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  • Newsletter Issue #377

    February 17th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Some of you wonder how we manage to get so many fascinating guests on The Tech Night Owl LIVE and The Paracast. Well, it’s not always easy. You see, our interviews don’t consist of reading questions supplied by the PR agencies or the guests themselves. In fact, I will often take someone into a direction they didn’t anticipate, which will often give you a different slant on their point of view.

    That’s why we use the motto, “You never know what’s going to happen next!” for both shows. In fact, I never know either, and that’s the way I like it.

    On this week’s all-star episode, we welcomed WiredNews.com’s Managing Editor, Leander Kahney, author of “The Cult of Mac,” who brought us up to date on the goings on at Apple and related matters, including the battle over DRM, and Steve Jobs and the stock option mess.

    We also presented an update on the world of digital music, the iPhone and TiVo from Macworld Senior Editor Christopher Breen.

    In addition, we had a fascinating session about the cutting-edge methods the tech industry is using to combat the latest tricks pulled by spammers from Theodore Green, President of Spam Stops Here.

    On The Paracast, we had a different sort of episode. You see, my co-host, David Biedny, has had some truly mysterious paranormal encounters over the years, but has been a little reluctant to reveal most of them so far. This week, for example, David brought on his long-time friend, Bill Vellekoop. Both shared an incredible, frightening encounter with an apparent ghost or similar apparition in Florida 12 years ago. In addition, we delivered an update on the state of UFO and paranormal research and some of the things that ought to be done to get some real answers to all these enigmas.

    THE RUMOR REPORT: DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT STUFF?

    This week, while casually surfing the Internet between stints editing my radio shows, I caught a couple of articles speculating about a possible new miniature note-book from Apple. It hearkens back to the PowerBook 2400, which was popular in Japan, but not so popular in the U.S.

    Now it might make sense from a business standpoint to have a product that would invigorate stalling Mac sales in Japan, which is a huge market for technological goodies. While it might be a nice idea, Apple really isn’t forced to build “world computers,” which must be essentially the same from one end of the planet to another.

    At the same time, forget the logic of such a product. The facts are that nothing of the sort has been announced by Apple, and rumors in the past that one plant or another is about to build one of these computers haven’t been terribly accurate. In fact, you should consider them basically untrue.

    So where are the rumor sites getting this stuff, or do the just make it all up, with the hope that a few will catch a breeze and actually represent a forthcoming Apple product? That would give them sufficient bragging rights to demonstrate that they do indeed have great inside sources that deliver the real dirt to them and them alone.

    I am of two minds about such stories. Maybe they are getting something from a supposedly inside source — or at least one that represents themselves in that fashion — and they are just running with the report. After all, if you are a purveyor of rumors, it’s really difficult to follow standard journalism dictates to get at least two confirmations on a story before it’s published.

    You should feel lucky if you even have one source under such questionable circumstances. At the same time, I have a strong feeling that some of these sites just sit back and make it all up. No, I’m not mentioning anyone specifically. Let them keep guessing, although I’m sure some are quite sincere.

    I mean, I read lots and lots of tales about the great technologies Apple is planning to put into future Macs, technologies that never seem to see the light of day. Now maybe, just maybe, they are getting information about actual things going in in the development labs, where it’s never certain that a new technology or product will actually get the green light to appear as a genuine retail product.

    Obviously, if something has real sales potential, and can be produced profitably — and fits within Apple’s strategic goals of course — you can expect it’ll appear one of these days. Well, maybe.

    Now I suppose some of you will remind me about the infamous “Asteroid,” a code-name for an alleged breakout box that was designed to serve as a FireWire-based input device for various types of audio gear. It even formed the basis of a lawsuit, when Apple went after some Mac sites to get the names of the people who supposedly spilled the beans about the product.

    Of course, Asteroid never came to pass, although I’ve speculated that it was nothing more than a Trojan Horse created to smoke out the most blatant leakers. There’s nothing about Asteroid that was not already available from third parties, and little indication that Apple had anything under development to improve upon such devices.

    In the larger sense, rumor sites serve as a reminder that we all love gossip. Apple does its best to keep those rumor sites alive — even if they would love them to disappear — simply by being so secretive about its new product plans. Compare that to Microsoft, where product plans are widely disseminated, even if the products in question never show up at all, or with lots of features removed.

    I guess you could say that Microsoft has become its own rumor site. Why wait for others to make up stories about new technologies, when they can do a better job of it all by themselves? Or maybe nobody cares anymore.

    Apple, in contrast, continues to fuel speculation about everything it does, good or bad, simply by saying nothing. So will Steve Jobs have to step down because of that stock options scandal? Just when the story seems to be vanishing, it’s resurrected again, most recently with reports that he did the very same thing over at Pixar. Of course, Jobs no longer owns Pixar, except as a percentage of his holdings at Disney, but that just makes his possible transgressions even more significant.

    If it can be shown that Jobs did something illegal, or sufficiently illegal to warrant possible prosecution, his days at Disney and Apple would surely be numbered. On the other hand, there’s no immediate indication that there’s any such danger. But that won’t stop certain tech and financial pundits from talking about it.

    The next Mac upgrade? When will Leopard really be released, and what features is Apple withholding from us? There’s not a whit of real documentation that will reveal the truth, but that doesn’t stop people from wondering. Maybe it’s all none our business. Why should we care about Apple, and, in fact, why should anyone care that Britney Spears shaved off most of her hair in a fit of rage, exuberance, mania, or whatever?

    I suppose that particular antic is somehow akin to Steve Jobs wearing a toupee, should he ever decide on such a silly thing. Or maybe it’s not silly, since it has been reported that most men in show business over the age of 50 require some sort of scalp-related enhancement of one sort or another. So perhaps someone can explain to me why Law & Order star Sam Waterston parts his hair one way on those TV ads, and the opposite way on the series.

    But you know, I really don’t care. I’m too busy reading those Mac rumor reports, and you can’t believe what they’ve come up with this time, so please excuse me.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: MIX A MAC ADDICT WITH A LITTLE MILK

    In a larger sense, they say that the era of magazines is coming to a close. The Internet is largely responsible, of course, because an article is outdated before it can reach the printed page. As with newspapers, publishers are struggling to figure out how to cope.

    Some have given up and moved online, while others have created a shaky coexistence, where some content appears online, some in print, and sometimes both. It’s a risky juggling match, one not always successful, witness the departure of a growing number of print publications in recent years.

    In the tech universe, the problem is even more difficult, because things change so often. A product may be introduced one day, and changed or discontinued a short time later. But the typical interval between the time an article is submitted and publication may be two or three months. So the information quickly grows obsolete. Besides, a tech-savvy audience is more like to check online for news.

    So what is going to happen to all those thick magazines that have grown lean in recent years?

    The Mac universe has already seen the departure of MacHome, an inglorious ending that wasn’t even heralded by an announcement to readers or to contributing writers who have, apparently, not been paid for their final efforts. Hopefully the latter will change soon.

    Then there’s MacAddict, the magazine with an attitude, a bunker mentality that was designed to show that the Mac was something truly special. When a product got a top-tier review, it wasn’t just excellent, but “Freaking Awesome.”

    In the face of declining circulation and Apple’s new-found credibility as a PC maker, MacAddict has had to change with the times. Hence, it has morphed into MacLife.

    Now in a practical sense, MacLife doesn’t look altogether different from MacAddict in many respects. Its just a little toned down, with the same flashy graphics and many of the same writers and editors.

    However, the excellent product loses the “Freaking” label. That’s not respectable. In addition, the rampant irreverence is largely history. Yes, the publishers of MacLife have decided that they can only succeed with a perfectly normal publication, with an emphasis on the consumer rather than the business reader.

    It’s hard to say if their strategy will succeed. I mean there are more ads, and somewhat more content, but there’s no telling if that’ll last. The real question is whether circulation will improve after the initial flurry of interest subsides.

    But there’s a larger issue, one that applies to Macworld and, in fact, all the remaining PC-oriented magazines. Can they truly survive in the 21st century, where a smaller number of magazines must fight for relevance, advertising placements and subscriptions?

    Call me old fashioned, but I do indeed read most of these magazines; not from cover to cover, but at least enough to get a complete picture of what they have to offer.

    It’s hard to say whether I’d miss them or not. I mean, I get a boatload of magazines every month, covering a number of topics. I still lie in the bed and read those publications, plus various books that I receive in connection with authors who are appearing on upcoming segments of The Paracast.

    But the more I think about it, the answer is yes. It will be difficult for magazine publications to find their place in this brave new world. But I do hope they succeed. And that includes the new MacLife.

    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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