How to Fail at Everything Internet – A Comcast Tale

This post represents the culmination of over a month of testing, hours or phone calls, twitter conversations, installations, and e-mails all in trying to work with Comcast to resolve an issue with my newly installed Gigabit Internet. It is incredulous to think any company would make it this difficult for someone to give them money each month! It is not 100% narrative, and at times could seem scattered, but I have done my best to document the incredulous experience which I can only describe as being foul and shameful. If Comcast has been trying to improve their abysmal customer service, they are failing. This is an example of such a failure…

Technicolor TC4400 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem

For years we had fiber from our local/rural phone company. Unfortunately, they went thru a tumultuous time a few months ago when their GPON cards began failing left & right, bringing my connection down for days on end. I bit the bullet and bought a DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem from Amazon and self activated 150 meg XFINITY Internet. Soon after (probably less than 2 weeks) I found XFINITY Gigabit was available and ordered it for install.  We had XFINITY Gigabit installed on June 14. It is a Coax service, and their technician provided us with a Technicolor TC4400 DOCSIS 3.1 Modem.

It is worth noting, the Technicolor modem (at least the ones from Comcast) do not show the event log page, you can’t see what’s going on at boot or provision, what boot file is assigned, etc.

Unfortunately, several days after installation the modem went into “walled garden” status. This means it wasn’t recognized or considered activated (usually the case) by Comcast’s systems. It’s what you see when you buy a modem from Amazon or BestBuy and bring it home to self activate. The technician who installed our service was able to return and resolve this. When he arrived, I was already on the phone with Comcast’s Executive Relations team as their support team didn’t know the difference of gigaBIT versus gigaBYTE, let alone that it was a residential high speed internet service offered by Comcast/XFINITY. It was during this call with their Executive Resolutions team I was informed the following:

“The modem I was trying to use is incompatible with the Gigabit service and they audited/removed it from my account.”

This explains it being in walled garden. Of course, this isn’t the case, the modem is fully compatible with the service. And that modem was issued to me by a tech. A major part of this issue being able to continue for as long as it has is the non-education of Comcast agents. They haven’t had enough experience to even know what it is, let alone to troubleshoot it. It’s not your average DOCSIS 3.0 configuration. This is partly because Comcast hasn’t launched DOCSIS 3.1 everywhere, en masse.

My XFINITY Gigabit Internet Service went into walled garden again on 19th and 22nd,. I called Comcast, of course, as I was frustrated. Each time they would only tell me they are sorry, unsure of the cause, and replace the bootfile on my modem.

Exhausted by incompetence, I opened a complaint with the FCC, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (the Florida Cable Franchise Authority) and Attorney General. Complaints regarding accounts in  my area seem to go to an office in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale/Boynton Beach area. I am experienced in working with their team and expected working with a professional from their office. Remember how wrong we were to go to that planet in Prometheus? How wrong we were to bring that microorganism back to life in the film LIFE? That’s how wrong I was in expecting decency from a Comcast employee.

What happens next may be shocking, but it’s true, it’s not exaggerated, hyperbole, or made up. 

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Dell-pocalypse 2017

Not unlike the upcoming Transformers films, Dell’s crappy support is something no one asked for, but seems to remain indefinitely like a stain upon the Earth. If you recall, after a poor experience with Dell’s “consumer grade” XPS 15, I purchased a customized “business/enterprise class” Precision 5510 laptop workstation. Could my existing relationship, however poor, with Dell get any worse?

Yes. Far worse.

Truthfully, I should have known better. However, I figured Dell’s enterprise/business lineup was similar to Lenovo – comprised of quality, stable, tested, and reliable products. After all, they are being used in the enterprise, and no one likes having to work through major technical issues when you have hundreds or thousands of systems in your organization. But within the first week or two of owning the Precision, it was clear I was wrong. The sounds of the trumpets played and my world was turned upside down. The Dell-pocalypse begins in March 2016, shortly after the system was ordered.

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Why TiVo Owners Pirate More TV Content Than Any Demographic

Alright, that’s not entirely true. It seems to be becoming more and more true however, as I find myself attempting to use my TiVo services over time. That’s right folks – TiVo. Remember them?

TiVo is (mostly) alive. In 2012 TiVo had approximately 2.3 million US subscribers, down from 4.36 million at their peak in January 2006. That was over 10 years ago of course, it’s quite likely they have less subscribers in the US at this time. Especially if one of their customers spent any length of time with their software; the consistent faults in which are beginning to take their toll on my patience and mind.

If you’ve ever had a TiVo you probably know their customer support is a bit shit, to say the least. I would rather call Comcast than call TiVo. I’m unsure of the company to whom TiVo, Inc has outsourced calls, however there are people working the register at McDonalds who are more competent. Since Rovi finalized the acquisition of TiVo and their IP, it seems support has become worse, actually.

My frustrations with corporate mergers and overpaid under-challenged TiVo call center trainers aside, TiVo has always had a few good spots, such as the UI on the TiVo, big graphical buttons, and a comfortable “peanut” remote. They’ve also had a few bad spots as well. For me:

  1. customer service & technical support
  2. online streaming via online.tivo.com
  3. nonsensical requirements for connecting your TiVo directly to the router

A room of cats riding a Roomba, wearing a shark costume and headsets would provide better, more comprehensive, and professional support to their customers than what they have now.

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I converted to Android and found out why you should only use Squaretrade for extended warranties!

September 16, 2016

Apple announces iOS 10. A storm brews as my excitement for new features is destroyed by poorly crafted UI changes to the Messages app. My “loyalty” to the last remaining Apple product I would ever purchase fades into the night. Of course, I wouldn’t replace it with a Windows Phone; been there, done that, and to use a cliché – I have the t-shirt. My only choice was a dumb phone or an Android phone.

I’m no fan of Samsung or HTC, and was left with few options.

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A (mostly) In Depth Review of Mailfence

mail-mailfence-logo

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Regaining Your Online Privacy where I discussed various tools and services you can use to ensure your sensitive information remains confidential and protected. In the article I mentioned several e-mail providers known for their privacy and security measures. One such provider is Mailfence. Incidentally, I have been using their service for nearly two months and felt their service worthy of an in-depth review. As you will read in my post about regaining one’s online privacy, I barely scratched the surface on Mailfence as a product & company, who have engineered an e-mail platform to be reckoned with.

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Regaining Your Online Privacy

For years I’ve advocated the user of numerous tools and/or services individuals and households can use to bolster their online privacy, but I’ve never written about them. I’ve heard a lot of people saying “We live in a post-Snowden era”, which is true. But what does that mean and how do we regain even the tiniest bit of privacy?  Earth’s reaction to the Snowden revelation varied. Many individuals already believed this type of state sponsored surveillance had been in place for many years, and this only confirmed their suspicions. Some were truly shocked. Others still live in a state of denial. One of the many things to come from the leaked information was an increase in the number of services designed to block ads, encrypt your connections to websites or services, and not log where you’ve been.

Let’s go over a few of them!

Note: Under no circumstances am I an expert in cryptography, network security, nor am I advocating the use of any security/privacy service mentioned in this post, this blog, or anywhere else on the internet to conceal your illegal activities on the internet.

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Dell XPS 15 (9550) Review & My Disastrous Experience with Dell

This post has been rewritten since original publishing. Blog mea regulae meae!

With regard to the acquisition of computers, I have a rule – buy business or enterprise class hardware. Yes, they are more expensive, but more often than not, the hardware and technical support you receive are better than consumer grade hardware. Business class products are typically engineered to last longer as companies tend to buy large quantities of computers and don’t rotate them out for several years at a time.

Recently, I broke that rule and through my own doing, paid the price.

Several weeks ago I decided I wanted to sell my beloved Fujitsu Lifebook U904. It’s somewhat of a collectible, in my opinion, given they didn’t sell them for very long, making it a limited edition of sorts. I created an eBay account just to sell this item, and after a few scam attempts, sold the computer to a good home. I was undecided in which computer the Lifebook would be replaced with. Another Fujitsu perhaps? The previous one never gave me an ounce of trouble, despite it’s awful trackpad and “shallower than a kiddie pool” keyboard.  Unfortunately, as of this writing, Fujitsu doesn’t seem to sell a ultrabook or ultrabook-esque notebook with a QHD+ resolution, or higher, like my U904.

In a market where the PC is allegedly dying as more and more people use tablets or convertibles, I was somewhat limited in choice. Then I noticed many blogs were covering the newly refreshed Dell XPS 15″ with the Skylake processor from Intel. It was pure happenstance I found one in the Dell Outlet with the configuration I wanted:

  • Intel “Skylake” i7 quad core processor
  • 16 GB RAM, user accessible and upgradable
  • 512 GB SSD, also user accessible and upgradable
  • 4K Infinity Edge Display
  • among other core features…

The laptop was priced well for a refurbished model, and surprisingly came with a 1 year warranty, instead of 90 days or similar, as several other manufacturers do. Little did I know my experience with Dell would end in frustration.

“Frodo, Throw it in the fire!” I heard in the distance as I unboxed the notebook for the first time. I should have listened.

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Product Review: Backup Solutions

Caveat: by no means is the Backup Solutions application/service a product designed for consumers. The software is best designed for use in the business/enterprise sector. Sure, a SOHO user could use the service, Backup Solutions won’t turn you away. Just don’t expect to store terabytes of data without difficulty.

After my dip into the waters of poor customer service that is BackBlaze I found myself needing a new online backup provider. Over the years, I’ve rolled my own backup server, used Amazon’s own AWS, Microsoft Azure, and various other services. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to code scripts, create a working GUI, or putz around at a command line to upload files and folders. Sure, there are clients that do this out of the box, CloudBerry Lab makes some fantastic applications for those DIYer’s!

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Banished from the Apple Store (and also my experiences with Apple Music)

If you’re an avid reader of my blog, you’re probably familiar with the ongoing saga that is Me vs. the Apple Store in Jacksonville, FL. If you’re new here, here’s a brief recap:

  • Incident 1: Several years ago I spilled some sort of liquid on my MacBook. The logic board was toast. I visited the Apple Store in Jacksonville to recycle the machine. I made the unfortunate mistake of not removing my hard drive prior to the visit, and upon asking them if either they could remove it, or while I stand at the genius bar, let me use the teeny-tiny screwdriver they use, I could remove it. Their answer was a flat no with the added “You could use it as a weapon”. Tensions escalated, and I removed the battery (back when you could!) and in front of the store, beat the hell out of the hard drive, shattering the platters beyond recovery. Handing the MacBook to the Apple guy, they refused to accept it, stating “it’s too beat up”. Why that matters when it’s going to be melted down or whatever they do, is beyond me. Needless to say, after some choice words, they kept that laptop.
  • Incident 2: Just last year, my Airport Extreme went tits up, and needed a hardware replacement. After a pleasant conversation with AppleCare, they phoned the Jacksonville store and setup the hardware swap (as it was faster, and I needed my router). On arriving to the store – I provided the “Apple Concierge” with the information given to me by AppleCare only to be asked “Do you have an appointment?”. The encounter didn’t end well for this gentleman, after some phone calls and dealing with one of their Managers, I got my hardware swap.
    In between, I have had a consistently poor customer service experience in the store, year after year, visit after visit. Many, of their staff have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, and it really reminds me of the brief romance Verizon Wireless and I had, where after cancelling and returning my device, the manager chased me out of the store, shaking his finger, while shouting “You’ll be back! Verizon is the best!”. Staff in this Apple store are rude, and often hard to locate. To be blunt, I receive better customer service from the IRS than the local Apple Store and much prefer the store in Orlando.
  • The above said, I still have a few Apple products in personal use. While we have replaced our home router with gear from Ubiquiti, I do have an iPhone 6 and an Apple Music subscription.

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Overhauling my home network with gear from Ubiquiti Networks

As the Internet has become more pervasive, the routers we place in our homes have evolved to keep up with the ever growing demands of our phones, tablets, and IoT device families. Unfortunately, for me, they aren’t evolving fast enough and if there were ever a time to shout “Get off my lawn you whippersnappers!”, now would be it. It would seem the consumer and even small business flavor of routers have led to nothing but frustration and disappointment for me.

A few days ago, the air interface on our Linksys WRT1900AC router died.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘air interface’, it refers to the wireless radio inside of the router or wireless access point (WAP) which broadcasts the signal your laptop, phone, and/or tablets use to connect without wires. It comprises layers 1 and 2 of the OSI model, physical and data link.
The router was a few months older than the 1 year warranty it was given. We have no idea why it died, it’s well ventilated, never abused (physically, of course), and generally performed well. We had been contemplating moving the router to the center of the house for better WiFi coverage, but really, it’s been solid. Nice for a Linksys product. But, all that glitters is not gold and we’ve been without WiFi for nearly two weeks. Before you ask, no, it’s not brought our family closer, in fact, we have wires everywhere. It looks like a data center exploded.

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