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

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


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at


Brian Piccioni




1)          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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.””

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.”


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