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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 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)          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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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: 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.””

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.

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.”

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.”

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