01 February 2016

Living in Dell Hell

I kept putting off this post thinking I would write it all down after it was resolved. Technically things are resolved, but I still don't feel like writing it AND it doesn't really feel resolved, as I'm dissatisfied 100%. But here goes, at least a brief sketch of my hassles with Dell.

My old Dell, which I'd had since 2009, was starting to wear out. It would overheat if I didn't keep it on a desk, and the battery wouldn't hold a charge. It also didn't have enough memory for the work I needed to do (started using Creative Suite, for example, and my Jane pictures were taking up too much space) and was heavy AF. It lasted almost five years, so I didn't feel bad about needing to replace it. Shawn did some research, and we bought a smaller, lighter Dell computer with much more memory. It was also silver, sleek and oh-so-cute. It arrived in October 2014, and after the file transfer I got to work and it was useful for freelance work and general use.

In December 2014 I had my first problems -- so two months of ownership. The USB ports would not work. That meant no mouse, which is really bad for me given my propensity for highlighting, copying and pasting. I was SO mad, but I thought maybe I had done something wrong to break it. Nope. Turned out it was a bad motherboard that had to be replaced. Dell sent out a repair technician in January 2015 who replaced the motherboard, and the USB ports worked again.

By spring 2015 I started having problems with the computer randomly shutting itself off. I mostly used the computer while plugged in and at a desk, so I didn't have too many of the shut downs. But once I installed Windows 10 (at the prompting of the operating system and Dell) the frequency of shut downs dramatically increased. I definitely could not use the computer at all unless plugged in and on flat surface (so no longer a true laptop or any mobile features).

We started contacting Dell help in September 2015 as I had some big freelance/volunteer projects and I needed a more reliable computer solution. Basically I needed the thing fixed. Shawn spent HOURS with the techs doing BIOS updates and troubleshooting. After one session with a tech the computer began to freeze up. It wouldn't shut off but everything would freeze for a few minutes and nothing would work. Once or twice you could handle, but this would happen every few minutes, basically rendering the system unusable. (Of course if I tried to use the computer on my lap or at an appointment it would just shut off still -- and any movement would shut it off too.)

I kept after them and did some more troubleshooting. They were sure it was a virus and we had to run a lot of software (although Shawn does a fine job of IT support for me and making sure I have the right software installed). In late September they had me send in the computer for repair, so at that point I was back to using my old computer full time -- THANK GOD I hadn't donated or tossed it already. It wasn't perfect, but it would work as long as I was plugged in.

I received the silver computer back in early October with a "repaired motherboard." Unfortunately none of the problems were corrected and the computer still shut off when moved and still froze up when you tried to use it. It was as if the technicians did not even TEST the computer before shipping it back to me. The warranty was expiring in mid-October, since I'd owned it for a year (with about 2-4 months of that was it fully usable). But they assured me that the system was covered since the problem was discovered within the warranty period.

We kept following the troubleshooting instructions and spent hours more on the phone with technicians. They were convinced it was a software issue and kept having us reinstall Windows (effectively wiping out all installed programs in the process). Shawn did that at least three times. I kept calling and bitching and finally got bumped to the "escalation team."

I had to do another round of troubleshooting with my contact there. She was very nice, and I did my best to be polite, but I was really at the end of my rope at this point and had been dealing with failure after failure for nearly two months. We did more clean up attempts with her taking over the computer remotely (of course several times the system would freeze and she'd lose the connection or just shut off entirely). She told me that Windows Defender would fix everything. It didn't.

The problems kept happening, the computer kept shutting itself off and Windows wouldn't load correctly. Still lagging and freezing and being completely unusable.

Finally the contact I'd been working with gave up and said we'll replace the system/send you a refurbished computer. OK, fine. As long as it's not the exact same model, as this system is clearly a lemon. She found one that WAS the same model and it was basically take it or leave it. So I said OK.

Nothing ever came of that because the system needed some kind of part or something that they didn't have -- nothing was ever clearly explained. Also at this time my contact got the flu (or something?) and stopped responding. A colleague eventually picked up my case, but it was a couple weeks lost because of that.

This guy strung me along for many weeks, and also was never clear about what was happening. At some point there was another system that would be shipped to me, but they were missing some keyboard part so it was canceled. No one told me it was canceled and HE was out for a while with a family emergency (I get that stuff happens, but seems pretty coincidental). I kept emailing and finally he responded to tell me about the cancellation and send me the option for a completely new system.

At this point just send me a working computer. I'd realized that I should have asked for a loaner computer or SOMETHING and that I shouldn't have had to use an old, unreliable computer for so long because they weren't able to fix their own product. But nothing ever came of THAT request, so I don't even know if loaner computers are an option.

They didn't make my model anymore (why would they? It's a gol-dang lemon!), and they said the smaller computer with the powerful processor weren't being made either so I'd need to get a bigger laptop. WHO CARES - send me a computer!

Turns out I care, as the computer they've sent is SO HEAVY and SO BIG. It doesn't fit into my laptop case (the one I used with my 2009 computer) and is just as heavy as the old model but without a DVD-drive (the smaller model I loved didn't have DVD either, but it was light-weight so I felt like it was an OK trade off).

AH!!! While I was writing this post THIS computer shut itself off. WHAT THE EVERLOVING ... ?!?!?!

This bigger, uglier (did I mention it's black with red accents - egads) computer came just before Christmas. If I weren't so crabby and fed up about the whole thing it would have felt like a nice "present," but it was all just annoying. I also still have the broken, smaller silver computer and can't get anyone at Dell to send me a shipping label (or tell me where to send it!) so I can get it out of my house. The contact on the "escalation team" has stopped responding (maybe another family emergency?), so I guess I'll start back bitching on social media to get this lemon off my hands.

The warranty on this computer was only one month, unless I wanted to pay extra, which I did NOT -- Dell has enough of my money. When I asked for more details on that I got no response. But I've had it for more than a month, so I assume any problems I encounter now will leave me S.O.L. So far the graphics processor is not great -- it's like a fancy gaming system and shuts down sometimes randomly (at least it "fixes" itself), and then there's the random shut downs, sometimes with a "kernel_security_check_failure" error code in case I want to look it up later.

I don't have plant so replace this computer any time soon. I'll just deal with the weight and ugliness. But down the road I won't buy another Dell in all likelihood. I know that any company would be the same -- delay, delay, delay to avoid being out any money to make things right, but my experience with Dell makes me KNOW that's how they are so I'll avoid that if I can.

14 January 2016

Free TV is Not Frustration-Free TV

We've been without cable and DVR for more than a year, but we still had regular cable because the company never turned it off (we're still Internet and phone customers and overpay for that so I didn't feel too bad about that, although maybe I should?). It was just the basic 60 or so channels, and I'd watch the networks and maybe one or two others on occasion (big fan of Hallmark and Lifetime for Christmas movies, and I watched the heck out of Big Bang on TBS).

But now the cable company has started "transitioning to digital," which means if I were going to keep even the basic level of cable we'd have to get a digital converter box to somehow change the signal. I'd obviously have to start paying, and when I looked it up it's like $33/month. Well, I like TV, but not $400 per year without the ability to time shift programming. (See: cheapness in all my latest posts!)

The cable company is also in a fight with the local NBC affiliate, so that signal is blocked through our remaining wall cable channels. My mom had given us an indoor antenna to try when we initially canceled cable (I forget why she bought it - maybe for herself and it didn't work in Indy?). Last week The Black List (on NBC) was new, so I used that as a reason to give the antenna a try.

It works, and NBC is very clear as is Fox. I've been able to try a few times and get ABC, which is good because we like their weather guy (and making fun of their local news coverage - OMG). But for the life of me I cannot get CBS. All the stations are within 10-15 miles of us, and we can get some that are even farther away from the local CBS affiliate (WAFB if anyone is doing a search for "WAFB signal not working over the air" or something -- not that I have a solution yet). It has something to do with UHF vs VHF signal (VHF being weaker apparently, although the ABC station is that type too and I was able to eventually get it to work OK).

I want CBS for Big Bang Theory (new episodes) and the weekend news -- LOVE their weekend anchor, probably my favorite local reporter. Obviously I've dramatically cut back on my TV watching and shows I'm involved with - watching more with Amazon or similar. (Remember NaBloPoMo a few years back and I listed every show I watched as its own post -- that schtick lasted me nearly the entire month! Now it would be about three or four posts, so progress (?). )

ANYWAY, back to the actual problem - do we try another antenna, i.e. throw some more money at it? I can try to adjust the antenna a few more times (somewhere I read online that someone was able to get the signal by raising their antenna and the signal stayed even when they lowered it back). I know the channel (9) so I can just keep trying to force the antenna to search for it as I move it around, but so far it hasn't been able to lock on. If you're local and figure it out will you let me know?

For the love - why can't anything just be EASY!?!?!?!?!

12 January 2016

Collection of Updates

We are going back to ballet today. Woe. When I contacted the dance studio they said all funds would be reset on June 30 so we could take a break but have to come back before that. Given our spring timeline that's not realistic SO we're going to do two more months and stop at the end of February. At some point we may just want to walk away from the money (Jane still says "I don't wanna go!") I'm so cheap though. SO CHEAP!

I've stretched out my silver sparkle Toms shoes to the point they are comfortable. When I bought them they were so uncomfortable, but somehow they've become my go-to shoes (although it's taken more than a year -- I bought them from Zulily in November 2014 ... not that I wore them much before recently). I think the trick is wearing them with thin socks. My Bobs, which are similar and were handed down to me from my mom, have never felt uncomfortable and I can wear without socks. Maybe when it is consistently warmer again I'll try the sparkle Toms without socks, but for now I'm glad to have a pair of semi-cute and comfy slip ons. I still don't get all the fuss and they seem overpriced even if they're "giving another pair to a kid in need," but what do I know?

We've re-arranged our sunroom to put my desk closer to a grounded outlet (joys of owning a ~1960s-era home). I think I'm used to it now, although my back is to the window. I've always had this window covered (clipping on a baby quilt -- CLASSY), but no official window treatments because Shawn likes it "clean" and "open." Well, it looks not so clean this way and there's no way to take it down/put it up without climbing on chairs or the table so it stays up, defeating the idea of "openness" too. The blanket does block the glare so I can work in the afternoons as needed, but still. If you have any (inexpensive) ideas for window treatments that can retract/be out of sight part of the time let me know. We have three big windows plus glass French doors (although I don't see us covering up the doors).

We have a lot more rearranging and organizing left to do, but things are coming together for 2016. How's your New Year shaping up?

11 January 2016

Bullet Journal FAIL: Late for a Conference Call

Scene: Target checkout line. ~10:50 a.m.

Me: Checking my phone to pull up Cartwheel app for a discount (that didn't even apply anyway ... stupid, stupid, stupid), and because I'm connected to Target wifi I can see a new email message letting me know my 11 a.m. conference call (Google Hangout) would be starting a little late.

Cue: PANIC, increased blood pressure, omigod-omigod-omigod!

I type back a reply that I messed up the dates so would be even later, get through checkout without sobbing and high tail it to the car. Throw in the goods and peel out. Get stuck behind a slow-AF truck on Highland (maybe should have taken the Interstate, but that's always risky),

I still made it home by 11:15, set up the Google Hangout and get into the call without missing too much. (Because of the delay I was probably only 7 minutes off the call's actual start time, but still.)

My heart is still racing thinking about it.

Thankfully the call itself was good and productive, and we talked further later in the afternoon (while Jane watched a Thomas - lucky girl ... and lucky me that our Internet could handle streaming that video and the Google Hangout, although that was voice-only at least).

But here's the thing - where did I go wrong? I put the meeting on my Google Calendar but forgot to put a reminder. I don't think I put it in my small pocket calendar (lives in my purse) because the meeting was just set late last week and I don't necessarily look at that small calendar that often. (For some reason I was thinking the call was tomorrow.)

I didn't check either the Google calendar or my pocket calendar when I made my "daily page" for today, which is an error on my part obviously. How do I get in the habit? Is this a reason why you have your calendar in the bullet journal directly -- or at least a list of dates w/ a line to input time sensitive appointments like that?

I remember things MUCH better if I physically write them down. That's part of the allure of the bullet journal. But it only works if I WRITE STUFF DOWN!!!

08 January 2016

Late to the Keurig Bandwagon

Coffee Addict
Another Christmas present from this year was a Keurig from my inlaws. I have had it on my wish list for a while but figured it was too extravagant, and it really is.

This one can do the single cup brews AND brew a small pot of coffee. I immediately went to Amazon and ordered the reusable pods so I can just use regular ground coffee for both single cup and pot brewing. They work OK, but the best flavor so far is single brew with pre-made pods and selecting "strong" for the brew. Even decaf tastes delish. I'm sure with a little more trial and error I'll get the reusable pod down (how much to put in, how much to tamp it down, etc.).

Shawn's been out of town this week and his hotel room had a Keurig brewer and they provided K-cups. I told him to squirrel them away each day and bring them home to me! He said he has about 10 to bring and toward the end they started leaving him 3 per day thinking he must be a coffee fanatic. LOL at that because he really doesn't even like to try it. He accidentally ordered me a latte when I could only have plain coffee during our November travels, and instead of tossing it he drank it and was only MEH about it. Oh Shawn.

I'm trying very hard not to overdo it on the coffee, although I'm pretty much drinking exclusively decaf. But it's so convenient (and reminds me of a few of my offices I worked in that had similar brew stations and I would drink SO MUCH COFFEE just because it was there). And since it's cool-ish here finally (for now) drinking something warm throughout the day is very appealing.

The brewer can also do hot water for tea (or you can buy tea K-cups?) and also they make hot chocolate K-cups and other specialty type drinks that would have the milk-ish stuff pre-mixed in it. I'm not sure how I'd feel about that. So for now I'll stick with my mainly black, mostly decaf hot coffee and enjoy.

Thanks again, Grandma Dale!

07 January 2016

Jane's Stewardship Thoughts

January is stewardship month at our church this year, so the first sermon of 2016 set the ground work. Our pastor talked about  how we can grasp too tightly to the gifts God gives us. The thought puzzle was that letting go brings more and grasping or clinging brings less. (He cited Parker Palmer's The Promise of Paradox for that concept.)

Tuesday during lunch, apropos of nothing, Jane said, "When you close your hands tight you say no to God. when you open them up you are saying yes," and she did the accompanying hand motions. I asked where she learned that and she said "church" very nonchalantly. I asked - "from Pastor Jay's sermon?" And she said, "Yeah." (Kind of like - you were there too - don't you remember?!)

SO -- at least part of the stewardship message is getting through a 4-year-old's skull, and I take this as strong evidence to support my fervent belief that kids belong in worship with us. I also hope my heart and mind can be as open as hers is, and that as a family we can take steps to increase our giving, even in a time of our life that's got some financial uncertainty, at least as far as my earning power goes.

06 January 2016

Christmas Project Gift: Shell Frames

One of our projects for Christmas was to make these BEAUTIFUL frames for Jane's grandmas (also known as my mom and Shawn's mom).

We collected a lot of shells on our beach trip to the Outer Banks in May, and this was a good way to use them. Shawn made the frames in his workshop, and he had glass cut to fit, added hangers, etc.

I laid out all the shells and Jane decided which ones went on which frame. She worked hard on the placement. Then she decided who got each frame (I took all the pictures, and I decided who got which picture so put the chosen picture into the corresponding frame).

I hot glued the shells in place, and Jane and Shawn signed the frame backs. (Maybe I should have signed the prints themselves as the photographer? LOL.)

They didn't travel so great -- some shells fell off in transit, but hopefully will be easy enough to glue on. Of course Jane chose frames with huge, heavy shells for her grandmas. Mine is the top one in this picture and it's my favorite (I love that sandcastle picture -- she's looking up and laughing at her dad flying her kite -- and it's only slightly Photoshopped in that I removed some trash/junk in the sand behind her). We already have it hanging in the living room. My mom got the second one pictured (obviously) -- I love Jane's carefree stance, wonder-full stare and adorable preschooler belly. The last one, for my mother-in-law, is a picture of the Walkers with their pride & joys -- everyone in their shades.

Shawn also made a GORGEOUS stained frame, which we put a Jane picture in and also hung in our living room. It was less of a family affair though, and I didn't take a picture of it. He's quite the craftsman!