The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. 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)          Cyber attack: Hackers use everday devices to cause major internet outages

I have warned repeatedly that Internet of Things devices are not typically secure and Friday’s massive cyber-attack sort of makes that point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to suspect the industry will reform itself since IoT vendors are generally low-end firms with little experience in, or interest in, security. What is interesting to me is that the attack may have been inspired by or instigated by the folks at Wikileaks. Why anybody would think that vandalizing the Internet is likely to lead to a positive outcome for them is a mystery. Look at the bright side: they elected to vandalize DNS servers rather than steal banking information.

“A major cyber offensive that brought down internet behemoths Twitter and Paypal is thought to have been launched by hackers using common devices such as webcams, baby monitors and digital recorders. In a huge breach of global internet stability, hackers brought down well-known sites including Netflix, Twitter, Paypal and Spotify. The widespread disruption was the result of a coordinated assault on some of the underlying infrastructure that powers the Internet. Dyn, one of several companies responsible for hosting the crucial web directory known as the Domain Name System (DNS), suffered a sustained so-called “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack, leading many people intermittently to lose access to specific sites or to the Internet entirely.”

2)          Tesla, once beloved by critics, ranks near bottom of new Consumer Reports survey

Consumer Report’s bizarre decision to grant the Tesla Model S, a new model from an vendor with limited experience building cars, its highest rating ever was greeted with tremendous excitement by Tesla fans and at the same time my opinion of CR’s judgement dropped to zero. They subsequently withdrew that rating and this report shows they are more or less on an even keel – though the extremely important issue of battery life and high replacement cost doesn’t seem to bother them yet. Give them a few years. Unsurprisingly Tesla fans are now attacking CE as “biased”.

“Tesla, the upstart all-electric automaker that once landed Consumer Reports’ best-ever performance rating, has now achieved a far less impressive feat, with a ranking from the reviewer that labels it one the least reliable car companies in America. The Consumer Reports’ ranking, released Monday, places Tesla at no. 25 of 29 for reliability, with reviewers saying the automaker’s new Model X SUV “has been plagued with malfunctions,” including with the “falcon-wing doors” that have become its signature.”

3)          Silicon Valley Decides It’s Just Too Hard to Build a Car

I continue to maintain that the tricky part of building a self-driving car is actually building the car. You can retrofit technology to a car design but actually making a car is a heck of a lot harder than people realize, especially in the Silicon Valley Bubble. Most recently it appears even Google may want out of the business Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this item.

“He’s not kidding. Tech giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, once intent on disrupting, if not destroying, Detroit, have concluded for now that they don’t want to build cars. Sure, they still bank on supplying the autonomous software that will drive robot rides, but the concession that they’re not up to the complex task of mass production tilts the balance of power to traditional automakers. Vehicle manufacturing is a massive undertaking. There is the metal bending and assembly, a highly evolved process in itself. Car companies also integrate millions of lines of code that control everything from the radio to the radar sensors that will soon allow hands-free driving. Detroit also has deep experience managing the long chain of suppliers that provide roughly 30,000 parts.”

4)          Why Tim Cook is Steve Ballmer and Why He Still Has His Job at Apple

This is a surprisingly good article which discusses the problem of the “visionary CEO” and what happens when he leaves. As the article explains, visionaries pick good operators as senior executives and one of those becomes a successor. Unfortunately good operators make lousy visionaries so they plant the seeds for their own destruction.

“When visionary founders depart (death, firing, etc.), the operating executives who reported to them believe it’s their turn to run the company (often with the blessing of the ex CEO).  At Microsoft, Bill Gates anointed Steve Ballmer, and at Apple Steve Jobs made it clear that Tim Cook was to be his successor. Once in charge, one of the first things these operations/execution CEOs do is to get rid of the chaos and turbulence in the organization. Execution CEOs value stability, process and repeatable execution. On one hand that’s great for predictability, but it often starts a creative death spiral – creative people start to leave, and other executors (without the innovation talent of the old leader) are put into more senior roles – hiring more process people, which in turn forces out the remaining creative talent. This culture shift ripples down from the top and what once felt like a company on a mission to change the world now feels like another job.”

5)          SSDs Kill The 15K HDD, Seagate Rolls Out Last Generation

I continue to be very negative on the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) industry even as share prices of Seagate and Western Digital continue to go up. Inflection points are generally ignored by analysts and investors until it is too late: after all, almost all analysis is derived from management and management is great at deluding themselves. There will be shuffling of deck chairs along the way but this is only going to end one way. How many people would invest in a digital storage tape vendor today?

“Seagate representatives indicated that the company is not working on future generations of 15K HDDs due to the proliferation of SSDs in the data center. The company will offer the Enterprise Performance 15K HDD v6 (otherwise known as the 15K.6) for an extended period of time to ensure that forward compatibility and replacements are on hand, as it does all of its data center HDDs, but it will offer SSDs as the go-to solution for high-performance workloads. The move isn’t entirely surprising; it’s fair to say that the 2.5″ HDD segment has been on a managed decline (albeit a steep one) recently. The “mission-critical” 2.5″ segment declined from roughly five million units in 4Q2014 to 3.2 million in 1Q2016”,32920.html

6)          The Google Assistant Needs You

One of the new features in Google’s Pixel phone which is getting a lot of positive attention is the Google Assistant. I haven’t tried it but apparently it is a considerable leap ahead of Google voice. This article implies that the design of Google Assistant is such that it will improve steadily as more data is gathered from use thanks to deep learning technology. Some articles have suggested this may place Apple at a competitive disadvantage as it’s AI/Deep Learning technology is behind that of Google and even Microsoft.

“As Pereira explains it, The Transition is a Brink’s Job-level bounty of data that his team and other scientists at Google will receive when millions of people start conversing with his company’s flagship bot, the Google Assistant. The Assistant is a single software system that will be implemented across multiple Google platforms, including the Pixel phone and the Google Home device. It strives to control the functions on the phone like Siri does, perform services as seamlessly as Amazon’s Alexa, and conduct Geisha-level chatter that puts to shame the business bot in Facebook’s Messenger.”

7)          All the disappointments from Apple’s MacBook Pro event

I am sort of used to fawning coverage of any Apple product release “event”. Apple has bloggers and the tech media very carefully controlled by limiting access to its events and test units only to those who “think right”. The reaction to this week’s MacBook Pro event has been remarkably negative. Not just the reviews but comment threads regarding the new products have been extremely critical of the reduction in features and increased prices (one developer noted one model MacBook Pro actually cost more than a similar featured product from a few years ago). I don’t see the point of paying 2 or 3x more for a computer because is in an Apple but that is not the point: Apple has been an astoundingly competent marketing company even if its innovation has lagged. If they lose that, they have lost everything. See also

“One of the main draws to Apple products is the unified ecosystem, but it looks like the company is getting sloppy in maintaining that. The USB-C-equipped MacBook Pros can’t connect to your new iPhone 7 unless you buy a $20 adaptor or a new cable. Similarly, you can’t connect your Lightning earbuds to your new laptop. There isn’t really a good reason for this. Apple seems hell-bent on sticking with Lightning connectors for some devices, even though it’s pushing forward with USB-C ports. The only saving grace in this regard, as our own Napier Lopez noted, is that the MacBook Pro comes with a good ol’ 3.5mm headphone jack. Thanks, Apple.”

8)          No One Is Buying Smartwatches Anymore

No, this is not another Apple article. I included it as an example of why industry research is so utterly useless (Google “IDC predicts smartwatch sales” for a list of articles such as this or this The job of industry analysts is to paint a bright picture of the future because that is what sells expensive reports. It is truly a pity so many investors and businesses actually believe they know what they are talking about.

“Remember how smartwatches were supposed to be the next big thing? About that… The market intelligence firm IDC reported on Monday that smartwatch shipments are down 51.6 percent year-over-year for the third quarter of 2016. This is bad news for all smartwatch vendors (except maybe Garmin), but it’s especially bad for Apple, which saw shipments drop 71.6 percent, according to the IDC report”

9)          Demand for Google Pixel Smartphones Soars, Shortages Result

I doubt I’ll buy one (too much money to spend on a smartphone) but Google’s flagship Pixel phone sure is getting very positive reviews. It may be this is just a “manufactured shortage” use to build hype or it could be that Samsung owners who traded in their defective phones decided to go with Google. It might even be that Google has a successful product on its hands.

“Since going on sale Oct. 20, Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL Android smartphones are so popular that several versions are completely out of stock and others are apparently taking longer to get to buyers than previously estimated by Google. All 5.5-inch Pixel XL handsets in Quite Black or Very Silver are out of stock in both 32GB and 128GB configurations, while the 5-inch Pixel models in certain configurations—32GB in Very Silver and 128GB models in Very Silver and Quite Black—are shipping in two to three weeks, according to the Google Store’s ordering page. Other standard Pixel models are completely out of stock, including the Pixel 32GB Quite Black version and the 32GB Really Blue Limited Edition version.”

10)      Qualcomm’s NXP Deal Is $47 Billion Wager on Computers You Drive

Qualcomm’s long rumored purchase of NXP is just the most recent act in a multi-year consolidation of the semiconductor industry. NXP is not exactly a gem of a company, having spent like drunken sailors to create the illusion of growth the last few years. NXP bought Freescale in 2015, a company whose management we consider to be essentially pathogens. Meanwhile Qualcomm is faced with a declining smartphone market and the loss of its prior dominance there so some financial engineering is in order. Acquisition accounting should allow obfuscation of real operating performance for a couple years at least but it doesn’t change the fact the semiconductor industry is no longer growing. This may be one of the largest such transactions but it will not be the last: substantially all smaller semiconductor companies will be acquired in this feeding frenzy.

“Qualcomm Inc.’s purchase of NXP Semiconductors NV is a bet that the future of mobile computing has four wheels. The $47 billion acquisition unveiled Thursday — the biggest ever for Qualcomm, and in the chip industry’s history — marks the company’s most significant foray outside its historically narrow focus on cell-phone chips and patents, a strategy that has made it one of the most successful technology companies of the last 20 years. Now, as mobile-phone growth decelerates, Qualcomm’s management is buying a leading position in the nascent market for chips that will turn automobiles into smart devices that use sensors to help drivers drive, park, navigate and communicate.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 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)          A Ridiculously Easy Way to Convert CT Scans to 3D Printable Bone STL Models for Free in Minutes

I’ve written about medical applications for 3D printing a number of times. Like any emerging technology it can sound pretty daunting so I thought this item was worth a read. Basically the author takes you through how you can convert a CAT scan into a 3D printed model using open source tools. It is that easy.

“In this tutorial you will learn how to quickly and easily make 3D printable bone models from medical CT scans using the free online service Imag3D. The method described here requires no prior knowledge of medical imaging or 3D printing software. Creation of your first model can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. You can download the files used in this tutorial by clicking on this link. You must have a free Embodi3D member account to do so. If you don’t have an account, registration is free and takes a minute. It is worth the time to register so you can follow along with the tutorial and use the Imag3D service.”

2)          Cities spent millions on fast gigabit networks. No one is sure what they’re good for.

I am always impressed by the utter cluelessness of policy advisors when the subject of the need for broadband infrastructure comes up. The analogy with electricity is stark: the main application for electricity was electric light and people only needed so much light so why “waste” money delivering more than a few amps to a building? If you are going to dig up streets and back yards you want to do that once and make sure you have plenty of headroom for growth. Although there are upper limits to how much bandwidth people might use, for the foreseeable future we will grow into whatever infrastructure is available.

“Of course, there’s another possibility: Maybe people just don’t have any use for so much bandwidth. That’s the view of Doug Brake, of Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank funded by foundation and government grants as well as donations from firms such as Google and IBM. “There are no apps today and no apps on the horizon,” he said, though he acknowledged that development of new applications would probably proceed more quickly with far broader gigabit coverage. The basic issue is that even the most bandwidth-hungry of today’s applications use far, far less than a gigabit — 1,000 megabits per second — of bandwidth. Right now, one of the most bandwidth-hungry applications out there is Netflix. Netflix recommends users have at least 3 Mbps of bandwidth for standard-definition video — meaning that you could stream about 300 Netflix videos simultaneously on a 1 gigabit connection. If you want Netflix’s highest-quality streaming, called Ultra HD, that requires 25 Mbps. So a gigabit connection would allow you to stream 40 Ultra HD videos at a time.”

3)          Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic

I figure the marketing guy who thought this up should be subject to summary execution. Seriously, what moron thinks that flying advertisements just over the heads of drivers is a good idea? How on earth would it be different if you were stuck in traffic in an Uber instead of your own car?

“Drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City lately have found themselves being buzzed by a fleet of sign-toting drones. “Driving by yourself?” some scolded in Spanish. “This is why you can never see the volcanoes”—a reference to the smog that often hovers over the mega-city and obscures two nearby peaks. It wasn’t exactly a plea for environmentalism, though—it was an ad for UberPOOL, part of Uber’s big push into markets across Latin America. As Bloomberg points out, Uber already does more business in Mexico City than any other city it operates in, and Brazil is its third-largest market after the U.S. and India. Uber sees Latin American countries as generally easier targets for expansion than either of its top two markets.”

4)          IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It

IBM has missed every technological shift since the PC despite frittering away billions buying countless companies. They have smart scientists but management appears to be dominated by the “Pointy Haired Boss” from Dilbert. Given their aptitude for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory I doubt their efforts to monetize AI will be any different.

“IBM has invested billions of dollars in its Watson business unit, created at the start of 2014, which now employs an estimated 10,000 workers. Its big-ticket marketing push includes clever television ads that feature Watson trading quips with famous people like Serena Williams and Bob Dylan. And Watson, after a slow start, has shown its mettle by assisting in daunting tasks like diagnosing cancer. Yet industry experts question how quickly IBM can build a business around Watson. “IBM has pursued big, bespoke moonshot initiatives that can take years and are extremely expensive,” said Tom Austin, a research fellow at Gartner. “It seems like they’re swimming upstream with that.””

5)          Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR

This article is good for a chuckle. A lot of “unicorns” are being prepared for IPOs on the theory their owners believe there is more opportunity for them if you own the stock than if they own the stock. This article isn’t really about a unicorn but it provides some insight into the “Silicon Valley Bubble” and the limited amount of thinking which goes into funding a lot of startups. To be fair for most startups the product is their stock and whether they have any hope of ever turning a profit is moot.

“So what is it? It’s a $700 juicer that you buy (yes, seven hundred dollars), and then in the same way you buy different coffee pods for a Keurig, you buy different types of juice packets which range up to $10 each (yes, ten dollars). Hey, pre-cleaning and chopping organic (of course) fruit then putting it in a non-degradable packet is hard work! Pop the juice packet into the juicer, press a button, and a minute later you have a glass of juice. Then you throw away the packet, nothing to clean. But wait, there’s more. The packet has a QR code on it (those square, 2D barcodes) and the system reads the QR code to compare with an internet database (it’s WiFi connected of course) and see if the packet is in date – if you’re in luck the system will press the juice for you just right. If not, or your internet happens to be down, no such luck and the $10 you spent will get you nothing.”

6)          Quantum computers: 10-fold boost in stability achieved

What I liked about this article is that it highlights a dirty little secret of Quantum Computers (QCs): namely the very short amount of time they can run. In a nutshell, QCs work because the qbits are kept in a state of quantum superposition. That state is lost the instant there is interaction with any outside influence (i.e. a photon, a particle, etc.). It is very hard to isolate qbits from the universe so quantum superposition can’t last long. As fast as QCs might be for certain applications they have to be controlled externally by a traditional computer and that can only do so many things in a few milliseconds.

“The results are striking: since the electromagnetic field steadily oscillates at a very high frequency, any noise or disturbance at a different frequency results in a zero net effect. The researchers achieved an improvement by a factor of 10 in the time span during which a quantum superposition can be preserved. Specifically, they measured a dephasing time of T2*=2.4 milliseconds – a result that is 10-fold better than the standard qubit, allowing many more operations to be performed within the time span during which the delicate quantum information is safely preserved.”

7)           “I’ve seen pretty much all your tech secrets”

I’ve written in the past that the core problem with NSA snooping is that they are acting as aggregators for spies. Since the NSA hoovers up everything (personal information as well as private corporate information, military information, etc.) a double agent inside NSA can distribute that data to his paymaster. I’ve said in the past that Snowden was obviously not the only guy inside who had figured this out: I am proved right by this development. There are doubtless hundreds of others working inside NSA and doing the same thing though obviously more discretely. You can’t employ hundreds of thousands of people and keep secret like that.

“Government prosecutors intend to file charges under the Espionage Act against a former NSA contractor who was arrested in August and charged with stealing a massive trove of top-secret intelligence documents. In court papers filed Thursday [you can read them below], the government said Navy veteran Harold T. Martin III stole 50,000 gigabytes of data over the course of two decades, which far exceeds the number of documents Edward Snowden took from the NSA and leaked to journalists. (One gigabyte can store about 10,000 pages.)”

8)          Telstra, Ericsson, Qualcomm unveil 1Gbps 4G network, mobile router, 5G modem

I have a couple of articles on 5G wireless this week. This one talks about 5G and 1Gbps 4G. It is not really clear to me why they refer to the Netgear router, except perhaps they expect the 5G technology will mostly be used in doors (see the next article). 5G will be much faster than 4G, use much higher frequencies (good bye spectrum shortage) but have shorter reach. Early on it will be ideal for deployment of broadband in competition with wired broadband since it will be very cheap to deploy the “last mile” to the customers.

“Telstra’s network attains 1Gbps speeds when used in conjunction with the newly announced Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m, which runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem and Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi solution. The Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m is the first consumer device capable of reaching download speeds up to 1Gbps over 4G. It attains gigabit speeds via 3x carrier aggregation; 4×4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) on two aggregated carriers; 2×2 MIMO on a third carrier; and Higher Order Modulation 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM).”

9)          Millimeter-wave 5G modem coming mid-2018 with 5Gbps peak download

I thought this article had a pretty good explanation of some of the advantages of 5G. Besides exploiting a huge swath of spectrum, the diagrams give a pretty good idea how MIMO and beam forming work. Both are sophisticated antenna technologies which make use of, and even benefit from, the fact that higher frequency radio is like light in that it bounces off walls and buildings.

“The X50 5G will at first operate with a bandwidth of about 800MHz on the 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave in Qualcomm jargon) spectrum, a frequency that’s also being investigated by Samsung, Nokia, and Verizon. However, the powers that be have far from settled on this area of the spectrum, with 73GHz also being mooted. In the UK, Ofcom is investigating several bands in a range between 6GHz and 100GHz. As the industry as a whole is a long way from consensus, this could be Qualcomm’s bid to get the final frequency locked down well before 2020—the year that 5G is expected to reach any kind of consumer penetration.”

10)      Can CRISPR Save Ben Dupree?

I figure 20 years from now CRISPR-CAS9 will be considered one of the greatest advances in science. The technology allows reliable and highly precise editing of the genome, meaning that genetic defects can be corrected, mutant cells targeted, and genes essentially rewritten at will. This has obvious application in genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cancer but will have tremendous application in agriculture and industrial processes.

“Dupree, who majored in biochemistry and hopes to become a genetic counselor, has sometimes imagined what life would be like if that small error were not there. A year ago, in December, he learned how a technology called CRISPR might make that possible. A scientist named Eric Olson had requested some of Dupree’s blood a few months earlier, and Dupree had agreed. Soon he was rolling through the lab on his TiLite wheelchair so Olson, a biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, could show him the results—and what some scientists now predict is the likeliest way to cure Duchenne.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 14th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 14th 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)          Is Comcast Imposing Data Caps to Cash in Before the Fixed Wireless Boom?

I don’t exactly follow the conspiracy theory reasoning but what I found interesting about this article is the extent to which broadband service providers are testing fixed wireless technologies. Fixed wireless has several advantages: it is cheap and fast to deploy and you don’t have to dig up roads and back yards. Most significantly, especially in the US wireless service is subject to state and local regulation and lobbying has severely limited competition whereas wireless is federally regulated and that should open up the market. Most significantly emerging wireless technologies open up a massive amount of spectrum in the highest frequencies which, combined with reuse, should do away with the myth of spectrum shortage.

“Why impose an unpopular policy that will supply limited revenue? The answer may be fixed wireless. Fixed wireless utilizes 5G technology to bring fiber to homes without the messy infrastructure that—so far—has posed extensive issues for Google Fiber. Comcast isn’t a wireless provider yet, although they’d like to be. But this means they aren’t well situated to take advantage of 5G technology to deliver faster speeds to homes, unlike other telecoms such as Verizon and AT&T. And if you look at the cities and states where Comcast is pushing out data caps, many of them are exactly the areas where fixed wireless is currently being tested.”

2)          ATSC 3.0: What you need to know about the future of broadcast television

Over the Air (OTA) TV broadcast benefits from a favorable environment in the US where pretty much anybody has a right to install and antenna and broadcasters transmit at high power to reach as many consumers as possible. “Cordcutters” typically invest in an antenna for local news and sports and subscribe to one or more streaming services like Netflix for movies, etc.. I suspect broadcast TV is going to change but it will be with us for a long time. The “hybrid” model is intriguing because it presents the possibility for targets adds, product placements, etc..

“As you’d expect in today’s connected world, something the original creators of ATSC 1.0 couldn’t have dreamed about a quarter century ago, ATSC 3.0 is being created with the idea that most devices will be Internet-connected. They envision a “hybrid” system, where the main content (audio and video) will be sent over the air, but other content (targeted ads, for example) will get sent over broadband and integrated into the program. The transmission itself will be IP-based, like how video is send over the Internet, instead of the current MPEG stream. The easiest way to imagine this difference is the current OTA broadcast is like water from your faucet. The new system will be bottles of water: same amount of water, just handled differently. This opens up a number of options for broadcasters and content providers, not least encryption and access restriction (yep, we all should have expected that), but also end-user-friendly features like video-on-demand.”

3)          ACLU exposes Facebook, Twitter for feeding surveillance company user data

Sorry I am not really shocked. Social media users generally sign their privacy over to companies like Facebook and Facebook is in the business of selling personal information to whoever wants it. If that is another corporation, an insurance company, the police or some foreign dictator so be it. Facebook is amoral and you should expect it to behave amorally. As long as you use the service they will do with you whatever they can get away with.

“The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday outed Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for feeding a Chicago-based company their user streams—a feed that was then sold to police agencies for surveillance purposes. After the disclosure, the social media companies said they stopped their data firehouse to Chicago-based Geofeedia. In a blog post, the ACLU said it uncovered the data feeds as part of a public records request campaign of California law enforcement agencies. Geofeedia touts how it helped police track unrest during protests.”

4)          How NSA Broke Trillions of Encrypted Connections

I had a number of articles about various facets of NSA’s diabolical schemes this week but I figured I’d just go with this one. I need to point out a few things: almost certainly Snowden is not the only person working for NSA who was not loyal to the US government. That means the data which was hoovered up is also in the hand of multiple foreign actors because NSA is working as an intelligence agency for the Russians, Chinese, Israelis, etc.. Another thing is, as hard as it is to believe, there are other smart people in the world. Many of them don’t work for NSA. Some are even criminals. So stuff like this just makes it easy for them.

“In the year 2014, we came to know about the NSA’s ability to break Trillions of encrypted connections by exploiting common implementations of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm – thanks to classified documents leaked by ex-NSA employee Edward Snowden. At that time, computer scientists and senior cryptographers had presented the most plausible theory: Only a few prime numbers were commonly used by 92 percent of the top 1 Million Alexa HTTPS domains that might have fit well within the NSA’s $11 Billion-per-year budget dedicated to “ground breaking cryptanalytic capabilities.” And now, researchers from University of Pennsylvania, INRIA, CNRS and Université de Lorraine have practically proved how the NSA broke the most widespread encryption used on the Internet.”

5)          Pentagon Confronts a New Threat From ISIS: Exploding Drones

The actual attack was more of a booby trap than anything else, but we warned about the use of consumer drones in terror attacks some time ago. Fortunately, consumer drones can’t carry much explosive but unfortunately the same technology can be used to guide model airplanes with gas engines which can, in fact, carry a few pounds of explosives. The fact that ISIS appears to be using drones for surveillance and targeting is also pretty interesting.

“In the last month, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least two other times, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device. The Islamic State has used surveillance drones on the battlefield for some time, but the attacks — all targeting Iraqi troops — have highlighted its success in adapting readily accessible technology into a potentially effective new weapon. American advisers say drones could be deployed against coalition forces by the terrorist group in the battle in Mosul.”

6)          IBM’s Brain-Inspired Chip Tested for Deep Learning

The development of “deep learning” neural network models was a big breakthrough in AI though they have their limitations. IBM has developed a device which implements similar function in hardware so there is some potential there. One problem with a hardware neural net is that the number of connections is bound to be fixed whereas with software you can change the data structures to add as many as you like – though there is a computational penalty for that. Even though both hardware and software neural nets can be described as “brain inspired” they are more like a crude approximation to our limited understanding of brain function.

““The new milestone provides a palpable proof of concept that the efficiency of brain-inspired computing can be merged with the effectiveness of deep learning, paving the path towards a new generation of chips and algorithms with even greater efficiency and effectiveness,” says Dharmendra Modha, chief scientist for brain-inspired computing at IBM Research-Almaden, in San Jose, Calif. IBM first laid down the specifications for TrueNorth and a prototype chip in 2011. So, TrueNorth predated—and was therefore never specifically designed to harness—the deep-learning revolution based on convolutional neural networks that took off starting in 2012. Instead, TrueNorth typically supports spiking neural networks that more closely mimic the way real neurons work in biological brains.”

7)          In a first, brain computer interface helps paralyzed man feel again

I have nerve damage to my left hand and that left me with no feeling for a couple years. It made fine motor control very difficult and even now with a fair bit of numbness I have nowhere near the control I used to have. The ability to confer feeling to a prosthesis will probably lead to much better results in terms of use and dexterity.

“Imagine being in an accident that leaves you unable to feel any sensation in your arms and fingers. Now imagine regaining that sensation, a decade later, through a mind-controlled robotic arm that is directly connected to your brain. That is what 28-year-old Nathan Copeland experienced after he came out of brain surgery and was connected to the Brain Computer Interface (BCI), developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. In a study published online today in Science Translational Medicine, a team of experts led by Robert Gaunt, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Pitt, demonstrated for the first time ever in humans a technology that allows Mr. Copeland to experience the sensation of touch through a robotic arm that he controls with his brain.”

8)          Half of the Jet Fusion 3D printer’s plastic parts are actually 3D printed, HP reveals

Enthusiasts like to tout the use of 3D printers to produce 3D printer parts but the parts they produce are generally of low quality and poor quality materials. HP has recently entered the game and is doing what it can to gain market share. The technology is very impressive and the story is credible.

“This is much more than just a cool bonus feature, as it says a lot about the quality of the parts involved. Of course, DIY RepRap 3D printer makers pride themselves on manufacturing every possible part on a desktop 3D printer, but this does not necessarily improve printer’s quality or reliability. When it comes to a 3D printer that costs about $130,000, however, the quality of the machine is understandably paramount. In that respect, HP’s decision to 3D print a significant part of the printer’s components underlines just how reliable and high quality their technology actually is – and how cost effective. As he revealed, any product batch consisting of fewer than 55,000 pieces can actually be cheaper to produce through 3D printing than through molding.”

9)          Fresno woman says her iPhone exploded and caught on fire in her bedroom

The spontaneous combustion of Samsung’s flagship phone has created a lot of deserved negative attention for the firm. Recall of all of the affected products is going to cost the company billions and it will take some time to rebuild its reputation. It turns out that Samsung has no idea why the phones burst into flames however most experts seem to believe it has to do with the materials used in making thin batteries for thin phones. Unsurprisingly Samsung is not the only company with this problem as there have also been numerous reports of iPhone 6 Pluses catching fire (Google it). Even though the reports have been coming in for months, Apple enthusiasts are denouncing them as “Samsung disinformation”.

“For Yvette Estrada, it was a harsh wake-up call after she says a flash followed by flames jolted her out of bed. It was caused by her iPhone 6 Plus that was charging on the dresser. “I heard a sizzling, then we heard the pop and the whole fire was coming out of the screen,” she described. Estrada said the explosion started a small fire, and her husband put it out by throwing the phone in a sink. “He put water on it and told me to call 911,” she said. By the time firefighters showed up, which was around 3 a.m., there was just ash, debris and a melted phone.”

10)      Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors

I know this is a second Facebook story but I found it intriguing because much of the “real” news I see is fake, distorted, or otherwise wrong. So, perhaps it matters whether a piece of puffer regarding a celebrity being robbed is from a “real” news source or simply made up from whole cloth but I rather doubt it. The corporatization of media concurrent with but unrelated to the loss of advertising to online media means that increasingly news items are a collection of “tweets” or a narrative of associated with an online phenomenon. As to whether your news feed in Facebook carries real garbage or fake garbage, well what does it matter?

“The Megyn Kelly incident was supposed to be an anomaly. An unfortunate one-off. A bit of (very public, embarrassing) bad luck. But in the six weeks since Facebook revamped its Trending system — and a hoax about the Fox News Channel star subsequently trended — the site has repeatedly promoted “news” stories that are actually works of fiction. As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 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)          Here’s Why Software Patents Are in Peril After the Intellectual Ventures Ruling

This ruling is yet another of a series which suggests the traditional business of patent troll may be fading into the sunset. Software patents have always been an abomination and their misapplication had enriched many a lawyer. I am a big supporter of the patent system but it appears it went off the rails 20 years ago and needs to be turned around. Mind you that would take political action.

“The most important part of the decision, which has created a stir among the patent bar, is a concurrence by Circuit Judge Haldane Mayer. In striking down a key claim from U.S. Patent 5987610, which claims a monopoly on using anti-virus tools within a phone network, Mayer says it is time to acknowledge that a famous Supreme Court 2014 decision known as “Alice” basically ended software patents altogether.”

2)          Toyota’s Robot-Car Line In The Sand: 8.8 Billion Test Miles To Ensure Safety

After the first publicly announced death associated with Tesla’s “Autopilot” system (there had been one prior to that) Tesla got a lot of publicity by falsely claim “Autopilot” was twice as safe as a human driver (ignoring the earlier fatality) (see also The folks at Toyota have apparently done the math and the answer is a bit bigger than you might think.

“TRI is bringing to life Toyota’s vision of autonomous driving, which follows a double approach. The first type of application is ‘Chauffeur Mode,’ where the car is fully autonomous,” Toyoda said in remarks at the company’s Paris press conference. “It has the potential to offer mobility to those who would not otherwise have it, such as older people and those with special needs. In order to accomplish this safely, it is estimated that some 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) of testing, including simulation, are required.”

3)          Exclusive: Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence – sources

This bit of unsurprising news came out this week. It is unsurprising because the Snowden revelations prove the US tech firms enthusiastically collude with US intelligence. Needless to say, absent (updated) proof the other email providers are denying they would do such a thing. ( Frankly it is hard to believe US intelligence targeted one of the least popular email providers in isolation.

“Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events. Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.”

4)          With HDDs On The Ropes, Samsung Predicts SSD Price Collisions As NVMe Takes Over

Samsung offers facts and figures which pretty much line up with my own analysis of what is going to happen though their projection of the “crossover point” is probably farther into the future than my own. I would not buy a laptop without an SSD or unless I knew I could upgrade it immediately after purchase so I expect the PC industry will adopt SSDs as soon as they can. Oddly enough, HDD stocks have rebounded despite the obvious likelihood the industry will collapse over the next few years.

“Unfortunately for HDDs, there is roughly a $40 price floor that they simply cannot get under. That’s the minimum dollar amount needed to provide the HDD casing, motors, heads, and other components–regardless of how low the capacity is. SSDs can scale well below $40 in smaller capacities, which is important in the cost-sensitive notebook market. SSDs have already displaced HDDs in 40% of new notebooks, and Samsung predicts that it will reach 55% penetration in 2018. Samsung’s prediction is slightly lower than other industry estimates, which indicate that 52% of notebooks will have an SSD next year.”,32762.html

5)          Tesla’s Cozy Relations With Banks Have Lost That Loving Feeling

This is more an article about the abysmal state of Wall Street research than it is about Tesla. Even that doesn’t bother me so much (after all – it is an opportunity as well) if the impact was mostly felt by institutional money managers who are well aware of the “conflicts”. The real tragedy is that individual investors do not fully appreciate how the system works and invest their hard earned money on the basis of “analysis” primarily designed to be an advertisement or quid pro quo for banking services.

“Elon Musk is losing some of his big Wall Street cheerleaders just when he needs them the most. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., one of Musk’s top bankers, has reversed course and cut its recommendation on the entrepreneur’s flagship Tesla Motors Inc., following a similar move by another big booster, Morgan Stanley. Goldman’s decision, announced Thursday, comes as Musk is under growing pressure to rally investors for a new fundraising round. … Both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have been big owners of the stock. Their analysts have, on occasion, recommended the shares right around the time that the firm’s underwriters were lead managers on a new round of funding.”

6)          Three Challenges for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

AI in the “real sense” (i.e. no killer robots) should be a very useful technology in medicine provided the conclusions are double checked by a human (see item 8 for why). The medical profession is pretty conservative for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that lives are at stake. One thing that bugs me about the article is the discussion of the perverse (dis)incentives within the US medical system as those should work strongly in favor of AI outside the US. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“In fact, although we’re surrounded by fantastic applications of modern AI, particularly deep learning — self-driving cars, Siri, AlphaGo, Google Translate, computer vision — the effect on medicine has been nearly nonexistent. In the top cardiology journal, Circulation, the term “deep learning” appears only twice [2]. Deep learning has never been mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, BMJ, or even JAMA, where the work on MYCIN was published 37 years ago. What happened?”

7)          Oculus lowers minimum Rift specs using “asynchronous spacewarp” tech

I remain skeptical as to whether VR will become as mainstream as many predict however one of the problems with the early software was that it required a sizeable investment in computing and graphics. This may have led to over excitement for graphics stocks like NVIDIA (which is, bizarrely at an all-time high). Lowering computing requirements is good for Facebook because it will probably increase the penetration of Oculus. It is not so good for graphics and PC companies however.

“Hence, the Oculus Rift officially supports PC hardware that’s less powerful than it did before. That includes a new $499 Oculus Ready PC from CyberPowerPC and AMD. Oculus is also certifying four Oculus-ready laptops from the likes of ASUS, Alienware, Lenovo, Aorus. Iribe promised that, within a few years, there will be hundreds of laptops that meet that Oculus Ready spec. For now, though, Iribe said “PC VR is more affordable than ever.”

8)          Why AI Makes It Hard to Prove That Self-Driving Cars Are Safe

This is more a general discussion of the challenges of testing AI based software solutions. The idea here is that AI makes use of “training” and that training is necessarily incomplete. The outcome is not deterministic because it depends on the training and the sequence in which is presented. That is no so bad when you are classifying cats and dogs but problematic when lives are involved.

“To make things more concrete, imagine if you test drive your self-driving car and want it to learn how to avoid pedestrians. So you have people in orange safety shirts stand around and you let the car loose. It might be training to recognize hands, arms, and legs—or maybe it’s training to recognize an orange shirt. Or, more subtly, imagine that you’ve conducted the training during the summer, and nobody wore a hat. And the first hat the self-driving car sees on the streets freaks it out. … Google researchers once tried identifying dumbbells with an artificial neural network, a common machine learning model that mimics the neurons in the brain and their connections. Surprisingly, the trained model could identify dumbbells in images only when an arm was attached.”

9)          Smartphone, PC Shipments Slow as Markets Mature

I would not pay money for industry research but the fact Gartner et als are forecasting slowing growth in smartphones tells you things must be blindingly obvious. One important note is that these figures are unit sales, not revenue, and a mature market is characterized by significant pricing pressure in developed markets (i.e. the US, EU, etc), and increased relative unit sales in the developing world – where smartphone prices are well below $100.

“Total mobile phone shipments are on pace to fall 1.6 percent in 2016, and while the smartphone segment continues to grow, it is expanding more slowly than in previous years, and is expected to reach 1.5 billion units in 2016. This year, the Android market is expected to continue to be bolstered by Chinese vendors offering more affordable premium devices. Despite the availability of Apple’s recently released iPhone 7, Gartner expects a weaker year-over-year volume performance from Apple in 2016, as volumes stabilize after a very strong 2015. As a result, the research firm expects the total smartphone market to only increase 4.5 percent, with premium smartphones declining 1.1 percent in 2016.”

10)      Toyota is going to sell a very small ‘buddy robot’ for $400

A while back I saw a short news item on the angst of Japanese who had bought a “robotic dog” which was discontinued by its manufacturer. The owners were spending large sums of money having the devices repaired, often by sacrificing other units. The entire story was baffling so perhaps it is a cultural thing I simply cannot understand. The ad is interesting even though it is in Japanese. Again, the cultural angle seems important.

“Following Kirobo’s successful space jaunt, the car company decided to back the development of a smaller version of the already small robot, calling it – rather appropriately – Kirobo Mini. It unveiled the diminutive droid at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota announced on Monday that Kirobo Mini will go on sale in Japan next year for 39,800 yen (about $390), though a 300-yen (about $2.95) monthly subscription fee will also be necessary. Besides the robot itself, you’ll also receive a “cradle” that’s designed to fit inside a car’s cup holder, ensuring that the robot travels in style wherever you take it. Just don’t forget it’s there when you’re drinking a hot coffee.”