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  • Newsletter Issue #470

    November 30th, 2008

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    You can bet that retailers are going to pore over the receipts for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to check the potential for decent holiday sales. I know that local stores seemed mighty busy all weekend, so I suppose there is hope, although it is also clear that shoppers are looking for bargains. Indeed there are plenty of those.

    In that tradition, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we brought onboard Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen to regale us with a number of great finds for tech gear that offer both terrific performance and reasonably affordable pricing. As usual, Steve had a large list assembled, and he went through pretty much most of them.

    As a follow-up for our discussion in last week’s episode, security aficionado Kirk McElhearn delivered more details about how Apple and Google work together to provide phishing protection for the newest release of Safari. And is Apple really recommending that you buy virus protection software? Indeed they are, and that comes as a surprising turnaround in light of the fact that Macs are still mostly free of malware. Unless they know something we don't of course, or they just want more software to sell.

    In addition, you heard from Macworld Senior Editor Peter Cohen with a special Mac and iPhone gaming roundup, and he also explained why he thinks Apple should produce a netbook pronto!

    Oh well, Peter and I don't always agree about things, and the netbook is surely one of them. But I was glad to give him his soapbox, and, for his sake and those of others who want such a device, I hope his wishes are fulfilled by Apple in the near future.

    On The Paracast this week, listen to the episode that we thought would never see the light of day. Alexandra Holzer, daughter of famed occult researcher Hans Holzer, talks about her ongoing paranormal research and experiences.

    This discussion will focus not just on events, but on our ongoing suggestions to make ghost hunting a more productive study.

    NOT EVERYTHING FROM APPLE JUST WORKS

    Every few days, I see a message floating above the desktop asking if I want to sync something on my MacBook or Mac Pro. It may be something in the keychain, such as login information, or a preference in Mail or another Apple program.

    That seems well and good, and I'm glad to know the feature, part of Apple's MobileMe Web services, appears to be operating, but the results can leave an awful lot to be desired.

    After accepting the sync, I will sometimes find that an email account has mysteriously become disabled, or a particular setting, such as how often I want my spam mailbox emptied, reverts to a different option.

    Since I'm also co-host of a paranormal radio show, I suppose I could just blame this on some mysterious force from the unknown. No it's not a manifestation of the occult, but a synchronization defect in MobileMe of long standing.

    I suppose I'm partly to blame. After all, I tend to alter my email accounts more often than most and not strictly for test purposes. For example, we updated our Web servers the other day to allow for better performance, and higher storage capacity and bandwidth. Part of the process was to put the company email on the host's own mail servers, rather than on our own.

    Why? Well, consider it a manifestation of my slightly obsessive/compulsive nature, or maybe it's just an expression of paranoia. What it means is that if the server goes down, and they do unfortunately, email will continue to flow. If something happens to the host's email system, I can set up temporary accounts on my server.

    In any case, changes of this sort don't alter the email address, but require using different incoming and outgoing server settings in Mail. Since the changes are trivial, I made them manually on both Macs. I suppose any minor different in the way the settings were made may have confounded MobileMe, although I can't see what would cause an email account to deactivate itself.

    All right, so chalk it up to gremlins. But it also means that this is a feature that can prove undependable. Yes, there is a way reset the data under the MobileMe preference pane's Advanced settings. But why should any of this be necessary?

    What's more, when you login to the MobileMe site, there's a panel bearing a checkbox labeled "Keep me logged in for two weeks," but that feature simply doesn't work. At least not for me.

    In Apple's favor, however, the email service seems solid enough after a rough period earlier this year, but I will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to use a me.com email address, so I trust Apple will never consider abandoning the mac.com alternative.

    The other ailing feature is Back to My Mac, which is designed to allow you to access the desktop of another Mac, again courtesy of MobileMe. It works well enough if you have a recent AirPort Extreme. When it comes to third-party routers, don't prepare to place any bets on it.

    I know that I've tried, even using the routers recommended by Apple, without success. So what's the good of having a free feature in Leopard when it rarely works? Indeed, I've heard of troubles even when an AirPort Express is used.

    All right, you can do screen sharing in iChat, but that requires someone at the other end of the connection to accept the request. You can also spend a few hundred dollars and acquire Apple Remote Desktop or a similar product, and be assured of a more robust experience. But that defeats the purpose of Back to My Mac.

    True, a lot of the blame might be attributed to the fact that there are various and sundry differences from router to router, even though they supposedly all support the same basic industry standards. That might argue for the fact that these standards are perhaps a bit to loose or should be more stringently enforced, but that's another matter entirely.

    Now it may be that Apple will find a solution that has a greater chance of success. Maybe you'll see it in Snow Leopard, but if it requires better support from the network hardware industry, it'll probably never happen.

    Alas, regardless of the cause, it means that some stuff on a Mac either doesn't work reliably or doesn't work at all.

    SUCCEEDING IN THE AUTO BUSINESS: IT STARTS BY SELLING CARS PEOPLE WANT

    Many of the ads from Detroit's beleaguered auto makers sound the same. Their cars have great gas mileage and, yes, you can actually get low-rate financing if you try one of their special programs, although the truth is that credit remains hard to come by these days.

    Now I know a little something about this. I have a brother-in-law who is in the car business, and he says that he can still find customers. But he finds it almost impossible to get the lenders to approve the transaction, even for people with pretty high credit scores.

    But in the end, credit will no doubt loosen up, and the question is whether the three remaining American auto makers will be able to get their bailouts from Washington and stay in business. Well, actually, they are supposed to be loans, but someone has to foot the bill until payments are made. That is, if they are made.

    In any case, when the executives from Chrysler, Ford and GM went to Washington with hats in hand recently, they really didn't use much common sense. For one thing, they flew there in private jets, rather than take coach to show they were really trying to conserve cash.

    While I would be the last one to want to see millions of people lose their jobs, the fact is that these auto makers have betrayed their workers big time. You see, job number one for any company manufacturing retail products is to build merchandise that people actually want to buy.

    Up till recently, the American car makers felt they could live long and prosper with gas guzzling SUVs and trucks, and used compact cars as loss leaders to entice people to become customers at the entry level, in hopes they'd eventually trade up to the really profitable models.

    In contrast, many of the foreign auto makers took smaller cars seriously, as bread and butter products that should be designed and assembled with care. So they ended up with lots of loyal customers.

    Indeed, when you bought American, you also often had to put up not just with shoddy workmanship, but with more frequent visits to the repair shop to set things right. And that, let me tell you from personal experience, can be a mighty frustrating process.

    But the key to success is owner satisfaction. Even if a particular model requires more maintenance, if the owners love driving them, they are likely to buy or lease them again next time around.

    In the January 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, you can read the results of a survey involving over 425,000 readers, where, among other things, they indicate how satisfied they are with their current vehicles.

    Let's forget for the moment what you think about the magazine's reviews, and I have serious questions as to how they handle personal computers, particularly Macs. But when it comes to reporting whether readers prefer a specific make and model motor vehicle, I'll take the results as accurate.

    And the news isn't so pleasing to Detroit, because only three American models met or exceeded the magic 80% threshold of whether the customer will buy that product again. In the "Upscale Cars" category, readers gave an 82 score to the Cadillac CTS, and two versions of the Chevrolet Corvette got high honors in the 'Roadsters" category.

    When it came to every other listed market segment, foreign cars generally got the highest scores, while Detroit had the largest number of models in the "Least satisfying" category. There, except for the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-7 SUVs, it was all American -- every last one

    In the end, it doesn't matter how many loan guarantees Congress gives Detroit. If they can't figure out how to build cars people not only want to buy, but are willing to buy again, they do not deserve to succeed.

    THE FINAL WORD

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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    14 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #470”

    1. Andrew says:

      True true. I am on my second small Mercedes, and when it reaches 120,000 miles, I will buy my third. I've never been left at the side of the road by a Mercedes, but they do suffer from GCEGS (German Car Electrical Ghost Syndrome) requiring far more trips to the shop than a Japanese or even American car. As you said though, they are such a pleasure to drive that owners like me keep coming back.

      By the way, this is a small car (C230), about the size of a Corolla at about double the price. American companies think that people only buy small cars because they can't afford big cars. That is not true. People who buy small Mercedes, BMW, Mazda, Audi, VW, Mini, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and many others buy them because they LIKE small cars. Small cars are, by their very nature, more fun to drive, more fuel efficient, easier to park, handle better and brake better.

      Also, just as many drivers like the open space inside a large car, there are also many who prefer the tight and intimate confines of a small car. Just the driver of a Mazda Miata, Honda S2000 or any true Porsche (the Cayenne SUV doesn't count).

      Reply To This Comment

    2. I once had the C230's predecessor, the 190E, and I was never impressed with its workmanship as much as I expected. For one thing, it was a ding magnet, and accumulated lots of them during the time i had one. :(

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    3. Kaleberg says:

      MobileMe is an interesting example of Apple failure that validates a lot of their other strategy. Apple likes to control the whole shebang, and they do so for good reason. When they can control the processor configuration, the interfaces, the graphics cards and so on, they provide an excellent product. You get the complete Apple experience. As soon as other stuff starts creeping in, they run into the same problems as everybody else. MobileMe relies on the vagaries of various mail systems, routers, and ISPs. Unlike their operating system which they could actually test with a comprehensive range of configurations, they could only scratch the surface with MobileMe. I'm not trying to make excuses for Apple, but their problems with MobileMe only further validate their otherwise constricting policies.

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Jim says:

      Gene,

      The line about the private jet trip was foolish on your part. Do you think the guys from Citibank and AIG went to DC on coach flights? Yet they were given their bailouts, not loans with practically no questions asked.

      Lost in all of this talk about the U.S. auto industry, of course, was the fact that the backbone of the U.S. manufacturing sector was on the ropes because of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But nonetheless, the real issues at hand were instead drowned out by the verbal jabs and cackles about corporate jets, and the Detroit Three CEOs were sent packing, but not before they were admonished like little school boys and told to bring back a real business plan for their $25 billion, and to come back “better prepared” as President-elect Barack Obama chimed-in on Monday

      This after Citigroup, which only a month ago received $25 billion, was blessed with another $20 billion on November 23rd, and, as part of the plan, Treasury and the FDIC will guarantee against the "possibility of unusually large losses" on up to $306 billion of risky loans and securities backed by commercial and residential mortgages.

      No recriminations for Robert Rubin - the most prominent member of the Citigroup's board of directors and a former treasury secretary - who was one of the chief architects of the bank’s risky investment strategy, and who pulled down $62.2 million between 2004 and 2007?

      You need to understand that 1 in 10 jobs in the U.S. are directly related to the auto industry. If you can't understand what losing a significant amount of those jobs means then I can't help you.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. I understand the impact of the U.S. auto industry on this country. That's what makes it sad that the Big 3's executives have taken so long to figure out what's going on and do something about it.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    6. Dr. Samuel R. Bauer says:

      >SUCCEEDING IN THE AUTO BUSINESS<

      Just so you understand, the automobile companies will "NOT" go out of business if they don't receive help from the US Government. That's not how it works.

      When a company like GM declares Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the creditors become the owners of the company. They take over all assets and liabilities, and restructure the company. Selling off poor performing assets and firing the old management so that the creditors can place their own officers in there. The company then begins anew, all-be-it a much leaner and meaner organization. The creditors are not stupid. They realize the viability of a "properly run" company and are eager to make it work so that they may recoup their loses and potentially make a profit in the long run.

      The CEO's of the Big-3 are concerned for their jobs...... nothing more. They know how it works and are shaking in their Lear Jets. The companies themselves aren't going anywhere, only the management and deadweight employees and assets will get the boot. While the company itself survives and moves on.

      I wish more people understood this, so I wouldn't keep reading the FUD I see in the news everyday. Which in turn influences the general public into believing their beloved car company is going to evaporate. Those people then call their local Federal Representative and beg them to save the auto industry. Which is exactly what the CEO's of these companies want. Their very jobs depend on it. The idea that the company itself will fold is simply false, and will NEVER EVER happen.

      I am the CFO of a large Advertising firm, so I understand these things a little better than most.

      Happy Holidays to you and your family.

      Reply To This Comment

    7. Dr. Samuel R. Bauer says:

      Gene said:

      "You need to understand that 1 in 10 jobs in the U.S. are directly related to the auto industry. If you can’t understand what losing a significant amount of those jobs means then I can’t help you."

      Gene, you make the "assumption" that a "significant amount of those jobs will be lost" if the auto industry files bankruptcy. Not true. See my previous post for more details regarding this matter. At most 10-15% may be lost, totaling 1 tenth of 1 percent according to your 1 in 10 ratio. We would need to have a much more severe recession for more jobs to be lost. Remember, these companies are not going out of business, they are simply going to be restructured.

      Oh, and one more thing Gene. That 1 in 10 ratio is fallacious at best. The auto industry (which makes such claims) counts car wash attendants, auto mechanics, gas station cashiers and Tire Barn night watchmen in that data. It is "highly" skewed. The actual number of people with "direct relation" to the manufacturing of automobiles is closer to 3 million. With 300 million people in the US, a more accurate ratio would be about 100 to 1.

      Try not to buy into the media hype Gene. It will skew your thought process.

      Reply To This Comment

    8. You seem to forget something about the impact of a Chapter 11 on an auto company. It's not the equivalent of an airline bankruptcy. People are going to be extremely reluctant to buy cars from a firm that they feel may be going out of out of business (even if that's not the plan), and you can see where sales may therefore dip substantially. That will only hamper reorganization unless there were guarantees that would reassure the public, and that would be difficult to accomplish.

      Also bear in mind that many of the parts suppliers who provide material for the Big 3 also deal with the foreign car companies with U.S.-based plants, and this could put a huge monkey wrench into their operations as well that could impact car companies that aren't involved in this mess.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    9. kenh says:

      Gene; some people will be reluctant to buy from the "old" GM, but I think more will be willing to buy from a restructured GM who builds the Chevy Impala. My daughter, a long time Nissan owner married a Chevy guy. I like the car. Not nearly as well as I like the new Nissan Altima, but I would look at it as a buy.

      And that is partially because, if restructured, they have a chance at survival.

      Watched a documentary about the Corvette factory last night. World class, they deserve to make it either as part of GM, or by being sold off independently. It's profitable on its own. You can see the workers like building the car. No question the car is expensive, but it can tolerate the $2000 per car cost of retirement and medical benefits that are a part of the cost of building any GM car. I would like to see that number on the price sticker, actually. If the people then want to vote for it pay paying for it, fine.

      If GM and others go on as they are, THEN I would be scared of buying an Impala, and having government as a partner, their odds of going down the tube are increased. I work for a school system now, I know the effects of being obligated to the government for every dime.

      I worked for both Nissan and BMW, although it has been 20 years. I helped develop the initial parts packages for Nissan's warehouse that supplies the plant in Smyrna, Tn.

      The suppliers would rather work with a company that has a future than one that does not. They liked working with us, a lot less sturm and drang. (drama!)

      It's just a question of which GM it will be, the old one, or the new one. And with the labor contracts that Nissan and BMW have, they do not have to keep trying to push the retirement expenses further and further off into the future.

      Both of those plants can go union anytime they want by voting it in. They choose not to because, on the balance, the workers believe they are better off and, at least for the moment, get to choose whether or not to be by a secret ballot. That could change, and I pray for us if the secret ballot goes away. But that is another issue.

      The auto execs flying on the jets was bad PR in the extreme, although you can easily make the efficiency argument for them doing it. They just should have shared a plane. They were just too dumb to do it, and that is also a problem in itself. I have worked a lot with auto racers and other sports figures, and their planes save them money compared to the alternative. But that argument is lost, even though it is often economically correct, just not politically correct. Unless you are a Hollywood type, then it becomes .....well, you know where I am going with that.

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    10. Maybe if a Big 3 company that chooses restructuring will use what some call a "fast track" method that'll get them out of bankruptcy in months rather than years. That might restore their credibility with customers.

      Peace,
      Gene

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    11. kenh says:

      What would that "fast track" method be?

      25-50 billion dollars would not be nearly enough to buy the time needed to turn the ship, if that is what you are suggesting. And the only way to characterize it is "buying the time" Buy it if you think its worth it, but I don't.

      Reply To This Comment

    12. kenh wrote:

      What would that “fast track” method be?

      25-50 billion dollars would not be nearly enough to buy the time needed to turn the ship, if that is what you are suggesting. And the only way to characterize it is “buying the time” Buy it if you think its worth it, but I don’t.

      We're talking here about a prepackaged deal:

      http://www.reason.org/outofcontrol/archives/2008/11/no_bailout_for_1.html

      Listen, if you feel that the Big 3 ought to bite the big one, individually or collectively, that's understandable. I am not a fan, as you know, but I also feel that management is responsible for their plight, not the employees, and they shouldn't suffer because they took a job hoping it had some degree of permanence.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    13. kenh says:

      Gene; can't spend too much time on this because I am in lesson development for school tomorrow. (no, we just dont open the book and read) (comment not directed at you)

      I agree management is responsible. Under my "plan" the production lines will still be there, the workers will be there. What will go is the management, and the labor contracts that are unsustainable by any stretch of the imagination.

      I wish there was a job that guaranteed some degree of permanence. But in the history of the world, only in the last 50 or so years have people believed that such of thing could be true in the real world. I also owned a business. The hard reality is that 90% of all new businesses fail. Mine did not, but when we started, we did it on credit cards, no bail out for us, not even a bank loan to begin with. Could not get one.

      If any business fails, the responsibility always has to be shared. Lousy management, yes. But if the GM employees thought they could go on making 2-3 times the wage of comparable worth jobs, then they needed to brush up on their math and their judgement as adults. If you can't get a job in Michigan making cars, go somewhere else. Yes, you are capable of building something besides a GM car. A Caterpillar or a John Deere.

      They will still have jobs, maybe not as many, and not as much per hour. The plants will still be there, they dont vaporize if they go Chapter 11. But it is better than total failure.

      It will take time. Believe me, the time and effort involved in designing a new car model is light years beyond designing a new computer. Those who think it takes less than 3 years should give it a try.

      Will check back tomorrow night after I plan Thursday's lessons for my classes.

      Reply To This Comment

    14. JohnK says:

      On things not always just working... I suspect that some of this is due to corrupted preferences. I think this is a some what weak area in the Mac system. Once a preference file becomes corrupted it stays that way or becomes worse. The only easy way to reset the preferences is to do a clean install and reenter all your settings by hand. Don't do an archive and install. Yes, if you are really into it you could try removing preference files one by one and restarting till you find the offending file. Once we even fixed a problem on my wife's machine by editing the file by hand by removing a section of clearly bogus text.

      I now have a problem on my machine where it doesn't appear on other machines when I want to do file sharing. I suspect that the problem is in one of the preference files but I'm too lazy to fix it. Next year when I by a new machine I'll start with a clean install and go from there.

      It would be nice if there were simpler ways to do this. Perhaps there could be a utility that would let you temporarily reset preference files one by one by clicking check boxes. Perhaps Apple could build in some really solid error checking into the preference files to make them more robust.

      Reply To This Comment

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