fighting the lack of good ideas

time tracking is broken – and “hours” makes it worse

This recent Medium post irked me.

It’s by one of the creators / operators / owners of Hours, a “new” time-tracking and -reporting company.

The intro had such promise, because it is so true:

There is a reason why almost every time tracking service out there says it takes the pain out of time tracking. Time tracking stinks! For companies, unreliable time tracking is literally a multi-billion dollar a day problem. For employees, time tracking can be one of the worst parts of their job (hint: the two are related). You would think that by now someone would have come out with the ideal time tracking service that solves the fundamental problems.

But then Jeremy Olson explains how Hours is supposed to be better – completely missing the point that time tracking sucks: everything he outlines is already being done in some form by current time-tracking tools.

For billable work, such as what I do, a minimum billing increment is typically 1 hour. Which is stupid. Weekly billing for consulting makes worlds more sense – charging $187.50 per hour ($7,500 for 40 hours) plus travel and expenses is complicated (especially when T&E typically hit $2000-2500 every week (trust me, I’ve been doing this for most of a decade now)): charge $10,000 per week and be done with it. And, of course, that presumes you have the “discount” constant rate – you’re probably paying closer to $0.07/second (aka $250/hr) for a mid-tier technical consultant, and as much as $0.14/second ($500/hr) for a management or principal consultant.

$500/hr for a full week (and we consultants do our darnedest to make sure all of our time is utilized (aka “billable”)) is $20,000 per week. When you’re at the point of buying consulting time measured in hundreds or thousands of hours (as most engagements I am involved with are), “saving” an hour here or there is not a savings – being billed for four consultants for a total of 158 hours in one calendar week is not fundamentally any different from being billed for 160 hours (aka 4 full work weeks) – it’s a 1.25% difference; at most it’s a “savings” of $1000, and probably closer to just $300 or $400.

Even being billed for 38 hours from one consultant (plus T&E) is only a 5% savings over being billed for an entire week (plus T&E, so it’s probably more like a 2-3% savings, tops).

The problem Hours sets out to solve is the wrong problem: while there are some billable practitioners who truly need granular, partial-hour reckoning (lawyers working several “simple” actions at once, etc), the vast majority of salaried folks do NOT need to track their time more granularly than by the half day, and more likely only by the day or week (indeed, I’d say most salaried employees don’t really need to track their time at all – if they’re getting their work done, that should be all that matters) – which tools like Harvest handle very nicely (and, btw, which have an excellent mobile interface (including for expense reports), which blows the theory Olson tries to promulgate out of the water when he says, “[i]t baffles me that most major time tracking companies don’t invest more in mobile” – Harvest may not be a “mobile-first time tracking service”, but it is more than amply served in its mobile incarnation.

Is there a market for time-tracking outside the work place? Sure. Things like the Pomodoro Technique use timers and tracking to help optimize your day. But that market doesn’t need yet-another-time-tracking-app – which is all Hours appears to be.

What about the reporting end? I’ve seen reporting in Harvest, Footsteps, and many other tools – they all work (to a greater or lesser extent) the same, and they all produce relatively useful reports. Are Hours’ reports really “better”? Maybe – but it seems a tenuous claim to make, at best.

It seems like the Hours team could’ve spent their time either truly making time-tracking better, faster, easier, and less-invasive (as described in the article, Hours makes time tracking far more invasive than it should be).

But they didn’t.


please reply at top

There is a constant war over top-repliers, bottom-repliers, and inline-repliers.

If you’re replying to an email, reply at the top. Unless there is some overarching need to reply inline (hint – it is very very rare).

Bottom-replying makes me have to reread all the crap that has been left from previous messages before I get to what you wrote – what a phenomenal waste of time*!

Just reply at the top. Like every sane person does.


*Yes, you should also trim whatever you don’t need when you reply – but that’s another story.

alphabet soup

Don’t ever work with the government – they change the names of agencies every few days.

It’s kinda like African countries changing names: have all the letterhead printed and business cards issued? Change the name!

don’t implement your scheduler in a pure queue design

Recently came across a seriously funky issue with one of HP’s products (don’t laugh – I know there’s loads of funkiness in HP tools).

HP Cloud Service Automation (3.1) allows you to schedule requests in the future. It also allows you schedule end dates for subscriptions.

That’s neat.

Here’s the problem: if you delete a Service Offering (which allows something to be requested in the CSA catalog) while an active subscription is using it – any active subscriptions get delinked, and become unmanageable with the tool.

Now the dopey scheduler comes into play.

CSA’s scheduler works by putting all future items into a FIFO queue. What this ends up meaning is that if you have an item that fails (because, for example, you’re now past a scheduled end date, but the subscription is unlinked from an offering, so it can’t unprovision it), all other pending items fail, too. Even ones that should happen “immediately” – because “immediately” is still added to the scheduling queue… behind the erroring item(s). And since those items have errored, nothing can move forward.

This is stupid. (And yes – RFEs have already been filed over these problems in the product.)

Instead, have the scheduler put all items into a table – at the appointed time, iterate through the table and run everything you can – if it won’t run, flag it as an error, and move on.

This is how cron works. Why would you not use a commonly-accepted, reliable way of doing things? Oh yeah – you’re HP.

If you’re planning to write something for your product/software/tool – see if anyone else has done it before, and then try to mimic methods that work… please!

a modest proposal

Today is Valentine’s Day in the US (and, I presume, elsewhere). This is the first such day I have had with my wife (last year we were only engaged, so she was my fiancee, not my wife).

And two years ago we had only just been matched on eHarmony. Yesterday in our Sunday School group, the question was asked, what do you do for Valentine’s Day?” After going around the room and listening to all the couples there, it became readily apparent that most of us think Valentine’s Day is kinda pointless: all the guys like to surprise their girls throughout the year just because they can. And the girls [mostly] don’t like one day in particular to be elevated for “romance” above any other.

Focusing on One Dayâ„¢ puts an awful lot of pressure on guys who should be thinking all year how to be nice to their girls. And it puts a lot of pressure on girls to expect something Really Really Awesomeâ„¢ – so when it doesn’t happen, they tend to get saddened. Oh, and let’s not get into what single folks feel like they’re forced into doing because this is the Most Romantic Day Of The Year.

So, I’d like to propose we get rid of Valentine’s Day. Gone. Boop. No more.

Just be good to your spouse/SO all the time 🙂


I like [some] Pringles potato crisps. For years I wondered why it is that when you remove the lining inside the cover it often likes to rip the inner lining of the cardboard case off with it, but it was a minor inconvenience (especially in the era [many moons ago] when I’d eat a whole can at a time).

Now, Lays has introduced the Stax line – same concept: reconstituted potato spooge shoved into a mold and baked. And, at least in Singapore, the packages are the same cost as an identically-weighted package of Pringles. Here’s the kicker – the Stax chips come in plastic. So when you remove the lid liner, it comes off – no tearing of the inner package liner.. because there isn’t one.

Why can’t Pringles do the same thing, or cut their cost so that the convenience of a tear-free interior is actually a cost of the other guys?

am i the only one outraged?

Starting Friday, gas stations around the Triangle started spiking their prices. They raised them because hurricane Ike might disrupt future gasoline production.

The cost of the gas they have in the ground is totally unaffected by whatever may or may not happen with this hurricane.

But folks made runs on gas stations fearing prices would rise.

Because of this, when I leave for NY later today, I’ll pay a 10-20% premium on the fuel the gas stations already have!

That’s f’ing ridiculous. There’s no two ways about it, this is pure gouging.

If the refineries are shut down for a couple days, then when you can’t get more gas, or it’s more expensive, then you can raise prices. Raising them ahead of time panders to people’s fear and panic and rips off your neighbors.