Two items of interest

Here are a couple of items of possible interest to some of you.

First, a group of companies, organizations, and notable individuals signed on to a letter to President Obama urging that the government not mandate “back doors” in computing products. I was one of the signatories. You can find a news account about the letter here and you can read the letter itself here. I suggest you read the letter to see the list of signers and the position we are taking.

Second, I’ve blogged before about the new book by Carey Nachenberg — a senior malware expert who is one of the co-authors of Norton Security: The Florentine Deception. This is an entertaining mystery with some interesting characters and an intricate plot that ultimately involves a very real cyber security threat. It isn’t quite in the realm of an Agatha Christie or Charles Stross, but everyone I know how has read it (and me as well!) have found it an engrossing read.

So, why am I mentioning Carey’s book again? Primarily because Carey is donating all proceeds from sale of the book to a set of worthy charities. Also, it presents a really interesting cyber security issue presented in an entertaining manner. Plus, I wrote the introduction to the book, explaining a curious “premonition” of the plot device in the book. What device? What premonition? You’ll need to buy the book (and thus help contribute to the charities), read the book (and be entertained), and then get the answer!

You can see more about the book and order a copy at the website for The Florentine Deception.

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Goodbye Comcast! Hello Metronet!

Where I live, in West Lafayette IN, there is one local TV station. The next nearest TV stations are in Indianapolis. Over-the-air TV reception isn’t very good without a large mast and special antenna. It is a natural market for cable. Internet service also suggests cable connectivity as a good idea.

When we moved here, 26 years ago, a cable company was firmly established. I believe it was Cox Communications at the time. We subscribed at the apartment where we first lived. For the next 6 years, the service was okay, although we suffered through occasional outages. In 1992, we bought a house. Shortly after moving in, we dumped the premium cable channels and got DirecTV. Although we occasionally lose reception during severe storms, the customer service has always been great, and it simply works. We made sure the new house we built in 1998 was wired for DirecTV as well as cable.

Somewhere in that span, Cox sold their business in the area to Comcast. Comcast had a poor reputation for customer satisfaction, but they made all sorts of representations to the Public Utility Commission and local governments about better service and low prices, to which they mostly held…for a few years.

My Internet service was originally via dial-up modem, but that didn’t result in very good connectivity. In the early 90s, I was able to get a leased line into the Purdue telephone switch for a dedicated modem circuit, and that had much better connectivity. Later, when that service was no longer offered, I got ISDN service that was a pain to get installed, but worked quite well thereafter. Sometime in the last two decades, I switched to DSL, and then to cable modem service because it was much faster for the cost — coax beats twisted pair over the longer haul. We also had basic cable TV (although still depending mostly on DirecTV, but wanting something with the local station when the weather gets bad) so I was able to get a bundle price for both. Still a big chunk of change, but there weren’t any real options.

Our relationship with Comcast has been rocky. Several times a year — sometimes dozens — the Internet service will die. We’ve had to have new cable to the house twice, and I don’t know how many times we’ve had to call about problems. Once, I had to escalate to 3rd tier tech support to get anyone who could understand what I was telling them. To get all the local TV stations inside the house on the basic package I needed to install (at my expense) a cable amplifier. And they continue to nickel-and-dime us on charges of one kind or another. It has not been my best experience as a customer, but as I said, there were no real options unless I was willing to take a big hit in network throughput or price.

There is little wonder why Comcast got the “Golden Poo” award in 2010 from The Comsumerist for being the worst company in America. At one point, they had the dubious distinction of being the company or agency with the worst public image in the country — even worse that the IRS!

Earlier this year, I reported to Comcast that our Internet service was dropping and resetting several times a day. Our TVs also stopped being able to access some local channels (with a message that the signal was too weak). The first customer service person I contacted claimed it must be a problem with my Windows registry settings, which is interesting as a Mac directly connected to the router was experiencing the problem. She was clueless when I informed her it was not a Windows machine. (“If it isn’t a PC you should have a business account — your service is only for personal computers.”) The next caller tried to blame my firewall for the problem, but I persisted and got a service call scheduled. The tech showed up, hooked up an analyzer outside the house, and diagnosed it immediately as a signal that was too weak and with interference. He said he’d schedule a head-end service call. It took him all of 2 minutes to determine what I knew, but it had taken me hours to get to that point.

That was two months ago. I’ve seen some activity with a new cable run through the easement, but no call back from Comcast: The service ticket was never closed out with us. The Internet service is mostly back — usually — but we still can’t get some of the TV channels. I made new calls to service, but they told me it must be because of a problem with my equipment. In one case, I was told it was because I didn’t have their set-top boxes installed…on digital cable-ready TVs that have been receiving all those channels for a decade. Neither would even call up the old service order to look at what the tech had found. Then, earlier this week, we got a letter in the mail telling us that Cpmcast will start encrypting all TV signals in mid-December and unless we have their (rental, of course) adapter boxes on all our TVs, we won’t get the signal. Thus, they have found another way to try to squeeze revenue out of customers.

This time, however, there is a choice. Metronet has moved into the area now, and has been laying fiber optic cable throughout town. They expect to be finished in our neighborhood next week. I just signed the order for service installation. I will have fiber to the house, 50/25Mb Internet (with 100Mb service to the Purdue.edu domain for a small upcharge), and basic cable and a new Internet phone line, all for less than I was paying Comcast for Internet alone. I don’t have to rent a modem. I don’t have to pay extra for a reasonable speed. I get all those services as part of the package. (Although I do need to rent or buy an adapter for each TV where I want reception.)

Having competition in the basic utility market is a good thing. Now if only we could get a little more competition in the cell phone industry….

(If you’re in the West Lafayette area and are interested in Metronet, let me know — I’ll give the contact info for the salesman. There’s a referral for new customers, and I’ll split it with you if you sign up.)

I’ll lose my email address at comcast.net, but I hardly use it and I have dozens more (including 12 entire domains I “own”), so that isn’t much of a loss. (Did I mention that Comcast only offers unencrypted POP service?) If you have a “comcast.net” address for anyone in the family, you should migrate it to something else.

Bottom line: Goodbye Comcast! Hello Metronet!

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