Milestones: Are They Worth Remembering?

March 27, 2011

Technology, Wireless

Um, yes! They are DEFINITELY worth noting.  At least I think so.  And since I’m writing this post, I think I’ll remember an important milestone for this year: For those who are reading this from my blog, you’ll notice that my Wigle counter has tipped over 10,000 discovered access points.

Is this a Christopher Columbus moment of discovery?  Of course not.  All it indicates is that I live in an affluent area where access points are very prevalent.  Nevertheless, reaching this milestone is important to me.  The number indicates that I’ve found over 10,000 access points during my recent bicycle commuting efforts.  It is a symbol for lots of miles on my bike.  And it implies prestige points in an otherwise invisible ego campaign! 😉

If you think about this mathematically, consider a circle with a radius of about twelve miles.  Since my path is varied (i.e., not just a straight line), I must simplify and say that I ride within a given fraction of the circle.  For further simplification, let’s assume that the slice is roughly an eighth  of the circle’s area.  That means that I’ve found 10K “new” access points in an area of approximately 56 1/2 square miles.  That equates to 176+ access points per square mile.

That doesn’t sound like much.  And it probably isn’t.  But here are the probable reasons that the number is so low:

1) I have probably overestimated the size of my “slice” of the circle. In fact, I guarantee that I have because I ride on roads.  If I were honest, I’d have to say that while I have ridden around an arc that is similar to 1/8 of the overall area, I’ve probably NOT covered that area very thoroughly.  Indeed, the area that I have thorough coverage for may only be a sixty-fourth of the circle’s area.  If I used that number, I’d see 1400+ access points per square mile!

2) There is a lot of unusable (and/or undeveloped) land between home and my office.  So we have a very uneven distribution of houses and businesses.  But we could simplify and assume that we have an evenly distributed population.  If anything, I travel the more populous areas to ensure that I have ample visibility.

Of course, I’m not the only person who has pondered this subject.  In fact, there is an awesome paper (written by Kipp Jones and Ling Liu of Georgia Tech) that talks about some of the issues associated with WiFi density in and around population centers.

And there is an even more impressive article by Luke Driskell (Lousiana State University).  In his article, Mr. Driskell attempts to describe how WiFi density is a solid indicator of differences in the economic makeup of neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Of course, there are distinct implications (in Mr. Driskell’s paper) about how public WiFi may bridge some of the economic differences.  But for purposes of my analysis, I just wanted to know whether 176+ access points per square mile is indicative of a lot of access points or simply a few.

So what have I determined?  First, if I want to make conclusions from numbers, I need to be more rigorous.  Second, I need to map my thesis to real demographic data (i.e., neighborhood economic data).  I certainly observed that some of the poorer neighborhoods I ride through have fewer access points.  But if I want to prove the hypothesis, I have to actually posit a real hypothesis – and then rigorously test it.

Since I don’t have time to do that, I’ll just make wild speculations from incomplete studies.  That means I’m either a journalist, a politician or a weird hybrid being from both strains of homo americanus.

So here is the provable claim: I am excited that I have cataloged so many access points.  Have I bested Mr. Dunker yet?  No, I have not.  At least, I haven’t YET.  But I need to approach his numbers slowly – lest he react and overwhelm my meager findings with his larger antenna rig.

So yes, it is about size and it is about numbers!


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