Comcast Bandwidth Deception

I work on the Internet. Having a fast Internet connection is an important part of my work environment. At home, I also use my Internet connection for entertainment and home automation. When my Internet connection is slow or isn't working, I notice.

For the last few months I've been a reluctant Comcast cable Internet customer, after technical and speed challenges with the local DSL provider I was using couldn't be resolved. I pay for a 25Mbps download speed service level with Comcast. But almost as soon as we had service turned on, I started noticing that from around 5 PM until around 10PM or later, our available speeds would significantly decrease - sometimes down to 1Mbps or lower.

I contacted Comcast about it. After all the usual ridiculousness where they try to sell me phone service, tell me I need a new cable modem, tell me it must be squirrels, etc, we got to the heart of the matter:

Me: Is our bandwidth shared with other users, or should it be protected even during peak times?
Comcast: It's not shared at all.

I didn't believe them, but I believed that they wouldn't admit to the bandwidth being shared. So I started collecting data to prove otherwise.

Using a command line tool to query the speedtest.net service, I set up a script that would run once every hour and record the currently available download and upload speeds, as well as ping time. I put all that in a spreadsheet. After two months, I graphed the average upload and download speed available at each hour of the day:

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Truth in advertising

False advertising?At some point when I was fairly young, I was excited to learn about the concept of "truth in advertising" - the notion that it actually matters whether what you say in a public announcement or description of products or services is true or not.  I was even more excited to learn that there was an official government entity (in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission) empowered to enforce truth in advertising standards, and punish those who would dare publish falsehoods.  It totally knocked my socks off to further learn that ordinary citizens could submit claims of false advertising and compel advertisers to change or withdraw their deceptive advertising pieces.

What a world of pure and unflinching justice we could then live in!  To walk around knowing that the slogans and invitations on billboards, newspaper ads and television were all required by law to be true, and that onerous fines and the shame of the public eye awaited the occasional miscreant who would stray from this noble code.  No need to worry about being deceived or misled as a consumer; we could always have confidence that advertisers would stand by their claims.

Like I said, I was young.

But at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I do think there's been a notable shift in the standards we hold marketers and public figures to when it comes to truth in advertising.  Seems like somewhere around the mid 1990's, we kind of gave up on it.

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Anatomy of a modern tech support case

Based on a true story:

Them: "Please fill out our online form and we'll get back to you right away!"

You in online form: "Hi.  I'm trying to find the button that does the thing I want, and your documentation says it should be there but it's not - can you tell me how to do the thing I want?"

Them: "Thank you for opening your tech support case - your question is very important to us.  We will get back to you very soon now."

Them: "Hi there, my name is Tech Support Rep#2342 and I'm going to be assisting you with your question."

Them: "It's me, Rep#2342 again, and I wanted to let you know that you can find out everything you'd ever want to know about the button you're looking for on our online knowledgebase, which is at http:....  I hope you enjoy all the information that will be at your fingertips there."

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Why can't those downtown merchants get it right?

There's an interesting and sad article in today's Palladium-Item, Main Street struggles for survival.  Articles like it are being written about struggling downtown areas across the country, so of course it's nothing new in "this economy," but because it's about the downtown in my community, I take special notice.

The article contains some interviews with downtown business owners, some perspective on the history of the Main Street organization there, and some talk of renewed activity from merchants and business owners (myself among them) in helping make the area thrive.  But there's something missing from the picture the article paints.

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Customer service FAILs (and a WIN)

A few short stories of recent FAIL and WIN experiences in customer service:

Trying to stop getting unsolicited postal mail from Comcast

I'm not a Comcast customer, haven't been for a long time, and never at my current address. I get postcards, letters and brochures from them on a regular basis - sometimes several times a week.  It's annoying and wasteful.  I searched the Comcast website and the Internet at large for a while for a web-based form to get on a "do not send me mail" list, and couldn't find one.  I called their 800 number and hung up after too many minutes on hold.  I finally sent in a generic inquiry through their online form, providing the addresses I wanted removed.

Done, right?  Nope.

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Fireplaces, kitchen supplies and Indian food, oh my

What a pretty ceramic thing that is!This weekend I had the opportunity to sample three local/regional shopping destinations that were all new to me:

1) The Fireplace Shop at 1000 North F Street in Richmond is an amazing little brick complex that showcases all that can be done with wood and other heat sources. From traditional fireplaces to wood burning stoves to corn pellet stoves to crazy other conflagrant configurations, it was quite a wonderland of temperature control. With the added bits of atmosphere like lazy cats sprawled across warm surfaces, fireplace and chimney sweep nostalgia everywhere, and the hustle-bustle of workers in workshops catering to the demands of the cold season, it was a nice place just to be and observe. The store also adjoins a ceramic tile store (which sells the locally made Terra Green Ceramics line) and a brick/stone store, so you can knock out quite a bit of home improvement planning in one place. I can't imagine there's one of these in every community these days, and I'm certainly grateful to have one here. Continue reading Fireplaces, kitchen supplies and Indian food, oh my

Review of Ready Made magazine

Ready Made Magazine coverThe "do it yourself" (DIY) movement is sometimes talked about as a new or emerging phenomenon, but when you reduce it to its essence - "people creating or repairing things for themselves without the aid of paid professionals" - it's clear that DIY is just a new label for a way of living that is as old as human existence itself.

Our culture likes to take the old and repackage it as the new so it's more exciting and engaging. I don't have any problem with that per se - there can be something creative and innovative in finding different ways to present ideas, world-views, ways of living so that they're more accessible to more people. We all go through different kinds of personal discovery about what we're capable of, so why not have a "new movement" that helps support and nurture that for folks who are in that place right now?

This is what I thought I was being pitched when I got an invitation to subscribe to Ready Made magazine, which presents itself as "the only do-it-yourself (DIY)/lifestyle magazine for young people. It entertains and informs through DIY projects for fast-evolving lifestyles." It sounded like a good support resource for learning more about self-sufficient living. I showed the invite to Anna Lisa and we both agreed that it looked like it would be useful, AND that we were excited such a publication existed at all. But when the first issue arrived, it only took me a few hours before I knew we'd be canceling the subscription. Here's why:

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