Quicken + HSBC = Insanity

I’ve been a bit annoyed at Quicken in the past, but my recent experience has put me over the edge. Now, in fairness, it’s not all their fault. It’s also my bank’s fault.

This is a rant. You’ve been warned – so let’s take these on one at a time, shall we?

Quicken: Would You Like to Upgrade? Yes or Yes!

A few months ago, Quicken 2005 Premier started telling me that I needed to upgrade or it would stop downloading from my banks. First of all, I don’t know how that’s even legal, as I’m pretty sure it violates some legal standard of the various international Sale of Goods Acts.

Anyway, I moved back to Canada, and Quicken refused to import data into my newly created Canadian dollar accounts. It could download the files. it could read the files. It just didn’t feel like importing the details because, apparently, Canadian zeros and ones are quite different than US zeros and ones. So I had to upgrade – fine, because I’m sure the new product is better than the old one, right?

But Upgrade to What?

I should have known this wouldn’t be easy. When I bought my last version of Quicken in 2005, there were three versions: Quicken Basic, Quick Premier, and Quicken Deluxe. Now there are only two versions: “Cash Manager” and “Home and Business”. The packaging provides no details on the appropriate product for me, given my previous purchase. Looking at the feature list, it appeared that Quicken Cash Manager was all I needed, given that Quicken Home and Business had a number of features I didn’t require (customizing invoices, etc). However, after installing the product, Quicken refused to import the old file, stating that it included features not available in the version I purchased. So, now I had to go buy the upgrade to the other version.

Hello? Why are you making it so hard for me to give you my money? A map of old versions to new versions would have been really helpful.

Actually, You Need to Update Just One More Time

After purchasing and downloading the (final?) upgrade, the Quicken installer asked if I wanted to check for updates. This is an odd thing to ask, especially as the software was just downloaded directly from Quicken’s site, but whatever, I proceeded. The installer reported no updates available. But when I launched Quicken, it automatically checked for updates (again), and this time it found an update to Release 3! Did they really release a new upgrade in the fifteen seconds since the last update check? Highly improbable.

Well, at least the worst is over, right?

HSBC, The Doctor Will See You Now

One of the most powerful features of Quicken is its ability to download and update your accounts with a single click. Imagine my joy upon learning that this feature doesn’t work with HSBC. Now, this isn’t entirely Quicken’s fault – many banks have adopted rigorous, non-standard authentication mechanisms to thwart phishing and other security attacks. However, this is a trend that’s been understood for the past four years, one that Quicken should have moved to address a long time ago.

Now, having to download into Quicken manually doesn’t seem very difficult. Except when you use HSBC. Instead of a single download for all your accounts, you need a separate multi-step download procedure for every account. Times two if you have a spouse and you’re the guy who manages the money. And double it again, because HSBC runs a separate web site for their MasterCard customers for some inexplicable reason. Which means that it takes about ten minutes to simply download your account data before you’re even in a position to start updating your accounts.

One Last Kick In The Groin, For Old Time’s Sakes

But wait, there’s more! If you try to manually download to Quicken from the HSBC MasterCard site, it doesn’t work, stating “Quicken is currently unable to verify the financial institution information for this download”. I have no idea what this error means. I have no way to fix this. The only way to make it work is to download the old .QIF format and manually import it into Quicken.

Is this the bank’s problem, or the user’s problem? Honestly, users don’t care.

That’s All Folks!

So, in summary for those of you following along at home, the Quicken 2008 product:

  1. Offers a poor purchase experience
  2. Requires multiple updates to a product right out of the box
  3. Doesn’t really do much different from the Quicken 2005
  4. Will, in all likelihood, forces you to upgrade in the future for little additional benefit

and, when used in combination with HSBC in Canada:

  1. Is incapable of performing “one-click” updates
  2. Fails to import MasterCard records from HSBC MasterCard

In short, Quicken (when used in combination with HSBC) fails to provide exactly the functionality its users are seeking in the product: easy money management. Buyer beware.

(Incidentally, I have logged these bugs with both Quicken and HSBC. I encourage you to do the same)

Traction in the Vancouver Startup Discussion

I’m getting good comment flow on my “Change Begins At Home” post over on Techvibes. While I’m not especially pleased with myself for stooping to unjustified generalizations and muckraking, it seems to be getting the right response. There is thoughtful discussion starting, and people are getting involved. That’s a good sign. Nothing worse than people being docile and uninvolved.

That said, I’m still figuring out the right tact and structure for the posts. While I’d like to get a bit more concrete in my analysis, it would seem for the moment that the advice given to me by a high-profile local investor was right: tell people stuff sucks, and they’ll rally to prove you wrong.

The Radiohead Experiment Continues

The Radiohead NUDE Remix Contest Well, ask and ye shall receive. It appears that Radiohead is continuing the experiment it started with the release of “In Rainbows” by releasing one of their songs’ source tracks. The band has released five “stems” to the song “Nude” (one for each of the bass, voice, guitar, strings/fx and drums) for their fans to remix and upload to the site – they’re even releasing a Garageband source file for the track to ease the remixing process.

It’s an interesting experiment, but the price point seems a bit off – $6 for all of the tracks! And the terms indicate you have no rights whatsoever, even to the remix you create. I’m not sure how this will be received, but I’ll be watching with interest. Maybe if it’s successful, the labels will open up the back catalogs, drop the price point, and offer some additional licensing options.

A Revised Country Drop-down List

Since moving back to Canada, I have a major problem with the country drop-down list just about every web site on the planet seems to use: an alphabetically ordered list of countries. You’re cruising along, trying to enter information as fast as possible, and you run straight in Cambodia.

Screw you Cambodia!

Yes. Cambodia. Nothing says “screw you Canada!” like a drop-down list that defaults to Cambodia as the first entry for the letter ‘C’.

While most Internet developers seem to have developed just enough intelligence to code an HTML SELECT drop-down and put the “United States” at the top of the list, they haven’t quite figured out that the same technique might be useful for other countries. So here you go guys, here’s my free user experience advice to you: order the damn list by Internet usage.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Show the list in the order that most represents the real state of the online world. The world isn’t alphabetical. You cannot try to tell me the next most important country after the United States is Afganistan – they’re a little more concerned with running water and electricity these days to be buying a Kindle from Amazon.com.

If you do that, here’s what it would look like:

Now, I admit, Canada still ends up being below China, but that’s a bit less insulting frankly. Nothing wrong with coming after a country with a fifth of the world’s population. But if you’re really tricky, you might even order the list based on your target audience – I mean, are you really selling to China from your North American web site? Probably not. Or what about ordering the list according to Internet spending by country?

Seriously, it’s not rocket science.

No, I Will Not Do Your Homework

Roughly once a week, I get an email from someone in India, Thailand, China, or some other far-flung corner of the world who is fervently working on their final undergraduate project, their master’s thesis, or some other coursework and wants me to help them. Don’t get me wrong, I like helping people wherever possible, providing their intentions are honest, and they’ve done their homework. I adopt the same attitude exhibited by physics professors at my undergraduate university – if you could explain what you’d done, where you were stuck, and propose possible solutions, they’d help you out. If you were fishing for free homework answers, you were SOL.

The kind of people that are asking for help clearly haven’t done their homework. They ask me for help on peer-to-peer networking projects, example code, and even exact programs that will essentially comprise their entire project. No dice. I wrote a book on the subject, and I gave it away for free (although, yes, it is out of date at this point).

Neither life nor Google are going to hand you a complete answer, polished and ready to hand into your professor. You’re going to have to learn to figure things out for yourself. Sorry, but this is tough love.

The Nerd Handbook

I’ve been a longtime fan of Rands’ blog for his great insights into engineering management and Jane Goodall-like understanding of developers and other nerdkind. I somehow missed one of his posts, The Nerd Handbook, which is painfully on the mark. It is essential reading for anyone (including significant others) who deals with nerds on a regular basis.

Arthur C. Clarke Dead at 90

This news saddened me greatly. Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction was central to my interest in science. I grew up on a steady diet of his stories ever since I was first introduced to his stories by my father as a child. Whenever I found myself in a library or a bookstore at a loss for what to read next, I instinctively headed to his section to see if he had anything new to offer. He will be missed.

Perfect (Penmanship), The Enemy of Good

My nemesis: the Moleskin notebookI carry around two Moleskine notebooks just about everywhere that I go — a small, pocket-sized ruled version, and a larger sketchbook version. They’re with me to capture notions, ideas, thoughts, whatever. There’s just one problem: I rarely write in them.

As a rule, I’m generally quite a neat and organized person. This is reflected in my hesitance to mar these exquisite vessels with my unkempt scratchings. Although I spent three years in high school under the strict and hand cramp-inducing tutelage of Mr. Knipe, the drafting teacher, my previously draftsman-perfect block lettering has degraded to only an archaeological remnant of recognizable writing. Such is the price of progress and years of clattering away at a computer keyboard.

When I think of the great minds of the ages – Da Vinci, Newton, and others – their flawless lines of precise penmanship put me to shame (even in the case of Da Vinci who wrote his backwards). Great thoughts deserve great handwriting, don’t they? And so I restrain myself from degrading the pages of these two notebooks with my dribbling scrawl. It’s a weird neurosis, but I’m not sure it’s one that has a psychological classification yet.