Comcast Tech Support
I called Comcast for some tech support, and talked to a guy whose voice sounded like your average Caucasian American, but whose speech and word-choice definitely sounded like someone whose primary language was not English.
While troubleshooting the problem, he said that it might be because of a "restriction" that was placed on my modem. I asked what that meant, and he gave some response that didn’t really make any sense to me. I must have sounded concerned about it, because he then told me not to worry, and he explained:
"Restriction" is kind of a heavy word. Maybe that’s not a good word for it. What it is is more like a kind of temporary stasis.
I almost laughed out loud. He sure busted out with a fancy phrase there for someone who sounded pretty ESL. But ESL and crazy phrases or not, he did get the job done, so good work, Comcast.
How to Watch Internet Video On Your TV (YouTube, Netflix, etc)
I’ve been hearing more and more good things about the Roku box lately. This is an inexpensive little device - between $79 and $129 - that connects to your TV and lets you watch tons of online video from places like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. It also supports "channels" that allow people to add support for additional sources, including YouTube, and can display photos from Facebook and Flickr. It even supports lots of smaller indie-type stuff like the TWiT.tv podcasts, and can play your custom Pandora music stations too.
There’s a similar box from Western Digital called the WD TV Live Plus that appears to include many if not all of the same features, plus better handling of your own photos and movies via USB sticks/drives. It’s a little more pricey at $149. But the Roku seems to be quite a well-loved product, whereas I haven’t heard much about this WD device yet.
Much of the online content that you can access through these kinds of devices is free, but that generally does not include feature films and popular TV shows. For that you’d use Amazon’s VOD, which has movie rentals for a couple bucks each; or Netflix, which has a ~17,000-title library of instant-streaming movies and TV shows with unlimited access for as little as $8.99 per month. Of course Netflix is also an amazing DVD-rental-by-mail service, and the $8.99 subscription is actually their entry-level one DVD at a time package; all their packages include the instant-streaming for no extra charge.
The ultimate solution for TV, though, is TiVo. A TiVo costs $299 and is worth every penny. I don’t know how I watched TV before TiVo... actually I do know: I just didn’t bother. The TiVo’s interface for selecting shows to watch/record is by far the best I’ve ever used: there’s no messing with channels or dates or times, you just tell it the name of the show. And its fast-forward (and rewind) implementation is perfect, to the point that trying to use any other devices’s FF/RW (I’m looking at you Boxee, Front Row, etc) is just aggravating. More to the point for this article: through TiVo you can access Netflix, Amazon VOD, and lots of video podcasts like TWiT as well. I’m not sure about Facebook and Flickr, but I have a Mac mini connected to the TV for various other geeky reasons, so I just use that for anything requiring a browser.
There’s also Apple TV and Google TV, but the former has been kind of a dud, is more expensive ($229) and supports neither Netflix nor Amazon VOD (though you can buy/rent content on it via the iTunes Store); the latter isn’t yet available, and seems like it might be a built-into-the-TV feature rather than a separate box you can add to an existing TV. So for the time being, for non-geeky types who don’t want to spend a lot of money, the Roku box looks like a pretty nice solution.
Comcast: We're Not Happy Until You're Not Happy
Comcast’s TV and internet service is pretty good. I mean it hardly ever goes down, and it’s pretty fast. It’s such a stark contrast with their customer service.
Yesterday I called Comcast to ask them to come out and replace my old modem with a DOCSIS 3 modem. Their website explicitly states that there is no cost for this upgrade (other than the modem rental fee I’m already paying every month). But the woman on the phone insisted that I’d need to upgrade my service to a more expensive package to get the new modem.
So I hung up and called back. It’s impossible to talk to the same person twice at a giant monopoly like Comcast, so I knew I’d get a different person, and I assumed the next person would be a little less dense. It turned out that he was indeed a little less dense. He immediately said yeah, no problem, there’s no cost and we’ll send someone out tomorrow, how’s 7-9 AM? I said that was fine.
So today, 9 AM comes and goes with no sign of Comcast. I call them at 9:15. They tell me my appointment is for 11 AM to 1 PM. I tell them that’s wrong, but it’s no use. We reschedule it for later in the week.
A few hours later, around 1:15 PM, I get a call from a Comcast technician. He’s just calling to confirm our appointment and he’s about 5 minutes away.
So, to recap: the first person attempted to extort higher payments out of me based on a lie about DOCSIS 3 modems. The second person told me my appointment was at one time, but scheduled it for a different time. And the third person rescheduled my appointment (or so she said) but didn’t bother telling the technician in the field about it.
You’d think that in this kind of bad economy, companies could afford to fire people who are incompetent, and replace them with intelligent people, from the vast pool of unemployed workers. But apparently not.
Google Chrome OS
I love this screen from the What is Google Chrome OS video:
The whole video is interesting and worth watching, too.
More Advice for Windows Users: Stop Using Windows
Brian Krebs, writing for the Washington Post:
I have interviewed dozens of victim companies that lost anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000 dollars because of a single malware infection. I have heard stories worthy of a screenplay about the myriad ways cyber crooks are evading nearly every security obstacle the banks put in their way.
But regardless of the methods used by the bank or the crooks, all of the attacks shared a single, undeniable common denominator: They succeeded because the bad guys were able to plant malicious software that gave them complete control over the victim’s Windows computer. [...]
The simplest, most cost-effective answer I know of? Don’t use Microsoft Windows when accessing your bank account online.
The ideal solution is to permanently switch to a Mac (or Linux). But as Krebs suggests, booting a Linux-based Live CD is a quick & cheap solution. You just download the latest version of Ubuntu and burn it to a CD. Then reboot your PC with that CD in your CD-ROM drive, which will temporarily turn your PC into a Linux PC that is far more secure than Windows. Use that to do your banking, and when you’re done, remove the CD and reboot again to get back to Windows. The Live CD doesn’t touch your hard drive at all, so it doesn’t mess with your existing system, and any viruses or other security threats that
surely are might be there on your hard drive cannot activate themselves to infect the Linux-based Live CD environment.
Carbonite Automatic Online Backup
Speaking of good ideas for Windows users: if you use Windows (or Mac in this case), and you have important files on your system, you should probably use Carbonite. It’s an online backup service with unlimited storage for $5 per month.
I haven’t personally used it, because unfortunately there’s no Linux version. If there were a Linux version, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But I feel good about recommending it because I trust Leo’s judgment on these kinds of issues, and I know he uses it.
Of course you should be doing backups to an external hard drive already. But that won’t protect you in the case of a fire that destroys the backup drive too, or a thief who takes all your computer gear. That’s why offsite/online backup is so important.
There’s also the fact that backups are only good if you actually keep them up to date, and hardly anybody does. Carbonite solves that problem by running in the background all the time, keeping your online backup in sync with the files on your computer. So you don’t have to worry about doing backups; they happen automatically, continually.
As an added bonus, you can also log into the Carbonite website from anywhere and access your files.
To me, all of that for $5 per month is a no-brainer, especially in light of the old adage that there are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data, and those who will lose data.
Various tidbits seen over the past week or two:
From the Times Square Tea Party: "Do I look like a racist redneck teabagger to you?"
A hilarious Good Samaritan story by Scott Adams:
Luckily I did not have jumper cables, because if I did, I knew we would be late for the movie. I did my best to make a face that said, "I sure wish I could help," while being secretly gleeful that this was officially not my problem. I wondered if the young man thought I was lying about not having jumper cables. My fake sincerity face looks like a mime with an intestinal infection.
Joe Biden on rural broadband funding:
The bottom line is, you can’t function -- a nation can’t compete in the 21st century -- without an immediate, high-quality access for everything from streaming video to information overline.
I don’t know what I’d do without a high-quality access to information overline. In fact, I don’t even know what that means.
This article claims that wheat bread is no better than white bread. But what’s interesting is some of the detailed information about metabolic functions that it contains.
From amazon: Classic Live Lobster Combo for Two People. I don’t suppose it needs to be said that amazon rocks, this rocks, and "Lobsters-Online" rocks.
Ceiling cat. The photo of the cat looking down is great.
Baghdad Bob, Now Serving Iran?
Quoting Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman:
"This is the CNN’s schedule. They officially trained the people to come and hack Iran’s government Web sites. This is the English text, I can give it to you. This is a cyber war. This, with, isn’t it a cyber war of the media with an independent government? They asked people to use the DOS system to hack our Web sites," Qashqavi said.
I hear what you’re saying, but honestly, if they’re trying to use the DOS system to hack your Web sites, you’re probably OK.
How People Find Me
People come to nodivisions.com because they want answers, and they know they can find those answers here. For example, here are the search queries used by two of my satisfied visitors just today:Why is June my lucky month?
The only thing that made doing my taxes even slightly bearable was the comments from the TurboTax community that pop up on the side of each page. Here are some of my favorites:
The whole "online" concept just doesn’t work for some people.
AND MY KEYBOARD!!
I’d actually like to know the answer to this one because, frankly, I have no idea how my yax have to be paid back.
Joe Biden forgets the "website number" for... recovery.gov. And this is the guy overseeing the stimulus implementation...
The Rich and Famous
Being rich and famous must not be all bad. Scott Adams posted an entry called Tuesday, the entirety of which is:
No blog post today. Sick cat.
...and he still gets 20+ comments on it.
Of course based on the kinds of things he posts, this could be one of his experiments on humanity and psychology which will be explained in a later post.
AOL Had Blogs?
Somehow I came across this page about AOL "Hometown" being shut down a couple months ago. Apparently it was a blog provider, and people are now upset that their blogs are gone.
No doubt that sucks for anyone who used the service. I feel bad for them. But... the comments on this post are pure comedy gold:
Is there not a way to obtain the blogs anymore.
So proper... reminds me of this.
FORTUNATELY I SAVED MY WEBPAGE & TRANSFERRED IT TO GEOCITIES.
Link Here: http://geocities.yahoo.com/v/gcp_choose/
Real easy to do a simple webpage. With more time I think this could be better than aol.
Better than AOL! That’ll be the day.
I honestly can’t decide whether AOL or GeoCities is worse...
WHERE IS THE HOME PAGE IT TOOK MONTHS FOR ME TO BILL. I DID NOT RECEIVE ANY NOTICE VIA THE MAIL OR E-MAIL.
PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY WEB PAGE SO I CAN COPY IT AND MOVE IT SOME WHERE ELSE.
I SUGGEST YOU PUT THE HOME PAGE BACK OR YOU WILL LOOSE A LOT OF CUSTOMERS.
I WILL SEE TO THAT.
Gotta love the threats. I’m sure they don’t want to "loose" any customers.
It like stealing our hearts and souls without our knowledge...I WANT MY WEBPAGE INFO BACK I never gave you permission to destroy it..we should all file one big lawsuit against you for this. ANY LAWYERS OUT THERE THAT CAN HELP..EMAIL US ALL
This is very frustrating and angishly wrong for AOL not to at least had the decency to emailed their hometown members of this closing of "hometown.aol.com.html" so we could have been MORE AWARE of this closing. If anyone starts a liable law suit on AOL for this outrage action, please put my name down as a victim of this hanious action
PLEASE PROVIDE ME ACCESS TO MY HOMETOWN WEB PAGE.
IF I CAN GET IT I MIGHT STAY A CUSTOMER. IF NOT ME AND MY FRIENDS ARE AS GOOD AS GONE.
Where is my homey page?
Someone recently landed here by searching for:
Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is "You can’t."
News To Me
Today I had a website visitor who found my site by searching for pennsylvania no smocking law on Google. Which was surprising, not only because I don’t have any such information on my site, but also because I seem to remember a fair amount of smocking in various art classes I took while attending grade school in PA. I guess times are changing.
When Apple debuted the iPhone App Store I immediately downloaded a few of the free apps, including 3 radio apps: AOL Radio, Last.FM, and Pandora. But I never tried any of them out, until tonight. I’m not sure why; maybe I figured that over the EDGE network they wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work well.
Tonight while driving home and listening to Macbreak Weekly, I heard Leo mention that he’s streaming his live shows and they work over EDGE. That got me thinking and I remembered that I had these radio apps.
I fired up AOL Radio. It played without skipping, but the audio quality was pretty bad. And AOL Radio stations are sort of like regular radio stations in that you pick a station/genre and then you have to take whatever it gives you.
I then tried Pandora, and the quality was not great, but was listenable, and it also played without skipping. And I quickly remembered why I love Pandora: it played Craig’s Brother, then Just Surrender, then June, then Thrice -- all bands I love. (For a quick explanation of how Pandora works: you just type in the name of a band or song that you like, and it then creates a custom "station" for you of similar music. You can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to each track it plays. It’s remarkably good at picking stuff I like based on the songs I give it.) (Update: there’s a "high quality" setting in the app’s prefs, so I’ll have to try that while driving to see how well it plays.)
When I got home, I tried the Last.FM app; its audio quality is superb (still over EDGE) and doesn’t skip at all, though the fact that I’m not in a moving car now may have something to do with that. I’ll have to test it in the car. But I’m especially impressed with how Last.FM chooses its songs: it automatically has a "Your Library" preset consisting of all the music you’ve ever played through a Last.FM-enabled player, which I’ve been doing since 2004. The songs are streaming from Last.FM’s servers, but it knows basically all the tracks in my library, so effectively I have my whole library with me -- except that I can’t choose songs or albums; they play like a radio station.
All in all, I’m very impressed with the radio situation on the iPhone. In fact I’m surprised how good it is, especially over non-3G cell networks.
faildogs.com is the site I was talking about at the picnic today. Here’s an example:
Practicing Safe Computing
Encodable.com has a great new writeup (ahem) on how to avoid viruses, spyware, and other malware on your PC. I posted it on the tech blog but wanted to specifically mention it here too, since it’s a topic of general interest.
When spam subject lines go from annoying to insulting:
You look stupid in this video anthony!
Comcast Slowsky Commercial - Push It
These Slowsky commercials are the best.
Snakes on a Plane on a Conveyor Belt: Will it Blend?
This is getting out of hand. Gruber links to Kottke who has live-blogged a Mythbusters episode about the plane on a conveyor belt riddle. (Mythbusters must be running out of myths to bust.) There are nearly 300 raging comments on Kottke’s original post alone, with other forums similarly ablaze.
The thing is, this is SO easy once you recognize that it’s just a trick question; the whole point of this riddle is that it’s a trick question. The riddle says that there’s a plane on a giant conveyor belt runway, and the conveyor belt has a control system which keeps the belt moving backwards at the same speed that the plane itself is moving forward. The question is: will the plane take off?
The Simple 4-Sentence Solution:
The bit about the belt moving backwards at the same speed is supposed to make you think that the plane isn’t moving relative to the real ground and the earth. If that were the case, then of course the plane would not take off. However, the force generated by the belt does not translate to backwards force on the plane, because a plane’s wheels are free-spinning: as the belt moves, the plane’s wheels spin, rather than remaining stationary so the plane itself can move backwards.
There would be some small amount of backwards force on the plane itself due to friction on the axles of the wheels, but that has virtually no effect on the plane’s forward motion because it’s such a tiny force relative to the forward-thrust of the plane’s engines.
The comments on these other sites are full of debates about airfoils and Bernoulli’s Principle and what really makes a plane fly; all of those people have missed the trick in this riddle (the free-spinning wheels) and so are over-complicating the problem.
Jack Bauer Trivia
I just got a hit from a visitor who found my site by searching for:
I think it’s a safe bet.
Verizon is the Worst Company of All Time, and Vonage Rocks
My hatred of Verizon started sometime in 2004, when I started hearing horror stories from Kim about the despicable, greedy, and just plain evil things that Verizon did in the course of providing her cell phone service. And I don’t mean 1 or 2 small issues; it was 5 or 6 or 7 totally unbelievable instances in which they either intentionally or through gross incompetence tried to defraud her of vast sums of money. I wish I would have written them down.
As an aside, it’s funny to read posts by iPhone haters saying that it’s doomed because it’s tied to the evil AT&T, and if only they could get it with service from Verizon instead, then they would get an iPhone. I’ve had zero problems with AT&T in the 6 months that I’ve had my iPhone, and their coverage is far better than Nextel’s ever was, and I’m pretty sure that their $20/mo for unlimited data is the best data deal going. But the fact is, all of these giant telecom companies pretty much just suck if you give them enough time.
Anyway, back to Verizon: the only reason I have a landline at all is for my business. When I signed up for this business line, we ended up moving a couple months later. And despite the fact that now you’re supposed to be able to transfer your phone number to a different provider, Verizon couldn’t even let me keep my number while still using Verizon service at the new house.
As if that weren’t bad enough, they also told me they couldn’t provide me with voice-mail at the new house, which makes no sense whatsoever because it’s not like the voice-mail is stored at my house -- it’s stored on Verizon’s servers anyway! So I actually had to use something called an answering machine -- a physical device used by primitive peoples before the invention of fire or dirt -- to get my messages for the past few months.
Verizon’s website is as terrible as such a terrible company’s website should be. Literally every time I log in to my account, it displays the following 2 messages:
We are temporarily unable to retrieve information for this phone number. Please try again later.
We are temporarily unable to retrieve current billing information for this phone number. Please try again later.
And most unbelievable and frustrating of all, when you try to call Verizon for support, they don’t put you on hold like a decent company would; instead, you get a recording that says "all representatives are busy; please try again later" and then THEY HANG UP ON YOU.
Now to the bill: it was nominally $30 or $40 per month, but virtually all calls are "local long distance" or regular long distance, so it always ended up being $70 or $80, even though I hardly used this phone line (for outgoing calls) at all.
Of course, Verizon is the local monopolist, so as much as I would have liked to tell them to go take a long walk off a short pier while I switch to another provider, the fact is that there is no other provider that I could use.
Well, I finally found a way to escape Verizon’s evil clutches: I switched to Vonage. Vonage is a VoIP phone service provider, which means your service comes in over the internet instead of through a phone line. But it sounds and acts just like a regular phone line: you can plug any normal phone into it, you get the normal dial tone, etc. They provide all the standard stuff like voice mail, and unlike Verizon, they let me keep my existing number no problem. They also have some cool and innovative features like sending copies of your voice mails to your email account. But here’s the best part: Vonage costs just $25 per month and that includes unlimited local and long distance. There was a setup fee of about $40, but the first month is free, so there’s effectively no setup charge.
But here’s the real best part: Vonage calls your existing phone provider and takes care of the cancellation and transfer and everything, so you don’t have to do any of that. But once that happened, Verizon called me (of course I didn’t answer) and left a message crying about the fact that I was leaving, and "we’d really like to keep your business" and "we have some very competitive plans that we’d like to discuss with you." Yeah, like you really have anything competitive with $25/mo with free everything, you scumbags. And then, a couple days later, I got a "DHL EXPRESS EXTREMELY URGENT" package in the mail, containing a letter from Verizon still begging me to stay. No wonder their service is so expensive when they’re wasting money on overnight shipping instead of working on, oh, I don’t know, VOICE MAIL SERVICE maybe?
The other day I got a hit from a visitor who had searched for this: