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The Geek’s Reading List: Week of January 2nd, 2015

Another blindingly slow week in tech. Most articles were “best of” and other filler. Nothing of any significance or importance seemed to be announced.

Next week should be a bit better as many announcements are timed to coincide with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, whether those are CES related or not.

Connected life’ at the heart of CES electronics show

Internet of Things (IoT) may be the hottest topic in tech right now but I don’t buy into the idea it is what people think it is. Yes, there are all kinds of connected products being announced but most represent a solution in search of a problem. Besides inter-connectivity and a lack of standards, the cost/benefit analysis appears to be missing most of the benefit bits. It remains to be seen whether the average consumer is capable of setting these things up, or if CE firms can deal with the myriad of issues associated with wonky router set ups, etc.. And then there is the fact most such products use a cloud service, meaning the functionality will be present only up to the point where it will be actively supported.

“In the air, in your car, on your back—new technology at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show is showcasing the growing number of ways to live the “connected life.” The so-called “Internet of Things” is leading to a wider range of wearable tech, from sports shirts to smart watches to sleep monitors to connected refrigerators. The vast 2015 International CES, one of the world’s biggest electronics fairs to be held in Las Vegas January 6-9, shows how technology is permeating virtually all sectors of life—from entertainment to automobiles to kitchen appliances, in sectors including health, fashion and sports. “The ‘Internet of Things’ is the hottest topic in tech right now,” said Karen Chupka of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the annual event.”

Police suspect fraud took most of Mt. Gox’s missing bitcoins

File this under “no sh*t Sherlock.” (Some email servers bounce swear words. Sorry). I could, and did, say as much when the first Bitcoin hacks were announced. The less regulated a financial structure, the higher the probability of fraud and, therefore, an unregulated financial structure has a near 100% probability of fraud. Not only that, but there has never been a successful prosecution of theft or fraud of a virtual currency, so “stealing” Bitcoin isn’t even illegal, making it the perfect crime. It is even hard to pity the victims.

“Nearly all of the roughly US$370 million in bitcoin that disappeared in the February 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox probably vanished due to fraudulent transactions, with only 1 percent taken by hackers, according to a report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing sources close to a Tokyo police probe. Of the 650,000 bitcoins unaccounted for — worth about US$208 million today — only about 7,000 appear to have been purloined by hackers, the newspaper reported on New Year’s Day, adding that investigators have yet to identify who was responsible.”

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Grocery delivery start-up Instacart raises $210 million from investors

If you have any doubts as to whether we are in Dot Com Bubble 2.0, the fact that anybody, let alone purported “experts” would invest in a grocery delivery business, no matter what the valuation, should put those to rest. Of course, the hope among the venture capitalists is not that this rather stupid and well worn business model would make money, but that they can IPO the pig and cash in before the music stops. Stories such as these help build legitimacy to banal ideas, as they did last go around. The public markets haven’t really gone parabolic yet, but when they do you can start the countdown clock to implosion.

“Venture capital funding is pouring into the space. More than $1.6 billion was invested last year into food-related tech companies, up 33% from $1.2 billion in 2012, according to a report by consulting firm Rosenheim Advisors. Instacart shoppers browse online and pick out groceries at supermarkets that have partnered with Instacart. Once an order is placed, Instacart dispatches a “personal shopper” who will polish off the list and then deliver the bags to a buyer’s doorstep.”

How Tesla Boosted Its Roadster’s Range by 50 Percent

Even the Tesla news this week wasn’t significant. My read on this is simple: the last Roadster was made in 2011, suggesting the average age of the fleet if probably around 5 years. Over the next 3 years an increasing number of Roadster owners are going to lean a cold reality of EVs: battery packs are staggeringly expensive and don’t last long. Therefore a cynic might conclude this is simply an effort to mask that problem. I would not be surprised if the “upgrade” is heavily subsidized by the company because the looming PR disaster would have a greater impact on Model S sales than the subsidy would cost. Of course, having to replace the drive system in every vehicle sold in Norway hasn’t impinged upon the company’s somewhat undeserved reputation for quality, so why worry?

“Part of the Roadster’s range boost will come from using tires with less rolling resistance and from making modifications to the car’s body that improve its aerodynamics. But the biggest improvement comes from increasing the energy density of the battery pack. Each pack contains thousands of cylindrical battery cells that look similar to AA batteries. “Cell technology has improved substantially” since Tesla designed the Roadster, the company said in its announcement. For the upgrade it will replace the original cells with new ones that store 31 percent more energy.”

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