• Newsletter Issue #368

    December 18th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    If you think Mac and PC users can get into it hot and heavy, you can’t imagine how things fare in the world of the paranormal, where even the basics of reality can be turned upside down. After completing 43 episodes of The Paracast, I am still surprised at some of the things that can engender heated debates. That’s why our Discussion Forums have grown so quickly, fast enough to have forced us to switch to something more robust.

    Since our friends at Parallels and lots of other companies have selected vBulletin, a commercial bulletin board application from UK-based Jelsoft, we decided to give it a try. There were a few glitches importing the messages from the open source board system we used previously, SMF, and most user passwords had to be reset. But everything is working normally now; for the most part, and we’re thinking about upgrading the other sites as traffic increases.

    On Sunday evening, The Paracast featured world-traveler Klaus Dona, who has built an incredible collection of anomalous artifacts that may reveal the existence of advanced civilizations thousands of years ago. Did these objects come from extraterrestrials, or is it possible that mankind arose to even greater heights of achievement long ago, before vanishing due to some unexplained cataclysm?

    We also met long-time UFO researcher A.J. Gevaerd, editor of the Brazilian UFO Magazine, and founder and director of the Brazilian Center for Flying Saucer Research (CBPDV). A.J. spent most of the interview detailing an incredible crash/retrieval case in his country that he feels is more thoroughly documented than Roswell.

    On December 24th, we’re featuring UFO investigator Dr. Roger Leir and paranormal author Marie Jones.

    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.

    This week’s episode of our other show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, had a trio of heavy-hitters in the tech universe. Macworld’s Jason Snell came onboard to discuss the prospects for an iPhone, a true Video iPod and other developments from Apple in 2007.

    Rob Griffiths, also from Macworld, described a potential serious flaw in the next version of Office for the Mac. He was referring to the announced decision from Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit to eliminate its powerful scripting feature, Visual Basic, from the next version, which is expected to ship in the second half of 2007.

    We also talked with Adam Engst, the publisher of TidBITS, who explained how you can take control of domain names. This may not seem to be a terribly sexy subject, until you realize that Internet domains are the extremely important starting point for everything from online businesses to personal blogs. Indeed, there are pitfalls you should know about, which Adam detailed during this informative session.

    THE NIGHT OWL’S FAVORITE MAC SOFTWARE

    I’m so consumed by getting my work done these days, that I seldom talk about the products I use to actually enable me to complete those tasks. That’s the purpose of today’s commentary.

    But, let me first explain that I am not the sort of person to add toys to my Mac. Call me dull, call me unimaginative, but I spent a lot of hard-earned money to acquire my computers to serve as tools, not playthings. I require reliability above all else, and I cannot afford downtime diagnosing problems for which I might be partly responsible.

    While I do lots and lots of software testing in connection with my columns and tech radio show, only a few of those products stand the test of time. I’ll cover them in no particular order, and reserve the right to change my priorities without notice at any time.

    Thunderbird 2.0b1: Indeed, switching to IMAP on most of my email accounts affords me huge flexibility. I can pick and choose and not have to concern myself with imperfect import systems to configure new email applications. Last week, I was reasonably satisfied with Entourage 2004, largely because of its feature-set and not its performance. When I tried the new beta of Mozilla’s Thunderbird, I felt liberated. Performance was incredibly speedy, and messages often show up instantaneously. Account configuration options are powerful enough for my needs, although configuring alternate sending (SMTP) servers can seem a little less-than-intuitive if you need a different one for each of your accounts. Other than a mysterious problem sending AOL mail, I have nothing else to complain about. Next up for a test is PowerMail, which presents itself as a superior alternative to Apple’s Mac OS X Mail.

    Microsoft Word 2004: Yes, I’ve tried all the pretender’s to Word’s throne. Some, such as Nisus Writer Express and Mellel, are quite good, thank you, with great performance, but they cannot emulate Word’s Track Changes feature, which is critical for writers and editors so they can monitor the progress of a writing project. Such Office alternatives as ThinkFree Office provide interfaces that are uglier than anything Microsoft can devise, unfortunately. Word remains the standard, but I’m always open to new possibilities, so long as I don’t sacrifice the capabilities I require.

    Adobe InDesign CS2: I adopted QuarkXPress early on, because it was far superior to PageMaker in the areas that printers and publishers depended upon. However, Quark Inc. became more and more arrogant in its market-leading status and was due for a big fall. The first versions of InDesign had powerful typographic features that smoked XPress, but performance was lackadaisical, to put it gently. After a few updates, I settled on InDesign to create an entire book project, and found it superior in most respects. Where I’d spend hours tweaking line breaks and other elements in XPress, the process went surprisingly fast in InDesign, and everything just looked better. Performance could still improve, but I don’t use it often enough to be overly concerned about that shortcoming.

    Firefox 2.0: For the longest time, I refused to switch from Safari, which did the basics well enough and rendered pages in a fairly speedy fashion. Opera, despite its huge feature-set, has had printing issues, where it’ll suddenly produce the first page and nothing thereafter, although the latest 9.1 beta seems improved in that respect. On the urging of my Webmaster, Brent Lee, I used Firefox for a longer period of time, and decided it was just about perfect in most respects, although it, too, has problems handling printing on some sites. That’s something the reviewers who extol its virtues seldom mention, and it will be addressed, I gather, in version 3.0, which just entered the alpha phase.

    Bias Peak Pro 5.2: I gather that a huge number of commercial recordings have been mastered in Peak Pro, and no wonder. It is an amazingly powerful product that’s fairly simple to use. Other than its lack of support for anything beyond two channels, it can handle most of the tasks I throw at it pretty well. I live hours in its interface performing post-production chores on interviews and other elements for The Tech Night Owl LIVE and The Paracast. The only downside is an occasional tendency to quit for no discernible reason, even while just sitting in the background. It would also be nice if Peak Pro remembered the precise point where I was working in a file when saving, as older versions of Sound Studio used to do, and there is that stability factor too.

    Transmit 3.5.5: I came to this FTP client application late as well, again on the recommendation of the Webmaster. It presents a neat, Finder-like interface, reliable performance and some extra niceties, such as the ability to open a text file on a Web site with a simple double-click. This is just great for a simple, last-minute touch up, such as a code alteration. Once finished, I just have to save the file, and the site reflects the change immediately.

    Dreamweaver 8.0.2: When it comes to Web authoring, I’m definitely not a code junkie. I’m not a graphic designer either, but I prefer a graphical interface so I can see the results of what I’m doing without having to check things back and forth in a browser. Sure, different browsers handle sites inconsistently, but Dreamweaver remains an industry standard, and I hope Adobe doesn’t mess it up, now that it owns the product.

    Parallels Desktop: My most painful writing experience occurred 12 years ago, when I wrote a book about a Windows product entirely in a Windows emulator, known as SoftWindows. It ran so slowly that I’d often have to wait a couple of minutes just to move from one application window to the next. While Virtual PC fared better, largely because Macs themselves became faster, it remained unimpressive and lethargic. So Parallels Desktop, which has been out only a few months, remains a revelation. Performance comes surprisingly close to native in most respects, except for 3D graphics, a capability promised for the first quarter of 2007. Indeed, not to rest on their laurels, the folks at Parallels continue to improve the program in many unexpected ways. If you must switch among platforms from time to time, there is no better solution.

    I just know that many of you are aching to offer other applications as superior alternatives to the ones I’ve listed above. But that’s what our Comments section is for.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE FRUSTRATING WORLD OF BLUETOOTH HEADSETS

    You know, I’m sure that it’s safer the drive without using a mobile phone, but if you must, headsets and hands-free car interfaces are better than holding onto the phone in one hand and attempting to steer correctly with the other.

    I don’t know if mobile phone use causes more accidents than eating one’s breakfast or putting on makeup while driving, though I’m sure all these distractions are closely ranked.

    On the few occasions I’ve tried Bluetooth interfaces in cars, I’ve found them wanting. The people I talk to aren’t enamored of sounds that make it seem as if I’m stuck in a cave, perhaps because the mics are places so far from your mouth. Bluetooth headsets have fared better, if you don’t take build quality into consideration.

    The first headset I tried was a Motorola HS850. In my brief tests, it seemed all right as far as reception and call quality were concerned, but the ear hook felt loose. Clearly Motorola hadn’t taken my size into account, or maybe they did, because the H700 I subsequently purchased, after trying a review sample, fit just perfectly.

    I might have stopped then and there, because this particular model has its charms. Sound quality is pretty good, with somewhat of a digital cast. Folks at the other end of the line proclaim my voice loud and clear for the most part. To make it operate, you flip open the boom and it turns on. The side-mounted multifunction button and top and bottom-mounted level controls are fairly easy to the touch.

    The reviews were mostly positive. Some users complained that the boom sat on their faces, rather than half an inch above it, thus muffling the sound. While I can understand that people have heads shaped and sized differently, I also wonder if they are placing the ear hooks properly behind their ears. After all, the shape of the H700’s ear hook doesn’t seem terribly different from other models.

    On the negative side, the first unit I acquired failed after a few weeks. All of a sudden it wouldn’t pair with my Motorola RAZR V3c phone. The phone was replaced under warranty, but the headset was dead. Yes, I got a replacement headset too, but I still wondered if there wasn’t something better.

    Jabra’s JX-10 seemed a promising candidate. Created by Denmark’s Jacob Jensen, the manufacturer claims the tiny device has an “uncompromised design.” I’ll get to that in a moment, but after reading favorable reviews, I acquired a unit for a brief trial. The experience seemed promising. Audio quality was more robust and natural than the H700, close to that of a real phone, and the folks at the other end pronounced my voice clearer than ever.

    Alas, it failed within two hours, and I returned it. The symptoms? Although it took a battery charge without difficulty, suddenly I couldn’t pair the unit, whereas the H700 (the replacement unit) still functioned perfectly.

    A few months later, I decided to give the JX-10 another evaluation, and contacted Jabra’s PR agency for a review sample, which arrived just after Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, and it failed too. This time it wouldn’t even turn on, and, when attempting to charge the unit, there was no status light. It was clearly dead.

    The PR agency, no doubt a little embarrassed by the sudden failure, sent me a replacement, which continues to operate perfectly.

    I’m still impressed with its sound quality, though it’s not perfect in other respects. Fit is good, a bit more loose than the H700, but not uncomfortable. Jabra provides a second ear hook in case the first breaks.

    The bottom-mounted multifunction button seems a tad awkward at first, but operates just fine after a little practice. Not so for the front-mounted volume buttons, which were clearly put there out of design rather than practical considerations.

    On the whole, the JX-10 has plenty of promise, though I’m concerned with the early failures of two samples of the product. For now, I’ll continue to use it, but I am definitely considering other alternatives.

    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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