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Newsletter Issue #587


What’s in a number? Well, when pioneer computer scientists such as Vinton Cerf founded the Internet, they devised an addressing scheme, IP numbers, with which to identify sites and devices. The first widely employed version, IPv4, employed a 32-bit system that created over four billion unique addresses. They didn’t expect to see the Internet become so commonplace that they’d run out of numbers eventually, but that’s happening this year, and thus the tech industry is readying an improved system, IPv6, to replace it.

The transition won’t happen overnight, but IPv6 is a 128-bit system, capable of up to approximately 340 undecillion addresses, which ought to be enough to keep us going even if we become a spacefaring race and set up shop on a number of different planets.

I realize this stuff about IP addresses can get obscure for regular people, so on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we invited Rob Pegoraro, the personal technology columnist for the Washington Post, to explain what IPv6 will mean once it’s widely available. He also talked about the Verizon iPhone, and the controversy surrounding Apple’s new in-app subscription service.

Next up was Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, who profiled the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and gave you his views on the mobile platform pact between Microsoft and Nokia, and what it means to the industry.

The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple was on hand to discuss the nuts and bolts of Apple’s updated MacBook Pro lineup, and offer insights on the latest revelations about Mac OS 10.7 Lion.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We celebrate our glorious fifth anniversary, as we gather together three of our co-hosts to talk shop, and answer your questions about the state of paranormal research, and whether, if ever, solutions will be found. Joining the session are co-host Christopher O’Brien, guest co-host Greg Bishop, and former co-host Paul Kimball.

Coming March 6: Gene and Chris present cutting-edge interviews direct from the 2011 International UFO Congress in Fountain Hills/Scottsdale, Arizona. The lineup begins with Richard M. Dolan, who discusses the new book he co-authored with Bryce Zabel, “A.D. After Disclosure,” continues with UFO abduction researcher Kathleen Marden, and concludes with prolific paranormal author and investigator Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

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.


I suppose you could say that Verizon Wireless picked a peculiar time to start selling a CDMA version of the iPhone. After all, the GSM version of the product has been out since last june, which, in the tech universe, is a pretty long time. Besides, since an iPhone 5 is due some time this summer, that spanking new Verizon offering is bound to have a relatively brief shelf life.

At the same time, the media has been all over the issue suggesting that initial sales haven’t been too good. After all, you didn’t have crowds snaking around the block waiting for this Verizon version of the iPhone to arrive at their favorite Apple Store. Yes, there were crowds here and there, but quite manageable. And, unlike AT&T in previous years, Verizon’s activation system had little difficulty managing the setup process.

However, Verizon boss Daniel Mead has since said that the iPhone launch was the largest in the company’s history, bar none. The reason it had all gone so smoothly, he says, is because of a staggered rollout that began days ahead of the availability of the iconic smartphone in retail stores. First Verizon’s own subscribers were allowed to place orders. Indeed, the initial ordering process resulted in a sell-out after just two hours, but the iPhone’s availability resumed soon thereafter.

The actual numbers will be released as a part Verizon’s next quarterly financial report, unless, of course, Apple beats them to the punch. But I’m not suggesting you’ll hear anything about it at this week’s media event, which is expected to focus strictly on the iPad 2 and, perhaps, iOS 5.

Now to show you how important today’s viral online media has become, I’m sure you remember Antennagate, the brouhaha that arose over alleged deficiencies in the iPhone 4’s antenna system. If you held it the wrong way, applying what was labeled a “death grip,” reception quality would drop. You’d lose bars, and if the signal was bad enough to begin with — not unusual on AT&T’s network — your Internet connection would end, or your phone call would disconnect.

Apple did a good job to deflect blame for the problem, demonstrating that other popular smartphones also have sensitive spots where the same phenomenon can be duplicated. Lots of people posted YouTube videos to depict their efforts to find “death grips.” In the end, it doesn’t seem as if iPhone 4 sales were hurt much, since Apple said they could barely keep up with demand.

Consumer Reports dropped into the fray, claiming their tests, contrary to every other result out there, proved the only smartphone that demonstrated these symptoms was the iPhone. So, even though it was rated number one otherwise, CR couldn’t recommend it; that is, unless you hold it properly or get a case.

When the Verizon iPhone arrived, it was clear that the antenna had been placed differently, most likely to accommodate the requirements of the carrier’s CDMA network. Journalists made attempts to see if a “death grip” existed, but were stymied by the strong signals delivered by Verizon’s network. It could happen, but t wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Well, CR is back and, you guessed it, the Verizon iPhone gets a thumbs down too. Again, CR insists none of the other phones they tested reveal a similar problem. Perhaps they are trying to hold them precisely the same way, even though it has been shown over and over again that the sensitive spots may be in different locations. Curiously, CR is evidently ignorant of the fact that product manuals, and, sometimes, labels on the smartphones themselves, clearly depict the “no touch” regions. Evidently they don’t like to read labels or manuals.

As you can see, I don’t take CR very seriously about such matters. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media quotes them, but doesn’t bother to question them about the fact that their test results are so different from those in the real world. I did invite them on my tech radio show, but they have not deigned to pay attention, even though we are nationally syndicated. But this is an issue I will not allow to slide by.

One more thing: I recently encountered some serious connection problems with my iPhone 4 while driving through a neighborhood near Phoenix. I had to submit two service tickets to AT&T, and they even granted me a substantial credit on my monthly bill when they misfiled the first problem report due to an error from one of their techs, and I gave them, shall we say, a severe complaint during which I reminded them I could easily switch to Verizon when my contract was up — or even before if I got fed up with them.

Well, it appears AT&T is listening, or maybe the fear of the success of the Verizon iPhone has influenced their efforts to improve network performance. Over the last few days, the signal through that “dead zone” has been solid, and call quality strong and pure. I grant that the cell towers in the area may simply have required a little maintenance when the problems first occurred, but at least it’s fixed. For now that is.

This doesn’t mean that AT&T will keep me as a customer. But as long as I travel through areas where their network quality is good, it shouldn’t be a problem. However, there are many cities were AT&T’s network is seriously flawed. I expect people in such areas as New York and San Francisco will move to Verizon in droves in the months to come. AT&T has its work cut out for it to halt those defections.

Yes, maybe AT&T offers superior perks. You have rollover minutes, where those you don’t use one month are carried over to the next. You can talk and access data at the same time, something you cannot yet do on Verizon’s CDMA network. But when the carriers migrate to the high-performance LTE network in the next few years, that limitation is expected to disappear.

But what I’d really like to see is an affordable international roaming program. If you travel outside the U.S., you can go broke if you dare use your mobile phone, even with one of the so-called global or world plans. Of course, there is Skype and other services if you’re on a Wi-Fi hotspot, but it’s time the mobile carriers started to realize that greed isn’t always good.


Along with the release of a new family of MacBook Pro note-books, Apple last week released the first Developer Preview of Mac OS X Lion. Apple’s own online profile of Lion’s best new features was also greatly expanded. That, along with revelations from developers who evidently aren’t taking their confidentiality agreements with Apple seriously, has helped to flesh out Lion’s focus.

One thing is clear from all I’ve read on the subject, and that is Apple’s back to basics approach. As the Mac OS, from the original, to Mac OS X, got more and more sophisticated, and laden with new features, it became more and more difficult for people to discover the best ways to work.

Yes, the basic point and click interface is very much the same, but between shortcuts, context menus, and Action pop-ups, things can get mighty confusing real fast. Curiously, this is an issue Microsoft tackled in their own way with Office for the Mac 2011. Their solution was to put the most important commands in a large toolbar that they call a ribbon. As you use different functions of an Office app, the ribbon is altered to include the tasks you’re most likely to do.

Apple’s approach is different. They decided to use the iOS as inspiration. This results in such features as Launchpad, which places all your apps in groups of icons that you can page through, or flick through, in the same fashion as you do on an iPhone or iPad. Indeed, there are more gestures available for input devices, particularly the larger trackpads on Apple’s note-books, not to mention the Magic Mouse. I expect it’ll take a while to develop the muscle memory to access all the swipes, zooms, scrolls and other gestures that Apple will foist on us.

But I’m a little skeptical at the value. Gestures aren’t labeled, you have to practice to make perfect, and I trust that Apple’s OS developers will make them intuitive enough so a few minutes of experimentation will make you an expert. My concern about Launchpad is the fact that many of you have hundreds and hundreds of apps, meaning you’ll have to flick through dozens of pages to find the ones you want. Or just go back to the venerable Dock, and leave the dozen or two you use most often in there.

Closer to the mark is Resume, which is also influenced by the iOS. When you quit an app, you can return to it almost instantly without enduring a long launch process. When you restart your Mac, your working layout will be restored, with the same apps and open documents. But this feature, and others, such as Auto Save and Version, will require that software publishers make changes to their apps. Whether it means checking a few boxes and recompiling, or engaging in far more strenuous work, is up to developers to determine. The harder the process, the less likely that you’ll see much support when Lion is released some time this summer, at least according to Apple’s current timetable.

Apple Mail also gets a revision, with a side-by-side display of messages and contents, similar in concept to what you see on an iPad, and, curiously, in Microsoft’s Mac email products. So here, at least, Apple is the one evidently using the copy machine. But the scheme seems to work well on the iPad, so it will probably translate well to the Lion desktop.

Over the next few months, Apple will reveal more and more of the Lion’s features. But it’s clear so far that Apple is hoping to deliver a warm and fuzzy OS that will further integrate the desktop and mobile systems. In the ads for the iPad, the announcer says, “you already know how to use it.” It appears Apple is trying to reach the same goal with Mac OS X Lion.


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

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