Disclaimer: This post is mostly about my personal opinions on current technologies for studying, not an actual pragmatic advice on how to do it.
Some time ago, a friend and I got in a heated discussion. It was about the need of a laptop computer in an MD course. She insisted a laptop was necessary for an MD course. I , of course, disagreed and pointed out that if that were truth, physicians until now were either wizards or time travelers.
Today I asked myself the same question. Are tablets necessary for a Machine Learning researcher? In the ACML 2010 I saw a couple of researchers with iPads, my previous professor bought one himself. And in the MLSS in Singapore, more than 30% of the people had a tablet. I indeed saw the practicality, my netbook seemed too bulky and bothersome to use while just reading papers and following slides.
After pondering a lot, I bought a Motorola Xoom, I did this because I needed a way to read journal papers and ebooks on the train without carrying 5000 pages in my bag. I did not choose a Kindle because as far as I saw, the small version was less than useless to read journal papers and math ebooks, and the DX was almost the same price as a normal tablet. (I got my Xoom for less than 200 USD)
I can say that it has helped me a lot, I can read my papers wherever I go, and I always have them with me, I do not have to worry about printing them anymore, or underlining the reference to look it up later, since I have a 3G->Wi-Fi converter (another advantage against the Kindle)
The reason I did not choose an iPad was that, as an iPhone user, I find the iOS too restrictive to do real work. I have yet to find a way to import PDF's to an iPad without using iTunes. Call me old-fashioned but nothing beats a good old plug and play and just copying and pasting your files. The fact that I have access to the filesystem of the device is another plus.
And here comes the question? Is then a tablet necessary to do good Machine Learning research?
It is a great help, and someone with a tablet does have a clear advantage against someone who doesn't, but then again, I stand with my earlier point, it is not necessary. Most of the greatest work on ML has been done so far without the help of a tablet, and I'm pretty sure it'll keep being that way for many years to come.
Tablet are still a long shot from being the perfect form of paper reading. Their lack of support for precise stylus-like devices is a bother (I love to make notes on my papers). And the slow response of most of them is still something that dampens your productivity.
I'll probably keep buying my math books, but for a quick commuting refreshing, or only if I wish to stay sharp on a particular topic by surveying some papers I think a tablet is an unbeatable companion.
Thank You and see you later
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