• Newsletter Issue #516

    October 18th, 2009


    I first got exposed to TypeStyler back in the early 1990s. I needed a fast and dirty headline for a desktop publishing project. Then, as now, my skills as a graphic artist are minimal. Thus I looked for tools to compensate, and TypeStyler seemed tailor made when it came to making fancy headlines without confronting a challenging interface. Later, I also got to know programmer Ken Stillman and his brother, David, who worked long and hard to keep the improvements coming.

    Well, with the arrival of Mac OS X, they ran into a seeming never-ending series of delays trying to move the application over to the new environment. As soon as they seemed to achieve results, Apple would introduce a new and better Mac OS X, and the arrival of Intel-based Macs more or less sent them back to the drawing board.

    I don’t pretend to understand why the job took so long, but success has come at last. On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. we had David on the show to deliver the good news about the return of that venerable type manipulation tool, TypeStyler, in Mac OS X trim.

    Roxio product manager Patrick Nugent was on hand to discuss the latest and greatest version of their DVD copying and video conversation app, Popcorn 4. I also want to offer a public thank you to Patrick for helping me move one of our Flash-based videos, at the Attack of the Rockoids site, to a QuickTime movie file. You’ll see it on the site shortly, and thus it’ll be visible at last on an iPhone and mobile gadgets.

    You then entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent held forth on those silly Windows 7 house parties, the feature that Microsoft always gets wrong and his favorite application of the month.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, UFOs and the press are 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: 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: 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.


    There’s one sure thing private industry and governments have in common: Both want to control the medium and the message when it comes to press coverage. This is understandable, and certainly the practice invites both friendly and sometimes contentious interactions between the fourth estate and the object of their coverage.

    Apple’s way of manipulating media relations is almost legendary. By and large, they say absolutely nothing, unless they have a product, service, or successful event to announce. If something goes wrong, even if it’s a program defect that might, perchance, cause you to lose a whole lot of files, they are often dragged kicking and screaming into disclosing something about it.

    This is most evident when it comes to the so-called Snow Leopard Guest account bug, which can result in the loss of your entire Users folder, amounting to perhaps tens of gigabytes of your precious data. Even though there were widespread reports about the problem, sometimes in Apple’s own support forums, only recently did Apple admit that it’s “investigating” the issue.

    There are now published reports that a forthcoming 10.6.2 update will address that bug and other serious issues with Snow Leopard. But Apple won’t won’t confirm that fact until the fix is actually available for download.

    Now as far as a bug fix is concerned, I suppose it’s all right for Apple not to want to raise unreasonable expectations. Indeed, they may not have even wanted to admit the problem actually existed until they were sure it was the fault of their operating system and impacted a reasonable number of end users. Then again, even a handful of people is too much.

    Even when it comes to those extended repair programs you’ll find for a number of affected Mac models on Apple’s support site, and the issue of when and what to say is understandable. Just because a component fails doesn’t mean that it isn’t one of those things that’s covered routinely by the factory limited warranty. Only when it has been determined that an unusual number of units are impacted does Apple actually consider a special program to cover you if your product fails prematurely.

    And while you can understand Apple being coy about unreleased products — after all they really want to sell you stuff rather than have you wait for something and not buy the current gear — there are times when they take silence to extremes.

    An example this year was the serious illness of Steve Jobs. All right, it wasn’t a secret, but the brief comments he made when he took his six month hiatus are widely regarded as far too limited when it came to meaningful information. After rumors arose that he had been sick enough to require an organ transplant, he finally authorized the surgeon who performed the operation to reveal some basic information. In part, that may have been done to ward off complaints that the monied Mr. Jobs used his influence unfairly to get to the head of the line in getting a new liver.

    The doctor explained, however, that Jobs was the sickest patient on the floor, and thus was placed ahead of other potential recipients. More to the point, he went to Tennessee to receive this operation simply because the waiting period was traditionally less in that state, not because he could afford the care. In theory, any patient facing a similar health crisis would have been granted the same level of eligibility, regardless of income.

    In any case, the real issue is whether Apple was sufficiently forthcoming about the health of its temperamental CEO. Their approach was to claim that this was strictly a private matter, but Steve Jobs is not your regular CEO. Even the health of Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer matters less to the fate of Microsoft than that of Steve Jobs to Apple.

    Indeed, when it became obvious, due to his extreme weight loss, that Steve Jobs was quite ill, Apple’s stock price nosedived. Billions of dollars in investments were lost, and not every Apple investor is well-heeled. Indeed, lots of stockholders are just regular people who bought a few shares of Apple stock hoping for a solid investment short-term or otherwise. It took months before the stock recovered.

    You see, Apple may want to convey the impression — one that’s quite true — that their products are created as the result of the work of thousands of talented engineers. Steve Jobs may be the CEO and chief visionary, but he’s otherwise just a single spoke in the wheel. But that’s not the image people have about Apple, and it took continued high sales and profits, even during a serious economic downturn, to demonstrate that the company might actually succeed without Steve Jobs at the helm.

    Now had Apple been appropriately forthcoming about the health of its CEO from the get-go, the rumors wouldn’t have arisen, and maybe the impact of the news wouldn’t have been quite as severe. Maybe Steve Jobs realized that when he made a brief statement about his improved condition when he hosted the iPod coming out party in September.

    But I don’t expect Apple to change its ways. Control is in their DNA and even the extended absence of Steve Jobs made no difference whatever. Besides, they continue to defy the critics and earn unpredictably high profits. Clearly they are doing something right, even if the media would prefer they behave differently.


    As most of you know, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now cracking down on folks who post reviews in blogs and on social networking systems pushing products because they were paid to do so without admitting that fact.

    On the surface, this seems to be a good idea. After all, if someone is praising a product or service to the skies, and they bring with that praise a measure of credibility, you surely want to know if they received a bribe in exchange. So far so good.

    Before I go on, let me just clarify one thing. Although the offender can be fined up to $11,000 for each offense, in practical most would usually get a warning from the FTC the first time or two, unless they continue to flout the law. Or is it a law? After all, there’s also something in the U.S. called freedom of the press that ought to prevent the authorities from putting the breaks on such practices.

    Yes, the U.S. Constitution only envisioned the printed word, not broadcast and online journalism. No matter. As Apple learned when they file lawsuits against several rumor sites to put a stop to disclosures about supposed products under development, the courts decided we were all members of the press. Having straddled the three mediums, I found that a huge relief.

    Now I suspect newly-invigorated FTC might be using the occasional payola scandals as a basis for the recent decision. From time to time, radio stations were cited for taking money in order to play certain recordings. Most of the payola scandals date back to the 1950s and 1960s, but they were quite assuredly going on more recently.

    However, radio stations that play music aren’t pretending that their disk jockeys are journalists. But since radio stations are supposedly licensed to operate in the public interest — a concept that doesn’t hold much meaning anymore — you would expect that they’d treat their music playlists as responsibly as the coverage by their news departments. Or at least, that’s what you expect them to do, even though even news coverage these days is based more on entertainment value and profit potential than actually informing the public.

    Now it’s true that the FTC edict about the online media is already getting opposition in some circles. My concern is that we shouldn’t be singled out for engaging in practices that might also apply to the broadcast and print media. In other words, if magazines, newspapers, and terrestrial broadcast outlets are taking cash in exchange for delivering kind words about a product or service, they should also be appropriately disciplined.

    If proper notice is a requirement, it must apply to all members of the media, not just a single segment. Otherwise, it’s fair to nobody. However, I don’t foresee any major outcry one way or the other until an individual or organization is actually cited by the FTC for allegedly violating this ruling by failing to disclose that they got payments in exchange for favorable coverage.

    In the meantime, we’ve posted a single paragraph defining our policy in the About page — one we’ve actually followed for years: “Products submitted for review are generally supplied without cost from the manufacturers and/or vendors. The Night Owl does not accept or receive any incentives for its reviews and will evaluate such products in a fair and balanced manner.”

    I would hope and expect that the print media will provide the same disclaimer and if they don’t, someone ought to crack down on them as well.


    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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