• Newsletter Issue #361

    October 30th, 2006


    Do you sometimes feel that you can’t contain your anger about something? Well, I suppose in the scheme of things, with so many problems happening in this crazy world, the concerns we have in the tech industry are relatively minor. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important if you’re impacted. So in keeping with the tradition of presenting rants from time to time, we called upon Kirk McElhearn to talk about some of his pet peeves on the October 26th episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    Now Kirk is a gentleman, which means that, when he must complain about something, it’s done in a calm, rational fashion. His first concern was that Apple should have been less cheeky in its response about the fact that a small number of iPods recently shipped with a Windows virus. Yes, Microsoft’s operating system is susceptible to such things, but the blame lies squarely in the hands of Apple here, even if it was done by a third party manufacturer.

    Kirk also complained about the way Apple handled problems with a miswired Bluetooth antenna on the Mac Pro. The consequence was poor reception range, and the fix, replacing the wrong wire with the right one, is simple, but it took time, and a visit to Apple’s discussion forums, to find that solution.

    In other segments of the show, prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus talked about one of his pet peeves, Mac OS X’s FileVault, and some new products he was happy to recommend to one and all. We also presented a perspective on the history of the iPod, in observance of the fifth anniversary of the iconic music player, from Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post.

    On Sunday’s episode of The Paracast, David Biedny and I interviewed Dr. Steven Greer of The Disclosure Project, and author of “Hidden Truth — Forbidden Knowledge,” who returned to answer more questions about his research and address some of the issues raised on our message forums. There was also a discusson about the heroes and villains in the UFO field from long-time researcher Jeff Ritzmann.

    Coming on November 5th, on The Paracast, ghost hunter Linda Zimmerman, a prolific author on the paranormal, talks about her own experiences with strange entities, as David and Gene explore the facts behind ghost sightings.

    With government conspiracies a hot and heavy topic in the paranormal field, you’ll also hear a discussion on how to take back our freedoms with noted talk show host and author Thom Hartmann.


    I suppose that I shouldn’t take all the stuff I read online or in the newspapers seriously, particularly when it comes to technology. While there are lots of dedicated journalists plying their trade, some of those tech pundits seem to write about things not to provide factual information, but to drive an agenda that might be something else again.

    Take Apple’s switch to Intel processors. That, and the use of industry-standard components, has surely made a Mac closely resemble a PC inside, so where’s the difference these days? That’s the theory explored in an article on the subject entitled “Apple’s switch to Intel puts it in a tough spot.”

    Why should this be? Well, the article posits that Apple is now forced to follow Intel’s product cycles to remain competitive. That means that, when Intel comes out with a new processor, Apple has no choice but to put them inside its computers as soon as sufficient supplies are available. If it fails to do so, it falls behind the curve, and power users who immerse themselves in product specifications may look elsewhere to satisfy their cravings.

    To take this theory still further, Apple uses standard Intel chipsets in its products, and most of its other components are also sourced from the standard PC parts bin. That means, the Mac and the PC use the same hard drives, optical drives, memory, and other components.

    So does this mean that Apple’s advantage has vanished?

    It makes for a fascinating headline, and this whole issue is worth exploring further, even though the very idea is patently absurd. If anything, the fact that Apple uses many of the same parts as a PC helps keep them price competitive. Yes, I’m invoking that nagging issue again, but the point has been made and I won’t repeat it.

    In the past, Apple built its own custom chipsets for many functions. The hard drives even had circuit boards that were specially customized. While I suppose there was a reason for all this that may have been valid in the minds of the engineers, it didn’t help all that much in lowering the price of your new Mac.

    So parts parity is actually a good thing.

    In addition, when Intel comes out with a new chip, it also provides the proper support components to make it easy for its customers to add the parts to their products. Here Apple doesn’t have to worry about falling behind the curve when it comes to performance, because it’s playing on the same team. I would suppose that, if AMD came out with processors that once again offered better performance than Intel, Apple could easily switch, or just use whatever vendor suits its needs for a particular Mac design. It no longer has to beg chip suppliers, such as IBM, who clearly didn’t care about its business.

    Does this mean that today’s Mac is just a pretty PC? Not even close! The joy of industrial design is the packaging, the look and feel of the product. Then there’s the one thing that the PC makers don’t have, and probably will never have in the foreseeable future, and that’s the Mac OS.

    I won’t belabor the point, but you do realize that the parts inside really don’t matter so much as the overall user experience. You want an operating system that provides fast, stable, reliable performance, free of chronic security concerns, and you can, for the most part, find the applications you need to get work done.

    That, my friends, is what makes the Mac superior to the PC. True, there are times when you can’t get the software you need on a Mac. There’s no point arguing why this should be at this point. That’s the reality, and Apple’s switch to Intel made it possible to also run Windows and a whole assortment of x86 Unix systems with great performance. That’s another huge Mac advantage.

    Now some folks may remind me that some people do manage to hack Mac OS X so it runs on a regular PC. Forgetting the fact that the practice is illegal, there are other problems, such as having to go out and find the drivers you need for various peripherals, and there’s no guarantee that your applications will run properly. So let’s just look at this as a plaything, a dangerous plaything in fact, and move on.

    In the real world, the Apple advantage remains intact. If anything, the change in processor architecture has made the Mac an even more compelling alternative. Clearly the marketplace agrees, which is why market share is on the rise for the first time in years.

    As to the folks who write those silly articles about Apple’s alleged “tough spot,” you can just chalk it up to more fiction and get on with your life.

    Night Owl Rating: One OwlOne OwlOne OwlOne Owl

    Pros: Small; light; great reception; simple setup.
    Cons: Tiny display; somewhat confusing status icons.

    Under normal circumstances, there would seem to be a line of demarcation between Skype and the regular telephone system. Yes, you can contact regular phone numbers via the SkypeOut system, and receive calls as well, via SkypeIn of course. But you do your thing via your computer, right?

    Well, in order to make Skype seem more like a regular phone service, a number of companies have come out with regular-looking phones to use on the popular peer-to-peer service. Most are wireless models, so you can walk around your home or office and talk to someone via the Skype network.

    To be sure, I haven’t jumped anxiously into this arena, for no particular reason other than that I have so many phones around here, it’s hard to find reason to have another appliance to drag around the house. Then I got ahold of the $79 Keyspan VP-24A Cordless VoIP Phone, which is a really neat way to take your Skype account beyond your computer.

    Using the USB port for its tiny transceiver, the VP-24A promises clear connections at distances of up to 100 feet indoors; 300 feet outdoors. The supplied rechargeable batteries are standard AAA types, which are cheaply and easily replaced when they no longer take a charge. As with the iPod, you recharge with via USB. Advertised battery life is up to 15 hours talk time and a claimed 1,200 hours standby. No, I didn’t attempt to test the latter, but I was able to talk to via the Skype network for a number of hours without any evidence that the battery was spent.

    Keyspan provides drivers for both Macs and PCs that apparently work in essentially the same fashion. Press and hold the “C” key to launch Skype. You can then use the phone to navigate through your list of contacts, either on the Skype network or just regular phone numbers. There’s also a history button for recent calls.

    From here, the VP-24A operates very much like a the candybar cell phone that it strongly resembles. Press the green button to initiate a connection and the red button to end the call. You press and hold the latter button for three seconds to put the phone into sleep move.

    Call quality is quite good at both ends of the conversation. In fact, it sounds very much like one of the better portable phones you might set up for a regular phone system. The buttons have an appropriately solid feel to them, making the VP-24A easy to handle. The status displays, such as signal strength, are similar to that of a standard mobile phone, but you might wish for a bigger LCD, so you can see more than a single line of information at once. It’s not a serious quibble, though.

    If you travel a lot, and don’t want to pay the often exhorbitant fees charged by hotels to place even a local phone call, you’re want to have the VP-24A in your traveling bag. Although there are larger, multiservice portable phones available, Keyspan’s no-frills entry is inexpensive and is a solid performer. Give it careful consideration.


    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #361”

    1. Tom Barta says:

      “Then there’s the one thing that the PC makers don’t have, and probably will never have in the foreseeable future, and that’s the Mac OS.”

      That’s what kills me when people do these Mac/PC “price comparisons. Hardware is the LESS important half of the equation. You buy a Mac and you get OSX and all its advantages.

    2. KenC says:

      I’m waiting for iPEVO to release their wireless Skype phone that was a hit at last Macworld.

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