Saturday, April 5, 2008

Comcast Web Outage in PA

I've been without access to most of the web via my Comcast broadband service for about 5 hours now. This is an extra pain this weekend, because I need to log in to my work VPN to do some system maintenance, and I can't get there from here.

My wife, who never likes being without the web, called in to Comcast, and after an excruciating 40 minutes listening to the 20-second hold music loop, got a tech rep who said that the AT&T backbone is down for all of Pennsylvania. It does seem like a backbone problem, since I am able to get out to a few sites including Blogger, but even my Comcast mail host is inaccessible.

There is a two day old story link on Google News about upgrades being made by AT&T and Comcast -- apparently in preparation for Comcast's new super premium 50 Mbps service --causing outages, but I can't actually retrieve the article. All in all, I'm not thrilled if such a long outage has been caused in order to make way for a service that certainly won't be available in my area - even if I was willing and able to foot the $150 per month tab. It is especially annoying since a weekend morning may be a good time to interrupt business service, but it is prime time for residential service, and an outage this long and far reaching, without any news, has at least a strong odor of a planned interruption.

One thing's for sure, the role of connectivity in my life has changed enough in recent years, that I no longer find it acceptible to be knocked off the grid for hours at a time. I'm sure that Comcast will get things put back together eventually. I wonder, when they do, if they'll find that many of their plain old 8Mbps service customers have also decided to light out for a more stable provider. If such outages become too regular of an occurrence, I should think they will.

Edited 8:16 AM April 6, 2008 for typos.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Netflix Instant View Overloaded?

Has Netflix gotten ahead of it's system capacity in a push to increase usage of it's year old instant viewing feature? Since the instant feature came online last year, my pc has always qualified for the highest Video Quality through the service, that is until this weekend. Friday night, I went to finish watching a film I began watching last weekend ("The Sand Pebbles" which I would recommend based on the first 40 minutes), and was surprised to find that my connection was rated for only Basic quality video. I wasn't too concerned with the demotion, until I saw the remarkable loss of viewability in the Basic quality service. Scenes which had appearecd sharp in full screen mode at High quality, now appeared blurry in the initial small screen mode.

At first, I assumed that the issue was on my end. I contacted my ISP to find out if my throughput was being channeled down on their end. After testing my service using their equipment, the phone technician at my ISP said everything looked good with my service, and pointed me to an independent speed rating site, to test my speeds for myself. At Speedtest, which is also recommended as a test site by Netflix, I was able to confirm that my connection was consistently able to support over 6 Mbps download speeds.

According to Netflix, the relationship between download rate and instant viewing quality should breakdown as follows: 1.6 - 2.2 or greater Mbps --> High, 1.0 - 1.5 Mbps --> Good, under 1.0 --> Basic. At these rates, my service should allow me to continue to, as I had for the past year, view Netflix movies instantly with the highest picture quality, which I had fealt was quite good, instead of the Basic level which I have found to be unwatchable.

The Netflix help page suggests that, if connection quality problems do not originate with your ISP, they may originate from your wireless network. My older wireless-B network consistently showed an excellent connection, which should allow for 11 Mbps throughput, but to be safe I went to again via my wireless connection. (MyISP had insisted that they would only work with speed issues for PCs on wired connections.) I was surprised to see that my speedtest result for wireless -- despite the excellent connection rating showing on my PC -- was actually about half as fast as my wired connection, but at 3.34 Mbps my download speed still appears to qualify me for the High quality service with room to spare.

Based on these investigations, I'm inclined to conclude that the problem is in fact on Netflix's end. It would not be terribly surprising if they are experiencing problems handling the growing demands on their capacity driven by recent publicity about their new policy of allowing unlimited instant viewing for all but their lowest subscription level users. I'm interested to see if others have experienced the same drop off in connection quality rating that I have in the past few days, and what, if any, techniques others have found to overcome the seemingly deceptive poor ratings.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Berks County Recycling Center

I couldn't find information about the Western Berks Community Landfill Recycling Center on the web, so I'll post the info from their flyer here for anyone else who might be looking for it. This information, was accurate as of December 31, 2007:

Recycling Drop-Off Center In Berks County
Accepts the following materials:
  • batteries (car lead/acid, alkaline, rechargeable)
  • aluminum & tin cans
  • plastics #1 & #2
  • glass bottles and jars
  • cardboard
  • paper (all types)
  • newspaper/magazine
  • scrap metal
  • tires*
  • electronics*
  • appliances*
  • cell phones
  • waste vegetable oil
  • printer/toner cartridges
  • eye glasses
  • good condition clothing/shoes
  • fluorescent tube lights

Hours: Monday - Friday 8:00 am to 3:45 pm

Location: 455 Poplar Neck Road, Birdsboro, PA 19508 (Near the intersection of Rt. 724 & 176, across form Animal Rescue League).

For further information: 610-375-2772,

Ocho Cinco Makes a Stinko

Well, Bengals fans had to see this coming. Chad Johnson went on 'Mike and Mike' Friday, and complained that he has been made a scapegoat by the Bengals for their poor showing this season, and he made his preference clear for taking his "distractions" to another NFL city for next season and beyond. In fairness to Chad, it has seemed to me that he has taken more than his share of the heat for the team's troubles. Without having insight into the inner goings on in the Bengals locker room, it would be hard to make a case that Chad Johnson's play falls too far on the probem side of the performance ledger for the perennially underachieving Bengals. That said, his play has been spottier than his record yardage numbers suggest, and he has seemed to be invisible in too many clutch situations.

As far as the showmanship issue goes, I genuinely enjoy Chad's nutty, but good-natured persona. His heart-on-his-sleeve exhuberance is a welcome contrast to the bristling stoicism that too often appears to be the preferred ethos of the football world. And, I like having a big time player drawing the attention of the sporting world to the orange and black week-in and week-out. But the showy celebrations are not the behavior that draws the worst fire to Chad. The twin fuels for the anti-Johnson crowd's (such as it is) fire, have been the mental lapses like stepping out of bounds untouched short of the marker on a fourth down play while trailing at the end of the Steelers game, and the emotional flare ups like the blow up at the end of the first half in the Patriots game.

So, the 'Chad is a distraction' voices have had plenty to talk about this season, and it is hard to conclude that they are entirely wrong. Chad's current trade-seeking campaign can only serve to cement that view. First of all, having seen the way both the Bengals' ownership and fans mostly rallied around Johnson when the trade rumors first surfaced earlier this season, it is hard to entirely accept his sense of injury. Instead, it seems to me that Johnson's pro-trade sentiment arises more from self interest, than righteous indignation. Johnson's TV ubiquity over the past half decade has simultaneously elevated and dwarfed the media profile of the decidedly podunk Bengals, and it is tempting to believe that his real motivation, now, is that he covets an opportunity to run his one man show from the larger stage of a major media market. It's hard to blame him for that desire, but after repeated re-negotiations of his contract over the years, the whole mixed bag that Johnson presents doesn't seem to constitute the kind of performance that the team can afford to reward either with another contract do over, or even lavish ego stroking.

The problem, then, for the Bengals is that it seems difficult for them to do the things that Johnson would need to have done to appease is injured sense of pride, but they also can ill afford to let him go. He may let them down, but he draws constant double coverage, which opens up opprotunities both for tandem mate (and Johnson pal) T. J. Houshmanzadeh, and for the running game -- which in a sign of where the worst problems really were for the Bengals this season, still managed to average under 4 yards per carry even with mismatches Johnson creates. Worse, still, apparently under the confusing terms of the NFL salary cap, the Bengals would apparently take a major cap hit along with the hit to their offense if they were forced to move Johnson.

Lastly, many Bengals observers have suggested that Houshmanzadeh's emergence as a Pro Bowl receiver -- he led the league in receptions this year -- means that the Bengals don't need to put up with Johnson's distractions any more. There are two big problems with this analysis, though. First, as already mentioned, Housh benefits mightily from opposing defenses' preoccupation with stopping Johnson. Second, having been together since their time at Oregon State, Johnson and Houshmanzadeh are so close as teammates, that I would not be at all surprised if, if the Bengals let Chad get away this year, the team that lands Chad ends up also luring T. J. away from the Bengals within a season or two.

Hopefully, Chad is bluffing, and will come back into the fold when he realizes that a trade is not in the cards for this season, which I think has to be the ultimate outcome, but I'm not betting on an easy off season for the cats this year. That can't be a good thing looking forward to a year where the Bengals really need to get their act together if they hope to return to playoff contention, after two years of slumping performance.