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The Geek’s Reading List: Week of February 13th, 2015

This was a very slow week for tech news – indeed it was a struggle to find enough articles this week, let alone find good ones. There was no theme and really nothing of significance happened in technology. Nonetheless, we managed to find a number of articles covering batteries, smartphone market share, science, and medicine.

Why We Don’t Have Battery Breakthroughs

This is more or less a book review, however, it would seem to me that investors interested in the space would do well buy studying spectacular flame outs like Envia and A123. One caveat would be to treat the comments about cost improvements to the Tesla battery pack with a very large grain of salt, in particular because people are prone to extrapolate from this. The real mystery regarding battery breakthroughs is how many get vast amounts of funding despite a history of failure in the industry. It would be far more reasonable to throw large amounts of money scaling up production of a technology only after it has been proven, not while there are a few (inevitably fatal) details to work out.

“LeVine describes what went wrong. In 2006 Envia had licensed a promising material developed by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory. Subsequently, a major problem was discovered. The problem—which one battery company executive called a “doom factor”—was that over time, the voltage at which the battery operated changed in ways that made it unusable. Argonne researchers investigated the problem and found no ready answer. They didn’t understand the basic chemistry and physics of the material well enough to grasp precisely what was going wrong, let alone fix it, LeVine writes.”

4Q 2014 Smartphone OS Results: Android Smartphone Shipments Fall for the First Time

This article caused some degree of hysteria in Apple fanboy ranks, including such deep thinking as this article from Business Insider (Apple is now an existential threat to Android ). As a general rule, I suggest that extrapolation from a single data point is unwise, especially when that single data point refers to a single point in time and is obtained from industry research, which is in general utterly unreliable. Furthermore, Apple release iPhone 6 in the period and the accompanying boost in sales is more or less predictable. Apple’s strategy thus far has been to offer a premium priced product but the market is headed steadily down in price. Thus company has been fortunate in that, despite becoming an industry follower, its customer base places a high value on the brand and seem reticent to migrate to other platforms. Time will tell if this is a sustainable position.

“ABI Research reports that certified Android smartphone shipments fell quarter-on-quarter for the first time in 4Q 2014. In what is traditionally a shipment spike quarter, certified Android shipments fell from 217 million in 3Q 2014 to 206 million in 4Q 2014, mainly due to Apple iOS’ 90% growth from 39.3 million to 74.5 million iPhones shipped, but also due to forked Android. “Google’s Android is being attacked by Apple’s iOS at the high end and forked Android and AOSP at the low end in high growth emerging markets. The Android One initiative has slowed forked Android and AOSP growth outside China, but Apple’s success has taken the high end of the market away from certified Android’s premium tier vendors,” said Nick Spencer, Senior Practice Director, Mobile Devices, ABI Research.”


This article is an excerpt. You can subscribe to the full version of The Geek’s Reading List here.


Interstellar Travel Not Possible Before 2200AD, Suggests Study

All of my grandparents were born in an era when heavier than air flight was impossible and yet they watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Of course, interstellar travel is not trivial: besides the challenges imposed by distance and relativity, you have to deal with things like hitting a speck of dust at relativistic speeds (the kinetic energy released is similar to a small atomic bomb). Perhaps humanity will remain forever tethered to our solar system, however, as the pace of scientific progress continues to accelerate, these sorts of predictions are best not taken seriously.

“The big problem, of course, is distance. In the past, scientists have studied various factors that limit our ability to traverse the required lightyears. One is the speed necessary to travel that far, another is the cost of such a trip. By looking at the rate at which our top speed and financial clout are increasing, and then extrapolating into the future, it’s possible to predict when such missions might be possible. The depressing answer in every study so far is that interstellar travel is centuries away. Today, Millis takes a different approach. He looks at the energy budget of interstellar missions. By looking at the rate at which humanity is increasing the energy it has available and extrapolating into the future, Millis is able to estimate when we will have enough to get to the stars.”

HBI researchers find new therapy dramatically benefits stroke patients

Incredibly, this finding only got a minute or so of coverage on the news. Unfortunately, the article leaves out a few details such as the difficulty in doing the procedure – it is probably similar to coronary stent placement, which is routine. The dramatic improvement in outcome and reduction in mortality is very encouraging.

“Overall, positive outcomes for patients increased from 30 per cent to 55 per cent. In many cases, instead of suffering major neurological disability, patients went home to resume their lives. The overall mortality rate was reduced from two in 10 patients for standard treatment of care to one in 10 patients – a 50 per cent reduction with ET. “This is the most significant and fundamental change in acute ischemic stroke treatment in the last 20 years. These results will impact stroke care around the world,” says Dr. Michael Hill, the senior author of the study, professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s departments of clinical neurosciences, and radiology and a neurologist with the Calgary Stroke Program of Alberta Health Services (AHS).”

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