Sunday, June 15, 2008

Throttled no more - and never was!

I owe Verizon FiOS an apology.

In my last post, I suggested Verizon had throttled my connection in an insidious manner by remotely restricting the speed of my internal network to 10 Mbps. I now learn I was wrong. Still, I'm pleased to learn a new set of symptoms to watch for when a router is failing.

Many months ago, I discovered, but did not report, my Verizon-supplied Actiontec MI424WR router had mysteriously failed to recognize the encrypted wireless connection from one of my PCs. It had worked faithfully for some time, then suddenly refused to recognize the PC-provided key. I worked on the connection at some length, and finding it would accept something somewhat less secure, but still moderately safe, I settled for that lesser connection. I now believe that was the first symptom of impending failure.

The episode I reported in my last blog was but another symptom. It really made no sense to me that all 100 Mbps wired connections would work one day, and fail the next, yet the 10 Mbps would work without fault. I felt something was amiss, but Bocona's tendency toward believing conspiracy theories left me weak in that regard, and so I blamed Verizon... even though I had not spoken with them on the issue.

But when the router suddenly seized up and dropped all connections, I was left with no choice but to call Verizon. Power cycling did nothing for me locally, and while Verizon reported they could connect to and speak with the router from their end, their efforts to restart the router on their end produced nothing. They quickly gave up trying and overnighted a new router.

The new router (same model) works flawlessly. I'm again secured and back up to speed.

The moral of this story, all political motives aside, is when the Verizon-supplied equipment stops doing what it is supposed to do, I can troubleshoot to my heart's content, but should still contact Verizon support. It may well be that I'm experiencing symptoms of a bigger problem that only Verizon is aware of, and failing to report it only delays an inevitable heartache.

And while I'm at it, I should work harder to be more immune to Bocona's wild ideas!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Fastest Internet Connection - Throttled!

There's been a lot of talk lately about ISPs throttling your bandwidth to save a little money. Of course, you don't expect an ISP to throttle your bandwidth if you're paying for that bandwidth... and if they failed to provide the contracted bandwidth, there might be legal hassles.

So how does an ISP throttle your bandwidth while at the same time provide the bandwidth they're contractually liable for?

Well, I can't speak for the legal side of the issue, not being an attorney, but from the technical side of things, throttling the NIC seems to work pretty well for Verizon FiOS.

I have a server, two PCs, and a printer on a wired network, and a separate PC on a wireless connection (fortunately, as we will see). The wired network featured a Linksys 10/100 switching router, and an older Linksys workgroup hub daisy-chained to the router. The server and the printer were attached to the workgroup hub; the PCs shared the faster 10/100 switching router, which was at one time connected to a DSL line, but has lately served only as a switch, subservient to the Verizon-provided Actiontec MI424WR router. The Actiontec offers wireless b/g connectivity, which is how the 3rd PC joins the network.

Yesterday morning, the wired network went down. Old-fashioned swap-and-test troubleshooting isolated the problem (at first) to the 10/100 switching router, so I plugged the workgroup hub into one of the Actiontec's four ports and pulled the PCs from the router, moving them to two of the Actiontec ports. Lo and behold, the standalone PCs failed to join the network, behaving similarly to the now-discarded router. A ping test showed only about half the packets were getting through.

It then occurred to me that the one common factor between the failed devices that was NOT common to the working one was that the failed devices were presenting auto-sensing 10/100 NICs to the Actiontec ports. The older workgroup hub was 10 mbps only, not a problem for the low-demand server and printer. I tested the theory by using the wirelessly-connected PC to log into the Actiontec's control panel (where I found something disturbing) and reconfigured the affected ports to 10 mbps/full-duplex. I left the PCs' own NICs at auto-sensing.

The connection miraculously cleared; my network was effectively throttled down to 10 mbps.

And that something disturbing? Someone had remotely logged into the router's console about an hour before I work that morning. No direct evidence I could find to show what was changed; the security log simply recorded the person leaving. The source address was I'm presently inclined to think someone at Verizon had introduced a firmware upgrade that effectively killed 100 mbps connections. I don't have a better explanation.

If I get a full day free, I'll call Verizon tech support and work through the tiers until I find someone who can give me a better explanation than Verizon wanting to throttle my bandwidth without violating my service agreement. Unfortunately, with work on Goodwill Too! progressing nicely, I don't see that call coming any time soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Goodwill doesn't necessarily mean used goods

Someone recently asked me what my biggest obstacle is to the success of Goodwill Too! (for those who just joined us, Goodwill Too! is the e-commerce web site at operated by my employer, Goodwill Industries-Suncoast).

Of course, there are plenty of obstacles, just as there are plenty of successes, but the one that jumps out at me these days is a preconception. Goodwill Industries is well-known for quite a few things, but one thing people think of when they think of a Goodwill store is a pretty good selection of used merchandise. Gently used, more often than not, but used nonetheless. That Goodwill takes donations of used items and sells those items in their stores to generate revenue to run its programs is no surprise to most people. I think many people are surprised, though, to learn not every Goodwill store limits itself to donated goods.

Like many Goodwills elsewhere, Goodwill-Suncoast supplements its stores' offerings with a copious amount of new items. Since the organization's customers are used to finding used items at very low prices, the new merchandise is also offered for less than typical retail. This is not a universal idea, however. Not every Goodwill, worldwide, offers new goods. It is easy enough to tell which ones do, however, when one walks in a store. The new goods are packaged like they would be anywhere else, so they tend to stand out.

So, when I was tasked with building a virtual Goodwill store, the aforementioned Goodwill Too!, I knew I'd be able to offer both new goods and gently used goods, and our local customers don't seem to have a problem with it.

The problem is, web site visitors from outside Goodwill-Suncoast's area often assume everything offered on the web site is previously used. It doesn't seem to matter what we say on the site, they want to believe the entire site is stocked with donated merchandise.

Yes, we have some gently used items online, but for the most part, they are confined to the Gently Used Merchandise category. The rest of the site, roughly 7/8 of the inventory, is brand new merchandise. Those low prices you see on items are low because we got a good deal on them... not because the items had been used once!

So, success would come to Goodwill Too! a bit faster if people looked at the merchandise the right way. Goodwill Too! is a shopping web site offering retail items cheaply and carrying a few donated items because, after all, we are still Goodwill!

I think if the Goodwill Too! Team just got that word out, people who shied away from Goodwill stores in the past would take a peek at our selection, and shortly another barrier would fall.

What do you think?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Like any good sailor, one must learn when to change tack

It's been a while since I've last written, as you can tell. Of course I have an excuse (it's up to you whether you're willing to buy my excuse). You see, I have a new job.

No, I didn't lose the one I acquired when I last wrote. That's the job that's been keeping me busy, and I've finally gotten to the point where I can talk about it.

For the first few months my job was a bit of a mystery, because my key responsibility was a project we were developing below the industry radar. Whether that was a good idea is no longer a question. The project became visible to the light of day on October 29, 2007, and the task has switched from development to maintenance.

On October 29, the world learned (at least, those in the world who cared) that I had been named E-Commerce Manager for Goodwill Industries-Suncoast. My task was to build and manage a virtual Goodwill Store. There were quite a few really interesting ways I could have gone about this task; I took one of the least interesting ones. Why? I believed I had no choice.

The project, in fact, the whole E-Commerce Department, is not a subset of IT, like many would expect. No, E-Commerce is a subset of the group that runs the brick & mortar stores, and more specifically, the E-Commerce Manager answers to the Director of Acquisitions and Allocations (A&A). A&A, while waiting for an incoming E-Comm Mgr, attempted to lay the groundwork, with some assistance from IT. The result is that many of the initial decisions were made before I came aboard, and as the new guy, I didn't believe I had the ability to challenge those decisions.

So, I went with the flow.

The result is the web site you'll find at When I find the time to talk, down the road, I'll probably talk some about that web site: the reasoning behind some decisions as well as comments about products, themselves. Particularly fun, from my point of view, is how work as an e-commerce manager in a world unattached to IT or Marketing departments compares to my previous (mis)conceptions.

Oh, and as you'd expect, I'll close with this: if you happen to be someone who likes to save money when shopping, please be sure to visit the web site. And while you're at it, bring some friends. Not just for Goodwill, but for me as well!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Change for the Better

It's funny how things can happen just when they need to happen. Take my job and my water lines, for example ...

A dramatic increase in our water bill told us something was amiss. The county water department nonchalantly informed us we had a water leak somewhere in the 50+ year-old plumbing on our property, but was kind enough to tell us they'd rebate part of the water bill when we present them with a copy of the plumber's bill for fixing the leak. That, of course, means we have to have a plumber fix the leak. We knew we'd need pipe work eventually, but my less-than-optimal current occupation made paying for a plumber a challenge. Unfortunately, at the rate the water was apparently flowing, we'd soon need to finance our water bill, so we had little choice.

Finding a water leak is amazingly like finding a break in a network, and makes one think briefly about the "pipes" we pump out data through. The analogy is never clearer than when you're troubleshooting a broken water pipe. Do you know where the lines run? Check the obvious and least expensive places first. With the water main being my Internet and the meter acting as the router, I started tracing the problem just far enough to confirm the problem wasn't obvious. A water leak under ground can make itself evident, particularly in a time of drought, by an abnormally green patch of lawn over the pipe. The problem (like some I've run into chasing Ethernet breaks) is I didn't know where the pipes actually ran. No patch of lawn looked better than another, suggesting the break wasn't out in the open, but I didn't know where to look.

I gave in, and we called a leak detector. Shortening an already-too-long story, he found the leak under some bushes (which were benefiting from the extra water without actually looking like it, those devils!). Next came the plumber, and with him the bad news: The leak was a ruptured main line into the house, just past the turn-off, and the rupture led under the house.

We could put it off no longer. We had to re-pipe the house. Water was shut off, and the next week was spent getting quotes and lining up financing. Meantime, a helpful neighbor donated a bucket and access to his water, so we could keep a toilet operational. We called it a "hurricane drill", living off bottled water and quickly discovering how much stored water was needed to keep functionally sanitary (like most people, we are woefully unprepared).

The financing was the really ugly part, as my retail manager job had until now only managed to keep us afloat. Now our boat has sprung a leak and I had to find a way to keep us from sinking.

A dry dock beats a life preserver

That was when one of life's funny coincidences occurred. I answered a scantily-detailed ad for an e-commerce manager position and was pleasantly surprised to be called about it. I might even say I was amazed, given my previously noted observations on job hunting. My good fortune came from the method of response required by the employer. The ad requested faxed resumes or personally-submitted applications ... no e-mails accepted. The responses had to drop to a mere handful of applicants who were serious enough to locate a fax machine or drop by to apply. My resume, once buried in an avalanche of applicants, now stood for itself, and of course my credentials in e-commerce were exemplary (if I do say so myself).

The interview was a pleasant two-hours long, and both myself and my prospective employer were bursting with enthusiasm about the project - a new venture for the company and a new department to be managed, complete with a warehouse crew for the receiving and shipping of inventory.

They offered me the job on the same day the plumber started digging the hole to lay the new pipes. The pay is more in line with what I should be making at this point in my career (read into that whatever you want), so my boat can stay afloat a while longer. I start July 30, and hope to share my observations and pitfalls as I go.

See? Things do have a way of working out. Who would have thought ...?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Victory over Checkers ... of a sort

You may recall I've had an ongoing feud with Checkers over customer service. More specifically, I grew tired of the local restaurant's carelessness in handling a special order, where they time and time again ignored requests to hold onions on sandwiches Bocona would order, despite warnings that she was allergic to them. Even a call to their corporate offices went unreturned.

Bocona forgave them, since she really does like the Big Buford burgers. I was the one who had to deal with their ineptness, however, and I insisted that my boycott of the restaurant be maintained.

Perhaps I was not alone in my actions.

Earlier this week we drove past the restaurant in question and found it closed. Not just closed, but very closed. Quite permanently so. The signs are gone, the windows boarded up. It appears the company decided the store simply wasn't worth saving.

No, we never did hear from the company. But Bocona's temptation is gone, as are the chain's employees who simply couldn't learn from their mistakes. I don't necessarily wish ill-will upon those employees, but I would hope they weren't simply transferred to other locations. These people shouldn't be in a position to put customers at risk. I hope they found other work ... the kind where customer lives aren't risked when they make mistakes.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work in fast-food, but you do have a responsibility to remember the health of your customers may be affected by your actions. If you can't live up to that responsibility, don't get a job in a restaurant. It's that simple.

I'm not celebrating. I regret the restaurant had to close. But I'm glad there is one less place where quality of service plays second-fiddle to the profit margin. I truly am tired of what fast-food has become.

Monday, June 25, 2007

One man's protection is another man's censorship

My attention has been drawn toward Google's fight against global Internet censorship, and like many others, I find it amusing that Google has chosen to champion this cause, in light of its well-publicized participation in the censorship of the web from within Chinese IP space. I've read Google's line on both subjects - how censorship is an economic issue, rather than a political one, and that their censorship of web searches from China was necessary to allow Chinese access to any part of Google - and I don't exactly see the positions as contradictory.

Like any other corporation, Google clearly wants to have its cake and eat it too. No surprise. Google regrets having to censor Chinese access, but looks at the censorship as the lesser of two evils. After all, how can a company truly succeed with a motto like "Do no Evil" when it is given a choice between one of two evils?

But today's issue is global Internet censorship, which, if defeated, would essentially allow Google to remove the blocks it was forced to place on Chinese inquiries. A noble cause, one might say, and very characteristic of Internet culture. After all, my ability to write these words comes courtesy of the freedom from censorship afforded me by my residency in the United States.

But that doesn't mean I'm not being censored. Yes, I have freedom of speech, but we've already seen numerous cases where that freedom carries a caveat. You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, as one famous example puts it (unless there really is a fire, I suppose). There are restrictions on one's freedom from censorship - and how free you really are depends on the definition of censorship and who is doing the defining.

It's well and good to take a stance against censorship, but before going too far, ask yourself what you might be opening the gates for. Pornography? Piracy? Spam? Terrorism? Where is that line between protection and censorship? Who should have the right to define it, if anyone? And what makes that party any better at drawing the line than the next party?

The fight against global Internet censorship is probably a spin-off of the fight for Net Neutrality, and just like that fight, the truth lies somewhere between the spin doctors for both sides.

Don't be quick to take a position.

As for elsewhere...

Bocona reports the local Checkers has changed management, and she's willing to give them an upteenth chance. I still haven't seen an e-mail from anyone with Checkers, and am not as quick to accept an untendered apology. I hope Bocona's forgiving attitude doesn't lead her to her grave.


Things aren't so rosy at my retail position. For a few weeks I had them contracting me to rebuild their Internet marketing strategy (which sorely needs repair), but once they saw what it would cost them in hard dollars to do things right, that project was axed. I don't think this gig is going to last me very long.


Verizon and I had another spat. I requested a speed upgrade, but it didn't appear to happen, so I called support. The tech made a few adjustments and had me switch the Internet connection from the Actiontec router directly to one of my PCs. A quick SNMP reset/renew and there I was, faster, but not quite fast enough -- I thought. Arrangements were made for techs to look into the matter, but when I got off the phone and switched the connection back to the Actiontec, the Internet connection was dead.

I called back. Different tech this time, and he wasn't interested in what the previous tech had done. After 30 minutes and two router power cycles, he decided I'd blown the router, and he had to send me a replacement. Final. No buts about it.

Off the phone, I logged into the router's management console and issued an SNMP reset/renew. Problem solved... but I had to call Verizon a third time and cancel the planned delivery of a replacement router. I guarantee the contents of that call found their way to a supervisor.

So, life is faster, now, but not necessarily any better. If you have an IT position for me in the Tampa Bay area, I'd like to hear what you have to say.

If not, you are still welcome to drop by Your World News if you like.