The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 28 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 28 2017


Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice. That 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)            The Race To Build An AI Chip For Everything Just Got Real

This is an update to stories I’ve had over the past few weeks regarding the changing landscape in AI. To summarize, inference (using AI) is used much more frequently than training in the majority of applications meaning cost reduction here is key. Companies are moving rapidly to introduce alternatives to costly and power-hungry GPUs typically made by NVidia. Don’t believe it for a moment that GPUs are safe because of an existing ecosystem: people learn and programmers learn new computer languages particularly quickly. This is an emerging field and it is foolish to believe something designed for one thing (graphics) happens to be the optimal solution for an unrelated thing (deep learning).

“Google says that in rolling out its TPU chip, it saved the cost of building about 15 extra data centers. Now, as companies like Google and Facebook push neural networks onto phones and VR headsets—so they can eliminate the delay that comes when shuttling images to distant data centers—they need AI chips that can run on personal devices, too. “There is a lot of headroom there for even more specialized chips that are even more efficient,” LeCun says. In other words, the market for AI chips is potentially enormous. That’s why so many companies are jumping into the mix.”

2)            Backdoor Code Discovered in Popular Bitcoin Mining Equipment

The more you look into the Bitcoin industry the sketchier it appears to be. In this case a company which sells “bitcoin mining equipment” (seriously if you had a machine which could cost effectively produce more gold than it cost would you sell it?) has a backdoor which allows it to shut down all such equipment if, or when it decided to do so. Apparently there is a work around but that only works because somebody figured out there was a backdoor. Why would a company do such a thing unless it planned on exploiting it?

‘An anonymous security researcher has published details on a vulnerability named “Antbleed,” which the author claims is a remote backdoor affecting Bitcoin mining equipment sold by Bitmain, the largest vendor of crypto-currency mining hardware on the market. The so-called “backdoor” code was added to the firmware of Bitmain products on July 11, 2016. A security researcher reported the issue to Bitmain on September 19, 2016, via the company’s GitHub repository, where the company hosts the source code of its firmware. The original bug report was ignored until yesterday, when a newly-launched website called Antbleed detailed the backdoor’s features.”

3)            OTT Video Viewership Will Surpass Traditional TV Next Two Years

Even though I agree with the general direction suggested by this study (i.e. that OTT video will increase and broadcast/cable will decrease) always take predictions and studies with a large grain of salt, especially when they are prepared by companies with a stake in a bullish view. I rather doubt streaming will move that quickly but I do believe it will eventually become the way people consume video.

“According to a survey of nearly 500 media professionals, over-the-top (OTT) video is exploding in today’s marketplace. Close to three-quarter (72%) of respondents agree that offering OTT services is a viable revenue opportunity according to the 2017 OTT Video Services Study by Level 3 Communications, Inc., Streaming Media, and Unisphere Research. OTT is a good business strategy for competing in the marketplace. It can be ideal for a linear based video supplier, attracting viewers or new subscribers, distributing new content, and increasing profitability. Seventy percent of the respondents forecast that within the next five years, viewership of OTT video will surpass traditional broadcast TV. Nearly 85% of survey participants that currently offer OTT are very positive about revenue opportunities. Sixteen percent anticipate 50% or more increases year-over-year.”

4)            Robots Are Slashing U.S. Wages and Worsening Pay Inequality

Maybe I have a different definition of the work “slashing” but the effect seems pretty small. Given a minor effect and the myriad of things going on in the economy it is hard to accept there is a firm case for a causal relationship. Perhaps things like adjust the tax rates of high income earners down significantly had an even greater effect or where the cause of the shift. I’d also be interested in seeing how robotics impacted wages in China over the same period when standards of living improved dramatically at the same time as investment in automation exploded.

“”The employment effects of robots are most pronounced in manufacturing, and in particular, in industries most exposed to robots; in routine manual, blue collar, assembly and related occupations; and for workers with less than college education,” the authors write. “Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, we do not find positive and offsetting employment gains in any occupation or education groups.” Worth noting: the authors estimate that robots may have increased the wage gap between the top 90th and bottom 10 percent by as much as 1 percentage point between 1990 and 2007. There’s also room for much broader robot adoption, which would make all of these effects much bigger.”

5)            DNA-based test can spot cancer recurrence a year before conventional scans

This is an interesting development, and not just because of the early detection but the ability to determine drug resistance, allowing doctors to change treatment plans. Presumably the sooner you know there is a recurrence the earlier you can treat it and the more likely you are to cause further remission. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“A revolutionary blood test has been shown to diagnose the recurrence of cancer up to a year in advance of conventional scans in a major lung cancer trial. The test, known as a liquid biopsy, could buy crucial time for doctors by indicating that cancer is growing in the body when tumours are not yet detectable on CT scans and long before the patient becomes aware of physical symptoms. It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. In the trial of 100 lung cancer patients, scientists saw precipitous rises in tumour DNA in the blood of patients who would go on to relapse months, or even a year, later.”

6)            Facebook says it will crack down on government-led misinformation campaigns

Something I wonder about “fake news” is how you can tell the difference? While some news is objectively false a lot of it is superficial fluff which the publisher creates with no effort or interest as to whether it is true. A surprising amount of news is essentially press releases put together to establish a particular narrative about a situation, political position, or product. And don’t get me started about outright propaganda which gets put out as “news”. So, while “Pope Endorses Trump” may have been fake news, would its objective value have changed much if the Pope had, indeed, endorsed Trump? Facebook has never had a higher purpose: its sole interest is profiting by using your personal information. As such it has evolved into a platform for grandmothers, terrorists, and murderers. I think the least of its problems is “fake news”.

“Facebook’s newest measure to combat disinformation and misuse of its services is a push to rid the social network of malicious, potentially state-sponsored “information operations.” The company, which published a report on the subject today, defines these operations as government-led campaigns — or those from organized “non-state actors” — to promote lies, sow confusion and chaos among opposing political groups, and destabilize movements in other countries. The goal of these operations, the report says, is to manipulate public opinion and serve geopolitical ends.”

7)            Apple investigating wireless charging via Wi-Fi routers, other communications equipment

I wish people would give up on this idea. Not so much the engineers at Apple who probably get a bonus for every patent they get issued but for the people who get excited about it. Let’s start with physics: your router’s output is almost certainly well below 1 watt, probably less than 1/10th of that. A cheap mobile charger delivers 5 watts, or 5 to 50x as much. Your router broadcasts omni-directionally, meaning that (less than) 1 watt is like a spherical shell expanding away from the router so the power drops off proportional to the square of the distance. That omni-directional nature is true even for beam steering which changes the effective power at a particular spot rather than the actual power at a particular spot. Long story short you could only ever get a tiny amount of power. Even then, your “wireless charger” would effectively act as a load on your router so, if your router put out 100 mW and you somehow figured out how to get 100 mW, your router would no longer work. Since routers can cost $100 or more it seems like a poor choice of power source.

“Detailed in Apple’s patent application for “Wireless Charging and Communications Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas” is a method for transferring power to electronic devices over frequencies normally dedicated to data communications. In its various embodiments, the invention notes power transfer capabilities over any suitable wireless communications link, including cellular between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz, and Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. More specifically, the document’s claims apply to millimeter wave 802.11ad spectrum channels currently in use by the WiGig standard, which operates over the 60 GHz frequency band. Theoretically, the proposal opens the door to wire-free charging from in-home Wi-Fi routers to cellular nodes and even satellite signals. Of course, amplitude in a wireless system is normally a function of distance.”

8)            Broadcast Technology Leaders Join Forces to Demonstrate ATSC 3.0 Local Ad Insertion at the 2017 NAB Show

ATSC 3.0 is the next generations Over The Air (OTA) broadcast standard which come with significant enhancements (see One such enhancement is the ability to deliver personalized ads, a capability which I think will put more money in Google’s pockets since matching ads to people is pretty much Google’s business. I don’t believe that sort of ad insertion will disrupt broadcast/video in the same manner as what happened in print media as the “personalization” will be more of a partnership with traditional advertisers.

“At the 2017 NAB Show, Ericsson, Sony Electronics, and Triveni Digital will team up to demonstrate an end-to-end ATSC 3.0 workflow for individualized ad insertion using ATSC 3.0 signaling, ROUTE/DASH transport, and transmission. The first-of-its-kind demo provides broadcasters with a streamlined solution for personalizing advertising in the next-generation television environment. The demo will take place at the “NextGen TV Hub” during the 2017 NAB Show in the Grand Lobby of the Las Vegas Convention Center.”

9)            IFPI Global Report 2017: Industry Sees Highest Revenue Growth in Decades, But the YouTube Issue Remains

It just goes to show you that a lot of online piracy is a reaction to inefficient or non-existent distribution channels. The Music industry fought digital and now half its revenues come from digital music and their revenues are growing. Go figure.

“Strong growth in streaming throughout the world helped lift global music sales by almost 6 percent in 2016, the biggest year-on-year rise in revenues since the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) began tracking the market in 1997. The IFPI’s Global Music Report (previously known as the Digital Music Report) states that trade revenue generated by the global recorded music industry climbed by 5.9 percent to $15.7 billion, with digital sales up 17.7 percent across the board. After digital revenue surpassed physical for the first time in 2015, digital hits another milestone in 2016, accounting for 50 percent ($7.8 billion) of all music sales for the first time.”

10)        Intel Optane Memory With 3D XPoint Review: Easy, Robust PC Acceleration

Intel announced Optane with some fanfare some time ago. At the time their description of the technology was somewhat vague, with performance, lifetime, and costs covering orders of magnitude with no sense of what the trade-offs were. Unfortunately, it is increasingly looking like the technology might be a bust. The “review” (essentially a product placement) first makes a meaningful comparison with state of the art SSDs (against which Optane fares quite poorly) and then makes a meaningless comparison with a 1TB HDD (essentially an antique). Nobody with a basic knowledge of computing would build a performance PC using a HDD as main storage. So, yes, Optane does work as an accelerator in in a badly built performance PC, but almost certainly your money is better spent buying an SSD. The fact Intel is pushing this (don’t think for a moment the reviewer thought it up himself) is a very bad sign.

“We revealed many details regarding Intel Optane Memory a couple of weeks ago. To quickly reiterate, Intel Optane Memory products and their associated software are designed to cache the most frequently accessed bits of data on a compatible system, which can significantly increase performance and improve responsiveness, if said system is equipped with slower storage media. The implementation is similar to Intel’s original Smart Response Technology, which debuted all the way back when the SSD 311 series of SATA-based solid state drives was released. Intel Optane Memory, however, is better suited to the task due to the drives’ higher performance and consistency at lower queue depths. Intel Smart Response Technology is a caching mechanism that uses a solid state drive, like Intel Optane Memory, to enhance overall system performance and simplify the drive configuration presented to the end-user. The SSD can be paired to the boot drive in a system, regardless of the capacity or drive type, though Optane Memory will most commonly be linked to slower hard drives.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 21 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 21 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)            VMware joins Cisco, HPE and Verizon in shifting course on public cloud

Cloud computing consists of two components: commodity computing and a whole bunch of additional services. The largest players (Amazon, Microsoft, and Google) developed the data centers and additional services in the course of their normal business and that gave them a tremendous leg up on lesser players. Frankly I think it would be hard for the like of HP, let alone a telephone company, to make a case to use their cloud services. At its core that is why they are “shifting course”.

“Successful cloud companies don’t need to be public cloud companies. Confused? Well, if you think the public cloud is the be-all, end-all of cloud computing, that’s understandable. Story after story focuses on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure, Google Compute and IBM Cloud. But, in the background several major companies are abandoning their public clouds. First, HPE dropped its Helion public cloud in 2015. Then, Verizon dropped its public cloud offering in 2016. Later that year, Cisco got out of the public cloud business. Now, VMware has sold its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) public cloud, vCloud Air, to OVH, a European cloud provider. What’s going on here? Are these companies fleeing the AWS Goliath? That may be part of it, but certainly not the whole story.”

2)            IBM Sales Miss Shows Return to Growth Not Without Roadblocks

IBM is a company which specializes in financial rather than actual engineering. As this article notes, revenue has been falling for 5 years despite the company spending like drunken sailors on acquisitions. (It seems they’d rather enrich the shareholders of other companies rather than their own). They appear to have bet the farm on things like Watson at a time when AI is becoming a useful commodity which cloud service providers will offer at nominal cost. In the press release the company noted “our cognitive solutions again grew strongly”, because, apparently at IBM an increase of 2.1% in the segment you bet the farm on is “strongly”. Meanwhile the stock is actually up year/year even though it dropped (only) a few percent on this news.

“IBM’s quarterly sales fell short of analysts’ estimates for the first time in a year on struggles in some overseas markets and delays in service contracts, reminding investors that obstacles remain on the path back to growth. The results announced Tuesday marked a 20th consecutive quarterly revenue decline. IBM also reported gross margin that contracted from last year, sending shares down as much as 5.5 percent in extended trading. The stock had gained 11 percent in the past year.”

3)            Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze

We covered Juicero as an example of a pathological environment for venture capital in the tech space. In summary this is an Internet connected juice machine which, long story short, squeezed an expensive bag of DRM protected mush. It turns out that people realized they could use their hands to squeeze a bag of mush as well, bringing into question the $400 purchase price of the machine. No worries: in a stroke of brilliance the company issued this Frankly all this sage shows is that you should ignore who invested in a company if you think it is a stupid idea. Stupid ideas don’t become good ideas because Google put money into then. Thanks to Marcel Valentin for this item.

“The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly—and in some cases, faster—than using the device. Juicero declined to comment. A person close to the company said Juicero is aware the packs can be squeezed by hand but that most people would prefer to use the machine because the process is more consistent and less messy. The device also reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled, the person said. The expiration date is also printed on the pack. … Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers joined Alphabet Inc. and others in funding Juicero. Evans’s subscription model had hit on a sweet spot for venture capitalists, said Brian Frank, who invests in food-tech companies through his FTW Ventures fund.”

4)            Toyota is testing heavy-duty hydrogen trucks at the Port of Long Beach

Fuel cells have their uses and the Port of Long Beach (near LA) and the Port of Los Angeles (right next it) may be one of them. These trucks are used in drayage (short haul service) and diesel trucks are a pollution nightmare when used for drayage applications. Having a massive concentration of them in a small area (Long Beach/LA) is a big problem. Plus, there is ample hydrogen production in the area so the usual challenge of fuel supply is not an issue in those particular locations. This does not make fuel cells a viable solution for long haul (though more viable than an electric truck).

“Two years ago, Toyota began secretly testing a hydrogen fuel cell system alternative to the conventional diesel powertrain for heavy Class-8 trucks. Called “Project Portal,” this system is intended for drayage (short-haul movements), shuttling shipping containers between Los Angeles and Long Beach ports plus other freight depots. Toyota is the first major car company to dip a toe in the fuel cell trucking waters, and it could eventually market the powertrains to various truck manufacturers nationwide or through its own Hino truck division. (Toyota used a Kenworth to demonstrate the powertrain; however, Hino does not make a Class-8 rig.)”

5)            Parents In Germany Face $26,500 Fine If They Don’t Destroy Controversial ‘My Friend Cayla’ Dolls

Actually it is not clear if the fine would actually every be levied. The idea is simply that the doll is essentially a listening device which sends data in violation of German privacy laws. That should be enough to destroy the things.

“After researchers found that My Friend Cayla dolls were recording users’ and sending this information out to a third party specializing in voice-recognition for police and military forces, officials in Germany told parents to get rid of the toys. In case families didn’t take that request seriously, the country’s telecommunications regulator has since clarified that parents who don’t destroy their Cayla dolls could face more than $25,000 in fines.”

6)            Edible CRISPR Could Replace Antibiotics

I continue to consider the CRISPR gene editing system to one of the greatest discoveries in history. This approach applies CRISPR to a sort of antibiotic application: use bacteriophages (viruses which attack specific bacteria) to deliver a CRISPR self-destruct mechanism. Since the bacteria already have CRISPR as part of their “immune system” it is unlikely they will develop a resistance – assuming the approach works as expected. The good news is, with CRISPR we’ll know soon enough.

“Van Pijkeren’s idea is to use bacteriophage to send a false message to C. difficile, one that instead causes the bacteria to make lethal cuts to its own DNA. To do it, Van Pijkeren lab is developing bacteriophage capable of carrying a customized CRISPR message. On their own, the bacteriophage would quickly get broken down by stomach acid. So to get the viruses into a person, Van Pijkeren plans to add them to a cocktail of innocuous bacteria, or probiotic, that a person could swallow as a pill or a liquid.”

7)            Does Google’s TPU Investment Make Sense Going Forward?

We covered Google’s TPU announcement last week. If you recall, the device showed substantially better performance than contemporary GPUs and CPUs, which is very bad news for those who believe the future of AI is GPUs, and, in particular, NVidia’s stock price. This article seems to be an effort at damage control but it misses the point: inference is done thousands or millions of times more often than AI training. Most likely, the TPU chip itself cost less than $100, and the TPU board less than $500, or a fraction the cost of a GPU. Combine substantially lower costs, lower power consumption, and the fact it is proprietary and you have a winner.

“The question one has to ask is what did Google pay to develop the TPU and then have it manufactured. Yes, the TPU allowed it to save massive amounts of money not doing inference on CPUs, which are clearly not as good at it as specialized processors are. But so what? If a P4 accelerator card costs $2,100 and if the P40 accelerator costs $4,700, which we think are the approximate street prices for these devices, then Google has to be able to make its own chip cost no more than this on a cost per watt per unit of performance basis for the TPU to make economic sense – and it has to cost less than this, presumably. If Nvidia can double the performance of machine learning inference with the future “Volta” GPUs that will presumably be announced at the GPU Technical Conference in May and possibly shipping later this year for selected HPC customers and maybe for AI customers, then Nvidia V4 and V40 accelerators will be in the same league as a TPU gussied up with GDDR5 memory and moved to a slightly more aggressive process shrink to 20 nanometers.”

8)            Facebook Announces “Typing-by-Brain” Project

Brain-computer interfaces appear to have galvanized the attention of billionaires recently. Musk and Zuckerberg appear to have decided this is the next big thing. Unfortunately, actual specialists in the field seem to think what they want to do is, well, not likely, but who is gonna argue with a billionaire – they know everything, right? Of course another issue is, assuming somebody could, actually, make something which could read brainwaves, what healthy person would let Facebook see their thoughts?

“At its developer conference, Facebook executive Regina Dugan promised that this brain-computer interface will decode signals from the brain’s speech center at the remarkable rate of 100 words per minute. … The promise of 100 words per minute represents quite a leap from the current speed record. In February, Stanford researchers enabled a paralyzed patient to type 8 words per minute—and that was using a device implanted in his brain. In that experiment the implant was placed in the patient’s motor cortex, and he imagined moving a cursor over a screen to select letters.”

9)            A Chinese warehouse reportedly cut its labor costs in half with a fleet of tiny robots

The sounds pretty frightening if you are a warehouse worker, but it is a lot less scary if you look into it. Essentially in this case the robots are taking the place of a second and third tier sorting conveyor belt (see a simple example . Presumably the labor costs savings are relative to doing it all by hand. Nonetheless the video is awesome.

“Shentong Express, a Chinese shipping company, showed off a mildly-dystopian automated warehouse last week that reportedly cut its labor costs by half, according to the South China Morning Post. In a video, tiny orange robots made by Hikvision ferry packages around an eastern China warehouse, taking each parcel from a human worker, driving under a scanner, and then dumping the package down a specific chute for it to be shipped.”

10)        Uber lost $2.8 billion last year

I don’t get the part about reporting gross revenue since the company only gets their cut, or the net revenue. Even so Uber’s investors are subsidizing the service to the tune of $2B per year, meaning that Uber’s growth may continue only as long as it pays customers to use the service. More likely, the services itself else a tiny return on investment while the rest of the money is blown on stupid projects such as self-driving cars which meant to drive up the value of the shares. The company is a car service and car services are not inherently profitable. Nevertheless access to an unending supply of capital means the company is not run for profit’s sake.

“Uber’s gross bookings for 2016 hit $20 billion, more than doubling from the year prior, according to financial figures the company provided to Bloomberg. Its net revenue, after drivers took their cut, totaled $6.5 billion for the year. But that rapid growth came at a cost. Uber says it lost $2.8 billion in 2016, excluding the China business it sold midway through the year. Uber’s CEO had previously said it was losing $1 billion a year in China, prior to selling its China business to rival Didi Chuxing in August. … “We’re fortunate to have a healthy and growing business, giving us the room to make the changes we know are needed on management and accountability, our culture and organization, and our relationship with drivers,” Rachel Holt, Uber’s regional general manager for U.S. and Canada, said in a statement provided to CNNTech.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 14 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 14 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)            Printed titanium parts expected to save millions in Boeing Dreamliner costs

This is one of the few times I’ve seen direct figures associated with 3D printing in manufacturing. They are actually credible: titanium is expensive and hard to machine so keeping waste and machining to a minimum makes some sense – especially given the small production volumes in aircraft manufacture. If the material were aluminum, which is cheap and easy to cast and machine, it would almost certainly make no sense.

“Boeing Co hired Norsk Titanium AS to print the first structural titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, a shift that the Norwegian 3-D printing company said would eventually shave $2 million to $3 million off the cost of each plane. The contract announced on Monday is a major step in Boeing’s effort to boost the profitability of the 787 and a sign of growing industrial acceptance of the durability of 3-D printed metal parts, allowing them to replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing in demanding aerospace applications. Strong, lightweight titanium alloy is seven times more costly than aluminum, and accounts for about $17 million of the cost of a $265 million Dreamliner, industry sources say.”

2)            Roku TVs will eavesdrop on your shows to serve up ads

It is scarcely surprising Roku is doing this as consumers seem to long longer ascribe any value whatsoever to privacy. Besides, the US government is allowing ISPs to sell your browsing history ( so it really looks as though privacy is dead. This is not as benign as it seems: imagine if, in the 1960s, someone had proposed to record and sell the names of every book or newspaper article people read.

“Roku fans have another treat this week aside from getting Sling TV’s Cloud DVR functionality. Assuming you opt in, the latest software version (7.6) will use Automatic Content Recognition to listen to what broadcast programming you’re watching and suggest other stuff to watch based on that, as a way to “enhance” your couch potato session. “Additional viewing options may include the ability to watch from the beginning, watch more episodes of the same show and/or view suggestions for similar entertainment available to stream,” the section about Roku TVs reads.”

3)            Delivery robots: a revolutionary step or sidewalk-clogging nightmare?

Delivery robots at least make some sense, unlike delivery drones. Frankly I find it hard to believe the streets and sidewalks would be clogged with them: if you think about it the goods being transported would be delivered through vans, delivery people, and so on, so there should not be an increase in traffic. Whether or not these make sense it is hard to believe the current examples of small, slow, electric robots would work outside of very specific applications such as a few blocks around a pizza parlor or grocery store in an urban setting.

“Sidewalk-traversing robots are one of several possible solutions to the pesky problem of “last-mile” logistics. Venture capitalists have poured millions into startups employing an army of independent contractors to provide instant gratification to urbanites. But the humans in this equation remain a significant cost, and innovators are looking to obviate them with automated solutions. Amazon, UPS, and Google are all working on an airborne method, which certainly makes for splashy PR stunts. But in cities, ground-based delivery services are a more practical solution. Drones simply don’t make sense for urban environments, said Matt Delaney, one of Marble’s three co-founders who called robots “the only sane solution”. He argued that delivery robots could improve quality of life for people like his grandfather, who lost his driver’s license and has to hire someone for tasks like picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy.”


With memory prices skyrocketing, PC price/performance is almost certainly deteriorating. It is certainly possible the rate of decline in PC sales may slow because of, for example, an improving US economy, but the logical thing for buyers to do is postpone purchases for 6 months pending normalization of pricing. Regardless, it is hard to see a “glimmer of hope” in 1 % rise in unit sales.

“PC shipments in the first quarter rose by about 1 percent from last year, based on calculations from the research firm International Data Corp. The modest gain marks the first quarterly increase in five years, a stretch that has seen people increasingly turn to mobile devices for their computing needs. Another breakdown released by Gartner Inc. painted a gloomier picture. That research firm estimated PC shipments fell by 2 percent in the first quarter. The rival reports measure the market in different ways, accounting for their contrasting conclusions. Both IDC and Gartner concurred on this point: About the only signs of life are in the corporate market, where PCs remain an essential tool. Businesses have recently been replacing larger numbers of outdated machines.”

5)            Half-baked security: Hackers can hijack your smart Aga oven ‘with a text message’

This is real amateur night at the zoo type stuff. I know because I’m working on an IoT application which uses emails as a control based on the eUpdate software I developed with I was a sell side analyst. At least with emails you don’t need a cloud intermediary. That said, this application is appallingly stupid: not only can you figure out the target address, the system is based on mobile phone technology, meaning it comes with a monthly fee.

“The vulnerable iTotal Control models of the upmarket cookers contain a SIM card and radio tech that connects to mobile phone networks. This allows the Brit-built roasters to receive texted commands: these messages can be sent directly to appliances from phones, or via an app or Aga’s website, from anywhere in the world. This means you can order your fancy baking oven to heat up before you leave from work, for instance. According to UK IT security consultants Pen Test Partners (PTP), this feature can be hijacked by villains to meddle with the slow cookers without the owners’ permission. The iTotal Control ovens pick up messages using a Tekelek-branded comms module and a GSM SIM card from UK cellular network EE – which costs £6 ($7.50) a month to keep active. Controlling an Aga by text is a rather odd approach because many of the hefty ovens are out in the sticks without decent cellular reception. The design was implemented by an Irish outfit called Action Point.”

6)            Honda Miimo Robot Lawn Mower Comes to US

Honda makes some good lawn equipment but this is not likely to an example. Note that all the videos show the device essentially mowing a putting green rather than an actual lawn. The unit is battery powered meaning it probably could not mow more than a few square meters of actual lawn if it didn’t get stuck. I read somewhere that robot lawnmowers are a big market in Europe. I’m guessing that is because their lawns are only a few square meters. The idea is a good one, but the implementation is not. Don’t waste your money.

“Honda is bringing its robot lawn mowers to backyards in the United States starting in June 2017. Honda introduced two Miimo robot lawn mowers that will be available at select Honda Power Equipment dealerships nationwide, excluding California. The Miimo HRM 310 robot lawn mower ($2,499) can mow for up to 30 minutes on a single charge. It will recharge in 30 minutes and is designed for areas up a half acre. The Miimo HRM 520 robot lawn mower ($2,799) lasts a bit longer (60 minutes), takes an hour to charge and is designed for areas up to 0.75 acres. Battery life and cutting area are the main differences between the two models.”

7)            Google benchmarks its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) chips

Artificial Intelligence/Deep Learning is one area of technology which is improving rapidly and has some valid uses even though most of the coverage surrounding it is complete fiction. The algorithms are relatively recent and tend to be run on Graphics Processors (GPUs) which are very good at certain types of processing. This has led investors to bid up GU company stocks, even though those companies are mostly in the business of supplying gamers. Typically what happens as new algorithms are developed is that hardware is crafted which runs those algorithms optimally. That is why GPUs and DSPs were developed. Within a few years AI will not be run on GPUs but on AI/DL accelerators which may or may not be incorporated into other CPUs.

“In Google’s tests, a Haswell Xeon E5-2699 v3 processor with 18 cores running at 2.3 GHz using 64-bit floating point math units was able to handle 1.3 Tera Operations Per Second (TOPS) and delivered 51 GB/sec of memory bandwidth; the Haswell chip consumed 145 watts and its system (which had 256 GB of memory) consumed 455 watts when it was busy. The TPU, by comparison, used 8-bit integer math and access to 256 GB of host memory plus 32 GB of its own memory was able to deliver 34 GB/sec of memory bandwidth on the card and process 92 TOPS – a factor of 71X more throughput on inferences, and in a 384 watt thermal envelope for the server that hosted the TPU.”

8)            Broadcasters Put New Ad-Skipping Restrictions on YouTube TV

You can certainly understand the desire by broadcasters to make their ads un-skippable: there was an effort a few years ago to make DVR ad skip illegal. However that immediately reduces the attractiveness of a DVR. I typically DVR the news so I can skip all the garbage (celebrities, sports, talking heads, propaganda) and watch it in about 25% of the time. If this idea takes hold I’d be forced to watch as much advertising as content.

“YouTube last week launched YouTube TV in a handful of markets (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Philadelphia), providing access to more than 50 live TV channels for $35 per month. And while Google and YouTube are hoping that the company’s new YouTube TV live streaming service makes waves in the streaming space, the inability to skip commercials may annoy some potential customers. If a show is available on-demand, viewers won’t be able to skip ads, even if they recorded the episode on DVR notes the Wall Street Journal.”

9)            NASA Finds Evidence of Hydrothermal Vents on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

This is big news and not entirely unsurprising. The fact there is liquid water and geothermal activity vastly increases the odds these bodies harbor life. After all, life emerged on Earth shortly after it was possible to sustain life on Earth, suggesting abiogenesis is a highly probable outcome rather than an extremely rare event. Since the plumes from Enceladus go out into space, and any such plume would likely carry simple life forms if any existed it should not be that difficult to go out and take a sample and return it to Earth.

“Once they knew there was a large ocean and likely a rocky core, the team speculated that if the moon is warm enough for liquid water, then it might have enough geologic activity for hydrothermal vents. And if there are vents, then there could be life—even out in the distant solar system almost a billion miles from the sun. Now we have reason to believe there are indeed hydrothermal vents on the watery moon Enceladus. “What we have is this chain of evidence, not just one thing but a number of things that point toward the very real possibility of these hydrothermal vents,” says Spilker. Most of that evidence came from the flybys Cassini made through Enceladus’s geysers. The craft used two science instruments, the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), to analyze samples from the plumes. Sure enough, the spacecraft picked up clues that point to hydrothermal vents.”

10)        What Apple vs Qualcomm could mean for the iPhone’s future

Qualcomm actually makes some pretty nice chips even though a lot of its financial performance is associated with royalties it claims from increasingly out of date Intellectual Property. It is pretty clear that smartphone sales are flat/declining and prices are headed down. As a general rule you don’t keep making more and more money out of a declining market: there is going to be pushback. In this case, being sued by your biggest customer is a bad sign. Mind you Qualcomm’s bizarre decisions to acquire NXP Semiconductor for $47B makes me think they’ve gone off the deep end: it’s a bit like Intel deciding to get into the virus scanner business (which they did).

“Furthermore, Qualcomm levies a licensing fee on Apple regardless if its chips are used in a phone. This means Apple pays Qualcomm once to license its patents and pays again to purchase Qualcomm’s silicon. For comparison, most component suppliers bundle their intellectual property license fee with the sale of their chips. Apple isn’t the only one upset with Qualcomm. The San Diego-based company has come under fire in recent years for monopolistic practices. Just two years ago, Qualcomm paid $975 million to China for anti-competitive practices. In December 2016, Qualcomm was hit with a $873 million fine in South Korea for the same thing. Then in January this year, Qualcomm was charged with anti-competitive practices in the US by the Federal Trade Commission.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 7 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 7 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 and top Android partners agree to share software patents

Patent exchange agreements are common in the semiconductor and automotive businesses since pretty much everybody is infringing somebody’s patents. They have no effect on patent trolls because they typically do not make anything so, under US law they are in a low risk situation. Besides, the biggest Android patent troll is Microsoft and that is not going to change.

“Google and a group of top Android phone makers have sealed a new agreement to collectively defend themselves against patent lawsuits. The group, which also includes Samsung, LG, and HTC, have agreed to share patents covering “Android and Google Applications” on any device that meets Android’s compatibility requirements. The patents will be shared for free, and the group is supposed to be free and open for any company to join. The agreement’s proper name is the “Android Networked Cross-License,” but the group is calling it PAX for short. “Pax” means “peace” in Latin, and Google says the agreement is about reaching a legal peace within the tech world.”

2)            The DIY electronics transforming research

Arduinos and Raspberry Pis are completely different animals. The former is a pretty capable microcontroller which has a user friendly – though not exactly developer friendly – development tool. Raspberry Pi is a far more capable Linux based microcomputer which definitely doesn’t have any user friendliness (as with most Linux things). Both are very broadly supported, which means there is an immense amount of open source software available for them. Alas, that quality of the software is often not very well written but good enough to get things going.

“Although researchers have been customizing computers and integrating them into their experiments for decades, the market for small, cheap, ‘single-board computers’ has boomed in recent years. The Raspberry Pi — a fully fledged computer that can run the Linux operating system — appeared in 2012; by September 2016, 10 million had been sold. Arduinos — technically, programmable microcontrollers rather than computers — have been similarly popular since their launch in 2005. Off-the-shelf accessories for these devices include cameras, motion sensors, thermometers and Bluetooth adaptors. There’s even an all-in-one system developed for an outreach project on the International Space Station; the system combines a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a magnetometer and sensors to measure temperature, barometric pressure and humidity.”

3)            IoT garage door opener maker bricks customer’s product after bad review

It is funny that a trivial product such as this would have garnered so much financial backing, but what can you say? This is yet another example of why you want to be very careful of most IoT products: most require a connection to a cloud server and if the vendor stops supporting the product – or doesn’t like you anymore – your product stops working. In this case the business did something which is pretty unwise but regardless you should realize that if the money runs out (which it often does) everybody’s garage door opener ends up being “bricked”.

“Denis Grisak, the man behind the Internet-connected garage opener Garadget, is having a very bad week. Grisak and his Colorado-based company SoftComplex launched Garadget, a device built using Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle, on Indiegogo earlier this year, hitting 209 percent of his launch goal in February. But this week, his response to an unhappy customer has gotten Garadget a totally different sort of attention. On April 1, a customer who purchased Garadget on Amazon using the name R. Martin reported problems with the iPhone application that controls Garadget. He left an angry comment on the Garadget community board … At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.”

4)            GM Hooking 30,000 Robots to Internet to Keep Factories Humming

I’m guess the end points for employment are carefully chose as GM was coming out of a financial crisis, but the fact is that while robots may shift employment away from rote manufacturing tasks and into other sectors there has been a tremendous benefit to automation, starting from the industrial revolution 200 years ago. Hype and hysteria to the contrary there is no reason to believe that will change any time soon.

“GM has increased its new U.S. robot applications by 10,000 since 2012 while boosting U.S. employment by almost a third to 105,000, according to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation that argues robots help create jobs.”

5)            Apple To Develop Own GPU, Drop Imagination’s GPUs From SoCs

This plays out too often: a small company “wins” Apple as a customer and, being Apple, it immediately becomes its largest customer. The supplier then ramps up its operation, including R&D in order to scale to Apple’s needs. At the same time it dedicates fewer resources to other customers. Eventually judgement day arrives: Apple switches suppliers or, as in this case, decides to go it alone. Few companies can survive a stepwise loss of 50% of revenues and it collapses. I’m not sure if there is anything the small company can do before, during, or after this unfolds but it happens with regularity.

“In a bombshell of a press release issued this morning, Imagination has announced that Apple has informed their long-time GPU partner that they will be winding down their use of Imagination’s IP. Specifically, Apple expects that they will no longer be using Imagination’s IP for new products in 15 to 24 months. Furthermore the GPU design that replaces Imagination’s designs will be, according to Imagination, “a separate, independent graphics design.” In other words, Apple is developing their own GPU, and when that is ready, they will be dropping Imagination’s GPU designs entirely.”

6)            Why Intel Insists Rumors Of The Demise Of Moore’s Law Are Greatly Exaggerated

Unfortunately driving down the cost of a transistor while not offering much in the way of incremental performance is exactly what Intel doesn’t want: people upgrade computers in order to get significantly better performance, otherwise they simply use it until it breaks. Under Intel’s scenario their production cost might go down but demand will go down faster, and they’ll end up selling for less money.

“But while the 1990s and early aughts were a period of rapid growth in processing power due to innovations in process technology and microarchitecture, Moore’s law in itself does not weigh in on any particular performance improvement. “Just to go back to the original papers by Gordon Moore, his prediction was that transistor density would double every two years. He didn’t make any statement about performance,” Bohr says. Still, aren’t more powerful processors the point of this whole exercise? Not exactly. The real benefit of Moore’s law is to drive down the cost per transistor at a consistent rate. This does allow Intel to improve performance by adding more transistors as a way of improving performance, but it also just decreases the cost to produce new products. While Intel doesn’t disclose its exact cost per transistor, the company points out that cost declines are the same now as they were under the tick-tock cycle. And yes, there’s a graph to prove it.”

7)            Japan Finally Recognizes Bitcoin After Long Battle

I admit to being a bit perplexed by this. Perhaps the term “legal currency” is misused in the article or the government of Japan is unconcerned about money marketing, use by criminals, or the massive frauds which have taken place in the cryptocurrency world. Or perhaps they don’t care.

“A bill to amend Japan’s Banking Act has finally come to fruition, recognizing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as legal tender. The bill has far-reaching repercussions for the digital currency world as well as the way that cryptocurrencies can be traded and exchanged. The Banking Act was modified after a long process of debate and dialog which saw proponents of digital currencies arguing on their behalf. Now, after months of discussion, the bill has come into effect as of the beginning of April. Section 3 of the bill has been modified to including wording on virtual currency and is being called the Virtual Currency Act, according to reporting by Brave New Coin. Digital currencies like Bitcoin have finally received definition and recognition as a means of payment by the Japanese government.”

8)            Richmond firm backed by VC Tim Draper plans to fly test versions of giant amphibious cargo drone over San Pablo Bay this summer

This is not as dumb an idea as it seems. It is not that much more complicated to fly a large drone as a small one such as a predator drone. You can simplify the aircraft considerably if you don’t need life support or to worry about human safety and the safety concerns regarding flying over populated areas are no longer an issue if the aircraft stays over international waters. The major problem would be development costs: most cargo aircraft are repurposed passenger planes so the R&D cost is spread over a much large number of units. Mind you there might be a large enough market for cargo drones of this type. Still, I’d expect Boeing and Airbus to lead the market.

“The intended end product for Natilus is a cargo drone the size of a jetliner that takes off and lands on water, carrying goods from port to port. To keep down the regulatory burden, and avoid the need for infrastructure such as airports, the drones would fly over uninhabited ocean areas and below Federal Aviation Administration-controlled airspace. They’d land 12 miles from a port and be piloted in remotely, according to the company. Natilus claims its planned cargo drone, built using carbon fiber composites, would cost $20 million, less than a tenth of the cost of a passenger jetliner.”

9)            ‘Super’ Wi-Fi may finally be coming your way

This has been discusses for many years and, quite frankly, it might be too little too late. Despite the name ‘Super’ Wi-Fi has nothing to do with Wi-Fi, it is just a broadband technology which uses the unused spectrum between TV channels. There are advantages to that approach but the thing is that LTE technology has dropped in price a lot and delivers pretty good performance over a wide selection of spectrum. 5G wireless is maybe two years out and while the focus has been on very short range millimeter bands the technology can also be applied to lower frequencies as well.

“Super Wi-Fi “fills a gap that nothing else can fill,” said Ken Garnett, chief technology officer at Shingle Springs-based, which provides internet access wirelessly to surrounding rural areas east of Sacramento. “It enables us to provide service to those who cannot get service otherwise.” What gives Super Wi-Fi such great potential is that it’s transmitted over the same portion of the airwaves that are used by television broadcasters. Compared to regular Wi-Fi or even most cellular transmissions, signals sent in the TV band can travel much longer distances. They can go through walls, trees and other barriers that can thwart other types of signals. And because the spectrum is regulated and largely reserved for television signals, Super Wi-Fi transmissions don’t have to contend with interference from random devices like microwaves or cordless phones, as do signals in other wireless bands.”

10)        Africa’s Exploding Tech Startup Ecosystem

Talk of a renaissance might be a bit much because Africa has never really had much in the way of technology, let alone home-made technology companies. There is no reason why Africa should not produce technologies: there are plenty of intelligent people in every country. Nevertheless, it would certainly be accelerated by improved infrastructure and things like reliable and available Internet services and electricity.

“Africa is home to the fastest growing cities, and more than half of the world’s population growth will take place on the continent over the coming decades. By 2050, cities like Lagos and Kinshasa will be global megacities, each holding well over 30 million inhabitants. Africa is also at the start of a technological renaissance. It was recently reported by WeAreSocial that 7 of 10 of the world’s fastest growing internet populations are in Africa – the beginning of a trend that will likely re-shape entire economies as new companies leapfrog established technology, ideas, and infrastructure. That said, much of that opportunity lies in the future. As of today, internet penetration is just 29% throughout Africa, meaning that the majority of growth and network effects are still to come.”