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Newsletter Issue #493

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.

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Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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