Twitter-Savvy Comcast Support Rules!


The following is a letter I just sent to supervisors in the Comcast Twitter support team:



I'm a Comcast Cable customer in New Jersey and a bit of a geek. I'm very impressed by the Twitter-savvy customer support Comcast engages in, and especially @ComcastBonnie.

About two weeks ago, I started experiencing extremely frustrating network drops in my apartment. The only recourse was to cycle power on the modem and NAT device. This would happen at extremely frustrating times, while downloading tarballs (read: ZIP files) or right before critical deadlines. In my helplessness, I posted an update to Twitter lamenting about how my network connection was dropping out at home. I think I included the "#" symbol before "comcast" mostly as an afterthought to create a Twitter hashtag so that I could see who else was frustrated.

Little did I know that Comcast has a twitter-enabled and -savvy support team. @ComcastBonnie responded and helped me troubleshoot the problem. I thought it was my surfboard POS modem, but diagnostics on her end (or something) didn't seem to support that. Finally, she showed me to point my browser to and check the upstream power, which was 53.2 dBmV (bad!). Turns out I had about three splitters between the wall and the modem and eliminating even just the first one brought it up to 36.9 dBmV.

And now I have plans to simply run a direct connection from the wall to the modem, as I should have realized with all my education in the first place.

So, thanks to Comcast and @ComcastBonnie for embracing a new technology and staffing it with people that speak geek and know their stuff.

Sincerely, Joe

PS: And @ComcastGeorge helped me too... I couldn't opt-out of the Domain Helper Service using as it doesn't let me "edit the device" to opt-out on my own. He was able (via Grand Central or something equally mysterious to me) to get me opted-out.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall
ACCURATE Postdoctoral Research Associate
UC Berkeley School of Information
Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy

Upgrading iPhone 2G to 3.1.2

hacks, open source, research, education

The iPhone Dev Team is on it!

The skinny: updating to 3.1.2 is as simple as creating a custom firmware file and then Option+Restore via iTunes. It's that simple.

Here is the more verbose version of what I did:

  1. Grab PwnageTool 3.1.4 and the iPhone 3.1.2 IPSW.
  2. Use PwnageTool to create a custom firmware but be sure "enable baseband update" is unchecked in the "General" tab. Also, now is the time for your custom boot logo. (If you update your baseband, you could face a problem that might result in your needed to start from a virgin unlock+jailbreak. I think... just don't do it!)
  3. Open iTunes, connect your iPhone, let it back up and then hold down Option while clicking on Restore. Point it to the firmware you just created. It will restore the phone and you'll be prompted to restore your data from a recent backup (choose the most recent). Do that. Then it will resync your AppStore Apps and your music and contacts, etc.
  4. Finally, install all your Cydia Apps, or use AptBackup if you aren't still pissed off at it for fucking up a previous iPhone upgrade.
  5. Make sure to change the default passwords and redo the Cycorder symbolic link (more here).

Upgrading to Snow Leopard

system, hacks, open source

Well, I recently upgraded to Snow Leopard (SL) and it went pretty dang smoothly, I must say. Especially, considering that I did a full "Erase and Install", where one erases their old disk, does a new installation of SL by booting from the SL DVD (and installing SL) and then uses migration assistant to get their old stuff back from an attached volume (a clone in my case).

So far pretty much everything works, even my old Photoshop CS... the wiki helped a lot in terms of figuring out what works and what doesn't on 64-bit SL.

The strangest thing is that I think migration assistant even copied over the stuff from my sw/ directory, a fink directory that I assumed wouldn't be copied. That seems to be a good thing in terms of my productivity (I don't have to spend a few days building things I need).

Only a few hiccups:

  1. I can't get Fink Commander to work, no matter what I do. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with command-line fink, oh boy. I'm not even sure if it asked me if I wanted to start to build things in 64-bit. I guess I'll assume I'm still building in 32-bit. Not sure how to tell.

  2. LaTeX needed a bit of massaging to get to work... I had to run the following commands at the command-line as an admin user (you can just su foobar to masquerade as the user foobar). These commands, 1) update the tex and latex paths so that it knows about your custom packages and 2) updates the font mapping so that it knows about any custom fonts:

    sudo texhash
    sudo updmap-sys
  3. Anti-RSI crashes, but you just have to update to 2.1 which is SL compatible.

CA TTBR Investigators Send Letter to the EAC

elections, reform, standards, friends, policy, iSchool

UPDATE [2009-11-05T17:17:41]: The EAC replied and we responded.

Today we sent a letter to the Election Assistance Commission signed by a number of the investigators involved in the California Secretary of State's Top-to-Bottom Review of voting systems.

The letter points out that the EAC, and a lab that performs certification testing of voting systems, disregarded technical information about voting system security from state-level evaluations of a particular voting system.  This specific instance raises broader questions about the EAC's treatment of such information under its testing and certification program.

The signatories include:

  • Matt Bishop, CA TTBR Principal Investigator, Department of Computer Science; University of California, Davis

  • David Wagner, CA TTBR Principal Investigator, Computer Science Division; University of California, Berkeley

  • Matt Blaze, Computer & Information Science; University of Pennsylvania

  • J. Alex Halderman, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; University of Michigan

  • Candice Hoke, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; Cleveland State University

  • Richard Kemmerer, Department of Computer Science; University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Deirdre Mulligan, School of Information; University of California, Berkeley

  • Elliot Proebstel, Department of Computer Science; University of California, Davis

  • Eric Rescorla, Principal, RTFM, Inc.

  • Hovav Shacham, Department of Computer Science and Engineering; University of California, San Diego

  • Giovanni Vigna, Department of Computer Science; University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Dan Wallach, Department of Computer Science; Rice University

Upgrading iPhone 2G to 3.1

system, hacks, open source, education

Warning: The following assumes that you have a 2G iPhone, a Mac laptop or desktop and some familiarity with the command-line.

I just had perhaps the most painless iPhone OS upgrade from 3.0.1 to 3.1. (here is the last installment on upgrading to 3.0.1)

You'll want a copy of the firmware file (IPSW) for iPhone OS 3.1 and PwnageTool from the iPhone Dev Team (you can get iPhone firmware here and PwnageTool 3.1 here). This time we'll create a custom IPSW so get any custom boot logos handy

Here's what you do:

  1. Install aptbackup from Cydia if you haven't already. Use it to back up your Cydia apps.
  2. Sync with iTunes and be sure that it creates a backup (this will be your reference if you mess up, mostly).
  3. Aptbackup has a nasty habit of not working. It really kind of sucks, but it's good for creating a list of installed Cydia apps. So, per this post, SSH into your phone and copy over to your computer the files aptbackup.cydiasources.tgz, aptbackup_dpkg-packages.txt and aptbackup_openssh.tgz found at /var/mobile/Library/Preferences.
  4. Open PwnageTool and create a custom IPSW... I'd just recommend following these directions from hackintosh. They work well.
  5. You will want to restore from the backup you made earlier using iTunes to get your settings and stuff back.
  6. If you're on T-Mobile like me and subscribe to a data plan, you'll want to make sure that you have set as your APN in Settings -> General -> Network -> Cellular Data Network. Otherwise, you'll see an error that reads: "Could not activate cellular data network: You are not subscribed to a cellular data service".
  7. To avoid major lameness, don't use AptBackup to actually do the restore. On your computer, do a less aptbackup_dpkg-packages.txt to list the packages that you had installed via Cydia, and manually install them one-by-one. Yeah, it sucks, but it sucks less that not having your AppStore apps! (I had a particularly lame experience with AptBackup trying to use it to restore my Cydia apps. As outlined in this post, after running AptBackup, all my AppStore apps disappeared. They showed up in SBSettings and were still listed in the Applications pane of iTunes, but it appeared as if AptBackup had uninstalled these apps from my phone!)
  8. Now it's just a matter of moving your icons to the right place.
  9. I'd suggest changing the passwords for both the root and mobile users... from the default of alpine to something more substantial. (To do this, ssh into the phone as root, do passwd for root and then do su mobile to change yourself to the user mobile and do passwd for that user too.)
  10. If you use Cycorder, you'll also need to re-establish the symbolic link between where cycorder stores its videos and AirSharing, if you had it set up like that. (Do that as the mobile user so the permissions line up.)

UPDATE [2009-10-05T11:16:56]: added bit about APN to get data network back.

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