- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #497


After reading about my close encounters with Cox Communications and two other TV services (see below), you might feel it’s not always easy to get the sort of technical support you deserve to receive from companies of this sort. Well, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we rejoined prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, as he regaled us with stories about his ISP’s tech support, some of the fancy apps he’s using on his iPhone, and a whole lot more.

When it comes to that ISP, Bob was talking about his extremely favorable encounter with Time Warner cable, and that surprises me, since one of my close friends tells me he could never get them to solve the problems with his particular installation. Then again, he lives in New York City, whereas Bob lives in Austin, TX, and that might account for much of the difference. I will not, however, attempt to explain why the company doesn’t seem to have the same standards for support personnel regardless of your location.

Also on this episode, commentator Kirk McElhearn returned for an encore appearance, as he presented an update on his efforts to downsize his Mac hardware by switching from a Mac Pro to a Mac mini. While not exactly my cup of tea, the fact of the matter is that I suspect a lot of Mac users buy more computer than they really need. Kirk is just one of the few who put it to the test, not necessarily to save money, but to find the right Mac for him.

He also provided some pithy comments about Apple’s current security situation. More to the point, it is clear from what he says that Mac users don’t really have to worry right now about an imminent malware threat.

You also heard from  noted software interface designer Jon Hicks, who explained how he created a major refresh for the newest version of the Opera browser, version 10. By the way, Hicks is also credited as the creator of the famous Firefox logo.

This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, we present veteran UFO researcher, talk show host and writer Greg Bishop, who engages in a wide-ranging conversation just about the UFOs themselves, but his recommended reading list on the subject, our belief systems and lots, lots more.

Greg will even explain why he’s willing to listen to some of those discredited UFO disinformation agents, at least sometimes.

Coming in Future Episodes: A special UFO abductions roundtable, the potential meanings behind those 2012 prophecies and lots, lots more.

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.


When many of you read this article, you will know precisely what revelations Apple has in store for us during the WWDC keynote. So rather than simply date myself and make guesses that won’t pan out, or just repeat what all of you have read over and over again, let’s look at what comes after the great event.

You know, for example, that a new iPhone will be almost immediately compared with the just-released Palm Pre. However, to be fair to Palm, it is still a version 1.0 product, whereas Apple has had more time to get the hardware right, and to add key software features.

However, even if the hardware was, minus different features, reasonably comparable, Apple would still have a decided advantage, in the form of the App Store. With over a billion sales and 40,000 selections, there’s a lot of meat and potatoes to fill the needs and desires of both individuals and businesses.

With the version 3.0 software, Apple has also made it possible to attack the vertical markets that have largely eluded them on the Mac platform. You’ll be able to hook up medical diagnostic equipment, scientific measuring devices and other gear to the iPhone’s Dock and perform an unimaginable number of test procedures. As various hardware companies embrace the iPhone, I can foresee the prospects of some choosing to build software for Mac OS X as well, which will enable many businesses to use a Mac natively, rather than depend on a Windows virtual machine or Boot Camp.

I realize that Apple’s competitors want to establish their own alternatives to the App Store. As with iTunes, however, there’s a huge question mark just how well they’ll do. Sure, there’s more room for competition in the smartphone segment, and several companies can be extremely prosperous and make boatloads of money. That sort of environment will also encourage all of them to build better products, and that’s a good thing.

When it comes to the operating system wars, they’re on again, probably more fierce than ever. Despite the state of the economy, Apple is ascendant. They have continued to report record profits, and even though Mac sales have dipped somewhat, they are still way ahead of where they were a few years ago. Assuming the world’s financial picture improves, questions about overpriced Macs may vanish.

But as Apple has said in opposition to Microsoft’s latest ad campaigns targeting the alleged Apple Tax, it doesn’t matter what a personal computer costs if it doesn’t satisfy your needs. That point has been emphasized in a recent Mac versus PC ad that depicted the concept in a humorous fashion.

This fall, Apple’s Snow Leopard is expected to go up against Windows 7, Microsoft’s effort to fix the damage wrought by the decidedly inferior Vista release. Now the early chatter about the Windows upgrade has actually been quite positive. It is supposedly faster than Vista, and fixes many of the latter’s shortcomings. Some, however, refer to it as Vista SP3, and it is true that the core of these systems are fundamentally the same.

With Windows 7, rather than just address Vista’s shortcomings, Microsoft simply couldn’t resist tampering with the interface yet again. So there’s an updated taskbar that’s reminiscent of the Dock and other “improvements” in the form of visual eye candy.

While I have no objections to interface changes, assuming for the sake of argument that they are improvements, Microsoft lacks a fundamental understanding of the difference between picking features from a list of bullet points and actually choosing features that customers can really use. That’s a lot of what separates the Mac from Windows.

Microsoft, however, will want to use the new features as ammunition to make it seem as if Windows 7 is a superior product to Snow Leopard. At best, they might be able to stem the market share erosion. But if the release version of the new Windows proves to be a non-starter from a sales and business adoption standpoint, Microsoft will have even more difficulty getting people to pay attention to their new products.

Now there is yet another release coming from Redmond this fall, and that’s the Zune HD, Microsoft’s attempt to duplicate the success of the iPod touch. I think they should save their money, as I simply do not expect adding HD radio and a few more features few truly crave will save that product line from a well-deserved doom.

But it won’t happen. As with Bing, their latest attempt to compete with Google in the search engine arena, Microsoft will never learn when to give up. They’ll just keep throwing money at these things in the vain hope that they’ll eventually be able to return the company to the great success they experienced in the 1990s.

That was then, and this is now, and there’s no going back. But Steve Ballmer and crew clearly don’t realize that.


So as of last week, I had ordered a fairly complete digital TV package from DirecTV, the largest satellite provider in the U.S. As I said, they have earned high marks for service and support from Consumer Reports and others, so I put them at the very top of my list when Cox Communications fell down on the job to deliver a wide selection of high definition channels.

Well, this proved rather more difficult than I anticipated. Before I ordered service from DirecTV, I made sure there was a clear southward view from my home, and I observed that neighbors had previously installed satellite service, though mostly from Dish Network. Maybe I should have gotten the message.

In any case, the installation was scheduled for Tuesday morning. An installer phoned shortly after 8:00 AM to tell me that the Steinberg family was second on their list, which meant we should expect their arrival around 11:00 AM or so, depending on the problems they encountered on their first call that day.

Indeed, they did show up on time. However, my hopes for a satisfactory installation dimmed when it appeared they failed to bring the proper components for our particular setup scenario. This despite the fact that they had been previously informed of our location and requirements.

Upon checking the location where the satellite dish was to be placed, one of the installers concluded that he would be unable to receive a clear signal. As I said, we had a clean line-of-sight to the southeast location in the sky required for DirecTV. Curious. That afternoon, I telephoned their customer support people to cancel the account, and was offered the opportunity to get a second opinion on the setup problem, after I complained that the two installers who arrived — they appeared to be independent contractors and not employees of the company — had not taken the required equipment with them on their truck.

I was assured I would receive a callback in 20 minutes flat! It never came, so I told them to just forget it, since they clearly didn’t want my business, and checked out Dish Network as an alternative.

Now despite all the claims that one service, be it satellite or cable, might be cheaper than the other, that only appears be true for budget packages. If you want anything higher up in their food chain, you’ll see that, in this hotly competitive environment to get your business, prices are really close. Indeed, the monthly fees for comparable packages, after all the rebates are accounted for (and they can get really, really complicated), came within $10 of each other regardless of whether it was Cox, DirecTV or Dish Network.

The Dish package I selected included over 100 high definition channels. As I said last week, Cox was still offering less than 50, with no guarantee when more will be deployed, after many failed promises.

On Friday morning, Dish sent their lone installer, an actual employee of the company. He had no problems getting a strong signal after positioning a dish in the appropriate southeast location, and departed less than three hours later after two receivers were connected and authorized.

Our master bedroom has the Dish VIP-722 high definition DVR receiver, a model that has been praised by a number of reviewers as the best in the industry, even superior to TiVO, so they say.

Not having used TiVO, I won’t comment, except to say that picture quality from Dish Network is simply superb, on both standard and high definition channels. The comparison with Cox is striking. The Dish picture has much less video noise and noticeably fewer digital artifacts. The VIP-722 DVR is also far more responsive to remote control commands than the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR supplied by Cox. The delay in switching from one channel to another is about three seconds; cable is no better.

In Cox’s favor is that their remote handles multiple components more flexibly than the one provided by Dish, but you’d still be far better off getting one of Logitech’s Harmony Universal remotes.

The only fly in the ointment is that ongoing legal skirmish between TiVO, and Echostar, a spin-off company that makes Dish’s DVRs. The threat is that TiVO might force Dish to disable the ability to record one show while watching another on their DVRs. However, Dish claims to have a workaround and if that’s not a suitable solution, they can always toss TiVO some more cash to quiet them, or perhaps even license their technology.

No, I’m not expecting my VIP-722 to stop working anytime soon. For now, I’m happy to be a Dish customer once again.


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