The wandering rationalist

by Despard2 min read28th Aug 201227 comments


Personal Blog

Hello all. I'm still fairly new to the site and I've only posted comments up until now, but this definitely warrants its own topic. Currently I work at Queen's University in Canada as a postdoc studying motor control, but my funding runs out at the end of November. I don't have another job immediately lined up, but I've been in discussions with CFAR about working for them either directly or through UC Berkeley on doing some research into rationality techniques. I attended the June minicamp and had an absolute blast with the people there.

Why am I telling you all this? Well... I've applied for some funding to go work at Berkeley but it won't come through until July 2013 at the earliest, assuming I'm awarded it. In the meantime, I've decided to go travelling through the US, buy a round-the-world ticket from San Francisco and wander for the next few months - and it would be awesome to meet up with some rationalists along the way!

I've got some money saved and will have more by the time I leave. To support myself further I intend to take on academic editing work (like this company does), where I can basically work from anywhere and have a little bit of money coming in regularly. Maybe I'll try for some freelance programming work too. Regardless, it'll be a lot easier if I don't have to pay for accommodation, so if anyone could put me up for a night or two along the way I'd be massively appreciative; I intend to couchsurf anyway but it would be great to meet some LWers and have enjoyably rational conversations on my trip.

Here is my (vague) route through the US. This will be December 1st-31st. It has a few random detours as I have friends in Oklahoma and Colorado (though I don't know anyone in New Mexico, it just seemed like a logical place to visit and I couldn't resist being able to go through Amarillo), as well as in northern Idaho and Vancouver.

I haven't decided yet whether I'll buy a bus ticket or simply try to hitch rides from the internet; that's still up in the air. Regardless of what I choose, anyone who wants to drive me some of my route will not be turned down...

After I leave San Francisco I want to head to Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia for a couple of months before I go to SE Asia. I intend to be back in Europe (I'm British although I live in Canada) by May 2013 and I'll hit the North American continent again in June, but this time I'll be flying across. So it would also be great to meet rationalists in countries along my route.

People like Anna and Valentine/Mercurial can vouch for me not being an itinerant crazy, probably.

Looking forward to meeting some of you guys in a few months! And reuniting with the Berkeley crowd, of course.


27 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:26 PM
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I'll also vouch! This is Misha, and you should totally hang out in Madison when you pass through. We've got a spare room you can stay in for a while even.

Awesome, thanks! Madison's actually somewhere I need a place to stay; I have friends in Chicago and Minneapolis already, for example. Good to know you're there, I've heard Madison's a lot of fun.

It is! Glad you'll be stopping by.

When you head down from Portland toward San Francisco, I recommend taking the 101 or the 1 rather than the 5--the trip along the 101 (at least the southern half of the trip) is very pretty, and the weather is usually very mild, whereas inland it's usually pretty hot, or I guess in the winter it would be pretty cold.

It's about 75 more km but the coast is much nicer, and if you have some time to stop around Arcata, there are some beautiful national parks if you like forests, and I can recommend some local restaurants and possibly meet up, since I'll be up there in late December on Christmas break.

(I grew up in that area and my parents and a number of old friends are there, but I don't live there so I don't know that I could offer you a place to stay.)

No worries. I'm definitely interested in seeing nice things as opposed to just going places as quickly as possible, depending of course on how my travel time is going. I need to figure out what I'm actually going to do for Christmas - hopefully some friends of mine on the West Coast will take me in and feed me...

Let me know if you stop while passing through Laramie, Wyoming. You'll already be pretty close to Denver, but if you need a place to stay the night, I should be able to put you up (depending on the dates).

Don't see why I wouldn't be able to stop a night! It's going in the right direction at least.

If you wanted to swing down through Austin, Texas in between Oklahoma and Amarillo, I should have a couch that you can sleep on. Austin's a fun city, with a LW meetup group to boot.

Also, for much of the interior of the US you don't need to worry all that much about sticking to the big highways. If I were driving from Amarillo to Denver, I'd take 87 to 25, not 40 to 25 (which adds 4 hours to Google Map's estimated duration). If you want to visit Albuquerque, then 40 to 25 is the right call, but if you're stopping there so you can take 40 I wouldn't bother.

I know very little about what the most optimal way to get from place to place is in the US. Since I don't have a car, I figured big highways would be the way to do it, either by bus or by grabbing rides. But of course I'm happy to take advice.

I've also heard Austin is fun. I wasn't really planning on doing Texas and Austin's pretty far out of my way, but I'll think on it.

My favorite way to cross the US, especially if you're not in a hurry, is by Amtrak train, though I don't have too much experience with buses (Amtrak or otherwise; I've taken one Amtrak bus and no Greyhound buses). Train tickets tend to be cost-competitive with bus tickets, except that the routes are way more limited. (Their train route map is here, and so you can see that going from Minneapolis to Oklahoma City requires going east then south then west then north, rather than just south, but you may end up having to do similar things on buses.)

If you're old enough, renting a car might be a good option, especially if you want to do a lot of touristy stuff.

I've done Amtrak before and I quite liked it. What I'm wavering on is whether to buy the $450 30-day bus pass which allows me unlimited travel for that period or be a bit riskier and hope I'll find enough rides to get me across for cheaper. I need to sit down and do the research and the maths really.

I can rent a car for sure (I'm 31) but I haven't driven in ten years and considering it'll be December I'm not confident in my driving ability in bad weather conditions...

What I'm wavering on is whether to buy the $450 30-day bus pass which allows me unlimited travel for that period or be a bit riskier and hope I'll find enough rides to get me across for cheaper. I need to sit down and do the research and the maths really.

Interestingly, there are two ways to do this and I'm not sure which is better. The first is estimating a probability that you'll be able to find a ride across any particular arc, and then calculating the cost (and stopping and buying the pass if it's more than $450/(1-p)). The second is calculating the cost C, and then asking "is p>(C-$450)/C?" (Both assuming risk neutrality.)

If Ridejoy publishes any numbers about success rates, then the first is probably the better choice, but if you're guessing, it might be psychologically easier to do the second (though it also puts you at risk for anchoring).

I can rent a car for sure (I'm 31) but I haven't driven in ten years and considering it'll be December I'm not confident in my driving ability in bad weather conditions...

Wise choice!

We're not on your route, but as a general suggestion, you might have more success checking out meetups on your route and contacting individual people from those meetups. (Not everyone tracks the site closely.)

I was thinking of doing that anyway, but I wanted to have a general post up early to prime people that I'll be travelling through. It would also be fun to see if I could pop from meetup to meetup and maybe post a cross-country review of them. Got a few months to plan it more carefully anyway. is a ride-sharing startup that you might want to check out.

I'll definitely look into that.

If you go southward to get to Chicago, instead of northward, you can go past NYC, Philadelphia, and Columbus, which all have active meetup groups. If you come to Columbus, I'll happily put you up!

That's not a bad idea - except I have a friend in Lansing, MI I said I'd look up on the way. If I do too many zig-zags it will raise hell with my schedule, and I've spent a lot of time on the East Coast fairly recently. Still... I'll think about it.

I can't imagine you wanting to pass through Iowa City, IA for any reason, but if your route takes you along that way, feel free to let me know. I'd be happy to let you spend the night, although it'd be limited to a sleeping bag on a quasi-soft carpet.

Well, it seems fairly close to Des Moines, and I don't know anyone there... it's just on my way to OK at this point. I'll bear it in mind!

I can help you when you are in the Portland area. Just let me know what you need.

Great, thanks!

If you need a place to stay in Boise I might also be able to help with that.

In case you make it farther north in Asia, you are welcome to stay with me in northeastern China.

Thanks - it's a possibility. I'd love to see China. I do want to try to make Korea and Japan this trip as well.

Your route link doesn't seem to be working

Fixed - thanks for that!