• Newsletter Issue #877

    September 19th, 2016


    As most of you know, I’ve written about my odyssey with a Brother HL-5450DN printer, which I purchased back in 2014 with the money I received for the sale of an older printer, one far more expensive to run.

    My goal was to get something that had decent output speeds, with above-average text quality, passable graphics, and a relatively low cost of operation. You can still buy them for around $160 at Amazon and other dealers, and while the cost of operation is reportedly a low 1.8 cents per page, it goes down to a fraction of that number if you use third-party toner.

    After printing around 25,000 copies or thereabouts, the printer exhibited evidence of a worn fuser assembly. A major symptom was ghosting or after-images on text. Well, the fuser is one of the main wearable items that’s rated at 100,000 copies, which is essentially the lifetime of the printer. Once that or any other major component fails, it’s time to send it to the recycle center, and buy a new one.

    Upon being notified of the problem, Brother agreed to fix it. A little online sleuthing revealed it wasn’t an uncommon problem, and the repair shop agreed. After the repair, everything worked just perfectly — until I moved to a newer home with up-to-date wiring.

    Unfortunately, that up-to-date wiring meant that the printer’s behavior in powering up the mechanicals in advance of printing a document would sometimes trip the circuit breaker. Even after replacing the 15 amp breaker with one rated at 20 amps — still acceptable for the wiring at this residence according to an electrician — the problem still occurred.

    Well, Brother had me update the firmware with a special release that extends the power up time by a fraction of a second, which is supposed to eliminate this problem. Only it didn’t. It just happened less often, and every two days, it spontaneously output hundreds of pages with a line or two of gibberish. One message on the first and third instance of this phenomenon indicated a possible firmware issue, “This program cannot be run in DOS mode.” One way to stop it was to wait till the printer has used up the paper supply, power down and power up again. At least I can recycle the paper and use it anyway, since the lines of text, in Courier, are mostly above the image area.

    But what happened Friday afternoon was downright weird. Instead of gibberish or a DOS message, all those pages contained just one word: “TRUMP.” I kid you not!

    In any case, Brother took the hint and is sending me a newer, similar version of the printer, the HLL5100DN. It sells for the same price, and is due to arrive at my home office on Monday. Supposedly the updated components and firmware will not trip circuit breakers. I only wish they acted sooner rather than put me through a couple of weeks of annoyance, but that weird phenomenon, with all those pages bearing “TRUMP” on them, is just priceless!

    Now 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 topics included speculation about iPhone 7 sales in light of reports of heavy preorders and sellouts, particularly for the iPhone 7 Plus. As author of “iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course,” Josh detailed some of the best features of the new OS, and discussed the notorious download glitch that, for an hour or so, gave Apple customers a defective version of iOS 10 that bricked some devices until they could be restored, usually via iTunes.

    You also heard from tech editor Sean Aune, director of operations for TechnoBuffalo, an online blog and gadget review site. Gene began the discussion with the tale of woe with his Brother HL-5450DN printer that keeps tripping the circuit breaker in his home office, and a promised solution from the manufacturer — a special firmware update — that failed to resolve the problem. Gene and Sean went back and forth about Apple’s “courageous” decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, the possible reasons and the impact to customers. Sean also discussed an Apple poll of Mac notebook owners reportedly circulating in which they are asked whether they ever use the headphone jack. The discussion also focused on Samsung’s quality control problems with the Galaxy Note 7 that has been recalled due to dozens of episodes of the battery bursting into flames or exploding.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and Chris talk shop with forum moderator Goggs Mackay along for the ride. Chris wonders why all the data from a decade’s worth of San Luis Valley research that he’s submitted to MUFON and NIDS (National Institute for Discovery Science) has not received an acknowledgement — or a thank you. He discusses some of the amazing phenomena he’s investigated, cases that have yet to become part of the UFO lexicon. And what about disclosure advocates such as Stephen Bassett? Can we ever really understand the true source behind UFOs? Could we even wrap our heads around or do we have language to describe what it’s really all about? What about communicating with aliens that do not look or think in a way that even resembles what we humans understand?


    Every single year, there has been one constant about the iPhone. After the three-day launch weekend, in which customers actually receive them, Apple has revealed sales figures. Year after year, those numbers have increased, thus breaking records. But it wasn’t always so simple. In 2013, when Apple announced record sales for the iPhone 5s, moving a record five million units just wasn’t enough, because some tech pundits and industry analysts said it must be 10 million or bust. Ignored was the fact that Apple claimed more product could have been sold if they had enough stock on hand.

    No matter that neither Samsung — or any other handset maker — ever reported that many sales for flagship smartphones in so short a time. Apple was in danger of losing its luster because it failed to achieve the unrealistic goals set for them by third parties. Indeed, the iPhone 5s was long regarded as a failure even though sales were higher than those of the previous year. But launch weekend results and misleading reports from the supply chain about reduced orders, caused Apple’s stock price to dip and reduce the company’s market cap by billions of dollars, at least until the market regained its senses.

    In 2015, Apple reported sales of 13 million on launch weekend. But the luster of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus dimmed this year as sales dropped for the very first time in the product’s history. So expectations for the iPhone 7’s launch weekend were also diminished.

    Apple helped verify this impression by announcing that launch weekend sales would no longer be announced. The excuse? That there wasn’t enough stock on hand to provide a realistic picture of demand. It’s very possible that Apple knew that they couldn’t possibly move 13 million units because of lower supplies. But that wouldn’t look so good regardless of the reasons, so the information will evidently no longer be made available.

    Now none of this should demonstrate the potential of the iPhone 7. The iPhone 7 Plus was essentially unavailable on launch day, and it reportedly received up to 45% of the preorders. Evidently the twin-camera system is appealing to a surprising number of customers, appealing enough to convince them to pay $130 extra for one. Forget about buying the glossy black version, which is also reportedly also out of stock.

    The new iPhone went on sale a week earlier than previous models, which means there’s more time to ramp up production and perhaps get millions of product into the hands of customers. The iPhone 7’s popularity will be fairly clear when Apple announces its financials for the September quarter late in October. If total sales are within guidance, perhaps the iPhone 7 didn’t contribute a whole lot to sales, but if the sales dip is lower than expected, or is higher than last year, it will mean that Apple has succeeded in putting a surprisingly large number of new iPhones into the hands of customers.

    Again, none of this demonstrates actual demand, not if the iPhone 7 remains backordered. And while some suggest that Apple deliberately holds back stock to look more impressive, that’s just speculation or a conspiracy theory. It’s something that cannot be proven, and perhaps it might be partially true. But iPhones tend to have custom components that are difficult to manufacture. It takes time to ramp up production even if Apple has a pretty good handle on potential sales.

    Despite the suggestion that the iPhone 7 isn’t so different from the previous model, if you look at year-to-year changes, other than the form factor, the number of spiffy new features is really not so high. So how many important features debuted in the iPhone 5s other than the Touch ID fingerprint sensor? Well, there was the 64-bit A7 processor, but it took a while before its advantages made sense. Beyond two models with larger displays, how did the iPhone 6 family improve matters beyond the usual incremental improvements in the processor and other parts?

    At least the iPhone 7 promises better battery life and water-resistance. These are two extremely important improvements beyond the expected enhancements to the processor and camera system. They are the sort of enhancements that customers clearly wanted, particularly the former. At the same time, a Samsung smartphone that directly competes with the iPhone, the Galaxy S7 Active, is also supposedly water-resistant, but it failed a recent dunk test conducted by Consumer Reports magazine. At the same time, preliminary reports from CR, ahead of more extensive testing, indicate that Apple’s rating of IP87 is true.

    I wonder why that isn’t widely reported. If the iPhone 7 failed dunk tests after claiming water-resistance, it would make headlines everywhere, but Samsung’s failure to meet its specs, resulting in damage that could destroy the handset, is barely mentioned.

    At least the battery problems affecting the Galaxy Note 7 phablet have gotten a decent amount of coverage. Not as much as it would had it happened to Apple, but it’s clear that Samsung has some “splainin” to do. How did the Note 7 pass quality control tests with this sort of ticking time bomb? While new versions supposedly come with fixed batteries, I would be very cautious about purchasing any Samsung mobile device until this matter is fully investigated by the authorities.

    Sure, it may be one of those things — and don’t forget lithium-ion batteries are difficult to make and prone to dangerous failures — but it’s important to know whether Samsung rushed it to market to compete with the iPhone 7 and overlooked proper testing before release.

    But even if the iPhone 7 stems the erosion of smartphone sales for Apple, the critics will say it’s only temporary. It’s always temporary for Apple, and few bother to examine reported sales decreases in high-end mobile handsets from Samsung in recent years (the situation has improved this year).


    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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