Google Voice

Suburban Station used to be a bomb shelter, back when people actually cared about bombs versus simple vaporization at the hands of nuclear weapons. We sort of brushed that fact under the carpet by taking away the signs on the walls but if you’re looking in center city you can find the signs. Mostly they’re on the forgotten byways but the really brutal part is that fallout shelters are typically lined with lead. Trying to get a piece of sky from the station is impossible. To add insult to injury, the stations are underground. Lead or no lead you simply won’t be getting signal in that much earth shadow.

Note to TMobile – want to be really popular in the city real quick? Put a low power cell antenna in the station.

That being said, I am a huge fan of google voice. If you have an android anything with as much as a speaker and a microphone, you want this. I use it for just about all my calls now when at home, since there’s no sense in using my minutes and I know my wifi isn’t going anywhere. Even if you want a “burner number” so you can finally call Taco Bell and order a Border Jumper, make a fake google account, grab a number and go nuts. The one big problem is that it doesn’t work unless it has cellphone signal. This is particularly hilarious when you realize that a lot of “tablets” (android devices which aren’t phones) can’t ever get cellphone signal by virtue of the fact that they’re not phones. No antenna, no SIM card, no NAM number.

The simple reason is because Google Voice integrates tightly with the cellular state machine. XDA has a whole thread on it. The amount of work that has to go into hacking Google Voice to not do a cellular state check is frankly over the top and manufacturers have gone out of their way to customize the OS and framework to prohibit you from taking a “tablet” device and using it as a cellphone (samsung, I am looking at you). AOSP ROMs get a bit of a pass since they have a more vanilla framework but the whole binary module loader thing that ATI and nVidia blazed a trail for means that the state machine sometimes ends up in one state and the API reports another because no-one has really dumped a working version of the modem firmware yet for samsung devices. Frankly Google I’m sort of happy this is biting you in the ass for having to support older phones.

Anyway, the good news is the same XDA thread above also mentions someone who solved the problem. If you have a 2.1 or better device (read: all samsung phones), you can download GrooVe IP which makes the calls for you. I have a bit of a problem paying him $5 for the registered version because literally all the developer did was enter the google voice API (voice is required to be installed) after the state machine check and just piggyback from there. The 1MB file size is UI cruft, the actual application is only a few KB. Now I can make calls over the comcast xfinity access points without burning up minutes and more importantly without any cellular connectivity at all.

Comcast Sucks, Again. HD Rant Inside!

Since I got the netflix working on the XBOX I’ve been absolutely gay for high definition content. This is also the reason why I’m dropping comcast. Comcast, for all they employ and do for Philly, has the absolute worst pricing scheme and internet service. I’m saving almost half by going to Verizon.

Before my objections to comcast were largely intellectual. If you weren’t a geek, you probably wouldn’t care. Now that I’ve got this high-def set with enough resolution I can read the time off an ant’s wristwatch, I realize just how terrible it is. Objections to comcast for the common man follow:

The signal quality sucks: It does. Period. The end. I have tried every mode on my TV and two sets of connectors. Cartoons look like hell. I realize putting content designed for SD on a 1080p TV is going to look poor but spongebob is cubic enough without exposing the MPEG signal encoding. Anime nonwithstanding, cartoons are designed for an SD display and they should upscale gracefully without having blocks in the colors. Conversely just plugging the coax into my TV (digital tuner, FTW) I lose the cable guide but the cartoons and more importantly free high def content looks great.

No free high def content: Does your TV have a digital cable tuner? Try plugging it into the coax directly, if you’re a comcast person. You will get all the free, basic cable channels and the high def signals when it’s available. Why doesn’t comcast let you get to the high def programs freely over their cable box? Am I supposed to have a switch on the circuit which cuts between the raw coax and the comcast box? What the hell? What about alternate digital channels? Comcast lets you access “local content” but my TV found 70 something cable channels and 48 of them had alternate digital channels. There’s no presentation for this layer. (Actually there is, but digging the channel map to see that channel 12-4 is channel 835 while channel 12-3 is channel 521 is a bear).

On Demand is Fucking Useless: You would think that on-demand would substitute high def programs automatically. It doesn’t. Why are there two menu trees? Just do it like netflix and if it’s high def it’s “PRESENTED IN HD”, and if it’s low def it quietly sits in the corner. The worst part is that netflix over wifi looks better than comcast with a dedicated connection.

Their box is ugly: Their box is ugly and their remotes are too. I’ve seen better designed adult toys from degenerate cultures (canada) with more buttons.

The bandwidth issue: This is the worst. Comcast clamps the bandwidth after X amount of time. (If this is legal in your area). So you get 25mbps (mibi- not mega-) and then it throttles to 10mbps. Or whatever it is. If you weren’t bittorrenting, you didn’t notice it. If you were playing videogames, you wouldn’t notice it since you’ve had an AWESOME connection until you hit the cap. If you’re youtubing, you didn’t notice it. But consider the idea of streaming video (netflix). When I was watching Restrepo last night (great documentary), if I fired up the netflix and paused it immediately, the xbox would stream enough to the drive to display 1080p for a good amount of time. If I just let it fly, it would do about 15 minutes of 1080p and then clamp. But how does this effect the everyman? Quite simply if you watch youtube HD content or hulu or any of the other streaming TV services or even the brand new google TV, you’re going to get bit by it. Suddenly it’s not a geek issue about my videogame being slow or my bittorrent doing something weird, it’s a problem where you don’t get the best service you could possibly get and they want your eyes. I understand when you’re watching hulu you’re not giving them their advertising revenue, but the bandwidth issue is a direct attack against high def content delivered over the internet. This affects you, even if you’re using your laptop. Consider then if or when you get a high def TV, and you plug your laptop into it, you’re still not getting high def hulu.

The light didn’t go on before, but it’s on now.

Comcast DNS

In case anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, comcast does really horrible stuff with DNS. What finally broke the camels back was that instead of returning DNS errors, comcast started returning pages with redirects to their search page. This meant any time comcast couldn’t find something or it took too long they would redirect you. The problem is that if you’re, say, trying to resolve your buddy in japan, comcast will send you to the searchlight page about half the time and send you to his PC about half the time.

I know what you’re saying – “why not just do it by IP?”

Well, for all you Modern Warfare 2 players, your host resolution to the next xbox is done by DNS. Situations where you need to actually talk to someone else on another ISP and you have to resolve their name only worked about half the time also. Comcast could fix it by having actual DNS servers which didn’t molest your packets, but I decided to give third party DNS a try.

Folks, it used to take me upwards of three seconds to resolve stuff during peak hours on comcast. I put Google’s DNS in my router configuration and stuff connects almost instantly. More on the point it gives legitimate DNS errors which makes my at home network configs real simple and it resolves japan really nicely.

People are probably going to grouse “but then google is looking over your shoulder!” but how is this any different from punching a term into google search and connecting to something versus just going there directly? More on the point the speed is worth it.

Now watch comcast filter DNS queries to external servers next week.