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Newsletter Issue #379


We get letters. Lots and lots of letters in fact, from listeners to both radio shows. For the most part, these letters are answered promptly. In some cases, they’re just comments to be accepted and taken at face value.

Surprisingly, most of you really like The Tech Night Owl LIVE and The Paracast and consider them as the best in their particular categories. Although I didn’t imagine the audiences to be identical, many of you listen to both.

But let’s talk about the shows themselves. On this week’s all-star episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author Joe Kissell presented a cornucopia of information, including the best ways to run Windows on your Mac and some surprising new ways to back up your data.

Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, returned to talk about the iTunes DRM, present a comparison between Apple’s innovation and Microsoft’s, and provide some insights into the iPhone.

Now that we’re in tax season, Intuit’s Scott Gulbransen dropped by to talk about the latest version of TurboTax and how it will ease the process of preparing your returns on your Mac or PC.

Now about our “other” show: What if someone came up and told you that they had been abducted by aliens, and that it happened to them over an extended period of time? Would you believe them, or suggest they could use a little, well, treatment?

Well, on Sunday, David and I had an extended conversation with contactee Jim Sparks, author of “The Keepers.” Yes, Sparks says he’s had such experiences. He struck us as smart, personable and agreeable to responding to all the questions we asked. Indeed, we covered ground not in his book, asking questions other hosts had not asked.

In the end, David came back with the late Long John Nebel’s famous line: “I don’t buy it!” But we’ve invited Sparks on for another session to respond to our remaining questions. Will he return? Time will tell. We put the odds at 50/50.


My friend Tim was late to personal computers. In recent years, his WebTV unit handled all his email and Web surfing. However, he didn’t get full-blown a PC right away. He dreaded the task of having to set up what he presumed to be a complicated piece of electronics gear, but finally he decided to take the plunge.

So he went on over to a discount store, and bought a cheap portable. The brand doesn’t matter, as most Windows note-books contain similar parts from the same parts bin. Well, to be fair, the internal workings of a MacBook or MacBook Pro share many of those same parts, and are built in the same Asian manufacturing facilities. But that’s where the resemblance ends.

I suppose Tim managed things pretty well, although he continued to rely on WebTV for a lot of his online chores. However, when it came to downloading videos and listening to Internet radio, he returned to his note-book.

Then one of his assistants — who served as a sort of IT person for his small company — told him that his computer was running unusually slow, something he observed himself, but chalked it up to his lack of understanding of how those contraptions functioned.

There was no mystery why things changed for the worse, and it’s happened to lots of Windows users over the years. Yes, his note-book was infected by a virus, and he let his assistant take over to set things right.

In all, Tim’s computer was tied up for a total of seven hours updating and running virus software, and fixing the damaged caused by the malware infection. Now I can’t say that I know the full details of what happened. But I can guess, having encountered a few “sick” PCs myself.

Of course, Tim’s experiences are not unique. It’s fair to say that tens of millions of Windows users have faced similar situations. Sometimes they struggle through it all by themselves, while others call upon the friendly company IT person to fix such problems.

This is not to say that Macs are immune from system-related issues. Or even computer viruses, although Mac OS X has been free of anything but proofs of concept and theoretical security lapses that haven’t been exploited. At least not yet.

However, you have to wonder how things got so out of control on the other side of the tracks. Surely Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer didn’t intend for things to end up this way. I do not for a moment believe they deliberately had their employees create software with serious flaws that are seriously vulnerable to malware infections. Sure, they are in it for the money, but there’s really nothing wrong with that in the scheme of things, since it is part of the American dream.

Indeed, I’m sure that Microsoft spent billions of dollars to develop Windows Vista with the best of intentions. They tried to incorporate a higher level of security, and they tried to give users a measure of authority over software installations and such not to annoy you, but to protect you from doing the wrong thing.

At the same time, the best of intentions in this case have delivered dreadful consequences. Poor Tim. He only wanted a cheap, reliable PC, and, like millions of others, made a decision largely on the basis of his budget. He assumed that all note-books were pretty much the same, except for a few frills, larger screens and all the rest.

No doubt most Windows users approach their purchase with the same attitude. The regard a PC as a commodity product, at least in most cases. While there are a few exceptions for avid gamers and such, when most individual users and even corporations decide to purchase new computers, they make their decision on the basis of specs and price, not on whether one brand or the other will prove to be a better value.

After all, to them there is no such thing. A Dell, an HP and all the rest are functionally identical, as far as they are concerned. In the business world, any issues that arise from setting up the new systems fall to the IT people, who simply do their job and — however long it takes — manage to make things run in a decent fashion.

As to Tim, he has one PC, and not having it available for seven hours and having no backup system to use — a very common situation — meant that he had to work through the night to catch up.

He tells me he paid $800 for his PC note-book. When I told him that another $300, the price of the entry-level MacBook, would have prevented most such disturbances, he began to listen. Even better, I explained that he might even learn how to use it effectively without having to pay outside help.


Many of you have seen those clever Geico commercials, where someone announces that the company’s site, where you can sign up for its insurance policies, is so easy to use that “even a caveman can do it.”

This phrase inspired the one-joke series of ads where thirty-somethings dressed like cavemen act insulted over the real or imagined slights to their species. Indeed, it plays like a sitcom, the hairy characters using dialog that appears to have been cribbed from a series such as “Friends,” with all the appropriate cliches one expects from such things. According to a published report, the copy writer who helped create the ads is writing the pilot. Well, maybe that’s what the person wanted all along.

As ads go, the joke wears fairly well. I suppose it might even make it through an episode or two, but one wonders about the desperation that inspires writers and products to pitch such inane concepts at a meeting with network executives.

You also have to wonder if anyone is going to actually green light a pilot, let alone an entire series based on the concept of modern-day cavepeople trying to cope with our 21st century ways in, in this case, Atlanta. On the other hand, I suppose there are sillier concepts out there that have been successful. But you have to wonder if any of these “fish out of water” programs have ever succeeded.

Well, there was, of course, “Mork and Mindy,” which sustained itself largely as a result of the comic genius of Robin Williams. Does anyone even remember who played Mindy and what happened to her career?

Or the actor she is married to, who has had a successful run on TV for a number of years? Oh yes, I feel a trivia question coming on, but that’s really not the point.

The real question is what brought TV to the point where stupidity takes precedence over entertainment, although I suppose some may feel it’s the very same thing to most executives in the entertainment industry.

In any case, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if the idea gains traction, and becomes a hit for the fall 2007 season, or as a mid-season replacement in 2008. Crazier things have happened.


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