• Newsletter Issue #914

    June 5th, 2017


    When I wrote that post about AT&T wireless last month, I fully expected the situation to be resolved by now. After all, I’ve been a customer for over a decade, and, in the past, the worst problems were usually dealt with after no more than a few telephone calls, to a few different people.

    As I write this, I’ve spoken to 25 separate representatives, spanning eight or ten phone calls. I’d have to check the call records to be specific, but that’s unconscionable. No company should be allowed to get away with it, and, yes, I am tempted to take my business elsewhere. But I’m also a few months ahead of the normal upgrade cycle, so I will probably hold on, and seek better deals come this fall. T-Mobile is looking mighty tempting right now, but if it ends up planning a merger with Sprint, that decision will be changed real fast.

    To take a larger look at the issue, AT&T’s problems with customer support are not atypical. It appears to be the price of a corporate merger, where support is usually given a lower priority. Just getting through to the right department at AT&T can be a chore. I’ve run into situations where the voice assistant is simply unable to detect simple requests. As a radio broadcaster with 25 years experience, I would like to think my speech is a little easier to understand, and if it fails for me, it surely fails for lots of people.

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken columnist/podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” This week Gene and Kirk talked briefly about the iTunes movie bundle sales, where you can buy 10 movies for $2 each, or individual movies for $5. Do those bundles provide top quality movies, or just a mixture of the good and the not-so-good? You also heard fearless predictions about what Apple may announce at the WWDC developer’s conference this week. Will there be new Mac notebooks, a Siri speaker? What about a surprise product that nobody anticipated? Kirk also wondered why the pre-event chatter about what might be coming has been so light.

    A contrary opinion came from tech journalist Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. Bryan felt a number of rumors have been published about Apple’s plans ahead of the event, more than usual. Gene and Bryan covered the basics, such as the new operating systems, possible new notebook computers, a Siri speaker system. Is such a gadget even needed? What about the fact that the presumed main rival, the Amazon Echo, hasn’t sold in large numbers? Or does such a product represent a focal point for Apple’s HomeKit, which allows for home automation? Gene offered an update to his ongoing customer support issues with AT&T that required, so far, talking to no less than 25 people without any positive results.

    Now as you might imagine, much of the commentary presented on the show may be outdated with the WWDC keynote. Or maybe you’ll enjoy seeing just how close we came to the actual announcements.

    Update: As reported in my original column on the AT&T support nightmare, it has been resolved to my satisfaction, mostly. I received a credit to my bill, plus an AARP discount. I’m glad it’s over, but it should never have gone this far.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a reality check for the UFO field with none other than Greg Bishop of “Radio Misterioso.” Greg’s latest book, “It Defies Language,” illustrated by noted blogger and artist Red Pill Junkie, is a collection of essays about the UFO subject and related phenomena. During this segment, Greg will join the panel in providing a hard look at the toxic state of the UFO field and what ought to be done to take research to the next level, a way to actually find solid answers to what is really going on. Gene will also bring up recent problems involving MUFON.


    The introduction of the original Apple LaserWriter, with the Adobe PostScript page description language, went a long way towards making the Mac a credible personal computer. It wasn’t just about having a pretty point-and-click interface. It was about having a genuine tool that soon came to dominate the prepress and publishing industries.

    It also went a long way towards destroying a profession, traditional typesetting, and that’s how I got involved with Macs.

    From the mid-1970s on, I earned a decent living as a typographer. I worked for small art studios, publishers, and typesetting plants. While such people used to work on machines that generated letterforms from vats of hot lead, I got involved when the industry moved to phototypesetting, where the output was generated onto photosensitive paper.

    At first, the output consisted of long galleys of type. Artists would take those galleys, and illustrations, and place them together on what was usually a piece of white cardboard mounted on an easel or a table. Hot wax and rubber cement were commonly used as adhesives, and the completed pages were converted into plates for printing.

    As the technology advanced, you were eventually able to craft simple layouts on the screen. It wouldn’t necessarily replace the pasteup artist, but the handwriting was on the wall.

    With the release of the LaserWriter, it was possible to make low resolution proofing copies of a document. The companies who built those original phototypesetters, such as CompuGraphic, sold imagesetters that generated high resolution versions of those pages for printing. Nowadays, higher resolution laser printers and similar devices can deliver decent output for printing, and even serve as print-on-demand machines when all you need are a few copies of a book or other document. I’ve actually had several books printed this way.

    With a Mac and a LaserWriter, you could essentially replace the typographer. Or give the typographer another way to deliver output as completed pages. But the production method began very much with the digital equivalent of pasting up galleys and artwork. Typographers were skilled specialists, and they earned a decent wage. But when desktop publishing took over, it allowed anyone with a modicum of skills to generate fully formatted documents, and put lots of people out of work.

    At least those who failed to master a personal computer.

    For a while, I was able to continue to work at the same wage scale by taking on additional chores, such as managing the output machines to process documents from clients. I also did my share of Mac troubleshooting to keep the shop running efficiently.

    I was able to leverage those support and troubleshooting skills, and turn them into paid writing assignments for major publishers. I mostly gave up on desktop publishing, but hung on to a few clients. Well, at least until they found someone else to do it cheaper.

    In the early days, the most popular desktop publishing app was Aldus PageMaker, launched in 1985, which essentially emulated, on your Mac’s display, the printed page. You’d format your document by placing text and graphics into position. While some level of precision was offered, it was very much about visual positioning.

    But those who came up through the ranks as typographers preferred QuarkXPress, which placed all text and picture elements in frames, allowing for more precise positioning onto a formatted document. The original Mac version of XPress was released in 1987, and I began to use it soon thereafter.

    XPress soon eclipsed PageMaker as the desktop publishing tool of choice. But Quark Inc. was notorious for poor customer support policies. In 1994, Adobe merged with Aldus, thus acquiring PageMaker. Not that it made it any better, but there were now more resources behind the app, along with a company who wanted to integrate PageMaker with other publishing apps, such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

    Quark’s fortunes really declined when the first vision of PageMaker’s successor, InDesign, was launched in 2000. By 2002, InDesign became the first native desktop publishing app for Mac OS X. QuarkXPress 6, also Mac OS X native, arrived the following year, but it didn’t help that it was offered for the full upgrade price with few, if any, new features. This is the same scheme Microsoft pulled when it ported Office for the Mac to Mac OS X.

    When InDesign became a good enough desktop publishing app, more and more people deserted XPress, and nowadays the former more or less dominates the print and publishing industries. Over the years, I read articles from artists and editors who explained how they migrated their publications to InDesign, and, for a while, I began to wonder whether Quark Inc. would become a forgotten relic of the past.

    That is not quite what happened, however. With new leadership, Quark has improved tech support, and major feature upgrades come on pretty much an annual basis nowadays.

    While I did try to format a few books and other documents in InDesign, the process always seemed to take longer than with XPress, and it never seemed quite as reliable. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree, so I wouldn’t presume to want to force that decision on anyone.

    So when I handled the desktop publishing chores for a friend’s book in 2015, I decided to return to XPress and see how it had changed over the years. I was able to get a review copy from Quark Inc., and went about my business. While there are loads of newer, more advanced publishing features, the core of XPress wasn’t altogether different from the versions I used in the old days. That level of familiarity allowed me to format the book in minutes.

    This isn’t to say XPress was necessarily the most reliable app on the planet. Far from it. InDesign isn’t perfect either, but I faced an unaccountable number of crashes opening documents in XPress. I didn’t lose any data, so it was largely an annoyance that delayed the project some.

    In that respect, little had changed. XPress had always been flaky from the earliest days. I would have hoped, after nearly three decades, that the publisher would have been able to provide a smoother experience. With last year’s release of QuarkXPress 2016, however, the stability problems appeared to have vanished. I revisted the book’s chapters, ahead of delivering a revised version, and went through the entire revision process quickly, efficiently, and without any performance hangups that I could see.

    Now in recent years, Adobe has moved to a subscription model. You can’t buy their applications, you rent them, and if you fail to pay the subscription price, they stop working. With XPress, you are paying for a retail product, a full version or an upgrade version. It will continue to run as long as it remains compatible with your computer and operating system.

    But you receive only 60 days of free support, after which support is available for $149 per year; $99 for just six months.

    Fortunately, there are decent online support resources, so you may not need to pay for the extra help. Indeed, I have used XPress for years and have never had the seek technical assistance.

    The last time I handled an XPress project, I considered how it all began. Despite all the changes and improvement over the years, the basic interface and the way I approached a task didn’t seem altogether different. I could say the same about the Mac. I tried to trace my memory back over 30 years to when I first began to use one. As much as things have changed over the years in terms of features and the look and the feel, it’s really amazing how many things Apple got right the very first time.


    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #914”

    1. DigitalCzar says:

      Hi Gene,

      Good to revisit what was called “Desktop Publishing” and it’s evolution. However, I think there is something to be pointed out about the transition from what was called “keylining” to the computer. As you point out, we pasted down with wax or rubber cement the elements of a page—the columns of type, an image box, and other elements on overlays for different colors(such as Pantone® type elements, or other art. When Pagemaker came along you “placed” elements on the page just like you did on a keyline! Along came Quark and changed all that. You had to first place a box, then fill the box, pay attention to it’s opacity or background and then deal with Quark blowing up on a random schedule with a call to Quark resulting in “We’ll fix that in the next version!” That great customer disservice that Quark was so famous for.

      On the other hand, I became the designer/AD for a magazine around 1990 and used Pagemaker. While it wasn’t perfect, it worked just like doing a keyline so the transition was pretty seamless. I never had any problem doing what I needed for the magazine. Later, with InDesign I could choose how I wanted to work, either the keyline/Pagemaker way or the Quark Box way. I’ve stayed with the Pagemaker way since it is comfortable though I have worked on various projects using Quark. For me, it comes down to personal ease of use!

      Just thought I’d offer my >$.02

    2. Dfs says:

      You might give more of a tip of the hat to Adobe PostScript. PostScript didn’t just facilitate the LaserWriter, it rescued Apple from almost certain extinction. As long as the cranky, forever-jamming dot matrix Imagewriter was the only available printer, the Mac was little more than an entertaining but outrageously expensive toy. The LaserWriter (together with the first hard disk, with its amazing storage capacity of 100 mb.) transformed it into a tool capable of doing serious work that more than justified the expense. In my own case, I could easily produce professional-looking camera-ready copy of entire books.

      • gene says:

        No dispute. But the article was more about what I remembered than about the impact of a particular technology. What would have happened to Apple had they not discovered PARC?


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