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  • Newsletter Issue #352

    August 28th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Apple’s presentation of a backup program for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, Time Machine, brought to light the fact that the vast majority of you never backup your stuff, and only a very few ever actually use software to get the job done.

    One of the most knowledgeable advocates of the backup religion is Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups.” On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Joe delivered a seminar on the most effective techniques for you to protect your valuable data. He covered the processes, the software, and even mentioned the things you’d have to consider if you’re using Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop on your Intel-based Mac to run Windows.

    In addition, cutting-edge tech commentator Daniel Eran, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, was on hand to talk about Mac versus PC cost comparisons and other hot topics. Author and security expert Kirk McElhearn delivered an update on the current issues filling the commentaries from Mac writers and bloggers, including the state of the health of Steve Jobs, the known features of Mac OS X Leopard and the legal settlement in a patent dispute between Apple and Creative.

    Coming up on this week’s show will be Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus and MP3 guru Eliot Van Buskirk.

    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 dealing with the way-out world of UFOs. David and I will present Bill Ryan and Kerry Cassidy, who will talk about the mysterious “Mr. X,” the incredible story surrounding Project SERPO, involving an alleged exchange program between humans and aliens, and their provocative new online information gathering roundtable, projectcamelot.org.

    You’ll also learn about Ralph Ring and his connection with the late inventor Otis T. Carr, who claimed to have built a flying ship decades ago, before he was allegedly silenced by government operatives.

    A way-out world indeed.

    THE LEOPARD REPORT: SORTING FACTS FROM TOTAL NONSENSE

    This ought to be simple, I thought. The WWDC keynote on August 7, 2006 was witnessed in person by several thousand developers and members of the press. An uncounted number of additional people saw the QuickTime playback, available direct from Apple. The entire story has been covered by tech writers and bloggers around the world.

    There was nothing terribly complicated about the information offered. First, the Mac Pro, the successor to the Power Mac, was introduced. In the scheme of things, it was a natural progression of Apple’s desktop workstation technology. A pair of powerful processors, room for lots of drive storage space, memory, and even a slot for a second optical drive.

    Typical for a new Mac, there was some sort of comparison, in this case the price of a comparably-equipped Dell. This shouldn’t be a controversial matter. The Dell is either more expensive, or not. But the online chatter almost transported you to another universe when it came to the simple logic of a basic price match between two personal computers with similar options.

    Some of the few folks who said it wasn’t true, that the Mac wasn’t cheaper, had to cheat to get their figures to look right. They’d leave out such key features as the second processor, or even the correct version of the Intel Xeon, which is the one from the new “Woodcrest” series. Some would dispense with the second Ethernet port, or the proper graphic card and optical drive.

    If you do use the correct Dell configuration, based on the Precision Workstation 690 series, you’ll find that the Mac is indeed hundreds and hundreds of dollars cheaper. But getting an exact and consistent price from Dell can be an exercise in the worst form of futility.

    You see, even though you buy your Dell from a single source, and that’s the manufacturer, prices may vary depending on which online store you visit, or even the time of day and, I fear, the phase of the moon. There are also sites devoted to tracking Dell coupons, which may earn you various and sundry discounts that are not always listed on the company’s own site.

    Worse, you can customize the very same product from the Small Business section and come up with one price, and then get a totally different price for the exact configuration from Dell’s Medium & Large Business department.

    Maybe you have to sign a loyalty oath to to Michael Dell in order to receive the best deal, and I’m at least half serious about that.

    Then there’s Mac OS X Leopard. Again, there was nothing out of the ordinary with the new features that Apple has deigned to disclose to us. But you could hear the complaints. Such things as backups, multiple desktops, and adding To Do lists to a mail program or fancy visual effects to an online chatting program have all been done before. If you look hard enough, you’ll find plenty of third party alternatives, some of which work quite well indeed.

    Some remark they aren’t going to upgrade. There’s not enough there to tempt them to sign another check for $129 (or whatever Leopard will cost, since pricing hasn’t been set) and endure another hour or two for the upgrade process.

    The problem with this “jump-the-gun” attitude is that all Apple has delivered so far is a relatively brief preview. Nowhere is there anything that matches the over 200 new features that debuted in Tiger. Apple has, instead, presented a “Top Secret” slide with the promise that more new features will be doled out at a later date, and I’ll take them at their word.

    Sure, it’s probably true they just aren’t ready to be displayed in public without crashing, or the interfaces aren’t polished enough. It also gives Apple a simple escape value if a few new capabilities can’t be finished in time for Leopard’s promised spring 2007 release. They can always be put off to Mac OS 10.6 without causing Apple any public embarrassment. After Microsoft was forced to publicly pull important features from Windows Vista, I’m sure Apple doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, and if you don’t promise something, there’s no downside if it is removed from a product before release.

    And here’s the key fact some forget when filling paragraph after paragraph with complaints: Apple has the knack for taking existing technology and moving it in a compelling new direction.

    Lest we forget, there were music players around before the iPod came out. Do you know what they were and do you care?

    Innovation also means finding a way to do something that makes it seem simple, natural, empowering. And that’s Apple’s real gift, something that other PC makers haven’t quite figured out yet.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LET’S TRY THAT AGAIN IN ENGLISH

    I suppose that, in the scheme of things, it’s not terribly important what sort of tools we use to create the site. Whatever works, works. Actually, rather than put everything together line-by-line in a text editor such as BBEdit, or in Adobe GoLive or its newly-acquired brother (or sister), Dreamweaver, we use WordPress, a Web-based publishing tool.

    The basic reason is simple. Once installed, all our updates can be done via an easily-accessed Web-based interface that works pretty much the same everywhere; except for Safari, that is, which doesn’t display the formatting toolbar for some reason.

    Like Apple’s iWeb, there are lots and lots of templates with which to format your site, and, in theory, even relative beginners can get up and running in little time. There are also lots of plugins, which are add-on modules that enhance the basic features to take you where your Web publishing has never gone before. They include the ability to format your page so it looks good on the printed page, the ability to send the page to someone via email and even the latest, which is to share our information on what are called “Sociable” sites, such as digg.com and delicious.com.

    Through all this, my Webmaster, Brent Lee, and I have entered a very strange world, where the English language has been forgotten in favor of jargon. It’s the world of those WordPress plugins, where all bets are off.

    Installation and getting those add-ons to actually work, however, can be either a simple or impossible process. Some truly just work, by dropping the files or a folder into the appropriate plugins folder and then activating them via the online interface.

    Sometimes that’s enough, although there may be a setup panel where you specify how the plugin affects your content. Here’s where things can get out of shape, because not all of these things just work. Some require customization of a few of the files that WordPress uses to give your site its look and feel. Suddenly things become complicated, particularly when you’re trying to communicate your problem to the various and sundry authors of these clever little bits and pieces of software.

    You see, unlike the tech writers with whom you’re familiar, the concept of writing simple step-by-step instructions is lost on some of these developers, perhaps because they are so immersed in code and shortcuts. They miss steps, somehow expecting you to fill in the blanks, and, in the end, you never seem to figure out why the plugin works for some and not for others.

    Now I don’t pretend to be well educated on the ins and outs of HTML and PHP coding, and I will let my Webmaster do the heavy lifting. In a few cases, Brent, who is quite experienced at coding a Web page, will remark, “I don’t know what they’re talking about.” Even the normal “geek talk” with which he is quite familiar doesn’t deliver comprehension.

    In frustration, I’ve begged a couple of these plugin developers to explain exactly what they expect us to do to get their grand creations to function. In nearly every case, we receive a few lines of gibberish, or nothing in response.

    It’s easy to say that Brent and I simply are not smart enough to understand the intricacies and subtleties of some of these instructions, since others somehow manage to get the plugins to work just fine without any complaints. But I fear that far too many of these people have gotten so lost in their world of gibberish that they’ve forgotten the basics of communicating with regular people. And that’s sad, real sad.

    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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