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Newsletter Issue #483

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

It’s easy to find reason to rag on customer support people. Although most are absolutely dedicated to their jobs, some can destroy a company’s carefully-crafted image with rude conduct and total inattention to a customer’s concerns. And it’s also fair to say that some firms consider support people as nothing more than an unneeded expense — or a nuisance — and don’t take care in selecting the right people or giving them the training they deserve to perform their jobs properly.

So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we called on author and columnist Kirk McElhearn to exit his occasional rant mode and present a tale or two about some positive customer service experiences when his Mac Pro developed RAM problems.

Since Kirk lives in a small town in France that isn’t located near a large city, there are no computer stores nearby. He has to use email or telephone to get what he needs. In this case, his Kingston RAM failed, so he wrote the company for replacements. Kirk says they responded promptly and soon he had a working pair in his Mac Pro. Yes, this is the way companies should behave when problems occur and the only reason there’s a story here is that far too many fall down on the job.

We also called on cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, to deliver an unvarnished report on Apple’s shareholders meeting at the corporate campus this week. Since Dan actually has some Apple stock, he was able to physically enter the auditorium during the meeting. The press is consigned to a closed-circuit TV broadcast of the event.

You also heard the latest Mac news and views plus a gaming update from Macworld’s Peter Cohen, who writes their “Game Room” column.

On The Paracast this week, you’ll hear a heated interview with with Stephen Bassett, Executive Director of the Paradigm Research Group, sponsor of X-Conference 2009, who talks about UFO disclosure and what we know and don’t know about the presence of strange craft on our planet.

Now available! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts 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 you can select from most popular sizes.

CAN MICROSOFT BE BLAMED FOR THE WORLD’S ECONOMIC CRISIS?

It’s easy to place the cause for some the world’s ills on defects in Microsoft’s software, and I’m going to make it even easier. The implied claim in this headline may seem outrageous at first blush. But I would rather present some of the possibilities — serious and otherwise — before you dismiss it completely.

The other day, I was talking to someone from AT&T about exchanging a phone. While I was waiting for the service representative to bring up our account on her terminal, I asked her if she was using Windows. As she apologized for the delay in retrieving the information, she said she was.

I cannot tell you how often I encounter the same difficulties as I make those customer service phone calls for one reason or another. It seems inevitable that, whenever slowdowns are experienced, it has to be on a Windows installation.

In fact, I’ve observed the very same situation when making bank transactions. It doesn’t matter which bank. I’m not aware of any that do not use a Windows-based bank management application. If anyone knows of a Mac or Linux alternative, do let me know which bank, so I can see if they just happen to have a local branch.

A year or two ago, Consumer Reports, certainly no friend to the Mac platform, published an article about security software and mentioned that billions of dollars has been lost in the previous two years as the result of computer viruses. I will not, for the moment, distinguish between different forms of malware, or whether these were viruses, Trojan Horses or some other sort of infection. CR doesn’t generally provide that degree of specificity.

The article also didn’t mention which operating system was the worst offender, but if you do a little research, you’ll see that absolutely none of those losses can be attributed to the Mac OS or Linux. Although there have been a few proofs of concept and actual malware outbreaks under Mac OS X, they haven’t impacted many people. It’s basically all Microsoft’s fault.

Let’s take this a step further:

Just the other day, in handing out pink slips to several thousand employees because of slowing sales, Microsoft goofed. They gave some of them too much severance pay, and soon encountered flak from the public when they tried to get their money back.

Of course, they relented, but you had to wonder how the world’s largest software company, publisher of Excel, the most popular spreadsheet application on the planet, can’t do such basic calculations accurately.

Let’s continue:

During senate hearings on the confirmation of Timothy Geitner to be Secretary of the Treasury, it was revealed that he used Intuit’s TurboTax to perform the calculations for the return on which he underpaid his taxes. I don’t recall whether he was asked if he was using the Mac or Windows version.

Regardless, it’s also true that TurboTax is basically the same on both platforms, so I’ll grant Secretary Geitner some slack here. We all make mistakes, though one hopes that someone in his position will show a little more caution.

However, it’s also true that the world’s banks are in pretty rough shape. You wonder whether they ever used their spreadsheets to calculate worst case scenarios. Or perhaps they did and they didn’t bother to consider the consequences seriously until it was too late.

What about their mortgage divisions or the independents who approved the loans for millions of people who couldn’t afford to make the payments? This seems to be a simple calculation. You figure a family’s take home pay, and what proportion of that income is suitable for housing payments, and that’s what they can afford. Why is this so difficult?

When Bernard Madoff hoodwinked people into giving him billions of dollars for investments he never made, did anyone take five minutes to check whether or not his calculations or monthly statements bore any semblance of reality?

More to the point, what software did they use to provide what appear to be clearly faulty calculations? What operating system is installed on their computers? Do I have to spell this out for you?

Sure it’s no doubt true that this is a story about greed, not about using flawed spreadsheets to deliver the numbers that took the financial industry down. But it’s highly likely that most of these crooks used Windows to do their damage to the world’s financial system.

So should we be taking Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, along with Microsoft’s key executives, into custody as accomplices? Highly unlikely. But I can dream, right?

THE TECH MEDIA CONTINUES TO FORGET HOW TO DO RESEARCH

The other day, I wrote a half-serious column about whether the corporate culture of Verizon Wireless would tolerate an iPhone on their network. I wrote this piece in response to some published reports that Apple might expand their reach by doing a deal with what is now (since the acquisition of Alltel) the U.S.’s largest wireless carrier.

Unfortunately, the folks who seem to think this is a viable near-term possibility have forgotten to do their research. You see, Apple has an exclusive deal with AT&T. That contract may be up next year or as late as 2011, but until then, the chances are just about nil that Verizon Wireless will get involved. I suppose there are terms and conditions that would allow Apple to escape AT&T, but it would require severe violations that aren’t likely to occur in the real world. You see, AT&T earns an awful lot of money and prestige from being an exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and they aren’t going to want to mess up this deal.

Indeed, even before the contract is up, I’m sure they will want to extend it for a few more years. But could they? Regardless, the so-called journalists who forgot about the existence of that pact need to retract their claims that a Verizon-based iPhone could happen any time soon.

Let’s go further: Some of these writers have also suggested that, since power users can induce Mac OS X to install on a white box PC, Apple should abandon its restrictions that mandate that their operating system can only run on a Mac.

Some are hoping that Apple will lose its lawsuit against a cloner, Psystar, and thus open the floodgates. What they fail to realize — and it would be obvious by spending two minutes looking over Apple’s financials — is that the company earns the lion’s share of its profits from the sale of hardware.

Just as important, they aren’t considering the lessons of history. Back in the mid-1990s, Apple set up a Mac OS licensing program, only to find that the licensees went after the core Mac markets with a vengeance. Rather than expand the market, they simply tried to steal sales from Apple.

Stupid is as stupid does, and they had to realize that short-term greed wouldn’t help Apple prosper. Or maybe they hoped to store their gains in the Cayman Islands and just retire. If Apple folded, so be it. End of story.

In the old days, a newspaper reporter would use a paper’s morgue, the archives from past editions, as a resource to perform research on a story before submitting their report. I would presume that today’s instant search capability would only simplify the process of checking facts.

When I wrote tech books and articles, there was always an editor, somewhere, who would examine the information and do what they could to verify that everything was as accurate as possible. I appreciated their assistance, because I didn’t present myself as someone who knows everything.

Maybe the rushed deadlines of the 21st century are making it more difficult to properly vet stories before they are published. That’s unfortunate. Or maybe some of today’s reporters just don’t care, and that’s an even worse prospect.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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