Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Buckets of Rain

My college roommates and I were fanatical about music. When we moved in together in the fall of 1983, our combined record collection spanned the length of our living room wall (long ways). In it you would find generous helpings of XTC, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Dire Straits, The Ramones, what little there was (at the time) from REM and U2, along with the classics we’d grown up with (Beatles, Stones, Who, etc.)

One thing I could never get my roommates to appreciate, however, was Bob Dylan. I’d first been turned on to Dylan late in high school. Who knows why these things happen? My older sister had left behind a copy of “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II” when she’d gone off to college and it had infected me (the very best version, ever, of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is on that album). Since then I had bought a bunch of Dylan records, earlier and later, but my favorite was “Blood on the Tracks”. I had tried several times to get my roommates to appreciate Dylan but, like most people, they couldn’t get past his voice (and this is before he took to basically speaking his lyrics).

So it’s late in that last year of school. Some random, rainy afternoon; between classes there’s just Ken and me in the apartment. Ken is doing dishes and I’m doing I don’t remember what (not stressed at this point – must have already landed first job). I’m playing “Blood on the Tracks” and Ken is putting up with it. “Buckets of Rain” comes on:

I like your smile and your fingertips
I like the way that you move your hips
I like the cool way you look at me
everything about you is bringing me misery

Ken laughs. He’s thinking about his girlfriend, Kim. He says something like “That’s good” or “I like that”. Small victory.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Firefox Updates and Magic Formation

For awhile now I have used a little gesture-based launcher called Magic Formation. Like many of the things that are designed to make my life simpler but end up consuming all my time, I found out about this tool on Lifehacker.

The tool is pretty simple. You draw a quick little circle with your mouse and up pops this circle of launch icons. It is also pretty addictive. When using a computer that doesn’t have Magic Formation installed, I find myself reflexively drawing useless little circles before realizing “Oh yeah, I’ve got to find the launch bar.”

One thing that keeps biting me, though, is that when Magic Formation is running, Firefox updates won’t work. When Firefox tries to apply an update you get “The update could not be installed. Please make sure there are no other copies of Firefox running on your computer, and then restart Firefox to try again.” Obviously Magic Formation is holding a handle to some kind of resource that Firefox update wants to change (firefox.exe?) and Firefox doesn’t like this.

The solution is simple. Just “Quit” out of Magic Formation, start or restart Firefox, let it update, then restart Magic Formation.

My only hope is that I will either remember I wrote this or goog will pick it up and I’ll find it the next time I have problems updating Firefox.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Intuit, What Were You Thinking?

The exercise of preparing taxes always sets me on a organizing binge where I try to get a handle on the chaos that surrounds me. This year one of my big pain points was medical expenses and the management thereof. For reasons I won't go into, we wracked up a lot of medical expenses last year and will probably continue to do so this year. Due to a certain, shall we say, disaffection for the treatments prescribed by the biomedical industrial complex (all of which seem to involve the use of patented pharmaceuticals with side-effects that can only be remedied by additional, patented pharmaceuticals with side-effects that . . . (recurse until death or complete exhaustion of funds)) none of these expenses are covered by my employers health plan (as another branch of the previously mentioned biomedical industrial complex, why would it?). So that brings in my "Flexible Spending Account", multiple, related transactions of slightly different amounts, etc. Obviously I need software to manage this mess.

It turns out that my old friends at Intuit have something called "Quicken Medical Expense Manager". Now I'm a Quicken user from way back. I used Quicken back in the days when you connected to the net with a 28K modem and SLIP. I was the guy constantly pestering his bank for Quicken integration and explaining over and over how I managed my money with a program that I ran on my computer, at home, which I would like to connect to their computer so I could save both them and me time and money. I still prefer to use the native version of Quicken despite my general enthusiasm for Software as a Service (or is it "cloud computing" now? . . so hard to keep up).

So I come across this Quicken Medical Expense Manager (MEM for short) and initially I'm thinking "Great! I'll buy this puppy online, download, install it and use it to keep track of all this stuff." My initial assumption was, of course, that MEM would integrate with Quicken. By "integrate" I mean something like "If I enter a transaction in Quicken that matches certain criteria (category, payee, tag, etc.) it will automatically show up in MEM." and "If I enter a transaction in MEM it will automatically be imported into Quicken". How else, right? But something made me dig in a little further.

It turns out that MEM is not integrated with Quicken nor does it seem that it ever will be (please, somebody prove me wrong). MEM is a stand-alone tool with no more links to Quicken than any other program you might download and install. If you enter a medical expense transaction in Quicken, you have to manually enter the same transaction into MEM and vice versa. WTF?!? Talk about out of touch with your customer base! Quicken users are, by and large, the type of people that are driven crazy by having to perform duplicate, manual tasks. We will pay money (and suffer through the unnecessary "upgrades" designed to milk us for more) for tools that save us from this time-sucking drudgery. Why would you try and sell us a tool that adds to this problem?

And what's with the "Quicken" label? How is "Quicken Medical Expense Manager" related to Quicken at all if they aren't integrated? "Intuit Medical Expense Manager" would be a more honest title. Note to Inuit: the secret to selling a software suite is to make sure that every application in the suite integrates with every other application in the suite so that, even though the individual applications may not be the very best application you could get for a particular task, the suite as a whole delivers greater value than a collection of unrelated/unintegrated applications. This is just common sense to the ordinary individual but, in the world of software marketing, it looks like a stunningly brilliant strategy ("in the land of the blind . . .")

The decision not to integrate Quicken and MEM is so dumb it must have been made by Inuit's upper management. I'm guessing that the thinking went something like this: "Because we have no way of measuring how much integrating the two products will increase sales, it isn't important enough to devote resources to. As long as MEM is 'good enough', people will buy it." They could actually have a point, but it's this kind of irksome decision that erodes customer loyalty and, when times get tough (like . . uh, now), you're going to wish you had that loyalty to fall back on. Ask yourself, "what would Apple do in a case like this?" Of course they would integrate the two even if you couldn't prove that it would result in more sales this quarter! That's why Apple has fanboys and Intuit doesn't.

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