• Newsletter Issue #840

    January 4th, 2016


    What do you think of when you hear the phrase about the “computer for the rest of us”? No doubt a gadget that is appliance-like in its ease-of-use and reliability. In large part, you can probably say that about Macs, other than the fact that OS X could be more reliable than it is. Still, you ought to able to go about your business without too many interruptions — at least interruptions that are related to your computer.

    Beginning with the first Mac, Apple went against the grain and delivered a computer that you couldn’t upgrade. You wanted more RAM? Forget about it. Well, most Macs thereafter have allowed for some level of expansion, except in recent years. The volume Macs, such as the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, can’t be upgraded. Even the flash storage is nowadays soldered onto the logic board.

    Certainly the integrated design makes for a somewhat thinner and lighter product, and it looks great with a minimum of telltale seams at the sides and rear. That choice does adhere to an otherwise commendable design ethic. But it also becomes a huge pain to fix, since large circuit modules, rather than just a logic board, a drive or a battery, are too-often required for what would otherwise be simple repairs.

    For the customer, it means you have to buy the product you expect to use for as long as you plan to own it. There will be no upgrade option later. Even a car can often be modified to boost performance or handle better — or at least differently. But you don’t expect to upgrade your refrigerator or toaster oven, and that’s the spirit of most Macs.

    Is that the right way to go? Well, this became one of the topics I discussed about with my guests on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. We presented a 2015 teardown roundup with Kyle Wiens of of iFixit. He listed some of the products that were easiest to repair, and the ones most difficult. He also answered the Night Owl’s hypothetical question, whether adding upgrade capability to more Macs would seriously degrade the thin and light design. In short, is Jonathan Ive and/or Apple marketing people going just a little too far with their “thin fetish”?

    You also heard from commentator/author Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” On the agenda during the opening pop culture segment was his reaction to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Did it it really fulfill the hype, and justify the amazing box office receipts? Kirk also talked about Apple’s agreement to pay $350 million in back taxes to Italy, and the possible consequence in that action in the rest of the European Union. Kirk also discussed his ongoing concerns with Apple Music, its inability to learn about his musical tastes, and what he’d like Apple to do in order to overhaul iTunes.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Have we made any progress at all in understanding our paranormal universe? For our first episode of 2016 invited Micah Hanks, of The Gralien Report, for a no-nonsense discussion about pop culture, the effects of myths on our society and other compelling topics. Micah is a writer, researcher, podcaster, lecturer and radio personality whose work addresses a variety of areas, including history, politics, scientific theories and unexplained phenomena. 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.


    A former FCC chairman once referred to TV as a “vast wasteland.” In other words, lots of stuff to watch, but most of it not very good. Even when a show had greater pretensions, it was often saddled with less-than-stellar acting, poor production values and, when needed, laughable special effects.

    Some shows managed to rise above the morass of junk. Certainly the original “Star Trek,” despite its charms, such as its penchant for social commentary, had its problems. Special effects were cheesy mostly due to the lack of a budget big enough to set the creative teams exploring the frontiers of technology. Remember, this show arrived more than a decade before the first “Star Wars” film, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” where director George Lucas had to reinvent the wheel to do what he could with a budget a fraction of what is now expected of a “blockbuster” film.

    That “vast wasteland” comment came before cable brought us 300 channels and more, often with little or nothing to watch. But it also meant that cable-only channels, including the “premium” outlets that were ad-free, could expand on the creativity when they chose to do so. Nowadays, Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning performers, producers and directors often find a home on TV for their pet projects.

    So it wasn’t surprising for Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson to headline the first season of “True Detective.” There were A-list performers for the second season too, but the plot lines were controversial, and often hard to follow. Still you have to appreciate the effort made by performers who could otherwise earn bigger paychecks on the silver screen.

    Original programming even expanded to the streaming services, such as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. At one time, Netflix was just a place from which to rent DVDs. But the introduction of a streaming service brought with it huge investments in original programming unfettered by network demands for high ratings and careful control of content.

    A high level of creative freedom brought with it the likes of “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and even “Daredevil,” a reboot of the Marvel comic book character with a far grittier tone. This year, another Marvel character debuted, “Jessica Jones,” an even darker story about a super hero who, upon undergoing a traumatic experience with the main villain, someone who can control one’s mind, retreats into herself. When we meet her, she is a hard drinking woman, with a penchant for casual sex, who works as a private detective. She often takes on assignments that require her to use her super powers, which include super strength and the ability to leap tall buildings with, yes, a single bound.

    As with the typical Netflix series, it often takes several episodes for the story and characters to flow. You soon find yourself addicted and anxious to watch the next episode. To help matters, Netflix releases all episodes in a season in one fell swoop — it’s 13 for “Jessica Jones” and other series — so you can binge watch. That means seeing as many episodes at a time as you can handle in a single sitting. Barbara and I are up to 11 episodes so far. It took her until episode three before she got sucked in and realized she couldn’t wait for the next installment.

    Star Krysten Ritter, formerly of “Breaking Bad,” owns the titular role. She is powerful, attractive, tortured and has no compunction about killing a character if it’s necessary to save the situation, or someone’s life. She is still haunted by her encounter with Kilgrave, the sociopath with mind control skills portrayed with perfection by Scotsman David Tennant. Yes, that’s the man who once played Doctor Who, but here he is nobody’s hero.

    Jones’ sometime boyfriend is Luke Cage, yet another super hero who almost as strong, and is also gifted with being almost impervious to harm. He’s portrayed by Mike Coltar, an imposing actor that some of you might remember as a drug lord on “The Good Wife.”

    Later, “Luke Cage” will premiere in his own series, and these two plus Daredevil will team up as a gritty Avengers alternative known as “The Defenders.”

    Super heroes continue to find an expanding place on commercial TV. ABC has yet another season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and ‘Agent Carter.” The CW, jointly owned by CBS and Warner Bros., continues to expand the DC Comics universe with “Arrow” and “The Flash.” New this year is “Legends of Tomorrow,” which pits a number of lesser super heroes against time traveling villains.

    Even CBS really got into the act with “Supergirl,” a breezier take on the comic book hero. It stars former “Glee” actress Melissa Benoist as the title character and her Clark Kent-like alter ego, Kara Danvers. Some find the show a little cheesy, a little too predictable. But it’s lots of fun once you get into it. Benoist is perfect as the goofy dork who hides her secret identity behind a pair of glasses. Her performance is in the spirit of Christopher Reeve in the previous generation of Superman movies, but her comedy gifts are even more solid. She also carries the role of super hero with proper authority and presence when she dons her famous costume.

    Pay special attention to Calista Flockhart, who portrays Kara’s temperamental and egotistical boss, Cat Grant. She steals every scene she’s in with show-stopping dialog delivered to perfection.

    CBS has yet another genre show, “Limitless,” based on the movie of the same name that starred Bradley Cooper. Here, Cooper serves as not just a producer, but makes an occasional cameo as the same character he portrayed in the movie. He eggs on protagonist Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) who, after taking the “magic” pill that opens up 100% of his mental capacity, becomes an advisor for the FBI. His “handler” is played by Jennifer Carpenter, famous for her portrayal as the foulmouthed sister of the title character in “Dexter.” Here Carpenter’s character has a far more pleasant demeanor in keeping with the lighter spirit of the show.

    Another show that sort of straddles the super hero genre is “Blindspot,” an NBC series about a mysterious woman who turns up, butt naked, in a large duffel bag in Times Square. Her entire body is covered with elaborate tattoos and she cannot remember how she got them, or who she is.

    The character, sometimes referred to as “Jane Doe,” is ably portrayed by Jaime Alexander. Some of you might recall her as an Asgardian goddess in the Thor movies. Here she is teamed with Aussie actor Sullivan Stapleton (recently from “Strike Back” on Cinemax) as an FBI agent. They come together because he is identified on one of Jane’s tattoos.

    It plays out partly as a crime procedural, partly as a conspiracy tale where the secrets of her amazing tattoos and her real identity are slowly revealed. The producers promise that you’ll know the essence of her secrets before the first season ends. You won’t have to stick by the show for years hoping for a satisfying conclusion. “Blindspot” happens to be one of the most popular shows of the new season, and quickly gained a commitment for a second season.

    Another show getting high praise is “Quantico,” from ABC, which is superficially about the famous FBI training academy, but heavily focused on its star, India’s Priyanka Chopra, famous in her native country as an actress, singer, model and beauty contest winner. Here she brings authority and vulnerability in equal amounts as an FBI trainee who has to fight off false accusations of being a sleeper terrorist.

    The plotting is more confusing and inconsistent, but the high caliber performers and production values keep you interested in every episode from beginning to end. This is yet another series with a long future.

    But not all of the new shows have even survived the first season. “Minority Report,” loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story, was quickly dispatched. Maybe they needed Tom Cruise, star of the 2002 film that was directed by Steven Spielberg. Also history is “The Player,” with Wesley Snipes and Philip Winchester. The latter plays a former intelligence officer who is recruited by a mysterious “pit boss” (Snipes) who sends him on crime fighting sprees as the 1% place bets on the outcome. It played better than it sounded, but the ratings quickly sank after a middling debut.

    Still, there’s more bad than good to be had this year. The concepts may not be all that original, but high-calibre acting, slick production, and improving special effects, makes for an entertaining season for devoted TV watchers. That’s true even on broadcast TV stations.


    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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