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Newsletter Issue #808

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

With rumors growing that Apple is poised to attempt to replace your cable or satellite company, one wonders just what sort of package they will devise to compete. Such services as Dish Network’s Sling TV largely consist of a small subset of what cable/satellite offers in the U.S. You pay less money for fewer channels, and have it streamed rather than broadcast through cable or from a satellite dish.

To me, it’s very much a distinction without a difference. If you don’t care about the delivery system, doesn’t just getting the content you want at the best price count for something?

In any case, the latest chitchat from the media suggests that talks are bogged down over Apple’s alleged, but very logical, attempts to sign up local TV stations. In other words, they accept the fact that lots of people still want broadcast TV for local news, sports and network fare.

Regardless if and when it happens, the direction of the Apple TV set-top box is an important area of discussion. So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles, who talked about  the use case for Apple Watch, and whether he would have kept his had he not been a tech editor. He also discussed the prospects for the next Apple TV and whether Apple will add support for 4K TV. Do people even care about 4K and other fancy TV features? Josh also discussed his one month as an AOL member.

You also heard from tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, of USA Today and Yahoo Tech, who covered what may be the beginning of the end for AOL, which is being acquired by Verizon. He also talked about cable cord cutting, Comcast’s efforts to make the company more likable to customers, prospects for an Apple branded TV subscription service, the fight over the Patriot Act and NSA surveillance, and the arrival of EMV security on credit cards in the U.S.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: From the early 1960s, Tim Beckley has been a fixture in the UFO field. In addition to editing such newsstand publications as “UFO Universe,” Beckley’s publishing company, Inner Light — Global Communications, has published over 200 books. Beckley hosts a podcast, “Unraveling the Secrets,” and runs a YouTube channel, “Mr. UFO’s Secret Files.” Beckley will discuss how his opinions have changed concerning the origins of UFOs, what really might have happened at Roswell, and how he believes the UFO intelligence is trying to communicate with us in “strange ways,” including coincidences and synchronicities.

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.

EXPECTING THE NEXT VERSION OF OS X

As the Yosemite era draws to a close, speculation is mounting over what Apple has in store for its sequel. Although yet another Yosemite update — version 10.10.4 — is under construction, it’s high time to move on. This was not a terribly robust release.

With an App Store rating of just a tad better than two-and-a-half stars, Yosemite hasn’t quite received the love of its predecessors even though more than 60% of the Mac user base has upgraded so far. That will only increase before 10.11 arrives if only because of the continued high sales of new Macs preloaded with Yosemite.

First and foremost, it appears as if Apple maybe tried to do a little too much too quickly with Yosemite. The concept of Continuity and its related feature, Handoff, is a worthy enough scheme to allow the desktop and mobile systems to play well together. So you can read and respond to text messages received on your iPhone with either an iPad or a Mac. You can take phone calls, and, when it works, actually start work on one device in Mail, Pages and other supported apps, and continue where you left off on another Apple gadget.

The technology behind this scheme is without doubt extremely complicated, and older Macs are not capable of dealing with the Handoff feature. That’s because they lack support for Bluetooth 4.0 LE. Even when all the hardware is theoretically compatible, it doesn’t always work. I’ve seen situations, for example, where the connection between my wife’s iPad and my Mac simply doesn’t mesh despite everything being configured properly. And I’m not alone.

So some suggest that the iOS 9 and OS 10.11 updates will be largely focused on fixing problems, making things just work. It would be a release similar to 10.6 Snow Leopard, in which the code was cleaned up, the bugs massaged out of the system, and everything made to perform faster.

At the same time, Apple VP Philip Schiller is promising new technologies to excite developers at June’s WWDC. A contradiction? Or will those brand new technologies be heavily focused on overall reliability and performance, with just a few flashy features to satisfy customers that everything is new and different?

Now the truth is only a couple of weeks away, so I own’t devote a whole lot of space predicting what may be forthcoming from Apple. You’ll see plenty on the tech blogs and the mainstream press. Indeed, some of the speculation might actually be fueled by quiet leaks from Apple to create anticipation about what’s going to be launched during the WWDC keynote.

But there are a few flashes that show promise, such as the expected improvements in Wi-Fi that would encrypt connections on outside networks, such as hotspots. Supposedly iOS 9 will be designed to improve performance on older hardware, particularly those with Apple’s A5 chip. Up till now, the older gear would suffer serious performance slowdowns when updating to a new system. Ask owners of the iPhone 4s how things bogged down when they upgraded to iOS 8. While things have become a tad snappier in later updates, particularly app launch times, iOS 7 is still a whole lot faster.

As usual, however, some features will depend on developers getting with the program. That’s not always a given. Indeed, some of the highly-publicized features of OS 10.7 Lion (circa 2011), such as automatic saving and versioning (storing multiple revisions of a document) still aren’t supported by some third-party developers. So just catching up might be good enough.

Now I have one strong wish for iOS 9, and that’s proper multitasking support on an iPad, particularly the ability to run more than a single document or app side by side. That feature is essential to really maximizing the iPad’s potential as a productivity device. It’s also one key reason why I seldom use them, so my wife is never in fear that I might on occasion borrow hers for a while.

And please don’t get me started about fixing the still-broken cut, copy and paste system.

SUPER HEROES: BOTH HAPPY AND SAD

Credit Marvel’s Stan Lee for infusing super heroes with personal problems. Peter Parker, who became the Amazing Spiderman, had to cope with teenaged angst as he functioned as both super hero and high school student (at least until he grew older and became the angst-ridden college student). Bruce Banner has to keep his temper under control lest he “hulk out.”

But rival DC Comics has also given its super heroes feelings of abandonment and hate. So the young Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents and, after spending years seeking his inner vigilante impulse, dons mask and cap to become the caped crusader.

Even the once-sunny disposition of Superman has changed. In the blockbuster film, “Man of Steel,” Clark Kent (British actor Henry Cavill) leaves home, calling upon his super powers when needed to become a secret guardian angel. The film, with all its violence, representing Clark’s coming of age, fulfilling his destiny as Earth’s protector. But if you feel he’ll now have a more positive attitude about his place in the world in future films, the forthcoming “Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice,” pits him against Batman (Ben Affleck) before they both move on to confront Supe’s perennial enemy, Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg).

Despite the mixed success of TV’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and it’s spin-off, “Agent Carter,” comic book heroes are faring better and better on the small tube. For over a decade, the young Superman searched for his identity in “Smallville,” on the CW Network. The show catered to the network’s younger audience, but they are seeking an older demographic since “Arrow” appeared.

Just completing its third year, “Arrow” is based on DC’s Green Arrow character, but given the darker personality that’s in vogue these days. So we have the story of billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), stuck on an island for five years after a boating accident that claims the life of his dad. After returning home, he uses the martial arts and archery skills to strike back at criminals. Producer Greg Berlanti and his crew borrow liberally from the DC catalog, and even pull out a few Batman staples, such as the near-immortal criminal Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. As we prepare for season four, it appears Oliver has learned how to enjoy his life, and the producers are supposedly planning to take a lighter approach in season four.

A spin-off series, “The Flash,” tells the tale of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who grows up to become a crime scene investigator as the result of the murder of his mom by a mysterious being who appeared in a flash. He is fighting to free his dad, who was wrongly convicted. Given the ability to run real fast as the result of an industrial accident, he clearly has serous issues to confront, although the show has a somewhat lighter tone than its mate. It’s interesting to note that Barry’s dad is portrayed by a previous actor who appeared on TV as The Flash, John Wesley Shipp.

Again, we have super heroes with deep-seated problems, and their sometimes barely-suppressed rage fuels their behavior as crime fighters.

One of my favorites is “Daredevil,” which premiered on Netflix early this year. It’s nothing like the failed 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck in the lead role. The Netflix take on the character is dark and gritty. So young Matt Murdock is blinded in a strange accident that intensely enhances his other senses. As an adult, Murdock (British actor Charlie Cox), now a lawyer, teams up with his college chum, Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) to defend the defenseless and downtrodden. They go up against master criminal Wilson Fisk (a very overweight Vincent D’Onofrio) and his evil henchmen to make New York City safe again.

The 13 episodes of season one are best viewed and appreciated as a single long movie. I watched as many as three episodes at a time and enjoyed every one. Cox’s Daredevil is slim and sleek, the consummate martial arts fighter enhanced by his super senses. Fighting sequences are rough and dirty, and Daredevil is often left badly beaten.

Perhaps the best scene of the whole series, and I won’t spoil it by telling you when it happens, is when Murdock in his civilian garb chases his prey, who has sped away in a car, across the rooftops. The scenes of Cox (and his stunt doubles) leaping, somersaulting and literally flying from roof to roof is absolutely draw jobbing. It’s a classic, and all the players in this series are just great. The female lead, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll from “True Blood”) is pretty, smart, vulnerable, sometimes all at the same time. D’Onofrio takes on a deep, guttural voice that’s quiet in his menace and sharply contrasts with his bouts of rage where he literally beats people to death.

Fisk’s love interest, Vanessa Marianna, is portrayed by the gifted Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who also portrayed Superman’s mom, Lara, in “Man of Steel.” So she, as Affleck, is yet another performer who has crossed the DC Comics and Marvel divides.

I can’t wait for season two.

And that takes us to the new kid on the block. Also produced by Berlanti Productions, “Supergirl” will premiere in the fall of 2015 on CBS. In passing, CBS is one of the owners of CW, and the climate has been created for possible crossovers.

In any case, “Supergirl” is on the surface very much the opposite of the other characters. As portrayed by Melissa Benoist (who, as with Guston, is an alumnus of “Glee”), she can be nerdy, smart, vulnerable, and powerful. All in various doses. The long first trailer introduced the character in a sort of “chick flick” ensemble, always at odds with her egotistical boss, Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).

So Supergirl is Superman’s cousin, sent to Earth to protect the infant Kal-El. Instead, her spaceship is caught in the “phantom zone” and suspended in time. So when she finally arrives on Earth, Superman is an adult, and the young Kara Zor-El is placed with a foster family.

Now I actually got to see the full pilot episode, which mysteriously turned up on a number of torrent sites in recent days. It may well be that CBS deliberately released the show to generate some buzz, and hundreds of thousands did download the episode without word as of this writing that the network has sent takedown orders.

So without mentioning the source, yes I did watch it and was more impressed than I expected to be. A lot of that is due to Benoist’s cheery presence. She has the sort of elastic face that’s perfect for physical comedy, yet, with her girl next door looks, she still looks presentable when she dons of the outfit of the girl of steel and takes care of business.

Without giving away any spoilers, the first episode is a sort of paint-by-the-numbers affair, as the back story, the characters and their relationships are presented. Keeping with the spirit of The Flash and its use of a previous actor who portrayed the scarlet speedster in a supporting role, you see brief cameos from Helen Slater, the original movie Supergirl, and Dean Cain, who played Superman on “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” They have no lines, but they are introduced as the young Supergirl’s foster parents, so I expect we’ll see them again in future episodes.

As I said, “Supergirl” is old fashioned in taking a more optimistic approach to the super hero genre. The lead character loves flying, beating back evildoers and saving lives. In action, she’s in her element as you can see from her smiles and giggles. Whether this will wear thin over time, I’m not at all certain. But appealing performers and decent flying scenes do auger well for the ongoing success of the new series. Besides, Berlanti has a solid record in handling comic book fare, so the show is in good hands.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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