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a blog by ken pardue

Archive for September, 2006

CNN-isms: Boiling Rice, Pt. Deux

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

This is funny… CNN is really incapable of showing a non-evil picture of Condoleezza Rice. After Clinton’s meltdown on Fox News, it’s ironic that they show him here looking confident, and Rice looking like somebody just slapped her mama.

Rice: We're at least as aggressive as Clinton

MoneyDance

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Two days ago I had an epiphany: I hate Quicken for Mac. Actually, that’s something I’ve known for a while now, but I’ve continued in hopes that perhaps some day Intuit would release a truly cross platform solution with feature parity with Windows. Reality sets in when you realize that they’re still using OS9-era code, have become pretty much the only company not to release a major software as Universal Binary, and the Intuit CEO is even saying that Quicken Mac’s future is in question. They probably get more money for Quicken by bundling it with new Macs than they do upgraders, there’s just no compelling reason for anyone to use it. But my issues with Quicken for Mac are for another post.

Friday I set in to convert my data to an alternative: MoneyDance from Reilly Technologies. MoneyDance is probably the highest rated Quicken alternative for Mac. Let me throw this out first: it also has one of the ugliest interfaces of all of the alternatives. I was put off several times by it, but then decided to jump right in. So far, I’m very pleased with it. It takes a simpler approach to finance management than any of the programs I’ve used, and still manages to pack in features that other alternatives miss, especially online banking.

My own pros and cons list:

Pros:

  • It’s built in Java, and is completely cross platform! Not only does this program run on Windows and Mac, but Linux to boot! While it’s not open source, it is open standards-based. That counts for a lot in my book (especially having gone through the rigors of trying to migrate my data from Money to Quicken for Mac).
  • It can handle most accounts that you can throw at it: banking, credit card, loan, investments… you name it.
  • It’s got a simple, double entry accounting model that simply works, contrasting with other programs that have way too much focus on making displaying your transactions seem like some kind of arcane, black magic, and usually fouling up in the process.
  • Reports are not the best, but are nice. I feel much more in control of my financial picture than trying to use Quicken for Mac’s.
  • Tagging for transactions. I’ve not used it yet, but in my book tagging is the best thing since sliced bread!
  • Online banking. This is the main feature that made me consider this over iBank.
  • More of a minor thing, but this is the only financial management program that can correctly determine my payment amount for my home mortgage and other loans. Even MS Money got that one wrong.

Cons:

  • For me, the butt-ugly interface. I have to commend them for producing a product that works natively so well across so many platforms, but in this day and age of information presented with smooth colors and in useful ways, there’s no excuse for the first thing you see being a calendar with Java-shade-of-grey colors.
  • Reports are lacking somewhat in what they can produce. I’d kill to see the equivalent of MS Money’s “Monthly Report”. Heck, if I could just run reports on specific Payees (or even see a list of Payees) I’d be happy.
  • Online Banking, I believe, is new to this release of MoneyDance. As such, it still feels “tacked on”. I’ve not found a way to enter an online transaction from the account register itself. Instead, it has to be done via an online dialog box that asks for your password every time. I haven’t used it yet, but I suspect that this will cause some confusion when I go to pay an online payment that I have a reminder set up for–I’ll probably wind up with two entries in my register. I’d love to be able to send an online payment from the account register, or at least have my financial data automatically, periodically downloaded without having to ask for my password every time!
  • Help documentation is sparse and largley incomplete. When it’s important to find out if I’m doing things the way MoneyDance thinks I should be doing them, I often have to go to the help forums.
  • Paycheck Manger to track my pre-tax deductions, salary, bonus, etc. More cool points if they could make it to where I could easily run reports on my Paycheck vs. my wife’s Paycheck to compare notes for W2 forms.
  • 401k Manager is desperately needed. Although it’s flexible enough to work very capably with Investment Accounts, I’m far from a financial wiz and don’t understand the inner workings of Investment or 401k accounts. Those things truly are arcane, black magic! Give me a wizard!

All in all, I like MoneyDance and feel more in control and informed of my finances than over the past year using Quicken for Mac. Slack must be cut for MoneyDance’s faults; compared to Quicken it’s still a fledgling lil’ fella. I’m hopeful that they’ll continue to make improvements in the program’s usability and help documentation, and continue to become a solid performer across all platforms, especially Linux.

Fifty One mpg

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

I’m pleased to say that I’m now one step closer to being the environmentally, socially responsible person that I’ve always strived to be. We traded in my old (and nearly worthless) 1998 Chevrolet Malibu for a brand new 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. I’ve always wanted to drive a hybrid car, but always thought them to be too expensive or too new of a technology. Well, this little fella wasn’t much more expensive than the non-hybrid model, and gets 51 miles to the gallon! I don’t even have to plug it in. It takes regular gasoline, and charges when you’re coasting or slowing down.

By far though, my favorite feature has to be the digital spedometer. I remember when I was nine years old my uncle bought a new Jaguar. It had a digital spedometer that showed the miles per hour AND a digital bar that lit up as you increased speed. I thought for sure that that was the future, and that all cars in the future would have digital spedometers. I haven’t seen one since, until now.

Other little niceties include that we’ve had the car for over three weeks and still haven’t used the first tank of gas, that it’s got a variable RPM transmission so that you never feel the car shift gears, and that the engine actually stops when you stop at red lights and stop signs. That’s right, it’s intelligent enough to run just two cylinders if you only need two cylinders to run, and in the case of being stopped, you don’t need any cylinders to run, so it turns them all off. Cool beans!

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

Gapless Playback: A Beautiful Thing

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Apple has a tendency of doing things that just constitute icing on the cake. Like, recently I discovered that when I started a video chat, it conveniently paused my iTunes track that was playing so that I could hear the other person talk, and resumed it again when I stopped chatting.

One of Apple’s most recent icing on the cake features is Gapless Playback in iTunes and iPod. That is to say, Apple has finally removed the nasty little half second gap between songs that plagues most computer-based music, and iPod fans in particular.  Having applied the iPod updates, I’m pleased to discover that the fruits of Apple’s big iPod/iTunes announcements this week have trickled down to us older users.

However, while music aficionados are praising Apple for Gapless playback in opera, classical, and live music, my ultimate playback challenge is of course Pink Floyd.  Pink Floyd music has that timeless appeal of the concept album, and more often than not songs fluidly flow from one into the other in an atmospheric treat for the ears.  I was thrilled to discover that Dark Side of the Moon played perfectly in iTunes 7, and more thrilled to discover that it played flawlessly on the iPod as well.  Glad I didn’t have to upgrade to get this feature!  Thank you Apple!

Lyric-o-the-Day: Landlocked Blues

Saturday, September 9th, 2006

Artist: Brighteyes
Track: Landlocked Blues

A coworker introduced me to this song. This guy has an amazingly haunting voice. The song sounds so frail you’re almost afraid that the singer is about to pass out, and yet it packs a strong political message.

**************************
If you walk away I walk away
first tell me which road you will take
I don’t want to risk our paths crossing somday
so you walk that way I’ll walk this way

and the future hangs over our heads
and it moves with each current event
until it falls all around like a cold steady rain
just stay in when it’s lookin’ this way

and the moon’s laying low in the sky
forcing everything metal to shine
and the sidewalk holds diamonds like a jewelry store case
they argue “walk this way,” “no walk this way”

and laura’s asleep in my bed
as I’m leaving she wakes up and says
“I dreamed you were carried away on the crest of a wave
baby don’t go away, come here”

and there’s kids playing guns in the street
and one’s pointing his tree branch at me
So I put my hands up I say:
“Enough is enough,
If you walk away I walk away.”
(and he shot me dead)

I found a liquid cure
for my landlocked blues
it will pass away
like a slow parade
it’s leaving but I don’t know how soon

and the world’s got me dizzy again
you’d think after 22 years I’d be used to the spin
and it only feels worse when I stay in one place
so I’m always pacing around or walking away
I keep drinking the ink from my pen
and I’m balancing history books up on my head
but it all boils down to one quoteable phrase
“If you love something give it away”
A good woman will pick you apart
a box full of suggestions for your possible heart
But you may be offended, and you may be afraid
but don’t walk away, don’t walk away

We made love on the living room floor
with the noise in the background from a televised war
And in the deafening pleasure I thought I heard someone say
“If we walk away,they’ll walk away”
But greed is a bottomless pit
And our freedom’s a joke we’re just taking a piss
And the whole world must watch the sad comic display
If you’re still free start runnin’ away
’cause we’re comin’ for ya!

I’ve grown tired of holding this pose
I feel more like a stranger each time I come home
So I’m making a deal with the devils of fame
Sayin’ let me walk away, please
You’ll be free child once you have died
from the shackles of language and measurable time
And then we can trade places, play musical graves
till then walk away walk away walk away walk away
So I’m up at dawn, putting on my shoes
I just want to make a clean escape
I’m leaving but I don’t know where to
I know I’m leaving but I don’t know where to