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.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 31 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 31 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)            Uber suspends self-driving car program after Arizona crash

It turns out that the collision, which was the worst ever for a self-driving car (except the Tesla fatalities which appeared to happen because the drivers thought they were in a self-driving car). Nonetheless, there are dozens of examples caught on video of Uber’s self-driving cars doing things like going through red lights, a number of which were caught on camera. In this case the car sped through a yellow light and hit a car making a left hand turn into its lane. Based on Uber’s track record I would not be surprised if next time it’s even worse.

“Uber Technologies Inc suspended its pilot program for driverless cars on Saturday after a vehicle equipped with the nascent technology crashed on an Arizona roadway, the ride-hailing company and local police said. The accident, the latest involving a self-driving vehicle operated by one of several companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles, caused no serious injuries, Uber said. Even so, the company said it was grounding driverless cars involved in a pilot program in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of investigation into the crash on Friday evening in Tempe.”

2)            SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket relaunch: start time, live stream, and what to expect

I give them credit: they managed to do it. The thing is, SpaceX’s record is already pretty poor when it comes to destroying payloads and the customer is keen on not destroying payloads because they are very, very expensive and it usually takes a long time to replace them. So if the price is 30% lower but the risk is higher customers have to decide if they want to be penny wise and pound foolish.

“Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company is going to take another swing at history today: for the first time, SpaceX plans to take a Falcon 9 rocket that successfully launched and landed in April 2016 and try to launch it to space once again. … Ideally, this is a proof-of-concept for reusing rockets, one of Elon Musk’s main goals for SpaceX. By recovering each rocket after launch instead of discarding it, Musk hopes to cut the cost of a rocket launch by millions of dollars. This could eventually allow SpaceX to offer launches at a 30 percent discount, which is a huge advantage in the tiny but hyper-competitive space launch market.”

3)            Paralysed man moves arm using power of thought in world first

This technology is still in its early stages but it is evolving rapidly. It only works in the lab but that is to be expected given that researchers lack the expertise and financial resources to miniaturize the systems fully. I imagine the impact on the life of those affected is profound despite the limited capabilities they demonstrate here. Expect big things over the next 10 years.

“A man who was paralysed from below the neck after crashing his bike into a truck can once again drink a cup of coffee and eat mashed potato with a fork, after a world-first procedure to allow him to control his hand with the power of thought. Bill Kochevar, 53, has had electrical implants in the motor cortex of his brain and sensors inserted in his forearm, which allow the muscles of his arm and hand to be stimulated in response to signals from his brain, decoded by computer. After eight years, he is able to drink and feed himself without assistance.”

4)            ESPN Has Seen the Future of TV and They’re Not Really Into It

A lot of the subscriber losses at ESPN are actually people “cutting the cord” and dropping cable service in general. Some – perhaps many – of those may actually want ESPN but the company’s revenue stream, like many cable companies, is based on them getting $7 per cable subscriber whether the subscriber wants ESPN or not. On a “pick and play” basic, fees would be more like $30/subscriber or more. I find it strange Google has bundled EPSN with their streaming service and I’d be surprised if all other such services do so, especially since a major reason for “cutting the cord” is the high prices due to the “take it or leave it” cable TV pricing model.

“As subscribers leave the network, and often cable altogether, ESPN is stuck with rising costs for the rights to broadcast games. Programming costs will top $8 billion in 2017, according to media researcher Kagan. Most of that money goes to rights fees through deals that extend into the next decade. Last year profits from Disney’s cable networks, of which ESPN is the largest, fell for the first time in 14 years. The dip was small, about half a percent, but nonetheless alarming. Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research, says ESPN has been “over-earning,” with cable customers paying for the channel as part of their subscription bundle, whether they watch it or not. “It’s pretty clear that the years of over-earning are going to end,” says Greenfield, who’s made a name for himself as an ESPN naysayer. “The question is does it end slowly or fast.””

5)            Smartphones may be to blame for unprecedented spike in pedestrian deaths

When I saw the headline I thought for a moment somebody finally realized that “distracted walking” is dangerous, but, alas, this is another article about distracted drivers. Distracted driving is probably a cause of some or even most of the fatalities but I’ve come close to running down idiots crossing the street while looking at their phones more than once.

“A new report estimates that in 2016, the United States saw its largest annual increase in pedestrian fatalities since such record keeping began 40 years ago. … The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated there were 6,000 pedestrian deaths in 2016, the highest number in more than 20 years. Since 2010, pedestrian fatalities have grown at four times the rate of overall traffic deaths. “The why is elusive. We don’t know all the reasons,” Retting said. “Clearly lots of things are contributing. But not one of these other factors have changed dramatically.” The thing that has changed dramatically in recent years is smartphone use. The volume of wireless data used from 2014 to 2015 more than doubled, according to the Wireless Association.”

6)            Intel Warns Partners: Expect Tight SSD Supply Through 2017, With Shipment Priority On Data Center SSDs

It’s not real news that memory prices (DRAM and flash)have “firmed” as they do every 5 years or so. This cycle is a bit different because it includes, and is associated with demand for both DRAM and flash at the same time. To me this is the ultimate “head fake” for the Hard Disk industry: SSD shortages means HDD sales are collapsing as quickly as expected and stock have rallied strongly. The thing is, whatever you read, memory prices are going to start trending down at some point in the future and when that happens SSD prices will essentially collapse, taking the HDD industry with them.

“The SSD shortage stems from a combination of fast-growing demand for SSDs as the per-gigabyte price falls closer to that of slower-performing spinning hard disks, and a transition by manufacturers of NAND memory, the key component in SSDs, toward 3D NAND technology, according to multiple industry sources. … The delays are already impacting shipments to major customers, the solution provider said. “One of our government customers wants servers with SSDs but has been delayed multiple times,” the solution provider said. “We checked with a major competitor, and found the same. So we feel this is an industrywide challenge.” The solution provider said about 50 percent of new sales have shifted from hard drive-based storage to SSDs. “New technologies like deduplication and compression are helping drive demand,” the solution provider said. “And hyper-converged infrastructure works better with all-flash architectures.””

7)            Speck-Size Computers: Now With Deep Learning

There are two main phases to deep learning: training and doing. Right now both are done at data centers due to the computational demands of dealing with as deep learning array. That will change and “doing” will eventually done by the client (i.e. a smartphone or PC). It may take a while but the current GPU approach – which has stoked so much excitement around NVIDIA – will be displaced by purpose built accellerators.

“Another micromote they presented at ISSCC incorporates a deep-learning processor that can operate a neural network while using just 288 microwatts. Neural networks are artificial intelligence algorithms that perform well at tasks such as face and voice recognition. They typically demand both large memory banks and intense processing power, and so they’re usually run on banks of servers often powered by advanced GPUs. Some researchers have been trying to lessen the size and power demands of deep-learning AI with dedicated hardware that’s specially designed to run these algorithms. But even those processors still use over 50 milliwatts of power—far too much for a micromote. The Michigan group brought down the power requirements by redesigning the chip architecture, for example by situating four processing elements within the memory (in this case, SRAM) to minimize data movement.”

8)            We need a New Deal to address the economic risks of automation

Fears over automation is stoking anxiety among millennials, pretty much as it has done for every generation since the start of the industrial revolution. There is nothing significantly different about now vs prior “generations” of automation if you bother to investigate the subject. Where are all the farm workers who have been unemployed by tractors and combines; machinists unemployed by NC milling machines; bank tellers unemployed by ATMs; and keypunch operators unemployed by terminals and PCs? Automation means greater productivity and it is a major reason for improvements in the standards of living in the industrialized world since the 1800s. There is absolutely no difference between all hose prior cycles and what will happen in the next 20 or 100 years.

“There’s been downward pressure on jobs since the Industrial Revolution due to leaps in productivity brought about by human ingenuity and lucky discoveries. This has accelerated since the ’80s with the mass adoption of computers, but the market has more or less kept up, creating new openings to fill the eradicated ones, albeit not in the same places (coastal cities have gained, Rust Belt areas have lost out). However, we have a tsunami on the horizon: automation using AI. It will place intense downward pressure on employment, and threatens to catch a generation (really, three generations) off guard, with unemployment levels higher than the Great Depression.”

9)            IBM Bets The Company On Cloud, AI And Blockchain

Based on IBM’s financial performance and aptitude for blowing money on acquisitions, I’d say as gamblers they are not so good. While they have great engineers their management can’t seem to monetise what they have. Even their engineering talent is probably sparse as new graduates do look upon IBM as the sort of place they want to work. With respect to cloud services and AI, well, they aren’t the only name in the games and it is hard to imagine companies who are not IBM customers in the first place going to IBM for this. That is doubly true for startups.

“IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty laid out IBM’s strategy at a packed keynote. “The IBM Cloud is the platform for the next era of business,” Rometty said, expressing the central theme of the keynote. The IBM Cloud combines the Cloud Foundry-based Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service environment with SoftLayer, IBM’s public Infrastructure-as-a-Service Cloud. But the key to IBM’s Cloud strategy is its reliance on AI. “IBM Cloud is cognitive at the core,” according to Rometty. “You’re going to want a cloud that has a full range of cognitive capabilities.””

10)        ‘Supermassive’ black hole rocketing through space at five million miles an hour, Nasa reveals

This is pretty amazing if for nothing more than the amount of energy involved to move a mass as big as a supermassive black hole at this speed. The article explains how that happened, but it is not any less amazing.

“Their observations confirmed the Hubble finding. They also helped pin down the black hole’s mass (equal to that of a billion suns) and the speed at which the gas around it was travelling (4.7 million mph). Meanwhile, the Hubble image offered a clue about what dislodged the black hole from its galaxy’s centre. The host galaxy bore faint, arc-shaped features called tidal tales, which are produced by the gravitational tug-of-war that takes place when two galaxies collide. This suggested that galaxy 3C 186 had recently merged with another system, and perhaps their black holes merged too.”


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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 24 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)            Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

I have 3 tractors and, lucky for me, they run perfectly well without even a battery. Larger equipment tends to require a lot of computers for emissions controls as well as advanced functions such as auto-steer (which helps you line up your machinery for maximum efficiency) and other functions. Companies like Deere have found this is a great segue for keeping tinkerers and independent repair shops from touching any part of “their” tractors. Many farmers have a limited choice of equipment vendors and risk their crop if they can’t get a timely repair. Oddly enough Deere’s approach is legal.

“To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America’s heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that’s cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums. Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform “unauthorized” repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time. “When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don’t have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it,” Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. “Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].”|

2)            IBM unveils Blockchain as a Service based on open source Hyperledger Fabric technology

Just to be clear this is generic blockchain technology, not Bitcoin, which is a particular implementation of blockchain. Given increased interest in the use of the technology by banks and other large institutions – which are IBM’s traditional customers – this makes a lot of sense. Of course there is nothing whatsoever to stop Amazon, Microsoft, and Google from offering exactly the same thing.

“IBM Blockchain is a public cloud service that customers can use to build secure blockchain networks. The company introduced the idea last year, but this is the first ready-for-primetime implementation built using that technology. The blockchain is a notion that came into the public consciousness around 2008 as a way to track bitcoin digital-currency transactions. At its core blockchain is a transparent and tamper-proof digital ledger. Just as it could track bitcoin’s activity in a secure and transparent fashion, it’s capable of tracking other types of data in private blockchain networks. This could allow any private company or government agency to set up a trusted network, which would allow the members to share information freely, knowing that only the members could see it, and the information couldn’t be altered once it’s been entered.”

3)            Intel claims storage speed record with first large-capacity Optane SSD

Optane, also known as 3D Crosspoint memory is rapidly becoming a disappointment. The article sure sounds bullish but the speed advantages are in very specific use cases. It is also wroth noting that the “older” Intel drive they are comparing it too has been on the market for 3 years and the past 3 years have seen a lot of improvement in the SSD arena. I remain hopeful Intel will eventually justify at least some of the hype around Optane but so far they really haven’t shown anything to justify it.

“The first large-capacity Optane SSD drive is the DC P4800X, which has 375GB of storage and started shipping on Sunday. The $1,520 SSD is targeted at servers. (Intel didn’t provide regional availability information.) … In a nutshell, Intel said that if you run sequential tasks, it would be better to use conventional SSDs. Optane lights up when running random reads and writes, which are common in servers and high-end PCs. Optane’s random writes reach up to 10 times faster compared to conventional SSDs, but only when utilization is being pushed to extremes, while reads are around three times faster. In a standard 4K data block, with 70 percent read and 30 percent write, the P4800X was five to eight times faster than the older P3700. The responsiveness of the drive increased with the data load.”

4)            What Happens If Uber Fails?

This is the sort of article you see when valuation bubbles are getting long it the tooth, except in this case the author seems to acknowledge it is a bubble. The trope is that, while one or two companies may have suffered down rounds the party will go on for all the companies that haven’t imploded yet. What tends to happen in real life is that investors shake off a few disappointments until some ill-defined critical mass happens and they have a collective “what was I thinking” moment which leads to a rush for the exits. Unfortunately, unless you have the good fortune of selling your stock to the unsuspecting public through an IPO, for most Unicorn investors there will be no exit.

“But how much is the tech industry’s fate actually wrapped up in Uber’s? If Uber implodes, will the bubble finally pop? It’s a question that’s full of assumptions: Uber’s fate is uncertain, and nobody really knows what kind of bubble we’re in right now. Yet it’s a question still worth teasing apart. Trillions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and the future of technology all hang in the balance. “These bubbles swing back and forth in fear and greed,” McGrath told me, “and when Uber stumbles, it triggers fear. Part of this bubble is created basically in a low-interest-rate environment. Money from all over the world is pouring into this sector because it has nowhere else to go.” This is a key point—perhaps the key point that will determine whether Uber lives or dies. Uber isn’t worth $70 billion because it is actually worth $70 billion. Its valuation is that high despite the fact that it’s not profitable, and despite the fact that it has little protection from competitors baked into what it is and does. Uber’s valuation, in other words, is a reflection of the global marketplace and not a reflection of Uber’s own durability as a company.”

5)            T-Mobile busy testing 5G but not on the fixed wireless bandwagon: CTO

Of course he doesn’t believe in fixed wireless: he’s a mobile operator! It is true that range is bound to be pretty poor at 28 GHz but 5G technologies like MIMO and Beam Forming are not confined to particular spectrum. The real advantage is regulatory: there is loads of unlicensed spectrum which can be exploited by ISPs for the last 100 meters to the customer. Plus in the US wireless is federally regulated, and state and local laws shielding wireline ISPs from competition will not affect 5G ISPs.

“T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray reiterated his disdain for the fixed wireless 5G model that Verizon has been pursuing—saying at this point in time, “I am not a huge believer” in that model—but that doesn’t mean T-Mobile is sitting idle when it comes to 5G. Speaking at the Citi European & Emerging Telecoms Conference in London on Tuesday, Ray said T-Mobile is testing 5G and he believes there’s a lot of potential for true innovation in the wireless industry, including with things related to virtual reality and eyewear, but mobility won’t come in earnest until the next decade. “We’ve done a huge volume of 5G testing, we have 5G radio, 28 GHz, all those pieces,” he said. “We’re trialing, testing, doing all the things,” he added, noting Verizon announced some larger scale trials this year.”

6)            Average PC DRAM Contract Price Jumped Over 20% Sequentially in October with 4GB Modules Coming to US$17.5, Says TrendForce

With DRAM, Flash, and SSD prices trending up (as are, apparently, displays) PC prices and features are bound to be impacted. This is bound to be traumatic for consumers used to continuous improvements in price/performances. Don’t worry it will be a temporary affect: the memory vendors will add a lot of capacity and price will drop even faster than usual in a year or so.

“DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, reports the average contract price of 4GB PC DRAM modules increased over 20% between September and October from US$14.5 to US$17.5 as DRAM suppliers completed their fourth-quarter contract negotiations with first-tier PC-OEMs. Spot prices of DDR3 and DDR4 4Gb chips also rose 17% to 24% respectively in October compared with the prior month to US$2.46 and US$2.48 on average. This strong showing indicates that the DRAM market outlook is rosy and further price increases are expected in the future. “From the supply side, PC DRAM currently accounts for less than 20% of the total output from the global DRAM industry because suppliers are focusing on the mobile and server DRAM markets,” said Avril Wu, research manager of DRAMeXchange. “From the demand side, branded device makers have fairly low DRAM inventories while facing higher-than-expected demand in the busy season. Hence, prices of PC DRAM have risen sharply in the recent period.””

7)            Apple says recent Wikileaks CIA docs detail old, fixed iPhone and Mac exploits

In case you missed it surprise, surprise, surprise Apple products are vulnerable to hacking. If you believe current products have all the backdoors patched I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

“As any security expert will tell you, once you gain physical access to a device, nearly all bets are off. Remote intrusion is a much more real and dangerous threat to the security of either end users or company-wide systems. Basically if you have the device in hand and all the time in the world it’s just a matter of plugging away. That said, Apple’s devices have been engineered to be particularly resilient to even in-person attacks. Which is why the CIA docs garnered attention by the press and users today. To wrap — these appear to be older exploits but government agencies are always seeking new vectors and likely have new methods in place already that Apple is or will be patching out as soon as they are disclosed by researchers or disclosed by legal discovery.”

8)            Theranos investors who pledge not to sue get Elizabeth Holmes’ shares for free

This is so funny it has to be true. The deal is apparently to the “investors” in the last round of financing who, presumably, were sold a pig in a poke. It turns out that, choosing my words carefully, there wasn’t much there there. Now, why somebody would want shares of Theranos for free is beyond me, especially since that is roughly what they are worth. The advantage to the people behind the company is pretty obvious: no lawsuit and therefore no legal discovery. It all just goes away.

“Theranos CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes is planning to give up some of her personal shares to investors who pledge not to sue the disgraced blood-testing company, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deals would only involve investors from the last round of funding, which ended in 2015 and brought in more than $600 million. These investors include the family of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the family behind Walmart stores, and John Elkann, who controls Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Investors could get about two free shares of the company for every share they bought. The deals would also mean that Holmes could lose her majority stake in Theranos.”

9)            KABOOM! Incredible moment rockets fizz across a Ukrainian city after an arms warehouse packed with ammunition and weapons was ‘bombed by a drone’

I don’t know how reliable the Daily Mail is in general but BBC is reporting the same thing as suspicions ( It certainly makes sense: as I’ve written before consumer grade drones are perfectly capable of dropping bombs and have been used by ISIS for doing exactly that. Whether or not this particular attack was carried out by one it is a matter of time before the things are used for this purpose.

“Last night, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said authorities were considering a theory that the fire was caused by ‘explosive devices dropped from an unmanned aerial vehicle’.”

10)        Intel Forms New AI Group Reporting Directly To CEO Brian Krzanich

If I were NVIDIA I would have expected this day. NVIDIA’s stock has done really well over AI-related excitement even though their financials are mostly associated with gamers and PC applications. AI researchers used GPUs because they happen to be good at the sort of calculations used in AI even though they are very expensive and not particularly power efficient. It is a matter of time before Intel and others incorporate “AI Accelerators” into their processors which take you most of the way along the performance curve. After all, Intel sells more GPUs embedded in its processor than anybody else sells GPUs. This may not have a material financial impact on Intel but it will have a huge impact on AI related GPU sales.

“GPUs, with NVIDIA being the biggest recent beneficiary, have become the most recent standard for cutting edge deep neural network training, and inference today is spread across CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs and even DSPs. AI is a quick moving target and I think it’s unwise to think the engines today will be static in the future. The engines that drive AI are a very competitive space and not only are we seeing startups engaging, but the largest semiconductor companies like Intel. Intel has been on an absolute tear in their goal to be the leader in AI. It acquired Altera for $16B and FPGAs are key to DNN inference.”


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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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)            Hospital Stumbles in Bid to Teach a Computer to Treat Cancer

Remember all the hoopla about IBM’s Watson computing being applied to medical diagnosis? Ever wonder what happened? Well it turns out things haven’t gone as well as expected. The article seems to try and distance Watson from the program’s failure but, seriously, if the technology worked nearly as well as people thought it would do you really think they would have thrown in the towel?

“In 2012, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center launched an ambitious project with International Business Machines Corp.’s Watson program that promised to transform cancer care with the help of artificial intelligence. Almost five years and more than $62 million later, the sprawling Houston-based public institution has little to show for it, according to a special review conducted by the University of Texas System Audit Office that details a number of stumbles in the progress and management of the project. The audit doesn’t evaluate IBM Watson’s scientific capabilities or whether the technology works for this purpose. But instead, the report details the management and technology challenges at MD Anderson that make it hard to integrate artificial-intelligence software into complicated health-care settings. The Watson-based program isn’t in clinical use, according to the audit. The plan for a pilot focused on leukemia was “suspended mid-project” and the focus shifted to lung cancer to try to speed up progress, according to audit documents. Clinical trial and drug-protocol data in the system are outdated, and the pilot program doesn’t work with the hospital’s current electronic health records, according to the audit.”

2)            Sony’s new wireless charging patent could let you borrow juice from other devices

This article generated a fair bit of online interest this week even though what is being described in the article is essentially “radio”. There is no chance whatsoever any significant amount of power could be transmitted wirelessly between two smartphones, even if they were a few millimeters apart. I’m sure Sony engineers get a bonus for patent applications but it’s rather hard to believe any patent clerk would accept such a thing. Overall it’s a pity so few people paid attention in physics class.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen patents and patent fillings related to new wireless charging techniques. Even Apple joined the fray by filing a patent for an inductive wireless charging technology. The company is now rumored to be working with Energous, a wireless charging company that has built tech that can charge wirelessly from a distance — so if you’re at home, your device can be charging no matter where you are in the house. There’s no question that the ultimate goal is for charging to be completely hassle free, and these companies all seem to be working toward that. Sony’s tech could be a piece in that puzzle — or it could just help you keep charged in an emergency, if it ever sees the light of day.”

3)            Why laptops won’t come with larger SSDs this year

The SSD is going to kill the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) industry but it may take a bit longer than I expected. It turns out they are so much in demand that suppliers can’t keep up, which means prices are dropping as they should. HDD stocks have bounced back as though investors seem to think the hazard has passed but it hasn’t: this is the ultimate head fake – massive flash (and therefore SSD) capacity will come online within 12 to 18 months and SSD pricing will drop precipitously. That will result in a veritable implosion of demand for HDDs.

“A dearth in NAND flash chip supply will cause the prices of mainstream solid-state drives (SSDs) to leap by as much as 16% this quarter over the previous quarter, meaning laptop makers won’t likely offer consumers higher capacity SSDs in their new systems, according to a report from market research firm DRAMeXchange. On average, contract prices for multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs supplied to the PC manufacturing industry are projected to go up by 12% to 16% compared with the final quarter of 2016; prices of triple-level cell (TLC) SSDs are expected to rise by 10% to 16% sequentially, according to DRAMeXchange. In the second quarter of 2017, the average prices of mainstream client-grade SSDs will keep climbing, but at a more moderate rate.  … The SSD adoption rate in the global notebook market is estimated to reach 45% this year, according to DRAMeXchange. The uptick in SSD adoption will be greater in the consumer-class notebook segment than the business-class segment.”

4)            The Uber Bombshell About to Drop

I have no issue with Uber as a service but I figure anybody who believes it is worth over $60B is delusional: it is a car service, not a tech company. Nevertheless, like so many “unicorns” Uber has to keep stoking excitement in order to keep raising money in order to continue existing. Its self-driving car project is an example of this: AVs will not be commercially available for at least 10 year years and a car service is not going to be the company leading the charge. In any event, if this article is to be believed, their technology is “borrowed” and they might have to give it back.

“In the last few weeks Alphabet filed a lawsuit against Uber. Alphabet and Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) allege that Anthony Levandowski, an ex-Waymo manager, stole confidential and proprietary information from Waymo, then used it in his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, so the suit was filed against Uber, not Otto. This alone is a fairly explosive claim, but the subtext of Alphabet’s filing is an even bigger bombshell. Reading between the lines, (in my opinion) Alphabet is implying that Mr Levandowski arranged with Uber to: 1) Steal LiDAR and other self-driving component designs from Waymo; 2) Start Otto as a plausible corporate vehicle for developing the self-driving technology; and 3) Acquire Otto for $680 million. Below, I’ll present the timeline of events, my interpretation, and some speculation on a possible (bad) outcome for Uber. The timeline references section numbers from Waymo’s amended filing, so you can read the full context yourself.”

5)            Uber’s autonomous cars drove 20,354 miles and had to be taken over at every mile, according to documents

Uber may or may not have taken Google’s self-driving car technology but it sure doesn’t look like they took the good stuff. It turns out their vehicles don’t go very far before a human has to wrestle control back from them. It’s just a matter of time before they kill somebody.

“For example: During the week ending March 8, the 43 active cars on the road only drove an average of close to 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take over for one reason or another. This metric, called miles per intervention, includes all the times drivers have had to take back control from the system over the course of a week. The reasons for these interventions can vary, but that can include navigating unclear lane markings, the system overshooting a turn or driving in inclement weather. The stat excludes “accidental disengagements, end-of-route disengagements and early takeovers.””

6)            Millions of Smart Meters May Over-Inflate Readings by up to 600%

Smart meters allow the utility to do things like time of use billing and remote meter reading. You might think that the one thing a meter should be able to do is provide a correct reading of electricity consumption but that does not seem to be the case. It may be simply a case that the nature of the electric load is different nowadays as suggest by the issue with LED bulbs. Since the utility selects the smart meter they are probably far less concerned with accuracy than you might believe – especially if the meter overstates actual energy consumption.

“Lab tests carried out by Dutch scientists have shown that some of today’s “smart” electrical meters may give out false readings that in some cases can be 582% higher than actual energy consumption. … Test results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32% to +582%. Tests with uncommon results were repeated several times and the results were within a few percents of the original. …The greatest inaccuracies were seen when researchers combined dimmers with energy saving light bulbs and LED bulbs.|

7)            FBI Used Best Buy’s Geek Squad To Increase Secret Public Surveillance

Heck – who needs a warrant when you can just pay employees to break constitutional guarantees for you? I admit that it is hard to have pity for alleged criminals, especially those dumb enough to turn electronics over to Best Buy, but this is pretty pathetic, even for the FBI. One thing to consider is that if Best Buy is snooping through your computer looking for signs of criminal activity they are also finding personal information, passwords, credit card information, and so on.

“Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy’s Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer’s request for repairs. To sidestep the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against warrantless invasions of private property, federal prosecutors and FBI officials have argued that Geek Squad employees accidentally find and report, for example, potential child pornography on customers’ computers without any prodding by the government. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as “wild speculation.” But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line.”

8)            Why Intel Bought Mobileye

Actually the reason Intel bought Mobileye is pretty much the reason they buy almost everything else: they prefer financial engineering over actual engineering and would rather give their money to Mobileye shareholders than their own shareholders. Intel has absolutely no understanding of the auto industry and buying Mobileye doesn’t change that. The auto industry is a high volume low margin business and there is not a chance in a thousand that auto vendors are going to rely on Intel as a major supplier for important technology. All this deal does is to give Mobileye’s competitors a boost. The big question is how long it will take before Intel writes the transaction off.

“Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, announced it will acquire Mobileye, a leading automotive supplier of sensor systems that help prevent collisions, for $63.54 per share, which has a fully-diluted equity value of $15.3 billion and an enterprise value of $14.7 billion. The deal has left some scratching their heads such as Citron Research, a short-selling firm that once called the company “the short of 2016” in a tweet. Others have questioned the acquisition price, asking if Intel is paying too much? But the deal isn’t so surprising after a review of Intel’s acquisition and partnership history in the past two years. And it represents the next wave of deals in the automotive tech space, said Stefan Heck CEO of NAUTO, self-driving car tech startup that uses a combination of its own artificial intelligence algorithms, cameras, motion sensors, and GPS to detect what’s happening on the road and inside the car.”

9)            Top Three iPhone 8 Rumors You Should Know

I suspect that Apple could launch a large stick of chewing gum with an iPhone label and sell a few million copies provided it charged a high enough price. None of the “top” rumors I have seen discuss any features which haven’t been on the market, in some cases for years. My Nexus 5 had wireless charging and that phone came out in 2013 and wireless charging wasn’t new then.

“Apple Inc. is expected to launch a new cool iPhone model this year. New reports leaked out of Japan claim the Cupertino-based tech giant has been testing multiple iPhone models. It has yet to finalize a 10th-anniversery iPhone to be launched this year alongside iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus models. Rumors suggest that Apple will launch a 5.8-inch flagship handset with edge-to-edge OLED display in September. It is said to feature a long-distance wireless charging, an edge-to-edge OLED display, and a “revolutionary” front-facing 3D camera.”

10)        Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Market Expected to Grow at a Compound Annual Rate of 58%, Reaching 99.4 Million Units in 2021, According to IDC

Gartner, IDC, and the like are in the business of selling research reports and believe me people prefer research reports which paint sunlit meadows far more than they like research reports which tell the truth. This is especially the case in the tech industry where bullish forecasts drive stock prices and funding valuations. Quite frankly I think you have to be on drugs if you believe the growth forecasts in this summary: it is pretty clear that, while there will be a market for VR and AR, that market will be a fraction of the size the size people predicted a year ago.

“New device launches, an expanding array of content for both consumer and enterprise users, and lower price points will propel the worldwide augmented and virtual reality headset device market at a breakneck pace. According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker, total headset device shipments will reach 99.4 million units in 2021, up nearly 10-fold from the 10.1 million units shipped in 2016. This results in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58% across the five-year forecast period.”



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

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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)            WikiLeaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners

This really shouldn’t surprise anybody but yet another branch of the US government has been exploiting vulnerabilities to spy on people instead of having those vulnerabilities fixed. Now, I know what you are thinking: why would the CIA want to close up an information channel? Well, it turns out that there are all kinds of smart people in the world and some of those don’t work for the CIA. Some might even work for, say, the Russians or the Chinese or even organized crime and they know about those vulnerabilities as well. I had to chuckle when one commentator said that Americans don’t have to worry because the CIA is not allowed to spy on them. Right …

“The latest revelations about the U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of everyday devices can be turned to spy on their owners. Televisions, smartphones and even anti-virus software are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the WikiLeaks documents released Tuesday. The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they resort to encrypted apps to communicate.”

2)            Microsoft Pledges to Use ARM Server Chips, Threatening Intel’s Dominance

ARM has been going to disrupt the server business for the past 10 years or so. That does not mean it won’t happen: one thing about cloud services is that the computes are more or less abstracted, unlike traditional client/server systems. This means you really don’t care if you have 100 ducks or two strong horses, provided the performance is there. So maybe this isn’t just another effort by Microsoft to negotiate price with Intel – maybe this time it’s for real.

“Microsoft has developed a version of its Windows operating system for servers using ARM processors, working with Qualcomm Inc. and Cavium Inc. The software maker is now testing these chips for tasks like search, storage, machine learning and big data, said Jason Zander, vice president of Microsoft’s Azure cloud division. The company isn’t yet running the processors — known for being more power-efficient and offering more choice in vendors — in any customer-facing networks, and wouldn’t specify how widespread they eventually will be. “It’s not deployed into production yet, but that is the next logical step,” Zander said in an interview. “This is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft. We wouldn’t even bring something to a conference if we didn’t think this was a committed project and something that’s part of our road map.”|”

3)            IBM will sell 50-qubit universal quantum computer “in the next few years”

IBM may indeed have a real quantum computer, and it may even cost the same as a D-Wave “quantum computer”. I suspect that quantum computing as a service (QCaaS – registered trademark) may be the only way to go since the infrastructure needed to care and feed for a quantum computer is immense. You don’t just need the cryogenics: if something is delivering results at several orders of magnitude faster than prior approaches you need to be able to handle that data with regular computers. Plus, there are probably very few commercially relevant applications for QCs and a scarcity of people who understand the math needed to program the things.

“IBM will build and sell commercial 50-qubit universal quantum computers, dubbed IBM Q, “in the next few years.” No word on pricing just yet, but I wouldn’t expect much change from $15 million—the cost of a non-universal D-Wave quantum computer. In other news, IBM has also opened up an API (sample code available on Github) that gives developers easier access to the five-qubit quantum computer currently connected to the IBM cloud. Later in the year IBM will release a full SDK, further simplifying the process of building quantum software.”

4)            Apple Losing Out to Microsoft and Google in U.S. Classrooms

I’ve always thought it strange that underfinanced schoolboards selected overpriced Apple products for anything, let alone to put then in the hands of kids. Chromebooks are wildly popular in education because they are capable and cheap – with the emphasis on cheap. I believe that kids with less exposure to Apple products early in life are less likely to seek them out as adults, but time will tell.

“Use of iPads and MacBooks in U.S. schools hit a new low last year, with Apple struggling to make further inroads into the education sector, according to new figures (via The New York Times). According to research company Futuresource Consulting, in 2016 the number of devices in American classrooms that run iOS and macOS fell to third place behind both Google-powered laptops and Windows devices. … Out of 12.6 million mobile devices shipped to primary and secondary schools in the U.S., Chromebooks accounted for 58 percent of the market, up from 50 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, school shipments of iPads and Mac laptops fell to 19 percent, from about 25 percent, over the same period, while Microsoft Windows laptops and tablets stayed relatively stable at about 22 percent.”

5)            Facebook asks BBC for sexual images found in Facebook groups; calls police when BBC complies

Ah, Facebook. Pretty much evil incarnate. So the story is that BBC did an investigation of child porn posted on Facebook and brought the image to their attention. When BBC determined that those images were still on Facebook, it kinda said “guys …”. Facebook asked for proof and then called the cops on BBC for supplying it. Long story short, if you come across illegal content on Facebook you should probably call the police yourself.

“Facebook, like just about any other social network — and, indeed, countless websites — is home to all manner of objectionable and even illegal content. A BBC investigation found that Facebook was failing to remove sexualized images of children from groups after they were reported, calling into question Facebook’s moderating procedures. Accounts for convicted pedophiles also remained online after they were reported. When the BBC pointed out to Facebook that less than 20 percent of the reported images were removed, Facebook asked to see the images that were being investigated. When the BBC complied with the request, Facebook reported the corporation to the police for distributing illegal images. The social network’s response to the investigation has been derided as “extraordinary”.”

6)            Google’s smarter, A.I.-powered translation system expands to more languages

Translation and voice recognition are two “killer apps” for AI. Hard coded approaches don’t work particularly well and you need some form of feedback to tweak the system so it “learns” from its mistakes. I don’t use translate enough to notice but Google Assistant is miles ahead of previous voice recognition tools – at least once you’ve figure out all the privacy settings, etc., on your new phone.

“Neural translation is a huge leap over prior translation systems, as it’s able to take advantage of the progress made in the machine learning field to make translations more accurate, and sound more like the way people speak the language. What makes the difference is that the system doesn’t translate each part of a sentence piece by piece, but looks at the sentence as a whole. This helps the system figure out the broader context and the most relevant translation. It then rearranges and adjusts the sentence using proper grammar. In addition, the Neural Machine Translation system learns over time and improves, resulting in better and more natural translations the longer it works.”

7)            Dangerous backdoor exploit found on popular IoT devices

I have to wonder if there are any IoT devices which don’t have backdoors (well – except the ones put in by the CIA/NSA). As I’ve noted in the past, the companies making IoT devices are not usually tech companies even if there is a tech company name on the box. Backdoors may be installed for benign (i.e. testing) or malignant purposes but they are there nonetheless. It may sound silly (who cares if my lightbulbs get hacked) until somebody grabs all your banking information off your network through an IoT device.

“The backdoor is in the Telnet admin interface of DblTek-branded devices, and potentially allows an attacker to remotely open a shell with root privileges on the target device. What’s perhaps even more worrying is that when Trustwave contacted DblTek regarding the backdoor last autumn – multiple times – patched firmware was eventually released at the end of December. However, rather than removing the flaw, the vendor simply made it more difficult to access and exploit. And further correspondence with the Chinese company has apparently fallen on deaf ears.”

8)            Turner, Warner Bros. to Launch Boomerang Cartoon Streaming-Subscription Service for $5 Monthly

Another week, another streaming service. Turner and Warner have a massive catalogue of content, much of which is kid friendly, and getting even a modest monthly fee out of parents to let their kids have access to it makes perfect sense. While a lot of this content is syndicated, there is considerable merit to “on demand access”, especially for kids, and the lack of ads is a huge plus for most parents.

“Boomerang also will be the exclusive home to new original series including Warner Bros. Animation’s Dorothy and the Wizard  Of Oz, which follows the ruby-slipper adventures of its brave and feisty princess protagonist, and Wacky Races, an overhaul of the late-’60s Hanna-Barbera series. The ad-free SVOD service also will be the only place to watch new episodes of Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry. Also featuring such favorites as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Popeye and many others, the service will launch domestically in the spring on web, iOS and Android devices for $4.99 per month (with a 7-day free trial) or $39.99 a year (with a 30-day free trial).”

9)            Nielsen: Millennials Registering Less TV Time, More Streaming

This is another data point in an ongoing demographic shift: whereas youth pined for their own TVs in the past they are more than content to watch video on their smartphones or laptops. Consuming media through these devices means a wider array of content rather than the standard network and cable channel fare. Hence increased opportunities for streaming services such as that reference in the above article: if you think about it when millennials have kids they’ll want to stream cartoons.

“According to Nielsen, millennials spend about 27 percent less time watching traditional TV than viewers over the age of 35. Nielsen’s inaugural Millennials on Millennials report finds that TV-connected devices—DVD players, VCRs, game consoles and digital streaming devices—compose four times the percentage of millennials’ total video minutes than adults 35 and older. TV-connected devices account for 23 percent of millennials’ total time with video, compared with just 6 percent for consumers 35 and older. This group spends 66 percent of average weekly gross minutes watching traditional TV, compared to 89 percent reported among those over 35.”

10)        Snapchat wanted $150,000 to NOT run NRA ads on gun control group videos

Nice content you got there gov’ner – pity if something should ’appen to it. This is actually one of the issues with online content: you might end up with ads which contradict your message. There is nothing wrong with that if you end up getting paid for the content but another thing altogether if your content is advocacy. Needless to say, very few advocacy groups have the money the NRA does. The real message is don’t use Snapchat to get your message out.


“Everytown for Gun Safety is an advocacy group that focuses on gun safety and violence issues. According to Mic, it reached out to Snapchat in 2016 to enquire about an advertising campaign for its #WearOrange event, held on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. … A Snapchat representative, Rob Saliterman, responded to Everytown with a quote of $150,000. This would allow Snapchat users to engage with the event using custom filters and lenses created specifically for it. But here’s where it gets particularly sordid. Because what Saliterman, who works as Snapchat’s Head of Political Sales, didn’t realize is that the Snapchat news team had reached out to Everytown, offering to feature the event as a Live Story for free. Realizing that another department within Snapchat had undercut him, he fired off an email suggesting that Everytown pay up, lest National Rifle Association (NRA) adverts appear on their videos.”


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

(This is a corrected and edited post)

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of March 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




1)          Uber Is Doomed

The bankers handling Snap’s IPO did their job and ensured the favored clients who got an allocation of the IPO profited handsomely. The company itself is doomed, but as long as the private equity investors unload their positions on the public no hard no foul. The success of Snap’s IPO shows the investment climate is primed for an even larger pile of garbage so don’t be surprised if Uber files for an IPO in the near future. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees and a company incapable of making a profit needs to pay its customers somehow.

“After a discombobulated 2016, in which Uber burned through more than $2 billion, amid findings that rider fares only cover roughly 40 percent of a ride, with the remainder subsidized by venture capitalists, it’s hard to imagine Kalanick could take the company public at its stunning current valuation of nearly $70 billion. And now, in the past few weeks alone, Uber has been accused of having a workplace that fosters a culture of misogyny, accused of stealing from Google the blueprint of a successful self-driving system, and has lost 200,000 customers over ties to President Donald Trump and how it responded to a taxi driver boycott.”

2)          YouTube announces cable-free TV subscription service

It was a matter of time before Google got into the Over the Top streaming business. The company has a massive infrastructure for video delivery but it takes time to negotiate rebroadcast rights, and that will have to be done one country at a time. This sets the stage for Google to offer advertisements customized to the interests of its subscribers, which should be a very lucrative business.

“YouTube is giving viewers a way to tune in live to their favorite shows, without a cable or satellite subscription. The company announced a live and on-demand streaming TV service called “YouTubeTV” on Tuesday. The subscription, which will cost $35 a month for a family plan of up to six accounts, is expected to launch in the next few months in the U.S. Currently there are no plans for international service. Subscribers will have access to up to 40 networks, as well as YouTube creator content like original content from subscription service YouTube Red. Channels include all broadcast channels and cable channels like USA, FX, Freeform, ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC Sports. Users can add Showtime and soccer programming for an additional fee.”

3)          Why Hollywood as We Know It Is Already Over

This article covers a lot of territory ranging from the impact of unions on the movie business to the emergence of Netflix and other streaming services and their impact on media in general. Long story short, as I predicted in an article in 1996, streaming video channels like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube TV are making for boom times for content producers. This is bad for Hollywood, which has huge production costs and a distinct lack of imagination (the ad for the video associated with the article is for yet another King Kong remake, complete with over the top and likely very boring special effects). You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a story if it is a good story.

“But the real threat isn’t China. It’s Silicon Valley. Hollywood, in its over-reliance on franchises, has ceded the vast majority of the more stimulating content to premium networks and over-the-top services such as HBO and Showtime, and, increasingly, digital-native platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. These companies also have access to analytics tools that Hollywood could never fathom, and an allergy to its inefficiency. Few have seen the change as closely as Diller himself, who went from running Paramount and Fox to building his own tech empire, IAC. “I don’t know why anyone would want a movie company today,” Diller said at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in October. “They don’t make movies; they make hats and whistles.” (Half of the people in the audience, likely representing the tech industry, laughed at this quip; the other half, from Hollywood, cringed.) When I spoke to Mike Moritz, the iconic venture capitalist, backstage at the event, he noted that a nominal investment in a somewhat successful tech company could generate more money than Hollywood’s top-grossing movies. “In my mind,” he said, “Hollywood is dying.””

4)          Amazon Cloud Services Outage Takes Down Amazon Video, Websites and Internet-Connected Light Bulbs

The great thing about cloud services is that they are inexpensive and an expense rather than a capital item. The bad thing about cloud services is, when they go down, they go down big. Amazon demonstrated that with a major outage which appears to have reverberated for many hours. The company blames a mistake by an employee but the mess up probably cost their customers millions.

“A number of internet services were affected by an outage of Amazon’s cloud infrastructure lasting multiple hours Tuesday. Amazon’s S3 servers, which are often used to store images and other media, suffered an outage across the East Coast region Tuesday morning, affecting services ranging from Amazon’s own media services to Medium to Slack. Amazon acknowledged the outage on its cloud services status page, writing that “customer applications depending on S3 will continue to experience high error rates as we are actively working to remediate the errors in Amazon S3.””

5)          If you think NASA is frustrated with SpaceX, you’re probably right

Musk is the consummate stock promoter. Although SpaceX is private, there is an aura which must be maintained, so news that the company was going to send a couple of paying customers around the moon (and hopefully back) was greeted with hysterical excitement by his many fans. I’d love a chance to go to space, but SpaceX’s safety record with cargo is bad enough and, as is pointed out, they haven’t even got a crew into low Earth orbit yet. I’m not saying it is suicide to go on this trip but, well, they had better pack cyanide capsules just in case.

“Roughly translated, this means: Dear SpaceX, we have stood by you. We have given you $3 billion for crew services, the majority of your revenues in recent years, and we are desperately tired of relying on Russia to get our astronauts to the space station. Could you please focus on our contract? Like, now? A more blunt assessment was offered by Mary Lynne Dittmar, who is familiar with the thinking of NASA’s human spaceflight program managers. “I find it extraordinary that these sorts of announcements are being made when SpaceX has yet to get crew from the ground to low-Earth orbit,” she told The New York Times.”

6)          Oculus slashes price of Rift headset + Touch controllers to $598

A little while ago we learned that Best Buy was pulling the plug on VR demo booths at many stores due to lack of interest. Although price drops are not unusual in the technology space it is hard to believe demand for Oculus VR is living up to expectations. We continue to believe that, although there will be a demand for VR and AR, these will mainly be niche markets.

“The $599 Rift headset and $199 Touch controllers have both had their prices cut by $100, bringing the bundled price of the two VR products to $598. Consumers can also purchase them separately, with the Rift priced at $499 and the Touch controllers, which were released just three months ago, now costing $99. These aggressive price cuts suggest Oculus is doubling down on getting the device in more consumers’ hands, especially as analysts suggest the company’s headset is being outsold by competing products from Sony and HTC. No official numbers have been shared by either Oculus or HTC, but Sony announced in an interview last week that the company had sold nearly one million PS VR headsets since releasing the device this past October.”

7)          So you want to invest in VR or AR?

This piece is written by my friend Duncan Stewart and it provides some context for the price drops around the Oculus VR headset and related gadgetry as mentioned above. The thing with a peripheral such as VR or AR is that utility is closely associated with software. Unfortunately, lots of media software like games and even specialty applications require a large market for it to make any sense to develop software for it.

“You have to be very careful about potential enterprise use cases. As an example, what if I came up with a cool AR headset that someone could wear while taking blood? It would show exactly where the veins are, and help me select the right place. Great idea, right? The problem is that while DUNCAN needs help in knowing where to find a vein, almost all (99% or more) of blood tests are being done by nurses and technicians who do this for a living. They are extensively trained, and have likely done it tens of thousands of times…they don’t NEED an expensive AR headset; it would only get in the way! Many of the AR business plans I see are along these lines: they look impressive to the average person, but have very poor real world utility.”

8)          Gene therapy ‘cures’ boy of blood disease that affects millions

Nobody has figured out how to safely deliver a corrected gene to an entire body though it has been done to embryos. The most viable approach is to take stem cells, fix those, and re-implant them. This should work wells for a variety of ailments with the most obvious candidates being those related to blood. In this case they used a monoclonal antibody/retrovirus to modify the stem cells so they now produce red blood cells unaffected by the sickle cell gene. This technology was developed before CRISPR Cas9 and I suspect it would be a lot easier using that technique. This is a whole new world in terms of new medical treatments.

“Now a team in France seems to have developed a treatment that would work for everyone with the disorder. First, the team took bone marrow stem cells from the boy when he was 13, and gave them extra, mutated versions of the gene that codes for beta-globin. These were designed to make beta-globin that would interfere with the boy’s faulty proteins, stopping them from clumping together. The researchers then put these stem cells back into the boy’s body. After around three months, he began producing large quantities of haemoglobin that behaves normally (New England Journal of Medicine, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1609677). “The patient is now 15 years old and free of all previous medication,” says Marina Cavazzana at the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, who led the team. “He has been free of pain from blood vessel blockages, and has given up taking opioid painkillers.””

9)          Researchers store computer operating system and short movie on DNA

I though the 2 megabytes was a typo, because I don’t know of any 2 MB operating systems but that is the figure also cited in the research paper. Nevertheless it is highly unlikely DNA would be used as a storage medium for the simple reason that the larger the data storage on a media the more important random access and access times are. So if you can imagine a magnetic tape which store 1 petabyte of data (1000 terabytes) you have to go from one end to the other looking for data. 1 petabyte is a lot of data so if you read a terabyte per minute, or 133 gigabits per second, it would take you 8 hours on average to find the data you are looking for. Suffice it to say you can’t read DNA at anywhere near 133 gigabits per second so you better not be in a hurry.

“Finally, the researchers show that their coding strategy packs 215 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA—100 times more than methods published by pioneering researchers George Church at Harvard, and Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney at the European Bioinformatics Institute. “We believe this is the highest-density data-storage device ever created,” said Erlich. … Cost still remains a barrier. The researchers spent $7,000 to synthesize the DNA they used to archive their 2 megabytes of data, and another $2,000 to read it. Though the price of DNA sequencing has fallen exponentially, there may not be the same demand for DNA synthesis, says Sri Kosuri, a biochemistry professor at UCLA who was not involved in the study. “Investors may not be willing to risk tons of money to bring costs down,” he said.”

10)      U.S. appeals court tosses patent verdict against Apple

The worm continues to turn against patent licensing companies. The US Patent Office is pretty liberal when it comes to granting patents and this has been turned to the advantage of many patent licensing firms. Ideally, you’d want a patent to be very broad so it can apply to things which never occurred to the inventor. As this case shows, litigation is so expensive that lots of companies agreed to pay licenses regardless of the dubious quality of the patents. The 3 to 0 ruling shows the Federal Circuit appeals courts is getting serious about reigning in low quality cases.

“A federal appeals court has thrown out a jury verdict that had originally required Apple Inc to pay $533 million to Smartflash LLC, a technology developer and licenser that claimed Apple’s iTunes software infringed its data storage patents. The trial judge vacated the large damages award a few months after a Texas federal jury imposed it in February 2015, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said on Wednesday the judge should have ruled Smartflash’s patents invalid and set aside the verdict entirely. A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said Smartflash’s patents were too “abstract” and did not go far enough in describing an actual invention to warrant protection.”


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.”