The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29th 2016

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1)          Telecommunications industry leaders embrace OCP

I’ve mentioned the Open Compute Platform in the past. OCP is a consortium which makes available turn-key enterprise-class hardware designs for manufacture in an open source model. As the article notes this means the stuff can be made by white box vendors (i.e. Foxconn) at very low margins. It remains to be seen whether AT&T et als’ participation is lip service to get better pricing from the likes of Cisco or whether they actually intend to use OCP type hardware. Either way there should be pressure on the traditionally high margins of network equipment vendors.

““AT&T will virtualize 75% of its network functions by 2020, and to do that, we need to move to a model of sophisticated software running on commodity hardware,” said Andre Fuetsch, Senior Vice President of Architecture and Design at AT&T. “We’re becoming a software and networking company. As a result, our central offices are going to look a lot more like data centers as we evolve our networking infrastructure. The Open Compute Project is innovating rapidly in this area, and we’re thrilled to be collaborating with the community of engineers and developers that are driving the evolution. We look forward to our vendors and other industry players supporting this initiative, as well.””

http://www.opencompute.org/blog/telecommunications-industry-leaders-embrace-ocp

2)          A Tesla in Every Garage? Not So Fast

I recently read that Ontario is going to spend $20M building EV charging stations http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-1.3355595. Why tax dollars should go to subsidizing rich people’s heavily subsidized and yet still very expensive sports cars is not clear to me. Perhaps all the poor are well fed and clothed. The EV business is exclusively political with no reasonable prospects for success once the copious subsidies are removed. Real car companies like Nissan and GM can afford to lose money on every EV sale but Tesla can only afford to do that as long as gullible investors are willing to give it money. There are no battery innovations on the horizon which support the idea that battery prices will drop significantly. It is just a matter of time before the whole thing comes unraveled.

“What is certain is that even the best batteries will wear out long before the electric motors they serve. Which means that battery-powered EVs have hefty replacement costs that consumers may or may not even realize, let alone be willing to pay. Consider as well that carmakers typically do not produce their own advanced battery cells (although a few, like Tesla and BMW, do assemble such cells into battery packs). Auto executives no doubt loathe the idea of creating an electric fleet whose chief component is made not by them but by dedicated manufacturers like LG Chem or Panasonic. In the world of vertically disintegrated manufacturing, parts suppliers get paid first.

http://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/advanced-cars/a-tesla-in-every-garage-not-so-fast

3)          Will Machines Eliminate Us?

There is a whole lot of jibber jabber associated with Artificial Intelligence lately with various non-experts opining on the risks of super intelligent machines. Part of the problem is that the term, AI, means different things to different people. To researchers it does not actually mean creating machines which think, any more than a calculator thinks about its calculations. Unfortunately, in a billionaire obsessed world, the musings of a rich non-expert are considered newsworthy while the actual knowledge of an expert is rarely even sought out.

“Yoshua Bengio leads one of the world’s preëminent research groups developing a powerful AI technique known as deep learning. The startling capabilities that deep learning has given computers in recent years, from human-level voice recognition and image classification to basic conversational skills, have prompted warnings about the progress AI is making toward matching, or perhaps surpassing, human intelligence. Prominent figures such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have even cautioned that artificial intelligence could pose an existential threat to humanity. Musk and others are investing millions of dollars in researching the potential dangers of AI, as well as possible solutions. But the direst statements sound overblown to many of the people who are actually developing the technology. Bengio, a professor of computer science at the University of Montreal, put things in perspective in an interview with MIT Technology Review …”

http://www.technologyreview.com/qa/546301/will-machines-eliminate-us/

4)          Down The Hype Cycle: A 3D Printer In Every Home?

This is a good post-mortem on the hype surrounding 3D printing though I suspect that techcrunch had a hand in generating that hype as well. The problem is that low cost 3D printers aren’t that cheap and aren’t that good. You can make poor quality small plastic things but that’s about it. Most people don’t really need many poor quality small plastic things and if they did they wouldn’t make them themselves. Nonetheless, the opportunities in manufacturing and medical applications are massive.

“Despite all of its possibilities, hitting “print” on a 3D printer is a lot more involved than just loading the paper tray and hitting a green button. Preparing and finishing a 3D printed object can be an arduous process. For those who regularly use a 3D printer and take the process in stride, these are usually small issues. But for those who aren’t ready to take on the challenge, it can make an otherwise pleasurable experience turn sour, fast. In short, “ease of use” is still a thing. In addition to the operational difficulties involved with owning and maintaining a 3D printer, there are still too few 3D printing applications for the average person to justify the cost of purchasing a $1,000-$4,000 machine. Unless you’re already using a 3D printer in your line of work or hobby, or regularly spend thousands of dollars a year on small plastic parts, the time and costs involved with 3D printer ownership are just not worth it.”

http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/26/whats-next-for-3d-printing-hype-cycle/

5)          Russian student develops method for FDM 3D printing of artificial bones

Lots of bone used in surgery are grafts, from cadavers, or in many cases 3D printed from titanium. Apparently, previous methods for 3D printing bones results in a weak material which wasn’t really suitable. This researcher came up with a biocompatible material that is also strong. Of course we’ll have to wait to for the results of tests with animals and then people to see how it works out, but it does look promising.

“This method allows for a number of attractive features within the 3D printable biomaterial. As mentioned above, the 3D printed bones are sufficiently strong, yet maintain a porous structure that facilitates ‘osseointegration’—that is, the ability for natural bone to grow throughout the implant. The 3D printed biomaterial is also biocompatible and biodegradable, meaning that it will not be rejected, and once its job is complete, it can fully disintegrate into the body leaving no trace behind. Another major advantage of 3D printed artificial bones is their affordability. According to preliminary estimates, Toropkov believes that the cost of a 3D printed prosthetic human jaw would cost roughly 50 thousand rubles (US $650)—that’s roughly four times cheaper than existing prosthetics.”

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20160129-russian-student-develops-method-for-fdm-3d-printing-of-artificial-bones.html

6)          Rothenberg Says Ad Blocking Is a War against Diversity and Freedom of Expression

This and a follow on rant (http://canmua.net/world/iab-ceo-continues-to-hammer-ad-blockers-349596.html) are reminiscent of the sorts of histrionics exhibited by the newspaper industry as it stared down the precipice. There are many problems with the online advertising industry: many ads are distracting, fraudulent, and serve up malware. Advertisers also spy on consumers and ignore things like “do not track”. Since the industry refuses to play nice, technology has emerged to make them. AdBlock-Plus may be the bad boy because of its paid “whitelist” but the technology is open source. I use uBlock which works better anyway. Until the online ad industry takes responsibility for its actions and takes remedial action to correct them the industry can rant all it wants.

“And this is why I hate the ad-block profiteers. Now, you may be aware of a kerfuffle that began about 10 days ago, when an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes at a for-profit German company called AdBlock-Plus took to the digisphere to complain over and over that IAB had “disinvited” them to this convention. That, of course, is as much a lie as the others they routinely try to tell the world. We had never invited them in the first place. They registered for this event online. When we found out, we cancelled the registration and reversed their credit card billing. Why? For the simple reason that they are stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content, and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less – and less diverse – information.”

http://www.iab.com/news/rothenberg-says-ad-blocking-is-a-war-against-diversity-and-freedom-of-expression/

7)          CEO confirms app hosting service will shut down at end of February

This is the inevitable fate of many cloud service providers. If you think about it, cloud services should be the ultimate commodity and today’s datacenter is cheaper to build than the one which was built 3 months ago. The industry will consolidate to a few players who won’t make money doing it. The real joke is on dotCloud’s customers who have a very short time pull their data off the (no doubt) overloaded servers and migrate their software to another platform. Suffice it to say, most likely the customer base was caught flatfooted and don’t even have contingency plans in place. If you use cloud services, everything should be backed up locally and you should be prepared to change providers at a moment’s notice.

“Platform-as-a-service upstart dotCloud will shut down next month after its parent Cloud Control filed for bankruptcy. Just a few hours ago, an email was sent to dotCloud users warning them that the service will end on February 29, along with a link to instructions on how to migrate their data. For those wondering if the message was legit – it is. “Yes, this is unfortunately correct,” Cloud Control CEO Philipp Strube told The Register as we went to press. dotCloud was bought by Cloud Control in 2014 from Docker, which wanted to focus on its containerization business. Docker began life as an internal open-source project at dotCloud – an early PaaS provider that changed its name to Docker, pivoted to developing Linux containers, and ejected its app-hosting cloud.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/01/22/dotcloud_shutdown/

8)          How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers with Nothing

If not for the millions of dollars which were lost this would be an amusing story. The failure of an engineering project is not uncommon and I’d suggest that the odds are even worse when people are doing something which hasn’t been done before, especially if they don’t actually know what they are doing. Rather than hiring lawyers or forensic accountants who might have made them look bad, Kickstarter hired a journalist to figure out what happened. Needless to say there are many other projects going on at Kickstarter which will never see the light of day and there is no reason to believe that will change.

“Kickstarter tasked me, a freelance reporter, to find out why a highly funded crowdfunding campaign for a palm-sized drone flamed out in order to give backers the full story, and provide lessons for itself and others. My report follows. Kickstarter had an advance look, but wasn’t allowed to make changes. (Read this for the background on my commission, or skip to the very end of the article for a brief summary of my findings, some additional details and disclosures.)”

https://medium.com/kickstarter/how-zano-raised-millions-on-kickstarter-and-left-backers-with-nearly-nothing-85c0abe4a6cb#.ezcrlf83a

9)          New finding may explain heat loss in fusion reactors

There has been a couple of interesting developments in the world of nuclear fusion lately. This new model for heat loss appears to be a big deal (though it is not clear whether it points to a solution) and there was also this new imaging technique http://futurism.com/new-imaging-technique-brings-nuclear-fusion-power-a-step-closer-to-reality/. Neither seems to represent a major breakthrough leading to near term fusion power but a few percent here and a few percent there and next thing you we’re at breakeven.

“A long-standing discrepancy between predictions and observed results in test reactors has been called “the great unsolved problem” in understanding the turbulence that leads to a loss of heat in fusion reactors. Solving this discrepancy is critical for predicting the performance of new fusion reactors such as the huge international collaborative project called ITER, under construction in France. Now, researchers at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, in collaboration with others at the University of California at San Diego, General Atomics, and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, say that they have found the key. In a result so surprising that the researchers themselves found it hard to believe their own results at first, it turns out that interactions between turbulence at the tiniest scale, that of electrons, and turbulence at a scale 60 times larger, that of ions, can account for the mysterious mismatch between theory and experimental results.”

http://news.mit.edu/2016/heat-loss-fusion-reactors-0121

10)      Internet of Things security is so bad, there’s a search engine for sleeping kids

I’ve written about the security lapses of IoT products in the past. It is worth reiterating that companies like Google and Apple end up with security problems so it is scarcely surprising that much smaller companies, or even consumer products companies, have many more. As spooky as having an open baby monitor might be, it is pretty likely many other products such as IoT security cameras, alarm systems, locks, etc., are no more secure. And then there is the prospect your IoT toys go off line because the manufacturer decided to pull the plug on the cloud services which make it all work.

“Shodan, a search engine for the Internet of Things (IoT), recently launched a new section that lets users easily browse vulnerable webcams. The feed includes images of marijuana plantations, back rooms of banks, children, kitchens, living rooms, garages, front gardens, back gardens, ski slopes, swimming pools, colleges and schools, laboratories, and cash register cameras in retail stores, according to Dan Tentler, a security researcher who has spent several years investigating webcam security. “It’s all over the place,” he told Ars Technica UK. “Practically everything you can think of.””

http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/01/how-to-search-the-internet-of-things-for-photos-of-sleeping-babies/

11)      Nest Thermostat Goes From ‘Internet Of Things’ Darling To Cautionary Tale

Nest has had its share of problems in the past, including people complaining their Nest thermostats were consuming tens of gigabytes of broadband traffic. It seems pretty clear the folks behind Nest focused on aesthetics rather than functionality as reflected by the numerous problems their customers have faced. What never seems to get mentioned is that actual thermostat companies like Honeywell make WiFi thermostats, and, unlike Nest, they don’t seem to have all kinds of problems with them.

“Back when the Nest thermostat was announced in 2011, it was met with waves of gushing adoration from an utterly uncritical technology press. Much of that gushing was certainly warranted; Nest was founded by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, both former Apple engineers, who indisputably designed an absolutely gorgeous device after decades of treating the thermostat as an afterthought. But the company also leaned heavily on the same media acupressure techniques Apple historically relies on to generate a sound wall of hype potentially untethered from real life. Courtesy of marketing and design, Nest slowly but surely became the poster child for the connected home. Over the last year or so however things have changed, and while now Alphabet-owned Nest remains an internet of things darling, the unintended timbre of the message being sent is decidedly different. For example, Nick Bilton recently wrote a piece in the New York Times noting how a glitch in the second generation of the supposedly “smart” product drained the device battery, resulting in numerous customers being unable to heat their homes just as a cold snap hit the country.”

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160121/05125933392/nest-thermostat-goes-internet-things-darling-to-cautionary-tale.shtml#comments

12)      What a ball pen tells us about China’s manufacturing weakness

Producing something from other people’s parts is different from making those parts. This is an example of the backwardness of Chinese manufacturing but there are counter examples such the ESP8266, a Chinese Internet of Things component which is taking the maker community by storm. China has been investing in foreign technology companies such as Western Digital and was even rumored to have tried to buy Micron. Clearly the leadership is trying to move upmarket with respect to the technology value chain.

“Premier Li Keqiang recently made a shocking revelation about the industrial capabilities of China on national television: despite the fact that the country is widely known as the “world’s factory” and produces everything from iPhones, aircraft carriers, high-speed railways to spacecraft, until now there is not a single manufacturer in China that is able to produce the tiny rotating ball fitted to the tip of a ball pen that disperses ink as you write. Each of these tiny metal balls has to be imported by Chinese pen manufacturers from overseas suppliers. Many TV viewers in the mainland were deeply shocked and saddened by this revelation, as they had all been under the impression that China is already a world-class industrial power.”

http://www.ejinsight.com/20160121-what-ball-pen-tells-us-about-china-s-manufacturing-weakness/

13)      Starry Internet Is Aereo Founder Chet Kanojia’s Latest Salvo In The War On ISPs

Many countries outside of North America regulate broadband as any other utility. Unfortunately, incompetent and corrupt regulation means that North American consumers are gouged for substandard service. A goodly part of the reason for this is that most broadband is wired and there are all kinds of barriers limit the ability to run wires. Wireless is a different story since it can be quickly deployed at modest cost, though regulatory infrastructure also limits competition. It is not clear to me whether the spectrum being used is available, and if so whether same incompetent regulators who screwed things up will let this proceed. Regardless, the business is due for disruption.

“Conceived by Aereo founder Chet Kanojia, Starry looks to handle every aspect of broadband service using millimeter wave technology. This means that your broadband service, up to 1GB speeds, will be delivered to your home wirelessly. “It costs the cable guys around $2,500 per home to deal with the construction costs of laying down cable,” said Kanojia on a phone call, setting the scene for his next big unveil. “And beyond cost, there are regulatory hurdles that slow down the process.” “We can deliver faster broadband with no regulatory wait time and it will cost us only $25 per home.” Kanojia won’t disclose pricing but says that the service will offer various tiers based on speed (up to 1GB up and down) and that it will be “orders of magnitude cheaper” than current broadband providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.”

http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/27/starry-internet-is-aereo-founder-chet-kanojias-latest-salvo-in-the-war-on-isps/

14)      How a DIY Network Plans to Subvert Time Warner Cable’s NYC Internet Monopoly

This is another, albeit amateur approach to dealing with the morass which is North American broadband. There are inherent limitations to using a mesh network to access remote servers and this sort of approach would work best when a lot of people are using it in a small area (except for the aforementioned limitations of a mesh). I doubt it’ll ever amount to much, but you never know.

“In a warehouse basement in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood late last year, a handful of self-taught network engineers gathered to casually discuss how they might make Time Warner Cable irrelevant in their lives. Toppling—or at least subverting—a telecom monopoly is the dream of many an American, who are fed up with bait-and-switch advertising campaigns, arbitrary data caps, attacks on net neutrality, overzealous political lobbying, lackluster customer service, and passive-aggressive service cancellation experiences that are a common experience of simply being a broadband internet customer these days. The folks at NYC Mesh are actually doing something about it.”

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-a-diy-network-plans-to-subvert-time-warner-cables-nyc-internet-monopoly

15)      Google’s WiFi for Indian Train Stations Launches At Mumbai Central Railway Station Tomorrow

One of the challenges facing the likes of Google and Facebook is that a lot of people don’t have Internet access. Satellites, balloons, or drones are not the answer for a number of reasons but old style technology like wired, wireless, and Wi-Fi are. Rail lines are great places to lay fiber due to the rights of way and the fact the areas are already clear. You just dig a trench and drop the fiber in and cover the hole. Railways go wherever there is industry and even a lot of places there are not so you can cover a lot of a country quickly and deployment of Wi-Fi in stations is relatively cheap and effective. Plus, unlike low earth orbit satellites, balloons, or drones, it works.

“Google’s long-anticipated Wi-Fi for railway stations in India is slowly going operational starting tomorrow. As was announced late last September, Mumbai Central railway station will be the first location at which Google will provide high-speed internet access. The program, part of Google’s Access & Energy Team, is in partnership with Indian state-owned company RailTel. RailTel has built a network of fiber-optic lines along most major rail tracks across the country, which Google will be using to support Wireless Access Points at train stations. Initially, the partnership aims to provide access points at 100 train stations across India, with plans to grow to 400 stations nationwide. RailTel’s fiber-optic infrastructure covers over 26,000 miles of railway track, and the company plans on growing that to cover 33,000 miles of track.”

http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/21/googles-wifi-for-indian-train-stations-launches-tomorrow/

16)      The FCC Wants You To Choose Your Own Cable Box

Cable or satellite set top box rentals are an amazing scam. You pay a pile of money to rent a pretty low tech device, and better yet they are among the few tech products that actually go up in price over time. It’s the same gimmick telephone companies used for decades: in order to “protect their network” consumers paid thousands of dollars over decades for phones which cost a few dollars to make. There is no reason for that system to persist however we can expect a heck of a political storm if the regulators decide to move ahead with this decision.

““It’s time to unlock the set-top box market — let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose,” he said, comparing the forced rental of set-top boxes to decades past, when households had to lease their telephones from operators. According to the FCC, 99 percent of pay-TV customers rent set-top boxes from their providers. And unlike computers, TVs, and mobile phones, the cost of cable boxes to consumers has increased, averaging $231 every year. Wheeler’s proposal wouldn’t set a government standard for delivering TV and internet programming; instead it would set rules forcing providers to pass along channel line-ups and the content itself to the creators of competing devices and software.”

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hamzashaban/the-fcc-wants-you-to-choose-your-own-cable-box#.jv9y6xN4y

17)      Ten arrested in Netherlands over bitcoin money-laundering allegations

When you work for a large bank you have to take anti-money laundering courses. The great thing about those courses is they tell you all about the systems in place to spot money laundering. Long story short, if you launder money don’t deposit “large sums of money” into bank accounts unless you are dealing with a Swiss bank (http://www.thestar.com/business/2015/02/18/swiss-prosecutors-search-hsbc-office-in-massive-money-laundering-probe.html) or other financial institution that has systems in place to ensure the money is good and properly hidden from authorities. It doesn’t matter if you use Bitcoin or diamonds: if you are going to launder money do it right.

“Dutch police have arrested 10 people in the Netherlands as part of an international investigation into money-laundering through sales of the shadowy virtual currency bitcoin, prosecutors said on Wednesday. Fifteen places were raided Tuesday in eight Dutch towns as part of the investigation, during which luxury cars, cash and the ingredients to make ecstasy were seized. “Bank accounts and bitcoin accounts were also seized thanks to help from the United States, Australia, Morocco and Lithuania,” the Dutch prosecution service said in a statement. The alarm had been raised by banks which had seen “large sums of money” being deposited before being immediately withdrawn at cashpoints. The amount of money involved was not revealed.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/20/bitcoin-netherlands-arrests-cars-cash-ecstasy

18)      566PB Produced in Just One Day by All WW New Video Surveillance Cameras Installed in 2015

This is the sort of headline which pushes believers in a resurgence in Hard Disk sales into hysterics. Unfortunately, it is very misleading: video surveillance systems typically record over a full hard drive. In other words, if the disk keeps 30 days of recordings its starts over again on day 31 meaning there is a 30 day history. So, more likely than not, that 566PB is closer to 47PB, and that doesn’t take into account the fact a lot of systems are on reduced frame rates, only record when motion is detected, and so on. The good news for HDD bulls is that video surveillance is one of the areas HDDs have a major advantage in because they are cheap and don’t wear out. The bad news is that the much larger client computer (i.e. PC) market is poised for collapse as 256GB SSD pricing approaches $50 later this year.

“In 2013 IHS Inc. announced the rise of HD video surveillance was leading to an astonishing 413PB of data a day produced by newly installed video surveillance cameras. Now, the proliferation of higher and higher resolution cameras means that the data deluge continues to increase. 566PB was the amount of data produced in just one day by all the new video surveillance cameras installed worldwide in 2015.”

http://www.storagenewsletter.com/rubriques/market-reportsresearch/566pb-produced-in-just-one-day-by-all-ww-new-video-surveillance-cameras-installed-in-2015/

19)      The myth of the ISIS encrypted messaging app

The original story was used as both justification for why encryption should be illegal (I rather doubt that would stop terrorists in their tracks) or used as an example as to why making encryption illegal would not work. It turns out the whole thing was, like so much news today, made up and never verified. Regardless, unbreakable security is the sort of thing the Hardy Boys could pull off so all that criminalizing it will do is open secrets to spies for their fun and profit.

“Despite widespread media reports to the contrary, an app created for Islamic State militants to send private encrypted messages does not exist, a Daily Dot investigation found. On Jan. 12, Defense One reported that the Islamic State allegedly built a new Android app called Alrawi for exchanging encrypted messages, based on claims from self-proclaimed online counterterrorism outfit Ghost Security Group (GSG). The claim was quickly reprinted by Newsweek, Fortune, TechCrunch, and the Times of India—the largest English-language newspaper in the world—among many others. However, it seems as though hype and fear, rather than concrete evidence of a genuine tool for orchestrating terrorists attacks, played the primary role in propagating word of its existence.”

http://www.dailydot.com/politics/isis-alrawi-encryption-messaging-app/

20)      Ban internet anonymity – says US Homeland Security official

It is remarkable that public security officials are allowed to jabber on like this. What cop believes search warrants are necessary, what military intelligence officer believes torture should be out of bounds? Of course police and security people don’t believe in privacy: that’s why so many laws exist to protect people from things like unreasonable search. The scary thing is that people believe this nonsense, even when we have documented proof (from Snowden) that NSA operatives were using information to snoop on ex’s and so on. At the end of the day, George Orwell was an optimist.

“Writing in French policy magazine FIC Observatoire, Barnett somewhat predictably relies on the existence of child abuse images to explain why everyone in the world should be easily monitored. He tells a story about how a Romanian man offered to share sexually explicit images of his daughter with an American man over email. The unnamed email provider uncovered this exchange and forwarded the IP address of the Romanian to the European authorities and a few days later the man was arrested. Job well done. Before we have an opportunity to celebrate, however, Barnett jumps straight to terrorism. “How much of the potential jihadists’ data should intelligence agencies or law enforcement be able to examine to protect citizenry from terrorist attack?”, he poses. The answer, of course, is everything.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/01/27/homeland_security_says_ban_internet_anonymity/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 22nd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 22nd 2016

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

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1)          The Future of Jobs

Davos is a week-long party where deep thinkers like Bono and Di Caprio, whose individual carbon footprints are the size of large towns, can opine on what the untermensch need to do to save the planet. Strangely, politicians go, presumably to bask in the glow of these sages and they can share reports such as this. The link actually links to a 167 page PDF, and no I haven’t read it through. Nevertheless the summary, quote below, shows that the authors need to get a grip on reality: few of these technologies will advance much in the next 5 years and even the ones which do will not cause much disruption in that or even a 10 year time frame. The major impact of major technological shift is to improve the lot of the aforementioned low life, for the most part.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labour markets over the next five years, with enormous change predicted in the skill sets needed to thrive in the new landscape. This is the finding of a new report, The Future of Jobs, published today by the World Economic Forum.”

http://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs

2)          Amazon exec: Our drones will deliver in 30 minutes or less

Good luck with that! These drones are large enough and heavy enough to cause damage to people and property when they fall from the sky and some eventually will. A 60 pound object falling from any height could easily kill or maim someone and rush delivery of a package is not a valid reason to put people at risk. Hopefully the government will deny Amazon the right to operate the service before someone gets killed rather than after.

“Amazon is making some headway in plotting the tricky logistics of how its drones someday will get your shopping orders to you. The e-commerce company now has a good idea of how hefty the drones themselves will be, as well as the loads they’ll carry, and how far they’ll be able to go, said Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, Paul Misener, in an interview with Yahoo published Monday. The packages will have to arrive within 30 minutes of the order being placed. “The goals we’ve set for ourselves are: The range has to be over 10 miles. These things will weigh about 55 pounds each, but they’ll be able to deliver parcels that weigh up to 5 pounds,” said Misener.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-exec-our-drones-will-deliver-in-30-minutes-or-less/

3)          Surprise, Apple’s OS X comes out as most vulnerable software of 2015

Actually that is somewhat of a surprise. Since Windows 10 came out half way through the year it is understandable that fewer vulnerabilities would have been discovered. Nevertheless it is surprising that OS X and iOS had so many issues. Of course, one might question whether the methodology is valid.

“In a study conducted by CVE Details, the most vulnerable software of the previous year has been identified as Apple’s OS X and the tech-giant is also the company with most bugs. With 2016 coming, people in all sectors have been busy summarizing 2015 with reports and lists of who have been the winners and who have been the losers. The tech experts and security personnel have been at it too, with CVE Details producing a list of most vulnerable software of the past year. Many would have expected the list to be topped by Adobe Flash, for the software had reported a number of zero days right from the beginning of 2015. However, the final list took everyone by surprise, for it was Apple’s OS X that came out as the most vulnerable software of 2015. What was more shocking was that Adobe Flash didn’t even make it to second place, for that spot was taken by iOS, another Apple product.”

https://www.hackread.com/apples-os-x-most-vulnerable-software-of-2015/

4)          Apple’s Tim Cook Lashes Out at White House Officials for Being Wishy-Washy on Encryption

At least Cook is doing the right thing: by pretending Apple products are secure – because they haven’t been proven not to be – he reinforces the importance of the illusion of security. Meanwhile dimwitted politicians continue to demand or legislate for weak encryption which simply reminds people they are being monitored. The NSA is going to do what the NSA does whether it is legal or not and whether tech CEOs collude or not. It would be best if everybody just shut up and pretended encryption was secure so the NSA could insert backdoors as it always has.

“Apple CEO Tim Cook lashed out at the high-level delegation of Obama administration officials who came calling on tech leaders in San Jose last week, criticizing the White House for a lack of leadership and asking the administration to issue a strong public statement defending the use of unbreakable encryption. The White House should come out and say “no backdoors,” Cook said. That would mean overruling repeated requests from FBI Director James Comey and other administration officials that tech companies build some sort of special access for law enforcement into otherwise unbreakable encryption. Technologists agree that any such measure could be exploited by others.”

https://theintercept.com/2016/01/12/apples-tim-cook-lashes-out-at-white-house-officials-for-being-wishy-washy-on-encryption/

5)          German high court rules Facebook “Friend Finder” is unlawful

You have to hand it to Facebook: it’s bad enough they get people to willing sign away their privacy, now they clone user contacts and use that information to spam people. In other words, Facebook is doing what many viruses do, except somewhere buried in their terms of service you gave them permission to spam your friends. This looks like a stark violation of most anti-spam laws and one can only hope the company faces massive fines as a consequence.

“Germany’s highest court has declared unlawful a feature that encourages Facebook users to market the social media network to their contacts, confirming the rulings of two lower courts. A panel of the Federal Court of Justice ruled that Facebook’s “friend finder” promotional feature constituted advertising harassment in a case that was filed in 2010 by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV). The Facebook feature invites users to grant it permission to vacuum up the e-mail addresses of friends or contacts in the user’s address book, which in turn allows the social network to send an invitation to non-Facebook users to join the service. The court concluded this was a deceptive marketing practice, confirming decisions by two lower courts in Berlin in 2012 and 2014, which had found that Facebook had violated German laws on data protection and unfair trade practices.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-germany-idUSKCN0US27W20160114

6)          Netflix’s Opaque Disruption Annoys Rivals on TV

You can sort of see their point: Netflix is making claims about the popularity of its proprietary content and yet it doesn’t release view numbers nor does it participate in ratings services such as Neilson. Nevertheless, the proof would be in the pudding: if the Netflix services offering, including original content wasn’t compelling people would discontinue the service since they only subscribe month to month. Besides Netflix carries no advertising – which is the main use of ratings – and so much of the business is puffery in either event.

“Television executives have been frustrated because Mr. Sarandos has at times suggested Netflix shows would fare better than what is on cable and broadcast television. Last month, for instance, he said the Netflix show “Narcos” would be the most-viewed show on cable, not HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” “Netflix brought it on themselves when they make assertions like their show would be the highest-rated cable show,” Gary Newman, co-chief executive of the Fox Television Group, said in an interview. Likewise, Mr. Landgraf said in an interview, “If Ted doesn’t give ratings, he shouldn’t then be saying, ‘This is the biggest hit in the history of blah blah blah.’ He shouldn’t say something is successful in quantitative terms unless you’re willing to provide data and a methodology behind those statements. You can’t have it both ways.””

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/18/business/media/disruption-by-netflix-irks-tv-foes.html

7)          HBO is replacing its cable TV option in Spain with a new streaming service

One of the big trends in broadcasting is streaming and many broadcasters are evaluating the technology or have already implemented it. This particular move is remarkable because HBO is considering dropping cable distribution altogether and moving to a “streaming only” model in Spain.

“The Time Warner-owned network has made similar moves in the past. The company’s US streaming service, HBO Now, launched in April of last year, although US customers have been able to access a subscriber-only web service, HBO Go, since 2010. It also launched a streaming service in Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in 2012 called HBO Nordic, which has about 650,000 subscribers and also offers shows from AMC, Starz, and Showtime. HBO now has a similar service in Colombia that it hopes to expand to other Latin American countries.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/19/10792640/hbo-spain-streaming-service-killing-cable-tv

8)          Apple Frustrated by Inability to Reach Deals With TV Programmers for Television Service

I’ve read about how Apple is going to disrupt the TV business every month or so for the past few years and yet they don’t seem any more of a force than Roku. Unfortunately, any Apple product is basically a mechanism to get you to buy other Apple products so I stay away from anything the company has to offer. Apple also has a nasty reputation among content providers, developers, and so on, so it is scarcely surprising any of them would want to get into a deal with them.

“Skipper’s comments are in line with recent rumors made by CBS CEO Les Moonves, who said Apple “pressed the hold button” on its streaming television plans after it was unable to establish the necessary deals. Rumors throughout 2015 suggested Apple was aiming to create a web-based television product that would offer a small bundle of channels for $30 to $40 per month. Apple has been attempting to create some kind of television service since 2009, but the company has run into resistance from cable and content providers time and time again because of a reluctance to interrupt existing revenue streams and fundamentally shift the way cable is provided.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/01/19/apple-frustrated-by-inability-to-reach-tv-deals/

9)          Memory capacity of brain is 10 times more than previously thought

Remember this the next time you hear a futurologist blathering on about artificial intelligence: we don’t only not know how the brain works, let alone how to emulate it, we evidently don’t even know, within an order of magnitude, what its memory capacity is.

“Salk researchers and collaborators have achieved critical insight into the size of neural connections, putting the memory capacity of the brain far higher than common estimates. The new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy. “This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience,” says Terry Sejnowski, Salk professor and co-senior author of the paper, which was published in eLife. “We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power. Our new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web.””

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-01-memory-capacity-brain-previously-thought.html

10)      Cisco fixes hard-coded password ‘backdoor’ flaw in Wi-Fi access points

This just goes to show you that companies who are supposed to know a thing or two about security seem to forget stuff. This is most likely not an NSA or other security agency backdoor because it is much too primitive – most likely it is due to straight up incompetence or inserted by a hacker. Either way, the fact it is so rudimentary and yet existed in Cisco products tells you something about the amount of care they take with their products.

“In an advisory posted late Tuesday, Cisco explained the flaw is “due to the presence of a default user account that is created when the device is installed,” but added that the account does not have full administrative rights. “An attacker could exploit this vulnerability by logging in to the device by using the default account, which could allow the attacker to gain unauthorized access to the device,” the advisory read. The company disclosed another flaw, rated “critical,” in some versions of Cisco’s Identity Services Engine (ISE), which could allow a remote attacker attackers to gain unauthorized access to the device’s administrative portal.”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/cisco-fixes-wi-fi-access-points-with-hard-coded-backdoor-access/

11)      Cheap web cams can open permanent, difficult-to-spot backdoors into networks

This is an example, albeit a bit stretched, of how someone can create a backdoor into a corporate or personal network. Although the camera itself was modified it is not necessarily the case that somebody would notice that their camera had been compromised. Once inside the firewall, hackers can gain access to much more than videos of cats.

“After accessing the Linux image filesystem, they unearthed a binary that performs verification and update of the firmware (checks if the filed opened correctly – its size – its signature – if the update is newer than the current one – checks if the file checksum is the right one). “At this point, adding a backdoor roughly devolves to adding a service inside a Linux system – in our case, all we want is a simple connect-back Socks proxy. This can either be accomplished with a srelay and netcat in the startup script or more optimized C code, or one could go with a simple callback backdoor with a shell using netcat and busybox which are already present on the system,” the researchers explained.”

http://www.net-security.org/secworld.php?id=19330

12)      Nest Thermostat Leaked Home Locations Over the Internet

IoT is a happy hunting ground for hackers since most of the products are slapped together by companies with no particular expertise in security (or, judging from most of the news about Nest, much else). These are, for the most part, low cost products put together by people for whom security is an afterthought.

“Nest may be the poster child for the so-called Internet of Things, but as it turns out, even one of the most popular connected devices—owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, no less—isn’t free from the sorts of security flaws plaguing other smart devices. Researchers at Princeton University have found that, until recently, Alphabet’s popular Nest thermostat was leaking the zip code and location of its users over the internet. This data was transmitted unencrypted, or in the clear, meaning that anyone sniffing traffic could have intercepted it, according to the researchers.”

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/nest-thermostat-leaked-home-locations-over-the-internet

13)      Microsoft says new processors will only work with Windows 10

Microsoft’s move is generating a fair bit of backlash but it does make sense on a number of levels: most new processors are sold with the most recent OS and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend money supporting the small numbers who are going to build their own systems or downgrade the OS to earlier versions. From Microsoft’s perspective it is a way of saving money and probably lowering the odds of bugs and vulnerabilities.

“Soon, when you buy a new PC, it won’t support Windows 7 or 8. Microsoft has announced a change to its support policy that lays out its plans for future updates to its older operating systems, and the new rules mean that future PC owners with next-generation Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm processors will need to use Windows 10. It’s not usual for old PCs to fall short of the minimum requirements of a brand new operating system, but in this case, the opposite is happening. Microsoft and its partners will not be putting in the significant work necessary to make new hardware work with older versions of Windows. The old operating systems, at best, will merely lack the latest updates. At worst, they might not function properly.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/16/10780876/microsoft-windows-support-policy-new-processors-skylake

14)      Adobe will try anything to stop a Creative Cloud cancellation

Adobe has a terrible reputation for customer service and, for that matter, buggy software. (Pro-tip: stop using Adobe PDF reader: practically anything else takes 5% of the disk space and doesn’t require biweekly security updates). It makes sense for some customers to use Adobe’s Creative Cloud Software as a Service, but it seems a lot easier to sign up than to cancel. Investors should be aware that a shift in business model might be good for earnings growth in the near term, but the company has no prospect for growth.

“Devon refuses all offers, so Chaitra changes approach and attempts to scare him into continuing to subscribe. Chaitra claims that he will be forced to pay 50% of his monthly rate for all remaining months as an early termination fee (in this case that would be for 12 months). Devon points out that his annual subscription expires “today” – the day they are chatting, but Chaitra says it’s too late and the billing has already gone through. It’s not until Devon asks to speak to a supervisor that Chaitra decides to allow the cancellation without any further charges being incurred.”

http://www.geek.com/apps/adobe-will-try-anything-to-stop-a-creative-cloud-cancellation-1644869/

15)      Government urged to use Bitcoin-style digital ledgers

Bitcoin is a combination of a mirage and a scam but the underlying blockchain and distributed ledger technology is interesting, especially if it is adapted and improved to remove some of Bitcoin’s numerous deficiencies. Unfortunately, governments have a remarkably even and consistent track record when it comes to implementing new technology: it rarely works as expected, invariably costs at least an order of magnitude more and is always late.

“Bitcoins are powered by blockchains – digital ledgers that record information from Bitcoin transactions to DNA. Sir Mark Walport has argued that they could be used by government departments as a more secure way of managing data. They could be used to help with tax collection, benefits or the issuing of passports, he has said. Blockchains consist of “blocks” of data in a digital ledger. Copies of these ledgers are shared by all the computers that access them, meaning they are distributed across the network. Because blockchains act as permanent records of every time that data is added to them – and because private blockchains allow access to specific users only – they are thought to be highly resistant to malicious tampering.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35344843

16)      PayPal and zero dollar invoice spam

There is probably no greater creative force than the mind of a criminal. Spam is a lot harder to produce than it used to be, but you can cut through most spam filters if you send from a trusted source, in this case PayPal. The spammers appear to open PayPal accounts and invoice people $0 which allows them to effectively send an email which is likely to be read, despite being traditional spam.

“So in short, without any feedback from PayPal or other evidence to the contrary, it looks like they’re serving as the delivery mechanism for spam which, of course, won’t be flagged as spam because it’s a “legitimate” email from them. The message in the “invoice” is quite clearly just that – spam – and this is almost certainly an abuse of the PayPal invoicing system. I assume that there’s either no cost to the sender for a $0 invoice or it’s low enough to justify the upside of the spam. This is one they certainly should get on top of though and allow me to make a suggestion: The same account sending out volumes of $0 invoices is probably something that should raise a red flag!”

http://www.troyhunt.com/2016/01/paypal-and-zero-dollar-invoice-spam.html

17)      Volvo promises deathproof cars by 2020

This is an appalling stupid thing to say, but probably good marketing. Safety is largely a question of how much energy hits you and so not even a tank is “deathproof”. Nevertheless most large auto manufacturers are working on these sorts of advanced safety features which will have a significant impact on injury rates. Volvo may get there early but their cars are prone to a variety of other deficiencies which they may consider addressing as well.

“Volvo has made a shocking pledge: By 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car or SUV. Seriously. “If you meet Swedish engineers, they’re pretty genuine,” said Lex Kerssemakers, CEO of Volvo Cars North America. “They don’t say things when they don’t believe in it. “There is one big caveat. If someone really wants to hurt themselves, or is just really, really stupid… well, Volvo can’t do anything about that. But, assuming you’re not a suicidal maniac or a total idiot, in four years, you’ll be safer driving a new Volvo than you are climbing a ladder to screw in a light bulb.”

http://www.ktuu.com/news/business/volvo-promises-deathproof-cars-by-2020/37530414

18)      Toshiba Prepares Amphibious Robot for Fukushima Reactor Pool

In this case they aren’t talking about a C3PIO style autonomous robot but more of a remote control machine which can work in the reactor pools. If you think about it, remote controlled rovers have been in use in deep sea exploration for some time so this should be comparatively easy to pull off.

“If you had to pick somewhere to eat a picnic lunch in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, inside the containment building of reactor 3 probably wouldn’t be at the top of your list, but it also wouldn’t be at the very bottom. The radiation inside the reactor 3 building isn’t as bad as inside reactor 1, but it’s still enough to prevent humans from working there long term. This is a problem, because there are a bunch of spent fuel rods in the reactor 3 swimming pool that really should be somewhere else, so Toshiba has come up with this hulking amphibious robot to perform the job remotely.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/toshiba-amphibious-robot-for-fukushima-reactor-pool

19)      Orbital ATK tests 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor

Although most of the hype and hysteria associated with 3D printing has died down, it remains an interesting technology with great potential in industrial and medical uses. Here we have a company which has produced a functional, high tech rocket engine using the technology. It is a pity that the release doesn’t say more about why they chose 3D printing, etc.

“Orbital ATK has announced a successful test of a 3D-printed hypersonic engine combustor at NASA Langley Research Center. The combustor tested was produced through an additive manufacturing process known as powder bed fusion, which either a laser or electron beam to meld and fuse material powders together. Tests included exposure to a variety of high-temperature hypersonic flight conditions during a 20-day period, which included one of the longest recorded duration propulsion wind tunnel tests. Researchers involved say the unit met or exceeded test requirements. The tests were performed to verify a powder bed fusion-produced part could meet mission objectives.”

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2016/01/19/Orbital-ATK-tests-3D-printed-hypersonic-engine-combustor/8701453212239/

20)      British voice encryption protocol has massive weakness, researcher says

It is not clear whether the protocol was designed with mass surveillance in mind but it is hard to believe it is a coincidence. One can imagine that encrypted voice is the sort of thing mostly used by government and military so you probably don’t have to worry about your phone calls being listened to since NSA and other agencies already do that. Most likely the bad guys don’t use government sanctioned equipment to communicate and have their own codes, etc., which are inherently secure.

“A protocol designed and promoted by the British government for encrypting voice calls has a by-design weakness built into it that could allow for mass surveillance, according to a University College London researcher. Steven Murdoch, who works in the university’s Information Security Research Group, analyzed a protocol developed by CESG, which is part of the spy agency GCHQ. The MIKEY-SAKKE (Multimedia Internet KEYing-Sakai-KasaharaKey Encryption) protocol calls for a master decryption key to be held by a service provider, he wrote in an analysis published Tuesday. “The existence of a master private key that can decrypt all calls past and present without detection, on a computer permanently available, creates a huge security risk, and an irresistible target for attackers,” Murdoch wrote.”

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3024269/security/british-voice-encryption-protocol-has-massive-weakness-researcher-says.html

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 15th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 15th 2016

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

Click to Subscribe

 

 

1)          You say advertising, I say block that malware

We covered counter measures to adblock recently. Besides the annoyance associated with online advertising much of it is fraudulent or malware because there is no quality control. One solution would be to vet advertisers or bond them but this would eat into profits. Either way I suggest adblocking is as important as anti-virus and other security measures.

“The real reason online advertising is doomed and adblockers thrive? Its malware epidemic is unacknowledged, and out of control. The Forbes 30 Under 30 list came out this week and it featured a prominent security researcher. Other researchers were pleased to see one of their own getting positive attention, and visited the site in droves to view the list. On arrival, like a growing number of websites, Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information. Or, as is popular worldwide with these malware “exploit kits,” lock up their hard drives in exchange for Bitcoin ransom.”

http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/08/you-say-advertising-i-say-block-that-malware/

2)          Nissan announce to launch more than 10 self-driving vehicles by 2020.

Nissan’s announcement is that they are introducing a number of enhance safety features which move in the direction of self-driving. This is good news and follows on from a similar announcement from Toyota. Hopefully these features will become standard and save many lives.

“Nissan’s first step toward full autonomy will hit the roads in 2016. It says the feature will be called “single-lane control.” This system will allow the car drive autonomously on highways, including in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. Two years later in 2018, Nissan’s “multiple-lane control” will be offered. That, as you might imagine, will expand the single lane system into multiple lanes. With that capability, it will be able to autonomously negotiate road hazards as well as change lanes during highway driving. Finally, in 2020, drivers will be offered “intersection autonomy.” This robust system will be capable of navigating city intersections and heavy urban traffic without driver intervention.”

http://www.trendingaround.com/2016/01/nissan-announce-to-launch-more-than-10.html

3)          Your smart-home network will be a mess

If you visit the local big box hardware store you’ll find a wide assortment (I counted 5) of Internet of Things lightbulbs, none of which work with each other. They aren’t much more expensive than regular LED lightbulbs, but you should know that if you go with a particular vendor, and the vendor gets out of the IoT business, your lightbulbs won’t work anymore. My advice is to stay away from this sort of product until they adopt open standards.

“Light bulbs, refrigerators, sprinklers and door locks soon will be a lot smarter. Too bad they’ll have trouble talking to each other. Welcome to the chaotic underside of the smart-home vision, once all those humble devices start trying to communicate over a hodgepodge of wireless network standards. Some you’ve heard of, like the Wi-Fi that links your laptop to the Internet and the Bluetooth that connects your wireless headset to your phone. Other standards you probably don’t recognize include ZigBee, Z-Wave and Thread. And for the most part, they don’t get along.”

http://www.cnet.com/news/your-smart-home-network-will-be-a-mess-to-start-with/

4)          H.265/HEVC vs H.264/AVC: 50% bit rate savings verified

Streaming of “over the top” video is a major driver of broadband traffic growth so a significant improvement of compression technology can have a big impact on accessibility, delivery cost, and even the pace of infrastructure investment. I am not sure the market will embrace 4KTV to the extent it did HDTV, however, these improvements might work across the board.

“The tests confirmed the significant compression efficiency improvements achieved in HEVC, verifying the results previously reported using objective quality metrics (PSNR based methods). In fact the compression gains of HEVC compared to AVC were noted to be significantly higher when the subjective metrics (Mean Opinion Scores – MOS) were considered compared to the same considering objective metrics (PSNR). The overall average bit rate saving achieved by HEVC compared to AVC for the same subjective quality was found to be 59% as supposed to the 44% gain shown with objective quality metrics. It was also noted that the bit rate savings for larger picture sizes were higher than smaller picture sizes, which is a very encouraging sign for future UHD deployments.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2016/01/h-dot-265-slash-hevc-vs-h-dot-264-slash-avc-50-percent-bit-rate-savings-verified

5)          ATSC 3 Demo Offers Glimpse Into Future Of IP OTA TV

Everything is going Internet Protocol (IP) even, it seems, broadcast standards. Unfortunately, the document is a little thin with respect to details (for example, broadcasts is a one way pipe) but the transition makes senses as more and more content producers offer streaming services.

“This next generation standard is a platform that we can do so much with, and it is going to keep pace with what is out there,” said Anne Schelle, executive director of the Pearl TV consortium during a telephone interview from Las Vegas. There are several reasons the standard will position broadcasters to remain competitive far into the future, but one of the most important is that ATSC 3.0 is IP-based, and that is a critical part of what the private demos are trying to convey, said Mark Aitken, VP of advanced technology for Sinclair.”

http://www.tvnewscheck.com/playout/2016/01/atsc-3-demo-offers-glimpse-into-future-of-ip-ota-tv/

6)          Why 2015 Was the Year That Changed TV Forever

2015 appears to be the year “cord cutting” (substituting cable services for streaming) gained a lot of profile. Many broadcasters also stream so what is changing is the delivery method, not whether people watch video content. Cord cutting is placing pressure on cable companies to “un bundle” services, which could completely disrupt the business of some cable content providers since most consumers only watch a small subset of the channels they are required to pay for. Unbundling would remove the enforced subsidy on certain channels, meaning they either raise rates, which may cost more subscribers, or lose their revenue base.

“Sometimes the arrival of new distribution technologies introduces only moderate change, like when the music industry shifted from records to cassettes. Other times, new distribution technologies require a radical reconfiguration of business models and completely change the user experience of a medium. This is what’s now happening for television. And just as streaming makes for a very different viewing experience, it is also changing the nature of the shows that are made. Streaming services produce content targeted to narrower niches and sensibilities. They’ve also allowed for much greater experimentation and diversity in the ways stories are told and structured.”

https://newrepublic.com/article/126732/2015-year-changed-tv-forever

7)          French government considers law that would outlaw strong encryption

It is truly remarkable to see what a small group of people can do to a population of millions. All evidence suggest the Paris terror attacks were coordinated by known militants across unencrypted channels like text messages and yet France is keen to implement the sort of police state surveillance the Stasi could only dream of. It is a match made in heaven: politicians utterly ignorant of technology guided by police who would like to read all your mail. The only saving grace is that people will move to open standards which will be completely secure and impossible to police.

“The anti-encryption amendment is largely seen as a response to the two deadly Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, despite the fact that the attackers repeatedly used unencrypted communications in the leadup to the killings. Authorities still don’t fully know how the terrorists planned their operations, but the ISIS-inspired militants signaled the start to the Nov. 13 attacks through unencrypted text messages. They also traded unencrypted phone calls with senior operatives elsewhere in Europe. French authorities say that some blind spots remain due to encrypted messaging services like Telegram.”

http://www.dailydot.com/politics/encryption-backdoors-french-parliament-legislation-paris-attacks-crypto-wars/

8)          New Discovery Around Juniper Backdoor Raises More Questions About the Company

This is an update on earlier coverage of backdoors which are being discovered in mainstream equipment. Unlike the one in Fortinet, this is almost certainly the work of NSA or some other state player based upon the level of sophistication. One has to wonder if Juniper advertisements will now carry the lede “now with a couple fewer backdoors …”

“(Since the revelations) … Juniper—whose customers include AT&T, Verizon, NATO and the US government—has refused to answer any questions about the backdoor, leaving everyone in the dark about a number of things. Most importantly, Juniper hasn’t explained why it included an encryption algorithm in its NetScreen software that made the unauthorized party’s backdoor possible. The algorithm in question is a pseudo-random number generator known as Dual_EC, which the security community had long warned was insecure and could be exploited for use as a backdoor. Whoever created the backdoor in Juniper’s software did exactly this, hijacking the insecure Dual_EC algorithm to make their secret portal work.

http://www.wired.com/2016/01/new-discovery-around-juniper-backdoor-raises-more-questions-about-the-company/

9)          Google reports self-driving car mistakes: 272 failures and 13 near misses

Most of the coverage of self-driving cars glosses over the fact that the cars are mostly being tested in areas which, for example, lack snow. It would be interesting to know how often they are tested in fog, driving rain, and so on. The technology has come a long way but as these data show we are a long way away from either driverless cars or using the morning commute to catch up on your reading. The big advances are coming in advanced safety systems, which are a 5 year, rather than 20 year, technology.

“Google’s self-driving cars might not yet have caused a single accident on public roads, but it’s not for want of trying. Between September 2014 and November 2015, Google’s autonomous vehicles in California experienced 272 failures and would have crashed at least 13 times if their human test drivers had not intervened, according to a document filed by Google with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/12/google-self-driving-cars-mistakes-data-reports

10)      How Will Talking Cars Change Our Roads?

V2V is one of the advanced safety technologies associated with self-driving cars but which can be used absent self-driving technologies. For example, if a driver slams on the brakes the system can signal other drivers (through say a steering wheel shake) than something is going on ahead. Similarly, if a car’s anti-lock brakes engage, other vehicles can be signaled the road ahead is slippery. Things like this, self-braking, and so on will be standard features soon and will save many lives.

“V2V technology is set to spread further and faster than self-driving cars. The Department of Transportation is expected to release a set of rules for V2V within a matter of weeks, and those could include mandating manufacturers to include it in new cars within as little as three years. As the technology spreads, equipped cars will become, in Barbaresso’s word, “probes” gathering and sharing data. For instance, if dozens of cars in one spot turn on their windshield wipers, that’s useful weather information for public agencies—and much more granular than standard satellite information.”

http://fortune.com/2016/01/08/connected-vehicles-impact-cities/

11)      Driverless Ford tackles snow problem

I read the article and I’m not sure the author has actually driven in snow. The real problem with snow is not just knowing where the road is but loss of traction and poor visibility – a bad combination. Poor visibility reduces reaction times and bad traction makes collision avoidance that much more challenging. It is nice to see some progress is being made but I think a lot of the problem needs to be addressed.

“Driverless cars use Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) sensors to build a detailed view of the world around them. Lidar works by rapidly firing laser light away from the car and measuring how much light is reflected back – a similar principle to radar, which uses radio waves instead. But these sensors do not work well in snowy conditions, and the car’s onboard cameras cannot see road markings obscured by snow. Ford said it had instead programmed the Lidar sensors to detect landmarks above the ground, such as buildings and road signs. The car could then compare this information to an existing high-resolution map of the road – generated by autonomous cars during more favourable weather- stored in its computer.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35280632

12)      Independent internet radio stations stifled by fees

I don’t think Internet radio is as important as music streaming but if you are in the business it sure seems to be. Many of these stations focus on specific types of music which don’t get much air play and are essentially hobbies for the folks who run them. Shutting them down simply puts the music out of circulation and really does nothing for anybody. That’s what happens when your rules are designed for an ear when people listened to an actual radio – itself a dying medium.

“A new royalty rate fee went into effect January 1 based on a ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board. It impacts all U.S. internet radio stations that play music and snuffed one popular station. “Rates will be going up significantly,” says Rick O’Dell, founder/operator of Chicago’s smooth jazz station. “Sadly, it’s not an increase I can absorb.” O’Dell pulled the plug on smoothjazzchicago.net last week, ending a three-decade tradition that started on terrestrial radio and continued as a webcast for the past three years. The rate increase also seems to be choking the life out of Live365, a popular internet radio network that offers some 260 “human curated” indie stations — an international platform that showcases diverse formats, such as “Folk Alley,” “Surf Roots,” “DJ Out There,” “Psychedelic FM,” and “Alt Rock is Dead.””

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2016/jan/10/blurt-independent-internet-radio-stations-stifled/#

13)      Malware alone didn’t cause Ukraine power station outage

This is an update from a story are week or so ago about how “cyber terrorists” had shut down a power station in Ukraine. It turns out that’s not exactly what happened though their hacking apparently helped. I don’t like the term “cyber terrorist”: this might be vandalism on a grand scale but it is different from setting off a bomb in a bus.

“A new study of a cyberattack last month against Ukrainian power companies suggests malware didn’t directly cause the outages that affected at least 80,000 customers. Instead, the malware provided a foothold for key access to networks that allowed the hackers to then open circuit breakers that cut power, according to information published Saturday by the SANS Industrial Control Systems (ICS) team. Experts have warned for years that industrial control systems used by utilities are vulnerable to cyberattacks. The Dec. 23 attacks in Ukraine are the most prominent example yet of those fears coming to fruition.”

http://www.csoonline.com/article/3020737/security/malware-alone-didnt-cause-ukraine-power-station-outage.html

14)      Robots Lay Three Times as Many Bricks as Construction Workers

This is an update to a story were had in the summer, except this actually shows the machine laying bricks. Brick laying is not as easy as it looks, especially since buildings are rarely square, level, and so on. One thing I find interesting is that the machine is laying bricks without ties, which doesn’t work in a lot of situations. Nevertheless, at this rate, brick laying machine might be commonplace in a decade or so.

“Construction workers on some sites are getting new, non-union help. SAM – short for semi-automated mason – is a robotic bricklayer being used to increase productivity as it works with human masons. In this human-robot team, the robot is responsible for the more rote tasks: picking up bricks, applying mortar, and placing them in their designated location. A human handles the more nuanced activities, like setting up the worksite, laying bricks in tricky areas, such as corners, and handling aesthetic details, like cleaning up excess mortar.”

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/540916/robots-lay-three-times-as-many-bricks-as-construction-workers/#comments

15)      Nest thermostat bug leaves owners without heating

Nest is somewhat of an enigma to me: I understand why you’d want an online thermostat I just don’t understand why Google would have paid money for simplistic technology a two or three developers could have produced in a week using the contents of their spare parts drawer. Nor do I understand what a thermostat would need a software update: it’s a thermostat not an autopilot. Well I guess if you are going to issue a software update for a thermostat in the middle of winter you may as well let your customers test it for you. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Google-owned smart homeware company Nest has asked users to reset their connected thermostats after a software bug forced controllers offline and left owners unable to heat their homes. The company has confirmed that a software update error had caused the thermostat’s batteries to drain, therefore making it unable to control the temperature. Users of the smart home device took to social media to express their anger at being left with cold houses. Some feared that the fault had put water pipes under pressure, risking burst plumbing.”

https://thestack.com/iot/2016/01/14/nest-thermostat-bug-leaves-owners-without-heating/

16)      Internet Yields Uneven Dividends and May Widen Inequality, Report Says

I am surprised the UN doesn’t have people writing papers on how water is wet and other brilliant insights. Obviously a new technology will help people who have access to it more than people who don’t have access to it. This isn’t just the case in sub-Saharan Africa but the US and Canada, where Internet services are not available at reasonable prices to a large portion of the population. What is needed is a concerted effort to level access and not through corporate vampires like Facebook.

“Can the Internet save the world? In some places, it has helped curb corruption, encouraged more girls to go to school and enabled citizens to monitor election violence. But according to a report issued Wednesday by the World Bank, the vast changes wrought by technology have not expanded economic opportunities or improved access to basic public services in ways that many had expected. Rather, the report warned darkly, Internet innovations stand to widen inequalities and even hasten the hollowing out of middle-class employment.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/world/asia/internet-yields-uneven-dividends-and-may-widen-inequality-report-says.html

17)      Et tu, Fortinet? Hard-coded password raises new backdoor eavesdropping fears

This is such a ham handed backdoor it is most likely the result of bad programming (such as the backdoor in Ruggedcom products) or an amateur hacker rather than NSA. A good backdoor is very hard to find even if you know what to look for. Apparently, Fortinet corrected the issue long ago, but that doesn’t speak to what damage might have been done in the past. Of course, as with Juniper, discovery and removal of one back door doesn’t mean there aren’t others.

“Less than a month after Juniper Network officials disclosed an unauthorized backdoor in the company’s NetScreen line of firewalls, researchers have uncovered highly suspicious code in older software from Juniper competitor Fortinet. The suspicious code contains a challenge-and-response authentication routine for logging into servers with the secure shell (SSH) protocol. Researchers were able to unearth a hard-coded password of “FGTAbc11*xy+Qqz27” (not including the quotation marks) after reviewing this exploit code posted online on Saturday. On Tuesday, a researcher posted this screenshot purporting to show someone using the exploit to gain remote access to a server running Fortinet’s FortiOS software.”

http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/01/et-tu-fortinet-hard-coded-password-raises-new-backdoor-eavesdropping-fears/

18)      Bitcoin will crash and burn, developer declares – should you sell up now?

Bitcoin blockchain is an interesting technology, albeit with some correctable flaws. The idea Bitcoin could be an actual currency is laughable unless you know nothing about money laundering laws and so on. The market value of Bitcoin is subject to market manipulation which has probably fleeced more speculators than the countless frauds associated with Bitcoin exchanges. Setting all that aside it seems that even the developers community is undergoing something of a meltdown. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for bringing this to my attention.

“Bitcoin is a failure, according to an expert and major supporter of the cryptocurrency. Mike Hearn, who has been cited as a Bitcoin expert and indeed was a developer for five years – he left a post as a senior software engineer at Google to work on the virtual currency – has turned his back on Bitcoin, declared it a failure, and sold all his coins. He detailed his reasons for doing so in a blog post spotted by Fortune, but the long and short of it is that it’s to do with infighting, politics and agendas – because of which he’s lost confidence in Bitcoin and believes its fundamentals are broken. He notes that nothing bad might happen in the near future, but in the longer-term picture, seemingly the only way is down.”

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/internet/bitcoin-will-crash-and-burn-developer-declares-should-you-sell-up-now–1313203

19)      Scientists struggle to stay grounded after possible gravitational wave signal

If the rumour is true, and the data checks out, this would be an important discovery: not so much because it yet again confirms relativity but because it might lead to the development of more sensitive gravitational wave detectors and therefore new imaging systems. It would be particularly interesting if they find gravity waves but their measurement provided unexpected data.

“According to the rumours, scientists on the team are in the process of writing up a paper that describes a gravitational wave signal. If such a signal exists and is verified, it would confirm one of the most dramatic predictions of Albert Einstein’s century-old theory of general relativity. Krauss said he was 60% confident that the rumour was true, but said he would have to see the scientists’ data before drawing any conclusions about whether the signal was genuine or not.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/12/gravitation-waves-signal-rumoured-science

20)      SSD Pricing – Stop the Madness!

This post – which is not apparently meant to be sarcastic r humorous – appeared on the website of Trendfocus, an industry research firm which bills itself as “The Data Storage Industry’s Most Trusted Market Intelligence”. I am not so sure about the most trusted part, but I can say that if this is an example of their “market intelligence” it is pretty dubious. An SSD is a product where almost all of the value is in semiconductors and most people are aware of the fact that loosely speaking, price/performance in semiconductors doubles every 24 months (Moore’s Law). A 33% decline in a year works out a 56% decline in two years: very close to what you might expect given the nature of the product. Perhaps the author is new to the business.

“Now it is 2016 and three HDD vendors remain (barely) along with a lot of SSD companies, and we have seen pretty much the same behavior on SSD pricing throughout 2015 that will likely trigger additional consolidation in the SSD industry. Back to pricing – just over one year ago, average pricing for a 256 GB SSD was around $125. One year later, this same drive is about $85. That’s a 33% reduction in one year. How long can this type of behavior last? It is hard to imagine why any SSD company would want to follow such insane price trends down the road to un-profitability. As we all know from history (about 60 years worth in the HDD industry) that once you lower your price, there is no going back – unless, of course, there is a natural disaster in the world – which no one ever wants to see. But even then, price increases would be temporary for the most part.”

http://www.trendfocus.com/ssd-pricing-stop-the-madness/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 8th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 8th 2016

Hello,

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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

ps: Happy New Year!

 

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1)          AT&T to ditch most two-year phone contracts on January 8th

AT&T is the last major US carrier to abandon mobile contracts and to cease “subsidies” (i.e. hidden financing) of smartphones. If you go to their website, or that of Verizon or T-Mobile, you now pay more or less market price for smartphones with a 24 month financing option. This means customers can immediately see, for example that an iPhone 6s Plus is exactly double the price of a near identical Nexus 5X or any of a myriad of other choices. Price visibility is a good thing for carriers but very bad if you are a high margin smartphone vendor accustomed to consumers not knowing how much they were paying for your product.

“AT&T’s long affair with the two-year contract continues to wind down, Engadget has learned. According to an internal document sent to employees this morning, new and existing customers will only be able to get new phones by paying the full price upfront or in installments over time. The move is set to take effect on January 8th, so you’d better act fast if you (for some reason) really want to lock yourself down for a few more years.”

http://www.engadget.com/2015/12/30/att-ditch-contracts-jan-8/

2)          3D-Printed Wonder Ceramics Are Flawless And Super-Strong

I remain skeptical that consumers will embrace 3D printing any time soon. Besides the fact that consumer grade machines are low resolution, the materials are limited. Besides: few people have the patience to build or fix things and 3D printers won’t change that. Industrial applications are different: materials are improving rapidly and there is a wide variety of applications whether a 3D printed part may be, in theory at least, better than one made using traditional techniques. Ceramics is a big market and this looks very promising.

“The team uses a $3,000 printer to print 100 micron thick layers of a plastic-like material out of a resin. That resin contains all the molecules you need to form a tough ceramic. The printing process is done by carefully etching layers of the resin with a UV light, which fuses small molecular clumps (called monomers) into long plastic-like chains (called polymers). Once the plastic-like pre-ceramic part is printed, it’s forged in an oven, where it’s slowly cooked to 1,000 degrees Celsius in the presence of argon gas. That heating basically tears away all the unnecessary chemical groups attached to the plastic-like material, leaving nothing behind but the strong ceramic framework underneath.”

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a18801/3d-printed-wonder-ceramics-wont-shatter/

3)          Remember the Air Umbrella? It isn’t going to happen

One of my many rules of thumb is that any unregulated market devolves to fraud and that is obviously what has happened with crowdfunding. Although a high attrition rates is normal for engineering projects even when experienced people are involved, it is becoming increasingly obvious that many high profile crowdfunded projects are outright fraud. Since the crowdfunding sites get a percentage of the money raised their only concern is whether their reputation remains intact so the cash can keep flowing. My suggestion is to let other fools finance scams and buy products only once they are on the market.

“When a gadget called Air Umbrella hit Kickstarter in October last year, it left a lot of things unanswered. Would this really work? Would it spray passers-by with rainwater? Why was there no video of the actual gizmo in action? Toward the end of December, weeks after the China-based creators promised to ship the Air Umbrella to its campaign’s early backers, people began asking different questions – like, who are the creators? Why has the startup not logged in to Kickstarter for over a year? Was this whole thing a scam all along? Was this yet another Kickstarter disaster? The project raised US$102,240 from 842 backers, so a lot of people have money at stake.”

https://www.techinasia.com/air-umbrella-cancelled

4)          Car Makers Rev Up Automotive Grade Linux at CES

Cars are getting smarter and will have to get even smarter to accommodate advanced safety systems and self-driving capabilities. Various companies, such as Blackberry QNX might dream they will become or remain, the car software of choice but that ain’t gonna happen: modern SOCs have plenty of computing cycle and often include IO sub-processors to deal with time critical stuff. Furthermore, auto-makers would be stupid to lock themselves into a particular vendor’s software or toolset. Long story short it’s all going to be Linux.

“The Linux Foundation Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) Collaborative Project is kicking off CES with two major announcements that show car makers are embracing open development and code. With four new major automotive OEMs stepping up to join the project (see announcement here), AGL is well-positioned to quickly become the de facto standard for automotive. Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru as well as Ford, the first U.S. auto maker to join AGL, are committing to an open ecosystem and a common platform to accelerate rapid innovation. They see a clear benefit to working alongside other AGL members like auto suppliers, communications and semiconductor companies and collaborating directly with our global community of developers to advance the software for connected car applications. But even more important, it’s a clear indication that carmakers are embracing an open source development methodology that has been highly successful in other markets.”

https://www.linux.com/news/featured-blogs/211-dan-cauchy/876413-car-makers-rev-up-automotive-grade-linux-at-ces

5)          Linux Foundation Unites Industry Leaders to Advance Blockchain Technology

Bitcoin introduced some interesting technologies such as distributed general ledger, though, judging from the numerous scams and frauds associated with the virtual currency it is far from perfect. There are companies touting proprietary knowhow of the open source technology, which is at least a little amusing. The formation of an open-source industry group ensures that if the technology has commercial application all the requisite knowhow will be readily available.

“The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, today announced a new collaborative effort to advance the popular blockchain technology. The project will develop an enterprise grade, open source distributed ledger framework and free developers to focus on building robust, industry-specific applications, platforms and hardware systems to support business transactions. Early commitments to this work come from Accenture, ANZ Bank, Cisco, CLS, Credits, Deutsche Börse, Digital Asset Holdings, DTCC, Fujitsu Limited, IC3, IBM, Intel, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), R3, State Street, SWIFT, VMware and Wells Fargo.”

http://www.linuxfoundation.org/news-media/announcements/2015/12/linux-foundation-unites-industry-leaders-advance-blockchain

6)          Is Blocking Readers Who Use Ad Blockers The Best Strategy?

I was an early adopter of adblock technology and started noticing this trend a few months ago. Forbes.com blocks access if you are using an adblocker as is their right. Of course, switching off an adblocker means you get inundated with distracting, fraudulent, or even virulent (what are the odds an ad knows my PC is infected?) content. In most cases I just don’t bother with the site but in the rare case I am intrigued by the article I open Microsoft Edge, which doesn’t have adblock ability and look at the page with that. You see: a Microsoft browser is useful after all!

“There’s a growing trend in online publishing: Namely, media sites blocking users who choose to use ad-blocking software. In the past few days alone, a British publisher and the Forbes business news site have either implemented or are looking at implementing barriers that keep users with ad-blocking software from reading their content. It’s understandable that publishers might feel under pressure from ad blockers, but is blocking the blockers really the best strategy for dealing with this problem?”

http://fortune.com/2015/12/22/blocking-ad-blockers/

7)          G.M., Expecting Rapid Change, Invests $500 Million in Lyft

This just goes to show that even non-technology companies can blow vast sums of shareholder money on stupid technology investments. To summarize, Lyft is a not very successful car service. The technology aspect is an app which can be readily replicated by a small team of people in a few months. Self-driving cars are good 20 years away and even then will almost certain require a human behind the wheel for a few years after that. Lyft and Uber will almost certainly be out of business shortly after investors realize a car service is a low margin business with no barriers to entry and stop giving them money to burn.

“Lyft announced on Monday that G.M. invested $500 million in the company, or half of its latest $1 billion venture financing round. The funding, which recently closed, values Lyft, which is based in San Francisco, at $4.5 billion. G.M.’s support includes more than financial backing. As part of the investment into Lyft, G.M. will work on developing a so-called autonomous on-demand network of self-driving cars, an area of research to which companies like Google, Tesla and Uber have all devoted enormous resources in recent years.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/05/technology/gm-invests-in-lyft.html

8)          Google, HP, Oracle Join RISC-V

RISC-V is an open source CPU architecture which can be provided proprietary extensions. Various groups are working on VHDL (a high level language for hardware) implementations meaning the design can be implemented in FPGAs (programmable hardware) or produced as native silicon. In addition, all sorts of software support such as compilers, operating systems, etc., are available. Like any other open initiative is it probably too early to tell how successful it will be, however, margins for low costs Systems on a Chip (SOC) are pretty low, even if ARM royalties are already modest.

“RISC-V is on the march as an open source alternative to ARM and Mips. Fifteen sponsors, including a handful of high tech giants, are queuing up to be the first members of its new trade group which will host next week its third workshop for the processor core. RISC V is the latest evolution of the original RISC core developed more than 25 years ago by Berkeley’s David Patterson and Stanford’s John Hennessey. In August 2014, Patterson and colleagues launched an open source effort around the core as an enabler for a new class of processors and SoCs with small teams and volumes that can’t afford licensed cores or get the attention of their vendors.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1328561

9)          Google is tracking students as it sells more products to schools, privacy advocates warn

Chromebooks are low cost notebooks based on an open source operating system and which use cloud services rather than local software for most large applications. Although the OS is open source, Google benefits because users are directed to their cloud offering, allowing Google to seed the market with future users. Frankly it is not at all surprising Google is making use of how student use their services and what they use them for: it’s their business model. If you dance with the devil you get burned.

“In public classrooms across the country, the corporate name that is fast becoming as common as pencils and erasers is Google. More than half of K-12 laptops or tablets purchased by U.S. schools in the third quarter were Chromebooks, cheap laptops that run Google software. Beyond its famed Web search, the company freely offers word processing and other software to schools. In total, Google programs are used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world, the company says. But Google is also tracking what those students are doing on its services and using some of that information to sell targeted ads, according to a complaint filed with federal officials by a leading privacy advocacy group.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/28/google-is-tracking-students-as-it-sells-more-products-to-schools-privacy-advocates-warn/

10)      US Army scraps $42m Darpa robot for being too noisy

DARPA has funded some remarkable technologies (the Internet being one) however the program is largely a massive subsidy program for US technology companies. It may be that this bizarre looking robot mule may find some use somewhere but the idea it might have a military application is laughable: in most modern wars soldiers spend most of their time behind fortifications or in armored vehicles, not wandering through the country side. Enemy fighters would quickly develop tactics to put the monstrosity out of action leaving the soldiers stranded. Perhaps a real mule would be a better choice.

“The United States Marine Corp has abandoned plans to use a robotic mule in combat situations, claiming that the amount of noise it makes risks giving away the position of troops to the enemy. The LS3, or Legged Squad Support System, had been the centre piece of a significant push by the US Army to integrate thousands of robots into its forces by 2030. Development of the LS3 first began in 2008 after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) offered a $32m (£21m) contract to Alphabet’s Boston Dynamics. A further $10m was awarded in 2013 for testing the quadruped robot, demonstrating that it could cope with carrying loads of up to 180kgs across rugged terrain.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/us-army-scraps-42m-darpa-robot-being-too-noisy-1535185?

11)      The Internet of Things Is Everywhere, But It Doesn’t Rule Yet

If you go to the lightbulb section at Home Depot you’ll find several vendors offering mutually incompatible “smart light” systems and there is an even broader selection at other places. Setting aside the questionable utility of smart light bulbs this means either you will need to standardize on a single lightbulb vendor for your house or you will need to master a variety of apps, etc. Either way you had better hope they maintain the product for the 20+ year life of the lightbulb. I would avoid any IoT devices until the industry moves to an open standard.

“Which brings us to the real dilemma the Internet of Things is facing as we come to the end of 2015: how the hell are all these things going to work together? Apple has Homekit; Google has Brillo and Nest; Microsoft has Windows; Samsung has SmartThings. There’s Wemo and Wink and Zigbee and Z-Wave and Thread and I’m not even making any of these up. You can control some things with your fitness tracker, some with a universal remote, and pretty much all of them with your phone. Some of the protocols overlap and support each other; others are more exclusive. But there’s no simple plug-and-play option, no way to walk out of Best Buy with something you know is going to work.”

http://www.wired.com/2015/12/this-year-was-almost-the-year-of-the-internet-of-things/

12)      How the Internet of Things Limits Consumer Choice

This is another example of the issues with IOT and proprietary standards in general. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) was pushed by entrenched media and software companies and supported by politicians who collectively know less about technology than I know about dark matter. Although companies large and small can abuse the DMCA (having critical content removed from the web, for example) the inevitable response by consumers will be to boycott proprietary standards as they did with Keurig. I doubt consumers individually understand what the issues are but they’ll figure it out eventually.

“In theory, the Internet of Things—the connected network of tiny computers inside home appliances, household objects, even clothing—promises to make your life easier and your work more efficient. These computers will communicate with each other and the Internet in homes and public spaces, collecting data about their environment and making changes based on the information they receive. In theory, connected sensors will anticipate your needs, saving you time, money, and energy. Except when the companies that make these connected objects act in a way that runs counter to the consumer’s best interests—as the technology company Philips did recently with its smart ambient-lighting system, Hue, which consists of a central controller that can remotely communicate with light bulbs.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/internet-of-things-philips-hue-lightbulbs/421884/

13)      New WiFi standard offers more range for less power

This is another IOT related announcement. The new WiFi standard uses lower frequencies, which gives it longer reach for lower power. Power is important for IOT as some applications rely on battery power and a longer reach is always a good thing. 802.11ah will almost certainly have lower bit rates than 2.4GHz but that’s OK because IOT devices don’t need much bandwidth. One thing which is not clear is when compatible devices will be on the market. As a side note, 802.11ah may present a threat to ZigBee with is broadly used in a Hub/peer to peer network for IOT applications: there are Systems On a Chip (SOC) modules available which integrate a microprocessor and WiFi, all FCC approved, for around $1 but these do not have as good battery life so 802.11ah may improve that.

“The WiFi Alliance has finally approved the eagerly-anticipated 802.11ah WiFi standard and dubbed it “HaLow.” Approved devices will operate in the unlicensed 900MHz band, which has double the range of the current 2.4GHz standard, uses less power and provides better wall penetration. The standard is seen as a key for the internet of things and connected home devices, which haven’t exactly set the world on fire so far. The problem has been that gadgets like door sensors, connected bulbs and cameras need to have enough power to send data long distances to remote hubs or routers. However, the current WiFi standard doesn’t lend itself to long battery life and transmission distances.”

http://www.engadget.com/2016/01/04/new-wifi-standard-gives-more-range-with-less-power/

14)      Breakthrough offers hope to those with Duchenne muscular dystrophy

CRISPR is probably the biggest advance in science and medicine in decades. It offers cheap and easy gene mutation and a recent development (see item 15) reduces off target changes to undetectable levels, vastly reducing the chances something will go wrong. It may be some time before CRISPR is applied to diseases which are not immediately fatal but there is a good chance it will lead to major advances in DMD, cystic fibrosis, and cancer treatment.

“Gene-editing injections could one day offer hope to those with the inherited disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy, research suggests. Researchers were able to halt the progression of DMD in adult mice using a recently developed technique that has been hailed as the scientific breakthrough of 2015. In a series of studies, three teams of US researchers showed how the gene-editing tool could be used to “correct” a mutation in the animals’ muscle DNA that prevented them producing the protein dystrophin, leading to partial recovery.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/dec/31/breakthrough-offers-hope-to-those-with-duchenne-muscular-dystrophy

15)      High-fidelity CRISPR-Cas9 nucleases have no detectable off-target mutations

This is an improved version of the revolutionary CRISPR technique which might itself be a game changer. One of the risks of CRISPR is that you might introduce mutations – not a big deal if you are working on mice but possibly carcinogenic in humans. This new technique reduces that risk immensely, meaning therapeutic applications have probably been moved closer by years.

“A new engineered version of the gene-editing CRISPR-Cas9 nuclease appears to robustly abolish the unwanted, off-target DNA breaks that are a significant current limitation of the technology, reducing them to undetectable levels. In their report receiving advance online publication in Nature, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers describe how altering the Cas9 enzyme to reduce non-specific interactions with the target DNA may greatly expand applications of the gene-editing technology.”

http://phys.org/news/2016-01-high-fidelity-crispr-cas9-nucleases-off-target-mutations.html

16)      Why is Mark Zuckerberg angry at critics in India?

I can see why a billionaire is keen to promote his financial interests but I really have to question the judgement of somebody who wants to go toe to toe with a government. “Free Basics” is nothing but a scheme to inflate Facebook user numbers and even though most of the company’s revenue comes from North America you have to give shareholders something to dream about. Despite the ad campaigns, “Free Basics” is not a philanthropic endeavor. For what it is worth, Egypt recently followed suit.

“In an unusually pugnacious appeal in the mass-circulation Times of India, the Facebook founder forcefully defended introducing his Free Basics service, “a set of basic internet services for education, healthcare, jobs and communication that people can use without paying for data”. Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg says, has already launched the service in partnership with more than 35 mobile operators in more than 30 countries. He says more than 15 million people have already come online because of the service. “The data is clear,” he says. “Free Basics is a bridge to the full internet and digital equality.” So – in a tone which many say mocks critics – Mr Zuckerberg asks: “Who could possibly be against this?”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35192184?OCID=twitterasia

17)      FCC: DOCSIS 3 Helps Drive Rapid Rise in Fixed Broadband Speeds

As many consumers have discovered, advertised speeds are often well below realized speeds and both are moot if data caps are in place. Nevertheless, a plug and play upgrade works in the carrier’s favor at least because they can either charge more for the service or jam more customers on the same network. It is a pity North American broadband markets are so non-competitive as many developed and even developing markets have much better speeds at much lower prices and no data cap.

“The average maximum advertised speed across all participating ISPs was 72 Mbps as of September 2014, up a whopping 94% from 37.2 Mbps in September 2013. But while cable and fiber-based ISPs were usually meeting or beating that advertised price, DSL had not kept pace and some continued to advertise speeds that they did not deliver. The FCC said that was largely due to cable’s deployment of DOCSIS 3 — the maximum advertised speeds for cable ISP downloads increased from 12-20 Mbps in 2011 to 50-105 Mbps in September 2014.”

http://www.multichannel.com/news/fcc/fcc-docsis-3-helps-drive-rapid-rise-fixed-broadband-speeds/396188

18)      India Becomes Mobile-Phone Market With a Billion Subscribers

India may not lead the world in terms of 4G infrastructure but they are a huge mobile market. Even voice or limited (i.e 2G) data can make a significant impact to standard of living and quality of life in the developing world as we have seen in Africa. Hopefully better information, access to financial services, and other benefits conferred by better communications will result in the sort of economic miracle experience by China through different means.

“Though phone bills in the country are among the cheapest in the world, India’s subscriber base has surged over the years to a size that’s more than triple the U.S. population, underscoring the country’s growing economic influence. Top Indian carrier Bharti Airtel Ltd. alone has more than 200 million subscribers. The huge user base is also the most spoiled for choice. As many as 12 operators fight for subscribers in the third-largest Asian economy, driving down tariffs and hurting profits. The imminent launch of Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd.’s $15 billion fourth-generation services in early 2016 is set to intensify the competition further.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-30/india-becomes-second-phone-market-to-cross-1-billion-subscribers

19)      Physicists come up with a way to make cleaner fuel cells

One of the most expensive items in a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) low temperature fuel cell is the Nafion membrane made by DuPont. Besides cost Nafion is from idea as it is prone to leaks and wear. This novel material which may be an alternative however as is usual with such announcements it is all the stuff they don’t tell you which can make the difference. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“An international group of scientists from Russia, France, and Germany have developed ion-exchange synthetic membranes based on amphiphilic compounds that are able to convert the energy of chemical reactions into electrical current. The new development described in the journal Physical Chemistry, Chemical Physics could potentially be used in fuel cells, and in separation and purification processes. The study was conducted by MIPT’s Laboratory of Functional Organic and Hybrid Materials, which was opened in 2014.”

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-12/miop-pcu122915.php

20)      Gamers Are Outraged at the Oculus Rift’s Price. They’re Buying It Anyway.

This is about the most balanced article I’ve seen over the announced pricing for Oculus Rift, the much hyped virtual reality headset. The criticism of the pricing (well above what people were told to expect) is the least of the problem as most everybody will need to spend far more for an upgraded desktop PC to run it (I don’t believe any notebooks will be able to). As the article notes, despite the price the associated hype means it will probably sell out. I happen to believe VR may be a fun peripheral for gamers, at least those not prone headaches and nausea associated with the technology but it is not clear to me there will be significant broader application. I also expect it’ll be a crowded market and prices will drop rapidly.

“In two years, we’ll all be wandering the streets with virtual-reality headsets pasted to our noggins. Either that, or every VR prototype will be buried under a concrete slab in a New Mexico desert. While there’s perhaps some middle ground between universal adoption and humiliating failure, that hasn’t been reflected in the rhetoric around the Oculus Rift. It is hard to think of another consumer tech product that has gone through so many cycles of hype and backlash before it has even been released to the public. (Oh, wait, no it isn’t: Google Glass. Hmm—hold that thought.) Now, the long-awaited consumer version of the Rift headset is finally available for preorder, and the price is higher than expected: $599.)”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/01/06/oculus_rift_s_price_sparks_backlash_but_gamers_are_buying_it_anyway.html