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  • Newsletter Issue #663

    August 13th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    With reports that Apple is currently testing a 10.8.1 update for Mountain Lion, you can be sure people are talking about possible bugs in the first release. Some will focus on shorter battery lifetimes on some Mac note-books, while others are complaining of tepid performance and kernel panics.

    As I said, I haven’t had serious problems with Mountain Lion. Yes, I do have one Mac note-book, a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. It runs well with Mountain Lion, but I haven’t actually done a comprehensive battery life test, since it’s usually connected to the power supply. I’ll accept other reports, including one from one of our regular guests on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, as ample evidence that there is a problem. It is also reported that Apple has approached some customers to retrieve system logs to see what is causing serious battery life drain. I wonder how Microsoft would react if Windows users reported serious reductions in battery life right after a major Windows upgrade arrived.

    Speaking of OS 10.8 bugs, on this week’s show, we brought on Mac author and troubleshooting expert Ted Landau to discuss the changes and possible problems and fixes for OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. This is one subject I’ll have more to say about later in this issue.

    Michael Prospero, Reviews Editor for Laptop magazine, presents a preliminary “smackdown” of Microsoft’s Windows 8 versus Apple’s Mountain Apple. Yes, I realize that this evaluation includes the last prerelease of Windows 8, so it’s always possible the situation might change for the better for Microsoft with the release version. Or perhaps not. That Metro is apparently being rebadged as “Modern UI” isn’t going to eliminate any of the problems. But that is a pretty lame choice. Considering that the artwork scheme for the tiles seems a little old fashioned, maybe change Metro to Retro and be done with it.

    Author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” talks about an unannounced new feature of Mountain Lion, some possible bugs, and ongoing iTunes music download issues.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return appearance from Ed Komarek, author of “UFO’s Exopolitics and the New World Disorder.” We’ll discuss a variety of topics in addition to the book, such as Steven Greer’s recent announcement that an alien body is being held on ice for DNA testing, the unlikelihood of disclosure, and other hot-button issues.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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, along with a redesigned storefront.

    THE MOUNTAIN LION REPORT: IS MY PROBLEM YOUR PROBLEM?

    So I’ve been spending a fair amount of time reading the initial chatter about Mountain Lion. While it appears to be a mostly solid release, there are those inevitable growing pains that Apple will have to address in the first couple of maintenance updates.

    Chief among these is battery life. A fair number of early adopters are reporting significant reductions on a number of Mac note-books. Apple is reportedly investigating the problem, which means they are taking it seriously enough to be considering a solution.

    Now power management is not something easily handled, and it may require a lot of field testing to see why these problems are happening, and what sort of solutions are needed. It’s also not the first time Apple has run into such difficulties after an OS update. Last fall, in the days after iOS 5 arrived, users of the iPhone 4 and 4S reported subpar battery life. It required two updates to pretty much set things right, though I gather there may be a small number of users who are still complaining.

    As I’ve stated in recent weeks, my Mountain Lion experiences have been quite positive. Stability is first-rate. I ran into a single issue where a runaway Contacts process sucked up resources and slowed things down noticeably. But logging out of iCloud, logging in again, and throwing away a bunch of Address Book preference files appears to have set things right, although syncing is still flaky. There are some contacts on my iMac, for example, that never show up on my iPhone, although minor updates to an existing address listed on both platforms seem to propagate quickly.

    That, however, may be more of an iCloud issue that one involving Mountain Lion.

    As you might have seen in the comments about my recent articles, one feature that Apple restored, Save As (at least the version that works with Auto Save) doesn’t operate quite the same as the previous tried-and-true version, which is causing a fair amount of confusion. Maybe Apple will consider some revisions or at least a clear explanation of the consequences to an existing document when Save As is invoked after a number of changes to a document have been saved by the OS.

    Typical with a new OS release, there are reports of kernel panics and slow performance. This comes at the same time as others report that responsiveness seems faster, and stability is really good. How do we connect the positives to the negatives, or can we?

    Third party software can often be blamed for such ills. Apple typically makes huge and unexpected changes in revising an OS, and app developers are going to have to fix a few things. Or more than a few things, depending on what the app is designed to do. I like to think Apple has good reason to make changes that render apps incompatible, for otherwise what’s the point?

    Over the next few months, you’ll see more and more app updates that will fix problems with Mountain Lion, and perhaps some of the problems users are reporting will go away. Maybe I’m lucky, but only a handful of the apps I regularly use are lying idle in wait of a Mountain Lion compatible update. One example is Ambrosia’s WireTap Studio, a sound editing and capture app that relies on system capabilities that have changed. For now, I’m relying on Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro.

    Another Ambrosia app that requires a Mountain Lion fix is Soundboard, which sets up an online cart machine, putting audio clips (such as themes, bumpers and spots) at the beck and call of a broadcaster or DJ. Unfortunately, I cannot use Soundboard for now, since it is no longer able to send audio through Skype, along with the audio from my outboard analog mixer, so my radio show guests can hear both.

    I have tried an alternative cart machine app recommended by a colleague, Sound Byte, from Black Cat Systems, which can also fire off audio clips at preset times. This is great for broadcasting, as you might expect, but Sound Byte doesn’t seem to be capable of performing any special tricks to funnel the output mixed with internal audio through Skype. But it otherwise shows great promise.

    Returning to Mountain Lion, I am not persuaded it is buggier than previous versions of OS X. My experiences, and those of a lot of others with whom I am in contact, point to the reverse. OS 10.8 is quite good for a point-zero release. With published reports that testing of a 10.8.1 update is already underway, it is likely that most of the more serious bugs will be eradicated soon.

    On the other hand, I’ve always warned off being an early adopter unless you’re ready to endure a little pain. It’s part of my job description, of course, but I have had few complaints with Mountain Lion. For those of you still waiting on the sidelines, there’s no harm in waiting a while more for 10.8.1 to be released. Assuming the battery life and other reported issues are addressed, that will be an ideal time to dive in and enjoy.

    Until 10.9 arrives of course.

    MORE WACKINESS FROM CONSUMER REPORTS

    I am convinced I have good reason to keep carping about the way Consumer Reports reviews Apple gear. In recent months, the magazine’s appears to have made one more blatant attempt to grab headlines because a perceived fault with one of Apple’s products. Take the announcements their spokespeople made that they would get to the bottom of the new iPad’s alleged thermal problems. In the wake of a few complaints that had the thing running hotter under load than the iPad 2, CR evidently believed there was smoke behind the fire, but don’t take that too literally.

    True, CR’s published tests concluded that the third generation iPad ran somewhat hotter than the previous version, but not so hot as to be unacceptable. It’s also curious that CR’s results were noticeably hotter than just about every other published test I could find, as if they pushed a little too hard. CR’s most severe test involved running a resource hungry game at full bore while charging the unit at the very same time. This isn’t quite normal use and service, but CR still failed to damage the iPad, and it almost seems that was their intent.

    Well, CR evaluates yet another Apple product, movie streaming from iTunes, in the September 2012 issue. Here Apple ends up second best, a point behind Vudu, even though the “Survey results” make them seem identical. Movie selection is considered average, and price is, well, worse. Curiously, the video-on-demand offerings from cable and satellite providers — which are curiously not broken down by service — are rated as even more expensive, even though average cost, from $4.00 to $5.00 each, is the same as iTunes. I suppose CR might be referring to special VOD events, such as sports, but it’s hard to know since the article doesn’t explain the discrepancy, but that’s just typical for CR.

    Amazon Instant Video gets an average rating on price even though the listed cost is the same as iTunes and VOD. Are you confused yet?

    When it comes to disc rentals, the struggling Netflix gets top marks, with high ratings for selection, convenience and picture quality. The latter is curious, since they are delivering the same DVD and Blu-ray media as other rental services, or maybe they are comparing that rating to the streaming services. No, that’s not it, because Vudu, iTunes, and Amazon are also listed as better than average, even though it’s been demonstrated in some very carefully crafted reviews that, for example, 1080p streaming and 1080p Blu-ray are not identical. The devil is in the details, and you get less detail in the streaming version, since the video files have to undergo additional compression to be small enough to reduce download times. If you look closely, you will see the difference.

    Or maybe CR just looked at the specs, not actual picture quality, and declared 1080p streaming to be identical to 1080p Blu-ray.

    Another curious lapse is that CR, in a feature article that fills all of five pages, never reveals that new DVD releases to Netflix may be delayed for up to 56 days, to give the movie companies additional time to earn VOD and sell-through income from new titles. As someone who likes to rent the first week a new release appears, that was the deal breaker for me, which is why I went to Blockbuster Total Access, a service rated last among disc rental establishments by CR.

    All right, the selection at Blockbuster may not be as good as Netflix (when you disregard the new release holdback by the latter), and it takes an extra day for discs to arrive, but I usually get the titles I want when I want them. I do not have to wait nearly two months, as I did with Netflix. But CR remains unaware of this serious difference, and, once again, fails to provide an informative and accurate review.

    Oh, and one more thing: In reviewing desktop PCs with the new Intel Ivy Bridge processors, CR neglects to mention that the two Macs included in the review, two versions of the iMac, have not as yet been updated with Ivy Bridge parts. Despite that potential shortcoming, the 27-inch iMac still gets performance scores that are identical to the ones that do. There’s brief mention that a Windows 8 is coming, but nothing about Mountain Lion, which was announced long before this issue of CR was edited.

    Yes, it boggles the mind.

    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: Sharon Jarvis



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