• Newsletter Issue #592

    April 4th, 2011


    I’m told you shouldn’t take reviews seriously, and usually I don’t. But there was one the other day at iTunes that caught me by surprise, simply because it misrepresents what we’re all about, claiming we are all Apple all the time.

    Now understand that the The Tech Night Owl LIVE originally debuted in 2002 as The Mac Night Owl LIVE, on the now moribund MacRadio network, mostly as a Mac-oriented online radio show. Once Apple Inc. moved their product focus to a far wider range of vertically integrated gadgets, we changed the name. We also enhanced our overage to include other consumer electronics topics. Indeed, we’ve focused on flat panel TVs, 3D technology, and, in fact, housewares. Great technology can be found in many places.

    What we didn’t do, and what we won’t do, is bore our listeners to death fielding complaints about arcane problems with the Windows registry, or attempt to become the technology version of “Dr. Laura,” trying to give instant analyses of people’s problems. Such matters are best dealt with by checking with your product’s manufacturer, or dealer. You’ll certainly get more immediate, and probably more expert, care. Even if we took live calls, and we can, only a small subsection of our listeners could get help. The rest would be waiting on the phone lines, or be forced to consider more useful and immediate sources to resolve their problems.

    In keeping with our expanded focus, on this week’s show, we presented noted industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group, to discuss the ins and outs of the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. He also gave you a heads up about current sales in the PC industry.

    Of course we haven’t given up on Apple. Mac|Life Online Editor Roberto Baldwin presented a worthy dose of Apple Inc. news and views, and revealed the most popular topic on the magazine’s online forums.

    You also heard from outspoken columnist Joe Wilcox, who recently made a challenge that, if he loses, he promises to kiss the feet of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. You’ll find out what Joe’s talking about when you hear the show.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Philip Imbrogno, authors of “The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agenda of Genies,” which depicts an ancient race of supernatural beings that reportedly exists in a parallel universe.

    Coming April 10: Gene and Chris present Former Governor Jesse Ventura, a conspiracy theorist and author of “63 Documents the Government Doesn’t Want You to Read,” who talks about the Kennedy assassination and other fascinating conspiracies in modern history.

    Coming April 17: Gene and Chris present Benjamin Radford, an editor for Skeptical Inquirer, and author of “Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore.” Are reports of such creatures real, fanciful — what?

    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.


    Let me tell you that I have always lusted after great technology. I suppose my addiction began in the days before personal computers became commonplace, when I bought an electric typewriter with rudimentary word processing capabilities. What that meant was a storage card that would record a limited number of characters, offering a barely capable method of actually editing your document before committing it to paper.

    During the 1980s, I had taken a hiatus from my writing and broadcasting careers to work in the prepress industry. I spent hours laboring over keyboard terminals that hooked in to a large phototypesetting system. While not as exciting as the entertainment industry, I was assured of a regular, predictable paycheck. My wife was also pleased that she could prepare a household budget with a reasonable degree of confidence that we’d be able to actually meet our financial obligations.

    When the Apple Macintosh arrived in 1984, my bosses at the prepress agency examined the possibilities closely. As one of the main production people, I was charged with keeping tabs on the new arrival to examine its potential. When PageMaker, the famous desktop publishing application, arrived, along with the Apple LaserWriter featuring Adobe’s PostScript page description language, we were prepared to make the leap.

    Yes, people still existed in the command line in those days. The idea of pointing and clicking on pretty icons and buttons seemed, well, childish. People told me that you can’t get real work done on Macs, or any other PC with a graphical user interface. Well, at least until Microsoft cribbed the basics of the Mac OS, and begat Windows.

    While I was busy absorbing all that advanced technology, Mrs. Steinberg stayed out of it. Typewriters were fine, but she didn’t take to electronics, even simple ones. She enjoys telling the story of the time she, an aspiring singer, actually got a job as an office worker at NBC. One day, she visited the commissary for lunch, and went to get a cup of hot chocolate. If anyone remembers the wacky antics of the late Lucille Ball in the legendary sitcom, “I Love Lucy,” you can imagine what happened next.

    Normally, when you press the button on one of those vending machines, a fixed amount of liquid is poured into a cup, after which it stops. As fate would have it, this time it didn’t stop. So Barbara quickly grabbed cup after cup, as more and more hot chocolate spilled from the spout. Finally she looked around to see if anyone was witnessing this awkward moment. Well, nobody was there, so she walked rapidly to the other end of the large room, and quickly downed her beverage and salad before she left with a sheepish look on her face.

    She wasn’t caught. Her job lasted another week or two before she went on to another temporary assignment, but it goes to show that she has always had a love/hate relationship with technology, even the relatively simple technology of a beverage making machine. So it stands to reason that she has not been terribly interested in using my Macs. Sure, she’ll occasionally check my email, or visit a site, but she usually had what she regarded as more important priorities.

    That situation existed until she got her hands on the iPad 2 that I recently got for review. All right, she preferred white to the black frame on the unit I received, but no matter. While she’d never worked on an iPhone, she took to the iPad 2 within minutes. Two hours later, she was still happily touching, swiping and flicking, gradually refining her navigational skills.

    Finally she flashed her glorious smile and announced, “I’ve got to have one of these. But in white!”

    I’m sure most of you realize that Apple doesn’t just give hardware away. That iPad 2 is due back at Apple’s headquarters on April 24th, and my wife knows that. But with Mother’s Day arriving on May 8th, she has made it quite clear what she wants, what she expects.

    To her, the iPad 2 is the perfect computing appliance. It is easy to master, predictable, and she can spend hours visiting her favorite sites, listening to music, and watching videos. When our son, Grayson, who lives and works in Spain, emails a link his latest Face-book collection, she won’t have to ask me to bring up the photos for her to check out.

    Now her reaction to the iPad doesn’t surprise me. The goal Steve Jobs defined for Apple before the first Mac was launched was to deliver computers for the rest of us, the people who were challenged by advanced technology. The Mac was always meant to be a computing appliance, though I grant that it still requires a fair amount of practice to become proficient even with today’s Mac OS X. In passing, it’s curious that command line mavens can still find a welcome resource in Mac OS X’s Terminal app, at the same time that Apple is attempting to infuse the OS with interface elements influenced by the iOS.

    Jobs clearly regards the iPad line as the personal computer of the future, a replacement that will serve all but power users and content creators who will still want to drive those “Mack Trucks,” the traditional PCs that will likely exist in various forms for many years to come.

    Now it’s also true that, even as technology advances to the point where an iPad can match the performance achieved by today’s PCs, those old fashioned computers will always be moving ahead, at least for the near term. It’s likely, however, that more and more development work will go into creating more powerful mobile chipsets, and, as PC sales decline, you’ll see a point where the differences in speed and flexibility will lessen.

    But Apple doesn’t push specs anyway. As the new iPad 2 ads clearly demonstrate, it’s not what’s inside, but what it does for you that counts. This is the eternal message that Apple’s competitors have yet to understand. It also explains why my wife will continue to love the iPad, yet continue to be challenged by all that other gear from the companies who still don’t get Apple.


    Printers are normally quite dull machines, even the modern all-in-ones that print, copy, scan and, in many cases, fax. Yes, those dark cases may get a mite curvy at the edges, and manufacturers are busy adding fancier LCD displays with which to control them, but the fundamentals remain the same.

    For better or worse, Lexmark appears to be trying to make a statement with the Genesis S816, a new all-in-one that stands tall, upright, almost as if it’s standing on its back. The scanning mechanism is different too, the result of installing a 10 megapixel camera sensor rather than the traditional scanning hardware. In effect, the Genesis shoots a snapshot of your document or artwork in roughly three seconds flat.

    Perhaps the result of this vertical form factor, there’s no automatic document feeder. It’s one page at a time for copying, scanning, or faxing. I suppose the higher scanning speed is meant as compensation. For most home and home-based business users, it probably won’t be a significant shortcoming, unless you find yourself having to fax multipage documents, which forces you to babysit the machine. But with the growth of Internet fax services, maybe it won’t make that much of a difference.

    The other notable shortcoming is somewhat slow print speeds when using the higher resolution output setting. While I didn’t actually measure page drop to output, it seemed about half as quick as the all-in-one device I had been using previously, a more traditional Epson Artisan 835. This despite the high print speed ratings, which are similar on both products.

    In exchange, text quality appears sharper, closer to that of a traditional laser printer. But good text has never been a strong suit for Epson inkjets, at least in my experience.

    Lexmark has also tried to push the envelope when it comes to fancy LCD interfaces. Functions are easily managed, and, unlike some multifunctions, I was actually able to scan documents using Wi-Fi. Some of the competitors require a direct USB connection. Lexmark also makes a free app for iPhones and Android OS devices that allow you to print photos from your smartphone (or iPad)-based albums.

    Not tested was the SmartSolutions feature, which lets you go online and make a direct connection to Face-book, Twitter and other services. The initial setup involves linking with your Mac or PC, and here’s where I ran into trouble. The Mac app that’s supposed to provide this connection kept quitting on me. I’ll be exploring this problem further, in hopes of a quick solution.

    The other irritant is one that I’ve encountered with other all-in-ones, which is the occasional freeze up of the printer, where it stops “communicating” with my Mac. This appears to be equivalent to an OS crash, and the solution is just to shut the thing down and start up again.

    At $399.99, the Genesis seems a mite pricey for what it offers, but I gather discounts can be had if you shop around. Glitches aside, Lexmark appears to be making an honest effort to change the all-in-one landscape. I’ll let you know if they succeeded in a forthcoming followup.


    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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