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  • Newsletter Issue #710

    July 8th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It's a sure thing that people are entitled to their own opinions, and the reactions to Apple's iOS 7 have been all over place. The new design looks great, not so great, and quite bad. Depends on your point of view. There was an unconfirmed report that developers were revolting over having to make substantial changes to their apps to make them iOS 7 savvy. But that was never confirmed.

    So on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, tech commentator Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld's "iTunes Guy," discussed the promise of iTunes radio, which will arrive this fall with the next OS X upgrade. He also offered his reaction to what he regards as the questionable color choices Apple made for iOS 7. Clearly he's not a happy camper.

    From Laptop magazine, Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch discussed a recent report about a security problem that might impact hundreds of millions of users of Android gear. He also offered a list of the problems Microsoft failed to fix in Windows 8.1. So is Windows 8 a descendant of Microsoft's failed "Bob" user interface, which appeared back in 1995?

    When I started this segment, I figured we'd cover the problems with Windows 8.1 in 20 or 30 minutes. Instead, aside from the short discussion about Android malware, it was all about Microsoft's severe misreading of what customers expect, or want, for the rest of the episode. My encounters with Windows 8 have been pained. I will give the 8.1 preview a try shortly, but the fixes don't seem sufficient to make me want to spend much time in that environment. In the effort to deliver a simpler OS, Microsoft has made it more complex. Talk about using Bizarro logic.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Richard Toronto, author of "War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction." Toronto, a former newspaper reporter, is a long time student of the Shaver Mystery. We'll also be joined by Geneva Hagen, co-editor of the UFO/occult magazine, "Caveat Emptor," and a friend of Shaver's. Both Palmer and Shaver were pioneers not just in science fiction, but helped in encouraging interest in flying saucers in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    Coming July 14: Gene and Chris present a full-scale discussion of a classic UFO encounter, the Cash-Landrum incident, which occurred on an isolated two-lane road near Houston, Texas on December 29, 1980. This sighting includes a witness who received possible severe radiation burns as the result of being in close proximity to the strange aircraft. To flesh out the nuts and bolts of the case, we invited two UFO investigators, Chris Lambright and Curtis L. Collins (whom our forum members know as Sentry).

    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.

    EVIDENCE INCREASES FOR A CHEAP iPHONE

    It almost seems a given in the media that Apple is putting the final touches on a cheaper version of the iPhone. The main reason for the possible existence of such a beast is simple: A healthy portion of iPhone sales involve the two less expensive models, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4s. They were introduced in 2010 and 2011, which may be an eternity in the smartphone business. They have a Retina display, but do not support the speedier LTE networking protocol that's spreading around the world.

    But, with a two-year contract, you can get the iPhone 4 free; the iPhone 4s is $99; even less from some carriers. Of course, that's with a contract. Without a contract, expect to pay over $400, which is a deal breaker for tens of millions of people around the world who want a classy smartphone but don't have access, or can't qualify, for a subsidized plan. Here is where Google's Android OS asserts its dominance. You want cheap? There's an Android phone for you. It may not be a very good phone, but it's affordable.

    Officially Apple simply says that they don't make junk, at least when anyone comments on the subject. But that doesn't mean Apple doesn't make something that's cheap. Consider the $49 iPod shuffle. It's not the least expensive, but it's tiny, elegant, colorful, and affordable. I suppose you could also call the Mac mini, which starts at $599, cheap for a Mac, but there are lots of PCs that sell for less. On the other hand, today's Mac mini is powerful enough for people who might have selected a more expensive model just a few years ago.

    Now the evidence for a cheaper iPhone is evident in so-called leaked prototypes, which indicate something in the same size range as an iPhone 5, but slightly thicker. Rather than being constructed of some sort of exotic aluminum and glass combination, it's plastic, just like any Samsung smartphone you can name. But plastic doesn't have to be cheap; it's all about the design and manufacturing.

    All right, I suppose those alleged prototypes might all be faked. I suppose Apple will simply discount the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 when the expected iPhone 5s arrives. This means adhering to the very same playbook that's been followed in recent years, which is to keep building older models to satisfy the needs of people who can't afford, or just don't need, the top-of-the-line iPhone.

    The advantage of building a cheaper iPhone from scratch is that Apple can take advantage of the latest manufacturing techniques and components. I suppose that, and the use of plastics rather than metal, may reduce the bill of materials by a decent margin. Some claim Apple plans to sell the iPhone Lite or whatever it'll be called for as little as $199 unlocked. I wouldn't presume to guess whether Apple can make the thing cheaply enough to allow for a decent profit, but not making dozens of different models, sometimes barely discernible, means that costs can be kept as low as possible. It may simply be a rejiggered iPhone 4s or an iPhone 5 in a different, less expensive exterior.

    At the same time, there are limits to how far Apple will go to expand the iPhone market. They won't worry about the cheap Android powered feature phones that deliver little or no profit to their manufacturers. It's the same approach Apple takes with the Mac, where there are loads of faceless Windows PCs that flood the market but still don't deliver much in the way of profits.

    When it comes to PC industry profits, Apple reportedly earns more than the next five PC makers combined. With smartphones, it's all Apple and Samsung, with not much left on the table for any other company. And Samsung is already warning about lower-than-expected profits and softening sales of high-end gear. The highly-touted Galaxy S4 smartphone, which now appears in so many versions you need a scorecard to figure out which is which, evidently has sold well but not quite up to the levels attained by the iPhone 5 when it first appeared.

    Sure, I suppose it's possible that the cheap iPhone is just a made up deal. Those alleged prototype cases are just fabrications. That's happened before. But Apple has already proven the value of a lower-cost iPhone by keeping older models in production for up to two years. It doesn't take much of a stretch in logic to expect Apple to want to find a more efficient way to build one yet still preserve the magic, the elegance, and, just as important, the high profit margins.

    We'll know the truth this fall, but if I was a betting man, I'd say an iPhone Lite, or whatever they plan to call it, is a lock.

    SO WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?

    When people talk about fictional characters who act as masked avengers, I expect Batman is number one on the list. He's the quintessential vigilante, having donned the mask and costume to seek revenge against the kind of evildoers who killed his parents when he was a child. Being a billionaire, he is able to devote his resources to nightly crime fighting without having to depend on a day job.

    However, six years before Batman debuted, back in 1933, yet another masked avenger made his debut, on a live radio drama. The Lone Ranger was the creation of George W. Trendle, the owner of WXYZ, a Detroit radio station, and writer Fran Striker. By the way, that station still exists, but these days focuses on news and sports.

    The character was supposedly somewhat based on both Robin Hood and Zorro; the latter, because of the mask. In the origin story, which has been presented in several versions on radio, TV and the movies over the years, tells of a Texas Ranger named John Reid who rides into an ambush with his fellow lawmen, which include his older brother, Dan Reid. The gang of criminals, led by Butch Cavendish, manage to kill their pray, except for John, who is left for dead. He is rescued by an Indian, Tonto, and together they decide that the last Texas Ranger is to remain dead, that Reid will henceforth wear a mask and become the Lone Ranger. Other popular elements of the story include a white stallion, Silver, the use of silver bullets, and Tonto referring to his masked companion as "Ke-mo sah-bee." It's a made-up phrase that's supposed to mean "trusty scout" or "trusted friend," but is also a Comanche term for "wrong brother."

    Although several actors portrayed the Lone Ranger on radio, the most popular was Brace Beemer, a former radio announcer. When the series moved to TV, the producers selected a veteran B-movie actor, Clayton Moore, to portray the Ranger. Jay Silverheels, born on an Indian reservation in Canada, became Tonto. Moore continued to portray the masked man on the show except for one year, where another actor, John Hart, took on the role because of a salary dispute. Moore returned and continued through the end of the TV series, after which he and Silverheels appeared in two movies based on the character.

    Whether it was typecasting or a personal decision, Moore's acting career was essentially over, except for a few bit parts. He continued to make public appearances as the Lone Ranger, but got into legal trouble in 1979, when the owner of the franchise, Jack Wrather, won a lawsuit against Moore that prevented him from wearing the famous mask. Moore continued to appear in public wearing wraparound sunglasses. It's curious to note that you never saw Moore's face in the TV show or the two Lone Ranger movies in which he starred. During the origin episode, you only saw his head from the side or rear. Otherwise he wore a mask, or his face was otherwise disguised. I suppose this strategy was taken to give the character an air of mystery.

    In any case, the reason that Wrather put the kibosh on Moore's portrayal of the character was because he planned to resurrect the Ranger in a movie featuring an all-new cast. The film, "The Legend of the Lone Ranger," was released in 1981 and became a critical and box office failure. The newcomer who portrayed the title character, Klinton Spilsbury, reportedly had problems delivering his lines credibly, so to add insult to injury, his voice was overdubbed by actor James Keach. Spilsbury quickly vanished from the Hollywood scene.

    As to Moore, he finally won the right to wear the mask, which he did for all the public appearances he made for the rest of his life.

    In 2003, the WB network (now part of the CW network) presented a two-hour Lone Ranger TV movie featuring Chad Michael Murray as the title character. The name of the Ranger's real identity was unaccountably changed to Luke Hartman. The film was intended to serve as a pilot for a series, but it failed to catch fire, and so the project was put on the back burner.

    Until Johnny Depp got involved.

    When you have an A-list actor who has appeared in films that have earned billions of dollars at the box office, the eccentricities are often overlooked. So we have a new film, "The Lone Ranger," where the story of the man behind the mask is told from Tonto's viewpoint, for better or worse. Flush with the success of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, Depp's portrayal of Tonto is just as offbeat. His Tonto travels in public with his face painted white, with black streaks, wearing what seems to be a dead bird on his head. Sure, Deep will speak of Comanche Indian traditions that support this look, but it strikes me as just an excuse to make him look weird.

    Regardless, the reboot, produced by action film impresario Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed by "Pirates" veteran Gore Verbinski, was savaged by the critics. They regard it as an unfortunate mix of comedy and extreme violence. There is even a scene, I'm told, where one of the villains, Butch Cavendish, as portrayed with a snaggle tooth by character actor William Fichtner, actually eats the heart of one of his victims. While the original concept of the Lone Ranger was very child friendly, this film hardly serves that audience.

    As I write this, box office reception to "The Lone Ranger" is tepid, and it's possible that this film, intended to be a summer blockbuster, will be yet another huge loser for Disney. The budget is estimated at somewhere between $225 and $250 million, and it's not likely that the company will reclaim much of that investment, unless it catches fire overseas. A movie typically has to earn at least twice the initial production expense in box office receipts for it to show a profit.

    For those who are interested in the Lone Ranger, maybe the best approach is to just download some of the original Clayton Moore episodes. And maybe Johnny Depp will receive a needed dose of humble and get back to making films that are a bit more entertaining and a little less weird.

    So much for yet another Hollywood reboot based on a TV series. What's next? Well, one possibility is a film that director Guy Richie (who brought you those Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law) is working on, based on the 1960's spy spoof, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." The stars? Well, the actor who played alongside Depp in "The Lone Ranger," Armie Hammer, will play the Russian agent, Ilya Kuryakin. His co-star, the one who will portray Napoleon Solo? Why none other than the "Man of Steel" himself, Henry Cavill. Now that may be an interesting pair up, and maybe Hammer will have a chance to live down "The Lone Ranger."

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #710”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      I always heard that "kemosabe" was from the Spanish "quien no sabe", that is, the guy who doesn't know [anything]. It wouldn't be surprising. "Tonto" means fool in Spanish.

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