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  • Newsletter Issue #378

    February 26th, 2007

    A WEEKEND TO RELAX — SORT OF!

    One thing I know for sure, and that is that you cannot depend on 100% reliability from anything. Take DreamHost, the company that hosts our Web sites. After being notified that the power to one of their datacenters would be turned off for emergency maintenance, they notified their customers about the problem. So we planned for the worst, and put up a notice for our regular visitors. Well, the expected five hour duration extended to from six to 13 hours for our sites, and longer for others.

    However, everything appears to be working just fine right now, but if you encounter any glitches in reaching our sites, checking our message boards or listening to our radio shows, let us know. We’ll check it out and contact the appropriate support people.

    Right now, some of our listeners are telling us that the new AirPort Extreme, recently released by Apple, appears to have a problem connecting to our live show feeds. We’re trying to find a solution, and we’ll let you know when we do.

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I like to think that I’m usually up on current events, but not so with the legendary Phoenix Lights phenomenon in 1997. Yes, I lived in the area at the time, and I always made it a point to check out the daily newspapers and 24-hour cable news channels.

    Somehow, however, the news about the Phoenix Lights that filled the local papers and news broadcasts didn’t register all that much. I was extremely busy at the time writing lots of technology material, both books and magazine articles. I had little free time, and it seemed as if one writing assignment barely ended before the next one was to begun. It was an adventure, to be sure, but one that I would not care to repeat.

    In any case, I decided that it would be a good idea to play catch up on The Paracast, so David Biedny did a segment to observe the tenth anniversary of the event. We welcomed Dr. Lynne Kitei, author of “The Phoenix Lights” and paranormal writer Sean Casteel, whose article on the subject appears in the March issue of UFO Magazine. Although I’ve done quite a bit of catching up after missing the original events, I learned an awful lot from this show, and I think you will as well.

    In addition, David and I continued our ongoing discussion of the state of paranormal research, and what may be done to improve the situation.

    On this week’s all-star episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented a collection of powerful hints and tips from Macworld’s Rob Griffiths, of macosxhints.com. Rob also gave us an advanced look into an forthcoming feature story he’s writing covering four ways to run Windows on a Mac.

    We also presented a realistic discussion on Mac OS X security with Alan Oppenheimer, of Open Door Networks. In addition, Doug Nassaur, President and CEO of True North Technology delivered an update on a way to run software from other operating systems on your Mac without installing another operating system or even the applications themselves.

    PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS ALL DAY LONG!

    Apple’s legal adventures don’t show any sign of lessening. No, I’m not referring to those little lawsuits that you regularly read about in their SEC filings. Instead, I’m talking about the larger issues that Apple faces in the course of normal operations, such as that recent matter with Apple Corps, the company run by the Beatles, their heirs, and “their people.”

    That particular skirmish may have a pleasant outcome: The near-future release of music by The Beatles in downloadable form on iTunes and elsewhere.

    Then there was the issue of the iPhone, and Apple’s rights to deliver a product using that name. After a few weeks of on-and-off discussions, they made nice with Cisco Systems, with vague promises that they’ll be working together on “inoperability,” whatever that means. Maybe we’ll see better Mac support on Linksys routers (Linksys is owned by Cisco, in case you hadn’t heard)? A good question, and one that won’t be answered anytime soon.

    But that’s a small matter, and I suppose it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if the gadget was called an iPod phone instead. Well, it would involve an extra syllable, and maybe that’s a little awkward from marketing standpoint. But nobody has to think about any of that now, since the matter is moot.

    On the other hand, there are other issues that Apple is confronting, one that exists and another that might, both of which could potentially cause some degree of aggravation.

    The first is, of course, that ongoing issue involving those backdated stock options. Just as soon as things seem to settle down, you hear more rumblings. Now maybe none of that is real, but it makes for good copy, even if the same old stories have to be resurrected, reinterpreted and perhaps updated from time to time.

    It does, of course, spark speculation that Steve Jobs may soon be among the list of the unemployed rich. In the normal course of events, one CEO may be as good as another. But Steve is a different animal, what with the force of his personality, and his legendary marketing savvy.

    In fact, some suggest that Apple’s stock would take a 25% hit — perhaps more — on the day Steve’s departure would be announced. Nobody disputes the fact that he is essentially the lord and master of Apple. However, that ignores the fact that Apple is peopled with lots of extremely talented people, and that a potential CEO replacement may well be among them. There may even be a succession plan of some sort, as there should be, so if something happened that prevented Steve from fulfilling his duties, others would be able to fill in, temporarily or even permanently.

    It may well be that Apple would go on, and not lose much except its public image, at least for the time being. But image can count for a lot, and if you perceive the company is struggling, that may well be the end result.

    On the other hand, don’t assume that’s likely to happen anytime soon. The Night Owl isn’t making any dire predictions, so don’t succumb to any temptation to pin quotes on me for which I’m not responsible.

    So let’s put that issue in abeyance for now, as much as some people would prefer that it be otherwise, and concentrate on just one more issue, one where Microsoft has already taken a huge hit, to the tune of $1.5 billion.

    It’s all about the patents for MP3 technology and a certain company known as Alcatel-Lucent, which won the verdict in a U.S. Federal District Court trial in San Diego.

    Of course, when it comes to legal cases of this magnitude, it’s never over till it’s over, and it might be years for the appeal process to run its course. While $1.5 billion may not be a whole lot of cash for Microsoft, you can bet they’ll spend millions on high-powered attorneys to fix this mess. And, if it can’t be fixed, arrange for some kind of lesser cash settlement with Alcatel-Lucent to make it all go away.

    Now there are some extremely important implications for this action, because a lot of companies have licensed MP3 technology over the years, including Apple. Does it mean they’re liable too? Well, I can’t say, but I bet that a whole lot of lawyers are working overtime pouring over various and sundry documents in order to figure out whether a lot of hefty paychecks need to be written.

    I’m not saying that Alcatel-Lucent is going to go after Apple and other companies using Mp3 technology next, but you have to assume they are flush with victory and sorely tempted. And can you blame them?

    As I said, Apple is having a few problems to deal with, as it decides how to handle its record sales and profits.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE CONFUSING WORLD OF HIGH DEFINITION TV

    The magic words “high definition” evoke images of TV reception with superb clarity, color and sound. Indeed, once you’ve experienced the best this new technology has to offer, it’s going to be awful hard to watch standard TV in the same way again. More than likely, you’ll troll for content with the magic “HD” designation on it, although there’s still not a lot of it available.

    But there will be.

    At the same time, due to the foolishness of the folks setting the standards, there isn’t just one, but several, and all that does is engender confusion, not give people choices. What do I mean?

    Well, take the resolution of an HD picture. It can be 720p, 1080i or, in the case of some new TV sets and in the two new DVD formats, 1080p.

    The technical distinctions really don’t matter all that match, so I won’t bore you with them. You can learn about them in any magazine devoted to the subject, and lots of online resources. Basically, commercial and cable TV content consists of either 720p or 1080i, and the high definition DVD formats support the latter.

    If you have a flat-panel TV of 50 inches or less, you have to sit real close to see the differences among these standards. Some of you will not notice, or just not care. The differences might be more obvious on a TV with a bigger screen, but again it’s not something that you’re likely to perceive as night and day.

    However, when you go into a consumer electronics store to try to sort things out, don’t expect an awful lot of illumination, although I’m certain that many of these salespeople are really hardworking and trying to be helpful, at least to some degree.

    Worse, as I’ve mentioned previously, a fairly high number of people who have HDTV, as many as 50% by some estimates, never see real HD content. They can’t because they don’t have a cable or satellite set top box that supports the standard, or don’t tune to the correct if they do. Even if they’re planning to receive local HD stations with an antenna, they may tune to the wrong version of the station.

    This part, at least, can be remedied. But it requires the combined efforts of the retailers, service providers and manufacturers to make customers know what they need to do to get the best quality reception.

    Of course, it’s way too late to smooth out the confusion caused by today’s multiple standards, but maybe some of these people will learn a few lessons. Perhaps when the next set of standards are contemplated, they’ll understand the joys of simplicity.

    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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