• Newsletter Issue #364

    November 20th, 2006


    When I started The Tech Night Owl LIVE in 2002, I had very low expectations and rather primitive equipment to handle the show. It took a while to get beyond the basics, both in format and the home-built studio, but it sounded pretty decent anyway. Or at least that’s what you folks told me at the time.

    So I have a soft spot for folks who are trying to follow a similar path. It may seem easy to put all the elements together, what with inexpensive equipment and cheap software with powerful capabilities. But making it all work properly isn’t always easy. Two former college buddies are making a try at it, so, on November 16, I brought on Eddie Hargreaves and Noah Brimhall, the outspoken hosts of a new and different Podcast, known as “The Lame Show.”

    In other segments, I talked about the new Sony PlayStation 3, the Microsoft Zune player and lots of other stuff, including cheap 3D software, with David Biedny in “The David Biedny Zone.” In addition, multimedia expert Jim Heid, author of “The Macintosh iLife ’06,” was on hand to talk about Apple’s Aperture, Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom and their new sound-editing application, Soundbooth. That’s the one that will only be available for Windows and Intel-based Macs.

    On Sunday’s episode of The Paracast, David Biedny and I had an illuminating conversation with Stephen Broadbent, of realityuncovered.com, who claims to have exposed the Project Serpo case, involving an alleged alien/Earth exchange program, as a fraud. Even ahead of this broadcast, some of the folks involved in that case have complained about the interview, but you should withhold any conclusions until you hear it for yourself.

    Last week, my wife, Barbara and I attended the 4th Annual Crash/Retrieval Conference in Las Vegas, where I taped a segment with prolific and outspoken UFO and paranormal author Nicholas Redfern. He talked about new aspects of UFOs that you might not have considered, such as whether some folks have suffered from lethal viruses after close encounters. Yes, this is provocative stuff.

    By the way, The Paracast has been nominated for something called The Zorgy Award. Feel free to check out the site and, if you decide to honor us with your vote, we’d appreciate it.


    Take a moment to listen to a radio show that provides help to PC users. You’ll hear a litany of problems, and some of the most convoluted solutions imaginable. It can get particularly dicey when the host brings up the infamous Windows Registry.

    Indeed, when Windows misbehaves, there are seldom easy answers, except for folks you might regard as power users. They will tell you that their PCs are as easy to manage as Macs, but there’s also a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you really cheap.

    Aside from the work environment, where everything might be regarded as a chore in certain circumstances, the PC’s status as a clumsy, drab tool is still in evidence. Sure, it might be easy enough to check your email or call up your favorite Web site. But as soon as you take the experience beyond the basics, things may work just fine. Or they might go wrong in ways that are frightening to contemplate, and that’s before you consider the possibility of a malware infection of some sort.

    Back at the office, of course, you can always call upon the IT person to make sense of it all. I suppose you can also ring up “The Geek Squad” to service your home PC box, but that can get mighty expensive really fast.

    Now I don’t want to leave you with any illusions that I believe a Mac to be trouble-free. Problems can occur too, but most can be solved without having to get dark and dirty with the operating system. I often suspect that one of the reasons that Apple gets such high marks for technical support is because of the fact that they have far fewer problems to solve, not because their support people are more capable at their jobs.

    Having a computer that just works most of the time, with an interface that’s largely fairly simple to master means that you don’t have to be a power user to gain value from a variety of tasks. The other day, for example, I had a conversation with a woman who, along with her mom, runs a house cleaning service. Before you regard this as menial work, let me tell you that, from working on two or three homes a day, her earnings can exceed $800 per week. Not too shabby.

    She is also a recent immigrant, who struggled hard to come to America, and she asked me what sort of computer she should buy to replace her aging PC. She had saved enough to buy a basic iMac, in fact, so I suggested she visit a local Apple Store and see if it would suit her needs.

    A few weeks later, she thanked me for the recommendation. Her new Mac worked wonderfully, and in addition to sending email to her family in South America, she had already set up Quicken to manage her family’s checkbook. Her kids are already considering the possibilities of editing some home movies.

    As to that old PC, it worked all right for a few months, but then everything seemed to slow down, and I gather she was getting the usual spate of ad pop-ups and other ills. I recalled an article I read from a tech pundit a couple of years ago, in which he suggested that many of the people who buy those cheap home computers end up becoming disgusted with the problems, and just stop turning them on. Eventually they move the PC from the family room to a closet and that’s that.

    Of course, our children are far more adept at handling such matters, so they discover workarounds to cope so they can instant message their friends, play a few 3D games and maybe get some homework done. But they still must keep abreast of malware issues and other ills.

    On the other hand, and not to wax emotional about it all, the Mac was designed from the very first to be the computer for the rest of us, an appliance that would let regular people get real work done without having to go through hassles or becoming a power user.

    Sure, today’s Mac OS is far from perfect. That Tiger has required eight maintenance updates, in addition to various and sundry security fixes, shows that there have been ongoing problems of one sort or another. True, many of you were probably not harmed all that much by the things that had to be fixed, but it shows there is lots of work left to be done.

    With Apple busy assembling Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, I would hope they’ll look more carefully at the remaining elements that still confuse and befuddle regular folk. Not everything about the Mac is as intuitive as it should be, and I bet you readers can come up with long lists of the things that continue to annoy you.

    Perhaps that’s something we can all talk about in more detail as you build your own personal Leopard wish lists.


    I’ve had a habit over the years of underestimating my needs for hard drive storage. Back in 1989, for example, I thought I’d never run out of space when I equipped a brand new Mac IIcx with 100MB. It cost me all of $1,200 back then, by the way, and that was supposed to be a special discount price.

    In May, I equipped a stock 17-inch MacBook Pro with an extra RAM module, making it 2GB. I never thought of upgrading the hard drive from its standard allotment of 120GB, since I was perfectly comfortable with the far-more-modest storage capacity of its predecessor.

    That decision proved to be wrong, as I learned with just a few months. By October, remaining storage space was reduced to 15GB. You might consider me profligate in filling hard drives, but, aside from the audio files for my two radio shows, of which the more backups the better, I kept things fairly conservative.

    So I started thinking seriously about buying a larger hard drive, just when a new 200GB note-book drive appeared. Alas, it ran at 4200rpm, rather than 5400rpm, and that’s a speed difference I figured I’d notice. Ater interviewing Shannon Jean, founder and CEO of TechRestore, I decided on 160GB as the best compromise in space and speed.

    TechRestore uses one of the newest Hitachi Travelstar drives, featuring something called “perpendicular recording,” which is supposed to offer superior performance and realibility,

    At $349 plus shipping, TechRestore promises 24-hour turnaround in nearly every case, unless they run into some unexpected difficulty. The installation process includes cloning the data from your old drive (assuming, of course, that it’s running normally), so you should be able to get up and running with your new drive without wasting time on file transfers, except for any data you added while your note-book went in for service.

    Taking them at their word, I had them send me a prepaid shipping container, and, fingers crossed, sent the MacBook Pro on a Monday afternoon. They received it first thing Tuesday morning and, true to their word, had it on its return voyage the following day. By Thursday, I picked up the shipping box, unpacked it and proceeded to restore the network and power connections.

    The rest is anticlimactic. The MacBook Pro restarted normally, and all my files were intact. For an extra $39.99, I had TechRestore take my old drive and install it in a portable case, so I could use it as a traveling backup.

    I can’t say that I observed any performance difference one way or the other, but now the remaining space on the hard drive had mushroomed to nearly 60GB, and I’m a happy camper. TechRestore, by the way, offers a full lineup of hard drive expansion packages, plus other upgrades and repairs for recent Mac and PC note-books, iPods and the Sony Playstation. Prices are competitive, and service is first rate.


    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 #364”

    1. Paul says:

      >”I never thought of upgrading the hard drive from its standard allotment of 120GB”

      That was the biggest Hard Drive available at the time in the MBP’s. I do not believe even if you wanted a bigger drive you could have gotten one. Otherwise I would have as gone bigger when I bought mine shortly after you got yours (when they first came out with the 17″ model).


    2. George says:

      In re: 200 GB HD speed. The important measure is not the RPM but the sustained read/write rates and the seek time. Some of the new high-capacity laptop drives have more bits/inch on the track, so, in one revolution, they can read/write more data. Multiply that by the RPM and you may come out with the same (perhaps higher) data rates.

    3. In re: 200 GB HD speed. The important measure is not the RPM but the sustained read/write rates and the seek time. Some of the new high-capacity laptop drives have more bits/inch on the track, so, in one revolution, they can read/write more data. Multiply that by the RPM and you may come out with the same (perhaps higher) data rates.

      I agree, actually. But the information I had was that the 160GB drive was somewhat faster, so I went with it. It’ll have to survive until my next MacBook Pro, where maybe we’ll be talking about 300GB drives at 7200 rpm.


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