The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 6 2017

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

1)          Japanese company replaces office workers with artificial intelligence

This is article 1 of 2 about robots gonna take our jerbs. It seems the insurance company in question pays people to vet about 32 claims a day and that IBM has sold them on running the claims through their deep learning system instead. People losing their jobs is nothing to laugh at and online coverage of this news characterized it as a “first wave” leading to massive AI related job losses, poverty, and no doubt cannibalism. Nevertheless this is simply another baby step along a path extending back to the industrial revolution. I recall a time where countless people were keypunch operators, when word processors were people, and when printing was mainly done on hot lead type. There is nothing unusual or significant about this announcement, except that IBM finally has a paying customer for its deep learning technology.

“A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.”

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/05/japanese-company-replaces-office-workers-artificial-intelligence-ai-fukoku-mutual-life-insurance

2)          Amazon’s robot army grows by 50 percent

If deep learning wasn’t going to take you job, surely robots will. Coverage of this news also led to lots of commentary regarding massive job losses, etc.. Nevertheless pretty much any complex logistical chain (even the post office) has been using robotics and other technology for years otherwise they simply couldn’t get the job done. Amazon exists to employ people because it can buy robots which allow people to fill the orders. Eventually more of that work will be automated which will allow Amazon to expand and deliver even more stuff cheaper.

“Amazon.com hires a lot of people. But the expansion of its army of orange-wheeled robots is more than keeping pace. The world’s largest e-commerce retailer said it has 45,000 robots in some 20 fulfillment centers. That’s a bigger headcount than that of the armed forces of the Netherlands, a NATO member, according to World Bank data. It’s also a cool 50 percent increase from last year’s holiday season, when the company had some 30,000 robots working alongside 230,000 humans.”

http://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazons-robot-army-grows/

3)          AT&T to do real-life 5G trial with DirecTV Now in Austin

One hope for long suffering broadband customers is the development of 5G wireless. Although many of the names are the same, most ISPs have a regional business (though that may span a number of states) and often only offer service in the most profitable areas. Being wireless, 5G is federally regulated, meaning that state and local laws limiting competition won’t be in effect. Plus, there is a wide swath of unlicensed spectrum set aside for 5G. Finally, there total millimeter wave spectrum is orders of magnitude greater than all of the spectrum already allocated meaning at least for fixed broadband the idea of “spectrum shortage” will be obsolete.

“AT&T said Wednesday it will test a 5G wireless service to deliver its new DirecTV Now streaming TV service to select homes in Austin, Texas, in the first half of this year. The Dallas-based wireless and broadband company said the $35-a-month internet streaming service, which offers an alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV services, will use a fixed 5G wireless connection instead of AT&T’s 4G mobile network. The purpose of the trial is to see how AT&T’s next-generation wireless network could replace a home broadband connection delivered by a cable company. Specifically, AT&T said it wants to see how it handles heavy amounts of video traffic. As part of the trial, AT&T said it will also test additional “next-generation entertainment services.” The company didn’t specify what those services will be.”

https://www.cnet.com/news/att-to-test-5g-with-directv-in-austin/

4)          Hulu, Google’s 2017 Plans to Bundle Channels Looks a Lot Like Cable

Google’s entry into channel streaming could cause a fair bit of grief to the cable companies/Internet service providers. Mind you there is reason to believe the uncompetitive US internet services business will get even less competitive under a Trump presidency given the administration’s general obliviousness and apparent strong opposition to net neutrality. An end to net neutrality will allow US ISPs to essentially extort the content providers in order to carry content which would not only be bad for Google but Netflix as well.

“Ever since high-quality, streaming services emerged in 2010, it was clear that the business of television was in for radical change. Bundled channel services have an opportunity to be immensely profitable because—since they’re streamed over the internet—anyone in the country can buy them. Cable services, on the other hand, are geographically limited to the houses reached by their wires. For Hulu and Google, an especially attractive target is the 20 million so-called “cord-cutters” or “cord-nevers” that don’t pay for cable and watch television only via on-demand, internet-distributed services such as Netflix.”

http://www.newsweek.com/hulu-google-bundle-channels-looks-cable-537326

5)          Apple Will Reduce iPhone 7 Production By 10% in Early 2017 Due to ‘Sluggish’ Sales

A number of the articles I read about this news suggested “Apple does this every year” which is true if you mean this is the second year in a row. Large companies lay people a lot of money to forecast and plan production and production cutbacks of this magnitude can only be explained by sales being below expectations. That is not surprising since the iPhone 7 really has very little in terms of new features for iPhones and doesn’t really compare well to other flagship phones.

“Apple plans to reduce production of the iPhone line by 10 percent beginning in the first quarter of 2017, according to supplier data collected by Nikkei. Apple is said to have experienced a similar situation thanks to accumulated inventory of the iPhone 6s late in 2015, which also caused it to lower output of that smartphone in Q1 2016. The company attempted to prevent the same thing from happening again with the iPhone 7 by curbing production quantities on the 2016 smartphone, but even with that preemptive move Apple is again looking at a manufacturing downturn for its flagship iPhone line in the new year.”

http://www.macrumors.com/2016/12/30/apple-reduce-iphone-7-production/

6)          India needs $30 smartphone, says Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Investors are fixated with premium phones and potential sales into the developing world (in particular China and India). Unfortunately these things don’t mix: most of the rich people in those countries already have premium phones and the poor people can’t afford one. Not only that but poor people often lack electricity which means they prefer a honking big battery over a slim device. It is worth noting that there is bound to be “leakage” of cheap phones into the developed world, providing an option for consumers tired of overpaying for technology.

“Google CEO Sundar Pichai said today that Android OEMs are currently offering smartphones for $100 and $50, but for emerging markets such as that of India’s, they need smartphones that cost $30. “I think two big things, one is from our side — we are committed to making even cheaper smartphones. […] The right price point for smartphones in India is $30, and pursuing high quality smartphones at the price point will unlock it even more,” Pichai said in a televised interview with NDTV. “Hopefully, we can all push and make $30 smartphones happen,” Pichai said in a separate interview. India has the largest user base of Android users. Moreover, the country has over 260 million smartphone users with most phones sold costing under $150.”

http://mashable.com/2017/01/05/india-30-dollar-smartphone-google-sundar-pichai/#qgUwxM4.9mqV

7)          EXCLUSIVE: Kodak Ektachrome 100 is Coming Back in 35mm Format

I predicted the end of Kodak when the first digital cameras were coming out. That process was accelerated by management making a series of profoundly stupid business decisions but their fate was inevitable. In any event, as good as digital cameras are the fact is that some films can even be better and the “feel” of film is hard to match. Something tells me the film and – most importantly the processing – ain’t gonna be cheap.

“In a super shocking announcement being made today at CES 2017, Kodak is bringing back one of their iconic films: Kodak Ektachrome 100. The announcement goes hand in hand with the emulsion being available in both Super 8 and 35mm still formats. Back in 2012, Kodak discontinued the film citing sales that weren’t as strong as they needed. Last year, 2016, was the fourth anniversary of its discontinuance. Kodak Ektachrome was recommended as the replacement for Kodachrome, and for a short time was Kodak’s only available slide film. Then it disappeared, and Kodak had none available on the market. But in Q4 of 2017, we’re getting Kodak Ektachrome back.”

http://www.thephoblographer.com/2017/01/05/exclusive-kodak-ektachrome-100-is-coming-back-in-35mm-format/

8)          As thin as cardboard, LG’s ‘wallpaper’ OLED TV slaps on your wall like a poster

This video is interesting but it is worth noting that a lot is said about the sound quality and very little about the picture quality. OLED TVs are awesome and OLED is the future of display technology but the whole “thinness” aspect is pretty much overdone. As the video shows, the screens are somewhat flexible which will be important in the future. You might be able to buy this set in the near future but don’t expect it will be cheap – even though OLED has the potential for being extremely cheap in the future.

“The dream of hanging your TV on the wall like a poster is now a reality: LG officially introduced its W-Series OLED on Wednesday morning at CES 2017, and it’s every bit as cool as you might imagine. As the flagship of LG’s 2017 OLED TV lineup, the W-Series — previously referred to as “Wallpaper OLED” — exemplifies an OLED TV panel’s inherently thin and light form factor. At just 1/10 of an inch thick, the W-series’ panel is barely thicker than a piece of cardboard, and its bezel is nearly nonexistent, creating the effect of a picture that simply emanates from the wall.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/lg-w-series-wallpaper-oled-hands-on-ces-2017/

9)          Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?

The desktop CPU might not be dead but it sure does look like Intel is back to its old monopolistic ways. The company had entered a similar attitude about 10 years ago when AMD surprised everybody by coming out with some better parts. Unfortunately AMD is no longer in a position to lead in pretty much anything and Intel can revert to its slothful ways. I continue to believe they will eventually come out with a neural network accelerator to displace GPUs in deep learning applications but time will tell.

“The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-“tick-tock” world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah. For the average consumer building or buying a new performance-focused PC, a desktop chip based on 14nm Kaby Lake remains the chip of choice—a total lack of competition at this level makes sure of that. But for the enthusiast—where the latest and greatest should perform better than what came before—Kaby Lake desktop chips are a disappointment, a stopgap solution that does little more than give OEMs something new to stick on a label in a 2017 product stack.”

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/01/intel-core-i7-7700k-kaby-lake-review/

10)      Intel unveils its Optane hyperfast memory

I don’t know if Intel is doing itself any favors with its dance of the seven veils regarding Optane memory. It is all very well and good to know it is faster than flash memory and cheaper than DRAM but that spans orders of magnitude. Price and performance determine utility and applicability in the real world. Until those key data are released you can’t even speculate as to what demand will be.

“Other than detailing Optane module capacities and form factor, Intel released virtually no other details about the memory, including performance specifications, pricing or  exact availability dates. A spokesman for the company said additional detail, including performance specifications, would be released “soon.””

http://www.computerworld.com/article/3154051/data-storage/intel-unveils-its-optane-hyperfast-memory.html

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of January 30 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

Happy New Year!

 

 

1)          Apple’s Search for Better iPhone Screens Leads to Japan’s Rice Fields

Rumors suggest the iPhone 8 will have an OLED display, which is a feature which has been readily available on a variety of Android devices for several years now. Alas, Apple’s volume is such that supply of anything becomes an issue and it can take a lot more than money to catch up with certain features. As this article suggests they should have started putting the production capacity in place a few years ago – like Android vendors did.

“That push has also put a spotlight on suppliers of previously obscure technologies, testing their capacity to satisfy demand that drives sales of more than 200 million iPhones each year. A couple of years ago, Apple sought to use strong sapphire glass for iPhones, only to abandon the effort when a manufacturer couldn’t deliver enough of acceptable quality and went bankrupt. The scratch-resistant material is now featured on the Apple Watch. .Now OLED is the big goal. The technology has been included on top-end smartphones for years, including almost all of Samsung Electronics Co.’s high-end phones.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-21/apple-s-search-for-better-iphone-screens-leads-to-japan-s-rice-fields

2)          Uber Freight Just Launched and Trucking Will Never Be the Same

In the excellent HBO series “Silicon Valley” a professional tech CEO informs the engineers that a tech company’s real product is its stock. That is most easy to see without Uber (though Tesla comes close). Since Uber (and Tesla) are prodigious destroyers of capital their continued existence requires a eternally increasing stock price because without that they won’t be able to raise the capital to keep the fires burning. This is why both firms trot out a never ending series of superficially exciting announcements. In any event, Uber’s core car service business is not inherently highly profitable but at least there was a brief window of opportunity due to a regulatory arbitrage. No such condition exists in the trucking industry. As for autonomous truck (they are coming) the likes of Daimler are going to dominate that space.

“Uber has launched a website for a service called Uber Freight. Little has been revealed about the company’s expansion from ride-hailing, but if the announcements it’s made over the last year are any indicator, chances are good that Uber Freight is meant to prepare the world for autonomous delivery trucks. Uber acquired a startup called Otto, which planned to bring the first self-driving trucks to market, in August. Since then the company has used its trucks to deliver 50,000 cans of beer and hundreds of Christmas trees in San Francisco. This new service won’t use those trucks, at least not at the beginning. Instead it will function much like Uber’s existing platform: Some people will sign up to drive items across the country, and others will join so they can send packages without having to sign a contract with established shipping companies. The service will likely bring “surge pricing” to trucking, too.”

https://www.inverse.com/article/25698-uber-freight-just-launched-change-trucking-otto

3)          Congressional Encryption Working Group says encryption backdoors are near unworkable

Encryption backdoors sure sound appealing provided a couple conditions are met: the “bad guys” aren’t smart and they lack the computing resources to exploit them. Alas, it turns out that the US does not have a monopoly on smart people an computing is a commodity, especially with cloud services. So, even if the NSA wasn’t riddled with double agents as it likely is, all backdoors do is give the bad guys easy access to trade and other secrets.

“Cryptography experts and information security professionals believe that it is exceedingly difficult and impractical, if not impossible, to devise and implement a system that gives law enforcement exceptional access to encrypted data without also compromising security against hackers, industrial spies, and other malicious actors. Further, requiring exceptional access to encrypted data would, by definition, prohibit some encryption design best practices, such as “forward secrecy,” from being implemented.”

http://betanews.com/2016/12/23/ewg-encryption-report/

4)          IBM on track to get more than 7,000 U.S. patents in 2016

I’ve worked for companies which, like IBM, have incentive programs to file patents. The effect is not a burst of creativity from a slew a crappy patent applications. Since patents are almost always granted provided the applicant has deep enough pockets to pay his patent attorney you can impute exactly nothing about the prospects for a company from the number of patents it has been awarded. That said, IBM is a tech company which has missed out on every major tech market since the PC primarily because it has senior management who are utterly clueless. It ain’t for nothing revenues have declined for the past several years despite billions spent on dozens of acquisitions.

“IBM wants to put the patent war in perspective. Big Blue said that it is poised to get the most U.S. patents of any tech company for the 24th year in a row. In 2015, IBM received more than 7,355 patents, down slightly from 7,534 in 2014. A spokesperson for IBM said the company is on track to receive well over 7,000 patents in 2016. In 2016, IBM is also hitting another interesting milestone, with more than 1,000 patents for artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. IBM has been at it for more than a century, and it is seeking patents in key strategic areas — such as AI and cognitive computing. In fact, one-third of IBM’s researchers are dedicated to cognitive computing.”

http://venturebeat.com/2016/12/23/ibm-on-track-to-get-more-than-7000-u-s-patents-in-2016/

5)          Watch a Tesla predict a car crash 2 vehicles ahead

As with any Tesla related story, this looks very promising and exciting – after all we gotta keep that stock price up! This item was repeated dozens of times over the past week. Presumably the folks so enthusiastic about advanced automotive safety features know absolutely nothing about them. Nissan/Infinity has offered the same capability, which it calls “Predictive Forward Collision Warning” on most of its models for at least a couple years (http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/predictive.html). It has even advertised it extensively.

“In the clip, first uploaded to Twitter by Hans Noordsij, a group of cars can be seen traveling down the A2 highway in the Netherlands. The Forward Collision Warning on the Tesla beeps, and the emergency braking system kicks in. A brief moment later, the vehicle in front of the Tesla rear ends and SUV, which then flips before quickly coming to a stop.”

http://mashable.com/2016/12/27/tesla-predicts-crash-ahead-video/#K.ud9ijgFOq9

6)          U.S. government begins asking foreign travelers about social media

Presumably the US security apparatus assume actual terrorists would provide links to their ISIS Twitter accounts. Realistically it is very unlikely they would so stupid. Most likely they are simply filling in the blanks and associating real people and their passports to the information gathering dragnet they already operate.

“The U.S. government quietly began requesting that select foreign visitors provide their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts upon arriving in the country, a move designed to spot potential terrorist threats that drew months of opposition from tech giants and privacy hawks alike. Since Tuesday, foreign travelers arriving in the United States on the visa waiver program have been presented with an “optional” request to “enter information associated with your online presence,” a government official confirmed Thursday. The prompt includes a drop-down menu that lists platforms including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as a space for users to input their account names on those sites.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/foreign-travelers-social-media-232930

7)          Cord-Cutters Dropping Cable Force Networks to Make Hard Choices

Consumers are shifting from cable TV broadcast to streaming for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is demographics as fewer younger people even bother with a cable subscription. Rising prices and falling quality are no doubt other reasons. As broadband becomes more available I predict this will accelerate. As the article suggests this will have a profound impact on certain business while it creates opportunity for others.

“Next year, other programmers will be forced to contemplate whether to merge with competitors or distributors like AT&T, the largest U.S. pay-TV operator. Network owners are under growing pressure as they lose customers to online services like Netflix. While about 98 million homes still get pay TV, the industry lost around 1 million subscribers in 2016, and almost no channel was untouched. Even popular sports like the NFL — the glue holding the cable bundle together — lost viewers. Channel owners are betting new online TV services like DirecTV Now, Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV and an upcoming service from Hulu will stem the bleeding. Starting as low as $20 a month, they offer a low-cost alternative to the typical $85-a-month cable bill.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-29/cord-cutters-dropping-cable-force-networks-to-make-hard-choices

8)          Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots

This is an update to an article we had regarding Rio Tinto’s experimentation with autonomous truck in its Australian mining operations. I am pretty sure these are not fully autonomous but are more like remotely operated drones. This allows the operator to be far away from the mine and live in city or suburb rather than the Spartan accommodations of a mining camp which brings labor costs down a lot.

“Rob Atkinson, who leads productivity efforts at Rio Tinto, says the fleet and other automation projects are already paying off. The company’s driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel, says Atkinson—a significant saving since haulage is by far a mine’s largest operational cost. “We’re going to continue as aggressively as possible down this path,” he says. Trucks that drive themselves can spend more time working because software doesn’t need to stop for shift changes or bathroom breaks. They are also more predictable in how they do things like pull up for loading. “All those places where you could lose a few seconds or minutes by not being consistent add up,” says Atkinson. They also improve safety, he says.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603170/mining-24-hours-a-day-with-robots/

9)          Automatic brakes stopped Berlin truck during Christmas market attack

It turns out that limiting the effectiveness of a terror attack is one of the unexpected benefits of advanced safety features. This does not appear to be true automatic braking but rather a system whereby the brakes are applied after a collision much the same way airbags are deployed A real automatic braking system, which applies the brakes in anticipation of a collision, might have avoided the tragedy altogether.

“The truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market last week, killing 12, came to a halt due to an automatic braking system, according to German media reports on Wednesday. The automatic braking system potentially saved the lives of many more people in the recent terrorist attack. An investigation by newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and broadcasters “NDR” and “WDR” found the Scania R 450 semi-trailer stopped after travelling between 70 and 80 meters (250 feet). The system was reportedly engaged after sensing a collision.”

http://www.dw.com/en/automatic-brakes-stopped-berlin-truck-during-christmas-market-attack/a-36936455

10)      Lenovo switches to Windows 10 Signature Edition image for its future ThinkPad laptops

Windows 10 Signature Edition is a “bloatware” free version of Windows in that the only bloatware is Microsoft bloatware such as various demo versions, etc.. You can actually buy a wide variety of laptops directly from Microsoft with Windows 10 Signature Edition installed, often at very competitive prices. PC vendors are typically paid by bloatware companies to install bloatware on their products. Unfortunately, in Lenovo’s case, that meant distributing malware with their premium PCs which shot hole in their reputation as a trustworthy vendor for corporate users. This is most likely a marketing response to restore that reputation rather than an effort to move away from bloatware.

“Ahead of CES 2017, Lenovo today announced the major changes coming to its ThinkPad lineup of laptops and PCs. Most of them are very welcome changes and consumers are going to love the new improvements. First, Lenovo has decided to ship 2017 ThinkPad models with Microsoft’s Signature Edition Windows 10 right out of the box. So, users don’t have to worry about bloatware anymore. Signature Edition PCs are clean, fast and protected.”

https://mspoweruser.com/lenovo-switches-windows-10-signature-edition-image-future-thinkpad-laptops/

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

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

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

Happy Winter Solstice Celebration!

 

1)          How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists

The recent launches of the iPhone 7 and MacBooks demonstrate quite clearly the rot has set in at Apple. Neither product has any feature you might refer to as novel, despite the hype and super-premium price tag. In fact, it didn’t appear to occur to anybody at Apple that you might want to plug an iPhone 7 into a new MacBook without an expensive dongle adaptor. Quite a turnaround for a company which used to go by “it just works”. Eventually the chickens will come home to roost. Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this article.

“In October, after more than 500 days without an update, Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pro with a slimmer design and louder speakers. The laptop garnered mostly favorable reviews from the technology press but grumbles from creative types, a key constituency, who said the device under-performed rival products. Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-20/how-apple-alienated-mac-loyalists

2)          Russian ‘methbot’ fraud steals $180 million in online ads

This is a pretty sophisticated operation and I am not even sure if it is correct to call it “fraud”. After all where in the law does it say that annoying ads have to be watched by a human being? Thanks to my friend Humphrey Brown for this article.

“Methbot, so nicknamed because the fake browser refers to itself as the “methbrowser,” operates as a sham intermediary advertising ring: Companies would pay millions to run expensive video ads. Then they would deliver those ads to what appeared to be major websites. In reality, criminals had created more than 250,000 counterfeit web pages no real person was visiting. White Ops first spotted the criminal operation in October, and it is making up to $5 million per day — by generating up to 300 million fake “video impressions” daily. In the past, hackers have figured out how to deliver malvertising (viruses through ads) and how to fake clicks on ads. But this is another level.”

http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/20/technology/ad-fraud-online-methbot/

3)          Uber sending self-driving cars to Arizona

The reason Uber is sending its self-driving cars to Arizona is because the US Department of Transportation (which has been very friendly to autonomous vehicle trials in the past) ordered them off the road due to numerous safety related incidents. I continue to believe Uber is interested in deflecting attention away from its inability to run a business (see http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/19/despite-china-windfall-uber-on-pace-for-unprecedented-losses-report-says.html) so it can continue to raise money from gullible investors. That said I won’t be surprised if Arizona is the future home of the first person killed by an AV.

“Uber is moving its self-driving pilot project to Arizona, one day after the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the autonomous vehicles off the roads in San Francisco. “Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon in a statement. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.” After starting its San Francisco test on Dec. 14, the ride-hailing company angered the mayor and officials at the DMV by refusing to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars. Residents also flagged several incidents involving the self-driving vehicles, such as running red lights. And so, around noon on Thursday, a fleet of Uber self-driving cars passed through the South of Market area on the backs of several flatbed trucks. Commuters gawked at the fleet with their distinctive hoods, backing up traffic as the convoy slowly drove by.”

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Uber-sending-self-driving-cars-to-Arizona-10813886.php

4)          Canada sets universal broadband goal of 50Mbps and unlimited data for all

Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure went from world leading to 3rd world comparable over the space of about 20 years, largely due to idiotic or corrupt (I prefer to believe my government is corrupt rather than stupid) policy decisions. There is little hope we can catch up to places like Romania as long as the various protections remain for the telecoms companies. This announcement had global coverage but it is not altogether that significant unless it is backed up by structural changes which aren’t go to happen as long as the telecoms companies continue to control the media as they do. Politicians need the media and the media are directly controlled by the telecommunications companies.

“Canada’s telecom regulator yesterday declared that broadband Internet must be considered “a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians” and created a fund to connect rural and remote communities. With this decision, high-speed broadband is now treated as an essential technology similar to voice service. All Canadians should be able to purchase home Internet with 50Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps uploads, and they should have the option of purchasing unlimited data, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announcement said. A new fund will make $750 million available over the next five years to support projects in areas where that level of broadband isn’t available.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/12/canada-sets-universal-broadband-goal-of-50mbps-and-unlimited-data-for-all/

5)          Facebook at a Crossroads

I don’t really understand social media but a look at Facebook’s financial results shows that almost all its revenue comes from North American users and not from the new users which sign up in places like India. Growth is typically due to increased revenue from North American users, not new users or increased revenue from non-North American users. The North American Facebook user numbers are probably at saturation and the question becomes one of “what’s next” for Facebook.

“Altogether, Zuckerberg has yet to prove that he can build a new business or product to stand alongside his existing one: offering communications tools that target ads to their users. And recent months have shown that he can’t simply take that core business for granted while he boots up longer-term ideas. Facebook’s chief financial officer recently cautioned investors that revenue growth will slow in 2017 because the service can’t cram more ads in front of people without annoying them.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603198/facebook-at-a-crossroads/

6)          Motion-Planning Chip Speeds Robots

Certain types of problems require an enormous amount of computing power which take a long time to execute on a general purpose processor so researchers often turn to Graphic Processors (GPU) such as those made by AMD and Nvidia. Once the algorithms are really well understood it usually pays to make a special purpose processor whose innards are tweaked to the type of processing required. The first step in that process is typically a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) which is a sort of reprogrammable logic device. The same thing will happen with “deep learning” – an emerging technology which has caused Nvidia’s stock to go parabolic. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“This motion-planning process is one of the most important skills a robot can have, and it’s also one of the most time consuming. Researchers at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., have found a way to speed up motion planning by three orders of magnitude while using one-twentieth the power. Their solution is a custom processor that can perform the most time-consuming part of the job—checking for all potential collisions across the robot’s entire range of motion—with unprecedented efficiency.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/robotics-software/motionplanning-chip-speeds-robots

7)          FCC Republicans vow to gut net neutrality rules “as soon as possible”

The incoming US administration is poised to do a whole lot of damage to the US technology sector if they proceed with a trade war as promised. The only losers (besides the tech companies) will be US consumers, but a plutocracy has little concern for them. They plan on doing damage domestically as well: the US telecommunications industry is even worse than Canada due to a similar legacy of bad policy. The most frightening prospect for consumers is the possibility “net neutrality” will be unwound. This would be a windfall for the large Internet Service Providers who would be able to increase profits while decreasing investment. It would cause a whole lot of hurt for the likes of Netflix and emerging content providers. Consumers in the US are typically served by a single ISP so there is no chance market forces will provide balance until 5G wireless is launched.

“More broadly, the Title II net neutrality order prohibits ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment. The order also set up a complaint process to prevent “unjust” or “unreasonable” pricing and practices. The threat of complaints to the FCC helped put an end to several disputes between ISPs and other network operators over network interconnection payments; this in turn improved Internet service quality for many subscribers. All of that is in jeopardy with the Pai/O’Rielly promise to undo the entire Title II net neutrality order. The process could take months, even if they get started right away, because of requirements to seek public comment. The Republican-controlled Congress could act more quickly, since Trump has opposed net neutrality rules and isn’t likely to veto a bill overturning the Title II order.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/fcc-republicans-vow-to-gut-net-neutrality-rules-as-soon-as-possible/

8)          Ham-fisted: Chap’s radio app killed remotely after posting bad review

I have no real idea what ham radio software does but this company’s actions are consistent with a trend to punish users who have the bad judgement to publish a negative online review for a product or service. Since most online reviews are fake, the only ones with any merit are the negative ones (though competitors can fake those as well). Regardless, punishing the reviewer is a pretty stupid move due to the Streisand Effect which amplifies bad coverage once people find out about it.

“HRD Software later said Giercyk’s license key had been blackballed, causing the software to close while starting up: the updated program would phone headquarters to check the key and discover the license had been revoked, forcing it to terminate. “I called the support line and asked them to explain what they were doing, and they informed me that I was blacklisted and the file they directed me to download blocked the software on my computer from running,” Giercyk, aka N2SUB, told fellow hams in a forum post. “Two days later, they contacted me and stated they would unlock my software if I removed the review I posted.””

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/12/19/ham_radio_app_bad_review/

9)          Feds say Chicago e-recycler faked tear-downs, then sent CRTs to Hong Kong

E-waste was such a big deal the half-wits who run Ontario decided there needed to be a “technology tax” to offset it. The “fees” (i.e. a private tax paid into an industry slush fund) are fixed in price even though technology products drop in price and waste quite rapidly. As a result a substantial amount of the cost of certain items (over 20% in the case of a wireline telephone I bought) is technology tax. Oddly enough, the tax is highly selective and only applies to certain items despite a higher “e-waste” component in, say, appliances. Of course, like this guy in Chicago, oversight is pretty lax and you can be sure most electronic waste ends up in land fill. After all: what possible incentive does a consumer have to “e-cycle” a device after he’s paid a tax on it?

“Brundage promised his clients that their old computers, TV monitors, and various other devices would be broken down into their component parts and recycled in keeping with federal guidelines. Instead, feds allege that Brundage shipped some of those electronics for illegal disposal in landfills overseas. Those electronics included Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) from old computer and TV monitors, which contained “hazardous amounts of lead,” as well as batteries. The electronics that weren’t shipped to Asia were destroyed inappropriately on the premises of his businesses or stockpiled indefinitely in warehouses, which is forbidden by federal guidelines.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/feds-say-chicago-e-recycler-faked-tear-downs-then-sent-crts-to-hong-kong/

10)      The White House predicts nearly all truck, taxi, and delivery driver jobs will be automated

In other news, almost all horse coach drivers are now unemployed! Actually emergence of autonomous vehicles will likely have a negative impact on driver employment though I suspect delivery drivers will still be needed to place the parcel etc.. The real question is when: there is no reason to believe truly autonomous vehicles (i.e. no driver at all) will be on the road, let alone common, within 20 years. Even then it will take another decade or more before the fleet is switched out.

“In a report published Tuesday, the White House estimated that nearly 3.1 million drivers working today could have their jobs automated by autonomous vehicles. However, the report doesn’t offer a timeline for when this automation could occur, just that the jobs as they exist now are at risk. A bulk of the jobs come from heavy trucking, which the report estimates will see 80% to 100% of nearly 1.7 million drivers’ jobs automated. The White House predicts delivery drivers and self-employed drivers for on-demand services like Uber will face almost total automation as well.”

http://qz.com/868716/the-white-house-predicts-nearly-all-truck-taxi-and-delivery-driver-jobs-will-be-automated/

 

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

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

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Uber blames humans for self-driving car traffic offenses as California orders halt

Making a self-driving cars sounds so easy lots of people seem to think they will be commercially available within the next 5 years or so. This is utter nonsense as even simple automotive technology takes decades to develop and launch. Uber’s primary product is their stock, and like so many other companies today they need a constant stream of bright colored baubles to distract shareholders to keep their furnaces burning other’s people’s money. After all a Uber’s valuation can’t be justified by running a money losing car service, maybe it can be justified by pretending they are players in the self-driving space!

“California regulators ordered Uber to remove its self-driving vehicles from the road on the same day that the company’s vehicles were caught running red lights – violations the company immediately blamed on “human error”. “It is essential that Uber takes appropriate measures to ensure safety of the public,” the California department of motor vehicles (DMV) wrote to Uber on Wednesday after it defied government officials and began piloting the cars in San Francisco without permits. “If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.””

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/14/uber-self-driving-cars-run-red-lights-san-francisco

2)          The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise

In case you missed it one of the original smartwatch vendors, Pebble, essentially went out of business last week. Like most smartwatches, most of the devices likely spent only a few day on people’s wrists but it is worth noting that there is a good chance they will stop functioning altogether within a few months as support is withdrawn. Unlike an old fashioned watch, modern gadgets become pretty useless once the vendor loses interest.

“If the myth of Silicon Valley is to be believed, Eric Migicovsky should be ebullient. After all, he has failed. For the past nine years, he spent time and made time — 24/7 — with Pebble, a smartwatch company he started as a 21-year old whelp while studying abroad in the Netherlands city of Delft, known more for pottery than technology. His trajectory has been niche legendary: struggling Y Combinator startup, Kickstarter hero, builder of a platform, and seller of over two million smartwatches. Sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t enough. Pebble was losing money, with no profit in sight. So on December 6, Migicovsky sold Pebble’s key assets, including its intellectual property, to Fitbit, which will reportedly hire about 40 percent of his workforce.”

https://backchannel.com/the-real-story-behind-pebbles-demise-303802a7afaa#.dfxw0m4dt

3)          Attorney wants Google to unmask reviewer who only wrote, “It was horrible”

Thought this was pretty funny. Of course, in the US there is no “loser pays” tradition so a thin-skinned lawyer can cause financial ruin to somebody just through vexatious litigation so you can see the motive. Fortunately for “Mia Arce” Google has pretty deep pockets and they have a pretty strong incentive to protect the anonymity of reviewers. It is hard to believe somebody could consider a three word review damaging, but, hey.

“A New York lawyer has gone to court to unmask an anonymous person who on Google gave him a one-star review that solely said “it was horrible.” The 8-month-old Google review, searchable under Manhattan commercial litigator Donald J. Tobias’ name, was written under the handle “Mia Arce.” The lawyer wants to know the identity of the reviewer, perhaps so that person can be sued.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/attorney-wants-google-to-unmask-reviewer-who-only-wrote-it-was-horrible/

4)          Facebook’s Cautious, Sensible Plan to Fight Fake News

The “mainstream media” acted like Keystone Cops during the last election cycle and showed themselves far more interested in advertising revenue than in their societal role as critical media. The natural response has been to blame “fake news” especially that distributed on social media. Anybody who has heard US talk radio in the past couple decades knows that “fake news” is not exactly new. Similarly, the propaganda run up to Iraq War II simply made the point that “trusted” sources such as the New York Times only provide enough real coverage to make their lies sound more credible. People have to learn to assume that what they see in the media reflects a narrative, not reality.

“As fake news and political hoaxes proliferated on Facebook during the presidential campaign, the company did little to stop them. Facing a backlash in the days following the election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the problem, while making vague assurances that Facebook would look into it further. That only intensified the criticism. Now, it seems, Facebook is taking it seriously. The company announced on Thursday several new features designed to identify, flag, and slow the spread of false news stories on its platform, including a partnership with third-party fact-checkers such as Snopes and PolitiFact. It is also taking steps to prevent spammers and publishers from profiting from fake news.”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/12/15/facebook_s_plan_to_fight_fake_news_is_sensibly_cautious.html

5)          Amazon launches Prime Video worldwide, now available in 242 countries

One of the emerging themes in technology is the shift away from broadcast distribution of video to streaming. Netflix has been around for quite a few years so it is not new but I figure over time the “cable” model with disappear and be replaced by streaming, opening up a huge market for ad revenue for Google, as well as presenting a large opportunity for independent producers of content who will finally have a distribution channel.

“Netflix has a new global competitor: Amazon Prime Video. At a media event in India, Amazon announced today its Prime Video service is now available in 242 countries. The company additionally is offering the on-demand video streaming service at discounted price in all of the new regions and costs $2.99 per month or is free in countries where Amazon has launched its Prime service.”

http://mashable.com/2016/12/14/amazon-prime-video-global-launch/#VjXALC.49ZqX

6)          Feds unveil rule requiring cars to ‘talk’ to each other

Like other advanced safety features Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) is an inevitable thing. This is not a partisan issue and, frankly, the auto industry will likely move ahead with it regardless of whether there is a mandate or not. Unfortunately, as with autobrake and other safety systems it will like many years for enough of the fleet to be so equipped to make a measurable difference. In fact, V2V is one of those things which pretty much requires common use to be particularly useful.

“The Obama administration released a long-awaited rule on Tuesday requiring all new vehicles to have communication technology that allows them to “talk” to each another, which officials say could prevent tens of thousands of crashes each year. The proposal calls for all new light-duty cars and trucks to eventually be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, a safety system that enables cars to send wireless signals to each other, anticipate each other’s moves and thus avoid crashes. The rule would require 100 percent of new vehicle fleets to have V2V technology within four years of the final rule’s enactment. The proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days.”

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/310169-feds-unveil-rule-requiring-cars-to-talk-to-each-other

7)          Apple removes the ‘time remaining’ battery estimate in new macOS update

Apple’s relentless pursuit of form (i.e. slightly thinner devices) over function has led to a string of crappy product releases in 2016. The response to being unable to meet battery life claims is to remove the remaining battery life indicator from the software. To be fair, battery drain is highly complex and hard to predict but, like introducing a flagship phone which won’t plug into a flagship laptop without a dongle this “solution” is a sign of a company which has lost its way.

“Apple promises a ceiling of about 10 hours of use with the new laptops, but many reviewers — including our own — had a hard time replicating that performance. Verge editor Jake Kastrenakes had so much trouble getting the 13-inch version to regularly eclipse six hours of battery life that Apple sent another MacBook Pro in hopes that there was an issue with the first unit. There wasn’t.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/13/13939278/apple-macos-sierra-new-macbook-pros-battery-life

8)          Malware Found in the Firmware of 26 Low-Cost Android Devices

This is scarcely surprising as Lenovo which is scarcely a low-cost supplier was also found to be a malware distributor. Hacking may be part of the Chinese business model or these may have been inside jobs (like the backdoors installed in lots of US data communications gear). Either way choose wisely.

“Security researchers have found malware hidden in the firmware of several low-end Android smartphones and tablets, malware which is used to show ads and install unwanted apps on the devices of unsuspecting users. According to a report, the following 26 Android device models are affected …”

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/malware-found-in-the-firmware-of-26-low-cost-android-devices/

9)          PwC sends ‘cease and desist’ letters to researchers who found critical flaw

Here is a pro-tip: if you have a supplier and/or counter-party whose response to being discretely informed of a security hole is to send a “cease and desist” letter your supplier/counter-party has absolutely no understanding of computer security and should be treated as utterly untrustworthy. The idea that keeping a flaw secret is somehow a valid response to a flaw is straight up idiocy.

“The researchers contacted and met with PwC in August to discuss the scope of the flaw. As part of its responsible disclosure policy, the researchers gave PwC three months to fix the flaw before a public advisory would be published. Three days later, the corporate giant responded with legal threats.”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/pwc-sends-security-researchers-cease-and-desist-letter-instead-of-fixing-security-flaw/

10)      Verizon Explores Lower Price or Even Exit From Yahoo Deal

Yahoo has been fading into irrelevance for years and its fade to black has only been hastened by widespread incompetence and singularly stupid acquisitions. The company’s share price is more determined by their holding in Alibaba shares from long ago. Whether Verizon pays a penny for Yahoo or $1 billion the company itself is worthless.

“User data from more than 1 billion accounts was stolen in August 2013, according to a Yahoo statement Wednesday, the second major breach the company has disclosed in the past three months. Given the severity of the hack, which included more than 150,000 U.S. government employees, Verizon is under pressure to reassess the value of the deal and appease shareholders who may see Yahoo as damaged goods.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-15/verizon-weighs-scrapping-yahoo-deal-on-hacking-liability

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 25th 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

ps: there will be no Geek’s List for the next two weeks as I will be away hunting.

 

1)          This $1,500 Toaster Oven Is Everything That’s Wrong With Silicon Valley

This article is a good read for no other reason than it demonstrates how desperate – and frankly unhinged – technology investors have become. $1,500 is a lot of money for an appliance no matter what it does and whether it does it well or not. The Jobsian world view, where every task can be done better with expensive technology and a supporting infrastructure doesn’t take into account the nuances of functionality and utility, let alone the reality that most people lack the wherewithal to learn how to program such a thing.

“This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time. Good thing the firmware updates are installed automatically.”

https://www.fastcodesign.com/3065667/this-1500-toaster-oven-is-everything-thats-wrong-with-silicon-valley-design

2)          CRISPR-Cas9 technique exploits pancreatic cancer cells’ vulnerabilities to develop new treatments

This is yet another example of the potential and rapid progress of CRISPR-Cas9 in medical research. Apparently this form of pancreatic cancer is particularly nasty and has a poor outcome (even if treated with fruit juice and a macrobiotic diet). No news of when a human trial might begin but the very fact they were able to identify a target and develop an antibody for it is impressive.

“Using this revolutionary tool, the team of researchers probed the function of every single gene expressed by pancreatic cancer cells to determine that one of the receptors (Frizzled-5) is essential for the growth of mutant pancreatic cancer cells. Normally, the signaling pathways activated by Frizzled-5 tell cells when to divide, what types of cells to become, and when they should die. When mutated or deregulated, however, they can initiate tumour growth. Having identified the key role that the Frizzled-5 receptor plays in promoting pancreatic cancer growth, the team rapidly developed an antibody drug to inhibit the growth of these cells. The study showed that the antibody proved highly effective in killing the cancer cells in patient-derived samples and shrank tumours in mice without damaging the surrounding healthy cells.”

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-11-crispr-cas9-technique-exploits-pancreatic-cancer.html

3)          Intel Unveils Strategy for State-of-the-Art Artificial Intelligence

Common deep learning/AI algorithms use GPUs for the training phase, a fact which may explain why Nvidia’s stock has gone parabolic. There is no particular reason to believe GPUs are remotely optimal for the application. Most likely they just happened to be the best solution when the code was written. Microsoft has included FPGAs in its deep learning hardware, and those are supplied by Intel. Although Intel has a track record of letting emerging markets slip from its grasp I would not count them out: they have advanced algorithm analysis technology and there is no reason to doubt that a purpose built deep learning/AI platform would not handily outperform GPUs. Plus, Intel is in the position of “encouraging” adoption of its solutions by a variety of means.

“Intel also provided details of where the breakthrough technology from Nervana will be integrated into the product roadmap. Intel will test first silicon (code-named “Lake Crest”) in the first half of 2017 and will make it available to key customers later in the year. In addition, Intel announced a new product (code-named “Knights Crest”) on the roadmap that tightly integrates best-in-class Intel Xeon processors with the technology from Nervana. Lake Crest is optimized specifically for neural networks to deliver the highest performance for deep learning and offers unprecedented compute density with a high-bandwidth interconnect. “We expect the Intel Nervana platform to produce breakthrough performance and dramatic reductions in the time to train complex neural networks,” said Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel. “Before the end of the decade, Intel will deliver a 100-fold increase in performance that will turbocharge the pace of innovation in the emerging deep learning space.””

https://newsroom.intel.com/news-releases/intel-ai-day-news-release/

4)          Samsung is adding new obtrusive ads to your old smart TV

One of the main reasons given for subscribing to services like Netflix is to avoid the torrent of advertising. Samsung seems to have decided this is an opportunity to cram ads onto its smart TVs which seems to make a pretty good case to not buy a Samsung TV or, if you are stuck with one, to use a Roku or something for the “smart” features.

“If you’re Samsung and you want to wring additional cash out of your television business, what do you do? Add annoying advertisements to TVs that people already have in their homes, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung is readying the European expansion of an initiative it started in the United States last June: adding interactive advertisements to the menu bars of its high-end smart TVs. The impact isn’t going to be limited just to customers buying new Samsung televisions, either, as the company reportedly plans to use software updates to retroactively bring the ads to older models that people already have in their homes.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/5/30/11814706/samsung-smart-televisions-new-menu-bar-ads-european-expansion?christmas=1

5)          Britain’s sweeping surveillance powers act raises concerns for human rights activists

I am old enough to remember when mass surveillance and warrantless wire-tapping were considered the sort of thing “totalitarian” regimes such as East Germany did. Then again, I also recall that Orwell’s 1984 was intended to portray a dystopian future and not be used as a handbook for the national security apparatus.

“Government officials argue that the surveillance powers are necessary to keep Britain safe during a time of heightened security, terrorist attacks and cyberwarfare. Observers also say the act legalizes tactics law enforcement and security agencies have used for years without full disclosure to the public. But opponents say that the bill not only turned all those existing surveillance measures into law, but extended them even further. “It’s unprecedented in the UK, and any democracy,” said Pam Cowburn, communications director at the privacy campaign organization Open Rights Group. In essence, the bill will force Internet and phone companies to keep records of all users for up to a year, including every website visited and every phone call made, including duration, date and time. Such surveillance does not have to be targeted or based on any reasonable suspicion and this personal data can be accessed without a warrant in some instances. Authorities will need a warrant to access data about a journalist’s source, but opponents are still gravely concerned that the far-reaching nature of this bill will discourage whistle-blowing.”

http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-britain-surveillance-law-20161121-story.html?

6)          Tesla Powerwall 2 to be popular in Sweden with new $5,000 incentive to install home battery packs

I would not allow a large lithium ion battery within 3 meters of anything flammable and certainly not attached to my house (which is, in any event, made of concrete). That said, let’s do some math: $7,900 of capital cost for 500 charge cycles of 14 kWh (heck – let’s call it 2,000 charge cycles). That is 28,000 kWh of electricity storage for $7,900 or a capital cost of $0.28/kWh (more likely about $1.00 per kWh because, well the batteries don’t last 2,000 charge cycles). According to this http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Electricity_prices_for_household_consumers,_second_half_2015_(%C2%B9)_(EUR_per_kWh)_YB16.png Swedes pay €0.16 per kWh, or about $0.17. So, you would have to be paid at least $0.11 per kWh (more like $0.87/kWh) for this to make any sense. All the subsidy does is spread the financial stupidity around.

“Starting this month, the government will cover 60% of the cost of a home battery pack up to 50,000 Swedish Krona (~$5,400). It’s clear that the incentive program was designed for the more expensive home battery pack options before the introduction of the Tesla Powerwall 2. In Sweden, Tesla sells the Powerwall 2 for 61,000 Swedish Krona (~$6,600 USD), but with installation and additional hardware (12,300 SEK), Tesla estimates it will add up to a total 0f 73,300 Swedish Krona ($7,900 USD), which adds up to taking advantage of almost the entire incentive and getting an installed energy capacity of 14 kWh for less than $3,000.”

https://electrek.co/2016/11/24/tesla-powerwall-2-to-be-popular-in-sweden-with-new-5000-incentive-to-install-home-battery-packs/

7)          Apple admits to iPhone ‘touch disease,’ blames users and offers $149 fix

Having ignored a building chorus of complaints from users Apple, which once stood for quality and excellent customer service, has now admitted that the problem which previously did not exists is now the customer’s fault. The interesting thing is, this purported customer problem (i.e. you are dropping it wrong) only appears to occur on certain models of iPhones and not on others. Not only that, but some customers report having the problem with “new in the box” devices.

“Apple has finally admitted to the existence of the mysterious iPhone ailment that caused unresponsive screens and came to be called the “touch disease.” The Cupertino firm’s diagnosis? User error. Or, more specifically, user fumbling. “Apple has determined that some iPhone 6 Plus devices may exhibit display flickering or Multi-Touch issues after being dropped multiple times on a hard surface and then incurring further stress on the device,” Apple said in an online notice. Some users and observers, however, saw the problem as a defect. In August, a nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Jose, accusing Apple of fraud and violation of California consumer-protection law.”

http://www.siliconbeat.com/2016/11/17/apple-admits-iphone-touch-disease-blames-users-offers-149-fix/

8)          This security camera was infected by malware 98 seconds after it was plugged in

I continue to warn people about the vulnerability of Internet of Things devices to malware. Infecting a camera, baby monitor, or “smart” light bulb may not seem like a big deal but it places the device inside your firewall and in a position to infect other products as well as capture personal information, etc. Since most such devices are made by largely anonymous ODMs who don’t sell the product under their own name, and since consumers remain oblivious to the risk, don’t expect things to improve any time soon.

“Here’s an object lesson on the poor state of the so-called Internet of Things: Robert Stephens plugged a Wi-Fi-connected security camera into his network and it was compromised in… 98 seconds. Stephens, a tech industry veteran, wasn’t so naive as to do this without protecting himself. It was walled off from the rest of the network and rate-limited so it couldn’t participate in any DDoS attacks. He monitored its traffic carefully, expecting to see — as others have — attempts to take over the device. But even the most jaded among us probably wouldn’t have guessed it would take less than two minutes.”

https://techcrunch.com/2016/11/18/this-security-camera-was-infected-by-malware-in-98-seconds-after-it-was-plugged-in/

9)          US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

This is probably a pretty good idea but it seems to rely on the car to determine whether the mobile user is the driver or not. The problem with that is that it takes about a decade for a significant number of vehicles to come with a safety feature, in contrast with a bit more than two years for a new feature to become common in the smartphone business. People managed to live without texting or Facebook while driving so perhaps simply disabling those functions when moving on a road at more than a few miles per hour would be a good, albeit crude, solution.

“US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver. US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.””

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/nov/23/us-regulators-reduce-road-deaths-smartphone-driving-mode-apple-samsung

10)      Wedge-tailed eagles do battle with mining giant’s drones, knocking nine out of sky

I remain highly skeptical of drone delivery services, etc, but there are good uses for the technology. This mining company uses them for inspection and other applications. Unfortunately for the company it turns out that eagles are a little territorial. At $10K for the drone and $10K for the camera I would not be surprised if they develop anti-eagle countermeasures …

“Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa’s Gold Fields, the world’s seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda. One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs. The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h. Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls “the natural enemy of the UAV”.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-17/wedge-tailed-eagles-bring-down-drones-in-goldfields/8033056

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 18th 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

1)          Apple, a Trendsetter No More

To be fair, there are only so many opportunities to come out with a revolutionary product. Few companies do it once and fewer still have two or three successive hits as did Apple. It is quite clear that a company whose slogan was “it just works” comes out with a flagship phone which can’t connect to its flagship laptop without an adapter (which is not included with either product) has lost its way. Of course, loyal Apple fans will continue to overpay for dated technology, there problem will be attracting new users to a dysfunctional ecosystem.

“The first major product debut under Cook, the Apple Watch, hasn’t yet become an obvious hit. (To be fair, no other companies have found major success with wearable computers.) More ominously for Apple, it’s no longer the technology trendsetter. Yes, Apple has brought us better smartphone cameras and fingerprint sensors, but there are more areas where it has whiffed. Cook has been saying for five years that the TV industry is broken and needs an overhaul. He was right. Now the way people watch television is being upended by Netflix Inc., by “cord cutting” and by video on smartphones. Apple is barely a participant in that transformation.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2016-11-15/apple-is-no-longer-a-tech-trendsetter

2)          CRISPR gene-editing tested in a person for the first time

CRISPR is a gene editing technique which will probably be considered the greatest medical advance since antibiotics. By allowing selective deletion or modification of genes the function of those cells can be permanently corrected. In this case, the researchers hope to modify immune cells which have a gene which makes them susceptible to suppression by the cancer. By removing that gene the hope is that the immune system will attack the cancer. I see no mention of whether they are using stem cells for this but they probably are not so the modified immune system cells will die off. If the treatment works there is a good chance they will try modifying stem cells so the change is permanent.

“The researchers removed immune cells from the recipient’s blood and then disabled a gene in them using CRISPR–Cas9, which combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a molecular guide that can be programmed to tell the enzyme precisely where to cut. The disabled gene codes for the protein PD-1, which normally puts the brakes on a cell’s immune response: cancers take advantage of that function to proliferate. Lu’s team then cultured the edited cells, increasing their number, and injected them back into the patient, who has metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. The hope is that, without PD-1, the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer.”

http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-gene-editing-tested-in-a-person-for-the-first-time-1.20988

3)          Google will soon ban fake news sites from using its ad network

The US election results have led to the traditional finger pointing in all directions as to who is responsible for voters having made the “wrong” decision. The media has decided that “fake” news is to blame and I have heard a lot of people plead for voters to subscribe to newspapers in order to fund “real” news. Unfortunately, “real” news led to the Iraq War because most of it was essentially propaganda, proving that the line between “real” and “fake” is rather blurry. Nevertheless Google, and more recently Facebook, have made some moves to reduce the attractiveness of the fake news business model. In a “post-fact” world, it is hard to see this will make much of a difference.

“Today, Google announced that its advertising tools will soon be closed to websites that promote fake news, a policy that could cut off revenue streams for publications that peddle hoaxes on platforms like Facebook. The decision comes at a critical time for the tech industry, whose key players have come under fire for not taking neccesary steps to prevent fake news from proliferating across the web during the 2016 US election. It’s thought that, given the viral aspects of fake news, social networks and search engines were gamed by partisan bad actors intending to influence the outcome of the race.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/14/13630722/google-fake-news-advertising-ban-2016-us-election

4)          SpaceX seeks U.S. approval for internet-via-satellite network

I find it rather odd SpaceX has made this application because a year or two ago they announced they weren’t going to go ahead with the idea. Regardless, LEOSAT broadband is a daft idea no matter who proposes it: the constellations are hugely expensive and most of the satellites spend most of their time over unpopulated areas (i.e. the ocean, Arctic, Antarctic, deserts, forests, etc.). Most of the people live in cities and most city dwellers in developed countries (the people who can afford to pay for broadband) already have affordable broadband.

“The California-based company, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has proposed an orbiting digital communications array that would eventually consist of 4,425 satellites, the documents filed on Tuesday show. The project, which Musk previously said would cost at least $10 billion, was first announced in January 2015. The latest documents, which include technical details of the proposed network, did not mention cost estimates or financing plans.  Financial backers of the company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp, include Alphabet’s Google Inc and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s space launch firm.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-spacex-idUSKBN13C085

5)          This new Samsung SSD is waaaaay faster than yours

This is more of an advertisement than anything else but there is some value to it: most SSDs are connected via the antediluvian SATA interface which has a legacy going back to the very first PC hard drives sold 30 years ago. M.2 is better in all respects and in the near future all PCs and laptops will have an M.2 interface, with SATA relegated to “backward compatibility” and available only on desktop PCs. Needless to say, it will be hard to sell a hard disk drive into a market where most PCs don’t have an interface for it.

“M.2 is a new interface that uses the PCI Express standard, one that was once reserved only for video cards, to connect to a computer’s main board. This interface allows for much higher bandwidth (currently up to 32 gigabits per second or 4,000 megabytes per second) compared to that of the existing SATA, which caps at just 6Gbps. That said, M.2 is a new upcoming interface standard that’s expected to replace SATA completely in the future. The fact Samsung doesn’t offer an SATA version of the 960 Evo is a clear indication of this trend. To use an M.2 drive, your computer needs to have an M.2 slot or, for existing desktops, you will need a PCIe adapter.”

https://www.cnet.com/uk/products/samsung-nvme-ssd-960-evo/preview/

6)          Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—and His Family

Every now and then the main stream media does a good job and exposing Theranos is a perfect example (their work on the fraud which led to the global credit crisis was less stellar as documented in the excellent film “The Big Short”). This article shows the challenges of being an whistle blower and the sorts of pressure a company can place on somebody with valid concerns about public safety.

(If you have trouble getting to this Wall Street Journal article, Google the title and click on the search link).

“After working at Theranos Inc. for eight months, Tyler Shultz decided he had seen enough. On April 11, 2014, he emailed company founder Elizabeth Holmes to complain that Theranos had doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks. … Theranos accused him of leaking trade secrets and violating an agreement to not disclose confidential information. Mr. Shultz says lawyers from the law firm founded by David Boies, one of the country’s best-known litigators and who later became a Theranos director, surprised him during a visit to his grandfather’s house. They unsuccessfully pressured the younger Mr. Shultz to say he had talked to the reporter and to reveal who the Journal’s other sources might be. He says he also was followed by private investigators hired by Theranos.”

http://www.wsj.com/articles/theranos-whistleblower-shook-the-companyand-his-family-1479335963

7)          IBM’s Watson: A Disaster In The Making

I don’t usually post investment research reports but this particular one pretty aligns exactly with my thinking. IBM management learned long ago that financial engineering trumps actual engineering, which is why they have missed every important new tech market over the past 30 years. Unfortunately, financial engineering only takes you so far far and IBM has entered a period of secular decline. Ask former employees of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where that leads. I find it baffling people invest in shares of the company.

“IBM describes its efforts in its 10-K as « Investing to bring Watson’s capabilities to the enterprise and building a partner ecosystem, effectively creating a market for cognitive computing ». This translates into paying developers for using its technology. IBM is boasting that it has over 70,000 developers using Watson’s API. This is far fetched: we understand that 40,000 of these developers come from its acquisition of AlchemyAPI, a small startup which had only a few million dollars in yearly revenues before its acquisition, and little to do with Watson’s technology. Before Alchemy’s acquisition in March 2015, Watson had 7,000 developers using its API. And there’s absolutely no rationale for the 40,000 developers who used AlchemyAPI’s technology, to use Watson. … To make it look like Watson is generating revenue, IBM is buying up other companies, and consolidating their existing users and revenues into its Watson Group business segment. Recently, it has acquired the medical imagery company Merge Healthcare (for $1 billion, with revenues of $212 million), and the healthcare data services company Truven Health Analytics (for $2.6 billion, revenues of $500 million). Both companies have no profits to speak of.

https://kalkis-research.com/ibms-watson-a-disaster-in-the-making

8)          Osram’s Laser Chip for Lidar Promises Super-Short Pulses in a Smaller Package

Lidar is light based radar which provides coarse imaging information and detailed range information. In other words, when combined with image recognition it can tell you what something is and exactly how far away it is. Lidar is absolutely required for real Autonomous Vehicle (AV) functionality (as contrasted with glorified cruise control touted by Tesla). The problem is, Lidar was developed for military applications and most systems are therefore staggeringly expensive. Osram is about to change that. I figure all cars will have 4 Lidars, one at each corner of the vehicle, for redundancy.

“Those twirling banks of lasers you see atop experimental robocars cost plenty, wear fast, and suck power. The auto industry yearns to solve all those problems with a purely solid-state lidar set that designers can hide behind the grill of a car. Their wish will come true next year, according to Osram Opto Semiconductors. The company says test samples will be available in 2017, and that commercial models could arrive in 2018. With mass production, the price should drop to around 40 Euros (US $43.50), says Sebastian Bauer, the product manager for Osram, in Regensburg, Germany. By comparison, Velodyne’s rooftop lidar towers cost $70,000 and up, and that company’s new, hockey-puck-size model runs around $8000.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/sensors/osrams-laser-chip-for-lidar-promises-supershort-pulses-in-a-smaller-package

9)          Google Translate uses machine learning for whole sentences

Deep learning (also unfortunately referred to as Artificial Intelligence) is hitting the mainstream. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and even IBM (which will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory) have some pretty advanced technology. Among the many potential applications for Deep Learning is translation, which is, in many ways, related to speech recognition. In any event, Google is charging ahead and moving many of its services over to this type of approach and that lead to improved performance.

“It’s no secret that Google is obsessed with machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially of late. If it were up to it, those technologies would permeate all its products. It already started with Google Assistant in the Google Pixel smartphone and Google Home speaker. Now it’s bringing a dash of that to Google Translate. The company has announced that it is transitioning from using statistical machine translation to a Neural Machine method to deliver more natural sounding translations that won’t embarrass you or crack you up.”

http://www.slashgear.com/google-translate-uses-machine-learning-for-whole-sentences-16464083/

10)      The All-American iPhone

Part of “making America great again” is supposed to be repatriating manufacturing jobs. Of course, most such jobs have been lost to automation (and this is more true in electronics than any other sector) but Apple stands out because it is so profitable. The idea that you can “only” increase the labor cost by 10 to 3X and keep the price more or less the same is absurd, but I take issue that labor costs are the only impact. The reality is that manufacturing requires a complete support structure and, if that isn’t already there somebody has to build it. Of course, this is all bloviating regardless: if the best you can do for an economy is slap the cover on a robot-assembled gadget you aren’t doing much.

“According to IHS, a market analyst, the components of an iPhone 6s Plus, which sells for $749, cost about $230. … Assembling those components into an iPhone costs about $4 in IHS’s estimate and about $10 in the estimation of Jason Dedrick, a professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Dedrick thinks that doing such work in the U.S. would add $30 to $40 to the cost. That’s partly because labor costs are higher in the U.S., but mostly it’s because additional transportation and logistics expenses would arise from shipping parts, and not just the finished product, to the U.S. This means that assuming all other costs stayed the same, the final price of an iPhone 6s Plus might rise by about 5 percent.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601491/the-all-american-iphone/

 

 

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 11th 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

 

1)          Paralyzed monkeys walk again

If you watch the video I think that “walk again” might be a bit of an overstatement. It does appear the monkey has some control but it looks a lot like the leg is essentially in spasm which allows it to use it as a sort of walking stick. Clearly real function of the type needed by a biped is a long way away. Nevertheless this looks like a promising development.

“Two monkeys who had suffered a spinal-cord injury have had movement restored in their paralyzed leg and regained the ability to walk. The study published in Nature, used an implantable device, termed brain-spine interface, to decode signals from the brain and restore movements of the paralyzed leg. Furthermore, many of the components used in the device have already been approved for research in humans and the leader of the study, Prof. Gregoire Courtine, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, expects “to test brain-spine interface in a clinical trial within the next ten years.” Medtronic, Brown University, Fraunhofer ICT-IMM, University of Bordeaux, Motac Neuroscience and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) also contributed.”

https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/paralyzed-monkeys-walk-again

2)          Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook

Now the blame begins, and there is plenty to go around. Even though I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, I think there is little doubt that social media is to blame for “dumbing down” the population but that works for both sides: the amount of nonsense about alternative energy, GMOs, etc., transmitted by social media is just as extensive. What used to be the “mainstream media” is hardly beyond reproach – recall the vigorous support for the Iraq War propaganda effort from The New York Times, for example. And that was long before “social media” was a thing.

“The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. (To really hammer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A significant number of the sites are run by Macedonian teenagers looking to make some scratch.)”

http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/11/donald-trump-won-because-of-facebook.html

3)          Spotify is writing massive amounts of junk data to storage drives

Given the increasing popularity of SSDs I thought this was interesting. SSDs or any flash storage media has a lifespan based on how many times you write new data to it. For most applications on modern SSDs that lifespan is likely much longer than the device in which it is used but if you “thrash” your SSD that can change pretty quickly. It turns out that the Spotify app appears to be doing just that so if you use it and have an SSD you might want to think about disabling the app until the bug is fixed. I don’t know if this applies to smartphones but that would be even worse.

“For almost five months—possibly longer—the Spotify music streaming app has been assaulting users’ storage devices with enough data to potentially take years off their expected lifespans. Reports of tens or in some cases hundreds of gigabytes being written in an hour aren’t uncommon, and occasionally the recorded amounts are measured in terabytes. The overload happens even when Spotify is idle and isn’t storing any songs locally.”

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/11/for-five-months-spotify-has-badly-abused-users-storage-drives/

4)          Sinclair VP: ATSC 3.0 will allow us to ditch Nielsen, save millions

ATSC 3.0 is a new broadcast TV standard which incorporates ties to Internet protocols. As this article suggests this should allow broadcasters to directly gather rich information on viewing habits and bypass the traditional “TV ratings” providers. I suspect this will only work when enough TVs and set top boxes are out there with ATSC 3.0 and, of course, won’t work for cable stations.

“Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, sees a big financial upside to ATSC 3.0’s potential for collecting and analyzing viewership data. “If we weren’t stuck with Nielsen and their reading of the tea leaves, we’d have tens of millions of extra dollars in our pocket,” Aitken told FierceBroadcasting, adding that the situation between broadcasters and Nielsen has been lopsided for a long time. He called Nielsen’s process “imprecise” and said it’s often easy to prove how “eschew” the numbers are. In addition to Nielsen, Sinclair also uses Rentrak, which he said in many ways offers a richer set of data. But Sinclair is still in the process of building up its own data analytics group and working with partners like Sorenson Media. “When you have a sampling of tens of millions of smart TVs, you start getting a different view of the world,” Aitken said.”

http://www.fiercecable.com/broadcasting/sinclair-vp-atsc-3-0-will-allow-us-to-ditch-nielsen-save-millions

5)          CBC threatens podcast app makers, argues that RSS readers violate copyright

I don’t know whether this is true or not but it does sound like the sort of think a corporation which listens to lawyers would do. The threat itself is laughable and, at best, would be counter-productive. No podcast app maker would agree to such a license and they would simply exclude CBC podcasts from their offering. This would effectively restrict the distribution of CBC content to a tiny number of people who would get it directly from their website. Like I said: too many lawyers.

“The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation publishes several excellent podcasts, notably the As It Happens feed; like every podcast in the world, these podcasts are available via any podcast app in the same way that all web pages can be fetched with all web browsers — this being the entire point of podcasts. In a move of breathtaking, lawless ignorance, the CBC has begun to send legal threats to podcast app-makers, arguing that making an app that pulls down public RSS feeds is a “commercial use” and a violation of the public broadcaster’s copyrights. This is a revival of an old, dark era in the web’s history, when linking policies prevailed, through which publishes argued that they had the right to control who could make a link to their sites — that is, who could state the public, true fact that “a page exists at this address.””

http://boingboing.net/2016/11/08/cbc-threatens-podcast-app-make.html

6)          DDoS attack halts heating in Finland amidst winter

Another week, another example of the problems with the Internet of Things (IoT) and security. Actually I could probably do 10 items a week on this subject alone. What makes this a little different is the fact these were industrial systems and you’d think the vendor would have a better handle on how things should be made so this doesn’t happen. I suspect loss of heat would be a big problem in Finland. Anyhow they eventually found a workaround.

“In the city of Lappeenranta, there were at least two buildings whose systems were knocked down by the network attack. In a DDoS attack the network is overloaded by traffic from multiple locations with the aim of causing the system to fail. In an interview with Etelä-Saimaa, Rounela estimated the attack in Eastern Finland lasted from late October to Thursday the 3rd of November. The systems that were attacked tried to respond to the attack by rebooting the main control circuit. This was repeated over and over so that heating was never working. At this time of the year temperatures in Finland are below freezing and a long-term disruption in heat will cause both material damage as well as the need to relocate residents elsewhere. Thankfully in this case the fix was easy to do by limiting network traffic.”

http://metropolitan.fi/entry/ddos-attack-halts-heating-in-finland-amidst-winter

7)          Millimeter Waves Travel More Than 10 Kilometers in Rural Virginia 5G Experiment

New radio technology offers the potential to exploit radio spectrum into the millimeter (30GHz) and above. This experiment provided unexpected results because the range would have been expected to be much lower due to trees and hills. As a critic points out, these frequencies are highly attenuated by rain, but then again the power output was very low and we don’t know whether MIMO or beam forming were used and that can make a big difference. I suspect that millimeter radio will put an end to the myth of spectrum shortage once and for all.

“To their delight, the group found that the waves could travel more than 10 kilometers in this rural setting, even when a hill or knot of trees was blocking their most direct route to the receiver. The team detected millimeter waves at distances up to 10.8 kilometers at 14 spots that were within line of sight of the transmitter, and recorded them up to 10.6 kilometers away at 17 places where their receiver was shielded behind a hill or leafy grove. They achieved all this while broadcasting at 73 Gigahertz (GHz) with minimal power—less than 1 watt. “I was surprised we exceeded 10 kilometers with a few tens of milliwatts,” Rappaport says. “I expected we’d be able to go a few kilometers in non-line-of-sight but we were able to go beyond ten.”

http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/wireless/millimeter-waves-travel-more-than-10-kilometers-in-rural-virginia

8)          GoPro recalls Karma drone

GoPro has made some OK products but none of those are remarkable enough to merit a multi-billion dollar market capitalization. Unsurprisingly everything they do can be done by many other companies and offered of r a lot less money. Recently they appear to have devolved into the gang who could shoot straight as this safety recall exemplifies. The thing is, drones are dangerous as hell even when they don’t unexpectedly drop from the sky. Thanks to my friend Duncan Stewart for this item.

“As if GoPro didn’t enough problems. The company, which has seen its stock slide and sales tumble, is recalling the 2,500 units sold of the new Karma drone, which was introduced just a few weeks ago to positive reviews. This is the product GoPro had put much of its hopes for in the fourth quarter on advancing sales again. GoPro said a “very small number” of units had lost power during operation, so it was recalling all of them to fix the issue. Most GoPro sales are from the company website, but Karma was also in stock at Best Buy, the physical and online retailer.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2016/11/08/gopro-recalls-karma-drone/93503884/

9)          3D printing will correct your smile from the comfort of your own home

This sounds like a viable application of 3D printing technology although I suspect that it can only work for a subset of people who need orthodontics. There are certain medical domains (eyewear and hearing instruments for example) which steadfastly retain high prices despite a dramatic reduction in costs. Orthodontics might be an exception but chances are it will end up in the same netherworld: immune from the onslaught of technology.

“The company lets users take moldings of their own teeth using a home impression kit, which they then mail back along with some digitally uploaded photos. (In some cities, 3D scans can alternatively be taken at associated SmileShops.) Customers then get an expert review from a licensed dental professional, have their custom aligner created and mailed back and — presto! — straighter teeth. Fenkell described the solution as “about 70 percent less expensive” than other invisible aligners in the space, with a price point of $1,500 — or $250 down and then $99 a month.”

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-printing-invisible-aligner/

10)      TiVo’s “TV Guide” patents are DOA at appeals court

Software patents have always been an abomination (though admittedly not as much of an abomination as business method patents). For many years the state of Intellectual Property (IP) law was such that suing for infringement of software patents was a great business but the pendulum has swung the other way over the past few years. In general IP law goes through long cycles and, if I were a betting man, I suspect things are going to continue swinging away from strict enforcement for a decade or more. It was fun while it lasted: at least for patent licensing companies and their attorneys.

“A five-year-old patent brawl between Netflix and Rovi (now TiVo) has reached a turning point, with the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholding a major lower-court victory by Netflix. The litigation between the two companies began in 2011, when Netflix sued to invalidate a batch of patents on Rovi’s digital entertainment guides, for which Rovi had demanded Netflix pay licensing fees. … Now it’s clear that Rovi’s strategy to patent digital TV guides has hit a wall. Just a few days after Rovi’s lawyers made their oral argument, a panel of judges at the Federal Circuit upheld (PDF) the lower court’s decision in its entirety without comment.”

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/11/rovis-tv-guide-patents-now-owned-by-tivo-are-doa-at-appeals-court/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 4th 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Uber plan for flying taxis targets 2025-2030 and could spend $400 million- $1 billion to make it happen

Some modern entrepreneurs sell their product (i.e. the company stock) by spinning out an endless array of world-changing ideas and not by actually turning a profit. The idea of flying taxis is daft since any VTOL craft has to waste a lot of its energy keeping aloft with little benefit from forward motion. The unfortunate fact that the best batteries have 1/40th the specific energy of diesel fuel makes an electric VTOL even less practical and that doesn’t even take into account the recharge time and short battery life. It’s almost a pity the likes of Uber don’t work on old fashion things like running their business.

“On-demand aviation, has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base. Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground. A network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called VTOL aircraft for Vertical Take-off and Landing, and pronounced vee-tol), will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.”

http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2016/10/uber-plan-for-flying-taxis-targets-2025.html

2)          How AI Is Shaking Up the Chip Market

The article is pretty lean on the details but basically what they are saying is that deep learning algorithms require different computing function than traditional algorithms. This has led to solutions involving GPUs, FPGAs and custom processors. It is easy to over-state growth in demand for AI related hardware but it will largely be installed in cloud data centers because of the need for massive amounts of data and as a result much of it can be reused. It seems likely to me that GPUs are used because they were better than traditional processors for AI training, not because they are optimal. Most likely they will be displaced in short order with FPGAs or other purpose-built devices.

“Neural networks can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, including everything from identifying faces and objects in photos to translating between languages, and they require more than just CPU power. And so Google built the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU. Microsoft is using a processor called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA. Myriad companies employ machines equipped with vast numbers of graphics processing units, or GPUs. And they’re all looking at a new breed of chip that could accelerate AI from inside smartphones and other devices.”

https://www.wired.com/2016/10/ai-changing-market-computer-chips

3)          American jobs are going to robots, not China.

The great thing about blaming China for manufacturing job losses is that it makes it sound like you can do something about it. The fact is that automation is part of a long continuum of replacing labor with capital which has been going on since the start of the industrial revolution. It is not necessarily accelerating and it is not going to stop any time soon. Short of a successful Luddite movement there is nothing which can be done about it either.

“But research shows that the automation of U.S. factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. A study at Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs. The vast majority of the lost jobs — 88 percent — were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor. “We’re making more with fewer people,” says Howard Shatz, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. think tank.”

http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2016/1102/American-jobs-are-going-to-robots-not-China

4)          Microsoft Speeds Open Hardware

The push towards Open Hardware for data centers is a big problem for companies such as HP, Cisco, and others. Data centers are not only a big market but it is just a matter of a few years before these products appear in corporate networking rooms and carrier infrastructure. Cisco’s margins are about 60% and Hon Hai/Foxconn’s are about 7%. That’s a lot of margin for grabs.

“The current process of contributing data center hardware designs to the Open Compute Project (OCP) when they are production-ready is too slow, Microsoft argued in a blog posted Monday. It “delays the development of derivative designs, limits interactive community engagement and adoption, and slows down overall delivery,” wrote Kushagra Vaid, general manager of hardware for Microsoft’s Azure service. … The Project Olympus design specifies a new motherboard, server and rack. It defines a 945 x 441-mm server with room for two CPUs, 32 DDR4 DIMMs, 50G networking, eight M.2 NVMe SSD slots, three PCI Express x16 cards and a 12V power supply. … Facebook started the OCP effort. China’s largest data centers have a similar effort called Scorpio.”

http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1330736&

5)          The Inner Life of a Cell

I came across this video and thought I would share it. Having spent hours trying to recognize organelles (the equivalent of organs within cells) being able to visualize them in this animation is much better. It also shows the astounding complexity that results from a few billion years of evolution – especially since this is all very simplified.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_zD3NxSsD8

6)          Tesla unveils residential ‘solar roof’ with updated battery storage system

Another week, another crazy world-changing announcement out of Elon Musk. This time it is solar shingles – a technology which has been tried by a few dozen companies, including several with actual expertise in the roofing business. Of course there is a looming shareholder vote whereby Tesla shareholders will vote on whether it will acquire Musk controlled Solar City. Without a favorable outcome to that vote Solar City will probably have a financial crisis which could extend to his other holdings and with a favorable outcome the cash burn at the combined companies will reach staggering proportions but at least they’ll be afloat a bit longer. Not that that has anything to do with this. My friend Duncan Stewart addressed some of the issues with solar shingle here: https://dunstewart.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/will-we-all-have-roofs-that-double-as-solar-panels-in-the-future/ of course, all such discussion presupposes the product exists and will find its way to the market.

“Tesla will build and sell its own line of solar panels to combine with its battery storage system, the company announced at a press event at Universal Studios in LA, today. The system will allow residential homeowners to replace their entire roof with solar panels connected to an updated Powerwall 2 battery pack, making it much simpler for homes to be entirely powered by solar power. The roof is made of a textured glass tile with integrated solar cells. The roofs look “as good or better” than conventional roofs, according to Musk. They look like normal roofing tiles from the ground, but are completely transparent to the sun. The tiles are hydrographically printed, which, Musk says, makes each one a “special snowflake tile,” and no two roofs will be the same. “You can take any two roofs that look like that and they will be different — because they are different,” said Musk.”

http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/28/13463236/tesla-solar-roof-battery-new-elon-musk

7)          ‘Any idiot can do it.’ Genome editor CRISPR could put mutant mice in everyone’s reach

This is yet another update on CRISPR, which I think is probably the greatest medical advance since they figured out how to sequence DNA cost effectively. CRISPR allows directed editing of genes which, as the article shows, should greatly increase the pace of genetic engineering. This article mainly focuses on “knock out” of genes which is an important way of figuring out what a particular gene does but its actual application will be much broader than that.

“Most investigators get their engineered mice from colleagues or by purchasing them from commercial outfits like JAX or academic-based repositories. Popular engineered mice, such as JAX’s immunodeficient NOD scid gamma strains, sell for as little as a few hundred dollars, but a custommade mutant could cost as much as $20,000. By making the engineering of mice far simpler and cheaper, CRISPR opens the way for more labs to do it themselves. “When you made knockout mice before, you needed some skills,” says Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “Now, you don’t need them anymore. Any idiot can do it.””

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/11/any-idiot-can-do-it-genome-editor-crispr-could-put-mutant-mice-everyones-reach

8)          New Bionic Eye That Connects to The Brain Successfully Restores a Woman’s Sight

Saying this “restores sight” seems like an overstatement since the patient was simply able to see some points of light but what makes this interesting is that the device bypasses the optic nerve, unlike its prior device which stimulated retinal cells. That means that as the technology improves it may be possible to restore vision to people whose eyes or optic nerves have been destroyed.

“Researchers have been innovating methods of restoring sight to the blind through a number of different ways. Now, a company is closer to bringing another device to the public with vision impairment. Second Sight, a developer and manufacturer of implantable visual prosthetics has successfully implanted the Orion I, in their first patient. The Orion is a wireless visual cortical stimulator designed to restore sight to the blind. In a UCLA trial supported by Second Sight, a wireless multichannel neurostimulation system was implanted to a 30 year old patient’s visual cortex. The tests showed that the patient was able to perceive spots of light without any significant side effects.”

http://futurism.com/new-bionic-eye-that-connects-to-the-brain-successfully-restores-a-womans-sight/

9)          ESPN Loses 621,000 Subscribers; Worst Month In Company History

Despite the title this is not so much about ESPN as it is a story about the transformation of the delivery of video from Broadcast (primarily cable) to streaming (i.e. Netflix and “over the top” delivery). The impact on ESPN is highlighted due to the fact they entered into expensive long-term contracts for sports events whereas other cable providers can cancel shows. Some content providers such as HBO are offering a streaming option whereas AT&T (a cable provider) is offering a streaming cable alternative. Ultimately cable companies will simply become broadband providers but that sector will get a lot more competitive with 5G wireless. There is going to be a lot of disruption and opportunity due to these shifts.

“These 621,000 lost subscribers in the past month alone lead to a drop in revenue of over $52 million and continue the alarming subscriber decline at ESPN. Couple these subscriber declines with a 24% drop in Monday Night Football ratings this fall, the crown jewel of ESPN programming, and it’s fair to call October of 2016 the worst month in ESPN’s history. But this isn’t just a story about ESPN, the rapid decline in cable subscribers is hitting every channel, sports and otherwise. It just impacts ESPN the most because ESPN costs every cable and satellite subscriber roughly $7 a month, over triple the next most expensive cable channel.”

http://www.outkickthecoverage.com/espn-loses-621-000-subscribers-worst-month-in-company-history-102916

10)      Computer Virus Cripples UK Hospital System

You start putting people’s lives at risk and all of a sudden computer security becomes serious. It is rather a pity that so little information is available regarding these sort of hacks: after all the hackers know exactly what they did so why don’t the victims publicise their system characteristics (Operating Systems, etc.) provide a post-mortem, etc.. All that keeping things quiet does is to allow similar systems to be exploited in the future. That might be good for job security but not so good for computer security.

“Citing a computer virus outbreak, a hospital system in the United Kingdom has canceled all planned operations and diverted major trauma cases to neighboring facilities. The incident came as U.K. leaders detailed a national cyber security strategy that promises billions in cybersecurity spending, new special police units to pursue organized online gangs, and the possibility of retaliation for major attacks. In a “major incident” alert posted to its Web site, the National Health Service’s Lincolnshire and Goole trust said it made the decision to cancel surgeries and divert trauma patients after a virus infected its electronic systems on Sunday, October 30.”

https://krebsonsecurity.com/2016/11/computer-virus-cripples-uk-hospital-system/

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 28th 2016

Hello,

Welcome to the Geek’s Reading List. These articles and the commentary are not intended to be taken as investment advice, nor should they today. That being said, investors need to understand crucial trends and developments in the industries in which they invest. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon. Not to mention they might come in handy for consumers, CEOs, IT managers … or just about anybody, come to think of it. Technology isn’t just a niche area of interest to geeks these days: it impacts almost every part of our economy. I guess, in a way, we are all geeks now.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included please send them on to me. Or feel free to email me to discuss any of these topics in more depth: the sentence or two I write before each topic is usually only a fraction of my highly opinionated views on the subject!

This edition of the Geeks List, and all back issues, can be found at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          Cyber attack: Hackers use everday devices to cause major internet outages

I have warned repeatedly that Internet of Things devices are not typically secure and Friday’s massive cyber-attack sort of makes that point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to suspect the industry will reform itself since IoT vendors are generally low-end firms with little experience in, or interest in, security. What is interesting to me is that the attack may have been inspired by or instigated by the folks at Wikileaks. Why anybody would think that vandalizing the Internet is likely to lead to a positive outcome for them is a mystery. Look at the bright side: they elected to vandalize DNS servers rather than steal banking information.

“A major cyber offensive that brought down internet behemoths Twitter and Paypal is thought to have been launched by hackers using common devices such as webcams, baby monitors and digital recorders. In a huge breach of global internet stability, hackers brought down well-known sites including Netflix, Twitter, Paypal and Spotify. The widespread disruption was the result of a coordinated assault on some of the underlying infrastructure that powers the Internet. Dyn, one of several companies responsible for hosting the crucial web directory known as the Domain Name System (DNS), suffered a sustained so-called “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack, leading many people intermittently to lose access to specific sites or to the Internet entirely.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/cyber-attack-hack-twitter-paypal-netflix-major-internet-outages-caused-by-everyday-devices-latest-a7374971.html

2)          Tesla, once beloved by critics, ranks near bottom of new Consumer Reports survey

Consumer Report’s bizarre decision to grant the Tesla Model S, a new model from an vendor with limited experience building cars, its highest rating ever was greeted with tremendous excitement by Tesla fans and at the same time my opinion of CR’s judgement dropped to zero. They subsequently withdrew that rating and this report shows they are more or less on an even keel – though the extremely important issue of battery life and high replacement cost doesn’t seem to bother them yet. Give them a few years. Unsurprisingly Tesla fans are now attacking CE as “biased”.

“Tesla, the upstart all-electric automaker that once landed Consumer Reports’ best-ever performance rating, has now achieved a far less impressive feat, with a ranking from the reviewer that labels it one the least reliable car companies in America. The Consumer Reports’ ranking, released Monday, places Tesla at no. 25 of 29 for reliability, with reviewers saying the automaker’s new Model X SUV “has been plagued with malfunctions,” including with the “falcon-wing doors” that have become its signature.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/10/24/tesla-once-beloved-by-critics-plummets-in-new-consumer-reports-ranking/

3)          Silicon Valley Decides It’s Just Too Hard to Build a Car

I continue to maintain that the tricky part of building a self-driving car is actually building the car. You can retrofit technology to a car design but actually making a car is a heck of a lot harder than people realize, especially in the Silicon Valley Bubble. Most recently it appears even Google may want out of the business http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanbaptiste/2016/10/27/google-to-spin-off-self-driving-car-business/#4992f6255700. Thanks to my colleague Paul Kantorovich for this item.

“He’s not kidding. Tech giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, once intent on disrupting, if not destroying, Detroit, have concluded for now that they don’t want to build cars. Sure, they still bank on supplying the autonomous software that will drive robot rides, but the concession that they’re not up to the complex task of mass production tilts the balance of power to traditional automakers. Vehicle manufacturing is a massive undertaking. There is the metal bending and assembly, a highly evolved process in itself. Car companies also integrate millions of lines of code that control everything from the radio to the radar sensors that will soon allow hands-free driving. Detroit also has deep experience managing the long chain of suppliers that provide roughly 30,000 parts.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-25/bill-ford-to-silicon-valley-the-future-of-cars-is-in-detroit

4)          Why Tim Cook is Steve Ballmer and Why He Still Has His Job at Apple

This is a surprisingly good article which discusses the problem of the “visionary CEO” and what happens when he leaves. As the article explains, visionaries pick good operators as senior executives and one of those becomes a successor. Unfortunately good operators make lousy visionaries so they plant the seeds for their own destruction.

“When visionary founders depart (death, firing, etc.), the operating executives who reported to them believe it’s their turn to run the company (often with the blessing of the ex CEO).  At Microsoft, Bill Gates anointed Steve Ballmer, and at Apple Steve Jobs made it clear that Tim Cook was to be his successor. Once in charge, one of the first things these operations/execution CEOs do is to get rid of the chaos and turbulence in the organization. Execution CEOs value stability, process and repeatable execution. On one hand that’s great for predictability, but it often starts a creative death spiral – creative people start to leave, and other executors (without the innovation talent of the old leader) are put into more senior roles – hiring more process people, which in turn forces out the remaining creative talent. This culture shift ripples down from the top and what once felt like a company on a mission to change the world now feels like another job.”

https://steveblank.com/2016/10/24/why-tim-cook-is-steve-ballmer-and-why-he-still-has-his-job-at-apple/

5)          SSDs Kill The 15K HDD, Seagate Rolls Out Last Generation

I continue to be very negative on the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) industry even as share prices of Seagate and Western Digital continue to go up. Inflection points are generally ignored by analysts and investors until it is too late: after all, almost all analysis is derived from management and management is great at deluding themselves. There will be shuffling of deck chairs along the way but this is only going to end one way. How many people would invest in a digital storage tape vendor today?

“Seagate representatives indicated that the company is not working on future generations of 15K HDDs due to the proliferation of SSDs in the data center. The company will offer the Enterprise Performance 15K HDD v6 (otherwise known as the 15K.6) for an extended period of time to ensure that forward compatibility and replacements are on hand, as it does all of its data center HDDs, but it will offer SSDs as the go-to solution for high-performance workloads. The move isn’t entirely surprising; it’s fair to say that the 2.5″ HDD segment has been on a managed decline (albeit a steep one) recently. The “mission-critical” 2.5″ segment declined from roughly five million units in 4Q2014 to 3.2 million in 1Q2016”

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/seagate-hdd-15k-ssd-enterprise,32920.html

6)          The Google Assistant Needs You

One of the new features in Google’s Pixel phone which is getting a lot of positive attention is the Google Assistant. I haven’t tried it but apparently it is a considerable leap ahead of Google voice. This article implies that the design of Google Assistant is such that it will improve steadily as more data is gathered from use thanks to deep learning technology. Some articles have suggested this may place Apple at a competitive disadvantage as it’s AI/Deep Learning technology is behind that of Google and even Microsoft.

“As Pereira explains it, The Transition is a Brink’s Job-level bounty of data that his team and other scientists at Google will receive when millions of people start conversing with his company’s flagship bot, the Google Assistant. The Assistant is a single software system that will be implemented across multiple Google platforms, including the Pixel phone and the Google Home device. It strives to control the functions on the phone like Siri does, perform services as seamlessly as Amazon’s Alexa, and conduct Geisha-level chatter that puts to shame the business bot in Facebook’s Messenger.”

https://backchannel.com/google-our-assistant-will-trigger-the-next-era-of-ai-3c72a4d7bc75#.vtrzncin9

7)          All the disappointments from Apple’s MacBook Pro event

I am sort of used to fawning coverage of any Apple product release “event”. Apple has bloggers and the tech media very carefully controlled by limiting access to its events and test units only to those who “think right”. The reaction to this week’s MacBook Pro event has been remarkably negative. Not just the reviews but comment threads regarding the new products have been extremely critical of the reduction in features and increased prices (one developer noted one model MacBook Pro actually cost more than a similar featured product from a few years ago). I don’t see the point of paying 2 or 3x more for a computer because is in an Apple but that is not the point: Apple has been an astoundingly competent marketing company even if its innovation has lagged. If they lose that, they have lost everything. See also http://www.techradar.com/news/ports-in-a-storm-why-is-apple-making-it-so-hard-to-choose-a-new-macbook-pro

“One of the main draws to Apple products is the unified ecosystem, but it looks like the company is getting sloppy in maintaining that. The USB-C-equipped MacBook Pros can’t connect to your new iPhone 7 unless you buy a $20 adaptor or a new cable. Similarly, you can’t connect your Lightning earbuds to your new laptop. There isn’t really a good reason for this. Apple seems hell-bent on sticking with Lightning connectors for some devices, even though it’s pushing forward with USB-C ports. The only saving grace in this regard, as our own Napier Lopez noted, is that the MacBook Pro comes with a good ol’ 3.5mm headphone jack. Thanks, Apple.”

http://thenextweb.com/apple/2016/10/28/all-the-disappointments-from-apples-macbook-pro-event/

8)          No One Is Buying Smartwatches Anymore

No, this is not another Apple article. I included it as an example of why industry research is so utterly useless (Google “IDC predicts smartwatch sales” for a list of articles such as this http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-devices/smartwatch-shipments-primed-to-explode-idc-predicts/a/d-id/1323595 or this http://www.mobihealthnews.com/content/idc-apple-lead-smartwatch-shipments-next-four-years). The job of industry analysts is to paint a bright picture of the future because that is what sells expensive reports. It is truly a pity so many investors and businesses actually believe they know what they are talking about.

“Remember how smartwatches were supposed to be the next big thing? About that… The market intelligence firm IDC reported on Monday that smartwatch shipments are down 51.6 percent year-over-year for the third quarter of 2016. This is bad news for all smartwatch vendors (except maybe Garmin), but it’s especially bad for Apple, which saw shipments drop 71.6 percent, according to the IDC report”

http://gizmodo.com/no-one-is-buying-smartwatches-anymore-1788153001

9)          Demand for Google Pixel Smartphones Soars, Shortages Result

I doubt I’ll buy one (too much money to spend on a smartphone) but Google’s flagship Pixel phone sure is getting very positive reviews. It may be this is just a “manufactured shortage” use to build hype or it could be that Samsung owners who traded in their defective phones decided to go with Google. It might even be that Google has a successful product on its hands.

“Since going on sale Oct. 20, Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL Android smartphones are so popular that several versions are completely out of stock and others are apparently taking longer to get to buyers than previously estimated by Google. All 5.5-inch Pixel XL handsets in Quite Black or Very Silver are out of stock in both 32GB and 128GB configurations, while the 5-inch Pixel models in certain configurations—32GB in Very Silver and 128GB models in Very Silver and Quite Black—are shipping in two to three weeks, according to the Google Store’s ordering page. Other standard Pixel models are completely out of stock, including the Pixel 32GB Quite Black version and the 32GB Really Blue Limited Edition version.”

http://www.eweek.com/mobile/demand-for-google-pixel-smartphones-soars-shortages-result.html

10)      Qualcomm’s NXP Deal Is $47 Billion Wager on Computers You Drive

Qualcomm’s long rumored purchase of NXP is just the most recent act in a multi-year consolidation of the semiconductor industry. NXP is not exactly a gem of a company, having spent like drunken sailors to create the illusion of growth the last few years. NXP bought Freescale in 2015, a company whose management we consider to be essentially pathogens. Meanwhile Qualcomm is faced with a declining smartphone market and the loss of its prior dominance there so some financial engineering is in order. Acquisition accounting should allow obfuscation of real operating performance for a couple years at least but it doesn’t change the fact the semiconductor industry is no longer growing. This may be one of the largest such transactions but it will not be the last: substantially all smaller semiconductor companies will be acquired in this feeding frenzy.

“Qualcomm Inc.’s purchase of NXP Semiconductors NV is a bet that the future of mobile computing has four wheels. The $47 billion acquisition unveiled Thursday — the biggest ever for Qualcomm, and in the chip industry’s history — marks the company’s most significant foray outside its historically narrow focus on cell-phone chips and patents, a strategy that has made it one of the most successful technology companies of the last 20 years. Now, as mobile-phone growth decelerates, Qualcomm’s management is buying a leading position in the nascent market for chips that will turn automobiles into smart devices that use sensors to help drivers drive, park, navigate and communicate.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-27/qualcomm-s-nxp-deal-is-47-billion-wager-on-computers-you-drive

 

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 2016

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of October 21st 2016

Hello,

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 www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.

Brian Piccioni

 

 

1)          A Ridiculously Easy Way to Convert CT Scans to 3D Printable Bone STL Models for Free in Minutes

I’ve written about medical applications for 3D printing a number of times. Like any emerging technology it can sound pretty daunting so I thought this item was worth a read. Basically the author takes you through how you can convert a CAT scan into a 3D printed model using open source tools. It is that easy.

“In this tutorial you will learn how to quickly and easily make 3D printable bone models from medical CT scans using the free online service Imag3D. The method described here requires no prior knowledge of medical imaging or 3D printing software. Creation of your first model can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. You can download the files used in this tutorial by clicking on this link. You must have a free Embodi3D member account to do so. If you don’t have an account, registration is free and takes a minute. It is worth the time to register so you can follow along with the tutorial and use the Imag3D service.”

http://www.embodi3d.com/blogs/entry/345-a-ridiculously-easy-way-to-convert-ct-scans-to-3d-printable-bone-stl-models-for-free-in-minutes/

2)          Cities spent millions on fast gigabit networks. No one is sure what they’re good for.

I am always impressed by the utter cluelessness of policy advisors when the subject of the need for broadband infrastructure comes up. The analogy with electricity is stark: the main application for electricity was electric light and people only needed so much light so why “waste” money delivering more than a few amps to a building? If you are going to dig up streets and back yards you want to do that once and make sure you have plenty of headroom for growth. Although there are upper limits to how much bandwidth people might use, for the foreseeable future we will grow into whatever infrastructure is available.

“Of course, there’s another possibility: Maybe people just don’t have any use for so much bandwidth. That’s the view of Doug Brake, of Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank funded by foundation and government grants as well as donations from firms such as Google and IBM. “There are no apps today and no apps on the horizon,” he said, though he acknowledged that development of new applications would probably proceed more quickly with far broader gigabit coverage. The basic issue is that even the most bandwidth-hungry of today’s applications use far, far less than a gigabit — 1,000 megabits per second — of bandwidth. Right now, one of the most bandwidth-hungry applications out there is Netflix. Netflix recommends users have at least 3 Mbps of bandwidth for standard-definition video — meaning that you could stream about 300 Netflix videos simultaneously on a 1 gigabit connection. If you want Netflix’s highest-quality streaming, called Ultra HD, that requires 25 Mbps. So a gigabit connection would allow you to stream 40 Ultra HD videos at a time.”

http://www.vox.com/new-money/2016/10/17/13230500/gigabit-networks-chattanooga-google

3)          Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic

I figure the marketing guy who thought this up should be subject to summary execution. Seriously, what moron thinks that flying advertisements just over the heads of drivers is a good idea? How on earth would it be different if you were stuck in traffic in an Uber instead of your own car?

“Drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City lately have found themselves being buzzed by a fleet of sign-toting drones. “Driving by yourself?” some scolded in Spanish. “This is why you can never see the volcanoes”—a reference to the smog that often hovers over the mega-city and obscures two nearby peaks. It wasn’t exactly a plea for environmentalism, though—it was an ad for UberPOOL, part of Uber’s big push into markets across Latin America. As Bloomberg points out, Uber already does more business in Mexico City than any other city it operates in, and Brazil is its third-largest market after the U.S. and India. Uber sees Latin American countries as generally easier targets for expansion than either of its top two markets.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602662/ubers-ad-toting-drones-are-heckling-drivers-stuck-in-traffic/

4)          IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It

IBM has missed every technological shift since the PC despite frittering away billions buying countless companies. They have smart scientists but management appears to be dominated by the “Pointy Haired Boss” from Dilbert. Given their aptitude for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory I doubt their efforts to monetize AI will be any different.

“IBM has invested billions of dollars in its Watson business unit, created at the start of 2014, which now employs an estimated 10,000 workers. Its big-ticket marketing push includes clever television ads that feature Watson trading quips with famous people like Serena Williams and Bob Dylan. And Watson, after a slow start, has shown its mettle by assisting in daunting tasks like diagnosing cancer. Yet industry experts question how quickly IBM can build a business around Watson. “IBM has pursued big, bespoke moonshot initiatives that can take years and are extremely expensive,” said Tom Austin, a research fellow at Gartner. “It seems like they’re swimming upstream with that.””

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/17/technology/ibm-is-counting-on-its-bet-on-watson-and-paying-big-money-for-it.html?smid=re-share

5)          Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR

This article is good for a chuckle. A lot of “unicorns” are being prepared for IPOs on the theory their owners believe there is more opportunity for them if you own the stock than if they own the stock. This article isn’t really about a unicorn but it provides some insight into the “Silicon Valley Bubble” and the limited amount of thinking which goes into funding a lot of startups. To be fair for most startups the product is their stock and whether they have any hope of ever turning a profit is moot.

“So what is it? It’s a $700 juicer that you buy (yes, seven hundred dollars), and then in the same way you buy different coffee pods for a Keurig, you buy different types of juice packets which range up to $10 each (yes, ten dollars). Hey, pre-cleaning and chopping organic (of course) fruit then putting it in a non-degradable packet is hard work! Pop the juice packet into the juicer, press a button, and a minute later you have a glass of juice. Then you throw away the packet, nothing to clean. But wait, there’s more. The packet has a QR code on it (those square, 2D barcodes) and the system reads the QR code to compare with an internet database (it’s WiFi connected of course) and see if the packet is in date – if you’re in luck the system will press the juice for you just right. If not, or your internet happens to be down, no such luck and the $10 you spent will get you nothing.”

http://liesandstartuppr.blogspot.ca/2016/08/how-is-this-thing.html

6)          Quantum computers: 10-fold boost in stability achieved

What I liked about this article is that it highlights a dirty little secret of Quantum Computers (QCs): namely the very short amount of time they can run. In a nutshell, QCs work because the qbits are kept in a state of quantum superposition. That state is lost the instant there is interaction with any outside influence (i.e. a photon, a particle, etc.). It is very hard to isolate qbits from the universe so quantum superposition can’t last long. As fast as QCs might be for certain applications they have to be controlled externally by a traditional computer and that can only do so many things in a few milliseconds.

“The results are striking: since the electromagnetic field steadily oscillates at a very high frequency, any noise or disturbance at a different frequency results in a zero net effect. The researchers achieved an improvement by a factor of 10 in the time span during which a quantum superposition can be preserved. Specifically, they measured a dephasing time of T2*=2.4 milliseconds – a result that is 10-fold better than the standard qubit, allowing many more operations to be performed within the time span during which the delicate quantum information is safely preserved.”

http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/quantum-computers-10-fold-boost-stability-achieved

7)           “I’ve seen pretty much all your tech secrets”

I’ve written in the past that the core problem with NSA snooping is that they are acting as aggregators for spies. Since the NSA hoovers up everything (personal information as well as private corporate information, military information, etc.) a double agent inside NSA can distribute that data to his paymaster. I’ve said in the past that Snowden was obviously not the only guy inside who had figured this out: I am proved right by this development. There are doubtless hundreds of others working inside NSA and doing the same thing though obviously more discretely. You can’t employ hundreds of thousands of people and keep secret like that.

“Government prosecutors intend to file charges under the Espionage Act against a former NSA contractor who was arrested in August and charged with stealing a massive trove of top-secret intelligence documents. In court papers filed Thursday [you can read them below], the government said Navy veteran Harold T. Martin III stole 50,000 gigabytes of data over the course of two decades, which far exceeds the number of documents Edward Snowden took from the NSA and leaked to journalists. (One gigabyte can store about 10,000 pages.)”

https://news.vice.com/story/nsa-contractor-stole-10000-gigs-of-data-over-20-years-prosecutors-say

8)          Telstra, Ericsson, Qualcomm unveil 1Gbps 4G network, mobile router, 5G modem

I have a couple of articles on 5G wireless this week. This one talks about 5G and 1Gbps 4G. It is not really clear to me why they refer to the Netgear router, except perhaps they expect the 5G technology will mostly be used in doors (see the next article). 5G will be much faster than 4G, use much higher frequencies (good bye spectrum shortage) but have shorter reach. Early on it will be ideal for deployment of broadband in competition with wired broadband since it will be very cheap to deploy the “last mile” to the customers.

“Telstra’s network attains 1Gbps speeds when used in conjunction with the newly announced Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m, which runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem and Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi solution. The Netgear Mobile Router MR1100m is the first consumer device capable of reaching download speeds up to 1Gbps over 4G. It attains gigabit speeds via 3x carrier aggregation; 4×4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) on two aggregated carriers; 2×2 MIMO on a third carrier; and Higher Order Modulation 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM).”

http://www.zdnet.com/article/telstra-ericsson-qualcomm-unveil-1gbps-4g-network-mobile-router-5g-modem/

9)          Millimeter-wave 5G modem coming mid-2018 with 5Gbps peak download

I thought this article had a pretty good explanation of some of the advantages of 5G. Besides exploiting a huge swath of spectrum, the diagrams give a pretty good idea how MIMO and beam forming work. Both are sophisticated antenna technologies which make use of, and even benefit from, the fact that higher frequency radio is like light in that it bounces off walls and buildings.

“The X50 5G will at first operate with a bandwidth of about 800MHz on the 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave in Qualcomm jargon) spectrum, a frequency that’s also being investigated by Samsung, Nokia, and Verizon. However, the powers that be have far from settled on this area of the spectrum, with 73GHz also being mooted. In the UK, Ofcom is investigating several bands in a range between 6GHz and 100GHz. As the industry as a whole is a long way from consensus, this could be Qualcomm’s bid to get the final frequency locked down well before 2020—the year that 5G is expected to reach any kind of consumer penetration.”

http://arstechnica.com/business/2016/10/qualcomm-5g-x50-modem-millimetre-wave-5g-modem/

10)      Can CRISPR Save Ben Dupree?

I figure 20 years from now CRISPR-CAS9 will be considered one of the greatest advances in science. The technology allows reliable and highly precise editing of the genome, meaning that genetic defects can be corrected, mutant cells targeted, and genes essentially rewritten at will. This has obvious application in genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cancer but will have tremendous application in agriculture and industrial processes.

“Dupree, who majored in biochemistry and hopes to become a genetic counselor, has sometimes imagined what life would be like if that small error were not there. A year ago, in December, he learned how a technology called CRISPR might make that possible. A scientist named Eric Olson had requested some of Dupree’s blood a few months earlier, and Dupree had agreed. Soon he was rolling through the lab on his TiLite wheelchair so Olson, a biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, could show him the results—and what some scientists now predict is the likeliest way to cure Duchenne.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602491/can-crispr-save-ben-dupree/