• Newsletter Issue #838

    December 21st, 2015


    So, your broadband Internet service provider claims you’re getting 40 megabits per second for downloads, and uploads are 10 megabits. This is a not-uncommon level of service, but you have to wonder whether you’re paying for service you’re not getting. You might even run tests with Speedtest or another site that records your online speeds.

    But that’s not the total picture.

    Sure you may be getting exactly what you paid for when you measure the speeds offered up by your ISP, but what about the various upstream providers with whom they interconnect to actually deliver content to your home or office? I ran into a non-uncommon situation a couple of years back when I was using CenturyLink. They had some sort of traffic bottleneck with Cogent Communications, with which our web server communicated from its datacenter. So upload and download speeds were pathetically slow, often in the neighborhood of dialup.

    The solution was too complex to repeat here. Just search our archives. At the end of the day, I even received an email from CenturyLink’s legal department asserting it was Cogent’s fault. A few days later, I noticed the problem had disappeared, while at the same time observing that the connection to the server was now being sent via Tata Communications. And, yes, that telecom is owned by the same corporate master as Jaguar and Land Rover cars.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, who focused on the New York Attorney General’s probe into broadband Internet speeds, and whether customers are getting the performance for which they’re paying. He also covered the concerns over bandwidth caps, and Samsung’s appeal of Apple’s patent win against them to the U.S. Supreme Court. You also heard Jeff’s opinion about the iPad Pro and the joys of the Apple Pencil for creating illustrations.

    You also heard from author and columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” As a classical music aficionado, he praised the improvements in Apple Music in offering a richer display of information about its classical library. He also discussed the touchy subject of iTunes and faulty metadata and how it messes up your playlists. The discussion turned to whether Apple is releasing operating systems prematurely, thus resulting in numerous defects.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore the possibility of talking to aliens, featuring Nancy du Tertre, author of “How to Talk to an Alien.” She is a former securities litigation attorney and “Skeptical Psychic,” and, in this book, she asks: “Do aliens exist? In 2013, one poll showed that nearly half of all Americans (48 percent) believe UFOs may be a sign of extraterrestrial visitation; another found that 10 percent of Americans claim to have actually witnessed an actual UFO; and yet another showed that 2.9 million Americans believe they had actually been abducted by aliens.” This discussion also focuses on claims of communication with aliens and other so-called “higher beings.”


    Although some of you think of me as just another Apple fan, the truth is more nuanced. Over the years, I’ve used Windows PCs, and I even spent a while with a pair of Samsung smartphones, trying to see how the other half lives. These days, I have essentially given up on Android, except for testing and evaluating ongoing changes.

    When it comes to mobile phones, just remember that it’s practical to have multiple handsets set up with the same number and just move back and forth among them. It’s one or the other, and it’s not the same as a traditional telephone (landline or VoIP), where you can swap handsets simply by plugging in a different device.

    In any case, I have tried to do the very same things on both a Mac and PC. No operating system is perfect, and there are well known Mac issues. But in the normal course of events, I find a Mac easier to use, and often requiring fewer steps to do something. Macs also develop fewer problems, are simpler for IT people to configure and more reliable in regular use. That explains why IBM has concluded that the Macs they set up on their networks have an ownership cost that’s $270 less than a PC.

    Sure, you pay less for the PC, but what about the upkeep? Yes, this is an old argument that has been made for years. But as Macs are finally gaining a reasonable amount of acceptance in the enterprise, the facts are undeniable. IBM isn’t offering Macs to its employees on a whim. There are legitimate business reasons to configure computers that cost less to operate, but employees still have a choice.

    So much for choices, but it’s not that simple. If you try hard enough, you can screw up any personal computer regardless of platform.

    I started using Macs in the 1980s. It’s not that I had a particular preference, since I had spent various amounts of time on computers since the late 1970s. I remember setting up a PC compatible to translate word processing files to work on a Compugraphic typesetting system. It sure made things easy, since our crew didn’t have to waste endless hours actually typing raw copy. A short pass over the file to ensure there were no glitches was sufficient before sending it to the output device.

    Eventually, Macs took over at the prepress shop at which I was working. For a few years, though, they kept a room with “old fashioned” Compugraphic editing terminals, while placing the Macs and the attached output devices in a separate area. For a few years, it was akin to having two separate companies.

    As with typesetting, I didn’t go to school to study the craft. I mostly learned (or discovered how to do things) on the job. It was a sort of apprentice system, but I read as much about Macs as possible before diving in. During the early days, I was shuttled back and forth from Compugraphic to Mac. It was frustrating to begin one assignment on one device, and rush to the next somewhere else. I got the same paycheck for either.

    As part of my exposure to Macs, I installed different system enhancements that were meant to add productivity or just make things look better. I learned early on that it was a dangerous game, because installing too many control panels or extensions would make those frequent crashes more frequent. In those days, system errors were commonplace. It wasn’t just an app quitting on occasion in the middle of a job, but the entire system freezing, thus requiring regular restarts. Remember this was before OS X arrived.

    A year or two after I purchased my first home system, I was hired by Macworld as a freelance contributing writer. So I had to review both hardware and software, and often found myself with loads of add-ons running in the background on my Mac. Whenever things got out of hand, with frequent crashes and sluggish performance, I’d go ahead and uninstall the things I didn’t really need for my work. I used what I discovered from these assignments to improve performance on the office Macs. But that assumed that my employer and fellow employees weren’t wedded to a needless utility for one reason or another.

    While the classic Mac OS had its share of serious bugs, my work proceeded far more efficiently when I ran lean and mean. It was a lesson I took to OS X, even though it supposedly offered industrial strength stability. While I seldom ran into situations where the system would be unresponsive, third-party apps and system enhancements could do damage, particularly in the early days.

    From the very first, OS X users discovered all sorts of hidden treasures via the command line. Ah, this was perfect! We could now get down and dirty with the underbelly of the operating system and do Unix things with a few commands. Some developers got the message and came out with apps that put a friendly face on the command line, so anyone could make those system changes with a few clicks. Most offered a “restore” function of some sort, to return the system to its default state, and this was an important feature when things got out of hand, particularly when you upgraded to a new OS.

    But over the years, I found myself using the command line, and one of those fixer-upper utilities, less and less. I was just wasting time, and the minor improvements they made to the interface didn’t justify the risk. I am also the sort who sets the car radio and home theater system to their “flat” or zero settings. I like to think that well-designed audio gear should be able to perform satisfactorily without having to trick it out. I realize there are others who may spend hours — or days — fine tuning the settings to a fare-thee-well.

    Or maybe I’m just getting lazy in my old age.

    On the other hand, this site, managed by WordPress, and our xenForo forums, are loaded up with plugins or add-ons to customize the look and feel and offer extra capabilities, such as a “Donation” link for people who want to help the cause. Without the extras, you still have a basic set of features that are useful to the vast majority of users, but you can easily customize your setup to meet your needs.

    Even then, too many add-ons can slow your site down, and updates to the core “script” can make the extras incompatible. Shades of the original Mac OS.

    A Mac, however, is meant to run apps, and those apps tend to run their best if they aren’t saddled with the overhead of some unexpected or unnecessary system enhancement. Keep it simple!

    Indeed, I often wonder whether some of the curious glitches some of you report on your Mac are the end result of trying too many things that make the system less stable. It’s not that you shouldn’t customize your Mac to work the way you want, but many of those changes have potential downsides.

    Sure, I realize some of you depend on things working a certain way, and you may not want to remove the add-on that provides a necessary function. I will admit to one remaining indulgence, which is Default Folder X, an Open/Save dialog enhancer. It doesn’t seem to slow anything down, but provides features that Apple should have added years ago.

    People involved in content creation, who need to load and unload loads of fonts, may also use one of those font extenders, such as Suitcase Fusion or Font Agent Pro. In both cases, they can speed up your Mac, potentially, by not saddling you with fonts you don’t need to use for a particular assignment. That’s where such a utility is valuable, if you are the sort of person who requires managing a huge font library for your work.

    For me, those days have passed. Again, I restrict my system supplements to the things I actually need.


    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
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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #838”

    1. DaveD says:

      A good advice. Keep it simple, keep it lean.

      Will work toward that goal when I do a clean install when upgrading the MacBook Air to El Capitan update #3 when it arrives early next year.

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