Time Warner Testing Bandwidth Caps

I know this is old news, but for those of you that haven’t heard yet:

An internal Time Warner memo leaked last week. Said memo stated that the company will begin testing bandwidth caps in a small market in Texas. What’s a bandwidth cap? Basically, everything you download or upload requires your ISP to move data from point A to point B. If you send a friend a 1.2MB picture via email, that email “costs” your ISP at least 1.2MB of bandwidth (probably a little bit more than that for the text of the email itself and some “protocol overhead”). If your friend sends you a 1.0MB picture in return, then you’ve used a total of 2.2MB worth of bandwidth.

What Time Warner wants to do is cap (limit) the total amount of bandwidth its customers can use in a month. If you use up your bandwidth for the month, you’ll either have to: a) wait until the next billing cycle to use the Internet again; b) upgrade your Internet service to the next tier; or c) pay huge “per megabyte” charges for any “excess bandwidth” you use until the next billing cycle kicks in. If this sounds a lot like a cellphone plan… well, it does. In fact, you can substitute “talk time” for “Internet usage” and “anytime minutes” for “bandwidth” and the analogy is the same.

I’ll admit that I’m a bandwidth hog, so I don’t like talk of any bandwidth caps. But Time Warner’s bandwidth caps are so small that even members of Congress have taken notice. This is just my guess as to what the caps might be, but it’s based on educated guesswork:

5 Gb/mo for $19.99
20 Gb/mo for $39.99
40 Gb/mo for $59.99
Unlimited for $99.99

It’s important to remember that anything you do on the Internet counts against the cap. It’s not just downloading movies or music. Basic web browsing probably takes an average of 20KB per page. Emails probably take 5-10KB each, and that’s for a short email without any attachments. Instant messaging uses bandwidth. Updating this site uses bandwidth. Posting pictures to an online photo album uses bandwidth. RSS feeds use bandwidth. Downloading podcasts uses bandwidth. iTunes purchases use bandwidth. YouTube videos use bandwidth. Voice over IP (VoIP) phone services like Vonage use bandwidth. Connecting to your office via VPN or Remote Desktop uses bandwidth. Updating your computer via Windows Update or Office Update uses bandwidth. Using a Slingbox to watch movies on your home DVR when you’re in a hotel room in Denver uses bandwidth. Listening to your favorite online radio stations uses a good deal of bandwidth. Watching an episode of 30 Rock on nbc.com uses a lot of bandwidth. In short, everyone uses a lot of bandwidth for many different purposes, and what Time Warner wants to do is take you from your current “unlimited minutes” plan to “200 minutes per month” for the same price. And that, my friends, is bullshit.

All this is even funnier as it comes on the heels of HBO’s announcement that they’re going to offer streaming and downloadable versions of their shows to their paying customers. So if you’re an HBO subscriber, you’ll be able to download any (or all) of a minimum of 600 different HBO shows and movies. Which is great. But do you want to take a wild guess at who owns HBO? Yep: Time Warner. Talk about “the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing”!!

And guess what else coming to cable Internet users later this year*? DOCSIS 3.0. DOCSIS is the standard used by cable companies for sending data over cable television systems (it actually stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications). Anyway, the main reason for DOCSIS 3.0 is a massive speed increase. Cable providers will be able to offer 100Mbps/100Mbps packages to their customers – a huge increase over the 5Mbps/368kbps plan I have now. Basically, your cable modem will be 20 times faster… just at a time when Time Warner is putting the brakes on how much you can download! It’s like Time Warner is going to upgrade us from a BMW to a Ferrari, but will only allow us to drive at 30mph!

I’ve painted a pretty dire picture here. And that’s because I don’t want any bandwidth limits. To be fair to Time Warner, the internal memo said that such caps would only be applied to new customers. Some folks, however, are saying that you won’t be able to make any changes to your account (even for TV or phone service) without triggering the caps. It’s also not clear if this is a “RoadRunner only” issue – in other words, could I switch my ISP from Time Warner to EarthLink to avoid these caps, even though they’re using the same cable modem and bandwidth? There’s a lot we don’t know at this point, and given the huge amount of bad press they’ve gotten over this, it’s likely that they’ll ditch the whole concept altogether. Praise God if they do!

* – I should mention that Time Warner has made no mention of when they’ll adopt the DOCSIS 3.0 standard. However, Comcast has very publicly announced that they will begin testing DOCSIS 3.0 modems with their customers later on this year, in hopes of rolling it out nation-wide by 2010 at the latest. Time Warner would be idiots not to follow their lead.

COOL WEB SITE: chatmaker.net

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is one of the oldest forms of “chat room” on the Internet. Developed all the way back in 1988, IRC was just about the only way for people with different ISPs to communicate in real-time until the instant messaging services arrived a few years later. IRC is still going strong, though, and that’s mostly due to the way it works. Chatting on IRC usually requires a client (program); once installed, the user can connect to an IRC server and start chatting in specialized “chat rooms”. Although user-to-user chat is available in IRC, it still uses the “room” paradigm. And in many ways, IRC is superior to instant messaging software, especially when you want to chat with several people (and especially if all those people use different IM programs).

The only downside to IRC is that it’s pretty complex for non-technical users to grasp. Installing an IRC client is pretty easy, but configuring it can be complex. And once the user has signed on to an IRC server, they’ll probably be overwhelmed by the arcane commands IRC uses (for example, to join a chat room, the user has to type /JOIN #CHATROOM; to change their “nickname”, you’d type /NICK NICKNAME).

Wouldn’t it be great if someone offered an easy way to use IRC?

Well, as you might guess, someone has. The site is called ChatMaker, and it couldn’t be easy simpler: just click the link to go to the site, and then enter the name of the chatroom you’d like to create. You’re then given a URL to give to your friends; once they click on the link, they’ll be taken directly to your chat room.


Neither you nor your guests have to register for anything at the site; in fact, there’s no “registration” at all on ChatMaker’s site! And since it’s all done via web browsers, no client is required on anyone’s end. Old-school IRC users might not like that only two IRC commands are supported by: /NICK and /ME. But for a quick and dirty chat room solution, ChatMaker can’t be beat!

The only problem I can see with the site is that you’re using someone else’s server to hold discussions. Although ChatMaker’s privacy policy explicitly states that they do not “collect, read, or document” anything said in their chat rooms, I’d still be a bit wary of giving a friend my credit card number or discussing my plans for world domination on the site.

Life at KFC

Towards the end of my high school “career”, I got a job at my local KFC. Contrary to what you might think, the job wasn’t that bad, really. Sure, it was greasy. Sure, I smelt like chicken when I got off work. But all in all, it wasn’t that bad. The people were nice, and I actually enjoyed the pressure of being in a kitchen, even if that kitchen was hardly Gordon Ramsay’s.

About the only thing I didn’t like about the job were weekend mornings, especially in the summer. If the weather was nice, we’d be bombarded with people wanting buckets of chicken to take with them to the lake, or to family reunions, or to work or church picnics… you name it. All I know is that we’d start making chicken at around 9am and we wouldn’t get a break from the rush until around 2pm or so. Once we opened at 11am, I’d usually take over the drive-thru, or rarely, the front counter. Just as I enjoyed the pressure of the job, I especially liked working the drive-thru, since that was often the busiest place in the restaurant. Knowing that I liked it, the management crew always put me on the drive-thru if the schedule permitted.

Now, the actual drive-thru window at “my” KFC was what I called an “air conditioner drive-thru”: instead of a simple window that rolled back and forth like most places, my KFC drive-thru “window” was a small glass and steel box mounted to the side of the building. If you looked at it from the side, it looked something like a window-mounted air conditioner… hence my name for it. Remember this detail, as it’ll be important later.

So anyway… it was one of those crazy Sunday mornings. We’d had tons of customers buying buckets o’ bird. And we were short-staffed, which meant that I hadn’t had a break yet. I was really needing a couple of minutes away from the drive-thru window, but it just wasn’t possible. Even though I was nearing the “breaking point”, I had to soldier on.

And then this poor Korean guy pulled up to the window. I don’t remember exactly what he ordered, but I remember that it wasn’t a bucket or anything. Maybe it was a three-piece dinner or something. Whatever. I gathered everything for his order as he pulled up to the window. I opened the drive-thru window, told him his total, took his money, and gave him his change back. He asked for something – honey, I think – and I turned around, got a couple of packets of honey, and put them in the bag. I opened the window again and handed him his food… and then he said it:

“Sank you…”

Maybe it was his accent, and I just misunderstood. Maybe I wanted to hear those words. I don’t know. The Korean guy was acting completely normal… but I wasn’t. I stuck my hand in the drive-thru window’s “box” and banged my hip against the plunger that opened the drive-thru window. I extended my middle finger and shouted out at the top of my lungs:

Continue reading “Life at KFC”

News for 01/22/2008

In my book, payday lenders barely rank above child molesters and record company executives. I mean, I’m all for capitalism, and I think that people should have the right to get a payday loan, no matter how crappy the terms of the loan may be. But still, payday lenders are nothing but parasites. My heart leaps with joy at this news: apparently Cash America, one of the nation’s largest payday loan providers, ceased offering payday loans to U.S. military personnel on October 1, 2007. This is because of a new law called the Department of Defense Military Lending Act, which caps the interest charged to military personnel at 36%. Poor ol’ Cash America decided that 36% just wasn’t enough money, so they stopped offering loans to active duty personnel. Poor bastards!

Beijing, China’s first “smoke free” restaurant chain, Meizhou Dongpo, is apparently on the verge of going out of business. The Chinese are the world’s heaviest smokers, and banning smoking has not only kept smokers away, it’s kept non-smokers who hang out with smokers away, too. Business is down around 80% at the chain; at press time, it’s unsure whether the chain would simply go out of business or give up on the “smoke free” policy.

TV Squad columnist Jay Black has posted this interesting piece about “channel drift”. Channel drift is when a cable channel “drifts” from its original raison d’etre to other, non-related programming. The Learning Channel, for instance, used to run nothing but shows about history, science, and nature. Due to “channel drift” it now shows crap like Miami Ink (a reality show about a Miami tattoo studio), Flip This House (a reality show about buying homes, fixing them up and selling them for a profit) and John and Kate Plus Eight (a reality show about a married couple with eight children). There’s precious little “learning” to be found on The Learning Channel nowadays, and Jay’s post discusses why. It’s an interesting read.

Polymer Vision, a spin-off of Dutch electronics giant Philips, has released super-sexy photos of a new device. Originally conceived as an additional screen for mobile phones, the “Readius” is the first display that can be folded back in to the device when not in use. The display is around the size of two business cards when extended, but when you want to put it away, you just push it halfway into the phone and fold the other half over the back side of the phone (see the “full size” photo link in the linked article). That’s pretty hawt!

And lastly for today… check out this article from The Onion. Apparently Jessica Simpson is an evil genius along the lines of a James Bond villain. Her goal? To disrupt the Cowboy’s 2007 season!

Amy Winehouse: The Train Wreck Continues…

I don’t do those “celebrity death pool” things. But if I did, I’d move Amy Winehouse near the top of my list. The British singer once looked something like a slimmer Kim Kardashian but is now rail-thin… and we know exactly why that is!

The Brit tabloid The Sun recently snagged a home video of Winehouse where she: a) snorts Ecstasy off the corner of a credit card; b) snorts cocaine offered by a “friend”; c) smokes crack cocaine; d) admits to taking six valiums while smoking said crack; e) walks around her trendy apartment in a daze, oblivious to broken glass on the floor (she’s barefoot); f) ignores strangers walking around her apartment; and g) tells a friend that she not only can’t go out because the valium’s about to kick in, but that she had to be in court at 8am to support her husband (who was originally up on charges of assault, which have since been upgraded to conspiracy involving alleged witness tampering).

Look, I’m all for having fun, folks. Unlike The Sun, I don’t put the names of drugs in capital letters to make them more evil (“Winehouse was seeing taking COCAINE and the smoking CRACK before taking VALIUM!”). The truth of the matter is that most people can do a fair amount of drugs without damaging themselves. But come on! Amy Winehouse looks like a frightening mix of Auschwitz survivor and street walker. And all these drugs certainly aren’t helping her showmanship skills, either:

Watch clips from, and read all about, Amy’s new “drug tape” here.

Cap’n Crunch Chicken

You ever have one of those recipes or dinner ideas that just sits around in your mind for a couple of years before you actually get around to making it? Cap’n Crunch Chicken is one of those dishes for me. I vaguely recalled that one of those “celebrity restaurants” (Planet Hollywood?) used Cap’n Crunch to bread their chicken. But then Lisa mentioned something about it in, oh I dunno… 2003? 2004? Something like that. Well, I just filed the idea away until last week, when we were in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. I decided to pick up some Cap’n Crunch… mostly as a breakfast food, but also to make this dish. I can’t believe I waited that long… this chicken is delicious!


2 cups of original Cap’n Crunch cereal
1 package of chicken breast tenderloins (or chicken breasts)
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
cooking spray


1 baking dish\cookie sheet (if you’re baking the chicken)
2 large Ziploc bags
1 shallow dish
1 food processor

1) Preheat oven to 375F. You may opt to deep fry this dish instead of baking, however directions will be provided for baking only.

2) If using chicken breasts, cut off excess fat and cut the chicken into strips. If using breast tenderloins, trim any excess fat off them.

3) Put Cap’n Crunch into your food processor and process into a fine powder. Lisa has one of those small (1 cup capacity) food processors; I had to process the cereal in two batches, but it worked beautifully and was easier than dragging out the full-size food processor. When done, put cereal powder into one of the Ziploc bags.

4) Crack the eggs and place them in the shallow dish. Add a splash of milk and stir vigorously until the eggs are broken up and combined with milk.

5) Put flour in remaining Ziplock bag, along with a dash each of salt and pepper.

6) OPTIONAL: Line cookie sheet\baking dish with aluminum foil for easy clean up.

7) Spray cookie sheet\baking dish with cooking spray.

8) Place all of the chicken in Ziploc bag with flour. Seal bag and shake vigorously until all pieces are coated.

9) Remove chicken from flour bag one piece at at time. Shake off excess flour and dip into egg mixture, making sure to coat chicken completely. Then move chicken piece to Ziplock bag with Cap’n Crunch, seal the bag, and shake vigorously until chicken is coated with cereal powder. Remove chicken from Ziplock and place on the cookie sheet.

10) Repeat step 9 with remaining pieces of chicken.

11) Let the chicken sit on the cookie sheet at least 5 minutes before placing in oven (this will help the cereal coating “set” on the chicken.

12) Before placing chicken in oven, spray with a light coat of cooking spray (this promotes browning).

13) Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until chicken reaches 160F. For best results, remove chicken from oven and flip pieces over halfway through cooking time.

New feature: SmartLinks

OK, so I thought I’d try out a new feature here. If you guys like it, great. If not, no worries.

I’ve installed a plug-in from a company called AdaptiveBlue. The plug-in is called SmartLinks. It automatically converts links to movies, books, music and more into “SmartLinks”. You can click the hightlighted word(s) to go to the original link, or you can click the little blue “SmartLink” box to open the SmartLink for that title. And once you’re in the SmartLink, you can check out the book\movie\CD at Amazon, add it to your NetFlix queue, search for it on eBay, compare prices on Shopzilla, add it to a dozen (or more) bookmarking\social sites, and more.

It’s easier to just show you instead of explaining it. I might say something like this in a review:

“the movie was funny, but not as funny as Hot Fuzz.”

You can click on “Hot Fuzz” to go to the IMDB page I originally linked to, or you can click the little blue box to open it as a SmartLink. Pretty cool, huh?

Let me know if you love it\hate it\just don’t care.

Thanks Microsoft!

This may be another Internet hoax, but this guy is claiming that Microsoft called him last week… for an issue he was having 10 years ago!

It seems that he was having an issue with “Windows” (Windows 98? Windows NT?) waaaaayy back on January 7th, 1998. Microsoft’s tech support people gave him several things to try, and promised that they’d call him back the next day to check on the issue. Apparently one of those fixes worked, since the guy never bothered to call Microsoft back. And he either forgot that Microsoft was supposed to call him back, or was so happy that his computer now worked that he overlooked the missed call. Imagine his surprise when his parents got a call on January 8th, 2008 from Microsoft support asking if the issue was fixed! It seems that the original tech support guy fat-fingered the date, and scheduled the follow up call for 01/08/08 instead of 01/08/98.

I guess it’s kind of reassuring that Microsoft’s tech support system is that robust though, huh?

RIGHTING THE WRONGS: Copyrights and Trademarks

Have you ever seen misinformation being spread over the Internet? The same incorrect story or fact gets repeated over and over again, and there’s little you can do about it. Oh sure, you can “reply to all” when someone sends you one of those “Bill Gates will give you $500 for forwarding this email!” emails… but when you see blogs and “reputable” websites repeat the same false story all the time, there’s not much you can do… other than get your own website and try to set the story straight. This is what I want to do with copyrights and trademarks. There’s so much misinformation out there about them, and the truth of it needs to be set free.

I see people using the terms incorrectly all the time. Several times a week, in fact. On an Internet message board, for instance, you’ll often see a question like “How can Microsoft copyright the word ‘Office’?” or “How can I tell if this 1920s cartoon character is still copyrighted?”. What these people are doing is confusing copyrights with trademarks.

Copyright is a legal protection that can be applied to an “original work of authorship”. In a nutshell, only books, music, motion pictures, computer software and a few other types of “creative work” can be copyrighted. In the United States, the Copyright Act of 1976 generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to: a) reproduce the copyrighted work, b) to distribute copies or recordings of the copyrighted work; c) to perform or display the copyrighted work publicly; and d) to prepare derivative works of the copyrighted work item. So if you were to write a book, you and you alone would have the right to reproduce and distribute the book for a certain period of time. As mentioned, you and you alone would also have the sole right to make derivative works: translations of the book, film versions of the book, audiotapes of the book, etc. There is no legal requirement for you to officially register your work with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, although this would certainly make any subsequent legal battles much easier. Copyright law also provides a mechanism for compulsory licensing. If you write a song, for instance, you cannot prevent anyone else from singing that song. But you can demand royalty payments from them.

Continue reading “RIGHTING THE WRONGS: Copyrights and Trademarks”

A Drive Through Uncanny Valley

In the early 1970s, Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori noticed something interesting. As someone who had spent most of his professional life working with robots, Mori noticed that the more lifelike a robot was, the more people liked it… but only to a certain point. Once the robot became too lifelike, people were repulsed by it. Some people felt physically sick when looking at extremely lifelike robots, while others ran away in fear. And while those were somewhat extreme responses, nearly everyone reported some measure of uneasiness or distress when viewing an ultra-lifelike robot. Dr. Mori, it seems, had unwittingly discovered “Uncanny Valley”.

Back when robots looked more like a pile of car parts than a person – think of the robot from Lost In Space – people looked at them as simple machines, no different, really, than a drill or garbage disposal. Which wasn’t a bad thing, mind you, but it didn’t engender any feelings of warmth for the robots, either. People felt the same way about video games and displays of “virtual people” (like, say a “virtual teller” at an ATM); as long as the representations of people were crude, people had no problem with it.

But technology marches on, and soon video games had people that looked incredibly lifelike. Japanese researchers developed robots that were almost indistinguishable from real people. Hollywood found that movies could be made solely with computer-generated people. And Internet companies developed “virtual people” that could work the customer service desk or be “online ambassadors” for companies. And all of these creeped people out. The question was… why?

Continue reading “A Drive Through Uncanny Valley”