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  • Newsletter Issue #839

    December 28th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    The other day, I had an up close and personal encounter with an online hoaxer or imposter, and I could see why it’s so easy to fall for one of their stunts. So I received what appeared to be a routine Face-book friend request. I get these on occasion, and it’s no big deal. Unless I have reason to suspect the request, I am happy to accept them.

    Well, in this particular case, the name was familiar, a close friend, and I really thought he’d already been befriended on Face-book. So why would he request it again, unless he had decided to “unfriend” me and merely wished to change his decision? I absentmindedly accepted the request.

    The next day the person I believed to have befriended called, and he wasn’t happy. “Why did you accept a friend request from an impersonator?” A what?

    Well, I checked and, sure enough, the request came from a phony, and so I quickly unfriended that person. I noticed, among his list of friends, people who probably made the same mistake I did. In short order, the real person filed a complaint with Face-book, and the fake membership was soon history.

    Now I realize that lots of people share the same name. If you look, you will find others named “Gene Steinberg” or “Eugene Steinberg,” and I am not a Junior, nor am I related to any of these people. It hasn’t caused any confusion, at least so far. I suppose if one of those people does something nasty, things will change.

    But there is a photoshopped picture of me wearing a suit (or sports jacket) that may still be online. Since I haven’t worn such a garment since the 1990s, except to attend my son’s Bar Mitzvah, it isn’t clear what message these people are trying to convey. I also notice my face is a little distorted as part of the process, but that makes even less sense.

    In any case, the object lesson here is that, when you receive an email request that appears to represent someone you know, just double check. The innocent acceptance of a friend request from Face-book is one thing. But some of those emails may have nasty consequences.

    And that takes us to this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented an important security update with Dr. Timothy C. Summers, President of Summers & Company, a cyber strategy and organizational design consulting firm. We discussed the ongoing debate over whether Apple, Google and other tech companies should allow back doors to governments to retrieve and decode encrypted information from smartphones and other gear. The discussion also covered fake emails that purport to come from your bank, fake emails that purport to come from your family and friends, why you should be skeptical of emails from people who claim to know you and request financial assistance, and how to stop leaving digital breadcrumbs.

    We also presented a special year-end wrap-up from tech commentator and columnist Peter Cohen, whose writings are found at iMoreMacworld and Tom’s Guide. On this visit, Peter talked about Tim Cook’s increasing social activism in contrast to his predecessor, the usability of the iPad Pro, the prospects for an Apple Car,  Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive’s unfortunate “thin fetish,” and whether it makes sense for Apple to move the Mac platform from Intel to Apple’s own A-series chips. Yes, there are potential downsides.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We welcome the return of Mike Clelland to The Paracast after six years! He’s author of the new book, “The Messengers: Owls, Synchronicity and the UFO Abductee.” Says the publisher (Richard Dolan Press): “The owl has held a place of reverence and mystique throughout history. And as strange as this might seem, owls are also showing up in conjunction with the UFO experience. Mike Clelland has collected a wealth of first-hand accounts where owls manifest in the highly charged moments that surround alien contact. There is a strangeness to these accounts that defy simple explanations. This book explores implications that go far beyond what more conservative researchers would dare consider.”

    THE MINISTRY OF SECOND LOOKS

    I like to think that I’m mostly reasonable. For example, I’m willing to experiment when it comes to improving my workflow. Being able to get products for review is an advantage, and it was that sense of adventure that established my career as a tech journalist in the early 1990s. Over the years, I sometimes accumulated a warehouse (well a large room) worth of tech gear. Fortunately, I was able to clean out most of it when it was time to return the equipment to the manufacturer. They let you keep the software, but I uninstalled more than I continued to use.

    After basically dismissing Apple’s new Magic Keyboard upon being exposed to it for a few days, I decided to give it another chance. I can’t say I took to it, although it felt somewhat more comfortable when I gave it a second chance. Just the other day, I switched to it again after my regular keyboard, the Matias Quiet Pro, began to generate a peculiar USB error on my iMac.

    So I would get a message from El Capitan’s Notification Center about USB being disabled on the device because it was taking too much current. This after using that keyboard for several years. Restarts and plugging the unit into different ports made no difference, so I’ve set it aside until I see what sort of response I get from Matias about the problem. I’d hate to have to pay to have it fixed — or be forced to be a new one. The currently cost $149.95, which is on the high side of replacement keyboards.

    In any case, I’m back to the Magic Keyboard for a while. I have requested a second extension of the Apple loan, and I hope it’ll be long enough for things to sort themselves out. But I’ve searched for alternatives, and the Das Keyboard, another mechanical device, appears to have potential. I did review one several years back, however, and found the touch a a tiny bit notchy, and it was noisier than the Quiet Pro. So I wasn’t exactly unhappy when it came time to return it to the company.

    I have a couple of Logitech keyboards at hand, but I find they give a squishy rather than solid feel. They mostly seem to offer a little extra utility and some glitz, but the manufacturer doesn’t appear to be that much focused on touch. In fact, I wonder how many keyboard makers really tout feel, fluidity and accuracy among the key features. Matias and Das do.

    Perhaps I’ll look for something suitable during the After Christmas sale at the local Best Buy store. But that depends on whether or not I get a quick fix from Matias.

    In the meantime, I continue to experiment with the iPad Pro, and I wonder how well they’re doing in the  marketplace. However, Apple hasn’t quite caught up with its inventory of the new tablet. When I checked the online storefront, they were quoting roughly two weeks for delivery of any of the models and colors I selected. Sure, it’s possible Apple has encountered production difficulties, but it may also be true that demand is higher than expected. That won’t be apparent until Apple delivers its quarterly financials in late January.

    If you love the 9.7-inch iPad, but wish the display were bigger, you’ll be in your element. The Pro’s performance is amazingly fast in most respects. It benchmarks ahead of many traditional PC note-books, and some MacBooks. It also fuels occasional speculation that Apple will soon be able to ditch Intel in favor of its ARM-based A-series chips on Macs, but it’s not quite that simple. However, I won’t detail the issues of Intel emulation, Windows emulation and developer migration here. It’s not just about power and chip price.

    As well as it performs, the iPad Pro will have to find its way in the market. Most apps don’t shine with the larger display. When they properly scale, it’s mostly about displaying more content than offering many more features. The touch keyboard closely resembles a full-sized physical one, but a physical one is still better suited for typing lots of material. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see an accessory iPad keyboard that matches the feel of a traditional computer keyboard. Too much is sacrificed to embed in a case.

    Yes, I realize you can use a regular Bluetooth keyboard, but it’s an awkward fit, and a regular note-book works better. Indeed, a fully outfitted iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard is clumsy to position to use as a note-book. It’s little better than a Microsoft Surface 4. Perhaps there’s a Magic iPad Keyboard Case design waiting in the wings, and perhaps that’ll present the magic bullet of total flexibility if it should appear.

    Now imagine if Apple could make an iPad so thin that a slick metallic keyboard could slide out from its bottom, tilt, and serve as a solid base. It would present a harder miniaturization nut to crack, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something of this sort in Apple’s test labs. Or a competitor’s test labs for their own tablets.

    My real problem with iPads in general is very much about productivity. The apps I need to host and produce two radio shows don’t exist on iOS. Maybe with Philip Schiller running the App Store show, they will be. I’m sure there are developers just aching to write such apps, and others that more closely align with what you can acquire on a Mac or PC, but Apple’s rules won’t allow them. Some restrictions have been loosened over time, so maybe there’s hope.

    As it stands, the iPad Pro returns to Apple in January. I’m not yet certain whether I’ll miss it or not, but Barbara and Grayson had fun expressing some artistic creativity, or just jotting notes. That doesn’t quite justify spending $100 for a glorified stylus, and hundreds more for the sole tablet that’s compatible with them. But I’ve seen the work generated by some illustrators on them, and it’s fabulous. There are loads of possibilities there, but, again, they will depend on the creativity of app developers, and enhancements to iOS, to exploit.

    When it comes to Apple Watch, I realize Apple will hack away at the possibilities and make good on its promise. But it may take another generation or two to come into its own. I’m not at all sure about Apple TV yet. That the fourth edition didn’t include support for 4K video isn’t a deal breaker to me. But 4K will really begin to flourish in 2016 as TV makers expand the offerings for expanded color and contrast, and an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format appears. Maybe things can be improved on today’s Apple TV with just a firmware update, or Apple will push out a fifth edition next year that will realize its potential better.

    I am optimistic about next year’s prospects for Apple. Yes, the doom and gloom fear-mongering critics are still around pushing their drivel, but that isn’t going to change.

    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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