Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category

Why Movable Type’s Documentation Sucks

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

All we wanted to do was spit out a list of authors and sort by a custom field instead of by name. Should be simple, right? Let’s check the documentation. Seems to state that this is possible… but no dice.

Oh well, that’s why we bought the commercial version, so we could have support monkeys answer these annoying questions for us, right? Let’s fire off an email to see if we are perhaps… missing something obvious.

To their credit, we got back a response relatively quickly. The only problem is, it’s a useless one:

From: Movable Type Support <[email protected]>Date: February 17, 2009 7:38:34 PM ESTTo: [email protected]: Response to Movable Type support ticket 'Sorting by Custom Fields'

Movable Type Customer Support has responded to your ticket'Sorting by Custom Fields'. This email notification has beenautomatically sent by Movable Type Customer Support.

DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. Instead, please click the link belowto view and respond to your ticket.

  Hi -

  Unfortunately, the <mt:author> template tag currently does  not support sorting by a custom user field.

  Regards

  David Phillips  Technical Services

Don’t Ever Say:

Friday, March 21st, 2008
  • “That should be a quick change, right?”
  • “How can I always be the first result on Google?”
  • “It should be easy to…”
  • “All you have to do is…”

Lesson 2: You should have used QuickBooks from day 0

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Book keeping and accounting was a huge joke to me. I was fine as long as I could invoice clients, pay the employees and the bills. Run rate, P&L, balance sheet, all a mystery to me. To hell with quarterly tax payments, or so I thought.

Initially, just like time sheets, each transaction ended up in a tabbed plain-text file. Pay a bill, record it in a text file. Pay an employee, record it in another text file. All of these files lived in DEVONNote by DEVONTechnologies. Each time I realized that I should record some other type of transaction, a new unrelated text file would be created.

The organic growth of my record keeping made things interesting. I would realize the value of recording something, then have to go back and look up all the historical data. As flexible as the text files were they lacked the defined fields and necessary constraints of real accounting software that encourages, dare I say, good practices. That and typical accounting packages get you in the habit of recording everything.

Even though I didn’t know much about accounting I did know that QuickBooks for the Mac was awful. A bunch of 2 star ratings at sites like MacUpdate and Version Tracker helped solidify that notion. As hard as I tried the search for a Mac compatible solution was to no avail.

A few days of research and some free trials later I decided to give QuickBooks Online Edition by Intuit a try. In addition to the traditional QuickBooks feature set the Online Edition offered web based time tracking. It wasn’t exactly the ideal solution but it let us move time tracking and invoicing out of iBiz. It wouldn’t do actual timing, but we had already purchased software to do that. The time tracking in iBiz was virtually unusable. As to be expected everything was integrated within QuickBooks. The time entries easily made their way onto invoices and for the first time it all worked properly.

Things could be a little better with QuickBooks Online. Not to give the the impression that Macs were equally as important as Windows PCs, they carefully crafted the service to not only require PC IE, but also an Active X plugin. Ha, take that Firefox, you lose too.

Despite the need for a PC and a sometimes questionable interface I began the process of entering in the company data. I took up the challenge because at the time I couldn’t see how anyone else would make sense of all of the loose receipts and text files. With a little help I was able to get started and despite a few mistakes able to get a fair amount of historical data entered.

The one thing that kept nagging me was the account balances in QuickBooks didn’t reflect the actual accounts in the slightest. I decided to start the books in 2005, for reasons I’m still unsure of. That was at least a year and a half ago at the time. Laurie began to help with the data entry too, but keeping up with the new data and locating all of the old records vastly exceeded the little free time we both had.

To make matters worse not all of the credit card statements were available. I had opted long ago to receive them online. How they let you turn off receiving paper statements if you can’t actually retrieve old ones online is confusing to say the least. Capital One doesn’t even offer a PDF version, and it wasn’t till recently that American Express provided a way to retrieve archived statements. This made reconciliation of early months impossible without ordering archived statements.

At its worst I was spending several days a week entering in historical transactions and current ones. That’s when I realized I should have used QuickBooks from day 0. Had I been recording things as I went along, instead of all at once, I wouldn’t have been hit by this tidal wave. I also would have had everything in order for tax time and probably saved some money. I also had to get a book keeper just to get all the historical information in and the accounts reconciled. The entire process took months. My mistake was thinking my business was too small for a complete accounting solution only to learn every business needs one.

Now that everything is in order it only takes a few hours a week for me to get invoices out, and a few hours every other week for the book keeper to put in new transactions. I hope someone is able to learn something from this. I’m not sure what lesson 3 will be yet.

Lesson 1: Time is worthless unless you bill for it

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

In a departure from the otherwise technical and joking nature of this site, this piece is the first in a series that will hopefully explain how we get some of the business related stuff done. As obvious and seemingly simple as they may be we’ve learned a few important and sometimes expensive lessons along the way.

Lesson 1: Time is worthless unless you bill for it

The first year with everyone under the same roof was a mess when it came to recording time. More then half our work is by hour and during a given day a it can span several different projects as well a variety of ad hoc client services.

Initially I had everyone keeping track of their own time and sending me makeshift plain-text time-sheets weekly or as needed. I was manually entering it into a program called TimeEqualsMoney by Stone Design. This wasn’t so bad back when everyone was part-time, but now with the volume and variety of work there was way too much overhead.

I had a tendency of loathing it so much that several weeks could go by before I’d actually enter all of the time sheets in and generate invoices. Faced with a growing problem and sporadic cash flow, we started to look for a solution.

At the time I decided that it needed to be networked as well Mac based so that everyone could input their own time without any unnecessary redundancy and with as little involvement from me as possible. All of us burned about a day searching before we settled on iBiz 2 by IGG Software. It was a horrible failure.

At first we thought we weren’t remembering to use the timers enough, then we thought we must not be putting in enough hours in. How could we be getting in 30 hours worth of work while spending over 60 at the office?

It was around this time I had the idea to start keeping track of everyone’s general hours in the office to try to make sense of this mess. I dabbled with the idea of creating my own system to act as in/out time log, but lack of consistent use and free time for further development killed the concept quickly.

Eventually we realized what was going on, the timer in iBiz was screwing up. We even got independent confirmation from another user saying he used a separate application to do timing for the same reason. Among the other annoyances encountered with it’s use, I had problems with time groups. Marking an invoice paid would flag an entire group, even if spanned more then one invoice. After I caught some invoices calculated incorrectly I knew it was time move on.

The search continued for another networked, Mac based, time-tracking application. We looked at iBiz’s competitor, Studiometry by Oranged Software. It appeared to have more features and the potential for greater accuracy. That was till I encountered a handful of bugs when I started testing it out. They had done a good job of hiding it, but deep inside it was a Real Basic application. While its not impossible to make a great program in Real Basic, it is however very easy to make a bad one. Given the amount of bugs Studiometry appeared to fall into the latter category.

Unwilling to sink even more money into an unknown set of problems we continued to use iBiz for a few more months, but not without checking every single thing it did by hand. Once things became accurate the recorded hours began to normalize, and subsequently so did the cash flow.

Things had gotten a little easier from when I was manually entering in everyone’s time, but the first lesson was realized. We were throwing away hours and driving ourselves crazy by not making sure time was accurately and to some degree seamlessly recorded.

To this day I’m still unsure how much money we lost due to all of the problems, but that is all behind us now. I hope this helps someone. Expect Lesson 2: You should have used QuickBooks from day 0 soon.