily Dot have closed their comments sections because they’ve become too hard to manage. And they’re far from alone. Moderating comments is a full-time job (or several full-time jobs) at many news organisations. Officiating comments on a BBC News story requires knowledge of more than a dozen different disqualifying categories. Alongside shouting, swearing and incivility, comment sections can also attract racism and sexism. BBC Trending recently found evidence of the latter when looking at live streaming app Periscope. That’s the downside. But it’s also worth remembering that many news organisations – including the BBC – have used comments sections to make real connections with audiences, find stories, and turn what was once a one-way street into a multi-headed conversation.”

16) Paying for Solar Power

I am very sceptical about solar power because it is so difficult to unscramble the effects of subsidies and other forms of government mandated assistance from the cost of the systems and the resultant power. Most of the coverage is either oblivious to the impact these have and/or simultaneously overstates the benefits (for example, it is common to state the peak solar capacity rather than the average, and those are two very different figures). This article looks at some of the ins and out, but it does not really come to a firm conclusion. My argument is that feed in tariffs, or the price individuals sell electricity to the grid, are typically much higher than the wholesale rates paid to large generators. It is fairly obvious that if solar were to become a significant component of power generation, businesses and consumers would see their power bills go up by a multiple of 5x or more.

“Even if all goes well, the gigafactory could be facing a dramatically different solar-power market. At the end of 2016, the federal tax credit for solar power is due to drop from 30 percent to 10 percent for businesses and to disappear altogether for consumers who buy their own solar panels. By making residential solar power less affordable, the change could be devastating to the industry. And it will come just as the Buffalo factory is ramping up its manufacturing capacity. Fears about what will happen when the tax breaks decrease are fueled by an unfortunate reality: in most locations and under most conditions, unsubsidized solar power is still far too expensive to compete with other sources of electricity. And rooftop solar is especially expensive. Subsidies and other government incentives are the reason the solar market is booming. If technologies were chosen purely on the basis of what it costs to produce power, “there isn’t a market for residential solar,” says Severin Borenstein, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on electricity economics. Without government incentives for clean energy like solar, he says, “natural gas wipes everything else away.””

17) Major publisher retracts 64 scientific papers in fake peer review outbreak

“Publish or perish” has been a boon to publishers of scientific papers who get all their content for free (or often charge to publish). Some companies have then consolidated the industry and bought up “impactful” journals, given them pricing power over hapless universities and libraries, many of who can no longer afford to subscribe. Not surprisingly, the impetus to publish and the profitability of the publishers has led to a rather embarrassing decline in quality. There is no particular reason journals should cost money, besides a modest cost for editing, and even the value of “impactful” is questionable since the fact a frequently cited article appeared in an impactful journal doesn’t mean it is correct or has even been vetted for quality. The system is broken and it’s impact on science is negative.

““Some agencies are selling services, ranging from authorship of pre-written manuscripts to providing fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses,” it said. “Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious.” Many academic journals contract with third-party reviewing services that help track down experts to read submissions, and it’s not too hard for unscrupulous reviewers to exploit loopholes in the system. In 2014, SAGE Publishers retracted 60 articles from the Journal of Vibration and Control after uncovering a “peer review ring” in which researchers reviewed their own and each other’s papers under aliases.”

18) Car immobiliser easy to crack, say researchers

I have to assume assume, or hope, that the fact this research was blocked by the courts for two years means the manufacturers have used that time to fix their shoddy technology. Suffice it to say that I doubt they have. Long story short you can use prior codes to predict what will work in the future. The good news is most car thieves are not exactly master criminals so my 2010 Toyota Matrix is probably safe.

“Eavesdropping on the exchange of data between the car key and crypto system a couple of times gave the trio useful hints about which secret key was being used to scramble the data. This helped them find which cryptographic key was being used in about 30 minutes. Some car makers were using very weak secret keys that could be found in just a few minutes using a laptop. In a paper describing their work, the three researchers said it was “trivial” to accomplish the attack on the immobiliser system. The research was completed three years ago but legal action by Volkswagen and French defence group Thales initially prevented publication. The restrictions on publication have now been lifted after the paper was edited.”

19) How blazing Internet speeds helped Chattanooga shed its smokestack past

Correlation is not causation, and the article does give a nod to the fact other things were going on while Chattanooga was resurrecting itself. That said, it stands to reason that technology companies would migrate from places where Internet infrastructure is 10 years out of date (say all of Canada and much of the US) and move to places where it is cutting edge. As other cities move towards a modern infrastructure this competitive advantage will disappear but that does not mean the companies will move back.

“Chattanooga’s transformation has been decades in the making, but the construction of one of the largest and fastest Internet networks in the Western Hemisphere will be key to helping the city write the next chapter for the 21st century. The city represents the vanguard of communities pushing for better Internet service and serves as a model for the benefits that can stem from broader online access. The Gig, as the locals call its network, has attracted billions of dollars in new investment and a flock of entrepreneurs to the city, who may come to the city for the promise of superfast broadband, but stay for the easy, affordable lifestyle, abundant outdoor activities and hip culture. Chattanooga may seem like an unlikely place for a tech hub, but a long history of progressive thinking has put the midsize southeastern city — two hours north of Atlanta — in an enviable position. In 2010, Chattanooga turned on its so-called gigabit service, an industry term for a network able to connect to the Internet at 1 gigabit per second, or 50 to 100 times faster than your average US Internet connection, through a faster fiber-optic line. That was two years before Google broke ground on its first gigabit market in Kansas City.”

20) Is the New Aluminum the Death of Automotive Steel?

I was sceptical of the “aluminium” Ford F-150 announcement and I still would not buy one. That is just not because of my prior universally negative experiences with Ford products, but because any new technology takes some time to work the bugs out of. High end cars such as Audi has been made from aluminium for some time but these are not made in as high volume so it remains to be seen if things like galvanic corrosion due to steel touching aluminium becomes a problem with lower end models. This article suggests there is a sort of arms race between aluminium and steel manufacturers which will result in improvements to weight and durability. The big losers are composites, but only one volume production car, the Corvette, is made from those anyway.

“It’s now possible to spend $1 billion to launch a new vehicle platform, and much of that price tag is in tooling. The simulation software gives designers the ability to specify new materials with confidence. Just as importantly, the cost reductions associated with simplified assemblies should push aluminum construction down from larger, high-margin vehicles into the mainstream. This could put even more pressure on the steel community to down gauge even further with advanced high-strength alloys. The major loser in this battle may in fact be carbon fiber composites. Composites are currently the ultimate in high strength and low weight, but even with automated layup and prepreg sheet and strip, it’s expensive. With mass producible all-aluminum structures, the weight advantage of carbon fiber is lower when compared to steel structures. It’s likely that for all but specialty luxury vehicle applications, composite construction will be delayed for years and may never go mainstream.”

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