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!
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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 Cal.net, 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.”