• Newsletter Issue #304

    September 26th, 2005


    Did you notice anything different about the September 22nd episode? Well, we increased the bit rate slightly (from 20K to 24K) and some listeners said audio quality was noticeably better. We made the move carefully, because many of our listeners are still on dial-up connections and we don’t want to make it too difficult for them to receive the live stream, so let us know.

    In any case, this was one information-packed episode. Our featured guest was an old and dear friend, David Pogue, who in addition to his regular output of books, is a technology columnist for The New York Times. Topics included Apple’s digital music business, Macs on Intel, and lots more. Unlike some of the “other” radio shows out there, we don’t interrupt the proceedings every five minutes for half a dozen commercials, so you heard a lot more of what David had to say, unfiltered. We were also joined by Louis Lampa of Quark, Inc., who provided a preview of QuarkXPress 7.0, Eliot Van Buskirk, the digital music guru at mp3.com and Ryan Rempel, who explained who you can install Tiger on older Macs using his special application, XPostFacto.

    For September 29th, we’ve scheduled TidBITS publisher Adam Engst and noted author Owen Linzmayer, who wrote “Apple Confidential 2.0” and other titles. More guests will be announced shortly.

    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.


    Conventional wisdom has it that Apple favors its own retail stores when it comes to getting adequate stocks of new products. Other dealers are allegedly confined to the end of the food chain, getting a few morsels here and there if they beg often enough. Is this assumption correct, or is Apple telling us the truth when it says that it treats its third party dealers fairly?

    I’ll forget for the moment the fact that a few dealers are suing Apple with claims of unfair treatment and other ills of one sort or another. Those issues are still before the courts and remain unresolved. Unfortunately, most surveys of product availability tend to be local in nature, which doesn’t really paint a fair picture and I don’t pretend to have the time or resources to evaluate the situation in any meaningful way.

    On the other hand, I did get an unexpected chance to check Mac availability issues in the Phoenix metropolitan area while on a mission for a client. Being one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Phoenix and its suburbs have a fair number of independent Mac outlets, plus two Apple retail stores. Wherever you live in this area, unless you are way out in the country, you shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes away from a store where you ought to be able to buy the new Mac or iPod of your choice.

    Now about that mission. The client’s vintage Power Mac G4/733 developed a bad hard drive. Since his data had already been largely duplicated on his iBook, he decided it was time to retire the G4 and get something new. His needs are modest, however, confined mostly to reliable email and Web access to run his small business. Why not a Mac mini, he suggested? So he asked me to pick one up for him and set him up on my next visit to his home office. He suggested I stick to the $499 entry level model, although he’d spring for a more expensive version if that was his only choice. He needed his new Mac right away.

    A piece of cake, I thought. I am minutes from two stores that carry Macs, so I visited them while performing some routine household errands. The first destination was the CompUSA outlet in Scottsdale, AZ, which has a fairly well stocked store-within-a-store and is supported most days by an actual Apple employee. The situation looked promising as I examined the displays. There were two Mac minis running, but closer inspection revealed they were the first generation versions. Lest we forget, Apple introduced updated models, upping RAM to 512MB, just about two months ago. Curious.

    The Apple dude said he’d be happy to sell me the floor units, but had nothing else in stock. “There was some screw up in the ordering process,” he claimed, and it would be a while before they were fully stocked with minis. All right, it happens, I thought. This didn’t prove any conspiracy theory on the part of Apple to ditch CompUSA as a source for the latest and greatest Macs. In fact, the iPod nano was in evidence, although they, like other dealers, had trouble keeping the 4GB in stock because of the higher demand.

    Later on that day, I dropped into the Scottsdale branch of Re-Mac Computers, a store that also sells used Macs. One Mac mini was on display, but sadly the older model. The store manager said he’d order whatever I wanted, but it would take “a few days” for it to arrive. No, they had nothing in stock, not even a refurbished model.

    At this point, I felt slightly discouraged, and called the Apple Store in Phoenix. Sure enough, they had plenty of minis in various configurations. The client lived just 10 minutes from the store, so I dropped in on the way to his office. Almost adjacent to the Genius Bar was a display of refurbished gear, and I ran across a perfect alternative, the model with the 1.42GHz G4, 80GB hard drive and combo optical drive. Normally it’s $599, but this particular unit was marked down to $479, and the sales staff assured me that it was in perfect condition and had the standard one year new equipment warranty. In addition, the drive had been re-imaged, so for all practical purposes, it was a new computer.

    Within an hour after my arrival, the contents of the client’s iBook had been migrated to the Mac mini, over a dozen software updates had been installed, and it was ready to roll. The Power Mac? Well, he asked me to see if I could find a buyer who’d be willing to make an offer, and it will be available with a new 80GB drive if anyone is interested.

    Now I suppose the experience might raise troubling questions. Why are Apple’s own stores virtually swimming with Mac minis, yet the other dealers I visited had none in stock? It’s not as if the mini is backordered anymore and the mail order dealers claim to have them available for immediately delivery. So I’ll chalk it up to a fluke, for now at least. Perhaps the dealers I visited just didn’t regard the mini as a high priority product. Conspiracy theories? Well, I just don’t know.


    After reading about the latest plans to return man to the moon, it’s fair to conclude the space program is on life support. It reached a peak on July 16, 1969, when the Apollo 11 lander made its historic trip. Science fiction stories of the era predicted subsequent manned trips to Mars and beyond, but how much progress have we really made in ensuing 36 years? Apollo was over and done with by 1972, and now we’re talking of returning to the moon towards the end of the next decade.

    Considering how quickly we managed the task with 1960’s technology, I have to wonder why it’s going to take so long this time. Even if we rebuilt those old Apollo systems, we ought to be able to do it in a few years at most, and the $104 billion dollar estimate of the second generation of manned lunar exploration seems a budget buster. But when compared to the value of our currency in the good old days, the experts tell us it represents a mere 55% of the cost of the original Apollo mission. Some cynics suggest the government wastes more than that figure in a single year.

    Apollo II, or whatever it would be called, would be able to deliver four crew members to the surface of the moon, by the way. But you have to wonder whether a 13-year program will succeed, or just be placed on the back burner as more immediate concerns grab the attention of the politicians. If this seems like a fairly rapid venture, don’t forget it took a mere eight years from conception to the first successful mission. Surely we could do a lot better, a lot more efficiently. Consider how much technology has advanced since those early days of space exploration.

    But space travel doesn’t have that special magic anymore. There are just so many difficult problems to deal with here on Earth that venturing to another world seems a wasteful pipedream. Forget for the moment how many of the technological wonders of today came about as a result of our original excursions into space. Forget for the moment that it seems more and more probable that life spawned on many worlds out there. We’ll never meet ET in our lifetimes, so why bother?

    I will, for the moment, avoid the issue of whether ET is here now, in the form of those UFOs that many people report. That’s a issue way beyond the mundane concerns of this newsletter. On the other hand, if there was even a slight chance that it was true, wouldn’t that be an even greater incentive to stretch our technological muscles and find out just what’s going on out there?

    Maybe, as some suggest, ET won’t make its presence known until we are ready to meet them on their turf. That was the point of view taken in the film “Star Trek: First Contact,” where the aliens discovered that we had developed warp drive, the methodology used in the “Trek” universe to travel faster than light, before deciding we were ready for a return visit.

    Or maybe scientists and engineers ought to look for solutions that require less brute force than rockets. Not that I’m suggesting the scheme used in the TV show “Stargate SG-1,” where a massive, circular ring is used as the gateway between star systems. But there’s nothing wrong with thinking out of the box, just to see whether we can come up with a better solution for sending humans to another world. I don’t know about you, but 13 years is just too long from my point of view.


    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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