Category Archives: Shopping

Brilliantly Stupid

Dumb Cuneiform. We’ll take your tweets and make them permanent clay tablets.

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The Future of Phones Says “Fi”

Errata Security discusses Google’s Project Fi.

An “MVNO” is a virtual mobile phone company — they don’t have any of their own network backbone or cell towers, but just rent them from the real mobile phone companies (like AT&T or T-Mobile). Most mobile phone companies are actually MVNOs, because building a physical network is expensive.

What makes Google’s MVNO interesting:

  • Straightforward pricing. It’s $20 a month for unlimited calling/texting, plus $10 per gigabyte of data used during the month. It includes tethering.
  • No roaming charges, in 120 countries. I can fly to Japan, Australia, and France, and still use email, Google maps, texting — for no extra charge.

In-country phone calls are free, but international phone calls still cost $0.20 a minute — unless you are on WiFi, in which case it’s free. Again, this is a feature provided by other mobile phone companies and MVNOs.

In short, Google is really doing nothing new. They are just providing what you’d expect of a 21st century phone service without all the pricing shenanigans that other companies go through in order to squeeze extra money out of you.

Plus you get to choose what area code you’d like your number to be in.

On thing though: at present Project Fi only works with Google’s Nexus 6 phone.

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No Joke

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “There’s an Uber for everything now. Washio is for having someone do your laundry, Sprig and SpoonRocket cook your dinner and Shyp will mail things out so you don’t have to brave the post office. Zeel delivers a massage therapist (complete with table). Heal sends a doctor on a house call, while Saucey will rush over alcohol. And by Jeeves — cutesy names are part of the schtick — Dufl will pack your suitcase and Eaze will reup a medical marijuana supply.”

I thought MoDo had been played, but it’s all true, even if some of them only serve Seattle and Silicon Valley.

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A Day Full of Comcast

Fearing that Comcast might show up without warning, I arranged my day so that I could spend most of it at home. But there was an 11am meeting I really needed go to to. Fortunately, we got done by 11:20, and then I rushed home again.

And, wouldn’t you guess, there were two trucks in front of my house when I got home. The guys said they had been trying to call me – on my home number (although they didn’t leave a message).

We agreed what they would do, namely run the new cable but leave the old one in place for the next Comcast guy to do the hookup. This was consistent with what everyone else who had come here or discussed it with me had said. So I went to my study and started working away.

Then the Internet went dead.

When I went outside I discovered the guys had pulled down the cable. Don’t worry, they told me, we’ll put in a new one and reconnect it so you won’t need to have another appointment. While being threatened with not having another Comcast appointment is like being told you may not need to have that root canal after all, I still worried. Does the contractor know how to connect up a cable? It’s not rocket science, but still, everyone else had been adamant that this was a task for a Comcast tech, not a Comcast contractor.

Meanwhile, I had a look a the trench which the team seemed to be digging with its hands. It seemed very shallow. How deep is it, I ask? Four to six inches, I’m told. So much for Comcast shovel technology not being adequate to dig a trench.

How long to make the new connection? I asked. A few minutes they say.

And indeed, in less than 10 minutes they said they were done.

So I tested it. Google strained to come up. Things were sloooow.

I ran a speed test. Ping was great: 5ms. Download was awful, 0.13 Mb when I’m paying for “Blast+” that promises 50Mb in burst mode. Upload was great, 11Mb. The last time I saw this combination of slow download fast upload it was a modem sync issue, so I power cycled the modem. Meanwhile, the contractors call in for a tech who they cheerfully promise will arrive sometime later today, undoubtedly, think I, while I’m going to fetch my son from school. That next Comcaster, the contractors said, is going to make some sort of more direct connection on the pole.

Don’t worry, it’s all outdoor work, you don’t need to be home.

I shuddered. I’d heard this before.

The modem finished its power cycle but there was no change on the download number. I ran a 50′ cable direct from the modem to a desktop, cutting out the router and the network from the circuit. This raised the download speed to 0.43 Mb, which while a vast improvement in percentage terms was still not anything like the speeds I had been getting yesterday. I ran the test several times, and managed to get over 1Mb downstream once. It still felt like a modem issue to me, and I wondered if maybe we just had to ask Comcast to resynch on their end. The tech says he’d try reinstalling the connection, just in case.

And, yes, whatever he did made a difference. Now with the PC directly connected to the modem I get about 10Mb down, and 11.75Mb up, about 20% of the download speed I previously enjoyed. And the contractor goes away, satisfied his work is done.

On the theory that this might be a modem issue, I called Comcast tech support (I get the Philippines call center), and the tech sends a refresh code down the line to the modem. This has no discernible effect. We try several different things including multiple reboots of the modem and one of the router, direct connections, network connections. The only thing I learn of interest is that one of my 50′ Cat 5e cables has a bad clip.1 All in all, we spent a good 45 minutes doing things that maybe ought to have worked, but don’t. The only thing I don’t manage to do is unscrew and reattach the coax connection to the modem, which I’m told might help somehow. I can’t do it because the original installer screwed it on so tightly that it is un-moveable. I hope the next team will have the right tools.

The phone tech tells me to tell the repair guy – who she tells me is scheduled to come between 2-6, a window that includes the school run – the following: “Modem is active and online, but it is not showing a stable connection from the server. Have the tech disconnect the coax to reset the connection. Ask them to call tech support so they can monitor connection.”

And there it sits for a couple of hours when, miraculously, a Comcast tech and his assistant show up at about 3:15, that is before I’ve left to do the school run. I explain the problem. I show them the above quote from the phone tech, which they say makes no sense to them. Surveying the back of the house, they note that the previous crew did not in fact take down the old cable so much as cut it, leaving a big piece hanging precariously, one that they then tied my new line into. The new crew brings out a giant ladder to climb up and attach the coiled up part of the new cable directly to the Comcast line high on the pole. This is no mean feat given that there is a small jungle around the base of the pole, including several trees, making it tough to get the ladder into place.

And after about 20 minutes they’re done. They test the signal at the house, and again at the modem, and its strong. Sure enough, speedtest (via the network) is now at 43.24 Mb down and 9.7Mb up; ping is up to 9, but who’s counting? Some of that speed may be illusory due to burst mode, but it’s still good. Looking at my modem diagnostics, I discover I now have IPv6 — which I didn’t have in December — and after tweaking my Tomato settings on my router to DHCPv6 with prefix delegation — I confirm this via

So it’s all good. Well, all good except for one thing. During all this excitement, the air conditioner stopped working.2 The a/c repair guys are busy today but say they will come tomorrow.


  1. A Report From Comcast Hell
  2. Comcast Discovers that Burying a Cable Requires Digging a Trench
  3. A Quick Comcast Update

  1. What? You don’t have a second 50′ Cat 5e cable in your house? What do you do when the first one goes bad? 

  2. Those of you mired in snow may not grasp the seriousness of this in Miami even in early March. It hit 81°F today, and was hotter upstairs. 

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A Quick Comcast Update

Faith just called. She hadn’t seen my email, but her boss had either seen it and/or seen my blog posting, and she’s been tasked with sorting things.

The contractor is coming on Tuesday some time between 8am and 8pm. As it happens I have several meetings on Tuesday but no classes, so I ask if maybe the contractor could call me before starting work and I’ll rush home. Faith says she is going to try to make this happen.

If so, I say, it would be the first pre-visit phone call I’d gotten from Comcast in this process. Faith explains that they call before in-house visits, but not for visits that involve only outdoor work, since you don’t need to be there. (Except, I think to myself, when you are needed to open the invisible immaterial fence, but I don’t say that; Faith is too nice to snark to.)

What do people without blogs do?


  1. A Report From Comcast Hell
  2. Comcast Discovers that Burying a Cable Requires Digging a Trench
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Comcast Discovers that Burying a Cable Requires Digging a Trench

I got up at 8am in case a Comcast person turned up at our door without phoning. I felt for some reason that I ought to be fully dressed for such an occasion.

No one turned up from 8-10, of course, and no one called either.

But some time not long after 10am, a Comcast cable moving person appeared at our door. Unfortunately by then we’d given up and gone out to forage for the week’s food. I left my son to hold down the fort, and what follows is based on his report.

It seems our work order is in the system as “low hanging cable” and therefore Comcast has not yet gotten its collective mind around the idea that it should be buried rather than moved. The guy we got today had equipment for burying a cable – to wit, a shovel – but looking over our yard he decided that the cable would have to be buried more than six inches deep. That means the trench is beyond the capabilities of shovel technology, and requires some actual mechanical digging equipment. This, alas, he did not have. As a result he is passing the buck to one of Comcast’s contractors, people who have the equipment that will dig a trench. (Why the cable needs to be buried more than six inches and/or why this fact was not evident to last week’s guy, is opaque to me … unless it was that last week’s guy, being unequipped with shovel technology, was himself in no danger of having to dig a quite long trench.) Today’s guy took some photos and assured my son that the contractor would turn up at some unspecified date and time this week, but not to worry as it was all outside work and we didn’t need to be home. The way it works is that the contractor digs the trench, lays the wire and fills up the hole, but doesn’t actually connect the wire to the house. That job is reserved for true Comcast people who come at some later time to disconnect the old wire (and, I hope, remove it) and connect up the new one.

The idea of some contractor turning up at a random time and digging trenches in my back yard based on photos doesn’t fill me with glee, especially given that there are sprinkler lines and the AT&T phone wire buried down there just waiting to be severed. I’d like to be here when the contractor comes, but for that to happen (1) I’d have to know when he was scheduled for, and (2) be free then, and not least, (3) he’d actually have to turn up more or less when promised. None of these seem like high-probability events, and if you multiply the three probabilities together you get the sort of small numbers usually associated with the resolution of an electron microscope.

Faith, the lady from “we can help,” told me that her hours were 8-5, Sun-Thursday, so I tried calling her to see if she could tell me when the contractor might be scheduled to turn up. She didn’t answer her phone, but the message tells me that I’ve reached her desk and can leave a message. I guess I’ll try again tomorrow.

[Update: I emailed instead.]

Previously: A Report From Comcast Hell

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A Report From Comcast Hell

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I had AT&T DSL. It did what it promised, but it wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the multimedia demands of my internet-media-gulping family (especially when both kids were home), plus the upload speed was capped too low to permit us to take advantage of DISH Anywhere – a service that would let me watch local basketball on my laptop on the road, and to route saved movies to any computer in the house. AT&T doesn’t offer FIOS here. There’s Xfinity, but that wasn’t much faster than what I had, and it cost more unless you bundled with video, which I didn’t want to do since we are happy with Dish and, more to the point, are locked in by the DRM encryption they put on all the movies we’ve saved to watch some day that will in most cases probably never come. Yes, DRM is the root of all evil. But that’s a different story.

So, despite everything bad I’d ever heard about it, and yes I read quite a lot of awful, I got Comcast (for internet only) right before the Xmas holidays. The price was right – even after the first six months of big discount I’d be paying about the same as I paid AT&T – and the speed was more than four times faster down and six times faster up. A good deal.

Except for one thing. Our AT&T cable is buried. I asked Comcast if they would bury the cable, and all the sales guy would say is to ask the installer. The installer didn’t have the equipment to bury cable, and he was in a hurry. He hung a low slung line from the pole to my house, right along the line of palm trees our neighbor has running on the property line. Those trees have big big fronds, and they fall. The line was clearly tree bait. So I decided I had to either persuade Comcast to bury the line, or go back to AT&T, as my service would never survive even a medium-sized storm, much less a tropical storm (which we get with some frequency) or a hurricane (two big ones so far in my time in Miami).

Thanks to the internet, I found the email address of the Comcast people you write to in order to explain you want your line buried. I sent the following email (I’m quoting it because this will be relevant later):

From: Michael Froomkin
Subject: Burying the cable

I recently ordered comcast service for the first time. I asked on the phone if they would bury the cable, they said that was up to the installer. The installer seemed to be in a great hurry, and just ran a very low-hanging line from the pole to my house. This thing is tree bait.

It won’t survive a big storm, much less anything serious. Do I have to go back to AT&T — which is buried — or is there some way you can run this line in a more safe manner?

I live at xxxxxxxx, Coral Gables, FL 33146. Account number is **** ***** ******* .

This email resulted in a phone call in which “Faith,” a friendly and helpful and as it proved aptly-named Comcast rep, first called to say she would take care of it, and then called a second time to set up an appointment for the following week. I basked in my Google-fu, the value of the DSL Reports web site, and looked at the I thought soon-to-be-buried line sagging its way to my house with less worry.

Oh, the hubris.

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