• Newsletter Issue #882

    October 24th, 2016


    When I recorded this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I believed I would have to buy Barbara a new iPhone. Her three-year-old iPhone 5c had stopped working the previous day. With 70% battery life left, I began to charge it from my iMac. I stepped away for several hours, and when I returned the device appeared to be off. I pressed Home, and nothing happened. I attempted to restart, and nothing happened. There wasn’t even an icon to indicate a spent battery.

    It was dead in the water.

    I looked online for possible remedies, but it appeared the remedy it needed was a decent burial. So I looked up AT&T’s pricing for an iPhone SE, the most direct equivalent in the current lineup. While the iPhone 5c was free with a two-year contract, AT&T doesn’t offer those deals anymore. It’s all about paying $399 upfront for a new handset, or a monthly payment via the AT&T Next program, a way to finance your phone for up to 30 months.

    Well, after completing the editing of the two radio shows, I returned to the phone, pressed Home, and noticed something had changed. There was now a dead battery icon. I returned it to the charging cable, and waited. Some time later, it restarted, and the charging process continued. I was able to update the system software to the latest iOS 10, and catch up on a bunch of app updates. The charging process completed successfully. The next day, Barbara used it while visiting a relative, and had no further problems.

    I will not speculate on what happened, other than the possibility that allowing the battery to fully drain somehow fixed the problem. I’m assuming it’s on borrowed time, but I’m not going to worry about its replacement till something nasty actually occurs. You see, Barbara is perfectly happy with her iPhone, which is used primarily as a telephone. She isn’t pressing me for a new one; she has other priorities.

    Now the latest episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE featured columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and Wirecutter. He discussed what’s expected from Apple’s October 27, 2016 media event, rumored to focus on new Macs, and what might come from it. He also offered his personal experiences with macOS Sierra, cybersecurity and the recent hack of Democratic emails, posted in WikiLeaks, which has become a campaign issue, and tech policy and the election. Rob also talked about the Pixel, Phone by Google, and its prospects.

    You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. He joined Gene in a brief pop culture discussion, comparing the two visions of DC Comics, and whether the more optimistic TV version is a better fit for super hero fans than the dour movie version. The discussion moved to the prospects for the Apple Car, and whether the focus will be on creating a new car or offering a turnkey solution for autonomous driving to be licensed to car makers. Jeff also talked about the prospects for new Macs at Apple’s media event, expectations for a refreshed MacBook Pro, and the possible fates of two models that haven’t been updated in a while. So will there be a refreshed Mac mini, and what’s going to happen to the Mac Pro? And what about the failure of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, and shouldn’t the company take a few lessons on corporate damage control?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Fans of 70s and 80s rock might recall the name Gary Lachman, or his stage name, Gary Valentine, who was a founding member of Blondie, but left the band before it hit the big time. Since leaving show business, Gary has become “the author of more than a dozen books on the meeting ground between consciousness, culture, and the western inner tradition.” His latest work is entitled, “Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson,” about someone regarded as “one of the most underrated and defiant scholars of the 20th century.” Gary will also offer some insights into his musical career, New York’s rock scene in the late 1970s, and the interest of rock musicians in mystic subjects.


    In a way the news that AT&T plans to build out its media empire with the acquisition of Time Warner takes me back, way back. So let me explain why.

    In the 1990s, I received a paycheck from AOL as a forum leader. It was roughly the equivalent of running a message board, but it was done under the aegis of what became, for a while, the world’s largest Internet service.  It gifted me a set of arcane online “board tools” that allowed me to operate the forums, moderate member posts, and, at times, to delete or edit the ones that violated a very tightly written Terms of Service.

    That job ended in the late 1990s, as AOL sought a wider net that included giving up on many of the personal features that originated on the service in 1989, when it debuted as America Online. In those days, tens of millions of signup floppies were distributed, and it was primarily a Mac service. Windows support came later. But since the $4 hourly rate was a fraction of that of the market leader at the time, CompuServe, I dutifully signed up.

    Over time, AOL established Mac support boards, and I became fairly active. One of the online producers saw my activities, limited only by my budget to remain online, and kept crediting me for my volunteer services. Shortly thereafter, he offered me a forum moderator position. It meant free access, but I jumped at the opportunity. Only a forum leader received a paycheck, and that came a few years later.

    It was good to me in other ways. My online work caught the eye of an editor at Macworld, and I soon had a paid writing gig. I was also “discovered” by a major publisher of computer books, and got my first assignment as author of “Using America Online.” I wrote a total of 30 books about the Mac, Windows and various apps until I literally burned out.

    That takes us back to AOL, which eventually bought out CompuServe and ran it as a downsized subsidiary.

    Flush with cash from the dot-com boom, AOL went on a buying spree and, in 2000, acquired Time Warner for $164 billion, perhaps the largest merger for its time. For a while, we had AOL Time Warner, which meant that original startup online service now owned such prestigious properties as Time magazine, Warner Brothers pictures, CNN, TNT, HBO, DC Comics and even Looney Tunes. That meant, of course, that AOL had bought the rights to such characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Batman, Supergirl, Superman and Wonder Woman.

    For many reasons, it didn’t take long for the executives at the former Time Warner to realize they had been snookered, and as the market cap rapidly declined, a series of steps were taken to unwind this deal. The “AOL” moniker was removed from the company’s name, and AOL itself was spun off as a separate property.

    AOL continued to decline as online ad revenues never quite made up for the loss of dial-up subscriptions. It’s hard to believe, but according to published reports, AOL still has some 2.1 million subscribers paying up to $20 a month for a service they probably don’t need. Many run it on top of their existing broadband connections, while some members pay a lower rate. I still have my AOL email accounts, for which I continue to pay absolutely nothing.

    In 2011, AOL acquired the Huffington Post, a popular online news portal with what is described as a liberal bent. Last year, Verizon announced a deal to acquire the sad remnants of AOL for $4.4 billion as part of a plan to build out an online portal. This year, Verizon announced a $4.8 billion purchase of Yahoo’s online assets, which include Yahoo mail. But that deal may be in danger due to the fact that Verizon was never notified that some 500 million Yahoo email accounts had been compromised.

    As to Time Warner, well CEO Jeff Bewkes has worked to reshape the company in anticipation of putting it up for sale. In 2015, Charter Communications announced that Time Warner Cable had been acquired for $55 billion; the Time Warner Cable name was eliminated this year. The previous year, Time Inc., the magazine publisher, was spun off, a year after some of the magazines were sold to Meredith Corp.

    The plan was to make Time Warner lean and mean and sharply focused, and it evidently succeeded, because it caught the eye of AT&T.

    AT&T has been busy rebuilding itself in recent years. It was the original Ma Bell, which was split into several Baby Bells in 1984 over ongoing antitrust concerns. In 2004, AT&T Wireless sold out to Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth. In 2007, the newly renamed AT&T Wireless became the first and, for a while, the only carrier to offer the iPhone.

    Over the years AT&T offered landline, wireless and Internet access in various forums, but it was hungry for more. So in 2014, AT&T bought DirecTV, the largest satellite TV provider, in a deal valued at $48.5 billion. Coming soon: An online-only version of DirecTV that is meant to compete to Dish Network’s Sling TV.

    The merger was approved with the usual stipulations, but I feel both companies have suffered. As a customer, I’ve confronted problems with the increasingly offshore tech support, and I’m carefully reviewing my options.

    But AT&T’s hunger to grow hasn’t been satisfied. You see, wireless subscriber growth has stalled. Fewer people are signing up for new satellite TV accounts as more and more users cut the cord.

    So what’s left for AT&T to continue to build its telecommunications empire?

    Well, no doubt looking to Comcast’s 2009 acquisition of NBC Universal  as an inspiration, AT&T this weekend announced an $85 billion deal to acquire Time Warner. If and when this idea is consummated, Jeff Bewkes will leave that company no doubt many millions of dollars richer.

    But the increasing consolidation of media outlets has put the U.S. government on notice. There has already been skepticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, and they rarely agree on anything. If this deal goes through, and that won’t happen until next year at the earliest, there will probably be stipulations from the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure that licensing fees for Time Warner content won’t be unjustly raised for other cable and satellite providers. Comcast had to agree to stipulations too, but there have been questions whether they are attempting to stretch the limitations placed on them.

    So it’s still possible the new deal might be blocked. Meantime, there’s now a statement from the guy who helped engineer the AOL Time Warner deal in 2000, AOL founder Steve Case. It was just two words, “deja vu.”


    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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