Monday, September 5, 2011

Mathematics of Moving

I'm moving in two weeks.  Before I'm deluged with offers to help, I should warn you that spots for this coveted job are limited and will be determined by a random drawing weighted by how much you can bench press.  I know, I know, what am I doing moving two weeks into the school year?  Well, I'll leave that riveting story of greed, mystery, and real estate markets for another time.  Anyway, when looking for new apartments I have found a couple of websites indispensable:
  • Craigslist (in addition to finding potential places, also helpful if you're looking to buy a pile of dirt)
  • Padmapper (for seeing where that "prime location" apartment actually is)
  • Walk Score (a website that gives an address a score based on its walkability to places people like to go)
One of the coolest parts of Walk Score is that the metric for how these scores are determined is right there on the site.  Go ahead, check them out yourself.

Lots of math in here that could (if students were interested) spark great conversation.  What did I focus on?


So let's talk algorithms.  If you've read anything I've ever written, or if you've ever been stuck in a pedagogy conversation with me (sorry), you know that I strongly believe (more than Cher believes in life after love) that algorithms are a lot more meaningful and powerful when developed by students versus spewed by teachers. I know, when I put it in such neutral terms it seems obvious. Anyway, nothing new there. I've had kids develop their own algorithms for multiplying double-digit numbers, finding fractions between any two fractions, rewriting rationals as Egyptian Fractions, summing infinite geometric series, etc. What I haven't done, though, is expand my definition of algorithm beyond the procedural.

How's this for a project?
  • Pick something you care about that you'd like to measure on some scale (like how walking friendly your new digs are). Pick something that doesn't already exist.
  • Create a metric/algorithm to score this thing you care about. Other than being able to defend your metric and not end up with radically wonky results, the sky's the limit in how you do this.
I sort of threw this together and may wake up in the morning, reread this, and delete the whole thing writing it off as too crazy and too open ended. Even if this does happen, I may still try it out later this year in one or more of my classes.

Oh, and by the way, the Walk Score of my new place?  100 out of 100. :)


  1. Walk Score can be very misleading. For my address, it gives a poor walk score, though walking here is great: they cut off distances sharply (around 1.1 miles) and many amenities here are 1.2-1.3 miles away. They also neglect weather and sidewalks, which make a much bigger difference than distance.

  2. Gas station: For me, your reaction makes this more intriguing, not less. I can imagine student projects that include a cycle of feedback pushing students to either refine or defend their metric.

    I'm also surprised that sidewalks are not taken into account. As for the distance, they do cite research saying that most people (obviously not you) have a threshold of about a mile regarding how far they're willing to walk.

    Outside the mathematical realm, there is obviously going to be some variance in what different people care about, too. Might be interesting for them to allow people to choose their own weights for different amenities.

  3. I have a book that feeds right into this. It's more of a joke than a tool, but it's definitely worth checking out: <a href=">Geek Logik</a>

    Also, I have a walk score of 96. That seems a little low considering I am less than 2 blocks from anything I can ever need. I really can't imagine a more walkable place.

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