Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #528

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Gene Steinberg

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We’ve updated all our forums yet again! The new software upgrade, vBulletin 4.0, is designed to deliver a smoother interface and a better experience for all members. But we’ve really fallen down on promoting the tech forums, and maybe you’re not aware they even exist. So here’s your chance to get involved. Just use this link to check out our online community and join: The Tech Night Owl LIVE Community Forums.


Do you care about a right-click? Indeed, I am willing to bet that most Mac users aren’t aware that feature even exists, and that it’s used to access the Mac OS contextual menu, unless they worked with Windows. While Microsoft offered the right or secondary click early on, it took years for Apple to adopt the feature. The Mac was all about discoverability, and how can you discover something that’s hidden beneath a special keystroke or alternate mouse function?

So when it came to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we asked author and commentator Joe Kissell to discuss the history of the one-button mouse and why you really want a right-click function. Even better, all Apple input devices in recent years, beginning with the Mighty Mouse (now Apple Mouse) have incorporated that function, except that Apple has it turned off by default. Go figure.

We also featured Paul Kent, General Manager of the Macworld Expo, who detailed the plans for their 2010 trade show in the wake of Apple’s decision not to take part anymore. Indeed it seems that the Expo, set for February of this year, already has enough reservations to match last year’s preregistrations. Actually, I might even attend this year. I’ll let you know in case any of you readers want to meet me in person.

In the final segment of the show, Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths answered the inevitable Apple tablet question, explained why he still can’t stand glossy screens on his Macs, covered the Google/HTC Next One smartphone and revealed his verdict on the latest versions of those Mac virtual machine apps.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, we discuss the incredibly frightening “dark side” of the UFO abduction phenomenon is presented by Butch Witkowski, Chief Investigator for MUFON Pennsylvania. During this episode, he’ll report on the Todd Sees incident, an apparent example of human mutilation with a cause that appears to be unknown. 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.


When a company becomes set in its ways, the door to potential disaster looms. This may well be why Chrysler and GM had to run to the government for a bailout when the market changed right under them, whereas Ford, which had executives with greater foresight, we ready to cope with the economic downturn and its aftermath.

There are also general agreement among more and more members of the tech media that Microsoft has also turned itself into one huge dinosaur, and they are struggling to make the company relevant for the 21st century. This explains why they continue to look for ways to move beyond the core operating system, office suite and server business and expand their consumer electronics and search offerings.

Microsoft’s problem, however, is that they have no taste. They continue to believe that simply adding features is the proper approach to building better products and services. What their executives don’t understand that the new features have to actually enhance functionality, not just add to the complexity or provide useless eye candy.

Take the Bing search system. I suppose the name is designed to convey a eureka moment of some sort, but it ends up having no significance in a world where the major player in search, Google, has become a verb. More to the point, recent tests indicate that Bing tries to outsmart Google in some of its search results, but ends up only making the process less intuitive and helpful.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has taken important and significant steps to make the operating system a little snappier and less bug prone. It is also said to be more resilient to malware, and all that should have been sufficient to convince the skeptics who avoided Vista to seriously consider upgrading.

However, the marketing people no doubt decided that you can’t sell upgrades at Microsoft’s usually excessive retail prices unless you can tout new features too. So they also added more needless visual complexities, including a faux Dock, which do not necessarily make the OS any easier to use. By piling on extra junk, and changing things that didn’t need to be changed, such as the classic menu bar system (which first went away in Vista), they only end up confusing customers. Yes, you can bring back those old-fashioned menus. But why change them in the first place?

Worse, they didn’t consider the plight of millions upon millions of customers who stuck — or downgraded to — XP. Rather than offer an easy upgrade path, each and every one of these customers will have to perform clean installations. Sure, hard drives can be quickly reimaged at larger companies, but for regular people it means backing up data to another drive, installing Windows 7 and then restoring everything else.

So maybe Microsoft’s hardware partners simply decreed that they’d prefer to sell you new PCs, so it shouldn’t be too easy for XP users to just upgrade. That, my friends, is a theory, but one that surely makes sense, since Microsoft knows from where most of its income originates.

But let’s not let Apple off the hook.

As Joe Kissell reminded us during last week’s tech show, Apple seems to have problems accepting the right-click, or secondary click, function. Yes, the Mighty Mouse and Magic Mouse have offered the feature, but it’s turned off by default in System Preferences. Indeed, I recall a local businessman exhibiting utter amazement that a right-click was available to him on his spanking new 27-inch iMac.

In addition to keeping the Secondary Click function off by default in the Mouse preference pane (and the Trackpad as well on Mac notebooks), Apple sets tracking speeds way too slow to provide smooth cursor movement across a large display. The first thing I do when setting up a new Mac is to switch it to its fastest setting. With a 27-inch screen, that’s still insufficient. Several freeware and shareware utilities, including More Magic, speed tracking to a sensible level, one that requires less wrist movement and hence makes you less injury prone.

In fact, since installing More Magic on my iMac, I’ve actually been able to actually use the Magic Mouse with reasonable comfort. The aching wrists are now history, so I have been able to avoid switching back to a Logitech mouse for the time being. What’s strange about the whole thing is that mouse acceleration of this sort is trivial to implement. If Apple is so concerned about startling customers, all they have to do is provide an alternate Accelerated Tracking mode and be done with it.

Of course, users of the Classic Mac OS can recall lots of other features that Apple decided, for reasons not always clear to anyone outside the company, to abandon. I won’t get into the whys and wherefores right now, except to say that, sometimes in the interests of guaranteeing simplicity and discoverability, Apple can end up behaving in a peculiarly brain-dead fashion.

Certainly you can see that in their approach to building hardware and adding features.

I like the 27-inch iMac’s glossy screen, and I can say the same for my 17-inch MacBook Pro. But I also understand that many people are unable to tolerate glossy screens, either due to room reflections or just the inability to tune those images out. It doesn’t matter why, but Apple ought to make it easier to go matte. The option is there for the MacBook Pro, but not for the iMac, where the larger screen may create greater opportunities for trouble.

All right, you can buy plastic overlays that deliver a non-glossy effect, but they are extremely difficult to set up properly on a larger screen, and they shouldn’t be needed in the first place.

I also wonder why Apple ditched the ExpressCard34 slot on the MacBook Pro, except for the 17-inch version. Now maybe only a few people needed that sort of connection port, but why not at least offer it as an option on the build-to-order list? What about the lack of FireWire on the regular MacBook? Does that make sense to you? What happens to the people who want a MacBook but also have FireWire peripherals at hand and now can’t use them?

Apple’s continued success is the stuff of legend. I expect they’ll sell loads of tablet computers solely on their reputation for building insanely-great products. But they can also be downright infuriating and rigid in the way hardware and software is designed, and don’t get me started about their corporate communications policies.


I have to tell you that I’m not responsible for the title of this article. The credit goes to Sirius/XM Radio’s Lynn Samuels, one of the most honest talk show hosts you’ll find anywhere. Clearly she isn’t buying the new technology, and I’m pretty skeptical too.

Now understand that I am a fan of “Avatar.” It is without doubt the 3D movie ever made, and there is no better advertisement for seeing a flick in a real theater along with a large audience. This is one awesome shared experience, particularly when you consider the way in which they seamlessly melded live action and CGI. It’s quite hard to guess where one leaves off and the other begins, except for the aliens and the alien landscape of course.

Instead of startling you with eye-popping effects, as has been done with 3D since the days of “The House of Wax” in the 1950s, writer/director Jim Cameron, with the help of an estimated $300 million in cold cash, found a way to make 3D a totally immersive experience. For once in the cinema, you actually feel you’re watching real people on the screen, rather than the 2D versions with which we have been accustomed all our lives.

Naturally, the entertainment and consumer electronics industries lust after bringing that same experience into your home, so they can clean up financially by selling you new Blu-ray 3D DVDs and TVs. But are you ready to replace your gear and start all over again?

More to the point, what about the convenience and usefulness of this mad scheme? You see, the most popular methods of delivering a 3D experience in your home are the same ones that you used nearly 50 years ago, which means you have to wear those silly glasses when you’re watching one of those movies or TV shows. Sure, the best products have fancy frames, and you can fit them with prescription lenses if you like, but can you imagine the mad scramble if you happen to misplace yours just as the movie is about to start?

Do the consumer electronics and entertainment industries really expect you to be comfortable about using 3D glasses constantly in order to see the picture properly? This may be all right for the rare occasion when the family is seated in front of the set for a shared experience, but most people keep the TV on in the background, moving from one household chore to another while catching a brief segment before getting on with their business. This constant placement and removal of 3D specs routine is going to get tired real fast.

Worse, there is actually not a single 3D standard yet. Yes, the Blu-ray people have one in place, but not the consumer electronics makers. Would a TV set with one 3D scheme be able to parse the content of shows created with yet another? It seems that the electronics makers are so busy figuring out methods to extract a couple of thousand dollars extra from you when you buy a 3D set, they forgot the fundamentals of comfort and convenience.

The reason that flat panel TVs took off so quickly is because they are no harder to use than any other TV. The Blu-ray DVD player simply replaces the regular DVD decks, although you may have to get used to HDMI cables rather than the standard connection schemes of old. The biggest shortcoming of HDTV these days is actually the fact that some of you aren’t really connected to a high definition source yet, though that’s changing pretty fast, since cable and satellite providers charge very little extra for the additional content. And you can also receive HD stations free, over the air, in most cities in the U.S.

In the end, there may be a 3D TV in your future, but I think it will be most successful with methods that do not require special glasses to view the content in its full multidimensional and immersive glory. Yes, I enjoyed “Avatar” on a 3D screen at the local multiplex, and if I have to wear special lenses to see it at home, that’s well and good. But, aside from these rare events, I’ll be back to 2D, and so will most of you.

Maybe those greedy companies will get the message when those spiffy and costly new products simply don’t sell in the numbers they expect. Maybe then they’ll devise a method that really works!


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