Technology and Data Visualization Tools

May 26, 2011

Hans Rosling’s recent talk is about, well, the meaning of life, education, technology, progress, and more, all wrapped around the humble washing machine. If you aren’t familiar with Rosling’s data visualization tools (GapMinder) the video above is a great place to start even though he doesn’t focus on his classic “moving dots” (see for that.) You’ll find you may want to explore further. He says “Our goal is to replace devastating myths with a fact-based world view. Our method is to make data easy to understand.” follow him on twitter at @HansRosling and check his website:

And you may also want to check out Karen Blumberg — a prolific tweeter on educational topics who can be followed at @SpecialKRB. She has recently posted detailed information in her blog about Rosling and his work – directed towards the 7th Grade math curriculum. Don’t let the middle-school focus fool you. These concepts and the amazing technology supporting them can be applied to any situation involving complex data. The first time I saw this truly beautiful way of viewing trends over time and across socioeconomic dimensions, I felt that this might just be the method of presentation that could explain the world to an audience in a way that has never been done before and lead to more informed decision-making at all levels. See:

Note: this was also posted on the RRU blog:

It’s a distribution problem

January 19, 2011

Everyone can contribute and everyone will benefit.

A catchphrase I’ve used for years in answer to a huge range of situations is “it’s a distribution problem”.

In fact I say this enough to be a bit of a bore certain people who are close to me. “There’s enough food in the world for everyone – it’s a distribution problem; if medical research was funded by a non-profit global organization, there would be no issues with pharmaceutical patents and there’d be medicine for everyone – it’s a distribution problem; we’ve got crumbling roads and bridges with nobody to fix them, but there are prisons full of people wouldn’t have ended up there if they had been employed — it’s a distribution problem.”

I believe that many of these distribution problems will resolve themselves eventually as technologies (like crowdsourcing and data visualization) start to provide us with new forms of information that we can use as a basis for our decisions. Hans Rosling’s work is an excellent example and I love to promote it.

So, thinking of redistribution supported by technology, I can get very excited by ideas like microlending, and in my own small way I do contribute. It’s something I believe can work. E.g.

The entrepreneur who needs a loan describes his or her situation/background online, and potential lenders look to find a good match. Online tools like PayPal make it possible for individual lenders to contribute very small amounts which, when combined, can fulfill the requirements of the entrepreneur. Administrative details, including how the lenders get paid, are automated. It would be difficult to imagine this level of personal connection without a sophisticated technology but now that such technology is commonplace, the potential is amazing.

Whether the lender and borrowers are in vastly different parts of the world, or living around the corner from each other, it’s about sharing stories and connecting to form a partnership and redistribute a bit of wealth. All this can be done (more or less) without much of a “middleman” and the lender is not investing in a “stock” or a “mutual fund” but rather in a person who has a believable plan.

I’ll mention that I’ve read some recent negative stories about microlending and I get the sense that some of these are based on a paternalistic point of view… that credit is good for some but not all. Usually this is said by someone who lives in a home that they could never have bought without a mortgage and who have achieved business success could not have been attained without credit being available when they needed it.

However it does seem true that abuses, such as high interest rates and mismanagement, have led to hardship for some borrowers. I don’t believe this means the concept can’t work but certainly it needs monitoring.

And, some accusations may be shown to be false:

My next blog post will be about a local community example of microlending.

Three videos that educators should consider

September 13, 2009

I truly believe that data visualization combined with social networking is going to make a difference in how our world is controlled. More than ever before we can all have informed input.

So…. Here are three videos that I think all educators should consider

And then,