• Newsletter Issue #398

    July 15th, 2007

    HOW NOT TO ALLOW FREEDOM OF SPEECH

    If you have followed my writings for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a message board junkie. In fact, my first tech material appeared on the old AOL message boards, in their computer forums. My regular responses to folks who had problems led, in turn, to getting a gig as a paid forum leader. Shortly thereafter, regular assignments with Mac print magazines and book offers followed.

    I also participated fairly regularly in the Usenet newsgroups, which have very much faded, because there are so many other ways to post comments these days. In addition to the Comments panels offered by blogging tools, such as WordPress (which we use for this site), there are a number of independent commercial forums that cater to folks interested in one topic or another.

    Take Web hosting. You might not consider that subject ripe for debates, but the fact of the matter is that there are a number of forums devoted to just that subject, along with guidance on how to set up a Web site and get it running on a server.

    I’m active in several of them, except for one that has a rather strangely erratic approach towards giving people an opportunity to express themselves. This particular forum — which will remain unnamed in the hope that they’ll soon come to their senses — is managed by several moderators who absolutely refuse to respond to anyone who questions their decisions.

    Their latest ploy is to accuse me of being a paid shill for a Web hosting firm that I had recommended in some of my posts on that forum. That particular host is, apparently, not one of their advertisers either, which may have something to do with it, although I don’t pretend to know.

    Now understand that, in nearly two decades of tech writing, nobody has ever accused me of being in bed with a company that I recommended. I brought that to the attention of that forum’s lead moderator and, in fact, the company CEO, along with the requisite denial, since the charge is absolutely false.

    Their evidence? Some of my sites carry ads for the host in question. Does that mean I’m also a paid shill for Capital One Bank, H&R Block, Microsoft and over three dozen other companies whose ads we run on the site and on our two radio shows? Clearly that makes no sense whatever.

    I suggested to the CEO that, since they run ads for certain companies, doesn’t it make them paid shills for those advertisers? His response? They own the firm that runs that forum, so they can do what they want, without actually denying the question. I’ll have more to say on this shortly, and I hope the outcome will be pleasant.

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    On this week’s all-star episode The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl continued coverage of the amazingly successful iPhone. Macworld’s Jason Snell, who has plenty of hands-on experience, covered the iPhone’s good, bad and ugly aspects.

    Jason, by the way, is also a TV wizard, and, along with several compatriots, writes regular commentaries on a review site known as teevee.org. I’ve only checked it out a few times, but the information is really, really interesting, and I recommend it highly. And, if you listeners like, I’ll ask Jason to provide more TV lore when he returns to the show.

    You’ll also heard from VMWare’s Pat Lee, product manager for their forthcoming Mac virtual machine software, Fusion. In addition, Joe Trupiano, director of marketing for storage device maker MicroNet, returned to talk about the new iTunes server feature on their network drives.

    This week on The Paracast, spend an evening with ghost hunter Linda Zimmerman, who returns with reports of new manifestations and talks with Gene and David about the meaning of all these frightening experiences.

    On our July 22nd episode, you’ll hear from Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt, co-authors of “Witness to Roswell: Unmasking the 60-Year Cover-Up.”

    The following week, on July 29th, we’ll present a special all-star Roswell and State of the UFO Field Roundtable. Stay tuned for the complete guest list.

    As I write this little commentary, the Roswell UFO crash/retrieval is once again the subject of a lot of talk and speculation. National TV shows are featuring such people as Stanton T. Friedman and Dr. Jesse Marcel, Jr., both of whom have previously appeared on The Paracast.

    Indeed, our July 29th episode will treat the subject as part of a roundtable discussion of the state of UFO research. And, alas, I’m not really happy about the way things are going.

    Of course, I said that 30 years ago, and I don’t think all that much has changed, except for a few new names among the debaters. Many of the folks who were involved in the in-fighting over their particular versions of UFO reality then are still at it now, often talking about the very same things in the very same way.

    I don’t want to assume another “ain’t it awful” posture, however. I really think that if UFO writers and researchers would set aside their personal differences, and the need to get everything out in time for their newest articles and books, maybe some progress can be made.

    It’s with that feeling of optimism that we continue to press forward. The Paracast already has a reputation for asking the hard-hitting questions that other shows are afraid to touch. We’ll continue to persevere, because asking the right questions is the only way to get meaningful answers.

    WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY A NEW MAC?

    A couple of months back, a friend called and asked me whether it was a good time to buy a new iMac. I thought about it for a moment, and I was ambivalent about an answer. You see it’s not quite as easy as it used to be to guess Apple’s moves.

    As you probably know, it wasn’t so long ago that Apple reserved the introduction of new Macs to the Macworld trade show. But that began to change when there were no longer two Macworlds every year. Now, Apple introduces new products throughout the year, sometimes during a special press briefing, but just as often with a simple press release, if the product represents just a minor update, such as a Mac with a faster processor.

    Regardless of venue, you could generally predict when a model was due for an upgrade. It would often happen on a six- or nine-month cycle. When Apple switched to Intel processors, on the surface, things seemed more predictable. Intel has a very public processor roadmap. When they come out with a new product line, isn’t a new Mac just around the corner?

    That would seem logical, but it hasn’t quite turned out that way.

    So where’s that leave you if you just want to purchase a new Mac, and not wake up the next morning and find out that your brand new computer is now in the closeout category? This is particularly true if you paid a bundle for the fastest Mac in its class, I suppose.

    Now if buying a state-of-the-art product is uppermost in your mind, this might be a somewhat disheartening discovery. Otherwise, it may matter only in the most academic sense, or if you enjoy boasting to your friends that you have the latest and greatest.

    Forgetting considerations of ego and all that, though, improvements in new Macs tend to be incremental. The new model will probably cost about the same as the one it replaced, but will have a few more features and will run somewhat faster.

    On occasion, however, the change will be almost revolutionary, such as the first Mac with a PowerPC or Intel processor. I can see how you might feel if something that momentous occurred right after you paid a bundle for a spanking new Mac.

    These days, alas, it has become that much more difficult to predict the arrival of a new model. The updated MacBook Pro, for example, came out shortly after Intel’s Santa Rosa chip family was released. Perfectly logical. But the iMac, which traditionally uses similar componetry, has yet to change.

    In May, I felt an iMac speed bump was imminent. By June, I wasn’t so sure. The iMac is mostly oriented towards consumers — although the 24-inch model is great for content creators too — so I didn’t think that, say, the WWDC would be the proper forum to introduce a new model.

    After the WWDC? Well, Apple was basking in the publicity explosion for the iPhone, and I doubt they wanted to do anything that would divert attention from that event. That left June out of the picture.

    So as we approach the second half of the July, is the new iMac just around the corner? There are logical reasons to think so. First, of course, is the fact that the last iMac revision appeared in 2006, and the present model is a little long on the tooth. The second is that Apple would surely want to book orders for students as early as possible. There are other sensible reasons, of course, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Does this mean you should set aside your iMac buying plans for a little longer? Perhaps. It may even be, as some suggest, that a new form factor is forthcoming, although I fail to see anything wrong with the current design.

    What about the Mac Pro? It hasn’t been upgraded since it was first introduced last summer, except for the addition of a option to outfit Apple’s professional desktop with a pair of four-core Intel Xeons. Is it now sorely due for a major upgrade?

    I’m not so sure about the Mac Pro. It doesn’t seem as if there are faster Xeons available, although it would make sense for Intel to be reducing prices over time, which means you ought to be able to buy a Mac Pro for less in the foreseeable future. But I don’t see a crying need for a brand new case design. It has transitioned well from the Power Mac G5, and the interior layout has become far more efficient now that it doesn’t have to be outfitted with such an elaborate cooling system.

    Of course, if you want a bargain, maybe the best time to buy the old model is right after the new one is available, assuming that they’re still available, and get a closeout price reduction. Otherwise, buying a new Mac the day after it’s introduced might be the best defense against immediate obsolescence.

    However, regardless of when you make your purchase, you know full well that six months or a year from then, something will be introduced to replace it. Well, at least most of the time.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE SATELLITE RADIO CONUNDRUM

    I’ve been a long-time booster of satellite radio. From the first time I tried out one of the two systems, XM Radio, I fell in love with the setup. For one thing, satellite radio allows me to listen to the very same program on a long trip, without having to worry about signal quality of a local station, and whether or not another station in another city, one of many, would carry the same show. Moreover, having commercial-free music stations was also a big plus, not to mention hearing classic radio dramas that were originally broadcast long before I was born.

    Indeed, I have satellite radio now in my home and on the road, and, more often than not, I choose that medium rather than any local radio station. Of course, satellite radio’s superior sound quality helps a lot.

    The terrestrial or traditional radio industry, feeling the pressure, is fighting back with something called HD radio, in which both AM and FM broadcast digital signals. It makes AM sound as good as FM, and FM approach CD quality. I suppose it’s worth it in the long run, although some of the joys of analog radio, such as being able to listen to a broadcast from a long distance, will vanish if the stations ever make the full migration to digital and ditch the older technology.

    But that might not happen for a while, because the hardware required to listen to HD radio is still rather costly, and, apparently, AM stations aren’t able to broadcast in HD format at night.

    That would seem to leave the satellite industry with a clearer field, but things aren’t so simple. You see, both XM Radio, and its sole competitor, Sirius, are shedding huge amounts of red ink. They have yet to show a profit, although positive cash flow is expected soon; well, maybe.

    The most recent wrinkle in the nascent satellite radio world is the plan for Sirius to, more or less, acquire its larger rival. How is that going to affect the broadcasting industry, and does the plan even make sense?

    In the larger sense, both services are more similar than different. However, there are some programming differences, such as Howard Stern on Sirius, and Opie and Anthony on XM. Sporting event choices also vary, and that might indeed create a situation where you’ll wish you had both.

    Alas, the situation is the same as satellite TV, where having DirecTV and Dish Network installed at the same time is not an easy proposition, though it’s possible, I suppose, if you want to have to mess with two different set top boxes.

    The integrated service envisioned by Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin would be available to subscribers of both services, and contain a combined programming lineup at the same $12.95 month rate you pay now. There will be lower cost ala carte options as well. Though it hasn’t been discussed very much, I would suppose there could be a high-end grab-bag of everything in the repertoire for top dollar.

    Supposedly, you wouldn’t have to switch equipment either, although I am certain all the technological hurdles have yet to be worked out.

    But the biggest obstacle to the combined Sirius satellite system is the government. Take the FCC, where both satellite services were given approval to establish their businesses with the promise to stay competitive.

    All right, things change, but right now the odds are even that this merger or acquisition will ever see the light of day. In the meantime, I suppose it still makes sense to choose one or the other, assuming you have that option. And with some new car purchases you don’t if you prefer factory equipment over a third party installation.

    As for me, I continue to enjoy listening to my XM Radio systems. However, it all turns out, I don’t expect that to change all that much. At least I hope not.

    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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