Residential Comcast service is pretty objectively terrible for most power users and hobbyists, even if it does meet the needs of most less-technical consumers (although that may be less of the case as Internet use continues to grow…) Residential High-Speed Internet has a 250GB/month maximum contractual limit on your combined bandwidth transfer. If the sum of your uploaded and downloaded bandwidth exceeds 250GB, you’ll receive a warning; multiple of these in a 12-month period will result in you being banned from the Internet for a year unless you go find another provider. Before I started doing more technology-related hobbies and projects at home, I wasn’t that close to hitting the cap (my experience similar to his) but over the course of the year my bandwidth use has ramped up to the point where I was about to get cut off.
June was worse, but I don’t have a bandwidth graph available for it anymore unfortunately. My uploads have been ticking up, too – I’m running a telepresence system and hosting several web sites now, in addition to my normal Netflix-streaming and online activities. So it was time to upgrade to Comcast Business-Class Internet. I’m on the Premium package, offering 22Mbps download and 5Mbps upload compared with residential service which was offering up to 12Mbps download and 2Mbps upload.
Business Internet is running on an entirely different technology stack. It uses a different block of frequencies and the DOCSIS 3.0 standard to deliver dedicated bandwidth. The contention ratio for the connections is about 1/10 that of residential connections. The speed advertised is the minimum guaranteed speed, not the maximum speed possible by demand; the actual maximum is determined by contention on the node. And there’s no bandwidth caps.
Because I’m on a primarily residential node with either 0 or 1 other customers on the same service class, I’m getting a bunch of bandwidth extra for free:
San Jose, CA:
I’m seeing about a 30% premium in downstream and a >100% in upstream for close-by targets, and even a 25% increase for long-distance links.
Don’t get me wrong, I still despise everything Comcast does as a result of their cozy revolving door relationship with their Washington regulators but in Seattle, there’s exactly one credible option for Internet service, and if you want to play you’ll play by their rules. This service might be better in a lot of ways, but it’s still terrible on principle.
If you’re like me, you probably find it terribly annoying when an annotation appears automatically over a YouTube video. They stick around until you dismiss them and block the view.
It’s possible to disable them for all videos by default, though. You need to be logged into your Google account (since it’s an account preference), once there, it’s an option under Playback Setup:
Uncheck “Always show captions” and “Show annotations” to keep them from popping up. You can re-enable them on a per-video basis by clicking the button along the bottom of the viewer.
Following up on my complaint about Netflix streaming not having enough content, I’ve discovered something even more annoying: apparently content that’s previously been there is rotated or otherwise phased out.
I’d been working on translating the Greek text from the Japanese TV show via Netflix Streaming, but got sidetracked and didn’t get through the entire thing. When I went to go through a few more episodes today, I was helpfully greeted with this:
Not only is there a limited selection, apparently it’s not even consistent.
There’s a lot of uproar about the Netflix price increases lately. I ditched my Cable TV subscription about 6 months ago and haven’t looked back, relying on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and television network sites to watch the shows over the Internet. Personally, I don’t care all that much as I’m not on a DVD plan – but I’m starting to think about cancelling my streaming-only service. It’s easy to use and has good video quality…but never has the content I’m looking for.
I jumped on their search for a quick check of what I could come up with. I searched for programs I’ve thought about/heard about/read about/talked about/remembered in the last week or two. The results?
- Babylon 5 (1994-1998) – Nope
- Futurama (1999-)- Partial (Stops at 2009)
- Harry Potter – Nope (Not a single one)
- Independence Day (1996) - Nope
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-2009) – Nope
- Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) - Partial (only part 1/3)
- Shrek Anything - Nope (and I shudder to realize there are in fact 8 Shrek movies)
- The Walking Dead (2010) – Nope
- V (1980s or 2010) – Nope
That’s a set of largely mainstream programming spanning several genres and market segments but they’re all long-running well rated television shows and several critically acclaimed high-performing feature films. And they’re not available. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of options for getting the content – I can buy it on DVD, but for something I’m only interested in watching once every few years, spending $50 on a DVD Box Set isn’t a good bet. (Not to mention, who uses physical media anymore?) It’s not available anywhere else for legitimate streaming, either. This leaves me with two options: don’t consume that content or download it from a file-sharing site. I find BitTorrent annoying for many reasons, so end up not doing anything followed by writing about it on the Internet.
Netflix really does need to do something, though. I haven’t actually used my subscription in the last 3 months because nothing I wanted to watch was available. It’s not going to make much sense to keep paying for something I “might” use for much longer. Netflix may end up losing another customer – not because of the price hikes, but because the news about the price hikes has made me really evaluate how much value I’m actually getting from the service. The answer seems to be “not much” – and since the monthly fee is about equal to two cups of morning coffee, that’s really not a very glowing endorsement.
We’re living in an age where we’re inundated with communication and information all the time. Smartphones are expected to exceed 50% of all cell phones in circulation this year and with that, millions of people will join the already large ranks of the constantly connected. A smartphone in your pocket brings voice and text, along with personal and corporate e-mail, video chat, instant messaging and social networking to you with always-on push notification in addition to pulled services like navigation and search.
We’re constantly being bombarded with attempts to reach us, but the software we use to manage these attempts hasn’t really caught up. Google Voice takes a stab at organizing voice and text-messaging, providing a number that can deliver messages to your mobile device or to any web browser and offering up the ability to set rules, ring groups, calling times and default behaviors per-caller but there’s no good solution for the other items. For example: I wake up in the morning, and see my phone will have a few notifications. Typically, a few text messages, e-mails on both my personal and work accounts, and frequently several instant messages or a missed call or two. That’s a lot of messages to sort through, and the phone’s default behavior of handling all incoming notifications from any source exactly the same way just doesn’t match the way I want to organize my interactions.
I’d like my phone to be able to decide what to do with a message automatically based on rules I set up. Rules that let my device decide what to alarm about based on the day and time, the sender, the medium and keywords in the message. “Don’t make noise for incoming messages between Midnight and 5AM unless it’s from a priority group, in which case make extra noise”, “automatically send all unknown number calls to voicemail”, “always alarm for boss phone call even if otherwise muted”. Right now, all the settings are either on or off all the time: either notifications make noise, or they don’t. I either miss things I don’t want to miss, or am woken up by alerts for spam e-mails. I think we’re just slightly too early for this kind of granularity, but I expect it’ll catch on soon.
Gmail has an interesting characteristic that falls somewhere between “really cool feature” and “strange parsing bug”, depending on how you want to look at it. Whatever the underlying cause, the end result is that you can create custom aliases to your Gmail account that can be used to help differentiate your accounts. There are two different ways. The first one is the appended alias.
The second behavior, which I believe is unintentional, is delimiter invariance. In most e-mail systems, “FirstLast@gmail.com” and “First.Last@gmail.com” are treated as unique identifiers. They may be bound to the account on the back end. Gmail appears to use complete delimiter invariance in their systems, though. My e-mail address does not currently contain any separators, but if I sent e-mail to first.name, f.irstname, firstnam.e, or even email@example.com they all route to my primary e-mail account. This is especially interesting because another Internet user in another part of the country with a similar name, has registered the same e-mail address. Gmail allows periods when creating the account, but ignores them. I occasionally get e-mail directed to this other individual because of this issue.
Combining these two, you can sort and filter your e-mail a bit before it even reaches your inbox by making your address uniquely identifiable. It’s a pretty neat feature.
It’s important that speech on the Internet be afforded the same protections offered to speech in other venues. Freedom of speech is protected by our Constitution, and includes the right to publish software that is in compliance with the law.
The Department of Homeland Security, in a move I can only assume is partially to look busy and partially related to the regulatory revolving door of Washington, has been rebuffed by Mozilla in their attempt to have a browser plugin removed. These seizures are on pretty dubious legal grounds already but haven’t been challenged much. The plugin in question, Mafiaa Fire, restores connectivity to web sites previously seized by DHS.
Mozilla, in the tradition of open source, fired back with a probing series of questions:
1. Have any courts determined that MAFIAAfire.com is unlawful or illegal inany way? If so, on what basis? (Please provide any relevant rulings)
2. Have any courts determined that the seized domains related to MAFIAAfire.com are unlawful, illegal or liable for infringement in any way? (please provide relevant rulings)
3. Is Mozilla legally obligated to disable the add-on or is this request based on other reasons? If other reasons, can you please specify.
4. Has DHS, or any copyright owners involved in this matter, taken any legal action against MAFIAAfire.com or the seized domains, including DMCA requests?
5. What protections are in place for MAFIAAfire.com or the seized domain owners if eventually a court decides they were not unlawful?
6. Can you please provide copies of any briefs that accompanied the affidavit considered by the court that issued the relevant seizure orders?
7. Can you please provide a copy of the relevant seizure order upon which your request to Mozilla to take down MAFIAAfire.com is based?
8. Please identify exactly what the infringements by the owners of the domains consisted of, with reference to the substantive standards of Section 106 andto any case law establishing that the actions of the seized domain owners constituted civil or criminal copyright infringement.
9. Did any copyright owners furnish affidavits in connection with the domain seizures? Had any copyright owners served DMCA takedown notices on the seizeddomains or MAFIAAfire.com? (if so please provide us with a copy)
10. Has the Government furnished the domain owners with formal notice of the seizures, triggering the time period for a response by the owners? If so, when,and have there been any responses yet by owners?
11. Has the Government communicated its concerns directly with MAFIAAfire.com?If so, what response, if any, did MAFIAAfire.com make?
Kudos to Mozilla for doing their part to maintain the freedom of information. If you support the Mozilla Foundation, authors of popular web browser Firefox in their support for Internet freedom you may Donate at their web site. Contributions to the Mozilla Foundation, an IRS 501(c)3 organization, are tax-deductible.
Bald Eagles may have been a bit more majestic, but these Shiba Inu puppies are a lot cuter. They have just become active enough over this week to move themselves towards the pile when they get cold, instead of having a mysterious hand reach in from off-camera and move them manually.
I’d like to share some frustrations I’ve been having with my Android phone, the T-Mobile G2. I was a completely satisfied customer of the G1, which was released about 2.5 years ago – an eternity in mobile technology, but not really that different from the current iteration of devices in a significant way.
Mobile devices have reached a shocking level of compatibility and functionality. Paired with a suitable data plan, the modern smartphone can legitimately be compared to a computer. You can watch video from sites like Hulu, YouTube and Vimeo; capture, edit and share photos and videos to other mobile devices, computers or web services; create and edit office documents, access web pages, stream music, send e-mail, chat and connect over any of dozens of web services, manage your finances, find near-by points of interest, turn-by-turn navigation…..the list of computer-like things a mobile phone can do goes on and on.
Note I said computer-like things because, despite all the progress that’s been made, cell phones are still sorely lacking in actually being able to do most of the things I’ve listed quickly and easily. Cellular providers share some of the blame, which I’ll get to in a few moments. Cell phones have advanced well enough to where they can be judged on the same standard as a basic desktop computer – and are falling flat on their face as a result. Just being good “for a phone” isn’t enough any more when the end of the PC is approaching and marketing efforts are setting customers up for disappointment if they’re expecting a full-featured experience.
The G2 is about as unmodified of an Android build as you’re likely to find on a mass-production phone – and it’s a mess of usability issues, bad design, poorly thought out features and to top it off some of the limited potential it does have is being choked off by the cell phone companies. Take for instance Android ActiveSync, the application that connects Android phones to Microsoft Exchange servers. It frequently loses the ability to synchronize, forcing me to reboot the phone to restart sync. It doesn’t effectively sync subfolders, meaning that my “Alerts” folder nested inside my Inbox is never synced if Inbox is the active view. And occasionally it spontaneously forgets I ever attached an ActiveSync account, and instead of my e-mail in the morning I wake up to the Add Account wizard. That’s utterly unacceptable for a production device – but this happens not only on my Android device, but on multiple phones on different providers belonging to others.
Flash on the phone has been another area where phones have effectively fallen on their face. There are some technological reasons behind this failure, but the fact of the matter is, Flash that works just well enough to render the applet’s interface but not well enough to let you actually interact is completely useless. Flash is being sold to Android users as being able to unlock the “rest of the web”, but I can’t even manage to load the Pandora desktop SWF functionally.
And speaking of Pandora, we come to the role of cell phone providers in this whole mess. I live in a dense metro area, the 23rd largest city in the country. The area is blanketed with fast “4G” coverage measured in megabits per second. Pandora offers a mobile application for devices – with significantly reduced audio quality from the desktop application, which they blame on the cell phone providers:
Pandora on phones is limited by hardware and bandwidth. Many carriers have trouble streaming even the “normal” quality audio on phones (32kbps). The High quality is 64kbps.
Desktop normal quality is around 128kbps, and high quality is 192kbps. If providers really have trouble streaming audio in the same quality as we had on desktop computers in 1998 – 13 years ago – there is a serious infrastructure issue in our country. Net Neutrality might help with this somewhat, but most likely not.
There’s a long way to go before the “end of the PC” really arrives.
I’m fighting with the beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, a Microsoft utility for managing cloud computing resources. It’s a fight I shouldn’t have to engage in as Microsoft requires a pre-requisite that can’t actually be opened by the default tools installed with the operating system, the Windows Automated Installation Kit which is helpfully delivered as an ISO instead of something that can be opened natively.
WinRAR, a well-known and well-respected file compression utility is my go-to utility for opening ISOs as it will extract them into a folder with a single click. It’s also a program I never seem to have the installer on hand for, so instead of digging around for my department’s installer I go find the web page. Bing is the default search engine for Internet Explorer on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and I used it to search for “winrar”, expecting to be quickly taken to a download site. Instead, I received a search result page entirely devoid of what I was looking for.
That’s a screenshot of the data area of the browser, from the server in question. There were three results displayed on the first page (it didn’t want to scroll). Zero of these results are links to download WinRAR, or are even to the company that even produces WinRAR. Two of the results are sponsored advertisements to a WinRAR competitor, and one is the Wikipedia entry about the software. (The page extends to the right as well, with 5 more advertisements I cropped from the screenshot, none are links to the author’s web site.)
I was so shocked by this absolute lack of results I had to open a tab with Google on the same machine and search that way:
The very first result is the official homepage of WinRAR, complete with a quick link to Download. Perfect! The second result is the same as the “Download” quick link from the first result. The third result is another domain name for the same company, as is the fourth. And it continued with several more links to reputable download sites (CNet, etc.), and finally the Wiki entry.
It’s no surprise that less than 1 in 10 web searches are on Bing when it can’t accurately return results for something that’s been around for years, has an excellent reputation and is very widely distributed. Winner in this unexpected challenge? Google. But I would like to thank Bing for a nostalgic trip back to the early days of web search in the ’90s when there were zero good options out there. I’m very glad that’s not the case anymore.
Bing Travel is excellent, it’s a shame their web search is pretty much useless.