While a lot of our “competitors” have taken time off tor the holidays, The Tech Night Owl LIVE will continue to present all-new shows. I might consider a vacation some time in the future, but there are big plans afoot in 2007 to expand both radio shows into some uncharted waters, so I will have to wait. Indeed, there’s no rest for the weary, but I’m not weary. In fact, I’m quite excited about the prospects for the future.
Now as to last week’s episode, we presented a look back at the top tech achievements of 2006 and what may come in 2007 from Apple and other companies with industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group. You also met Glen Bledsoe, author of Glass Writer Pro, an application that reinvents the look and feel of a word processor. Glen developed the program for himself, because he ran into software-generated writer’s block when he tried to write a novel. His solution is ingenious, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in future versions.
In addition, Christopher Young, managing director of Redstone Software, was on hand to talk about their low-cost remote access networking solutions, known as Vine Viewer and Vine Server. If you find the other programs that perform this function, such as Apple Remote Access, too expensive, the “Vine” solutions will come as a revelation. In fact, the server program is free; you only pay a user license for each copy of the viewing software and all of it is based on open source solutions, which means you can find compatible applications that work on Windows and Unix-based operating systems too.
Back in the fall of 2005, David Biedny and I were talking after taping an interview, and we soon realized we had shared interests in lots of other subjects, including the wild, weird world of the paranormal. Thus begat The Paracast, and I have to tell you that I had no idea how my readers and listeners would react to my interest in UFOs and things that go bump in the night.
In fact, I haven’t received a single letter from anyone suggesting I have gone off the deep end. Well, maybe they’ve always felt that way, but the show has indeed taken on a life of its own. While other paranormal shows are often run by hosts that pander to their guests and listeners, David and I aren’t afraid to ask the difficult questions, and challenge people who present outrageous viewpoints without an iota of support.
We’ve also attracted a great variety of knowledgeable guests. On December 24th, for example, The Paracast presented UFO abduction investigator Dr. Roger Leir, who delivered an update pm his continuing on-site study of the famous 1996 crash/retrieval case in Varginha, Brazil. Many of you, even if you’re not interested in UFOs, have heard about the 1947 crash at Roswell. Well the Varginha case has a lot more witnesses, and, even better, it’s recent enough so that memories haven’t faded.
We also had an enjoyable session with paranormal writer Marie D. Jones, author of “PSIence: How New Discoveries in Quantum Physics and New Science May Explain the Existence of Paranormal Phenomena.”
On the final show of the year, December 31st, we’ll feature UFO investigator Kevin D. Randle, who will deliver an update on the 1947 Roswell, NM UFO crash/retrieval and other subjects. In addition, author Mac Tonnies will return with a startlingly different viewpoint on the possible origin of UFOs.
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.
I want you all to know that I’m fundamentally an optimistic person. In addition, I like to think I am loyal, particularly to products that get the job done without a lot of fussing. I dislike reading about lots of workarounds to make something function correctly, because it just doesn’t sit well with me. If a product is designed properly, the initial setup ought to be more than sufficient for most of you, and the special configuration process ought to be the exception.
It all began recently when I switched to IMAP for email, which stores your messages on a central server, thus making it easier to synchronize them regardless of which computer or email client you use. While most applications seem to handle the standard POP accounts pretty well, for some reason IMAP creates complications.
In recent weeks, I’ve gone back and forth in picking my favorite email client, and it may seem that I just can’t make up my mind. But hear me out. You see, it’s really not my fault (please don’t laugh)!
Mail: For the longest time, I used Apple’s Mac OS X Mail to handle everything, but, in its efforts to simplify the difficult, things get somewhat complicated. By default, Mail puts all your accounts into a single Inbox. This may seem to make sense, unless you have accounts that you prefer to keep separate.
Suddenly you are forced to move to the Advanced menu, where you enter a default path for INBOX to attempt to remedy that shortcoming. Even after everything is set properly, I’ve seen situations where it still won’t “just work.” Worse, big mailboxes can take forever to update, or at least it seems that way.
Microsoft Entourage 2004: I suppose I should be partial to this program. I used Claris Emailer for several years, and migrated to Outlook Express because of its similarities, which resulted, in part, from the fact that a number of members of the Emailer team went to work at Microsoft. Indeed, I have gone back and forth with Entourage, largely because of its occasional performance hangups.
Switching to IMAP works sensibly in Entourage, with all the mailboxes grouped separately by account. However, I ran into difficulty receiving new messages; my default setting is to check the servers every five minutes. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes nothing would happen until I actually clicked on an Inbox, even though a trip to my Webmail accounts showed that there were indeed new messages awaiting.
I didn’t see much helpful information on dealing with setup issues in the Help menus or at Microsoft’s site, which concentrates on the basics rather than the exceptions. I posted a couple of messages on a Microsoft newsgroup frequented by support gurus and programmers, but their help was limited to verifying that each account worked separately, an idea that didn’t deliver a solution. Finally, after spending a little time in Google examining sites that posted power user settings, I unchecked the “Send commands to server simultaneously” command in the Options pane of the IMAP account setup window. For whatever reason, that did it, and Entourage 2004 has worked flawlessly ever since.
Now if the Mac Business Unit can work on the performance glitches for the next version, I’ll be a happy camper.
Thunderbird 2.0b1: I pronounced this one of my favorites last week, and it remains thus. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. True, performance is exemplary, and in that respect it just blows Entourage and Mail out of the water.
On the other hand, it has a few architectural issues that have persisted over several versions. One is the fact that quoting a message you respond to is an all or nothing proposition. With the email clients from Apple and Microsoft, I can just select a piece of text and the quote will be limited to that and that alone. With Thunderbird, I have to manually select and delete the stuff I don’t want to include in a response.
Thunderbird’s handling of signatures is also a bit peculiar. Rather than just including them as part of the program’s database, you are expected to link to a separate file. And if you delete that file by mistake, what then? Well, you could put it with all of the rest of the program’s data, I suppose, but it should be that way by default.
Eudora 6.2.4: This is going to be the last official version of Eudora before it goes open source and is built upon the Thunderbird engine. While some of you love Eudora, it’s an acquired taste that I’ve never been able to acquire, and believe me I have tried on a number of occasions. I even spent another long session trying to acclimate myself to this application before writing this article, and it still doesn’t suit my needs. But settle down. If you love it, you should be doubly pleased that it’ll survive in open-source guise.
PowerMail 5.5.2: This application is presented as a more powerful (hence the name) and power user’s alternative to Mail. Performance is appropriately snappy, but its IMAP handling is pathetic. The documentation says you’re limited to a single IMAP account, and it becomes more and more dysfunctional as you attempt to add additional accounts. If you’re email is POP, it’s probably just fine, but I was hoping for more.
For now, I’ll ignore the other Mozilla email alternatives, because they are similar to Thunderbird in many respects. I wanted to give Mailsmith, from Bare Bones Software, a try, but, as if the current release, it doesn’t support IMAP. The company’s terse response: “We have in the past considered and investigated implementing IMAP support in Mailsmith, but we have no plans to do so.”
So there you have it. For now, I’ll exist primarily in Entourage 2004 and Thunderbird, although I’ll give Apple Mail another try when Leopard ships.
Yes, I know. Not everyone is tech savvy, and it’s a sad fact that many of those consumer electronics companies seem to think that making a better product means packing in more and more features until the things are practically overflowing.
Indeed, the more features those gadgets have, the more difficult they are to use. It shouldn’t be that way, but usability went out the window long ago in products ranging from mobile phones to high definition TV. Maybe it’s all a plot to force you to pay your dealer extra money to help you set things up, or maybe — just maybe — these companies didn’t really think about the consequences beyond the need to stay ahead of a competitor.
I’m sure that many of you will just give up in frustration and return the things to the dealer. I understand, in fact, that an exceedingly large number of wireless routers go back because people just can’t make them work properly. You can say that Apple’s AirPort Setup Assistant is the proper solution, but it’s not always so clear about some of the more sophisticated setups, particularly in choosing the proper degree of wireless security. And that’s the most important feature of all!
The situation won’t change overnight, or ever, I fear. I suppose one hope is that our kids are far more aware of technology than we were at their age, so perhaps the gadget makers expect we’ll just grow into it. Or they depend on kids to help their parents and grandparents get through the rough spots.
Regardless, you will probably be tempted to just return to a store’s refund counter if things get out of hand, but don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions!
All right, if the product is defective, that’s another story. It happens to an amazingly large number of gear, after a few days or when they’re unpacked. Apple isn’t completely innocent of such offenses, since their merchandise is often assembled at the same plants as their competitors.
But is the gadget truly defective, or is it just a matter of spending a little more time learning how to use it? The other day, Al Roker, one of the hosts of “The Today Show,” gave the best answer to the new-gadget blues: Read the manual.
Sure, some of those manuals are pathetic; in fact most of them are. They are written by people who don’t understand how to communicate with regular people, and that’s sad. You see, manuals seem to get low priority from many companies. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
The first thing to do is check the setup guide, if there is one. Make sure all the parts that are supposed to ship with a device are present and accounted for. If not, stop and return the item then and there. If everything seems all right, you’ll want to go through every single step of the setup process, exactly as illustrated. If things get overly complicated, go ahead and look at the complete user manual, and for that you might have to check on an installation CD.
Again, take your time. If it reaches a point where you can’t figure out what to do next, call the store and see if they have any support people on hand to assist, and don’t be so quick to accept an on-site visit, unless your warranty includes that kind of service.
Just about every respectable manufacturer has a phone (or email) support division. Even if it’s based overseas, and the tech person can barely converse in English, be patient and explain what’s wrong. You may be tempted to scream and yell at overt displays of ignorance, but hold your tongue.
If these efforts simply don’t succeed, go ahead and return the gadget. And be sure to tell the folks at the store why it’s being returned, because they will often record that information, compile it and deliver it to the manufacturer. Maybe if enough references about something being “too difficult to use” are received, they’ll get the messages.
Or you can always await an Apple solution, but I don’t expect to see an Apple-branded washing machine any time soon, or ever.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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