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Scott's Column
More on Office 2000, Apartment Life, ADSL, etc.

September 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

This month we get used to living in an apartment. I finally get ADSL and I am loving it. I have more information on Office 2000, and had to do a lot of juggling to keep my old e-mail addresses while making a major switch in ISPs. As I eluded to last month I bought a new hard drive, and at work we have picked up on our database conversions.

House Plans In The Trash

I would like to start by telling you about the problems we had with our house designer. We hired him the last week of April along with my sister-in-law to design both of our houses. We explained that my sister-in-law and her husband (from now on referred to here as my brother-in-law even though that is not correct) was going to start building in August and my wife and I would follow in October. My brother-in-law is the general contractor as well.

Our designer told us he would have our preliminary plans ready in 2-3 weeks. He also told this to my brother-in-law 2 weeks later when they gave the designer the information and deposit to start on their house. It took almost 6 weeks before we saw anything and a number of key features of the house were missing. It was almost as if he ignored our conversation. We also had a number of reasons to believe the house was not drawn from scratch, as stated, but taken from another plan.

Continued missed deadlines and creeping house size made us worry if we would be able to build the house he was drawing. The plans were up to 3319 sq. ft. on our last meeting. We originally asked for 2800 - 3000 sq. ft. Also, there were still a couple of very key issues that were incorrect after the designer had plenty of time to fix them. Since we were having a lot of trouble trusting this designer due to all the missed deadlines, we feared having problems if any of the sub-contractors would not be able to build the house as drawn. When we asked him to add to our contract a statement that if the builders required changes he would perform them an no additional cost he agreed. But when his partner came in with the paper to sign he refused and became extremely agitated. We left his office assuming we were out the $1400 we paid to date.

That's the short story. If you care, you can read this letter we prepared for the Better Business Bureau describing in detail the problems we had. I hope to find some way to pursue the matter of getting our money back in the near future. My brother-in-law never saw a single drawing right up to the end of July when he fired him. Clearly this designer set my brother-in-law back, which in turn set us back even if we get plans from someone else by October.

What ever you do, don't hire Dale Bechthold of Elegant Home Design in San Antonio, TX.

Living In An Apartment

As expected, living in an apartment is cramped. Although the kitchen is about the same size as the one in our house, the cabinets are not nearly as deep as the ones we had. This makes the kitchen feel small. Also, it is arranged poorly so that we have a bunch of small draws, but not one kitchen draw that can hold a flatware tray. Oops!.

Overall it isn't too bad. I enjoy the lack of maintenance, and the features of the apartment are very enjoyable. I finally managed to fit our Suburban into the garage with all our stuff. It is a site. Perhaps I will take a picture next month.

How Big A Hard Drive Should I Get

I have wanted to get a new hard drive since I backed up my old drive on CD-Rs. My main drive is an 18 GB 7200 RPM unit. Since my MP3 collection is more than half of that, I was hurting for space. My dilemma was whether to get another 7200 RPM drive or get more capacity with a 5400 RPM drive. I narrowed my choices to a 40 GB 7200 RPM drive and a 60 GB 5400 RPM drive. As it turned out the 60 GB drive was only $20 more than the 40 GB drive. I decided to go for the size.

Since I already have a 7200 RPM drive I decided to make the new drive a data only drive (D:). I use my 18 GB 7200 RPM drive as my boot drive (C:) and store all my applications on it for the best performance. I store all my MP3s, digital pictures, disc images (I copy the entire install of Win 98 to a directory on the hard drive and install from there, and MS Bookshelf is copied to a directory as well), and downloads on the 60 GB D: drive.

I should be set for quite a while. At least until I build another computer. When I build my network that drive will be used as a shared data area for each computer. But that won't happen until the new house is built.

Office 2000

I have had some time now with Office 2000. Actually, most of the time I use Word and FrontPage. But I have learned some things worth mentioning.

Word’s on-the-fly spell checker is worse in Office 2000 than it is in Office 97. When I open a long document that has a lot of misspelled words (according to Office 2000) it pops up a message that says there are too many misspelled words to display, and then doesn’t show them at all. That sucks. In fact, it turns off on-the-fly spell checking for the document. When I open the document in Office 97 I don't get on-the-fly spell checking. I must navigate through the options to turn the check spelling as you type option back on. Overall, it sucks.

Word 2000 does have one really nice feature. When you open another document it opens another instance of Word. This means that you get a copy of Word, one for each document, in the task bar of Windows. This lets you navigate between documents with the Alt-Tab key combination. This is something that is greatly appreciated. In the past I have opened multiple instances of Word manually to perform this kind of document navigation/editing. Now it is automatic. I find it amazing that it took this long to add such a simple and useful feature, and it had to come with such a bloated application.

Cut and paste between Word and FrontPage is absolutely horrible in Office 2000. Much worse than Word 97 and FrontPage 98. In the Word 97/FP 98 combination I could compose my columns in Word, and cut and paste them into FP. The only problem I had was that I would get double line spacing for the bold headings throughout the document. This was easy to spot and fix.

With Office 2000, Word and FP copy and pasting ruins formatting. Every paragraph is double-spaced, and the bold text is turned into the largest heading type allowed by HTML. It looks terrible, and requires a fair amount of time to remove all the formatting. I have started using FrontPage 2000 to edit stand alone HTML documents. These documents have no formatting, and cut and paste very nicely into my web site. My current working solution is to use FP only if I know the document is going to end up in FP.

Alas, I miss Word's on the fly grammar checker. Although it is wrong most of the time, I use it to tell me I need to proof read my sentences again.

My wife started looking at Publisher and found it too confusing. She really doesn't have a project in mind quite yet. I have found that it is best to have some idea what you want to do before approaching Desktop Publishing. Also, with the selling of the house, the move, etc., I have not had time to sit down with my wife and figure out Publisher to get her started. It is quite a bit more daunting than Print Shop Deluxe, which she uses a lot.

ADSL

My ADSL connection is live. I did the self install were they shipped me the modem with the instructions. I thought it unusual that they initially wanted to send me a USB modem. Obviously they find this easier when dealing with customer self installs. Since I have an Ethernet card (from using a cable modem) I asked for that kind of modem.

Getting the modem was a royal nuisance. When I first called to have the phone turned on they told me I couldn't get the ADSL service turned on until the phone had been working for a week, but they would ship the modem to me and I would receive it before I could use it. A week and a half later I called to find out where my modem was. They told me there was no order for a modem on record. Apparently they can't even ship the modem until the phone is on for a week. Rather than call me to tell me this they just did nothing.

They told me I would get the modem in 7 to 10 business days. Two weeks later I still didn't have a modem. Calling the telephone company I learned that they had some big mix up with a lot of customers and my information was lost. They didn't try notifying me or any other customers, they just waited until we called to complain. I ordered the modem again, and asked to get it shipped priority due to their error. Better yet I offered to come pick the modem up. Alas all they would do is provide me a PO number to track my order.

Finally, 4-1/2 weeks after my initial request I received the modem. They offered to give me one month free service for my trouble. I hope that doesn't mean they expect me to have service for 13 months instead of the contractual 12 months. I will only be in this apartment for one year.

Installing the hardware was a snap. It came with an Ethernet card, but I already had one installed. Otherwise connecting the modem was a simple as plugging it in, connecting the provided cables to the wall jack and my Ethernet card.

But it still didn't work. It would blink the DSL light endlessly. I called to verify that the service was turned on. That department is only open during regular hours. I went home for lunch the next day and they told me I was scheduled to have the service turned on in another week. I asked about getting account information. Apparently they never bothered to ship their software package that has a User ID and instructions on installing their software and getting connected. Again I tried to get them to expedite this due to there errors. That was a big waist of time. The did provide me with a temporary User ID and password that I could used to get started once the service was turned on.

I waited until Aug. 22, the scheduled day. I went home again for lunch. If there was a problem I would need to call during business hours. The service was still not on. Calling the phone company showed I was still scheduled to get it, and there should not be any problem.

When I got home the DSL light on the modem was working, but there was no connection to the Internet. I called again and they ran me through a couple of steps before asking if I installed the software. As you can expect, I didn't receive any software. Their records showed it was shipped a week before when I called. They told me where I could download the software online.

Going to the site they provided only had a trial version of the software. Hopefully I will get something more than a trial version in the mail soon. I spent 45 minutes downloading the software on a regular modem. I install the software and provide it the temporary User ID and password. It doesn't work. I call again and get the correct password. I also ask about setting up e-mail accounts. They told me the setup would tell me how to do that after I establish my permanent account.

Alas after getting my account (and a lousy name at that since it could only be 8 characters and all the ways you could spell my name were taken) there was no instruction on e-mail or anything else. But at least I was connected. Finally, only 5-1/2 weeks later. Another call and they gave me another number that handled self install troubleshooting to get my e-mail setup. They walked me through setting up my main account for e-mail, and told me a web address for setting up my extra e-mail addresses.

I didn't really get any decent e-mail addresses, but I will survive (read below). At least I am finally connected with a high speed connection. I prefer Time Warner's Road Runner a lot better. It was truly a plug and play setup. Just plug in the modem and connect it to the wall jack and the Ethernet card and I was connected. NO software! The only reason I needed Road Runner's software was for changing passwords and creating e-mail accounts. Infinitely easier than the DSL setup, even if the DSL setup went smoothly. My Road Runner setup took two days. The day they contacted me with a list of times to go to their self install class, and the day of the class. It worked perfect right out of the box as soon as I got home from the class.

Aside from the delays and hassles in getting the modem and service, I am pleased with the speed. Performance so far seems excellent. I didn't do any benchmarks on the cable modem before leaving our house, but the perception is my ADSL connection is faster overall than the cable modem. Web paces on CNET and ZDNet seem to load at least twice as fast as my memory of the cable modem. Definitely zippy performance. 

I mostly attribute the speed to my distance from the central switch office. I am less than 1000 ft. away. ADSL performance degrades over distance to the point they won't guarantee any speed over 18,000 ft. At less than 1000 ft. I am probably getting the best possible performance from ADSL. I just hope it doesn't spoil me when I move back to a house.

Given a choice I would probably get a cable modem. My cable modem was fast enough and had a faster upload speed limit (384 Kbps vs. 128 Kbps for ADSL) which is better for online gaming where two-way speed is important. Also, it is a snap to connect a router/hub to a cable modem since software is not necessary to get things working. I don't know if that is possible with SBC's (though Southwestern Bell) ADSL service.

Creative E-Mail Accounts

While I was using Road Runner (through Time Warner) as my high speed internet ISP I took advantage of the extra e-mail addresses they offered. I set up an addition address for myself, and two for my wife. One she used at work, the other for personal correspondence.

When I moved into the apartment I went with ADSL from Southwestern Bell. Time Warner was not available in the apartment complex. But I didn't want to lose the e-mail addresses I had. So I got three friends that each have accounts with Time Warner to "hold" my addresses. I would delete each one as they would add them to their own accounts.

Normally I wouldn't care, but there are a couple of reasons for playing musical e-mail. 1) We are only going to be in this apartment for a year until we finish building our house. 2) I don't know if ADSL is available where my house is going to be, and that status could change between now and then anyway. 3) If I end up back with Time Warner next year I will want to get my old e-mail addresses back.

When we move into our house I should be able to settle on our permanent e-mail addresses. Until then we will be playing musical e-mail accounts for at least a year.

Database Conversions

A few month ago I told you about a database I had converted to a "flash" loading system. In the end it reduced the time it took to load a month's data from 10 hours to 2 hours. This became a huge benefit when a data discrepancy revealed we had a problem with the data since 1995. Reloading five full years worth of history will be much easier at 2 hours per load than 10.

Now we have been tasked to convert other databases. The first of the new databases converted too easily. The original database took almost a month just to convert the original data. This first of the new databases finished in one day using the polished conversion process. Talk about learning from ones past mistakes. Unfortunately there was a problem with the data that needs resolving, so that database was put on the backburner again.

Onto the next database. It took far less than a day to convert, leaving only the task of writing the "flash" load program. A few hours later and I was loading the database with the flash load process. There was another day spent trying to find a data discrepancy. After three days work I had reduced monthly loads from a range of 5 - 15 hours down to 11 - 13 minutes.

What an improvement. I did find another discrepancy in the data, but it turned out to exist in the production database and had nothing to do with the flash load process. This caused a lag in getting the database finished, but overall the conversion was only a few days. This was a big success.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, it has been a busy month. I have seriously neglected putting pictures on this site since its redesign. School started and my oldest son started Kindergarten. My wife is a teacher so I get my Fridays to share with just my 2 year old son and a maintenance free apartment. This should leave me a little time to catch up on some work I have wanted to do with this site. I plan on playing around with MusicMatch's latest version and its ability to burn music CDs directly from MP3s. If it works well I may buy the full version. I understand it has faster burning capabilities than the freeware version.

We started looking into big screen TVs. The new house is going to have a built in entertainment center. We are thinking about getting the TV now, but at the minimum we will need to get the dimensions so it can be incorporated into the blueprints of the house. Next month I will tell you the direction we decide... when we decide it.

Until next month...

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