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  • Newsletter Issue #707

    June 17th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    With the tech media still talking about the next versions of OS X and iOS, Apple's WWDC became the topic of choice for this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where commentator Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, began our coverage of Apple's WWDC keynote, and the announcements about new versions of iOS and OS X, not to mention the revolutionary take on the Mac Pro workstation.

    Kyle Wiens, from iFixit, reported the results of the company's teardown of the 2013 versions of Apple's Airport Extreme, Time Capsule, and MacBook Air. He also covered the repairability of other tech gear.

    We visited the UK, virtually speaking, for a session with Kirk McElhearnMacworld's "iTunes Guy," and the editor of Mac OS X Hints, who gave his reactions to the launch of iTunes Radio and his reactions to the WWDC.

    This episode also featured Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who presented his take on a surprise "special guest," along with his observations on Apple's WWDC, the forthcoming iOS and OS X updates, and the latest and greatest Mac hardware.

    As you've read in my columns in recent days, the WWDC presentation was, in large part, very much what I had expected. There was no "one more thing" and everything, even that seemingly offhand remark from VP Phil Schiller about his posterior, was carefully rehearsed. Maybe it wasn't enough to make you forget that "other guy" who used to host those keynotes, but Apple is clearly moving forward at a steady pace. Sure, Wall Street wasn't impressed, but the real verdict will be declared this fall, when most of the new products are expected to ship.

    To compare the WWDC to the recent Google I/O conference is easy. How many can actually remember, without a cheat sheet, what Google actually announced at their annual event?

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present outspoken paranormal commentator and author Nick Redfern (an occasional guest co-host of our show), to discuss his new book, "Monster Files: A Look Inside Government Secrets and Classified Documents on Bizarre Creatures and Extraordinary Animals." So what does the government really know about Bigfoot and other bizarre creatures?

    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.

    ANDROID'S BIGGEST PROBLEM IS NOT THE FEATURES OR FRAGMENTATION

    The other day I read an article over at Laptop magazine's site that essentially explained why the Android platform has serious problems. No, it's not about missing features that are already available in iOS or Windows Phone. It's not about fragmentation, where there are so many different hardware configurations, and little or no ability to upgrade the software to the latest version.

    The key problem of Android is security. This is clear when you read that article at Laptop magazine entitled, "Best Android Security Apps 2013." There are five in that listing, with Avast Mobility Security by AVAST Software earning the top rating of 4.5 stars. There was no perfect contender.

    But it's not about which app scored the best. It's about the need for such apps in the first place. You aren't, for example, reading anything about the "Best iOS Security Apps 2013" or any year, because there is no demonstrated need for security software on Apple's mobile platform.

    You can't return to the "security through obscurity" argument often made about the Mac. If there were more Mac users, and Apple counts 72 million these days, you'd see more security lapses, or so they say. But this isn't to say there haven't been malware outbreaks on the Mac, but the most serious ones in recent years had nothing to do with OS X, but with Oracle's Java. Apple has made Java less relevant, and even made it an optional install.

    Although the approach is highly criticized, the iOS platform is heavily locked down by Apple. Most users rely on the App Store to load up their devices with apps. Yes, there are unsanctioned methods to jailbreak your iOS gear and actually buy software that isn't approved by Apple, but I expect the number of people who take that route is quite small, and you do it at your own risk. Just about everything you want is already available in Apple's software repository.

    This doesn't mean iOS is perfect. Many of the updates Apple has released include security fixes of one sort or another. With over 700 million iOS devices activated, you'd think there might have been some exploits that impacted more than a few users, or any. However, surveys indicate that the vast, vast majority of mobile malware occurs on Android. Consider this report from CNN Money as an example. Surely a reasonable number of problems would occur on Apple's platform, right? But they haven't.

    So the iOS platform has been free of the need to install security software. Maybe that'll change someday, but it does vindicate Apple's decision about exerting rigid control over the system. Sure, things aren't quite so peachy on the Mac platform, but the problems have been few and far between. The most serious issues nowadays actually involve social engineering, where you might click on a link that appears to take you to a site that you want to reach, such a your bank or even PayPal, only it takes you to a scam site designed to purloin your login information and steal your money. Sure, some security apps protect you from such mistakes, but just being wary about clickable links in an email should be more than sufficient to keep you safe. The same holds true about visiting unknown sites, where mischief may be produced. But that mischief tends to be Java related, which lets iOS off the hook, since there's no Java on that platform.

    Sure, installing security software on an Android device makes it relatively safe. But the OS is still plagued by unstable and erratic performance. My experience with the hot Android phone du jour, the Samsung Galaxy S4, reveals some of the rough edges. Apps freeze all too often. The antivirus app I've used, NQ Mobile's Antivirus Free, has a System Optimization feature that kills non-critical running apps when things get out of hand. Some might wish for such a thing on an iPhone or iPad, but I've rarely, if ever, had the need for one.

    When it comes to Android, yes, I feel reasonably safe knowing I have security software installed, but it also demonstrates the severe downsides of an open platform where software is barely curated. Maybe, in trying to fix the fragmentation problem that afflicts the platform, Google will find ways to make it safer.

    THE ACTORS WHO DARED TO BECOME SUPERMAN

    It's almost impossible to believe that the original modern super hero, Superman, debuted in Action Comics some 75 years ago. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a copy of that issue in decent condition, except to receive millions of dollars if you decide to sell it.

    It's even harder to believe that Superman was the invention of two teenaged high school students from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel, who served as the writer, and Joe Shuster, the artist. Over the years Superman became a cultural icon that transcended comics to include books, radio dramas, TV (both cartoon and live action), the movies, and even a Broadway musical. Quite an achievement for a pair of nice Jewish boys who, sad to say, never realized a fraction of the wealth their creation generated over the years.

    Let's return to the Superman's live action history.

    When it came time to move to radio, voice actor Clayton "Bud" Collyer was selected to portray the "Man of Steel" and his bespectacled alter-ego, mild-mannered newspaper reporter Clark Kent. On radio, Kent was portrayed by Collyer as an easy-going fellow with a thin voice that deepened noticeably when he took off his glasses and his clothes to reveal his true self, an alien being with powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals. This alien connection and its implications have rarely been dealt with in a realistic fashion over the years, although that changes considerably in the latest Superman incarnation, director Zack Snyder's blockbuster movie, "Man of Steel."

    When it came time to make the first live action movie serial, the producers choose a relative unknown, actor Kirk Alyn, a former dancer who, at 37 years of age, had drifted around Hollywood without catching a wave. In those days, movie serials were decidedly low-budget projects. The producer, Sam Katzman, notorious for his penny-pitching ways, didn't set the budget high enough to finance the creation of realistic flying scenes, and chose, instead, to use cartoon images of Superman in flight in most scenes. They seemed to have forgotten that a classic movie serial from 1941, about a Superman competitor, "Captain Marvel," featured decent flying scenes for the era. In any case, Alyn clearly did his best to create a properly differentiated Clark Kent and Superman, but didn't have the acting chops to be terribly effective in either role.

    When it came time to make movie, "Superman and the Mole Men," which was meant to pave the way for a TV series, Alyn said he'd had enough. Playing Superman had typecast him, so he choose to move on. And, true enough, he didn't have much of a career after that, or before for that matter. In his place was another actor whose best days were behind him, George Reeves. In passing, before he became Superman, Reeve's most notable role was a brief appearance in "Gone with the Wind."

    While Alyn seemed to have the looks and physicality to portray Superman, Reeves seemed less suited to the role, but his wide grin and winning personality won over the younger audiences sought by the producers. Unfortunately, Reeves career also had a tragic end, and the newspaper headline, "Superman Slays Self," in 1959, said it all. Reeves supposedly shot himself with a pistol during a party at his home, yet some people feel it was all a conspiracy.

    So, despite claims that Reeves had suffered the same career fate as Alyn, some say he had already committed to another season of "The Adventures of Superman," and had signed on to star in and direct a movie. The truth about his death may never be known. One story has it that Reeves had an affair with the wrong woman, whose spouse decided to knock off the offender and make it look like a suicide. This whole sad affair became the subject of a movie, "Hollywoodland," with Ben Affleck doing a decent but somewhat inaccurate portrayal of Reeves.

    Forgetting those dreadful Superboy TV shows, the next major portrayal of Superman was placed on the young shoulders of a stage actor, Christopher Reeve, then 26, who was not related to George Reeves.

    Filming "Superman The Movie" became an adventure in itself, and not always a pleasant one, as director Richard Donner had constant creative fights with the producers. Even though he filmed most of the sequel, "Superman II" while the first was being filmed, he was unceremoniously discharged from the project before it was completed, and director Richard Lester, who also did those two 1960s films starting The Beatles, was handed the remnants of the project.

    Now Reeve's interpretation is thought by many who were around during that time to be the best Superman ever, and the first two films were the standard by which the rest were judged. But the production squabbles seriously hurt the finished product, with continuity inconsistencies and plot holes in abundance. Reeves opted to turn Clark Kent into the sort of amiable goofball you'd see in a romantic comedy, which provided a terrific sense of chemistry when he was on screen with Margot Kidder's Lois Lane. His Superman, however, was alternately stern and over-the-top, occasionally uttering cheesy comic book dialog that never quite seemed realistic. However, he surely looked the part. The producers subjected the tall and lanky Reeve to a major exercise program to bulk him up and make him properly fill Superman's uniform. In passing, the actors who came after him also realized the need to get in proper physical shape.

    In order to give the movie the air of credibility, the producers signed up A-list actors to attract independent funding. They paid millions to get Marlon Brando to work 12 days as Superman's birth father, Jor-el. In those days, Brando was more interested in paychecks than acting, so he read most of his lines from cue cards and wanted everything to be done in a single take. Unfortunately, that also meant that nobody bothered to fix one key mistake, where he kept calling Superman's home world, Krypton, "Kriptin." Another A-list actor, Gene Hackman, was hired to portray Superman's perennial enemy, mad scientist Lex Luther, the "greatest criminal mind." Hackman chewed the scenery, swallowed the scenery, and regurgitated the scenery in his over-the-top portrayal of the movie's main villain. Terence Stamp, as Krypton's warlord General Zod, didn't even come close, even when he admonished Superman to "kneel before Zod."

    After four Superman films, each of which became worse and worse and were greeted by smaller and smaller audiences, the series was done for. Reeve went on to do stage work and TV movies, but never became a major star. He died in 2004, some years after suffering a serious accident while riding a horse, which left him a paraplegic.

    Once again, people spoke of the curse of Superman.

    Segue to 1993, when writer/producer Deborah Joy Levine decided to take the interaction between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane and turn it into a romantic comedy with action pretensions. Thus begat "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." They choose Dean Cain as the appropriately romantic Clark Kent. He had the wink and the personality, but his thin voice failed to convey the feeling of authority when he was in his Superman getup. The real star of the show was Lois, as portrayed by Teri Hatcher, who years later became one of the ensemble cast of "Desperate Housewives."

    Mirroring what was done in the comics at the time, by the end of the second season, Lois finally realized that the nice fellow behind the glasses is her beloved Superman and they eventually hooked up and got married. This approach triggered a critical change in the character of Lois Lane that heavily influenced what came later.

    The 21st century introduced Tom Welling as the young Clark Kent trying to find his place in the world in "Smallville." It took a decade before Welling, now in his 30s, briefly donned the uniform of the Man of Steel in the final episode. Welling may have been a little too thin physically to become a credible Superman, but an exercise routine to bulk him up would have taken care of that. He was a decent enough actor, but he was apparently never seriously considered to take that role to its logical conclusion in the movies.

    These days, Welling is reportedly filming "Draft Day," a baseball film that stars Kevin Costner, who portrayed Jonathan Kent in "Man of Steel."

    In 2006, Warner Bros. released "Superman Returns," directed by Bryan Singer (the fellow who also did X-Men), and starring newcomer Brandon Routh doing a passable imitation of Christopher Reeve's take on the character. Unfortunately, the producers and director made a critical mistake, which was simply to make this film a sequel to "Superman II," as if the later films had never been made. They forgot that many of the people who'd see the new film weren't even alive when Christopher Reeve wore Superman's costume.

    In "Returns," we are reminded how Superman got it on with Lois Lane in "Superman II." Superman, having left on a five-year voyage to find the remnants of his home planet, wasn't aware that Lois became pregnant with his son. This touchy subject was only addressed in a somewhat meaningful fashion in the final act of the film. The villain? Why Lex Luther of course, as portrayed by Kevin Spacey, who conveyed an appropriate sense of menace without the excesses that Hackman brought to the role. The film did OK at the box office, but didn't merit a sequel.

    That takes us to 2013's reimagining of Superman in "Man of Steel." For several years, the people at DC Comics seriously wanted to reboot the character, but were unable to get the project launched until director Christopher Nolan, of "Batman" fame, and screenwriter David S. Goyer fashioned a more realistic treatment of the character that got the green light. Director Zack Snyder, best known for "300" and "Watchmen," a dark take on super heroes, was selected to helm the movie.

    Typical of previous films, they chose a relative unknown, British actor Henry Cavill, to become the title character. Cavill had been in the business for over a decade, but hadn't quite broken through. Indeed, he was said to be one of the finalists for "Superman Returns" before Routh got the part. He should consider himself lucky. He also is said to have lost out on the role of James Bond to Daniel Craig.

    Although "Man of Steel" got somewhat mixed reviews, it's a genuine crown pleaser that generated over $125 million in domestic business as of the first weekend. A sequel has already been green lit by Warner Bros. according to published reports.

    Without going into detail and spoiling everything for you, let me just say that Cavill has the looks and the acting chops to make the role his own. His Lois Lane, as portrayed by a somewhat older woman, Amy Adams, is quite different from the "damsel in distress" nosy reporter character that Superman had to constantly save over the years. In "Man of Steel, she becomes his confidant and trusted companion. The issue of the mild-mannered reporter in the glasses isn't a factor in her relationship to Superman, although I can't say it's not addressed.

    Some suggest Snyder's take on the character is too realistic, that there's too much CGI-based collateral damage when Superman goes into action against his Kryptonian enemies that include Michael Shannon's General Zod. But when God-like characters battle each other, you have to expect extensive damage to the surroundings. How could it be otherwise?

    I enjoyed the film immensely and look forward to the sequel. As to Cavill's future, he has reportedly already been signed to play the Napoleon Solo character in a movie remake of the 1960's spy drama, "Man from U.N.C.L.E." His co-star? Armie Hammer, who portrays 'The Lone Ranger" in a summer reboot starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Hopefully Cavill and Hammer will avoid the typecasting curse. They do seem to be on their way.

    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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