The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

Hello,

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.

Brian Piccioni

Happy New Year!

 

 

1)          Apple’s Search for Better iPhone Screens Leads to Japan’s Rice Fields

Rumors suggest the iPhone 8 will have an OLED display, which is a feature which has been readily available on a variety of Android devices for several years now. Alas, Apple’s volume is such that supply of anything becomes an issue and it can take a lot more than money to catch up with certain features. As this article suggests they should have started putting the production capacity in place a few years ago – like Android vendors did.

“That push has also put a spotlight on suppliers of previously obscure technologies, testing their capacity to satisfy demand that drives sales of more than 200 million iPhones each year. A couple of years ago, Apple sought to use strong sapphire glass for iPhones, only to abandon the effort when a manufacturer couldn’t deliver enough of acceptable quality and went bankrupt. The scratch-resistant material is now featured on the Apple Watch. .Now OLED is the big goal. The technology has been included on top-end smartphones for years, including almost all of Samsung Electronics Co.’s high-end phones.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-21/apple-s-search-for-better-iphone-screens-leads-to-japan-s-rice-fields

2)          Uber Freight Just Launched and Trucking Will Never Be the Same

In the excellent HBO series “Silicon Valley” a professional tech CEO informs the engineers that a tech company’s real product is its stock. That is most easy to see without Uber (though Tesla comes close). Since Uber (and Tesla) are prodigious destroyers of capital their continued existence requires a eternally increasing stock price because without that they won’t be able to raise the capital to keep the fires burning. This is why both firms trot out a never ending series of superficially exciting announcements. In any event, Uber’s core car service business is not inherently highly profitable but at least there was a brief window of opportunity due to a regulatory arbitrage. No such condition exists in the trucking industry. As for autonomous truck (they are coming) the likes of Daimler are going to dominate that space.

“Uber has launched a website for a service called Uber Freight. Little has been revealed about the company’s expansion from ride-hailing, but if the announcements it’s made over the last year are any indicator, chances are good that Uber Freight is meant to prepare the world for autonomous delivery trucks. Uber acquired a startup called Otto, which planned to bring the first self-driving trucks to market, in August. Since then the company has used its trucks to deliver 50,000 cans of beer and hundreds of Christmas trees in San Francisco. This new service won’t use those trucks, at least not at the beginning. Instead it will function much like Uber’s existing platform: Some people will sign up to drive items across the country, and others will join so they can send packages without having to sign a contract with established shipping companies. The service will likely bring “surge pricing” to trucking, too.”

https://www.inverse.com/article/25698-uber-freight-just-launched-change-trucking-otto

3)          Congressional Encryption Working Group says encryption backdoors are near unworkable

Encryption backdoors sure sound appealing provided a couple conditions are met: the “bad guys” aren’t smart and they lack the computing resources to exploit them. Alas, it turns out that the US does not have a monopoly on smart people an computing is a commodity, especially with cloud services. So, even if the NSA wasn’t riddled with double agents as it likely is, all backdoors do is give the bad guys easy access to trade and other secrets.

“Cryptography experts and information security professionals believe that it is exceedingly difficult and impractical, if not impossible, to devise and implement a system that gives law enforcement exceptional access to encrypted data without also compromising security against hackers, industrial spies, and other malicious actors. Further, requiring exceptional access to encrypted data would, by definition, prohibit some encryption design best practices, such as “forward secrecy,” from being implemented.”

http://betanews.com/2016/12/23/ewg-encryption-report/

4)          IBM on track to get more than 7,000 U.S. patents in 2016

I’ve worked for companies which, like IBM, have incentive programs to file patents. The effect is not a burst of creativity from a slew a crappy patent applications. Since patents are almost always granted provided the applicant has deep enough pockets to pay his patent attorney you can impute exactly nothing about the prospects for a company from the number of patents it has been awarded. That said, IBM is a tech company which has missed out on every major tech market since the PC primarily because it has senior management who are utterly clueless. It ain’t for nothing revenues have declined for the past several years despite billions spent on dozens of acquisitions.

“IBM wants to put the patent war in perspective. Big Blue said that it is poised to get the most U.S. patents of any tech company for the 24th year in a row. In 2015, IBM received more than 7,355 patents, down slightly from 7,534 in 2014. A spokesperson for IBM said the company is on track to receive well over 7,000 patents in 2016. In 2016, IBM is also hitting another interesting milestone, with more than 1,000 patents for artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. IBM has been at it for more than a century, and it is seeking patents in key strategic areas — such as AI and cognitive computing. In fact, one-third of IBM’s researchers are dedicated to cognitive computing.”

http://venturebeat.com/2016/12/23/ibm-on-track-to-get-more-than-7000-u-s-patents-in-2016/

5)          Watch a Tesla predict a car crash 2 vehicles ahead

As with any Tesla related story, this looks very promising and exciting – after all we gotta keep that stock price up! This item was repeated dozens of times over the past week. Presumably the folks so enthusiastic about advanced automotive safety features know absolutely nothing about them. Nissan/Infinity has offered the same capability, which it calls “Predictive Forward Collision Warning” on most of its models for at least a couple years (http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/predictive.html). It has even advertised it extensively.

“In the clip, first uploaded to Twitter by Hans Noordsij, a group of cars can be seen traveling down the A2 highway in the Netherlands. The Forward Collision Warning on the Tesla beeps, and the emergency braking system kicks in. A brief moment later, the vehicle in front of the Tesla rear ends and SUV, which then flips before quickly coming to a stop.”

http://mashable.com/2016/12/27/tesla-predicts-crash-ahead-video/#K.ud9ijgFOq9

6)          U.S. government begins asking foreign travelers about social media

Presumably the US security apparatus assume actual terrorists would provide links to their ISIS Twitter accounts. Realistically it is very unlikely they would so stupid. Most likely they are simply filling in the blanks and associating real people and their passports to the information gathering dragnet they already operate.

“The U.S. government quietly began requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats that drew months of opposition from tech giants and privacy hawks alike. Since Tuesday, foreign travelers arriving in the United States on the visa waiver program have been presented with an “optional” request to “enter information associated with your online presence,” a government official confirmed Thursday. The prompt includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as a space for users to input their account names on those sites.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/foreign-travelers-social-media-232930

7)          Cord-Cutters Dropping Cable Force Networks to Make Hard Choices

Consumers are shifting from cable TV broadcast to streaming for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is demographics as fewer younger people even bother with a cable subscription. Rising prices and falling quality are no doubt other reasons. As broadband becomes more available I predict this will accelerate. As the article suggests this will have a profound impact on certain business while it creates opportunity for others.

“Next year, other programmers will be forced to contemplate whether to merge with competitors or distributors like AT&T, the largest U.S. pay-TV operator. Network owners are under growing pressure as they lose customers to online services like Netflix. While about 98 million homes still get pay TV, the industry lost around 1 million subscribers in 2016, and almost no channel was untouched. Even popular sports like the NFL — the glue holding the cable bundle together — lost viewers. Channel owners are betting new online TV services like DirecTV Now, Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV and an upcoming service from Hulu will stem the bleeding. Starting as low as $20 a month, they offer a low-cost alternative to the typical $85-a-month cable bill.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-29/cord-cutters-dropping-cable-force-networks-to-make-hard-choices

8)          Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

This is an update to an article we had regarding Rio Tinto’s experimentation with autonomous truck in its Australian mining operations. I am pretty sure these are not fully autonomous but are more like remotely operated drones. This allows the operator to be far away from the mine and live in city or suburb rather than the Spartan accommodations of a mining camp which brings labor costs down a lot.

“Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says. Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603170/mining-24-hours-a-day-with-robots/

9)          Automatic brakes stopped Berlin truck during Christmas market attack

It turns out that limiting the effectiveness of a terror attack is one of the unexpected benefits of advanced safety features. This does not appear to be true automatic braking but rather a system whereby the brakes are applied after a collision much the same way airbags are deployed A real automatic braking system, which applies the brakes in anticipation of a collision, might have avoided the tragedy altogether.

“The truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market last week, killing 12, came to a halt due to an automatic braking system, according to German media reports on Wednesday. The automatic braking system potentially saved the lives of many more people in the recent terrorist attack. An investigation by newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and broadcasters “NDR” and “WDR” found the Scania R 450 semi-trailer stopped after travelling between 70 and 80 meters (250 feet). The system was reportedly engaged after sensing a collision.”

http://www.dw.com/en/automatic-brakes-stopped-berlin-truck-during-christmas-market-attack/a-36936455

10)      Lenovo switches to Windows 10 Signature Edition image for its future ThinkPad laptops

Windows 10 Signature Edition is a “bloatware” free version of Windows in that the only bloatware is Microsoft bloatware such as various demo versions, etc.. You can actually buy a wide variety of laptops directly from Microsoft with Windows 10 Signature Edition installed, often at very competitive prices. PC vendors are typically paid by bloatware companies to install bloatware on their products. Unfortunately, in Lenovo’s case, that meant distributing malware with their premium PCs which shot hole in their reputation as a trustworthy vendor for corporate users. This is most likely a marketing response to restore that reputation rather than an effort to move away from bloatware.

“Ahead of CES 2017, Lenovo today announced the major changes coming to its ThinkPad lineup of laptops and PCs. Most of them are very welcome changes and consumers are going to love the new improvements. First, Lenovo has decided to ship 2017 ThinkPad models with Microsoft’s Signature Edition Windows 10 right out of the box. So, users don’t have to worry about bloatware anymore. Signature Edition PCs are clean, fast and protected.”

https://mspoweruser.com/lenovo-switches-windows-10-signature-edition-image-future-thinkpad-laptops/

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 23rd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 23rd 2016

Hello,

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.

Brian Piccioni

 

Happy Winter Solstice Celebration!

 

1)          How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists

The recent launches of the iPhone 7 and MacBooks demonstrate quite clearly the rot has set in at Apple. Neither product has any feature you might refer to as novel, despite the hype and super-premium price tag. In fact, it didn’t appear to occur to anybody at Apple that you might want to plug an iPhone 7 into a new MacBook without an expensive dongle adaptor. Quite a turnaround for a company which used to go by “it just works”. Eventually the chickens will come home to roost. Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this article.

“In October, after more than 500 days without an update, Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pro with a slimmer design and louder speakers. The laptop garnered mostly favorable reviews from the technology press but grumbles from creative types, a key constituency, who said the device under-performed rival products. Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-20/how-apple-alienated-mac-loyalists

2)          Russian ‘methbot’ fraud steals $180 million in online ads

This is a pretty sophisticated operation and I am not even sure if it is correct to call it “fraud”. After all where in the law does it say that annoying ads have to be watched by a human being? Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Methbot, so nicknamed because the fake browser refers to itself as the “methbrowser,” operates as a sham intermediary advertising ring: Companies would pay millions to run expensive video ads. Then they would deliver those ads to what appeared to be major websites. In reality, criminals had created more than 250,000 counterfeit web pages no real person was visiting. White Ops first spotted the criminal operation in October, and it is making up to $5 million per day — by generating up to 300 million fake “video impressions” daily. In the past, hackers have figured out how to deliver malvertising (viruses through ads) and how to fake clicks on ads. But this is another level.”

http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/20/technology/ad-fraud-online-methbot/

3)          Uber sending self-driving cars to Arizona

The reason Uber is sending its self-driving cars to Arizona is because the US Department of Transportation (which has been very friendly to autonomous vehicle trials in the past) ordered them off the road due to numerous safety related incidents. I continue to believe Uber is interested in deflecting attention away from its inability to run a business (see http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/19/despite-china-windfall-uber-on-pace-for-unprecedented-losses-report-says.html) so it can continue to raise money from gullible investors. That said I won’t be surprised if Arizona is the future home of the first person killed by an AV.

“Uber is moving its self-driving pilot project to Arizona, one day after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the autonomous vehicles off the roads in San Francisco. “Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon in a statement. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.” After starting its San Francisco test on Dec. 14, the ride-hailing company angered the mayor and officials at the DMV by refusing to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars. Residents also flagged several incidents involving the self-driving vehicles, such as running red lights. And so, around noon on Thursday, a fleet of Uber self-driving cars passed through the South of Market area on the backs of several flatbed trucks. Commuters gawked at the fleet with their distinctive hoods, backing up traffic as the convoy slowly drove by.”

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Uber-sending-self-driving-cars-to-Arizona-10813886.php

4)          Canada sets universal broadband goal of 50Mbps and unlimited data for all

Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure went from world leading to 3rd world comparable over the space of about 20 years, largely due to idiotic or corrupt (I prefer to believe my government is corrupt rather than stupid) policy decisions. There is little hope we can catch up to places like Romania as long as the various protections remain for the telecoms companies. This announcement had global coverage but it is not altogether that significant unless it is backed up by structural changes which aren’t go to happen as long as the telecoms companies continue to control the media as they do. Politicians need the media and the media are directly controlled by the telecommunications companies.

“Canada’s telecom regulator yesterday declared that broadband Internet must be considered “a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians” and created a fund to connect rural and remote communities. With this decision, high-speed broadband is now treated as an essential technology similar to voice service. All Canadians should be able to purchase home Internet with 50Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps uploads, and they should have the option of purchasing unlimited data, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcement said. A new fund will make $750 million available over the next five years to support projects in areas where that level of broadband isn’t available.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/12/canada-sets-universal-broadband-goal-of-50mbps-and-unlimited-data-for-all/

5)          Facebook at a Crossroads

I don’t really understand social media but a look at Facebook’s financial results shows that almost all its revenue comes from North American users and not from the new users which sign up in places like India. Growth is typically due to increased revenue from North American users, not new users or increased revenue from non-North American users. The North American Facebook user numbers are probably at saturation and the question becomes one of “what’s next” for Facebook.

“Altogether, Zuckerberg has yet to prove that he can build a new business or product to stand alongside his existing one: offering communications tools that target ads to their users. And recent months have shown that he can’t simply take that core business for granted while he boots up longer-term ideas. Facebook’s chief financial officer recently cautioned investors that revenue growth will slow in 2017 because the service can’t cram more ads in front of people without annoying them.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603198/facebook-at-a-crossroads/

6)          Motion-Planning Chip Speeds Robots

Certain types of problems require an enormous amount of computing power which take a long time to execute on a general purpose processor so researchers often turn to Graphic Processors (GPU) such as those made by AMD and Nvidia. Once the algorithms are really well understood it usually pays to make a special purpose processor whose innards are tweaked to the type of processing required. The first step in that process is typically a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) which is a sort of reprogrammable logic device. The same thing will happen with “deep learning” – an emerging technology which has caused Nvidia’s stock to go parabolic. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“This motion-planning process is one of the most important skills a robot can have, and it’s also one of the most time consuming. Researchers at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., have found a way to speed up motion planning by three orders of magnitude while using one-twentieth the power. Their solution is a custom processor that can perform the most time-consuming part of the job—checking for all potential collisions across the robot’s entire range of motion—with unprecedented efficiency.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/robotics-software/motionplanning-chip-speeds-robots

7)          FCC Republicans vow to gut net neutrality rules “as soon as possible”

The incoming US administration is poised to do a whole lot of damage to the US technology sector if they proceed with a trade war as promised. The only losers (besides the tech companies) will be US consumers, but a plutocracy has little concern for them. They plan on doing damage domestically as well: the US telecommunications industry is even worse than Canada due to a similar legacy of bad policy. The most frightening prospect for consumers is the possibility “net neutrality” will be unwound. This would be a windfall for the large Internet Service Providers who would be able to increase profits while decreasing investment. It would cause a whole lot of hurt for the likes of Netflix and emerging content providers. Consumers in the US are typically served by a single ISP so there is no chance market forces will provide balance until 5G wireless is launched.

“More broadly, the Title II net neutrality order prohibits ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment. The order also set up a complaint process to prevent “unjust” or “unreasonable” pricing and practices. The threat of complaints to the FCC helped put an end to several disputes between ISPs and other network operators over network interconnection payments; this in turn improved Internet service quality for many subscribers. All of that is in jeopardy with the Pai/O’Rielly promise to undo the entire Title II net neutrality order. The process could take months, even if they get started right away, because of requirements to seek public comment. The Republican-controlled Congress could act more quickly, since Trump has opposed net neutrality rules and isn’t likely to veto a bill overturning the Title II order.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/fcc-republicans-vow-to-gut-net-neutrality-rules-as-soon-as-possible/

8)          Ham-fisted: Chap’s radio app killed remotely after posting bad review

I have no real idea what ham radio software does but this company’s actions are consistent with a trend to punish users who have the bad judgement to publish a negative online review for a product or service. Since most online reviews are fake, the only ones with any merit are the negative ones (though competitors can fake those as well). Regardless, punishing the reviewer is a pretty stupid move due to the Streisand Effect which amplifies bad coverage once people find out about it.

“HRD Software later said Giercyk’s license key had been blackballed, causing the software to close while starting up: the updated program would phone headquarters to check the key and discover the license had been revoked, forcing it to terminate. “I called the support line and asked them to explain what they were doing, and they informed me that I was blacklisted and the file they directed me to download blocked the software on my computer from running,” Giercyk, aka N2SUB, told fellow hams in a forum post. “Two days later, they contacted me and stated they would unlock my software if I removed the review I posted.””

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/12/19/ham_radio_app_bad_review/

9)          Feds say Chicago e-recycler faked tear-downs, then sent CRTs to Hong Kong

E-waste was such a big deal the half-wits who run Ontario decided there needed to be a “technology tax” to offset it. The “fees” (i.e. a private tax paid into an industry slush fund) are fixed in price even though technology products drop in price and waste quite rapidly. As a result a substantial amount of the cost of certain items (over 20% in the case of a wireline telephone I bought) is technology tax. Oddly enough, the tax is highly selective and only applies to certain items despite a higher “e-waste” component in, say, appliances. Of course, like this guy in Chicago, oversight is pretty lax and you can be sure most electronic waste ends up in land fill. After all: what possible incentive does a consumer have to “e-cycle” a device after he’s paid a tax on it?

“Brundage promised his clients that their old computers, TV monitors, and various other devices would be broken down into their component parts and recycled in keeping with federal guidelines. Instead, feds allege that Brundage shipped some of those electronics for illegal disposal in landfills overseas. Those electronics included Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) from old computer and TV monitors, which contained “hazardous amounts of lead,” as well as batteries. The electronics that weren’t shipped to Asia were destroyed inappropriately on the premises of his businesses or stockpiled indefinitely in warehouses, which is forbidden by federal guidelines.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/feds-say-chicago-e-recycler-faked-tear-downs-then-sent-crts-to-hong-kong/

10)      The White House predicts nearly all truck, taxi, and delivery driver jobs will be automated

In other news, almost all horse coach drivers are now unemployed! Actually emergence of autonomous vehicles will likely have a negative impact on driver employment though I suspect delivery drivers will still be needed to place the parcel etc.. The real question is when: there is no reason to believe truly autonomous vehicles (i.e. no driver at all) will be on the road, let alone common, within 20 years. Even then it will take another decade or more before the fleet is switched out.

“In a report published Tuesday, the White House estimated that nearly 3.1 million drivers working today could have their jobs automated by autonomous vehicles. However, the report doesn’t offer a timeline for when this automation could occur, just that the jobs as they exist now are at risk. A bulk of the jobs come from heavy trucking, which the report estimates will see 80% to 100% of nearly 1.7 million drivers’ jobs automated. The White House predicts delivery drivers and self-employed drivers for on-demand services like Uber will face almost total automation as well.”

http://qz.com/868716/the-white-house-predicts-nearly-all-truck-taxi-and-delivery-driver-jobs-will-be-automated/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 16th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 16th 2016

Hello,

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.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Uber blames humans for self-driving car traffic offenses as California orders halt

Making a self-driving cars sounds so easy lots of people seem to think they will be commercially available within the next 5 years or so. This is utter nonsense as even simple automotive technology takes decades to develop and launch. Uber’s primary product is their stock, and like so many other companies today they need a constant stream of bright colored baubles to distract shareholders to keep their furnaces burning other’s people’s money. After all a Uber’s valuation can’t be justified by running a money losing car service, maybe it can be justified by pretending they are players in the self-driving space!

“California regulators ordered Uber to remove its self-driving vehicles from the road on the same day that the company’s vehicles were caught running red lights – violations the company immediately blamed on “human error”. “It is essential that Uber takes appropriate measures to ensure safety of the public,” the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) wrote to Uber on Wednesday after it defied government officials and began piloting the cars in San Francisco without permits. “If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.””

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/14/uber-self-driving-cars-run-red-lights-san-francisco

2)          The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise

In case you missed it one of the original smartwatch vendors, Pebble, essentially went out of business last week. Like most smartwatches, most of the devices likely spent only a few day on people’s wrists but it is worth noting that there is a good chance they will stop functioning altogether within a few months as support is withdrawn. Unlike an old fashioned watch, modern gadgets become pretty useless once the vendor loses interest.

“If the myth of Silicon Valley is to be believed, Eric Migicovsky should be ebullient. After all, he has failed. For the past nine years, he spent time and made time — 24/7 — with Pebble, a smartwatch company he started as a 21-year old whelp while studying abroad in the Netherlands city of Delft, known more for pottery than technology. His trajectory has been niche legendary: struggling Y Combinator startup, Kickstarter hero, builder of a platform, and seller of over two million smartwatches. Sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t enough. Pebble was losing money, with no profit in sight. So on December 6, Migicovsky sold Pebble’s key assets, including its intellectual property, to Fitbit, which will reportedly hire about 40 percent of his workforce.”

https://backchannel.com/the-real-story-behind-pebbles-demise-303802a7afaa#.dfxw0m4dt

3)          Attorney wants Google to unmask reviewer who only wrote, “It was horrible”

Thought this was pretty funny. Of course, in the US there is no “loser pays” tradition so a thin-skinned lawyer can cause financial ruin to somebody just through vexatious litigation so you can see the motive. Fortunately for “Mia Arce” Google has pretty deep pockets and they have a pretty strong incentive to protect the anonymity of reviewers. It is hard to believe somebody could consider a three word review damaging, but, hey.

“A New York lawyer has gone to court to unmask an anonymous person who on Google gave him a one-star review that solely said “it was horrible.” The 8-month-old Google review, searchable under Manhattan commercial litigator Donald J. Tobias’ name, was written under the handle “Mia Arce.” The lawyer wants to know the identity of the reviewer, perhaps so that person can be sued.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/attorney-wants-google-to-unmask-reviewer-who-only-wrote-it-was-horrible/

4)          Facebook’s Cautious, Sensible Plan to Fight Fake News

The “mainstream media” acted like Keystone Cops during the last election cycle and showed themselves far more interested in advertising revenue than in their societal role as critical media. The natural response has been to blame “fake news” especially that distributed on social media. Anybody who has heard US talk radio in the past couple decades knows that “fake news” is not exactly new. Similarly, the propaganda run up to Iraq War II simply made the point that “trusted” sources such as the New York Times only provide enough real coverage to make their lies sound more credible. People have to learn to assume that what they see in the media reflects a narrative, not reality.

“As fake news and political hoaxes proliferated on Facebook during the presidential campaign, the company did little to stop them. Facing a backlash in the days following the election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the problem, while making vague assurances that Facebook would look into it further. That only intensified the criticism. Now, it seems, Facebook is taking it seriously. The company announced on Thursday several new features designed to identify, flag, and slow the spread of false news stories on its platform, including a partnership with third-party fact-checkers such as Snopes and PolitiFact. It is also taking steps to prevent spammers and publishers from profiting from fake news.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/12/15/facebook_s_plan_to_fight_fake_news_is_sensibly_cautious.html

5)          Amazon launches Prime Video worldwide, now available in 242 countries

One of the emerging themes in technology is the shift away from broadcast distribution of video to streaming. Netflix has been around for quite a few years so it is not new but I figure over time the “cable” model with disappear and be replaced by streaming, opening up a huge market for ad revenue for Google, as well as presenting a large opportunity for independent producers of content who will finally have a distribution channel.

“Netflix has a new global competitor: Amazon Prime Video. At a media event in India, Amazon announced today its Prime Video service is now available in 242 countries. The company additionally is offering the on-demand video streaming service at discounted price in all of the new regions and costs $2.99 per month or is free in countries where Amazon has launched its Prime service.”

http://mashable.com/2016/12/14/amazon-prime-video-global-launch/#VjXALC.49ZqX

6)          Feds unveil rule requiring cars to ‘talk’ to each other

Like other advanced safety features Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) is an inevitable thing. This is not a partisan issue and, frankly, the auto industry will likely move ahead with it regardless of whether there is a mandate or not. Unfortunately, as with autobrake and other safety systems it will like many years for enough of the fleet to be so equipped to make a measurable difference. In fact, V2V is one of those things which pretty much requires common use to be particularly useful.

“The Obama administration released a long-awaited rule on Tuesday requiring all new vehicles to have communication technology that allows them to “talk” to each another, which officials say could prevent tens of thousands of crashes each year. The proposal calls for all new light-duty cars and trucks to eventually be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, a safety system that enables cars to send wireless signals to each other, anticipate each other’s moves and thus avoid crashes. The rule would require 100 percent of new vehicle fleets to have V2V technology within four years of the final rule’s enactment. The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days.”

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/310169-feds-unveil-rule-requiring-cars-to-talk-to-each-other

7)          Apple removes the ‘time remaining’ battery estimate in new macOS update

Apple’s relentless pursuit of form (i.e. slightly thinner devices) over function has led to a string of crappy product releases in 2016. The response to being unable to meet battery life claims is to remove the remaining battery life indicator from the software. To be fair, battery drain is highly complex and hard to predict but, like introducing a flagship phone which won’t plug into a flagship laptop without a dongle this “solution” is a sign of a company which has lost its way.

“Apple promises a ceiling of about 10 hours of use with the new laptops, but many reviewers — including our own — had a hard time replicating that performance. Verge editor Jake Kastrenakes had so much trouble getting the 13-inch version to regularly eclipse six hours of battery life that Apple sent another MacBook Pro in hopes that there was an issue with the first unit. There wasn’t.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/13/13939278/apple-macos-sierra-new-macbook-pros-battery-life

8)          Malware Found in the Firmware of 26 Low-Cost Android Devices

This is scarcely surprising as Lenovo which is scarcely a low-cost supplier was also found to be a malware distributor. Hacking may be part of the Chinese business model or these may have been inside jobs (like the backdoors installed in lots of US data communications gear). Either way choose wisely.

“Security researchers have found malware hidden in the firmware of several low-end Android smartphones and tablets, malware which is used to show ads and install unwanted apps on the devices of unsuspecting users. According to a report, the following 26 Android device models are affected …”

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/malware-found-in-the-firmware-of-26-low-cost-android-devices/

9)          PwC sends ‘cease and desist’ letters to researchers who found critical flaw

Here is a pro-tip: if you have a supplier and/or counter-party whose response to being discretely informed of a security hole is to send a “cease and desist” letter your supplier/counter-party has absolutely no understanding of computer security and should be treated as utterly untrustworthy. The idea that keeping a flaw secret is somehow a valid response to a flaw is straight up idiocy.

“The researchers contacted and met with PwC in August to discuss the scope of the flaw. As part of its responsible disclosure policy, the researchers gave PwC three months to fix the flaw before a public advisory would be published. Three days later, the corporate giant responded with legal threats.”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/pwc-sends-security-researchers-cease-and-desist-letter-instead-of-fixing-security-flaw/

10)      Verizon Explores Lower Price or Even Exit From Yahoo Deal

Yahoo has been fading into irrelevance for years and its fade to black has only been hastened by widespread incompetence and singularly stupid acquisitions. The company’s share price is more determined by their holding in Alibaba shares from long ago. Whether Verizon pays a penny for Yahoo or $1 billion the company itself is worthless.

“User data from more than 1 billion accounts was stolen in August 2013, according to a Yahoo statement Wednesday, the second major breach the company has disclosed in the past three months. Given the severity of the hack, which included more than 150,000 U.S. government employees, Verizon is under pressure to reassess the value of the deal and appease shareholders who may see Yahoo as damaged goods.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-15/verizon-weighs-scrapping-yahoo-deal-on-hacking-liability