Comcast Responds: Reboot the Modem

I kid you not. First they respond on Twitter with the standard “please DM us” – ostensibly to get my account number but this is really about getting the conversation out of the public channel. 

Then, when I respond via DM that they have all the information and I just want to speak to somebody at this point who can see beyond the modem and the wiring at my house, I get this back:

I reviewed the account and the signal for the area and the signal history on the modem. At this time all the signal in the area is prefect. I am showing the modem has been online for 47 days. Regularly reboot your modem and router help keep it running smother. Software updates are made from time to time that require a restart – just like any other consumer device. You can easily and automatically reboot your Xfinity equipment by using our My Account app. You can also use the app to view, change or share your WiFi network name and password. -CN

Never mind the details I provided last night, and all the information over the past year. 

Never mind the information about having the modem replaced and even having Comcast install their own alongside mine to check in parallel. 

Never mind the fact that I said this happens almost every night. So the 47 days is irrelevant. It happens almost every night. 

All their support people are capable of is sending canned responses now. Clearly, his review of the account must have been very cursory or he might have seen the information they’ve been sent and that several people have checked the wiring at the house. And the modems. And the router. 

Totally useless. 

Update 1

I pointed out that it wasn’t the modem. And that we have totally exhausted that route. Here’s what I get back:

I would be happy to help get this corrected. Since the modem has been online for 47 days I would like to start by pushing a provisioning signal to your modem. This will make sure the speeds and firmware are correct on the device. This will take the modem offline for 3-5 minutes. -CN

I am amazed they can get anything done with responses like this.

Update 2

Still insisting that the dropped packets in Sunnyvale, ~45 miles from Alameda, are caused by the modem it seems, as I got this back:

In order to properly troubleshoot we have to start at the modem and then work down the line. In order to start to help you I will need to reset the modem since it has not been reset for 47 days. -CN

Update 3

Finally, moved away from the modem, but apparently still not understanding that the signal quality in Alameda at 1:30pm is totally irrelevant to an IP problem in Sunnyvale that happens around 10pm:

would be more then happy to assist but currently after reviewing the signal for the area and on the modem there is no issue. -CN

And throughout this, my requests to either escalate to somebody who understands the trace route or to get a VP to call me have been ignored. Totally ignored.

Comcast Can’t Handle The Traffic

For more than a year I’ve been reporting that around 10pm every night our Comcast internet becomes unusable. Streaming video fails, web pages start timing out. Media content in Facebook and Twitter stop loading. Every time I have looked, the problem is the same: the Sunnyvale node is dropping packets. Like this:

That 5th node is Sunnyvale. In this run it wasn’t even able to get the reverse DNS for that node.

Over the course of the year, I have sent them pings, traces & speed tests over my network. From neighbors who all report the same thing, and even over a modem they installed in parallel with mine here (when they were claiming it was my modem in Alameda causing the packet loss in Sunnyvale!). It is always the same. Around 10pm the network becomes intermittently unusable, and it is always the Sunnyvale node that is dropping packets. It will stay bad until after midnight most nights. 

I’ve been told that the router dropping ICMP is normal (not true: it is true that it will drop ICMP packets first when overloaded though, so the high loss rate indicates an overloaded router; the failing video & web downloads tell me it is dropping other packets too).

I’ve been told it must be my router, my modem or the cable into the house. Nobody has been able to explain how any of those things could result in packet loss at Sunnyvale though. 

When the network is working, Speedtest results look like this:

Just after 10pm that periodically changes to this:

Every time I report it we go through the same sequence. First there is the request to send a tech to my house to check the wiring (total waste of everybody’s time since it is obvious the problem is in Sunnyvale, about 45 miles from here), then the request to send the logs (I’ve been sending them for months). Then radio silence. Until I ask again, when they repeat the process. 

At no point do they ever get the networking team to admit their network is becoming overloaded. A year after I first reported it, their network is apparently still unable to cope with the traffic passing over it between 10pm & midnight. Not continuously though. It is intermittent. Randomly, there will be a few minutes where nothing works, then it will be back. Streaming video fails, web loads timeout. My neighbors tell me they get dropped from conference calls too, making it hard to do late night calls with overseas teams. 

I am starting to wonder whether Comcast actually knows how to run an IP network. It certainly seems that every time I contact them they try to find a fault in the cable TV related parts of the system. Never in the IP network. I can’t believe they don’t have load charts for that node. Or statistics on packet drop rates. I just suspect they aren’t even looking. 

Time Dock Pebble 2

Around the time I signed up on Kickstarter for the Pebble Time 2, I also backed a project to create the second generation of a charging dock for Pebble Time watches. The gadget to the right arrived recently in the mail.

Up until now, when I charge my watch (roughly once a week), I leave it lying on the desk with the factory charging cable attached underneath. This turns my watch temporarily into a desk clock, so I can still see notifications etc while it charges. 

The Product

Firstly, what is it exactly? Well, it is an anodized aluminium (that’s aluminum for US readers) stand with a magnetic charging connector that allows the watch to be mounted on it, held in place by the two magnets, with the strap still attached whether it is a loop, or a two piece band. Not sure how well it would work with a single band NATO strap which goes under the watch, covering the charging port, but with my two piece Clockwork Synergy band it works well.

Behind the stand, a standard micro-USB connector provides the connection to power, and there is a notch in the base that grips the provided USB cable tightly, keeping it neat & tidy.

In Use

In use, the watch snaps easily onto the magnets & remains visible as a small desk clock thanks to a slight angle back:

Charging functions the same way as with the factory cable, but now it is held safely in place while it charges.

It is designed to be compatible with the Pebble Time 2 as well, so when that arrives I should be able to keep using it to charge the new watch as well.

The Useless Parcel Service

Updated August 11, 2016: See new comments at the end.

One thing that being an Amazon Prime member teaches you is how good the various shipping companies are at getting packages delivered to the right place, at the right time. Amazon uses pretty much all the options, including, recently, their own Amazon Logistics delivery vans. From all those deliveries, the ones that regularly arrive late, or not at all, are the ones carried by UPS. Amazon Logistics and OnTrac are always on time or even early (often next day instead of two days).

In the last month, we’ve placed 8 Amazon orders. Two shipped by USPS (arrived one day early), two UPS (both late), and the other four came with Amazon Logistics (two early, two on time).

Second Day Air

The first late delivery was ordered using the Prime 2 day delivery. On a Wednesday morning. Normally, that would mean delivery by Friday. But in the world of UPS second day air, it meant Monday. And late Monday too (almost up to the 8pm deadline). That, but my calculation, is 5 days after the order. They dispute this by claiming they don’t count weekend days. Well I do, and so do their competitors who happily deliver Saturday & Sunday. 

Here’s the rub though, early on Sunday morning I ordered another item from Amazon, using prime 2 day shipping. It was delivered early on Monday morning. One day early and several hours before the order from the previous Wednesday. But it was delivered by Amazon Logistics, who apparently can not only move packages over the weekend, but deliver early when they can. Even the regular postal service delivers over the weekend, Sunday included. In fact, many of my Amazon two day orders arrive on Sunday via USPS. But not UPS. 

Next Day Guaranteed

Last night I needed a micro USB to USB C adapter quickly. I ordered them & paid extra for the next day delivery upgrade (still cheaper than buying one from a Target or Best Buy, but the shipping was almost as much as the adapters). Today at lunch time I received an alert from Amazon that my delivery had been delayed: 

So, somehow UPS managed to send the package to the wrong place, but South San Francisco isn’t far away. And that notice still suggests it might arrive today. Their own website seems less confident, but still not definitive that the package won’t make it on time:

At least I ordered mid-week too. Otherwise that one day delay might be a three day delay. 

Given that I’d not received any updates by 5pm, I sent an email asking whether there was any chance of it being delivered today (the website was still vague at best). Here’s the reply I received:

Not only is the package going to miss the guaranteed delivery time, they don’t even seem to know when it will be delivered. How can that be? Surely, the correct answer should be first thing the next morning? Even without the special Express handling option, UPS has an option for guaranteed before 9:30am delivery (Next Day Early). And that works from a lot further away than South SF. It should have been simple to guarantee delivery by 9:30am if they cared. 

A smart organization, when they make a mistake like this, would upgrade the package to the fastest possible option. But not UPS. I called the number Amazon support sent me to get better tracking information & the only thing the person who answered could say was it would arrive by 8pm tomorrow. A whole 24 hours late. She showed absolutely no concern for the fact that I had paid extra for next day shipping for a reason. Like I needed it today; not tomorrow. 

Mistakes Happen

I understand mistakes happen (although I kind of assumed the package sorting would be an automated process, at least near an Amazon distribution facility). What really counts is how the organization handles it. UPS had two options:

  1. Promise delivery before 9:30am the next day (and keep that promise);
  2. Show zero concern for missing the delivery deadline, and not even provide an updated delivery guarantee. 

The first is good customer care, and should be the standard policy in cases where the mistake is clearly internal as it was in this case. The second treats customers as if they don’t matter. UPS went with option 2. 

Update 1 (August 11, 2016)

I had the chance to talk to a very nice lady from UPS’ Customer Relations department at HQ this morning, and go over some of the concerns I raised here. As I noted above, UPS feels the earlier 2-day package was delivered on time (and it did arrive on the day they said it would). My main concern there is that if Amazon continues to ship packages using UPS at the end of the week, the 2 day prime shipping becomes 4-5 day shipping. Even more so, since not only do they not deliver on the weekend (unless the special Saturday option was selected when the shipment was sent), they also don’t even move the package towards its destination. Essentially, it freezes on Friday night and doesn’t move again until Monday morning.

The second issue, with the next day package turns out to be partly Amazon’s fault. It seems they decided that the ground transit time from their Las Vegas distribution center to here was short enough that they could ship it using UPS ground rather than a guaranteed next day service. When I suggested that having made an error like this, it would be a smart move for UPS to expedite the package and minimize the delay; the response to that was that it wouldn’t make business sense (and that it would also be potentially complex to determine which packages needed to be expedited, though I don’t buy that at all since it was possible to send me the alert when the mistake was detected). Given that Amazon chose ground shipping for a premium rate next day delivery though, at least part of the blame lies with them. (They did refund the shipping costs, but I would have preferred the items on time so I wasn’t rushing to complete things before traveling). I suspect there is an API somewhere which the Amazon brain connects into and queries the expected delivery time using all options and then picks the cheapest.

TriNet Experiences

It has been just over a year now that we have had TriNet as our HR service at work, and my opinion of them gets worse & worse with each interaction. There are definitely a few bright points, but still my overall advice for any small company thinking about using them would be simply, don’t. That is from an employee perspective of course, but hopefully when choosing something like this the employee experience is an important element too.

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Self Driving Cars

A while back it occurred to me that when my kids reach driving age, I might not have to teach them to drive because we might all be using self driving cars. There are very obvious benefits to that, not least of which is the improvement in safety. Too many people die in car accidents each year, and many of them are teens. Reducing those numbers would be a big step forward.

The flip side though is that while driving to & from work in heavy traffic is no fun at all, driving a roadster around a winding road, with the wind in your hair is an exhilarating experience that no self-driving car will ever be able to replace. In fact, I doubt we will even see self-driving roadsters. Most of the self driving vehicles I’ve seen so far have been more practical vehicle styles (with the possible exception of that Google one, which is just odd IMHO). My current car, while being a pretty long way from practical, puts a smile on my face every time I drive it on an open road (which is not often enough – it does around 2,000 miles a year max these days).

Extending that thought though, what happens to the premium super car companies? Does anybody believe there is a market for self driving Ferraris, Porsches or Lamborghinis? Will cars just become practical vehicles for getting from A to B?

While I suspect teaching either of kids to drive would be traumatic, part of me will be a little sad if my generation is the last one that learns to drive a car.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Episode VII of the Star Wars franchise is something few can have missed the hype & merchandising for, at least here in the US. That aside, the movie gets a solid thumbs up from me. My one line summary would be that this is episode IV for a new generation of fans. 

Spoilers after the jump though, so if you’re still trying to be surprised, don’t click through.

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Guns? Really?

I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting that the problem with gun control in the US is that, while a majority of people support better background checks at time of purchase, congress is so worried about the loss of NRA funds that they refuse to pass any real laws that might restrict gun ownership. One of the best articles I’ve read, entitled “We’re Just Haggling Over Price“, suggests 90% of Americans support the enhanced checks, and that the changes would only delay purchasing by a few minutes.

While some may consider it to be a step in the right direction; I don’t. I’m sorry, but a law like that would be just another lame compromise, a bit like the Affordable Care Act was a massive compromise. Of course, the difference between the two was that the ACA was passed, but gun control laws fail every time they are proposed, no matter how many people are killed.

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Looking Back

This must be one of those moments in time when Twitter is reminding me of events long gone. The buildings I worked in during my gap year & for the first summer break while at university was the first trip down memory lane. Now I am reminded about graduation by seeing all the photos of this year’s Kent graduates at Canterbury Cathedral.

For me, that trip was 22 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long, or at least it didn’t until I started thinking about what has changed since then. Graduating in a building with the history & grandeur of Canterbury Cathedral is quite an experience. Especially when the university itself is very young (established in 1965, so only a few years older than I am). That experience, I’m sure, hasn’t changed. Nor will the excitement of dressing up in robes and finally being admitted to the degree that has been the focus of a few years of their lives. (And, perhaps, some will have the opportunity to make unwitting tourists believe students wear the robes every day, or to have a swift pint with friends while dressed in them, like we did.) But plenty has changed.

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