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  • Newsletter Issue #493

    May 10th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we explored the ins and outs of Amazon’s new Kindle DX e-book reader. Will the larger version of this product, offering expanded support for newspapers and magazines, be the savior of the publishing industry?

    Exploring this topic and others were Special Correspondent David Biedny, and, in a separate segment, Adam Engst, publisher of TidBITS and Take Control Books.

    As for me, I have this old fashioned, romantic ideal of a traditional book printed with genuine paper, and my efforts at adapting to some of the e-book readers sold over the years have failed. I just don’t take to exploring literature that way. Quite often, I will take printed versions of long Web articles to lunch or bedroom reading. Old habits die hard, and I do not agree with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that the Kindle will herald the long-delayed paperless revolution.

    This isn’t to say that such gadgets won’t or can’t succeed. I fully expect that Apple’s long-expected entrant into the e-book arena will likely have enhanced text reading capabilities, which will only hurt the one trick pony products such as the Kindle.

    In another segment of the show, you entered “gadget heaven” once again when Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen visited The Night Owl to discuss all the latest gear. Speaking direct from a trade show in Las Vegas, Mr. Gadget discussed some new, low-cost ways to take high definition videos, the best flat panel TV and other great stuff.

    This week on The Paracast, we present the “Super Ultimate UFO Roundtable,” which busts UFO myths, disclosure, government misinformation and more. Featured guests include Paul Kimball, Greg Bishop and Nicholas Redfern.

    Among the topics to be discussed: Whether to take any of the MJ-12 documents seriously, the evidence for the Roswell, NM crash and much, much more.

    Coming May 17: The Paracast presents a special “Listener Roundtable,” featuring five loyal listeners and avid participants in our forums, known to their friends as BrandonD, Dusty, Fahrusha, Schuyler and Skunkape, will sit back, relax, and discuss the strange and unknown.

    Coming May 24: UFO investigators Robert Hastings and Don Ecker (who considers himself retired from the field) discuss UFOs and disinformation.

    Now Shipping! 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.

    OF BILL GATES AND P.T. BARNUM

    The legendary carnival showman, P.T. Barnum, once denied saying “there’s a sucker born every minute,” but he was fated to forever have that phrase attached to his name. However, you didn’t have to take Barnum seriously, since he was strictly delivering entertainment. If you didn’t like the show, you didn’t have to see it ever again.

    When it comes to Bill Gates and Microsoft, unfortunately, we are stuck with their products, which, as well all know, continue to dominate the personal computer landscape. While a Mac user can easily exist in a Microsoft-free environment by choosing alternatives to Word and Excel when it comes to basic productivity apps, you will find it horrendously difficult to avoid businesses that do not, at least to some extent, depend on Windows and other products from the world’s largest software company.

    From banks to restaurants, Windows is deeply entrenched. Even if there are Mac alternatives to the vertical market software these firms use, it may not be cheap or easy to switch. It requires acquiring new equipment, new software licenses and at least some retraining is definitely involved. Macs may be easier to use, but that does not make them simple, particularly for workers who are accustomed to doing things differently.

    What many business owners evidently don’t know — or are afraid to admit — is the fact that Microsoft didn’t reach the peak of the mountain by delivering better products. From the very first, they achieved a large portion of their success through misdirection and outright deception.

    P.T. Barnum would have been proud of Bill Gates.

    From early on, Gates was pulling scams in order to gain headway into the then-nascent personal computer industry. While he is often credited with inventing one of the early operating systems, MS-DOS, in fact he bought the product in the early 1980s, lock stock and barrel, from  Seattle Computer Products for the tiny sum of $50,000. It was originally known as QDOS, short for Quick and Dirty Operating System.

    Gates went ahead and sold IBM a non-exclusive license to the operating system for a considerably larger sum. This was a brilliant decision that later paved the way for licensing MS-DOS to other manufacturers, which thus created the market for the original PC clones. IBM never lived it down.

    When Gates decided to build his own pale imitation of the Mac OS, known as Windows, he actually based it, in part, on technology he licensed from then-Apple CEO John Scully. In retrospect, it was clear that Scully should have returned to selling soft drinks, since he surely didn’t have the smarts to outfox Gates.

    By riding roughshod over the competition and making questionable claims about the capabilities of future products that often never appeared or appeared without key promised features, Gates demonstrated that he was a salesperson of incredible skill.

    Gates has retired from the game and has moved on to being a full-time philanthropist, an I suppose that’s good. In a way, he’s giving people a refund for all the money he’s taken for his malware-ridden products. That’s certainly a positive development, regardless of what you think of Microsoft’s products.

    In his heyday, Gates was quite skilled at selling today’s operating system with the promise that, though highly flawed, the next version would be far, far better. It seems as if Microsoft has never been able to escape the unfortunate tendency to “innovate” by copying yesterday’s features from a competing product. They’d simply pronounce it as something new and different.

    Take Windows 7, for example which is the successor for the failed Vista. For the most part, the underpinnings of Windows 7 appear to the same as its predecessor, with a few interface flourishes, such as an imitation of Apple’s Dock. Some people who have been exposed to the previous version are claiming that performance has been improved either somewhat or considerably, depending on which story you believe.

    I’d be more curious to see just how Windows 7 rates against XP by reviewers that don’t have a vested interest in the outcome. Then again, the real performance measurement is best done with the final release. Without invoking conspiracy theories, you never know whether a copy in the hands of a preselected reviewer has been especially tweaked to behave better than the real production version, though that would seem a silly prospect.

    The real issue for Microsoft these days is that the media is not as inclined to take what their marketing machine says without at least a modicum of skepticism. On the other hand, they still quote Steve Ballmer’s rants about the alleged “Apple Tax” without asking the hard questions. Maybe they still feel intimidated by his’s wealth or position. On the other hand, Steve Jobs wasn’t asked the hard questions either when he was still appearing in public.

    I just wonder what would happen if the business community woke up one day and realized that they had been snookered by Microsoft all these years, that they’ve spent billions of dollars on defective products and billions more to defend themselves against malware. But it doesn’t mean that a few targeted class action suits by companies with deep pockets will necessarily seal Microsoft’s fate.

    Besides, how many corporations would ever admit to being gypped by the richest and perhaps the smartest con man the world has ever seen?

    STAR TREK CHANGES THE RULES

    In one of the classic scenes of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Captain Kirk, as portrayed with gusto by William Shatner, explained how he beat a test of how cadets at Starfleet Academy demonstrate courage in a situation involving certain death. Kirk, it seems, reprogrammed the computers, because he didn’t believe in “a no win scenario.”

    Confronted with the impossible task of reinventing “Star Trek” for a new generation of fans, director J.J. Abrams, famous for such TV shows as “Fringe” and “Lost,” along with his writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kutzman, take this rule changing approach to heart. Rather than a simple retread on ground that has been mined over and over again for 43 years, they decided to rebuild the aging franchise from scratch.

    That meant going back to the beginning, casting new actors as younger versions of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and all the rest of these famous characters. Using an ensemble of, for the most part, virtual unknowns as far as films are concerned, a crackling script where the familiar catch phrases are cleverly integrated, and state-of-the-art special effects, prepare for two hours of joy! This is the sort of film that appeals to both Trekkers and newcomers alike.

    From here on, there are going to be a few spoilers, so if you’re planning on seeing “Star Trek,” you may want to read the rest of this article quickly and don’t take too much of it in.

    The basic premise of this pequel (or sequel if you prefer, since it is that too) is that a renegade Romulan, one of the enemy aliens in the Star Trek series, blames the aging Ambassador Spock, played with surprising energy by a 78-year-old Leonard Nimoy, for destroying his species’ home world.

    An accident sends the Romulan ship and Spock’s vessel back through time. The enemy attacks the good guys, a Federation starship, and thus changes the course of history, creating a world where certain events in the Trek canon, as it were, are altered, such as the destruction of the Planet Vulcan, the death of Spock’s mother, and, in fact, some of the events in the history of the main characters.

    We end up with a brash and young James Kirk (Chris Pine) who gets into bar fights, and a Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto, also known as the villainous Sylar from “Heroes”) who was ridiculed and beaten up by fellow Vulcans as a child because his mother was human. The third member of this trio, Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), joins Starfleet after being bled dry “to his bones” of all his money in a nasty divorce proceeding. Well, you get the picture.

    The original “Star Trek” posited a future in which such concerns as racial prejudice were banished. So the bridge of the Starship Enterprise was populated by an Asian, a Black and, in the midst of the Cold War, a Russian. The 2009 reimagining adds a heroic Arabic spaceship captain.

    The critics have lavished heavy praise, and the word of mouth is great. After a surprisingly good opening for the 11th entry into a movie series that was once considered dead and buried, it’s clear to me that the Trek legend is poised to live long and prosper.

    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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    10 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #493”

    1. Tenacious MC says:

      I kinda hate that entertainment magazines have marketed Star Trek (2009) as a prequel when it’s really just a sequel-turned-reboot. It’s a sequel because it involves a couple of characters who exist in the original continuity. However, to close the book on that continuity, an incident occurs that sends these characters to the past where history is altered, creating an alternate timeline and the Star Trek universe is rebooted. From that point on, it’s a clean slate and anything can happen such as the 2 major incidents that occur in the movie. Fortunately, in an attempt to appease the long-term fanbase, the original continuity is acknowledged and implied to still be in existence despite having an alternate timeline that is here to stay. If you want to revisit the original continuity, there’s always the DVDs or new books can be written that take place there. It’s not really gone forever. At least, the writers can create new stories now without having to worry about violating Trek canon anymore b/c it’s pretty much untouchable and separate.

      The Bond movies can be viewed in a similar fashion b/c it was recently rebooted but there’s no science fiction to link them together. A lot of comic books or cartoons do this as well. A different incarnation is essentially a reboot but apparently isn’t seen that way for some reason. It’s a shame the writers of the new Star Trek movie have to do something to justify explaining a reboot from within the movie itself. Otherwise, it could have been rebooted entirely w/out needing to revisit a previous version of it to begin with.

    2. @ Tenacious MC: The writers of “Star Trek” had to contend with a loyal fan base that would be understandably concerned with a reboot that failed to somehow acknowledge what had gone before. It was definitely done in a smart fashion, and I look forward to the sequel, which is now a certainty.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Tenacious MC says:

      @ Gene Steinberg: I understand completely what they had to do and I’m happy nonetheless. I would’ve been happy either way, whether to acknowledge the last 40+ years or go with what other franchises have done, which was to reboot without explanation within the story itself.

      My main problem overall is just news and media outlets mislabeling this movie as a prequel when it’s really not. There are too many reviewers (including so-called fans) complaining that it’s violating TOS (or TNG/DS9/VOY) canon already b/c they think this movie is truly a prequel to what we’ve seen in the last 40 years. Some people (present company excluded) shouldn’t be reporting stuff they know nothing about, IMHO.

      All in all, thanks for writing about this as well as everything Apple.

    4. Spencerian says:

      To Gene and Tenacious MC: I concur. To avoid what occurred in the original “canon,” I hope that CBS/Viacom place greater control on licensed works–specifically, novels, as does Lucasfilm and their Star Wars continuity. While the Star Wars continuity is still a complex mess, it’s a more orderly one in comparison to ST canon #1 (Canon Prime?).

      I’ve seen the flick twice already. The characterizations are perfect, the action just right, the humor great, and the twists appropriate. And have you noticed that hardly anyone WALKS through that ship? This movie makes the venerable Star Trek II seem plodding–and that’s as high a praise as I can give a movie of this genre.

      More than a sequel is assumed by me. This cast is likely to bring a new original series TV show, in my opinion.

    5. @ Spencerian: With the prospect of blockbuster movies, I sort of suspect Paramount will want to milk the film franchise for what it’s worth before returning with a series. Then again, with Hollywood, greed knows no bounds, and if they could sign up this cast for both, well, I suppose they’ll do it if they can get away with it.

      Although CBS television remains popular in ratings, many of the shows are long in the tooth and are in need of replacement — pronto!

      Peace,
      Gene

      P.S. Yes, I know the original was on NBC, which is in worse shape. And did you know “Star Trek” was originally released by Deslu Productions, and greenlighted by Lucille Ball?

    6. mcloki says:

      The movie was great. I found myself smiling the whole way through. I love the possibilityit created and I really hope that the Romulans take center stage as the chief villain in the new movies. Easy to Villanize, Devil ears. Easy to spy on, Vulcan spies. Great ships. Overall I’m going to see it again next weekend and it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a movie twice in the theaters.

    7. slappy says:

      Lets also remember that QDOS was a clone from Dr. Gary Kildall CP/M. Not even an approved clone, but stolen code from CP/M.

    8. Lawrence Rhodes says:

      I quite enjoyed the new Start Trek movie, a great new cast and events no sillier than in previous movies. I’m having trouble reconstructing Nero’s timeline, though, and I wonder if someone could provide something I missed.

      129 years after (most of) the movie’s events, the planet Romulus is destroyed by some unknown sort of supernova (I say this because supernovas are common and, while capable of destroying nearby planets, produce destructive effects that propagate no faster than light). Ambassador Spock arrives at warp speed but to late to save Romulus (with a normal supernova he would have years to spare unless the supernova was Romulus’s own sun), and drops some black hole-producing “red matter” on the supernova, thereby neutralizing it despite the fact that supernovas often produce black holes by themselves. Nero arrives at the same time in a giant squid-like heavily armed vessel that he operates despite insisting that up until then he was a peaceful miner and having had no time to augment his “mining ship.” Both Spock and Nero are sucked into a time warp caused by the black hole, emerging during the movie events and 20-some years earlier, respectively, fortunately without having been compressed to degenerate matter by the black hole. Nero emerges from the time warp with the presence of mind and in good enough shape to defeat the Federation starship Kelvin (the coolest ship in the fleet — sorry) despite the fact that a “mining ship” should be defenseless against a warship, rather like the Somali pirates have demonstrated. Nero spends the next 25 or so years waiting for Spock (clever calculation, that) and plotting his revenge without ever actually doing anything, except maybe further enhancing his ship so it can wipe out half a dozen Federation starships without breaking a drill bit.

      Also, as a tiny special effects quibble, matter falling into a black hole can convert up to 47% of its mass into energy outside the event horizon. Compared to this, a fusion bomb is a warm washcloth. It should look different, and you would definitely want the warp engines warmed up.

      What did I miss? In the first movie, Voyager was tricked out by unknown aliens, perhaps the whales from Star Trek IV, but I don’t see that opportunity here. Can anybody acquire a space ship that will stomp all over Starfleet? Is the Federation buying their starships from the wrong place? Any help would be appreciated.

    9. @ Lawrence Rhodes: All right, consider that Romulan ships from 129 years hence would have superior armament among other advantages. Perhaps superior speed and maneuverability too.

      Then again, it is only a movie. 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

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