Entries Tagged as 'Communications'

Just Host – Just A Dependable Hosting Company

It isn’t often that I get to praise companies over and over — and honestly this time I’m writing about Just Host again not because they’ve done something great, but because they’ve continued to do what they’ve done since day one — work.

When I originated my multi-year hosting contract with Just Host I was expecting that I’d be canceling it and taking advantage of the money back guarantee… while we’re no where near the end of the term of my contract yet, I’m beginning to believe that the likelihood of canceling the hosting is far lower than renewing the contract.

Now if you need 99.99% uptime (high availability) and you’re running a web site that makes you millions of dollars every day this isn’t for you… but if you have a business or personal site that isn’t mission critical, but could still be very important to you — this might be for you.

I don’t know much about the internals of Just Host, and I’m glad that I haven’t needed to figure all that out… when things work, I’m perfectly happy just using the service.

At the moment I’m hosting my forty plus domains; sites for several of my friends and relatives; and a number of sites for clients of mine (for the most part I designed and manage the sites — and they’re nothing lavish, just basic sites that provide these business a presence on the web).

If you’re looking for a solution to your needs for hosting, click the ad below (or the one I put in my sidebar long ago) and try a reliable, reasonably prices solution that seems to just keep working.





Originally posted 2010-10-19 02:00:31.

AT&T U-Verse

I signed up for AT&T U-Verse service about two months ago — I’ve already made a post on that, but I decide to go ahead and do a series of posts on it.

This post will be an over view of what it is; then I’ll do a post on each of the services that are part of it.

The first thing to say about AT&T U-Verse is that it is offered by a company that I think very little of; a company that does not engender trust (in fact I’m suspicious of them at every turn — they seem to make mistake after mistake after mistake — and all their mistakes benefit them).  The sad thing is you might not have any substantially better company in your area to receive similar services from — so it’s not necessarily choosing the best, but often choosing the one that gives you that most without costing you the most.

U-Verse in short is AT&T’s name for an “advance” set of services — voice, television, and internet.

AT&T’s system generally provides these services to the home over copper (fibre is required in fairly close proximity as well).  The technology is called FTTN (fibre-to-the-node) and while they do have some FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) it’s only found in extremely dense areas.

With FTTN a VRAD (video-ready-access-device) is present between the Central Office and the end node consumer; in FTTP it isn’t.  VRADs are generally fairly large pieces of equipment similar to a cable company’s “head-end” (used for digital cable deployment) and much larger than a TELCO’s mini-DSLAMs (used for DSL deployment via copper from fibre from the Central Office DSLAM).

The services offered via U-Verse are: voice (“land line” telephone), television (“cable” tv as well as video on demand), and internet (“high speed” broadband).

When the service is installed it’s likely the installers will work in a team; the outside cable will be run by one person (generally the entry copper from the pole will be replaced) and new inside wiring is run.

It’s important to note that all services are digital.

Voice is provided by voice over IP (VoIP) technology; television is provided through ip video (including live and video on demand [VOD]); and of course the internet service is the core of everything (though an optional part).

The center of the system in the home is a residential gateway which handles all three of the services (along with a battery backup unit — mainly to insure that emergency services work in power outages).

Many people ask the question if they can use their own residential equipment rather than what AT&T provides.  The answer simply is NO.  Currently you must use the AT&T equipment — you may use your equipment in addition to the AT&T residential gateway, or remove your equipment and use exclusively the AT&T provided equipment.

I’ll cover the details of each service with respect to the gateway in the following posts — but your installer will work with you to provide a reasonable installation that should provide you with voice, television, and internet services much as you currently have.

The gateway itself has one WAN side connection, two telephone jacks  (it’s not clear to me whether it’s cable of three lines or four lines, but currently you can only subscribe for two lines of service), four 100-Base-T Ethernet (LAN) connections, one wireless (802.11-N) radio, one USB connection (for a PC), one “F” connector for video, and one Ethernet “broadband” connection (I’m not sure what this is for, it’s got a piece of transparent tape over it on my unit).

Initially the set-top boxes and DVR units must be cabled directly to the unit to insure proper discover; after they are configured you can use a switch if you want more ports; or you can connect your router to the gateway if you like (you will need to reconfigure the gateway if you do this to allow your gateway to work as before).

If everything goes well in the installation, once the wiring is in place the gateway, set-top boxes, and DVR units will register and come online within a few minutes — however, AT&T seems to have quite a few units that are defective, so don’t be surprised if there are some problems.

I had ordered one DVR and two set-top boxes (mainly because I wanted the maximum installation I could get for free).  One of the set-top boxes was DOA (dead-on-arrival), one of the set-top boxes worked (but I decided I didn’t really want to keep it so the install took it back), and the DVR unit wasn’t completely dead, but was defective.  Fortunately the installer had another unit he could replace it with — but since the unit had worked well enough to register itself it took quite sometime for the installer to find someone at AT&T support who was able to clear out the previous registration so my “new” DVR could register.

We also had some issues with the voice service; but by the time the DVR issues were resolved a reboot of the gateway seemed to download the proper service configuration and both inbound and outbound calling worked.

I will note that my install was originally scheduled for a Saturday (it was the first day I could select); and AT&T never informed me that they had moved my installation date to the following Monday.  I found out when I called them 15-minutes before the close of the installation window.  I was more than a little pissed since I had changed my plans Saturday to accommodate them, and now I had to change my plans for Monday as well!

Over all I give my installer fairly high marks for doing a good job (though he still owes me a jack — AT&T doesn’t give there installers a very good supply of equipment or parts); but like almost every AT&T system, it’s brittle and almost appears designed to fail.

The one short coming of my install is that he really didn’t know a great deal about configuring the gateway for a “complex” network; but since that isn’t something AT&T technically supports I can’t fault him on that, and I certainly knew enough to figure out what needed to be changed (the 2Wire device they use could be considered a “pro-sumer” grade device, so it capable of meeting most needs, but don’t expect it to have highly technical descriptions of the various settings).

I will say, that after the initial installation the system appeared to work… though before you place your order you’ll want to read my next three posts as well as do a price-feature comparison with what you have now.

Also, you may find that it turns out to be less expensive to order more services than you want.  For example, if you only want internet service — it’s cheaper to order enough service to get a free installation (well, it’s not free — I found no way to avoid the $29 activation fee — but it’s easy to see how to avoid the $149 installation fee).  If you order a bundle, the installation fee is waived; if you downgrade in the first thirty (30) days there’s a $5 fee — so as the installer is leaving, call and downgrade — save $144 of the installation fee… though taking advantage of some of the rewards and promotions may actually make it less expensive to have more services for longer.

Oh, and one last word — make sure you keep copies of everything you “read” online to do with any promotional credits, rewards, requirements.  As I’ve already said, AT&T does not engender trust.

Originally posted 2010-05-14 02:00:22.

iJoke

I’ve never owned an iPhone; and since the only network they work on (in the US) is AT&T I’ve never considered one… but given the large number of people who swear by them, I naturally just assumed that it must be a modern smart phone.

Well, perhaps Apple should call the iPhone the iJoke — because that’s what it is.

No multi-tasking in any currently shipping iPhone… wow — what a basic (and necessary) feature to be omitted from the iPhone.

No wonder the iPhone purports to be more stable than Windows Mobile devices — they simply aren’t anywhere near the same caliber devices.

Windows Mobile has had multi-tasking for a very very very long time — in fact, since well before Windows CE was badged as Windows Mobile multi-tasking was part of the operating system.

I just can’t image a “computer” device made in the last decade that doesn’t do multi-tasking… how simply archaic… how simply useless for a pda / smart phone.

For instance; on all iPhones sold to date when you make a telephone call while trying to use your phone for navigation — navigation becomes useless, and may well miss your turn unless you know where you’re going (and why would you be using navigation if you knew where you are going).

I just don’t get it — and apparently most people who own iPhones don’t either — you paid good money for a joke… you wasted money for something that does one thing at a time, and only one thing at a time.

I’ve had Windows smart phones for much longer than the iPhone has been in existence — I paid less for them than the iPhone cost and they do way more than the iPhone did when it was released and still does.

Get a real smart phone — buy a Windows Mobile device or an Android based device, or just admit to the world you carry a fashion accessory and need to feel like the world likes you because you waste money on gadgets that simply aren’t anything more than a shinny bobble.

Originally posted 2010-06-12 02:00:05.

Kit Kat – Android 4.4 / 4.4.2

My Nexus 4 and my two Nexus 7s updated to Kit Kat about a month ago and other than Google+ becoming far more pervasive I can’t say I’ve really seen any improvements that matter much to me (yes, I’m aware that “under the hood” there are some substantial changes)…

Some things I have noticed (that I’m not happy with) are:

  • Bluetooth shuts off and cannot be turned back on until you reboot the device.
  • Bluetooth will disconnect and reconnect (by itself) from devices that worked perfectly under Jelly Bean.
  • Devices reboot periodically by themselves (without asking for confirmation — probably more often than you realize since you’re not using them continuously).
  • Devices freeze; sometimes they respond after a couple minutes — sometimes you have to power cycle them (I haven’t had a case where I had to force a reboot yet).

I’m hopeful I won’t see this on my Nexus 5 (when I start using it after the first of the year), but from what I’ve read in the forums I’m not the only one seeing stability issues with Kit Kat, and it appears to be on all devices that have received updates — including the Nexus 5.

I’m afraid this is another case of people who work on Android not really using (or testing) the product well before it hits the street — and while I don’t feel that Google employees working on Android should be forced to trade out their iPhones, I do feel that a substantial number of the engineers working on Android should have to use the latest release (maybe replace their desk phones with cellular handsets that run the latest Android version to help debug the hardware and software).

Bottom line — you might want to hold off on your move from Jelly Bean to Kit Kat until Google releases a few more updates.


 

Android: Kit Kat

Originally posted 2013-12-30 08:00:58.

I’m a valuable Verizon Wireless customer…

Or so says an email an email I got from them last week asking me to take a survey on why I hadn’t taken advantage of my ability to upgrade my phone.

When the email came in I was on the phone talking to one of my friends; and besides, email is intended to be dealt with when it’s convenient…

About two hours after the email came in, things settled down and I had some time while I was waiting on the computer to finish a backup — so I clicked the survey link.

To which I got a web browser window (that adjusted down the size of my preferred browsing window) to tell me that the survey had been closed.

WOW — I’m glad I’m a “valuable” customer, I would hate to think how “un-valuable” customers would be treated.

Let’s see…

First, I never authorized Verizon to send me any type of email other than email specifically dealing with my account (a survey in no way deals with my account — and is clearly a marketing effort), so this email would be classified as SPAM (that’s UCE – Unsolicited Commercial Email).

Second, any legitimate survey sent out would certainly have more than a two hour response time; after all, it’s not like they would know I was anywhere near the computer.

Third, I’ve already told Verizon I’m not interested in a “free” phone since I’m not interested in a new two year contract.  And frankly there should be laws against calling something free when it’s got all kinds of strings attached.

Fourth, Verizon certainly doesn’t need to send me a survey to know how I feel about them — I consider them a crappy company like all cellular providers.  And obviously, Verizon know it’s a crappy company that is afraid it couldn’t keep customers without resorting to tricking and coercing them into long contracts by selling them equipment which is locked and crippled.

I say it’s time for an open wireless system with open handsets — where like the wire line market, wireless providers cannot force you to purchase a device from them, and they have to compete without all these tricks and fine print.

Certainly Verizon (like other cellular companies) have worked very hard to make sure that I as a customer will look out for my interests, and jump to any provider that offers me reasonable service at a reasonable price.

Customer loyalty?  Well, that’s about as rare as customer service in the cellular industry!

Verizon Wireless

NOTE: Verizon Wireless sent out a new survey email the next evening (even after I explicitly “unsubscribed” from the email list used to send the original one) with “CORRECTED LINK” added to the subject. Once again I got the message:

This survey link is no longer valid. Thank you for your time and consideration in trying to complete this survey.

Originally posted 2010-07-25 02:00:31.

CompactCMS Review

CompactCMS is an extremely light weight and fast Content Management Solution (CMS).  Actually it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a CMS, it’s more like a content management foundation.

CompactCMS is an open source software project and is totally free (nothing related to it has any costs or restrictions beyond the Creative Commons License).

No question it makes managing a small site very easy, and it has a huge selection of (free) CSS templates that offer a wide variety of layouts and appearances.

Why do I say it’s a foundation?

Simple, it provides the basic of editing pages and content, builds a sitemap — but it really doesn’t offer modules that provide enhanced capabilities.  Now in it’s defense, it does provide the ability to build pages that can call PHP directly, but it doesn’t provide any framework to use managed content within your PHP code (well — you can access the MySQL database directly, but there’s zero abstraction).

Several days ago I made a comment about most users only need a two page (mostly static) web site — and that’s true, and CompactCMS certainly provides that ability to users with very little understanding of web editing (it certainly provided more than that to users who have some understanding of web editing).

The main problem with CompactCMS for users who just don’t know anything at all about web technology is it requires a little understanding of how to setup a database, import a schema, and edit configuration files (by hand).  Yeah, that’s not really much to ask a techie for sure, but there’s lots of people who know where the power button is on their computer, but re-arrange the icons on the desktop and they’re lost…

I personally like CompactCMS — I’m not sure I have any real use for it, but it would be fine to use to setup simple web sites for clients that actually wanted to be able to make modest changes to the site themselves (remember, most low end web site offerings don’t include unlimited changes — and generally don’t include any changes).

http://compactcms.nl/

Originally posted 2010-04-07 02:00:28.

AT&T Provides Exceptionally BAD Customer Service

Yesterday morning (and well into the afternoon) I spent over two and one-half hours on the phone with AT&T trying to resolve an issue with a “$50 Cash Back”.

First I call the customer service phone number on my bill; and was quickly told I’d have to resolve it online since it related to an online order.

Then I brought up a chat window with online customer service, who was quick to tell me I needed to call the rewards center (which I did was I was chatting with them — and left the chat open exchanging information slowly).

With the rewards center I talked with a useless individual who transferred me to a supervisor who was actually some what helpful; but she told me I had to go through customer service and have the rewards center conferenced in (they apparently can’t access customer records, nor can they make outbound calls).

So I called back customer service, spoke to an individual who wanted to help — but wouldn’t transfer me to a supervisor; determined I need to talk to the rewards center (duh — that’s what I told him — I needed to be conferenced in to the rewards center with a supervisor)… he transferred me to the rewards center (main number) and hung up… so I talked with a rewards center person, and was again transferred to the same supervisor (who told me again there was nothing she could do — and I pointed out that I had done EXACTLY as she ask, and again AT&T had incompetency was the issue).

She transferred me back to customer service — which turned out to be more of a hassle since it was a different office, and I had to enter all my account information.  The person I spoke with was EXTREMELY rude, and the supervisor she transferred me to was an absolute BITCH (trying to play the power game).

I then called back to customer service, was transferred to a supervisor, who did conference into the rewards center and then got an absolute BITCH there.

After that (and noting all their names and operator IDs — at least the operator IDs of the ones that would actually provide them to me) I decide to just call and go through the complaints process…

I explained the whole thing to the woman, she read over the notes; ask me a few questions, and then just said “How ’bout I just credit your account $50 and put this issue to rest”.

It took her less than five minutes to understand the previous two and a half hour nightmare with AT&T individuals who were for the most part in a hurry to say NO, tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about, or tell me I needed to talk to someone else…

And all of this is a result of AT&T designing a system of rebates / credits / incentives that is difficult for an individual to navigate through and redeem… after all, they don’t really want you to get the money, they just want to defraud you.

HORRIBLE company (yeah — I already knew that)… and certainly AT&T doesn’t do anything to retain customers…

I’m already making plans to change my Internet provider as soon as I get the credits for the other promotions.

As far as I’m concerned, if I have to deal with crappy customer service, I’ll just play the providers against each other and maximize my savings.

All I can say is…

Just say NO!

Originally posted 2009-08-04 01:00:18.

Web Servers

For several years I’ve used a combination of Microsoft IIS and Apache, which fits in with my belief that you choose the best tool for the job (and rarely does one tool work best across the board).

About a month ago I “needed” to do some maintenance on my personal web server, and I started to notice the number of things that had been installed on it… like two versions of Microsoft SQL Server (why a Microsoft product felt the need to install the compact edition when I already had the full blown edition is beyond me).

As I started to peel  away layer upon layer of unnecessary software I realized that my dependency on IIS was one very simple ASP dot Net script I’d written for a client of mine and adapted for my own use (you could also say I’d written it for my use and adapted it for them).

I started thinking, and realized it would take me about ten minutes to re-write that script in PHP and in doing that I could totally eliminate my personal dependency on IIS and somewhat simplify my life.

In about half an hour (I had to test the script and there was more to uninstall) I had a very clean machine with about 8GB more of disk space, and no IIS… and the exact same functionality (well — I would argue increased functionality since there was far less software that I would have to update and maintain on the machine).

Sure, there are cases where ASP dot Net is a good solution (though honestly I absolutely cannot stand it or the development environment, it seems to me like an environment targeted at mediocre programmers who have no understanding of what they’re doing and an incredible opportunity for security flaws and bugs)… but many times PHP works far better, and for very complex solutions a JSP (Java Servlet / JavaServer Pages) solution would likely work better.

My advice, think through what your (technical) requirements are and consider the options before locking into proprietary solutions.

Originally posted 2010-03-24 02:00:33.

Windows – Desktop Search

Most people realize how valuable Internet search engines are; but not everyone has figured out how valuable desktop (and server) search engines can be.

Even in corporate environments where data storage is highly organized it’s easy to forget where something is, or not know that someone else has already worked on a particular document — but if you could quickly and efficiently search all the public data on all the machines in your organization (or home) you could find those pieces of information you either misplaced or never knew about.

With Windows Search it just happens.  If you have access to a document, and you search — you can find it.  Open up a file explorer Window and point it at location you think it might be, type in the search box — and matching documents quickly appear (and those that don’t match disappear).  Do the same thing against a remote share – and it happens magically (the remote box does all the work).  It’s even possible to  be able to search multiple servers simultaneously – and it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to setup.

Windows Search is already on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 as well as Windows Vista (you’ll want to apply updates) — and easily installable on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.  In fact, the defaults will probably do fine — just install and go (of course it will take a little while to index all your information).

A developer can fairly easily enhance search to include more document types using (plenty of examples, and it uses a model that Microsoft has employed in many parts of Windows)…   The search interface can be used via API, embedded in a web page, or just used directly from the search applet (which appears in auto-magically in Windows 7 and Windows Vista).

Very few Microsoft products are worth praise — but Windows Search is; and from my personal experience no competitor on any platform compares.

To those looking to write a “new” desktop search; look at Windows Search and understand what it does and how it works before you start your design.

Windows Search

Originally posted 2010-07-17 02:00:24.

What is the RIAA up to?

The RIAA (Recording Industry of Association of America) is apparently backing off of the individual lawsuits they’ve been filing and working with major ISPs (read that as AT&T, Comcast, and Cox) supposedly with the help of New York’s Attorney General (hey, he failed in his war on Usenet child pornography, so we can only hope him as much success here) to implement new policies where by your ISP monitors your habits and slaps you on the wrist (or terminates your service).

The new “3 Strikes Plan” basically is a boom for the ISPs because even though they like to advertise “unlimited” internet service, they’d love to find ways to limit it and charge you for your use.

ISPs are looking at this as a way to test and implement system that cap your downloads, implement metered service, and just outright block you from doing things you might want to (and may in fact be perfectly legal).

My advice is start looking for an ISP that has gone on record as NOT supporting this type of activity and send a single to the “big boys” that you can choose who to spend your money with, and you will not accept limitations placed on your unlimited internet service.

Who’s a good choice — apparently Verizon has gone on record already as not supporting or participating in assisting the RIAA other than as required by law.

NOTE:  Remember, Comcast has basically told the FCC that they don’t have to disclose anything they don’t want to about their traffic shaping and filtering policies to customer, and they’ll file litigation against the FCC if they are fined.  So be warned, you may subscribe to Comcast’s 50MB service but you’ll only get what they want you to have!

Originally posted 2009-01-31 01:00:26.