Oh Comcast…

Have now passed 24 hours of being unable to reach IMAP and SMTP, both via SSL, at my hosting provider (dreamhost), from my home internet connection, Comcast XFinity.

At least the rep from Comcast was honest about not being able to help?

I called their “Comcast Security Assurance” line as Gemma suggested, but the guy I spoke to there didn’t understand the distinction between me trying to use Comcast IMAP service, which I’m not, and trying to reach MY IMAP service from their network. CSA forwarded me to the IMAP service team, 888-517-5296 and help@sv.comcast.com, who passed the buck along to what seems like a general support line, 888-739-1379. I was on hold for twenty minutes at this one, followed by a ten-minute conversation which ended in the customer support rep telling me that Comcast Internet service does not allow/support connections on all services and ports. When I asked which specifically they DID allow, she said she would email me a list, and hung up on me.

CHAT ID: redacted
Problem: Inbound IMAP connectivity to my Internet hosting provider via SSL, port 993, is not available, the connection times out.%0A%0AOutbound SMTP/SSL connectivity to my Internet hosting provider, port 587, is not available, the connection times out
Gemma > Hello FRANK_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Gemma. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Gemma > Glad to have you on chat.
Gemma > I understand that you’re having problem with your email, correct?
FRANK_ > Thanks. I am able to reach my hosting provider IMAP & SMTP SSL ports from other locations outside the comcast network.
FRANK_ > The hosting provider is dreamhost. The symptoms suggest to me that one of Dreamhost or Comcast are blocking connections. I am able to ssh from my comcast internet to my dreamhost domain, fhmiv.net
Gemma > Thank you for that information
Gemma > To set your proper expectations, this is already beyond our scope and you need to contact our Comcast Security Assurance (CSA) on this number: 1-888-565-4329 from 6:00am – 2:00am ET Daily.
Gemma > But before you do that, let me send you a link for the email configurations first.
Gemma > Can I have your contact email pelase
FRANK_ > redacted@fhmiv.net
Gemma > Thank you.
Gemma > Mail has been submitted.
Gemma > Just follow the configuration settings on the link I sent to you.
Gemma > If it won’t work, please contact the number I posted.
Gemma > Thank you.
FRANK_ > Will do, thank you for your assistance.

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Fix for missing Thunderbolt display audio

A while back my MBP (any MBP, actually – I tried 3) stopped showing Display Audio as an option for audio output in System Preferences, when plugged in to my Thunderbolt display.

Finally stumbled across the solution this morning in Apple Discussions, and it involves resetting the SMC:

  1. Shut Down your laptop
  2. Unplug Display(both power and thunderbolt connection) for 15 sec or so
  3. Press & Release Shift+Control+Option+Power
  4. Wait for 15 sec or so
  5. Plug back display and power
  6. Power
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Big Family Camping Tents

Big, inexpensive tents tend to be difficult to set up, take up a lot of space in the campground, and on top of it, they leak. We’ve had a Kelty Green River 6 family camping tent for several years now and have used it half a dozen times. It’s large enough to hold two queen-sized air mattresses, but every time we’ve had more than a sprinkling of rain, we’ve found it to leak like a sieve. We’ve also managed to rip two of the pole sleeves during set-up, despite being careful feeding the poles through.

Contrast that with our 2.5 person Sierra Designs mountaineering tent, purchased in 1992, repaired from squirrel damage half a decade later, and still bomb-proof through all sorts of nasty weather. I can also set it up myself in 5 minutes in the dark.

I want a family camping tent that has it all: enough floor space and headroom that our five-person family can sit in a circle and play board games in nasty weather; relatively easy to set up, take down, and pack; doesn’t leak; and has good ventilation. I spent several hours scouring reviews on a number of sites, including various online retailers and outdoor magazines. The customer reviews on REI.com were more useful to me than any of the ones published in outdoor magazines, which tended to be regurgitations of the same specs I could read for myself.

I briefly pushed for us to use our existing small tent and add a four person tent, as there’s a lot more variety on the market in that size, but Andrea really wanted a tent big enough for all of us to shelter in during weather, so I shelved that idea and concentrated on 5 and 6 person family camping tents. Limiting myself to aluminum poles with a crossing pole design, full-coverage rainfly, adequate ventilation, and some amount of privacy so no full-mesh bodies, immediately narrowed the field considerably. In the end I decided to compare the Marmot Limestone 6 and the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6.

When I visited an REI store on 3 July, they had temporarily stopped carrying the Flying Diamond, so I was only able to set up the Limestone in the store. It set up pretty easily, but had a very full stuff sack when I took it down and re-packed it. I decided to go out on a limb and try the Flying Diamond, so I ordered it directly from Big Agnes. It arrived a few days later, in the middle of 3 solid weeks of rain.

The bag is very nicely organized, with separate pockets for the poles, the rainfly, and the tent body. I also got the footprint, which has its own stuff sack, which easily fits in roomy rainfly pocket. We first moved all the furniture out of our living room and had just enough room to set the tent up inside. It’s easy to set up and take down, and is mostly free-standing; the small back area requires a couple of stakes on the corners, since the poles don’t go all the way to the edge on that side. The kids were excited about it, and wanted us to leave it up in the living room so they could camp inside. A good sign!

A few weeks later, it was finally time for our camping trip with another family to Keowee Toxaway State Park, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. The forecast called for rain, so we knew there’d be a good chance of getting a proper test for our new tent. It was sprinkling a little bit when we arrived in the early evening, so we quickly set up camp to the sound track of distant thunder. I put in a couple of guy lines on the back section, but otherwise just relied on the perimeter stakes and poles.

The kids went to bed at dusk, and we followed not long after, still waiting for the rain we knew was coming. I dozed fitfully until the storm hit at around 11:30 PM. Strong winds and heavy rain and the Flying Diamond held up well, with no obvious leaks or body deformation. Everyone else seemed to be asleep, so I didn’t want to wake them up by obsessively examining the floor seams and corners for small leaks. I again dozed fitfully until the storm died down around 1:30 A.M.

The next morning, I got up and carefully checked everything for leaks. The vestibule and main tent body were both dry, though it was raining hard enough that there had been some sandy splash on the tent body. There was a bit of leakage in the rear section where the girls were sleeping, but I could see it was due to a suboptimal staking and guying job on my part. I loosened the fly all around, adjusted it slightly towards the rear of the tent, guyed the rear section out more carefully for full coverage, and then tightened the rest of the fly from back to front.

It held up extremely well the rest of the weekend. The whole family really likes the Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 and we expect to be using it until the kids have grown up and left home.

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Skype and Microsoft; match made in heaven

I always knew the MS acquisition of Skype would do great things for both of them. Check out this lovely user experience!
Downloading Skype update
Oops! We fed you the wrong version of the Skype update!
Pressing Update just takes me to the Skype home page so I’d have to navigate to find the download.

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Apps can be gorgeous? Really?

Before the era of Steve Jobs keynotes, did anyone ever use the terms ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’ to describe software or a user interface? This usage is now ubiquitous when people write or talk about apps.

This struck me as I sipped my coffee, surveyed the app store and searched the web, looking for the best examples and implementations of open, or at least portable, data. I saved a bunch of bookmarks in Safari iPad to Read Later, and now Safari crashes every time I try to view my bookmarks! Just goes to show, your UI may be gorgeous, but it’s your personality that counts.

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