The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 25th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 25th 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

ps: Happy Winter Solstice celebration!


Click to Subscribe


1)          Giving Credence: Why is So Much Reported Science Wrong, and What Can Fix That?

This takes a look at science reporting, but the problems go much deeper than illiterate reporters who don’t even know how to do a Google search on a topic. A big part of the problem is the shift towards a “publish or perish” business model for academia whereby volume counts for more than quality. There is virtually no incentive for scientists to attempt to verify if experimental results are replicable and good reasons not to even try since a different result may never be published and may result in conflict with peers. Bizarrely, what has become important is not whether a result can be replicated but who the co-authors are and how popular the paper was. If and when science cleans up its act, the media might follow.

“Perhaps the most notable hit to science, however, was a recent large-scale attempt to replicate 100 published psychology studies, fewer than half of which could actually be re-created. In fact, just 39 percent. No one is suggesting that the other 61 studies, or even a small percentage of them, were falsified. It’s just that, in the words of the study itself (also published in Science), “Scientific claims should not gain credence because of the status or authority of their originator but by the replicability of their supporting evidence. Even research of exemplary quality may have irreproducible empirical findings because of random or systematic error.””

2)          Juniper firewall fiasco is a major blow-up for government’s backdoor rhetoric

This is what happens when you go around installing backdoors in things. Not so much because they are made public (most are not) but destroys trust in the equipment. Since NSA itself couldn’t stop a lowly contractor (Snowden) from accessing information this backdoor doubtless provided the Chinese, Russians, etc., with all kinds of useful information. Even if they didn’t know about it through their spies within NSA they probably were able to exploit it themselves. Besides being bad for business this actually opened up US secrets, which are probably more valuable than Chinese secrets. Well done!

“In the case of Juniper, it really is that bad. The networking equipment maker, with thousands of enterprise customers, said last week it had found “unauthorized” code that effectively allowed two backdoors to exist for as long as three years. Nobody disputes that this was a backdoor. Juniper said it had no evidence to suggest the backdoor had been used, but also warned there was “no way to detect” if it had been. The NSA was blamed for creating weakened cryptography that Juniper went on to modify — and badly. Exactly how the other backdoor got there remains a big question. In any case, companies who were running affected versions of Juniper’s firewalls were likely also targets of the suspected nation state attacker.”

3)          Apple’s Tim Cook defends encryption. When will other tech CEOs do so?

Cook is almost the only guy in tech who is handling the whole encryption controversy correctly. Lucky for him, none of the Snowden documents proved Apple was collaborating with NSA as virtually all other large US tech companies were. That does not mean Apple was not, in fact, collaborating with NSA, but it does allow him to engage in vocal theater promoting the myth of Apple security. Needless to say, Apple’s OS is a closed, proprietary system, so you’ll just have to take his word for it that Apple is somehow the only large US tech company whose security has not been compromised. If you believe that, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

“It seems everywhere he goes these days, Apple CEO Tim Cook is out there forcefully and publicly defending his company’s decision to provide iPhone users with end-to-end text messaging and FaceTime encryption to protect against the constant threat of criminal hackers and foreign governments. The question is: when will other tech company leaders follow his lead? If we’re going to avoid having a horrible law banning encryption passed in the next year, more of the tech company giants’ high-profile representatives – the Mark Zuckerbergs, Marissa Mayers and Eric Schmidts – need to use their platforms as the world’s most well-known technology chiefs to make crystal clear how important encryption is to users everywhere.”

4)          BlackBerry CEO John Chen Calls Out Apple’s Approach to Security

I am sort of baffled at the behaviour of politicians, law enforcement, and some executives on the subject of encryption. Realistically you should assume all your systems have been compromised, most likely by the NSA, and if they want your corporate or personal secrets, they’ll get them. All Chen is doing is advertising to all and sundry that he’s happy to open your data to whomever wants it, provided they can give him a legal segue. Imagine how pleased you’d be if you were promoting democratic change in Saudi Arabia or secularism in Pakistan.

“BlackBerry CEO John Chen entered the red-hot encryption debate on Thursday, writing a blog post explaining his company’s nuanced stance on whether governments or private companies should have a way to unscramble private communications to help catch criminals or terrorists. Traditionally, one of BlackBerry’s primary selling points is that its services, such as BBM messenger and Good Technology, offer “enterprise-grade encryption.” Chen advocates for a “proper balance” between its privacy conscious consumers and governments who want to access BlackBerry’s data for law enforcement purposes. Chen’s post largely echoes a statement BlackBerry provided to Fortune last month.”

5)          Put FB’s (Facebooks) Free Basics service on hold, TRAI tells Reliance Communications

I recall seeing propaganda (ads would be too charitable a term) for this service a few months ago. Basically Facebook was pretending to offer free access to the Internet in parts of the developing world but it was really offering free access to Facebook and small parts of Facebook. The propaganda characterized this as a charitable move but it was all business since Facebook is in the business of selling its customer data and it needed more customers. I don’t see anything wrong with that other than the stark hypocrisy of exploiting people in the developing world while portraying the move as humanitarianism. Ultimately, what the developing world needs, besides clean water, plumbing, electricity, etc., is not Facebook but development.

“Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked Reliance Communications to stop the Free Basics service of Facebook, at least for some time. “We have asked them (Reliance Communications) to stop it and they have given us a compliance report that it has been stopped,” a senior government official told TOI. Reliance Communications is Facebook’s sole telecom partner in India to offer a set of basic internet services free to its subscribers. The service is called Free Basics. Earlier known as, Free Basics has been criticised by several experts as being against the spirit of net neutrality.”

6)          Why Microsoft will beat Google in the enterprise cloud war

It may be that Microsoft will be more successful than Google in large enterprises but I figure there is a reasonable chance both companies will grow as cloud penetration grows (see item 7) and both will also take most of the market away from regional and even national cloud service providers who will be unable to offer the development infrastructure to deploy Platform as a Service type offerings, let alone to offer the equivalent of Office 360 or Google for Work.

“As Google and Microsoft battle for enterprise cloud customers, each company’s natural strengths (and weaknesses) become more apparent. Microsoft, for example, is winning over large enterprises that already have massive workforces on Office 365. Google for Work, meanwhile, continues to be popular among small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), particularly organizations that don’t have dedicated IT staffs and aren’t burdened by legacy technologies that require ongoing support. The pendulum started to slowly swing back in Microsoft’s favor after it released Office 365 in 2013 and finally embraced the cloud, according to TJ Keitt, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. It is difficult to accurately compare the two companies’ user numbers because neither Microsoft nor Google provide details on user bases, or the sizes of the companies they serve, but Keitt suggests Microsoft is on the winning end of the recent shift.”

7)          Cloud Adoption Still in Early Stages for Many Businesses

This item suggests that the success Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, have had penetrating the enterprise market for cloud services is still in its early stages. Businesses tend to be fad driven and the transition to the cloud is something that has to be top of mind for many senior executives. Although I continue to have serious questions as to whether or not the cloud is a prudent choice, it seems pretty clear that’s the direction things are heading.

“”The most surprising finding from the survey was that while we know there’s still a long way to go for companies to fully and strategically embrace the cloud, the results showed most organizations are a lot further off than even we realized,” Kevin Roberts, director of platform technology at FinancialForce, told eWEEK. “If you add up the numbers in the survey, over 85 percent of companies are using two or more cloud applications to run their business—most use even more.” The research also indicated that, unchecked by IT, many business units buy cloud solutions without much thought as to how multiple systems will share data.”

8)          Order From Chaos: How Big Data Will Change the World

I am quite skeptical about “big data” for a number of reasons. First, the larger the data set the greater the likelihood of spurious correlations, complex distributions (not everything works by Bell Curves) and so on. I can see why tech companies are pushing the idea and some of the examples seem impressive. Of course, failures are never mentioned, nor do we see cost benefit analysis for the average big data application – just vague stories of times when it worked out.

“IBM estimates that each day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created or replicated. That’s the equivalent of a million hard drives filling up with data every hour. The current volume of data created is substantial: it is so much that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. However, the amount of information today pales in comparison to what our future holds, as the rate at which data is created is accelerating exponentially. It’s for this reason that The Economist estimates that there will be roughly 7x more data in 2020 than there was in 2014.”

9)          Making 3-D imaging 1,000 times better

This novel approach uses the information provided by reflection of polarized light to greatly enhance 3D imaging. Unfortunately the article does not discuss the time or processing power required to produce the image, nor does it discuss limitations cause by materials which randomly polarize light. Nonetheless it is a pretty impressive result.

“The researchers’ experimental setup consisted of a Microsoft Kinect — which gauges depth using reflection time — with an ordinary polarizing photographic lens placed in front of its camera. In each experiment, the researchers took three photos of an object, rotating the polarizing filter each time, and their algorithms compared the light intensities of the resulting images. On its own, at a distance of several meters, the Kinect can resolve physical features as small as a centimeter or so across. But with the addition of the polarization information, the researchers’ system could resolve features in the range of tens of micrometers, or one-thousandth the size. For comparison, the researchers also imaged several of their test objects with a high-precision laser scanner, which requires that the object be inserted into the scanner bed. Polarized 3D still offered the higher resolution.”

10)      X-ray vision devices coming soon, thanks to MIT researchers

X-ray is a bit of an overstatement. Basically, this device seems to be a sophisticated radar system which can show images of people, provided you know they are images of people when you look at them. The technology is probably quite interesting but we’ll have to wait to see if it has any practical application.

“It’s one superpower that’s been envied throughout the ages, but a new spin-off company of MIT researchers might be bringing X-ray vision devices to the consumer market in just two years. As PC World reports via IDG New Service, the new X-ray devices, called “Emerald,” might be available as soon as 2017 and cost only $250 to $300. Put that on your must-have gift list for 2017. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, or CSAIL, has been working on the technology for more than two years, but are now spinning off an entity to focus on making the X-ray vision gadgets market ready.”

11)      2015 in Review: Cable Ratings Plummet as Live Viewership Dwindles

There are lots of things going on in the cable TV business. Alternatives such as Netflix mean that, instead of watching a reality show on a “science” channel you can actually watch “The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson” and actually get some science. Furthermore, cable rates continue to climb despite a shift in consumer preferences (see items 12 and 13). I find the figures cited below quite surprising as they suggest an inflection point. Regardless of the health of the business of speciality channels, demand for content will probably remain strong it is just the delivery channel which is changing.

“All told, the average rate of decline for the bigger cable outlets was 12%. Some of the most severe drop-offs were weathered by sibling networks History (-27% to 416,000) and A&E (-26% to 350,000); Viacom’s MTV (-23% to 301,000) and Comedy Central (-22% to 338,000); Discovery Communications’ TLC (-20% to 316,000) and NBC Universal’s USA Network (-20% to 648,000) and Bravo (-17% to 364,000). Also taking a hit were eighth-place FX, which fell 16% in live-same-day to an average draw of 530,000 members of the so-called dollar demo, and Turner Broadcasting’s TNT, down 13% to 573,000.”

12)      Cable and Satellite TV Costs Will Climb Again in 2016

This is part of the issue that is resulting in cord cutting: consumers now have a choice in terms of what they watch and when they watch it, and rather than adjusting pricing to entice people to stay, cable providers (including those in Canada) are raising rates. Of course, cable providers are typically also broadband providers so they win either way, especially as broadband rates are defying reality and increasing as well, at least in North America. Even cable modem rental prices are going up, while the cost of every other piece of network gear is dropping. Broadband delivery is an industry poised for disruption if ever the regulators decide to regulate with the best interests of consumers in mind.

“DirecTV and AT&T’s Uverse, which are now a part of the same company, announced last week that their rates will go up starting Jan. 28. The increases will vary for customers, but different base packages, channel bundles and premium channels will see increases ranging from $2 to $8 per month. New year rate hikes for DirecTV have become an almost annual occurrence, with the company raising fees by as much as 6 percent last January. Dish Network customers will also see a rate hike next year. The company is increasing the pricing on its bundles from between $2 and $8 per month starting Jan. 14. Time Warner Cable subscribers could see jumps of $10 a month or more early in 2016.”

13)      Home Broadband 2015

This is another look at the issue of home broadband penetration and “cord cutting”. Although it seems likely discontinuing cable TV service due to superior and less expensive alternatives is a problem for the industry, economic factors are probably important drivers of this data. For example, the survey notes 43% of those without broadband do not have the service due to cost. The decline in broadband penetration should be an issue for governments as the technology is an important factor in the development of a modern economy.

“Three notable changes relating to digital access and digital divides are occurring in the realm of personal connectivity, according to new findings from Pew Research Center surveys. First, home broadband adoption seems to have plateaued. It now stands at 67% of Americans, down slightly from 70% in 2013, a small but statistically significant difference which could represent a blip or might be a more prolonged reality. This change moves home broadband adoption to where it was in 2012.”

14)      With spectrum auction looming, a community college questions the value of its public TV station

I was unaware of this most recent move to free up spectrum on the US. Given that many smaller stations can find a broad audience using “Over The Top” Internet broadcasting, I suspect many will jump at the opportunity to sell their spectrum and go OTT only.

“The unprecedented auction looks to buy up as much television spectrum across the country and repackage it for wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T as the general public relies more on mobile devices as opposed to old fashioned over-the-air TV waves. As a result, industry experts have estimated as many as 500 TV stations across the country could go off the air if their owners decide to sell. “It’s a total game-changer for the industry,” said Harry Jessell, editor of, a trade publication covering the broadcasting industry. “Every broadcaster in the nation right now, commercial and public, is trying to decide if it makes more sense financially to continue operating or to sell and go off the air.””

15)      DNA Manufacturing Enters the Age of Mass Production

Genetic engineering is moving at a brisk pace, despite being blocked in agriculture, where it might provide the greatest benefit. I figure it is matter of time before the regulatory environment is restricted to facilitate the introduction of such horrors are disease resistant orange trees or strawberries which don’t spoil as quickly. In the meantime a whole industry is developing around producing the tools to manufacture these and other GM organisms, including those in less regulated areas.

“Emily Leproust, CEO and cofounder of the buzzy biotech startup Twist Bioscience, is an industrialist on the nanoscale. “I remind everyone at Twist, we are a manufacturing company,” she says. “We manufacture DNA.” Twist is part of the young industry of synthetic biology, in which living organisms are the product and a biology lab is the factory floor. By manufacturing strands of DNA—assembling the genetic code of life from its basic components—scientists are creating organisms the likes of which the world has never seen. And these new life forms can be decidedly useful: Biologists have produced yeast cells that excrete pharmaceuticals and algae that brew jet fuel.”

16)      Vehicle internet ‘mesh’ could wipe out traditional networks

Something tells me the journalist got a bit carried away on this story. An automotive mesh network is primarily about Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication for advanced safety systems and eventually self-driving cars, not about putting your local Internet service provider out of business.

“The traditional fixed line and mobile carrier’s days could be numbered if the roll out of a new ‘Global Mesh’ project by the automotive industry goes to plan. The project could see the delivery of about 100 million wireless access points per annum in new cars across the planet. Nathan Stewart from IT and Cloud solutions provider Total Group, who is technical lead for the initiative set for launch in 2021, told Comms Dealer: “Within two years of launch the automotive industry will have more coverage and bandwidth than the existing copper, fibre and mobile networks combined. They will overnight become a super carrier.” It’s expected that by 2022 the automotive ‘Global Mesh’ will provide 10Gb wireless bandwidth across the globe anywhere within a few kilometres of a modern car.”

17)      Marc Andreessen: ‘In 20 years, every physical item will have a chip implanted in it’

I remember the hype and hysteria about RFID about 15 years ago. You might recall the advertisements about how we would just walk out of the store and the magic of RFID meant all our purchases would be automatically tallied and charged to our credit card. That was 15 years ago. Now people claim the same thing is going to happen but they call it Internet of Things (IoT) instead of RFID. The fact of the matter is that, while there are plenty of interesting applications for IoT, the technology is being vastly overhyped. I can’t fault a guy for talking up his book though.

“The hype around the Internet of Things has been rising steadily over the past five years. In tech analyst Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report in 2015, the IoT is at the peak of “inflated expectations”, particularly for areas like the smart home, which involve controlling your lights, thermostat or TV using your mobile phone. But the era of sensors has only just dawned, according to renowned technology investor and internet pioneer Marc Andreessen. In 10 years, he predicts mobile phones themselves could disappear.”

18)      When a Unicorn Start-Up Stumbles, Its Employees Get Hurt

“Unicorn” is newspeak for a hugely overvalued private company which burns through shareholder money like there is no tomorrow. Examples include Uber and Theranos, but there are many. One way Unicorns mange to entice new employees is through the issue of stock or options. Unfortunately, most employees lack an understanding of the capital markets, let alone expected value calculations, and accept well below market rates plus a dream which will never be fulfilled. Not only that but the stock grants are taxed meaning that when the Unicorn is sold at a fraction of the value they expected, they are out actual real money for the privilege of having been paid less.

“In an investor document about the sale that was distributed to shareholders, employees discovered their Good stock was valued at 44 cents a share, down from $4.32 a year earlier. In contrast, preferred stock owned by Good’s venture capitalists was worth almost seven times as much, more than $3 a share. The paperwork also showed that Good’s board had turned down an $825 million cash offer just six months earlier, in March. For some employees, it meant that their shares were practically worthless. Even worse, they had paid taxes on the stock based on the higher value.”

19)      SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sticks the landing on its return

I admit I was surprised they managed to do it, but they solved the engineering problem of landing a first stage of a rocket. Several things will determine whether or not this is an important development. If a reused rocket ever blows up, there are going to be lots of questions as to whether it was the fact it was reused that caused the loss. Furthermore, it is not clear that lower launch costs will have a dramatic impact on the number of launches. Either way, the fact one company has solved an engineering problem doesn’t mean other companies won’t be able to do the same.

“SpaceX’s last flight in June ended with its Falcon 9 rocket breaking up shortly after launch. When the rocket is meant to be recoverable after launch, you can see why this would be an… issue. CEO Elon Musk tried to improve his odds, this time around, pushing back the launch of its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket to Monday night. Better weather this evening offered a 10 percent better chance of the rocket booster landing on solid ground in a recoverable state, and for those that watched the stream, it looked like a surprisingly stable landing: a bright flare of light followed by the appearance of a fully vertical rocket — this was the stage one landing.”

20)      Can laws keep up with tech world?

This is sort of a redux of what happened when Voice Over IP (VOIP) was introduced about 20 years ago, disrupting the carefully managed “long distance” cash cow of telephone companies. There are all kinds of businesses which are protected by rules and regulations those businesses helped create and Internet technologies can offer workarounds to those regulations or even allow citizens to violate obsolete laws. You need laws but it is not clear if you need laws to stifle competition and guarantee returns on certain types of businesses. One way or the other, technology usually wins.

“WhatsApp is the most popular app in Brazil, used by about 100 million people. The Brazilian telecoms hate the service because it entices people away from more expensive text messaging services, and they have been lobbying for months to convince the government that it’s unregulated and illegal. A judge finally agreed. In Brazil’s case, WhatsApp was blocked for allegedly failing to respond to a court order. Another judge reversed the ban 12 hours later, but there is a pattern forming here. In Egypt, Vodafone has complained about the legality of WhatsApp’s free voice-calls, while India’s telecoms firms have been lobbying hard to curb messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates blocked WhatsApp’s free voice call feature.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 18th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 18th 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

Click to Subscribe



1)          Automation Is a Job Engine, New Research Says

This is not a surprising result. After all, automation is simply an extension of the industrial revolution where things like steam powered looms and other machinery replaced the work of craftsmen and led to dramatically increased output at lower costs. Every generation faces a new incarnation of automation and experiences the same fears the Luddites did. At the end of the day, living standards and quality fo life continue to increase despite hundreds of years of fear of job loss.

“The fear that technology is poised to kill jobs in unprecedented numbers is widely prevalent these days. Nothing is likely to ease that anxiety much, but a new research paper might prompt some second thoughts. Using government data, James Bessen, a researcher and lecturer at the Boston University School of Law, examined the impact of computer automation on 317 occupations from 1980 through 2013. His conclusion, in a sentence, was: “Employment grows significantly faster in occupations that use computers more.” Historically, it is well established that the advance of technology has generated more jobs than it has replaced, regardless of the angst of the moment. More than 80 years ago, the renowned English economist John Maynard Keynes warned of the “new disease” of “technological unemployment.””

2)          Two-Thirds of Earliest Tesla Drivetrains To Need Replacement In 60,000 Miles, Owner Data Suggests

One only has to read the results of “long-term” (i.e. one year) tests of the Tesla S to realise these are incredibly unreliable vehicles requiring an unending of expensive (albeit under warranty) repairs. Those same tests carry fawning coverage of the vehicle’s acceleration without so much as wondering whether it is normal to have the drive system repeatedly replaced. What I have to wonder about is how the company is accruing for warranty claims: replacement of a drive train likely costs more than the gross margin on the vehicle and accruals are supposed to be based on the same sorts of calculations used in this article. One further note is that Tesla claims this issue has been fixed, even though failures of replacement drive drives have been reported.

“With almost 100,000 on the world’s roads, the Tesla Model S electric car is a remarkable achievement. It remains the longest-range electric car in volume production more than three years after it launched. But reliability issues with electric traction motors in early cars–those from the 2012 and 2013 model years–have dogged the earliest owners. Now, a new analysis of data provided to Plug-In America by 327 owners of early Tesla Model S cars suggests that as many as two-thirds of those early Model S drivetrains will need to be replaced within 60,000 miles.”

3)          Experts doubt Google’s claim about its quantum computer’s speed

You couldn’t look at a technology website the past couple weeks without being bombarded by the “breakthrough” announced by Google regarding the performance of its D-Wave “quantum” computer (the quotes are necessary). The headlines invariably pointed to the “100 million times faster than a laptop” without answering the “if so then what” question. It is not entirely surprising a machine designed to do a particular manipulation (quantum annealing) is dramatically faster than a simulation. The same could be said about most simulations of stochastic systems. Unless and until a D-Wave computer can be shown to solve a commercially important problem significantly faster than a similarly priced supercomputer, it doesn’t matter worth a damn.

“Are powerful quantum computers finally here? Google is claiming that its D-Wave quantum computer can solve certain problems 100 million times faster than an ordinary computer, a result that it says could lead to huge improvements in artificial intelligence. But researchers contacted by New Scientist say these claims are overblown, and show little-to-no performance increase over a regular PC. Before you get too excited about a new era of computing, read on.”

4)          World’s first in-human gene-editing treatment will tackle hemophilia

CRISPR is a major breakthrough in genetic engineering which got its start in 2007 (see item 5, below). The technique has vast potential in human medicine, drug manufacturing, agriculture, and other fields. Needless to say, there are concerns it could also be misused, concerns which should carry scant weight to the parent of a sick child. This experiment is purported to be the first effort to treat a human condition with CRISPR. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

“Hemophilia B is a terrifying disease. The livers of those suffering from the genetic disorder fail to produce a key protein called Factor IX, which is responsible for clotting blood. Without this protein, they’re at constant risk of uncontrollable bleeding, including internally. However, a pair of researchers believe that their novel gene therapy could permanently cure the disease. To that end, the team of Michael Holmes and Thomas Wechsler from Richmond, California’s Sangamo biopharmaceuticals, have announced that the world’s first in-patient gene-editing therapy targeting these faulty genes will commence next week. The procedure leverages CRISPR-9 gene-editing techniques wherein scientists snip out a section of DNA and insert other strands in its place.”

5)          Breakthrough of the Year: CRISPR makes the cut

Science Magazine finally nominated CRISPR its scientific breakthrough of the year – after all it is almost certainly a Nobel Prize winning advance. The article provides a bit of a history of CRISPR and touches upon some of the controversy.

“It was conceived after a yogurt company in 2007 identified an unexpected defense mechanism that its bacteria use to fight off viruses. A birth announcement came in 2012, followed by crucial first steps in 2013 and a massive growth spurt last year. Now, it has matured into a molecular marvel, and much of the world—not just biologists—is taking notice of the genome-editing method CRISPR, Science’s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year.”

6)          Inside Netflix’s Plan to Boost Streaming Quality and Unclog the Internet

Netflix is a major source of Internet traffic (see item 7) and anything it can do to lower the bandwidth it needs in order to deliver an acceptable image will benefit its customers, Internet Service Providers, and Netflix itself since it will be able to supply more customers with the same amount of infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, they have discovered that different forms of content require different compression schemes for optimal results and they are essentially tailoring the compression system to the content. I find that Netflix quality is actually better than that I get over my satellite dish where supposed HD content contains all kinds of compression artefacts.

“Over the past few months, Netflix has dared some of its employees in its Los Gatos offices with a special kind of challenge: Two TVs mounted side-by-side were playing the same TV show episode. One was coming straight from Netflix’s existing service, the other was based on a new bandwidth-saving technology that the company has been working on for four years. Anyone capable of pointing out the difference could win a bottle of champagne. But in the end, even eagle-eyed employees had to give up, and the prize went unclaimed.”

7)          Streaming Video Now Accounts for 70 Percent of Broadband Usage

This is not a surprising result and content providers should rejoice. Time was people who wanted to watch movies or TV shows had to pirate the content through downloads, typically torrenting. The rise of streaming video providers like Netflix and Amazon, along with Over The Top delivery by broadcasters means torrenting is largely being displaced by paid ac cess to content.

“If you’re reading this site (or if you work at a giant TV and broadband provider), the odds are you know that already. But it’s always useful to see it in a chart, so here you go. Here’s the latest breakdown from broadband services company Sandvine of “fixed access” — for the purposes of this piece, read it as “home broadband” — Internet usage during peak evening hours. That big red bar in the middle is the one to focus on. It shows you that “real-time entertainment” — streaming video and audio — account for 70 percent of the Web traffic coming to your house:”

8)          The Lure Of Large Drives

I remain confident the HDD industry will undergo disruption over the next 18 to 24 months. I believe that once the price of 250GB SSDs get to around the $50, virtually all laptops (rather than just the most expensive ones) will ship with an SSD rather than a larger HDD. A counter argument is that, since Internet traffic continues to grow, and all that data needs to be stored, enterprise demand will make up the difference. I disagree: while traffic continues to grow, much of that growth is streaming and, for the most part, you don’t store streamed content on the receiving end. Furthermore, cloud technologies makes much more efficient use of storage, which will mitigate the impact on demand.

“The amount of digital data being created and stored is growing rapidly, by some estimates by over 40% annually. This rapid growth in stored digital content is leading to large data repositories. These repositories need a lot of storage in a limited space. They must also store this content cost effectively while still providing the performance that those who want to access this data need. While solid-state storage such as SSDs are increasingly being used for high performance applications, they are more expensive on a $/TB basis compared to hard disk drives and magnetic tape. Magnetic tape is used in libraries that require a robot to get tape cartridges and bring them to drives where they can be written or read. This takes time, so only infrequently used data is generally stored on tape.”

9)          Consolidation’s Aftermath Why the latest round of acquisitions is causing angst in the semiconductor industry.

The article discusses the remarkable pace of consolidation in the semiconductor industry. Ultimately I figure there will be a relatively small number of large players as few start-ups are likely to survive long enough to grow to any size. Despite what the article suggests, this is a very bad thing for most of the suppliers to the industry as the larger players will have significant power and consolidation of engineering resources will reduce the opportunity for sales.

“Consolidation is not a new trend in the semiconductor industry, but the pace and size of the acquisitions in the past year are unparalleled. Spurred by cheap capital and the expected rise of interest rates at the end of this year, companies have gone on a buying spree. The argument is that acquisitions—and subsequent spin-offs or sales of non-strategic assets—allow companies to quickly strengthen their position in core markets and position themselves for new ones that have opened, or which are expected to open, as a result of increased connectedness with the Internet of Everything.”

10)      Less than a perfect 10 Microsoft’s Windows 10 is failing to catch on

This article paints a picture in contrast to my view that Windows 10 will be a stunning success. I find the OS to be stable, fast, and easy to use. I don’t understand the comment that 9% penetration in 6 months is somehow comparable to 14% for Windows 8/8.1 after several years. Enterprise users always take their time before adopting a new OS, and consumers will eventually end up with Windows 10 as they buy new PCs.

“AFTER an initial flurry of people upgrading their personal computers to Windows 10, the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s popular operating system, the migration seems to be running out of steam—despite a roll-out that was the most carefully managed in the company’s 40-year history. Launched in late July, after nine months of public testing, Windows 10 is available free (until next July) to anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on their computers. Despite this unprecedented generosity from Microsoft, Windows 10 accounts for only 9% of computers used to surf the web, says Net Applications, an internet analytics firm based in Aliso Viejo, California. By contrast, six-year-old Windows 7 runs on over 56% of computers. Even the disastrous Windows 8/8.1 has a 14% share, while older versions still (mainly Windows XP) account for over 12%. For the record, Apple’s OS X claims 7% and open-source Linux 1.6% of total users.”

11)      US to Open Large-Scale Metal 3D Printing Facility with Norsk Titanium

This is a great example of the sort of impact 3D can have on an industry. Rather than taking a very large piece of titanium and machining it down, the system uses a welding technique to build up a rough casting which is then finished by machining. This results in much less waste (even though titanium cutting can be recycled, it ain’t easy or cheap) and the process can probably be sped up a lot by using concurrent fabrication. Thanks to my friend Ted Conrod of Focus Asset Management for this item.

“There are a number of 3D printing facilities across the US, including Stratasys’ Direct Manufacturing and GE’s Alabama plant, dedicated to their 3D printed LEAP fuel nozzles. Apparently, however, Norway’s Norsk Titanium AS (NTi) doesn’t believe that any of these are quite industrial-grade. To push 3D printing into a mainstream manufacturing tech, the titanium 3D printing company plans to open a 200,000-square-foot plant that they deem the “world’s first industrial-scale 3D printing facility”.”

12)      Revolutionary steel treatment paves the way for radically lighter, stronger, cheaper cars

I don’t know how real this is, however, there is a publicly available report purportedly produced by a legitimate lab ( run by the US Military for use of the metal in armor. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about metallurgy to know what the report actually says. Nevertheless if you have an interest in novel materials it might be work looking in to.

“In Flash 1500 energy absorbing crush in this story’s lead image, the bends are twice the strength of the DP780 cans in cars today. Another major manufacturer “that makes 10 million vehicles per year,” according to Cola, tested Flash-processed steel on a structural/safety component of a car that is 3 mm thick and 3 lb (1.4 kg) in weight in its current form. Using the flash treatment, a part was created that weighs 2 lb (0.9 kg) at 2 mm thick, and passes all the same tests – and the OEM estimated it could be made at a cost savings.”

13)      LTE-U, WiFi Backers Wrangle With FCC Over Sharing Spectrum

I tend to view spectrum shortage as somewhat manufactured – after all, Europe somehow manages to serve a similar population as the US in about 40% of the area. Nevertheless, spectrum is considered valuable and large economic interests are keen on exploiting whatever they can, even if that required stomping on other uses if they can get away with in. The problem with unlicensed applications is that the economic interests are diffuse and for the most part can’t afford the lobbyists to defend their turf. The involvement of Microsoft and Google might shift the tide.

“The other unlicensed shoe has dropped and stirred confusion as it makes its first bounce. At the end of October, a group of cable companies and big tech companies including Microsoft and Google had a meeting with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler in which they complained about non-WiFi use of unlicensed spectrum. In their Ex Parte filing after the meeting, the attorneys representing those companies revealed the contents of their discussion. What the folks in Big Cable and Big Software are complaining about is that cell phone companies might start using the same unlicensed spectrum they currently use for WiFi for another technology, a form of LTE wireless technology that works on unlicensed frequencies.”

14)      Philips Hue blocks 3rd party lights

Although I don’t really see the point of controlling lightbulbs over the Internet, Philips has set itself up as an early leader in IoT. They use a hub which actually connects to the network, to control a ZigBee mesh network of devices. Philips even worked to convince hobbyists to develop applications exploiting the hub. Last week they decided to essentially disable all non-Philips products from “their” network, resulting in outrange among that very community. Apparently the backlash had an effect

“Philips Hue was one of the first to get smart lights accepted by the mainstream. Their Zigbee-based hub is rock solid, never crashes, great API and worked with other Zigbee light bulbs too. They are a bit expensive but the platform was worth every penny, till now. Yesterday a thread on /r/homeautomation published that Philips Hue now blocks all but their own bulbs and those of “friends of Hue”. I have been able to confirm this in the Philips Hue FAQ (Update Dec 14: they have removed the entries – mirror here):”

15)      New mass spectral imaging instrument maps cells’ composition in 3-D at more than 100 times higher resolution

This is another scientific breakthrough I don’t fully understand but which sound pretty impressive. It is kind of sad that they have to reference combating “bioterrorism” as a potential application but I guess that is what happens when a nation is run off fear.

“A one-of-a-kind mass spectral imaging instrument built at Colorado State University (CSU) lets scientists map cellular composition in three dimensions at a nanoscale image resolution of 75 nanometers wide and 20 nanometers deep — more than 100 times higher resolution than was earlier possible, according to the scientists. The instrument may be able to observe how well experimental drugs penetrate and are processed by cells as new medications are developed to combat disease, customize treatments for specific cell types in specific conditions, identify the sources of pathogens propagated for bioterrorism, or investigate new ways to overcome antibiotic resistance among patients with surgical implants, according to professor Dean Crick of the CSU Mycobacteria Research Laboratories.”

16)      New microscope creates near-real-time videos of nanoscale processes

There must had been a microscopy conference or something because this is the second important sounding microscopy breakthrough I read about over the past couple weeks. Atomic force microscopes can produce incredibly high resolution images however they have tended to be quite slow. This approach speeds things up a lot, which allows the creation of animations of relatively fast moving reactions. I don’t think atomic force microscopes can be used on living tissue, however.

“State-of-the-art atomic force microscopes (AFMs) are designed to capture images of structures as small as a fraction of a nanometer — a million times smaller than the width of a human hair. In recent years, AFMs have produced desktop-worthy close-ups of atom-sized structures, from single strands of DNA to individual hydrogen bonds between molecules. But scanning these images is a meticulous, time-consuming process. AFMs therefore have been used mostly to image static samples, as they are too slow to capture active, changing environments. Now engineers at MIT have designed an atomic force microscope that scans images 2,000 times faster than existing commercial models. With this new high-speed instrument, the team produced images of chemical processes taking place at the nanoscale, at a rate that is close to real-time video.”

17)      New software watches for license plates, turning you into Little Brother

It is sort of surprising this hasn’t been through of before: license plate reading is simply an application of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applied to a moving target. I can’t really see a consumer application however it is easy to imagine this software might be adapted for use in parking lots or security checkpoints as the cost will be so low.

“For years now, specialized LPR cameras have been used mounted in fixed locations or on police cars. These devices scan passing license plates using optical character recognition technology, checking each plate against a “hot list” of stolen or wanted vehicles. The devices can read up to 60 plates per second and typically record the date, time, and GPS location of any plates—hot or not. With this new open-source software, anyone can freely and easily create their own hot list.”

18)      Vehicle Safety Ratings Will Soon Include Marks for Crash Avoidance Tech

This is a fantastic initiative: rather than simply listing how survivable a collision would be with a vehicle there should be a rating for how well it can avoid collisions. I predict – and hope for – the introduction of basic crash avoidance standards for light vehicles in the near future. Just like crash safety test and other safety related standards, cars should be required to have things like autobrake, lane change warnings, etc.. This will rapidly increase adoption and drive prices down – though these systems are already becoming quite affordable.

“U.S. regulators want automakers to make crash-avoidance technologies and similar safety systems standard features in vehicles. That is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced plans to overhaul its vehicle safety ratings to acknowledge the presence or absence of such safety technologies. The proposal also includes language meant to reward automakers for including autonomous vehicle technology in the near future. Today’s vehicles do not require crash-avoidance technologies in order to win a coveted four- or five-star rating from NHTSA. But the 8 December announcement signaled the agency’s intent to raise the bar. Starting with the 2019 model year, cars earning the highest safety ratings will have to be equipped with advanced technologies that help protect drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.”

19)      Drone owners must register with FAA, starting December 21

This is a direct result of idiots misusing drones and endangering property, people, privacy, and aviation in general. Drones over a certain size must be registered and display a registration number on their craft. This will make it easier to charge the idiots who do stupid things with the machines and will not present a significant burden to legitimate users with an IQ over 80.

“The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that US residents must register hobbyist drones by February 19 at its drone registration website. Registration opens December 21 and is free through January 20, the agency said. After that, the FAA will charge $5 for registration. Accepting the guidance of an advisory panel, the FAA said registration is required for any hobbyist drone weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds. That weight limit includes even relatively small drones like the $549 Parrot Bebop 2, not just the serious $1,000 hobby-oriented models from companies like DJI.”

20)      Tech and Banking Giants Ditch Bitcoin for Their Own Blockchain

Much of the excitement over bitcoin has been over potential use as a virtual currency, at least by neo-libertarians. This will never happen on a large scale because it makes money laundering and tax avoidance too easy. Nevertheless, the real value is the underlying technology (blockchain secure distributed ledger) though it apparently has some weaknesses. This article discusses the establishment of an open source project to develop, adapt, and enhance that technology. Open source is necessary for this sort of project in order to ensure bugs and weaknesses are quickly dealt with.

“Several major companies from across both the technology and financial industries—including IBM, Intel, and Cisco as well as the London Stock Exchange Group and big-name banks JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and State Street—have joined forces to create an alternative to the blockchain, the global online ledger that underpins the bitcoin digital currency.

Overseen by the not-for-profit Linux Foundation, this open source project aims to build blockchain-like technology that can bring a new level of automation and transparency to a wide range of services in the business world, including stock exchanges and other financial markets.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 4th 2015

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 4th 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

Click to Subscribe

PS: This is an abbreviated Geek’s List as I am off hunting. There will be no list next week.


1)          Robot Designed for Operating Construction Equipment

No pull quote here because it is just a video. The engineers have developed a humanoid robot for the express purpose of controlling construction equipment. This approach doesn’t require modification of the construction equipment so the robot can be used in any machine when conditions make it too dangerous for a human operator. Their decision to go with a video game style control panel is a bit perplexing since heavy equipment operators are used to things being in a particular place and having a certain “feel”. I have become proficient in a number of such machines and even moving from one style of control to another can take some getting used to.

2)          MIT, Broad scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

We’ve carried a number of articles on CRISPR in the past. It appears to be a disruptive technology which allows for precise editing of the genome and will likely have a profound impact in medicine, genetically modified crops, and so on. This development apparently improves on the existing technique.

“Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on “off-target” editing errors. The refined technique addresses one of the major technical issues in the use of genome editing.”


3)          Nokia’s OZO VR camera will set you back £40k

I tend to associated Virtual Reality (VR) headsets with animation however it appears they have applications in video as well. This device, which looks a lot like a creature from a science fiction story, provides full field coverage so you can create VR video. Sounds like the sort of thing which could be used to great effect in advertising.

“Nokia’s virtual reality OZO camera will retail for a whopping $60,000 (about £40,000) when it becomes available early next year. Initially unveiled in July, OZO is a spherical camera featuring eight sensors and microphones designed to make 3D films and games that can be watched and played with virtual reality (VR) headsets.

4)          LG Display to Spend About $9 Billion on Factory for OLEDs

LG may be an Apple supplier, and rumors have Apple will launch an OLED phone within a couple years, but smartphone followers such as Samsung and many others (including LG itself) are already shipping products. Perhaps the factory is being built for Apple or the expected market for OLED in smartphones, notebook computers, and TVs.

“Apple Inc. supplier LG Display Co. will spend more than 10 trillion won ($8.7 billion) on building a new plant and expanding production of a newer type of display that can be used to cut power use, make thinner devices and show brighter colors. … The factory will produce organic light-emitting diode displays for larger TVs, smartwatches and automotive displays and is targeted to start in the first half of 2018, Seoul-based LG Display said Friday. The technology has been touted as a possible replacement for the liquid-crystal displays used in smartphones. Apple plans to adopt OLED for iPhones from 2018, the Nikkei newspaper reported Thursday without attribution.”

5)          Apple To Abandon Headphone Jack? Leak Details Massive Change

If so, this is completely absurd, but not beyond the realm of reason: after all, Apple not only has a proprietary charging connector a few years ago it changed that proprietary connector for another, rendering all the various gadgets like clock radios etc., obsolete unless you bought a gizmo which converted the new proprietary connector to the old one. Apple’s major concern as always has been making profit of people who slavishly buy their products and a proprietary audio connector would make sure the poor audio quality could only be experienced over licensed products.

““Apple plans to remove the 3.5mm headphone port from the upcoming iPhone 7, helping to achieve a ‘more than 1mm’ reduction in thickness compared to the iPhone 6S.” This would create the thinnest iPhone ever made. It also states that Apple will bundle EarPods which use the Lightning connector with the next iPhone and that they will incorporate a small digital to analog converter into the connector. From that point onwards Apple would also require third-party wired headphone makers to bundle Lightning adaptors with its 3.5mm headphones or make them Lightning port only to gain Apple MFi certification.”

6)          Musk’s Tesla faces German battle over battery-powered homes

This is a shocking development: it turns out putting a battery, a charger, and an inverter in a box is not actually that radical idea! Of course, people living “off grid” have known this for decades now, and anybody who knows how to use Google can even find lithium ion based “power wall” type solutions. Of course the fawning coverage over Tesla’s announcement carried no mention of this. It is amazing German companies claim they actually have a competitive offering – don’t they know about the reality distortion field surrounding Silicon Valley? What’s next? Will they’ll realize powering an automobile with commodity batteries isn’t worth a $31B market cap?

“”Tesla has made sure that they’re seen as a lifestyle gadget,” said Volker Wachenfeld, in charge of hybrid energy and storage solutions at SMA Solar. SMA Solar is one of a number of German companies with ambitions in the market, including Sonnenbatterie, SENEC.IES and Varta. Daimler Accumotive is also due to launch a product, while Solarwatt, owned by major BMW shareholder Stefan Quandt, says it is ready to join the fray. Sonnenbatterie, whose backers include Germany’s E-Capital and Czech firm Inven Capital, has already sold around 8,500 batteries in Europe, mostly in Germany, but its ambitions go further.”

7)          A promising new prototype of battery

This has been touted as the miracle battery of the week but it might have potential – at least if the numerous details missing from the description of the technology turn out to be within the useable range. There is plenty of sodium around and it is pretty cheap. The problem would be the specific energy since sodium is a lot more dense than lithium. Nonetheless if they can manage to improve the chemistry these batteries might be disruptive for stationary storage applications due to the lower cost.

“After two years of research, a French team, mostly including researchers from the CNRS and CEA within the RS2E network on electrochemical energy storage have just designed an alternative technology to Li-ion for application in specific sectors. The researchers have developed the first battery using sodium ions in the usual “18650” format, an industry standard. The main advantage of the prototype is that it relies on sodium, an element far more abundant and less costly than lithium. The batteries have displayed performance levels comparable to their lithium counterparts, and this new technology is already attracting industrial interest. It could be used to store renewable energies in the future.”

8)          The rise and fall of the unicorns

Valuations of Dot Com 2.0 companies are not based on an hallucinatory expectation of future profitability as was the case with Dot Com 1.0, but upon one of two exit strategies: being bought by the likes of Google or Facebook – heck if they’ll buy Nest or Oculus they’ll buy anything – or that they’ll be sold to an unsuspecting public through an IPO. Most of the “Unicorns” have no sustainable competitive barriers to entry let alone a viable business plan (or, perhaps even any business plan). That some of the highest profile ones are having trouble raising private money suggests the IPO pipeline will soon fill up, even if that means a lower than expected valuation.

“Valuations for private technology firms are rising at a slower clip than they were six months ago. On November 24th Jet, an e-commerce competitor to Amazon, announced that it had raised $350m (valuing the firm at $1.5 billion), a big sum for a loss-making startup, but a lower one than it had first hoped for. Recently Airbnb, a fast-growing room-rental firm, raised $100m, but reportedly stayed at its recent valuation of $25 billion, instead of rising further. Fred Giuffrida of Horsley Bridge, a firm that invests in private-equity funds, reckons that the valuations in late-stage rounds of financing have declined by around 25% in the past six to eight months. These rounds are also taking slightly longer to complete.”

9)          Xiaomi’s $45 Billion Valuation Seen `Unfeasible’ as Growth Cools

What makes this story interesting is not the valuation but the fact Xiaomi is slowing down. For those who don’t recall Xiaomi is a Chinese mobile phone manufacturer which has a modern approach to marketing. In the past its product releases have been met with the same sort of excitement Apple’s have been, at east in China, and the company had been expanding into India and other developing economies.

“Things were going so well for Xiaomi Corp. Customers were lining up, investors were swooning and the Beijing-based startup closed funding at a $45 billion valuation. That was last year. Now the high-flying smartphone maker is stumbling. Founder Lei Jun’s latest business, one of China’s most exciting startup stories of the past few years, is likely to miss its own goal of selling 80 million smartphones this year, according to two people with knowledge of its production plans. Suppliers also cut their internal targets for Xiaomi in anticipation of the shortfall, they said.”

10)      Why everyone’s laughing at Yahoo’s review of Rihanna’s new album

Nobody should be laughing at Yahoo because this is just the way “journalism” is done. It is not coincidence that all media (even taxpayer funded broadcasters like CBC radio) had fawning coverage of the release of an album by somebody called “Adele”. I don’t know who this person is but I can tell that, like Rihanna (who is apparently another singer), whoever is doing the marketing serves up this sort of pre-written formulaic promotional material that “journalists” can customize and file as a story. It is hard to believe the media were once a source of actual information.

“Today, in a world first, Yahoo published its review of Rihanna’s 8th album Anti, but there was one big problem. It was written by someone who hadn’t heard it and actually has no idea what’s on it, although apparently the album “pushes the edge”. How do we know? Because it’s written in what the media industry calls a “shell” – the sort of thing politicians and marketers use with [INSERT NAME HERE] in it to personalise a generic message.”

11)      Ultrasound captures rat brain in microscopic 3D

This technique uses tiny bubbles as a sort of contrast enhancer and, presumably helps with resolution as well since they know the size of the bubbles. The great thing about ultrasound is that it doesn’t use ionizing radiation like X-rays and CAT scans and it doesn’t behave badly when around magnetic materials. So you might get some of the benefits CAT scan without the limitations of MRI.

“Scientists in France have developed an ultrasound technique that can rapidly build up a 3D view of a network of blood vessels, in microscopic detail. They used it to scan the blood vessels throughout the brain of a live rat. Within a few years, the researchers say their system could reach the clinic and help with cancer and stroke diagnosis. For the procedure, published in Nature, the rat was injected with millions of very tiny bubbles, which reflect sound waves much better than blood vessels.”

12)      Xbox Kinect technology helps create higher-quality X-rays

As near as I can tell, they use the Xbox technology to figure out to get the right X-ray picture, meaning that fewer images have to be taken, the ones which are taken are of better quality, and exposure to radiation is reduced. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“A team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, has adapted a gaming system to help radiographers improve the quality of X-rays. The technology, originally developed for Microsoft Kinect, has been amended to provide a useful tool for measuring the thickness of body parts and monitor movement and positioning in the X-ray field of vision before imaging.”

13)      Toddler loses eyeball after errant drone slices it in half

This is a sad story which shows what fools can do with even toy drones. Not surprisingly, a machine with rapidly rotating blades can, quite literally, put somebody’s eye out. Drone enthusiasts were quick to criticise the story as not representing “real” drone operators, showing the No True Scotsman argument can apply to almost any situation. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“A British toddler recently had his right eye sliced in half by a neighbor’s drone, which resulted in the removal of his eyeball. He will eventually be fitted with a prosthetic. According to BBC Watchdog, Oscar Webb was just 16 months old at the time of the accident. He was out playing in front of his home in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire when a neighbor’s drone hit him in the face. Pilot Simon Evans, a next-door neighbor of the Webb family, flew the drone in front of his house, where it clipped a tree and “spun out of control” for a moment before colliding with the young boy. (The BBC described Evans as an “experienced” drone operator.)”

14)      TrendForce Says SSD Adoption by Notebooks May Hit 30% Next Year as Contract Price of Mainstream SSDs Fell 10% for Four Straight Quarters

Long story short, there HDDs have a floor price of about $45 meaning, irrespective of capacity, they don’t get cheaper than that due to the mechanical components. Although mainstream laptops come with 500GB or 1TB HDDs, premium laptops come with a 256 or 512GB SSD showing that consumers value the performance of SSDs more than the capacity of HDDs. The pricing trend suggests 256GB SSDs will approach the floor price of HDDs, and a significant shift will occur at the expense of HDDs.

“DRAMeXchange Senior Manager Alan Chen said 256GB SSDs will be moving close to price parity with mainstream HDDs in 2016, so the adoption of SSDs in the business notebook segment will rise. DRAMeXchange anticipates the next year’s SSD adoption rate in the notebook market will rise above 30% for the first time.”

15)      SEC Charges Bitcoin Mining Companies

I’m shocked! Somebody actually thought up a novel Bitcoin scam! Usually they just straight up steal them from exchanges they set up, but these guys had the initiative to (allegedly) set up a good old fashioned Ponzi scheme. Too bad for them that this sort of fraud is actually illegal whereby it is not clear than stealing Bitcoin is.

“The SEC alleges that Homero Joshua Garza perpetrated the fraud through his Connecticut-based companies GAW Miners and ZenMiner by purporting to offer shares of a digital Bitcoin mining operation. In reality, GAW Miners and ZenMiner did not own enough computing power for the mining it promised to conduct, so most investors paid for a share of computing power that never existed. Returns paid to some investors came from proceeds generated from sales to other investors.

16)      Germany Pays to Halt Danish Wind Power to Protect Own Output

One of the major subsidies paid to “alternative energy” is that they are guaranteed high prices (another subsidy) for as much electric power they produce whether it is needed or not. In contrast, power generators who produce most of the power have to throttle back production based on demand (go figure) and grid operators are faced with getting rid of excess power, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Incredibly this situation has led to a push to deploy all kinds of power storage schemes which is mostly about stabilizing the grid which is destabilized due to other daffy policies.

“Germany’s wind farms are now producing so much electricity one of its grid managers is paying generators in neighboring Denmark to shut down to keep its network from overloading. German network operator TenneT TSO GmbH paid Danish power producers to withhold 37 gigawatt-hours of output in November, or about a day of production from the region’s biggest nuclear reactor, according to data from the Nord Pool Spot AS exchange in Oslo. The increase from 1.5 gigawatt-hours a year ago came as TenneT began from 2015 to boost payments to Danish producers via its neighboring grid to avoid cutting German output.”