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Spring Cleaning

This week TekSavvy started offering access to Rogers’ cable in London at better conditions.

Compare:

Service Provider Price/M Transfert Speed
Express Teksavvy $36.95 300GB 10.0 down 0.5 up
Rogers $46.99 60GB 10.0 down 0.5 up
Lite Teksavvy $27.95 300GB 3.0 down 0.25 up
Rogers $35.99 15GB 3.0 down 0.25 up

With 300GB of transfer compared to Roger’s 60GB you can watch TV over the internet without worrying about overcharges.

Save an additional $40+/m.  Cancel Rogers cable.  Replace it with services like  Netflix ($8/month).  Watch your favorite CBC show on CBC.ca.  use the savings toward DVD rentals, add a title or two to your library, or go out to the local pub.

While spring-cleaning, replace also Roger’s home phone with Vonage.ca.  Vonage gives you a full service package for the price at which Roger’s home phone just starts with a basic package.

Add all of this up and you’ll be saving easily $360/year or more.

When you call Rogers to cancel the service they will try to offer you discounts and “benefits”.  Ask them why they are gouging you.  Don’t let them continue to gouge you.

It is outrageous that Rogers is increasing prices and reducing service while the worldwide trend goes the other way around.

Bye Bye Rogers

After a year with Rogers there is finally an alternative.  More on that change later.  Preparing for the call to customer service, I wanted a top ten list of reasons to quit Rogers.  I quickly came up with many more than ten.

TV

1. Unless you like playing tetris, watching HD can be frustrating at times.  Symptoms include stuttering audio, mainstream HD channels unavailable for weeks, and this.  Annoying.

2. I don’t need my toddler to see violence on TV and yet if I want to show him On Demand children content we must navigate through a slow menu that exposes him to advertising for pay per view movies that often shows violent scenes.  Useless.

3. I have no other device connected to the HDTV receiver but an HDCP compliant display via HDMI and yet I have to acknowledge every time I turn it on that I am being treated like a thief. Nobody did that to me in the day of analog TV and VHS tapes.

Internet

4. Broken DNS. To make a few bucks more, Rogers fiddles with the DNS – the system that maps the URL you type into the browser to an IP address corresponding to a server.  This breaks the standard.  Because of Rogers, my printer (Brother MFC-6490, highly recommended and good Linux support) could not update its firmware.  If you’re savvy, you can get around Rogers’ DNS redirection by using dnsmasq’s “bogus-nxdomain” feature.  Nevertheless, if you are really savvy, you switch to a standard-compliant ISP.

5. Deep packet inspection and intrusion. I’m surfing the web and all of a sudden a piece of JavaScript tries to inject itself.  I’m sure it’s not legit, I have access to the source code of the website I am trying to view.  Examining the intruder it is not a worm nor a virus nor a phishing scam.  It’s my friend Rogers, notifying me that I have used more than 75% of my monthly bandwidth allowance and will soon be charged extra.  How would you feel if Canada Post opened your letters and changed their content?  And yet Rogers does exactly this, with impunity!

6. Bandwith allowance?  Yes, unlike in most developed countries, it’s capped very low.  I was lucky when I got my service: it was 25 GB/month.  Now the same service cost more money and buys only 15GB/month.  Are we trying to prevent usage of competing services like Tou.tv, Netflix or Vonage?

7. Speedboost, a seemingly generous practice of helping the poor speed-capped customers to some relief five times per calender year. Promised: 10.0/0.5

delivered: less than 2.5/0.5

8. The slow network.  I pay for 3.0/0.25, and indeed I measured 3.0/0.25  a year ago.  Over time it has progressively degraded to less than 2.5/0.25.

It may be related to the slow network, but I find the problems that I experience with Skype and Vonage to be very peculiar and specific to this ISP.  I’ve been using Skype and Vonage for more than six years and nowhere have I had more disruptions than on Rogers’ network.  Is it because they are competitors to Roger’s own home phone service?

9. Encrypted uploads are throttled.  Not helpful when uploading source packages to Launchpad or SourceForge; or home movies to a server.  Since I moved and became a Rogers customer I can no longer use my mutual off-site backup setup with a friend.  We used to rsync our respective data automatically overnight via SSH,  but we had to put this practice on hold.  It’s cheaper to make a copy on a spare hard disk and snail-mail it to him!

10. Port 25 is blocked, as expected from every decent spam-fighting ISP, who offers eMail relaying through their own mail servers.  With Rogers there is a catch: sender address must be registered.  Of course this is only to prevent the so common practice of spoofing the From header.  Too bad that registration is limited to five sender addresses only.

Customer Service

11. I explicitly asked from the start: no unsolicited marketing.  And yet I had to remind Rogers three time and my request was ignored.

12. What really tipped me over was when Rogers messed a credit card charge last month.  They sent me a “Returned cheque notice” asking me to fix the problem.  Which problem?  My credit card is in good standing.  When the agent charged it, she mentioned that there would be an additional late payment charge.  For their mistake? I protested and she back tracked, but the damage was done.  I could not wait to quit.

What are the Alternatives, Really?

Whether it is in the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum; or in the technically minded Net Index:  Canada ranks at the bottom in terms of telecommunication services and at the top in terms of telecommunication costs, and things are not moving in a positive direction.

In a nutshell: I am taking advantage of a bad regulatory decision in an even worse regulatory landscape.  The  Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a government agency that seems to have tasked itself with holding back Canada’s development, regulates telecommunication.  It has (wrongly) imposed on ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers, like Rogers) to open their networks to CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers).  The CLEC gets regulated entry to the ILEC’s network at “negoitated” wholesale rates and conditions fixed(!) by the CRTC and can give some of that savings back to me.  This is bad.  It’s uncompetitive.  It’s unfair.  It does not encourage investment nor innovation.  It’s dirigisme.  Short-term it is better than the pre-existing oligopoly, but long-term it is worse since it slows down massively the pace of investment and innovation.

Real competition is when the ILECs can do what they want with their network and consumer have a real alternative instead of piggy backing on them at an imposed lower price.  Under real competition, my next provider could offer me not only the same service at a lower price; but better adapted service.  In my opinion Canada needs real unbundling: the CLECs should get physical access (but not network access) to all the boxes where cables terminate (the Exchanges) as well as to the physical conduits between Exchanges; consumers should get control of the last mile between their premises and the Exchange and decide which LECs they want service from.  Unbundling has driven tremedous growth in France.  Ten years ago my friends there paid the equivalent of what I pay here today, and received a 5.0/0.8 service.  Nowadays they pay the equivalent of $35 per month (including a 19.6% VAT) and they get: 28.0/1.0 Internet service with no bandwidth cap; home phone with unlimited free long distance and international calls to more than 90 countries; more than a 100 TV channels, some of which HD.  All included.  To get a somewhat comparable from Rogers I would have to shell out more than $150 (plus 13% HST) per month.  Insane.

Recommendations

For now, consumers in Canada are better off switching to TekSavvy for their Internet needs and subscribing to the cable service because unless they also have an expensive old copper-wire phone service, the DSL service is “dry-loop-taxed” to the tunes of about $10/month, courtesy of another bad CRTC decision.

For the home phone, I recommend Vonage to the more conservative consumers, while I prepare my infrastructure to go even lower cost with voip.ms.

For TV, I can spend the budget that was allocated to Rogers cable on Blu-Ray or DVD rentals.  Specifically for my son, I can buy him one DVD per month of his favorite TV show and I still have not matched the cost of Rogers’ cable.

For wireless, I use a prepaid service from Speakout or PetroCanada Mobility.

Bye bye, Rogers.  If you want my business back, you better become competitive.

Thank you but no, Thank you.

JavaScript is widely used on web pages to enhance the consumer experience and indeed there is a lot of great functionality out there that would not be possible without JavaScript. I am a JQuery fan – it enables great interaction and is mostly unobtrusive.

However, JavaScript, like Flash too, takes a toll on the CPU cycles (and battery life) and bandwidth of the device used to access the web.  It is also used and abused to deliver payloads that do not benefit me, such as ads, sniffing, tracking and profiling code, and (yes, they still exist) cheesy irritating animations.

I surf the web with NoScript set at the most stringent level.  When I land on a web page I have never been to before, it presents plenty of empty light-yellow void boxes. I examine each piece of active content until the website is functional to my taste. Some I approve permanently (trusted). Some I block permanently (untrusted). Some I approve temporarily.  Once NoScript has learned my rules, repeat visit are smooth and unencumbered.

I surf the web on a netbook-class (Intel Atom) machine and some pages that come to a grinding halt under the weight of the active payload become decently usable when the “consumer-hostile” code is prevented from loading.

My definition of “consumer-hostile” code boils down to a simple cost/benefit-analysis. What is the cost of letting that JavaScript run on my CPU cycles and what are the benefits to me?

Below is a list of what I classify as “consumer-hostile”.  Your definition may vary.

  • Advertising. The only form of advertising that appeals to me is search ads.  Everything else I am simply not not interested.  It interrupts, distracts, and has no value for me.  Most ad networks deliver their payload through a third party JavaScript.  This opens Pandora’s box and out of it come all sorts of CPU hogging, display clogging, bandwidth wasting stuff.
  • Tracking and sniffing code. I don’t like to be tracked. I don’t want to be served ads based on my “behavior”. I don’t need Google to know which site I visited at lunch break and which site I visited at 2 AM, so if you’re using GoogleAnalytics to get visitor stats, I’m stealth, because that piece of JavaScript is unwelcome on my machine.
  • All kind of useless bells and whistles. Why do some sites use Flash to display a header that would be easily solved with a few bytes of text in a header tag? Fonts? use standard CSS @font-face.  Extra-Bonus:  your website will be understandable to search engines and you will not need to hire SEO charlatans to try to push its ranking up.
  • Flash. Yes, Flash has its use, but it is a CPU hog that depletes the battery, increases the fan noise and turns the heat to a level that laptops become barely bearable on the laps. And it has its whole lot of issues with privacy and tracking.
  • When the site’s navigation is slowed down by JavaScript.  Luckily, since search engines do not understand JavaScript, most sites offer a gracefully degraded plain HTML navigation.  For example I love to listen to shoutcast radio.  Navigating without JavaScript opens the radios right into my favorite media player. With JavaScript enabled it defaults to Flash and AOL sends some sniffing and tracking code along.

In most cases, filtering all of this active content has only benefits to me. Site designers tend to do a good job at graceful degradation and the sites I use are mostly functional without active content. Good for accessibility, and good for me.

Some sites break if the “consumer-hostile” payload is not accepted. Sometimes the “consumer-hostile” payload is part of the core functionality. In those cases it becomes a trade-off.  Am I really interested in the site?  I may make a temporary exception, tolerate the active payload in full awareness of the consequences such as data collection by third parties despite the do-not-track header sent with every single request from my browser.  In most cases I am not interested and won’t do.

Sometimes the payload is only for specific functions. Take for instance Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, Yahoo’s Maps, GoogleMaps, or other such webmaster tools that are given away for *free”.  Free as in free of charge, but there is an implicit barter: your traffic in exchange for the tools.  And that traffic is used to compile detailed profiles of consumer’s online activity.  The link is not far away to their offline profiles, zip codes, and other information that marketers try to gather from many sources.

Popular websites incorporate on average 64 trackers on their pages.  Thank you, but no thank you.  Online advertising spending in the US is projected to 42 billions this year.  For a population of approximately 309 millions.  That’s roughly 12$/month per person.  Assuming that all this money is spent to generate the content and services that are used by consumers to have the web as we know it today without ads would cost each consumer 12$/month.  For a better web experience?  I would pay.  Would you?

Social Networking

f__kbookThere is something wrong when a third party obliges me to open an account to access the personal content of a friend who wants to share it with me. The other way around, I will never willfully accept that an entity keeps my content hostage to its interest (commercial or other) and obliges my friends to open an account. I don’t care how popular that entity or business is. If it can’t respect my ownership, access, and privacy rights, I’ll take my content and my personal data elsewhere.

And I don’t mind my friends calling me a brontosaurus or other  names for staying out of the “social web”. The real social network is not behind the keyboard, anyway.

I found this funny colorful account (warning: graphic language) of somebody who tried to quit f**kbook.

Photo credits: flickr/Greg O’Connell CC-BY-2.0, edited. I was so lacking time and so in need to put out this statement that I quickly searched for an appropriate image that I could use to go with this short text.

Response

The whole purpose of this blog is to generate a response chain – feedback of any kind into the hugin project, primarily volunteers to spend time on different aspects of the project: the code, the bugs, the graphics, the documentation, the building and packaging. But any kind of response counts.

Ten months ago I started publishing on this site snapshot Windows installers for download. My installers have been popular – installed over 35.000 times. What response rate have we got from Windows users?

Type Of Response Kind

One minute donated to hugin is one minute of very valuable time, no matter if it is for a critical bug fix or a simple user support post to a mailing list. The time spent to advance the hugin project is all equally valid and good response, as are donations, in-kind or financial. For the purpose of this analysis, all response is equal.

Response Rate

Response rate is the number of responses in proportion to the total number of exposures. The total number of exposures is 35.000 – that’s how many times my Windows installer has been used, until I took it down.

Precision

I may have counted multiple downloads by the same person. This makes the response rate seem smaller. It is difficult to separate Windows users from the rest. This make the response seem larger. I have used conservative estimates. some of the feedback may go to other Open Source projects and can’t be measured, as pointed out by Leo Sutic.

Comparability

Return rates can be measured for many types of exposures. A response rate of 0.0005% is excellent for spam but very bad for targeted ads. Similarly one can not expect the same response rate for shareware and for free open source software.

Polls

Two weeks ago I started a usage poll. As of today, 65% of those who have seen the poll have voted. This is a good response rate.

At 40% the merchandising poll has attracted less response – it is obviously less relevant to the readers of this blog. A further off-topic question will attract even less response.

The usage poll indicate how high interest for the installers is. At the cut-off time to write this article 45% of respondents used hugin weekly or daily; 33% used it monthly; 17% used it seldom and 5% never used it. Adjusting for the 35% who did not bother to vote and assuming the worse case (i.e. that they never use hugin), we end up with:

  • weekly or daily: 29%
  • monthly: 21%
  • seldom or never: 50%

Windows Users

The above break-down applies across all readers. It is assumed that Windows readers do not differ from other readers. This means that of the 35.000 Windows users who have used my installer

  • 10.150 use hugin at least weekly
  •   7.350 use hugin at least monthly
  • 17.500 never really bothered and are probably just curious or are hunter-gatherers.

Added value

What is the added value of my installer for them? Commercial software with a comparable feature set fetch prices of 99 EUR and above. One could argue that I’ve been giving away a value of 3.500.000 EUR in the name of the project; and that 1.750.000 EUR was a waste (because it is not being used). That’s not exactly true: the price influences the quantity. But it is undeniable that 10.150 users find enough value added in hugin.

Imagine for a moment if they would put in 10 cents for every week that they use hugin? that’s 5 EUR per year and user – much less than the 25 EUR per year that PTgui users pay to stay current with updates. 50.750 EUR per year would be enough to pay a junior engineer for an 80% job – not full time, but a lot more resources than the project has currently available. Dream on…

Expected Response Rate

So what kind of response rate can I expect? The right answer is none, because Open Source is a give economy, not a take economy. I can only influence what I give, not what I get. I can come to the conclusion that what I give cost me more than what it is actually worth, and stop giving it.

Actual Response Rate

If these users were exposed to spam the response rate would likely be 0.0005%, or roughly 2 users. And if they were exposed to target ads, it would likely be between 1% and 5%, so between 350 and 1.750 users.

Why comparing with ads? because the installer download is, in a sense, advertisement. The software is given away to advertise a community and attract tester, developer, translators, graphic designer, tutorial writers, and all other sorts of talents and supporters.

The actual response rate to my Windows installer, all type of responses considered, is closer to spam than to targeted ad.

Ads

By now it is safe to assume that most internet users know about the online ad model. I experimented to see if my installer was at least worth a click on an ad. For almost a month, I presented about 13% of those who intended to download it with an ad page. That’s roughly 900 impressions. This was done using a redirect that was already in place against deep-links.

The ad page has a twist: it closely watches user behavior and starts the download only for well behaved user.

I’ve experimented with different kind of observations. The results are discouraging: some users even try to reload the same page a dozen times, expecting that it is an error and that the download they want will come soon. None of them even bothered clicking on the ad.

Conclusion

The feedback I get from Windows user indicates that my installer is not worth the effort, and I may as well spend my time doing other things. Otherwise stated, it seems that every platform attracts a specific type of user. The Mac attracts honest people that are used to pay for what is valuable to them; Linux attract gregarious, social and righteous people that are used to share and help each other. And Windows?

Built To Last

We all build (or rent or buy) a dwelling at some points in life. And we all have different standards for our dwelling depending on its purpose. We choose with greater care the family home for the next few years than the camping spot for the next week. And we are more tolerant of little annoyances such as a water leak in a camping tent that will be disbanded in a day or two, than in a house that is intended to stay solid for decades.

Similar rules apply to software. Building a Windows binary of Hugin is a matter of less than an hour once the toolchain is set up. And if that was it, I could simply put it online and satisfy these calls. But what if it starts to leak? Guess who will take the heat and comments of disappointed users?

Ideally, there is a whole quality assurance process between a build and a distributed package. Commercial companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on quality assurance for small incremental releases and still mess them up sometimes.

So if I want to release a new installer, after building, I take some time to do quality assurance as described here. It’s not perfect, but it is what is reasonable for such a volunteer effort, and it is time that comes at a cost to my other free time activities. It’s a trade-off.

Facing the trade-off between packaging for distribution a release candidate that will change, or building the Google Summer of Code projects of the students that we so carefully selected and that we are grooming to become the next generation of Hugin contributors, what would you do?

I made my choice. I am committed to our students and I owe it to them. If you want something specific from me, contact me and we can discuss your requirements. Often this boils down to an hourly rate and a deadline that fits with my prior commitments.

Allergy

Atchum! Bless you! Summer is allergy season for many people, although for contributors to Open Source projects sometimes allergy season is an all year round thing – namely when people who are not contributing much to the community demand for things to happen. There is a fine line between asking nicely if something is possible and blatantly demanding without giving anything back. What about a Windows binary? try following these instructions and when you succeed give it back to the community.

I personally have other interests at the moment, both for my free time (now that the streak of a month of bad weather has apparently come to an end) and for the part of it that I dedicate to Hugin.

When taking this picture I did not notice that there was a second bug – click on the thumbnail to find out where it his.