• Newsletter Issue #794

    February 16th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It’s enough to make you afraid of using the Internet, those dreaded online bandwidth caps. Your ISP sets a limit, and if you blow through it after a few days of Netflix binge viewing, you might be forced to pay an extra fee, or have your online service throttled or shut off. It’s reminiscent of those cell phone contracts where you buy a bucket of minutes, and if you talk a bit too long, you pay an unreasonable fee for talking too much.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented tech editor Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. He gave you his unique slant on the net neutrality debate. Hint: It’s about those nasty bandwidth caps. You also heard his views about the potential for an Apple stylus known as Apple Pen, and how deeply Apple might want to get involved with autos. But probably not the iCar or Apple Car.

    Now after we recorded this segment, the Wall Street Journal published a story about “Titan,” the alleged code name for a project involving several hundred auto engineers, many hired from various car companies, including Tesla, which may end up with just that, a car with the Apple logo on it. But I don’t expect to see Apple Stores become auto showrooms, and even if Apple really plans to enter the auto business, it’s not something that’ll happen right away. It would take years to bring a new car to market, and it may not be certain until late in the development process whether a real product will emerge. If true, it still might be more about expanding CarPlay technology.

    Didn’t the Wall Street Journal also predict the arrival of a 12.9-inch iPad Pro? That could also happen, and its arrival would vindicate the paper’s ability to accurately predict future gear from Apple. But a larger tablet, to me, makes far more sense than a car.

    From outspoken commentator Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, you heard his take on those ongoing Adobe Flash security problems, the recent data breach at a health insurance company, Anthem, and how to protect yourself if your identity is stolen. Avram also discussed the Microsoft Windows 10 Technical Preview, the long tablet replacement cycles, and Apple Watch.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Open Minds’ Alejandro Rojas joins us for a recap of the UFO field in 2014 and a preview of the 2015 International UFO Congress and Film Festival. He’ll also talk about UFO abductions, disclosure and other subjects. The outspoken co-host of the popular webcast Spacing Out, Alejandro is Director of Operations for Open Minds Production, the host for Open Minds UFO Radio, editor and contributing writer for OpenMinds.tv, and emcee for the the Congress. He is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. Listener questions will also be answered during the course of this episode.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our 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.

    THE SILLY WORLD OF POWER CYCLING

    So I wake up one day, and attempt to make a phone call on my “landline,” only to find that I’m not getting a dial tone. Now my home phone is actually one of those VoIP systems, presently from ITP of New York City, which offers “Premium Unlimited” service for $19.99 per month plus taxes and other fees.

    Typical of most VoIP systems, you get a special adapter that connects to your cable/DSL modem or your router, thus using your Internet connection to provide telephone service. Unlike POTS, the plain old telephone service, it’s not a hard wired system, and depends on the quality of your online hookup to give you usable performance. If your Internet goes down — or you have a power outage — your phone service dies with it.

    Now most VoIP services that I know about also offer a fallover feature. So if your connection is offline for any reason, calls are forwarded to an emergency number you specify, which is probably your mobile phone. Even though many of you rely strictly on your wireless phone, I won’t until audio quality is more consistent and the caller is no longer lost in a digital haze. I might then consider buying one of those desk phones that extends a cell phone connection, but not yet.

    In any case, when I looked at the ITP phone adapter, I saw that the amber light that signifies an active connection was off. So I followed the first and most common troubleshooting step, which was to pull the plug from the unit, wait a minute, and plug it back in. In other words, I power cycled.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The light did not come on, and so I took my iPhone and telephoned ITP for assistance. A pleasant tech by the name of Alex suggested I power cycle — that phrase again — everything. First, unplug the modem, the router and the ITP adapter, and wait a minute. He even counted it down and told me when to plug everything back in, in the very same order.

    After about two minutes for all the connections to sync, the connection was restored.

    Sure, I could have considered turning everything off, but the tech journalist in me wanted to give ITP’s support a test. So often help from one of these low-cost telephone services can be hit or miss.

    While I understand the value of a restart, which is essentially what I did with my Internet-related gear, I wonder why I had to crawl under my desk to make it happen. With Apple’s AirPort Extreme and other routers, you can access an app or an online interface to activate a restart. Cable or DSL modems with built in routers can be restarted by the same procedure. If they do not have an online interface, however, you power cycle.

    Now the fact of the matter is that any of these devices can be accessed by a technician using their IP numbers. Some of those interfaces can be accessed with a simple username and password, although you might have to hunt to figure out what it is, or see if the company will let you have it. Sometimes it takes special equipment to bring up, and the reason you aren’t granted access is, I suppose, because they don’t want customers to mess with a setting and force a call for help, or even a home or office visit. That can get mighty expensive fast.

    Yes, some of those adapters have external reset buttons, which are usually recessed and only available by inserting a pin. But more often than not, they aren’t to be touched, because they revert the device to factory defaults. That may not be so difficult to manage with your Wi-Fi router, since it can usually be reconfigured if you follow a setup assistant. Not so with a VoIP adapter, because it may lose the custom carrier settings that allow it to contact to their telephone network, and it’s not intended to be a user serviceable configuration, although they could talk you through it if you mistakenly tried to reset the unit.

    But why not have a tiny push button on such gear for the fast restart? At worst, you’d be offline for a few moments while the boot process occurred. Or maybe add a custom online interface, so you could reset the things with a browser on your PC or mobile device. You click or tap a button and it goes to the power cycle process all by itself, no crawling beneath the desk required.

    Wouldn’t that only be logical? I might be selfish, however, since I’m presently being treated for a back problem, and scrambling under my desk is not a very pleasant process these days. I suspect most of you don’t care enough to fret over such things. After all, you shouldn’t have to power cycle such gear all that often, right? But it’s still the very first remedy a tech company will suggest when their equipment isn’t working.

    PUTTING UP WITH POOR AUTO SOUND

    In some ways I’m a creature of habit. When I drive a car home from the showroom, new or used, I immediately turn everything to default, assuming test drivers were messing with stuff. This is particularly true of the vehicle’s infotainment system. For some reason, the bass and treble always seem to be turned much too high. Maybe this is done to impress prospective customers with the awesome sound system, same as the settings on new TVs are ratcheted up to look “better” in the superstore.

    So I drove the Kia for over 20,000 miles and merely tolerated the sound system, which comes from Harman Infinity and boasts seven speakers, including a subwoofer. Yes, the bass was substantial enough, thumping appropriately on hard rock, and sometimes thumping a little too much. Highs were clear and crisp but on some source material could almost frizzle your ears.

    The situation wasn’t helped by the creative decisions on the part of some music engineers who do not understand the concept of warm, natural sound. It has to be loud, punchy, with little dynamic range.

    Now most of the time I just listen to talk radio, and thus I didn’t care so much about the lapses in music reproduction. Until recently, that is, when I set aside some extra time to fiddle with the various infotainment settings and see what they did.

    The Kia’s audio system uses technology from UVO, a Microsoft service. Unlike the failed Microsoft-derived MyFord Touch scheme, which long frustrated owners of Ford and Lincoln motor vehicles, UVO isn’t really so bad. Voice recognition is passable, and most of the time manages to dial the right phone number, or tune to the correct radio station. That’s progress, compared to other cars I’ve driven over the years.

    While rummaging through the settings, I actually found a training system for the voice assistant. As with Nuance and other dictation software for personal computers, you read a few paragraphs aloud to allow the system to become accustomed to your speech and, in theory, deliver more accurate results. Only UVO seemed to operate better without it, so I turned it off. Again, back to default.

    Now to the sound system.

    There are three tone adjustments consisting of bass, midrange and treble sliders. I left the midrange alone and reduced the bass by one notch. It was still appropriately thumpy on bass-heavy material, but only rarely became excessive. That was progress.

    I reduced the treble slightly, but it sill whizzed a tad unbearably at high frequencies. Cymbals were smeared, and somewhat mushy. Not good enough. After an extensive period of testing each successive reduction in treble intensity, I ended up backing off the level by five notches before things really settled down. Treble was still crisp and clean, but suddenly a miracle occurred as everything just fall into place.

    With less high-end energy to overwhelm the music, I began to hear nuances I did not previously notice. There was still plenty of sparkle, but the midrange, no longer seemingly fighting with the the extremes in the frequency range, appeared to deliver a more realistic presentation of the music. I could hear instrumental breaks in the background that were only suggested before.

    Of course, it may take time for your ears to become accustomed to a new or altered audio source. A lot of what you hear, or think you hear, is the product of your imagination. So I will want to live with the new settings and see how they fare on the long haul. Remember, I’ll still listen mostly to talk radio, but I feel maybe a little more inclined to want to play music through that system.

    Now if you own a Kia or a Hyundai with similar audio capabilities, don’t assume the settings I chose will work best on your system. Each model year may come with similar audio hardware, but the manufacturer may voice it differently. Ongoing software updates might change the balance to some extent.

    Years ago, I had a Toyota Supra with a five-band equalizer. I spent hours tuning the thing before the audio was satisfactory, and bass was still very much lacking. Over the years, I had grown lazy about these settings, but I’m pleased with the results on my Kia.

    Mind you, it’s still not state-of-the-art, but far more listenable. I suppose if I had some money to burn, I could always look to the aftermarket for something better, but I have other priorities.

    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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