Looking for a Concur Alternative for Expense Report Management, we discovered Tallie Expense Management.

Having used a variety of Expense Report software packages over the years, I know which ones work and which ones do not, at least in terms of usability. One ubiquitous package out there is Concur. The last version of their desktop software which I used to submit expenses to get reimbursed by my company for software engineering books, trade shows, etc was an absolute bear to use, took multiple attempts, and left me itchy.

Concur did not support all the common browsers at the time, and seemed to only be interested in keeping Internet Explorer (IE) as it preferred browser, even though IE was busy losing it’s market share to Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Because of the outdated nature of the software, and it’s obtuse way of getting receipts and submitting, it quickly became a nightmare that none of my co-workers wanted to embark on. We hated Concur with a passion.

At the time, Concur had no mobile platform, which meant that we had to get a hard copy of a receipt, or an email copy of a receipt, generate a supported file format such as .jpg or .bmp and make sure it existed on our desktop computer, then go through the convoluted way of starting an expense, and then uploading the receipt. God forbid if it were in .png format or .pdf, because Concur did not support these formats. Bah.

At this point in the process, you’d then select some expense category which almost never, ever made any sense at all. Though I’ll admit this was probably fault of the bookkeepers at my company. Make a mistake at this juncture however, and you’d have to start all over again. Yep, there was no other way. Cancel first attempt, and make a second attempt. Often after a trade show, you’d notice my co-workers and I all filing expenses at the same time, and you’d hear cursing, and kvetching from all corners of the room.

We all longed for another expense report package that was mobile friendly, and even had a mobile app for iOS, and for Android, and just plain worked. A Concur Alternative had to exist.

And so it did, and does. Latest kid on the block that has about seven years of development under it’s belt is Tallie, the most excellent Alternative to Concur on the planet.

Contemplating a new messenger bag for hauling around a laptop computer? Read this Timbuk2 Messenger Bag Review first.

I have been a big fan of Timbuk2 messenger bags for over 15 years. My original custom bag was ordered with the water proof interior, the extra layer of ballistic nylon for the bottom, and probably every single add on feature that was an option at the time.

[purple bag]

That purple bag was a beast of construction and functionality. Hardly a day went by that it wasn’t slung over my shoulder for my daily bicycle commute in San Francisco, or later on my daily motorcycle commute of 30 miles each way. This motorcycle commute was accomplished in all weather conditions, in extreme heat, wind and rain, and here and there at rather spirited triple digit speeds where “appropriate”. The bag just kept on going, and kept my various electronic devices dry and safe. My purple commuter bag did everything I asked for and more!

One year I rode my Aprilia Falco every day without fail and for 67 straight days of rain. All my motorcycle gear got saturated and rather disgusting, but the Timbuk2 held up and never allowed the contents of the bag to get wet. The contents most often included a delicate laptop computer, expensive cameras and lenses and paperwork.

[purple bag worn out]

I also used my Timbuk2 while offshore fishing in the Pacific Ocean on boats that never had dry decks. I over loaded the bag with fishing tackle, my lunch, water etc. Often I’d find the bag on the deck with salt water sloshing around it, but once again never a leak. Salt water is pretty hard on any metal parts, and the salt seizes up zippers. But, once again, that Timbuk2 Messenger bag just kept on doing it’s job.

Well, 15 or so years of heavy use finally took its toll and the seams started coming apart, and the strap separated from the bag to a large extent. It was time to either repair under the lifetime warranty or buy a new bag.

Contacted Timbuk2 and of course that many years of use and wear and tear us not covered by a Lifetime Warranty. Curious, what then is a lifetime warranty other than a bunch of fine print that renders a lifetime warranty void of any coverage. I call that a marketing warranty, good only for selling shit.

So I thought, I’ll just bite the bullet and buy a new custom bag.

[new custom olive bag]

olive timbuk2 messenger bag
olive timbuk2 messenger bag

Ordered up a Custom Timbuk2 Messenger bag with the Ballistic Nylon fabric and all the features currently offered including laptop sleeve, and a gazillion pockets inside. Got the bag, and it seemed well made and yet lighter than my old bag.

Fast forward a year and half, and wait just a cotton picking minute, my heavy duty strap is separating from the bag. The small, very tiny section of where the strap gets sewed on has seams unraveling. Both sides of the strap are affected, and I’m about to lose my super maxed out MacBook Pro.

So I contact Timbuk2 and they say, sure pack up the bag and prepay either $25 or $35 for us to look at the bag. We’ll repair it, and if it looks like a warranty issue then we’ll refund your money. Otherwise the $25 or $35 will cover the repair. That PISSES me off. What in the hell is a Lifetime Warranty? Apparently in the mind of Timbuk2 it’s whatever they decide at any given moment.

Here’s their email:

Good news we can fix your bag!

How to get this done?

  • Please find our repairs page and select the type of repair that needs to be processed http://www.timbuk2.com/search?q=repair
  • Add the repair to your cart and proceed to checkout. There is a $25 or $35 processing fee that is assessed up front (depends on type of bag you have). If we receive the bag and it is determined that the issue falls under warranty we will cancel the charge and process the repair at no cost. All final decisions will be made once we have the bag in hand and have an opportunity to assess it.
  • The online system will email you an order confirmation that is going to act as your warranty claim number
  • Package up your bag, include a copy of the warranty confirmation email and a note telling us what is wrong with your bag
  • Write the order number on the outside of the package.
  • Send the package to Timbuk2 – you can use any service you wish, but we recommend using a service that will give you a tracking number.

Once we receive the bag it will take us 3-7 business days to process the claim. You will receive notice once the bag has been repaired.

We’re sorry that your bag didn’t hold up the way that it should have! We’ll do all that we can to
get you out the door with a working Timbuk2 on your back.”

I am here to say that Timbuk2 used to make heavy duty Messenger Bags that were designed to carry a load on a daily basis, and hold up. Now-a-days, they appear to be cutting corners and not taking care of their loyal customers. Interestingly a majority of their bags are no longer made in San Francisco, but are, yep, made in China. We all know the benefits of this. Folks in San Francisco no longer have those manufacturing jobs, and quality tends to go downhill.

Timbuk2 seems to be focusing on the decorative layer of Messenger Bags rather than the pure robust functionality of the original design. Why? Is that market gone? Have customers decided that quality and functionality and durability no longer play a part in their product desires? For me the question is easy. I choose quality,function, and durability first. I pay extra for the custom colors, and features. I thought I paid for the quality, function and durability, but I am sadly mistaken.

Now, things get even more interesting. Last Christmas, I ordered a Custom Timbuk2 Messenger Bag for my wife. Her 15 year old Timbuk2 finally had seams bursting, and it was time to get her next bag. So I ordered a custom bag, with all the features of my last bag. Turns out Timbuk2 has stopped offering Ballistic Nylon, and instead offers only the Cordura Nylon, which by their own original descriptions is not as tough or heavy duty. Then it turns out, the bag has fewer internal pockets, and the strap, the main part of the bag, that carries all the stress of the weight of the contents, has been downgraded to a soft and wimpy strap. The old heavy duty strap is no longer available. And it too suffers the lack of reinforced stitches on the ends where they attach to the bag. What the Hell.

I did not know all these details, since I did not open the bag before Christmas, but since we were traveling over the holidays, I gave my wife the bag as an early Christmas present so that she could use it while flying. Well, what a flipping disappointment. After the holidays I contacted Timbuk2, but was given the runaround. “We no longer offer the Ballistic Nylon, or the heavy duty strap. ”

My wife hates the new bag, and I am annoyed, since this was not a cheap proposition to order a custom bag. We both feel cheated, and have resolved to not buy anything else with the Timbuk2 logo on it.


I finally said screw it, and ordered a C.A. Myer’s Awl for All, sail maker’s awl with waxed cotton thread. An on my commute I re-stitched or resewed the strap back on the bag. Unfortunately Timbuk2 did not leave enough material on the buckle side of the strap to greatly improve on the amount of material sewed. So it’s hard to reduce the stress on this very crucial load bearing part of the bag.

I was thinking about how they stress such a small area, and then recalled, my old Domke canvas camera bags I used as a pro-photographer had their straps completely wrap about the bottom of the bag making the whole bag a distributed part of the load bearing of the strap. Now there’s an idea. A bag meant to carry a sometimes heavy load of camera gear and do so in a way that the strap is never, ever going to be stressed, and that you could lose a large portion of the stitching and keep on going with no fear of losing your precious cargo.

Timbuk2, time for you to find your way, or just get out of the business, and let the cheap Chinese knockoffs take over.

I used to love the original Warcraft, and Command and Conquer games back in “the day”, what ever the hell that is. Those two games were giant time sucks just like the modern versions or copies of those games. But, I had a blast playing against my office mates, or the computer.

In those days you bought a copy of the game, and quickly got down to business. What you got was a game that had excellent playability, and the challenge being the focus of the designers.

These days there is the concept of the freemium game, where you pay no money up front but to truly excel or speed up the tasks of building out your buildings or infrastructure, and weapons you pretty much have to pay for the privilege by paying cold hard cash for jewels or game money.

This sort of game is therefore not designed for better game play but instead designed to created a level of slowness and frustration intended to force gamers to invest. Without paying, the players engage in gameplay that slows to a crawl with upgrades taking hours or days to accomplish. That big bag of jewels that costs $20 or $100 suddenly becomes mighty desirable and tempting.

This is the model of Boom Beach. It is free for your mobile device until you finally realize that it is going to be extremely increasingly difficult to move forward without spending your money on jewels.

Up next: play boom beach.

Old GE Signature Microwave
Old GE Signature Microwave

This is a review of the Bluestar RCS 30 Gas Range starting from contemplation and continuing through the unpacking and installation of the BlueStar. We’ll finish up the review by using the RCS30 and reporting on the good and negative aspects of this commercial style range for the home.

The old GE Signature Gas Range and above range microwave were showing their age. The Microwave worked 2/3 of the time, and the GE Signature Range worked some of the time. It was on it’s second (rebuilt) computer, and we were not about to drop another $350 on a reconditioned logic board. And so we started the search for a new Gas Range and Microwave.

We looked at the offerings from Home Depot and Lowes, and after a lot of hand ringing thought we wanted the LG Gas Range model LDG3036ST. It was LG’s top of the line range, and it looked pretty fancy with it’s pseudo Pro-Gas range styling.

One thing bothered me though and that was the heavy reliance on a computer to run things on the stove. I’m tired of the computerized GE Signature, and the computerized Amana Downdraft Model AGDS902SS Gas Range at my old house. The Amana had a failed computer, as well as constant problems with ignitors both on the cook top, and in the oven. Both computerized ranges required too much investment after the fact. And to add insult to injury new computer parts / logic boards were no longer available. Only “refurbished” boards were available at a premium price. Having taken both of these ranges apart, I can tell you that it’s no picnic. The Amana in particular was a royal pain to remove so many parts to finally get down to the computer. And both stoves had the flimsiest of sheet metal. Take a screw off and good chance that the threads on the stove were now stripped.

And so we contemplated looking for a completely manually controlled gas range. The microwave became a secondary consideration. The box stores all seemed to offer only computerized gas ranges, unless you wanted only a low end apartment type range.

After much research we looked at pro-style gas ranges for the home from GE, Wolf, and BlueStar, as well as a few others. I recalled a gas range we had in San Francisco that was a 50’s vintage gas range, and how it’s open burner architecture lended itself to easy maintenance and bullet proof reliability.

The BlueStar seemed as though it were built like that old 50’s tank. So we read a lot of reviews so as to understand the good and not so good features. I’d rather know about the good stuff and the warts up front, just so there are no surprises.

BlueStar has the option of several models, the RCS and RNB models in a standard 30″ configuration seemed to make the most sense. We weren’t remodeling, and the kitchen was already set up for a 30″ range. That’s fine. Bluestar RCS models come with the largest burners rated at 15k BTUs, and the RND models came with the largest burners at 22k BTUs. However there was over a $2,000 premium to get the more powerful burners. It appeared that the RNB’s had the same chassis and ratings as the RCS, and our minds were made up. The RCS model it is.

Looked around in the Bay Area and found a sale price of an RCS 30 for $2499, and other stores selling them for up to $3299. That was quite a range of prices. We paid for the $2499 model over the phone, and ordered a 6″ back splash for the stove since it was going flush against the back wall.

We realized that with a stove this powerful an over the range microwave was not going to cut it. The fans wouldn’t be powerful enough, and we thought that with all that heat, a overhead microwave would fail pretty quickly. So we resolved to get a powerful range hood.

Picked up the range on a Saturday afternoon, and also bought a Elica Range Hood that had two simple controls for fan and lights, commercial style stainless steel traps, and outright simplicity. Right up our alley. Got a good deal at $599 for a 600 CFM commercial looking hood.

The Bluestar took three strong men used to picking up and moving heavy appliances to do the deed of picking up the stove and putting it in the bed of our beater Dodge Dakota. The other two packages, the Bluestar Back Splash, and the Elica Cervinia Range Hood were heavy enough to not require strapping down. Still the Dakota felt underwhelmed by all the new found weight in the bed.

Since it was my wife and myself left to our own devices of unloading the RCS30, I quickly determined that uncrating and removing all loose parts was going to be essential. So the straps were cut, the cardboard box removed and the plastic wrapping was unwound, leaving a naked and minimal looking stainless steel Bluestar Gas Range in the back of the truck. I have to say that I was struck by it’s simple beauty. Stripped down, no computer, no extra doodads or gadgets, no clock, no timer, no gaudy logo. Just a simple but robust cooking tool. COOL!

Then I started removing the burner grates since they being cast iron were sure to weigh a ton. And so they did. And it was a beautiful thing to then see the burners in all their nakedness. I unplugged the burners which required removing one wire each from the ignitors, and then simply lifting up and pulling back the burner to disengage. Those 15k BTU burners are serious business also with a substantial weight and heft and large size. Oven racks came out and another 5 or more pounds.

Next I unbolted the stove from the wooden pallet. This consisted of two bolts going through holes in the rear of the stove to the crate. I was surprised that there weren’t another two in the front. I tested the heft of the stove, and damn near gave myself a hernia. This thing, completely unloaded is HEAVY. While sliding the stove rearward in the truck bed, a nut fell to the bed. Hmmmm. Then I noticed a nail head sticking up from the pallet, which would have done some serious damage had it made contact with one of the stainless panels. The stainless panels by the way are covered with a plastic film that must be removed before firing up the stove for the first time.

I unburied my furniture dolly from the shop, and had it ready at the rear of the truck for unloading of the stove. Got my wife and we sized up the situation, and quickly decided on a plan. It would require perfect coordination since this was one heavy beast of a gas range to be moving around. On three we lifted, moved the stove away from the bed and over the dolly, paused, and then on three again, used our legs instead of our arms or backs to lower the stove to the dolly. We both stood admiring our work and then realized we both had some heavy dents on our arms, an I had blood drooling down my left arm. That was our first note that the Bluestar comes with some mighty sharp edges on the sheet metal and metal framing and panels. Funny the manual for the stove says that all parts of been debarred. Well… maybe or maybe not is my conclusion.

We moved the stove a few feet and then decided that the best way of getting the stove up the two steps leading into the house as on a hand truck. So I got the Harbor Freight hand truck and we tilted the stove back off the dolly, removed it, and replace the dolly with the hand truck. Tilted it back together and I wheeled it to the steps. Wife lifted on the front while I lifted from the hand truck side, and we quickly made it up both steps, and in the doorway at the front of the house where we have an oversized wheelchair friendly front door.

Moved it into the kitchen and went about admiring the Bluestar once again. Removed all the plastic wrap remaining on the stove, and I started to think about a gas line and any other parts we’d need. One thing we discovered behind the old stove was that the gas line appeared to have been added after the fact, and this appeared to be true of the electrical outlet also. This was supported by the fact that a large chunk of wall had been cut out to accommodate these changes. The chunk was held in by one sheet rock screw. Then my wife said, oh no… She discovered that the gas line and electrical outlet were in the wrong place for this sealed back Bluestar. Crap.

Removed the old above range GE Signature Microwave and found the wall behind it having a different color paint. So this got cleaned and painted. Measured and remeasured and finally cutout a paper template for the mounting holes of the Vent, drilled holes and quickly discovered that instead of the anchors they provided that simple wood screws were the better way to go. It would have been nice had the company included a paper or cardboard template in which to drill the mounting holes, as the tolerances allowed little wiggle room. And because the mounting key holes on the vent were at the extreme edges of the vent, it was difficult to drill, and screw in the screws. The keyholes in the vent were not large enough to easily accept the head of the screws, and so I had to drill them out a tiny bit. Finally it was not easy to lift the heavy vent up and get everything aligned. But we did it and tightened the screws down from the inside. Plugged in the vent, and hooked up the vent adapter and hose to the roof ventilation system, and turned it on. Wow! This thing sucks some serious air. Boom!

Rerouted the gas line to within a couple inches of the floor, and did the same for the electrical outlet. This required a trip to Lowes. Got all of that done, and then covered up the hole in the wall, taped it, and later my wife painted this area. While we were at it we removed a 30″ section of Corian back trim on the counter top so that the stove could site flush with the wall. Underneath that was another big chunk of wall missing. Patched that, and painted, and finally was ready for the stove.

At the back of the stove you have a threaded 1/2″ iron pipe for the gas hookup. Be aware that most of the gas line kits do not have the proper adapter to fit this pipe. You will need a 1/2″ female XXX to 1/2″ male XXX adapter to take a standard 1/2″ gas line hose. Then you will need a proper adapter at the line at the wall. You should have a shutoff valve with the proper 1/2″ connection to your hose. MORE ON THIS…

The Bluestar comes with a power cord that is a 90″ appliance end. This is helpful to give you reasonable clearance at the wall outlet. Bluestar recommends a dedicated circuit that is 15amp (??) UPDATE LATER. Since there is no computer the power is required to light the ignitors on the cooktop portion of the range, as well as in the oven. Power is also required for the convection fan.

One can’t wonder why not have a pilot light system. I’d just as soon have zero electrical hookup. Those ignitors are prone to failure, and at $27 or so a pop, can get expensive pretty quickly. Oven ignitors are usually a bunch more money. Will research to see what the pricing is for this, and see if there are alternatives to Bluestar’s rather inflated prices.

Bluestar RCS 30 Installation
Bluestar RCS 30 Installation
Bluestar RCS 30 and Elica Hood
Bluestar RCS 30 and Elica Hood
Bluestar RCS 30
Bluestar RCS 30

More to come on the Bluestar RCS 30 Review…

expense fraud
expense fraud
Once upon a time I worked for a company that had the top executives constantly on the road, traveling, flying to conferences and meetings with clients. These folks struggled to keep up with their expenses, and really suffered when it came time to filing company travel expenses. I often heard these executives complaining, and one time I hear one executive explain to another on how to pad his expenses, and make a nice stipend that padded his wallet. This was fraud, and eventually it caught up with him, and he got fired and had to reimburse the company for his expense fraud.

My friends over at Tallie know about expense fraud since they are in the business of building software for filing and managing business expenses. Read their take on Expense Fraud.