• Newsletter Issue #819

    August 10th, 2015


    I have to tell you that I have not had any particularly irritating issues with Apple Music, except that the For You feature doesn’t quite grasp my somewhat eclectic musical tastes. Without going into detail, perhaps I’m partly responsible. I haven’t used it all that much of late, since I’ve been occupied with other pursuits. I’m also not at all certain if I’ll continue the membership when the free trial is up. I’ll probably have to give it more ear-time over the next few weeks to see. That and my budget for luxuries, even cheap luxuries. I haven’t purchased any music in recent years either.

    Meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, amid growing reports of problems with Apple Music, we presented one of our regulars, columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who focused his discussion on possible solutions for some of those Apple Music problems. He also covered the ongoing problems with iCloud, Apple’s online network, where there are occasional outages and bouts of flaky performance. Major Apple Music problems appear related to iCloud integration.

    You also heard from a new friend of the show in the person of  blogger Jim Tanous, Editor-in-Chief of TekRevue. He talked about the Apple Music rollout and the recent report that some 11 million iTunes customers have signed up as of the first week of August. Jim explained why he’s unimpressed with these numbers, suggesting they should have been much larger when you consider that 800 million people have iTunes accounts. He also covered the ins and outs of Windows 10. He focused on the various changes to the Windows Start menu through the years starting with Windows 95, and on the controversial changes in Windows 8. He also discussed the new Edge browser that debuted in Windows 10.

    I’ll be brief about my ongoing reactions to Windows 10. I’ve said my piece in recent columns.

    Most of my explorations have been confined to seeing how it works and checking out the features. So far it seems all right, though I’d like to see the Edge browser gain some features. But I’m selfish. You see, there’s no context or right-click menu to save one of our radio show audio files to a specific location. The context menu is surprisingly spare.

    But I do use Windows 10 for one important function:. You see, we use a freeware utility, The Levelator, to process the audio files for my two radio shows. It’s a sophisticated normalizer that carefully and accurately fixes levels. But it’s no longer being developed, and isn’t compatible with the OS X El Capitan beta releases. So, for now, I run the PC version from a Windows 10 virtual machine on my iMac, using Parallels Desktop. The back-and-forth is a tad more awkward than using a single OS environment, but it gets the job done.

    Meantime, I have reason to be cautiously optimistic that the developers of The Levelator will consider issuing an update some time in the future. Or maybe someone will consider releasing a comparable utility as a free or low-cost app.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: If it’s paranormal, no doubt Micah Hanks is covering it on his various blogs and his radio show, The Gralien Report. So you’ll hear about his fundamental philosophy not just on UFOs, but about all facts of research into the world of the unknown. With all the troubling reports about the state of UFO research in recent months, we felt we needed a reality check, and Micah provides it. According to his bio: Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, podcaster, lecturer and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of areas, including history, politics, scientific theories and unexplained phenomena. Open minded, but skeptical in his approach, his research has examined a broad variety of subjects over the years, incorporating interest in scientific anomalies, cultural studies, psychology, sci-fi and pop culture, government secrecy, and the prospects of our technological future as a species as influenced by science. He has also written several books.

    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.


    You know the story. You wake up on a Sunday morning, turn on the “tube,” and rummage through many channels in search of something to watch. Since you have one of the higher tiers from your cable or satellite connection, you have plenty of listings. You may not have even heard of many of the channels, but you soldier on, catching snippets of unfamiliar shows while checking the Info screens to see if there’s something, anything worth keeping on, even for background noise.

    This is not an unfamiliar scenario in the Steinberg household. While I’ve scaled down the selection to keep the price down — with an eye towards the latest and greatest discount deals they are offering to keep my business — I ran into just this problem before I wrote this column. It was all so frustrating, but finally I selected reruns of “Law & Order,” and there are 465 episodes to be found. And I’m not even including the spin-off shows.

    The rest? Well we aren’t into sports that much (at least after the Dodgers left Brooklyn when I was very, very young). We have no need for children’s shows since our one-and-only son is pushing 30, and there are no grandchildren.

    Our normal TV diet consists of the major network outlets, plus CW (for “Arrow” and “The Flash”), and a few cable-only outlets. If the cable/satellite companies offered an a la carte menu, I’d probably select no more than a dozen channels, and I’m sure most of you feel the same. Sure, the extra channels allow you to sometimes discover a few treasures, so I can see the value from an academic point of view.

    One notable example occurred back in 2002 — “Monk,” the comedy/drama that featured an amazing — sometimes touching — performance as the title character from Tony Shalhoub. It helped fuel the rise of scripted dramas on such channels as USA Network, which formerly relied strictly on repeats of old network fare.

    These days, cable/satellite companies have an awful time keeping customers, and growth has stalled. Rather than depend on growing business, there’s been consolidation in the industry. AT&T just acquired DirecTV, the number one satellite provider. Charter Communications has made a $55 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable. That came after Comcast failed in its efforts to acquire TWC due to antitrust concerns.

    As a practical matter, such mergers are nonsense except for executives and shareholders, who will clean up financially. Alleged synergies will mean that a number of employees will lose their jobs because they are considered redundant, particularly in the billing, sales and support departments. Service doesn’t get any better, and prices might even increase because there’s less competition.

    So where does that leave the TV viewer? Even if the channel selections and prices aren’t all that different, the Sunday morning dilemma I described will continue to occur.

    The alternative is to cut the cord, or sharply reduce the cable programming you do receive. You can rely on local channels with a fairly low-cost digital TV antenna, particularly if you’re in a large city and not so far from the transmission towers. Otherwise you have to consider a roof-based antenna, if your landlord and/or home association will allow it, or stick with basic cable or satellite.

    There is some network fare on Hulu Plus, a streaming service that is jointly owned by a consortium of companies that include NBC, Fox and ABC. For a $7.99 a month, you can choose from a decent selection of network TV shows that include full seasons, along with some original fare. An additional $8.99 per month includes Showtime, so it’s a decent deal unless you also want CBS and the CW, not to mention HBO.

    You can get CBS All Access for $5.99 a month and receive current network fare the very next day, and don’t forget HBO Now. CW offers free online streaming, and let’s not forget Amazon Instant Video and especially Netflix.

    Courtesy of such high-profile shows as “House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and now “Daredevil,” Netflix has become a go-to place to binge watch. A full season’s episodes are posted in one fell swoop, and you are free to watch them all, one after another, daily, weekly, or a few at a time. I tend to favor the latter approach.

    Add to that individual episodes and seasons passes from such services as iTunes, and it’s quite possible to duplicate the essence of what you get with cable/satellite at a lower price, with the possible exception of sports. Dish Network even offers a basic-cable variant, Sling Network, for streaming at a low price. But when you cough up extra cash for higher tiers, you may wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to get the satellite dish and be done with it.

    The problem with cord cutting is that the shows you want to watch may not come from one place. With traditional content providers, there’s a single device or set-top box with a single listing of available channels. When you opt for streaming, you may have to deal with multiple interfaces from different services, each of which requires separate access. So you can’t just turn on the set and switch channels. Imagine logging into Netflix and walking away without picking something. While individual shows may play one after another, if you decide you want something else, you have to stop and find it.

    One key cord-cutting shortcoming is that you have to do extra work to find something to watch, and since you’ve taken time to find a show, you aren’t going to want to just walk away and let it play in the background. The active choice requires active attention, which means you will probably be apt to spend less time in front of the family TV.

    Getting a centralized listing, such as TV Guide magazine, isn’t very practical.

    So where does Apple enter the picture?

    Well, many Apple fans and tech pundits believed that, when the late Steve Jobs made that provocative statement about devising the ultimate or magical TV interface in the official biography from Walter Isaacson, it was about building a TV set. No such product has come to pass, although one story has it that Apple toyed with the idea of building their own set, probably built some prototypes, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the bother. Not that Apple couldn’t stand out in a highly saturated market, but it’s not a big box manufacturer.

    Yes, I know about rumors of an Apple Car, but it may really be about a new generation CarPlay, involving tighter integration with a motor vehicle’s electronics. It may be less about building an actual car, since that has its own problems that include manufacturing and setting up a network of company-owned or franchised dealerships with which to demonstrate, sell and service the vehicle. It would be a brand new sales network, since it’s not as if you’d be expected to watch a video at an Apple Store of your favorite color and options before placing your order.

    So what about Apple’s TV initiative? There are published reports that the next generation Apple TV set-top box will debut during the iPhone rollout event, expected to occur on September 9th (my birthday by the way). Is it at all possible that the new model will feature Apple’s magical interface that integrates your TV experience in a way that just works?

    To be sure, Tim Cook has complained that the current TV system takes him back in time, and he’s none too happy with it. But what is Apple’s solution? Could it possibly involve abstracting different services to make it easier for you to find the shows you want to watch — or to just turn the TV on and let it play? Is it all about Apple’s own TV subscription service, or would it include other services too? What about integration with your cable and satellite service?

    Cable/satellite is easy, at the expense of being overwhelmed with hefty bills and loads of channels that you do not want. Cord-cutting services give you variety but not ease of use. And I haven’t begun to consider how video streaming eats up your ISP’s bandwidth limits.

    I’d love to wake up one Sunday morning without confronting the typical TV watcher’s dilemma. Does Apple have a solution?


    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #819”

    1. dfs says:

      Gene, the one factor in the equation you are leaving out is news. Okay, I can find out what’s happening nationally and internationally easily enough from the Web. But what about local news? Local newspapers are dying like flies, and the only Web sources for local news are usually sites operated by these very same newspapers. I don’t see how democracy can function effectively at the local level in the absence of a reasonably well informed electorate, and for many Americans cable t. v. is the only effective way in which information is available.

    2. mysterian says:

      “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

      Excerpt From: Walter Isaacson. “Steve Jobs.”

      Saying “I’d like to create an integrated television set” sure sounds like wanting to build a TV set.

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