a bad dream

I fired up my RSS reader last night after a long day at the office, and for the first time in memory the feed numbers in the “Mac” category outnumbered all other categories — to be expected, I guess, on the day of Steve Jobs’ keynote at Macworld, and the related new product announcements. I proceeded to do a quick screenshot of my RSS numbers to post as an icon in a blog entry. I then fired up MarsEdit to write a blog entry and upload the photo. BUT I was unable to upload the photo … a server error.

This was now my second server error in as many days, with the first one still not resolved. So I hopped over to my webhost’s site to check my support ticket and also check their blog to find out why I got a strange billing email earlier that day. What I discovered was a story about a typo that resulted in over $7.5 million of customer overcharges!

You can read it here (and see the fun Homer Simpson graphic as well), but in a nutshell: someone in the billing department attempting to reconcile some missed billings from 2007 typed in December 31, 2008 (instead of 2007) as a cutoff date. The billing system then ran billings as if it were already 12/31/08. Which means, it appears, that a big chunk of their customers were billed for account renewals that were not yet up for renewal.

To be fair, the company — Dreamhost — has been totally transparent in their explanations of what happened and what they are doing to fix it. And generally I have found them to be a great webhosting company. As for me, I’ll just see both the erroneous charge and a refund on my next credit card statement, and no worries. But as some of the 1270 (and counting) commenters on their status site have pointed out, it’s not so worry-free for those who were billed via an automatic transfer and didn’t have the funds to cover it (I was billed >$600).

I proceeded to amend my earlier support ticket regarding my server problems, adding the new server error and some related info I found in a WordPress forum. The issues were cleared up in less than 24 hours. It’s good to see the outrage/aftermath of the huge billing snafu has not sidetracked the reliable support team.

As for Macworld, I was a little underwhelmed. The new Macbook Razr Air is a strikingly beautiful design, but it also is hobbled in many ways. It’s a premium price for a browsing/casual/travel laptop. I personally couldn’t see using it as a primary workstation. I think people are going to find the standard hard drives are slower than they will expect, which can make a big difference in some applications. And the solid state hard drive (base price + $1000), which should offer blazing performance and near-instantaneous bootup, is still way too high in a dollars-to-gigabtye ratio to tempt me to open my wallet.

I think the updates to the Apple TV will be the more significant news for Apple in the long run. I watch so few Netflix movies anymore that it might be more cost-effective to drop Netflix and just rent-as-you-go via iTunes. It’s certainly more flexible than Netflix, but selection will be the big question. The new Time Capsule backup drive is probably Apple’s best product name in years and is a perfect companion for Time Machine backups. And finally … every Mac blog and pundit on the planet was predicting a big upgrade to the operating system: Leopard 10.5.2. That announcement was notably absent, as has been any reporting on why this widely-anticipated update was a no-show.

software bug solved: don't use your computer

How’s this for customer service … Intuit (who makes Quicken, QuickBooks, and other software) pushed an auto-update out for QuickBooks users on the Mac platform and the update deleted all the files on the user’s Desktop: QuickBooks Pro bug leads to data loss for some. But wait, it gets better … while Intuit fixed the problem for those users who had not yet run the update, they are still working on a solution for the folks that lost all their Desktop files. In the meantime, Intuit says, just turn your computer off and don’t use it!

This news makes me very hesitant to continue using Quicken once I switch all my stuff over to Mac early next year. I’ve been using Quicken on Windows forever, and I probably only use the application to 25% of it’s potential. I don’t use any reports, planning, graphs, etc. I need just basic bank and credit account registers, reconciling/balancing, loans and investments.

If you’re a Mac user reading this and have a recommendation, please leave a comment. I’d love to take a look at a couple Quicken alternatives on the Mac operating system.

smart addressing?

I was excited to find the article Manage your holiday mailing list with Address Book on The Unofficial Apple Weblog. One thing I dread this time every year is fighting with Microsoft Word and Outlook to print out mailing addresses for holiday cards. But now that I’m 2/3 converted* to the wonderful world of Mac, I decided to try the mailing label output options in Address Book.

The verdict? Mixed results. The techniques outlined at TUAW work to a certain extent, but as one of the commenters there points out, Address Book is “tricky” smart in ways I can’t quite comprehend. For instance, theoretically, if you have an entry for John Doe and a spouse listed as Jane Doe, the mailing label is output for John and Jane Doe. But if you have friends like Mark Smith and Mary Ellen Smith, all bets are off (I couldn’t get it to print in the “smart” way).

And if I had a child or multiple children listed, the output was all over the board. On some labels the child trumped the mother and the mother’s name disappeared. On some labels I couldn’t get spouse or children to appear. In some cases where I have friends with spouses that have different last names, they both printed out. But in some cases, only the main name printed out. Some names were left hanging: “John Public and”

Address Book is not quite there yet for my needs, and it’s “tricky smart” features had me outsmarted and flummoxed. I ended up going back to the old stand-by: an Excel sheet I keep updated just for this purpose, and a mail merge with Word.

(*I’m waiting on the expected hardware upgrade for the Mac Pro before replacing my aging WIndows machine at home.)