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  • Newsletter Issue #418

    December 2nd, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    All right, you just know that the iPod, iPhone and MacBook are going to be super popular this holiday season, and lots of high definition TVs will be moving into homes around the world too, at least in the more prosperous nations. But there’s a lot more gear that has plenty of potential. So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we checked out the hottest gadgets for the holidays with Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen. Some of it, such as a sophisticated oven, may not seem to contain much in the way of technology, but you’ll be surprised when you learn the truth.

    We also presented update on the state of Mac security and some of Leopard’s glitches from author and commentator Kirk McElhearn. Kirk has expressed a highly-critical point of view about what he regards as huge misses in the way Leopard looks and operates. Whether you agree with him or not, you’ll certainly find what he has to say to be food for thought.

    If you ever wondered just how they manage to target Web ads for you or the audience you want to reach, you’ll want to hear our interview with an expert on the subject, Scott Switzer, CTO of Openads (a Web-based ad server system).

    And Denis Motova came onboard to explain how you can tell when your site has truly become successful.

    Coming December 6: The return of Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus and Andy Ihnatko. You can expect the unvarnished truth from both.

    On our “other” show, The Paracast,  we feature Larry Flaxman, President, ARPAST, the Arkansas Paranormal and Anomalous Studies Team, discusses paranormal events and how they might be related.

    During this far-ranging interview, Flaxman will talk about some of the most compelling paranormal encounters he has investigated or experienced during his many years of personal research. He’ll also discuss ARPAST’s sharply scientific approach to its on-site research.

    I’M TICKED OFF BY SHODDY TECH JOURNALISM

    Some tech pundits, such as John Dvorak, seem to exist solely to push the right buttons and get hits by writing sheer nonsense. They figure that, if you piss off enough people, they’ll respond by complaining and drawing more attention to their stuff.

    It may be a masochistic approach, but I think the real motive is greed. If they bring more traffic to their publishers, they can command more dollars for their work. Or just bask in the glow of their ill-gotten 15 minutes of fame.

    A recent entrant into this questionable group is Oliver Rist, who writes for PC Magazine. In a column entitled, “Leopard is the New Vista and It’s Pissing Me Off,” he demonstrates quite clearly that there are few facts he can’t mangle, and lots of examples of sheer ignorance that make you wonder why that publication actually released this piece of sheer trash into the wild.

    No I’m not about the say that Leopard is the perfect operating system. Lord knows that there’s no way any point-zero release will be trouble-free right out of the box. There will be conflicts with third-party software, and various degrees of flakiness.

    Lest you forget, Tiger was somewhat ragged at the outset too. That’s perfectly understandable, and such issues usually diminish rapidly after a maintenance update or two.

    However, I think that Rist’s problems may, in part, be of his own creation, and may otherwise be the result of sheer ignorance about how Leopard’s features really work.

    His main problem, is, apparently, six kernel panics since Leopard was installed. But he doesn’t seem to be aware of the actual term for a crashed system, since he refers to it as a symptom where “The OS just grays out my desktop and pops up a dialog box telling me I’ve got to reboot.”

    He adds, “Like the whole thing is my fault.”

    No, not quite, though maybe it is, since he doesn’t really detail his actuall installation scenario, whether it was a simple upgrade, or one of the clean “Archive & Install” methods. More to the point, kernel panics are often the result not just of a bad installation, but a conflict with third party software. Moreover, what, pray tell, might he have done to pollute the sanctity of his system files with third-party garbage?

    I suppose we’ll never know.

    The remainder of the article consists of five issues for which he attacks Apple, sort of. The first, entitled “Wait for a Service Pack — Perpetually,” implies that 10.5.1 didn’t solve his problems, but you can’t even tell, among his various attacks against Apple for releasing half-baked software, if he even tried it, or is just depending on one of the magazine’s house experts for advise on what to do next.

    His second rant, entitled “Needless Graphics Glitz,” might have some merit, but it doesn’t seem to represent any problem for Rist as far as usability is concerned. He just needs to vent his spleen.

    Complaint number three, “Pointless User Interface ‘Fixes’,” claims that the Dock is messed up, without seeming to understand that he can easily dispense with the 3D after-effects if he moves it to the sides of the screen, or use any one of several simple third party hacks to vanquish the threat to his serenity. Either way, actual functionality doesn’t change

    He doesn’t dig Cover Flow, but can’t seem to understand the sensible logic behind QuickLook, which most others regard as a marvelous addition to Leopard that makes it a lot easier to find your stuff without having to open loads and loads of applications.

    Now I’m not going to see Rist has completely wrong in all his complaints — and there’s certainly some subjectivity involved in many of his reactions. And he may have nailed one with “Nuked Networking,”  where he reports about problems with dropped file shares. I’m not dismissing this one outright, because my friend John Rizzo, of MacWindows.com fame, says that many of his readers are reporting broken cross-platform networking in Leopard, in part revisiting the grief they suffered when Tiger first came out.

    Of course, some of those ills may be the result of a third-party application, but you have to hope that a solution from the guilty party or parties will soon be forthcoming.

    In saying that, however, the only networking issue I’ve encountered is courtesy of the “Back to My Mac” feature, which supposedly allows screen sharing beyond my local network, courtesy of .Mac. Only Apple hasn’t quite succeeded in overcoming all of the issues wrought by various third-party router anomalies. Maybe they well, but it may take a few more Leopard revisions for things to settle down.

    The final set of complaints, “Bundled Apps as New Features That Suck,” is only partly successful. While I agree that Time Machine, the main subject of his wrath, could be improved, it’s also clear that he doesn’t really understand how it works, and somehow feels that the obtuse backup feature in Windows Vista is somehow better.

    Rist even gets some basic operational parameters wrong, by somehow messing up the concept of preferences, which are correctly placed in the Time Machine preference panel, and functions of the application that appears in the Dock. To do an immediate manual backup, you just click and hold the Time Machine Dock icon — no, it’s not necessary to right-click, which is what he claims.

    That’s clearly a functional command, not a preference, which is why it’s not in the preference panel. For someone who writes for a major technology magazine, Rist is awfully ignorant of the distinction, or even the fact that his cherished right-click was unnecessary.

    In the scheme of things, however, Time Machine may not be the ideal backuptool for the power user, nor is it intended to be. It’s designed for the 74% of Mac users who never, ever, backup their stuff. It’s simple, with a seamless setup routine. Yes, there are some technical niceties that ought to be improved. You should not, for example, require your Leopard install DVD to restore your files. In fact, I can’t see why Apple couldn’t simply create a basic bootable system on the Time Machine drive, in the fashion of TechTool Pro, so you can use it for restarting, drive repairs and drive restores, if the latter becomes necessary.

    Then again, Time Machine is still version 1.0 software, and, from what I can see, performs quite reliably. Yes, there are things Apple can do to improve Time Machine and, for that matter, Leopard. But calling Mac OS 10.5 the “New Vista” is not only a logical stretch, it doesn’t make a bit of sense.

    Except, perhaps, to give Rist undeserved attention from tens of thousands of Mac users who are no doubt busy writing hate letters to him and his publisher. And that may have been his true purpose all along, facts be damned. Maybe he learned a little too much reading the collected works of John Dvorak.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: WELCOME TO THE MINISTRY OF STUPID AUTO DESIGN DECISIONS

    You might think that the company that touts its products as “Ultimate” driving machines would pay close attention to making those machines consumer friendly, in deference to their well-heeled customers.

    The other day, for example, I looked over the specifications for the entry-level BMW 3 series, which underwent some design changes for 2007 that continue into 2008. At first glance, the vehicle comes across as a little bloated, with which all the bumps and and slopes that pollute the simple shape, but that’s just a personal reaction. Besides, if you get past the looks of the vehicle, you have to consider you’ll spend most of your time inside, driving your BMW or partaking of one of the passenger accommodations. And, by the way, if you’re more than six feet, don’t even think about sitting in the rear unless the front seat occupants are really short.

    Forget the amount of passenger space in this vehicle. You don’t buy it for spaciousness, but for performance and comfort. I will never attack BMW’s performance choices, because I’ve driven a BMW from time to time, and they are extraordinarily well-planted to the road, offer superb ride comfort and stellar handling. Consider, instead, the interior amenities, and here’s where the designers come up really short.

    Take the cup holders. Now maybe cup holders are, as some suggest, strictly an American phenomenon. Regardless, BMW sells tens of thousands of these vehicles in the U.S.A., so they need to make appropriate adjustments, and not just to conform to appropriate safety and emission regulations.

    You see BMW, in its infinite wisdom, has designed a pair of front cup holders that pop out. Not bad so far, but they are both located above the glove compartment. You better have long arms if you hope to reach for that hot cup of java without becoming inattentive to road conditions. And what happens if, on moving the cup to your mouth, you accidentally spill the hot beverage on the long-suffering passenger?

    This is not to say other car makers don’t do foolish things. Audi’s BMW 3 series competitor, the A4, has the second cup holder situated right below the center arm rest. For most normal-sized cups, this is probably all right. If you have a large cup of liquid refreshment, however, you have to raise the arm rest to consume your beverage. But Audi, at least, provides a genuine spare tire, a full-sized one in fact.

    Contrast that to BMW, where models with so-called “run-flat” tires have no spares whatever. If some road hazard shreds your tire, you’re out of luck. You better have a cell phone handy, or the appropriate equipment and a paid subscription to the BMW Assist service, which is their equivalent of GM’s OnStar.

    But I haven’t begun. You see, one of the most common causes of accidents is inattention to the road. It’s not just taking that long reach for your morning coffee in that strangely-situated cup holder that can cause trouble. There’s also BMW’s infamous iDrive navigation system. In their efforts to make it more user-friendly, they’ve put more and more control functions into the single control knob, which uses a combination of clicking and pointing to adjust everything from your radio to accessing your destinations. The multifunction knob can move upward, downward and sideways, but you often have to first click the menu button located below it to access a particular feature.

    Salespeople are supposed to train new buyers about the basics of this misbegotten scheme, or you can pore over the lengthy manual at your leisure until all the skills are mastered. Well I can understand such silliness in a lower-priced vehicle with high-end pretensions, when you consider that even the cheapest BMW can be optioned to a point that takes it well north of 40 thousand dollars, you have to wonder whether their clientele simply craves complexity.

    Oh and by the way, to start your brand new BMW, you put the key in the ignition, and then press the stop button. Or pay extra for a special “convenience”  package, where you can keep your key fob in pocket or purse. And don’t get me started about the “innovative” turn stalk. I think BMW’s design engineers may have been drinking just too much of the Microsoft Kool-Aid.

    Now I understand that Apple is working with Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, to deliver a user interface that “just works.” It’s about time. The auto makers all need Apple’s help. The need in fact, is desperate. While I realize BMW has no difficulty moving cars, there’s more and more competition these days in the near-luxury and luxury categories. Perhaps people will, some day, once again favor vehicles that just work.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #418”

    1. David C says:

      Anyone who needs a bootable backup can put a clone of the OS X install disk in a 10GB partition on their backup drive. Dan Frakes outlines the particulars at http://www.macworld.com/weblogs/mobile/2007/11/optibarytimemachine/index.php . Bootable backups are great for troubleshooters and expert users, but most people might be better served by the spartan simplicity of Time Machine’s current interface. Also, there is the non-trivial issue of using an external drive that can boot a Mac. All of the cheap USB only drives won’t boot a Mac.

      While I can envision a future rev of Time Machine that will detect a backup drive that supports booting, and offer to put the install disk on it for you, I’m glad the present version doesn’t. Let’s all get backed up first, then we can gild the lily.

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