• Newsletter Issue #885

    November 14th, 2016

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    You may not have noticed that it happened, but on Friday, October 21, some major sites become very slow, or just seemed to go offline for several hours. I’m referring to such web portals as Netflix and PayPal. So tens of millions were inconvenienced. All of those sites had something in common, which was to use DNS services offered by DynDNS, a firm whose global headquarters are located in New Hampshire.

    According to a message to customers posted on the company’s site by Kyle York, the Chief Strategy Officer: “At this point we know this was a sophisticated, highly distributed attack involving 10s of millions of IP addresses. We are conducting a thorough root cause and forensic analysis, and will report what we know in a responsible fashion. The nature and source of the attack is under investigation, but it was a sophisticated attack across multiple attack vectors and internet locations. We can confirm, with the help of analysis from Flashpoint and Akamai, that one source of the traffic for the attacks were devices infected by the Mirai botnet. We observed 10s of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack.”

    Now such outbreaks aren’t going to stop. It may be the tip of the iceberg, and so it will be interesting to see how such companies strive to mitigate or prevent future outbreaks. I suspect there won’t be a lot of specific information about the steps they’re taking, since that would only alert the Internet criminals how to circumvent those methods.

    In the meantime, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured ethical hacker Dr. Timothy Summers, President of Summers & Company, a cyber strategy and organizational design consulting firm, who discussed the recent DDoS attack on DynDNS, which resulted in the slowdown or loss of access to such large sites as Netflix and PayPal. According to Dr. Summers, this attack came from botnets that were assembled by hacking home devices that connect to the Internet, such as web cams, and he provided advice on how you can protect your gear so it resists such attacks. He also talked about what changes might come when Donald Trump becomes President of the United States. Will he attempt to reverse the planned spin-off of ICANN, the non-profit corporation that manages Internet names? What about net neutrality and other FCC actions? Dr. Summers also speculated about three potential cyber threats.

    You also heard from editor Sean Aune, director of operations for TechnoBuffalo, an online blog and gadget review site. He talked about Internet bandwidth caps, the hot tickets for holiday gear, the controversy over the MacBook Pro and its various new features. So did Apple make a mistake not to support 32GB of RAM? What about the Touch Bar, and can it become a key tool in boosting productivity, particularly from creatives? What about the impact of the price hikes for the new models? Sean also discussed the latest gear from Microsoft, including the Surface Book and the Surface Studio all-in-one desktop. And does the current generation of 2-in-1 PC notebooks with touchscreens make sense from a usability standpoint?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  A special “open mic” episode featuring Gene, forum moderator Goggs Mackay, and old school paranormal broadcaster and Paracast announcer Bob Zanotti. So was Debbie Harry, of Blondie, reincarnated from a diva of the 1920s? What about UFO disclosure, and does the fact that Hillary Clinton, who claimed an interest in UFOs, was defeated make a difference? Why do Presidents fail to make good on their promises to find answers to the UFO mystery? Does the military really know what’s going on with UFOs? The discussion moves to the possibility of conventional explanations for such early cases as the Kenneth Arnold sighting and Roswell. Gene and Bob talk about the old days in paranormal talk radio, and some of the characters they interviewed, such as Yonah Fortner and John J. Robinson.

    THE MACBOOK PRO OUTCRY PERSISTS

    I dare say that Apple didn’t expect the outcry over the MacBook Pro refresh. It may have, in part, been about pent-up demand for the computer, but it’s also a symptom that’s peculiarly Apple. Right or wrong, Apple did things in designing the new model that were either misunderstood, or went against what customers wanted. Or at least that’s what it seemed.

    Now on the surface, the new lineup seemed to be a blessing. Both models were thinner and lighter and more powerful. Maybe not a lot more powerful, but Apple’s implementation of the NVM Express (NVMe) interface meant much faster SSDs, more than twice as fast as previous notebooks. Since so much of the performance of a personal computer depends on the speed of the storage device, that can make a huge difference in a way that’s not completely reflected in the benchmarks.

    All right, the new keyboard, derived from the design used on the MacBook, is controversial. Larger keys, less keyboard travel, and it takes some getting used to. It’s also polarizing, as some prefer it and some don’t. Or maybe the fact of being different puts some people off. Regardless, Apple’s changed direction should already have been obvious, since a similar design is used for the Magic Keyboard, which comes free with your new iMac.

    In fact, I kind of prefer the new keyboard, despite it’s apparent deficiencies, to the original Wireless Keyboard, which came with my iMac. I liked it enough that, when the original keyboard self-destructed some months back, I requested that Apple provide the Magic Keyboard instead. Only the Apple Genius said he couldn’t do that unless they ran out of stock with the original. They didn’t.

    But the most polarizing feature of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. Apple found a nifty purpose for the function keys, which aren’t used a whole lot anyway. If you can believe the demonstrations at the Apple media event involving Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro X, the Touch Bar can actually improve productivity. The functions offered are limited only by the imaginations of developers. With Adobe and Microsoft on board, you can bet that loads of other software companies will want to get in on the act, particularly if the tools to add support are easy to use.

    So why would developers support a feature exclusive to one model? Well, it may well be that Apple plans to introduce a version of the Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar in the near future. Maybe the technology will be added to a future MacBook, which means that all Mac users who buy new gear — or a new keyboard — will be able to take advantage of it.

    But the biggest objection is price, even though MacBook Pros used to sell at similar prices before they got cheaper. So there’s reason to hope that the situation will improve over the next couple of years. Call it the typical Apple early adopter tax.

    Now all this — and the 16GB limit — have been talked to death. Although there has been plenty of fear-mongering from the usual Apple critics, this is a discussion that never seems to end.

    Consider the use of the word “Pro” in the branding. Now I don’t recall such an outcry about previous models, so why the change? Perhaps to have something new to talk about? This is, after all, a notebook computer with features that ought to appeal to the pro market, such as the four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the ability of the 15-inch model to drive two 5K displays. Putting Adobe and Microsoft front and center when it comes to Touch Bar support clearly shows Apple’s intent.

    But some of the objections to “Pro” are almost comical.

    Take one example where someone suggested that the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro should really be the true MacBook Air replacement. After all, the Air never received a Retina display, and Apple did demonstrate that the MacBook Pro is actually thinner. What’s more, the Air is clearly on life support, with only the single 13-inch model still available to consumers and businesses. The 11-inch $899 model has been consigned to the educational market to compete against $150 Chromebooks.

    If you don’t pay attention, this claim appears to make sense except for one thing: There is already a MacBook Air replacement on the market. It’s available in a single 12-inch configuration with Retina display, weighing roughly two pounds. You want thin and light, this is thin and light! If you remember the launch of the original MacBook Air, Steve Jobs removed it from a thin envelope to demonstrate how small it really was. Though expensive at the time, it got cheaper and cheaper. What’s more, it influenced whole generations of thin and light PC notebooks.

    The replacement? Why the MacBook of course! It was introduced last year by Apple as representing the future of notebooks, machines that are meant to connect wirelessly, so you don’t need to plug things in except for the charging brick.

    Of course, the MacBook got its share of complaints too when it was launched in 2015. The Intel Core M chip wasn’t powerful enough, though it was still faster than MacBook Airs of several years ago. The low-travel keyboard got its share of complaints, not to mention having only a single USB-C port. The $1,299 purchase price remains a problem, especially considering the fact that you can still buy the 13-inch MacBook Air for $999.

    But if MacBook Air is used as an example, the MacBook will also shed a few hundred dollars over the next few years. The performance of the 2016 model has reportedly reached a more acceptable level. And with the Air on its way out, the MacBook is the clear replacement, except for a certain blogger who believes that all reviews of the MacBook Pro are wrong. The 13-inch model without Touch Bar should be marketed as a MacBook Air even though it doesn’t look any different from the more expensive models, except for having a standard set of function keys.

    While all this is going on, Apple and a third-party marketing company claim record orders. You still have to wait four to five weeks to get one from Apple’s site. Obviously there real demand there, although it’s not certain whether part of the backorder situation is caused by production difficulties.

    Someone once suggested that he didn’t care what you said about him, so long as you spelled his name correctly. So Apple is getting loads of free publicity about new Macs. By the time it dies down — and it will — the chatter will be about what models will be upgraded next. So maybe there will be more to argue about in the spring of 2017.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #885”

    1. David says:

      There’s a point where a device is thin and light enough and the MBP reached that years ago. For the one person in a million for whom the old MBP was too big or heavy, remember that a Mac is only moved around ~0.05% of its lifetime. At this point all the design effort should be on the 99.95% of the time that a Mac is sitting still. Instead of thinner, why not a bigger battery? Instead of a multi-million dollar cooling system to deal with all that thinness, why not give users the option of higher performance components (CPU/GPU) that a larger envelope could easily cool? Why not give users the option of 32GB of RAM? Yes I know it won’t actually make a difference, but Apple seems to have forgotten that “the customer is always right”, even when (s)he isn’t from a technical standpoint. Self described “pros” are demanding Apple let them buy 16GB of overpriced RAM that won’t actually do anything but fatten Apple’s bottom line. It’s hard to understand why Apple won’t let them do that.
      The problem is that Apple doesn’t give customers any real choices at all. We aren’t allowed to trade battery life for performance, trade size/weight for performance or battery life, buy too much RAM or really do anything except buy exactly what Apple says we should. Oh and three year old computers should cost exactly the same amount as they did when they were brand new. Sorry Apple but even if there’s no newer model and no viable alternative within your ecosystem computers still depreciate. At this point a brand new Mac Pro is actually worth less than most iMacs and meagre sales figures no doubt back that up.

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