Month: June 2008

Satellite Broadband: Demo it here!

Nearly 4,000 of our current customers cannot obtain terrestrial DSL service today. Unfortunately, the prospects for many of these locations are not good for wired access due to very, very long wire distances.

For these rural homes, we introduced satellite Internet access at the beginning of this year. Today we have have nearly 200 customers online with broadband access via a small satellite dish. Satellite access is also available for business locations, and works well for multiple users.

Satellite access is cost effective and fast – far, far better than dialup. For locations which are rural, and where wired broadband is not available in any form (DSL or cable), it’s a wonderful solution.

That said, one of the most common requests we’ve heard from potential customers is “show me!”

That’s a very reasonable request, and we’ve now set up a demo station at our office here in Santa Rosa so prospective customers can take satellite broadband access for a test drive!

For web browsing, email with big attachments (photos and such), and streaming video and audio such as YouTube, satellite access is wonderful. It makes using the Internet far more fun and productive.

It is important to understand the limitations of satellite. Satellite access is not as fast as wired access, and it won’t work for some applications such as Voice over IP (VOIP), video conferencing and gaming.

Satellite access also has reasonable download and upload limits, a configuration called the “Fair Access Policy” (FAP). This is designed to keep one user from using up too much capacity on the satellite. The FAP limits are large – but you can’t download movies, for example, without hitting the limits. (That’s what satellite TV and on-demand are for!)

If you’ve been thinking of switching from dialup to satellite, please stop by our office and give it a try! If you’ve been stuck on dialup, you will really enjoy it.

Our lobby is open from 8am to 5pm weekdays, and we’re at 2260 Apollo Way in Santa Rosa (map).

P.S.: Remember, if you’ve got a “modem line”, an extra phone line for your PC modem, you’ll no longer need this with satellite, and this can really help offset the monthly cost of satellite access. No phone line is required!

Perl , $SIG{CHLD} = ‘IGNORE’ , system() and you.

At first blush you probably would not expect the following to print “-1”; as you probably expect “system” to execute and return the return code from “echo”.

print system('echo');

This stumped me too, so I did some research.

From the Perl PIC Documentation:

On most Unix platforms, the CHLD (sometimes also known as CLD) signal has special behavior with respect to a value of ‘IGNORE’. Setting $SIG{CHLD} to ‘IGNORE’ on such a platform has the effect of not creating zombie processes when the parent process fails to wait() on its child processes (i.e. child processes are automatically reaped). Calling wait() with $SIG{CHLD} set to ‘IGNORE’ usually returns -1 on such platforms.

And perldoc -f system:

The return value is the exit status of the program as returned by the wait call. … Return value of -1 indicates a failure to start the program or an error of the wait(2) system call (inspect $! for the reason).

And wait(2):

POSIX.1-2001 specifies that if the disposition of SIGCHLD is set to SIG_IGN or the SA_NOCLDWAIT flag is set for SIGCHLD (see sigaction(2)), then children that terminate do not become zombies and a call to wait() or waitpid() will block until all children have terminated, and then fail with errno set to ECHILD. (The original POSIX standard left the behaviour of setting SIGCHLD to SIG_IGN unspecified.) Linux 2.6 conforms to this specification. However, Linux 2.4 (and earlier) does not: if a wait() or waitpid() call is made while SIGCHLD is being ignored, the call behaves just as though SIGCHLD were not being ignored, that is, the call blocks until the next child terminates and then returns the process ID and status of that child.

So on Linux 2.6 kernels if you auto. reap zombies by setting $SIG{CHLD} to ‘IGNORE’, then you can’t trust the return code from ‘system’ as it will always be ‘-1’.

One solution would be to reap your own zombies with one of the popular zombie reaping code snipets.

sub REAPER { 1 until waitpid(-1 , WNOHANG) == -1 };
print system('echo');

Be careful when using the special Perl variable ‘$?’ because it will have been altered by the call to ‘waitpid’ in your REAPER.

This is because when a child exits a SIG_CHLD is sent to its parent to see this in action try the code below:

{ print "REAPERn"; waitpid(-1 , WNOHANG); }
print "RV: $?n";

Procmail Tips: How to forward your email.

Not that you would ever want to forward your email away from, but maybe you like the idea of archiving and searching your E-Mail at a secondary E-Mail location; to that end the post below details how you should be forwarding your E-Mail in any UNIX environment.

You know that looping your mail is a bad idea; that is forwarding your email to Gmail and then forwarding that back to yourself, ad infinitum, you get the idea. It’s equally a bad idea to forward DSNs or bounce messages to Gmail (or anywhere really); as it causes the same sort of loop and the same kind of aggravation for your System Administrator. The following is a procmail recipe that works for me; just drop this into your .procmailrc in your home directory.


* ^X-Loop:

* ^

| $FORMAIL -A “X-Loop:” | $SENDMAIL -f -oi

In detail:


Sets up some variables.

* ^X-Loop:

Discards the message if it has the “X-Loop” header in it; this stops circular mail loops; for example if you forwarded to and then forwarded that back to

* ^

Places the message in your Inbox and does not forward it on if the “To” header contains our address plus the special string. This stops you from forwarding those nasty bounce messages to the server that just sent you the bounce, thus causing a ping pong affect.

Little known fact: will go to, so you can utilize that little “+anything” to do special filtering like in this script.

| $FORMAIL -A “X-Loop:” | $SENDMAIL -f -oi

Finally this bit adds the above conditions to your message before forwarding it on to your “other” E-Mail provider.

The Governor and the Internet

As reported by CNet today, California’s governor and Attorney General are asking California Internet service providers to help stop the illegal dissemination of child pornography.

The Governor and the Attorney General’s letter was sent to the California ISP Association (CISPA), the largest of a dwindling number of trade groups for Internet service providers. has been a member of CISPA for many years, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful peer group. Until recently, I served as President of CISPA, but I gave up the position recently after serving for a number of years. Please note that I am not writing as an official CISPA response, simply as an involved member.

In the letter (PDF), the Governor asks CISPA members to assume a leadership role in curbing distribution of child pornography.

In fact, for the last decade, all ISPs have been required by law to both report child pornography if it is found, and to remove it promptly if it is reported to us. We have been leaders at the front line of this fight for a long time, alongside and in cooperation with law enforcement..

The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 (Sexual Predators Act) requires that an ISP notify a designated law enforcement agency after learning that a website containing child pornography exists on its server. If the ISP willfully fails to report the website, the ISP can be fined. Generally, ISPs cooperate with law enforcement agencies and, upon notification, remove sites that include child pornography.

You can view the act at the Library of Congress and view the bill itself in PDF form at the Government Printing Office.

I applaud the efforts of law enforcement investigators in the many agencies involved and the staff of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for the work they have done for more than a decade in an effort to eliminate this illegal content from the Internet. (If you encounter illegal content, you can report it at the link above, or by phone to NCMEC at 1-800-843-5678.)

The letter asks CISPA to work with it’s members to “remove child pornography from existing servers and blocking channels, which include newsgroups, used for distributing this material.”

ISPs have a responsibility to remove bad content when it is found, and we will of course continue to do that. It’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do.

Regarding “blocking channels, which include newsgroups”, I think that there is some confusion and misinformation.

Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner Cable have all agreed to eliminate some or all Usenet newsgroups. The Usenet (Wikipedia) is a collection of discussion groups, about 100,000 in all. Millions of postings are made daily, in groups as diverse as soc.politics to rec.bicycling to sci.math. Also included are groups such as alt.adoption, alt.atheism, alt.gothic, and

The root of the problem is that Verizon, Sprint and Time Warner Cable did NOT comply with the law. From the NY Times:

The agreements resulted from an eight-month investigation and sting operation in which undercover agents from Mr. Cuomo’s office, posing as subscribers, complained to Internet providers that they were allowing child pornography to proliferate online, despite customer service agreements that discouraged such activity. Verizon, for example, warns its users that they risk losing their service if they transmit or disseminate sexually exploitative images of children.

After the companies ignored the investigators’ complaints, the attorney general’s office surfaced, threatening charges of fraud and deceptive business practices. The companies agreed to cooperate and began weeks of negotiations.

These service providers failed to respond as the law requires to reports of illegal content which was posted, reportedly in one of 88 Usenet newsgroups which law enforcement found illegal content in.

Now, as a result of their failure to adhere to the law, they have settled with NY’s attorney general by agreeing to drop some or all of the Usenet. In Sprint’s case, they’re dropping the more than 18,000 alt.* groups (the largest section in volume by far), along with many other sections of the Usenet. Time Warner is just going to drop the Usenet entirely – all 100,000 groups.

There’s a bit of a sub-plot here. Offering Usenet access is something that every ISP used to include with the service, but more and more have moved away from it as the web has become a more dominant use for Internet access. “The Usenet” isn’t a site, it’s a service, provided by ISPs, and it costs ISPs a lot of money to keep it running. And, they can shut it down for their users. It has been reported that just a small minority of typical ISP end-users know about Usenet or participate in the groups, so no one will notice, right?

Sprint, Verizon and Time Warner are playing Br’er Rabbit here. Br’er is a classic trickster, saying “Oh, no, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!” in order to escape his foes. In this case, these provider’s briar patch is simply an escape from the costs and overhead of offering Usenet discussion groups, plus reduction in fines applicable due to their failure to act as the law requires. As a bonus, they also get some great press for slaying this paper tiger!

And as for Sprint and Verizon, who will still continue to carry some groups – the bad guys will simply start posting illegal content to a different newsgroup. I can’t imagine that “on topic” posting and obedience to a newsgroup’s charter is these people’s top priority. Do common thugs comply with our wishes for how they’d behave? Instead, they’ll tuck it away in obscure places like rec.crafts.rubberstamps. (If your ISP still provides Usenet, click for news://rec.crafts.rubberstamps/ or instead, use the Google Groups gateway)

I certainly welcome further input on this issue from the Governor’s office and the Attorney General. We are all trying to accomplish the same thing.

That said, I don’t think eliminating 88, or 18,000, or 100,000 Usenet discussion groups is going to be productive in addressing the real issue. The problem will just move to another part of the Usenet, or another part of the Internet.

The real answer is continued close and rapid collaboration between law enforcement and Internet service providers in order to track down the producers and consumers of this illegal material.

My best idea ever – can you help me find an implementation?

We probably agree that Email is THE killer application on the Internet. It’s simple and humble, but it’s critical to everything businesses and individuals do today.

And, we know that everyone suffers from information and task management overload.

My idea: When I send email, I want to set an “expectation” for a response, for my own reference and my own follow up. It might be “no response expected”, or “two days”, or “today”. Maybe it’s a slider I drag before I hit send. If I don’t drag it, the default is ‘nothing expected’.

If I don’t get a response within my set expected interval, I want my sent message to reappear in my inbox so that I can “reply” to the person I sent to and say “bump” or “how about this?” – or pick up the phone. (No, software should NOT annoy the recipient!)

The goal is to delegate and forget, never needing to keep in my head all of the things I’ve sent out as tasks and items requiring response.

This sort of follows the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy of committing everything to a system you trust, then forgetting about it and getting on with life.

I don’t want to bug the recipient, this is just a sender client side concept. The tool would look for a reply (Subject: Re: blah) to satisfy the expectation.

So my thought is that this is THE missing feature of email, and that someone must have written a Thunderbird extension. But, no luck finding one.

Which brings me to my request of you: Ask your social network (the techie ones, anyway) if they’re aware of a tool for Thunderbird that reminds you to follow up on emails which have not been responded to?

Okay, I hope this isn’t REALLY my best idea ever, but it’s a decent one, and I hope you can help me find an implementation.

Please reply with comments if you find this feature, or have any suggestions or feedback.

Yelpers rate five out of five

Click to visitWe got a nice letter in the mail from Yelp today (and a window decal), telling us we’ve got 16 Yelp reviews and a five out of five star rating!

Everyone on our team here works really hard to deliver unique and amazing service to our customers, so it’s very gratifying to hear the kind words. Here are a few excerpts – click the Yelp logo to read more.

“THE best in the whole universe! Ok, so I may be getting a little too enthusiastic about, but I’ve been abused by so many other, nasty companies like AOL and Earthlink…you understand, don’t you? …” Kristina R., San Francisco, CA

“If you’re a broadband user living in the Bay Area you should sign up with automatically. I’ve been with them for over 2 yrs. and they’re great. …” Rick K., San Jose, CA

“I can’t say enough good things about EVERY time I call I speak with a LIVE person almost immediately. EVERY time I call they fix my problem quickly. Their customer service people are patient, polite, and knowledgeable – they’ve even helped me troubleshoot problems that didn’t end up having anything to do with them. …” Loring S., Pacifica, CA

“If you are looking for a good ISP, I HIGHLY recommend Sonic. No humour in this review because I am so dead serious when I say Sonic is the best ISP around. They know their stuff and are good peeps. …” Cathy N., San Jose, CA

Thanks Yelpers!

-Dane and AT&T at AT&T Park

Our counterparts at AT&T invited us out for a battle of the bay game – Giants vs. the A’s this last Saturday. Free beer and hot dogs, so we certainly can’t complain! (Thanks too Dave for the veggie burger. -Dane)

As it was the day before father’s day, some staff brought their dads, and one staff dad brought his son. You can see a few pics at

Thanks AT&T for the hospitality.

Firefox release 3

I’ve been using Firefox for a long time, and have found it to be the most capable, extensible and secure browser of all of the options available. Do yourself a favor and switch or upgrade today, it’s free, no strings attached.

Their newest version includes some great features such as malware and phishing protection. They’ve also made some improvements to their already great tabbed browsing interface that should make it even easier to manage many open pages.

You can download it here:

Firefox 3

What are we doing?

Recently the Press Democrat published an article on Twitter, the popular micro-blogging web site, which mentions businesses leveraging the communication technology to stay in touch with their customers.

For the last six months has been using the Twitter account “@sonicnet” to interact with customers; notifying them of changes to our systems, letting them know about new features as we roll them out, as well as interacting directly with customers to help them solve problems; we even gave away tickets to a special showing of “Indiana Jones”.

Our goal with using Twitter is two fold: use it as an additional method for keeping customers in the loop (we already send E-Mails, post to Usenet and update web sites); we also like using the ‘track’ feature of Twitter to keep tabs on what people are saying about and being able to respond in real time.

The real advantage to all this is that we as a company are able to participate in conversations that before would have gone unnoticed and we think there is real power in that. We expect more businesses to start using Twitter to this end and we are proud to be on the leading edge of this growing trend.

P.S., we also have the @sonicnet_status account if you just interested in the “meat” of what’s going on at