The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 27th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 27th 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)          Google beats Oracle—Android makes “fair use” of Java APIs

A victory by Oracle would have caused pandemonium in the software industry since APIs are basically how every software interacts with every other software and have not traditionally been considered copyrightable until recently. Of course, Oracle will appeal the case, and even though appeals are usually not successful they befuddled an appeals court before and they can do it again. Any developer considering working with any Oracle related code such as Java or MySQL should consider full GPL alternatives just in case Oracle continues in this desperate effort to appear relevant in the modern world.

“Following a two-week trial, a federal jury concluded Thursday that Google’s Android operating system does not infringe Oracle-owned copyrights because its re-implementation of 37 Java APIs is protected by “fair use.” The verdict was reached after three days of deliberations.”

2)          Tesla Model S Autonomously Crashes on Highway

I like the quote from Tesla that “all systems worked as expected”. It’s a bit like “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” It’s also a non-response because essentially it says that it is to be expected that a Tesla equipped with auto-brake can be expected to accelerate into a stationary vehicle. The legalese cited in the article is a particular hoot because it essentially says the system works until it doesn’t and then, well, you are on your own. I wonder if Volvo or other major auto vendors true and hide behind that sort of thing to explain away deficiencies. Eventually this ad-hoc system is going to kill somebody.

“A Tesla Model S crashed into a van while on Autopilot on the highway in Switzerland, and the driver caught the incident on video. Chris Thomann was driving his Model S with Tesla’s Adaptive Cruise Control (TACC) engaged. As you can see in the GIF below (Thomann set his YouTube video to private), the Model S seems to have recognized the car leaving the lane ahead, but did not spot the stopped van. The result was the Model S actually accelerating slightly into the van. According to Thomann, none of the safety systems worked properly.”

3)          Will Apple iPhone 7 Sell, With Bigger Upgrade Coming Next Year?

Sorry, is a garbage website will all manner of ads (it doesn’t work if you have an adblocker), annoying popups, etc.. However I saw this article cited at a different website and at least wanted to be sure the quote was correct, because, well, funny story, US carriers no longer subsidize phones and no longer have 2 year contracts. They’ll happily let you finance the phone with 0% interest if you have good credit, but you pay full retail. This is a profoundly significant shift in the smartphone market and it is quite remarkable the long term ramifications of price discovery and the end of contracts are not well understood by investors.

“Wells Fargo Securities analyst Maynard Um said in a research report Monday that he doesn’t believe next year’s iPhone will hold back upgrades during the iPhone 7 cycle. “While it is reasonable to assume Apple may introduce an iconic iPhone in 2017, we believe it is not a foregone conclusion that the consumers will skip the iPhone 7 upgrade in 2016,” Um said. “The core of our premise revolves around continued competition for subscribers as two-year contracts come up for renewal.” If wireless carriers continue to run aggressive promotions to reduce subscriber churn and to attract new customers coming off two-year contracts, there may be strong incentives for people to upgrade, Um said.”

4)          Hands on: ZTE Axon 7 review

This is another data point as to the health of the smartphone market. ZTE doesn’t have much of a market share in North America but the review suggests its new flagship phone has excellent features and performance and comes in at a 40% discount to Apple’s flagship. The article takes a dig at Apple’s 16GB device and rightly so. Smartphone pricing is falling off a cliff.

“You’ll have to buy this phone unlocked on Amazon or another retailer at full price. It won’t be sold at US carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint. And while it has enough bands to support all US phone networks, it’ll work with AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards for now. Verizon and Sprint compatibility is due “possibly later in the year.” The good news here is that it’s packed with 64GB of internal storage and will cost $449 (about £340, AU$691). You won’t have to deal with a pesky two-year (or any) contract for that price. All of this contrasts with the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7 at $650 and 32GB iPhone 6S at $750. That 16GB iPhone is no longer acceptable for a comparison when the Axon 7 comes with 64GB as standard.”

5)          Xiaomi Revenues Were Flat in 2015

Xiaomi burst onto the scene a few years ago as it offered reasonably priced well featured smartphones. The company keeps to developing markets, probably due to intellectual property concerns. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information in the article to establish whether the challenges are company specific (as implied by issues with some models), China specific (2.5% growth ain’t much), or related to my belief the smartphone market is shrinking globally. I can imagine that selling super premium priced iPhones into China is probably a lot harder in 2016 than it was in 2012.

“Flat sales growth represents a dramatic change of fortune for Xiaomi, which until recently appeared to be enjoying the momentum befitting China’s hottest startup. It was coming off sales growth of 135% in 2014, and in early 2015 founder Lei Jun said at a press conference that Xiaomi’s new smartphone was even better than Apple’s iPhone. However the phone, the Mi Note, amassed early user complaints about hot temperatures and didn’t become the mega-seller the company might have hoped. Later in the year Xiaomi suffered from the dramatic slowdown in China’s overall smartphone market, where shipments grew just 2.5% last year.”

6)          Pas de problème … Quebec just passed a website blocking law

Wow. So we can add Quebec to the list including Turkey, China, and North Korea as places where the government decides what website you can look at. Of course, the aim is to protect the domestic financial interests (just as why China blocks Facebook) but it is great to see they are in such elite company.

“Canada’s second largest province, Quebec, has passed a law that obliges ISPs to block gambling websites. Bill 74 has passed almost without notice (the casino industry being the notable exception) and will see the government agency in charge of lotteries in the province, Loto-Québec, draw up a list of online gambling sites that they will then send to ISPs. ISPs will be required to block access to those sites within 30 days or face a $100,000 fine. The legislation doesn’t go into how ISPs should block the sites and although it is now law, it is extremely likely that they will put forward a legal challenge to it. Incredibly, the ban does not apply to all gambling sites – just those that Loto-Québec doesn’t like – and legislators were quite open about the fact that a goal of the law is to increase revenue to the local, officially approved gambling service Espacejeux.”

7)          Tesla Model X owner files for Lemon Law protection claiming unfixable defects

There is a growing chorus of complaints about the quality of the Tesla Model X and its various “features” but this is the first “lemon law” suit related to the vehicle. I don’t think I’ll like to have my leg caught in a closing car door and I’ve read enough to assume that “autopilot” is Teslaspeak for “works most of the time under ideal conditions”. The comments at the end of the article show the problem: Tesla has become a cult. If the vehicle in question had come from a real manufacturer like Toyota or Ford the comments would be supportive of the owner rather than attacking him.

“Model X owner Barrett Lyon filed suit at Placer County Court in Roseville, CA claiming that the vehicle’s electronically actuated doors have slammed shut on his leg as well as damaged property as a result of its behavior. According to the Courthouse News Service (CNS), Lyon said “The doors do some weird, wicked things. If you get in and slide sideways and accidentally tap the brake, the driver’s side door slams shut on your leg. That’s not a very nice thing to have happen to you.” … Among other issues being cited in the Lemon Law suit are (quoting Lyon via CNS): “Auto Pilot in the rain is extremely dangerous, it causes the car to swerve into different lanes; Powered front doors are opening into cars and other obstacles; The power door slams are a feature of the Model X, and cannot be disabled; The touch screen freezes repeatedly, the second row seat causes driver’s seat to fold forward, and the auto park feature does not work 90 percent of the time,”

8)          Why Oculus’s bitter DRM arms race exacerbates the Rift’s disappointing launch

I am somewhat skeptical as to the market potential for VR, at least outside of gaming. The gaming market is split between consoles and PCs, and console vendors will only support their own or licensed hardware. Facebook is going after the PC market, which will provide it with further rich streams of personal data (which is another reason I wouldn’t touch any hardware from Facebook). Understandably, they want to keep “their” stuff for themselves, hence the DRM. The thing is, VR headset are not that complicated so, unless Facebook can somehow attract PC gamers which are already Facebook users they are slicing the market pretty thin while opening the rest of the market up to other vendors – of which there will be many.

“There’s a program called Revive. It allows you to (for the most part) play Oculus Rift games on the HTC Vive. And why not? The two headsets are, at their core, pretty damn similar. If anything, the Vive has more functionality than the current Rift, meaning it should be easier to go Rift-to-Vive than vice versa. The problem: Oculus paid (a lot of, I assume) money for a handful of exclusive titles—Lucky’s Tale, EVE Valkyrie, Chronos—to convince people to buy a Rift. If people can wrap them to run on the Vive, it’s like Oculus paid for nothing! So Oculus patched in new DRM and Revive stopped working. Then over the weekend Revive cracked the new DRM. Such is life.”

9)          Is Facebook eavesdropping on your phone conversations?

I’m not sure the article established as fact that they do, but if they don’t I wouldn’t be surprised if they stated. A few years ago in Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman uses a system which, back in 2008, was considered an egregious invasion of rights. Now it is just business and buried in a terms of service agreement. Man – people will do just about anything if you ask them to. What I have to wonder is, is it legal for your phone to record my words without my explicit permission? Sounds like a potential class action suit, if not criminal prosecution.

“Kelli enabled the microphone feature and talked about her desire to go on safari, right down to her mode of transportation.  “I’m really interested in going on an African safari. I think it’d be wonderful to ride in one of those jeeps,” she said aloud, phone in hand. Less than 60 seconds later, the first post on her Facebook feed was a safari story that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Turns out, it was a story that had been posted three hours earlier. And, after mentioning a jeep, a car ad also appeared on her page. “That is kind of weird,” she laughed. “I’m still not so sure this isn’t just coincidence. I don’t think Facebook is really listening to our conversations.””

10)      Facebook begins tracking non-users around the internet

Facebooks sure seems to be in the news a lot this week. As is often the case the story is about their running roughshod over people’s privacy, including that of non-users. The antidote is the use of Privacy Badger, which blocked 11 trackers from this website and uBlock which blocked 22 requests from ad networks. There is little reason not to use these browser extensions unless you like the idea of a company stealing your information.

“Facebook will now display ads to web users who are not members of its social network, the company announced Thursday, in a bid to significantly expand its online ad network. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Facebook will use cookies, “like” buttons, and other plug-ins embedded on third-party sites to track members and non-members alike. The company says it will be able to better target non-Facebook users and serve relevant ads to them, though its practices have come under criticism from regulators in Europe over privacy concerns. Facebook began displaying a banner notification at the top of its News Feed for users in Europe today, alerting them to its use of cookies as mandated under an EU directive.”

11)      Fitbit Trackers Are ‘Highly Inaccurate,’ Study Finds

This is probably more serious than it sound because people actually rely on pulse rate tracking for their exercise routines and they may be misled into believe they are in better shape than they really are. Of course, chances are Fitbit disavows any responsibility for the accuracy of the data they produce in their terms of service which nobody reads or understands.

“Comparative results from rest and exercise — including jump rope, treadmills, outdoor jogging and stair climbing — showed that the Fitbit devices miscalculated heart rates by up to 20 beats per minute on average during more intensive workouts. “The PurePulse Trackers do not accurately measure a user’s heart rate, particularly during moderate to high intensity exercise, and cannot be used to provide a meaningful estimate of a user’s heart rate,” the study stated.”

12)      Robot ranchers monitor animals on giant Australian farms

The article is not clear as to how “autonomous” the robots are, or what happens when they get stuck, run out of power, etc.. The video of various agricultural robots is kind of cool, though factors like cost, reliability, and so on are pretty important. As a guy who lives on a farm I can tell you that agricultural equipment is made heavy duty for a reason.

“A two-year trial, which starts next month, will train a “farmbot” to herd livestock, keep an eye on their health, and check they have enough pasture to graze on. Sick and injured animals will be identified using thermal and vision sensors that detect changes in body temperature and walking gait, says Salah Sukkarieh of the University of Sydney, who will carry out the trial on several farms in central New South Wales. “You’ve also got colour, texture and shape sensors looking down at the ground to check pasture quality,” he says. The robot, which has not yet been named, is a more sophisticated version of an earlier model, Shrimp, which was designed to herd groups of 20 to 150 dairy cows.”

13)      Skimmers Found at Walmart: A Closer Look

There are two interesting points about this article: the first is how sophisticated “skimmers” have become as they are now almost invisible overlays, and the second is how far behind the US is with respect to basic credit/ATM card security. Skimmers are of little use if the cards are smartcards, and yet US financial institutions and retailers have dragged their heels with respect to the use of modern (i.e. decades old) anti-fraud technology.

“The Mercator Advisory Group notes that only 60 percent of all credit cards in the United States have been updated with chip cards, with debit cards lagging further behind. Even so, only 20 percent of card terminals in the U.S. have been activated for chip use as of April 2016, Mercator found. The United States is the last of the G20 nations to move to chip-based cards — much to the delight of fraudsters and organized cybercrime gangs that have siphoned tens of millions of credit and debit cards in major data breaches at retailers these past few years. Financial industry consultant Aite Group predicts that credit card fraud stemming from hacking will reach a record level in 2016 — $4 billion. Aite Group says fraudsters are busy milking this cash cow for all it’s worth as U.S. merchants start to pivot toward chip-card transactions.”

14)      3D printed titanium suffers from porosity that can cause breakage, CMU study reveals

You rarely read a negative article about 3D printing so this one really stood out. I’ve carried lots of articles about printing with titanium (it is used in aerospace and medical) but this is the first one I’ve seen which highlights shortcomings. I suspect this is more significant to aerospace where strength is important, rather than medical where biocompatibility is important.

“Titanium alloys can be found everywhere nowadays. Being extremely strong, lightweight and resistant to corrosion and high temperatures, its used in everything from military equipment to commercial jets and tennis rackets. What’s more, thanks to 3D printing the costly material can be used more effectively and on a smaller scale. But a new study by researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) suggests that 3D printing inserts several flaws into the material, which can decrease the material’s resistance to fatigue and lead to breakage. The solution might be in the powder’s production process.”

15)      5 Myths About 5G

This is a very good article which covers the points made by an industry veteran regarding 5G wireless. I found the fact that 5G will not likely impact spectrum or capital spending to be particularly significant as I can almost predict a series of predictions about the opposite coming out of the industry analysts.

“One of the boldest statements in Onoe’s speech was that deploying 5G will not require a ton of investment.  … But rather than requiring a complete overhaul of existing networks as some imagine, Onoe believes 5G will be deployed largely on existing infrastructure. Better service, he insists, does not always correlate with greater capital expenditures. NTT DOCOMO’s 600 billion yen in capital expenditures last year marked a 15-year low, even as the data traffic across its networks grew 6300 percent since 2000. In fact, Onoe actually expects capital expenditures for NTT DOCOMO to drop throughout 5G deployment, which he says would keep with trends for earlier wireless generations. To illustrate his point, Onoe opened a chart of the company’s capital expenditures over the past 20 years and asked the audience to guess when the company rolled out 3G and 4G LTE service. It’s impossible to tell based on expenditures alone. “For LTE, there was no increase in CapEx before the LTE launch,” he says. “That’s a fact””

16)      Fearing forced Windows 10 upgrades, users are disabling critical updates instead

I’m a big fan of Windows 10 but Microsoft recently crossed the line into malware territory when it used deceptive techniques to get people to upgrade. The natural response to malware is to remove it and, unsurprisingly, some people have elected to fully disable Windows updates. I suspect that it not what Microsoft intended.

“Microsoft stepped on the gas in its quest to drive Windows 7 and 8 users to Windows 10 over the past couple of weeks, rolling the upgrade out as a Recommended update. Watch out! The only behavior that could deny the Windows 10 upgrade before—closing the pop-up by pressing the X in the upper-right corner—now counts as consent for the upgrade, and worse, the upgrade installation can automatically begin even if you take no action whatsoever. It’s nasty business, and it’s tricking legions of happy Windows 7 and 8 users into Windows 10. Over the past week, I’ve received more contact from readers about this issue than I have about everything else I’ve written over the rest of my career combined. But beyond merely burning bridges with consumers, these forced, non-consensual upgrades could have more insidious consequences.”

17)      Crowdfunding tech can serve backers poorly, even when the thing gets made

This is a lengthy discussion of the weaknesses and failings of crowdfunding, which is a largely unregulated financial market. It’s worth noting the asymmetrical risk/return profile with crowdfunding: if you put in $100 and everything goes well you end up with a $100 product. If it doesn’t go well you lose your $100. So why not wait until the product is on the market – especially since most gadgets drop in price pretty quickly.

“Just last August, our sister site TechHive wrote “The FitNatic Nourish, and other cautionary crowdfunding tales,” in part to explain why TechHive had backed off further from covering crowdfunding campaigns. The article lists several major electronics projects that had failed to deliver, most in the $100,000s, and one in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. Since then—less than a year—projects totalling nearly $50 million, about half raised at Kickstarter, have had creating firms go bankrupt, teeter on the edge of partial failure, or have seen a significant delay. And that’s just a tally of some of the highest-profile ones, not a comprehensive look at the entire field.”

18)      Google Steps Up Pressure on Partners Tardy in Updating Android

One of the great things about Android is that it is open source. Unfortunately that also means there are lots of small vendors who lack the resources to deliver updated software for their devices in the market. What this article shows is that, strangely enough, carriers are a major roadblock to software updates, which give you another reason to own an unlocked phone since you get those updates directly from the manufacturer.

“Getting phone makers and carriers to update to the latest version of Android has been one of the thorniest challenges facing Google as it tries to widen the use of its mobile software and generate more sales from its apps and web services. Now, Google is getting serious about remedying what ails Android, and it’s using both carrots and sticks to get partners to keep the world’s most popular mobile operating system more up to date. The issue — a mishmash of different smartphones running outdated software lacking the latest security and features — has plagued Android since its debut in 2007. But Google has stepped up its efforts recently, accelerating security updates, rolling out technology workarounds and reducing phone testing requirements. The Alphabet Inc. unit is also getting tougher, drawing up rankings that could shame some phone makers into better behavior, according to people familiar with the situation.”

19)      The future of ultra-low-powered displays is finally in living color

Displays are becoming more common in advertising but they are quite power hungry. E Ink only consumes power when the display is changed, and, since the response time is very slow, they aren’t going to be showing video. So, as the article suggests, a small solar array and a battery is all you’d need to have an advertisement which changes every few minutes or so.

“The new display, which E Ink will publicly demonstrate for the first time, is a 20-inch, 2500 x 1600 resolution display that actually shares monochrome E Ink’s impressive power capabilities. Mancini told Mashable that it’s equally power-efficient. He explained that it could be used in bus stop signage. “Bus stops are powered with solar cells, you could power this with solar cells,” he said.”

20)      Norway consumer body stages live app terms reading

This is a funny, but meaningful exercise showing the pointless legal gobbledygook associated with all many of technology nowadays. If the Terms and Conditions for 33 apps are longer than the New Testament they are probably even more opaque, meaning few lawyers, let along consumers could hope to understand them. This is particularly interesting given that Tesla now offers up disclaimers as sufficient justification for unsafe technology (see item 2).

“The average Norwegian has 33 apps, the Norwegian Consumer Council says, whose terms and conditions together run longer than the New Testament. To prove the “absurd” length, the council got Norwegians to read each of them out in real time on their website. The reading finished on Wednesday, clocking in at 31:49:11.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 20th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 20th 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)          Wireless, Super-Fast Internet Access Is Coming to Your Home

If there is one industry poised for disruption, especially in North America, it is broadband Internet service. A legacy of incompetent or corrupt policy choices have led to an industry bereft of competition which is excessively profitable, fat, stupid, and lazy. Wireless broadband of the type described in this article is an obvious solution, provided regulators do not step in and demand high license fees for the spectrum. License fees are essentially an entirely artificial barrier to entry imposed to ensure only entrenched players can buy new spectrum. I would argue there is no reason to believe spectrum is scarce within the context of modern radio technologies.

“In the gleaming but quiet headquarters of a startup called Starry—above the din of Boston’s Downtown Crossing—40 engineers are toiling to achieve a disruptive vision: delivering Internet access to apartments and businesses, cheaply and wirelessly, nearly 100 times faster than the average home connection today. The idea of gigabit-per-second wireless service to homes has been around for at least 15 years, but technology advancements make the idea far more plausible today. The high-capacity wireless technology involved—known by a chunky piece of jargon, “millimeter wave active phased array”—is now much less expensive and bulky thanks to advances in microelectronics and software.”

2)          Theranos voids two years of Edison test results: WSJ

Well – no harm no foul, I guess. Unless you happened to be somebody whose blood came back OK and now a problem has progressed for a couple years without treatment. This story just keeps getting better and better.

“Blood-testing firm Theranos Inc notified the U.S. federal health regulators that it voided results from its Edison blood-testing devices for two years, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. The company informed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that it has issued tens of thousands of corrected blood-test reports to doctors and patients, nullifying some results and revising others, the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. The corrected reports include the Edison results and many tests run on traditional laboratory machines, the Journal said.”–finance.html

3)          Goldman Sachs Upgrades Tesla Hours Before Underwriting Its $2 Billion Offering

This is not really about technology but it shows the depths to which sell-side research has dropped. Most brokers have a compliance department but some have a “compliance” department which is not tasked with compliance with the law but plausible deniability. The 2008 crisis showed that, no matter how egregious the conduct, nobody goes to jail and the worst you can expect is a small financial settlement as a cost of doing business.

“On Wednesday morning, Goldman Sachs’ research analysts upgraded the stock of Tesla from neutral to buy, raising Goldman’s six-month target for the stock to $250. “We do not believe Tesla shares are fully capturing the company’s disruptive potential,” wrote Goldman Sachs’ auto analyst Patrick Archambault. Shares of the electric car maker increased by 3% on Wednesday. Hours later, Tesla announced that it would raise about $2 billion in an equity offering with the help of Goldman Sachs.”

4)          In Oracle v. Google, a Nerd Subculture Is on Trial

To people who haven’t heard about this, Oracle is suing Google over Google’s use of the Java API (Application Programing Interface). Oracle’s efforts are rooted in a desire to appear relevant but a ruling in their favor would cause pandemonium in the software industry. As is typical the case is not about truth but about befuddling technologically ignorant jury members and the judge.

“The problem with Oracle v. Google is that everyone actually affected by the case knows what an API is, but the whole affair is being decided by people who don’t, from the normals in the jury box to the normals at the Supreme Court—which declined to hear the case in 2015, on the advice of the normals at the Solicitor General’s office, who perhaps did not grasp exactly how software works. In a world where Silicon Valley is coming into dominance, Oracle v. Google is an unusual instance in which the nerds are getting totally owned by the normals. Their judgment on the technologies they have birthed is being overridden by old people in black robes; their beloved traditions and mythologies around free and open source software are being scoffed at by corporate stiffs in suits as inconsistent hippie nonsense.”

5)          4 hurdles that keep virtual reality from being mainstream

The article has a misleading headline: it should be “4 uncritical and irrelevant platitudes about VR.” VR is an old technology which has been through a number of previous hype cycles though modern VR is much better than previous incarnations. Just like the hype about 3D printing, the hype surrounding VR is built on a number of assumptions which are mostly speculative. Regardless, like any display technology the replacement cycle will be very long and even if you believe unfounded growth projections the market will quickly saturate.

“Virtual reality is not like anything that’s come before it. This is something that you need to remember. As the moving parts of the virtual reality hype machine have come together into a churning monster, comparisons have been made to failed technology trends of the past: It’s going to be like 3D TV; It’s too expensive; It’s not good enough; We’re not ready for it.”

6)          LendingClub Tumbles After Investors Suspend Debt Purchases

Creditors can be so fickle: find “faulty” internal controls and they don’t want to lend you money anymore. Go figure. At the core of most fintech companies is a willingness to accept higher risk and a lower regulatory/compliance burden. Oddly enough regulations are there for a reason.

“LendingClub Corp. shares resumed their slide in New York trading Tuesday amid a scandal that cost the chief executive officer his job, prompted investors to suspend debt purchases and spurred a U.S. Justice Department probe. The stock tumbled 11 percent to $3.52 at 1:23 p.m. following a regulatory filing from the company late Monday that said strategies to restore investor confidence and obtain new capital for loans might include equity or debt sales, fee changes or other moves that could be “costly or dilutive” to shareholders. The shares, which traded as high as $11.25 in January, plunged 51 percent last week after the surprise departure of Chairman and CEO Renaud Laplanche and the disclosure of faulty internal controls.”

7)          IBM Scientists Achieve Storage Memory Breakthrough

Novel memory technologies are a bit like novel batteries in that there are many announcements but very few actual commercial products. Over a 35 year career in technology I’ve seen only flash memory become a significant part of the market – though I am hopeful Intel/Micron 3D Crosspoint technology will make a dent. One thing you can be sure about IB is that, no matter how brilliant their scientists, management will manage to screw it up and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

“For the first time, scientists at IBM (NYSE: IBM) Research have demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM). The current memory landscape spans from venerable DRAM to hard disk drives to ubiquitous flash. But in the last several years PCM has attracted the industry’s attention as a potential universal memory technology based on its combination of read/write speed, endurance, non-volatility and density. For example, PCM doesn’t lose data when powered off, unlike DRAM, and the technology can endure at least 10 million write cycles, compared to an average flash USB stick, which tops out at 3,000 write cycles.”

8)          The myth of TV cord-cutting

Actually, cord cutting is a reality and the impact is being felt by pay TV vendors. The point the author appears to be making is that since the US broadband market is entirely dysfunctional due to a legacy of bad regulation, they will figure out how to make you pay up regardless. That’s as may be only as long as the regulatory and technological context allows the US telecommunications infrastructure to continue sliding farther and farther behind the rest of the world. Either the regulatory environment will swing in favor of consumers or technological progress (i.e. via advanced wireless technology, see item 1) will disrupt the broadband industry.

“You’ve heard the rumors, maybe even felt the temptation. Everybody else is doing it, right? Cutting the cord and watching TV over the Internet. Except it’s not true. Cord-cutters are rare beasts, like white rhinos or Beyonce-haters. And there are good reasons for that. To begin with, even if you drop pay TV, you still need an Internet connection — generally provided by the very same companies, folks like Comcast and Verizon Fios. And their subscription packages are hedged to ensure that if your TV bill goes down, your Internet bill will go up. At the same time, cord-cutters often lose out on a huge swath of content that’s available only through pay TV, including a lot of high-demand sports.”

9)          BBC set to launch Britflix rival to Netflix after John Whittingdale approves subscription streaming

It seems to me “still in the early stages of development” is pretty much at odds with “set to launch”. Nevertheless I figure that eventually many content owners such as BBC will set up their own streaming services and bypass the need for a company like Netflix. Of course, there is no chance every one of them will be able to collect a $10 monthly fee so prices will have to come down a lot. Essentially you will “pick and pay” streaming services or put up with advertising or more likely both.

“The BBC is to push ahead with plans to launch a British rival to Netflix, after getting the go-ahead from the government to develop a new subscription streaming service. The project – which is understood to have the working title, Britflix – is believed to be a collaboration between the corporation and ITV, its main commercial rival, and is still in the early stages of development.”

10)      BitTorrent Inc. announces live streaming TV service powered by P2P

Traditional streaming services require sizeable data centers to deliver content. BitTorrent’s approach is entirely different in that users both stream and supply (presumably legal and licensed) content. The problem with this and pretty much any emerging streaming service is content: if you don’t have enough people won’t use it and if people don’t use it you won’t have enough “peers” to stream the content.

“BitTorrent Inc., the company behind the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, is planning to launch a live streaming TV service with both free and paid options. The company claims it will have better performance than existing services that broadcast live channels over the Internet. Unveiled today, BitTorrent Live is “a multichannel, live, and linear video streaming platform” based on a peer-to-peer live video streaming protocol that BitTorrent has been developing for a few years. No availability date was announced, but BitTorrent said it will be available on Apple TV, iOS, Android, and Mac.”

11)      One billion hours on, and HGST still rules the roost for hard disk reliability

This article is interesting due to the comments regarding why they choose rather unreliable HDDs: namely due to availability. HDDs will be around for a long time but are probably going to be rare in laptops within the next year as SSD prices drop and are going to be pushed off to archive storage as enterprises shift to much faster but more expensive all flash arrays.

“The company continues to substantially stick with Seagate 4TB units, in spite of somewhat worse failure rates, due to a combination of better pricing and availability. Backblaze says that it typically orders disks 5,000 to 10,000 at a time, and while it has found suppliers of Seagate and (Western Digital-owned) HGST that can handle these orders, it has struggled to do so consistently for Western Digital and Toshiba disks. This availability concern also pushes the company toward 4TB units over 6 or 8TB ones; although the pricing of those is starting to make them cost-effective, their bulk availability is still limited.”

12)      Tesla rolls out update to make it harder to crash a self-parking car

This update sounds a way of pushing product liability onto the driver rather than the vendor. Any self-driving car should simply not be capable of causing a collision and rather than perfecting that angle it seems the company is focusing on making sure the driver is legally responsible for whatever happens to the car’s hapless victims.

“A posting on Reddit today indicates that Tesla is rolling an update out to its vehicles to require that drivers confirm the direction of travel when Summon is activated — possibly a direct response to last week’s news of a Model S in Utah that autonomously crashed into the back of a parked trailer while in Summon mode. As with other Tesla software upgrades, the latest update is happening over the air. Summon, the self-parking feature that first rolled out in January, can be activated two ways: using a phone app, or via the gear selector from inside the car. Prior to this update, a self-parking maneuver initiated from inside the car using the gear selector would’ve caused the car to drive itself forward by default (though the driver could choose reverse from the center display). Now, the driver will need to choose forward or reverse each and every time they trigger Summon.”

13)      The empty brain … : your brain is not a computer

This is an excellent article which more or less demolishes a lot of the stuff you’ve been reading about artificial intelligence over the past few years. The one major point I disagree with is the idea the brain will never be simulated: it is a physical thing and there is nothing magical preventing its simulation. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“Our shoddy thinking about the brain has deep historical roots, but the invention of computers in the 1940s got us especially confused. For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer. To see how vacuous this idea is, consider the brains of babies. Thanks to evolution, human neonates, like the newborns of all other mammalian species, enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively. A baby’s vision is blurry, but it pays special attention to faces, and is quickly able to identify its mother’s. It prefers the sound of voices to non-speech sounds, and can distinguish one basic speech sound from another. We are, without doubt, built to make social connections.”

14)      Google’s Tensor Processing Unit could advance Moore’s Law 7 years into the future

Articles like these simply reiterate that most people have no idea what Moore’s Law is. Regardless, it is not exactly new that a special purpose piece of hardware such as this does something faster than a general purpose computer. The thing is that the number of applications for special purpose systems tends to quite small compared to the number of applications for general purpose systems.

“Forget the CPU, GPU, and FPGA, Google says its Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU, advances machine learning capability by a factor of three generations. “TPUs deliver an order of magnitude higher performance per watt than all commercially available GPUs and FPGA,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai during the company’s I/O developer conference on Wednesday. TPUs have been a closely guarded secret of Google, but Pichai said the chips powered the AlphaGo computer that beat Lee Sedol, the world champion in the incredibly complicated game called Go.”

15)      Chromebooks outsold Macs for the first time in the US

Chromebooks are flying pretty much below the radar screen for most people. These are essentially low cost netbooks with limited on board storage and which use cloud services for a lot of their function. The low cost makes them well suited for K-12 students and the reliance on connectivity makes control of what goes on a lot easier. Essentially Chromebooks are actually accomplishing what the iPad was supposed to do.

“Google’s low-cost Chromebooks outsold Apple’s range of Macs for the first time in the US recently. While IDC doesn’t typically break out Windows vs. Chromebook sales, IDC analyst Linn Huang confirmed the milestone to The Verge. “Chrome OS overtook Mac OS in the US in terms of shipments for the first time in 1Q16,” says Huang. “Chromebooks are still largely a US K-12 story.””

16)      Filmmakers Ask “Pirate” to Take Polygraph, Backtrack When He Agrees

What is interesting about this is not so much the courtroom drama but the fact that polygraph tests are in any way considered a valid tool. They are complete pseudoscience which can easily be spoofed. Using polygraph results is not altogether different from permitting horoscope readings in the courtroom.

“Not all alleged downloaders are eager to pay up though. In fact, many don’t respond to the settlement letters they receive or claim that someone else must have downloaded the film using their connection. This is also true in the case Dallas Buyers Club filed against California resident Michael Amhari. The filmmakers claimed that Amhari downloaded a pirated copy of the movie after he was linked to a pirating IP-address and demanded a $10,000 settlement. However, Amhari denies any involvement, and when the copyright holders demanded a polygraph test to prove it, he agreed. However, soon after, Dallas Buyers Club’s attorney retracted the offer.”

17)      Updated Skimer malware infects ATMs worldwide

A number of years ago I was served a bunch of counterfeit bills by a BMO bank machine. Fortunately, I was in a position to get my money back. That had to be an inside job – they don’t just give drivers a sack of money and tell them to fill up the machines so somebody in the ATM service business was laundering counterfeit money through the machines. That’s also probably how viruses get installed on the machines. The sad reality is that most ATMs were designed long ago and run vulnerable Windows XP rather than a more robust operating system.

“Researchers from Kaspersky Labs warn that the Skimer malware, first spotted in 2009, is once again infecting ATM machines worldwide. An improved version of Backdoor.Win32.Skimer has been discovered infecting machines worldwide. The new Skimer allows criminal access to card data, including PIN numbers, as well as to the actual cash located in the machine. The malicious installers use the packer Thermida to disguise the Skimer malware which is then installed on the ATM. If the ATM file system is FAT32, the malware drops the file netmgr.dll in the folder C:\Windows\System32. If the ATM has an NTFS file system, netmgr.dll is placed in the executable file of the NTFS data stream, which makes detection and analysis of the malware more difficult.”

18)      SAP Counting on Customers to Go All-In on Cloud Migration With HANA

Both Oracle and SAP are suffering from the same problem, namely the centralized database paradigm which has been their bread and butter is not particularly relevant in a cloud based world. Not only that but the alternative to staggeringly expensive data base licenses free open source software which is already in broad use. As the article briefly mentions the challenge is not in getting new customers but hanging on to a shrinking pool of the one you have.

“SAP, EMC and the other usual suspects are all saying the same things. They are in the fight for their lives to win and keep enterprise IT customers. That’s because they are scrambling for a market that is shrinking and being disrupted by cloud computing. SAP’s effort in the cloud, the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP), “is the key to the company’s future—it is that simple,” said SAP Enterprise Platform President Steve Lucas. He’s right, because the company is all-in on the HANA in-memory platform, S/4HANA ERP applications and HCP. There is no turning back for SAP or its customers. As much as SAP and the other established vendors want new customers, the battle is much more about retaining current ones.”

19)      Robots have been about to take all the jobs for more than 200 years

The article takes a walk down memory lane and shows that the current hysteria about robots “takin our jerbs” is nothing new even though all that has actually happened is that labor productivity increased along with the standard of living. Most of the consumer products we have today, in particular the electronics, would not exist if not for extensive automation. It is almost impossible to assemble a smartphone by hand, let alone an integrated circuit.

“Technology has always triggered fears of mass unemployment. In 1811 it was the Luddites, who assumed they were done for. In the 1930s, it was vaunted economist John Maynard Keynes, who implicated technology as one reason for the unemployment of the Great Depression. The same persistent fear has been playing out in the pages of newspapers for the last century …”

20)      HP’s first 3-D printers are finally here

HP is late to the 3D printing game but it knows a few things about the potential end markets since it already sells a lot of high end printing gear to enterprise customers. Despite what you might read the technology can’t printed electronics nor is it likely anywhere near fast enough or cheap enough (by a couple orders of magnitude) to replace injection molding. Nevertheless, assuming the device do what they are supposed to do, their speed and quality may increase the total addressable market for 3D printers.

“HP Inc. — the PC and printing portion of the old company that emerged from last year’s corporate split — today announced what it calls the first production-ready commercial 3-D printing system, one that it intends to spearhead a years-long campaign to remake manufacturing. It’s called the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution, and the company says the two models it has introduced are aimed at model shops and 3-D print service companies. (They’ll hit the market later this year and early in 2017 with prices starting at $130,000.) Companies like Nike and the automaker BMW have been trying it out. Nike sees possibilities in personalizing its shoes and other athletic wear. BMW wants better ways to build prototypes.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 13th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 13th 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)          Linux will be the major operating system of 21st century cars

Even though there are plenty of Blackberry analysts who believe QNX (part of Blackberry) will rule the automotive world, this is actually an open secret. While QNX has its merits it is a proprietary OS meaning you have to pay for it and there are limited development options, making it anathema today. QNX’s real time features become far less important as embedded computers become more powerful and more capable.

“Linux doesn’t just run your servers and, via Android, your phones. It also runs your cars. Of course, no one has ever bought a car for its operating system. But Linux is already powering the infotainment, heads-up display and connected car 4G and Wi-Fi systems for such major car manufacturers as Toyota, Nissan, and Jaguar Land Rover and Linux is on its way to Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru cars. Software companies are also getting into this Internet of mobile things act. Movimento, Oracle, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, UIEvolution and VeriSilicon have all joined the Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) project. The AGL is a collaborative open-source project devoted to creating a common, Linux-based software stack for the connected car.”

2)          A legal battle about the Klingon language could affect the future of computer programming

As the article points out the issues at play go far beyond who if anybody “owns” the Klingon language and the issues is of particular significance within the context of the legal battle between Oracle and Google on the use of the Java computer language. Oracle is struggling for relevance and it has the copious good fortune of finding itself the proud owner of Java through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Java is used in a vast assortment of Internet applications but that will likely change if Oracle is successful as it might well be because Oracle could then assert ownership of anything which written in Java. A legal victory for Oracle would immediately kill any development work on non-GPL open source platforms.

“Late last month, the Language Creation Society filed an amicus brief siding with the filmmakers. In a document written partly in Klingon, the society argued that while Paramount commissioned the creation of the language in 1984 from linguist Marc Okrand, the language “has taken on a life of its own.” There are groups of fans whose only shared language is Klingon. People have tried to raise children as native Klingon speakers. If a language is copyrighted, the group argued, then all ideas subsequently expressed in it could be too. Owning a language would mean having the right to block any future work in that language. That matters to the makers of Axanar. It could also really, really matter to the countless developers and programmers who work on programming languages, the ownership of which has been the subject of legal disputes in the US and Europe.”

3)          Samsung announces a massive 256GB microSD card

This announcement may sound like bragging but you know the device is going to see for less than $50 (below the floor cost of any HDD) within a couple years. A microSD is way too slow to use for a desktop but if they can make a 256G device which is less than a half a square centimeter and a millimeter thick you can see what is coming down the pipe in SSDs.

“The EVO Plus 256GB microSD card has read and write speeds of 95MB/s and 90MB/s respectively, and can store up to 55,200 photos, 12 hours of 4K video, 33 hours of full HD video, or 23,500 songs. Samsung says the card will come with a 10-year limited warranty and will be available in over 50 countries beginning in June for $249.99.”

4)          Nissan EVs to join the grid in UK trial

This idea gets floated every now and then and it is idiotic. All batteries have a durability limit which is a function of the number and depth of charges. For example, a battery which has a 1,000 charge life expectancy might drop to 250 charges if fully discharged or if the temperature is high. The battery is, by far the most expensive part of any EV and by “joining the grid” hapless consumers would be take years off the viable life of their vehicles with no real quid pro quo. Note that the price for the storage system works out to about $1,137.50/kilowatt hour – remember that the next time somebody claims battery prices are dropping drastically.

“The vehicle-to-grid (V2G) trial scheme will see 100 V2G units installed at locations agreed upon by individual and fleet owners of Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 vehicles. Having charged their cars during low-cost, off-peak times, owners can hook their vehicle up to the V2G unit and use it to supply power to their home or office during peak periods. Alternatively, the power can be fed back into the UK National Grid for a bit of extra cash. The trial will be a first for the UK, but follows in the footsteps of a similar trial in Denmark involving 40 V2G units that began in January. Nissan claims that if the 18,000 Nissan EVs currently on British roads were plugged into the energy network at once, they could provide the same amount of power as a 180 MW power plant.”

5)          Tesla Model S driver claims his car crashed into a trailer on its own, Tesla says ‘Summon’ was activated

To recap, the unoccupied Tesla Model S spontaneously crashed into the truck and Tesla immediately blamed the owner. It turns out the car had beta software which enables the vehicle to move by itself (though evidently not safely) and they fault the driver for letting it do so. The real question is under what context any unoccupied vehicle should be allowed to “drive itself on short distances” without anyone in the car unless there is a failsafe? It is astounding a dangerous feature such as this could be allowed on the road until it is fully debugged. We should be thankful a person wasn’t in its path.

“A Tesla Model S driver in Utah, Jared Overton, says that he parked his car behind a trailer before running an errand for a few minutes. When he returned to his vehicle, he says he found it crashed in the back of the trailer with the windshield crushed by the trailer’s bed – picture above. The owner claims the car decided to move forward on its own, but after verifying the logs, Tesla claims that the ‘Summon’ feature, which allows the vehicle to drive itself on short distances without anyone in the car, was activated seconds after the car was parked.”

6)          IBM Researcher: Fears Over Artificial Intelligence Are ‘Overblown’

Most of the mass hysteria over AI has died down even though I’m still seeing a lot of “robots are gonna take our jerbs” articles. The funny thing about the fear of AI is that it mostly arises from those who have no idea what it is (including various billionaires and physicists) but who are reacting to what it might be. Actual AI experts are generally baffled by the concern.

“Murray Campbell, a research scientist and senior manager with IBM, doesn’t think we have reason to worry about artificial intelligence in the near term. Campbell has been studying AI for decades since he was recruited to help develop Deep Blue in 1989, the IBM computer famous for defeating former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. His current work in the company’s Cognitive Computing division examines artificially intelligent approaches to reasoning, planning, and decision making, and he regularly collaborates with the Watson team.”

7)          Silicon Valley’s newest trend is realizing its most insane perks aren’t sustainable

Start-ups don’t offer perks because of a desire to be nice to employees but because the job market is brutally competitive. As wasteful as these perks are, companies like DropBox are in competition for talent with companies willing to waste even more money. These cutbacks are being done either because the company is running out of money or because they want to put lipstick on the pig prior to an IPO by slashing expenses. Either way, talent with go elsewhere.

“Employee perks like climbing walls, vacation money, and on-site barbers have been a signature part of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. But with venture capital funding drying up and cash-strapped businesses eager to get liabilities off the books, some companies have had to face the unthinkable: limiting the free-for-all. In March, file-sharing site Dropbox told employees it was nixing its free laundry service and shuttle bus to San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Once-unlimited guests at the office’s free dinner hour and open-bar Fridays were capped at five per month. In a staff email, the company said it was spending at least $25,000 per person on perks each year. That’s about $38 million annually, according to the Chronicle’s estimate, based on the Dropbox’s roughly 1,500-person headcount.”

8)          5G, The Long Road Ahead

There are some who hope that 5G wireless may lead to an upgrade cycle in mobile phones. I am skeptical since LTE is more than fast enough for any function a smartphone could need bandwidth for. Plus, 5G phones would be expected to have poor battery life due to the complexity of the receiver. What 5G might do is disrupt the bloated and inefficient fixed broadband industry in North America, which benefits from inept and corrupt policy decisions leading to a lack of competition. Few companies can afford to dig up roads to lay fiber but you could deploy 5G wireless in a town quickly for not so much cost.

“Over the past year or so, 5G has become a hot topic of discussion in telecom industry, with operators rushing to make premature announcements. But in reality 5G hasn’t been defined, and commercial user equipment is not expected to hit the market until at least 2020.”

9)          Wireless charging startup uBeam accused of being the next Theranos

One of my rules of thumb is that people are singularly ill-informed when it comes to energy. Any huckster worth his salt should be able to make a decent living off energy scams. I’m not suggesting that uBeam is a scam, of course, but physics is well understood and the idea a group of bright eyed young entrepreneurs would somehow make new science is a bit of a stretch, no matter how well financed they are or who’s money they’ve taken. Talk about near zero odds of a return of investment. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“uBeam could be vaporware, according to a blogger claiming to be uBeam’s former VP of engineering. They accuse the startup of being unable to fulfill promises made about its technology. uBeam says it’s building a device that could wirelessly charge your phone or other electronics from several meters away. But in a series of blog posts about the startup, the author asserts that the product is a sham. The criticism will increase the pressure on uBeam to reveal a working prototype.”

10)      Theft of Kickstarter Raised Funds

I bet the guy who made this blog post wasn’t acting under the advice of a lawyer, but the whole thing shows what happens when you turn large sums of money over to people who have no idea what they are doing: it’s amateur night at the zoo. It ain’t theft until there is a conviction (good luck with that) and, regardless, like any other 3D printer Kickstarter project, the odds it’ll see the light of day are near zero. Either way the money was gone but at least somebody got a nice renovation out of it.

“To date, Peachy Printer has received a total of $107,000 in payments from David since the initial transfer of $200,000.  You can see why I thought that this was a viable solution, he’d paid back nearly 1/3rd of the stolen funds.  The last of these payments was on March 2nd 2015, after which I was unable to contact him for months.  When I finally did speak to him, I found that he had gotten a lawyer and quite drastically changed his tone.  While I turned my energy towards new solutions nearly a year ago, I do still expect to see repayment from David at some point.  Our last point of contact with his lawyer states that they are calculating the amount that is owed.   My understanding of David’s financial situation is that he still has the ability to repay us upon completion of his house due to his builders mortgage.”

11)      PayPal stops protecting you when crowdfunding goes bust

Any unregulated financial market devolves to fraud (see item 10) and Bitcoin and crowdfunding sites are ripe for the picking. It is surprising PayPal was actually covering losses because, as the article shows the loss ratio is far too high to be sustainable. In particular, PayPal would have been a hedge against losses associated which these crazy schemes.

“PayPal won’t be so crowdfunding-friendly in the future. The payment giant is dropping Purchase Protection for crowdfunding projects as of a user agreement change coming June 25th. From then on, you back efforts at your own risk — if a campaign goes bust or otherwise doesn’t deliver what you were promised, you can’t dispute the PayPal charge to get your cash back. You might not want to take a chance on that too-cool-to-be-true gadget, then. The move is unfortunate if you like to give artists and inventors a helping hand, but it’s not all that shocking in light of crowdfunding’s riskiness. Kickstarter notes that about 9 percent of its projects never deliver, for example — if the failure rate is similar or worse on those crowdfunding sites that take PayPal, that’s a lot of potential refunds.”

12)      Italian Military to Save Up to 29 Million Euro by Migrating to LibreOffice

A few million here, a few million there – pretty soon you are talking serious money. LibreOffice is not as functional as Word (and it lacks integration with things like mail) but it is more than enough for the overwhelming majority of users. The problem you run into is then your employer runs Word and you run LibreOffice and this leads to the occasional compatibility issue. That becomes a non-problem when the whole organization shifts to the platform.

“We said it before, and we’ll say it again, this is the smartest choice a government institution can do. And to back up this statement, the Italian Ministry of Defense announced that they expect to save between 26 and 29 million Euro over the next few years by migrating to the LibreOffice open-source software for productivity and adopting the Open Document Format (ODF). “Taking into account the deadlines set by our current Microsoft Office licenses, we will have 75,000 (70%) LibreOffice users by 2017, and an additional 25,000 by 2020,” said General Camillo Sileo, Deputy Chief of Department VI, Systems Department C4I, for the Transformation of Defence and General Staff, for ISA (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations).”

13)      Facebook news selection is in hands of editors not algorithms, documents show

This news caused quite a fuss but I really don’t understand why: Facebook is not a news organization and news organizations have become so untrustworthy and biased the term “journalistic ethics” has become an antilogy. Facebook is in the business of reselling your private information and selling you things. If they believe they can sell you ideas they will: heck the New York Times decided to sell the American public on the Iraq War so why would anybody expect Facebook is different?

“Leaked documents show how Facebook, now the biggest news distributor on the planet, relies on old-fashioned news values on top of its algorithms to determine what the hottest stories will be for the 1 billion people who visit the social network every day. The documents, given to the Guardian, come amid growing concerns over how Facebook decides what is news for its users. This week the company was accused of an editorial bias against conservative news organizations, prompting calls for a congressional inquiry from the US Senate commerce committee chair, John Thune.”

14)      Flaw-ridden bloatware puts nearly every Lenovo PC at risk from hackers

Lenovo seems inordinately fond of bloatware and has even been found to install malware on their PCs ( Usually they react with horror – at least once they have been found out. I wouldn’t touch a Lenovo PC with a barge pole but somehow they manage to sell them, even to businesses.

“A serious security vulnerability has been discovered in software that’s installed on almost every Lenovo notebook, tablet, and PC — potentially affecting millions of users. The affected Lenovo Security Center software allows users to see the overall health of their device, from hardware and software status, network connections, and installed security features. But security researchers have found a way to raise the privileges of the software, which could let an attacker gain access to the whole system, according to a soon-to-be-released blog post by security firm Trustwave. In other words, a hacker can run malware at a system-wide level — even if the app doesn’t appear to be running. The good news is that Lenovo quickly patched the software after details of the vulnerability were privately disclosed.”

15)      PSA: Latest Update to ES File Explorer Brings Adware to Your Lockscreen

I had ES File Explorer installed on my phone and the DU Battery Booster malware popped up. I initially thought it was part of an OS upgrade but once it started serving ads it was clear it was malware but it too me some time to figure out the source. Getting rid of it was easy enough – I deleted ES File Explorer and strongly encourage everybody to do the same: like Lenovo once a company goes down the path of serving up malware it never comes back. For the record, it took 50% more time to charge my battery with “DU Battery Booster” than without it.

“However, recent changes to ES File Explorer is signalling its decline. And the newest update might just be the last straw that breaks the camels back, as ES File Explorer now bundles in adware. This adware comes in the form of DU Battery Booster, which adds in a lockscreen on your phone and brings ads directly to your lockscreen, irrespective of your choice. There was no intimation, no choice, no changelog to mention the same; all features which are characteristic of such deceptive “Booster” apps. Of course, users are not happy. The 1-star reviews have started flowing in …”

16)      Google bans ads for payday loans

A good first step but I doubt people run adblockers only because of payday loan scams. After all payday loans are legal but most other online ads are distracting, consume excessive bandwidth, are fraudulent or deliver malware. Those are far more of an issue than payday loans.

“Google will no longer show ads for payday loans, after deciding that it doesn’t want to promote predatory lending practices that are harmful to consumers. “Research has shown that these loans can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates for users so we will be updating our policies globally to reflect that,” Google’s product policy director, David Graff, writes in a blog post.”

17)      This $70 wireless gateway now blocks ads for anyone who connects to it

You can achieve the same thing with a Raspberry Pi and some open source software but this looks like a compelling price point, especially for a turnkey solution. The problem I’d see with this box is that in order for it to work the company has to remain in business, which is not an issue for open source products.

California startup XOware lets users who work on unsecured networks at a coffee shop or airport connect securely through a $40 XOkey USB device. This hardware stick works with an XOnet wireless gateway, a $70 compact router-sized box, which sits in a secure location — like your home or office network. Thanks to a software update earlier this year, the XOnet box now provides ad-blocking — allowing anyone who connects to be protected from potentially unsafe ads, without requiring browser plugins or extensions.”

18)      Nest Shares Thread Code

One of the many challenges with IoT going main stream is the lack of open standards. Thread is a mesh network architecture (meaning it still works if your router dies), which is nice, but the problems with IoT go way beyond the network protocol: the technology completely lacks robust security and is almost always reliant on a cloud server to function. Once the vendor goes out of business or discontinues support, all your gadgets stop working. That is a problem.

“Alphabet’s Nest Labs Inc. released OpenThread, a free open source version of the software it uses to enable the Thread protocol for the Internet of Things. The move marks a small but significant effort to accelerate adoption of its approach to interoperability in a highly fragmented market for smart home devices. Nest’s rivals including the Allseen Alliance and the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) have already made available open source reference code for their IoT application-layer protocols. Allseen’s Alljoyn was early to release software that has been adopted in a variety of shipping systems.”

19)      Swarm A.I. Correctly Predicts the Kentucky Derby, Accurately Picking all Four Horses of the Superfecta at 540 to 1 Odds

This item reminds me of the often cited “How Target Knew a High School Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Parents Did” ( story. Recall that Target is the same company which could not develop the computer systems to keep Canadian stores stocked nor the security to protect customer credit cards. Both are examples of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and selective recall. Selectively disclosed successes are irrelevant.

“If you’ve been following the predictions made by UNU, a new “Swarm Intelligence” platform from Unanimous A.I., you might bet on the Kentucky Derby this weekend and won big, really BIG. That’s because a day before the race, UNU’s picks were published for the first four horses, in order. It’s a bet called the Superfecta that paid 540 to 1 odds. And that’s exactly how the horses came in. And this is not the first stunning pick UNU has made.”

20)      DHL claims its drones are first to deliver

There is nothing technically challenging about flying a model airplane to pick up and deliver a package. The problem comes when something goes wrong: any aircraft capable of carrying any package would be lethal when it falls from the sky – even if the propeller blades didn’t slice the victim to pieces. I can see this being used in emergencies or warfare but do we want to risk death in order to deliver consumer products?

“Deutsche Post DHL, Germany’s market leader in shipping and logistics, said that its trial drone program delivered over 130 packages within the Bavarian town of Reit im Winkl between January and March this year. This makes DHL the first company worldwide to utilize drone technology to deliver parcels to customers, according to a press statement DHL released Monday. During the three month trial, residents were invited to drop off shipments in “packstations” – centers of parcel lockers run by the company for drones to carry off to another packstation, all without human aid. The Bonn-based company has dubbed its fleet of drones “parcelcopters,” which it first began testing in 2013. It aims to integrate them into its logistics chain to complete the “last mile” of deliveries.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 6th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 6th 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)          Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously.

I’ll count this as reason number 413 why you want to avoid using any Apple product or service. No doubt they are granted permission in a EULA nobody reads or understand. Apple has decided you don’t need offline access to your music and that’s all you need to know. I would not be surprised if an enterprising copyright lawyer could not make a case that Apple is breaking the law unless they have explicit permission to download every piece of music you have before downloading it. Mind you, as we’ve seen in the past, Apple doesn’t seem to think the law applies to their actions.

“What Amber explained was exactly what I’d feared: through the Apple Music subscription, which I had, Apple now deletes files from its users’ computers. When I signed up for Apple Music, iTunes evaluated my massive collection of Mp3s and WAV files, scanned Apple’s database for what it considered matches, then removed the original files from my internal hard drive. REMOVED them. Deleted. If Apple Music saw a file it didn’t recognize—which came up often, since I’m a freelance composer and have many music files that I created myself—it would then download it to Apple’s database, delete it from my hard drive, and serve it back to me when I wanted to listen, just like it would with my other music files it had deleted.”

2)          The Secret Culprit in the Theranos Mess

Like most Vanity Fair articles this one is pretty good. I don’t fault journalists in particular because it appears that skepticism in general is a lost art among both journalists and analysts. Commentators seem to take every utterance from CEOs and investors as gospel, especially if the speaker is a “billionaire”. Even when the claims fly in the face of what should be a basic knowledge of science, all they need to know is spoon fed by the companies and their shills. Eventually reality always intervenes.

“But if you peel back all of the layers of this tale, at the center you will find one of the more insidious culprits: the Silicon Valley tech press. They embraced Holmes and her start-up with a surprising paucity of questions about the technology she had supposedly developed. They praised her as “the next Steve Jobs,” over and over (the black turtleneck didn’t hurt), until it was no longer a question, but seemingly a fact. At TechCrunch Disrupt, blogger Jon Shieber had his blood drawn onstage as he interviewed her. There were no tough questions about whether Theranos’s technology actually worked; just praise. When it seemed that the tech press had vetted Holmes, she subsequently went mainstream. She got her New Yorker profile, and her face appeared on the cover of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, among others. (Holmes appeared on Vanity Fair’s New Establishment list and spoke at its 2015 New Establishment Summit.)”

3)          YouTube Said to Plan ‘Unplugged’ Online TV Service for 2017

This could end up being a major threat to the likes of Netflix, or it could simply be a complimentary service. Google already has the infrastructure to deal with the distribution of such a service, but the challenge is getting rights from content providers. There is already a lot of good content on YouTube (I have recently been watching the Arizona State University Origins Project lectures ( and I’m sure there is a lot more high quality stuff out there.

“YouTube is working on a paid subscription service called Unplugged that would offer customers a bundle of cable TV channels streamed over the Internet, people familiar with the plan said. The project, for which YouTube has already overhauled its technical architecture, is one of the online video giant’s biggest priorities and is slated to debut as soon as 2017, one of the people said. YouTube executives have discussed these plans with most major media companies, including Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, Viacom Inc., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and CBS Corp., but have yet to secure any rights, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.”

4)          Tesla puts pedal to the metal, 500,000 cars planned in 2018

Tesla is very popular on Wall Street, probably because the company is a prodigious destroyer of capital and generates tens of millions of dollars in fees every year like clockwork. The firm is also a master of misdirection: after preannouncing poor quarterly results they trotted out the mythical Model 3 and convinced a few hundred thousand people to lend them money so they might have the privilege of buying a car with uncertain specifications and an uncertain price at some point in the indeterminate future. I can’t analyse their financial statements because of the extensive use of non-GAAP measures, including non-GAAP revenue and non-GAAP interest expense. They seem to show a deterioration in profitability (lower Gross Margin, much higher operating expense) which some ascribe to “spending for growth” even though R&D is flat and it is SG&A will has grown dramatically. Hence the need to excite bankers and investors by talking up an improbable production ramp.

“Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) said it was stepping up production plans for its upcoming Model 3 mass-market sedan and would build a total of 500,000 all-electric vehicles in 2018, two years ahead of schedule, but warned that spending will ramp up in tandem. The company, which three months ago aimed to make a net profit in the final quarter of this year, gave no profit target on Wednesday and said capital spending would rise about 50 percent more than previously forecast this year, to around $2.25 billion. New shares and debt will likely be issued at some point, Chief Executive Elon Musk added”

5)          Ford Working on 200-Mile EV to Fight Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt

With all the hype and hysteria over Tesla people lose sight of the fact that building an EV is actually easier than building a traditional car. The major challenge is batteries and, despite what you read, nobody has a leg up there: its basic chemistry and low tech manufacturing. Real car manufacturers can benefit from massive economies of scale since they share parts among various models and unlike Tesla they can afford to lose money on specific models in order to meet fuel economy standards, etc., because they actually have profitable products.

“With the recent unveiling of the Tesla Model 3 being greeted like the advent of a perpetual-motion machine that also cures cancer and can do your taxes, and General Motors fielding a counterpoint in the Chevrolet Bolt that will be in showrooms later this year, the question for Ford has been: Where’s your 200-mile-range EV? In a conference call with analysts today, Ford CEO Mark Fields had an answer: “We’re working on it.”What Fields actually said, as reported by Automotive News, is: “Clearly, that’s something we’re developing for.” From there, the Automotive News report speculates that Ford’s Tesla/Bolt fighter will be offered not only as an EV, but also as plug-in and a traditional hybrid variants (kind of like Hyundai’s recently unveiled Ioniq), and will be called the Model E—Ford has applied for a trademark on that name. It’s also expected that the vehicle will be built at a recently announced new plant in Mexico, and arrive in the 2019 time frame.”

6)          Upgrading to Windows 10 will cost $119 starting July 29th

I continue to think Windows 10 is their best Operating System: it is stable, fast, and you don’t have to use the crazy Windows 8 user interface. The free upgrade is a bargain, especially since Microsoft will probably discontinue support of Windows 7 sooner rather than later. I strongly suspect the suggested cost is more of a threat than anything else, especially since you can buy a Chromebook for about twice that price.

“When Microsoft launched Windows 10 last summer, the company promised that users would be able to upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 free of charge for the first year that the new operating system was available. Now that the 1-year anniversary is approaching, Microsoft is explaining what happens next. You’ll still be able to upgrade after July 29th… but it’ll cost you $119.”

7)          Intel cuts Atom chips, basically giving up on the smartphone and tablet markets

Intel spent billions of dollars on a variety of initiatives to establish a beachhead in mobile devices and they all failed. The company still seems to harbor a belief it can establish itself in the Internet of Things market, though that is an even less likely strategy than mobile: IoT devices are extremely cheap and an ability to run Windows is pretty much irrelevant. Even ARM might find itself challenged in IoT as there are open-source or extremely cheap alternatives to their architecture. I can buy a full up IoT platform module, complete with Wi-Fi, 4M of Flash and 100K of RAM for under $1 retail.

“Intel could be on the verge of exiting the market for smartphones and standalone tablets, wasting billions of dollars it spent trying to expand in those markets. The company is immediately canceling Atom chips, code-named Sofia and Broxton, for mobile devices, an Intel spokeswoman confirmed. These are the first products on the chopping block as part of Intel’s plan to reshape operations after announcing plans this month to cut 12,000 jobs.”

8)          Samsung Smart Home flaws let hackers make keys to front door

Another week, another IoT security problem. This one is from Samsung, a company with the resources and technological expertise to know better. You can imagine what the security is like in the numerous products produced by small IoT start-ups. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Computer scientists have discovered vulnerabilities in Samsung’s Smart Home automation system that allowed them to carry out a host of remote attacks, including digitally picking connected door locks from anywhere in the world. The attack, one of several proof-of-concept exploits devised by researchers from the University of Michigan, worked against Samsung’s SmartThings, one of the leading Internet of Things (IoT) platforms for connecting electronic locks, thermostats, ovens, and security systems in homes. The researchers said the attacks were made possible by two intrinsic design flaws in the SmartThings framework that aren’t easily fixed. They went on to say that consumers should think twice before using the system to connect door locks and other security-critical components.”

9)          How filmmakers are inventing the language of VR

Early movies were shot such that the film showed what an audience member at a play would see. Pioneers like Charlie Chaplain developed all kinds of angles, shots, special effects, and so on, so that movies no longer looked like plays. The same thing will be needed if VR becomes a mainstream medium in that the way the story is told will change significantly.

Imagine you’re a filmmaker. Cinema is your craft, an art honed by more than a hundred years of brilliant ideas and happy mistakes. With it, you can do something that probably once felt like magic: capture any moment, idea, or feeling so anyone can relive it. Now picture something new. It’s a lot like film, only it puts the audience inside your story — and it feels like magic, when it works. With it, you can create entire worlds for your audience, but none of the original rules of cinema apply. How do you create your art when all of your tools have changed? This is how some filmmakers see virtual reality. And at least one director, Penrose Studios‘ Eugene Chung, likens virtual reality to the invention of the moving picture — and how it usurped the stage.”

10)      Oculus Rift CV1 Teardown

Oculus Rift is a Virtual Reality (VR) headset which has generated a fair bit of excitement over the past few years. The product is finally shipping so we will soon see if sales match predictions. Despite the hype these are not overly complex devices as these teardowns show. There are probably a few proprietary ICs in the unit but otherwise it’s a pretty simple thing.

“We’ve had our eyes on Oculus since the beginning, having dismantled (and successfully re-mantled) both development versions of their VR headset. But today, we’ve got the real deal: the final, consumer-ready, OMG-it’s-finally-here Oculus Rift. After four long years of development, what changed? What stayed the same? And can we put it down long enough to actually take it apart and find out? Grab your tools and join us around the teardown table, because the future is now. We’re tearing down the Oculus Rift.”

11)      Tech world eyes digital life beyond the smartphone

This article sums up what I have been saying for quite a while is a major problem for technology: there are very few actual potential growth markets and that means that as a growth market such as IoT arises, it will quickly be commoditized. The smartphone industry is going to be transformed into the same sort of tech business as the PC industry as prices drop to around $100 to $200 and revenues collapse as replacement cycles increase.

“The smartphone revolutionized how people live and work, but the technology world is now struggling to see what comes next. As smartphone sales have peaked in most major markets, Apple, Samsung and others are being forced to rethink their business models to keep growing and connecting with consumers. The trend in smartphones appears to follow similar peaks in tablet sales and personal computers, said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research. “We are clearly entering a new era where growth of traditional devices has ended and you have to think differently,” O’Donnell said. It’s not clear what will be the “next big thing” in technology or even if there is one, and that is troubling for an industry that has been living off growth from smartphones and their ecosystems of Android and Apple iOS applications.”

12)      Android does not seem to be closer to solving its biggest problem

The problem they are referring to is the fact that there are many Android devices out there with outdated versions of the OS, meaning all sorts of security issues. However that is a testament to the success of the product: not only are there thousands of different devices but many cost a small fraction of the cost of a typical Apple product. Android leaves it to the manufacturer to prepare an updated OS for their hardware and makers of $50 smartphones don’t have the resources to do so.

“Compared to its counterpart iOS, Android updates tend to roll slowly, if at all, to the devices. The latest statistics from the page of the developers of the platform shows how the latest version of Android, Marshmallow (6.0), is on 7.5% of devices around the world. The previous version Lollipop is 16.2% for version 5.0 and 19.4% for version 5.1. Still, the most popular version is one older than that. KitKat, which was released back in 2013, is currently running 32.5% of all devices.”

13)      Hold on a sec. When did HDDs get SSD-style workload rate limits?

This was news to me and it is understandable that HDD manufacturers don’t advertise the fact. It turns out that there appear to be wear issues with HDDs as well as SSDs and the wear limits seem lower than with SSDs. Of course, HDDs are much cheaper per GB and therefore the drives are much larger. Nevertheless, SSD prices are dropping, wear issues are improving, and you have to wonder what all that means for the HDD industry (hint: in 5 years it will be a shadow of what it is today).

“Unless we achieve some magical breakthrough, it looks like increasing HDD capacity is hitting problems. I do wonder, with the release of 16TB flash drives such as the Samsung PM1633a, whether there’s an appetite to invest millions of dollars into trying to extend HDD capacities further – especially considering the time it would take to RAID rebuild an entire 10TB drive from scratch.”

14)      New way found to grow rare life-saving blood stem cells

This sounds like a significant breakthrough but I’m not exactly an expert in stem cell research. I think the idea is that they have figured out a way to multiply the production of stem cells which could make up for shortages, especially if the overproduction stops once the cells are implanted.

“Researchers at McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (SCC-RI) have made significant steps forward in understanding the stem cells of the human blood system after discovering how a key protein allows for better control and regeneration of these cells. This discovery, published today in the scientific journal Nature, illustrates how a protein called Musashi-2 regulates the function and development of important blood stem cells. This knowledge provides new strategies that can be used to control the growth of these cells — cells that can be used as therapeutics for a range of life-threatening diseases but are, in general, in very short supply.”

15)      Surgical robot stitches tissue by itself, step to more automated OR

Surgery is the sort of high value added application which can justify the creation of robots. About 30 years ago robotic welding was at more or less the same state this stitching robot appears to be now it is commonly used in a wide array of applications. I doubt I’ll see robots doing complex surgeries but this sort of rote precision work is right up their ally.

“Getting stitched up by Dr. Robot may one day be reality: Scientists have created a robotic system that did just that in living animals without a real doctor pulling the strings. Much like engineers are designing self-driving cars, Wednesday’s research is part of a move toward autonomous surgical robots, removing the surgeon’s hands from certain tasks that a machine might perform all by itself. No, doctors wouldn’t leave the bedside — they’re supposed to supervise, plus they’d handle the rest of the surgery. Nor is the device ready for operating rooms. But in small tests using pigs, the robotic arm performed at least as well, and in some cases a bit better, as some competing surgeons in stitching together intestinal tissue, researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.”

16)      Medical Equipment Crashes During Heart Procedure Because of Antivirus Scan

You can’t really fault the medical equipment for this: it is downright crazy that a doctor’s consumer grade PC was used for the procedure. Fortunately nobody died but it should be a sort of warning shot about the sort of equipment allowed to be used in medical situations.

“According to one such report filed by Merge Healthcare in February, Merge Hemo suffered a mysterious crash right in the middle of a heart procedure when the screen went black and doctors had to reboot their computer. Fortunately, the patient was sedated, and the doctors had five minutes at their disposal to wait for the computer to finish rebooting, start the Merge Hemo application again, and complete their procedure without any health risks for the patient. Merge investigated the issue and later reported to the FDA that the problem occurred because of the antivirus software running on the doctors’ computer. The antivirus was configured to scan for viruses every hour, and the scan started right in the middle of the procedure.”

17)      Software is dead. Long live software!

I don’t agree with most of the conclusions but the essay itself is interesting. High multiples are only justified if there is a reasonable prospect a company’s earning can grow at a fast enough rate that the real earnings payback is much shorter than it appears. The tenure of tech companies is very short so the odds of pulling that off are pretty slim. Plus, founder control is wonderful and exciting until the company starts heading into the toilet, after which you are stuck with inept management.

“Bill Gates’s argument for not jumping on open-source was that open-source just wasn’t profitable. If you ‘gave away’ your code, you’re giving away your intellectual property. Gates was profiting off of his intellectual property. If he gave it away by open-sourcing his technologies, it would be simply anti-capitalistic! He would be destroying jobs! This is the Winklevi defense : “We came up with this idea! If we give it away to someone else, I wouldn’t profit off of it! Whoever would, would be stealing our profits from our idea!”¹ It’s the same defense Larry Ellison uses when he complains that Google is “stealing Java in Android to profit without permission”. In the post-Internet age, the Winklevi defense is fundamentally flawed.”

18)      Elsevier Complaint Shuts Down Sci-Hub Domain Name

Unsurprisingly, Elsevier has struck out at the website which is “pirating” scientific papers (i.e. those scientific papers mostly funded by public money and which Elsevier doesn’t pay for). They seem to be unaware as to how the Internet works or the Streisand Effect. No doubt the repository has been cloned thousands of times and will be around long after Elsevier’s dominance in the scientific paper market is a distant memory.

“Hoping to stop the unauthorized distribution of millions of academic papers, academic publisher Elsevier filed a complaint against Sci-Hub and several related sites last year. While Sci-Hub is nothing like the average pirate site, it is just as illegal according to Elsevier’s legal team, which obtained a preliminary injunction from a New York District Court last fall. The injunction ordered Sci-Hub’s operator to quit offering access to any Elsevier content, but this didn’t happen. Instead of taking Sci-Hub down, the lawsuit and the associated media attention only helped the site grow.”

19)      Toronto Gets Its Own Free, Encrypted Mesh Network

Mesh networks have their advantages but we should not get carried away with their potential as substitutes for commercial broadband access. Unlicensed bands tend to be low power so you need a lot of participants in order that the system works properly and governments are keen to make sure their spectrum licenses sell for top dollar so that is not likely to change.

“Lau had spent the previous summer chatting with other meshnet enthusiasts in Europe, trying to figure out the best way to set up routers across the city. He suggested it was time to give it a try in Toronto. What grew out of Lau and Iantorno’s meeting, four months ago now, was a plan to build a meshnet in this city—one where users wouldn’t need to worry about eavesdroppers, because it would be encrypted. When it’s finished, Toronto’s first free-to-use meshnet should provide an accessible and secure internet community, maintained by locals keen on becoming digitally self-sufficient. Those early adopters could reshape our relationship to internet providers, and cut monthly rates out of the picture.”

20)      Quantum Computing: Recent Breakthroughs

This is a sort of a summary of the state of the art of quantum computing, which is nowhere near as developed as people seem to think it is. Of course, this is not an academic all-inclusive survey but I do find it interesting D-Wave is not mentioned. My view is that QCs will be astounding good at solving certain classes of problems but otherwise not generally useful.

“What is Quantum Computing, after all? Though it may sound like a term all grand and complex, quoted only by super-smart people and physicists, it is really a very interesting field that will possibly define our future. There are many tutorials and guides on the internet that can give you a pretty solid idea of what Quantum Computing is all about. Some good ones are by Science Alert, Explain That Stuff and The Guardian. The lecture below on Quantum Algorithms is particularly riveting and is a must-watch for all enthusiasts …”