Most of you probably don’t care about the back-end stuff we have to do to keep our sites running. Now since we derive income from banner ads, we’ve been looking for ways to fine-tune the presentation. It’s not just rotating ads, so different banners appear in the same space, but being able to target ads so that those of you who might be interested in buying a product or service are more apt to see something that we hope will be tempting.
So this week we added something called Openads to our open source application repository. There’s a separate copy for each of our sites, and it provides industrial-grade ad management (our forums, in part, use a different ad server system). Indeed, we can now control a whole bunch of characteristics of a sponsor’s ad campaign, including targeting to visitors in specific countries, using specific browsers or operating systems and even to specific ranges of IP addresses. Ads can even be presented on certain days and certain times of a day.
Now all this is probably not of much interest to you unless, of course, you’re interested in running an ad campaign on our sites. The great thing about Openads is that it does its thing behind the scenes, and does not change the way our sites look, or affect their rendering performance.
As we try to grow this business, we’ll also be adding more and more tools to provide a better online experience for you. Some will be subtle, such as the ability to edit your comments for 60 minutes, and have the changes appear instantaneously, without a browser refresh. Others will make everything run just a little faster.
As with my Macs, I’m always looking for improvements. Yes, our server is Linux, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make it easier to use; in other words, a little more Mac like. Now if Apple had an Xserve that was priced low enough for Web hosts to adopt them without having to charge a premium price, maybe even our sites will be all Mac. We’re still hoping.
Black Friday signifies the day when merchants expect to become fully profitable, and it’s also when they stage major all-day sales. Indeed, this year, Apple again got into the act with discounts on a number of products, and they were joined by such long time resellers as MacMall. Some stores got a jump ahead of the pack by opening on Thanksgiving, while many of you were sleeping late or cooking dinner for friends and family.
Naturally, I got to wondering just which tech gear would emerge at the top of the best-selling lists this year. So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the holiday sales prospects for such tech gear as iPods and high-definition TV sets were explored by Ross Rubin, the well-known industry analyst with the NPD Group. During the discussion, I was surprised to learn that one of the hottest gadgets was the digital picture frame, but what do I know?
We also presented up-to-the-minute comments about the state of Leopard and the iPhone with Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple and Jason Snell. Despite some reports of persistent problems with Leopard, Jim and Jason have had great experiences.
In addition, Jason, who is a TV expert, discussed the consequences of a long writer’s strike to the current TV season, and predicted the strike might not last so long after all. If he’s right, maybe your favorite shows won’t go into reruns.
And Denis Motova explained the meaning behind such high-tech buzzwords as “geo-targeting” and “load balancing” and what it may mean to you if you have a fast-growing online business. Without going into the deep, dark details, load balancing employs a router-type device that functions like a traffic cop to direct traffic to two or more Web servers, so they can all share visitor requests. That way, the load is equalized and capacity is increased.
We’re not quite there yet, but as our sites become more and more popular, it’s definitely something we may soon have to consider.
On our “other” show, The Paracast, we featured historical researcher Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State.” You might have seen Richard as one of the hosts of the cable TV show, “Sci-Fi Investigates.”
I often think that some tech pundits have nothing better to do than create fake issues for headlines and hit counts. In recent weeks, I’ve mentioned a few of the more offensive theories, but I think one that is truly bizarre is the claim that we are at the tail end of the PC era, and that full-sized desktop and note-book computers will soon join the dinosaurs in the alternate reality of the obsolete.
Sure, this may strike some as a logical possibility, what with so-called smartphones gaining additional computing features, and the fast take-off of the iPhone. But does it really seem reasonable to you that it’ll be possible, some day, to retire “real” computers and survive strictly on a handheld device?
I suppose if you’re engaged solely in the business of building wireless phones, that’s a future to lust after. But is this a future that the rest of you would accept, or is it just a pipedream on the part of a few companies that are hoping to reach the end of the rainbow and find their pot of gold and wealth?
To be sure, such gadgets as the iPhone can perform a lot of the tasks that we used to do on our Macs and PCs. With a reasonable amount of flexibility, for example, you can browse the Internet and send and receive email. In fact, a growing number of the messages I receive have telltale lines appended to them that identify a BlackBerry or an iPhone as the source.
The iPhone can also open and view files in various picture and text formats. So at least you can stay abreast of important content. However, at this stage in the iPhone’s development path, you can’t actually edit those documents. But that’s something you have to expect to change in the near future, perhaps in a future firmware update of some sort.
Even if doesn’t happen then, the release of a software development kit come February will likely create opportunities for a smart programmer to develop an iPhone-based image editor or word processor that can handle those chores with the most popular formats. Imagine, for example, a Nisus Writer for the iPhone, a Mariner Write, or a Mellel. This would even present some interesting opportunities for the likes of Adobe and Microsoft, although the latter might feel a little perturbed over how the iPhone is gaining share at the expense of Windows Mobile devices.
On the other hand, can you imagine writing long letters, a book manuscript or edit an audio or video file on a smartphone? Is this something to which you’d aspire in exchange for ditching your Macs? Really?
Let’s be sensible about the whole thing: You can certainly do minor editing to an existing manuscript, white a short note or even do a last-minute touchup to an audio or image file. That makes plenty of sense, and it’s a feature that would be incredibly valuable. I can even imagine updating this site, which is managed by WordPress, in that fashion, since all it requires is Internet access to login to the “Dashboard,” where you can manage your posts.
But I am a fast writer. Some call me a hack, which is probably true, in part, because I learned long ago the questionable skill of putting words together in a seemingly logical fashion at a pretty fast clip. That’s how I turned out all those computer books in such a short amount of time, but that’s long ago and far away.
On the other hand, I cannot conceive of writing an entire issue of this newsletter in that fashion, even if my ability to type on a touch screen improved to the point where I could do it with a reasonable amount of speed.
Manipulating and editing audio files would be a chore with hand movements, particularly when it came to frequent tight edits. Oh, I suppose I’d get the hang of it eventually, and all, but I fail to see how all the sacrifices working on that tiny screen entails would be worth the effort. Furthermore, there’d be no incentive to toss my desktop Mac and that wonderful 30-inch Dell display. Believe me when I tell you that it’s real easy to enhance your workflow with a huge desktop available, and Leopard’s Spaces allows me to have a dozen (based on my current settings) at my beck and call.
There’s no way that I can imagine giving up all that in exchange for having a tiny electronic marvel that I can stuff into my pocket. The same holds true for many of you who are engaged in content creation of one sort or another. While I can see where the casual online users in our audience might not care, such people might still miss the large screen and the standard keyboard from time to time.
Indeed, Steve Jobs long ago expressed the vision of the PC as the hub of our digital lifestyles. Even Bill Gates, in his own strange way, made a similar pronouncement. To be sure, the iPhone depends on a personal computer for activation, to synchronize content and to receive software updates. The same is true for the iPod, and the Apple TV serves as no more than a conduit between the computer and your high-definition television set.
Now it may even be true that Apple or some other company might soon offer a large screen LCD or plasma TV with a built-in computer. Imagine a huge iMac, for example. That might make a whole lot of sense, because it would totally integrate your computing and entertainment lifestyles. Certainly lots of science fiction writers have painted word pictures of flat-panel TVs serving as the sole communications device in your home or office.
But would the venerable mouse and keyboard then serve as the best ways to interact with those devices? Think about it.
Back in the 1980s, in the film “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” Scotty, the ship’s engineer, played by the late, great James Doohan, was visiting a 20th century manufacturing plant, where he spied a small desktop computer. It was, in fact, an early Mac, and he picked up the mouse, and tried to speak to the device, saying, “Computer.” His host, unaware that he was a man from the 23rd century, suggested he work with the keyboard.
“How quaint,” Scotty casually replied in his famous Scottish brogue.
Of course, without physical input devices, you wouldn’t have to worry about carpel tunnel or any other wrist ailment. That might be a good thing, but the PC will surely not die off any time soon, despite what you’ve heard.
The first peripheral I added to the very first Mac I brought into my home all those years ago was the famous LaserWriter II. Indeed, the laser printer and Adobe’s invention of PostScript are both credited with saving the life of the fledgling Macintosh. Before then, sales hadn’t really set the world afire, but when the graphic industry discovered the joys of desktop publishing, the world was never the same.
Sure, some talked about a paperless revolution, and it’s true that PDF files are ubiquitous, but I still buy lots and lots of paper and plenty of consumables for my various printers. Although I have two inkjets (one a multifunction that adds copying, faxing and scanning), I still prefer laser printers. Yes, the inkjet can deliver superior color reproduction in most situations, but you can’t match the text quality of a laser at any price.
Now that color lasers have become mighty affordable, their far-lower costs per page make them an attractive alternative even for a small business. One of the more intriguing recent entries into this category is the Lexmark’s imposing C780 color laser.
The unit they sent me to test is the C780dtn, which adds a duplexer (for printing on both sides of a page) and a second 500-page tray to the mix, and it has a street price of $1399.00. You can get the price below a grand if you don’t need the extra accouterments, and can survive with a single paper cartridge.
To say it’s “imposing,” is an understatement. The entire unit, with all parts assembled, weighs in the neighborhood of 105 pounds, close to some flat-panel TVs. That’s more than my wife weighs, but somehow I managed to do the installation all by myself. Credit all that weight lifting I did when I was young and foolish, and the fact that I exercise almost every single day to keep myself in good physical condition.
No, no backaches, but if you want to buy a printer of this sort, prepare to have it installed for you, or get a helper. A word to the wise.
Specifications call for print speeds of up to 35 pages per minute for black and white, and 31 pages per minute for color. Maximum page size is 8-1/2 x 14, legal size, and the four toner cartridges are laid out in a horizontal row, to ensure good color registration.
Lexmark fully supports the Mac, and it uses a Web-based interface for system management.
While I’ll have more to say about this printer in my final review, I can tell you that it delivers speedy prints, and the text quality, using its 1200 x 1200 dpi engine, is superb, as good as any laser I’ve ever used. Color quality is quite good also, although prints tend to have a slightly reddish cast at the driver’s default settings. But if you really treasure color fidelity, you can certainly make appropriate adjustments.
It’s also a noisy beast, with a robust note when it’s doing its thing.
As I said, my initial encounters have been impressive and encouraging. I’ll have much more to say shortly.
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
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