Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

04
Mar
16

A Monopoly meme critical of economic fairness completely misses the point.

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I saw this posted as an attack on socialist economic ideas. Have you ever played Monopoly? Apart from the American Civil War, it’s probably the single greatest cause of brother on brother violence in human history. You start with an equal playing field, and with some random input and a few rules, you end up with all wealth concentrated in a single person. The other players are either driven into dust, or more commonly, the indignity of inescapable debt drives the losing player to upend the board and scatter all of the pieces to the corners of the room.
I did some checking into the game on Wikipedia and found that it was created precisely to illustrate the effects of concentration of wealth. The outrage you feel playing that game is intentional.
Apparently, the intent of the game was to promote the economic theories of Henry George. I didn’t know much about him, so I looked him up as well. Turns out he was a proponent of such ideas as: fair elections with secret ballots, reducing the size of the military, free mass transportation and libraries, women’s right to vote, campaign finance reform and political spending limits, disability income, unconditional basic income as a right, abolishment of unfair debt and credit systems. Sound like anyone you know?
And so it would seem that the point was entirely missed by the creators of the meme. Monopoly wasn’t meant to be a template for an economic system, but rather a cautionary tale. We are headed toward a board flipping of historical proportions.
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23
Apr
15

technote to self: Mac Console doesn’t find search terms in Windows log files

Issue: When you search a Windows generated log file in the Mac Console app, you may have trouble finding search terms even though you can see them right in front of you.

Additional info: It turns out that there are extra invisible characters between every character, thus [FATAL] becomes ¿[¿F¿A¿T¿A¿L¿]¿. These invisible characters will break the search string matching in your Mac applications.

Solution: A simple solution is to use the Mac TextWrangler application (free) to open the log file. You can even do this while the file is open in Console. In TextWrangler choose Text>ZapGremlins (how’s that for a cool command name?). This will delete all invisible characters. And if you have Console open in the background you’ll notice that your log file is updated automatically. Your searches will now work as expected.

UPDATE: If you find that email messages sent from Outlook for Mac, or Outlook Office365 for Mac are becoming truncated after you copy and paste something (like text from a log file from a Windows machine), it’s the gremlins at work again. Outlook does not handle these invisibles very well at all and cuts off everything in the message after the offending character. I’ve noticed that it is also cut off in the Sent Items folder as well, which means lots of lost work. I’ve found that pasting the log file snippets through Text Wrangler and sanitizing them with “zap gremlins” fixes this issue in Outlook as well. It’s an extra step, but it works and you won’t be sending emails that are chopped off right where you pasted something important.

12
Dec
14

Technote to self: IMAP no longer receives new emails

Issue: When you use Outlook 2013 as your mail client and have an IMAP mail server, you stop receiving new emails. Your account will set up properly, and passes the initial connection test, but you can’t receive new mail. All your old messages are accessible and everything seems to work fine, apart from the fact that you’re not getting any new mail in your Inbox.

Solution: Add “Inbox” as your “Root folder path”. You can find this by opening up your account settings and digging into Change Account > More Settings > Advanced. On mine, it was blank. I entered “Inbox” per some advice I found buried online. Saved changes, told Outlook to check my email and everything started flowing again.

imapfix

21
Jan
14

Setting up Subsonic Music server, notes for future reference

Publishing a quick note as a reminder of how to set up Subsonic streaming music server. The process is a bit tricky, especially for multiple levels of routers, which my work requires. Just making a note so I don’t have to memorize it or rediscover it.

  1. Get external IP address from http://www.canyouseeme.org
    This IP address is the one that you will want to enter into your phone, or anything that will be connecting from the outside world.
  2. Set up a static IP on your router for the PC that’s hosting the Subsonic Control Panel Service
  3. Make sure the service is running.
  4. On the nearest router to your PC, make sure that your PCs static IP has port forwarding set up for the ports the Subsonic Control Panel is using.
  5. If you are using multiple layers of routers, make sure that traffic on the outermost router is forwarded to the inner router’s IP address (using the address that the external router knows it by) for the same ports used in the Subsonic Control panel.
  6. Check that canyouseeme.org is successfully seeing your service running on the open ports.
  7. Enter the IP address:port combination in the subsonic mobile app (Subsonic, DSub) for the server address.
  8. If it fails, make sure login and password are correct. Try opening subsonic in browser mode on the PC where the server is running rather than app and check the credentials.
16
Apr
13

Madness? THIS…IS…COMCAST!

3Update, I redacted the names of specific agents below because I’m not trying to get the foot soldiers in trouble for following orders.

Let me preface this by saying that i’m not a habitual bitcher. For the most part I keep a stiff upper lip and just deal with what life dishes out. Unfortunately, that’s bitten me in the ass here. Ironically, if I’d been more of a complainer all along, things might be going better than they are.

I posted the following on the Comcast Xfinity facebook page:

Comcast wants to charge me an $1100 disconnect fee to REMAIN A CUSTOMER and PAY THEM MORE PER MONTH! I’m currently a Comcast Business customer, but I don’t need the business features. What I really need is the bandwidth that Xfinity is offering for residential customers. They won’t let me out of my business contract so that I can upgrade my bandwith. Currently paying $70/mo for spotty 15Mbps service. Want to upgrade to Xfinity 50Mbps for $75/mo. Nope. Retention says I’m stuck with crappy speeds until 2015 unless I pay $1100 to buy out my business contract. They offered to bump my business account to the next speed which is 25Mbps @ over a $100/mo (introductory for 1 yr). Half the speed I want? Huge price increase? Yeah, sign me up!

Long story short, I signed a contract for Comcast Business service. The service hasn’t been very reliable as far as delivering promised speeds, but as I mentioned above I mostly just deal with the frustrating slowdowns and assume that they’re doing something to the lines and that it’ll be back up the next day…and it usually is. It happens a lot, but I don’t complain. Well…it’s starting to affect my ability to get things done. So I went looking for higher speeds, figuring that if I bump up to a higher speed, and still only get half of what I’m paying for, at least it’ll be a faster not-quite-as-promised speed.

I found an Xfinity offering that sounded attractive at around the same price point, actually a little more than I’m paying now. Xfinity=Comcast, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to stay a customer, drop the “business class” and move to residential at a higher price point. Win/win. Right? WRONG. So very wrong. In order to switch from business to residential, you have to buy out the remaining term of your contract, then sign up again. The buyout price is not applied toward your new service. I can’t afford to just “eat” $1100.

You see, Comcast offers those same high speeds as a business class option at an exorbitant rate, far beyond what I can afford. And once they’ve got you locked into a business contract, there ain’t no way you’re ever going back to residential pricing.

They replied:

Chad, please email comcast_cares@comcast.com so that we can look into this for you. Thank you [name redacted]

So I replied to the address above, and copied in what I had posted on the Facebook wall so that they knew what I was writing about. Monday morning I received a call from Comcast corporate. The fellow I talked to offered nothing new. The only concession they would make is a temporary discount (Comcast LOVES these, introductory price, followed by a jaw-dropping increase) on upgrading to the next tier of business class service, which is still only half the bandwidth of the residential service I wanted. That was the same discount that the first person I spoke to had offered. Frankly, I have no idea why they bothered to call me and offer me the same thing that pissed me off in the first place. I guess they just wanted to opportunity to insult me, which they did. “Sounds like you have buyer’s remorse” was a good one.

Following this conversation, I replied again on the Facebook page:

 Just spoke with someone from Comcast corporate. No change at all. Everything I said above stands, and they’re practically gleeful that I’m stuck. Just posting here so that everyone will know that their public attempts to appear concerned are just for show.

To which they replied:

Hi Chad. I reviewed the notes here. We will not be dissolving the contract. I’m sorry the pricing offered by the rep was not acceptable to you. I would like to check into your service concerns. Are those speeds while connected directly to the modem? Can you email me a speedtest? [name redacted]@comcast.com.

Well at least their inflexibility is now public. That’s something accomplished. Let it be clear, I am absolutely trying to break a signed contract. Do they HAVE TO release me from the contract? No, they don’t. Would it be good customer service? I think so. I bend the rules all the time for customers because that’s more important than just upholding policy because I can. It’s also worth noting that Comcast has not kept up their end of the contract either, ie providing the promised speeds. Though because I didn’t call and complain and have them send out a van every single time, they won’t acknowledge this, nor will they grant me any sort of exception. My bad. I should have made more of a fuss all along.

Replying again in public, I wrote:

Downstream is spotty, inconsistent, rarely above 10Mbps. Up has the same issues, between .1 and 3Mbps, or sometimes doesn’t complete the test. 
Funny anecdote in speaking with the rep from corporate. He used an analogy on me that fell flat. He said “It’s like you bought a car last year and now you want us to just give you the newer model for free.” Actually, I never asked for anything for free. But to use his analogy, it’s more like I bought a car that doesn’t run that great and wasn’t really the right car for me. So I’m trying to trade in this 4DR SUV with crap mileage for a 2DR coupe that costs more but is a better fit, and Comcast is saying, “nope, you have to pay for the entire loan on the 4DR before you can do anything else”. I understand disconnect fees when you switch cell carriers because they’re losing a customer, but I’m trying to STAY a customer, and pay more. It’s mind boggling.

Their response:

I would like to ensure we get the service concerns address, but as far as the contract terms go, my hands are tied. I can’t speak to that, but I can see we get your service concerns resolved. Please email me at the address above when you have a moment. I’d really like to help with this. –[name redacted]

So at least they’re appearing to care about the fact that the service I’ve been paying for isn’t up to snuff, but there’s still no concession on getting me into the product that I’d like. While I was thinking about this, and wondering whether I was being unreasonable in wanting to break my contract, I realized why I had this nagging feeling that precedent was in my favor.

Here’s my last reply before I came over here to get this all recorded in my blog (just in case Comcast drops the ban hammer):

I just remembered another analogy, just sharing because these both demonstrate my point. He also brought up that cellular carriers have disconnect fees that involve buying out the term of your contract. This is true, but ONLY if you’re leaving the carrier and moving your business elsewhere. If I call up my cell carrier and want to change my plan, upgrade, downgrade or otherwise, I don’t have to buy out my entire contract period and then start over. I am free to choose the service that fits my needs, and the only penalty is that I might have to renew/extend my contract. Win/win. They keep a customer, customer gets the product that fits, contract is renewed. Wow, I never thought I’d be pointing to Verizon’s policies as an example of how to treat customers, but here we are.

So let this be a lesson to any potential Comcast Business customers. Comcast will not negotiate with you. There is no side-grade between business and residential service. They would rather keep you locked into an ill-fitting contract, even if it means missing an opportunity to make more money, just because they can.

09
Apr
13

Boss Fight, Argonaut, Valis at the Mirkwood and Shire in Arlington

***Most of this post is just me bitching about a weird experience playing a gig, but you should at least read the part next to the asterisks below.

Last Saturday night I drove out to Arlington to play a show with my band, Argonaut. We were scheduled to play at a former Spanish-style Methodist church since converted into a vegetarian restaurant called the Mirkwood and Shire Cafe. (In the same building there is also a Mordor tattoo/piercing shop and a Rivendell Hair Salon.) Being somewhat naturally skeptical of rock shows that take place in Tolkien-themed vegetarian cafes nestled in backwater towns, I did a little searching before I packed up my gear. I found the web page for the venue on Facebook and noticed that they had several other rock/metal/punk type shows booked. Seemed legit.

Fast forward through a few hours of driving…and we arrive at the Mirkwood. The bar staff was friendly and showed us where to load in. We ordered some drinks. Lots of drinks. Layered shots and cocktails with glowing green layers like the nuclear waste in the Simpsons. Cool. We decided to order some food as well. Matt and I ordered pizza, and Emily ordered a BLT. I noticed that “meat” was in quotes on the menu, so I avoided anything meat related. The pizzas were good, but the B in the BLT was the strangest fake bacon I’ve ever seen. It looked like a flat Play-doh wafer of extruded white and red stripes, somewhat reminiscent of what you’d expect in a Fisher Price kitchen version of bacon. It didn’t taste much better. I tried a bite and had to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince myself that it was even baconesque. I’ve had decent vegan bacon replacements  but this wasn’t even close. It was more like an aversion therapy device used to replace bacon craving with bacon revulsion. As we finished up our meals, the opening act took the stage.

***This goofy looking kid walks out on stage with a tight batman shirt and a pork pie hat, carrying an acoustic guitar. I had heard that the opener was going to be a guy doing Michael Jackson tribute stuff. Some of the guys were sceptical, but I put my money on it being incredible. Call it a hunch. I was right. This kid played through a set of MJ’s hits with an unbelievable amount of soul. Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, Dirty Diana, Smooth Criminal, and even Human Nature. He killed! He did the Vincent Price rap in Thriller and even sang Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Beat It. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. Cell phones came out. People were recording video left and right. All the guys in my band were looking at each other and saying “How are we supposed to follow this guy?” After playing through all the MJ stuff, he grabbed an electric guitar covered in eyeballs and an iPod and said he was going to do a couple originals. I thought to myself, “ok, this might be where the suck happens”. I WAS SO WRONG! He played a couple porno-funk/soul tunes that would have had panties hitting the floor at 35mph (if the women in the bar had been wearing any). You can hear them here: https://soundcloud.com/bossfight528 I have to say the live versions had more energy than the recorded versions. I sincerely hope that this kid gets snatched up by a label,  or invited to be on Americal Idol, or something because he’s star material. I would love to hear his music recorded with Minus the Bear as the backing band. He goes by the name Boss Fight.

Boss Fight

Meet the new sexy: Jacob Wikan aka Boss Fight.

The rest of the evening was a catastrophe as far as Argonaut was concerned. After Boss Fight finished, we went up and turned on our equipment, which we’d preloaded to the back of the stage. As soon as I hit my first chord to test whether all my gear was wired up, the sound guy starts freaking out “Whoa! Hey! Your stage volume needs to come down A LOT!” My volume was on 2 (out of 10). At an average argonaut show, I’m between 4 and 6. I turned down to about 1.5.  Now mind you this is a big room, with huge PA speakers on either side of the stage and a real sound board. It’s set up for loud rock. Matt fires up his first bass note and the guy has another fit about our stage volume. Matt grumbles. Dave  plays a Van Halen riff to test his gear. Another fit from sound guy about our stage volume. We all look at each other with disappointment, but decide to just go with it and start playing. We launch into our first song. I can barely hear myself over the natural volume of the drums. After the song, the sound guy is bitching at us through the PA again, but there’s nowhere left for us to go. The amps stop working somewhere between 1 and 0.  We play the second song, and when it’s over he says “You guys are gonna hate me, but you have to turn your volume down a LOT.” Matt said “Thanks, we were Argonaut.” And that was that. We packed up and loaded out.

Apparently, some patron of the bar who was having dinner and drinks at a table near the stage complained that we were too loud. Granted, we are a loud band. But in every club that you play, there’s usually the before-the-bands crowd and then the expecting-a-rock-show crowd. Usually the former filter out as the latter start to flow in. I have NEVER had a sound guy force us off stage because someone from the dinner-and-drinks crowd was trying to have a conversation at a table right in front of the stage. I don’t have a problem turning down, to a point, but at some point artistic integrity gets involved. There’s more to being a good band than just being a loud band, but loudness is a big part of the music style we play. You need to feel that thump in your chest and feel the wall of guitars wrapping around you…or else you’re not hearing Argonaut. And we can’t really turn down the drums.

Another strange side note. We had one person with us. They made her pay the cover, even after she said she was with the band. She came in with us and sat at the table with us all night, but when we went on stage to play, the door guy came over and said “Are you here for the music?” She said, “Yeah, I’m here with the band.” He replied “But you’re not in the band.” and charged her the cover price. They never asked us if we had a guest list, but still, anyone with half a brain would let 1 person slide. There shouldn’t have been any confusion. She was there all night, and there were only a couple dozen people in the place, tops. After she paid the cover, he gave her a tyvek bracelet, you know, because the six paying people in the room are a lot to keep track of. Maybe none of this makes sense to people who aren’t involved with small venue live music, but to anyone who is, this is pretty freaking bizarre. Most door guys make mental note of who comes in with the bands, or they stamp your wrist. Bracelets are for huge events or events where there are mixed crowds with minors.

I don’t know what the deal with the Mirkwood and Shire is. Van from Valis apologized for the problems with the sound guy and said that he’s seen much louder shows there. They didn’t seem to give Valis any grief during their set. Maybe they just didn’t like the cut of our jib, so to speak. It has great potential. Nice big room, awesome layout and you can get pierced and tattooed upstairs! But if they’re serious about rock shows, they should fire the sound guy. He can take his sweater down to the local tea shoppe and record the open mic nights. Anyway, we apologized to Van, who had arranged the show, and left in search of real bacon.

18
Feb
11

Hidden Comcast/Xfinity data restrictions

Let me just quote this to start, it’s from a hidden Comcast FAQ  related to a data usage cap that was not disclosed during any part of the service order/contract process:

What will happen if I exceed 250 GB of data usage in a month?

The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold. If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used. When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily. If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months. We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call. If your account is terminated, after the twelve (12) month period expires, you may resume service by subscribing to a service plan appropriate to your needs.

The back story

I recently switched to Comcast because Qwest had been unable to provide the level of service that I’ve been paying for; typically delivering around 1.5Mbps rather than the advertised 7Mbps. At peak times Qwest performance would drop to near dial-up speeds, and at best we would clock close to 5Mbps around 3am with no one else using bandwidth in the neighborhood. We’ve been streaming a lot of movies on the Xbox recently, and this requires a fairly steady data rate for uninterrupted playback. Qwest just hasn’t been able to keep up. Picture quality is dynamically adjusted by the Netflix Xbox application to attempt to account for bandwith issues, but even with the picture at low quality there are still times where we can’t maintain a playable stream at all.

So when a Comcast rep knocked on the door offering higher speeds for roughly the same price, we decided to give it a shot. After a few hiccups (they wouldn’t drill through stucco, so we had to have a separate contractor put in the jack) we got Comcast internet yesterday. This morning, a graph appeared in my Customer Central page that wasn’t there last night. The graph shows my total data usage out of  a max of 250GB, already at 6GB used. It’s been a little over half a day’s worth of use. My math says we’ll be over the threshold about 21 days into a 30 day cycle. So then what happens? Like I said at the top, I had to do a little digging to find the answer.

Let’s take it point by point:

  • “The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold.”
    • Decodes to: If you exceed this limit, you’re an oddity. The problem is You the customer, not Us. Granted, my internet usage is heavy, but higher than 99% of all Comcast internet users? Even those that purchase the top tier speed package?
  • “If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used.”
    • Decodes to: We have a special department to meter, micromanage and badger you about your internet usage. I haven’t dealt with this kind of heavy handed bandwidth management since the days of the local ISP operating out of a small office with a T3.
  • “When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily.”
    • Here’s where it starts to get nasty. Comcast is now judging my internet usage and applying the term “excessive” and then hinting around at a threat: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, buddy.”
  • “If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months.”
    • Ah-HAH! The threat at last. Decodes to: If you don’t stop using the product which you are paying a heavy monthly fee to use, we will kick you off the internet for a year.
  • “We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call.”
    • Decodes to: We are very proud of the fact that most customers are sufficiently intimidated by our threat that they stop using the product that we’re billing them for.

I find this interesting. Comcast is unable to provide the level of bandwidth that they’ve contracted for, so they avoid embarrassment by pushing the blame back onto their customers. In the modern era, 250GB of data is a lot of data, but certainly not the unreachable limit that they make it sound like. We watch by far less streaming programming than the average family watches TV, but we prefer the option of being able to choose when/what we watch. There’s nothing really “excessive” about it. It’s a feature that is offered on all standard game/entertainment consoles, and even smart phones and iPads.

So right now the plan is to watch our usage for the first month, and if necessary invoke the 30-day service guarantee. But I’d much rather have the best of both worlds, the unlimited usage we had with Qwest, and the speed that we’re getting with Comcast. I don’t fancy the idea of having to closely watch our data usage. This should be transparent to the end user, especially when you’ve contracted for the top tier of residential bandwidth.