Failures of the Subscription Model

I subscribe to many things: some unpaid, like political philosophies (which are worth every penny that I don’t pay), and some paid. The paid subscriptions are generally media — magazines, newspapers (Los Angeles Times, New York Times), and theatre. They all have the common characteristics of constantly bringing me something new.

Enter Quicken.

I’ve been using Quicken to track my checkbook and investments since the early to mid-1990s (I want to say my first version was Quicken 3 or 4). At some point I started downloading stock prices and transactions — first with an external program, then using Quicken mechanisms. Since then, I’ve been updating Quicken every three years, because Quicken designed their system so that you could no longer download into a version older than three years.

Last year was an upgrade year, so I moved to Quicken 2016. It’s been one of the worst versions I’ve used: slow, bug prone, non-responsive. Yet I’ve stuck with it and felt no urge to update to Quicken 2017. Perhaps Quicken 2019, when it comes out.

But then I was reading my RSS feeds, including an article about how Quicken (in Canada) is shifting to a subscription model. Quicken Home and Business will be CDN$90 per year. The core software must be installed on a Windows device, and will, Quicken said, be updated “to make sure you’re always on the newest version.” More importantly, however, is that the subscription offers one year of what Quicken dubbed “Connected Service,” the back end that supports transaction downloads from banks, credit card companies and other financial organizations.

But here’s the kicker: According to Quicken (at least in Canada): “if customers do not renew their subscription, they will lose more than just access to downloads from their bank. “While you can continue to access your data and run reports, you’ll no longer be able to download transactions, or add manual transactions [emphasis added],” a FAQ said in reply to a question about what happens when access to Connected Service ends.” Got that? Don’t pay up, and you can’t even use the software offline.

They haven’t said this is coming to the US Market, but you know it will. Further, it is something up with which I will not put.

So now the debate comes: Should I get Quicken 2017 to try to stave things off one year, or find another program. If the latter, what program? What are you using to keep track of personal finances? The program is worth $90 every three years, but not every year.


Bringing Things Back

Today’s news chum post looks at a number of things from the past (some of which are being brought back):

P.S.: While working on this post, I was reading my FB Pages feed, and I discovered that Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) is bringing back my buddy Thomas and his friends in April (April 1-2, 8-9). This was a surprise to me; upon investigation, I discovered that OERM is now your only place to see Thomas in SoCal, and that he’ll be back as usual in November as well. We can’t make it to volunteer in April as our schedule is too booked up (you’ll see why in my theatre post tomorrow), but you should if you’re into the Really Useful Engine. We’ll be there as usual in November.


Can A Government Employee not be a Government Employee?

userpic=trumpThis morning, while I was in the shower, an odd question popped into my head:

  • If President Trump or a Cabinet Head elects to take no salary, are they a government employee?

Here’s why that question occurred to me: Ethics rules, disclosure rules, conflict of interest rules, rules about accepting gifts, and all other sorts of regulations apply to government employees. But Trump is nominating millionaires and billionaires who don’t need the salary. Many of them have publicly said they will not take a salary. So does this make them exempt from all the regulations that apply to government employees? Further, note that it means they will not have taxes taken from their salaries (avoiding taxes), and their income will be primarily capital gains on investments (which is a much lower tax rate, and can be offset by losses reducing taxes even further). No salary, and income primarily from capital gains also puts them in a lower tax bracket (I think — I could be wrong there).

So, by refusing a salary, could they both avoid those pesky regulations and lower their taxes? Could this be why we are seeing so many millionaires and billionaires being nominated?

[ETA: Conclusion: (•) Salaries are defined by statute, and must be paid — then they can be subsequently donated, returned to the Treasury, etc.; (•) Volunteering for government service is not allow, so they have to accept a token of $1; (•) even if they did volunteer, there are volunteer agreements to cover ethics.]


Good Advice Costs Nothing and is Worth Twice the Price

userpic=moneyAfter her graduation from UC Berkeley last May, my daughter did what millions of millenials with student loans have done — she moved back into our house with her boyfriend. I mention this because my accumulating news chum has a collection of useful articles for parents and children in the exact same situation, which I thought I would share:

Hopefully, these links will prove useful to your children (or, if you are a millennial, to you).


They’ve Outlived Their Usefullness… Maybe

userpic=pirateWe’re continuing to swab the deck of this pesky news chum. This time, we’re making some things that might be of retirement age walk the plank. Let’s see if they sink or swim:

  • The Boeing 747. One of the books I keep rereading from the early 1970s deals with the birth of the Boeing 747. After 45 years, the old lady of aviation (of the current “models” in heavy use, only the 737 is older) may be ready to retire. It’s engineering is from the past: people are astonished when they see the analogue instruments. The flight controls are all dependent on old-fashioned mechanical linkages. A 747 captain once explained that, if hydraulic assistance on the control yoke is lost, you can still put your feet on the instrument panel, give a big tug and wrench the plane about the sky. You cannot do that on a solid-state Airbus. Airline economics have also changed: International flights can now avoid the big hubs and go directly on long, thin routes between secondary cities. The first generation of high-bypass turbofans made the original 747-100 possible, but it was only ever economical when fully loaded, its efficiency tumbling disproportionately as seats were left empty. In the 45 years since its first flight, engine reliability has so dramatically improved there is no need for four thirsty engines. In any case, the fundamental appeal of the original 747 was its range rather than its capacity. Boeing’s own efficient long-range modern twinjets, the 777 and 787 have made it redundant. And the A380 makes it look crude.
  • Quicken. If you are like me, you probably have years and years of data in Quicken. I think I started using it back in 1994, perhaps even a bit earlier, with a version running on MS-DOS. Well the markets have changed, and you and I are dinosaurs. All the cool kids use online money management, and Intuit (born of Quicken) has put Quicken on the market. Intuit has decided to focus on its small business and tax software, represented by QuickBooks and TurboTax, respectively — both have strong cloud- and subscription-based businesses — and is ditching Quicken because, as a strictly desktop product, it has neither.  Some predict Quicken to be dead in two years. After all, the three units Intuit plans to sell — Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce — accounted for less than 6% of the firm’s fiscal 2015 revenue, and just 2% of its net income during the same period. For the last 12 months, Quicken contributed just $51 million to the company’s total revenue of nearly $4.2 billion.  They want a buyer that will keep the brand up. It will be interesting to see. I still use Quicken — and their long-retired Medical Insurance Tracking software — and it would be a pain to transition that data (and the data does not belong online).
  • Vinyl Records. On the other hand, vinyl records (which were written off for dead), are seeing a comeback. The NY Times reports that the business of record pressing is now experiencing so many orders they cannot keep up (warning: autoplay video). The problem: how to capitalize on the popularity of vinyl records when the machines that make them are decades old, and often require delicate and expensive maintenance. The few dozen plants around the world that press the records have strained to keep up with the exploding demand, resulting in long delays and other production problems. It is now common for plants to take up to six months to turn around a vinyl order. Still, vinyl is a niche market, albeit a valuable one.

Music: The Slightly Fabulous Limelighters: “Aravah, Aravah” (The Limeliters )


Long Term Care Insurance

userpic=moneyI’m getting older — both my wife and I are over 50. If they still published it, we’d be getting “Modern Maturity“. So a recent headline caught my eye about people in their 50s needing to think about purchasing long term care insurance before they get much older. Having seen some cases where it has been a life-saver, the notion has stuck in my head.

The problem? I know absolutely nothing about long-term care insurance. I don’t know what to look for or avoid in policies. I don’t know who the reliable carriers are, and who to avoid. I don’t know the tricks of the trade.

So, given that I’ve probably got some friends who are my age, I’m turning to you. What is your advice on long term care insurance… and what other gambling schemes (uhh) types of insurance should I be looking into as I get older?


Saturday Miscellany: Money, Food, Plumbing, and Body Acceptance

userpic=angry-dogIt’s Saturday. Time to clear out the bookmarks from the week that didn’t form into otherwise coherent themes. As always, these are news articles or other items that came across my RSS feed during the week:

Music: If Not Now When? (Debbie Friedman): “Kumi Lach”



The Problem of Debt

userpic=moneyThe other day, I was reading an article on the agreement on the debt ceiling when something caught my eye:

 The new proposal to balance the budget in a decade would zero out the federal deficit almost twice as fast as previous Republican efforts.

“It’s time for us to get serious about how over the next 10 years we balance this budget and put America on a sustainable fiscal path,” the speaker said after the debt ceiling measure passed the House, 285 to 144.

Think about what that says. We had a balanced budget under Bill Clinton.That meant that we were not increasing the Federal debt. After 8 years of a Republican administration and 4 years of a Democratic administration (here’s another analysis), we are now at the point where it will take at least 10 years to bring the budget back into balance, let alone pay down the debt to a reasonable level.

How do the Republican’s propose to achieve their goal? Not through new taxes. Not through cuts to the Defense budget. According to the article, “their approach would require steep reductions in domestic programs — particularly education, infrastructure investment and the safety net for low- and moderate-income Americans.”

Now, I’m all for working our way back to a balanced budget, and to bring the debt down to a reasonable level (but not wiping it out–there are many reasons not to do that). But if we are going to do it — and if it is a National priority — it has to be shared sacrifice. It can’t just be in domestic programs. There needs to be significant increased income and significant cuts across the board. If there is going to be pain — and there will be — it must be shared.

If our leaders do not feel this is a program worthy of shared sacrifice… if our leaders feel do not feel this is important enough for everyone to give a little… then we may just as well live with the debt we have. After all, other countries are perfectly happy having us pay interest to them, reliably. They show no great desire to be paid back; they are not increasing the interest rates they charge us because they do not believe America will pay its bills. (As an aside, that was the problem with Spain and Greece: other countries believed there was a risk they wouldn’t get their interest payments, and thus kept raising the rates to account for that risk — this is something that hasn’t happened with US debt). I certainly feel that most people don’t understand the National debt, nor realize that households are different than nations, and there is no agreement on what is too much debt.

Personally, I do not believe our leaders feel the debt and deficit is a real issue that requires shared sacrifice and pain from everyone. They are willing to use it as a campaign issue to goad the other side, but want to protect their sacred assets while letting others pay. This is being done by both side. That’s not fair.