Archive for February 2008

Comcast: “All Your Law Are Belong To Us.”

February 26, 2008

Our free-market system took a hot poker in the eye today. Comcast, under FCC scrutiny for aggressive and intrusive internet throttling, stacked the deck at their FCC hearing with a roomful of paid audience members who cheered for them during the deliberations. Worse, this pre-emptive strike against free speech was executed 90 minutes before the start of the proceedings, so actual citizens with an actual interest were turned away at the door.

So to summarize, Big Company snoops on their customers’ private communications, uses that data to selectively and anonymously interfere with their customers’ computers and reduce bandwidth use, all the while insisting it did no such thing. That is, until proven otherwise by third parties. When the FCC tries to look into the matter, Big Company tries to derail a fair hearing by secretly bussing in a roomful of shills.

They must have one hell of a lobby, to so arrogantly mislead lie to the public and the government.

Update 3/28/08- Comcast announced today that they’re really very sorry, and they didn’t know what they were secretly doing, and they want to kiss and make up. Nine months from now, they will stop discriminating against peer-to-peer traffic, and find some other way to avoid swamping their network. In the meantime, Verizon has found a way to support peer-to-peer file sharing, increase upload and download speeds, and minimize costs.

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are normally intended to enlighten, entertain and, in some cases, uplift. (In this case, “enrage” may be closer to the truth.) They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.

Apple’s iPhone: Where are the standard smartphone features?

February 26, 2008

I bought an iPhone the day after they were introduced. I like it a lot. I used to carry a Palm, a mobile phone and and iPod. Now I have the iPhone, and I bring my 60G iPod when I drive.

One thing has been troubling me for a while. When will the iPhone’s software be upgraded to include de rigeur smartphone features like recording movies or voice memos? Voice dial seems like a natural feature for an OS X-based phone, when OS X has voice recognition built in. The web experience is better than any other current phone, but it really isn’t “the whole web” without a Flash plugin.

What about the note pad? I’ve been syncing notes on my Palm for over a decade. Instead I have to use a draft email in an IMAP account as a note pad. Another feature I relied on in my Motorola V180 was “wait during dialing,” where the phone would dial up to a point and wait for me to hit a button to continue. That feature was good for making any call that included an extension number or PIN, and it was great when calling SmartRoutes (a free traffic reporting system with many prompts, and driving-challenged inputs like “*4951” to get information on the northern half of Route 495).

Steve Jobs said there’d be more features to come when he introduced the iPhone. Instead, the software updates have been largely focussed on bug fixes and securing the phone from unlocking. Where are the “new” features that are standard on lesser phones? We’re waiting.

A lunar eclipse and a cosmic perspective

February 20, 2008

lunareclipse.jpgThe moon is in totality as I write. It’s beautiful, a fleeting mask on a face that has looked down on Earth for billions of years.

I can’t help but think of the words of one of my heroes, Carolyn Porco, who currently leads the imaging team for Cassini:

To know that we can know so much about our Solar System and about our cosmos, for me, makes life meaningful. It’s very much like being in love. It’s very much that kind of relationship where you want to know more and you want to be one with the person you’re in love with or topic you’re studying. It’s a connection… it’s really a connection, and for me it’s… it’s like being allowed a glimpse of the miraculous.

(from “Nova: Voyage to the Mystery Moon,” first aired 4/4/2006)

Observation Log 2/19/08: “USA 193” spy satellite flyover

February 19, 2008

Luck was not with me tonight. The cloud cover was about 95%, but a the few holes, moving quickly, might have given me a brief glimpse of this high, close pass. I’d gotten similarly lucky with the ISS before, but not this time. If the US Navy does not shoot down the satellite on Wednesday, perhaps I’ll have another chance on Thursday.

On the positive side, I’m delighted that friends and family have been in touch, asking how they might see some of the wonders in the sky!

Observation Log 2/15/08: ISS & Shuttle Atlantis

February 15, 2008

At 6:18 tonight I got to see the Space Station and Shuttle Atlantis fly nearly straight overhead. Wow…

For fun, I tried to capture the flight on video. I learned the value of reading the manual before I need to! I couldn’t recall how to set the camera to manually focus at infinity, which is required for recording stars. I got some video, but I’ll try again. It would be cool to show readers who’ve never seen the ISS how easy it is to spot.

Comcast Follies 2-15-08

February 15, 2008

Ars Technica is reporting and analyzing Comcast’s 57-page response to the FCC investigation into its internet traffic throttling policies.

A few questions have been answered: Yes, Comcast has been doing this for a while, though their press releases would have a rational person believe they had never done so. Yes, they are disrupting customers’ traffic by sending phony TCP reset packets that masquerade as originating from remote computers that customers are connected to. No, they don’t like calling these “forged packets.” No, they don’t think this is in any way wrong (regardless of their actions to conceal this behavior).

One interesting change in their rhetoric is they’re no longer justifying their actions as necessary anti-piracy steps. Plus, they seem to realize they’re on the defensive, accusing their critics of “inflammatory hyperbole.”

A few questions are unanswered. If this interference with normal communications is supposed to enhance everyone’s internet experience, why do all my internet programs (browsers, email, web publishing, synchronizing my computers) time out and fail when they’re throttling my connection? To hear them explain it, only P2P uploads should be affected, only some of the time. Why did they waste all our time with disingenuous answers for so long, so that the AP and the EFF had to independently prove they were, well, lying? As Art Technica writes, if this bandwidth issue is such a problem, why haven’t they had a similar issue with downloads? As I wrote, doesn’t their recent announcement offering a 20x speed boost to “millions of customers” contradict their stated need to conserve bandwidth to preserve their customer’s satisfaction?

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are intended to entertain and, in some cases, uplift. They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.

Blue Cross of CA solicited data from MDs to cancel insurance policies

February 15, 2008

The LA Times is reporting that BCBS has stopped sending out patient data and letters to doctors in an attempt to find ways to cancel their patients’ health insurance.

Overlooking the obvious lapse in medical ethics, is this even legal?

The opinions expressed in Steve’s Peeves are normally intended to enlighten, entertain and, in some cases, uplift. They may not be appropriate for young readers or the satirically challenged. Parental supervision is advised.