Review: iBank

January 18th, 2010

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I’ve been trying out various accounting software for Mac OS X, and today will be reviewing iBank, which promises my finances “will never look so good”. Rather than covering the softwares features, aesthetics, or value for money, I would like to concentrate on one part of the user interface that I think sums up iBank.

Underneath the list of transactions is this little “Quick Edit” area, that shows full details of the highlighted row. Here you can see I’m editing my purchase of Launchbar (more on that another day) and I would like to add a PDF of the receipt I received via email.

So, I correctly assume that the picture of the Parthenon is where I should be adding my image. There’s no “select…” option, so I try drag-and-dropping the PDF on the box. Nothing happens. I notice that there’s an “Edit” button on the right hand side and click that, to receive this message:

Um, yes? I did just click the Edit button after all.

Confirmation dialogs like this one belong in one place, and that’s destructive task such as “Are you sure you want to delete the pile of crap that is iBank from your computer?”.

Why I even have to switch to “Edit mode” in the first place is beyond me, as there’s no harm in the boxes being editable at all times. But then asking me if I’m sure I want to switch modes is the icing on the big stupid cake.

Dear sir,

The website you have contacted, Google Sightseeing, is not affiliated with Google. We have no control over which images Google chooses to show on its Street View service.

You should contact Google to request that an image be removed:
http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=68385

On a more personal note however, you should be aware that one of the main benefits of the Street View service is that people wishing to purchase a new house can choose between many more properties. If you choose to remove yourself from the service, your house (and probably your neighbours’ houses) will also be removed, and nobody will ever be able to use the service to inform their purchasing decision, should you decide to sell your home in the future.

Obviously it’s your decision whether you wish to remove your image from the service, but please bear in mind that the press is currently using scaremongering tactics and spouting complete nonsense in an effort to rile people up. Is it really so bad that people can see you standing outside your house? Were you doing anything that you wouldn’t normally do in a public place? Do you want it to look like you have something to hide?

I would like to reiterate that I am completely unaffiliated with Google, and these are my own personal opinions.

Kind regards,

Alex Turnbull

Recently I’ve been reading lots on the imminent Google Street View release for much of Europe, and have discovered a few titbits which I found interesting.

As you already know, the Street View images are taken by convoys of cars driving around major cities with 360° cameras mounted on the roof. You can see many photos of the cars on Flickr.

Throughout Europe the images are being taken by a fleet of Opel Astras which are mounted with the 9 directional cameras, a GPS unit for positioning, as well as SICK Laser Range Finders and 3G/Wifi aerials.

Driving these cars all over is a massive undertaking for Google, purportedly costing some 500 million Euros, so they’re obviously gleaning as much location based information as they possibly can while touring the world. The laser range finders are probably to help measure up 3D buildings, while the location of wifi networks will greatly improve the geolocation api and 3G network strength might be handy for a company that is developing mobile phone software.

In Europe, Google Street View is already available for cities in France and Spain. Other European countries where the car as been spotted, and it is assumed will be available “soon” include Germany, the UK and Italy (the Flickr group has a complete list).

Throughout Europe, Google have apparently been using the same fleet of Vectras, but re-plating them with the relevant country’s local licence plates. This seems to me an unnecessary effort – people drive between France, Germany and Spain all time – but I assume having local plates prevents any extra hassles from the local authorities.

The cars spotted in the UK are also Opel Vectras, which means they were not purchased in the UK (the Vectra is sold under the Vauxhall brand in the UK). However, they are not the same units used on mainland Europe as they, like all UK cars, are right-hand drive.

This means the cars must be from Ireland, where right-hand drive Opels are sold, and have then been re-plated with UK plates. The initial “LJ08″ tell us they were registered between March and September of this year in Wimbledon, London.

I can find no evidence of these cars being spotted in Ireland, or Street View being planned for Ireland. But if the cars started life there, and will presumably go back to Ireland once the UK mapping is complete, it must be quite high up the list of countries to be added.

So Who Is Next?

With this week’s launch of Spanish Street View, lots of folk were moaning about the lack of UK street view and, according to this French article we’ll have to wait a lot longer: it claims Germany is next in Spring 2009 before the UK and the Netherlands sometime later.

However, based on the Flickr car-spotting, I think this information is incorrect and UK and Italian Street View will be coming before Germany, and both before the Netherlands.

The Street view cars were first spotted around France in May of this year, and a subset of the images made it into Google Maps by July 2nd, just in time for the Tour De France. The rest of the images were added on October 15th, 5 months after they started capturing images.

Looking at the Flickr images of the Street View cars in various areas around France, all the photos that were taken in September and October are in areas that are not included in the October 15th roll-out.

Looking specifically at Paris, which was included in the October 15th roll-out, the most-recent images of the car driving around are July. Similarly, Flickr photos of the cars in Madrid (included in the October 28th roll-out) are dated late July and August, but it has not been spotted since then. So, I’m pretty certain that no images taken past August have made their way online yet.

The UK cars were initially spotted in London around the middle of July, and continue to be spotted around smaller UK cities well into October. It’s a similar story in Italy with the major cities being mapped months ago. However, the major cities of Germany are still being photographed as late as this week.

Meanwhile, sightings in The Netherlands have been few. The cars started out in Amsterdam, where the whole operation is based, but appear to have gone straight to France and Spain without taking pictures of the city.

For France and Spain the initial launches centred on a couple of major cities, although images have certainly been taken in much more of those countries. One reason for this is apparently bandwidth – serving the millions of images can overload even Google’s servers – but another factor must surely be that those images were simply taken first. In the UK and Italy, major cities such as London, Edinburgh and Milan were finished months ago while in Germany they’re still photographing Berlin and in the Netherlands they may not have even tackled Amsterdam.

For this reason I reckon that either Italy and the UK are the next countries for Street View, probably Italy first but both before the year is out. Then Germany and the Netherlands will come later on, and perhaps even Ireland much later on.

Update: And the day after I post this, Street View is launched in Italy! UK Street View may be sooner than I thought…

Thanks to byrion and ropesandpulleys for the CC licensed images.

Last Friday, due to a technical error with our Sat Nav (aka “pressing the wrong button”), I drove through London’s city centre congestion charge zone.

You have until the following day to pay the charge, so even though I’d only driven through it for the final 10 minutes of the day, I went online to pay the extortionate £8 charge.

The process was simple, and once I was done I opted to receive a receipt via email, as I’m sure most people would do.

The next day I received the following email:

From: customerservices@cclondon.com
Subject: London Congestion Charging System

This is a Sample Body Text. Please change this text with valid information.

Pardon? The receipt was certainly attached, but I couldn’t believe that they’d sent out all their emails with this placeholder text – they’ve been running this system for 5 years!

So I emailed back to report the issue:

To: customerservices@cclondon.com
Subject: Re: London Congestion Charging System

Dear Transport for London,

This was the first time I have paid the congestion charge but I believe it has been active since 2003.

I am astounded that in all this time you are still sending email receipts with the below placeholder text. Is it really that difficult to write a small bit of copy?

Regards,

James Turnbull

At 9am the following morning I received a reply from the “Customer Services Operations Manager”:

Dear Customer,

Please open the attached file to view correspondence regarding the central London Congestion Charge.

If the attachment is in PDF format you may need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read or download this attachment. If you require Adobe Acrobat Reader this is available at no cost from the Adobe Website www.adobe.com

Thank you for contacting Transport for London.

Joanne Marsh
Customer Services Operations Manager
Central London Congestion Charging

Well, they’ve obviously managed to write that generic email copy. Attached to the email was an HTML file containing Ms. Marsh’s reply.

It said the following:

Dear Mr Turnbull,
Central London Congestion Charging – 1859908/RB

Thank you for your email received on the 28th September 2008, about your suggestion.

We always aim to give the very best Customer Service possible.

We also work hard to listen to any suggestions our customers make for how we can improve the Congestion Charging Scheme, or the level of service we provide.

Your suggestion is important to us and it may be taken into consideration when changes are made to the Scheme in the future.

If you have any questions, please call us on 0845 900 1234, (or Textphone 0207 649 9123 if you have impaired hearing), or contact us via our website www.cclondon.com.

Yours sincerely

Joanne Marsh
Customer Services Operations Manager

For starters, why on earth couldn’t this text have just been in the email? Even an HTML email would have been better than having to load a separate attachment.

But, even more annoying, it’s clearly a bunch of standard responses seemingly cobbled together by some poor AI, and totally fails to respond to my email!

Worst of all, in retrospect, I asked for such a useless reply: by complaining about a lack of copy text, I invited a response composed from other bits of copy text, as if to prove they have managed to write something! The cheek of it!

Yesterday Microsoft’s Virtual Earth blog announced a whole host of new features for their Live Maps service (that’s their version of Google Maps) and Virtual Earth 3D (that’s their Google Earth competitor).

For me, the key feature of the announcement is “Neighbourhood Subscribe via GeoRSS” which provides an RSS feed of your area, aggregating geo-located content that Live Maps has scraped off the web. Sounds great!

But, when I tried to actually use Live Maps, by clicking an example link to Virtual Globetrotting sights in Spain, I found myself at the homepage of multimap.

Surely I must have clicked the wrong link? Nope, turns out any UK visitor to maps.live.com gets “helpfully” redirected to multimap. The Multimap blog explains how, since being acquired by Microsoft, they are now “the lead consumer mapping experience for Live Search in the UK”.

This would be fine if Multimap was just a re-branded live maps, but in fact it only offers just a small subset of the Live maps features! All the information in that Virtual Globetrotting link above is ignored and you end up at the useless homepage.

The Multimap blog acknowledges that “it may have been a while since you last used Multimap.com”, but there’s a reason for that – it’s rubbish. Adding a few of the Live maps features only makes it slightly less rubbish, and for UK visitors breaks every link to a specific map.

For now, you can around the redirect by going to this Live maps link or by adding “mkt=en-us” to the URL parameters, but that’s not really enough.

If the goal is to lure visitors away from Google Maps then Microsoft are going about it the right way with Live maps, and the very, very wrong way with Multimap. Hopefully they reverse this decision sooner, rather than later.

Updated: Well everyone shouted and eventually they listened: Live Maps UK has been restored.

RIP the catch-all email

August 2nd, 2007

I always thought the best thing about having my own domain name was being able to invent crazy email addresses off the top of my head and have them still work, through the magic of “catch all” email. Sadly, for me at least, the catch all is no more.

Way back in the dotcom era (as it is known) I purchased my very own domain name, shreddies.org. Back then I had little interest in hosting a website, as blogs hadn’t been invented and I had nothing to sell or advertise. But I did like the idea of being my own email provider.

While everyone else’s email was either jamesturnbull9992@hotmail.com or 789789798@compuserve.com I was using ad-hoc e-mail addresses all over the place. When I was signing up to boo.com my email address became boo@shreddies.org, and I followed the same logic for everything. This was much to the confusion of people asking me for my email address in the street – “Your email address is the same as our company name? What a coincidence!”.

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