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Newsletter Issue #358


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.


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.


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

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