• Newsletter Issue #397

    July 8th, 2007


    Yes, it’s true that the iPhone is supposed to deliver a full Internet experience with its embedded Safari browser. At the same time, navigating through a page that’s designed to be viewed on a regular-sized computer screen can be a bit of a chore.

    So some enterprising developer has created iWPhone, a special plugin for WordPress — the publishing software we use at The Mac Night Owl — to optimize sites to look better on the iPhone’s tiny screen. Of course, we don’t yet have an iPhone on which to test it, so we’d like you folks to let us know how things look, so we can work with the developer to improve the presentation.


    I like to think that most of you enjoy our humble efforts at radio broadcasting. For those who don’t, we respect your point of view. But sometimes we get criticisms that just don’t make any sense.

    Take a listener to the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, who recently sent a long laundry list of complaints. Normally the writer would get a polite thank you and that would be it. On this occasion, though, we decided to respond, strictly because the list of criticisms were largely based on false premises.

    The most important was the allegation that we ran too many spots on the show; every five minutes in fact. As you regular listeners know, we tend to cluster two or three ads between interviews, and those interviews last from 25 to 50 minutes. If the show has long-form interviews, however, there may be one or more ads during the body of the show. Regardless, we insert brief show jingles every eight to 12 minutes, in the same fashion as any commercial radio broadcast.

    Another complaint had it that we constantly interrupted guests in the middle of a sentence for those alleged five-minute commercial breaks.

    In our response, the listener was corrected on the frequency of ads, and we asked for an example of those alleged guest interruptions. The example provided, in a short audio file, had the guest actually finishing a sentence, with our “Hmmmm” response, followed by the requisite jingle. Hardly an interruption, as we pointed out.

    The third criticism may have a bit more merit. Sound quality does vary from guest to guest, but that’s true with any talk show that speaks to guests who use a telephone. We can’t control the quality of the voice at their end, and we don’t try, other than to minimize excessive background noise where possible. Oh well, when they said you can’t please everyone, they were right.

    Now on to more pleasant subjects. Yes, we had the iPhone front and center on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week. One of our regular guests, Joe Wilcox, who is the Editor of Microsoft Watch, was interviewed direct from his new iPhone, and he discussed everything from the initial buying experience and the setup process, to ongoing use as his main business phone. If you want to check iPhone voice quality, this interview is the way to do it.

    We also paid a visit to “The David Biedny Zone,” where our special correspondent held forth on not only the iPhone, but the best personal computer keyboards and other subjects not often discussed on tech radio shows. During this session, you learn David’s vision for the ultimate portable computing device, and, no, it’s not the iPhone. In fact, David doesn’t even own a mobile phone anymore, and doesn’t plan to get one anytime soon.

    On this weekend’s episode of The Paracast, you’ll hear a full session with Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden, co-authors of “Captured!: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience.”

    This particular close encounter, the so-called “Incident at Exeter,” to quote the title of the famous 1960s book on the incident, is considered the progenitor of so-called UFO abduction cases, and is still considered by many researchers to have the best documentation.

    So what about UFO abductions? Is it true that our “visitors” are busily engaged in kidnapping people from their homes — or vehicles — and subjecting them to strange experiments?

    Ever since the Betty and Barney Hill case burst upon the public’s consciousness decades ago, there have been lots of pros and cons on the subject. Of course, if UFOs are real and come from outer space or another dimension, it might make sense that they would, on occasion, perform experiments with the local population to learn more about them — or us. Or perhaps even prepare for an invasion, if their intent towards us is evil.

    Since the experiences are often revealed during episodes of hypnotic regression, the skeptics suggest that amateur hypnotists are creating false memories deliberately or accidentally. But it’s also true that some elements of these experiences are remembered without the need of external influences.

    There is another possibility, perhaps more frightening, which is that our own governments are engaged in various mind control experiments and UFO abductions are prime examples.

    Listening again to the incredible tale of Betty and Barney Hill makes me all the more determined to get to the bottom of the UFO abduction mystery.


    The best way to begin this commentary is to refer to a recent report that Microsoft may be spending up to $1.15 billion to fix defective Xbox 360s. Now this particular tale of woe came and went with nary a question from the so-called tech-savvy pundits.

    When you look at the story just a little more carefully, though, you’ll find that this is one huge issue, and if Apple’s name was in the story rather than Microsoft, it would spark front-page stories about a beleaguered company really fast.

    Consider what this actually means. If you take Microsoft at face value, that it has shipped close to 11.6 million units since the Xbox 360 was first released, they’re talking of taking a nearly $100 charge against each and every one. Since the prices of the 360 range from $299 to $479, this amounts to one huge write-down. This is a story that ought to be making headlines, and yet it seems to be relegated largely to a middle- or back-page presentation.

    Now think, for a moment, if Apple had allocated up to $100 for repairs on every iPod it had sold since the product was first introduced. But wait! It doesn’t have to be an iPod. What about AirPort base stations, or iBooks? The list goes on and on, and you can bet that any story covering any of these models would garner major coverage all over the world!

    Maybe we’ve just come to believe that it’s normal for Microsoft to build defective products, but if it happens to Apple, that’s a tragedy beyond reason, one that the company may never recover from.

    Of course, when it comes to the iPhone, there are no known hardware defects discovered so far. Oh yes, some people are reporting that their new phones seem a little hot to the touch, but there’s no consistency about such claims. Most people seem delighted with their iPhones and are happy to recommend them to their family and friends.

    So without a major defect, those looking to criticize the new device can surely point to missing features, amplifying them into major hurdles to the ultimate success of the iPhone. As I mentioned in recent columns, the biggest complaint appears to be the lack of support for the 3G wireless networks. The iPhone, instead, supports the slower AT&T EDGE network, which offers download speeds of from 50K to 200K.

    Now that’s not so bad for basic Web browsing, email and text messaging, my friends. Bear in mind that millions of people here in the U.S. are still saddled with dial-up Internet access. So the iPhone would represent a huge improvement. Besides, if you connect to the nearest Wi-Fi network, performance speeds up incredibly.

    Indeed, there is no deep, dark conspiracy to hobble the iPhone. AT&T’s 3G network has yet to expand beyond a core of major metropolitan centers, and the chipsets for the higher-speed network use more power. That means, shorter battery life.

    But I’ve dealt with that supposed shortcoming already. The lack of instant messaging and Flash support will probably come soon enough with software updates, so they’re relatively unimportant.

    The other considerations are really the province of AT&T, which has yet to garner a reputation for having top-notch support and a reliable network.

    On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, for example, I interviewed tech writer Joe Wilcox, calling him on his iPhone. Joe happens to use his mobile phones for business, so this was nothing unique, and he was already a customer of AT&T, so it was a chance to compare voice quality, such as it is, to that on previous interviews.

    If you’ve checked the show’s archives, you’ll see that voice quality during those interviews was never all that great to begin with. My personal and very subjective reaction is that the audio seemed a tad crisper and more robust when I called him on his iPhone. Feel free to disagree.

    As you’ve probably read so far, the call quality is probably the weakest link of the first iteration of the iPhone. Taking the silk purse from sow’s ear comparison, that probably won’t change until or unless AT&T does something to improve the audio quality of its network. Having fewer dropped calls may be nice, assuming the claim is accurate (and that’s subject to dispute), but the real issue is how good your voice sounds on that network.

    Of course, things aren’t much better on any wireless network. But we do have the situation where a $599 mobile phone sounds no better than the one you get for free with the same two-year service contract. But that’s not Apple’s fault.

    In fact, considering the number of iPhones that are already in use, I’m surprised there haven’t been more complaints. I suppose we’ve all grown accustomed to mediocre voice quality on a mobile phone, and those occasional activation delays are par for the course in the industry.

    On yes, there is one more criticism, voiced by a CNET commentator recently. No, I won’t provide the link. The article’s premise is so foolish, I don’t want to embarrass the author any further. You see, he complains about the fact that, when you go through the menus to activate your spanking new iPhone in iTunes, you are asked to give your social security number. That, this writer claims, represents a potential identity theft threat.

    As most of you know, whenever you sign up for a service with a utility provider, whether it’s a phone company (any phone company), cable TV service or electric power, your social security number is required. The reason is obvious: They want to check your credit rating and determine whether or not to require a deposit for service. These companies all have the right to determine the credit worthiness of a new customer, and it’s not an issue of privacy here. It’s a matter of examining your credit record to make sure you won’t rip them off. Ditto for getting a credit card or a new bank account.

    This isn’t an issue with prepaid wireless, of course, but otherwise, it’s standard procedure.

    So why does a routine credit check become so obnoxious when it’s done through iTunes? The answer is that it isn’t. It’s just a wrong-headed attempt by someone to fabricate a story where one doesn’t exist.



    One of the oft-repeated complaints you hear about tech gear these days is that they don’t withstand the test of time. After a few months, or perhaps a year or two, they fail. Repairs are often not worth the bother, because they cost near as much as buying a new product.

    I hope, of course, that when you throw out your old gadgets, you’ll consider proper recycling.

    Anyway, this said situation makes a lot of what you buy disposable, and that’s sad. However, I don’t like tossing out old gear, and I’m loathe to buy another product from a company that doesn’t build things to last.

    So I’m going to be strictly positive this time. I’m only going to talk about stuff that I’ve had at least a year, which has survived the rigors of regular use.

    At the top of the list is that VIZIO 50-inch plasma TV they sent me for review early in 2006. So far, at least, they’ve tolerated me and haven’t asked for its return, for which I’m glad. Although the price has come down from over $2,000 to less than $1,400 at major consumer electronics stores, this is not a cheap set by any means. It delivers a superlative picture both in high definition and standard definition. The latter, my friend, is not always an easy task, since the pixels have to be scaled to fit the native resolution of the set, and it requires well-designed circuitry to do the task well.

    All I can say is that I gave the set of simple image calibration using a test DVD after the initial 100 hours of break-in time. Since then, everything has functioned perfectly. When the cable TV signal gets flaky, as it does from time to time, the set just keeps working. No wonder VIZIO has become a top-ten manufacturer after just a few years in the business.

    I’m also pleased with my Canon PIXMA MP830 multifunction printer. It does all the stuff you expect from such a device, including printing, copying, scanning and faxing. Clearly, Canon knows it has a winner. This $279.99 printer remains in their current product line, after well over a year.

    Indeed, the MP830 outputs pages just about as fast as a standalone inkjet, with similar print quality. Copies are first-rate, and faxing is fast and flawless. It doesn’t consume an excessive amount of ink, and the cartridges are fairly inexpensive as such things go. I’ve suggested this model to several clients who wanted a solid multifunction, and they love it too. My hats off to Canon for creating a product that not only delivers great performance, but is built to last.

    Although there were some early teething pains for some other owners, my 17-inch MacBook Pro, purchased at the beginning of May 2006, still works beautifully. The lone fly in the ointment is that an audio plug broke, leaving part of its tip in my MacBook Pro’s output port. I have tried working with tiny tweezers and other tools to extricate that piece, without success. A local jeweler was game enough to make the attempt, also without success.

    I face the prospect of having to pay for replacing that jack, and I’ll keep you folks up to date. Of course, if anyone has a solution that will not damage anything, I’m ready to try one more time before the note-book goes off to a private repair center.


    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #397”

    1. Jack Allen says:

      Hi Gene,
      Site looks good on iPhone; content is readable without magnification. Tried to send this comment from the phone, but was unable. Spam protection line was not visable, and text box would not work on the phone, so am sending this from my Mac.
      Enjoy your insight.
      Best Regards,

    2. Hi Gene,
      Site looks good on iPhone; content is readable without magnification. Tried to send this comment from the phone, but was unable. Spam protection line was not visable, and text box would not work on the phone, so am sending this from my Mac.
      Enjoy your insight.
      Best Regards,

      The developers of the plugin have informed me that one problem may be related to our spam filtering system, and they’re working on it. Meantime, we’ve moved to a different spam blocker, and let’s see if that changes anything.

      We also need to adjust our Flash navigation bars, since Flash is not yet supported on the iPhone.


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