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  • Newsletter Issue #367

    December 11th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    The other day, we got a letter from one of our listeners wondering why we didn’t ask the question that he thought we should have asked during an interview. In fact, he made a huge issue of the matter, implying that if we didn’t — couldn’t — read his mind, clearly David Biedny and I were bad talk show hosts and should be ashamed of ourselves.

    Well, it takes all kinds. A couple of emails failed to mollify the person. It didn’t matter if we tried to be simple and logical, that we did our best to anticipate the questions our listeners might ask, while at the same time trying to satisfy our own curious natures within the time allotted. What more could we say?

    Nothing, as far as the listener in question is concerned. He swore off our endeavors and decided to seek his brand of perfection elsewhere. Personally, I was tempted to suggest he not let the door hit him on the way out, but decided to avoid that final insult.

    In any case, I thought we had a pretty active episode The Tech Night Owl LIVE this past week. For example, Macworld’s Christopher Breen spent a lot of face time using — make that struggling — with Microsoft’s Zune player. Worse, the folks at Macworld were not honored with a review sample from Microsoft. They had to buy one, but that didn’t influence the review, which was decidedly unfavorable. The player is decent enough, but the software and the music purchasing experience is something Microsoft should feel embarrassed about.

    In addition I brought on cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran of Roughly Drafted Magazine. Daniel’s site has been banned from the Digg sociable site because his comments on Apple, Microsoft and other matters are just a little too outspoken. That’s their loss, but our gain.

    In other sections on the show, Kevin Ford, CEO of Parliant Corporation, discussed the latest version of the company’s telephone management software. And, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Kensington, product manager Rob Humphreys talked about the company’s history and highlighted some of their latest products for the Mac.

    On Sunday’s episode of The Paracast, David Biedny and I presented a special UFO Roundtable, subtitled, “UFOs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Featured guests included researchers Royce Myers III, of UFOWatchdog.com, and Jeff Ritzmann. To be sure, anyone who spends just a few minutes examining the discussions about whether there are such things as UFOs comes away with the feeling that there is far too much confusion and far too much argument. This particular episode helps explain why.

    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 really appreciate it.

    THE TIGER REPORT: OVERCOMING INERTIA

    On a fairly regular basis, I talk about the problems remaining in Mac OS X, despite five major releases.

    First, the positives: Each update is said to be faster and more supremely stable than the previous release, in contrast to Microsoft, which as onerous system requirements for Windows Vista, requirements that up to half of the existing PCs cannot meet. Indeed, unless you have a very powerful PC, the Vista experience is apt to be second-rate, with some of its fancier graphical features disabled.

    Now there is really no official word on what systems will be supported and what systems might be left behind with Leopard. Some suggest you won’t be able to run it on a G3, which leaves behind iBooks that will be barely four years old when Leopard arrives.

    Of course, those computers don’t really do that great a job with Tiger either, so maybe it’s time for them to be retired or set up to handle backup chores, or used as a dedicated fax machine or phone management computer.

    My real concerns are more up close and personal. Almost everyone can probably agree that the Mac OS X Finder doesn’t perform as well as it should, particularly with multithreading or detecting server disconnects. What’s more, anything that can cause the system to put up an extended spinning beachball ought to be examined to see if the problems can be overcome.

    However, that won’t change some of the basics, such as not having enough RAM or hard drive space, both of which can cause performance hangups of one sort or another. If you’ve maxed out RAM, and your drive has less than 20% free space, it’s time to consider getting another drive, if possible. Recently, my first-generation 17-inch MacBook Pro had a drive transplant, when I realized that even careful file pruning wasn’t sufficient for its standard 120GB drive. Such procedures aren’t easy for those of you who aren’t mechanically inclined, and able to work in tiny spaces without causing havoc, and the drives are fairly expensive.

    My decision was to let a third party handle the job, which included cloning the original drive, so I didn’t have to reinstall everything.

    But that doesn’t let Apple off the hook. While I don’t think the number is high, some of you remain Mac OS 9 stalwarts not because you believe it’s necessarily a more stable operating system, but because it has features not yet restored to Mac OS X. Yes, it’s possible to buy shareware utilities that give you the WindowShade feature, or provide a customizable Apple menu.

    But even if these two components of the Classic Mac OS don’t appeal to you, do you remember the Location Manager? Today, you are basically limited to storing sets of network settings. And it is true Mac OS X can automatically switch from wired to wireless and back again as needed, although some applications may have to be relaunched before they get the message.

    But wouldn’t it be nice to have a system preference that allowed you to set every single element that changed when your location switched. At home, for example, you may run email, browse the Web, listen to iTunes or handle a checkbook. Your Mac is connected to an inkjet printer via the USB port. When you go to the office, you’re immersed in Microsoft Word and Excel, Adobe Photoshop and lots of other heavy hitters. You’re attached to the office Ethernet network accessing Mac and Windows fire shares and a couple of office printers.

    Now imagine having a home location that would set your inkjet as the default printer and launch the applications you required. Once you hooked up to the office network, your Mac would know it had to launch your work applications, load the appropriate network shares and set one of the office printers as the proper default.

    All of this could be done without a restart, because your Mac would detect the change simply by virtue of how it was connected, and the peripherals it sensed.

    True, some of these features are available in a shareware application, Location X, which is designed to mimic the features you already had in the Classic Mac OS. But it doesn’t go far enough. With the lion’s share of sales of new Macs consisting of note-book models, it’s clear that full-featured location management is essential.

    Will it be a part of Leopard? I don’t know, but it should be. And it would look great in a demo.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: MORE ADVICE FOR BUDDING PODCASTERS

    It’s fair to say that having the right equipment is just one small step towards becoming a radio broadcaster. There’s a lot more you have to know before you will be ready to take to the airwaves, and certainly you will fail more than you succeed. When I began working in radio many years ago, I lost a few jobs along the way. I could, in retrospect, blame my employers for not recognizing my great talent, but I also have to admit that I had lots to learn.

    Besides, all the most famous radio hosts have a few firings under their belt, so I’m in good company, although I’m far from famous.

    So what’s next to consider once you get your equipment set up? Well, there are still some tiny technical details that are hugely important. Take volume levels, for example. When I studied broadcasting, my key instructor told me that I had to monitor the meters on the mixing board carefully. Overmodulation wasn’t an option, and would violate FCC rules, and get the station cited or fined. Of course, radio stations actually have all sorts of signal processors at hand to boost “talk power,” so everything is broadcast at the maximum legal volume. You can be quite careless in your levels and it wouldn’t matter, except for our digital audio world.

    You see, in the days of analog, setting the volume too high had just a modest impact, and some might have preferred the effect. With digital, even a tiny bit of excess level results in a nasty, distorted effect. The long and short of it is that you shouldn’t let your voice or music enter the “red” zone, but don’t keep it too low either, for otherwise, there will just be more background noise.

    I’ll avoid the common sense considerations, such as reducing background disturbances, making sure the TV is turned off, and so on and so forth. It is, of course, hard to avoid outside sources of noise, such as garbage trucks, gardeners and their mowing machines. A real recording studio will be insulated against such distractions. The best you can do is take a break if you can’t go out and gently find a way to ask a neighbor to reduce the din while you’re recording your masterpiece.

    Microphone technique is relatively simple. Keep 8-10 inches away from the mic. If you want to get closer for a more intimate sound, get a windscreen. Back when I studied broadcasting, I had to engage in regular exercises to train myself to avoid popping the letter “P,” but even that movie trailer announcer who appears in an insurance company commercial is depicted with a standard windscreen. If he uses it, I do not feel embarrassed to tell you that I have a similar appliance attached to my main studio mic.

    Once you get past the technical details, the most important thing is to have something to say. If your Podcast is meant as a commentary, keep it short and to the point. Jot down a few notes as to what you want to talk about. And remember that very few broadcasters are capable of extended monologues without guests or callers. The ones who do it well are highly compensated for their efforts. It takes years of practice and not a little bit of talent to develop such skills, so I’d suggest you consider having guests or even a co-host to keep up the interest.

    On The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the guest is always the star. I have a co-host on The Paracast, David Biedny, and we share the interviewing chores. And, on two occasions, David has been the guest, reciting some really unusual experiences in his life. While I can hold a conversation with myself for a decently lengthy period and remain reasonably coherent, I choose not to. You would probably just get bored.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #367”

    1. David Walker says:

      A beefed up Location Manager is definitely something Apple should be implementing in Leopard, but your mention of a default printer led me in a different direction. At home I have two printers, an Epson PictureMate for 4″x6″ photos and a laser printer for everything else. The worst experience I’ve had lately with Tiger was opening an old Excel workbook and adding a new sheet. I was presented with a page that only accommodated two columns so I rather quickly figured out it was defaulting to the little photo printer. So I opened Page Setup and saw that my laser was already selected as was US Letter for paper size. So have I discovered an Excel bug? Maybe. The workbook was created in a previous version of Excel for output to US Letter on a laser printer. It should have kept that setting. Instead I had to dig into the print options to discover where the default paper size is hidden.

      Still, the only way it could’ve picked 4″x6″ paper was if it incorrectly read my current defaults because that was the first time that workbook had ever been on a computer with a photo printer.

      I really think Apple needs to move past this arcane concept of a system wide default printer and let us define printers on a per application basis. What’s good for iPhoto isn’t necessarily the right choice for Pages. Even better, applications under Leopard should have a separate assigned printer for each location. If I’m at the office a B&W laser is all that’s available. I certainly don’t want to get back home and find that iPhoto wants to print in B&W on US Letter.

      Maybe none of that will prevent bizarre things like Excel wanting to print on 4″x6″ paper, but I’m happy to blame Microsoft if they can’t get with the program. Now if only we had a sensible program for them to get with.

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