• Newsletter Issue #383

    April 2nd, 2007


    I used to write product reviews for various computer magazines, including all the Mac publications. Unlike some reviewers, I tried to learn all that I could about the new product, and put it through its paces just as any user would. At the same time, I didn’t necessarily follow the guidelines in a company’s reviewer’s manual, which is largely a public relations tactic, as you well know.

    The same is true for my friend David Biedny, who, in addition to working with me on The Paracast, is a Special Correspondent for The Tech Night Owl LIVE. On this week’s trip into “The David Biedny Zone,” we heard talk tough from him about RIAA abuses and the failures of Microsoft. Just as important, you heard information about Adobe’s new Creative Suite 3 products that haven’t been discussed on any other radio show. There’s where David’s vast experience and unique insights come in.

    In addition, Macworld Senior Editor Christopher Breen was on hand to deliver a digital music update, covering Apple’s products, the failure of Microsoft’s Zune music player and more. If you listen to any of the other tech shows, you know that Chris appeared on some of them to talk about his in-depth analysis of the Apple TV. Rather than revisit old ground, we talked about the potential impact of the new product and other aspects that weren’t dealt with in those other interviews.

    On The Paracast, David and I had a fascinating and entertaining session with outspoken paranormal commentator and documentary filmmaker Paul Kimball, who was on hand to discusses the good, bad and ugly aspects of UFO research and other fascinating issues.

    In the second half of the show, UFO author Kevin D. Randle returned to the show to set the record straight on the Roswell, New Mexico and Aurora, Texas incidents.

    Now a lot of you have asked if we could announce guests a little farther in advance. I wish we could, but quite often we don’t finalize schedules until the last minute. Sometimes it’s the availability of the guest, and sometimes it’s our desire to stay current with new developments in the tech and paranormal fields.


    In recent weeks, with my various “Fear-Factor” commentaries, I’ve given Microsoft some well-deserved lumps, and you readers have joined in the fun in our Comments section. Surprisingly, no Microsoft supporters have chimed in to disagree, and I know for certain that you readers are not strictly Mac users.

    So I figured it was time to put my cards on the table. You see, as much as I might object to all those outrageous statements from Bill Gates and his old buddy Steve Ballmer, Microsoft has lots and lots of brilliant people working for them. They can, in fact, provide great products, or at least pretty good ones, if they are just allowed to create. And that’s not always so easy in Microsoft’s elaborate corporate hierarchy

    Take, for example, Microsoft’s keyboards. Maybe you didn’t know, but one of the most prolific Mac authors on the planet, Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, uses one of their “Comfort” keyboards, which orients the main keypad in a slightly curved fashion, for greater ergonomic support. Take it from me, since I have one as well, it works extremely well, and the learning curve is very, very brief, since it’s not quite as drastic as the models where the keyboard is divided into separate parts.

    Microsoft also makes a terrific wireless mouse too, which accompanies its Comfort keyboard as part of its Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac, and it is nearly as good as the excellent Logitech MX Revolution in many respects. Yes, we’re talking about world-class products here.

    Although there are lots and lots of pretenders to the throne, Microsoft Office for the Mac remains a superior product. Yes, it may be somewhat bloated, and I’m not about to suggest it’s entirely free of bugs. But you can’t imagine how many manuscripts for articles and books are written and edited in Word, or all the amazing things you can do with this application if you’re inclined to explore its nooks and crannies.

    When it comes to email, I’ve admittedly gone back and forth. Sometimes I navigate to Mozilla’s Thunderbird as my email application of choice. At the end of the day, however, I return to Entourage 2004. Indeed, it does everything I want in a way that doesn’t require me to adapt or learn anything new. It just works, and it works surprisingly well.

    Again, there are performance issues. Sometimes Entourage gets caught in a bit of a loop, and even writing a simple message while it’s processing messages can be a bit of a chore. Some folks have rightly complained that it stores all of your messages in a monolithic database file rather, as with Apple Mail, creating separate files for each solitary message. What would happen if the database file becomes corrupted?

    On the other hand, I use IMAP for virtually all of my email. Everything is managed on the email host’s servers, so it can be synchronized on any of my computers, Mac or PC. In other words, I can throw out the mail database in the Entourage Identities folder, and, so long as my accounts are properly configured, it’ll just retrieve and cache all my messages within a few minutes, and I’ve got thousands of those things that I’ve accumulated since 1999.

    Indeed, I have high hopes for Entourage 2008 and the rest of the forthcoming upgrade to the Mac Office suite. You see, one thing you should know, and that is that the staff of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit are all, so far as I can tell, dedicated “Mac heads.” In other words, they love the platform and they work extremely hard producing the best software they can.

    Sure, it’s fair to say they are constrained by corporate policies that aren’t always efficient, in addition to the need to maintain total compatibility with Office for Windows. At the same time, despite what you think, they are not deliberately sabotaging their Mac products so Steve Balmer and crew can convert you all to Windows.

    In fact, one of the hallmarks of Office for the Mac is that the Mac BU strives to deliver unique features to our favorite computing platform. They indeed follow Apple’s interface guidelines to a fair extent. The only apparent downside in Office 2008 is the end of support for Visual Basic. Some of you consider that decision a catastrophe, because it may mean you’ll have problems opening and using files that contain macros.

    That may not mean much in a home or small office situation. But lots of businesses depend on those macros, particularly with Excel documents. So how will they be handled? That remains a serious and open question. Microsoft plans to use AppleScript, but will that allow for a steamless two-way conversion? I’m not an AppleScript or Visual Basic expert, but I’ve heard lots of skepticism that this workaround will succeed.

    So is this nothing more than an insidious plot on the part of Microsoft to force macro users to switch to Windows? That makes for a great conspiracy theory, but one that’s unproven. It may well be that the Mac BU is telling the truth, that the task of porting Visual Basic to Intel-based Macs is extremely daunting and will delay Office 2008 substantially.

    I am not about to suggest that either possibility is true. But I would hope there’s enough time for Microsoft’s Mac developers to figure a way to make this work without sacrificing compatibility. In the meantime, there’s plenty of reason to criticize Microsoft, still, if some final answers aren’t forthcoming soon.

    So, despite the fact that I like some of what Microsoft has done, there’s plenty to complain about. But I’ll let you readers take the next step.


    You have to wonder if TV and film producers are rapidly running out of ideas. Rather than develop new concepts, they mine the past to see if they can find a new slant on an old concept.

    Take old-time radio. Up through the very early days of network TV, you could depend on your favorite local stations devoting part of their schedules to the “theater of the mind,” radio plays that included everything from comedy to adventure. Some of the best shows of all carried on for decades, an achievement that even Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” shows can’t match. You have to look into the daytime soap operas to find similar achievements.

    Well, there are reports now that two of the most famous radio shows are being revived for the 21st century. One is a favorite of mine, The Shadow. You can get a sense of what it’s all about in that over-the-top 1994 flick starring Alec Baldwin as Lamont Cranston and his dark-clothed alter-ego, who learned, in the Orient, the power to cloud the minds of men and women so they cannot see him.

    During the 1930s and 1940s, a number of movies featured the character. Unlike the pulp magazines and radio shows, the movie versions usually depicted the The Shadow as just a regular guy who donned a mask by night and hid himself in the shadows and dark corners of stairways. It was downright silly, with few of the mystical aspects that were part and parcel of the original.

    Too bad, and one can always hope that a TV series, should it materialize, will be truer to the character’s pulp origins. While Alec Baldwin did a fine job in that movie, he’s otherwise occupied as far as a TV series goes, but I would hope whoever is selected will properly portray the dark aspects of The Shadow which, as you probably suspect, heavily influenced Batman.

    The other radio character that may receive a new treatment — a movie version in fact — is The Green Hornet. Created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker — the folks who brought you The Lone Ranger — The Green Hornet is wealthy newspaper publisher Brit Reid by day, and a masked avenger by night. According to Trendle’s and Striker’s vision, The Green Hornet was, in fact, the grand nephew of The Lone Ranger.

    As a side note that only baby boomers will appreciate, the first actor to play The Green Hornet on radio was the late Al Hodge, who later gained fame as TV’s Captain Video.

    The Hornet had a brief TV run the 1960s, a serious attempt by the same people who brought you the campy Batman of that era. The series was notable for introducing the late Bruce Lee to the audiences as The Green Hornet’s martial arts adept assistant, Kato.

    So will these new visions of old radio programs succeed? If the producers stay true their influences, perhaps. Till then, however, you can always look online for the original radio shows and join in on the fun.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
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