• Newsletter Issue #922

    July 31st, 2017


    Whatever Apple announces for its iPhone lineup this fall, will the upgrade be worth it? That depends on your needs and expectations. Besides, hasn’t it reached a point where such gear is mostly good enough?

    Take the iPhone 6. Does the iPhone 7 offer any significant advantage? Sure. you can list dozens of improvements, but how many of them are really worth the bother? The new model is much faster than the old one, so the interface will be snappier, but isn’t the older model fast enough? The camera is better, although you probably won’t notice much of a difference with snapshots taken in normal lighting.

    All right, the Portrait Mode of the iPhone 7 Plus is quite a useful addition, if you’re into taking portraits of course. While I’ve dabbled with photography over the years, it’s not a feature that, itself, would be worth the cost. 3D Touch and the other fancy features work well enough, I suppose, but the number of people who really benefit is pitifully small.

    Besides, even the iPhone 5s can be upgraded to iOS 11. And don’t forget that the older iPhones still have headphone jacks, if that’s important to you.

    That takes us to this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where outspoken commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen talked with Gene about Apple’s sudden decision to discontinue the iPod Nano and the iPod Shuffle, leaving the iPod touch as the only model left in a product lineup that debuted in 2001 and changed Apple’s direction. There was a lengthy discussion about the announced decision of Foxconn — who builds iPhones and other Apple gadgets in China — to open up an LCD plant in Wisconsin. After previous failed promises, will this factory really come to be? The discussion moved on to the endless speculation about an iPhone 8, as Peter explained that he’s still happy with his iPhone 6. And what about the future of the Apple TV? Does it have unrealized potential?

    In a special encore appearance, you also heard from ethical hacker Dr. Timothy Summers, President of Summers & Company, a cyber strategy and organizational design consulting firm. Tim offered a comprehensive look at the recent WannaCry ransomware attack that targeted hundreds of thousands of institutions and businesses around the world using Windows XP. This attack targeted a Windows flaw that has been patched by Microsoft. You also learned more about the ongoing prospects of bitcoin, the controversial digital currency that is still regarded as a viable alternative payment system.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host J. Randall Murphy present Dr. Irena Scott, author of “UFOs Today: 70 Years of Lies, Disinformation, and Government Cover-Up.” She takes us on a fascinating journey through the early days of the UFO mystery dating from the Kenneth Arnold sighting to later events, and how the government has treated these reports over the years. The book also covers the complexity of the phenomena, which has contributed to the difficulty and controversy in conducting this field of research. Dr. Scott’s work experience includes stints at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the DMA Aerospace Center. She has also written numerous articles for UFO and paranormal publications.


    This really ages me, but I got my first car in 1967. I didn’t actually buy it; it was given to me by a relative, a 1957 Chevrolet sedan. There was no air conditioning, and the car had a three speed manual transmission. Yes, there was a decent radio.

    Had the car survived for a few years, it might have had some value, but it was well worn, very well worn. Even the upholstery was torn, and I was never given a satisfactory explanation as to what happened.

    Since I grew up in New York City, driving was not a major factor for me. There was plenty of public transportation, and city streets were so crowded that having a car would be a needless expense. Indeed, my dad didn’t buy his own car until he was in his early 70s, and then only because my stepmother wanted him to be able to take some road trips.

    I moved south, and I was living in Tuscumbia, Alabama, working at a local radio station. There was no public transportation to speak of, other than costly taxi cabs. So I needed that car to commute, and I dutifully signed up for driving lessons.

    I passed the state exam on the second try; I was just too nervous the first time out to listen to the tester, so I ignored one or two of his directives. With my first driver’s license in my wallet, I went about my business, mostly using the car to drive to and from the radio station, and for shopping. The first long trip proved a bit much, however, as the car’s engine began to sputter. I stumbled home. The next morning, it failed to start, and so I had it towed to a garage, where I was given the bad news. While it was fixable and all, the price wouldn’t be worth it. Might as well see if I could trade it in for something better.

    The first car I ever purchased was a brand new 1967 Opel Kadett two-door coupe. It had a yellow body, with a black vinyl interior. The sole option was a cheap AM radio that was mounted at the bottom of the dash. It also had front seat belts, and thus I formed a lifetime habit of always keeping them buckled.

    In those days Opel was sold through Buick dealerships, and they were willing to take the Chevy to cover the small downpayment, leaving me with an affordable monthly bill for the next three years.

    In a sense, that Opel formed the basic profile of most of the cars I’ve acquired since. While I’ve owned or leased a few two-door coupes since then, most were compact or mid-sized four-door sedans. I never took to large cars, since they were often ungainly when it came to handling, at least in those days. I’ve gone through American, German, Japanese and South Korean vehicles, but the brand I kept returning to was VW.

    Now when you mention the country in which a automaker is based, that hardly means much anymore. They are mostly multinational corporations with stockholders around the world. You cannot even depend on the vehicle actually being built in the country in which a company has its headquarters.

    So a so-called all-American car may be partly built in Canada or Mexico. I recall a Pontiac being assembled in Australia, and GM has routinely sourced Buicks and Cadillacs from factories in Germany and elsewhere. Even though GM no longer owns the Opel subsidiary, that division designed and built the recent Buick Regals. While some were built in the U.S., the 2018 model will, once again, be assembled by Opel in Germany, even though its now owned by Peugeot.

    When you check out a new car, the sticker will display the portion of the vehicle sourced from a particular company. Indeed, the Honda Accord, exclusively assembled in the U.S., probably has the most American content of any car you can buy. Most major car brands have U.S. plants, but different parts will come from other locations.

    So VW builds the Passat sedan and the new Atlas SUV at its plant in Chattanooga, TN, but some parts are made elsewhere. Engines are built in Mexico, where other VW vehicles, including the entry-level Jetta sedan, are also assembled.

    The one and only South Korean car I ever owned, a Kia, was actually built in West Point, Georgia.

    So actually buying a car that completely originates from a particular country is not always a given. All right, Jaguar, owned by Tata Motors of India, is assembled in Birmingham, UK. The owner of Volvo, Geely, is based in China The main factory is still located in Sweden, although different models may actually be assembled in China.

    As the industry gravitates towards electric vehicles, hybrid or all-electric, such as the Tesla, the U.S. market is also moving towards larger vehicles. If you look at the sales figures, you’ll see that crossovers, SUVs and trucks are ascendant. Compacts and mid-sized sedans are losing their luster, and forget about large cars.

    Low fuel prices have encouraged Americans to drive large.

    But that’s not me; it’s never been me. When it comes to trucks, I’ve only driven them two or three times,  smaller rental vehicles suitable for moving. I realize many of you love trucks, but the experience was always uncomfortable for me. The maneuvers that I’d easily make in one of those smaller cars were difficult and time-consuming with a truck. I just never felt very safe.

    Yes, I realize it’s a matter of experience, and if I had been driving trucks and large sedans over the years, I might sing a different tune.

    On the other hand, if you are also frugal about buying a smaller vehicle with decent fuel economy, this is a buyer’s market. Faced with declining sales, dealers are discounting them heavily. Even a new car is more affordable than ever because manufacturers are giving dealers incentives of several thousand dollars to move inventory. It almost reminds you of the race to the bottom in the PC world, outside of Apple, where they sell them cheaper and cheaper to sustain volume and  keep the cash flowing in.

    I don’t know how an auto maker can earn a profit when a car is discounted 15% or more. It has to be all about volume, and so long as profits are decent — and factory workers keep their jobs — I suppose it’s all right.

    Now I was forced to consider the situation when I had an unexpected need for a car last month. A pickup truck had a disagreement with my car, which ended up the worse in that mishap. It was a nearly head-on collision, which wrecked the front end of my well-used VW. While it was totaled, the car’s safety features. including working air bags, did their job, but, according to the police, the seat belts kept me from flying out the window.

    Although my back, neck and shoulders were bruised during the accident, I’m happy to still be here to write about it.

    So when I looked for a bargain in a preowned VW, I found a wealth of choices, all heavily discounted. Of course, VW has also suffered heavily from the dieselgate scandal, in which the authorities caught them faking emissions tests on such vehicles using software tricks. It’s costing them over $20 billion, and they deserve what they got, although it now appears other auto makers may have engaged in similar fakery with diesel vehicles. What this means, of course, is that the discounts at a VW store are often larger than for other makes.

    That said, a car with a diesel engine isn’t on my shopping list. But a VW compact sedan with a conventional internal combustion engine is, because they usually have top-notch safety records, and I can attest to that from personal experience.

    Yes, I know I’m way out of touch as far as the trends in the auto market are concerned. But I just don’t care!


    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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