• Newsletter Issue #682

    December 24th, 2012


    Do you need a new TV set? Would you buy one if it bore the Apple label and was not much more expensive than current premium models? Well, I’ve seen surveys that say, essentially, that a surprising number of you would vote yes. But Apple doesn’t build gear based on surveys. If you take the comments from Tim Cook at face value, Apple creates products you didn’t think you needed, but once you use them, you can’t live without them.

    All right, maybe that’s an exaggeration. It may apply to the iPad, since tablets had gone nowhere before it arrived, but there were smartphones that sold in brisk qualities before the iPhone. Ask anyone who bought a BlackBerry before the iPhone was launched. But the iPhone made a huge difference in the way smartphones were designed and used, which is why so many of the thing’s competitors sell take their influences from Apple. That’s what all those lawsuits are about.

    So I wouldn’t care to predict what an Apple branded smart TV would do to stand out from the pack. That’s what Jonathan Ive gets the buck bucks to do, but I’m still wondering whether it’s just hype, and whether the real Apple innovation will be some sort of souped up Apple TV box.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Michael Prospero, Reviews Editor for Laptop magazine, to discuss some of the notable products he and his crew have tested over the past year, along with ongoing speculation that Apple has a smart TV coming next year.

    We also called on John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, who covered his multipart series on e-book readers and tablets. He’ll tell you his favorites, and then explain why he believes it is inevitable that Apple will release a TV set.

    Special Sci-Fi Update! Last month, our second sci-fi novel, “Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors” was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, “Attack of the Rockoids.” Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It’s available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene presents his long-time friend, veteran UFO and occult researcher T. Allen Greenfield. You’ll learn how Gene and Allen developed a theory about UFOs from other dimensions, or alternate realities. We also cover Allen’s ongoing research not just into UFOs and related subjects, but into the occult.

    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.


    All right, Apple’s vision of the personal computer is that of an appliance. This is one key reason, for example, why upgrade options are usually very limited. Turn it on, use it, turn it off. You needn’t worry about what goes on inside, although that’s not the way PCs have traditionally been designed.

    Of course, with a TV set, or a toaster oven, you don’t concern yourself about upgrading operating systems, or what features the former might contain. True, a TV may on a rare occasion require some sort of firmware update, usually delivered online or via a USB connection of some sort, but the issues fixed are about reliability, not flashy features and interface refinements. It’s an appliance after all.

    With more and more Macs, the same appliance mentality applies. On some models, you can’t even upgrade RAM, in the tradition of the original Mac back in 1984. You get what you get and live with it, unless you’re skilled at component level hacking and want to take a chance that what you do will void the warranty, and maybe turn your Mac into a brick.

    However, when it comes to operating systems, Apple wants them faster and cheaper and upgraded regularly, evidently. Just when you became accustomed to system upgrades every two years, with a bunch of free maintenance updates in the interim, Apple decided that Mountain Lion would arrive a year after Lion.

    To some, Mountain Lion is little more than a glorified service pack to clean up Lion, which had its share of glitches. So, for example, Auto Save is enhanced to restore a sort of Save As feature. You wonder why Apple removed it in the first place, but the first iteration was fouled up as well. Even if you used Save As to create a new document under a new name, the original would inherit whatever changes you made until the duplicate was saved. Whose bright idea was that? This went against the grain and tradition, so Apple gave you the keep or save choice in 10.8.2.

    That, however, doesn’t satisfy people who cannot tolerate some of the interface excesses, particularly the stitched leather effect in Calendar. But that’s just window dressing. The functionality is what it’s all about, and perhaps the look and feel of Apple’s home-built apps will be less in your face in 10.9, now that Jonathan Ive is running Human Interface.

    Some of you simply object to the iOS-integration, perhaps fearing Apple went too far, or might simply merge the two OS interfaces at some point in the future. Well, maybe, but Apple also believes that a mobile operating system shouldn’t work the same as a desktop operating system. That’s a lesson that Microsoft has yet to understand, and it also explains why many are confused over the functionality of the Surface RT tablet. Other than being unable to run standard Windows apps, it contains both the tiles or Modern UI, and a traditional Windows desktop. Microsoft wants Windows everywhere, and this misbegotten product is the result.

    That’s a mistake Apple is unlikely to make with OS X, at least for a while. How things will change over time as more and more people depend on tablets and smartphones for their daily chores is anyone’s guess. I suppose the ongoing evolution of OS X will afford the clues.

    At the same time, millions of Mac users are simply sticking with OS X Snow Leopard, or 10.6, which is reliable, stable, fast, and doesn’t have the frills and oddities and possible lost features of 10.7 and 10.8. But that’s a non-starter for anyone who bought a Mac after the summer of 2011, when the newer OS versions were preloaded. While it may be possible to take a Mac introduced before Lion, but on which it was preloaded, to work with 10.6, that’s as far as it goes. It’s not the same as the Windows user bouncing Windows 8 and returning to XP. Apple’s appliance mentality doesn’t give you the option to use older systems on newer Macs.

    In saying that, my sole problem with Mountain Lion is the proclivity to distort incoming audio from a line in or USB connection. It’s not consistent, but when it occurs, it’ll either disappear, or I’ll have to switch inputs to temporarily set things right. That workaround comes after hours of experimentation. I suppose I could just wipe the drive and revert to Lion, but that will take a lot longer than occasional input switching, and reconfiguring the Sound preference pane, Skype, and my audio capture apps. In my configuration, I use an outboard Mackie analog mixer. It can hook up to the line in port of my late 2009 iMac, or I can attach it to a Griffin Technology iMic to divert the output to USB instead. And this is a bug I gather others have reported as well, so maybe Apple will get the memo and fix it before long.

    Otherwise, I’m not at all troubled by Mountain Lion, beyond the audio difficulties. But as much as Apple wants to wow Mac users with flashy new OS features, they need to hunker down and fix existing problems and perhaps restore some lost features that were removed without explanation or, it seems, logical purpose.


    Some time back, I wrote a highly favorable review of the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus. Well, the name is obviously a non-starter, but it’s not as if HP has much of a feel for branding and marketing, evidently. Even though I’ve had this printer since spring, on an extended loan via their otherwise flaky PR people, I still have to sometimes look at the partly near-invisible name on the dark gray front panel to remember it.

    Certainly the price is right. I saw them on display at the neighborhood Sam’s Club for less than $220, which, considering this multifunction’s high level of performance, it’s a mighty cheap price. Sure you can get all-in-ones, with faxing, copying, scanning, printing, for half that price, but you will get what you pay for.

    This is a workhorse, one I’ve seen at several offices in my travels. It is also very fast (up to 13 pages per minute in the Normal print mode), and delivers near-laser quality of regular text. Yes, there’s some fuzziness about the edges of letterforms, typical of inkjets, but from a distance you probably won’t notice much of a difference. It’s not like the old days, when people like me examined text under a loupe.

    Color quality in the default mode on regular paper is good enough. You’ll want expensive glossy paper if you plan on printing snapshots . Obviously printer speeds aren’t as high when the unit’s processing high quality four-color prints, but it’s not as if you’ll have to wait long minutes for every copy. I am also happy with the copying and fax features.

    Fax? Yes, I still send a paper fax on occasion. I also use an Internet phone service, Phone Power, with limited promises of faxing capability, and some printers have problems with that setup. Yes, I use an Internet-based fax service as well, but why waste time scanning printed documents, and turning them into PDFs before sending? With the HP, all I have to do is dial the number on the touch-based keypad and let it do the rest from the scanner bed or document feeder.

    The paper tray is also fairly large for an inkjet, with a capacity of up to 250 sheets, depending on thickness. That’s laser grade. As far as noise is concerned, while it’s not the quietest printer on the planet, the sound is reasonably tolerable and lacks the grating, grinding and squeaking effects some printers deliver, giving you the impression they’re about to self-destruct at any moment.

    Now when it comes to the cost of upkeep, it’s actually not bad for an inkjet, largely because HP offers a high-capacity XL series of consumables that are reasonably affordable. Black ink promises up to 2,300 copies, whereas the three color cartridges each promise up to 1,500 copies. In the real world, unless you do a lot of color, you’ll get far more with mostly text-based content.

    Still, when you pay a street price of up to $37 for each cartridge, assuming you want to avoid risks and stick with the HP OEM variety, the credit card can empty pretty fast. You can, however, save with multipacks and by checking out a discounter. Refills are less than half the price, but I’ve rarely found any third-party product that is quite as good as the original. If print quality doesn’t suffer, capacity is frequently less. Besides, if one of these cartridges gums up your printer, HP isn’t going to pay the repair bill.

    In the end, I would really prefer a lower cost of upkeep, but, as I said, the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus is actually less expensive to run than many, despite the higher purchase price. But that advantage only comes if you’re printing a fairly large number of documents.

    Understand, the HP is heavy, bulky, and its looks can be best described as functional. But the movable touch panel has a serviceable interface, and is fairly responsive as such things go. With standard ePrint support, you can even feed documents wirelessly from a mobile device, such as an iPhone or iPad, without the need to install some third-party software.

    Yes, some of you may still have a hopes for the paperless revolution, that smartphones and tablets will make digital content more accessible, so you won’t be tempted to make a paper copy. But that dream has yet to be realized.


    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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