• Newsletter Issue #480

    February 8th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    I still don’t see many — or any — members of the media making much of a deal out of the fact that, while Apple did quite well for the last financial quarter, whereas Microsoft’s sales, while sufficient to generate the usual high profits, were enough to throw their leadership into tailspins. As a result, Microsoft is going to lay off some 5,000 employees over the next 18 months, and no doubt a large amount of contractors.

    You can’t, of course, provide answers to questions that nobody asks. But we ask them, So on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl checked out consumer electronics sales and trends for the last quarter and for 2009 with industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group. During the course of the interview, which is worth a careful listen, our old friend gave us the scoop on how various companies fared during a very difficult season, including the well-publicized failure of the Circuit City consumer electronics chain.

    With the apparent inability of big telecoms to succeed with Internet phone service, we called upon Timothy Dick, co-founder of VOIPo, a new entrant in this arena, to sort things out. What I didn’t have a chance to mention on the show is that I’ve set up a VOIPo installation here, with one of our business phone numbers. Voice reception is excellent, and pre-release glitches are few and far between. I see a great future for this company if they can keep things as solid as they ramp up their system.

    In addition, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, came on board to look at the state of the Apple Inc., some fascinating things about Microsoft and other fascinating topics.

    On The Paracast this week, UFO specialist Scott Corrales returns to deliver amazing information on new waves of UFO sightings in Latin America in 2008 and the first part of 2009.

    Coming February 15: Veteran UFO and paranormal investigatorStan Gordon discusses the classic Kecksburg, Pennsylvania case and ongoing waves of paranormal activity on that state.

    Now available! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders on The Paracast home page, where you’ll find a convenient pop-up menu so you can begin the ordering process. They come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping and are available in most popular sizes.

    ARE LEOPARD BUGS A THING OF THE PAST AT LONG LAST?

    As regular readers know, I’m not one to take Mac troubleshooting sites as seriously as I used to. In one tragic case, one of those sources, which has had a couple of ownership changes, has managed to pretty much lose its hard-won reputation for accuracy.

    These days, if they’re not just taking a few random system anomalies and turning them into serious problems of one sort or another, they are mostly regurgitating the material they find at Apple’s own support forums. Unfortunately, those forums are not actually vetted, but just offered as a reasonably open resource for folks to report problems and sometimes even get some answers by regular visitors. Apple doesn’t really make an effort to provide genuine support, though. They mostly provide that service as a place to vent and perhaps locate others who’ve solved the problem you’re having.

    In any case, I think the people who conclude that Leopard was one of the buggier Mac OS X releases are just plain wrong. Each and every version has required several maintenance updates before things settled down. Sometimes they even shipped with show-stoppers, such as the tendency to corrupt the directory of a FireWire 800 drive. That was fixed pretty quick, though it sometimes required a firmware update from the drive vendor.

    Leopard’s major contender was a Finder bug that might result in lost or corrupted data if something halted the process of moving — rather than just copying — a file from one drive to another. That, too, was fixed really fast, though it’s possible this was an issue of long standing that was only discovered when Leopard came out.

    Another bug that annoyed many of you resulted in unreliable Wi-Fi connections. Indeed, I ran into a few early on, though never very serious. But my particular setup is complicated by the fact that reception in the master bedroom is not terribly robust. So I’ve had to configure a second AirPort Extreme (the first is actually a Time Capsule) to better circulate the signal.

    However, I haven’t had any notable crashing bugs. Sure, applications do quit from time to time, but the causes appear to be application-related rather than operating system glitches.

    But if you can believe what you’ve read here and there, Apple can’t do anything right, and Leopard is an unmitigated disaster. This despite the fact that 10.5 is in the hands of more Mac users than any previous version of Mac OS X. If there were serious defects, they wouldn’t be confined to some scattered and often unverified complaints on a Mac troubleshooting site, or even Apple’s discussion forums.

    Perfection, however, is not in the cards. Indeed, the Mac OS X Finder, while better able to handle multithreading than prior versions, can still be brought to its knees from time to time. It still has difficulty retaining position or view settings, and these are problems that can be traced back to the very first release of Mac OS X.

    Although developers aren’t speaking about this publicly, it has been reported that Snow Leopard will include a Cocoa Finder. The current version is Carbon. That doesn’t mean that, if true, Apple’s programmers have discovered a holy grail that will miraculously transform the Finder into a super-efficient file navigation and management utility. But maybe it’ll give them a chance to revisit the more serious shortcomings, and finally fix them.

    Moreover, having a stable and speedy operating system doesn’t mean there aren’t other things Apple should be addressing in Leopard’s successor. Take the Help menu — please! Why are the labels smaller than in other menus? What about design consistency?

    Of course, Snow Leopard isn’t being promoted as a major feature-laden release. While there will be plenty of under-the-hood improvements — or at least the promise of same — the visual look and feel will be essentially the same. Even if the Finder is Cocoa, that’s not something you will be able to actually see, just as you couldn’t see the differences between the PowerPC and Intel versions of Mac OS X.

    But as far as Leopard itself is concerned, no doubt there will be more updates in the fashion of 10.5.6. I can’t say when 10.5.7 will be readied, but surely it’ll come eventually, and perhaps there will even be a few more before Apple is finished and, other than security updates, is concentrating strictly on Snow Leopard.

    For now, I regard Leopard is supremely reliable, and its shortcomings aren’t serious enough to detract from its benefits. Let’s hope Snow Leopard continues in that tradition, though I hope it’ll fewer require updates to get things to settle down.

    SO IS IT TIME TO TOSS YOUR VCR?

    1984 represented the introduction of the original Apple Macintosh, and that was certainly an historic development in the world of personal computing. But it was also the year I bought my first VCR, and it was a top-of-the-line model bearing the Zenith label on it (though built by JVC) that set me back $850.

    Why so much? Well, I wanted the best-quality audio, and the basic VCR could barely compete with a table radio. Instead, I choose VHS Hi-Fi, which sounded reasonably close to a CD, and that wasn’t too shabby. It certainly made action movies far more enjoyable.

    However, a VCR’s picture quality was always merely adequate, and when DVDs came out, you could see the eventual end of the former. This isn’t to say that the VHS crowd didn’t have any further ideas. There was, for example, S-VHS, which was supposed to deliver pictures almost twice as sharp as regular VHS.

    In the real world, I sprung for one, but it was largely a waste of money. Despite the claims, picture quality was only slightly better, and no market developed for prerecorded fare. But it was fine for time-shifting TV shows until DVRs became popular.

    More recently, our latest S-VHS VCR, a Panasonic, failed, and I sought a replacement. I suppose I could have settled for a regular VHS, but I still had some S-VHS tapes on hand, and I wanted to play them from time to time, but finding such a product in today’s market proved to be an exercise in futility.

    In the end, I got a Mitsubishi S-VHS VCR, one of their high-end models of several years ago, on eBay. It cost me a little over $90, and arrived in first-rate condition. The vendor was someone who had gotten near-perfect eBay ratings, so I’m pleased with the purchase.

    I also hope it’ll last a few years, but it will not be replaced. I’ve moved on.

    You see, I have few feelings of nostalgia when it comes to consumer electronics. My turntable was sold off in the last decade, and all vinyl replaced by CDs. Yes, I know some of you believe that the CD is an inferior sound medium. I’ll only state that I do not agree, so let’s leave it at that.

    As far as cassette recorders are concerned, I do have one or two around, though I can’t remember when I last removed any of them from the office closet.

    However, there is still a 27-inch analog TV in my son’s room. It’s a CRT model from Sony, purchased in 1994, and has undergone fairly steady use since then. It remains in near-perfect condition, and, yes, it will be replaced when it wears out with a brand new flat panel model. And I won’t feel any pangs of regret either.

    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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    18 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #480”

    1. gopher says:

      Many are still upgrading to 10.5.0 late in the game, so to say any Leopard bug is a thing of the past is
      naive to say the best. They wait to upgrade to 10.5 until they think they hear one of their
      favorite titles is now Leopard compatible, and they need Leopard for some other software.
      So if they bought Leopard when it first came out, they may think that’s all they need.

      Even 10.5.6 has some showstopper bugs such as as the inability to do live preview of digital cameras from Nikon and Canon. And there are still software titles which were compatible with 10.4.11 but
      aren’t with 10.5. The problem Apple runs into with every release is someone’s compatibility is always
      dropped, and people who don’t support the upgrade path to where their customers are going are going
      to run into a rude awakening.

      Some LaCie hard drives aren’t even compatible with 10.5.6.

      WiFi is still hit and miss with 10.5.6 when it comes to third party routers.

      No, Leopard is no buggier than any other version of Mac OS X, but it still has bugs. Just because
      you haven’t seen your share of tech support calls increase with 10.5.6 doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

      Come visit http://discussions.apple.com/ if you want to see what the real bugs are. If you can solve every one of them, great, then I’ll believe Mac OS X is less buggy than it was before.

    2. Karl says:

      For me… Jaguar was the most stable and bug free system, which I still use on a G4 PowerMac. It not perfect but it’s been great.

      On a PowerMac G5, Leopard has been the release that has been causing problems for me. I got it pretty stable now. Unfortunately I’ve also been chasing kernel panics on six MacBook Pros that are used daily in a Windows Networking environment. I’m not naive enough to think that all this is Apple’s fault… actually, I’m not even looking to lay blame. With moving from Jaguar to Leopard, as well updating some of the 3rd party software that is used, we went from a relatively stable environment to one riddled with KPs, which is unfortunate.

      I don’t know what it’s like with other operating systems but overall Mac OS X (all versions) have been quite manageable, but I can certainly feel for someone who is having problems with it.

    3. Adam says:

      Leopard bugs a thing of the past? We should be so lucky. I am hopeful that after 6 point updates there will be few (or better yet no new bugs and that improvements in usability will abound. Unless you are pretty tolerant of bugs it is always best to update any OS with the 10.x.1 version. My experiences at the Genius Bar confirmed it, as does my experience in Software QA. Simply put it is a practical impossibility to replicate every installation scenario for any piece of software. Bugs can be minimized but you’ll never get a “bug free” operating system unless you meticulously maintain your systems as they came straight from the factory which is also unrealistic. Of course most things you do to a system should not be a big deal if the people who crafted whatever tools you are using did their own due diligence, but you must rely on them and they must rely on Apple for good information about what’s coming, any of which could change at the last minute for any number of very valid reasons including – you guessed it – stability.

      I maintain a good back up and I am pretty “bleeding edge tolerant” so I tend to upgrade early. I am, therefore, a guinea pig for the rest of you. Let me and my compatriots find the problems and after Apple fixes them you can feel a bit better. historically this is the 10.x.1 or 10.x.2 release and takes 3 to 6 weeks.

      As for the Help menu? It’s a bit annoying, especially on a modern Mac. However, I actually would have welcomed the small font on my 1.4Ghz G4 iBook (last and fastest iBook made). Why? Because from time to time I would accidentally cick to fast and launch the 10.4 help viewer. When that happened it was time to go refill my beverage while the whole system came to a crawl for the next 2 minutes. No, I don’t really like the smaller help menu font, but I don’t mind it either, and when I am using 10.5 on a PPC machine I sometimes become thankful for it. This opinion is, of course, personal and highly subjective.

      Cheers!
      Adam

    4. Ron Bishop says:

      SMB on 10.5.x hasn’t been nearly as reliable as in 10.4.11. It has caused confusion and delay. Not every server is serving up AFP.

      We’re at 10.5.6 now, and Apple is talking 10.6. That makes me doubtful SMB will ever work smoothly in 10.5. We keep a few machines on 10.4.11 just so we can see the actual file size (rather than everything less than 1MB is 1MB…) on Linux SMB shares. It is better than it was – in earlier 10.5.x when you couldn’t connect to the SMB volume, or even see the share.

      SMB works in 10.4.11. It’ll suck if Apple doesn’t fix bugs before moving to a newer version that needs to be purchased. It chaps my hide when users are told to purchase an upgrade to “fix” a bug.

      We have to run 10.5.x, because newer machines require it.

    5. Al says:

      “Even 10.5.6 has some showstopper bugs such as as the inability to do live preview of digital cameras from Nikon and Canon.”

      Boys and girls, welcome to English Comp 101. The lesson of the day is “hyperbole”. 🙂

    6. Adam says:

      @ Al:
      Bravo. I wanted to respond to that but was unable to be so succinct.

    7. gopher says:

      With the millions of photographers who use Macs, and the live preview function not working properly,
      this really makes it difficult for any amateur photographer to gain a foothold understanding their camera’s functions in what sort of color will come out with what white balance. Hyperbole? I think not. Features which were great enhancements to aid the budding pro on a Mac shouldn’t suddenly be disabled.
      The fact it affects BOTH Nikon and Canon cameras says it is not limited to any one standard, since both
      camera manufacturers use very different means of achieving photographic preciseness. I sure won’t be upgrading to 10.5.6 or later until I hear this bug is fixed, as I am an amateur photographer
      gaining a better understanding of how to do better digital photography.

    8. Brian M says:

      Just because not everyone runs into a particular bug, doesn’t make it any less of a bug.

      Some people just don’t use certain features, so don’t see it.

      Doing Mac support (hardware and software) I have to resolve a software issue once or twice a week that comes down to some sort of bug. Last week it was Mail not upgrading from 10.4 quite perfectly, Mail would start, but nothing would show up on screen.
      had to dump their Rules file in the user/Library/Mail/ folder (Junk Mail rules, and user rules).

      I’ve upgraded many systems from 10.4 to 10.5, this is the first time this particular problem has shown up.

      Overall yes, I do prefer 10.5 to earlier versions, but thats not to say it isn’t without bugs that still haven’t been resolved.
      (one that still bugs me is 10.5 completely ignores “nice” processing levels, so background processing tasks that in 10.4 wouldn’t be noticeable, in 10.5 can cause front applications to stutter or lag.)

    9. Adam says:

      Brian M wrote:

      Just because not everyone runs into a particular bug, doesn’t make it any less of a bug.

      Some people just don’t use certain features, so don’t see it.

      Doing Mac support (hardware and software) I have to resolve a software issue once or twice a week that comes down to some sort of bug. Last week it was Mail not upgrading from 10.4 quite perfectly, Mail would start, but nothing would show up on screen.
      had to dump their Rules file in the user/Library/Mail/ folder (Junk Mail rules, and user rules).

      I’ve upgraded many systems from 10.4 to 10.5, this is the first time this particular problem has shown up.

      Overall yes, I do prefer 10.5 to earlier versions, but thats not to say it isn’t without bugs that still haven’t been resolved.
      (one that still bugs me is 10.5 completely ignores “nice” processing levels, so background processing tasks that in 10.4 wouldn’t be noticeable, in 10.5 can cause front applications to stutter or lag.)

      I agree that a bug not seen by most is still a bug. Finding bugs is my profession and I spend a huge amount of time figuring out weird scenarios designed to uncover flaws that someone using the software as intended wouldn’t see. They are, as you say, still bugs.

      Conversely, not everything that goes badly is the result of a bug, though. The very fact that you have upgraded “many systems” and only seen this once suggests that this is not a bug. What it suggests is that there was file corruption somewhere in the rules. Ever dump/rebuild/replace a preference? The fact that it worked in 10.4 doesn’t mean that the file was good. It means that if the file was bad, it was bad in a way that 10.4 didn’t mind but 10.5 did. If there were a true bug that made mail rules incompatible it is likely that you would have seen a lot more such issues while working with “many” machines.

      Having said that, this may indeed have been the result of a bug, it’s just not the most likely scenario. As I said before, a bug free operating system is a practical impossibility, but you can’t extrapolate that to the point of “everything that goes wrong is a bug” particularly when you are admittedly dealing with a (so far for you anyway) isolated incident.

    10. JohnK says:

      You still have a VCR? I haven’t seen one in quite a while.

    11. Karl says:

      Don’t count the VCR dead just yet… Over the last year or so I have steadily converted all my VHS tapes to MP4 files. Now that I’m done with that… I’ve been picking up, on the cheap, older VHS movies and converting them.

      You can have my VCR when you pry it from my cold… dead… hand 🙂

    12. JohnK wrote:

      You still have a VCR? I haven’t seen one in quite a while.

      In my master bedroom. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Brian M says:

      opening the mail rules plist, it appeared to be a proper XML file , no obvious error or malformed code at least…
      as for the data contained not all of it was easily readable, it could have been a corruption of that data

      True, not everything that goes wrong is a true bug…
      but when a program doesn’t handle bad data in a pref/config or even database file, without throwing up a user readable error, and then renders the program unresponsive, I personally consider a bug.

    14. Jon says:

      After almost 2 years of non use, my VCRs are recently seeing more use since we dropped our satellite provider. However, I’m not very happy about it. I like to see the best image I can, regardless of whether or not it’s just regular TV programing. The VCR’s standard def recorded visual quality leaves a lot to be desired, and I’ve gotten spoiled with HD programming.

      Cable isn’t available in my area, and based on the experiences of friends who have it, I wouldn’t bother with it anyway. Attempts to find an easy-to-use (currently manufactured) DVR that records HD programs, and doesn’t require a subscription service (TiVo) have been fruitless.

      We were all ready to re-sign with our satellite provider, but in few short minutes of dealing with a customer service rep who ticked us off so bad we decided to cancel our service, we ended spending two hours on the phone and going through three other CS people… only to find out none of them could satisfy us. We found out later they were all employees of an outsourced (U.S. based) CS company. We finally managed to reach an actual satellite company employee when we called the office of the company President. We decided never again to deal with this company. In the process of dealing with this issue, I found out our satellite company had over 350 online complaints over CS issues listed at one website since 2001… which doesn’t sound too bad over that time period… except that over half of those complaints were filed in 2008.

      One well-known, subscription-based DVR maker looked good until I started finding online complaints about them. Now I know that these sort of complaints are easy to make and should be taken with a grain of salt, but most of what I found is similar to CS issues we had with the satellite company… and we don’t want to go there again. I’m also not fond of the ongoing costs of the subscription, either.

      I’ve thought about setting up a MacMini with some EyeTV unit as a HTPC, and maybe adding an AppleTV later. A high initial cost, but no ongoing subscription. While I would certainly enjoy web surfing, email, etc. from the comfort of a recliner, the primary purpose of such a setup would be for time shifting TV shows. I’m just not sure about getting the HD content out of a MacMini and onto my 62″ Mitsuibishi HDTV at the 1080i max HD limit of my TV. Online research has not been particularly helpful. If I can’t time shift and view programs at least at 1080i, I’m not going to bother with the expense for just web surfing and email.

      Any suggestions?

    15. “But my particular setup is complicated by the fact that reception in the master bedroom is not terribly robust.”

      Maybe you should try flowers?

    16. Neil Anderson wrote:

      “But my particular setup is complicated by the fact that reception in the master bedroom is not terribly robust.”

      Maybe you should try flowers?

      With an antenna placed atop the bouquet? 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    17. JohnK says:

      Over the air broadcasts will go digital later this year so won’t that make the VCR obsolete?

      Why not just get a good internet connection and watch what you want to watch by downloading programs?

      I have to say this out of ignorance since my wife and I hardly watch but two or three programs a year. We have an EyeTV attached to my MBP for that purpose.

      I have a friend who looked at the Apple TV then opted for the Mac mini instead. This in a PC household!

      Enjoy.

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