Tips on building a Corsi-Rosenthal Box for an airborne pandemic

Corsi-Rosenthal box materials

I just built a Corsi-Rosenthal Box. You might be thinking “what?” Well, it’s a simple and inexpensive DIY air filtering device that helps remove airborne viruses, wildfire pollution, pollen, dust, etc. from indoor air. Of particular note: the filters used are good enough to remove COVID-19 aerosols from contaminated air. Also, it’s incredibly easy to build and inexpensive. My Corsi-Rosenthal Box took less than an hour to make using the readily available supplies shown above. And it cost just $94 plus a dollar or two for duct tape.

That compares favorably with the $230 sleek Coway Air Purifier, shown below, that I purchased at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially since the latter is rated at ~250 cubic feet per minute (CFM) while mine provides ~350 CFM.

My air filter is 40% of the price of the Coway yet provides 40% more ventilation!

To be fair, mine is larger — and uglier. Here it is!

Even though I’d never made one before the air cleaner took less than an hour to put together. If I did it again, I think I could build one in less than 30 minutes.

Materials, tools, and basic construction

Corsi-Rosenthal box materials
All the materials I used are shown above. Here’s the list:

The only tools I needed were a Swiss army knife, scissors, a pencil, and a loop of string. (Oh, and a thumbtack.)

Because there are already good resources available for choosing components and building a Corsi-Rosenthal Box, I’m not going to replicate them here. Instead, here’s what I found most helpful:

These resources cover everything you need to know to build inexpensive and effective air cleaners, plus a little interesting history of how they came to be.

Tips on building a Corsi-Rosenthal Box

While building my box I learned some little details that aren’t covered in the core resources above. None of them are vital, but they might help you. Here they are:

Making the box as square as possible

Corsi-Rosenthal box taped filters

How should the four filters be duct-taped together? See the picture above, which shows the seam arrangement I used to create a square shape. I found that 2″ duct tape worked well for the entire project.

You probably don’t need extra cardboard!

I purchased my fan and filters online, and both got shipped in boxes that are the perfect size to provide the cardboard you need. I used the Lasco fan box for the box base (see below), as well as four pieces needed to seal the corners of the fan mounting and the fan shroud (see next two sections). Very little cardboard was left!

Corsi-Rosenthal box bottom cardboard

Note that I sealed the bottom of the box along the filter edges and added four additional short strips of duct tape at each corner to reinforce the construction.

Creating four cardboard corner arcs to seal the fan mounting and the fan shroud

Here’s how I marked up the other side of the Lasco fan box to create four corner arcs that sealed the fan mounting and the fan shroud (see next section).

I placed the fan in the center of the cardboard and drew around its edge, creating the outside pencil line as shown below.

After removing the fan, I used a tape measure to find the center of the cardboard and inserted a thumbtack. Then I made a loop of string to draw a circle to cut out for the air exhaust portion of the fan shroud. (Look at the earlier photo of my finished unit to see what the fan shroud looks like.) The right length for the loop will depend on the fan you use. Here are the optimum fan shroud openings (with the 3M Filtrete 1900 filters I used) for two common fans:

So for my Lasco fan, I used a 15″ loop of string to draw a central circle with a 7.5″ radius.

After marking the cardboard I cut the four fan seal corner arcs from the cardboard corners with my Swiss Army knife and duct-taped them in position as shown below.

I then cut out the fan shroud.

Final assembly

All that remains at this point is to place the fan on the top of the box and seal it to the filter edges and the corner cardboard arcs with duct tape. Finally, tape the edges of the fan shroud to the fan.

You’re done! Here, again, is the finished unit.

This Corsi-Rosenthal Box is quiet, even on maximum fan speed, and noticeably more powerful than my commercial Coway unit. I live in a very airtight home — my CO₂ meter shows significantly higher readings when just the two of us are there. So I am happy to have this second unit available when folks visit. Building it was fun and easy. Recommended!

 

Solving the Tesla Powerwall frequency problem

TLDR: Useful if Tesla Powerwall frequency shifting during outages is affecting appliances like clocks, furnaces, uninterruptible power sources (UPS), etc. Want to skip right to fixing the Tesla Powerwall frequency problem? Click here.

In February 2018, we installed a Tesla Powerwall 2.0 on our Vermont home. We get around thirty outages a year, and for the last 4 years this device has provided us with a reliable automatic backup electricity source capable of running our home through outages of up to two days. (Read more about my experience with our Tesla Powerwall here.)

Whenever there was a lengthy outage, I noticed that my old-fashioned digital clocks would run a little fast. I’d reset them to the correct time and didn’t think much about it.

Until one day…

Houston, we have a problem

Earlier this year, I reluctantly dismantled our 38-year-old solar hot water and space heating system, and replaced it with a gas boiler. (One of the system’s large, expensive solar storage tanks had sprung a leak, and I would have had to replace all three tanks. Our solar collectors were still working flawlessly, but I worried that they might not last much longer.)

The gas boiler, a high efficiency Alpine condensing boiler, was installed to heat a new stainless steel domestic hot water tank and the two existing radiant floor heating systems. After dealing with the inevitable teething troubles, the system was working well.

Until we had a power outage while the boiler was running.

Passing the small utility room that contains the heating system, I noticed a red glow that was definitely not normal. Going in, I saw that the boiler’s touch screen display had turned red. The boiler had shut down with a “hard lockout”. Looking up the displayed error message “Fault 23” told me that the boiler was unhappy with the Tesla Powerwall’s power.

This was not OK. First, the boiler would not operate during a power outage. Furthermore, it would not turn on automatically once utility power returned. That’s because you have to manually reset the hard lockout using the boiler’s touch screen.

So if we left our home for a few days and a power outage occurred during that time, the boiler would not operate until someone entered our home and reset it. Having our plumbing freeze and plants die while we were away was not acceptable.

Diagnosing the problem

It wasn’t hard to figure out what was happening, once I remembered the previously ignored clue that some of our clocks ran fast when using Powerwall power. These clocks are the old-fashioned kind that keep time based on the national electric utility frequency of 60 hertz (Hz). Clearly, the Powerwall must be providing backup power at a higher frequency.

To my surprise, a quick Google search told me that Powerwalls supply power at 66 Hz when they are at full or close to full charge! My furnace was shutting down because, unlike the rest of my appliances, it would not operate correctly at 66 Hz. But why would Powerwalls do this?

Well, it turns out that many Powerwalls are used as storage for photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. PV systems also use an inverter, like the one in a Powerwall, to generate household power. And when the house’s electrical needs are being met with the Powerwall charged to or near full, there’s nowhere for additional solar-generated electricity to go. So the Powerwall is designed to switch to 66 Hz under these conditions. PV inverters, like my furnace, see the frequency out of the normal spec and shut down. The Powerwall supplies the home until it has spare capacity to be recharged by the solar panels, and then drops its frequency down to 60 Hz. Until then, the solar inverter (and my furnace) will shut down.

Ok, so I understand the problem and the reason Powerwalls are designed this way. But I don’t have PV panels, and I want my furnace to work when there’s a power outage! What could I do?

Fixing the Tesla Powerwall frequency problem – option 1

Luckily, as you might expect, I wasn’t the first customer to have this problem. More Googling indicated that I could call Tesla and ask them to remotely update my Powerwall to reduce the frequency of power it provided under high charge conditions.

So I did. After a long hold time for Tesla Powerwall Support [(888) 765-2489], I spoke with a friendly technician, Manny. He confirmed that Tesla will make this change and placed an order for my system. Manny told me the change usually took 3 – 5 business days, and he would get back to me when they did it.

I waited. After nine days, I called back to get an update, and Andrea told me the queue was currently running 10 – 15 business days. So I waited some more.

Sixteen days after I’d spoken with Manny, he emailed me that Tesla had made the change. Great! Now, I wanted to test to see if the fix worked.

Testing that Tesla’s update worked

I didn’t want to wait until a power outage occurred while my furnace was running. So I decided to manually switch our home to Powerwall power.

I hadn’t done this before, so I investigated my Powerwall installation. It’s mounted on an external wall, so it’s easy to see the components. Please note that there are several ways to install Powerwalls — don’t assume that your configuration will be the same as mine. Here’s a photo, with the components labeled, of my setup.

Tesla Powerwall frequencyGrid power flows through my utility meter through the gateway to the Powerwall disconnect, which is hooked up to both the Powerwall and my main home breaker panel.

For my setup, to switch our home to Powerwall power manually you simply have to open the gateway box and turn off the grid disconnect switch.

Tesla Powerwall frequency

After flipping the grid disconnect switch, I went inside and turned up a thermostat so our boiler would fire up. Success! The Alpine now worked happily on Powerwall backup power!

I don’t own a multimeter that includes frequency measurement, but I found another way to discover the frequency that my Powerwall now generates. By logging in via your gateway’s Wi-Fi network, it’s possible to view the operating frequency of your Powerwall. These instructions provide a guide. I discovered that my Powerwall’s output is now between 62.1 – 62.3 Hz. Apparently, that’s close enough to 60 Hz to keep the boiler running.

Fixing the Tesla Powerwall frequency problem – option 2

Although I solved my boiler problem, that doesn’t mean other appliances or devices are immune from Tesla’s frequency switching technology. If that turns out to be the case for you, there is another option that should work, though you’d have to pay for it.

The trick is to use an online aka double-conversion uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to power the troublesome device. (Offline/Standby, Line-Interactive, and Automatic Voltage Regulation types of UPS don’t change the frequency of the power supplied.) An online UPS charges a battery that runs an inverter providing 120 volts, 60 Hz power independent of incoming power quality. When grid power fails, this type of UPS has no transfer time. Plug the problematic device into an online UPS that has enough volt-amp (VA) capacity and you’re all set. Note that the backup time such units provide is irrelevant since they will still be receiving power from the Powerwall.

The only drawback to this solution is the expense. An online UPS costs more than the other types. The least expensive unit I could find via a quick search, the Maruson 1000VA Online Double-Conversion UPS, costs almost $500.

Conclusions

Once again, I’m very happy with my Tesla Powerwall. It would be nice if an installer or owner could make this frequency change, rather than waiting for two weeks for Tesla to do it. But at least there was a fix that only cost some time for research and a couple of phone calls, and my boiler power problem is resolved.

I hope this article will help anyone else who runs into the same problem. Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below.

 

Stooa review — a free online fishbowl tool

stooa reviewI’m a big proponent of fishbowls as a tool to manage wide-ranging group discussions. (To learn in detail about the use and implementation of fishbowls and fishbowl sandwiches, see Chapters 29 and 30 of my book Event Crowdsourcing.) So when I heard about a free tool for online fishbowls — Stooa — I thought I’d take a look. Here’s my initial Stooa review.

How to start with Stooa

It’s easy to start working with Stooa. Registering a (free) account requires the usual information: name, email, and password. You can also add your Twitter and/or LinkedIn profiles if desired.

Once you’ve registered your account, you’re ready to create a new fishbowl.

As you can see, you can specify a discussion topic, add a description, and schedule the fishbowl start and duration (up to four hours; though that would be cruel and unusual punishment). You can also choose a language to use. Currently the choices are English, Spanish, French, and Catalan. On clicking Create fishbowl you’ll see a summary of your new fishbowl, together with a link to distribute to others so they can join it. You’ll also receive an email with the same information — a nice touch.

Starting your fishbowl

When you click on Go to the fishbowl, Stooa will ask for permission to use your camera(s) and microphone(s). (Once you’ve joined a fishbowl, you can choose which ones to use.) Enter how you’d like to display your name, and you’ll see this screen:

When you’re ready to begin, click Start the fishbowl. At this point the camera and microphone will be active just for you. Share a short introduction with the waiting attendees. When done, you’ll appear in one of the five fishbowl “seats”. Click Allow attendees to join the conversation to begin discussion.

Running your fishbowl

At the top of the screen you’ll see the remaining time for the fishbowl, a button to end it, and the number of attendees present. Clicking on the latter displays a list of people currently in the seats, followed by the remaining attendees. The list includes links to the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of each attendee if they entered them.

At this point, attendees can enter/leave one of the fishbowl seats by clicking on the Join/Leave the conversation button at the bottom of the screen. The other buttons allow participants to choose and control their camera and microphone.

Five participants is a good maximum for a controlled and useful discussion. Stooa smoothly implements entry and departure of fishbowl participants.

When your discussion is over, use the End fishbowl button to close the session.

Stooa review — what do I think?

Here are my initial impressions from a brief look. First, I want to acknowledge Stooa’s creator, Runroom, for developing this tool and making it Open Source: software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify and enhance. Hosting the software so that anyone can use it is another Runroom gift. They explain why they did so here. Thank you Runroom!

Stooa was easy to register and use on Chrome or Safari. First time users should have little difficulty, as the entire onboarding process is designed very well. I haven’t used the tool with a large number of attendees, so I can’t say how it holds up under load. Given that the number of folks simultaneously on video chat is limited to five, I expect it will work fine.

Stooa succeeds admirably in its purpose as a single process tool that facilitates effective group discussion.

Limitations

Currently, you can’t remove a fishbowl participant. This could be a problem if you used Stooa for a public fishbowl discussion, publicized via a link on social media.

In addition, with all seats filled, there’s no way for waiting attendees to indicate that they’d like to join the discussion, so a fishbowl host doesn’t know how many others are waiting to speak. To deal with this, attendees could use a backchannel tool like Slack to message the host that they’d like to join in. Alternatively, adding a hand raise option to the attendee list would help to solve this problem. And incorporating a simple text chat for all attendees into Stooa would provide even greater flexibility.

Stooa is not the only tool for running online fishbowls. In July 2020, I shared how to use Zoom to run fishbowls online. Zoom is, of course, a fee-based platform, but many organizations own a license and Zoom does many other things as well. In this situation, Zoom includes attendee text chat and hand raising. And its breakout rooms allow you to create, inside a single tool, the fishbowl sandwiches I use to facilitate group problem solving.

In an ideal world, the tools we use would include only the features we need. We don’t live in such a world, and Stooa is a well-crafted platform that allows groups to meet and discuss online. Whether it includes everything you need to make such discussions effective and fruitful is ultimately up to you to decide.

More about Stooa

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Stooa review and found it useful. Here are some additional resources for exploring Stooa. Feel free to add your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!

An affordable air quality tool for meeting planners

air quality tool meter CO2
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the in-person meeting industry. Though it took too long to recognize that COVID-19 spreads via air transmission, we finally have effective procedures (vaccine mandates, masking, air quality standards, and social distancing) to reduce infection risk at in-person meetings. Now, meeting planners can add an affordable air quality tool to their site visits.

How can you determine air quality at a prospective venue?

Look around the room at an in-person event and you’ll see if masking and social distancing are taking place. We can implement vaccination mandates using third party vendors such as sharemy.health, CLEAR Health Pass, Safe Expo, and others. But how can we determine the air quality at a prospective venue?

Currently, we don’t know how to detect airborne COVID-19 viruses. (This is likely to be true for a long time. We still have no test for airborne tuberculosis bacterium (TB) transmission two centuries after identifying TB as a distinct disease.)

Luckily, under conditions I’ll outline below, we can obtain useful information about a venue’s air quality by using a device that measures a proxy for air pollution: carbon dioxide (CO₂).

People breathe in air, typically containing about 0.04% CO₂. They breathe out a mixture of gases containing about 4 – 5 % CO₂. People with COVID-19 co-exhale respiratory aerosols containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

If an occupied building space has effective ventilation, the occupants’ excess exhaled CO₂ is quickly diluted with fresh air, and the CO₂ level in the air remains close to normal values. Measuring the level of CO₂ in the air can, therefore, tell us whether effective ventilation is present or not.

Here are the generally accepted standards for CO₂ levels:

~400 parts per million (ppm) – Normal outdoor air level.
400 ~ 1000 ppm – Typical value level indoors with good ventilation.
1,000 ppm – the OSHA/ASHRAE recommended maximum level in a closed room.
> 1,200 ppm – Poor air quality – requires ventilation to the room.
2,000 ppm – This level of CO2 typically produces a significant increase in drowsiness, tiredness, headaches, lower levels of concentration, and an increased likelihood of spreading respiratory viruses.

Until recently, meters that measure CO₂ levels in the air cost hundreds of dollars. (Some models with especially accurate sensors or the capability to measure other air pollutants still do.) But today we can buy an affordable air quality tool — a hand-held CO₂ meter for under $100. The one I just purchased (illustrated above) cost $80, and there’s a wide variety to choose from (for example, from here or here).

My 3.27″ (diameter) x 1.26″ (depth) meter measures CO₂ levels from 0 – 5,000 ppm. It can run on standby for 18 hours, supports USB charging, and includes a battery level indicator and temperature and humidity readings. While its specifications omit accuracy, inexpensive CO₂ meters are typically reliable within ±100 ppm. This is good enough to provide a decent estimate of the air quality in an enclosed space.

My unit shows a concentration of ~350 ppm CO₂ outside my rural Vermont home, which was built tightly. In my home office, the level increases to about 450 ppm, and rises to about 525 ppm if I’m sitting next to the unit for a while. Slightly cracking open a window quickly brings down the reading.

I haven’t had time to explore other buildings yet, but am looking forward to seeing what I find out when I do.

Is a CO₂ a proxy for indoor air quality in occupied spaces?

Can measuring CO₂ levels give us a useful indication of indoor air quality?

The answer is a qualified yes. It depends!

First of all, we need to measure CO₂ levels in occupied spaces. A meeting planner doing a site visit should take CO₂ readings in occupied meeting rooms, restaurants, hotel lobbies, etc. Taking measurements in empty spaces will only show high readings if the building ventilation system is grossly inadequate (with CO₂ infiltrating from other areas.) Also bear in mind that increasing the number of occupants in a space increases the likelihood that an infectious person will be present and the number of people possibly infected. Doubling occupancy can thus cause a four-fold increase in risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Second, there are sources of CO₂ that are not related to human exhalation but will increase meter readings. A common source is combustion emissions such as gas stoves, which can significantly increase CO₂ levels. Pets can also increase CO₂ levels, though animals are unlikely to be sources of the COVID-19 virus. Such sources will cause increased levels of CO₂ without increasing the incidence of COVID-19 transmission.

Finally, air treatment options, such as MERV 13 or better filtering, or possibly ultraviolet-C radiation, may reduce the prevalence of active COVID-19 aerosols. When venues employ these mitigation strategies, CO₂ levels will not be decreased. Of course, if a venue has deployed these preventative measures, they will surely inform you about them when asked!

Due to these factors, you shouldn’t rely solely on measurements of CO₂ levels to determine whether a space is ventilated enough to mitigate transmission risk.

However, a simple CO₂ meter like the one I now own can be an effective air quality tool, providing valuable information to anyone who wants to investigate the air quality of occupied spaces at venues, hotels and properties, restaurants, and other meeting locales. I’ll be bringing mine when I travel, and I encourage you to do this as well!

More information on the relationship between CO₂ levels and COVID-19 exposure

If you’d like to learn more about the relationship between CO₂ levels and COVID-19 exposure risk, here are some useful references:

And here are some less technical media articles on CO₂ meters:

Venue ventilation for COVID-19

venue ventilation COVID-19Attention, meeting planners! Safe meeting venue ventilation for COVID-19 is critical. As we start thinking about returning to in-person events, it’s crucial to check that venues are upgrading their HVAC systems to handle potentially virus-infused air.

There has been little public discussion on this important topic. In this post, I’ll explain why questions about venues’ HVAC safety should be at the top of your site visit checklist.

Before we start, I need to make clear I’m not an HVAC engineer. My (perhaps) relevant background is an ancient Ph.D. in high-energy particle physics, and two years spent exploring ventilation systems—specifically air-to-air heat exchangers—when I owned a solar manufacturing company in the 1980s.

Introduction

Since the pandemic began, the science on COVID-19 transmission has evolved rapidly. Because early theories turned out to be inaccurate, current preventative measures are frequently misdirected. So I’ve included a short history of theories of COVID-19 transmission that shed light on the reasons we’ve underestimated the importance of ventilation in creating safe environments for indoor events.

Next, I’ve outlined what current research indicates venues and properties should be doing.

Finally, I’ve aired my concerns about how well venues and properties are responding to the safety concerns I’ve introduced.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor not working

fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor
Figure 1 — no measurements at start and middle!

Fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor!

About six months ago I noticed that my Apple Watch wasn’t consistently reading my heart rate during running workouts. The watch started displaying “measuring” my heart beat for minutes (see Figure 1), especially at the beginning of a run. Sometimes the heart rate monitor stopped working to such an extent that I couldn’t even get a few readings during a 25-minute run (see Figure 2). I love my Apple Watch but it was time to fix my Apple Watch heart rate monitor.

Figure 2 – no heart rate chart!

After doing some research, here’s what I’ve curated from various internet sources, summarized in one convenient place.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging

fixing a Tesla PowerwallIn February 2018, I took advantage of an excellent Green Mountain Power (GMP) program to install a Tesla Powerwall 2.0 on my Vermont home. For just $1,500, GMP installed a 13.5 kWh Powerwall on the outside of my home, providing us with an automatic back up electricity source that has proven capable of running our home through continuous outages of up to two days. (Yes, we get those kinds of outages now and then in rural Vermont.) Fixing a Tesla Powerwall is definitely GMP’s responsibility — but recently I was able to solve a charging problem myself.

Why GMP subsidizes Powerwall installation

Given that an installed Powerwall costs about $10,000, you might be wondering why GMP installed mine for only $1,500. The answer is that they have the right to suck power out of it when there’s a system wide power consumption peak. With several thousand Powerwalls like mine currently installed around Vermont, these combined units can supplement conventional power sources with tens of megawatts of power, reducing GMP’s need to buy expensive peak power.

I get automatic reliable power when the line power to my house is interrupted. GMP gets lower power purchase costs. Win-Win!

How the Powerwall has worked so far

My Powerwall has worked perfectly for eighteen months. In that time it’s taken us through 43 outages. Most of them are short and last less than an hour, and we don’t even realize the power was off until later. Our longest (54 hours) began on November 27th, 2018 and that’s the only time our Powerwall got completely discharged. In total, the unit has supplied 66 hours of backup electricity since we purchased it.

I know all these stats because Tesla provides an app that monitors your Powerwall, showing your backup history…

fixing a Tesla Powerwall…current power flows…

Powerwall power flow

…and historical power flows.Powerwall historic power flows

The 42nd power outage

On August 9, 2020, we had a 3 hour outage. It turned out that a tree fell on the power line that snakes up the ten miles of road between our home in Marlboro and the feeder point in Brattleboro. The Powerwall worked perfectly, but when utility power was restored, the Tesla app showed that though Powerwall was still 80% charged, there was no power flowing between the electricity grid, Powerwall, and our home.

This had never happened before.

The green light on Powerwall was steady, so it was “enabled” and communicating with the Gateway.

First I tried turning off the Powerwall, using the switch on the side. The house power remained on, and the big green LED on the side slowly dimmed. I waited for ten minutes until the light was out and then turned the unit on. No improvement. Strike 1.

Second, I gingerly opened the Gateway box, something I’d never looked at before (or been told anything about by the installers.) There was a reset hole, but a flashlight showed me there was no button to reset. The Gateway box has a single breaker which I turned off. The app then came to life and showed that the Powerwall was powering the house, draining the battery. Encouraged, I turned the Gateway breaker back on. The house became powered by the grid again, but, the app display went back to showing no flows. Strike 2.

Fixing a Tesla Powerwall charging problem

Well, when all else fails, read the manual! I’d never received a Powerwall owner’s manual, but found it online and discovered these instructions in the Troubleshooting section:

If the Gateway and Powerwall are both unresponsive:
1. Turn off Powerwall by setting its switch to the OFF position.
2. Turn off the AC breakers for the system (Gateway and Powerwall).
3. Wait for at least one minute.
4. Turn the AC breakers back on.
5. Turn on Powerwall.

I was reluctant to do this, since I knew it would turn off the house power completely and I’d have to run around and reset all the clocks. (A classic First World problem.) Anyway, sometimes manuals prove useful, because after I followed these instructions — hallelujah! my app showed flows, including the welcome sight that my Powerwall was being recharged by the utility company. Everything worked again!

I hope my experience fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging is helpful to anyone else who experiences this problem.

Any other Powerwall tips and experiences to share? Add a comment below!

Goodbye Quicken 2007 – Hello SEE Finance!

Quicken SEE Finance

I have switched my personal finance software from Quicken 2007 to SEE Finance. For twelve years, I used the venerable Quicken 2007 to manage my personal finances; a lifetime for software these days. Later Quicken versions never matched the functionality of the 2007 version, which has consequently remained extremely popular.

But software platforms constantly change, and Intuit recently announced the functional death of Quicken 2007 in two ways: one that can be worked around, and one that really can’t. First, Intuit pointed out that the 32-bit software will not run on future 64-bit versions of macOS. If you don’t upgrade macOS (or keep a machine to run Mohave or an older version) Quicken 2007 can still be used. But the game changer for me is Intuit’s announcement that “Due to a security and reliability update from the service provider, the ability to download transactions will no longer work in Quicken 2007, regardless of your macOS version”.

It’s unclear exactly what “update” Intuit is referring to. Regardless, there was no way I was going back to the days when I had to manually enter security prices, and bank and credit card transactions.

So I needed new personal finance software.

My search for personal finance software

I spent a few days reading reviews and comparing features of current personal finance software. My must-have features included:

  • Runs on an Apple Macintosh and looks like a Mac app
  • Can import my historic Quicken 2007 data (~50,000 transactions!)
  • Downloads bank and credit card transactions from the financial institutions I use
  • Updates security prices
  • Allows customization of the information shown in account registers
  • Includes memorized repeated transactions
  • Provides adequate financial reports
  • Allows me to choose where I store my data, so I can access it anywhere from my desktop or laptop Macs
  • Rock solid reliability
  • As responsive as Quicken 2007

One feature I didn’t need is built-in online bill paying. I use my bank’s service, or the online payment scheduling that most businesses offer today.

Hello SEE Finance!

After checking out options that included Moneydance and subscription-based Quicken for Mac, I installed a thirty-day free trial of SEE Finance 2, and never looked back.

SEE Finance 2 imported all my Quicken 2007 transactions flawlessly, even highlighting a few discrepancies I’d overlooked over the years. The OFX (think Microsoft Money) one-step update of prices and account transactions works better for me, and for more accounts than Quicken 2007 ever did. Online account updating is outstanding: one-click updates all security prices and brings in new transactions from all linked brokerage, bank, and credit card accounts.

I have bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, mutual funds, individual investments, and some assets — all handled without problems. It took me a little while to understand how SEE Finance reconciles accounts, but I now find the process intuitive. The program is very fast and has been rock solid. And I am rapidly adjusting to the new interface after all these years of muscle memory Quicken 2007 data entry.

The program handles multiple currencies and budgeting, which might be great features for some, but I don’t need them. The developer also offers an IOS version for $4.99 (!), but it only works if your data is stored in iCloud. My free iCloud storage is fairly full, so I prefer to use my paid Dropbox account to store my 200MB data file plus the backups SEE Finance makes.

I think the only thing I will probably miss is Quicken 2007’s extensive reporting capabilities. I haven’t fully explored the reporting in SEE Finance yet, but it looks adequate for my needs, though there may be some minor gaps.

Currently, you can buy SEE Finance 2 for $39.99 US “for a limited time”. Unlike the current Quicken for Mac, no subscription is needed.

I have no connection with the developer, Scimonoce Software; I’m just, so far, a happy customer!

Two free easy ways to create graphics for blog posts and presentations

free easy ways to create graphicsHere are what I think are the two best free easy ways to create graphics for blog posts and presentations if you’re not a graphics wonk. (Note: I am not a graphics wonk.)

I’ve written over five hundred posts on this blog over the last ten years. As they tell you in SEO School, every post has at least one image. I often find an appropriate image on the web, but sometimes I feel inspired to create a graphic that fits better.

In addition, I frequently present at meeting industry events and to clients. Good presentation graphics can really help communicate what I’m trying to say, and strengthen my message.

Are you also “not a graphics wonk”?

I think there are a lot of people like me who have difficulty easily creating even simple graphics. My problem is that I simply don’t use “professional” graphics creation tools enough to be able to reliably memorize the variety of techniques, tools, and processes needed to speedily turn what I visualize into reality.

My graphic designer, whom I happily hire for complicated stuff, can quickly create perspective drawings, remove unwanted photo elements, and tone down someone’s bright clothing. For me, attempting any of these things takes a few hours on the web figuring out how, and making lots of mistakes along the way. The next time (if ever) I want to repeat the process I’ll have likely forgotten how to do it.

Graphic design software like Photoshop and Illustrator — kitchen-sink tools that can do almost anything — are overwhelming for me. What I need is software that:

  • Allows me to easily work with and position images and vector graphics.
  • Has easy to use, intuitive methods for duplicating, manipulating, aligning, and spacing graphic elements.
  • Provides a text tool and a simple palette of basic graphic shapes.
  • Includes object grouping to speed up repetitive graphic element duplication.
  • Can easily add drop shadows to objects.
  • Includes a gallery of my existing work, allowing me to create a new graphic from an old one.
  • Can export anything I create as a jpeg.
  • Doesn’t include a ton of extra capabilities I’ll never master and therefore never use.

If these sound like your needs too, read on! (Also, I’ve included two great additional resources at the end of this post.)

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