Category Archives: Politics

Thoughts about politics

Why my FIOS is slower than your cable modem (and how I fixed it)

As a technology addict, I jumped on Verizon FIOS as soon as it was available in my area. When I moved last year, I took the service with me. When Cablevision tried to sell me an old-fashioned cable-modem, I didn’t even consider it. Why would I want a measly 25/5 service, when I have a 75/25 fiber optic cable for the same price? As an trained computer scientist, I happen to know that light is very fast. Take that, electrons, I don’t want your cable-wire technology!

And for a while, it was pretty good. But, strangely, Youtube would be pretty slow a lot of the time. Initially, one would think that the problem was with Youtube. But, Youtube is owned by Google. It seems a little strange that Google wouldn’t upgrade their servers or network if they need to. Still, it’s just the one site. Everything else seems to be fine, and very FAST, just like Verizon said. But then, more things started getting slow. Like Netflix. For a while, half the time I tried to watch a show it would just sit there and buffer for a while. And when it did go through, the quality was pretty poor. Well, I thought, Netflix is growing so fast, they probably aren’t able to keep up. But, actually, Netflix runs on Amazon’s computer cluster, which is widely known for it’s scalability. They roughly coined the term “cloud.” Could they really be that slow? Finally, Hulu started having problems. Shows would stutter and stop, and need to be rebuffered. Yet, the problem seemed to be with just Hulu — other sites worked fine, and I got the full bandwidth I expected from speed tests, just like Verizon claimed.

Something was fishy. It’s strange, right, that only tv-like services were slow, but other things seemed fine. Downloads were fast. Speed tests were fast. TV shows and movies were slow. That’s a little too convenient, since Verizon sells their own TV service. “Oh, Netflix is slow? Why don’t you order on-demand through FIOS?” Really Verizon? Really?

It’s no accident. Verizon, along with many other internet carriers, has been fighting a long war against Net Neutrality. Why should customers be able to visit any site they want? Just like you pay extra for HBO or Cinimax, Verizon wants you to pay them extra for Netflix, and Youtube. Here’s a direct quote from a cable executive: “Why should we carry data for free?” They believe that because their customers watch a lot of Netflix, then Netflix should pay Verizon to allow it. In other scenarios, this behavior would be called “monopolistic behavior,” or “a protection racket.” What’s roughly happening is that Verizon is saying to Netflix, “It’d be awfully unfortunate if something happened to your data before it reached the user.”

How did we end up here, where Verizon is even allowed to do this? Well, there are a series of articles from ArsTechnica which explain that in a lot of detail (and I recommend reading them!). I’m going to explain it the way I like things explained to me — as if I were a 5-year-old.

The short version is that the FCC, which regulates cable companies, published a rule which roughly said “Attention internet companies: please get along and don’t throttle each other.” Verizon was able to get around this rule by saying “sure, we’re not going to throttle any service. But if a router happens to break, we may not fix it unless they pay us.” Amazingly, the FCC was ok with this. But, it really wasn’t enough for Verizon, because they wanted more extortion power. So, they sued the FCC in federal court, and won. So, now there is no rule.

Sadly, the FCC is run by a former cable company lobbyist. He made an official statement saying “this is great, now cable companies can operate without regulation. We won’t try to put new rules in, or challenge the court case, but We’ll keep an eye out in case it gets really out of control. Promise.”

Verizon is pretty happy with this. So, they turned around and told Netflix “oh, you thought you were paying us before? The price just went up.”

There’s only one problem. I want to watch Netflix, and I can’t because it’s too slow. Verizon doesn’t really care, and to the extent they do, they think I’ll just buy more from them. Luckily, I live in a place where there’s a competitor. As it turns out, Cablevision has a history of not blocking netflix, or hulu, or youtube. So, yes, fiber optics are usually faster than cable modems. But not when Verizon has their finger on the spigot.

So, how did I fix this problem? I canceled my FIOS subscription and signed up for Cablevision. And then I watched a movie.

I recommend everyone do the same. Verizon’s unbelievably poor behavior only works because because they think they own the customer. Show them that they don’t — if they hurt your internet, then you will switch to another provider. In the end, I don’t care if the problem is because the “network” is slow, or Verizon is throttling, or there is a peering disagreement. All I want to do is watch Netflix. And if Verizon can’t provide that, I’ll find someone who can.

Critical Reading:
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/07/why-youtube-buffers-the-secret-deals-that-make-and-break-online-video/
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/02/netflix-performance-on-verizon-and-comcast-has-been-dropping-for-months/
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/02/verizon-seeks-payment-for-carrying-netflix-traffic-wsj-reports/
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/01/how-net-neutrality-shenanigans-could-put-the-hurt-on-netflix/
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/02/fcc-wont-appeal-verizon-ruling-will-regulate-net-on-case-by-case-basis/

PS: Why Cablevision isn’t using this as a major marketing tool is beyond me. I would have switched a long time ago if they had run an ad campaign promising Net Neutrality policies. If anyone from Cablevision wants to contact me, I can tell you exactly how to use this to your advantage.

Steve Ballmer is crazy!

I can’t believe Microsoft lets this guy out in public. That would be bad enough, but to purposely put him in front of reporters?

Ballmer’s latest fiasco is to claim that Open Source projects violate “over 235 patents,” and to then threaten lawsuits for any company using Linux or other open source software. Turns out, Steve was quoting a study produced by the Open Source Risk Management Group. However, the author of the study has claimed that Microsoft has it all wrong — the study’s conclusions were that those were only “potential” infringements, and that not a single one of those patents had ever been held up in court. In addition, not all of those patents were even held by Microsoft!

Further, Microsoft has refused to specify which patents they are even referring to, or specifically where they think the infringement has occurred. Starting to sound familiar? *Cough*, SCO, *cough*, *cough*. It should. Microsoft quietly provided $86 million to support SCO in it’s legal battle against Linux, under which they have not won a single count in 3 years. It seems that Steve Ballmer has decided to come out and play in the open, now that his proxy SCO has nearly completely self-destructed. Oh, and if this sounds like a hypocritical claim on Microsoft’s part, that’s only because they had to pay out $1.53 BILLION last week for violating Lucent patents.

Microsoft’s goal, like SCO’s, is to provide FUD — Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about their competitors. Unfortunately, this tactic tends to work against them. Its surprising that they haven’t learned this lesson from what happened to SCO — since they began their lawsuit tactics, SCO’s market share has dropped exponentially. Like SCO, however, Microsoft is finding itself in a position where its competitors are out pacing it. Apple is growing far quicker than Microsoft, and is able to deliver bother hardware and software products at profit. Linux is advancing quickly, and the press is starting to tout it as a “Vista alternate.” It doesn’t help that Vista has virtually no new features for users, unless you count being more expensive. It appears that Steve Ballmer has lead Microsoft down the path of other companies which can’t deal with change: SCO, RAMBUS, the RIAA, the MPAA. All these companies probably know that customers will not purchase their product just because they threaten to beat them with a stick. But they don’t know what else to do (hint: build *good* products, and you won’t have this problem. Microsoft knew how to do this at some point).

It seems as if ever since Bill Gates left the helm, Microsoft hasn’t been able to steer itself in the right direction. Take a look at Steve Ballmer, the guy he left in charge, and draw your own conclusions why:

  • Steve Ballmer — high on himself and screaming like an idiot. Video.
  • Steve Ballmer — issuing death threats. Article.
  • Steve Ballmer — brainwashes his kids. Article.
  • Steve Ballmer — stuttering? Video.
  • Steve Ballmer — cheap car salesman. Video.
  • Steve Ballmer — out of touch with reality. Video.

Hacking Democracy

The current shenanigans going on with electronic voting bridge political parties, racial lines, or social status.

For those of you up to date on this issue, the main method which Diebold and other electronic voting machine manufacturers plan to use to protect their machines is with “tamper-proof tape.” However, this provides a method for someone to invalidate republican or democratic districts by simply scratching the tape on the machines in that district. The level of incompetence and stupidity that has surfaced in relation to electronic voting hasn’t ceased to amaze me.

I don’t think that electronic or computerized voting is inherently an impossible task. However, the current crop of machinery, and the incompetent companies which make them, should not be allowed anywhere near a voter. Certainly, the public officials who are in charge of accepting these machines have also been incompetent across the board, for allowing defective voting machines to be delivered, and not pushing back against the manufacturer.

Wherever the blame lies it is important that people be made aware of these issues. HBO has produced a documentary on the subject. It is available for free from Google Video right now.

Please, please go check it out, and tell your friends. This is too important.

Console Wars: The Fight for Developers is Something of a Myth

When Microsoft released the XBox 360, they added a new feature to their online “live” service called “Live Arcade.” The idea behind the arcade is that smaller independent developers (“Indies”) can develop lower cost games, and market them at lower prices to consumers without having to get shelf space at the local GameStop. In principal, this is a great idea, and it sounds quite helpful to startups or even the home hobbyist programmer.

For some of those paying attention, this might sound sort of familiar — in fact, it is almost exactly the same approach Verizon and Qualcomm used for handset-based games — the ones you play on your cell phone. What happened there was that, yes, in the first 6 months or so, just about anyone could produce a video game. However, as time went on, it became more and more expensive to produce games — not because of your own costs, but due to purchasing a development kit, paying for validation costs which go up regularly, and the increasing costs of attending developer conferences. That last one might sound like a luxury rather than a requirement, but the way things work in the phone software industry is very much like an Adventurer’s Club. You’re either a member or you’re not. And the gates to get your software actually listed on a phone are controlled by a very small number of individuals. Oh, and by the way, they won’t even tell you if they will carry your game until you’ve already eaten all of these costs.

As you can see, it’s not a very conductive environment for small or independent developer. And it’s not meant to be. Despite a lot of talk about how this deployment model “levels the playing field” for large and small developers, take a look at which companies are actually creating the games you might find on your phone. Typically, there are only a handful, and you wont find many you haven’t heard of: Konami, Sony, Jamdat (which is actually mostly owned by Verizon). Virtually no small developers. And why should there be? The phone companies would rather carry several games from one developer than one game each from multiple developers. The paperwork is simpler.

Let’s get back to the XBox 360. Microsoft is pushing the Indie developer thing much harder than Qualcomm ever did. OK then, where are all the games from these Indie developers? The 360 has been out for almost 8 months, and there are hardly any things to choose from. Microsoft has some PR-speak about the issue.

Well great! I’d like to develop games for the XBox! I’ve worked with Direct X before! I have some free time! Where can I get started? As long as I can make something good quality (which is a reasonable restriction), I can expect to have a reasonable chance to get my game on there, right? Sorry, here’s Microsoft’s response:

“The The XBox RDP is open to established professional game development studios with a history of shipped titles and good industry references. If you represent a startup company, you may be considered if the team is made up of experienced individuals.”

Does that sound like they’re encouraging Indie developers to you?

Political Agendas

In general, I try not to write about politics on my site. Basically, while I do have strong opinions as to who should run the country and what decisions they should make, I also respect the fact that others’ opinions may not agree with mine, and they have the right to those opinions.

Every now and then, though, some news item comes up which completely transcends that policy. For example, the attack on Darwinian evolution by Creationist thinkers is apparently not enough to appease the American Bible-Belt. Or, maybe the latest trend is simply to simply assume that you know everything, even if you are a high-school graduate and “they” are PhD rocket scientsts at NASA.

Apparently, there is no such thing as the Big Bang.

Way to go Bush. Good appointee.