Monthly Archives: March 2014

How Comcast Lost a Customer, Before it Even Had One

imageFive years ago, I “cut the cord” and decided never to do business with Comcast ever again.  While I don’t recall the exact circumstances that led me to cancel Comcast, I do remember a week long stretch without any internet or TV service.  I actually remember laughing when the customer service representative tried to talk me into ordering phone service, right after telling me that the earliest appointment time to have a technician fix the cable was in a week or two.

I purchased a DTV antenna, and to my surprise, it turns out that the over-the-air digital TV signal in my area is pretty darn good.  I also bought a Netflix subscription, and later an Apple TV.

Everything was good, for five years.  But time has a way of washing away bad memories.

Sometimes, Cheap Isn’t Worth It.

Roughly four weeks ago, I saw a promotion featuring “Blast” internet service and digital cable.  For less than I’m paying for naked DSL, I could have 50mbps and cable TV.  A chat window popped up and a somewhat pushy and annoying customer service representative “helped” me order and schedule the installation appointment. 

And by “helped,” I mean slowly answering my questions and asking me if I was done yet.  Comcast obviously has their own definition of helpful.

Within a week, I started getting hang up calls on my cell phone.  I called the phone number back only to be told that they were calling (and hanging up) to offer me a self-install kit.  They would ship out the modem and cable box, waive the installation fee, cancel the installation appointment, and I’d be up and running in minutes.  It was a win-win situation, so I agreed.

Imagine my surprise when the day before the installer was originally scheduled to arrive, there is no package and I get a confirmation email reminding me that a cable technician would be arriving at my home.

Confused, I called Comcast and learned that the original installation order was never cancelled.  Moreover, I also learned that the self-installation kit was never shipped.  The customer service representative couldn’t cancel the self-install kit, but could cancel the installer appointment.  He suggested that we cancel the installation appointment and the package should arrive “in a few days.”

Several days later, I came home to find a big box on my doorstep. I immediately opened the box, and started pawing through the contents.  What I saw was disappointing. 

While everything was wrapped in plastic, and they had gone to great lengths to make it appear as if it was new, it wasn’t.  The cable box was obviously very old and very used.  No HDMI outputs.  I smelled the faint smell of stale cigarettes.  The unit, a Motorola DCT2244 was discontinued long ago, and if I read the date code correctly, it was manufactured in 2000.  That was fourteen years ago.

As an aside, these cable boxes lease for $8 a month.  14 years * $8/month = $1,344.00.  It’s no wonder why they want to keep sending them to customers.

I plugged in the cable box and started to activate the service online, but couldn’t.  Notice the screen shot, and the lack of a phone number.  I tried again in a different browser and a phone number magically appeared.

image

I called the activation number and robotic voice patiently prompted me to enter my information.  The cable box clicked and shut down.  I wondered if it died.

I turned the cable box back on and we had cable.   That is when I noticed that the box was defective.  The picture was blurry, and when I changed channels, the picture rolled over and would finally sync after a second.  When I turned the cable box off, audio still played on the TV.  I had been given a defective cable box that someone had replaced.

As I started sifting through the channels, I noticed that we basically had the same local channels that we had with the antenna, and Bravo.  Just about every other channel said “Not Authorized.”

I started to regret my decision.

“You shouldn’t even have service.”

But wait, my adventure was just beginning. 

On Wednesday, I received an automated call from “Equipment Recovery Services” saying that I should return my cable equipment.

That was the weirdest telemarketing call I have ever gotten.

My phone rang again, and this time it was Sean from Comcast asking about my order, seeing that my order was cancelled he decided to call me.  After I expressed my frustration with Comcast, he talked me into upgrading the cable box and upsold me into another service tier.  He said he would call me back. 

When I arrived home, there was no cable.

I called Comcast and was connected to technical support.  After hard hitting questions like “what does your cable box look like?” and “is the cable plugged in?”  The CSR was able to reset the TAP and reactivate service.  He stated that an installer was supposed to arrive between 6pm – 9pm that night.  (no one showed up).

The next day, I received an email from Comcast stating that a technician was going to arrive that day.  Given that my wife and I would be at work, I called to cancel the appointment.

That’s when the customer service representative told me that there were two installation orders outstanding and she couldn’t close them out.  I was told I shouldn’t even have service. 

My phone rang a few hours later; it was Equipment Recovery Services robotically telling me to return my equipment.  I called back and they “made a note” on my account that I was using it.

How on earth does this company stay in business?

When I arrived home, the cable was dead.  Again.  I unhooked the cable box and plugged the antenna back in.  My wife and I watched Big Bang Theory via the Apple TV.

I can’t take anymore.  I give up.  The great cable experiment of 2014 was officially over.

When I awoke Friday morning, Sean from Comcast called again.  I told him I wasn’t interested.  I would pack up the equipment and take it to an Xfinity service center and give it back.  And that is just what I did.

#3: Notable on the InterWebs

Another week, another post.  Random URLs that have come my way.

Notable on the InterWebs Newsletter 2

Notable Programming and Computer Science Pages:

System Administration

Security/Privacy:

Web Optimization, Marketing, SEO

Notable

SparkFun’s Cheap Chinese Multimeters are Impounded by Customs, Unleashes Rage of the Internet, and Fluke Gives SparkFun Free Merchandise.

imageSometimes, I have to shake my head.

Yesterday, SparkFun posted a blog post which generated a lot of hatred for Fluke, entitled, “Fluke, we love you but you’re killing us.” 

A cyber lynch mob formed and legions of SparkFun defenders started immediately monkey hammering their keyboards in unison, indignantly telling Fluke they will never buy a Fluke Multimeter.  Fluke responded by promising to give SparkFun a truckload of their products, for free.

SparkFun is a multimillion dollar company, with over 130 employees, but still publically acts like an mom-and-pop shop with altruistic values.  I get it.  It works.  In 2010, SparkFun pulled in roughly $18.5 million in revenue1, almost all of it from products imported from China.

SparkFun had a shipment of 2,000 Chinese multimeters stuck in customs, which were impounded because they looked remarkably like the trademarked Fluke multimeters, even down to the curve of the sides of the meter.  These were made by an OEM manufacturer for SparkFun, complete with SparkFun’s own packaging and logo.

When U.S. Customs impounded them, without Fluke’s direct intervention, Nathan Seidle (CEO of SparkFun) threw a temper tantrum and threw down the “we-are-a-small-business” card being crushed by unfair rules.  Oh the tyranny.

Nathan stated that they were out $30,000.  I call bullshit on this.  $30k would be 2,000 * $15, the full retail price, not the actual price of the units.  But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story.

Boo-hoo.

So what did Fluke do?  In a classy move, Fluke decided to give SparkFun a shipment of genuine Fluke products to replace the trumped up losses.  That’s right.  It would give SparkFun, for free, a truck load of merchandise to sell or give away.

While I respect this as a brilliant public relations move to squelch the virulent firestorm, I’m somewhat saddened that SparkFun can rake in so much cash on the business model of selling Chinese merchandise not suffer any losses given the risks of selling only Chinese made merchandise.

On a side note, the $15 multimeter is listed as “CAT III Max 600V.”  There is absolutely no way that that multimeter would be able to handle CAT III power applications safely.  When questioned about this, SparkFun responded with…

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 11.17.35 PM

 

1 Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud

Notable on the InterWebs Newsletter

This is the inaugural post where I post interesting links.  Enjoy.

Notable Programming and Computer Science Pages:

Web Optimization, Marketing, SEO

Privacy and Security

Notable

Server Naming Conventions?

I’m in the process of provisioning yet another new server, so I decided to confront the challenging issue of what to name the server.

Interestingly enough, I’m not the only one who has wrestled with this problem.  There is even a service which tracks naming schemes (http://namingschemes.com).

What did I choose? Football teams, Mythological deities? Planets? Cartoon characters?  Presidential pets?  James Bond movie villains?

No, I decided to use the periodic table of elements.  Servers are stable noble gasses while test machines are unstable elements.

Book Review: Getting StartED with Dojo

imageOne of the clients that I’m working for is actively porting a large client/server application into JavaScript/Dojo.  The current application was several hundred thousand of lines of code in Java, XHTML, and JavaScript.

When finished, this will probably be the largest and most complex Dojo applications ever created.

The total sum of training received by the permanent team members consisted of a single class in JavaScript, and several shared copies of Peter Higgins’s book, Getting StartED with Dojo.

The consultants, of course, were not permitted any training, but when I saw this book being passed around, I purchased it for myself just to see what it contained.

Since I’ve read several other books on Dojo and this one was my third, I thought I would give my opinions on the book.  Overall, the text is an easy read, and the examples are extremely basic.  The author obviously took pains to explain the material.

However, be warned that some of the code examples are broken and won’t work.   As far as I’m aware, these haven’t been corrected, and there is only one edition of the book.  The book references Dojo 1.3; The current version is 1.7, but that really doesn’t matter considering what isn’t covered in the book – a lot of stuff.

The book is segmented into nine chapters.

The first two try to cover basic JavaScript.  If you guessed that teaching someone a dynamic language like JavaScript within the scope of two chapters would be a recipe for two poor chapters on JavaScript, congratulations! You guessed right and have now finished 1/4th the of the book.

Furthermore, the book is punctuated by blocks of text with headers like, “NotED,” “ExplainED,” and “LinkED.”  While other authors would write notes like these as a inset sidebar, this author injects them randomly throughout the text which is disturbing if you are reading on a Kindle.  While reading about a topic, injected within the middle is a block pointing towards a website, a note, or a reference to another chapter.  On the kindle, these can span a page or more.

At this point, I have to wonder if Peter Higgins hatED his English teacher, or just had a crush on someone with the initials E.D., with the kind of love that burns so hotly it must be stamped on books.  What does ED mean?  Erectile Dysfunction?  Only Higgins knows for sure.

The next chapters cover in detail: dojo.byId, dojo.query, dojo.forEach, dojo.filter, dojo.create, dojo.attr, dojo.style, dojo.connect, dojo events and listeners, dojo.fadeOut, dojo.FadeIn, animations, slides, and a few more tidbits.  To Higgins’s credit, he explains these concepts far better than anyone else.

Ajax is sparsely covered, but no server software or scripts are covered.  So in essence, it is only discussed.

The rest of the book discusses various topics, with few actual examples.  The last chapter entitled, “Where do you go from here?” has a few pages about ShrinkSafe, but doesn’t cover actually using it or setting up a custom build.

What it does not cover: the build system, building a custom version of Dojo, charting, the data grid control, any details about any of the widgets (calendars, pickers, etc), or the contents of DojoX.

Is this book the best book to learn Dojo?  Absolutely not, but it is an super easy introduction to get you started.  While it isn’t enough to implement a full blown Dojo app, it will give you just enough to start adding some widgets to your website.

I have to note, this would be a excellent book to throw at someone to get them stop asking you basic questions.  If you are a lead on a Dojo project and are assigned resources without any JavaScript/Dojo knowledge, I would hand them this book and tell them to tell me when they are done so I wouldn’t have to teach them Dojo from the ground up.  That in of itself makes it useful.

If you are motivated and can setup a simple LAMP stack, you can finish the book in two days, including typing in and debugging the examples.