• Newsletter Issue #299

    August 22nd, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    One of the most frequent questions you listeners have asked about the show in recent months is what happened to the chat room? Well, the folks at our previous network had invested in a slow, buggy chat system and, like converting to Podcasts, never seemed to finish anything. Grayson and I thought about setting up a temporary chat room AOL’s Instant Messenger, so you could visit us via AIM, iChat or a compatible application, but it has its downsides. For example, there’s no way to eject the occasional unruly visitor, nor block vulgar language. While I know such things don’t happen very often, we wanted to make the chat room friendly for everyone.

    So, effective with this week’s show, we’re going to begin experimenting with a new Java-based chat room. It’ll run a lot faster than the one we used to use, and you’ll be able to customize text colors and a few other features. If it works out, we’ll also add the ability to create your own custom user name and account. The chat room will only be available during the live broadcast, and will be just a click away from The Tech Night Owl LIVE home page.

    On our August 18th episode, we featured Dan Tynan, author of “Computer Privacy Annoyances: How to Avoid the Most Annoying Invasions of Your Personal and Online Privacy.” And, no, folks, it’s not just for Windows users. Dan Frakes, from Macworld and Playlist magazines, brought us up to date on the latest and greatest iPod accessories. And we also paid another provocative visit to the “David Biedny Zone.”

    On August 25th, we’ll present a special on-site interview with the folks in charge of Empire High School in Vail, Arizona, where they have traded textbooks for iBooks. We’ll also talk to Bill Fox of Macs Only, who has done a thorough study of those allegedly conflicting patents on music playback interfaces from Apple and Microsoft. The results may surprise you.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

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

    THE TIGER REPORT: WHY CAN’T APPLE KEEP IT CONSISTENT?

    One of the hallmarks of the Mac operating system is its supposed consistency. When you learn the basic skills about using the Mac OS, you can apply them to most of your applications. What works here, works there, or that’s the way it used to be. It gave Mac users bragging rights. Windows is a mess, but the Mac is reliable, predictable and, for a personal computer operating system, fairly simple to master.

    Then Apple begat Mac OS X and threw a great deal of this consistent behavior out the window, apparently in favor of flash over substance. Yes, it sure looks a lot prettier, but some of the basics don’t work as you expect them to do, and that’s not a very promising development.

    Take the document window for the application I’m using right now to write this newsletter, Macromedia Dreamweaver. If I drag the window at the top, it moves across the screen fluidly, as a Mac OS X window should. But if I try to move the window from the bottom, as I could do with any Classic Mac application, nothing happens. Forgetting the lack of logic in that unexpected behavior, I next switch to Safari, where, as you know, you can drag both the top and bottom of the browser window (the latter if you show the Status Bar).

    All right, you think, maybe that only applies to browser windows, yet it doesn’t operate that way with Firefox, Opera and other browsers. So what’s wrong here? Ah, Safari, has a Brushed Metal look, while the others are plain old Platinum. That’s the ticket. Brushed Metal windows can also be moved from the bottom, Platinum windows can’t. I’m not going to question the powers-that-be in Cupertino about the reason for such differences, at least not yet.

    But just when I think I’ve found a trend, I discover yet another anomaly. I can drag the Brushed Metal windows in the Finder and iTunes from the sides, but not Safari. Why should that be? Ah yes, a Safari window is different, because it is only Brushed Metal at the top and bottom. Go figure. All right, I suppose that’s logical after a fashion.

    Then I open Dashboard. The widget windows don’t have any consistent color, but you can move them around simply by clicking anywhere on the widget. All right, now we have another sort of window behavior. But it doesn’t end there. You want to change a widget’s preferences? No, there’s no Preferences command in the application menu. There is no application menu! Instead, you drag the mouse to the bottom right corner, where a tiny “i” will appear, but only if there’s a way to manage preferences. Click that and the widget spins around to deliver a settings screen. So is a widget just another application? In some respects yes, in some respects, maybe not. It exists with its own set of rules, on a separate “layer” that lies above your regular document and Finder windows when invoked.

    So where’s the logic in that?

    But it’s not just window movement procedures that vary across the board. What about the simple process of resizing a window? Live window resizing is the hallmark of Mac OS X, right? But it doesn’t quite work that way in Dreamweaver, where all you get is a bounding box showing the new size until you’re done, just like the Classic Mac OS? Oh well, maybe Macromedia had its reasons. Let’s have a look at Microsoft. Same here, except for Entourage, which has the live movement capability, but it’s slow and ragged. The latest CS2 applications from Adobe? Well, live resizing doesn’t work with Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop, but it does for Acrobat and GoLive. Aren’t these supposedly all part of the same creative suite? Don’t the programmers talk to each other?

    You begin to get the impression that Apple has simply tossed its famous interface elements out the window and embraced the chaos theory. Yet when you check Apple’s Developer’s site there is indeed a section devoted to the very latest version of its Human Interface Guidelines, covering Aqua. Says Apple: “Aqua is the overall appearance and behavior of Mac OS X. Aqua defines the standard appearance of specific user interface components such as windows, menus, and controls, and is also characterized by the anti-aliased appearance of text and graphics, shadowing, transparency, and careful use of color. Aqua delivers standardized consistent behaviors and promotes clear communication of status through animated notifications, visual effects, and more. Designing for Aqua compliance will ensure you provide the best possible user experience for your customers.”

    I don’t now whether to laugh or cry. Of course, it’s too late to sort this mess out in Tiger, but what about the next great Mac OS, Leopard? Do you think Apple will get the message and make some effort to redefine function over form for once? I’m not taking any bets.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: DO YOU REALLY WANT A SAFE CAR?

    That sounds like a silly question. Of course you do. Yet sometimes, when I remind folks who enter my car to fasten their seatbelts, a few grown in protest. In fact, a good twenty percent of you in the USA never use them, even though that’s illegal in many states. But enforcement for something so significant as possibly saving your life plays a big second fiddle to speeding or passing a red light. Sure, if they bother to check, and find the belts unfastened, they might write you up, but don’t depend on it. That’s usually between you and your conscience.

    I first started wearing seat belts when I bought a new car that contained one, and that was long, long ago. Maybe I’m a more cautious person than most about such things, but after watching movies in TV shows in which people flew through the windshield in the wake of a crash, I vowed that I wouldn’t become one of those people. Sure enough, back around 1970 or so, I avoided a possibly serious injury when my subcompact car, a Toyota Corona, was smashed in the side by a much larger vehicle and spin around a couple of times. No it didn’t roll over. But I didn’t have a scratch, and the impact was hard enough to have tossed me through a window had I not been restrained.

    Now there’s another side of the equation, so let’s be fair about it. Some fear being trapped in case the car catches file, or sinks into the ocean, and I suppose there’s some merit to that, but in the vast majority of cases, the seatbelt prevents or reduces injuries and doesn’t cause them. But anti-seatbelt fever reached a fever-pitch back in the 1970s when they actually had a regulation that prevented you from starting your car unless the belts were buckled. The backlash was sufficient to cause Congress to rescind the regulation and today all you get is a brief and faint beeping noise of some sort of you fail to belt up.

    The upshot of all this is, of course, that most of you don’t mind safety so long as it doesn’t require active participation, and you apparently don’t mind paying extra for the privilege. So there are various and sundry forms of air bags, and, eventually, electronic stability capabilities will be standard on all motor vehicles sold in the USA. But how far to you really want to go to protect you from yourselves, another motorist, or from crashing into a brick wall?

    On a recent episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I talked with a safety expert at Nissan North America about some of the newest features appearing in both Nissan and Infiniti motor vehicles. One was the lane departure warning system, in which you hear an audible beep and see a tiny icon on your dashboard if you cross the line without signaling your intentions. It uses a a tiny camera inside the rearview mirror that senses lane markings ahead of you. Now it’s not always on the mark, and it doesn’t even activate unless you’re traveling at 45 mph or above and fail to activate the turn signal. It’s also part of some costly option packages, so it’s not something that you’d choose casually.

    Car makers are also working on a next generation system, which will actually keep you from switching to another lane unless you switch on a turn signal, but there has to be a fail safe. What if you see an obstruction ahead and attempt to swerve to safety without a turn signal? Will the car sense the obstruction or force you to sustain a possibly fatal crash?

    Depending on your car rather than yourself to keep you safe may have unintended consequences, particularly if the systems malfunction. After a fatal crash, the driver’s heirs might sue the auto maker blaming them for the accident, due to their buggy safety equipment. It will make lawyers rich, but won’t necessarily reduce carnage on the highways.

    In the end, it may require a smart combination of active safety gadgets and perhaps improved driver education to protect us from ourselves. Right now, though, whether you want to pay extra for such cutting-edge gear, buckling those safety belts and trying a little harder to observe the rules of the road is still the best way to prevent yourself from becoming just another highway statistic.

    THE FINAL WORD

    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
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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