Reinstall: A pain in the Microsoft Windows

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I took an extra long vacation this winter, from Dec 22 until Jan 4.  I needed that many days so I’d have some undisturbed time to reinstall XP on my home computer. This is just one of the normal rituals necessary when using the world’s most popular operating system. Historically, I’ve done it every year or two, once the computer gets painfully slow and unreliable.

I managed to go almost 3 years without having to do it.  My machine  just got slower, and slower, and less reliable. I couldn’t hear sound on YouTube (big loss, there), the slot wouldn’t read CF cards from my DSLR, a couple peripherals wouldn’t work in some USB ports, strange install scripts would kick off for no apparent reason.  It’s a weirdness that gives Microsoft products their own special random charm.

A reinstall is when you hope you know where you’ve put everything on your PC, you open up the box, you hose out the 2 inches of dust that the 4 fans collected, you put in new drives that will hold another 6 months of RAW files, you reinstall Windows, and then you do your best to restore all your data (neatly ruining useful meta data).  Once you are sure it is running correctly, and is faster and more reliable than it has ever been, you  spend a solid two days carefully reinstalling all your software, just to slow it all back down again and introduce random errors and internal conflicts.

Then you spend a couple weeks reinstalling the stuff that you didn’t know you didn’t have.

Windows is especially challenging because you can’t just pick up stuff and move it. Unlike Apple’s OS, Linux, Xenix, Unix, and other efficient, reliable, and easily-administered computer operating systems, Microsoft consistently avoided design facilitating intuitive decisions about system operation. With a normal OS,  if you want to move somebody’s files, you just pick them up and move them. If you want to move an application, you pick it up and move it. If you want to delete temporary files, you delete them.  Windows just throws all that stuff together–in three entirely different places, one of which is not visible to mortals. You can’t just move it–you need to do a planned migration.

How did this happen, you might ask?  Well, it is actually very simple: (more…)

Not Quicken enough: does KeyBank have human employees?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

After all my struggles getting USAA and Chase configured with my instantiation of Quicken, you might wonder why I bothered to add my KeyBank checking account, given that it’s a small one we only have the because its a requirement for having a safety deposit box. But, I’d sent away for a PIN last Fall, and as long as I was on a roll, I figured I might as well try it out.

The enrollment only took about 5 minutes. How cool is that? The shocker was learning that since receiving the PIN, I had been dinged $3.95 every MONTH for an online banking fee (the price goes up if you press the download button more than 15 times a month). How greedy is that? I know that banks are making more money from fees than from banking, so to speak, but I’m still surprised that Key is charging almost $50 a year for something that allows them to fire more tellers and saves them the expense of mailing me paper statements.

I phoned them up, and canceled the Quicken support. They said I could use web-based banking at no additional charge, so I started the online enrollment process.

Elizabeth came into the room just as I was confronted with the inevitable request to read and agree to the legal verbiage. We were both pleasantly surprised that it was only a small screen in length, and was written in real English. Elizabeth said there would surely be a clause in which they impose arbitration on us in case of disputes, but it wasn’t there.

Elizabeth was right after all.

Once I accepted the first agreement, I was immediately confronted with the following request followed by 4 links and 2 buttons:

By selecting the Accept button below, I:

1. certify that I can view the Account Disclosures and Agreements set forth above and am able to save and print them for future review,

2. acknowledge reading and receiving all Account Disclosures and Agreements,

3. agree to and intend to be bound by the following terms and conditions contained in the Disclosures and Agreements provided above.

At this point, I turned cynical again. The 4 links, apparently the ‘all Account Disclosures and Agreements’ were entitled:

I did try to read them. Guess what? They not only contained the arbitration clause, they included the following:

Pages

90

Words

47,877

Characters

253,614

Paragraphs

923

Lines

3,754

What reasonable expectation would any human being have that another human being would at this point sit down and read 90 pages of legalese just in order to use vanilla banking services? What normal human would carefully sift through 47,877 words of gibberish? It took a quarter million characters for Key to dump their risks onto my lap. I’ve had lawyers tell me that I should read these things, but consider that moderately wired Yanks and Brits get one of these a week from a financial intuition, a software vendor, or some other well-lawyered firm that wants to reduce their risk at your expense.

If you don’t agree to sucking up whatever these bullies are inflicting on their so-called customers, what is your choice? Should you open up an account at another bank and then start the online enrollment prices to see if it is intended for human use? Whenever a bank does make a mistake, sending you a letter to inform you that they’ve lost your personal information and you might be at increased risk of identity theft, they consider their responsibility over. We sent you 5 pages on our privacy policy in an envelope that was filled full of advertising for a loan that you didn’t need.

The truth is, I lied. I pressed the button saying that I can and did read these, but I probably cannot and certainly did not. This is the state that lawyers have put us in today–forcing us to lie in order to participate in our economy. And they wonder why we make jokes about them. Are they laughing all the way to my bank?

What human being actually participated in the creation of a Kafkaesque system like this? I’m eager to hear someone defend it. If you did, then put your comments below, so we can all read why this is so beneficial for ordinary people.

Does everyone spend 2 hrs getting Quicken downloads to work?

Monday, July 21st, 2008

I like having comprehensive records, so I use Quicken, but I dread the inevitable changes in financial system accounts that will mean phoning a ‘support’ number and begging them for help getting their statement downloaded.

I started using a modem connection to Columbus in 1994 for bill paying and credit card statements. For my Sovran, I mean my NationsBank, I mean my BankofAmerica account, along with my investments, I kept a big stack of paper statements on my desk, which I manually typed into Quicken once or twice a year, or before I did my income tax, whichever happened first. As retirement accounts multiplied, as financial service firms bought each other, as securities spun out subsidiaries, split, renamed, went out of business, etc, at an ever-increasing rate, it became more and more complex to manually type in all that stuff. I knew that someday it would all be electronic, and life would be easy.

A couple years ago, financial service firms started falling all over each other to support Quicken. Living in Europe, with accounts in the USA, paperless online accounts were especially appealing, so I paid my bi-annual tax to Quicken, twice, updating to a version that almost all of my financial service firms promised to support. After a couple weeks of diligent work, virtually my entire portfolio of mutual funds, savings accounts, and credit cards could be automatically downloaded into Quicken.

I was downloading from USAA the hard way, logging into their web site and manually downloading files that would launch the actual Quicken download. I had to do one for the cash accounts, and another for Elizabeth’s IRA. Every time I did it, Quicken patiently suggested that I setup one step download. Wanting to avoid the hassle of setting up a login and PIN that was different from the web site login, I avoided this for 18 months. USAA is a wonderful company–everyone should marry a military brat and get access to their services–but Quicken is Quicken. Even if you know that you are going to be speaking to polite and intelligent people whose native language is almost English (best way to learn a language is in bed, which is why I understand Texan), it is still going to be painful. If Intuit hadn’t yet again forced me to change my Quicken credit card account yet again, I would have limped along with USAA indefinitely.

So Quicken takes their logo away from Travelers, I mean Citi, and gives it to Chase Manhattan, I mean Chemical Bank, I mean JP Morgan Chase, which sends snail mail to the address that I explicitly was NOT using because I had electronic statements. Note from the photo that they take credit for holding my account for all 14 years. 6 weeks later, when I figure this out, I crank up Quicken, and it immediately offers to download an update, which I accept. After getting the update, I initiate a one-step download, resulting in a message from my new Quicken card provider explaining that I need to follow certain steps before I update Quicken. It includes a pointer to a Chase web site that doesn’t exist. Using Google, I find the document from Chase explaining how to convert my credit card account in Quicken. After getting a fatal error half way thru that process, I phone up the Chase phone number provided as part of the Quicken update, which actually rings thru to Citi, who give me Chase’s number.

I can hardly understand the non-native English speaker who asks me if I’ve done everything that I was supposed to do. When I say yes, she transfers me. 10 minutes later, the system hangs up on me. I phone back in, this time they lead me through by the hand. Eventually, I get Quicken connected, although there are no transactions to download, because I just got the card last week.

I try one last time to get our USAA accts to update the new way. It barfed, and after fussing with it for 30 mins, I figured I might as call USAA. When I explain that I’m not Elizabeth, they very politely told me that I needed to get my own login (to see the exact same info). I get that. It still doesn’t work, and I phone back. After we try a couple things, the support person suggests that I try to update a different USAA account, and suddenly, all the funny corrupted messages are gone, and the connection goes through. Even better, it updates savings, checking, and the CDs within Quicken.

So, now I’ve got one-step update to all our US accounts, except Elizabeth’s USAA IRA, which for obscure reasons I still need to download the old fashioned way (Quicken scolds me with “You are already downloading all the accounts for this account number” which isn’t the case at all–I’m downloading all the accounts for MY account number, not Elizabeth’s).

And of course, none of this works with my UK accounts. I’ve got 2 pensions from my first employer here (still using the same name, but I worked for HQ), one of which just moved to a new provider, but my second employer (just acquired for second time) didn’t help with retirement at all. My current employer (just buys other companies) mostly has only 1 pension, but they switched providers and for reasons that I’ve never figured out, I actually have 2 accounts with them–or is it 3. I still enter that stuff manually.

How did we ever get along without PCs? Could I have possibly accomplished all this in less than 110 minutes the old fashioned way?

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Just send them to your home PC and then upload them from there

Friday, July 4th, 2008

I’ve spent most of the evening trying to upload 20 pictures from my high school reunion to Facebook. Processing the pictures was easy–I use Lightroom and once I got the RAW files into the correct directory on my Vosonic drive, it only took about 15 minutes to change color balance, exposure, and cropping. Then it got interesting.

My corporate laptop, due for upgrade, is peculiarly challenged with server side scripts. I don’t know what the technical explanation for this is–if there can even be one. I just find web-based applications as being especially conducive to data loss. Not being able to login to www.facebook.com directly thru my corporate laptop (nor my personal email), I finally got the pictures online by logging into my home computer, using www.logmein.com. After establishing that I didn’t have any probs connecting into logmein, I mailed a zipped folder full of pictures to my home account, and then loaded them into Facebook thru my home desktop, the screen of which is conveniently scraped off and presented to me thru Logmein. Neither Rube Goldberg nor Heath Robinson could have come up with a more convoluted path from my DSLR to my Facebook photo directory.

This is the penalty I pay after a week that started off reasonably well on the PC front. It had been 11 months since my last visit to Ohio, and Dad had a laundry list of things for me to do on his PC. I won’t go into gory details on why his laptop had 3 portable hard drives hanging off of it like suckling digital piglets. A quick trip to the computer superstore and a couple hours of consolidating files resulted in a single external drive for photos, with a second only attached as a backup. That hardware triumph was followed by a software success, reconfiguring his copy of Lightroom, and importing approximately 11,000 photos. All of it must have worked, because he’s been merrily keywording photographs for 2 days now.

After struggling mightily to actually write and save my last posting using the www.wordpress.com software I’d installed on my new web site (you can blame it on my laptops aversion to php if you want), I decided to experiment with a new blog client called www.zoundryraven.com. Once I established that it actually seemed to work (connecting itself to my blogging account in record time), I installed it on a memory stick running www.portableapps.com. If you can read this, then it must have worked.

Assuming it keeps working, I can plug my USB stick into any of the 4 laptops that my family is taking to Heiser Hollow next week, write a blog posting, and then upload it by pushing a button. Given this week’s lack of online success, I’m thinking that web-based apps at dial-up modem speed just aren’t going to cut it.