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  • Newsletter Issue #401

    August 5th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    On this week’s all-star episode The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl examined the prospects for both Apple and Microsoft with industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group. You’ll also met Ray Barber, who runs prmac.com, a site that delivers Mac-related media information to tech news sites.

    And, we paid a visit to the “David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent explained why Microsoft knows nothing about innovation and why only applications count. David has a special insight, because he’s been at this game since the very beginning of the personal computer revolution, so that makes his observations especially apt.

    This week The Paracast presents John Greenewald, Jr., who manages a huge repository of paranormal and conspiracy theory information online at The Black Vault. The extensive collection of documents includes a huge number retrieved from the government covering a vast trove of intriguing information.

    Coming August 12: Setting the record straight with Dennis Balthaser, the “Truth Seeker at Roswell,” and, from Brazil, veteran UFO investigator A.J. Gevaerd.

    If you’re a regular visitor, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve made major changes in our rapidly growing discussion forums at The Paracast. Now, this may not mean a big deal to most of you, but we did it to make the forums easier to navigate, and, we hope, run faster on your Mac or PC. At the same time, we had to do a lot of back-end conversions to bring thousands and thousands of messages into a new environment. For the most part, it worked out all right, but there are a few glitches. One if the most common is the inability of the new software to recognize your original password as a forum member.

    If you have a problem logging in to our forums, or any other troubles getting around, let us know about it. The easiest thing to do is just click the Contact Us link at the bottom left of our forum pages, and tell us about it. We’ll try to get your password or other issues fixed right away.

    Along with a new forum system comes a new position for one of our prolific regulars, Rich Gunn, whom most of you know by his online name, Rick Deckard. From here on, Rich is now a forum Adminsitrator, which means he carries our full authority. He’s also a programmer, and he’s gone to work on the plumbing of our new forum system to fix defects and also add new themes and other cool stuff to make your visits more enjoyable. So check out The Paracast Discussion Forums and see.

    And one more thing: There are lots and lots of online centers collecting information about various paranormal topics. We’d really appreciate it if you could spread the word about The Paracast. Let them know we exist and that we have something different to say about the things that go bump in the night.

    LIES, LIES AND MORE LIES

    You know, with so many resources for news about Apple Inc. these days, you’d think it would be awfully difficult to just make up stories or come up with a wrong-headed interpretation of events. After all, a single foolish story ought to be short-circuited by the plain, unvarnished truth.

    Unfortunately, things don’t quite work out that way. You see, the rumor or falsified information is all too often simply repeated without critical comment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that tech writers aren’t competent to separate fact from fiction. There’s just so much data to process, it’s awfully difficult to give a specific story the attention it deserves.

    Of course, that doesn’t lessen their obligation to be accurate.

    As we await news of the latest Mac products from Apple this coming week, there’s the usual rush to speculate what’s going to emerge during that briefing for journalists. Some of it is pretty obvious. The iMac hasn’t had an update in a while, so the only question is whether it’ll just get those new Santa Rosa chips from Intel, or whether there will be more far-reaching changes.

    And that’s where the fun begins.

    Lost in the speculation, though, is the question of why Apple would invite the press corps to its corporate headquarters in the first place? It couldn’t possibly be for a mere speed bump, or other minor alterations to the iMac. Those things are usually announced with a press release and a handful of private briefings, along with a small fuss at Apple’s site.

    So you do have a glimmer of evidence there that something more involved is afoot. Now I suppose the iMac could be getting a brand new case design, though even that would seem to be a largely cosmetic affair. Could there be even more to consider?

    Well, there are, of course, the missing iLife and iWork upgrades. That would require a more involved demonstration, particularly if there are new applications and major new features to talk about.

    But when Apple says Mac, you think of the hardware and not the software, so what’s left? Well, after those claims that the Mac mini is on the way out, you have to wonder if Apple has another low-cost personal computer in waiting to replace it. Would there be perhaps an in-between version, that headless iMac I’ve been talking about, or does that even make sense?

    Well, on the last episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, industry analyst Ross Rubin suggested that such a product wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. He didn’t see a large sales potential based on his experience in the industry, although I would tend to disagree. But we are both really flailing in the dark when it comes to Apple.

    Is there anything else left to ponder? Well, there’s the Mac Pro, of course. Introduced a year ago, it was largely a slight reinvention of the Power Mac G5 with revised internals to accommodate the changes wrought by an Intel processor, reduced cooling requirements, and more space for internal hard drives.

    So is it time to reinvigorate Apple’s professional desktop line with a more compact design and a few other refinements? What, after all, do the people who buy those workstations require and what changes should Apple make to meet those needs?

    Or is it even necessary? That is something I suppose we’ll know for sure in a few days, or maybe there will be no change whatever.

    Oh yes, there is Apple’s display line, which grew long in the tooth a long time ago. Sure, the prices were reduced a few times, and some improvements have been made to picture quality, but nothing earth-shattering.

    Would a new generation of Apple displays sport a lower price tag and perhaps built-in iSight cameras? That would be nice, but nothing that would warrant a journey to Cupertino to witness in person.

    Of course, there is yet another possibility. With two-thirds of Mac sales in the note-book category nowadays, isn’t there room in the line for another entrant, say a thin and light model that weighs less than four pounds? If Apple could equip such a device with all the features of its larger brethren, including a complete array of ports, that might be an intriguing development.

    Now, I would tend to think of a tinier Mac note-book less of a desktop replacement and more suited to constant travel. So perhaps a few feature compromises could be made, but I’m not enthusiastic about using a docking station to make up for those shortcomings.

    Rest assured, however, that whatever Apple does deliver, you will hear excuses as to why it can’t possibly be as good as you expect Alas, those stories might come from the same people who spread that silly story that Apple had cut back on iPhone production numbers big time.

    Indeed, too much of what you hear today falls into the category of lies and more lies. In the end, I honestly don’t know what Apple plans to do with their next major product upgrades. And you can take that to the bank.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: A NO-COST ROUTE TO AN ONLINE FORUM

    Without doubt those original forums on AOL were extremely complicated to implement, and they were only available to members. These days, you can create our own site with lots of relatively simple tools. You can use your Web space on Apple’s .Mac or even your ISP, and Apple’s iWeb and other applications mean that you don’t have to be a certified Webmaster to manage your online presence.

    One of the best ways to develop an audience for your business or personal site is an online forum. A sufficiently active message board means that a community is established for your family, friends and even your customers. That, too, is no longer as difficult as it used to be.

    If you have direct access to your site via FTP, rather than some fancy front end, you can actually install your own forum software, and it’s usually not very difficult, so long as you’re not afraid of a little manual labor. Now in last week’s commentary on why things are sometimes unnecessarily complicated, I singled out vBulletin, from Jelsoft, as a major offender.

    Since then, I’ve been actively considering alternatives, both commercial and open source. While one would think that you get more in the way of service and support if you actually buy a user license for a system to manage your forums, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, two of our less-trafficked forums, for The Tech Night Own LIVE and our “Attack of the Rockoids” science fiction series, are powered by a free product known as MyBB.

    Although free, MyBB has no lack of power and sophistication. Some actually prefer it to vBulletin, because the interface is more open and accessible, and upgrades and modifications are more user friendly. No, it doesn’t have completely automatic installers and upgraders, at least not yet.

    Moreover, I’ve never felt that those MyBB forums were underpowered or lacking features compared to the one that used vBulletin. However, you don’t just move to a different message board application casually unless you’re starting from scratch. With close to 12,000 messages and nearly 900 topic threads at The Paracast Discussion Forums, transferring all those posts to a MyBB forum was no easy task.

    The MyBB folks are currently beta testing a converter application to move your data from one forum’s database to another. I tried it last week, and had lots and lots of translation mishaps, which is what you’d expect from something that isn’t quite ready for prime time.

    To my surprise, one of MyBB’s programmers volunteered to help with the conversion if I cared to give it another try, and use the information he gathered to help improve the conversion utility. Indeed, exactly one day later, he tackled the task, with remarkable results. Most everything came through in good order.

    There were a few lapses, but not as serious as they might sound. First passwords. Yes, they had a special plugin that was supposed to convert the “hash” used in vBulletin to their own language. It was hit or miss, with most working, and a few requiring reset to allow the members to login. Because the forum had been previously moved from another message board environment, there were text encoding errors too, ones that were easily fixed, but the method was a little scary.

    However, with the help of our new forum helper, Rich Gunn, all that stuff was repaired through a process of search and replace in the actual database tables. Again, we’re talking about converting one medium-sized forum to another without losing any messages or our member roster, and that’s not never a simple process. It will, however, get better, as the MyBB programmers continue to refine their migration tools.

    Another useful element of MyBB is that it presents a light load to a Web server. My forums seldom use more than two or two-and-a-half megabytes of RAM, and don’t stress the databases much. This may not mean much to you, but if you buy one of those low-cost shared hosting packages, it can mean the difference between being suspended for hogging resources or running a busy forum without hitting the limits.

    For these reasons, and its stellar performance and scalability, I do heartily recommend MyBB if you ever get the itch to run your own online message board.

    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #401”

    1. […] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. […]

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      Gene, there’s a difference between untruths and lies. Untruths abound, for example in the predictions that always abound on rumor sites in the days leading up to the latest Apple Event or other scheduled occasions when new products are (or at least might be) announced. These are inevitable and innocent (at least in their intention), and usually have no worse effect than to discredit their authors. Then there are the lies, by which I mean deliberate falsehoods published out of malice or greed. In the first category are the people who hate, fear and envy Apple because of its potential to damage the success of their own enterprise. One imagines a lot of these folks inhabit a certain Seattle suburb, who have always had a strange love-hate relationship with Apple. We also have the sort of liars who, it is easy to guess, put out stories deliberately designed to raise or lower the price of AAPL. I know we were told in school that post hoc propter hoc is bad logic, but when we see, for example, that a rumor that Apple has drastically cut back i-Phone production has the effect of sending AAPL into temporary free fall, it’s pretty hard to avoid the suspicion that this was precisely what the rumor was intended to do. The reason I suggest making a distinction between untruths and lies is that this allows us to cast the spotlight fully on the backbiters and greedheads who are putting out deliberate falsehoods, so we can see them for what they truly are.

    3. Gene, there’s a difference between untruths and lies. Untruths abound, for example in the predictions that always abound on rumor sites in the days leading up to the latest Apple Event or other scheduled occasions when new products are (or at least might be) announced. These are inevitable and innocent (at least in their intention), and usually have no worse effect than to discredit their authors. Then there are the lies, by which I mean deliberate falsehoods published out of malice or greed. In the first category are the people who hate, fear and envy Apple because of its potential to damage the success of their own enterprise. One imagines a lot of these folks inhabit a certain Seattle suburb, who have always had a strange love-hate relationship with Apple. We also have the sort of liars who, it is easy to guess, put out stories deliberately designed to raise or lower the price of AAPL. I know we were told in school that post hoc propter hoc is bad logic, but when we see, for example, that a rumor that Apple has drastically cut back i-Phone production has the effect of sending AAPL into temporary free fall, it’s pretty hard to avoid the suspicion that this was precisely what the rumor was intended to do. The reason I suggest making a distinction between untruths and lies is that this allows us to cast the spotlight fully on the backbiters and greedheads who are putting out deliberate falsehoods, so we can see them for what they truly are.

      I suspect some of the stuff that appears at rumor sites falls into the lying category. That’s a whole lot more than a false prediction. Most predictions about Apple turn out to be false.

      And if someone on Wall Street spreads a rumor to manipulate a company’s stock price, that person ought to be exposed for what they are: a crook.

      Peace,
      Gene

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