The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 24 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 24 2017


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. 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)          A look at Tesla Powerwall ownership after 1 year as second generation is coming: 92% savings on utility bill

I marvel at stories like these. No data is provided, just a guy who may not be able to calculate a mortgage blathering on about how much money he’s saving. It sort of makes you wonder: if the savings are so profound, why don’t the utilities, who employ accountants and the like, massively invest in lithium ion batteries, rather than setting up a few photo opportunities? If they did that they sure as heck wouldn’t need Tesla to do it.

“Powerwall resellers in Australia combine the product with a solar array and that’s what Pfitzner family bought in January 2016: a 7 kWh Powerwall battery, a 5 kW solar array, a SolarEdge inverter and a Reposit monitoring system for a total of $16,790 (~$12,800 USD). Nick was expecting an 80% drop in his utility bill, which added up to $2,289 (~$1,750 USD) in 2015 before he got the solar array and Powerwall. 80% is to be expected with a solar installation, but you can stretch that with an efficient use of a home battery pack. That’s what he did since a year later, the household saw a 92% saving of $2110. They only paid $178.71 (~$137 USD) out-of-pocket for electricity throughout the entire year in 2016.”

2)          The Zuckerberg Manifesto: Facebook will save the world

I wonder what it is about billionaires that makes them thing they have anything relevant to say. Zuckerberg is in the business of selling your privacy and doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about you, democracy, or the world in general. If anything it has proved to be the best thing ever for the far right and disinformation. It won’t save the world but it sure can screw it up.

“Zuckerberg used a more than 5,700-word treatise published on his Facebook account Thursday as an apparent attempt at restating the company’s mission. The company will still connect people, as its old mission spelled out, but it also must help get us to a global community. In his post, he spelled out a five-part mission for the company: building communities that are supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive. … “Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science,” he wrote. “Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics.””

3)          Dish Network CEO: Streaming Video Is Starting To Replace Traditional Pay TV

Of course, this is a guy talking his book as Dish is rolling out streaming. Mind you I completely agree with him: the cable business is going to be disrupted by streaming, which creates a lot of opportunity.

“The so-called over the top (OTT) services are “becoming a direct replacement for cable and satellite,” he said in a call to discuss his company’s Q4 performance. And programmers who want to keep the traditional pay TV bundle — long the industry’s cash cow — need to adapt. “If they continue to raise prices, [and] continue to have 16 to 18 minutes of advertising per hour … then that deceleration will increase,” Ergen says. The OTT world “is more consumer-friendly.” In response to a question, he said Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is “wise” to focus on six main networks. Others who continue to invest in lots of small channels are “going to get eaten up” as distributors craft smaller bundles.”

4)          Google Report: 99.95 Percent Of DMCA Takedown Notices Are Bot-Generated Bullshit Buckshot

In theory you can be penalized for making false DMCA takedown notices but in practice the victim has to have the resources to fight back so in principle there is no real downside. Due to the sheer number of takedown requests Google has to use automation to deal with them and that means you not only have to fight a false takedown you need to get through to Google, which is nearly impossible. I doubt the law will change – the big money lobbying behind media and music more than offsets the injustice.

“Now, because Google is Google, the company doesn’t generally have a great deal of sympathy hoisted upon it by the public, never mind by copyright protectionists. But, come on, this is simply nuts. When the number of claims coming through the system that don’t even pertain to listed results by Google can be logically rounded up to 100%, that’s putting a burden on a company for no valid reason whatsoever. Even if you hate Google, or distrust it, it should be plain as day that it’s unfair for it to have to wade through all this muck just to appease the entertainment industries. And, it’s important to note that this isn’t all of the notices received, but just those coming through the Trusted Copyright Removal system — meaning that these are organizations that supposedly are supposed to have at least some credibility not to be submitting totally bogus notices. But, apparently, they don’t actually give a damn. The problem, as you may have already guessed, is that most of these claims are being generated through automated systems designed to shotgun-blast DMCA notices with reckless abandon.”

5)          The 5G Frontier: Millimeter Wireless

Unfortunately the article is very brief but it does make the point that the use of millimeter bands changes things a lot. We are about to enter an era of spectrum surplus after 100 years of spectrum shortage.

“But in many ways, millimeter-wave wireless truly is a frontier. Today the millimeter band is largely uninhabited and inhospitable, as signals using these wavelengths run up against difficult propagation problems. Even when signals travel through free space, attenuation increases with frequency, so usable path lengths for millimeter waves are short, roughly 100 to 200 meters. Such distances could be accommodated with the smaller cell sizes envisioned in 5G, but there are numerous other impediments. Buildings and the objects in and around them, including people, block the signal. Rain and foliage further attenuate millimeter waves, and diffraction—which can bend longer wavelengths around occluding objects—is far less effective. Even surfaces that might be conveniently nicely reflective at longer wavelengths appear rougher to millimeter waves, and so diffuse the signal.”

6)          DeepCoder builds programs using code it finds lying around

Yeah, well, actually, I doubt truly great programmers do a lot of cutting and pasting. A lot of the drones do, which is probably the major reason a lot of open source code is absolute garbage: spaghetti is easy to figure out than most of that stuff so I find myself writing stuff from scratch so at least I know how it works. Replacing drones with AI makes perfect sense.

“Like all great programmers I get most of my code from StackOverflow questions. Can’t figure out how to add authentication to Flask? Easy. Want to shut down sendmail? Boom. Now, thanks to all the code on the Internet, a robot can be as smart as a $180,000 coder. The system, called DeepCoder, basically searches a corpus of code to build a project that works to spec. It’s been used to complete programming competitions and could be pointed at a larger set of data to build more complex products.”

7)          Tech breakthroughs take a backseat in upcoming Apple iPhone launch

Apple stock is hitting new highs even as growth slows to a crawl. Wall Street is desperate to justify bullishness so they have conjured a theory out of whole cloth: disinterest in replacing iPhones is actually an opportunity due to “pent up demand”. This is the same sort of idiocy people were saying as the PC market got into trouble. Let’s imagine this hypothesis is correct: what happens after this wondrous upgrade cycle happens? We wait for the next “pent up demand”?

“When Apple Inc (AAPL.O) launches its much-anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone this fall, it will offer an unwitting lesson in how much the smartphone industry it pioneered has matured. The new iPhone is expected to include new features such as high-resolution displays, wireless charging and 3-D sensors. Rather than representing major breakthroughs, however, most of the innovations have been available in competing phones for several years. Apple’s relatively slow adoption of new features both reflects and reinforces the fact smartphone customers are holding onto their phones longer. Timothy Arcuri, an analyst at Cowen & Co, believes upwards of 40 percent of iPhones on the market are more than two years old, a historical high. That is a big reason why investors have driven Apple shares to an all-time high. There is pent-up demand for a new iPhone, even if it does not offer breakthrough technologies.”

8)          Disney develops room with ‘ubiquitous wireless’ charging

This story got lots of coverage, but I’m assuming most of the commenters didn’t read it. Seriously, there is no magic to making a massive air core transformer and sitting inside it. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to leave all your bank cards outside or they’ll be erased.

“All you have to do is be in the room and your device will start charging automatically. And depending on where you are in the room, delivery efficiency can be as high as 95 percent, researchers said. There is one potential issue: you have to not mind being in a room constructed mostly of aluminum, that includes the walls, ceiling and floor. There’s a copper pole in the middle of the room, and 15 discrete high quality factor capacitors that separate the magnetic field from the electric field.”

9)          Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

These stories are actually exciting and very positive news. The “publish or perish” mandate has corrupted science to the point where what matters is how much you publish, not whether it is true. There is no credit for replicating a study – and huge downside for you professionally if you announce you can’t replicate a result. The “quality” of science has become how often it is cited, not whether it is actually correct. That means the majority of “scientific facts” are grounded on popularity, not whether they are true. The sooned this goes back to how it should be the better.

“After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings. Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result. “It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington. Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time. According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.”

10)      When Evidence Says No, But Doctors Say Yes

One an example of the problem of junk science is reflected in medical practice. There are loads of medical treatments and procedures which are based on debunked research, if at all. Unfortunately, doctors are prone to do them anyway because they either don’t know, or disagree with the science – even though they are not in a position to make that judgement. Plus, there can be profit in a procedure (especially in the US) and the ever present possibility of a medical malpractice suit if a procedure isn’t done. All in I prefer younger specialists: they tend to pay attention to the state of the art.

“For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine — imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few — it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable — or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 17 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 17 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 Fiber 2.0 targets the city where it will stage its comeback, as AT&T Fiber prepares to go nuclear

Wireless broadband has been largely confined to rural applications but that s in the process of changing. As costs come down and performance goes it is becoming a cost effective alternative to the “last hundred meters” problem of deploying urban broadband. A large cost of hooking a customer up has been getting a cable from the backbone to the consumer. This generally entails digging up lawns or even streets. Wireless “last 100 meters” is very cheap and quick to deploy and it should open up many markets to competition. Eventually even the backbone will be wireless as 5G technology is developed. Operation on unlicensed bands will make it even cheaper.

“While these three metros look like the beachheads where the company will relaunch its gigabit broadband service, Louisville in particular looks like the place where Google Fiber will prototype its next generation architecture, using a mix of fiber optics for the internet backbone and fixed wireless for the last mile to connect customers. This has the potential to supercharge deployments by bypassing the hardest, slowest, and most expensive part of the process–digging ditches and climbing poles to connect cables to every single residence.”

2)          What is a WISP?

This provides a bit more information regarding wireless broadband (as distinct from mobile broadband). My ISP operates a network which uses LTE technology on non-mobile bands to deliver 20 MBPS, unlimited, for about $40 per month. Even in the country tower costs are minimal and installation of customer access points takes a few hours at most. The radio equipment itself is software based so the quality of service can (and has) improved over time. It is a matter of time (maybe a year or two) that the quality of service exceeds that of urban broadband an therefore  becomes much more competitive in those markets due to the low installation costs.

“WISP stands for wireless internet service provider, and sometimes gets referred to as “fixed wireless.” This is an alternative to a wired internet hookup, with the internet being delivered wirelessly. While traditionally used in more rural areas, where a wired connection is not available, there is a trend to use WISP technology as a competitor to cable and fiber offerings.”

3)          Hackers Have Stolen Millions Of Dollars In Bitcoin — Using Only Phone Numbers

This is actually a form of identity theft and the bitcoin angle is just a hook for people who think bitcoin matters. It sort of does because it is a bit like somebody breaking in and stealing a gold nugget in that it becomes untraceable and irrecoverable. After all it isn’t even clear that “stealing” bitcoin is, per se, illegal. Of course that only matters if you are dumb enough to consider bitcoin a store of value – identity theft by migrating a phone number can be used to empty your bank account as well.

“In a larger wave of bitcoin scams that have hit everyone from everyday people to hospitals, Kenna’s experience is only one of a spate of recent hackings of high-profile cryptocurrency industry players such as venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, C-level executives and others who have had their phone numbers hijacked, some of whom have also suffered financial losses, several of whom have been threatened or ransomed, and one of whom was put in physical danger. Their experience is part of a larger trend. In January 2013, the Federal Trade Commission received 1,038 reports of these incidents, representing 3.2% of all identity theft reports to the FTC that month. By January 2016, 2,658 such incidents were filed — 6.3% of all such reports that month. There have been incidents involving all four of the major carriers.”

4)          The travel-only Gmail account: A practical proposal for digital privacy at the US border

There has been an increasing number of stories about people – both citizens and foreigners – crossing into the US and having their mobile devices “scanned” for, presumably, politically dangerous content. Some have even been denied entry for having “prayer apps” installed (you can guess these were not Christian prayer apps). Whatever you might think about think from a national security perspective, anybody with any sensitive information such as passwords, otherwise secured corporate information, etc., might consider getting a cheap “burner” phone for travel rather than crossing with their personal device.

“xkcd’s well-circulated wrench scenario, pictured above, is demonstrated hauntingly well by this week’s story of Sidd Bikkannavar, a US-born NASA engineer who was coerced into breaching the security of his government-issued phone in order to enter the United States. US Customs and Border Patrol detained Bikkannavar, who like me has Global Entry, upon entering and demanded he unlock his cell phone for searching. About 30 minutes later, he got his phone back and was free to go. He’s still unaware what took place during that time. What follows is my plan, and the thinking behind it, for avoiding such an invasion myself. (TL/DR: Wipe your phone before getting on the plane.)”

5)          99.6% of new smartphones run iOS or Android; RIP Windows and Blackberry

This is not altogether surprising: Microsoft Mobile couldn’t figure out email (seriously – email) for the longest time and Blackberry was late to understanding the ramifications of the web. In technology you are either a leader or dying and iOS and Android are the leaders. Microsoft will do just fine but Blackberry will essentially evaporate, though its ultimate fate is probably to be acquired. Why anybody owns the stock is beyond me, but then again hard disk manufacturers’ stock prices have gone up as their revenues have declined. They are doomed as well but investors don’t seem to care.

“Remember those crazy days in 2011 and 12 when we thought that the mobile market might become a three-horse race between Android, iOS, and Windows Mobile, with Blackberry bringing up the rear? Well, I have bad if unsurprising news: by the end of last year, 99.6 percent of all new smartphones ran either Android or iOS—a return to the status quo that Ars first wrote about way back in 2009. According to the latest figures from Gartner, both Android and iOS expanded their share of the market in 2016, while sales of Windows and Blackberry continued their free fall to the base of the cliff. Gartner, a research company that derives its figures from a range of sources, says that just 1.1 million Windows smartphones were sold in Q4 2016, down from 4.4 million in Q4 2015. Similarly, Blackberry device sales fell from 906,000 to 208,000.”

6)          The Snapchat IPO Just Got a Lot Cheaper

The fantastic HBO series “Silicon Valley” has a narrative that for start-ups their stock is their product. No company has perfected that nonsense than Uber, but Snapchat has to come close. This is a company whose losses exceed its revenues and there is no reason whatsoever to believe it will earn a penny. It is one of dozens of messaging apps, and the reason there are so many messaging apps is simply that they are trivial to make. Many mobile users have multiple messaging apps and are extremely fickle. As to why the stock is the product? Well, the private equity investors have poured billions into this house of cards and the IPO means they’d rather you own the stock than them. Nobody would play the game if they couldn’t find a greater fool.

“Snap now hopes to price its stock at $14 to $16 per share, valuing the company at about $22 billion at the high end, but at $19 billion on the low end. That’s as much as 24% less than the $25 billion valuation for which Snap was reportedly aiming, which was also the Snapchat company’s private-market valuation as of its latest funding round. And that means that Snap’s future shareholders won’t be taking quite as much risk by buying into the maker of the disappearing message app, which lost $515 million at its bottom line last year. At a valuation of $19 billion, Snap stock would trade at 47 times sales, not quite as sky high as the price-to-sales ratio of 62 that we previously computed.”

7)          Toshiba facing bankruptcy, total disintegration thanks to bad bets on nuclear power

Well, that didn’t take long: you play stupid games you win stupid prizes. Time was the Japanese government and other trading organizations would make sure that, one way or another, Toshiba would survive. I am not so sure that is the case nowadays. Remarkably, the stock is only at the levels of a years ago so presumably there is still hope. Efforts to sell off a small part of their world class semiconductor operation may or may not be successful, but it is doubtful it’ll solve the problem.

“Current expectations are that Toshiba will have no choice but to file for bankruptcy, sell a significant amount of assets, and attempt to survive that way. Given the fallout of these events, you might be wondering why Toshiba doesn’t just sell its nuclear business — but according to The New York Times, it’s had no luck finding a buyer. Last month, the firm announced it would spin off its microchip business, with an estimated value of $13 billion to $17 billion if Toshiba sold its entire stake. That would pay off the company’s immediate debts, but would leave it holding the bag on an incredibly expensive, underwhelming nuclear business with no prospects for near-term improvement.”

8)          Valve ‘comfortable’ if virtual reality headsets fail

About a years ago industry analysts like IDC were falling all over themselves trying to come up with ever more optimistic forecasts for the VR business. One report suggested it would be “bigger than the PC industry” which is a little hard to grasp: lots of people have a PC at work and one at home and it is a bit of a stretch to imagine employers are going to let employees sit at their desk and “work” in VR. I think it is rather telling that firm numbers are not available – if the business was that big vendors would be falling all over themselves disclosing sales figures.

“”We’re optimistic,” he told Polygon. “We think VR is going great. It’s going in a way that’s consistent with our expectations.” He added: “We’re also pretty comfortable with the idea that it will turn out to be a complete failure.” Gauging the success or failure of VR has proved hard because neither Valve nor rival headset maker Oculus have released sales figures. Leaked figures late last year suggested 140,000 Vive headsets had been sold. Sony has said only that orders for its PlayStation-based VR headset have been “massive”. It has also been difficult to obtain information about users of phone-based headsets from Samsung and Google. Last year, analyst firm IDC said it expected consumers to spend about $2.6bn in 2016 buying 9.6 million headsets.”

9)          Ethicists advise caution in applying CRISPR gene editing to humans

Genetic modification of humans is a pretty dangerous thing. This is not just because of the risks to society but the risk to the subjects as well: what if selecting your baby’s eye color causes them to develop brain cancer when they turn 25? The good thing about CRISPR is that it is very cheap and very effective. The bad thing about CRISPR is that it is very cheap and very effective and anybody with basic lab expertise can use it. Governments ignore international treaties and do all kinds of things (like run doping programs for athletes and, no, it isn’t just the Russians who do it. CRISPR is not yet reliable enough to be used as part of an in vitro fertilization protocol but you can bet it’ll be used on humans soon enough.

“The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human “germline” if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations.”


10)      First Gene Drive in Mammals Could Aid Vast New Zealand Eradication Plan

You know what scares me more than genetically engineering humans? People who believe that engineering a species to its extirpation (i.e. local extinction) is a good idea are very dangerous indeed. I can sympathize with people who want to cure malaria or rid an island of an invasive species but, unless crops, which tend to need careful maintenance to survive, a wild GMO can spread to places you don’t expect. After all – if mice got on an island they can get off an island as well. The two species in particular (mosquitos and mice) happen to be at the base of the terrestrial food chain. The environmental havoc which could be unleashed by a genetic “bomb” would be hard to overstate.

“Scientists working in coordination with a U.S. conservation group say they’ve established an evolution-warping technology called a “gene drive” in mammals for the first time and could use it to stamp out invasive rodents ravaging seabirds on islands. … A man-made gene drive was first demonstrated in fruit flies only in 2015. Within a few months the concept had been extended to mosquitoes, and already the technology is viewed as promising enough to have landed $75 million from Bill Gates, whose foundation is betting that extinguishing mosquitoes could eradicate malaria from Africa.


So it was only a matter of time—less than two years, it turned out—before the technique was adapted to mammals.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 10 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 10 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)          Facebook is closing hundreds of its Oculus VR pop-ups in Best Buys after some stores went days without a single demo

Well this is rather odd. VR is (was?) supposed to be bigger than the PC industry. I can understand why people don’t go into a Best Buy but you’d think they would at least be interested in a demonstration of a novel display technology. All in it looks like the VR bubble is deflating.

“Multiple “Oculus Ambassador” workers BI spoke with said that, at most, they would sell a few Oculus headsets per week during the holiday season, and that foot traffic to their pop-ups decreased drastically after Christmas. “There’d be some days where I wouldn’t give a demo at all because people didn’t want to,” said one worker at a Best Buy in Texas who asked to remain anonymous. Another worker from California said that Oculus software bugs would often render his demo headsets unusable.”

2)          Big blues: IBM’s remote-worker crackdown is company-wide, including its engineers

IBM is a once great company which employs lots of smart people. Unfortunately, their management is only adept at financial engineering and broad based incompetence. This is a company which has missed every technology since the PC despite spending tens of billions on acquisitions. IBM is far from the top of the list in terms of choices for engineering talent and moves like these will move it down closer to the bottom so soon I probably won’t have to point out they have lots of smart people working for them. Just to show you how wonky the stock market is presently, IBM’s revenues have been declining for years but the stock is the highest it has been since Q4 2014.

“IBM has pitched all this change to employees as a way to improve the working environment and office culture. In a video message to her troops, seen by The Register, chief marketing officer Michelle Peluso said “there is something about a team being more powerful, more impactful, more creative, and frankly hopefully having more fun, when they are shoulder to shoulder.” El Reg, however, has heard that within the IBM rank and file, the move is being seen as more of an excuse to cut a portion of the workforce, and in particular one specific portion. Multiple sources believe that the move will disproportionately affect older workers who have already put down roots with a home and family in a specific area. Thus, this decision to move people across the country might be by design to cut loose older and more expensive workers. By requiring that workers move to hub cities such as San Francisco, Austin, or New York, IBM could both rid itself of older workers and make the jobs more appealing to younger, lower-salaried professionals.”

3)          A Record 14 Weeks (Did Apple Really Have a Record Quarter?)

This is an interesting read on Apple’s results: the logic is sound in that a materially longer quarter should result in materially greater revenues, although the relationship is not necessarily direct, especially in the holiday season so one more week may have more or less than an 8% impact on revenues. That said the stock is near an all-time high despite negative revenue growth in a mature market. It is beyond me how a portfolio manager, let alone a retail investor, could justify owning any stock, let alone a tech stock, in that situation.

“Apple stated that Q1 FY2017 was an all-time record for quarterly revenue. The media dutifully and mostly uncritically spread this “great” news for Apple. But the headlines were fake news. Technically the claim is true, the revenue was an all-time record. True but misleading. Although Apple didn’t lie as such, you might say there was a sin of omission, and a definite spin of the facts. Most Apple fiscal quarters are 13 weeks long. Once in a while, however, they need a 14 week quarter. You might call it a “leap quarter”. … What a difference a week makes! Rather than record revenue, we have another down quarter for Apple. The lone bright spot was services; everything else was a year/year decrease. A 14 week quarter is 8% longer than a 13 week quarter. You can’t even begin to compare them usefully without making adjustments.”

4)          This Technology Could Finally Make Brain Implants Practical

Long story short this technology uses magnetic fields instead of direct electrical stimulation to fire neural pathways. Direct electrical stimulation is probably easier to do precisely but it has the problem of potentially creating scar tissue, etc..

“Next month, tests will begin in monkeys of a new implant for piping data into the brain that is designed to avoid that problem. The project is intended to lead to devices that can restore vision to blind people long-term. Researchers at Harvard Medical School will use a new kind of implant that will go beneath the skull but can rest on the surface of an animal’s brain, instead of penetrating inside the organ. An array of microscopic coils inside the hair-like device can generate powerful, highly targeted magnetic fields to induce electrical activity at particular locations in the brain tissue underneath. The implant will also be tested when placed inside brain tissue.”

5)          NASA’s new electronics can survive the heat of Venus

Unfortunately they don’t really say what the electronics do or how they perform, just that they are “semiconductors”. Of course, even if these devices only perform as well as a primitive (circa 1980) device you could make a pretty powerful system – provided the power requirements are reasonable. This technology make have uses in hostile environments here on Earth long before they reach Venus.

“The previous landers enclosed the electronics in thermal- and pressure-resistant vessels, which also add significant weight to the payloads. NASA’s team, led by electronics engineer Phil Neudeck, developed silicone carbide semiconductor integrated circuits. When placed in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig, which simulates Venus conditions, the circuits survived for 521 hours. This, NASA says, is 100 times longer than any previous Venus mission electronics.”

6)          Could 5G TV Spur Fixed 5G Deployments?

5G wireless could revolutionize broadband in North America, which has 3rd world infrastructure despite paying the highest prices in the world. Most of the impact of 5G will be in fiber/wireline replacement not mobile devices, especially early on since the customer equipment will be big and power hungry, plus fixed applications don’t have to deal with many of the same problems as mobile applications. Another great thing with 5G is that it will lead to an era of spectrum surplus, in contrast with the spectrum shortage which has existed since the days of Marconi.

“Delivering pay-TV over fixed 5G would be “very much in line with carriers’ rural broadband plans,” said Rudd. Carriers are accustomed to delivering multi-play services including broadband and video in order to maximize revenues generated from network investment – and being able to deliver pay-TV as well as broadband over a 5G fixed wireless link could help carriers such as AT&T and Verizon build a business case for deploying 5G in a fixed configuration in areas where the carrier cannot justify an investment in fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). Rudd noted that British Telecom is looking at 5G fixed wireless as a means of meeting broadband deployment goals and that 5G TV may be part of those plans. She also noted that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam has talked about using fixed 5G to deliver “services similar to FiOS,” hinting that 5G TV also is part of that carriers’ plans.”

7)          Traditional TV’s surprising staying power

This is a good and objective write up on the status and current trends in “TV”. Of particular note is the chart about 2/3rds of the way down which shows demographic shift in TV viewership. The viewing habits of 18 year olds today are an important indicator of what 28 year olds will do in 10 years.

“Pay and broadcast television, still the foundation of video entertainment at home in much of the world, is being eroded from two sides. At one end, people are watching videos free on large social platforms like Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), YouTube and Snapchat. Each of these platforms now claims billions of views a day. Free videos are supported by advertising, which will begin to eat into the TV advertising market, currently worth $185bn.”

8)          Forward, a $149 per month medical startup, aims to be the Apple Store of doctor’s offices

The great thing with Silicon Valley start-ups is that it doesn’t matter whether they make money or not, just whether they can sell the stock. Presumably $149/month sounds like an attractive price especially given the astounding cost of US medical care, but it’s hard to see how they’d make money if they actually have to do any procedures. Mind you they highlight snake oil like naturopathy and vitamins so I wouldn’t darken their door if I was bleeding out.

“One might be tempted to compare Forward to something like One Medical, a startup with a series of well-branded medical offices popular in the Bay Area. But Forward goes far and above with a state-of-the-art 3,500 square foot office equipped with six exam rooms, the latest medical instruments and an onsite lab for testing within minutes. Forward also offers a proprietary A.I. to help its doctors quickly source through medical information and compare it to your health data. Beyond the lobby lay the exam rooms, complete with ergonomic chairs, a futuristic display screen and a myriad of medical instruments dipping into Star Trek Enterprise territory.”

9)          Phone Bot to Target Windows Support Scammers

This is a fun story about a guy who has created a bot designed to waste the times of scammers who phone people up and try any number of schemes to separate them from their money. I can’t help but wonder if this might be a generalized solution to scams like “duct cleaning”, IRS/Revenue Canada scams, “charity” money raising scams, and all manner of fraudulent schemes using call centers.

“The man who developed a bot that frustrates and annoys robocallers is planning to take on the infamous Windows support scam callers head-on. Roger Anderson last year debuted his Jolly Roger bot, a system that intercepts robocalls and puts the caller into a never-ending loop of pre-recorded phrases designed to waste their time. Anderson built the system as a way to protect his own landlines from annoying telemarketers and it worked so well that he later expanded it into a service for both consumers and businesses. Users can send telemarketing calls to the Jolly Roger bot and listen in while it chats inanely with the caller.”

10)      Get Uber’s self-driving trucks off the road: watchdog

I don’t know the motives of this non-profit but I agree with the sentiment. Self-driving vehicles can be dangerous even though the technology, once perfected, will be much safer than human drivers. That said the companies experimenting with self-driving vehicles are not doing charity – they are in it for the money (or in Uber’s case to boost its share price). Dangerous experimental vehicles need to be carefully regulated and if they aren’t people will die.

“A southern California non-profit that has long raised concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles has asked the DMV to look more closely at the operations of Otto, a self-driving truck company that Uber bought last year for $670 million. Otto made headlines in October when it completed a 120-mile beer run with a large semi-tractor in Colorado. A few months ago, Uber announced it would begin testing self-driving Volvo SUVs in this hilly city, but a day later that process was halted after the DMV said Uber had not applied for the proper permits. Uber moved its fleet to Arizona.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 3 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of February 3 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



ps: it was a slow week with most tech news dominated by politics and the usual noise about Elon Musk and Apple.


1)          5G, Gigabit LTE, Millimeter Wave: What Will be Real, When

There is a good chance 5G wireless technologies will disrupt the broadband industry, especially in North America where it is dominated by a small number of protected players. The regulatory infrastructure for wireless is different and 5G wireless in particular can exploit a vast amount of unlicensed spectrum.

“I haven’t been this excited since DSL and cable modems came out around 2000. Here’s what looks solid, per discussions with engineers around the world. We are entering a Wireless Age of Abundance. It will take some time to reach most people. The engineers are ready to deliver a ten to twenty-five times increase in capacity, using 4G, Massive MIMO, and half a dozen other emerging technologies. Weak competition with weak regulation will hold back progress in some places. You will not get a gigabit on your mobile phone until at least 2020 and more likely 2022-2024. I’ve seen a demonstration of 20 gigabits, shared, but that’s not out of the labs yet. The technology, 5G high frequency millimeter waves, is enormously complicated and it will take years to develop the standard and design the equipment for phones.”

2)          3D TV is finally, blessedly, mercifully, dead — will VR follow suit?

I can take or leave 3D TV but I can’t wait to see the end of 3D movies. I continue to be very skeptical that VR will “sweep the world” but I think it will be pretty successful in gaming and certain applications such as training. I don’t think content would have helped 3DTV significantly since the experience is pretty poor and unnatural. In contrast VR can provide an immersive experience.

“The story of 3D’s rise and fall is a cautionary tale for the VR industry as well. I love VR and would like to see it shape the future of gaming, but many of the issues that doomed 3D TV and 3D content could also kneecap VR adoption. Like 3D, it requires expensive, personal peripherals. Like 3D, games need to be designed explicitly for VR in order to showcase the technology to best effectiveness. Like 3D, VR can cause nausea and headaches. Like 3D, working in VR has an entirely new set of best practices, some of which aren’t intuitive to people who spent their careers working on conventional design.”

3)          Fast-Forwarding to the Future of Broadcasting

As the article indicates ATSC 3.0 is IP based, which should make it easier to work on a variety of “not-traditionally TV” type devices such as mobiles. Although adoption is probably inevitable it probably won’t be as fast as ATSC (the original HDTV standard) because issues like radio spectrum allocation won’t be concurrently at play.

“This standard, which some call ATSC 3.0 and others call “Next Gen TV,” is the first one to marry the advantages of broadcasting and the Internet.  Specifically, this new broadcast standard is based on Internet Protocol, or IP, and will permit seamless integration with other IP-based services and platforms. Next Gen TV matters because it will let broadcasters offer much better services in a variety of ways.  Picture quality will improve with 4K transmissions. Accurate sound localization and customizable sound mixes will produce an immersive audio experience. Broadcasters will be able to provide advanced emergency alerts with more information, more tailored to a viewer’s particular location. Enhanced personalization and interactivity will enable better audience measurement, which in turn will make for higher-quality advertising–ads relevant to you and that you actually might want to see. Perhaps most significantly, consumers will easily be able to watch over-the-air programming on mobile devices.”

4)          Trump Immigration Ban Can Worsen U.S. Doctor Shortage, Hurt Hospitals

This is my one political item of the week. The US president has adopted a travel ban from certain countries. As is usual, there are many apologists for this move. However, the US has benefitted enormously over the decades by attracting many of the best the brightest from around the world into its professions and graduate programs. If I had the wrong skin tone or religion I would wonder if the US is now a good choice: will I be the subject of a future ban, ethnic registry (as promised) or harassment by emboldened xenophobes? These sorts of moves can have a multiplier effect and can be long term. Time will tell.

“More than 8,400 doctors working in the U.S. are from two countries listed in the executive order—Syria and Iran—according to data from the American Medical Association. Even more foreign-born physicians—close to 50,000—are from India, which is not included in the travel ban. But the fears created by last week’s executive order will ripple across Asia and the Middle East, reaching places like India, says Atul Grover, a physician and executive vice president of the AAMC. “The majority of our foreign doctors come from India and Pakistan, and while they’re not on the list I think when the environment feels this uncertain and this inhospitable, they’ll go to Canada and the U.K.,” he says.”

5)          Hotel ransomed by hackers as guests locked out of rooms

This article is just another example of the weaknesses of Internet of Things security. These hackers have made it a business of hacking their hotel and the hotel or at least its electronic lock supplier, seem powerless to stop it. It is unclear to me why the locks have to be connected to the Internet regardless. As the hotel has realized one good solution is to revert to mechanical locks.

“One of Europe’s top hotels has admitted they had to pay thousands in Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals who managed to hack their electronic key system, locking hundreds of guests out of their rooms until the money was paid. Furious hotel managers at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious 4-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on the Alpine Turracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, said they decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime. … Brandstaetter said: “We are planning at the next room refurbishment for old-fashioned door locks with real keys. Just like 111 years ago at the time of our great-grandfathers.””

6)          Chinese Factory Replaces 90% Of Human Workers With Robots, Sees 250% Production Increase

Articles about automation create a lot of excitement nowadays and this one had a major profile. Unfortunately, neither the article nor most of the associated commentary both to mention that there is nothing unusual or remarkable about this example: companies invest in capital in increase labor productivity. That is pretty much what the industrial revolution was about. Anybody who has set inside a factory knows this. Get over it.

“One of China’s first unmanned factories in the city of Dongguan recently replaced 590 of its workers with robots and the results were astounding. While the factory used to be run by 650 employees, only 60 of those people still work at the factory and their primary job is to make sure the machines are running properly, not working on manufacturing. The Changying Precision Technology Company focuses on the production of mobile phones and uses automated production lines. The robotic arms produce certain parts of the mobile phones at each station and the factory even makes use of autonomous transport trucks.”

7)          From Garbage Trucks To Buses, It’s Time To Start Talking About Big Electric Vehicles

Replacing diesel heavy vehicles with electric battery ones sounds pretty appealing until you do the math. It turns out that the battery for, say, a tractor trailer, would be about the same size and weight as the freight capacity of an existing tractor trailer and that doesn’t even to take into account the staggering costs of the battery. If you want to reduce heavy truck emissions set aside highway lanes for their exclusive use: it is better for the environment than “High Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) lanes even if it isn’t politically astute.

“First, to achieve disproportionate impact, you must target a disproportionate contributor to the problem. While medium and heavy trucks account for only 4% of America’s +250 million vehicles, they represent 26% of American fuel use and 29% of vehicle CO2 emissions. If you are looking for a way to address more problem (foreign oil dependence, climate change, air quality, you name it) with less solution, big vehicles are it. If you want to have outsized impact, don’t convince a Prius driver to go electric, electrify a garbage truck.”

8)          Wireless Abundance is here: What Gig LTE, Massive MIMO, mmWave, and more can mean

This is a follow on to item 1: emerging wireless technologies not only deliver vastly greater throughout they allow for the exploitation of a vast swath of spectrum, including a large slice of unlicensed spectrum. There is good reason to believe “spectrum shortages” will soon become a thing of the past.

“Telcos report costs going down 40% to 60%. That allows T-Mobile U.S. & Sprint to offer “unlimited” with only a few gotchas. Competition and regulation will determine who is actually served. Technology on the market can deliver 10X to 25X at reasonable cost; Weak competition or weak regulation could hold this back. Speeds over 50 megabits with a cap high enough to watch 100 hours/month of HD TV can be delivered in most of the developed world. The engineers can deliver. Marconi Fellow Paulraj tells me Massive MIMO will bring many of the same benefits to most rural areas, including in emerging nations. Extreme rural areas – the last 1-3% – may not be as fortunate.”

9)          The hi-tech war on science fraud

Science is a truly wonderful thing but the reality is the overwhelming majority of published peer reviewed research is wrong. That’s not so much because of intentional fraud but sloppy work, bad methodology, , etc.. It turns out that very few papers are ever read by a statistician and as a result papers are rife with wrong statistics. You’d think a real scientist would be pleased with the prospect of a tool which points out those errors but, no, the precious snowflake is worried about “scrutiny and suspicion” and “harassment”. Mind you if I was in a field where almost none of the research could be replicated I’d be nervous as well.

“Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics. Susan Fiske, the former head of the Association for Psychological Science, wrote an op-ed accusing “self-appointed data police” of pioneering a new “form of harassment”. The German Psychological Society issued a statement condemning the unauthorised use of Statcheck. The intensity of the reaction suggested that many were afraid that the program was not just attributing mere statistical errors, but some impropriety, to the scientists.”

10)      Can Eagle-Eyed Artificial Intelligence Help Prevent Children From Going Blind?

There is great potential for AI in medical applications but I don’t believe for a minute that it will ever replace doctors. Most likely AI will provide a sort of objective second look at test results, in particular, those associated with medical imaging.

“”Missed or mistaken diagnoses, as well as inappropriate treatment decisions, are common among rare-disease patients and are contrary to the goals of precision medicine, especially in developing countries with large populations, such as China,” write a group of Chinese researchers in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. These researchers aim to fix that preventable treatment gap by using eagle-eyed AI. The researchers outline an artificial intelligence program that can diagnose congenital cataracts more accurately than human doctors, and report that the data it collects could help spur new research on how to treat this rare disease.”