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  • Newsletter Issue #434

    March 23rd, 2008

    HELP SPREAD THE WORD

    As I look at the amount of bandwidth our Web servers have been using lately, it’s clear that an awful lot of you have discovered our sites and the two radio shows. While this means our hosting bill will increase accordingly — in fact we have another server or two coming on line in the next month or two — it also signifies that you like our approach to the often disparate subjects of tech and the paranormal.

    Well, I know that there are millions more out there who’d like our stuff too, if only they knew we existed. So we’re asking our loyal readers and listeners to help spread the word. Post messages about us, where appropriate of course, in forums that cater to the subject matter we deal with. And, of course, please also place your reviews for our shows up on iTunes or your favorite Podcast aggregator. Or both.

    We’ll greatly appreciate it.

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    In my regular commentaries, I think you know I’m frequently amazed by the sheer amount of misinformation you’ll read in articles from those so-called tech pundits. I know I repeat myself when I use the phrase “so-called tech pundits,” but it’s amazing how misinformed some alleged journalists can be.

    Rather than reporting the facts and, where appropriate, giving informed opinions, they end up repeating misinformation instead. I’ll get more involved in that in this issue’s feature article.

    However, I wanted to deal with such matters on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, so I called upon cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, to correct the ongoing misstatements about Apple’s iPhone SDK and to answer the question of whether Adobe Flash is needed on a mobile device.

    Another featured guest on the episode was my old friend Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who returned after burying himself in heavy-duty book writing for months, to talk about the state of the Mac, Apple’s Wi-Fi mobile platform and other hot topics.

    I also debated Denis Motova on the merits of new search technology and whether anything will come from Microsoft’s plan to acquire Yahoo! By the way, I don’t think he’s too enamored of the latter two companies, and how they are going to fare, separate or together, against Google, by the way. So maybe it wasn’t a debate after all.

    In addition Tim Goggin, of Pocket Mac, was on hand to talk about the company’s cross-platform integration and mobile device sync applications. If you run your BlackBerry on a Mac, you are already using a Pocket Mac application, which was licensed by RIM for Mac users of their smartphones.

    On The Paracast this week, we present investigative journalist Leslie Kean, of The Coalition for Freedom of Information, who discusses her efforts to unearth NASA UFO documents and promote an official government investigation of the enigma.

    Coming March 30: UFO trace researcher Ted Phillips, Director of The Center for Physical Research, speaks about his ongoing investigations of physical trace evidence in the wake of reported UFO landings.

    Coming April 6: Steve Bassett returns to The Paracast to discuss UFO disclosure and the forthcoming X-Conference 2008.

    WELCOME ONCE AGAIN TO THE CRAZY WORLD OF MISCONCEPTIONS

    Perhaps it’s the Virgo in me, but I resent hearing incorrect information, and I don’t like it when I make a mistake either. Thanks to the Internet, though, I can fix errors on my sites in a jiffy. I wish others were as devoted to accuracy.

    So I occasionally write a commentary that corrects common misconceptions, particularly in the Mac universe. It’s not that it really makes much of a difference, I suppose, since the folks who continue to repeat the falsehoods seem to otherwise go essentially unchallenged.

    But I’m going to persevere, since even changing a few minds — even one — ought to represent progress. Maybe those alleged pundits might even try something new, which is to do a little research before they repeat the same old nonsense by rote.

    For example, there was a story the other day suggesting that Apple’s cut of the iPhone software sales, which amounts to 30% out of each dollar spent on software, is excessive. Greedy Apple just wants to gouge those poor developers and keep them from making a fair profit from their work.

    Unfortunately, that claim is just plain wrong!

    You see, if they had bothered to actually check what developers for other smartphone platforms have to accept for their work, they’d realize that Apple is actually giving a far better deal than the competition. What about giving up 40% or 50%?

    You see, when you go to journalism school, you are taught how to do research, and maybe if some of those so-called tech writers would return to their roots, they’d spend a little time to check those facts for themselves before writing more fiction.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that the iPhone SDK is the perfect solution to build software. It remains a version 1.0 release, with the attendant and understandable flaws. As applications are developed for the iPhone and the limitations become apparent, Apple will no doubt make changes that will allow for better user experiences or at least a wider range of applications.

    One example is support for Flash. Steve Jobs said he was skeptical, whereas Adobe said yes, then maybe. What did that mean? Well, Flash normally works as a plugin for a browser, but there is no way to do that with the iPhone version of Safari, or at least not so far. So Adobe would have to work with Apple to provide that support.

    Now as far as I’m concerned, I think it’s essential. You can easily debate the merits and shortcomings of Flash, but millions of sites (including four of mine) use it to display images or just simple navigation bars. Apple can’t simply put those sites off limits to the iPhone and say no way, or insist we accept a degraded user experience.

    However, I regard Steve’s statement as the dropping of the gauntlet, and demonstrating the shortcomings of existing Flash support. The desktop version is too resource-intensive for the iPhone, while the mobile version, just recently licensed by Microsoft, is to limited. So that leaves a huge gray area in the middle where Adobe and Apple can deliver good Flash support without causing performance issues. Or at least that’s my optimistic side talking.

    Another misconception that I feel I have to correct almost on a weekly basis is the perception that Macs are overpriced, the PC variant of the BMW in comparison to the Fords that run Windows. No, car lovers, you don’t need to sell me on the fact that a BMW is worth the premium price. I agree they are great cars.

    Certainly two facts disclosed by NPD Group in surveying PC sales in the U.S. in February would seem to prove one side of the argument. Apple gets an overall 14% of the market, but earns 25% of every dollar spent on personal computers. Doesn’t that end the dispute?

    Well, not exactly. You see, Apple doesn’t play in the cheap PC arena, where you get underpowered computers that are barely able to run Windows Vista Home Basic. In fact, that’s also the main issue of a pending class-action lawsuit against Microsoft. However, the lawsuit isn’t the issue. It’s the method that you use to compare the Mac versus the PC.

    As I’ve stated over the years, the only fair way to do this is to equip both with essentially the same hardware and comparable software options. That would mean Windows Vista Ultimate on the PC, which really jacks up the price considerably even at low OEM prices.

    Of course, a feature-bare PC would end up being cheaper, and some of you feel Apple should provide such choices, particularly for businesses that don’t need remote controls, built-in Web cams and other features that wouldn’t be suitable in the workday environment.

    In the end, maybe Apple would do better in the enterprise market by selling specially-configured low-feature Macs for specific customers. But that doesn’t mean existing models are overpriced. In fact, as you move up the ladder, you find the Mac does better and better. Compare the latest Mac Pro against a comparable Dell Precision Workstation and you’ll see what I mean.

    Well, at least they’re not declaring Apple dead and buried anymore — or have I missed something?

    MORE JOYFUL UPDATES

    I remember that old song with the lyric, “Will you love me tomorrow?” and I have to tell you that a similar feeling arises whenever I set up a new product or service. Fortunately, some of my experiences in recent weeks have been almost uniformly positive. So if you’re sick of hearing me rant regularly about the failings of tech journalists, here’s some favorable information for a change of pace.

    Just a few weeks ago, I returned to Vonage, my original choice for Internet phone service, or VoIP. At the time, I ran into just one service issue, which was the display of two number ones at the beginning of the Caller ID display of my office phone. Well, Vonage sent me up through several levels of support in order to find a solution, which I appreciated.

    In the end, however, it wasn’t their fault after all. In a few days, the phone failed. I bought a new one, and, when I set it up, I was pleased to observe that Caller ID worked normally. Voice quality continues to be excellent. Just the other day, for example, Craig Crossman asked me to be a guest for the entire two hours of his nationally-syndicated Computer America radio show. Now I use my VoIP line as my primary office phone number, and, in the past, Craig’s voice always sounded a little scratchy. Not so with Vonage. Everything was audibly perfect.

    Another surprisingly favorable encounter occurred with AT&T WIreless. My first exposure to the company came through the iPhone, and I looked at the switch from Verizon Wireless with feelings of trepidation. For one thing, AT&T gets mediocre ratings for service and support in surveys published by Consumer Reports, and I’ve heard a few horror stories elsewhere.

    However, it’s also clear that Apple didn’t select AT&T as their exclusive U.S. carrier just because of the promise of big kickbacks. They can get that from any carrier. Instead, I suspect AT&T made certain representations and promises to deliver improved service over time. While it’s also true that mobile carriers can deliver bad connections in one place, and great connections in another, the quality of reception in this area has remained quite good overall. I encountered no more dropouts than I did with Verizon; in other words, it happens rarely.

    Customer service has also been good both on the phone and at the nearby company store, where I bought the phone. Just the other day, for example, I noticed that the plastic clamp at the rear of the carrying case I bought my iPhone had broken. No, I didn’t abuse the holster. It underwent normal wear and tear and hardly survived seven weeks.

    I went to the store, walked over to the nearest customer service person and demonstrated the problem. Without a backwards glance, she went over to the display rack, grabbed a new case, opened the package and handed it to me. She never asked for a receipt; she just did the right thing, and that’s the way customer service should be always, but it seldom works that way.

    Yes, I suppose I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But so long as AT&T delivers decent performance in the areas to which I travel, I’ll remain a happy camper. If they fail me — as Verizon did in the final days I was using them — I’ll unlock the phone and move to the other GSM provider in the U.S., T-Mobile.

    Let’s just hope that’s a decision I do not have to confront.

    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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    11 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #434”

    1. Roger says:

      Just a note in the spirit of misconceptions – the NPD market share survey was of U.S. *retail* sales in February – not all computer sales. Since Apple does particularly well with consumer sales, and retail sales through its stores, this number will likely be higher than market share numbers for the overall U.S. computer market in February.

    2. Dru says:

      Gene –

      Check out Charles Gaba’s excellent ‘Mac vs. Dell shootout’ site at http://systemshootouts.org/. It’s a bit out of date right now, but the idea that Macs are inherently more expensive than PCs died with Mac OS 9.

    3. KenC says:

      @Roger, it’s not a “misconception”. They report what info they can gather, and it’s spelled out quite clearly what they are reporting and have been reporting for years. Having said that, while Apple Stores do quite well, they don’t have many points of sale. The reason why the “retail” number of 14% will be higher than the total PC market is because one of the largest players, Dell, has barely any “retail” presence, though they have begun to sell in WalMart, etc.

      Apple also sells extremely well online, thru its much visited online store, and thru online outlets like Amazon, where Mac laptops are constant best sellers. In other words, every player’s “retail” number will be high relative to the total market, due to Dell’s virtual absence from the “retail” side. In fact, it’s possible that Apple’s “retail” number may drop less than other mfrs, after factoring Dell into the equation.

    4. Paul says:

      First, Gene I mean no disrespect, but this just struck me funny.

      You write:

      “Perhaps it’s the Virgo in me, but I resent hearing incorrect information, and I don’t like it when I make a mistake either. Thanks to the Internet, though, I can fix errors on my sites in a jiffy. I was others were as devoted to accuracy.”

      In your wishing that others were as devoted to accuracy as you are, note that you inaccurately put the word “was” instead of what I assume should have been the word “wish”

      Again, I found this funny in a light hearted non disrespectful way. You are talking about how you like to be accurate but saying it inaccurately:)

      Paul

    5. First, Gene I mean no disrespect, but this just struck me funny.

      You write:

      “Perhaps it’s the Virgo in me, but I resent hearing incorrect information, and I don’t like it when I make a mistake either. Thanks to the Internet, though, I can fix errors on my sites in a jiffy. I was others were as devoted to accuracy.”

      In your wishing that others were as devoted to accuracy as you are, note that you inaccurately put the word “was” instead of what I assume should have been the word “wish”

      Again, I found this funny in a light hearted non disrespectful way. You are talking about how you like to be accurate but saying it inaccurately:)

      Paul

      Too bad you didn’t pay attention to the previous sentence where I said, “I can fix errors on my sites in a jiffy.”

      😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Paul says:

      Yes I did pay attention to that sentence and I figured you would fix it as soon as you read my comment:)

      (I was not trying to be the grammar police with my comment, it is just that after listening to your show for the past couple of years you seem to have a good sense of humor and thought you might get a chuckle out of it.

      Paul

    7. Yes I did pay attention to that sentence and I figured you would fix it as soon as you read my comment:)

      (I was not trying to be the grammar police with my comment, it is just that after listening to your show for the past couple of years you seem to have a good sense of humor and thought you might get a chuckle out of it.

      Paul

      Well, actually someone beat you to it. 🙂

      I wish the grammar police were around in the wee hours of the morning when I write these things.

      😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Mitch says:

      I hope Flash never makes it to the iPhone. Flash is crazy annoying – have another distracting flash ad – thank you very much! I hope Apple is able to move the mobile web towards H.264 and other non-Flash products.

      I thought Daniel Eran Dilger did a great job laying out the reasons why he thought Flash was not needed on the iPhone. As usual, he backed up his opinions with facts, lots of facts.

    9. zek says:

      “You can easily debate the merits and shortcomings of Flash, but millions of sites (including four of mine) use it to display images or just simple navigation bars. Apple can’t simply put those sites off limits to the iPhone and say no way, or insist we accept a degraded user experience.”

      Firstly, having a navigation bar that doesn’t work without flash is inexcusable. You can have both if you really feel the need for flash. Secondly, Apple HAS put those sites off limits, so saying they can’t is plain wrong.

      I hope apple never allows flash in the the iPod touch (including the one with a cellphone tacked on), and that they sell billions of them, because then instead of being told that my standards-compliant browser is inadequate, the truth will be made clear, that the website in question is inadequate.

    10. “You can easily debate the merits and shortcomings of Flash, but millions of sites (including four of mine) use it to display images or just simple navigation bars. Apple can’t simply put those sites off limits to the iPhone and say no way, or insist we accept a degraded user experience.”

      Firstly, having a navigation bar that doesn’t work without flash is inexcusable. You can have both if you really feel the need for flash. Secondly, Apple HAS put those sites off limits, so saying they can’t is plain wrong.

      I hope apple never allows flash in the the iPod touch (including the one with a cellphone tacked on), and that they sell billions of them, because then instead of being told that my standards-compliant browser is inadequate, the truth will be made clear, that the website in question is inadequate.

      First of all, the navigation bar was designed two years ago when the iPhone was just a glimmer in the eyes of Steve Jobs and his design team. Then, I don’t think anyone knew that Flash would be potentially verboten. In fact, my former Webmaster felt it was taking over.

      I’d be happy to kill the Flash stuff and have more conventional navigation bars on the sites, but I’m going to need some help from an expert to get that done. Are you such a person? 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. zek says:

      Yeah, reading through that, it looks a bit more curt than I actually meant. Sorry about that.

      I don’t mean just the iPhone about the flash thing; before that there were plenty of people who could not practically use flash, either through bandwidth or software/hardware restrictions. Some of the mobile systems that claim to support flash also do it very poorly.

      I’m no expert, but CSS is getting a lot more usable as an alternative to make links look good at the same time as still working even on a text-based browser. It seems to me that that is one of the underlying priorities of the W3C et. al. Whereas with proprietary things like flash, the attitude of ‘well it’s ok for 90% of users, so screw the rest (pretty much a unanimous answer from designers I’ve talked to), the standards seem to aim to build pages from the ground up, starting with the most basic html and then developing the site from there. When you’re one of that 10%, seeing a page that won’t work for you, when there is no good reason for it, that’s like seeing a big ‘fsck you!’ on the page. It’s ike the author is saying “my funky design is more important than your access to this site”. The only eplanaton for this that I can think of is that the owner/provider of the actual content is not the same person as the designer, and they have priorities which only partially coincide.

      There is a time gap between desire and fulfillment, and it takes time to figure out the best ways to that fufillment that can suit everyone. The standards way is slower, but more all-embracing. Proprietary methods present a quick fix that ignores all the details, and if successful, stifles progress even while appearing to deliver it. Flash is an incredibly appropriate name.

      Even so, the original purpose– to present animations at very low bandwidth cost–was an excellent one, and flash fulfilled that almost perfectly. It’s a shame it was taken over by a comapny largely devoid of new ideas, and is now being used as a crutch in an effort to maintain their position as a dominant player in spite of their recent lack of vision. Flash was originally meant to enhance the web, not to take it over.

      This guy in the Uk has an amazing site, with loads of examples of CSS features, most of which can be used without permission from him.
      http://www.cssplay.co.uk/menus/

      I’m looking for someone with good knowledge of php to help with a charity thing I’m involved with, and was told the best way was just to put an ad on the site. I reckon if you asked for help with standard-compliant site design (just a little box on the main page) you’d find someone good pretty fast.

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