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Showing posts from May, 2012

Wi-Fi is the Free Parking of the Coffee World

When it comes to Wi-Fi in coffee shops, I've had a pretty strong shift in opinion over the past few years. If you can remember, this blog used to be written entirely from a single coffee shop in Cleveland.

During that time I spent a lot time in that coffee shop. I made friends with many of the baristas. I made friends with the owners. And I spent a lot of money. A friend of the blog calculated  that I was on pace to spend over a thousand dollars at that coffee shop by the end of the year, and I was fine with that, because it was my favorite local business. If that shop hadn't been friendly to me bringing my laptop into the store, I still would have gone their occasionally, but would have stuck to making most of my coffee at home.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)
The reason my opinion has changed is because my environment has changed. Coffee shops in DC tend to be busy, crowded, and because of high rents, they can't afford big swaths of open space for dozens of tables and couch…

Rising Rents

When it comes to the housing market, there are a lot of "supply side" advocates who argue that housing is expensive because there's not enough of it. I've been skeptical of this, at least on-face. I think the issue is more complicated than simply building more houses and convincing people is even harder still. I posed this question to Matthew Yglesias earlier in the week.
If we accept the premise that density is desirable, how does building more housing units actually lower rents in practice?...  Let's say we build more housing in DC's core by removing the height limit and the average rent in the metro area decreases; but rents in the core increase (due to higher demand for density) while the rents on the fringe decrease (due to greater overall supply of housing in the market). Has the policy succeeded because some housing in the overall market is now less expensive? Or has it failed because now the only affordable housing is the housing with the highest tran…

Taxi Cab Deregulation

I've been in DC for about 2 years. During that time I've ridden in 9 taxi cabs. All of those rides have been business-related. I've never used my own money to hire a cab, and I don't plan on doing it anytime soon. I've had far too many negative cab experiences to make me want to do it again. I know of others who feel similarly.

Robert Samuels has a great article in the Post abut the mayhem that occurs at Union Station after midnight as people arriving on late-night trains try to get a ride home. I'd add that this phenomenon is not limited only to Union Station. My understanding is that trying to get a cab ride on a Friday or Saturday night is nearly impossible if you aren't in a group or if your destination isn't in a "choice" neighborhood.

(from afagen on Flickr)
During the late night hours, DC doesn't have taxi dispatchers or inspectors, so many cabbies make a calculated risk to disobey the law. In a sense, this creates a very interestin…

Revisiting Degree Density

Richard Florida's interview with Jonah Lehrer over at the Atlantic Cities about "creative density" got me thinking about the work I did on "degree density" back in 2010. The concept that Lehrer describes is relatively simple: lots of like minded people in close proximity to each other drives creativity because these people can bounce ideas off of each other and learn from each other.

Lehrer talks about David Bryne of the Talking Heads:
David Byrne, after all, wasn’t influenced by the Latin rhythms of some distant musician. Instead, Byrne was seduced by his local dance clubs, blasting those songs he could hear from the sidewalk. It is the sheer density of the city - the proximity of all those overlapping minds - that makes it such an inexhaustible source of creativity. A major flaw with my 2010 analysis is that it focused on entire cities and counties. It ignored the fact that the size of cities is somewhat arbitrary and that density is more of a neighborhood phe…

The Art and Science of Forecasting

On a recent Friday afternoon I received an email sent to a group of people that suggested going to a DC United game the following Saturday. The emailer wrote "weather looks like it's going to be great!" with a link to a 10-day forecast showing sun and mild temperatures with a 20% chance of rain. 8 days went by and the weather on that Saturday turned out to be less great than anticipated.

(from Jorge Quinteros on Flickr)
I'm really glad Greg Postel published this post over at Capitol Weather Gang about the accuracy of advanced forecasting. It's worth a read, but if you're not going to click through, the short-version of is that Greg uses empirical data and shows  that forecasting accuracy decreases the farther you get from the actual date in question. It's not a surprising finding, but one that's worth re-enforcing.

Capitol Weather Gang is the best weather source around. The reason it's so great is because they not only give a forecast, but explain …

The Quest for Data

I'm a data guy. I spend many many hours at my day job staring at tables, crunching numbers, and turning piles of data into something comprehensible. Yet a day doesn't go by when I don't at some point mutter, "man, I sure wish we had better data on this question".

(from ckhamken on Flickr)
We (society) are currently at a crossroads when it comes to how we  feel about data. On the one hand, there's a genuine fear that corporations and government are harvesting every single data point about us that they possibly can and that they're doing something malicious with it. Facebook is selling our data to advertisers! Target is using our data to send diaper coupons to pregnant ladies! The government knows every step we take every day of the week!

If data this comprehensive exists, I'm yet to see it. Instead, I'm often faced with the opposite dilemma: a situation that's not especially well studied that could be better understood by data. It isn't eith…

Thoughts on Car Sharing

Some folks may have seen my post that appeared briefly over at Greater Greater Washington earlier today before it was taken down by the editors. The post was about whether car2go, the new car sharing service in DC and other cities, offers its members adequate insurance in the event of a collision.

My answer to this question is: I don't know.

(from GwenaĆ«l Piaser on Flickr)
This is a timely question because the company is running a limited time promotion for new members to sign up before May 6th. I have not signed up. I want to sign up; but the question about whether the service provides its members with adequate insurance is not clear to me. I'm very uncomfortable with the Terms and Conditions as they're written. Others who have actually read this document have shared similar concerns with me.

More broadly speaking, this isn't just about a single car-sharing company. I want to see car-sharing succeed as a transportation system. As long as there are services that are aff…