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  • Newsletter Issue #478

    January 25th, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    After a couple of weeks of reasonably unfavorable news emanating from Apple, such as the ongoing illness of Steve Jobs and their decision not to participate in future Macworld Expos, we decided to focus on the actual gear.

    So on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we decided to catch up on some of the coolest gadgets for 2009 with Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen. Among Mr. Gadget’s favorites: A new type of Internet phone service, and some of the latest developments in high definition TV.

    Veteran Mac author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus returned with his Macworld Expo observations, and capsule reviews of some of his favorite iPod and iPhone accessories.

    You also heard from AOL’s Mac product manager, Lee Givens, who happens to be a long-time Apple fan and a collector of older Macs. He returned to the show to discuss the latest updates to AOL’s iPhone software, including a fancy new version of AIM.

    On The Paracast this week, meet noted UFO investigator Ted Phillips, Director of The Center for Physical Trace Research, who excels at probing trace evidence discovered in the wake of UFO landings, reports on the incredible events at Marley Woods. Is this a "window area" that attracts paranormal phenomena?

    Coming February 1: Explore the prospects for life on Mars in the past, present and future. Accompany us on our fascinating journey with Robert Zubrin, author of such books as "How to Live on Mars,"and scientific investigator Mac Tonnies.

    Coming soon! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We'll be taking orders real soon, so stay tuned.

    TAKING THE MAC SERIOUSLY AFTER 25 YEARS

    You didn't hear anything about it at Macworld Expo, at least from the mouths of Philip Schiller or any other Apple employee. During last week's session with financial analysts, Apple's executives weren't even asked the question, and they felt no need to volunteer a response.

    Indeed, the rest of the world is nevertheless observing the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Apple Macintosh. It was presaged in 1984 by one of the most famous TV ads in recent memory, directed by Ridley Scott, and surely drawing attention to a device that was unlike any other.

    In those days, daring the suggest that you could get serious work done with a personal computer that used a relatively friendly graphical user interface was a heresy. Real PC users worked in the command line, and pointing and clicking was just a whole lot of silliness that would not survive the test of time.

    Of course that came before Bill Gates and Microsoft decided to rip off the Mac OS and roll their own pale imitation known as Windows. That they got away with it is the stuff of legend and it doesn't have to be repeated all over again, although there are still people who believe that Gates is a visionary and not a master salesman.

    But for all too many years, it did seem as if the better personal computer was destined for a slow decline. I know I felt different from the very beginning when I became a Mac user.

    I recall someone at the office who once suggested exchanging messages with me via a bulletin board system. Well I had the proper setup configured in the space of a few minutes. But day after day my friend struggled to achieve a similar result on his PC desktop. He kept talking about having to create the proper "shell" for a telecommunications environment, and assured me that it would soon be set up.

    Well, it never happened, and I lost touch with him after leaving that company. Maybe he's a Mac user now; I sure hope so.

    The other feelings of strangeness arrived when I'd visit a computer store and tried to find some Mac software. I was assured that the selections were slim, and that real people used PCs. The truth was that there was a rich selection of Mac products, only you had to make your purchases from a mail order vendor. This was, lest we forget, before the Internet became ubiquitous.

    Being a Mac user, however, didn't give me a feeling of isolation. I was in good company, although I had attend the Macworld Expo to feel safe among friends. Somehow, though, I felt I'd be vindicated some day, although Apple worked really hard from time to time to make me wonder if I didn't make the wrong decision.

    The mid-1990s were especially troublesome. Yes, the arrival of Mac clones ought to have been a positive development. Now several companies would work to expand the market for Macs. Instead, they worked hard to take the market away from Apple, because of a poorly-devised contract. In the end they nearly killed the company, and it made perfect sense to me to see Steve Jobs find a way to pull the plug.

    Now maybe you don't remember, but Apple paid $100 million dollars to kill one of the cloners, Power Computing. In exchange they got the company's fabulous online ordering system, which was the progenitor to Apple's online store.

    Strangely enough, there are still members of the media who claim that Apple is somehow missing the boat by not allowing clones. They clearly aren't doing their research, or have short memories. But as far as I'm concerned, all they need is a calculator, and copies of recent Apple financial statements. They'll see very quickly that the company makes the vast percentage of its revenue from the sale of hardware. While software does pretty well, it doesn't come close.

    In any case, it's not as if Microsoft hasn't done its best to encourage people to switch to Macs, although they probably don't realize it.

    Back in the 1990s, for example, Microsoft's alleged visionaries didn't realize that personal computers would be connected to networks that extended beyond your office. They didn't harden the system to be vulnerable to computer viruses and other forms of malware, and I wouldn't begin to estimate the amount of money that has been lost to companies as a result.

    It is, however, in the billions of dollars.

    Well, these days, Windows is still a huge target for Internet criminals, but it is certainly far more robust. I won't deny that, although you surely need good security software. The real problem, however, is that Microsoft hasn't figured out how to innovate and move past Windows' notorious shortcomings.

    Vista, for example, was far less than promised, and didn't set the computing world afire. Suffering from flat sales and the need, after 34 years, to lay off several thousand employees and an unknown number of independent contractors, Microsoft is pinning its hopes on Windows 7. But, despite early positive reviews of the public beta, it appears to be little more than a warmed over version of Vista with a shave and haircut, and, of course, an imitation of the Mac OS Dock.

    In its 26th year, Apple continues to gain market share, and has clearly broken through to the mainstream customer at long last. Maybe Apple doesn't believe in sentimentality, but it's been a truly fascinating 25 years, and few doubt the best is yet to come.

    WILL THE DIGITAL TV TRANSITION BE DELAYED?

    As most of you know, analog TV channels in the U.S. will supposedly go dark on February 17 of this year. I say "supposedly," because the Obama administration is working with Congress to postpone the date until June, primarily because the government has messed up the educational and support process.

    Indeed, it's been reliably reported that over six million Americans will lose TV reception if the date isn't changed. What's more, an insufficient amount of money was allocated to cover the cost of those $40 coupons that supposedly get you discounts on analog to digital TV converters.

    Typical of government foolishness, they evidently forgot that the devices cost $50 to $60. You'd think that, with all the money they waste and bridges to nowhere, they'd somehow budget enough funds to actually pay the full cost of the converters.

    Of course, you don't have to worry about any of this if you have a cable or satellite connection. Even there, though, there are signs of wayward behavior. It seems the cable companies are moving stations people got with basic cable to more expensive packages, the better to take advantage of new and existing customers.

    Who was it who said "greed is good" in a movie? Yes, I know it's was Michael Douglas in Wall Street, but you get the picture, and that's no pun.

    Even when the transition occurs, receiving a decent signal from an antenna may not be guaranteed. That depends on whether the TV stations, who are spending tons of money to finance the new digital transmitters, provide digital signals with the same coverage as analog. That's not guaranteed. It could, indeed be worse.

    Moreover, when it comes to digital, there's no such thing as a marginal signal. Instead of ghosts and snow, you get signal breakup or, worse, nothing at all. Oh well, there's always cable or satellite.

    This isn't to say that the concept was wrong to begin with. In the end, when you do get a useful signal, digital will offer cleaner, sharper pictures. No, it won't be high definition, necessarily, but it'll be better. Too bad good ideas can be so badly executed.

    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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    10 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #478”

    1. [...] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. [...]

    2. GBledsoe says:

      I can't think of a better way to start the Obama years than to ween 6 million viewers (those perhaps of lower economic status) away from television. Students test scores would rise. People would read and talk to one another instead of living their precious years vicariously through television. I haven't watched TV for decades and not only do I not miss it, I have hours of time to do the things which are important to me. Unplug, people, and live.

      Reply To This Comment

    3. @ GBledsoe: You're entitled to your point of view, and I do agree that too much television -- particularly the wrong kind of television -- is not a good thing. But this isn't the way to unplug them. All they'll do is moan and bitch and we have enough of that already.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Al says:

      ". . . although there are still people who believe that Gates is a visionary and not a master salesman"

      I have to emphatically disagree with this statement. Gates is not a master salesman. No salesmanship is needed when you have no competition. When Microsoft is confronted with real competition, its product invariably fails. Microsoft succeeds only in products where it can use its OS monopoly to bludgeon competitors to death.

      Gates is not a visionary, nor is he a master salesman. What he is is a master predatory monopolist. His forte is using legal and illegal means (mainly coercion and shrewd contracting) to establish, expand and extend monopoly power in the PC software market. His first shrewd contract suckered IBM into adopting MS-DOS without any exclusivity rights. His second shrewd contract was suckering Sculley (the man who almost killed Apple) into surrendering Apple's Mac GUI intellectual property to MS. The coercive (and illegal!) methods that MS used to prevent the PC manufacturers from preloading rival software are well known.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. @ Al: Well, you kind of confirm what I said, when you say "His first shrewd contract suckered IBM into adopting MS-DOS without any exclusivity rights."

      See what I mean?

      And, of course, the contract where he swindled Sculley into granting him rights to some of Apple's Mac OS intellectual property. See what I mean now?

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    6. GBledsoe says:

      @ Gene Steinberg:

      I was being only half serious. :-)

      Still our culture would be much improved if television were to disappear. Broadcast tv at any right.

      Reply To This Comment

    7. GBledsoe wrote:

      @ Gene Steinberg:

      I was being only half serious.

      Still our culture would be much improved if television were to disappear. Broadcast tv at any right.

      Most of it is garbage, but I do like some shows. It has its place if you don't succumb to its excesses.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    8. GBledsoe says:

      @ Gene Steinberg:

      I have a few shows which I watch, but I wait and watch them as they're released as DVDs.

      Reply To This Comment

    9. Bob Crisler says:

      I am an Obama supporter, but they really need to pull back on this one. If they're asking people to be personally responsible, well, there has been enough said about Feb. 17 that you'd have to have your head where the sun don't shine to not know. Besides, the government needs the revenue from a spectrum auction, and until they clear the spectrum, they don't have spectrum to auction.

      Reply To This Comment

    10. Jon says:

      6 million is a lot of people, but according to Nielson ratings the percentage of the population not ready for the digital transition is 5.7%. If those figures reflect each other, halving that percentage would still affected millions. Do our "concerned" elected officials believe the number can be reduced to zero? If so, I have a bridge they'll want to buy.

      Broadcast TV receives way too much blame for society's ills. The way some talk, we must have lived in a utopia before TV was invented. If TV suddenly disappeared today, I doubt most people would fill their resulting spare time with truly useful/productive activities.

      And maybe that's what has those "concerned" elected officials so "concerned" about the loss of TV signals. Less time spent vegetating in front of a TV would leave millions of voters with time to spend wondering what those "concerned" officials are doing.

      I am a fellow Valley resident and live just east of Anthem. According to Antenna.org, I am 37.5 miles from the Black Mountain broadcast towers. With the nine major Valley channels, analog reception has varied greatly. Via a converter box on my 4 year old, 4:3 Toshiba, every converted digital channel has the same reception quality, and it's much better than the best analog signal I ever received. And that's through a 2 year old VHF/UHF antenna (identical to the previous five old one damaged in a storm) that's rated for 75 miles. Of course, I suppose it helps that my antenna is mounted about 30 feet above the ground on top of a two-story house... on top of a hill. FWIW, I bought the least expensive converter I could find, a $59.99 Apex model at a local Best Buy.

      My picture quality is also much better looking than the local TV channels my son gets on his Sony HDTV via satellite.

      Weirdly enough, my in-laws (who live down the hill about 200 feet) just bought a new HDTV and are picking up every digital channel with only an indoor antenna hanging on the wall above the TV. The same model antenna wouldn't pick up a single station when we tried to attach one to our son's HDTV.

      Reply To This Comment

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