My Starlink Internet service has gotten pretty bad; every evening I'm well under 50Mbps and some hours I only get 2Mbps. (Compare 100Mbps+ last year.) I've given up trying to stream 1080p video at night; that's a pretty dismal result for a new Internet service in 2022.

Starlink imposed major restrictions on US customers last month: 1 TB / month data cap and expected download speeds dropped from 50-200Mbps to 20-100Mbps. Details of all that on my secret blog. Note they didn't drop the price, we're still paying $110/month.

Maybe the new caps will help the congestion? I'm sympathetic to their technical problem. They have limited bandwidth and they have to share it somehow. Caps are an awkward solution; most users have no idea how much bandwidth they are using or why and thus can't control it. Starlink's caps are nice in that if you exceed the cap you just get lowered in priority, not charged money or cut off. So maybe it'll be self regulating.

My real fear is that instead of improving service the result of all this is Starlink is just going to add even more customers to an already overloaded network.

techbad
  2022-11-26 16:57 Z

Ken and I just got back from a 23 day trip exploring most of Austria. We had a lovely time although we did get a little worn out and ready for home after a couple of weeks. Along the way we stayed in Vienna, Graz, the Wörthersee, Zell am See, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Linz, and Dürnstein. A nice mix of cities and countryside. I tweeted a bunch of postcards, easily viewed here and here.

My favorite places were the town of Graz and the countryside in the south from the Wörthersee through Zell am See to Innsbruck. The drive over the Grossglockner Alpine Road was a particular highlight and the lush green alpine valleys of Styria, Carinthia, and Tyrol were just a delight. Salzburg was also a very good visit. Linz was an industrial disappointment and Hallstatt was tourist hell; skip it unless you are very interested in the archaeological story.

We ate very well on this trip; Austrian cuisine is more interesting than the schnitzel-and-boiled-beef that was my stereotypical view. Lots of fresh fall ingredients. The pumpkin cream soup was particularly good. Enhanced with Kürbiskernöl, pumpkin seed oil that's deliciously nutty and green tasting. And of course plenty of fantastic sweets; the French call pastry viennoiserie for a reason. The single best meal we ate was at Pfefferschiff in Salzburg.

culturetravel
  2022-10-27 19:04 Z

This is gonna sound silly but one of the nicest home improvements we've done recently is install a new garage door opener, the Liftmaster 87504-267. It works so much better than my old insecure garage door!

Internet access is the surprise best feature; I use it all the time. Mostly to walk in and out of the garage door without my car. There's also a keypad remote I can mount outside so someone can punch in a code to open the door. Setting this all up was easy and reliable. There's even a way to give Amazon access to open your garage for deliveries.

The opener also has a camera. I would have skipped that if I'd known, saved some money. But it's actually quite useful! If I get a notification the garage door opens I can easily see on my phone what's going on. Basic live views seem to be free, there's a subscription if you want stored video.

Ken's favorite feature is the motion sensor that turns the light on. The lights on the unit are bright, it's enough to light the whole garage without having to flip a switch. I also appreciate there's a battery backup built-in so if the power goes out I can still easily open the door. The drive itself is smooth and quiet too, belt drives are a real improvement.

The #1 upgrade you should do for an older house is a dishwasher; they got a lot better about 15 years ago. But #2 may well be the garage door opener.

techgood
  2022-09-13 00:23 Z
I've got a new feed for my linkblog. It's at This new feed is nicer and includes my own image previews, although depending on your feed reader that may or may not have any effect. The old feed at Pinboard will still work but isn't as fancy.
linkblog
  2022-08-07 20:00 Z

I launched a new website for my linkblog; go check it out! I'm proud of how it looks.

My linkblog is a collection of links I find interesting. I write it for an audience, a few links a day of general interest. I've been doing this for 19 years now and I think it's one of the best things I publish.

Link blogging is a venerable form that both was a part of the very first blogs and predates blogs with definitive 90s web sites like Cool Site of the Day. It's no longer fashionable although its spirit lives on in every social media share button. The distinguishing factor of a linkblog is the link itself is the focus. Minimal extra content; I average 10 words a link.

The novel thing on my new website is sentiment. I decide whether the link will make readers feel better or worse and color the post white or black. I think it's important to share negative stories but I don't want to overwhelm everyone with doomscrolling. The other fancy thing is a prominent image for every post. They're a combination of website previews from metascraper and screenshots from shot-scraper.

The primary datastore is still my Pinboard account, the RSS is served directly from there. I also have been posting links to Twitter @somebitslinks; that works pretty well.

I wish I had more reach! Only 12 people said they read it on Twitter (despite 7400 followers!). I have more readers via RSS; Feedly shows 100, there's a few more on Slacks. Kind of sad but I accept what I'm doing is not mainstream. I don't think this new web view will bring in the masses but it feels like an important part of making my linkblog more of a real thing.

Technical notes about how it works are on my secret work blog. I also have older posts about my linkblog. As always, feedback is welcome.

linkblog
  2022-07-20 17:54 Z
Way back in 1994 I wrote an undergraduate thesis for my math degree at Reed College. It was a fun project, studying a discrete dynamic system that was an extension of the Ising model. Sort of cellular automata meets statistical mechanics. It's the only significant thing I've written that's not online (too lazy). Update July 2022: PDF is here.
A few years ago my colleagues from the Santa Fe Institute wrote a preprint from that work, Vortex Dynamics and Entropic Coulomb Forces in Ising and Potts Antiferromagnets and Ice Models. They were kind enough to list me as an author even though I barely understand half the paper! I do have the pretty pictures, though, plus a healthy appreciation of the complexity of discrete systems.
I've never met one of the co-authors, Cosma Shalizi. But thanks to his having a weblog I now know more about him than the other guys.
tech
  2022-07-05 16:29 Z

Google has agreed to settle a gender discrimination suit brought by employees. Congratulations to the plaintiffs, suing your employer is a difficult and stressful thing. But while the $118M headline looks big it works out to only $7600 per employee, less after the lawyers' generous cut. The harm was "the company paid female employees approximately $16,794 less per year". It's hardly restoring equity.

I faced a similar tiny settlement amount in the 2010 antitrust suit when it was found that Google, Adobe, Apple, Intel, Intuit, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and eBay were all colluding to not hire each others' employees to illegally suppress wages. The first settlement "my lawyers" agreed to was so low that the judge threw out the agreement saying they should do better. The final amount was still just a few thousand dollars for each employee.

I was mad enough I wrote a tart letter to the court when I opted out of the settlement.

I am unimpressed with my nominated attorneys. The fact that Judge Koh ruled the original settlement was “below the range of reasonableness” suggests my attorneys are poor negotiators and have not represented the plaintiffs effectively. ... I’m irritated that they cannot even do class members the courtesy of answering email.

As an unnamed class member I had nothing really to do with the suit, so this letter was my only personal involvement. At least when Gilardi & Co saw this letter to the judge they finally answered my email.

Class action lawsuits are the American way of resolving harm to groups of ordinary people. I understand why the lawyers are well paid for them. But they're seldom a good tool for monetary equity. There is value in getting the company to admit to its bad behavior and make changes.

life
  2022-06-12 15:06 Z

Starlink is oversold in North America. I've had the service since March 2021 and it's mostly great. But every evening it slows down. On bad nights I can't watch a single 1080p video stream reliably. Over half of Starlink customers report problems. Starlink's speed test app now admits "the network may be affected by slower speeds during busy hours". As if that were OK.

Overselling capacity is a common problem with American ISPs. More customers means more revenue and if customers get a crappy experience? Too bad, there's no regulation to stop them. Starlink has a serious financial challenge so of course they have an incentive to oversell. And service quality is likely to keep getting worse. Their user growth is accelerating and the new RV service means literally anyone can buy a dish now without waiting (albeit at a lower service tier.) They are adding capacity but their growth plan hinges on the troubled Starship launch vehicle.

Customers were promised better. Starlink was advertised as offering 100-200Mbps and 20ms latency; their legalese description promises 50-250Mbps / 20-40ms. My reality is speeds drop to 10-20Mbps every evening. Upload speeds are tiny, often well below 5Mbps. 20ms latency is a fantasy; 50ms is typical. And capacity is highly variable minute by minute, a technical challenge for rate limiting protocols.

The US government is giving Starlink $900M to sell rural Americans 100Mbps download / 20Mbps upload. But Starlink is delivering just a tenth of that download speed during peak hours and nowhere near that upload speed ever. I hope the FCC RDOF contract includes measured performance targets.

I am still grateful for Starlink, it's significantly better than anything else I can get in Grass Valley, CA. But they're making a business decision that's bad for customers. It's a reminder of how important it is to have Internet competition. Investing in wired infrastructure is as important as ever.

techbad
  2022-06-09 15:22 Z

I learned a few years ago I have a brother. No one knew, my mother gave birth to him in 1959 and immediately gave him up for adoption. My mother died two decades ago so details are hard to come by. My brother worked for years to find us. I'm glad he succeeded! And I feel sad for my mother's story.

I also feel guilty for my initial reaction. A stranger called me out of the blue and told me he was my brother and in that moment it felt wrong. I went with my gut and told him I thought it was a scam. I still feel bad for my rejection. Fortunately he was persistent and talked to other family members and about a year later I got back in touch and we confirmed with a genetic match. Our first talk felt strange because there's no normal way to have that conversation.

My mother never told anyone. She was 21 when she had my brother. She married my father five years later. No one knew about her secret child. Not her sister, not her best friends, not my sister or me. I don't even know if she told my father but I hope she trusted him enough to. Her parents knew but not her grandparents. This secretness makes me so sad for her, she bore this difficult thing without support.

We found a small cache of memorabilia that makes sense now. Mementos from a summer in New York. A letter from Elizabeth Arden (!) saying what a bright young woman my mother was and how nice it was that she visited her health spa in Maine. Just after the birth, I'm curious whether Ms. Arden was a regular host for young women in trouble.

It turns out that unintended pregnancies and complex family trees are way more common than we acknowledge. Ken's family is full of surprise cousins and grandchildren being raised as children. My mother and her generation treated birth out of wedlock as a source of shame. My generation doesn't quite know what to think. With genetic testing now keeping things secret is much, much harder. I feel no shame but even here I'm avoiding names, for privacy.

We know who the birth father is but my brother has been cautious about approaching him, disrupting his life. I would love to know more, he was in my mother's social circle and I would like to imagine young love or at least a summer fling. Instead all I know is the evidence of her shame and suppression.

But now I also know my brother! He's an interesting and successful man and a pleasant part of my life. I'm glad to know him.

life
  2022-04-30 22:53 Z

I've written before about learning that my ancestors Leonard and Melvina Ward owned a slave. Today I learned there were more, at least seven.

This marker comes courtesy of Find-a-Grave. It's on a small family cemetery near Bagwell, TX. I'm not positive but I think the land is still in the family. I'm curious who put the marker there, it looks like the same style as one placed in 1969 for a named family member.

One thing that makes it hard to grapple with the mass crime of slavery today is the distance in time. But it's really not that far away and there is documentation to be found with enough work. I keep thinking how there's no names of the enslaved people on the marker, nor the census records I have. I would like to know more.

life
  2022-04-23 18:52 Z