This is a blog-style diary. Read it from the bottom up, if you want to have a sense of the chronology! Most recent stuff is added on top of the rest...
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Ting and Jan Willem's diary
Last week, Ting and I went to Tucson, Arizona, for a conference. It celebrated 50 years of experimental economics (= have people play economic games for real money in the lab, to prove that economics is wrong in assuming that people are fully rational and selfish). Great occasion, and two Nobel prize laureates were invited (Vernon Smith and Reinhard Selten, who had a stroke though and could only send a video). We had bad luck on our way to the conference, Thursday afternoon. We had to change planes because of a leak, which resulted in 4 hours delay. Luckily we could reschedule by phone our shuttle bus from Phoenix to Tucson. The driver had a GREAT southern accent and spoke like ten words per second. It was getting quite late when we arrived at the resort where the conference was at: a niiiiiice resort - these economists sure know how to combine business with pleasure. So we enjoyed the jacuzzi next to the pool and watched the Tucson stars...
<- - blue Tucson sky
<- - our bungalow
<- - Ting's feet
Economists know how to make business pleasurable, but they do start at 8 in the morning, so the night bubbles didn't last that long. The conference was really a die-hard experimental economics conference, so it was really her stuff. I think I was the only philosopher there. But it was very interesting. And I am working on a paper with Ting on lab experiments on bribery: That was the aim of the visit, and Ting presented it Saturday.
Sunday morning, Ting and I had a nice breakfast, a swim and a walk. Then Ting had to go back to Philly - there were two people visiting there whom she needed to meet. In the afternoon, I went hiking a bit: the Pima Canyon. 5 hours, Arizona afternoon sun, me, bunch of cacti and a lost snake... Beautiful!
Had you ever heard of cacti woods? I hadn't! There you go...
Cacti must be the world's most undervalued flora. They are beautiful, impressive, expressive, huge, but tender. And so humanlike... It must be the 'limbs'. Look at this couple of cacti, in a warm, elegant, proud embrace! (The guy should quit smoking though.) Is it father and daughter, or husband and wife? That is only up to your imagination!
"I'm a poor lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home..."
Picture taken at the Hacienda del Sol, where I stayed Sunday night.
Monday, was a transitory day. I had a bus at 1:30 am (middle of the night) to Las Vegas. I went seeing the LATEST movie possible, Skyfall (James Bond, bad story but great performances and shooting, recommended), from 9:50 pm until 12:30 am. Sadly, when I arrived at the bus stop, I was told that the bus was stuck at the Mexican borderline... perhaps it would be there in an hour, or two... It was 5:20 am when the bus finally arrived. Bad transport luck on this trip. Bad transport luck. We arrived in Vegas Tuesday around 2 pm. Crazy place. Disneyland for grownups - well 'grownups', lets say adults. I wouldn't have gone there were it not for the fact that the original plan was to drive to the Grand Canyon and take the plane in Vegas - a plan that was cancelled quite late due to our third companion whose name shall not be mentioned. Still, Vegas is something you must see. It is the summum of American materialism. I imagine that in five hundred years, people will come and watch the ruins of Vegas: "Yes, people turned this wheel, betted on certain numbers and hoped to get rich!" I stayed at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. I felt a little bad paying a cheap price for a room with jacuzzi which I knew was sponsored by the people who were spending the money they barely got in the Casino at ground floor... I spent a few dollars on the slot machines - I mean, you're in Vegas - but happily took my loss and strolled on.
Jan Willem, at the fortified (yet wide-open) gates of the Excalibur hotel/casino and with a view of the New York New York hotel/casino, with its skyscrapers and roller-coaster. Backpack full of 100 dollar bills, of course.
Wednesday morning, I took craps class, in the Monte Carlo casino, just around the corner (for the Vegas newbies, Vegas really has a casino density of 100 per square kilometer). Yes, dice game class. Free of charge, of course. It's like these free snacks that are often handed out in public places. Now that was fun! (Made me think one should open a casino in Vegas where people gamble for play money, toy currency. Just pay a Disneyland kind of entrance fee. And stay in the New York New York hotel, of course, sponsored by real gamble money!) Anyway, after 45 minutes of playing, I ended approximatively with the 100 dollars in chips I started out with. The 'stickman' (they have these sticks to gather the chips... see James Bond...) told me I probably made a bit of money, but we didn't count the chips, and I think he was purposively overoptimistic. He even told me 'I was playing well'! How can that be? In a sense, I was hedging... Betting on multiple possibilities... but you cannot play craps well, like you cannot roll dice well - no matter how much some people seem to think that some excel at this, rolling the one six after the other, while others suck. OK, I had a free craps class, subsidized by these poor fortune seekers sitting behind the slots machines with their cigarette and Starbucks coffee... What can you do?
In the afternoon, I went to the airport. Ten minutes by cab. I could see New York New York from the airport. Nobody cares about airplane noise in Vegas - nobody sleeps in Vegas - and the roller-coaster makes more noise anyway! For those who still had any money left in their pockets, Vegas international airport had an offer you could hardly refuse:
Seems that not much money was left in these pockets... Time to go home and bring in the bacon!
On Sunday, it was the birthday of our dear colleague Ryan. He held a party in his apartment - which will be very close to the one we will be moving into on the 20st of September (Washington Square neighbourhood, that is). Ryan is a beer fan - he visited Belgium and has already seen more Belgian breweries than I have - so we had the chance to taste some very nice Philadelphian beer. Really nice. I know that you're spontaneously thinking "really nice sparkling water", but it is no true: There are some good American beers (they have a huge amount of breweries). And Philadelphia seems to be a city of beer lovers - of Belgian beer lovers too, btw. (Many breweries brew "Belgian style" beers - explicitly.) Anyway, good party. And Sarah, Ryan's wife, made marvelous snacks and pie. The croissant with sausage might have been somewhat unorthodox to the European (but not to one open minded and open mouthed as I am): the stuffed mushrooms were just classic!
Now, Ryan has given us loads of info on Philly before we arrived as well as after. Ryan does modeling and computer simulations (on philosophy of science and political philosophy topics: times have changed) and, somehow, his systematic approach spills over to his advising. This results in terribly good advice. To honor his birthday, let me give you some of my best-offs:
Legal advice Ryan-style: "Unlike Belgium, Pennsylvania has truly unfortunate liquor laws, so you cannot buy beer and wine at the grocery store. Grocery stores cannot sell alcohol. Wine and liquor can only be bought from state-run Wine and Spirits stores. Beer can be bought by the bottle or six-pack from many delis and small corner markets, or by the casefrom beer distributors. No store can sell both wine and beer. If you drive to New Jersey, they have more normal liquor laws, but if you do buy liquor from a liquor store there, be sure to go to a different store after, before you come back into PA. Some police cars will be watching people with PA license places who go to liquor stores in NJ, since bringing alcohol across state lines is technically bootlegging, and they can fine you. Yes, we have some dumb laws."
"Here are a few thoughts on neighborhoods: It depends on what you want. If you really want "closeto Penn" to mean West Philadelphia / University City, for ~$1000 you could probably get a 2 bedroom place, or a just-redone large one bedroom. The downside is that west philly isn't always the nicest place in the world. It's gotten a lot better since I lived there (now there are several more bars and such, and some restaurants), but it's
predominantly undergrads unless you live farther west, and then you can start getting into rougher neighborhoods. I wouldn't live much past 44th st, for instance. 40th or thereabouts is where the most stuff is. If you live a bit more to the south, then the housing is nicer even past 44th st, but then you'd want to walk around the area first to make sure that you are happy with it.
Much nicer, in my view, is to live in Center City, ideally in Washington Square West (also sometimes called "Midtown Village" now). You can take the subway or trolley to Penn, or buses, and there is just way more in terms of good bars and restaurants. ... [It is] going to cost you more than West Philly, but variance on price versus quality is really high. So you can occasionally find awesome places for not too much, but there's a lot of overpriced junk too. Philly's actually been gaining in population recently, so the housing market is adjusting upward some. A 1 bedroom can run you anywhere from $850-$1500 (or up), depending on the details. At the $1200 mark you should safely be able to find something that's very nice." That's what I call thorough advice. How could we not follow it!
"The housing stock in Philadelphia is *extremely* variable. Some places you look at will be truly awful. Don't get discouraged. If you see a really great place, think seriously about just taking it. (Philadelphia apartment hunting is very much like the secretary problem in economics, so keep that algorithm in mind when you're looking.) Basically, look on craigslist, make as many appointments as you can, and if you like places, tell them you're interested to get things going. ... In your downtime, I suggest walking around Philly - there are a number of apartments that aren't listed anywhere except for signs on the buildings themselves. It's also a nice way to familiarize yourself with the city."
Apartment hunting is like the secretary problem??
A guide for the perplexed:
The secretary problem is one of many names for a famous problem of the optimal stopping theory. The problem has been studied extensively in the fields of applied probability, statistics, and decision theory. The basic form of the problem is the following: imagine an administrator willing to hire the best secretary out of n rankable applicants for a position. The applicants are interviewed one-by-one in random order. A decision about each particular applicant is to be taken immediately after the interview. Once rejected, an applicant cannot be recalled. During the interview, the administrator can rank the applicant among all applicants interviewed so far, but is unaware of the quality of yet unseen applicants. The question is about the optimal strategy (stopping rule) to maximize the probability of selecting the best applicant.
The problem has a strikingly elegant solution. The optimal stopping rule prescribes to reject about n/e applicants after the interview (where e is the base of the natural logarithm) without choice then stop at the first applicant who is better than every applicant interviewed so far (or proceed to the last applicant if this never occurs). Sometimes this strategy is called the 1/e stopping rule, because the probability to stop at the best applicant with this strategy is about 1/e already for moderate values of e. (Thank you Wikipedia)
Back to Ryan: "keep that algorithm in mind when you're looking" means that when craigslist gives you 20 apartments which you might like, you should go and see 20/2.7... that is about 7 apartments without saying yes to any of them, and then you go on viewing stuff and take the first apartment that is better than all what you have seen before (or remain frustrated because you have to take that last place and it doesn't compare to that palace you saw the second day - if you see a palace, JUST GO FOR IT = JW's solution to the secretary problem). Anyhow, following the algorithm gives you 1/2.7 chances that you got the best apartment from the list.
For the unmarried ones out there: the secretary problem is also sometimes called the "marriage problem" (academics can REALLY be unromantic). Go ahead, and practice that algorithm! (Don't forget JW's palace algorithm though.)
Ok, I'm drifting off! Time to hit that "Save" button.
Happy Birthday Ryan!
Apartment hunting in Philly...
"1BR 1BA": one bedroom, one bathroom...
Craigslist and Padmapper 24/24... = Immoweb, for the Belgians... there is better literature around, but it s useful!
What's it gonna be? Close to University (City)? In the middle of the action around Washington Square? A bit more luxurious around Rittenhouse Square? A cosy trinity house? A cool loft?
Nah... perhaps for when we are a bit higher on the academic ladder... And the stove would be too difficult to clean anyway! (Sure.)
So, here is the real stuff:
(You see Ting and Julio, the current tenant, doing the calculations of the stuff we want to buy from them.)
And here you get a glimpse of one of the nicest features...
(No, not the women.)
The view from the windows!
Imagine it at night...
(And abstract from the ugly open-box building down in the middle.)
[To the Flemish: please read JW as Jay Double You rather than Yay Way. Just this once. Please. Thank you.]
Have you seen that new orange little icon on the T and JW's diary page?*
Ladies and gentlemen, after having been assigned a Mac, having learnt about the Dock, the Finder and what not, after having made the first steps in blind typing (more blind than typing, but gradual learning is thorough learning), I may now present to you the "Subscribe to post by email" link! Yup! It is not just a standard email subscription link, ready-made in the list of gadgets you can insert on your google site (I probably failed to locate that obvious possibility): It is a Google Feedburner ad hoc burnt email feed, tailor-made. I would almost say "programmed". (Being the son of my father, I SHOULD probably say "programmed".) HTML m*rf*r!
Now I just hope it works. I just subscribed myself: Clicked on the link, entered my email, opened a confirmation email, click, and THAT'S IT! I'm curious whether I will get an alert for this new post I am typing here. Otherwise I just wasted several hours of "writing code"! (Sure.)
You know, an email notification is just easy for those who "should be reading our diary" but don't wanna go checking every... week. We're writing it irregularly, so I thought that this email thing is handy. But we're encouraged by Ken, who wrote us this morning: "Do keep up your blogging effort, even though it's undoubtedly not always easy to find the time, courage or simply the content to do so." Love it! But you see, Ken, it's not always that difficult to fill up a diary with content. Even something "seemingly" trivial like an email alert can be an excuse for several paragraphs.
(We're in the States and write about email alerts!)
Anyway, if you want more of this: just push the button!** Go on: It's that orange wave icon, the bigger one, higher.
(Below that, there is also the RSS feed, but if you want to use THAT, you are so technologically advanced that my saying more would be embarrassing.)
* I thank Jan Heylen for pointing out an error in the first version of this post. Being so kind as to comment on my PhD chapters, I guess he is in supervisor mode whenever he reads something from my hand. Remaining errors are mine only.
**Non of the content in this diary has been confirmed to be true or useful. Ting and Jan Willem are not responsible for harm caused by reading it. Clicking means agreeing with this.
Penn gave me a Mac. So I figured this is as good a moment as any to learn to work with it properly: so I'm taking Mac 101. No kiddin. It's a seven years old one, so part of the information comes from history webpages. But I'm liking it. Computers are less frustrating when they at least look cute.
I'm also taking typing lessons. Ting and I are alone in the office now, but soon we will be joined by two advanced postdocs. I will not be the keyboard starer! I'm recommending the typing lessons to all fellow index finger typers: Do it now! It's never too late for these things.
As a matter of fact, what you are reading has been written without (constantly) looking at the keyboard! Yep, I've been tying all morning! There is a good reason why this diary entry is substantially shorter than the previous ones! OVER AND OUT
Second of August, six pm, Philadelphia International Airport. The plane had two hours of delay. Normally the plan had been that Ting would have rushed off to Penn campus to take care of some administrative stuff (urgent, since we need access to computers and buildings, because work needs to be done) and I would have taken the luggage to Nicolas and Coralie's place. Nicolas left work early, to be there. Nicolas will be our colleague. He is an advanced postdoc researcher at the Politics, Philosophy and Economics department at Penn, where we will be. His wife Coralie is a researcher in cognitive psychology. They come from France and have two sons, Emile (3 years old) and Max (4.5 months). Ting has met Nicolas and Coralie before. They had been so kind as to offer us a room: we could have the guest room and even the whole house when they are off to France (a whole month). That gives us some time to look for a good place for ourselves. Anyway, we took a cab to their place, just 15 minutes from the airport.
We got a very warm welcome. Little Emile is a wildly enthusiastic boy and speaks both English and French. Interestingly, he only plays in English, since his little friends at the kindergarten speak English. So his playing vocabulary is English only: Crash, cool, etc. Even more interestingly, his French is a tad bit scholarly, intellectual. He uses expressions such as "as a matter of fact" and "I am very disappointed". French is what he hears from his parents. Little Emile is an American player but a French intellectual. (Soon he will combine psychologie cognitive et évolutionnaire with dunking donuts.)
We brought Champagne for the parents and cookies for the kids, and the parents - also a wooden clock. We ate something together, had a good talk and learned how everything in the house worked. The day after they would leave to France and give us the keys. We managed to stay up until 10:30 pm.
The next morning, Ting woke up very early - jetlag - 4:30 am. I woke up at 6:00 am: Emile was alive and kicking! After breakfast, we went to the kindergarten and then to the campus of Penn. It's just a ten minutes walk from the house. A very nice campus: typically American. We did some administration and had hamburgers, onion rings and some salad (Ting's betrayal) in the cafeteria on the top floor of Coralie's building, with a magnificent view over the city of Philadelphia.
Now, 5:45 pm, Nicolas and Coralie are gathering their stuff in the house and will find their way to the train station, train direction NY, JFK. I really hope that they have a smooth flight... hopefully not British Airways... Ting and I will now go and find something to eat. We just had bad news from Brussels (a burglary at my parents): Let us try to digest it with some chicken wings and ketchup.
We had a very... adventurous departure, to say the least. We left the first of august, but Ting's parents and her brother were visiting us from the eighteenth until the 31st of July - there is such a thing as the 31st of July right? You know what I mean.
Back home I realized that we had a little problem: The floors of the apartment were FULL of stuff... What followed resembled a little bit the action series 24. There was one difference: we did not have 24 hours. The landlord would be there at 9:00 am to receive the keys of a cleaned apartment. Our enemy was time, but we had our allies (especially Linlee, Xiaoling, Zhangyang and Yanzi). (Actually, the picture you see was taken on the first of August at 7 am, officially two hours before the apartment needed to be handed over.)
Sleep was cut, special forces called upon, the appointment with the landlord was postponed to 10 am (couldn't be much later cause the plane was at 15:25) and somehow I found myself handing over the keys of a clean apartment... well, not all the keys. Some where missing - the landlord would have to change all the locks, ouch! - but Ting miraculously found the keys back from piles and piles of stuff.
Mom and dad loaded part of our belongings in their cars (other stuff being stored in Xiaoling's basement) and they drove us to the airport. There my godmother Detje and aunt Bieke with Tim and Ben wove us goodbye. A last emotional moment, and then we passed passport control. Since we were a bit exhausted and starving, we first treated ourselves some drinks and some food. We also bought some presents for our (to-be) friends in America. Of course, time was getting tight again and we had to run for the gate. Technically we were already beyond gate-closed time, but luckily (OR NOT) the plane was delayed.
The plane was delayed for not too long: an hour or so. BUT that was enough for us to miss our connection in London Heathrow to Philadelphia! Moreover, ours was the last flight of the day. We had to stay in London for the night, and we had another flight the next day at 12:55. But it was not all bad news. First, Heathrow was full of athletes and photographers because of the Olympics. Moreover, they had put us in the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel, a very nice hotel - three times awarded best airport hotel in the world in some business travel magazine: It would cost you 160 pounds to stay there tonight. The Radisson was home of some Olympic row teams, since the contests were only thirty minutes from the hotel. We had a nice sauna, steam bath and cold water pool, to relax our tightened muscles, and tightened minds.
The next morning an elaborate breakfast and then packing and waiting for the shuttle back to the airport. Unsurprisingly, we managed to wait in the hall and miss no less than THREE shuttles. In the airport we learned that we had gotten an upgrade: yey! I had expected it, since the lady the day before had told us that actually the plane was fully booked. Having missed three shuttles, time was getting a bit tight again, and this time the plane was not late (we thought): boarding had already started, and we got on. But the plane did not leave. An hour later it still had not left. It was on the ground for two hours. Not our lucky trip. But we had nice seats. Loads of foot space - emergency-seat-kinda-seats. Since Ting does not like action movies, I took the chance to see whatever I could get: The Hunting Games (good movie), The Wrath of the Titans (crap) and some other stuff. Ting tried to work a bit.
On the second of august around six pm we FINALLY arrived in the United States of America - Philadelphia, that is. While Ting was exchanging huge packs of Chinese Yuan's to Dollars, I inspected the ceiling: It read, in big letters: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." A big American flag said the rest.
Dear family and friends,
Our adventure in the States has just started. Rather than sending long mails, we will just keep our diary here. When you miss us, you can just surf to this page! :) But don't worry, we will STILL send mails!
The diary will be in English - sorry - but this makes it understandable to more people. One of us (JW) remembers that (in another era) he once sent mails in English while abroad and added an online Dutch translation (worldlingo or something), just to have a good laugh. We will again refer to online translation tools, but technology has not stood still, and these days that stuff actually works pretty good! JW uses it for Chinese - English translations. Google's translator is great: http://translate.google.com/. Do check it out: it really is terribly good. Click on the translated words and you will see possible alternatives... Good stuff.
OK: The next post will be diary!
Write you later!
Ting and JW
GOOGLE TRANSLATION (http://translate.google.com/):
Lieve familie en vrienden,
Ons avontuur in de Verenigde Staten is net begonnen. In plaats van het verzenden van lange e-mails, zullen we gewoon hier houden onze agenda. Wanneer u ons missen, kun je gewoon surfen naar deze pagina! :) Maar maak je geen zorgen, zullen we NOG e-mails verzenden!
Het dagboek is in het Engels - sorry - maar dit maakt het begrijpelijk is voor meer mensen. Een van ons (JW) herinnert zich dat (in een ander tijdperk) heeft hij een keer verzonden e-mails in het Engels in het buitenland en voegde een online Nederlandse vertaling (WorldLingo of zoiets), om er maar een goede lach te hebben. We zullen opnieuw aan het online vertaalhulpmiddelen, maar de technologie heeft niet stilgestaan, en deze dagen dat spul echt werkt best goed! JW gebruikt het voor Chinees - Engels vertalingen. Google vertaler is groot: http://translate.google.com/. Doe check it out: het is echt verschrikkelijk goed. Klik op de vertaalde woorden en je ziet mogelijke alternatieven ... Good stuff.
OK: Het volgende bericht zal zijn dagboek!
Later Schrijf u!
Ting en JW
-- You see, it's really not too bad of a translation! There are still errors, but no longer hilarious... Don't know whether that is good or sad... "Google vertaler is groot": Dit is wel grappig. Eigenlijk ook wel cool: misschien iets dat we kunnen invoeren...
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