Comcast and the state of television providers

Two days ago I received a letter in the mail from Comcast stating that they were changing the plan that I was on. Currently I had the “Total Premium” plan, which basically meant I receive every single channel along with all the premium channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc.) For what ever reason Comcast has decided to remove Cinemax from that plan, claiming that it only shows the same stuff as HBO does. They then stated that they were replacing it with “Hitz” which is an On-demand movie service.

So they are removing 5 Cinemax channels from my bill, and replacing it with an On-Demand service, that I can’t use. See last month they decided to drop the “aging server” that was used by TiVo to provide On-Demand service to TiVo customers who only rent cable cards from Comcast. Wow I thought, not only am I losing 5 Cinemax channels, I am also not going to see a decrease in my bill, and I won’t be able to use the new On-Demand service because they removed that as well.

Now I was pretty pissed, and started thinking about dropping Comcast and going with something else for TV. My first thought was Dish Network. That stopped pretty quickly when I found out that Dish Network doesn’t have HBO on it (nor Cinemax), as they appear to be in a fight with AT&T (HBO’s new owner).

I then thought about just cutting the TV side and doing a streaming only. I started looking at PlayStation Vue, which had HBO and Showtime and what I thought was every channel I wanted, in addition it was the only one with a DVR service. So I signed up for a free trail. Once I started playing with it, I then noticed that they don’t have any Viacom channels (Comedy Central, MTV, etc). Which was bad, as I love Comedy Central, which meant I would have to go buy a separate subscription for something to just get that channel. Well that thoughts didn’t last long.

As I started flipping around Vue, I found that the picture quality just wasn’t up to my standards. While it was watchable, it was definitely noticeable that it was a streaming vs a linear channel. While watching “The Neighborhood” on CBS whenever there was a darker scene, the compression stood out. This was really bad on my 4K TV, which made it look like a really over compressed station. I often complain about how Comcast keeps compressing stuff down and making pictures pixelate, but this was so much worse.

It also had no difference between running Vue on the AppleTV 4K or the Playstation 4 Pro. I also tried it on a Roku 4k on a different lower end TV that only supports 1080 and lower. It was still very noticeable with the picture being washed out and not as crisp as a linear channel. So I canceled the free trial not even 24 hours later.

Tonight I thought about looking at DirectTV, but then got in to the 2year deal vs final price issues. I have been a Comcast customer for over 16 years, and the price has keep going up and up and up. In fact in the 16 years, my bill has went from $100 a month to $249 with no change in any service, other than Comcast removing channels and occasionally increasing Internet speeds. So looking at switching to another provider and then doing the whole 2 year agreement thing sucks. Especially when usually on the start of year 3 your bill doubles.

Then I thought about maybe downsizing my Comcast TV package to just the basics and signing up for just HBO Go and Showtime Now, well, Comcast fucks you over there too. For one you can’t see what is available in your area until you log in. If you try to do it as not logged in it will tell you that there is service already at your address or give you the option for “new” account as you were moving there. So I logged in and I shit you not, it only gave me 2 options, and both of them was to add their Phone to make a “Triple Play” but I don’t want their phone. So I unchecked the phone option and there was NO way to downsize your plan through their site. By now I am frustrated to hell.

I then decided to complain to Comcast about the issue on Twitter, and as usual they just regurgitate the same thing that was in the letter about how the “Hitz” was going to be so much better. When I told them that I wouldn’t be able to use it because I don’t have their X1 crap box. Their response was: I understand where you are coming from. We made the decision to remove the Xfinity On Demand app from TiVo devices because the platform uses outdated technology that can no longer be updated and is therefore susceptible to security breaches. The decision to remove the feature was made in close consultation with TiVo. In order to continue watching this content, you will need an Xfinity TV Box or a device that can access the Xfinity Stream App (Roku, certain Smart TVs, smartphone, tablet or computer). I will forward your feedback.

That sort of pissed me off, in that it there is no way for me to get a lower bill, and the only way to even use the new service was to increase my bill. (Ironically their Roku app is only free while in beta, they will start charging for every Roku you have the app on once it goes out of beta and they will treat them just like cable boxes, which is pure shit.) In addition I am not one who stream movies on a smartphone, tablet or computer. So it is just the latest FU from Comcast this year.

This just makes me miss the days of Over the air TV (yes I realize it is still out there, but where I live, I can’t receive anything from Over the Air except for 1 local PBS station) and being able to pick what I want to buy and not having all these different vendors pissing on each other over carry rights for the channels.

I also understand now why people cut their cable subscription and go pirate the TV shows off of the Internet. Then there is all the different streaming services, and if you go subscribe to the individual ones, you would end up paying even more. And don’t even get me started on NetFlix and their fucked up pricing scheme….

Workstation, Netlogon, DFS Namespace won’t start?

So while trying to disable SMB version 1 on my windows machines, I thought what better way than to do it through the registry GPO settings, all machines in one fell swoop. After creating the appropriate registry keys for the machines I thought everything was good. That was until I rebooted. All of the sudden the Workstation service, Netlogon service and DFS Namespace (on my AD Server) failed to start. Nothing I did would start them.

They always gave an error about not being able to start because the group failed to start. I debugged this for days, and finally thought that it was just the one AD box had become corrupted. So I seized all the roles by my other server and then built a new AD and added it to the forest. Well as soon as I rebooted the new FSMO master, it started having the problems the first one did.

By now I was mad. So what was the issue, well, when I created the Registry keys and pushed them I mistakenly set mrxsmb to disabled, instead of mrxsmb10. So on the machine that was broke, I pulled up regedit and set mrxsmb to be enabled and mrxsmb10 to be disabled. I then removed the entries out of the GPO registry entry and then rebooted the machine. This time it booted and Workstation, Netlogon and DFS Namespace all started.

This is the link to use to learn how to disable SMB v1: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2696547/detect-enable-disable-smbv1-smbv2-smbv3-in-windows-and-windows-server

CentOS 7 + PostgreSQL 10 + Patroni

Lately I have been doing a lot of learning about PostgreSQL and how it can be used to replace other databases, such as Oracle RDBMS, MySQL, etc. One of the things that I have been looking to most recently is how to make PostgreSQL highly available. In Oracle you would use RAC, however in PostgreSQL you have streaming replication, but that only leaves for a single master server and technically an unlimited number of slaves. In reality most web based applications these days are 90% read and about 10% write so having tons of slaves for read-only queries is awesome, but what if your master goes down?

That is where Patroni comes in. Patroni is a framework that handles the auto failover of the master instance of PostgreSQL between multiple servers. However Patroni alone won’t do this for you, you will need some other software as well. The other two pieces of software that I used was etcd and haproxy. etcd will be the quorum system and haproxy will be the “load balancer” so that your applications only have to have one hostname to point to.

As a small example setup, I used 3 machines running PostgreSQL 10, 1 machine running etcd and one machine running haproxy. What the rest of this post will be about is setting up the different machines and software on them.

 

How to setup Centos 7 + PostgreSQL 10 + Patroni

All Machines Software Installs:

The first thing to do is install CentOS 7, fully patch it and record the IP address of each machine if they are on DHCP. I used the minimal install so there wasn’t a lot of extra software on the machines.

 

PostgreSQL 10 Servers:

For all the PostgreSQL servers the following packages will need to be installed: gcc, python-devel, epel-release

yum install -y gcc python-devel epel-release

After you have those installed (in particular the epel-release one) you can install the following : python2-pip

yum install -y python2-pip

Next you need to add the PostgreSQL Yum Repo from: https://download.postgresql.org/pub/repos/yum/10/redhat/rhel-7-x86_64/pgdg-centos10-10-2.noarch.rpm

yum install -y https://download.postgresql.org/pub/repos/yum/10/redhat/rhel-7-x86_64/pgdg-centos10-10-2.noarch.rpm

Once you have that RPM installed you can install the following packages: postgresql10-server postgresql10

yum install -y postgresql10-server postgrseql10

 

etcd server:

The following packages needs to be installed on the etcd server: gcc,python-devel, epel-release

yum install -y gcc python-devel epel-release

After epel is installed, you can then install etcd:

yum install -y etcd 

 

haproxy server:

The following packages are needed on the haproxy server: epel-release and then haproxy.

yum install -y epel-release
yum install -y haproxy

 

Software Configuration

Postgresql Servers

Now that the software has been installed, it is time to configure the components.  (Everything here is ran as root)

We will start with the PostgreSQL Servers, mine are named pg01 (10.0.2.124), pg02 (10.0.2.125), and pg03(10.0.2.126) respectively.  The following needs to be done on each of the 3 servers:

First some pip items:

pip install --upgrade setuptools
pip install patroni
pip install python-etcd
pip install psycopg2-binary

Next we are going to create a systemd service for patroni. So edit the file /etc/systemd/system/patroni.service to contain the following:


[Unit]
Description=Runners to orchestrate a high-availability PostgreSQL
After=syslog.target network.target

[Service]
Type=simple

User=postgres
Group=postgres

ExecStart=/bin/patroni /etc/patroni.yml

KillMode=process

TimeoutSec=30

Restart=no

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.targ

Next create a /etc/patroni.yml file. This file will control the startup/shutdown, etc of the postgres instance. Here is an example of mine from my pg01 server. In it, you will need to replace IP addresses for your own servers and usernames and passwords.

 

scope: postgres
name: pg01

restapi:
    listen: 10.0.2.124:8008
    connect_address: 10.0.2.124:8008

etcd:
    host: 10.0.2.128:2379

bootstrap:
    dcs:
        ttl: 30
        loop_wait: 10
        retry_timeout: 10
        maximum_lag_on_failover: 1048576
        postgresql:
            use_pg_rewind: true

    initdb:
    - encoding: UTF8
    - data-checksums

    pg_hba:
    - host replication replicator 127.0.0.1/32 md5
    - host replication replicator 10.0.2.124/0 md5
    - host replication replicator 10.0.2.125/0 md5
    - host replication replicator 10.0.2.126/0 md5
    - host all all 0.0.0.0/0 md5

    users:
        admin:
            password: admin
            options:
                - createrole
                - createdb

postgresql:
    listen: 10.0.2.124:5432
    bin_dir: /usr/pgsql-10/bin
    connect_address: 10.0.2.124:5432
    data_dir: /data/patroni
    pgpass: /tmp/pgpass
    authentication:
        replication:
            username: replicator
            password: PASSWORD
        superuser:
            username: postgres
            password: PASSWORD
    parameters:
        unix_socket_directories: '.'

tags:
    nofailover: false
    noloadbalance: false
    clonefrom: false
    nosync: false

etcd server

Now lets move on to the etcd server. The only thing on the etcd server that needs edited is the /etc/etcd/etcd.conf file. Here is what I changed in mine:

ETCD_LISTEN_PEER_URLS="http://10.0.2.128:2380"
ETCD_LISTEN_CLIENT_URLS="http://localhost:2379,http://10.0.2.128:2379"
ETCD_NAME="etcd0"
ETCD_INITIAL_ADVERTISE_PEER_URLS="http://10.0.2.128:2380"
ETCD_ADVERTISE_CLIENT_URLS="http://10.0.2.128:2379"
ETCD_INITIAL_CLUSTER="etcd0=http://10.0.2.128:2380"
ETCD_INITIAL_CLUSTER_TOKEN="cluster1"
ETCD_INITIAL_CLUSTER_STATE="new"

Some of the above lines may be commented out, if so uncomment them and replace the values.

HAProxy Server

Now to config the HAProxy Server. Replace the /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg with the following:

 

global
        maxconn 100
        log     127.0.0.1 local2

defaults
        log global
        mode tcp
        retries 2
        timeout client 30m
        timeout connect 4s
        timeout server 30m
        timeout check 5s

listen stats
        mode http
        bind *:7000
        stats enable
        stats uri /

listen postgres
        bind *:5000
        option httpchk
        http-check expect status 200
        default-server inter 3s fall 3 rise 2 on-marked-down shutdown-sessions
        server postgresql_pg01_5432 10.0.2.124:5432 maxconn 100 check port 8008
        server postgresql_pg02_5432 10.0.2.125:5432 maxconn 100 check port 8008
        server postgresql_pg03_5432 10.0.2.126:5432 maxconn 100 check port 8008

 

N.B. The logging setup in the haproxy config requires that you set up rsyslog to allow logging to local files and to local2.*

 

Starting it all up

So assuming that I haven’t missed anything above, and there are no typo’s on my or your part, we can start starting things up. But first some notes. Something in SElinux breaks some of this and I haven’t had enough time to look in to it, so disable SElinux for now (setenforce 0). In addition I did not add any ports to the firewalld, as this was just a test setup, so I disabled the firewall on all 5 machines. You can leave it enabled and then using the configs above add the appropriate ports to be allowed between the appropriate machines.

So easy starts first:

Start the etcd server:

systemctl start etcd

Start the haproxy server:

systemctl start haproxy

Now for the PostgreSQL servers there are a few things to do before we start them. On each PostgreSQL host do the following:

mkdir -p /data/patroni
chown -R postgres:postgres /data
chmod -R 700 /data

Now we can start Patroni and see if everything works. When you start Patroni, it will start PostgreSQL in the background and create the first database and set the username and password for the postgres user to what you specify in the /etc/patroni.yml file.

systemctl start patroni

On the first host that you start Patroni on if you run systemctl status patroni you should see that it is running and active. In the /var/log/messages you should see something like :

Sep 2 19:53:08 pg01 patroni: 2018-09-02 19:53:08,628 INFO: Lock owner: pg01; I am pg01
Sep 2 19:53:08 pg01 patroni: 2018-09-02 19:53:08,636 INFO: no action. i am the leader with the lock

When you start the two slaves you should see something similar to this in the /var/log/messages:

Sep 2 19:54:17 pg02 patroni: 2018-09-02 19:54:17,828 INFO: Lock owner: pg01; I am pg02
Sep 2 19:54:17 pg02 patroni: 2018-09-02 19:54:17,829 INFO: does not have lock
Sep 2 19:54:17 pg02 patroni: 2018-09-02 19:54:17,836 INFO: no action. i am a secondary and i am following a leader

Now if you switch to the web interface of HAProxy you should see something like this:

haproxy web interface

What this image shows is that the pg01 server is the active master server. If you were to shut down pg01, then one of the other two will become the new master and remain the master until you either promote another server or the new master goes down.

 

Now that everything is running, you would point your clients to the haproxy address on port 5000.

Closing Comments

While this describes how to setup an HA Environment for PostgreSQL, there are 2 single points of failure with this example setup. One is the etcd server, which should be clustered, the other is the haproxy which should be clustered as well. In addition I didn’t cover setting up read-only slaves which I may do at some point in the future.

Making in house HD Channels

For the longest time I have been looking for a modulator that would do HD signals. I have used the standard def modulators for probably a good 25+ years and always loved making my own “cable system” in the house with various channels for different things. However with the advent of HD TV, the SD modulators were just not going to cut it for a good HD picture.

In recent years I have had a security DVR that was outputting to a SD modulator that could be viewed on any TV in the house. While it was “ok”, I always wanted the HD version of it. So one night while I was thinking of running HDMI cables from the security dvr to every TV in the house, I stumbled on VeCOAX HD Modulators from Pro Video Instruments which are $495.

Previously when I had searched for HD modulators for either ATSC or QAM the only ones that were even sort of “cheap” where from a company called ZeeVee. However, they were still a little more expensive than what I was wanting to pay with the cheapest that I saw was like around $1,200USD. So I just put up with the SD modulators until I found the VeCOAX ones.

VeCOAX has a modulator called the MiniMod-2 which will take one HDMI source and put it on any ATSC or CATV QAM channel you would like. It supports any frequency in the normal TV/CATV bands and supports ATSC to mix with OTA channels or QAM to mix with CATV channels. It also supports PSIP so you can add a 4 character label to the channel and make the channel appear as any other channel. For example, I have my modulator on CATV Channel 14, but the PSIP says it is channel 1-1.

Initially I tried to use 1080p output, but all of my TV’s (2 Samsung’s and 1 Sony) had some issues. Either the input to the modulator from the security DVR was not a clean signal or the TV’s tuners just couldn’t handle it. So there was artifacts at the top of the screen and after a few hours or more the channel would just scramble and be un-viewable until I reset the modulator.

What I ended up having to do was set the source to be 720p and then set the modulator to attenuate the signal some since it was also over-powering the tuners in the TV’s. Once I did that, the signal has been stable for a few weeks or more now.

Now the next thing to test is hooking it or another one up to a TiVO to see if it can send the TiVO signal through out the house as well. Then I may also try to do some HAM Amateur TV with it since i can set the frequency to anything.

Hey Comcast thanks for nothing

Recently I found out that Comcast has decided to drop all 1080i content and scale all HD content to 720p. Why on earth would you do this? Only thing I can think of is to compress more channels / internet bandwidth in to the same space that is currently being used.

What makes me mad the most is that even the premium channels, such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, those were all scaled down to 720p. So now the only channels that are “still” in 1080i format is the local CBS and NBC stations.

I believe this happened sometime late last year, as I started noticing some of the channels were not looking at “good” as they used to be, but never looked to see that they were switched from 720p from 1080i. What this means is that Comcast has basically said you don’t need any HD TV above a 720p model as anything else is just going to have to be up-converted.

What is even more funny, is that I started twitting @Comcast on Twitter to ask them, they didn’t know and would only offer help if I gave them my name and phone number. But since they have done it to everyone, it was pointless to keep the conversation going on.  I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, they come out with a new price tear that was for “Full HD”.

Needless to say if I could get the same thing with Dish Network, I would go, but then Comcast being the ass they are would increase my internet by $20 a month because I dropped the cable side.