Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #527

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Gene Steinberg

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Staff member

Just about every time David Biedny does his thing on our tech show, I ask him to talk about one of his favorite applications. Usually he concentrates on a spiffy new audio plugin or a graphics product that isn’t getting a lot of play in the mainstream tech press.

So when it came to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we returned to “The David Biedny Zone,” and asked our Special Correspondent to continues his discussion about the forthcoming Apple tablet computer, his reactions to the Apple and Nokia lawsuits and then his favorite app for 2009.

That’s where things get a little difficult. While he did profile some nifty programs over the past year, none could possibly be placed in the category of a “killer app.” More to the point, David feels that creating new apps for producing things, rather than just consuming content, has seriously stagnated. Now maybe that’s part and parcel of the direction our society is taking, particularly in the U.S. where we simply don’t build things quite as much anymore. Much of the actual production chores have been moved offshore, usually somewhere in Asia or some other third world country.

But that’s as far as I’ll take political commentary, at least right now.

In another segment on the show, Opera’s Thomas Ford joined us to introduce version 10.5 of the browser, now in an early prerelease form, which holds the promise of becoming the fastest browser on the planet.

Author and commentator Kirk McElhearn delivered his own reactions to an Apple tablet computer, why computer speed no longer matters to most people and his faves and rants for 2009 and 2010.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, we present independent journalist Terry Hansen, author of “The Missing Times,” explores ongoing news media participation in the UFO Cover-up. But this discussion goes beyond that. Indeed, are we being told the truth about any of the most important events of our time? Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


As I’ve made quite clear in recent years, the flat form factor pointing device has presented problems for me, particularly when Apple builds the product. While I do recall favorable encounters with the original Ergonomic Mouse of old, the hockey pock version that premiered with the iMac was a non-starter.

Of course, that product came at a time when form definitely overwhelmed function for some of Apple’s gear, and that may have been particularly true when the Cube arrived, although the squarish form factor survived and was reimagined with the Mac mini, AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule and even Apple TV.

In any case, Apple ultimately reverted to the traditional mouse shape and size and, in response to more and more customer demands about a multibutton model, they begat the Mighty Mouse.

The Mighty Mouse, a descendant of the Apple Pro Mouse, is still available under the name Apple Mouse because of trademark issue. Indeed, it looks for all the world nearly identical to the regular mouse shipped with Macs for years, except for a tiny button used for scrolling. The entire surface consisted of a single switch that somehow could be coaxed to provide right-click functions as well, with suitable changes to the preference pane. Need I say it’s also regarded by some as one of Apple’s ten worst products of the decade.

Peculiarly, the standard preference setting only delivered single button functionality. I suppose that was done not to confuse the traditional Mac user who had grown accustomed to single buttons and Control-Clicks to provide the context menus. Indeed, many critics of the Mac and the Mac OS continue to believe that Apple only makes a mouse with a single button, and that the operating system doesn’t support extra buttons.

At the same time, Apple’s Mac market has moved portable, so they opted to make desktop input devices mimic the notebook experience as much as possible. All Apple keyboards, for example, provide a typing feel very much in tune with the MacBook. This isn’t bad. The MacBook keyboard is smooth and comfortable, and I can see Apple’s logic after a fashion. After all, why should you have to change your typing approach when switching computers?

I suppose from a productivity standpoint, it also makes sense, since even the best of us may have to take a few extra minutes to become accustomed when moving back and forth.

That may be a main reason why the Magic Mouse came to be. In size, it’s very close to the standard Apple mouse, except that the surface is all trackpad, reminiscent of a Mac notebook. While there are a few finger skills to be learned, you soon become accustomed to moving your fingers for vertical scrolling and flicking your fingers sideways to move back and forth among pages in your browser or a Finder window.

Although mechanically the surface is again a single button, in the fashion of the Mighty Mouse, you can configure the right or left side to access the context menu. Yes, you have to lift your hand slightly and reapply your hand for this function to work, but you get used to that as well.

What I couldn’t become accustomed to was the overall feel of the device. I had become comfortable with the Logitech MX Revolution, which has a raised surface, allowing my hand to embrace it rather than be placed atop something. Returning to a flat mouse seemed to cause a slight sensation of wrist pain.

Worse, the Magic Mouse’s tracking speed was much slower than that of the Logitech, meaning my fingers had to do more of the walking to move the cursor across a larger screen. Maybe it didn’t matter in the days when 13-inch displays were common, but such maneuvers on a 27-inch iMac proved especially irritating.

Indeed, the slow cursor movement — or at least slow compared to the Logitech — may be one significant factor that caused additional wrist strain, since I had to exercise the muscles more to achieve the same result. However, I may have found a solution.

There are several utilities, serving as preference panes, which accelerate cursor movement on an Apple mouse. The one I settled on is More Magic. It has a single function, and that’s to put Magic Mouse tracking on steroids, and it does that with simple elegance.

So now a simple flick of my wrist is sufficient to transport the cursor from one end of my iMac’s screen to the other. The reduced movement means greater mouse comfort, and thus may make it possible for me to become accustomed to Apple’s fancy new input device.

Well maybe. It will take a few days of regular use before I can make a final decision. I do want to give my wrists sufficient opportunity to become acclimated to a changed mouse form factor. Then we’ll see.

Meantime, I have to wonder why it is that Apple has saddled its own mouse with a much slower tracking speed than the competition, even when placed at its higher setting. I know I’m not the only person to complain about this, and no it doesn’t impact precision, because a properly designed cursor movement system will accelerate larger movements while providing efficient slower movements for close quarter functions.

All told, I can’t say the Magic Mouse is poised to become my favorite pointing device. On the other hand, it feels a lot more comfortable to use now that tracking speed is decent. Yes, you can control mouse acceleration and other factors via a Terminal command, but I chose a preference pane out of simplicity. In the end, though, it’s really Apple’s problem to fix and it doesn’t make sense to see tracking speed being capped in this fashion.

What say you Apple?


Hollywood has had a banner year at the box office on the strength of a number of movies that have attracted large crowds, such as “Avatar” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and even the reinvigorated and reimagined “Star Trek.” Of course, I should mention the fact that ticket prices continue to rise.

But a former star of the Hollywood revenue sweepstakes has begun to lag. DVD sales are down, although Blu-ray, the high-definition version, has managed to compensate to some extent. But many regard the true successor as the movie download.

You can buy or rent movies from iTunes and a number of other suppliers, even high definition versions if you’re willing to be patient for the multi-gigabyte file to arrive on your Mac or PC. But assuming you have the bandwidth to handle the traffic, streaming might be a suitable compromise; that is, if you’re prepared for the tradeoffs.

The Steinberg family has subscribed to Netflix for years. While the main competitor, Blockbuster, has been closing retail outlets while struggling to provide mail order equivalency, Netflix remains on a positive growth curve, as more and more members sign up, and fewer numbers leave the service.

The latest wrinkle in Netflix’s arsenal to remain relevant is a free streaming service for members. Rather than have any of the tens of thousands of DVDs shipped to your home, you can opt for instant gratification, although the selection is far smaller.

The Watch Instantly service includes a large number of second-string or older movie titles, along with a healthy repertoire of more recent TV fare. Regardless, all you have to do is to log into your Netflix account and select movies to watch on your Mac or PC, or queue them to be retrieved later on a device, such as a Blu-ray player, which supports Netflix.

Recently, with the cooperation of LG Electronics, I set up one of their high-end BD390 Blu-ray players. Now this slick deck, which usually sells for less than $300 at most consumer electronics outlets, offers glorious high definition pictures, and does a pretty decent job of scaling up standard DVDs. In fact, from the normal viewing distance, you may find it difficult to detect the difference except on an exceptionally large flat screen. Even then, just immerse yourself in the experience and don’t fret over the fine details.

When it comes to retrieving a Netflix stream, there are two ways to network. One is traditional Ethernet, but I opted not to go through the bother of laying a cable from office to master bedroom. Instead, I took advantage of the BD390’s built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi feature, and logged into my network.

Although picture quality might suffer somewhat when you opt for wireless, the compromised version seems perfectly acceptable. Consider the action thriller “The International,” which features Clive Owen in his usual grumpy role as an Interpol investigator seeking evidence about a criminal banking empire. Static and slow-moving images were exceedingly sharp. But you could clearly see digital artifacts during rapid movements of characters and objects, or when the camera was panning over a large scene. Sound quality is very good regardless, and the image resolution was still far better than what you’d encounter in the old days of VHS, although it was clearly inferior to a properly rendered DVD.

I expect picture quality will improve over time, as the delivery software and encoding techniques are refined. It won’t hurt to use a wired connection, although the quality display icon indicated I was pretty near the maximum display quality anyway.

Indeed, five years from now, I fully expect most anyone with decent broadband bandwidth will be able to download a full HDTV movie for streaming or storage without suffering from the experience. The days of physical DVDs are truly numbered, and services such as Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature are just going to hasten the changeover.

But so long as Hollywood recoups its investments in new product and earns healthy profits, it shouldn’t matter how we receive their fare, so long as the method is legal.


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