My Thoughts Exactly

Wetmachine going into cocoon — look for butterfly soon

We’re in the process of moving Wetmachine onto a new blogging platform. So, for the next few days we won’t be posting any new articles, and comments will be turned off.

This migration involves a pretty hefty amount of database manipulation, so there may be hiccups as we come out on the other side. Bear with us; we’ll address any problems quickly.

In the meantime enjoy your reading, and, as Harold says, stay tuned. . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Something Nice About Comcast for a Change

Lest it be said that I refuse to acknowledge a virtue when I see it, allow me to voice my agreement with Mehan Jayasuriya over at Public Knowledge on Comcast’s efforts to track down problems on Twitter and elsewhere.

Mehan refers to this NYTimes piece, which discusses how Comcast customer service folks are looking for complaints about Comcast or its services on open blogs or social network sites and trying to reach out to disaffected customers. Frankly, I see nothing “creepy” about it. I actually think this is a pretty good idea for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, if I am complaining about the service I am getting, I would actually like someone to fix the problem. Most companies have laid off workers and have you go through endless phone trees before you can confirm for someone that yes, I’ve already tried the obvious and would like to get someone who can move past the script and help me with my actual problem. Even sending an email can take a few days for response. I had one incident where I was having difficulty with my cell phone service, sent an email, then resolved the problem, and got a call back two days later (at my work number as requested — they were not completely stupid, just way too slow). This is not useful response time for a service on which I rely pretty heavily.

So I think it’s actually a smart idea to have people monitoring publicly available info to see if you can reach out and solve problems. It may save the company major publicity headaches and help users get their problems resolved.

The other thing is I think it’s a good thing to remind users that what they write on social networking sites or blogs is open to everyone unless they take action to make it private. In this case, the reminder is harmless, perhaps even beneficial. But if you find it “creepy” that a Comcast customer care agent found your complaint about a billing glitch on your personal blog, consider what happens if your boss or coworker discovers your post about what you think of your current assignment and team workers. Heck, even a sophisticated Federal judge can sometimes be surprised with what goes public on the web.

My one caveat is that this works great as long as Comcast, or any other company, identifies itself honestly when making contact just as they do one the phone. For example, if I get a follow up call from my Saturn dealer after my nth gajillionth mile check up, the person identifies himself or herself as calling from Saturn and wanting to know how my service appointment went. From the article provided, it would appear that Comcast staff are identifying themselves as Comcast staff and generally offering help as Comcast customer service staff. Go them.

But it doesn’t take a genius to guess that folks may well begin to wonder whether they can start to use this for direct marketing. Perhaps when you gripe about Comcast on your blog the person that responds won’t be from Comcast but will be from AT&T, offering you a better deal. No problem with that, as long as you remember to change your defaults if you don’t want to be relentlessly market to in this manner. But the real problem is when folks selling products will disguise themselves or their identities. If the helpful commentor that points you to a promotional on DISH is actually working for DISH, but doesn’t identify himself or herself as working for DISH, it starts to get into some very dicey territory.

But again, Comcast actually seems to have a bright idea here. Good for them.

Stay tuned . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Second Law Makes Itself Known to Wetmachine

We had a disk failure, & had to restore from backup. Astute readers may notice that we’ve lost a few days’ worth of posts.

Not sure if we’ll be able to do anything about that (I’m on the road for the next few days. . .). In the meantime, wetmechanics are welcome to repost from their own personal archives, if they care to do so. . .

We apologize for the horrible discontinuity.

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Inventing the Future

Self-destruction of a monster?

My cable company seems to be self-destructing. We can only hope.

Recently I wrote about my cableco cutting off my service, and not turning it back on until I answered questions about my and my wife’s social security numbers and download habits.

Last Monday I called to complain that despite the premium I was paying for 3Mb/s service, I was getting 300 Kb/s downloads and worse. They responded by cutting me off completely. I’ll spare you the dialog, but you can just substitute any page from Franz Kafka or Lewis Carroll. A guy came on Wednesday to replace my cable modem and splitter, and it appeared in his immediate testing to yield close to the expected 3000 Kb/s.

Over the next few days I found that I only got that speed immediately after rebooting the cable-modem. After a few minutes, it would drop to 1500, 600, 300, 150, and finally 30 Kb/s. Slower than an acoustic modem from before my children were born. All through the rest of the week, I would reboot, and watch as the speed fell off.

Charter stopped taking my calls altogether. They just hung up on me over and over again.

After one of these calls we ordered DSL from our local phone company. The modem arrived Friday. I plugged it in and it worked! 3.5 to 4 Mb/s. And it has stayed that way ever since. I’ve been trying to get my mail and Webpages copied off from Charter, but they won’t let me log in.

Since then, I’ve discovered two things I didn’t know or pay any attention to when things just worked:

  • Charter Communications is run by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. What an asshole.
  • Despite increasing their revenue from saps like me by more than 10% over this quarter last year, they announced this week that they’re losing even more money than ever, and their stock lost nearly 20% of it’s value. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group.
  • Posted in General, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

    Tales of the Sausage Factory

    Sprint Swaps Spectrum Co. for Google: Care To Guess Who Bids in 700 MHz Now?

    As I repeatedly observed during the lead up to last Tuesday’s FCC meeting to decide the rules for the 700 MHz band, it is an extremely risky business to try to guess who will bid at this stage. Despite the much shorter time between announcing the rules for the AWS auction last year and the time bidders needed to get their forms in, numerous companies changed their positions, created new ventures, and generally did the unexpected.

    Now, with everyone speculating whether whether or not Google will really bid or whether the cablecos will give the telcos a run for their money, comes a significant change. In the course of a week, Sprint has forged an alliance with Google, followed a few days later with a surprise request to exit the cableco consortium SpectrumCo. This comes on top of Sprint’s announcement two weeks ago that it will team with Clearwire to do nationwide WiMax.

    And suddenly all those wise speculations about how Sprint won’t bid because it doesn’t have the cash and it has enough spectrum, Clearwire won’t bid because it’s too small to challenge the telcos, and Google won’t bid because they don’t have the expertise and don’t want to spend the money, need some serious recalculation. A Google/Sprint/Clearwire consortium (with possible help from Intel, which both owns a chunk of Clearwire and participated in the auction rulemaking as part of the “4G Coalition” with Google, Skype, and Yahoo!) looks like much more of a spectrum player than any of them alone. Sprint and Clearwire have the infrastructure and expertise, Google has the bucks and the need to expand into wireless. Further, depending on the nature of the partnership, Google could start testing and and marketing its wireless services now so that it does not have to wait until it has built and activated a network (which probably won’t be until 2010 at the earliest).

    Meanwhile, what happens to SpectrumCo.? Granted the cablecos still have no plan for the licenses they got in the AWS auction (since, lets face it, the real reason to show up was to block DBS from getting a terrestrial broadband pipe), but to the extent they pretended to have a plan, they usually cited their ability to work with Sprint as a means of implementing it. So what happens now? Granted the cablecos still have tons of money to throw at this, but how will Wall St. treat their stocks if they look set to pour another couple of billion into a business without the benefit of an experienced partner with existing infrastructure? And besides, with the FCC adopting anonymous bidding, the cablecos will find it much harder (if not impossible) to target and block rivals without going all the way and actually winning the licenses. (Remember, blocking is usually cheap because you don’t usually have to spend the blocking premium, you just have to prove to the other guy that you are willing to spend the blocking premium. It’s like when tough guy walks in on shopkeeper and asks if shopkeeper would like to buy “insurance.” Tough guy doesn’t have to actually trash the store to get paid. As long as shopkeeper believes tough guy will break his legs, shopkeeper will pay to avoid testing the theory.)

    So, a mere three days after the FCC announces rules, we find ourselves reexamining the conventional wisdom in light of changed events. McDowell rather relished the warning he gave Martin and the rest of the majority that it was “risky” to tailor the band plan to attract a single “white knight” who would become a new national broadband provider. Suddenly, Martin’s confidence that if you set the table folks will come to dinner seems a bit more justified.

    But it’s still a few months until FCC forms to participate will be due, and anything can happen in between.

    Stay tuned . . . . .

    Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

    My Thoughts Exactly

    What Digby said

    All hail Digby.

    If you’re not familiar with Digby, by all means, do yourself and the cause of democracy a favor and get familiar.

    Those of you who are among Digby’s regular readers know that until recently very few people knew whether Digby was a man or a woman, and still today, even after Digby’s speech, only her close friends know her name or what she “does for a living.” All I know about her are (as of a few days ago), (a) what she looks and sounds like, and (b) that she is and for some while has been the best writer writing about current events in the USA. She is passionate, informed, funny, angry, brilliant, and a magnificent prose stylist.

    This is the first, but it will certainly not be the last of time that John of Wetmachine joins the exponentially growing phenomenon of bloggers putting up posts entitled “What Digby said.” (Meaning, of course, “I hereby emphatically endorse what Digby said.”) Digby, the Tom Paine of our era.

    That is all.

    Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

    My Thoughts Exactly

    Congressman Delahunt on Net Neutrality

    I called Bill Delahunt’s office and sent him emails in support of net neutrality.

    I received this response by email a few days ago. I’m entering it here for the record, without comment. I may comment on it later, and would be interested in what you think of it (espescially in the case where “you” == Harold Feld).

    Dear Friend:

    Thank you for your email message in support of net neutrality legislation.
    I appreciate the benefit of your views, and wanted to take a moment to
    explain my vote of “present” during last week’s consideration of the
    Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

    First, I support keeping cyberspace free and open to all. As a member of
    the House International Relations Committee, I’ve seen how the Internet has
    made it possible to bridge cultural and political differences that exist.
    As a father, email made it possible for me to keep in touch with my daughter
    while she was working overseas in Spain – and helped me to make sure that
    she was safe after the Madrid terrorist bombings.

    Read More »

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    Tales of the Sausage Factory

    Live from St. Louis- Kickin' Media Butt In Mo.

    For the next few days, I’ll be blogging live from Free Press’ media reform conference in St. Louis. Sell out crowd of 2200 academics, activists, and random folks getting together to discuss the media reform movement and how to move forward.

    Right now, I’m in the “Academic Brain Trust” pre-session. 120 people getting in early to figure out how to get academics involved in this despite the fact that university departments make it impossible to do anything that relates to the real world, particularly if you don’t have tenure.

    I expect I will try to do daily wrap ups rather than bug everyone hourly now that we have RSS feeds.

    Stay tuned . . .

    Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

    General Exception

    Newsflash: Titan sounds like old Atari 2600 games

    Being somewhat of a space nerd, I’ve been following the progress of the Huygens probe mission for the last few days (besides, watching space press conferences streaming via the web is more fun than working, even if they are largely in French and German).

    One of the instruments on the Huygens was essentially a microphone, and in addition to the pictures that look like they were taken with a first generation Logitech webcam, the ESA have released MP3s of sounds recorded through the microphone. I was anxious to hear what another planet sounded like… boy was I shocked to learn it sounded a lot like the bleeps and hisses that passed for sound in the old Atari 2600 game console from the 70’s and 80’s.

    Read More »

    Posted in General, General Exception | Also tagged | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

    General Exception

    “Patriot” Act used to supress news of lawsuits against it

    I hadn’t heard about this when it happened a few days ago (but then, I’m out of touch, so maybe everyone has heard about this). The ACLU filed suit over certain provisions in the Patriot Act, and were slapped with a gag order based on… The Patriot Act itself.

    Read More »

    Posted in General Exception | Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)
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