Category Archives: Technology

Speed Up Your Internet Connection

I came across this article on Lifehacker recently. It got me thinking. I had been using the OpenDNS servers and then Google’s Public DNS servers for a while now because they both advertised that it could speed up your internet experience. Now that there are so many location-based services and location-based load balancing, it seems that they may not necessarily be faster. So I tried the tool, Namebench, mentioned in that Lifehacker article. It turned out that if I switched back to Verizon’s (I’m a FiOS user) DNS servers, I could, in fact, speed up my internet. In fact, Namebench told me it would be about 500% faster by switching. So I switched my DNS servers in my router and will hope for the best. Keep in mind that you may not notice a huge difference, but when it comes to large downloads from services that use location-based mirrors determined by the DNS lookup, those might actually be noticeably faster.

xkcd: Server Attention Span

xkcd: Server Attention Span.

Just wanted to point this out. This is so true. There is nothing worse than clicking a link on your smartphone to go to a certain page or article and getting redirected to the site’s mobile homepage. While I appreciate sites having a mobile version, all links should work properly, meaning they should point you to that article on the mobile site or just bring you to the full site for that article.

Also, if you have a mobile site, have a link (a prominent one) for your full site somewhere. That way if I didn’t want the mobile site, I can find what I’m looking for on the full site.

The Power of Social Media: The Story of the Phish Twibe

This topic came up today on Twitter, sparked by a tweet from @JennyMack. My response was Twitter, hands down, for one major reason, the Phish Twibe. I have probably discussed the Twibe here before, probably several times, in fact. But I don’t know that I’ve ever talked about how the Twibe formed and grew into what it is now. So here it is! It’s a great story of the power of social media.

Continue reading The Power of Social Media: The Story of the Phish Twibe

Verizon Makes Things Right

Within a couple hours of sending out that email from my previous post, I received a call from the RI dispatch manager. He informed me that the email had been passed down to him and that he would do what he could to get a technician out to my house tonight. Additionally, he would track down the chain of events that led to the issues of my appointments getting mixed up and not happening as planned or explained to me. Once he had figured that out, he would contact me again. Shortly after, I received another call from someone in the executive customer relations office in New York explaining that he contacted the dispatch manager and basically explained the same thing, but also mentioned that he would be getting a report on how this problem occurred. A few minutes later, I received a call from the dispatch manager again, explaining that a technician would definitely be coming tonight.

As I write this, my Tivo now works with the CableCARD that was installed. While this whole process was very problematic and the CSR’s I dealt with did not do their jobs properly, I am happy with the outcome. I received as ideal an outcome as I could have expected. I did not want to have to leave work to have it installed tomorrow. The dispatch manager checked in with me again to make sure the job was done to my satisfaction and he would not accept my thanks as he knew his people were to blame. He again stated that he would be calling me tomorrow to explain what he found to be the cause of the problem.

I found it amusing was that the technician agreed with me on the CableCARD installation issue. He said that there is no reason they can’t give them to the customer pre-activated to allow the customer to install it themselves. I would take it one step further and say that Verizon should allow this, but charge the customer if a tech needs to come out because the customer ran into trouble during the installation. The technician’s mind was blown that the second order could not be completed until the first one had been closed. That’s also something that I found to be odd.

Regardless of what happened and what caused the problem, Verizon made things right. That is what I wanted in all of this, and that’s exactly what I got. I hope they will learn from this and prevent it from happening in the future. I have been very happy with the TV and Internet service I get from FiOS. I did not want this bad customer service experience to ruin that. I am glad I read The Consumerist as I would have never thought of trying to email a bunch of executives at Verizon to get this problem resolved properly.

Verizon Customer Service Experience

I sent the following email to the Verizon executives that The Consumerist has compiled explaining the piss poor customer service I have received from their team. I am absolutely appalled that for a company so large, their customer service is so bad. I really wanted to be 100% happy with my FiOS service. That ended when I tried to get a CableCARD installed. Why they have to install them is beyond me. It’s basically a PCMCIA card, like the ones you used to put into the side of a laptop that didn’t have a modem or a NIC. The only step I would need assistance with is contacting Verizon to have it activated, though they could probably activate it at the Verizon store when I picked it up, leaving me to do nothing more than put it in my Tivo. There’s more after the jump…

Continue reading Verizon Customer Service Experience

Maker Faire is Coming to RI!

Makers, crafters, geeks, techies, artists, and pretty much everyone else… Maker Faire, held by MAKE Magazine, will be held in Providence this September! It’s very exciting news as something that has traditionally taken place in California (I think there were a couple in Texas as well). It’s great to bring an event held in such high regard to the east coast, and to Providence no less. Being a city of makers, this is the perfect location for this event.

The dates for the festival are September 12-19 with a special kickoff at the Rocktucket Block Party in Pawtucket on September 6.

Check the links for all the details. I’ll be attending most of the events (I’m not a maker, but I am a geek and find this stuff to be pretty cool). The best part is, aside from the fundraiser on September 12, it’s all free and open to the public.

Rhode Island Maker Faire and DIY Festival

Map of Location

If you’re on Twitter, you should follow @kippworks and @bjepson for info.

How Technology Brings Us Together to Change the World

This post is in response to a post written by Erin Scott, aka The SMiChick. Her post, titled “What would you do if…” explains her views on how technology has forever changed, oftentimes for the worst, interpersonal relationships. It also goes into our dependence on technology. While I agree with quite a bit of what she has to say, I disagree with some of the basic premises she puts forth.

Erin starts off by saying we are dependent on technology. That we have lost touch with the each other and with the world. Part of that dependence, however, is necessity. Technologies that Erin doesn’t mention (automobiles, trains, and planes) have moved us around. She mentions a simpler time when people basically lived off the land. What she fails to mention is that in those times people did not travel. People stayed as close to a home base as possible. Sure, they wandered off in search of supplies, but only as far as their feet or horse could carry them. Would I like to see more people paying more attention to their local environment rather than worrying about what’s going on in the rest of the world or venturing off to far away cities to have fun? Of course I would. In fact, I think everyone should be doing that. However, technologies have allowed us to travel and travel we did. People never lived an hour drive away from work. They didn’t live a 2 hour train ride from their office. Instead, they lived within walking distance of the trolley or bus or even their place of employment. They lived within the same city, sometimes in a streetcar suburb just outside the city. But with the travel came a need for more technology to keep in touch with family and friends that were far away.

Do you see payphones anymore? I don’t even know where I could find one now. I used to always know where there was a payphone when I was out and about by myself. Now, they’re hard to find. That explains the dependency on cell phones and why parents get them for their kids (I’m still of the opinion that I will never pay for a cell phone for my kid, if he wants one, he can pay for it himself). My car broke down back in 1999 on my way to RI to pick up my brother for Thanksgiving break. I had no cell phone. I walked down to the commuter lot at the end of the exit ramp and used the pay phone to call my parents. It didn’t work. I took a ride with a random dude to a gas station even further away and found one that worked. I stayed there until my father was able to pick me up. Having a cell phone in that situation would have been helpful. I may have been crazy for taking the ride, but he looked like a nice enough guy (actually, he looked like a Phishhead).

I have heard people say that we have become out of touch with the world and each other because of technology. I disagree with that. I have a few personal anecdotes to explain my reasoning. I have met lots of people on the internet. When I first moved to RI, I didn’t know anyone. I went on a few dates through Craigslist and ultimately met my wife through that site. I made some friends through online postings. I met people in Providence through local forums. Since joining Twitter, I have met a bunch of people interested in Phish. We met up at shows in June. In fact, I am going on a trip to California to see Festival 8, a 3 day Phish festival around Halloween. I’m flying to Las Vegas, meeting 6 other people from Twitter, and we’re all renting an RV together and driving the 4 hours to the festival together. The Internet has brought us together. Finally, one of my closest friends was met online. I have never met her, but we met about 12 years ago in a chat room on AOL. I know it sounds super sketchy, but we have stayed in touch ever since. We have gone through ups and downs in our lives together. We have helped each other through rough times. It’s a relationship like no other, but it would not exist if it weren’t for the Internet.

People have come together to become more in touch with the world because of technology. Look at the phenomenon of flash mobs. Look at all the people who joined together to support the problems with the Iranian election or those who came together for the people of Darfur. Sure, most of that was meaningless gestures, like changing your Twitter avatar green. But there are many people who have actually made a difference because of it. Look at what social media did in our own elections. Barack Obama would not have won such a decisive victory if it weren’t for his creative use of social media.

Technology has changed the world. Sure, some of that change is not good. It has caused people to become more isolated. However, I think that it has brought more people together. It has led to meaningless gestures to show support for some issue, but it has also brought “doers” together to actually make change. It has helped people (to be super cliché) to be the change they want to see in the world.

Do I think we should all join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps and travel the world to help others? Not at all. In fact, I believe we should start right at home with our own communities. I believe that change must start locally. I believe in the “think globally, act locally” sentiment. If everyone did just that, the change we should see in the world would happen. In fact, one of the things I use the Internet for is local issues. Technology has helped this movement.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of Erin’s post, but it said 2 things to me. The first is that we have become too dependent on information technology (I disagree with the spirit of that statement, but not with the statement itself) and the second is that we need to step away from these technologies to experience real life, to learn to be happy without them, to really have a personal relationship (again, I disagree for the reasons listed above). As for that first part, look at dependency on older forms of information technology (they were technological for their time) – newspaper, radio, television. The computer allows us to experience other things that we wouldn’t normally experience in our lives. Not everyone is given the chance to visit other countries and see other cultures. Heck, many of us can’t even visit other parts of our own country. The computer and Internet allows us to travel without leaving our home. I have never been one to believe that to be cultured, you have to travel. I believe there is plenty to discover in your own backyard. You just have to seek it out, and technology can help you find it.

I Turned to the Dark Side

So I totally turned to the dark side and got an iPhone last week. I had been holding out for a decent Android phone on a decent network. Unfortunately, that’s not happening anytime soon. The MyTouch 3G is kinda neat, but not exactly what I wanted in a phone. Nevermind the fact that it’s also on T-Mobile, which isn’t bad here in Providence, but would be horrible once we go skiing. So I broke down and went with an iPhone after playing with one while I was at ResNet (mainly to see if I could deal with the keyboard).

I have to say… I love this thing. I’m a geek through and through and this phone is like a wet dream. I like being connected all the time (though I do enjoy my time away from technology). I mainly love that I always have Twitter at my fingertips. When they say there’s an app for everything, there really is. I have a Peanut Butter Jelly Time app, a farting app, a light saber app, a beer app (that actually gives descriptions of beer), and many many more.

If you weren’t sure about the iPhone for whatever reason, it’s definitely worth it. In addition to the phone, I had to get a case. At the recommendation of one of my Twitter followers, I got the Mophie Juice Pack Air. It’s an extra battery plus case. It does add some weight and size to the phone (mainly to the thickness and height), but it makes the phone easier to hold and type one handed for me. It has a nice indicator on the back to tell you how much life is left (similar to MacBook batteries when they still had removable batteries). It also has a switch to turn it on and off. The only downside for me (I don’t mind the extra weight or size) is that it covers the dock port because it needs to plug into the phone. It nearly doubles the batter life (I’d say it adds an additional 80-85% to the battery). It’s not cheap at around $80 (the Apple store had it for the same price as the website, I thought they might try to rape me), but I feel it’s well worth the money. Considering the most popular case (the InCase Slider) runs about $35, you’re paying only $45 for an extra battery. I will admit that I am considering the purchase of the Slider case as well, mainly to use when I’m at work or know the phone isn’t going to see quite as much usage and I won’t need the extra battery life. I just have to wait and see if it’s really necessary.

I won’t really go on any longer. I don’t really have anything to say about the iPhone that hasn’t already been said about it. I did jailbreak my phone. It allows for some nifty customizations and apps. I won’t go too much into it, but if you want app recommendations, let me know.

A Few Months with FiOS

As I posted a while back, I ended up switching from Cox High Speed Internet to Verizon FiOS. There were many reason for that switch, but here’s my thoughts on FiOS so far.

First, I’ll start with my bandwidth. I have more bandwidth available to me than I would have with Cox. It’s a tough judgement here because it’s noticeably faster, but part of that is because it should be. I have 20 mbps downstream and 5 mbps upstream. It’s quite convenient, but difficult to compare to my Cox connection because it wasn’t supposed to be as fast. However, I will say that my connection has been more reliable with FiOS than it ever was with Cox. With Cox, I had been through 3 cable modems (granted I’ve only had FiOS for a few months now) and always had a problem with dropped connections. I suppose it could’ve been my router (which I plan on trying to use with FiOS as I’ve heard there’s a way). Now their router, while it works well and does what I need to (and even seems to give off a stronger wireless signal than my Linksys that had 2 antennae) has a really crappy interface (warnings everytime you go into an “advanced” setting, even after you’ve confirmed a change in an advanced setting). The advanced settings shouldn’t be called advanced. People should be able to set their wireless encryption to WPA or WPA2 without having to go into an advanced area (that scares them away). I can’t change the DNS server (I used OpenDNS on my old router) and if you mistype an address, you go to Verizon’s error page/search engine (a little shady if you ask me, I’d rather get a “page cannot be displayed” message). However, I need to use their router because it grabs the on demand and guide for the set top box.

The TV service is also good. I like having HD service, though I’ve noticed that I can only get 1080i (my TV does 1080p). I don’t know if I have something configured wrong, if I have a crappy HDMI cable (came from Verizon and Gizmodo says it doesn’t matter), or if HD cable service only goes as high as 1080i. It really shouldn’t matter because based on the size of my TV and the distance it is from where we sit, I shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between 1080p and 720p. However, I can’t really compare it to my Cox service as I didn’t have HD with them. From time to time, I do notice some digital pixelation, but that can happen with any digital cable service.

The DVR, however, sucks ass. It had to be said. There are 2 reasons I’m using their DVR. The first is because I can’t afford a Tivo HD. The second is because even if I could afford a Tivo HD, I wouldn’t have the Verizon guide and I wouldn’t be able to use any of the on demand features (I may even lose out on the music channels, but I’m not sure on that). That being said, Tivo’s interface blows away the Verizon DVR. I’d also get a whole lot more storage from a Tivo and better multimedia capabilities without having to pay an extra fee (as with what I’d have to do do get those from my Verizon DVR).

So it’s not all roses over here in FiOS land, but it’s better than my experience with Cox. Cox’s support system was a whole lot better. They have phone numbers listed for easy access on their webpage. They had realistic hours (Verizon stops answering their phone at 6 pm). But the extra bandwidth and reliable service make FiOS better for me.

Update: Apparently, after doing a little research, the set top box is only capable of 1080i.