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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
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 http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Electricity_prices_for_household_consumers,_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”.”