I periodically report on personal productivity issues based on my experience. I’ll start with the good news – a neat expense tracking app – and the move to the bad news, cloud disappointment and Verizon FIOS. 

Expense Tracking Made Easy. I started using BizXpenseTracker on my iPhone and really like how easy it makes capturing expense information, including receipt photos. It saves a lot of time by making almost-real-time expense tracking easy, which I find much better than waiting until a trip ends. To submit expenses, the app offers several options. I e-mail myself an Excel spreadsheet and PDF of receipt images. You can buy an add-on app to sync to a computer desktop but I am loathe to install yet more software so skipped that option. The iOS version of the app back-ups to Apple’s iCloud or to Dropbox. It also synchronizes between i-Devices. It’s a big time-saver and I have only one minor complaint: I find syncing between my iPhone and iPad unreliable.

Cloud Disappointment. It turns out that the cloud giveth but it also taketh. Google announced that it will soon discontinue Reader, its cloud RSS aggregation software (which collects “feeds” from multiple blogs and new sources to read in one place.) I moved to Reader some time ago when Bloglines shut down its cloud reader. Now, I am again in search of alternatives. I have tried Feedly and Netvibes. Netvibes is out because, for me, it does not seem to collect all my feeds (or it does, but too delayed, just not sure). Feedly is pretty good, especially on i-Devices, but I miss some browser keyboard shortcuts that Google offers. When cloud services come and go, it’s takes time to evaluate and learn the alternatives.

I also see other cloudiness. To Tweet, I use HootSuite, a web-based service to monitor and post to multiple social media services. Recently, a key feature – search – stopped working in the Chrome browser. HootSuites’s help acknowledges and promises a fix. So my romance with clouds is over. No longer can I assume that the only change will be more cool new features. That said, it’s not so bad if I compare it to my experience with desktop software. For example, I regularly find deficits in Microsoft products, and they have had 2+ decades to get it right in some instances.

Verizon FIOS Outages a Time Waster. In the fall I switched to Verizon FIOS for home Internet. Starting in late January, over several weeks I had three service outages (voice and internet), none of which Verizon could explain. After the second outage, I had a long-ish call with a tech on an escalation support team. As I understand the situation, Verizon does not have reliable diagnostics down to the neighborhood or household level. After the third outage, I had Verizon replace all my on-premise equipment. So far, so good, but that seemingly drastic step was necessary to eliminate one potential cause, should I experience another outage. Of course, all this is a huge waste of time: reporting the problem, waiting for callbacks, waiting for service techs to arrive, and relying on a slower mobile data connection until service is restored. The situation is also surprising given that FIOS is a relatively recently designed and deployed – and seemingly high tech – system.