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  • Newsletter Issue #422

    December 30th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I suppose doing year-end wraps is normal, not to mention traditional, and it doesn’t always make sense to be different for the sake of being different. So we did our share, too, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week. First, we brought on board industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group, who said, based on industry reports, that the iPod remains the market leader, and that the Zune remains essentially stagnant. He also talked about the ongoing success of HDTV, and if you didn’t get a high definition set for the holidays, maybe you should check out the after-Christmas sales and save a bundle.

    You also heard a choice selection of pithy comments about the year’s tech developments with our own Special Correspondent David Biedny and Macworld’s Jason Snell.

    When it comes to David, of course, everything he says will be frank and to the point and, indeed, in this particular session, he had lots to say about the fact that software just hasn’t kept up with the huge increases in PC processing power in recent years. Other than a handful of high-end rendering applications, for example, just how have you benefited from the dual-core Intel chips that are at the heart of every single Mac, except for the twin quad-cores on a high-end custom configured Mac Pro?

    As usual, applications simply add more bloat to compensate, so you are left with few benefits. I suppose you can easily blame Adobe and Microsoft — particularly the latter — as chronic offenders. Time will tell. But I will hold off on ragging on Microsoft again until I’m ready to talk in detail about the forthcoming Office 2008 for the Mac.

    In Jason’s segment, he also added some commentary about the state of the writer’s strike and how it is affecting the current TV season. Since this walkout appears to have no immediate conclusion, Jason feels that the entire TV paradigm of seasons beginning in September and January (with the exception of the cable networks) may fall by the wayside. You may, instead, see shows premiering all through the year, as they are ready to be inserted into the schedules.

    And Denis Motova joined me to present our new “Tech Junkies” segment. First, we talked about how Linux fares as a desktop operating system, followed by our experiences with the newest 24-inch and 30-inch LCD displays from none other than Dell.

    On The Paracast this week, paranormal expert and best-selling author Joel Martin returns with more incredible stories about our strange world and the implications.

    ARE CHRONIC LEOPARD BUGS GETTING A FAIR HEARING?

    The other day I heard from a long-time friend, a former member of a forum I managed on AOL way back when. He has an engineering degree, and worked for many years as the chief sound engineer for a famous singer (now deceased), so he definitely knows his hardware.

    He’s also a Mac loyalist, and has earned his stripes by working with Apple’s hardware and software from the earliest days. In all fairness, some of his experiences are stellar, which is why he continues to use Macs. But he’s had his share of problems too, and lately he’s been keeping tags on Leopard’s rough edges.

    Rough edges?

    Didn’t I say in an earlier column that my experiences with Leopard have been terrific? Indeed I have. And, despite the fact that Apple’s own discussion forums and those Mac troubleshooting sites are littered with hundreds of reports of anomalous behavior, system crashes, and performance issues covering a host of setups, little has been nailed down so far.

    So what are we to suppose here? I have been suggesting that many of the problems may be traced to third-party products, both hardware and software, and their interactions with Leopard. Either way, application and driver updates ought to set things right, assuming that Apple doesn’t have to do its part as well.

    Unfortunately, two months into the Leopard era, and some products still lack proper updates. Apple, however, got its 10.5.1 update out within weeks, and there are hot rumors of a sprawling 10.5.2 release expected early in January. I don’t know about that, but I know that a 10.5.2, a 10.5.3 and other updates are inevitable over the coming months. Just look at Apple’s history and you’ll see what I mean. Assuming Leopard has a shelf life of two years before 10.6 arrives, you can expect a bunch, mostly arriving at one to two-month intervals.

    After all is said and done, you may remember Leopard as the best Mac OS of all, in the same fashion that Tiger gets similar high praise now. But that doesn’t mean some of you still aren’t suffering massive migraines from the problems you’re experiencing.

    I want to tell you that I really do feel your pain. I am concerned whenever Mac users cannot get the most from their computers. I’m also troubled by the prospect that recent Mac switchers may try a Mac for size, and give up simply because they got a configuration that doesn’t just work as they expected it to do.

    Sure, I regard the Windows platform as far worse, and Windows Vista as a significant sore point for Microsoft. Now maybe the forthcoming Vista Service Pack, now available to the public as a release candidate, will fix the worst ills. But businesses remain exceedingly cautious and most are sticking with Windows 2000 and Windows XP for their mission-critical services, such as bank transactions and other key functions.

    But that doesn’t mean a bad first impression on a Mac won’t set the recent convert scurrying back to the devil they know rather than the one that remains unfathomable to them.

    In the meantime, I have managed to solve the minor issues I have had with Leopard in rather a roundabout way. One involved the ATI Radeon X1900 graphics card on my Power Mac G5 Quad. You see, I had to switch to the low-powered NVIDIA card that shipped with the computer after installing Leopard, because it wouldn’t complete the boot process with the Radeon inside.

    I contacted both ATI (now owned by AMD) and Apple about it, and they engaged in pointing fingers at each other. ATI said it was up to Apple to provide Leopard-compatible drivers for their products, whereas Apple said it’s all ATI’s fault. In the end, they were both guilty, because I found a workable solution without their advise and counsel.

    You see, all I did was reinstall the original ATI drivers, shut down and restart with the X1900 card installed. Everything worked fine. The software comes with the ATI Displays preference panel and a few other kernel extensions, but doesn’t seem to replace the more recent ATI files Apple provides. The combo runs perfectly. In fact, startup and shut-down times are much faster than with NVIDIA’s card, and the G5 can drop into sleep mode almost instantaneously, with just a minimal pause.

    So I’m a happy camper, but I wonder why ATI couldn’t figure out this simple solution, not to mention Apple.

    The other oddity I’ve had is with Microsoft Word 2004. I could not get it to print with the software for my Lexmark C780 color laser installed, even if I used a totally different printer with totally different drivers. If I reset the print system, which apparently removes the Lexmark drivers, it’s fine, but the generic PostScript drivers don’t support the Lexmark’s unique features.

    My solution, a result of desperation rather than inspiration, was to pick an older Lexmark product, the C770, from Apple’s default printer profiles. The printers are similar enough not to make any apparent difference in output quality. Now Word 2004 works fine. As for Word 2008, I’ll have more to say on that early in the New Year.

    Meantime, I want to assure all of you loyal and long-suffering readers that I take those reports of trouble with Leopard extremely seriously. If you have a problem, feel free to post a comment here with as much information as you can. We plan on following up on these ongoing issues on a regular basis, and if you have as solution, share it with us, please.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LONG-TERM TESTS: LATE 2007 EDITION — PART TWO

    Last week, I gave you my experiences with four products that have managed to withstand the test of time after lots of use and perhaps abuse at my hands, and the hands of my family.

    But that was only the beginning. I have lots more information to share, so consider this the very first sequel:

    • Apple 17-inch PowerBook G4: Grayson got this computer in 2004 as a high school graduation present. This was the 1.33GHz model, and, aside from expanding the RAM from 512MB to 1GB, it remains in stock condition. The aluminum cse has gotten a little bruised along the way, and the plug from the power supply is bent but still functional. However, it has also survived the trip to Spain and back, and Grayson depends on it heavily for all his work. As it approaches four years of age, it’s clear that, despite a few quality-control issues along the way in their note-book lines, Mac portables are utterly dependable products for most of you. Grayson is hoping that he’ll see a comparable MacBook Pro when he gets his college degree in May of next year. Will he? Well, he certainly deserves one.
    • VoIPYourLife: With Vonage emerging intact but bruised and battered from its legal battles with AT&T, IBM, Verizon and others over alleged patent violations, I’m still loathe to recommend the largest independent VoIP carrier. When I had an account with Vonage, I encountered awful outsourced technical support. My experience with Packet8, which uses its own patented proprietary technology, was somewhat better, but their periodic outages were an ongoing source of concern. Finally, after reading hundreds of extremely positive customer reviews, I opted to try VoIPYourLife. It’s priced comparably to the rest, but offers incredibly crisp, clear audio quality and even music on hold. All the other features are similar to the competition for the most part. After a few setup issues that were resolved by their USA-based support people, I just continued to use it. A Caller ID glitch was recently resolved, and it’s been smooth sailing otherwise. And, surprisingly enough, there has never been a network outage of which I’m aware. So maybe VoIP technology has finally become something you can rely on; that is, if you select the right provider.
    • Bose Quiet Comfort 2: The quintessential noise-canceling headphones are staples in my recording studio. When Mrs. Steinberg is busy vacuuming our home, I pop on the Bose and continue editing interviews for my radio shows with nary an interruption. Bose is often criticized as selling overpriced and underperforming gear, but don’t believe that claim. Sure, $300 is a lot to pay for headphones, but they’re built to last, and they sound great with music. You might wish for the ability to switch off the noise canceling feature without cutting off the audio, but Bose has one thing in common with Apple and that’s to keep the setup and user interfaces as simple as pie. You also have to replace the single AAA battery every 30 to 40 hours of use, but isn’t what battery chargers are for?
    • VIZIO P50 HDM: This marvelous 50-inch plasma TV has since been replaced in VIZIO’s lineup by a near-identical version with a built-in HDTV tuner. But those of you with cable or satellite hookups don’t need a tuner anyway. Otherwise, this set just purrs away with great reception and picture quality. As both cable and satellite continue to expand their high definition offerings from a dozen or two to the 50 and 100 range, I continue to enjoy the superb HD versions of my favorite shows. This particular set also has a great standard definition scaler, so the output from my progressive scan DVD player looks absolutely wonderful. Sure, it’s not HD, but it’s close enough that the difference isn’t all that noticeable from a normal viewing distance. As to VIZIO, they seem ready for the long haul. Already they have become this country’s largest vendor of LCD TVs, but the plasma models remain the best values. I saw their current 50-inch plasma for less than $1,300 at the local Sam’s Club recently, and I predict the price will go south of a grand by the end of 2008, maybe sooner.

    There you have it: A list of my favorite products, all of which have survived on the long haul. There are others that I’ll mention from time to time, and I certainly welcome your experiences, good or bad.

    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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    9 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #422”

    1. Steve says:

      My experience with the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones is not quite as good as yours. Mine have limited use, mostly when traveling. I travel about 6 to 8 times per year for approximately 1 week at a time. On mine, the plastic that connects the earpiece at the swivel broke unexpectedly when wearing the headphones on a flight. Upon further inspection, the plastic on the other side of the headphones was also cracking. Both have been “repaired” with black electrical tape. The defects became apparent after a couple years of light use, but after the warranty.

      I proceeded to my local Bose store, asked for help and was somewhat impolitely sent away with a business card. The store would not directly help me return or have my headphones fixed, which was obviously not very helpful. Based on my experience with Bose, I’m inclined not to purchase any other products.

      In fairness to Bose, I have no complaints with the sound or noise cancellation.

    2. I’m sorry to hear of the service problem. The card they gave you: Did it provide information with which to service the unit? I presume you’d have to have it sent back to the factory for repairs, right? Were you expecting the store to do that? I presume they should have, but maybe you found a store clerk who just didn’t want to be helpful.

      I did have a speaker failure on a Bose home theater unit once, and they actually replaced the entire product under warranty because they couldn’t get me a new speaker module fast enough.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Andy Carolan says:

      To be fair, most stores (whether manufacturer owned or mearly a distributer) will generally advise a customer with a product failure issue to contact a “helpline”. Of course, the help and advice that you can receive from these helplines varies greatly in quality as does the speed of turnaround of the repair if the product has to be sent away to a repair centre. I guess thats just the nature of things now.

    4. Steve says:

      Gene, you are correct. The card has a number that I could call to arrange the return and repair of the headphones. Yes, I expected that the store could arrange or at least help with a return. During my visit to the store, no-one else was even there, so it wasn’t busy.

      I suspect that had I called directly, Bose would have been helpful as in your case. Bose is a premium brand; I just expected more (maybe too much).

    5. Gene, you are correct. The card has a number that I could call to arrange the return and repair of the headphones. Yes, I expected that the store could arrange or at least help with a return. During my visit to the store, no-one else was even there, so it wasn’t busy.

      I suspect that had I called directly, Bose would have been helpful as in your case. Bose is a premium brand; I just expected more (maybe too much).

      All the store might be able to do is send the unit back to the factory, which is something you can do without the intermediary.

      Let us know what happens.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Ilgaz says:

      I decided to buy ATI X1900 just because of problems I have on Quad G5 with Nvidia 6600 card (directly came with it) installed, I have even documented them for Apple, a very basic benchmark shows 10.5.1 has 30-40% SLOWER openGL performance compared to 10.4.11.

      While I knew they would throw the ball to Apple, I have even contacted NVidia about it. Of course, got a nice template 🙂

      Thing is, there are no “Nvidia GPU driver coders” at Apple. NVidia develops/compiles drivers, give it to Apple Inc. and Apple distributes them with OS X. Same for ATI too. Graphics card driver developing in current age is not a trivial thing.

      Apple gives the perfect excuse both ATI and Nvidia: They bundle drivers, they are responsible for it. They actually WISHED it would be same deal on MS Windows Vista. Windows Vista’s major problem was: Graphics card subsystem slowness. It is almost amazing that we live something similar to Vista on a completely different arch.

      Windows people and sites -of course- blamed both Nvidia and ATI furiously about the issues and in some weeks time, both shipped better drivers. NVidia still keeps a “Vista problem report” webpage on their support site.

      On Mac, even on Usenet, I get blamed somehow for Leopard issues I talk about.

      I am sure my driver problem is something like: A guy “forgot” the fact that Apple ships Quad Intel/PowerPC Macs and it has something to do with the much bragged “opengl threading” thing. You know, things change if there are 4 processors instead of 2. It must be something like that. Or they packaged it wrong, something gets loaded to CPU instead of GPU etc.

      Have a nice year, Mr. Steinberg you may have saved me from a very big hassle in coming months :))

    7. You’re very welcome.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Jerry says:

      If you shop around, you can get a top-rated better-featured, name-brand all-around superior Panasonic 50″ plasma for about the same price as the Vizio. Look for a TH50PX60U, for example.

    9. If you shop around, you can get a top-rated better-featured, name-brand all-around superior Panasonic 50″ plasma for about the same price as the Vizio. Look for a TH50PX60U, for example.

      The Panasonic has been out for a while, but, yes, if you can still get one at a price near or the same as the Vizio, it would be a terrific buy.

      Peace,
      Gene

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