• Newsletter Issue #513

    September 27th, 2009


    This week, after I paid a $537 ransom to replace a broken power supply on a Panasonic plasma TV I’ve had for a mere 15 months, I began to think about early or frequent failures on other hardware. But before I go on, yes Panasonic has agreed to at least consider getting me a full or partial refund of the repair cost. They seem to realize such failures simply cannot be regarded as normal.

    In the Mac universe, Apple has had extended repair programs that include power supplies on the iMac G5, defective batteries on various and sundry note-books and other odds and ends. Maybe they should add another entrant to that list.

    You see, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we returned to “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent started off the session by talking about the highly breakable audio jacks on Mac note-books. As I said in one of my commentaries recently, he encountered the problem on a PowerBook G4 and a MacBook Pro. My 17-inch MacBook Pro, the one acquired in 2006, also encountered the problem, and the repair cost in the $250 range. So are all these failures due to user carelessness, or poor design? I wonder.

    David also talked about the computer that Apple should build but won’t — the so-called headless iMac, and why he hasn’t upgraded to Snow Leopard. As far as the latter is concerned, it’s mostly a matter of waiting until some of his cherished audio software is compatible.

    We were also joined by Kyle Wiens, from iFixit, the repair parts firm that tears down the latest gadgets from Apple and even Microsoft. This time you’ll learned what makes the Zune HD and all the new iPods tick.

    Those of you who have used and miss FreeHand over the years will want to listen Bez Palmer, a graphic artist who is part of a movement, freefreehand.org, to restore that now-discontinued illustration application to its former prominence.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, artist and abduction researcher Budd Hopkins returns to talk about his memoir, “Art, Life and UFOs.” This discussion includes a host of personal remembrances that also encompass subjects beyond UFOs.

    Coming October 4: Join us in a very special, exclusive interview with veteran UFO researcher and scientist Ray Stanford, who will talk about his extensive work regarding the Socorro UFO case and his book “Socorro ‘Saucer’ in a Pentagon Pantry.” Paranormal researcher Christopher O’Brien will also be participating in this historic episode.

    Coming October 11 (Rescheduled): You asked for it! UFO researcher Bill Chalker, author of such books as “Hair of the Alien: DNA and Other Forensic Evidence of Alien Abductions.”

    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.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    For the second time in recent days, I want to tip my virtual hat to liberal talk show host Ed Schultz for coining the phrase “psycho talk” on his TV show. Schultz applies that label to political figures and talk show hosts that inhabit the other side of the political spectrum and make what he regards as wacky statements. I’m going to apply it to people who write about the Mac with less than a full deck.

    Recently, one tech pundit, who shall remain unnamed, wrote an article going on at length about why every personal computer user should consider upgrading to Windows 7. Although Microsoft’s successor to the failed Windows Vista is primarily a refresh with some interface refinements, the writer in question seems to regard it as a revolution in computer operating systems, and he says that Snow Leopard doesn’t come close.

    Understand that Windows 7 has not as yet actually been released. Those who are writing those articles are actually using public betas, or a copy of the alleged “Released To Manufacturing” version, the one that supposedly went to the DVD pressing plants and PC makers to load onto their new computers.

    Without personal experience, I’ll accept for the sake of argument that these preliminary versions of Windows 7 are close enough to the final version not to make a significant difference. That will help avoid any arguments on the subject, although we won’t know for sure until the product is actually on sale.

    I’ll also accept the fact that people are entitled to their opinion, and one is probably as good as another. So if someone writes that they prefer Windows 7 to Snow Leopard, I don’t object, despite the fact that I don’t agree.

    However, when someone makes factual claims, that deserves further scrutiny. Take the assertion by the unnamed tech writer that Windows 7 will boost your productivity some 30% to 40% over Snow Leopard. The mind boggles by the sheer audacity of that statement!

    So far as I know, this particular columnist, who has actually appeared on my tech show on a few occasions, primarily uses his Macs and Windows PCs to write. He’s not engaged in a business that somehow requires his computers to do anything beyond routine chores that do not, in fact, require a terribly fast computer.

    Assuming both his Mac and PC have similar performance capabilities, where is all that extra productivity achieved? Certainly the gods of Microsoft do not suddenly make his typing speed 30% to 40% faster on his Windows box. There’s nothing in Windows 7 that I know about — or Microsoft has revealed — that would greatly enhance one’s ability to press the keys on a keyboard. So just what is going on here?

    By the way, I will assume for the sake of argument that Microsoft Word is being used on both computers.

    So is it perhaps a question of operating system stability? Well, there are very few reports about serious issues with Snow Leopard, and there is nothing so blatant that should keep you from getting your work done, whether it’s word processing, or performing CPU-intensive 3D work. These days, the fastest browsers — and that doesn’t include Internet Explorer, which is dead last in nearly every performance parameter — are available on both the Mac and Windows platforms. Their rendering potential is fairly close, although I’ve seen tests indicating that Mac OS X, courtesy of its Unix heritage, actually does better than Windows.

    Further, I would not regard a measurement of gaming capability, which might favor Windows if only because developers develop them for that platform first, as an honest measurement of one’s ability to get work done. Games cannot possibly be classified as work, unless, of course, you get paid to play them on your computer.

    So I am honestly at a loss to see where the great productivity advantage with Windows 7 possibly lies. In fact, I’ll go one further. It’s total nonsense pure and simple!

    Sure, there may be operating system-related elements that may make the Mac or PC perform certain tasks differently. But once configured, performing the sort of tasks in which the writer in question engages should take roughly the same amount of time. If anything, the sort of troubles that may impact a Windows box might actually tend to make it less productive!

    So what’s at work here? Has that writer become so enamored of Windows 7 that he isn’t able to view the situation in a fair and balanced fashion? I suppose, although I hardly think it would make his fingers move less rapidly when he switches over to his Mac. In my humble opinion, he is either thoroughly deluded on this score, or is making it all up just to keep the comments section active, and the hit count high.

    The other possibility that I’m reluctant to consider is that he’s getting spiffs in the form of cash or free hardware from Microsoft and is thus playing favorites even if the conclusions violate logic and reason. If that’s the case, we’re dealing here with a total abandonment of ethics, and I would never accuse anyone of such a thing without solid evidence.

    Or maybe we’re all wrong about the famous Steve Jobs reality distortion field. Maybe it’s Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who has the incredible ability to cloud the minds of people so they become devoted advocates of the Windows way. Maybe the impression by many that Ballmer is an ideal candidate for serious mental health treatment is simply wrong. Yes, that would explain a lot, although I’m not inclined to take the concept of the Ballmer reality distortion field seriously.

    Then again, I suppose some of the things I do might be considered by some as perhaps a little crazy. But can’t that be said about most of us?


    As soon as you expand your horizons beyond a single Mac, and you want to keep the other device in sync, complications rapidly arise. Although more and more people are relying on a note-book as their only computer, the traditional environment of the desktop and the portable is still ubiquitous. Add to that the smartphone and suddenly there are many dilemmas for you to resolve.

    What about your email, your contact list, your bookmarks and documents, not to mention your iTunes stuff?

    Fortunately ther eare useful routes around these data synchronization land mines and some won’t cost you any money, which is the best of all, although there is a price attached to the more complete solutions.

    Email presents one of the biggest dilemmas. You write a letter on the desktop and send it to a customer. But it’s not there on your note-book. What to do?

    For email, the solution is pretty simple, although you may have to switch your email service. If you’re using Hotmail or whatever it’s called or Yahoo! for example, the answer is don’t do that! Neither service, nor the ones provided by any ISP that I know about, supports IMAP, an email protocol that stores your messages on the server. So you can easily download and get the very same messages, with all custom folders and their contents intact. All your computers, Mac, Windows and even Linux, along with your smartphones, will contain the very same messages.

    And, no, you don’t have to pay for a service of that sort. Google’s Gmail has an IMAP option, though it has to be turned on manually in their Settings screens. There are a few other oddities, such as the fact that Google regards folders as labels instead, but most of this is readily resolved or worked around. Don’t sweat it.

    All right, you’ll have to sent out change of address notices, but only once. The other solution is to create a custom or vanity domain and register it. Then you can subscribe to the cheapest Web host service you can find, or a business email service, so long as it supports IMAP. These days, we do it all on our own server, provided by Namecheap, which gained its stellar reputation in the business as a domain registrar.

    When it comes to contacts, calendars, bookmarks and various system settings, Apple’s MobileMe can do the synching for you. It also offers you IMAP email, online file storage and lots of other features for the $99 annual subscription. Both Macs and PCs are supported and, of course, your iPhone.

    File synching can either be done manually, by looking over the contacts of the folder and copying the latest version to the computer with the older one, but it’s best you consider a software solution.

    If the process involves a mere handful of documents, the app solution probably isn’t worth the bother, unless you find yourself overwhelmed by the various file management chores.

    One possible solution to the sync dilemma is SyncMate from Eltima Software, a company that provides a load of handy utilities for both Mac and PC. The free version lets you sync your contact lists and calendar events with another Mac, Windows Mobile and Nokia S40 smartphones and their 50MB online backup service. The SyncMate Expert version, for $39.95, adds a number of extras, including Firefox and Safari bookmarks, Mail, iTunes, file folders and lots more. Online storage grows to 200MB.

    To see if SyncMate is your cup of tea, go ahead and download the free version. If you decide that it works to your satisfaction, you can easily upgrade to an Expert user license.

    My brief test with the no-cost SyncMate was quite promising. Once I got used to the concept of entering your other Mac’s IP address, easily obtained from the Network preference pane, or realizing that the computer’s hostname needs a hyphen between words instead of a space, you’ll find the setup process pretty straightforward. It’s certainly worth a try.


    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

    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #513”

    1. wincros says:

      My Panasonic LCD TV also failed after 15 months, but with motherboard failure according to their authorized service facility. Price of the part was over a thousand dollars and no post-warranty satisfaction from Panasonic. Figuring I might encounter the same failure again I decided not to fix it. That was several years ago. Still happy with the replacement from Sharp. Looking back, my reliability experience with Panasonic has been decidedly spotty with some things being amazingly reliable and others doing a nosedive right out of warranty.

    2. SteveP says:

      Editing, Young man! EDITING!

      “So I am honestly at a loss to see where the great productivity advantage with Windows 7 possibly lies. In fact, I’ll go one further. It’s total nonsense pure and simple!”

      Corrected version:

      So I am honestly at a loss to see where the great productivity advantage with Windows 7. Possibly lies. Pure and simple!

      See how much better and more accurate?

    Leave Your Comment