Comcasterrific: Bills, Plans, and Caps

A few months ago, I noticed that Comcast had raised its $5/month modem rental fee to $13/month. Normally, I don't rent hardware of any kind, but when I started with this one, it was at least a couple hundred dollars, and cheaper to rent. Plus, Comcast guaranteed it would work. So I called Comcast to find out what modems were compatible, bought one for $80 and had someone there activate it for me and remove the rental charge. My wife returned the modem for me and got a receipt.

And then the charge appeared the next month and the one after. Comcast doesn't do email-based support, and their phone tree is terrible. I am disconnected after choosing options more times than not. Maybe 90% of the time I call. So I complain on Twitter, where they're responsive. Someone apologized, took the charges off, and credited me $20. Fine.

I just checked my bill in the process of looking at speed options. I'm tired of getting 3 Mbps upstream as I do now, as I have a lot of data to ship to the cloud. 3 Mbps is absurd in a developed country. Other lands have 20 Mbps or 100 Mbps symmetrical at rates lower than I pay for 16/3 Mbps, even when the overall cost of living is substantially higher.

And Comcast had charged me a rental again. I also found that I'm paying $60/month, but my account said for $62/month I should be getting 25/5.

I again went to Twitter, and someone there took care of the charge. I'll have to check again next month because Comcast. (Comcast's brand promise: Our bill is never right and there's no consequence of any kind for us being wrong.)

I have "business-class" Comcast, because I moved an office a few years ago, and Comcast has a 75% cancellation penalties on unused parts of a contract. This should probably be illegal, and if challenged, maybe it would be thrown out. But at the time, Comcast had a 300GB/month usage limited, and I'd exceeded it in testing backup services.

I was able to bring the business service home, and only pay about $10/month more. It was a good tradeoff for having no cap on usage. When I did the transition, I routinely saw 15 to 25 Mbps downstream and 5 to 15 up. Now they are much more careful at shaping traffic, even though their overall capacity can mostly allow much higher usage during non-peak hours.

The customer rep I was talking with on Twitter noted I could switch to residential service and get much higher speeds for the same money. I said, yes, but you're testing overage fees in some markets, and I don't have those now. The person agreed if I were concerned about that, I had the best service for now.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Missouri, where Google Fiber has one of its few operations, 1 Gbps up and down—symmetrical service—is $70 per month, no limits. Elsewhere in Seattle, where our telco is lightly building out gigabit service, it's $80 with a bundle and has no caps. In my neighborhood, they promise "up to" 40 Mbps downstream DSL for $30/month, but other neighbors report getting below 10 Mbps.

Comcast said before the FCC announced its regulatory change for Internet service earlier this year that such a change would affect its investment plans. Then a few weeks later (before its merger with Time-Warner Cable was called off days ago), Comcast said it will push 2 Gbps service to be available to 18 million households by the end of 2015 and 1 Gbps to almost all its service territory by the end of 2016.

I'll soon be paying less, getting more, or both. But all of this just demonstrates the necessity of competition, the broken nature of Internet service in America, and why other countries got it right before we did.

For now, I think I'll find a gigabit café to upload my photos.

Space Gets Farther Away

New Horizons, bound for Pluto

New Horizons, bound for Pluto

This week's Economist features two articles by yours truly about SPACE — and humanity's shortened reach.

You see, in the 1990s, America's budgets were flush, and we funded a ton of projects to send probes and landers and orbiters and oh my all over the place. Those missions came to fulfillment through the 2000s, and even as budget tightened, the early funding helped carry through missions that might take 10 years to plan and then several years to reach their target.

So Cassini is currently still active around Saturn, New Horizons reaches Pluto next month, and Juno orbits satellite in 2016. But nearly all current NASA missions outside of Mars start winding down after that. And then nothing heads out very ambitiously until the early 2020s, when the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA separately send missions to Jupiter, arriving by 2030, under current plans.

My first story, The worlds beyond, explains how this came to pass, what funding is needed, and what's to come. The second, NASA’s dark materials, is about an almost footnote: without an adequate supply of plutonium-238, a non-weapons-grade isotope, humanity's grasp is very very small. We need Pu-238 to power missions of all sorts—until it's routine to put nuclear reactors on spacecraft, which will happen at some unknown future date.

You can find these articles online, or in this week's print issue.

There's No Use Crying over a Podcast

This week, I pinch-hit to write an issue of a favorite email newsletter, Hot Pod by Nick Quah. I discovered it a few months ago, and it is like ambrosia to those like me who want more insight into the broad podcast "industry," especially the parts I don't know in public radio. Nick just got a new job and was going to take this week off, so I offered to write an issue, which you can read here.

Read More

Recent Glenn: Podcasts, Writing, and a Book!

In the spirit of collecting my work across many sites, here's the latest in Glenn!

Articles

Book

  • Hey, I have a book! A Practical Guide to Networking and Security in iOS 8 is a guide through all issues with setting up and using networks and encryption/security options for your iPhone and iPad with step-by-step illustration instructions. I managed this revision myself, and since you read this far, you can get 25% off the $15 price for the ebook (no DRM, all major formats included) with coupon code E18CFOG.

Podcasts

Live! Moltz! Minecraft!

On March 3, I did a live event with John Moltz about Minecraft, a subject about which he's co-written a book: A Visual Guide to Minecraft. We talked with an audience about the basics of Minecraft, and the kids present—all experts, including mine!—chimed in with suggestions and feedback. It was a hoot, and you can listen to the fun (and get up to speed on Minecraft) below or download the audio.


Calculating Newtons: The Physics of Force with the New MacBook Connector

The MacBook that Apple unveiled on Monday has a single port. Many connections are gone, but the MagSafe power hookup is the one people are already mourning the most. But I wondered: what if this USB-C connection was designed for a quick pop-out if someone trips over the cord?

I talked to a consulting engineering, an aerospace engineer, a sci-fi author/computer-scientist with a deep scientific background, an industrial designer/manufacturer, and an astrophysicist. The answer? Well, the cable is probably not going to pop out (or shear off) before the laptop is dragged off a surface. But the physics of it are quite fascinating. You can read my whole account at Macworld.

New Ebook! A Practical Guide to Networking and Security in iOS 8

Hey, you can buy this book!

I wrote a book! (Well, a new edition!) If you find yourself in need of step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, or explanations about using networking options or security features and add-ons in iOS 8 on an iPhone or iPad — do I have a book for you! It's called A Practical Guide to Networking and Security in iOS 8.

It's $15, but you, dear blog reader and friend, receive a whopping 25% off with this coupon: E18CFOG. For that price, you get the PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle compatible) formats, plus free updates to this edition covering iOS 8. And you can read on any device: I don't believe in encrypted books, because the rights-management locks just hinder legitimate readers. You can also purchase it as a print-on-demand book or via Apple's iBookstore.

It covers AirDrop, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WPA2, VPNs, Personal (and Instant) Hotspot, and a lot more, all with friendly instructions and illustrated steps. You can read all about it, including seeing the table of contents and downloading an excerpt at my book site.

(If you bought an earlier version in the Take Control series (covering iOS 4 or 6), look for an email from Take Control Books, as they have a sweet upgrade for previous buyers.)

This is the first book I think I've ever released solo, and it stands on the shoulders of friends and colleagues. The first two editions that I wrote were developed with Tonya Engst and Michael E. Cohen at Take Control Books. This revision, I turned to Jeff Carlson for technical and copy editing and Scout Festa for proofreading. Christa Mrgan designed the cover graphic.

And Tonya and her husband Adam and I are testing releasing books like mine through their Take Control library. Because this book wasn't in high demand, but sold fine, I decided to update it on my own, and they can make it available to their customers, while I can sell it directly too! A win all around.

Recent Writing and Podcasts (mid-January to late February)

On the heels of the news that I'll be writing (and talking) more about Macworld, here's a summary of recent articles and podcasts there and all over.

Articles

Podcasts

  • Macworld podcast #445: My first appearance as co-host! We talked about Google's updated Wallet offering with cell carriers, malware in hard drive firmware, solar farms and data centers, and new emoji.
  • Clockwise #75: Apple Car, government spying, Samsung spying, and Apple's greatest threats.

Big Hair to Fill

You may have heard that veteran Macworld staffer Chris Breen joined a fruit company in the Bay Area. (Raisins? Apricots?) Chris spent 30 years as writer, and nearly 20 at Macworld. With him gone, who would fill his big hair…I mean, shoes?

Who has two thumbs and eight other fingers and loves writing about Mac stuff? No, not Two Thumbs Eight Fingers McGee. (I hate that guy.) Me! Because I'm not in California, it didn't work out to take over his job. Instead, in addition to the security and privacy column I've written weekly for Macworld since late September, I'll be co-hosting the weekly Macworld podcast with executive editor Susie Ochs and other Macworld staff, and writing the Mac 911 column, where reader questions are researched and answered. You should subscribe to the podcast right now, shouldn't you?

It's a good shift for me, as a long-time senior contributor for Macworld. I've written…I don't know how many articles for Macworld. Hundreds? It'll be a pleasure to have more recurring gigs there, especially the podcast, as I've been trying to get back into regular audio work. (The podcast I launched with Christina Bonnington, Not Enough Time in the Week, has to go on hiatus, as there's too much of a topic overlap with what we'll be talking about in the Macworld podcast, sadly!)

What does this mean for my other writing? Oh, don't you worry. You'll still find me at Fast Company, the Economist, Boing Boing, and other publications. I have books in progress and a new one coming out this week on networking and security in iOS 8. With the funding nearly complete for The Magazine: The Complete Archives, a combination of my time and outside help will get that out the door by April.

And Old & New, my fresh periodical idea, will still launch as planned: as a blog with commissioned articles and a podcast. I'd always intended to launch it slowly but steadily, instead of all at once with the money and time commitment required for that.

It will be nice to have a solid anchor at Macworld, reducing the amount of time I spend pitching stories, many of which don't turn into assignments, and instead spend more time being productive in a way that benefits other people.