Comcast Lies

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I know you’re all dying to hear about how much Comcast sucks. I imagine that what is happening is that I am suffering under Comcast discovering that during an economic downturn people start cancelling optional services like expensive pay TV. Anyways, several weeks ago Comcast jacked up our bill (nearly doubling it), so we called. They said “try this other line up which is cheaper”. We said “ok”. After a day or so it was evident that the service didn’t work, and we created a service order. The installer came out, had a look, and said that the service we had been sold could never have worked because we were analog customers and needed digital to get the channels we had been sold. Anyways, he convinced us to convert to digital, and that got us a new low rate again. Until the bill came and was double what we had been told by the installer’s dispatcher it would be.

So we rang Comcast yet again. They said we were lying and had to pay the higher rate. I explained that calling my wife a liar was a bad plan, and they could either honour the stated rate or we’d cancel. The account is now cancelled, so you can see how that ended.

I know that Comcast has a reputation for terrible customer service, but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. Wow, such arrogance. To be honest, I’m glad we cancelled the account. I can get two 4-disk-at-a-time deals from Netflix for what the low rate was meant to be with Comcast (yes, we could have got 16 disks at once with what Comcast wanted us to pay). What we’ll probably do is some combination of free to air, Netflix DVDs, Netflix streaming, and buying DVDs for the kids. All up we’ll end up with more content, at a higher quality, for less money. So there you go.

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You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat

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This is a Stainless Steel Rat book, although different from the norm because it is a choose your own adventure. Its also the last of the Stainless Steel Rat books in the series, and the only one I hadn’t yet read.

I figured I’d document my path through the story, so here goes:

30 – 42 – 62 – 90

Well, that was a disappointment. 90 makes no sense in the context (62 talks about meeting someone and deciding to talk to them, 90 talks about someone accepting a bribe). Lame, I think I found a bug already. Let’s go with the other choice then:

30 – 42 – 62 – 14 – 99 – 106 – 65 – 48 – 67 – 97 – 186 – 33 – 12 – 65

I think I hit another bug… I was meant to go back to before a fight, but ended up after it instead. I give up.

[isbn: 0441949789]

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Bill the Galactic Hero: The Planet of the Robot Slaves

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The previous Bill the Galactic Hero book was awesomely bad. This on starts out well:

Bill, that’s what they called him. They called him that because that was his name.

I didn’t realize when I started reading this series that only the previous book and this one are actually written by Harrison. The rest of them are actually farmed off to others, with Harrison editing them before publication. According to Wikipedia, Harrison later considered this approach to be a mistake. I think my confusion is at least partially because LibraryThing lists Harry Harrison as the author for the entire series.

Overall I don’t think this book is as good as the first one, and while its easy to read the style becomes annoying after a while. It was a quick read though.

[isbn: 0380756617]

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Australian Commonwealth Government expenditure on Microsoft product licensing

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An email thread on the CLUG list got me curious about expenditure on Microsoft products by the Australian Commonwealth Government. It turns out the new Rudd government requires all departments to list all contracts over $100,000 on their website twice a year (admittedly I was tipped off to this by yet another mail thread, this one on the Link mailing list). So I dug through and pulled out the details. Note that where it wasn’t possible to determine what the expenditure was for I left it out — for example it seems many departments buy IT licenses from a reseller, and those are reported as lump sums. Sometimes I have included consulting services as well, which might not be 100% fair.

This only took about an hour to generate, which was much easier than I realized.

Source
Department Expenditure Source URL
Parliament House $740,040 Source
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Source
Attorney General’s $1,046,133
$118,140
Source
Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Source
Department of Defense $469,700
$275,001
$11,704,345
$226,270
$519,982
$259,325
$1,432,000
$1,432,000
$972,400
$235,750
Source for Defense
Source for DMO
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations $4,500,000
$160,000
$580,160
$1,819,356
$201,108
Source
Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Source
Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Finance and Deregulation Source
Foreign Affairs and Trade Source
Health and Ageing $340,560
$1,159,639
$1,161,466
Source
Human Services Source
Immigration and Citizenship $2,149,930 Source
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Source
Innovation, Industry, Science and Research $425,676
$2,608,992
Source
Prime Minister and Cabinet $543,000 Source
Resources, Energy and Tourism Source
The Tresury
Total: $35,080,973

As best as I can tell, that’s for a six month period. If correct, that would make the use of Microsoft software about a $70 million decision annually.

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Silverthorn

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The characters of the Magician Books battle a new enemy in this book. The book centers around Prince Arthura’s poisoned wife and the quest to find the cure. There seems to have been some criticism of this book for being a fantasy cliche (something which people seem to say about a lot of Feist’s books), but that’s a pretty easy accusation to make with fantasy works — they all seem to have the same basic them. I guess that’s what a genre is — a shared theme. The book is well written and quite readable.

Wikipedia page on Silverthorn has this rather startling accusation to make:

Since its release, the term ‘Silverthorn’ has been adopted to describe any book in a series (although typically the middle book of a trilogy) that has served little purpose other than to set up a climax in the final book. This term can also be applied to a similar phenomenon in film or television series. This style of book typically has little overall substance, and is often quite poor when compared to the other books in the series.

That’s a pretty unfair thing to say. This book has a story that stands on its own, and progresses the plot of the overall series as well. If I was to make the “does little but setup the next book in the series” accusation, I would point the finger at Tilley’s First Family, which does nothing apart from setup Iron Master.

[isbn: 0553270540]

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Mikal’s unreliable guide to buying secondhand sci fi in Mountain View

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My algorithm goes something like this:

  • If I am just browsing (I tend to target complete series before I start reading them, so am often buying things I don’t expect to read for months) and looking for a great deal I go to Rasputin’s Books. Sometimes they have nothing, and other times I walk away with 30 books. They currently have a “10 books for $5” deal, which is hard to beat.
  • If I want something specific, and its not too rare, I go to Book Buyers. They have an awesome collection, and have most common things. Some harder to find things might be missing though, and you need to know that not everything is filed by author (check the series section as well).
  • If I want big lots, ebay.com. Most of the time there is nothing, but sometimes you can pick up 20 books by the same author quite cheaply.
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The android and I

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I don’t talk much on this site about what I do at work. There are a couple of reasons for that — what I do is somewhat too specialist to describe easily (I am a member of the Site Reliability Engineering Group, who are tasked with making google.com the most reliable site on the Internet), somewhat technical (you see, if we tweak the thingie on that cluster just a little, we can decrease the doodily by 15 milliseconds!), and frankly I’d rather not spend all my time talking about work at home.

On the other hand, sometimes something makes me so proud that I just have to say something. Previous examples are the open sourcing of Slack, Google open sourcing patches for MySQL, and describing how we deploy MySQL servers at the MySQL Users Conference, and the LCA 2007 MythTV tutorial that Google went out of its way to help with.

This week’s proud moment is the launch of Android. I’ve been coding on and off for the platform since August last year, and have had a Dream handset in my pocket since July this year. Frankly, I don’t bother to power my blackberry on any more. However, the point of this post isn’t to convince you to go and get yourself an Android handset — I’d like to think people will do that on the handset’s merits alone. The point is however to say that its very cool that Google has worked so hard on an open source mobile platform, released the source code as promised, and that it largely went off without a hitch.

Astute observers will note that I’ve change job at Google a few times — I was hired as a Linux system admin and supported our customer support email system for a while, I then went and turned up new serving clusters for a year, and now I am a mobile reliability engineer. That level of movement inside the company is entirely normal, and I think is probably one of the best perks of the job. In that last capacity I have been helping the Android guys with the launch of their server side for the last month or so. That’s my final excuse for taking the Android launch personally.

So, there you go.

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The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus

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This book is better than the Stainless Steel Rat books which insist on things like time or dimensional travel — this one sticks to the more traditional crime plot, which I think are generally better. Then again, its nowhere near the best Stainless Steel Rat book I have read.

It feels a little like the editor was lazy for this book though — there are typographical errors which make it hard to read. There have been several times when I have had to reread a sentence to work out what was meant. One example is when a character declares himself to be a “Galactic Inspector of Texas”. That should have read “Galactic Inspector of Taxes”.

[isbn: 0812575350]

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Foundation and Chaos

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This is the second book in the second Foundation trilogy, following on from Foundation’s Fear, which I didn’t enjoy. This book on the other hand is quite good. Its not the best book I’ve read recently, but its faithful to the universe that Asimov built, as well as resolving all the silly plot elements that made Foundation’s Fear such a bad book. It also fills in some of the gaps between the end of Asimov’s robot stories and the Foundation stories, which is good.

[isbn: 0061056405]

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