The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Latest IoT DDoS Attack Dwarfs Krebs Takedown At Nearly 1Tbps Driven By 150K Devices

We have written about the low level of security in Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the past. Mostly this was from the perspective of how IoT could compromise your home or business network but hackers have quickly turned these weaknesses to their advantage in launching cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, most IoT vendors have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to do anything about the security of their products so the problem is likely to get much worse.

“If you thought that the massive DDoS attack earlier this month on Brian Krebs’ security blog was record-breaking, take a look at what just happened to France-based hosting provider OVH. OVH was the victim of a wide-scale DDoS attack that was carried via network of over 152,000 IoT devices. According to OVH founder and CTO Octave Klaba, the DDoS attack reached nearly 1 Tbps at its peak. Of those IoT devices participating in the DDoS attack, they were primarily comprised of CCTV cameras and DVRs. Many of these types devices’ network settings are improperly configured, which leaves them ripe for the picking for hackers that would love to use them to carry our destructive attacks.”

http://hothardware.com/news/latest-iot-ddos-attack-dwarfs-krebs-takedown-at-nearly-1-terabyte-per-second

2)          HERE, automakers team up to share data on traffic conditions

This is an example of what is to come: using “crowd sourced” information to determine road conditions and other automotive related data. These are all German firms and the test is in Germany so it is a bit hard to imagine how it would work in North America with its spotty and expensive mobile coverage. Ultimately the infrastructure itself will be a source of highly detailed information regarding local conditions. By the way, HERE makes a cool free Google Maps application which stores the maps on your phone so it works even if you don’t have mobile data.

“German digital map maker HERE will introduce a new set of traffic services this week that allows drivers to see for themselves what live road conditions are like miles ahead using data from competing automakers, an industry first. The Berlin-based company, owned by Germany’s three premium automakers, will provide four services in which drivers share detailed video views of traffic jams or accidents, potential road hazards like fog or slippery streets, traffic signs including temporary speed limits and on-street parking. BMW (BMWG.DE), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) will all contribute data to the service, making their first big collaboration since they bought HERE for 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion) late last year from mobile equipment maker Nokia NOK1V.HE of Finland.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-connected-idUSKCN11V0VG

3)          Banks adopting blockchain ‘dramatically faster’ than expected: IBM

IBM is pushing its blockchain capabilities so you have to take this with a grain of salt. Even so, there is no guarantee these projects will be successful no matter how they are measured. Nonetheless with modification blockchain technology has the potential to significantly reduce a lot of manual handling of transactions and reduce costs for banks and other financial institutions.

“Banks and other financial institutions are adopting blockchain technology “dramatically faster” than initially expected, with 15 percent of top global banks intending to roll out full-scale, commercial blockchain products in 2017, IBM said on Wednesday. The technology company said 65 percent of banks expected to have blockchain projects in production in three years’ time, with larger banks – those with more than 100,000 employees – leading the charge. IBM, whose findings were based on a survey of 200 banks, said the areas most commonly identified by lenders as ripe for blockchain-based innovation were clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance and reference data.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tech-blockchain-ibm-idUSKCN11Y28D

4)          Print-on-demand bone could quickly mend major injuries

Compared to organs bones are pretty simple things and there are plenty of materials which can safely be used as a bone substitute. The idea here is that rather than grafting bone from one part of your body to another (double the pain and risk) or looking around for a prepared cadaver bone (ick) they print up what is needed. The article makes a big deal about how this material is “hyperelastic” but it is not clear to me what the advantage is: after all if the scaffolding can move around how do you know what the end product looks like once the real bone forms.

“If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call “hyperelastic bone” that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls. “This is a neat way to overcome the challenges we face in generating bone replacements,” says Jos Malda, a biomaterials engineer from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the work. “The scaffold is simpler to make than others and it offers more benefits.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/print-demand-bone-could-quickly-mend-major-injuries

5)          WSJ: Qualcomm could spend over $30 billion to acquire NXP Semiconductor

Semiconductors industry consolidation has been a major theme for the past couple years. Although industry M&A is not as destructive of value as most tech acquisitions purported “synergies” rarely emerge. Nevertheless the ever imaginative application of “non-GAAP” adjustments can make things look a lot better than they really are for a while after the deal closes. In this case, Qualcomm is faced with the inevitable decline in demand for mobile related components so it likely believe it can improve things by devolving into a miscellaneous assortment of largely unrelated businesses. The funny thing is the enterprise value of NXP today is closer to $40B than $30B today which suggests the deal would likely cost closer to $50B than $30B.

“Smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm is in talks to acquire NXP Semiconductors “in the next two to three months,” according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The deal, which may cost Qualcomm over $30 billion, could be nearly as big as SoftBank’s $32 billion buyout of ARM Holdings that was announced a couple of months ago. NXP is one of the inventors of near-field communication (NFC), a technology primarily known for enabling wireless payment services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. NXP controllers are nearly ubiquitous in modern smartphones in both the iOS and Android ecosystems—the iPhone 6, 6S, and 7 all use NXP controllers, as do Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P. The company is also a major player in the “Internet of Things” industry, and the acquisition of Freescale Semiconductor for $12 billion late last year made NXP “the world’s top maker of automotive electronics.””

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/09/wsj-qualcomm-could-spend-over-30-billion-to-acquire-nxp-semiconductor/

6)          D-Wave’s 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation

D-Wave gets so much press for its “Quantum Computers” it’s almost a pity the machines don’t seem to be able to do anything useful. As for the claims it can simulate “quantum annealing” hundreds of millions of times faster than a single core computer, well bully for them: a capacitor runs hundreds of millions of times faster than a simulation of a capacitor. If, as, and when, a D-Wave machine can solve a commercially relevant problem orders of magnitude faster than off the shelf electronics we can discuss whether it is significant technologically.

“D-Wave has been criticized by many quantum computing experts, who, for one, say it’s not a true universal quantum computer (which Google itself and IBM are now building), and second, they don’t believe D-Wave’s “quantum annealing computer” is all that useful compared to standard computers. A quantum annealing computer is a special-purpose quantum computer, so the difference between it and a universal quantum computer is kind of like the difference between an ASIC and a CPU. In theory, D-Wave’s computer should at least be useful for some optimization problems, where you have many variables and are trying to optimize for the best solution. Last year, Google announced that its tests show that for quantum annealing tasks, D-Wave’s 1,000-qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core:”

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/d-wave-2000-qubit-1000x-faster,32768.html

7)          Fist-Sized Laser Scanner to Make Autonomous Cars Less Ugly

One of the most important technologies behind driverless cars is combined image and range information (i.e. where something is in 3 dimensions). This sort of information you need to avoid slamming into a tractor trailer or stationary vehicle at high speed as does Tesla’s “Autopilot”. Most LIDAR systems have been developed for the military and as a result are staggeringly expensive. I figure these will eventually cost $10 or so and cars will have a minimum of 4 of them to provide a 360 degree view and full redundancy.

““You’ll never know that they’re even in the vehicle,” says Louay Eldada, CEO of startup Quanergy, which invented the new design and turned to sensor company Sensata to manufacture it. Sensors can be hidden in places such as behind a car’s grill, or inside the rearview or side mirrors, says Eldada. Quanergy plans to price its compact lidar at $250. You’ll need three to match the 360-degree view of the bulky sensors atop Alphabet and Uber vehicles, but sensors of that type cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602503/fist-sized-laser-scanner-to-make-autonomous-cars-less-ugly/

8)          Colossal Self-Driving Mining Truck Has No Back or Front

Remotely operated mining vehicles have been in use for some time now. I suspect that is what this is but the news coverage focused on the “self-driving” aspect so it is impossible to say for sure given the information. The idea is a good one as the animation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNelRmmPpls&feature=youtu.be/) shows. Mining is a closed loop operation and therefore even if the truck is in fact an AV the challenges would be reduced considerably. Not only that but putting human drivers in a cab is very expensive and these machine should operate 24 hours a day so there should be a rapid pay back.

“Semi-autonomous vehicles are becoming more common at large-scale mining operations. The huge dump trucks that ferry material around giant dig sites have featured unmanned driving capabilities for a few years, though they’ve always had provisions for human drivers to take over. Now, Komatsu has unveiled an all-new heavy duty dump truck with no cab, no steering wheel, no windshield—no accommodations for human drivers whatsoever. And with no human driver, who’s to say which end is the front and which is the back? Think of what a benefit this would be to mining companies. Traditionally, the human operator sits at the front of the hauling truck, with the dump bed unloading from the rear. This forces the trucks to turn around frequently, adding complexity to the movement of materials.”

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/trucks/a23070/self-driving-truck-mining/

9)          The Best Chromebooks Money Can Buy 2016: Andromeda is COMING

Chromebooks are a rapidly growing component of the PC market. Because they are based on a browser and cloud technologies manufacturers have a lot more latitude with respect to their CPU and innards so they can be built quite cheaply. Andromeda combines Chrome with Android, meaning pretty much any app which runs on Android will now run on a Chromebook. I don’t really see the point of paying $1,000 for a high end Chromebook since you can buy a standalone (i.e. Windows) PC for a fraction of that cost. Nevertheless the low end machines are ideal for kids and travel.

“Google’s Chromebooks have been something of a quiet revolution in the computing space. A lot of people still don’t know about Chromebooks, preferring to use Apple and Microsoft for their laptop and desktop needs. However, more and more people are waking up to a third way — the ChromeOS way. The reasons for this are myriad; but the two most prominent reasons why people LOVE Chromebooks are price and choice. Like Android phones, Chromebooks come in all shapes and sizes from a variety of manufacturers. You have high end machines like the Pixel and entry-level models that can be picked up for $200.”

http://www.knowyourmobile.com/devices/chromebooks/23738/best-chromebooks-2016-andromeda-update

10)      Programmable chips turning Azure into a supercomputing powerhouse

Intel closed the Altera acquisition some time ago and Microsoft’s use of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (a type of chip which can have its functionality completely changed after manufacture) provides some insight as to what these devices can do. The thing to remember is that having a bunch of these in a datacenter is completely different from having one inside a PC: unless somebody comes up with a suite of premade FPGA algorithms for home use – and frankly it is hard to imagine what those would be – this will remain a datacenter only type solution, albeit a powerful one.

“Networking is the first workload in Azure, but it’s not going to be the only one. In principle, Microsoft could offer a menu of FPGA-accelerated algorithms (pattern matching, machine learning, and certain kinds of large-scale number crunching would all be good candidates) that virtual machine users could opt into, and longer term custom programming of the FPGAs could be an option. Microsoft gave a demonstration at its Ignite conference this week of just what this power could be used for. Distinguished engineer Doug Burger, who had led the Project Catapult work, demonstrated a machine translation of all 3 billion words of English Wikipedia on thousands of FPGAs simultaneously, crunching through the entire set of data in just a tenth of a second. The total processing power of all those FPGAs together was estimated at about 1 exa-operations—one billion billion, 1018 operations—per second, working on an artificial intelligence-style workload.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/09/programmable-chips-turning-azure-into-a-supercomputing-powerhouse/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Intel’s Xpoint is pretty much broken

Intel offered a wide range in terms of targets etc., when it announced Xpoint and it is not surprising they would start at the low end and work themselves up to the high end over time. Mind you novel memory technologies do have a tendency of arriving with a splash and then fading to obscurity.

“Back to the serious side of things, we have three direct claims by Intel about their upcoming NVRAM technology called Xpoint. They claimed 10x the density of DRAM, it is now 4x or a 2.5x decrease. That is a stunning deliverable but sadly it is the best performance of any of their claims. Latency missed by 100x, yes one hundred times, on their claim of 1000x faster, 10x is now promised and backed up by tests. More troubling is endurance, probably the main selling point of this technology over NAND. Again the claim was a 1000x improvement, Intel delivered 1/333rd of that with 3x the endurance.”

http://semiaccurate.com/2016/09/12/intels-xpoint-pretty-much-broken/

2)          The New Space Race Signals Price Crash for Satellite Data

Many space based technologies are the sort of thing you can do on land but it takes a decade or so to design, test, launch, and deploy a satellite and technologies advance a fair bit in 10 years. Satellite Internet service in general is only desirable when there are no other options, mostly because of latency. Terrestrial wireless Internet is making great strides while the satellite providers have managed to push more bandwidth through their spacecraft. In other words the target market is shrinking as more and more capacity comes on line.

“While satellite use varies by region and type, some of those orbiting over regions like Africa and the Middle East have as much as 80 percent spare capacity, Curcio said. Services like residential broadband are less consistent than television, creating peaks and valleys in demand. Prices of some services have fallen by as much as 20 percent over the last few years, Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said. The company expects prices of satellite data transmissions to fall 50 percent over the next five years.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/too-many-satellites-means-sky-high-margins-under-pressure

3)          Over 840,000 Cisco Devices Affected by NSA-Linked Flaw

Oh, the horror! A hacker exposed the backdoors into Cisco’s equipment (a few weeks ago it was Apple) and now they have to patch them and replace them with entirely new backdoors. Those darn hackers they make work for everybody!

“According to Shadowserver, there is no evidence that the products of vendors other than Cisco are affected by the vulnerability, but the organization noted that it is not a conclusive test. Cisco discovered the security hole while analyzing an exploit dubbed “BENIGNCERTAIN.” This and other exploits were allegedly stolen by Shadow Brokers from the NSA-linked Equation Group. The company has warned that the vulnerability has been exploited against some of its customers. For the time being, most of the affected IOS software versions remain unpatched. Cisco has released a simple online tool that allows customers to determine if their products are affected. This is the second zero-day flaw found by Cisco after analyzing the Shadow Brokers leak. The exploit called “EXTRABACON” leveraged a previously unknown vulnerability in the company’s ASA software.”

http://www.securityweek.com/over-840000-cisco-devices-affected-nsa-linked-flaw

4)          Telstra trials 5G mobile network, the next ‘quantum leap’ in technology

This is pretty light on the details but 5G wireless has the potential to move Internet service in backwaters like the US, Australia, and Canada into the modern age. I suspect the first applications for 5G will not be in mobile but in fixed wireless as power and size requirements are not as strict.

“”During the outdoor trial we saw total download speeds [to two mobiles] of greater than 20 gigabits per second [Gbps], so there’s no doubt 5G is going to be a lot faster than today’s mobile networks, but it will also deliver a much lower latency. The test bed used 800 megahertz of spectrum in a previously unattainable, high-frequency band, which is 10 times more spectrum than we use with our 4G service,” Mr Wright said. Theoretically, Tuesday’s test shows gigabit speeds could be available on a mobile up to 100 kilometres away from the nearest tower, Mr Wright said.”

http://www.theage.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/telstra-trials-5g-mobile-network-the-next-quantum-leap-in-technology-20160920-grkhh7.html

5)          HP pre-programmed failure date of unofficial/ non-HP ink cartridges in its printers

It is surprising the same pseudo-environmentalists who go after bottled water (but not beer or soft drinks) and demand the grocery store charge you $0.05 for a plastic bag which cost $0.0033 don’t go after this sort of nonsense. Mind you HP graciously offers to “recycle” your cartridges (i.e. throw them away so they aren’t refilled). Maybe people should look at Epson eco-tanks or other vendors’ products.

“Investigation of an online printer ink retailer shows that HP has programmed a date in its printer firmware on which unofficial non-HP cartridges would fail. Thousands of HP printers around the world started to show error messages on the same day, the 13th of September 2016. On that date HP printers with non-HP cartridges started to show the error message, “One or more cartridges appear to be damaged. Remove them and replace them with new cartridges“. On HP’s support forums numerous complaints were posted and Dutch online retailer 123inkt also received a large amount of complaints on that day and decided to investigate the issue.”

http://www.myce.com/news/hp-pre-programmed-failure-date-unofficial-non-hp-ink-cartridges-printers-80457/

6)          Cheap Lidar: The Key to Making Self-Driving Cars Affordable

This is a pretty superficial update on the state of LIDAR technology. The $80,000 unit was probably developed for the military so cost wasn’t even a factor. I figure it won’t be long before LIDAR is well below $50 and there is one on each corner of the car to provide redundancy.

“Many autonomous cars have relied on the HDL-64E lidar sensor from Silicon Valley–based Velodyne, which scans 2.2 million data points in its field of view each second and can pinpoint the location of objects up to 120 meters away with centimeter accuracy. But the sensor itself weighs more than 13 kilograms and costs US $80,000. This year, Velodyne announced the VLP-32A, which offers a 200-meter range in a 600-gram package. With a target cost of $500 (at automotive scale production), the VLP-32A would be two orders of magnitude cheaper than its predecessor but still too expensive to be integrated into driverless cars intended for the consumer market.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/advanced-cars/cheap-lidar-the-key-to-making-selfdriving-cars-affordable

7)          Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announce $3 billion initiative to ‘cure all diseases’

When I see things like this my immediate thought is the title of the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I don’t understand billionaire worship, nor do I understand why an otherwise intelligent person would think throwing money at health would result in anything significant. It’s great to encourage philanthropy but, seriously, “cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases” in our children’s lifetime”? And then there is this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/09/20/microsoft-will-solve-cancer-within-10-years-by-reprogramming-dis/. It’s almost like they don’t understand the nature of the problem.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company created by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to “unlock human potential and promote equality,” today announced Chan Zuckerberg Science, a $3 billion project that aims to cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” “That doesn’t mean that no one will ever get sick,” Mark Zuckerberg later said. But the program hopes to eventually make all diseases treatable — or at least easily manageable — by the end of the 21st century. “Our society spends 50x more treating people who are sick than on finding cures. We can do better than that,” he said. A press release from the Initiative says Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan will provide “at least $3 billion over the next decade to help jumpstart this work.””

http://venturebeat.com/2016/09/21/mark-zuckerberg-and-priscilla-chan-announce-3-billion-initiative-to-cure-all-diseases/

8)          Fastbrick Robotics Hadrian X Digital Construction System

The video is an update to an earlier story we had on brick laying robots. This machine is meant for structural block used in many countries for house construction rather than brick veneer which is familiar to most North Americans. Although most of the video is an animation they do show a sort of live action prototype. It is a bit hard to see but instead of mortar they apply an adhesive (probably polyurethane construction adhesive) instead of mortar. It would be more credible if they showed an actual house being built but the approach and prototype make it credible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bW1vuCgEaA&feature=youtu.be

9)          The Department of Transportation just issued a comprehensive policy on self-driving cars

The article provides a pretty good summary of the high points of the US DOT policy. The good news is that DOT is promoting the technology, but the bad news is that it is nowhere near as advanced as most of the coverage would have you believe.

“So the US Department of Transportation is attempting to get ahead of the curve. On Monday, it released a surprisingly far-reaching “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.” The policy attempts to do all sorts of things — we’ll get into the details below — but the overarching motivation is that DOT wants to accelerate the development and adoption of AVs. DOT views AVs as a safety technology that could reduce some of the 38,000 traffic fatalities a year in the US, 95 percent of which are caused by human error. It also sees AVs as an accessibility technology that could provide personal transportation to whole populations (disabled, elderly, etc.) who have lacked it. The DOT is not neutral toward AVs. It wants to get them on the road soon. That’s a big deal.”

http://www.vox.com/2016/9/19/12966680/department-of-transportation-automated-vehicles

10)      A Robot That Sews Could Take the Sweat Out of Sweatshops

Another robotics story but this time showing a sewing robot. I like the approach of stiffening the fabric in order to make it easier for a robot to handle but I don’t know enough about sewing to know what the limitations would be. Unfortunately, the inventor in this case probably lacks the expertise and resources to actually make this into a viable product but there is a good chance somebody will.

“Jonathan Zornow, the sole employee of a new startup called Sewbo, thinks the U.S. could bring garment manufacturing a little closer to home by automating the feeding of fabric into sewing machines—a step that to this day is done by hand. Zornow has created a process by which a robotic arm guides chemically stiffened pieces of fabric through a commercial sewing machine. Machines already play a large part in clothing manufacturing. Fabrics can be woven by machines, and then cut into pieces by computer-controlled cutting machines. There are also a few small items like dress shirt collars and cuffs that can be machine-sewn, according to North Carolina State University textiles and apparel researcher Cynthia Istook. But humans still have to put all of the pieces of fabric together, guide them through a sewing machine, and then pass them onto the next assembly line station.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602423/a-robot-that-sews-could-take-the-sweat-out-of-sweatshops/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 16th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 16th 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Adblock Plus now sells ads

Adblock Plus originally blocked ads then it allowed companies to buy space on its “whitelist”. Now it is selling ads. It probably won’t be long before it delivers malware as well. A much better solution is uBlock Origin which is not just a better ad blocker, it doesn’t engage in Adblock Plus’s shenanigans – or at least not yet.

“Adblock Plus is launching a new service that… uh, puts more ads on your screen. Rather than stripping all ads from the internet forever, Adblock Plus is hoping to replace the bad ads — anything it deems too big, too ugly, or too intrusive — with good ads, ones that are smaller, subtler, and theoretically much less annoying. It’ll begin doing that through an ad marketplace, which will allow blogs and other website operators to pick out so-called “acceptable” ads and place them on their pages. If a visitor using Adblock Plus comes to the page, they’ll be shown those “acceptable ads,” instead of whatever ads the site would normally run. “It allows you to treat the two different ecosystems completely differently and monetize each one,” says Ben Williams, Adblock Plus’ operations and communications director. “And crucially, monetize the ad blockers on on their own terms.””

http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/13/12890050/adblock-plus-now-sells-ads

2)          Mobileye spills the beans: Tesla was dropped because of safety concerns

Mobileye, a supplier of advanced safety system technology, made a public break with Tesla in the summer. This has led to a public hissing match between the two firms which is irrelevant as far as I am concerned. What I find interesting is that someone finally did the statistical analysis which show how many (275 million) miles of fatality-free driving would be required just to show Tesla’s system was as safe as an unaided driver. It turns out that there has actually been a second death associated with Tesla’s “autopilot” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/business/fatal-tesla-crash-in-china-involved-autopilot-government-tv-says.html) , meaning about 2 fatalities in 100 million miles and therefore even without shenanigans the system seems far less safe than an unassisted driver.

“But even if Tesla EVs had covered 94 million Autopilot-driven miles by the time of Brown’s crash, that would mean the system had actually resulted in a fatality every 47.5 million miles (which perhaps underlines the problematic nature of inferring statistical certainty from events with a very low n). In April of this year, the RAND Corporation published a study that looked at how many miles an autonomous vehicle fleet would have to cover before it could be said to be safe with sufficient statistical confidence. “To demonstrate that fully autonomous vehicles have a fatality rate of 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles (R=99.9999989%) with a C=95% confidence level, the vehicles would have to be driven 275 million failure-free miles,” RAND said.”

http://arstechnica.com/cars/2016/09/tesla-dropped-by-mobileye-for-pushing-the-envelope-in-terms-of-safety/

3)          Here’s why Samsung Note 7 phones are catching fire

In case you haven’t heard Samsung is the latest company to be caught with an exploding battery problem. Lithium ion batteries can be very dangerous and it doesn’t take much for them to fail. The company is undertaking a massive recall of its flagship phone and that is going to leave some lasting reputational damage.

“What makes the Note 7 different: Samsung may have accidentally squeezed its batteries harder than it should. According to a unpublished preliminary report sent to Korea’s Agency for Technology and Standards (obtained by Bloomberg), Samsung had a manufacturing error that “placed pressure on plates contained within battery cells,” which “brought negative and positive poles into contact.” “The defect was revealed when several contributing factors happened simultaneously, which included sub-optimized assembly process that created variations of tension and exposed electrodes due to insufficient insulation tape,” a Samsung representative tells CNET.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/why-is-samsung-galaxy-note-7-exploding-overheating/

4)          First iPhone 7 pre-order shipments arrive as lines form at Apple stores

There is nothing really novel or advanced about the iPhone 7, but Apple’s marketing is true magic: reports have emerged of the product selling out, large lines (see the next item) etc.. Some part of this may actually be true as there are people who are so brand loyal they will stand in line to buy two year old technology. What matters is not this week but next month.

“In a rare statement regarding iPhone launch supply, Apple on Wednesday said initial stock of all iPhone 7 Plus and jet black models had been depleted, meaning walk-in customers can only select from certain 4.7-inch iPhone 7 versions. According to The Australian, first customers waiting in line to purchase an iPhone 7 Plus from a Sydney Apple retail outlet came away with iPhone 7 models instead.”

http://appleinsider.com/articles/16/09/15/first-iphone-7-pre-order-shipments-arrive-in-australia-new-zealand-as-lines-form-at-apple-retail

5)          Here Are The “Lines Of People” Waiting For The New iPhone 7

I don’t usually carry stories from investment websites but this one makes an interesting counterpoint to item 4, above.

“After several spurious reports of substantial preorder spikes for the iPhone 7 by the likes of T-Mobile – if not so much Verizon – AAPL stock enjoyed the biggest weekly surge in years. However, judging by the “lines of people” waiting for the new gadget as it officially goes on sale in retail outlets, said surge in the stock may have been premature, and merely the latest marketing gimmick that has made a “scarcity” factory into a sublime art form.”

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-09-16/here-are-lines-people-waiting-new-iphone-7

6)          Facebook is imposing prissy American censorship on the whole rest of the world

I have never been and never will be a Facebook member but stories such as these puzzle me. Facebook is in the busy of making money from its users. Facebook has no “higher purpose” actual or implied. It is not journalism and it is not an open public space. It has complete control over the content and anything else associated with its site. If you don’t like Facebook or its policies shut up and delete your account. Just to demonstrate the character of Facebook and its commitment to “doing the right thing” it is fighting a legal action in the UK to force it to not public a particular image of a minor on a “shame page” (see http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-37340157).

“Dontcha just hate it when this happens? As content curator for one of the world’s largest social media platforms, you delete a picture you consider obscene. Then some Norwegian woman writes an angry post. So you delete her post, too. I mean, who does she think she is? The Prime Minister of Norway? Oh wait.  In case you missed it: last week, Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted to his timeline the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo The Terror of War, which depicts children, including a naked girl, running from a napalm attack, as a status concerning photos that “changed the history of warfare”. Egeland’s account was suspended.  The editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, then published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg protesting Facebook’s actions, and including the photo.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/09/12/facebook-is-imposing-prissy-american-censorship-on-the-whole-res/

7)          Study: 67% of Netflix Users Still Have Cable or Satellite Subscriptions

This is not surprising as you need broadband access to have a Netflix account and US providers in particular have ways of getting people to bundle services whether they want them or not. Netflix for the most part offers content which is a subset of what cable offers. There is no live Netflix content so news or sports junkies have to look elsewhere. Over time that will change in favor of the streaming services and cable numbers will drop.

“A survey conducted by CutCableToday.com reveals that 67% of the surveyed Netflix subscribers are still paying for cable or satellite. Even more interesting, those numbers have remained steady since CutCableToday’s 2015 survey, suggesting that, if nothing else, the cord-cutting phenomenon may have leveled off for the time being. Another statistic to put things in perspective. While 67% of Netflix users still have pay TV subscriptions, 83% of total American households are still using cable or satellite. So, Netflix subscribers are still significantly less likely to have cable TV than non-subscribers.”

http://www.streamingobserver.com/nearly-70-netflix-users-still-cable-satellite-subscriptions/

8)          Why Apple Needed 10 Days to Fix a Scary iPhone Hack

To recap the story independent researchers found pretty much the same back door in iOS and OSX and that back door was exploited by an Israeli firm which sold access to the devices of “dangerous” people such as democracy advocates in the Middle East. Now it could be that those two roughly similar backdoors were just coincidence or they were placed there by a third party, possible with collaboration. As to why it took 10 days to issue the fix, well, perhaps the third party had to be consulted to ensure a few new back doors were inserted.

“After the alert went out, Murray says Apple embarked on an urgent three-phase process over 10 days to defeat Pegasus. “The first three or four days was to figure out how all the exploits worked, where the vulnerability was in the code, and preparing for the fixes that would be made,” Murray told me. “Then three days to fix it and prepare for the QA.” The QA (quality assurance), it turns out, is the most critical part of the process in these situations. The reason is that if Apple got it wrong it could open the door to a whole new wave of vulnerabilities released out into the wild.”

http://fortune.com/2016/09/13/apple-pegasus-patch/

9)          Your Next Pair of Shoes Could Come From a 3-D Printer

I figure that eventually 3D printed shoes will be relatively common, at least in certain market segments. I rather doubt that now is the time however since the materials are not likely to be up to par. So you may get bragging rights for having 3D printed shoes but I would be surprised if they lasted very long.

““We’re the technologists coming in to help,” said Lucy Beard, chief executive of the two-year-old Feetz, in San Diego. “I saw 3-D printers in a magazine, and I thought ‘mass customization.’” Each printer can be reset to make different sizes and takes up to 12 hours to make a pair. The company, which recently started selling its shoes, has only 15 employees. But Ms. Beard, 38, a former actuary, envisions a day when shoes will be printed in under an hour. With limited labor and shipping costs to pay and no back inventory, Feetz has a 50 percent profit margin on every pair, she added. Ordering is done online, where customers can download an app, take smartphone snapshots of their feet and create a 3-D model. Shoes, which cost $199, are made of recycled materials and are thickly padded for comfort.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/business/smallbusiness/your-next-pair-of-shoes-could-come-from-a-3-d-printer.html

10)      Uh oh… Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA) Gets a Model S Sales Surprise

This is not another Tesla story despite the headline but rather a story about the EV market in general. I found another source (http://www.eafo.eu/content/latest-newsletter) which says July EV sales were down 28% in Europe in July due to anticipated new model introduction (that seems like a lot to me, but EAFO is an EV advocacy organization). In any event I find the idea that supply issues are to blame as absurd: how do you explain lower supply?

“AID further noted that the electric car sales in June in the Western Europe – comprising mainly Volkswagen e-Up and e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3, and the Model S – dropped 11% to 8,195. The drop could be because consumers have postponed purchase of the Model S sedan in favor of other the Model X SUV, or maybe they are waiting for the arrival of the Model 3, said AID. However, analysts believe the problem was due to the issues with the supply instead of a fall in demand, notes a report from Forbes.”

http://learnbonds.com/131087/tesla-motors-tsla-model-s-sales-surprise/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 9th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 9th 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

1)          Flat Smartphone Growth Projected for 2016 as Mature Markets Veer into Declines, According to IDC

You know things are looking bleak when even the industry analysts project a 1.6% unit growth rate. Whether or not that happens, price compression means that industry revenues will drop. Most of the action is in the low price end of the market and it is worth noting that today’s low cost phone is as functional as a flagship device from a few years ago. Apple continues to gouge customers for its two year old technology while companies like Samsung and other have their flagships as well as a full range of phones across a wide price range.

“Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to reach 1.46 billion units with a year-over-year growth rate of 1.6% in 2016 according to the latest forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. Although growth remains positive, it is down significantly from the 10.4% growth in 2015. Much of the slowdown is attributed to the decline expected in developed regions in 2016, while emerging markets continue with positive growth. Developed markets as a whole (United States, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe) are expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.2%, while emerging markets (Asia/Pacific excluding Japan, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America) will experience a CAGR of 5.4% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.”

http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS41699616

2)          Jet-black Apple iPhone 7 is here with a water-resistant body, better cameras, 256GB capacity — and no headphone jack (hands-on)

I have to wonder how people who write about Apple products live with themselves. Unless you live in North Korea the most impressive thing about the iPhone 7 is its utter banality: I am not aware of a single feature which is truly novel and yet, with the except of articles mocking the lack of a headphone jack, the overwhelming majority of coverage somehow manages to be positive. I figure the iPhone 7 should be called the “Just Like” since most of its features are “just like” features which have been on the market for a couple years – albeit at much lower cost.

“We got to use one hands-on for a few minutes after Apple’s event. Obviously, you can’t appreciate water resistance in a demo room (at least, not Apple’s demo room). But the iPhone 7 seems like a bunch of upgrades — some of which iPhone users have wanted for a while. Did we mention no headphone jack? Yes, it’s weird. Also, the home button being a solid-state Force Touch-like panel means it doesn’t quite have the same feel. It took some getting used to. Jet black, Apple’s new glossy black color iPhone, looks beautiful. It turns the iPhone into a slim black obelisk. But it also might be a bit of a smudge magnet.”

http://www.cnet.com/products/apple-iphone-7/preview/

3)          How Spy Tech Firms Let Governments See Everything on a Smartphone

The article glosses over the fact that firms such as these are happy to help dictatorships deal with “dissidents” as much as they are happy to help spy on terrorists: the color of the money is the same. It is worth reminding people that Apple, the company with a “surprising” back door (and doubtless others) refused to help with an actual terror investigation. One countermeasure against phones being used as listening devices was to disable all the on board microphones and only use a wired headset (since you can then unplug the only microphone).

“Want to invisibly spy on 10 iPhone owners without their knowledge? Gather their every keystroke, sound, message and location? That will cost you $650,000, plus a $500,000 setup fee with an Israeli outfit called the NSO Group. You can spy on more people if you would like — just check out the company’s price list. The NSO Group is one of a number of companies that sell surveillance tools that can capture all the activity on a smartphone, like a user’s location and personal contacts. These tools can even turn the phone into a secret recording device.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/technology/nso-group-how-spy-tech-firms-let-governments-see-everything-on-a-smartphone.html?_r=0

4)          Battery Assault

Battery manufacture is as complex as making Pop Tarts and you can expect that any operation would already be highly automated. It is not at all clear why there should be an economy of scale to a massive plant and there is good reason to believe vertical integration is as bad an idea as it usually is. Regardless we have seen how the Chinese government seems to be willing to subsidize the manufacture of solar cells, thus creating the illusion of dramatic cost improvements, and the same may become true with batteries. Nevertheless, the highly imaginative cost curve suggests a typical 70 kWhr battery will remain far too expensive to allow the manufacture of a $30,000 car for some time.

“Remember when Tesla’s Gigafactory was going to be the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery plant? By the time it reaches full capacity in 2020, it will be producing 35 gigawatt hours of cells each year — more than the whole world manufactured in 2013. Impressive, huh? Well, as Gadfly pointed out in July, there’s a contender for Elon Musk’s crown: BYD, the Chinese electric carmaker that already has about 23 percent of the market for large-scale batteries and is planning to ramp up to 34 gigawatt hours in 2019.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2016-09-04/battery-assault

5)          Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries

This is a bit of a superficial look at why battery technology is not progressing as fast as people expect. The article would have been much better if it had described how very little progress has been made in battery performance and price over the past decade or so.

“In fact, many researchers believe energy storage will have to take an entirely new chemistry and new physical form, beyond the lithium-ion batteries that over the last decade have shoved aside competing technologies in consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and grid-scale storage systems. In May the DOE held a symposium entitled “Beyond Lithium-Ion.” The fact that it was the ninth annual edition of the event underscored the technological challenges of making that step.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602245/why-we-still-dont-have-better-batteries/

6)          White House Report Concludes That Bite-Mark Analysis Is Junk Science

It turns out that a lot of forensics in general is pretty much junk science but that hasn’t stopped it from sending a lot of people to prison, including, presumably, a lot of innocent people. The article gets interesting when they start discussing “industry” reaction to the claim their “science’ is bunk. Even the district attorneys seem uninterested in whether it gives the right answer or not.

“In the case of bite-mark evidence, the report is especially critical. “PCAST finds that bitemark analysis does not meet the scientific standards for foundational validity, and is far from meeting such standards,” it reads. “To the contrary, available scientific evidence strongly suggests that examiners cannot consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bitemark and cannot identify the source of [a] bitemark with reasonable accuracy.” Bite-mark analysis is conducted by forensic dentists and relies on two foundational premises: first, that human dentition is unique — as unique as DNA ­— and second, that human skin (or another malleable substrate) is a suitable medium on which to record such an impression. The problem is that neither premise has been proved. Nonetheless, bite-mark analysis has been used in criminal cases to match individuals to alleged bites ­since the 1950s, when Texas’s highest criminal court cleared the way for its use (in that case, a dentist claimed that a bite mark left in a piece of cheese found at the scene of a grocery burglary matched the teeth of a particular man).”

https://theintercept.com/2016/09/07/white-house-report-concludes-that-bite-mark-analysis-is-junk-science/

7)          Exclusive: How Elizabeth Holmes’s House of Cards Came Tumbling Down

The media spends time building you up so they can start tearing you down. This article looks at the rise and fall of Theranos and the superficial coverage of the company’s purported technology and CEO. One thing they don’t cover is that the CEO had little education and, as a rule of thumb, you can’t “hack” biochemistry the way you can hack software. It’s a bit like believing an undergraduate would replace General Relativity through force of will.

“Holmes subsequently raised $6 million in funding, the first of almost $700 million that would follow. Money often comes with strings attached in Silicon Valley, but even by its byzantine terms, Holmes’s were unusual. She took the money on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked, and that she had final say and control over every aspect of her company. This surreptitiousness scared off some investors. When Google Ventures, which focuses more than 40 percent of its investments on medical technology, tried to perform due diligence on Theranos to weigh an investment, Theranos never responded. Eventually, Google Ventures sent a venture capitalist to a Theranos Walgreens Wellness Center to take the revolutionary pinprick blood test. As the V.C. sat in a chair and had several large vials of blood drawn from his arm, far more than a pinprick, it became apparent that something was amiss with Theranos’s promise.”

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/elizabeth-holmes-theranos-exclusive

8)          Intel Sells Majority Stake in McAfee Security Unit to TPG

Large tech companies like to spread the wealth around through things like share buys backs, dividends, and appallingly stupid and overpriced acquisitions. Buybacks reward people for selling the stock (which seems odd), dividends reward people for owning the stock (which sort of makes sense) and idiotic acquisitions (where most of the money goes) rewards the shareholders of other companies. To be fair, there have been many acquisitions more destructive of value than this one, but this isn’t the only one Intel has done either.

“Intel, which bought McAfee for $7.7 billion six years ago, said on Wednesday that it had sold a majority stake in its cybersecurity business to the investment firm TPG, in a transaction valuing the security provider at approximately $4.2 billion, including debt. The move will bring McAfee independence at a time when cybersecurity businesses have grown more prominent amid seemingly omnipresent hacking threats. And its sale illustrates how much both the technology industry and Intel have changed since Intel purchased the company in 2010.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/08/business/dealbook/intel-sells-a-majority-stake-of-cybersecurity-unit-mcafee-to-tpg.html

9)          Malawi and South Africa Pioneer Unused TV Frequencies for Rural Broadband

Radio works differently depending on frequencies and a lot of the TV spectrum is perfect for “reach” although it is not good for carrying a lot of digital traffic. Nevertheless unused TV spectrum can be very useful as a stopgap measure (pending deployment of more advanced radio technologies) for cost-effective rural broadband. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Some people have taken to calling TV white space technology “Super Wi-Fi” or “White-Fi,” but we find those terms misleading because the technology is very different. TV white space uses VHF and UHF frequencies that have been set aside primarily for television broadcasts but are not in use in particular geographic regions or at specific times. The transition from analog to digital TV has opened up quite a bit of that spectrum. For TV white space networks, UHF is more attractive than VHF because its shorter wavelengths mean that smaller antennas can be used. The exact frequencies vary from country to country; in the United States, for instance, the allowed TV white space frequencies cover channels 2 through 51 except for channels 3, 4, and 37. And rural regions, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, have no shortage of unused TV frequencies—sometimes the entire UHF and VHF bands are available.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/internet/malawi-and-south-africa-pioneer-unused-tv-frequencies-for-rural-broadband

10)      Dutchman dies in Tesla crash; firefighters feared electrocution

Tesla fanboyz rant about how it seems that every Tesla fatality gets covered by the media but when a company claims to have technology nobody else has, advertises its vehicles as the safest ever tested, and the death toll starts rising, there is no reason to keep quiet about it. The twist in this article is that, even though the driver was apparently dead at the scene, another driver in a similar accident could have bled out because the EMTs didn’t want to die. I would not blame them either. I have been informally tracking Tesla fatalities. For a car rated “the safest ever tested” my figures suggest the fatality rate seems to be extremely high when calculated by registered vehicle years.

“A Dutchman died on Wednesday after his Tesla (TSLA.O) collided with a tree, according to local authorities, and it took firefighters hours to remove his body from the vehicle due to fears they could be electrocuted. The cause of the crash on a highway about 40 kilometers east of Amsterdam was not known. Photos of the crash scene published by local media showed the back of the car mostly intact but its front smashed in and parts strewn about.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tesla-netherlands-idUSKCN11D28Z

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 2nd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 2nd 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

1)          VW says 300-mile range EV will charge in 15 minutes and cost less than gas version

Ah, EVs. You can pretty much say what you want. It turns out batteries have very low specific energy meaning most of the weight of the car will be the battery. With a purported 300 mile range you’d need at least something like a 70 kilowatt hour battery. To charge a 70 kWh batter in 15 minutes would require 280 kilowatts. At 85% efficiency (which is very high for a fast charge), you’d need about 320 kilowatts. That doesn’t sound like much but that is about 1,500 amps at 220 volts, or the equivalent to a few hundred houses’ typical power consumption. The 15% efficiency loss is almost 50 kW, which is about 45 megajoules, or more than burning a liter of diesel fuel, and that is a lot of heat.

“Two factors rank high on the list of reasons why people hesitate to buy all-electric cars: range per charge and high price relative to petroleum-powered models. A top Volkswagen exec touted a new electric vehicle (EV) planned for the 2018-2019 model year with a 300-mile range. Now the CEO of VW Group says plans include a 15-minute charge time and a price lower than gas models, according to Engadget.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/vw-electric-300-mile-15-minute-charge/

2)          The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group’s iPhone Zero-Days used against a UAE Human Rights Defender

There is probably a lot more to this than appears. Recall that Apple publicly refused to help law enforcement access a known terrorist’s phone. Subsequent to the Snowden revelations it is reasonable to assume that the more obscure the back door the more likely it is to have been “government sponsored” through one way or the other. Just sayin.

“We accessed the link Mansoor provided us on our own stock factory-reset iPhone 5 (Mansoor had an iPhone 6) with iOS 9.3.3 (the same version as Mansoor).  When we clicked the link, we saw that it was indeed active, and watched as unknown software was remotely implanted on our phone.  This suggested that the link contained a zero-day iPhone remote jailbreak: a chain of heretofore unknown exploits used to remotely circumvent iPhone security measures.  To verify our observations, we shared our findings with Lookout Security.  Both research teams determined that Mansoor was targeted with a zero-day iPhone remote jailbreak. The chain of exploits, which we are calling the Trident, included the following (see Section 4: The Trident iOS Exploit Chain and Payload for more details) …”

https://citizenlab.org/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/

3)          Elon Musk and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good $779 Million Day

This article is sort of a summary of recent events. One highlight is the destruction of a SpaceX rocket and, most importantly, its payload, on the launch pad (yeah, the launch pad is gone as well). Bizarrely, SpaceX has managed to get people to believe rocketry is “new” despite it dating back to the 1940s, and at the same time getting them to think launch costs are the most important thing. Launch costs are very important but space craft are, by far, most of the cost of a mission. Losing one space craft every 14 missions is not a compromise many operators want to make when alternatives with extremely safe records are available. One other thing: note the “additional $489 million” of his stock pledged. This comes after a recent $600 million stock sale. Pledging stock is the same as selling it except the optics are no so bad. At least somebody wants to diversify away from Musk Inc..

“He suffered one Thursday, when his fortune, on paper, shrank by $779 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That was due to two factors: drops in the companies’ stock prices; and Wednesday’s regulatory filing showing he has put up an additional $489 million of his Tesla and SolarCity stock as collateral to secure personal borrowings. The pledged shares are stripped out of his total net worth calculation because they’re not immediately available to him. The borrowing is for personal liquidity; he doesn’t even accept the $37,584 minimum-wage salary Tesla is required to pay him.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-01/elon-musk-and-the-terrible-horrible-no-good-779-million-day

4)          Pinning Down Apple’s Alleged 0.005% Tax Rate Is Nearly Impossible

One of the first things we learned in accounting was “transfer pricing schemes” which is a means to reduce tax paid through sham transactions. This is what many large tech and pharma companies can do through Byzantine schemes to move intellectual property license fees to Neverland. That sort of behavior used to be universally condemned but now it is acceptable provided you like the company which does it. The EU’s move is understandable as Ireland was helping Apple and others avoid taxes on EU profits at the same time as Ireland was collecting subsidies from the EU. It’s probably not best to help somebody steal from the neighbor who is providing you with free meals. Either way, Apple’s mock outrage, crocodile tears, etc., show it is completely tone deft to the fact that society has to be funded by those who pay their taxes.

“The EU says the 0.005 percent effective tax rate applies to the profits of Apple Sales International, an Irish unit which regulators say is “responsible for buying Apple products from equipment manufacturers around the world and selling these products in Europe” as well as in the Middle East, Africa and India. The commission also cited another unit, Apple Operations Europe, which it said was responsible for manufacturing certain lines of computers for the Apple group.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-01/pinning-down-apple-s-alleged-0-005-tax-rate-mission-impossible

5)          Revealed: Google’s plan for quantum computer supremacy

Most of the press coverage around Google’s quantum computing efforts is around their purchase of a D-Wave machine, which gets short shrift in this article, but their most significant actual advances have come from actual quantum computers. This article outlines the company’s plans to build a large (real) quantum computer within the next few years.

“Last year, the firm announced it had solved certain problems 100 million times faster than a classical computer by using a D-Wave quantum computer, a commercially available device with a controversial history. Experts immediately dismissed the results, saying they weren’t a fair comparison. Google purchased its D-Wave computer in 2013 to figure out whether it could be used to improve search results and artificial intelligence. The following year, the firm hired John Martinis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to design its own superconducting qubits. “His qubits are way higher quality,” says Aaronson. It’s Martinis and colleagues who are now attempting to achieve quantum supremacy with 50 qubits, and many believe they will get there soon. “I think this is achievable within two or three years,” says Matthias Troyer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “They’ve showed concrete steps on how they will do it.””

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23130894-000-revealed-googles-plan-for-quantum-computer-supremacy/?

6)          Google Is About to Take On Uber in a Big Way

My skepticism around Uber is well known even though I like the service. As this shows, Uber has essentially no barriers to entry to competition and certainly not against Google. Uber’s main success has been in getting around taxi regulations but it is clear that wherever they operate legally any other such service can as well.

“Google’s service, which will be available through the company’s Waze navigation app, would essentially work as a digital carpooling platform, linking paying ride-seekers with drivers headed in the same direction. The company has been testing the service on a small scale but is now ready to expand it more broadly across San Francisco, the Journal reports. Unlike Uber and its nearest rival, Lyft, Google will not yet take a cut of drivers’ fares. That means it won’t make money anytime soon — but thanks to Google’s lucrative advertising business, that doesn’t necessarily need to happen right away.”

http://time.com/4473094/google-waze-carpooling-uber-lyft/

7)          1,650lb 3D printed aircraft tool sets Guinness World Record

This is exactly the sort of thing 3D printers can excel at: small production run products and components, especially those already described in CAD files. This particular piece would not normally be subject to an enormous amount of stress but I can see the day when injection molds, etc., are also made with 3D printing.

“ONRL said it printed the tool in only 30 hours using carbon fiber and ABS thermoplastic composite materials. “The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques,” said Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials in a statement. “Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.” According to ONRL, the tool was 3D printed on the lab’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine and Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measured the trim tool, proved it exceeded the required minimum of 0.3 cubic meters, or approximately 10.6 cubic feet, and announced the new record title.”

http://www.networkworld.com/article/3114569/hardware/1-650lb-3d-printed-aircraft-tool-sets-guinness-world-record.html

8)          Smartphone Owners Wait Years to Replace Handsets

The study is a bit dated but not likely out of date. It confirms my thesis that smartphone replacement cycles are getting longer and longer, and that will be more so when consumers are confronted by the loss of smartphone “subsidies” which exposes the true price of the device for them. The good news is that prices will come down a lot to offset the slower replacement cycles.

“A plurality of respondents—30%—said they upgraded their smartphone once every two years, which used to be the typical length of a wireless service contract that came with discounted-upgrade privileges. But major wireless providers have phased out such offers in favor of payments plans that ultimately have smartphone users shelling out for the full sticker price of their handsets (plus interest). That could be one reason why even more respondents wait longer than two years: 42% of the overall respondent base said they waited three years or longer before trading up.”

http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Owners-Wait-Years-Replace-Handsets/1014149

9)          To build a better battery, Dyson will spend $1.4 billion, enlist 3,000 engineers

I made the mistake of actually buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner once so I tend to associate “expensive, low quality, short lived” with Dyson rather than “innovative”. Nevertheless the guy has made a lot of money for himself so most people seem to hold a different opinion. While his criticism of lithium ion battery technology is spot on there is no reason to believe that throwing money at the problem will improve it. Enormous sums of money have been lost to novel batteyr development over the years.

“And Dyson is not planning incremental improvements. His opinion is that current Li-ion batteries don’t last long enough and aren’t safe enough — the latter as evidenced by their propensity to spontaneously catch on fire, which is rare but does happen. Dyson believes the answer lies in using ceramics to create solid-state lithium-ion batteries. Dyson says he intended to spend $1.4 billion in research and development and in building a battery factory over the next five years. Last year Dyson bought Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Sakti3, which focuses on creating advanced solid-state batteries, for $90 million. The global lithium-ion battery market accounts for $40 billion in annual sales, according to research firm Lux as cited by Forbes.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/dyson-invent-new-lithium-ion-ceramics/

10)      Fully Autonomous Cars Are Unlikely, Says America’s Top Transportation Safety Official

I am not sure I agree with the conclusion but he makes some good points. One point which is think is not so good is the question of whether a car would make the “right” choice in an entirely unlikely scenario and one where a human driver would not likely have the time to even realize they were making a choice. Either way, safety automation is a numbers games and the path to full autonomy will save tens of thousands of lives a year in the US alone.

“Auto accidents kill more than 33,000 Americans each year, more than homicide or prescription drug overdoses. Companies working on self-driving cars, such as Alphabet and Ford, say their technology can slash that number by removing human liabilities such as texting, drunkenness, and fatigue. But Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says his agency’s experience investigating accidents involving autopilot systems used in trains and planes suggests that humans can’t be fully removed from control. He told MIT Technology Review that future autos will be much safer, but that they will still need humans as copilots.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602273/fully-autonomous-cars-are-unlikely-says-americas-top-transportation-safety-official/