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.


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 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...