CautionaryTale, Acer 3680 computer. Good service, not so good reliability.

About a year ago (November 2006) I picked up a laptop for Mich from MicroCenter. The guy I usually deal with has always been trustworthy in the past so I worked with him to pick up this new machine.

I didn’t want to spend a *lot* of money on this laptop, according to Michelle her existing (200 MHz) laptop was fine. But I knew that the browsing experience on that old machine was glacial and unsatisfying. So we compromised and went for one of those “back-to-school” type of machines.

We settled on an Acer 3680 for which I also shelled out for an additional Gigabyte of memory to ensure that it would be as fast as a lower end machine could be. Al, the MicroCenter guy, practically begged me to not buy this machine. He told me the warranty was such that you needed to send it to Acer yourself if you have problems so if I *was* going to buy this box, I should at least get the extended warranty so that MicroCenter would deal with problems and the manufacturer on my behalf.

The machine was a night-and-day improvement for Michelle’s experience, nicer screen much more responsive, the new battery actually worked (the old machine was a sell-off from my old company and I got it with a pretty much dead battery… but the price was right and it was never intended to be mobile.).

Heh, it seems I should have listened to Al. The Machine’s motherboard failed sometime in late April 2007 and they were good enough to do some basic troubleshooting over the phone and quickly agree that we should ship it to them and they would replace it.

We sent off the machine in late May (hey, life happens) and they were true to their word. A few weeks later the repaired machine arrived and we were right as rain again.

Man, a couple of months ago – after one of those 2nd Tuesday M$ updates, the machine rebooted but did not come back up. Complaining about a missing hard drive – never a good sign. Using the old 1 inch drop rule the machine corrected itself but I knew this was going to grow into an issue soon. Sure enough a couple of weeks later the machine failed again. Opening and reseating the hard drive worked until the next reboot at which point NOTHING I did helped.

So the machine is winging its way back to Acer in Texas again. I’ll credit them with pretty good customer service as far as addressing these failures, but I am concerned about modestly-used hardware having so many failures. I’m more concerned about what to expect once the warranty period ends (oh.. next week).

I just wanted to toss out this cautionary missive. I cannot speak for anybody else, but I’ve personally owned 3 laptops and probably 6 or 7 desktop computers not to mention the ones that have been in my care for work and I seldom have failures. Prior to this I’ve had a video card fail on a Dell machine near the end of it’s life as my primary machine (for which their dismal customer service on a $25 part cost them my business for my next machine) and a couple of power supplies on an NEC box for which their repair and replacement service was outstanding.

But I’m not used to defective products. I own two Honda cars. A 1995 Civic and a 1997 Odyssey. I do basic routine maintenance on them, major services and such. I also make sure that their braking systems and tires are kept in top-notch condition – rule 1 for cars: always be able to stop – but for both of these vehicles the worst thing that’s happened is that one of my Odyssey electric windows (rear left passenger side) needed to be repaired. This is a level of quality that I’ve come to expect from every corner of my life and I am significantly disappointed if products do not clear that bar.

I do not repatronize merchants that do not live up to their claims or my expectations. I vote with my dollars. I am willing to pay a little more up front for less hassle down the line. And I will evangelize anybody who I feel has done right by me.

**Update** I wrote the above before sending the Acer off to Texas for repair. I just wanted to report that the machine was returned in working order (albeit with all the data and programs missing from the hard drive). So so far so good. Hopefully, if we treat the machine with especial kindness it may last through my hoped-for lifespan of 3 years…

Charleston, South Carolina

We’re here in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina eating breakfast at “Joseph’s”. The food portions are generous and the atmosphere convivial. There is a live band playing sax, clarinet and guitar about 15 feet from us.

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Here is a link to the growing album. I’m trying to blog more or less real-time.

We had a bit of a SNAFU when we arrived last night, they assigned us to a room that had plenty of space, but few amenities:

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There were a couple of other hiccoughs but I used the “comments” section on their internal website and the manager called us this morning to apologize and is moving us to a new room. I’ll let you know if things are great now.

Overzealous Marketing is a Turn Off

PICT3615.JPGPictured at left is a picture of the SIX (count ’em – six!) solicitations to purchase Christmas greeting cards from AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation that I’ve received in the past couple of months. I like the ASF and, in fact, did purchase some (darned expensive!) cards last year from them. They do good work to promote education and safety for general aviation pilots. But their marketing group has run amuck! One solicitation is sufficient to remind me or at least entice me to purchase their wares. That’s all I need. Two – maybe one last month and another this month – I would find somewhat wasteful and in bad form. But this is just silly. They are ALL addressed to the same name and address (AOPA only has the single identification for me) so it’s not like an accidental duplication has occurred. While I was considering ordering the cards again (this week is when I order such things) I’m feeling peevish and may spitefully go elsewhere for my holiday cards.

On top of this I find it insulting that last month I began receiving reminders for my annual membership which will be due at the end of FEBRUARY 2008 (that’s 5 months advance soliciting if you’re counting).

Lest I single out only AOPA, last year NRA started pestering me for my next renewal – get this – one month after I had just renewed.

I no longer subscribe to any physical magazines beyond those included in my various association memberships, but my wife does. And the common practice there is to no longer include expiry information on the address label and to start pestering you well in advance of the actual renewal time while providing you with absolutely no reference as to the actual expiry date. I find this practice distasteful and this was a strong motivator when it came time for me to consider whether or not to renew my own subscriptions. Michelle definitely likes the tangible reality of a physical magazine and so insists on continuing to receive these relics. This is the ONLY reason that I continue to patronize them.

I presume that these aggressive marketing tactics (FUD) work, but I prefer to be a client to be wooed rather than an adversary to be conquered in my relationship with organizations.

Send me ONE notice ONE month before my membership / subscription is about to expire. Give me all the information I need on that reminder – The date of expiry of the current membership or subscription and the date I should renew by in order to prevent a gap in service. Send me ONE reminder after my membership or subscription has lapsed in case something was lost in the mail or in my filing system. After that please go away. You will only incite my ire by sending me solicitation after solicitation. I’ve made up my mind and your pestering will not change it.

Also, don’t screw me over on the price – my loyalty should not be an excuse for you to take advantage of me. One of Mich’s magazine subscriptions (Oh hell, it’s “Yoga Journal”) offered me a renewal rate of only $19 for 8 issues (one year). However heading over to their web site and signing up anew nets me 10 issues plus 2 “gifts” (pdfs that I’d picked up the last time I renewed) for $16. How am I supposed to trust them after that? It’s only a couple of bucks but nobody likes to be taken. I think these industries need to learn what “Starbucks” and many others are learning. It’s all about the customer experience. Your customer needs to feels like they’re being taken care of (and at $5 for a cup of coffee that better be *some* experience). It is no longer merely about the product, rather the experience surrounding its acquisition is now on par with value of the item itself.

Electric Guitars and Lunch do NOT mix

I don’t really understand what it is with restaurants lately. Maybe they are trying to stand out from the crowd, maybe the manager is away and whoever’s left is trying to assert themselves, I can’t really say. But I eat my lunch at pretty modest to upper-modest restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of music with guitar in it. I’m a closet Prince fan, I like Pink Floyd and my exercise playlist has some very lively music in it. But when I’m out at lunch at a restaurant like Applebee’s I just don’t think that the music should be noticeable to me.

My definition of “Noise” is sound that stands out from the environment. That can be anything from the person who doesn’t understand how to use their cell phone (hint, let the phone pick up your voice and transmit it, you don’t have to get it to the listener all by yourself) to the kid crying from boredom next to me at a $40 a meal restaurant. It’s just not part of the expected ambiance.

When I go out for lunch I usually want to talk to the person I’m with and maybe I want to wiggle my toes to the beat of some pleasant music. What I DON’T want to do is have to wait for breaks in between guitar solos to try to ask how my companion(s) like their meal.

Let’s save the hard core stuff for uber-trendy restaurants that cater to the 20 somethings or the Emo crowd. If I want to stare at my companions with no hope of conversing, I’ll go to a club in Buckhead fully anticipating and expecting that this will be the environment that I will enjoy.

But, and I think I speak for most folks in my demographic (30-50’s, middle class, 9-5 job) that, if I never hear another guitar solo at lunch, it will be far too soon. 😉

Renovations – Overall update 2

Continuing with the renovations pictures.

We also added 5 new can lights to the living room along with 3 accent lights

In process:

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And when the job was done:

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And we added a couple of can lights to the kitchen to fill in some dim spots from our initial foray into can lighting there. I had them sectioned off so we can control those over the computer desk, the island and the sink separately.

In process:

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Done:

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and if you recall the square hole that’s been in the ceiling over the sink for the past year, that’s gone now!

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And here are Wayne and his assistant from Precision Electric Co. who did the lighting as well as the wiring for the master bathroom and for the tankless water heater area.

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Here is the new bathtub roughed in:

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and the commode area:

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Note the extra support that’s being incorporated for safety rails on the back wall.

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And a few days later

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and progressing, these pictures were taken at the end of each day. You have no idea of the amount of thought and planning that went in to placing the soap dishes such that the pattern lined up properly with them:

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Here are some gratuitous pictures of the medicine cabinets as they are roughed in:

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And a shot of the “before” version of our master bedroom window:

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Finally, here are some shots of the laundry room progress. If you’ll recall we removed the hot water tank from there so we could then remove the little separating wall that hid it.

It cost me $1,530 to route the plumbing from the nearby aquarium up through the attic and into the laundry room to replace the plastic pipes that used to lead from the old water tank.

Here is with the sheetrock gone and the plumbing roughed in.

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Now the sheetrock has been put in place ready for painting.

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Mostly done, just need to replace the floor and do a final paint job. It’s not obvious in this picture but the utility sink we added is positioned between the washer and the dryer. Mostly so you wouldn’t be able to see it from the dining area / kitchen.

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Tommy won’t be doing any work tomorrow so I’ll be posting the work from the past two days tomorrow or Saturday and then I’ll just post the progress as we go forward.

Our replacement windows are supposed to arrive on Monday. I expect that will be fairly exciting, we’re really looking forward to the much wider master bedroom window. It’s one of the very few South facing windows in our home

I should point out that we’re *very* happy with the work so far. It’s certainly not cheap, but both Tommy and Larry are thoughtful, careful craftsmen who know their trade(s). They clean up after themselves each day which Michelle especially appreciates, and they work with a professionalism that is pretty hard to find nowadays.

Another great thing is that *they* actually do the work. It’s not like they price the work and then send a bunch of low-payed, low skilled folks in to do the job. They are the ones you see each day and they know what they’re doing.

If you’re wondering that’s Turner General Contracting that’s doing this work. Again they are not cheap, but then I do believe we are getting what we pay for. This renovation has been far less painful than many of the horror stories that I’ve heard of from others. Much of that no doubt has to do with the approach and philosophy of your contractor. It really helps when you trust and are confident in the folks doing the work.

Renovations 2007 – The Plan

It’s amazing how quickly you get used to something new and forget how things used to be. So I decided to take pictures of our before situation and the progress as we moved to completion.

We elected to work with Tommy Turner of Turner General Contracting. Tommy and Larry work together and we’ve been very pleased with their work so far.

This project began as a “Let’s update the master bathroom.” deal and quickly grew from there. As with all such projects, as you touch one thing, it becomes obvious that there are three other items that should be dealt with if this one is to be done properly. We did put on our “reasonableness” caps and had to make some tough decisions regarding what to leave out. Besides the fact that we simply cannot afford to do everything at once, there is only so much change you really want to implement at once anyway. So the floors will remain carpeted, most of the windows will remain intact and the ceiling insulation may remain sub-par for a while yet.

To begin with, we wanted a bigger bathtub and new shower doors. Since that would mean ripping up the tile work we decided to go ahead and gut the water closet entirely. Also, the toilet had never really been a stellar performer (if you know what I mean) so we wanted something that would do the job a little bit better.

Additionally, the fan in the water closet is old and sluggish so that will be replaced along with adding a dimmable light in the shower area and a heat lamp

The hot water tank had been relocated by the previous owner to the far end of the house (laundry room) which sounds OK until you realize that we are situated on a slab which meant that nearly all the plumbing is under cement. That means that the hot water intake is being fed from the old location through a pipe running up into the attic and all the way across the house to the heater. Then the hot water is fed back up through the attic to link back up with the original hot water starting point. The long and short is that it takes a very long time for the water to warm up no matter what faucet in the house you are using. We are replacing this scheme with a new tankless gas powered water heater that will be situated in the originally plumbed hot water heater location. This should result in faster water warmup times, an unlimited supply of hot water and hot water energy savings (conservatively) of probably about 15 – 20% per year.

Because the hot water heater will no longer need to occupy its niche in the laundry room, we’ll be removing the little wall that separated it from the washer/dryer units. Then we’ll relocate the dryer to that space to put it closer to the outside vent and put in a real laundry tub (rather than just using the sink in the nearby half bathroom). Since the floor under the washer and dryer is a little chewed up and will have a gap in it from the removed wall, that will be replaced as well. We may just go with linoleum for that. A semi-disposable working floor.

The master bathroom sinks and faucets had been replaced about 6 or 7 years ago but we didn’t use really great pieces for either and Mich wanted to bring in some new ones as part of an overall rejuvenation of the vanity area. Then we decided that the vanity was a little low so we are having it raised to about 36 inches so we can stand more comfortably as we use the sinks. The counter will also be replaced with Corian or similar and the drop ceiling will be raised.

The window on the side of the vanity area was never a favorite, we’ve been thinking of replacing the house’s windows for a while now but that project just never rises high enough for us to actually engage it. So little time, so little money… But we decided to replace this window and the window at the head of our bed in the master bedroom with this project. The sliding vanity window will be replaced with a frosted casement window. The old bedroom window is about 3 feet wide by 2 feet high about 6 feet off the ground. It will be replaced by one that’s still 2 feet high but 12 feet wide (actually three 4 foot awning windows placed side by side). They will both be Andersen windows with “TruScene” screens for the bedroom window.

The guest bathroom will get some of the perks of the master bath area. It will receive a new fan and can lights to replace to fluorescents, including one in the shower/bath area. It also will be the recipient of the better of the master bathroom’s sinks and faucets. Again, the drop ceiling will be removed to make the room more spacious.

In the kitchen, quite a while ago actually, we installed several can lights to replace the fluorescent fixture and had subsequently decided to install a couple more to light some dim areas left by our initial install. So, while getting that addressed, we will get rid of our tired old inadequate fixture in the living room and also replace it with some can lights too. Plus we’ll add some accent lighting for the mantel and the East wall.

The cooktop in the kitchen is quite old now and will be replaced along with our disappointing kitchen counter. The counter had already been replaced with an inexpensive Formica one during our last renovation and is very prone to staining.

Finally, we had a hanging fixture installed over the dining/kitchen table to provide a bit more ambiance and focused lighting there.

daltile – not so good retail experience

daltile is a company that makes tiles. As you may know we’re preparing to renovate our master bathroom and want to do a fair amount of tile work both in the water closet proper and in the vanity area – we’re replacing the carpeting (!) in front of the sinks and vanity with tile.

daltile does not sell directly to the public but they do have a nice showroom fairly near to where we work in Roswell. I’ve been there twice and both times dealt with Lynn Blanchet. This is a person who *really* should not be in retail. Pretty tightly wound if you know the type. The first time I dealt with her I just figured that she was having a bad day but we were able to get some information and samples from her so I didn’t think any more about it.

Yesterday we went by to get a bit more information and see about finishing our plans. We’d already met with our contractor and knew pretty much what we wanted but we needed some assistance in putting all the pieces together and getting final quantities determined so we could tell the contractor what to order.

So we showed up for our 2 pm appointment and all I can say is, woah! I have not had somebody behave so condescendingly towards us since I got out of grade school. Right away Lynn’s attitude was one of “Why are you even here?”. After a few questions and abrupt and not very helpful responses, we elected to just cut the appointment short and take our business elsewhere.

We did like the tiles we found but we’ll see if we can’t find something similar elsewhere. It’s going to be more effort in a project that’s already taking longer than I would like. But I try to make it a point to reward excellence and I think there are a lot of folks out there who would be happy to deal with us and sell their products.

Mail-in Rebates and other Crummy Marketing Practices – take a stand!

When mail-in rebates started becoming more popular I was stuck dealing with them along with everybody else. I have to admit that my success rate was pretty high. Now I didn’t buy a lot of stuff that had these rebates associated with them but, in the beginning, I would get back a check for every single one that I submitted.

Then, last year, Symantec decided to decline a legitimate mail-in rebate due to “insufficient proof of existing product”, this after I had mailed in the first CD from exactly one of the products that they listed as a legitimate upgrade. Since then, life has become.. well.. busy. And I’ve noticed that the timeframe for submitting these rebates has decreased substantially, often to only about 15 days after purchase. Personally, I like to know I’m going to keep a product before submitting the rebate. I haven’t tried to return a product with the UPC symbol carved out of the box but I imagine that it doesn’t go over very well.
So I’ve missed some pretty hefty rebates recently, one for a laptop that we purchased, another for my Bellsouth DSL modem.

So I’ve decided that I’m fed up with them and now completely do not consider the value of a mail-in rebate when making my purchasing decision.

I recently purchased a 250 Gigabyte hard drive, it “retails” for $130 and I was able to pick it up for either $90 right then and there or to wait for a few days when they would have a mail-in rebate for $70 (making it a $60 purchase – pretty sweet). When I look at that choice I see a $90 drive or a $130 drive. So I went for the $90 drive. No fiddling around like an idiot cutting things off of boxes, no filling out little questionnaires, no printing neatly so they’ll be able to mail something back to me, and no waiting 8-12 weeks for them to maybe send me a check that can easily be mistaken for more junk mail. No, I haven’t done this yet, but I imagine that larger families must do this all the time.

The other thing that skews my buying choices nowadays is the digit “9”. I understand that human psychology views $29.99 to be a much better deal than $30.00 but it’s pretty brazen of companies to be using this on every product they sell all the time. How many times have you seen adverts indicating that this $99.99 puts this product in your house for under a hundred dollars (apparently there is no sales tax in those areas)?

I absolutely love, and go out of my way to patronize places that round prices to the nearest dollar. If they can include those insulting sales taxes in the prices too, I’m all for that. There is a local golf club that does this and, though it’s not the closest one to me, it’s one reason why I go there. Treat me like a reasonable adult, not a moron who needs to be misdirected, cajoled and fooled into making my purchasing decisions. If I want that, I’ll go see a magic show.

OK, rant mode off. I *am* a little curious if anybody who sees this feels at all the same way as I do about these things…

Vonage Router Fun

A couple of days ago I contacted Vonage due to an inoperative router. I was 50/50 on whether I’d continue using the service or not, having in the past waded through the mire that is their Indian tech support folks and their written-in-stone scripts I was ready to just cancel my account if there was going to be a lot of hassle.

Realizing this, they offered to just send me a replacement router and I agreed. Problem solved. Or so I thought…
Last night, I got home from work a little late and saw something large on my front porch. I was expecting Vonage’s router and possibly a DVD from Amazon so I took a peek and this is what I saw:

Vonage delivered to front door

Yep, 28 routers were waiting for me. Here’s another shot:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

All of them were addressed to me.

I opened one of the boxes up and found there were two welcome packages, one inside and one outside the Motorola VT2442 box that was within the Orange DHL / Vonage branded shipping box. I suppose that means I received 56 of those CDs.

This morning, for fun, I decided to photograph the routers and make an animated GIF of them. While I was in the middle of this, I heard a truck on my driveway. You guessed it. They delivered another Vonage router for a total of 29!

I’m not sure if I have any more routers en route. I checked the DHL shipping notification that Vonage initially sent to me and it only indicates shipment of a single router and that it was delivered to me this morning. I suppose that’s the one I’m supposed to use as the one I randomly chose to open and set up is associated with a number that is completely unknown to me (yep, it works just fine). Good thing I’m honest.

For your entertainment and amusement I present my animated GIF below (Click it to see a larger moving image):

I’ll be contacting Vonage later today to see what needs to be done. Ironically, the Vonage CSR I originally dealt with only hesitently asked if I’d be willing to return my original non-functioning router (I was). There was supposed to be packaging for me to do so included, but so far that is not the case.

I just took a closer look at the packing sheet from inside the shipping box I opened last night and there I see the person to whom the router was originally destined. That one was headed for a fellow in Wichita Falls, Texas.

I just opened the one I received this morning hoping that it really was mine but it’s supposed to go to a guy in Terre Haute, Indiana.

This could be a long search. I’m not sure I want to open all of these boxes. Mind you, from the tape on some of them (including the one I received today) some of them have already been opened before. I’m wondering if they went to the wrong locations originally too..