Compelling graphs from the WHO Report on Social Determinants of Health

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has just released its final report which, though I have not read it in detail (it’s pretty long), seems to have some powerfully-worded recommendations and calls-to-action with regard to improving health outcomes across the globe. I appreciate how they don’t shy away from topics like “The Relationship Between the Market and Health Equity.”

Since information is so strongly communicated through visualizations, here are some graphs from the report. I find the first two particularly interesting.

Health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) and private spending as  a % of total health spending in 2000.
Health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) and private spending as a % of total health spending in 2000.
First Nations youth suicide rates, by cultural continuity factors
First Nations youth suicide rates, by cultural continuity factors
Fast food consumption (1995 and 1999) in selected countries.
Fast food consumption (1995 and 1999) in selected countries.
Changes in spending allocation under the President’s Emergency Plan  for AIDS Relief, 2004–2006
Changes in spending allocation under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, 2004–2006

Havana before and after Castro

I try not to plagiarize Boing Boing too much, but they just post so many interesting things.

Havana Before Castro

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, architect of the famous Stanford prison experiment, is doing a new study on helpful behaviour.

Flickr set of food characters eating self-cannibalizing.

Richard Dawkins reads his hatemail:


New bike(s)

Picked up my first roadie ever a few weeks ago, with the eventual goal of converting it to a fixed-gear or single speed for use mainly in the winter. But the more I ride it, the more I just want to ride it all the time. I bought it off craigslist via a pleasant exchange with a bike enthusiast in east city, and it’s dangerously fast. I only with it had 700c wheels instead of th 27inchers, which would make modifications a fair bit easier. I’m also probably going to change the handlebars.

Blue devil road bicycle

This supplements my main iron steed, a KHS urban Xpress, bought from one of the city’s better bike shops, the Urbane Cyclist. You’ll notice the front rim (Alexrim) is different from the rear (Weinmann SP-17). That’s because some scumbag stole the front one when I was at a Jays game at the SkydomeRogers Centre.

black KHS urban Xpress

Just last weekend, we came home to find the garage door wide open (not blaming anyone <ahem>downstairsneighbours) and Caitlin‘s brand new silver Kona Dew gone. After raging for a while, we went down to the Toronto Police warehouse where they’re storing all of Igor Kenk’s booty, knowing that the Kona wouldn’t be there but hoping that one of the other two bikes she’s had stolen in the last year and a half might be there. And much to our surprise, we ended up recovering her old Trek cruiser, a little beat up and in need of work, but better than nothing.

If you’ve had a bike stolen in Toronto ever, it’s could very well be worth your time to head down there.

Also, it’s definitely worth your time to register your bike. It’s online, free and takes less than five minutes.

Village of Makkinga has no traffic signs


It’s normal that you don’t need traffic signs… When you’ve changed the little village into a human place with social interaction between the citizens, of course you don’t need traffic signs.


Here’s to my two friends who start their masters in urban planning at McGill University this fall: let’s have more Makkingas!

Some reflections on Aurora, browser of the future

Let me say first that this is some amazing conceptual work. Coming up with something that is genuinely new (or, depending on your metaphysics, at least seems so) is difficult work. It is rare that something comes along in the world of desktop software in general and web browsers in particular that can be called revolutionary, but I think Aurora fits the bill. I don’t want to get all hyperbolic–Aurora isn’t going to change political systems or rid us of our oil dependency–but I think you have to give respect where it’s due, and the team at Adaptive Path have clearly done some top notch work on this project of coming up with the browser of the future.

Rather than try to explain it, here’s part one of the video (link rather than embed because Vimeo’s embed code isn’t valid XHTML).

What I like most about it is how it clearly demonstrates the power of the semantic web. Data tables, event listings and so on are all (presumably) marked up to be computer- and human-readable and Aurora is able combine them with data from other user-defined and automatically-generated relevant data sources.

The visual effects are undoubtedly sweet, but it’s the interaction design choices that really make the video interesting.

Continue reading “Some reflections on Aurora, browser of the future”

Content Management Systems – a look back in time

At work, we’re planning a website redesign. Okay, less of a redesign and more of a realignment. Our current site has been around since 2004 and though it is still serving us fairly well (four years isn’t a bad lifespan for a website of this kind), we’re beginning to outgrow it, as our research agenda is both shifting and adopting a more prominent role, and as our organizational structure is also in transition.

At the same time, there are the more common complaints that tend to prompt talk of redesign: getting sick of the stock photos, moving from a bunch of Dreamweaver-edited static XHTML pages to a CMS, leveraging some better metadata systems and content linking logic for a lot of older but still very relevant content, adding e-commerce capability, etc.

So, as part of the process towards creating some consultant RFPs and/or strategy documents, we’ve been doing some exploration into the world of content management systems. Though I think we’ve had the inkling from the start that we were going to go with Drupal, it’s been worthwhile looking into some other options and seeing what people have to say about CMSs in general. Particularly interesting has been looking back at articles on CMSs from three, four and even five years ago and seeing what’s stayed the same and what’s changed.

Continue reading “Content Management Systems – a look back in time”

On climate change and not wrestling with pigs

The saying goes, ‘Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.’

Unfortunately in the case of climate change debate, the temptation is difficult to resist. There is a small army of well-funded pseudo-scientists and PR hacks dedicated to spreading as much misinformation as possible who end up getting vastly disproportionate coverage by mainstream news media, perpetuating the myth that there is any legitimacy to their claims or that there is anything other than overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter of anthropogenic global warming.

Case in point being a recent radio discussion between Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog and Christopher Walter in which the two men (neither of whom, as Littlemore readily admits, have any real science background) were tasked with debating the reality of “human-induced climate change”. Early on in the debate, Littlemore made the point that, given that neither of them were scientists, there was no real point in debating the science behind the claims: what DeSmogBlog covers is public relations; likewise, Walter has no science credentials and has a background in politics and PR, meaning that neither of them should really be passing themselves off as climate change authorities.

However, predictably and unfortunately the debate goes precisely in the direction of debating “the facts” and when you enter this territory, the IPCC/scientific consensus is inevitably going to suffer. Even though all the points Walter introduces are widely acknowledged to be standard bullshit climate denier talking points, merely introducing them will produce in listeners (and transcript-readers) the impression that there is a level of uncertainty and disagreement in the scientific community that just isn’t there. Littlemore does a pretty good job debunking most of Walter’s BS on the spot, but the fact that a “debate” on the science behind anthropogenic climate change between two non-scientists is being legitimized in this way is a loss from the get go.

I just purchased it and haven’t read it yet, but it seems like the logic from George Lakoff’s book,
Don’t Think of an Elephant!
, could be applied here: by entering into debates like this and in these circumstances, one accepts the frame being proposed by the deniers, which is that there is any point to such a debate, and public opinion could thereby be somehow better informed. The best thing to do is to stop wrestling with the pigs, and stop feeding the trolls.