I was never too great with numbers or math. I guess you could call me a visual learner. Which is why I was intrigued after exploring Gapminder.org. The non-profit organization behind the website says it's dedicated to "unveiling the beauty of statistics." They attempt to do this with impressively interactive and animated graphs.
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It's nearly 35 years since I first flew over Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia. Looking out of the plane window, the dark green forests stretched to the horizon. Even if there weren't any Truffula trees, there were many herds of elephants, families of tigers, groups of monkeys and many thousands of lone orangutans calling and moving around the forest, hardly ever crossing paths with humans. Then came the organized loggers, the transmigration settlements, and the plantations – rubber, oil palm and industrial timber.
About half Sumatra's forests have been lost since 1985. Last year, a WWF report (pdf) found that forest cover in Riau province, central Sumatra, has fallen from 78% to 25% in 25 years.
If you are a visual learner like me, or you just happen to like nifty animated maps, a site called SHOW World may be worth spending an afternoon coffee/tea break or two to check out. Similar to the popular WorldMapper collection, this site displays a lot of data from a number of sources (including, apparently, the World Bank) in map form. On an Excel spreadsheet, the information would just look like numbers or a boring old graph.
Here’s a website that might pique your interest, even if you don’t plan on becoming the next T. Boone Pickens – a wealthy American businessman who is investing millions of his own dollars in wind energy. A site called FirstLook has a Google Maps mashup overlaying years of meteorological wind data onto an interactive map.
They’ve recently expanded their wind data to cover the entire planet, making it a really easy tool to see potential spots for future wind farms in Mongolia (pretty good) versus Indonesia (not so good). The website sells detailed site location information, which is intended for entrepreneurs looking to get in on the ground floor of alternative energy investments. Still, I think the free wind speed data is interesting by itself.
The FirstLook site also has a section to look at an area’s solar satellite data, but it unfortunately only covers the places in the United States.
Checking out Mongabay.com, I came across a very cool application of Google Earth to see the levels of deforestation across the world, including short data sheets per country. So you can quickly see that Malaysia has lost over 6% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005 (according to different data sources), while China has increased its own by 25% over the same period of time.
The World Bank released a couple of days ago a new interactive database on trade, the World Trade Indicators. It allows benchmarking and comparison among 210 countries and customs territories, and it includes multiple trade-related indicators.
BusinessWeek reports that an annual study by one of Europe's top business schools indicates that Asian economies are overtaking the U.S. and Northern Europe to become the most competitive in the world.
The World Bank's EdStats (Education Statistics) collects worldwide data on education from national statistical reports, statistical annexes of new publications, and other data sources. The database has just been updated and its Query tool offers preliminary education indicators for the 2006 school year (with new imput from 93 countries) and the 2007 school year (nine countries).
The IFC's Rapid Response Unit that is behind the successful Doing Business map has expanded on it and created Business Planet, adding info from their other databases: enterprise surveys (70,000 firms in 104 countries), privatization transactions, and trends in private infrastructure projects.