Aug 30, 2007

Personal Finances Mockup

I have had a number of responses on my post about Quicken. Most of you wanted to see the spreadsheet that I talked about in that post. Well, at the possible expense of using the idea to become the next big breakthrough in personal finance and getting all the credit for it, I have posted a sample mockup on Google Docs for you to look at.

You can view it here.

Your first impression may be, "That's it?". Well, yes, that's it. But name a personal finance application that would be so helpful in planning how you spend your money and where. The beauty is its simplicity.

Aug 24, 2007

BYU Football

Ah, I can smell it in the air. BYU football is almost here. If you want to wet your appetite a little, you can always listen to last season. I started listening to the games last night.

Ok, I'm pumped.

Macworld: Feature: 8 Great Quicken alternatives

I've had a few comments / responses on my recent post about Quicken. Macworld, coincidentally just ran this article on 8 alternatives to Quicken. I would be interested to hear if any of you have used these and whether they were any good.

Aug 16, 2007

Baby Bibs Recalled

We've been using the greatest bibs that we could find for many years now. We love them so much that we buy them when we are in Utah because they are only sold at Babies R Us.

Now they are being recalled. I've been mostly ignoring these Chinese lead paint stories that have been coming out lately. But this one hits home!

Come on folks, get your act together!

Quicken on a Mac: Don't let the door hit you on the way out

There are rumors that the Mac version of Intuit's financial application Quicken is on it's death bead. Derik DeLong seems to think so anyway. The question I have is, does anyone really care? Quicken for the Mac is ugly, buggy, and barely usable. The Windows version is nice, but cluncky in my opinion. So does anyone use Quicken anymore and what value does it bring?

Case in point: about 4 years ago, my brother was hurting financially. He's not at all computer savvy, but he thought maybe he could put together a spreadsheet to help him track expenses and budget for the future. He and his father-in-law, also not at all a geek, sat down with Excel 97 running on Windows 98 and together they came up with a very simple spreadsheet. When my brother showed it to me (I was also hurting for cash at the time) I was blown away by it.

At the same time, I had been trying to use Quicken (Windows) to keep track of my expenses and budget. But I had been unable to translate the data I was putting into Quicken into a real plan for getting out of debt and back on track controlling my expenses. The real questions I wanted Quicken to answer for me were: How much money do I have? (it did that one great) How much will I have at the end of the week? (not very helpful there) Will I be able to pay my bills after I buy *enter toy here*? (again nada)

My brother's spreadsheet very simply answered these questions. So I had him print it out for me and I took it home, jazzed it up a little, and I had a spreadsheet that would get me back on track. It's now 4 years later. In that time my income has increased significantly, I'm now married, I have 2 kids, a mortgage, and other typical bills. But, ironically, I still use that simple spreadsheet which has remained virtually unchanged to manage my finances and my budget. I have never seen it's equal (although I've wanted to write a new version using Rails for about 2 years now).

But here's the point. How is it that my unschooled, non-geek, brother (By the way, he's exceptionally smart in other areas... just not computer tech) --- how is it that he could come up with something so practical and useful? Why can't those software shops at Microsoft (Money), and Intuit (Quicken) figure out how to really help people get their finances on track? I'll tell you why, and it's a lesson all development shops need to learn.

First, don't build software that collects data unless you plan to answer real world questions with that data. In order to get those questions, don't ask the developers. They don't know. You need to ask the users who will use the software. You need to be able to solve real issues.

Second, the problem with the current state of personal finance software is that they are all recreating what is already there. Log transactions, see where money goes, create a budget that consists of where you want to spend your money in the next X amount of days / months / years. That's it! All upgrades to Quicken and other financial apps have just focused on those few features. There is no connection between the money spent, current money on hand, and future purchases. Without that connection you can't answer the questions I stated above. Being able to answer those questions is key in making the data bring value to the consumer. Putting it simply, think beyond the current feature set and come up with something helpful and new. Spending release cycles on pure eye-candy but that does not bring more value does not help the consumer.

So to wrap up this long and ranting post, let me just say that I would be happy to see Quicken for the Mac go. See ya! Maybe someday I can take my simple spreadsheet, turn it into an app, enter the marketplace, and blow people away by it.

Hmmm... doesn't all this sound a little familiar?

Aug 14, 2007


Can someone explain to me why OLAP is such a big deal? It's a technology that is ancient (so far as computer technology goes) and yet I don't see why it is such a big deal. When I tried to use it, I found that I could duplicate the end product using a star-schema which seemed much less complicated and a lot less expensive (dollars and resources).

So what's the big deal? And why is Oracle spending so much time on it lately?

Transmission of tacit knowledge

Today I read a post where Jon Udell writes the following about an experience learning a new way to write code in python.

...I’ll argue that this principle of transmission of tacit knowledge is profound, and can apply to almost any discipline that’s subject to online narration.

There are all sorts of obvious reasons to narrate the work that we do. By doing so we build reputation, we attract like-minded collaborators, we draw constructive criticism, and we teach what we know.

Sometimes there’s also a non-obvious reason. It’s possible to teach what we don’t know that we know.
One of the key benefits I see from blogging is sharing ways that I do things and in-turn learn from others how they do things. For example, I recently setup a Subversion server. It was my second attempt and although my first attempt was unsuccessful, my second attempt went much more smoothly. Today, I also read a post by Scott Lemon where he shared his experience setting up a Subversion server in Apache. I learned that there were a lot of resources on the web that I didn't find that could have helped me.

I have made it a practice to read my RSS feeds in Google Reader for about an hour every morning. I have found that this is the most effective way for me to learn new things and, as this post suggests, acquire more tacit knowledge.

I believe that any manager of a technology team should encourage this. It sharpens skills and improves innovation. There have been many times that I have read something and it has given me new ideas on how to approach a problem that I'm facing in my work. This gives me the advantage that I need to stay competitive.

Aug 13, 2007

Quickly share images and video screencasts with Jing

I mostly work from home so I am always looking for ways to communicate with my colleagues more effectively. Today, after reading a post by Jon Udell on the topic of __fill in the blank__casting, I checked out Jing. I downloaded the OS X version and within a few minutes I had a link to a screencast online. I chose to do a short video on how to use some software that I put together. This is really going to save me some time in training others how to use the stuff I'm creating.

Also, this can be used to post small screencasts to my blog. For example, check out this video I just did on how to create a slick chart in Numbers.

Aug 8, 2007

In case missed it, Apple enters the BI Industry

Yesterday, Apple introduced their new spreadsheet product Numbers. This is extremely exciting for me because I see it as BI done right. Now you may think that I'm just an over zealous Apple evangelist. Well, I am. But here is why I think, even if Numbers is a flop, that it will set a new bar for Business Intelligence.

First, Numbers removes barriers. Check out the demo for the Flexible canvas. Why did it take Apple to figure this out?!! How many times have you been building a spreadsheet that you want to look nice only to find that you have to split and merge cells in one table just to make another look nice. I predict Microsoft is having a huge "ah ha" moment over this. Duh.

Second, ease of use. Apple gets usability. Their products are beautiful because they are simple. Numbers is no different. Gee, make formulas human readable. What a novel concept. Drag and drop Sum, Max, Min, etc... again Duh.

Third, drag and drop layout and print view. This goes along with the first, but think about it for a second. With all the craze over Dashboards, why haven't any BI solutions made applications that create attractive and easy-to-assemble dashboards? Why does it take Apple to show us how easy it should be with a simple spreadsheet style platform? Well, they did and it's beautiful.

What's missing? A metadata interface. Now that we have an easy way to assemble our data and make it look great we need a way to get at our favorite data. Imagine for a second, that on the left side of Numbers there is an option for getting your data from a Data Warehouse, Web Site, Web 2.0 interface (i.e. RSS, WebService, etc), or XML & CSV files. Now imagine that you click on one of those and you get a Metadata explorer that shows user friendly views of your data. Now you simply choose the fields that you want, how you want it assembled, then poof!, the data is dropped into a table in your spreadsheet. Implement some eye candy such as Apple's "skim" feature to browse sample data, etc and you have an extremely powerful BI tool.

I admit that Apple probably wouldn't implement something like that in Numbers, but as a BI observer, I can't help but dream about this.