Weekendly Dose

Gosh, is it the weekend again already? This week I did a lot of work with the Quickbooks SDK. I’m sure that’s interesting to virtually nobody, but there it is. I’ll finally post some code next week just in case there are any Quickbooks user looking to enhance their experience.

Quickbooks is a funny product. It’s very popular, it’s designed for and marketed to relative neophytes from an accounting and computing perspective, and for those of us who are accountants and/or technophiles, it’s can be simply maddening. It sounds like I’m describing AOL, or at least the AOL of old.

The strangest aspect of QB, in my opinion, is the way it stores data. With the open source SQL databases out there, it seems like a no-brainer to store the accounting data so that an ODBC driver could get it out. I guess that means Intuit has no brain, or whatever is less than that.

The SDK allows you to “query” the data. You create an XML structure for the request and it returns an XML structure with the data. I don’t have anything against XML, except that this method is about 100 times slower than querying a Jet database via ODBC. It’s 100 times slower in executing. That doesn’t even take into account the time it takes to write the code to create and process the XML. Time to create a Jet query: 1-10 minutes. Time to create a QB query: Well, I’ve spent easily 20 hours on it in the past two months.

Oh well, enough griping. On to the weekend. This weekend, I will buying a tablet pc. I’ve been interested in trying one out for a while, and this seems like a moderately priced opportunity to do it. It seems strange, though. I’m the epitome of a keyboard-guy and I’m getting a computer that has no keyboard (that’s not true, but you know what I mean). There’s no question that I can type considerably faster than I can write. There’s really no question that the typing, even unedited, is considerably more legible that my handwriting. Nevertheless, I’m excited to give it a try once it gets here. I’m sure glad I saved that free copy of OneNote I got. Now where did I put that disk? If you have a tablet, be sure to leave a tablet tip.

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16 thoughts on “Weekendly Dose

  1. My tip: Take one tablet, and call me in the morning.

    Let’s see, the MVP Summit is in March… By then, you should have it figured out so you can take notes when you listen to Bill Gates’ speech. Unless they confiscate all electronic devices like they did last time. Make sure you bring an old-fashioned tablet.

    Re: Quickbooks. Could you just create one XML query that writes the entire database to a format that’s easier to work with? Probably not. Go ahead and laugh at me. I’m the first to admit that I know squat about databases.

  2. I have been using Tablet PCs (Toshibas, all three) for several years now. Love ’em. But regret the latest purchase — the 15? screen and built-in DVD-RW makes the PC too heavy to hold with one hand. So, my primary Tablet remains the older 12? w/the external CD-RW.

    The tablet is great:

    * for presentations since I can interact with the audience by writing on the PowerPoint slides.

    * to make an argument. Recently, my tablet was connected to the projector. While struggling with a new concept, I sketched what I envisioned on the tablet. The client Prez and CEO were sold instantly. A picture is worth…

    * for brainstorming. All said and done, I think best with pen and paper. In the past I lost most of my doodles because I used whatever paper I could lay my hands on. With a tablet and OneNote — which comes with the PC — all my ideas, the good,the bad, and the ugly, are saved for posterity.

    * for writing. At times I prefer writing in Word to typing in Word. And, even for email. Though, as good as the word recognition is, it does require going back and editing the mistakes.

    * for drawing and image editing. After using a tablet, I bought a Intuos 2 graphic tablet for my desktop. The pen provides finer control compared to a mouse.

    * in cramped spaces. Stuck in a 4 hour plane ride behind some jerk who decides to incline his seat as far as possible…

    * at integrating hand-drawn explanations into printed documents. For examples see
    Figures 2 and 3 in
    Case Study – Rotate and mirror image charts
    http://www.tushar-mehta.com/excel/tips/0201-chart%20invert%20and%20rotate.pdf
    (the URL is guaranteed to change; a permanent link is ‘Invert and rotate charts’ in http://www.tushar-mehta.com/excel/tips/)
    and Figure 4 in
    The power of variants
    http://www.tushar-mehta.com/publish_train/book_vba/08_variants.htm

    * to take notes in a discussion, in a meeting, a presentation, while reviewing a book, a video…

    * for navigation. I have this GPS gadget (with accompanying map software) and on the rare instances when I drive in strange cities, I flip the tablet over and rest it on my legs with the back against the steering wheel. When I need to look at the map, I just raise the PC. Looking at the map is as convenient as looking at the dashboard. [Alternatively, I rent from Hertz and make sure the car has the NeverLost navigation system.]

    The big downside of the tablet for Excel & programming geeks: It’s not so hot for either. Actually, it sucks. Big time. For effective use the word/character recognition error rate would have to be 0%.

    One configuration I find very useful but don’t see many others use (or even see advertised) is to swivel the screen but not flip it down. Now, rotate the PC so that the screen (still in Landscape mode) faces you but the keyboard is away from you (and hidden by the screen). Use the pen on the screen. Much more comfortable than holding the tablet in the crock of one hand or balancing it against the edge of the table. Also, a neat configuration for watching a video.

    BTW, if you want to delay the purchase decision: I will have two Tablets when I visit your hometown. While I can’t let you borrow either, you are welcome to experiment with them in the hotel / bar.

  3. No John, that’s a good suggestion. I’ve been thinking about it. Based on what I’ve seen, it would take about an hour to download everything. That means I’d have to do it an 4 in the morning and everyone would be working off day old data. I just hate that, but it may be the only way to get it all over at once and sync’d properly.

    What I’m doing now is pulling whatever data I need for whatever task I’m peforming. I put a time stamp on every worksheet so that the user can make a decision about whether to update the data or not. If the time stamp says it was updated 3 minutes ago, you would go with what’s there. If it says 3 days, you would update. Based on my experience so far – everyone updates every time, even me. I can’t stand data that’s even 10 minutes old.

    I think there’s a compromise some where in there. The Customers table could probably be updated once per day, but the invoices table needs to be hyper-current. It seems risky to not have your data all sync’d at the same time, e.g. an invoice to a customer that doesn’t exist.

  4. Tushar: Good to know that OneNote comes with it – although mine is used, so I hope that’s true for me. I’ve been trying to use OneNote on my laptop at work and while it has some advantages, it leaves a little to be desired. I’ll be interested to see how I like in a pen based system.

    The plan ride scenario is key, by the way. I recently tried to work on a plan on my way to and from LA and it was a joke. When the guy in front of me wants to recline, that means I don’t get to work.

    This is great info, and I look forward to comparing notes. The deal is already done as far as the purchase, so I’m stuck with whatever Ed sells to me.

    I look forward to seeing you and having a few beers.

  5. Tushar said: At times I prefer writing in Word to typing in Word.

    I can’t even imagine that scenario. The only handwriting I do these days is writing checks (and maybe an occasional scribble on a grocery list). It’s very illegible, even to me.

  6. I used QuickBooks for a couple months, trying to learn to make it replace the few workbooks I was using to track my business. But it’s interface was rigid and unfamiliar, I couldn’t enter data the way I was used to, and I couldn’t view the data the way I wanted. I found myself supporting two systems for a while. Finally I ditched QB, and I’m doing fine with my half dozen workbooks.

  7. I’m a CPA in public practice. We have several clients that use QuickBooks because, as Dick said, it is marketed to “relative neophytes from an accounting and computing perspective.” But I have to throw in my two cents in that, in my experience, there needs to be some accounting knowledge. Anyone using QuickBooks should be required to have at least a basic financial accounting class.

    Training someone on QuickBooks is especially fun when they are migrating to QuickBooks from a checkbook. No one wants to pay for 8 hours of training to understand it right the first time. And since I’m not the boss, no one asks me.

    Also, I’m disappointed to hear about how access to the QB database is working. I went to a seminar last year, presented by K2 Enterprises, and they made it sound that it would be a lot easier than what Dick described. I was under the impression that you would be able to access the database via ODBC. Bummer.

  8. I’ve tried qodbc and it’s a good ODBC driver. It takes your SQL statement and does all the xml back end stuff. It definitely saves development time if all you want is to dump tables into Excel or Access. It’s as slow retrieving the data, though. I was actually going to buy qodbc, but it looks like we’re upgrading to a version of Quickbooks that is bundled with it.

    One problem with qodbc is how it handles multiple queries. If I have five different external data tables on five different worksheets, qodbc does five different xml requests in five different session. If I do it in VBA, I can bundle the five xml requests into one session. That’s faster, I presume.

    So Mike, you can access the database with ODBC, but you need to set your expectations much lower if you’re expecting something like getting data out of Jet or SQLServer.

    Will: Thanks for the link. You guys are always looking out for me.

  9. Mike –

    “Anyone using QuickBooks should be required to have at least a basic financial accounting class.”

    I agree. I took a half-semester class in financial accounting back in about 1980. I know that yeah, the entry goes here and comes from there and all that. I dislike the rigidity of accounting, though; it doesn’t match my style and it doesn’t match my needs. In Excel if I want to mark a bunch of cells as deposited, I select them and do whatever marks them as deposited, and bang. In QB, I would do that, and it assumed I deposited everything in one single deposit and it demanded to know details about the deposit. So I realized my mistake, but there’s no undo. I know in the wake of accounting schemes down the ages leading up to Enron, that there is no undo, because accountants and their managers can’t be trusted (no offense, but I don’t know how far I could throw any of you guys). But I was trying to save myself the time of entering a bunch of deposits one by one. Then with the lack of flexibility in how I could view my information, which is what I really care about, I gave up.

    In any case, I shouldn’t be too hard on Enron. In a way they led to my becoming a full time Excel jock. One of the main markets my previous employer was in was manufacturing of large turbine components for the power generation industry, and as soon as the Enron scandal hit, any investment in new power generation infrastructure came to a halt. This led to a series of layoffs at my company. Coupled with the huge decline in aerospace following 9/11 (our other big market was aerospace components), the employment at the company dropped by around 75%. When I was called in and given notice, I thanked them, changed jobs, and now I no longer work for the man, I AM the man.

  10. @Dick: I never have high expectations…I always set them low and anything on top of that is gravy. But I am a little disappointed in the difference between what K2 told me (or at least what I UNDERSTOOD them to say) and what is reality. K2 has a good group of people, all of which are CPAs and all of which train CPAs in various technology “stuff.”

    @Jon: Should I be offended…I’m not sure. At any rate, if you can throw a 235 pound (all muscle…NOT) man far, then you can offend me all you want. My firm works only with non-publicly traded companies so there is (generally) no desire to overstate revenue like, for example, Enron. The goal is usually to minimize income to reduce taxes, since they are mostly pass-thru entities, and we can find various LEGAL means in which to accomplish that goal. And from now on, I’ll try to be less rigid…and I’m not quite proficient enough in Excel to be THE MAN so I’m still working for him.

  11. Jon:

    – and now I no longer work for the man, I AM the man.

    Well put! Same here. I haven’t regretted starting on my own for as much as a tenth of a second.

    I so much appreciate the fact that when the yearly assessment round comes along I can just stand up and look in the mirror and say to myself: “Well, JKP: you did a great job!”.

    I even enjoy calling myself names, if I made a mistake.

    But even more important: no more corporate politics that can bother me much…

  12. Mike –

    Sorry if I’ve offended anyone, it wasn’t my intention. I tend to generalize, and as you know, on the Internet, nobody can hear your tone of voice. While it was greed-driven fraud on the part of officers of Enron that led to that fiasco, it was overgeneralization to blame accountants for this, and wrong of me to follow it with the phrase “you guys”. Probably 99.9% of “you guys” are hard-working and law-abiding, and don’t just drink and talk about fishing, as I think I said earlier.

    I understand pretty well what you are talking about. I incorporated last year on the advice of my accountant, and he reduced my taxes by more than the sum of his fees and the legal cost of incorporating, in a single year. That’s a hell of an ROI.

  13. Re: Tablets

    I toyed with the idea of a lefty frogpad and tablet but decided against it when I realised how cumbersome it was to use Control key & Shift combos.

    I was always a big fan of the Librettos which were Toshiba’s bleeding edge mini pc. All the functionality and a full keyboard wrapped up in a machine the size of a VHS cassette. Sadly 6 years ago people just didn’t see the advantage of using a keyboard designed for pixies. I guess those same people are now struggling to type up their notes on their blackberries.

    Where is a dvorak keyboard when you need one?

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