• Newsletter Issue #358

    October 9th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I didn’t intend to feature a debate on the October 5th episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, but it was fascinating to talk to two writers for two publications owned by the same company who had contrary viewpoints. First I interviewed Mike Elgan, author of a provocative Computerworld article entitled “Why Microsoft’s Zune Scares Apple to the Core.” The title says it all, and, frankly, it’s a concept that I don’t buy in some respects, and I made my point crystal clear. But I gave Mike the larger portion of the time to make sure that he made his case.

    Then I presented another point of view on the same issue will be presented by Macworld’s Jason Snell. In passing, yes, Macworld is indeed owned by the same company as Computerworld. Jason went into great detail about the shortcomings of Zune and why Microsoft may be poised for another failure in the digital music arena.

    In other segments on this episode, you heard about the latest update of Microsoft’s Messenger for the Mac and plans for the next version of Office from Sheridan Jones, Group Marketing Manager in the Macintosh Business Unit. In addition, Rogue Amoeba’s Paul Kafasis presented details about Fission, the company’s new audio editing software.

    This week’s episode of The Paracast featured an interview with award-winning TV newscaster and UFO investigator George Knapp about the weird paranormal events reported at the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. Real or just anecdotal? You’ll want to listen to the show and decide for yourself.

    In the second segment of the show, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman came on board to set the record straight about reports of strange creatures and other phenomena.

    This episode also featured a short commentary from former Air Force intelligence officer Robert M. Collins, author of the provocative UFO book “Exempt from Disclosure, 2nd Edition.” The statements come in response to some critical comments made about the book by David Biedny in a previous episode.

    THE CHANGING MAC MAGAZINE LANDSCAPE

    When I first began to write for Macintosh publications, there were two major magazines in the U.S. Both Macworld and MacUser were fat with ads and content; the latter differed from the former by virtue of having a bit more “attitude.”

    In those days, Apple would actually give these two magazines an early look at new products, so you’d know all the important details as soon as they reached the store shelves. When Steve Jobs took over the CEO position, however, that approach was abandoned, and, today, magazine writers get their information at the same time as everyone else, which truly plays havoc with their schedules.

    I wrote for Macworld over a period of several years, but I then made the silly mistake of switching to MacUser just a few months before the great merger, in which these two publications became one. In the wake of that momentous event, a lot of the former writers for both found themselves seeking other opportunities.

    Oh well, there was always MacAddict and MacHome, and I wrote for both from time to time.

    However, the landscape is a-changin’ and MacHome faded and died an unceremonious death several months ago, a fact that I should have mentioned, but never got around to. Alas, few seemed to notice, which is sad. One day, MacHome, was here, and the next it was gone.

    MacAddict has apparently also had its share of difficulties in recent years, and is poised to abandon its faux counterculture posture to be reborn as Mac|Life. Now forgetting the obvious possibilities of confusion with Shawn King’s Internet radio show, Your Mac Life, the title doesn’t strike me as terribly hard-hitting.

    In passing, Mac|Life implies something akin to MacHome, where the home and small business user will be the primary audience. The editorial approach, will, I trust, not be quite as bland, but I can’t help but feel this is a last-ditch effort to keep the magazine afloat, and that if it doesn’t catch on quickly, it’ll fade just as quickly.

    The details about the changes at MacAddict, however, came in rather a back-handed fashion. Rather than provide a heads-up in the magazine itself, or on its site, the first intimation that something was afoot came in an ad for a new editor posted on a third party employment site. Not good from a public relations point of view.

    Regardless, it’s clear that magazines, and newspapers for that matter, are struggling to change with the times. These days, most of you get your information from the Internet, so reading the same content in print has less of an attraction. Circulation growth is stagnating, at least in general, and so are ad revenues.

    Publishers are either shedding lesser titles, or seeking new ways to remain relevant. Today’s Mac or PC magazine is no longer a fat book brimming with content. You have already read about the newest products online, so publishers and editors have to take a different approach. The print version might contain some of the same content, presented in a way that suits better for archiving, or just for reading in the bedroom, on a plane, or in a doctor’s waiting room.

    Online content is, at its best, fluid, with regular updates to reflect new or changed information. Consider it the online equivalent of the 24-hour cable news channel. Without page count considerations, in-depth coverage can be quite comprehensive indeed. Perhaps the best example is Ars Technica, which delivers insightful technology commentaries and reviews of the first order, although it may sometimes be a little too technical for the casual reader. A magazine of this breadth and depth would contain hundreds and hundreds of pages.

    On the other hand, the most famous tech site, CNET, is a mixed bag. News content can be first-rate, but they’ve cut back on product reviews. Worse, the order of presentation is constantly reshuffled to give the illusion of more content rather than the reality.

    In the end, while I spend more and more time online absorbing the content, there’s still something special about print. Too bad most people no longer feel that way.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE LOGITECH HARMONY 890 MAY BE THE ULTIMATE UNIVERSAL REMOTE

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★

    There’s a lot to be said for any workable solution to eliminate the ever-irritating clutter of having multiple remotes scattered on your coffee table or hidden somewhere within your couch. To be sure, most of these products are touted as “Universal,” which means they can be adapted in some fashion to handle several devices with varying degrees of efficiency.

    Alas, programming isn’t so easy. You may have to pore through a manual to find the proper compatibility code, and for the most part, the remote fails to integrate the functions. Before activating a function, you have to first press a button for TV mode, another for the sound system mode, and a third for the DVD mode. If you forget which mode the remote is in at that moment, you find yourself accessing the wrong functions.

    But there is another and usually better way.

    In a recent issue of the Tech Night Owl Newsletter, I gave fairly high marks to the $149.99 Logitech Harmony 550 Advanced Universal Remote. The best part of the product is its method of integrating multiple functions from multiple devices, known as Activities. Once programmed, you select what you want to do, such as watching a TV. The remote then goes to work turning on your TV and selecting the proper signal input. Your cable or satellite set top box is also switched on, and, if applicable, your home theater audio setup.

    When you change the volume, it controls the sound system. Channel selection directs those functions on the set top box, and picture settings will only apply to the TV. If you’re watching a DVD, or playing a game, the appropriate products will be turned on, and the ones you’re not using will be switched off. Neat.

    The Harmony series employs an online setup assistant, hosted at Logitech’s site, and you can get most of the functions you need simply by clicking the proper options. If there’s a downside to this routine, it’s the fact that real-world devices might require a few custom settings to function properly. You might have to manually program additional delays of a fraction of a second for a specific control to operate, and you may end up having to call Logitech’s technical support people for a little extra help.

    Once programmed, however, the Harmony 550 worked quite well, but the rubbery feel of some of its controls made the experience rather uncomfortable. After a few weeks, some of the buttons began to stick, so I asked Harmony if they had something with more robust controls.

    A few days later, a substantial box containing the $399.99 Harmony 890 arrived, and it’s quite clear that you can an awful lot of value for that extra $250. It may, for some, even been overkill, but you’ll treasure some of its best features, particularly if you have a multiroom system.

    The Harmony 890 includes an RF extender, which expands range to up to 100 feet. The LCD display is color, the battery is rechargeable, and it promises full control of up to 15 devices.

    Even better for my purposes, the plastic buttons are big and solid, with a resounding click feel, much like the best mobile phones. When you pick up the unit, the backlighting is automatically activated, so you don’t have to feel for the right button in a dark room.

    I fretted momentarily about transferring the settings from the 550 to the 890, but found this wasn’t such a big deal. The integrated Harmony Remote software, available in both Mac and Windows versions, managed the upgrade chores without much difficulty, and I was pleased not to have to reprogram everything all over again.

    If you don’t need that extra range, you can save $150 and get the Harmony 880, which is otherwise nearly identical. Either way, you’ll own what is, at least for now, the remote control that truly sets the standard.

    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 #358”

    1. Chuck says:

      Gene,
      I was just perusing an old Mac User issue from 1992 the other day. What fun! Lots of content, ads, reviews and news. It was three times the size of my last issue of MacWorld.

      We all know the internet is what’s driving down sales. But things could be different. Why has Car and Driver, Motor Trend and Road and Track still succeeded when I could get the same reviews from Edmunds.com? Because, for example, Car and Driver likes to tell old car stories you can’t get anywhere else. They interview people in the auto/racing industries who made a name for themselves but people like me may never have heard about.

      I have been saying this for years: MacWorld needs to tell stories in their mags. Look at folklore.org. Their are thousands of stories that have never been told that would interest readers. How was the first Apple REALLY built in Jobs’ parents garage, who invented Postscript, what was it like to program for the first Macs, etc? Robert X. Cringley is doing the same thing with Nerd TV (www.pbs.org/cringely/nerdtv/). Why isn’t MacWorld doing the same thing? This is REAL reporting. Tell us things we don’t know. Interview people who started the Mac, the Mac software industry, etc. And then don’t publish it on the website! Give us subscribers something we can’t get anywhere else.

      I suggested this very idea back in 2000, and got a very positive response from MacWorld. The best they could come up with was a half page article on some Mac Pro and how they work with Macs. A good start, but not what I was hoping for.

      MacAddict has also gone downhill. I remember the excitement of their first issue back in 1997, when Apple was lsoing money, and how much fun the staff seemed to have in conveying their love for the Mac platform. There was a sense of rebellion and “fight to the death” attitude that seems to be missing since Rik took over. I still subscribe, but in 10 minutes I am done with it. And I rarely even load the CD that comes with it.

      MacWorld/MacAddict need to get creative. I have been a subscriber for probably 10 years now, and I will continue to be. But they need to change or I fear they will close up shop, and that will be a very sad day. I also think Apple needs to support MacWorld as well. Why not pay for a year’s free subscription with every new Mac purchase, for those who don’t surrently have a subscription? Apple footed the bill for the first year of MacWorld’s existence. This isn’t far-fetched.

      Thanks for your insight. Maybe someone is listening at MacWorld or MacAddict:-(

    2. Joe S says:

      I still miss Macazine.

    3. Terry says:

      Hi again, Gene
      Your item on the now defunct Mac Home hit home with me. I had only 2 months of a one year subscription under my belt when it folded. Caveat emptor!
      I still miss Mac User and still subscribe to both MacWorld and MacAddict. I actually think MacAddict has improved – it is much less silly and juvenile.
      I agree with Chuck that the print world needs to get into the stories and personal culture more. That is why I like Wired magazine so much.
      I also really like how-to articles like turning analog music into digital tracks.
      The reviews are good stuff too. I know you can go online, but there’s so much dross out there, that it’s much quicker to read it in a magazine.
      I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone back to MacWorld’s big 2 page spread of previous reviews to recommend a purchase to a friend.
      And I have a folder of clippings and photocopies (I can’t stand sullying a periodical by cutting it, except when absolutely necessary) of good articles. Just try going back to the web to find that item you read 2 weeks ago!
      One suggestion I would endorse is to ditch the CD’s. Once upon a time they were gems of freeware/ shareware stuff but now it’s advertizing and not-so-relevant videos.

      As always, I enjoy your work! Please keep it up.

    4. Scott says:

      Yup, MacWorld and MacAddict are sad shadows of their former selves.

      I started subscribing to MacWorld and MacUser back in 1987 when I got my first Mac (a double floppy SE – 800KB at that!). Back then, not only did you get timely news and in-depth reviews (seriously, does anybody at MacAddict or MacWorld think two paragraphs -for non-big spending advertisers- is useful to anyone!), but the main articles were something to be seen. I used to love the head-to-head articles. They would put Illustrator up against FreeHand and go through every detail of the programs; even if it meant going on for a dozen pages or more. Today all we get are one or two page fluff pieces that sound like they were press releases written by the software publishers. They would also cover more than just M$ Office and iLife: Desktop publishing, CAD, genealogy, scientific, symbolic and numeric math programs, and statistics – all categories lost to the dumbed down versions of their “new and improved” magazines. Seriously MacAddict; you are aware that not everybody wants to read an introduction to iPhoto/iLife basics as the main article in EVERY issue.

      You’re right. The world has moved on to the internet for timely news and editorial content. The Mac magazines failed to recognize this and totally failed to change with the times. They have cut content to cut costs to remain profitable with a reduced income and it shows. Both of my subscriptions run out in January, I’ll think I’ll spend the money elsewhere this time.

      Sad but true,

      Scott

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