Travel

Changsha is the ugliest and most ungainly Chinese city I have seen, which is saying something.  Nonetheless for a food pilgrimage it is a serious rival for #1 spot in the world, perhaps surpassing Chengdu for the quality and novelty of its dishes.  Very little effort is required to do well, and some of my best courses I had at the Hunan restaurant in the Sheraton, also the only time I saw an English-language menu.

Even at major hotels, hardly anyone speaks passable English, much less good English.  But you can find many hanging portraits of Chairman Mao, who converted to communism in this city.

Carry an iPad, so you can look up and communicate the Chinese characters for “eggplant with orange chilies on top.”

There were plans to erect the world’s tallest building, and ground was broken, but the foundations were not extended and they have since been repurposed as a fish farm, hail Friedrich Hayek.

When they set their minds to it, they can build towers at the rate of three stories a day.

Changsha

The marginal value of entering a park here is high, as I stumbled upon card games, group exercise sessions, dance clubs, and performances of traditional music, all at higher rates than in most other Chinese cities I have visited.  At the entrance to one I read on the sign: “Don’t sneeze into the face of others,” and also I was ordered to reject “feudal superstitious practices.”

The people seem…different.  I feel the cab drivers often are on the verge of cackling, except when they are cackling.  Then the verge disappears.  The word “rollicking” frequently comes to mind, which of course is a sign you would not want to be governed by this province.

Kind of like New York.

Qingdao notes

by on May 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

There are early twentieth century German colonial buildings, some lovely water promenades, and less air pollution than in perhaps any other major Chinese city.  Here is the urban plan.  The best dishes are the clams, the snails, and the seaweed salads.  The cucumbers are an order of magnitude better than what I am used to, and the city’s status as a beer capital comes from the earlier German occupation.

qingdao

In two days of going around, I did not see a single Westerner.  It is sometimes considered China’s most livable city, here is Qingdao on Wikipedia.

Dung beetles record a mental image of the positions of the Sun, the Moon and the stars and use the snapshot to navigate, according to researchers.

Scientists in Sweden found that the beetles capture the picture of the sky while dancing on a ball of manure.

As they roll away with their malodorous prize, the beetles compare the stored image with their current location.

The beetles’ navigational skills could aid the development of driverless vehicles, the researchers suggest.

Previous studies have shown that dung beetles have an amazing ability to navigate by the light of the Milky Way.

Here is the full story.

What is the deal these days?  How well are VPNs working, and which do you recommend?  Can Apple iPhones and iPads still access the “real web” directly through 4G, as was the case as recently as last year?  I thank you in advance for your assistance, it is much appreciated.

…it [Singapore] draws more travelers than countries such as India, Indonesia and Philippines.

singapore2

Here is the story.

I sometimes say that large, populous places mostly will get better, so visit them later.  Small countries, islands, and regions will become worse to visit, losing their ethos to massive crowds, so see them now before it is too late.

The small Singapore, with its weird mix of hyper-modernity and charming retro, is an exception to this rule.  It may well be more interesting to visit ten years from now, by extending its modernity, even if it loses more of its retro.  But you cannot say the same about Bali, Tahiti, or Split, Croatia.  Amsterdam already has been ruined, more or less, by the crowds, Venice too during many times of the year.

Twenty years from now, Java, India, and Nigeria will be splendid to visit.  They will be easier to deal with, but won’t have lost much of their style and flair.  Sheer numbers locks that in.  So some of you should just wait.  That said, if you follow my advice and visit the small units now, you only make this problem worse.

Here is the latest:

Google is sufficiently confident about its technology that its staff have discussed launching a fully autonomous taxi service in Mountain View as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking. The service may initially be restricted to Google employees, which might get around any legal and regulatory issues. Google has already run some tests with employees who are trained drivers.

I enjoyed this bit too:

Yet real life brings surprises no-one can anticipate. Last year, a Google car rounded a corner to find a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom in the middle of the road. “We’d never tested the car against a woman and a duck,” Mr Urmson says, “and it was able to understand this was unusual, slow down, let that thing play out and then get on its way.”

Here is the Tim Bradshaw FT piece, and for the pointer I thank Michael Gibson.  And Ted Craig sends me this:

General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads within a year, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.

And here is Viv, which is supposed to be better than Siri.  And here:

A robot is being designed to compete with 12th graders during the college entrance examination in 2017 and get a score qualifying it to enter first-class universities in China, according to Huaxi Metropolis Daily.

The robot will not be connected to the internet.  And from the world of photography, here are robot portraits.  And yet more from the FT:

US researchers have developed what they say is the world’s first surgical robot that can outperform human surgeons when operating autonomously on soft tissues such as intestines, paving the way for clinical trials.

Or this:

Airbus is working with French and Japanese researchers to develop humanoid robots able to work alongside humans on its assembly lines and inside aircraft, in what would be a step change in the use of industrial robotics.

That is a lot of robot news for a day and a half.

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.

PAGLIA: Yes.

COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.

Camille

You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

Here is a very good point:

…the importance of maps to the self-driving market is another reason that car companies may struggle to remain market leaders as the industry shifts to fully autonomous technologies. Google, Apple, and Uber have a lot of experience collecting, analyzing, and distributing vast quantities of fast-changing geographic data. Ford, GM, and Toyota don’t.

The rest of the analysis by Timothy B. Lee is interesting as well.

Here is the NYT article:

Can you fly an iPhone to the stars?

In an attempt to leapfrog the planets and vault into the interstellar age, a bevy of scientists and other luminaries from Silicon Valley and beyond, led by Yuri Milner, the Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, announced a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robots no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, 4.37 light-years away.

If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth, set off one by one like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe.

Within two minutes, the probes would be more than 600,000 miles from home — as far as the lasers can maintain a tight beam — and moving at a fifth of the speed of light. But it would still take 20 years for them to get to Alpha Centauri. Those that survived would zip past the stars, making measurements and beaming pictures back to Earth.

Upon reflection, I don’t think we should do it.  What if the devices are traced back to us and we are exterminated or enslaved or simply demoralized?  Let’s stick with those moons of Saturn.

Here is how I think about these issues. The Artificial in AI can sometimes mislead so let’s start by getting rid of the A and asking instead whether more NI, Natural Intelligence, will decimate the middle class. For example, will increasing education in China decimate the American middle class? I don’t think so.

As I said in my TED talk, the brainpower of China and India in the 20th century was essentially “offline”. Instead of contributing to the world technological frontier the people of China and India were just barely feeding themselves. China and India are now coming online and I see the increase in natural intelligence as one of the most hopeful facts for the future. It’s been estimated that a reduction in cancer mortality of just 10 percent would be worth $5 trillion to U.S. citizens (and even more taking into account the rest of the world). A reduction in cancer mortality is more likely to happen with a well-educated China than with a poorly educated China. So we have a huge amount to gain by greater NI.

In the case of low-skill labor the rise of China has hurt some US low-skill workers (although US workers as a whole are almost certainly better off due to lower prices). The US has historically had an abundance of highly-skilled labor and with greater education around the world we have less of a competitive advantage. In the case of high-skill labor, however, I think the opportunities for gains are much greater than with competition for low-skill labor. Ideas are what drives growth and ideas are non-rivalrous, they quickly spread around the world. The more idea creators the better for everyone. At the world level, for example, the standard of living and the growth rate of world GDP have both gotten larger as population has increased.

Greater foreign intelligence and wealth could be a threat if intelligence turns from production to destruction (this is also a potential problem with AI). We probably can’t keep China poor, even if we tried, and any attempt to try to do so would likely backfire in the worst possible way. Thus, if we want to keep high-skill Chinese workers working on medical rather than military breakthroughs, we must preserve a peaceful world of trade. Indeed, peace and trade become ever more important the richer the world gets.

Now let’s turn from NI to AI. For the foreseeable future I see AI as being very similar to additional NI. Smart people in China aren’t perfect substitutes for smart people in the United States and there are also plenty of opportunities for complementarity. Similarly AI is not a perfect substitute for NI and there are plenty of opportunities for complementarity. An AI that drives your car, for example, complements your NI because it leaves more time for more productive tasks.

(What happens when AI does become a perfect substitute for NI? We could easily be 100 years or more from that scenario but my foresighted colleague, Robin Hanson, has a new book The Age of Em that discusses the implications of uploads, human intelligence copied into software—Hanson’s book is the most complete and serious scenario analysis of the implications of a new technology ever written but most of us won’t live long enough to know whether he is right although Robin might.)

Thus, the analysis of AI and NI is similar except for one important fact. As Chinese workers become better educated a significant share of the gains will go to Chinese workers (although by no means all).  AI, however, is produced by capital. But in our world capital isn’t scarce. The world is awash in capital and computing power is getting ever-cheaper. AI isn’t like an oil field owned by a handful of people. AI will be cheap and ownership will be widespread. Just look at your cellphone—it’s faster and more powerful than a multi-million dollar Cray-2 supercomputer of 1990. Moreover, in 1990 there were only a handful of Cray-2s and today there are billions of cell-phone super-computers including hundreds of millions and soon billions in poor countries. The gains from AI, therefore, will flow not to capital but to consumers. So if anything the gains from more AI are even larger than the gains from more NI.

From my answer on Quora.

Here is Ann Althouse on Rhode Island:

I had to make a new tag for Rhode Island. I think it’s the very last state I’ve blogged about — I’d thought I already had a tag for every state — and it’s a story of it not getting respect. Oh, Rhode Island. You can use that previous sentence as your slogan if you want.

Or remember the old saying “Nothing but for Providence”?

It’s not even an island.  How is this for a relevant update?:

The idea was simple enough — to create a logo and slogan that cast the long-struggling state of Rhode Island in a fresh, more optimistic light to help attract tourists and businesses. A world-renowned designer was hired. Market research was conducted. A $5 million marketing campaign was set. What could go wrong?

Everything, it turns out.

The slogan that emerged — “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer” — left people confused and spawned lampoons along the lines of “Dumb and Dumber.” A video accompanying the marketing campaign, meant to show all the fun things to do in the state, included a scene shot not in Rhode Island but in Iceland. The website featured restaurants in Massachusetts.

By the way, they hired a New Yorker to do the campaign.

And yet, as a native northeaster who spent three years of his early life in Fall River (southern Massachusetts), I cannot bring myself to name Rhode Island the nation’s most obscure state.  It just doesn’t seem far away enough.  Brown University is world famous, and most people who go from New York to Boston come in contact with the state in some way.  It can count Gilbert Stuart and Cormac McCarthy and H.P. Lovecraft, and the film Dumb and Dumber starts off there, so probably it is no worse (better?) than the nation’s second most obscure state.

A San Francisco start-up aiming to offer an Ivy League-level education at half the cost of elite US colleges has accepted a smaller fraction of its applicants than Harvard or Yale in its third year of operation.

Minerva, whose students move between California, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul and London while studying a largely online curriculum, will announce this week that it received more than 16,000 applications from 50 countries for 306 places, for an acceptance rate of just 1.9 per cent.

…With no sports teams, libraries or other overheads that contribute to the prestige of traditional universities but inflate costs, Minerva charges about $28,000 a year for tuition, room, board and other fees, offering scholarships through a non-profit arm. That compares to an estimated annual cost of $64,000 to attend Princeton.

…Its students are split into small groups for live interactive seminars, which are taught through a proprietary online platform that tracks their participation. They move together from one city to the next every six months, living in rented residence halls.

Here is the full FT story.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps North Dakota is the most obscure state in the Union.  Maybe so!  Let’s take a look:

1. Author: William Gass would be a possible pick, but I do not enjoy his work.  Same with Louis L’Amour.

2. Humorist: Chuck Klosterman.

3. Sociologist of religion: Rodney Stark.

4. Painter: Clifford Styll is the obvious pick, except I don’t much like his work.  If you were wondering, he dominates so many rooms in American museums because of restrictions placed on grants of his paintings from the artist’s own collection.  I suspect some curators have come to resent this, but often the grants were made propitiously near the peak of Styll’s reputation.  I suppose I’ll opt for James Rosenquist, although I am not a huge fan of his work either.

5. Evening television bandleader and toastmaster: Lawrence Welk.  I can’t even think of a clear runner-up, with or without bubbles; this video will show you why he was a favorite of so many.

6. Movie and TV show, set in: Fargo duh. Otherwise it is Man in the Wilderness, which was the original and in some ways superior source material for The Revenant.

7. Actress: Angie Dickinson comes to mind, Dressed to Kill is a good movie.

8. gdp per capitaThat can set many things right, although 2016 may not be as good as was 2014.

The bottom line: Hm..but yet we must consider Delaware and Rhode Island!

I am finding it difficult to get hard information on this plan, surprise, surprise.  They won’t say which lines will be shuttered and there is talk of “six months” for the shutdown, which I translate as “quite possibly more than a year.”  They are not even saying it will happen for sure, but I find bureaucracies don’t announce such “bad news possibilities” unless they think they are extremely likely.

It is likely that the previous closing of the Metro for a day for “inspections” was in part a theatrical play to justify this decision.  They already knew they would find what they were looking for, as no day-long investigation can reveal enough safety about a suspicious system to avoid a shutdown already thought to be necessary.

Given that Metro lines interconnect (“Only the Red Line runs independently of other lines“), and have hub-spoke relations, is it more efficient to close them all (or mostly) at once?  Can you imagine a 14-month period where the core of D.C. did not have much working metro service?  Or would it be a four- or five-year period with individual lines shuttered sequentially?  If the lines are truly so dangerous, it seems a bunch of them will close at once, and soon.

There is no longer much resilience in area traffic patterns, or so many possibilities for rerouting, so downtown might be at a gridlocked standstill much of the time; it’s already hard enough to cross past the White House since the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Discretionary visitors would avoid the city altogether.  How many downtown coffee shops and lunch places will go out of business?  How many restaurants?  How would the Fourth of July fireworks be held?  Smithsonian events?  There is precious little parking near the Mall.  How about getting the workers from D.C. to the Pentagon and to Reagan National Airport?

For many of the government agencies, the IT infrastructure cannot handle a significant percentage of the employees trying to telecommute at the same time.  This is not commonly understood.

Many suburbanites will have their first experiences with local buses.  But they still have to get from the bus stops to their places of work, and/or park near the bus stops.  So often parking is the ultimate constraint.

What other economic implications should I be thinking about?

Will the authorities use this opportunity to upgrade anti-terrorist protections in the Metro?

Might we actually learn that travel is less important than we had thought, and that much of that to and fro was just an input into costly signaling?  One wag even suggested to me that the D.C. area could in fact improve, national gdp might go up too.

If you are looking to make Tysons Corner a viable city, this is a good way to start!

I find this story to be under-covered so far.  Here is background information on the metro crisis — I was so impressed when I first saw and rode it in 1979, it felt as if I had stepped into the future.  Today, here is the Twitter feed UnsuckDCMetro.

Even the region’s flight paths have come to influence how criminals use the city. The heavily restricted airspace around Los Angeles International Airport, Burdette pointed out, has transformed the surrounding area into a well-known hiding spot for criminals trying to flee by car. Los Angeles police helicopters cannot always approach the airport because of air-traffic-control safety concerns. Indeed, all those planes, with their otherwise-invisible approach patterns across the Southern California sky, have come to exert a kind of sculptural effect on local crimes across the city: Their lines of flight limit the effectiveness of police helicopter patrols and thus alter the preferred getaway routes.

That is from an interesting Geoff Manaugh NYT piece on aerial surveillance in Los Angeles. Here is Manaugh’s forthcoming book A Burglar’s Guide to the City, which I have pre-ordered.

For the pointer I thank Alex Xenopoulos.