My Life Story

My favorite thing about having a home page is that it gives me a place to publish an autobiography. Seriously, I hope the following paragraphs will give you some idea what I'm like, and why I've turned out this way.

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska on April Fool's Day, 1969. My parents, not Alaskan natives, were living there because my father was stationed at Fort Richardson in the U.S. Army.

From age one to age eighteen, I lived in Somerset, Pennsylvania, which is a small town about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. My father was the publisher of the Daily American, a daily newspaper serving Somerset County. The business was founded by my great-grandfather in 1929, then continued by my grandfather and father. I worked for the family business, first as a paper carrier and then as a computer programmer, while I was growing up. My sister and I both have career interests outside the field of newspaper publishing, so my parents (Dave and Ronie) sold the family business in October 1997. My sister Amy writes about travel, food, and wine, and lives in Los Angeles. My parents always enjoyed food, wine, and travel a good deal; for most of their life together, they traveled an average of once a month, going to places as diverse as Cape Cod, Hawaii, Scotland, Austria, and Tasmania. They separated in 2004 after 39 years of marriage, recognizing after a lot of work on their relationship that they felt better off living separately than together. My mom now lives in Healdsburg, CA, while my father lives in Incline Village, NV (Lake Tahoe).

I owe most of my good fortune to my parents. They gave me lots of opportunities: to travel, to study, to play sports and music, to figure out for myself what I wanted to get out of life. I believe they inspired my love of learning, in part by teaching me to read at an early age, and in part by encouraging me to follow my intellectual interests. Many of my childhood interests and curiosities remain with me to this day: astronomy, history, computers, music, mathematics, and so on.

I am particularly grateful to my mother for all the time she spent raising me: helping me develop self-confidence, while at the same time showing me how to treat other people with respect and see things from their points of view. I think my mother's contributions to my development are a big deal. It saddens me that people who play nurturing roles in our society are often disrespected even as they provide the most important services. I hope others will join me in giving explicit recognition to those who really make a positive difference in this world: teachers, community volunteers, devoted parents, and others who bring love, stability, and great ideas to our lives.

I really am a small-town boy at heart. I learned this during my five years living in Boston (well, technically I was in the neighboring cities of Cambridge and Somerville), where I often found myself longing for grass, trees, wildlife, and people who smile when they pass each other on the sidewalk. I felt similarly during my time in Chicago. In Nashville, I learned that it's possible for a good city neighborhood to feel like a small town. And in Tucson, I live with a beautiful view of cacti and mountains, with a 15-minute drive to work.

Princeton, New Jersey is another idyllic small town which has had a big influence on my life. I found it more exciting than Somerset, because of all the intellectual and cultural activity which goes on there, but it shares with Somerset the friendliness, and the proximity to nature which I consider to be essential features missing from urban life. My four years at Princeton University were very important to me.

I received an A.B. (Bachelor of Arts, except that the word order gets reversed in Latin) in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University in 1991. I also earned a certificate in Science and Human Affairs. During my Princeton years, I played bass and served as an officer of the Princeton University Orchestra, gave tours of campus as an Orange Key Guide, co-founded a space-exploration interest group called the Princeton Planetary Society, and served as a Residential Adviser in Rockefeller College.

At Princeton, I developed a keen interest in teaching. I love to learn, and I believe that understanding something new is one of the greatest joys a human being can experience. However, in many of my college math and physics courses, I discovered that bad teaching can really spoil the joy of learning. I spent a lot of time feeling lost and overwhelmed in my classes, as did most of my physics classmates, and this was no fun at all. I started noticing what my teachers and textbooks did right, and what they did wrong. I realized that it takes a lot of skill and effort to be a good teacher, someone who can speed up the learning process - especially in a technical subject like math, physics, or economics. (Unfortunately, I have learned that most modern university faculties put too much emphasis, in my opinion, on publishing original research, so that professors either don't want to, or feel they don't have time to, devote enough attention to teaching. But that's another story.)

So I decided I wanted to become a professor. Unfortunately, I was pretty burned out on astrophysics from all the classes I'd failed to understand (despite my getting As in most of them), so graduate school in astronomy didn't seem very appealing. However, I was really turned on by the three classes I'd taken at Princeton in economics, so I decided to try to become an economics professor instead.

That brought me to the Ph.D. program in economics at MIT, where I decided to specialize in the subfield of industrial organization, which is the microeconomic study of firms, markets, and consumers. For my dissertation, I performed experimental tests of the mathematical theory of bidding in auctions. I conducted my experiments by running my own auctions on the Internet for cards from the game Magic: the Gathering. It was pretty exciting work; very few economists get to run experiments! In graduate school, I also did a bit of research on the market for anti-ulcer drugs. While at MIT, I also had a number of extracurricular interests. During my first year, I learned to cook, as a member of a three-person cooking cooperative with my friends Tim Chow and Art Mateos. I also served as a mentor for an inner-city high school student in a volunteer program run by the Princeton Association of New England. In 1995, I was the captain of a team which won the annual IAP Mystery Hunt at MIT, which earned us the honor (and incredible amount of work) of organizing the Hunt in January 1996. As a bassist, I performed with the MIT Symphony, and played in a couple of rock bands during grad school. I played in numerous pit orchestras for the MIT Musical Theater Guild (MTG), and in the MTG show Assassins, I was even a member of the cast. (I played Sam Byck, a man who tried to assassinate President Nixon by hijacking a 747 and attempting to crash-dive the White House.) It was in the Musical Theater Guild that I met my first wife, Mary Lucking.

My first marriage and divorce (1995-2002) were a painful process for me. I never imagined that I would ever get divorced, as my family life was very important to me. But I've learned that nobody's perfect, and change can be a healthy thing. I used to be rather judgmental of people who got divorced, and I'm happy to have learned to be less judgmental of others. I also enjoyed a lot of love and companionship with Mary, and she taught me about art, literature, purpose, and choices, among other things. Through the process of divorce, I have learned that psychologists and spiritual leaders know a lot more about emotions than I've realized. I continue to learn techniques to manage my emotions more successfully, rather than allowing them to hurt me and other people. If you're interested in this topic, I heartily recommend the books Emotional Intelligence, A General Theory of Love, When Anger Hurts, Getting the Love you Want, and The Red Queen. I recommend these books because I find them to be full of practical advice, and/or scientific information that can help us understand the way we are.

I also recommend my meditation teacher Shinzen Young, whose audiobook The Science of Enlightenment had a profound influence on me. It inspired me to attend a silent meditation retreat led by Shinzen, where I developed a serious appreciation for the benefits of the practice of mindfulness. Just as I've always had a hard time integrating a regular program of physical exercise in my life, I still struggle with developing a regular meditation practice. However, I have already realized quite a lot of benefit from becoming more aware of what's going on in my mind and body; when I can keep track of my sensory experiences, I find that I don't suffer nearly so much from my negative emotions. I met my second wife, Stephanie (Maynard) Reiley, on Match.com in 2004. We married in 2005, and divorced in late 2007. This has been another painful experience, and it's kind of embarrassing to have (in some sense) made the same mistake twice. I put a lot of effort into my relationships, but sometimes effort isn't enough. My goal is to do a better job of choosing someone who's really compatible with me the next time I get into a committed relationship. I still love both of my ex-wives very much, but I recognize that we're better off separate than together.

Shortly after Stephanie and I separated in 2007, I attended a Human Awareness Institute (HAI) workshop. This was another place of tremendous growth and healing for me. I highly recommend the HAI workshops to anyone interested in developing more self-esteem, more love, and more meaningful connections with other people in their lives. I previously taught at Vanderbilt University and at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Now I'm a professor at the University of Arizona, where I'm grateful to have received tenure. It's a hectic job, but I really enjoy it. I particularly enjoy spending time with students, and figuring out new ways to help them learn about the world. I also continue to do research on auctions and pricing mechanisms. I continue to do experimental tests of microeconomic theory, and have a Web site devoted to economics experiments on the Internet. I also use this site as a teaching tool; my students participate in simulations that give hands-on experience with economic concepts. Feel free to sign up and give it a try.

I'm also very interested in commercial auctions on the Internet, and try to keep up with the rapid developments in this field. I'm fascinated by the idea that auctions will play a growing role in commerce, now that the Internet makes auctions much more feasible, and I think about the implications of these technological developments. Lately, I've also been thinking about the use of the Internet in charitable fundraising, the state of intellectual property rights online, and various other topics that I discuss in my course on electronic commerce.

My most important intellectual passion is in promoting the use of field experiments in economics and the social sciences. This started with my PhD dissertation on online auctions, and has continued through numerous collaborations with John List and others. It can be difficult to test a theory in economics, because often the data one would need to test the theory are not naturally available. Just as in the natural sciences, it turns out that there are plenty of places where we can do field experiments to learn about economics: auctions, charitable fundraising, incentive contracts, advertising, pricing, economic-development program evaluation, and other topics. I have been quite pleased and gratified that other economists have also gotten excited about running field experiments and finding places to run them. I have accepted a position at Yahoo! while on leave from the University of Arizona, in large part because I wish to promote and design field experiments in a business setting. I've had a serious interest in computers ever since the TRS-80 Model I (with 4K of RAM) that my father bought me in 1980, and I used email sporadically from about 1983. But it was not until 1992 (just before the development of the World Wide Web) that I seriously began using the Internet. Back then, I learned much of what I know about the Internet by reading the book Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh by Adam Engst, who subsequently became a friend of mine.

If you don't use a Macintosh, I highly recommend that you try using one. The Macs in my life have made a serious positive impact on my productivity, and on my overall state of happiness. Windows users think that we Mac users sound goofy when we say such things, but it's true! For more than fifteen years, I have enjoyed having a user-friendly computer. I'm even happier now that I'm using Mac OS X.

Basically, I couldn't imagine life without the Internet. I use it to keep up with news, correspond with friends, and make business appointments. I try to provide Web pages which give convenient access to course materials to my students, and I communicate with my students via email all the time. I greatly appreciate the asynchronous nature of email; it sure beats phone tag! (On the other hand, I sometimes find myself getting behind on my mail, with as many as 9000 accumulated messages in my inbox.) Furthermore, the Internet made it possible for me to establish my reputation as a scholar - my entire Ph.D. dissertation depended crucially on the existence of the Internet. I guess you could say I'm a technology buff.