Saturday, July 4, 2009

Laptop at the Beach

Why is it ok to read a book on the beach, but if you pull out your laptop everybody thinks you’re the biggest dork on earth? When I’m at the beach I just want to use my laptop (with its fancy display that works under the sun) to either surf the Web, do work, or watch TV on it. Please people, it’s 2009. Books are so last millennium. Those who know me know that I’m not the biggest fan of reading books -- I haven’t read one in about 5 years -- because they’re incredibly inefficient and to a large extent boring. I also dislike the pseudo-intellectual snobbery that sometimes comes with books: “the movie was ok but the book was much better” Really? Did the book also make $110 million in the box office? I don’t think so.

What I need is the opposite of the kindle: a thing that looks like a book but that actually let’s me surf the Web and watch TV on it.

69 comments:

  1. i think the idea of a beach (at least classically) is that you are meant to relax. Which automatically implies that you must do things that you would not do on a normal work day, i.e. surf the web. (The assumption of course is that work-related things are not relaxing)

    Also, if you surf the web for long enough then you will see that your stock portfolio is crashing and that some war has begun somewhere and that the competing company has just taken out a new product etc etc... stuff that you were trying to escape from by going to the beach.

    And so it is OK to read books/magazines but not take out a laptop.

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  2. A Kindle 3?

    http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1910868

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  3. Luis, I find your human computation work fantastic but I don't understand your position about not liking to read books. Could you share your rationale on this issue?
    Thanks,
    Alexandre Gomes

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  4. My rationale is that I personally find books boring. If you like to read them, go for it. But don't try to tell me that you're somehow better than me just because you've read more books. And don't tell me TV rots my brain either.

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  6. Videos are a good idea but I have a hard time finding them in Research as most of the conferences or journals publish text.

    Personally I too would love if people start using more videos for communicating ideas.

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  7. Thanks for your reply Luis but what I was really trying to understand is what are the alternative sources of information and knowledge you leverage for your daily work ( so I can replicate your method myself :)
    Thanks,
    Alexandre Gomes

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  8. What I'd like to know is how you sand-proof your laptop. I've been thinking about taking mine to the beach (although didn't think about the stares you describe), but have been nervous due to the sand.

    Regarding people's attitudes, I agree that it's unfortunate and shows that many people continue to associate computers with work, which suggests quite a few things about their Web uses. Once when boarding a plane, I didn't turn off my laptop. The flight attendant noted that should really stop working for a moment. But why I assume I was even working just because I had the laptop open?

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  9. Somehow sand hasn't been a problem for me. Of course I don't go swimming with it :)

    DISCLAIMER: Luis von Ahn, his agents or representatives shall not be held liable or responsible for any damages incurred to laptops being used at the beach.

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  10. I fail to see why a movie making $$$ at the box office implies anything about its quality.

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  11. Hi, Luis! I enjoy reading your blog and learning about your ideas!
    We are the same for different reasons regarding book reading: the same because I am not a book reader myself, and different because while you find reading a book to be "boring as hell," I on the other hand find it to be just plain intimidating! Somehow, I don't have the patience to finish a whole book.
    But I will watch a movie version of a book anytime-- given the choice between watching and reading. Two hours at the most watching and I sure feel entertained for the most part of it!

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  12. I fail to see why a movie making $$$ at the box office implies anything about its quality.

    "Quality" is hard to define. Revenue is easily measurable, and that's what most books and movies are trying to maximize.

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  13. Who said that reading books at the beach is ok? In certain parts of the world, being in yours 20s and 30s and both reading or computing while at the beach is interpreted as a symptom of some sort of sexual dysfunction.

    Anyways, on most beaches around the world there is no internet connectivity. Or if there is, it is super-expensive. In fact, there may be no laptops at all. I guess, a lot of people are so stuck in last millennium.

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  14. You could carry a bright pink computer with butterfly stickers on it, I seriously doubt someone's going to think you're doing serious work on that. I'm looking forward to next spring's 251 slides coming off that thing.

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  15. Using a laptop reeks of "work" to lots of people. What can you do on it? Surf the web (which I bet you already do at work plenty), or do work (= work directly). Ok, you could watch a movie, but that seems a bit like the lazy man's (or ADD man's) version of reading a book. Plus, it produces more heat and waste than turning the pages of some novel with identical content. I guess you can twitter until your fingers get blisters, but I still don't get that. Why waste time telling random folk how great the water temperature is, instead of spending time in it?

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  16. *Most* beaches I've been to have about 5% of the people inside the water and the other 95% laying outside either sleeping, listening to some iPod-like device, reading a book, or reading a magazine. I want to use my laptop.

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  17. Not sure if this is what you're getting at, but I've found myself surprised by my contradictory attitudes about reading books versus reading online. I rarely read books, but feel like I "should". On the other hand, I spend a lot of time reading about a variety of interests online, but come away feeling like I frittered that time away.

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  18. The obvious solution to your troubles is to get a private beach.

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  19. If I were at the beach, I would just use my iPhone in a ziplock bag. Who needs a laptop?

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  20. The obvious solution to your troubles is to get a private beach.

    I wholehartedly agree. I should start working on that.

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  21. One place that the laptop has already gained social acceptance (in my household) is when you're sitting on the pot in the bathroom.

    Sounds disgusting, but is it really any more disgusting than a book?

    My guess is that we're not the only family who prefers surfing on the pot than reading a magazine...

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  22. Thats' disgusting, but you're my hero!

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  23. I find this post somewhat inconsistent with your previous one, the talk at the library of congress. If books are "inefficient" and "boring as hell" then digitization doesn't "help humanity" that much.

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  24. Sure it does: digitizing books means we can get rid of them! Now you'll be able to search through them, maybe have a computer summarize them for you...

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  25. I bet context-driven OCR is a much easier problem in comparison to computational meaning summarization.

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  26. 1) If the books you used to read were "incredibly inefficient and ... boring as hell" then I'd say you were reading the wrong books!

    2) I agree that the physical medium of books is somewhat out-dated (e.g. not being able to search is a real drag), but I disagree with your blanket assessment of the book form.

    For some books, I'd prefer a series of 20 recorded lectures instead of 20 written chapters, but for others it is much more efficient for me to read the book cover-to-cover than to learn from the equivalent series of lectures (if such lectures are even available).

    3) Often the "book is better than the movie" because the book gives you better insight into the characters and their thoughts -- insights which can rarely if ever be conveyed through good movie writing or good acting alone. Also, because movies are so short, they often leave out significant portions of the plot.

    Also, in my opinion, the fact that baseball stars make millions of dollars a year doesn't imply that they are "better" than doctors or teachers. Same goes for movie vs. book revenues.

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  27. Luis, I think the point with book it is that the average quality of books people read is way better than the average quality of movies/Tv they watch.

    I guess it has something to do with the fact that our generation still thinks that irony is clever.

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  28. Anonymous profiles are as safe as not wearing a name tag in a bad neighborhood. Especially when the kids have stolen the street signs and navigation is at a disadvantage. But back to the topic, I don't have a laptop or notebook. Losing expensive accessories is not my idea of having a nice day. Why not ask, "Do they rent laptops in inappropriate places? Can a smoker light up in a restaurant, or is a gas station safer? If I can carry my lunch on my walk to school, I can lose it for being ill. (both)
    Thus, let us not underestimate that which we overestimate in ourselves. Success is soon spoiled in bragging.

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  29. You might have a look at the CrunchPad when it comes out...

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/06/03/crunchpad-the-launch-prototype/

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  30. Something that can use the internet and watch TV...I believe that an iPhone is what you're looking for. Hulu.com can be an alternative to TV although it may not have everything you may want to watch.

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  31. My iPhone screen is way too small. I also can't really multi-task on it.

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  32. @Josh:

    I tried reading many different types of books: classic literary works, Nobel-prize winning ones, popular best-sellers, etc. While I agree that some of them were passable, at some point I realized I was reading mostly because, as a wanna-be intellectual, I had to keep up the appearances of being well-read.

    I'll also agree that there are many crappy movies and TV shows. BUT, I personally enjoy a good movie or a good TV show MUCH more than any book that I ever read.

    I'm fine if others don't agree with me, but I suspect that most people in our circles would never be caught saying they prefer movies/tv to books even if they did. It's just trashy and uneducated to say you don't like books.

    It also bothers me that saying "I don't have a TV" is somehow considered a good thing in our circle, but saying "I don't read books" is not. I don't see the difference.

    By the way, I do consult papers, journals and chapters of math/cs books for my job, but I don't think of that as "reading books." Here I'm talking more about reading books for pleasure.

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  33. Before a great movie is made, at least a few persons must read the script or book on which the movie is based. What you see in the movie is the product of the visual imagery that the book triggered to them.

    To a certain extend books trigger the imagination of all readers, not only movie-makers. You probably underestimate the lasting effects this can have, especially for people with less inhibited imagination, like kids. I think there is a good chance you forget how you were feeling when you were reading books as a kid.

    I am not saying your imagination is inhibited, as you probably throw all your imaginative powers to your research. When that happens reading books may indeed feel sort of mundane.

    Now while it's correct that there is a lot of mediocre award-winning work, there probably exists some classic or Nobel-prize literature that is a little more than "passable".

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  34. When I was a kid I hated reading books too. Luis = no imagination.

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  35. You wrote: "I’m not the biggest fan of reading books -- I haven’t read one in about 5 years -- because they’re incredibly inefficient and to a large extent boring as hell." I guess this may be a generational difference between us. I'm 59 and I've read books all my life, and I never go anywhere without one. My reading books doesn't make me better than you, just different. I keep a library of books at home that includes fiction, classical literature, science, history, biography, armchair travel and adventure, and all sorts of subjects. When my nieces were little girls, they used to come to my house and use my library to do their homework for school. Books have been around for hundreds of years, and altho' you claim you'd like to do away with them altogether, it may be another 100 years or so before that happens.... and that's okay, too. I think there's room enough for both of us in the world. ~:-)

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  36. A mi me parece una magnifica idea, lo unico que me preocupa en la seguridad fisica de mi laptop - arena, brisa de mar , rogue freesbies (or kids) y porsupuesto robo. Y quien sabes si hasta las gaviotas tengan un interes secreto...

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  37. Keep it up Luis, the world needs people like you with strong tech skills and nothing else.

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  38. Are you saying I have no other skillz? I can cook pretty well you know.

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  39. A.N. Onymous once paraphrased Lewis Carroll;

    "The time has come," the Walrus said,
    "To talk of many things:
    Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
    Of cabbages--and kings--
    And why the sea is boiling hot--
    And whether pigs have wings." -http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/walrus.html

    Mr. Onymous: The time came, the Walrus left,
    And many things unsaid.
    The shore was littered as a dump,
    And shoes, and ships, and dead.
    The sea became so boiling hot,
    No pigs could grow their wings.
    And sealing wax, and cabbages,
    Were no more than bloody kings.


    "But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
    "Before we have our chat;
    For some of us are out of breath,
    And all of us are fat!"
    "No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
    They thanked him much for that.


    "A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
    "Is what we chiefly need:
    Pepper and vinegar besides
    Are very good indeed--
    Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
    We can begin to feed."


    "But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
    Turning a little blue.
    "After such kindness, that would be
    A dismal thing to do!"
    "The night is fine," the Walrus said.
    "Do you admire the view?

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  40. reading books,why, you can find eveything on the web and learn a lot faster than reading the books on the subject matter and yes, yes, they have summary that is enough for the moment...to satisfy your curiosity.

    reading great novels and literature...I say, do it with the computer, you can see better...(I am a prescription eyeglass wearer).
    at the beach, yes...at the dinner table, NO!

    Is this available, one that looks like a book but you can surf the web and watch tv on it? I would soo want one...

    and Oh, I have met many "book smart, PhD people" and they are not very smart.

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  41. Dr. Von Ahn: I saw an account of your work on PBS the other night -- very interesting. The US is fortunate to have you based here in the states.

    I understand the efficiency advantages of laptops or Kindles over books. But for me what makes books superior at the beach (and yes, if you don't like them, you don't like them) is not only the sand issue -- which was alluded to above -- but also the security and cost issue. It's hard to relax and go for a swim, or a walk, knowing your $1,200 laptop has been left behind. I'd feel obliged to post a guard. But that's tough to do if I go the beach alone, or with only one friend (as opposed to a large group). And it's not only the money -- it's also the security. I personally live life on the web -- and don't leave un-backed up copies of anything important on my desktop -- but still, if anybody stole a laptop from me I'd be very nervous about the time lag between the theft event itself and getting myself to a web connection so as to change all my passwords. If somebody rips off a $15 John Updike novel or yesterday's NY Times, well, I can live with that, and I can take a nice, hour-long stroll along the beach, or go for a swim, and not have to post a guard.

    I'm grateful for the conveniences of today's highly networked world, but I do occasionally find there's a trade-off between convenience on the one hand and simplicity on the other, and sometimes I find the latter is more conducive to relaxation. Perhaps as you age you'll find the need to recharge your batteries is more critical, and you, too, will strike a different balance. Perhaps not. (Of course, then again, the moment I get back to my car in such situations I'm checking email via my iPhone, so who am I to talk?).

    Anyways, glad I found your blog.

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  42. "Revenue is easily measurable, and that's what most books
    and movies are trying to maximize."

    It seems plausible that most authors try to make their books attractive to a number of people big enough that they can live off their sales, but it does not really seem to me that most authors (especially going into things like, say, Samuel Beckett, or being less snobbish, Neal Stephenson) write books to maximize their revenue.

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  43. When people say that the book is better than the movie, I like to reply, "Yeah, you might think that if you've only read the book a couple of times."


    Enjoy Santorini.

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  44. Why don't you just tell us what TV shows you are watching that you find so intellectually stimulating? Or is your argument that you watch TV for fun and get enough intellectual stimulation from work?

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  45. I never said I found them intellectually stimulating.

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  46. Luis, why donot you change your introduction and write that you are a celebrity and not a computer science professor at CMU.

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  47. Luis, you can wear words on T-shirt: Search Luis Von Ahn, you will know why I come to beach without a COMPUTER!

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  48. Luis, you are telling me that you won't be doing work at the beach because people will think you are a dork?

    Bad excuse. Get back to work. :)

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  49. Genesis 5:29 And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the
    ground which the LORD hath cursed.

    "We found Luis at the beach waiting for Noah and the ark seeking comfort from toil and cursed ground. No laptop or other electronic device was in his immediate presence. Professor Luis seemed relaxed and free from the stess of daily work. Refreshed, he was seen leaving the beach and returning to his former life." -Daily Blab

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  50. I think you present a very valid argument here. It would be very nice to have a computer built into a book, because obviously people who read books are more important than those of us you use new-fangled technology devices that allow us to more easily get information on a screen, and we all want to look intelligent. =)

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  51. I think everyone is getting away from your point here. Why should we feel uncomfortable at the beach? I'm pretty image conscious and I wouldn't use a laptop at the beach; not because I don't want to, but because I wouldn't want the unwelcomed stares. I am indeed there to relax. If I relax by checking my FB page or responding to a couple emails, sobeit!

    A small, bookshaped or skinned laptop is a great idea. I know I'd use it. Unfortunately I don't think the unwelcomed stares would stop... not if I'm tapping my fingers on a book that I'm attempting to read sideways from my lap!

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  52. Don't sweat the small stuff. Who cares what other people think. Live and enjoy your life as you want.

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  53. Latinos, somos decendentes Maya. Como crees que fue possible la construccion de las estracturas maravillosa y toda la intelligencia advansada de nuestra gente? Creo que fueron mas inteligentes q nosotros, que no podemos balancer nuestro budget en California.

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  54. Meeting with friends to chat and and to sip a drink in a bar is also inefficient. It is much better to use Twitter and drink vodka at home.

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  55. Luis,

    Seen your video on the previous post
    (great talk b.t.w.). But sorry, you would look like a dork, even if you'll appear on the beach riding your motorcycle with a surfing board in one hand and two topless hot chicks hanging on your shoulders. So don't even try to fight it - just bring your laptop and do what you want.

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  56. I'm sure many more people think that CS is "inefficient and to a large extent boring" than share that view of books.

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  57. Sorry, but this is bull. TV is painfully low-bandwidth when it comes to information.

    Every time when I go on business trip, I try to watch it in a hotel room, get bored silly within the first 15 minutes (two commercial breaks usually do it for me), and revert to a book/Web.

    A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words is around 5k, and a picture is usually over 50...

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  58. Isn't it really about the ideas and the various ways of getting them into your head? I'll be an unabashed user of the brain helmet, when/if it arrives.

    That said, the choice between video and words is a false one. As forms of communication, books and videos have differing strengths and weaknesses. Gathering information should be no different than other tasks: use the best tool for the job. Your broad brush characterization of books being "so last millennium" sounds very much like a new form of the pseudo-intellectual snobbery that you dislike.

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  59. I think what it boils down to, is that people process things differently. My father was a electrical engineer and he never really understood reading fiction, because in his engineering mind they didn't need all the extra words and should just "cut to the chase". I, on the other hand, am enthralled by the literary side and enjoy a masterful telling of a tale - the wordplay and double meaning add a richness for me that could not come through in a visual sense like in the movies.

    It doesn't mean one is better than another - different media appeal to different people.

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  60. Nothing new under the sun: Wittgenstein loved watching westerns/romantic comedies when not working.
    I got this out of a book ;-)

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  61. Hello my friend
    How are you my friend?
    I wish you a happy day
    I will visit your blog
    If you have time please visit my site

    http://laptop2vpro.blogspot.com

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  62. Maybe I have an old lap top but I'd be concerned with sand getting into all those nooks and crannies.

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  63. Ja!
    Este dilema se solventa de manera sencilla Luis. Puedes hacer tres cosas:

    1. Ignorar en su totalidad la opinión de los demas.

    2. Colocar una bonita calcomanía en la tapa frontal que se lea así: I work remotely. This is my office view.

    3. Ocupar tu tiempo en desarollar el pseudo-kindle que describes. Si lo logras yo quiero uno!

    Que tengas un día precioso

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  64. Remember the old "Dynabook" idea from decades ago?

    Some day there will be a portable computer that will have something like a much improved OLED display that does not have current OLED longevity issues.... it will have a wireless connection that has current T3 speeds at a cost all can afford... Every book and all other types of media that is in the Library of Congress and other national libraries will be accessible. It will ultimately be so fantastic that this current posting could not possibly predict what the device will actually be like.

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  65. I think what it boils down to, is that people process things differently.

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