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

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


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni



1)          SWIFT warns customers of multiple cyber fraud cases

A few weeks ago we carried the story of a Bangladesh Bank which had been a victim of cyber theft to the tune of $81M, though the entire scam could have netted $1B. Attention focused on the bank as it is associated with a 3rd world country. It is increasingly looking like that theft is known only because it was spotted – it turns out criminal groups have been using SWIFT to pull off all kinds of mega thefts and these were either unnoticed or unreported.

“SWIFT, the global financial network that banks use to transfer billions of dollars every day, warned its customers on Monday that it was aware of “a number of recent cyber incidents” where attackers had sent fraudulent messages over its system. The disclosure came as law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh and elsewhere investigated the February cyber theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. SWIFT has acknowledged that the scheme involved altering SWIFT software on Bangladesh Bank’s computers to hide evidence of fraudulent transfers. Monday’s statement from SWIFT marked the first acknowledgement that the Bangladesh Bank attack was not an isolated incident but one of several recent criminal schemes that aimed to take advantage of the global messaging platform used by some 11,000 financial institutions.”

2)          Windows 10 will no longer let you Google search from Cortana

The announcement that Microsoft would limit the use of its Cortana agent to its own search engine led to howls of outrage online. After all, isn’t this the old Microsoft monopoly exerting its market power over its customers? Well, yes and no: the company is simply employing the same tactics used by Apple in particular, but Google as well. I use Google voice a fair bit and I don’t know if I have an option as to what search software or navigation tool it uses. The interesting thing is the rise of smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks means it is hard to make a case Microsoft has a monopoly on anything.

“Microsoft is closing off one of the easiest ways to Google search in Windows 10. The company has announced in a blog post that starting today, it will block the ability to perform third-party searches through the Cortana digital assistant, as part of an effort to maintain an “integrated search experience.” The move comes in response to a number of recent workarounds, which used browser extensions or even registry edits to establish Google as the default engine for Cortana searches instead of Bing.”

3)          Black Duck and North Bridge find that today, and tomorrow, belongs to open source

Even though I hear investors dismissing Free Open Source Software (FOSS) the fact is that most of the Internet and the majority of mobile devices run FOSS. I’m sure that there are still people using proprietary compilers or development platforms but why develop on those when similar products are available as FOSS? It’s possible we have passed a tipping point: one thing about FOSS in general is that there is a huge amount of online support out there so in many ways it is easier to use than proprietary equivalents.

“I told you a while back that open-source development methods and open-source software ruled the IT world. It’s nice to know that what I saw as an individual was also clear to the corporate world. Black Duck, a leader in securing and managing open-source software, and North Bridge, an inception-to-growth venture capital firm, just released the results of their 10th Future of Open Source Survey. Guess what? They found open source is today’s preeminent architecture. It’s the foundation for nearly all applications, operating systems, cloud computing, databases and big data. To be exact, the survey revealed that 65 percent of companies are using open source for development, while 55 percent are using it in their production infrastructure. Based on what I’ve seen, that’s an underestimate. Even now many companies contain open-source skunkworks running production systems beyond the sight of CIOs and CFOs.”

4)          Elon Musk: Tesla’s Autopilot is twice as safe as humans

This little nugget caused a storm of excitement online, and, as is characteristic with any comment by Musk, was repeated slavishly with no criticism. If you think about it, the headline itself is absurd: assuming fault is split 50/50 and only a tiny percentage of cars are Teslas, then it would have to be almost perfect to avoid half of collisions. Regardless, the content of the article shows the claim is unfounded blather: you cannot conclude anything from the claim “the probability of having an accident is 50 per cent lower if you have Autopilot on” because what matters is the accident rate under similar conditions on and off. I typically use cruise control when driving under ideal conditions on highways which is the safest route to travel cruise control or not. The safety does not arise from the use of cruise control but the fact it is a divided highway with no intersections. Thanks to Paul Lee for this item.

“Autonomous cars and self-driving features in the main still need to win over public trust. But Tesla’s Autopilot feature – which gives cars partial autonomy – is 50 per cent safer than a human driver, according to chief executive Elon Musk. “The probability of having an accident is 50 per cent lower if you have Autopilot on,” said Musk, speaking at an energy conference in Oslo, Norway. “Even with our first version, it’s almost twice as good as a person.” Drawing on early data from Tesla’s cars, Musk said that the average number of kilometres driven by a car before an accident was almost double when Autopilot was switched on.”

5)          Volvo autonomous car engineer calls Tesla’s Autopilot a ‘wannabe’

I rather object to Tesla’s advanced safety package being called an “autopilot” because it isn’t – it’s an advanced safety package with limited function that should not be confused with a self-driving car. As this engineer explains, a driver whose attention is not needed is not going to pay attention and therefore the system essentially lulls drivers into a false sense of security. The problem, of course is that the final 10% of the problem to produce full autonomy is the hard part.

“”It gives you the impression that it’s doing more than it is,” says Trent Victor, senior technical leader of crash avoidance at Volvo, in an interview with The Verge. “[Tesla’s Autopilot] is more of an unsupervised wannabe.” In other words, Tesla is trying to create an semi-autonomous car that appears to be autonomous. Victor says that Volvo believes that Level 3 autonomy, where the driver needs to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice, is an unsafe solution. Because the driver is theoretically freed up to work on email or watch a video while the car drives itself, the company believes it is unrealistic to expect the driver to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice and still have the car operate itself safely. “It’s important for us as a company, our position on autonomous driving, is to keep it quite different so you know when you’re in semi-autonomous and know when you’re in unsupervised autonomous,” he says.”

6)          Mercedes home batteries are a potential rival for Tesla’s Powerwall

It turns out that putting a battery in a box with an inverter and a battery charger is not in fact that complicated. After all, that is what an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is: I have had 3 in my house for years and hundreds of thousands of really big one have been in use in data centers for years as well. Mind you, whether Tesla or Mercedes Benz I would no sooner put a large lithium ion battery in my house than a propane cylinder. You should see those things light up in a fire – plus you can’t extinguish them with water

“The batteries developed for the high demands of all-electric Mercedes-Benz cars are finding a new application as in-home energy storage units. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s a lot like the Tesla Powerwall. Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG announced that the storage units are being manufactured by its subsidiary Deutsche ACCUMOTIVE (Daimler has a real love of all caps). The batteries are being sold, installed and supported by partners like utility and solar tech companies. That makes sense, because the storage units are usually installed along with solar panels. The units are already available in Germany, and Mercedes says it will be expanding the program internationally.”

7)          After Netflix crackdown on border-hopping, Canadians ready to return to piracy

Reasonably priced access to content is the ideal countermeasure to online piracy. In Canada it is not currently illegal to access pirated streaming content even though downloading that content is (streaming does not entail downloading). The bad guy here isn’t Netflix: content is usually licensed by geography and the company is probably complying with demands from the licensors who are, in turn, responding to complaints from other licensees. Two things will happen: piracy will increase and the government will introduce legislation making streaming pirated content illegal.

“Since mid-January, the streaming service giant is cracking down on border hoppers by blocking access to foreign content. Netflix made the sudden move reportedly at the behest of Hollywood studios who demand country-exclusive licensing agreements. But this big and bold clampdown may backfire — at least in Canada. Turns out, Canadians are big pirates at heart. Apparently, we feel somewhat entitled to download illegal content when we don’t have cheap and easy access. Instead of shelling out $10 for a Netflix subscription, some people now may opt to pay nothing at all to get what they want.”

8)          The future of TV is arriving faster than anyone predicted

Cord cutting is simply a modification of the distribution channel for video content from a broadcast model to a “watch what you want when you want to watch it” model. This will provide much opportunity for content creators who were frozen out of the traditional channel because if you didn’t get picked up by a cable channel you couldn’t sell your content. Needless to say, it poses a threat for the producers of lowest common denominator type content.

“Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt.”

9)          Disney, CBS, Viacom worry FCC cable box proposal would do to TV what iTunes did to music

Back in the olden days it was illegal to attach your own telephone to the phone company’s network. This meant phone rentals were an enormous cash cow for the telephone companies and it also meant there was virtually no innovation in the technology. As the market opened up, consumers save a lot buy buying and now we quickly had all manner of land line phones. The same threat faces cable companies in the even they are required to allow consumer to pick and choose their cable boxes. The real “danger” to the cable company is the loss of a high margin revenue stream they have done nothing to earn.

“In a joint filing last night, a coalition of huge media companies including Disney, CBS, and Viacom told the FCC that they oppose its plan to open up cable boxes, according to the Los Angeles Times. The comment, which does not appear to be available publicly yet, reportedly argues that the plan would destroy a major source of revenue for cable companies, TV networks, and the studios producing their shows.”

10)      Businesses pay $100,000 to DDoS extortionists who never DDoS anyone

A DDoS is when a business’s servers are overwhelmed with bogus traffic, blocking access to legitimate traffic. DDoS tools are readily available for download but you need to co-opt a lot of computers to run those tools in order to have an impact. One scam is to threaten DDoS unless a ransom is paid. These hackers skip the middleman and don’t bother with DDoSing anybody, which is pretty devious. I mean who can you trust if you can’t trust a blackmailer? One note is that major cloud providers are never DDoSed because you can’t put together enough resources to make a dent, plus they have all kinds of sophisticated counter measures. That makes public cloud services even more attractive.

“In less than two months, online businesses have paid more than $100,000 to scammers who set up a fake distributed denial-of-service gang that has yet to launch a single attack. The charlatans sent businesses around the globe extortion e-mails threatening debilitating DDoS attacks unless the recipients paid as much as $23,000 by Bitcoin in protection money, according to a blog post published Monday by CloudFlare, a service that helps protect businesses from such attacks. Stealing the name of an established gang that was well known for waging such extortion rackets, the scammers called themselves the Armada Collective.”

11)      German nuclear plant infected with computer viruses, operator says

Well this is pretty reassuring but not at all surprising. After all, Iran’s nuclear program was slowed down for a while by malware which infected its control systems. The difference is that while the nuclear plant computers were infected it was run of the mill, PC related malware not something targeting their control systems. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that malware couldn’t be used to target their control systems. In a situation such as this you need to “air gap” everything and rigorously verify everything is clear.

“A nuclear power plant in Germany has been found to be infected with computer viruses, but they appear not to have posed a threat to the facility’s operations because it is isolated from the Internet, the station’s operator said on Tuesday. The Gundremmingen plant, located about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Munich, is run by the German utility RWE. The viruses, which include “W32.Ramnit” and “Conficker”, were discovered at Gundremmingen’s B unit in a computer system retrofitted in 2008 with data visualization software associated with equipment for moving nuclear fuel rods, RWE said. Malware was also found on 18 removable data drives, mainly USB sticks, in office computers maintained separately from the plant’s operating systems. RWE said it had increased cyber-security measures as a result.”

12)      OnHub Keeps Getting Better – Now Supports IFTTT

This is the first I’ve heard of IFTTT, but I am sure it will become a standard feature of all routers soon enough. As for the OnHub router, well it might look nifty but the price is not: US$200 is a lot of money for a router and, while IFTTT is an interesting feature, online reviews note that, for an expensive router, there are a lot of mainstream functions missing from the device.

“OnHub isn’t like other routers. Not only does it support super fast Wi-Fi and is easy to set up, but it also has software that updates itself regularly. This way, you can can get automatic security updates as well as new features that make OnHub even smarter and better. Over the last few months, we’ve updated OnHub to support Guest Wi-Fi, the innovative On.Here interface, and automatic band steering. Today, we’re excited to announce that OnHub is the first router to support IFTTT. IFTTT (pronounced like “gift” without the “g”) is a service that allows you to create simple commands, called “Recipes,” to control and automate basic tasks and devices in your home.”

13)      Social media struggling to earn consumers’ trust, according to survey

When your business model involves taking people’s personal information and selling it to other businesses, you are probably not deserving of trust. I confess I don’t see the point to social media but I do see the need for some degree of privacy. Obviously I am in the minority, but you have to ask yourself if you don’t trust Facebook, why on Earth would you be a member fo Facebook?

“When it comes to social media, the low level of trust has a lot to do with the business on which it is based: advertising and specifically the collection of personal information crucial to advertisers that want to target messages to the right people. It may be entertaining to share pictures on Instagram, send goofy doodles to friends on Snapchat and announce an exciting life event on Facebook – but people are wary of how the information they share is being collected, whether it is safe and how advertisers are exploiting it to sell them things. … That matters because a dearth of trust can affect people’s attitudes towards the messages they receive through social media. More than 50 per cent of people surveyed last year by Gandalf Group on behalf of Advertising Standards Canada, said ads they see online are not trustworthy. Roughly 60 per cent said they were very or somewhat uncomfortable with truth and accuracy in social media ads, specifically.”


14)      iTunes is 13 years old—and it’s still awful

My one and only experience with Apple software was with iTunes. You needed it to put music on your iPod and I figured “how bad can it be”, especially since I had heard so much about how wonderful Apple software was compared to typical Windows software. Well, it was pretty awful. In fact I’d argue that iTunes is almost as bad as Adobe software in general, requiring almost weekly updates, forever shifting its user interface, features and so on. My experimentation with iPods lasted exactly as long as it took to find a mobile phone with the same function, thereafter the iPod went into a drawer and iTunes was erased from all my computers.

“For 13 years—15 if you count the two years the program was just a file-storing service—users have grumbled loudly about iTunes’ unwieldy interface, its bloated features, its inability to simply get better. Companies, however great, sometimes fail to improve their products; and iTunes has been Apple’s great big software mess-up. (Well, that and Maps.) … That’s largely because, instead of trying to streamline the service over the years, Apple has opted to stuff an overwhelming number of new features—movies, television shows, podcasts, mobile apps, and most recently, Apple Music—into it. The company gave its designers “an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app,” says Marco Arment, the software developer behind Tumblr and Instapaper.”

15)      Intel Proposes to Use USB Type-C Digital Audio Technology

It sort of looks like an unstoppable force: the perfectly suitable and very cheap headphone jack will be replaced by an expensive and intrinsically more fragile USB-C connector because that will allow a number of features I assure you few people will have the slightest interest in. In terms of audio quality, for the most part that is governed by the quality of the codec more than the interface, and digital headphones are bound to be more costly than analog ones. Just think: if you have only one USB-C connector you won’t be able to charge and listen at the same time. Hopefully manufacturers will see the silliness and keep an audio jack, even if they support this new standard.

“In fact, USB-C can be used to transfer analog audio in accordance with the specification of the connector. It all comes down as to how that audio is transmitted. The USB-C has sideband use pins (SBU1 and SBU2) which can be used for analog audio in audio adapter accessory mode. Use of the sideband pins should not impact data transfers and other vital functionality of USB-C cables, which should make them relatively simple from the engineering point of view. In this case, the USB-C connector will just replace the 3.5 mm mini jack and may even gain some additional features, such as a thermal sensor in an earpiece could measure temperature for fitness tracking.”

16)      This is why Apple iPhone sales are tanking in China

People were shocked when Apple reported its quarterly results the other day. Apple problem is simply that the market is mature and neither it nor any other vendor can come up with a new feature to trigger an upgrade cycle. This is as much a natural part of tech company evolution as a series of capital destroying overpriced acquisitions. There are those who believe a key feature of iPhones is their exclusivity though I would counter that I can buy an iPhone in Walmart but they don’t sell Rolex watches. As for China, well, funny story, it turns out there a limited number of people who can afford an iPhone and that isn’t likely to change.

“Only super rich, really high-paid professionals buy iPhones in China — you’re not talking about lots and lots of people,” said John Zhang, faculty director of the Penn Wharton China Center, and a professor of marketing. “That means at some point, you’re not going to be able to grow unless you put out new innovative products to keep your people engaged, which is not the case with Apple.”

17)      Beagle 2: most detailed images yet of lost Mars lander revealed

What is most interesting about this article is the image processing they were able to do as shown near the end of the article. Computationally intensive techniques were able to process the data such that the end images were 5x the resolution of the instrument itself. That is seriously cool stuff.

“While each HiRISE image has a resolution of around 25cm, the technique allowed the team to produce images of the Martian landscape with a resolution of just 5cm, allowing much finer detail to be observed than ever before. In the case of the Beagle-2 landing site, five images were compiled resulting in a four-fold improvement in resolution. But it’s a lengthy process. “It takes three days on our fastest computers to do a small scene of 2,000 by 1,000 pixels,” said Jan-Peter Muller, from University College, London who led the work. “We can’t yet do an entire scene.””

18)      Revolutionary new pacemaker the size of a grain of rice is keeping British gran alive

We wrote about this device a number of months ago. It is a sort of pace maker which is implanted inside the heart through a catheter, so installation should be cheaper and less invasive. I don’t know what the battery life if, or how they would remove the device if it fails, but the technology is pretty impressive.

“She was fitted with a new type called a WiSE pacemaker, which is implanted directly into tissue that lines the left chamber of the heart. Like a conventional unit, it controls abnormal heart rhythms using low-energy electrical pulses – but without the need for wires. Simon James, consultant cardiologist, said: “For Joan, as soon as the device was switched on there was a huge change in the pumping of the heart. “Her blood pressure went up from the moment it was switched on so we felt confident she would begin to feel better quickly.”

19)      Who’s downloading pirated papers? Everyone

Piracy isn’t always bad. Elsevier has rolled up the scientific publishing industry and now charges egregious amounts of money for access to papers. The great thing is, this is not like books or magazines: the content is free to Elsevier and the authors don’t even get royalties. Not only that but the majority of research is publicly funded. The natural response is simple: steal it and open it up, or, better yet, only fund research where the published results are going to be freely available.

“Many academic publishers offer programs to help researchers in poor countries access papers, but only one, called Share Link, seemed relevant to the papers that Rahimi sought. It would require him to contact authors individually to get links to their work, and such links go dead 50 days after a paper’s publication. The choice seemed clear: Either quit the Ph.D. or illegally obtain copies of the papers. So like millions of other researchers, he turned to Sci-Hub, the world’s largest pirate website for scholarly literature. Rahimi felt no guilt. As he sees it, high-priced journals “may be slowing down the growth of science severely.” The journal publishers take a very different view. “I’m all for universal access, but not theft!” tweeted Elsevier’s director of universal access, Alicia Wise, on 14 March during a heated public debate over Sci-Hub. “There are lots of legal ways to get access.” Wise’s tweet included a link to a list of 20 of the company’s access initiatives, including Share Link.”

20)      U.S. Installs More Renewables Than Natural Gas in 1Q 2016, FERC Says

Lies, damned lies, and statistics: they thing with renewable energy is that the actual output of the system is a small fraction of the nameplate capacity, which is the only thing that matters. Of course, you’d expect a gold rush for installations of renewables since the sector is heavily subsidized. Despite those subsidies, the companies tend to lose money hand over fist so you have a completely irrational economic context. I predict a rash of “CO2 Emissions Fall Due to Renewables” type announcements. The thing is, coal plants are being taken off line and their capacity is being replaced by natural gas plants because natural gas is so darned cheap The reason it is cheap is mostly fracking, the headline should be “Thanks to fracking, CO2 emissions fall” but you won’t see that.

“According to an update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the U.S. installed more renewable energy capacity than natural gas in first quarter 2016. In the just-released monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” from FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, nine new units of wind provided 707 MW, followed by 44 units of solar at 522 MW; nine units of biomass at 33 MW and one unit of hydropower at 29 MW. By comparison, two new units of natural gas came online, providing 18 MW of electricity generating capacity. In 1Q 2015, the U.S. installed 10 units of natural gas-fired capacity at 458 MW. There was no new capacity reported for the quarter from coal, nuclear, oil or geothermal steam.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni


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1)          Brain Implant Gives Paralyzed Man Functional Control of Arm

This is an impressive development and you should watch the video. The entire system is pretty clunky in its current incarnation but there is little doubt the technology will be significantly improved in form, cost, and function pretty quickly. This really gives hope to people with severe impairments.

“Six years ago, he was paralyzed in a diving accident. Today, he participates in clinical sessions during which he can grasp and swipe a credit card or play a guitar video game with his own fingers and hand. These complex functional movements are driven by his own thoughts and a prototype medical system that are detailed in a study published online today in the journal Nature. The device, called NeuroLife, was invented at Battelle, which teamed with physicians and neuroscientists from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to develop the research approach and perform the clinical study. Ohio State doctors identified the study participant and implanted a tiny computer chip into his brain.”

2)          The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret

It is not really that much of a secret: a lot of the investor pitches on IoT related devices focus around “big data” or tabulating and selling what goes on inside your house. I really would like to know what people who buy Nest cameras are thinking by supplying Google with streaming video of the inside of their homes. The challenge with these “big data” ideas is that since IoT companies rarely offer a full product suite, consumers will have a hodgepodge of systems and the data will be incomplete – and that presupposes the company remains in business long enough to have a significant user base. Being spied on, questionable security (see item 3 and 4) and the possibility expensive gadgets will be made useless when the vendor discontinues support are all good reasons for consumers to avoid this technology for now.

“Now the same is happening with your every day gadgets, but in a slightly more sinister, under the surface way. Companies want to internet-connect your entire house in order to collect more data on you. The opportunities are delicious for bloated internet companies: now a software company could know how warm your home is, what times of day are noisy, whether you have a pet, when you turn on your lights or if you listen to music while having sex. Smart devices are sold as a way to improve your life — and in many ways, they do to an extent — but it also means those gadgets are incredible troves of data that could eventually turn into Software-as-a-Service money makers, just like Nespresso did to coffee.”

3)          Could massive consumer fear kill IoT?

Security is one of two major issues with Internet of Things: few IoT companies are tech companies and fewer still have any expertise in security. Since many IoT products will be made in China, there can be no assurance they won’t come loaded with malware (see item 5). It is perfectly reasonable for consumers to “distrust” their connected devices and, frankly, I’m surprised the number isn’t higher. The other problem with IoT is that most devices stop functioning when the vendor discontinues active support as Google recently did with Revolv. This renders the respective gadgets worthless.

“A sizeable swath of the world’s wired population distrusts the Internet of Things (IoT) according to new study, raising concerns the technology’s consumer market growth could be seriously undermined. Computer Business Review reported on a recent global survey that found that 60% of consumers distrust connected devices, and an additional 11% find them of no benefit whatsoever. Additionally, 41% of global consumers said transparency is extremely important when considering IoT technology. The survey was done by Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), a mobile ecosystem trade association, in association with antivirus software maker AVG.”

4)          Underwriters Labs refuses to share new IoT cybersecurity standard

The way you now a security standard is effective is to have it reviewed by as many experts as possible so UL’s decision to charge for the standard simply means the UL mark for IoT cybersecurity has exactly zero value. Regardless, software is frequently updated to fix bugs and therefore knowing a product has been blessed by UL or any other organization is pretty much meaningless. What is needed is a fully open IoT control protocol which can be inspected and improved by anybody. Unfortunately, IoT companies are all making a futile effort to establish their own proprietary system so it will take a while.

“UL, the 122-year-old safety standards organisation whose various marks (UL, ENEC, etc.) certify minimum safety standards in fields as diverse as electrical wiring, cleaning products, and even dietary supplements, is now tackling the cybersecurity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices with its new UL 2900 certification. But there’s a problem: UL’s refusal to freely share the text of the new standard with security researchers leaves some experts wondering if UL knows what they’re doing. When Ars requested a copy of the UL 2900 docs to take a closer look at the standard, UL (formerly known as Underwriters Laboratories) declined, indicating that if we wished to purchase a copy—retail price, around £600/$800 for the full set—we were welcome to do so. Independent security researchers are also, we must assume, welcome to become UL retail customers.”

5)          Sophisticated Bribe Scheme Helped Crooks Whitelist Malware on Chinese Antivirus

That’s one way to do it, I guess. Rather than figuring out some complex security hole which might be patched, bribe developers to insert your malware into their applications (pretty much like Lenovo did for free). Then rely on the incompetence – itself possibly lubricated by cash – of an erstwhile reputable antivirus company to ignore the malware. This is most likely the tact used by security agencies so it gives you an idea how vulnerable systems might be. Regardless you have to credit the criminals for how they structured the crime to eventually steal AliPay credentials.

“Malware operators utilized this particular attack scenario in China, where they bribed the employees of an authorized gaming company in order to embed samples of their malware in the source code of one of their many mobile apps. The gaming company used its influence and past history to appeal to Qihoo 360, China’s biggest antivirus maker, to whitelist the apps, in order for Chinese users to be able to install them from third-party app stores without prompting them with malware warnings. According to security firm Check Point, Qihoo 360 appears to have trusted the mobile apps received from the gaming company and whitelisted them in its products without a thorough inspection.”

6)          Tesla faces tax credit puzzle

The EV industry lives and dies off subsidies despite questionable environmental benefits and I invite any EV vendor who disagrees is invited to reject subsidies. These subsidies largely benefit the wealthy as EV owners tend to have multiple vehicles and live in detached homes which can provide chargers. Tesla is particular is notorious for gaming the system, though, to be fair, without tax dollars the company would burn through money at an even greater rate. For example the “battery swap” sham was simply a mechanism to game California’s EV subsidy program. As this article shows the company has to carefully craft its shipment numbers to maximize the transfer of taxpayer money to it and its customers.

“Tesla said last week that 325,000 people had placed refundable $1,000 deposits on the Model 3, a sedan starting at $35,000 with a range of 215 miles and up, in its first week of orders. Because of a limit on the number of Tesla customers who can claim a $7,500 federal tax credit on electric-drive vehicles, it seemed some Model 3 buyers would come up empty-handed. Yet eagle-eyed customers and analysts noticed a loophole in the IRS rules for the credit: The $7,500 credit for electric-drive vehicles isn’t cut until the end of the quarter after the one in which a company hits its limit of 200,000 cars delivered in the United States.”

7)          You can now customize your Tesla Model X online, smallest battery bumped to 75kWh

There is a completely unsubstantiated but widely held belief EV battery prices are dropping. You’d think that a measly additional 5 kWh (a 7%) increase in battery size would not result in a price increase if that was the case. The battery is the most expensive part of any EV and if you assume it is 40% of the parts cost, a 3% increase in price for a 7% increase in capacity is about right. At a minimum you can say battery prices do not appear to be dropping much. For the record, $3K for 5 kWh works out to a replacement cost of $45K for your short lived 75 kWh battery.

“Tesla has updated its website with the Model X Design Studio, the custom configurator where potential Model X buyers (and the merely curious) can check out all the different variations of the electric crossover. The base Model X now includes a 75kWh battery, up from 70kWh, which boosts the range from 220 to 237 miles. It also raises the price slightly, up to $83,000 from $80,000.”

8)          Ottawa moving on high-speed charging stations for electric cars

Corporate welfare is the best kind of welfare – don’t just subsidize EVs for rich people, make sure they can drive their cars where ever they want. Even with the purported, albeit dubious, environmental benefits of EVs, what interest does any government have in promoting them? Shouldn’t it be the car companies which pay for charging stations and the electricity to power them? Perhaps governments might instead pay for mass transit infrastructure – a proven societal and environmental benefit, albeit one that only benefits the little people.

“The federal natural resources minister says there’s no time to lose in establishing a high-speed charging network for electric cars in Canada. That’s why Jim Carr is planning to ask the private sector for proposals this spring to develop a series of fast charging stations across the country. “This is not something that government can do alone, we have no intention of trying to do it alone,” said Carr in an interview with CBC News. “We think that this investment in electrical vehicles is a prudent way to proceed, but prudent doesn’t mean that you take your time. So we also understand that there’s urgency.””

9)          Obama is urging the FCC to open up the cable box so you can watch TV how you really want

Set top box rentals are a massive source of income for cable companies: as noted in the article, consumers pay around $200/year to rent a box which probably cost less than $50 to make. It’s a bit like the “good old days” of the Bell monopoly when you were forced to pay rent equal to the cost of a new phone every year because nobody else was allowed to sell equipment which attached to “their” network. Not only are cable boxes a financial rip-off, they have extremely limited function meaning you need additional products to stream content, etc.. Opening the market would provide all kinds of opportunities for new businesses and help consumers to boot.

“President Obama is demanding better, cheaper versions of the cable boxes that millions of Americans use to browse their pay-TV channels, in hopes of enhancing competition. The Obama administration pressed for changes to the cable box in a letter to federal regulators Thursday night, according to multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the filing is not yet public. Obama’s move effectively throws the full weight of his office behind the Federal Communications Commission, which has taken the lead role in trying to crack open the market for TV set-top boxes. Millions of Americans pay, on average, more than $200 a year to rent their boxes from a cable or satellite provider.”

10)      Google Fiber wants to beam wireless Internet to your home

A major cost of deploying broadband is the “last mile” or the connection to customers. Based on the article it seems that Google is evaluating the same approach as Facebook, namely the use of 60 GHz spectrum for “last mile” connections. The advantage of 60 GHz is that there is ample spectrum up there but the drawback is that extreme high frequencies act pretty much the way light does requiring direct line of sight for the antenna pairs. This article has a bit more technical information

“In an interview with Re/code, Access CEO Craig Barratt, who oversees Fiber, said the company is working on connecting wireless towers to existing fiber lines, and that it is “experimenting with a number of different wireless technologies” to make that happen. It’s the first time Barratt or anyone at Alphabet has publicly talked about their interest in wireless. They’re not the only ones. Aereo founder Chet Kanojia says he wants to develop a similar system at his new company, Starry, and has promised to start testing it in Boston this summer. And yesterday Facebook announced an initiative to experiment with wireless Internet.”

11)      Cutting-edge theatre: world’s first virtual reality operation goes live

One of the valuable potential uses of virtual reality technology is in training. This article looks at the use of VR for surgical training. Unfortunately, besides the ability to look around the operating theater it is not clear from this particular application what the advantage of a VR style show would be over a simple high definition video feed. Thanks to Avner Mandelman of Acernis Capital Management for this item.

“On Thursday afternoon I witnessed the world’s first operation to be streamed live in 360-degree video, allowing medical students, trainee surgeons and curious members of the public like me to immerse themselves in the procedure in real time via the Medical Realities website. A one-minute delay was incorporated into the broadcast in case of any complications in the surgery.”

12)      Oculus Projects Two Month Delay for Some Early Rift Pre-orders

There is a tremendous amount of investor interest in VR technology. As somebody who suffers from “VR sickness” I admit to being a bit perplexed. Certainly I can see applications in gaming and training but a lot if going to depend on how good the software is. As 3D TV showed, the wow factor can dissipate pretty quickly. Oculus has been broadly hyped though I have noted increasing caution in online comments due to it being owned by Facebook. An rising chorus of people seem to believe, correctly in my opinion, that Facebook will simply use the device to gather more information on them.

“Unfortunately some more bad news for early adopters who pre-ordered the Rift and expected it to arrive on or around the March 28th launch date. The delay has now pushed expected shipping dates of some day-one pre-orders into late May and even June. Citing an “unexpected component shortage”, Oculus confirmed in the days following the March 28th launch of the Rift that there would be delays in shipping for some orders, and that customers could expect an update to their order status by April 12th. Today the company began updating the estimated ship dates of some orders, revealing the extent of the delay.”

13)      Driving to Safety – How Many Miles of Driving Would It Take to Demonstrate Autonomous Vehicle Reliability?

I have read articles which suggest self-driving cars will be on the road in about 5 years. Of course, a lot depends on what you mean by “self-driving car” and there is nothing to stop a car company from putting immature technology on the road in order to boost sales. Actual self-driving is at least 10 years, if not 20 years away and requires significant cost reduction of components such as LIDAR (which is keep to any safe self-driving car), improvements to software, and, as this item outlines a lot of testing to make sure the things are safe. Thanks to Ted Conrod of Focus Asset Management for this item.

“How safe are autonomous vehicles? The answer is crucial for developing sound policies to govern their deployment. One proposal to assess safety is to test-drive autonomous vehicles in real traffic, observe their performance, and make statistical comparisons to human driver performance. This approach is logical, but it is practical? In this report, we calculate the number of miles that would need to be driven to provide clear statistical evidence of autonomous vehicle safety. Given that current traffic fatalities and injuries are rare events compared with vehicle miles traveled, we show that fully autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their safety in terms of fatalities and injuries.”

14)      The CIA Is Investing in Firms That Mine Your Tweets and Instagram Photos

I can almost understand how a company would take money from the CIA. After all, jingoism is not unknown inside the tech industry. What I cannot understand is why any customer, especially “foreign” ones would want to do business with a company owned in part by the CIA, KGB, or Chinese Red Army.

“The latest round of In-Q-Tel investments comes as the CIA has revamped its outreach to Silicon Valley, establishing a new wing, the Directorate of Digital Innovation, which is tasked with developing and deploying cutting-edge solutions by directly engaging the private sector. The directorate is working closely with In-Q-Tel to integrate the latest technology into agency-wide intelligence capabilities.”

15)      The Stupidity Of Installing Bloatware That No One Uses… And Everyone Hates

The interesting thing is that, at least with PCs is you can buy “signature edition” PCs direct from Microsoft which do not have bloatware and typically cost much less than PCs from Best Buy or other retail vendors. As a side note, Best Buy refuses to price match these PCs because the often much cheaper bloatware free PC has a slightly different product code from their own. Of course, I would not recommend you buy a PC from them, especially at a premium cost for a system loaded with bloatware.

“A new study from Strategy Analytics highlights what you almost certainly already know, that no one actually uses the crappy bloatware apps that Samsung puts on its phones. This shouldn’t be a surprise at all. But I actually wanted to highlight a different issue I’d noticed recently: which is that not only do people not use the bloatware apps, by making them both default and unintstallable, Samsung pretty guarantees that everyone hates those apps.”

16)      New debugging method found 23 undetected security flaws in 50 popular Web applications in less than an hour

Frankly I didn’t follow the technique but perhaps that is because I don’t know anything about Ruby on Rails. I can say that a lot of code I have seen recently, at least the stuff written in c, is a horrific mess with no comments, poor structure, and there is little good to say about it except, perhaps, that it seems to work most of the time. The problem may be that the mad rush to develop applications means a lot are developed absent any form of coding standards let alone competent programmers. It is scarcely surprising that code would be buggy.

“By exploiting some peculiarities of the popular web programming framework Ruby on Rails, MIT researchers have developed a system that can quickly comb through tens of thousands of lines of application code to find security flaws. In tests on 50 popular web applications written using Ruby on Rails, the system found 23 previously undiagnosed security flaws, and it took no more than 64 seconds to analyze any given program. The researchers will present their results at the International Conference on Software Engineering, in May. According to Daniel Jackson, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the new system uses a technique called static analysis, which seeks to describe, in a very general way, how data flows through a program.”

17)      Free Software Will Help Detect Faulty And Malicious USB-C Cables

The USB C standard allows for the transmission of high voltages through the cable, allowing fast charging, supplying power hungry devices, and so on. Strangely, the electronics can be damaged by a faulty or non-standard cable, which is suggestive the standard or the electronics themselves are badly conceived. This software might help but it seems like a sort of stop gap rather than a final fix.

“New authentication protocols will help protect consumers, and any work machines they might use, from malicious or faulty USB-C products. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group, which developed the technology back in 2008 and includes major companies such as HP, Intel and Microsoft, hopes the official USB Type-C Authentication specification will help end a number of recent incidents where sub-standard cables have either ripped off buyers or damaged devices. Software will be made available to download free of charge and can detect whether an approved cable or charger is being used, and will warn the user if this is not the case.This protection will even extend to checking whether the cable carries the correct encryption and security protocols in order to keep the user safe from advanced hacking tactics.”

18)      Facebook, Google and Amazon to be forced to open up tax books by EU

Tax evasion (if you haven’t been charged and convicted it is called tax avoidance) is widespread with tech companies. Most of this activity is aided and abetted by major accounting firms, banks, and the laws of countries like Ireland. It is rather rich to suggest the EU is going to do anything about it since so much money is sheltered from taxation using EU law. Regardless when major EU banks like HSBC are found to have laundered money for drug dealers and terrorists ( they get off with a stern rebuke and a small fine so it is hard to imagine fine, upstanding tech companies are going to be reined in.

“The European Commission is bringing forward plans to make major multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Facebook disclose exactly where and how much tax they pay across the continent. The draft legislation being tabled on Tuesday was proposed before the latest Panama Papers scandal, but comes amid a growing clamour to force the biggest companies to pay their fair share. The plan was expected to include rules requiring businesses earning more than £600 million a year to open up their tax affairs to public scrutiny, revealing their profits and accounts in every country in which they operate within the EU.”

19)      UC Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from Internet

In summary, security personnel employed by UC Davis brutally attacked a passive group of protestors. The response for the university was to use taxpayer dollars to try and scrub the attack from history. Evidently, the university is unaware of the “Streisand Effect” or the sad reality that the Internet never forgets. As a result, over the past few days news of this utterly stupid move was all over the media, undoing efforts to rewrite history. Perhaps now they’ll hire people to try scrub this boneheaded move, then that’ll be talked about, ad infinitum.

“UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show. The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident. Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

20)      Useless robot waitstaff force the closure of two restaurants in China

For the record, a $7,000 robot should have been a red flag. You can’t really make anything even remotely capable of limited human function for that type of money and it isn’t really surprising they couldn’t serve soup. When such a limited function machine becomes available, expect it will be sold for at least 10x that price.

“We’ve built robots that can walk, talk, play incredibly deep board games, and even run hotels just like us, but there’s apparently one human skill the machines have yet to master — pouring drinks. Chinese chain Heweilai soon found out that robots can’t be trusted with simple restaurant tasks after it bought several $7,000 units to serve as waiting staff in three of its locations. Two of the restaurants were forced to close after the robots’ uselessness was discovered, with the third only remaining open after it consigned all but one of them to the scrapheap, replacing them with traditional meatbag waitstaff.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni


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1)          Intel claims storage supremacy with swift 3D XPoint Optane drives, 1-petabyte 3D NAND

Most of the coverage around this news was fairly critical as the tests were not altogether fair since the bottleneck in the SSDs was likely the interface and Xpoint memory was supposed to have “up to” 1,000x the performance of NAND flash when announced. Of course “up to” includes 1, so that statement isn’t meaningful. Regardless, this first generation product and there is a good chance neither the Xpoint software nor the interface are fully optimized yet. Other important features for Xpoint like long life and rapid write times are also very important.

“Crooke also talked up the company’s upcoming 3D NAND product. Intel said its 3D NAND will be able to squeeze 384 billion bits in a single die. That means, Crooke said, Intel can now squeeze 1TB of storage into a 1.5mm-thick drive that can go into laptops and tablets. For traditional 2.5-inch drives in a desktop or larger laptop, the company will be able to pack up to 15TB of data. The real bombshell: A 1U rack server with Intel’s upcoming 3D NAND will be able to pack 1 petabyte of storage. Just so you know, 20PB is enough to store 13.3 years of HD video.”

2)          The rise of the $400 smartphone—you want how much for a flagship?

This article covers a number of significant issues in the smartphone industry, namely that prices are going down though it leaves the impression this is an issue in the developing world. It is actually a global issue: because there is no real innovation in smartphones the only real competitive forum is price, and prices will necessarily come down. After all there is no particular reason smartphones should be any more profitable than PCs. As the article mentions, the end of contracts in the US will have a significant impact on buyer behavior, something we highlighted a number of months ago.

“For a long time, the cost of a fast, high-end smartphone with the latest technology seemed definite. You were paying $600 or $700 no matter whether you did it up front or spread out over the course of a two-year carrier contract. This doesn’t have to be the case today, however. There’s an exciting new category of phone on the block—the “cheap flagship,” a phone that has flagship or very-close-to-flagship specs but only costs around $400.”

3)          Anti-Adblock Killer extension prevents sites from blocking your ad-blocker

Sweet! It was a matter of time before somebody came up with something like this. I installed the “disable anti-adblock” (you have to google that search term for some reason) add on to Firefox and it seems to work as promised on Wired and Forbes websites. As the article notes it is probably a matter of time before an “anti-anti-disable adblock” is released, then an anti-anti-anti- disable adblock, etc..

“Wired caused a bit of a stir earlier this week when it announced that it would block anyone who uses an ad-blocker from viewing its site. Worried that adblockers would eventually prevent them from making any money from their articles, Wired is rolling out technology next week that will detect and block ad-blocking extensions. It seems like Wired’s efforts to block ad-blockers may be a bit fruitless, as a new extension has appeared for all major browsers that allows you to keep your ad-blocker enabled, even when a website asks you to disable it before viewing content. The extension, known as Anti-Adblock Killer, essentially tricks websites into thinking that you aren’t running ad-block at all times.”

4)          The Broadband Industry Is Now Officially Blaming Google (Alphabet) For…Everything

Broadband providers in North America emerged out of the protected status of regulated monopolies. Consumers essentially payed for their infrastructure and other regulatory machinations limit competition even in an unregulated era. This may change as new wireless technologies are developed – unless the respective governments continue their incompetence and auction off spectrum (spectrum auctions guarantee that dominant players retain their dominance since they are the only ones with the capital to bid).

“This desperation originates with two things, one of them being Google Fiber. Though admittedly still limited in reach, Google Fiber has managed to light a fire under the apathetic posteriors of telecom giants that previously had little to no impetus to upgrade networks. It has managed to generate a national conversation about the sorry state of broadband competition, and even managed to illuminate the telecom sector’s love of state protectionist laws that prevent community broadband and even public/private partnerships. In short, the broadband industry’s mostly just pissed that they’re now facing some competition (which is why they’ve resorted to lawsuits to slow Google Fiber’s expansion).”

5)          Google CDN Beta is here… and it’s already one of the fastest CDNs out there!

A Content Delivery Network is the sort of infrastructure a company like Netflix uses to stream content to users but it can be used for almost any big data file. The idea is to get the data as close as possible to the user so that response times and congestion is improved. Akamai is a major player in the space but Google and other cloud providers might have a leg up because they can essentially run this as a sideline to their main business.

“Some months ago, Google launched their Alpha program for their upcoming CDN service. We kept a close eye to their development and in the meanwhile, in NEXT 2016 Google has already announced the Beta phase of their CDN. We already discussed how this new product will fit in the broad palette of content distribution solutions Google has implemented. We have seen Google Global Cache, which is primarily aimed at speeding up their own services at ISP level, with more than 800 caches installed globally. CDN Interconnect is their partner program with third party providers like Cloudflare, Level3, Akamai, Highwinds, Fastly and Verizon, allowing them to use Google’s backbone network to transport content faster than ever from the source to practically anywhere where it is required, powering up CDNs not only with faster caching, but also enabling them to deliver rapidly changing content at top speeds.”

6)          How ‘The Jungle Book’ Made Its Animals Look So Real With Groundbreaking VFX

It is not my cup of tea but I am led to believe the animation in the new Jungle Book movies sets a new standard for CGI just as “Toy Story” did 15 years ago. I find it a pity there is only brief mention of how cloud technologies might have helped the project and even then it seems speculative. In the past, a company would have to buy expensive graphics servers, set them up, and run them for a particular movie. Once the movie was done, unless there was another movie to be rendered the asset was just rapidly depreciating. Moving CGI rendering to the cloud should be much faster and more cost effective.

““It would take 30-40 hours per frame, and since its stereo [or 3D], it requires two frames to produce one frame of the movie — at 2K, not even 4K,” Legato said. “So you can tell how much the computer has to figure out, exactly what it’s doing, how it’s bouncing, how much of the light is absorbed, because when it hits an object, some gets absorbed and some gets reflected.” The math there is mind-boggling; it takes a full 24 frames to make up a single second of the movie, and most shots are between five and ten seconds. That required “literally thousands of computers,” Legato said, and eventually, some creative solutions. “I think they started using the Google cloud, which has tens of thousands of computers, and sometimes it would take two or three days to render a shot, he said, exasperated at the mere thought of the process.”

7)          Nest was supposed to lead the next computing revolution. It’s looking like a bust.

Nest generated a lot of excitement when it introduced its WiFi thermostat despite the fact the product itself was trivial. Since then they have suffered a number of missteps and released a number of unremarkable products. IoT in general is in its early years and there are a lot of challenges to overcome, most significantly the development of standards, the lack of security in most products, and the fact the products stop working when the vendor loses interest in actively supporting them.

“There are now lots of internet-connected devices on the market, but a big problem with many of them is that they require too much effort to set up and manage. It’s hard enough to convince someone that it’s worth paying a premium for an internet-connected lightbulb or washing machine. It becomes an even harder sell if customers are required to separately configure devices from different companies. Part of the value proposition for connected devices is their ability to work together — for example, to turn off all the lights in your house with a single tap on your smartphone. But this becomes more — rather than less — of a hassle if you have to open several different apps to turn off the lights. Nest hopes to play a central role in solving this dilemma. Over the past couple of years, the company has convinced the manufacturers of a wide variety of products — from lightbulbs to washing machines — to participate in a program called “Works With Nest.””

8)          Opera bakes a free, unlimited VPN directly into its desktop browser

Opera has a tiny market share so they are forced to become imaginative with respect to the features they offer in their browser. Earlier this year they added an adblocker and now they have added an unlimited VPN to permit secure browsing and the ability to bypass geo-locking. Other reports suggest it will not allow you to get around Netflix geo-locking however.

“Norway-based technology company Opera Software is introducing a free virtual private network (VPN) feature to its desktop browser, making it the first of the major browser operators to build a VPN directly into the software. Today’s news comes a little more than a month after Opera unveiled a built-in ad-blocker for the browser.”

9)          Hearing Aid Prices Under Pressure From Consumer Electronics

The hearing aid business is one of the great scams of all time rivaled only by the eyeglass business. The innards of the most sophisticated hearing instrument cost a few dollars and yet a byzantine regulatory structure ensures users – most of which are elderly and on fixed income – pay thousands for them. There is no real reason the market should be tightly regulated since the majority of users would be able to adjust the units as well as, or better than an audiologist. The net result is that few people can afford hearing aids because the profits of the industry override the health of the elderly. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“The consumer electronics industry is encroaching on the hearing aid business, offering products that are far less expensive and available without the involvement of audiologists or other professionals. That is forcing a re-examination of the entire system for providing hearing aids, which critics say is too costly and cumbersome, hindering access to devices vital for the growing legions of older Americans. “The audiology profession is obviously scared, for good reason, right now,” said Abram Bailey, an audiologist and chief executive of Hearing Tracker, a consumer website.”

10)      Intel Begins Shipping Xeon Chips With FPGA Accelerators

FPGA are reprogrammable logic devices and are therefore highly flexible. They are found in all kinds of equipment where either the volume does not support the development of a speciality chip or the product requires change often enough some degree of specific customization is necessary. Adding an FPGA to a CPU does confer some benefits but it is not abundantly clear those benefits will offset the price premium or the market is large enough to support enough demand to justify such a product.

“Intel and other chip makers are increasingly relying on accelerators to help improve the performance and energy efficiency of their processors and speed up the workloads that run on them. Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices offer GPU accelerators. However, the company also is now using FPGAs, which can be reprogrammed through software after they’ve been manufactured. They’re becoming more important for cloud and Web-scale environments, where workloads can change quickly.”

11)      AMD strikes chip licensing deal, which could create more x86 rivals for Intel

This appears to be part of the move by China to go upmarket in its technology. Depending on the details of the agreement the licensees may elect to flood the market with very cheap x86 parts for the high margin server segment. After all, the Chinese government is probably more interested in technology development and market share than in high margins to meet investor expectations and to fund cutting edge process R&D.

“Things just a lot more interesting in the x86 server market. AMD has announced a plan to license the design of its top-of-the-line server processor to a newly formed Chinese company, creating a brand-new rival for Intel. AMD is licensing its x86 processor and system-on-chip technology to a company called THATIC (Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co. Ltd.), a joint venture between AMD and a consortium of public and private Chinese companies. AMD is providing all the technology needed for THATIC to make a server chip, including the CPUs, interconnects and controllers. THATIC will be able to make variants of the x86 chips for different types of servers.”

12)      The golden era of video-game console sales is over

Every tech market saturates (potential buyers already own the product) and approach feature saturation (meaning new features do not precipitate a replacement cycle). It is reasonable to believe the video game console business is at that point although, as the article notes, the introduction of Virtual Reality (VR) goggles might change that. The major issue is whether the performance of VR, and, in particular, the associated software makes for a long term positive experience. It may be that VR provides some “wow” which quickly wears off, a bit like 3D TV. Time will tell.

“It does seem, to some degree, that the golden age of home video-game consoles may be over. The previous generation of consoles was the last generation that didn’t have to contend for users’ time with mobile games. And you could make a strong case that a large portion of the casual gaming audience that Nintendo attracted for the Wii was almost entirely wiped out by mobile gaming. After all, the Wii was released in 2006—a year before the iPhone launched. Nintendo’s next console, the Wii U, has been the company’s worst-selling of all time. The average consumer may now feel more inclined to just pick up their phone and play Candy Crush or Temple Run than to get up and swing a controller around.”

13)      Why Linux is more secure than other operating systems

Linux is the most popular operating system on the planet through Android, and it powers most cloud applications and much of the Internet. Unlike Windows it was designed to be a multi-user operating system and as a result was designed to be secure. This article outlines some of the reasons the OS has a deserved reputation for security.

“Linux is an open operating system, the codes which can be read by everyone, but still accept more secure in comparison with other OS. Linux is growing rapidly in the market because there are more devices based on Linux, and that is why more people trust Linux. To understand why Linux is so safe when working on the network (and not only), let us talk about some of its capabilities in the sphere of strengthening security.”

14)      The list of cancers that can be treated by immunotherapy keeps growing

Cancer immunotherapy drugs have been in use for some time (I believe the first ones were against certain lymphomas and leukemias) and the results can be dramatic. In some instances the survival statistics were so skewed by the effectiveness of drugs like Rituximab that they refer to “pre” and “post” figures. The approach is being generalized and the results can also be impressive, at least for the patients who show a response. This is probably because the drug works against very specific sub-types of tumors. It is likely that new techniques which involve customizing the therapy will have much greater effectiveness.

“New immunotherapy drugs are showing significant and extended effectiveness against a broadening range of cancers, including rare and intractable tumors often caused by viruses. Researchers say these advances suggest the treatment approach is poised to become a critical part of the nation’s anti-cancer strategy. Scientists reported Tuesday on two new studies showing that the medications, which marshal the body’s own immune defenses, are now having some effect against recurrent, difficult-to-treat head and neck cancer and an extremely lethal skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma. The diseases can be caused by viruses as well as DNA mutations, and the data show that the drugs help the immune system to recognize and attack cancers resulting from either cause.”

15)      Scientists unveil the ‘most clever CRISPR gadget’ so far

Another recent scientific breakthrough which will have a profound effect on human health, agriculture, and a number of other fields is CRISPR, which is a precise system for editing DNA. This is a refined approach to CRISPR which allows the repair of point mutations which are the source of many inheritable diseases.

“For nearly two years he, Komor, and their colleagues tried to improve that aspect of CRISPR. They replaced its usual cutting enzyme with a dud called “dead Cas9.” Like blunt scissors biting down on fabric, dead Cas9 can latch on to DNA but not cut it. Then they attached two other proteins that change one DNA letter to another and lock it in place. So far, of the 12 possible changes (A to T, C to G, G to C …), the new system can make two: C to T and G to A. But at least 3,000 inherited diseases are the result of a C that should be a T or a G that should be an A, including Franconi anemia and some cancers. “And we’re in the middle of an all-out effort to do the other 10,” Liu said.”

16)      Gene-edited CRISPR mushroom escapes US regulation

One can imagine the anti-GMO crowd is having the vapors right now. For whatever reason, modifying the genome of a mushroom is not regulated the same what as inserting genes even though you could progressively modify the genome to achieve the same result. GMO technology is of huge potential benefit to humanity despite the scare tactics. This is good news.

“The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not regulate a mushroom genetically modified with the gene-editing tool CRISPR–Cas9. The long-awaited decision means that the mushroom can be cultivated and sold without passing through the agency’s regulatory process — making it the first CRISPR-edited organism to receive a green light from the US government. “The research community will be very happy with the news,” says Caixia Gao, a plant biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing, who was not involved in developing the mushroom. “I am confident we’ll see more gene-edited crops falling outside of regulatory authority.””

17)      Almost Nothing About the ‘Apple Harvests Gold From iPhones’ Story Is True

A few days ago the media was flooded with articles about how Apple recycles millions of iPhone, etc.. My thoughts were “if so then what?” as there is a scrap metal recycler about 5 km from my farm. This article is more balanced in that it shows Apple was mostly complying with local and state laws and few of the products were actually iPhones. It inadvertently highlights that, like plastic bags and bottled water, the “waste” from very specific products is considered a societal evil, even if their impact on the environment is questionable. It did allow the half-wits in the Ontario government to place a sin tax on technology products which easily exceeds 10% of the purchase price. Because if you want a high tech economy the first thing you tax is technology.

“Here is the truth: Apple paid independent recyclers to recycle old electronics—which were almost never Apple products, by the way—because it’s required by law to do so. Far from banking $40 million on the prospect, Apple likely ended up taking an overall monetary loss. This is not because Apple is a bad actor or is hiding anything, it’s simply how the industry works.”

18)      The Curious Link Between the Fly-By Anomaly and the “Impossible” EmDrive Thruster

The EmDrive Thruster is a bit like cold fusion: too good to be true. Odds are it is a measurement anomaly, even though the results have reportedly been replicated in a number of labs. One issue with EmDrive is that it appears to violate known physics and the effect had never been explained theoretically. This is the first I have read about a possible theoretical explanation for the EmDrive effect. What makes EmDrive interesting (in the unlikely event it works) is that you can directly convert electric power to thrust without a fuel. Because there is no fuel the thrust is continuous meaning a spacecraft could achieve very high velocities even with a very modest thrust.

“McCulloch says there is observational evidence for this in the form of the famous fly by anomalies. These are the strange jumps in momentum observed in some spacecraft as they fly past Earth toward other planets. That’s exactly what his theory predicts. Testing this effect more carefully on Earth is hard because the accelerations involved are so small. But one way to make it easier would be to reduce the size of allowed wavelengths of Unruh radiation. “This is what the EmDrive may be doing,” says McCulloch.”

19)      Superconductor Nearing Room Temp

I’d be lying if I said I understood much about this article. As near as I can tell the theory around superconductors is evolving rapidly and there is optimism the phenomenon might be observed at near room temperatures. As the article touches on this could have profound ramifications in many applications. Mind you, like any other physical parameter, you may end up with superconductors which superconduct only when a small amount of current is going through them, etc..

“Room-temperature superconductors are getting closer-and-closer now that separate research groups in the U.S. and Europe have improved a theory, namely that “critical states” at not fixed temperatures backed up by experimental results—and the highest temperature superconductor yet has been proven to be depend on quantum effects that open the possibility of optimizing compounds for room-temperature operation.”

20)      A plane collides with a drone at Heathrow airport

As expected, most likely a $100M aircraft was taken out of service for an inspection because some halfwit decided to fly his drone near an airport. It may be unlikely a drone will take down an airplane but a strike would require an inspection of the aircraft and even potentially the replacement of an engine for overhaul.

“IT WAS last year that consumer drones really took off. Around the world, perhaps 1m of the unmanned robots flew off the shelves in 2015. Now, any visit to the park feels incomplete without high-pitched whining overhead. So it was to no one’s surprise when British Airways reported yesterday that it believed that one of its planes had hit a drone as it came into land at London’s Heathrow airport. Although not confirmed, the incident, which involved an A320 en route from Geneva with 137 passengers and crew on board, is thought to have been the first of its kind in Britain. Few think it will be the last. There have been seven “category A” near misses—those of a serious nature—in Britain in the past year.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni

ps: It being April Fool’s day, there was a lot of noise in articles. I have done my best to eliminate pranks but nowadays it’s getting hard to tell them from real stories.


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1)          How Machines Destroy (And Create!) Jobs, In 4 Graphs

Just as we frequently read about killer robots (see Item 2) or massive job loss associated with presumably relatively benign robots. Although automation has led to a massive improvement in living standards a common view is that “smart” robots will result in dialing back the progress of the last couple centuries. This article does a good job at looking at how employment in various sectors has shifted over the years.

“For hundreds of years, people have been talking about machines taking jobs from people. Less often discussed: machines creating new jobs. In the first part of the 20th century, agricultural technology — the tractor, chemical fertilizers — meant a single farmer could suddenly grow much more food. So we didn’t need as many farmers. Technology destroyed a huge number of farming jobs.”

2)          Dispelling the Killer AI Myth

This is a refreshing article but I doubt it will get much coverage: an actual AI expert discussing the absurdity of non-expert and media concerns over “killer AI”. Unfortunately for actual AI researchers it is much easier to write an article about the existential threat of AI than to bother to actually learn about what it is and is not.

“As a data science practitioner who uses machine learning as the basis of many client projects, I’m increasingly finding myself on the front line of the so-called “Killer AI” debate that keeps sprouting up around the web and mainstream press. Just recently I engaged in a discussion on Quora where a couple of people considered my dismissal of this “threat to humanity” as a serious oversight for what could become mankind’s downfall. The main argument in support of the Killer AI notion is the handful of very high-profile individuals who believe in it – physicist Stephen Hawking, entrepreneur Elon Musk, as well as commercial software giants Bill Gates and Bill Joy. Notice that NONE of these people, while brilliant in their own fields, have any direct experience with machine learning, AI or robotics.”

3)          Tesla Model 3 reservations tops 325,000

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the consumers. What baffles me is this: Tesla has essentially done a $325M issue of unsecured, no covenant, no interest, debt without filing a prospectus. How is that legal?

“A week ago, we started taking reservations for Model 3, and the excitement has been incredible. We’ve now received more than 325,000 reservations, which corresponds to about $14 billion in implied future sales, making this the single biggest one-week launch of any product ever. This interest has spread completely organically. Unlike other major product launches, we haven’t advertised or paid for any endorsements. Instead, this has been a true grassroots effort driven by the passion of the Tesla team that’s worked so hard to get to this point and our current and future customers who believe so strongly in what we are trying to achieve. Most importantly, we are all taking a huge step towards a better future by accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation.”

4)          The time that Tony Fadell sold me a container of hummus.

I’ve warned a number of times that Internet of Things devices, most of which connect to a proprietary server somewhere, that they are pretty much junk once that server is shut off. We have a perfect example in what happened to users of Resolv. To be fair, most likely the company would have winked out of existence eventually if it had not be acquired by Nest because that is the fate of most IoT companies. The fact that Nest/Google felt it wasn’t worth their money to maintain the system is typical of the thinking Philips or Samsung would apply: if it doesn’t make money, pull the plug. So remember if you wave a refrigerator or TV with IoT function understand that function will last as long as the vendor decides its worth their while. Thanks to my son Ali and my friend Allan Brown for links related to this item.

“On May 15th a critical Nest product will go dark. I’m shocked this isn’t bigger news. I don’t mean that the Nest product will reach end-of-life for support and updates. No, I mean that on May 15th they will actually turn off the device and disable your ability to use the hardware that you paid for. Google/Nest’s decision raises an interesting question. When software and hardware are intertwined, does a warranty mean you stop supporting the hardware or does it mean that the manufacturer can intentionally disable it without consequence? Tony Fadell seems to believe the latter. Tony believes he has the right to reach into your home and pull the plug on your Nest products.”

5)          A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe

Heavy trucks are more likely to be early adopters of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology than consumer automobiles for several reasons: the cost of AV technology is likely to be relatively lower since trucks are so expensive; fuel savings can justify the investment; and since trucks are almost constantly in use improved productivity will be a selling feature. Of course, professional drivers are more likely to use the technology safely whereas consumers are more likely to test the functional boundaries of the AVs systems, resulting in crashes.

“About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo and Daimler just completed a week of largely autonomous driving across Europe, the first such major exercise on the continent. The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.”

6)          3 Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Change Transportation

Unfortunately this is more of a fantasy discussion of electric vehicles than about self-driving, or Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). The sad reality of EVs is that battery technology is a major limiting factor an neither pricing nor functionality is improving at a significant rate. As for EV taxis, well, if they go 40 to 70,000 miles per year they would be more or less fully discharged at least once or twice a day, meaning they would last less than 2 years – optimistically.

“Self-driving cars could mean profound reduction in pollution and usage of valuable resources. Fully electric self-driving cars would also equate to much lower production and maintenance costs, prompting a drop in public transport costs for consumers. Lastly, if cars are no longer defined by the parts under the hood, public transportation might take on a new form entirely.”

7)          Microsoft, Google make their pitches to unseat Amazon in the cloud

The article focuses on Microsoft and Google’s competitive response to Amazon but the story is somewhat deeper than that. There is a Swahili proverb “When elephants jostle, what gets hurt is the grass”, which portends what will happen to cloud services companies which lack the resources to compete with any of this three. The frantic effort by AWS, Microsoft, and Google, to establish share in this market will crush lesser players.

“But AWS still looms large over this market. Almost everything that Microsoft and Google spoke about at their conferences AWS also has a product line in. Machine Learning? Check. IoT? Yes. NoSQL databases? Sure thing. Amazon may not be the leader in each of these categories but it shows how tight the race is among these vendors. The consensus is that neither Microsoft nor Google did anything over the past two weeks to unseat AWS, but it’s clear the cloud wars are as hot as ever.”

8)          CNET VR Day turns admirers into true believers

VR is very topical and it will be interesting to see how the market develops. A big issue will be the content (i.e. software or movies) and whether what is produced is good enough and diverse enough to appeal to a broader market. This sort of demonstration and feedback process has its limitations: people who are interested in VR currently may be a small minority and not reflective of the broader market so their reaction would only be remarkable if it were disappointing.

“So we decided to give our readers a chance to strap on these new devices, along with Gear VR, and see for themselves if the experience matches the excitement. Within three hours of putting out the invite for CNET VR Day, we had more than 1,000 readers sign up. After waiting a max of 40 minutes in line Wednesday, they spent about 10 minutes inside our San Francisco headquarters trying out each device. They viewed games, animation and a clip from Disney’s upcoming movie, “The Jungle Book.” Most visitors were impressed. “You’re just transported to another world,” said Yves, 41, a software developer who works at a startup across San Francisco Bay, in Alameda, after playing with the Oculus Rift. “You feel isolated. The thing completely encloses you. You are fooled into thinking you are operating in a completely different environment. It’s gonna be great to feel transported to other planets, other parts of the world or whatever. From that perspective, VR really achieves its goal.””

9)          Departing FTC Commissioner Pans Digital Ad Industry’s Privacy Program

Online advertisers are quick to cry foul when users block their ads. The fact the ads consume an increasing amount of bandwidth, are often fraudulent or include malware seems to be irrelevant to them. They could reform their behavior but as this interview suggests the most basic efforts of self-policing fail. I suggest everybody install Privacy Badger in addition to uBlock or any other adblock software. Privacy Badger blocks the tracking advertisers refuse to block themselves.

“Today, digital advertisers are battling a rise in the use of ad blockers that’s fueled by consumer concerns including privacy. The breakdown in 2013 of an effort to establish a standard Do Not Track mechanism is partly to blame, she suggested. “We’ve seen an incredible rise in consumers taking matters into their own hands, which is precisely what I said would happen back then,” Ms. Brill said. “In some ways I think that effort fizzled because the multi-stakeholder process broke down,” said Ms. Brill. “There were entities involved that weren’t supporting the direction the group was heading and withdrew from the effort. It would have helped industry and consumers to have some rules of the road in online tracking.””

10)      Newspapers to Brave browser: Don’t mess with our ads — or else

The Brave browser business model is to insert ads and split the payment between the user, the browser company, and the website. This may sound nice in theory for the user except this sort of thing has been tried before and users end up with virtually no payment unless they are human bots operating in a sweatshop in Asia somewhere. Interestingly, the decision to substitute adds may indeed make the effort illegal as a form of copyright violation.

“The Brave browser loads pages faster by stripping out not just ads but also website software that tracks users. The company eventually will insert ads that target your behavior but promises to keep your behavioral data on your computer and never gather the information itself. It’s not clear yet how many people use the browser, which launched in February, but Brave offers versions for personal computers powered by Windows, OS X and Linux and for phones and tablets powered by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Brave’s financial strategy is to share 55 percent of its ad revenue with publishers — 70 percent when users don’t specifically carve off 15 percent for themselves. Brave itself keeps 15 percent and sends 15 percent to ad technology business partners. The newspapers refuse to participate.”

11)      On cybersecurity, execs are burying their heads in the sand

As noted in Item 12 some “cyber” hacks are just signs of a badly run business, but there does seem to be another problem: namely that despite frequent headlines of hacks, some of which cost CEOs their jobs, executives don’t seem to think the problem is their concern. All this means, of course, if that company boards are themselves failing on their responsibilities to ensure the issue is dealt with at the highest level.

“Despite increased spending on cybersecurity, most executives are unprepared, even willfully ignorant, of the threats that could damage their businesses.  A survey of 1,530 C-level executives across of range of industries found a widespread feeling that cybersecurity is an “IT problem,” even as CEOs personally shoulder the consequences for breaches: “The Target breach was one of the more significant ones: Executives can be held accountable,” says David Damato, chief security officer at Tanium, which co-sponsored the report with NASDAQ and the University of London. “But there’s still that disconnect. Executives still struggle with: ‘What should I be looking for?'””

12)      Cyber fraudsters reap $2.3 billion through email wire-transfer scams

The interesting thing with this type of scam is that it is not a cyber security problem but a problem of abysmal financial controls. There is simply no way a well-run company could allow a check to be written on the basis of an email, memo, or verbal directive. Checks get written against invoices, invoices should have to be matched to purchase orders and waybills, and so on. Approvals should be required every step of the way. If a scammer can get a check written absent basic book keeping “cyber” has nothing to do with it.

“Businesses have lost billions of dollars to fast-growing scams where fraudsters impersonate company executives in emails that order staff to transfer to accounts controlled by criminals, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Losses from these scams, which are known as “business email compromise,” totaled more than $2.3 billion from October 2013 through February of this year, the FBI said in an alert issued this week, citing reports to law enforcement agencies around the globe. The cases involved some 17,642 businesses of all sizes scattered across at least 79 countries, according to the FBI alert posted on the website of the agency’s Phoenix bureau.”

13)      Outdated and Vulnerable WordPress and Drupal Versions May Have Contributed to the Panama Papers Breach

The “Panama Papers” were released a few days ago. Essentially these are a data dump of a couple of terabytes of the scams and money laundering schemes of the rich and famous. Although there has been some political fallout from the dump, past revelations regarding money laundering by major Swiss (UBS, Credit Suisse, and others) and UK (HSBC) banks only led to token fines and no significant sanctions to speak of. Regardless, some of the dictators, drug dealers, etc., who were clients of Mossack Fonseca are probably miffed at the revelations and it would be surprising if there were not a series of “suicides” and unfortunate “accidents” of people associated with the firm.

“Authorities have not yet identified the hacker behind the Panama Papers breach, nor have they isolated the exact attack vector. It is clear that Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that protected the assets of the rich and powerful by setting up shell companies, had employed a dangerously loose policy towards web security and communications. The firm ran its unencrypted emails through an outdated (2009) version of Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access. Outdated open source software running the frontend of the firm’s websites is also now suspected to have provided a vector for the compromise.”

14)      Sweep Is a $250 LIDAR With Range of 40 Meters That Works Outdoors

A price of $250 would be the high end of an acceptable price for LIDAR for an Autonomous Vehicle, however the modest range of this system means it can’t be used for that purpose. To be fair, the developers are targeting robots and drones, but it will be a breakthrough when low cost long range LIDAR is available. This is a Kickstarter so beware: the batting average of Kickstarter projects is pretty unimpressive.

“The “relatively low cost” bit is the problem: LIDARs are pricey, and an “affordable” 2D unit, with a range of 10 meters or less, can cost you over US $1,000. This is an enormous problem for both hobbyists and cost-conscious commercial robotics developers (i.e. every single commercial robotics developer). A San Leandro, Calif.-based startup called Scanse has developed a 2D LIDAR system that promises to be simultaneosly much cheaper and much better than what’s out there. For $250, you get a spinning LIDAR sensor with a range of 40 meters, even outdoors. We featured Sweep on Video Friday a while back, but we wanted follow up with a more detailed article, with some additional info from the Scanse team.”

15)      Cable cord-cutting numbers soar in Canada thanks to Netflix, high prices, says report

“Cord cutting” is simply a shift away from the traditional cable/broadcast distribution system to streaming. Streaming allows you to watch what you want to watch (provided your streaming provider is licensed) when you want to watch it. When legal it is essentially a legal alternative to file sharing and is particularly important to younger demographics that of course eventually become older demographics. Some streaming is enabled by piracy but piracy is more reflective of pricing and licensing (beloved shows not being available in a particular country) than a chronic disdain for paying for media. Eventually cable providers will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and offer pricing to compete.

“According to the Convergence Consulting Group, 190,000 Canadians ended their ties with traditional TV in 2015. That’s an 80 per cent increase from the previous year when 105,000 people cut the cord. “It’s almost a doubling of a loss,” comments Brahm Eiley, president of the Toronto-based market research company. He says the jump is statistically significant because it’s such a radical shift compared with just two years ago. According to his numbers, only 13,000 Canadians cut the cord in 2013, while in 2012 there was actually a gain of 32,000 TV subscribers. Eiley expects the big drop in 2015 to be “the new normal.” His company forecasts that 2016 will see a decline of 191,000 TV subscribers in Canada.”

16)      The TSA Randomizer iPad App Cost $1.4 Million

There is some discussion as to whether the TSA was taken for $1.4 million or a lesser amount depending on things like whether iPads were paid for, etc.. The lowest figure I’ve seen is around $120K for the “left or right arrow” app. I am sure a high school student could have done it cheaper, but you can’t blame IBM for taking the taxpayers’ money. Actually I could have designed the same function with $2 of semiconductors and a couple of LEDs and no iPad. Oh well – it’s not like it is real money, right?

“You may have seen the TSA Randomizer on your last flight. A TSA agent holds an iPad. The agent taps the iPad, a large arrow points right or left, and you follow it into a given lane. How much does the TSA pay for an app that a beginner could build in a day? It turns out the TSA paid IBM $1.4 million dollars for it.”

17)      Google makes building apps easier with Android Studio 2.0

App development is a bit of a mystery to me but the fact there are millions of apps suggests there are plenty of people for whom it is not. This product release by google seems to make the development of apps even easier. I thought the cloud based test lab was a brilliant idea, especially since one of the issues with developing an app for Android phones (of which there are hundreds of models) vs iPhone (of which there are about 12) is testing on various platforms.

“The Android device emulator now takes advantage of multi-core CPUs, making it three times faster than before. “In most situations, developing on the official Android Emulator is faster than a real device, and new features like Instant Run will work best with the new Android emulator,” Google says. The brand new interface will help you fine tune an app by letting you rotate the screen, drag-and drop to install apps and use multi-touch controls like pinch to zoom. Once the app is ready, you can use Google’s Cloud Test Lab to put it “through a collection of tests against a portfolio of physical devices hosted in Google’s data centers,” according to the company. That works both with your own tests or basic ones supplied by Google, helping to eliminate conflicts and other bugs.”

18)      Facebook Wants You to Post More About Yourself

I have to confess: social media baffles me. Why would I give a massive corporation all my personal data and why should I care about what people had for lunch? That’s another reason I’m not a billionaire. The interesting thing with Facebook is that, while its user base continues to grow, almost all of its revenue comes out of North America. You’d think the value of that revenue base would plateau but it shows no sign of doing so. Nevertheless, linking to external content would seem to have less value to advertisers than posting your shoe size or hair color. Oh well.

“Facebook Inc. is working to combat a decline in people sharing original, personal content, the fuel that helps power the money machine at the heart of its social network, according to people familiar with the matter. Overall sharing has remained “strong,” according to Facebook. However, people have been less willing to post updates about their lives as their lists of friends grow, the people said. Instead, Facebook’s 1.6 billion users are posting more news and information from other websites. As Facebook ages, users may have more than a decade’s worth of acquaintances added as friends. People may not always feel comfortable checking into a local bar or sharing an anecdote from their lives, knowing these updates may not be relevant to all their connections.”

19)      First Look at Samsung’s 48L 3D V-NAND Flash

This is a pretty technical engineering report on a recently released Samsung flash component. Capacity is increasingly associated with “stacking” die rather than simply getting more bits per square millimeter, which is why these are called “3D”. There is probably a limit on layer stacking due to factor like power dissipation, but I can’t guess at what that limit is.

“Figure 3 is a package cross section showing the 16 dies stacked one on top of the other and connected using conventional wire bonding technology. The dies are an outstandingly 40 µm thin, perhaps the thinnest dies that we have seen in a package. By comparison, the dies in Samsung’s 32L V-NAND that we examined in 2014 were about 110 µm thick and stacked 4 dies high in their package.”

20)      All The 3D Print That’s Fit to Pitt: New Additive Technology Center Opens Near Steel Town

GE’s approach makes sense, especially for a company of its size: a service center allows a sharing of expensive 3D printers and a sort of pooling of expertise. The article covers a wide range of 3D printing technologies and a careful reading would show that printing things is a whole lot more difficult than people can expect from a home printer.

“GE Aviation, for example, is already printing parts for jet engines, and GE Oil & Gas is using printers to make valves. The idea behind CATA, which is funded by each of the various GE businesses, is to bring additive into the mainstream for all of them. “Our mission is to ensure additive technology becomes a standard part of the tool kit for each business,” Cipolla says. “By having a shared facility, they can share the cost burden and we can advance the technology across the entire company much more rapidly than if they were to invest individually.””

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 1st 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 1st 2016


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

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

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

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

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at

Brian Piccioni

ps: It being April Fool’s day, there was a lot of noise in articles. I have done my best to eliminate pranks but nowadays it’s getting hard to tell them from real stories.


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1)          XPoint Memory Chips Positioned for Rapid Adoption

XPoint is the memory technology announced by Intel and Micron a few months ago. It sounds pretty impressive but a lot of details remain unknown – most importantly pricing. Although significant strides have been made in flash memory, there appear to be inherent limits associated with wear. XPoint might be the answer – but only if pricing and densities can get to mainstream levels. Note that the article contradicts the first paragraph which states the devices are cheaper than NAND – in fact they are much more expensive.

“After years of searching for a better way to keep computers and other electronic devices from losing data when their power is shut off, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. are gearing up to produce a new kind of memory chip that’s not only “non-volatile” – allowing it to retain data when powered off – but also faster, cheaper and longer lasting than NAND flash, which dominates the current non-volatile memory market. The companies unveiled their jointly developed 3D XPoint (cross point) memory chips at a press conference last July, touting them as “the first new memory category in more than 25 years.” And while they may not reach full production during 2016, as planned, 3D XPoint sales should be underway at least by early 2017 and are forecast to grow quickly. Data storage consultant Coughlin Associates expects the new chips to generate between $663 million and $1.5 billion in annual sales by 2020. Analysts expect the new technology to help computer users with Big Data analysis and other memory-intensive tasks, and to allow Intel to sell faster processor chips.”

2)          The FBI Has Successfully Unlocked The iPhone Without Apple’s Help

Unsurprisingly, the FBI has unlocked the iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorists, and without Apple’s help. Apple and its acolytes have reacted with characteristic outrage and Apple had the cheek to “demand” the FBI tell it how it cracked the device. Despite the obvious implication that Apple devices are not as secure as the company claims, online commentators are reacting as though the FBI – in the process of investigating a terror attack – is in the wrong. The theater is somewhat amusing, until somebody gets hurt.

“”Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement, adding that the investigation will continue to ensure that all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack is collected. The government is not saying exactly what data were found on the phone. DOJ spokeswoman Melanie Newman says the FBI is currently reviewing the information on the phone, consistent with standard investigatory procedures.”

3)          Microsoft is bringing the Bash shell to Windows 10

If this had been published April 1st it would surely have been assumed to be an April Fool’s prank. Instead it appears to be legitimate: in the near future you will be able to run Linux “on top of” Windows 10 without dual booting your laptop. It will be interesting to see how this actually works. What is particularly puzzling is Microsoft’s business motivation behind this move.

“The native availability of a full Ubuntu environment on Windows, without virtualization or emulation, is a milestone that defies convention and a gateway to fascinatingly unfamiliar territory,” Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said in a statement today. “In our journey to bring free software to the widest possible audience, this is not a moment we could have predicted. Nevertheless we are delighted to stand behind Ubuntu for Windows, committed to addressing the needs of Windows developers exploring Linux in this amazing new way, and excited at the possibilities heralded by this unexpected turn of events.”

4)          Google Self-Driving Car Will Be Ready Soon for Some, in Decades for Others

This outline of the future of AVs is probably more realistic than most. It ain’t for nothing they mostly test AVs on good quality roads in great weather. Even if cost weren’t an issue (and it is a big issue) the hardest part of true autonomy would be when a driver can completely transfer control over to the car and fall asleep or read a book. That is a long way away.

“But last week in a speech at Austin’s South-by-Southwest, Urmson for the first time told a different story about both the delivery date and capabilities of its first self-driving cars. Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first. Urmson put it this way in his speech. “How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you see maybe it’s three years, maybe it’s thirty years. And I am here to tell you that honestly, it’s a bit of both.””

5)          Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roadways

A major challenge with AVs will be the simple fact that a lot of roads are chronically in bad repair. It’s hard to keep in the lanes when the lanes aren’t marked (just wait until they discover snow!). Precision mapping isn’t really going to help matters since roadways can be altered, blocked, and so on. Eventually the sensors and software will adapt to these challenges but early on the solution will be straightforward: only allow limited AV on good roads in good weather.

“Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “It can’t find the lane markings!” Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. “You need to paint the bloody roads here!” Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say.”

6)          Among iPhone Launches, the SE Is Indeed Small Edition – But it’s Bringing New Consumers to iPhone

Talk about burying the lede! The headline should be “iPhone SE sales 94% lower than iPhone 6S which was 46% less than iPhone 6”. Realistically the SE is targeting people who have an old iPhone 4 or 5, not a new demographic. With US a carrier having abandoned contracts, the “2 year replacement cycle” is history and people will hang on their phones as long as possible rather than paying full price for a new one. This isn’t an Apple problem, it is an industry problem that hurts the market leader most of all.

“Slice Intelligence just revealed the first online sales figures for the iPhone SE, which confirm that while fewer people rushed online to get the latest iPhone than they did for the most recent launches, those who did were more likely to be new to the iPhone. The number of iPhone SEs bought the first weekend of availability was 94 percent smaller than the iPhone 6S launch, which was 46 percent the number of iPhone 6 devices sold when it was released.”

7)          Gartner Says Global Smartphone Sales to Only Grow 7 Per Cent in 2016

Gartner’s forecasts are not usually very useful but I agree with this one. A combination of factors – most significantly a mature market and feature saturation – means that consumers see no reason to “upgrade” their devices. After all, new phones aren’t much different from old phones and they cost money, especially in places like the US which has done away with subsidies. Note that a 7% increase in unit sales is not likely to result in an increase in pricing as low cost smartphones are a growing part of the market.

“Gartner, Inc. said global smartphone sales will for the first time exhibit single-digit growth in 2016. Global smartphone sales are estimated to reach 1.5 billion units in 2016, a 7 per cent growth from 2015. The total mobile phone market is forecast to reach 1.9 billion units in 2016.”

8)          Don’t take my money: Why mobile payments haven’t taken off — yet

I can sort of understand mobile payments in places where there is no modern banking system. As it stands I have about 8 pieces of plastic in my wallet which I use for various payment systems and I don’t understand why I’d want another one. As a vendor I don’t see the advantage of having yet another piece of hardware on the counter for a trickle of potential customer who almost certainly have a credit or debit card anyway.

“The fact is, as of October 2015 (according to the latest quarterly survey conducted by PYMNTS and InfoScout), just 16.6 percent of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users had tried Apple Pay. And of those iPhone users who had tried Apple Pay, only 35 percent said they used it regularly — down from 48 percent six months earlier. A second survey by the mobile-research firm Crone Consulting found equally discouraging numbers for Android Pay and Samsung Pay. Among the 5 million Android Pay users, only 1 percent used it for at least two transactions a month; among 5 million Samsung Pay users, just 4 percent used it that often. (As for Apple Pay, Crone estimated 12 million users, of which 6 percent met that two-transaction minimum.)”

9)          Tesla’s Model 3 Could Destroy Elon Musk’s Company

There was much hype and excitement over the “launch” of Tesla’s “low cost” EV, the Model 3. Somehow the company claims to have lured over 100,000 suckers to place a deposit for one before it had even been unveiled. “Launched” is too strong a term because there is very little actual information available on the vehicle, just lots of pictures. Of course, Tesla or GM can sell an EV for $35,000 – the question is whether they can turn a profit doing so. GM doesn’t have to. Tesla is a prodigious destroyer of capital and it needs gullible investors far more than gullible buyers. As the article implies the excitement over the Model 3 probably has more to do with a capital raise than a viable business plan.

“On Wednesday night Musk took the first step toward containing Model 3 hype, tweeting that “Tomorrow is Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil. Part 2, which takes things to another level, will be closer to production.” Tesla plans on launching the Model 3 in the last quarter of 2017, and given the firm’s consistent inability to meet its previous self-imposed deadlines it seems more than likely that the people lined up today won’t actually take delivery of their Model 3 until well into 2018. It’s highly unusual for an automaker to preview a production vehicle so far from its actual launch date for a variety of reasons: as Musk admits, the car is likely to change during the next two years of development work. In the meantime, a heavily hyped but unavailable car could cut into demand for Tesla’s existing models. With Tesla’s cash reserves falling below $1 billion and dwindling  fast, the company might not survive long enough to launch the car people are currently lined up for.”

10)      Intel Security’s International Internet of Things Smart Home Survey Shows Many Respondents Sharing Personal Data for Money

You’d think that consumers would be concerned about security and privacy but it seems it’s the opposite: they pretty much throw caution to the wind for a new gadget. After all, data you share is data which can be accessible through hacking and so on. I’m not sure I want to turn the keys to my house or security system over to another company’s hackers – and that doesn’t even address the question of non-existent IoT device security.

“A majority of respondents worldwide (54 percent) indicated they might be willing to share their personal data collected from their smart home with companies in exchange for money, and 70 percent agree companies should give coupons and discounts to customers in return for data about device usage, according to a survey of global consumers sponsored by Intel Security. The survey also found that 77 percent of respondents believe smart homes will be as common in 2025 as smartphones are today, but 66 percent are also very concerned about smart home data being hacked by cybercriminals.”

11)      Malvertising Thrives in ‘Shady’ Parts of Highly-Automated Ad Networks

This article takes another look at malvertising, or Internet ads which deliver malware to your devices. Usually the ad brokers (Google et als) are the ones serving up the ads, not the websites, however, the more trusted a website the greater the odds somebody will click on the ad. I doubt Google wants to sell malvertising but it would cost money and take effort for them to stop it. The only thing a consumer can do it is install adblock type software and wait for the industry to clean itself up.

“For two days in mid-March, visitors to major news and information sites—such as the New York Times, Newsweek, The Hill and the Weather Network—may have been redirected to Web servers that attempted to infect visitors’ systems with a variant of the Angler exploit kit and, ultimately, ransomware. So far, the impact of the attack is unknown, but a single antivirus vendor, Trend Micro, recorded 41,000 infection attempts among its users between March 12 and 14. The attack hit visitors to AOL, the BBC, NFL, The Hill, Newsweek, the New York Times, MSN,, The Weather Network and the Xfinity portal, according to Malwarebytes, an endpoint security firm.”

12)      Mattel fought elusive cyber-thieves to get $3M out of China

This is an illustration of “phishing” which almost worked out really well for the crooks. Unfortunately, it says a lot about a lack of financial controls at Mattel: all it took was an email for a $3M transfer to take place. Evidently, no invoice, packing slips, etc. – just an email. If I were a shareholder I’d wonder about the quality of financial controls at a company like that.

“The finance executive who got the note was naturally eager to please her new boss. She double-checked protocol. Fund transfers required approval from two high-ranking managers. She qualified and so did the CEO, according to a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter. He declined to reveal the finance executive’s name. Satisfied, the executive wired over $3 million to the Bank of Wenzhou, in China.”

13)      Dropouts Need Not Apply: Silicon Valley Asks Mostly for Developers With Degrees

Code academies and other for-profit groups have an incentive to promote the myth that nobody in tech cares whether you have a degree or not. Trust me, as a guy who spent over 12 years in tech without a degree it matters a lot. Whatever the skills of the developer, HR departments ae all about mitigating risk for HR people and it is a lot safer to filter people on the basis of qualifications than on actual capabilities.

“But it turns out that tech companies are more likely than other employers to require college degrees when hiring software developers. Seventy-five percent of job ads for those roles at technology companies specify an educational requirement, compared with 58% of openings posted by the full universe of employers that are hiring software developers, according to Burning Glass Technologies, a labor-market data firm that analyzed 1.6 million ads for software-developer jobs nationwide. And in 95% of the tech-sector job ads that list a minimum credential, the employer calls for a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 92% of the ads from all employers seeking developers.”

14)      Scientists regenerate spinal cord in injured rats with stem cells

This might be a major advance, and not an unexpected one as stem cell research is moving along at a good rate. It is not entirely clear how much of an improvement was seen or how bad the damage was, but it is reasonable to believe that given the right chemical environment and the right types of cells it may be possible for significant damage to be repaired and a lot of function restored using this technique. As usual it is a long way away from human trials.

“With patches of stem cells on their broken spinal cords, partially paralyzed rats once again reached out and grabbed distant treats, researchers report in Nature Medicine. While previous studies have shown progress in regenerating certain types of nerve cells in injured spinal cords, the study is the first to coax the regrowth of a specific set of nerve cells, called corticospinal axons. These bundles of biological wiring carry signals from the brain to the spinal cord and are critical for voluntary movement. In the study, researchers were able to use stem cells from rats and humans to mend the injured rodents.”

15)      It Has Fast Become Antiquated To Say That You Go Online

This article is more about our environment than about a technology. I thought it summarizes things rather well.

“You don’t really “go” online in 2016. Online is simply there, waiting. It’s what happens the moment you switch your devices on; it’s the default state of your office, your home, your vehicle, your stroll to the shops. We’ve been promised an Internet of Things for so long, now, that we’ve lost sight of what the phrase really signifies: a world in which the majority of digital chatter doesn’t involve us at all, but consists of internet-connected devices communicating with other internet-connected devices. Drop by drop, a shared ocean of data has accumulated across our world.”

16)      Teens vastly prefer YouTube and Netflix to TV, don’t mind ads, report finds

Part and parcel with the cultural shift in online access has been the move away from broadcast, which can be considered a sort of centralized entertainment function, to streaming, which is highly personalized. Older folks remain committed to the traditional broadcast model of “news at 11” whereas millennials are far more comfortable with “what I want to see when I want to see it”. This is probably a good thing for content creators as they will be able to access viewers they would never have been able to in the past.

“According to a new survey from digital entertainment company Defy Media, Gen Z and young millennial consumers consider digital video “their daily lifeline.” The company’s fourth annual “Youth Media Diet” report — which Mashable got an early look at on Tuesday — suggests that a majority (65%) of 13-to-24-year-olds watch content from the start of their day (such as before school or work) straight through to the evening hours. Those surveyed said digital video serves as a mood lifter (57%) and stress reliever (61%), as well as a way to stay up to date on what’s trending or new (60%), to learn how to do something (47%) or to lull oneself to sleep (44%).”

17)      Newspapers Gobble Each Other Up to Survive Digital Apocalypse

Streaming will result in a transformation of the video (and music) business but the newspaper business will likely go extinct. Consolidation of newspapers mostly leads to a lowering of standards and homogenization of content, as well as a sharp rise in advertorial content (paid advertising made to look like reporting). There might be some survivors who purport to have a quality product (post Iraq war I’m surprising anybody take the NY Times seriously) but for the most part they’ll just fade away.

“Newspapers have settled on a strategy to stop withering away: feast on each other for survival. For the owners of big-city dailies like the Chicago Tribune and Denver Post, buying smaller publications and slashing costs has become a way to buy time while figuring out how to make more money online. That was the logic behind the recent failed attempt by Tribune Publishing Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, to buy two Southern California newspapers. Last year, the industry saw the most deals for the largest amount of money since the 2008 financial crisis, with 70 daily newspapers being sold for a combined $827 million.”

18)      Google disables April fool joke amid user fury after prank backfires

This appears to have been a joke gone awry, but I don’t know if the joke is in the reporting of the joke or whether it is real. I’d hope that any employer would find out what happened before firing somebody over something like this, especially on April Fool’s.

“One, who posted on the company’s Gmail help forum, wrote: “Thanks to Mic Drop I just lost my job. I am a writer and had a deadline to meet. I sent my articles to my boss and never heard back from her. I inadvertently sent the email using the ‘Mic Drop’ send button. There were corrections that needed to be made on my articles and I never received her replies. My boss took offence to the Mic Drop animation and assumed that I didn’t reply to her because I thought her input was petty (hence the Mic Drop). I just woke up to a very angry voicemail from her which is how I found out about this ‘hilarious’ prank.””

19)      Kuvée is trying to reinvent wine with a ridiculous Wi-Fi bottle

This and the next item are explicitly not April Fool’s jokes. Yes – somebody has figured out a better way to sell wine.

“Using the bottle’s touchscreen, you can browse and purchase the other wines available through Kuvée. At launch, there are 48 wines from 12 wineries. “As wide of a variety that we can get,” says Ed Tekeian, Kuvée’s chief technology officer. For the most part, you’ll be looking at wines in the $15 to $30 range, with some going as high as $50 (all sold in standard, 750ml bottles). Kuvée is aiming for the wine drinker who wants something better than Two Buck Chuck, but isn’t regularly dropping money on fine, aged bottles. Because it’s promising 30 days of freshness, Kuvée imagines that its customers might keep open a couple bottles at a time — maybe a red and a white.”

20)      A $700 Juice Box for the Kitchen That Caught Silicon Valley’s Eye

If you’ve ever wondered how out of touch Silicon Valley is, here is a product which has received $120 million in financing. It is a $700 machine which squishes a plastic bag for you. It has WiFi. Enough said.

“The machine itself is a white plastic slab roughly the size of a food processor. To get some juice, you insert a pouch that resembles an IV bag and press a button. A couple of minutes later, a thin stream of vividly colored liquid squirts into a glass. For health nuts willing to pay a premium, Juicero promises the platonic ideal of juice. Plus, the machine never needs to be cleaned. But getting from farm to glass involves a daunting mix of hardware, code and food processing. The arrangement relies on a smartphone app, always-on Wi-Fi, QR codes, high-tech packaging and an army of workers slicing fruits and vegetables in very particular ways.”