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The Geek’s Reading List: Week of December 12th 2014

Piccioni: “As long as there is slack jawed, fawning praise for Tesla – as well as huge amounts of money from taxpayers and investors, the dream persists.”There were good mix of tech news items this week, again with no dominant theme. As has become customary, Tesla executives made some outlandish comments about revolutionizing the battery industry, much like hydrogen fuel cell promoters did a decade ago. History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

Tesla’s electric man
Hubris, surely thine name must be Tesla – and even the Economist’s IQ drops 50 points when the word energy enters a story. Here we have a guy with no mass production experience in his resume, who works at a company which does not manufacture batteries, nor does it manufacture large volumes of anything (and the thing it does mention has a poor record of reliability) explaining how mass production of batteries will work. Actual battery experts, some of whom work in the Consumer Electronics industry (which produces massive volumes) be to differ. As long as there is slack jawed, fawning praise for Tesla – as well as huge amounts of money from taxpayers and investors, the dream persists. Reality eventually wins regardless.

“The idea is that, benefiting from economies of scale, the gigafactory’s cells will be significantly cheaper than those from more established manufacturers. “Over the next ten years, it’s going to change to the point where we’re focused on production to meet the world’s energy-storage needs rather than waiting for a cost reduction from a radical change in battery technology,” says Mr Straubel. Not everyone agrees. A report by Lux Research, a firm of technology analysts, has predicted that the gigafactory will bring about only a modest cut in battery costs and suffer more than 50% overcapacity. “Most other companies do not believe that battery volume will grow as fast as it’s going to,” Mr Straubel counters. “They don’t understand the tight linkage between cost and volume. We’re at this crossing-point where a small reduction in cost is going to result in a ridiculously big increase in volume, because the auto industry is so big.”

BC Transit’s $90M hydrogen bus fleet to be sold off, converted to diesel
This was intended to be a “green energy” project for the Vancouver Olympics, and it truly was if the green in “green energy” meant money. I recall reading that the hydrogen was imported from Quebec where it was produced with “renewable energy”, however, I would wager the diesel burnt in transportation more than offset whatever purported environmental benefit which might have resulted. In other words, more likely, this program did more damage to the environment than just using diesel would have. The problem with fuel cells has always been, and will always be, hydrogen, not fuel cells.

“Hydrogen buses that were once lauded as the future of clean transportation in B.C. are being replaced by old-fashioned diesel power. The 20 vehicles were part of a high profile, $90-million plan to showcase hydrogen power during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler. BC Transit is now taking bids on the buses and will either sell them off or have them converted to use diesel or other fuel. They have been in storage for several months and each has roughly 200,000 kilometres on the odometer.”


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Turns Out the Dot-Com Bust’s Worst Flops Were Actually Fantastic Ideas
This is what happens with a tech journalist tries to wrap his mind around basic business. You see, a good business is one which makes money and those flops did not, and for the most part do not. Furthermore, with few exceptions, web based businesses have few barriers to entry meaning (and this is basic business here) in the unlikely event they did make money, new entrants would drive the profitability down to minimal levels. In other words, even the Uber business model can easily be replicated as can grocery delivery, online cat food, or whatever. Some such businesses can persist as a niche, and the Internet is a wonderful resource for small businesses. But, for the most part, those were still stupid ideas.

“If you had to pick one really annoying sock puppet to represent the imploded excesses of the dot-com boom, it would be the microphone-wielding mascot of online pet food retailer For a few months back in the late 1990s, he was everywhere—the Super Bowl, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee—and then he was gone, sucked into a black hole of dot-com debt. But the bust was so big and so widespread, there are so many deliciously ideal symbols for this dark time in the history of the internet, a period when irrational exuberance trumped sound business decisions. Fifteen years on, people—particularly people in Silicon Valley—still talk about these epic failures. In addition to, there was WebVan,, and Flooz.”

The Rise of AdBlock Reveals A Serious Problem in the Advertising Ecosystem
I don’t know enough about French law to hazard a guess as to whether they have a case or not, but this is silly to the point of absurdity. Sites are loaded up with annoying, distracting, bandwidth sucking advertisements and it is hard to make a case that users should be forced to look at them. If so, what about people who throw out the sports or travel section of the newspaper. Even if, somehow, this effort is successful an open source Adlock alternative would promptly emerge. One thing of note: you can disable “Acceptable Ads” in AdBlock. I do and I see no ads. And I don’t feel guilty about it. Sue me.

“On grounds that it represents a major economic threat to their business, two groups of French publishers are considering a lawsuit against AdBlockPlus creator Eyeo GmbH. (Les Echos, broke the news in this story, in French). Plaintiffs are said to be the GESTE and the French Internet Advertising Bureau. The first is known for its aggressive stance against Google via its contribution to the Open Internet Project. (To be clear, GESTE said they were at a “legal consulting stage”, no formal complaint has been filed yet.) By his actions, the second plaintiff, the French branch of the Internet Advertising Bureau is in fact acknowledging its failure to tame the excesses of the digital advertising market.”

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