My personal tech ecosystem

Rahul, a loyal MR reader, asks:

You seem a very productive person and travel quite a bit too. Are you very cell-phone savvy and does it impact your productivity? Any apps you love or use a lot? (Do you play chess on the move! )

Can you blog about your personal cellphone selection strategy. Curious what phone(s) you use.
Ditto for Laptops. What’s your selection strategy. Small versus large screen real estate. What’s your personal optimum.

Also, Mac / PC / or Linux? What’s your ecosystem and what do you love/hate about it.

Would love a blog post on these topics! It’s convenient to imitate the choices of a productive person! 🙂

No, I am not cell phone savvy, as I still do not know how to send a text (just this year I learned how to read one).  In any case, here is my ecosystem:

1. Verizon cellphone.  Very simple, I use it only for calls, the keys are very convenient and otherwise it has no features which I either understand or use.

2. iPhone, latest edition.  I never use it for calls unless I am overseas, in which case it becomes my cellphone for receiving calls (no reason to make them in other countries).  I use it for email, and not for apps, and occasionally for visiting websites such as this one.  I have spent time with some apps to learn how they work, but for research purposes.  Overall their closed systems do not appeal to me.

3. iPad 1.0.  It’s beautiful, it was important, mine has a nice case on it, and I don’t want to part with it.  Plus I have some windows kept open on it.  By carrying around two iPads I can keep more windows open, without being confused.

4. iPad 3.0.  Better than the original iPad (which as we’ve seen is already worth carrying around), and the web connection works internationally and very well.  I now feel connected to the important information just about everywhere.  It has changed my life.

5. I don’ t know what kind of laptop I have, although I guess I could look.  It’s not optimized for anything, except perhaps my own ignorance.  It’s not an Apple Mac, I know that, and I am glad I got rid of Vista.

6. Kindle.  I still prefer real books, but for long plane rides, or sometimes even short plane rides, the carry costs of books are high.  So it gets plenty of use.

Here is an article on why so many Nigerians own more than one cell phone.

Addendum: Tim Harford lays out his system.


Interesting article, but it misses the more obvious explanation for people owning so many cell phones: all the triillions of unclaimed dollars in Nigerian bank accounts that Nigerians have access to.

Yeah, they never know when a lawyer for a deceased relative needs to contact them...

Is this your cellphone brand?

On the subject of keeping windows open while absent from the mainframe I've been wondering myself whether to get a 2nd iPad prior to next forced migration relocation (mainframe goes into the container) but think will upgrade to Macbook Air which is the weight and bulk of two iPads with of course much more memory and virtually unlimited windows (work with 3 desktops). You should consider this Tyler.

I can vouch for Heller's point about the MacAir laptop -- my wife gave me one 14 months ago, I am very happy with it -- it serves as my little "command center" wherever I go (I travel a lot as well); it has not crashed, not even once; and it allows you to open an unlimited number of windows

What about apps? Are there apps for the MacBook Air similar to ibooks, ikindle and for newspapers and magazines?

Good point -- there are no apps on the MacBook Air -- but why do I need apps? -- for example, why do I need the SSRN or Twitter app when I can just add them to my "booksmark bar" on the top of my safari browser? -- similarly, why do I need facebook, when I already have gmail in order to stay in touch with family or friends? -- in any case, while I do a lot things on my laptop, at the end of the day, I still have to print out whatever it is I want to read in detail -- perhaps one day, I will upgrade to a kindle-like program (just as I upgraded to a MacAir, but for psych. reasons I need the paper or the actual book -- thank god for pdf

Another Macbook Air "13 endorsement -

Enrique, you should let people know that with new Lion software there's more emphasis on apps. You can download Twitter app and use it on the laptop too. I just did, it's like the one on the iPad.

Its weird that you both have little apparent interest in iPhone apps and are turned off by apple's 'closed ecosystem'. If you don’t use apps, why do you care about the market for them? It’s a bit like the old joke:

"This soup is terrible. And the portions are small, too!"

Was thinking the same thing. There is probably an app for every conceivable use, why do you care if it's closed? There may be downsides, but probably not for you. That closed system is probably giving you a better user experience.

Every app you buy, every book you licence, every movie is a total write-off in case you want to ditch the iDevice - say if you think a 5 inch phone suits your big hands better, or a 2.4 inch phone fits the size of your pockets.

Vendor lock-in (the "walled gardens") hamper competition, and lots of people get suckered in and find they can't afford to ditch their inferior devices later.

You obviously write a lot - for things like blog posts which I assume don't take you much time, do you use your phone or ipad or pc?

If you're travelling, do you wait to have access to a pc before typing anything longer than an email? Or does the ipad do the job well enough?

Two ipads?

I cringe at the thought of watching you put away your 3.0 ipad to check your email on your iphone then pull out your 1.0 ipad to check your stock portfolio then pull out the 3.0 to read an article.

IT CAN ALL BE DONE ON ONE, I silently shout.

Even on next-generation-era Star Trek a person would use multiple PADDs on a big project, because it helps you mentally separate tasks.

Did they use them in TNG? They were all over DS9, I remember.

The barrier to an ultimate unified device is that the ideal computing experience needs screen real-estate which is far larger than what is convinient to carry in your pockets.

My winter coat has pockets just large enough to fit an iPad-sized device, which is nice.

And foldable screens are coming

Now the question is how do you carry all that around?

Book truck.

When he originally mentioned a "book truck" in my mind's eye I literally pictured a Sprinter van and nearly had a braingasm.

Stauss's interpretative dictum was that if an author writes a contradiction or error so blatant that everyone can notice, it was probably deliberate. So when you write about the Apple iPhone that "their closed systems do not appeal to me," and then go on to rave about the iPad, which has the exact same closed system, I can't help but think you are going Straussian on us.The why, though, escapes me.

Maybe he uses iPad without using its closed ecosystem? Or is the experience really terrible without apps?

A hacked, rooted iPad?

I don't understand the comment about "closed systems" on the iPhone. The system (and nearly all the apps) are identical between the iPhone and the iPad. The internet connectivity is identical between the two, as well (though the pricing model is different). With the iPhone, you trade a smaller and less convenient screen for the ability to carry it in your pocket. But it really is a "mini-iPad."

“Closed systems” actually refers to the application system laid out by Apple. Only Apple approved apps can be sold and installed on a iPhone or iPad without jailbreaking,

Which apps do you use on iPad 1 that would confuse you if you had them open on iPad 3? This system seems counterproductive and inefficient. It seems like you could consolidate down to one iPad and one dual band Android phone with keys pretty easily. What's the advantage of the iPhone if you don't use the apps?

When are you buying a third I-Pad to carry around?

Your experience something that Apple has often understood (and Kindle has imitated) but nobody else in the tech industry seems to get: Good implementation of core features is much, much more important than bells and whistles. Less is more. Simplicity is good. People don't need or particularly want Swiss Army knife electronic devices.

The iPhone is basically the Platonic ideal of a Swiss Army knife electronic device. It's a mediocre phone*, it's a mediocre camera**, it's a mediocre GPS***, it's a good media player, a mediocre e-reader**** and a mediocre web surfing device*****. However, it combines them all into one package better than any one else, it's portable and very easy to use.

* Call quality sucks
** All but the very cheapest point and shoots are better
*** It doesn't even do turn by turn directions or change routes on the fly
**** A Kindle or Nook is a far better experience
***** No one would choose an iPxx over a laptop or desktop to surf

I really would have enjoyed this comment more without all the obscenities.

Oh golly. You're doing it wrong.

Tongue in cheek, or is that check?, I find it curious that every time Tyler Cowen is asked a question about chess he seems to defer answering. For example, Tyler claims he was some sort of chess wiz in NJ, but in private email he states he's lost all his game moves and scores. Then he refuses a challenge to play Grandmaster Ken Rogoff, claiming Ken is too strong. Then he refuses to answer the chess question posted by the OP in this thread. QUESTION: HAS TYLER COWEN EVER PLAYED A CHESS GAME? Could this be an example, akin to what happened at Yahoo and elsewhere, of resume inflation to give an appearance of smart-ness?

Does TC even know how the pieces move on a chess board? Quick quiz to Dr. Cowen if he's reading this post: 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 d6 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. Nc3 Nc6 find the best move

Oh shoot, I just realized the sequence I gave has too many good answers. OK scratch that, new challenge: FIND THE BEST MOVE HERE: 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 d6 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. Nc3 g6 find the best move

I can do that blindfold you silly goose, Ne5, sac the queen and end with Nd5 mate.

LOL! I'm going to end up with the dreaded "You are posting too slower" warning for replying to this but thanks for taking the bait Professor--er-- Master-- Cowen!

Wow, thanks. Pretty impressive list of champions: 1976 Pal Benko 1977 Tyler Cowen 1978 Pal Benko
GM Benko obviously must have sat out 1978, or else Tyler is stronger than he lets on.

Revenge of the snark, huh

I'm sort of fond of Vista. It's underrated, IMHO (people just love to complain about microsoft products).

Vista's fine, but I find it falls a little short of either XP or 7. But yeah, I have no major complaints.

My personal tech ecosystem is very small, but I'm trying to figure out the best way to upgrade it, without spending too much money or time:

* RAZR cellphone. About 6 years old. Only in the past week have I discovered a need to be able to view my email away from home, so I'll be in the market for my first smartphone.

* Dell laptop running Vista. About 4 years old, this will need to be upgraded soon, probably while Windows 7 is available. This stays at home, where I sit in my favorite comfy chair and do everything from there. I take it with me on multinight trips.

...That's it.

You mean the MS products that ask me 3 times if I really want to copy a file and then stops halfway through to ask again? And the MS products that shut down in the middle of the night without permission for various updates?

Vista got a bad reputation because of early problems and a lack of drivers. It's fine now, but it wasn't when it came out.

Technology is amazing and yet a joke at the same time.

Here's Discovery Mag's take on one of the shining lights.


I always chuckle that I google for how to improve my computer performance and get these ad hoc lists of esoteric protocols, none of which are in the same place. It's a frickin' computer. Why can't it do it?

We have 5 PCs, 3 laptops (2 for work, one is a catwarmer), a tablet. My wife has her PC, I have my newer and older PC plus one for our small business, and there's one I keep around for parts.

I have one very dumb cellphone which I use for talking. I text maybe 2x a month and don't like it much; if I were a kid and had less control over my environment I would probably feel differently. I would get a tablet if I didn't loathe travel with every fiber of my being.

God willing, I will never buy another book. I have around a thousand and frankly meatspace is just too annoying.

Oops left out our Kindle (one each). My wife is on her third, I don't know she keeps breaking them. Usually I'm the one who breaks things, usually not by accident.

Kindles are flimsy. I wish I wasn't too afraid of my daughter instantly breaking it to get another. Reading on a the Fire or Touchpad in sunlight sucks.

On the other end of the spectrum, my wife and I bought a whole bunch of extra books a couple weekends ago. It was probably on the order of fifty pounds' worth (by weight, I was carrying them). We chose our house partly on whether it would have the wall space necessary for our bookshelves.

We can't get enough of ink on paper.

God willing, I will never buy another book. I have around a thousand and frankly meatspace is just too annoying.

As I might have mentioned before, ereaders saved my marriage. But now we're piling up so many books for the kid...

I find it hard to believe that you don't know how to send a text message...

I would be more interested in how you structure your news/research intake. How many RSS feeds/newspapers you go through a day, which journals you find indispensable, etc.

He's posted on that before, although I have the feeling it was not on MR. probably google-able.

Home: personally built silent desktop for myself (I won't use a laptop even if offered money to do so). Rest - three laptops. Win XP forced on every computer - makes administration easier.

On the road: Coby Kyros 7 Inch tablet (got it for $95 plus $10 in 16 GB memory card). Small enough to fit in the pocket and good enough to check email, look up something with browser, read a book and watch a movie when bored. When I am not traveling, I just keep it in the glove box compartment.

"I still do not know how to send a text (just this year I learned how to read one)"

Hi Tyler,

I think you wrote once that enjoying spicey food might be related to/correlated with(?) intelligence. Smarter people recognise that it's worth the time and effort in getting yourself used to spices.

Surely there must be lots of benefits to learning to read and send texts. Greater ease of communication with family and friends, particularly during busy times of the day. Have you really never felt there was any benefit to investing the time to get better at texting?

Comments for this post are closed