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  • Newsletter Issue #733

    December 16th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    When supposedly responsible members of the press do dumb things, you wonder what's gone wrong with the profession. Are they so desperate to figure out how to cope in the digital world that all pretense of being fair has been tossed out the window?

    Perhaps one blatant example is a certain newspaper of record that ran an article containing the seven deadly reasons why you shouldn't get your child an iPad. No, not seven reasons not to buy a tablet, but focused specifically on the iPad. Without going into the reasons, such as they are, you have to think that the writer mentioned an Apple product simply to gain attention, but the article itself isn't worth a read regardless.

    So on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, our featured guests included noted editor and commentator Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, who will focused on some of those silly media stories about Apple, such as chronic misunderstandings of the reason for Microsoft's $150 million 1997 investment, and one analyst's statement that Apple and Microsoft might merge. He also covered the future possibilities for the Apple TV and the rumored iWatch.

    You'll also heard from John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, who commented on that silly Apple/Microsoft merger theory, why the iPad Air is a "whole new experience," the possibilities for a 13-inch iPad and new tablet markets, and why Tim Cook doesn't have to entertain you. He also delivered a few of his fearless predictions for Apple in 2014.

    Now John once worked for Apple and he makes good guesses, based on solid evidence and research, along with an innate understanding of how the company gets things done. So when he predicted Apple would release a small iPad, many scoffed until the iPad mini arrived. To John, such a product was inevitable, and he says the same when it comes to the rumors of that big sized iPad. So don't sell him short even if you don't believe it'll happen.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time paranormal researcher David M. Rountree, who focuses his studies on the scientific aspects of the paranormal and has been heavily involved in EVP research and other areas where you can actually measure things in and around possible hauntings and other mysterious phenomena. According to his biography, his EVP and EMF work "has led him to develop a wormhole hypothesis associated with a paranormal event horizon."

    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.

    WELCOME TO THE CRAZY WORLD OF LISTICLES

    I'm not going to claim I invented the word "listicle." But I saw it mentioned by the "horned one" over at Macworld magazine who calls himself Macalope, a nom-de-plume for someone who writes humorous and thought-provoking pieces largely focusing on the foibles of the media in dealing with Apple.

    The meaning of listicle is pretty much implied by the word, which combines list and article. So it's a 10 best list, a 10 worst list — well you get the picture. It's also a fast and dirty way to put something together and get some attention. Of course some of those lists are just too lame to take seriously.

    So you have articles about the ten things that Android does that you cannot do on an iPhone, but you end up with features that you normally wouldn't give a second glance to. Take some of the junk that Samsung dumped into the Galaxy S4 smartphone, some of which works only part of the time or not at all.

    Maybe I should do a piece on the ten worst listicles.

    Instead, I'll focus on one that definitely merits attention if only to show the extremes to which some tech writers will go to get notice. But in this case the writer, tech radio star Kim Komando, doesn't need the attention. But she's also clearly struggling to make a point, and doesn't succeed.

    Now I should put my cards on the table. In the mid-1990s, I actually worked briefly with Kim on several projects for a new company she was establishing. At the time, she'd have her assistants write material for her, to which she'd affix her own name. I don't know if she does that anymore, but she is a capable writer regardless.

    In any case, the listicle in question is titled "10 smartphone must-have features." Now if you take this list at face value, you'll see it was conceived to mostly exclude the iPhone, so let me explain some of the reasons and why they don't stand the logic test.

    Consider item number 5, NFC. Why do we need near field communication? Supposedly it's better for sharing stuff with other smartphones and tablets, and some merchants let you pay for your stuff via that scheme. But most don't. As to sharing, iOS 7 introduced AirDrop, which allows you to make encrypted file transfers via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. And don't forget Apple's Passbook wallet feature. Curious that Kim didn't mention either as alternatives, no bumping needed. Curious indeed. If this list wasn't tailored to make Android seem better, it would have been fair to change this item to file sharing and digital wallets, so iOS would get fair treatment.

    The next item is all about multiple windows, an Android feature that isn't yet available on the iPhone. Now while being able to have multiple windows open is certainly something that ought to be included on the iPad, the logic is less compelling on an iPhone because display space is so restricted. So it's not must-have by any means. So it's yet another item that deliberately excludes Apple.

    Feature number eight "Infrared remote control," is available on an iPhone as an option, but clearly this item is intended to advance the status of, say, a Samsung Galaxy S4, or an HTC One, both of which include infrared hardware.

    The next item "Fingerprint sensor," seems the only one that favors an iPhone, well one model at any rate. Kim mentions the HTC One Max smartphone as an alternative, but fails to mention that its rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is well-nigh unusable. At least Apple gets a break here, but it's hard to call it "must have," since the vast, vast majority of smartphones don't offer it yet.

    Concluding the article is "Wireless charging," a feature that can be added to the iPhone with an optional case or attachment. I gather Apple has explored this scheme, and it would be neat to just be able to place your iPhone on a surface and know it'll be charged before long. My sole encounter with wireless charging came several years ago, when I evaluated a product from a startup. I thought the idea was interesting, but it didn't change my life.

    As listicles go, Samsung would be pleased, Apple less so. But the consumer isn't well served at all, and isn't that supposed to be the main focus?

    SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT A DRIVERLESS CAR

    Some years ago, I test drove an expensive luxury car, a 2006 Infiniti M45, with an early lane departure warning system. The intent was honorable. If the car drifted out of the lane, you'd hear a loud beep, a way to worn you to pay attention. I found it irritating and asked the sales person whether it could be switched off, and it could.

    Typical of features that debut in costly cars, you can now find similar systems in cars from Honda, Kia, Mazda and other makers of quite affordable vehicles. The same is true for smart or adaptive cruise control schemes, which monitor the distance between you and a vehicle or obstacle ahead of you. If you get too close, the brakes are activated and the car can be slowed or even brought to a full stop. This is something that, if executed properly, could avoid accidents.

    Parallel parking, one of the more difficult driving tasks to do correctly, can also be automated. As with other features that lessen the burden or motoring around, you can actually find the feature on cars regular people can afford, such as the compact Ford Focus Titanium, which offers Active Park Assist as a $395 option. According to Ford, "once activated, your Focus will parallel park itself with almost no input from you. And it will do it in as few as 24 seconds."

    Yet another motoring automation feature is blind spot detection. Instead of having to crane your neck left and right to see nearby vehicles or other obstacles, the cars sensors and video displays help to guide you. I had a chance to try one out on a 2014 Honda Accord, which calls the feature "Lane Watch," which puts a camera on the passenger side mirror. The function is activated when you flick your right directional before making a turn. Once I got used to it, it worked well enough, but I wonder why Honda didn't a comparable option for the left side mirror.

    Perhaps one of the most valuable safety features, and available on more and more vehicles as standard issue, is a rear camera. A 2007 U.S. law, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, named in respect to the tragic death of a child when he was struck by a vehicle driven by his dad, originally required that backup monitoring systems be installed on all new vehicles by 2011. But there have been delays, and the feature won't be on the Department of Transportation's recommended list until 2015. Having had three cars with backup cameras, I wonder why it's not mandatory. It supposedly adds $100 to the cost of a car when it's standard equipment — as opposed to twice that amount if added later by your dealer — and it's worth the price.

    Now these automation and safety features, and others available on some cars, are only the beginning. Auto makers, and even Google, are working on self-driving vehicles that will be able to take you where you want to go without any driver input whatever, except to give it directions of course.

    According to a CNET story, Ford has unveiled an early prototype of its first driverless car, known as the Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle. As the name indicates, it is a Fusion, Ford's midsized family vehicle, which has been outfitted with a network of sensors and other gadgets to perform many of its functions without driver input.

    None of this means, of course, that you'll be able to take a test drive any time soon — make that test ride — and you have to wonder how any auto maker can guarantee near 100% reliability. It's also going to require approval by the authorities, both federal and state.

    Sure, human drivers are quite imperfect, and I dare say I don't know anyone who hasn't been involved in an accident, even if they weren't responsible. I can tell you a few stories.

    But even when the technology is becomes available in a shipping vehicle, I wonder how many people would be wary of being put in the position of riding in a car that, they fear, might swerve out of control because of some program or hardware defect. Well, as opposed to a human defect at any rate. After all, would you be able to regain control before it's too late? Are you prepared to surrender your car to a computer? And wouldn't you hope the OS was designed by Apple rather than Microsoft?

    Certainly, there's no stopping the march towards automated driving. As even entry-level compact cars gain rearview cameras, lane and blind sport warning systems, and smart cruise control, not to mention automatic parking, it may not be long until you can completely divorce yourself from having to drive your own car.

    Now I can see the value, as people age and lose the ability to drive. Being able to go where you want when you want is a freedom that is hard to give up. To the elderly and handicapped, a automated motor vehicle might be a necessity. But would the inevitable march of technology mean that, some day, only a few diehards will drive their own cars?

    As I grow older, I can understand that the day will come when I can no longer drive, though a friend, in his late 80s, is still happily motoring around town and has most of his faculties, though his hearing has had better days. Today, I do depend on the backup camera as an added safety measure, and I am concerned that it is still not mandatory, though I realize the auto lobbies are hard at work to delay that regulation as long as they can.

    But I will have to be convinced, kicking and screaming, to give up my car. When that happens, as it probably will, maybe I would be a candidate for an auto-driving car. But not yet.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #733”

    1. Ted Schroeder says:

      I suggest giving up the car slowly.

      Long trips and night driving go first.

      Save money on gas and maintenance and take a cab.

      Have friends and relatives help out and get a social visit as well.

      I was recently hit by a Buick driven driven by a 92-year old woman who had no business being behind the wheel.

      I may have some serious health issues because of this.

      And if she is still driving - what will convince her to phase it out or stop? When she {insert horrible event here}?

      Unfortunately, because of the legal issues, I think driver-less cars are ten years away.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 16th, 2013 at 7:17 AM:

      @Ted Schroeder, Good thoughts, but remember that someone who doesn't have a friends or family at hand to help, it's not so easy to give up the car. Cabs aren't so cheap, but living near public transportation is never a bad idea.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Michael C says:

      I don't know if I can claim sole invention of the term "listicle" but about 7 years ago I wrote a snarky review of the magazine "Entertainment Weekly" every week on my blog (now gone the way of mac.com), and in it I coined the word "listicle" to describe EW articles that comprised lists. I don't recall ever having seen the term before.

      No matter who first coined it, it is a term that I'm glad to see entering common usage. I'd list 5 reasons why it is such a good term, but…

      Reply To This Comment

    3. dfs says:

      The driverless car concept only stands a chance of working if every state were to make a massive capital investment in installing the necessary infrastructure I suppose it would need (highways and at least major surface streets would require some kind of wiring, wouldn't they?). At this point, largely because my own state is so clever at diverting money earmarked for highways into its general fund, it doesn't even fix potholes, and the lane markers are gradually becoming invisible, evidently because the striping crews have been laid off. So, although the safety features Gene writes about are very welcome, the kind of driverless cars that MIT grad students mess around with aren't going to become a reality in the foreseeable future

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 16th, 2013 at 4:55 PM:

      @dfs, I do worry, though, that some of these extra safety features may work against attentive driving, and thus lead us to driverless vehicles regardless.

      But I agree there will be state regulations and other issues. What's more, fixing roads and bridges is no longer important to governments, state and local. It'll take a few more falling bridges to change things.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

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