Every so often, you read another story about a new Mac malware outbreak, only the outbreak is generally something else again, a proof of concept, or a limited infection that depends on social engineering to deliver a nasty payload. There are also occasional lurid stories that Internet criminals have broken into key government computers, at the Pentagon, the air traffic control system and elsewhere.
Just how much do we have to fear anyway from all this deviltry? Well, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, security guru Rich Mogull explored such pressing issues as cybersecurity, and whether it’s possible for terrorists to take over air traffic control, in the fashion depicted on such TV fare as “24.” You also received a Mac security status report, one that clearly demonstrated that things are nowhere near as tragic as some would have us believe.
Indeed, we still haven’t seen reason to install security software on our Macs. That time may well come some day — that’s a fact I will never dispute — but it hasn’t happened yet, despite what some would have you believe.
Composer and musician Jeff Tolbert joined us to discuss his latest e-books, “Take Control of Recording with Garage Band ‘09? and “Take Control of Making Music with Garage Band ‘09.” You also received hints and trips on choosing the right mic and other recording equipment.
With Mac OS 10.5.7 now out, we called on Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths to report on the things you didn’t know about the latest Leopard update, and about potential problems you may encounter. Indeed, one of Rob’s own computers, an Intel-based iMac, froze at the blue screen when he first installed the update. During the interview, he explained how he solved the problem.
This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, we present a special “Listener Roundtable,” featuring five loyal listeners and avid participants in our forums, known to their friends as BrandonD, Dusty, Fahrusha, Schuyler and Skunkape, who will sit back, relax, and discuss the strange and unknown. They will also reveal some of their own incredible personal experiences.
Coming May 24: UFO investigators Robert Hastings and Don Ecker (who considers himself retired from the field) discuss UFOs and disinformation. They will cover such issues as how the spread of false information has hindered efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Coming May 31: UFO author, researcher and lecturer L.A. Marzulli discusses UFOs, their possible origin and the impact of Biblical prophecies on present-day events.
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.
Some tech writers have been telling us that we’re all moving towards cloud-based services. Not just email and the Web, but productivity apps, such as a word processor and spreadsheet, will soon all be hosted by massive server farms around the world. Instead of installing this stuff on your Mac and PC, you’ll just access the interface in your favorite browser.
Indeed, this state of affairs, should it come to pass, will mean the virtual (literally) end of the operating system wars, since it won’t matter. Issues of the Mac versus the PC versus Linux will prove irrelevant. Whatever you want you get, because any current browser will be able to access the services you want. Even better, in this environment you won’t even need to travel with your own computer. The hotel could leave one in your room, next to the TV, and you’d just login and do your work.
Right now, though, it seems that such dreams — assuming that’s what they are of course — are far from being fulfilled. In recent days, for example, Google, one of the guiding lights in the migration to cloud computing, suffered another of its periodic outages recently. Although the problem supposedly originated in Asia, soon Google users from around the world were unable to access their Gmail and other services for a period of up to several hours.
Amazon’s S3 service, another pioneer in online access, has also suffered from occasional hiccoughs, and you all remember the rough, ragged rollout of MobileMe, Apple’s successor to .Mac. For days and weeks on end, getting your .Mac mail was an uncertain process, and a small number of messages stored online may have been lost as Apple struggled to straighten this mess out.
Even Microsoft, which hardly has been on the cusp of Internet-bred technology, has come to realize that confining their product lineup to desktop-based operating systems, applications and services may not be so good an idea. It’s time for them to embrace the future, and they couldn’t tolerate a future that doesn’t include their own proprietary standards.
Now this doesn’t mean that all these initiatives are destined to failure. It is telling, however, that Google continues to leave the “Beta” label on most of its services, other than basic search. While their marketing spin has it that Gmail and Google Apps, for example, are fully ready to be deployed in the business world, the fact of the matter is that they are still not fully reliable. Certainly not to the level of old-fashioned landline telephone hookups, let alone even a typical cable TV connection.
This doesn’t mean that the cloud is without a future. I would think that Amazon, Apple, Google, and thousands of hosting providers have been using the periodic service interruptions as a learning experience. One hopes they are all struggling to make their networks more fault tolerant, with greater redundancy, so that a small outage in one or more servers won’t take down an entire network.
Now supposedly that’s the way these systems were supposed to work, although it seems that they aren’t quite that reliable in the real world. They all, however, depend on the Internet, a system designed decades ago, and maybe that’s also one of the problems.
Supposedly more advanced Internet systems are being devised in test laboratories and being tested on university campuses, in the same fashion as the original Internet. Over time, it may well be that the outages will become less frequent, and, after a few years, we’ll realize that they are so few and far between that we no longer have to be concerned that services may suddenly come to a shattering halt, or that our precious data might suddenly disappear for good.
Today, my reliance on the cloud is is probably not as high as some of you. I seldom check my email in a Web-based client. For now, I prefer Apple Mail, and since it does cache downloaded messages from our IMAP server, if there is a service interruption, I do not lose any data. However, I do believe in redundancy and my particular method includes accounts on Gmail and MobileMe. In addition, our primary Web host, 1and1 Internet, has their own email system, and I can fairly easily switch to accounts I main on their regular services if the one we lease from them misbehaves for an extended period.
However, there is a part of my workflow that doesn’t lend itself to the cloud, and that is the large audio files I record and edit for two weekly radio shows. The typical uncompressed two-hour recording weighs in at just under 1.2GB each, and that’s rather large to maintain in the cloud, particularly when it comes to backups. Fortunately, my backups are done locally, using a second internal drive on my Mac Pro for clone backups, and an Apple Time Capsule with Leopard’s Time Machine.
That is now. In the future, without doubt most people in the civilized world will have broadband services with huge upload and download speeds that’ll take multiple gigabyte files in stride. Then the cloud may indeed come into its own.
But not yet.
The bane of a printer maker’s existence is the third-party consumable. In keeping with the legendary “Gillette tradition,” the lion’s share of the profits earned by one of these companies comes not from selling the product itself, but from the ink or toner that you need to keep it chugging away.
Now these companies would all prefer that you use their own products, rather than the olds made by a third party. They have also strived to patent the formulas they use in their consumables, which makes it far harder for other companies to match the ink or toner mixtures. So outside suppliers are forced to emulate the factory original as close as they can.
Some indeed come real close, while others just don’t deliver the goods. Indeed, my experiences have been quite mixed in using third-party consumables. When it comes to inkjet printers, you may pay considerably less, for example, but quite often the imitation product delivers poorer colors and produces fewer copies before it runs out of ink. When it comes to printer toner, I’ve seen inconsistent quality. One cartridge seems a near match for the OEM variety, while the next, bearing the same manufacturer’s label, is barely acceptable.
For ink jet printers, manufacturers will caution that models with separate print heads may experience clogging, although I’ve not seen that happen — at least not till very recently.
You see, I decided to experiment with third-party consumables on my Xerox Phaser 8560DN solid ink printer, and the outcome was extremely nasty.
Now maybe I should have investigated the situation more carefully, but I succumbed to the promises made by LD Products, a California-based company that’s been around for ten years, that their products are fully equivalent to OEM versions. They also sell their merchandise through Amazon, and I figured, with that background ,they ought to be able to deliver the goods.
Indeed, the solid ink for my printer cost less than half Xerox’s price. So far so good. Indeed, print quality seemed all right, although it can take time for ink to melt and circulate through the system on a solid ink printer, so my initial impressions weren’t quite realized once the third-party ink hit the print heads.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was my decision to save a few dollars and purchase LD Products’ own branded maintenance kit for my printer.
Indeed, within a few days, two symptoms reared their ugly heads. The first was poor ink transfer, which meant lots of tiny spots in areas on the printed page with extended coverage of solid colors. On occasion, a page would actually stick in the printer, a symptom Xerox later described as “jam on exit.”
As the symptoms worsened, I took advantage of my Xerox extended service contract, and called for help. They happen to have a large company-owned service force, and the technician arrived at my office within two hours of the original call. Even though the Phaser line tends to develop mechanical troubles from time time, one of the reasons I purchased this printer was Xerox’s great service.
The technician did find one or two worn parts that he promptly replaced, but the annoying symptoms persisted. When he examined the maintenance kit, he happened to notice the “remanufactured” label that it bore, and cautioned me that some third-party consumables might damage the printer. Indeed he blamed that kit as the cause of the poor ink transfer and the jamming symptoms, and then showed me how the print heads were being clogged by LD Products’ solid ink sticks.
At this point, I was stuck, because the technician said some of this damage may have been permanent. Ouch! Fortunately, in his attempts to get things to work anyway, he damaged the printer’s chassis, and used that as a reason to persuade Xerox to simply replace the printer.
The new unit is currently purring away in my office. I have returned all remaining consumables to LD Products for a refund, one that they promise will arrive within seven days. In the meantime, let my experiences serve as a warning for you to be extremely careful. Even though the original manufacturer’s consumables may cost a whole lot more money, what they provide in quality and reliability may well be worth it.
Now maybe some day, printer makers will license — voluntarily or by government antitrust edict — official third-party consumables for their products. But for now, I suggest you stick with the original equipment version, particularly for an expensive printer that your business depends on.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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