Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Gadget Love

Many of my fellow CS theorists are surprisingly technophobes. Don't own a cell phone. Begrudgingly got a credit card but still refuse to buy anything online. Still read email by typing "mail" at the unix prompt. Maybe they don't trust technology, but mostly they just can't be bothered--takes away valuable theorem proving time. 

Then there are those who love to tinker. Spend an hour writing an emacs macro to save ten minutes of manual editing. Writes an iPhone app just to see how it is done. I used to be like that.

These days I'm more of a gadget person. An incredible amount of technology put into a little device that does lots of useless things or sometimes one thing very well. And I'm at that point in my life where I can afford them. My wife complains a bit but she realizes that all my gadgets combined are considerably cheaper than a sports car or a mistress.

Some of my favorites (beyond the laptop/Kindle/iPhone/iPad)

TomTom - A GPS combined with some shortest path algorithms can get me from here to there. But it takes a great user interface to make it easy to use. My old TomTom died after many good years. Replaced it with the TomTom app on my iPhone.

Satellite Radio - Commercial-free music. Lots of variety. Great sound that doesn't fade when you leave the city. Worth it for the Met Opera broadcasts alone.

Tivo - I've been time-shifting TV shows since the VCR first came out. But Tivo pioneered the DVR with a great interface that no one else has matched.

Wii - The graphics aren't as cool as the PS3 or Xbox but just pure fun playing with the kids.

I don't really have time to watch that much TV or play the Wii. Too bad.

Squeezebox Duet - Just a simple device that lets me stream music wirelessly into my stereo. I use this device more than the others because I like to work and read to music.

Plenty to keep me happy. At least until those new 3-D TVs come out...


  1. Ugh. More in the "Amusing ourselves to death" camp myself. I actually can't understand how someone so successful in their relationship to beautiful mathematics finds "happiness" in gadgets.

    There's something more fundamental at play than the placebo of the transistor.

  2. "My wife complains a bit but she realizes that all my gadgets combined are considerably cheaper than a sports car or a mistress."

    I think if you had a mistress, her cost would be the last thing your wife was worried about.

  3. So Lance was thinking about a mistress, until he saw a iPad?

  4. iMistress. Now with Flash support!

  5. Surely it ain't *just* "gadget" technologies that inspire 21st century love!

    There's also what Dick Lipton calls "proof technologies" ... which (like gadget technologies) makes it feasible for ordinary folks to accomplish---easily, speedily, and cheaply---tasks that formerly required professional expertise and/or expensive equipment.

    Surely we are entering into a golden era *both* of physical gadgets, and *also* of proof/simulation/algorithm gadgets!

    Concomitantly, we are entering too a golden era of what might be called "narrative technologies" ... which began with by Feynman's observation "We are struck by the very large number of different physical viewpoints and widely different mathematical formulations that are all equivalent to one another" ... which links up so very naturally with Mac Lane's insight that the purpose of modern proof technologies is to "help us understand what's what."

    Now, what happens when gadget, proof, and narrative technology all link-up? IMHO, there's no need to wonder ... IAS professor Jonathan Israel has written a very readable historical account of the *last* time this link-up happened, in his A Revolution of the Mind.

    Everyone appreciates that the eighteenth century was a golden era for math, science, politics, art, and the Enlightenment in general ... but it's apparent that we have the gadget/proof/narrative technologies already on-hand to ensure that the twenty-first century is even cooler.

    Who knows *what* we'll all be tweetin' about by the end of this century ... it will be all about cool gadgets, ideas, and narratives, no doubt. :)

  6. Satellite Radio? Seriously?

    When I listen to radio I want it to be surprising and eclectic with local sensibility. Satellite radio programming these days is all about narrow-casting to a demographic.

  7. mail works.

    mail works well.

    I like mail.