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Personally On the Juice
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Warning: Bitch Session
2005-07-19 22:58
by Will Carroll

I'm going to talk about two tech problems I'm having. Some is just venting, but there's an honest problem here, one that I think is important. Earlier in life, I worked in customer service. I loved the job though I understand why most people hate it. I like fixing things, which is probably why I like gadgets.

I've detailed my ongoing problems with Comcast for a while now and once again, it's back. Here's a quick summary:

1. For a couple years, everything worked. There were occasional outages, but that's ok. Part of the deal.
2. Comcast "upgraded" their network. Something happened here.
3. My recently added phone service (VOIP) stopped working. Just stopped.
3a. Comcast was set to come out and fix it. They call ahead. Instead of calling my cell, they call the broken phone number. When no one answered, they cancelled the service call.
3b. They do this AGAIN. I'm now two weeks without phone service and even with my cell plan, I'm nearly a hundred bucks over.
3c. They get a technician out who can't fix the problem. They schedule a senior technician, who'll be there in a week.
3d. The senior tech can't fix the problem either, so we dump the phone service and go back to landline.
3e. It takes two weeks for Comcast to release the number, according to SBC. Comcast denies this. Finally, I'm more or less back to normal, but now my wireless router doesn't work.
3f. The modem, designed for VOIP, doesn't like my router now that I don't have VOIP. Suuuure.
4. Here's the fun one: they send a tech to swap the modem. Not only doesn't he bring a modem, he's never seen a Mac. I literally have to explain twice that it's not a PC and doesn't run Windows. "What version of Windows are you running?" he asks again. I had him leave.
4a. Another tech comes out, this one with a clue. He realizes what the problem is, swaps out the modem, and calls in to activate it. HIS tech support screams at him over Nextel and I can hear them cursing. Three hours of his hard work gets something easy done and things work again.
5. Two fine weeks pass. All works. Wireless is good. Zap. Bad weather in Indy makes me think lightning struck, knocking out the modem and router. Both refuse to power up. Oddly, my TV and Mac, both on the same cable, are fine.
5a. Comcast offers to let me install the new modem myself. Fine. I can do that. I pick it up and install according to instructions. Nothing.
5b. I call for help, the guy talks me through it and says he'll call me back rather than leaving me on hold to activate it. Cool.
5c. Not cool. He never calls back. Three hours later, I call. No activation. No ticket. No nothing. A woman does the activation. Nothing. An hour later, she forces me to reboot for the fifth time and take the new router out of line. It works at what amounts to dial up speed - "98% packet loss" - but only without the router, meaning no wireless, no connected Tivo. (And yes, the router worked. Tivo found it with no prob, as did my iBook.)
5d. Another tech visit - my eighth, I think, this year - comes NEXT MONDAY. Luckily, I'll be moving soon, out of the service area. It's almost enough to make me switch to DSL, even for just a month, in hopes that it would simply work.

On the other hand, I'm also dealing with a problem getting files I downloaded to play in my DVD player. It's supposed to play DIVX files and I made sure these were DIVX files. I even paid for the DIVX software to make sure. They don't. Now, downloading TV shows off the net isn't something I expect customer support for. When it doesn't work, I look for info and hope that it does, but otherwise, I'll just watch on the iBook and I'm better off than I would be just missing this show.

The difference here is in the expectations that are set. Cable TV - especially when they offer phone service - is stepping into the territory of utility. I pay the bill and it should just work. Just work. I don't care about incompatibilities, protocols, or upgrades. I pay the bill and want it to work. If my power goes off and I can't get a service call for a week, there's going to be hell to pay. There are laws in place to prevent this type of thing from occurring. For cable TV, once a luxury and now near ubiquitous, they need to understand that there are options. I could buy a Dish, order DSL, or go to only cell service for my phone. My DVD player and downloaded files are pure luxury, a lagniappe that I hope works, but I'm no worse off if they don't.

If you can't be a utility, don't. I'm not the one that set the expectation.

2005-07-19 23:50:50
1.   TracedOut
When I was in high school, my Comcast cable box stopped working for some random reason, and the cable company sent someone over while I was at school. Wouldn't you know it, but he managed to CORRUPT MY ENTIRE SYSTEM, forcing me to reformat. They gave us like 4 months of free cable, and that's it.

As for the DVDs, someone told me that name brand players have encryption, which block bootleg DVDs.

2005-07-20 00:29:02
2.   NTNgod
The MPEG-4 capable DVD players are kind of a crapshoot when it comes to compatibility.

For example, the best-selling one in the US is probably the Philips 642, and the decoder chip it uses can't handle files encoded using Q-Pel and GMC.
(You don't need to know what they are, just that the player can't handle them.)

2005-07-20 01:06:41
3.   Will Carroll
I have a Philips. It was cheap and had DIVX. Is there a way to fix these unhandled files - converting them to QT or something?
2005-07-20 01:15:14
4.   NTNgod
You can re-encode them, sure.

The first thing you'd want to do is make sure it's a QPEL/GMC problem. The Philips I have displays an error message, but I usually check my files before burning to CD/DVD anyway.

I use a small utility called AVIcheck to tell me if a file has been encoded with QPEL/GMC.
GSpot does the same thing, but I use AVIcheck because I find it more straightforward.

You indicated you purchased the DIVX software. You can use that to re-encode the file, although it will take some time, depending on the speed of your system.

2005-07-20 04:34:08
5.   Baby Maddux
Wow, that's even worse than the DSL service I had. It worked a good half the time I was paying for it, and some of the times I called, they even tried to do what they said they were going to do. I have yet to find a telecommunications company (phone, cable, internet, cell phone) that doesn't suck evilly in some way.
2005-07-20 05:58:01
6.   RickM
DVD players may play Divx, but they still have to be on a compatible disc. Some players won't play anything on a DVD-R, and some won't play anything on a DVD+R. I know that Sony will play both (some models), I don't know about Phillips.

Anyway ... good luck!

2005-07-20 07:41:14
7.   Scott Long

Now I know this is going to shock many of you, but I don't have high speed internet access. Reason was that I've been on the road half the month, so I needed a national dialup on the road, so I didn't want to pay for high speed only to use it 15 days a month.

Well, here comes the question---I'm ending up home more lately, so I wanted to know, especially after Will's adventures, who should I go with for my high speed service?
Had been considering SBC/Yahoo, as the price seems good, has anyone used them? Thanks for you technical support.

2005-07-20 09:17:19
8.   Baby Maddux

The problems I mentioned above with DSL were with SBC/Yahoo. I wouldn't buy anything from them unless under extreme duress.

2005-07-20 09:21:38
9.   wetnap

Look for a local DSL or wireless provider. Here in Baltimore I use a local high speed provider called Believe Wireless. Their price is basically the same as the phone company's (Verizon) DSL and their service is better.

Most smaller, local ISPs should be the same considering they need your business much more than the large phone or cable conglomerate.

2005-07-20 09:55:14
10.   chris in illinois
For what it's worth, I've had an Insight cable modem for 2 years now and to my knowledge it has worked like a charm since day 1.
2005-07-20 10:28:23
11.   strougal
I've used SBC DSL for a couple years now and have had ZERO problems. In fact, it has been unbelievably stable. Only a couple of minor billing issues (READ YOUR STATEMENTS), but as far as service goes, it has been great.
2005-07-20 10:52:13
12.   Ken Arneson
98% percent packet loss is very unusual. Usually, you'll see either 100% packet loss (no connection at all), or something on the order of 5-50% loss (often a misconfigured router).

With 98% loss, my first suspicion would be a physical problem, like a loose or fried wire. The thing you want to do is figure out where the physical problem is. There are three possible places the problem could lie--ask the following questions to figure out which it is:

1. Are any of your neighbors with the same service having trouble, too?

If so, the problem is not at your house, it's further up the line toward the ISP, and it's their responsibility.

If not, go to #2.

2. Is the modem itself working properly? Since you replaced it, it probably is, but your new modem may be flawed, too. The first thing I'd do at this point is try yet another modem, and see if you get the exact same behavior.

If you see different behavior, then either you've fixed the problem, or you have a completely new problem, which is impossible to diagnose without knowing what the new behavior is. If you still see the old behavior--98% packet loss--go to #3.

3. If you're still here, then the problem is in the wire between the main utility lines and your house. A techie will probably have to run a new wire for you.

2005-07-20 11:02:29
13.   Ken Arneson
As for SBC/Yahoo DSL, I have a client who has it, and was having trouble one morning last month, so I spent some time with their tech support, and the guy I talked to was extremely patient and cooperative. He wasn't that knowledgeable, but he wasn't a dummy, either, which ain't bad for front-line tech support. So I'd give their customer support high marks.

I suspect that's the Yahoo part of the deal, because when I've had to deal with SBC (Pacific Bell) support in the past, it's always been like pulling teeth. SBC's support would always assume it's someone else's fault first, and it's your responsibility to prove that it's their fault before they'll get off their butts and try to fix it. So my experience with SBC/Yahoo DSL support was quite surprising indeed.

2005-07-20 11:49:20
14.   Xeifrank
When I first moved into my new house back in 2003 there was static on the phone line off and on, but when it flared up it was unbareable and you couldn't hold a phone conversation and it would drop my dialup conection that I had at that time if I was online. Called the phone company, they gave me a checklist to go through. Unplug all other phone lines, try all jacks, try different phones. A complete hassle, but tried it nonetheless. The problem was not constant so testing like this wasn't practical. They told me to call them next time it flared up. Of course I did, they asked what's your problem today, I said can you hear that static, that's the problem. We will send someone out, but we will charge you $50 if we can't find any problem with our hardware. That sucked, I sure didn't want to pay a $50 service call, but I don't think it's my problem, but how do I know? They consider anything in my walls to be my problem and anything outside of the house to be theirs. Ok, I bit the bullet and called the guy out. He plugs his equipment into my outside phone jack. Nothing. No static. I get a call at work saying there is no problem. Next time there is static later that night I call them. Another guy comes out a few days later, same thing. This goes on for a while and finally one of the techs says, here's my work cell#, call me write away when it happens. By this time I've had the static problem for 3-4 months, and I can barely use my phone or the internet, I am getting mad. I get the static call the tech, he comes over and low and behold he hears the static and says my god this is awful. He does some tests, no problem at my end. He goes to some switching station comes back, everything works fine. Turns out there was some bad connection at their switching station. Why the first guy couldn't have checked into this 3 months ago, I don't know! All is well since then, and of course I've moved on to a wirless cable modem that has worked fine. Linksys is good!!
vr, Xei
2005-07-20 12:48:58
15.   Todd S
Will, I have heard many bad things about Comcast. I'll just leave it at that.

I've had Time Warner/Bright House cable modem service for a couple of years now. It's been very good, and the one time my modem went kaput, their tech support was out quickly and gave me a new one. So far, their tech support has been responsive and competent, even in a market where there is no DSL option.

So my recommendation would be to move to an area with Bright House cable service. :)

2005-07-20 13:44:10
16.   Eric R
I've been very happy with my SBC/Yahoo DSL service. I recently had my phone line crossed with someone else's, and while it took SBC three visits to fix the problem, they consistently had someone out the next day after I called. Comcast, on the other hand, has twice disconnected my cable service because they thought I had an illegal hook-up, and then been unable to send anyone out to reconnect it for a week! This is in Chicago, though, and service probably varies from city to city.
2005-07-20 13:51:12
17.   metz
Comcast has been spot on for me. I switched from DSL to cable when verizon's answer to me asking to upgrade my DSL speed was "You have to cancel the account and then we'll come out in 2 weeks and reinstall it at the higher speed". Umm...No thanks...I switched to cable, got 4x the speed and complete reliability. Of course once I called to cancel the DSL account the rep tried to bend over backwards to get me to stay..."Yo, had that chance, the idea is to service clients before they leave."
2005-07-20 14:45:35
18.   RickM
I've had InsightBB for a couple of years, and the same modem that entire time, and not a lick of trouble that a tech couldn't talk me through on the phone. But I'd guess that your stuck with Comcast where you are.
2005-07-20 20:03:05
19.   Will Carroll
I'll be in Insight territory by September.

Oddly, I'll be on Comcast Sportsnet on Tuesday. Isn't it ironic?

2005-07-21 09:04:38
20.   RickM
If you say something about their lousy customer service on the air, that, in my mind, would be sweet revenge. It would also probably put a crimp in your future invitations on comcast, but hey, you can't have everything.
2005-07-21 09:34:27
21.   Mike Fast
I've had bad experiences with every ISP I've ever had, whether dialup or broadband. Throw in problems with SBC phone service and AT&T and Cingular wireless, and I'm with Baby Maddux on the evil of telecommunications providers in general.

I had Time Warner cable modem service when I lived in Texas, and I absolutely hate them. Their service would be out at least 50% of the time, and I had so many visits from tech support I couldn't count them. Not to mention visits where they didn't show up as scheduled and a myriad of other problems. I've heard that shortly after I left, they started to upgrade their cable modem infrastructure, but when I was there, they never admitted that the problem was on their end.

Since I've been in California, Comcast has been marginally better, but only marginally. Their uptime has been at least 90%, which is a huge improvement, but their customer service is crap. The installation went nothing like I wanted--they put the jacks in the wrong place, drilled holes in my new hardwood floors, complained incessantly to my wife the whole time they were there, and still managed not to get the installation to work. I had to call tech support and painfully go through the installation again myself later that night. I've also had billing problems, misprinted account numbers, and all sorts of fun stuff like that.

Unfortunately, I can't say DSL is any better. My wife signed up with SBC/Yahoo, got an installation scheduled and then was later told they couldn't do the installation because DSL was not available in her area. But then they billed her for DSL service anyway for three months. She had to call four times before they finally removed it from her bill. I talked to SBC about getting DSL when we moved to California, but I couldn't get a straight answer from them about their pricing for DSL. They wanted to sell me all sorts of package deals, and would only tell me what the introductory price was for DSL, and I could never get them to tell me what the price would be after the special expired.

If I didn't like the Internet so much, ISP's would have certainly driven me away by now. I just wish there was a little more competition.

2005-10-22 09:27:28
22.   Calvin
I have Insight cable with Phone and internet service over cable. I have been very pleased with the service. If I start to get a packet loss, they come out and adjust the signal level (good test equipment). What I really like is the help desk speaks English (Louisville Ky.) and most are very competent.
I recently helped a friend set up SBC DSL and I had to listen to a foreigner reading from a script.

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