Need New Windows, Doors, etc?

Before I start, I would like to say that the purpose of this blog entry is not in any way, shape, or form to be critical of Window Wizards, but to share an experience. I haven’t been ripped off or wronged. I’m a paying customer, and I just want to post some information for potential shoppers to consider. I won’t be critical. I’m just a little frustrated and if you’re looking for windows or doors then please read on if you’re considering Window Wizards. I’m not even saying not to use them. I’ll explain.

When I first moved to New Jersey in 1999, Bell Atlantic was the local POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) provider. They’ve long since been purchased by Verizon. When it comes to the incompetence of large corporations, I’m not sure if its simple bureaucratic inefficiency or deliberately crafted business practices, but I literally had to call them three times to get anything done right. Each time they would promise to resolve the situation, and not do it. Twice they sent my Caller ID box to the wrong address and tried to charge me for it, for instance. That was back when not all phones came with Caller ID, and I liked the phone I brought here with me anyway. I had a problem with my voice mail once, and that required three calls to straighten out. I guess they hoped if they didn’t fix it you’d go away and somehow their shareholders get rich. Kevin Trudeau, in his "Natural Cures" books, frequently points out how corporations have a legal responsibility to their shareholders to make a profit. If somehow you benefit with good service, it’s sometimes an accident.

Anyway, Window Wizards is sort of like that, without the feel of a big bad corporation. I’m sure they don’t mean to cause some of the frustration that they do. My house was built in 1950. My wife and I bought it in 2001. Half of the windows had been replaced with the dual-pane vinyl windows, the other half were original installs: wood frame single-pane. They let in cold and drafts, many were stuck in place, and those that weren’t stuck in place were about one more cold season away from being stuck in place. The sliding glass door in my kitchen was about to disintegrate and badly needed to be replaced. That and letting the dog out was a major workout.

We were in the process of taking out a second mortgage, so we called Window Wizards. Because their office is in Pennsylvania, we didn’t have to pay some tax or other for them to install across state lines. The salesman came out and worked with us for a few hours to decide what windows we wanted to replace and what to replace them with. Then the carpenter came out to make the measurements. After that, they scheduled the installation. I took the day off, the first of many.

The installation went very well and they carpenter and his workmen did a good job. It took about a workday to install 10 windows and a sliding glass door. They were good guys and didn’t mind me watching them and asking questions. The trouble began when the carpenter noticed a small machine mark on the sash of one of the windows in my family room. It wasn’t a big deal, but he said since we have a lifetime warranty we should have it replaced. We figured sure, why not?

When the worker came out to replace the sash, he accidentally cracked the glass. It wasn’t a big deal; it was only one pane. However, it took several more weeks to get a window replacement, and I had to take the afternoon off again to wait for service. I seem to remember living in San Diego that you could actually get appointments for deliveries and service calls. One time I called the cable company late at night on a Sunday and I was told that the serviceman would be there at 10 AM the next morning. He showed up by 10:10. Here on the East Coast, you get a window of time, say from 8-12 or 12-5. That means you may have to wait 4 or more hours sitting around your house waiting for someone to show up. What happens if they don’t show up? Well, that’s happened to me several times. You call to complain and get another 5 hour window to take off work and wait for them to show up. (My wife is a Stay At Home Mom, but isn’t comfortable with servicemen so I still have to take off and wait for them. She takes the opportunity, like this morning, to sleep in because I’m here to watch the kids).

Anyway, I took off again to wait for service. Because the window was broken, they had to bring a new one. Would you believe the new one was 1/2 an inch too small to fit? ARRRRRRG! When I called to reschedule for them to bring the right sized window, they began asking me if I want to blow a morning or an afternoon waiting for them, and I might have said that I’ve already used up me entire year’s worth of vacation waiting for Window Wizards service department so I really need them to try to make it convenient for me. They said they’d call me with a time. Several months later, winter was coming and my wife was nagging me to call them, so I did. I asked why they never called me back and they said there was a note on my account that I couldn’t get anymore time off. We scheduled the appointment, and I spent yet another afternoon waiting for Window Wizards.

This time the window was the right size and I was glad that’s over with. Thus concludes 2003.

Not long after that, the 1950’s window frames began to expand and contract and my wife complained of a draft. Two of the windows weren’t fitting in correctly anymore, and one wouldn’t even stay up. Then my wife left the dog out too long and he destroyed the screen for one window. The nagging started to build up (Seriously, why can’t she make the darn phone calls?) and finally I had to call Window Wizards again about the middle of 2006. I got a voice mail and left a message. A week later, I had heard nothing back, so I called their warranty service department again and left a message. Two weeks later I called and left a message. Then I called their sales desk, because I know that HAD to be manned, asked for help, got transferred to service, and left another message. Then I called, demanded to speak to a live person, left my information, got promised a callback, and three weeks later still hadn’t gotten it. I called again, asked for the person I had talked to, asked why I’m waiting more than 2 months just to schedule a service call, and finally get something worked out. They came out and adjusted my window frames. However, that lifetime warranty really isn’t a lifetime warranty. They’ll come out, but we have to pay $65. Maybe Hyundai should start selling windows. They have the best warranty in the cars business. While we were waiting for service, we also noticed a crack in the vinyl of our sliding glass door, so I called back and added that to the list of things to look at.

The service guy came. I couldn’t get off work, so my wife had to handle it. They adjusted the window frames, said they couldn’t fix the screen (again, what exactly does LIFETIME WARRANTY mean?) and promised to call us back about the sliding door. After almost two and a half months of waiting, I had to call them.

They came out last Thursday to replace the sliding glass door. My wife had to handle it again. It’s not that I can’t leave work whenever I want, but I was already flexing time for something else and this would have left me too tight to make up. I’m trying to build a decent vacation balance. When I got home, we found that the sliding glass door didn’t fit right and it rocks back, leaving a gap in the top right against the frame. The only way to keep it closed to to rock it up and lock it. I called Windows Wizards and, even though it was still business hours, left a message. They called me back Friday to schedule an appointment for this afternoon. My wife now refuses to deal with them, so I’m sitting home, with work piling up, and they called just before I got the idea to write this entry to say they have to reschedule. They might be able to make it out tomorrow, but they’ll have to call me back. That normally means I’ll be calling them in six weeks to ask why I’m having to go through winter with a glass door that doesn’t seal into the frame correctly.

Like I said, I’m not trying to bash Window Wizards. I’m not even saying not to use them. They make a good product, and they do sort of support it although you have to be very proactive and have a flexible job and a huge vacation balance in order to get that support. Chances are if there’s a defect in the installation, you’ll have to schedule that cruise for another year because you’ll use the whole 40 hours of vacation waiting for Window Wizards. If you want to buy from Window Wizards by all means go ahead.

I’ll leave you with this. My wife has an Averatec laptop that we bought from Circuit City. It’s been sent in for service five times, four through Averatec’s manufacturer’s warranty and once through Circuit City’s extended plan. I think the service is very good, very responsive, and I’m glad we got it. On the other hand, I have a Compaq V2414NR laptop. I don’t have the first clue how HP’s service department or Best Buy’s warranty work. And you know what? I’m much happier that way. Warranties are good and nice, but I prefer products and services that are built well enough that you NEVER, EVER have to learn how good the service department is.

I can’t say that for Window Wizards.

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The Most Pointless “Security” Feature (prior to Windows Vista)

I have to ask this question: What is the point to this stupid pop-up browser question?

In more than 10 years of using the internet, I have NEVER, under a single circumstance, encountered a situation where I would answer this stupid, useless, and annoying pop-up as no. The reason I ask is because normally this is only annoying, but today I am being forced by my organization to undertake a 1 and 1/2 hour internet based training session on "Information Security", and every single time I click the next link, I have to answer this pop-up. Is there a way to turn this worthless thing off?

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Delegation- Children Helping Out

I know that this blog is supposed to be about Life Integration, but to be honest I haven’t yet found a great deal of ability within myself to write about family topics in addition to my more "geeky" posts. My wife and I have two boys, Joshua and Caleb. Joshua is currently 2 (30 1/2 months) and Caleb is 1 (18 months). Joshua seems to have a natural desire to help out. When we’re cleaning up the table after dinner, he wants to take things to the trash. It takes a lot longer with him helping, but on the other hand we’re also teaching him how to clean up and if he wants to help out, why not? Mostly we give him one or two things at a time and tell him to put something in the trash, then take something else to the sink.

Well, as a dad, I’m very proud to announce that Joshua has mastered his very first chore, and he is happy to do it each night. As we go about our nightly routine, two of the chores that must be done are putting the dog in his kennel and feeding the outside cat. One of our cats developed a problem with the boys during the spring and decided to use their toys and bed and things as his litterbox. We gave him several weeks to turn around but he wouldn’t, so eventually he was relocated to the back yard. He’s gotten in once or twice, but he is an outside cat now. I make sure to feed him every night.

Anyway, Joshua has for at least the last 6 months been helping me put the dog in his kennel. It took a lot of work to crate train him, but once he was trained he just seemed happier to sleep in there, so we of course were happy to let him. Joshua, just last week, mastered the kennel latch and now all I have to do is give him the treat and tell the dog to go to the kennel, and he can give the dog the treat and close the latch while I feed the cat. He’s proud of himself too.

It’s great to have children helping out. If your small children want to help you out with chores, but all means, let them. It may take longer at first but it’s a great time to teach them and in our busy lives it’s also a good time to spend together and bond.

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Basic Windows XP Home Edition Security

This tip probably applies to the Media Center and Tablet PC editions of Windows XP as well. Windows XP Professional allows for setting of administrator passwords from within the running operating system, and if you’re running Pro I’m sure you know how to do this anyway.

I’ve come to look at computer security as a fine balance between how hard you’re willing to work to keep people out and how hard those people are willing to work to break in. Chances are that a personal laptop running Windows XP Home won’t be too much of a target, although the possibility exists. Security can, of course, be taken to extremes in any direction. I’m just going to talk about one of the simplest things you can do to begin to secure your XP Home system.

It’s always a good idea to password protect your user account no matter which operating system you happen to be running. This can be accessed from the Control Panel under the User Accounts icon. In XP Home, however, there is a hidden Administrator account which only appears in Safe Mode. This means that you can only set the password for this account in safe mode. Most XP Home users run with administrative privileges, but there is an admin account. If somebody steals your laptop or breaks into your system, they don’t need your password. All they have to do is boot your computer up into Safe Mode and access through the admin account.

Here is how to set the password for the Admin account.

Boot up your system. After the BIOS screen (bootup screen) passes, press F8. You’ll be taken to a text menu. Select "Safe Mode". You don’t need to select "Safe Mode with networking", and you especially don’t want "Safe Mode with command prompt".

Once your system starts up in Safe Mode, select Start->Control Panel. Then click the "User Accounts". Select the Administrator Account and select the menu item for change or create password. (I don’t have an XP Home Safe Mode right in front of me, so I’m not sure of the exact wording but you’ll see it). After you’ve created a password, you may also want to enable the Guest account.  This way if somebody wants to use your system but you don’t want them to have access to your files and settings, they can use the guest account to access the internet or do some basic tasks.

This is not comprehensive, but it is one of the most elementary steps you can take to secure a Windows XP computer.

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How To Learn A New Subject

Recently in my degree curriculum at the University of Phoenix, I had two classes in a row about Networks and Telecommunications. I was thrilled on the one hand to learn that I knew more than I thought, yet disappointed on the other hand to not have learned as many new concepts as I had expected to. The week we spent on network security, for instance, turned out to cover concepts that I was already familiar with.

The classes were very interesting and our instructor had a lot of experience and passion for the subject matter, so we had a good time and learned a lot. The instructor drove us pretty hard and hit us for grammar and spelling errors on our papers. We had a lot of "hands-off" instructors, but this guy really got involved and drove us. In the end, we appreciated it.

During the final class, one of my classmates asked the instructor how to learn more about "networking". That inspired me to write this blog entry, although there has been a time gap from concept to product. I see questions like this all of the time. I participate in several discussion forums and newsgroups, and often see new people show up asking what they see as a very simple question which actually covers a very broad subject. On PocketPC, for instance, people routinely show up with the question "Which Pocket PC should I get?" On some of the time management sites and newsgroups, newbies often show up asking similar questions about how to get started. Most of these questions aren’t really answerable to any real degree of accuracy because they are too broad and only bely how little the questioner knows about the subject.

And so, back to my classmate’s question about networking, what is a good answer?

The first thing I would recommend is to spend some time clarifying exactly what you want to learn about networking or another subject. Sometimes it helps to decide what you want to learn about the subject. Rather than think of networking as a broad and ill-defined concept, give some thought to what exactly you would like to get out of study. Are you interested in how computers talk to each other? Do you have a Windows PC and a Macintosh and you want to share files between them? Would you like to set up a wireless router? Once you define what exactly you want to know, you can narrow down the information that you want to study.

The second thing I would recommend is to find some professional or even hobbyist sources of information for your subject matter. Pick up a magazine or find a blog to read. Maybe you can find a discussion forum. Find a book. You’d be amazed how many people with a lot of experience maintain blogs or hang out in discussion forums just to help out newbies. If you’re interested in programming, Joel on Software is a great resource to get started with.  Any words or concepts you come across in your reading can be run as searches on Google (or your choice of search engine) to find more information. It’s possible to spend an entire afternoon following rabbit trails generated by a blog entry.

Next, learn by doing. Take what you’ve learned and if possible, put it into practice.

Forth, and I only mention this because it may actually be available to somebody, find a user group or a mentor. I know, this one is often not possible offline. I would love to find an experienced Linux user who had time to stop by my house and help me out, but that’s always tough to do. But, maybe you can find somebody. You can sometimes find strange ways to meet other users, however. I taught the senior high Sunday School class last summer at my church, and found a couple of fellow geeks heading out into the world. Since then, when we have time we’ll share tips and war stories with each other.

It’s not very hard to learn a new subject. You just have to decide what you want to learn, find a source of information, and start studying. You may even find that you have no real interest in the subject and move along to something else. The internet makes it easy to learn a new subject.


Saying Goodbye to Microsoft- a trial run

As a follow up to my post the other day about a Debian Linux .exe installer for Windows,  I decided to try to give you, my loyal reader (surely there’s one of you) a hands-on report. Before I left for work this morning, I stuck a Windows XP CD-ROM in the DVD drive of my desktop computer so that I could log in remotely and as I had time, install Windows XP in a virtual machine just to try this out.

Following is a screen shot of the Windows installation in VMWare Server:

Please forgive the poor image. I’m still working on my image editing skills.

As I’m installing, I’ve also done some reading. This does not exactly overwrite Windows, but it installs Debian Linux alongside Windows. Windows XP typically uses the NTFS file system, while most contemporary Linux distributions use an ext3 file system. SuSE Linux has traditionally used the ReiserFS file system, until Hans Reiser was suspected of killing his wife. The official line is that if he gets convicted, there will be no updates to this wonderful file system, so SuSE linux 10.2 has been switched to the ext3 file system. Normally, NTFS and ext3 (or other Linux file systems) are incompatible, but what this installer does is supposed to do is to install Linux in a loopback ext3 file system within an NTFS drive. As far as Windows is concerned, this is a single file, which of course gives you one-click uninstallation capabilities. Get tired of it, delete one file. This gives you the ability to boot into a Linux installation without having to partition your drive. It also, at least in theory, protects Windows from becoming corrupted. This beats a Virtual Machine or another partition because this file can grow as needed. If you install Linux in a 10 Gig VM (Virtual Machine), and use up all of that space, you are better off starting over again. VMWare Server (the free product) does not, as far as I know, give you the ability to extend the size of a VM. I also haven’t been successful with a Window/Linux dual boot in changing partition sizes.

Of course, the question arises: what happens if you have to reinstall Windows? Well, I don’t know.

But, I’m going to experiment for you with a VM so you’ll at least know if this installer actually works. This way, I can test the installer without chancing the loss of one of my operational Windows systems. And so, the experiment continues. By the way, here is one tip I discovered for VMWare Server: do not, under any circumstances, select VM> Install VMWare tools until your VM is fully installed. Let me explain a little. When you first set up a new VM, you still have to insert the installation disk and install the virtual machine. VMWare server from the beginning tells you that you don’t have VMWare Tools installed. Well, I thought "OK, I’ll install VMWare Tools" and I selected this option. The problem I ran into is that apparently VMWare tools shows up in the CD-ROM drive of the virtual machine. This caused me a lot of problems with the Windows XP installation because the setup went looking for files on the CD, but the file system was reporting that VMWare Tools was in the drive. I ended up with a botched installation and I had to delete the VM and start over again.

OK, back to the Linux installation. Here we have a functional Windows desktop:

Now I’m going to bring up Internet Explorer 6 and navigate to the correct site, to begin downloading the executable. If this works properly, I should download a file and then be directed to reboot.

Here is the point where I’ll be posting pictures more than I’m writing, but I hope to give a decent (thought not overly verbose) picture of this installation. Next is the installer.

Here is the boot selection screen.

This is the beginning setup screen. It seemed like I had to go through 3 screens to set up the language:

One thing I think I misunderstood was related to the partitioner. I was not given an option to keep my existing Windows partition. This isn’t good. I almost canceled, but this is a fresh VM and I can start again anytime I want. I’ve never actually used Debian Linux, and this is a great chance to check it out without having to burn a CD.

OK, the installation is finished:

The desktop is very comprehensive as well. The current release of Debian is based on the 2.6.18-33 Linux kernel. Very impressive. I did come across a few minor problems however, one being that I couldn’t keep my Windows partition. I’m not sure if I set the VM hard disk to a size too small, but 12 GB should be adequate for a base install of Windows XP non-SP2 and Linux. Most Linux distributions are fairly small compared to Windows. I believe a base installation of Windows Vista Ultimate RC1 ran more than 12 GB.

In any case, in the finest traditions of the Mythbusters, this one is confirmed, you can install Linux over Windows through an executable. If you’ve decided that you just can’t take Windows XP any longer, or you’re still running Windows 95 or 98 and you’re determined to switch to Linux but you don’t want to mess with .iso files and you don’t quite know how to work a partitioner, give this a shot.

If you haven’t used VMWare Server yet, give it a try. If you have the RAM and hard drive space, VMWare Server will allow you to run several different computers all on one box. You can also download pre-built virtual machines to try out other products. If you want to see what Linux can do but don’t want to install it, give a VM a try. You might be surprised. The link to VMWare’s free products is here.

My final VMWare tip is this: if you set up the VM for one operating system and then install another over the top of it like I just did, VMWare tools doesn’t install. When I try to install VMWare tools on Linux, VMWare server thinks the VM is Windows and so a CD-ROM with Windows installation files appears. This isn’t very usable on Linux.

In the words of the SuSE Linux team "Have a lot of fun!"

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Windows Vista to the Rescue

Well, I finally did it. I managed to crash my trusty Windows XP Home partition on my laptop. I brought the laptop with me to my in-laws’ house and I was playing around with some enhancements that were supposed to make Windows XP look like Mac OS X. I won’t open up the Operating System wars but you’ve got to admit, Apple Computer knows how to design a UI (User Interface). In any case, I rebooted to find that a vital kernel file (I don’t recall the exact name) was missing.

I had plenty of tools with me, but not the right tools. I had a Windows XP Professional disk, a Windows Vista 64-bit RC1 DVD, and a Kubuntu Linux Edgy CD.  I’ve been playing around with dual booting Windows XP and Linux for several months, but I haven’t been successful at resizing partitions. Last time I tried it, I corrupted my Linux partition and lost hours worth of work. After debating with myself for an hour, I figured I would install Vista which would give me wireless connectivity and the ability to transfer my vital files off this laptop when I get home later on. I can then take it to work and start fresh. I have thought about starting fresh with Linux, but we’ll see. I may just restore the OEM edition of XP Home and go from there. By the way, I got this laptop for Christmas of 2005, so I have been running that XP installation for more than 13 months, which is a new record. I’ve never gotten more than 6 months out of a Windows installation, and that was only after XP came out.

I’m still working on the question that I asked several months ago on this blog. What is the point to 64-bit software? I’ve tried XP Pro 64, Vista Ultimate 64, and SuSE and Kubuntu Linux 64. In each case, I had tons of problems finding drivers, getting drivers to work, and in the case of Linux I had to compile a new kernel and still could not get flash and Java working under 64-bit. The 32-bit versions were much easier. I am starting to wonder if the 64-bit processor, at least in consumer grade computers, wasn’t some standard that Microsoft defined, forced on the industry, only to later realize that the real power lies in multiple cores. I’ve run both the 32 and 64-bit versions of Vista, and the 32-bit seems to be faster. Go figure.

I’m halfway tempted to try the Debian Linux .exe installer that I talked about earlier. I like the Debian based distributions, such as Kubuntu.

Anyway, if nothing else, Windows Vista Release Candidate will work fine as a "lifeboat" in the event that you corrupt your XP installation like I did and can’t wait a few hours to get home to fix it. This installation is convincing me more than ever to either wait for the first service pack or just start switching over to Linux. I found it interesting that in the Apple world, a site exists called "OS9 Forever". I thought about starting a "Windows XP Forever" movement, but I actually do enjoy change even if it requires a step back once in a while. But the way, the OS9 Forever site is mostly for an archive as the person formerly running it has long since switched to OS X.

One last thing: as of today, Feb 4, 2007, does anybody know what the "Vista Ultimate Extras" are? The whole time of the beta period I would occasionally install Vista to play with and then give up on, and wonder what these extras are. Several days after the actual consumer release of Windows Vista, there still aren’t any extras. Maybe this was like the WinFS project which fell by the wayside.


Now you can say goodbye to Microsoft (if you want to)

Are you tired of Microsoft Windows, but really don’t want to spend the money on new hardware for an Macintosh but Linux installations confuse you? First of all, don’t feel bad, second, check out this link: Some kind soul has created an .exe installer for Debian Linux. You no longer have to wonder what an .iso is, no more burning CD’s. Just download and run this .exe just like you’re installing any other Windows program.

Note: I have not tried this yet. The few details I’ve read indicate that this will install Linux on top of your Windows partition, giving you a fully functional Linux installation, freeing you from Microsoft Windows, and keeping all of your files in place.

If you like Windows, again, don’t feel bad and keep on using it. I’ve been working with Linux a lot lately, and Mac OS X, and yet for the time being I find that Windows XP still does what I need to do best. A computer is, above all else, a tool and the operating systems that run on computers are tools as well.

I may try this at one point if I can find an open source or free Ghost type application. If I can ghost my XP partition and restore it later if I want to, I’ll do it. The power connector broke on my old laptop, so using that one to test this out is not going to work until I have time to crack it back open and see if it’s possible to re-solder the connector back on the mother board.

If you do decide to try out this Debian installer and you like it, leave me a comment. If I get a chance to try it myself, I’ll post an update.

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