Travel

Bermuda notes

by on June 25, 2015 at 3:23 pm in Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

It is more picturesque than I had expected, and the zoning is very tasteful.  Interesting food is hard to find, and a simple fish and chips can run over thirty dollars; try to eat in Lido if you can.  Some of the men downtown wear shorts and dark socks, with jacket and tie.  I find the accent interesting.  Parts of Hamilton, the largest city, remind me of Wellington, New Zealand.

bermuda

Bermuda bleg

by on June 22, 2015 at 11:23 am in Travel | Permalink

I’ll have less than a free day there, but I will put your advice to good use, thanks in advance.  What to see and what to eat?

In praise of Porto

by on June 14, 2015 at 2:36 am in Food and Drink, Travel, Travels | Permalink

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, but when you turn the corner you never know what is coming: a Baroque or even Romanesque church, wondrous blue tiles, a rotted out building, a coffee and pastry shop, port warehouses and embankments, or a steeply plunging street.  If a store displays the sign “Novidades,” that is an indication they don’t have any.  Porto is (not) the only European city with six bridges.  My conference was held in a very fine Rem Koolhaas venue.

Magellan lived and studied here, and J.K. Rowling’s Porto stint shaped parts of Harry Potter.  Libreria Lello is perhaps the most striking bookshop in Europe.

This politically incorrect shop sign would have been taken down a while ago elsewhere in Europe; it is a reflection of the city’s remnant status.  The modern parts of town, along the ocean, remind me of California.  But the English language section of a used book store will have the titles which were British bestsellers in the 1920s.  A 1970s tribute store is called “Spock,” and its sign outlines the Starship Enterprise.

Eat the tripe and white beans at Flor de Congregados, or for fancy try DOP restaurant, worthy of a Michelin star or two but not priced to boot.  Peer into the apartments which open out onto the streets of the old town, due to the lack of air conditioning, and check out their crumbling wallpaper and tightly packed collections of icons.  Here are ten things to like about Porto.

If you took the brain of Maria Popova, and turned it into a Mediterraneo-Atlantic city, loaded with debt, you would have Porto.  Definitely recommended.

Arbitrage, sort of

by on June 7, 2015 at 4:55 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

A student has changed his name by deed poll because it was cheaper than paying a “ridiculous” Ryanair charge for a booking error.

Adam Armstrong, 19, was presented with a £220 administration fee after his girlfriend’s stepfather mistakenly reserved a seat to Ibiza for him with the budget airline under the surname of West.

Armstrong, who is studying for a foundation degree in digital marketing at Leeds City College, changed his name to West for free and drove to Liverpool to rush through a new passport for £103.

Several airlines charge more than £100 to make minor changes to bookings as highlighted by the Guardian in the past.

The article is here, via Michael Rosenwald.

A resident of Mountain View writes about their interactions with self-driving cars (from the Emerging Technologies Blog):

I see no less than 5 self-driving cars every day. 99% of the time they’re the Google Lexuses, but I’ve also seen a few other unidentified ones (and one that said BOSCH on the side). I have never seen one of the new “Google-bugs” on the road, although I’ve heard they’re coming soon. I also don’t have a good way to tell if the cars were under human control or autonomous control during the stories I’m going to relate.

Anyway, here we go: Other drivers don’t even blink when they see one. Neither do pedestrians – there’s no “fear” from the general public about crashing or getting run over, at least not as far as I can tell.

Google cars drive like your grandma – they’re never the first off the line at a stop light, they don’t accelerate quickly, they don’t speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).

…Google cars are very polite to pedestrians. They leave plenty of space. A Google car would never do that rude thing where a driver inches impatiently into a crosswalk while people are crossing because he/she wants to make a right turn. However, this can also lead to some annoyance to drivers behind, as the Google car seems to wait for the pedestrian to be completely clear. On one occasion, I saw a pedestrian cross into a row of human-thickness trees and this seemed to throw the car for a loop for a few seconds. The person was a good 10 feet out of the crosswalk before the car made the turn.

…Once, I [on motorcycle, AT] got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too… The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don’t think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are “easy targets” in traffic.

Overall, I would say that I’m impressed with how these things operate. I actually do feel safer around a self-driving car than most other California drivers.

Hat tip: Chris Blattman.

Joel Shurkin reports:

Ants — most are teeny creatures with brains smaller than pinheads — engineer traffic better than humans do. Ants never run into stop-and-go-traffic or gridlock on the trail. In fact, the more ants of one species there are on the road, the faster they go, according to new research.

Researchers from two German institutions — the University of Potsdam and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg — found a nest of black meadow ants (Formica pratensis) in the woods of Saxony. The nest had four trunk trails leading to foraging areas, some of them 60 feet long. The researchers set up a camera that took time-lapse photography, and recorded the ants’ comings and goings.

…Oddly, the heavier the traffic, the faster the ants marched. Unlike humans driving cars, their velocity increased as their numbers did, and the trail widened as the ants spread out.

In essence ants vary the number of open lanes, but they have another trick as well:

“Ant vision is not that great, so I suspect that most of the information comes from tactile senses (antennas, legs). This means they are actually aware of not only the ant in front, but the ant behind as well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That reduces the instability found in automobile highways, where drivers only know about the car in front.”

Driverless vehicles can of course in this regard be more like ants than humans.

I suggest two plans, each of which I have been able to implement in a partial way only:

1. Take the train around to random first, second, and third tier Chinese cities.  Many of them will have their own cuisines, or they will represent a nearby regional cuisine.  It’s like discovering the food of a new country.  Imagine if Shandong province were a separate country!  How compelled you would feel to visit it for the food, often considered China’s foundational cuisine, plus it uses the finest vinegars.  And yet, because it is part of “China” (Gavagai!), you feel you already know something about Chinese food and thus the need to sample it is not so pressing.  Redo your framing, and rush to some of the lesser visited parts of China.

By the way, you can stay in the second or third best hotel in most Chinese cities for only slightly more than $100 a night, and yet receive five star treatment and quality.

2. How many provinces does China actually have?  I don’t wish to litigate that dispute, but most of them have restaurants devoted to their regional dishes in Beijing.  These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent.  Furthermore they are scattered around town, so if you visit them all you will see many parts of Beijing.

A month in Beijing should allow you to visit them all, plus the air pollution really is better these days.

I should add that western China has by far the best raisins I have sampled in my life, most of all the big red raisins.  Until my trip to Xi’an, I had never actually tried a real raisin with the real raisin flavor.  Forget the Terra Cotta Warriors, discover what a raisin is!

R. asks me:

I’ve been reading your blog for years and it remains my favorite. I am an attorney planning to travel for 1-2 months in Eastern/Northern Asia and Europe this fall before starting work at a law firm. Since you are so widely traveled, I would love to read a post listing the most memorable places you’ve traveled or travel experiences you’ve had.

An answer to that could fill many books, but here is a simple rule to start: follow the per capita gdp.  Perhaps my favorite travel experience of all time is Tokyo, but more generally I say master the area lying between London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid, give or take.  There are so many high quality sights and experiences to be had there you can chunk it many different ways.

If you wish to visit the United States, specialize in the eastern seaboard, Chicago, but most of all southern Utah down to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, much better than the southern rim but book in advance.  That latter part of the country has perhaps the world’s most compelling natural beauty, plus a good look at real American culture along the way.  For all its fame, it remains oddly under-visited (thank goodness).  Toss in San Francisco for good measure, and then drive through some godforsaken parts for a few days, the worse the better.

For the emerging economies, I say Beijing and Mumbai are good places to start, how can you not wish to be introduced to a country of a billion people or more?  Mexico City is extremely underrated, especially if you live nearby in North America, just don’t expect English to be spoken.  By the way, it is safer than you might think.  Then spend some serious time in the countryside, almost any safe (or unsafe) emerging economy can serve this function.

Voila!

Yes, it is a good idea to patronize the small restaurants on the outskirts of the hutong, but here is another tip.  Go to the very fanciest restaurant possible, in a fancy five-star hotel.  Then order the cheapest items on the menu.  That likely will involve some vegetables (pumpkin in egg, anyone?), tofu, and fried rice.  It will be an amazing meal, quite possibly better, at least to a Western palate, than if you had ordered the most expensive delicacies of that restaurant.  Many of these courses will not exceed $10 per shot, which is still about at American prices or even slightly below, and that’s not adjusting for massive differences in quality.  If you feel you can afford more than that, fine, but the low budget constraint actually directs your attention to some pretty fine items, and to items which are never truly good in American Chinese restaurants.

I’ve had good street food in Beijing, but in my view it is neither your first nor even your second preferred option.

 Truckmaker Freightliner’s newest commercial big rig can steer and drive itself, while the driver relaxes and enjoys the ride. No, I’m not talking about Autobot Ultra Magnus. It’s the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the first ever self-driving commercial truck to receive a road license plate for autonomous operation on public highways.

The system, called Highway Pilot, operates like the autopilot on a commercial airliner. Once set and underway the system can maintain a cruise without the driver’s intervention. Highway Pilot uses stereoscopic cameras located at the front end of the truck that watch the road ahead for roadside signage, lane markers and other vehicles.

This 3D imagery is fed into the Inspiration Truck’s electronic brain, which then affects the electric steering rack, the drive-by-wire throttle and the automated manual transmission to keep the truck between the lines and a safe distance behind a leading vehicle.

It is not yet a fully autonomous vehicle:

Speaking of the human element, the Inspiration Truck still requires that a driver be in its driver’s seat. A person needs to get the truck moving from a stop, handle complex low-speed maneuvers and to monitor autonomous drive.

Freightliner tells us that the system will notify the driver with visual and audible cues in the event that conditions won’t allow confident autonomy (such as snow, rain or on roads with poorly defined lane markers) and a human is needed to take over. When driving conditions are optimal, however, and the road stretches out ahead, the Inspiration Truck’s driver can set the Highway Pilot and tend to other parts of the business of logistics.

There is more here.

Kyle York came up with a few, here is one of them:

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances.

For the pointer I thank Dennis Boyle.

Xian bleg

by on May 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What to do, where to go, and above all what to eat?  I do of course have the standard guidebooks, what can you add to the basic advice?

And how easy is it to buy a ticket for the fast train from Beijing?

The road that is Bolivian

by on April 30, 2015 at 1:37 pm in Travel | Permalink

Yes, Yungus:

For decades, the road had its own rules. The most important was to drive on its left side. That allowed down-bound motorists to peer out their windows and get a better look at how close their wheels were to the abyss.

Amid fog, rain and landslides, accidents killed 200 to 300 people per year.

You can read more about it here.  I was once in La Paz, and unwilling to leave because it would have meant traversing this road.  Nor did I have enough time to fly somewhere and back.

Go to the mercado in Valladolid, right off the main square, and sample as many dishes as possible.  Don’t hesitate to use the spicy black sauce.  That is the single best introduction to Yucatan cuisine I know of.

Mérida offers a more urbanized variant, with influences from Cuba (the tortas) and Lebanon (kibi, which is like kibbeh).  The town has many bad restaurants, go eat at Punto y Coma, a loncheria inside one of the markets, taxi drivers seem to know where it is.  Ask for their specialties, and don’t miss Sopa de Lima.

In Cancún, get yourself to El Centro, away from the tourist hotels.  If you are stuck on the strip, Tempo offers ten courses for less than $50, the founder chef is from San Sebastian and I would put the quality at that of a Michelin two-star.  Otherwise look for small places selling fish tacos.

El cenote Samula was created by the meteor which did in the dinosaurs, today you can swim there.  The open air restaurants to its side were the best meal so far.

A live stream version is posted here, slide to 6:00 to start, YouTube and podcast and transcript versions are on their way.  I thought Jeff did just a tremendous job.  We covered the resource curse, why Russia failed and Poland succeeded, charter cities, his China optimism, how his recent book on JFK reflects the essence of his thought, why Paul Rosenstein-Rodan abandoned Austrian economics for “big push” ideas, whether Africa will be able to overcome the middle income trap, where he disagrees with Paul Krugman, his favorite novel (Doctor Zhivago, he tells us why too), premature deindustrialization, and how we should reform graduate economics education, among other topics.