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  • Newsletter Issue #543

    April 25th, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Although it seems as if the media cannot get enough of the iPad, I find that the articles we’ve run on the subject tend to get a somewhat smaller audience than some of the other subjects we’ve tackled. I suppose one key reason is that we don’t sensationalize and publish lurid headlines with equally lurid text in order to boost traffic. Instead, we’ve made an honest effort to separate the facts from the fiction — and there’s far too much of the latter.

    Now on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we actually took a break from iPad discussions for the opening segment featuring Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen, who recounted his cordless phone “epiphany” and then revealed a new broadband technology that promises to boost speeds by one hundred times! Unfortunately, the new method will only work with ISPs who lay fiber cable to your home. Since there isn’t much of that in the U.S., beyond Verizon’s FIOS, which has pretty much halted large-scale network expansion, don’t expect to see it happen in our lifetimes.

    Industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group, joined us to analyze Apple’s sales, the prospects for the iPhone and iPad, and even offered his insights on the possible future of the netbook.

    Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths discussed the alleged iPhone prototype that ended up in the hands of a tech publication, his ongoing opinions about the iPad, 3D TV and text expansion utilities.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we continue to explore the mystery of Earth-based UFOs and the frontiers of our reality, as expressed by the late Mac Tonnies and others, with co-host Christopher O’Brien and Walter Bosley, Mike Clelland, T. Allen Greenfield, and William Michael Mott.

    Coming May 2: Co-host Christopher O’Brien joins us as we explore the incredible flurry of paranormal events in Pennsylvania with investigator Stan Gordon, author of “Really Mysterious Pennsylvania: UFOs, Bigfoot & Other Weird Encounters Case-book One.”

    Coming May 9th: Co-host Nicholas Redfern, author of “Contactees: A History of Alien-human Interaction,” and Jim Moseley, editor of “Saucer Smear,” discuss the amazing claims over the years of contacts between humans and alleged alien beings.

    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.

    YES THE iPHONE IS A PERSONAL COMPUTER TOO

    Just the other day, I noticed that I hadn’t touched my MacBook Pro, an Early 2008 model, in several days, other than to use it as an audio monitoring station for the radio shows. At the same time, my iPhone had been in daily use for a surprisingly large portion of my computing needs, once I had finished my workday on the iMac of course.

    But isn’t it just a smartphone? How does that have any connection whatever to a personal computer?

    Well, let’s imagine for the sake of argument that the iPhone is nothing more than a tiny Mac with a variation of OS X optimized for a handheld device that sports a touchscreen and extremely limited system resources. Of course, that is precisely what the iPhone happens to be.

    Of course this distinction is blurred because you don’t see the traditional computer desktop, and the usual proliferation of folders and icons. Yes, there are the icons, representing different apps, and, of course, wallpaper, a backdrop that is equivalent to the desktop pattern on your Mac or PC. But that’s hardly different from other smartphones and so-called feature phones.

    The resemblance to a personal computer becomes ever more obvious when you do something on your iPhone and experience its actual multitasking functionality, even though the critics will tell you that the iPhone OS doesn’t multitask. When you want to use its telephone feature, you touch Phone, which launches the front end of software that is always running anyway, monitoring the cellular network for calls.

    In addition to its own native features, Phone links to Contacts, the app that’s the equivalent of Address Book on your Mac. But most people buy iPhones for purposes other than making phone calls. If that’s all you want, there are loads of free feature phones that will handle the basic chores quite well. Some even have Bluetooth to allow you to use a hands-free headset or an auto-based interface.

    And, yes, Bluetooth is a background app that, of course, monitors the status of the Bluetooth network and the devices to which your iPhone is paired. The same holds true for the Wi-Fi app that handles connections to your standard wireless network.

    The direct comparison between Apple’s mobile gear and the Mac is far more evident in that new hybrid gadget, the iPad. It takes the core of the iPhone OS and expands it into a credible personal computer replacement. While today’s original version is still heavily dependent on a Mac or a PC for syncing data, that limitation is apt to be temporary. My feeling is that Apple is still getting its feet wet in understanding the potential for the new mobile platform.

    Indeed, when asked whether the iPad would cannibalize sales from MacBooks and MacBook Pros during the most recent conference call with financial analysts, Apple COO Tim Cook is really didn’t know. But he made it clear that the iPad yields nothing to netbooks and emerges triumphant in a direct comparison.

    But Apple is admittedly surprised at the successful launch of the iPad, in the same way they are surprised at the continued stellar growth of the iPhone, particularly overseas.

    But when it comes to potential computer replacements, the possibilities really depend on the sort of work you do. A very large portion of home PC users confine themselves to entertainment, Web surfing, email and perhaps a little word processing. All those tasks can be handled quite well by the iPad, once you get used to its interface and form factor peculiarities.

    If you expand into more creative pursuits, you confront severe limitations. Digital artists are accustomed to working with such input devices as, say, a Wacom tablet. However the iPad, using some of the new drawing apps, lets you basically finger paint on the screen, thus creating the possibility of a new form of digital art. I suppose an electronic paintbrush or pencil might be a potential accessory to allow for more traditional artistic pursuits. If and when the publishers of traditional illustration software provide apps with sufficient power, you may see content creators embracing the iPad in growing numbers. But not yet.

    When it comes to writing, the touchscreen keyboard may be a stretch when you want to write more than a few short notes. Yes, Apple is selling an accessory keyboard, and the iPad supports regular Bluetooth keyboards as well. But once you have to drag around two separate devices, wouldn’t a regular note-book be preferable? At best, those external keyboards seem designed for occasional use and not for extended work sessions.

    As with the iPhone, however, I agree with tech author and columnist Adam Engst that the iPad is a blank slate, and the software will ultimately flesh it out. But not just the software. It still depends on what choices customers make when they purchase all those apps. If the iPad remains mostly a consumption device, then it will be deemed less suitable as a potential PC placement. But if content creation apps, beginning with Apple’s iWork, catch fire, you may find more and more people deciding to chuck their traditional desktop and portable Macs and PCs and choosing the 21st century alternative.

    Yet you have to wonder just how new the iPad concept really is. Consider computer legend Alan Kay’s concept of the Dynabook, from the 1970s, which predicted many of the elements of today’s iPad. Kay envisioned an educational computer, and it’s a sure thing the iPad has the potential to fulfill that need, once Apple signs up some textbook partners.

    So maybe it is true that everything old is new again.

    REVISITING THE “MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE”

    I grew up in the formative years of black and white television, and some of my oldest and fondest memories include all the science fiction fare that, while predating “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” covered much the same ground. An Earth-based force of soldiers, or space-borne police, travels through space to right wrongs and protect our planet.

    Yes, “Star Trek” had its “Federation,” but it was still heavily dependent on our planet, although those pesky super-logical Vulcans still had their hands in many of the agency’s affairs.

    In any case, those early TV shows were heavily influenced by early science fiction comic books and novels involving the likes of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Perhaps the most popular of the day was “Captain Video and His Video Rangers,” a live show that aired five or six days per week on the long-departed DuMont network.

    At first the Captain, originally portrayed by Richard Coogan, was mostly Earth-bound, but as the threadbare production budget improved, the show went spaceward. Coogan’s successor, Al Hodge, became forever identified with the role for better or worse. Hodges was originally known to radio listeners for his portrayal in the title role as “The Green Hornet.” Through the entire run of “Captain Video,” from 1949 to 1955, the Captain’s young sidekick was portrayed by Don Hastings, who is still a working actor, very famous in various soap operas.

    Hodge’s personal story is sad. He became so closely associated with the role as the Captain that he found it nearly impossible to get another job after the series died. He hosted a children’s cartoon show for a while, then drifted into bit parts in various TV shows. He died in poverty some years later, having become an alcoholic towards the end of his life.

    Although cheaply produced, “Captain Video” attracted some of the most popular science fiction authors of all time as scriptwriters, including Damon Knight, James Blish, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Milt Lesser, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Robert Sheckley, J. T. McIntosh and Dr. Robert S. Richardson.

    In its final years, the producers even made a passing attempt at special effects, inserting films of model space ships among the stars within the otherwise live show. Legend has it that, as DuMont was being shuttered, the creditors were busy moving the furniture off the sets as “Captain Video” completed its final episode.

    Alas, a fire in the 1970s resulted in the destruction of most of the kinescope archives of the well over 1,000 “Captain Video” episodes that were broadcast. A handful are still available on DVD, but they are cheap digital transfers, with no apparent effort to improve the mediocre picture quality.

    Seeing a potential hit, Columbia Pictures decided to cash in, hiring cheapskate producer Sam Katzman to come up with “Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere.” Rather than mine the TV show for cast and script ideas, they went their own way with a low-budget 15 chapter serial, which featured Judd Holdren as the Captain. The main villain, Dr. Tobor (which is “Robot” backwards), was portrayed by the veteran character actor George Eldredge, a clearly-recognizable face of that era in both movies and TV.

    The Columbia serial relied on cheaply-drawn cartoons to depict spaceships in flight, mirroring the amateurish scheme that Katzman employed when he produced two Superman serials.

    As to Holdren, he is perhaps best known for his portrayal of “Commando Cody,” otherwise known as the “Sky Marshall of the Universe.” Like Hodge, Holdren’s career didn’t extend much beyond a handful of movie serials. He was only a passable actor, and thus was saddled with bit parts on TV and the cinema, finally giving up the business to become an insurance agent. Some years later, he committed suicide, another sad end for an actor who became famous for heroic portrayals.

    Unlike the “Captain Video” TV show, the movie version, plus loads of other serials, are well preserved in DVD format and available from Amazon and other vendors.

    While the likes of “Captain Video” and its competing shows, which included “Rocky Jones Space Ranger” and “Space Patrol,” are largely forgotten, the tradition of heroic humans fighting against enemies from space is preserved in the various “Star Trek” TV shows and movies and such fare as “Stargate: SG-1” and its two spinoffs.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #543”

    1. dfs says:

      I’ve said something like this before, but I think that it’s important enough to bear repeating. Over the past few months we’ve read a lot of stories about manufacturers of the iPad and similar mobile devices scrambling to cut their individual deals with various newspapers and book publishers. This conjures up an unpleasant vision of a future in which the products of some news outlets and publishers are available for, and readable on, this device, and those of some others on that one, but there is no such thing as a universal e-book reader which can access the full range of available media. To which I (and I suspect a lot of other consumers) say nuts: to me, such a fragmented market is totally unacceptable. Someday I may be willing to buy one of these and carry it around with me, but I’m damned if I’m going either going to buy multiple ones or accept the restriction of being able to access only a limited selection of media, either in terms of being able to purchase it or of the format in which it is distributed (I won’t settle for anything less than a single industrywideformat that’s as universal as MP3 is for music). I may be wrong in my assessment of how the e-reader market is shaking out, but this is the way it looks to me at the moment and I don’t especially like what I’m seeing, so I’m wondering exactly how useful the iPad is going to be if it’s going to be anything less than a universal e-reader. And its function as an e-reader seems so central to its purpose that I have a lot of doubt how useful it would be for me if it doesn’t perform that one function to my full satisfaction.

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