Sunday, October 9, 2011

International Travel Optimization, Wired, and Hosting a Student from The Netherlands

Tom Vanderbilt, the author of the fabulous book, Traffic, whom we had the honor to host in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series (see photos above), brought to my attention, through his tweet to INFORMS, about the essays in Wired on Travel Optimization.

As someone whose research and teaching involve transportation & logistics, and networks, and as a frequent flier (off to Paris this week), I had to check the writeups out.

The Travel Optimization piece
contains essays on how to optimize travel and even includes one on an engineering perspective.

I truly enjoyed Tom's writeup on Heavy Traffic that talked about pedestrian congestion, with a focus on airports, from slogging through with suitcases to boarding, and, as always, his terrific writing and sense of humor showed through.

I also enjoyed the piece by Rachel Swaby on the 10 Best Airports to Get Stuck In and concur with her choices of Reagan National (I am there regularly), Amsterdam's Schiphol (the food is fantastic -- great soup and salads, outstanding baked goods, and yogurts plus wonderful shopping and even small rooms to catch some ZZZZs), and the Munich airport (where I purchase the best chocolates -- Mozart kugeln).

As for planning your trip like an engineer, also by Rachel Swaby, being the academic that I am, I became intrigued by her statement:

Take a chance …

You’re always going to be balancing the perceived utility of your trip against the potential uncertainty surrounding it (a strange city, confounding exchange rates). Translation: Should you arrange a solo overland trip to Ulan Bator? A study by scientists at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands found that the answer is probably yes: So-called information gain and travel utility increase the farther you get from home and from your baseline comfort level. Antarctica, here we come.

So I did some research and tracked down precisely the journal article that was being alluded to to satisfy my curiosity. The article, Information Gain, Novelty Seeking and Travel: a Model of Dynamic Activity-Travel Behavior under Conditions of Uncertainty, is by T.A. Arentze and H.J.P. Timmermans and it was published in Transportation Research A.

Coincidentally, my supernetworks group at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst just welcomed an international visiting doctoral student from the Eindhoven University of Technology, whose dissertation advisor is none other than the same Professor Harry Timmermans! The student will be visiting us through mid-December. He did tell us that Professor Timmermans loves to travel and has been to more places in China than his Chinese students have.

Professor Timmermans was a keynote speaker at the Supernetworks Conference in Shanghai last May, to which I was invited as well as Professor Hani Mahmassani and Professor June Dong.

As for going to Ulan Bator in Mongolia, I had been invited by Dr. Altanaar Chinchuluun but had a conflict with another conference (in Vienna).

Happy travels and thanks to Wired authors for the great essays!