Thursday, January 22, 2009

Comcast Cared

Last year a new Twitter account opened called @comcastcares and Frank, the leader of a new department inside Comcast, was working hard to improve the image of a company who has, quite possibly, one of the worst set of morals of mainstream companies. Frank really was making an impact and word quickly spread about this new department and people began to think there was hope. I posted a blog about some frustrations I had and a couple others about how Frank had helped me. Frank was able to get me on a promotion and gave me some options. One option he gave me was only 6 months long but he was excited to get me to try the high end plan so he said that after those 6 months were up he'd get me on another promotion.

Somewhere in all of this I felt like Frank was the rebel that could really save the image of Comcast but that once his impact started to be known the company would step in with the "business types" and again show how the books are more important than customer satisfaction or company image. I hoped I was wrong - but I wasn't.

My promotion ended last month and my bill skyrocketed. I contacted Frank and he told me to email his department which got me the response that someone would contact me the next day. When I was contacted I totally felt the same old Comcast feel. The person who called me didn't care about anything and the end result was I downgraded to the economy plan. I contacted Frank on Twitter and really received empty responses.... and it highly reminded me of a guy who did care but who had hands tied. Despite my emails to Frank, Frank's department, and another Comcast employee about how I was told that I could get another promotion after the 6 month one finished ended up with empty responses or absolutely no response at all.

Here's where things get worse. Apparently with the economy package Comcast says streaming video may not work and, well, I've had some issues. The best part is that if you want to go one step above economy the price more than doubles. Oh but wait, it's cheaper if I subscribe to cable TV as well is what I'm told not only by Comcast but Frank as well. Oh, really? So I can get something I need cheaper by buying something I don't need or want. Where am I saving money here? This is certainly the work of "business types". To another level, you can also tell this is another attempt at Comcast killing innovation. Think about it - if you can now watch TV on the internet and don't need cable TV then Comcast loses revenue so the solution they have is to force you to pay them for TV anyway or to charge you more than double to have a plan that should support streaming video. I mean, really, why would you innovate and allow the customers to have what they want.

Its certainly sad to watch Comcast grab their monopoly and do all that they can do to rape their customers and absolutely destroy any innovation. They are a very important part of why the United States, the founder of the internet, is one of the worst countries to be in for accessing the internet. Right now all we can hope for is the FCC to step in and make sure we have real competition and start holding Comcast responsible for their horrible practices.

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Comcast vs Comcast?

Anyone that has talked to me since I moved into my house knows that I have an ever growing hatred for Comcast and it's business practices. They have violated so many people on moral issues that its not even funny. My biggest problem with the company is that they put a ton of money into figuring out ways to keep traffic off their network (read: screw their customer) instead of using that money to actually build a network capable of supporting what the customer wants to do with the service that they are paying Comcast for. It doesn't make sense that you would work on finding ways to force someone to stay with you (monopolies, legal issues, etc) instead of actually creating a product that people want to stay with. This is why we are falling behind in internet access.

So isn't this Comcast vs All and not Comcast vs Comcast? Well, it depends. Recently there is a new twitter account, @comcastcares, that has really been showing a different side of Comcast. What's so different? Well, the username that Frank Eliason (the owner of the account) picked is actually a true representation of him. He works for Comcast and he actually does care. My first interaction with him was less than a week ago and we debated for about an hour on Twitter about topics ranging from net neutrality to business practices, etc. Many did see me as outright attacking him but the truth was I really wanted to see how the response was handled... and I have to say I was VERY impressed. Frank responded as best he could to all of my comments and, as he should as an employee, he never once bashed what Comcast was doing but he was very understanding of the concerns that I was bringing up. That night I had a slightly new view of Comcast. A few days later I explained the customer service scenario I had when I called because my rate doubled and the CSR I spoke with literally told me to cancel my account and, when I asked for a manager, was told that no manager can speak with me but she assured me that the manager would say the exact same thing that she did. Frank was infuriated over the situation and said that he was going to pull up my account and look into the matter. Yesterday he got back to me and told me he was going to put me on a promotion of my choice and I selected a 16meg down and 2meg upstream connection for $24.95/mo for 6 months. Surprisingly my bandwidth test this morning is showing that I am getting the full 2meg upstream (which is actually more important to me than the downstream since I use remote access software) and I am getting 25 meg down. I'm impressed.... but I really am not going to comment until I see that speed sustained because I've noticed a lot of packet shaping in my bandwidth and I've seen connections during downloads start out super fast and then slow to almost unbearable before.

But while Twitter is being used for good by Frank to help Comcast, it also is allowing consumers to share their experiences with Comcast and yesterday and today we were painted a picture of who Comcast is and, well, it's still the same old Comcast business practices that are consistently reminding customers of how horrible it is being trapped with a company and having no alternative.

It's really sad when the only way to get any comfort from a company is to find a person that works for the company that is more excited about the product than the people who actually run the service. Business take such a focus on the financial aspects of their company that they are blinded from seeing what it's supposed to do to keep that product desirable. Fortunately, for now, we have Frank and his @comcastcares account on Twitter helping us out. What worries me is that he is single-handedly holding up a huge monster that's only desire is to crush people and I don't know how long he will be able to keep that up without the corporation actually getting behind him. Comcast should certainly take notice of Frank because he is literally the only good news that has come from Comcast in YEARS but, sadly, I'm more worried about the company attacking him eventually instead of embracing him.

Either way, Frank, I appreciate what you have done and I hope that Comcast improves and that the company honors you for what you have been doing. With so many corporations grabbing twitter accounts in the interest of spamming people it is refreshing to see a corporate presence on Twitter that is actually a real live human being who is interested in helping. Kudos to you.

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Friday, January 18, 2008

No red cars on my driveway (Net Neutrality)

I just read an article arguing that Akamai is violating net neutrality with their content delivery. The article really is nothing more thatn another example of how those with a stake in the outcome of the debates are trying to skew the description of the problem.

While I can understand the point made it is not accurate to the case with Akamai. When Akamai has a customer they are renting server space just like someone who sets up a hosting account with another company. Essentially, a company doesnt have the facilities to run their own server so they rent part of a server at a location that does have those facilities. When you become a customer of Akamai, you're essentially doing just that but the difference is you're renting multiple locations. Such as a nationwide company purchases office space in multiple states so that people on the east coast don't have to travel to California to see someone in person. Same is true with shipping facilities and company warehouses. And if one of their customers needs to go to an office, they'll go to the closest one. They'll still travel in the same ways and take the same material to the office that they needed to but they'll go to that paticular office based on LOCATION.

This is exactly what Akamai is doing. They are essentially setting up multiple locations of data provided by their customer. Traffic is directed to the closest server based on the location of the source network and not on the content. It is not a manipulation of content which is what those critical of Akamai are infering. It is simply a matter of redirection based on the source and does not differentiate by it being a stream or an HTTP request with the possible exception of the data being stored in a different location.

Think of it this way. Net Neutrality violations would be the local department of transportation saying that no red cars are permitted on a certain road because that would be a discriminatory regulation while saying that tractor trailers aren't permitted on a smaller road would simply be an issue of capacity. Now, as a customer of my ISP, I pay for a certain amount of bandwidth. If I pay for a 3MB connection to the internet, then that is what I deserve the same way if I pay someone to build a driveway to my house I expect to be able to allow anything that I want on that driveway. If the contractor I hired to build my driveway said that they would only allow me to drive blue and yellow cars on that driveway then I'd tell them they were absurd and go somewhere else. Now, at the same time I may be paying for a single lane dirt driveway which would not be suitable for a sports car that I might own. In this scenario, I know what my needs are and I need to contract someone to build me a paved driveway that is compatible with my needs. Also, if I own property between two decent access roads and I decide that I want a driveway bult to both roads I am certainly entitled to do this. In this example I am allowing two entrances to my residence and I will use the one that makes the most sense based on where I am returning from (I'm not going to drive past driveway 1 to get to driveway 2 if I've already payed for both driveways. The same issue holds true with respect to color of the car. I purchased the drive way and if someone building that drive way told me that green cars were not allowed on driveway 1 they would be laughed at.

This is the biggest problem with the net neutrality debate. People quite simply can not determine what is capacity and what is color. When you hire a contractor to build you a driveway you purchase that driveway based on the class of vehicle that you have and not based on the color of vehicle. This is the same when we purchase a connection to the internet. We go to our ISP and tell them that we want to pay them a certain amount of money for a certain amount of bandwidth and our ISP makes that connection. Once that connection is there I should be entitled to the 3MB that I paid for. Having an ISP tell me that I am not able to use P2P applications is exactly like telling me I can't use a red car on my driveway. Additionaly, if you are a contractor that builds driveways and later the person who purchased that driveway carries an illegal substance in his car on that driveway, it is not the responsibility of the company that built the driveway or the manufacturer of the car but the responsibility of the person who was transmitting that illegal substance. If statistics show us that red cars are more likely to be transporting drugs is it fair to then say that all of the roads in a certain jurisdiction are no longer permitted to carry red cars? Again, this is absurd. Not only is it harming those who use red cars legally but it's also not going to solve the issue. In fact, instead of solving the issue we have pushed the problem underground more because now those carrying illegal substances are now making an effort to disguise their transportation vehicle. Interestingly, this is the same thing that is occuring with the internet. Add to the legality debate the issue of the ISP saying they don't have enough capacity. If this is true, how is it the fault of the customer? If all of my neighbors and I use a single road into our neighborhood and that road becomes congested, its not the responsibility of each resident but the responsibility of the developer of the neighborhood and/or the department of transportation. Currently the ISPs are punishing their customers because of a mistake that was made by the ISP (overselling their network). If it comes down to it, the ISP is going to have to raise their rates to support their capacity but currently they are not only raising their rates but they are also making absurd rules to cover their mistakes and to maximize profits because of the unfair advantage they have.

Akamai is not responsible for violating the concept of net neutrality because of their content delivery systems. This is mostly a "gatekeeper" debate and will not be solved until people grasp the concept of what the ISPs are doing rather than listen to the skewed concepts put forth by those ISPs. Resolutions can not be made by people or companies that have a stake in the results and, as such, the ISPs can not be the ones making the final decissions.

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 06, 2007

If anyone pays attention to my sidebar on this blog, you might notice that my link to firefox is gone and is now replaced with an Opera button. This is for good reason.
Since the release of Firefox 2, it seems that the browser has become a lot more unstable and even more resource intensive. On a technical note, I think a lot of this has to do with the way firefox is interacting with flash. Either way, it just isn't a pleasant experience on either my Mac or any Windows machine I use. I had been using Opera Mini on my cell phone for a while and had been REALLY impressed with it so I figured I'd give the regular Opera browser a shot and I am really glad that I did. It really seems that I'm not alone either. I'd suggest giving it a shot and let me know if it works for you and how you like it. It's definately built with more security in mind and it's a lot easier to maintain.
Innovation delivered

If you have a smart phone, give Opera Mini a shot as well.
Opera Mini - Join the revolution, surf the Web on your phone

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Today there has been a discussion on a mailing list that I am on regarding viruses spreading across the internet. It prompted a reply to me but by time I was done I decided that it was entirely too long to send on the list so I am posting it here and giving a link on the list because I believe that there are many other people out there that can benefit from this information.

The majority of viruses that are spread today are more of a "terroristic" threat than they are actual threat to your computer. While it is very true that there are viruses and spyware that can create huge issues with using your computer it is rare that you become infected in a serious way if you have programs like AVG Anti-Virus installed and updated. Many of the viruses you read about or you get forwarded on to you are nothing more than someone's power trip. The scenario is that someone just makes something up and sends it to a large list of people explaining this "new virus" and then signs the email as someone who sounds important. The people that receive that email have a lot of good in their heart and they pass it on to all of their friends in order to protect them. The sad thing is that the person who created that email has just been given what he wanted. The email goes on from person to person and now he is sitting at home gloating about how he started that email -- meanwhile mail servers everywhere are having to deal with the issue of increased load.
There definately are viruses out there that can do damage to your data but if you have a reputable virus scanning program active on your computer, there is no need to fear. Yes, there is a chance that a virus can get around a properly working virus scanner but the fear that people have over the possibility ends up being a greater risk than the actual possibility it's self.

In some cases, the virus is "coming" from someone that is a friend or relative or from a reputable company. This is done typically by one of 2 ways. If a computer becomes infected with a virus, that virus will prey on that person's email program (in almost all cases its Outlook or Outlook Express) and read the address book. Because the virus has affected the programming of the email program it's self, it has the ability to send an email without the owner of the computer even knowing it was sent, thus, someone you know has sent you a virus -- but it's actually just their computer that sent it. The second way this is done is by "forging". Someone with enough equipment at their disposal can actually manipulate the headers of an email. As an analogy, consider your mailbox in front of your house. Every day you go to that mailbox and you get mail out of it and you assume that your postman put that mail there. All of your mail is always addressed to you and the return addresses are all from people you know or from companies that you know and trust. The thing is the return address may not be accurate at all. I could easily write my friend's address that lives in PA on an envelope and mail it from here in VA. When you receive that you may not even think to look at the post mark. If you notice that someone from PA is sending you a letter but the post mark says it's from another state you have to ask if the person you know would have any business in VA. It's possible your friend really was visiting someone in VA and mailed a letter from there, but, if you know there is no way that person ever would have been in VA then there is cause for concern. Another possibility in your mail box scenario is that your post man delivers your mail but someone else sneaks by later and puts a letter in the box that appears to be delivered by your post man. Someone else was posing as your post man whether you saw that person or not and the same can occur on internet mail systems. Some mail servers pretend to be other mail servers. There are forensics that can actually still trace these types of forgeries.

The MOST important thing is this (as I continue the mailbox analogy): Think of the odds that someone snuck something into your mailbox and the odds that it would have actually been some type of communicable disease. It's rare that you would be the receipant of something such as this but even in most cases, you would recognize something wasn't quite right and would have, at the very least, taken corrective action immediately. This is exactly what your virus scanner is doing. The larger concern in the reality of what you get in your mailbox are things such as scams, unwanted advertisements, requests to do something (such as cash a check) that gives the sender the right to some of your information or to sign you up for something. It's also possible that you get something requesting personal information about an account that you have and you fill it out and return the information and the receipant of that information wasn't actually your bank or other company you deal with. These issues are very present in email and no virus scanner can help you from them -- and none of them contain a virus at all. You may ask "If I get an email from First National Bank and I do have an account there, how did they know?" ... The reality is that email may have been sent to 2,000 people and 1,990 of them deleted it because they didnt have an account there. The sender of the email doesnt have a clue but they send the email to a large enough list of people that at least a few are bound to have an account and willingly provide the information -- those few people are enough to make it worth his time.

There are things you can do to protect yourself (and the internet):

1> Never panic and send emails to others warning them of a virus. The largest percentage of these emails are actually more of a chain letter than anything else -- or designed to inflict fear. If you get something and you are concerned that it really might be legit the best thing to do is check and do a search for the email you received. Your likely to find a copy of the same email you received.

2> If you are running Windows, make sure you have an anti-virus program installed. Grisoft has a free program called AVG Free Edition that works extremely well -- even better than Norton and McAffee. You can find it at

3> Use email programs other than Outlook or Outlook Express. Most actual viruses prey on the programming inside of those applications -- they are written that way because the author knows thats what most people use. A great alternative is Thunderbird from Mozilla. Mozilla also has a great web browser called Firefox which protects your computer a lot more than Internet Explorer. You can find both programs at

4> Never click on a link inside an email. If there is a link inside an email copy the text of the link you see and then paste that into your web browser. The internet allows for you to create a link to a page but instead of actually displaying the link you can put a description of what the link is to. Scammers often use this to their advantage. If your bank is then you are more likely to click on a link that is ... But the person who authored the email may be using the description feature and creates a link to but when he describes it, he doesnt use a sentence or a word but a fake address. The result is you click on a link that looks valid but the hidden link is actually going to somewhere else. If you copy and paste the text you see rather than just clicking the link, you eliminate this possibility.

Hopefully this little tutorial helps you folks out and hopefully it was clear enough for even non computer literate users to understand.

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Myspace is no longer a place that I am participating in.
A while ago a friend and I were talking about both of us just deleting our myspace accounts but that person has decided not to.... over the last couple of days I have realized that my reason for not wanting to be part of it any more was not dependant on that person. Actually, I have found a lot more out about real life and I like it a lot better.

When you cancel your myspace account, they want you to fill in a box with comments on why you are deleting your account. Here is what I wrote:

There are two points to the reason for me canceling.
The first reason is because the site is a technical nightmare. It's overwhelming flash content will tax even the most advanced computers and the focus of myspace seems to be add new features to compete with possible competitors rather than making sure what they already have works. There is seemingly no spam protection inside of the site it's self. While it's true that you can disable email notifications I can't log in to the site without seeing spam comments or messages. Oh, and the "Unexpected error has occured" has become more than expected.

The second reason is the attitude of people on the site. I have seen entirely too many friendships and relationships destroyed because of jealousy. seems to be the greatest collection of petty and self-centered people..... or maybe it's just that everyone on myspace knows how to use the site so well but they can't understand how to use "real-life" and there is a reliance upon how many people are on your friend's list because they don't understand what it means to have real friends and it's the only way they can close the gap.

No matter what the reason, the idea of social networking (and especially myspace's paticular style) is harmful to society in the long run. While I believe that a lot of good can and has happened on the site, I don't believe that most people have the idea of making it that way so this is my decission not to be a part of this any longer.

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Monday, April 09, 2007

What a weird day.... Seems like the companies that pissed me off recently were... nice.... or something.

Ok, so a while ago, PNC Bank pissed me off again. I opened an account at Commerce Bank and I have been EXTREMELY happy with them. Their customer service is really great. I've lost quite a bit of money to PNC because of weird policies that aren't clear until they have an opportunity to suck you dry.... and their customer service is horrible....

The other two things that pissed me off both happened on Friday. First, University Heights. Our rent is due on the 5th of the month and that includes dropping your check in the mail slot that night. Thursday night I went to put my check in the slot and it was jammed.... envelopes hanging out all over the place -- so of course I didnt feel comfortable just laying it on the stack. Friday morning I drive by the office on the way to work and their doors are still locked.... mail slot still full. So after work, I run by the office and stand in the office for 10 mins.... everyone was busy because they were crowded which I do understand.... eventually someone walked by and said "if thats just a payment I can take it for you" so I gave it to her..... got in my car.... and all of a sudden they found time to open up the envelope and look up my account to find out that my payment was "late" ... and had the time to chase me down in my car to tell me this.... so I go back in to explain to them the situation and twice I was interupted by the manager saying "It's late!" and told me that they would not accept my check at all. I was pissed.... so I went into my apartment to look up their corporate office to call and my internet isnt working.... actually, it turns out that I have no dial tone or anything.... completely dead. Called Verizon and argued with them that things werent working even tho their computer said it was..... so they finally agreed to send a tech out on the 16th.... ok, so thats not going to work... I cant be without internet that long. Whatever..... went to bed because I had enough.

So today, I call Comcast and they get me set up with cable internet this afternoon... I call Verizon and they do their typical "why do you want to leave" and their speech about how they will bend over backwards, yada yada yada.... Told them that I have no dial tone and everything is dead and that I can't be without internet until the 16th. Finally I convince them that I am serious about canceling my account and then she proceedes to tell me that I am in an anual contract for my DSL and that they will charge me an early termination fee. I told her I didnt think it was fair that they are going to hold me accountable for THEIR problem and she told me that I didnt mention anything about a problem with my DSL service.... so naturally I flipped on her because YOU CANT HAVE DSL WITHOUT A DIAL TONE! Finally she said, ok.... she said I'll get a final bill in 10 days.... and it sure as heck better not have a termination fee on it. So after that I call the corporate office (Bainbridge Management) of University Heights and talk to someone about my issue and he said "Please give me as much information about who this was as you can" and I explained who it was that told me all of this and he said "Give me about 15 mins and then go ahead and take your check back over to them. I'm going to call them right now and take care of this" ... so that made me happy. From there I went out to PNC bank to close my account... the guy I talked to did his typical trying to keep me thing and then he said something that I wasn't expecting.... He is putting $217 back into my account to cover what they cost me. Now, granted, this is the second time this same scenario that happened before so I'm not marking this matter as resolved -- but I'll be happy to keep my account open for another few weeks or so if he's going to be nice enough to do that :)

Now... if only the IRS would call and say "Yaknow, we realize that you weren't expecting all of this stuff so you don't owe us the $11,000" ... ok, one can hope, right? :P

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 18, 2003

I have a confession to make.... I lied :) I'm still awake and its 1:30am. I just cant shake this thing they call the internet.... maybe DSL wasnt such a good idea? hehe Well a neat thing happened tonight.... I got a match! Ok, so part of my internet addiction is .... I have spent an hour straight just rating pictures... and then of course I had to sign up to meet people and then I matched with a REALLY cute girl... ok, I matched with a few cute girls but this one really stood out because her profile just... I dunno she just really struck me... and one of her keywords was "christian" so thats good... and shes from around pittsburgh and how sad am I that im rambling about someone I havent even talked to yet . I guess we'll see what happens... i'll jsut sit here and wait for an email :)

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(C)2003-2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved

(C)2008, Bob K Mertz - Some Rights Reserved
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