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  • Newsletter Issue #680

    December 10th, 2012

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It's not often that we feature the same guest two weeks in a row, but on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVEKirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," returns for a detailed discussion of the good, bad and ugly elements of iTunes 11 for the Mac and PC. You'll learn about which features Apple removed, the important feature that will soon be restored, and about things that might be done better in a future version.

    While I'm personally not at all certain that the new features in iTunes 11 are so compelling as to make that upgrade worthwhile, it's also true that it seems to launch and do its thing in a snappier fashion. A faster app is always a good thing, and perhaps I'll become accustomed to the interface changes over time. At least iTunes no longer seems as bloated as it used to be. However, Apple has yet to fix any of the issues I've observed in iTunes Match, but that fix doesn't depend on which version of iTunes you're running. It's about cloud servers and algorithms and such.

    We'll also feature Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who will talk about his recent odyssey, where the electric power in his office, powering loads of tech gear, was "fried" while on a recent vacation. He'll also discuss Tim Cook's lengthy interviews with NBC and Bloomberg Businessweek, the implications of those tantalizing statements about building Macs in the U.S., and the potential for an Apple smart TV set.

    Now finding specifics in what Cook said may be difficult. Yes, one of the Macs will be built here, and you'll hear my guess as to which model on the show, but I don't think it's a stretch. It's also true that Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturing partner, is looking at enhancing their manufacturing facilities in the U.S., so it may well be that Apple might be investing at least some of a promised $100 million to make that happen. On the other hand, since such a factory will be mostly robot-driven, published reports suggest that no more than 200 new employees would be added. But I'll have more to say on those topics in the next article.

    Special Sci-Fi Update! Last month, our second sci-fi novel, "Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors" was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, "Attack of the Rockoids." Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It's available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author/researcher Gary A. David. His new book covers his archaeoastronomy work, "Star Shrines and Earthworks of the Desert Southwest," which correlates the locations of ancient Native American village sites to star constellations. He'll also cover other fascinating topics like crypto-creatures, star ancestors, star-gate shrines, ancient pyramids and canals in Phoenix, Hopi mysteries and prophecies, underground cities and a host of other cool topics.

    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 TIM COOK INTERVIEW: MORE IS LESS

    So the media still appears to believe that Apple CEO Tim Cook was extremely forthcoming in his recent interviews for Bloomberg and NBC News, and that you are learning all sorts of new things about him and Apple's future direction. Or maybe not!

    I watched the NBC interview, and read every word of the Bloomberg piece. It's clear to me that everything Cook said was carefully rehearsed, and no doubt developed to provide the maximum possible buzz in the media. There was very little information that was in any way new. Most of it amounted to nothing more than a retread of the things we already knew based on Apple's product releases and previous statements attributed to Cook and other Apple executives.

    Think about the "revelation" that Apple was investing $100 to bring Mac manufacturing to the U.S. Now you've probably also noticed that some of the new iMacs are labeled as assembled in the U.S., which is something Apple cannot promise without meeting a very complicated set of regulations about how much of the product is built in this country.

    I'll assume, since there's no evidence to the contrary, that the labels aren't in error. But building some computers in the U.S. is not unique to Apple these days. HP already assembles some servers at a domestic factory.

    But even if a Mac is built in the U.S., it doesn't mean that all of the parts will be made in this country. It is apt to be a mixture. As most of you know, Intel has a number of American plants, one, in fact, that's a short drive from my home in nearby Chandler, AZ. The processor is one of the most expensive parts of any Mac, other than the display, perhaps, on the 27-inch iMac. The chip may be small, but it's still a significant part of the cost of building these computers.

    During his interviews, Cook again repeated the statement that the "engine" of the iPad and the iPhone was built in the U.S., meaning the A5 and A6 chips. Both are said to be assembled at a Samsung plant in Texas. The glass used on these products comes from Kentucky, and both are now shipped to Asia for final assembly.

    In all, Cook says that Apple has created some 600,000 jobs in the U.S., and that figure mostly includes third party developers and independent resellers. Again, that's also not new; we heard that before. Out of all the chatter, then, only the revelation of a $100 million investment and the plans to build a line of Macs in the U.S. are actually new.

    It's also true that, even if only 200 jobs are added to the production facility itself, which is what the predictions state, supply chain expansion in the region where this unnamed Mac is being produced will mean additional jobs. And, by the way, during last weekend's episode of Tech Night Owl LIVE, both Bob LeVitus and I agreed the U.S. built computer would be a Mac Pro. I see that Forbes magazine is now singing the same tune.

    When it comes to the prospects for an Apple TV, once again the media is taking this a little too far. It all comes from the telltale statement from Steve Jobs, quoted in Walter Isaacson's authorized biography, that he had "cracked" the code to deliver the best TV interface ever.

    Cook's follow up? "When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. It's an area of intense interest. I can't say more than that."

    But what did he say that he hasn't said already?

    Yes, we know Apple wants to do something in the TV space. But that doesn't mean there's a full-blown Apple smart TV in our future, and not just a souped up Apple TV set top box. It's also possible that Apple could license iOS technology for premium TV sets built by other companies. That's nothing unique, since Apple is already doing that with Siri for car makers.

    The question is whether it makes any sense for Apple to build and sell their own TV sets. The existing Apple Stores aren't designed to display or store those huge sets and shipping containers. It is hard enough to lug your brand spanking new 40-pound Mac Pro from an Apple Store. A 50-inch LCD set, for example, may weigh from 50 to 70 pounds gross weight when boxed. Will Apple provide wheeled carts to move them to your car, assuming there's even room to put it there? Is Apple going to want to become just another Best Buy?

    Besides, there are loads of great TVs out there now. The major problem is the interface and the flexibility in managing multiple devices, such as gaming consoles and Blu-ray players. Apple doesn't have to build a TV set to solve those problems, nor does it make sense for Apple to expect to replace such peripherals with an enhanced streaming service.

    At the end of the day, when you parse Cook's statements in these two interviews, you find that there was far less than meets the eye.

    MOUNTAIN LION AND AUDIO DISTORTION

    Since upgrading to Mountain Lion in July, I have experienced some odd audio hiccups, but I have just assumed it was some sort of lingering hardware defect. But recent experiences, and a little research, indicate that my problems are not unique, and it's not the fault of my Mac, my mixer, or any of my studio mics.

    The symptoms are pretty much the same. A segment of a recording I make, usually during an interview for my two radio shows, becomes unbearably distorted. It is less the effect of overload, and more a scratchy distorted overlay on my voice. It lasts for a few seconds, and disappears just as quickly.

    In order to isolate this problem, I've switched from a Yamaha to a Mackie outboard analog mixer and back. I've migrated from a Blue Yeti Pro analog/digital studio mic, a condenser model, to a standard Shure SM-58 dynamic mic. The latter is great for voice work and is often used on location.

    Since the Yeti Pro can hook up direct to a computer via a USB cable, I experimented with that setup as an alternative. When hooked up to the mixer, I ran the output through my late 2009 iMac's line in port and also via USB, courtesy of the Griffin Technologies iMic adapter.

    I even tried different applications to make recordings, and it seemed that those designed to capture sound from multiple sources, such as Skype, were the ones most likely to reveal these symptoms. Since one of those apps is still in beta, I won't mention it for now.

    Through all this experimentation, the problem remained as elusive as ever. For a time, I thought there might be a hardware defect, but didn't want to lose the computer for several days at an Apple Store to find out, not to mention the cost of a possible logic board replacement, since the machine is out of warranty.

    Now I should have done a little research to see if other Mountain Lion users have had similar problems. I didn't under the mistaken belief that it was a local phenomenon that I would, with proper trial and error, resolve. But spending time on Google to seek a solution made it clear that there's a fair amount of misery reported by others who have encountered similar issues with OS 10.8.

    There's no single application or audio input configuration that seems more apt to produce variations of these symptoms. Some people suggest they just need new drivers for their audio input hardware, but there appears to have been no consistent solution.

    Unfortunately, when a problem is erratic and not reliably reproduced, it only makes it that much harder to get a handle on the cause. But one developer attributed such symptoms to the major changes in the way Apple managed the core audio scheme beginning in Lion. He tells me: "The new audio subsystem (as of Lion) moved all of the audio processing and mixing out of the kernel into user space.  There are plenty of good reasons for doing that.  They just don't seem to have gotten it right yet." Evidently the problem is worse in Mountain Lion.

    Obviously this has caused conniptions on the part of developers to get their apps and drivers to work properly. Unfortunately, it may have also had unintended consequences, which means that a solution may not come as quickly as one might hope.

    Now I suppose it's also possible that an existing third-party audio kernel extension might also be a contributor to this unfortunate side effect, but there's still a 10.8 connection.

    I suppose I could just wipe my iMac's hard drive and revert to, say, Lion, where, despite the changes in core audio, I didn't encounter these symptoms. But restoring my computer may be more annoying than just tolerating the phenomenon, and rerecording a few segments from time to time.

    Of course, one can always hope that Apple will soon realize there is a problem, and will find a fix in a future Mountain Lion Update. Under the reorganized Apple leadership, I have reason to believe that Apple might be more amenable to fixing such irritants than before. After all, they did restore color icons to the sidebar in iTunes 11. That is progress.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #680”

    1. Ted Schroeder says:

      Maybe I have too much faith in myself, but it seems obvious from the two interviews that Apple is going to make a TV. It'll have a built-in camera like the 27" monitor does and they'll make commercials that promote the FaceTime functionality. Maybe Samsung and others make something like it already using Skype, but so what. With Apple's version, your TV can 'ring' just like your phone does.

      Also of interest may be this article, http://www.cultofmac.com/205164/apple-to-make-hollywood-an-offer-it-cant-refuse/. It's just speculation, but Apple is a Lion and these days the TV/Cable industry has a lot of slow gazelles.

      Also, Apple may be approaching cable companies like HBO and AMC so that their programming is an app in both the hockey puck version of Apple TV and the Apple TV in the monitor version.

      Throw in another idea: that in the Apple TV in the monitor version, Apple's gum stick remote is the remote for Apple's OS and the TV itself and you have one less remote to mess with. Maybe even Comcast or Time Warner or Cable Provider X's system might be controllable thru the gum stick remote. I'm liking that.

      And throw in yet another idea: with some software OS changes, the monitor version becomes a full-blown gaming platform.

      The more I think about, the more I think- Yeah, these guys know what they're doing.

      Reply To This Comment

    2. John Dortmunder says:

      For what it's worth, I bought a mid-2010 iMac in September 2010 directly from Apple and the carton clearly states "Computer Assembled In USA".

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 11th, 2012 at 11:24 AM:

      @John Dortmunder, So much for this being a new situation.

      Peace,
      Gene

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