The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 26th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 26th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

These articles and the commentary are not intended 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.

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)          iPhone 6 touch problems? The gray flickering is an epidemic

The video is pretty long and boring until the end where the entrepreneur explains that iPhone forums are trying to shut down discussion of the problem. I admit to being baffled by fanboyism but it can be a toxic thing: there is a fine line between love and hate. Thanks to Paul Kantorovich for this item.

“If your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus stopped responding to touch, you’re not alone. Many iPhone users are reporting the loss of touch combined with a strange flickering gray bar at the top of the display. The problem has been around since the launch of the phone, but didn’t manifest until recently because the phones are getting older, according to a recent report from iFixit. It’s being called “Touch Disease” because it has become such a widespread problem. iPhone 6 “Touch Disease” is said to stem from Apple’s design of its logic board for this particular phone. This board is home to most of the circuits that make your iPhone work, including the processor, storage, and touch controllers.”

2)          Robots-as-a-service: New company introduces first ‘goods-to-box’ warehouse picking system

Shades of “Mom’s Robots” and every other apocalyptic science fiction story involving robots. Actually the business model makes a lot of sense: the expertise to implement a robotic inventory system is rare and the same issues probably arise in all warehouses. This saves converts the sizeable capital cost into an expense and makes adoption easier. It is win/win.

“According to Elazary, companies with no automation can spend as high as a dollar per pick. Adding automation such as conveyor belts dramatically reduces costs to 25 cents per pick, and inVia’s goods-to-box solution rings in at just 10 cents per pick. “In the past, for you to be able to do this kind of automation you’d have to spend several millions of dollars,” he says. InVia reduced costs by choosing cheaper hardware, such as cameras, which they were able to compensate for with excellent perception. The system also requires a minimal investment because of a unique “robotics as a service” business model.”

3)          Google’s Tensor Processing Unit explained: this is what the future of computing looks like

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are large enough to be able to design their own hardware and even chips to suit their needs. This article is more of a teaser than an explanation but the idea is that Google’s computer scientists can identify bottlenecks in specific problems and specify hardware to solve those bottlenecks. Things like Graphics Processors (GPUs) can do that now but they are a compromise in themselves. Eventually Google and its competitors will make things like access to TPUs part of its cloud service offering.

“When Google unveiled its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) during this year’s Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California, it finally ticked for this editor in particular that machine learning is the future of computing hardware. Of course, the TPU is only a part of the firm’s mission to push machine learning – the practice that powers chat bots, Siri and the like – forward. (It’s also the chip that defeated the world Go champion recently.) Google also has TensorFlow, its open source library of machine intelligence software.”

4)          Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

I had heard Microsoft was going to bring out Bash (a popular Linux “shell”) on Windows but I thought they were going to implement a sort of Bash-like functionality. Although this is still beta there approach is remarkable: essentially they have implemented a “kernel emulator” which means that Bash and eventually all Linux applications should be able to run under Windows. It also means there is no Virtual Machine which could improve performance and lower costs.

“Windows provides developers with a familiar Bash environment. This environment will allow users to: 1) Run common command line utilities such as grep, sed, and awk; 2) Navigate the file system using these commands; 3) Run bash shell scripts which rely on supported command line utilities. Windows is running Ubuntu user-mode binaries provided by Canonical. This means the command line utilities are the same as those that run within a native Ubuntu environment. Installation of Bash on Windows is just a few clicks. This is provided as beta software. While many of the coreutil commands provided by Ubuntu will work, there are some that will not. We welcome feedback and will prioritize accordingly.”

5)          Intel Launches 3D NAND SSDs For Client And Enterprise

The SSD market is being shaken up by Samsung – the dominant player – and its advances in 3D flash. Intel is being forced to play catch up with announcements such as these. The big winner is the consumer as prices are dropping rapidly. The losers will be Western Digital and Seagate who will see HDD demand collapse.

“Today Intel is announcing a variety of new SSDs with their 3D NAND flash memory. The new models use a mix of 3D MLC and 3D TLC, some SATA and some PCIe, and variously target the consumer, business, embedded and data center markets. While we are still awaiting details on the timing of these product releases, it is clear that Intel is eager to put planar flash behind them. The drive for this is especially strong as the models being replaced are all either based on Intel’s relatively expensive 20nm flash or on 16nm flash that Intel had to buy on the open market due to their decision to not participate in the 16nm node at IMFT.”

6)          Tesla’s new 100kWh battery makes Ludicrous Mode even more ludicrous

Most of the predictions about the rise of EVs and the collapse of the oil industry are predicated on the premise that batteries will improve dramatically, leading to more storage at a lower cost. Here we have a minor improvement in capacity priced at $1,000/kWh. That isn’t much of an improvement over $400/kWh.

“The 100kWh battery will, naturally, come at a price. The Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode will start at $134,500, an increase of $9,500 over the old P90D. It will be available for order immediately with the first deliveries beginning next month. A similarly equipped Model X starts at $135,500. Tesla said that the initial production run will be “limited” to around 200 packs per week, around 10 percent of total Tesla volume, and production will be increased going forward. It will likely be “several months” until Tesla offers the 100kWh battery pack in other trim levels.”

7)          The Internet of Poorly Working Things

For some reason this article doesn’t open properly under Firefox so I had to open it with Edge. The author talks about some of the myths about IoT and pretty much hits on the problem: the consumer electronics industry. This is not new and also not likely to change: it is hard enough to get advanced features of TVs to work, let alone interoperate with other audio-video products from other vendors.

“Of course, not all connected devices are so easily mocked; some devices are dead serious: home security, HVAC, almost any kitchen appliance — even our very smart toaster. And it’s not that the IoT doesn’t work. The situation is actually worse than that: The IoT randomly works. Devices stop and restart, they require visit to unsupportive customer support pages and helpless Your Call Is Important To US help lines (and now we have chatbots). If you think I exaggerate, google “Nest trouble” or “smart bulbs trouble”. We don’t have to look around much to find the culprit: with its razor-thin margins, the Consumer Electronics (CE) culture offers a big fat target for our inquisition.”

8)          iPhones and iPads Fail More Often Than Android Smartphones – Study

Frankly this is a surprising result even in light of “touch disease” discussed in item 1. Presumably these figures exclude broken displays and suggest build quality issues. It is hard to believe a company such as Apple can continue to maintain high prices despite a lack of innovation and now, apparently, poor reliability.

“The report reveals that in Q2 2016, iOS devices had a 58% failure rate, marking the first time that Apple’s devices have a lower performance rate compared to Android. It seems that the iPhone 6 had the highest failure rate of 29%, followed by iPhone 6s and iPhone 6S Plus. Android smartphones had an overall failure rate of 35%, an improvement from 44% in Q1 2016. Samsung, Lenovo and LeTV were among the manufacturers with the weakest performance and higher failure rates. Samsung scored 26% in failure rate, while Motorola just 11%. The study also reveals that iOS devices fail more frequently in North America and Asia compared to Android. Specifically, the failure rate in North America is 59%, while in Asia 52%. The failures could be influenced by the fact that the quality of smartphones shipped around the world varies.”

9)          What’s in store: The tech that will transform memory and storage

Most of the progress being made in computer memory is in non-volatile memory, in particular Solid State Drives. This article looks at some of those trends as well as a few others. I suspect that besides SSD, which has the potential to completely change software architecture, most of these shifts will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

“One of the most promising new technologies is High Bandwidth Memory or HBM for short. Although it’s a very new technology Samsung and Hynix are already developing the third generation, which they expect to commercialise in 2019 or 2020. Unlike traditional memory, where chips are laid flat on the memory module, HBM chips are stacked. That shortens the distance between the chips and the CPU or GPU, achieving the same speeds as on-chip integrated RAM, and it enables manufacturers to cram more RAM into smaller spaces. And we don’t just mean slightly smaller.”

10)      Quantum Computing: A Primer

Quantum computing is a very topical subject with lots of people opining on how it will transform many fields such as artificial intelligence. I believe it will be extremely useful but in a very narrow domain of problems. It is handy to at least have an idea what quantum computing is and this video does a very good job of explaining it.


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