Category Archives: technology

Questioning the rosy predictions about the transition to autonomous electric vehicles

The Stanford economist Tony Seba and tech investor James Arbib just released a report entitled “Rethinking Transportation,” which makes an number of predictions about the impact that autonomous electric vehicles will have on the demand for vehicles and petroleum. Many of these predictions are based on faulty assumptions about human behavior and a misunderstanding of the auto supply chain.
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How the cut in YouTube ad revenue is effecting online news channels

In recent weeks, Google has cut the ads for many news sites on YouTube because a few of its ads happened to be shown on channels for racist and hate groups and advocates for terrorism. The Wall Street Journal has run a series of sensational articles about how advertising on YouTube was helping to fund hate and terrorism, which has caused a number of high profile advertisers to pull their funding from YouTube in recent days such as Walmart, Pepsi, Starbucks, MacDonalds, Disney, AT&T and Verizon. Analysts estimate that YouTube may loose $750 million in revenues due to the controversy, out of a total of $10.2 billion in expected annual revenue. Some of these companies may be pulling their ads from YouTube in an effort to secure better advertising deals on more favorable terms, but they also may be spooked by the potential public relations scandal of advertising on offensive YouTube videos. The mainstream media also may be hyping the controversy partly because it helps redirect advertising funds toward the traditional media, rather than the new online formats like Google and Facebook.
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The growing trend toward compiled languages

When I first learned programming in the mid 90s, everyone told me to learn Java, since it would be the wave of the future. Java imposes a performance penalty compared to traditional compiled languages like C, C++, Fortran and Pascal, because its code is translated into bytecode that runs in a virtual machine. The feeling at the time was that the extra processing and memory required to run the Java virtual machine would make little difference in the long run since computers were forever getting faster and more powerful. A few more iterations of Moore’s Law would obviate the need for compiled languages, since the difference in speed would soon be imperceptible to most humans.

Java was considered the best language, because it was designed to “write once, run anywhere,” which seemed wise considering how the world was moving from minicomputers with terminals to networked personal computers (PCs). When I first arrived at university, the entire campus ran on VAX terminals, although some students brought their own PCs to use in their dorm rooms. By the time I graduated 4 years later, almost the entire campus had switched to networked PCs. I had a job staffing the college computer lab and I fondly recall the excitement on campus when PCs replaced the monochrome VAX terminals with their pea green screens. There was a raging debate at the time whether PCs should use an operating system from Microsoft or Apple. My friends in the computer lab predicted with all the confidence of sages that Java was the future since it could be used to create desktop applications that would run in Windows 95, Mac OS 7 or even Solaris. Everyone knew at the time that desktop applications running on PCs was the future of computing and we all wanted our software to be able to escape the clutches of Microsoft, who was the geek’s great Satan.
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A preliminary review of the Rust programming language

The Mozilla Foundation has been developing an exciting new programming language named Rust, that is designed to be a low-level language capable of matching the performance of C/C++, but with the safety of Java, the concurrency of Go, and many of the modern features of high-level languages like Erlang, Haskell, and OCaml. After reading the documentation and playing with bits of the language, I find myself struggling with some of the concepts of the language. Continue reading

Global Production of Electronic Devices, 2006-2015

Smartphones have utterly transformed the electronics industry. Over the last decade, smartphones have replaced or dampened the demand for most other types of ICT or media electronics. As the CPUs, GPUs, digital signal processors and sensors in smartphones have grown more powerful and their screen sizes have expanded, they have incorporated much of the functionality of other types of electronics. A plethora of electronic devices have been incorporated into one handy device, so it is no longer necessary to buy a separate cellular phone, music player, video player, camera, camcorder, voice recorder, GPS navigation device, personal digital assistant, electronic dictionary, handheld gaming console, wristwatch, transistor radio, alarm, pager, etc.

IDC predicts that global production of smartphones will grow to 1.52 billion devices in 2016, or one for every five people on the planet. Smartphones now outsell every other type of electronic device on the planet, including the 1.2 billion wristwatches sold every year. In the year 2015, 3 smartphones were produced for every feature phone, 13 for every desktop PC, 9 for every notebook PC, 7 for every tablet, 40 for every camera, 77 for every camcorder, 27 for every portable media player and 150 for every handheld gaming console.

The advent of the smartphone has obviated the need for whole classes of devices, such as MP3 players, personal digital assistants and electronic dictionaries, and has turned other devices such as digital cameras, camcorders into niche devices, that focus on specialty markets. Since yesterday’s point-and-shoot camera is incorporated into every smartphone, most digital cameras sold today are high-end devices with a better optical zoom or a replaceable lenses. Likewise, camcorder sales are now mostly relegated to professional models with a bigger lens and better optical zoom than can be incorporated on a smartphone. Most of the growth in camcorder sales in recent years has come from body-cams which are smaller and lighter than smartphones and are designed to capture action video.

Global Production of Electronic Devices (millions of units shipped)
Year Smartphones Feature phones Desktop PCs & x86 servers Notebook PCs Tablets & 2-in-1 hybrids Wearables TVs Cameras Camcorders Peripheral printers Portable media players Handheld gaming consoles TV gaming consoles
2006 80.2 910.7 138.3 82.4 190.9 79.0 176.3 37.4 31.2
2007 122.3 1030.5 161.1 108.0 207.5 100.4 17.8† 200.1 44.0 50.6
2008 139.3 1083.0 152.8 142.4 119.8 18.5 127.1 45.7 58.9
2009 172.4 1038.9 127.1 169.0 225.9† 105.9 111.7 118.5‡ 37.1 49.2
2010 298.8 1298.0 145.8 201.2 19.4 252.1† 121.5 23.2 125.1 110.6‡ 30.5 44.9
2011 471.7 1304.0 155.0 209.5 69.6 254.6 115.5 21.1 126.0 97.6‡ 26.5 41.5
2012 674.9 1071.3 148.3 201.0 128.3 238.5 98.1 16.0 113.5 75.8‡ 24.2 31.8
2013 967.8 839.2 136.7 178.4 219.9 225.1 62.8 14.1 111.7 59.7‡ 18.7 26.0
2014 1244.7 634.3 133.9 174.3 229.7 28.8 235.4† 43.4 15.6 110.5 51.8‡ 11.4 32.5
2015 1421.7 488.3 113.6 163.1 206.8 78.1 226.0 35.4 18.4§ 103.2 9.5 31.6
Compound Annual Growth Rates
2006-15 37.6% -6.7% -2.2% 7.9% 1.9% -8.5% -14.2% 0.2%
2010-15 36.6% -17.8% -4.9% -4.1% 60.5% -2.2% -21.9% -4.5% -3.8% -20.8% -6.8%
2014-15 14.2% -23.0% -15.1% -6.4% -10.0% 171.2% -4.0% -18.5% 17.9% -6.6% -17.1% -2.7%
§ Estimated. † Calculated from reported annual growth rate. ‡ Based on counted pixels in published graph.
Notes: Handheld gaming consoles includes Nintendo GameBoy Advance, DS and 3DS and Sony PlayStation Portable and Vita. TV gaming consoles includes Nintendo GameCube, Wii & Wii U, Microsoft Xbox 360 & Xbox One, and Sony PlayStation 2-4. Peripheral printers are connected to a computer.
Sources: Gartner (phones); IDC (PCs, tablets, wearables, peripheral printers, portable media players in 2006-7); IHS iSuppli (TVs); CIPA (cameras); DT Consulting (camcorders in 2007-8); Frost & Sullivan (camcorders in 2010-15); Statista.com (portable media players in 2009-14, Sony & Microsoft gaming consoles in 2008-15); Nintendo (gaming consoles in 2006-15); Sony (Playstation 2 & Playstation Portable in 2006-7); Microsoft (Xbox 360 in 2006-7).

The evolution in smartphone functionality can be measured by when demand for other types of devices has peaked. Global production of PDAs (including handheld computers) appears to have peaked in 2006 at 17.74 million devices, which is the year is when global production of smartphones started to skyrocket. Global production of personal media players, GPS navigation devices and digital still cameras peaked in 2008. Likewise, production of handheld gaming devices peaked in 2008, since smartphones can serve as direct replacements for the Nintendo 3DS and Sony Vita. Production of camcorders peaked in 2010 as the digital signal processors, memory, lens and pixel resolution on smartphones improved to rival low-end camcorders. Global production of mobile feature phones peaked in 2011, and is now in rapid decline. The decline in feature phones is directly related to the fall in the average selling price of Android phones which peaked at $441 in 2010 and has since fallen to $216 in 2015.

One of the most surprising aspects of smartphone growth is how it has effected PC and tablet sales. In 2009, global shipments of notebook PCs surpassed desktop PCs, yet shipments of notebooks peaked in 2011. It was widely predicted in the electronics industry that tablets would become the new PC when tablet shipments surpassed notebooks in 2013.

What wasn’t anticipated, however, is that global production of tablets would peak in 2014 and go into decline as they were replaced by phablets, which combine the functionality of a smartphone with a tablet. The average screen size of new smartphone models has grown from 2.59 inches in 2007 to 4.86 inches in 2014. The first phablet was Dell’s Streak which sported a 5.0 inch screen in 2010, but they didn’t become widely popular until the introduction of the Samsung Note in October 2011. According to the gmsarena.com database, 82.5% of the smartphone models introduced in the year 2016 have screens 5 inches or larger, which indicates how rapidly smartphones are evolving into replacements for tablets. At the same time that screen sizes have increased, screen resolutions have also increased. The percentage of new smartphone models which have 300 pixels or greater screen resolution has increased from 2.0% in of smartphones have increased dramatically making it possnumber of The majority of people now use their smartphones as the primary means to view web content from sites such as Facebook and consume video from sites such as Youtube.

For most people on the planet, the smartphone now serves is their primary media device and computer, despite the limitations of the tiny on-screen keyboards and the lack of a mouse pointer. It is not that smartphones have entirely replaced Desktop PCs, notebooks and tablets, since all these devices still serve their niches, but the smartphone has become the primary device for consuming media and for communication via voice, text or video. According to eMarketer, the average time that a US adult spent using the non-voice functions of mobile devices grew from 46 minutes per day in 2011 to 2 hours and 54 minutes per day in 2015. During the same time period, desktop and notebook PC usage dropped from 2:30 to 2:12, TV viewing dropped from 4:34 to 4:11, radio listening dropped from 1:34 to 1:27, and reading print media dropped from 0:46 to 0:30.

In this context, it is not surprising that global TV production peaked in the year 2011. It is not that people no longer own TVs, but they see less reason to buy multiple TVs when they can carry a smartphone into every room in the house which reproduces videos and so much video content is available on the internet or via a wireless streaming device such as Roku or Chromecast.

For the same reason, people see less reason to buy new video game consoles, such as the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U, since they can now game anywhere with their smartphones. Newszoo estimates that gaming on smartphones will generate $36.9 billion in revenues in 2016, making it the largest segment in the $99.6 billion global largest gaming market. While revenue from smartphone games is growing 27% per year,

Even the sales of printers have dropped, partly because people are buying fewer PCs, but also because there is less reason to print out documents, when they can be viewed anywhere using a smartphone. Global production of peripheral printers peaked in 2008. According to CIPA, global shipments of photo printers (size 4A paper and smaller) dropped from 2.32 to 0.91 million units between 2006 and 2013. The world is not only buying fewer printers, it is also printing less. Global production of graphic paper dropped from 157.4 to 131.1 million tonnes between 2007 and 2014, while at the same time packaging paper and other types of paper continued to rise.

The rise in smartphone production has both good and bad consequences for the planet. On the one hand, the decline in unifunctional devices like GPS navigation devices, digital voice recorders, MP3 players and digital cameras, means that people now buy just one device, instead of half a dozen devices. The consolidation of multiple devices into the smartphone has helped checked the growth in silicon manufacturing, which is one of the most energy and resource intense activities on the planet. Between 2000 and 2010, global silicon production for semiconductors grew 5.4% per year, whereas that growth has slowed to 2.2% per year after 2010.

Checking the growth in silicon is significant because silicon manufacturing is one of the most energy and resource intensive industrial processes on the planet. According to a study conducted in 2007, 1.53 kWh of electricity and 35 grams of chemicals are consumed per cm2 of a silicon wafer, in an older fab using 150mm wafers. A 2011 industry survey which included new fabs with more efficient 300mm wafers, found electricity usage was roughly 1.0 kWh per cm2. In addition, each cm2 of silicon produces 8.0 grams of toxic waste, emits 0.060 grams of volatile organic compounds, and consumes 7.8 liters of water, of which 6.5 liters are ultrapure water, which require extra energy to purify.

One of the negative aspects of the rise of smartphones is the fact that they have replaced devices which are less transistor density and less space constrained. The modern cellphone often contains more transistors than the desktop PC, notebook, tablet, video game console, Blu-ray player, or TV. Apple claims that its new A10 processor in the iPhone 7 contains 3.3 billion transistors, which would give it an incredible density of 26.4 million transistors per mm2 on its 125 mm2 die. In comparison, Intel’s Broadwell-U CPUs for laptops have 1.3 or 1.9 billion transistors (depending on the model of GPU). Based on a density of 15.9 million transistors per mm2 in the Broadwell-U, we can guesstimate that a 2 core Intel Skylake-Y with GT2 graphics and a 98.5 mm2 die has 1.6 billion transistors and the 4 core Skylake-K with GT2 graphics and a 122.4 mm2 die has 1.9 billion transistors.

Although PCs generally have more RAM and more Flash memory, smartphones often have more transistors because they have a number of elements that PCs generally lack, such as digitizers for the touch screen, advanced digital signal processors for the front and back cameras, cellular baseband modems and a plethora of sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, light sensor, compass, GPS, proximity, temperature, humidity, fingerprint and even heart rate). 80.0% of the 2016 smartphone models listed in the gsmarena.com database have screen resolutions of 720×1280 or higher and 36.7% have 1440×2560 or higher, meaning their graphics processors have to drive as many pixels as a standard laptop. The hardware in smartphones is advancing very rapidly, with smartphones today being sold with 4K screen resolutions (Sony Xperia Z5 Premium), 6GB of RAM (Vivo Xplay5 Elite), 256GB of Flash memory (Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe), 10 core application processors (MediaTek Helio X20) and 41 megapixel cameras (Nokia Lumia 1020).

The environmental cost of producing such complex devices is taking a tremendous toll on the planet. According to Apple, its iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5 inch screen emits 110 kg of CO2-equivalent over a 3 year lifetime, with 81% of those emissions coming from manufacturing, 4% tremendous problem is that producing 1.5 billion complex devices The processing power in are evolving very rapidly improving to the point that they are starting to rival the p the environmental cost of manufacturing smartphones is rising rapidly.

are becoming the most complex are becoming far more complex devices
meaning that graphics processors. have to be as good Today’s standard smartphone has a higher screen resolution qHD (2560×1440) screens are becoming The graphics capabil genera central processors in smartphones generally Compare the chips found in the iPhone 7 to the new 2016 15″ MacBook Pro Once the digital signal processors and Today’s PCs have 4-32 Mmay have more RAM
with an 89

On the other hand, so many see less usage. since it limits the amount of electronics manufacturing which not necessarily a bad thing, since
Global production of desktop PCs peaked in since they are primarily used to consume content, rather than produce it. The smartphone has become universal scfirst appeared with the Dell Streak, combine the functionality of has grown from whereas they do not replicate the large screen gaming experience of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U.

the functionality of have grown more powerful most other types of electronic devices. Looking at the global production of 13 types of electronic devices, it becomes clea

A dark view of technology

For the last couple weeks, I have been investigating how the design of mobile electronic devices has changed over the last decade and how those changes are harming the environment. The whole electronics industry is now copying Apple’s designs, which means that planned obsolescence has become the norm in the industry. For example,  53% of the 2016 smartphones models listed on the gsmarena.com web site do not have replaceable batteries, so they are designed to be thrown away after approximately 2 years of use, when the batteries loose their capacity to hold a charge.
The average smartphone weighs roughly 150 grams and its fabrication emits roughly 100 kgs of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e). Therefore, we can guesstimate that the fabrication of the 1.52 billion smartphones that IDC predicts will be produced in the year 2016 will emit roughly 150 megatons of CO2-e and they will become 225,000 tonnes of toxic e-waste when they are thrown away.
 
In order to do a better calculation, I need numbers about how the design of mobile devices has changed over time. To that end, I wrote a PHP script to download all the specs from laptopmag.com about every laptop and tablet model produced since 2006. After spending 6 hours perfecting my script, I set it to start downloading overnight. (Internet in Bolivia is extremely slow during the day.) This morning when I checked the status of my script, I discovered that the server at laptopmag.com had detected my little game and is now blocking all my requests, returning 403 (forbidden) status codes. I wonder if my script to download all the cell phone models from gsmarena.com will hit the same roadblock.
 
I miss the good old days on the internet when nobody worried about DoS attacks and the internet was a free and open place. Today, the internet is such a paranoid place. Every server is configured to assume that you are a bad actor. Today, if a ping doesn’t work, you don’t know if it is because the server is down or because the ping service has simply been turned off to eliminate another attack vector. After my VPS was hacked several years ago, I became paranoid as well. I now turn off every port and service on my VPS running the illa-a.org web site which is not absolutely necessary.
 
The internet in general is becoming a darker place in my opinion. More and more of it is cut off in places like Facebook, where the formats are proprietary and the sites are designed to suck up our personal information to monetize it. The dream of the internet becoming an information superhighway that enlightens the world has been perverted into the nightmare of misinformation silos and a massive surveillance operation. I used to believe that converting to free and open source software would liberate humanity, but now that the whole planet is using open source Android and accessing web sites running on Linux, I see that running software with a free license means little if it is employed as means to collect and exploit our personal information and colonize our minds.

Is it necessary to know math to be a good programmer?

Most universities require math as a prerequisite in order to take a class in computer science. Many people never take a class on programming, because they dislike math. I have often wondered if math is truly necessary to be a good computer programmer, since many people never try programming because they are told that it is like math. Most working programmers, however, will tell you that they rarely if ever use math while on the job.

Knowing math certainly helps you understand programming better, but it isn’t necessary for the majority of programmers on a daily basis. You need it if you are doing analysis of algorithms and trying to figure out whether one search algorithm is better than another. You might need it to decide whether to use a linked list, a b-tree or a binary tree to store your data. However, very few programmers today need to do that sort of low-level programming. 99% of programmers let databases handle data storage and searching. Continue reading