• Newsletter Issue #373

    January 22nd, 2007

    IT WAS A REAL LETTER!

    One of the benefits of our new Web host is built-in support for “Announcement Lists,” which is a category in which this newsletter fits. So we moved it over. But it’s not a matter of just importing the mailing list. It never is. Instead, all of you readers have to respond to a letter asking you to verify your address all over again. This is due to DreamHost’s anti-spam policies, and I’m not about to complain.

    There’s a downside, though, which is that some of you won’t respond. You get too much spam, and it’s easy for this to fall through the cracks. What’s more, I know some of you are wondering if that letter from me is real. Well, I can assure you it is!

    So if you see this on the site and didn’t get a letter from me on the subject, please go ahead and subscribe all over again. The system is smart enough to know if you’re already on the list, and the subscription form is now front and center just below the banner ads on all pages, so it’s awfully hard to miss.

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    They’ve been saying that radio is dead for over 60 years now. When TV first became popular, some wondered why anyone would want to listen to the radio, when you could see everything on the little screen. And boy was it little in the old days!

    Through the decades, we have seen the arrival of FM stereo radio, Internet radio, satellite, HD radio and more. Each of standard represents a different way of delivering the signal to you, but the basics remain the same. If a show entertains and informs you, that’s all that counts.

    Indeed, regardless of the technology, millions and millions of you will continue to enjoy the radio shows of your choice.

    Now as to our shows, we had a wide-ranging discussion on The Tech Night Owl LIVE last Thursday. The day after Apple reported record earnings, I had a brief discussion on the subject with industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group. In addition, Macworld’s Jason Snell came onboard to talk about his actual hands-on experience with Apple’s iPhone and whether he, too, is lusting after this flashy gadget.

    I use several audio editing applications in putting this show together. One is Amadeus II. Last week, I talked about the newest version, now called Amadeus Pro, with the author, Martin Hairer of HairerSoft. And if you ever wondered about the folks who run those Web hosting services, you would be fascinated by my interview with Dallas Kashuba, one of the founders of DreamHost.

    Long, long ago, while a teenager, I became friendly with someone who lived in another part of the country who shared my interests in UFOs and other topics. While others in our age group would go out and party on New Year’s Eve, we’d sit back in his hotel room and talk for hours on end. During one of those marathon sessions, we came up with a terrific idea about where UFOs might come from. And, no, we weren’t talking about space ships.

    Well, maybe things seemed sufficiently amazing after we were up for 24 hours straight with nothing more than a few soft drinks and pizza to keep us going. But the ideas have actually been presented from time to time among people interested in UFOs.

    Since I started The Paracast, I thought my old friend would make a terrific guest, so on Sunday, Janaury 21st, we presented a long conversation with T. Allen Greenfield, author of “Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts” and “Secret Rituals of the Men In Black.” Whether or not you agree with him, you’ll find that he has lots of thought-provoking things to say.

    Our January 28th episode will feature Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), who discusses the O’Hare case and other widely-reported UFO sightings.

    Important: Effective with Sunday’s show, KLAV-AM in Las Vegas is carrying The Paracast from 9:00 PM until 11:00 PM. The earlier timeslot will help us reach a lot more listeners.

    APPLE AND THE $1.99 CONTROVERSY

    There’s a general perception that Apple is greedy, that they will try to take you for every dime you have. Not all at once, of course, but in little increments. You buy a new Mac today, you’ll have to pay full price for an operating system upgrade every year or two. The Apple digital lifestyle applications are usually upgraded every year as well — although it appears iLife ’07 is presently missing in action — and you do not get a discount if you own a previous version.

    The very same thing applies to .Mac. You may receive a discount or a rebate at the start when you sign up, but then it’s $99 a year for the rest of your natural life, or as long as .Mac exists; whichever is first, of course.

    Indeed, you can’t say that Microsoft is necessarily generous either. Consider the cost of those Windows Vista upgrades. The end user doesn’t stand a chance, unless you buy lots and lots of seats for each product, or you’re a PC maker. Then you pay a fraction of what regular people pay.

    Over the years, Apple has gotten into some trouble with some of you even when they seemed to be doing right by their customers.

    Take the Mac OS 10.1 upgrade, for example. It was considered “free” to Mac OS 10.0 users, if you happened to find a copy of the upgrade package at a local dealer. But if you didn’t, you’d be asked to pay $19.95 shipping and handling. You can imagine how many people decided that this was exorbitant, that Apple was somehow profiting from this exercise in corporate pecuniary behavior. In other words, they were ripping you off, or at least that was the claim.

    At the time, I suggested that some of you were going a little overboard with such complaints. Apple was using a third-party fulfillment service that probably charges a fixed fee for each copy it shipped. Even if they extracted a small profit out of each 10.1 updater CD pack, it wasn’t near enough to cover the cost of developing that upgrade.

    The latest flap is over still another upgrade, which basically unlocks the hidden 802.11n capability on recent Macs. It appears that all models with the Intel Xeon and Core 2 Duo processors came with a Wi-Fi chip that was actually complaint with the draft standard for the new wireless technology. Except that the software didn’t recognize that extra capability.

    Well, with the impending release of a new 802.11n-complaint AirPort Extreme, Apple has decided to turn up the spigots, but it won’t come free. They will charge you $1.99 for these upgrades.

    Why isn’t it free? Well, according to Apple PR representative Lynn Fox, “The nominal distribution fee for the 802.11n software is required in order for Apple to comply with generally accepted accounting principles for revenue recognition, which generally require that we charge for significant feature enhancements, such as 802.11n, when added to previously purchased products.”

    What this meant is that, in order to avoid charging for the upgrade, Apple would have had to book $1.99 from each sale of recent Macs and the Mac Pro until such time as the upgrade to unleash the higher performance protocol was ready. In the scheme of things, we’re talking of a few million dollars at most, which is chump change for a company as large as Apple. But it gets more complicated than that. Not everyone who has one of these Macs wants or needs faster Wi-Fi.

    So how is Apple to calculate that?

    Now, some tech pundits have called upon accountants to evaluate Apple’s claims and whether or not they are really trying to cheat you, or maybe they just didn’t know what they’re doing.

    Let’s face it, readers, $1.99 won’t even get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Do you really think Apple is skirting real accounting standards, or making up some of its own, to gyp you out of less than two bucks?

    Actually, it’ll probably cost more than $1.99 to process that order, which means Apple is actually going to lose money on every transaction. But it’s not a scheme to lose money either, or save on corporate income taxes, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some people decided that was a possibility.

    Sure, it may be quite true that Apple is being overly cautious as a result of that scandal over backdating stock transactions. Apple wants to seem squeaky clean, even if it has to engage in such silliness as charging a tiny sum for a software upgrade.

    Unfortunately, some people want to manufacture a controversy out of nothing, and I fear this matter will continue to get more publicity than it deserves. Please, folks, don’t take it seriously. If you want faster wireless networking, paying an extra $1.99 is next to nothing, which is what I think about the entire controversy.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: OVERSELLING SERVICES

    The other day, while looking for a new company to host my four sites, I ran across a fascinating blog entry from Josh Jones, a Co-Founder of DreamHost, one of the larger players in that business. In his own inimitable fashion, Jones explains why hosting services essentially oversell their services, which means to promise more storage capacity and bandwidth than they could deliver if all or most of their customers wanted to use all of it.

    Now this pronouncement caused a furor in the hosting industry, with lots of debate on both sides of the issue.

    In the larger universe, though, overselling is common, although you may not realize it immediately.

    Take the power company. You know, for example, that their capacity is stretched almost beyond the limits on a very hot day, when just about everyone’s air conditioner is running full tilt. But aren’t you paying them to deliver power no matter what the load? Well, yes, but their systems are designed to handle what they calculate as the potential peak capacity.

    But imagine if you turned on your air conditioner, all of your lights, and every voltage-hogging gadget and appliance you had. Now imagine if millions of others did the same thing. Well, it would be far more than the power company could handle, and you’d see outages real fast across the system.

    Let’s take this a little closer to home, such as your bank. You put your money there for safe keeping, expecting immediate access when you need it. But the bank doesn’t just put your money in one huge vault. They actually loan it to other customers, invest it and enjoy the profits from the interest they receive.

    It has happened in the past, of course, but what if all or most of their customers went to the local branch and demanded all of their money — now? Imagine the financial nightmare when the bank couldn’t give it to you on the spot, but that’s how the business works. They need to have a certain amount of cash on hand to handle anticipated needs, but a run at the bank can cause financial chaos or possibly run them out of business.

    So I understand where Josh is coming from. More to the point, if a service set up its system to handle a theoretical maximum load, where everyone used all the capacity they wanted, the cost of equipment and maintenance would be prohibitive. Worse, they’d have to charge you an arm and a leg, and their systems would sit mostly idle most of the time. That’s not the way you run a profit-making service business of that sort.

    You see, only a few people who have Web sites really need to stretch the limits, and only a few Web surfers are busy downloading 24/7 or even close, so online bandwidth shouldn’t suffer if the service provider properly anticipates their needs.

    Now that you know the reality of the situation, how do you pick one of these providers? Well, for broadband Internet, you may have few choices, so you have to live with what you have. When it comes to a Web host, there are thousands. All it takes is a high-band hookup and a few Linux servers (which is what the big boys use) and you’re good to go.

    But to handle this business properly, it takes a lot more than that, since there are issues of server breakdowns, Internet backbone breakdowns, and various and sundry customer issues. Alas, the service that works for my business may not work so well for you.

    In fact, there are few Web hosts that do not receive bad reviews from time to time, simply because it’s not a matter of turning on a switch and letting it all happen. Everyone’s needs are different, and lots of unexpected circumstances can conspire to cause troubles.

    I selected DreamHost because it is Mac friendly, the owners strike me as honest and open, and, when problems arise (as they always do), they apparently try awful hard to set things right.

    Alas, you can’t just pick a service based on specs alone, or the one with the cheapest price. You may end up paying next to nothing and get just as much in return.

    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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