Saturday, November 19, 2011

What about this method of taxation?

My general feeling is that the last thing we need in the USA is a more complicated tax code.  However, I just had an idea for a new, perhaps slightly complex, structure to the income tax system that I think might be worth mulling over.  I'll state right off the bat that this probably would never work for logistical reasons.  But if we cast aside that impediment for a bit, there might be something worth pursuing in this idea.

The basic idea is that each taxpayer would use their tax dollars to have a real say in how he/she thinks the government should run.  For now I'm just talking about income tax, and this may be the only area in which this idea would make sense.  There are, of course, arguments that an income tax is not an effective method of taxation, but that's a discussion for another time.  Anyway, here's what would happen in my proposed system:
  • As before, each taxpayer would be assigned a total effective tax rate based on their income.  There seems to be somewhat general agreement that a system that does this in a progressive fashion (i.e., the tax rate increases with the taxable base) is preferred, and I'm fine with that.
  • I would advocate eliminating all tax deductions and credits.  I agree with a wise friend (Tim Mason) who stresses that the point of taxation is to fund the government, not to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.  Assuming no other changes, the effective tax rates would be lower in this system while generating the same amount of revenue - this is because people would not be doing tricks to lower their taxable income through deductions and credits.  So far this idea is nothing new.  Time for the potentially novel aspects...
  • Of that total effective tax rate, each taxpayer would be required to pay some mandatory portion of it towards barely keeping the government running.  By this I mean keeping the lights on and funding prior obligations (debt, entitlement programs, etc.).  To give a more concrete example with simple numbers, lets say this mandatory portion is 50% of the total effective tax rate.  While we're making up numbers, let's assume that the total effective tax rate for an income of $100,000 is 20%.  Someone with that income would be require to pay 50% of 20% (= 10%) of $100,000, so $10,000.
  • The remainder of an individual's tax burden could be lower or higher than the remaining 50% of the total effective tax rate.  The final amount would be at the discretion of the taxpayer.  But this determination would not be arbitrary.  The taxpayer would be presented a list of departments of the US government (I don't know whether this would be a complete list, but the "major" ones should probably be on there) with information on what each department does and its funding needs.  For each department listed, the taxpayer would be given a choice of 5 funding levels, ranging from significantly reducing a department's budget, to maintaining its current budget, to significantly increasing its budget.  Let's say the choices are something like the following:
    • (A) Fund the department at 50% of current budget
    • (B) Fund the department at 75% of current budget
    • (C) Fund the department at 100% of current budget
    • (D) Fund the department at 125% of current budget
    • (E) Fund the department at 150% of current budget 
  • The system would presumably be set up so that choosing to fund all departments at 100% would result in paying 100% of the discretionary portion of the effective tax rate, and thus 100% of the total effective tax rate.  Using the numbers above, an individual could then pay between 50% (all budgets slashed) and 150% (all budgets boosted) of the discretionary portion - or between 75% and 125% of the total effective tax rate.  The final number would be dependent on his/her funding levels for each department.  The departments would also presumably have different weightings on the individual's final tax burden, with larger departments having more of an effect.
I like this idea because it gives taxpayers a say in how they think the government should be structured, and this vote is directly tied to something that most people care about - their wallets.  If you think that the work a certain department does is valuable, you can show it by increasing their funding.  If you think a department should be shut down, decrease their funding.  I think it would go a long way toward showing what people think the right size of government should be.

It also changes the dynamic of tax increases and tax cuts.  If a political figure or group wanted an income tax increase, they basically would have to convince the public to fund the government at higher levels.  Tax cuts would go the opposite direction, though I don't think most people would need convincing in order to reduce their tax outlay.

Obviously, there are also some drawbacks to this idea.  I see two main arguments against it, but I am sure there are many others.  The first deals with logistics.  Besides the fact there are many details that I glossed over that would need to be sorted out, it seems like an overwhelming burden to force each taxpayer to make these sorts of decisions.  And it may be that the departmental level is not an ideal partitioning for this project.  Imagine how much more work it would be to have to make decisions on individual agencies within departments.  Isn't that what we elect public officials to do for us?

The other argument seems to be one of fairness, and goes something along these lines...  If I'm funding a department at a higher level than someone else, should I not benefit more from that department than that other person?  If I give the Department of Defense 150% funding, I should be better protected from foreign militaries than someone who gives them 50% funding.  Or if I give the Department of Transportation 150%, I should perhaps drive on better roads than someone who gives them 50%.  Even if the current system has other flaws in distribution, I can at least say something like each person pays an equal portion of each tax dollar for each service that the government provides.

To the first point regarding logistics, I don't think the project is hopelessly doomed.  I certainly think that there would be many issues to work out, but I think it could be done in a way that preserves the basic ideas driving this.  Remember that filling out tax forms right now is not a straightforward task.  In fact, this is so much the case that a large number of people pay professionals to do it for them.  My proposal could conceivably be simpler than the current system if tax loopholes were closed and tax rate calculations were simplified.  The only remaining variables would be income level and departmental funding levels.

Even if the logistical issues could be overcome, the question remains of whether this would be a worthwhile method to try.  The second objection above is an argument that it is not.  I don't think that I currently have anything to say directly counter to that objection, though my response would be that I perhaps see fairness a different way.  I think that giving each person a voice regarding the structure of the government is fair.  And in the end the benefits of doing this could outweigh claims to individual levels of service based on contribution.

As I hinted at earlier, there are many more aspects to this idea that I have not even considered (despite the above-average length of this post).  Perhaps somebody will point something out that will make me realize that this is a profoundly misguided idea (and hence why I've never heard something like this discussed before).  But for now I'm kinda diggin' it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Really, Charlie Davies??

I like Charlie Davies as a footballer.  I wouldn't call him great by any means, but his speed gave the US Men's National Team a bit of a spark when he played.  And of course I was saddened when I heard about the car accident a couple of years ago that ultimately cost him a chance at playing in the World Cup.  But he's recovered fairly well, and had a pretty solid season in the MLS this year.  And I wish him the best in his soccer career going forward.

With that being said, however, I think that his current lawsuit against the Shadow Room, the nightclub where he partied the night of the crash, and Red Bull is completely frivolous and without merit.  The lawsuit apparently claims that the Shadow Room and Red Bull are responsible for the car accident (in which one person was killed, in addition to the others that were injured) because they served excessive alcohol to the woman that later drove the car.

Really??

I have a couple of questions for you, Charlie...
  1. Did the nightclub in any way force the woman to acquire or consume those alcoholic beverages?
  2. Did the nightclub force her to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while intoxicated?
  3. Did the nightclub wreck the car?
I strongly suspect that the answer to all those questions is clearly "No".  So drop the stupid lawsuit.

The whole idea is so dumb that it's not even worth my time writing this post.  Except for the minor point that it allows me to make about free will.  My opinion is obviously that we are each responsible for our freely chosen actions.  An excuse such as "I was drunk" does not relieve you of that responsibility (assuming here that you were not forcefully or surreptitiously drugged, or anything like that).

Since I am also a determinist, some might argue that I must provide an account of how free will is compatible with determinism in order to be able to claim that we are indeed responsible for our actions.  But that's a discussion for another time...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Every online service should have a data extraction feature

This post was initially inspired by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' blog post that apologized for the recent price hike and then announced that their movie-by-mail service would be spun off to a separate site named Qwikster.  My concern was that I would then have to manage two separate movie queues and, more importantly, two sets of movie ratings.

Sidetrack...  One primary driver that makes me like Netflix so much is my horrible memory.  I've seen a fair number of movies, but I don't really remember much about most of them.  But given any particular movie I can take a glance at my Netflix rating history and get an idea of how much I liked (or disliked) it.  This seems like a pretty simple idea, but for me it's pretty great.

Anyway...  The announcement of Qwikster even had me considering quitting Netflix for about half a second.  But Netflix does not provide a way to extract your rating history from their service.  And I've rated a lot of movies on there - 1120 at latest count (though I'd estimate that I've only watched 700-800 on Netflix).  There are, or at least were, some ways to hack your rating history out of Netflix, but the couple that I found appear to not function any more (though I did not verify this myself).

Wouldn't it be great if Netflix, and other online services, had a data liberation team like Google's?  The folks at Google even have a feature called Google Takeout that allows you to download your data from an expanding list of Google services.  Even Facebook has a way to archive and download all your Facebook data (there's a link that says "Download a copy of your Facebook data" at the bottom of the Account Settings page).  This makes it easy to keep all your data if you stop using a service, or transition to a different provider.  Unfortunately, this ties into why they wouldn't want to provide this feature - they want to keep you hooked.

OK, so maybe Netflix doesn't really have enough of my data that they need a huge archiving system.  But I would have thought that it wouldn't be that hard to provide a simple API that allows external applications (that I authorize) to access my movie ratings.  In fact, this feature has been in request for over 3 years now.  It seems that the hang-up has been with the legal department - privacy issues and the like.

Anyway, Reed and Netflix today announced that DVDs will be staying on Netflix, and that Qwikster is not going to happen.  So the status quo will be maintained.  And I won't be leaving Netflix...which wasn't going to happen anyway.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The PNC Virtual Wallet Android app has finally arrived.

And it mostly lives up to the hype.
 
It's been about a year since I switched my main bank accounts from the one that everyone and their mother uses (Bank of America) to PNC.  Part of the reason for this is PNC's Virtual Wallet product.  It basically involves giving you 3 accounts: one for everyday spending (Spend), one for short-term saving (Reserve), and one for long-term saving with a "high" interest rate (Growth).  And they have a novel UI (centered around a calendar view and a "Money Bar") for presenting your account status.  That's about as much selling of it as I'm going to do here - see https://www.pncvirtualwallet.com if you would like to find out more.  I will note that their system can be a bit buggy at times, especially when new features are released, and they seem to be down for maintenance a bit more than I would like.  But overall I'm quite pleased with their services.

Anyway, Virtual Wallet has had an iPhone app for a while now, and it's been making my Nexus S jealous.  There has been a PNC app in the Android Market, but it is (to be frank) pretty crappy - it is little more than a bookmark to their mobile site, which has no VW-specific functionality.  The VW iPhone app gives you the Calendar, Money Bar, and (most impressively) remote mobile deposits - the ability to deposit checks by taking a picture with your phone.  Chase was the first bank I was aware of to offer this last bit of functionality, and from what I understand Bank of America has plans to do so as well in the near future (if they don't already).

The Virtual Wallet Android app was released two weeks ago, with a feature set to match its iOS counterpart.  Everything advertised seems to be there, but I have not yet had a chance to actually perform a mobile deposit - I have not received any checks recently.  Normally I don't like receiving checks, as depositing them requires making a trip to the bank (though the BoA ATMs with automatic no-envelope check processing are pretty slick), but I'm kind of itching to try out this feature.  I'm still a proponent of all-electronic finances, though, so I'm glad to see Virtual Wallet offer PopMoney integration (though not in the mobile version).  And in a similar vein, the arrival of Google Wallet  is also a welcome event (though it is, unfortunately, only offered for Sprint's Nexus S 4G, even though my Nexus S has the required NFC capabilities).

But back to the Virtual Wallet Android app...which is not without it's minor flaws.  My main gripe is having to perform a full sign-in (i.e., typing in my user ID and password) each time I use the app.  It would be nice if I only had to sign in once, and then each subsequent time only had to enter in a PIN unless I performed a manual log-out.  Other than that, though, it seems to work pretty well.  Maybe I'll go write myself a check from my BoA account...just to give the app the full once-over...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Journey of my music files

I just bought the album Pala by Friendly Fires (whom I will hopefully be seeing this Saturday at Lollapalooza) earlier tonight.  In the process, I kicked off an interesting chain of MP3 file transfers that illustrates how my music "lives in the cloud" these days.

First, I bought the album with "1 Click®" (actually 2, since I have my account set to confirm my MP3 purchases) on Amazon.  I have my account set up to automatically add my MP3 purchases to my Amazon Cloud Drive.  From the purchase confirmation screen, it's one click over to the Amazon Cloud Player, and then four more to initiate the album download to my PC using the Amazon MP Downloader.  The MP3 Downloader is set up to download songs into my music library on my PC.  The folders in which my music library resides are watched by a couple of services running on the computer.  I use Windows Live Mesh to automatically synchronize my music (as well as my pictures, videos, documents, etc.) across a couple of of PCs - my Media Center PC was actually asleep at the time, so this transfer actually will not kick off until it is awakened.  The other service, Google's Music Manager, watches for additions to the library and automatically uploads the songs to Google Music - this transfer did kick off shortly after the download.  So I am now able to stream Pala to my (Android-running) Nexus S using the stock music app.  I can also use the Cloud Player in my Amazon MP3 app to stream from my Cloud Drive, but I prefer using the music app (better interface, includes on-device music while offline, and *scrobbles* to Last.fm).  I should note that for a few minutes all these file transfers do slow my Internet/network connection to a crawl for other non-music related activities.

So in about 6 clicks (after finding the album on Amazon), I set off a process that put the album on 2 cloud services and 2 PCs, and allows me to stream it to my phone using 2 different apps.  In 2 clicks (1 if I turn off purchase confirmation), I would have been able to stream to my phone from the cloud using only Amazon services and the Android mobile platform.  The tech-savvy among us will note that Apple's upcoming iCloud service will provide the same type of functionality, though they (and Apple fanboys everywhere) claim that their way is the way that it "should" be - it's yet another case of Apple taking something that's already being done and making it shiny and pretty, and charging more for it (though I will give them kudos for how seamlessly it appears that their cloud functionality will be integrated with everything Apple).  One reason, among others, that I'm not considering a switch to the iEcosystem/iUniverse is that, as is typical, Pala costs $2 more on iTunes than on Amazon.

As an aside, T-Mobile's (and other mobile carriers') network engineers are probably not too thrilled with this cloud-based availability, as I (and I'm sure many others) have switched to using my phone as my music player while driving in my car (using my stereo auxiliary input).  Prior to the switch, I consumed under 200 MB per billing cycle in data usage.  This billing cycle is the first full one that I will be in the country since the switch, and I had consumed about 1.5 GB of data with a week or so left in the cycle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Netflix is beginning to test my patience

As Netflix has become a more and more dominant player in the home movie arena, they have not been shy about trying to squeeze more profits out of their customers.  Or are they simply barely covering their costs?  The latter is what their latest account update e-mail would lead you to believe:

Dear Obinna,

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $23.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray access) will be split into 2 distinct plans:

   Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
   Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray), 3 out at-a-time (no streaming)
              for $19.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $27.98 a month ($7.99 + $19.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team

Fair enough, at first glance.  But lately it seems that I can expect this type of e-mail every few months from these guys.  I've had their "unlimited" 3-discs-at-a-time plan with unlimited streaming (since they've offered it) for what seems like forever.  Here's a summary of all the price adjustments that they have made for this plan in that time (these prices do not include tax, which is typically about $2):

  • November 2004 - $17.99
    • Cost when I started
  • August 2007 - $16.99
    • $1 decrease due to competition from Blockbuster
  • October 2008 -  $17.99
    • $1 increase for customers who rent Blu-Ray discs
  • May 2009 - $20.99
    • $3 increase for Blu-Ray option
  • January 2011 - $23.99
    • Plan price adjustment to account for rise in streaming demand
  • September 2011 - $27.98
    • Separation of disc and streaming plans
As you can see, the price increases have been especially sharp as of late.  This is supposedly due to the shift towards acquiring and providing more streaming content.  It's somewhat understandable, but a 55% increase in 3 years seems a bit harsh.  Too bad they're pretty much the only viable game left in town.  Plus I can't say that I'm disappointed with their services.

Monday, May 30, 2011

AT&T broadband usage cap - should I be worried?

It appears that the answer is no.  For those unaware, AT&T recently instituted a cap on usage for its broadband internet customers - 150 GB per month for DSL (which I have) and 250 GB per month for UVerse (after which there is a $10 fee for each 50 GB over the cap).  My initial reaction to this was of course outrage - especially since even their Elite DSL package (which I have, because UVerse is not available in my area) can be inconsistent at times.

I would have been even more indignant if they did not provide a way to monitor your data usage.  But, fortunately, they do - though I had to do some digging find this out.  You just need to go to http://www.att.com/internet-usage, follow the link to "View my usage", then log in.

When I followed these steps, I found the results below.  They did not have any data for me for the current billing cycle, so I pulled up my historical usage data.  Note that I'm missing data for my March-April billing cycle - I do not know the reason for this.

AT&T DSL Data usage over the last few months


So it seems that between two tech-savvy internet users (Chike and me), we top out around 100 GB per month.  So we have about 50% room for growth before worrying about the cap (especially since I've begun streaming more Netflix and Hulu content as of late).

This is obviously not an optimal situation, but I'll have to make do since Charter's required agreement periods and price jumps make them a non-starter for me (though their speeds are faster, and they have no cap that I'm aware of).  It doesn't help either that AT&T has a history of questionable data accounting, at least in their wireless division.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recycling pick-up...finally...

St. Louis City has been slowly rolling out its new recycling program that includes recyclables as part of the waste pick-up.  And my ward/neighborhood has just joined in the fun - I received my blue recycling roll-cart today.

So instead of 2 trash pick-ups per week, we get 1 for trash (green cart) and 1 for recycling (blue cart).  And this is all included in our refuse charges.  In my hippie opinion (and despite my libertarian tendencies), this is much better than the old opt-in program that cost an extra fee, and only gave you the little blue tub...which I didn't do anyway - I took my recyclables to the recycling center about 5 minutes away.  So now I don't have to load up the car and drive over there every couple of weeks.

More info about the recycling pick-up service:
http://stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/street/refuse/recycle/alley-curb-dump-cart-recycle.cfm

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The IRS isn't *all* bad...

When the deposit into my bank account for my federal tax refund was approximately $200 higher than what I filed on my tax return (using free file fillable forms, because I don't think that I should have to pay money to file my taxes electronically), I was a little suspicious.  But not suspicious enough to complain to anybody about it.

A little later, when I was doing my mother's tax return (with TaxAct, because she's willing to pay their fees for e-filing the state return), I noticed that TaxAct let her claim the Making Work Pay credit.  I again became suspicious, because I was unfamiliar with this credit, and figured that I should have qualified for it as well.

It was not until I received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service a few days ago that I put all the pieces together.  The IRS explained that they had adjusted my refund by giving me that tax credit, even though I had never claimed it.  How generous of them!  It's nice to see that they make adjustments to our benefit from time to time, not only the other way around.

This doesn't mean that I've changed my mind that the IRS is a mostly unnecessary organization, though.  If it were up to me, the tax code would be grossly simplified, and most (if not all) deductions, credits, exemptions, and adjustments would be removed.  I think that the purpose of taxes is simply to raise only as much money as is necessary to run the government, not to also encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Android app roll call

It's been a little more than 3 weeks since I acquired my new favorite toy - the Samsung/Google Nexus S.  I must admit that I went a little overboard downloading apps the first week that I had the phone.  But I've since uninstalled quite a few, and am settling into a decent set that I think may be worthy of sharing (as inspired by a request from Ron Sturm).  So here's a list of the non-system apps that I use - I downloaded most of these from the Android Market, but several of them came with the phone.  An asterisk (*) denotes that the app is on one of my home screens, and a hash (#) denotes that the app came with the phone.  By the way, these were all free, or can be acquired for free.
  • Adobe Flash Player
    • Not really an app per say (especially since it doesn't show up in the app list), but worth highlighting since it enables web content certain other phones don't support.
  • Adobe Reader
    • For PDFs, just like on the desktop.
  • Amazon
    • Includes a bar code scanner and the ability to search by taking a photo.  But I got it because I buy so much from Amazon.
  • Amazon MP3
    • See last sentence above.
  • Audiogalaxy (*)
    • Streams my music collection from my home PC.  One of my new favorite music services.
  • Bank of America
  • (Google) Books
    • I like the idea of Google Books, but I don't really use it.
  • (Google) Calendar (*#)
    • If you know me, you know that my life is on Google Calendar.
  • Car Home (*#)
    • A collection point for shortcuts you would use while driving.  Especially useful if you dock your phone in the car.
  • Chess (for Android)
    • I'm not really into games, but if I played any, chess would be it.  I'm still trying to decide between this and Chess Free.
  • Chess Clock for Android
    • In case I need to time a real-life game.
  • Chess Free
    • See 2 items above.
  • Chrome to Phone 
    • Send links that you are viewing in your PC Chrome browser to your phone so you can continue browsing on the go.
  • Dictionary.com
    • The secret to maintaining my impeccable diction.
  • doubleTwist (*)
    • A great alternative to the stock music player (thanks, Chike!).  Useful for syncing your music collection when paired with the desktop program.  Also provides alternate lock screen during playback that allows quick/easy music controls w/o unlocking the screen.  And, like the stock music app, provides support for Last.fm scrobbling.
  • (Google) Earth (#)
  • Evernote (*)
    • Great for recording all sorts of info.  I only mainly use for notes and useful links.
  • Facebook
  • Firefox
    • Still in beta for Android.  Crashed my phone the only time I tried to use it.
  • fring
    • Supports VOIP calling (for a fee), IM (using various services like GTalk, Y! Messenger, AIM), video chat (over Y! Messenger).
  • Gmail (*#)
  • (Google) Goggles
    • Barcode/QR reader and all-around augmented reality app.
  • Google Search
    • Only worth pointing out because certain manufacturers and carriers make Bing the default search engine on some of their Android phones.  Wack.
  • Google Sky Map
    • For the casual astronomers out there.
  • Google Translate
    • Not only can you enter in text to translate, but you can also translate your SMS messages and audio that you record (e.g., someone speaking to you).
  • Grooveshark (*)
    • Stream almost any song from the web.  I think the app requires a paid Grooveshark membership (which I have).  Even w/o the app, the Grooveshark website is worth checking out.
  • GTasks (*)
    • Task manager that syncs with Google Tasks (part of GMail and GCal).  The fact that Remember The Milk requires a Pro account to use their app has sped up my transition from RTM to Google, though Google Tasks is still lacking in some features (and thus I've kept some stuff on RTM).
  • IP Cam Viewer Lite
    • Theoretically this should allow me to view my security camera video on my phone, but I haven't gotten it to work yet.
  • Kayak
    • Not entirely sure why I have this installed - searching for flights is much better on the full site.  But this app supports itinerary management and flight status checking.
  • Last.fm (*)
    • We all know how much I love Last.fm (even though I haven't had a post entirely dedicated to it).
  • Latitude (#)
    • If you've brought your Android phone in my presence, I've probably asked you to be my friend on Latitude, or installed it on your phone for you.  In case you're not in the know, this is the app that allows your friends to see where you are.
  • Lookout
    • I use this for anti-virus and for locating my phone in case of a loss (you can also make the phone "scream").  With a premium account (which I don't have) you can also remotely lock or wipe your phone.
  • (Yahoo!) Mail (*)
    • The UI is slightly better than the stock e-mail app for using Yahoo! Mail, but it seems to have some issues syncing the count of unread messages.
  • (Google) Maps (*#)
  • (Android) Market (*#)
  • Mint.com
    •  A highly regarded personal finance tool...that I don't really use.
  • Mobile Queue
    • You have no choice but to go third-party since Netflix does not (yet) have an official Android app.
  • My Account
    • Check my T-Moble account status (minutes, data usage, etc).
  • (Google) Navigation
    • Free turn-by-turn (driving and walking) navigation.
  • Newegg
    • Not really sure why I have this, but I sure do buy a lot of stuff from their website.
  • News & Weather (*#)
  • OpenTable
    • Make restaurant reservations online.
  • Opera Mobile
    • Opera has been making solid desktop and mobile browsers for a long time without much recognition.  Doesn't mean I use this, though.
  • PayPal
    • In addition to account management, there seems to be feature where you can bump phones to transfer money (unfortunately, I don't know anyone to try this out with) as well as a bill splitter.
  • (Google) Places (#)
  • PNC Mobile
    • This app is fairly pedestrian - it just supports regular account features, and isn't much of an upgrade over a web interface.  I wish that they had a Virtual Wallet app for Android (in addition to the existing iPhone version).
  • (Google) Reader
    • A little better to use than the mobile web version.
  • Ringdroid
    • Create custom ring/notification/alarm tones using your MP3s.
  • (ESPN) ScoreCenter
  • Shazam
    • Want to know what song is playing in the club?  Start up this app and be amazed.  Too bad there's now a limit on the number of songs that you can tag each month (though I don't use this very often).
  • (Google) Shopper
    • Kinda like the Amazon app - search/shop by photo and bar code.
  • Skype
    • The OS supports VOIP calling integration with Skype...if you have Skype credit.  But you can still make Skype-to-Skype calls for free.
  • Tags (#)
    • For managing NFC tags.  With the next iPhone rumored to support NFC, I think (and hope) the technology could take off.
  • (Google) Talk
  • Timerrific
    • A great (and free) alternative to Locale (which changes phone settings based on location) - you can automatically change setting based on time.  E.g., I use it to automatically put my phone in airplane mode during the hours that I'm normally at work.  I also put the phone on silent while I'm in class (even though I normally don't take my phone into class).
  • TripIt
    • TripIt is another one of my favorite things, since I travel a little bit.  This brings their awesome itinerary management service to my phone.
  • UPS Mobile
    • For tracking all the packages that I receive.  Not really necessary.
  • (Google) Voice (*#)
    • This may be the single most important reason (among many other very compelling ones) that I own an Android phone.  The OS natively supports calling and texting using GV.
  • YouTube

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top Albums of 2010, Part 3

There really should only be two parts (well only one this year) to the Top Albums of 2010 posts, but I can add another one just for me because I own this blog after all.  I had a hard time narrowing down a top 10 this year (unlike last year where I struggled to find a worthy #10), as I would have been fine with any of about 13 albums making my top 10.  To give these others a little bit of credit, I tried to make a top 25 list, with 11-25 to appear in this post.  But then I couldn't keep the list at 25.  So instead, you get a list of noteworthy albums (in my opinion) outside my top 10...though the rankings don't mean too much once you get past about 20.  So here:

11. Delorean – Subiza
12. Phantogram – Eyelid Moves
13. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
14. Miike Snow – Miike Snow
15. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
16. Black Milk – Album of the Year
17. Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle
18. Vampire Weekend – Contra
19. Interpol – Interpol
20. Massive Attack – Heligoland
21. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes
22. Active Child – Curtis Lane EP
23. Apparatjik – We Are Here
24. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
25. Kele – The Boxer
26. Eluvium – Similes
27. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
28. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
29. The-Dream – Love King
30. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
31. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
32. Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
33. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening


I'll also give a shout-out to Jim Kolpack, who always brings quality music to the table.  He only had 9 albums to give (he's still catching up on what's hot on the streets), and he didn't rank them.  He did, however, put them in alphabetical order by band name, and provide some comments.

And while I'm at it, Brian George had these 5 to add:

Top Albums of 2010, Part 2

Unlike last year, there will not be a Part 1 to this year's top albums post, since only one other person submitted a full top 10 list.  So here are the individual lists:


Obi Orjih

1. Jónsi РGo
2. Foals – Total Life Forever
3. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
4. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)
5. Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager
6. Caribou – Swim
7. Bonobo – Black Sands
8. Sleigh Bells – Treats
9. Beach House – Teen Dream
10. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy



Robert Schwartz

1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
2. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
3. Stars – The Five Ghosts
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
5. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
6. OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
7. Caribou – Swim
8. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
9. The National – High Violet
10. Sleigh Bells – Treats