• Newsletter Issue #354

    September 11th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Well, it’s happened. Our “way out” show, The Paracast, is now heard on both the Internet and regular radio. On the evening of September 10th, the show premiered on KLAV-AM 1230 in Las Vegas. The event accompanied the show’s switch to Sunday nights online as well. For David Biedny and I, it represents a beginning, and part of a long range plan for the show to be heard in a number of venues.

    For that huge first episode, we called upon well-known nuculear physicist and UFO investigator Stanton T. Friedman, who prides himself on taking a scientific approach to a very controversial matter. He also has a straightforward, take-no-prisoners approach to sorting out the confusion and controversy that has surrounded the subject.

    As to our original show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we had four great guests this week.

    Macworld’s Online Editor, Philip Michaels, made his first appearance on the show to talk about Apple’s newest iMac and Mac mini. MacFixIt’s Ben Wilson was on hand to answer questions about alleged reliability issues with Apple’s Intel-based Macs. With the recent release of a public beta of CrossOver Mac from CodeWeavers, company CEO Jeremy White talked about the new application, which lets you run many Windows applications without having to install Windows. Also appearing on this week’s episode was Larry O’Connor, CEO of MacSales, a manufacturer and reseller of Mac peripherals and upgrades. Larry brought us up to date on why the Apple and Dell batteries, built by Sony, failed, and how MacSales is handling the special memory needs of the Mac Pro. The guest list for this coming week’s show is still in progress.

    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.

    THE MAC IS NOT A TOASTER OVEN!

    They sometimes say that the best salesperson believes their own pitch, so maybe it is true that when Steve Jobs first touted the Mac as a computing appliance, he believed it too. Alas, the first time a Mac crashed, the famed “reality distortion field” was breeched. Everything went downhill from there.

    For me, the most dreadful dose of reality happened when I finally moved my Mac universe from office to home, and installed a brand new system. Fifteen minutes later, the computer crashed. A few days later, it was infected by a virus. Yes, there have been Mac viruses over the years, and anyone who takes the statements that imply otherwise in those Mac Versus PC ads too literally may one day face an unfortunate reality check.

    Indeed, despite the impression Apple wants to convey that the Mac “just works,” it’s seldom true in the real world.

    In fact, I’m quite convinced that it’ll be years before personal computers reach the point of simplicity and reliability that you can just set and forget them. Of course, I can hear some of you complain now, that your Macs work just beautifully. You do all the chores you want, and nothing bad ever happens, and I’m inclined to believe that is true most of the time.

    Except, that I also believe that lots of people out there have MacBooks that suddenly shut off for no apparent reason, and that you have to send them back to Apple for a new logic board and heat sink to set things right. I also believe that the white MacBooks had, at the beginning, a problem with soiling or discoloring of the case.

    But I’m not here to bash a single model for a large range of product defects. There’s little new or different here.

    In fact, through the years, and you can name the model and come up with an identical answer, most Macs have been prone to an occasional hardware failure. While everything Apple does these days draws more fervent public scrutiny than ever, few Macs have had a perfect record of reliability, although, in all fairness, Apple rates better than most.

    When it comes to the operating system, every single time a new version is released, you’ll see a spate of complaints about something that doesn’t run properly for one reason or another. And even if your Mac was relatively free of freeze-ups, third party applications can deliver their own brand of grief. If one doesn’t crash or deliver some flaky symptom, another will. That you can depend on.

    The only area where Macs seem to have the upper hand is when you compare them to Windows, where the additional complexities in the interface, and the need to support endless hardware variations, can cause incredible amounts of torture for even those who have modest computing needs.

    It is perfectly true that, in a highly imperfect technology universe, Apple has managed to do things better. When things do go bad, they seem to strive to get a hand on the situation and set things right. Just look at the current products that are involved in extended repair programs and the number of Apple Knowledge Base problems that acknowledge hardware issues that they are prepared to fix for you.

    When it comes to Mac OS X, if the first version has too many bugs, there will be an update that one hopes will have fewer bugs. However, if you read the troubleshooting reports at MacFixIt and elsewhere, you’ll see there has never been a single update where everything worked perfectly the first time and every time.

    If the Mac truly just worked as you expect it to, and delivered the level of reliability of a common household appliance, you wouldn’t need special repair programs, company documents to explain what’s going wrong and why, and Internet watering holes to catalog the problems and deliver some workable solutions.

    Sometimes you want to think that things have gotten so out of hand that the Mac will never realize that dream first espoused so long ago by Steve Jobs. Even such basic tasks as putting a Mac note-book into Sleep mode can at times have unsavory consequences. Sure, 99% of the time, it awakes perfectly, but on that rare occasion, the screen remains dark, and you’re forced to restart.

    But don’t think I’m here just to complain. For the most part, things do work well for me. My Power Mac runs for days at a time without the need to reboot, and I don’t think I’ve restarted my MacBook Pro since the last operating system update, weeks ago. When it’s not on, it remains comfortably in Sleep mode.

    I’ll say it again: As personal computers go, Apple does better than the rest of the crowd. But when you compare it to a plain old toaster oven, it has a long way to go.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: RADIO FORMAT CONFUSION MOUNTS

    The other day, my son, Grayson, who is a journalism student, sent me a copy of an article he wrote for the Phoenix Business Journal, about HD radio, a new scheme to allow terrestrial stations to better compete with the threat from satellite.

    To be sure, figuring out what radio formats to select, and then choosing the stations you want to hear, can be a complicated and sometimes thankless chore. In addition, when you start investing in new gear, you want to know what’s going to stand the test of time, and what might suffer the fate of, say, 8-track.

    Now HD radio was developed in the belief that regular stations were facing a monumental threat from satellite, and they had to fight back. True, the two satellite networks, Sirius and XM, have spent hundreds of millions of working capital to attract such disparate entertainers as Howard Stern, Bob Dylan, and Ophah Winfrey. However, while memberships continue to soar, the two companies have been hemorrhaging millions of dollars and the day either will earn a profit is anyone’s guess.

    In the end, it may be necessary for the two services to merge their resources. All that will mean is that the radio makers will have to come up with some way for you to receive both. For now, you must choose which one you want to sent your $12.95 month payments to for the privilege of being able to receive upwards of 120 stations covering most musical genres, with lots of sports and talk.

    The free radio alternative, HD, has its own advantages, the best of which is that it is free, once you pay for the receiver. In theory, and I’m still awaiting the opportunity to do a real test of the technology, HD, a digital technology, naturally, allows AM radio to shed its static and limited sound range and deliver audio similar to what you hear with FM now. In turn, FM soars past satellite and into the neighborhood of CD quality.

    Each station will continue to send analog broadcasts, but HD has a multicasting feature allows you to receive extra channels from the same source. Some outlets offer alternative musical choices for now, things that might not attract mass appeal, but seem worthy as an experiment. Imagine that you live in a city with 30 stations, and now, with HD, your choices expand to 90.

    And that’s just the beginning!

    The nice thing is that there is only one standard, and radios that handle the regular formats and HD are beginning to appear, but don’t expect to pay much less than $300 to get one of these devices. Then there’s the huge question of whether your favorite local stations have spent the estimated $300,000, each, to update their transmission equipment to accommodate the new format.

    In large cities, there are already dozens and dozens of HD channels available. In the smaller locales, the options may not be as extensive. It is encouraging, however. iBiquity Digital, which owns the rights to the technology, reports as of this writing that there are 975 stations around the U.S. transmitting HD radio.

    The real question is whether it’ll gain any traction, and that probably won’t come until you can buy a $99 HD adapter for your existing receiver, and it’s widely available in cars.

    You do have to give up one thing for the ability to get great sound quality, and that’s the ability to hear those stations in far-off cities, as you can now with many AM stations. If you’re the type who likes to browse through the dials late at night in hopes of getting a station from another city, hundreds of miles away, HD may be the harbinger of the end of that capability. It is designed to be strictly local, but you will get better reception in your city.

    But maybe a pastime that can be real fun will be lost if the switch to HD really moves into high gear.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #354”

    1. rahrens says:

      I assume, since you’re talking about getting a virus on your Mac, that you are talking about version 9.2.2 or earlier? (Since there are no Mac OS X viruses in the wild? (as of this posting’s date, at least)

      Nobody with any sense in the IT world will say that Mac OS X is “safe” from malware or vulnerabilities, past or future. Therein lies the path to being labelled an idiot, even in the Mac world. But as of now, there aren’t any viruses or worms in the wild for OS X.

      But there will be, I am sure. (probably at least two nanoseconds after I post this comment!)

    2. I assume, since you’re talking about getting a virus on your Mac, that you are talking about version 9.2.2 or earlier? (Since there are no Mac OS X viruses in the wild? (as of this posting’s date, at least)

      In the 1980s, my friend.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Kcar says:

      Gene,

      I haven’t looked at car stereo receivers very much, but I keep casually checking home a/v receivers for HD radio capability. At this point, there just aren’t that many; I see a lot more receivers touting XM radio compatibility.

      Yes, there are a few HD receivers available for in-home use, but they’re mostly overpriced clock radios. Part of me wonders whether companies like Denon and Harmon-Kardon are holding off on including HD in their a/v rigs until someone can figure out a DRM copy-protection system, esp. for FM broadcasts.

      I’m also skeptical that HD radio will solve the the big shortcomings woes of FM radio, namely very limited playlists and an excessive amount of commercials. The lack of built-in FM reception in the market-leading iPods tells me that many people just don’t give a damn about radio stations anymore.

    4. RobInNZ says:

      Very True Gene!!

      PC’s are a LONG way from being a true appliance device. I do believe that they will get there one day, but some days I do wonder if it will be in my lifetime. I feel that it is actually feasible with current technology, but the downside is the reduced functionality that this would currently imply. Having said that, a well set up company network is getting close to achieving that goal. But achieving that can be a somewhat costly and timeconsuming exercise for the IT department.

      As for ‘just works’, generally yes, Mac’s DO ‘just work’, except for when they don’t 🙂
      I do feel that they ‘work better’ and ‘suck less’ than the other main options out there. But dont let even think for a moment that the Mac is by any means perfect or doesnt need work. It needs LOTS of work. But, to me, its still stands out as being head and shoulders above the mob.

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