• Newsletter Issue #676

    November 12th, 2012


    The competition in the tech business is going to be more fierce than ever this holiday season. Apple introduced a surprising number of new products beginning in September (and don’t forget the note-book revamp in June), and it does appear that the prospects for the iPad mini and the fourth generation iPad are excellent. Some three million of both were reportedly sold during the first weekend the two products were on sale, despite reports that crowds snaking around Apple Stores were a lot smaller than expected.

    The larger question is how well the competition will do. Amazon, for example, never reveals how many Kindles are sold, and there have been no detailed reports from Microsoft as to how well the Surface tablet fared. If initial sales were high, wouldn’t Microsoft be telling us all about it? The best we can get is the curious comment from CEO Steve Ballmer that Surface sales are modest, which isn’t terribly encouraging considering all the ad dollars Microsoft is throwing at the product.

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused on some of the great new tech gadgets introduced for the holiday season, including Apple’s iPad mini and the fourth generation iPad, the Windows Surface RT tablet, Windows 8, and gear from Amazon and Google.

    Along with their forthright opinions on these and other topics were Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group, and Michael Prospero, Reviews Editor for Laptop magazine.

    During my segment with Baker, I asked him about the lack of information about Surface sales. He explained that companies may regard such information as proprietary and choose not to reveal them. But a successful Surface rollout would have gone a long way towards responding to concerns about Microsoft’s prospects with mobile gear. So where are the numbers? Oh, right, they are “modest.”

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris presented Dr. Joseph P. Farrell, author of such books as “Saucers, Swastikas, and Psyops.” The topics of discussion included the ongoing theories about incredible inventions by Nazi scientists during World War II, a secret space program, and whether some or all UFOs might be Earth-based.

    Coming November 18: Gene and Chris present author PMH Atwater, who has engaged in an extensive study, spanning four decades, of near-death experiences. The discussion will include her three near-death experiences dating back to the 1970s, how her life changed as a result. We’ll also cover some of her books, including “Near-Death Experiences, The Rest of the Story,” and “The Big Book of Near Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die.”

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.


    Just when you thought that Apple’s legal team would be working overtime for many years to deal with intellectual property lawsuits involving a number of tech companies and patent trolls, it was announced over the weekend that HTC was no longer on the list.

    The Apple/HTC patent wars have been going on since 2010, and HTC has not done so well. In 2011, the International Trade Commission ruled against HTC over a skirmish involving Apple’s “data detectors” patent. HTC, despite being on the losing side, vowed to continue to fight Apple.

    Clearly Apple was the driver in the solution, announcing: “HTC and Apple have reached a global settlement that includes the dismissal of all current lawsuits and a ten-year license agreement. The license extends to current and future patents held by both parties. The terms of the settlement are confidential.”

    The CEOs of both companies issued similar generic statements about being able to focus on “innovation instead of litigation.” You wonder if they were actually written by the same person.

    So why did HTC cave, while Samsung, Motorola and other companies continue full speed ahead fighting Apple on intellectual property? One reason may be that HTC as a company isn’t faring so well compared to the competition. Profits are down 79%, and the company’s stock price has fallen 80% since mid-2011. It may well be that HTC’s bean counters decided that huge legal fees going forward made no sense, that it was time to get down to business and settle.

    Since the details are being kept confidential, it’s not at all clear what this settlement will actually mean, although it is being suggested that HTC is going to have to write checks to Apple to keep the wolves off their backs. As is the case for other mobile handset makers building Android gear, HTC is already reportedly paying Microsoft to license some patents. At what point does the “free” Android platform become too expensive for these companies? Indeed, according to the Foss Patents blog, this latest settlement is actually the 15th such deal involving Android.

    While HTC may have fallen in line due to having fewer patents in their arsenal with which to confront Apple, maybe it’s a good time to consider whether the settlement may form the blueprint for other deals that will, at least for the next ten years, end the ongoing patent wars and let all these companies compete on the real merits of their products.

    Certainly Apple and Microsoft found a way to play nice, despite being tough competitors, yet working together when it’s in the interests of both companies. Samsung should have a huge incentive to make a deal. Benefitting from billions of dollars of Apple component contracts, wouldn’t it make sense to make a few interface and industrial design changes, disputed though they might be, to smartphones and tablets so as not to raise the ire of Apple? At the same time, Samsung could make sure that Apple is asked to pay a fair rate to license industry-standard patents.

    Of course, it may be more difficult with Samsung, since the company gained prominence initially by building lower cost knockoffs of Japanese tech gear. It worked against such former industry powerhouses as Panasonic and Sony, so why not Apple?

    Well, Samsung didn’t count on Steve Jobs going “thermonuclear” over Google’s alleged decision to “borrow” the iPhone and iOS look and feel. When the iPhone was first introduced, Jobs made a huge deal about all the significant new features being patented. No doubt he felt stung by early missteps that, in the 1980s, allowed Microsoft to license a portion of the Mac OS and leverage that victory to create Windows. That, clearly, was not going to happen with Apple’s mobile platform.

    Meanwhile, it does appear as if Apple’s patent dispute with Samsung will go on with no end in sight. Even now, the judge in that Silicon Valley trial is considering a motion questioning the motives of the jury foreman, claiming he had a possible conflict of interest undisclosed during the jury voir dire or questioning process.

    True, the judge has twice asked Apple and Samsung to try to reach a settlement without success. But since the law relies so heavily on precedent, is it possible for the HTC settlement to be somehow used as a blueprint for deals between Apple and the remaining combatants.

    Those of you who have become more and more bored with the ongoing legal skirmishes in the industry should feel relieved if such settlements can actually be reached. The lawyers, however, might suffer over all that lost business.


    While this article may come across to some as a political rant, let me put my cards on the table. It’s really about fairness. Regardless of where you stand in the political process, wouldn’t you want to be assured that election results are accurately counted and actually reflect the verdict of the electorate? Even if you side is favored, would you really want the results to be faked by unsavory politicians who play political dirty tricks?

    Through history, there have been a number of reports of such chicanery. Back in the 1960 election, some suggested that thousands of dead people voted for Kennedy, and don’t forget the problems with voting in those days if you were of the wrong color.

    The 2000 election here in the U.S. introduced us to such curious terms as “hanging chads,” which refers to the paper fragments made when punching holes into cards or paper, particularly paper ballots. The debates over whether the chads were hanging or fully separated formed both the funny and tragic elements of the closely fought race in Florida to decide the presidency. And don’t get me started about pregnant and dimpled chats. What a pathetic situation.

    Now I’m not about the discuss the outcome, which after a Supreme Court ruling, remains a topic for endless argument on all sides of the political equation. The real question is whether you can dispense with paper ballots of whatever form and let machines handle the hard labor.

    These days, a fair number of those voting machines in the U.S. are basically computers that optically scan paper ballots and tally the results. But even here, there’s room for error, or possible mischief. What if the markings on the ballot aren’t clear enough? Does the machine leave a paper trail, so the results can be verified by voting officials of all parties? Or are the original paper versions kept, so they can be examined by impartial observers?

    Indeed, is it possible for someone to hack the computer, or otherwise distort the results? Is it possible to create a voting machine virus that can manipulate the totals to favor one candidate over the other? Of course there is, but aren’t there supposed to be safeguards?

    On Election Day 2012, for example, one radio talk show host was discussing a report, unconfirmed apparently, claiming that someone who voted for one of the major party candidates kept seeing the results flipped for the other. But retrying a few times ultimately set things right. If true (and that’s by no means certain), you have to wonder how many votes may have been cast for the “wrong” candidate, because the voter didn’t check.

    When you read reports of hacked computers in the banking industry, and even involving the government, it begins to raise questions about what safeguards government bureaucrats put in place to make sure that the person who is declared the winner actually won.

    Some suggest that hand counting paper ballots with representatives of all the major parties in attendance as observers is still the best way to ensure the integrity of the voting process. Others complain that some of these voting machines may be built by companies with ties to one political party or the other. How does that make sure the results are accurately tallied? Then again, if all sides have something to complain about, perhaps the system is ultimately fair.

    And, no, I’m not going to get involved in a discussion about possible dirty tricks that result in mysterious voting machine breakdowns and other complications, such as not having enough of those machines in a precinct, which leaves people waiting for hours to cast their vote. In some areas of Florida this year, for example, people were still reportedly waiting on line the day after the election was decided to cast their ballots, which involved answering questions that consumed up to 12 pages. Did I say 12 pages? Wouldn’t making a voting process too complicated just discourage people from participating?

    Perhaps the most convenient way is to have you email your ballots, which is being allowed in certain states, but how do you guarantee the “wrong” ballots don’t end up missing from the Inbox at election headquarters? What about using physical mail, or dropping off the paper ballots in advance so you don’t to wait at a busy precinct?

    Or maybe just push a button on your iPad or iPhone to cast your verdict on the political issues or candidates that merit your attention. Sure, election fraud is always possible. But when did we stop trusting people?


    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: Sharon Jarvis

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