Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My pathetic AT&T internet service

I hate my "high speed" AT&T internet service!

(It used be called U-verse, but they seem to have dropped that name now.) AT&T advertises "speeds up to 50 Mbps". At its very best, I get about 0.6 Mbps service. More often, half that. And much too often, service that internet speed tests say is too slow to measure. GRRRR!

It seems to be getting worse. It's unusable more hours of more days than before. In the past three weeks, it's been (barely) OK four full days and three half days.

It can't just be my 50+ year-old internal wiring, since sometimes it's (barely) OK, and sometimes not. It can't just be too much traffic in my neighborhood, since it's frequently just as bad in the middle of the night. It can't just be my browser; I have three browsers, and when it's bad, it's bad on all of them. Occasionally, stopping and re-starting the service helps, but usually not.

When I complain to AT&T, they refer me to websites. Fat lot of help that is when my internet service is terrible!

A few months ago, AT&T installed fiber optic cable about a mile away. I desperately hoped they would make it to my block, but no such luck. They haven't been spotted anywhere close since then. I've called and written asking when I will get fiber, but they can't say.

I only went to AT&T when my previous provider, Clear Wireless, went out of business. I only have three choices: AT&T over phone lines, Spectrum over cable, and Hughes via satellite. Each of these has some unhappy customers in my neighborhood, and Hughes requires a two-year commitment.

Google Fiber was supposed to be coming to Los Angeles before they suspended all expansion plans. I registered my interest.

Until shortly before I retired, I only used the net at work. I didn't even own a home computer. I was spoiled, and I knew it. Starting at PARC, one of the originators of the ARPANET, continuing at Oxy, and later at JPL, I always had reliable, high-speed internet service at work.

I don't stream movies or TV shows. I don't need super high-speed, just decent and reliable. I'm an Internet addict, and I'm only surviving these days by driving over to Oxy when my crummy AT&T service is down. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse — Oregon, August 21, 2017

The best my smartphone camera could do

I made a quick trip to Oregon to be in the path of the total solar eclipse. A few photos are here.

The two minutes of totality were spectacular! I've seen a couple of partial solar eclipses before, but being able to take off the eclipse glasses and see the blacked-out sun and the solar corona was special.

In addition to the sun itself, there were two other things I hoped to see: the moon's shadow racing along the ground, and the 360° sunset. (See this article, for example.) I did look for the moon shadow, but I didn't see it. And during totality, I was so taken by the sun that I forgot to check for the full-circle sunset. The two minutes of totality was over too quickly.

Getting to the eclipse, everything went very well. With traffic jams and flight delays, leaving was much more difficult. For all the details, keep reading.

Two months ago, when I finally decided to make the trip, I looked for a one-night room in the path of totality. Everything was booked or super-expensive. I finally found a standard-price Airbnb in Tualatin, a southern suburb of Portland, about a two-hour drive away from totality. I got a non-stop flight to Portland, but for the return, had a connection in San Francisco. I also reserved an eclipse viewing parking spot on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, where totality would last just over two minutes.

At Warm Springs, the partial eclipse would begin at 9:06 and totality would begin at 10:19. Worried about traffic, I left Tualatin before 5:30 am! As it turned out, I drove at top speed the whole way — no bad traffic at all. Along the way, I spotted the recreational marijuana retailer I hoped to stop at on my return; it wouldn't open until 10 am. I also saw a dead young bear along the side of the road, but, worried about traffic, I didn't stop to take a photo. I also didn't stop to photograph this sign (here's someone else's photo):

Views of Mt. Hood and the drive through Mt. Hood National Forest were beautiful. After that, I was in the path of totality, and even at the early hour, every available roadside parking spot was taken.

I arrived at Warm Springs before 7:30. There were a few hundred eclipse viewers there. I wandered around and read until the partial eclipse began just after 9. From then until totality, I put on my eclipse glasses every ten or fifteen minutes to check out the disappearing sun.

Immediately after the too-brief totality, I left. I was the first person to leave Warm Springs, but a few blocks later when I hit the highway, there was already a steady stream of cars! Ahead of time, I thought there would be bad traffic getting to the eclipse, but no problem leaving since most folks wouldn't leave right after totality. I was completely mistaken.

After only ten minutes on the highway, we came to a complete stop. For more than an hour after that, it was mostly slow going, with occasional stops. I began to worry that I would miss my flight! Because of that, I made none of the stops I had planned.

After traffic eased, I did manage to get through Portland, stop for gas, return my rental car, get my boarding pass, go through security, and get to the gate about 40 minutes before my flight.

But while I was at the San Francisco airport, Skywest's (aka United Express) entire computer system went down. The flight preceding mine at the gate had just finished boarding, and they soon had everyone get off the plane! After thirty minutes, and again after an hour, they announced that the computers were still down.

It occurred to me that while Skywest handled my flight to Burbank, maybe I could find a United flight to LAX, and go to Burbank the next day to retrieve my car. At United Customer Service, they switched me to a United flight to Burbank! When it left, Skywest was still not operating. I got home about 11 pm.