Thursday, May 07, 2009

I'm So Excited (and I just can't hide it...)

About 5 years ago I purchased a Dell Inspiron 8500. For the most part I've been happy with it, and it has served me well.

A few months ago it developed a problem that is, practically speaking, unfixable. The laptop will not charge batteries, and will only run the CPU at 50% of it's maximum speed. This means the laptop must be plugged in always (even with a new battery), and the Pentium 4 2.4ghz processor only runs at 1.2ghz.

The problem is due to a defect on the motherboard. In fact, searching the internet reveals that this is a VERY widespread problem. A replacement motherboard would be about $300, and isn't a reasonable purchase in my opinion.

So I've been looking to replace the laptop, but a new laptop simply isn't in my budget.

Well, for years I've known of ThinkPads, and known they are considered the creme de la creme of laptop computers. Last night I found a ThinkPad in excellent condition on Craigslist, and bought it tonight. It wasn't inexpensive, but rather than taking money out of my bank account I cashed in some of the change collected on my dresser, and that covered it.

I may try and sell off my old laptop to cover part of the cost; I haven't decided yet.

But on to the good stuff:

Thinkpad T41, model 2373
Excellent keyboard!
Cool light that illuminates the keyboard, so you can work in the dark. (Doing this right now, as Jess sleeps right next to me!)
The whole laptop just feels solid. It feels like it is of much higher quality than my Dell.
Compared to the Dell, the machine seems quick. The specs on the two machines are actually fairly close, with the Thinkpad a little bit faster. I think the difference is the 50% CPU speed the Dell is running under.

An extra bonus is that just a few weeks before the Dell began having the charging problem, I bought 2Gb of memory for it. The IBM uses the same memory, so I can use the RAM from the Dell to take the IBM up to 2Gb, and leave the Dell at 1Gb for whoever ends up with it.

I've been using the ThinkPad all night, and love it.

(EDIT - May 12, 5:30pm - Discovered yesterday the TP includes built-in Bluetooth. Nice.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

FIOS install notes, continued

More notes about the internet portion of the service:

* The wireless component of the Verizon-supplied router is junk. As described in the previous post, it doesn't work properly with the Dell wireless software. Additionally, the signal strength on it is pretty weak compared to the standard Linksys WRT54G found all over America.

* Dial-ups - Not included
* Webpage - You get 10Mb, and addl space costs extra.
* Webmail interface is pretty good, but has ads on the page, and has some annoying bits. One example - If left alone for around ten minutes or so you are logged out, and must re-log-in to check for new mail. I haven't found a way to disable or increase the time-out period.
* Newsgroups (Usenet) - Not included
* Bittorrent - pretty fast as well
* DNS - I don't recall the term for this, but some ISPs override the proper DNS protocol of the Internet, and effectively hijack DNS when they think it won't hurt anything. Specifically, if I'm web-browsing, and enter an address that doesn't exist (usually due to a typo), then instead of my seeing a proper and informative (to me anyway) error presented by my web-browser, Verizon will show me a Verizon-branded page with suggestions for where they think I was trying to go, or where they recommend I go. This VIOLATES internet networking standards, and as an IT professional that relies on accurate, predictable, and informative error messages this sort of thing is a major annoyance. Many mainstream ISPs do this - Verizon isn't the only company doing this, but it is a bad practice and should be stopped.

I think that sums up my comments on the internet service. If I think of more, I'll add them later on.

There's not much to say about the phone service. It works. It sounds fine. The install includes a battery back-up mounted on the wall in my garage, that provides phone service for up to 8 hours in the event of a power failure - pretty slick. The service includes Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail.

* Verizon took nearly two weeks to get the Voice Mail working properly. During that period I called Tech Support about the voice mail at least 4 times. On every single call the support agent I spoke with was friendly, seemingly competent, and every single time I was given a different explanation for the problems. Some of the explanations seemed believable, others seemed as far-fetched as Howard The Duck. During all of this I was also having issues with the TV part of the package, and increasingly losing the Wife Acceptance Factor battle, so I was growing more and more frustrated when one day the voicemail mysteriously started working properly. Go figure.

* Speakeasy had a kludgier VOIP service, apparently contracted out to another provider, but they offered many more features and flexibility with the service. The feature I miss most is email integration. With SE's VOIP, you could control all sorts of phone-functions from your PC - you could view real-time logs of phone activity, place calls from the PC, pulling phone numbers from your Outlook address book, have voicemail messages emailed to you, etc... Verizon offers none of these features.

* Before ordering FIOS, I compared my existing situation to both Comcast Cable and Verizon FIOS. I compared features and price, and compiled a comparison chart.

While researching the options, I phoned both Comcast and Verizon to ask questions about the services. The Comcast agent was clueless, compared to Verizon's phone-rep, and this influenced my final decision. Well, multiple Verizon reps told me before I ordered, as well as after the service was installed, that TVs that lacked a digital set-top box would only receive channels 1-49, essentially local channels and public access, and nothing else. The Verizon website states that a cable-ready TV tuner will only receive local channels - 1-49.

At the end of the installation, I discovered the TVs received no signal at all without the set-top boxes. The installer suggested that I might need to use a digital adapter like those the government has issued coupons for. These are the adapter boxes necessary to receive digital broadcasts on an old analog TV.

So I hooked one up, and still received no signal.

After a few calls to Verizon, I found a tech support rep that seemed to know what she was talking about. She told me that only QAM256 tuners would work, and that Verizon had very limited tuners available and with those I would get only the local channels, but because I couldn't use the TV without one, Customer Svc would provide them for free. Naturally Cust Svc was closed.

The next morning Customer Service insisted they couldn't provide the boxes for free; they were $4/month each. But to compensate me for the aggravation, they agreed to credit my account with a $30 discount for 6 months. Fair enough. (This was much longer and harder to achieve than it sounds. I was on the phone for a LONG time.)

So I ordered 6 adapter boxes. (Technically, DCT-700 units.) I already had 3 set-top boxes. The DCT700s were for various VCRs and TV Tuner cards in PCs.

Two days later I received the adapters, hooked them up, and hated them.

Ultimately, I gave up on the idea of setting up a DVR on a PC (Goodbye MythTV). We abandoned the possibility of recording TV on our VCRs. And I returned all 6 digital adapters, and added a Verizon DVR set-top box instead. The final result will be a little bit cheaper than when I had the 6 adapters, and is much easier to use. It also takes up less space and most likely consumes less electricity.

*OnDemand - the free OnDemand offerings are lousy compared to Comcast.

*Picture quality - MUCH better than Comcast.

*Set-top box - comparable to Comcast (both use Motorola equipment), but I think it is slightly better.

*Many more music channels than Comcast.

*Seems to have a TON of HD offerings, but I don't have an HD TV and don't really care about this.


Now, 3 weeks after the install (installed April 13, 2009), I've figured out the wireless quirks, settled on the right equipment for my TVs, and the Voicemail problem has been fixed. Now that everything is working, I'm perfectly satisfied with the service, and would recommend it.