The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 29 2017

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)          AT&T Plans DirecTV Now Over 5G in Austin

5G wireless may or may not be good for smartphones but it is a potential replacement for wired broadband services. More to the point, it opens up a vast amount of spectrum, much or which is unlicensed. This may allow the emergence of a competitive broadband industry in the US and Canada – provided the lobbyists and corrupt regulators don’t sabotage it.

“AT&T is gearing up for a trial to deliver DirecTV Now in Austin via 5G wireless broadband in the first half of 2017. The cell network giant said it also planned to test “additional next-generation entertainment services of fixed 5G connections.” AT&T said the trial will comprise multiple sites and devices and focus on how fixed wireless millimeter wave technology handles heavy video traffic.”

http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0002/att-plans-directv-now-over-5g-in-austin/280199

2)          Google doubles down on Chromebooks in education with two new devices

Chromebooks are similar in performance to tablets but they have a keyboard and target low-cost. This makes them quite suitable for the education market where the lower cost and better durability means kids are less likely to destroy them. Chromebooks have been quite successful and seem to be taking an increasing share fo the market. Note that the criticism of Chromebook apps applies equally well to iPads, which are extremely expensive fragile devices once touted as ideal for education.

“Google is announcing two new Chromebooks specifically designed for the education market. Chrome OS has been strong in education for some time, outperforming the Mac, iPads, and Windows so much that by some estimates it represents half the market. The company is putting together a slew of Chrome OS-related announcements to try to solidify that lead, but at the center are two Chromebooks that are designed for students. The first is the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, essentially a convertible variant of the ruggedized Chromebook 11 N7. Internally, the specs are very little changed and unlikely to appeal to consumers — an 11.6-inch touchscreen, Intel Celeron processor, and a couple of storage and RAM options.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/24/14366192/google-chromebooks-acer-spin-11-asus-flip-c213-chrome-os-education

3)          Trump signs executive order stripping non-citizens of privacy rights

The tech world was dominated by US politics this week. Don’t get me started. This move was interesting because of the excitement it caused and the sheer stupidity of the move. The Orwellian USA PARTIOT and its successors eviscerated privacy in the US. The Snowden revelations showed the national security state went even further. The EU might have been pleased to delude itself into believing it had protected its citizens privacy though and agreement with the US but it utter nonsense: if you keep data on a server connected to the Internet that data is likely compromised. If you keep data on the cloud that data is compromised.

“With a stroke of his pen, the president just potentially invalidated a transcontinental data flow agreement between the US and EU which took years to negotiate. The US-EU Data Shield agreement is an authorization framework which enables companies to transfer the personal data of Europeans to the US while ensuring that the companies operate within compliance of Europe’s more stringent privacy laws. It effectively ensured that a European’s personal data — that is, any personal data originating from the EU, not just that of EU citizens — would be protected to the standards that the EU demands whether the data is sitting on a server in Paris, France or Paris, Texas.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/26/trump-signs-executive-order-stripping-non-citizens-of-privacy-ri/?sr_source=Facebook

4)          Dropbox Kept Files Around for Years Due to ‘Delete’ Bug

Part two of why you have to be very careful when using cloud services: Dropbox offers a commodity cloud storage application and, it turns out, it can’t even get that right. There was no particular reason to believe that Dropbox ever real disposed of files properly but now we find out they didn’t and seemed to know about it for years. Remember that you aren’t storing stuff on Dropbox, you are sharing it with them. Be very, very, careful. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“Dropbox engineers have fixed what appears to be a very ancient bug that during the past two weeks has resurfaced previously deleted folders for several Dropbox users. According to multiple support threads started in the last three weeks and merged into one issue here, users had complained about old folders that they deleted years ago, magically reappearing on their devices.”

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/software/dropbox-kept-files-around-for-years-due-to-delete-bug/

5)          Explaining the upside and downside of D-Wave’s new quantum computer

The other day I was thing “funny I haven’t heard anything about D-Wave in a while” and then this past week there was a flood of stories about their latest “quantum” computer. (On a side note, transistors are also “quantum” devices). In any event, despite the hype and hysteria, it appears this machine is 1,000 faster than normal computers at simulating annealing. Whoop dee freaking do: a general purpose computer would never be as fast as a tree simulating a tree either. The net benefit to this obscure advantage is only 30x – at least until somebody tweaks the simulation algorithms again. The performance delta between a quantum computer and a regular computer is the same order as that between a nuclear explosion and a chemical explosion – it is not subtle.

“In a pair of papers, D-Wave researchers have compared the new architecture to various simulated annealers, including annealers that incorporate quantum properties and make use of GPUs for additional speed up. The take-home message that D-Wave wants you to hear is that this thing is a processing beast, around 1,000 times faster than a normal computer. This is just a comparison of the annealing time, though. The total time taken is only a factor of 30 better, and it’s dominated by the time it takes to initialize the problem and read out the solution. These are also just demonstration problems that are not directly applicable in real-world applications.”

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/01/explaining-the-upside-and-downside-of-d-waves-new-quantum-computer/

6)          A lack of alternatives to Qualcomm is hurting the ecosystem

Interesting nuggets regarding Qualcomm’s business model but I think it overstates the company’s position. Patents, especially high tech patents, are a rapidly depreciating asset and Qualcomm walled off 2G and 3G before the standards bodies realized how big a market wireless would be. There is a good chance they will have limited success in 5G. As for SoCs, Qualcomm uses the freely licensable ARM architecture. While they may remain at the cutting edge, mobile innovation is slowing and other vendors will eventually supply “good enough” parts.

“Qualcomm owns patents for a number of hugely important mobile technologies. The company earns money from every phone sale, even those that don’t use a Qualcomm chip, as 3G CDMA and 4G LTE data technologies are based primarily on the company’s IP. If your phone has a CDMA or LTE modem, even one designed and manufactured by another company, Qualcomm takes a cut. The company does not have the same dominant IP portfolio for 4G as it does for CDMA, but it’s still the major earner for the company. For financial year 2016, Qualcomm generated a pre-tax profit of $6.5 billion from 3G and 4G royalties, compared with $1.8 billion from MSM chip sales in the same year. In other words, 85  percent of the company’s earnings before tax are created by wireless technology royalties.”

http://www.androidauthority.com/a-lack-of-qualcomm-alternatives-is-hurting-the-ecosystem-744879/

7)          HP expands laptop battery recall after reports of overheating and property damage

Lithium ion battery fires are very impressive and hard to extinguish. There are suggestions a pilot’s iPhone/iPad may have taken down an Airbus recently, with the loss of 66 lives (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/_TP_/article/did-pilot-s-phone-batteries-cause-egyptair-crash-trr663ghv?ni-statuscode=acsaz-307). What I find interesting is that consumer product recalls for smartphones and laptop batteries get a lot of coverage but fires in electric vehicles usually do not. Suffice it to say that if you have a bad accident in an EV there is a very high probability it will catch fire. You will not get out alive. Car fires are relatively rare in gasoline powered cars because of a variety of safety systems which would not work with a battery.

“Overheating and exploding batteries seem to be a problem as of late. Samsung recently captured headlines for its own debacle with the Galaxy Note7, and now HP is continuing its recall of laptop batteries that could pose a risk to consumers. The latest recall affects 101,000 units, and a previous recall in June 2016 affected another 41,000 batteries. The affected laptops were said to include a lithium-ion battery containing Panasonic cells that malfunctioned, leading to “overheating, melting and charring and causing about $1,000 in property damage,” the US Consumer Product Safety (US CPSC) report said.”

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/hp-expands-laptop-battery-recall-after-reports-of-overheating-and-property-damage/

8)          IBM promises Trump-friendly domestic jobs, but is firing U.S. workers: report

I was wandering through a store recently and noted all the “new lower price” stickers. It occurred to me that they never put a sticker saying “new higher price” nor do they tell you the lower price applies to a smaller bottle. In any event, IBM is a senescent company which has missed every significant tech trend since the PC. They are slowly fading away despite spending billions per year on value destroying acquisitions. Who needs real engineering when financial engineering is more fun?

“As companies fall all over themselves to hype creation of U.S. jobs, IBM is catching flak for promising thousands of new ones while firing folks right and left, a new report said. Company CEO Ginni Rometty said in a December USA Today op-ed that her firm would hire 25,000 people for U.S. positions in the next four years, 6,000 of them this year. “She didn’t mention that International Business Machines Corp. was also firing workers and sending many of the jobs overseas,” said a Jan. 23 report from Bloomberg. Big Blue wrapped up its third round of 2016 firings — or “resource actions” in IBM HR parlance — in late November, and job losses for the year likely totaled in the thousands, current and former employees told Bloomberg.”

http://www.siliconbeat.com/2017/01/23/ibm-promises-trump-friendly-u-s-jobs-but-is-firing-american-workers-report/

9)          Apple Investigating Issue With AirPods Randomly Disconnecting During Calls

I’m sure nobody expected Apple to invent Bluetooth headsets and get it right the first try, right? Actually there are some reports of these same models of iPhone disconnecting from other Bluetooth headsets (i.e. the ones on the market before Apple invented them) so the issue might actually be with their operating system.

“Apple is investigating multiple reports from iPhone owners of AirPods randomly disconnecting and reconnecting during calls, MacRumors has learned. A MacRumors forum thread and a long thread on Apple’s Support Communities website have been generated by AirPods users who are regularly experiencing Bluetooth connection dropouts during phone calls, despite the fact that the wireless earphones almost never lose their connection when used to listen to music or anything else.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2017/01/23/apple-airpods-disconnect-during-calls/

10)      New findings highlight promise of chimeric organisms for science and medicine

This work is pretty impressive but it has been mostly miss-reported. The idea is to grow the organs of one species inside another species using stem cells and genetic modification. There has been the usual clucking about “ethical issues” but I suspect the people waiting for transplants might feel a bit differently about the issue: this does not create some sort of sentient man-bear-pig but potentially human compatible organs ready for transplant.

“In a tour de force paper published in the January 26, 2017, issue of the journal Cell, scientists at the Salk Institute report breakthroughs on multiple fronts in the race to integrate stem cells from one species into the early-stage development of another. Combining cutting-edge gene-editing and stem-cell technologies, the scientists were able to grow a rat pancreas, heart and eyes in a developing mouse, providing proof-of-concept that functional organs from one species can be grown in another. They were also able to generate human cells and tissues in early-stage pig and cattle embryos, marking the first step toward the generation of transplantable human organs using large animals whose organ size, physiology and anatomy are similar to humans’.”

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-highlight-chimeric-science-medicine.html

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 20 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 20 2017

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)          Language: Finding a voice

Recent advances in AI/Deep Learning have led to a fair amount of hysterics due to those concerned “AI is gonna take our jerbs” and a dystopian future where humanity is enslaved by Terminator style robots. Alas, it is just an algorithm which is useful for solving certain classes of problems (see the next item). Whether or not an intelligent machine might be developed in the future an array of number does not represent a meaningful threat to humanity.

“Creative and truly conversational computers able to handle the unexpected are still far off. Artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers can only laugh when asked about the prospect of an intelligent HAL, Terminator or Rosie (the sassy robot housekeeper in “The Jetsons”). Yet although language technologies are nowhere near ready to replace human beings, except in a few highly routine tasks, they are at last about to become good enough to be taken seriously. They can help people spend more time doing interesting things that only humans can do. After six decades of work, much of it with disappointing outcomes, the past few years have produced results much closer to what early pioneers had hoped for.”

http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2017-05-01/language#section-2?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/findingavoice

2)          How an algorithm behind Deep Learning works

The video in this item provides a summary of how AI/Deep Learning works. As I noted in item one, it is just an algorithm, and, moreover, is not even remotely similar to the way a brain works. Unless you are doing arithmetic your brain does not do floating point math and does not create a multidimensional convolved array. Brains operate continuously (well – for most of us) rather than in discrete intervals like computers. Brains also merge computational function with storage. I could go on.

“There are many algorithms behind Deep Learning (see this comparison of deep learning frameworks for details), but one common algorithm used by many frameworks is Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs). The mathematics behind that algorithm are complex, but Brandon Rohrer explains the process in plain language, and shows how AIs trained with CNNs can appear to mimic human processes like vision.”

http://blog.revolutionanalytics.com/2016/09/how-the-algorithm-behind-deep-learning-works.html

3)          Seagate to Shut Down One of Its Largest HDD Assembly Plants

The Hard Disk Drive industry continues to evaporate as the technology is increasingly displaced by Solid State Drives which are better than HDDs in all ways except price. Mind you, tape storage is less than $10/TB right now so it is even cheaper than HDD. What is strange is that HDD stock prices have bounced back rather nicely over the past 6 months or so, demonstrating that financial engineering outweighs actual engineering – at least on Wall Street and at least for a little while. Anybody remember Kodak and AGFA?

“As a part of its cost-cutting efforts, Seagate has decided to shut down its HDD manufacturing plant in Suzhou, China. The factory is one of the company’s largest production assets and its closure will significantly reduce the company’s HDD output. Seagate intends to lay off ~2200 employees, but it is unclear what it intends to do with the facility, which it owns.”

http://www.anandtech.com/show/11037/seagate-to-shut-down-one-of-its-largest-hdd-assembly-plants

4)          Qualcomm sued by US regulators for anti-competitive practices

A rather timely move by the FTV now that almost all the competitors have been destroyed and most of the profit of the smartphone industry has been banked. No doubt Qualcomm is quivering in their boots at the prospect of paying a small fine as a cost of doing business.

“The FTC says that Qualcomm maintained a “no license, no chips” policy, whereby it would refuse to sell modems to companies that wouldn’t agree to its onerous licensing terms. Companies didn’t have much choice but agree to its terms, the FTC alleges, because Qualcomm is one of the only companies that can supply large quantities of high-end modems. If companies didn’t agree, they wouldn’t be able to make enough phones. Qualcomm’s licensing terms required that smartphone manufacturers pay a higher-than-usual fee for phones built with a competitor’s modem, according to the commission. In effect, Qualcomm is said to have made competitors’ modems more expensive than they should be. The FTC calls this a “tax” on competitors’ products, which it says “excludes these competitors and harms competition.””

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/17/14302932/qualcomm-ftc-lawsuit-anticompetitive-practices-modems

5)          Theranos closed its last remaining blood-testing lab after it reportedly failed an inspection

Recently there was an article that Theranos had laid off 41% of its staff which led me to wonder what, exactly, the other 59% were to do. I guess they haven’t entirely run through investor money and now have a new project to promote. It is rather doubtful investors will be there for another round of funding though.

“Theranos closed its last remaining blood-testing facility after the lab reportedly failed a regulatory inspection, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The company, once valued at $9 billion, is shifting its focus to a portable ‘lab on chip’ virus-detection box after its blood-testing business, once labeled revolutionary, came under repeated fire for unreliable results, questionable methodology and inadequately trained staff.”

https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/17/theranos-last-lab-inspection-test-fail/

6)          Google Maps will soon get you where you need to go, then help you park

This sounds like a pretty useful feature, but they don’t really give you an idea as to how accurate the information is, which is pretty important if you think about it. I’d love it Google Maps could be trained to not put you on toll roads without permission: around the Toronto area it will invariably route you to the 407 highway for a $30 toll if it can figure out a way to do so.

“Nothing ruins a day out like driving to an unfamiliar part of town, finally finding that hole-in-the-wall restaurant you’ve been hearing so much about… and realizing there are no open parking spots even close to the joint. It’s not the end of the world, but it certainly puts a damper on the fun. With an upcoming feature rolled out with the latest beta version of Google Maps, however, your turn-by-turn directions will soon be able to guide you to the best places to park around your destination.”

http://mashable.com/2017/01/18/google-maps-finds-parking-spots/#yLkcj59mCaqK

7)          Autodesk Moves EAGLE to Subscription Only Pricing

Autodesk makes a range of low end to mid-range CAD tools. Like most software companies bereft facing a mature market and bereft of the capacity to do actual engineering they transitioned to a “Software as a Service” model which allows them to greatly increase the cost of using their software while lowering their R&D and Sales and Marketing expense. They recently bought Eagle, a low end PC CAD tool with a strong following among the maker community. As this article points out, a free, open source, alternative to Eagle is KiCad EDA, which if not only being free but in some ways more capable than Eagle. Let the outrage ensue.

“Lets break down the costs. Before Autodesk purchased EAGLE from CadSoft, a Standard license would run you $69, paid once. The next level up was Premium, at $820, paid once. The new pricing tiers from Autodesk are a bit different. Standard will cost $15/month or $100/year, and gives similar functionality to the old Premium level, but with only 2 signal layers. If you need more layers, or more than 160 cm^2 of board space, you’ll need the new Premium level, at $65/month or $500/year.”

http://hackaday.com/2017/01/19/autodesk-moves-eagle-to-subscription-only-pricing/

8)          Juicero squeezes the price of its internet-connected juicer from $700 to $400

This is an an update on one of the silliest things associated with the Internet of Things: an expensive juicer which squeezes a similarly expensive bag of plant matter to make juice. The company somehow convinced investors to pour at least $70M into it at a $270M valuation, which just shows that the one thing dumber than an IoT juicer is IoT juicer investors. Apparently, a $700 price tag is not the optimal price for an IoT juicer and they have come to the conclusion cheaper things sell more. Mind you it is still $7 a pack for a single serving …

“Juicero, the company behind the luxury juicer that only works with proprietary fruit and vegetable pouches and requires a connection to the internet, is significantly dropping the price of its juicer today, bringing it from $699 down to $399. The price cut seems to speak to just how difficult it is to sell a nearly $700 juicer that can’t juice fruits and vegetables bought at the store. Juicero says that when it cut prices for Black Friday — dropping the juicer to $350 for a few days — its customer based “doubled,” which suggests that its install base probably wasn’t that high to begin with.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/17/14296530/juicero-juicer-price-cut-after-ceo-shakeup

9)          ISIS has converted commercial drones into bombers

The interesting thing about ISIS using commercial drones as bombers is that there are few restrictions on the sales of commercial drones, other than the need for a credit card. Not only that but it is possible to buy certain high explosives in North America with little in the way of restrictions. It is only a matter of time before some bright spark domestic terrorist puts two and two together.

“It’s well-known that ISIS uses weaponized drones, but new images out of Mosul confirm that the group is now using the quadcopters as bombers as well as single-mission vehicles. Kurdish media network Rudaw reported last week that the explosive-dropping drones have killed civilians and damaged equipment. So far, ISIS has not used these drones to deliver chemical weapons, Rudaw said.”

https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/16/isis-drones-weaponized-bombers-iraq-mosul/

10)      The Tiny Robots Revolutionizing Eye Surgery

The article doesn’t provide much in the way of detail as to how the machine works but the www.preceyes.nl/ website has a helpful video even though it takes forever to load. Robot assisted surgery is more like drone surgery in that the surgeon is in complete control. The difference is that the device scales the hand movements and removes tremors, etc., which allows for extremely precise operations. I am a little confused by the surgeon’s comment that so many machines would be needed: the same could have been said about MRI machines as well.

“Last September, Robert MacLaren, an ophthalmologist and professor at Oxford University, plunged a tiny robotic arm into William Beaver’s eye. A membrane had recently contracted on the 70-year-old priest’s retina, pinching it into an uneven shape and causing him to see the world as if reflected in a hall of mirrors. Using a joystick and a camera feed, MacLaren guided the arm of the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device, or R2D2 for short, through a tiny incision in the eye, before lifting the wrinkled membrane, no more than a hundredth of a millimeter thick, from the retina, and reversing Beaver’s vision problems. It was the first operation performed inside the human eye using a robot.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603289/the-tiny-robots-revolutionizing-eye-surgery/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 13 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 13 2017

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)          Google’s new compression tool uses 75% less bandwidth without sacrificing image quality

Actually, as near as I can determine, it does sacrifice image quality because what they are showing you is something which looks better quality even though it is of lower quality. It would be interesting to see how that trickery works since there is a wide range of capabilities in terms of spotting poor quality images. It isn’t eyesight as much as how your brain works. Still it might be useful for mobile and other small picture size applications.

“Claiming to use up to 75 percent less bandwidth, RAISR analyzes both low and high-quality versions of the same image. Once analyzed, it learns what makes the larger version superior and simulates the differences on the smaller version. In essence, it’s using machine learning to create an Instagram-like filter to trick your eye into believing the lower-quality image is on par with its full-sized variant.”

http://thenextweb.com/google/2017/01/12/googles-new-compression-tool-uses-75-less-bandwidth-without-sacrificing-image-quality/

2)          Apple’s AirPods are junk, and it’s all Siri’s fault

Apple showed great “courage” but removing wired headsets from the iPhone 7 – or so they’d like you to believe. I always considered headsets to be disposables so I go the cheap route. Nevertheless if I had to choose a Bluetooth headset I sure as heck would not choose one which requires a broadband connection to function correctly.

“What reviewers seem to have ignored, and even discounted, is that beyond the fancy pairing process, the AirPods are actually pretty junk to use in the real world. There are annoying oversights that don’t make any sense, and Apple has leant on Siri incredibly hard to make the AirPods useful that they end up being more frustrating to use than the free ones with a cable. Within just a few minutes I was annoyed that something as simple as changing the volume required me to speak out loud — and I’m all for voice assistants, but Siri is an utter s***-show.”

https://medium.com/charged-tech/apples-airpods-are-junk-and-it-s-all-siri-s-fault-f86aa0e35b38#.zbs48n6qo

3)          A potentially fatal blow against patent trolls

Not all patent litigation is due to patent trolls but they sure cause a great deal of aggravation to tech companies. A major problem is the lack of “loser pays” in the US but even that could be subverted by a corporate shell. This judge shows some imagination: make the lawyers jointly and severally responsible for legal fees. That changes the risk/reward dynamic significantly for the lawyers and, presumably, they’ll refuse to take a case which has no merit as is the case for the majority of true troll cases.

“For years, patent trolls have been the best evidence that pure evil exists. And like most evil entities, they are almost impossible to stop. Even a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was highly critical of patent trolls has done little to slow their slimy, reptilian-like existence. But a federal judge on Dec. 19 crafted a novel tactic to curb patent trolls when she slapped a half-million-dollar bill on the lawyers and said that they were personally responsible for paying it, not their client. This could truly be a game-changer.”

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3153924/technology-law-regulation/a-potentially-fatal-blow-against-patent-trolls.html

4)          Hands On With The First Open Source Microcontroller

An open source microcontroller might stir things up a fair bit. Not so much because of its openness but the potential to develop extended versions of the architecture on a royalty-free basis. It still won’t be cheap because the setup costs of an IC are in the millions but this might open the door to start-up companies, especially those in China. It remains to be seen whether the necessary ecosystem, which is an important component of success of any new CPU, develops for the device.

“The RISC-V ISA is completely unlike any other computer architecture. Nearly every other chip you’ll find out there, from the 8051s in embedded controllers, 6502s found in millions of toys, to AVR, PIC, and whatever Intel is working on are closed-source designs. You cannot study these chips, you cannot manufacture these chips, and if you want to use one of these chips, your list of suppliers is dependent on who has a licensing agreement with who. We’ve seen a lot of RISC-V stuff in recent months, from OnChip’s Open-V, and now the HiFive 1 from SiFive. The folks at SiFive offered to give me a look at the HiFive 1, so here it is, the first hands-on with the first Open Hardware microcontroller.”

http://hackaday.com/2017/01/05/hands-on-with-the-first-open-source-microcontroller/

5)          Disney set to release a $99 streaming box that plays games

Netflix has established itself as a leader in the streaming space but most of its content is licensed. I always figured content owners would get into the act eventually. It is not clear to me that a large enough market exists for the Disney Kids TV box to make money, especially if they only offer Disney content but time will tell.

“This week at CES 2017, Disney made the pretty big announcement that they would be releasing a streaming box that would feature some Android games, TV/movie content and play music. The Disney Kids TV box will be the first streaming box that will put kid-friendly content front and center with preloaded Disney media.”

http://www.insidethemagic.net/2017/01/disney-set-to-release-a-99-streaming-box-that-plays-games/

6)          Cord-cutter alert: YouTube’s Unplugged could be right around the corner

You Tube has one of the largest video streaming networks around and you’d be surprised the sort of content they carry: I recently watched “Alice’s Restaurant” for the first time, for free, over YouTube. It makes a lot of sense for them to use that Content Delivery Network (CDN) to deliver other services such as this alternative to cable. The key question will be one of competitiveness: unlike cable, which is generally overpriced, streaming video consumers a lot of data and that can get expensive.

“Over much of the past year we’ve heard through the whispers of “people familiar with the matter” that YouTube has started talks or has reached final or tentative agreements with Disney, Viacom and 21st Century Fox to deliver their content through a skinny bundle of live TV channels via Google’s immensely popular video platform. According to financial news site TheStreet, which also cited anonymous sources, the service could go live before the end of February, which jibes with other reports that Unplugged would be unveiled early this year. Last month CBS Corp. head Les Moonves went on the record saying his company remains in talks with YouTube to work out a deal. Time Warner and Comcast’s NBCUniversal have also been rumored to be in negotiations in recent months.”

http://www.salon.com/2017/01/11/cord-cutter-alert-youtubes-unplugged-could-be-right-around-the-corner/

7)          Why you shouldn’t trust Geek Squad ever again

Frankly I wouldn’t listen to Best Buy employees regarding AA batteries and I can’t imagine turning a computer over to them. That said, as a general rule, if you are doing something illegal with computer it probably isn’t very smart to let anybody look at it. Just saying …

“And it seems the geeks are making a few extra bucks. The Orange County Weekly reports that the company’s repair technicians routinely search devices brought in for repair for files that could earn them $500 reward as FBI informants. That, ladies and gentlemen, is about as blatant a case of unconstitutional search and seizure as it gets.”

http://www.networkworld.com/article/3156029/computers/why-you-shouldnt-trust-geek-squad-ever-again.html

8)          Self-driving trucks will soon haul cargo between shipping terminals in Singapore

This is a technology called caravanning and I carried an item about Daimler doing it some time ago. In any event moving around cargo in a shipping terminal is an excellent early application for semi-autonomous trucks since it is a controlled environment and speeds are typically low. The same is true of mining which is increasing using robotic vehicle technology for moving stuff around. Of course, autonomously driving a truck on a crowded highway is orders of magnitude more difficult.

“Singapore’s shipping ports are already among the busiest and most efficient in the world. Now the city-state is exploring a new way to make them run even better: convoys of driverless trucks operating between terminals. The idea is that a lead truck will be driven by a human, with the follower vehicles being automated. This week, authorities signed agreements (pdf) with two truck makers with strong track records in self-driving technology— Sweden’s Scania and Japan’s Toyota Tsusho—to work on the project. In the first phase, lasting about a year and starting this month, each company will design, develop, and test a truck platooning system in their respective countries. In the second, one company will be chosen for local trials on a 10 km (6.2 miles) stretch of Singapore’s West Coast Highway, hauling cargo between the Brani and Pasir Panjang terminals.”

https://qz.com/882726/self-driving-trucks-will-soon-haul-cargo-between-shipping-terminals-in-singapore/

9)          Move Over Mobile Phone: The Next Ad Frontier is the Windshield

It seems to me that entrepreneurs think slapping advertising on absolutely anything is a good idea. If they are right we can look forward to a dystopian future where our lives are dominated by noise rather than information. Come to think about it that pretty much describes the media today. In any event, setting aside the question of distracted driving, I would never buy a car with this feature because it has this feature. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“The advent of connected cars is creating a new sales battleground, and using a vehicle’s windshield may be the next way to pitch more products and services to consumers. McKinsey & Co. estimates that mobile and data-driven services in autos will generate $1.5 trillion by 2030. At least part of that will be spent projecting information to drivers and passengers right before their eyes. “When you think of a person driving and what your needs are when you’re on a typical trip, it’s food, it’s fuel and it’s rest stops,” said John Butler, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. “Owning the inside of the car is critical, it’s really where the money is made. The real value is locked up in the ad opportunity.””

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-06/smart-windshields-seen-as-the-new-ad-billboards-inside-a-car

10)      Scientists Predict Star Collision Visible To The Naked Eye In 2022

This should be fun to watch: they are predicting a particular star will go nova as the two binary stars finally merge. It should be easy to locate and bright enough to see with the naked eye as well.

“Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his team said in a statement that two stars are orbiting each other now and “share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell.” They predict those two stars, jointly called KIC 9832227, will eventually “merge and explode … at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold, becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time.” That extra-bright star is called a red nova. They recently presented their research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/09/509010493/scientists-predict-star-collision-visible-to-the-naked-eye-in-2022

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

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)          Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence

This is article 1 of 2 about robots gonna take our jerbs. It seems the insurance company in question pays people to vet about 32 claims a day and that IBM has sold them on running the claims through their deep learning system instead. People losing their jobs is nothing to laugh at and online coverage of this news characterized it as a “first wave” leading to massive AI related job losses, poverty, and no doubt cannibalism. Nevertheless this is simply another baby step along a path extending back to the industrial revolution. I recall a time where countless people were keypunch operators, when word processors were people, and when printing was mainly done on hot lead type. There is nothing unusual or significant about this announcement, except that IBM finally has a paying customer for its deep learning technology.

“A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/05/japanese-company-replaces-office-workers-artificial-intelligence-ai-fukoku-mutual-life-insurance

2)          Amazon’s robot army grows by 50 percent

If deep learning wasn’t going to take you job, surely robots will. Coverage of this news also led to lots of commentary regarding massive job losses, etc.. Nevertheless pretty much any complex logistical chain (even the post office) has been using robotics and other technology for years otherwise they simply couldn’t get the job done. Amazon exists to employ people because it can buy robots which allow people to fill the orders. Eventually more of that work will be automated which will allow Amazon to expand and deliver even more stuff cheaper.

“Amazon.com hires a lot of people. But the expansion of its army of orange-wheeled robots is more than keeping pace. The world’s largest e-commerce retailer said it has 45,000 robots in some 20 fulfillment centers. That’s a bigger headcount than that of the armed forces of the Netherlands, a NATO member, according to World Bank data. It’s also a cool 50 percent increase from last year’s holiday season, when the company had some 30,000 robots working alongside 230,000 humans.”

http://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazons-robot-army-grows/

3)          AT&T to do real-life 5G trial with DirecTV Now in Austin

One hope for long suffering broadband customers is the development of 5G wireless. Although many of the names are the same, most ISPs have a regional business (though that may span a number of states) and often only offer service in the most profitable areas. Being wireless, 5G is federally regulated, meaning that state and local laws limiting competition won’t be in effect. Plus, there is a wide swath of unlicensed spectrum set aside for 5G. Finally, there total millimeter wave spectrum is orders of magnitude greater than all of the spectrum already allocated meaning at least for fixed broadband the idea of “spectrum shortage” will be obsolete.

“AT&T said Wednesday it will test a 5G wireless service to deliver its new DirecTV Now streaming TV service to select homes in Austin, Texas, in the first half of this year. The Dallas-based wireless and broadband company said the $35-a-month internet streaming service, which offers an alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV services, will use a fixed 5G wireless connection instead of AT&T’s 4G mobile network. The purpose of the trial is to see how AT&T’s next-generation wireless network could replace a home broadband connection delivered by a cable company. Specifically, AT&T said it wants to see how it handles heavy amounts of video traffic. As part of the trial, AT&T said it will also test additional “next-generation entertainment services.” The company didn’t specify what those services will be.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/att-to-test-5g-with-directv-in-austin/

4)          Hulu, Google’s 2017 Plans to Bundle Channels Looks a Lot Like Cable

Google’s entry into channel streaming could cause a fair bit of grief to the cable companies/Internet service providers. Mind you there is reason to believe the uncompetitive US internet services business will get even less competitive under a Trump presidency given the administration’s general obliviousness and apparent strong opposition to net neutrality. An end to net neutrality will allow US ISPs to essentially extort the content providers in order to carry content which would not only be bad for Google but Netflix as well.

“Ever since high-quality, streaming services emerged in 2010, it was clear that the business of television was in for radical change. Bundled channel services have an opportunity to be immensely profitable because—since they’re streamed over the internet—anyone in the country can buy them. Cable services, on the other hand, are geographically limited to the houses reached by their wires. For Hulu and Google, an especially attractive target is the 20 million so-called “cord-cutters” or “cord-nevers” that don’t pay for cable and watch television only via on-demand, internet-distributed services such as Netflix.”

http://www.newsweek.com/hulu-google-bundle-channels-looks-cable-537326

5)          Apple Will Reduce iPhone 7 Production By 10% in Early 2017 Due to ‘Sluggish’ Sales

A number of the articles I read about this news suggested “Apple does this every year” which is true if you mean this is the second year in a row. Large companies lay people a lot of money to forecast and plan production and production cutbacks of this magnitude can only be explained by sales being below expectations. That is not surprising since the iPhone 7 really has very little in terms of new features for iPhones and doesn’t really compare well to other flagship phones.

“Apple plans to reduce production of the iPhone line by 10 percent beginning in the first quarter of 2017, according to supplier data collected by Nikkei. Apple is said to have experienced a similar situation thanks to accumulated inventory of the iPhone 6s late in 2015, which also caused it to lower output of that smartphone in Q1 2016. The company attempted to prevent the same thing from happening again with the iPhone 7 by curbing production quantities on the 2016 smartphone, but even with that preemptive move Apple is again looking at a manufacturing downturn for its flagship iPhone line in the new year.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/12/30/apple-reduce-iphone-7-production/

6)          India needs $30 smartphone, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Investors are fixated with premium phones and potential sales into the developing world (in particular China and India). Unfortunately these things don’t mix: most of the rich people in those countries already have premium phones and the poor people can’t afford one. Not only that but poor people often lack electricity which means they prefer a honking big battery over a slim device. It is worth noting that there is bound to be “leakage” of cheap phones into the developed world, providing an option for consumers tired of overpaying for technology.

“Google CEO Sundar Pichai said today that Android OEMs are currently offering smartphones for $100 and $50, but for emerging markets such as that of India’s, they need smartphones that cost $30. “I think two big things, one is from our side — we are committed to making even cheaper smartphones. […] The right price point for smartphones in India is $30, and pursuing high quality smartphones at the price point will unlock it even more,” Pichai said in a televised interview with NDTV. “Hopefully, we can all push and make $30 smartphones happen,” Pichai said in a separate interview. India has the largest user base of Android users. Moreover, the country has over 260 million smartphone users with most phones sold costing under $150.”

http://mashable.com/2017/01/05/india-30-dollar-smartphone-google-sundar-pichai/#qgUwxM4.9mqV

7)          EXCLUSIVE: Kodak Ektachrome 100 is Coming Back in 35mm Format

I predicted the end of Kodak when the first digital cameras were coming out. That process was accelerated by management making a series of profoundly stupid business decisions but their fate was inevitable. In any event, as good as digital cameras are the fact is that some films can even be better and the “feel” of film is hard to match. Something tells me the film and – most importantly the processing – ain’t gonna be cheap.

“In a super shocking announcement being made today at CES 2017, Kodak is bringing back one of their iconic films: Kodak Ektachrome 100. The announcement goes hand in hand with the emulsion being available in both Super 8 and 35mm still formats. Back in 2012, Kodak discontinued the film citing sales that weren’t as strong as they needed. Last year, 2016, was the fourth anniversary of its discontinuance. Kodak Ektachrome was recommended as the replacement for Kodachrome, and for a short time was Kodak’s only available slide film. Then it disappeared, and Kodak had none available on the market. But in Q4 of 2017, we’re getting Kodak Ektachrome back.”

http://www.thephoblographer.com/2017/01/05/exclusive-kodak-ektachrome-100-is-coming-back-in-35mm-format/

8)          As thin as cardboard, LG’s ‘wallpaper’ OLED TV slaps on your wall like a poster

This video is interesting but it is worth noting that a lot is said about the sound quality and very little about the picture quality. OLED TVs are awesome and OLED is the future of display technology but the whole “thinness” aspect is pretty much overdone. As the video shows, the screens are somewhat flexible which will be important in the future. You might be able to buy this set in the near future but don’t expect it will be cheap – even though OLED has the potential for being extremely cheap in the future.

“The dream of hanging your TV on the wall like a poster is now a reality: LG officially introduced its W-Series OLED on Wednesday morning at CES 2017, and it’s every bit as cool as you might imagine. As the flagship of LG’s 2017 OLED TV lineup, the W-Series — previously referred to as “Wallpaper OLED” — exemplifies an OLED TV panel’s inherently thin and light form factor. At just 1/10 of an inch thick, the W-series’ panel is barely thicker than a piece of cardboard, and its bezel is nearly nonexistent, creating the effect of a picture that simply emanates from the wall.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/lg-w-series-wallpaper-oled-hands-on-ces-2017/

9)          Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?

The desktop CPU might not be dead but it sure does look like Intel is back to its old monopolistic ways. The company had entered a similar attitude about 10 years ago when AMD surprised everybody by coming out with some better parts. Unfortunately AMD is no longer in a position to lead in pretty much anything and Intel can revert to its slothful ways. I continue to believe they will eventually come out with a neural network accelerator to displace GPUs in deep learning applications but time will tell.

“The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-“tick-tock” world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah. For the average consumer building or buying a new performance-focused PC, a desktop chip based on 14nm Kaby Lake remains the chip of choice—a total lack of competition at this level makes sure of that. But for the enthusiast—where the latest and greatest should perform better than what came before—Kaby Lake desktop chips are a disappointment, a stopgap solution that does little more than give OEMs something new to stick on a label in a 2017 product stack.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/01/intel-core-i7-7700k-kaby-lake-review/

10)      Intel unveils its Optane hyperfast memory

I don’t know if Intel is doing itself any favors with its dance of the seven veils regarding Optane memory. It is all very well and good to know it is faster than flash memory and cheaper than DRAM but that spans orders of magnitude. Price and performance determine utility and applicability in the real world. Until those key data are released you can’t even speculate as to what demand will be.

“Other than detailing Optane module capacities and form factor, Intel released virtually no other details about the memory, including performance specifications, pricing or  exact availability dates. A spokesman for the company said additional detail, including performance specifications, would be released “soon.””

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3154051/data-storage/intel-unveils-its-optane-hyperfast-memory.html