Wednesday, October 22, 2008

U-Verse Experience - Update

While checking through my site meter logs I noticed that I'm currently getting a lot of hits from people searching for U-Verse information, obviously due to my lengthy post regarding my personal U-Verse installation saga. A lot of this may be due to an ongoing dispute between Time Warner Cable and the local NBC affiliate here in the Austin area that has resulted in our NBC programming being unavailable on cable for several weeks now, and lots of folks looking into alternatives to cable. Due to both my utter loathing of Time Warner Cable and in the interest of providing a complete portrait of my experience I wanted to post a follow-up review, so that folks can make a more informed decision.


First, a follow-up on the installation issues. Briefly, after a whole lot of back and forth and hours upon hours of time on the phone with U-Verse/AT&T customer service, we were completely unable to resolve the issue regarding my loss of my phone number. This was entirely due to an error on AT&T fault (they messed up the order intake and never issued the phone number port request, so when my I ended my cable service my phone was disconnected by Time Warner and my old number dropped into their available number pool, from which they -- TW, that is -- are apparently unable to specifically request it again.

So, corporate backend idiocy on both parts, with the end result being my loss of my phone number. AT&T was fairly accommodating with reimbursement for my trouble, although ther was an end-stage compensation agreement that they sort of just stopped pursuing (I wanted them to credit me something for all the time and effort I spent trying to help them straighten out their errors, and they were working on something but never got back to me. Rather than waste anymore time and energy pursuing it I just threw in the towel and dropped it).

Now, several months later, I continue to be a U-Verse customer, and overall am pleased with the service. However, although I tend to recommend the service, I also STRONGLY suggest that if you are porting your number from another provider you do not cancel service with that provider until AFTER you are certain the number port has been completed. This was an enormous source of frustration for a solid 2 months, and if you can avoid it by any means (including just sticking with your current provider for telephone service) you should do so.

Now, that said, some far-from-authoritative reviews of the U-Verse service itself.

U-Verse Television: Channel selection is quite good, especially for the price. Video quality in standard definition is excellent (easily equal to or better of TW, equal to DirecTV, Dish, etc.) while the HD is good/very good (equal, sometimes superior to TW, not quite as good as DirecTV. Compression can become quite obvious in some programming, especially in darker scenes where there are lots of muted colors/blacks). the whole house DVR, now that it is finally available, is terrific, and the DVR interface and performance is the best I've experiences outside of TiVo (still the gold standard, IMHO). Some other features are unimpressive (most of the other interactive features, such as the U-Bar, are pretty much useless in my opinion, since it's easier for me to get the local info using a computer or other device than it is to wait for the U-Bar to start, etc.). Haven't used the pay-per-view type services so I can't really talk to them. Overall grade: B+.

U-Verse High-Speed Internet: I've got the Elite level of service (up to 6.0 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream). Mostly rock-solid connection with good>great throughput. Occasional oddness (seems to forget where the DNS server is sometimes, resulting in a fairly lengthy -- 10-15 sec. -- delay when looking up a web site), but nothing worth contacting support over. The residential gateway they installed does a pretty solid job overall, but it does not support UPnP, so if this is something you rely on be prepared. No serious concerns or problems, but nothing overly stellar either. Overall grade: B.

U-Verse Voice: After a very rocky start, issues have settled down nicely. We were getting intermittent service outages for the first month or so, but these seem to have been initital "growing pains" in our area and they have since stopped. All in all it's a solid VOIP package, with some really nice features available via their web interface (makes setting up call forwarding, voice mail, and lots of other features fairly easy). It could stand some improvements -- I'd like to be able to just receive voice mails as an MP3 via email, whereas now I just get a notification that there is a voice mail waiting and I can then log into the web interface, download the VM, and then listen to it -- lots of steps for a fairly simple problem task. Personalized greetings for specific caller IDs would be a fantastic feature that, again, should be simple for them to implement. But overall, it's as good as any other VOIP solution out there. Overall I'd say if you're satisfied with your current phone service there's no compelling reason to switch, although AT&T's package deals might make it more attractive. Overall grade: B.

So, all in all I'd say I'm satisfied. There's plenty of room for improvement, but the great thing is that AT&T really seems to be willing to make improvements to make thier service more attractive, whereas TW has just sat back on their install base and let the money flow in. Also, AT&T's customer service has been in every sense superior to ANY experience I've had with Time Warner. While I initially had a buttload of problems, AT&T's staff worked very hard to solve the issues and were courteous and accommodating every step of the way.

So, should you sign up for U-Verse? I'd say yes. It has some downsides, but the upsides (features, cost, etc.) do a nice job of outweighing them. In short, if you're looking for a change you could do way worse.

Mood: Tired, achey (hard workouts the last two nights)
Now Playing: Nothing

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surfacing, For a Moment / Beach Moment

I know I've been scarce in these here parts since last month, and to my steadfast regulars (both of you) I apologize. As I've mentioned in previous posts, September/October has been a real grind for me work-wise, as it is the peak of the Fall trade show season. I've completed 3 of the 4 trade shows I was responsible for planning and attending, and they've all gone splendidly. But the amount of logistics, planning, time, and effort that goes into these things is truly mind-boggling.

Following a full week in Las Vegas last month I've spent more time in Florida (first Orlando, then Marco Island) in the past month than I have in Texas, which has not been much fun. Vacation-oriented destinations just aren't nearly as enjoyable when you're there working 14+ hour days. Not to say fun hasn't been had, just that it is always accompanied by the constant thoughts of "this would be so much more fun if Christine and/or the kids were here with me." Luckily I have at least been joined at these destinations by good friends with whom I work well. We're a good team, and they are all great traveling companions.

So, just one more trade show to go -- this one is just up the road Dallas so no flying is involved, which will be something of a treat. In the best of circumstances I find air travel to be something of a chore, so getting the chance to just hop in the car and turn up the stereo for a few hours will be a welcome relief.

One moment to share, though, in regard to training. While in Marco Island (again, not the worst place in the world to work one's ass off -- here's a link to the hotel I stayed in) I, as usual, could not sleep. When I travel I tend to have no trouble falling asleep (usually with the help of a nightcap or two after work with friends) but staying asleep is a challenge. When I'm in Vegas I'm usually up by 4:00 thanks to the time zone differences, while in Marco I was typically awake no later than 5:00 simply because I wasn't at home in my own bed.

So, given that I was awake, as the beach was just a minute's walk away, I got dressed in some workout wear and headed down to do some forms. Aside from the occasional flock of sea birds the beach was completely deserted, the sun still well below the horizon behind me and the moon low in the sky over the water, silver lights glittering on the gentle gulf surf. So, facing the moon and water I first stretched for about 10 minutes, then did some meditative breathing exercises we've learned in class, and finally went through every one of my forms, beginning with the Kicho forms and stopping for a brief breather after every third form -- just as we'd done when I tested for Il Gup a few months back.

Working out on sand is very difficult -- particularly, I find, when doing forms. The uneven, unsteady surface plays havoc with your balance, forcing you to maintain far more rigidity in order to maintain stances, making relaxation far more difficult and, as a result, really wearing you out. I was drenched with sweat by the time I'd gotten halfway through the Pyong Ahn forms, gasping for air when I reached Bassai, and could barely stand after I completed the never-ending horsestances of Naihanchi Cho Dan. And as I worked my way through my forms the sun rose behind me, bathing the sky in a soft blue glow as the moon slowly sank toward the water. By now there were a few early-risers strolling along the water, often giving me a curious glance and a wide berth.

When my workout was finished my friend Dean and I went took casual stroll along the beach, just to get the day started (for him) and to cool down after the workout (for me). As we walked, we saw dolphins cresting periodically along the shore, less than 25 feet away, having an early-morning snack of fish. We never did see them again the rest of the trip, much as I'd have liked to.

But I wondered why they happened along that particular morning. I like to think they were swimming along, gliding effortlessly through the waves, minding their own dolphin-y business, when they chose to be entertained/amused by some big somewhat less-than-graceful human up there on the beach that day, stomping around in the sand and yelling every now and then. Lord knows there were a few beachcombers who found me a curious sight: perhaps the dolphins did as well.

Mood: Amused
Now Playing: Nothing