Suggestions on tech device/gear purchasing?

by jwhendy1 min read19th Mar 201237 comments

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I found out I won second place in an idea contest at work and am being granted ~$400 to spend at Best Buy (the web site for any unfamiliar). Originally, I believe the second place prize was going to be an iPad, but it looks like they've decided to just allow me to pick something in that ballpark price range.

I suspect there are a fair amount of tech saavy folks on LW and thought I'd inquire as to whether you've purchased a device or accessory (or anything from Best Buy-ish stores) that has brought you an increase in efficiency, usefulness, pleasure, etc. The idea of a tablet appeals to me, but I'm not entirely sure what I'd do with it. Also, a data plan is not in my budget, so many typical uses are not applicable in my case.

Anyway, just hoping to probe some collective knowledge about this decision. I'm not very knowledgeable on devices and/or how longer term usage/satisfaction matches expectations or even money spent.

Thanks for any assistance!

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This might be the most blatant misuse of "rational" in a post title I've ever seen.

If you wanted to ask about devices to enhance instrumental rationality in your life, a better title would have been "Tech gear to improve rationality?" As it is, it looks like you want to discuss general strategies for purchasing tech gear.

This might be the most blatant misuse of "rational" in a post title I've ever seen.

Now that's a challenge ...

  • Rational snorkeling
  • Rational hash brownie preparation¹
  • Rational weasel appreciation
  • Rational captchaloguing
  • Rational cache flushing
  • Rational cash flashing
  • Rational rasher rationing

¹ Actually there was an article about this in a recent Erowid newsletter. Kinda.

This book is from 1873! Surely we've made some more recent advances in the science of horse-shoeing than that.

I think you mean this.

I would read all of these.

Especially dividing up the bacon optimally; that can be a divisive topic amongst today's enthusiasts.

Rational captchaloguing

Avoid stack, queue, and encryption, obviously. The rest are somewhat more practical.

I didn't put much thought into the title. I'm surprised it got downvoted so much, but perhas I lured people in thinking the post was something it wasn't. Other than the title, is my post objectionable?

I think you put it well -- I have a hard time thinking about how best to use the gift and hoped that others with devices I could potentially own might provide suggestions. For example, the idea of a tablet sounds appealing (apps, more mobile than a laptop, reading things, battery life, etc.) but (as shown below), perhaps those here who care to analyze the utility might chime in that it actually decreased efficiency by serving primarily as a distraction.

That's hard to know without actually owning one... and I don't. In any case, my apologies for the misleading title. It was not my intent at all.

ETA: edited the title.

I want to say that I didn't actually vote the post down for the title, although my karma benefited from other people's response. I think it's a perfectly good topic for Discussion, and I voted it up after seeing the title change. It might be too late for it to make it back to people's attention, which is too bad. Maybe you or someone else should write a new post discussing the pros and cons of various bits of tech.

People have misused "Rational X" as a post title so egregiously that Less Wrongers tend to have a knee-jerk reaction. For instance, I know this one is a joke, and it still irritates me.

I was about to ask, "How do you know it was a joke?" but then i looked at the user profile for TwistingFingers and in general his posts only make sense as dry humor.

I don't remember what post it was in response to, but at one point someone suggested "optimal" as a much better substitute for "rational" in this type of post, partly to reduce the use of "rational" as an applause light, and partly because it better describes what these posts are generally asking.

Agreed with respect to the substitution. That describes what I'm getting at. In using "rational," I simply meant, "What's the best way to go about deciding on a purchase of this class of thing?"

A tablet or PDA with Wifi capabilities could improve your life even without a data plan, depending on your usual surroundings. A good one will support e-readers and probably the Anki mobile app (I have benefited from the ability to study anywhere), and probably other software to help organize your life. If you don't see this kind of device being useful and you don't come up with something else that you think will be more useful, consider arranging to buy a prize someone you know wants. The loss-aversion bias may make you reluctant to part with your prize, but you may get more utility out of money that can be used elsewhere than out of anything Best Buy sells.

consider arranging to buy a prize someone you know wants

This is a very good second-best plan. If your best purchase option doesn't rate more than a "meh" improvement in your life, you may be better off with the cash to spend on whatever you want.

Thanks for the suggestion.

ETA: Back from travelling and re-reading the comments. What makes your more likely to "study anywhere" with the tablet vs. a laptop? Just the lower weight and ~1/3 (or even less) of the thickness? I spend most of my awake time at work, have a macbook which isn't too bulky, but don't take it many places. Do you find that you're more likely to take a tablet and make some small chunk of waiting time useful when you wouldn't have done the same thing with a laptop?

I use the Anki mobile app on my phone when I don't have anything else to do with a few minutes. I also find that it is a good way to wake up my brain while still staying warm under the covers in the morning.

I was given a GPS as a present. I've long had issues with navigation in cars and not liking to go places, but I didn't realize just how bad those issues were until the GPS eliminated most of them. Before being given it, I wouldn't've paid more than $50 for it. After, I would easily have paid $200+.

My wife and I get lost as well. It seems infrequent, but unfortunately when it happens it is epic and horrible. This is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for -- something one would never know prior to owning the device, but could share from beyond the curtain. Thanks.

ETA: I don't have data, but in researching this more found a couple of programs that appear not to require data plans and yet still navigate with GPS-unit-containing devices (CoPilot and nDrive are the ones I've found so far). Thus, I may be able to get the use of a tablet, continue not buying a data plan, and also have GPS capabilities.

If you have a modern smartphone with a modest data plan, does a discrete GPS still hold any advantages?

They seem to be more accurate, since I'm not sure how many cellphones come with GPS built-in (as opposed to triangulating off cell phone towers).

It seems that modern smartphones all contain GPS chips. I've heard that the Android version of Google maps is finally allowing you to download maps of routes and use them offline.

Alas, I can't even follow my GPS's instructions even when the voice bloody tells me "turn left you idiot".

I tend to ignore my GPS's spoken instructions and periodically attend to the map it's displaying.

Purchasing a tablet greatly increased my frivolous spending and time wasting habits, since it made them that much easier. It has positive capabilities as well, such as those mentioned by others - I do wish to point out the dangers, though. You may find yourself frittering dollars and cents just to waste your time on pretty pixels.

Extra points to someone who can figure out which biases this purchase model exploits. (high frequency, very low cost, frictionless transactions)

I wondered about this. So does my wife. I get lost on my computer enough already. Now we reduce capability to browsing and games, and how might that play out? Thanks for sharing this. I'm not sure how it would work in my case...

What do you need or want to do that your current tech tools don't let you do, or don't do well/conveniently/efficiently enough?

Examples would be things like:

  • watch movies in bed

  • do work on a train/plane

  • home improvement

  • listen to music

  • keep a calendar/reminders/to-do list

  • play games

  • internet stuff (obviously there are subcategories here, but you'll know if there's an internet-shaped hole in some part of your life)

  • talk on the phone while doing something else (e.g. walking)

  • take photos/videos of stuff

  • scan documents onto your computer to send or store digitally

Don't spend more than 15-30 minutes on this.

Once you know what you want, you can start asking which things will give you what you want.

Great suggestion. I'm travelling at the moment, but will review this list. I saw the "don't spend 15-30min" on this and have managed to not really look at the list yet. I plan to revisit it next week and think this will be a good exercise.

Obviously you should adjust for your own money/time preference, but for most employed people in developed countries, the marginal benefit of optimizing a $400 purchase is not worth a whole lot of time, so if you can save an hour by satisficing you probably should.

You may also come up with things that weren't on the list but matter a lot to you. I just gave the examples I could come up with in a minute, so I'd suggestusing my list as a starting point, not an exhaustive list.

See "Rational" in title.
Ctrl-F "Shoes": no results.
:(

A kindle has finally allowed me to start reading one book per week, something I've been trying to do for quite a while now with little success. The ability to buy books instantly, and the fact that it's much easier to take along than an actual book, means I get a ton more reading done. The ability to highlight and have it automatically sync to Amazon servers makes Anki deck making A LOT easier.

You can also sell your gift card for ~80% of its value (just google "sell gift card").

A kindle has finally allowed me to stop reading several books per week.

For many years previously I've had: open bookshelves around the apartment, near 1000 books, some unread; whenever I walk by, a 30% chance to randomly take down a book, start reading, and come back to the real world several hours later, having missed work/appointment/dinner/sleeptime/chance to sit down.

Lots of procrastination, although it has given me a lot of broad, shallow knowledge on many interesting subjects.

Today: no printed books left, except for small cache of <100 important ones hidden on upper shelf of closet, which don't have ebook versions; one kindle. Because the Kindle is so bad at arranging and finding books (seriously, no folder support?) it takes around a minute to open a book not read recently. This time-cost alone is enough to prevent almost all of my reading-procrastination. I still read for fun during time pre-set aside for the purpose.

The ability to highlight and have it automatically sync to Amazon servers makes Anki deck making A LOT easier.

How exactly do you use this to make Anki decks?

I highlight things, mostly new ideas, that I want to memorize as I'm reading the book (the number of highlights is a good proxy to how good the book was). Then I login to Amazon, and for each highlight I make an Anki card.

This saves me from having to go through the book and find all the highlights, and also from copying the text into Anki (since I can just copy and paste).

An ebook reader (+ some other prize combination) has occurred to me. I almost bought an ebook reader when they were on sale around Christmas, but couldn't decide between the Nook and Kindle platforms. One thing that worries me is that I have such a hard time reading paper books at the moment; I wonder if an ebook reader only seems like it would improve productivity when in reality it would shortly due to novelty, but then it would wear off.

Some questions:

  • How long have you had it?
  • Did you notice any drop in reading time from initial ownership to present?
  • How many anki decks is realistic (I'm aware of anki and how it works but haven't used it regularly)?

ETA: Thought of another question -- can you put your finger on what, exactly, allowed you to accomplish your goal vs. when you were reading paper?