The City with the Most Cosmopolitan Skyline in the World—Gets an Update

July 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

519MBW3HVQLIt’s the most globalized, most international, most architecturally inclusive city in the world. The fact that it’s fictional is irrelevant.

It’s Babe’s city, and it’s the setting for one of the best cross-cultural films ever made—Babe: Pig in the City. When Babe and Esme Hoggett travel from their English farm to big-city USA, it’s not just Europe and the Americas colliding. There’s all sorts of collisions between species as well, with—to name a few—humans, dogs, cats, apes, mice, a duck, and, of course, a pig.

A wide shot of Babe’s city shows a wonderfully crowded skyline of landmarks from around the world. There’s the Chrysler Building, Big Ben, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, Christ the Redeemer, and more, all brought together in one metropolis.

Babe’s city was first revealed in  1998, and now, years later, it looks as if several skyscrapers have been added to its horizon. Not only that, but Franklin Templeton Investments has joined the neighborhood. The evidence is the Franklin Templeton commercial “Global Perspective,” which shows the additions of Burj Khalifa, the Petronas Towers, London’s “Gherkin,” and the list goes on. Of course, development comes with a price, as it seems that several structures had to be razed to make room for the new arrivals (Christ the Redeemer’s outstretched arms are nowhere to be seen). Makes sense. Rarely do you have enough real estate available to put in your own Mount Fuji.

So where exactly is Babe’s city? Well, in the movie, it looks as if it’s on the East Coast. And in the commercial, we can narrow it down to an area above Ben Franklin’s left eye. If that doesn’t make sense, you’ll need to watch the ad—and while you’re at it, see how many landmarks you can identify.

Brian Stokle at Urban Life Signs has analyzed the Franklin Templeton commercial and shows some pretty good evidence that the city has been built up on Downtown Vancouver. But I’m not convinced. To my knowledge, Babe has never set foot in Canada. (Visit Stokle’s post, “World Skyline,” for a rundown of the landmarks in the commercial, as well as a shot-by-shot description and other “geeky analysis and research.”)

“Global Perspectives” has been around for a couple years, and I may have seen parts of it before, but it caught my eye two weekends ago when I saw Taipei 101 sporting Benjamin Franklin’s face. That’s not as far-fetched as it might seem: According to a recent China Post article, Franklin Templeton Investments occupies office space in the Taiwan skyscraper. No word yet on when Ben’s face will actually adorn the facade.

(Brian Stokle, “World Skyline,” Urban Life Signs, June 20, 2012; Ted Chen, “Chinese Company to Establish Office in 101,” The China Post, July 5, 2014)

Facebook Is, Like, a Big Deal

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

5133070639_e19172367b_mWelcome to the new Clearing Customs, with a new look, a new logo, and a new Facebook page!

I heard Facebook is getting kind of popular, so I thought it was about time this blog got on board. (Actually, I’ve been posting to Facebook on my personal site for some time, but now I’ve created facebook.com/clearingcustoms and will switch over completely soon.)

Your likes are appreciated.

8 Keys for Reaching the Facebook Masses

Facebook. It’s a big deal not just in the US, it’s a big deal all over the world . . . except in the four countries that, according to Mother Jones, currently are at least trying to block it: China, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.

The Guardian reports that at the end of 2013, there were 1.23 billion people in the world using Facebook, with 556 million of them getting it on the go, using smartphones and tablets to access the site every day.

Reaching all those people, and getting them to respond, doesn’t have to be hit or miss. According to a new study released by TrackMaven, there are 8 keys to Facebook success (and maybe they’ll help my blogging out, too):

1. Thursday is the most popular day for posting on Facebook, but posts on Sunday get the most interactions. (check)

2. 88% of posts include photos, and they garner 37% more interactions than posts without.

5133070639_e19172367b_m 5133070639_e19172367b_m 5133070639_e19172367b_m 5133070639_e19172367b_m 5133070639_e19172367b_m (check, check, check, check, check)

3. 67.3% of entries are written at or below the 5th grade level, with the highest percentage (17.5) composed at a level comprehensible by an average first grader. Facebook is easy. Facebook is fun. Facebook is easy and fun. (got it)

4. About 94% of posts have 49 or fewer words, but posts with 80 or more words average twice as much engagement as those that are shorter. (already there)

5. Share is the most effective call-to-action word for garnering interactions, compared to pleaselike, and now. I thought I would share this with you, so please share it with others. Share and share alike, I always say. (done)

6. 84% of posts have no hashtags, but those that do get more audience engagement. #Seven #hashtags #is #the #most #effective. (#saynomore)

7. Likewise, for maximum interactions, seven exclamation points—That’s right!! Seven!!!—is the best number! (great!)

8. And, now, are you ready for the last one? Are you sure? OK, here it is: The best amount of question marks is—are you really ready?—nine. Can you believe it? Do you agree? Yes? No? Maybe? (could it be any easier?)

Hey, now that I know the secrets of Facebook, maybe I should take a look at that Twitter-thing.

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(Dana Liebelson, “MAP: Here Are the Countries That Block Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,” Mother Jones, March 28, 2014; Jemima Kiss, “Facebook’s 10th Birthday: From College Dorm to 1.23 Billion Users,” The Guardian, February 3, 2014; The Marketing Maven’s Guide to Facebook, TrackMaven, 2014)

[photo: "Like," by Adam Fagen, used under a Creative Commons license; illustration: "Facebook Like Button," by Patrick Nouhailler, used under a Creative Commons license]

An Upside Down Globe: The Wait Is Over, Now the Waiting Begins

April 29, 2014 § 2 Comments

6476736633_2787abca7b_zWhen I wrote “8 Maps and Globes That Will Change Your Perspective of the World,” I decried the lack of an upside-down globe and suggested that Bellerby & Co. Globemakers might be able to help out. Peter Bellerby read the post and commented, “An upside down globe was actually in future planning!” and added, “Pictures to come soon, just been working on finishing the design today!” Well, five months later, Mr. Bellerby, true to his word, announced in his blog “Exactly Why We Made an ‘Upside-Down Globe.’” He also included a link to an article from Al Jazeera America, “How the North Ended Up on Top of the Map.”

In this month’s issue of United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine, Chris Wright tells of his visit to Bellerby and Co., where he saw a bespoke upside-down globe, commissioned by a Brazilian law firm. Rotating and repositioning all the place names, says Mr. Bellerby, was “a challenge.”

Even trickier, perhaps, was coming to terms with the way the new world looks. “It’s crazy,” Bellerby says, his nose inches away from the upward-pointing Cape of Good Hope. Also, unless you approach the globe on your hands and knees, a lot of the interesting stuff is hidden away.

“There’s so much going on in the Northern Hemisphere,” says Bellerby, pointing to a barren expanse of blue. “Even the Antarctic, which is amazing, is just a lot of white.”

I had checked on Mr. Bellerby’s progress after a comment a few days ago from a reader named Lori: “I, too, have been searching for an upside-down globe! I am amazed that nobody has made one. The world is waiting for this.”

Well, Lori, the wait is over, because the upside-down globe is here, not just for a law firm in Brazil but for all of us.

Well, actually, for most of us, the wait continues. Take a look at “The Upside Down Curve,” and you’ll see that it’s an impressive—and expensive—piece of art. Even the base was “designed by the team who made the accommodation pods for the British Antarctic Survey” and is “brought to life by heritage technicians from Aston Martin.” So with its price of £14,950 ($25,000), I’ll still be waiting for quite some time . . . for the exchange rate to collapse or for a dramatic increase in my disposable income.

Mr. Bellerby tells Wright in his article, “The idea of selling a globe with a mistake is my biggest horror.” That must mean that his studio is filled with not-quite-perfect attempts at perfection. So if I could get just a small piece of a discarded upside-down gore, that would be enough for me. I would frame it and display it proudly. Oh, Mr. Bellerby, that would make the minutes go by more quickly as I anticipate a complete upheaval of the global economy or a million-dollar inheritance from the secret rich uncle I’ve never met.

I can dream, can’t I? And I can wait. And I can think.

When I originally wrote about an upside-down globe, I closed with the phrase, “It’s got me thinking.”

I’m still thinking. This time, I’m wondering what would happen if a typical globe and a reversed globe were placed side by side. Would the result be something like this?

(Chris Wright, “Up Is the New Down: A Master Globemaker Turns the World on Its Head,” Hemispheres, April 1, 2014)

[photo: "Untitled," by GraceOda, used under a Creative Commons license]

Peanut Butter and Nutella: A Tale of Two Spreads

April 15, 2014 § 3 Comments

6398248857_aefa147739_mA few days ago I was the only one in the house at lunch time and I couldn’t find the peanut butter to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

No peanut butter? Why, it seemed downright un-American. And not only that, but it was nothing less than a betrayal of my upbringing.

An American Staple

Writing in the Pacific Standard, Karina Martinez-Carter quotes Jon Krampner, author of Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, The All-American Food. “Peanut butter,” he says, “embodies the raw primordial heart of American childhood.”

PB&Js are so fundamental to our formative years that, according to the National Peanut Board, the average American will eat 1,500 before graduating from high school.

Peanut butter is part of what makes America America. Even those from outside our borders know it’s so.

While it’s not nearly so popular around the world, once people arrive in the US, they are pulled in by the gooey spread. After giving us another quotation from Krampner—“immigrant kids tend to take to it as a part of their Americanization process”—Martinez-Carter tells of her own experiences:

My father is a first-generation Mexican immigrant and my sister adopted from China, and our cupboard reliably contained a jar of peanut butter we dug into daily. Much like how my sister’s English as a Second Language class teacher screened the classic Disney movies for her kindergarten students to catch them up on cultural references, developing a taste for peanut butter is a component of the acculturation process in the U.S. It is sustenance for understanding America.

Peanuts have their own story to tell about immigrating to America. According to the National Peanut Board, Europeans first came across peanuts while exploring Brazil. Later, Spanish explorers brought peanuts back home from their excursions into the “new world.” From Spain, they were introduced to Asia and Africa. And finally, in the 1700s, Africans brought peanuts to what is now the US.

But it wasn’t until 1884 that Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson received a US patent for creating a peanut paste, which he used for making a type of peanut candy. In 1895, John Harvey Kellog invented his own version of peanut butter, a year after he and his brother invented corn flakes. And peanut butter got it’s public debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, when C. H. Sumner sold it at his concession stand.

Now, back to my can’t-find-the-peanut-butter dilemma. I’d already spread my jelly, and I had to eat. So I did what I had to do . . . and used Nutella instead.

The Hazelnut Alternative

6398251975_042c8b2e79_mThere it was, a jar of Nutella sitting where I thought the peanut butter should be. (Since we’re still unpacking from our move, there are a lot of things out of place.)

I don’t know where it had come from.

Well actually I do. It had come from all over the world.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), Nutella is such a good example of the “global value chain” that the group used the chocolate-flavored hazelnut spread as a case study for one of its policy papers.

Here’s the globality of Nutella: Ferrero, the Italian company that produces Nutella, is headquartered in Germany. The ten factories that make Nutella are located in the European Union, Russia, Turkey, North America, South America, and Australia. As for the ingredients, a list with their origins includes

  • hazelnuts mainly from Turkey
  • palm oil from Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil
  • cocoa mainly from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Ecuador
  • sugar mainly from Europe
  • vanilla flavor from the Europe and the US

Put it all together and you have a product that’s sold in 75 countries. OECD even made a map to show Nutella’s main suppliers, factories, and main sales offices.

Invented by Pietro Ferrero in the 1940s, Nutella has become the self-proclaimed “number one spread in Europe.” And while it hasn’t yet become a major competitor to peanut butter in the US, it does have it’s devoted Stateside fans.

Take, for instance, the students of Columbia University. Last year, the Columbia Daily Spectator, the school’s newspaper, launched headlines around the country when it reported that in just the first week Nutella was added to the menu at two dining halls, students went through $5,000 worth of the spread. Dining Services said that students were consuming up to 100 pounds of Nutella daily. And by “consuming,” I mean eating it for meals and stealing jars to take home. It was what one student called “all you can eat, and all you can hide.”

If that rate held up, noted the Spectator, it would cost the dining halls $250,000 a year.

But, alas, the numbers didn’t quite hold up. Another article in the newspaper two days later reported that the first week’s Nutella demand actually cost Dining Services $2,500, not $5,000, and the amount quickly faded to $450 a week after that. But even with the revised numbers, that’s still a lot of hazelnut spread.

I guess I can see the appeal. Nutella isn’t necessarily my thing, but I’m sure I would have liked it when I was in college. My mother never let me eat chocolate frosting by the spoonful when I was growing up, but at college, with no Mom looking over my shoulder, I could have eaten all the frosting . . . uh . . . Nutella I’d wanted.

Well, my college days are now long behind me, and I have new voices in my ear (many of which sound a lot like Mom’s). I don’t think I’ll ever develop an extreme taste for Nutella. I do like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though. You really are what you eat, or at least you are what you ate when you were a kid. And I sure did eat a lot of PB&J sandwiches.

PB&Js. What a strange thing, my friend from Asia once told me. She had never seen one, but she’d heard about them. Why, she asked, would Americans want a sandwich made from peanuts, butter, and jelly. Strange indeed.

(Karina Martinez-Carter, “As American as Peanut Butter,” Pacific Standard, February 14, 2014; “Fun Facts,” National Peanut Board; “History,” Peanut Butter Lovers; Koen D. Backer and Sébastien Miroudot, “Mapping Global Value Chains,” OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 159, OECD Publishing,  2013; Cecilia Reyes, “Nutella in Ferris Booth Costs Dining $5,000 per Week, in Part Due to Dining Hall Thievery,” Columbia Daily Spectator, March 5, 2013; Finn Vigeland, “University Says Nutella Cost $2,500 in First Week, less than $500 After,” Columbia Daily Spectator, March 7, 2013)

[photos: "Jif Peanut Butter" and "Nutella," by Brian Cantoni, used under a Creative Commons license]

The World’s Largest Ships: Hauling Our Stuff around the Globe

March 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

I can still see the container delivering our furniture and household goods as it shuddered around the street corner on the back of a truck in our Taipei neighborhood. It looked so very, very big, and in a single moment, we had become the rich Americans that we didn’t want to be.

If we were to move to Taipei again, we’d plan on buying most things there, since, through the years, we ended up replacing most of what we took over anyway. But this isn’t a post about what was in our container. Rather it’s about the containers themselves. In fact, it’s about 18,000 of them.

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Triple-E vessel Majestic Mærsk visits Copenhagen

Containers look a lot smaller when they’re stacked up at a dock or on a ship—like multi-colored Lego blocks locked neatly together. And nowhere do they seem smaller than when they’re sitting atop a Triple-E.

18,000. That’s how many 20-foot containers that a Triple-E, the world’s largest ship, can hold. The Triple-E is class of container ships built in Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for the Danish company Maersk. When production is finished, there will be 20 of these giant ships in service.

Just how big is the Triple-E? It is 400 meters (nearly a quarter of a mile) long, 59 meters (194 feet) wide, and 73 meters (240 feet) tall. Not counting ballast and cargo, it weighs about 55,000 tons. According to The Telegraph, it has enough space to carry 36,000 cars or 111 million pairs of shoes. It’s too big for the Panama Canal and no US port is large enough to receive it.

While the Triple-E is the largest ship in service, it’s not the largest ever built. The Maersk website World’s Largest Ship states that that title goes to the Knock Nevis, a super tanker that measured 458 meters (1,500 feet) before it was scrapped in 2010. And the Triple-E won’t hold the “biggest” distinction for long. Scheduled to begin service in 2017, the Prelude is being built by Samsung Heavy Industries for Shell. This “ship” won’t travel under its own power but will be towed to a location off the coast of Australia where it will be anchored, serving as a “floating liquefied natural gas platform.” The Prelude will be 488 meters (1,600 feet) long and will weigh over 600,000 metric tons.

But for the next few years, the Triple-E will reign supreme. Here’s a clip from Discovery’s series on the ship.

And this video is a time lapse of the Triple-E being built.

And, oh yeah, remember that comparison to Legos? Here’s another time lapse. This one is of someone putting together Lego’s version of the Triple-E (which can be yours for $149.99)

(Paul Kendall, “The Biggest Ship in the World,” The Telegraph, July 30, 2013; “The World’s Largest Ship,” World’s Largest Ship (Maersk); “Shell’s Record-Breaking Prelude Takes to the Water,” BBC News, December 4, 2013)

[photo courtesy of Maersk]

 

“Let It Go”: Dubbing Disney’s Oscar-Nominated Toe Tapper in 25 Languages

March 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Speaking of films, there is that Academy Awards thing tomorrow night. I’m predicting a sweep for Frozen in its nominated categories: best animated feature and best original song.

If you haven’t heard “Let It Go,” the nominated song from the Disney film, then you 1) haven’t seen the movie, 2) don’t spend much time on YouTube, and 3) don’t live with a seven-year-old who’s memorized all the lyrics.

And if you haven’t heard the original, then you probably haven’t heard the version dubbed into 25 languages. Even if you have heard it, it’s worth another listen.

The English version of “Let It Go” is sung by the Tony Award winning singer and actress Idina Menzel, who voices the movie’s character Elsa. She’s the one singing the English at the beginning of the multi-language video. But even though the rest of the song sounds as if it is sung by her, believe it or not, it isn’t.

So who in the world was tasked with finding all those talented songstresses? Look no further than Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of creative for Disney Character Voices International.

“In a lot of cases I think we fooled some people into thinking that it’s Idina in all those languages,” Dempsey told NPR. “And that, of course, is the goal, to ensure there is character consistency and the voices are all very similar around the world.”

But all that work isn’t a one-man show. Dempsey told The Hollywood Reporter, “We have 76 people around the world in 19 offices that oversee films in 55 languages. Our goal is to make every audience feel like Frozen was made in their country for their people.”

10152920204_d766fbe52c_qThe Los Angeles Times reports that the array of voice talents in “Let It Go” include Gisela (Castilian and Catalan), Serena Autieri (Italian), Willemijn Verkaik (German, Dutch), Takako Matsu (Japanese), Carmen Sarahi (Latin American Spanish), Marsha Milan Londoh (Malay), and Anna Buturlina (Russian).

And the impressive work of Dempsey’s crew on Frozen didn’t end with the only 25 versions of the feature song. While most stories report that Frozen has been dubbed into 41 languages, a Disney UK tweet puts the total at 43.

(“‘Let It Go': A Global Hit in Any Language,” NPR, February 24, 2014; Tim Appelo, “‘Frozen’ Composer Robert Lopez on the Perils of Translating ‘Let It Go,’” February 25, 2014; Rebecca Keegan, “‘Frozen': Finding a Diva in 41 Languages,” Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2014)

[photo: "Snowflake Macro: Silverware," by Alexey Kljatov, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Vibrant Palette of Our World

February 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

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For those of you caught in the whites and greys of a brutal winter, know that the bright colors of spring will be here soon.

But until then, just to tide you over, here are two reminders of how colorful our world can be.

If Your City Were Covered by Post-it Notes

When I use a Post-it Note—usually canary yellow—it’s most often to remind me about something I need to do, such as make a phone call, pick up a gallon of milk, or schedule a doctor’s appointment. But with the introduction of its “Colors of the World” collection, 3M wants to remind us of places we’d like to be.

Each grouping of five complementary colors—sort of like those chips from the paint store—represents one of four cities from around the globe: Bangkok, Mykonos, New York City, and Rio de Janeiro.

As reported in a 3M press release, fashion stylist Brad Goreski, serving as Post-it Brand’s “color ambassador,” says,

Trends in fashion, design and pop culture are taking on more global influence, and of course, one thing that’s always in style is color. I am consistently inspired whenever I travel, and I love seeing how the Post-it Brand Colors of the World collection brings the hues from four very chic destinations to life, offering a color scheme inspired by the energy of these places.

It’s an interesting idea: What colors would your city be?

For a chance to win a trip to New York, enter Post-it’s City Escape Sweepstakes. Just create a name for one of the colors in the collection and write a short essay telling what it means to you in relation to the city it represents (or you can submit a photo or video instead). If I’m reading the rules correctly, the trips will be awarded by a random drawing, but the best entries can also be used in future promotions.

If Color Grabs Your Camera Lens

For another colors-based contest, go to Project World Colors. It’s a photo blog started and curated by world travelers and bloggers Naomi Hattaway and Anne Lowrey. Each month they announce a new color, share their own images, and invite other bloggers to craft their own posts based on that hue. Then, near the end of the month, they pick a blogger to feature (that’s the prize—sorry, no trip), and they also share a post from a guest contributor.

For instance, this month the color is red. The post from the featured blogger is at “Project #Worldcolors 2014, a Red February” at It’s Lynny Kansas. The guest contributor is Annie Griffiths, award-winning photojournalist and founder of Ripple Effect Images, which “document[s] the plight of poor women and girls around the world and highlight[s] the programs that are helping to empower them.”

PWC offers guidelines for participation and shares the following enthusiastic invitation:

We invite you to participate in a photo blogging collaboration that celebrates the places that color shows up in our lives and across the web. . . . The goal is to delve into the texture, the beauty and the diversity that color can bring in different parts of the world. Come play with us!

[photo: "Textiles in Souq," by Katie and Michael, used under a Creative Commons license]

Not All Ambassadors Start with Degrees in International Studies

February 13, 2014 § 2 Comments

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The US Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic

Hearing about the death of Shirley Temple Black got me to wondering if any current US ambassadors have such a compelling background. Alas, it’s hard to match Temple Black, who became a film superstar at the age of six and went on to star in over 40 movies before becoming ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. But I did find several ambassadors whose lives before diplomatic service strike me as interesting.

I guess “interesting” sounds pretty bland. But saying something such as “fascinating,” “captivating,” or “spellbinding” would be a little over the top. If I were going for clicks (like some news sites that will remain nameless), I’d have titled this post “Twelve Ambassadors Whose Backgrounds Will Stun You.” While that’s pretty far from the truth, I really do think that their stories are still, well, interesting.

First, a word about my selections: I started with The American Foreign Service Association’s “List of Ambassadorial Appointments,” where I clicked on the names of people with links to US Department of State bios.

Most of those listed below are political appointees rather than career diplomats. The former seems to offer the larger amount of noteworthy backgrounds. Of course, getting an advanced degree in international relations, attending the National War College, or becoming a career member of  the Foreign Service is pretty impressive. For ambassadors, though, it’s just not uncommon enough to earn a mention here.

By the way, my definition of interesting is purely subjective. No offense to those who didn’t make the cut.

So here’s what it takes, in a roundabout way, to become an ambassador . . . that and the good favor of a sitting president:

Thomas Hart Armbruster
US ambassador to the Marshall Islands
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Armbruster was a reporter for KGMB-TV, a CBS affiliate in Hawaii.

Matthew Barzun
US ambassador to the United Kingdom
Barzun was the fourth employee at CNET and later became executive vice president and chief strategy officer of the tech website. While there, he launched Download.com and led in the development of Shopper.com.

John Berry
US ambassador to Australia
Berry previously served as director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as well as director of the National Zoo.

James Costos
US ambassador to Spain and Andorra
Before becoming an ambassador, Costos was vice president of global licensing and retail for HBO. Prior to that he served as a vice president for the Italian company Tod’s, seller of shoes and luxury leather goods, and for Hermès of Paris.

Caroline Kennedy
US ambassador to Japan
The daughter of President John F. Kennedy, Ambassador Kennedy is the author and editor of several books, an education advocate, and a supporter of the arts. As president and director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, she helped create the Profile in Courage Award.

Alexandar Mark Laskaris
US ambassador to Guinea
Earlier in his career, Laskaris taught English and mathematics at St. Boniface High School in Galeshewe, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.

Jeffrey Levine
US ambassador to Estonia
Levine was previously a newspaper reporter for seven years and was a founding staff member of USA Today.

Bruce Oreck
US ambassador to Finland
For several years running, Oreck was the winner of the Colorado State men’s masters body building championship. He has also put together one of the leading fine-mineral collections in the US, and he and his wife donate mineral specimens to museums across the country.

David D. Pearce
US ambassador to Greece
Before joining the Foreign Service, Pearce was a journalist, working for the Associated Press in Ohio; the Rome Daily American in Italy; United Press International in Brussels, Lisbon, and Beirut; and the Washington Post. He also worked as a writer-editor in the book service of the National Geographic Society.

Samantha Power
US permanent representative to the United Nations
Born in Ireland, Power came to America when she was nine years old. She has been a journalist, contributing regularly to The Atlantic MonthlyThe New RepublicThe New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker Magazine, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book  “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide.

Theodore Sedgwick
US ambassador to Slovakia
Sedgwick founded Pasha Publications and Io Energy and was president of Red Hills Lumber Co., which produces pine flooring. He has also served on the boards of a wide range of organizations, including Inside Higher Ed; the Folger Shakespeare Library; the Shakespeare Theater Co.; the Gennadius Library in Athens, Greece; the Civil War Preservation Trust; and the Ducks Unlimited affiliate Wetlands America Trust.

Alexa L. Wesner
US ambassador to Austria
Wesner was born to a German mother and Latvian father who had immigrated to the United States. In high school she was an all-American in track and cross country, and in 2003 she qualified as a member of the US national team for the World Triathlon Championships.

[photo: "American Embassy in Prague," by Matt Dell, used under a Creative Commons license]

Eyes: LensCrafters Commercial Gives Us a Closer Look

February 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

It didn’t cause quite the stir that Coke’s “America the Beautiful” in eight languages did, but LensCrafter’s new-this-week “Anthem” commercial also represents the mosaic of humanity. Instead of using voices, the eye-care company (as you might expect) uses eyes.

All people should have somebody who will, at some time or another, look deeply into their eyes.

While we’re on the subject of eyes . . .

Award-winning photojournalist Steve McCurry posts photos, grouped by theme, at his blog. For a collection of amazing photographs of eyes, interspersed with quotations and comments, go to his post from last July, “Eloquence of the Eye.”

You probably didn’t know . . .

  • The human eye is less than one inch in diameter and weighs only around 1/4 ounce.
  • Each blink closes the eye for 0.3 seconds. That totals about 30 minutes a day.
  • An eye has over 100 million photoreceptors (rods and cones).
  • 285 million people in the world are visually impaired, meaning they are blind or have moderate or severe impairment.
  • Blind people in the world number 39 million. 82% of them are over the age of 50.
  • The visually impaired in developing countries account for about 90% of the world’s total.
  • Preventions and cures are possible for 80% of visual impairment in the world.

(“NEI Calendar,” National Eye Institute; “Visual Impairment and Blindness, Fact Sheet No. 282,” World Health Organization, October 2013)

5 Stat Sites That Eat Pie Charts for Lunch

January 31, 2014 § 4 Comments

4434547381_582248cecb_nOne thing I don’t like about statistics is the way they usually look—a list or row or jumble of numbers that just sit on the page in black and white. Of course, there are line graphs and bar graphs and pie charts, but those can only punch the data up so much.

What I need are statistics presented in ways that grab my attention and that help me understand complicated ideas. What I need are number crunchers and artists working together to get a point across. What I need are people like Amanda Cox, a statistician and graphics editor for the New York Times, who told Scott Berinato of the Harvard Business Review,

There’s a strand of the data viz world that argues that everything could be a bar chart. That’s possibly true but also possibly a world without joy.

What I need—and what I found—are the following five sites that take global statistics and get them to stand up and jump off the page. Some combine the data in interesting ways. Some use eye-catching graphics. Some use video to show movement across time. And some let the numbers grow before your eyes.

Here they are. They’re in no particular order, except I’m starting with FlowingData because that’s where I found the above quotation from Amanda Cox.

1 – FlowingData
Nathan Yao’s blog helps us understand data by visualizing data. It’s not all about global statistics, but scrolling through the posts—and getting sidetracked a time or two—is well worth the effort. As an example of the range you’ll find, there’s “A Visual Exploration of Refugee Migrations,” “Average Man Graphic Renderings,”and a mockup of how big a single iPhone screen would be if all the iPhone screens in the world were put together. And Yao’s also created the “World Progress Report,” an infographic with data culled from UNdata’s 60 million records.

2 – Gapminder
Swedish global health expert, Hans Rosling, has an infectious enthusiasm for statistics. You can see it in the site for his Gapminder foundation, in the Trendalyzer software the foundation developed “to unveil the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics,” and in Gapminder World, which shows the software in action in over 20 amazing graphs. You can see it, too, in Rosling himself, with this cool demonstration of how he brings statistics to life, “200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes”:

Rosling, like Cox, is a proponent of the “joy” that can be found in statistics. For proof, watch his entire hour-long documentary on line. The video above is only a short clip from it. It’s entitled, appropriately, “The Joy of Stats.”

3 – NationMaster
Not just a great go-to site for world statistics, it slices, dices, crunches, and expands data from around the globe. It gives you the ability to create maps and graphs that compare countries in a number of categories, such as education, crime, and health, but it doesn’t stop there. You can also hit the “correlate” link to see the relationships between different statistics and how they might affect each other. Bet you didn’t know that the number of judges and magistrates in Russia is nearly twice the number in the United States. The US, on the other hand, has eight times the amount of crime.

And for a new way to see the world, take a look at NationMaster’s graphs that cluster countries based on their similarities in a number of categories.

4 – Worldometers
With Worldometers, you can watch the numbers grow in real time. Its site has 61 counters on such global topics as population, televisions sold, emails sent, amount of oil remaining, and deaths by cancer. For more  info on cyber statistics, go to its Internet Live Stats page. There you can also see a graphical representation of the huge numbers, but no picture is bigger than the one at 7billionworld, where all 7 billion of the world’s population is shown one by one on a single scrollable page.

5 – Poodwaddle World Clock
The World Clock applet at Poodwaddle ups the ante with over 170 real-time counters in nine categories, including one titled “Smile: It ain’t all bad news.” There are so many counters, accessible for the year, month, day, and “now.” And if you’d like your data even more available, you can embed the free World Clock widget on your own website or blog. That way you can keep track of how many Coca-Cola products have been consumed this year. (Hint: It’s at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day.)

(Scott Berinato, “The Power of Visualization’s ‘Aha!’ Moments,” the Harvard Business Review, March 19, 2013)

[photo: "Pie Chart," by John Cooper, used under a Creative Commons license]

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