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.”


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