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Scott's Column
Windowsitis & The House

April 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

Our house project is taking a roller coaster ride this month, and my home desktop computer was suffering so badly from Windowsitis that I had to reformat my hard drive.

Windowsitis

I don't know the exact term, so I decided to call it Windowsitis. Windowsitis is the disease by which a computer running the Microsoft Windows operating system runs slower and slower over time. In my case I had a terminal case of Windowsitis. My computer was running so slow on some task it was unusable.

For example, I couldn't even play Centipede form Microsoft's Arcade pack from the early days of Windows 95. This is a game that fit on a floppy and came out when 100 MHz machines were fast. Yet it ran so slow it was truly unplayable on my 450MHz machine.

I mentioned in last month's Feature Article that my computer took an extra few minutes to boot up ever since I installed two Ethernet cards at once.

Next, Explorer would take many seconds to display a directory. It was painfully slow. It would just seem to hang for about 3-5 seconds before trying to change from looking at one directory to another.

I couldn't take it anymore. I installed a third hard drive (the second one is and old 540MB drive I use to hold backups of data files and the Windows installation). It took less than an hour to make sure all my data was off the C drive (18 GB) and on the D drive (60 GB). I wrote down a few network setting to be sure I could get them back easily... and I booted from a floppy and reformatted the C drive.

All went very well. I keep a copy of the Windows installation directory on my hard drive. I only installed Windows 98. I had Windows 98 Second edition, but since Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) did not work I decided not to install that upgrade.

The first thing I noticed was that the long boot time was gone. Thank heavens! The computer initially booted very fast. Unfortunately, the boot time did take a hit as I installed video, sound, etc. drivers. I had no trouble getting both Ethernet cards working. I used the latest drivers for my video and sound cards downloaded from the Internet. This made it easier to blow off all the other crap that gets installed when installing the drivers from the CD that came with those devices.

Overall performance is very good. I installed 11 of my sons' games. Some of them were having problems. Now they all work, but I get a video glitch after they run Batman & Robin Activity Center. It is not too bad, and clears up with a quick (thanks again) reboot. They have one game that requires 256 colors. It causes problems when the computer is set to 256 colors without rebooting. I solved this by telling my wife to let the computer reboot whenever they need to go to 256 colors. It is not the best solution, but it is good enough. Besides the computer is running great with just the software I need. The Arcade games run great now. All is as it should be.

I will try my best to keep the computer loaded lite. After we move into the new house I will build myself a new computer and give this computer to my boys. It is ready for them as is since I installed all their games. And it is working very well for me as long as I don't spend a lot of time experimenting. (Note: I used this machine to test 4-5 network cards a couple of months ago. That, and the two network cards at once was the start of the serious degradation in performance. If I minimize the experimenting I should be able to maintain performance.)

I plan to make sure that my laptop can always act as our mission critical computer. That means it must have MS Money, Office and Print Shop Deluxe running on it. When I get my next computer the laptop will be my wife's and she has to be able to do her work. When I have my own computer I can experiment all I want.

One of the first experiments I will make next year is playing around with Linux. I would like to experiment with building a completely free, open source computer. I will get into C programming (or whatever is necessary to program for Linux) and see how productive I can be. That will be fun, and I am sure very frustrating. My goal would be to see if I can build a completely usable computer with only free open source software. I know Music Match is available for Linux, probably WinAmp too. I don't know where Corel left off with its Linux work before the Microsoft payoff, but I will look into them.

I am getting ahead of myself. That is all for next year.

The House (Or the emotional roller coaster, take your pick)

We had a wild ride with the house. The framer came in about twice what we expected. My brother-in-law expected him to come in about $3 per sq. ft., or about $10-12K depending on whether you calculate that on living space or all space. Well, the framer came in at $21K. Also, it looked like the lumber was going to come in around $26K. We were given a "ball park figure" of $20-26K. We expected the worst and assumed $26K. Between labor and lumber the framing was coming in about $10,000 over budget. Add to this the Heat & A/C was between $5,000-7,000 over budget, the plumber was $4K over, the foundation $5K over. It was getting frustrated. Also, when we set our budget we forgot about all the closing costs. It was going to be about $2,000 in closing costs for the construction loan, and about $7,000 or so for the mortgage. That was our mistake not planning them into the budget. But all this was adding up to about $35,000 over budget. More than I could possibly image we could recover in other areas. Especially since we had cut our flooring, appliances, plumbing fixtures and lighting to the bone when things already started going over budget.

We just about gave up. We went to a builder that will "build on your own land." They have plans they build. We started working up a plan they had that was pretty nice. It was 2880 sq ft. I was worried that this might be a little to large, but we let him work up the numbers. In the end it came out that we were looking at about $220,000 for them to build a house on our lot. This is only $10,000 over our budget.

BTW... that means our budget was $210,000.

So we starting thinking about it. But it didn't take long to see that we would be making more sacrifices with their house than building our own. Basically they could build us a house for about the same as we could build it ourselves... assuming the square footage was the same. But with us building through my brother-in-law we end up with a custom home worth more than the track home.

So what it boils down to is whether we wanted to throw away the money we spent on the plans to start over, or try to see if we could cut out enough square footage to bring the price in line with our budget.

I made the appointment with the designer to redesign the house. Then a funny thing happened. The lumber price came in at $16,500. This brought the total framing cost (lumber & labor) within budget.

As you can see the roller coaster ride is going well. My brother-in-law said that he and I will do the Propane plumbing, so we don't have to worry about paying for that. Then our septic estimate came in considerably lower than we were anticipating. Our house is on a lot of rock. That was going to be the worst part of the septic system. One septic contractor said he charges a maximum of $3000 for the rock work to put in the septic system. So we assumed the worst. As it turned out the septic came in about $2,500 less than we expected.

So now we are at the point where we are at budget except for the septic, land and closing costs. My wife was hoping to payoff the land without rolling it into the mortgage, but that is not possible from the bank's perspective. We already paid for the water on the land and so never figured in the septic. Since the septic price is reasonable we are only about $25,000 over budget. That $25,000 is the cost of the land, septic and closing costs. Since we never put those into the spreadsheet (though they are now), we decided that we could live with this budget. It is very possible that my brother-in-law and I will be able to cut more prices by doing more work through out the project. We will only be able to determine where our time and labor will work best. I can probably do all the floor tile work and save $2000 there, but I would not want to try the bathroom tile work.

So... we are a go on the house project. We drew up a contract between my brother-in-law and ourselves, and provided that to the mortgage broker with a set of the plans. Just before this column went online we got the appraisal in. We are sitting at $305K. Hopefully we can keep the costs down enough to get only a $200K mortgage.

Next month I will hopefully be able to tell you about the foundation being started.

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