The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 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


ps: there will be no Geek’s List for the next two weeks as I will be away hunting.


1)          This $1,500 Toaster Oven Is Everything That’s Wrong With Silicon Valley

This article is a good read for no other reason than it demonstrates how desperate – and frankly unhinged – technology investors have become. $1,500 is a lot of money for an appliance no matter what it does and whether it does it well or not. The Jobsian world view, where every task can be done better with expensive technology and a supporting infrastructure doesn’t take into account the nuances of functionality and utility, let alone the reality that most people lack the wherewithal to learn how to program such a thing.

“This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time. Good thing the firmware updates are installed automatically.”

2)          CRISPR-Cas9 technique exploits pancreatic cancer cells’ vulnerabilities to develop new treatments

This is yet another example of the potential and rapid progress of CRISPR-Cas9 in medical research. Apparently this form of pancreatic cancer is particularly nasty and has a poor outcome (even if treated with fruit juice and a macrobiotic diet). No news of when a human trial might begin but the very fact they were able to identify a target and develop an antibody for it is impressive.

“Using this revolutionary tool, the team of researchers probed the function of every single gene expressed by pancreatic cancer cells to determine that one of the receptors (Frizzled-5) is essential for the growth of mutant pancreatic cancer cells. Normally, the signaling pathways activated by Frizzled-5 tell cells when to divide, what types of cells to become, and when they should die. When mutated or deregulated, however, they can initiate tumour growth. Having identified the key role that the Frizzled-5 receptor plays in promoting pancreatic cancer growth, the team rapidly developed an antibody drug to inhibit the growth of these cells. The study showed that the antibody proved highly effective in killing the cancer cells in patient-derived samples and shrank tumours in mice without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.”

3)          Intel Unveils Strategy for State-of-the-Art Artificial Intelligence

Common deep learning/AI algorithms use GPUs for the training phase, a fact which may explain why Nvidia’s stock has gone parabolic. There is no particular reason to believe GPUs are remotely optimal for the application. Most likely they just happened to be the best solution when the code was written. Microsoft has included FPGAs in its deep learning hardware, and those are supplied by Intel. Although Intel has a track record of letting emerging markets slip from its grasp I would not count them out: they have advanced algorithm analysis technology and there is no reason to doubt that a purpose built deep learning/AI platform would not handily outperform GPUs. Plus, Intel is in the position of “encouraging” adoption of its solutions by a variety of means.

“Intel also provided details of where the breakthrough technology from Nervana will be integrated into the product roadmap. Intel will test first silicon (code-named “Lake Crest”) in the first half of 2017 and will make it available to key customers later in the year. In addition, Intel announced a new product (code-named “Knights Crest”) on the roadmap that tightly integrates best-in-class Intel Xeon processors with the technology from Nervana. Lake Crest is optimized specifically for neural networks to deliver the highest performance for deep learning and offers unprecedented compute density with a high-bandwidth interconnect. “We expect the Intel Nervana platform to produce breakthrough performance and dramatic reductions in the time to train complex neural networks,” said Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel. “Before the end of the decade, Intel will deliver a 100-fold increase in performance that will turbocharge the pace of innovation in the emerging deep learning space.””

4)          Samsung is adding new obtrusive ads to your old smart TV

One of the main reasons given for subscribing to services like Netflix is to avoid the torrent of advertising. Samsung seems to have decided this is an opportunity to cram ads onto its smart TVs which seems to make a pretty good case to not buy a Samsung TV or, if you are stuck with one, to use a Roku or something for the “smart” features.

“If you’re Samsung and you want to wring additional cash out of your television business, what do you do? Add annoying advertisements to TVs that people already have in their homes, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung is readying the European expansion of an initiative it started in the United States last June: adding interactive advertisements to the menu bars of its high-end smart TVs. The impact isn’t going to be limited just to customers buying new Samsung televisions, either, as the company reportedly plans to use software updates to retroactively bring the ads to older models that people already have in their homes.”

5)          Britain’s sweeping surveillance powers act raises concerns for human rights activists

I am old enough to remember when mass surveillance and warrantless wire-tapping were considered the sort of thing “totalitarian” regimes such as East Germany did. Then again, I also recall that Orwell’s 1984 was intended to portray a dystopian future and not be used as a handbook for the national security apparatus.

“Government officials argue that the surveillance powers are necessary to keep Britain safe during a time of heightened security, terrorist attacks and cyberwarfare. Observers also say the act legalizes tactics law enforcement and security agencies have used for years without full disclosure to the public. But opponents say that the bill not only turned all those existing surveillance measures into law, but extended them even further. “It’s unprecedented in the UK, and any democracy,” said Pam Cowburn, communications director at the privacy campaign organization Open Rights Group. In essence, the bill will force Internet and phone companies to keep records of all users for up to a year, including every website visited and every phone call made, including duration, date and time. Such surveillance does not have to be targeted or based on any reasonable suspicion and this personal data can be accessed without a warrant in some instances. Authorities will need a warrant to access data about a journalist’s source, but opponents are still gravely concerned that the far-reaching nature of this bill will discourage whistle-blowing.”

6)          Tesla Powerwall 2 to be popular in Sweden with new $5,000 incentive to install home battery packs

I would not allow a large lithium ion battery within 3 meters of anything flammable and certainly not attached to my house (which is, in any event, made of concrete). That said, let’s do some math: $7,900 of capital cost for 500 charge cycles of 14 kWh (heck – let’s call it 2,000 charge cycles). That is 28,000 kWh of electricity storage for $7,900 or a capital cost of $0.28/kWh (more likely about $1.00 per kWh because, well the batteries don’t last 2,000 charge cycles). According to this,_second_half_2015_(%C2%B9)_(EUR_per_kWh)_YB16.png Swedes pay €0.16 per kWh, or about $0.17. So, you would have to be paid at least $0.11 per kWh (more like $0.87/kWh) for this to make any sense. All the subsidy does is spread the financial stupidity around.

“Starting this month, the government will cover 60% of the cost of a home battery pack up to 50,000 Swedish Krona (~$5,400). It’s clear that the incentive program was designed for the more expensive home battery pack options before the introduction of the Tesla Powerwall 2. In Sweden, Tesla sells the Powerwall 2 for 61,000 Swedish Krona (~$6,600 USD), but with installation and additional hardware (12,300 SEK), Tesla estimates it will add up to a total 0f 73,300 Swedish Krona ($7,900 USD), which adds up to taking advantage of almost the entire incentive and getting an installed energy capacity of 14 kWh for less than $3,000.”

7)          Apple admits to iPhone ‘touch disease,’ blames users and offers $149 fix

Having ignored a building chorus of complaints from users Apple, which once stood for quality and excellent customer service, has now admitted that the problem which previously did not exists is now the customer’s fault. The interesting thing is, this purported customer problem (i.e. you are dropping it wrong) only appears to occur on certain models of iPhones and not on others. Not only that, but some customers report having the problem with “new in the box” devices.

“Apple has finally admitted to the existence of the mysterious iPhone ailment that caused unresponsive screens and came to be called the “touch disease.” The Cupertino firm’s diagnosis? User error. Or, more specifically, user fumbling. “Apple has determined that some iPhone 6 Plus devices may exhibit display flickering or Multi-Touch issues after being dropped multiple times on a hard surface and then incurring further stress on the device,” Apple said in an online notice. Some users and observers, however, saw the problem as a defect. In August, a nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Jose, accusing Apple of fraud and violation of California consumer-protection law.”

8)          This security camera was infected by malware 98 seconds after it was plugged in

I continue to warn people about the vulnerability of Internet of Things devices to malware. Infecting a camera, baby monitor, or “smart” light bulb may not seem like a big deal but it places the device inside your firewall and in a position to infect other products as well as capture personal information, etc. Since most such devices are made by largely anonymous ODMs who don’t sell the product under their own name, and since consumers remain oblivious to the risk, don’t expect things to improve any time soon.

“Here’s an object lesson on the poor state of the so-called Internet of Things: Robert Stephens plugged a Wi-Fi-connected security camera into his network and it was compromised in… 98 seconds. Stephens, a tech industry veteran, wasn’t so naive as to do this without protecting himself. It was walled off from the rest of the network and rate-limited so it couldn’t participate in any DDoS attacks. He monitored its traffic carefully, expecting to see — as others have — attempts to take over the device. But even the most jaded among us probably wouldn’t have guessed it would take less than two minutes.”

9)          US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

This is probably a pretty good idea but it seems to rely on the car to determine whether the mobile user is the driver or not. The problem with that is that it takes about a decade for a significant number of vehicles to come with a safety feature, in contrast with a bit more than two years for a new feature to become common in the smartphone business. People managed to live without texting or Facebook while driving so perhaps simply disabling those functions when moving on a road at more than a few miles per hour would be a good, albeit crude, solution.

“US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver. US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.””

10)      Wedge-tailed eagles do battle with mining giant’s drones, knocking nine out of sky

I remain highly skeptical of drone delivery services, etc, but there are good uses for the technology. This mining company uses them for inspection and other applications. Unfortunately for the company it turns out that eagles are a little territorial. At $10K for the drone and $10K for the camera I would not be surprised if they develop anti-eagle countermeasures …

“Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa’s Gold Fields, the world’s seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda. One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs. The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h. Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls “the natural enemy of the UAV”.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 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)          Apple, a Trendsetter No More

To be fair, there are only so many opportunities to come out with a revolutionary product. Few companies do it once and fewer still have two or three successive hits as did Apple. It is quite clear that a company whose slogan was “it just works” comes out with a flagship phone which can’t connect to its flagship laptop without an adapter (which is not included with either product) has lost its way. Of course, loyal Apple fans will continue to overpay for dated technology, there problem will be attracting new users to a dysfunctional ecosystem.

“The first major product debut under Cook, the Apple Watch, hasn’t yet become an obvious hit. (To be fair, no other companies have found major success with wearable computers.) More ominously for Apple, it’s no longer the technology trendsetter. Yes, Apple has brought us better smartphone cameras and fingerprint sensors, but there are more areas where it has whiffed. Cook has been saying for five years that the TV industry is broken and needs an overhaul. He was right. Now the way people watch television is being upended by Netflix Inc., by “cord cutting” and by video on smartphones. Apple is barely a participant in that transformation.”

2)          CRISPR gene-editing tested in a person for the first time

CRISPR is a gene editing technique which will probably be considered the greatest medical advance since antibiotics. By allowing selective deletion or modification of genes the function of those cells can be permanently corrected. In this case, the researchers hope to modify immune cells which have a gene which makes them susceptible to suppression by the cancer. By removing that gene the hope is that the immune system will attack the cancer. I see no mention of whether they are using stem cells for this but they probably are not so the modified immune system cells will die off. If the treatment works there is a good chance they will try modifying stem cells so the change is permanent.

“The researchers removed immune cells from the recipient’s blood and then disabled a gene in them using CRISPR–Cas9, which combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a molecular guide that can be programmed to tell the enzyme precisely where to cut. The disabled gene codes for the protein PD-1, which normally puts the brakes on a cell’s immune response: cancers take advantage of that function to proliferate. Lu’s team then cultured the edited cells, increasing their number, and injected them back into the patient, who has metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. The hope is that, without PD-1, the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer.”

3)          Google will soon ban fake news sites from using its ad network

The US election results have led to the traditional finger pointing in all directions as to who is responsible for voters having made the “wrong” decision. The media has decided that “fake” news is to blame and I have heard a lot of people plead for voters to subscribe to newspapers in order to fund “real” news. Unfortunately, “real” news led to the Iraq War because most of it was essentially propaganda, proving that the line between “real” and “fake” is rather blurry. Nevertheless Google, and more recently Facebook, have made some moves to reduce the attractiveness of the fake news business model. In a “post-fact” world, it is hard to see this will make much of a difference.

“Today, Google announced that its advertising tools will soon be closed to websites that promote fake news, a policy that could cut off revenue streams for publications that peddle hoaxes on platforms like Facebook. The decision comes at a critical time for the tech industry, whose key players have come under fire for not taking neccesary steps to prevent fake news from proliferating across the web during the 2016 US election. It’s thought that, given the viral aspects of fake news, social networks and search engines were gamed by partisan bad actors intending to influence the outcome of the race.”

4)          SpaceX seeks U.S. approval for internet-via-satellite network

I find it rather odd SpaceX has made this application because a year or two ago they announced they weren’t going to go ahead with the idea. Regardless, LEOSAT broadband is a daft idea no matter who proposes it: the constellations are hugely expensive and most of the satellites spend most of their time over unpopulated areas (i.e. the ocean, Arctic, Antarctic, deserts, forests, etc.). Most of the people live in cities and most city dwellers in developed countries (the people who can afford to pay for broadband) already have affordable broadband.

“The California-based company, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has proposed an orbiting digital communications array that would eventually consist of 4,425 satellites, the documents filed on Tuesday show. The project, which Musk previously said would cost at least $10 billion, was first announced in January 2015. The latest documents, which include technical details of the proposed network, did not mention cost estimates or financing plans.  Financial backers of the company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp, include Alphabet’s Google Inc and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s space launch firm.”

5)          This new Samsung SSD is waaaaay faster than yours

This is more of an advertisement than anything else but there is some value to it: most SSDs are connected via the antediluvian SATA interface which has a legacy going back to the very first PC hard drives sold 30 years ago. M.2 is better in all respects and in the near future all PCs and laptops will have an M.2 interface, with SATA relegated to “backward compatibility” and available only on desktop PCs. Needless to say, it will be hard to sell a hard disk drive into a market where most PCs don’t have an interface for it.

“M.2 is a new interface that uses the PCI Express standard, one that was once reserved only for video cards, to connect to a computer’s main board. This interface allows for much higher bandwidth (currently up to 32 gigabits per second or 4,000 megabytes per second) compared to that of the existing SATA, which caps at just 6Gbps. That said, M.2 is a new upcoming interface standard that’s expected to replace SATA completely in the future. The fact Samsung doesn’t offer an SATA version of the 960 Evo is a clear indication of this trend. To use an M.2 drive, your computer needs to have an M.2 slot or, for existing desktops, you will need a PCIe adapter.”

6)          Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—and His Family

Every now and then the main stream media does a good job and exposing Theranos is a perfect example (their work on the fraud which led to the global credit crisis was less stellar as documented in the excellent film “The Big Short”). This article shows the challenges of being an whistle blower and the sorts of pressure a company can place on somebody with valid concerns about public safety.

(If you have trouble getting to this Wall Street Journal article, Google the title and click on the search link).

“After working at Theranos Inc. for eight months, Tyler Shultz decided he had seen enough. On April 11, 2014, he emailed company founder Elizabeth Holmes to complain that Theranos had doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks. … Theranos accused him of leaking trade secrets and violating an agreement to not disclose confidential information. Mr. Shultz says lawyers from the law firm founded by David Boies, one of the country’s best-known litigators and who later became a Theranos director, surprised him during a visit to his grandfather’s house. They unsuccessfully pressured the younger Mr. Shultz to say he had talked to the reporter and to reveal who the Journal’s other sources might be. He says he also was followed by private investigators hired by Theranos.”

7)          IBM’s Watson: A Disaster In The Making

I don’t usually post investment research reports but this particular one pretty aligns exactly with my thinking. IBM management learned long ago that financial engineering trumps actual engineering, which is why they have missed every important new tech market over the past 30 years. Unfortunately, financial engineering only takes you so far far and IBM has entered a period of secular decline. Ask former employees of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where that leads. I find it baffling people invest in shares of the company.

“IBM describes its efforts in its 10-K as « Investing to bring Watson’s capabilities to the enterprise and building a partner ecosystem, effectively creating a market for cognitive computing ». This translates into paying developers for using its technology. IBM is boasting that it has over 70,000 developers using Watson’s API. This is far fetched: we understand that 40,000 of these developers come from its acquisition of AlchemyAPI, a small startup which had only a few million dollars in yearly revenues before its acquisition, and little to do with Watson’s technology. Before Alchemy’s acquisition in March 2015, Watson had 7,000 developers using its API. And there’s absolutely no rationale for the 40,000 developers who used AlchemyAPI’s technology, to use Watson. … To make it look like Watson is generating revenue, IBM is buying up other companies, and consolidating their existing users and revenues into its Watson Group business segment. Recently, it has acquired the medical imagery company Merge Healthcare (for $1 billion, with revenues of $212 million), and the healthcare data services company Truven Health Analytics (for $2.6 billion, revenues of $500 million). Both companies have no profits to speak of.

8)          Osram’s Laser Chip for Lidar Promises Super-Short Pulses in a Smaller Package

Lidar is light based radar which provides coarse imaging information and detailed range information. In other words, when combined with image recognition it can tell you what something is and exactly how far away it is. Lidar is absolutely required for real Autonomous Vehicle (AV) functionality (as contrasted with glorified cruise control touted by Tesla). The problem is, Lidar was developed for military applications and most systems are therefore staggeringly expensive. Osram is about to change that. I figure all cars will have 4 Lidars, one at each corner of the vehicle, for redundancy.

“Those twirling banks of lasers you see atop experimental robocars cost plenty, wear fast, and suck power. The auto industry yearns to solve all those problems with a purely solid-state lidar set that designers can hide behind the grill of a car. Their wish will come true next year, according to Osram Opto Semiconductors. The company says test samples will be available in 2017, and that commercial models could arrive in 2018. With mass production, the price should drop to around 40 Euros (US $43.50), says Sebastian Bauer, the product manager for Osram, in Regensburg, Germany. By comparison, Velodyne’s rooftop lidar towers cost $70,000 and up, and that company’s new, hockey-puck-size model runs around $8000.”

9)          Google Translate uses machine learning for whole sentences

Deep learning (also unfortunately referred to as Artificial Intelligence) is hitting the mainstream. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and even IBM (which will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory) have some pretty advanced technology. Among the many potential applications for Deep Learning is translation, which is, in many ways, related to speech recognition. In any event, Google is charging ahead and moving many of its services over to this type of approach and that lead to improved performance.

“It’s no secret that Google is obsessed with machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially of late. If it were up to it, those technologies would permeate all its products. It already started with Google Assistant in the Google Pixel smartphone and Google Home speaker. Now it’s bringing a dash of that to Google Translate. The company has announced that it is transitioning from using statistical machine translation to a Neural Machine method to deliver more natural sounding translations that won’t embarrass you or crack you up.”

10)      The All-American iPhone

Part of “making America great again” is supposed to be repatriating manufacturing jobs. Of course, most such jobs have been lost to automation (and this is more true in electronics than any other sector) but Apple stands out because it is so profitable. The idea that you can “only” increase the labor cost by 10 to 3X and keep the price more or less the same is absurd, but I take issue that labor costs are the only impact. The reality is that manufacturing requires a complete support structure and, if that isn’t already there somebody has to build it. Of course, this is all bloviating regardless: if the best you can do for an economy is slap the cover on a robot-assembled gadget you aren’t doing much.

“According to IHS, a market analyst, the components of an iPhone 6s Plus, which sells for $749, cost about $230. … Assembling those components into an iPhone costs about $4 in IHS’s estimate and about $10 in the estimation of Jason Dedrick, a professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Dedrick thinks that doing such work in the U.S. would add $30 to $40 to the cost. That’s partly because labor costs are higher in the U.S., but mostly it’s because additional transportation and logistics expenses would arise from shipping parts, and not just the finished product, to the U.S. This means that assuming all other costs stayed the same, the final price of an iPhone 6s Plus might rise by about 5 percent.”




The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 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)          Paralyzed monkeys walk again

If you watch the video I think that “walk again” might be a bit of an overstatement. It does appear the monkey has some control but it looks a lot like the leg is essentially in spasm which allows it to use it as a sort of walking stick. Clearly real function of the type needed by a biped is a long way away. Nevertheless this looks like a promising development.

“Two monkeys who had suffered a spinal-cord injury have had movement restored in their paralyzed leg and regained the ability to walk. The study published in Nature, used an implantable device, termed brain-spine interface, to decode signals from the brain and restore movements of the paralyzed leg. Furthermore, many of the components used in the device have already been approved for research in humans and the leader of the study, Prof. Gregoire Courtine, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, expects “to test brain-spine interface in a clinical trial within the next ten years.” Medtronic, Brown University, Fraunhofer ICT-IMM, University of Bordeaux, Motac Neuroscience and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) also contributed.”

2)          Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook

Now the blame begins, and there is plenty to go around. Even though I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, I think there is little doubt that social media is to blame for “dumbing down” the population but that works for both sides: the amount of nonsense about alternative energy, GMOs, etc., transmitted by social media is just as extensive. What used to be the “mainstream media” is hardly beyond reproach – recall the vigorous support for the Iraq War propaganda effort from The New York Times, for example. And that was long before “social media” was a thing.

“The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. (To really hammer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A significant number of the sites are run by Macedonian teenagers looking to make some scratch.)”

3)          Spotify is writing massive amounts of junk data to storage drives

Given the increasing popularity of SSDs I thought this was interesting. SSDs or any flash storage media has a lifespan based on how many times you write new data to it. For most applications on modern SSDs that lifespan is likely much longer than the device in which it is used but if you “thrash” your SSD that can change pretty quickly. It turns out that the Spotify app appears to be doing just that so if you use it and have an SSD you might want to think about disabling the app until the bug is fixed. I don’t know if this applies to smartphones but that would be even worse.

“For almost five months—possibly longer—the Spotify music streaming app has been assaulting users’ storage devices with enough data to potentially take years off their expected lifespans. Reports of tens or in some cases hundreds of gigabytes being written in an hour aren’t uncommon, and occasionally the recorded amounts are measured in terabytes. The overload happens even when Spotify is idle and isn’t storing any songs locally.”

4)          Sinclair VP: ATSC 3.0 will allow us to ditch Nielsen, save millions

ATSC 3.0 is a new broadcast TV standard which incorporates ties to Internet protocols. As this article suggests this should allow broadcasters to directly gather rich information on viewing habits and bypass the traditional “TV ratings” providers. I suspect this will only work when enough TVs and set top boxes are out there with ATSC 3.0 and, of course, won’t work for cable stations.

“Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, sees a big financial upside to ATSC 3.0’s potential for collecting and analyzing viewership data. “If we weren’t stuck with Nielsen and their reading of the tea leaves, we’d have tens of millions of extra dollars in our pocket,” Aitken told FierceBroadcasting, adding that the situation between broadcasters and Nielsen has been lopsided for a long time. He called Nielsen’s process “imprecise” and said it’s often easy to prove how “eschew” the numbers are. In addition to Nielsen, Sinclair also uses Rentrak, which he said in many ways offers a richer set of data. But Sinclair is still in the process of building up its own data analytics group and working with partners like Sorenson Media. “When you have a sampling of tens of millions of smart TVs, you start getting a different view of the world,” Aitken said.”

5)          CBC threatens podcast app makers, argues that RSS readers violate copyright

I don’t know whether this is true or not but it does sound like the sort of think a corporation which listens to lawyers would do. The threat itself is laughable and, at best, would be counter-productive. No podcast app maker would agree to such a license and they would simply exclude CBC podcasts from their offering. This would effectively restrict the distribution of CBC content to a tiny number of people who would get it directly from their website. Like I said: too many lawyers.

“The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation publishes several excellent podcasts, notably the As It Happens feed; like every podcast in the world, these podcasts are available via any podcast app in the same way that all web pages can be fetched with all web browsers — this being the entire point of podcasts. In a move of breathtaking, lawless ignorance, the CBC has begun to send legal threats to podcast app-makers, arguing that making an app that pulls down public RSS feeds is a “commercial use” and a violation of the public broadcaster’s copyrights. This is a revival of an old, dark era in the web’s history, when linking policies prevailed, through which publishes argued that they had the right to control who could make a link to their sites — that is, who could state the public, true fact that “a page exists at this address.””

6)          DDoS attack halts heating in Finland amidst winter

Another week, another example of the problems with the Internet of Things (IoT) and security. Actually I could probably do 10 items a week on this subject alone. What makes this a little different is the fact these were industrial systems and you’d think the vendor would have a better handle on how things should be made so this doesn’t happen. I suspect loss of heat would be a big problem in Finland. Anyhow they eventually found a workaround.

“In the city of Lappeenranta, there were at least two buildings whose systems were knocked down by the network attack. In a DDoS attack the network is overloaded by traffic from multiple locations with the aim of causing the system to fail. In an interview with Etelä-Saimaa, Rounela estimated the attack in Eastern Finland lasted from late October to Thursday the 3rd of November. The systems that were attacked tried to respond to the attack by rebooting the main control circuit. This was repeated over and over so that heating was never working. At this time of the year temperatures in Finland are below freezing and a long-term disruption in heat will cause both material damage as well as the need to relocate residents elsewhere. Thankfully in this case the fix was easy to do by limiting network traffic.”

7)          Millimeter Waves Travel More Than 10 Kilometers in Rural Virginia 5G Experiment

New radio technology offers the potential to exploit radio spectrum into the millimeter (30GHz) and above. This experiment provided unexpected results because the range would have been expected to be much lower due to trees and hills. As a critic points out, these frequencies are highly attenuated by rain, but then again the power output was very low and we don’t know whether MIMO or beam forming were used and that can make a big difference. I suspect that millimeter radio will put an end to the myth of spectrum shortage once and for all.

“To their delight, the group found that the waves could travel more than 10 kilometers in this rural setting, even when a hill or knot of trees was blocking their most direct route to the receiver. The team detected millimeter waves at distances up to 10.8 kilometers at 14 spots that were within line of sight of the transmitter, and recorded them up to 10.6 kilometers away at 17 places where their receiver was shielded behind a hill or leafy grove. They achieved all this while broadcasting at 73 Gigahertz (GHz) with minimal power—less than 1 watt. “I was surprised we exceeded 10 kilometers with a few tens of milliwatts,” Rappaport says. “I expected we’d be able to go a few kilometers in non-line-of-sight but we were able to go beyond ten.”

8)          GoPro recalls Karma drone

GoPro has made some OK products but none of those are remarkable enough to merit a multi-billion dollar market capitalization. Unsurprisingly everything they do can be done by many other companies and offered of r a lot less money. Recently they appear to have devolved into the gang who could shoot straight as this safety recall exemplifies. The thing is, drones are dangerous as hell even when they don’t unexpectedly drop from the sky. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“As if GoPro didn’t enough problems. The company, which has seen its stock slide and sales tumble, is recalling the 2,500 units sold of the new Karma drone, which was introduced just a few weeks ago to positive reviews. This is the product GoPro had put much of its hopes for in the fourth quarter on advancing sales again. GoPro said a “very small number” of units had lost power during operation, so it was recalling all of them to fix the issue. Most GoPro sales are from the company website, but Karma was also in stock at Best Buy, the physical and online retailer.”

9)          3D printing will correct your smile from the comfort of your own home

This sounds like a viable application of 3D printing technology although I suspect that it can only work for a subset of people who need orthodontics. There are certain medical domains (eyewear and hearing instruments for example) which steadfastly retain high prices despite a dramatic reduction in costs. Orthodontics might be an exception but chances are it will end up in the same netherworld: immune from the onslaught of technology.

“The company lets users take moldings of their own teeth using a home impression kit, which they then mail back along with some digitally uploaded photos. (In some cities, 3D scans can alternatively be taken at associated SmileShops.) Customers then get an expert review from a licensed dental professional, have their custom aligner created and mailed back and — presto! — straighter teeth. Fenkell described the solution as “about 70 percent less expensive” than other invisible aligners in the space, with a price point of $1,500 — or $250 down and then $99 a month.”

10)      TiVo’s “TV Guide” patents are DOA at appeals court

Software patents have always been an abomination (though admittedly not as much of an abomination as business method patents). For many years the state of Intellectual Property (IP) law was such that suing for infringement of software patents was a great business but the pendulum has swung the other way over the past few years. In general IP law goes through long cycles and, if I were a betting man, I suspect things are going to continue swinging away from strict enforcement for a decade or more. It was fun while it lasted: at least for patent licensing companies and their attorneys.

“A five-year-old patent brawl between Netflix and Rovi (now TiVo) has reached a turning point, with the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholding a major lower-court victory by Netflix. The litigation between the two companies began in 2011, when Netflix sued to invalidate a batch of patents on Rovi’s digital entertainment guides, for which Rovi had demanded Netflix pay licensing fees. … Now it’s clear that Rovi’s strategy to patent digital TV guides has hit a wall. Just a few days after Rovi’s lawyers made their oral argument, a panel of judges at the Federal Circuit upheld (PDF) the lower court’s decision in its entirety without comment.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 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)          Uber plan for flying taxis targets 2025-2030 and could spend $400 million- $1 billion to make it happen

Some modern entrepreneurs sell their product (i.e. the company stock) by spinning out an endless array of world-changing ideas and not by actually turning a profit. The idea of flying taxis is daft since any VTOL craft has to waste a lot of its energy keeping aloft with little benefit from forward motion. The unfortunate fact that the best batteries have 1/40th the specific energy of diesel fuel makes an electric VTOL even less practical and that doesn’t even take into account the recharge time and short battery life. It’s almost a pity the likes of Uber don’t work on old fashion things like running their business.

“On-demand aviation, has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base. Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground. A network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called VTOL aircraft for Vertical Take-off and Landing, and pronounced vee-tol), will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.”

2)          How AI Is Shaking Up the Chip Market

The article is pretty lean on the details but basically what they are saying is that deep learning algorithms require different computing function than traditional algorithms. This has led to solutions involving GPUs, FPGAs and custom processors. It is easy to over-state growth in demand for AI related hardware but it will largely be installed in cloud data centers because of the need for massive amounts of data and as a result much of it can be reused. It seems likely to me that GPUs are used because they were better than traditional processors for AI training, not because they are optimal. Most likely they will be displaced in short order with FPGAs or other purpose-built devices.

“Neural networks can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, including everything from identifying faces and objects in photos to translating between languages, and they require more than just CPU power. And so Google built the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU. Microsoft is using a processor called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA. Myriad companies employ machines equipped with vast numbers of graphics processing units, or GPUs. And they’re all looking at a new breed of chip that could accelerate AI from inside smartphones and other devices.”

3)          American jobs are going to robots, not China.

The great thing about blaming China for manufacturing job losses is that it makes it sound like you can do something about it. The fact is that automation is part of a long continuum of replacing labor with capital which has been going on since the start of the industrial revolution. It is not necessarily accelerating and it is not going to stop any time soon. Short of a successful Luddite movement there is nothing which can be done about it either.

“But research shows that the automation of U.S. factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. A study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs. The vast majority of the lost jobs — 88 percent — were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor. “We’re making more with fewer people,” says Howard Shatz, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. think tank.”

4)          Microsoft Speeds Open Hardware

The push towards Open Hardware for data centers is a big problem for companies such as HP, Cisco, and others. Data centers are not only a big market but it is just a matter of a few years before these products appear in corporate networking rooms and carrier infrastructure. Cisco’s margins are about 60% and Hon Hai/Foxconn’s are about 7%. That’s a lot of margin for grabs.

“The current process of contributing data center hardware designs to the Open Compute Project (OCP) when they are production-ready is too slow, Microsoft argued in a blog posted Monday. It “delays the development of derivative designs, limits interactive community engagement and adoption, and slows down overall delivery,” wrote Kushagra Vaid, general manager of hardware for Microsoft’s Azure service. … The Project Olympus design specifies a new motherboard, server and rack. It defines a 945 x 441-mm server with room for two CPUs, 32 DDR4 DIMMs, 50G networking, eight M.2 NVMe SSD slots, three PCI Express x16 cards and a 12V power supply. … Facebook started the OCP effort. China’s largest data centers have a similar effort called Scorpio.”

5)          The Inner Life of a Cell

I came across this video and thought I would share it. Having spent hours trying to recognize organelles (the equivalent of organs within cells) being able to visualize them in this animation is much better. It also shows the astounding complexity that results from a few billion years of evolution – especially since this is all very simplified.

6)          Tesla unveils residential ‘solar roof’ with updated battery storage system

Another week, another crazy world-changing announcement out of Elon Musk. This time it is solar shingles – a technology which has been tried by a few dozen companies, including several with actual expertise in the roofing business. Of course there is a looming shareholder vote whereby Tesla shareholders will vote on whether it will acquire Musk controlled Solar City. Without a favorable outcome to that vote Solar City will probably have a financial crisis which could extend to his other holdings and with a favorable outcome the cash burn at the combined companies will reach staggering proportions but at least they’ll be afloat a bit longer. Not that that has anything to do with this. My friend Duncan Stewart addressed some of the issues with solar shingle here: of course, all such discussion presupposes the product exists and will find its way to the market.

“Tesla will build and sell its own line of solar panels to combine with its battery storage system, the company announced at a press event at Universal Studios in LA, today. The system will allow residential homeowners to replace their entire roof with solar panels connected to an updated Powerwall 2 battery pack, making it much simpler for homes to be entirely powered by solar power. The roof is made of a textured glass tile with integrated solar cells. The roofs look “as good or better” than conventional roofs, according to Musk. They look like normal roofing tiles from the ground, but are completely transparent to the sun. The tiles are hydrographically printed, which, Musk says, makes each one a “special snowflake tile,” and no two roofs will be the same. “You can take any two roofs that look like that and they will be different — because they are different,” said Musk.”

7)          ‘Any idiot can do it.’ Genome editor CRISPR could put mutant mice in everyone’s reach

This is yet another update on CRISPR, which I think is probably the greatest medical advance since they figured out how to sequence DNA cost effectively. CRISPR allows directed editing of genes which, as the article shows, should greatly increase the pace of genetic engineering. This article mainly focuses on “knock out” of genes which is an important way of figuring out what a particular gene does but its actual application will be much broader than that.

“Most investigators get their engineered mice from colleagues or by purchasing them from commercial outfits like JAX or academic-based repositories. Popular engineered mice, such as JAX’s immunodeficient NOD scid gamma strains, sell for as little as a few hundred dollars, but a custommade mutant could cost as much as $20,000. By making the engineering of mice far simpler and cheaper, CRISPR opens the way for more labs to do it themselves. “When you made knockout mice before, you needed some skills,” says Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “Now, you don’t need them anymore. Any idiot can do it.””

8)          New Bionic Eye That Connects to The Brain Successfully Restores a Woman’s Sight

Saying this “restores sight” seems like an overstatement since the patient was simply able to see some points of light but what makes this interesting is that the device bypasses the optic nerve, unlike its prior device which stimulated retinal cells. That means that as the technology improves it may be possible to restore vision to people whose eyes or optic nerves have been destroyed.

“Researchers have been innovating methods of restoring sight to the blind through a number of different ways. Now, a company is closer to bringing another device to the public with vision impairment. Second Sight, a developer and manufacturer of implantable visual prosthetics has successfully implanted the Orion I, in their first patient. The Orion is a wireless visual cortical stimulator designed to restore sight to the blind. In a UCLA trial supported by Second Sight, a wireless multichannel neurostimulation system was implanted to a 30 year old patient’s visual cortex. The tests showed that the patient was able to perceive spots of light without any significant side effects.”

9)          ESPN Loses 621,000 Subscribers; Worst Month In Company History

Despite the title this is not so much about ESPN as it is a story about the transformation of the delivery of video from Broadcast (primarily cable) to streaming (i.e. Netflix and “over the top” delivery). The impact on ESPN is highlighted due to the fact they entered into expensive long-term contracts for sports events whereas other cable providers can cancel shows. Some content providers such as HBO are offering a streaming option whereas AT&T (a cable provider) is offering a streaming cable alternative. Ultimately cable companies will simply become broadband providers but that sector will get a lot more competitive with 5G wireless. There is going to be a lot of disruption and opportunity due to these shifts.

“These 621,000 lost subscribers in the past month alone lead to a drop in revenue of over $52 million and continue the alarming subscriber decline at ESPN. Couple these subscriber declines with a 24% drop in Monday Night Football ratings this fall, the crown jewel of ESPN programming, and it’s fair to call October of 2016 the worst month in ESPN’s history. But this isn’t just a story about ESPN, the rapid decline in cable subscribers is hitting every channel, sports and otherwise. It just impacts ESPN the most because ESPN costs every cable and satellite subscriber roughly $7 a month, over triple the next most expensive cable channel.”

10)      Computer Virus Cripples UK Hospital System

You start putting people’s lives at risk and all of a sudden computer security becomes serious. It is rather a pity that so little information is available regarding these sort of hacks: after all the hackers know exactly what they did so why don’t the victims publicise their system characteristics (Operating Systems, etc.) provide a post-mortem, etc.. All that keeping things quiet does is to allow similar systems to be exploited in the future. That might be good for job security but not so good for computer security.

“Citing a computer virus outbreak, a hospital system in the United Kingdom has canceled all planned operations and diverted major trauma cases to neighboring facilities. The incident came as U.K. leaders detailed a national cyber security strategy that promises billions in cybersecurity spending, new special police units to pursue organized online gangs, and the possibility of retaliation for major attacks. In a “major incident” alert posted to its Web site, the National Health Service’s Lincolnshire and Goole trust said it made the decision to cancel surgeries and divert trauma patients after a virus infected its electronic systems on Sunday, October 30.”