Mar 022009

My website and email provider, Dreamhost, is having issues delivering email; I haven’t received anything in the last 12 hours. If you need to reach me, you can contact me at or via Facebook instead. If it isn’t fixed at Dreamhost within 24 hours, I’ll be switching email providers. Don’t throw away that or address!

UPDATE: of course immediately after making this post, my email started working again. Please continue to use my standard email addresses.

 Posted by at 12:32 am
Feb 172009

I’m on another flight from New York City to San Francisco on Virgin flight 25. Like my American Airlines flight a few weeks ago, this flight has Internet service from Gogo. The speed is still fairly respectable:
Speedtest from JFK to SFO

Shortly after I returned from my last trip to San Francisco, my Verizon Fios installation was finally completed. The installer was prompt and professional. Interestingly, it turns out that the last installer who visited my apartment could have done the installation; he did not realized that fiber was already pulled to my apartment. The setup for Fios is interesting. There are direct pre-terminated fiber pulls from the basement of my apartment building to just outside of each apartment. The installer drilled a small hole into my coat closet in the apartment from the hallway cable run.

The fiber was plugged into an Optical Network Terminal (ONT), which acts as a bridge between the fiber media and a choice of 100Base-T Ethernet, MOCA, or plain old telephone service (POTS). The ONT comes packaged with a battery backup. I was a bit surprised to see that only a single strand of fiber was pulled into my apartment–most of the networking I have worked with uses two strands of fiber. I am using the 100Base-T Ethernet connection to a wireless router; hopefully I will later use the coax connection for television. Verizon plans on introducing TV service to my building in the third quarter of 2009.

Here was the network performance with Time Warner Cable Roadrunner:
Time Warner Cable Roadrunner speed

Here was the network performance with Verizon Fios:
Verizon Fios speeed

I have had no outages with Verizon Fios, and despite the pain of scheduling installation, I’m very happy with the performance so far. Now I need to make sure that the sites I use to store files have sufficient incoming bandwidth. For a well-connected site, the performance is very good. I was able to download a 145 MB trailer for Watchmen with no noticeable delay.

 Posted by at 5:21 pm
Feb 132009

Telstar Logistics found a time-lapse video of a ship navigating through the Panama Canal. The entire video is captivating. For whatever reason, I’m fascinated that locks actually work.

A good friend of mine is coming back from Panama this weekend. If the photos on Facebook are any indication, I think she had a good time. Welcome back, APJ!

 Posted by at 3:50 pm
Feb 122009

I use Tripit to manage my travel. It’s a service to consolidate all of your travel plans. Whenever you receive mail from an airline, hotel, or other travel service, you simply forward the mail to Tripit will automatically read all of the information from your mail and create an itinerary for you. It also allows your to share your plans with other people, and you can add the plans to iCal or Google calendar automatically.

Today, Tripit really saved me. I booked a trip to San Francisco last week for next Tuesday through the end of the month. Or so I thought. When I went on Tripit to view my plans, I saw that there were two itineraries: one for the hotel and one for the flight. This was odd, since Tripit will combine locations that occur on the same dates. On closer inspection, I was dismayed to find out that I had booked the flights for March instead of February; I hadn’t noticed earlier since the days and dates of February and March are identical!

I was able to rebook by tickets on Virgin America without paying any change fees. I only had to play a higher rate for the outgoing flight.

I would say that I was lucky to catch the mis-booked flights, but it wasn’t luck at all. It was the design of Tripit that alerted me to my mistake.

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Jan 192009

I’m currently on American Airline flight #15 en route from New York City (JFK) to San Francisco. The plane is wired with wifi from Gogo inflight internet. It’s a good connection. reported a ping latency of 144 ms, download speeds of almost 2 Mbps and upload speeds of over 300 kbps. Both SSH and VPN worked without a problem, and there was no issue with typical web usage or instant messaging. I fired up Skype, and while I was able to connect to the Skype services, voice service was not usable. Video from YouTube was great, but I was unable to find any sites where live streaming video worked well. (However, that might be an issue with my computer in general.)

Speed test from AA #15

samg@flywithme:~$ ping
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=44 time=644 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=44 time=389 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=3 ttl=44 time=270 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=4 ttl=44 time=170 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=5 ttl=44 time=264 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=6 ttl=44 time=560 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=7 ttl=44 time=564 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=8 ttl=44 time=323 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=9 ttl=44 time=533 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=10 ttl=44 time=508 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=11 ttl=44 time=950 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=12 ttl=44 time=765 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=13 ttl=44 time=934 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=14 ttl=44 time=704 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=15 ttl=44 time=883 ms

--- ping statistics ---
16 packets transmitted, 15 received, 6% packet loss, time 15101ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 170.832/564.688/950.614/241.978 ms
 Posted by at 3:06 pm
Jan 182009

I guess it is a bad idea to yell at your servers: “Brendan Gregg from Sun’s Fishworks team makes an interesting discovery about inducing disk latency.”

Check out the high resolution version at YouTube if you want to see the charts on the screen.
In essence: yelling => vibration => disk latency

 Posted by at 11:01 pm
Jan 172009

Last week I decided to order Verizon Fios. I’ve been tired of Time Warner Cable’s anti-competitive practices, their poor customer service, and their flaky appointments. In addition, Verizon Fios offers high-speed Internet for the home; I decided to order their 20 Mbps upload and 20 Mbps download package. (Compared with TWC, this is quite a different; my maximum download speed has been 10 Mbps and my maximum upload speed has been 1 Mbps.)

Signing up with Verizon should have been easy. On Monday, I went to their website, picked the correct package, chatted with the online service rep. and scheduled my installation. I confirmed with my manager that I could work from home on Friday to accommodate Verizon’s very large installation window of 8 am through 5 pm.

A few hours after signing up, I received a phone call from Verizon: they did not have the CSC code from my credit card. I know I entered my credit card information correctly, and I am not in the habit of giving out private credit card information to random incoming calls. So I let them know I would call back. When I called back, it turned out that Verizon had no record of my order at all. Apparently, when I did not give them my CSC code the order was canceled completely.

This wasn’t a huge problem, I thought and we were able to create a new order and reschedule the installation for the same date. The only minor snafus were when the Verizon representative attempted to get additional personal identifying information from me, such as my birth date and social security number. When I asked why they wanted that information, I was told it was totally unnecessary.

After the phone order was completed, I received email from Verizon confirming my order. Then, I received a phone call confirming my appointment. And finally, a few hours later, I received another phone call from the New York dispatcher’s office confirming my appointment. The next day, I also confirmed the appointment online.

Yesterday, I sat around my house trying to do work. Unfortunately, I found out that my company’s VPN solution does not play nicely with my cable modem, so I was only able to read email. Around 2 pm, I decided to check with Verizon to make sure they were still coming. And after navigating their phone tree and waiting on hold, at 2:30 pm I was told that I would get a call back within two hours.

At 4:30, my phone rang. It was Verizon telling me that my appointment had been scheduled and then canceled at 7:57 am. Needless to say, I was a big annoyed by this revelation. There was no explanation for the missed appointment, nor any guarantee of credit. (For what it’s worth, New York City has regulations where if a cable company misses an installation appointment, they must perform free installation and give one free month of service. Verizon was trying to get this provision waived for Fios.)

I scheduled another appointment for Saturday from 8 am through noon. At 12:05 pm, since no one from Verizon had shown up, I gave them a call again. I got through to a rep around 12:15 pm and was told I would get a call back by 1. At 1 pm, I called again–I was told that they were running two hours late.

And now we get to 2 pm. A Verizon tech just arrived at my apartment. He has never wired a large co-op apartment before and does not know where to put the ONT or the power supply. His current proposal is to drill a large hold in my closet wall to access the apartment power supply. At best, that would look terrible, so he is going to make a few calls to see what he should be doing.

I’m going to file complaints with New York City DoITT, my council member, and probably the FCC–this kind of service is absurd. I’m curious to see if I’m going to get anywhere near of a good resolution.

Update 2:41 pm: I’ve spoken with the technician who has come to install Fios. Like all of the people I’ve dealt with at Verizon, he is smart and enthusiastic. Unfortunately, the Verizon management has over-scheduled the techs and not given them the equipment they need. In this case, the tech was sent out without the equipment to thread the fiber from the main distribution point on my floor to my apartment. We’re waiting to see if he can get the equipment needed.

I’m not sure what’s so hard with this installation. Everyone I’ve dealt with is professional and pleasant, and it’s unfortunate that the employees seem hobbled by poor management. Verizon, you seem to have good product and good people! Why is this experience so unpleasant?

Update 4:30 pm: The technician from Verizon did not have the equipment he needed to perform the installation in my apartment. (He needed a tool to thread the fiber from the floor wire closet to my apartment.) His manager did not call him back, and he had to leave at 3:30 pm. (Verizon is not authorizing overtime.) I spoke with Verizon after he left for a bit, and I now have an appointment for February 1st. Who knows if they will be showing up. As I wrote before, I filed complaints with DoITT, the FCC, and my city council member. It will be interesting to see what kind of response I get. Hopefully, the official complaints will prompt change from the senior management of Verizon to run a tighter ship and bring some better management to their dispatcher teams. Also, note to Verizon: don’t overbook appointment slots.

Ironically, I would be a much happier customer if Verizon had proactively called me to cancel or reschedule the appointment. I know it’s a shocking idea for a phone company.

 Posted by at 1:01 pm
Nov 182008

Google recently announced that Life had published their photo collection on their system. It’s a project Life was working on while I was still at Time Inc, and it’s beautiful collection of photography. Most of the Life photos have been buried in the basement of Time Inc. for years; limited digital versions were only available internally to Time Inc. on clunky systems. It’s great that the images are now available to everyone in the world.

Buzz Aldrin on the MoonI’m curious about some aspects of the Life collection. The collection includes a large number of images from the Apollo missions with a copyright attributed to Time Inc. From visiting the NASA web sites, I’ve always thought that the NASA images were either in the public domain, copyright NASA (and by extension the people of the United States), or copyright another space agency. It was a bit surprising to see images like the classic image of Buzz Aldrin next to the American flag with a Life watermark and Time Inc. copyright, especially when the original image is available at the Great Images in NASA web site. (High resolution images are also available.) I’ve dropped a note to the NASA public affairs office at NASA for some clarification; it’s entirely possible that NASA and Time Inc. signed an agreement regarding the copyright years ago. One of the wins of having the Life collection available is that there are images now published that were not previously available on NASA’s website. For example, I was unable to find this specific image of Earth from Apollo 10 on the NASA site, even though there are other images from around the same time at the Kennedy Space Center site.

Elle MacPherson with a Happy ClownTime cover of Michael Jordon by Walter Iooss Jr.

I was surprised to see that Life is selling physical copies of images with celebrities. I assume they are sharing the proceeds of the physical copies with the photographers if they do not own all of the rights, but were they able to secure model releases from celebrities? For example, you can purchase a framed copy of the Time cover image of Michael Jordan by Walter Iooss Jr., or a red-carpet photo of Elle MacPherson with a happy clown. (Surprisingly, the Elle MacPherson photo is uncredited.) Historically, one of the problems photographers and organizations have had in monetizing their photo collections has been issues of photographer rights and model releases, so I’m curious how Life managed to research and clear the photos.

Overall, having the Life collection online is a good thing for professional photographers, researchers, and the public at large. The photography of Life would not be possible without the fundamental freedoms and innovation of the United States, and it’s great that they are able to share their fruits of their labor.

 Posted by at 2:18 pm
Sep 162008

Weekly sections in newspapers have generally run their content on a weekly cycle. (Hence the name “weekly.”) The New York Times has just made the decision to start publishing content for their Dining section on a continuous basis. It’s fairly exciting, and it’s great to see a newspaper like The New York Times adapt to a continuous publishing cycle.

 Posted by at 6:11 pm
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