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  • Newsletter Issue #830

    October 26th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    More effective and cheaper special effects technology feeds more and more TV shows. In the past year, SyFy introduced some hard-core sci-fi shows with elaborate special effects, such as “Dark Matter” and “Killjoys.” This fall, we’ll be seeing yet another superhero, “Supergirl,” which reportedly has more than its share of flying scenes.

    Now flying scenes would seem, on the surface, to be fairly easy to accomplish. You attach the performer to wires, put them in front of a green screen, and add images of moving in and around buildings, across landscapes and mountains, or in the clouds. Over the years, flying scenes of this sort have been hit or miss.

    In 1941, Republic Pictures, a “B” movie factory, did a credible job in the flying scenes for the “Adventures of Captain Marvel,” starring Tom Tyler, an actor who mostly did westerns. He looked the part; the character continues today in the comic books as Shazam.

    Republic’s special effects people used miniatures for distant scenes, and had Tyler suspended on a wire for the most part as he was seen soaring through the clouds. It was fairly effective, and similar techniques were used in later Republic serials, such as “King of the Rocket Men.” The low budget meant that the same flying scenes had to be inserted over and over again throughout the movie so they didn’t have film additional segments.

    Just a fascinating side note: One of the regular writers of the original Captain Marvel comics was Otto Binder, a co-creator of Supergirl. To show my advanced age, I met Binder several times in the early 1970s.

    The Republic technique was used with lesser or greater success by George Reeves in TV’s the “Adventures of Superman.” But in the late 1940s, when Columbia Pictures released two Superman serials, they inserted cartoons depicting the man of steel in flight. It was a far cheaper method, I suppose.

    In 1978, they advertised that you would believe a man can fly to describe the scenes of Christopher Reeve aloft in Richard Donner’s “Superman.” The failed 1984 movie, “Supergirl,” with Helen Slater in the starring role, didn’t differ that much when it came to special effects, but I never totally bought those scenes as in any way realistic. The new “Supergirl” series on CBS, featuring Melissa Benoit as the girl of steel, also employs wires. But distant shots appear to be pure CGI rather than miniatures.

    The flying scenes in the 1990s series, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” were even less credible. But the team responsible for the new “Supergirl” show is doing it fairly effectively. The technology to create these effects has become more accessible to movie and TV producers on a tight budget.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. The bill of fare included an extended discussion with Gene about pop culture, with an emphasis on the new TV season in the U.S. and superhero TV shows, based on comic book characters. The discussion turned to the forthcoming Apple TV, and the lack of support for 4K. We moved on to the prospects for an Apple Car, Tesla’s quality control issues, and car technology.

    You also heard from columnist Rob Pegoraro, of USA Today and Yahoo Tech. He also talked about the quality issues discovered in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, and the discussion moved to his concerns about the features in Photos for OS X, 4K TV prospects, the hope for more models HDR color, and, again, the lack of 4K support in the new Apple TV. Could Apple manage such an upgrade through software? We also covered the prospects for an Apple Car, and Tesla’s quality issues that resulted in the loss of a Recommended rating from Consumer Reports magazine. Such problems included the hardware, such as rattles and squeaks, and the software.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present an update on “traditional” UFO research with the “dean” of UFO researchers, Stanton T. Friedman, a long-time UFO investigator and a nuclear physicist. Friedman is one of the key researchers into the Roswell crash and other events over the years, and has posited a strong case that the phenomenon is the result of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. His recent books include “Flying Saucers and Science” (2008) and “Science Was Wrong,” (2010) co-authored with Kathleen Marden. He also wrote the foreword to “How to Talk to An Alien,” from Nancy du Tertre. And, yes, he will be responding to questions about alien abductions.

    DID WE REALLY NEED NEW INPUT DEVICES FROM APPLE?

    I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with Apple’s approach to input devices. When Apple introduced small trackballs on the very first PowerBooks, I generally carried a standard mouse with me for comfort. I never took to trackballs, and I spent a year with one of the original Kensington TurboMouse. I tried real hard, after being told by friends that it was the best way to avoid carpel tunnel syndrome. Eventually I returned to a traditional mouse. My wrists remain relatively healthy.

    Over the years, I’ve tried various so-called ergonomic mice from Logitech and other companies, but I hit the sweet spot with Apple’s Magic Mouse. The design was clever, putting a tiny trackpad on the surface, so you can make finger gestures. Scrolling and switching back and forth among web pages was seamless, and my wrists took to it real fast. Indeed, whenever I’ve returned to one of those Logitech mice when the Magic Mouse’s batteries ran out, I found the overall feel and movements to be awkward and rough. Apple’s mouse was slick and smooth, but clearly that wasn’t enough for our favorite fruit company.

    That takes us to the Magic Mouse 2, introduced last week with Apple’s iMac refresh. At $79, it’s $10 more than the original, but what do you get to justify the higher price tag? A good question.

    According to Apple’s promotional information, the new devices are designed around rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, non-removable, which makes them more environmentally friendly. While it’s superficially the same, the Magic Mouse 2 has a lightning connector at the bottom for recharging and almost instant pairing with your Mac’s Bluetooth radio. It’s awkward when it’s being charged. Evidently Jonathan Ive’s design conventions didn’t allow for putting one in the rear, but it gets the job done, since you only have to recharge it once a month or so. But if you don’t have the time when the battery runs down, a few minutes connected to your charging cable will be enough last the day.

    I was curious, so Apple sent me a Federal Express box with the new input devices, which gets me a few weeks access to see how they fare compared to the peripherals I’m using now. For the Magic Mouse 2, Apple claims it’s lighter, and the foot design is optimized to move more smoothly on your chosen surface. I own a 22-year-old extended computer table with a smooth surface, and it felt no different in any way that I could determine compared to its predecessor.

    Maybe on a different surface.

    Although all my recent Macs have come with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard, I’m mostly stuck on the Matias Quiet Pro these days. It uses a quieter version of the Alps mechanical key switches that provide a traditional keyboard feel and action. Otherwise, it’s close in concept to the original Apple Extended Keyboard II, which means it’s real big and somewhat heavy.

    In contrast, Apple’s Magic Keyboard is smaller than the original, taking up to 13 percent less space sith a lower profile, and it may take some getting used to if you prefer the rear of your keyboard to be somewhat elevated. The feel is otherwise similar to the older keyboard, although the scissor switches appear to have less travel. The keycaps are wider, which supposedly allows for more accurate typing. But I’m not yet certain if I’ll get used to it. I never took to the original.

    The price for the original Apple wireless keyboard was $69; the Magic Keyboard is $99, but it’s hard to see why. As with the Magic Mouse 2, it uses a lightning connector for changing, and for instant pairing with your Mac. The feel is similar enough that it didn’t take very long for me to accept it as otherwise comparable to the older model. But that doesn’t mean I’ll take to it. The design is too minimalist to allow for elevating the rear, and thus, after a few days of use, it hasn’t been an entirely comfortable experience. But maybe I’ve used the Quiet Pro too long, and need to give it more time. But I don’t fret over the lack of a numeric keypad.

    The final product is a more difficult leap for me. Since I spend most of my time in front of an iMac, I’ve grown a little insecure about trackpads. I haven’t traveled as much in recent years, and thus don’t use my 17-inch MacBook Pro, from 2010, near as much as I used to. Certainly the keyboard feel on the MacBook Pro is similar to Apple’s desktop keyboards. The trackpad is wide and smooth, but it takes a bit of getting used to because of how seldom I use it.

    Now I had an original Magic Trackpad in here from Apple once upon a time. After I wrote a fairly negative review, I found that I hardly used it anymore, and was happy to return it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

    But since it’s been a few years since I’ve used a desktop trackpad, I was pleased to give the Magic Trackpad 2 a try. But if you want to buy one, it’s $129, twice the price as the original. But what do you get for the extra money?

    Well, the surface is 29% larger so I suppose that’s an advantage. It’s also powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, using a rear-mounted lightning port. Again, pairing is done the first time you attach the charging cable.

    The tentpole feature of the Magic Trackpad 2 is Force Touch, a feature that debuted on the Apple Watch and is now available on the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air has yet to acquire this feature. It uses a Taptic Engine to give you feedback when you engage a deeper click to bring up special context features. It requires OS X El Capitan to run, and for most apps it does nothing. With the Finder and such apps as Mail and Safari, Force Touch activates extra features, such as the ability to look up a word or preview a file. As developers get the hang of the new APIs, you can expect more support.

    After hooking up the new trackpad, I let it sit for three days before diving in. Feeling guilty about being so lazy about it, I decided to take the plunge a few hours before writing this article. All in all, I got accustomed to it as a mouse replacement to a reasonable degree, but I’m not at all certain if it’s my cup of tea. I left the Magic Mouse 2 on my table, a few inches away, just in case I decide to set the trackpad aside for good.

    Apple’s effort to smooth the experience results in clicks that feel light and spongy. It doesn’t offer the solidity of a Magic Mouse. That’s a drag, but I’ll persevere. Force Touch works well enough once you become accustomed to the amount of click pressure required to activate a pop-up menu of some sort. Apple’s Trackpad preferences allow for three settings, and I left it at Medium after finding that Light was just too light.

    The soft click syndrome extends to scrolling, which doesn’t move quite as swiftly as on the Magic Mouse. Thus it requires more finger motion to scroll through a page, and maybe I’ll become accustomed to that as well.

    Right now, I still feel that I’m forcing myself to stick with the Magic Trackpad 2, and the same is true for the Magic Keyboard. The Magic Mouse 2 is just fine, but I hardly see the need to buy one. The last two are now standard issue with new desktop Macs, but I doubt that’s any incentive to buy a new computer.

    While I appreciate the fact that Apple continues to rethink the Mac and Mac accessories, none of the new features of the latest and greatest input devices seem to justify the higher prices. But I’ll keep on keeping on and let you know if I am ready to change my tune.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #830”

    1. dfs says:

      Since the 1990’s I’ve gone through quite a few Macs but have felt little need to change input devices. I. m. h. o. a keyboard with individual switches is a must (Mathias and Das Keyboard make great ones–the only drawback is that keyboards of this type are LOUD) and the only pointing device worth having is the Kensington Expert Mouse (actually a large trackball with four programmable buttons. Out of the box, the scroll wheel on the latter has a horrible sticky feel but if you team it up with the shareware utility Smart Scroll that goes away. These devices add up to a considerable investment but, as I say, they seem to last forever since they’re so rugged.

    2. Peter says:

      My guess is that the price increase includes the cost of the battery.

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