2010-05-30

The doghouse: Residence Inn "High Speed" Internet

My wife and I are currently on an extended trip. We spent some time in Vegas and are now visiting Chicago. Hotel prices in Vegas currently seem to be about as low as they're going to be, so we took this as an opportunity to stay in some nicer hotels that we might not have otherwise considered. We stayed in the lower-end suites at Trump, Vdara and our favorite from last year, South Point, and we must say that the Trump is now our favorite experience. We will for sure stay there again, if we can get a similarly reasonable rate.

What we liked most about the Trump was the lack of any major inconveniences or drawbacks. The suite was nice and had a great view overlooking the strip. The bathroom was the most marvelous of a comparable size suite or room that we ever stayed at. There was a lot of storage space; there was a nice little kitchenette; none of the space was wasted on a mini-bar with insulting prices; 24 hour room service with excellent food; a 24 hour gym; and quite importantly...

... fast and reliable internet access.

Thankfully, all of the hotels we stayed at in Vegas this time - Trump, Vdara, and South Point - offered great internet access.

Now fast forward to our stay in Chicago. The most reasonable accommodation we could find was at a Residence Inn, where for a decent price, the little suite has nearly everything you might wish for - even a full fledged kitchen with a large fridge and a freezer - except...

... fast and reliable internet access.

About a week ago at South Point, I clocked the download speed at 2.3 megabytes per second. Here at Residence Inn, the "High Speed Internet" connection manages a paltry 60 kB/s, or about 2.5% of that.

At Vdara, the ping time to Google was consistently around 60-70 ms. Here, the ping time ranges anywhere from 300 to over 1000, with an average of over 500 ms. Even just pages with a lot of images take long to load, let alone more network intensive types of access.

I called the hotel's internet help desk, provided by Guest-Tek, to ask about these issues, and was shocked at their response. I thought perhaps there is a technical problem that makes the network temporarily that slow. But no. This is their service operating as intended. They consider the service to be primarily for business purposes such as email and basic web browsing. The following, they explicitly stated, are not what they consider acceptable uses:
  • Watching streaming video (e.g. YouTube).
  • Downloading music (e.g. from Amazon or iTunes).
  • Skype.
I am perplexed that, with such limitations, they dare call their service "high speed" internet. What, exactly, is "high speed" about emails and basic web pages, in the year 2010? I could do that with a modem, fifteen years ago.

If anyone knows of a place to stay in or around Chicago that offers (1) a fridge, (2) actual high speed internet access, and (3) a reasonable price...

... please leave a comment.

Edit: We made the mistake of giving a chance to another Marriott-operated Residence Inn in a different area near Chicago. They again advertised "free high-speed internet", and again, the problems were identical. The average ping time is 500-1000 ms, and the average transfer speed is 30-60 kB/s. A simple text page can take some 10 seconds to load. A page with photos takes minutes.

I am reporting these guys to the Federal Trade Commission - if I can get the page to load. :)

2010-05-10

Braindead MP3 buying restrictions

As you may know, I live in St. Kitts. St. Kitts is a nice island in the Caribbean, part of the two-island Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis. The two islands have a population of about 40,000 and have their own government, their own seat in the UN, and so forth.

St. Kitts & Nevis also happens to have no really enforced copyright law.

There's a store downtown which sells pretty much any movie you can think of for about USD 7. All bootlegged, poor quality, pirated copies. If they don't have a copy pre-manufactured in the store, they'll burn it on a CD for you if you return in 20 minutes.

I don't buy movies this way. I prefer high-quality copies, and I don't mind shelling out what's basically the price of two movie tickets to have it on a proper DVD. I also like to know that I'm contributing towards production of future movies, not just some guy who purchased a device that can copy a CD.

For similar reasons, I prefer to buy my MP3 music from legitimate copyright holders. I'm not sure there's any law in St. Kitts that would make it illegal for me to go online and download pirated music for free. Even if there is such a law, almost certainly no one enforces it.

But I hate stealing intellectual property. I believe in contributing for stuff that I enjoy. So until recently, I liked to buy my MP3s on Amazon, for the (for me) reasonable price of $1 per track.

It seems this era is now coming to an end.

First, Amazon was verifying my shipping address. It had to be in the US for me to be able to purchase and download an MP3. Okay, so I use a shipping address in the US.

Then, they introduced IP address checking. Okay, so instead of connecting directly, I connect through a proxy in the US.

Now, apparently, they introduced credit card checking. My credit card, unfortunately - or fortunately, for other reasons - is not in the US. And there's not much I can do about this.

Even though I'm right now sitting in a hotel in Las Vegas, I am therefore unable to buy an MP3 on Amazon. They won't sell it to a customer with a credit card outside the United States.

It is braindead - though I understand the reasoning for it. Copyright for the same song might not be held by the same person in every country. The revenue may need to go to different people, depending on the country it's used in. And there may be other legal restrictions.

But still, that doesn't change the fact that it's braindead. As a resident of St. Kitts, I now have no other choice than to download bootlegged copies of my music - even though I want to pay for it.

Life in prison for "lewdness with a minor"

A 34-year old Nevada woman was drunk and made some seriously inappropriate proposals to a 13-year old son of her friend:
Taylor kissed a friend’s child, forced him to touch her breast [through a bra] and asked him to have sex with her.
Prosecution charged her for "lewdness with a minor". A jury found her guilty, and the judge had no choice but to impose the penalty required by Nevada law: life in prison.

In the words of her public defender:
“She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him.”
Check out some of the insane comments here. For example:
Lori Bishop: About time!!! Maybe if a state takes a stand against predators other states will follow.
Bekah: FINALLY! I AGREE because these sick people might really think next time they want to mess up another childs life! GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i wish it was like this in EVERY STATE!

2010-05-05

Idiot Greeks

I've never had too much respect for modern Greece - like I don't have much respect for any country that dwells on the overinflated achievements of its ancestors, but not achieving anything today.

What's happening in Greece these days, however, is outrageous. Over the last decade, Greeks have enjoyed a government spending splurge that was financed by borrowed money. Now they are deeply in debt. In order to stop accumulating that debt, let alone to repay it - if at all - they need to tighten their belts. Work a little bit more, for a little less money, for a little bit longer. There is no other way, because the borrowed money isn't coming any more. The Greek government's spending cannot continue at its former levels. Without the borrowed money, the numbers simply don't work out.

So what do the idiots do? They don't just stick their heads into sand. They cement buckets full of sand onto their heads and run around while setting things on fire:
At least three people have been killed in the Greek capital as protesters set fire to a bank during a general strike over planned austerity measures. [...] Riot police forced them back, but right next to parliament, other groups set buildings on fire - including a department of the finance ministry in charge of the the austerity programme as well as an office of the Athens prefecture.
What could we possibly do to make people understand economic realities? To not lash out like this when their debt-funded benefits must end? Better education in schools? What else is possible?