The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 24th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 24th 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)          SolarCity stock soars 15% on $2.8 billion Tesla bid; TSLA plunges

This made my week: setting aside the fact it demonstrates a complete lack of anything resembling corporate governance at Tesla (being as Musk is a major shareholder of both companies and relatives also have major holdings of Solar City) not even the most powerful hallucinogen could suggest the two companies – both are prodigious destroyers of capital – have anything in common besides increasingly imaginative “non-GAAP” financial presentation and a firm attachment to the taxpayer’s teat. There is no significant intellectual property or barriers to entry to either business and no reasonable prospects they will survive once investors stop giving them money to burn. Perhaps the view is that somehow investment banks, recognizing that a combined company will require even larger and more frequent injections of capital will offer a volume discount for share issues.

“Tesla Motors said on Tuesday it would bid $2.8 billion to buy SolarCity, sending the solar energy company’s shares soaring. SolarCity shares popped more than 15 percent after-hours on the offer of $26.50 per share to $28.50 per share, while Tesla shares dropped as much as 10 percent, trading below $200 per share for the first time since March. SolarCity’s controlling shareholder, Elon Musk, is also the CEO of electric car company Tesla. The two sets of shareholders will vote on the merger independent of Musk after a due diligence process, the Tesla CEO said.”

2)          Microsoft Corporation Offers ‘Refresh Windows 10 Tool’ To Remove Bloatware

If you want to buy a Windows based laptop a direct purchase from Microsoft has been a pretty good choice: the prices are competitive and the systems have much less bloatware, unlike if you buy a Pc near anywhere else. There are third party bloatware removers and you can do a clean reinstall of Windows 10, but this tool would be a welcome solution for everybody but the bloatware vendors and the PC vendors they pay to install their garbage.

“Microsoft Corporation has been developing and testing a new tool to effectively allow users to remove all unnecessary software and bloatware on a system with a touch of a button. It is known as the Refresh Windows 10 Tool, also known as Start Fresh, and is expected to make its way to the next build of Windows 10. It is currently already available to users using preview builds as part of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Insider Program. The tool, however, is essentially a one-stop shop that offers the option to users to keep key files and personal data on the computer when it is being scrubbed clean, much like an actual installation of Windows would in prior versions. The tool is not only expected to help in the case of malware infecting a system, but is also going to be a key aspect of users getting the “Vanilla” Windows 10 experience.”

3)          FCC lays out its big 5G push

Note that this story is not so much about 5G wireless as it is about opening up new spectrum in the near millimeter to millimeter bands (18GHz and up). That is useful for 5G but 5G can work in lower bands as well. The thing with new spectrum is that there is a lot of it and new techniques such as MIMO and beamforming help get around a lot of the challenges of going to higher carrier frequencies. Regardless, there is no scarcity of spectrum, except as manufactured by governments and the companies they license to.

“The FCC plans to use 200 MHz-wide chunks of high-band spectrum because, unlike lower frequencies, it can offer the gigabit per second throughput and sub-millisecond latency that 5G applications demand. 5G will usher in an Internet of Everything, Wheeler told the Press Club. “If something can be connected, it will be connected in a 5G world.” Wheeler cited various remote operation scenarios, such as surgeons using VR to operate on patients hundreds of miles away, to illustrate the need for ultrafast wireless connectivity. He expects the commission’s research to be completed and the proposal ready for a vote by July 14th. Should it be adopted, America would become the first nation on Earth to actively reserve frequency for 5G development.”

4)          Google Fiber is buying high-speed internet provider Webpass to expand its reach in cities

This seems significant but it is hard to say. Webpass seems to be a tiny play and it isn’t exactly clear they have any proprietary expertise (pretty much anybody can buy the same equipment from the same suppliers). So it could just being a cash rich company helping out a friend (it happens) or a sign that Google is stepping up its game as an ISP. One thing of note is that the North American wired Internet business is largely absent meaningful competition so there is lots of potential money to be made if you offer an alternative. Unfortunately, corrupt regulators have erected legal barriers to protect incumbents so success is not assured.

“To take on the big internet service providers, Google Fiber is scooping up a small one. On Wednesday, Google Fiber announced plans to acquire Webpass, a high-speed, fiber internet provider serving five cities. The deal, should regulators approve it, would be the first acquisition for the broadband unit under Alphabet and another signal of its ambition to become a competitive national player in the industry. Google Fiber also made the deal to boost its efforts to deliver broadband internet wirelessly, an experimental tech it hopes will expand coverage at cheaper costs. Financial terms were not disclosed. Webpass, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2003, is privately held. It only shares that it has customers in the “tens of thousands.””

5)          Self-driving cars to disrupt auto insurance industry

Yes, there will be some level of disruption but the transition to self-driving cars will only start in 15 to 20 years so there is no need to panic. Meanwhile advanced safety systems such as auto-brake should lead to a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of accidents. Even so, the reduction will be relative to the proportion of the fleet thus equipped and it will take about a decade before the effects become that material.

“”It’s sort of an incremental development on the road to where cars can actually drive themselves,” said Robert Passmore, assistant vice-president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. That means insurance issues may initially grow more complex — but possibly much simpler later on, when human-caused accidents mostly disappear. “This changes the basic assumptions under which insurance is written,” said Edward Cohen, vice-president of government and industry relations at Honda, which tests driverless cars at the Concord Naval Weapons Station site. “If you’re in a crashless world, or if the number of crashes is severely reduced through the use of technology … that model would need to be re-evaluated.””

6)          Toyota to build artificial intelligence-based driving systems in five years

AI sounds sort of scary but pretty much AI is how any advanced safety system is likely to work. What is interesting is that Toyota seems to have joined the pack of companies working toward autonomous vehicle development even though they recognize that much of the payoff will come as safety systems continue to improve, with full autonomy about 20 years off.

“Toyota Motor Corp is targeting developing in the next five years driver assistance systems that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to improve vehicle safety, the head of its advanced research division said. Gill Pratt, CEO of recently set up Toyota Research Institute (TRI), the Japanese automaker’s research and development company that focuses on AI, said it aims to improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations. Toyota has said the institute will spend $1 billion over the next five years, as competition to develop self-driving cars intensifies.”

7)          Self-driving tractors and data science: we visit a modern farm

Off-road autonomous vehicles in applications such as mining and farming are likely to become mainstream long before highway use as the payback is immediate. This article is more about GPS guidance and data accumulation than about “self-driving” tractors. It can be hard to exactly line up implements because they are so big so there is, by necessity, a lot of overlap when plowing, seeding, etc.. Simple GPS solutions can have a big impact on productivity and save fuel.

“”The combine has load sensors in it that sense the volume of crop coming in, recording that as you go across the field,” Rose said. That tells him how many bushels per acre each field is producing, data that gets fed into multi-year maps of each field that are color-coded to indicate different yields. “We take several years of data and make composite maps of a given field, then divide it into zones. You can manage those zones individually—taking soil samples to measure nutrient levels, and from there you know how much nutrients you need to apply in different areas,” he told Ars. The next big thing after yield monitors was AutoTrac, which companies like John Deere have had in the market for quite a bit longer than the semi-autonomous cars starting to drive our roads. “We were solving a different problem than the autonomous car problem,” explained Lane Arthur, Director of Information Solutions at John Deere. “Cars have to do with staying on the road and the right distance from other cars. In the John Deere world we focused on autonomous machines that are driving in a field. So the field has a boundary around it, and what path will it take in that field. We use GPS signals to drive the vehicle; the customer sets an A-B line which determines the path the vehicle takes.””

8)          Why Uber Keeps Raising Billions

This article reads like it was written by their investment bankers but I think we can cut to the chase: Uber raises money because it is in an inherently unprofitable business with zero likelihood of providing a return on investment, let alone a return of investment. At the same time, the investors hope enough lipstick can be slathered over the pig to make it to an IPO where they can unload their shares to unsuspecting rubes. But the bankers wouldn’t put that in an article.

“If you add up all the money Uber has raised since it started in 2009 — the idea was born when its founders became annoyed that they could not get a cab in Paris — the ride-hailing app company is on its way to amassing a colossal $15 billion. That’s real cash, not some funny-money, paper-based valuation. (That figure is $68 billion.) It has done all this while still managing to remain a private company, and its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, has insisted that a public offering is not coming soon. “I’m going to make sure it happens as late as possible,” he has repeatedly said.”

9)          World’s Fastest Supercomputer Now Has Chinese Chip Technology

It seems quite clear that the Chinese government is keen on going upmarket in technology, much as the Japanese did in the 1970s and the Koreans in the 1980s. Their efforts to buy semiconductor companies has mostly been frustrated by US national security concerns but that should not be a major problem for them as they can build the industry up over a decade regardless. Since their near term objective is probably not profitability this could put pressure on pricing across the industry.

“In a threat to U.S. technology dominance, the world’s fastest supercomputer is powered by Chinese-designed semiconductors for the first time. It’s a breakthrough for China’s attempts to reduce dependence on imported technology. The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, located at the state-funded Chinese Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, is more than twice as powerful as the previous winner, according to TOP500, a research organization that compiles the rankings twice a year. The machine is powered by a SW26010 processor designed by Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center, TOP500 said Monday.”

10)      Siemens says it can power unlimited-range electric trucks using a 150-year-old technology

Diesel engines are pretty efficient but they don’t do well in stop/start type traffic. That’s why it would make much better environmental sense to reserve HEV lanes for diesel trucks rather than cars with 2 or more people in them, but that would also be political suicide. In any event, unlike battery powered EVs this would probably make a lot of environmental sense and have a decent payback on the investment. Streetcars stop when they lose contact with the grid but these trucks would have relatively small batteries and could keep going until another connection could be established.

“The world’s cargo fleet is moving from fossil fuels to electrons. But powering them won’t be simple. With today’s technology, driving a semi-truck 500 miles (804 kilometers) would require a 23-ton lithium-ion battery, half the weight of the truck itself. Fuel cells would need a massive, $2 million hydrogen fuel tank to go the distance. Embedding wireless charging coils in roadbed would be expensive and inefficient. But an invention first deployed in 1870 to power trains and streetcars might be the perfect fit: catenary, overhead electrical wires commonly found around the world. The German engineering company Siemens, presenting at an electric vehicle conference in Montreal this month, argues it can power unlimited-distance electric trucks with intermittent overhead wires that provide enough energy for fast-moving, long-haul highway journeys.”

11)      Creepy? Facebook now tracking you in stores

It’s only a matter of time before Facebook users are required to submit DNA samples and have a tracker implanted in their heads. I’ve never been a member and was only on LinkedIn long enough to figure out how to close my account, but I don’t see the attraction of the service, so that must make me biased. As for anonymity, well, good luck with that: assuming Facebook follows its usual pattern that will be removed and disabling it will be of such complexity nobody will be able to do it without a precise step by step guide.

“”Hello, welcome back to The Gap! How did those assorted tank tops work out for you?,” an animated hologram shouts to Cruise’s character as he enters. It sounded far-fetched … until now. Ad exec Lauren Doyle, of Cincinnati’s Wordsworth Communications, says Facebook’s new tracking feature called “Local Awareness” is not sitting well with some people, especially older people. “For some generations, that’s really uncomfortable,” she said. Using your phone’s location services, it  targets users near a store, then tracks to see if you visit that business.”

12)      Ad Blocking to Grow 34% This Year to Nearly 70 Million U.S. Web Users

You can’t do much to protect yourself from Facebook if you are a member but you can do something about the distraction, fraud, and malware associated with most online advertising as more and more people are figuring out. The root of this problem is not ad blocking but the fact the online advertising industry is the “Wild West”. Eventually they’ll figure out that they have to have some standards or people will simply block ads. Some web sites have responded by blocking access to ad block users but that is not much of a burden since even most media is derivative and somebody out there has the exact same content without an ad blocker.

“Publishers would love internet users to decide that, actually, they don’t need to install an ad-blocker on their browser of choice. But a new report from research firm eMarketer suggested on Tuesday that there’s no such hope on the horizon. U.S. internet users running ad blockers will grow this year to 69.8 million, or 26.3% of web users in the U.S., from 51.9 million, or 20%, last year, eMarketer said. In 2017, ad-blocking web surfers in the U.S. will total 86.6 million, or 32%.”

13)      Computer science grads are playing it safe instead of trying to help build the next big thing

There is absolutely no reason why computer science graduates should be concerned about anything else but their own income. Building “the next big thing” is mostly an illusion entrepreneurs dangle in front of young developers to get them to work harder for less money. Less than 10% of startups survive for more than a few years and a tiny fraction of employees of those which do survive end up rich. The little money that ends up in the pockets of hardworking employees at successful startups is there only because the investors couldn’t contrive a scheme to keep that money for themselves.

“Harj Taggar, CEO of tech recruiting startup Triplebyte, says that taking risks is the only way for aspiring programmers to make it big. He asks all graduates one question: Do you want a 90% chance of earning $1.1 million at big tech firms or a 10% chance of earning $10 million at a smaller startup? “As a software engineer, you’ll always have the opportunity to make $1.1 million because there’ll always be a big company willing to hire you and pay a big salary,” Taggar told Quartz. “What you might not always have is the 10% opportunity, because it becomes harder to join an early stage startup—now we’re talking more like 1999 Google—as you become older.” Some to-be mammoths on Taggar’s list are Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber, and Stripe.”

14)      Cryptocurrency raider takes $60 million in digital cash

What a shock! A new cryptocurrency, a new “theft”, except it isn’t really theft because there is no legal basis to prove ownership of cryptocurrency, let alone a legal basis to charge anybody. The idea that the currency will be modified so the “thief” won’t be able to use his ill-gotten gains is a sign of how arbitrary the whole this is to begin with.

“The kicker? People were convinced that the bug posed no risk to DAO funds just a few days prior. Clearly, that wasn’t true. While the invader didn’t get away scot-free, the breach has caused a lot of chaos. And while one person’s claims that they legitimately took the funds is sketchy, Bloomberg notes that the code defining the smart contracts may have explicitly allowed this attack even if that’s not what the DAO wanted. This may not be so much a hack as exploitation of poorly-defined terms, and there may not be a legal recourse. In short: basing an investment framework around code instead of human-made contracts may have been too optimistic.”

15)      Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid

Hey, if you want to pay 2 to 3x the going rate for a smart phone you aren’t going to get my sympathy when Apple decides you need an expensive adapter or expensive headphones to use it. Apple is in the business of fleecing its customers for whatever it can and a proprietary headphone is pretty much what you would expect. Whether or not it is good for the customers is the least of Apple’s concerns.

“Look, I know you’re going to tell me that the traditional TRS headphone jack is a billion years old and prone to failure and that life is about progress and whatever else you need to repeat deliriously into your bed of old HTC extUSB dongles and insane magnetic Palm adapters to sleep at night. But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways. Let’s count them!”

16)      WSJ: iPhone 7 w/ similar design and removed headphone jack this fall, major changes next year

The first story I saw about this claimed Apple is going to a 3 year major product release cycle and I though “wow – so their phones will now be 2 – 3 years out of date rather than 1-2 years out of date”. This move is a good money saver for Apple as it means a lower R&D budget and it can continue selling out of date hardware for longer so its margins will stay high. The wild card will be customer loyalty: while there are true believers who won’t buy anything else, a lot of consumers are going to find it hard to justify paying a premium for an obsolete product. Time will tell whether loyalty wins out over rational economic behavior.

“iPhone 7 rumors have been notably tame this year, and that’s because the next-generation iPhone is widely expected to be a further revision to the iPhone 6 series and not a radically different design. The Wall Street Journal is the latest to report on Apple’s expected plans for the iPhone 7, describing a situation where the iPhone 7 closely resembles the iPhone 6s minus the headphone jack. WSJ reports that this will result in a thinner design that’s more water-resistant than current models.”

17)      Supreme Court sends off patent troll that challenged review rules with an 8-0 slapdown

The case is pretty esoteric but the observation that patent trolls set bad precedent for patent licensing companies when they get to the Supreme Court is an important one. First, it shows that the pendulum has been swinging away from patent licensing companies and towards their targets (not all patent licensing companies are bad, and many targets are IP thieves). Second it is a signal to lower courts what will likely happen if a case gets to the Supreme Court. Most likely you’ll see fewer lower courts cases in favor of IP licensors and fewer appeals by licensors.

“Patent trolls don’t fare well at the Supreme Court. When they show up, their cases tend to result in decisions that are ruinous for the profit margins of their industry. Two prominent examples: the 2006 eBay v. MercExchange case effectively ended trolls’ abilities to get injunctions, and the 2014 Alice Corp. case made it far easier for patent defendants to invalidate abstract software patents. And yet, the cases keep coming. The most recent example is Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC v. Lee, a case that was resolved earlier this week with an 8-0 opinion dismantling arguments presented by Cuozzo, a patent-holding entity controlled by two New York patent lawyers, Daniel Mitry and Timothy Salmon. The two attorneys own dozens of other patent shell companies through their consultancy, Empire IP.”

18)      FAA Announces Commercial Drone Rules

These seem like pretty reasonable rules especially since a 55 pound drone falling from any height will kill or seriously injure somebody. Unless the FAA comes out with a special rule which allows delivery drones to kill people it should be clear that these rules make drone delivery service almost impossible since each drone would have to remain in sight of an operator.

“This week, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety regulations for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. In other words, the pilots and drones shooting your wedding video, trailing a snowboarder to catch the best trick as seen from above, or taking aerial footage of the horse ranch for sale in the next county now have dictates to follow. … The FAA promised that sometime in the spring of this year, they’d announce a streamlined registration process for commercial sUAS. Technically, they missed spring by a couple days, but the new commercial drone rules are finally here. In short, if you’re making money with your drone—by taking pictures or videos with it or whatever—and it weighs less than 25 kg but more than 0.25 kg, these are the rules that with apply to you. They’re slightly different from the rules for recreational hobby drones, so it’s worth browsing what’s new …”

19)      Gartner: Cloud will be the “default option” for software deployment by 2020

I find Gartner’s forecasts to be pretty useless but they are probably directionally correct on this one even if the time horizon is a bit optimistic. Many software vendors are going to “Software as a Service” which pretty much locks customers in to a perpetual license and that generally works off cloud based hardware. It also means things stop working once you lose Internet access. Similarly a lot of IT departments are going to be downsized as all their servers, etc., are pushed into the cloud. I don’t think it’s a good thing but it is the way things are headed.

“Researchers at Gartner are out this week with new predictions on what the infrastructure computing market will look like in the coming years. And they’re very bullish on the cloud. The combination of end users gaining comfort with using cloud services combined with vendors shifting to primarily offering software from the cloud means that cloud will be the dominate software deployment model within three and a half years. “Cloud will increasingly be the default option for software deployment,” says Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, who adds that even custom-designed software that once used to be housed primarily on customers’ premises is moving to the cloud.”

20)      Jake Dyson invents light bulb that lasts 37 years

I associate the brand name Dyson with expensive, unreliable, and overhyped garbage. That is not being fair to the son, I admit, however what we have here is a slightly improved heatsink where a cheaper solution would simply be to replace the LED every 10 to 20 years. After all an LED lamp is likely to go out of style long before the LED stops working.

“Well, it takes just one engineer to change a light bulb. Jake Dyson is on a mission to revolutionise the lighting industry in the way his father, James Dyson, turned the vacuum cleaner sector on his head. The apple did not fall far from the tree, and Jake Dyson too is putting innovation and superior engineering at the heart of his new lighting product line. LEDs are theoretically built to deliver impressive life spans but in typical lighting fixtures, inadequate cooling takes the junction temperature to 130 degC. This damages the phosphorous coating thus delivering progressively poorer light over time – and the hotter they run, the faster they die. To solve this problem, Dyson looked beyond heatsinks and traditional cooling systems and at the way heatpipes are used to cool microprocessors and components in satellites.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 17th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 17th 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)          New paper claims that the EM Drive doesn’t defy Newton’s 3rd law after all

The EM Drive is an electric propulsion unit which is most likely a sort of measurement error. Nevertheless, until it is fully figured out it is intriguing: the device appears to generate a small amount of “thrust” with only electricity and no moving parts. Even though the thrust is small it is continuous and could lead to very high speeds in a spacecraft because of that. This finding, if confirmed, may explain the phenomenon and perhaps even lead to more optimised versions. Of course until it is explained, skepticism is called for.

“Physicists have just published a new paper that suggests the controversial EM drive – or electromagnetic drive – could actually work, and doesn’t defy Newton’s third law after all. In case you’ve missed the hype, here’s a quick catch-up: a lot of space lovers are freaking out about the EM drive because of claims it could get humans to Mars in just 10 weeks, but just as many are sick of hearing about it, because, on paper at least, it doesn’t work within the laws of physics. Despite that not-insignificant setback, the EM drive shows no signs of quitting, and test after test – including trials by NASA scientists at the Eagleworks lab, and an independent researcher in Germany – has conceded that the propulsion system, somehow, does produce thrust.”

2)          Shipping delays continue to dog Apple’s 4″ iPhone SE

It is hard what to make of this news. In general, you never want a tech product to be in short supply because the value of any gadget declines rapidly with time. It could be that, as management suggest, people are abandoning more featured, less expensive Android phone in favor of the iPhone SE, or that people who have never owned a smartphone make this their first purchase. Alternatively, the device could be cannibalizing sales of even more expensive iPhones. I guess we’ll find out when they report their quarterly results.

“As of this week’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, U.S. Apple retail stores are still reporting two-plus-week wait times for new orders of the 4-inch iPhone SE. The handset launched in late March and supply has been constrained ever since. In April, rumblings from Apple’s supply chain claimed that Apple had increased orders for the iPhone SE, planning to build more than 5 million units in the quarter to keep up with demand. Those efforts, if accurate, don’t appear to have paid off yet, with demand continuing to outstrip supply into the summer.”

3)          Verizon Offers LG K8 V Smartphone for $94 for a Limited Time

All US carriers ended the “contract and subsidy” business model early in 2016. This means that consumers pay full price for their phones, though the carriers do offer financing for those with good credit. It also opened the doors to real price competition in the US smartphone market as exemplified by this offer: even at $144 you are getting a pretty capable phone. I am convinced consumers who are faced for the first time with the sizeable cost of premium devices like iPhone will chose phones more in line with their budgets.

“The latest LG smartphone, the K8 V, is an Android handset that’s just been launched exclusively through Verizon Wireless, with a 5-inch LCD HD touch-screen display, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a budget-friendly price tag of $144. Making it even more desirable for prospective buyers is that for a limited time, Verizon is shaving $50 off that price for online buyers, bringing it down to $94. The K8 V has some useful capabilities, too, including that it is a CDMA phone that can also be used internationally as a world phone on GSM and UMTS networks, according to Verizon.”

4)          Tesla to clarify how customers may disclose problems

If the only thing I knew about Tesla was how they treated dissatisfied customers I would never do business with them. The model is apparent: when all else fails and the consumer refuses to comply publicly slander them and lie if you have to – in this case claiming the problem was due to the guy living on a dirt road (the first lie) as if, even if true, that somehow mattered (the second lie). As for “37 of 40 suspension complaints to NHTSA were fraudulent, i.e. false location or vehicle identification numbers were used”, well if you forced people to sign non-disclosure agreements and refuse to release the data I guess we should believe you: after all you wouldn’t lie would you? And fraudulent suspension complaints have to be a big problem for the NHTSA.

“Tesla said Thursday the car with over 70,000 miles had abnormal rust and that the Pennsylvania owner lived down such a long dirt road that it required two tow trucks to retrieve the car. The owner said the car had only been on a dirt road once or twice, and Musk later conceded to The Wall Street Journal that Tesla had erred in saying the owner lived on a dirt road. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said on Thursday that the agency was reviewing the nondisclosure agreements to see if they had impeded owners from making complaints.”

5)          Volvo R&D Chief on Tesla’s Autopilot: “I’m Convinced It’s Trying to Kill Me”

I see all kinds of fawning praise for Tesla’s “autopilot” and yet when it fails the explanation is in the fine print. It is in the best interests of Tesla to promote its stock because without regular capital injections the company will quickly die, however that doesn’t mean they have things figured out. Volvo is a real car company and their insights as to the state of the art are relevant.

“Volvo has never shied from being first in safety. Company engineer Nils Bohlin introduced the three-point safety belt in 1959, an innovation estimated to have saved more than one million lives. The year 1972 brought the first rear-facing child seat. Side airbags and rollover protection, plus autonomous braking for cars, pedestrians, and now large animals—all Volvo firsts. So when the Swedish automaker has something to say about keeping people alive in cars, the world listens. And here’s what Dr. Peter Mertens, Volvo’s esteemed research and development chief, has to say about Tesla’s ballyhooed Autopilot system: “Every time I drive (Autopilot), I’m convinced it’s trying to kill me”

6)          California lawmakers unplug the state’s electric car program

They’ll probably sort it out eventually but this sort of development shows what is really behind the “success” of electric vehicles: taxpayer money. If they wanted to do something about the environment they could, for example, subsidize cars with smaller engines. Instead they are paying people to buy cars which will be worthless when the batteries crap out in a few years. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

Note: LA Times has a wonky website. If you want to read the article and it only shows a subscription option, clear your browser cookies.

“Lua’s experience is exactly what Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers were aiming to achieve when they decided to spend money from the state’s greenhouse gas reduction fund on subsidizing the purchase of low- and zero-emission vehicles. But now they’re cutting off the cash, the result of a political impasse and questions over the future of the state’s climate change programs. Without the funds, California could have a harder time meeting its ambitious goals for getting cleaner vehicles on the roads and protecting public health in smog-ridden areas of the state.”

7)          Volkswagen bets big on electric cars

Whether or not you are skeptical on the outlook for EVs as I am, the fact is that all they are is cars with a battery. The tricky bit isn’t the rest of the car – and actual car makers would have an advantage there – it is the battery. Since batteries are commodities and easily reverse engineered, no EV vendor would have an advantage over any other EV vendor. This is just another reason to question Tesla’s $32B market value.

“The strategy overhaul met a skeptical audience in Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, who questioned whether Volkswagen can achieve swift cultural changes and dramatic product transformation while cutting costs. What’s more, serious questions about the mass-market viability of electric vehicles remain. “Certainly electric vehicles are coming,” Nerad said. But “there’s no general consumer groundswell for electric vehicles.” Volkswagen may also find itself with split loyalties between its diesel cars, a favorite of European car buyers and some American consumers, and the need to develop electric vehicles. “Diesel is so deeply entrenched in Europe,” he said. “That’s the home field for Volkswagen. It’s hard to imagine they would step away from that.””

8)          Intel lets slip roadmap for Optane SSDs with 1,000X performance

Optane, or 3D Crosspoint memory could be a revolution in semiconductor storage: it is much faster than flash used in Solid State Drives, and has much longer duty cycles. Unfortunately the missing parameter is cost: we have no idea how much more expensive than flash Optane will be and that makes a big difference for its adoption.

“Optane technology is primarily a mass storage-class memory that, while slower, is still cheaper to produce than DRAM and faster than NAND. Significantly, it’s non-volatile, so when the power goes off, the data remains intact, just as it does with NAND flash. … At its Intel Developers Forum in Shenzhen, China, the company said Optane has up to 10X the density of NAND flash and will enable SSDs to store more than a terabyte of data in an M.2 card that is only 1.5 millimeters thick.”

9)          Report claims Intel CPUs contain enormous security flaw

Hmmm. A mysterious, undocumented, processor inside some Intel chips that nobody can figure out whether it is secure or not. It’s almost the sort of thing you’d expect a company to include if it were colluding with the national security establishment as we know all major US tech companies are doing.

“A new article on BoingBoing argues that Intel’s implementation of the IME and the microcontroller that runs it are fundamentally insecure, cannot be trusted, and could be used to perform potentially devastating exploits. Intel has publicly revealed very little about the precise function of its onboard microprocessor and the security system that guards it — and that, in turn, means that the company is essentially relying on security through obscurity to secure its own standard. Concerns about IME and AMT are nothing new; Joanna Rutkowska discussed vulnerabilities found in a much earlier version of the standard in 2009, and research into exactly how the Intel Management Engine secures data and maintains a trusted environment has been ongoing for years.”

10)      Chattanooga Mayor Says City’s Gigabit Network (Which Comcast Tried To Kill) To Thank For City’s Revival

Of course, the guy is probably talking his own book but the comments regarding the regulatory context for telecommunications is telling. Unlike wireless, these are regulated at the state and local level, and politicians have no doubt pocketed large bribes (I prefer to believe they are corrupt rather than stupid) to ensure that any regulation around telecoms is to prevent meaningful competition. As per item 11 it is just another example of Soviet style economics selectively applied.

“But if you’ve been playing along at home, regional incumbents like AT&T and Comcast almost kept EPB’s network from ever being built. In 2008 Comcast unsuccessfully sued EPB to prevent the city’s plan from taking root. AT&T and Comcast are also behind a state law preventing EPB from expanding, one of nineteen such laws lobbied for by incumbent ISPs to maintain the apathetic broadband status quo. We’ve noted how state leaders (like Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, a former AT&T executive) have rushed to the defense of the state’s broadband duopoly and their protectionist law. The pretense usually involves these politicians insisting they’re just trying to protect taxpayers from themselves, ignoring the fact that letting AT&T and Comcast lawyers literally writing bad state telecom law has resulted in Tennessee being one of the least connected states in the nation.”

11)      Cable Industry Proclaims More Competition ‘Hurts Consumers’ & ‘Damages Economic Efficiency’

You can readily imagine the horrors competition would inflict on any business: customers would have a choice and prices would come down. A Soviet-style economic system such as that enjoyed by the telecommunications sector in North America is one reason why rates are among the highest in the world while service quality is among the lowest. North American telecommunications companies are among the most profitable for some reason.

“In a filing by the American Cable Association (ACA, pdf), the organization’s lawyers try to claim that not only would an influx of competition somehow harm consumers, the group claims that adding competitors to what are frequently stagnant markets will somehow “damage economic efficiency”: “That overbuild condition is unlawful. It is not tailored to mitigate a merger-specific harm or confirm a merger-specific benefit. It will exacerbate the merger harms the Order identifies, damage economic efficiency, injure small providers, and harm consumers. The condition should be stricken.””

12)      Why Microsoft’s Acquisition of LinkedIn Would Not be Another Nokia Story

Well, to be fair, Nokia was a dog’s breakfast before Microsoft bought them. Mind you the fact Microsoft paid billions for a dog’s breakfast company says a few things about the company’s competence when it comes to pricing acquisitions. That LinkedIn is not likely to be as bad of a disaster is cold comfort: it would take over 11 years to pay back the purchase price if LinkedIn can grow its non-GAAP (ie. imaginary) earnings by 25% per year from now on. Of course, few technologies last 11 years so the odds against that are pretty high. As for synergies, well, good luck with that.

“It has been less than a week and social media is abuzz with the news of LinkedIn’s acquisition by Microsoft. The deal that was finalized for a whopping 26.2 billion dollars is the largest software acquisition ever made. The move that is predicted by many as a catastrophic failure is in truth a well-planned move that would prove beneficial for Microsoft in the long run.”

13)      IBM finally reveals why it bought The Weather Company

IBM has brilliant engineers and scientists but the company’s senior management make up the difference. If you develop a technology which can, for example, slightly improve local weather forecasts, the best way of making money from that is not to buy your customer but to find other customers. You see, the people who owned the Weather Company decided they would rather IBM give them money than sell them technology and they know the weather business considerably better than IBM. After all, IBM has missed every significant technology trend over the past 30 years so why would you expect them to behave any differently?

“On Wednesday, IBM revealed its first joint product with The Weather Company: a hyperlocal weather forecast—at a 0.2-mile to 1.2-mile resolution—to provide enterprise clients with short-term customized forecasts. It’s hoping to include this service, dubbed Deep Thunder, as part of a growing suite of products offered to enterprise clients through its Watson arm.”

14)      Sony’s E3 press conference doubled down on PlayStation VR content

I remain skeptical about VR being as big as most predict. Much of the attention is on Facebook’s Oculus Rift device but others are coming on the market. The thing with Oculus Rift it is expensive and is that you need an upgraded PC to run it but game console vendors usually subsidize their hardware so that should give them a leg up in penetration. Sorry about the auto play video.

“You can pick up Sony’s electro-blue-lit PlayStation VR headset on October 13, the company revealed during its E3 presser, after prefacing the date drop with a trailer for the next Resident Evil. At $399, the new PlayStation 4-exclusive headset clocks in $200 cheaper than the next most expensive mainstream virtual reality headset (the Oculus Rift, at $599). Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden says you can expect 50 games in all for PlayStation VR between launch and year’s end, including a mix of existing and completely new experiences.”

15)      What is happening with Virtual Reality?

The lack of content for VR s one reason it hasn’t taken off yet. I find it hard to believe that VR movies will even be successful except briefly as a novelty. Like “3D” (i.e. stereoscopic) images, VR can only simulate a small part of the visual experience as important things like depth of field, etc., can’t be simulated without knowing what the viewer is looking at. The technology is bound to find some success in games, but even there the novelty might soon wear off.

“There is no denying it; virtual reality is the new upcoming area in technology. Do you remember that time when apple launched the iPod? Everyone stood back in awe to think that all your CD’s could fit into a tiny little box. Well Virtual reality is heading in that direction but VR has a problem at present. While there are plenty of products available for VR usage there has not been that wow moment yet. One of the difficulties at present is there is not enough content to use for VR devices. Google have gone down the VR route with their Google Cardboard. It is predominantly been promoted towards school children to explore parts of the world using VR. I tried this out recently and while it was cool to look out at the top of Matchu Pichu and I can see the benefit to schools, this has certain limitations and the novelty quickly wears off.”

16)      Wal-Mart Experimenting With Robotic Shopping Cart for Stores

One Wal-Mart near me makes you deposit $1 to get a shopping cart, which is a reason I avoid that particular store. Shopping carts are cheap and often get damaged so I can only imagine what would happen to a robotic shopping cart after a few days with the average Wal-Mart shopper. Robots aren’t exactly cheap either. Mind you, every Wal-Mart store has a small fleet of scooters for use by the handicapped (though most of the time the handicap is obesity).

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is working with a robotics company to develop a shopping cart that helps customers find items on their lists and saves them from pushing a heavy cart through a sprawling store and parking lot, according to a person familiar with the matter. Such carts are an emerging opportunity for robotics companies as brick-and-mortar stores look for innovative ways to match the convenience of Inc. and other online retailers, said Wendy Roberts, founder and chief executive officer of Five Elements Robotics.”

17)      Experimental Firefox feature lets you use multiple identities while surfing the web

This sounds like a potentially rather useful tool. The idea is to essentially present different sets of cookies, etc., depending on what you are doing. I suspect that it would be even more useful if you could assign the identity on the basis of the website so you could do your banking always with the banking identity presented.

“Mozilla’s Firefox browser is getting a new experimental feature today that aims to help you segregate your online identities and allow you to sign in into multiple mail or social media accounts side-by-side without having to use multiple browsers. This new “container tab” feature, which is now available in the unstable Nightly Firefox release channel, provides you with four default identities (personal, work, shopping and banking) with their own stores for cookies, IndexedDB data store, local storage and caches. In practice, this means you can surf Amazon without ads for products you may have looked at following you around the web when you switch over to your work persona.”

18)      Telegram bug allows attackers to crash devices, jack up phone bills

Who knew Iran has computer security experts? This is a pretty clunky bug so it’s surprising the software engineers at Telegram let it through. Basically bad software allows arbitrarily long files to be sent to your device – at your cost. Doesn’t anybody do bounds checks in software anymore?

“To prevent malicious users from abusing the app, Telegram limits text messages to a specific range of characters. Each message must consist of at least one character, and it may not exceed 4,096 characters. But according to Iranian security researchers Sadegh Ahmadzadegan and Omid Ghaffarinia, those limitations can easily be circumvented. The two researchers note in a blog post that a programming error allows a sender to successfully transmit a message with arbitrary length to a receiver … That large file can, in turn, cause the phone to crash or stop working due to a lack of memory. It can also eat up a user’s monthly data allotment if they are connected to their mobile network and not Wi-Fi. In a proof-of-concept video, Ahmadzadegan and Ghaffarinia spent 256 MB of a 300 MB plan in just a few minutes by sending over-sized messages.”

19)      3D printed braces: the future of scoliosis treatment

There is little chance 3D printing will become the consumer market many had forecast. Nevertheless the fact is there are plenty of high value added applications for the technology. I favor medical because there are all sorts of things in the medical business which should be customized for the patient but they are not. This is a potentially attractive application and I suspect the scanning part could be reduced from 30 minutes to a few seconds with the right equipment.

“In making the 3D printed corsets, the first step is a CAD-CAM capture, wherein low cost infrared sensors can effectively 3D scan and capture the patient’s torso. The technology is also capable of simultaneously correcting the patient’s curvature in a digital model. According to the doctor, the modelling time lasts only about 30 minutes. The benefits of 3D printing the brace are also notable: the technology is cost and materially efficient, even once printed the braces can be recycled and modified, they are lightweight and custom fitted, and have a distinct improved aesthetic quality. Leoncini has been working with the DeltaWASP 40 70 3D printer for his braces.”


20)      Walgreens ends relationship with Theranos, in-store centers closing immediately

Theranos is the “controversial” company which promised to do a whole bunch of blood tests from a small volume of blood. It was an early “unicorn” which raised a ton of money off investors who were unfazed that the CEO had dropped out of her second year of a chemical engineering degree and that you can’t really “hack” your way through biochemistry and medical engineering. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for bringing this development to my attention.

““In light of the voiding of a number of test results, and as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rejected Theranos’ plan of correction and considers sanctions, we have carefully considered our relationship with Theranos and believe it is in our customers’ best interests to terminate our partnership,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief health care commercial market development officer. The move is a big blow for Theranos, whose finger-prick blood-testing system vaulted it and founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes into the national spotlight before crashing over the past eight months over questions about its technology.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 10th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 10th 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)          Tesla Model S battery pack data shows very little capacity loss over high mileage

Its interesting battery chemistry doesn’t apply to a particular company. Well sort of. First, this is self-reported data and there is no particular reason to believe it is representative – especially with a cult company like Tesla. Second, having looked at the data itself, it does not appear they correct for the frequent battery replacements (i.e. if a vehicle gets a new battery after 2 years that battery’s life was 2 years, not 55,000 miles and counting on a new battery). That matters, a lot, if 55/844 vehicles have had batteries replaced within about 3 years as the data shows. Finally, it appears this reports what the car says the range of the battery and that is not a meaningful gauge of battery capacity. Battery capacity which can only be determined by putting the battery on a load and measuring how many watt-hours it delivers – you know, what real engineers or auto mechanics do to test batteries. Even the “improving” reliability statistics are misrepresented since (no kidding) newer cars are going to have fewer failures. The information has to be reckoned as “drivetrain replacements per 100,000 km traveled” or something like that.

“‘Lithium’ battery capacity degradation is one of the main concerns of electric vehicle buyers and potential buyers. Since the resurgence of electric cars is relatively recent, meaningful long-term data on large battery packs is fairly rare. Only Tesla has battery packs with a capacity higher than 30 kWh on the road in any significant number and they only have been in operation for a few years (Roadster aside). But a few Tesla owners have accumulated impressive mileage on their vehicles and the data provides an interesting look into potential battery capacity degradation. The electric vehicle advocate group, Plug-in America, is always independently gathering data on Tesla vehicles, especially through its Model S Survey.”

2)          Tesla Suspension Breakage: It’s Not The Crime, It’s The Coverup

While meaningless garbage like the article cited in item 1 get plastered all over the Internet and mainstream media, things like this get buried, shouted down, or ignored. I’ve repaired a lot of cars in my time and I’ve never seen a ball joint that looks as bad as that. Regardless, the story points out Tesla’s bizarre way of dealing with customer complaints: sign an NDA or you are on your own. Since parts are only available from Tesla, you had better play ball and shut up if you want it fixed. You have don’t have to wonder why a car company would do such a thing, especially one with the horrific reliability record of Teslas. Mind you it’s a publicly traded company so maybe it’s important to maintain the illusion. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“For several months now, reports have circulated in comment sections and forum threads about a possible defect in Tesla’s vehicles that may cause suspension control arms to break. Many of those reports appeared to come from a single, highly-motivated and potentially unreliable source, a fact which led many to dismiss them as crankery. But as more reports of suspension failure in Teslas have come in, Daily Kanban has investigated the matter and can now report on this deeply troubling issue.”

3)          What big ISPs don’t want you to know about data caps

The interesting with Internet and mobile services is that they are pretty much the only tech good which appears immune to Moore’s Law. After all the cost of the high tech end of things has plummeted and carriers don’t really do much beyond maintenance capital spending. So you can deliver more and more data over the same cables/spectrum at lower and lower cost and yet, strangely, bills go up. It’s almost like it’s a largely uncompetitive market – which is what it is.

“If you buy 10 gallons of gas, you should pay more than the person who buys just five gallons, right? That’s the argument Comcast and AT&T make as they impose data caps on more and more broadband customers. People today use much more data than ever before, they say, and it’s only fair that folks who use more data pay more. But there’s a flaw in that argument. “The cost of increasing [broadband] capacity has declined much faster than the increase in data traffic,” says Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, an independent ISP based in Santa Rosa, Calif.”

4)          Nest’s time at Alphabet: A “virtually unlimited budget” with no results

What a totally expected outcome: Google paid $3.2B for a company that makes a product a small group of hackers could make over a weekend and then throws another $500M in acquisitions and who knows how much more money in salaries and they go no results. What do you expect? Almost all IoT products are pretty trivial to make so you aren’t going to get cutting edge engineering talent from an IoT company – even if you spend billions for it.

“Nest grew from 280 employees around the time of the Google acquisition to 1200 employees today. In Nest’s first year as “a Google company,” it used Google’s resources to acquire webcam maker Dropcam for $555 million, and it paid an unknown amount for the smart home hub company Revolv. Duffy said Nest was given a “virtually unlimited budget” inside Alphabet. Nest eventually transitioned to an Alphabet company, just like Google. In return for all this investment, Nest delivered very little. The Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect smoke detector both existed before the Google acquisition, and both received minor upgrades under Google’s (and later Alphabet’s) wing. A year after buying Dropcam, Nest released the Nest Cam, which was basically a rebranded Dropcam. Two-and-a-half years under Google/Alphabet, a quadrupling of the employee headcount, and half-a-billion dollars in acquisitions yielded minor yearly updates and a rebranded device. That’s all.”

5)          Google Says It’s Very ‘Serious’ About Gigabit Wireless

Running fiber through a neighborhood is expensive enough but the final connection to every consumer is where it gets seriously expensive. Besides digging up lawns, etc., you might have to damage pavement, risk hitting gas or water pipes, and so on. Short range wireless technology would lead to a dramatic reduction in capital cost since a single base station could serve everybody in a few hundred meter radius. It would also make deploying broadband much faster since you don’t need as many backhoes. This would most likely use unlicensed radio bands so Google wouldn’t even need to pay for the spectrum.

“Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt told shareholders during the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday that Google Fiber is extremely “serious” about using fiber as an additional avenue to deliver additional broadband competition to stagnant markets. “To give you an idea of how serious this is,” Schmidt stated the executive had a “lengthy” meeting on Tuesday with Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat to discuss the company’s wireless ambitions. Those ambitions include testing the viability of millimeter wave technologies and 3.5 GHz wireless broadband as part of an ongoing trial in Kansas City. “There appears to be a wireless solutions that are point to point that are inexpensive now because of the improvements in semiconductors,” Schmidt said. “These point to point solutions are now cheaper than digging up your garden and so forth.””

6)          Why home 3D printing never lived up to the hype

The article has a pretty good post mortem on the idea of home 3D printing though it is a pity so much money was squandered before they came to these rather obvious conclusions. Setting aside the poor performance of low cost machines, and the limited choice of materials, most people don’t build stuff.

“”This notion of consumers buying their own machine and printing for themselves just is not working out, because it’s not easy,” he said. “You need to have some design talent, and most people aren’t designers. You need to learn design software, and most people don’t want to mess with it.” And 3D printers cheap enough for the consumer market tend to be less sophisticated than the industrial-strength models, Wohlers added. “3D printers that are affordable are limited in size, material color, surface finish, a lot of things,” he said. “You’re really limited as to what you’re going to print with them, even if you have some design experience.””

7)          Gartner Says Worldwide Smartphone Sales to Slow in 2016

This is the time of year when all the industry analysts downgrade their estimates for existing markets (the ones you can measure) and upgrade their estimates for emerging markets (where nobody can dispute using real figures). I find the unit growth expectation to be quite high but there are a lot of cheap, good quality handset coming on the market and that might help unit demand. The problem is prices are going down so chances are revenue is going to go down a lot more than single digit unit growth might suggest.

“Gartner, Inc. said global smartphone sales will continue to slow and will no longer grow in double digits. Worldwide smartphone sales are expected to grow 7 percent in 2016 to reach 1.5 billion units. This is down from 14.4 percent growth in 2015. In 2020, smartphone sales are on pace to total 1.9 billion units. “The smartphone market will no longer grow at the levels it has reached over the last seven years,” said Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner. “Smartphone sales recorded their highest growth in 2010, reaching 73 percent.””

8)          The chip card rollout has been a costly nightmare for everyone involved

Whenever I hear about Apple pay I think about chip and PIN in the US. Somehow the rest of the world made the switch without too much bother, but US consumers and vendors seem to be in a uproar over this relatively ancient technology. Sorry about the auto play video at the begging. It is simply a demonstration of how awful Yahoo is: it makes noise while presenting a summary of the story in caption form. Somebody thought that was a good idea.

“The deadline for retailers to switch to chip-enabled payment cards was last October. This was when U.S. credit card companies, including Visa (V) and Mastercard (MA), announced new liability rules that would shift the burden of responsibility for fraudulent transactions to businesses if they didn’t update their technology. The chip cards, which use what’s known as EMV technology, have unique transaction codes that make them more secure. But even as the deadline has passed, merchants have delayed EMV migration. Many retailers have cited avoidance of long lines that develop from the slow process. And other retailers claim they have installed the card readers but are waiting for the credit card industry to do their part.”

9)          The app boom is over

This seems like the week of obvious tech stories, except that this was probably obvious a few years ago. Apps are lightweight and complex function which requires cloud infrastructure is cheap enough to rent. There are only so many ideas and so many things you can get people to do with a few square inches of screen. Heck there hasn’t been any innovation in PC software in 15 so why should mobile software be any different?

“The mobile app boom kicked off in July 2008, when Apple introduced the App Store. Now it is over. People are still making plenty of apps, of course. And many people are still downloading them. But the go-go growth days are gone. If you are an independent app developer or publisher, you have probably known this for a while, because you have found it very difficult to get people to download your app — the average American smartphone user downloads zero apps per month. But now even the very biggest app publishers are seeing their growth slow down or stop altogether. Most people have all the apps they want and/or need. They’re not looking for new ones.”

10)      Can You Program Ethics Into a Self-Driving Car?

Autonomous vehicles are 15 to 20 years away so we have lots of time to think about this. From a societal perspective both AVs and the enabling advanced safety features (which are already on the market) will save untold lives and vastly reduce pain and suffering from car crashes. From a lawyer’s perspective, as long as you can convince 12 jurors something isn’t perfect enough, you can profit. After all some lawyers recently convinced a jury baby powder is carcinogenic, all actual scientific evidence to the contrary, so AV litigation should be easy unless laws are crafted to limit it’s damages. Thanks to Alain Belanger for this item.

“Today no court ever asks why a driver does anything in particular in the critical moments before a crash. The question is moot as to liability—the driver panicked, he wasn’t thinking, he acted on instinct. But when robots are doing the driving, “Why?” becomes a valid question. Human ethical standards, imperfectly codified in law, make all kinds of assumptions that engineers have not yet dared to make. The most important such assumption is that a person of good judgment will know when to disregard the letter of the law in order to honor the spirit of the law. What engineers must now do is teach the elements of good judgment to cars and other self-guided machines—that is, to robots.”

11)      Many Lexus navigation systems bricked by over-the-air software update

This sort of thing is a pretty serious. Not so much the loss of infotainment systems but you can imagine what might happen if the software for advanced safety systems gets borked during an over the air software update. At least old fashioned go to the deal and spend a fortune type updates would be scheduled and presumable checked out after the fact.

“Lexus social media channels have been flooded by frustrated owners, but the company has been unable to give any estimates for when the problem will be resolved. The company also couldn’t say whether customers will see the problem fix itself with another software update or if they will need to head into dealers to get it fixed. Some users on Twitter have reported success with disconnecting their battery for a few moments to force a reset of the system.”

12)      Oracle Whistleblower Suit Raises Questions Over Cloud Accounting

There have been questions about Oracle’s cloud revenues for some time now. Like most companies they are probably trying to put their best foot forward and make it look like they are an important force in the business (external evidence to the contrary). Almost certainly they are doing so which is all according to accounting rules. Regardless, Oracle’s position in the cloud should be the least of investor concerns: their traditional, staggeringly expensive, centralized database solution is not the way modern developers solve modern problems. So, chances are their licensing revenue will gradually decline over time and there isn’t much they can do about it.

“Those questions are becoming more urgent as companies including Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and SAP race to transform their businesses for an era in which customers no longer own and operate their own information technology systems and instead lease computing services and software from cloud vendors using vast data centers. Blackburn’s lawsuit accuses Oracle management of pushing her to “fit square data into round holes” to make Oracle’s cloud services’ results look better. She alleges that her bosses instructed her to add millions of dollars of accruals for expected business “with no concrete or foreseeable billing to support the numbers.””

13)      IBM has been awarded an average of 24 patents per day so far in 2016

A number of years ago, when I still bothered to read books on investing, I read a book about patents being a strong indicator of a company’s success. In retrospect what the author was actually saying was that big, successful companies have the money to be able to patent every dopey idea that pops into the mind of an engineer or scientist, and since the US patent system is broken having the money is more important than having an original idea. Mind you, IBM has lots of clever engineers and scientists so it is a pity they have had the witless leadership they have had for so long. After all this is a company which has missed every significant technological shift since the PC.

“The media tends to focus on the crazy things Google, Facebook, and Apple patent, but they’re still dwarfed by more traditional companies like IBM and Samsung when it comes to the number of patents they’re awarded each year. Through the first half of 2016, IBM has, yet again, been the leader in technology patents, averaging roughly 23.6 patents awarded each day.”

14)      Optical Dreams, Virtual Reality

I remain sceptical about the prospects for VR. This article covers one part of the problem but implying that, somehow, progress has been made in simulator sickness is a bit off point since nobody, not even the military, really knows what causes it. It might be a disconnect between what you see and your vestibular system or it might be that and other things being out of whack (like depth of field, etc.). As the article notes, game developers deal with it by dialing back the intensity of the game – which kind of defeats the purpose.

“Yet an old question lurks behind these new scenes: Is the new technology good enough to protect users from the nausea-inducing effects, similar to motion sickness, that have been show-stoppers in the past? VR depends on optical tricks to generate the illusion of 3-D worlds and motion, but those tricks can’t fool all the senses—and eventually our sensory systems tend to rebel. Even 3-D movies and television are enough to make some people sick. Will isolating the user still further from reality make things even worse?”

15)      For better or worse? Direct-to-consumer lab tests remove the physician ‘middle man’

It’s easy to see how certain tests – say for STDs, pregnancy, etc. – can be advantageous if done at home and the results may be a little easier to understand since they are pretty much binary. What is not exactly clear is how the average consumer is expected to interpret most medical tests, let alone place them in context since the data themselves are often subject to interpretation based on history and context. Nevertheless, if it is legal, companies will take advantage of it and, no doubt, offer all kinds of products and services to salve the consumer’s concerns.

“Many consumers are actively searching for ways to take a proactive role in their healthcare. Direct-to-consumer lab tests, which provide at-home tests for hormones and biomarkers — such as vitamin levels, cholesterol and inflammation — empower patients to identify potential health issues before they progress. But they also remove a traditionally integral factor to healthcare tests: the physicians. One company that provides such services is InsideTracker, according to The New York Times. This particular company also offers customers the option to send nurses to their homes and draw blood. While the convenience of DTC lab tests may be a plus for consumers, critics worry they lack proper medical oversight and convince healthy people they have medical issues, which could lead to unnecessary tests and treatments, according to the report. Despite these concerns, the market for DTC lab tests has expanded substantially. In 2015, the market was valued at $131 million, up from $15 million in 2010, according to Kalorama Information data cited by The New York Times.”

16)      Using CRISPR to grow a human pancreas in a pig

I find it surprising they want to grow a human organ inside a pig since it would probably be a lot easier to make the pig’s organs invisible to the immune system. The part about potentially making a pig with a human’s brain is a little weird: pigs (and many other animals) are plenty smart but it hasn’t helped them yet. Unless the pigs learn how to talk and can afford a lawyer nobody is going to care.

“To cause a human pancreas to grow inside of a developing pig inside of its mother’s womb, the researchers use CRISPR gene editing to remove the genetic portion of a pig embryo that encodes for a normal pig pancreas. They then replace the removed portion with human stem cells. The end result should be a pig embryo that develops into a pig fetus and if allowed, to a fill sized pig after birth. At that time, the pancreas, which should be all human, would be removed and placed in a human suffering from pancreatic failure—offering a cure for diabetes and other pancreas ailments. Even more exciting is the possibility that if the process works, and is approved, a human in need of a new organ could donate the stem cells, which would mean the organ grown would have his or her DNA, which would mean they would not have to take anti-rejection drugs once the new organ is placed inside them.”

17)      Wearable Artificial Kidney Completes First Clinical Trial And May Change Dialysis Treatment Forever

This is probably big news if you are suffering from kidney failure. The video is worth a watch but it does raise a number of questions like why would this be on a belt rather than in a shoulder bag or something. It may just be a prototype and they might hope to further miniaturize it but I probably wouldn’t be able to go for more than a few minutes without the tubes getting stuck on something.

“Current treatments typically are necessary three times a week, being hooked up to a stationary machine that does not allow patients to walk around while the machine is working. A wearable device would allow patients to become mobile and offer much longer and more frequent sessions without all the hassle. … The device was shown to effectively clear the blood of all waste products, such as urea, creatinine and phosphorus and also got rid of excess amounts of both water and salt. While the diet for those being treated by dialysis are very restricted, when using the Wearable Artificial Kidney, no limitations are required in order to keep patients’ blood electrolytes and blood fluid volume in perfect balance.

18)      From a heart in a backpack to a heart transplant

This article caught my eye but it turns out there isn’t much new about it: artificial hearts have been used over 1,600 times as a ‘bridge to transplant’ and some people have even had them for longer. I had no idea. More information is on the video at

“All transplant patients are exceptional, but Stan Larkin’s successful heart transplant comes after living more than a year without a human heart and relying on a heart device he carried in a backpack. The first patient in Michigan ever discharged with a SynCardia temporary total artificial heart in 2014, Larkin was back at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center in May for a heart transplant.”

19)      FoldiMate: Your Laundry Folding Friend

The animation is entertaining but animations of machines are a lot less credible than actual film of machines. I can’t help but wonder how long a Rube Goldberg device such as this would last, or the cost/benefit of a $700+ device to fold a few items of clothes.

20)      Robots Are Invading Malls (and Sidewalks) Near You

Sounds scary but the robots are basically autonomous drones which bring things to people or wander around stores. It’s not exactly clear how the security robot is supposed to recognize to recognize “suspicious behavior” or what it would do about it. The best examples are the inventory robot and the delivery drones. It’s going to take a long time to get to a “Robocop”.

“Robots have been mingling with humans in several stores, too, including a Target in San Francisco, where a robot called Tally was used for a trial in which it trundled up and down aisles carrying out inventory checks—a mind-numbing task for humans. Tally detects when products are out of stock or moved so staff know to replace them. According to Tally’s creator, a startup called Simbe Robotics, it can complete an audit of a medium-sized store in around half an hour, with 96 percent accuracy. The same task would take a human 25 hours, and the company contends people are only about 65 percent accurate.”

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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of June 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)          Op-ed: Oracle attorney says Google’s court victory might kill the GPL

Needless to say, Oracle’s attempt to shake down Google for $9B was not entirely a charitable endeavour rather than a cynical effort to appear relevant. The idea that APIs are somehow copyrightable is absurd on its face so the claim this lawyer makes that breaking that copyright is somehow bad is ludicrous.

“While we don’t know what ultimately swayed the jury, Google’s narrative boiled down to this: because the Java APIs have been open, any use of them was justified and all licensing restrictions should be disregarded. In other words, if you offer your software on an open and free basis, any use is fair use. If that narrative becomes the law of the land, you can kiss GPL (general public license) goodbye. No business trying to commercialize software with any element of open software can afford to ignore this verdict. Dual licensing models are very common and have long depended upon a delicate balance between free use and commercial use. Royalties from licensed commercial exploitation fuel continued development and innovation of an open and free option. The balance depends upon adherence to the license restrictions in the open and free option. This jury’s verdict suggests that such restrictions are now meaningless, since disregarding them is simply a matter of claiming “fair use.””

2)          Samsung Mass Producing Industry’s First 512-Gigabyte NVMe SSD in a Single BGA Package for More Flexibility in Computing Device Design

If anybody has any doubt that HDDs are on their way out, this announcement is worth a look: a 512GB Solid State Drive in a single package about the size of a postage stamp. It should be faster, more power efficient and more reliable than any other SSD on the market to boot. Unfortunately, pricing hasn’t been announced and you can bet it is high, at least on a price/GB basis. Nonetheless you are looking at the future, or lack thereof, of the HDD industry.

“Configuring the PM971-NVMe SSD in a single BGA package was enabled by combining 16 of Samsung’s 48-layer 256-gigabit (Gb) V-NAND flash chips, one 20-nanometer 4Gb LPDDR4 mobile DRAM chip and a high-performance Samsung controller. The new SSD is 20mm x 16mm x 1.5mm and weighs only about one gram (an American dime by comparison weighs 2.3 grams). The single-package SSD’s volume is approximately a hundredth of a 2.5” SSD or HDD, and its surface area is about a fifth of an M.2 SSD, allowing much more design flexibility for computing device manufacturers.”

3)          Elon Musk announces plan to revolutionize factories

I can only imagine what it must be like to work for a real car company like Toyota of Volvo: you produce large quantities of reliable vehicles using highly automated production techniques and you read this article quoting Musk, who manufactures a miniscule number of poor quality and unreliable vehicles, and how he is somehow going to “revolutionize” factories. It’s got to make you crazy.

“Having already upset the traditional automobile industry with his electric cars and the space exploration business with his reusable Space X rockets, Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk will now set about trying to revolutionize the American factory. In a freewheeling talk before shareholders Tuesday, Musk said he and his Tesla team will completely rethink the factory process, hoping to bring “factors of 10 or even 100 times” in improvements in efficiency to the manner in which “you build the machines that build the machine.” Musk, returning repeatedly to the idea of “physics-first principles,” said he no longer uses an office at Tesla, but spends all of his time on the production line.”

4)          Xiaomi buys Microsoft smartphone patents

This may be a very significant development in the smartphone industry. Xiaomi has been very successful in the developing world where it has been able to operate without worrying about patent suits (most likely from the incredibly litigious Apple). Patents are a two way street and involve a “sue me and I’ll sue you” type dynamic. The only reason Xiaomi would be interested in Microsoft’s patents would be because it wants to sell into the US and EU.

“Smartphone maker Xiaomi has bought the rights to hundreds of Microsoft’s smartphone inventions. Experts say the patent deal paves the way for the Chinese firm to sell its handsets in Western markets. Microsoft will benefit from the fact that some of its Android apps – including Office and Skype – will now be pre-installed on Xiaomi devices. The announcement comes at a time when Xiaomi has been struggling to meet sales targets. The Beijing-based company originally set itself a target of selling 100 million smartphones in 2015. But it managed to sell only 71 million, partly because of increased competition from domestic rivals.”

5)          2016 Internet Trends Report: Global Smartphone User Growth Slowing as Android Outpaces iOS

I am loath to cite Mary Meeker in anything but what the heck – it’s a slow week. This is one of two items about smartphone sales which I predict are going to grow very modestly or even contract over the next few years. Key is pricing: it is coming down due to a number of factors but slow growth is certainly one of them. Slow or negative unit growth amid declining unit prices suggests a tough slog ahead for the industry.

“Due to Apple’s introduction of the lower-cost iPhone SE — and the cheaper price tag of smartphones in the company’s expanding global markets — Meeker also expects Apple’s average selling price per unit to dip this year for the first time since 2012. In that year, ASP dropped only 4 percent (from $712 in 2011 to $686 in 2012), but now the company is predicted to see a 9 percent decline in ASP (dropping off from $717 in 2015 to $651 in 2016). Unlike in years past, global smartphone unit shipments are slowing “dramatically,” for both Apple and Android-supported devices. Expansion for the smartphone market as a whole has stagnated, going from a peak in 2010 at nearly 80 percent year-over-year growth, to just about 15 percent in 2015.”

6)          IDC expects ‘substantial slowdown’ in phone shipment growth this year

I have never found that IDC, Gartner, etc., are any better at predicting the future than a blind monkey would be. Nevertheless, this is one case where they are probably correct, though admittedly they are simply arriving at a conclusion which should have been obvious a year ago. What I don’t understand is how they get to 1.84 billion smartphones by 2020, which works out to a 5.5% compound growth rate. Why should sales accelerate?

“In 2014, smartphone shipments grew a massive 27.8-percent, and the next year, 2015, smartphone shipments grew by 10.5-percent. The International Data Corporation (IDC) expects that we’ll see a substantial slowdown in shipments this year, with 2016 (possibly) ending up at around only 3.1-percent. According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, this year will probably see about 1.48 billion smartphone shipments, a number that is estimated to climb to 1.84 billion by 2020.”

7)          ZenFone 3 Deluxe: All hail Asus’ new flagship phone (hands-on)

Last week I carried an item about a ZTE flagship phone expected to sell for about $450. This week Asus, which is better known to most consumers, announced a $499 flagship which appears to be significantly better, at least specification-wise to the latest iPhones. If phones with these features are selling for less than $500 (expect discounting) you can imagine what a more pedestrian smartphone will sell for.

“The company’s most impressive looking flagship to date, the Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe overpowers the ZenFone 3 and large-screened ZenFone 3 Ultra phones it was announced alongside at Computex in Taipei. It looks like it has the chops to match up with other flagship phones in the market, too. Sporting a monster 6GB of RAM, the base 64GB model will cost $499 (£340, AU$695). The competitively priced phone will be available in Q3, sometime after July.”

8)          U.S. newspapers file FTC complaint against adblocking whitelist ‘racket’

I actually agree – adblock whitelisting is a racket, but that’s not why I use uBlock – which doesn’t yet have a paid whitelist feature) – I block everything. You’d think the newspaper industry would be OK with the idea of paid whitelisting because, well, according to the law money is speech and, let’s face it, they aren’t charities. I have no idea how the case will go, except that if Adblock Plus loses, more people will switch to any of the numerous other alternatives.

“Shortly before the Memorial Day weekend, the Newspaper Association of America filed a Complaint and Request for Investigation to the Federal Trade Commission regarding the ‘unfair and deceptive trade practices’ of Eyeo’s paid whitelisting for the AdBlock product. The complaint [PDF], which represents the likes of The Washington Post along with 2000 other news outlets, describes adblocking technologies as ‘free-riding’ and a ‘clear and present danger’ to a ‘vibrant, content-filled Internet’. However consumer opinions might be in contrast to that view of network-delivered ads, the complaint’s central contention is that adblocking technologies in general – and AdBlock Plus in particular – are cynically using popular take-up to generate an entirely new business model based on ‘middling’ – effectively running a protection racket wherein cash-rich publishing entities must pay to get their network ad content seen by default for the adblocking end-user.”

9)          Rise of Ad-Blocking Software Threatens Online Revenue

It’s almost as though consumers would prefer not to be inundated with distracting, bandwidth consumer, malware carrying, and outright fraudulent ads. Go figure. I find it interesting mobile ad blocking is more common in India and Indonesia but it might be a rare occasion where the developing world leads in technology. Mobile carriers are getting into the act (see item 10) but I suspect that is because they want to ransom advertisers to get them whitelisted.

“Already, 36 percent of the smartphone users in the Asia-Pacific region have so-called ad-blocking browsers on their mobile devices, allowing them to remove online ads when they use the Internet. In India and Indonesia — two of the world’s fastest-growing Internet markets — that figure is almost two-thirds of smartphone users, according to the report. “We found the results surprising because in the West we don’t often consider what’s going on in developing countries,” said Sean Blanchfield, chief executive of PageFair. “It’s only a matter of time until mobile ad blocking comes to the West.””

10)      UK Wireless Carrier Three Will Test Mobile Ad Blocking Technology Next Month: Should Online Publishers Be Afraid?

I figure this is simply a test by carriers to get advertisers to pay for the privilege of carrying their ads, so it is most likely a dry run for what amounts to the “paid whitelist” scam.

“Three wants to change the way targeted ads are created. While the company seems to be fine with relevant ads, Three is taking a stance against the type of marketing materials that are customized based on information surreptitiously collected from users. Along with striking back against advertisers and publishers of targeted marketing materials, Three is also working to shift, from consumers, the burden of paying for ads using data as currency. “The current ad model is broken,” says Malleschitz. “It frustrates customers, eats up their data allowance and can jeopardize their privacy. Something needs to change.””

11)      The robot invasion that isn’t yet here

Hardly a day goes by where I don’t see an article about how robots are gonna take our jerbs. Most such articles are written by economists and non-experts who know nothing about robotics and AI but that doesn’t seem to hurt their influence. This article has a more reasoned look at the situation which has been unfolding since the dawn of the industrial revolution and which has always led to improved standards of living for all.

“The robots are coming — but not in numbers that would imperil most Americans’ jobs. Few subjects have inspired as much hype as robots. Consider some sample headlines: “Robots and Computers Could Take Half Our Jobs Within the Next 20 years,” “Robots Could Put Humans Out of Work by 2045,” “Why the Highest-Paid Doctors Are the Most Vulnerable to Automation.” Here’s why you should be skeptical, at least in the near term. First, there’s little evidence that robots have yet had much effect on job creation in the current recovery. Since a low point of payroll jobs in February 2010, the economy has added 14 million jobs. These figures surely obscure countless thousands of jobs lost to automation, but that’s a normal part of a dynamic economy.”

12)      British drone-freezing ray gets US airports trial

I guess if you have halfwits who decide to fly their model airplanes near airports you need countermeasures to destroy those model airplanes. What the article does not make clear is what happens to the drones after control is lost: loss of control doesn’t mean it drops from the sky.

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding efforts to source technology that can detect small, unmanned aerial vehicles near airports. Three British companies developed the Anti-UAV Defence System (Auds), due to be included in new trials. It works by jamming signals to drones, making them unresponsive. A thermal imaging camera allows the Auds operator to target the unwanted drone before signal jamming, via a high-powered radio signal, is activated.”

13)      The Age of the GPU is Upon Us

I don’t agree with the conclusions of the article but I figure in fairness I’d include it. To begin with the “GPUs are going to revolutionize computing” narrative has been around as long as stock promoting GPU executives have been around to promote them. There is nothing magical about the GPU architecture and it has applicability in certain domains. In the unlikely event Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) becomes a big deal then Intel will simply adapt its processor architecture to including more SIMD instructions. If, indeed, database SIMD becomes a big deal they’ll just tuck in database centric SIMD instructions. No biggy.

“Having made the improbable jump from the game console to the supercomputer, GPUs are now invading the datacenter.  This movement is led by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, Baidu and others who have quietly but rapidly shifted their hardware philosophy over the past twelve months.  Each of these companies have significantly upgraded their investment in GPU hardware and in doing so have put legacy CPU infrastructure on notice. The driver of this change has been deep learning and machine intelligence, but the movement continues to downstream into more and more enterprise-grade applications – led in part by the explosion of data.”

14)      A confounding saga in Canadian corporate history

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a database implementation going well – unless you consider “less of a disaster than expected” as going well. Target came off as Keystone cops in this escapade and deservedly so as they elected to go with the highest risk option. Still, you have to consider the consultants at least partly to blame: after all, having screwed up so many implementations in the past you’d think they would have figured it out by now.

“In the U.S. Target Stores had used a combination of custom and standard technology that had been fine-tuned over the years to meet its operational requirements and there was a great deal of knowledge around how these systems worked. Target Canada faced a choice: Adopt the US technology or implement something completely new. You cannot help feeling that Target Canada was to be the guinea pig or proving ground for SAP in the US. According to the article, apparently the technology in use in the US was not geared up to deal Canada. Adoption would have required customization for the Canadian dollar and French-language characters. Those changes would take time and time was not a plentiful commodity in the roll-out plan. The decision was made to go with SAP. On face value that decision seems to have made sense – after-all, SAP is popular in retail and has a global reputation.”

15)      Critical flaws on HP, Dell, Acer, Asus and Lenovo laptops let hackers take over in 10 minutes

I first heard of this within the context of Lenovo, a company which has on more than one occasion shipped malware to its customers. In this case, the company is just one of a group of major vendors who shipped vulnerable software one their PCs. What is interesting is that some of the vendors simply ignored the report.

“The research was conducted between October 2015 and April 2016, and Duo Security informed each manufacturer as soon as they spotted each vulnerability. However, while some of the laptop vendors responded to the threat immediately, others did not and some have still not even patched the vulnerabilities. “Asus and Acer were the worst. With Asus, there were two different vulnerabilities. This one had code execution that was quite obvious and easy to exploit – it literally took less than 10 minutes to attack the system using that vulnerability,” said Manzuik. “They have told us they are patching the issue, but we have still not seen a patch from it. They originally did make a patch, but then they didn’t release it. We told them about the bugs over three months ago.” Duo Security praised Lenovo and HP for taking the risks seriously and having a process in place for researchers to report such issues. In fact, Lenovo has decided to completely remove the offending updater software from its laptops.”

16)      Wal-Mart says it is 6-9 months from using drones to check warehouse inventory

Drones have a lot of limitations and can be pretty dangerous but there are viable applications for them. This may be one of them: the idea seems to be that you fly around and record video of your inventory. Presumably some poorly paid human (though they might use image recognition) then reviews the video and counts up the stuff on the shelf. Since you aren’t paying people to walk around and do the same thing, it could be a big cost saver.

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc said Thursday it was six to nine months from beginning to use drones to check warehouse inventories in the United States, taking a step closer to using the technology to compete better with rivals. In October 2015, the world’s largest retailer applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories as it planned to use drones to fill and deliver online orders. Federal regulators are still considering rules for commercial operation of drones that would be involved in package delivery – viewed as the next frontier for big retailers such as Walmart and Amazon Inc.”

17)      Gigabit Internet with no data caps may be coming to rural America

It is hard to believe but 20 or so years ago, North American telecommunications infrastructure was the envy of the world. A couple decades of inept and corrupt regulation and it now lags even developing world countries. The most stark example is in “rural” areas, meaning anywhere outside major population centers. Usually schemes like these are less than effective as they are crafted to ensure maximum taxpayer support with minimal required results.

“Bidders can obtain money by proposing projects meeting requirements in any of four performance tiers. There’s a minimum performance tier that includes speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream, with at least 150GB of data provided each month. A “baseline” performance tier requires 25Mbps/3Mbps speeds and at least 150GB a month, though the data allotment minimum could rise based on an FCC metric that determines what typical broadband consumers use per month. The next tier up requires 100Mbps/20Mbps with unlimited data. Finally, there is a “Gigabit performance tier” that requires download speeds of at least 1Gbps and upload speeds of at least 500Mbps, with unlimited data.”

18)      Meta-lens works in the visible spectrum, sees smaller than a wavelength of light

I’ve read a number of articles about the potential for nanomaterial based lenses in the past few years. The idea is that instead of bending the light using refraction you bend the light using nanostructures. Because the nanostructures are easy to produce you end up with extremely inexpensive, very thin and lightweight lenses. Unfortunately I can’t just how far away from prime time this might be. Nevertheless the fact that lenses have always been made by grinding glass doesn’t mean they always will be.

“”Normal lenses have to be precisely polished by hand,” said Wei Ting Chen, coauthor and a postdoctoral fellow in the Capasso Lab. “Any kind of deviation in the curvature, any error during assembling makes the performance of the lens go way down. Our lens can be produced in a single step—one layer of lithography and you have a high performance lens, with everything where you need it to be.” … “Any good imaging system right now is heavy because the thick lenses have to be stacked on top of each other. No one wants to wear a heavy helmet for a couple of hours,” he said. “This technique reduces weight and volume and shrinks lenses thinner than a sheet of paper. Imagine the possibilities for wearable optics, flexible contact lenses or telescopes in space.””

19)      Coming Soon: Firefighter’s Masks With Built-In Thermal Imaging

Apparently firefighters have been using thermal imaging for some time but what makes this approach novel is that it uses augmented reality so superimpose the thermal image over the normal field of view. The video is pretty cool and I can help but wonder if they couldn’t capture another image using a light wavelength which penetrates smoke (i.e. a scanning laser or something) so the firefighters could see right through the smoke.

“Are firefighter’s masks about to get disrupted? Thermal imaging may be about to go mainstream in future masks. There have already been masks with these capabilities revealed, and now, straight out of Switzerland (or, more specifically, the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, better known as EPFL) comes the VIZIR, which will allow firefighters to see thermal imaging with an attached camera.”

20)      Stanford researchers ‘stunned’ by stem cell experiment that helped stroke patient walk

This is obviously an early study but interesting for two reasons: not just the promising results but the apparent fact it wasn’t the stem cells themselves which led to the improvement but the presence of the stem cells. This suggests the stem cells changed the local biochemistry and that is what resulted in the improvement, which further implies that understanding and improving that change may lead to more significant results.

“Stanford researchers studying the effect of stem cells injected directly into the brains of stroke patients said Thursday that they were “stunned” by the extent to which the experimental treatment restored motor function in some of the patients. While the research involved only 18 patients and was designed primarily to look at the safety of such a procedure and not its effectiveness, it is creating significant buzz in the neuroscience community because the results appear to contradict a core belief about brain damage — that it is permanent and irreversible.”