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.”

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