Monday, October 29, 2007


I fly with Swiss Air to Boston because it allows me to stay in Zurich for 8 hours on the way back. Just wanted to see what one of the 10 most livable cities in the world is like.

Going to the city center from the airport is extremely easy: it takes 11 minutes by train. When I bought a ticket to Zurich city center at the counter, I was told (before asking) which platform and what time the next train to the city center departs. The way back to the airport is also easy. Just need to find an airport mark on the list of train departures, which tells you which platform you should go. The signage at the city center station (Zurich HB) is also clear enough.

Lunch at Adler's Swiss Chuchi, a cheese fondue restaurant every travel guidebook appears to mention, is a mixed blessing. Fondue with cube tomatoes tastes certainly great. But the amount of cube tomatoes is tiny, and I end up just eating melted cheese topped on cubic bread. A bit boring. And very expensive: with a 500ml bottle of mineral water, it costs 30 Swiss franc or 20 euro. And I feel unhealthy as I didn't eat vegetables properly.

A stroll on Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich's counterpart of London's Bond Street, Tokyo's Omotesando, or Milan's Golden Rectangular, is for sure elegant. Unusual for such an expensive shopping street, the atmosphere is rather laid-back with trams going back and forth in the middle of the street. But at the end of the day the list of shops is the same: Gucci, Prada, Dior, Tod's, and so forth. Way too many bag and shoe shops, of course mostly for women. Boring.


Having latte macchiato (there's no "cafe latte") with creme brulee at a cafe by Confiserie Sprungli, Switzerland's most famous chocolatier, is truly refreshing though entering the coffee shop is slightly intimidating.

There are several nice views in the city, but overall central Zurich appears to be a place for the rich. Next time I should explore the area north-west of the Zurich HB station, the former industrial area transforming itself into a bohemian district.

Lake Zurich

A view from Munsterhof square

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chez Henri @ Logan International Airport

Dine Boston Cafe, a restaurant just in front of the security check gate in the Logan International Airport (Terminal E) seasonally features some meals by a chef of a Boston's local restaurant, a very admirable initiative given that nobody wants to end their trip to Boston with uninspiring meals at the airport. This season's featured restaurant is Chez Henri, serving French meals with Cuban twists. Fresh oysters slightly topped with chili and vinegar sauce for a starter, and beef steak with tomato and basil sauce accompanied with crunchy and spicy French fries for the main, beautifully puts an end to my four-day stay in Boston.


I find Boston similar to London in many ways: dimly-lit interior spaces, uncomfortable metro trains, smelly booze pubs, the difficulty to eat salad in restaurants, etc. The cityscape of Boston is better than that of London: Boston has at least got this pleasant, red-brick covered street-scapes.

Marlborough Street, Back Bay

But I see stupid demonstrators blocking city traffic here as well. The presumably picturesque Copley Square was spoiled by politically-charged Americans shouting their ideology. (Boston Public Library was an escape from all this.)

Cambridge, a neighbouring town where Harvard and MIT are located, is a weird place. From central Boston, take the red subway line and the first station is Kendall/MIT. The area is Tokyo-ish: super-modern high-rise residential buildings without any hint of tradition. But it seems to be the place where you can find some hidden gems (like The Blue Room, Toscanini's, List Visual Arts Center---see below). Stata Center looks rather ugly, though.

Stata Center at 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge

The second station Central is in the area with many immigrants: the atmosphere is a bit like London's Brixton. I smell of ganja. Then the third station is Harvard, where I feel rather uncomfortable and sometimes even depressing. Perhaps because I'm never comfortable with the mainstream or what the majority believe is true.

In the end, I didn't try hard to explore the city because I didn't feel like doing so (I didn't visit downtown Boston). Given that Boston is called the Athens of America, maybe I'm fundamentally disinterested in what constitutes America.


Having a dinner until late last night and checking out by 9:30am, I'm hungry but don't fancy the hotel's mediocre breakfast. I walk around outside the hotel, finding this nice neighbourhood cafe at 899 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge.

Freshly squeezed organge juice and warm bread puddings with maple syrup and soft cream cheer me up. The window-side comfy sofa seat receives the morning sunlight, with fat b-lined chillout music as background. Waitresses and a hippy-looking cafe owner are nice and pleasant. Around 10:15am, there is a long queue of people presumably living nearby. They also serve a variety of coffee, brunch menu, and "the best ice cream in America" according to the New York Times (so reads the sign on the cafe window). If I were a PhD student in Boston, I would definitely come here for a weekend brunch.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

List Visual Arts Center at MIT

A free-to-enter gallery of contemporary video installations in the middle of MIT campus is a pleasant surprise if you think MIT is all about technology geekiness. Each of white-cube style exhibition spaces features one video installation with a comfy leather bench in front of the screen.

I find one interesting installation (entitled "Hor-champs" by Stan Douglas, 1992). In a rather spacious cubic space, a double-sided video screen is hung diagonally at the center. One side shows a free jazz band's performance in a standard TV style: the camera mostly focuses the main saxophone player with backing trombone, bassist, and drummer just occasionally shown. The other side of the screen shows the video shots usually discarded: the bassist and drummer while the saxophone player plays the main melody or the saxophone and the trombone just standing while the drummer or the bassist is playing solo. It captures my interest because this is how I often listen to music: the vocal or the main guitar is just background for me; my ears focus on the bass line or the drumming rhythms. So I like this installation.

Boston Public Library's courtyard

Friday, October 26, 2007

A conference for development economists

For the uninitiated, here is an example of how a large-scale academic conference (with participants more than 100) proceeds.

It begins at 8am when breakfast (just sweet bread and cakes with Starbucks coffee and Tropicana orange juice) is served for an hour. Participants chat with their freinds based in other universities or meet with new researchers who may become their collaborators in the future.

From 9am to 10:40 am, five different sessions start in parallel, each consisting of four papers tackling more or less similar research questions. (How similar the four papers are depends on how much the conference organizers put an effort to group a number of papers presented at the conference.) Each paper is assigned 25 minutes. The first 15 minutes is a presentation by the author, followed by 10 minutes questions and comments by a "discussant" who is supposed to read the paper carefully beforehand and by other participants. A horrendously large number of the paper authors cannot clearly talk about the paper within 15 minutes: they take too much time for stating a research question, talk too much about related research in the past, and explain things that are not really important, ending up running out of time and explaining the most important things too quickly with the audience lost in confusion. The discussants then follow the same trap: they re-state what the paper is about (that's the author's job though it can be helpful for the audience when the author fails to explain clearly) and praise the paper superficially, ending up having no time to explain their comments clearly enough. As a result, the audience is not allowed to speak up with comments potentially useful for the author or simply don't know what to say because they don't understand what the paper is about.

After a 20 minute coffee break, the second session begins at 11am until 12:40pm with the same thing repeated. Lunch follows with a box of a sandwitch, crisps, and a fruit served to each participant. Participants chat to each other, talking about which paper was interesting etc. From 2 to 3:40pm, the third session, followed by a 20 minute coffee break, and the final session until 5:40pm.

From 6pm, a buffet dinner begins with poster presenters (I was one of them; that's why I posted this last week) standing next to their poster describing their research. Participants may go to a poster for which they're interested. Or they simply just chat with their friends, possibly on future joint research.

By 8pm, the conference dinner is over. Participants are separated into several groups, each going to a bar etc.

Attending an academic conference is simply tiring unless you are naturally smart. It's difficult to make new friends unless you manage to give smart comments to paper presenters. Young, up-and-coming researchers try to talk to senior researchers by overcoming their intimidation by presence.

But I have learned. It's a matter of getting used to it. This is the second conference for development economists that I attended since I started a job as a researcher. I see several people for the second time. I manage to talk to some of them this time even though I couldn't last time. What's important is to keep attending this kind of conference. It takes time to build a network.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Blue Room

After an 8 hour trans-Atlantic flight, with a 2-day academic conference awaiting me next morning, I definitely need to have a great dinner with an excellent atmosphere. The Blue Room (1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139), a restaurant in a rather Tokyo-ish area of Kendall (where MIT campus is located), almost perfectly satisfies my picky expectation. Wood-grilled whole branzino fish, served with pomegranate syrup, crushed olives, herby leaves, and bits of pink grapefruit, is super. A whole baked fish often exhibits a steep decline in the degree of extra pleasure from eating more: the second half of fish meat quickly starts tasting boring even if the first half was gorgeous. The Blue Room's chef knows how to avoid this: serving grilled fish with what tastes continuously stimulating with texture in stark contrast: pink grapefruit.

A dessert (cream cheese flan) is rather mediocre, but the service is extremely beautiful here. A waiter taking my order tells me that baking fish can take at most 35 minutes. When the fish is almost ready, he comes to my table again, saying, "In two minutes." A waitress serving the fish asks me if I have an experience of eating a whole fish (when I reply by saing, "I'm Japanese," she says, "I don't want to make any presumption."). The decor and atmosphere is stylish without being pretentious.

A truely excellent restaurant (and its website is cool).

A Shocker

On the way to Boston, a Greek girl sitting next to my flight seat said to me, "You look 18 years old." When I told her that I'm 30, she looked shocked. I was shocked by her remark, too.

I'm now in Boston to attend an annual academic conference for development economists. Some photos and restaurant reviews etc. will shortly appear on this blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How to create a PDF poster with LaTeX

If you are an economist or any other researcher using maths, you should be using LaTeX to write a paper or to create a presentation slide. If your paper is accepted in a poster session in a conference, then what would you do to create a poster involving mathematical expressions? Here's what to do.

1. Visit the beamerposter package website.

2. Download "" from somewhere in the middle of the page.

3. Extract the downloaded zip file.

4. Open "example.tex" with TeXnixCenter or any other TeX editor.

5. Customize it to your taste.

If you repeatedly need to create posters with LaTeX, then do the following in addition:

1. Create a new directory of your preferred name (e.g. beamerposter) under the directory "C:\Program Files\MiKTeX 2.5\tex\latex" or "C:\texmf\tex\latex" (depending on how your MiKTeX is installed).

2. Download "beamerposter.sty" from somewhere in the middle of the beamerposter package webpage, and save it under the directory you just created.

3. Launch MiXTeX option (Start > Programs > MiXTeX > Settings).

4. Click "Refresh FNDB", and wait for a while.

5. Close MiXTeX option.

(See here for why you need to do this.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Although my trip to Milan this week was academically very fruitful (sightseeing of Milan was rather disappointing though), the return flight was horribly tiring (the coach to the airport got caught up in a traffic jam, arriving just one hour before the departure time (6pm) and the flight delayed 30 minutes, the cafe at the boarding gate refused to accept a credit card, sandwitches were out of stock on the Ryanair aircraft, and arriving at home at 1:30am with the frige empty). I need to take a break.

If I were in London or in Tokyo, I wouldn't be able to enjoy nature to refresh myself. But I'm in Stockholm now. I can easily go to Djurgården, an island in Stockholm where nature is well-preserved.

Walking along the north shore is a very pleasant experience. Sea water here is mystically tranquil and beautiful (see the above photo which was taken last September).

Arriving at Djurgårdsbrunn bridge, I notice a cafe/restaurant on the opposite shore. Usually cafes and restaurants in this kind of natural place are rather dull or traditional at best. This one, called Djurgårdsbrunns, pleasantly turns out to be different: stylish interior and amazingly great dishes. It's a bit expensive, but paying 195 krona, you can enjoy brunch buffet. Juicy meat (chicken and sparerib), fresh smoked salmon, crispy bread, roast tomatoes and mushrooms in English breakfast style, tasty polenta, crunchy lettuce, etc. If I think this is just about 14 British pounds, it's a bargain. (This is what's good about having lived in London: your sense of "value for money" is screwed up.)

On the way back, I walk on the shore opposite to Djurgården. This side of the creek is also pleasant.

And on the way home, I find yet another nice crockery store in Östermalm: The House of Villeroy & Boch.

I think I fall in love with Stockholm. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Milanese cuisine

During my trip, I try to eat Milanese cuisine. One of such is cotoletta alla milanese, deep-fried breaded veal chop. I learn that there is an endless debate on whether Vienna or Milan is the first to invent this style of cooking. But I also learn that the origin of tonkatsu, a Japanese dish of deep-fried breaded pork fillet dating back to the early 20th century, can also be Milan.

I also have a Milanese saffron risotto, which is okay.

Golden Rectangle

A visit to the Quadrilatero d'Oro (or the Golden Rectangle) area is rather disappointing. Along small alleyways line the world's renowned brand shops.

But so what?

Even Viktor & Rolf's store, whose interior is all upside down, is not impressive at all, probably because the materials used for the interior look rather cheap. Worse, when I visit the store, a Japanese couple, a fashion-designer-looking guy with his girlfriend, is having a chat. Am I in Milan?

I guess all the Milanese fashion brands have become too famous and too ubiquitous around the world. An area like the Golden Rectangle is everywhere in the world. That's why taking a stroll around doesn't make me feel any different. Omotesando in Tokyo is much more interesting.

Cimitero Monumentale

Probably the world's weirdest cemetry. Can you imagine the photos below were taken at a cemetry? It makes me think of my tomestone as if I was thinking of my flat interior design.

Obika Mozzarella Bar

For lunch on my own, I follow Monocle 25/25's recommendation: Obika Mozzarella Bar. I try three different types of mozzarella on a salad of tomatoes and spinach. With tasty bread (as a compliment), it's an enjoyable experience though, again as is often the case in Italy, I get bored towards the end of the meal.

After 1pm, the bar becomes busy, popular with office workers in the area.
They have branches in Rome and London (I didn't know...), and are going to open the second place in Milan, in front of touristy Duomo.

Zona Tortona

As Wallpaper* City Guide Milan puts a nice photo of it, I try to go inside Teatro Armani, Giorgio Armani's headquarter building designed by Tadao Ando.

The name of Tadao Ando keeps popping up these days. I still don't really understand what he's great about. So I want to see his architecture with my own eyes.

But security guards at the entrance tell me that I cannot enter because people work inside. This is a caveat of Wallpaper* City Guide: it does do an excellent job to quickly overview the city with many beautiful photos, but lacks in practical information at all.

The area around Teatro Armani, Zona Tortona, turns out to be an interesting place to walk around, however. I come across a contemporary art gallery, MyOwnGallery (via Tortona 27), where I find Simo Neri's walls, curtains, and falls of myriads of regular-sized photos (see right) quite interesting.

I also find a "showroom" inside the courtyard (you don't know what's inside until you open the door; it's a tiny boutique for women), a stylish cafe (Fiore Food & Drink at via Savona 59), a fancy restaurant, etc. A bit flashy Nhow hotel is also here. The major areas of Milan give you a sense of conservatism, but here alternative things in Milanese style are going on. It is a shame that I don't have enough time to walk around the backstreets in this area.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Milan's shopping arcade dating back to 1867, housing the original Prada store opened in 1913. I think designers of contemporary shopping malls around the world (including Stockholm's Gallerian) should have got inspirations from here more or less.

You still see a disproportionate number of Japanese tourists here.


The third largest church in Christendom (according to Time Out Milan). The lower half of the facade is still under renovation (which was supposed to end this year, but will understandably continue until next year). So you cannot take a good picture of the facade. The above is the south side of Duomo.

The inside can be more impressive than the outside. Perhaps because it is misty outside today, the mist has flown into the inside, making it mysteriously religious.

And you find a disproportionate number of Japanese tourists, often in a group of 30 to 40 middle aged women here. (I thought they were Chinese. But I understand what they are talking about.)

Torre Velasca

Constructed in 1957, Torre Velasca may represent the reason why non-Milanese Italians say Milan is the ugliest city in Italy. People talk about the swell of upper storeys, but I notice that the lower part is slightly bell-shaped, which is rather amazing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Milanese malaise

I find two things horrible in Milan.

First, air pollution. Once I get off the airport coach at the Central Station, I cannot help remembering the smell of Havana or Damascus. I mean, it smells of low-quality gasoline. Since Damascene buildings have a Roman influence, I cannot help thinking that Milan is similar to Damascus. Don't get me wrong. This can be a compliment as I love Damascus.

Second, taxi drivers. They don't accept credit cards. I ask how much it will cost from the Central Station to the hotel I'm staying so that I can figure out how much I should withdraw cash. This driver ignores me and takes another passenger. When my hosts Martina and Elsa take me to dinner by booking a taxi, the driver does not show up. After calling the taxi company again, another taxi finally shows up, taking 15 minutes or longer in the end. If they cannot find the street where customers are waiting, Martina says, the Milanese taxi driver simply ignores it without contacting the taxi company headquarters.

If taxi is not an option, then you need to take metro to get around. Taking metro for the first time, however, is very intimidating. No English display at ticket machines. You cannot find station staff. If you do, they are sitting inside a booth next to ticket barriers, and this booth has no window. Between you and station staff stands black translucent plastic walls. No matter how you appeal, they never notice you.

So remember the following if you plan to visit Milan: find the phrase abbonamento giornaliero urbano on the ticket machine screen, and select it to buy a 24 hour travelcard. It costs 3 euro (but prepare cash; credit cards are not accepted). This ticket allows you to pass the ticket barrier and to take bus and tram (Milan has an extensive tram network) for the next 24 hours.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Guiulio Pane e Ojo

Arrive in Milan very late. But I haven't had dinner. Among the restaurants near my hotel that Time Out Milan guidebook lists, only Guiulio Pane e Ojo (via L Muratori 10) opens till late. Although this restaurant serves Roman cuisine, I have no choice.

For a primo (8 euro), I take lombrichelli all'Etrusca, home-made pasta with tomato sauce. Pasta really looks home-made: each piece has a different, rough shape. But it tastes very good. The texture of al dente pasta goes very well with tomato sauce.

For a secondo (11 euro), I follow Time Out Milan: abbacchio aromatizzato, grilled lamp chops. As Time Out says, very tender lamp chops make me smile. But, as is often the case with Italian cuisine, the amount is a bit too much, and towards the end I find it rather boring.

The atmospher is laid-back. The decor is rather traditional. The service is quite good. They prepare a menu in English.

After asking him for a bill (he doesn't understand the term "bill", but he is eager to learn it by asking me to say it again), the waiter gives me home-made biscotti and a shot of sangria-like sweet red wine. As I have a seminar presentation at Bocconi University tomorrow, I do not want to drink alcohol, but just one sip makes me unable to resist. I walk to the hotel half-tipsy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Phantasmagoria - 'Kamiuta'

I thought rock music was long dead, perhaps after Kurt Cobain killed himself.

Today I start thinking I may be wrong, because I discovered a song by a "visual-kei" rock band from Japan, which sounds rather good to me. It's called "Kamiuta" (God song) by Phantasmagoria. Check out this promo on YouTube:

What's fascinating about this song is its unpredictability of what comes next. There are several catchy rhythms and melodies in almost random sequence flowing into your ears. Guitar refrains are not straightforward. Vocals exhibit several hues: violent shouts, scary murmurs, sensitive monologues, religiously high-tone chants. Along with elaborate structure of the tune, this makes continuous tension felt throughout the tune. And the promo follows the "visual-kei" tradition (dating back to the early 1990s in Japan): featuring band members in fancy feminine gears with make-up and dyed hair. As an audio-visual entertainment, I must say the quality is very high.

A Lecture on Democracy and Development

I gave an one-off lecture on democracy and development at the university today, partly based on my own research. Three takeaway messages are:

1. Be careful about the difference between correlation and causality. Comparing the average performances between democracies and autocracies does not tell you anything about whether democracy is better for development. We need to know, for example, how quickly the Chinese economy would grow if China was democratic. Which is impossible to observe.

2. The competitiveness of national leadership selection appears to be key for democracy to have a good impact on development. Other aspects of democracy such as human rights protection do not seem to matter much.

3. The flip side of democracy, or autocracy, is more heterogeneous than democracy. A simple comparison between democracy and autocracy is therefore misleading.

You can have a look at slides and figures that I used for the lecture. Technical details are kept at minimum.

For a succinct background reading for the lecture, check out the discussion between Daron Acemoglu at MIT and Ed Glaeser at Harvard on Wall Street Journal Online.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flat White

I was in London for a week. Kirsten, my former flatmate, recommended a Soho cafe called Flat White (17 Berwick Street, W1F 0PT). She went to this cafe because Tyler Brule, currently the editor in chief of Monocle magazine, wrote about it on one of his FT columns.

So when I met up with Kotono-chan, I took her to Flat White and each of us ordered a cup of flat white which, according to a waiter, is a double-shot espresso topped with steamed milk. What they served was the above picture. It was also tasty enough for us to order another cup. It didn't have any bitterness or sourness typical for bad coffee. It still had some distinct taste which I never enjoyed before.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Broadband at home

Finally got the broadband at home!

But Telia sent me an invoice in which they overcharge my telephone line installation fee by 300 krona (more than 20 British pounds). I need to ask a Swedish friend to tell me which numbers I should press after calling their customer service to reach an operator rather than automated voices in Swedish...