Giggle Fiber: Silly Name, Speedy Service.

Two years ago I said goodbye to AT&T internet (formerly branded U-Verse) because it was slower yet cost more than the faster Charter Spectrum cable internet‘s introductory rate. As a longtime customer of Comcast Xfinity in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the game of calling in every year to renew that “introductory” rate. So after my first year with Charter, I called and got on a different promotional rate that was a little higher but still enough of a discount from the full rate to make me stay.

Since then, Charter has completed its acquisition of Time Warner and stories started surfacing about how they are aggressively raising their average revenue per customer. The prices went up and promotional discounts disappeared. This month I found out for myself. My promotional rate was expiring and the base cost is going up. I called in and talked to the normal customer service representative as well as the customer retention department. I was disappointed that no price discount was available even when I said I wanted to stop service. Well, they are indeed serious, and because I live in an area with some competition, I was not bluffing about leaving. So long, Charter!

Since I’ve been away from AT&T for two years, the fine print implied I should qualify for their introductory rate again. But before I move from one mega-corporation to another, I had another option: Giggle Fiber. The name is silly and it was easy to wonder whether they might be trying to riff off press on Google Fiber.  But as far as I can tell they are a legitimate internet service provider with a small local service area. Unlike most high-speed service providers, they don’t even have their own Wikipedia page. They were only mentioned in passing as an entity that acquired the internet service assets of a different company. Their business model seems to be fairly straightforward: to compete with the big guys, offer more speed for less money.

My home straddles a city line so I’m at the edge of their service area and it took some asking around to determine I was indeed eligible. Most of my research only found fluffy marketing pieces in local newspapers, which made me pause, but eventually I decided to support the small local business. The installation ran into a few issues and took longer than the scheduled time slot, but the installation staff were friendly and courteous and got their infrastructure problems resolved.

At the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie. Giggle Fiber is fast. Now I just have to see if the service is reliable as well.

Giggle Fiber is Live - Edited

Minor Derailment Due To Infrastructure

One of the reasons I put Node.js education on hold and started with Ruby on Rails is because of my existing account at Dreamhost. Their least expensive shared hosting plan does not support Node.js applications. It does support Ruby on Rails, PHP, and a few others, so I started learning about Ruby on Rails instead.

The officially supported version of Ruby (and associated Ruby on Rails) is very old, but their customer support wiki assured me it could be updated via RVM. However, it wasn’t until I paid money and got into the control panel did I learn RVM is not supported on their shared hosting plan.

RVM Requires VPS

At this point I feel like the victim of a bait-and-switch…

So if I want to work with a non-ancient version of Ruby on Rails (and I do) I must upgrade to a different plan. Their dedicated server option is out of the question due to expense, so it’s a choice between their managed Virtual Private Server option or a raw virtual machine via DreamCompute.

In either case, I didn’t need to pause my study of Node.js because it’d work on these more expensive plans. Still, Ruby is a much more pleasant language than JavaScript. And Rails is a much better integrated stack than the free-wheeling Node.js. So it wasn’t all loss.

Before I plunk down more money, though, I think I should look into PHP. It was one of the alternatives to Ruby when I learned NodeJS wasn’t supported on Dreamhost shared hosting. It is the server-side technology available to Dreamhost shared hosting, fully managed and kept up to date. Or at least I think it is! Maybe I’ll learn differently as I get into it… again.

Dreamhost offers a 97-day satisfaction guarantee. I can probably use that to get off of shared hosting and move on to VPS. It’s also a chance find out if their customer service department is any good.

UPDATE 1: Dreamhost allowed me to cancel my hosting plan and refunded my money, zero fuss. Two clicks on the web control panel (plus two more to confirm) and the refund was done. This is pretty fantastic.

UPDATE 2: I found Heroku, a PaaS service that caters to developers working in Rails and other related web technologies. (It started with Ruby on Rails then expanded from there.) For trial and experimentation purposes, there is a free tier of Heroku I can use, and I shall.

Upsetting the NPM apple cart

Decades-old words of wisdom from a computer science pioneer, proven true once again.

A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer you didn’t even know existed can render your own computer unusable.

Leslie Lamport

In a coincidence of perfect timing, my education of NPM yesterday came just in time for me to understand the left-pad incident. The short version is simple enough to understand: unhappy programmer took his ball and went home, causing a lot of other people grief in the process. The bigger picture, though, needed a bit more knowledge to understand.

While going through the NPM workshop I had noticed a few things. The workshop used a dummy placeholder registry but there was really no technical or policy reason why every Jane and Jack can’t run the same lesson against the global registry. Up to and including the fact that they can clean up (un-publish) their NPM package when the workshop is over.

I found that fact curious. Such open accessibility felt fragile and I was wondering about the mechanisms to make sure the mechanism is fortified against accidents or abuse. It wouldn’t be something covered in a workshop, so I thought I’d see more details of this protection elsewhere.

Nope, I was wrong.

The left-pad story proved that there wasn’t any mechanism in place at all. A hilariously trivial package was yanked, causing many houses of cards to fall down.

For all the wonders of NPM, there are downsides that had its share of critics. This incident kicked the criticism into high gear. The NPM registry owner received a lot of fire from all sides and have pledged to update their procedure to avoid a repeat in the future. But I’m not sure that’s enough for the famously anti-authoritarian OSS purists. For every “conflict resolution policy” there will be some who see “ruling with an iron fist.”


Unexpected find: ThingLink and its business

A Science News article online experimented with interactivity not possible in their print edition. It was fairly simple at first glance: when a cursor hovers over certain places in the image, additional information pops up. Seen all over the web, like the little pieces of trivia behind background picture of the day.

What caught my attention is the link in the corner: “Made with ThingLink, Learn More” What I had thought was a simple piece of HTML is actually a business built around the concept.

A brief exploration found that ThingLink hosts the image (and associated server storage and bandwidth) plus the interactive scripting. The package of content is then available to be served alongside content hosted elsewhere, such as I can embed a ThingLink right here in this post, if I had something interesting to show.

There’s a basic level of the service for free. To make money, they sell higher tiers with features like customization, branding, and analytic information. I’m ignorant on how this information might be valuable, but ThingLink has an idea: they believe the full set of features is worth over $200/month to some people.

So definitely not just a trivial piece of HTML. It is the tip of the iceberg of a corner of web commerce I didn’t even know existed before today.