Friday, March 9, 2012

Curse of the early adopter: no new iPad for me

I probably won't buy the new iPad (a/k/a iPad 3) because I tend be an early adopter of Apple's products.

Yes, you read that right. I tend to adopt Apple products early, buying the first generation of a product line. This makes me question the wisdom of upgrading when new generations are released:

  • Does the new generation add enough incremental happiness to justify the expense? 
  • Shouldn't I wait for the next new generation and get an even larger increase in happiness?

The decision parameters are illustrated in the following figure:

Deciding whether to buy the new iPad

The comparative statics of that picture are: as the difference in happiness from the old iPad to the new iPad, DH1, increases, I'm more likely to buy the new iPad; as the difference in happiness from the next new iPad to the current new iPad, DH2, increases, I'm less likely to buy the new iPad; and the longer the period between the new iPad and the next new iPad, T, the more likely I am to buy the new iPad.

Of course, I don't really know these quantities, except T: the time between iPad refreshes seems to be one year, give or take, and I tend to skip every other generation in all products anyway, so T equals two years.

To evaluate DH1 and have some forecast of DH2 I need to consider how I use my iPad now and how that might change with the new iPad. I also need to consider what incremental changes DH2 could include. (If I determine that DH1 is not high enough, I don't need to worry about DH2, so I'll start with that.)

What I do with my iPad now is consume content; the new iPad seems to be targeted at creating it, but I don't know whether that would work for me. Here's the content I create and its relation to the iPad:

Technical papers in LaTeX. There are a few apps that allow me to edit formulas on the iPad (and one that uses Dropbox and a paired app on a laptop to allow the user to create actual documents), but in general LaTeX is not a good fit for the iPad.

R code. There's no R for iPad and apparently there won't be in the near future. I could edit the code in a word processor on the iPad and run it on a laptop, but that's of minor value to me. (I code in other languages and use Mathematica and Stata too, but the overwhelming volume of programming I do is in R.)

Presentations. I own iWork for the iPad and have tried to use it for presentation design, but I find I  require higher-powered tools: even on a laptop I make most of my slides with Illustrator and Photoshop. The image above was made with Keynote (on a laptop), but that's not up to my presentation standards. I do like how easy Magic Move makes creating simple animations. I can and do use Pages on the iPad to outline presentations.

Teaching materials. I can certainly create some teaching text, but again the drafting and page layout tools I use are not available for the iPad. I find the process of making spreadsheets on the iPad cumbersome, but I use the iPad version of Numbers to create and fill forms to keep track of students (important for participant-centered learning).

There are other types of content that I could create with the new iPad: videos, photos, and music. I think these may have their value, but not for me. I take photos with a DSLR and tweak them with Photoshop, make videos (mostly of my presentations, classes, and exec-ed) with a Kodak Zi8, and make music when I play piano.

What about consumption? Perhaps that's where I can find a reason to upgrade. I mostly do three (and a half) things with the iPad:

Reading: Kindle books, iBooks, Instapaper, and PDFs. By far the most time I spend using the iPad is spent reading. A retina display might make a difference, but I tend to make the type very large anyway. Perhaps new iBooks will make it worthwhile to upgrade, but that suggests I should wait for the next new generation and the books that will be available then.

Browsing the web. I do this usually while watching/listening to TV, usually to deplete my RSS monster, check Twitter and Facebook using Flipboard, and to check out forums. I feed a lot of content into my Tumblr blogs (personal and teaching) and Instapaper this way. The extra speed would be nice, but the binding constraint so far appears to be the low speed of my home internet connection.

Email. I check, and usually process to zero, my morning emails even before getting out of bed. I prefer to read my email on the iPad and compose it on a laptop. (It's true that a bluetooth keyboard would probably make composing the email much easier. But that would negate the compactness and self-containment of the iPad.)

Games. I seldom play games (computer or otherwise; ironic that I'm a game theorist), but, when I do, the only ones I play are the ones on my iPad: Solitaire, Mahjong, and Crosswords. Usually while listening to audio podcasts or television.

I also occasionally use the iPad to finish watching a Netflix movie in bed, to read Marvel comic books, or to watch video podcasts on a repeated exercise machine (like a recumbent bicycle). These are minor uses and don't influence the decision.*

Which, unsurprisingly, is to not buy the new iPad.

Of course there's always the possibility that the decision will come down to a emotional death match between gadget lust and the no-nonessential purchases rule, all logic above be damned.

* I listen to music, audiobooks, and audio podcasts on my first-generation iPod Nano or my first-generation iPod Touch. My first-generation iPod – yes, the one with the mechanical clickwheel – was recently decommissioned, after ten years of service, due to hard drive failure (its earlier battery death was circumvented by using it as a home MP3 player, feeding my stereo and powered by its AC adapter).

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Screen interactions to avoid wasting time

Sometimes the winning move is to make the game go away.

Like other scientists who appeal to a popular audience, Richard Feynman corresponded with a number of cranks; some of this correspondence is available in the book Perfectly reasonable deviations from the beaten track: The letters of Richard P. Feynman

On pages 129-134 of the hardcover, Feynman addresses a Mr. Y, who believes the "Physics establishment" to be wrong about relativity and he, Mr. Y, to be right. Mr. Y clearly knows very little physics.

On his second reply to Mr. Y, Feynman includes a problem, slightly modified from an undergraduate class, under the guise of clarifying the source of their disagreement. Once Mr. Y's next letter fails to answer the problem, Feynman excuses himself from the conversation by explaining that, without knowing what Mr. Y's theory predicts in that problem, there's no way to determine the source of their (Feynman and Mr. Y's) differences.

I was reminded of this story when, some days ago, I employed a similar screening device to avoid getting drawn into a lunchtime argument with an ignoramus. (Details and domain changed.)

Ignoramus: It's clear that we need to do Action 1 because the average of Variable X is increasing.

Me (thinking): Did Naan & Curry stop including Palak Paneer in the lunch buffet or have they just run out?

Ignoramus: Don't you agree that people who don't want to do Action 1 are anti-scientific?

Me: I was thinking... I'm not sure, but let me just get the details right: the average of Variable X is increasing, you say. How is that average computed, precisely? I mean, there are parts of Domain of Variable X that are volumes and parts of the Domain of Variable X that are areas. So, how does one compute an average over two domains with different dimensions?

(If you assert that Science is on your side, you'd better know what you're talking about. Otherwise, you're just parroting whomever convinced you last and it's a waste of my time to talk to you.)

Ignoramus: I don't follow.

Me: Well, if you have an average of $X_1$ per $m^2$  over Domain 1 and an average of $X_2$ per $m^{3}$ over Domain 2, how do you combine that?

Ignoramus: I don't know. Why is that important? Everyone agrees that the average of Variable X is increasing, except the anti-scientific. Are you anti-scientific?

Me: I have no opinion over a quantity that I cannot define. How are the averages of X/volume and X/area combined? They have different dimensions, so you can't add them.

Ignoramus: But everyone know that the average of Variable X is increasing.

Me: So, let me get this straight: you cannot define the quantity "average of Variable X" in a precise way, but you're sure it's increasing?

Ignoramus: I'm sure the experts know how to do that.

Me: But how can it be possible to average two quantities, one that is defined in X per square meters and one that is defined in X per cubic meters? That's a mathematical impossibility.

Ignoramus: But the experts agree.

Me: I just can't see how you can believe that a quantity is so important, have such strong opinions about its trend, the implications of that trend, and the people who disagree with those implications — and at the same time have no idea how the quantity is computed.

Ignoramus (sulking): All the experts agree.

Me: I cannot express an opinion over a quantity I don't understand. Perhaps someone who knows this matter better than you do will be able to explain it to me and then I'll be able to form an opinion.

This exchange captures the basic problem of the Ignoramus: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It also illustrates the power of screening questions to stop people from wasting my time.