home, network comments edit

As part of our contract renegotiation with Verizon, we upgraded our network speed to 35/35 (35Mbps download and upload). When we did a speed test, however, we were only seeing about 20/15. I did some research and found out a few things that, well, it “would have been nice to know yesterday.”

You may need a new ONT. Some subscribers have old ONT (optical network terminal) boxes on the side of their house that can’t actually support the faster speeds. This wasn’t the case for me, but affected folks actually need someone to come out from Verizon and replace the hardware to get the full speed.

Not all speed tests report higher speeds correctly. I lost the links where I first saw this reported, but in the Verizon forums I saw several cases of common speed tests not actually reporting correctly. I saw this myself. Use the Verizon speed test to check your speed.

You may need to change some settings. Apparently Windows default network settings don’t allow the client to fully take advantage of the higher speeds. Verizon has a network optimizer that you can run that will update some settings and get things working correctly (you can also use it to reset your settings back to default). This worked for me on Windows 7, but if you’re on Vista you may need to read this KB article first. The settings it modifies (copied from their description page):

  • TCP 1323 Extensions - This parameter enables enhancements to the TCP/IP protocol that provide improved performance over high speed connections.
  • TCP Receive Window - This parameter specifies the number of bytes a sender (the source you are downloading from) may transmit without receiving an acknowledgment. Modifying it determines the maximum size offered by the system.
  • MTU (Maximum Transmission Units) - The MTU defines the largest single unit of data that can be transmitted over your connection. The FiOS network requires an MTU of 1492 bytes.

After running the optimizer I was able to get 35/35 on wired connections. Wireless connections still report weird for me - like 3/50 or something. It’s nice and fast, though, so I’m chalking that up to incorrect reporting rather than misconfiguration.

media, gaming, xbox comments edit

Two nights ago I did the full network reset again after having more trouble with Netflix streaming. That’s the second time in a week, and even after I reset it, things didn’t really get better. Then I had an epiphany and tested it out… and I think I’m onto something.

When you get online with the Xbox 360, it’s usually like this:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and you’re logged in.
  4. About 10 seconds later an alert pops up telling you how many friends you have online.

My usual Netflix experience is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  5. Start Netflix app.
  6. While Netflix app is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing.
  9. Connection speed determination takes around 15 seconds.
  10. Connection speed is determined to be one bar.
  11. Alert pops up saying there isn’t enough bandwidth to stream.
  12. Exit the show, select the show, repeat from step 8 until I can get a speed that allows for HD streaming.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Occasionally the HD stream won’t hold and will downgrade to one bar, at which point exit the show and repeat from step 8 again.

What’s frustrating about this is that it seemed pretty hit or miss. I could retry upwards of ten times before getting a decent HD stream. Sometimes I can’t get anything over two bars period.

However,I noticed I generally didn’t have this issue if I was playing a game before I tried Netflix. That is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Start game.
  5. While game is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  6. Play, then exit game.
  7. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  8. Start Netflix app.
  9. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  10. Select a show, start playing.
  11. Connection speed determination takes around 5 seconds.
  12. Connection speed is determined to be full HD.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Usually no hiccups.

The difference is that I didn’t go straight into the Netflix app. So, after running through my usual frustrating “can’t get a signal” process last night, I thought I’d run a test:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Sit and wait for the alert to pop up telling me how many friends are online.
  5. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  6. Start Netflix app.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing. See what happens.

What I was doing was waiting for things to finish “settling down” after logging in. I’m not sure how else to quantify that, just waiting for whatever was going on in the background to figure out how many friends I had online.

You know what? I got an HD stream the first time.

After finishing watching a show in HD, I immediately tried to watch another episode and was greeted with the one-bar stream. Letting the app sit there for a few seconds idle, then selecting the show - HD stream, no problems.

My current hypothesis:

  • There’s something going on in the background when you first sign on to Xbox Live that causes the Netflix app to not get all the bandwidth it should. If you wait for that to finish, Netflix will treat you well.
  • After finishing a show, there’s something going on in the background on the network, possibly some sort of network connection being reset or resources being released. If you give it a few seconds to let that work, Netflix will treat you well.

This very well could totally be coincidence. It also might just be me.

That said, I recall “learning” this a while ago through some trial and error and promptly forgetting about it. It feels really familiar, like I knew it all along. I’ll keep testing and see how it goes; in the event you’re having similar problems, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. Doesn’t cost you anything but a few seconds.

UPDATE 12/22/2010: This appears to only happen when using a wireless network. I ran ethernet cable to my Xbox a few months later and didn’t have any problems after that.

media comments edit

I have Netflix and it’s pretty awesome, but sometimes there are just problems getting the streaming to work well.

Before I get your hopes up, I don’t have an answer for this. It’s more a description of the problem and some of the things I’ve tried.

I have, attached to our main TV:

  • A Playstation 3.
  • An Xbox 360.
  • A Windows 7 Media Center PC.

All of these have been rigged up to Netflix streaming. Upstairs I have an Xbox 360, a Windows 7 Media Center PC, and a Wii. (I’ll be blogging the different streaming solutions compared/contrasted when I get my Wii disc.)

All of these things are attached via wireless network to Verizon FiOS (15 MBps).

**The problem is that I can’t consistently get a good stream - HD or not

  • and I can’t figure out why.**

About 75% of the time, I select a movie or show to watch and it works great. 25% of the time, possibly more, I get a connection speed of only one or two bars. Sometimes the stream starts out smooth and in HD, then a few minutes in “my network connection degraded” and I get stuck with unwatchable quality. I’m sure I’m getting affected by the weird random congestion thing that seems to be pretty well known, but it’s very frustrating.

Usually I can fix it by quitting the bad stream and restarting. It’s like I can get a “different connection” to the stream that’s more stable.

I have verified that it’s not local network congestion because the problems happen when nothing else on the network is doing anything - no one is logged into any of the other devices, no network updates are running… the only thing going on is us trying to watch a show.

I do admit to having some occasional trouble with the Verizon FiOS router that Verizon provided - they sometimes do updates at night without my permission and the only way to get things working nicely again is to reset the entire router to defaults. I do that about once a month when I start seeing things degrade unilaterally or if Netflix refuses to give me a good stream.

Last night I had the issue and did the full router reset and it didn’t help a thing. It still took about 10 tries, remote-control-throwing irritation, and a frustrated wife to get a watchable stream for a 45-minute-long show. By the time I got it working (about half an hour of messing around) I didn’t even really enjoy the show.

It has to be the random congestion thing because other sites work just fine. I can stream an HD YouTube video without that issue, then switch over to Netflix and BAM! there’s suddenly connection issues. If it was my network, or if it was an ISP problem, you’d think it wouldn’t be just singling out Netflix, right?

NetflixHelps (on Twitter) is usually nice and responsive, but always seems to say “Sorry, no issue on our end.” Be that as it may, it appears I’m not the only person with these issues or they wouldn’t have made a note of it on the official blog. Here’s hoping this stuff gets ironed out soon. Of course, that blog entry’s from almost a year ago now, so hopes aren’t high.

I think the real problem is that there are too many things that could be going wrong and there’s no way to diagnose the bottleneck.

  • Is the local network too congested?
  • Is the connection to the local network too slow? (Maybe due to wireless interference?)
  • Is there an issue with the ISP?
  • Is there congestion on the Netflix servers?
  • Is it a device-specific issue (Xbox, PS3, etc.)?
  • Do they just hate me?

A real win, truly, would be if Netflix could put out a diagnostic tool that would let an advanced user run it and see what’s going on. I think that’s really the only way we’ll be able to tell if the problem is on “my end” or “their end.”

UPDATE 1: I’ve read a few articles that recommend switching to OpenDNS. I might try that on my Xbox 360 and see if it helps.

UPDATE 2: It looks like on PS3 you can hit the “Select” button on the remote and see bandwidth info on your stream. Maybe good for a diagnostic tool.

UPDATE 3: I tried using OpenDNS on my Xbox 360 and it didn’t improve any of my streaming issues; however, I have a new hypothesis about what’s up with my Xbox streaming.

personal comments edit

To date my favorite desktop client for Twitter has been Twhirl because it’s so simple. Since Seesmic took it over it seems to have been abandoned, though, so I have been trying out new clients to see if I can find something with new features like support for the new, weird ReTweet feature.

I haven’t found anything I like yet.

First, let me tell you how I use Twitter. It seems that I must use it differently than everyone else or something because my needs seem to be different. Again, this is how I use it; your needs/uses/opinions may differ:

  • Twitter is a passive data stream. If I miss a tweet or 20, I don’t care. Maybe I’ll go back and look, maybe I won’t.
  • Twitter is not my business. I’m not a consultant. I don’t have a bunch of searches for keywords I’m monitoring. I’m not looking for mentions of a bunch of hashtags. I don’t have a community I’m managing. I don’t follow 30,000 people.
  • Twitter is simple. It’s a river. People drop stuff in the river. I pick stuff up. Sometimes I drop stuff in the river. If I like what you drop in the river, I follow you. If I stop liking what you drop in the river, I stop following you.
  • Twitter can be a conversation… sort of. It’s nice to be able to ask a question and get an answer, or to answer someone else’s question. That said, it’s not the place to have a bunch of back-and-forth discussions. It’s not a threaded newsgroup. It’s not a blog with a comment feature where you can discuss at length longer diatribes on points of view. Services like TwitLonger sort of break that and, to be frank, annoy me. If it takes more than 140 chars to say what you need to say, Twitter’s not the forum.

So, knowing that, you can correctly determine that I am not a Twitter power-user. I don’t need a giant overkill app to manage every aspect of my social networking and watch searches and crap. I just don’t need all that. Twitter, to me, is simple, and that’s what I want out of a client: simple.

So, knowing that, here’s what I want out of a Twitter app:

  • One column to rule them all. I want one column that has my timeline, my mentions, and my direct messages all integrated. I may want to click something to filter and only show mentions or DMs, but generally, one column is perfect. It doesn’t take much real estate on my screen and isn’t overwhelming or distracting.
  • Unobtrusive. I don’t need to be notified when new tweets come in. It’s not email. I don’t care.
  • Ability to not overtake my OCD. If there’s a “new tweets get marked as unread” and you have to somehow mark them read, it’s going to kill me. Like a ringing phone, my OCD will take over and I’ll have to answer. Like I said, it’s not email - I don’t need to know there are unread items. It’s okay if that feature exists as long as I can turn it off.
  • No browser. I don’t want to run a whole browser instance just for Twitter. I want it in a small, standalone app that I can dock to the side of the monitor and forget about it. I don’t want to have to switch to a different tab to get to it, I don’t want to have the browser chrome surrounding it, etc. (I’ll make an exception for something like an out-of-browser Silverlight app where, yeah, there’s sort of technically a browser running, but you know what I mean. Firefox is a memory hog. I don’t need that to get tweets.)
  • OAuth support. I don’t want to hand you my credentials. Twitter’s got OAuth now, use it.
  • Integration with services I use. I like bit.ly and YFrog. I want to be able to continue using them in an integrated fashion. Oh, and I’d like them to actually be used as me, not as an anonymous user or as the application. Barring native integration, have a plugin interface so I can write my own integration.
  • Reliable. I don’t want it crashing, eating RAM like popcorn, or having weird UI glitches in the middle of average use.
  • Clean. Sort of along the lines of “One column to rule them all” and “Unobtrusive,” I don’t want the UI cluttered up with bells and whistles and lights and buttons. Simple, clean, easy.

It sounds like the web experience is enough for me, doesn’t it? And you’re pretty much right. I don’t need much more than what the web experience offers, except it requires a browser running all the time, which isn’t what I want. So… “web experience out of browser” is probably the easiest way to explain what I’m looking for.

Now, Twhirl doesn’t satisfy all of these, but it’s the closest I’ve come. I’ve tried TweetDeck (overwhelming!), several Seesmic products (either overkill or requires a browser), witty (glitchy, unintuitive UI), and a couple I don’t even remember now… but none of them are just plain, simple, concise Twitter.