• Newsletter Issue #506

    August 9th, 2009


    It’s a sure thing that Microsoft’s executives aren’t as happy these days as they used to be. After all, most of their recent products have been, shall we say, less than record breakers. Consider Windows Vista, touted as the greatest operating system ever. Only the vast majority of business customers opted to stick with XP.

    They’re pinning much of their hopes on Windows 7, but the future doesn’t look so certain there either. I suppose the same can be said for what I’ve come to call the Ya-Bing Maneuver, Microsoft’s takeover of Yahoo!’s search feature with Bing. Will it also bear a silly “powered by” logo as well? When it comes to innovation, you can almost bet Microsoft hasn’t a clue.

    Staying on topic, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we celebrated the return of tech commentator and former industry analyst Joe Wilcox, who explored the ins and outs of the Ya-Bing deal, and you can rest assured he didn’t think too much of it either.

    We also presented a security update from noted guru Rich Mogull, who talked about the recent SMS vulnerability that might have impacted the iPhone and other smartphones, and a possible security hazard with Apple’s aluminum keyboards. And no, gentle reader, I’m not about to dump my Apple keyboard or suggest you do either. I’m sure if there’s a genuine danger, you’ll see a fix soon enough.

    Macworld’s Peter Cohen, the Game Room guy, was on hand to discuss the departure of Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, from Apple’s board, the possibilities of competition between Apple and Google, the potential for an iTablet and some of his favorite iPhone games.

    This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, we interrupt our schedule to present a special episode, brought to you in association with Dark Matters Radio. This week, guest host Don Ecker interviews Gene and David for a frank (sometimes explicit) discussion about the paranormal, past guests, and lots of other great stuff.

    Coming August 16: Learn about the amazing life story of writer, producer and modern mystic Walter Starcke.

    Coming August 23: Paranormal talk show hosts, investigators and experiencers Paul and Ben Eno discuss their ongoing research.

    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.


    In the days of the Apple II, magazines devoted to these pioneering personal computers would generally have the word “Apple” as an intrinsic part of the title. Well, it stands to reason, particularly since that was pretty much all Apple Computer was about in those days.

    It’s also quite logical that, when the Mac appeared, a new generation of media resources with the Mac prefix came about. While many of the early entrants into this new information category are no longer with us, there is still Macworld, same name, although the print publication is a whole lot slimmer than it used to be. However, that’s the way of the print world these days; it’s not as if Macworld did anything wrong.

    Certainly in keeping with that worthwhile tradition, we began roughly a decade ago as The Mac Night Owl. At the beginning, a hefty portion of our content was Mac specific. However, Apple, in its infinite wisdom, decided to move our focus into new directions.

    Sure, Apple sold various and sundry Mac peripherals over the years, but the main topic of interest was their lineup of personal computers; that is, until the iPod came along. Suddenly there was a product without the telltale “Mac” in the title that actually sold more units. To the surprise of many, most of the customers were actually users of Windows PC.

    What a strange development that was.

    I like to think I began to get the message about how things had changed early on. Although the folks with whom I originally partnered were skeptical, I decided you couldn’t have a radio show called The Mac Night Owl LIVE and cover the entire broad spectrum of personal technology fairly. So it became The Tech Night OWL LIVE instead. In retrospect it was the right decision, as those ex-partners have pretty much given up on their hopes for a radio network catering strictly to Mac users.

    For more complex reasons, I kept the commentary site under the Mac moniker for several years — until now that is! In recent years, more and more of my writings, while still heavily devoted towards information about Apple, were devoted less to Macs. Maybe it was inertia, but I held off making that inevitable decision, until now that is.

    First came the newsletter, now the commentaries. Just as the Mac is only one part of Apple’s business these days, the Mac is only one of many subjects I write about, so it’s time for me to face the inevitable.

    Yet, surprisingly enough, the rest of the so-called Mac media has opted to stay put. I mean, just open any recent issue of Macworld or Mac|Life, for example, and check out the contents. Just what proportion is devoted to the Mac, Mac software or some sort of Mac accessory? How much of those printed pages, including the ads, are devoted to other subjects, such as the iPhone, iPhone apps, iPods and other products that you can hardly categorize as Macs?

    So I wonder why nothing has changed!

    The same holds true for a large number of Web sites, many radio shows and a whole lot more. Mac this, Mac that, but you can’t possibly regard them as entirely Mac oriented.

    Now maybe I’m just being obsessive/compulsive about the whole thing. What’s in a name anyway, and why should it matter that the title says Mac even if the information resource in question is devoted to other topics as well? Perhaps I’m just being a purist about the whole thing, or a pain in the you know what.

    I’ll let you decide!

    Does this change mean we’re poised to make major changes here? Well, funny you should ask, as an old comic once said. Certainly, I plan to continue to cover the goings on at Apple Inc., which are invariably fascinating. They surely believe in the old philosophy of “keep ’em guessing,” the result of their penchant for deep secrecy about new products. One can easily spend weeks and months just covering Apple rumors, and indeed some sites are largely devoted to such matters.

    But the entire technology universe doesn’t truly revolve around Apple. There are lots of great products out there that weren’t designed in Cupertino, CA, and, indeed, a fair collection of clever ideas that Steve Jobs didn’t conceive, and Jonathan Ive didn’t design.

    However, it’s very rare indeed to find an ounce of originality emerging from a certain company headquartered in Redmond, WA. This may be strike some of you as a little extreme, since it hardly makes sense that a tech company with over 90,000 employees can’t come up with a product that not only sets new standards, but captures the public’s imagination.

    Instead, Microsoft succeeded largely by mimicking great ideas and making people believe that they were, in fact, their own original creations. They managed to make billions and billions of dollars in profits with second-rate products. However, if they are to receive credit at all, it’s the result of supreme salesmanship. They have managed to convince hundreds of millions of people to become customers, and most of those customers still buy their products for better or worse.

    That, I suppose, might be sufficient. It has meant huge profits and has made employees rich beyond their wildest dreams. To many people that ought to be sufficient. Being best may not be nearly as important as having lots of money. Well, I suppose a lot of you will find it difficult to disagree. But since I’m a long-time troublemaker, I will anyway.


    These days, my work routine might be considered fairly uneventful. I write half a dozen commentaries a week and produce and edit a pair of two-hour radio shows. If you find the work I do interesting, well, then that probably has some sort of meaning to you.

    But in order for my workdays to proceed without incident, my two Macs have to function near perfectly. The same holds true for lots of other folks who can’t imagine how they’d manage to accomplish anything meaningful unless the tools of their trade don’t misbehave.

    In my case, there is actually a third computer, a Web server running CentOS, a version of Linux, which needs to function reliably 24/7. The fact that this site and my others are almost always available is a tribute to Unix-based operating systems in general, I suppose, which certainly helps validate my decision to stay away from anything related to Windows.

    Now when it comes to the audio post-production process, I can’t say I never encounter a problem. Some of those audio editing apps can be a mite flaky, and one of them, Bias Peak Pro, on occasion won’t save a file properly. It comes up with the curious message that the file is in use by another application. No, it’s not. The solution is simple enough. I have to save the file with a different name.

    Yes, I’ve written to the publisher’s tech support a time or two, but they don’t seem to quite have a handle on the problem, which has gone through several updates. Now perhaps there could be something specific to my Mac Pro, since I don’t recall it happening quite so often with its predecessor. But then again, if that’s the only difficulty I’m apt to encounter, it’s not a serious shortcoming.

    Otherwise, the audio files get properly edited and the shows are streamed via the Internet, using Apple’s Darwin Streaming Server, the open source version of QuickTime Streaming Server. Again, I need near 24/7 dependability so that you can hear not just the live streams of the radio shows, but the on-demand streams as well. What that means is that when you click on the QuickTime player button, it just plays.

    Writing my daily commentaries is a little more involved. In the old days, I wrote those articles directly from Adobe DreamWeaver. Maybe it’s not the best product to perform word processing tasks, but it was sufficient for my purposes. But four years ago, I switched over to WordPress, an open source blogging application that millions of people use for personal blogs and sophisticated sites. Even such mainstream publications as The New York Times rely on WordPress for a portion of their online content.

    No, it’s not quite a full-blown word processor, but it’s perfectly adequate for editing the text on your site. Since you generally work with it by accessing your Web server, you can make changes wherever you have online access. There’s even an iPhone app that you can use to make minor edits as needed. I suppose some of you might even write a full blog entry that way, but I think that’s a bit much.

    As to WordPress, even when this site migrated from The Mac Night Owl to The Tech Night Owl, the app didn’t fail me, nor did the database that holds nearly five years worth of articles. As I said, it’s great to have a set of tools that function perfectly nearly all the time.

    It may also explain why I’m often less-than-sympathetic when far too many Windows users don’t have anything near the seamless experience.


    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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