Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dear at&t marketing...

Dear at&t Marketing People:

I need to edumacate you a bit about the service you're providing so the door-to-door salespeople you have coming around to bother people will know a bit more about what they're selling.

at&t U-verse is not FTTH also known as fiber-to-the-home. It's fiber-to-the-node (FTTN), and you don't have a whole bunch of nodes in little pedestals throughout the neighborhood. The round pedestals at the side of the road are splice points. The fiber nodes are cabinets in select locations in the neighborhood. They service probably a good 50-100 (minimally) subscribers. The subscribers' data is aggregated at that node, and is sent over fiber to an aggregation point further up the hierarchy in the network. Connections to the home are not over fiber, and, in fact, the data for TV, Internet, and phone are all over the same phone wiring that was used for telephony. The only difference is that the phone wiring has been conditioned to handle higher speed signaling and it ends up at the fiber node in the neighborhood.

Likewise, a HFC (hybrid fiber/coax) system that the cable companies use is a similar technology. Fiber nodes are typically in small cabinets on the side of the road or hanging from the wiring overhead. A fiber optic connection comes to the node, just as with a U-verse FTTN system. Simply speaking, the only difference is that instead of phone wiring in a star configuration from the node (home run from each house to the node) the cable company uses their coax cable in a bus topology (coax cable with taps to each home).

While it could be argued that a star topology is better than a bus topology in terms of providing service -- because each subscriber in a star topology has a dedicated connection to the node -- in reality the service speeds are pretty much the same. The equipment at the nodes used by both cable TV and U-verse providers can only handle a certain number of subscribers before connection to the equipment itself becomes saturated. In order to avoid customer complaints and lost subscribers, both will balance the proper number of subscribers to the infrastructure in place. Some companies are more proactive about this than others. In other words, when service gets slow it's usually because the node is overloaded, not because of the topology.

So that being said, at&t, let me address your salesperson's questions/comments:
  1. Does your connection get slower early in the evening? (the implication here is that my connection is getting slow because my neighbors are using their service at the same time) Anytime I have had Internet service -- whether cable, DSL, or any other technology -- there have been slow-downs to some extent during peak usage periods. Most of the time, if I investigate further, it's the server that I'm trying to connect with that's slow, not my Internet service.

    This being said, wireless providers (such as Clear's WiMAX service) do tend to degrade faster based on the number of subscribers, weather conditions, and usage patterns. This is due to the way that wireless connections work and the cost to deploy a wireless node (and thus oversubscribing nodes tends to happen more).

    So to answer your question, "No, my service doesn't get slower...and if it does, so will your's."
  2. U-verse uses fiber, not copper, so we can get faster speeds. This is a lie. You are using old copper phone wiring to get from my home to your fiber node. Judging from the difficulties at the phone companies had rolling-out DSL service at 6 Mbps down (those nodes were also typically served over fiber as well), I am skeptical about how well they can maintain even higher speeds on old phone wiring.
  3. The cable company's service is on copper, not fiber, and will cost more and be more difficult to maintain. See #2.
  4. The cost per month will be $X. No, I don't know how much it will cost after taxes and fees. If you don't know how much your service is going to cost, in total, please don't come talk to me. Give me the bottom line price. I'm not an idiot, and I don't like to order service for, for example, $60 a month and find when the bill comes it's $75-80 a month (a heck of a lot more than the 8.25% sales tax that we all know about).
  5. You'd pay a lot less if you ordered Internet service in a package with TV and phone. I know that, but I don't want TV or phone service, just like I told the cable company. I get my TV over-the-air with an antenna for free (and use an open source DVR to record programming), not to mention Netflix, amazon on demand, and Roku channels. I use a cell phone and Google Voice for telephony. While ordering these extra services from you will reduce my Internet bill, it will increase my bill overall since you're not giving me any of this stuff I don't need for free.
  6. Several of your neighbors have signed-on for service with us. I'm sorry to hear that my neighbors got suckered-into your sales pitch.

    Okay, I admit, that answer's a bit harsh. In reality, if they were actually getting all those services from at&t, and got a good price, and the service works well, then that's great. I'm happy they're getting good service. My experience with at&t has not been positive, though, and I also don't succumb to peer pressure, particularly based on what my neighbors do.
  7. What's a cap? I didn't know U-verse has a 250 GB/month cap. How much data do you use a month? Oh, they didn't tell you that U-verse customers now have a 250 GB/month cap? Well, now you know. Read that fine print. Now, I do admit that 250GB/month is a lot of data, and while I don't have a cap now, I suspect that my cable provider will soon jump on the bandwagon. The problem is that the service provider can and does change that amount on a whim, and I suspect at&t's whim will be when they reach a certain critical mass of subscribers.

    Internet data caps are stupid ... and before you flame me saying, "But...but...CPU, I don't use that data, and I shouldn't have to pay extra when other people are using all that data!" Oh, just shut the fudge up.

    First of all, data is not like water. It isn't like there are all these bits in a tank, and someone can just suck all the bits out of the tank leaving you with none. The problem -- if there actually is one, and I'm not convinced of it -- is one of available bandwidth, which is essentially instantaneous usage of a data pipe at a moment in time. If the available bandwidth (speed) to your fiber node is, for example, 1 Gbit/sec (1024 Mbits/sec), and you have 100 subscribers with 20 Mbit/sec connections, they all can't be using their connection at the same time and expecting to get 20 Mbits/sec. Why? Because 100 x 20 = 2000 Mbits/sec, and the maximum bandwidth is 1024 Mbits/sec. This is called oversubscription and it is done all the time because, matter of fact, people don't generally all use their full bandwidth all at the same time. If they did, though, then they would not get their rated speed, but instead it would be shared at a lower rate. Fine. But to limit usage by the total number of bytes is just silly and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The correct way to limit usage is to charge the correct amount for the bandwidth ordered, and increase infrastructure as needed. Let me explain this for those of you who can't understand. If I'm a cable company, and I sell 5, 10, and 20 Mbit/sec service, I should be selling this service with the expectation that whoever I'm selling it to will actually use the service. Yes, I will allow for oversubscription, but I can't expect that my customers will not use what they ordered. If I find that customers are using their service more than I expected and I need to have a lower level of oversubscription (thus, raising the cost of the data pipe to the node), then the correct course of action is to raise the price of higher tiered service. Why? Because these are the people who can, and usually are, creating the congestion.

    Said differently, a person using 250 Gbytes/month of data on a 5 Mbit connection has less of an impact on the congestion of the data pipe than a person consuming the exact same number of bytes on a 20 Mbit/sec connection. The cost to a service provider isn't in the number of bytes transferred, but rather in the amount of bandwidth consumed at a moment in time. Now, granted, the person with the 20 Mbit/sec connection will be congesting the network for a shorter amount of time, but that still doesn't lessen their impact on the speed of the network. A 20 Mbit/sec connection does have a greater impact.

    The real reason why service providers are implementing data caps is to gouge the consumer for more money (and, in the case of providers who provide TV and phone service, to discourage people from actually getting those services over broadband from someone than the service provider).

In short, at&t (and Time Warner, and Comcast, and Verizon, etc.), please tell the truth and be honest and stop lying to people to get business. In the long run, telling the truth and simply providing good service for a reasonable price will win you loyal customers who will stay with you (or come back to you, after your competitor screws them over) for a long time. You'll be getting revenue and can grow and your stockholders will be happy.

I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gun Control and Other Topics

I have been working occasionally trying to find a suitable replacement for blogger, and have not yet done so. Since I am still able to use the old interface, and I have some things to say, I'm back here for the time being... So without any further delay...

Gun Control & Aurora, CO

Full disclosure: I don't own a gun. I don't like guns - they make loud noises, and I hate the smell of exploded gunpowder. In the wrong hands they're dangerous.

The tragic events in Aurora were not perpetrated by a gun. They were performed by a crazy dude with a beef against the world. I am among those compassionate people who feel bad for those victims of that event and their families. It was a needless, senseless killing spree. Yet another domestic act of terrorism. Yes, crazy white American men are capable of terrorism too, with weapons of mass destruction. Chew on that for a few seconds...

That said, when I see people say that this is a reason for stricter gun control or the outlaw of guns entirely, I see misguided people. In fact, I was extremely disappointed when I saw someone I have (had) great respect for "think on automatic" ... well, let me just quote this and let them say it in their own words:
Outlier or not, the amount of power guns gave him was disproportionate to how much he SHOULD have had. Dozens wounded and killed. By one person. That's too much.

IS the right to own guns more important than those lives? I don't think so. And we have many non-lethal ways to protect ourselves, from pepperspray to tazers to martial arts, to even just a baseball bat. I'm sorry, but the right to own guns does NOT outweigh all those injured and dead. Does NOT.
...and continues to stay on-topic with this line of thinking.

On this line of thinking, we should get rid of everything "unnecessary" that kills people. Let's start with alcoholic beverages. My understanding is that more people are killed as a result of alcohol-involved activity than gun violence. But never mind that. There are many other ways to obtain hydration, so alcohol is unnecessary. One death is too many. Ban it. While we're on hydration, the nannies in government feel that soft drinks are feeding an "epidemic of obesity" that is killing our people. One person who dies because of soft drinks is too many. Ban 'em. Would you like me to go on? (nonononnonono!!) Good. That's my point.

I don't like guns. I am a compassionate person. However, I also understand that many of the things we do can, in the wrong hands, be dangerous or deadly. Guns are tools on ranches and in other locations. There are people who collect guns, because they enjoy it. Hey, it isn't my hobby, but they probably don't enjoy computer networking either. The old cliche is correct: guns don't kill people, people do. In this case, someone who perpetrated one of the worst civilian mass-murders in the history of our country. It is clear that he would have killed in spite of not having access to a gun. The elaborate booby-trapping of his apartment is proof of that. Other gun violence would simply be replaced by other weapons. People who are on a violent power trip are not limited by the availability of guns. Guns are not the problem here.

The question we should be asking ourselves (with a sincere attempt to avoid knee-jerk answers and solutions) is why people in our modern society still have such violent tendencies? Why do we seek-out violence for entertainment? I volunteer at an animal shelter, and it is clear to me that many people treat helpless animals with complete contempt. It has been said that the way people treat animals is a good indication of the kind of compassion they truly have for human life. As I have so eloquently (perhaps?) said in previous postings here, it is time to start asking and looking for answers to these really hard questions instead of banning things as a knee-jerk, feel-good response to violent and inhumane behavior.

Smoking Bans

While I'm speaking about banning stuff, I'd like to now speak out the other side of my mouth for a moment because the topic of smoking bans has resurrected itself a few times.

Full disclosure: I am adversely impacted by so-called "second-hand" smoke, and support most smoking bans.

You'd think with what I just said about gun control, I would be against smoking bans...and on that, you'd be wrong. I have a great deal of respect for Penn & Teller and their program Bullshit!, but I feel they missed the mark with smoking. Why? That program, and those who are pretty much against smoking bans, point to bad and misleading research about the negative effects of second-hand smoke. I have not done the investigation they have, so I'm going to assume that they are correct, even though my gut feeling is that there is likely better evidence to show that second-hand smoke does present some significant health risks. I'm going to take it from a different angle. A significant number of people, I being one of them, do have adverse reactions to smoke. I don't just dislike the smell. It causes serious respiratory distress to me.

Just for a moment, let's replace tobacco smoke with mud, and let's replace the delivery device (cigarette, cigar, pipe) with a straw (or someone's hand). Anne is an adult who likes to sling mud around to relax herself. Mud is a legal substance, and there are no laws on the books that specifically outlaw the slinging of mud. Anne has a great time sucking up mud in a straw then blowing it all over everyone and everything in her path. Then, when she's done, she tosses the straw on the ground and walks away. Betty walks by during one of Anne's mud-slinging activities and her clothes become spattered with mud. She has mud all over her face, and now needs to go home and clean it off and clean her clothes. She smells like dirt. She has gotten dirt in her mouth, and it isn't clear whether this will have any future health effects. Betty gets angry with Anne for being inconsiderate and slinging her mud all over the place. Anne asserts her right to sling mud since mud is a legal substance and there's no law preventing her from doing so.

This is how I see this situation with smoking. In reality, Anne has the right to sling her mud so long as she doesn't impact the rights of others around her. She can sling mud in her home, in her back yard (again, provided the mud remains in her yard and not those around her), and where people gather for slinging mud. However, to do so in a public space or where people who would not reasonably expect to be spattered with mud would probably be considered (in legal terms) as assault...or maybe a destruction of property. Throwing the straw on the ground is littering. People who smoke do the same thing as Anne. They adversely impact those around them with little means of escape. People end up with their clothing smelling like smoke, and for those who get respiratory distress, leave them with that distress. It is tantamount to assault. For those majority of cigarette smokers who simply throw their used butts on the ground, it is littering all the same.

If someone wants to smoke, they can do so in their home, or in a place where people would typically gather to smoke. You want to open a cigar bar, go right ahead and do so. Understand, though, that smoking tobacco products, whether or not you believe the research about second-hand smoke or the use of it is misleading or wrong, still has a negative impact on those around the smoker. This is why I support the ban of smoking in the workplace and in most public places. Your right to smoke ends where my right to clean air begins.

Drug Legalization

Full disclosure: I don't do drugs. I don't like drugs. I think people under the influence are problematic (no, I won't elaborate). I feel alcohol is a drug. I really don't enjoy being around people doing drugs, in spite of how entertaining their drug-induced state may be.

It's funny how every time someone decides they want to infringe on the rights of someone else to do something they don't like, it becomes a "war on {something}." The so-called war on drugs is among the most insane ineffective waste of money ever initiated by the US government (the war on terror, however, is overtaking the drug war). Look at what the prohibition of drugs has given us: Mexican drug cartels, people in jail because they used drugs (only to come out as more hardened criminals), loads and loads of laws and law enforcement entirely centered around drug use. Has it prevented people from doing drugs? Nope. Has it created lots of black markets for drugs and associated criminal violence that comes with it? Yup. So instead of Johnny getting high and maybe doing something stupid (potentially even hurting someone in that state), we have Mexican drug cartels and many deaths of innocent people. Does anyone else see what's wrong here?

Enough already. Legalize pot. Seriously. The State of California can place stickers all over the stuff saying that they know that taking these substances will cause one to act stupid, or (for other drugs) become seriously physically dependent on the substance. For heaven's sake, just end the madness already. The only caveat I have is that anything you do on drugs you're fully responsible for. That's right, if you take "bath salts" and start chewing on someone, then it's assault. You get arrested and thrown in jail for that. So pick your drug of choice wisely. We also won't have any sympathy when you become hooked on heroin, and you're going through withdrawl, or you overdose and die. Don't get in a car and drive under the influence, or you'll end up (minimally) with a DUI, and perhaps even with a vehicular homicide charge. Stay at home, put on some headphones, play some groovy music, and take your pot or other drug, and just leave everyone else alone.

Keep teaching that drugs are bad. They are. People have the means at their disposal to do all kinds of stupid things with what they have available to them. The best way to combat that is to teach them how to be reasonable, functional, rational human beings. The money we get back from the war on drugs could be much better spent on education, to get people where they're smart enough to not do drugs. If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime. Unless, of course, they don't fish. Teach them to pick berries instead!

Summary

I chose these topics because they deal with bans of all kinds. Sometimes you just have to prohibit certain behavior, because it's harmful. Sometimes you need to let people just do what they're going to do, and try to show them how to be responsible. Sometimes, you need to realize that while it is tempting to ban some thing to solve the problem, the right thing to do is to get at the root of the problem itself and start working on it.

Be good. Be good to each other and the Earth around us. It's important.