TV-PGSeptember 24, 2004: Apple issues a repair extension program for PowerBooks afflicted with display leprosy. Meanwhile, a few hundred bucks more gets you an iPod mini covered in a thousand shiny crystals, and a "design anomaly" in a Windows-based radio system nearly causes an 800-plane midair collision...
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Go Forth And Be Spotless (9/24/04)

They say good things come to those who wait, but they never say you might be twiddling your thumbs until they just plumb fall off. Still, though, a good thing is a good thing, even if you wait the better part of a year to get it. Announcing, ladles and gentlemints, the 15-inch PowerBook G4 Display Repair Extension Program, otherwise known as Apple's Cure for PowerBook Leprosy, the hot portable affliction of late 2003. Applaud if you must, but take care not to clap too hard; there's no evidence that PowerBook leprosy is communicable to humans, but why risk fingers flying all over the room?

Anyway, you remember this, right? Lots of people who bought the long-awaited aluminum 15-inch PowerBook (and even some who bought the earlier titanium models) soon noticed that their displays were coming in a little... patchy. Over time, the lighter spots grew worse and worse, and while we never heard any reports of a screen actually falling off if the condition were left untreated, we remain convinced that Almighty Jobs somehow-- and possibly inadvertently-- smote some of his flock with a laptop variant of that most versatile of biblical plagues, leprosy. Payback for impure thoughts about Sony VAIO subnotebooks or something.

Okay, sure, technically Apple's been curing this disease under the guise of "warranty repair" for ages, now, so it's not so much the cure that's new, but the big public "Whoops!" See, repair extension programs basically continue to cover repairs of specific known problems for a certain time beyond the hardware's original warranty period. In this case, Apple is agreeing to heal those spotty white screens up to two years after the PowerBook was first purchased, which is essentially tacking an extra year on the warranty as far as PowerBook leprosy is concerned. It's more or less Apple saying "hey-- we screwed something up, but we're willing to do the right thing, here."

So here's the scoop: if you've got a 15-inch PowerBook with a serial number that falls between V7334xxxxxx and V7345xxxxxx or QT331xxxxxx and QT339xxxxxx, just follow Apple's simple instructions to determine whether or not your Mac is one of the unclean. If you do see spots before your eyes (oooh, it's like a Rorschach blot-- we see a man in a big suit doing the splits!), call Apple and they'll arrange a no-cost repair. They'll even foot the bill for shipping both ways; you can't get fairer than that. Actually, yes, you can: just as with that iBook Logic Board repair extension program from earlier in the year, if it so happens that you've already shelled out crazy ducats to have the spots problem fixed on an out-of-warranty unit, Apple will actually reimburse you said crazy ducats, making the repair free retroactively. So you can't get fairer than that.

By the way, if the white spots appear even when your PowerBook's off, you're not covered by the repair extension program. But the good news is, the problem won't recur if you learn to use the Delete key instead of correcting your typos with Wite-Out.

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The Shiny Just Got Shinier (9/24/04)

Still jealous of Sean "I Actually Tell People To Call Me 'P.Diddy' Entirely of My Own Volition" Combs's diamond-encrusted iPod? Well, stop it, Junior, because now you can out-bling The Artist Formerly Known As "Puff-Daddy" and you don't even have to get Hewlett-Packard panting after you for an endorsement deal to do it. Check it out, folks; as mentioned at MacMinute, the Crystalmini®. We may not be much for the jewel-studded look in general (we blame a freak childhood BeDazzler accident that left us emotionally scarred for life), but the Divine Fashion Plates in our audience assure us that the Crystalmini is officially smoove wif a capital smoo.

Consider the many ways in which the Crystalmini is superior blingwise to the P.Diddy iced-up hPod: first of all, whereas the DiddyPod has only 120 diamonds, the Crystalmini boasts "about 1,000 Swarovski Crystals," the better to blind the plebs with. The DiddyPod's diamonds also happen to be arranged in the shape of the (gag) HP logo, which detracts from its Style Quotient considerably. In contrast, the Crystalmini is studded all over, and you can even have one made to order with different-colored crystals to depict a logo or design you specify. (Check out the leopard-print one to get a sense of the possibilities.) There's also the fact that even the unadorned iPod mini is currently 30% hipper than its big brother, and we assume that factor carries over to the blinged-up versions.

Cons? Well, sure, there are cons; for one thing, P.Diddy got his hPod for free, whereas you're going to have to drop between $699 and $899 for a Crystalmini. For another, the DiddyPod's diamonds and one-of-a-kind status probably mean that when Mr. Combs's fifteen minutes finally go poof and he hits rock-bottom, he'll probably be able to hock it for a lot more than you'll be able to get for your Crystalmini when you inevitably land in the gutter. And let's not forget the difference in storage space, here; after all, these things are music players, don'tcha know, and Diddy will be able to cart around ten times as much tuneage as you. (We assume HP gave him the 40 GB version, because slapping diamonds on the cheap model would just be silly.) Then again, you'll have over eight times as many little shiny things on your 'Pod than he will, so it all sort of evens out.

The point is, if you're willing to pay almost three or four times the normal retail price for your iPod mini, you can get one that'll turn even more heads than the vanilla model will-- and that's saying something. And yes, yours will, in fact, be cooler than P.Diddy's HP-branded party favor. You may not want to show it off in front of him, though; there was that whole "weapons charges" thing a few years back, the acquittal notwithstanding. At least make sure you have some good witnesses.

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"System Crash"-- Literally (9/24/04)

You know what the hardest part of Wildly Off-Topic Microsoft-Bashing Day is? It's figuring out which plotline to incorporate, because there's always a bucketful of Redmond-spawned nightmares from which to choose. Take today, for example; do we go with faithful viewer Frozen Tundra's suggestion, and discuss how Microsoft used its AutoUpdate program to fix-- what else?-- AutoUpdate itself? After all, there's something delightfully absurdist about an update that "fixes an error in the AutoUpdate download progress bar, which did not accurately display the progress of the download" and warns people that, "while this update is downloading, the progress bar might not accurately display the status." Shades of the old PC BIOS error "No keyboard detected; press ENTER to continue."

Or we could just take the ol' "less secure than a bank vault locked with a pancake" route and go with faithful viewer Fringe's note that, according to ComputerWorld, "nearly 5,000 new Windows viruses and worms were documented in the first half of 2004, up from about 1,000 in the same period a year earlier." Beyond simply representing a 400% increase, as Fringe so astutely points out, 5,000 viruses divided by 183 days (half a year) gives us 27.3224 new viruses per day, or more than one virus an hour every hour since your last New Year's hangover. Meaning that, if using Mac OS X is like, say, breathing through a mask in a sterile operating room of a top-rated internationally-known hospital, then Windows is roughly equivalent to licking every surface in a gas station bathroom and then kissing former Mötley Crüe drummer and spokesman Tommy Lee full on the mouth.

In the end, though, we think we're going to have to skip Goofy and drive right past Gross; we're taking the exit straight to the little town of Terrifying this week, because few things can drive home the point of just how bad an idea Windows can be like a tale of near-death from above. It was tough, but we actually managed to sit on the story that faithful viewer Andy Van Buren sent us ages ago, so here it is for WO-TM-BD: according to Techworld (which in turn cites an LA Times story from a week ago), the Windows-based radio system for an air traffic control center in Southern California took a three-hour coffee break recently, leaving "800 planes in the air without contact to air traffic control." But hey, how dangerous could that possibly be?

Well, luckily none of those 800 planes decided to get too friendly with each other, but reportedly there were "at least five cases" where incommunicado aircraft "came too close to one another" as air traffic controllers could only look on and do that body english thing where you try to get the ball to hook by sheer force of will after it's halfway down the lane. Apparently they used their own personal cell phones to alert controllers at other facilities, but basically, the radio system crash had left them with zero direct control over what planes went where-- which eventually led to three controllers filing "job injury claims as a result of the stress."

So what caused the outage? Technically it was "human error," in that some guy who's no doubt currently working on his résumé forgot to reboot the Windows servers. But the reason he was supposed to reboot them in the first place is because of "a 'design anomaly' in the way Microsoft Windows servers were integrated into the system" last year to replace the original UNIX servers. Okay, so now how stupid is this? Apparently "the servers are timed to shut down after 49.7 days of use in order to prevent a data overload," which is why personnel are supposed to restart the system manually once a month to prevent the forced shutdown from happening. There was a backup system in place, but that cratered, too, due to a (ahem) "software failure." Hence, no talkie with the big flying things.

Far be it from us to imply that the "design anomaly" was the fault of Windows itself; more likely it was the software running on top of it, though of course we can't say for sure. What we can say is that anyone who'd actually make the reckless choice to design a mission-critical, absolutely-can't-fail-or-people-could-die system around Windows instead of UNIX is probably going to be pretty prone to introducing "design anomalies" in the first place. And while we'd never wish a midair plane crash on anyone, part of us can't help but suspect that if anything can get the Windoid lemmings to consider that "hey, maybe this operating system kindasorta sucks rocks out loud," it would be a fiery hail of twisted, screaming metal and black and red body parts pummelling the tarmac at LAX. Will a near-miss or two be enough of a wake-up call? We sure hope so.

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