• Newsletter Issue #508

    August 23rd, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    In the early 1990s, having just moved from New Jersey to Arizona, I was looking for some new writing gigs. I had begun to write for Macworld, and one day I got a phone call from one of their regular scribes, none other than David Pogue. He asked me to do several chapters for one of his books and a friendship was born.

    David has since gone on to greater and greater successes as the creator of the “Missing Manual” book series and as the result of the fact that he, by dint of his columns for The New York Times, has become one of the most famous tech journalists on the planet. Well, we’ve been in touch on occasion since the early days, but he hasn’t been on The Tech Night Owl LIVE as often as we’d like. No major reason, other than coordinating our busy schedules.

    So on this week’s episode, we brought David back to talk about his latest book, “The World According to Twitter,” and lots of other stuff.

    The inimitable Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus returned to regale us about the prospects for Snow Leopard, his favorite iPhone extender battery and a whole lot more. An extender battery? Well, that is the only way to avoid running out of juice on a long trip unless you have a recharger and power source at hand. The price you pay for a product that lacks the capability of easily removing the battery.

    We also entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent held forth on the death of PowerPC apps and a great new iPhone app that he has devoted hours to in recent weeks. David has a special place in PowerPC lore, since he tells us that he was a prime mover to persuade Apple to use the name “Power Mac” for its PowerPC-based minitowers. It definitely represents the end of an era that held great promise, but never quite realized its full potential.

    This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, we present paranormal talk show hosts, investigators and experiencers Paul and Ben Eno discuss their ongoing research and encounters with the unknown.

    Coming August 30: Karl Mamer, of The Conspiracy Skeptic, confronts Gene and David with his disbelief in the strange and unknown. You’ll also hear a reality check from long-time researcher Jim Delittoso with regard to his comments about a photo allegedly featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney observing a UFO at a secret military base.

    Coming September 6: Veteran paranormal researcher Curt Sutherly, author of “UFO Mysteries: A Reporter Seeks the Truth,” discusses the progression of UFO evidence and belief systems. He’ll also tell a few anecdotes about his longtime friendship with our co-host, Gene Steinberg.

    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.

    NOW ABOUT APPLE’S CONTROL OVER THE USER INTERFACE

    Despite ongoing reports to the contrary, Apple now claims that it never actually rejected that controversial Google Voice application that’s now a part of an FCC investigation.

    In case you’ve tuned in late, Google Voice is a technology being rolled out that, among other things, attempts to simplify your telephone life, particularly if you have separate home, office and mobile numbers. Basically, you dial just one number to reach someone, and the calls are funneled behind the scenes to the correct number. There is also a low-cost international long distance element that no doubt has the wireless carriers freaking.

    Let’s consider a personal issue. Today, my son lives on two continents. In the summer, he stays with his parents, and the rest of the year he is living in Madrid, where he works for the government of Spain as an English teacher. It’s a great gig if you get one, particularly at a time where decent employment is well-nigh impossible to find.

    In any case, we have our wireless account with AT&T, primarily because of the iPhone. Grayson also wanted one, but he’d have to acquire the product in Spain, for the AT&T version would be horrendously expensive to use there. Although VoIP phone services, such as Skype and Vonage, offer you free or low-cost calling plans in loads of countries, the best alternative I could find for my account, AT&T World Traveler, which carries a $6.99 a month surcharge, gives you the “discounted” rate of 99 cents per minute on roaming calls to and from Spain.

    AT&T advertises, “Your world. Delivered.” It should be, “Your world. Delivered at high cost.”

    Honestly, I cannot understand how anyone with most senses present and accounted for could possibly tolerate such a rate, even for a few minutes in an emergency. Does AT&T want you to believe that it costs close to a dollar a minute to call a highly-advanced European country?

    In any case, aside from outright greed, AT&T has restrictions in place that prevent wireless customers from using a VoIP app on their network. That explains the key Skype limitation when used on the iPhone, which forces you to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot if you want to communicate outside of the borders of the U.S. at a sensible rate.

    But the reason Apple is sitting on — not rejecting outright — the Google Voice application is because of its unique user interface. It’s evidently quite unlike the Phone app, but how much it deviates is anyone’s guess, although I suppose Google could provide some details.

    Now I do understand why Apple wants to provide a unique look and feel in its own apps. It also makes sense to provide a consistent environment, so using different phone apps ought to deliver consistent user experiences. It’s part of Apple’s DNA to provide a distinctive interface for its products, which means that developers can’t run off and reinvent the wheel with every single app.

    Imagine, for example, 65,000 apps that provide 65,000 different ways of accomplishing the same tasks. Since Apple has a staff of 40 people reviewing an incredible number of submissions, you have to expect that there would be standards that direct the process, along with a clearly delineated set of programming requirements. Otherwise there’d be chaos. Part and parcel of the sales pitch for any Apple product is an easy-to-use, elegant and predictable user interface. Since it is Apple’s platform, they have the right to set the rules.

    If any single app deviates substantially from the interface, the risk to the customer is high, since it requires a relearning process, even if it’s a simple one. It also engenders confusion, and these are more relevant reasons than the ones cited by some who evoke the terms “communist” and “fascist” to describe Apple’s behavior.

    Without getting into the politics of the situation, just consider that the iPhone isn’t the only game in town. If an app developer doesn’t like the setup, they are free to go elsewhere. The same is true for the customer. You aren’t forced to buy an Apple product, which therefore means that the political nastiness is irrelevant.

    In the end maybe Google needs to reconsider the interface of the iPhone version of their voice application. That might help eliminate some of the objections. The other issue, however, takes you to the core of Google’s business approach, which is to use customer information as a basis on which to sell ads. So in the case of Google’s proposed iPhone application, it appears that your contact list would be transferred to their servers as part of the process. Now that could present a problem.

    This is not to say that Google can’t be trusted with your information, but that presents an issue that Apple has to consider, along with, of course, whether it’s possible to offer this application without acquiring user data as part of the process.

    I would hope that Apple and Google will work things out and get this application released as soon as possible. Most anything that helps prevent AT&T from gouging you is a good thing. And maybe, just maybe, AT&T will realize that the iPhone is a worldwide product, and regardless of where you live and where you visit, you should be able to make calls affordably. Is that too much to ask?

    NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: COX SOLD A SERVICE IT COULDN’T DELIVER

    So a few weeks ago, I saw information on Cox’s site indicating that they had launched a speedier broadband service, Premier Plus with the promise of download speeds of up to 28 megabits. This was part of their rollout of DOCSIS 3.0 service in my area.

    The new cable standard promises to deliver up to 100 megabits downloads, though it is a sure thing the cable companies won’t do it cheaply. Regardless, I was pleased to find the promised performance boost would exact just a $20 penalty. However, there was a catch. I had to buy a new cable modem that supports the DOCSIS 3.0 technology. At $99, it didn’t seem such a bad investment, since speeds will only get faster over time.

    Trying to place an order proved difficult. The Cox online ordering system wouldn’t support Premier Plus at the time I tried to use it, and I talked to several sales people before I found one that had even heard of it, even though I clearly repeated the information from Cox’s site.

    I have already reported some of this in a previous issue of the newsletter, but the full story is rather more complicated. Indeed, download speeds actually declined after the installation. The technician claimed that they’d optimize after a day or so, which, of course, never happened. Why can’t they just tell the truth?

    Over the ensuing weeks, I received visits from several more Cox technicians. Finally, a supervisor claimed that my node (the local network handling the connections in my neighborhood) was saturated. So I’d have to wait a few weeks for the node to be split. Meantime Cox reluctantly gave me a $20 credit, since they were selling me a service they were not prepared to deliver to my home.

    That, however, wasn’t the end of the story. After a few weeks without any sign of improvement, I called and asked for a status report of some sort. Cox sent yet another technician to my home to evaluate the situation. Yes they allegedly split the node. Why didn’t it make any difference? Well, this time they told me that DOCSIS 3.0 service wasn’t available in my neighborhood yet.

    As I suspected, Cox is selling a service that isn’t even available yet! This time, I had the Cox tech describe the situation as I recorded the session. He begged me not to reveal his name and I won’t. He’s just trying to do his job.

    Supposedly, DOCSIS 3.0 will come to my area in the very near future. Then I’ll get the performance I’m paying for. It’s unfortunate that there is no comparable broadband service in my area. Qwest Broadband is even slower, and the prospects that Verizon will want have any desire to invest billions of dollars to build out FIOS in Arizona are slim to none.

    I suppose I could take the matter to the state authorities or the FCC for that matter, but the effort wouldn’t be worth the time and energy. I expect that Cox will offer Premier Plus and even faster services eventually. But maybe the light of publicity will teach them that their customers aren’t easily fooled. They’ve already lost my TV business, after all.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #508”

    1. dfs says:

      There’s a pronounced tendency in the press to take Apple to the woodshed over this Google Voice business. Personally, I’m not so sure about this. Apple, as far as I know, has a lily-white record when it comes to protecting the privacy rights of subscribers to its e-mail service and MobileMe, and customers of its online Apple Store and their real-life equivalents, and the iTunes Store, although in one way or another it has plenty of opportunities to collect personal information without users’ or customers’ permission and selling it to third parties. I have dealt with Apple in each of these ways, and maybe I’m foolish, but I don’t think I have any reason not to trust them absolutely. Google is a very different matter. They track my Google searches, if I have a Gmail account they data-mine my communications, and they collect God knows what else and use it for God knows what purposes. I have no idea how much of the spam I receive originates from information accumulated by Google but I have my dark suspicions. And, although this is off-subject, on Google Books they make available extracts from a book I once wrote, of far greater length than the copyright law defines as “fair use” quotation — which again goes to show how little concern they have both for the law and for my personal rights. Given their dubious record in this department, I would never store any data on their proposed version of the Cloud, because the Cloud is all about trust, right? And given their dubious record in this department, when Apple says it is reluctant to allow Google Voice on the iPhone, among other reasons, because they have problems with Google concerning this issue, I for one am willing to believe that they are sincerely acting in what they believe to be their customers’ best interests. Why exactly does this deserve a trip to the woodshed?

    2. Dave Barnes says:

      @dfs,

      I would read your posts if I could. But, they are always full of weird characters scattered at random thruout the paragraphs.

      “-mail service and MobileMe, and customers of its online Apple Store and their real-life equivalents, and the iTunes Store, although in one way or another it has plenty of opportunities to collect personal information without users’ or customers’ permission and selling it to third parties. I have dealt with Apple in each of these ways, and maybe I’m foolish, but I don’t think I have any reason not to trust them absolutely. Google”

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