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  • Newsletter Issue #557

    August 2nd, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Not to end up in a rut, I’ve strived to move beyond Apple’s Antennagate scandal, such as it is, and on to topics I regard as far more important, but that doesn’t leave the iPhone behind. You see, a recent copyright ruling is certainly going to account for something if you at all are considering whether to jailbreak yours.

    So as you might expect, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE Saturday night, Macworld Senior Editor Dan Moren joined us to discuss the impact of the new DCMA ruling that appears to allow you to legally unlock your iPhone, and then profiled Apple’s latest and greatest products.

    Here it seems that, although the processor upgrades were modest, graphics performance appears to be far more robust. What this means is that the Mac is becoming a more credible gaming platform, and it appears software developers are taking notice.

    In the next segment, Social Media Evangelist Olga Antoniuk joined us to talk about MacKeeper, a highly rated all-in-one backup and maintenance utility.

    You also learned about the possible future of the iPod with author and commentator Kirk McElhearn. Now that sales have declined slightly, you can see where questions might arise about where Apple might take the product that many credit as the key to making the company a credible competitor in the consumer electronics industry.

    And, Rob Pegoraro, consumer technology columnist with the Washington Post, discussed the ins and outs of high-speed Internet access, the reasons why Apple is delaying release of a white iPhone 4, and whether Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer should quit.

    Yes, I think he should stand aside, but then nobody pays attention to what I say anyway.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents UFO field researcher Ted Phillips, Director of The Center for Physical Trace Research, who has spent years engaged in on-site investigation of regions where numerous paranormal events occur, including UFOs and strange creatures.

    Coming August 8: Co-host Christopher O’Brien presents long-time field investigator Philip J. Imbrogno, author of a number of paranormal books including his latest, “Files From the Edge: A Paranormal Investigator?s Explorations into High Strangeness.”

    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.

    MORE WACKOS CRITICIZE APPLE!

    The other day I read yet another sharp critique of the iPhone 4, this one maintaining, that despite all the posted evidence to the contrary, the antenna is far inferior when judged against the competition and, worse, that the built-in cellular radio is of extremely poor quality.

    In other words, except for the flashy extras, the iPhone 4 is basically a bad mobile phone, assuming you take that analysis seriously. Since I can’t, not because of any emotional commitment to the product, but in light of all the contrary evidence, I won’t bother to link to the source, nor to a notorious tabloid-style site that chooses to take such claims seriously.

    At the same time, Apple has actually removed the comparative smartphone antenna information from their site, although you can still find the videos showing the consequences of a death grip on various models on YouTube. Naturally, this decision is apt to breed yet another conspiracy theory, that perhaps Apple was threatened with legal action or, in fact, had exaggerated their claims.

    Or, perhaps more pertinent, maybe they just didn’t care to offer any publicity to the competition, now that the Antennagate scandal has died down and people are returning to their normal lives. And, of course, buying iPhones as fast as Apple can deliver them.

    Meantime, there are growing reports that not all is sweetness and light in the Android OS camp. As Windows users discovered long ago, too much openness can breed trouble, and in this case, it’s the discovery of various and sundry security issues that may make it possible for thieves to grab your data and send it off to unsavory sources who want to take advantage of that information.

    The most recent spate of bad news for the Android platform came in the form of a report from my friend Daniel Eran Dilger, writing in AppleInsider, about the disclosure of a bug during the Defcon hackers conference in Las Vegas, which would allow hackers to read email and text messages from Android smartphones.

    Of course, that presentation isn’t designed to encourage the underworld to break into Android smartphones. It was designed to alert manufacturers that there’s a problem that has to be fixed.

    To be perfectly fair, conferences of this sort also reveal security lapses in Apple’s products, with the result that, eventually anyway, those problems are fixed. That, in addition to the usual bug squashing, is the reason for this week’s release of Safari 5.0.1 for Mac OS X and Windows.

    Yes, you can probably criticize Apple for sometimes being slow to implement security fixes. This is particularly true with the third-party open source software that inhabits Mac OS X’s underbelly. It may take weeks or months for Apple to get with the program and add those updates to the operating system.

    Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t talk much about the company’s security program, so you really don’t know exactly what they are doing until an update is actually released. Even then, the basic information displayed in Software Update may be unreasonably sparse. You will probably have to check the support information on Apple’s site to see what was fixed and the potential for damage.

    However, the crazies in the blogosphere and sometimes in the mainstream media don’t mention that there haven’t been any widespread malware outbreaks under Mac OS X or Apple’s mobile platforms. Sure, if you jailbreak your iPhone, you might find yourself vulnerable to security issues if you don’t take a few precautions, such as having a secure password, but Apple isn’t responsible for ensuring the safety of the products that you hack. You’re on your own.

    The uproar about Antennagate consumed the media for weeks, even though other smartphones were no less vulnerable to signal attenuation if you held them the wrong way, particularly with sweaty palms. Some of their manuals mentioned the danger, as did strategically placed stickers on the products themselves. But all that remained under the radar until it was discovered that Apple’s “Jesus phone” was, surprise, surprise, not perfect.

    I suppose some of you might suggest, with some justification, that Apple sets themselves up for a huge fall, by touting their products as “magical” and extraordinary in every which way. Apple lives in a different dimension than the rest of the consumer electronics industry, and thus they deserve to suffer, right?

    Just imagine how the online and print media would handle the situation if Apple took a one billion dollar write-down to cover the costs of fixing a defective product. Yet that’s precisely what happened with Microsoft and the Xbox several years ago, and there was barely a peep from most of the media.

    I suppose you should expect Microsoft to build defective products, so if millions of people suffer from infected computers, no problem. Indeed Gil, our main marketing person, who has not yet discarded his PC note-book and acquired a Mac, suffered from a virus outbreak that couldn’t be eradicated until the computer was wiped clean of data. Nothing else would address the problem, and that included a visit to the Best Buy “Geek Squad.”

    And, folks, Gil had installed and updated his security software, but that didn’t prevent the malware invasion.

    Consider, folks, that many billions of dollars have been lost as the result of Windows-borne malware. That should be a scandal in itself, if we’re talking about true scandals, one far more important than whether your mobile phone connection is hurt by holding your handset the wrong way.

    But what do the wackos in the media talk about? You call that fair and balanced? I do agree with some of my readers, though, that maybe a few of those bloggers are getting spiffs from the opposition. Or they are exceedingly stupid, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which.

    MY BROADBAND WOES MAY BE OVER

    If I didn’t depend on a reliable broadband connection to get work done, I probably wouldn’t dwell on the subject so often. But I’m not alone. More and more people telecommute, meaning they work from home and use their online access to stay in touch with the office — assuming they aren’t self-employed of course — and their customers. It certainly helps reduce fuel consumption, not to mention the cost of setting up a work facility, whether a small cubbyhole or full-fledged office.

    Other than computer consulting — which has largely been kayoed by Apple’s Genius Bar — I haven’t stepped into a real office to earn a living in 20 years. Indeed, many of the people for whom I’ve worked have never actually met me. I’m just a disembodied voice on the phone, or a presence in their email Inbox.

    So when my Cox Internet connection began to fail for brief periods of time each day several months back, I complained loudly and often. Every single technician who visited my home failed to resolve the problem. They changed wiring, jumpers, and various and sundry hardware. A field crew supposedly expanded the neighborhood node to relieve network saturation, all without any positive effect.

    Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, I got a call from a supervisor who had been monitoring my case. He had already worked with Cox’s billing department to get me substantial credits on my monthly bill. Now he reported possible success.

    What happened? Well, he didn’t give the specifics, other than to say that his field technicians had continued to perform various tweaks to my service. He claimed that I had been free of cable modem disconnects for several days, and would continue to consult the modem’s logs in the hope that the problem had been cured.

    Certainly a resolution is better late than never, and I caution you I’m not yet convinced the problem has been solved, though I’m encouraged. But I have sympathy for the customer who isn’t a power user and will undergo a similar ordeal and never, ever have it resolved. Or be told it’s all their fault, or they’d have to spend several times more for a “business class” service to be assured of acceptable reliability.

    The ongoing problem was, by the way, the reason I sought solace from Qwest, but, as regular readers know, they failed to install service that delivered anything close to the advertised speeds.

    Worse, even though I cancelled within a few days, I kept getting bills, the most recent carrying a dire warning that the matter would be submitted to a collection agency if I didn’t remit pronto. Understand that I had talked with several billing people, even supervisors, and was assured each and every time that the bill had been zeroed out and I had no further obligation to the company. That didn’t stop the bills from coming.

    A few days ago, I actually persuaded a billing rep to email me a readout from his computer stating that the charges had finally been cancelled. A promised fax from another support person never arrived, and I was even informed that the bill hadn’t been corrected because the previous rep put in the “wrong code” on their computer.

    My advice to all of you: Don’t believe what your broadband provider tells you about the maximum speed they’re delivering to your home or office, and certainly dispute their contention that any bouts of subpar performance are the result of your router. In my experience, most decent routers only have a minimal effect on actual broadband speeds.

    You should also do a Google search for speed testing sites in your city, so you can confirm whether or not you’re getting what you paid for. Sure, the typical performance claim carries the condition “up to,” which gives your ISP enough fudge factor to claim they aren’t responsible. But if you pay for 20 megabits downloads and get five, remember that you’re receiving a lower tier of service and paying extra for the privilege of experiencing inferior performance.

    It would be nice, though, if the ISPs were forced to deliver not just an “up to” speed rating, but a “typical speed” as well, so you’d know what you’re really supposed to receive. Even then, double-check download and upload benchmarks anyway, and complain regularly and vigorously if you discover your ISP is cheating you.

    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
    Business Development: Gil James Bavel
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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