Category Archives: Regulation

Ever tried to get support from Intuit (maker of Quicken and Turbotax)?

I have used Quicken (by Intuit) since the mid ’90s.  I have purchased a new version each year as a new one became available (usually when I bought my tax software from them) so that I would always be up-to-date.

Generally, I have been pleased with the software but over the years the service has varied from OK to abysmal.  At the moment, it seems on the Abysmal end.

My current problem is that when I try to download my bank transactions, Quicken pops up and says that I have to log into my online account before it will let me open the downloaded transactions.  Why is this an issue you ask? It is an issue to me because I cannot be sure that Intuit isn’t getting me to log into their site so that they can play man-in-the-middle with my financial transactions. It is unlikely, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

This issue is, in all likelihood, just a bug in a new patch for the 2016 software as it only started happening recently, but there is no way to tell and the information on their support site is dreadful.  I do know that one version of the software (which I assume to be the American version  because the documentation on the support site refers to $US) has had a similar bug because there is a patch for that bug on the support site…one that won’t install on my Canadian version of the package.

When self-help didn’t work, I was left with no choice but to ask Intuit for help. When you go to the Intuit support site you are given the option of phoning or chatting with them. The estimated wait time for calling is always about twice as long as the chat time…which means that most users would opt for the chat support. In my case the estimated wait time for chat support was 25 minutes – which is not acceptable, but what can you do? So I waited.

Here is a screen capture of my end of a one-way communication with Quicken (you can tell that I was a bit peeved when I started the chat session and things got worse from there):

Intuit service woes. My end of a one-way communication
Intuit service woes. My end of a one-way communication

So this is where we have arrived in 2016. Companies sell software that they don’t completely support or pretend to support by putting in chat sessions or phone support with unacceptable wait times (while this is bad, it isn’t as bad as companies that hide their telephone support behind circular voice messaging options that always end up leading you to recorded messages, but that is for another rant on another day).

What do you think? Should companies be able to take us for granted? In your mind, is this an acceptable level of service? Bear in mind that the software is generally pretty good save for this new bug.

So, I am now up to 1 hour and 28 minutes “Waiting for an agent…” and I would like to know:

Would you buy a product from Intuit?

Stay tuned for my next poor service story for software support or inadequate software design. As for me, I am going to end the chat session and have a beer.

 

The growing “support yourself” attitude from developers

image

How many times has this happened to you? You upgrade your software to the newest version and a critical function stops working? Or you are using software and you realise that some important functions were developed by folks that didn’t understand our didn’t care what the function was supposed to do?

So you hit help and it takes you to a poorly designed help function that hasn’t been updated since three major versions ago. So, now you Google the support page with hopes that Google will get you closer to support for your version, and voila… You are taken to a support page for your version of the software that tells you what a smart consumer you were for buying their software. It gives you a link to support for the software … and that support consists of a poorly designed FAQ page whose answers all take you back to the same “congrats for buying our software” page.

You then look for other service options … which you find are limited to a pay option (for software you purchased) or the ubiquitous “ask the community” option.

You opt for the latter option and find yourself reading about hundreds of other users with the same question with a few “try this and hope” answers from the community … but nary a comment or response from the development team.

So now you find yourself wondering why no one from the development team is moderating the discussion pages and providing definitive answers to common questions (or at the very least, taking note of the problems and either fixing them out documenting the workaround for the issue).

This happens to me all the time and I’m getting tired of it. I always try to solve problems on my own, reading the manuals; reading online help blogs; reading community fora; and then I search in vain for a way to contact the vendor.

I know you can’t talk to every user individually, but if you are putting out software, you have to let people know how you expected them to use it and you have to seek feedback for those occasions where it doesn’t work the way you expected. If you set up a community support area, you have to monitor it, looking for common problems and answering them definitively.

You also need to see where users may be confused about what you expected them to do and find ways to correct their expectations.

Finally, if some function in your software isn’t working and you can’t fix it, you need to acknowledge the deficiency and update all of the community blogs and help documents to tell folks it doesn’t work and not too bother looking for solutions. You then need to come up with a timeline for really fixing the problem and let your users know when it will be fixed.

So what do you think? Is there anything we can do to fix this problem? Is it a problem at all?

Public Service Sick Leave

Unfortunately, this government and many previous governments have spent years successfully vilifying the public service so I am afraid that a large minority of public opinion will side with Clement on this.  He has successfully driven a wedge between public servants that I know to be motivated by public interest and some members of the public that they serve.

It’s funny that when the politicians abuse their travel expenses, controls get put on public service travel. Politicians get involved in partisan advertising, and public servants get subjected to advertising controls.  Politicians make poor decisions about policy and the public service gets a black eye for not being able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

I am sick of small-minded little men like Clement taking out their anger on the public service.  I have worked with some extremely dedicated public servants that display no “feeling of entitlement”. They go into the office every day and work hard trying to  support their government and provide the best service to the public in a toxic environment with shrinking budgets. These people stay out of the political fray and try their hardest to provide good advice on public policy, which is often ignored because it does not align with the dogma of the party that is in power.

I know that many Canadians have no access to paid sick leave, and that makes me very sad, but rather than trying to drag down those who do, why not fight for the same access to health leave for everyone. The money is there in the economy (you just have to look at the profit figures for big business and the compensation packages for executives), it is just not being shared. The economy exists to support the aspirations of society, not the other way around.  When the economy fails to provide citizens with stable, reasonably compensated jobs that give them the hope of be able to contribute meaningfully to society, it has stopped doing its job and it is time for a change.

Let’s not let people sow fear and discord for political benefit.  Let us, rather, look for a future when we pull together to maintain this wonderful country that we have built-up with sweat, toil and good planning.

The same old energy mix — The Japan Times editorial

The same old energy mix — The Japan Times editorial.

I follow the folks that write Japan Safety: Nuclear Energy Updates and they just posted an article from the Japan Times where they look at the current government’s plans for energy sustainability over the next few decades. The picture is disturbing in light of the disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

Nuclear energy is carbon neutral, but it brings so many other long-term risks into the picture that it should not be considered as a sustainable energy source.  At Fukushima, they are having to store huge amounts of contaminated water on a site that was completely inundated with ocean water in 2011.

Read the article here.

Sweden have successfully used taxes to reduce environmental damage.

Interesting piece, and it now has a great link to the OECD report that the statistics come from.

Sweden has shown a longstanding commitment to the environment, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and nitrogen leaching.

Renewables supply more than a third of its energy needs. Sweden has set itself tough targets for the future, however, and must continue to innovate if it is to meet them, according to a new OECD report.

Sweden is one of the few countries to have successfully used taxes to reduce environmental damage. Strong environmental record, that has encouraged eco-innovation and spurred the use of green technologies.

“Sweden is a frontrunner in using market instruments like green taxes to discourage environmentally harmful activities and foster new technologies,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton, presenting the Review’s main findings in Stockholm.

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Construction is set to begin on a $150 million-plus solar powered greenhouse in South Australia’s Port Augusta

John [jpratt27] has published an excellent summary of a new plan to develop a new solar-powered greenhouse in South Australia.  This plant will not only produce fresh vegetables but will also be used to desalinate water in a very arid region.  A few more details are needed about how the resulting salts will be dealt with, but the project looks very hopeful.

The Australian Academy of Science says man-made climate change is real.

Sorry about the original posting…I posted the comment on the article from my smart phone and it “corrected” my spelling to make my comment unintelligible. Here is what I meant to say.

It is sad that, because of ill  informed or ill intentioned climate change deniers, we are just now getting around to acknowledging formally that human activities are implemented in the changes to the global climate. The need to be “balanced” means that we have spent an inordinate amount of time defending the proven and discussing the ridiculous.  It is not time to move on to finding a solution to the problems.

But, better late than never.

jpratt27

The Australian Academy of Science says man-made climate change is real and the consequences will be dire if no action is taken to address it.

The academy, in an update to its science of climate change booklet produced in 2010, says its authoritative account of the science behind global warming will help counter confusion and misinformation.

The update is written and reviewed by 17 of Australia’s leading experts in a range of climate-related sciences.

Earth’s climate has changed over the past century. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, sea levels have risen, and glaciers and ice sheets have decreased in size.

The best available evidence, the scientists say, indicates that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the main cause.

Chris Pash | businessinsider.com.au

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Why Tesla’s battery for your home should terrify utilities

News Release: Annual Report: Privacy Commissioner emphasizes importance of online transparency – August 21, 2014

https://www.priv.gc.ca/media/nr-c/2014/nr-c_140821_e.asp

In an update to a previous post, as of last summer, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was still working on the 168 complaints received about Bell Canada for its data collection and use policy.

Old fashioned telephone
Telephone

Stay tuned, it will be interesting to see what they finally come up with.

JD Power – Builder Satisfaction Survey – Methodology concerns

Here is an e-mail I sent to the “ask-us” link from the JD Power web site about their survey methodology for “New-Home Builder’s Customer Satisfaction Survey”. I haven’t heard anything back from JDPA, but I will update this post if I do.

Be careful how you interpret the results of this survey as it is currently conducted.


From:   [Hidden] 
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 9:09 AM
To:  [Hidden]@jdpa.com’;  [Hidden]@jdpa.com
Subject: Builder Satisfaction Survey

Hi:

I took part in one of your builder surveys (the Canadian New-Home Builders Customer Satisfaction Survey) a number of years back; in fact, results of an earlier version of the survey formed a large part of the reason I bought my house in the first place. The idea of the survey is a very good one, but the survey methodology is fatally flawed.  You send out the survey within the first year of occupancy, when the builder is still on the hook to fix deficiencies.  A longitudinal survey would be far more useful.  Similar metrics, but taken at the 6 month mark, the 2 year mark, the 5 year mark and the 7 year mark (just as the Tarion warrantee expires).  This would help you see what owners think about their builder once the hidden problems start to rise to the surface. 

I gave my builder,  [Hidden] , a glowing reference when I responded to your survey, but if I were asked again, my response would be far different and I would be able to provide real examples of poor service and cut-corners.

Without this type of long term look at satisfaction with home builders, the survey is misleading at best. 

Sincerely,

 [Hidden] 
 [Hidden address] 
 [Hidden] ONT

Bell is at it again…

If there is one thing Bell is good at, it is creating an unfair playing field, always tilted in its own corporate favour.  Whether it is about unilaterally changing user agreements after you sign up for them or collecting your usage information without your consent, Bell behaves as if it was immune from the social norms that govern transactions between people.

In this case, Bell seems to be tilting the playing field so that it’s content is available to its customers far more cheaply than that of its competitors, violating the net-neutrality provisions of the internet.

The CBC.CA article on the issue is really interesting and well worth the read.  The CRTC has to do something about this!!!

What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

Some links to interesting environmental sites

One of my colleagues at work sent me this list of ten interesting environmentally-related web-pages. He recommended them to me and suggested I take a look at them. You may wish to take a look at them too. Thanks Phil!

http://www.marine-conservation.org/

 

Marine Conservation Institute is a leader in the global movement to protect and recover the integrity of vast ocean areas.

We use the latest science to identify important marine ecosystems around the world, and then advocate for their protection, for us and future generations.

http://worldwildlife.org/

centre
centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 50 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature.

The world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature Continue reading Some links to interesting environmental sites

Aggressive Driving – Some observations from the peanut gallery

Close Call... Don't Drive Angry / Baynard County
Close Call… Don’t Drive Angry / Baynard County (Photo credit: Phil’s 1stPix)

I often hear pundits decrying the aggressiveness of drivers.  It is hard to disagree with the premise that aggressive driving is bad, but the picture isn’t as simple as the pundits would have you believe.

For one thing, not all aggressive driving is “actively aggressive”.  The pundits rarely discuss the passively aggressive drivers, like the folks that drive in passing lanes.  They also often fail to look for root causes for the driving aggression.

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time and think I have a few suggestions on how to reduce aggressive driving.  My suggestions are in the form of tips and I have organized these suggestions around four possibly overlapping groups of people … 1) the aggressive drivers themselves, 2) traffic planners, 3) other drivers and 4) law makers.  There probably isn’t much new here, and I hope it doesn’t appear to be condescending, but aggressive driving is an issue that has been bugging me for years so I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation. Continue reading Aggressive Driving – Some observations from the peanut gallery

A better way to recycle plastics? Mike Biddle replies to questions and comments about his 2011 TEDTalk

Plastic recycle logo Other
Plastic recycle logo Other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a follow-on article to Mike Biddle’s excellent video on new ways of dealing with plastics recycling. In this article (originally published on the TED.COM website, Mike responds to a number of questions that arose from his original TED talk. He deals with the thorny issue of getting the waste to one of the “mining” facilities.

Here is my a link to my post on the original TED Video

TED Blog

Last October, we posted this TEDTalk given at TEDGlobal 2011 by plastic engineer Mike Biddle, Founder and President of MBA Polymers, which has developed an incredibly energy and economically efficient method to recycle plastics — by turning it into the raw material  again.

The TEDtalk elicited over 1000 comments and questions on TED.com, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, including direct emails to Biddle and to the TED staff. Faced with the impossibility to answer them individually, Mike has grouped them together and addressed them below.

And now over to Biddle…

 I want to thank the TED community for all of the heartfelt comments and great questions. Although many of the comments were directed to me as I am the one that gave the TEDtalk, I’m replying here on behalf of the whole MBA Polymers team.  Much like the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, it…

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The Story of Change : a new video from the makers of the “Story of Stuff”

This video is all about empowerment. It is all about acting on our commitments…to the environment, to social justice, to each other. It is about supporting our government’s initiatives for becoming a “World Class Regulator“.

As with other “stuff” video, this one makes its point in the same clear logical fashion, taking us from being environmentally conscious but isolated islands to empowered actors in a movement to make a better world for us all. It does it using the same cheeky style, replete with stick figure art and snappy dialog.

This “Free Range Studios” production joins the rest of the Story of Stuff projects as another great teaching aid. It reminds us to get together, to get involved and to become activists in our own lives.

City of Ottawa – Help for Folks Installing Solar Thermal

The City of Ottawa has a nice new web page that acknowledges the existence of solar energy, and in particular solar domestic hot water (SDHW).  The site, which can be found on ottawa.ca gives information about two different types of SDHW systems: a CSA approved factory packaged system and not factory packaged system.  Both types of installation need a building permit.

Both installation types must be installed by a qualified installer (CanSIA certified) but non-factory packaged installations must be certified compliant with CSA F379.1-09 (the reference standard for SDHW) and with the Ontario Building Code by a professional engineer licensed in the Province of Ontario.

This doesn’t sound like a lot of help, but when I had my solar system installed, there were no guidelines or standards available and we had to slog through a morass of bureaucracy to get our installation approved, so that guidance is very welcome.

This information should make the process of installing SDHW more transparent and it should really reduce some of the risks to the homeowners and installers.  Good job Ottawa!