The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 16th 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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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.””
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”