Putting disasters in perspective, or Our crappy economy isn’t so bad

by on Jan.13, 2010 , under JMP & JSL, random

Many people are depressed these days, for many valid reasons. The economy is still a disaster. Many of us are out of work and have been for a frighteningly long time. Many of us are clinging to scaled-back jobs. Many of us are worried about how long the work we’re grateful to have will last. When even the blue chip companies are slashing workforces and budgets and the banks themselves are declaring bankruptcy, we know our economy is a disaster.

Looking outside the devastated economy of the developed world, let’s consider the vastly greater struggles in the two-thirds world.

Terminology break! When people say “third world,” they mean “undeveloped or developing nations,” and these represent over two-thirds of the world’s population, so let’s stop saying that and say what we really mean: “two-thirds world.”

In the news today, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are believed dead after a major 7.0 earthquake hit, its epicenter right in the most populous part of an already fragile island. Most Haitians are black and live on less than US$1 a day. Putting this in perspective, fewer than 3000 people will killed in the horrifying 9/11 attacks. However, I fear that history will show the great failure of our humanity when the global public response to the crisis gets those metrics backwards.

Because I have spent several decades working in statistical software in various roles, I can’t help wanting to look at the desperation quantitatively. Here are two graphs that will probably startle most people—and, mind you, I mean the well-educated, privileged, mostly white people in the developed world who have the means to read my blog. First, let’s compare the death tolls from a handful of disasters that have filled our headlines in recent years. Before you look at the graph, which do you think was worse?

  • 9/11 terrorist attacks
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Indian Ocean tsunami
  • Haiti earthquake
  • 2008 Earthquakes in the People’s Republic of China

And how do you think the economies of these places compare?

First, the scale of the disasters. For my North American readers: remember how devastated you felt watching the TV coverage of 9/11 and of Hurricane Katrina, please.

That’s right. The devastation of 9/11 and Katrina combined are trivial compared to any of the others.

Now let’s consider the economies of these places. Most of us know that USA’s wealth dwarfs that of most countries by most measures. A relevant measure for this situation would be the gross domestic product per capita–that is, the total economic output of each state or nation, divided by its number of people.


We all know that New York is wealthier than Louisiana, but did you realize that the New York-Louisiana comparison is almost meaningless in the big picture? Even the difference between those two tall bars dwarfs the size of the bars in the two-thirds world nations!

So now let’s put those two ideas together: let’s look at the wealth in each place lined up with the scale of the disaster in each place, as measured by GDP per capita

abilityRecoverThis composition of the most massive bloodbaths in big red bars lining up directly with the meager economic means of each place in tiny green bars is the most devastating graph of all. The biggest disasters have taken place where people are least prepared to cope with them.

There are many ways to help, and of course there are many craven imbeciles who take this opportunity to scam the people of goodwill with fraudulent donation methods. Here are some ways that have been vetted and determined to be reliable: http://www.google.com/relief/haitiearthquake

Here are some flaws in my analysis that could distract nitpickers from the clarion call to our humanity:

  • My national and state GDP data are from different years and sources, and they’re probably inflation-adjusted differently.
  • I’m considering these events to have taken place in New York, Louisiana, Indonesia, China, and Haiti, where the most deaths occurred, although other states and nations were affected.
  • The costs of 9/11 and Katrina were borne nationally, but the victims were (mostly) local, so I considered the state economies instead of the national economy.
  • Estimates of the death tolls in the two-thirds world are always much fuzzier, because the poorer you are, the less likely you are to be accurately counted.
  • Estimates of the death toll in Haiti are wildly premature. Some sources say “hundreds of thousands,” and while they might mean “100,000 give or take a few 10,000,” a careful speaker would mean the far more frightening “100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000” by that description.
  • It’s a little weird to measure ability to recover by comparing the GDP per person to the number of persons dead. The dead people are dead, and no amount of money will help them. But the people left behind are living in economies that are more or less capable of recovering.
  • These data are confounded, if you consider that poorer nations have a lesser ability to build safety into their communities. Wealthier nations have higher survival rates in times of disaster because their buildings are sturdier, more of their citizens live in buildings in the first place, their bridges and roads and so on are more prevalent and higher quality, their emergency responders are more numerous and better-equipped and -funded, and on and on and on. The ways in which wealth mitigates disaster and the lack of wealth compounds disaster are numerous and heartbreaking.

My data sources:

The analysis was my own, and I prepared all the graphs using JMP’s Graph Builder.

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Diesel POIs (A failure thanks to poor interface)

by on Nov.23, 2009 , under random

[Update: the POIs didn’t work. At all. I am a complete failure, and I blame the awkward interface and lack of support for creating POIs. Ultimately this is a story of yak-shaving: I went way further into miserable geekitude than I would ever think necessary, and in the end I didn’t even succeed. Argh!]

This doesn’t have much to do with JSL or facilitative leadership. Here’s a button that will let you add fuel stations that sell ultra low-sulfur diesel in the USA to your TomTom GPS as a POI (points of interest) file. [But don’t click it! It doesn’t work!]



The answer is even more bizarre than you might think: because TomTom’s support is horrible!

Don’t get me wrong–I love my GPS, a TomTom Go 930. I bought my first TomTom several years ago, after extensive research to determine that it was the best GPS with the best GUI and the best Mac connectivity (I’m just that kind of geek). It was a TomTom Rider 2nd edition for motorcycles. I loved it. I also used it in my car, until one day about six months later some cretin in my neighborhood stole it out of my car.

After a lot of misery and hassle involving police reports, insurance agents, and TomTom’s customer service folks, I got spectacularly nowhere and had to buy a new one. Which I enjoyed for another six months or so until some cretin in the neighborhood of San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House smashed my car window and stole my second TomTom.

After a few more months without a GPS, and some more runaround with police reports and insurance and TomTom, I gave up and ordered a third GPS—this time a regular car model that was quite a bit cheaper.

The story begins with my needing to add this data as a POI to my TomTom. I recently bought a clean-diesel car (a Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI–and why, yes, I do love it!) and don’t have a clue where to find diesel between here and my parents’ house in Montana, where I’ll be for Thanksgiving. So I googled for a while and managed to find an .ol2 file with ultra low sulfur diesel-selling station locations online somewhere–I don’t even remember where. I “knew” that .ol2 was the format I needed for TomTom, or at least it used to be. But I also knew that getting an .ol2 file onto my TomTom properly was more easily said than done, so I went digging around on TomTom’s support page. I exhausted myself searching for the information I needed, but I did find an online wizard for adding a button to my website for other people to use my POIs!

So, I struggled through that wizard, and after a few false attempts that were thwarted by browser compatibility issues, I got the job done. It wasn’t until I got to the very last page–“add this html code to your website template”–that I could actually put the darned POIs on my own TomTom, by clicking their test button. That, of course, didn’t work either, until I switched to a different browser and started all over again.

Lessons learned:

  • it’s easier to publish a POI file than to install it
  • but you need to use Firefox
  • and you need to be patient
  • and if you want to import an icon, it has to be a 22×22 JPG file (you’d think they could have told me that… but no!)
  • and “just spending a couple minutes to install some POIs that I already have” in preparation for an upcoming trip is not a good way to get the work done that needs to be done before I leave

So, caveat emptor: I found the .ol2 file somewhere else, and I don’t know how good it is. I’m not good at drawing icons, so this one isn’t great but I think it’ll do the job.

If you do find it useful, and you need a facilitator to help your company accomplish something audacious or to help your team get through some difficult conversations, or if you need some help with localization or software development or program management, give me a call. If you don’t find it useful or if it strands you in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank, please accept my apologies and let me assure you that we at Global Pragmatica are much better at facilitative leadership and all that other stuff than making POI files for TomToms.

If you’re one of the managers at TomTom and you want to know why I think your support sucks, or if you’d like me to introduce you to some user experience and content strategy experts who will help you fix it, please contact me immediately.

I’m not being compensated by anyone to write about TomTom here or elsewhere. If that changes, or if someone at TomTom gets in touch with me and offers to replace one of my two stolen TomTom Rider 2 devices by way of thanking me or apologizing for the above, I’ll post an update here.

If you’re the nice person who made US_ULSDF.ov2, thanks in advance. I hope it works, and please feel free to direct people wanting it TomTom-ized here. [Update: it didn’t work.]

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An essential autumn recipe

by on Nov.09, 2009 , under random

Things have gotten too serious in here lately… Let’s lighten it up with a celebration of our multicultural industry. This Mediterranean recipe adapted from Paula Wolfert’s is a big favorite in our house this time of year. It sounds horrible, I know, but trust Paula–it’s delicious. When I bring it to potlucks, people look at it, wince, squint at me, and later ask me for the recipe.

Cracked Green Olive-Walnut-Pomegranate Salad (Paula Wolfert)

  • 8 oz green olives, chopped roughly
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3/4 C walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 C minced fresh parsley (I used cilantro instead)
  • 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
  • pomegranate molasses (simmer 1-1/2 C pomegranate juice until reduced to 1/4 C)
  • 1 T lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon)
  • 1/2 C pomegranate seeds (I often use much more than this)
  • salt and pepper to taste (you want to feel the sting of black pepper and be able to taste the salt ever so slightly; both tastes will mellow overnight)

Mix together. Refrigerate overnight. I’ve seen another version of this recipe where you serve dollops of this on a radicchio leaf.

You can play around with the proportions a lot and it’s still a great salad. Just make sure that the vinaigrette is zippy and has a nice, peppery sting. When you take it out the next day, adjust the seasonings; it often needs more lemon, salt, and pepper.

Kosher salt only! Throw that other drek away!

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Why quality should be your top (only) priority in translation

by on Apr.02, 2009 , under localization, program management, random

Project management bibles like the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge, published by the Project Management Institute) are always going on about the triple constraint: time, cost, scope. These are three constraints that you’re always stuck balancing as a project manager. I disagree. I say it’s a quintuple constraint, because you must add the other two: quality and risk.

I’ll blog about this at greater length someday (I did it! See this point/counterpoint column.) but for now I want to make the point as simply as I can that when in comes to translation (and localization and globalization and internationalization and all those other numeronym words we’re always using) (okay, i can’t resist: l10n! g11n! t9n! i18n!), the top one—and if you’re going to push me, the only one—is quality.

Here’s my entire argument:


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