Saturday, August 20, 2016

Two Maps I Would Like to See

Suppose you are planning to move–across town or across the country. One consideration in deciding exactly where to move to is the price of housing. With a little effort, you can probably find average house prices in different cities you are thinking of moving to, but that isn't quite the information you want. Low house prices might mean inexpensive houses, but they might also mean small houses in poor condition. What you want is an apples to apples comparison, relative prices for the sort of house you would want to buy.

The data to produce that information almost certainly exist online, since there are extensive databases of webbed real estate listings. Run some regressions on that data and you can use the results to estimate how much the same house costs in different places. The results will also tell you how the price of a house depends on its area, lot size, age, etc. Do it right and the potential buyer can input a description of the house he wants and get estimates of how much it would cost in any of the places he is considering moving to. He can input different house descriptions, compare prices, and use the information to help him decide just how much house he wants to buy and where. The same approach could be used for rental prices. And it could be done not city by city–prices within a single city can vary a lot–but neighborhood by neighborhood. 

What I am imagining is a webbed map. Put in the relevant information about the house or apartment you want, click anywhere on the map, and get a price.

Housing prices are not the only thing you want to know. Another consideration is the crime rate–relevant not only in deciding where to live but where and when to take a walk. The map for that information lets you set a category of crime (burglary, mugging, assault), a time of day, and see a map of the relevant area with crime rates shown by color, running from bright red for the highest to dark blue for the lowest.

I don't know how much of this exists already, but perhaps some of my readers do.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Most People are Nice: A True Story

We are currently visiting with my wife’s mother in Cleveland. Yesterday my daughter went for a walk and got mugged near Case Western Reserve University. She was not hurt but lost her purse and contents, iPhone and iPad.
She reported the incident to the police, came home and used Apple’s online service to locate the iPhone and iPad. Getting help from the police was complicated by the fact that the location was near the intersection of Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights, each apparently with its own police department, but eventually two East Cleveland police met us a block from where the missing items showed on the online map. They went to look, reported back that that side of the street was an empty field, and (reasonably enough) that their searching the whole field was impractical. We asked about our doing some searching, were advised that it was not a safe area for white people (black, rundown neighborhood—one police officer was white, one black, the mugger had been black).

Despite their advice, we did some unsuccessful searching, hoping to find the iPhone by calling it, the iPad by making it beep. A woman in a house across the street was curious about what we were doing, made friendly comments.  An elderly black man with a cane came by, sympathized with our problem. We spoke with a group of elderly blacks on a porch at the other end of the block, also sympathetic. One of the women said she had found a coin purse about where we had been searching, was in the habit of picking things up so had done so. She fetched it. It was the coin purse (empty) from my daughter’s purse, she gave it back to my daughter, told us where she had found it, was clearly very happy that her habit of picking things up had produced a benefit. We searched some more without success.

After we returned to my mother in law’s apartment it occurred to me that we could have located the items more precisely by combining the information from the Apple page with other geographical information. Eventually I used the satellite view on the Google Maps app on my cell phone to determine that the items were probably in one of the dumpsters behind an apartment building at the end of the block. So the next day (today) we returned, posted some reward posters around the dumpsters. My daughter called the phone. I eventually heard it ringing from one of the dumpsters, climbed in, found the purse with the iPhone and iPad. The only thing missing that mattered, other than money, was my daughter’s passport. I removed the posters. The man we had spoken with the previous day passed again, I told him we had found it, he was obviously happy for us.

One lesson was the usefulness of modern technology–if we had not had the ability to track the electronic devices we would never have found them and the purse. The other was support for a conclusion I reached decades ago, after leaving something valuable, possibly my wallet or passport, at a merchant’s stall in Teheran and having it returned to me. You cannot count on everyone being nice, as illustrated by the mugger. But if you select people at random to interact with, the odds are that they will treat you as a fellow human being not an enemy or a victim.

Even in places that the cops warn you are unsafe for people of your race.