Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Computing Power leading to a decline in thought power?

I recently attended an Industry workshop for High Performance Computing at Purdue University. This was industry's chance to give feedback to the university types on what we need, what we don't and what we can't use, no matter how cool. It was a chance for us to get a peek into some of the up and coming research and development in HPC, so we can mull over the possibilities in the next couple of years. It was also a chance for us to network and chat with each other. I had a chance to talk to people supporting HPC activities at about a half dozen major companies and the consensus was immediately clear.

People are relying on the brute computing power of today's computers, rather than thinking carefully. We are apparently not the only ones to notice. Yesterday, Tim Walker posted a thoughtful piece on the usefulness of thinking as well. Don't misunderstand- I am not a luddite. There is no doubt that today's hardest questions require incredible computing power to answer. The power of the computer on my desktop and in my lap right now mean that I can process music and video in ways not possible with paper and pencil. But to think that because you have seemingly endless computing power at your fingers tips you do not have to take time to think before typing is not only wrong, it is wasteful.

Let me give you an example. This is a completely made up example based off of real life stories. The names, products, companies are all changed.. but the thinking ( or lack thereof) remains the same. The impact to the bottom line of the companies has been experienced more than once.

John Smith works for WingsRUs -an up and coming wing company. They are a aiming at becoming the leading supplier of wings to the global wing market, so they want a brand new design that is more efficient, more economical to make and helps the craft it is attached to use less fuel. All great goals. WingsRUs is technologically savvy and uses the latest modeling and simulation methods to test all of their designs before building prototypes. They have a large supercomputer cluster they use to run simulations for fast turn around of ideas. These are all great practices. John has the germ of an idea for a wing that will revolutionize flight. He is sure it will be the next breakthrough product. But there are 3 variables that vary by 4 cm each which could impact his design and he is not quite sure which combinations will give the best results. John can easily submit groups or batches of simulations to the supercomputer cluster at his company, so he decides to parametrize those variables, varying each by a millimeter at a time and running the simulation for each possible combination to find the best solution. Although each simulation runs in 4 hours, this results in thousands of simulations and the analysis of each- adding weeks to the overall design cycle and consuming large amounts of the company computing resources. John consumes so many cycles, that other engineers have trouble getting their jobs through the queue and their managers put together a project with real ROI to expand the cluster and add more computing power to the company resrouces. It has computable ROI because they are in a situation where their engineers ability to work is impacted and with the additional compute power, they can achieve more. However, the same end result could have been achieved without any cash outlay at all, if our friendly engineer John had taken the time to think carefully, done a reasonable design of experiment and run fewer simulations in the first place.

The insanity of this is that every single corporate IT person I have talked to in the last year has at least one of these stories. Sometimes many. Sometimes it is caught before new compute power is purchased, but not always.

You can make the same arguments for something like storage. Yes, storage is fairly cheap right now.. But just because it is cheap, should you fill it up with junk emails and multiple versions of 5 year old files that you never would have kept back when storage was expensive? Wouldn't it make more sense to take time to think for a moment, make reasonable choices and save the money on extra storage?

There are concerns other than costs savings involved as well. An unused brain does not reinforce neural connections and soon becomes "flabby" like an unused muscle. The end result is not just a loss of money for companies, but a loss of the national brain trust and the ability to think an innovate.

I love my computer- sometimes in ways that are probably not healthy. Some people would say I am addicted to the connectivity it provides for me. But I refuse to go one step further and let it think for me. What about you?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sesame Street News

I had flashbacks to Sesame Street this morning while trying to scan through some news headlines. Remember the game where you had to pick the item that did not belong? Here were the headlines that greeted me this morning?

Britain warns terror threat is worsening
Police: Spears has minor accident in Mercedes
Haitian prime minister ousted over high food prices

Sing Along: "one of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong..."

Does someone at CNN really think that those headlines are all equivalent? That Ms. Spears having a minor traffic accident with no injuries and minor damage is equivalent to arguments to increase the amount of time prisoners can be held with out charge and an entire country rising in revolt because they are starving?
Or is the public so oversaturated with bad news that is beyond their control, almost beyond imagining that we have to throw in "digestable" news chunks just to cope?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why I make a lousy team mom

Every Team has at least one "team parent" - you know them- the mom or dad who is the coach's right hand. The one who is at every event, every practice and knows every kid as well as their own. They are the ones who organize the parties, the support and the food. They are backstage, behind the lines or in the locker room for every event, pulling together all the last minute requirements. No sports, drama or school organization could function without them. I do my best to pitch in, help out and give a little extra, but I am a lousy team mom. You would think that someone with the equivalent of an advanced degree in Project Management, who has made miracles happen for teams and can make support materialize out of thin air would be the ultimate team mom. A person who genuinely likes and interacts by choice with kids, who listens and gives advice- should be the makings of a great team mom. Someone who is not afraid to ask for handouts and is not afraid to guilt other people into pitching in? The ultimate team mom, right? Here are the reasons they all fail:

1) I refuse to believe that any one team is more important than everything else. I work, have a household to run and have other kids. They have other activities, sports and teams as well. I can not find it in me to say that one of those is more important than all the others and either schedule everyone else around that one team, or blow off all other commitments and children's activities. In this arena- parents of only children shine as team moms.

2) I refuse to believe that if the team wins it is worth all pain and sacrifice. I know the coaches have to say things like that. It is important to work hard and try your very best. It is important to strive and stretch and try to excel in ways you did not think possible. I do it every day. But I also believe in balance, and fun and peace. And when winning means you sacrifice everything else, something seems wrong to me. When the kids complain they are running a fever or sick or broke an ankle or twisted a knee, I want to nurture them- not send them back in for another round of practice. I can't even fake it enough to be a great team mom.

3) I am a "bad" influence. When kids come to me for advice, I encourage them to think and question ( even authority) , to think outside the box, to stand up for the things they believe in- but to be tolerant of others who choose differently. I can quote the bible ( in several versions), but I do not go to church. I sometimes dress funny and I know things that are cool... sometimes even before the kids. This tends to cause interesting individuals to grow- but is really bad for a team.

4) I only see my Fiance on weekends, and am unwilling to give up those times for team events every weekend. I will do about half- but no more... which means I am unreliable and will not be available no matter what.

5) My health has been flaky- a sad but true statement- which also makes me unreliable. This one just makes me sad. I need this one to change.

To all those team parents out there who make my kid's activities possible, who are the glue that holds everything together, I thank you. Know that you can always call on me for donations, one time events and as much cheering as I can schedule. I promise to not be too scary and keep the foment and unrest to a minimum.

A local Perspective on the Comcast thing

I got a reply to a blog post from Scott Westerman, an executive at Comcast. It would appear that he works/is headquartered in the SouthWest region. He sent me a link to get a message to a Senior Vice President, who forwarded the email to the local ( Midwestern) region that I call home. I then received phone calls from the local executive office, trying to see if my business could be saved, or there was anything that could be fixed for me. I appreciated those calls, and that efforts were being made by the company. It was a case of too little, too late for me- but here are some interesting things that came out of those phone calls.

1) When I said that I had real concerns about the fact that Comcast uses contractors for tech and field agents, and that that cut costs but gave them less control over things like timeliness, responsiveness, and quality; the woman on the phone with me responded that here they are trying to retain all of their old Insight field agents as Comcast contractors, so the quality would stay high.

2) When I said that I had concerns about being on hold a minimum of 45 minutes, I was told that on transition, some phone lines were shut down that should not have been and their queues got long. They thought that his had been resolved and phone queues should be getting shorter soon. She honestly sounded just as frustrated about this as I was. I really do think that she believed that this would turn around soon. Unfortunately, balanced with other conversations I had had with long time Comcast customers, I was not so willing to be optimistic.

I feel awful for the local ( former Insight) workers who are currently spending all day dealing with angry, frustrated, confused customers. I have been in similar situations. It is demeaning and depressing to spend your days being blamed for something that you did not cause. I wish there were some way I could get the word out to the locals to stop blaming the poor local working stiffs who are just trying to hold together the unraveling threads of the poorly communicated plans from their corporate offices. I am sure they are all also concerned about what will happen to their jobs and the jobs of their friends and family as they watch decades-long customers flee.

But do any sort of search on Insight/Comcast 2008 and you will see link after link after link of local newspapers and blogs reporting issues, problems and unhappiness. My post? Just another little drop in the rising waters of unhappiness.

For now- I need to move on to other topics and get back to life, love and technology that glues them together.

ComCast? Take Notes.

Yesterday was the much anticipated ATT install. I was both excited and nervous. Part of me was actually scared silly that they would get here and something would prevent the install ( old lines, noise in the lines, something stupid).

I had an appointment for the install to begin between 8 and 10 am. At 8 am the tech called to check and make sure I was expecting him and to tell me he was going to be there in about 20 minutes. He showed up about 24 minutes after that. He came in the office and the first thing he did was slip little boot covers over his shoes to prevent tracking mud into the house. It was overkill, but it was a really nice gesture. It was not overkill later when he was out in my muddy yard doing the outside work and then came back in the house. There was not a bit of dirt or a track when they left. Maybe I need a box of those hanging at the doors for all the kids this spring?

I walked him through the house, explained what I was hoping to get, what our current setup was, etc. He boggled a little at the number of computers in the house. He was a little concerned about the fact that I wanted one of the settop boxes hooked up to my computer, not a TV ( he had only done 2 before) and when I told him some of my computers were Linux, he admitted he had no idea what that was or how it worked. They normally check every computer ( wired and wireless) for connectivity before they leave. I told him I was not expecting that, or that he re-configure the wireless on my linux boxes. As long as I had one computer talking to the wireless, I knew their part was running correctly, the rest was my responsibility to reset. And so he left to go do the outside work first and would be back in after a bit. After a while, he was joined by a fellow tech and they finished up the install together in a team fashion. They worked well together, they did not in any way mind me getting into the middle of what they were doing and asking questions (I am the sys and network admin at home, if they did not tell me, I would have to tear it apart later to understand it) and they were UberPolite.

I was told by ATT corporate that the install would take 5 to 8 hours. I found out later that they had a personal goal to get me finished in 3. They missed it by 40 minutes, mostly because I interrupted them, asked questions and slowed them down. But they never got impatient or tried to rush me through anything. We ran into some snags trying to get the settop box configured with SageTV software, but again- that was my weird add-on, and not really their responsibility. We got to proof of a signal coming through to the computer, and I let them go-- letting them know that debugging the rest of it was my problem, not theirs. They encouraged me to call tier 2 support for assistance, if I needed it. ( I have debugged it as far as getting WinTV to work via composite input on my own, but would like to get to the point of using the able input with the software able to do channel changes and use it as a PVR. But that is all candy icing--and with my Buffalo drive blown up, I have no place to record to right now, anyway......)

After a long philosophical break with Sam, I decided my mind needed less challenging things to work on, so I started exploring the web management tools ( I can set shows to record on my DVR via a web interface? Cool!) and set up sub-accounts. You get 10 sub-accounts ( which makes a total of 11 accounts with the main), so everyone in the family will get one- plus some left over for fun stuff. Plus, in starting to explore the TV Channels, I noted that ATT has added some interactive channels.. including one that was supposed to be able to display my Flickr photos on the TV- I needed to figure out how to configure that one, and I needed to locate the pop info on my main email, so I could add it to gmail and pull my email from a single interface. Lots of little silly configuration stuff that should not take too many brain cells.

I started with the sub accounts- at least for Ogre. I was going to disable Comcast, which meant his email accounts would be dead, unless I got him set up and running first. I went to the web page and went through the form. ATT is BIG on security, they have security prompts that they call offline ( which I set over the phone when the account was set up) and online ( which I set up on the web page- traditional prompt and response type questions). You had to use both sets of data to set up a sub account. I clicked the "submit" button and got an error. " Partner returns data error". Hmm... maybe I had typed something in wrong? I retyped my security answers to avoid typos. Same error. I sat and stared at the page. I punched submit again. Same error. Hrmmm.. Knowing that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results ( unless you are a quantum physicist), I decided to call tech support. I had a sneaking suspicion. One of my offline prompts was a 4 digit numerical pin. But one was alpha chars. What if they person at the other end had a typo? I had not thought to check it when she input it.


2 minutes to navigate through the voice prompts to a human being. I explained my problem, my error and what I suspected was wrong. She ran me through all the verification prompts and challenges. I proved I was really me. She checked and Yes, sure enough, their was a typo. She fixed it. She stayed on the line while I filled in the form again and hit submit. Same error. Hrmm.. She looked something up in her KB. She asked permission to put me on hold for no more than 10 minutes. I agreed. In the meantime, I started poking around on the website to figure out how to configure my Flickr. I found the link , but before I could start, she was back. (on hold this time- 4 minutes). She apologized and told me she had to transfer me to the next level of support to help with this. Could she put me on hold for no more than 10 minutes while she got the next level of support on line? Sure. I navigated on the web to the link to configure my Flickr. Ahh, it was a simple "associate this ID with your Flickr Yahoo ID and you are set". Cool. She came back on the line and introduced me to Justin. ( on hold? 2 minutes) I explained the issue to Justin, and he asked permission to reset my password so he could try in my account himself. Sure, I can reset it when you are done. Have at it. While he was doing that, I attempted to associate my Flickr IDs. Fail. Sigh. He got the same error I did from his side on creating the sub-account. Frustrating, but a good sign I was not incompetent ;-) We talked through it, he was poking on the website while we talked and remembered another link into sub-account setup. He tried it from there. In the meantime, I was working on the Flickr issue ( he did not know this)and got to where I could get a " your Flickr ID is already associated with this Yahoo ID- do you want to use that?" message and it failed to associate the ATT. I had the sneaking suspicion this was a one to one and not a one to many association... He completed the form from the other angle ( remembering most of the data and only needed a couple of prompts, I might add) and got a difference error message. This one made sense. We needed a different ID. Picked, form filled.. correctly created. He entered a bug report for the bad error message on the other page and noted they needed to be linked to the same code, not split. I asked him about the Flickr ID issue. He said the feature was just released 2 weeks ago, so he was uncertain. Would I be willing to walk him through? Sure. We got to the Flickr log in point and he asked if I could log into Flickr, temp reset my password and let him use that to try it. OK. Again, I can reset the password when we finish the call and you never know any of my personal password info. He got to the same error I did. I explained to him that I was a legacy Flickr user (pre- Yahoo) and when Yahoo bought them, I had to link my Flickr ID to a Yahoo ID. So, my Yahoo ID was already associated with something.. how do I associate my ATT id into the mix as well? I did NOT want another Flickr account- something the system was more than willing to do for me. He poked around some more. While he was poking, I decided to set up gmail. Rather than searching the website for the pop info, I just asked Justin. Without blinking or stopping his search for ideas on the Flickr issue, he told me. Authentication failed. "Did you use your whole email as your ID?" he asked me. Oh, no- just the ID. "Do I need to use the whole thing?" "Yep" "OK". sure enough.. success. "what about transferring between Yahoo IDs?" He inquired. "Well, I have done it", I replied,"but how does that help with the ID?" "That IS a Yahoo ID as well..." Ah ha, that was the piece of info I was missing to make some sense. Attempted and Voila! Not only could I log into Flickr as my new ATT identity, but 2 remote control button presses and 15 seconds later.. there were my pictures on my TV!! Coolness.
He asked permission to document the case and I talked with him for another 4 minutes as we worked through wordings and explanations of the problem and solution and made suggestions for changes to the sign up process so that other legacy Flickr users are directed to the correct steps and do not have to get the right answer from Tech Support. I was out of issues, we parted ways.

We are dealing with technology here. I do not expect it to be perfect or without bugs. I help create technology, I know how messy it can get. But the win? Short Short on hold queue times, talked to real people fast, who listened to me carefully and quickly escalated when needed. Once I got escalated, I got an intelligent human who was a good troubleshooter AND could multi-task with me. I am hooked. This is what it takes to create a satisfied customer.

And Justin's boss? In case you are reading this? Give him a raise.

Life, Death and the End of the World As We Know It..

One of the fun but challenging things about being a parent of teens is that they are at the stage of life where they are starting to question and challenge everything. This often leads into long, deep discussions on the nature of Love, Religion, Power, Death and Rebellion.

I capitalized those on purpose, because at this point in your life, these are not personal, intimate issues, these are Big Ideas. My youngest teen is deep in the throws of this. She is intelligent and looking at the chaotic, messed up world around her with horror and feelings of frustration. She is also wracked by the storms of emotion and hormones that cry out for Action! and Change!- sitting quietly and waiting for an issue to resolve itself is anathema at this stage in life ( where do you think the term "angry young man" came from??). You can imagine the appeal that raddical activist groups were starting to have for her. The glory of damaging animal testing labs, the exhiliration of vandilism to shine a light on animal "haters", the ecstasy of driving stakes into trees to prevent logging!! ELF, ALF, PETA - she was starting to vibrate physically, she was so excited about the potential of other people who wanted to "strike back". Finally, I could stand it no more and had to stretch the limits of her philosophical development. We ended up in a more than 2 hour discussion on right action, peaceful protest, civil disobedience and why "any action in the name of a good cause" is NOT a good thing. She wanted to cry and kill me in the middle of the whole thing, but I hung in there and in the end, I think she actually gets it. We will see if it sticks, or if she starts plotting to free Guinea Pigs from Walmart again.

For those of you not certain why saving poor suffering animals by damaging testing labs across the earth is bad, let me do a quick summary of a 2 hour conversation.

1) Issues are not Black and White. Issues are rarely simple. Any arguement or advocacy group that boils them down this way is overlooking something. Animal testing as a case in point. Yes, I agree that testing animals for beauty products and our vanity is horrible. However, there are people that you know and love who would be dead today if someone had not done some medical testing on animals at some point. Is that a price you are willing to pay? Ahh... test on humans instead of animals? OK- which Humans? Prisoners? Because they are bad people? What about the ones in prison who we find out years later were actually innocent? Did they deserve it? OK- volunteers only? What if the volunteers only feel desperate, that they have no other choice? What if they were abused and maltreated as children? What if they were discriminated against? What if they are slightly mentally ill and just can not make it any other way? Is that still OK? Hmm... the ethical and moral decisions we have to make in modern human society ( and probably forever) are complex and hard and never simple. If anyone convinces you that a decision is easy, they have not given you all the information and you have research to do.

2)Impulsive, Radical actions rarely have the end result you wanted and often have unwanted end results and complications. You evaluated all the evidence, made really hard choices? Still want to take action. OK. Harsh reality:Getting together with a bunch of your friends, randomly freeing the animals from the test labs and using bolt cutters to cut up fences is NOT going to prevent animal testing.
a) premise #1 is "do enough damage to the testing labs, they will shut down" Reality is that you are fighting against Large Corporate Entities. Doing a few thousand dollars of damage to a testing lab is like a baby fly buzzing at a picnic. You can not do enough damage to stop this. If the testing contributes significantly to their bottom line, they will re-invest in it without a moment of contemplation. You want to make a difference- strike at their sales and profits, not at their cost of doing business.
b) premise #2 is " it is better for the poor animals to not be in the labs" Reality? Animals freed from a testing lab do NOT make good pets, are very hard to handle and often still do not thrive. Many of them are unadoptable. Many of them end up dead.

I use Animal rights here as an example, becuase it is one of the topics that we adressed, that is near and dear to her heart right now. But the general premises hold for any cause.

At this point she was not happy, she was struggling and frustrated with the complexities of hard problems, but she was convinced that there were limited sets where it was going to be resolvable. That is when I knew I had to stretch her hard. Here is the real point, the real issue, the one that breaks most people.

3) Taking Action at any cost in the name of a good cause now removes from you the ability to prevent other people from doing the same thing for causes you do not agree with. This is where her brain exploded for a while. She railed against the concept. "but they are wrong- that is why they should not do it" I tried the wrong tact of the worst case extreme example of people whose ideals you disagree with taking action- the KuKluxKlan and the Nazis. That proved to be too big, too much, we were just going to degrade into an argument and lose the concept. I back tracked and emerged into something smaller and easier.

You know in your heart of hearts that mistreating animals is bad, and you have decided that fur wearers are horrible and cruel and fur wearing has to stop. You thought through all the consequences and have invented special paint sprayers that can be carried anywhere and you and your followers will spray flourescent paint on every passer by you see wearing fur until everyone stops. You know that vandalism is wrong, you know some people might get hurt, but this fur wearing is so horrible that it has to be stopped at any cost. She was on board for this. (Actually, I think a part of her brain was starting to work on the design for the paint gun...) Now. If you carry this out- how can you condemn people who really believe that homosexuality is wrong and thus those two guys walking down the street holding hands deserved to be beaten up? What is the difference? But they are WRONG! She screamed. ( no. really. literally. screamed.) Her brain cells expanded and imploded in what would have made award winning MRI artworks. How is it different, I pressed, except that you agree with the premise and cause of one group and not with the others? If you have the right to damage personal property for things you believe in- so do they. What if they decide that that need to spray paint on the windows and cars of everyone who is agnostic ( her self proclaimed affiliation)? What right do you have to prevent this attack on yourself? She melted. I think ( I hope) she got it. I am sure we will have this discussion more than once. It is an amazingly hard concept to wrestle through. It will show great emotional maturity if she actually gets it.
Then I rejoiced in the SF protests, becuase I did not want to leave her feeling hopeless and powerless. We talked about civil disobedience, about how it is not ok to do wrong or harm to others or their property, but it is OK to sometimes stand up( or sit down) in the name of a cause- even if it is illegal to do that. We touched on taking personal risk and personal cost versus acts of terrorism.

Whew. Now do you understand why I live in a constant state of tired? Parenting is an exhausting job.. but she is going to be an amazing person some day and I will have the priviledge of knowing my time and energy helped that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Comcast gets Marching Orders

There was a lot of buzz in the Blogosphere and Twitterverse yesterday because Michael Arrington got his Comcast issues resolved quickly by creating a Twitter storm that was being monitored by a Comcast executive. Shawn Morrissey noted that a quick Twitterscan showed that lots of people were complaining about Comcast yesterday ( and every day, apparently). Brandon LeBlanc summarized a lot of people's feelings yesterday when he noted that the "famous" folks got their Tweets responded to, but the "little people" were ignored. This resulted in a highly read TechCrunch post that is recommending that people skip the 45 minute customer service phone queue and just Twitter a lot. Good advice if you are Michael Arrington, but apparently not so helpful if you are a "regular" customer. Hey, no hard feelings to Michael, if I had the leverage and it worked to my advantage in a very annoying situation, I would use the hell out of it. I wonder if Michael could create Twitterstorms for all the other outraged Comcast customers as well. Unfortunately, the more I look into this, the more convinced I am that he would have to abandon TechCrunch and take on "Comcast user advocate" as his new full time job. There are a lot of pissed off people out there.
Include me in their ranks.
Here in Indiana, we used to have Insight Cable. They were wonderful. Now, don't get me wrong- they have had glitches and problems, issues and outages. But their people are friendly, helpful and responsive. The longest on hold queue I ever sat in was maybe 15 minutes and that was in the middle of a major outage. Our bandwidth was great and very stable.

Then at the beginning of this year, we were the loosers in a bounty divide between Insight and Comcast, which resulted in all our connectivity being owned by Comcast. I had heard some of the horror stories, so I held my breathe. But then people like Arrington and Dvorak constantly praise their Comcast connectivity, so maybe it was going to be OK.

It is SO not OK, and I am not the only person in the area to think so. Everyone in town is complaining about how their throughput has slowed. Think about this... this is the exact same hardware and field infrastructure. Comcast did not come out, tear up old wire and lay new stuff. They never touched our boxes or hardware. All that changed was that our traffic is getting routed through their switches and software now, instead of Insight's. And it sucks.

I telecommute from home most days. It is a wonderful thing, especially being a Mom. The alternative would be to be on the road ALL the time, which would be very expensive and time wasteful for my company as well. I can handle most issues via teleconference or netmeeting, gathering enough information to do architecural designs and estimates. There are exceptions and some travel does happen. For the most part, I am camped out in the home office. With a VPN connection into the corporate network. It does NOT generate a lot of traffic. We are not yet advanced enough to be video conferencing over the corporate network ( don;t ask me why not- that is an entirely different rant). This is text and data and file exchange only. But I upload files into coorporate sharepoint systems, and ftp data into servers. This must be some kind of comcast flag. When my fiance is here, he is also dialed into his work and often uploading large files into supercomputers. This is NOT a change in how we behaved under Insight. We were not bringing down the town and preventing anyone from being able to send emails to their great aunt Mary. Insight never had a issue with this. Comcast is throttling the hell out of us. They will not admit it, but our bandwidth has dropped significantly, with our avg upload speed often at 500Kbs or less. This has started to impact the speed and effectiveness with which I can do my job.

They are not just throttling uploads, they are also throttling downloads as well. We are having a good day when we get 1.5 Mbs download shared across multiple computers. This is a drop from what used to be an average of 6-8 under Insight. If you have a single computer connected to the internet and are cruising the web, or watching a youTube fest, 1.5 is probably just dandy. But we have a household where when everyone is here and plugged in, we easily have 8 computers or more connected at once. Sharing 1.5Mbs across that is painfully slow. Even my 13 year old starting complaining about the internet being slow, thinking something was wrong with her computer.

I started watching the alternatives, and thinking about Dish. The problem with Dish connections is that we get a lot of weather and weather tens to interrupt the satellite link. I was concerned about the alternatives, but actively pondering it. I even found that there is a customer advocacy site for Comcast users ( not run by comcast), their service and support is so notoriously bad. You can check it out and see the long running list of service problems that have not changed for years. One customer gets an issue resolved, but another has exactly the same problem. Comcast is living in firefighting mode and has no intention of changing the fundamental way they do business. I really did not want to get caught in the middle of that.

Then last month, a friend who was also switched from Insight to Comcast had her service interrupted, with headaches and slow action to resolve it. As a fellow telecommuter, this meant a trip out of state to stay with her parents just to keep working. Comcast just does not care. She dropped their Comcast and switched to AT&T. That was when I found out that AT&T potentially had their new uVerse TV service available in our area. I made some calls and sure enough we can get Uverse as well as the DSL Max ( 10 Mbs down, 1.5 Mbs up) for the same price as out current Comcast bill. This actually gives us more channels- which if we do not watch, I can downgrade and save 8 bucks per month) and three receiver boxes. This means the TV connection into the bedroom computer can now include a box and get all the good channels, the Main living room TV will have the DVR box and the old TV downstairs which had been just a game console can get connectivity as well. Who'da thunk?

I got my confirmation over the weekend that the technician will be here on Wednesday morning, and since they are NOT contractors like the Comcast folks are, I have high confidence they will actually show. At that point, if everything is installed and running smoothly, I will be calling Comcast and giving them Marching Orders ( once I get past the 45 minute onhold queue) no questions asked.

Edit: ( 4/10/08) Update: I was out of town on Monday and Tuesday, and when I got home, there was a voice mail from the executive offices of Comcast. Since I had to be concentrating on ATT in the morning, I intended to give them a call and explain this to them in the afternoon. Before I had a chance to call them back, I got a call from them. I explained to a very nice lady in the executive offices that our bandwidth had significantly decreased, that I was not pleased with the customer service levels and I felt I was placing myself at too high a personal risk if I stayed with them as a provider. I explained that even if they could make my pipe whizzy fast again, I could not support Comcast in this way. She apologized, took my order to discontinue service and I went on with my day. About 40 minutes later,i got a call- from the Comcast executive offices, asking about my email. I explained that I had just talked to someone and explained it all- but that I was willing to explain again. She commented on how this was odd, as there was no note on my account that anyone had spoken to me. ( why am I uncomfortable again???) I went through the whole explanation again, she apologized again. I will be taking the box back to the offices later today, anyone want to bet if my service actually got discontinued yesterday or not??

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Geeky Fun

If I had not been driving my daughters to the airport yesterday, I would have been over at Purdue, watching the Rube Goldberg Contest. There may be those who see this as a silly waste of time and talent, trying to find the hardest way to accomplish a task, but it is also a great lesson in team building and creative thinking. I will, however be over at Purdue Monday night and all day Tuesday for the Industry Workshop on HPC- both to give them some insight into the world of manufacturing, as well as fodder for the HPCMFG blog.

What are your favorite Geeky ways to kick back, have fun and expand your mind?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

spring revival

I had considered just starting to post again, and pretending like there had not been an almost one month gap between posts, but that seemed wrong somehow. So, here is the short rundown:

At the very end of February, I finally got the respiratory flu that everyone else in the family ( and the local universe) had been fighting. I knew it was just a virus and would eventually resolve itself, so I attempted to push through it. Lack of respect for the strength of our microscopic foes then resulted in me getting progressively worse. I had to travel for work at the beginning of March, and went- sickness, fever and all. It was a sort of non negotiable training/workshop that would have resulted in BIG political problems if I had just blown it off. I had griped about having to go to my boss enough that I knew I could not just call him up and tell him I was sick and staying home. They needed to see in the flesh that I was sick. So, I went, participated and infected them all. I also got worse. By now I was progressed to full blown bronchitis, but was stubbornly resisting admitting it. ( plus, my ex's dad had died, I had all the kids and there just was not a good way to lay down and be sick) After another week my breathing was bad enough that I finally went to the doctor. He diagnosed a severe bronchitis that had also triggered my asthma. The last part pissed me off. It had been over 3 years since I had needed any meds or treatment for my ( normally mild) asthma. I did not even own an inhaler any more. He debated the hospital briefly, he debated some shots to get meds in me fast, then finally was able to be settled on serious antibiotics, prednisone and albuterol via nebulizer. At this point I was still remaining active ( and probably a little whiny) on twitter. Most days, without enough oxygen and energy, 140 characters was often all I could put together coherently. I would have two or three good blog post thoughts a day, but by the time I got through work and kids, I would sit and thoughts would flee, scattered by low oxygen levels.

The Bronchitis was vanquished by the powers of Levaquin, and for a brief time while the Prednisone levels were high in my blood, my breathing improved slightly. It was just enough to get me through Easter weekend and all the festivities and family gatherings. As the steroid levels ramped back down, my asthma lingered on. I used Albuterol in the nebulizer several times per day each time resulting in shakes, tremors, racing heart and exhaustion. My oxygen levels started to drop again. I tried to ignore it and push through. I even had a kid free weekend where Ogre and I went out dancing. That ended with me having to make trips outside, needing air more than the electric feeling of being alive dancing in the club gave me. Finally, after 5 more days of crashing hard, needing naps and not being able to do much more than claw my way through my days, I called the Doctor back.

He switched me off of Albuterol and onto Xanopex (which makes me tremor less, but it NOT tremor free as he promised), another ( slightly longer) round of Prednisone and Advair. The Advair still makes me nervous and I am feeling uncomfortable about taking it, but three doses of Prednisone has opened up my lungs enough that the Oxygen is once again racing to my neurons. I could feel it after the first dose- my Tweets started running out of room, and I found that I often had more than 140 ( or even 160) characters to say. That is when I knew I needed to get back to blogging.

So today, I am still on the nebulizer, still coughing and hacking a bit, but breathing all the same. My brain is active, my sex drive is back and I am airing out the house as well as my lungs. It is good to be back.

Now, I am going to switch around some laundry and then we will return to your regularly scheduled channel.