Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The More Things Change

I remember back in 1981 when I started college and was mesmerized by this operating system called UNIX. The college had terminals running at 1200 baud connected to a large PDP-11 minicomputer. Throughout my college years, I sketched (but never built) several designs for a memory management system for a Z-80A microprocessor that I was convinced I would eventually have some kind of multiuser/multitasking operating system running on. I remember showing one of my peers my design and he said, "You just designed a virtual memory manager." I didn't know fully what virtual memory even was at the time.

Who would have thought that today, over 20 years later, I would be running a superset of UNIX (Linux) on a computer the size of a thick looseleaf binder that is surely more powerful and has many times the amount of disk space and memory as that PDP-11 minicomputer. Not only that, but it can manipulate high resolution graphics (not just 25 lines of 80 characters of text!) and has an integrated display and keyboard. I am using it right now, as I type this text. To think, this is what I dreamed of -- my own little multiuser/multitasking computer and operating system that could facilitate communications with people all over the world.

I wasn't able to afford a personal computer in high school back in 1979, and my parents didn't have that kind of disposable cash to buy me one. I looked in magazines and came up with a design for a simple computer, based on the SC/MP microprocessor (National Semiconductor INS8060B), which is closer to the microcontroller chips of today. My computer had 1K bytes of memory, and used an old calculator keyboard to program it. Two single-digit LED displays and a cluster of individual LEDs told me what the computer was doing. A few years ago, I decided to resurrect the parts I had saved (yes, the original parts!), clean up the circuitry a little, and bring the old computer back to life. It worked just as it did when I made it back in high school. I realized what I nerd I was back then, and that things haven't changed much as I have become an adult. I am still fascinated with technology. More importantly, it isn't enough to just look at it in action -- I'm not satisfied until I understand it completely.

So as I listened to the oldies music channel on cable tonight, I heard the song "Easier Said Than Done" by The Essex. I was and still am a big fan of the oldies (late 50s/60s music). As I built the computer in high school, having "crushes" on girls who probably never knew I existed, I heard that song and it somehow struck a chord (no pun intended) inside me. Basically the song is about being infatuated with someone and being afraid to tell them how you feel. For me, it was a lot safer to embrace technology than to do the same to a girl. As an adult I feel that the situation hasn't changed much. That song still holds true for me thirty years later.

Maybe the problem is that I am trying to understand a romantic relationship completely so I can feel comfortable with it, and to this day I just don't have that kind of understanding. Who really does? In the end, we're all hoping to be accepted by someone, and the fear that we'll try and won't be can be a devastating blow to the core of our being. Yes, Virginia, nerds do have feelings. Some of us, quite sensitive ones at that. The ironic part is that by not revealing our feelings to the object of our affection, we're likely missing out on the opportunity we seek. So the song goes...

I've thought a lot about some mixed messages I've received from one particular person lately. Several times I was close to revealing how I felt, but right before the words could come out of my mouth, she said something that effectively pushed me away. I truly felt she simply wasn't interested, so I purposely kept my distance affection-wise and maintained a friendship with her. Now I'm getting these signals for the third time, and now I'm really not sure what to do about it. She probably is convinced I'm flaking-out on her, and in some ways she'd be right. All you women out there take note: If you're going to expect guys to make the "first move" (and I know you do), then if you're really interested you need to be consistent about the messages you're sending. This is especially true if you're trying to attact that "nice, considerate, sensitive, stable" guy. Honestly, I probably am a "good catch," but the bait you need to use has to be tempting enough for me to overcome the fear of being hooked only to be thrown back (and this is as far as I'm taking the fishing metaphor!).

Definitely, easier said than done. Definitely, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, April 13, 2009

More Electrical Poetry

This comes from the HGTV series, "House Detective" with Mike Nelson (episode "Double Trouble for Duplex"):
(snap fingers to a jazz rhythm)
When they hooked this place up --
kind of jazz-style -- they improvised...
They took a wire here, and a wire there
And put them everywhere.
It's probably not ground
But could burn your house down.
Yeah!

I think I'd rewrite this as:
(snap fingers to a jazz rhythm)
When they hooked this place up --
kind of jazz-style -- they improvised...
They took a wire here, and a wire there
And hooked them everywhere.
It's probably not grounded
So it could burn your house down.
Yeah!

I'm always on the lookout for some good technical poetry and verse, like that.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Time Warner Broadband Mess Update 1

This is an update to the posting I made on April 1 (again, not an April Fools prank) regarding the reports that Time Warner Cable will be instituting usage-based fees upon RoadRunner subscribers who's usage exceeds a set point. I was going to add this to my original posting but it would have made the length of the other posting excessive.
  1. According to a posting on swik.net, the expansion of the so-called "trial" of consumption-based billing was in the works as early as Feburary 4. Also interesting in this article is the reappearance of our reader (recall, who commented right here on my blog) Jeff Simmermon, who apparently is a Time Warner Cable spokesman.
  2. Also, in a posting referenced in #1, Stacey Higginbotham reported that at&t also did the same thing to the people of Beaumont, TX late in 2008. So I will expand everything I said in my previous article to include at&t as well: Both companies suck, although at 150 GB per month (versus Time Warners 5-40 GB/month), at least at&t sucks less in this case.
  3. I checked into the price (for Austin, TX) for Time Warner Cable Business Class "access" service. For 10Mb/s x 512Kb/s service (slightly better than RoadRunner standard service) the cost is $120/month, three times the residential cost for cable TV subscribers and a little more than twice the price for non-TV subscribers. An increased upload speed of 1Mb/s cost $150/month. None of these include taxes and fees (whatever they are).
  4. Since they do not include their acceptable use policy on the web site, I am unable to determine whether or not customers of Time Warner Business Class service can be (1) subject to a consumption-based fee as well, and (2) whether my neighbors behind me can share my service or not. I suspect that (1) will not happen because they wouldn't dare piss-off their business customers although they probably could, and (2) is probably specifically prohibited in some legal mumble-jumble buried deep in the service agreement.
  5. Time Warner Cable plans to have a "meter" available to customers in the areas with the usage-based charges. Since I cannot see most of Time Warner Cables web site any longer (YOU JERKS MADE IT ALMOST ALL FLASH OR SOMETHING UNUSABLE WITHOUT IT, GODDAMNIT!) I imagine trying to access the stupid meter without a fscking Microsoft operating system will be futile.
  6. It is not clear to me whether the constant stream of arp traffic (it's a network protocol) from other RoadRunner customers that I see on my connection will be included as part of the traffic I allegedly use. If you don't know what I mean, stop doing anything on your computer and watch the lights on your cable modem. You'll see the receive data light on or blinking rapidly all the time. That's all the RoadRunner customers on the same neighborhood hub trying to find the low-level ("media access control, " or "MAC") address for the router that handles their traffic.
So my plan of action, for what its worth, is that I will likely be forced (so to speak) to stay with standard, residential RoadRunner until such time as I start to exceed the limits they impose on me. I will install my own usage meter on the Ethernet interface facing the cable system, and keep metrics on my usage so I can get a better idea of what my usage looks like now. I am also going to keep metrics on all that arp traffic... If any Linux users with iptables wants to cooperate with me on the traffic metrics, please leave me feedback and I will forward along the utilities and iptables rules I will be using.

In short, Time Warner cable has "The power to screw you over." I notice they stopped the slogan, "We think like you think." Ha! If they knew what I was thinking now, their brain would start to melt.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Time Warner Liars Again

Unfortunately, this posting is not an April Fools joke.

I heard on the radio (WOAI in San Antonio) a news story indicating that Time Warner/RoadRunner will be implementing so-called "consumption-based billing" for RoadRunner Internet service in the Austin and San Antonio regions this summer (they have already done so in the Beaumont, TX region last year). This means that the cost of RoadRunner Internet service will be based not only on the speed of the connection (as is done now), but also on the quantity of data transfered in a billing period. The news story indicates that they are doing this because they "'made a mistake' in allowing all customers broadband services at a set price, regardless of the amount of material they download."

Why am I calling them liars? Because I spoke with a manager in Time Warner's Austin office just a few months ago during the TiVo/CableCard debacle and that person told me, flat-out, that this kind of billing arrangement would never happen in this region. I think it's snowing in hell right now.

So here's what makes this whole policy rank in my blatant stupidity category. The news services are reporting what they hear from TW, essentially, and they keep talking about bandwidth. Quantity of data is not bandwidth. Bandwidth is related to the speed of the connection, which TW has been slowly offering in increasing amounts over the past several years (in some cases at a premium price). They sold people this bandwidth under the pretext of being able to download movies and music, do online gaming, and view streaming video. All of these actions require significant amounts of data transfer (quantity of data) . With the combination of computers increasing in speed, more and more multimedia-based web sites, and TW increasing the available bandwidth per subscriber, of course they (TW) are going to start to experience problems with overselling their available network bandwidth. THEY created the problem. Now they want to start making each individual personally responsible for the quantity of data they transfer. Most individuals have no idea what that number is, how it is computed, and how to reduce that number. Even if they did know (I do), it is practically impossible with software manufacturers (Microsoft among them) providing large software updates and distribution over the Internet and the increasing number of multimedia-oriented web sites.

"Consumption-based" billing is a scam, it is stupid, and Time Warner knows it.

It is bad enough that wireless broadband carriers have implemented this consumption-based metering/billing. Everyone I know who has had to deal with it has complained about how it affects them. While (according to the news story) only 14% of Beaumont RoadRunner customers experienced additional costs for increased data transfer, what doesn't show-up is how many people have left Time Warner's service as a result of the new policy, and it doesn't show the amount of frustration experienced by customers. Wireless broadband customers (who typically have their bandwidth severely cut as soon as they exceed a particular data transfer cap) complain constantly about their service being almost completely crippled if they need to download a large software update or if they watch an Internet-delivered movie (good grief, that's what they're telling us their service is good for).

So here's the proper fix -- Time Warner pay attention please:
  1. Increase your "backbone" bandwidth -- that is, do not over-sell your available bandwidth to the extent that your customers, using the service as they will do, will exceed your available capacity.
  2. If #1 is unreasonable (and it may be, you may already have a lot of available bandwidth) then it will become necessary to reduce the effective speed of lower-tier (lower speed) Internet service and/or increase the cost of upper-tier (higher speed) Internet connections. This is truly how you meter and control oversubscription problems. If I have a lower-speed connection, then it will become impossible for me to transfer data in such a large quantity at a higher speed that I consume the available bandwidth of your backbone connection.
If you are truly making it difficult for people to use the Internet to view online video because you're afraid of losing cable TV customers, then please, just fscking GROW UP! Seriously. This is the kind of stupid temper-tantrum tactics that the phone company used when the cable companies (and Vonage) started encroaching on the telcos' bread-and-butter services. Why not set an example and show that you know how to truly solve the business problem instead of pissing off your customers? I bet if you made cable TV service more affordable (read: appropriately priced) and stop putting barriers in the way of customers every chance you got, then the Internet video delivery mechanism would not be a problem for your business. YOU created this problem. Stop making US responsible for it.

I submitted a customer service e-mail to RoadRunner asking about some of this. I will happily show their response as an addendum to this posting as soon as I receive it.

Other related URLs:
http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Time-Warner-Cable-Expands-Metered-Billing-101655
http://www.engadget.com/2009/04/01/twc-moves-consumption-based-internet-billing-to-more-markets/
http://www.wetwired.org/2009/04/02/time-warner-austin-capped-bandwidth-40gb-month-for-55month/
http://www.austin360.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/digitalsavant/entries/2009/04/01/

New Girlfriend

At long last, I am happy to report that I have finally found the woman of my dreams. Using direction from my romantic coach (Tristin) and voice of reason (Jane), I realized that the only way to accomplish this was through an artificial intelligence and robotic project. Voila - the Annie (Automated Nice Neat Ideal Enigma) project was born.

The design criteria for Annie was simple -- she was to have the following basic characteristics:
  1. Body: Average build, longish hair, glasses, little-to-no make-up. In other words, your usual geek gal (Hint: The picture of our prototype to the right is a real "nerd," courtesy of the "Mu"s).
  2. Intelligence: Yes
  3. Emotional: Compassionate, understanding, somewhat introverted - yet not afraid to clearly indicate when the guy should "make his moves." Loyal.
  4. Interests: Wide range of interests, adaptable based on environmental feedback.
  5. Power source: Lithium Ion battery pack - charges at night automatically while human mate sleeps. Green power features include regenerative charging through certain pelvic and tongue motion.
  6. Ablility to learn and adapt to environment as necessary
  7. Initial programming allows a wide range of custom base personality features depending on mate's requirements
The processor is based on a revolutionary organic neural network that utilizes the same basic structures as the human brain. Silicon transistors are replaced with organic cells that communicate through electro-chemical interaction. The rate and quantity of these chemical transitions provide each cell ("neuron") with a very wide range of memory and decision control functions.

Other noteworthy features are a self-repairing protective outer layer that is rugged yet soft and warm at roughly the same as human temperature. This outer layer incorporates an evaporative liquid cooling system for the internal structures. Annie also has the ability to initiate repeated verbal requests when her basic requirements are not fulfilled. It is strongly suggested that the owners manual be followed as ignoring or misinterpreting the verbal reminders can result in permanent damage to the neural network.

Sexual functions have been fully-implemented. However, no provisions have been made (nor will be made) for simulated or actual reproductive function.

The Annie project is still in pre-alpha testing at this time. As of April 1, 2009, the neural network processor has crashed at seemingly random times, and occasionally the emotional responses of the processor have been strongly exagerated to the point where chemical re-uptake inhibitors have been necessary to prevent overloading the processor core. Production runs of version 1.0 Annie are scheduled for April 1, 2012.

In the meantime, as the primary developer of the project, I am able to immediately experience the benefits of this development. We'll see how things work out in the next several months. Hey, it can't be any worse than the interaction I have had over the past year.