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  • Newsletter Issue #359

    October 16th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It’s fair to say that every release of a maintenance update for Mac OS X is accompanied by problem reports of one sort or another. In keeping with that tradition, the October 12th episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE led off with a discussion of the down and dirty details about Mac OS 10.4.8, including both problems and solutions, featuring MacFixIt editor Ben Wilson.

    Although there hasn’t been much action on the security front for Mac users from Symantec, they have now introduced a new application on both the Mac and Windows platforms that provides phishing protection and other security capabilities, known as Norton Confidential. Symantec’s Mac product manager, Mike Romo, was on hand to talk about the application.

    With a pending change afoot in the Mac magazine world, I spent a fair amount of time talking about the future of Mac magazines. First came Rik Myslewski, Editor-in-Chief of MacAddict, which will soon be rebranded as Mac|Life. You also heard a decidedly different point of view from our Special Correspondent, David Biedny, in the ever-popular segment known as “The David Biedny Zone.” During the session, David also told the fascinating story of how he once wrote an article panning a highly-touted software product for a magazine, only to have the story killed and replaced with a review that was highly complimentary of the very same product. Curious, but not surprising.

    David also headlined Sunday’s episode of The Paracast, where he talked about a particularly compelling life-after-death encounter that occurred within days after his mother’s death. This is something you have to hear to understand, so I won’t summarize the experience here, except to say that such things are not uncommon.

    In another segment of the show, we explored subterranean mysteries, such as the incredible tales of Richard S. Shaver, with investigator Michael Mott. Now Shaver, who died nearly 30 years ago, might be unknown to most of you, but his stories, presented variously as factual and as science fiction, may have actually influenced the plot for “The Cage,” the original pilot for the legendary TV series, Star Trek.

    I will say no more about that subject, although it’s one that will be explored again in future episodes.

    THEY STILL DON’T KNOW A MAC CAN DO THAT

    During a presentation this past weekend before Apple Corp of Dallas, one of oldest Mac user groups around, I was asked several questions about whether certain applications were available on Macs.

    One of the applications, Intuit’s personal finance product, Quicken, has been a mainstay on the Mac for years, as most of you know. But not everyone knows that.

    The other request mentioned something more obscure. It seems the questioner was tethered to the Classic Mac OS because he used an aging credit card processing application that was no longer being developed. He wondered if there were any modern equivalents.

    With my 17-inch MacBook Pro and a projector at hand, I called up Apple’s Made4Mac pages with a bit of a flourish. Without knowing what the results might be, I did a fast search for some alternatives to handle financial transactions, and came up with nearly two dozen choices.

    Now it’s the conventional wisdom that there really isn’t a lot of software available for Macs. This is the argument some deliver to explain why they stick with Windows, despite the agonies of erratic performance and massive malware outbreaks.

    However, the simple truth is that there over 23,000 Mac products available these days, and the listing of Universal applications, which run native on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, is fast approaching 4,000.

    Is there a reason for this disconnect? Well, it’s also true that many of these products are not advertised in mass-market Mac publications, or even online. You have to make a special effort to seek them out, because they serve specialty markets, such as doctors, lawyers and other professional users.

    In fact, after a little investigation, you might be surprised at the breadth and depth of products available for Macs.

    When it comes to peripherals, of course, most printers, hard drives and scanners and even input devices will run quite well on your Mac. Older products, of course, may never receive updated drivers for today’s generation of Intel-based Macs, but there are probably newer versions that run far more efficiently anyway.

    However, Apple has had its ups and downs over the years, and the sad fact is that there are indeed software publishers that abandoned the Mac platform because of poor sales or the expectation of poor sales. Even with the Mac’s current resurgence, it’s highly unlikely they’ll return, unless they are given some compelling arguments to make the investment.

    It’s also true that there will probably always be more games on the Windows platform, but, to my way of thinking, the best possible gaming experience comes on a dedicated console. It’s also a far cheaper alternative, particularly when you consider the cost of equipping a computer with the requisite graphics card and memory.

    But how do you deal with the argument that there is still much more productivity software available for Windows users? Well, it is a fact that you must accept. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how many types of word processors, for example, are available, when most of the world uses Word. And, besides, there are several Mac-only alternatives, such as Mariner Write, Nisus Express, Mellel and even Apple’s Pages that you may truly find preferable.

    When it comes to applications that handle bank transactions and other chores that force you to use Windows, of course, there is always the emulator. Microsoft’s Virtual PC will never be updated, but is still available for PowerPC Macs, and with Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop, you can run Microsoft’s operating systems as fast as on a dedicated Windows box on an Intel-based Mac.

    Another possibility is Crossover Mac, from CodeWeavers, which uses open source technology to let you run some Windows applications without having to buy a copy of Windows.

    In fact, once you add those extras to permit other operating systems to intrude, you’ll find the Mac to be the most flexible personal computer on the planet. Yes, you can indeed do more on a Mac than some of the skeptics can possibly imagine.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: NOISE-CANCELING HEADPHONES MAKE FLIGHTS ALMOST COMFORTABLE

    Between the silly antics that are supposed to protect us from terrorists at airport security lines and being crushed together in what seems to be a flying sardine can, it’s fair to say that I feel decidedly reluctant about air travel these days. I’m sure you feel the same way, particularly if you take such trips on a fairly regular basis.

    This time out, however, in making that trip to Dallas for the user group meeting, I decided I would examine my hardware arsenal and come equipped with some equipment to make the journey more tolerable. First there was my 2005-vintage iPod with video, which contained several TV episodes I had not gotten around to watching. The other item was Bose’s new Quiet Comfort 3 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones.

    Listing for $349, the Quiet Comfort 3 is no casual purchase. There are certainly cheaper products, but somehow Bose seems to garner a high position on shopping lists.

    Compared to the Quiet Comfort 2, which sells for $50 less, the new model fits on the ear, rather than over it, but is otherwise supposed to perform identically. Both models monitor external noise and generate a signal that, in effect, suppresses the most offensive of ambient noises, such as the drone of airplane engines. When the effect works well, as it does on the Bose headphones, you do not exist in total silence. Voices are still there, but noises you don’t want to hear become barely audible.

    True to their word, the Quiet Comfort 3 managed to actually let me sleep on the plane during the latest excursion, something I’m rarely able to do. An aisle seat gave my six-foot-two frame an almost sufficient amount of room in which to relax, and, yes, I always fly coach.

    Finally, I awakened and decided to turn on the iPod and catch up on some unwatched programming.

    Here you can really appreciate the superb engineering of the Bose Quiet Comfort line. Sounds are rich and full, with palpable bass and a warm texture to the mids and highs. Some may want a little more detail, but audio tuning of a Bose product tends to deliver a more natural tone to may way of thinking. You will also be hard pressed to detect a difference between the Quiet Comfort 3 and its predecessor.

    If there’s anything missing in the Bose, it’s the fact it must always be turned on, even if you don’t need to dispatch the external distractions. That means you are always draining the battery, which is rechargeable on the Quiet Comfort 3.

    Bose touts 20 hours before the battery, which clips off the headphones, must spend a couple of hours in the recharger. The Quiet Comfort 2 uses a single AAA battery with an advertised life of about 35 hours.

    The latter provides a switch to change input levels; the former does not, and is somewhat more sensitive, so you’ll have to turn the volume levels down somewhat.

    Other headphones, such as the theBoom Quiet, from UMEVoice, which I’ll be reviewing next week, make noise cancellation optional, which means you can save on battery use.

    As I said, flying is not something you want to look forward to nowadays, but the ability to shut out some of the external distractions makes a set of noise canceling headphones an essential purchase.

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #359”

    1. Tom Barta says:

      Social networking is a big thing. GNU and Open Source are big. It would be cool if USERS could network and request Open Source help from developers for ancient-but-critical apps. Or Windows VB / DOS scripts that prevent “upward migration”

    2. tundraboy says:

      When I switched to a Mac 3 years ago, I tried out Quicken for the Mac. With apologies for the foul language, that was the single crappiest piece of Mac software I’ve ever seen. To this day. The Quicken files are not compatible across platforms and after a painful and migraine-inducing conversion process you find out the Mac version is buggy and has way less functionality. It was so bad I was willing to shell out 200 hundred bucks for Virtual PC so I could run Quicken for Windows in emulation. It is as slow as molasses but that’s still better than Quicken’s Mac version. Ever since, I’ve tested every new version of Quicken for the Mac and it is still crap.

      At the local Apple store the other day, I overheard a salesperson boasting to a prospective buyer that Quicken has a version for the Mac and you can easily convert your Quicken Windows files to run on the Mac version and do basically the same things you do with the Windows version. I had to fight to resist the urge to butt in and tell the customer she’s being sold a bill of goods about Quicken.

      I don’t know why Quicken for the Mac can’t run like the Windows version. Adobe does it with Photoshop.

    3. SuperMatt says:

      I must be weird, because I like Quicken 2006 for the Mac better than the PC versions I’ve done support with for my clients. As for converting the Quicken datafiles between platforms, it isn’t a seamless process, but it’s not exceedingly complicated either. Intuit has a handy conversion guide on their website too. It’s more complex than it needs to be, but it’s not that bad. BTW, the reason that photoshop on the PC is so similar to the mac version is because the Mac version came first, and it’s used in a corporate setting where cross-platform work is a necessity. Quicken data file conversions, for most people, are a one-time thing. It’s personal finance software, so there’s no pressure for Intuit to make the data files interchangeable.

    4. Chuck says:

      For restoring some sanity to airline travel, there are also various “canalphones” which insert in your ears like earplugs. In fact, that’s just what they are; earplugs with little speakers in them. It wouldn’t seem that this could result in good sound, but it does! I like the original manufacturer of this idea, etymotic, but Shure and others have picked up on the idea. Advantages:

      1. Great sound. In reviews, better than Bose everytime.
      2. Very compact. Very lightweight. No batteries required.
      3. Full spectrum noise reduction of at least 20-25 db. The active phones like Bose cut bass, like the engine drone, but won’t do much for that crying baby. Etys cut ALL of it by 20-25 db.
      4. Cheaper. ER6i is about $100, and the audiophile quality ER4P is about $225.

      You have to become accustomed to the “stick in you ear” concept, but I find I don’t notice them after a few minutes. Anyone contemplated Bose (or other anti-sound headphones) should look at the Etys. The only real downside to these things is that I have nearly missed flights a couple of times because the noise isolation is so good.

    5. You have to become accustomed to the “stick in you ear” concept, but I find I don’t notice them after a few minutes. Anyone contemplated Bose (or other anti-sound headphones) should look at the Etys. The only real downside to these things is that I have nearly missed flights a couple of times because the noise isolation is so good.

      I have tried to use such earphones without success, sorry. In one case, the manufacturer spent two hours on the phone and I tried all sorts of insert foams and rubber fittings without luck.

      So the issue is academic to me. Maybe the ER4P is better than the Bose, but if I can’t use it, it doesn’t matter.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Walt French says:

      > I have tried to use [canal phones] without success, sorry….
      > So the issue is academic to me.

      If this is a personal taste issue (and I understand that some people don’t like or can’t use these things), you might also identify in your post that the Bose worked for you, while some people find other solutions that they find to be much better.

      I went thru 2 different noise-cancellers before finding the Etymotic plugs. The Etymotic 4P’s cancel external noise better (a few db’s); they do not make a white-noise hiss; they are physically smaller than a small iPod so easier to transport and wear while dozing; they sound noticably better; they are a bit less pricey; Etymotic has given me excellent customer service. If you CAN use ’em, they’re a much better solution in about every way that counts.

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