The Geek’s Reading List – Week of December 16th 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.
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.””
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 …”
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.”
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.”