• Newsletter Issue #795

    February 23rd, 2015


    In last week’s issue, I mentioned ISPs throttling your Internet connection, because you either exceeded your bandwidth limit, or tried to use a streaming video service that hadn’t paid the proper ransom for full performance. This week I’m covering another form of throttle, the one on your motor vehicle. You see, the media is all caught up in yet another rumor of a forthcoming Apple product, this time a car. Yes, an Apple Car, but certainly not an iCar, since that labeling scheme is old news.

    If you can believe the chatter, Apple has hired up to 1,000 engineers to design a vehicle that may be electric powered, or even self-driving — or perhaps both. But this isn’t someone’s wet pipe dream. Respected journalists are suggesting something of this sort is really being worked on, though it may be several years — if ever — before we see the fruits of this development.

    So on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the possibilities for an Apple car were front and center. You heard two distinct views on whether such a thing might happen, and the Night Owl has been skeptical. First up was Jonny Evans, Computerworld’s “Apple Holic,” who clearly doesn’t believe any of it. He also talked about Apple Watch, the possibilities for an iPad Pro, a version with a display of 12 inches or more, and the state of the music industry and digital music.

    You also heard from Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who had a decidedly more positive view to present on an Apple motor vehicle. As someone who helped spark the current reports on whether or not Apple is working on such a product, he presented some fascinating insights. Bryan also talked about the promise of Apple Watch, about the possibilities of future proofing such a gadget, and he also covered Apple’s approach to security. A key point, that Tim Cook says that companies such as Google regard you as the product, whereas Apple’s products are the hardware and services they sell.

    One area ripe for speculation is the price of the 18-karat cold Apple Watch, the “Edition.” I was expecting something in the range of $5,000, but Apple pundit John Gruber is suggesting that one equipped with the most expensive band may tip the scales for the price of a well equipped compact car, roughly $20,000. Thus the Apple Watch could range from the entry price of $349 to a level that is twice as expensive as anything else Apple is currently selling. Well until the Apple Car arrives, of course.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Here is the new proof of a possible nuclear catastrophe on Mars! In an epic story of discovery, strong evidence is presented in John Brandenburg’s latest book, “Death on Mars: The Discovery of a Planetary Nuclear Massacre,” for a dead Martian civilization and the shocking reason for its demise: an ancient planetary-scale nuclear massacre leaving isotopic traces of vast explosions that endure to our present age. According to Dr. Brandenburg, we must immediately send astronauts to Mars to maximize our knowledge of what happened there, and learn how to avoid Mars’ fate. Dr. Brandenburg is a veteran plasma physicist and the Senior Propulsion Scientist at Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin.

    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.


    No you might wonder just how a PC company can sell you a note-book for $400, and a desktop PC for $300 and somehow stay in business. Just what sort of components do you expect in computers that cheap, and where’s the profit? Well, it’s not that PC companies are, in general, all that profitable, except for Apple of course. Apple manages to exist in a different universe, ranging from the MacBook Air, at $899, which is in the middle of the price range, to the Mac Pro, which sells for close to $10,000 if you get carried away with the option list on a custom model. Either way, profits are exemplary.

    Well, one way the PC makers make up for the profit shortfall is to sell the desktop to third party companies. So you unpack your spanking new PC, turn it on, and you find the Windows desktop cluttered with stuff that you never ordered. It may consist of demo software, which works for a short time before you have to buy a license to keep it working. Or perhaps a six-month trial for a security app, or maybe something that’ll provide some value that you don’t quite understand.

    So it seems that Lenovo, one of the fastest growing PC makers, one of the few companies that continues to increase sales, recently installed a possibly insidious variation on the junkware theme, or did. It seemed they loaded a number of PCs with adware from a company known as Superfish. So when you visited a site in your browser, Superfish would insert itself into your request and stick some ads in there, ads that, of course, you never requested. Aren’t the targeted ads you already see online quite enough?

    As if stuffing ads in your face wasn’t a serious intrusion on your privacy, Superfish would insert a root certificate on your PC that would interfere with the operation of the SSL on the sites you accessed. You can imagine how this would play out if you visited a commerce site to place an order. Security researchers quickly found out that Superfish’s lame encryption method used a single password, rather than a different tone for each PC, which was easily cracked, creating the potential for someone to hack your PC. I mean, really.

    Now the excuses are telling. Silverfish and Lenovo essentially wanted to pretend this evil adware was really intended to somehow benefit customers. So they pretended that you really want to have some company insert their own ads amongst the clutter of online ads you no doubt already confront. Yes, that’s the ticket — the utter stupidity that anyone would be expected to believe such a lame excuse.

    Obviously if any product or service has a Superfish connection, just stay away. As to Lenovo, supposedly this foolish scheme lasted a mere two months. They even released a removal tool to get that garbage off your Lenovo PC, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other traps on a their PC desktops that might come back to haunt the customer. I’m not making any accusations, however. I think the mere concept of turning the desktops of personal computers into marketable commodities is bad form, a total ripoff, and customers should reject it.

    Even worse, it’s now reported that a dozen PC apps are using the same nasty code as Silverfish. The list of suspected offenders includes:

    • CartCrunch Israel LTD
    • WiredTools LTD
    • Say Media Group LTD
    • Over the Rainbow Tech
    • System Alerts
    • ArcadeGiant
    • Objectify Media Inc
    • Catalytix Web Services
    • OptimizerMonitor

    But this questionable behavior isn’t confined to PCs. Smartphones may be stuffed with junkware supplied by the manufacturer or the wireless carrier. Don’t forget the notorious Samsung Galaxy S4, where nearly half of the storage space of the 16GB version was already occupied with sometimes useless apps when you first set it up. Why?

    Yes, I realize Apple provides some basic apps as well, some as an optional download and some already installed. There are complaints that you should be able to use a different browser or email client as defaults, and ditch Mail and Safari if you must, although they don’t occupy a substantial amount of space. Perhaps it should be easier to dispense with Apple apps if you don’t want to use them, but that is part and parcel of the user environment you expect when you buy an Apple product.

    I understand the feeling that Android gives you a choice, as with Microsoft Windows, that you have more options with which to customize your device. But stuffing these products to the gills with unknown and often unwanted apps only confuses many users while not giving them extra value.

    One possible solution would be to just offer a download link for all the optional apps and services, all of them. Give the customer a chance to look over the descriptions and download what they want, and leave the rest well enough alone. Some of this is already done with a Google Play or Microsoft Store link, and I suppose there could be a special section designed just for people who are setting up a new device and leave all the junkware there, out of sight unless you decide you want it.

    Then, if Silverfish can make a compelling case for you to install their adware — and you wanted those ads and reduced security on your PC as a result — so be it. It’s your choice.

    For now, you could make another choice, which is never to buy gear from companies who think so little of you as to put you in harm’s way.


    So it appears that Apple’s public beta program for OS X Yosemite must have succeeded, or at least that’s what appears to be the case. Indeed, beta testers were even given a chance to look over a prerelease version of the OS 10.10.2 maintenance update before it came out. Supposedly over a million Mac users participated in the original program, and I gather Apple wants to claim that it made for a more robust release.

    But those who confronted those irritating Wi-Fi connection problems in Yosemite — and I have not encountered them — would have a different point of view. The same is true for any remaining Yosemite glitch, such as the disappearance of the listing for the number of messages in an email folder in Apple Mail. Well that one isn’t widely reported, but since I’ve seen it on four different Macs that have come my way, I’ll assume it’s a problem that Apple ought to fix. But they haven’t, at least so far.

    Another longstanding glitch with Mail is reordering accounts. You cannot do that anymore under Preferences, but you can in the sidebar. Unfortunately, whenever you make a change in an account setting that requires a Save, the ordering returns to default. This is downright absurd, but it’s something that has existed for recent OS X releases and doesn’t seem to be a priority to Apple. And don’t get me started about the Internet Accounts settings in System Preferences, which doesn’t list all my active email accounts.

    I’m sure a number of Mac users running Yosemite can come up with their own lists of grief. So is it fair to say that the public beta program truly succeeded? I wouldn’t care to guess how many bugs were squashed though the process, and Apple hasn’t been specific. It’s not that you expect a response to something of this sort, though it would be nice to know.

    So now there’s a report that Apple plans to open iOS to a similar public beta program beginning with the 8.3 update. Right now, to get in on the action, you have to sign up for the iOS developer program at $99 per year, similar to the Mac developer program. There’s no one price fits all.

    Now making prerelease versions available for your iPhone or iPad has its attractions, and I assume Apple could provide an easy way to restore the most recent release iOS if things do not work as planned with a beta. So if that happens, I’d be willing to give the beta it a try and see how it fares.

    But a public beta program shouldn’t be a marketing gimmick, and I’m not saying the Yosemite betas were only meant to push adoption, or perhaps attract more Windows switchers who are used to that sort of thing. While I realize a lot of testers are doing it because it’s supposed to be fun and all, I’m sure a small number are dedicated to the task. But that raises the question of whether Apple is paying enough attention to customer feedback and making an honest effort to fix as many problems as they possibly can.

    If it’s meant to deliver a more stable release, so be it. The public beta is a good idea. But if it’s only done to demonstrate what an “open” platform iOS and OS X really are, then it doesn’t serve a useful purpose. Did the public beta help make Yosemite a better release? Based on the reports of lingering problems with OS 10.10, I’d say then answer is no.

    Or maybe Apple needs to find a better way to manage customer feedback and make sure persistent bugs are fixed. As it is, I’m not altogether certain that’s being done.


    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
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