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Newsletter Issue #470


You can bet that retailers are going to pore over the receipts for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to check the potential for decent holiday sales. I know that local stores seemed mighty busy all weekend, so I suppose there is hope, although it is also clear that shoppers are looking for bargains. Indeed there are plenty of those.

In that tradition, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we brought onboard Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen to regale us with a number of great finds for tech gear that offer both terrific performance and reasonably affordable pricing. As usual, Steve had a large list assembled, and he went through pretty much most of them.

As a follow-up for our discussion in last week’s episode, security aficionado Kirk McElhearn delivered more details about how Apple and Google work together to provide phishing protection for the newest release of Safari. And is Apple really recommending that you buy virus protection software? Indeed they are, and that comes as a surprising turnaround in light of the fact that Macs are still mostly free of malware. Unless they know something we don’t of course, or they just want more software to sell.

In addition, you heard from Macworld Senior Editor Peter Cohen with a special Mac and iPhone gaming roundup, and he also explained why he thinks Apple should produce a netbook pronto!

Oh well, Peter and I don’t always agree about things, and the netbook is surely one of them. But I was glad to give him his soapbox, and, for his sake and those of others who want such a device, I hope his wishes are fulfilled by Apple in the near future.

On The Paracast this week, listen to the episode that we thought would never see the light of day. Alexandra Holzer, daughter of famed occult researcher Hans Holzer, talks about her ongoing paranormal research and experiences.

This discussion will focus not just on events, but on our ongoing suggestions to make ghost hunting a more productive study.


Every few days, I see a message floating above the desktop asking if I want to sync something on my MacBook or Mac Pro. It may be something in the keychain, such as login information, or a preference in Mail or another Apple program.

That seems well and good, and I’m glad to know the feature, part of Apple’s MobileMe Web services, appears to be operating, but the results can leave an awful lot to be desired.

After accepting the sync, I will sometimes find that an email account has mysteriously become disabled, or a particular setting, such as how often I want my spam mailbox emptied, reverts to a different option.

Since I’m also co-host of a paranormal radio show, I suppose I could just blame this on some mysterious force from the unknown. No it’s not a manifestation of the occult, but a synchronization defect in MobileMe of long standing.

I suppose I’m partly to blame. After all, I tend to alter my email accounts more often than most and not strictly for test purposes. For example, we updated our Web servers the other day to allow for better performance, and higher storage capacity and bandwidth. Part of the process was to put the company email on the host’s own mail servers, rather than on our own.

Why? Well, consider it a manifestation of my slightly obsessive/compulsive nature, or maybe it’s just an expression of paranoia. What it means is that if the server goes down, and they do unfortunately, email will continue to flow. If something happens to the host’s email system, I can set up temporary accounts on my server.

In any case, changes of this sort don’t alter the email address, but require using different incoming and outgoing server settings in Mail. Since the changes are trivial, I made them manually on both Macs. I suppose any minor different in the way the settings were made may have confounded MobileMe, although I can’t see what would cause an email account to deactivate itself.

All right, so chalk it up to gremlins. But it also means that this is a feature that can prove undependable. Yes, there is a way reset the data under the MobileMe preference pane’s Advanced settings. But why should any of this be necessary?

What’s more, when you login to the MobileMe site, there’s a panel bearing a checkbox labeled “Keep me logged in for two weeks,” but that feature simply doesn’t work. At least not for me.

In Apple’s favor, however, the email service seems solid enough after a rough period earlier this year, but I will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to use a me.com email address, so I trust Apple will never consider abandoning the mac.com alternative.

The other ailing feature is Back to My Mac, which is designed to allow you to access the desktop of another Mac, again courtesy of MobileMe. It works well enough if you have a recent AirPort Extreme. When it comes to third-party routers, don’t prepare to place any bets on it.

I know that I’ve tried, even using the routers recommended by Apple, without success. So what’s the good of having a free feature in Leopard when it rarely works? Indeed, I’ve heard of troubles even when an AirPort Express is used.

All right, you can do screen sharing in iChat, but that requires someone at the other end of the connection to accept the request. You can also spend a few hundred dollars and acquire Apple Remote Desktop or a similar product, and be assured of a more robust experience. But that defeats the purpose of Back to My Mac.

True, a lot of the blame might be attributed to the fact that there are various and sundry differences from router to router, even though they supposedly all support the same basic industry standards. That might argue for the fact that these standards are perhaps a bit to loose or should be more stringently enforced, but that’s another matter entirely.

Now it may be that Apple will find a solution that has a greater chance of success. Maybe you’ll see it in Snow Leopard, but if it requires better support from the network hardware industry, it’ll probably never happen.

Alas, regardless of the cause, it means that some stuff on a Mac either doesn’t work reliably or doesn’t work at all.


Many of the ads from Detroit’s beleaguered auto makers sound the same. Their cars have great gas mileage and, yes, you can actually get low-rate financing if you try one of their special programs, although the truth is that credit remains hard to come by these days.

Now I know a little something about this. I have a brother-in-law who is in the car business, and he says that he can still find customers. But he finds it almost impossible to get the lenders to approve the transaction, even for people with pretty high credit scores.

But in the end, credit will no doubt loosen up, and the question is whether the three remaining American auto makers will be able to get their bailouts from Washington and stay in business. Well, actually, they are supposed to be loans, but someone has to foot the bill until payments are made. That is, if they are made.

In any case, when the executives from Chrysler, Ford and GM went to Washington with hats in hand recently, they really didn’t use much common sense. For one thing, they flew there in private jets, rather than take coach to show they were really trying to conserve cash.

While I would be the last one to want to see millions of people lose their jobs, the fact is that these auto makers have betrayed their workers big time. You see, job number one for any company manufacturing retail products is to build merchandise that people actually want to buy.

Up till recently, the American car makers felt they could live long and prosper with gas guzzling SUVs and trucks, and used compact cars as loss leaders to entice people to become customers at the entry level, in hopes they’d eventually trade up to the really profitable models.

In contrast, many of the foreign auto makers took smaller cars seriously, as bread and butter products that should be designed and assembled with care. So they ended up with lots of loyal customers.

Indeed, when you bought American, you also often had to put up not just with shoddy workmanship, but with more frequent visits to the repair shop to set things right. And that, let me tell you from personal experience, can be a mighty frustrating process.

But the key to success is owner satisfaction. Even if a particular model requires more maintenance, if the owners love driving them, they are likely to buy or lease them again next time around.

In the January 2009 issue of Consumer Reports, you can read the results of a survey involving over 425,000 readers, where, among other things, they indicate how satisfied they are with their current vehicles.

Let’s forget for the moment what you think about the magazine’s reviews, and I have serious questions as to how they handle personal computers, particularly Macs. But when it comes to reporting whether readers prefer a specific make and model motor vehicle, I’ll take the results as accurate.

And the news isn’t so pleasing to Detroit, because only three American models met or exceeded the magic 80% threshold of whether the customer will buy that product again. In the “Upscale Cars” category, readers gave an 82 score to the Cadillac CTS, and two versions of the Chevrolet Corvette got high honors in the ‘Roadsters” category.

When it came to every other listed market segment, foreign cars generally got the highest scores, while Detroit had the largest number of models in the “Least satisfying” category. There, except for the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-7 SUVs, it was all American — every last one

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many loan guarantees Congress gives Detroit. If they can’t figure out how to build cars people not only want to buy, but are willing to buy again, they do not deserve to succeed.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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