I’m not your spam filter, LLBean

I’m running into this more and more, and I’ve decided to start walking away. I’m talking about captchas, those little boxes of nearly impossible to read text that they want you to enter to make sure you’re not a robot.

I will put up with it on registration pages for free online services, but if it’s a corporation asking me to enter a contest via an email invitation, forget it. Don’t ask me to be you’re spam filter.

I’m looking at you LLBean.

My brief encounter with Mozy

I decided to give Mozy , the online backup service, a try a few days ago. Today, after an extraordinary amount of wasted time I was able to file a support request asking to cancel my service.

It would appear there are lots of people who get Mozy to work, but I wasn’t one of them. In the past I would have spent more time trying to make it work, but these days when I see goofy behavior, unpredictable results, and worst of all, a high impact to my machine’s performance, I delete rather than debug.

The other thing is that backing up my 300+GB of data over a .6 megabyte per second line would take, well, if not forever sufficiently long to seem so. I got as far as .7% in a few days. To be fair I’d shut off Mozy much of the time because while it was running Apple Mail wouldn’t, nor would iTunes, and doing anything was painful.

The cancellation experience was not simple. First, I dug around fruitlessly for a cancel account link. I couldn’t find it. Then I email support, only to get an email back saying that the support account (the address for which I got off their web site) is no longer monitored and I have to go file a support ticket. Filing a support ticket conveyed the unwritten message typical of haughty web services: Tell us everything we might need to know. Yes, we know some of it is trivia that you will get from us, but we need to you show your allegiance by entering it here because it lowers our costs. Don’t call us, we’ll call you thanks!

Of course there wasn’t a cancel service choice among the reasons I was asking for support. Of course I have to specify which machine (there was only one) and which user (again, only one) are affected by my desire to cancel.

This is what really irritates me about web services, and why I usually don’t subscribe to anything that requires payment. They all are more than happy to get you signed up, but canceling is a different story. The net result is that after I’ve waste my time with an unsatisfactory service, I’m further irritated by the hassle of canceling.

With our children we have a rule: How likely we are to do something (go to the zoo, visit friends, etc) again depends on how miserable it is to leave. If it’s miserable to leave we aren’t likely to do it again.

Am I likely to recommend Mozy to anyone? Nope. But more important for all the rest of you web entrepreneurs, what”s happened to my willingness to sign up for the next subscription service?

Google Apps for Domains on the way out?

I use Google’s apps for domains, and have for some time, but it may be time to change.

While the email is great, and has awesome spam filtering, the problem is that I think Google may not keep it around for very long. Why do I think this? Because Apps just doesn’t get the new stuff. It really still doesn’t have the old stuff. Being in Apps means your cut off from the rest of the Google experience. This thread on Google Groups demonstrates it best – Google Apps for your domain is just not connected to the rest of Google.

Recently a friend invited me to Wave. When I went there I found it was connected to my ‘other’ account – the one that has analytics, adsense, adwords, etc. I can’t get to either Buzz or Wave from my email account that is tied to my domain. That’s a huge problem. I can’t get to either Buzz or Wave, even though they are tied to email, and I can’t keep the contacts I use for any of them together.

It comes down to either use Buzz & Wave, and choose another email provider, or put off Buzz and Wave until Google decides to make Apps part of the family. Pardon me while I hold my breath.

Google Wave? So far, no thanks

A well-meaning friend who I respect recently sent me an invitation to Google Wave. So far, Wave seems to suck.

First, even though it’s in invitation only mode my usual username, swduncan, is taken. Even with a 1 stuck on the end. That’s a deal breaker right there as I have enough credentials to remember already…even more so considering that this is Google and given that I have both an account AND domain-based (swduncan.com) apps with them having to pick yet another username with them is stupid. Google has always been brain dead in the username management department.

But when I look at the opening screen I see what looks like an older version of Yahoo mail. Yup, folders, spam, trach, favorites…how is this different from mail?

So I look around trying to figure out why/how this is different then mail, and I find videos. Great. The concept is so complicated I can’t be expected to learn it without watching a 10 minute movie. Looking at the few bullet points scattered in various welcome items, it seems Wave purports to do all the things I already have other sites to do. Only Google’s thoughtfully pulled them together into another tool they can mine data from.

I don’t need another inbox to check, or another system sending me emails telling me I need to go check something, another list of friends to manage, another environment full of extensions to install and worry about, or another infrastructure to organize. Is it me, or is the mere maintenance of one’s online existence becoming a part-time job?

I know, it’s early in the morning and I’m a bit cranky, but Goog’s goona have to bring a lot more more to this table for me to be interested.

Mint.com is broken…should I keep going?

So I thought I could live with Mint.com despite the fact that it renames every electronically paid bill as ‘BP’, and categorizes it as ‘Fuel’. As you might imagine, this screws up our budget a little.

First I sent Mint.com the following bug report:

All of my electronic bill-pay transactions have descriptions that start with BP. Mint has decided that all of them must be fuel charges, i.e. BP the gas station.

How can I fix this?

They offered this reply:

Here’s how:

1. Log in to Mint.com.
2. Click the Transactions tab at the top of the page.
3. Click the transaction you want to rename and/or re-categorize.
4. At the bottom of the box that appears around this transaction, click Edit Details.
5. In the Description column, you can type a new name for this transaction. In the Category column, you can click the pull-down menu to view and select from other categories to re-categorize this transaction. To add your own completely new category, click Add/Edit Categories at the end of any of the category lists.
6. Check the box under “Rules” if you’d like to permanently apply the new name and/or new category to this type of transaction.
7. Click I’m Done.

Here’s the problem. Their rules are a very simple text replacement. So if I make a rule to replace, say, ‘BP’ with ‘Thunderhoot’, it’s going to change every one. Never mind that some of those BP transactions are daycare payments, and others went to the mortgage. All it has to go on when making the replacement is BP. So I respond:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for responding. Unfortunately, renaming doesn’t work because
ALL of my electronic bill pay transactions get renamed as BP. When I
make a rule for one, they all get changed.

Am I being obtuse? Seriously, sometimes I write things that seem clear but aren’t…maybe this is one of those times:

In order to investigate & troubleshoot bugs, we need to know the following:

1. Browser and Operating system you’re working with.
See link for supported browsers:

2. The specific steps (if any) that caused you to encounter the error.

3. A screen shot and description of the error. A file should be .jpg or .png format. *Directions for Windows users: http://graphicssoft.about.com/cs/general/ht/winscreenshot.htm
*Directions for Mac users: http://guides.macrumors.com/Taking_Screenshots_in_Mac_OS_X

Important Note: All requested information are crucial for fixing the bug.

I sense this is the ‘Give the customer some busy work and hope he’ll get tired and go away’ reply. Seriously, they actually think the browser is going to affect how their website processes data? Maybe my operating system? Just for the record, I’m using Firefox, or sometimes Safari. Normal versions, not special developer versions. I’m also using Snow Leopard, again a normal version.

For those of you who are curious, the misnamed transactions behave the same way regadless if it is Firefox or Safari, Mac or Windows XP, or even my iPhone.

It seems that the suggestions Damon (from Mint.com) wrote back on November 8, 2007, with concise instructions on what to supply aren’t correct. I posted a followup so others would know what is required.

Anyway, before these replies had shown up I had started contacting Mint.com with the specific transactions that are misnamed, as requested in this post. It’s not easy to do, because even though Mint.com has the correct transaction name (they include it in the properties of the HTML item for the transaction) there’s an extra step or two required to cut and past it into their contact form. Today I got the same browser/os/screenshot reply.

Putting together a complete screen-shot sequence of all the steps required to show their product doesn’t work is, well, a lot of work. The thing is I’m not the first person to notice it. I mean, this Lifehacker post from 2007 describes the problem pretty well under ‘Drawbacks’. My intuition tells me if they wanted to solve this problem, they’d have solved it. Or at least added a ‘Do not translate transaction names’ checkbox to the options page.

Mint.com feature suggestion

I was using Mint.com again today, as I decided that even thought it renames all of my electronically-paid bills to ‘BP’ there would still be some value in using it. The spending that really needs monitoring isn’t usually paid electronically, so the rest of the transactions that Mint.com doesn’t mostly misname are still intact.


Today I found out that handwritten checks get renamed to ‘View Image’. This is because the description that my credit union provides includes the phrase ‘View Image’, which is a link to the image of the check when I’m on the CU site. Mint.com decided to throw away the check number, which is the only piece of identifying information you usually get on handwritten checks.

So after nosing around on the Mint.com support forums I found specific instructions for filing a bug request when Mint.com misnames transactions, I decided to start filing bug requests for all these misnamed transactions.

Feature Suggestion

Mint.com, please add a ‘Report misnamed transaction’ button on your transaction view. Maybe to the edit details pane. Since you already have the transaction date, my account ID info, the name that Mint gave the transaction as well as the original statement text, it would save me from having to re-type all that info when filing a bug request.

Personal finance software revisited: Mint.com not so good

Why is the world of personal financial management software so awful? About twice a year I go looking for a solution that works, and I always end up wasting a bunch of time and come up empty handed.

Just this week I once again set forth to find something, and thought I’d finally found it when I tried Mint.com. While MInt’s got lots of features that make people happy, it has at least one major flaw that will keep me from using it. It records all my electronically paid bills as ‘BP’, and then dutifully categorizes them as fuel. I’m not the only one with this kind Mint problem, and since my specific ‘Mint renaming all transactions as BP‘ problem was posted by someone else in 2008. While I’ve filed a support request, I’m not optimistic. It would seem that Mint is focused on the users where their automation works, not where it doesn’t.

I then tried Wesabe, but after I registered and picked my credit union, they prompted me to upload my transactions. What, is this 1995?

Does ANYONE make a decent personal financial management product that a) Connects to my credit union, which is Educator’s Credit Union in WI and b) Also connects to the usual other institutions, and c) Works?

Sears screws up an order, loses sale.

For all of you who run an e-commerce business of some kind, here are some tips for avoiding lost sales in a down economy:

  1. Make sure that when the customer hits the ‘confirm order’ button that they don’t get some cryptic server error page. This is a critical part of the order accepting process, and most customers (including me) aren’t going to go back and re-enter all of their stuff to re-order it.

    When I was trying to place my order with Sears last night and the cryptic message came up I decided I’d just get my stuff elsewhere.

    But they sent an email explaining since I ordered stuff for store pickup and the store wasn’t open my order couldn’t be processed. When the store opened this morning I would get an email letting me know when my order was ready. If it were not for that email, I’d be shopping elsewhere already.

    Unfortunately the email alone was not enough to save the sale…

  2. Make sure that when your system tells the customer an item is in stock – better yet, says “4 available” and they’ve ordered one – that it really is. When my “Your order is ready for pick-up” email arrived just now, I discovered that 6 out of the 7 items I’d ordered were canceled. No offer to ship them soon, no mention of what other stores might have them, just that they’re canceled. Apparently if Sears doesn’t stock, I don’t need it.

    These are the same items that showed as all being stock when I’d placed the order. I’d chosen a particular Sears store because they had everything I’d needed. The only reason I’d ordered online at all was because there was a 24-hour sale online sale that ended at 6am this morning (yes, before the store would open.)

I will now be buying my few hundred dollars worth of tools from someone else.

I’m embittered by the fact that I’d mentally taken care of ordering the stuff I needed – it was an item off my list. Picking them up was something I’d been looking forward too. Now it’s a chore back on the list, I’m disappointed, and I’ve got to go hunt down a new place to get everything. Now my money is tied up at Sears and I have to wait for the return to process and make sure it doesn’t get screwed up.

In short, I started out planning to spend some money and get something I needed and wanted. Instead, I’ve (albeit temporarily) spent my money, but gotten nothing but wasted time and uncertainty.

There’s already enough uncertainty in my life right now, and I don’t need more. I now think Sears sucks. I’d prefer craftsman tools to the other alternatives, but not at the expense of rewarding an incompetent organization for wasting my time and making me feel like an idiot for ordering from them in the first place.


I just realized that there’s something that seems kind of crooked about this. I have an email saying that my order could not be processed until the store opens. So, the store opens this morning, they process the order, find that they don’t have most of the stuff I wanted. But my card was STILL BILLED FOR THE TOTAL AMOUNT.

Now I definitely think Sears sucks.

Ok, who has decent hand tools at reasonable prices? Snap-on, SK and Mac need not apply – I’m not paying their prices. I need 6 point sockets, 1/2″ drive, in standard and metric.

iPhone 2.0…iBrick 2.0?

So I’ve waited patiently until this morning to get the iPhone 2.0 update for my iPhone from iTunes, and patiently went through the process of backing up, downloading a 200+mb file, etc. and in the end I get this error box:

I get this error box that says “We could not complete your iTunes Store request. An unknown error occurred (-9838).” This was no doubt the portion of the iTunes store code written by ex-Microsoft employees. It’s not good when you update the firmware in a product only to have it die in the middle, leaving you with an inoperable product. My iPhone is not configured at all now, and won’t until Apple gets its poo together and iTunes stops having unknown errors.

C’mon Apple, you can’t tell us you didn’t expect high traffic. You know darn well exactly how many iPhones are out there…why the problems?

So, until things calm down, I’ve bricked my phone by doing their update. Great.

[update] I’ve found that the folks in Germany are having similar problems with iBrick 2.0, if my German is still up to speed.

Lowe’s replaces the cabinet

We’ve been on and off the phone with Lowe’s and their contractor, and one of the things we agreed to recently was that we could come to the store and pick out a replacement cabinet for the one that got broken during the floor installation. Last weekend we decided to take them up on that.

We decided to get ClosetMaid shelving instead, because it’s a small dark space we’re filling, and we thought we’d get more storage and it would be easier to use. The price turned out to be a wash, but it didn’t really matter. All we had to do was gather up the stuff we needed, bring it to the service counter, and Lowe’s took care of it.

After a bit of installation the shelves were up and being stocked. Our instincts were right – they are a huge improvement over what we’d had, for less money than it would have taken to replace the original cabinet.

We’ve got a date picked out for the reinstallation of the floor, and we’ve agreed on how to fix the damaged molding. All that’s left is the damage on the hardwood floor, but we’ren ot sure what to do about that.

While this got off to a rocky start, both Lowe’s and their contractor Premier Professional Services have been following up and interested to get it resolved.