Comcast Hell

If I were tasked with rewriting Dante’s Inferno to reflect the modern day, I would make dealing with Comcast technical support a punishment for one of the levels of Hell. As a Comcast Business customer with a static IP address I’m required to rent a model. It’s a stupid requirement. There is absolutely no technical reason why this requirement exists. But it’s there and I have to deal with it.

Over the last several days the modem Comcast requires me to rent became flaky. At first it would go offline around midnight or 01:00. Restarting it would bring my Internet back online. Then it started going offline several times a day, which meant I had to make a dreaded call to Comcast.

Us Comcast Business customers can’t use niceties like the online chat system. We have to call 1-800-391-3000. That number puts you into contact with the most infuriating automated “assistant” that I’ve ever head the displeasure of dealing with. The only thing I can compare it to is Siri with a lobotomy (which is saying something since Siri is none too smart). No matter what I said the automated “assistant” would send a restart signal to my unresponsive modem and, shockingly, nothing would come of it. After five or six times of hanging up and calling back I learned that saying “human” when the “assistant” asked for a brief description of the problem would coax it into connecting me with a human operator. After I finally got a hold of a human being, I was told that a technician would arrive at my place in two hours (two hours specifically, not the usual bullshit of a block of time between 07:00 and 12:00 the next day).

I got a hold of a human being about roughly 8:45 so the technician was scheduled to arrive at 11:00. I got home before that and waited. And waited. And waited. Noon rolled around and the technician still hadn’t shown up. I other things that I had to do so I told my wife what needed to be done and told her to have the technician call me when he arrived. When I got home around 16:00, the technician still hadn’t arrived. So I had to call Comcast again.

My previous trick of telling the “assistant” “human” when it asked for a brief description of my problem didn’t work the second time. However, I did get it to put me into contact with a human by saying “ticket number.” I then proceeded to have a very blunt and stern conversation with the technical support person about my dislike of being lied to and was informed that a technician would arrive within two hours. Marvelously a technician did arrive with half and hour and withing 20 minutes or so after his arrival I had a new modem. Since the modem ran overnight without becoming unresponsive, it appears that the problem has been resolved.

In summary I would just like to say fuck Comcast. Of course the Internet is awash with stories of Comcast’s incompetency so this post is little more than a drop in an ocean. But now you know what I was doing with my time instead of writing posts.

That New Car Smell

I’m always interested in cultural differences. For example, here in the United States people generally love the smell of a new car. It’s easy to think that since people here love that smell that the love of that smell is universal but that isn’t the case. Chinese in general apparently hate that smell. In fact they hate it so much that Ford developed a method of getting that smell out of new cars:

In the US, “new car smell” is a beloved scent. People even try to make their cars smell new with after-market cleaning products. But in China, customers find the same odor repulsive. As the Chinese auto market grows, car makers are looking for a way to make the aroma of their new vehicles more amenable to Chinese taste

Early this month, Ford filed a patent to reduce the odor of some of the adhesive, leather, and other materials that produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to new car smell. The patent appears to include software that senses the car’s location and the weather it’s experiencing, then it possibly detects whether the owner has “requested volatile organic compound removal from the vehicle.” Next, on a sunny day, the car will roll down a window and turn on the engine, the heater, and a fan in order to bake off the VOCs and their accompanying smell.

Often individuals make the mistake of believing that since they like something, it is universally liked. I learned at a young age that even smell, which is nothing more than a neurological response to stimuli and thus would seem to be a good candidate for being common amongst most humans, differs from person to person. My grandfather introduced me to sardines, which I enjoy to this day. I don’t find their smell repulsive but most people I know do. Likewise, I don’t find the smell of sauerkraut repulsive but most of the people I know do. Meanwhile, many of the body sprays and perfumes that people claim to like are repulsive to me.

How Capitalism is Saving China’s Healthcare System

The New York Times created a video, which it claims to be a documentary, entitled “How Capitalism Ruined China’s Health Care System.” The video shows horrible conditions inside of Chinese medical facilities. The problem with the video is that it’s not showing China’s private medical facilities but state run facilities:

“Under Mao Zedong the Communist state provided free health care for all,” the narrator tells us. “Decades later China adopted a unique brand of capitalism that transformed the country from a poor farming nation into an economic superpower. Life expectancy soared. But the introduction of capitalism and the retreat of the state meant that health care was no longer free.”

As a resident of China and a recipient of outstanding private health care here, I was confused as to why the Times would show us the horrors of a capitalist system without actually visiting a private health care facility.

All of the horrors depicted in the high-quality video—the long lines, the scalping, and the hospital fights—occurred at government-run health care facilities. If the Times had visited one of China’s many private health care facilities, they would have found something quite different.

I kind of feel bad for the New York Times. Its business of creating propaganda must have been much easier before the Internet made fact checking readily accessible to us plebs. If this video had been created before the spread of the Internet, a Chinese resident probably wouldn’t be aware of the video and even if they were, they probably wouldn’t have a platform to reach Americans to explain that the video is bullshit.

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

North Sentinel island is famous for one thing. One fucking thing. That thing is a tribe of people who immediately try to murder any outsider who sets foot on their little piece of land. If that’s not enough to dissuade you from going there, then you deserve whatever happens to you:

Fishermen who took the man to North Sentinel island say tribespeople shot him with arrows and left his body on the beach.

Local media say he was a missionary. He has been identified as John Allen Chau.

He should have went and played in an active volcano instead. His odds of survival would have probably been better.

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of us living in the United States, today is Thanksgiving. It’s supposed to be a holiday where reflect what we’re thankful for. So in the spirit of the holiday I will note that I’m thankful for the fact that scientists have made the single most important discovery in human history:

Scientists say they have uncovered how and why wombats produce cube-shaped poo – the only known species to do so.

The fact that people were paid to research this just proves that I’m in the wrong line of work.

Some Thoughts After Moving from macOS to Linux

It has been two weeks and change since I moved from my MacBook Pro to a ThinkPad P52s running Linux. Now that I have some real use time under my belt I thought it would be appropriate to give some of my thoughts.

The first thing I’d like to note is that I have no regrets moving to Linux. My normal routine is to use my laptop at work and whenever I’m away at home and use another computer at home (because I’m too lazy to pull my laptop out of my laptop bag every night). The computer I was using at home was a 2010 Mac Mini. I replaced it with my old MacBook Pro when I got my ThinkPad. I realized the other day that I haven’t once booted up my MacBook Pro since I got my ThinkPad. Instead I have been pulling my ThinkPad out of its bag and using it when I get home. At no point have I felt that I need macOS to get something done. That’s the best testament to the transition that I can give. That’s not to say Linux can do anything that macOS can. I’m merely fortune in that the tools I need are either available on Linux or have a viable alternative.

I’m still impressed with the ThinkPad’s keyboard. One of my biggest gripes about the new MacBooks is the ultra slim keyboards. I am admittedly a bit of a barbarian when it comes to typing. I don’t so much type as bombard my keyboard from orbit. Because of this I like keys with a decent amount of resistance and depth. The keyboard on my 2012 MacBook Pro was good but I’m finding the keyboard on this ThinkPad to be a step up. The keys offer enough resistance that I’m not accidentally pressing them (a problem I have with keyboards offering little resistance) and enough depth to feel comfortable.

With that said the trackpad is still garbage when compared to the trackpad on any MacBook. My external trackball has enough buttons where I can replicate the gestures I actually used on the MacBook though and I still like the TrackPoint enough to use it when I don’t have an external mouse connected.

Linux has proven to be a solid choice on this ThinkPad as well. I bought it with Linux in mind, which means I didn’t get features that weren’t supported in Linux such as the fingerprint reader or the infrared camera for facial recognition (which is technically supported in Linux but tends to show up as the first camera so apps default to it rather than the 720p webcam). My only gripe is the Nidia graphics card. The P52s includes both an integrated Intel graphics card and an Nvidia Quadro P500 discrete graphics card, which isn’t supported by the open source Nouveau driver. In order to make it work properly, you need to install Nvidia’s proprietary drivers. Once that’s installed, everything works… except secure boot. In order to make the P52s boot after installing the Nvidia driver, you need to go into the BIOS and disable secure boot. I really wish there was a laptop with an discrete AMD graphics card that fit my needs on the market.

One thing I’ve learned from my move from macOS to Linux is just how well macOS handled external monitors. My P52s has a 4k display but all of the external monitors I work with are 1080p. Having different resolution screens was never a problem with macOS. On Linux it can lead to some rather funky scaling issues. If I leave the built-in monitors resolution at 4k, any app that opens on that display looks friggin’ huge when moved to an external 1080p display. This is because Linux scales up apps on 4k displays by a factor of two by default. Unfortunately, scaling isn’t done per monitor by default so when the app is moved to the 1080p display, it’s still scaled by two. Fortunately, a 4k display is exactly twice the resolution as a 1080p display so changing the built-in monitor’s resolution to 1080p when using an external display is an easy fix that doesn’t necessitate everything on the built-in display looking blurry.

I’ve been using Gnome for my graphical environment. KDE seems to be the generally accepted “best” desktop environment amongst much of the Linux community these days. While I do like KDE in general, I find that application interfaces are inconsistent whereas Gnome applications tend to have fairly consistent interfaces. I like consistency. I also like that Gnome applications tend to avoid burying features in menus. The choice of desktop environment is entirely subjective but so far my experience using Gnome has been positive (although knowing that I have a ship to which I can jump if that changes is reassuring).

As far as applications go, I used Firefox and Visual Studio Code on macOS and they’re both available on Linux so I didn’t have to make a change in either case. I was using on macOS so I had to find a replacement e-mail client. I settled on Geary. My experience with Geary has been mostly positive although I really hate that there is no way, at least that I’ve found, to quickly mark all e-mails as read. I used iCal on macOS for calendaring and Gnome’s Calendar application has been a viable replacement for it. My luck at finding a replacement for my macOS task manager, 2Do, on Linux hasn’t been a positive experience. I’m primarily using Gnome’s ToDo application but it lacks a feature that is very important to me, repeating tasks. I use my task manager to remind me to pay bills. When I mark a bill as paid, I want my task manager to automatically create as task for next month. 2Do does this beautifully. I haven’t found a Linux task manager that can do this though (and in all fairness, Apple’s doesn’t do this well either). I was using Reeder on macOS to read my RSS feeds. On Linux I’m using FeedReader. Both work with Feedbin and both crash at about the same rate. I probably shouldn’t qualify that as a win but at least it isn’t a loss.

The biggest change for me has probably been moving from VMWare Fusion to Virtual Machine Manager, which utilized libvirt (and thus KVM and QEMU). Virtualizing Linux with libvirt is straight forward. Virtualizing Windows 10 wasn’t straight forward until I found SPICE Windows guest tools. Once I installed that guest tool package, the niceties that I came to love about VMWare Fusion such as shared pasteboards and automatically changing the resolution of the guest machine when the virtual machine window is resized worked. libvirt also makes it dead simple to set a virtual machine to automatically start when the system boots.

One major win for Linux over macOS is software installation. Installing software from the Mac App Store is dead simple but installing software from other sources isn’t as nice of an experience. Applications installed from other sources have to include their own update mechanism. Most have have taken the road of including their own embedded update capabilities. While these work, they can usually only run when the application is running so if you haven’t used the application for some time, the first thing you end up having to do is update it. Lots of packages still don’t include automatic update capabilities so you have to manually check for new releases. Oftentimes these applications are available via MacPorts or Homebrew. On the Linux side of things almost every software package is available via a distro’s package manager, which means installation and updates are handled automatically. I prefer this over the hodgepodge of update mechanisms available on macOS.

So in closing I’m happy with this switch, especially since I didn’t have to drop over $3,000 on a laptop to get what I wanted.

The Tables Have Turned

Remember when the British colonies that would become the United States of America had a little tea party in the Boston Harbor? The denizens of the colonies were pissed off by Britain’s demand for more taxes. Oh how the tables have turned:

The Royal Family faces a tax ‘nightmare’ as US officials examine whether Meghan and Harry owe them a slice of their multi-million pound fortune, according to reports.

The Duchess of Sussex is still an American citizen so has to pay tax in the US, and this could extend to anyone else she draws money from, including her husband.

This could deplete both her $5million US fortune and Prince Harry’s main source of private wealth, a £300,000-a-year trust fund on which he pays UK income tax.

As one of my friends put it, there are only two countries in the world that require citizens to pay income taxes on income acquired abroad: one is a banana republic (Eritrea), the other is the United States of America.

The Walls Have Ears

It’s tough to avoid the gaze of Big Brother. As this article sent to me by Steven demonstrates, Big Brother even watches where he’s not supposed to:

KANSAS CITY, Kan.– The federal public defender’s office has asked for the release of 67 inmates from a Kansas federal prison and plans to seek freedom for more than 150 others because authorities secretly recorded conversations between prisoners and their attorneys that are supposed to be private.

Most of the federal inmates are being held on drug or firearms-related cases.

The practice first came to light in a prison contraband case during which criminal defense lawyers discovered the privately run Leavenworth Detention Center was routinely recording meetings and phone conversations between attorneys and clients, which are confidential under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. A court-appointed expert was brought in to independently investigate whether prosecutors had improperly listened to the recordings.

Once again we have a demonstration of the fact that the Constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper. It is incapable of enforcing the rules that it displays and thus powerless to stop individuals from violating those rules. Here is where constitutionalists tend to point out that while the rules were violated, now that the violation is known it is being corrected. To that I point out that the violation isn’t guaranteed to be corrected and, more importantly, even if the violation is corrected, those who are in prison because of those violations can never get the years of their life back (and will likely receive little in the way of compensation).

This is not to say that parts of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights, aren’t nice concepts but to point out that they are simply concepts. Far too often people, especially libertarians and conservatives, fall into the trap of attributing almost godlike powers to it. So while the Constitution guarantees certain protections against state surveillance, those guarantees aren’t actual guarantees and you must operate as if you are under state surveillance even when you’re in situations where you’re supposed to be legally protected from it.

Not Enough Slaves

Senator Tom Cotton has a reputation for saying incredibly stupid shit. However, I think he may have outdone himself:

Sen. Tom Cotton on Thursday slammed his colleagues’ efforts to pass sweeping criminal justice reforms, saying the United States is actually suffering from an “under-incarceration problem.”


“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world has an under-incarceration problem?

Moreover, Cotton’s statements about the inadequacies of law enforcers doesn’t add any weight to his argument. Assuming Cotton’s statistics are correct (which they probably aren’t), why do law enforcers only identify perpetrators in 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes? Could it be that instead of focusing their efforts on crimes where individuals were actually wronged they are focusing their efforts on victimless crimes that are profitable for the department like drug crimes?

Moreover, even if law enforcers were able to identify perpetrators in a majority of property and violent crimes, why should that increase the incarceration rate? The purpose of justice is supposed to be to make a victim as whole again as possible. For example, if somebody steals a $400 television, justice would be for the criminal to repay that $400 value to the victim as well as any expenses incurred (including personal time invested) for finding the thief and bringing them to justice. If that happens, the victim is back to where they were before the theft and thus is as whole again as reasonably possible.

Incarceration doesn’t make victims whole, it merely locks a criminal away so they can become a slave laborer for the state or one of its cronies. So what Cotton is really saying is that there aren’t enough slaves to work the prison plantations and he believes that any form of prison reform will only worsen the situation. If his concern was actually justice, he would still seek a reduction in incarceration rates.