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  • Newsletter Issue #706

    June 10th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Does it make sense to try to parse the hidden meanings behind what Apple CEO Tim Cook says at his various public presentations? Well, on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, discussed the recent appearance of Apple CEO Tim Cook at an AllThingsD event, and what he calls "Cook Code." He'll also talked about the tragic state of iPad magazines, operations research and tech warfare, and delivered an iPhone veteran's review of the Samsung Galaxy Note II "phablet," a large smartphone with tablet pretensions.

    Now as far as Mr. Cook is concerned, perhaps he's getting more attention than he deserves. He's not a government officials. He's just the head of a company that builds tech gadgets that people buy. If he has something real to announce, he's surely not shy enough to say so. No reason to guess. Apple will not, for example, be reticent about announcing a number of new products at the upcoming WWDC, so what difference does it make? Well, when it comes to Apple, part of the fun is the guessing game.

    If you're in the market for a car, you'll want to hear from Dennis Miller, Founder and CEO of SNAFU Scan, an iOS and Android app that helps you check whether your car has been recalled by the manufacturer, and the ability to examine used car auction prices to see if your dealer is ripping you off on a trade. As far as buying a car is concerned, did you realize that there may be as many as three transactions involved in a single purchase? You trade your old car, you buy the new or used car and most of you finance that purchase. Each of those transactions is separate, with room for negotiation, and each a source of significant profits for a dealer if you're not careful.

    In our third segment, Joe Wilcox, Managing Editor of BetaNews, talked about his recent decision to move his wireless service from AT&T to T-Mobile, and proceeded to discuss what we might expect to see in Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update, and whether it can address some of the concerns about the original Windows 8 release.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Gary Heseltine, a retired constable in the UK who, in 1975, encountered a bright, white light that triggered a series of power grid failures. This sparked a lifelong interest in UFOs that spanned through his career as a police detective. Heseltine has established the Police Report UFO Sightings (PRUFOS), a database containing hundreds of sightings from law enforcement officers. He is also editor of a UFO magazine: UFO Truth.

    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." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    WHAT I DON'T EXPECT TO SEE AT THE WWDC

    I don't mind taking a minor risk from time to time. Several times a week, I post a commentary that I believe at least a few people want to read, and I've done so since 1999. I've attended a number of Apple keynotes at the WWDC, the Macworld Expo, during the years in which Apple was present, and loads of special media events.

    However, that experience doesn't necessarily qualify me to guess what Apple is going to do. I've observed enough surprises over the years. In saying that, though, stories about Apple sometimes leak more often than leaks about the NSA's domestic spying activities. Some of those rumors may by made up jobs, while others might come from supply chain sources.

    Yet it's also quite possible that Apple is responsible for some of the stories about possible future products and services. An Apple executive can deliver the news on background to a mainstream news outlet, on the condition that there be no direct quotes or attribution to any person. Watch for words and phrases about "sources close to Apple" and so on and so forth for evidence of a deliberate disclosure.

    However, that doesn't mean that the product or service being written about is actually going to come to pass. Maybe it's just a trial balloon, and if the news comes from the supply chain, it may simply indicate that Apple has built some prototypes, but the finished product will never go on sale.

    Without disclosing the name of the product, I remember when I was a member of Apple's CQF (Customer Quality Feedback) program in the 1990s. From time to time, I'd receive a new computer to evaluate for a few weeks. One of those Mac prototypes was recalled abruptly; I had to return it to Apple for final disposition. The model in question never reached production, and I can only say that it didn't represent any significant technological achievement, so it may have been put on the back burner as part of the effort by Steve Jobs to reduce model proliferation. It's not that I ever received a real response as to the reason for the decision.

    Now when it comes to the WWDC, most of what will be introduced has been amply telegraphed in the media. There may be a handful of question marks, or a product or two that will be delayed a short time, but you should probably not expect to to see a new iPhone or iPad, nor anything related to Apple's "grand vision" for your living room.

    Normally, whenever a new iPhone or iPad is due to arrive, you'll see evidence in the form of photos or drawings of prototype parts, some of it real, some of it fanciful. You're already seeing some of that, but little evidence of full-scale production of the next generation of these two products.

    In the scheme of things, a summer introduction for an iPhone is not out of the question, but Apple would likely prefer to see that launch happen when the new iOS is ready. The release timeframe at WWDC will provide significant clues when an iPhone 5s or whatever it'll be called will appear. Model designations in the code for iOS 7 would likely represent the forthcoming models, and will be examined closely.

    When it comes to OS X, all I can say is that the final release doesn't always coincide with the launch of a new Mac, but sometimes it does. So make of that what you will.

    One thing is certain: Apple doesn't want to overwhelm the media and the public with too many new products at any one time. That happened last fall, with the introduction of the iPad mini, a fourth-generation iPad, and a new iMac lineup. But with the iMac, the larger problem was that Apple couldn't deliver them on time. Even Tim Cook regards that as a huge misstep. Holding off the release date until January would have improved Mac sales substantially.

    Perhaps the iMac failure was a proper learning experience for Cook, who hasn't shepherded many new product launches since becoming CEO. While timing is critical for an iPhone or an iPad, what with the hefty competition, if a new Mac arrives a few weeks later, it's not such a bad thing. Staggered introductions might even help boost Mac sales somewhat, with each drawing new attention to the platform.

    Sure, I'm eager to be surprised and amazed by Apple, but, despite the value of any of the new products, that train may have already left the station.

    A MEMO ABOUT THE NSA

    We have a running joke over at my "other" radio show, The Paracast, that one or more of our listeners or forum posters works for the CIA, NSA, or some other U.S. government security agency. I've been half serious about it, but I suppose whenever one talks about possible government secrecy impacting such offbeat subjects as UFOs and the paranormal, not to mention conspiracies about the JFK assassination, it's not out of line to expect that we're being watched.

    However you take the news about the NSA grabbing "metadata" about phone calls under orders by a top-secret court, it's a sure thing privacy doesn't count for very much in the 21st century. Even though I use an Internet phone company for my home and business service, Phone Power, I am under no illusion that the phone calls aren't being catalogued by someone outside of the company itself.

    The Internet?

    Well, such companies as Apple, Google and Microsoft are claiming that they have no "direct" hookup with the NSA to retrieve data. That doesn't mean it's not being done or can't be done. Government spooks could be using a parallel connection, or hooking up directly to Internet backbones to retrieve data, or perhaps from your ISP. Sure, a lot of traffic may be encrypted, but that doesn't mean it can't be parsed somehow.

    It's not that I don't take a few precautions. I use the SSL or TLS settings for all my email accounts, and I have an SSL certificate on my Web server.

    What's that mean? Well, the Wikipedia definition states: "Transport Layer Security (TLS) and its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographic protocols that provide communication security over the Internet. They use asymmetric cryptography for authentication of key exchange, symmetric encryption for confidentiality and message authentication codes for message integrity. Several versions of the protocols are in widespread use in applications such as web browsing, electronic mail, Internet faxing, instant messaging and voice-over-IP (VoIP)."

    Does any of that mean that nobody can snoop on you if you use an SSL or TLS connection? I hardly think so. ISPs will still respond to court orders, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn there may be covert agreements with Internet providers to provide some sort of ongoing access in case someone in the government is curious about somebody.

    Now some will say that, since they aren't doing anything wrong, it doesn't matter if the government is spying on them, so long as it saves lives. But it's a balancing act too. How much of your freedoms do you want to surrender because someone claims they are protecting you?

    When I was very young, I remember when I lived in an apartment, in Brooklyn, NY, with a single lock on it, and I could walk to school every day without worrying about predators lying in wait for me and my friends. In small towns, people often wouldn't bother locking the doors. It was that safe.

    Today, the illusion of privacy, and safety for that matter, may be a dream. There are Web cams at street intersections, in nearly every store, and often in the parking lots to catch possible offenders doing their dirty deeds. Almost every police procedural on TV will include a segment where the resident computer geek is retrieving the recordings from some of those security cameras to catch a suspect in the act.

    The sci-fi TV series, "Person of Interest," from Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan, who directed those Batman movies), focuses on a computer genius who invents an all-knowing system that tracks everybody. But the plot revolves around a network backdoor that feeds information about people who might be in danger, or might commit a crime, and the protagonists try to use those leads to keep society safe from the evildoers.

    Yes, the concept of "Person of Interest" may seem fanciful, but not by much. In this day and age, you wonder if there's anything you can do to stay off the grid, not to engage in unlawful behavior, but simply go about your business without being watched. How? Maybe don't use a credit card, keep your money under a mattress, stay away from cell phones (even prepaid ones), and don't subscribe to any "connected" service, such as cable TV or the Internet. But what about visiting the local convenience store, with all those security cameras in action? Gotcha!

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #706”

    1. Ted Schroeder says:

      My own two cents prediction for the WWDC is that the logo for WWDC XXVIII represents an icon that is a 'stack of apps' and when tapped explodes into a grid of app icons. Like the way photos do in the Photos app in iOS.

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