DiNotte Light Charger

Like many, I'm a fan of DiNotte bike lights. They're bright and durable. The Pro series uses ordinary AA batteries, and so can be powered with inexpensive rechargeable batteries. The only problem is prying the batteries out of the battery pack to recharge them.

Not any more. About a year ago, I built a couple of chargers that allow me (and my friends) to charge the battery packs without taking the batteries out. (It was Brian Pratt's idea, so props to Brian.)

I have put up a web page with complete instructions to build your own DiNotte battery pack charger. It's preposterously simple.


High Pass Challenge 2009

This time, gold! Six hours, 38 minutes. Exactly 40 minutes faster than last year. I finished 57th out of about 500 riders.

Six an a half hours of riding about as hard as possible without bonking. I have trouble imagining anything I would have rather done with that day. So many great things happened, so many wonderful moments shared with other riders, so many friends and casual acquaintances met for one last time this season. It would have been a good day if I had missed my goal of 7 hours. But I didn't miss it; I exceeded my goal and then some.

Also, High Pass Challenge is an absurdly beautiful ride. You get great name-drop views of Mt. St. Helens and Rainier, plus a whole lot of other stunning high-altitude scenery.

Update: Here are the final statistics:
  • 538 started.
  • Of which 449 finished.
  • Of which 112 finished within the gold time limit.
High Pass Challenge is a true challenge, and a beautiful day in the mountains.


Spike spiked

Update: after several conversations with SDOT about spikes in Seattle streets, I marked the location of the spike in the street. SDOT sheared the head off and pounded it down. I think it's going to stay there. Good on ye, SDOT.

An Apple a day

I used to say life would be easier if I just wrote a check to Hugo Boss every month and a random sport shirt or suit in my size would show up periodically. Now I could say more or less the same thing about Apple. However, unlike products from some other companies (Dell, I'm looking at you and the laptop that needed three motherboards to make it out of warranty) every thing I have ever bought from Apple still runs. OK, I did need to get a $7 battery for my old Fat Boy iPod, but now it runs better than ever. Too bad I have more than 40GB of music. Snif. I'll just have to learn to love my new 120GB iPod classic Aki got me for my birthday. Thanks, Aki.


SDOT promises to address street spike problem

I received mail from Tracy Burrows at SDOT today. She promissed on SDOT's behalf to address the problem of SDOT crews leaving spikes in Seattle streets. The solution is to leave spikes in Seattle streets.

Well, OK, she did say they'd pound them all the way into the pavement. It sounds scary, but if SDOT actually does it, and the spikes stay there, I'm happy.

Of course, SDOT crews still have to find the spikes. Tracy told me that SDOT went looking for a spike I told them about, and couldn't find it, even when I told them almost exactly where it was. I saw it on the way to work this morning. The spikes can be very hard to see in asphalt, despite their size, because they blend in very well. That's a big part of the problem, in fact.

Comcast: Delivering the Internet even when it isn't really there

Comcast's roll out of Domain Helper (also know as "DNS Helper") hit us at work this morning. This fascinating typosquatting tool would be illegal if it were done by anybody but an ISP. (And might actually be illegal under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. If it isn't illegal, it should be.) As designed, Domain Helper is a supremely irritating form of network damage that makes complete hash out of DNS. What it's supposed to do is return a paid search page for any URL that doesn't exist. What Comcast is effectively doing here, is giving themselves a free domain name registration for all domains that have yet to be registered. To me, that's stealing. (Comcast isn't alone either, apparently Verizon and Virgin also engage in this nefarious practice.)

That's when Domain Helper works correctly, which it doesn't always. Sometimes, it keeps you from getting to web sites that actually exist. So, possibly because of design errors that Comcast may have little incentive to fix, Comcast users will now occasionally get a search page instead of the legitimate web site they asked for.

To top it off, Comcast doesn't follow their own published rules for Domain Helper. Comcast says they'll only intercept pages that begin with "www." This is important, because it makes it less likely that Comcast will sweep up an obvious typo. But today at our shop, "wwww.google.com" is intercepted by Domain Helper.

Even Comcast wouldn't do something this evil without an opt-out. Except the opt-out is broken, at least for us. The following conversation would be funny if it weren't sad. Apparently, Comcast replaced an earlier opt-out system that didn't work well, with a whizzy new opt-out system that doesn't work well. When people ask what ISP we have at work, I answer, "we don't have internet service at work; we have Comcast."

[Edit: Comcast can't figure out why their opt-out won't work for us, but they did give us URLs for DNS servers that provide the correct DNS service. Since we're geeks, we can hardwire our DNS at the router instead of getting it via DHCP. It's not super-hard to do, but it's pretty ridiculous.]

Help Chat room text follows:

user Brian_ has entered room

Brian(Tue Sep 8 16:37:14 PDT 2009)>
wish to disable Domain Helper, but primary login does not display that option below the "Device 1" info. Oddly although I am logged in [...] says "hello, *".

analyst Mark has entered room

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:38:35 PDT 2009)>
Hello Brian_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Mark. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:38:53 PDT 2009)>
No problem. I can help you with your account.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:39:02 PDT 2009)>
great, thx

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:40:27 PDT 2009)>
What is Domain Helper?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:40:37 PDT 2009)>
it's that whacked out DNS hijacker

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:41:42 PDT 2009)>
Is it a toolbar on your browser or a web site?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:41:39 PDT 2009)>

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:41:59 PDT 2009)>
its your web site

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:44:05 PDT 2009)>
Ok. That looks like a feature of the browser..

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:44:32 PDT 2009)>
NO. It's your routers intercepting DNS errors and substituting a search page instead. Bad juju.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:45:11 PDT 2009)>
Let's go ahead and kick this upstairs to somebody who understands the product offerings, shall we?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:49:45 PDT 2009)>

Mark(Tue Sep 8 16:51:52 PDT 2009)>
This actually can't be 'switched off' because it is on all our servers for resolving domain names and helps get you to a valid page.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:53:01 PDT 2009)>
Do I need to dig up your own FAQ for you on that as well? Search on "Domain Helper Opt-Out" while you're transferring me to your manager.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:53:49 PDT 2009)>

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:56:50 PDT 2009)>
That's the FAQ for turnging it off, except of course it doesn't work. The promised opt-out link isn't where it's meant to be. I'm thinking it has something to do with the weirdness in my primary account where [...] it calls me "*".

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:57:15 PDT 2009)>
But really, please just boost me to somebody more senior. This is getting silly.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:58:37 PDT 2009)>
Also you might enjoy https://dns-opt-out.comcast.net/help-index.php

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 13:58:50 PDT 2009)>

Mark(Tue Sep 8 17:00:13 PDT 2009)>
You may need to clear the browser temporary files and cookies and set the security levels to the defaults.

Make sure you have the following:

- the latest version of adobe flash and shockwave installed from http://www.adobe.com
- the latest updates installed from Windows Update.

analyst Mark has been temporarily disconnected. Please wait while the analyst attempts to reconnect.

Analyst has left the room. Your problem is being escalated to another analyst

analyst Amber has entered room

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:07:52 PDT 2009)>
I can certainly relate to your needs and to have you in this chat is as good as fulfilling my own. I am committed in wanting to provide you with the best customer service experience. You can surely take your worries out. Let me prove my expertise.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:08:42 PDT 2009)>
OK! Per that last suggestion: Two fully up to date PCs, three different browesers (IE, Firefox, Chrome), same effect. No opt-out link in the CustomerCentral page, and that weird "hello, *" thing.

analyst Amber has been temporarily disconnected. Please wait while the analyst attempts to reconnect.

analyst Amber has entered room

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:10:57 PDT 2009)>
hello again

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:11:05 PDT 2009)>
Is Domain helper installed on your computer?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:11:40 PDT 2009)>
is this the right chat room? Please read the FAQs I've already posted in this chat.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:12:12 PDT 2009)>
Or can you see the previous exchanges?

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:13:04 PDT 2009)>
Brian, is this a business account?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:13:07 PDT 2009)>

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:14:41 PDT 2009)>
I apologize Brian, as much as I wanted to assist you with your concern however for Business Accounts, you need to call our Business Accounts Department. I will provide you with their telephone number.

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:14:54 PDT 2009)>
sure, great, whatever

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:15:20 PDT 2009)>
Phone number is 800-316-1619

Amber(Tue Sep 8 17:15:48 PDT 2009)>
It was my pleasure assisting you today. Is there anything else I can help you with?

Brian_(Tue Sep 8 14:17:26 PDT 2009)>
I sincerely doubt it.