• Newsletter Issue #372

    January 14th, 2007


    I’m often asked: Are our radio shows Podcasts? Well, if you’ve only recently joined us, the answer is yes, in part. You see, when my son, Grayson, and I first started The Tech Night Owl LIVE in the fall of 2002, it was actually streamed live over the Internet, but between shows it was also available on-demand. This meant that whenever you hit the site, the most recent episode would begin to play after a few seconds.

    This was before there was such a thing as a Podcast, although we also made a downloadable version of the show available too. So we actually presented it three ways for your convenience, and we still do. This is unlike many shows of this type, which restrict themselves to the Podcast method.

    When David Biedny and I started up The Paracast in February of last year, we didn’t want to limit the show to just three methods of delivery. So we added a fourth: Terrestrial radio, and the show has been carried on KLAV-AM in Las Vegas since September. In fact, we are switching to an earlier timeslot beginning next week, from 9:00 PM until 11:00 PM Sunday nights, so our Nevada listeners can hear us earlier.

    Our long-range strategy is not to limit the show to one regular outlet, and, in fact, we want the tech show to come along for the ride. Call me superstitious, but I don’t want to preannounce anything, or make promises we can’t keep, but there will be more news about our plans over the next few months.

    Meantime, we’re busy producing new shows. On January 11th, for example, we wanted to include coverage of the CES on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. But, other than the push towards high definition TVs with 1080p capability, did anything significant occur in Las Vegas (other than The Paracast every Sunday evening)? Well, Bill Gates delivered a keynote address, but said little that was significant. Michael Dell had one on Tuesday, at the same time as Steve Jobs at Macworld in San Francisco.

    We’re still talking about what Jobs had to say, and Dell’s comments, about the environment, were quickly forgotten. We’ll get to CES, however, in the next few weeks. Meantime, we had on-site reports about Macworld from cutting edge commentator Daniel Eran of Roughly Drafted Magazine, and Eddie Hargreaves of MacCompanion and “The Lame Show.”

    And why is the iPhone is the next Mac? David Biedny explain during the latest segment of “The David Biedny Zone.”

    As to The Paracast, I’m sure you’ve heard that UFOs are big news again, what with that sighting at O’Hare airport last November. Was it really just a weather phenomenon as the FAA stated, or was that some sort of excuse or cover-up?

    Well, on Sunday documentary film producer and UFO commentator Paul Kimball and UFO experiencer and investigator Jeff Ritzmann joined us to “talk shop” about the significance of the O’Hare event, how the media is covering the subject, possible UFO origin theories and other matters both big and small.

    This coming week, I’ll be interviewing a very close friend, whom I haven’t talked to in nearly 20 years, about his unusual experiences and theories. You’ll learn more about him in next week’s newsletter, or on next week’s episode of The Paracast.


    It wasn’t too long ago when Apple lauded the Mac operating system as its flagship product. Whenever a new version was under development, it would be heavily demonstrated at a WWDC keynote, and, in the ensuing months you’d see more and more chatter about it until the highly-anticipated release event.

    Indeed, hundreds of you were known to wait for hours outside a store just to get your hot little hands on a copy of the upgrade. It didn’t matter if the initial release was riddled with irritating bugs because it didn’t stew long enough in the developer kitchen. You had to have a copy, and, besides, there would be updates over the next few months to repair the worst of the ills.

    As for me, well, I preferred to place my order online, and wait for the overnight carrier to deliver my copy. I got more sleep that way.

    When Steve Jobs and crew delivered the first revelations about Leopard last August at the WWDC, there was lots and lots of anticipation. I joined with the crowd, wondering just what “top secret” features were held in abeyance, and when we’d learn about them.

    I even presented my own wish list from time to time, with suggestions for a better help system, improved Finder performance (something more important to me than changing its appearance) and other stuff. Indeed, I had hoped for a more usable set of Open and Save dialog boxes, maybe something incorporating a few of the features from Default Folder X and maybe even the late, lamented SuperBoomerang (anyone remember that?).

    The predictions for the keynote address for this year’s one and only Macworld Expo were rated with various degrees of probability. I put an iPhone somewhere in the middle, figuring it would arrive, but maybe the announcement wouldn’t come so early. Let’s forget how wrong I was, but I’m in good company.

    It seemed almost a certainty, however, that there would be an extended demonstration of Leopard. You’d learn about lots more cool features, and all that was left was to speculate what they might be, and whether or not Apple would deliver a firm delivery date.

    I realize a few of you even wondered whether it might actually arrive some time this month, and I rated that as having a prospect this side of zero. Yes, I was right about that one, but I was wrong on all counts otherwise about Leopard’s status.

    On the other hand, I’m in good company, as the rest of the tech press fared no better on that score. We all thought it was a given.

    So why did Apple eliminate the word “Computer” from its corporate name and set Leopard aside? No, I don’t think there’s any conspiracy about this entire matter. Clearly Apple wanted this session to be sharply focused, so you’d think about little more than the iPhone (or whatever it’ll be called when the legal wrangling with Cisco Systems concludes) and the Apple TV.

    Indeed, the entire tech press and even a large portion of the mainstream press made a big deal about Apple’s first foray into the wireless telephone market. There are pros and cons, and the best I can say is that the product is six months from release, and things can change from now until then. Let’s leave it at that.

    As to Leopard, tell me: Would you sit through a three hour keynote, even if that address was delivered by Steve Jobs? Admit it! If you were lucky enough to be in the audience, you’d probably be squirming in your seat after a half hour or so of Leopard slides and live demonstrations. Hunger pangs, particularly if you passed up on breakfast to get an early spot in the waiting line, would intrude on your consciousness.

    It may also be that the spiffy unannounced features for Leopard weren’t ready for prime time, or Apple’s marketing people decided to give it its own special showcase a few weeks hence. In fact, don’t be surprised if the press is invited to a special event in the near future that will focus primarily or solely on Leopard. You will learn everything there is to know, or at least that which Apple deigns to tell you. A release date will be announced and, indeed, it may be as early as March or April, though my confidence in the former has begun to lessen in recent weeks.

    So while we watch and wait for the inevitable, I’m going to go out on the limb and say that there’s nothing about Leopard that won’t be praised to the skies when Apple gets around to telling us more about it. Clearly 2007 isn’t just about the iPhone or Apple TV. There’s a lot more to be expected, and Mac OS 10.5 represents the core of many of the things Apple plans to deliver.

    Remember, the iPhone is powered by an OS X-derived operating system, with a subset of the features that you know and love.

    The other question is whether developers will get a chance to create their own iPhone products. Right now, it appears that the gadget’s operating system is going to be a closed environment. This might make lots of sense from a security standpoint, since it’ll be used on a cellular network on which Apple has no control.

    But it’s also true that wireless carriers love to monetize every little thing on their service, so being able to download applications and games ought to be part of the picture. On the other hand, it may well be that some Mac OS X applications may run with only minor modification on an iPhone, and those modifications would be strictly to deal with the reduced screen footprint, RAM and storage space.

    Can you imagine writing a document in Word, or perhaps iWork? It’s not that I’m enamored with the possibility of typing on a touch screen that has no tactile feedback, but I suppose some of you will get used to it. Maybe I will as well.

    On a wider scale, it may just be that Mac OS X, or OS X, is going to be a platform that will extend way beyond that of personal computers and the iPhone. If true, you don’t have to fret so much that it wasn’t showcased at the keynote. There are far more important things to worry about, right?


    In late 2005, I canceled Dish Network and set up service with the local cable company, Cox Communications. Despite claims to the contrary from the satellite providers, Cox was able to beat Dish’s price in a package deal that included high-speed Internet and phone service. They provided a usable — though not perfect — DVR and all the local HD channels.

    In exchange for the higher price, Dish’s DVRs were perennially buggy, far worse than the Scientific Atlanta units provided by Cox, and the only route to local HD was an antenna.

    Well, out of the blue a few days ago, Dish called me and asked if I’d consider returning as a customer. Frankly, Cox has been pretty decent of late, and I’ve had good luck with their customer support people, even though that was a vexing problem in the past. But I’m always curious, always looking to save a little money, so I asked what they were offering.

    I went over the details of Dish’s plan, and they explained they offered all the local HD stations. How many, I wondered, and they said four, but there were actually six major HD stations in the Phoenix metropolitan area, but since I don’t watch the other two anyone, I said I’d still consider their offer if it was satisfactory.

    After a few seconds of silence, the sales rep came back with a price $22 higher per month than I was paying now. “Are you serious?”

    Well, there was that 10 month offer of a $20 discount that she fished out of thin air, but that still wouldn’t cut it, since I’d be paying the full price after the promotion ended.

    So I wondered, just what do I get for a higher price?

    She went on to talk about “100% digital quality,” which is that ridiculous phrase that doesn’t tell you how good the digital picture really is, only that it is digital. Since Cox has received updated its system to provide digital reception of the original “basic cable” channels, I explained that I already had that kind of service. So what else were they offering me?

    Then came the pronouncement about MPEG-4 encoding. The reason satellite providers have moved to the more efficient codec is to reduce the bandwidth required by each station, and deliver more HD content on their satellites. It doesn’t necessarily indicate better quality. I rather suspect it’s probably the same, although I’m willing to learn from your experiences with Dish and DirecTV, if you’re equipment has been upgraded to MPEG-4.

    I explained all this to the rep, and heard a prolonged silence at the other end of the phone.

    “I guess, then, that you really aren’t giving me anything better for that extra money,” I announced.

    She had to agree, and I ended the conversation.

    Alas, most people receiving those sales calls or checking out satellite TV at a dealer aren’t going to ask such critical questions. They will be attracted by all the fancy technobabble, and they won’t realize that cable is now the better deal in many cities, particularly if you go for the complete bundle, with Internet and telephone services as part of the package.

    Even if the price of satellite TV is roughly comparable to what cable offers, there is one more deal-breaker, and that’s on-site repair. With most packages, home service visits are free. With Dish, for example, you pay $99 for a truck roll to your home unless you buy a special service contract, which reduces the price to $29.

    Indeed, when cable says they are cheaper than satellite, they are telling the truth. It doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed better service, of course. But compare the features carefully, and talk to your neighbors about reception quality, reliability and customer support before you take the plunge.

    In the end, be skeptical, particularly when the offers sound a little too good to be true. It’s a jungle out there, and the competition for your business is getting real hot. That is, if you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where genuine competition exists.


    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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