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Scott's Column
Unemployment, The Move... not into our new house yet, More Laptop Woes, Going On & Off Line, Test Drives

August 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

This month was very busy. We moved... but not into our new house yet. We had problems with the new laptop. And just for fun we test drove a few car based SUVs to see what we want next. Finally, at the end of the month I was laid off.

Unemployment

I suppose I should start at the end this month. I was laid off as part of a "workforce restructuring." Although I was not part of a typical dot com company, my insurance company is hitting hard times and took a drastic step to try to recover from the slowing economy. I could go into a lot of detail, but I would be afraid that that would just sound like griping because I was one of many laid off.

Instead I am looking at this from a much more positive perspective. For those of you that have been reading this column for a long time you may have noticed that I haven't mentioned work in some time. There is a good reason for that. Basically my job has not been fun in a long time. Once again, I could go into detail, but feel that would be a waist of your time and mine. At this point any new job I find has to be better than the environment I was working in up to the time I was laid off, and for sure will be better than the environment that is at my old workplace among my peers that kept their jobs but are trying to pick up the pieces from a lot of missing personnel.

Now... on to some great news...

The House

I knew we had a good view (of the Texas Hill Country) from our house... but I had know idea it would be this good. On the first day they laid the plywood down for what would become the second floor I was able to climb up a ladder and continue climbing up onto the second floor. The stairs were not in yet, and with 10 ft. ceilings downstairs and room for the floor beams I was 11 to 12 feet in the air. BTW, my ladder is only 6 feet. The view was amazing. Almost nothing but gorgeous hill country all around.

I took my tripod up their and took a series of pictures. I cut and pasted 4 of them together quickly and made the panoramic image that is now on the Home page of this site as well as the top of the House Project Calendar. You can click on any of these "thumbnails" to see the full size image. The full image is 3300x550 pixels so expect to scroll left to right a lot. It is also a large file at about 375KB, so for you dial-up modem users... Sorry! Trust me though, it is worth the wait.

The Move & Almost Offline

We moved in with my in-laws for the last few month of the house construction. Hopefully this is a 4 month move. It is quite crowded. Kind of like living in a hotel room, but a little smaller and we have a lot more stuff with us than we would take on a vacation.

The move itself was typical. We had a professional moving company move my 65" big screen TV to my brother-in-laws house. He's going to watch it for me until the house is finished. We paid for this part of the move because the TV is huge, and we were worried about getting down the stairs of the apartment without damaging it. There are time when it pays to leave it to a pro. I handled the vast majority of the move to put us back into a storage unit. I did get some help form a very good friend and a couple of brother-in-laws. It was a bear, but... like I said... about typical of a complete house move. Plus we get the fun of doing this in another 4 months. We are considering paying a moving company to do it all for us next time.

We had our phone number moved to my in-laws as a second phone line. This made it a little fun when we needed to let people into our apartment. We had a gated apartment, and the gate would dial the phone for you to let people in. We had to tell my in-laws to answer our phone... at their house...  so they could let the people in for us.

My DSL connection is supposed to take 15 business days to move, so I am going to have to struggle with a dial-up account to at least keep up with e-mails. I will keep you posted on the DSL move. I probably won't upload changes to my web site until the DSL connection is restored. This is considered almost offline. If you are reading this then I am back online. Stay tuned.

Laptop Woes & Going Offline

I know, if you read this column regularly you know that I recently had to get an exchange for my failing HP laptop. Best Buy replaced it with a newer, better, faster Compaq. We loved the Compaq. It seemed much faster than its 50MHz advantage over the HP. But all is not good in Lewis Land. The Compaq's built-in LAN port stop working after only 5 days. When we took it back they told us that they had to go by the original sales date (for the HP... Jan 2001) and would have to send it in to Compaq for repair. Well it took them 3 weeks to get it back to us with a new motherboard.

All was well. We were not able to take it to the coast, which is the first time in a lot of years I didn't have some kind of laptop for a coast trip. I made due by bringing every car magazine I had not finished reading.

After moving in with my in-laws I setup the laptop to check my various e-mail addresses through a dial-up account. (Remember, the DSL will follow 15 business days later than the phone.) At this point we had the Compaq for two weeks since the LAN port repair. Well, the morning after getting our e-mail all configured to run from the Compaq with a dial-up account the DC input was broken. It had fallen inside the machine. Back to Best Buy. For Compaqs their policy is that they won't consider it a lemon until the third repair. (I did not ask if that meant they repair it three times or they replace it on the third time I bring it in.) In any case, they took it away again. So I am offline. My desktop computer doesn't have a modem. I gave away all my modems, so I will just have to live for a while.

Since I write this during the month that events happen, I am writing this in July. The Laptop is due back on July 31st. You will be reading this sometime after August 1st... later depending on how long it takes me to get online again. I probably won't post this until the DSL service is on again. It would be a pain to upload even part of my web site through a regular modem.

In a nutshell I will have spent the second half of July offline. If you are reading this I obviously got back on line. Check back in September for the details of my return. (Note: My DSL connection went active on JUly 23rd, the same day I was laid off. How ironic.)

Toyota Highlander vs. Buick Rendezvous vs. Acura MDX

Normally I would write an article for my Car Corner column about testing cars, but I am so backlogged with topics for my Car Corner column that I put this here to make sure it gets out in a timely manner. BTW, I have already written articles for my Car Corner column that will last into 2002. The articles are just waiting for a final proof reading before they get posted.

My in-laws are thinking about trading in their 1994 Nissan Quest mini-van. They like the idea of an SUV, but don't want a truck. So they have looked at the new car based SUVs. They narrowed their choice to the Toyota Highlander and the Buick Rendezvous. They asked my wife and I to take them for a test drive and let them know what we thought of them.

Also, my wife and I are thinking about trading in our Suburban. I have long preferred a car, but my wife likes the high seating of the truck based SUVs. My wife picks up both our kids and her sister's kids from school so she needs at least 4 seats... not counting the front seats. Those damn child killing air bags, you know. So we need at least a 6 passenger vehicle, assuming 2 front seats.

For us that leaves few choices. GM blew it by not putting a third row seat in the new TrailBlazer/Envoy twins. They are expected to come out with a longer version with a third row seat in a couple of years. Oops, too late. Ford's new Explorer looks nice. We saw an Eddie Bauer edition at a dealership, but did not get to test drive it. However, It was very nice inside except the console and dash. Both had amazing amount of cheap plastic and rubber pieces that made me think it was the low end version rather than the upscale version. I finally convinced my wife to at least look at the car based SUVs. Toyota does not offer a third row seat in the Highlander or the upscale Lexus RX300. That left Acura with their new MDX.

Toyota Highlander - We sat in a Limited edition in the showroom. The wood looks fake and other than that it didn't "do it" for me. We drove a regular version. The ride was excellent. Very car like... after all it is a jacked up Camry. The steering was very heavy. Uncomfortably so. I have a bulging disc problem that some day may be problematic. My father in-law has a bad back from a work related injury. I found the seats in the Highlander a letting uncomfortable. I suspect it will bother my father-in-law on long trips. Also, I couldn't get my left arm to be comfortable resting on the window sill or the arm rest. One was too high, the other too low.

Buick Rendezvous - They Buick pampers the passengers inside much better than its outside appearance would have you believe. It has a third row seat that is good enough... for adults! I sat back there comfortably when my wife drove. (I am 5' 10", 220 lbs.) The third row seat was very easy to operate. I was able to put it up from either rear passenger doorway, or from the rear hatch. It also folded flat easily with one hand. Very nice. The steering was very light. My mother-in-law would love it. The ride was about on par with the Toyota... very car like. The engine is the only real problem. It is an old design and low on power. At 180 hp, it is 40 short of the Highlander and 60 short of the MDX. However, I found it had enough power that I don't think my in-laws would ever really notice unless they drove it back to back with the highlander. Let's say power is adequate. The console in the Rendezvous was much better than the Highlander. Some of the cup holders seemed cheap, but there were plenty of them. I really liked the interior. The seats were more comfortable than the highlander, and had good adjustment for lumbar support. The father-in-law's back will appreciate that. The blue on silver gauges looked good during the day, but I don't know if they would look good at night. The programmable way everything works is amazing. Much more bells & whistles than the Highlander.

Acura MDX - I am in love. This car rides as good if not better (I want another test drive) than the previous two. The Acura has the necessary third seat for us, though it is smaller than the Buick's. One adult could ride in the two passenger third seat of the Acura, while two adult could ride in the Buick. The Acura's third seat is for children. The Acura's third seat was a little... let's say "less easy" than the Buick to operate, but it was good enough. I still can't figure out how to operate the third seat in my in-law's Quest. There has been much improvement in this area for all. Entry to the third seat is of course a little awkward, but do-able for adults. The Acura comes almost fully loaded for $34,000. And the interior really spoils those riding up front. The one we test drove had a half wood steering wheel and shift knob (standard is full leather for those items). It was nice... maybe not worth the price ($580 for the steering wheel, over $167 for the shift knob). Regardless we loved the vehicle. This SUV feels like a luxury vehicle. The Buick feels a bit like your father's Buick, but it is better than Buicks of years past. Power is more than good enough with the Acura and that ride was splendid. I finally convinced my wife that a car based SUV was worthwhile. One thing the salesman had us do was perform a 360 degree turn around. The turning radius is worlds better than our Suburban, which should make a huge difference when we need to start parking in our side entry garage.

Conclusion - I recommended the Buick to my in-laws. The engine was the biggest gripe, and I didn't think it would matter to them. The Toyota engine is far more refined, but the Buick was very smooth to about 4500 RPM. After that it was very noisy and low on power. My in-laws will probably never know. Also, the Buick with 2WD gets about 2 or 3 miles to the gallon better mileage than the Highlander, a big benefit to my in-laws as they travel a fair amount. They both had nice rides, but the Buick pampered the owners with amenities, light steering, and much better seats. However, my wife and I are saving for the MDX. We loved it! Hands down! Two bad my in-laws don't want to spend over $30K for a vehicle. We can't even get them to try the Acura. They will save a few thousand dollar, but my wife and I are planning on spoiling ourselves with a very reasonably priced, loaded, luxury SUV that also seats 7.

Rio

Sorry, little news to report. Apparently SonicBlue is offering a free 32 MB Backpack for newly purchased Rio 600s. This is little help unless you really need no more than about an hour or so of music. I am still waiting for the 340 MB backpack. I may consider sellig my Rio 600 on eBay for around $100. Anyone interested?

Conclusion

Well until next month. I will report some of my job search information here. Hopefully I will have a job by the time you read next month's column. Regardless, the house is progressing very nicely, and I plan to make the most of my unemployment by putting work in on the house.

Until next time...

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