• Newsletter Issue #437

    April 13th, 2008


    One of the most important functions of the Mac from the very beginning was to make music. Indeed, Macs are a mainstay in the entertainment industry, and many of the most famous artists of our time rely on Macs instead of large recording studios to create magic — and hit recordings of course.

    So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we placed music on the forefront, as you discovered the ins and outs of the new version of Bias Peak, the audio application we use for post-production on this show. The details were presented by the publisher’s VP for Sales and Marketing, Jason Davies.

    So just how do we use Peak Pro? Well, most of our interviews are captured in Skype, which actually offers better audio quality with regular phone connections than the expensive digital hybrid gear radio stations use. And, yes, we’ve tried both.

    In order to capture Skype’s audio, we use Ambrosia’s WireTap Studio. Although it offers editing too, and the tools are quite good, we prefer to stick with Peak Pro’s workflow. The newest version of this professional audio application can even generate podcasts, including the XML file needed to publish your feed to iTunes and elsewhere.

    In another segment on the show, we presented the details of a new musical venture from Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple, involving his rock band and chronicling their efforts to record a new album on his Mac that will eventually be distributed via iTunes. Jim’s musical tastes take a blues direction, and the material will be original, so we’re looking forward to the album with great anticipation.

    We also brought back our Special Correspondent, David Biedny, to present a special feature entitled “I Go to See An Apple Genius.” It started with David’s innocent attempt to fix his ailing MacBook Pro, but David became “the fly on the wall” and heard some interesting conversations that he told us about.

    And, we offered an update about the latest versions of two Web design applications, Freeway and Freeway Pro, from Ian Schray of Softpress.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, we’ll feature UFO researcher Philip J. Imbrogno, an expert on UFO and psychic phenomena in New York’s Hudson Valley. Also don’t miss a special appearance by Jim Moseley, editor of “Saucer Smear.”

    Coming April 20: Another “Ultimate UFO Roundtable” featuring UFO investigator and experiencer Jeff Ritzmann and former UFO researcher Don Ecker.


    You most likely know that the newest iteration of the MacBook Pro uses Intel’s powerful and energy-saving Penryn processors. You also know that some of the touchscreen tricks from the iPhone and MacBook AIr have been transplanted to the touchpads of the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

    Adding the Multi-Touch feature allows you to, for example, pinch your fingers to reduce text size in a supported application and to expand them — all on the touchpad of course — to increase the size. Yes, I suppose the touchpad, which has not changed in size, may be a mite small to really exploit such a feature, but you just know that it’ll grow larger perhaps in the next product refresh.

    That would seem to be sufficient to provide a decent upgrade to continue to move lots and lots of Mac note-books into homes and businesses, and Apple could have stopped there.

    But it appears that Apple wouldn’t give up making changes. They did a few more things, some of which you might not be particularly enamored of.

    Consider the keyboard on the updated MacBook Pro, for example. I always felt it was just fine as it is, but Apple couldn’t help but tinker.

    Gone is the Num Lock key, so you can no longer get a semblance of the functions of a numeric keypad. Instead, Apple has rejiggered the top row of the keyboard into a semblance of a media design. This is what you see on many Windows note-books, and since a lot of Windows users are switching to the Mac, Apple must have wanted them to easily become accustomed to the territory.

    I suppose that’s not a bad idea unless you’re someone who has already grown accustomed over the years to the keyboard layout of the PowerBook G4 and previous versions of the MacBook Pro. Suddenly you have to get used to some unexpected changes, and it’s something Apple doesn’t really address on their new product descriptions, although there is an Apple support document covering the altered design.

    Now it’s not it’s not as if the new keyboard layout is bad; just different. Instead of using F12 for Dashboard, the standard configuration is F4, although the Fn key and F12 will deliver the traditional result.

    Sure, you can restore function keys to operate in the normal fashion via a Keyboard preference panel checkbox. Other key assignments can also be configured in various ways, but I don’t see a way to restore the right Option key to also provide the Enter function. But maybe I’m the only one who cares.

    Now this isn’t the first time Apple made changes without a huge fanfare, and it won’t be the last.

    But sometimes you wonder if they’re just trying to answer questions nobody asked. Look at Leopard’s Stacks feature. Yes, having a bunch of icons spread out on your desktop when you click a folder in the Dock might look nice in a demonstration, but it becomes awfully cluttered if you have more than a few dozen files in that folder.

    Lots of people complained about this ill-thought feature, and Apple responded. The 10.5.2 update restored most of the previous functionality, which allowed a folder placed in the Dock to deliver a hierarchical menu of its contents.

    Do you happen to recall the original Public Beta of Mac OS X way back in 2000 and the location of the Apple logo, symbol of the famous Apple menu?

    Yes indeed, it was placed in the center of the screen, for appearance and not to provide any particular function. Certainly that particular ill-timed maneuver reinforced the impression that the Apple and NeXT people at Apple were at war with each other to decide which Mac OS features would remain and which would be altered.

    The end result was certainly a mixed bag. It was good to have the restored Apple menu also incorporate most of the functions of the Finder’s Special menu. But not being able to add and remove items made no sense then, and certainly doesn’t now seven years after the first release version of Mac OS X appeared.

    So I suppose Apple again was providing solutions that a lot of people just didn’t ask for.

    Of course, it may be that one reason Apple does this is to keep Mac users guessing and to have something to rant about or, they hope, praise. Consider Leopard with over 300 advertised features, and then look at all the hints and tricks that have already been discovered. Almost every last one of them wasn’t part of the advertised laundry list of features.

    Now in the scheme of things, some of this really isn’t all that important. I mean, getting used to a keyboard layout that’s somewhat different can be accomplished in a few days without a great deal of concentration. Although there are third party alternatives, I haven’t felt the need to repopulate the Apple menu to my personal standards. The Dock does just fine, thank you.

    In the end, I suppose you could imagine Steve Jobs and his crew staying up late into the night planning and scheming to find ways to keep Mac users off center. And, of course, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.


    By February of next year, millions of TV sets in the U.S. will become obsolete. How so? Well, the analog TV spectrum is being reallocated to other purposes, after many decades of use.

    Unfortunately, as is typical of many government programs, the attempts to explain all this to the unwashed masses has left a reported 40% unaware about what’s really going on. Now first and foremost, if your analog TV — and we still have one actually — is hooked up to a cable or satellite connection, you really have nothing whatever to worry about. The company that delivers your TV service will take care of all the details and make sure you continue to get the reception you’re paying for.

    The only people who are being affected are those who are still using regular antennas, such as a rabbit ears, to pick up those analog signals.

    Fortunately, there’s a solution for that, in the form of coupons the U.S. government is handing out, to the tune of $40 each, to buy an analog to digital converter, which will let you receive digital TV off the air. Now the converter boxes will supposedly cost $50 or $60, and you wonder why a $40 level was selected, particularly since the government is earning billions of dollars from the sale of the original TV frequencies to new owners, such as AT&T and Verizon.

    Oh well, logic is not necessarily the province of those who pass the laws.

    Regardless, all this seems basically simple. No cable or satellite means get the converter and you still pick up your favorite stations, even if you have to kick in some extra money.

    There is, however, one more source of confusion and that’s the world of high definition TV. You see, HDTV is digital, but all digital TV isn’t HDTV. Most of it is still standard definition, and the sets with digital tuners aren’t necessarily HDTV either.

    On the other hand, I can see where there are mixed signals here. Certainly, the government’s response is appropriately incompetent, at least if you take the TV spots that have been aired as an example. Worse, they have now apparently fined a number of chains that carry consumer electronics gear, such as Circuit City and Wal-Mart, for selling analog TVs without the mandated labeling about the pending obsolescence of their tuners.

    In the end, it’s also possible some of the TV stations will get temporary reprieves from turning off the analog signals because they will not be able to fully convert their transmission equipment to digital. On the other hand, none of this should matter much in the scheme of things.

    The handwriting is on the wall, and analog TV is will soon join eight-track tapes in the great consumer electronics cemetery in the sky.


    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #437”

    1. David H Dennis says:

      I’m probably one of the people who helped cause the change. I have the last PowerBook G4 17″ model, and I was always pressing that num lock key by accident. When you do this, and suddenly your typing becomes a bizarre mix of letters, numbers and nonsense, and there’s no clear way to figure out what you did other than the LED on the num lock key, it’s easy to get downright frightened that something’s wrong with your machine.

      And it is is so easy to press by mistake. I was doing it several times a day for a while :-(.

      So please, Apple, don’t bring back that num lock!

      I have to admit, though, that I never use the numeric keypad on my regular, standard sized Apple keyboard, either, so I may just not really understand the advantages. Maybe I just don’t type enough numbers to like it.


    2. Well, then it’s all your fault.



      P.S. Since I never use the numeric keypad, I really don’t care, actually.

    3. Andrew says:

      I’m guilty too, though I do use the real numeric keypad on my desktop keyboard, I’ve never used the embedded keypad on a laptop. THe new arrangement is actually annoying as when I use my MacBook at my desk in OS X everything works perfectly, but when I boot into Windows I have no numlock key and strangely even the real hardware numeric keypad on my Apple keyboard (the new aluminum one) doesn’t work in Windows unless numlock is enabled.

    4. dana Sutton says:

      The real question: why doesn’t Apple let users program their own F-keys? Or more accurately, why did they stop letting us do this (as we could do with OS 9)? Up in Cupertino there’s sometimes a kind of “father knows best” attitude which makes us do things somebody else’s way rather than the way we want.

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