The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 17th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 17th 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

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!

I blog at




Brian Piccioni

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1.        Microsoft drops the Blue codename, confirms Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade available later this year

There have been plenty of rumors as to what Windows Blue will do, and I reserve judgment until I actually install it. Correcting a catastrophic product release is a good idea (if that is indeed what they plan), however, a December release date mean I may actually end up using a laptop I bought in January 2013. Excuse me for being less than happy.

“One of the worst kept secrets rattling around Microsoft’s campus is Windows Blue, the forthcoming update to Windows 8 that addresses users’ bugbears about the OS. Now, Microsoft is officially rechristening the platform, and with a more staid name: Windows 8.1.”

2.        Apple orders hint at iPad Mini shipment decline

I like the fact people take shots at DigiTimes because pretty much all ‘news’ sources nowadays are unreliable, even with respect to facts. In any event, another interpretation could be that Apple is shifting suppliers and adjusting orders at a particular vendor accordingly.

“Apple’s iPad Mini could be entering a rough few months, according to the latest information the sometimes-spotty DigiTimes. The blog on Friday reported that AU Optronics, the company that supplies panels for Apple’s iPad Mini, will only ship 2.5 million to 2.8 million units to manufacturers in the second calendar quarter, down from the 4 million it shipped in the first quarter.”

3.        Gartner Says Asia/Pacific Led Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales to Growth in First Quarter of 2013

I treat figures from industry analysts with considerable caution, nonetheless, as I expected the ‘smartphone’ craze is rolling over, a trend which will likely have profound consequences for smartphone vendors and the supply chain. Expect prices to plummet. Note further, the implosion of the Blackberry OS in terms of share and absolute numbers. For them, the war is over.

“Worldwide mobile phone sales to end users totaled nearly 426 million units in the first quarter of 2013, a slight increase of 0.7 percent from the same period last year, according to Gartner, Inc. Worldwide smartphone sales totaled 210 million units in the first quarter of 2013, up 42.9 percent from the first quarter of 2012. The Asia/Pacific region was the only region to show growth in mobile phone sales this quarter, with a 6.4 percent increase year-on-year.”

4.        Hands-on with BBM Channels: BlackBerry’s trojan horse social platform

I confess to not understanding social media, and I never used BBM when I had a Blackberry. However, despite some fawning commentary, opening BBM to other platforms is nothing but a belated attempt to stop hemorrhaging users to other platforms. Once upon a time, you got a Blackberry because your upper middle class teenage friends used BBM. Now, if you have a Blackberry you can no longer communicate with BBM because you are the only one with a Blackberry. And they make fun of you because of it. So, Blackberry hopes enough Android and iPhone users will use BBM to keep the connection alive. It won’t happen, but they can dream, can’t they?

“”It’s more like Tumblr.” That’s how one BlackBerry rep described BBM Channels to us, the company’s new social networking service announced this past week at BlackBerry Live in Orlando. While Channels, alone, may initially seem like nothing new — it’s an iteration of a social communication model we’ve seem countless times before — the service actually speaks more to BlackBerry’s forward-facing strategy for BBM as a device-agnostic mobile solution.”

5.        The Archos ChefPad tablet filters cooking apps and takes splashes like a boss for $210

(In the voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons) “The dumbest tech idea ever.” See, here’s the thing: you might be able to sell a crippled tablet into a segment of the market for a steep discount if you have a business plan that exploits that subsidy. Targeting a sub-market with a full priced version: well, that’s plain stupid.

“Chef apps” will filter apps on Google Play, showing you only those geared towards cooking, like recipe apps and cookbooks. A potentially useful tool Archos says may also be applied to future tablets.”

6.        Samsung wants to bring 5G online by 2020

A sign of things to come in the wireless broadband space. I should note that actual performance in mobile broadband tends to be about an order of magnitude less than advertised performance, but this still sounds promising.

“Samsung Electronics is said to have developed the core technology for 5G wireless networks, after it managed to successfully transmit data at a speed of 1 gigabits per second (Gpbs).”

7.        Google pushing for quick adoption of their new open source VP9 video codec

Compression technologies essentially trade off computing performance for bandwidth. Computing price/performance improves with time (as does bandwidth, except in Canada), however, a shift in appetite occurs towards ‘richer’ sources as they become available. Video  compression is easier than it sounds, and what looks good to one person might look awful to the next. I haven’t seen VP9, but it sounds impressive and I expect widespread adoption. Once adoption hits critical mass, expect to see a lot more HD, and maybe even ultra-HD content.

“VP9 is an open source and royalty free video compression technology under active development by Google with which they hope to replace the popular H.264 standard. The development of VP9 begain in late 2011 with two goals in mind, to provide a 50% reduced bit rate compared to the older VP8 codec while maintaining the video quality, and also optimizing it to the point that it becomes superior to the latest High Efficiency Video Coding (H.264) standard as well.”

8.        Drones: Coming Soon To The New Jersey Turnpike?

More news from the whacky world of drones, however, despite reservations, police use of drones makes a great deal of sense: they are bound to be more cost effective to own and operate, and probably easier to deploy as well, setting aside the obvious potential for abuse. I figure private sector applications in things like surveying, repair (consider high voltage power wires) and security are just around the corner.

“The Federal Aviation Administration predicts  that 30,000 drones will patrol U.S. skies by 2020, but New Jersey drivers could see these unmanned aerial vehicles hovering above the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway much sooner than that — by 2015.”

9.        Drones move one step closer to unmanned pizza delivery

This in an obvious military application for drone helicopters, but one which also shows a significant potential commercial application as well. An aircraft with human pilots has to carry them along with hundreds of pounds of seats, displays, safety gear (including armour in the case of military aircraft). Plus, you have to send people plus equipment in harm’s way, rather than just equipment. Ultimately, remotely piloted helicopters could be purpose built, which would make them more efficient and probably more efficient and effective. After all, bags of meat have physiological limitations which do not apply to computers.

“An unmanned K-MAX helicopter eased into a hover and gently descended until a pallet of ammunition dangling beneath it touched the ground. The cargo hook released itself and the helicopter rose again, turned and flew off. The K-MAX, the only drone cargo helicopter in the U.S. military’s fleet, made two more runs to the embattled outpost, dropping off more supplies each time.”

10.   Navy’s Historic Drone Launch From an Aircraft Carrier Has an Asterisk

Military announcements tend to be full of hyperbole, and, while I am not an expert in naval aviation, I suspect launching an airplane fron a hanger deck is really not all that difficult: after all, you are flinging an aircraft into the air and cruise missiles have been doing this for decades. Landing an aircraft on a platform moving in 3 dimensions is another matter altogether. Well, landing in one piece.

“At 11:19 a.m. today, for the first time in history, a plane without a pilot in it executed one of the most complex missions in aviation: launching off an aircraft carrier at sea. Only the Navy can’t yet land that drone aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an even harder but necessary maneuver if large drones are really going to operate off carriers.”

11.   Micromirror development tool takes aim at 3-D printing

There are a number of different 3D printer technologies, but the two main ones for plastic are based on extrusion and laser catalysis in which a laser or pair of lasers causes a resin to solidify. These have usually been ‘flying dot’ scanning lasers, so a DLP micromirror ‘engine’ (which contains thousands of mirrors) could speed the process up considerably.

“Texas Instruments Inc. has created the DLP LightCrafter 4500 development tool to help engineers use digital light processing based on its micromirror chips for applications beyond projectors. The subsystem is an upgrade to previously supplied DLP development tools that provides a starting point for higher brightness and higher resolution applications in indusrial, medial and scientific applications, the company said.”

12.   The Consequences of Machine Intelligence

This is a rather dated article, but I only came across it as a result of secondary coverage this past week. He makes some interesting points, but misses the mark on at least two factors: first, Machine Intelligence is not really advancing at a measurable rate, though fantasies about it a proceeding geometrically, thanks to the likes of Kurzweil. After all, even the most impressive feats, like ‘winning Jeopardy’ or playing chess, are essentially parlor games framed around arbitrary definitions of intelligence. The other thing is touched on in the article, namely that innovation displaces workers, though it invariably leads to a general improvement in standard of living: after all, not that long ago the majority of workers were involved in agriculture compared to a trifling amount today.

It is in the context of the Great Recession that people started noticing that while machines have yet to exceed humans in intelligence, they are getting intelligent enough to have a major impact on the job market.”

13.   Introducing Strongbox

Judging from the Whitehouse’s legal crackdown on whistleblowers, this could be a great idea. Unfortunately, the global media has mostly devolved into a lapdog for the status quo, so, something which might have been of use in golden era of journalism is not as relevant today. Wikileaks exists and is being harassed because it actually releases whistleblower leaks traditional media won’t touch until they have been released.

“This morning, The New Yorker launched Strongbox, an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity. It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented.”

14.   Appeals court ruling could be ‘death’ of software patents

A promising first step in the legal morass call the patent system; software, business methods, and genes (which are simply data) should never have been granted patent protection. Given the massive amounts of money involved and the effectiveness of lobbying, I doubt the egg will be readily unscrambled.

“A U.S. appeals court has ruled that an abstract idea is not patentable simply because it is tied to a computer system, signaling what one judge described as the “death” of software and business method patents. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Friday that four patents held by electronic marketplace Alice are too abstract for a patent, despite a long-standing legal assumption that software running on a computer is eligible for patents.”

15.   Could Federal Seizure Be the Beginning of the End for Bitcoin?

Let me think: an unregulated ‘currency’ with no oversight and which is favored by criminals and speculators – is anybody surprised the Feds shut it down? Two amusing side notes – Bitcoin proponents are screaming blue murder and conspiracy, and, apparently, the ‘price’ of Bitcoin has not collapsed. Now, I ask you, in an efficient market, what would normally happen if the major source of liquidity were withdrawn, and such a precedent set? This all but confirms the fraudulent nature of the market.

“In what may be the first move toward a federal shutdown of the wildly popular online currency known as Bitcoin, the Department of Homeland Security today issued an order that has restricted the transfer of funds in and out of Mt. Gox, the Bitcoin exchange that handles some 60 percent of the transactions.”

see also

16.   Credit card fraudsters quickly exposed

An interesting read, however, I am not entirely convinced banks take fraud that seriously. I had a brand new credit card which was used in 20 fraudulent transactions after a single legitimate use in a New Orleans hotel. I knew exactly the one person other than me who had touched the card and neither the police nor the Bank of Montreal (who reversed the fraudulent charges) expressed any interest in pursuing the villain.

“Our software analyzes recent transactions that are stored in the credit card company’s database. Depending on the size of the company, there can be as many as one million data sets per month,” says Dr. Stefan Rüping, group manager at IAIS. “For these transactions, the software searches all possible rules and selects the ten to one hundred best options. The best thing about this program is that it finds the most suitable rules in 30 minutes to an hour.”

17.   Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD

If you want to get really depressed, read a book about psychoactive drugs and the science (or lack thereof) behind them. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I really have my doubts as to whether the drugs exist to treat the maladies or the maladies exist to treat the drugs. The good news for the drug business is that the brain’s plasticity makes the drugs effectively highly addictive. So, this begs the question: why do some populations need to be heavily drugged, and others do not?

“In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?”

18.   Carbon in Alaskan soils stays stored despite warming

Computer modeling of complex non-linear systems is an interesting exercise, but the results are not something you should generally ever confuse with what is actually going to happen. Back in the olden days, biology students learned about things like the carbon cycle, and while it is simple in concept, it is infinitely complex in practicality and attempts to simplify what will happen to a biological system when you alter the inputs are doomed to fail, which brings us to this result. (By the way, we also learned the oceans are buffered, so don’t get me started about ‘ocean acidification’.)

“The other place that scientists have been watching nervously is the Arctic. About half the carbon stored in the Earth’s soil is in the Arctic, where it’s locked in place by permafrost and low metabolic activity caused by the cold. As those regions melt, the worry is that bacteria in the soil will start feeding on the carbon trapped there, releasing it into the atmosphere as CO2 that causes further warming. A new study that looks at 20 years of changes in Alaska, however, suggests that this won’t necessarily take place.”

19.   Why is Science Behind a Paywall?

Some business models are predicated on the past. In the olden days you had to distribute a tangible product, which meant physical production and a distribution channel. Consolidation of the industry lead to boom times for certain publishers – after all, you don’t pay for content and you sell at high (and rising) prices to a captive market. That era will draw to a close fairly quickly. While name recognition is important, scientists benefit from the broadest possible dissemination of their work, and the customers benefit from lowest possible costs. Soon enough the science journal oligopoly will go the way of Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Although the act of publishing seems to entail sharing your research with the world, most published papers sit behind paywalls. The journals that publish them charge thousands of dollars per subscription, putting access out of reach to all but the most minted universities. Subscription costs have risen dramatically over the past generation. According to critics of the publishers, those increases are the result of the consolidation of journals by private companies who unduly profit off their market share of scientific knowledge.”

20.   Cardiff University: X-rays ‘read’ ink in historic scrolls

Vast numbers of scrolls are around in libraries, and some have even been found in Herculaneum (Pompeii’s lesser known twin). The problem is, unrolling them destroys them, so many sit unread. While this is a huge breakthrough, this technique only works on scrolls prepared with a certain type of ink. Nonetheless, it is possible a similar methodology could be used on more ancient inks with different composition. Still, very cool.

“X-ray technology which scans the iron used in ancient ink has been developed by scientists at Cardiff University to help them read historical documents. The breakthrough allows scholars to see virtually the contents of parchments which are too fragile to unroll.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 3rd 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of May 3rd 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

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!

I blog at


Brian Piccioni

Click to Subscribe

Click to Unsubscribe


1.        AMD Unveils its Heterogeneous Uniform Memory Access (hUMA) Technology

This sounds pretty revolutionary, but I don’t expect much to change as a consequence. GPU performance figures are not really comparable to CPU performance figures because the internal structure og a GPU is optimized for the sorts of computations which are only rarely encountered outside of graphics and image processing. AMD’s (relatively) novel approach may generate some buzz among gamers – which is always a good thing – and possibly move them up the list for supercomputer applications, but this will have little or no effect on sales.

“To illustrate this, consider the following example: in 2002, the Radeon 9700 Pro could provide a performance of 31.2 GFLOPS of performance, 5 years later the Radeon HD 2900 XT offered 473.6 GFLOPS and by 2012, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition was capable of computing 4301 GFLOPS  – an increase of 13,700% when compared to the Radeon 9700. Though this change can reasonably be attributed to Moore’s Law and the continued decline of the $:GFLOP ratio, it is important to note that CPUs have not kept pace with the exponential growth of GPUs’ computing power as between 2002’s Pentium 4 “Northwood” processor and 2012’s Core i7-3970X processor, the computing ability rose by “just” 2600% from 12.24 GFLOPS to 336 GFLOPS.”,22324.html


2.        Spain’s Extremadura starts switch of 40,000 government PCs to open source

I am frankly surprised at the glacial pace of open source adoption in the public sector, especially within the context of global austerity. Of course, then again, government is rarely the cutting edge of anything. Regardless, I think we’ll see more and more of this, and the path has been greased by widespread adoption of Android (aka Linux) by consumers.

“The government of Spain’s autonomous region of Extremadura has begun the switch to open source of it desktop PCs. The government expects the majority of its 40,000 PCs to be migrated this year, the region’s CIO Theodomir Cayetano announced on 18 April. Extremadura estimates that the move to open source will help save 30 million euro per year.”

3.        Why an Android Laptop is a Great Idea. No, Really!

I am not so sure of the reasoning here, because I find touch interfaces to be a major pain in the ass most of the time and almost unusable in traditional PC type applications, though that may be my Neanderthal brain (or because its faster to move my thumb than my while arm). I continue to believe the success of Android in the mobile space has paved the way for broad adoption of Android and other Linux forks in the laptop/desktop space.

“Misleading and misunderstanding blogging and reporting this week is leading everybody into falsely believing that Intel plans to ship or support Android-based laptops. This has sparked debate over the wisdom or folly of Android laptops. I’ll make a case for why Android laptops are a great idea, but first let’s kill the myth that Intel announced Android laptops.”

4.        Why I won’t buy another subsidized Android phone (and why you shouldn’t, either)

All good points, but he closes off with misinformation: a subsidized phone is not going to be cheaper than an unsubsidized phone because you are financing it through the carrier. I haven’t had a subsidized phone or mobile contract for over a decade and I don’t think anybody should ever sign a mobile contract.

“The root of the problem is this: With subsidized Android phones, your carrier takes away your control of your phone in exchange for that subsidy, which has direct, negative consequences for your security, privacy, and battery life. Because of my experience with this I won’t be buying another subsidized Android phone, and I think you should consider avoiding them, as well.”

5.        Pentagon Expects to Enlist Apple, Samsung Devices

If true (and it likely is) this should have limited direct impact on Blackberry because the end market is relatively small. However, the importance of such an approval on demand by security conscious customers (bankers, lawyers, etc.) is probably significant, so this would be a negative for Blackberry over the longer term. I like the idea of a ruggedized smartphone provided pricing is reasonable.

“The U.S. Department of Defense expects in coming weeks to grant two separate security approvals for Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones, along with iPhones and iPads running Apple’s latest operating system—moves that would boost the number of U.S. government agencies allowed to use those devices.”

6.        BlackBerry CEO Heins: Tablet Market is Kaput

Full disclosure: I don’t own a tablet, however, I think this is a pretty silly thing to say, especially if you are less than a rounding error in the market. There may not be much of a business model for tablet manufacturers once prices collapse to the $100 – 200 range, as I figure they will within the next year or so, whereupon volumes will explode, albeit at tiny margins. There is nothing inherently profitable about making tablets, but, at the right price, they’ll sell a lot of them.

“BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins believes that tablets will be dead within the next five years. In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” he told an interviewer at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles, according to Bloomberg. “Maybe a big screen in your workplace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.”

7.        Qualcomm Proposes a Cell-Phone Network by the People, for the People

I can see the advantages for the carriers here: they replace a small number of expensive installations with a much larger number of very cheap, almost disposable, installations. This could save a lot of money for the carriers. What I don’t understand is what possible benefit this would provide for the consumer, who usually feels less than charitable towards carriers.

“Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and some U.S. wireless carriers are investigating an idea that would see small cellular base stations installed in homes to serve passing smartphone users. That approach is believed to be a more efficient way of meeting the rising demand for data and fixing patchy coverage than building more traditional cell-phone towers.”

8.        Kenya’s new cellphone money model could disrupt global banking industry

The headline is silly, but the technology is real. To put it mildly, the developing world is rarely well served by traditional banks as success of Gamine Bank showed. The overhead per loan or transaction is relatively unaffected by the size of the transaction, so small transactions can be very expensive. This is probably good for Africa but it doesn’t represent a threat to the ‘global banking industry’.

“M-Shwari is a new banking platform that allows subscribers of Kenya’s biggest mobile network, Safaricom, to operate savings accounts, earn interest on deposits, and borrow money using their mobile phones. It expands on Kenya’s revolutionary use of sending money by mobile phone — known as M-Pesa, “mobile money” in Swahili — launched in 2007 and now widely used across the east African nation, where some 70 percent of people have mobile phones.”

9.        London Calling: Cell phone carriers pile in to M2M

On the one hand, it’s probably encouraging that carriers are starting to take Machine to Machine communications seriously on the other hand it seems likely to me that the mobile frequencies are probably not the most suitable for this type of application. After all, mobile (even voice) is relatively broadband and isochronous while M2M is, for the most part, narrow band and asynchronous. Then there is the issue of wavelengths which go through walls, etc..

“There is a race going on and it looks set to be won by the mobile phone service operators. It is the race to market for machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things. However, in the long-term those services may well not be operated on existing cell phone frequencies.”

10.   Disruptions: Brain Computer Interfaces Inch Closer to Mainstream

While I can see the merit of the technology for disabled people, I am pretty skeptical regarding mainstream adoption of Brain Computer Interfaces. Let’s face it: the Internet has a lot of utility and can be a tremendous tool, but the average person is not exactly a very bright bulb. Perhaps flooding the average brain with sports scores and celebrity gossip is a business model but I just don’t see it.

“But don’t expect these gestures to be necessary for long. Soon, we might interact with our smartphones and computers simply by using our minds. In a couple of years, we could be turning on the lights at home just by thinking about it, or sending an e-mail from our smartphone without even pulling the device from our pocket. Farther into the future, your robot assistant will appear by your side with a glass of lemonade simply because it knows you are thirsty.”

11.   Simple Trick Turns Commercial Polymer Into World’s Toughest Fiber

This is pretty cool –and easy to understand. The problem, I guess, is weaving fabric with slip knots built in, but, then again, they can do some pretty remarkable things with looms. One thing worth noting regarding things like armor is that, while you might be able to stop penetration, the kinetic energy is still going to be there. In other words, while I wouldn’t want a hole from a 50 calibre BMG round through my chest, the kinetic energy would probably kill me just as dead.

“Today, Nicola Pugno at the University of Trento in Italy reveals a remarkably simple trick that dramatically increases the toughness of almost any kind of fibre. Indeed, Pugno says he has used the technique to create the world’s toughest fibre. The new idea is deceptively simple–it involves no more than tying a slip knot in the fibre, creating a loop of extra fibre that can passes through the knot as it comes under tension.”

12.   Robotic Fly Takes to the Air, Briefly

This is a pretty impressive first step however, the tricky bit is bound to be the power source.  As things get smaller and lighter, air seems more like a liquid than a gas, so, in many ways, flying gets easier. However, because of air currents, which are more or less random at that scale, navigation gets trickier. It kind of puts the accomplishment of a mosquito in context, doesn’t it?

“First there were drones, then there were quadcopters. Now there’s RoboBee, which really looks more like a fly. After more than a decade of work, engineers have built an insect-sized robot that can take off, fly back and forth, land, and take off again.”

13.   The online drug marketplace Silk Road is collapsing – did hackers, government or Bitcoin kill it?

A website favored by drug dealers and ne’er-do-wells and criminals which operates exclusively using a (likely) fraudulent currency is the victim of blackmail? Whatever next?

“At 6am this morning, I got an email from one of my sleazier contacts. It simply said “looks like Silk Road has collapsed”. I fired the Tor browser you need to connect to the site and, indeed, it wasn’t there. At the time of writing, it’s still not back up. A look around on assorted forums linked to Silk Road finds lots of panic and not many hard facts. What’s clear is that the site has been crippled by a series of denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which involve flooding the site with traffic.”

14.   Study: 45 percent of Bitcoin exchanges end up closing

Just when I figured Bitcoin itself is a massive fraud, I see two more business models: 1) set up an exchange and ‘fail’ taking the customer’s money with you and, even better 2) set up an exchange and have confederates ‘steal’ the customer’s Bitcoins. A bit like lending bank robbers the safe for the weekend, no?

“A study of the Bitcoin exchange industry has found that 45 percent of exchanges fail, taking their users’ money with them. Those that survive are the ones that handle the most traffic — but they are also the exchanges that suffer the greatest number of cyber attacks.”

15.   Toyota cuts cost of hydrogen-fuel cell cars

Of course prices have come down, if for no other reason that Fuel Cell Vehicles have been more or less hand-crafted. Companies have made significant advances in cost, reliability, and performance of fuel cells as well. However, my beef has never been with the fuel cells – it’s the hydrogen. Hydrogen is expensive to produce and difficult to transport. It has also been used in prodigious quantities in industry for decades so it’s not like there is much room for a breakthrough in that regard.

“The cost of making a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car has fallen so dramatically that the same vehicle that cost about $1 million in past year can now be made for as little as $50,000 when it goes on sale in the U.S. in 2015, a top Toyota engineer says.”

16.   A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage

If you think about it, more energy is going to go in to making some than you are ever going to get out of it by burning it. So, it’s a great thing to burn garbage (beats landfill), the energy output can only ever be a by-product and not a major source of grid electricity. I’m sure the folks in Napoli are delighted to sell their copious waste to the denizens of Oslo, and I can imagine it is the butt of a lot of jokes.

“Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.”

17.   Freaky Friday: Autonomous Tissue Grabbers Are On Their Way

This is pretty cool and a little scary – I have to believe ‘nanorobots’ nibbling away at your innards would make for a good science fiction story. Recovery is obviously an issue unless they are confined to external surfaces such as the digestive tract. Perhaps they could consider a self-destruct mechanism where the beasties dissolve after a while.

“Johns Hopkins engineers are testing out what they call “untethered microgrippers” as a better way to investigate hard-to-reach places. They have launched hundreds of these things, which look like miniature ninja throwing stars, inside the body of animal to retrieve tiny pieces of tissue for biopsies.”

18.   ‘Time Crystals’ Could Upend Physicists’ Theory of Time

I have no idea what this is about, however, it sounds potentially significant. I don’t think ‘perpetual motion’ in the context of the article means what it usually means but even then I am not sure. After all, electrons are in ‘perpetual motion’ around protons, but that doesn’t mean you can do much with that phenomenon.

“In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.”

19.   Hollywood Studios Fuming Over BitTorrent, Cinedigm ‘Deal With the Devil’

Hollywood moguls have never been the most ethical folks in the world, so I take some pleasure in their torment. However, BitTorrent is actually a very effective distribution system and I don’t really see why they should care how what amounts to an extended trailer actually gets distributed. For Cinedigm this looks like a brilliant move, unless, of course, studios exercise their influence over theaters to blackball the company as a punishment.

“Hollywood studios are furious that BitTorrent, synonymous in the movie industry with piracy, has partnered with independent studio Cinedigm to promote “Arthur Newman,” TheWrap has learned. “It’s a deal with the devil,” one studio executive told TheWrap. “Cinedigm is being used as their pawn.”

20.   What If We Never Run Out of Oil?

This is not exactly a technology story, but it is interesting nonetheless. Te idea of mining gas hydrates has been around for some time, but I think it is unlikely it will be exploited in the current ‘cheap gas’ environment. Obviously, countries such as Japan and Korea, which lack fossil fuels, are bound to drive adoption due to the high cost of LNG. I continue to expect the spread between oil and gas prices to collapse, but it sure does seem to be taking a while.

“As the great research ship Chikyu left Shimizu in January to mine the explosive ice beneath the Philippine Sea, chances are good that not one of the scientists aboard realized they might be closing the door on Winston Churchill’s world. Their lack of knowledge is unsurprising; beyond the ranks of petroleum-industry historians, Churchill’s outsize role in the history of energy is insufficiently appreciated.”

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 12th 2013

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of April 12th 2013


I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

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!

I blog at

Brian Piccioni

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1.        The end of Moore’s Law on the horizon, says AMD

He’s a great guy to listen to, but unfortunately, Kaku makes all kinds of pronouncements about things his has no particular expertise in. While there are physical limits on transistor size, Moore’s Law leaves room on other dimensions such as cost and performance. Plus, AMD has been enduring significant financial challenges since its ill-advised purchase of ATI, so they really aren’t the ‘go to’ guys when it comes to semiconductor technology. If Intel or Samsung or TI said this I’d start to worry.

“Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku believes Moore’s Law has about 10 years of life left before ever-shrinking transistor sizes smack up against limitations imposed by the laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics. That day of reckoning for the computing industry may still be a few years away, but signs of the coming Moorepocalypse are already here. Just ask chip maker AMD.”

2.        The PC market is a horror show right now

It’s almost like somebody predicted this ( Oh, wait – here’s one from 2007 ( written by some clown named Piccioni. Once upon a time, you know, equity research was more than writing about what just happened.

“We can pretty much stop arguing about whether the PC industry is deathly ill or not: the numbers speak for themselves, with its worst quarter since tracking began in 1994.”

3.        Is Android the new OS of the masses? Survey finds Galaxy phones simpler than iPhone

I have no horse in this race: I avoid Apple products like the plague, if for no other reason than Android is an open platform, so I have no experience with iPhones. What I find interesting is that this sort of article would have been anathema prior to the death of St. Jobs. In any event, this has potentially negative long term consequences for Microsoft and Intel: people used to Android (i.e. Linux) on their phones and tablets will not find it a large hill to climb to use in laptops or desktops.

“While Android has long been the leader in terms of smartphone operating system market share, pundits often claim that extensive vendor and carrier support are more responsible for Android’s proliferation than actual consumer desire. IOS, it is often said, is much simpler and more refined, and is therefore better suited for the mass market. There are certainly solid arguments to be made in both cases, but a new survey suggests that Android isn’t as complicated as many Apple (AAPL) pundits make it out to be.”

4.        Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle moan to EC about Google Android dominance

This is rather comical, if you think about it. Android (Linux) does not limit the sort of applications you can install on the devices as iOS does. Plus, probably because it is free, it has large market share, but nowhere near the share Microsoft has in the PC space. Besides showing themselves as erstwhile monopolists grappling with the novelty of competition, what do these firms expect to accomplish?

“A diverse group of companies including Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle, has filed a complaint with the European Commission about what it dubs Google’s “anti-competitive mobile strategy” of allowing free use of the Android platform.”

5.        IBM Wants To Bring Enterprise the Speed of Flash

As we predicted a number of years ago, Solid State Drives will destroy the Hard Disk industry. It will take a decade or more before they are completely gone (after all, digital tape drives still exist), but for Western Digital, Seagate, et als, the war is over. Over the near term, in an enterprise setting you can use SSDs for performance critical applications and HDDs for non-performance critical tasks, sort of like a large hybrid drive, with HDDs eventually displacing tapes.

“Flash’s economics and performance “are at a point where the technology can have a revolutionary impact on enterprises, especially for transaction-intensive applications,” said IBM’s Ambuj Goyal. For transaction-based processing, such as in banking, trading and telecom, IBM said flash can deliver as much as 90 percent reductions in time required.”

6.        Why Retina Displays and 4K TVs May Not Be Worth the Trouble

This is a pretty good summary of the challenges associated with higher resolution displays. Poor quality display of low resolution image can be tempered somewhat by image processing, however, the problem with any sensory (sight, hearing, etc.) system is that human have a limited range of capabilities. Therefore, there is a decreasing marginal utility associated with further improvements. Beyond a certain point, everything else is marketing.

“When Apple unveiled its Retina screen on the iPhone 4, the world gasped. “There has never been a more detailed, clear, or viewable screen,” read a review on the tech Web site Engadget. “Staring at that screen is addictive,” said Wired magazine.”

7.        LED Lights to Cut 60-Watt Bulb to Five Watts

LEDs are not only energy efficient they also last a long time. Most office buildings have guys who go around replacing florescent bulbs, just as municipalities have crews who go around replacing streetlamps. This ends up being quite expensive. A cost effective, energy efficient, fluorescent tube replacement would probably be adopted earlier by building owners than by consumers. It is interesting to note that Philips has a massive lighting business, which is mostly a replacement business, and inevitable LED adoption would have devastating consequences for the firm.

“Philips has cut the amount of power of its overhead LED tube light in half, a sign of continuing improvements in LED lighting geared at displacing incumbent technologies. The company says it has built a prototype of a tubular overhead LED light that produces 200 lumens of light with a watt of power. Its current products produce light at 100 lumens per watt, about the same as florescent tube lights. Even though the price of LEDs will be higher, Philips thinks that they can start to displace more of the florescent tube lights that are everywhere from office buildings to parking garages based on energy savings.”

8.        Shodan: The scariest search engine on the Internet

While the media has been excited over the use of Chinese networking gear in the telecommunications infrastructure and mission critical applications, Shodan has shown that a huge number of web accessible devices are completely insecure or trivially hacked. Good thing the bad guys don’t know about this.

“Shodan runs 24/7 and collects information on about 500 million connected devices and services each month. It’s stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot. Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.”

9.        Massive energy cost hidden in wireless cloud boom

If you want good science you really want to cite reports from an independent source like Greenpeace. I think it’s a good think these wealthy ‘neo-environmentalist’ organizations weren’t around when the steam engine was invented (i.e. the good old days) or when mail delivery began. It boils down to this: civilization and improved living standards are directly associated with the exploitation of energy sources.

“The report – “The Power of Wireless Cloud” – warns that industry has vastly underestimated energy consumption across the cloud ecosystem as more people access services using portable devices. The popularity of services like Google Apps, Office 365, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Facebook, Zoho cloud office suite, and many others delivered over wireless networks, is driving a massive surge in energy consumption.”

10.   Analysis – Rethinking the lithium-ion battery revolution over cost, safety

There is a rather odd consensus among electric car fans that we are in the midst of some sort of ‘battery revolution’. I suspect this is because they have never seen a battery factory (they are quaintly primitive). Physical chemistry does not changes that quickly, and Lithium Ion batteries are not likely to improve that much that fast (though there may be hope in nano-materials if anybody can ever figure out how to make them cost effectively. The major drawback with all current battery technologies is the fact they only last a certain number of charges before they need to be replaced.

“Experts are certain to point out red flags. Indeed, a growing number of engineers now say the lithium-ion battery revolution has stalled, undercut by high costs, technical complexity and safety concerns.”

11.   Tesla’s Model S Lease and Financing Program Expensive, Misleading

If one were a cynic, one might interpret the barrage of – uh – “not what they seem” press releases and PR stunts from Telsa an attempt to boost the stock price and distract investors (and potential buyers) away from the company’s problematic balance sheet. I, for one, am keen to see how negative Gross Margins can translate to (purported) profitability on increased sales volume. In any event, they need to raise $500M to $1B to keep the lights on, and they can’t do that without a high enough stock price.

“With the help of two banks, federal tax credits for EV purchases, and math that even Wall Street would find fishy, Tesla now has an official loan program for the electric Model S sedan. Company founder (and noted pugilist) Elon Musk announced the news himself earlier this week, calling the deal a “revolutionary new finance product,” enabling buyers to get a $79,995 Model S for just $500 per month. Apart from the misrepresentation of the monthly price, there’s little that’s revolutionary about the loan deal—including the presence of hidden costs. If, then, Tesla truly is the car company of the future, one might call the company’s new financing offer the three-card Monte of the future.”

12.   Do Wind Turbines Need a Rethink?

Despite the title, the article is decidedly ‘pro-wind’ and covers a number of emerging technologies. I remain skeptical about wind power for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its unpredictability and our inability to cost effectively and efficiently store large amounts of electric power. Nevertheless, I could be wrong.

“Okay, so wind power had a very good year in 2012. But that doesn’t mean that it’s gone mainstream. Hardly. It accounts for only 4 percent of the energy produced in the U.S. Plus, a big reason for the spike last year was that companies scrambled to finish projects before a federal tax credit expired at the end of December. (It was renewed as part of the end of the year tax deal, but only for one more year.)”

13.   Use for 3-D Printers: Creating Internal Blood Vessels for Kidneys, Livers, Other Large Organs

This sounds like an important breakthrough, however, other articles I have read suggest the major challenge with organ replication lies in the collagen “scaffold”. Perhaps some organs require this and others do not.

“A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come up with a sweet solution to the problem. Instead of printing an organ and its inner vessels all at once, they print a dissolvable sugar mold of the vessels and then build up the appropriate cells around the mold. Later, the mold is washed away, leaving behind the structurally sound passageways that are able to stand up to the varying blood pressure levels found in the body.”

14.   New Stem Cell Treatment Heals Arthritic Dogs

Assuming this story is accurate, it appears there is now an effective and inexpensive stem cell treatment for arthritis in dogs and other critters. Of course, this may not work on humans, and the introduction of stem cells may result in complications such as cancer, which may be a moot consideration for a 8 year old dog with a life expectancy of a few more years. Nonetheless, arthritis can be a terrible disease, especially for the elderly, so we can hope human clinic trial progress well. Above all, this demonstrates why there are no dog lawyers to sue over veterinary malpractice.

“Perry gave the dogs all sorts of medications, but nothing worked, and he knew such medications could result in kidney and liver damage. The dogs’ suffering became so great, Perry considered putting the pets down. But late last year he heard about a veterinarian in his area who performed stem cell therapy on dogs to regenerate and repair their joints and figured it was worth a try.”

15.   Robot hot among surgeons but FDA taking fresh look

A surgeon once explained to me that there were two major variables which governed the outcome of surgery: the surgeon’s skill and the patient’s capacity to heal. The procedure he was performing (Lasik) was significantly computer controlled and thereby less reliant on his skill. The same could be said for ‘robotic surgery’ – things are going to go wrong, surgeons are going to make mistakes, and equipment will malfunction. The question becomes “is there a net benefit?”

“The biggest thing in operating rooms these days is a million-dollar, multi-armed robot named da Vinci, used in nearly 400,000 surgeries nationwide last year — triple the number just four years earlier. But now the high-tech helper is under scrutiny over reports of problems, including several deaths that may be linked with it, and the high cost of using the robotic system.”

16.   Untappable Apple or DEA Disinformation?

You may recall the “leak” of a DEA document which purported to claim that Apple’s iMessage services was so secure it was out of reach of law enforcement. I suggested that this was most likely disinformation by the DEA. QED.

“Tech news site CNET has an interesting, but I suspect somewhat misleading, story today suggesting that text messages sent via Apple’s iMessage service—an Internet-based alternative to traditional cell phone SMS text messages—are “impossible to intercept” by law enforcement. Yet that is not quite what the document on which the story is based—an “intelligence note” distributed to law enforcement by the Drug Enfrocement Administration—actually says.”

17.   Is Someone Recording This? It’s Harder to Find Out

I guess if you are making a movie about the mob, or espionage, or whatever, you need to build drama by hiding a ‘wire’ on the snitch with some probability the bad guys will find it. It has been a long time since recording devices have to be bigger than a button – even video cameras can be relatively easily concealed. Reality caught up with James Bond over 10 years ago.

“In the old days, they would say, ‘Let me pat you down for a wire’ and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, ‘I’m not wearing a wire,’ ” a retired undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Joaquin Garcia, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It’s become extinct. It’s all gone digital. But what are you going to say, ‘I’m wearing digital,’ instead of ‘I’m wearing a wire’? It’s just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”

18.   ‘Dark Lightning’ Zaps Airline Passengers with Radiation”

This is rather odd – I’m surprised the gamma radiation does not affect avionics. In any event the only solution I can see is lead airplanes.

“Dark lightning” that is almost invisible within clouds may regularly blast airline passengers with large numbers of gamma rays, scientists find. However, these outbursts do not seem to reach truly dangerous levels, researchers added.”

19.   Fool’s Gold

Media coverage of Bitcoin ramped considerably over the past week, which is unfortunate because an important part of any bubble is stoking interest in it. As is to be expected, the media relies on ‘experts’ which, in this case, appears to have been mostly loonie Libertarians predicting the end of paper money, with the occasional befuddled economist as counterpoint. I think ‘Ponzi Scheme’ is overused, and in any event, describes a specific type of fraud, which is not what Bitcoin is. Think of it this way: this in an unregulated market with no oversight, rather like buying gold bars sight unseen from a Nigerian ‘prince’. The probability of fraud is approximately 100%.

“Bitcoin is a fantasy. The Internet’s currency—a secure, private, decentralized type of money that makes possible anonymous and virtually costless transactions across borders—contains the seeds of its own destruction. More than anything else, it resembles a Ponzi scheme—and the wild claims made on its behalf reveal a great deal about a libertarian strain of thinking with deep roots in the American psyche.”

20.   Self driving cars and robot truck platoons could start to appear for commercial use by 2018

I was the victim of an April Fool’s joke when I wrote about drone mail delivery in last weeks’ Geeks’ Reading List. Sorry about that – I thought I had weeded the silly out but they got me, probably because I believe we will likely have drone (robotic) delivery within the next 20 years or so provided the tort lawyers can be held at bay. As this article suggests, highway travel by self-driving trucks has its benefits and is inevitable.

In February this year, a line-up of four large trucks circled an oval test track in Tsukuba City, Japan to help get so-called “truck platooning” technology ready for real-world use. This technology aims to create semi-autonomous road trains, where convoys of vehicles enter a snaking train of vehicles under the command of the lead vehicle. The drivers of the “drones” are then free to do whatever they like – read a book, take a nap or just sit. When they are ready to leave, the driver takes back control and exits the train. In theory the technology offers several benefits, such as cutting down on accidents and improving fuel efficiency.”