• Newsletter Issue #515

    October 11th, 2009


    I have seen the handwriting on the wall, and I have converted most of our sites from Flash, so they display properly on the iPhone and other smartphones that don’t use Adobe’s multimedia software. The lone Flash remnant, Attack of the Rockoids, our science fiction site, has a 30-second video to introduce the story. That little presentation has been converted to QuickTime format, and will make its debut shortly. The site’s navigation bars will follow shortly thereafter.

    Meantime, Adobe is busy building a network of circling wagons when it comes to getting Flash to appear on mobile devices. The forthcoming version will, over the next year, be available for almost every smartphone platform on the planet except for the iPhone. Yes, Adobe has devised a method to take a Flash production and convert it to an iPhone app. But that doesn’t mean that you’d able to play a Flash video on your iPhone.

    The prospects for real Flash support seem quite uncertain, unless Apple and Adobe can come together and devise a method that meets the hefty requirements posed by Steve Jobs, which include reliability, performance and a minimal drain on battery life.

    Flash was also front and center on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Along for the ride was cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, who also discussed Microsoft’s new Zune HD, and why they can’t built good products. You also heard more commentary about Flash and the loss of old-fashioned “type/creator” support in Snow Leopard from Macworld’s Rob Griffiths.

    We were also joined by Albin Holmqvist, an Art Director and Designer for a major European art studio, Vasava. He provided some valuable insights on how they have deployed Adobe’s Creative Suite software into their workflow.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, 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.” The bill of fare includes abductions in Australia and the results of DNA tests.

    Coming October 18: UFOs and the press explored by investigative journalist Leslie Kean, from The Coalition for Freedom of Information, and reporter Billy Cox. In the second hour, Leslie is joined by James Fox, director and host of the UFO documentary, “I Know What I Saw.”

    Coming October 25 (Rescheduled): The government of Brazil has released a wealth of UFO documents. A. J. Gevaerd, Editor, Brazilian UFO Magazine, returns to The Paracast to sort things out.

    Coming November 1 (Rescheduled): Getting the goods on claims of life-after-death communication with Dr. Stephen Rorke. You’ll also hear some actual audio clips so you can decide whether it’s real or fake.

    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.


    As most of you know, Microsoft hasn’t had very good luck lately in getting cell phone makers to adobe Windows Mobile. Indeed, recent surveys show that the BlackBerry software, Apple iPhone and even Google’s Android are faring far better these days.

    The newly-released Windows Mobile 6.5 has gotten, to be generous, lukewarm reviews. Microsft’s response is, as usual, to promise everyone that they’ll do better next time with version 7, whose shipping date has now slipped to late 2010. That, of course, is nothing more than their typical excuse for releasing a product that would probably be declared unreleasable by most of their competition.

    To add insult to injury, Microsoft has just pulled a fast one on the users of T-Mobile’s Sidekick smartphones. You see, Microsoft purchased the creator of that product, Danger, for a cool $500 million, but has evidently let development on the platform languish.

    Worse, some Danger employees were promptly transferred to the still-vapor Pink project, supposedly a project to develop a genuine Microsoft mobile device in the worst tradition of the Zune digital media player. However, many key members of Danger’s staff have simply quit, and the resources allocated to the Sidekick have evidently been severely curtailed.

    A serious system outage this past week has really inconvenienced an untold number of Sidekick users. Indeed, T-Mobile has posted a message about the problem and the danger of resetting or allowing the unit to lose power. The risk is the loss of your contact list and all the photos that are stored on that device.

    While T-Mobile is offering one month’s free service for customers impacted by the Sidekick, that’s a small consolation if you find yourself being forced to rebuild your data from scratch. This is part and parcel of putting your trust in a single online resource, particularly one that has a checkered security history. Accompanying the bad news is the report (not actually confirmed so far) that Microsoft has evidently cut back not just on Danger’s staff, but the existing Sidekick infrastructure, which would certainly go a long way towards convincing people not to entrust anything to that company.

    Sure, Microsoft claims its Danger team is working on a solution, but they won’t guarantee they can recover all the data or even a portion of it. Worse, this is not the first time the world’s largest software company has confronted a challenge in trying to move beyond its core products in the operating systems, apps and server software space. Do you remember, for example, when they took a roughly one billion dollar write-down to cover the costs of repairing or replacing defective Xbox 360s?

    Maybe not, because that report came and went and was evidently not followed up very carefully except by some elements of the blogosphere that keep tabs on Microsoft’s ongoing failings. It’s also important to note that the story about the Sidekick catastrophe didn’t get much coverage until a Saturday, certainly a day where major news events are given short shrift unless they are of critical local or national importance.

    Regardless of what you think about Microsoft, it’s a sure thing that the cloud is still a work in progress. Both Amazon and Google have had recent outages covering some of their services. During the dark days when .Mac was being converted to MobileMe, a portion of their customer base lost some of their email. Supposedly all or most of that data was ultimately restored, but it does go to show that server engineers have yet to devise a 100% solution, so you certainly want to have some way to store a local backup of your stuff.

    With the iPhone, you aren’t depending on MobileMe to keep your data safe, unless it’s on iDisk. There’s a backup on your Mac or PC, so if something happens to your iPhone, you will be able to retrieve your contact lists, music, photos, videos and other stuff. It’s also a good idea to use Apple’s Time Machine or another backup solution to make doubly sure you preserve your precious data. Even an online storage system is a worthy offsite backup solution. What you should depend on is that both hard drives and cloud-based storage systems aren’t completely reliable.

    Certainly, a system that requires a cloud solution without any other storage medium is a bad idea. Such systems aren’t dependable, although I’m sure some of the most talented people in the industry are working to make these systems function better. At the very least, there should be multiple redundant systems for the various online storage systems, so that the sort of issues that impacted Sidekick users don’t happen. And while I’m not familiar with the product, surely there is some way to copy the data to a local storage system just in case. If not, that’s even more tragic.

    Indeed, Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger should have been a wake up call. They don’t fare well with the companies and technologies they acquire. According to current estimates, there are over a million Sidekick users. I suggest each and every one of you consider this episode seriously. As for T-Mobile, it’s not just the return of Catherine Zeta-Jones in their ads that offers a compelling reason to stay. The fact of the matter is they have an extremely good record for customer service and network reliability, a record that is actually superior to that of AT&T. They also have other smartphones from which you choose, so I suggest you go to a dealer and get a reliable replacement pronto.

    As far as Microsoft is concerned, I wasn’t surprised to hear about their latest system failure. Microsoft is clearly not a company you can trust to keep your data safe, whether stored on a PC or one of their online services.


    It’s a sad fact that some 40% of the people who live in the rural portions of the U.S. are saddled with dial-up Internet access. But don’t consider them deprived, because a fair number of people actually don’t care a whit about broadband, since they go online strictly for email and limited Web surfing.

    For the rest, a portion of the money from the government’s 2009 stimulus package will go towards expanding rural broadband, though you never know just how much that’ll help. Unlike lots of other countries, particularly in Europe, the spread-out landscape in this country makes it extremely expensive to lay sufficient fiber optic cables to cover most of the population. That is, unless local residents are willing to pitch in enough cash to cover the hefty investment.

    Of course, there’s always satellite Internet, so long as you have a clear skyward view to that service’s satellites.

    In any case, I suppose I should consider myself extremely lucky. Broadband arrived fairly early on to this part of Arizona, and it has only gotten faster over time. These days, the local cable provider, Cox Communications, has begun rolling out DOCSIS 3.0 service to customers.

    The new technology is clearly a response to the super-fast Verizon FIOS service. DOCSIS 3.0 uses something called “channel bonding” to combine signals and gain greater throughput. When it works it works extremely well. Recently, Cox rolled out what they call Ultimate Internet to many of the subscribers in this area. The claimed performance potential is up to 55 megabits downloads and 5.5 megabits upload.

    In practice, getting good service has been a particularly irritating process, complicated by Cox’s increasingly inconsistent service and support. When I originally attempted to upgrade to a slower DOCSIS 3.0 service, Premier Plus Internet, the sales stuff was clueless about the service or its availability. Basically, the maximum rated speed is half that of Utimate, but the price is a mere $10 less, although the rate for the latter is regarded as “introductory,” which implies a forthcoming price increase.

    Indeed, the ignorant sales staff was only part of the picture. I had a procession of service techs at my home over a four-month period to sort out connection problems, inconsistent performance and other issues. Worse, I kept getting confusing and contradictory excuses.

    One tech would claim that the node, the local network connection, was saturated with too many users, and that explained the performance bottlenecks. But when nothing changed after the node was split in two, I was informed that there was, in fact, no true support for DOCSIS 3.0 in my area, and that I should not have been offered the Premier Plus service in the first place.

    When I upgraded to Ultimate Internet, they assured me that the service upgrade was complete, my wiring was suitable, and I would receive the appropriate level of performance. Using Cox’s own measurement tool, they have proven to be correct. Downloads now range from 60 to 70 megabits and uploads exceed six megabits.

    Unfortunately, other measurement tools don’t verify those results, but I’m not at all certain that they truly support or can actually measure DOCSIS 3.0 systems. So time will tell.  Meantime, it would be nice if Cox had competition, and even nicer if Verizon ever decides to build a FIOS network in the Phoenix area, but I don’t have much hope for that.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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