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Newsletter Issue #356

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

Sometimes the littlest thing can spill way out of proportion. Take a relatively innocent comment my friend and co-host, David Biedny, made recently on The Paracast. After interviewing former Air Force intelligence officer Robert M. Collins, author of “Exempt from Disclosure, 2nd Edition,” he remarked, in the show’s closing segment, that he had just received a copy of the book. One, I might add, that he bought and paid for, rather than depending on a reviewer’s copy.

Having worked for many years as both editor and writer, David felt qualified to give an expert opinion on the book’s presentation, which is that it wasn’t well edited. Period. He did not actually criticize the content, but that didn’t stop a firestorm from erupting because some people believe that any criticism of their sacred cow of the moment is much too much.

I suppose that’s part of the game, being in the public arena and all. I do wonder, however, how some came to the conclusion that all we want to do is trash our guests, which is quite far from the truth. However, unlike other radio shows of this type, on The Paracast we express our honest opinions, and we don’t ask softball questions just to boost ratings. Oh well.

On September 24th episode, by the way, we featured UFO abduction researcher Dr. David M. Jacobs and Dr. Nick Begich, an expert on mind control.

Now as to The Tech Night Owl LIVE, on last week’s show we talked to Michael Wray, President of Mariner Software, a company that recently released new Mac screenwriting and blogging software. Bob Crane, of C. Crane Company, added his unique viewpoints about those new radio formats, and whether they can really gain traction in the long haul. To catch up up on the latest developments in the Mac universe, we turned to Macworld’s news editor Jim Dalrymple. We also talked about some fancy new add-ons for iPods and other gadgets with Mike Ridenhour of Keyspan.

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 HARDWARE REPORT: QUALITY CONTROL PROBLEMS RECEDE

You can definitely say that the spring and summer seasons weren’t particularly pleasant for Apple’s technical support people. With persistent reports of ongoing defects with the MacBook and MacBook Pro, and a huge battery recall to contend with, you might wonder why some bother working such a pressure-laden and thankless job.

True, the arrival of the Intel-based iMac seemed to go off without many troubles of note. The basic form factor and internal layout had already been perfected with PowerPC versions, so the transition was an afterthought. The same might be said for the Mac mini, which also seemed relatively trouble-free in the scheme of things.

Although Apple’s note-books look similar to previous models, the internal components were quite different, and things didn’t go as smoothly. At first, the MacBook Pro got a bad rap for running hot, although it did seem to me that PowerBooks weren’t so cool either. To make matters worse, some reported a sort of “mooing” or whining noise whenever the external temperature seemed to max out.

Understandably, some Mac users downloaded Dashboard widgets and other software to monitor the internal temperature of the CPU and other components, just to be sure they weren’t overheating.

While there was no specific recall to address such issues, Apple did release a firmware update for each model to make the cooling fans run more efficiently, meaning more often. There were logic board replacements as well in some extreme cases. And there’s a recall that addresses premature battery failure and deformation, but nothing that might cause them to “flame on.” That problem is reserved to some entrants in the iBook and PowerBook lines, which used those notorious Sony batteries.

Unofficial reports say that the MacBook, the consumer version, is Apple’s absolute best-seller these days and that we will all be amazed at the quarterly sales figures that’ll be released next month.

Regardless, the MacBook not only felt too warm as well, it suffered from other defects. Some users reported discoloration of the portion of the plastic case on which they rested their palms. Sure enough, some suggested using various potions to clean the stains, but Apple’s ultimate solution was to replace the case itself. It appears this problem resulted from a manufacturing defect of some sort.

Then there were those sudden shut-downs. This can be quite annoying if you’re working on an important project and your MacBook just turns off. Apple has acknowledged the problem, and is apparently repairing defective units on a case-by-case basis.

Now there’s no way to know just how widespread these and other reported problems might be. It only takes a few dozen online reports to start a furor. What’s more, with sales of hundreds of thousands of units, even a small percentage might mean there thousands of customers will be impacted by these flaws.

It’s a sure thing that manufacturing defects tend to happen at the beginning of a new product’s lifecycle, and that, after a few week’s delay to sort things out, Apple is apparently doing right by its customers and is fixing the broken hardware.

More to the point, however, new problems don’t seem to be arising, and these manufacturing issues appear to have been sorted out. Maybe that’s a good reason for you to avoid buying the first edition of anything, at least for a few months to see what might go wrong.

Indeed, I think many of you agree with me that Apple rushed these products out a little too quickly, to get the intel transition out of the way and move on. Certainly there was the danger of some of you putting off purchases until the new models were ready, and that may have provided the incentive to get things rolling.

Right now, of course, the second generation versions of the iMac and Mac mini are out, and you can expect new versions of the MacBook and MacBook Pro with the Intel Core 2 Duo processors in short order. At the same time, I expect the majority of the issues that have vexed some of you will be long gone and you can get back to worrying about more important things in your life.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: ADVANCING THE STATE OF THE MOUSE

Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★

I like Logitech’s products, particularly their input devices. At the same time, I’m not enamored with an Apple mouse, which I regard as reminiscent of a thick, curved pancake in terms of feel. It’s just not comfortable, at least for me. I understand, of course, that many of you will extol the virtues of the Mighty Mouse, but please don’t bother. It’s not my cup of tea.

Up until recently, my favorite was the Logitech MX 1000; that is, until the $99.99 MX Revolution came along. Now this may seem an awful lot to pay for any input device, even if it’s wireless, and has the proper number of wheels and buttons and a shape that’s bred for comfort.

What makes the Revolution special, however, are major enhancements to tried-and-true mouse features. The scroll wheel may look normal enough, but it’s capable of something called “hyper-fast scrolling,” where it can automatically or manually shift to a super fast mode for rapid scrolling through long documents. Logitech’s “SmartShift technology” supposedly configures the scroll wheel to apply the best navigation method for the needs of a particular application.

The side-mounted wheel has a “document quick-flip” feature that seems to be confined strictly to application switching. There’s also a “One-Touch search” button that invokes a Spotlight window. Each of these buttons can be customized on the Logitech Control Center preference panel.

The rest of the features are normal for advanced Logitech input devices, such as a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and cordless laser pickup.

Unlike previous entrants in Logitech’s line, the MX Revolution doesn’t combine the USB transceiver and the charging dock. Here they are separate, which means you can stuff the latter away in a drawer until the battery is spent (so long as you don’t lose it when you need it). That, in my experience, will take about two weeks of heavy mousing.

All-in-all, I’m extremely impressed. Mouse action is smooth, the cursor is speedy enough to navigate a large screen, and the various buttons do not require awkward reaches to activate. The new, sloped shape feels supremely comfortable, but, alas, you’re out of luck if you’re a lefty (I’m ambidextrous, more or less). As with other input device makers, even with wide product variants, Logitech’s offerings for southpaws are limited.

If you feel, however, that $99.99 is a wee-bit too much for a mere mouse, rejoice in the fact that the price will inevitably come down, and if you shop carefully, you’ll probably save a small amount. Regardless, the MX Revolution is worth every penny and then some. It is now my input device of choice, and the MX 1000 has now been retired.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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