The new Stedelijk

I popped into the ‘new’ (extensively renovated and expanded) Stedelijk this afternoon and really enjoyed it. My favorite piece was actually in the Blikopeners (Eye-openers) area in the basement of the new wing. In the area organized by teenagers associated with the museum, there was an intimate and fascination video of several Moroccan and Turkish Dutch kids taking on and off their stylish (according to them! ;-p) outfits and talking about clothes (they all immediately remembered how much each piece cost) and revealingly about immigrant and general Dutch society. Highly recommended.

PS If you want to get in for free it’s easy to follow people with tickets through the turnstiles from the gift shop back into the museum.

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Asymmetrical verbs

Two verbs that Dutch people have a problem translating into English are lenen and leren.  In Dutch both verbs can be done by someone and to someone. I’ve heard many Dutch people say ‘He borrowed me it’ (Hij leende mij het) but in English we have two verbs, to lend (for the giver) and to borrow (for the receiver): ‘He lent me it’ and ‘I borrowed it from him’.

Likewise for leren: ‘I learned it’ but ‘he taught me it’.

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Jobs? We don’t need no stickin’ jobs!

This: Are jobs obsolete?

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The Cost of Living in Rotterdam

One of my sister’s friends is looking at applying to a school in Rotterdam and asked me how much things would cost. This was what I said:

I’ve been to Rotterdam a few times. It’s a nice enough city, though it’s no Amsterdam. =) The vibe is very different there because it’s a more working class city, thanks to its massive harbor. Also, it looks very different from just about every other Dutch city because it was carpet bombed by the Germans in World War II. It was rebuilt after the war in all sorts of wild (and sometimes very ugly) modernist buildings.

I don’t know what rents cost in Rotterdam, but I believe it’s a little bit lower in Amsterdam. Student rooms or studios here in Amsterdam are maybe 250 to 500 euros a months. You can look at sites like Kamernet for things available right now. I’ve collected a few links to other sites over the years here:

Beyond that, for cost of living I guess you need to look at food, transportation, and communication. Food naturally depends on how much you eat out, but a rule of thumb is that you’ll probably pay €10-15 for a decent dinner. Supermarkets are reasonably cheap (beer is super cheap!), though meat is kinda expensive compared to the US and generally the quality isn’t great. Albert Heijn is the main supermarket chain in Amsterdam and most of the Netherlands, though I believe that Jumbo is kinda big in Rotterdam. C1000, Aldi, and Lidl are really cheap, for better or for worse.

For transportation, you’ve got trains around the Netherlands, trams and buses within Rotterdam, and of course the ubiquitous bikes. A train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam costs €13.60 for the full fare, but you would probably never pay that. I and most people have a discount card that for €60 a year gives me 40% off all trains after 9 am. RET, the Rotterdam transit company, will probably charge you around €1-3 per average journey.

All public transit trips in the Netherlands are now on a common contactless travel card called the OV-chipkaart and trips are charged by distance traveled. The NS, the national train company, also accepts them. There are specifically cards for students, and the NS and RET both offer various discount products for students. I’m not sure but you might even get free passes.

However, realistically you’re probably going to be biking most of the time. You can by a second hand bike, whether for next to nothing on the street from a junkie or for maybe €75-150 from a shop. New bikes will start from maybe €250. I got a new BSP for my latest bike, though if you’re studying you’ll fit in a lot more with your fellow students if you have a old bike. It’s incredible how decrepit the bikes are that people ride! =)

As for communication, you’re going to need a mobile phone and internet. Internet would be included with a room, but if you rent your own place you’ll probably need to get it yourself. It’ll cost maybe €20-30 a month. Mobile phone contracts cost around the same, though you can also pay less if you’re really cheap and/or never use your phone.

Putting that all together, I would say that you could survive on €600 a month but it wouldn’t be fun, while at €1000 you’d have a pretty comfortable life. At approximately 1.35 dollars to the euro (that’s a little conservation right now but not in the past) we’re talking approximately $1000 to $1350 a month.

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Fantastic introduction to cycling in the Netherlands

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The world today

Together The Economist’s article on automation and rapidly increasing technologically-created productivity and a NY Times piece on being in the middle of a paradigm shift in power and influence form the best, most complete summary of the world today that I’ve encountered, capturing my thoughts exactly.

Required reading.

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In the US from August 19 to September 29

I will be, in order of travel, in Portland, San Francisco, Black Rock Desert (Burning Man), Silicon Valley, St Louis (Strange Loop), Charleston, Washington DC, and New York. See you in a city near you?

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In the US from August 19 to September 29

My itinerary is as follows:
Portland: August 19 to 25
San Francisco: August 25 to 28
Burning Man: August 29 to September 4
Tahoe City: September 4 to 6
San Francisco/Silicon Valley: September 6 to 16
St Louis: September 17 to 21
Charleston, SC to Washington DC to New York City: September 21 to September 29

Will our paths cross? Perhaps you’ll be in a city not too far away? While I already have my plane tickets booked, I’d be more than happy to drop by your town in between my flights.

Also, if you’re in the Bay Area, DC or New York, I’m on the lookout for a comfy couch or two. Would you happen to have space for a houseguest for a few nights?

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The letter to Anna Eshoo that wasn’t

This morning I read in The Wall Street Journal that apparently Anna Eshoo, whose district includes my hometown, was joining the NIMBY crackpot brigade that opposes California High Speed Rail. Terribly disappointed, this is the letter I wrote and was going to send her:

Dear Representative Eshoo,

I am incredibly disappointed to read in the Wall Street Journal that you are joining the misguided, elitist, and anti-democratic effort to stop California High Speed Rail. All criticisms I have heard about the route down the Peninsula are at best stalking horses for more fundamental and wrong objections to an exciting and eminently reasonable system that would revolutionize transportation in California.

High Speed Rail was openly, democratically, and emphatically approved by California voters. Such support did not merely come from elsewhere in the state: 61% of San Mateo county voters and 60.36% of Santa Clara county voters approved Proposition 1A to fund High Speed Rail. To oppose it in the face of such overwhelming support strikes me as contemptuous of the very people you claim to represent and profoundly anti-democratic. I am truly disgusted.

It is telling that the mayor of Atherton baldly admits admits that his seemly procedural objections are actually aimed at killing the entire project and grounded in an selfish obsession about the property values of those who are the absolutely most well-off in our society, property values whose prophesied dramatic decline one seriously questions. I am baffled, then, that you would support such narrow-minded NIMBYism against a system that will dramatically improve transportation both on the Peninsula and throughout the state, while also having a significantly positive effect on employment and the environment. It’s cultural impact is perhaps impossible to anticipate but I truly people that such a train system will tie the disparate and at times conflicting regions of California together as never before.

It’s is sad that your opposition places you in a camp increasingly on the wrong side of history. First, regions around the country and across the world are turning to high speed rail to address common and growing problems of freeway and airport congestion, urbanization, and environmental degradation. Modern high speed rail is one of the fastest, most efficient, most civilized ways to travel, while its financial cost is at worst little more than its competing modes of travel once their extensive and long-running subsides are honestly considered.

It is very sad that Silicon Valley, a region internationally renowned for its technology leadership, including in transportation thanks to its aerospace history, wishes to cut itself off from one of the major technological trends of the Twenty First Century. It is even sadder that some of our elected representatives, to which I now must unfortunately include yourself, support such outmoded conservatism when, and I repeat, significant majorities of your electorate support this exciting future, One hopes to see represented in our elected representatives the best in us, us at our most expansive and daring and open-minded, not us at our worst and obsessed with self-interest and petty-minded concerns.

Second, it is a documented fact that people of my generation and younger (I am 26 years old) get their drivers licenses later and have less interest in driving. However, we embrace train travel and seek its expansion. To support small-minded attacks on the best transportation development in California in decades is, quite simply, to value the concerns of other, more entrenched and wealthy citizens overs ours. While this may be a valid short-term electoral strategy, it does a tremendous disservice to rising generations and the state in which they will and do live and work.

I am from Menlo Park and I have repeatedly seen reasonably transportation improvements in my hometown blocked by residents obsessed with making travel as difficult as possible in a misguided attempt to deny the fact that they live in an important town at the north end of Silicon Valley and instead live in a fantasy land of 1950s suburbs and apple orchards which is long gone. Doing so denies an possibility for reasonable development and makes it impossible for people of my generation to live in their hometown, near to their families and the places where they grew up. What then is in my hometown’s future but further becoming a backwater enclave of the geriatric rich? Put simply, there can only be a future for me and my generation in the Mid-Peninsula if politicians support policies convergent with our needs and desires, and sane, forward-thinking transportation policies are one of the most essential elements.

Please drop your ridiculous opposition to High Speed Rail and instead support this project for the sake of the residents of your district and all Californians. I and the many others who value a sane, modern transportation future for California will support you whole-heartedly. Likewise, we will strongly oppose you if you continue on this misguided path.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your support of High Speed Rail.

Peter Robinett

However, before firing off this missive I decided to check Anna Eshoo’s website to verify her position. There I found two pieces describing her latest statements on High Speed Rail. Put simply, she supports it but recently issues a joint proposal to scrap the planned elevated tracks down the Peninsula and instead upgrade the Caltrain lines so that they may be shared. While I deplore all the delays people are throwing up against High Speed Rail, her proposal for Caltrain and the high speed rail line to share tracks but have passing points seems reasonable (assuming that it is not a stalking horse for the ridiculous Peninsula-long tunnel idea).

So, I do not believe the letter above applies to her actual position and thus will not be sending it. However, I do believe that the letter does essentially apply to the politicians and others in the Mid-Peninsula who continue to seek to sabotage High Speed Rail and hope that they will drop their venial opposition. For that reason I’ve made this blog post.

And, while I’m at it Anna Eshoo, why is transportation not one of issues on which you highlight your positions on your website? It is a very important one for your constituents. Get on that!

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Chicago Tips

It’s been 6 (!) years since I lived there but in the last few weeks several friends have asked me for tips on Chicago, so I figured I might as well post them here too:

So Chicago. First, don’t stay in the South Side. It really is the ghetto. Visiting the University of Chicago (my alma mater!) for an afternoon could be nice: the campus and architecture is pretty, the Sem Coop is an awesome bookstore, Robie House is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, and the Field and the Oriental Museums are surprisingly good. You could make it an evening with dinner at the Med (, a movie at Doc Film (, and then a beer at The Pub (; Monday is Wing Night!) or Jimmy’s ( Beyond the university, though, there’s no real reason to go south of the Loop, though the White Sox have good cheap tickets. The #6 bus is probably the best way to get to Hyde Park ( unless you’re by a Green Line or Metra stop. The Red Line stops far away and you have to take the notoriously unreliable #55 bus…

So, then the question is whether to stay in the Loop, near the Magnificent Mile, or somewhere else. The Loop is boring – it’s all office buildings – but there are a bunch of hotels there and you are near the Art Institute (a fantastic museum, definitely worth visiting). Millennium Park and the CSO ( are also there. If Will ( is in the house, say hi for me. ;-)

The Magnificent Mile is more touristy, both in a good and bad sense. There are lots of hotels (the Drake is a classic old place), shopping, and restaurants (but there are also some nice places sprinkled throughout the Loop), However, since it’s touristy is can seem a little bland and generic. The MCA ( is nearby, though, and pretty cool.

Chicago has very distinct neighborhoods, so you may want to stay a bit out of the center and get more of the local experience. For instance, Wrigleyville has lots of sports bars and clubs (because it surrounds the Cubs’ ballpark, Wrigley Field), while Andersonville is the old Swedish neighborhood. (It isn’t anymore but it’s still nice and fun to hang out – it’s a good place for brunch on the weekend.) Wicker Park is also popular. Pislen’s entirely Mexican and has great food. Chinatown (,_Chicago) can also be nice for a meal.

Finally, as you may know, Chicago is known for improv, with lots of people from Saturday Night Live coming from Second City ( and places like that. Well worth the ticket.

Oh, and FOOD! Go to Portillo’s ( for a hot dog and Giordano’s ( for a pizza. There are also plenty of great steakhouses (I’m trying to remember the classic one I went to my old boss and am failing). There are also lots of good Italian restaurants, like Topo Gigio that I went to with my mom ( If for some reason you find yourself REALLY far north ( or south (; there are places all over the DEEP South Side called Maxwell Street or The Depot serving them and similar things) there are some crazy options. There also good restaurants that aren’t just hot dogs or pizza or steak. ;-)

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