Win Some, Lose Some

Today’s win: successfully replacing the laser in a broken Wii console, without wiping the saved data or shorting anything out. Thank you, Console Zombie!

Today’s loss: finding out that Momentum MINI in Houston put much cheaper tires on my car two weeks ago than the ones that I came in with, even though they didn’t mention that fact either before or after, and it cost me as much as it would have for the good ones. I then found out that they also just happened to leave $1,700 off of the estimate for the additional work I needed, even though all of the parts and labor involved were listed. Of course, the guy I was dealing with insisted that we had discussed all of these things and that they only reason he didn’t include all of the prices previously was that I told him to hold off on giving me the full quote for some reason. I don’t really enjoy being lied to or paying unreasonable amounts for routine maintenance, so I made him give me back my key so that I could go get a quote that is on this side of the sanity spectrum.

Jamaica and the Amazing Airtight Humidor

We just got back from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and it was awesome. Last week was our first real vacation (“real,” as in longer than a three-day weekend and not a holiday visit with family – a true getaway) since 2008. It was way overdue, and well worth it.

One weird finale to the trip: my travel humidor vacuum-sealed itself on the flight back. The air pressure in the plane’s cargo hold got low enough that the travel humidor’s lid was sealed so tight after we landed that I couldn’t get it open. (I did eventually get it open, but only after wedging the file attachment on a pair of nail clippers between the base and lid and using it as a lever. Even then, it took about five seconds of hissing for the interior and exterior air pressures to equalize.)

Anyway, now it’s back to the grind tomorrow.


I’m writing this on my treadmill! We bought a SurfShelf Treadmill Desk for those times when we want to work out but need to work or have something else to do on the computer. Pretty sweet.

You Get What You Pay For

As I’ve blogged on several occasions (here, here, and here), my trusty Dell finally got beaten into immobility during law school. This prompted me to run out and buy the cheapest thing I thought I could live with for a year or two. As the above links indicate, that was a mistake. My Sony has shed five keys and has several others that stick or fail to respond. The Wi-Fi is fickle, the CD/DVD drive is totally kaput, and it requires near-constant TLC (not to mention an external keyboard) to function at all. Oh, and you could fry an egg on it even when it’s idle.

So, I’m finally getting a new laptop. As those of you who’ve seen the present disaster in action know, it’s (past) time. Thanks, Sarah, for my Christmas gift!

For anyone (i.e., Brian & William) who wants gory details: Dell XPS Studio 16, 2.8 GHz Intel Core Duo with 6 MB cache, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 512 MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics, 500 GB 7200 rpm HDD, 802.11a/g/n and 10/100/1000 ethernet networking. (Yes, Dell – with the exception of my own finally beating the living daylights out of my old laptop, I’ve had very good experiences with Dell’s products.)

Hard Times

You know times are bad when large corporations start accepting advertising money to do product placement in their web chat tech support sessions. For example: “Thank you, I’ve found your account information.  While I’m looking up your account info, be sure to check out _____, where you can meet friends, play games, etc.” That just happened.  And yes, I really was told that my account info had been located, then pitched some nonsense third-party garbage while the tech support person “looked up” my account.

Oh, and said company did not resolve my issue. This, despite the fact that this was my second contact with tech support stemming from the complete failure of their website to display the option I need to access, except in how-to diagrams.

Truly impressive.


A few days ago I lamented (here and here) the difficulty of doing certain at-a-glance budgeting in Quicken.  I think I have found many of the features I was missing through the excellent free service

The main thing I have been missing is at-a-glance budgeting.  That is, I’d really like to be able to see, in just a moment or two, how our current spending in a certain category, such as dining out, stacks up to our budget for the month (or quarter, or year, etc.).  I would like to be able to do it on a single screen, with minimal scrolling, and any scrolling should be vertical, not horizontal.  This has long been a failing of Quicken; so far as I have ever been able to tell, there is no way to see in one fell swoop what you’ve spend, what you’ve budgeted, what’s left over, and whether or not your spending is more or less on-pace for wherever you are in the relevant period.  In addition, rollover categories are a must.  Telling me that I have missed my budget twice because I spend $100 on groceries on September 30 and am under-budget by $100 in October is not particularly helpful.  Unfortunately, that is all that Quicken offers, and that in a less-than-user-friendly format.  I recognize (as Mark reminded me today) that I am a long-tail user of Quicken, but this seems like bread-and-butter, basic, should-have-worked-well-since-Windows-95 stuff.  The good news is that Mint does all of these things fairly well, as evidenced in this (old) screenshot (this is a Mint-provided image, not our budget):

Mint Expense Snapshot (Screenshot)

The new version is much improved; it’s actually a lot like the “Savings Plan” feature in Quicken 2009, but better due to the use of rollovers, the prettier and simpler interface, and the fact that I don’t (apparently) have to set a new budget every month.

Now, the irony of this situation is not lost on me, given that Intuit (maker of Quicken) just announced its acquisition of Mint.  Despite the many features of Quicken which are not found in Mint’s offering, I have to say that was probably wise: Mint is extremely user-friendly and easy to use.  Given the extent of overlap, the speed at which Mint was being improved, and that Mint is a free service while the full-featured versions of Quicken are not, one can see why this acquisition came about.

Other issues that had concerned me included Quicken’s kludgy handling of interest versus principal for budgeting loan payments and its inability to connect to my student loan servicers.  I could use Mint in the same way I use Quicken, tracking interest and principal separately for the most accurate possible look at the bottom line and our progress in building equity in our assets or reducing student loans.  That seems unreasonably redundant, however, and would defeat the purpose of my signing up for Mint, in the first place.  In fact, Mint handles tracking and classifying loan payments very nicely without my tweaking anything.  As for student loan servicers, so far, Mint has blown Quicken out of the water – setting up connections to these companies was just as easy as setting up a bank account, and as anyone who has used a student loan website recently can attest, that is no small feat.   Another major complaint I have had is that Quicken would not let me use the site to view information about our accounts or budgeting when I am away from my personal laptop.  Allegedly, it can do that, but I have never been able to update without an error in Quicken.  Because Mint is always up to date, online, and includes budgeting features, it solves this problem as well.  (I recognize that many banks’ websites now allow users to view multiple accounts, including those at other institutions, in one place, but none of the institutions at which we have any kind of account have nearly the feature set Mint offers.)

So, in summary, while Mint does not have enough features to make ditching Quicken entirely a wise choice for us, it is an extremely useful supplement to Quicken.  We are going to be using it heavily, and hopefully will not need to go crazy with Excel or some other, redundant system.

[Note: I am, of course, hyper-conscious about security with such things.  Mint has addressed security and privacy issues on their website. For us, given that we live in an imperfect world and that we already necessarily entrust sensitive information to Quicken and various institutions, we are comfortable with the way Mint manages privacy and security issues. You, the reader, need to reach your own conclusions on whether or not you are comfortable with Mint’s service, and my review is not an endorsement for general use or advice of an attorney, accountant, or any other professional service provider.]

Disclaimer: is a free-to-use service and I am not receiving any compensation for my use of Mint or for posting this information, which represents solely the private opinion of the author and not an endorsement of any provider of goods or services.

Quicken Premier 2009

We upgraded last night to Quicken Premier 2009, which partially resolves the Quicken 2007 issues surrounding budgets, which I mentioned in my last post, through the Savings Plan feature. Unfortunately, this feature has its own limitations – you have to define a plan each month, cannot define plans for past months, can only define a plan for one future month, and cannot easily get the granularity a true budget offers. It does fix the problems involved in splitting principal and interest, which is helpful, and it does offer budget rollovers, which is also helpful, but it still has quite a few limitations for a single feature. So, I may be resorting to Excel or PHP/MySQL (probably the latter, since I’m a true nerd) to get all of the budget and planning functionality I want, after all.

Does anyone with Quicken 2009 experience out there know of something I’m missing? Is there a better way to drill down on specific categories, while resolving the loans issues?

Quicken Budgets & Loan Accounts

Does anyone know how to get Quicken to budget properly for a loan account? That is, if you actually set up an amortized loan, how do you get Quicken to budget for the interest and principal as a single payment? I’m using Quicken Premier 2007, and it seems like there is no way to track a loan as a loan, but also budget for it as a single item.

Does anyone know if more recent versions (2008, 2009, or the coming-next-week 2010) handle budgets and/or loans more efficiently?


Calmness, Continued

I have not been posting much on here, lately, ironically because I am not super-busy, despite having a lot of opportunities for professional development and a lot of fun experiences. Life has remained at a good, non-frantic pace since the last entry, and we have been relishing the free time. That said, I plan to start updating this more often, again. The blog is a very useful thing when I’m actually using it, which is far too rarely.

Question for my readers, assuming I still have any: I want to brush up on my foreign language skills and, ideally, acquire additional languages down the road. I’m looking at the Pimsleur Comprehensive materials, and have liked what I’ve heard so far. Has anyone used these? I know what all the reviews say, but would like opinions of friends before purchasing anything.