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  • Newsletter Issue #351

    August 21st, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Sometimes it’s difficult to know when a comment will generate disagreement. For example, when we had WiredNews.com’s Leander Kahney on The Tech Night Owl LIVE earlier this month, he wondered whether Steve Jobs looked healthy during the WWDC keynote. I responded that I didn’t notice any such thing from my fifth row berth during the session, and let the matter drop.

    But last week, Macworld’s Christopher Breen, who was accompanied by his fellow Senior Editor Dan Frakes during his appearance on the show, felt the comment was downright irresponsible. I suppose you’ll be hearing more about this topic in the weeks to come.

    Also appearing on the show was John Rizzo, of MacWindows.com, who told us what annoyed him about the event, and the things that impressed him. David Biedny was once again in the “Zone,” to provide the eulogy for the Power Mac.

    Maybe you haven’t heard, but David says that he was the person who actually persuaded Apple executives to name their desktop computers Power Macs when they switched to the PowerPC in 1994.

    I’d also like to invite all of you to visit our new Tech Night Owl LIVE forums and check out a special section we’ve added covering Apple War Stories. You’re invited to participate with your own tales of woe or even your positive experiences.

    Coming up on Tuesday evening on The Paracast is another session with my long-time friend Jim Moseley, who is regarded as the “Court Jester” in the UFO field. But there’s a serious side to this man, too, as you’ll see in this no-holds-barred interview. You’ll also hear from Royce J. Myers III, of UFO Watchdog, who has created both a “UFO Hall of Fame” and a “UFO Hall of Shame.” As I’ve often said, the show tries to be an equal-opportunity offender.

    THE KIND OF VIRUS EVEN A MAC USER MUST FEAR

    Yes, I know the stories. Mac users are not susceptible to viruses because the criminals responsible for malware don’t really care about a platform with a worldwide market share in the low single digits. If Apple’s efforts to boost the number of Macs in homes and businesses bear fruit, there will be plenty of threats coming our way.

    Of course, the people who insist this is true don’t bother considering the fact that Mac market share was actually higher years ago, and the number of computer viruses affecting the platform was still small. Today, with a solid Unix foundation, Mac OS X surely isn’t totally immune to infection, but the situation still will be far better.

    But nothing is perfect. Worse, there’s one thing that even the most powerful anti-virus, anti-virus and firewall software can’t prevent, and that is human error. Even on your Mac, you can do things that will cause you not only unending grief, but severe financial loss.

    And, no, my friends, this is not just a scare tactic. It’s the cold, hard truth!

    Now you might consider the prospects outlandish. Take, for example, the infamous Nigerian scam, where you get a message from someone who claims to be the granddaughter of a wealthy African king or something similar. If you’d like to share in their huge largess, you merely have to give them your bank account information. Within days, you’ll find an extra $10 million or so at your disposal.

    The very idea sounds absurd. How could anyone fall for such nonsense? But the reason the scheme continues to this very day is the fact that enough people do fall for the scheme, despite the illogic, to enrich a few online predators.

    Then there are those phishing scams, where you get a message purporting to be from your bank, or perhaps eBay. You are told that your account information has been compromised, and all you need do is click on the link, re-enter your account information, and everything will be all right in the world. Or at least with the account in question.

    If you actually click on the link, of course, you will be taken to a site that closely mirrors your financial institution, down to the minutest detail. These crooks are smart! As you might expect, when you deliver your account number, password and social security number, identity thieves will steal your savings, and open credit cards in your name to enrich themselves.

    This particular scheme depends on the fact that a lot of people are naive about how the Internet works. After all, why would someone write to them, using their address, if it wasn’t true? They don’t fully comprehend the fact that mass mailings of millions and millions of those messages are dispatched every single day by criminals who only need a few positive responses to line their pockets with your money.

    Again, if the messages didn’t bear fruit, you wouldn’t see them over and over again. The same holds true with the entire world of spam. Some people actually fall for those offers, which promise lower-rate mortgages or perhaps sexual enhancements of one sort or another.

    The investment required to send spam is very small, which is why it can be so profitable. In fact, some genuine companies do run email marketing programs, although, in theory, they are supposedly sent only to opt-in lists, people who actually requested the mailings. When you expose their irresponsible, greedy behavior, they’ll often provide the excuse that a third party fulfillment house did the dirty deed, and they will mend their ways.

    Sure they will!

    It’s very likely that phishing and spam will never go away, nor will computer viruses. Some day there will even be a Mac OS X infection that spreads into the wild in sufficient numbers to cause real damage.

    The best method of protection from the dangers of the Internet is just to be careful, and if you get something in the mail that your gut tells you doesn’t ring true, trust your instincts!

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE CELL PHONE FEATURE THAT’S STILL MISSING

    It seems that every few weeks, some mobile phone provider is touting a fabulous new phone, one that truly raises the bar, to crib one particular advertising campaign. For example, there’s the new LG Chocolate phone, which rises from a bath of dark goop to tantalize your senses. Do you eat it, play it, or hold conversations with it?

    It seems like an intriguing device, but I wonder why they built it without a speakerphone? Even cheap phones have that feature. Didn’t anyone notice during the design phase?

    In the meantime, the U.S.’s two largest services, Cingular and Verizon Wireless, are boasting about the quality of their networks. Cingular has fewer dropped calls, and Verizon delivers a network that almost always surrounds you with something or other.

    Now maybe it’s true. Maybe there are fewer instances of disconnects, intermittent call quality and that sort of thing. Frankly, I haven’t noticed any changes in particular. Perhaps the customer base still increases as fast as the network, so the services never catch up.

    But one thing that hasn’t changed over all the years I’ve used mobile phones is voice quality. It still doesn’t quite measure up to the old fashioned landline that Ma Bell delivered decades and decades ago. Sure, the fidelity wasn’t terribly high in the scheme of things, but at its best, voices were clear, distinct, and the amount of background noise was minimal.

    Even the best mobile provider can’t deliver that level of call quality on any consistent basis, if at all. Far too many calls deliver a sort of gurgling sound effect, as if the caller’s head were immersed in a swimming pool. Is that the best that billions of dollars of investments can deliver?

    You can buy the most advanced handset, and enjoy enough features to keep you fascinated or just plain confused for months. But voice quality seldom varies.

    I won’t say it’s always bad. At it’s best, the audio fidelity, such as it is, can sometimes approach that of a traditional phone. But that “digital fuzz” invariably returns on the next call. I can’t tell you how often I must ask someone to repeat what they said at the other end of the call, or vice versa.

    Will there ever come a day when a cell phone company tells you that calls on their network sound as good as those on a regular phone? No, that’s not going to happen. That’s not a sufficiently sexy feature, because you can’t bathe a phone in it in a TV ad.

    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 and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #351”

    1. Tero says:

      “I won’t say it’s always bad. At it’s best, the audio fidelity, such as it is, can sometimes approach that of a traditional phone. But that “digital fuzz” invariably returns on the next call. I can’t tell you how often I must ask someone to repeat what they said at the other end of the call, or vice versa.”

      Sounds strange. Having only used GSM phones in Europe, I have never had any problems with sound quality. Of course there are variations among phone models, networks and even manufacturers: Some of those Asian (Samsung, LG) models send awfully blurry sound, although they may sport a decent earpiece. Nokia phones always send excellent sound quality on GSM, which is equally important compared to having a good earpiece.

      As far as I’m aware Verizon uses CDMA based networks, which don’t even try to offer consistent voice quality, but somehow scale down the quality under congestion to accommodate more users in a cell.

      I’ve never experienced a dropped call.

    2. Sounds strange. Having only used GSM phones in Europe, I have never had any problems with sound quality.

      Alas, I suspect it’s almost like being in a different universe compared to the USA, as far as cell phone service is concerned. 🙁

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. bonesb says:

      There’s often a way around the voice quality issue, but you gotta work at it.

      My two Cingular phones, an iPaq and SE S710a both sound not-so-great, but my Euro-spec Nokia 6270 sounds pretty good all of the time – it wasn’t programed with the AMR-HR sound encoding codec and uses only EFR. My VZ Moto V325 isn’t so lucky, however, I’m looking to move to a Nokia 6256i from Nokia’s website – the V325 clarity is OK when I make forced-analog calls. I’ve already tried an LG CU500 on Cingular’s network, sometimes the calls were clear but the phone’s volume fluctuated like so many other LGs, so it’s been returned. I’m going to try the almost-out Samsung ZX-20 when it comes out to get off the GSM network and on to HSPDA.

      Also, check out the Moto modding section on Howardforums.com and read up on how a bunch of phone geeks hack certain GSM Motos to disable the crappy AMR-HR codec. Geez, I wish one could pay 10 bucks more to disable that codec!!!!!!!!!!!!

      One last bit – I live in Portland, OR and usually am dissatisfied with the call quality on all of the networks in this area. I just got back from 3 days of biz in Boise, ID – all of my few-dozen calls on both networks were clear as a bell, incoming and outgoing! WTH?

    4. realtosh says:

      “Having only used GSM phones in Europe,”

      I used mostly CDMA phones on Verizon network. I used to have amazing reception when I lived closer to a major airport. Now in an urban area with challenging terrain, my call quality is VERY BAD. I have lots of dropped and fuzzy calls. What I hear from others who use Cingular and the rest, these others are no better and many times much worse.

      Now I don’t live in Europe, but when I was there for several weeks, I purchased a GSM phone – a high end phone. I used the phone in several countries with various providers. I can’t say that the European service was markedly better or worse than the US service. I had interruptions and difficulties placing calls, and degradation in call quality. I can’t say that my European experience was any kind of Eutopia. It was quite similar to my miserable experience in the US. Celular technologies are based on radio-frequncy transmissions and are limited by the laws of physics.

      Now, my recent experience in the US has lowered my expectations. Maybe, if I hadn’t moved and had the stellar service that I was used to getting, I would likely have considered my European experience in even worse light. I already did not enjoy it.

      I could not get one low cost solution from one country and use all over the continent. I had to use different SIM cards in different countries. Some worked in neighboring countries, some didn’t. When the SIMs did work, one had to sell an arm or a leg to pay for the connection charges and the long distance charges to call the country of the network your SIM card is based out of and then pay for out of country rates to call back to the country you’re in just to make a local call to shop you’ve just passed or to call back to your hotel or to make reservations in a local restaurant, or even to call someone to make arrangements to meet later in the day. This is just nonsense.

      I can’t beleive that at least one provider does not market a pay one price and call anywhere in Europe for this low price in any country with no roaming. In the US, we get a plan amd pay one price and use the phone anywhere from coast to coast over a much larger geography than Europe’s with a similar population (but less dense since the Americans are spread over the larger geography.) Yet the quality of the calls seems similar. You just better break open the piggy bank and get ready to turn over a ransom if you have to roam in Europe. We did away with roaming almost entirely within the United States.

      Plus, all the literature that I’ve read over the years, GSM is not a superior technology to CDMA. Verizon built a great network on that technolgy–CDMA. If I go over to Cingular, it is not because GSM is better. It will be because Verizon failed to provide the kind of service one expects. When one believes that their network is the best, the actions will change. Verizons behavior follows the expectations. One will advertise their network strength. Verizon does that. One will charge more for the same quantity of service, as people may more for better service. Verizon charges more per minute for their plans. One will feel that customers won’t leave. Before Number Portability, people who number was important, would not leave. Now with number portability, Verizon has increased users switching over from inferior services. But that will only last for as long as their call quality and service does, or at least the perception of quality. Cingular is doing a good bit to undermine the perception of quality at Verizon, by advertising the strength of Cingular quality. But a good service providor can also get arrogant. Verizon disables functions and services on phones. Verizon has never had a bluetooth phone that wasn’t crippled. If you try to use the USB download functions, you’ll be equally dissappointed especailly with newer phones.

      If I go to a GSM service providor, it won’t be for GSM. It will be because they are marketing a better product. That is they will be providing a similar or better service more reliably — call quality wise — for less money. And they won’t disable the functions of my phones. If I choose to use Bluetooth and USB connectivity for anything beyond my contacts and address book, I’d like my provider to respect that and stay out of my business. They should not dissable functions that the phone manufacturers built into the phone.

    5. Tero says:

      To Realtosh:

      Your experience on network quality may vary depending on where you travel in Europe. There are quite a different countries and networks around if you happened to notice. My experience is mostly from Scandinavia. So no, I can’t tell whether the operators in Albania or in Poland have high quality networks.

      About roaming: I know a person who started his phone call here in Finland and stopped it when his train arrived at somewhere in Germany. Expensive? Yes, but works. Try travelling from USA to Panama and see if you can keep that CDMA phone call going on. So yes, roaming works on GSM.

      “I could not get one low cost solution from one country and use all over the continent.”
      No, surely not. Do you get low cost offerings from Canada to use in the USA? Or from Mexico? And how would this business model work?

      You complained about SIM cards etc. Of course! Come on man! You go from one country to another, and if you aren’t roaming, you need another SIM from another carrier that operates in that country if you want to become their customer! Either roam, which works fantastically on GSM, and costs like hell, or get a new SIM from one of the local operators. The operators don’t exist for American tourists or businessmen that are travelling from this or that country to this another country, but for their (local) customers. Yes, really. Just like Verizon servers American customers. They don’t base their business on a certain group of tourists, I guess.

      Or did you expect that countries in other continents work like American states? You compare travelling within a country (USA) to travelling from one country to another in Europe. I hope not! Do you also try to travel that way in South America? They also have independent countries, not states there.

      CDMA is probably not better nor worse. It is how the network is built. Here in Finland I can’t find a region, inhabited or not, where I wouldn’t receive a GSM signal. I personally don’t care about GSM or CDMA per se, it just happens to be GSM and works, and that’s fine with me. If there was a competing CDMA network that worked better, then I’d choose that, but then those CDMA handset offerings are not very exciting. Looking globally, CDMA is behind global GSM offerings on the handset side.

    6. Tom says:

      “I could not get one low cost solution from one country and use all over the continent.”
      No, surely not. Do you get low cost offerings from Canada to use in the USA? Or from Mexico? And how would this business model work?

      I lived in the US until age 34. I now live in Canada with a Verizon phone with “single rate Canada” and I pay no extra long distance or roaming in, to or from Canada and vice versa with the US. I believe this rate costs me an extra $10 per month than it did for US only. My Canadian cell phone situation is even better. I have a Fido Hiptop (same as a T-Mobile Sidekick, which I used to have) and the service costs the same dollar amount as the Sidekick did, even though the Canadian dollar is worth less (they are fairly close now compared to 3 or 4 years ago) and roaming in the US is included at no extra charge. The T-Mobile Sidekick (remember, it is the same exact device) cost $.49 per minute to roam in Canada when using the phone and data cost $10 per megabyte. My typical data use was about 1/2 megabyte per day. That’s why I got the Fido Hiptop ASAP. I don’t think any cell phone from any US or Canadian provider works very far into Mexico without super high roaming charges if they work at all in Mexico. So, it is far from perfect, but there are providers on both sides of the border that provide solutions for the frequent traveller/caller concerning the US and Canada.

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