• Newsletter Issue #477

    January 18th, 2009


    As I’ve said before, doing a weekly radio show means that we can’t always stay current with the news. However, lots of things changed with the announcement last Wednesday afternoon that Steve Jobs was taking an extended leave of absence until June because of his ongoing illness.

    As a result, our carefully-planned schedule changed as well. After recording a segment on The Tech Night Owl LIVE  with security guru Rich Mogull, who discussed the potential for cyber-security threats in the 21st century, a lot of rescheduling had to be done.

    Now we’ve tried to take a responsible approach to this ticklish subject. You see, far too many members of the media believe they have a right to know everything about anyone. To make matters worse, Steve Jobs is also the number one CEO on the planet, and therefore a major celebrity. That he chooses to keep many elements about his personal life private merely makes the press all the more curious to find out what’s ticking behind that mercurial personality.

    Indeed, it got pretty morbid when the talking heads on TV interviewed doctors who displayed The typically questionable ethics of trying to diagnosis someone they not only never actually examined, but for whom they don’t have any definitive medical history, just a few sketches.

    Trying to take as responsible an approach as possible, we explored the implications of Jobs’ absence from Apple. Will he return, or is he planning on an early retirement?

    Our special guests, which included TidBITS editor/publisher Adam Engst, columnist Kirk McElhearn and Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell, presented their views about the future of Apple with and without Steve Jobs at the helm.

    On The Paracast this week, meet long-time UFO and paranormal investigator Dr. Leo Sprinkle, who shares information acquired over a lifetime of exploring the unknown. This wide-ranging discussion covers UFOs, reincarnation phenomena and abductions.

    Coming January 25: Noted UFO investigator Ted Phillips, Director of The Center for Physical Trace Research, who excels at probing trace evidence discovered in the wake of UFO landings, reports on the incredible events at Marley Woods. Is this a “window area” that attracts paranormal phenomena?


    I suppose this week represented a huge test for Apple and the stock market. Knowing that Steve Jobs was going to be absent from Apple for five months, how would Wall Street react, particularly in light of the possibility that he might never return as CEO?

    Well, some analysts suggest that the financial community has already allowed for that happenstance, particularly after reports that Jobs might be seriously ill first surfaced last summer. Yes, a fair part of the hit to Apple’s stock price might be due to the ongoing economic crisis. But questions about the health and stability not only of its CEO but of the company as a result are probably factored into those figures. As a result, the actual dip wasn’t quite as severe as some might have feared.

    But if you’ve been depending on Apple to fund your retirement, you may have to put off the day when you can give up that day job — or night job. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean Apple is going to return to the bad days of the mid-1990s when everything seemed to be poised to fall apart and take the company down.

    Certainly, you can’t expect the same stellar numbers when Apple’s financials are announced this week. I cannot believe Apple was immune to the financial crisis. While there have been some preliminary indications of somewhat of a shortfall, based on recent sales figures for the holiday season, only Apple and its accountants know the rest of the story.

    More to the point, Apple has confounded the skeptics before. So it may well be that the numbers will far more favorable than anyone has a right to expect. No doubt, Apple’s executives will attempt to provide appropriate levels of comfort about the company’s future.

    No doubt, they will claim that Steve Jobs is definitely in the loop as far as critical decisions are concerned, and that he is recovering well from his illness and will definitely be around to deliver the keynote at the WWDC this summer. Or at least, that’s my educated guess about the whole thing.

    But what will keep Apple alive and prosperous is not how quickly Steve Jobs recovers, but on the new products that will arrive from Apple this year and beyond. Depending on how revolutionary those products will be, you may learn of them with a simple press release and a handful of private media briefings, or Apple will stage a special event with appropriate pomp and circumstance.

    It may also help that, from an advertising standpoint at least, Jobs is not the face of Apple. If anyone plays that role, it may well be actor Justin Long, the “Mac” of those popular TV ads.

    At one time, I actually suggested that Jobs ought to be the public face of Apple in an advertising campaign, much in the fashion of CEOs for other companies over the years. The downside is that, if something bad happens to the CEO, a company loses its star.

    Aside from Long, the real star of an Apple ad is the product, whatever it might be in a particular campaign. When you go to an Apple Store, you don’t buy the Steve Jobs Macintosh, but the Apple Macintosh, or the iPod or iPhone.

    If the upgrades to those products remain compelling, and the marketing campaigns are appropriately inspired, sales will remain high. In fact, were Jobs to gradually fade from the scene over the next few months, you may not even notice, except in retrospect.

    You see, the news media has a short-term memory. The condition of Steve Jobs was important last week, but this week, it’s all about Obama’s nomination. Next week, another event will take its place.

    Sure, Apple’s next new product introduction will make headlines, whatever it might be. At the same time, there will be several paragraphs in many of the stories reminding us about Steve Jobs, but that, too, will pass.

    By summer, if Jobs isn’t back, the only event that might draw attention to that fact is the WWDC. Then, when push comes to shove, the truth will be out there for all to see. But if the new product releases are significant enough to take center stage, the absence of Jobs might not matter quite as much as you might expect.

    This doesn’t mean I really believe Steve Jobs will never return to Apple, or that his illness is fatal. I certainly hope that he is already on the road to recovery and that he will appear healthy and hearty upon his scheduled return to his day job.

    However, bear in mind that, in his absence, Apple has some brilliant executives working each day to keep the company running smoothly and profitably. COO — now acting CEO — Tim Cook, is considered a brilliant manager, and you all know about chief industrial designer Jonathan Ive, along with tens of thousands of other talented employees.

    Some even suggest that, despite his reputation for being the supreme micromanager, Jobs has been slowly delegating more and more of the work to his staff in recent years. I suppose we’ll know in a few months whether that’s true, and how well Apple will fare in the years to come.


    As some of you might have observed, we’ve been offline for several at a time this past week. Yes, we paid our hosting bill, and our electric bill for that matter. What happened is, well, just one of those things that affect companies big and small.

    You see, a Web server is very much a glorified PC. Most sport the same processors from AMD and Intel — our new ones we’ve used have the former. The chassis may be more robust, with powerful and often redundant power supplies, industrial-grade hard drives, carefully-selected RAM modules, and motherboards that undergo, at least in theory, extended testing before being deployed.

    But the hardware can and does fail from time to time. A responsible Web host is equipped to promptly repair or replace defective parts. While that’s happening, of course, your sites will be shut down. The only way to avoid that is to have extra servers, perhaps load balanced, a technique that distributes the work among two or more computers. If one fails, the others pick up the slack.

    Well, we aren’t quite large enough to have multiple servers in operation, although that’s certainly in the offing.

    In our case, the server was actually replaced, but it wasn’t the root of our troubles. It ended up to be a curious interaction between our server’s control panel and some of the open source software that is traditionally used to run our sites.

    I won’t get into the down and dirty details. It was, as usual with such issues, difficult to diagnose, but our admin, Anoop Alias, got to the bottom of the cause behind ongoing system crashes, and things are far more stable now. We are actually on a backup server for the time being, awaiting the final setup of a new, more powerful beast to keep these sites running at top efficiency.

    Now some of you might suggest we should have just acquired an Xserve, and I suppose that’s in the cards too in the long run. But all-Mac Web hosting can be extremely expensive when you are seeking a powerful server that can handle the demands of multiple sites with reasonably high traffic, audio streaming, email and a large chunk of podcast downloads.

    It’s not just hardware that’s reflected in the price of doing business, but Internet bandwidth, which can get mighty expensive when you are measuring it in the terabytes.

    Anyway, I do hope we have seen the last of our online troubles. But even Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and other large companies with vast server farms encounter outages at one time or another. It may take a few years before life in the cloud can proceed without a few showers along the way.


    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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