Category Archives: Web Sites

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.

Mozy, backup-and-forget. Or, Forget-to-backup? (updated)

When it comes to my personal computer, I’m like Robin Harris — I believe in making as many copies of my data as I can, as often as I can.

Why? I’m 29 now. I have files on my hard drive that include BASIC software I wrote when I was 13, short stories I wrote when I was in high school, and projects I worked on in college. I’ve got an iTunes library that took 10 years to build, and gigs upon gigs of photographs of me and my wife. If my house were to burn down today, my biggest loss would be my hard drive, because it is literally irreplaceable.

And so while I started using Apple’s Time Machine recently to keep local backups, I was looking for a second way to do it — preferably one that is off-site and automatic, so I don’t need to worry about it. Essentially, something like Mozy.

Mozy is an online service which provides backups for your home computer. There are plenty of reviews (both good and bad, as well as indifferent) which describe Mozy’s pros and cons, so I won’t go into super detail on that. Basically, there is a little program that runs in the background and backs up your files every now and then to their servers. If you need to restore a file, you can do it through their web site or else through the program you download.

This is a great service for me, because I can count on Apple Time Machine to provide most of my backup needs (like, “oops, accidentally deleted a file”), while Mozy provides a second layer of protection (like “oops, my baby nephew tried to make all my USB drives bounce on the floor”).

The cost also makes a lot of sense for me. For $60/year, I get unlimited backups. Since I am looking to back up around 500 GB of stuff, this is cheaper than purchasing a new hard drive, like I need to do for Time Machine.

So, about 2 weeks ago, after giving all this thought to signing up for Mozy, I decided to go for it. And quickly ran into my first problem. After paying them through their web site, I found out that the Mac client isn’t available! The weird thing is that it was still listed on their site as a download … which just went to an error 404 page. After contacting tech support, I was told that “this is a known issue, and it should be available again shortly.” There was no message of any kind on their web site. Nevertheless, I tried again the next day, and was able to download the client.

At this point, I was a bit on edge. Not because they took the Mac client offline, but because they made no attempt to notify their clients! Backup companies should have a full-disclosure policy. If I am counting on them to keep my files safe, I need to know if there is a problem. What happens if they simply don’t mention that they lost my latest backup, and I decide to wipe my computer and restore it from them at that time? This is obviously unacceptable.

However, if that were the only issue I ran into, it would have been OK. After all, the Mac client was marked as “beta,” and I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a one-time oversight.

So, I used the downloaded client to start creating a backup. I should note that creating a 500 GB backup takes quite some time, even over Verizon FIOS. Mozy seems to limit their incoming bandwidth to around 100 KB/s, at least for my client. I know from other things that my connection is capable of at least 10 times that.

About 40 GB into the backup (about two days), the Mozy client gave me an error. It said “ServerError11.” Not very descriptive, so I looked at the log file, which said “Server Error. Disconnecting.” Also not very descriptive. Despite multiple reboots and retries at this point, I could no longer get the Mozy client to continue its backup.

I contacted tech support again, and told them the problem. They said that there was probably a “lock” on my account, and they would have it cleared within 24 hours. They didn’t tell me what a “lock meant.” 24 hours later, it still wasn’t working. This was on a Thursday. I gave them the weekend, and contacted them again on Tuesday. Again, I was told the same thing, and that they must escalate the issue to a developer, and it would be cleared within 24 hours. OK. Again, 24 hours go by, and the issue hadn’t gone away. I contacted tech support a fourth time. When I mentioned that I had been told twice that it would be fixed within 24 hours, the guy told me “there are other people with the same problem, and they haven’t been helped yet.” Ouch.

So, what’s the conclusion here? It has now been more than a week since I haven’t been able to back up. In fact, since signing on to Mozy I have not been able to complete a single complete backup. The staff seems unable to resolve any problems in a timely fashion. What’s much more important than even those issues, however, is that Mozy seems unable or unwilling to freely communicate with its customers.

Mozy, I understand that you may be going through some growing pains with all the press coverage you’ve gotten lately. That’s OK. But, as a backup company, your name and reputation DEPEND on being reliable. Reliable doesn’t mean you don’t ever have operating issues. What it does mean is that you disclose those issues when you do, so that people who rely on you can adjust their plans and expectations accordingly.

Until the issue of communication with customers is resolved, I would need to recommend for people that they steer clear of Mozy. You wouldn’t want to rely on a backup company which may or may not be functioning as advertised, and which you can’t trust to even tell you which is the case.

If someone from Mozy wants to contact me, and address this issue, I would be happy to update this blog post. Given their track history so far (when I was chasing them for info), I’m not holding my breath.

* Update *
Within hours, I was contacted by David Dreyer, Support Operations Manager at Mozy. David is working to resolve my issue, and says that there is a general Mozy software update coming this weekend which should resolve similar issues for other users. David was very aggressive in addressing this problem, and that of notification I mentioned above. Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong :) I’ll have another update once my problems have been resolved.

Read on for the 45-day update.

Server Migration in Progress

2robots.com is currently getting a major server upgrade. Service may be a little spotty over the next few days, although I’ll try to keep that to a minimum. So far, only the main webserver (www.2robots.com) has been transfered over to the new server. Over the next few days, the rest of the hosted domains, as well as email services will be moved as well, and then the old server will be decommissioned. I’ll post more details when the move is complete.

Blink List

You may notice that I now have a bunch of links on the right column of this site. This is a blinklist cloud.

Blinklist is a pretty cool site that lets you keep your bookmarks online. You can access them from any web browser, which is cool by itself. However, the site goes further and lets you do neat social bookmarking things with it. You can tag your links like Flickr (which creates the cloud on the right). It also keeps track of “blinks” on bookmarks, kind of like digg, and you can also subscribe to your friends’ blinks. Neat.