Monday, June 23, 2008

zBudget Importing instructions.

One of my own ongoing personal projects is a budgeting program. Here is some documentation I'm working on. It's rough, and doesn't follow rules of good technical writing, but it's a start.

Login to

From the accounts page, choose comma separated(.csv) in the drop down box, then click download.
I always choose to manually enter dates, because usually there are transactions in limbo, meaning they have been posted to the bank, but not finalized. These transactions do not get downloaded until they are finalized. When downloading all transactions since the last download, the transactions that were in limbo last time will not be included in the new download. So I always just enter a date a few days before the last downloaded date(shown to the right in the table above). In the above example, I would enter 06/15/2008 - 06/28/2008(or the current date).

You may notice that these accounts all have nice names, you can change the names of your accounts by going to prefs(at the top right)->change account preferences, and changing the nicknames of your accounts. If you have already imported some transactions, be aware that the budget program will not recognize the accounts as being the same when you change the name, and so duplicate transactions can be created when doing an import after the name change. These duplicates can easily be deleted after the import.

Make sure that you can find the file after it is downloaded.

Now login to zBudget. On the left side of the screen, click on "Import Expenses".
[todo: screenshot]
Make sure that the correct format for the downloaded file is chosen, the click browse to find the file you downloaded. It will likely be named download.csv, download(2).csv or higher numbers if you have downloaded more times. The most recent is probably the file with the highest number. Click import.
[todo: screenshot]
You will see a screen listing the most recent transactions in your account. Use the drop down boxes to set a category, then click done. You will have a chance to do further editing if needed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Golden Compass, A review of two levels

I recently finished the last book of "His Dark Materials" by Philip(?) Pullman. When I first decided I wanted to read the book, my sister had said something about how it was written by an atheist, and that many christians were boycotting the movie. My thought was, what's all the hullabaloo, it's just a fantasy story. If a christian can write a fantasy story, what's so wrong with an atheist doing the same?

On one level, the series is an interesting story, with fun characters and some darker(complex) moments. The adventure is entertaining. It's not as good as say, Harry Potter (aimed at the same age group), but it doesn't need to be to be fun.

On another level, the series is the author's response to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. The Chronicles of Narnia are a set of fantasy stories that loosely parallel christian values and doctrine. C.S. Lewis weaves his beliefs subtly, with symbolic links to Christianity, but without direct collisions. No one is named after or directly related to a figure in christian belief. The closest he comes is "Sons of Adam" and "Daughters of Eve". It's possible that something more overt leaks through, but there will be no questions from children for their parents, asking: "Will Aslan come and breathe into my nostrils after I'm dead and then go on a journey past the end of the world?" And even if they do, there's no collision in their minds with the things they are taught on Sundays.

Pullman's "Dark Materials" are much less subtle. For most of the first two books, there is little that anyone could claim as controversial. The story of a little girl overcoming obstacles through audacity is charming. Any mention of religious topics is mostly commentary on organized/established(in the governmental sense) religion. Most everyone agrees that established religions are a bad idea. A couple mentions of angels, and the Authority(Pullman's version of God), are a bit critical, but quite short. One character is aiming to destroy the Authority, but he's not cast as a hero, but a surprise villain, betraying others to fulfill his goals.

In his last book, Pullman begins to truly state his case. He describes life after death as a prison. The ability to die and truly be dead is a blessing. He takes a hero from the Bible, and transforms him (with little cause) into a lusty, controlling, betraying angel. After he has described this angel, he explains that the angel was Enoch during life. He describes the Authority as a withering old man, incapable of withstanding a light breeze, confined to a crystal coffin. Rebel angels, who defied the authority are heroes, admired for their bravery and loyalty. Angels and church officials are bootlickers, incapable of original thought. Servants of the Authority torment the dead with the worst shame of their lives.

Pullman's book does not use proxies for his philosophy. He doesn't use traditional fantasy modes to create characters and societies that resemble ours. When he talked about the Authority and the Church lying about Heaven, it's obvious that he's saying that pastors, preachers, and priests are all lying when they talk about Heaven.

The lack of subtlety weakens his arguments, and often detracts from his story. His story could easily have been told using some other set of creatures as parallels. Eagles and Crows in place of angels, a powerful Lord of Eagles instead of the Authority. He didn't need to connect his villains to Biblical figures in order to present a critique of Biblical belief. Doing so shows an insensitivity that is exactly why many religious people feel very strongly about atheists. There is an arrogance, and a dismissal, that makes any conversation a stupid shouting match.

Well, having said all of that, I am good at compartmentalization, and I liked the book. I wouldn't recommend it for children though.