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    DOWNLOAD: On this week's all-star episode, we present Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who explains what Steampunk is all about. No hints! He'll also hold forth on the comments Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in response to Tim Cook's statements that, when it comes to Facebook and Google, you are the product, and you won't want to miss Bryan comments about the forthcoming Apple Watch.

    You'll also hear from tech commentator and Macworld contributor Rob Griffiths, of Many Tricks, who will discuss his recent article, "The paranoid person's guide to a complete Mac backup." He'll outline multiple "levels" of backup strategies to meet your needs, and some of this advice, using Windows backup software, may also apply to PC users.

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    Newsletter Issue #785

    December 15th, 2014

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    When I watched a certain popular TV show from the 1960s, "The Wild Wild West," a western with a sort of sci-fi approach, I had no idea I was watching something that would later be regarded as "Steampunk." In short, it's a form of science fiction where technology from the 19th century, such as steam power, has become mainstream.

    Now imagine a steam-powered smartphone or personal computer. But don't take it literally. In any case, on this week's episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who explained what Steampunk was about with far more details. He also held forth on the comments Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made in response to Tim Cook's statements that, when it comes to Facebook and Google, you are the product, and you won't want to miss Bryan comments about the forthcoming Apple Watch.

    You also heard from tech commentator and Macworld contributor Rob Griffiths, of Many Tricks, who  discussed his recent article, "The paranoid person's guide to a complete Mac backup." He outlined multiple "levels" of backup strategies to meet your needs, and some of this advice, using Windows backup software, may also apply to PC users.

    Speaking as someone who practices the backup religion, I always welcome suggestions on how best to preserve your data. Rob's article presents just about any reasonable scenario, at least beyond copying a few files over to a flash drive for safekeeping. My backup routine includes two external drives. One for the clone backup, the other for Time Machine. But I also have a subscription with a cloud-based backup service, CrashPlan, which puts all my stuff in another location in case something were to happen to my local installation. While retrieving files online isn't terribly fast, it still means I could get back to business if disaster struck at my home office.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present cutting-edge theorist George Hansen, author of a trendsetting work, The Trickster and the Paranormal, a book that was instrumental in influencing Chris O'Brien's research and thinking process for his 2009 book "Stalking the Tricksters: Shapeshifters, Skinwalkers, Dark Adepts and 2012." Hansen has been a longtime paranormal researcher in academia, science and elsewhere. As he states at his site, "The paranormal encompasses everything from levitating monks to ESP, from spirits to cattle mutilations—an incredible and unsavory hodgepodge. The mix seems incoherent. But the trickster makes sense of it."

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    THE NIGHT OWL'S FOLLOW-UP REPORT

    In recent months, I've written some preliminary reviews of several products. But due to the press of time and other events, I haven't gotten around to actually playing catch-up. It's time that I make up for some of that, which is the purpose of this article.

    Now several weeks ago, I received an iPad Air 2 for review. Apple sent a top-of-the-line silver model with 128GB solid state memory and a cellular radio. So if I need to get online without ready access to a Wi-Fi hotspot, I can order up a data program from a wireless carrier.

    For me, though, the iPad mostly stays at home, although my wife has taken it with her when visiting her sister. Barbara is the devoted iPad user in the Steinberg household. She takes it wherever she goes around the house, and, when taking a break, she'll catch up on email, the latest news, or checking out merchandise for a small eBay business she is starting up with the help of her sister.

    As regular readers and listeners to my radio show know full well, I've been off-and-on about the iPad. I am most comfortable with a traditional computer,  keyboard and mouse, although I do write short messages on my iPhone on a pretty regular basis. But to satisfy my traditionalist — or retro — tastes, I will be using a keyboard with the iPad to see if I can gravitate towards it.

    So Logitech sent along an Ultrathin keyboard, the iPad Air 2 version, which serves as both cover and input device. As with other accessory keyboards for iPads and other mobile gear, it uses the Bluetooth connection to pair with your gadget. Now I haven't had a chance to give it much of a workout, but I will observe that Logitech appears to have forgotten what it means to be user friendly. Documentation is limited to a single sheet of paper with tiny black and white drawings. It doesn't actually explain how you pair the keyboard to your iPad, although you do see a visible on/off switch on the unit itself.

    To actually figure out how to make the connection, I had to refer to the site listed at the bottom of this page, where I did discover instructions covering the pairing process. So what was Logitech thinking? Or was there another quick start manual that wasn't included in the box?

    Now the iMac 5K has quickly became my preferred computing companion. As I have mentioned from time to time, I was highly skeptical that a Retina display iMac made very much sense, since the text on my aging 27-inch iMac seemed quite sharp already. But the difference is truly night and day, not quite as distinct as going from standard definition to high definition TV, but sufficient to convince me that Apple made the correct decision.

    Apple has clearly performed miracles in building an amazing display that is noticeably superior to any other computer display I've tried over the years. Yes, image quality does fall off at extreme angles, more noticeably vertically, which is typical of flat panels, but the effect is less severe. Color reproduction is clearly richer than on my late 2009 iMac. I didn't require a direct comparison to notice the obvious improvement. It's not just about clearer text.

    It's no easy trick. You see, the AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics chip in the iMac 5K is pushing 14.7 million pixels around. Aside from an occasional stutter or glitch, the illusion of fast motion is nearly perfect. Remember that I'm using the entry level model, with 2GB of DDDR5 memory, and I am curious how the high-end configuration, with M295X graphics and 4GB of RAM, will fare at the extremes.

    I was also concerned, in the abstract, how far I could push a system with just 8GB of RAM. When I upgraded my work iMac to 16GB a few weeks back, the difference in performance was night and day, particularly when running lots of apps, or just working in a Parallels Desktop virtual machine. With 8GB, Parallels would grind the entire system to a halt even when I allocated the default 1GB to Windows, and that symptom pretty much vanished with the memory upgrade.

    But on the iMac 5K, I can foresee living within the confines of 8GB without suffering very much. The speedy 1TB Fusion Drive mostly erases the major limitation of the older system, which is the slower hard drive. I could see the improvement in near-instant app launch times; well, near-instant except for Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, both of which continue to take their sweet time to get going. While documents open with decent speed, the initial startup process doesn't seem to take advantage of the faster drive or more powerful processor.

    In constrast, the very latest Final Cut Pro did seem to be somewhat influenced by the speedier computing environment. Where things count, however, is editing 4K video, which is where the iMac 5K seems to shine. This essentially mirrors the advantage offered by a Mac Pro.

    If I owned this machine, however, I'd consider a RAM upgrade to eke out as much extra performance as possible. Apple makes it easier, by installing a pair of 4GB RAM chips in two of the four slots; my older iMac has four 2GB modules. Apple charges you $200 to go to 16GB, but I can upgrade to 16GB with a pair of chips from MacSales/OWC for $97.

    The long and short of it is that Apple has, in a surprising step, very much reduced the need of a Mac Pro for many of you. Yes, if you use apps that shine brighter the more processor cores available, the extra cost of Apple's workstation will be worth the investment. Otherwise, the iMac 5K is the better deal; well, unless you plan on using multiple 4K displays. With the iMac 5K, you can add just one 4K display to your work environment, but not a second display that supports 5K.

    I have a few weeks left before I have to send this baby back to Apple, so I'll continue to keep the iMac 5K in regular use and I'll expand my workflow to include as many apps as possible to give it a reasonably thorough workout. While $2,499 isn't exactly cheap for a personal computer these days, don't forget that the original 1984 compact Mac sold for $2,495. What a difference four dollars makes!

    There's just one more thing. Back in June I reviewed the $199.99 Epson WorkForce WF-3640 all-in-one printer and was favorably impressed with output quality and performance. The only downside appears to be a fairly high cost for consumables, owing to the fact that even Epson's XL ink cartridges are spent more quickly than those on my regular office printer, an HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus. This may not mean so much unless you print lots of copies. But it soon adds up.

    So Epson claims about 1,100 copies capability for its high-yield cartridges.  HP's claim is a 1,500 page yield for color cartridges and 2,300 pages for the black cartridge. In the real world, these figures aren't far off the mark. Prices for these consumables — and I tend to avoid remanufactured ink because of the inconsistent print quality — are only a few dollars apart, which makes the HP much cheaper to run.

    THOSE SILLY PRODUCT COMPARISONS PERSIST

    In a recent column, I criticized a tech writer for choosing to compare the regular iPhone 6 against the Nexus 6, a phablet with a 6-inch display. While the reviewer evidently did try to fairly evaluate both products otherwise, the flaw in the selection made little sense. Yes, both are smartphones, they do not necessarily serve the same markets.

    Why didn't that writer consider the iPhone 6 Plus instead? Well, for one thing, the bigger iPhones superior battery life is more competitive with the Nexus 6, so one of the latter's advantages would be reduced or eliminated.

    Some other articles I've read do promise to compare the bigger iPhone with the Nexus 6. At least one used the tired term "smackdown" in its title, a totally unoriginal choice. It was a fairly short recitation of key features and the reviewer's reactions, but clearly the conclusions were more influenced by specs than actual performance. So the fact that the display on the Nexus 6 has more pixels meant it must be better than the iPhone 6 Plus.

    But Retina display means that you cannot see the individual pixels that make up the image. There's a point of vanishing returns, and packing more pixels may seem an appropriate choice from an engineering standpoint, or for bragging rights, but it means little to nothing in actual practice. It's certainly not a reason to choose one phablet over the other.

    The battery life of the Nexus 6 is also apparently longer than the iPhone 6 Plus based on a curiously short running time, less than five hours, which involved playing a video at full bore. All well and good, but most tests of Apple's phablet show a much longer period between charges, so I wonder about the test conditions. CNET, which is notorious for publishing factually-challenged attacks against Apple, recorded 13 hours and 16  minutes on their battery test suite, which appears to be closer to what one might encounter in the real world.

    Other reviewers marvel at the ability to be able to take an iPhone into a second day of consistent use without having to rush back to the charging cable.

    Understand that I am not deliberately seeking articles and reviews that seem more favorably inclined towards Apple. I am interested in reality, not a fantasy based on specs alone, and not tests that seem to deliver anomalous results. If there are failings in a product, I want to read about them without understatement. It has to be done in service of the facts, and the conclusions should follow those facts.

    I can see, though, where fans of a particular platform, or those having a specific agenda, might want to find ways to make the negatives in the products they favor seem less negative. That's understandable, which is why I read a cross-section of articles before coming to any conclusions.

    In writing my own reviews, I seldom pay much attention to what others have said about a product. I will note claims of serious shortcomings, of course, but I'm far more interested in my own reactions, good or bad. Besides, I have my own priorities, and I always try to put myself in the position of a typical user who merely wants to get the best from a product or service. I also try to consider what the reader might want, so I will test usage scenarios that aren't necessarily a part of my own routine.

    So where documentation is faulty, even if it's just a small getting started sheet or pamphlet, I will explain why. You see, the initial exposure to a product can cement the long-term relationship. If instructions are unclear, or the setup process is difficult, a company is going to receive more complaints from customers who merely want to turn things on and get on with their business.

    That's why I was so concerned about the lack of usable instructions for the Logitech accessory keyboard mentioned above. It's something that most reviews barely mention, but I can see where people might return the thing because it didn't work. It's not that you can expect the store clerk at the local consumer electronics outlet or big box retailer to be of any help.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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