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.”


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