Start up: Dell, the movie!, Surfacebook reviewed, why WD bought SanDisk, IT disasters sized, and more


Studying by the light of a solar lantern. Photo by Barefoot Photography on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Theranos CEO: company is in a “pause period” » WSJ

John Carreyrou:

Theranos Inc. founder and Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes said Wednesday that the Silicon Valley laboratory company is in a “pause period” as it seeks to get its proprietary technology approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We have to move, as a company, from the lab framework and quality systems to the FDA framework and quality systems,” Ms. Holmes said, speaking at the WSJDLive global technology conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

At the conference, she confirmed that the company is down to offering just one test using a few drops of blood and is performing the other more than 240 blood tests it offers by using larger blood samples drawn with needles from patients’ arms.

The downslope beckons.
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Microsoft Surface Book review » SlashGear

Chris Davies:

I’m warily wiling to put most of the flakiness down to early hardware and work-in-progress drivers, but it’s clear that the practicalities of this new architecture are still being ironed out. In theory, the Clipboard shouldn’t allow itself to be detached if it’ll make the system unstable; in practice, that’s not always the case.

Throw in underwhelming battery life for the Clipboard alone, and it’s clear that thinking of the Surface Book as both a laptop and a tablet isn’t really accurate. This isn’t a replacement for your MacBook Pro and your iPad; it’s a PC that tells you to take an hour or so of downtime with a Netflix video before getting back to work. I can’t help but hope that Microsoft uses the same hybrid mechanism in a smaller form-factor, with more of a focus on equal battery life between the halves.

For all the launch day excitement it caused, Surface Book will inevitably be a niche product. As the standard bearer for a new architecture of modular graphics, though, it may be in Microsoft’s better interests in the long run if, Nexus-style, other OEMs see what’s been done and experiment with the same approach themselves.

So not quite a laptop or tablet replacement.
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Chip merger pace rises with Western Digital, Lam deals » Bloomberg Business

The merger wave sweeping the computer-chip industry is now engulfing the makers of the machines needed to crank out semiconductors.

Lam Research Corp. said Wednesday that it would buy KLA-Tencor Corp. for $10.6bn in cash and stock. Within four hours, Western Digital Corp. announced a deal to acquire SanDisk Corp. for about $19bn. The pacts added to what was already a record year for chip deals – a total of $76bn before Wednesday.

With half of the spending on the manufacturing equipment coming from just three chipmakers – Samsung Electronics Co., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Intel Corp. – suppliers of the gear need to pool resources to keep up with the increasing pace of spending on research and development.

Consolidation is a sign of shrinking profit too. WD is struggling because the disk business is shrinking; the NAND business (where SanDisk) is growing, but getting tougher. Next question: whither Seagate?
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Forget “Steve Jobs,” get ready for “Michael Dell” » CONAN on TBS

From my book Digital Wars:

[Bob] Ohlweiler [then at Windows MP3 player MusicMatch] recalls seeing the prototype for the third-generation iPod during a discussion with Apple executives. Steve Jobs made an appearance – “he would kind of drift in and say ‘this is shit’, and walk out,” Ohlweiler recalls. “Or he would say ‘this is far too big. It’s too bulky.’ Then he’d walk out.” (The picture that emerges is of Jobs prowling the corridors of Apple, caroming between meetings in which he offers minimal but essential advice and then moves on to the next one.)…

A month or so later Ohlweiler was at the headquarters of Dell Computer in Austin, Texas. Dell was eager to get into this burgeoning market, reasoning that it could use Microsoft’s software, design its own hardware (as it did with PCs) and use its buying heft to drive down costs to undercut Apple. Dell’s revenues at the time were six times larger than Apple’s. It was going to be easy. The market was there for the taking.

Or perhaps not. Ohlweiler recalls being handed a prototype for the Dell DJ player, which like the iPod used a 1.8in hard drive. “Jeez, this thing is HUGE!” he thought, but managed not to say.

It was noticeably deeper than Apple’s existing iPod, and substantially more so than the forthcoming iPod… Dell had done its part of the horizontal model: it had driven down costs by dual-sourcing components from Hitachi and from Toshiba. The result, though, was a bulkier machine: “one of the Dell designers explained that that was because the Toshiba version of the hard drive had its connector on the side, and the Hitachi one had it on the bottom, but because they were dual-sourcing they could get the price down by 40 cents,” Ohlweiler recalls. “That was the difference in a nutshell. Apple was all about the industrial design and getting it to work. Dell was all driven by their procurement guys.”

Sometimes satire is about telling the truth in a new way.
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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on self-driving cars » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

In the last year, Uber has poached more than 40 autonomous vehicle experts from the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as top car security researchers. 

This move comes at a time when the likes of Google, Apple, and Tesla are all working on some sort of autonomous-driving projects. Kalanick says he believes Google to be the farthest ahead, but that we’re still a while away from seeing any company’s self-driving cars on the roads.

“Getting Google’s cars to a 90% solution is going to happen soon,” he said, but he asks, “when do they get to that 99.99% success level?” By his count, it could be five, 10, even 15 years. 

“It’s going to be interesting, ultimately, to see how cities handle these disruption waves, which are going to be coming faster and faster,” he said. “Some cities are going to allow it, and then they’re going to be the bastion of the future, and the other cities are going to look like they’re in the middle ages.”

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The truth and distraction of US cord cutting » REDEF

Liam Boluk:

During the past five and a half years, the cable ecosystem has been hit with heavy losses. Nearly 8.9M net subscribers have been lost (versus 3.3M in net gains from Q3 2004 to Q4 2009) – a fact obsessed upon by journalists and bloggers alike. But at the same time – and with significantly less media coverage – Satellite (DirecTV and Dish) and Telco (i.e. AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS) MVPDs have surged to the point of offsetting (or reclaiming) nearly 95% of these net losses.

Looks to me like people are moving away from the standard set of cable offerings. “Gradually, and then suddenly” is how it works.
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How solar lanterns are giving power to the people » National Geographic magazine

Michael Edison Hayden:

Prashant Mandal flips on a candy-bar-sized LED light in the hut he shares with his wife and four children. Instantly hues of canary yellow and ocean blue—reflecting off the plastic tarps that serve as the family’s roof and walls—fill the cramped space where they sleep. Mandal, a wiry 42-year-old with a thick black beard and a lazy eye, gestures with a long finger across his possessions: a torn page from a dated Hindu calendar, a set of tin plates, a wooden box used as a chair. He shuts down the solar unit that powers the light and unplugs it piece by piece, then carries it to a tent some 20 yards away, where he works as a chai wallah, selling sweet, milky tea to travelers on the desolate road in Madhotanda, a forested town near the northern border of India.

“My life is sad, but I have my mind to help me through it,” Mandal says, tapping the fraying cloth of his orange turban. “And this solar light helps me to keep my business open at night.”

It’s white LED lights that have made this possible; 40W solar panel feeds them for a long time.
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Semantic sensors » Pete Warden’s blog

Pete Warden (you know, the machine learning bought-by-Google guy):

I think we’re going to see a lot of “Semantic Sensors” emerging. These will be tiny, cheap, all-in-one modules that capture raw noisy data from the real world, have built-in AI for analysis, and only output a few high-level signals. Imagine a small optical sensor that is wired like a switch, but turns on when it sees someone wave up, and off when they wave down. Here are some other concrete examples of what I think they might enable:

• Meeting room lights that stay on when there’s a person sitting there, even if the conference call has paralyzed them into immobility.
• Gestural interfaces on anything with a switch.
• Parking meters that can tell if there’s a car in their spot, and automatically charge based on the license plate.
• Cat-flaps that only let in cats, not raccoons!
• Farm gates that spot sick or injured animals.
• Streetlights that dim themselves when nobody’s around, and even report car crashes or house fires.

And lots more. The only questions are how soon, and would we throw away the images or keep them?
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Rumor: AMD making custom x86 SOC for Apple’s 2017 and 2018 iMac designs » WCCFTech

Khalid Moammer:

At the 2017-2018 timeframe AMD will have two high performance CPU cores, an ARM based design code named K12 and a second generation Zen “Zen+” x86 design. However the report explains that as the x86 ISA is a necessity in the high-end desktop and prosumer level Apple products a Zen based design is most likely.

In addition to driving cost significantly down for Apple, another high-profile design win for AMD would serve as viability booster for the company’s semi-custom business following its success in the consoles. Both companies have entered a long-standing partnership, with AMD providing the graphics chips for the current iMac and Mac Pro designs.

A semi-custom SOC x86 for the iMac would have to include a high performance x86 component, namely Zen, in addition to a graphics engine to drive the visual experience of the device. Such a design would be very similar to the current semi-custom Playstation 4 and XBOX ONE Accelerated Processing Units, combining x86 CPU cores with a highly capable integrated graphics solution.

Filed under “far enough away that it could even happen”. Chip fab lead times are very long, though, which could make this a reasonable timeframe.
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The staggering impact of IT systems gone wrong » IEEE Spectrum

We’ve scoured our archives to create a rogues’ gallery of the most notable, interesting, and emblematic failures from the past decade. We’ve included a diverse assortment of failures, which means there’s no single metric for measuring their impact. Some, like failed IT system upgrades or modernization projects, have straightforward financial consequences. Others, like operational outages and disruptions, are better measured by the time wasted and the number of people affected.

Keep in mind that the failures below are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of incidents we’ve covered in Risk Factor, and an even smaller fraction of the global total. A complete list would be several orders of magnitude larger.

The UK comes out top for the NHS IT writeoff! Hooray! No, wait. (Via Matt Ballantine.)
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