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  • Newsletter Issue #487

    March 29th, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Do you have to be a Mac user to become enamored of the iPod and iPhone? Well, obviously not, since the majority of owners of both products actually own PCs running Windows. Indeed, Apple's decision to make these products function on both platforms is largely credited with their stellar success. Besides, Apple's PC products have encouraged people to buy Macs too, although Microsoft's huge failure with Vista certainly helped.

    So on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, The Night Owl presented PCMag.com’s Lance Ulanoff, who tells you how his children were “assimilated” by Apple’s iPod and iPhone. Understand Lance is still a loyal PC user, although he admits he's often tempted to switch to a Mac, something I do expect him to do, though he won't admit to any such temptations.

    Author Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal,” was on hand to demonstrate painless ways for you to learn how to explore the underbelly of Mac OS X. Now to be perfectly frank about the whole thing, I actually use Terminal most times to connect to our Linux-based Web server. That just shows you the flexibility of that application.

    You’ll also heard from Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith, who has supervised the testing of the newest Mac hardware and other products. Listen to the episode to discover which models truly made the grade when it comes to performance.

    On The Paracast this week, longtime UFO/Nuke connection researcher Robert Hastings joins The Paracast as guest co-host to bring two new military witnesses forward to describe — for the very ?rst time publicly — their experiences with UFOs sighted over sensitive nuclear missile launch sites. Our special guests include Bruce Fenstermacher and Patrick McDonough. Also joining the show will be former USAF Captain Robert Salas, who will be discussing his well-known encounter at Malmstrom AFB in 1967.

    Coming April 5 (rescheduled): Dr. Richard F. Haines, Chief Scientist for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), talks about airline sightings, airline safety, and his extensive research into these strange aerial mysteries.

    Coming April 12 (rescheduled): Ed and Kris Sherwood bring you up to date on the mysterious crop circles. Are they pranks, messages from a universal consciousness, or manifestations of ET? Or all of the above?

    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." You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping, and you can select from most popular sizes.

    DOES THE ULTIMATE MAC KEYBOARD COME FROM IBM?

    I was 11 when I originally learned how to type. No, I didn't take a course at school. In fact, my mom had rented a typewriter -- an electric model -- and gave me a few pointers on where to put my fingers. The rest I had to more or less figure out by myself.

    That typewriter, an old IBM, was a predecessor to the legendary IBM Selectric, which became my favorite writing tool until it developed a few critical mechanical problems in the mid-1980s that would be costly to repair. However, by then, I had discovered the Mac.

    However, the ultimate comfort of that Selectric was never equalled by any keyboard built by Apple. No, not even the legendary Extended Keyboard II, a product subsequently mimicked to a large extent by the Matias Tactile Pro, courtesy of similar key switches.

    Yet, the Apple keyboard wasn't my favorite by a long shot. The hefty, springy feel was great if you were accustomed to pounding your keyboards into submission, but that wasn't my scene. The soft touch and the accompanying clack made by the Selectric and later IBM keyboards still echoed in my ears, long after I stopped using them.

    The next chapter of this little tale takes us to 1996, Unicomp purchased the keyboard line from Lexmark, a former division of IBM that was spun off and, today, is best known for its printers. As evidenced by IBM's later decision to sell off its PC business to Lenovo, it's clear the company has no compunctions about dumping a product line that no longer suited their ongoing marketing strategy.

    That takes us to an article I read in TidBITS earlier this month, in which the author touted the virtues of a Unicomp keyboard that had been repurposed for use on a Mac. What do I mean by repurpose? Well, Unicomp doesn't officially build Mac keyboards, although they'll happily sell you a set of key tops with the familiar "Command" and "Option" labels on them to replace the Windows and Alt keys.

    The next step is to use the Modifier option in the Keyboard preference pane to swap the relabeled Windows and Alt keys so they'll function normally on a Mac. The rest of the keyboard should operate pretty much the same as, well, one of those original Apple keyboards. Unicomp's USB version even provides a cable of sufficient length so, unlike Apple's own keyboards, you don't need to use an extension.

    Since Mrs. Steinberg felt the black and silver Logitech Mac DiNovo keyboard I had previously been using clashed with my beige computer desk, she was grateful when I selected a pearl white and gray Unicomp Spacesaver for my little experiment with retro technology. Price? Just $69, plus $10 for the customized Mac keytops.

    Other than a slightly slimmer profile, the Spacesaver offers precisely the same keyboard layout as the larger models in Unicomp's lineup. Indeed, when I first took the box out of its shipping carton, I realized the heft was not the result of extra packing materials. Unicomp evidently eschews thin plastics and other flimsy parts. In every respect, this heavy product mirrors the one you would have purchased 10 or 15 years ago.

    After replacing the Windows keytops with the Mac variants and making the appropriate adjustments to reposition the keyboard mapping, I sat down and gave the Spacesaver its first layout.

    Each keystroke was represented by a familiar resounding clack, and I can well imagine that a bank of these in an office would encourage the entire staff to fit themselves with iPods and noise canceling headphones to withstand the din. But the sound is certain, sure, reassuring, and since I usually work alone in my office, I quickly became accustomed to the audible confirmation that every motion of my finger produced.

    But don't misunderstand me. The Unicomp is strictly a soft-touch keyboard, surprisingly similar to that old Selectric, although you can probably pound it endlessly without having it suffer from the encounter. Indeed, the Unicomp smacks of robust construction quality through and through, and seems solidly designed and built for years and years of regular use.

    Considering the longevity, the $69 price of admission is fairly modest. No doubt development costs were amortized years ago. In saying that, though, it doesn't seem all that logical that Unicomp isn't building a completely Mac-savvy version. All it requires is to reverse a few internal connections and replacing the keytops at the factory, so you don't have to depend on the Keyboard preference pane to make it work seamlessly on a Mac.

    Or perhaps Unicomp should invest in a Mac programmer to design a system utility that would not only take care of the proper modifier configuration, but maybe allow you to customize some of the function keys in the fashion of Apple's own keyboards.

    One thing is certain: If you want a keyboard with an old fashioned feel and build quality to match, the Unicomp Spacesaver should definitely be high on your shopping list.

    THE NIGHT OWL FINDS A REPLACEMENT VOIP PROVIDER

    As regular readers know, I dumped Vonage as my business phone provider a couple of months back. It wasn't necessarily the result of bad service, but simply the lack flexibility with the existing features and the hope I could save a small amount of money by moving to one of their competitors in the VoIP industry.

    Quitting Vonage proved a somewhat toxic process, as I got threats instead of friendly attempts to keep my business. So not only did they lose my business, I wouldn't recommend them to anyone seeking a low-cost telephone provider. There are better options.

    This week, I'm going to report on my second choice. The original, which I won't name, was in a pre-launch mode. Connection quality was great and pretty reliable. But some of the important features weren't completely functional, and others, such as "Find Me Follow Me," which allows for sequential ringing of your various phone numbers, hadn't been implemented yet.

    After doing some research of dozens and dozens of customer reviews, I decide to give ITP, The Internet Telephone Service Provider, a try. This small company is based in New York City and has received lots of complements from customers. The feature set is rich, and the prices are pretty low for what they offer.

    I selected the "Global Unlimited" plan, with a monthly price of $24.99, which gives you free connections to landlines in the U.S. and over other 35 countries. If you don't make foreign calls, you can choose "Premium Unlimited," at $19.99, which restricts you to the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. There's also a basic plan, at $9.99, which restricts you to 500 minutes, and I suspect that may prove to be more than sufficient for many of you.

    If you don't opt for international calls as part of the package, you can call overseas as needed at pretty low rates.

    There are also two-line plans, business plans, plus a load of the usual options, such as toll-free lines, virtual numbers in other cities, faxing and international cell phone plans. The calling options are also plentiful, with the ability to set up a blacklist with which to block calls from specific numbers -- and no I won't call them bill collectors -- and even a music-on-hold capability.

    After placing the order, it took approximately five days to get the supplied Linksys adapter, which is used by a number of VoIP carriers with great success. It took a total of three weeks from the time of the initial order to successfully port my regular business number to ITP.

    VoIP is more of a proven technology these days, which means that call quality is apt to be quite good no matter whom you choose. Indeed, ITP's service has been as close to perfect as any service I've tried. Even when calling my son at his apartment in Spain, the connection was initiated swiftly, and sound quality near as good as a local call.

    Glitches are few. The music feature doesn't work on all phones, something they readily admit, largely because some phones insert their own audio signal on the connection. The second problem is one that may be due to an issue with one of ITP's carriers, the inability to fully access Caller ID information from people who contract for phone service with Cox Communications. Instead of the name, you get "Unavailable," but that's something ITP is working through, so I'm sure it'll be resolved soon.

    Customer service has been uniformly excellent. If they don't have an answer on-the-spot, you can depend on a knowledgeable representative calling you back within, at most, a few hours.

    As you can tell, I"m pleased with my choice, and I can, without hesitation, recommend ITP as your next VoIP telephone service.

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #487”

    1. Christopher says:

      I've used AT&T CallVantage for a while and they have had the best feature set out there. They stopped offering the service to new customers a while back and I've not been able to find anything as good (features, portal, pricing). The ITP offer looks fairly good, but I'd like to know what others you evaluated.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on March 30th, 2009 at 8:24 AM:

      Packet8 was decent, but they had some software issues at the time I used them.

      There was another company with features similar to ITP -- I forget their name -- but they didn't offer Toll Free service for residential lines.

      Best thing to do is check not just the praises but the criticisms of the companies that seem suitable for your needs.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Jim H. says:

      Gene,

      I took a look at the keyboard and liked it. But was confused. Since I don't have a PS2 connector USB is my only option. The info on the website: http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/en104bl.html said "The SpaceSaver PS2 models can be programmed at the time of manufacture, the USB models are not programmable." .... so it begs the question of how you remapped the keys?

      Regards,

      Jim

      Reply To This Comment

    3. @ Jim H.: The answer is in the article. Using the Keyboard preference pane. What they mean is that they cannot reprogram the keys at their end with the USB configuration. Not sure why, but that's how it is. It doesn't affect what you can do, though.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Doug Aghassi says:

      Got to love the great keyboards, huh Gene?

      I just typed that on my Apple Extended Keyboard II that I picked up about 3 years ago from a surplus gear sale at a small university in Flagstaff, AZ. The keyboard was basically brand new when I got it. It must have been sitting in some closet while a bunch of Windows PC's most likely replaced it and its old parent computer. The vintage keyboard masterpiece cost me $5, but the "iMate" USB to ADB adapter cost me almost $40! Still worth it in my opinion.

      Gene, you are right about the Apple Extended II in the sense that you cannot get away with touch-typing on this beast.

      a picture of my setup, with the Apple Extended Keyboard II can be seen at my website (link above).

      Reply To This Comment

    5. Ilgaz says:

      In case you have never, ever used a PC Keyboard on a Mac, this better be said. The "Windows" key happily functions as "Apple" key and F12 (long press in newer OS X) means eject.

      Mysteriously, OS X also seems to understand Volume Up/Down and Mute on generic PC keyboards. At least on Logitech (it is PC model).

      About the proper (full support) via kernel extension... I got Macally USB keyboard and they offer a Mac "driver" which is essentially a kernel extension and an application. Now, I know the OS X kernel extension model is state of art for backwards compatibility but one can never be sure. So what do I do? I didn't install the extension and lost the Volume etc. function. I can't really trust Apple Leopard regarding a extension like that. Probably needless phobia but there will be a lot of people who doesn't like the idea of "keyboard driver".

      Look at the feedback Logitech gets about the "Logitech control center" which is mandatory for their really advanced peripherals. Not good. Why? It has to run at OS/kernel level guaranteeing potential issues.

      Reply To This Comment

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