Travel

Say you’re not one to believe the mainstream media. Maybe you think climate change is an elaborate hoax or the medical community is trying to hide the myriad dangers of vaccinations. Perhaps you are utterly convinced the government is overrun by reptilian beings.

Where on Earth can you go to get away from it all, and mingle with those who share your views? Well, Conspira-Sea, of course. It’s a seven-day cruise where fringe thinkers can discuss everything from crop circles to mind control on the open sea. Last month’s cruise featured a caravan of stars from a surprisingly vast galaxy of skeptics and conspiracy theorists, including Andrew Wakefield, known for his questionable research and advocacy against vaccines. Also aboard was Sean David Morton, who faced federal charges of lying to investors about using psychic powers to predict the stock market.

Is this not what Tiebout equilibria are for?  Best of all, the cruise gets these people away from the rest of us, for the most part.

There is more here, sad and silly throughout, via Michael Rosenwald.

Addendum: Here are the blog posts of, Colin McRoberts, the journalist who attended.

Language barriers while traveling the world may become a problem of the past with the advent of new technology. The latest craze in the tech world was recently unveiled at the 2016 Electronics Show: a wearable translator. The Japanese startup Logbar plans on releasing the portable translator called the “ili” this summer. The actual device looks like an Apple TV controller and is hung around your neck.

With the press of a button, the device is allegedly capable of simultaneous translation.

There is more here by David Grasso, including a video, from bold.global.

Facts about business travel

by on January 26, 2016 at 3:16 am in Data Source, Economics, Travel | Permalink

More populous countries have more business travel in both directions, but the volume is less than proportional to their population: a country with 100% more population than another has only about 70% more business travel. This suggests that there are economies of scale in running businesses that favor large countries.

By contrast, a country with a per capita income that is 100% higher than another receives 130% more business travelers and sends 170% more people abroad. This means that business travel tends to grow more than proportionally with the level of development.

While businesspeople travel in order to trade or invest, more than half of international business travel seems to be related to the management of foreign subsidiaries. The global economy is increasingly characterized by global firms, which need to deploy their know-how to their different locations around the world. The data show that there is almost twice the amount of travel from headquarters to subsidiaries as there is in the opposite direction. Exporters also travel twice as much as importers.

That is from Ricardo Hausmann, with further interesting points.

Three Words – Any Place

by on January 14, 2016 at 7:30 am in Data Source, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

Here’s an amazing new tool. what3words has identified every one of the 57 trillion 3mx3m squares on the entire planet with just three, easy to remember, words. My office, for example, not my building but my office, is token.oyster.whispering. Tyler’s office just down the hall is barons.huts.sneaky. (Especially easy to remember if you recall this is Tyrone’s office as well.)

Every location on the earth now has a fixed, easily-accessible and memorable address. Unpopulated places have addresses for the first time ever, of course, but now so do heavily populated places like favelas in Brazil where there are no roads or numbered houses. In principle, addressing could be done with latitude and longitude but that’s like trying to direct people to web sites with IP addresses–not good for humans.

Algorithms have assigned words to avoid homophones (sale & sail) and to place similar combos far from one another to aid in error detection. Simpler, more common words are used to address more populated areas and longer words are used in unpopulated areas.

Moreover the three word addresses are available not just in English but in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, German, Turkish and Swedish with more languages on the way. The addresses in other languages are not translations but unique 3 word addresses in those languages.

All of this is available in a small app so that it can be used even offline on a simple smartphone. Find your address here.

Hat tip: The Browser.

A new age of discovery

by on January 4, 2016 at 12:51 am in Current Affairs, Science, Travel | Permalink

Caving offers explorers opportunities to test themselves that until recently were not even known to exist. Speleology “has changed massively” in the past two decades, says Andy Eavis, widely considered the world’s foremost caver. The Krubera cave in Georgia, near the Black Sea, down which a Ukrainian team descended in 2004, is twice as deep, at more than 2,000 metres, as the Pierre St Martin cave in the French Pyrenees, which had been reckoned the deepest when Mr Eavis plumbed it in 1971. A new technique of laser scanning can measure such “chambers” far more accurately than before. Mr Eavis still marvels at the great chambers still being found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. In 1981 he was the first to explore a cave there that is still the largest by area in the world—it could enclose the Hollywood Bowl. Now South China, among other places, is offering new opportunities for cavers. Its Miao Room, penetrated in 1989, is 852 metres long, and the largest by volume.

Access to forest canopies is also being transformed by technology. Towers, balloons, inflatable rafts, light aerial walkways, drones and even giant cranes that have been helicoptered into place allow scientists to see what is going on under once-inaccessible foliage. A new remote-sensing technology known as lidar can illuminate objects high up under the canopy and analyse them through reflected light.

Not as good as jetpacks, but in the meantime it will have to do.  The ocean depths remain mostly unexplored, although a variety of attempts are underway, as discussed in the article.

It is also suggested, contrary to what I had thought, that there are still a variety of undiscovered peoples in the Amazon.

That article is from this week’s Economist.

This was the year when it became clear that much of Eastern Europe probably won’t end up as free societies.  It’s not just semi-fascism in Hungary.  Poland and Slovakia, arguably the two most successful economies and societies in Eastern Europe, took big steps backward toward illiberal governance.  How can one be optimistic about the Balkans?  I imagine a future where African and North African refugees are bottled up there, and Balkan politics becomes slowly worse.  As for Ukraine, a mix of Russia and an “own goal” has made the place ungovernable.  Where is the bright spot in this part of the world?

Nothing good happened in China’s economy, although more fingers have been inserted into more dikes.  I am not hopeful on the cyclical side, though longer term I remain optimistic, due to their investments in human capital and the growing importance of scale.

I have grown accustomed to the idea that Asian mega-cities represent the future of the world — have you?

Syria won’t recover.

This was the year of the rise of Ted Cruz.

It was an awful year for movies, decent but unpredictable for books.  The idea that Facebook and social media rob the rest of our culture of its centrality, or its ability to find traction, is the default status quo.  Not even that idea has gained much traction.  Cable TV started to receive its financial comeuppance.  Yet on the aesthetic side, television is at an all-time peak, with lots of experimentation and independent content provision, all for the better.  I suspect this is one reason why movies are worse, namely brain drain, but I am hoping for longer-run elasticities of adjustment into the broader talent pool.

Against all odds, Homeland was excellent in its fifth season.

I became even more afraid to move my cursor around a web page, and in terms of content, more MSM sites became worse than better.  Banning photos would solve twenty percent of this problem.

Stephen Curry and Magnus Carlsen were the two (public) individuals I thought about the most and followed the most closely.  Each has a unique talent which no one had come close to before.  For Curry it is three point shooting at great range and with little warning; for Carlsen it is a deep understanding of the endgame as the true tactical phase of chess, and how to use the middlegame as prep to get there.  It wasn’t long ago Curry’s weapons were “trick” shots, perhaps suitable for the Harlem Globetrotters; similarly, players such as Aronian thought Carlsen’s “grind ’em down” style could not succeed at a top five level.  Everyone was wrong.

But here’s what I am wondering.  Standard theory claims that with a thicker market, the #2 talents, or for that matter the #5s, will move ever closer to the #1s.  That is not what we are seeing in basketball or chess.  So what feature of the problem is the standard model missing?  And how general is this phenomenon of a truly special #1 who breaks some of the old rules?  Does Mark Zuckerberg count too?

I realized Western China is the best part of the world to visit right now.  The food trends where I live were Filipino and Yemeni, which I found welcome.  Virginia now has a Uighur restaurant in Crystal City, and the aging San Antonio Spurs continue to defy all expectations.  Kobe Bryant, who “ranks among the league’s top 5 percent of shot-takers and its bottom 5 percent of shot-makers,” has redefined the retirement announcement, among other things.

Top curling teams say they won’t use high-tech brooms.  Just wait.

AnandCarlsen

For best non-fiction book of the year, a late entry swoops in to take first place!  That’s right, I am going to select The Conflict Shoreline: Colonization as Climate Change in the Negev Desert, by Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh.

This is an unusual book.  It is only 85 pp. of text and about half of it is aerial photos and maps.  It covers the history of the Negev desert, the Bedouin, Israeli policy toward the Bedouin, ecology, seed botany, and the roles of water policy and climate change, all in remarkably interesting and information-rich fashion, with a dose of Braudel and also Sebald in terms of method.

For one thing, it caused me to rethink what books as a whole should be.  This is one cool book.

To make it stranger yet, this book is Weizman’s response to Sheikh’s The Erasure Trilogy, which is structured as a tour of the ruins of the 1948 conflict.  That book is I believe from a Palestinian point of view, and described as a “visual poem.”  I just ordered it; note that Sheikh is the photographer for The Conflict Shoreline and thus listed as a co-author.

Some will read The Conflict Shoreline as “anti-Israeli” in parts, but that is not the main point of the book or my endorsement of it.  The book however does point out that Israeli policies toward the Bedouin often were prompted by a desire to remove large numbers of them from their previous Negev land and move them into the West Bank and Egypt.  I had not known “The village of al-‘Araqib has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 70 times in the ongoing “Battle over the Negev””.  The book ends with a two-page evidentiary aerial photo of that village, taken during 1945; other photos of it date as far back as 1918.  This is all part of Weizman’s project of “reverse surveillance.”

It is a hard book to summarize, in part because it is so visual and so integrative, but here is one excerpt:

The Negev Desert is the largest and busiest training area for the Israeli Air Force and has one of the most cluttered airspaces in the world.  The airspace is partitioned into a complex stratigraphy of layers, airboxes, and corridors dedicated to different military platforms: from bomber jets through helicopters to drones.  This complex volume is an integral part of the architecture of the Negev.

And then it will move to a discussion of seed technology, or how Bedouin economic strategies have changed over the course of the twentieth century, and how these various topics fit together.  Think of it also as a contribution to location theory and economic geography, but adding vertical space, manipulated topography, rainfall, and temperature to the relevant dimensions of the problem.

Too bad it costs $40.00.  Recommended, nonetheless.  Here is one review, here is another, the latter having especially good photos of the book’s photos.

Here is a good interview with Weizman, who among other things outlines his concept of Forensic Architecture.

Here is my earlier post on the best non-fiction books of 2015.  And here is an earlier post the best books under one hundred pages.

Weizmanbook

Austin food bleg

by on December 19, 2015 at 2:28 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What’s the best dumpy place to eat in Austin?

I thank you in advance for your suggestions.

Two different people have asked me this question this week, so I thought I would write out my answer. My approach is slightly unorthodox, but here goes:

1. Go to the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel and get a view of the skyline, the harbor, and the Straits.  Watch the ships queuing.  This is one of my favorite views in the whole world.  Most of all I am struck by the contrast between what Singapore has achieved so quickly and also its continuing ultimate vulnerability; the view captures both of those.  If you can afford it, stay in the hotel and swim in the Infinity Pool.  That alone justifies dragging your body all the way to Singapore.

2. Organize the rest of your trip around food.  For Malay food, visit the hawker centre at Geylang Serai Night Market.  For Indian food, go to the hawker centre at the entrance to Little India, and walk around the adjacent shopping bazaar as well.  For Singaporean food, there are many good choices, depending on your location.  The optimal time to arrive is by 10:30, before most of the queues start.  Ask cabbies for the best chili and pepper crab.

3. Eat at David Thompson’s Thai restaurant, in the mall next to Marina Bay Sands.

4. Once it is dark, and edging toward 9 p.m., walk around the Merlion area and the bridge, where the city comes to life.

5. Spend the rest of your time seeking out “retro Singapore” as much as possible.  Haw Par Villa is one place to start, but there are multiple substitutes, including the hawker centres away from downtown and their special dishes.

6. The Asian Civilizations Museum is by far the best museum in town.  The zoo and the bird park are first-rate.

7. Much as Singapore calls itself a “city-state” I think of it as a “suburb-state,” unlike Hong Kong which is a true city.  I consider this high praise, but Singaporeans often are slightly insulted when I put it this way.  Your mileage may vary, but I say enjoy it as you would a suburb.

8. Talk to as many Singaporean civil servants as you can.

9. Take a day trip by cab or bus into Johor Bahru, in neighboring Malaysia, a thirty minute trip if there are no delays.  The food there is even better and you will learn some political science.  Read this book for background on both countries.  Read Lee Kuan Yew.

Here is my earlier post “Why Singapore is special.”   In a nutshell, it’s one of the world’s greatest trips, safe and easy to deal with too.

It costs $300 to move a 40-foot container from Rotterdam to Shanghai…Here’s some more context. Let’s say that you want to travel for a year; it’s cheaper to put your personal belongings in a shipping container as it sails around the world than to keep it at a local mini-storage facility.

That is from Ryan Petersen, via Dan Wang.

Cargo cruise markets in everything

by on October 30, 2015 at 12:48 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

In recent years, big cruise operators such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Star Cruises have spent heavily on soaring atriums, sushi bars, cabaret shows, and on-deck water slides to woo vacationers. Don’t tell that to John McGuffick, who’s spent months at a time at sea on cargo vessels—happily ensconced in quarters more suited to a Trappist monk than a Caribbean cruiser.

“The food can be pretty ordinary, and you have to be prepared to go with the flow,” says the 72-year-old retired farmer from Australia whose 10 trips via ocean freighter have taken him to dozens of ports across Asia, Europe, and North America. His personal maritime endurance record: 110 days nonstop from Dunkirk, in northern France, to Singapore. Explains McGuffick: “I like the solitude.”

Shipping companies like the dollars passengers such as McGuffick can bring aboard. In a slowing global economy, freight prices have fallen so far that hauling a person from Shanghai to Rotterdam brings in at least 10 times more revenue than a 20-foot container full of flat-packed furniture.

It’s not luxurious and not exactly cheap: About $115 a day secures travelers a bed and three meals on some of the largest vessels ever built. The handful of paying passengers—ships typically take no more than a dozen at a time—dine with the crew, have the run of most of the ship, and can chat up the captain on the bridge or engineers below deck.

The story is here, and I thank Stu Harty for the pointer.  But beware: you have to wash your own clothes, and your window view might be blocked by shipping containers.

NASA’s mantra for finding alien life has long been to “follow the water,” the one ingredient essential to our own biochemistry. On Wednesday, NASA will sample the most available water out there, when the Cassini spacecraft dives through an icy spray erupting from the little Saturnian moon Enceladus.

…in 2005, shortly after starting an 11-year sojourn at Saturn, Cassini recorded jets of water squirting from cracks known as tiger stripes near the south pole of Enceladus — evidence, scientists say, of an underground ocean kept warm and liquid by tidal flexing of the little moon as it is stretched and squeezed by Saturn.

And with that, Enceladus leapfrogged to the top of astrobiologists’ list of promising places to look for life. If there is life in its ocean, alien microbes could be riding those geysers out into space where a passing spacecraft could grab them. No need to drill through miles of ice or dig up rocks.

As Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, said, it’s as if nature had hung up a sign at Enceladus saying “Free Samples.”

It is sad the American public is not more excited about this, but kudos to the NYT for making it a feature story.

The standard story is that traffic deaths will dwindle, cities will spread out magnificently, and you’ll all be reading MR on your morning commute rather than fighting the traffic.  Maybe so, but what other options are at least worth considering, if only out of contrarian orneriness?:

1. Driverless cars are not actually much better than the really good German streetcar systems.  Those come closer to door-to-door service than many people realize, and of course they have lower energy and congestion costs.

2. The need for exact mapping of streets will restrict driverless vehicles to well-known, well-trodden paths, much like bus lines.  There is nothing wrong with that, but ultimately it won’t do more than save the cost of the bus driver.  Or worse yet — some automobile lanes may be turned over to municipal driverless vehicles in a way which makes traffic problems worse.  It will end up as a way to push cars out of the picture, without building up the broader mass transit network very much.

3. Driverless cars will give governments a chance to “redo” the whole driving side of American life.  Is this so great?  (Imagine if we had to write a new Constitution today.)  Just think, with driverless cars and laissez-faire there will be so many car trips, a city might collapse under the weight of its own congestion.  So a quantity-rationed system will be introduced, and ultimately all of driving will end up more controlled and more regulated, based on licenses in fact and no I don’t mean drivers’ licenses.

Most generally, your predictions for driverless cars should depend heavily upon: a) will there be rational congestion pricing?, and b) how rapidly will cities rezone to take advantage of the new opportunities?  I am not sure we should be especially optimistic about either a) or b).

Or put it this way: the absence of congestion pricing in most major urban centers means we are already bad at running roads, for whatever public choice reasons.  So maybe we’ll get a bad version of driverless cars too.

For a conversation related to this post I am indebted to Alex Tabarrok and also Joe Bous.

I enjoyed many passages in this book, here was my favorite:

As well as these untranslatable terms, I have gathered synonyms — especially those that bring new energies to familiar phenomena.  The variant English terms for ‘icicle’ — aquabob (Kent), clinkerbell and daggler (Wessex), cancervell (Exmoor), ickle (Yorkshire), tankle (Durham), shuckle (Cambria) — form a tinkling poem of their own.  In Northamptonshire dialect ‘to thaw’ is to ungive.  The beauty of this variant I find hard to articulate, but it surely has to do with the paradox of thaw figured as restraint or retention, and the wintry notion that cold, frost and snow might themselves be a form of gift — an addition to the landscape that will in time be subtracted by warmth.

Also of note is the discussion of how places names in Gaelic (and many other languages and dialects) are becoming unintelligible, even if much of Gaelic is surviving.  And so:

The nuances observed by specialized vocabularies are evaporating from common usage, burnt off by capital, apathy and urbanization.  The terrain beyond the city fringe has become progressively more understood in terms of large generic units (‘field’, ‘hill’, ‘valley’, ‘wood’).  It has become a blandscape…It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing, rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen.

Definitely recommended, buy it here.

While tech companies in America have focused on personal automated cars, China has gone big with what could be the beginning of mass, unmanned bus transit. The spacious vehicle, unveiled at the end of August after three years of development, recently managed a 20-mile trip through the crowded city of Zhengzhou without crashing into other motorists or bursting into flames. That same driver stayed behind the wheel, true, but maybe as technology progresses he’ll be replaced with a Johnny-Cab robot.

There is more here, including photos and video, via Air Genius Gary Leff.