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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni



1)          Transistors Will Stop Shrinking in 2021, Moore’s Law Roadmap Predicts

It looks like the gig is up, sort of, for Moore’s Law. There are lower bounds to transistor size but it seems the major limitation is capital, which makes sense for an industry which is no longer growing. Transistors will continue to get smaller, albeit much more slowly, and, as the article notes, the focus will be on 3 dimensional chips. Moving into 3 dimensions poses its own challenges however as outer layers will serve as insulation for inner layers which will present some power issues. From a financial perspective the challenge will be that the economics of the industry will change from 30% annual deflation to a much lower rate and that will impact all kinds of investment decisions.

“After more than 50 years of miniaturization, the transistor could stop shrinking in just five years. That is the prediction of the 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which was officially released earlier this month. After 2021, the report forecasts, it will no longer be economically desirable for companies to continue to shrink the dimensions of transistors in microprocessors. Instead, chip manufacturers will turn to other means of boosting density, namely turning the transistor from a horizontal to a vertical geometry and building multiple layers of circuitry, one on top of another.”

2)          3D NAND Flash at 2 Cents per GB

The article itself is very interesting because it explains the state of the art with respect to 3D NAND. This company’s claim to fame is not a new memory type or cutting edge processing but simply a different approach to making a 3D flash device. Time will tell whether it can deliver but if the claims are even partly achievable the impact on the memory industry will be profound and hasten the demise of the Hard Disk Drive industry.

“The inventor of 3D monolithic chip technology back in 2010, BeSang Inc. (Beaverton, Ore.), claims to have since created a superior three-dimensional (3D) architecture for NAND flash. Frustrated with licensee Hynix’s slow implementation of its monolithic 3D technology, BeSang is opening the door to partnerships with other memory houses, as well as offering to contract-fab the chips for resale by others, at a price that reduces the cost-per-bit of 3D NAND from over 20¢ to about 2¢ per gigabyte.”

3)          Google updates Nexus phones with spam call protection

Mobile phone spam is a rising problem and the solution is quite simple: as soon as someone answers the phone they can flag a number as from a smaller and once that happens enough the phones can identify it as such to the user. The root problem lies with the telephone service providers who profit from the spammers as well as from other telephone related fraud.

“The FCC gets more complaints over spam calls than anything else, and recently told telecom companies to block them for free. Until that happens, Google has made it easier for Nexus or AndroidOne device owners to see if a call is spam and block it, thanks to an update to its phone app. If you have caller ID enabled on those devices, spam or robo-calls will pop up with a red screen and warning that says “suspected spam caller.” After taking or rejecting the call, you can either block the number or report that it’s legit if Google flagged it in error.”

4)          The Internet Of Things Is a Security And Privacy Dumpster Fire And The Check Is About To Come Due

This pretty much hits the nail on the head: IoT devices are slapped together by consumer electronics companies who typically lack expertise in computer security. Security is hard and the relevant talents are rare so the net result is no security. It isn’t like you should worry about somebody setting your thermostat for you but that your thermostat might be sending your banking information somewhere.

“And while mocking the internet of things has become a running joke, Schneier notes it quickly becomes less funny when you begin to realize that the interconnected nature of all of these devices means we’re introducing millions of new attack vectors daily in homes, businesses, utilities, and government agencies all over the world. Collectively these flaws will, no hyperbole intended, inevitably result in significant deaths …”

5)          No treat for you: pets miss meals after auto-feeding app PetNet glitches

The other challenge with IoT is that the systems typically require access to the cloud in order to function. This company’s servers went down and that took their product off line. It appears there is a fall back timer so the critter don’t starve to death, but for a pet owner knowing whether the animals have been fed can be stressful and probably a major reason for buying the product.

“It is a cautionary tale for the rise of the so-called “internet of things”: some pets could be left hungry after a server outage appeared to be causing automated feeders made by a company called PetNet to malfunction. The lesson: always build a backup system. PetNet describes itself as “the world’s first intelligent pet feeder that will program itself around your life and the wellness of your pet. The $149 device links to a smartphone app so that, in theory, customers could rest assured that their pet was well fed while they weren’t home. But a server issue has taken down the system for a number of users, leaving many animals without their scheduled meals.”

6)          Nintendo shares plummet after investors realize it doesn’t actually make Pokémon Go

Apparently, Pokemon Go is a popular game which has swept mobile users. The relationship between Nintendo (which owns the Pokemon franchise) and the game developer was well known public information. That didn’t stop Nintendo’s stock from dramatically increasing in value – at least until Nintendo reminded everybody it wasn’t that financially material for them. This kind of puts the whole “efficient markets hypothesis” to rest, doesn’t it?

“It appears that Nintendo’s huge stock bump, which took the company past Sony in market capitalization, was fueled by investors with the misguided belief that Pokémon is wholly a Nintendo creation and that the company would benefit accordingly. Nothing that Nintendo said in its announcement on Friday was new information — there isn’t a Nintendo logo to be found anywhere within Pokémon Go itself, and the status of the game’s ownership has been clear since it was announced last year.”

7)          Bitcoin’s not money, judge rules as she tosses money-laundering charge

I have to admit I am not sure I follow the judge’s reasoning here: you can be charged with money laundering if you use diamonds or large cases of oatmeal as the exchange mechanism so the question of whether or not Bitcoin is money is rather moot. Oddly Bitcoin proponents are hailing this as a victory even though, if it turns out to be true, it equally makes theft of Bitcoin completely legal and makes any contract or agreement involving Bitcoin unenforceable.

“The sting was designed to catch Espinoza, then 30 of Miami, laundering money. Florida law prohibits using financial transactions to “promote” illicit activity, such as, in this case, credit-card fraud. Ultimately, Arias arrested Espinoza on three felony counts of money laundering, capping a three-month investigation in 2014 into South Florida’s exchange of computerized money. But a Florida circuit-court judge ruled Monday that bitcoin is not money at all. And if you don’t have money, you can’t exactly launder it.”

8)          Can the internet reboot Africa?

It seems that a modern economy requires three things: rule of law, energy, and free flow of information. Unfortunately rule of law is not that strong in Africa and energy is often spotty in a lot of the continent. What is happening is the spread of Internet and mobile technologies and that may have a profound long term impact on the development of Africa.

“Such are the giddy promises of Africa’s “fourth industrial revolution” – a giant step forward into the digital world which the Guardian is reporting on for the next two weeks. Some are salivating that it will amount to the renaissance of a marginalised continent, while others soberly warn of the hype. By 2020 there will be more than 700m smartphone connections in Africa – more than twice the projected number in North America and not far from the total in Europe, according to GSMA, an association of mobile phone operators. In Nigeria alone 16 smartphones are sold every minute, while mobile data traffic across Africa is set to increase 15-fold by 2020.”

9)          Mobileye Falls After Saying It Won’t Extend Work With Tesla

Mobileye is the company which supplies the technology behind Tesla’s “Autopilot”. If you read between the lines Mobileye is concerned there will be reputational damage done to it and the industry if it continues to collaborate with Tesla’s aggressive R&D programs.

“Mobileye supplies cameras and technology for Tesla’s Model S sedans, including machine learning capabilities for its Autopilot suite of features. That function was at the center of a debate over the safety of driver-assist capabilities this month after Tesla said U.S. regulators were investigating a fatal accident involving a Model S that was driving on Autopilot. Fully autonomous driving requires a “paradigm shift” in terms of complexity and the “need to ensure an extremely high level of safety,” Shashua told investors on the call. “There is much at stake here, to Mobileye’s reputation and to the industry at large,” he said. “We think that that’s not in the interest of Mobileye to continue with Tesla in that area.””

10)      Elon Musk’s push for autopilot unnerves some Tesla employees

This story directly relates to the item above. Engineers are not soulless and they understand that sometimes their efforts can lead to injury or death. Consider the Challenger disaster, which largely occurred because NASA management ignored explicit warnings from technical staff of the risks of flying that day. The same could be said for deaths due to General Motors’ defective key switch. “The perfect” is exactly what you need, or as close to it, when human lives are involved.

“Even before Tesla reported the first known death of a driver using its autopilot feature, some employees worried the car company wasn’t taking every possible precaution. Those building autopilot were acutely aware that any shortcoming or unforeseen flaw could lead to injury or death — whether it be blind spots with the car’s sensors or drivers misusing the technology. But Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk believes that autopilot has the potential to save lives by reducing human error — and has pushed hard to get the feature to market. The team’s motto is “not to let the perfect be the enemy of the better,” according to a source close to Tesla. For Musk specifically, the source says his driving force is “don’t let concerns slow progress.””

11)      Infographic: Tesla’s gigafactory opens this week: What we know in 9 epic slides

Tesla made a big propaganda push over its battery factory this week, probably to distract attention from its quarterly results which are coming out next week. Most of the coverage I have seen appears to be written by people who have never been inside a modern factory. Long story short, there is a reason vertical integration is an obsolete business model. Thanks to my friend Fran Manns for this item.

“Tesla recently stated that its current battery cost is $190 per kWh for the Model S. The Gigafactory aims to reduce battery costs by 30%. Tesla expects this to happen through vertical integration, adding economies of scale, reducing waste, optimizing processes, and tidying up the supply chain.”

12)      Tesla, IBM, Stanford, & PNNL Lead Obama’s Battery500 EV Battery Initiative

This is not another Tesla story but an exploration of the poor quality of information surrounding battery or any other “green” technology. If I want to know the price history of a 74LS00 quad NAND I can go through old catalogs and even call up distributors to get the current price. I can do pretty much the same thing for steel, Ikea furniture, or Beijing Duck. “Green” proponents of the battery industry (as distinct from folks in the battery industry who actually know things) rely on pricing models, anecdotes, and the tall tales of stock promoters to determine what prices are. Shouldn’t they just pick up the telephone and get some real data?

“Coming back to historical battery prices and how they’ve dropped in recent years, below a graph I love (from our “Electric Car Answers” page). It was originally published in 2015 as part of a study of battery price trends up through 2014 (the stidy was published in the journal Nature Climate Change), and revised it slightly in May 2016.”

13)      Deutsche Telekom and BMW edge towards the truly connected car

Although the “connected car” could be a big deal for safety as cars could communicate things like rapid braking, loss of traction, etc., to other on the road, this article is not about that. For some reason DT and BMW have decided cars would make good femotcells. I am not sure why because they would still need some form of backhaul and so if a car can’t get reception why would it make a good femtocell? Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“So far, so good, and this probably qualifies as a “quite interesting” development, especially for passengers. But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. About 18 months ago, BMW was conducting trials with Nokia, Huawei and Vodafone that focused on integrating LTE base stations into their cars. The idea was that they would create a network of LTE small cells – not just for the benefit of the driver and passenger, but available for use by people and devices along the roadside. However, the caveat was that these car-mounted small cells would only operate when the vehicle was parked up and stationary.”

14)      You can’t turn off Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

This news swept the interwebs and created pandemonium. Even I got upset as I find things like Cortana an annoying distraction. Never let facts get in the way of a good story so see the next item.

“Microsoft made an interesting decision with Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, which is now in its final stages of development before it rolls out on August 2. Cortana, the personal digital assistant that replaced Windows 10’s search function and taps into Bing’s servers to answer your queries with contextual awareness, no longer has an off switch.”

15)      Yes, you can turn Cortana off in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

It turns out that you can, in fact turn off this annoying bit of Windows 10 after all.

“Now, in fairness, Microsoft did change some things around. The criticism that an “off switch” for Cortana is removed is technically correct and likely where much of the misinformation originates. But there is a reason for this too, which is a change in the structure of Cortana and it being a service on iOS and Android.”

16)      How to Persuade Consumers to Disable Ad Blockers

I think the things outlined below would help convince some people to disable their ad blockers but I suspect ensuring ads do not contain malware (which is disturbingly common) or are fraudulent (like the majority of mobile ads) would be a more important step. Oddly enough those are not mentioned.

“The research report, titled “Ad Blocking: Who Blocks Ads, Why, and How to Win Them Back,” was conducted on the IAB’s behalf by C3Research. Based on its findings, the IAB said the most effective ways publishers can convince consumers to disable ad blockers include limiting access to content for ad-blocking visitors, avoiding ads with autoplay video or autoplay sound, ensuring ads don’t block access to content, and “guaranteeing” that ads don’t slow down their websites.”

17)      Android to Send Location Data to First Responders

You would think that if a phone can tell you which street to walk down it would be pretty straightforward for emergency responders to find you. Apparently, not so much. The issue is most likely the state of the technology at the emergency call side of things as many of those systems haven’t been updated in decades. The comment “… (your) location is never seen or handled by Google” is pretty rich. Google knows everywhere you’ve been,, where you sleep, where you work, where you shop, etc..

“In fact, more than 99 percent of Android handsets—any device running Android 2.3 or later—already support this capability, using Wi-Fi and cellular tower triangulation to capture its precise location. Google is working with mobile network operators and emergency dispatch centers to add support on the receiving end. The UK and Estonia are the first two countries to get the emergency location notifications, with the feature going live there yesterday on some networks, including Vodafone and O2. Google has also partnered with the European Emergency Number Association, which coordinates emergency services across the continent.”

18)      Stiglitz Calls Apple’s Profit Reporting in Ireland ‘a Fraud’

The Nobel Prize in economics is pretty much a made up thing, but, seriously, it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to call a scam a scam, especially when it involves transfer pricing. Transfer pricing fraud used to be taught in introductory accounting courses so it really isn’t that hard to spot. The problem is not the law but a complete lack of interest in enforcing it: that’s what you get when money is speech.

“Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said U.S. tax law that allows Apple Inc. to hold a large amount of cash abroad is “obviously deficient” and called the company’s attribution of significant earnings to a comparatively small overseas unit a “fraud.” “Our current tax system encourages companies to keep their money abroad, opens up a vast loophole through what is called the transfer-pricing system that allows them not only to keep their money abroad but, effectively, to escape taxation,” Stiglitz, who advises Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene.”

19)      You Can Get a 3-D-Printed Cast for a Broken Bone

Medical applications are a high value opportunity for 3D printing. The manufacture of 3D printed casts should be easy enough to automate. I figure they put on a regular cast first then give you a 3D printed one later. The cost isn’t that bad considering how ridiculous cost for medical devices are in any case: I spent $180 to pay for an “air cast” when I had my leg fixed up and eyeglasses cost about 50x what it costs to manufacture them.

“But casts are finally getting a modern spin. 3-D-printed casts boast an open-lattice plastic design that’s customized to the individual patient. They’re waterproof, they’re more comfortable, and they may even help the bones heal faster. The casts are part of a larger movement toward personalized 3-D-printed medical devices. A number of startups around the world are working on this new technology. Earlier this year, engineering student Zaid Musa Badwan founded MediPrint in Mexico to manufacture the NovaCast he and colleagues designed, and a few weeks ago Xkelet, based in Girona, Spain, won a Red Dot Design Award (awarded in a prestigious international design competition) for its cast.”

20)      Australia plans new co-ordinates to fix sat-nav gap

The story here is that Australia is a moving target so GPS – which provides absolute coordinates – is fairly quickly wrong. A meter or two matters for some applications like autonomous vehicles. If the GPS system weren’t antiquated technology it could probably beam out a “your continent has moved” correction factor along with location information and keep the data always up to date.

“”We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn’t line up with the co-ordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems.” The Geocentric Datum of Australia, the country’s local co-ordinate system, was last updated in 1994. Since then, Australia has moved about 1.5 meters north. So on 1 January 2017, the country’s local co-ordinates will also be shifted further north – by 1.8m. The over-correction means Australia’s local co-ordinates and the Earth’s global co-ordinates will align in 2020.”


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni



1)          Solar power: Bill shock looms as lucrative tariffs roll back, advocates warn

There is no greater tragedy than the when a group loses its subsidies. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand that solar subsidies are not consistent with widespread adoption of solar power. Think of it this way: if you subsidize solar power by $0.20/kWhr for a total of $0.28/kWhr, the more solar power you have the closer you get to having everybody effectively pay for $0.28/kWhr for electricity. This has a particular impact on the folks who don’t live in single dwellings and who can’t benefit from the subsidy but do pay for the more expensive electricity. Unsurprisingly these people tend to already be poor. The industry’s outrage also seems to be at odds with claims solar is getting cheaper and cheaper: if that is the case why are subsidies needed?

“Thousands of Australians will be hit by electricity bill shock of about $1,500 when generous solar feed-in tariffs are rolled back in coming months, consumer advocates have warned. The tariffs were introduced for a set period to kickstart Australia’s uptake of rooftop solar by offering money to solar users who fed energy back into the grid. More than 275,000 households will be affected when the tariffs are unwound from September to January in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.”

2)          Google boasts quantum computing breakthrough with first display of real-world use

I’ve written a number of times in the past that a quantum computer hasn’t yet solved a commercially relevant problem more cost effectively than a classical computer of the same cost. That seems to have changed with this announcement as the researchers have managed to model quantum behavior with this technique and this might end up to be a big deal at understanding chemistry on a quantum level. Note that the research does not involve D-Wave, a company often cited a leader in the space.

“US and UK scientists have teamed up with Google to successfully demonstrate the first ever completely scalable quantum simulation of a chemical reaction, showcasing a real-world use for quantum computers which could revolutionise multiple areas of research into medicine and materials. Researchers from Google, Harvard University, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Tufts University, UC Santa Barbara and University College London have successfully managed to use a quantum computer to simulate a hydrogen molecule, which would be the first step towards simulating entire chemical systems.”

3)          Scientists may be on the verge of smashing the Standard Model of particle physics

This could be a very big deal: as exciting as the confirmation of the Higgs Boson was it was something of a disappointment since it simply confirmed the Standard Model of physics. What scientists really hope for are unexpected results such as the one hinted at by this article. Unexpected results can lead to entirely an new understanding of physics and lead to practical advances.

“Data obtained from experiments conducted through last year indicates the possible existence of a new particle with roughly six times the mass of the Higgs boson. In tests this year — which began in May — the facility will try to determine whether or not the particle actually exists. While a number of theories have already emerged to explain the nature of this particle, its mere existence, if proven, could rewrite the existing standard theory of elementary particles.”

4)          IDC: Smartwatch shipments fall for the first time; Apple only company in top 5 to decline

Go figure: the demand for heavy, bulky, wristwatch replacements that require daily charging is dropping. The only practical use of smartwatches I’ve seen is to show off the fact you have a smartwatch.

“The smartwatch market has hit its first bump, and it’s all Apple’s fault. Vendors shipped a total of 3.5 million smartwatches worldwide last quarter. This Q2 2016 figure is down 32 percent from the 5.1 million units shipped in Q2 2016, marking the first decline on record. It’s important to note that smartwatches are just a subcategory of the larger wearable market. As such, these figures don’t count basic bands sold by companies like Fitbit. Apple is thus the undisputed leader, even after the losses it saw in Q2 2016, and it could easily see a return to growth with the release of Watch OS 2.0. The latest quarterly figures come from IDC, which summarized its findings in the following chart:”

5)          Apple proposes higher royalty rates for music streaming rivals

This is a brilliant strategic move by Apple. By proposing higher royalty rates, which it uniquely than afford, it can drive all its streaming music competitors out of business. “Artists” are hailing the move as they have lamented low streaming royalties (which are significantly higher than what they get for radio) for some time. Of course if Apple is successful all it will do is increase piracy and transfer even more control over culture to them.

“The new rates, if adopted, would drastically alter how songwriting rates are decided, how much artists receive, and how costly it is to operate in the streaming business. As it stands, companies like Spotify, Google, and Pandora pay out royalties according to complicated federal laws. These new rules would take effect in 2018 and remain active until 2022 as part of a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding that takes place every five years. The proposal, which may be amended in the future and will be reviewed by a panel of federal judges, does not cover rates for recordings. Those are calculated according to a different set of standards.”

6)          Forget Comcast. Here’s The DIY Approach to Internet Access.

One of the truly strange things about Internet access is that it really doesn’t drop in price in North America, despite massive strides made in all domains of technology including telecommunications. This is primarily due to incompetent or corrupt regulation (I prefer to believe our politicians are corrupt rather than stupid). The Internet is an intrinsically decentralized and resilient system which requires neither massive capital investments nor deep knowledge to set up. Absent meddling and anti-competitive regulation it can be done on the cheap.

“So has one of the network’s most important structural elements: The Guifi Foundation isn’t the paid provider of most Internet service to end-user (home and business) customers. That role falls to more than 20 for-profit internet service providers that operate on the overall platform. The ISPs share infrastructure costs according to how much demand they put on the overall system. They pay fees to the foundation for its services — a key source of funding for the overall project. Then they offer various kinds of services to end users, such as installing connections — lately they’ve been install fiber-optic access in some communities — managing traffic flows, offering email, handling customer and technical support, and so on. The prices these ISPs charge are, to this American who’s accustomed to broadband-cartel greed, staggeringly inexpensive: 18 to 35 Euros (currently about $20–$37) a month for gigabit fiber, and much less for slower WiFi. Community ownership and ISP competition does wonders for affordability.”

7)          One-Quarter of US Households Live Without Cable, Satellite TV Reception – New GfK Study

I predicted there would be a shift from broadcast (which includes cable) to Internet delivery in a brief article I wrote in 1996. The shift is taking a lot longer than I expected but it is happening. Interestingly it seems to be related to demographics, with younger consumers more likely to abandon cable entirely.

“New findings from GfK show that US TV households are embracing alternatives to cable and satellite reception. Levels of broadcast-only reception and Internet-only video subscriptions have both risen over the past year, with fully one-quarter (25%) of all US TV households now going without cable and satellite reception. The research, from GfK’s 2016 Ownership and Trend Report from The Home Technology Monitor™, shows that 17% of US TV households now rely on broadcast-only (a.k.a. “over-the-air” or OTA) reception, up from 15% in 2015. Another 6% say they only use Internet services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or YouTube and do not have traditional broadcast or pay TV reception at all; this compares with 4% a year ago.”

8)          US, NSF to put $400M into Advanced Wireless Research Initiative for 5G networks

5G wireless, along with opening of vast swaths of radio spectrum, could prove to be a very significant development in telecommunications technology. I am not sure I see the need for government to subsidize the development of that technology but I guess everybody wants to dip their beak in the taxpayers’ wallet.

“Today, the Obama administration announced the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, a group backed by $400 million in investment that will work on research aimed to “maintain U.S. leadership and win the next generation of mobile technology” and specifically developing wireless networking tech that will offer speeds 100 times faster than the 4G and LTE networks that are being used today. Led by the National Science Foundation with participation from other organizations, tech companies like Samsung and carriers, the AWRI will receive $400 million from the government over the next seven years to develop and test new wireless networking technology in four “city-scale” testing platforms.”

9)          Tesla Autopilot crash in Montana: Drivers reveals new details and claims a ‘cover up’ by Tesla

Frankly I don’t know who to trust here. On the one hand eye-witness testimony is rarely reliable and it is not like this driver doesn’t have a stake in the claim. On the other hand, Tesla does not have clean hands either, and, assuming they are telling the truth, you have no idea whether their system logs are reliable. Either way the company should not be using its customers to test safety systems.

“In the past few weeks, three accidents involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot made the headlines. Tesla was quick to place the blame with the drivers for two of the accidents, one in Pennsylvania and one in Montana, both involving brand new Model X SUVs. In both cases, the automaker says that the vehicle logs show that drivers ignored several alerts to take control of the vehicles before the accidents. In both cases, the drivers were also cited by the police for careless driving – giving some weight to Tesla’s claims, but now the driver of the Model X in the Montana crash is coming back with a public letter to Tesla and Elon Musk claiming a “cover-up” of the problems with the Autopilot.”

10)      What’s Next for Tesla, Amid Safety Probes and Weak Production?

It might be wishful thinking but even the fawning media coverage associated with Tesla seems to be waning. Not only have they lost the undying love of Consumer Reports but even journalists (generally not known for skeptical thinking) are beginning to wonder what is behind the curtain.

“A fatal crash, a federal safety probe, weak production and sales, and a major acquisition that has soured many long-time proponents. Just when things were starting to look bad for Tesla Motor Co., it now appears they could get worse. A third crash possibly linked to the maker’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system has occurred in Montana while, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly looking into Tesla’s decision to delay the announcement of the first, fatal Autopilot crash until after a $2 billion stock offering. Tesla investors, already riding a roller-coaster in recent months, began selling off shares, though many appear to be waiting to hear what Tesla CEO Elon Musk has in store after issuing a tweet last weekend that said the company is set to reveal its “Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2” some time this week.”

11)      For Elon Musk, Tesla’s Impresario, the Latest Act Falls Flat

Magicians and stock promoters are masters of misdirection. Tesla has experienced a stream of bad news over the past couple months, most notably preannouncing not just a disastrous quarter but one which will mark their second consecutive sequential decline in sales. Last quarter the Model 3 was the rabbit pulled out the hat, this quarter it’s a bright, shiny, and frankly bizarre “master plan” which has no probability of ever being fulfilled. I can’t wait for next quarter: will he saw a company in half?

“The hints, the tweets, the will-he-or-won’t-he suspense. It was classic showman Elon Musk. Then his much-hyped 1,500-word manifesto dropped and — whiff. The maestro may have struck out. His groupies still idolize the billionaire-genius behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors Co. and SolarCity Corp., the dreamer who wants to build hyperloops and colonize Mars. But recently, puffs of doubt have begun to surround the inspiration for Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” movies. After mesmerizing Wall Street for years, investors are starting to look for him to do something new: deliver financial results, or at least a road map for them.”

12)      China To Ban Ad Blockers As Part Of New Regulations For Online Advertising

The article seems to make clear the ban on adblock may have much more to do with government surveillance than protecting advertisers. It stands to reason that if the Chinese are using advertising technology to monitor citizens other governments are as well and that is yet another reason to install adblock.

“Since it’s hard to see the Chinese government really caring too much about the problems that ad-blocking software causes for online publishers, there is presumably another motivation behind this particular move. One possibility is that the Chinese authorities use the tracking capabilities of online ads for surveillance purposes, and the increasing use of ad blockers in China is making that harder. That clearly runs against the current policy of keeping an eye on everything that online users do in China, which is perhaps why the authorities want ad blockers banned in the country, despite the inconvenience and risks for users of doing so.”

13)      Mozilla to block Flash in Firefox browser

Flash, like a lot of Adobe software, is essentially a security vulnerability with some functionality thrown in to make it attractive. That’s why Flash and Adobe PDF reader require almost constant updates. Flash is obsolete but a lot of websites still use it rather than HTML 5. I long ago disabled Flash completely from Firefox, my main browser. On the rare occasions I encounter Flash content I want to watch I fire up Microsoft Edge then immediately shut it down.

“In August, it will block the Flash-powered parts of webpages that were “not essential to the user experience”. The browser developer said its action would mean webpages loaded more quickly and made crashes less likely. In 2017, it said it planned to introduce a system that would mean users must click to activate Flash no matter where it was used on a webpage. In a blogpost, Firefox developer Benjamin Smedberg said its first step would tackle the Flash-based parts of a webpage that users did not see. This includes files used to help with tracking and following which websites users visit, to aid advertising. Many of these hidden functions can now be done using HTML – the language of the web – said Mr Smedberg.”

14)      Researchers create a tiny ‘Atomic’ hard drive that can store 500 terabits of data

This was all over tech websites this week but it is pretty much nonsense. As the article notes it only works at cryogenic temperatures and most likely ever will because atoms don’t stand still for very long, even at extreme low temperatures. It is pretty much a fact of life on the quantu scale and that is not going to changes.

“Imagine if individual atoms could store data. Dutch researchers are working on doing just that, and can fit 500 terabits of data in a single square inch. That’s right: 500 terabits, or 62.5 terabytes, in a drive the size of a postage stamp. This atomic hard drive is 500 times more dense than current solid-state drives, but don’t look for it on the market anytime soon. You can, however, read about it in a paper published in Nature Nonotechnology, if you’re up for some academic reading. For a less academic take, you can read Gizmodo’s interview with Sander Otte, one of the paper’s authors.”

15)      Microsoft Responds To France’s Data Protection Law Order On Windows 10 Excessive Data Collection

The business model of the modern tech company is to take as much information about you and sell it to other people. That is pretty much Facebook, Google, and now Microsoft in a nutshell. Consumers don’t seem to mind and in most places neither do governments. In many ways I laud France for their efforts to dial it back to 11 but I doubt it will have any long term effect. Unless and until consumers care, businesses will just keep ramping up their invasion of privacy.

“The company is adamant about the fact that it’s built many protections into the OS to keep user data and information safe, saying that it’s always complied with the Safe Harbor framework, which has remained valid until last week, which is when the new Privacy Shield became adopted instead. Both Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield aim to protect user data as it gets sent back and forth between the US and the EU. Interestingly, Microsoft isn’t responding to every point of France’s letter quite yet; the company has said that it will release an updated privacy statement next month, which will implement the requirements to adhere to Privacy Shield rules.”

16)      AI adoption coming quickly to the enterprise sector

Finally an article that looks at AI for what it is: an approach to dealing with data-heavy problems, not an attempt to create a “thinking” computer. As the article shows the problem solving approach has increasing utility is real work business applications. No killer robots are mentioned in the article.

“The leading factor driving this rise in artificial intelligence is the proliferation of data-driven projects. With the emergence of app-driven interaction and increased adoption of cloud-based SaaS solutions, consumers and enterprise customers alike are providing massive amounts of useful data to companies that they can use to improve and expand on their products and services. Artificial intelligence plays an important role in analyzing that data in order to find areas where company resources are best spent. One of the key reasons for so much investment in artificial intelligence is the lack of data science talent. Data scientists, humans that are able to comb through large amounts of data and analyze them to create actionable information, are in high demand right now. There simply aren’t enough trained data scientists to go around. With demand for this talent on the rise, companies are looking to AI to fill in the gaps.”

17)      Offline: What is medicine’s 5 sigma?

The first step in fixing a problem is to admit you have a problem. The root of the problem is the “publish or perish” mentality which has dominated science for several decades and which leads to researchers cranking stuff out, and which provides a strong disincentive to attempt to verify the work of others because few journals will publish the research and you can end up isolated if you publish a negative finding. The journals themselves are largely to blame: besides their reticence to publish follow up findings, they seem to have convinced themselves “peer review” is a meaningful exercise in quality control. It is worth nothing that The Lancet, one of the most prestigious journals, published the “Vaccines cause autism” garbage which has led to so many deaths.

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too.”

18)      Corning’s new Gorilla Glass 5 survives drops “up to 80%” of the time

One of the most common failures for smartphones is a broken display. This is especially the case as many modern designs bring the display to right near the edge of the case. Corning’s Gorilla Glass is pretty amazing stuff and the promised drop resistance sounds promising. Unfortunately I suspect “edge on” drops are far more common than “face down” and are what leads to the damage. I wish vendors would simply install a thin bumper around the device to protect it.

“Gorilla Glass is great at resisting scratches, but it’s prone to shattering when dropped. With Gorilla Glass 5, Corning claims the glass is now able to survive more drops than ever. The official claim is that the new stuff survives “1.6-meter, shoulder-height drops onto hard, rough surfaces up to 80% of the time.””

19)      Netflix will stream CBS’ new Star Trek series all around the world

Besides being a story about Star Trek this move is part of an effort to attract cord cutters and expand “over the top” delivery of content by broadcasters. The new Star Trek series will be available online only, probably to build paid viewers of CBS All Access. I can’t see subscribing to a service for a single program no matter how much I enjoy Star Trek. Alas, the Netflix deal excludes Canada, so the program will likely only be available through Bell or another of the oligopoly and therefore will be pirated. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Star Trek fans around the world clamoring for CBS’ new take on the universe have an unexpected party to thank for the show’s international availability: Netflix. The streaming giant announced today that it’s obtained the international rights to the new Star Trek in 188 countries (excluding the US and Canada), a deal that’ll see new episodes premiering on Netflix less than 24 hours after they make their domestic debut on CBS All Access, the network’s own paid streaming platform. Netflix has also secured the rights to all 727 episodes of Star Trek already made, including episodes from the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Those shows will be available for streaming around the world on Netflix by the end of 2016.”


20)      This Open Source Tool Can Map Out Bitcoin Payments

One of the purported advantages of cryptocurrencies is the supposed anonymity of transactions. This work seems to imply that anonymity is not as strict as people think it is.

“Bitcoin is not anonymous. Anyone who has followed the dark web or the continuing regulation of the cryptocurrency should be familiar with that idea. If someone manages to link a real identity to a wallet—something that we’ve seen is possible—they can then follow other transactions around the public blockchain to see where else that person’s money has traveled. Now, researchers are releasing an open-source tool for grouping bitcoin transactions together in order to identify which belong the same entity, marketplace, or person. It doesn’t necessarily reveal the identity of the bitcoin user, but it can show details about someone’s bitcoin spending.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni



1)          The Fake Factory That Pumped Out Real Money

I love this article because it is about a scam (fraudulent biofuels) within a scam (biofuels). Why do I call biofuels a scam? Well, because, with the exception of the small amount which arises from waste like cooking grease, they use more fossil fuel equivalent to make than they produce. How do I know this? Well, when they start using unsubsidized biofuels to harvest the plants, etc., to make biofuels we can discuss it. Until then it is a scam to transfer taxpayer’s money to big agriculture. Thanks to Nick Tang for this article.

“In February 2009, shortly after Green Diesel produced its last fuel, Rivkin registered a user ID, PRIVKIN2, and an e-mail,, with the EPA. Nine months later he reported that Green Diesel had produced 22.1 million gallons of biodiesel. The next year, the EPA began phasing in an electronic system for reporting RIN trades. From October 2010 through July 2011, Rivkin logged into the tracking platform at least 25 times and laid claim to more than 45 million RINs, the federal criminal complaint said. During the same period, he sold $48.5 million in sham RINs. Federal investigators think Rivkin stopped dealing RINs sometime in late 2011, though some of his falsified numbers were still being traded by others months later. In return for the hollow credits, ConocoPhillips paid Green Diesel $18 million, according to court documents. Shell got stung for $14.4 million, BP for $13.6 million, Marathon Oil for $12.4 million, Exxon $1.2 million. All these companies also were forced to buy new RINs to replace Rivkin’s phony ones.”

2)          Samsung Develops Slot That Supports Both New UFS 1.0 and MicroSD Cards

Last week I had a piece on Samsung’s new UFS memory card technology which will replace SD and uSD cards with a much faster interface with comparable speeds to a Solid State Drive. These transitions create a “chicken and egg” dilemma – why adopt the new technology if the parts are scarce and expensive and why make the parts if there are few devices which support it. Samsung has a solution.

“So as we sort of expected, the new UFS 1.0 cards will not work with anything currently on the market. The microSD card slot in your device will not work with a UFS card. However, in really good news, Samsung has developed a socket that can support both the new UFS cards and microSD cards. In other words, your stack of microSD cards will not soon be obsolete – you’ll still be able to use them, even in devices that support UFS cards.”

3)          Turn on 5G, turn off old landlines: FCC plans future of phone networks

To put things in perspective the unlicensed the spectrum alone being opened up is a multiple of all of the spectrum being used for terrestrial communications right now. The frequencies are problematic in that they require far more complex antenna technologies such as MIMO and beam forming unless there is a line of sight so I don’t expect products to be on the market overnight. Nonetheless, radio technology has a knack for exploiting the previously inaccessible so it will probably be a lot sooner than you think.

“”These new rules open up nearly 11GHz of high-frequency spectrum for flexible, mobile, and fixed use wireless broadband—3.85GHz of licensed spectrum and 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum,” the FCC’s announcement said. The frequencies are in the 28GHz, 37GHz, 39GHz, and 64-71GHz bands. As we’ve previously written, these frequencies are much higher than the ones used for 4G LTE and other existing networks. With the higher bands, the FCC can allocate spectrum in blocks of at least 200MHz, instead of the standard 5MHz or 10MHz, allowing networks to carry a lot more data.”

4)          How the new 5G manifesto will affect your future phones, cars and internet

The article is a bit long and explains why most headlines stated operators wanted an end to “net neutrality”. That is technically true however it seems the issue is more subtle: can you combine all communications including emergency services and defer delivery in order to deliver entertainment. The solution can be to simply flag certain government sanctioned uses as high priority in times of need.

“Perhaps the biggest headline is that the EU wants 5G services to be up and running by 2020. But this is easier said than done. Before Apple and Samsung can start cranking out phones that support 5G, and before networks can start building new towers, the industry needs to get together to agree on a common set of standards to ensure that technology is interoperable and that the spectrum that is chosen for 5G is harmonised across Europe (so that 5G in one country doesn’t interfere with the TV signals in another, and so on.) According to the document, the signatories expect to see independent trials of various 5G technologies prior to 2018 – and then in 2018 the 3GPP, the organisation that agrees the standards internationally, will finalise the rules on what makes a phone officially “5G”.”

5)          AT&T thinks drones can fix terrible reception at baseball games

Tethered drones to solve the problem of poor reception at baseball games. That is a solution, albeit a potentially dangerous and expensive one. Since base stations are cheap and WiFi even cheaper, why not just wire the station properly? Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“So you’re at a Beyoncé concert, but can’t Snapchat a video. You want to text your friends your location at a baseball game, but your phone has no signal. Packed venues like these are notorious for poor cellphone reception. Well, AT&T says it has a solution: drones. AT&T Inc. T, says it is exploring providing LTE wireless coverage at crowded venues, like concerts and baseball games, by using a drone that is tethered to the ground but hovering in the air nearby. AT&T has dubbed the drones “Flying COWs” — the COW stands for “Cell on Wings.” The drones would boost LTE coverage to areas in need of it during occasional large events. They would be tethered to the ground to prevent them from going rogue and flying away.”

6)          Microsoft prices Windows 10 Enterprise subscription at $84 per user per year

I suspect that Window’s 10 is part of a long term strategy to shift to offer “Software as a Service” to consumers and businesses. Of course many of Microsoft’s business customers already pay support fees and Office 360 already is a subscription service. “Operating Systems as a Service” is probably coming, with a basic version bought with the PC and recurring charges for premium features.

“Microsoft plans to make its recently renamed Windows 10 Enterprise product available as a subscription for $7 per user per month, or $84 per year. Microsoft took the wraps off the pricing of one of the two renamed versions of Windows 10 Enterprise at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto on July 12. Windows 10 Enterprise E3 is the name of the lower-end of two different versions of Windows 10 Enterprise. Windows 10 Enterprise E5 is the new name of the Windows 10 Enterprise version that also will include Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, a new Microsoft service for detecting and responding to attacks.”

7)          Tesla no longer guarantees your electric car’s resale value

The article and much of the commentary hails this as a good sign. I strongly suspect the increasing contingent liability as well as the looming reality that 8 year old Teslas should have a $0 resale value is fast approaching has more to do with it. Any 8 year old EV is either due for a battery replacement (if used at all) or will need a battery replacement within a few years. Since the battery is a $30K replacement part, EVs needing a battery will be worthless.

“Tesla introduced its Resale Value Guarantee in 2013, when buying an upscale electric car was a riskier prospect. What if your Model S was worth less than a tried-and-true German sedan? However, the market has clearly grown up since then… and Tesla is changing accordingly. The automaker tells The Verge that it has discontinued the program for any new car bought after July 1st. The move will reduce interest rates “as low as possible” and sweeten leases and loans, a spokesperson says. You’re still protected if you bought a car under the guarantee, but any relative latecomers will just have to trust that the used EV market will work in their favor.”

8)          Tesla Model X plows into Montana guard rail in third Autopilot crash

Tesla “autopilot” is remarkable piece of technology: when it works it is because of the advanced safety function, when it doesn’t the driver is an idiot for believing it would work. Imagine if anti-lock brakes worked most of the time: if they worked and saved your life they are a brilliant example of a modern safety feature but if they occasionally didn’t work then the accident was your fault for not providing enough braking distance and relying on the damned things to work in the first place.

“A Tesla owner is blaming an accident that took place recently in Whitehall, Montana, on the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot technology. The news of the crash comes in the wake of two accidents — including a fatal one in Florida — in which Autopilot was allegedly involved. A message posted on the Tesla Motors Club forum by user Eresan explains that his friend was traveling in a Model X at about 60 mph in a 55-mph zone with Autopilot turned on when the crossover veered off the road and hit a wooden guardrail. The impact sheared off the passenger’s side front wheel, the fender, and the headlight, and it badly damaged the entire right side of the body. The two occupants walked away without major injuries.”

9)          Tesla’s Autopilot: Too Much Autonomy Too Soon

Consumer Reports lost my respect when they provided the aspiration rating of “best car ever tested”, despite a poor build quality and such an astounding lack of reliability as many vehicles require major repairs within a year. They subsequently switched that to “not recommended” ( In any event, it seems to have dawned on the purportedly “pro-consumer” organization that potentially sacrificing human lives testing a novel feature might not be the best approach. Golly what a brave stance! Thanks to my friends Duncan Stewart and Humphrey Brown for this item.

“While the exact cause of the fatal accident is not yet known, the incident has caused safety advocates, including Consumer Reports, to question whether the name Autopilot, as well as the marketing hype of its roll-out, promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own. Tesla’s own press release for the system announced “Your Autopilot has arrived” and promised to relieve drivers “of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel.” But the release also states that the driver “is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”

10)      Senate committee calls out Elon Musk, wants answers on Tesla Autopilot

Senate committee testimony can be interesting or not depending on the biases at the table. A lot will depend on whether the committee members have been briefed on basic statistics (which would paint a rather different picture of safety) and whether they support the potential use of human sacrifice in a corporate R&D program. On the one hand there is a likely innate bias against a faux environmentally friendly vehicle, on the other hand there is a decidedly pro-business/anti-consumer slant to the US government and Tesla has a remarkable ability to shrug off negative news no matter how bad it is.

“The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has called out Tesla CEO Elon Musk to answer some questions about the company’s Autopilot technology, and what the Silicon Valley automaker is doing to educate drivers about it. Sen. John Thune, a chairman for the committee, issued the letter today seeking a response from Musk and Tesla no later than July 29th. The inquiry was prompted after a fatal Tesla crash in Florida, which we reported on earlier. During that crash, the driver had Autopilot engaged. In a second crash in Pennsylvania, which was not fatal, the Detroit Free Press reports that the driver thought he had Autopilot engaged. Musk issued a public statement today, however, that according to investigators’ findings, Autopilot was not on in Pennsylvania, and in fact could have prevented that crash.”

11)      TV subscribers dwindling, but prices rise, CRTC data shows

This is pretty much par for the course in an economy consisting of a small number of powerful and lightly regulated oligopolies and a clueless government. The oligopoly structure and lack of regulation mean there is little to no competition and that gives a simple choice to consumers: drop the service or put up with a price increase. There is no natural competitive response such as improving service or reducing prices because there is no need for one. Fortunately for the cable companies they also have oligopoly control over Internet service (along with mobile service and much of the media) so they can jack prices on those to offset those as well.

“About 160,000 Canadians cancelled their TV subscription last year, but the industry managed to offset that loss by charging the remaining customers more. … While the number of TV subscribers declined, the hit to the companies’ bottom line wasn’t quite as dire, as revenues dipped by just 0.1 per cent to $8.9 billion. That’s because TV providers managed to squeeze more money out of their remaining customers by offering them expanded or better services. The average TV subscriber’s monthly bill ticked up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.”

12)      Fox TV Launches Live Network Prime Time Streaming

As consumers slowly drop cable services content providers are in a bit of a pickle because many ex-cable subscribers still want to watch their programming, plus more and more people watch TV on a computer rather than a TV. “Over the top” has been around for some tie but is just coming into its own. This presents a major opportunity for Google to provide targeted ads since “over the top” streams are 1:1. Thanks again to Nick Tang for this item.

“Making a bold step into the streaming digital world, Fox will be the first network allowing viewers to live stream Fox prime-time programming across every TV market in the U.S. The new service, call Fox Now Live — a spin-off of its on-demand digital programming service Fox Now — starts today. It means pay TV subscribers nationwide can stream summer prime-time programs like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “MasterChef” and “Wayward Pines” at the same time these shows air in their local time zones.”

13)      Tougher Turing Test Exposes Chatbots’ Stupidity

The original Turing Test was more of a thought experiment than anything else. It is a pretty meaningless exercise as are other parlor tricks to make people think somehow there are “intelligent” computers. It turns out that we don’t understand much about how the brain works yet along how intelligence emerges so coding it up is going to be a lot harder than you think.

“The Winograd Schema Challenge asks computers to make sense of sentences that are ambiguous but usually simple for humans to parse. Disambiguating Winograd Schema sentences requires some common-sense understanding. In the sentence “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence,” it is logically unclear who the word “they” refers to, although humans understand because of the broader context. The programs entered into the challenge were a little better than random at choosing the correct meaning of sentences. The best two entrants were correct 48 percent of the time, compared to 45 percent if the answers are chosen at random.”

14)      TOS agreements require giving up first born—and users gladly consent

Terms of Services are ubiquitous and probably unenforceable boilerplate which accompanies pretty much every tech product or service nowadays. I say probably unenforceable because in a lot of contexts somebody has to have read and understood a document before they can be said to have agreed to its terms. Since ToS are rarely read or understood, as this study shows, an enterprising lawyer could make the case they are void.

“A study out this month made the point all too clear. Most of the 543 university students involved in the analysis didn’t bother to read the terms of service before signing up for a fake social networking site called “NameDrop” that the students believed was real. Those who did glossed over important clauses. The terms of service required them to give up their first born, and if they don’t yet have one, they get until 2050 to do so. The privacy policy said that their data would be given to the NSA and employers. Of the few participants who read those clauses, they signed up for the service anyway. “This brings us to the biggest lie on the Internet, which anecdotally, is known as ‘I agree to these terms and conditions,'” the study found.”

15)      Ashley Madison admits using fembots to lure men into spending money

You might remember this as the company which has a purported match making site for infidelity and which was hacked. Besides opening up its users to blackmail, the hack exposed the apparent reality that there were very few actual female members and most of the expensive email correspondence was with non-existent people as this admission shows. I find it astounding that, despite the hack and the related revelations the company is still in business, especially since it turns out another component of their business model was to threaten exposing their own customers ( as a means to resolve disputes related to the practice.

“Last year, as part of an investigation into the data dump, I published a series of articles at Gizmodo exposing how the company used female chatbots called “hosts” or “engagers” to trick men into paying for Ashley Madison’s services. The scam was simple: when a man signed up for a free account, he almost immediately got a chat or private message from a “woman” whose profile showed a few sexy pictures. To reply to his new lady friend, the man had to pay for an account. In reality, that lady was a few lines of PHP code. In internal e-mails, company executives shared documents that showed more than three-quarters of all paying customers had been converted by a fembot, referred to as a “host.” There were more than 70 thousand of these fembot accounts, created in dozens of languages by data entry workers. The workers were told to populate these accounts with fake information and real photos posted by women who had shut down their accounts on Ashley Madison or other properties owned by Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media.”

16)      Bitcoin ‘miners’ face fight for survival as new supply halves

Bitcoin miners take electricity and use it to create numbers. Those numbers are then fobbed off to people as a sort of currency, and most of that currency ends up being stolen by what are essentially fraudulent banks. Although the value of the sham currency fluctuates a lot it stands to reason that it will approach the cost of the electricity used to create it. A stepwise decrease in “reward” cannot be matched by an equivalent drop in electricity price or offsetting improvement in computing efficiency. I therefore confidently predict an increasing amount of bitcoin mining will be by hacking other people’s computers meaning the sham currency will be produced illegally and deposited into fraudulent banks for easy theft. It has a certain Zen about it.

“The process has come to be known as “mining” because it is slow and intensive, reaping a gradual reward in the same way that minerals such as gold are mined from the ground. But on Saturday, the reward for miners will be slashed in half. Written into bitcoin’s code when it was invented in 2008 was a rule dictating that the prize would be halved every four years, in a step designed to keep a lid on bitcoin inflation. From around 1700 GMT on Saturday, instead of 25 bitcoins up for grabs globally every 10 minutes, worth around $16,000 at the current rate BTC=BTSP, there will be just 12.5.”

17)      Industry estimates put downturn at between 5% and 8% for the June quarter

Apple PC sales are a minor component of the company’s revenues. Apple’s marketing allowed it to gain market share against other PC vendors despite offering a premium priced product with features a generation or so behind the curve. This was probably due to a spillover effect associated with the iPhone, another premium priced product which, although it once had class leading features, is now a generation or more behind. Apple is in for a world of hurt as the smartphone market matures and I suspect a similar fate awaits them in the PC business.

“IDC and Gartner both pegged Mac global shipments in the quarter that ended June 30 at lower numbers than during the same period in 2015, even as several Windows PC makers grew theirs. Historically, Apple has grown Mac sales while the broader personal computer market has experienced an unprecedented slump. IDC estimated Mac shipments for the June quarter at 4.4 million, an 8% reduction from 2015, dropping Apple from fourth to fifth place on the list of top OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Meanwhile, Gartner put Mac shipments at 4.6 million, a decline of 5%, and like its rival, said Apple was No. 5, behind Taiwanese device maker Asus.”

18)      PewDiePie and other YouTubers took money from Warner Bros. for positive game reviews

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. I have no idea who PewDiePie is or what he does but the incestuous and financially lucrative relationship between companies which make stuff and media which talks about stuff is not exactly something new and it certainly isn’t limited to YouTube. When Apple product releases are featured on the national news either somebody is being paid off or there is some other consideration (such as ad spending) behind it.

“The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Warner Bros. over claims that the publisher failed to disclose that it had paid prominent YouTubers for positive coverage of one of its video games. The FTC charge stated that Warner Bros. deceived customers by paying thousands of dollars to social media “influencers,” including YouTube megastar PewDiePie, to cover Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor without announcing that money had changed hands. Under the terms of the agreement, Warner Bros. is banned from failing to disclose similar deals in the future, and cannot pretend that sponsored videos and articles are actually the work of independent producers. “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said in a statement. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.””

19)      Can Fact-Checking Save Democracy—and Journalism as We Know It?

Fact checking? Fact checking? What is wrong with people? Reporters are mostly in the business of slightly modifying press releases or other stuff they are spoon fed, how can they be expected to fact check anything? The spin business would be devastated if reporters actually fact checked anything. Think of all the PR people who would be out of work, or the impact on Tesla if basic objective facts were ever checked. Tut tut. Fact checking indeed.

“In the decades after the 1980s, most news outlets around the world could not afford—or simply did not consider it necessary—to have fact-checking department, or even a single fact-checker playing the role of devil’s advocate in the newsroom. But the need for fact-checking hasn’t gone away. As new technologies have spawned new forms of media which lend themselves to the spread of various kinds of disinformation, this need has in fact grown. Much of the information that’s spread online, even by news outlets, is not checked, as outlets simply copy-paste—or in some instances, plagiarize—”click-worthy” content generated by others. Politicians, especially populists prone to manipulative tactics, have embraced this new media environment by making alliances with tabloid tycoons or by becoming media owners themselves.”

20)      The Rise and Fall of Theranos: A Cartoon History

No pull quote here but the item is a fun read. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal journalist who bothered to fact check, but that is a really a very rare event. Watch the highly recommended movie “The Big Short” for a more typical example of what usually happens.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni


ps: Slow news week if not for Tesla.



1)          Tesla Falls After Paring Delivery Forecast Amid Factory Strains

This has been a huge month for Tesla news. Besides the bizarre announcement Tesla would buy Solar City (a company with significant ownership by Musk and his relatives), we had a dead driver, a second suspicious accident, then this preannouncement of poor Q2 shipments. Apparently, the “extreme production ramp” has somehow led to shipments falling for the second consecutive quarter. Of course, I don’t fully understand Teslaspeak: where I am from “ramp” in that context usually means increase, though it could mean like a boat ramp. This seems to be the second sequential quarterly decline so I guess they are building to the climax. As for over 5,000 cars on trucks and ships you have to wonder: I can get most things shipped from California to anywhere in North America in a couple days. None of this seems to have hit the stock price, oddly enough.

“Deliveries of 14,370 vehicles trailed a projection of about 17,000, after an “extreme production ramp” came too late in the quarter to get the cars to their buyers, Tesla said Sunday. About half of the quarter’s output in the final four weeks. Second-half deliveries now will be about 50,000 cars, according to a Tesla statement. That would mean 79,180 Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles shipped for the full year, slightly below its previous range of 80,000 to 90,000. … Tesla said 5,150 cars were still on trucks and ships making their way to clients who ordered them, and will be delivered in the first part of this quarter.”

2)          Elon Musk says that about ‘500,000 people would have been saved (last year) if Tesla’s Autopilot was universally available’

It amazes me nobody calls him out on these things. There is no data to support the hypothesis Tesla’s autopilot is safe at all, let alone safer than human driver. He is comparing apples to oranges in terms of statistics and any high school student should be able to spot that. What educated person (not working in the media) doesn’t understand what an average is? If nothing else, there are 9 popular vehicles which did not record a single fatality in 2012 (see near the bottom). Although the figures are stated differently (deaths per registered vehicle year) we can make an estimate. This covers a 4 year period so, assuming half are 2WD, that would place about 425,000 in the fleet at that time. The average US driver travels about 15,000 miles per year so Kia Sorentos would have gone about 3.2 billion miles without a fatal collision in 2012 alone (that is 24x safer than a Tesla on “autopilot”). The Subaru Legacy fleet is much smaller (albeit double the Tesla fleet) and would have traveled about 2.6 billion miles in 2012 without a fatality. (see for sales figures). Perhaps all fatalities would have been prevented if everybody drove Subaru Legacies. It’s the roof rack, I tell you.

“Following the news of the fatal accident in a Tesla Model S on Autopilot, which happened in May but only came to light last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims that about half of the approximately one million people who died in auto accidents last year would have been saved if the Tesla Autopilot was universally available. He made the comment in a somewhat strange email conversation with a retired journalist.”

3)          How the Media Screwed Up the Fatal Tesla Accident

Just to show how completely Tesla has the media befuddled, even the usually competent Vanity Fair saw fit to reinforce the nonsense. You’d think a Vanity Fair journalist would have the knowledge to realise the problem with the stats or at least pick up the phone and ask a high school student to explain it to him but no he takes nonsense and runs with it. The other thing is he refers to self-driving cars, which the Tesla is not. If it were there would some doubt as to whether or not it is legal to operate in most states (see For any journalists out there how managed to get edumacated without doin’ maths please read

“Since the news broke about this accident, the story has been picked up in thousands of outlets—including this one—around the world, many of which raised significant concerns for Tesla’s Autopilot feature and the future of driverless cars. The New York Times ran a front-page story on Brown, quoting experts who said that the accident was “a wake-up call” for the rapidly burgeoning self-driving industry—an incident, in fact, that should force us to “reassess” driverless cars. Fortune scathed Elon Musk and Tesla for misleading shareholders and not sharing the crash news sooner. And a local Florida ABC News affiliate said the crash was “raising safety concerns for everyone in Florida.” (Yes, the newscaster literally said “everyone.”)”

4)          Second Tesla crash probed in US

Just sayin’

“A second crash involving a Tesla car – which includes a self-driving feature known as Autopilot – is being investigated by the US authorities. The accident in Pennsylvania left the driver and his passenger injured. The carmaker said that there was “no evidence” that Autopilot was responsible. It follows an investigation into a fatal accident in Florida where the focus is on the apparent failure of Tesla’s technology. In the incident in Pennsylvania, the Model X car hit a guard rail and veered into the eastbound lane, ending up on its roof. In a statement, Tesla said: “Based on the information we have now, we have no reason to believe that Autopilot had anything to do with this accident.””

5)          Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes banned for two years

Theranos was another tech company who learned to get the media to eat out of its hands. Although it was private, articles were written about a “genius CEO”, paradigm shifts etc.. Nobody really bothered to ask any actual experts on the subject as to whether or not Theranos could, in fact, be doing what it said it was doing. I mean, why bother with facts that might get in the way of a good story, right?

“Embattled biotech company Theranos says that federal regulators have revoked the license of its California blood-testing facility and banned founder Elizabeth Holmes from owning or operating a laboratory for two years. Theranos said it was notified of the sanctions by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday. The company faces a civil financial penalty, and regulators have also canceled the lab’s approval to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.”

6)          iPhone 7: Seriously, this phone sounds boring to you?

It must be pretty exciting to think about the possibility the base model iPhone 7 is expected to come out with the same storage as the majority of devices on the market. Plus the features listed, except perhaps for the colors, have been on the market for years in lesser devices. Well devices for a fraction of the price. To think we are alive in such heady times. One thing though: in the US there are no more contracts so that just means people will hang onto their devices longer.

“Call me crazy, but the iPhone 7 is shaping up to be a leap that may be even more impressive than the one 2015’s 6s and 6s Plus made. This past week alone, we’ve seen a flurry of leaks that point to some exciting new features. In fact, one leak in particular revealed two hot new features we never saw coming. Then a report from The Wall Street Journal firmed up earlier leaks suggesting that the iPhone 7 will offer twice as much storage as previous iPhones, with the base model starting at 32GB. … Oh, and let’s not forget that it will go on sale just as millions upon millions of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus buyers come off of their two-year contracts.”

7)          Mobile Ad Study Finds Interstitials Only Slightly Better Than Banners for Being Seen

The only ads I ever see on my mobile are fraudulent or gambling related (and therefor fraudulent by extension). The ads are small and necessarily “light” so it is hard to believe they create much in the way of commercial impact. I suspect most people are conditioned to simply ignore the noise. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“To better understand why less than 1 percent of viewable display ads get clicked, the teams spent several weeks testing 30 adults in a lab using technology such as eye tracking, wireless EEG (electroencephalography) headsets to measure emotions and attention, biometric scanners to measure “overall arousal,” and facial trackers. Participants were then surveyed about what they remembered and what they did or didn’t like. The results, published in a paper by the Advertising Research Foundation, were revealing but not entirely promising for marketers. For example, time spent looking at ads was less than 200 milliseconds per view, while time spent looking at interstitial ads was slightly more than 800 milliseconds. According to Light Reaction scientist Paolo Gaudiano, that’s pretty “insignificant.””

8)          Germany To Halt Construction Of Offshore Wind Farms

I suspect the source is biased but the facts in the article and the general commentary regarding the impact of unpredictable power sources on the grid seem to align with my understanding. One thing worth noting is that CO2 emissions are dropping like a stone in North America after a massive ramp in heavily subsidized solar and wind production. Although the “green” lobby is portraying this as a sign of success it is directly a result of cheap natural gas associated with fracking, and the natural gas is displacing coal as a cost effective source of power.

“Despite the cut backs to wind power, the German government estimates that it will spend more than $1.1 trillion financially supporting wind power, even though building wind turbines hasn’t achieved the government’s goal of actually reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to slow global warming.”

9)          Samsung Introduces World’s First Universal Flash Storage (UFS) Removable Memory Card Line-up, Offering up to 256-Gigabyte (GB) Capacity

UFS is not just a replacement technology for SD and uSD memory cards, its performance figures almost match a traditional Solid State Drive (SSD), making it much faster than SD. This means that it will like also replace the eMMC technology used in smartphones, etc.. It will take some time for the new spec to catch on but as a major device and flash vendor Samsung can help jumpstart that transition. Although Samsung does own a lot of related patents this is an open standard I figure will be very successful.

“Samsung’s new 256GB UFS removable memory card ─ simply referred to as the UFS card will provide greatly improved user experiences, especially in high-resolution 3D gaming and high-resolution movie playback. It provides more than five times faster sequential read performance compared to that of a typical microSD card, reading sequentially at 530 megabytes per second (MB/s) which is similar to the sequential read speed of the most widely used SATA SSDs. With this UFS card, consumers have the ability to read a 5GB, Full-HD movie in approximately 10 seconds, compared to a typical UHS-1 microSD card, which would take over 50 seconds with 95MB/s of sequential reading speed. Also, at a random read rate of 40,000 IOPS, the 256GB card delivers more than 20 times higher random read performance compared to a typical microSD, which offers approximately 1,800 IOPS.”

10)      Google acquires Anvato, a media streaming and monetization platform for broadcasters

Google’s success has mostly come at the expense of print ads (newspaper and magazines). Broadcast ad spending has been relatively stable while print ad spending has plummeted even though more and more people are watching more and more video via streaming or “over the top” services. This opens up a huge new market for Google to dynamically insert video ads into streaming content. Of course, in this case, the broadcasters are in a position to profit since they own the content but they will need Google’s data to target the ads.

“Anvato’s technology allows its customers, which include the likes of NBCUniversal, MSNBC, CBS, Univision, HGTV, Bravo and Fox Sports, to power live streams, edit videos in the cloud, insert ads and handle pay-per-view, TV Everywhere and subscription payments. With that, it offers an end-to-end service for video publishing and monetization, something Google’s own platform doesn’t currently offer.”

11)      A bug in fMRI software could invalidate 15 years of brain research

Long ago researchers produced a few good scientific papers in their entire lifetimes. The current “publish or perish” environment means they have to keep cranking them out or they lose their funding. That means that very little effort goes into actually verifying whether a finding is replicable, let alone correct. This creates a house of card for when somebody actually does the math. Thanks to my friends Humphrey Brown and Duncan Stewart for this item.

“There could be a very serious problem with the past 15 years of research into human brain activity, with a new study suggesting that a bug in fMRI software could invalidate the results of some 40,000 papers. That’s massive, because functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the best tools we have to measure brain activity, and if it’s flawed, it means all those conclusions about what our brains look like during things like exercise, gaming, love, and drug addiction are wrong.”

12)      U.S. Senate finally ditches BlackBerry

It had to happen I guess. It is remarkable how fast you can fall that far. The company still has about $1B of net cash to burn through but unless somebody buys them, they are pretty much in a downward spiral.

“The U.S. Senate is finally making the switch from BlackBerry to Android or iPhone, a switch most of us made years ago. Senate staff will no longer receive new BlackBerry phones, according to a memo from the Senate Sergeant at Arms sent last week to administrative managers, chief clerks and system administrators that was posted by Politico and blogger Jim Swift. The reason, according to the memo: BlackBerry told telecom carriers Verizon and AT&T that production of all Blackberry OS 10 devices (Q10, Z10, Z30, Passport and Classic) is being discontinued and future fulfillment can’t be guaranteed.”

13)      LG Display prepares POLED for cars and wearables

POLED displays have been in the works for a while. The potential here is huge: because the substrate is flexible they might be able to make these displays on a continuous process (i.e. a sort of printing press) which would have a huge impact on pricing.

“LG Display has brought in equipment for plastic OLED, or POLED, to its E5 factory line to ramp up the production of displays for automobiles, smartphones and wearables, starting next year. The display maker already produces small-sized OLED display panels mostly headed for wearables but the new equipment will boost production, allowing it to meet a diversifying demand. LG Display will set up the line for the displays at the factory in Gumi, South Korea, within the year and start supplying them to clients in the first half of next year. POLED uses plastic as substrate which is considered more malleable and durable than conventional glass, making it best for flexible display production and new usage.”

14)      NSA classifies Linux Journal readers, Tor and Tails Linux users as “extremists”

I’m old enough to remember when you could tell the good guys from the bad guys and when the term “extremist” meant somebody other than a person with an interest in personal privacy.

“Are you a Linux Journal reader or use software such as Tor and Tails Linux? If so, you’ve probably been flagged as an “extremist” by the NSA. Leaked documents related to the XKeyscore snooping program reveal that the agency is targeting anyone who is interested in online privacy, specifically those who use the aforementioned software and visit the Linux user community website. XKeyscore is a collection and analysis software that was among a number of surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden last year.”

15)      Antivirus software is ‘increasingly useless’ and may make your computer less safe

This is probably more correct on the enterprise side than on the personal side. Hackers go for the weak points and the hacks tend to be different for companies than for individuals. If you want to set up a bot net or something PCs are great because they are weekly defended and there are lots of them. If you want to steal a few million dollars you go after corporations and that often is a long game involving social engineering. So keep the virus scanner for now because it can protect against the most likely threats your personal computer will face.

“Internet security experts are warning that anti-malware technology is becoming less and less effective at protecting your data and devices, and there’s evidence that security software can sometimes even make your computer more vulnerable to security breaches. This week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) issued a warning about popular antivirus software made by Symantec, some of it under the Norton brand, after security researchers with Google’s Project Zero found critical vulnerabilities.”

16)      Set-top saga: Comcast says it’s “not feasible” to comply with FCC cable box rules

Cable companies make a lot of money renting set top boxes to consumers, just as the phone companies used to profit renting phones out. The FCC has decided to open up the market and that is not only going to lead to better set top boxes but cost the cable companies a lot of near zero cost profit. Just as the phone companies did when they claimed it was “dangerous” to allow consumers to actually own their own phones the cable companies are trying to make the case it cannot be done. So, we can send a probe to orbit Jupiter but we can’t make a set top box. Hmmmm.

“So why is Comcast opposed to the FCC plan? Among Comcast’s publicly stated reasons, the company claims that the FCC plan is such a mess that it would be nearly impossible to comply with. Could Comcast be making a valid point? FCC officials who have heard Comcast’s arguments told Ars that the company is exaggerating the difficulty of complying. Comcast critics also say the company is wrong. But let’s take a look at what Comcast is saying.”

17)      3D printed talus implant helps Chinese patient walk freely again

The talus is the bone at the bottom of your ankle which connects the tibia to the foot. Although this is an unusual case in that the patient’s bone died, it is not unusual for arthritis to attack the talus and lead to ankle fusion, which restricts mobility. 3D printing might lead to a better solution than that. By the way the headline and the article disagree. It seems the surgery was just recently performed and mobility isn’t expected for at least 6 weeks.

“Three years ago, 27-year-old electrical engineer Mr. Fang fell down the stairs and sprained his ankle. To treat the sprain, he initially underwent a traditional fracture surgery to reset the bone. Once the bone had reset, however, Mr. Fang began to suffer from talar necrosis, a condition where the talus bone is deprived from blood and oxygen and starts to die. The condition also prevented the patient from walking. Fortunately, Mr. Fang was brought to the Southwest Hospital seeking treatment and became the first ever patient to receive a biologically functional 3D printed talar implant. The talar joint implant, which uses high-tech materials and technology, not only has a support function, but can also allow for the patient to regain normal mobility.”

18)      Wal-Mart-Mobile Payment Service

You would think the US would be relatively advanced in things like credit card validation. They are not: chip cards are only now rolling out and “tap” payments don’t even seem to be on the radar. I can imagine if you don’t travel much the prospect of paying with your phone can be quite exciting. If you do travel, you’d know a lot of countries already allow you pay wirelessly. What is the advantage of Wal-Mart or Apply Pay systems over having a modern credit card validation network?

“Wal-Mart will now let you pay with its phone app at all 4,600 stores nationwide. The effort is part of Wal-Mart’s strategy to make shopping easier and faster, while learning more about consumer behavior. With Wal-Mart Pay, the customer uses the phone’s camera to scan a QR code that’s displayed at the register to charge a credit, debit or Wal-Mart gift card linked with the account. It differs from Apple, Samsung and Android Pay, which involves tapping your phone next to a payment machine with a wireless technology called NFC. In December, Wal-Mart said it would develop its own digital wallet rather than honor existing systems from Apple and others, though Wal-Mart said it isn’t ruling out third-party wallets in the future.”

19)      TP-Link forgets to register domain name, leaves config pages open to hijack

I’ve written a fair bit about how vulnerable you are to companies when they stop providing a service. In this case it was neglecting to renew domain names (which cost less than $100/yr.) which open TP-Link customers to a hack. TP-Link is a fairly reputable company so you can imagine what might happen to all your low end Internet of Things stuff.

“In common with many other vendors, TP-Link, one of the world’s biggest sellers of Wi-Fi access points and home routers, has a domain name that owners of the hardware can use to quickly get to their router’s configuration page. Unlike most other vendors, however, it appears that TP-Link has failed to renew its registration for the domain, leaving it available for anyone to buy. Any owner of the domain could feasibly use it for fake administration pages to phish credentials or upload bogus firmware. This omission was spotted by Amitay Dan, CEO of Cybermoon, and posted to the Bugtraq mailing list last week.”

20)      In a nutshell, why do a lot of developers dislike Agile?

This is good for a chuckle as it tears down the most recent fad in technology development: “agile development” or, as many know it, design by successive approximation. This is the way it usually works out: rather than telling you what they need the bosses tell you that what you have done is not what they need so you need to change it. Documentation and justification are all kind of old hat so they go out the window.

“I got hired onto a team of construction workers to build a house. We set up a meeting with Management to find out what kind of house they wanted us to build, where’s the floor plan, what it’s going to be used for, who it’s for, etc. Management said that they didn’t know all that, we should just get started. They told us that we were going to use “Agile” which means that we just work on small deliverables and build the thing incrementally. The developer team lead argued that we at least need to know how big the thing is going to be so that we can get started pouring the foundation, but Management told him they just don’t know. “What we do know,” Management said, “is that the house is going to have a bathroom. Just start there, and we’ll know more when it’s done. You have two weeks.” So we just bought a port-a-potty, and screwed around on the internet for two weeks. Management was outraged. “You call this a house? This is the worst house ever! It doesn’t even have a tv!””

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Brian Piccioni




1)          Tesla driver using autopilot killed in crash

Well that didn’t take long. Many media outlets are falsely referring to this as the first death associated with a driverless or autonomous car and Tesla’s “Autopilot” is nothing of the sort. Based on the accident report it is clear the truck driver was at fault and based on Tesla’s comments it is equally clear the autobrake did not work. As is typical, the company immediately shifted blame to the driver who was foolish enough to assume the technology worked. As they did when their vehicles showed a propensity of bursting into flames after collisions they also trotted out misleading statistics: the figure they quote for million miles/death includes motorcyclists, drunk or inexperienced drivers, people not driving on divided highways, etc.. A comparable figure would be for an experienced driver operating a luxury car on a divided highway and would doubtless paint a much less rosy picture. Most likely, autobrake systems produced by companies such as Toyota, Daimler, and Volvo which do not rely on their customers to test their products probably would “notice” a truck in their path. Of course this could be a freak accident: a single data point doesn’t tell you how dangerous or slipshod a system is. I predict we won’t have to wait long for the next fatality: only 6 weeks ago we learned of another incident where a Tesla accelerated into a stopped van. I got a number of tips for this story. Thanks to my friends Duncan Stewart, Thanos Moschopoulos, and Nick Tang.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in a blog post entitled “A Tragic Loss.” … The company stressed the rare nature of the crash. “This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated,” Tesla said. “Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.””

2)          How Oracle’s business as usual is threatening to kill Java

Oracle is struggling as a company, with new license sales (the only number that matters for a software company) down double digits in the past year. Whether or not they are panicking yet, Oracle’s database solutions are simply not in the toolbox for the current generation of developers. Understandably the company needs to cut back on non-money making activities such as Java. The time has come for Java to be GNU licensed or replaced.

“For months as Oracle Corporation’s attorneys have battled Google in the courts over the use of Java interfaces in Android’s Davlik programming language, Oracle’s Java development efforts have slowed. And in the case of Java EE, they’ve come to a complete halt. The outright freeze has caused concerns among companies that contribute to the Java platform and among other members of the Java community—a population that includes some of Oracle’s biggest customers. Oracle employees that worked on Java EE have told others in the community that they have been ordered to work on other things. There has also been open talk of some Java EE developers “forking” the Java platform, breaking off with their own implementation and abandoning compatibility with the 20-year-old software platform acquired by Oracle with the takeover of Sun Microsystems six years ago. Yet Oracle remains silent about its plans for Java EE even as members of the governing body overseeing the Java standard have demanded a statement from the company.”

3)          Moore’s Law and the End of the Technological Society

I don’t think Moore’s Law will end, it’s just that its slope will slow from a 30% improvement per year to a few percent, and that will happen over a few decades. Regardless, the author provides an interesting perspective and some coo charts.

“Our society has changed dramatically thanks to, among other factors, the emergence of consumer electronics and the omnipresence of computers, due to the constant improvement of their performance and the drop in price. This has been possible because, for the last 40 years, the capacity of integrated circuits has doubled every two years, according to an empirical rule known as Moore’s Law. However, several factors have conspired to make this rule begin to stop being valid. What economic and social consequences will this fact have?”

4)          Terabyte terror: It takes special databases to lasso the Internet of Things

This article ties into the earlier piece on Oracle and Java. Many modern applications deal with a lot of distributed data and that causes issues with a centralized database model. Not only are these new architectures structured differently, for the most part they are open source and free software.

“In those 4,000 Walgreens, there are something like 1 million sensors. Riptide CEO Mike Franco said that the data coming out of them runs the gamut. Some of the sensors sample data once a minute, some every 5 minutes, and others sample at 15-minute intervals. Some change values. There are no consistent time stamps, no consistent time zones, and no consistent names of data points. “It’s very, very unstructured,” Franco said. What is consistent, then? It’s all time series data—a lot of time series data. For the past three years, Walgreen’s sensor data output has equaled about 5 terabytes. Riptide knew it needed a data storage system and architecture that could scale without degrading. The single core reason it went with NoSQL was the distributed nature of Cassandra and DataStax, Franco said. “We had plenty of use cases where the data got big, hard drives filled up, so we just added more nodes, and we upgraded the hardware. Just the whole horizontal elasticity of the NoSQL database systems we’re using is the No. 1 driver for us.””

5)          Why Google could make smartphones interesting again

I don’t see how smartphones can get interesting again since there really isn’t much in the way of innovation in the space and little room for any. What Google can do is to deliver better products at power prices to get more Android devices into the hands of people who don’t have one already. I usually buy my phones directly from Google (it’s the cheapest way to get a Nexus phone) so I am keen to see what they decide to do.

“Get ready for the Google phone? According to a new report from the Telegraph, Google may be working on its own high-end smartphone and looking to compete head-to-head with Apple’s iPhone. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying. Google already has its own smartphones — the Nexus line of devices. Those phones are made in partnership with companies such as Huawei, LG and HTC. The Nexus program isn’t going away. But the Telegraph’s report seems to indicate that Google is looking to control more on its own. What’s not clear is whether that could be a part of the Nexus program or not. It may seem a little strange for Google to be refocusing on smartphone manufacturing now, when the growth of smartphone sales is slowing — in some cases to a halt. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

6)          Stop Using Google Trends

Immediately after Brexit there were a number of media reports which were cited over and over again which show Google Trends searches suggested people had no idea what was going on. Of course, this is probably true for some voters on either side but as this item shows Google Trends data doesn’t always mean what people think it means. Not that that means those stories will be retracted or anything – such is journalism.

“Google Trends is a very interesting product, as it gives us real-time data on how people are using Google. Google the Address Bar of the Internet, so if you need information on a topic, just type in “Euros” and you’ll have the scores and times of every game of the UEFA Euros Championship. Google can then track that interest in a topic and we can see it. But what shouldn’t you use Google Trends for? Well, until people start using it appropriately, everything.”

7)          Google’s free wifi at Indian railway stations is better than most of the country’s paid services

Google and Facebook have big dream over the long term in the developing world. The problem is that Internet infrastructure is far behind the rest of the world. This might change as 5G wireless is rolled out but until then, public WiFi is a very cost effective way of delivering broadband to the masses.

“In Mumbai, 100,000 people made use of the public wifi connection within a week of its debut. But it didn’t even take a day to attract that many users when the service launched in Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the eastern Indian state of Odisha. “We’re seeing similar usage patterns emerge in tier II cities like Patna, Jaipur, Vishakhapatnam,” Google said. The free internet is much faster than the 3G internet that is most widely used in India. On average, users of the free railway-station internet—despite being in transit, and being limited to one hour of use per person per day—utilize 15 times more data than they would consume on 3G in a day, Google said.”

8)          Wi-Fi gets multi-gigabit, multi-user boost with upgrades to 802.11ac

WiFi is at the leading edge of wireless technology which is moving along at a remarkable place. Wireless is essentially applied math and ever improving semiconductor technology allows for implementation of ever move sophisticated techniques such as MIMO and beamforming, which leads to ever more effective power being received or delivered to the receiver and thus permitting greater data rates or range. 5G wireless will implement many of the same technologies.

“The Wi-Fi Alliance industry group is now certifying products that can deliver multi-gigabit speeds and improve coverage in dense networks by delivering data to multiple devices simultaneously. The new certification program, announced today, focuses on the so-called “Wave 2” features of the 802.11ac specification. 802.11ac is a few years old, but it includes several important features that were not available at launch. One such feature is MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, and multiple-output), which we wrote a feature on in May 2014. MU-MIMO is powered by multi-user beamforming technology that lets wireless access points send data streams to at least three users simultaneously. Without MU-MIMO, routers stream to just one device at a time but switch between them very fast so that users don’t notice a slowdown except when lots of devices are on the network.”

9)          Li-Fi, the New Frontier in Communications

Yeah, well, there are plenty of disadvantages to Li-Fi was well: both ends need to see the light. You can rely on some bouncing off walls and so on but that means a transceiver in every room, and your smartphone only works when it is out in the open. In contrast a single Wi-Fi access point can serve hundreds of square meters, you don’t need line of sight, and you can even completely conceal wireless devices. In a small area, the limitation is rarely bandwidth, especially with modern Wi-Fi such as 802.11ac.

“There are several advantages to Li-Fi. First, there is speed; the rapid flashing of the LED, imperceptible to the eye, permits speeds of theoretical transmission in the order of gigabits per second (Gbps), between 100 and 1,000 times faster than current Wi-Fi, which operates in the range of megabits per second. Some practical applications in the real world have reached 1 Gbps, but there is still much room for improvement; the speed of 224 Gbps in bidirectional communication has already been reached in the lab.”


10)      Wireless Needs To Be 10 to 100 Times Faster, Says FCC Chair

I am a firm believer that 5G wireless could become competitive with wireline wireless. MIMO and beam forming should enable very cost effective delivery of very high speeds and a fixed station is much easier to design much better than a mobile device, especially when using MIMO and beamforming.

“Proponents of the move to 5G wireless data speeds got a big boost from the government last week. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his support for a rapid move toward fifth-generation wireless technology at a speech at the National Press Club. In his “The Future of Wireless: A Vision for U.S. Leadership in a 5G World” speech, Wheeler laid out a list of the advantages of moving to 5G communication infrastructure.”

11)      What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers

There is a lot of truth in this article however saying that ad networks were “hijacked” is not true: there is no effort to quality control so malware distributors have no need to hijack anything: they can just become advertisers. Until advertising networks make even a small effort at quality control (which would not be that hard) ad blocking is a basic security measure.

“Thompson did not say one word in his keynote address about the significant security benefits of ad blockers, which is ironic, because his paper was one of several news organizations that served its users ransomware—a particularly vicious form of malware that encrypts the contents of your computer and forces you to pay the perpetrators a ransom in bitcoin to unlock it—through its ad networks just a few months ago. Several major news sites—including the Times, the BBC, and AOL—had their ad networks hijacked by criminal hackers who attempted to install ransomware on readers’ computers.”

12)      Students are demanding the facts about coding bootcamps

The for-profit education sector is never shy to separated students from their money and it gets a lot easier when there is a supply/demand imbalance in the labor market as there is for software development right now. Setting aside the quality of the education the claims are, quite frankly, impossible to believe: a 100% placement rate? Why not claim 110%? Either way, when supply catches up with demand a lot of these people will be missing a checkmark on their resume and they will find it hard to find employment.

“In 2012 coding bootcamps began offering courses in software development and promising graduates new careers in technology. The schools, now backed by hundreds of millions in VC funding, will educate about 30,000 students in 2016, and rake in just shy of half a billion in tuition fees. Most schools claim nearly 100% graduation and placement rates. But these claims are mostly unverified and just how schools arrive at them largely undisclosed. Prospective students look to outcomes statistics because it’s the only way to gauge their chances for success — bootcamps don’t have decades or centuries of reputations like colleges.”

13)      Spotify says Apple won’t approve a new version of its app because it doesn’t want competition for Apple Music

Frankly it is hard to care about which side is right on this: Apple maintains “walled garden” and it alone decides what apps people can run on iPhones. Spotify appears to be trying to break the mold and is claiming that Apple is “afraid of competition”, which is probably the case, except Apple is a particularly mercenary corporation and they will do whatever they can to make money.

“Spotify says Apple is making it harder for the streaming music company to compete by blocking a new version of its iPhone app. In a letter sent this week to Apple’s top lawyer, Spotify says Apple is “causing grave harm to Spotify and its customers” by rejecting an update to Spotify’s iOS app. The letter says Apple turned down a new version of the app while citing “business model rules” and demanded that Spotify use Apple’s billing system if “Spotify wants to use the app to acquire new customers and sell subscriptions.””

14)      99-Million-Year-Old Bird Wings Found Encased in Amber

It is amazing what they find preserved in amber. I found it particularly interesting that birds appeared about 150 million years ago – for some reason I thought they diverged about 80 million years ago. It is worthwhile to look through the slide show.

“While birds and dinosaurs are related, the giant lizards didn’t directly evolve into modern birds. The first ancient birds began appearing during the Late Jurassic Period about 150 million years ago and then spent millions of years flapping in the shadows of their larger cousins. While scientists have uncovered many ancient bird fossils over the years, they are rarely very clear because their feathers and hollow bones don’t hold up nearly as well to the fossilization process as mammals, lizards, and the like, Kristin Romey reports for National Geographic. For the most part, researchers have had to make do with faint imprints of wings left behind in rock and amber.”

15)      Mystery file in preview build hints at Windows 10 subscriptions

I figure the major reason Microsoft is giving free Windows 10 updates is that they are trying to extend their Software as a Service (SaaS) model across their entire customer base. Most likely they will maintain a sort of basic Windows architecture and charge subscription fees for new features and functionality. They already do this for many business customers so it is not much of a stretch.

“The latest preview builds of Windows 10 include a small mystery. Buried in the System32 folder of build 14376, alongside 590 other .exe files, is a file whose name is guaranteed to raise eyebrows: UpgradeSubscription.exe. That file has been part of other recent preview builds, but has managed to remain under the radar until now. In the file’s properties, it’s described as the Windows Upgrade to Subscription Tool, and its date and time stamp corresponds to other administrative tools in the same build. See for yourself:”

16)      Google Found Disastrous Symantec and Norton Vulnerabilities That Are ‘As Bad As It Gets’

Symantec and Norton represent the old way of preventing malware attacks: namely build a wall and hope people don’t get through it. It didn’t work for the Maginot Line and it no longer works for more sophisticate malware. The fact these vulnerabilities were found is not surprising.

“Google’s “project zero” team, a group of security analysts tasked with hunting for computer bugs, discovered a heap of critical vulnerabilities in Symantec and Norton security products. The flaws allow hackers to completely compromise people’s machines simply by sending them malicious self-replicating code through unopened emails or un-clicked links. The vulnerabilities affect millions of people who run the company’s endpoint security and antivirus software, rather ironically to protect their devices. Indeed, the flaws rendered all 17 enterprise products (Symantec brand) and eight consumer and small business products (Norton brand) open to attack.”

17)      Large botnet of CCTV devices knock the snot out of jewelry website

Internet of Things (IoT) devices tend to have pretty shoddy security, a fact worth noting because many of them are sitting inside your firewall. The most recent largescale hack shows how a lack of security can be used to run a bot net (when they aren’t interested in stealing your bank information). Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Researchers have encountered a denial-of-service botnet that’s made up of more than 25,000 Internet-connected closed circuit TV devices. The researchers with Security firm Sucuri came across the malicious network while defending a small brick-and-mortar jewelry shop against a distributed denial-of-service attack. The unnamed site was choking on an assault that delivered almost 35,000 HTTP requests per second, making it unreachable to legitimate users. When Sucuri used a network addressing and routing system known as Anycast to neutralize the attack, the assailants increased the number of HTTP requests to 50,000 per second. The DDoS attack continued for days, causing the Sucuri researchers to become curious about the origins of the attack. They soon discovered the individual devices carrying out the attack were CCTV boxes that were connected to more than 25,500 different IP addresses. The IP addresses were located in no fewer than 105 countries around the world.”

18)      Hackers steal $10 million from a Ukrainian bank through SWIFT loophole

This isn’t the first profitable use of SWIFT by hackers. Lucky for the hackers, as the article relates the banks are not keen to share information on the hacks which makes it ever harder for countermeasures to be developed.

“The organization said that such hacks usually take months to complete. After breaking into a financial institution’s internal networks, hackers will take time to study the bank’s internal processes and controls. Then, using the knowledge and access they have gathered, the hackers will begin to submit fraudulent money orders to webs of offshore companies, allowing them to siphon off millions of dollars. ISACA said that the hackers likely used publicly available information and tools to commit the theft. The organization also added that the same hack had likely spread to other banks in the Ukrainian financial system. “Banks now are not sharing such information at all and are afraid of publicity,” said Aleksey Yankovsky, head of ISACA’s Kyiv division.”

19)      Diabetes Breakthrough Nears With Medtronic’s Artificial Pancreas

Diabetics try to control their condition through timely blood assays and, in many cases, insulin injections. The pancreas doesn’t work every few hours: it provides continuous control and feedback and that is the advantage of this device. It still seems a bit clunky and requires frequent replacement and recalibration of sensors but it is probably a big improvement over traditional approaches.

“While innovations in recent years made monitoring and injecting insulin easier, the potential approval of the MiniMed 670G would mark the first time that diabetics could turn over part of their daily routine to a machine. It measures blood sugar every five minutes and automatically administers or withholds micro-doses of insulin to keep patients in their target range. “Patients are working 24 hours a day now,” said Richard Bergenstal, executive director of Park Nicollet’s International Diabetes Center in Minneapolis, who led the trial. “We want them to get control without spending every hour of the day worrying about their diabetes or preparing for the next event.””

20)      Testing for malaria—or cancer—at home, via cheap paper strips

The technology is interesting but the problem with medical tests is often not as much detecting something as false positives. So if 1,000 people test themselves you can end up with far more cancer or malaria scares than actual sick people.

“What if testing yourself for cancer or other diseases were as easy as testing your blood sugar or taking a home pregnancy test? In a few years, it might be. Chemists at The Ohio State University are developing paper strips that detect diseases including cancer and malaria—for a cost of 50 cents per strip. The idea, explained Abraham Badu-Tawiah, is that people could apply a drop of blood to the paper at home and mail it to a laboratory on a regular basis—and see a doctor only if the test comes out positive. The researchers found that the tests were accurate even a month after the blood sample was taken, proving they could work for people living in remote areas.”