• Newsletter Issue #275

    March 7th, 2005


    Well, I can now speak and eat without pain, more or less, which means that we’ll have a new show this week. I’d also like to thank the readers who sent me some medical advice; one particularly helpful message, in fact, came from a real doctor. By the way, in case you’ve just tuned in and you’re wondering what this is about, let me just say that I suffered from a sore on my tongue in the wake of a cold, and that was no fun, as you might imagine.

    In any case, this week’s guest lineup will be announced shortly. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a show on March 3rd. We consulted the archives and selected a “Best of” episode, originally broadcast on December 2, 2004. Featured guests included Leander Kahney, author of “The Cult of Mac,” a visit to “The David Biedny Zone” and Craig Crossman, host of the long-running Computer America radio show.

    If you haven’t heard the show, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.


    Apple’s lawsuits against three rumor-oriented Mac Web sites won’t winning the company any new friends, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First let’s take a brief look into the history of a reporter’s privilege.

    One of the biggest mysteries in the world of journalism is the identity of “Deep Throat.” That’s the nom deplume of the person or persons who fed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein information about the evil doings in the Nixon White House, which ended in bringing down a president.

    Though the years, the two reporters have withstood any attempt to find out the identity of that source, although some feel we’ll learn the secret after that person’s death. For now, identity of Deep Throat remains hidden, but journalists have, on occasion, chosen to go to jail rather than disclose their confidential sources.

    In California, there’s a law that supposedly protects journalists from revealing their protected sources. But what is a journalist? Up till recently, we knew. Whether a print publication or broadcast facility, there was no question about it. But that was then, and this is now. Today there are online facilities that also provide news and commentary. Some are simply Internet branches of a traditional print or broadcast outlet, such as cnn.com. Others, such as CNET and Salon, exist mostly or entirely as online media outlets, but otherwise their staff performs the same work as any other journalist.

    So what’s the real definition of a journalist? Here’s the official Merriam-Webster version: “a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium b : a writer who aims at a mass audience.”

    Now I don’t claim to be an attorney, but that, to me at lest, includes the online media. No question about it, but clearly the courts have other ideas.

    In a ruling that most have sent chills across the spines of thousands of proprietors of Web sites around the U.S., a San Jose Superior Court Judge last week issued a preliminary ruling that Apple Computer has the right to force three of those online publishers to give up the names of the sources they relied on when posting stories that allegedly revealed trade secrets.

    Now this isn’t the end of the story. After a hearing Friday, the judge indicated he will issue his final ruling this week. That’s only the start of the legal process, however, because there’s little doubt that the losing side will appeal, and it may take months or years before it’s resolved. That is, unless some kind of settlement is reached before then, which I doubt.

    In the meantime, you have to wonder if, as far as the courts are concerned, size matters. I mean, if you reduce it to its raw components, how does CNET differ from, for example, Think Secret? They both report technology-oriented news and views, and both accept advertising. Commercial? Well, I’m sure Think Secret’s proprietor, Nick Ciarelli, derives some income from those ads. Maybe it’s not a full-time business, because he is a college student. But is that the line of demarcation? What about Mac sites that do have full-time staffs?

    To be sure, Apple regards those sites as strictly hobbyist or fan-related resources and not “real” news outlets, so they cannot protect their sources. And certainly they are more vulnerable than a large media site, which have teams of lawyers at their beck and call to act promptly in case of a lawsuit.

    In all fairness, however, you have to consider Apple’s rights. Developers and suppliers sign confidentiality agreements to get access to Apple’s trade secrets. If someone violates such an agreement, they are subject to various and sundry legal penalties. The problem here, of course, is that Apple doesn’t know who the guilty party or parties might be, which is why these lawsuits were filed in the first place.

    Considering the consequences, I often wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to spill the beans to a Mac rumor site. Don’t agreements count for anything these days? Are the offenders just looking for an ego boost, or their 15 minutes of fame, as it were, even if their names can’t be revealed?

    Frankly, I have little sympathy for people who sign these legally binding agreements and then break them. Yes, I realize you have the option to say no, and not get access to a company’s trade secrets. But that’s what freedom of choice means, and it doesn’t mean you are free to take an agreement and violate it whenever you want.

    No I realize there can be exceptions. If it’s a matter of life and death, the health and welfare of the people and all that, I suppose you can justify breaking such an agreement. The Michael Mann movie, The Insider, is based on the true story of a whistle blower who ignored the nondisclosure agreement he signed with a tobacco company for what he felt was the greater good.

    But in this particular case, we’re talking about a consumer electronics company . Sure, we all want to know what Apple is working on, and I am willing to bet that most of you check out those rumor sites from time to time. But, other than satisfying your curiosity, society doesn’t benefit from disclosure of those trade secrets.

    On the other hand, the courts need to rethink the definition of a journalist. The rulings of the 20th century are passe, and it’s time to consider how things have changed and react accordingly. In a published report, Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, puts it this way: “Compelled disclosure of journalists’ sources would have a devastating effect on the free flow of information. It’s the lifeblood of a functioning democracy. Therefore the courts have to understand the vital connection between the confidentiality of sources and the freedom of the press.”

    In addition, Apple should consider the negative publicity it is generating as a result of its actions. Does Apple really want to become another Microsoft, and be regarded as a corporate bully? Besides, did Apple really lose money or a competitive edge simply because some very general information about its new products appeared before those products were actually released? Was all this fuss really worth it? I don’t think so.


    When you first see the $3,699 Samsung HL-P5085W rear projection TV, you wonder if it’s a visitor from another world, or a future time. This 50-inch widescreen TV, housed in a futuristic shiny black cabinet, sits atop a thick silver and black pedestal, standing on a triangular shaped glass base. The high-tech look has earned the Captain Kirk moniker by fans of home theater gear.

    Rather than old fashioned picture tubes, the Samsung uses Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, consisting of a single tiny chip that projects the image through a rapidly spinning color wheel, which then sprays it onto the rear of the screen. That’s why it’s called rear projection, by the way.

    I won’t get into the technology involved, except to say that you can get simply stunning picture quality, particularly if you go the extra mile and have the set professionally calibrated. And there’s rub. TVs are set up at the factory with both brightness and contrast turned up way up high, to look impressive in the store. But you wouldn’t want to see it that way at home, if you cherish a good picture and don’t want your eyes to become fatigued real fast.

    Yes, there are adjustments you can make yourself in a TV’s setup menu and, to some degree, you can get a pretty decent picture after a few moments of fiddling. If you buy a home theater setup DVD at your local consumer electronics outlet, you can bring things closer to the ideal. But the only way to get the maximum performance an expensive high definition TV can deliver is to hire a pro to calibrate the set.

    To find the best of the best, as it were, I went to the ISF (short for Imaging Science Foundation), an organization that trains and certifies technicians. From that resource, I located Michael Hamilton of The Real Picture, who might be called the calibrator to the stars. That’s because he travels around the country visiting the rich and the famous and setting up their expensive gear. In his travels, he carries several suitcases with instruments, a laptop computer, and lots and lots of cables.

    Michael says he spent over $60,000 for his entire equipment collection and you have to believe him. And be forewarned the process isn’t easy. In order to calibrate a set, you have to access its Service menu, which usually requires a secret handshake, or rather pressing a special combination of buttons on your remote control. Once you get inside, you’ll see an absolutely bewildering choice of arcane commands that control virtually every aspect of the picture your set delivers.

    The process can sometimes take several hours to complete, depending on how badly the set is out of adjustment, so you can see why the calibrator’s visit to your home costs from $300 to $500 for most models. You should also run the set for at least 75 hours for the components to burn-in prior to having it calibrated.

    Now compared to most of today’s high definition sets, the Samsung measured about average out of the box. It’s color temperature was rather far removed from the 6,500K standard. In addition, there’s a separate set of adjustments for each input, so Michael had to repeat his work before he was through, but after about two hours, he pronounced the set fit for duty.

    I should point out that this isn’t a one-time process. For a CRT set, you’ll want to have your calibrator return every year or so for a tune-up, because picture quality will deteriorate as the tubes age. Microtechnology sets such as the Samsung use a lamp that has to be replaced after an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 hours of use, at a cost of $200 to $300. Once the new lamp runs for its requisite 75 hours, your ready for the tune-up. But the process usually takes a lot less time than the initial setup, so you should probably budget $100 to $150 or so for the calibrator’s return visit.

    The first thing I noticed is that the calibrated picture wasn’t quite as bright as before, but it was more than sufficient for any normal room lighting situation. With true high definition source material, picture quality was noticeably superior with deep blacks, crisp whites, and near-perfect color accuracy across the board. A critical eye might notice that reds appeared a tad orange, but this effect is barely noticeable. Unlike CRT-based sets, picture geometry was almost spot-on, and brightness was uniform from edge to edge, something that isn’t always the case on a rear projection TV. HDTV sets also upconvert lower resolution signals, so the picture looks better even with normal fare, such as standard definition TV or DVD.

    Now as to sound quality, I was pleasantly surprised. While you can do far better for a full-blown home theater sound system, audio quality from the Samsung was quite good. I got the best sound by setting the equalization to the Cinema setting, and activating the set’s TruSurround XT feature, which generates a faux surround sound effect. For some reason, defeating this feature makes bass seem deficient, so it’s best advised to leave it on.

    As for the technical stuff, the Samsung has a rated resolution of 1280 x 720, which conforms to the 720p HDTV specification (the “p” stands for progressive). Although the maximum resolution for the HDTV standard is 1080i (the “i” stands for interlaced), you’d be hard pressed to see the difference at any normal viewing distance, and few sets offer it at an affordable price. In fact, some believe 720p delivers better results with action-oriented fare, such as sporting events. The unit is 54.7 inches high, 53.6 inches wide, and weighs in at 125 pounds, which may seem a lot, but it is quite a bit less than a CRT model. Two people with a normal degree of strength can lift the unit without suffering any permanent damage.

    In addition, the Samsung is what’s called “HDTV-ready,” which means it only has an analog or standard tuner. But since most of you probably receive your TV broadcasts via cable or satellite, you will simply rely on the provider in question for an HDTV-compatible receiving unit.

    If 50-inches isn’t enough for you, there’s also a 56-inch version. The only downside to all this joy is that the set will soon have to be returned to Samsung. But until that time arrives, I’m having a ball.


    The Mac 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
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