Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks

Time Warner Actions Bait and Switch

Posted by geeknews at 7:51 AM on April 3, 2009

Time Warner is now starting to roll out metered bandwidth to markets across the United States with unreasonable bandwidth caps. In a move that will do nothing but stifle innovation and a move to kill online streaming service Time Warners actions alone will forever change the face of the Internet.

It was bad enough when Comcast rolled out 250gb metered bandwidth caps but at least the were semi reasonable in setting caps that guaranteed that users of their service would nor have to worry about exceeding there caps each month by renting a few online movies.

Time Warners 50gb cap per month is ridiculously low, and many will see huge charges on their bills when they exceed the maximum bandwidth allowed.

Just like the Music Industry, Time Warner is implementing metered bandwidth at at time when most Americans using there service have no other broadband offering.

Living in Hawaii the Time Warner Broadband service has not improved in the way of upload or download speed in over 10 years. They have failed to improve their infrastructure and now because of larger demand on there network have to place bandwidth restrictions on there service to maintain acceptable service levels.

If there were more broadband choices it would be easy to pick up the phone cancel service with Time Warner and order new service with another vendor. But because of actions of Public Utility Commissions most Americans have 1 choice in a service provider that offers a true broadband experience.

Time Warner should be simply ashamed of themselves and I encourage consumers to pick up the phone and complain to Time Warner directly, email the company and file complaints with your local public utilities commissions demanding more choices in the broadband networks.

Time Warner actions are simple. They want to cap bandwidth so that you are forced into consuming more of their base cable products to avoid busting ones bandwidth caps.

It is ridiculous to think that they were able to establish normal usage criteria by doing a test in Bealmont Texas. If they wanted to establish normal usage patterns they would have done so in a place like NYC, Austin, San Jose, Los Angles.

Will IBM buy Sun?

Posted by todd at 11:21 PM on March 19, 2009

Big news around the traps is the potential of IBM to buy Sun for a projected $6.5B, which is about double what the company was valued at when the announcement came out. It has been rumoured for some time that Sun had itself up for sale, it’s market share has been decreasing regardless of what they do to stop it and they risk burning cash to keep themselves afloat. Their latest 10K shows that in Quarter 2 they dropped in revenue, yet increased in costs despite having a significant round of cost cuttings and redundancies.

I don’t see any significant product advantage to IBM from this move. While they will gain some market share, history would suggest they would be lucky to keep half of what Sun now have. Then the cost of transitioning Solaris customers to either AIX or Linux would only be high. The only higher cost option being to keep AIX and Solaris going in perpetuity. There is also the impact of having to continue support for older versions of Solaris while the talented ex-Sun people stream away to other companies.

While IBM would gain access to Java, they have pretty much open access to it already without having to spend the developement dollars. And in every other crossover market, database, tape, storage and services there would be similar prospects of difficult product line merges.

If this does go ahead, I would think this probably has more of a blocking move than improving IBMs product line or market share. Sun are arguably a bargain price at the moment. Before IBMs interest became public, Suns market valuation was about equal to its equity position. Even offering double that this is a better deal than most tech takeovers. Sun has around $2.6B in cash and equivelants, which makes the real price around $3.9B, and splitting off and selling a few divisions will bring that down even further.

I would guess that IBM is worried about someone else buying them and getting quick access to a market they don’t compete in. Someone like a Dell, Acer or Cisco. Even possibly a Lenovo. Dell for example has $8B in cash and no Unix or credible high end services. Bidding big and bidding early might let IBM snap Sun out of a potential rivals hands.

The market seems to have decided this deal is going to happen. Sun shares rose nearly $9 bringing their market cap up to almost the IBM bid price. This means that the stock market is willing to bet $9 a share for a $1 a share return.

This doesn’t seem good for Unix customers though. They will go from having 3 mid-range options to 2. It will likely be good for Microsoft and the Linux vendors though as it will probably give a kicker to the companies moving away from Unix.

Circuit City RIP, 03-08-09

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 9:39 AM on March 6, 2009

CIrcuit City’s official death date is March 8, 2009. That means we have two more days to buy whatever is left.

Not that there is that much left. I know, I was in one on Monday. Not much there that anyone would want. And the discounts still aren’t that great for what is left behind.

But for me, the passing of Circuit City is a hurtful blow. Even in this big metropolitan area I live in, we have few resources for getting computer and electronic parts when you need them. We can get the basics from most office supply stores, and sometimes from Walmart, and maybe from Best Buy, if you’re willing to pay the price. But right now I’m sitting here needing a ten-foot male-male USB cable for my mother’s printer, and the only way I’m going to be able to get it is to find it online and have it shipped. The same goes for a upgraded SD card for my camera because I’m getting regular failures with my current one, and for a hard drive for my ailing laptop. My biggest concern is that I will no longer be able to pick up something “on the fly” for an emergency. I am a geek, yes, and I have a lot of bits and parts in my big box ‘o gadgets in the storage room, but that doesn’t mean I always have what I need. In fact, I rarely have what I need.

It’s hard to believe the market for tech gadgets and accessories and replacement parts is not great enough to sustain local stores. People like me cannot be that rare. That makes little sense to me. I know the other techs I work with are having the same frustrations, and we’re always making do with duct tape and a wad of gum while we wait for replacement parts to arrive. There was a time when we could hop in the car and drive a half-mile to the nearest tech store and pick up whatever we needed.

Those days are gone. And I will miss having those resources handy.

Doing the Right Thing

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 7:52 PM on January 24, 2009

I have been an ATT wireless customer for some years. I was a Cingular customer, until ATT bought them out. I was unsure about the switchover, since I’d already had wonderful (NOT) customer service issues with ATT home telephone service and ATT broadband service over the years. But, it was easier to roll into the new company than look for a new carrier at that point, so we just got in the canoe and went with the flow.

I have had my first real problem. After being a customer for 5 years, and adding lines here and there for kids and my mother, we finally let one go to another carrier. My oldest, who is almost 19, working full time, and getting ready to move into his first apartment, ported his number over to Spring and their “all-in-one” plan. For about $100 a month he has unlimited everything. This plan should do him well, considering he was receiving and sending about 6,000 text messages a month and using up our shared minutes as if they were unlimited (they aren’t).

This month’s ATT bill brought a surprise $175 early termination fee on a phone that we’d had on our plan for more than two years. The first customer service representative I talked to insisted that the phone had only been on our plan for 16 months and that “the timestamp on the computer says so.” I’m not kidding, that was what she said. I had to raise my voice before she’d get me to a supervisor to straighten out the issue. In the end, I got the $175 credited to my account.

What really bugs me is that low-level customer service reps are given so little power to fix mistakes or make changes. I knew that once I got a supervisor, whether I could prove the date was wrong or not, would give me the credit. They’ve made their money on us for the last five plus years, and will continue to make money on us for many years to come as long as we maintain our service. I was very blunt with the customer service rep when I told her that I was not opposed to taking my $200 a month somewhere else by switching carriers. But she could (and would) not do anything about the mistake. It took a supervisor to make that change.

Sometimes, doing the right thing is to make the right decision at the first point of contact. I understand they want to keep every penny they can get from us, but when it was obvious that there was an error, the problem should have been resolved right then and there. I spent almost an hour on the phone correcting something that could have been done in five minutes or less, had the customer rep had the training and been given the power to Do The Right Thing in the first place.

This can be a learning experience for many of us. I deal directly with lots of faculty clients, and there are times I “pass on” a problem to another tech for a variety of reasons. But sometimes, those reasons are pretty thin, and I should be better about solving problems as a first line of defense for our clients. I vow to do a better job of that in the future. No one likes to get passed around from one to another until a simple problem is solved.

Mogulus Pro Offering Way to Expensive

Posted by geeknews at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2008

2008mogulusThis morning I received an email from the folks over at Mogulus announcing their pro-streaming service. When I looked at the price of the Mogulus Pro offering I just about fell out of my chair.

Their prices start at $350.00 a month with only 25gb of bandwidth allowance, plus if you bust your 25gb cap you will be charged $1.50 per gig. Someone over there is smoking crack.

They must think content producers are stupid. I have used a variety of paid streaming services for about 1/3rd the monthly cost they are planning on charging, and have been able to have my own branded player and many of the other options that are offering with this pro-offering.

This is a opportunity for all of those companies that have been streaming live content for years to step up and compete with Mogulus on their pro-offering.  I was fully expecting Mogulus or Ustream to come out with pricing that was aggressive, not pricing that is more expensive than many competitors in the space.

They will have to come up with an offering that makes sense. I think in order to get people like me to consider signing up for their pro-service it is going to have to be an offering a monthly price range in the $100-$150 range along with a healthy initial bandwidth offering.

I hope that Ustream.TV does not make the same mistake as Mogulus has made, because it is evident to me that with their pricing scheme they have not targeted content creators like me.

Flip Mino HD Review!

Posted by geeknews at 1:35 AM on November 13, 2008

2008flipJust about 30 minutes ago the UPS driver dropped me a Flip Mino HD. I pulled it out of its case turned it towards me and recorded this video. I then plugged the camera into my USB port and used the FlipShare application that resides on the camera and added a couple of titles to the video and pushed it to YouTube.

Total time to when it arrived to when the video was uploaded to YouTube was just about 15 minutes. More after the video!

Please note that the Video that on my hard drive before YouTube encoding is really nice. Amazing quality for such a small camera. The encoding from YouTube really did not do the video or the audio any justice

The next video is the same exact clip but what I did this time was load the original file up in a video conversion program reduced the size from 450 megs to 32 megs and uploaded that file to Blip.TV who then encoded it in Flash. I think the Blip video looks a lot better.

The new camera is going to retail at $229.00 it can shoot in 720p which is 1280×720 in 16:9 cinematic wide screen. The new Flipshare application seems to do a much better job and even has some basic titling capability.

There is 4gb of onboard memory (wish there was more) and it will record about 60 minutes of Video. Overall Flip continues to hit home runs with these products. While the price point for the HD version has went up. I cannot even imagine this type of quality 4 years ago from a camera that is smaller then my cell phone.

United Airlines Introducing Co Pays on Mileage Upgrades

Posted by geeknews at 4:47 PM on November 3, 2008

I received an email from United today introducing new Mileage Plus rules starting July 1st 2009. Having flown 90,000 miles with United this year I am a very loyal customer. I will easily break a 100k miles before the year ends.

Based on the new mileage plus rules to start in July 2009, it’s time to start looking at American Airlines or Delta again. These idiots are gonna implement a Co Pay when you use your hard earned miles to upgrade a ticket. Generally from Hawaii it cost 15,000 miles to upgrade from Coach to first one way. Starting July 1st not only will it cost you 15,000 miles you will also be required to pay a co pay based upon your class of ticket.

Not only that they are not going to refund miles on segments that are not approved when you request a upgrade.

I have choice of carriers when I fly, and I can guarantee you that these co-pays are going to have me look at other carriers. What a stupid idiotic thing to do. I have used mileage upgrades quite a bit this year.. But I am not going to pay a co-pay

United has for years had the worst first class cabin of all the Airlines that fly out of Hawaii. United considers Hawaii a domestic flight and the first class cabin is more like low end business. American and Delta beats them hands down when it comes to service and more importantly seats. I am not paying additional dollars when cashing in flight miles to sit in a seat that is marginally better than economy plus in regards to leg room.

I will vote with my wallet.. This is a great way to get rid of customers. Very dumb move United..

What caused the financial crisis?

Posted by todd at 6:41 AM on October 16, 2008

It annoys me when people try to blame the problem on a single thing, banks, the government, deregulation, etc. The situation is so much more complex than can be explained by any one reason and most people that are trying to blame a particular factor have an agenda they are trying to promote. Greed and cognitive dissonance should be high in the list of causes though.

The Mark Cuban article Todd talked about in #415 offers quite a good high level analysis of what has been going on and some reasonable solutions to the problem. I thought at least some of the GNC readers would like some deeper insight into some of the factors that tend to get glossed over in the media coverage. When Mark talks about Investment vs Financial Engineering, he is touching on a very profound difference between two sources of wealth creation in modern capital markets. One method is to create something that has value and sell it to someone. People with money can invest in these type of companies and share in the returns. The other method is to move money around and take a cut for doing so. While this second method can help money get to where it is needed, it can also be used for personal gain without any real benefit to the economy. This is what Mark means by financial engineering.

You have probably heard ‘derivatives’ mentioned occasionally, most likely in relation to the sub-prime mortgage market. These financial tools, and their misuse are at the heart of the financial crisis. The derivatives market is so complex that Nobel prize winning economists struggle to understand the complete details of them. The basics are quite simple though, and probably the simplest derivative to understand is an option. As a reward for good service, your company may give you an option to buy shares. The price of the share is the current buy price, but you will not pay for it until some point in the future. The option itself has no value unless the share price moves. If it goes up the option has a positive value, if it goes down it has a negative value. The value of the option depend on, or ‘derives’ from the value of something else, in this case a stock.

In the case of a company giving you stock options there is no downside to you, if the stock price goes down you just ignore them and they eventually expired. Lets say though, that the rules of the option you have allowed you to sell it (which some do). Another person to offer to buy them from you. If you are not confident the stock price will go up you might sell them to get some cash for something that is essentially worthless to you. The person gives you cash now and if the stock goes up in the future they get the benefit then, what they have actually bought off you is a potential reward and the risk that goes along with that. This illustrates the key reason for the existence of derivatives which is to transfer risk.

Currency hedge positions protect companies from movements in exchange rates, credit default swaps transfer the risk of bankruptcy, CDO’s spread the risk of mortgage defaults, short selling buffers against stock price falls. There are hundreds of different types of derivatives and none of them have any intrinsic value. What they do is transfer both the positive and negative aspects of risk. When used in the right way they lower the risk of an investors portfolio. The way they have increasingly been used in recent years (since about 2001) is essentially gambling.

The consequence of the over 5 fold increase in derivatives trading since 2001 was to release lots of extra money into the market. This money was essentially created out of thin air and represented the possible future value of a range of base assets. This money was essentially a loan that could only be repaid if those assets legitimately increased in value in the future. You can probably see what a house of cards this was. This is why so many commentators talk about trust when talking about the problem. As long as everyone believed that they would get paid in the future they were happy to go along with what was going on. As soon as that trust was gone the whole house of cards falls down. Like when the housing market, artificially inflated by the easy availability of credit, finally snaps back to reality.

As I said earlier, there are so many reasons why this got out of hand. Government removed regulations that limited the use of derivatives; aggressive fund managers pushed products that became more and more risky; lenders were more concerned with getting customers than evaluating their ability to pay; ratings agencies like Moody’s and S&P gave AAA ratings to investments that were by definition risky; analysts and the press didn’t bother to understand what the realities of the situation were; many people chose to believe that asset prices would continue to rise, despite a history of this being wrong. Many people let their greed get the better of them.

While this description only scratches the surface I hope it has helped you understand what is going on a bit better.

Radio Shack

Posted by susabelle at 7:07 PM on September 25, 2008

I walked into a Radio Shack the other day. I needed Cat 5e plugs for a wiring job I was working on. For those that don’t know, they are the actual plugs on the Ethernet cable.

Bottom line: I was in and out of Radio Shack in under 2 minutes. And it wasn’t with positive results.

The first thing that really annoys me walking in the store – Velcro salesman. Doesn’t matter which Radio Shack it is, they just cling on and hold. And 90% of the time, it’s usually that cheesy car salesman feel.

This is really the reason for the rant: I told him I needed Cat 5e Data plugs. He pointed them to me. 10 for $8 – Seriously?

In and out. I drove to Home Depot where I got 25 plugs for the same price. I should have drove there to begin with. And while thats not the best price around, it was the best price for when I needed them.

I really scratch my head on how this store still survives. The products are sub-par, the prices are too high and the quality of service is spotty at best.

About 10 years ago, this place was a great outlet to get the hard-to-get items. Components to build or repair a device, soldering guns, wire, component plugs and just all the really geeky items. Nowadays you can get network connection items at the local hardware store. Whatever you can’t get at local stores, you can get online.

Two months ago I needed a component to finish a project – a piezzo sensor that I have bought there before. The only place that would have it is Radio Shack but they didn’t – “only on line” says the store clerk. That didn’t help me finish the project. Luckily, I was able to reuse another Piezzo and replace it later.

I would love to see a component store with good quality stock and decent prices. I understand it’s specialty items, so prices would be more than online. After all, you are getting something here and now.

However, places like Home Depot, Best Buy and even Toys R Us are stocking items that were once hard to find. It really makes me think when I walk into a Radio Shack. After all, I don’t want to waste gas, too.

Advertising trouble on TV

Posted by GNC at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2008

I got a tivo a few years back & have had a dvr of some kind ever since. I now have dish so I use theirs which is a good one but not quite as good as the tivo. The biggest plus is of course the time shifting factor. But the ability to skip past commercials is a close second. I keep wondering how the advertisers are going to spend their money in the future on ads. I very rarely even see an ad now but I still know more people without dvrs than I do people who do have them. So the ads are still being seen by a large percentage of people. But at some point the scales will tip and advertisers will no longer be able to justify the huge dollars they give to have their products displayed only to have them skipped over by the consumer. If 50% of people have dvrs then the value of advertising time is greatly diminished.

So what do companies do to avoid being fast forwarded into the red? Well they can place ads in sporting events which are more enjoyable if watched on time instead of the next day when you may have already found out the score. Also they could use the new media as a venue to put ads inside. Instead of paying for ad space during Lost (a popular show on ABC which I hate since they pretty much make up the story line as they go. If you are hooked on it, get out while you can!) a company could pick a popular blog or podcast that covers Lost to advertise with. Not only are people less likely to fast forward a podcast to avoid commercials, they are more likely a super fan of the tv show thus more apt to support a product that supports their show. Another thing I see happening is tv channels placing ads on top of the show in the corner like they do with their network logo (ex. NBC placed in the bottom right corner of all their shows). Or they could place “crawling text ads” 24 hours per day. However it comes about I do not know, I just know it change is on the way.