Sunday, November 29, 2015

Learning to Walk in Las Vegas. "Traffic Calming" in Action.

There is a famous book Learning from Las Vegas, by Venturi and Scott-Brown.

There is more to be learned. Las Vegas, on The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard), is actually one of the most programmed walking experiences I know of. Yes, there is the snakelike path you make through an IKEA store, with little chance of cutting across, or getting to just the furniture you wish. You have to see it all. Usually on two levels. And there are attractions at amusement parks that are also so programmed. And many a museum exhibit is also without a way of cutting across various rooms.

Las Vegas shows what can be done with "traffic calming," the term of art from city planning, but now with an ironic twist-- For there is now compression and congestion, frenzy and disorientation.

In LV, they have made traffic calming appear much less programmed, but it is actually much more deliberate. If you want to cross a street, there are elevated walkways between buildings/across-streets, reminding me of the elevated walkways in Minneapolis downtown among the buildings (especially useful when it is very very cold). The walkways in Minneapolis create a whole second level of commercial activity.

In LV, in order to allow for the fluid flow of vehicles on LV Blvd, The Strip, much of the time you need to use an elevated walkway to cross the street E/W. Often, you cannot cross a side-street, N/S, unless you use another elevated walkway. And these elevated walkways guide you to floors of commercial establishments, and you can look down on the ground floor for more such establishments. Of course, it helps that the environment on the street and in the signage/buildings/iconicity there is much to see through the windows of the walkways.

Moreover, in most of the hotels on The Strip, you cannot get to anyplace without going through the gaming/casino area. Often, you have an entryway on The Strip, but you will go through the gaming area to get to the Registration or other such, and even then you may also have to go through the commercial areas as well. Many of the hotels are actually about a block in from The Strip, and you are really entering a low rise building housing gaming and shopping, before you can enter the hotel. (You may be able to enter the hotel from the rear of the complex, about two blocks to the east or west of The Strip, and go directly to Registration.) Sometimes one hotel's complexity is directly linked to another (Paris to Bally, so you get a second dose of gaming and commerce).

It gets better. While hotels are arranged so that it is difficult to find your way out to the street (usually The Strip), with no significant signage (no big EXIT signs), since you are buried by commerce and gaming--once you are on The Strip, you find nothing but more hotels, more gaming, more ways of expending money, time, energy. Moreover, the highly articulated ground floors are often accompanied by further articulated second or third floors. If you ask for directions, they will get you to the next step, but at that point it's not so clear where to go next. There is always temptation--gaming, shopping, eating, gawking--at every such decision/walking point.

The hotels share many of the same high-end shops (sort of Rodeo Drive/Fifth Avenue), the same food-court eateries, and for all I know the same slot machines. So if you cannot find just the exact Louis Vuitton purse you want, another hotel's Louis Vuitton might have it.

If you choose to use the elevated monorail, you will find that it connects with the rear of hotels, and often the monorail station is sufficiently out-of-the-way, you may get tempted and distracted further, never to leave your hotel. But if you do get to the monorail stations, you will get a tour of backstage LV, so for example you see a very large parking structure just for the employees of Wynn LV, at the back of the back of the back of the site. And if you go to one end of the monorail, you find yourself at the SLS hotel, wondering why it is so far from the main action. But there is even more. If you walk out of the SLS to the Stratosphere Hotel, to go to the top (104 stories, they say), you have to walk through a rather more seedy area, with the world's largest souvenir shop and at least two wedding chapels (the hotels have them, too). Looking down, you see how much of LV is flat and residential, how much you have have been guided to attend to this small sliver of LV that is The Strip.

By the way, The Strip is adjacent to the airport, and right off the main highway from Los Angeles (I15).

Monday, November 16, 2015

Personal Responsibility (=PR) and Individuals

1. Individuals emerge from society and are seen as individual as a social process, in that the individual would appear to be autonomous and well defined. In particle physics, a quantum field has individual particles, in that they can be defined so that for the moment we can consider them as well-defined, with stable properties, and whatever happens is a matter of their interactions with other particles (and fields). Those particles that arise in a quantum field are "dressed" by all their stronger interactions with the field, with all the other particles--and what is leftover is their capacity to interact comparatively weakly with other particles. In other words, the particles, the individuals, are "social" to start out with.

2. In the research we have about neighborhoods, there is something called the neighborhood effect. Namely, one's range of choices and expectations are to some extent molded by neighborhood you are brought up in. I did not understand what it was to be a professor, since no one in my neighborhood or ... had anything like a PhD etc. It was working class ethnic Brooklyn.  Eventually I discovered all this, but I was perhaps 15 and a junior in high school, when I went beyond my neighborhood at a Summer program at Columbia University...  Similarly, if you come from some neighborhoods, you might never think of going into the Armed Services, or becoming an artist, or ...

Also, there is what is called cumulative and concentrated (dis-)advantage. Them who has, get more; them who is surrounded by those who have, get even more; and correspondingly, them who haven't...

Now, none of this takes away PR. Folks like me transcend their neighborhoods in some ways, but in others I am still a guy from Brooklyn. But most people do not make such big leaps. Surely, people who don't have can work so that they do have, and then they too can start having more (perhaps). And some of those who have lots live lives where they are downtrodden--perhaps by choice, perhaps due to drugs or ...

I don't deserve what I have. I got to where I am through the kindness of strangers, to use a phrase, some good fortune, and my own efforts. Also, I have made some less than stellar choices, but have been able to recover from them to a large extent.

I take responsibility for my life, but I have a sense of where it could have gone (not bad, just very different), a sense of how hard I have worked (although in fact I do not give myself much credit my friends tell me), some good fortune and the kindness of strangers, ... I don't deserve it, but I was fortunate to have it.

Hence, when one speaks of Personal Responsibility, I think it is important to have a sense of neighborhood effects, fortune, and cumulative and concentrated influences...  People don't make it on their own. Government and society provides them with lots of support, and this has been true as long as there have been governments and societies. People don't fail on their own either. They get help from the unkindness of strangers, bad fortune, ...

MOREOVER: If you are taller, whiter, male-er, handsomer, beautiful... you start off with advantages others may not have. And if you are female, shorter, fatter, dark skinned, ugly,... you start off with disadvantages ... You can convert your advantages into barriers, and your disadvantages into leap-springs. Usually, you need the help of others to do so. If you have some gift or some challenge (what is sometimes called, disability), what you can do with that is in part determined by the opportunities made available to you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mathematics in Current Academic Macroeconomics

The mathematics is used in engineering, and perhaps sometimes in statistical physics. But it is not the math that particle physicists use. 

Physicists' mathematics is often differently focused, depending on the field.  So for example, Lie groups, aspects of topology and geometry, and partial differential equations are more present in the fields I know. Stochastic differential equations appear much more often in finance theory, but of course they also explain diffusive processes in gases, and the behavior of plasmas (as in fusion, or in the universe). There is a wonderful book by Cedric Villani about his proving a result in this field--you don't need to know math, just human nature.

A doctoral student in some fields in engineering is much more acquainted with all of this.

A macro guru such as Larry Summers is of an earlier generation. Also, at the levels of discourse he participates in, whatever you learn from the Lucas and other such books, and their research, has been made into a way of thinking--  BUT I suspect that it does not even have much of an effect there. Janet Yellen's staff does not show her a stochastic differential equation, or a Markov process, or a Martingale--but perhaps they have something useful to help her think about these things. There are wonderful ideas in dynamic programming (often, that a differential equation and an optimization problem are nicely related, and in effect the present is where all the action is). I do not expect that the head of the Fed in 25 years, having been trained in all the math stuff will ever talk about it, either. It will be interesting what the insights will be.

Tactical, Operational, Strategic--Planning is Different for Each

At the tactical level, one is concrete and particular, and complex planning with what-if's is possible--although you know that invention on the part of the actors will be required.

Operational and strategic levels do not deal with many contingencies, except when things go big awry. Then you go back to the drawing board, so to speak. The Colonels' and Generals' planning teams have to think differently than does the Captain and Major, who are often tactical.

What the Operational and Strategic have to do is to figure out big goals and how to go about it. I think of arguments toward the end of WWII about whether to go to Germany directly or in a pincer. I am surely getting this wrong, since my memory for such details is likely fuzzy. But the point is that Eisenhower made a choice  and all else followed. If it did not work out, presumably they had to think about what next.

The complexity planners face is in part that the other side (or the customers, in business) has their own agenda, may act surprisingly (even as they think of themselves), etc. So the question becomes whether one's judgment is mildly reliable, and whether you have enough feedback and agility to know and deal with reverses. To use my current hobby horse, Rumsfeld got lots of feedback, but he had little of the requisite agility (or so the historical record seems to show--it may be wrong). Pride is useful in forcing one to persevere, but it is disastrous when one has to acknowledge things are not going your way. Strength lies in taking that disappointment and dealing with what needs to be done next. That is, do you have an ability to either have backup plans, or to generate them, when they might be needed. That's real strength.