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.”


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