AT&T and Verizon – Whose Marketing Is Telling the Truth?

Choosing the right cellular carrier can be fairly annoying given the fact that there is no proper way to compare given networks without a great amount of hassle. Once you go through the trouble to pick two phones, sign two contracts, get everything setup on both phones, and then run through a proper A/B test, you’ve invested a great amount of time. Not to mention you will have to eventually undo one of those choices.

AT&T is the “nation’s fastest network” and Verizon is the “nation’s largest network”. Which one do you choose?

So far we’ve been using AT&T since the release of the iPhone 3G, which was my first decent smartphone. The coverage is good, but does have a decent amount of dropped calls when swapping between towers. Data speeds seem fine as long as you’re in a 3G area. For most of the world this would suffice, but if you traverse Kansas monthly as I do, there are gigantic pockets of EDGE (2G), or even no service.

With the release of the iPad 3 brings the chance to try out Verizon. For tablets, the data plan is kept separate from your cellular bill (and is contract-free) so the risk is much more minimal.

Using the Speedtest app, I’ve spent the last week profiling every place I would travel around the Denver metro area, focusing on the outlying surrounds. At first I was certain I had made a poor choice by purchasing the Verizon model. Ignoring LTE (4G), which is crazy fast but only exists close to metro areas, Verizon was substantially slower everywhere. AT&T typically measured download speeds of 3-6Mbps on 3G. Verizon’s 3G speeds typically cap at 1 Mbps.

At this point, I was ready to order the AT&T model and process the return of the Verizon. But, luckily, I decided to run one more test. Hunter and I were bored and had a morning to kill during spring break. I loaded up some Clone Wars for him to watch and headed out to Limon, which is about 2 hours East. Before you decide it’s cruel to stick him in a car for 4 hours, he is used to long trips and we did eat there. The boy will do anything for pancakes. Since the iPhone is on AT&T, I used that as the comparison device.

Verizon – Once we cleared the LTE of the airport (27Mbps down, for reference), the Verizon network measured within 10% of 1.05Mbps down for the entire trip. It didn’t matter if we were at the bottom of a hill or in one of the towns along the way, Limon included. There’s no guessing at what you should be expecting from the Verizon network.

AT&T – This proved a rather chaotic test. When there was a genuine AT&T 3G tower to be reached, the speed was (relatively) blazingly fast at 7Mbps. Given this is a completely rural area, that is not too bad. It’s roughly equal to my home DSL, given there’s higher latency. However 3G is a precious commodity for AT&T, and a quite rare one at that. 3G is only available near some small towns, which becomes more rare as you trod on through Kansas. In-between these spots brings EDGE service, with download speeds capping at a blistering 0.1Mbps, or possibly no service at all in many places.

Given that a connection isn’t worth anything if you can’t use it, Verizon wins this challenge by a mile. While my test focused on data, it’s also important to point out that each of those EDGE<->3G tower switches is almost guaranteed to be a dropped call with AT&T. Obviously the spots with no signal on AT&T can’t even support a phone call. This test has therefore taught me that I should have been using Verizon all along for phone service.

This also underlines the importance of contracts to the cellular companies. Since AT&T had us wrapped up in contracts, we couldn’t entertain the idea of switching to Verizon once they were available.

So what about the claims of the carriers?
When you can get a 3G signal, AT&T is faster by a wide margin.
There is no “when you can get a 3G signal” with Verizon, you just always do. So it’s the largest, also by a wide margin.

They are both telling the truth, but in my situation the winner is obvious. Verizon has won the business for my iPad 3 and, as soon as I can figure out a cost-effective point in time to switch the contracts, my phone business as well.

Posted in Apple, Internet Tagged

Transitions

Well it’s now mid-March, the layoffs are announced, and we’re two weeks away from even tighter integration with our new parent company. As mentioned earlier, I am off of school this semester. I am starting to question my approach to my college career. Maybe I should have gone for a shorter degree? Everyone’s advice was to go for what I truly wanted to do (I would agree with that advice). I’m still worried there is to enough opportunity in that space to remain financially solvent. I am aware that no one is safe during an acquisition such as the one my work is going through, but I am trying to put myself in the best position possible. There also seems to be a bit of “changing of the guard” where I can attempt to find new challenges for myself. At the moment, however, there is no clarity to who I will be working for, even in the medium-term.

In lighter news, Hunter’s spring break is here and so begins a vacation for me. A week and a half off should help my sanity a bit. However the house will be pretty full for awhile, and I’m told the in-laws will be here the week after. Part of me this this may not feel like a vacation after all.

Posted in Life

A Curious Move – OS X’s New Release Schedule

I’m very concerned about Apple’s newly announced yearly OS X release schedule. Like most vendors, their .0 releases are buggy and take some time to stabilize. If they release a .0 every summer, I’m worried that the “latest and greatest” will never actually be stable.

To me, this seems like the problem one runs into when trying to use, say, the latest Ubuntu vs the stable release of Debian. One shows off some sweet gee-wiz features, and the other is bland, boring, and works. For a daily-use computer that simply needs to work, you pick Debian in a heartbeat.

Reliability is much more important than “gee-wiz” when trying to win market share. Much of Apple’s skyrocketing success in the hardware space has been because their hardware is actually a cut above the rest. They have focused on making a great product, and that has paid off for them substantially.

Pushing your market base to upgrade each year strains consumers and programmers alike. Mozilla has taken some serious criticism for shoving Firefox to a similar schedule. This is certainly a curious move, and I feel it is one in which Apple did not invest their usual amount of forethought.

Posted in Apple Tagged

“Vacation”

Is there such a thing as vacation once you grow up? I guess if you never do the family thing it’s possible. I’m on my last night of what was supposed to be a weekend away to see my son (staying at the Mom’s house in KC). Well, he’s older now and starting to become teenagish. Occasionally there are flashes of common sense but not really any more than his mother ever showed. I’m trying to figure out how to help him grow up but it is a real challenge with limited contact – much of that is his choosing.

In other news the younger boy is here as well. He has had night terrors most of the weekend. That is quite a joy. I’d feel bad about it except he doesn’t remember anything about them, even 5 seconds after i wake him. He’s with me this weekend because Diane has to work. It is a net win for the household for her to be working, yet her employer doesn’t try too hard to keep her with a steady schedule. She gets calls for random overtime and reschedules constantly. I guess it’s lucky for her that I worked 10 years as a customer engineer before moving to Boulder, so I do know exactly what it’s like. Any relationship I was in prior always led to a fit when the phone rang. When you are desperate for work and money, you take what you can get.

It’s also 2AM, and I leave to go back to Colorado in 5 hours, and I’m blogging. You should be able to tell how much sleep I’ve been getting.

Posted in Life

Taking a Break…. (The Story of a Professor’s “Experiment” Gone Wrong)

After a rocky first 3 weeks to the semester, I decided to take the spring off from classes. I really didn’t want to delay my degree any further but I think my reasons are sound.

First and foremost, and I have to be honest here, my Math skills aren’t where they need to be to grasp all of what I am being taught. I have no issues with the Physics material, it is actually all quite interesting, but the homework takes me three times as long as it does the others in my class.

For each and every problem, I find myself going back to old Calculus material and recreating the Math in my mind, but without absorbing any of it. Last week I worked from home all week, which gave me twice the time to do homework. I spent almost all day every day working on homework. It’s only week 3 of the semester and I haven’t had any exams yet. This was not going to get any better.

So what about my title of an experiment gone wrong?

Early in my education, I had to decide whether to go to CU or community college for my “Freshman” year. This was not really a financial decision, though community college would save a lot of money, but really based in the fact that CU offers essentially zero night and weekend classes. In order to coexist with work, I had to pick the most convenient option at the time. I took Calc I and II from FRCC, and got A’s in both. Actually, I graduated FRCC with my Associate’s Degree after three years and 65 credit hours with a 4.0. Granted, it’s community college, but I think I absorbed the material they were trying to teach me.

Then came the time to enroll at CU. My first semester I had to take Calc III. This was the first semester of a new paradigm they were trying for homework and the way they were running the class. It was an abomination. Their goal was that people would spend the week doing all the homework problems from the book (ungraded), and then the graded homework for the class would be a professor-invented set of VERY difficult problems. Every week.

The result of this experiment was nothing short of a massive failure. The homework was so difficult that the majority of the class had no time to read the book and absorb the material. No one was doing the practice problems from the book. We didn’t have the time. The graded homework had to take priority since, obviously, our grade is based on it.

Halfway through the semester, the average grade for the class was in the 40-50% range. The department solicited input from the class in the form of a survey. Many of us gave the same feedback, that they need to grade the book homework and still provide the challenge problems for advanced study. After this whole ordeal, there were no changes made to the course. Everyone continued to struggle.

I ended the semester with a 48% score. I was “awarded” a C+ grade. Given that one needs a C- to “pass” the class, I cannot imagine how low of grades they accepted as passing.

I had survived the semester.

I had absorbed nothing.

Turns out that hasn’t affected me until now, 18 months later. I was able to go on to Differential Equations and complete that class without issue. Physics III was no problem, as early work with Schrodinger’s did not required advanced Calculus. Classical Mechanics I wasn’t a challenge since it only used the most basic of integration and Vector Calculus.

This semester brought E&M I and Classical Mechanics II, and things went downhill very fast. The integrals are hard. The problems have many steps, and each relies on the previous to be exactly correct in order for the next part of the solution to make any sense. I had never learned to recognize patterns in generating solutions. I had missed out on the high repetition of solving problems in baby-steps, so this skill was not developed. It wasn’t allowed to be developed due to the structure of a professor’s desire to “shift the paradigm” of Calculus. He moved the needle alright – pegged to the low end.

So I’m taking the semester off to re-teach myself all of Calculus. My approach will be to do as many of the problems from the book as possible. I am hoping the repetition of easier problems will bring together the skills necessary to “see” the answers to the harder ones.

My other reasons for taking off the semester are all related to the above, but more subtle. I’m spending too much time on the graded work and not “absorbing” the Physics as much as I’d like. I really like Physics. I love when I understand a problem and “see” the solution in my head. The challenge is getting the Math to match what I’m visualizing is a puzzle which is very satisfying to solve.

Lastly, I want to avoid getting burnt out. Every minute I’m not in class during the day, I try to be at my desk at work. Every minute I’m not at school or my desk, I need to be working on homework. Twenty-four straight months of that has gotten to me. I need to regroup and refocus.

We’ll see how my experiment goes…

Posted in College, CU

Snow snow snow…

Took 80 minutes to get to work today. Didn’t really have that time to spare Smilie: :(

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged

My Goodness….

Remember the high school Physics problem where there was a ball bouncing on a table, or a simple pendulum hanging from a string?

Ok – now have the ball tied to the string, swinging from the pendulum, and it is all in a moving train car which is accelerating back and forth, but not with simple oscillatory motion. That’s one of the easier questions from this homework -.- I think my brain is going to explode.

I think I would have an easier time mathematically solving the score of today’s game which, I’m sorry to say as a Pats fan, will be 21-17 Giants.

Posted in Physics

My Lack of Time is Disturbing…

Just a quick thought… The recent blizzard caused me to stay home from school (and I was scheduled to work from home for night shifts anyway) which gave me a lot of time to think.

This physics stuff would be a lot easier, and more enjoyable, were it my full-time job. I’m surprised how valuable it is to be able to pace around and simply work equations out in my head. The challenge of trying to balance work, home, not to mention other classes, is truly daunting.

The one thing that I seemingly cannot do is rush this. There doesn’t seem to be any shortcuts. Every problem I try to solve I end up deriving a solution from the most basic laws in physics. Seeing how they work together is never obvious (although hopefully it will become more so with practice), but once I see the solution it is incredibly enjoyable.

A Facebook post by a friend of mine today made me think about the choices I made in my life. I seem to always tell myself “I wish I would have gone to college right after high school”, as all this would be so much farther along. The problem is – 18-year-old me wouldn’t have wanted to be a physicist, or even an engineer. All I wanted to do at that time was follow in my father’s footsteps and go into business management.

As I look around at the economy around me, and take my interests into account, I think an MBA is the one degree 33-year-old me wants the least. It came to me that, even when trying to rationalize the past, none of it matters. All one can do is look forward and make the best possible choices for any given situation.

The real challenge is that moving forward from those choices always requires time – where the hell does it all go?

Posted in College, Life

Speaking of iPad…

Now that my iPad and I have gotten reacquainted… I’m thinking of potentially using it to take notes in class. Part of the reason for this is to capture all of the mathy-ness of every one of my classes.

One of the most helpful things I did last semester was to take a Saturday out of my life to become versed in TeX. I’m wondering how it would compare to take notes at lecture speed. I believe it would make capturing equations much easier (and faster), plus my notes would stay in a more convenient format.

Hmmm…decisions, decisions.

Posted in College

Thanks, CenturyLink

I’m at home this week, as I am working a second shift. It’s pretty important to be able to work a week of coverage now and then since I’ve been basically broke since starting school.

The one thing I must have in order to work from home is Internet. When we moved to this house in 2009, I took the opportunity to switch from Comcast over to DirecTV/Qwest. This was a result of Comcast completely screwing up the move and then telling me it would be at least 2 weeks to fix it.

I have been 100% satisfied with this migration. DirecTV has been better than Comcast in practically every way. Despite what I had read online, satellite essentially never goes out. This is in an area which occasionally gets a few feet of snow so I’m comfortable with that judgment. It only gets interrupted in the heaviest, wettest, snows. Likewise, DSL just never goes down. Comcast would go down roughly five times a week.

But with the transition from Qwest to CenturyLink, I am not so happy.

First, since the merger we have been bombarded by telemarketing calls for long distance providers.
Next, the billing has been confusing and changed for what appeared to be no good reason.

Tonight brings the kicker. At midnight I was working on a call when the Internet went out. Given this was exactly 00:00, I suspected this was for some type of maintenance. I gave it about 90 minutes and then started trying to call CenturyLink. After a short wait, a polite representative did answer. The first question he asks is “oh, you’re not in a Qwest area, are you?”

Turns out, despite migrating my area over 6 months ago, they still don’t have any support for Qwest. I was transferred cold back into the VRU and tried different options this time. The next person I reached had me on hold for 15 minutes, while coming back every now and then to tell me to unplug/replug/default all the settings on all my equipment. I will replug the modem at the wall, but anything behind that is not their concern and I get tired of being asked to change settings on my equipment.

After the 15 minute wait (and supposedly defaulting all the custom configurations on a pile of routers), he comes back to tell me it is a known maintenance.

Wait…not just a known maintenance. A TWENTY-FOUR hour maintenance for planned upgrades.

I don’t need Internet to check Facebook or play FarmVille. I need this for my work and for my schoolwork. Internet is a utility and no longer a convenience. If my phone or electricity was planned to be out for a full day, one would expect notification of some kind.

I guess this is the argument for LTE and the like. Currently I’m typing this on my iPad in an area with pretty terrible 3G service.

Simply can’t wait to move to an area with fiber availability.

Posted in Internet