• Newsletter Issue #500

    June 28th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Five hundred issues? Yes indeed, without any interruptions or delays. It’s almost impossible to believe that we’ve reached this point in this little venture, which has grown so much in recent years. You see, way back in 1999, I decided to migrate a personal site I started on AOL into a genuine commentary resource and that was long before blogs became common.

    By the same token, when I started The Tech Night Owl LIVE in the fall of 2002, there was no such thing as a Podcast. That came later, and I had to leave the tiny company that was hosting the show on their leased server in order to get my own listing on iTunes. I’m serious. I actually had to fight with them, figuratively speaking of course, to spread the show beyond its limited scope.

    In retrospect, I think I made the correct decision. That tiny radio network is barely active nowadays, while we now have two weekly shows, one tech and one paranormal, plus a lot of great prospects that I’m not quite ready to discuss.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of the tech show, we explored Apple’s late delivery of a critical Java security fix, and whether it had the potential to negatively impact Mac users, with security guru Rich Mogull. I suppose so long as the Mac community is not being harmed by Apple’s seemingly nonchalant security policy, it’s all right. But as the Mac platform grows, this situation has to change.

    In another segment, we asked this question: How do you set up your email? POP, IMAP? Can you make any sense of all of it, and which method is best if you need to access your email from several computers and — perhaps — an iPhone? We got the answers from prolific author Joe Kissell, and he also helped you make sense of the odd setup of Google email.

    For the latest news and views from the Mac universe, we called upon Macworld’s Peter Cohen, who also talked about some of his favorite iPhone and Mac games.

    This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, Nancy Talbott from the BLT Research Team returns to deliver a fascinating update on the crop circle mystery around the world, a subject we haven’t explored quite as much as we’d like.

    She will also discuss her ongoing research into the strange experiences reported by Robbert van den Broeke in Holland. Is Robbert a genuine psychic with amazing abilities or just another in a long line of pretenders? This is an episode that, we hope, will give you some deep insights into the subject.

    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.

    IS AT&T THE ENEMY TO CONTINUED iPHONE SUCCESS?

    Not being in an absolute rush to get an iPhone 3GS, I opted to simply order one from Apple’s online store after I got confirmation that I could upgrade without paying an early termination or conversion ransom to AT&T. The order was officially placed on June 23rd for the black 16GB version.

    Why not 32GB? Well, largely because I don’t use my white 3G to store video content, and I can certainly fit the relevant portion of my music library within 16GB, so I opted to save my money. Besides, I’ll probably end up upgrading again next year, assuming AT&T allows it.

    When I placed the order, I was quoted a shipping delay of two to four business days. But on June 25th, I get a strange email stating: “Our records indicate that we were unable to obtain approval from AT&T to complete your recent iPhone purchase. As a result, we have canceled your iPhone order.”

    Understand that you have to undergo a preapproval process before you place an iPhone order, during which time the wireless carrier’s computers are checked and your account and eligibility are verified. So what went wrong?

    I telephoned AT&T and, while they had a record of the account verification request, there was nothing to indicate that the order had actually been rejected. The AT&T customer representative telephoned Apple and, after a few moments, discovered the source of the problem.

    When my new iPhone was being readied for shipment, AT&T’s computers were again contacted presumably for a second verification and preliminary activation. At this point, they timed out, so all the orders in this batch were recorded as rejected. Yes, it was all AT&T’s fault.

    I was switched over to the Apple representative, who initiated a new order, during which they offered me a free case of my choice from their online catalog for the inconvenience. So far so good. But when I asked about the shipping date, I was informed it would take another five to seven business days. The complimentary gift was their only available consolation prize, and they claimed there was no way to juggle the priority of my order, nor the other ones impacted by AT&T’s computer problem.

    No, I didn’t invoke my press credentials to command better treatment, and, in fact, I was only mildly disappointed. I could certainly survive without an iPhone 3GS for another week, but this little mishap does indeed raise the larger issue of AT&T’s corporate responsibility when your handset doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion, or misbehaves while using their network.

    When you complain about dropped calls or the inability to get real 3G broadband speeds in the U.S., AT&T, which will remain Apple’s exclusive domestic carrier for at least another year, has to bare a large portion of the responsibility. If you look at Apple’s bill of materials, you’ll see they are pretty much using standard industry parts, as they do, for the most part, in all of their products.

    Those of you who live in such locales as New York City and Los Angeles are no doubt feeling sadly neglected by the former largest wireless carrier in the U.S. Their networks are frequently clogged, which results in slow Internet speeds, poor sound quality and unreliable connections.

    Now to be fair, I don’t think AT&T truly anticipated the incredible success of the iPhone when they inked a pact with Apple. I doubt anyone did. Even now, stores are still having difficulty keeping them in stock.

    What this means is that AT&T has to hurry up to expand its network capacity, and deploy the speedier 3G standard to support the enhanced capabilities of the 3GS. This won’t happen overnight, and whatever you think about AT&T, you can bet they fear customer churn as much as any wireless carrier. If a customer isn’t satisfied, when the time comes for them to renew their service contract, an iPhone exclusive may not be sufficient to keep their business. This explains why some are looking to Verizon Wireless as possible solace, and it has sparked rumors that Apple is seeking to jump ship when the time is ripe.

    This isn’t to say that it’ll happen anytime soon or ever. You see, Verizon uses the CDMA standard, which is popular in the U.S. and a small number of other countries. AT&T’s use of GSM makes it a true world phone, and while you can build a handset that will support both, it only adds to production costs.

    Sure, it’s possible for Apple to build separate iPhones for each technology. Other cell phone makers routinely do that. However, don’t be surprised if a Verizon version of the iPhone is subject to the some of the same network troubles. You see, iPhone users access data services to a far greater degree than those who own other smartphones, such as the ubiquitous BlackBerry. Can Verizon’s network truly support the extra load? I doubt if any independent expert really knows.

    Meantime, I’m don’t care if AT&T doesn’t support the iPhone’s new MMS capability anytime soon, but tethering (the ability to use your iPhone as a broadband modem on your Mac or PC) is another story. They need to hurry up and get with the program, and also fix their computers so other purchasers don’t lose a week because their orders were screwd up.

    SATELLITES SLOWLY TAKING OVER

    In the 1998 action thriller “Enemy of the State,” Will Smith portrays a mild mannered labor lawyer who ends up on the wrong side of a government plot that resulted in the death of a member of Congress. He is pursued by agents using satellites to track every move he makes.

    Now that may have been science fiction 11 years ago, but surely not now. Satellite technology has reached almost every single home in America and and many other parts of the world.

    In large part, they’re used to provide entertainment and navigation, except for a government’s spy and weather satellites of course. Recent estimates, for example, show that 25% of the digital TV hookups are provided by a satellite provider, punctuated by ubiquitous satellite dishes across the landscape. We have one on our patio, which accesses Dish Network.

    On your iPhone, the built in GPS capability of the 3G and 3GS allow the device to pinpoint your precise location. Again, this is strictly a matter of convenience, because it helps determine your location and allow you to find the destination you seek, a nearby service station or a restaurant. If you’re ill, you can even find a hospital emergency room. That’s a good thing.

    Autos from such companies as BMW and GM use satellite-based systems as convenient help centers. If you’re lost or have an accident, a single button connects you to OnStar or BMW Assist, unless, of course, you are in a location where a clear satellite signal isn’t available.

    Using GPS technology, car makers can also use the vehicle’s onboard computers to determine when your next service appointment should be scheduled. That’s another good thing, because just having the oil changed and other preventive maintenance performed at fixed intervals may not take into account your individual driving habits. While there’s nothing wrong with getting too many oil changes, other than to enrich the service center, there is the potential for damage to the engine and other critical parts if you neglect such matters.

    I was not surprised, for example, when the dealer from whom I purchased my last vehicle telephoned me a few weeks ago asking me to schedule a service appointment. They even knew what I needed, so it made it easy for them to allocate the amount of time the maintenance operation would take. Rest assured, I was happy to get that call, although I’m the sort of person who keeps close tabs on such matters.

    In the near future, all or most of your medical records will be computerized, and both terrestrial and spaceborne networks will be employed to retrieve critical diagnostic information should you be hospitalized. Again, this is a positive development that most of you would probably welcome.

    But the easy availability of such data can also have a dark side. Would you be protected from outsiders getting your personal information? You know that computer hackers occasionally break into government computers, and it was recently reported that the Chinese had accessed the U.S.’s power grid system. Imagine what sort of havoc might have ensued if they attempted to take advantage of the situation?

    Did you also know that it may be possible to determine your location even if your GPS-enabled handset has been turned off? Or at least, that’s what they claim.

    So while I welcome the advances in Internet and satellite technology, I can also see the possibilities of abuse. I just hope all the positives can be implemented without too many downsides, but I’m not 100% confident of that. Are you?

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #500”

    1. John says:

      I don’t think ATT is the enemy of iPhone success, after all, the iPhone has been an astounding success. The exclusive arrangement is certainly a limit on future success. The same would be true if Verizon had agreed to an exclusive arrangement with Apple. No single carrier has sufficient reach to cover all the potential users in the US.

      Anecdotally I’ll add that I’ve been using the iPhone (and now the 3GS) all over the US and have not had any problems with dropped calls on a consistent basis. Now and again I experience a dropped call but that could have just as easily been the fault of the guy at the other end of the call. I’m not a fan of ATT but they have been doing an OK job across large sections of the country.

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