The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 7th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Here’s Why Software Patents Are in Peril After the Intellectual Ventures Ruling

This ruling is yet another of a series which suggests the traditional business of patent troll may be fading into the sunset. Software patents have always been an abomination and their misapplication had enriched many a lawyer. I am a big supporter of the patent system but it appears it went off the rails 20 years ago and needs to be turned around. Mind you that would take political action.

“The most important part of the decision, which has created a stir among the patent bar, is a concurrence by Circuit Judge Haldane Mayer. In striking down a key claim from U.S. Patent 5987610, which claims a monopoly on using anti-virus tools within a phone network, Mayer says it is time to acknowledge that a famous Supreme Court 2014 decision known as “Alice” basically ended software patents altogether.”

2)          Toyota’s Robot-Car Line In The Sand: 8.8 Billion Test Miles To Ensure Safety

After the first publicly announced death associated with Tesla’s “Autopilot” system (there had been one prior to that) Tesla got a lot of publicity by falsely claim “Autopilot” was twice as safe as a human driver (ignoring the earlier fatality) (see also The folks at Toyota have apparently done the math and the answer is a bit bigger than you might think.

“TRI is bringing to life Toyota’s vision of autonomous driving, which follows a double approach. The first type of application is ‘Chauffeur Mode,’ where the car is fully autonomous,” Toyoda said in remarks at the company’s Paris press conference. “It has the potential to offer mobility to those who would not otherwise have it, such as older people and those with special needs. In order to accomplish this safely, it is estimated that some 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) of testing, including simulation, are required.”

3)          Exclusive: Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence – sources

This bit of unsurprising news came out this week. It is unsurprising because the Snowden revelations prove the US tech firms enthusiastically collude with US intelligence. Needless to say, absent (updated) proof the other email providers are denying they would do such a thing. ( Frankly it is hard to believe US intelligence targeted one of the least popular email providers in isolation.

“Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events. Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.”

4)          With HDDs On The Ropes, Samsung Predicts SSD Price Collisions As NVMe Takes Over

Samsung offers facts and figures which pretty much line up with my own analysis of what is going to happen though their projection of the “crossover point” is probably farther into the future than my own. I would not buy a laptop without an SSD or unless I knew I could upgrade it immediately after purchase so I expect the PC industry will adopt SSDs as soon as they can. Oddly enough, HDD stocks have rebounded despite the obvious likelihood the industry will collapse over the next few years.

“Unfortunately for HDDs, there is roughly a $40 price floor that they simply cannot get under. That’s the minimum dollar amount needed to provide the HDD casing, motors, heads, and other components–regardless of how low the capacity is. SSDs can scale well below $40 in smaller capacities, which is important in the cost-sensitive notebook market. SSDs have already displaced HDDs in 40% of new notebooks, and Samsung predicts that it will reach 55% penetration in 2018. Samsung’s prediction is slightly lower than other industry estimates, which indicate that 52% of notebooks will have an SSD next year.”,32762.html

5)          Tesla’s Cozy Relations With Banks Have Lost That Loving Feeling

This is more an article about the abysmal state of Wall Street research than it is about Tesla. Even that doesn’t bother me so much (after all – it is an opportunity as well) if the impact was mostly felt by institutional money managers who are well aware of the “conflicts”. The real tragedy is that individual investors do not fully appreciate how the system works and invest their hard earned money on the basis of “analysis” primarily designed to be an advertisement or quid pro quo for banking services.

“Elon Musk is losing some of his big Wall Street cheerleaders just when he needs them the most. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., one of Musk’s top bankers, has reversed course and cut its recommendation on the entrepreneur’s flagship Tesla Motors Inc., following a similar move by another big booster, Morgan Stanley. Goldman’s decision, announced Thursday, comes as Musk is under growing pressure to rally investors for a new fundraising round. … Both Goldman and Morgan Stanley have been big owners of the stock. Their analysts have, on occasion, recommended the shares right around the time that the firm’s underwriters were lead managers on a new round of funding.”

6)          Three Challenges for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

AI in the “real sense” (i.e. no killer robots) should be a very useful technology in medicine provided the conclusions are double checked by a human (see item 8 for why). The medical profession is pretty conservative for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that lives are at stake. One thing that bugs me about the article is the discussion of the perverse (dis)incentives within the US medical system as those should work strongly in favor of AI outside the US. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“In fact, although we’re surrounded by fantastic applications of modern AI, particularly deep learning — self-driving cars, Siri, AlphaGo, Google Translate, computer vision — the effect on medicine has been nearly nonexistent. In the top cardiology journal, Circulation, the term “deep learning” appears only twice [2]. Deep learning has never been mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, BMJ, or even JAMA, where the work on MYCIN was published 37 years ago. What happened?”

7)          Oculus lowers minimum Rift specs using “asynchronous spacewarp” tech

I remain skeptical as to whether VR will become as mainstream as many predict however one of the problems with the early software was that it required a sizeable investment in computing and graphics. This may have led to over excitement for graphics stocks like NVIDIA (which is, bizarrely at an all-time high). Lowering computing requirements is good for Facebook because it will probably increase the penetration of Oculus. It is not so good for graphics and PC companies however.

“Hence, the Oculus Rift officially supports PC hardware that’s less powerful than it did before. That includes a new $499 Oculus Ready PC from CyberPowerPC and AMD. Oculus is also certifying four Oculus-ready laptops from the likes of ASUS, Alienware, Lenovo, Aorus. Iribe promised that, within a few years, there will be hundreds of laptops that meet that Oculus Ready spec. For now, though, Iribe said “PC VR is more affordable than ever.”

8)          Why AI Makes It Hard to Prove That Self-Driving Cars Are Safe

This is more a general discussion of the challenges of testing AI based software solutions. The idea here is that AI makes use of “training” and that training is necessarily incomplete. The outcome is not deterministic because it depends on the training and the sequence in which is presented. That is no so bad when you are classifying cats and dogs but problematic when lives are involved.

“To make things more concrete, imagine if you test drive your self-driving car and want it to learn how to avoid pedestrians. So you have people in orange safety shirts stand around and you let the car loose. It might be training to recognize hands, arms, and legs—or maybe it’s training to recognize an orange shirt. Or, more subtly, imagine that you’ve conducted the training during the summer, and nobody wore a hat. And the first hat the self-driving car sees on the streets freaks it out. … Google researchers once tried identifying dumbbells with an artificial neural network, a common machine learning model that mimics the neurons in the brain and their connections. Surprisingly, the trained model could identify dumbbells in images only when an arm was attached.”

9)          Smartphone, PC Shipments Slow as Markets Mature

I would not pay money for industry research but the fact Gartner et als are forecasting slowing growth in smartphones tells you things must be blindingly obvious. One important note is that these figures are unit sales, not revenue, and a mature market is characterized by significant pricing pressure in developed markets (i.e. the US, EU, etc), and increased relative unit sales in the developing world – where smartphone prices are well below $100.

“Total mobile phone shipments are on pace to fall 1.6 percent in 2016, and while the smartphone segment continues to grow, it is expanding more slowly than in previous years, and is expected to reach 1.5 billion units in 2016. This year, the Android market is expected to continue to be bolstered by Chinese vendors offering more affordable premium devices. Despite the availability of Apple’s recently released iPhone 7, Gartner expects a weaker year-over-year volume performance from Apple in 2016, as volumes stabilize after a very strong 2015. As a result, the research firm expects the total smartphone market to only increase 4.5 percent, with premium smartphones declining 1.1 percent in 2016.”

10)      Toyota is going to sell a very small ‘buddy robot’ for $400

A while back I saw a short news item on the angst of Japanese who had bought a “robotic dog” which was discontinued by its manufacturer. The owners were spending large sums of money having the devices repaired, often by sacrificing other units. The entire story was baffling so perhaps it is a cultural thing I simply cannot understand. The ad is interesting even though it is in Japanese. Again, the cultural angle seems important.

“Following Kirobo’s successful space jaunt, the car company decided to back the development of a smaller version of the already small robot, calling it – rather appropriately – Kirobo Mini. It unveiled the diminutive droid at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota announced on Monday that Kirobo Mini will go on sale in Japan next year for 39,800 yen (about $390), though a 300-yen (about $2.95) monthly subscription fee will also be necessary. Besides the robot itself, you’ll also receive a “cradle” that’s designed to fit inside a car’s cup holder, ensuring that the robot travels in style wherever you take it. Just don’t forget it’s there when you’re drinking a hot coffee.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 30th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Latest IoT DDoS Attack Dwarfs Krebs Takedown At Nearly 1Tbps Driven By 150K Devices

We have written about the low level of security in Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the past. Mostly this was from the perspective of how IoT could compromise your home or business network but hackers have quickly turned these weaknesses to their advantage in launching cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, most IoT vendors have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to do anything about the security of their products so the problem is likely to get much worse.

“If you thought that the massive DDoS attack earlier this month on Brian Krebs’ security blog was record-breaking, take a look at what just happened to France-based hosting provider OVH. OVH was the victim of a wide-scale DDoS attack that was carried via network of over 152,000 IoT devices. According to OVH founder and CTO Octave Klaba, the DDoS attack reached nearly 1 Tbps at its peak. Of those IoT devices participating in the DDoS attack, they were primarily comprised of CCTV cameras and DVRs. Many of these types devices’ network settings are improperly configured, which leaves them ripe for the picking for hackers that would love to use them to carry our destructive attacks.”

2)          HERE, automakers team up to share data on traffic conditions

This is an example of what is to come: using “crowd sourced” information to determine road conditions and other automotive related data. These are all German firms and the test is in Germany so it is a bit hard to imagine how it would work in North America with its spotty and expensive mobile coverage. Ultimately the infrastructure itself will be a source of highly detailed information regarding local conditions. By the way, HERE makes a cool free Google Maps application which stores the maps on your phone so it works even if you don’t have mobile data.

“German digital map maker HERE will introduce a new set of traffic services this week that allows drivers to see for themselves what live road conditions are like miles ahead using data from competing automakers, an industry first. The Berlin-based company, owned by Germany’s three premium automakers, will provide four services in which drivers share detailed video views of traffic jams or accidents, potential road hazards like fog or slippery streets, traffic signs including temporary speed limits and on-street parking. BMW (BMWG.DE), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) will all contribute data to the service, making their first big collaboration since they bought HERE for 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion) late last year from mobile equipment maker Nokia NOK1V.HE of Finland.”

3)          Banks adopting blockchain ‘dramatically faster’ than expected: IBM

IBM is pushing its blockchain capabilities so you have to take this with a grain of salt. Even so, there is no guarantee these projects will be successful no matter how they are measured. Nonetheless with modification blockchain technology has the potential to significantly reduce a lot of manual handling of transactions and reduce costs for banks and other financial institutions.

“Banks and other financial institutions are adopting blockchain technology “dramatically faster” than initially expected, with 15 percent of top global banks intending to roll out full-scale, commercial blockchain products in 2017, IBM said on Wednesday. The technology company said 65 percent of banks expected to have blockchain projects in production in three years’ time, with larger banks – those with more than 100,000 employees – leading the charge. IBM, whose findings were based on a survey of 200 banks, said the areas most commonly identified by lenders as ripe for blockchain-based innovation were clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance and reference data.”

4)          Print-on-demand bone could quickly mend major injuries

Compared to organs bones are pretty simple things and there are plenty of materials which can safely be used as a bone substitute. The idea here is that rather than grafting bone from one part of your body to another (double the pain and risk) or looking around for a prepared cadaver bone (ick) they print up what is needed. The article makes a big deal about how this material is “hyperelastic” but it is not clear to me what the advantage is: after all if the scaffolding can move around how do you know what the end product looks like once the real bone forms.

“If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call “hyperelastic bone” that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls. “This is a neat way to overcome the challenges we face in generating bone replacements,” says Jos Malda, a biomaterials engineer from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the work. “The scaffold is simpler to make than others and it offers more benefits.”

5)          WSJ: Qualcomm could spend over $30 billion to acquire NXP Semiconductor

Semiconductors industry consolidation has been a major theme for the past couple years. Although industry M&A is not as destructive of value as most tech acquisitions purported “synergies” rarely emerge. Nevertheless the ever imaginative application of “non-GAAP” adjustments can make things look a lot better than they really are for a while after the deal closes. In this case, Qualcomm is faced with the inevitable decline in demand for mobile related components so it likely believe it can improve things by devolving into a miscellaneous assortment of largely unrelated businesses. The funny thing is the enterprise value of NXP today is closer to $40B than $30B today which suggests the deal would likely cost closer to $50B than $30B.

“Smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm is in talks to acquire NXP Semiconductors “in the next two to three months,” according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The deal, which may cost Qualcomm over $30 billion, could be nearly as big as SoftBank’s $32 billion buyout of ARM Holdings that was announced a couple of months ago. NXP is one of the inventors of near-field communication (NFC), a technology primarily known for enabling wireless payment services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. NXP controllers are nearly ubiquitous in modern smartphones in both the iOS and Android ecosystems—the iPhone 6, 6S, and 7 all use NXP controllers, as do Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P. The company is also a major player in the “Internet of Things” industry, and the acquisition of Freescale Semiconductor for $12 billion late last year made NXP “the world’s top maker of automotive electronics.””

6)          D-Wave’s 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation

D-Wave gets so much press for its “Quantum Computers” it’s almost a pity the machines don’t seem to be able to do anything useful. As for the claims it can simulate “quantum annealing” hundreds of millions of times faster than a single core computer, well bully for them: a capacitor runs hundreds of millions of times faster than a simulation of a capacitor. If, as, and when, a D-Wave machine can solve a commercially relevant problem orders of magnitude faster than off the shelf electronics we can discuss whether it is significant technologically.

“D-Wave has been criticized by many quantum computing experts, who, for one, say it’s not a true universal quantum computer (which Google itself and IBM are now building), and second, they don’t believe D-Wave’s “quantum annealing computer” is all that useful compared to standard computers. A quantum annealing computer is a special-purpose quantum computer, so the difference between it and a universal quantum computer is kind of like the difference between an ASIC and a CPU. In theory, D-Wave’s computer should at least be useful for some optimization problems, where you have many variables and are trying to optimize for the best solution. Last year, Google announced that its tests show that for quantum annealing tasks, D-Wave’s 1,000-qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core:”,32768.html

7)          Fist-Sized Laser Scanner to Make Autonomous Cars Less Ugly

One of the most important technologies behind driverless cars is combined image and range information (i.e. where something is in 3 dimensions). This sort of information you need to avoid slamming into a tractor trailer or stationary vehicle at high speed as does Tesla’s “Autopilot”. Most LIDAR systems have been developed for the military and as a result are staggeringly expensive. I figure these will eventually cost $10 or so and cars will have a minimum of 4 of them to provide a 360 degree view and full redundancy.

““You’ll never know that they’re even in the vehicle,” says Louay Eldada, CEO of startup Quanergy, which invented the new design and turned to sensor company Sensata to manufacture it. Sensors can be hidden in places such as behind a car’s grill, or inside the rearview or side mirrors, says Eldada. Quanergy plans to price its compact lidar at $250. You’ll need three to match the 360-degree view of the bulky sensors atop Alphabet and Uber vehicles, but sensors of that type cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.”

8)          Colossal Self-Driving Mining Truck Has No Back or Front

Remotely operated mining vehicles have been in use for some time now. I suspect that is what this is but the news coverage focused on the “self-driving” aspect so it is impossible to say for sure given the information. The idea is a good one as the animation ( shows. Mining is a closed loop operation and therefore even if the truck is in fact an AV the challenges would be reduced considerably. Not only that but putting human drivers in a cab is very expensive and these machine should operate 24 hours a day so there should be a rapid pay back.

“Semi-autonomous vehicles are becoming more common at large-scale mining operations. The huge dump trucks that ferry material around giant dig sites have featured unmanned driving capabilities for a few years, though they’ve always had provisions for human drivers to take over. Now, Komatsu has unveiled an all-new heavy duty dump truck with no cab, no steering wheel, no windshield—no accommodations for human drivers whatsoever. And with no human driver, who’s to say which end is the front and which is the back? Think of what a benefit this would be to mining companies. Traditionally, the human operator sits at the front of the hauling truck, with the dump bed unloading from the rear. This forces the trucks to turn around frequently, adding complexity to the movement of materials.”

9)          The Best Chromebooks Money Can Buy 2016: Andromeda is COMING

Chromebooks are a rapidly growing component of the PC market. Because they are based on a browser and cloud technologies manufacturers have a lot more latitude with respect to their CPU and innards so they can be built quite cheaply. Andromeda combines Chrome with Android, meaning pretty much any app which runs on Android will now run on a Chromebook. I don’t really see the point of paying $1,000 for a high end Chromebook since you can buy a standalone (i.e. Windows) PC for a fraction of that cost. Nevertheless the low end machines are ideal for kids and travel.

“Google’s Chromebooks have been something of a quiet revolution in the computing space. A lot of people still don’t know about Chromebooks, preferring to use Apple and Microsoft for their laptop and desktop needs. However, more and more people are waking up to a third way — the ChromeOS way. The reasons for this are myriad; but the two most prominent reasons why people LOVE Chromebooks are price and choice. Like Android phones, Chromebooks come in all shapes and sizes from a variety of manufacturers. You have high end machines like the Pixel and entry-level models that can be picked up for $200.”

10)      Programmable chips turning Azure into a supercomputing powerhouse

Intel closed the Altera acquisition some time ago and Microsoft’s use of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (a type of chip which can have its functionality completely changed after manufacture) provides some insight as to what these devices can do. The thing to remember is that having a bunch of these in a datacenter is completely different from having one inside a PC: unless somebody comes up with a suite of premade FPGA algorithms for home use – and frankly it is hard to imagine what those would be – this will remain a datacenter only type solution, albeit a powerful one.

“Networking is the first workload in Azure, but it’s not going to be the only one. In principle, Microsoft could offer a menu of FPGA-accelerated algorithms (pattern matching, machine learning, and certain kinds of large-scale number crunching would all be good candidates) that virtual machine users could opt into, and longer term custom programming of the FPGAs could be an option. Microsoft gave a demonstration at its Ignite conference this week of just what this power could be used for. Distinguished engineer Doug Burger, who had led the Project Catapult work, demonstrated a machine translation of all 3 billion words of English Wikipedia on thousands of FPGAs simultaneously, crunching through the entire set of data in just a tenth of a second. The total processing power of all those FPGAs together was estimated at about 1 exa-operations—one billion billion, 1018 operations—per second, working on an artificial intelligence-style workload.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 23rd 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Intel’s Xpoint is pretty much broken

Intel offered a wide range in terms of targets etc., when it announced Xpoint and it is not surprising they would start at the low end and work themselves up to the high end over time. Mind you novel memory technologies do have a tendency of arriving with a splash and then fading to obscurity.

“Back to the serious side of things, we have three direct claims by Intel about their upcoming NVRAM technology called Xpoint. They claimed 10x the density of DRAM, it is now 4x or a 2.5x decrease. That is a stunning deliverable but sadly it is the best performance of any of their claims. Latency missed by 100x, yes one hundred times, on their claim of 1000x faster, 10x is now promised and backed up by tests. More troubling is endurance, probably the main selling point of this technology over NAND. Again the claim was a 1000x improvement, Intel delivered 1/333rd of that with 3x the endurance.”

2)          The New Space Race Signals Price Crash for Satellite Data

Many space based technologies are the sort of thing you can do on land but it takes a decade or so to design, test, launch, and deploy a satellite and technologies advance a fair bit in 10 years. Satellite Internet service in general is only desirable when there are no other options, mostly because of latency. Terrestrial wireless Internet is making great strides while the satellite providers have managed to push more bandwidth through their spacecraft. In other words the target market is shrinking as more and more capacity comes on line.

“While satellite use varies by region and type, some of those orbiting over regions like Africa and the Middle East have as much as 80 percent spare capacity, Curcio said. Services like residential broadband are less consistent than television, creating peaks and valleys in demand. Prices of some services have fallen by as much as 20 percent over the last few years, Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said. The company expects prices of satellite data transmissions to fall 50 percent over the next five years.”

3)          Over 840,000 Cisco Devices Affected by NSA-Linked Flaw

Oh, the horror! A hacker exposed the backdoors into Cisco’s equipment (a few weeks ago it was Apple) and now they have to patch them and replace them with entirely new backdoors. Those darn hackers they make work for everybody!

“According to Shadowserver, there is no evidence that the products of vendors other than Cisco are affected by the vulnerability, but the organization noted that it is not a conclusive test. Cisco discovered the security hole while analyzing an exploit dubbed “BENIGNCERTAIN.” This and other exploits were allegedly stolen by Shadow Brokers from the NSA-linked Equation Group. The company has warned that the vulnerability has been exploited against some of its customers. For the time being, most of the affected IOS software versions remain unpatched. Cisco has released a simple online tool that allows customers to determine if their products are affected. This is the second zero-day flaw found by Cisco after analyzing the Shadow Brokers leak. The exploit called “EXTRABACON” leveraged a previously unknown vulnerability in the company’s ASA software.”

4)          Telstra trials 5G mobile network, the next ‘quantum leap’ in technology

This is pretty light on the details but 5G wireless has the potential to move Internet service in backwaters like the US, Australia, and Canada into the modern age. I suspect the first applications for 5G will not be in mobile but in fixed wireless as power and size requirements are not as strict.

“”During the outdoor trial we saw total download speeds [to two mobiles] of greater than 20 gigabits per second [Gbps], so there’s no doubt 5G is going to be a lot faster than today’s mobile networks, but it will also deliver a much lower latency. The test bed used 800 megahertz of spectrum in a previously unattainable, high-frequency band, which is 10 times more spectrum than we use with our 4G service,” Mr Wright said. Theoretically, Tuesday’s test shows gigabit speeds could be available on a mobile up to 100 kilometres away from the nearest tower, Mr Wright said.”

5)          HP pre-programmed failure date of unofficial/ non-HP ink cartridges in its printers

It is surprising the same pseudo-environmentalists who go after bottled water (but not beer or soft drinks) and demand the grocery store charge you $0.05 for a plastic bag which cost $0.0033 don’t go after this sort of nonsense. Mind you HP graciously offers to “recycle” your cartridges (i.e. throw them away so they aren’t refilled). Maybe people should look at Epson eco-tanks or other vendors’ products.

“Investigation of an online printer ink retailer shows that HP has programmed a date in its printer firmware on which unofficial non-HP cartridges would fail. Thousands of HP printers around the world started to show error messages on the same day, the 13th of September 2016. On that date HP printers with non-HP cartridges started to show the error message, “One or more cartridges appear to be damaged. Remove them and replace them with new cartridges“. On HP’s support forums numerous complaints were posted and Dutch online retailer 123inkt also received a large amount of complaints on that day and decided to investigate the issue.”

6)          Cheap Lidar: The Key to Making Self-Driving Cars Affordable

This is a pretty superficial update on the state of LIDAR technology. The $80,000 unit was probably developed for the military so cost wasn’t even a factor. I figure it won’t be long before LIDAR is well below $50 and there is one on each corner of the car to provide redundancy.

“Many autonomous cars have relied on the HDL-64E lidar sensor from Silicon Valley–based Velodyne, which scans 2.2 million data points in its field of view each second and can pinpoint the location of objects up to 120 meters away with centimeter accuracy. But the sensor itself weighs more than 13 kilograms and costs US $80,000. This year, Velodyne announced the VLP-32A, which offers a 200-meter range in a 600-gram package. With a target cost of $500 (at automotive scale production), the VLP-32A would be two orders of magnitude cheaper than its predecessor but still too expensive to be integrated into driverless cars intended for the consumer market.”

7)          Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announce $3 billion initiative to ‘cure all diseases’

When I see things like this my immediate thought is the title of the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I don’t understand billionaire worship, nor do I understand why an otherwise intelligent person would think throwing money at health would result in anything significant. It’s great to encourage philanthropy but, seriously, “cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases” in our children’s lifetime”? And then there is this: It’s almost like they don’t understand the nature of the problem.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company created by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to “unlock human potential and promote equality,” today announced Chan Zuckerberg Science, a $3 billion project that aims to cure, prevent, or manage “all diseases in our children’s lifetime.” “That doesn’t mean that no one will ever get sick,” Mark Zuckerberg later said. But the program hopes to eventually make all diseases treatable — or at least easily manageable — by the end of the 21st century. “Our society spends 50x more treating people who are sick than on finding cures. We can do better than that,” he said. A press release from the Initiative says Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan will provide “at least $3 billion over the next decade to help jumpstart this work.””

8)          Fastbrick Robotics Hadrian X Digital Construction System

The video is an update to an earlier story we had on brick laying robots. This machine is meant for structural block used in many countries for house construction rather than brick veneer which is familiar to most North Americans. Although most of the video is an animation they do show a sort of live action prototype. It is a bit hard to see but instead of mortar they apply an adhesive (probably polyurethane construction adhesive) instead of mortar. It would be more credible if they showed an actual house being built but the approach and prototype make it credible.

9)          The Department of Transportation just issued a comprehensive policy on self-driving cars

The article provides a pretty good summary of the high points of the US DOT policy. The good news is that DOT is promoting the technology, but the bad news is that it is nowhere near as advanced as most of the coverage would have you believe.

“So the US Department of Transportation is attempting to get ahead of the curve. On Monday, it released a surprisingly far-reaching “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.” The policy attempts to do all sorts of things — we’ll get into the details below — but the overarching motivation is that DOT wants to accelerate the development and adoption of AVs. DOT views AVs as a safety technology that could reduce some of the 38,000 traffic fatalities a year in the US, 95 percent of which are caused by human error. It also sees AVs as an accessibility technology that could provide personal transportation to whole populations (disabled, elderly, etc.) who have lacked it. The DOT is not neutral toward AVs. It wants to get them on the road soon. That’s a big deal.”

10)      A Robot That Sews Could Take the Sweat Out of Sweatshops

Another robotics story but this time showing a sewing robot. I like the approach of stiffening the fabric in order to make it easier for a robot to handle but I don’t know enough about sewing to know what the limitations would be. Unfortunately, the inventor in this case probably lacks the expertise and resources to actually make this into a viable product but there is a good chance somebody will.

“Jonathan Zornow, the sole employee of a new startup called Sewbo, thinks the U.S. could bring garment manufacturing a little closer to home by automating the feeding of fabric into sewing machines—a step that to this day is done by hand. Zornow has created a process by which a robotic arm guides chemically stiffened pieces of fabric through a commercial sewing machine. Machines already play a large part in clothing manufacturing. Fabrics can be woven by machines, and then cut into pieces by computer-controlled cutting machines. There are also a few small items like dress shirt collars and cuffs that can be machine-sewn, according to North Carolina State University textiles and apparel researcher Cynthia Istook. But humans still have to put all of the pieces of fabric together, guide them through a sewing machine, and then pass them onto the next assembly line station.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 16th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 16th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Adblock Plus now sells ads

Adblock Plus originally blocked ads then it allowed companies to buy space on its “whitelist”. Now it is selling ads. It probably won’t be long before it delivers malware as well. A much better solution is uBlock Origin which is not just a better ad blocker, it doesn’t engage in Adblock Plus’s shenanigans – or at least not yet.

“Adblock Plus is launching a new service that… uh, puts more ads on your screen. Rather than stripping all ads from the internet forever, Adblock Plus is hoping to replace the bad ads — anything it deems too big, too ugly, or too intrusive — with good ads, ones that are smaller, subtler, and theoretically much less annoying. It’ll begin doing that through an ad marketplace, which will allow blogs and other website operators to pick out so-called “acceptable” ads and place them on their pages. If a visitor using Adblock Plus comes to the page, they’ll be shown those “acceptable ads,” instead of whatever ads the site would normally run. “It allows you to treat the two different ecosystems completely differently and monetize each one,” says Ben Williams, Adblock Plus’ operations and communications director. “And crucially, monetize the ad blockers on on their own terms.””

2)          Mobileye spills the beans: Tesla was dropped because of safety concerns

Mobileye, a supplier of advanced safety system technology, made a public break with Tesla in the summer. This has led to a public hissing match between the two firms which is irrelevant as far as I am concerned. What I find interesting is that someone finally did the statistical analysis which show how many (275 million) miles of fatality-free driving would be required just to show Tesla’s system was as safe as an unaided driver. It turns out that there has actually been a second death associated with Tesla’s “autopilot” ( , meaning about 2 fatalities in 100 million miles and therefore even without shenanigans the system seems far less safe than an unassisted driver.

“But even if Tesla EVs had covered 94 million Autopilot-driven miles by the time of Brown’s crash, that would mean the system had actually resulted in a fatality every 47.5 million miles (which perhaps underlines the problematic nature of inferring statistical certainty from events with a very low n). In April of this year, the RAND Corporation published a study that looked at how many miles an autonomous vehicle fleet would have to cover before it could be said to be safe with sufficient statistical confidence. “To demonstrate that fully autonomous vehicles have a fatality rate of 1.09 fatalities per 100 million miles (R=99.9999989%) with a C=95% confidence level, the vehicles would have to be driven 275 million failure-free miles,” RAND said.”

3)          Here’s why Samsung Note 7 phones are catching fire

In case you haven’t heard Samsung is the latest company to be caught with an exploding battery problem. Lithium ion batteries can be very dangerous and it doesn’t take much for them to fail. The company is undertaking a massive recall of its flagship phone and that is going to leave some lasting reputational damage.

“What makes the Note 7 different: Samsung may have accidentally squeezed its batteries harder than it should. According to a unpublished preliminary report sent to Korea’s Agency for Technology and Standards (obtained by Bloomberg), Samsung had a manufacturing error that “placed pressure on plates contained within battery cells,” which “brought negative and positive poles into contact.” “The defect was revealed when several contributing factors happened simultaneously, which included sub-optimized assembly process that created variations of tension and exposed electrodes due to insufficient insulation tape,” a Samsung representative tells CNET.”

4)          First iPhone 7 pre-order shipments arrive as lines form at Apple stores

There is nothing really novel or advanced about the iPhone 7, but Apple’s marketing is true magic: reports have emerged of the product selling out, large lines (see the next item) etc.. Some part of this may actually be true as there are people who are so brand loyal they will stand in line to buy two year old technology. What matters is not this week but next month.

“In a rare statement regarding iPhone launch supply, Apple on Wednesday said initial stock of all iPhone 7 Plus and jet black models had been depleted, meaning walk-in customers can only select from certain 4.7-inch iPhone 7 versions. According to The Australian, first customers waiting in line to purchase an iPhone 7 Plus from a Sydney Apple retail outlet came away with iPhone 7 models instead.”

5)          Here Are The “Lines Of People” Waiting For The New iPhone 7

I don’t usually carry stories from investment websites but this one makes an interesting counterpoint to item 4, above.

“After several spurious reports of substantial preorder spikes for the iPhone 7 by the likes of T-Mobile – if not so much Verizon – AAPL stock enjoyed the biggest weekly surge in years. However, judging by the “lines of people” waiting for the new gadget as it officially goes on sale in retail outlets, said surge in the stock may have been premature, and merely the latest marketing gimmick that has made a “scarcity” factory into a sublime art form.”

6)          Facebook is imposing prissy American censorship on the whole rest of the world

I have never been and never will be a Facebook member but stories such as these puzzle me. Facebook is in the busy of making money from its users. Facebook has no “higher purpose” actual or implied. It is not journalism and it is not an open public space. It has complete control over the content and anything else associated with its site. If you don’t like Facebook or its policies shut up and delete your account. Just to demonstrate the character of Facebook and its commitment to “doing the right thing” it is fighting a legal action in the UK to force it to not public a particular image of a minor on a “shame page” (see

“Dontcha just hate it when this happens? As content curator for one of the world’s largest social media platforms, you delete a picture you consider obscene. Then some Norwegian woman writes an angry post. So you delete her post, too. I mean, who does she think she is? The Prime Minister of Norway? Oh wait.  In case you missed it: last week, Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted to his timeline the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo The Terror of War, which depicts children, including a naked girl, running from a napalm attack, as a status concerning photos that “changed the history of warfare”. Egeland’s account was suspended.  The editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, then published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg protesting Facebook’s actions, and including the photo.”

7)          Study: 67% of Netflix Users Still Have Cable or Satellite Subscriptions

This is not surprising as you need broadband access to have a Netflix account and US providers in particular have ways of getting people to bundle services whether they want them or not. Netflix for the most part offers content which is a subset of what cable offers. There is no live Netflix content so news or sports junkies have to look elsewhere. Over time that will change in favor of the streaming services and cable numbers will drop.

“A survey conducted by reveals that 67% of the surveyed Netflix subscribers are still paying for cable or satellite. Even more interesting, those numbers have remained steady since CutCableToday’s 2015 survey, suggesting that, if nothing else, the cord-cutting phenomenon may have leveled off for the time being. Another statistic to put things in perspective. While 67% of Netflix users still have pay TV subscriptions, 83% of total American households are still using cable or satellite. So, Netflix subscribers are still significantly less likely to have cable TV than non-subscribers.”

8)          Why Apple Needed 10 Days to Fix a Scary iPhone Hack

To recap the story independent researchers found pretty much the same back door in iOS and OSX and that back door was exploited by an Israeli firm which sold access to the devices of “dangerous” people such as democracy advocates in the Middle East. Now it could be that those two roughly similar backdoors were just coincidence or they were placed there by a third party, possible with collaboration. As to why it took 10 days to issue the fix, well, perhaps the third party had to be consulted to ensure a few new back doors were inserted.

“After the alert went out, Murray says Apple embarked on an urgent three-phase process over 10 days to defeat Pegasus. “The first three or four days was to figure out how all the exploits worked, where the vulnerability was in the code, and preparing for the fixes that would be made,” Murray told me. “Then three days to fix it and prepare for the QA.” The QA (quality assurance), it turns out, is the most critical part of the process in these situations. The reason is that if Apple got it wrong it could open the door to a whole new wave of vulnerabilities released out into the wild.”

9)          Your Next Pair of Shoes Could Come From a 3-D Printer

I figure that eventually 3D printed shoes will be relatively common, at least in certain market segments. I rather doubt that now is the time however since the materials are not likely to be up to par. So you may get bragging rights for having 3D printed shoes but I would be surprised if they lasted very long.

““We’re the technologists coming in to help,” said Lucy Beard, chief executive of the two-year-old Feetz, in San Diego. “I saw 3-D printers in a magazine, and I thought ‘mass customization.’” Each printer can be reset to make different sizes and takes up to 12 hours to make a pair. The company, which recently started selling its shoes, has only 15 employees. But Ms. Beard, 38, a former actuary, envisions a day when shoes will be printed in under an hour. With limited labor and shipping costs to pay and no back inventory, Feetz has a 50 percent profit margin on every pair, she added. Ordering is done online, where customers can download an app, take smartphone snapshots of their feet and create a 3-D model. Shoes, which cost $199, are made of recycled materials and are thickly padded for comfort.”

10)      Uh oh… Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA) Gets a Model S Sales Surprise

This is not another Tesla story despite the headline but rather a story about the EV market in general. I found another source ( which says July EV sales were down 28% in Europe in July due to anticipated new model introduction (that seems like a lot to me, but EAFO is an EV advocacy organization). In any event I find the idea that supply issues are to blame as absurd: how do you explain lower supply?

“AID further noted that the electric car sales in June in the Western Europe – comprising mainly Volkswagen e-Up and e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3, and the Model S – dropped 11% to 8,195. The drop could be because consumers have postponed purchase of the Model S sedan in favor of other the Model X SUV, or maybe they are waiting for the arrival of the Model 3, said AID. However, analysts believe the problem was due to the issues with the supply instead of a fall in demand, notes a report from Forbes.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 9th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 9th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Flat Smartphone Growth Projected for 2016 as Mature Markets Veer into Declines, According to IDC

You know things are looking bleak when even the industry analysts project a 1.6% unit growth rate. Whether or not that happens, price compression means that industry revenues will drop. Most of the action is in the low price end of the market and it is worth noting that today’s low cost phone is as functional as a flagship device from a few years ago. Apple continues to gouge customers for its two year old technology while companies like Samsung and other have their flagships as well as a full range of phones across a wide price range.

“Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to reach 1.46 billion units with a year-over-year growth rate of 1.6% in 2016 according to the latest forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. Although growth remains positive, it is down significantly from the 10.4% growth in 2015. Much of the slowdown is attributed to the decline expected in developed regions in 2016, while emerging markets continue with positive growth. Developed markets as a whole (United States, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe) are expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.2%, while emerging markets (Asia/Pacific excluding Japan, Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America) will experience a CAGR of 5.4% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.”

2)          Jet-black Apple iPhone 7 is here with a water-resistant body, better cameras, 256GB capacity — and no headphone jack (hands-on)

I have to wonder how people who write about Apple products live with themselves. Unless you live in North Korea the most impressive thing about the iPhone 7 is its utter banality: I am not aware of a single feature which is truly novel and yet, with the except of articles mocking the lack of a headphone jack, the overwhelming majority of coverage somehow manages to be positive. I figure the iPhone 7 should be called the “Just Like” since most of its features are “just like” features which have been on the market for a couple years – albeit at much lower cost.

“We got to use one hands-on for a few minutes after Apple’s event. Obviously, you can’t appreciate water resistance in a demo room (at least, not Apple’s demo room). But the iPhone 7 seems like a bunch of upgrades — some of which iPhone users have wanted for a while. Did we mention no headphone jack? Yes, it’s weird. Also, the home button being a solid-state Force Touch-like panel means it doesn’t quite have the same feel. It took some getting used to. Jet black, Apple’s new glossy black color iPhone, looks beautiful. It turns the iPhone into a slim black obelisk. But it also might be a bit of a smudge magnet.”

3)          How Spy Tech Firms Let Governments See Everything on a Smartphone

The article glosses over the fact that firms such as these are happy to help dictatorships deal with “dissidents” as much as they are happy to help spy on terrorists: the color of the money is the same. It is worth reminding people that Apple, the company with a “surprising” back door (and doubtless others) refused to help with an actual terror investigation. One countermeasure against phones being used as listening devices was to disable all the on board microphones and only use a wired headset (since you can then unplug the only microphone).

“Want to invisibly spy on 10 iPhone owners without their knowledge? Gather their every keystroke, sound, message and location? That will cost you $650,000, plus a $500,000 setup fee with an Israeli outfit called the NSO Group. You can spy on more people if you would like — just check out the company’s price list. The NSO Group is one of a number of companies that sell surveillance tools that can capture all the activity on a smartphone, like a user’s location and personal contacts. These tools can even turn the phone into a secret recording device.”

4)          Battery Assault

Battery manufacture is as complex as making Pop Tarts and you can expect that any operation would already be highly automated. It is not at all clear why there should be an economy of scale to a massive plant and there is good reason to believe vertical integration is as bad an idea as it usually is. Regardless we have seen how the Chinese government seems to be willing to subsidize the manufacture of solar cells, thus creating the illusion of dramatic cost improvements, and the same may become true with batteries. Nevertheless, the highly imaginative cost curve suggests a typical 70 kWhr battery will remain far too expensive to allow the manufacture of a $30,000 car for some time.

“Remember when Tesla’s Gigafactory was going to be the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery plant? By the time it reaches full capacity in 2020, it will be producing 35 gigawatt hours of cells each year — more than the whole world manufactured in 2013. Impressive, huh? Well, as Gadfly pointed out in July, there’s a contender for Elon Musk’s crown: BYD, the Chinese electric carmaker that already has about 23 percent of the market for large-scale batteries and is planning to ramp up to 34 gigawatt hours in 2019.”

5)          Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries

This is a bit of a superficial look at why battery technology is not progressing as fast as people expect. The article would have been much better if it had described how very little progress has been made in battery performance and price over the past decade or so.

“In fact, many researchers believe energy storage will have to take an entirely new chemistry and new physical form, beyond the lithium-ion batteries that over the last decade have shoved aside competing technologies in consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and grid-scale storage systems. In May the DOE held a symposium entitled “Beyond Lithium-Ion.” The fact that it was the ninth annual edition of the event underscored the technological challenges of making that step.”

6)          White House Report Concludes That Bite-Mark Analysis Is Junk Science

It turns out that a lot of forensics in general is pretty much junk science but that hasn’t stopped it from sending a lot of people to prison, including, presumably, a lot of innocent people. The article gets interesting when they start discussing “industry” reaction to the claim their “science’ is bunk. Even the district attorneys seem uninterested in whether it gives the right answer or not.

“In the case of bite-mark evidence, the report is especially critical. “PCAST finds that bitemark analysis does not meet the scientific standards for foundational validity, and is far from meeting such standards,” it reads. “To the contrary, available scientific evidence strongly suggests that examiners cannot consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bitemark and cannot identify the source of [a] bitemark with reasonable accuracy.” Bite-mark analysis is conducted by forensic dentists and relies on two foundational premises: first, that human dentition is unique — as unique as DNA ­— and second, that human skin (or another malleable substrate) is a suitable medium on which to record such an impression. The problem is that neither premise has been proved. Nonetheless, bite-mark analysis has been used in criminal cases to match individuals to alleged bites ­since the 1950s, when Texas’s highest criminal court cleared the way for its use (in that case, a dentist claimed that a bite mark left in a piece of cheese found at the scene of a grocery burglary matched the teeth of a particular man).”

7)          Exclusive: How Elizabeth Holmes’s House of Cards Came Tumbling Down

The media spends time building you up so they can start tearing you down. This article looks at the rise and fall of Theranos and the superficial coverage of the company’s purported technology and CEO. One thing they don’t cover is that the CEO had little education and, as a rule of thumb, you can’t “hack” biochemistry the way you can hack software. It’s a bit like believing an undergraduate would replace General Relativity through force of will.

“Holmes subsequently raised $6 million in funding, the first of almost $700 million that would follow. Money often comes with strings attached in Silicon Valley, but even by its byzantine terms, Holmes’s were unusual. She took the money on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked, and that she had final say and control over every aspect of her company. This surreptitiousness scared off some investors. When Google Ventures, which focuses more than 40 percent of its investments on medical technology, tried to perform due diligence on Theranos to weigh an investment, Theranos never responded. Eventually, Google Ventures sent a venture capitalist to a Theranos Walgreens Wellness Center to take the revolutionary pinprick blood test. As the V.C. sat in a chair and had several large vials of blood drawn from his arm, far more than a pinprick, it became apparent that something was amiss with Theranos’s promise.”

8)          Intel Sells Majority Stake in McAfee Security Unit to TPG

Large tech companies like to spread the wealth around through things like share buys backs, dividends, and appallingly stupid and overpriced acquisitions. Buybacks reward people for selling the stock (which seems odd), dividends reward people for owning the stock (which sort of makes sense) and idiotic acquisitions (where most of the money goes) rewards the shareholders of other companies. To be fair, there have been many acquisitions more destructive of value than this one, but this isn’t the only one Intel has done either.

“Intel, which bought McAfee for $7.7 billion six years ago, said on Wednesday that it had sold a majority stake in its cybersecurity business to the investment firm TPG, in a transaction valuing the security provider at approximately $4.2 billion, including debt. The move will bring McAfee independence at a time when cybersecurity businesses have grown more prominent amid seemingly omnipresent hacking threats. And its sale illustrates how much both the technology industry and Intel have changed since Intel purchased the company in 2010.”

9)          Malawi and South Africa Pioneer Unused TV Frequencies for Rural Broadband

Radio works differently depending on frequencies and a lot of the TV spectrum is perfect for “reach” although it is not good for carrying a lot of digital traffic. Nevertheless unused TV spectrum can be very useful as a stopgap measure (pending deployment of more advanced radio technologies) for cost-effective rural broadband. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Some people have taken to calling TV white space technology “Super Wi-Fi” or “White-Fi,” but we find those terms misleading because the technology is very different. TV white space uses VHF and UHF frequencies that have been set aside primarily for television broadcasts but are not in use in particular geographic regions or at specific times. The transition from analog to digital TV has opened up quite a bit of that spectrum. For TV white space networks, UHF is more attractive than VHF because its shorter wavelengths mean that smaller antennas can be used. The exact frequencies vary from country to country; in the United States, for instance, the allowed TV white space frequencies cover channels 2 through 51 except for channels 3, 4, and 37. And rural regions, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, have no shortage of unused TV frequencies—sometimes the entire UHF and VHF bands are available.”

10)      Dutchman dies in Tesla crash; firefighters feared electrocution

Tesla fanboyz rant about how it seems that every Tesla fatality gets covered by the media but when a company claims to have technology nobody else has, advertises its vehicles as the safest ever tested, and the death toll starts rising, there is no reason to keep quiet about it. The twist in this article is that, even though the driver was apparently dead at the scene, another driver in a similar accident could have bled out because the EMTs didn’t want to die. I would not blame them either. I have been informally tracking Tesla fatalities. For a car rated “the safest ever tested” my figures suggest the fatality rate seems to be extremely high when calculated by registered vehicle years.

“A Dutchman died on Wednesday after his Tesla (TSLA.O) collided with a tree, according to local authorities, and it took firefighters hours to remove his body from the vehicle due to fears they could be electrocuted. The cause of the crash on a highway about 40 kilometers east of Amsterdam was not known. Photos of the crash scene published by local media showed the back of the car mostly intact but its front smashed in and parts strewn about.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 2nd 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of September 2nd 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          VW says 300-mile range EV will charge in 15 minutes and cost less than gas version

Ah, EVs. You can pretty much say what you want. It turns out batteries have very low specific energy meaning most of the weight of the car will be the battery. With a purported 300 mile range you’d need at least something like a 70 kilowatt hour battery. To charge a 70 kWh batter in 15 minutes would require 280 kilowatts. At 85% efficiency (which is very high for a fast charge), you’d need about 320 kilowatts. That doesn’t sound like much but that is about 1,500 amps at 220 volts, or the equivalent to a few hundred houses’ typical power consumption. The 15% efficiency loss is almost 50 kW, which is about 45 megajoules, or more than burning a liter of diesel fuel, and that is a lot of heat.

“Two factors rank high on the list of reasons why people hesitate to buy all-electric cars: range per charge and high price relative to petroleum-powered models. A top Volkswagen exec touted a new electric vehicle (EV) planned for the 2018-2019 model year with a 300-mile range. Now the CEO of VW Group says plans include a 15-minute charge time and a price lower than gas models, according to Engadget.”

2)          The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group’s iPhone Zero-Days used against a UAE Human Rights Defender

There is probably a lot more to this than appears. Recall that Apple publicly refused to help law enforcement access a known terrorist’s phone. Subsequent to the Snowden revelations it is reasonable to assume that the more obscure the back door the more likely it is to have been “government sponsored” through one way or the other. Just sayin.

“We accessed the link Mansoor provided us on our own stock factory-reset iPhone 5 (Mansoor had an iPhone 6) with iOS 9.3.3 (the same version as Mansoor).  When we clicked the link, we saw that it was indeed active, and watched as unknown software was remotely implanted on our phone.  This suggested that the link contained a zero-day iPhone remote jailbreak: a chain of heretofore unknown exploits used to remotely circumvent iPhone security measures.  To verify our observations, we shared our findings with Lookout Security.  Both research teams determined that Mansoor was targeted with a zero-day iPhone remote jailbreak. The chain of exploits, which we are calling the Trident, included the following (see Section 4: The Trident iOS Exploit Chain and Payload for more details) …”

3)          Elon Musk and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good $779 Million Day

This article is sort of a summary of recent events. One highlight is the destruction of a SpaceX rocket and, most importantly, its payload, on the launch pad (yeah, the launch pad is gone as well). Bizarrely, SpaceX has managed to get people to believe rocketry is “new” despite it dating back to the 1940s, and at the same time getting them to think launch costs are the most important thing. Launch costs are very important but space craft are, by far, most of the cost of a mission. Losing one space craft every 14 missions is not a compromise many operators want to make when alternatives with extremely safe records are available. One other thing: note the “additional $489 million” of his stock pledged. This comes after a recent $600 million stock sale. Pledging stock is the same as selling it except the optics are no so bad. At least somebody wants to diversify away from Musk Inc..

“He suffered one Thursday, when his fortune, on paper, shrank by $779 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That was due to two factors: drops in the companies’ stock prices; and Wednesday’s regulatory filing showing he has put up an additional $489 million of his Tesla and SolarCity stock as collateral to secure personal borrowings. The pledged shares are stripped out of his total net worth calculation because they’re not immediately available to him. The borrowing is for personal liquidity; he doesn’t even accept the $37,584 minimum-wage salary Tesla is required to pay him.”

4)          Pinning Down Apple’s Alleged 0.005% Tax Rate Is Nearly Impossible

One of the first things we learned in accounting was “transfer pricing schemes” which is a means to reduce tax paid through sham transactions. This is what many large tech and pharma companies can do through Byzantine schemes to move intellectual property license fees to Neverland. That sort of behavior used to be universally condemned but now it is acceptable provided you like the company which does it. The EU’s move is understandable as Ireland was helping Apple and others avoid taxes on EU profits at the same time as Ireland was collecting subsidies from the EU. It’s probably not best to help somebody steal from the neighbor who is providing you with free meals. Either way, Apple’s mock outrage, crocodile tears, etc., show it is completely tone deft to the fact that society has to be funded by those who pay their taxes.

“The EU says the 0.005 percent effective tax rate applies to the profits of Apple Sales International, an Irish unit which regulators say is “responsible for buying Apple products from equipment manufacturers around the world and selling these products in Europe” as well as in the Middle East, Africa and India. The commission also cited another unit, Apple Operations Europe, which it said was responsible for manufacturing certain lines of computers for the Apple group.”

5)          Revealed: Google’s plan for quantum computer supremacy

Most of the press coverage around Google’s quantum computing efforts is around their purchase of a D-Wave machine, which gets short shrift in this article, but their most significant actual advances have come from actual quantum computers. This article outlines the company’s plans to build a large (real) quantum computer within the next few years.

“Last year, the firm announced it had solved certain problems 100 million times faster than a classical computer by using a D-Wave quantum computer, a commercially available device with a controversial history. Experts immediately dismissed the results, saying they weren’t a fair comparison. Google purchased its D-Wave computer in 2013 to figure out whether it could be used to improve search results and artificial intelligence. The following year, the firm hired John Martinis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to design its own superconducting qubits. “His qubits are way higher quality,” says Aaronson. It’s Martinis and colleagues who are now attempting to achieve quantum supremacy with 50 qubits, and many believe they will get there soon. “I think this is achievable within two or three years,” says Matthias Troyer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “They’ve showed concrete steps on how they will do it.””

6)          Google Is About to Take On Uber in a Big Way

My skepticism around Uber is well known even though I like the service. As this shows, Uber has essentially no barriers to entry to competition and certainly not against Google. Uber’s main success has been in getting around taxi regulations but it is clear that wherever they operate legally any other such service can as well.

“Google’s service, which will be available through the company’s Waze navigation app, would essentially work as a digital carpooling platform, linking paying ride-seekers with drivers headed in the same direction. The company has been testing the service on a small scale but is now ready to expand it more broadly across San Francisco, the Journal reports. Unlike Uber and its nearest rival, Lyft, Google will not yet take a cut of drivers’ fares. That means it won’t make money anytime soon — but thanks to Google’s lucrative advertising business, that doesn’t necessarily need to happen right away.”

7)          1,650lb 3D printed aircraft tool sets Guinness World Record

This is exactly the sort of thing 3D printers can excel at: small production run products and components, especially those already described in CAD files. This particular piece would not normally be subject to an enormous amount of stress but I can see the day when injection molds, etc., are also made with 3D printing.

“ONRL said it printed the tool in only 30 hours using carbon fiber and ABS thermoplastic composite materials. “The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques,” said Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials in a statement. “Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.” According to ONRL, the tool was 3D printed on the lab’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing machine and Guinness World Records judge Michael Empric measured the trim tool, proved it exceeded the required minimum of 0.3 cubic meters, or approximately 10.6 cubic feet, and announced the new record title.”

8)          Smartphone Owners Wait Years to Replace Handsets

The study is a bit dated but not likely out of date. It confirms my thesis that smartphone replacement cycles are getting longer and longer, and that will be more so when consumers are confronted by the loss of smartphone “subsidies” which exposes the true price of the device for them. The good news is that prices will come down a lot to offset the slower replacement cycles.

“A plurality of respondents—30%—said they upgraded their smartphone once every two years, which used to be the typical length of a wireless service contract that came with discounted-upgrade privileges. But major wireless providers have phased out such offers in favor of payments plans that ultimately have smartphone users shelling out for the full sticker price of their handsets (plus interest). That could be one reason why even more respondents wait longer than two years: 42% of the overall respondent base said they waited three years or longer before trading up.”

9)          To build a better battery, Dyson will spend $1.4 billion, enlist 3,000 engineers

I made the mistake of actually buying a Dyson vacuum cleaner once so I tend to associate “expensive, low quality, short lived” with Dyson rather than “innovative”. Nevertheless the guy has made a lot of money for himself so most people seem to hold a different opinion. While his criticism of lithium ion battery technology is spot on there is no reason to believe that throwing money at the problem will improve it. Enormous sums of money have been lost to novel batteyr development over the years.

“And Dyson is not planning incremental improvements. His opinion is that current Li-ion batteries don’t last long enough and aren’t safe enough — the latter as evidenced by their propensity to spontaneously catch on fire, which is rare but does happen. Dyson believes the answer lies in using ceramics to create solid-state lithium-ion batteries. Dyson says he intended to spend $1.4 billion in research and development and in building a battery factory over the next five years. Last year Dyson bought Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Sakti3, which focuses on creating advanced solid-state batteries, for $90 million. The global lithium-ion battery market accounts for $40 billion in annual sales, according to research firm Lux as cited by Forbes.”

10)      Fully Autonomous Cars Are Unlikely, Says America’s Top Transportation Safety Official

I am not sure I agree with the conclusion but he makes some good points. One point which is think is not so good is the question of whether a car would make the “right” choice in an entirely unlikely scenario and one where a human driver would not likely have the time to even realize they were making a choice. Either way, safety automation is a numbers games and the path to full autonomy will save tens of thousands of lives a year in the US alone.

“Auto accidents kill more than 33,000 Americans each year, more than homicide or prescription drug overdoses. Companies working on self-driving cars, such as Alphabet and Ford, say their technology can slash that number by removing human liabilities such as texting, drunkenness, and fatigue. But Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says his agency’s experience investigating accidents involving autopilot systems used in trains and planes suggests that humans can’t be fully removed from control. He told MIT Technology Review that future autos will be much safer, but that they will still need humans as copilots.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 26th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 26th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          iPhone 6 touch problems? The gray flickering is an epidemic

The video is pretty long and boring until the end where the entrepreneur explains that iPhone forums are trying to shut down discussion of the problem. I admit to being baffled by fanboyism but it can be a toxic thing: there is a fine line between love and hate. Thanks to Paul Kantorovich for this item.

“If your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus stopped responding to touch, you’re not alone. Many iPhone users are reporting the loss of touch combined with a strange flickering gray bar at the top of the display. The problem has been around since the launch of the phone, but didn’t manifest until recently because the phones are getting older, according to a recent report from iFixit. It’s being called “Touch Disease” because it has become such a widespread problem. iPhone 6 “Touch Disease” is said to stem from Apple’s design of its logic board for this particular phone. This board is home to most of the circuits that make your iPhone work, including the processor, storage, and touch controllers.”

2)          Robots-as-a-service: New company introduces first ‘goods-to-box’ warehouse picking system

Shades of “Mom’s Robots” and every other apocalyptic science fiction story involving robots. Actually the business model makes a lot of sense: the expertise to implement a robotic inventory system is rare and the same issues probably arise in all warehouses. This saves converts the sizeable capital cost into an expense and makes adoption easier. It is win/win.

“According to Elazary, companies with no automation can spend as high as a dollar per pick. Adding automation such as conveyor belts dramatically reduces costs to 25 cents per pick, and inVia’s goods-to-box solution rings in at just 10 cents per pick. “In the past, for you to be able to do this kind of automation you’d have to spend several millions of dollars,” he says. InVia reduced costs by choosing cheaper hardware, such as cameras, which they were able to compensate for with excellent perception. The system also requires a minimal investment because of a unique “robotics as a service” business model.”

3)          Google’s Tensor Processing Unit explained: this is what the future of computing looks like

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are large enough to be able to design their own hardware and even chips to suit their needs. This article is more of a teaser than an explanation but the idea is that Google’s computer scientists can identify bottlenecks in specific problems and specify hardware to solve those bottlenecks. Things like Graphics Processors (GPUs) can do that now but they are a compromise in themselves. Eventually Google and its competitors will make things like access to TPUs part of its cloud service offering.

“When Google unveiled its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) during this year’s Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California, it finally ticked for this editor in particular that machine learning is the future of computing hardware. Of course, the TPU is only a part of the firm’s mission to push machine learning – the practice that powers chat bots, Siri and the like – forward. (It’s also the chip that defeated the world Go champion recently.) Google also has TensorFlow, its open source library of machine intelligence software.”

4)          Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

I had heard Microsoft was going to bring out Bash (a popular Linux “shell”) on Windows but I thought they were going to implement a sort of Bash-like functionality. Although this is still beta there approach is remarkable: essentially they have implemented a “kernel emulator” which means that Bash and eventually all Linux applications should be able to run under Windows. It also means there is no Virtual Machine which could improve performance and lower costs.

“Windows provides developers with a familiar Bash environment. This environment will allow users to: 1) Run common command line utilities such as grep, sed, and awk; 2) Navigate the file system using these commands; 3) Run bash shell scripts which rely on supported command line utilities. Windows is running Ubuntu user-mode binaries provided by Canonical. This means the command line utilities are the same as those that run within a native Ubuntu environment. Installation of Bash on Windows is just a few clicks. This is provided as beta software. While many of the coreutil commands provided by Ubuntu will work, there are some that will not. We welcome feedback and will prioritize accordingly.”

5)          Intel Launches 3D NAND SSDs For Client And Enterprise

The SSD market is being shaken up by Samsung – the dominant player – and its advances in 3D flash. Intel is being forced to play catch up with announcements such as these. The big winner is the consumer as prices are dropping rapidly. The losers will be Western Digital and Seagate who will see HDD demand collapse.

“Today Intel is announcing a variety of new SSDs with their 3D NAND flash memory. The new models use a mix of 3D MLC and 3D TLC, some SATA and some PCIe, and variously target the consumer, business, embedded and data center markets. While we are still awaiting details on the timing of these product releases, it is clear that Intel is eager to put planar flash behind them. The drive for this is especially strong as the models being replaced are all either based on Intel’s relatively expensive 20nm flash or on 16nm flash that Intel had to buy on the open market due to their decision to not participate in the 16nm node at IMFT.”

6)          Tesla’s new 100kWh battery makes Ludicrous Mode even more ludicrous

Most of the predictions about the rise of EVs and the collapse of the oil industry are predicated on the premise that batteries will improve dramatically, leading to more storage at a lower cost. Here we have a minor improvement in capacity priced at $1,000/kWh. That isn’t much of an improvement over $400/kWh.

“The 100kWh battery will, naturally, come at a price. The Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode will start at $134,500, an increase of $9,500 over the old P90D. It will be available for order immediately with the first deliveries beginning next month. A similarly equipped Model X starts at $135,500. Tesla said that the initial production run will be “limited” to around 200 packs per week, around 10 percent of total Tesla volume, and production will be increased going forward. It will likely be “several months” until Tesla offers the 100kWh battery pack in other trim levels.”

7)          The Internet of Poorly Working Things

For some reason this article doesn’t open properly under Firefox so I had to open it with Edge. The author talks about some of the myths about IoT and pretty much hits on the problem: the consumer electronics industry. This is not new and also not likely to change: it is hard enough to get advanced features of TVs to work, let alone interoperate with other audio-video products from other vendors.

“Of course, not all connected devices are so easily mocked; some devices are dead serious: home security, HVAC, almost any kitchen appliance — even our very smart toaster. And it’s not that the IoT doesn’t work. The situation is actually worse than that: The IoT randomly works. Devices stop and restart, they require visit to unsupportive customer support pages and helpless Your Call Is Important To US help lines (and now we have chatbots). If you think I exaggerate, google “Nest trouble” or “smart bulbs trouble”. We don’t have to look around much to find the culprit: with its razor-thin margins, the Consumer Electronics (CE) culture offers a big fat target for our inquisition.”

8)          iPhones and iPads Fail More Often Than Android Smartphones – Study

Frankly this is a surprising result even in light of “touch disease” discussed in item 1. Presumably these figures exclude broken displays and suggest build quality issues. It is hard to believe a company such as Apple can continue to maintain high prices despite a lack of innovation and now, apparently, poor reliability.

“The report reveals that in Q2 2016, iOS devices had a 58% failure rate, marking the first time that Apple’s devices have a lower performance rate compared to Android. It seems that the iPhone 6 had the highest failure rate of 29%, followed by iPhone 6s and iPhone 6S Plus. Android smartphones had an overall failure rate of 35%, an improvement from 44% in Q1 2016. Samsung, Lenovo and LeTV were among the manufacturers with the weakest performance and higher failure rates. Samsung scored 26% in failure rate, while Motorola just 11%. The study also reveals that iOS devices fail more frequently in North America and Asia compared to Android. Specifically, the failure rate in North America is 59%, while in Asia 52%. The failures could be influenced by the fact that the quality of smartphones shipped around the world varies.”

9)          What’s in store: The tech that will transform memory and storage

Most of the progress being made in computer memory is in non-volatile memory, in particular Solid State Drives. This article looks at some of those trends as well as a few others. I suspect that besides SSD, which has the potential to completely change software architecture, most of these shifts will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

“One of the most promising new technologies is High Bandwidth Memory or HBM for short. Although it’s a very new technology Samsung and Hynix are already developing the third generation, which they expect to commercialise in 2019 or 2020. Unlike traditional memory, where chips are laid flat on the memory module, HBM chips are stacked. That shortens the distance between the chips and the CPU or GPU, achieving the same speeds as on-chip integrated RAM, and it enables manufacturers to cram more RAM into smaller spaces. And we don’t just mean slightly smaller.”

10)      Quantum Computing: A Primer

Quantum computing is a very topical subject with lots of people opining on how it will transform many fields such as artificial intelligence. I believe it will be extremely useful but in a very narrow domain of problems. It is handy to at least have an idea what quantum computing is and this video does a very good job of explaining it.


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 19th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 19th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          Did The NSA Continue To Stay Silent On Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Even After Discovering It Had Been Hacked?

Once upon a time the NSA would advise companies on security and even help create standards. I strongly believe US companies are “guided” to insert obscure weaknesses in their equipment the NSA can exploit (see item 2). Of course, the Russians, Chinese, and others are not complete idiots so they know those weaknesses are there: they just have to find them. The reason I figure NSA didn’t inform the tech companies is because either they already knew about them or were ignorant they had been installed. I am not sure which is worse.

“The NSA’s exploit stash is allegedly for sale. As mentioned earlier this week, an individual or a group calling themselves Shadow Brokers claims to be auctioning off parts of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) toolkit, containing several zero days — including one in Cisco’s (a favorite NSA TAO target) Adaptive Security Appliance which allows for remote code execution. The thing about these vulnerabilities is that they aren’t new. The exploits being hawked by Shadow Brokers date back to 2013, suggesting the agency has been sitting on these exploits for awhile. The fact that companies affected by them don’t know about these flaws means the NSA hasn’t been passing on this information. Back in 2015, the NSA declared that it passed on information about vulnerabilities to affected companies “90% of the time.” Of course, this statement contained very few details about how long the NSA exploited vulnerabilities before allowing them to be patched.”

2)          Cisco confirms NSA-linked zeroday targeted its firewalls for years

A number of months back Juniper announced a series of “weakness” had been “discovered in its firewalls. There were strong suggestions these were installed by state players. Not coincidentally those announcements were well timed with respect to third party disclosure. Now it is Cisco’s turn: shortly after the announcement that NSA hacking tools were available Cisco announced it has “discovered” a vulnerability in its equipment. I sure they were shocked. They will get around to providing a patch but chances are their gear has other, as yet undisclosed problems, along with the new ones it will introduce in due course. That’s the great thing about a free market: you might not be able to buy equipment secure from spies but you can choose whose spies you want to use.

“Cisco Systems has confirmed that recently-leaked malware tied to the National Security Agency exploited a high-severity vulnerability that had gone undetected for years in every supported version of the company’s Adaptive Security Appliance firewall. The previously unknown flaw makes it possible for remote attackers who have already gained a foothold in a targeted network to gain full control over a firewall, Cisco warned in an advisory published Wednesday. The bug poses a significant risk because it allows attackers to monitor and control all data passing through a vulnerable network. To exploit the vulnerability, an attacker must control a computer already authorized to access the firewall or the firewall must have been misconfigured to omit this standard safeguard.”

3)          Bacteria coaxed to deliver chemo drugs right inside tumours

This is an interesting approach: take magnetotactic bacteria and load it up with chemo drug. Inject close to the tumor and use a magnetic field to direct the bugs toward the spot. It’s a bonus that they also like low oxygen levels such as those around tumor. The short life might be a problem or a feature: you don’t want long lived bacteria crawling around your body. Nevertheless perhaps they can engineer the bugs to last an hour or so, extending their “range”.

“The bacteria were then ready to test on mice with colorectal tumours. The drug-loaded bacteria were injected a few centimetres from the tumour. The researchers used weak magnetic fields to direct the bacteria to the tumour, then relied on the bacteria’s low-oxygen navigation to bring them to the most active part of the tumour. … Once the experiment was over, the researchers examined the tumour under a microscope. Special dyes allowed them to distinguish between the bacteria, the drugs and different regions of the tumour. They found that on average, about 55 per cent of the 100 million bacteria they injected into each mouse made it to the low-oxygen areas of the tumour, they reported in the journal Nature Nanoscience this week.”

4)          Tech IPO Clog Poised to Burst

Time was companies did an IPO because they needed capital to finance their expansion. Maybe that still happens but in the case of “Unicorns” (privately owned tech companies with a valuation of $1B or more) it is because the investors have decided the lamb is ready for slaughter. They want the ability to sell their shares to an unsuspecting public and have individuals fund their losses. You know a deal is a bad deal when the people who know most about a company would rather you buy it from them. Fortunately for “Unicorn” owners investment banks are very polished and investors are very gullible. Stay away.

“Some unicorns like Dropbox may not like what they hear as they start talking to advisers and investors about going public. Dropbox’s similarly named public rival, Box, trades at about four times the company’s expected revenue for next year, according to Bloomberg estimates. The Wall Street Journal last year cited a source who said Dropbox’s revenue was likely to hit $500 million in 2015. If Dropbox’s sales double this year, and do so again in 2017, Dropbox could be valued at about $8 billion at Box’s revenue multiple. If Dropbox does go public at a valuation below its current one, it will have plenty of company. Box did it, too.”

5)          Verizon Offered to Install Marketers’ Apps Directly on Subscribers’ Phones

Crapware installation has become a big business for the PC industry and it is emerging in the wireless device business as well. This isn’t exactly new: “locked” phones have included crapware for some time now. I think Verizon’s rumored pricing is whacko and it seems the market agrees. What is a bit odd is that Verizon has done away with contracts so there is no reason to buy a phone from them. Get an unlocked phone directly from the manufacturer, probably save money, and have less garbage installed on it.

“The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said. Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.”

6)          Walabot lets you see inside your walls or floors

As a guy engaged in never ending construction jobs I can see a lot of potential for this gizmo. As near as I can tell it is a radar unit, and, if so, lots of similar product could come on the market and make priced a bit more mainstream. I am a bit skeptical though. Most of the demonstration videos don’t really look like the video they show on the article.

“WalabotDIY is a 3D imaging device that works along with your Android smartphone using an app that is available for download at no cost. Once the app is installed, the device can be used to scan the wall and images are projected onto the screen of the smartphone. The idea is to allow the user to know how far they need to drill or cut to avoid hitting any pipes, wires, or other items inside the walls.”

7)          Why Drones Actually Can’t Deliver Packages to Homes

I am glad somebody finally bothered doing the math. Of course, it could be that gasoline powered drones would be the solution nevertheless I can’t wait for the first fatality associated with a heavy drone dropping from the sky so somebody could get a book a day faster.

“My first investigation was aimed at understanding why the drone flight time was limited to 20 minutes. Being an engineer, I developed the math for it. It is based on a few known characteristics of the current state of technology. Most drones use electric motors and batteries. In my research, I found that a battery typically holds a capacity of 65Wh (Watt-Hour) for every 1 pound of battery weight. The “hover” or cruise speed power requirement for a drone is 100W for every 1 pound of overall weight (drone + batteries + payload), while it requires 200 W/lb to climb or fly at speed. Finally, the power system (motor + speed controller) delivers 1,000W for every 1 pound of drone weight (not including batteries or payload). I checked the performance specifications for many different sizes and manufacturers of electric motors and batteries, and found that the numbers above were very consistent. I don’t want to bore you with the math, so I’ll skip right to the conclusion. When you do the calculations, you find that it results in the following: For a 30-minute flight, a drone’s overall weight (drone + batteries + package) must be 20 times that of the package alone. The batteries’ weight accounts for most of that. For a five-minute flight, the overall weight has to be only 1.5 times that of the package.”

8)          The LTE Apple Watch 2 is dead, but the new model may still have GPS

Well, duh. A big part of a smartphone’s battery consumption is the display but the rest is the radio. The power consumption of the receiver is subject to some Moore’s Law related improvement but the transmitter is pretty much a matter of physics. No kidding you can’t get enough power in a watch sized battery. As for the GPS, well, golly, that would give the Apple Watch the same capability as a wrist mounted Garmin product I had a decade ago.

“That LTE Apple Watch you’ve been wishing for is probably not coming any time soon — but the new version will have GPS tracking as previously rumored, so at least there’s that. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple ran into trouble with battery life for a version of the incoming Apple Watch 2 with cellular connectivity. All that data transferring decimated the wearable’s small battery.”

9)          Popular Internet of Things Forecast of 50 Billion Devices by 2020 Is Outdated

I wish more people understood that IDC and Gartner are in the business of selling industry research, not making accurate predictions. Selling industry research is predicated on making it sound exciting: no investor or entrepreneur is going to fork over big bucks unless you are forecasting sunny skies and huge growth. The *lowest* forecast for the IoT market I was able to uncover is $4T which is about 22% of the GDP of the US, and fully 4% of global GDP.

“Still, it would seem the practical utility of IoT estimates is limited if they have the potential to be revised by many billions of units. Turner at IDC says such variation and fluidity of these numbers is typical of early estimates focused on nascent markets. The point, he suggests, is to think of the estimates as a general signal, rather than focus on the specific numbers. There are many reasons why projections from different firms may change over time, or simply not match up in the first place. Each company starts with its own definition of IoT and refines its methods over time.”

10)      With SolarCity Cuts, Elon Musk’s Magic May Be Wearing Thin

What I find remarkable is not the content of the article (seriously: no s—t, Sherlock) but that articles like these are becoming more and more common. Some “business plans” revolve around telling louder and ever more elaborate versions of stories people want to hear. Whether the stories are grounded in reality is moot provided investors are willing to provide the money. This works perfectly until it stops working. Once the money supply dries up the whole thing comes crashing down and the first signs the money supply is going to dry up is when people start thinking rationally.

“Musk’s grand vision for an integrated solar-plus-electric-vehicle behemoth, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a reality distortion field. The opening of the massive solar-panel factory the company is building in Buffalo, New York, has already been pushed back to mid-2017. Some analysts have estimated that the factory is likely to lose as much as $150 million a year once it reaches full production. What’s more, there is little indication that huge numbers of people are clamoring for the ability to equip their homes with SolarCity panels, a Tesla Powerwall battery, and a charging system for their Teslas. In short, SolarCity’s latest moves could be a signal that merging two companies with combined 2015 losses of $1.6 billion might not be such a great idea after all.”


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 12th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 12th 2016


Welcome to the new abbreviated Geek’s Reading List. I have decided to cut back to a maximum of 10 articles per week as it is becoming harder and hard to find interesting tech or science articles which are not puffery, billionaire worship, or other nonsense.

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)          A Prayer for Archimedes

Apparently historians no longer refer to the period prior to the enlightenment as the “Dark Ages”. The wholesale destruction of learned texts by people so ignorant of technology they destroyed old books because they didn’t know how to make new ones is not enough to characterize 1000 years of lost opportunity as “Dark”. For what it is worth, historians also like to pretend religious authorities were not “anti-knowledge” back then even though they vigorously oppose almost all scientific progress today. I’m going to stick with the term “Dark Ages”.

“Two of the texts hiding in the prayer book have not appeared in any other copy of Archimedes’s work, so no one but Heiberg had studied them until now. One of them, titled The Method, has special historical significance. It could be considered the earliest known work on calculus. Archimedes wrote The Method almost two thousand years before Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz developed calculus in the 1700s. Reviel Netz, an historian of mathematics at Stanford University who transcribed the text, says that the examination of Archimedes’ work has revealed “a new twist on the entire trajectory of Western mathematics.””

2)          75 Percent of Bluetooth Smart Locks Can Be Hacked

This is yet another example of the pathetic security of most IoT devices. Or course, traditional locks can also be picked but it takes a bit of practice to learn the technique. Nevertheless it isn’t so much the lack of security as the disinterest in vendors in even admitting there is a problem.

“Researcher Anthony Rose, an electrical engineer, said that of 16 Bluetooth smart locks he and fellow researcher Ben Ramsey had tested, 12 locks opened when wirelessly attacked. The locks — including models made by Quicklock, iBlulock, Plantraco, Ceomate, Elecycle, Vians, Okidokey and Mesh Motion — had security vulnerabilities that ranged from ridiculously easy to moderately difficult to exploit. “We figured we’d find vulnerabilities in Bluetooth Low Energy locks, then contact the vendors.  It turned out that the vendors actually don’t care,” Rose said. “We contacted 12 vendors. Only one responded, and they said, ‘We know it’s a problem, but we’re not gonna fix it.'””,news-23129.html

3)          Hacked Bitcoin exchange Bitfinex will reduce balances by 36% to distribute losses amongst all users

If you are going to run an exchange with lousy security you might as well share the losses among the suckers you lure into using it. This is a follow up on the most recent multimillion dollar Bitcoin “hack” (most are likely inside jobs). Rather than taking the hit themselves they’ve decided their customers should pay the piper. Why not? It is a completely unregulated industry.

“Since the exchange used a service to individually segregate each customer’s funds in unique wallets, only some customers’ funds were drained, while others retained their full balances. The question then became would Bitfinex limit losses to only users whose wallets were compromised, or distribute them equally amongst all users (since the attack was essentially indiscriminate amongst random wallets). We now have an answer, as the company has posted that they will distribute losses amongst all users to the tune of 36.067%, which is the total loss experienced by Bitfinex.”

4)          Abundant Robotics spins out of SRI to bring apple-picking robots to the farm

The article and video don’t really tell you much about the machine or its limitations. I suspect not all fruit are easily accessed by the sucker gizmo due to branches. Nevertheless it is credible that a commercially viable machine might emerge from this work. Video:

“Steere said, “Seeing fruit and picking it without damaging it is the big engineering challenge. If you bruise or cut the fruit it loses its value.” According to SRI Ventures President, Manish Kothari, it had not been possible to automate the task of apple picking before recent breakthroughs in computer vision and image processing were made. He said, “You direct this robot to go someplace, see and pick an apple, and go again. It’s a very non-trivial engineering challenge. To detect apples very precisely you have to see down at the millimeter level in real time. That requires software, and on the hardware side, chips that allow you to do real time image processing on the fly.””

5)          Secure Boot snafu: Microsoft leaks backdoor key, firmware flung wide open

Long story short this development is being used as proof of the dangers of backdoors to encryption algorithms. If the backdoor key leaks or is cracked (and knowing there is a back door probably brings you a long way to cracking it) and presto you no longer have security. Given these ease with which NSA has been penetrated there are probably all kinds of foreign operatives working inside it and you can rest assured the Russians or Chinese has ready access to any proposed backdoor.

“Microsoft has inadvertently demonstrated the intrinsic security problem of including a universal backdoor in its software after it accidentally leaked its so-called “golden key”—which allows users to unlock any device that’s supposedly protected by Secure Boot, such as phones and tablets. The key basically allows anyone to bypass the provisions Microsoft has put in place ostensibly to prevent malicious versions of Windows from being installed, on any device running Windows 8.1 and upwards with Secure Boot enabled.”

6)          Researchers orbit a muon around an atom, confirm physics is broken

Unexpected results are the sorts of things which make experimental physicists giddy. In this case they created an artificial atom with a muon, rather than an electron, orbiting the nucleus. The orbital radius turned out to be significantly different from what was predicted by the standard model of physics and that difference could mean a significant revision to theory.

“Their first attempt showed something strange: the value for the radius they got was significantly smaller than the one obtained when you measure using an electron. Remember, the muon and the electron should be equivalent, so there should be no difference. Currently, we have no physics that could explain the difference. The finding had a statistical significance of over five sigma, which is the standard for announcing discovery in physics. Still, it might have been possible to dismiss this as some sort of experimental oddity. Or at least it was until the team gathered even more data, pushing the significance up to over seven sigma. At this point, there was no way around the fact that we have what has become known as the “proton radius puzzle.””

7)          Samsung Debuts 3D XPoint Killer

I wrote about 3D XPoint, the new non-volatile memory technology introduced by Intel and Micron about a year ago. There are still plenty of unanswered questions regarding 3D XPoint, not the least of which is cost. Samsung has provided almost no details regarding its Z-NAND technology but the price range seems good. Samsung has about 50% market share in SSDs so it has a strong incentive to keep ahead of the competition.

“Samsung’s Z-NAND will deliver 10x faster reads than multi-level cell flash and writes that are twice as fast, the company said. At the drive level, they will support both reads and writes at about 20 microseconds, suggesting some of write performance comes from an enhanced controller. …The first drives will have a terabyte capacity. Like today’s high-end SSDs they will draw a full 25W from a PCIe Gen 3 slot to deliver maximum IOPS. Costs will be “a little bit more than standard triple-level cell flash shipping today, but it will be more cost effective than alternative memory technologies,” said Shiah, in a nod to 3D Xpoint.”

8)          Millions of Volkswagens can be broken into with a wireless hack

I would not be surprised if substantially all cars with electronic key systems can be broken in to. The fobs themselves are very simple devices and eavesdropping, even from a distance, should be straightforward. Of course anybody can break into any car just by breaking the window. Actually stealing a car with a electronic key to start it is probably much more difficult.

“Millions of Volkswagens built over the past 20 years can be broken into with a hack that exploits the cars’ remote control key systems, security researchers have found. Most VWs built since 1995 use one of a handful of electronic “master keys” to remotely open and lock the doors, and those keys can be extracted by reverse engineering the firmware, the researchers wrote in a new paper. That alone isn’t enough to break into a car—the master key has to be combined with a unique code generated by each remote key device. But the researchers also devised a way to do that, assembling a piece of radio hardware costing around $40. The radio device eavesdrops on the signal sent from the key fob to the car. Once the signals are decrypted, the researchers were able to make copies of the key fob and open the car door.”

9)          The Next Generation of Wireless — “5G” — Is All Hype.

This is a counterpoint to most of what has been read about 5G. I believe the mistake which is being made is assuming all 5G systems will run at millimeter wave radio which is not the case. Nevertheless, the point about needing fiber is a good one even though microwave backhaul can work in many cases. Absent a competitive infrastructure the technology will remain limited.

“Here’s what you need to understand: “5G” is a marketing term. There is no 5G standard — yet. The International Telecommunications Union plans to have standards ready by 2020. So for the moment “5G” refers to a handful of different kinds of technologies that are predicted, but not guaranteed, to emerge at some point in the next 3 to 7 years. (3GPP, a carrier consortium that will be contributing to the ITU process, said last year that until an actual standard exists, “’5G’ will remain a marketing & industry term that companies will use as they see fit.” At least they’re candid.) At the moment, advertising something as “5G” carries no greater significance than saying it’s “blazing fast” or “next generation” — but because “5G” sounds technical, it’s good for sales. We are a long way away from actual deployment.”

10)      Pay TV Providers Lost 700,000 Subscribers Last Quarter

Consumers with decent broadband now have alternatives to pay TV and cable. Netflix and other streaming services provide a cost effective alternative. Mind you as the article notes the industry’s response has been to continuously raise prices (and though it is not in the article, lower quality). I have zero interest in sports but even ESPN is losing a lot of subscribers ( due mainly to the same phenomenon.

“Moffett has consistently argued that the numbers are actually worse when you factor in how the housing market rebounded without a corresponding spike in pay TV subscriptions, suggesting that when many people move — they aren’t reconnecting traditional cable. Moffett’s research note also took aim at subscriber tracking metrics in a TV industry that hasn’t always been receptive to a candid look at the numbers. “The pay-TV industry is struggling with a measurement problem,” he said. “The most commonly cited numbers are Nielsen’s estimates of cable network subscribers.” “Company-reported numbers are, by contrast, lagged 30 to 90 days (based on the payables from their distributors), making changes in trend a bit harder to discern,” said Moffett. “And Nielsen’s numbers don’t include new OTT distributors like Sling and Sony Vue, which at this point, may represent 800,000 subscribers.””


The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 5th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of August 5th 2016


I have been part of the technology industry for a third of a century now. For 13 years I was an electronics designer and software developer: I designed early generation PCs, mobile phones (including cell phones) and a number of embedded systems which are still in use today. I then became a sell-side research analyst for the next 20 years, where I was ranked the #1 tech analyst in Canada for six consecutive years, named one of the best in the world, and won a number of awards for stock-picking and estimating.

I started writing the Geek’s Reading List about 12 years ago. In addition to the company specific research notes I was publishing almost every day, it was a weekly list of articles I found interesting – usually provocative, new, and counter-consensus. The sorts of things I wasn’t seeing being written anywhere else.

They were not intended, at the time, 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. Or at least need to act like it some of the time!

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)          First Click: Apple should stop selling four-year-old computers

Apple not only sells antique computers, it sells them at a massive premium and that is why they do it: they have convinced people they are technology leaders (they aren’t) and people are willing to pay up for old, cheap technology. This means great margins and low R&D costs. Eventually the chickens will come home to roost.

“But that doesn’t mean it isn’t unconscionable for Apple to continue to sell outdated products to people who may not know any better. Is the company really saving that much money by using 2012 processors and 4GB of RAM as standard? Even an update to Intel’s Haswell chips from 2013 would have brought huge battery life improvements. Apple is bound by the whims of its suppliers to a certain extent, and it may not always make sense for the company to upgrade its products with every single new chip or GPU that comes out. But there’s a certain point at which it just starts to look like absentmindedness, and many Mac computers are well past that point now.”

2)          Google Self-Driving Car Exec Talks Fatal Tesla Crash

The comments regarding the responsibility of the driver are apt, especially since Google continues to test cars themselves and any other comment would lead to liability if they said otherwise. Nevertheless what it is important are the comments below: drivers need special training to use experimental AV technology and a simple “I agree” is not enough.

““Back in 2012 we had a technology that was very similar. We let Google employees test it, after lengthy training sessions imploring them to pay attention at all times. We wanted to see how they were interacting with the technology. After three months we saw enough to say this is definitely a problem. People would take their eyes off the road for some period, look down at their phones and start texting while in the driver’s seat. Turning around to the back to get their laptop because they needed to plug their phone in. Right? When you’re hurtling down the road at 60 miles an hour in a two-ton vehicle? “That takes us to the fundamental conundrum of the L2 semi-autonomous solutions: As they get better and better, but not quite good enough for humans to zone out entirely, then risk increases. So we need to take the human out of the loop. With L4, which is our focus at Google, the idea is, you don’t need a steering wheel or controls because we’re going to take care of everything, and you just have to say, “I want to go to that destination,” and the car will take you there.””

3)          Bitcoin Bitfinex exchange hacked: the unanswered questions

Saying a bitcoin exchange has been “hacked” is a bit like saying Tony Soprano’s bank has been robbed. There is not regulatory structure for bitcoin exchanges and it is not even clear “stealing” bitcoin is illegal. There is good reason to believe many “hacks” were basically inside jobs. Better yet, despite the purported security of bitcoin, no “hacked” bitcoin has ever been recovered and no “hacker” ever been caught or prosecuted.

“The Hong Kong-based Bitfinex exchange was hacked this week in a security breach that drained 119,756 bitcoins from its customer accounts. The sum is believed to represent a significant proportion of the exchange’s bitcoin assets, with the stolen coins totalling 0.8 per cent of all bitcoins in circulation. … As yet, it is unclear how the hacker was able to compromise the multi-signature system, though some suggest the cosigning process may have been overly dependent on automated signoffs on transactions below a certain value threshold. Nevertheless, some legal experts say because the funds were technically segregated this will have reduced Bitfinex’s overall customer liability.”

4)          The chip card transition in the US has been a disaster

From a distance the wailing and gnashing of teeth associated with the US transition to chip cards is pretty amusing. After all this is something the rest of the world seems to have managed without hysterics. Despite what the article says they are, in fact, faster, more secure, and better for consumers. The silly comment about smartphone alternatives is telling: I like to dazzle my American friends by using my credit card “touch” wireless payment whenever possible. I believe that is supposed to be introduced in the US by 2050 …

“Over the last year or so in the US, a lot of the plastic credit cards we carry around every day have been replaced by new one with chips embedded in them. The chips are supposed to make your credit and debit cards more secure—a good thing!—but there’s one little secret no one wants to admit: The US’s transition to chip cards has been an utter disaster. They’re confusing to use, painstakingly slow, less secure than the alternatives, and aren’t even the best solution for consumers.”

5)          Digital Canada 150: Like ‘Broadband Britain’ but even worse

It is worth noting that 20 to 25 years ago Canada had a globally competitive telecommunications infrastructure. At the time we were also hosts to globally competitive telecommunications equipment companies like Nortel, Newbridge, Gandalf, RIM, and many others. About 15 years of corrupt regulation (I prefer to believe our politicians are corrupt rather than stupid) has pushed our infrastructure to 3rd world status and, unsurprisingly, there is not a single noteworthy telecom technology company in the country. It’s rather odd that size is given as the problem: but I don’t think the country was so much smaller when electric and telephone infrastructure was being build. Thanks to Nick Tang for this item.

“Here at TelecomTV we might, indeed we do, moan about the government’s plan for “Broadband Britain”. Over the years (far too many of them) much has been promised but delivery has been sporadic and partial, coverage piecemeal and the entire programme has been characterised by a lack of real forward-thinking, coherent planning and, all-in-all, has demonstrated a paucity of imagination and limited determination. But, then you look around and see that there’s always someone worse off than yourself. Just take a shufti at broadband Internet services in Canada. Examination of the state of Internet broadband there is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope and back in time to an era long past in Europe.”

6)          Why Internet Speeds Leave Americans Lagging

The US and Canada have abysmal broadband and mobile but they arrived at that position through different paths in particular in the US there are actual statutory barriers to competition in many areas. The root problem in both cases is simply that there is no competition and plenty of obstacles to competition. That keeps the carriers fat dumb and happy: at least until something changes.

“This isn’t just a mild annoyance while you’re watching Netflix. It is a serious problem for productivity with long-term implications for economic performance and American competitiveness. Businesses, hospitals, and schools all rely on the internet. Slower speeds mean none of them are operating as efficiently as is possible. To add insult to injury, Americans pay more for less; internet access is more expensive in America than in many countries with faster speeds. There are two main reasons this is the case: the inferior physical infrastructure of America’s internet, and the oligarchy of internet service providers (ISPs) that control it.”

7)          Federal government’s one-website project proving costly — and confusing

While governments enact policies which ensure broadband is expensive and of poor quality they enrich consultants by trying to move as many things as possible onto the Internet. This makes it harder and harder for some citizens to access government services: a happy outcome if you are the government. The debacle they describe is not unusual: this is the same institution which spend billions on a long gun registry a reasonable competent team could have developed for less than one percent of the final cost. Thanks again to Nick Tang for this article.

“The government’s bid to unify all of its departments under a web address is increasing workloads and pushing at least one federal department over budget, raising questions about the implementation of the project.”

8)          The Ransomware Epidemic Is Growing and Hurting a Lot of Businesses

Malwarebytes is not exactly a neutral party here but it does seem to be the case that ransomware is a growing problem. The article does point to the fact that traditional approaches to network security simply no longer work. Thanks to Tony Patterson for this item.

“Almost two-fifths of businesses in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Germany have been hit in the last year by a ransomware attack, according to a survey by security firm Malwarebytes. Even bearing in mind that Malwarebytes is not coming at this from a neutral standpoint—it sells defenses against ransomware—the results of its survey are startling. The company found that nearly 80% of U.S. companies suffered a cyberattack of some kind in the last year, with 47% experiencing a “ransomware incident.””

9)          Does dropping malicious USB sticks really work? Yes, worryingly well…

It turns out that many computer security breaches are the result of social engineering rather than complex technical feats. People do open email attachments and, what is more natural upon finding a USB key than to plug it in to your computer?

“Plugging in that USB stick you found lying around on the street outside your office could lead to a security breach. This is no secret, of course. We have all (hopefully) been aware of the dangers of inserting an unknown USB device into our computers for some time. Heck, the technique has even made it into the Mr Robot TV series. But what may not be widely known is just how successful the tactic can be for allowing hackers to compromise your computer systems. Research presented this week at BlackHat by Elie Bursztein of Google’s anti-abuse research team shows that the danger is alarmingly real …”

10)      Frequent password changes are the enemy of security, FTC technologist says

Frankly I think frequent password changes are nonsense, more or less for the reasons outlined in the article: people can’t remember a large assortment of truly random passwords so they adapt mnemonic schemes to cope. Humans are humans so the mnemonic schemes tend to be similar, which makes cracking the password much easier. If your old password was 11Hello2016, chances are your next password will be 12Hello2016.

“Shortly after Carnegie Mellon University professor Lorrie Cranor became chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission in January, she was surprised by an official agency tweet that echoed some oft-repeated security advice. It read: “Encourage your loved ones to change passwords often, making them long, strong, and unique.” Cranor wasted no time challenging it. … For one, a growing body of research suggests that frequent password changes make security worse. As if repeating advice that’s based more on superstition than hard data wasn’t bad enough, the tweet was even more annoying because all six of the government passwords she used had to be changed every 60 days.”

11)      Their time has come. A new type of electrical cell may displace the lithium-ion design

It has been a few months since the last world-changing battery announcement came out. To reiterate there are many parameters which much be optimized for a battery to be commercially successful and articles such as these tend to highlight just one. Either way the comments about lithium ion are telling: it isn’t progressing as much as some stock promoters would have you believe.

“The fundamental idea behind Dr Li’s device is not new. It is a version of what is known as a lithium-air battery, something that has been a desideratum of energy-storage research since the 1970s. In theory, such batteries could hold more than four times the energy per kilogram of lithium-ion batteries. Building them, though, has proved taxing. As their name suggests, they draw in air. The part they need is the oxygen, but other atmospheric components—water vapour and carbon dioxide in particular—often damage them.”

12)      IBM creates world’s first artificial phase-change neurons

As the name implies neural networks are similar to the circuits that make up the important parts of the brain. Like brains they have the potential to be very good at recognizing patterns and self-learning but artificial neural networks have been very hard to construct and program. Like a lot of IBM’s research it is not that clear whether this will ever get to market.

“IBM Research in Zurich has created the world’s first artificial nanoscale stochastic phase-change neurons. IBM has already created a population of 500 of these artificial neurons and used them to process a signal in a brain-like (neuromorphic) way. This breakthrough is particularly notable because the phase-change neurons are fashioned out of well-understood materials that can scale down to a few nanometres, and because they are capable of firing at high speed but with low energy requirements. Also important is the neurons’ stochasticity—that is, their ability to always produce slightly different, random results, like biological neurons.”

13)      Blackberry enters a new era, files 105-page patent lawsuit against Avaya

Ah, Blackberry I knew you when you were rich and famous. Avaya has been in business a very long time and almost certainly has a mountain of patents. They will just countersue.

“In making its case that Avaya should pay royalties, BlackBerry’s focus is squarely on its rear-view mirror. The firm argues that it should be paid for its history of innovation going back nearly 20 years. “BlackBerry revolutionized the mobile industry,” the company’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. “BlackBerry… has invented a broad array of new technologies that cover everything from enhanced security and cryptographic techniques, to mobile device user interfaces, to communication servers, and many other areas.””

14)      Samsung explains how the Galaxy Note 7 iris scanner works

It can be harder to spoof an iris reader than a fingerprint scanner so the idea might be a good one if you care that much about privacy while storing all your data in the cloud and having your every move tracked by Google and Facebook. The article doesn’t mention what the video does: it may not work reliably if you wear glasses or contacts. Removing glasses is easy, contacts not so much.

“The just released Galaxy Note 7 has become the first handset from Samsung to feature iris scanning technology, which could possibly pave the way for the company to do away with other security methods, such as PIN, pattern, simple swipe, and even fingerprint, even if that is quite unlikely. With iris scanning arriving in the Galaxy Note 7, you don’t need to touch the device to verify your identity and can access the phone by just looking at the screen. Our tests with the iris scanner in the were pretty positive, particularly given the number of times we have seen the same security feature in other devices failing to respond, or proving unreliable.”

15)      Good news—the robocalling scourge may not be unstoppable after all

I suspect dealing with robocalls would be pretty easy by applying big data techniques inside the telephone companies. A sudden increase in the number of automated calls (you can tell from the delay between answer and voice) from a non-whitelisted source and you are done. I really admire the technology they used in this study.

“Pindrop researchers reached the conclusion by creating a security honeypot of phone numbers that received more than 1 million robocalls. The researchers transcribed about 10 percent of the calls and analyzed the semantics with machine-learning techniques to isolate identical scams. The researchers combined those results with analysis that tracked 150 different audio features of each call. By studying the codecs, packet loss, spectrum, and frequency inside the audio and combining the results with the machine learning, the researchers were able to obtain a fingerprint of each different call center.”

16)      MIT and DARPA Pack Lidar Sensor onto Single Chip

Lidar sensors are very expensive but there is no real reason that will remain the case for long. The same used to be true regarding scanning laser levels and those are much cheaper today. This is an interesting approach but don’t get carried away – the technology is inherently limited due to the small size and probably explains the very limited range. Nonetheless, it might be useful for robotics.

“Our lidar chips are produced on 300-millimeter wafers, making their potential production cost on the order of $10 each at production volumes of millions of units per year. These on-chip devices promise to be orders of magnitude smaller, lighter, and cheaper than lidar systems available on the market today. They also have the potential to be much more robust because of the lack of moving parts. The non-mechanical beam steering in this device is 1,000 times faster than what is currently achieved in mechanical lidar systems, and potentially allows for an even faster image scan rate. This can be useful for accurately tracking small high-speed objects that are only in the lidar’s field of view for a short amount of time, which could be important for obstacle avoidance for high-speed UAVs.”

17)      Is NAND Shortage Going to Effect SSDs?

The hard disk industry seems to believe that NAND shortages will save their disruption by Soli State Drives. As this brief article points out, capacity will go to making SSDs instead of other low margin flash devices. Meanwhile the industry is rapidly ramping up capacity and SSD prices will plumet.

“As we all have seen in the past, price takedowns for SSDs (and thus NAND) have outpaced the actual cost takedowns that these vendors have been dealing with. However, this latest tightness in NAND supply (mainly as a result of 3D NAND delays and a transition to higher capacities in smart phones) should not have to much effect on the system OEM based SSD market, but rather the lower end consumer type devices taking NAND (think thumb drives, eMMC, etc.)”

18)      Mossberg: TVs are still too complicated, and it’s not your fault

Sorry but anybody who buys electronics from Best Buy gets no sympathy from me. For the most part this sounds like somebody who would shout “get off my lawn” at any moment. At the end of the day basic functionality is easy to set up and more obscure functions are harder to set up. That’s pretty much how everything works.

“The next day I headed for Best Buy with my grown son, who was being good to his dad, because like many in his generation (including his brother), he cares roughly zero about costly TVs. In the store, two sales people who helped us were nice, but not very informative. They knew little about how to compare among brands, except to rave about the costliest one (LG). And it took them multiple tries on multiple TVs to demo the streaming app menu for us — even after they had turned off the store demo mode. They couldn’t actually demo the streaming apps themselves. They falsely claimed that the sound would be very weak unless we bought an expensive sound bar.”

19)      Intel issues total recall for fitness tracker that could burn, blister your wrist

I didn’t even know Intel was in this particular gadget market. You have to wonder what sort of strategic thinking figured that a fitness tracker would be a good market to be in if you are already the de facto standard for PC CPUs. Oh well. It turns out the thing can hurt you so the net benefit to health isn’t necessarily positive. Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this item.

“TECH giant Intel has today issued a total recall for an activity tracker that it warns could burn and blister arms, admitting the problem was something it cannot fix. A few weeks ago, the Intel-owned Basis company stopped sales on the Peak smartwatch that some reviews described as “the best activity tracker yet” when it was released. But today it has taken the major step of not only issuing a total recall for the product but it is also closing down the online service that lets people synch their fitness data in an effort to ensure people stop wearing the potentially dangerous device.”

20)      Scientists say hoped-for physics particle was just a blip

Well it was fun while it lasted. For a brief moment the physics world was a twitter about an unexpected result which meant a potential rewrite of the standard model. It was all a blip. Never mind.

“This bump, at an energy of 750 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), would have been six times heavier than the famous Higgs Boson particle, which gives items mass and was discovered in 2012. But following much speculation and many leaks to social media, scientists announced at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Chicago that indeed, there was no actual bump in either of two experiments, one dubbed Atlas and the other CMS. “The intriguing hint of a possible resonance at 750 GeV decaying into photon pairs, which caused considerable interest from the 2015 data, has not reappeared in the much larger 2016 data set and thus appears to be a statistical fluctuation,” said a statement from CERN.”