Belle

Six and a half years ago, I adopted a couple of Alaskan Malamutes – Beast and Belle. Those were the names they came with, and I decided to let them stay that way. Two very different personalities, both somewhere between two and four years old, one black with white accents (Belle) one white with black and sable accents (Beast). 

Since that time, these two characters have made our life richer by far, and I love them both to pieces. But I have to admit I’ve had a favorite, as Belle, in her quiet, confident, pushy way, took up more room in my heart than any dog I’ve ever known. At over a hundred pounds, she still managed to convince me that she was, in fact, a lap dog. 

Mals frequently live to be somewhere between ten and fourteen years old, and both of these guys have been for the most part healthy and definitely happy.

But cancer doesn’t care about healthy and happy. On July 19th, we found lumps in Belle’s armpits, and took her in the next day for an exam. The diagnosis was multicentric lymphoma, pretty advanced, and the prognosis wasn’t good. We discussed the options with the vet, mainly no care, palliative care using prednisone, and full-on chemotherapy. Doing nothing simply wasn’t an option, but with her age and the fact that the vet found swollen lymph glands all over her little body, and after searching everywhere for every bit of information we could find, we decided that we’d go with prednisone, manage her pain and love her all the more until the end.

Belle tolerated the medications pretty well, but the tail rarely wagged any more, her frequent vocalizations were almost nonexistent, and the playfulness wasn’t there. She lasted a few weeks, and had some good days, including a few head-butts and even a couple of here-I-am-in-your-lap moments, and I held her all the more closely, knowing they’d be among the last. 

On August 13th, something was clearly different in her behavior, an extra amount of stillness. When we arrived home from work, we had a long talk, cried a bit, and decided it was time to put Belle down. The animal hospital was backed up a bit, which turned out to be a blessing as we sat out on a lovely lawn, Belle clearly enjoying lying in the cool grass. The staff was sensitive and kind, and Belle passed away quietly with her nose up against my leg and our hands holding her.  We were, and are, devastated.

On returning home, Beast clearly knew something was up, ranging around the house, stopping and staring, parking himself at the head of the stairs, waiting for Belle to appear, even barking, just once. When I realized that he was simply doing, physically, what Sarah and I were doing in our hearts, it broke my heart all over again. 

Run fast and far and free now, my lovely girl. 

 

 

Fidelity Full View: almost Intuit quality

I had been a Mint user for years, until Intuit purchased the group and added their characteristic bureaucracy and “we don’t really care” customer service stamp to the operation. One of the final blows was when, shortly after the acquisition, Mint suddenly reclassified HELOCs as credit cards. A large number of people, including me, posted separate threads on their support site complaining about the change. Their answer, over the next two years, was essentially “gosh, there’s just nothing we can do to fix that, it’s just too hard.” Two and a half years later, from what I understand, Intuit first fixed the problem then, days later, broke things even more badly to the point that now even mortgages are classified as credit cards. Sweet, Intuit.

In the middle of this I discovered that my bank, Fidelity Investments, offered a web app called Full View, that offered most of the same functionality I’d liked in Mint, and in fact uses the same aggregator, Yodlee. Account aggregation, budgeting, transaction classification – all good. The Fidelity app wasn’t (and still isn’t) even close to Mint in terms of usability or gloss, but it worked.

That was the case until a few weeks ago, when Fidelity, with much fanfare, released the new version of Full View. (cue Fraü Blücher’s horses in the background).

What a damn mess.

First off, they’ve clearly gone the portal route, cobbling together a lot of prefab widgets at the cost of a pleasing, well-integrated user experience. This is a classic example of the user experience delivered when an IT group researches solutions and then uses the results to determine what users want (translation: what IT wants to build, including all the little gadgets and bits of coolness that appeal to geeks but mostly get in the way of normal users). That would be bad enough but manageable if those widgets actually worked. And they don’t work all that well. IT is not the same as development: I would never want a member of a development team maintaining servers – nor would I ever want an IT engineer developing an application, much less designing a UX.

Let’s start with data handling, because I get too pissed of talking about all the 404 errors that get thrown transitioning from the dashboard to subordinate views and back to speak of it at length. Sufficed to say: OMG. Entering data, modifying the name of a transaction’s vendor for example, is pretty basic stuff. Anyone out of high school understands the concept. But with Full View, I’ve had to re-enter changes over and over, across sessions, across days, because the changes get lost. This isn’t just bad session handling (that’s pervasive across the new version) but somehow they’ve managed to corrupt the data after it should have been stored persistently in the database. You’d have to go out of your way and write code to do that. They did – although I don’t think it had anything to do with intention.

Then let’s talk about character set handling, things like punctuation in a title, for example “Gold’s Gym”. On their Transactions page, this appears to be handled correctly, but in their dashboard view making this change results in “Gold's Gym”. Their customer service folks offered the solution of “well, you should just use the Transactions page for that,” a secondary page that takes forever to load. I haven’t encountered this sort of crap for probably ten years – at least not from a professional group. And forget autocomplete or any sort of elegant categorization.

Other features like adding a note to a transaction, or splitting a transaction, have been moved from the main page exclusively to this subordinate Transactions page, an “improvement” as described by Fidelity Customer Service. UX FAIL.

And in the days of HTML5, H.264, Canvas, all the vector tools available, all of Full View’s data visualization appears to be based on Flash. Seriously?

Finally, the data displayed in Full View, even when “refreshed”, lag the main Portfolio page by around a full day. When I called this out to Fidelity, the response was sort of “oh well, that’s a really hard problem to solve.” Which puts them right in the Intuit category of competence. This is a bank that, on one web site, displays two views of your financial data, one that is up-to-date and one that is from yesterday. And claims there is no way to resolve that.

At the company I work for, producing a user experience that is delightful is one of our cardinal goals. We frequently use the term “delight” in our proposals, even in our contracts.  With the pre-Intuit Mint, there was a fair amount of delight in using the app, in the nimble UI, in the data visualizations.

There is no delight in Fidelity’s Full View: it’s a portal-oriented, forms-based UI that looks, and behaves, like something from the 90’s, and functionally appears to be built by a team stuck in that decade – the lack of stability, the demonstrable lack of code re-use, the almost complete lack of aesthetics, is downright discouraging. The UX blunders, the coding errors, the clear misses in session and data handling border on spectacular. Fidelity’s customer service is, at least in their interactions with me, in full-on “circle the wagons” mode, denying that there is actually a problem, that the app is performing just fine. In other words, they’re basically useless.

This is four weeks after they launched the new version. Which doesn’t bode well for anything getting fixed real soon.