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  • Newsletter Issue #728

    November 11th, 2013

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    In recent days, we’ve heard that Microsoft now has a short list of potential successors to departing CEO Steve Ballmer. One is Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is credited with driving the U.S.A.’s second largest auto maker through the perils of the 2008 recession without having to seek a government bailout.

    I suppose Mulally is a perfectly respectable candidate, although the decision to use Microsoft technology on MyFord Touch, the in-car entertainment and information system, was not a good idea. While a Ford gets positive ratings for performance and reliability, the touch system has been a source of endless complaints. But at least Mulally is familiar with Microsoft.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we feature Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who discusses who might become the next CEO of Microsoft, Apple’s recent disclosure of requests from governments for customer information, Tim Cook’s Wall Street Journal column supporting a law barring discrimination of gays in the workplace, the possible implications of Apple’s new sapphire construction plant in Arizona, and bitcoin. Bitcoin is a digital currency that might, in part, replace traditional money systems.

    Now as to Bitcoin, I have read the stories about it, and how it works, and I have to tell you they’ve done a tremendous job making the entire venture as difficult to understand as possible. At the end of the day, so long as Bitcoin prices remain highly volatile, it will be a risky proposition for people without money to burn, though it does have appeal to those who wish to engage in transactions that are themselves risky, and possibly illegal.

    Tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today and other publications, also weighs in on the Microsoft CEO succession issue. He’ll discuss the recent Mail for Mavericks upgrade, which fixed problems with Gmail and other issues, and evaluate other free email systems, such as Outlook.com and Yahoo!

    Author and commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy,” also talks about the Mail for Mavericks issues, the controversial iWork upgrade, where critical features were removed, and his early reactions to his new iPad Air.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present noted crop circle researcher Colin Andrews. Colin pioneered  crop circle investigation 30 years ago and is considered the world’s top authority on this controversial subject. Among his many accomplishments: He started the first research organization into this phenomenon, Circles Phenomenon Research (CPR), designed high-tech surveillance operations attempting to film a circle being made, and advised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet and Queen Elizabeth on the mysterious phenomenon. His latest book is, written with Synthia Andrews, is “On the Edge of Reality: Hidden Technology, Powers of the Mind, Quantum Physics, Paranormal Phenomena, Orbs, UFOs, Harmonic Transmissions, and Crop Circles.”

    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.

    LIVING WITH MAVERICKS

    When Apple gave up on using feline names for operating systems, it’s probably true that some Mac users were skeptical about how OS 10.9 Mavericks would turn out. Was this the sign of a new direction for Apple, or just a decision about nicknames?

    For the most part, I expect the latter. Compared to Lion and Mountain Lion, Mavericks seems little different. The drive for iOS/OS X consistency continues unabated with the arrival of iBooks and Maps. That’s a good thing for people who migrate between Macs and iOS gear — and Apple would hope that number will continue to grow.

    Aside from the apps, Mavericks is very much focused on enhancing the Mac user experience and performance. The addition of Finder tabs and tags, for example, seems so fundamentally logical, you have to wonder why it took ten versions of OS X before Apple got around to it. That, however, doesn’t mean the Finder is necessarily a better file browser, or a final solution. But it does mean that you can continue to use your Mac as you always have, and just adapt to some new features. I’m also glad to see Apple opting not to further tamper with OS X’s interface.

    Although some reviews of Mavericks hint at just a handful of new features, Apple’s list of 200 plus is the real thing. There is wiggle room, though, such as taking a new app, such as Maps, and listing key features separately to flesh out the list. On the other hand, aside from the controversial tiled interface, how many new features did Windows 8 gain over Windows 7? And how many were added to the Windows 8.1 update?

    But with operating systems notorious for deteriorating performance on older hardware from release to release, it’s a refreshing change to see evidence that Apple has worked hard to making Mavericks perform better. The under-the-hood changes, for example, mean that system load is noticeably less not just on a new Mac, but on older gear, such as one of my production computers, a late 2009 27-inch iMac. As I write this article in a WordPress window in Safari, system load has dropped to as low as .30. That’s low. It also means that the computer feels somewhat snappier, and that certainly goes against the conventional wisdom, especially considering the fact that I am also using a four-year-old hard drive with that computer.

    Users of Mac note-books are reporting, as Apple claimed, better battery life. Apple boasted an hour on a recent MacBook Air, and that does not appear to be a unique case. But the improvement isn’t necessarily immediate. It may take time for Mavericks to cache your workflow and do its thing.

    The negatives aren’t serious for the most part, although there is one mission critical bug with Western Digital external drives. You may risk losing your data if you use WD’s own utilities, but if you disable them, you should be good to go. I hear that Apple and WD are working on a solution as we speak.

    Until last week update, Mail was a little screwy. Some complained about issues with Gmail and, sure enough, Apple’s support document states that “the fix addresses problems with Gmail, such as issues with deleting, moving, and archiving messages for those with ‘custom Gmail settings’ and inaccurate unread counts.”

    I’m no fan of the customizations in Gmail, and have actually moved to Outlook.com as my free email alternative in recent days. But the inaccurate unread count in Mail was an obvious and silly bug. It meant that you wouldn’t actually see how many unread messages waited you in an Inbox until you looked directly. That problem is gone, and Mail seems a tad snapper and more reliable.

    Clearly this is something Apple might have discovered at the tail end of the Mavericks beta process, since the update came out exactly two weeks after the original release, along with a fixer-upper for iBooks. But since I don’t use iBooks all that much, it wasn’t much of a factor.

    No doubt there will be one or more maintenance updates over the next few weeks, with rumors that a 10.9.1 and 10.9.2 already under development. But the real show-stopper is that nasty conflict with WD’s drive software. It’s not the first time that an OS X release had a conflict with hard drives, and I hope it’s fixed real soon.

    The only other problem that occurs to me as a very slight glitch with Levelator, a free app that, as the name implies, automatically normalizes audio signals, which is useful for editing sound recordings and highly recommended. Well, the usual production routine is to drag and drop the audio files you want to edit on Levelator’s icon. Normally, it will auto quit after the files are processed. With Mavericks it doesn’t. A small thing, but the main lingering annoyance I have with Mavericks.

    Fortunately, I don’t have any external WD drives (there’s an internal, but it’s not susceptible to the problem).

    A CURIOUS TV SEASON

    Now imagine, just imagine, a revisionist period TV show about Dracula in which our favorite vampire has an uneasy alliance with his perennial enemy, vampire killer Dr. Van Helsing, in order to combat some sort of ancient order that was originally responsible for changing him into a monster. His aide, Renfield, is not someone who eats insects, but a highly intelligent individual who is far more than a butler.

    As portrayed by an extremely capable Irish actor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Dracula speaks with a proper English accent, except when he adopts the pose as an American scientist and entrepreneur, Alexander Grayson.

    Yes, there are the expected scenes of Dracula having his fill of blood, but the entire focus seems muddled. In the end, the audience has been leaving in droves, and the cancellation ax may fall real soon from the powers that be at NBC. Despite being a promising counter programming alternative to the saccharine police procedural, “Blue Bloods,” Dracula appears to be a misfire.

    The James Spader vehicle, “The Blacklist,” has a promising future, however. Yes, it’s all about Spader chewing the scenery as a renegade government agent who knows where the bodies are buried, and is prepared to cut a deal to help the FBI catch the criminals. Only thing, he will only assume the role of criminal informant if he is allowed to work with a young FBI profiler with whom he forms an uneasy alliance. Now I write these words ahead of a possible big reveal about her past and how the Spader character fits in, but it should otherwise be fairly obvious after you watch a couple of episodes.

    Yet another fascinating show is “Sleepy Hollow,” very loosely based on the Washington Irving short stories. The series is produced by members of the “Fringe” and “Alias” production teams, including Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, so you can expect an intriguing mix of time travel, ancient mysteries, conspiracies, and strange creatures. Len Wiseman, another member of the production team, is also responsible for the “Underworld” movies, has also worked with Kurtzman and Orci on “Hawaii Five-O” and other TV shows. With a pedigree of this sort, you expect something different, something really entertaining. So far, “Sleepy Hollow” has met its promise, retained a sizable audience, and has also earned a fast renewal for a second season.

    Yet there’s always the danger that “Sleepy Hollow” will suffer from the same fate as “Fringe,” “Lost,” and “Alias.” As seasons progress, the overarching conspiracies become more and more confusing, and the plot lines more and more incomprehensible. Viewers get disgusted and just give up, as I did with “Lost.” However, “Sleepy Hollow” was conceived with shorter seasons in mind, similar to what’s being done on cable TV channels. So maybe it won’t erode so quickly.

    Now as to that other highly-publicized show, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” my reaction is good and bad. It’s well produced, with decent acting, particularly Clark Gregg as agent Phil Coulson, although the characters need to be fleshed out beyond the cliches. Ratings have eroded some, but delayed viewing, via DVR, remains high, which means the show has a promising future. I also expect that viewers will be drawn in because of indirect tie-ins to current Marvel films, such as the latest “Thor” flick. But it would be better to see more of a crossover between the movies and the TV show.

    So, yes, Samuel L. Jackson did a brief scene as his movie character, S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury, but it would be far more interesting if there were cameos from other characters in the Marvel universe. I don’t know how the show will handle the the aftermath of the events depicted in “Thor: The Dark World,” but the producers should consider having Chris Hemsworth, and even better, fan favorite Tom Hiddleston (Loki), appear in a cameo, at least in a way that doesn’t overshadow the regular cast. Even if their presence had minimal impact on the plot, it would really draw the audiences in.

    As you can tell, I dig genre fare, particularly when it’s well done. For this TV season it’s a very mixed bag, and it was always thus.

    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 #728”

    1. dfs says:

      I’ve never really got the hang of browser tabs, so I’m in no rush to try them on the Finder. Sooner or later I will, and I admit that I may be pleasantly surprised Other than this, as far as I’m concerned, there’s little new in Mavericks to excite us. OSX continues to move forward, but only by taking a series of baby steps. Probably memory compression is the best new thing, although the redesigned and unfamiliar Activity Monitor makes it hard to figure out how Mavericks is actually handling memory. On the other hand, I’ve noticed at least one important step backwards. The new Safari fails to render Cascading Style Sheets with full accuracy. CSS is getting to be very popular with webpage designers, so this is a serious issue and, i. m. h. o, one of the several compelling reasons for migrating to Chrome (or, better yet, Chromium).

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