Tim Longhurst's Blog

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Getting the Big Picture – top lists/research at your fingertips

August 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Getting the big picture on global trends has long been an interest of mine. Over time, I’ve collected resources that help me get a sense of the directions in which the world is shifting, and the way things are today.

Recently I was thinking about the research I would like at my fingertips, but don’t yet have. I’ve included in this post both the resources I’ve found useful, along with the resources I wish I had… You’ll see what’s missing – there’s no link if I don’t have the research/resource. Let me know what you think is missing, too!

There are a whole bunch of indexes out there that attempt to rank/compare countries. None are perfect, but they can help add to our understanding – but only if we know of their existence!

If you find the resources here helpful, please let me know in the comments, as if people find it useful I will endeavor to update this post with new info/research as I find it.

I know that’s strictly speaking more the role of a wiki or other knowledge management tool, but first I want to see if enough people have opinions/ideas about the data I’ve gathered before I spend time creating a community around this kind of information.

Business – Largest corporations – Fortune Global 500 – Size by Revenue
Business – World’s largest shopping malls – Forbes magazine article
Business – World’s largest banks – Euromoney
Business – Global Competitiveness – World Economic Forum research
Business – Fastest growing corporations – Fortune Global 500 Fastest Growing,
Business – Most profitable Corporations – Fortune Global 500 Most Profitable
Business – Largest selling consumer goods –
Business – Biggest media spenders –

Environment – Most/Least polluting nations –
Environment – Most endangered species –
Environment – Most/Least polluted countries –
Environment – Most/Least polluted cities –

Finance – Largest economies –

Geography – Population Density – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)

Media (Traditional) – Largest traditional media corporations – The Nation
Media (New) – Largest new media businesses –

Politics – Mass exodus – countries people are fleeing –
Politics – Mass admittance – countries people are fleeing to – Politics – Largest nations – by population – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)Geography – Population Density – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Largest nations – by per capita wealth – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Largest cities
Politics – Largest international agencies
Politics – Nation size by area – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) – by subscribers/members
Politics – Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) – by financing
Politics – Countries hosting refugees – Infoplease
Politics – Main sources of refugees – Infoplease
Politics – Internally Displaced persons – Infoplease
Politics – Armed Conflicts – Recently Suspended – Infoplease
Politics – Ongoing Armed Conflicts – Ongoing – Infoplease
Politics – Countries with Nuclear Weapons Capability – Infoplease
Politics – Largest Military Expenditures – InfopleasePolitics – Arms Sales to Developing Nations – Infoplease
Politics – Most/Least corrupt – Global Integrity Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index
Politics – Most/Least stable – Global Peace Index
Politics – Biggest donors/recipients of foreign aid – BBC (Graph)

Social – Highest/Lowest Literacy – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Social – Highest/Lowest Infant Mortality rate – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Social – Biggest threats facing humanity –
Social – Happiest nations – Wikipedia
Social – Faiths / Religions (ranked by followers) –
Social – Faiths / Religions (ranked by wealth) –
Social – Most recognised brands Interbrand/BusinessWeek
Social – Largest employers –
Social – Global top ten jobs –
Social – Most peaceful – Global Peace Index

Technology – Highest/Lowest rate of mobile phone usage –
Technology – Highest/Lowest rate of internet usage –
Technology – Largest data breaches – Boing Boing

Transparency – Global Integrity Index – Global Integrity


Also worth checking out…
Time Magazine’s Top Ten Lists for 2007 (most recent to date)
Watch Mojo’s Top Ten Lists – Great resource – watching out for ‘top tens’ published in US media and then documenting them.
Freedom of the press – Worldwide Press Freedom Index
Journalists Killed in Conflict Committee to Protect Journalists
Risk of becoming a ‘failed state’ Failed States Index
Most and Least Livable Countries UN Human Development Index
Most expensive cities Infoplease
National Statistics Agencies – Infoplease

General world statistics – Infoplease

So what’s missing? Be sure to post your thoughts in the comments section!

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How to speak Beijing Mandarin Chinese like a local

August 8th, 2008 · 6 Comments

[caption id="attachment_396" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="A local waitress helps me with my Chinese"]A local waitress helps me with my Chinese[/caption]

Taxi drivers in Beijing were offered free English classes in the lead up to the Olympics, but from my one week of ‘on the ground’ experience I can only conclude that most of the drivers skipped class.

In fact, as someone not sticking to the tourist haunts or well-worn paths to the ubiquitous KFC’s, the people that I’m communicating with to order food, get around and socialise, generally speak a maximum of “hello” and “bye bye!”. I’m the visitor, so it’s up to me to learn at least the basics of the host language for simple daily communication over the next few weeks…

I’ve made a go of it, but boy is it hard!

About Mandarin

In Beijing, China’s capital, the language spoken is Mandarin. There are actually a number of languages in China, but most of the media broadcasts in Mandarin, so it’s widely understood. Well, that’s what I’ve been told, anway.


Mandarin has five tones, described as “hīgh”, “risíng”, “fallǐng-rising”, “fallìng” and “neutral” (note that I’ve added ‘tone marks’ on the appropriate words to give you an idea of what pinyin looks like). Tones are arguably the biggest barrier to basic Mandarin pronunciation, and even when you pronounce a word in a way that sounds a LOT like you should be saying it – at least to an untrained ear – if you get the tone wrong, you will be met by a confused, blank, or sometimes hostile face.

I guess getting the tone wrong must be like pronouncing English words without the vowels
or with the right consonants – just not in the right order. So, “Hello, I’m Tim Longhurst” ends up sounding like, “Hll, m Tm Lnghrt” or worse, “Ellho, M’i Tmi Lhustrong”.

The most traveller-friendly locals spend a few seconds trying to work out what you might have said by going through the variations in tone to decypher what you might have meant, but not everyone is so accommodating.

Coping with tones

Here’s a tip that seems to help me – If you can’t remember the correct tone, repeat the same word over and over in all the tones, almost like you’re singing a song… The context will help the listener work out what you’re after. (Example: “bao” can mean, “wrap”, “thin”, “guarantee” or, “hug”, depending on tone.). This is a tip from Scott Browning, a friend of mine who spends a lot of time in China.

So without a minute of formal language training, my innovative Chinese language course – which is yet to prove successful, is based on three pillars: phrase books, enlisting the help of complete strangers (this is key), the internet.

Phrase books

The two phrase books I’m using are “Survival Chinese” and “Immersion Guides’ Mandarin Phrasebook”. Both present phrases in Chinese characters, English and Pinyin – a roman-letter based format designed to help visitors pronounce Chinese words. I chose the former because it includes the “phonetic” pronunciation of each word, however a MASSIVE drawback of the book is that the pinyin is presented without tones! So the useful feature (how to pronounce pinyin) is almost completely cancelled out by this ridiculous ommission.

The “Immersion Guide” is full colour and quite comprehensive. It includes sections on hiring staff for your home and paragraphs on how to fire workers, ok, maybe not that, but it seems to be written for monied ex-pats who have come to run companies in China or at least plan on bossing locals around…

Complete Strangers

Holding a phrasebook, looking hopefully at the listener and announcing out your best attempt at a Chinese word is a great way to win over many locals. There are some who don’t want to deal with your frustrating inadequacy, but I’ve found in cafes, taxis, trains, on street corners and in restaurants many Beijingers who relish in the opportunity to help their new “Ow-da-li-ah-ren” (Australian) friend with the language.

So many people have helped me with my pronunciation that I’m starting to feel like the tones are worth the effort – that I’d like to stick at this and at least be able to have a very basic conversation in the local’s native tongue. Looking further ahead, Sydney has a strong Chinese population, so it’s not like I’m not going to have anyone to practice with!

So here’s what I do – I practice little sayings, and when I find a particularly friendly local, I record the sayings using my phone. For your entertainment, I have uploaded a few examples of my bastardisation of the Mandarin language:

Directing a taxi driver in Mandarin – Locals tell me how to give directions in a taxi

How are you? Fine Thanks! (in Mandarin) – A basic conversation – now possible thanks to a taxi driver

I understand a little – “A little” – a woman on the train helps me pretend I understand “a little” Chinese

I need an interpreter – Another taxi driver counsels me on “I need an interpreter”

Take me to Jiantai Xi Lu – Same taxi driver, this time on how to get me to Jiantai West Road – where I’m staying.

The Internet

There are a few great resources I’ve found so far: a table that ‘pronounces’ all the sounds/tones for you at a click; a website that collects all the Mandarin training videos on YouTube in one place, and Ask Benny, a YouTube channel full of fun videos for learning Mandarin. The first of the three is particularly useful: as I come across a word I’d like to practice, I can generally hear how it sounds using that table. Highly recommended.

The future

I’m setting myself a goal of recording a short video entirely in Mandarin, before I leave China in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to link to the video in this post should I prove successful!

Your help

If you’ve got any tips or tricks for learning languages – or Mandarin specifically – please be sure to let me know… I really need all the help I can get!


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First impressions of Beijing – Live from the highway

July 28th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Arrived in Beijing from London Heathrow this morning. Only been here a few hours but I’ve had time to post my first video journals to YouTube:

(Updated links thanks to Katie)

Stepping off the plane…

Straight into a Coca-Cola billboard…

Reporting from a taxi…

They’re all on my YouTube Channel

Have I arrived in an Olympic city? Yes I have. The massive Beijing Airport (home of the PEK airport code) is as large and as modern as any airport I’ve ever seen. Banners, billboards and signs for the Olympics are everywhere, along with countless volunteers…

Our taxi driver didn’t speak ONE WORD of English, and even the locals trying to tell him where I was going seemed flustered. I think it may be a’ cultural thing’ to yell here more than in the West, so maybe he wasn’t as angry as he seemed…

Touching down, the thick pollution in the air is the first thing you notice; stepping off plane its the heat.

The first piece of communication I saw didn’t read “Welcome to Beijing”, it was a Coca-Cola billboard. Acually, the first two signs that greeted me when I stepped off the plain were Coca-Cola billboards. A nice touch for those who know of my previous involvement with the Zero Coke Movement.

Well, I’m off to explore the city. I’ll have my camera with me and my aim is to document my experience of Beijing for my clients, collegues, family and friends back home (that’s in alphabetical order). New friends also welcome!

Zai Jien for now!

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The Birthday Paradox (or) How to win a bet with 23 people

July 27th, 2008 · No Comments

[caption id="attachment_359" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Birthday cake (image courtesy of Art Brazee)"]Birthday cake (image courtesy of Art Brazee)[/caption]

If you had a room of 23 people, what would you say the odds are that two or more of the people share a birthday? It turns out that the odds are greater than 50%. It’s known as the “Birthday Paradox” or the “Birthday Proplem and today I didn’t just learn about the maths – I learned how to make a little coin on it, too.

A friend of mine was telling me of a trainer who regularly stands before workshops of 30 or so participants. Early in the day, he suggests to his audience that at least two people in the room probably share a birthday. To prove his confidence, he proposes a wager – $1 from each participant, which he will double if all participants birthdays are unique. Now if the room had 57 participants there is a greater-than-99% chance he’d keep the money, but even with 30 participants there’s a better than even chance that he’ll pocket the cash.

Ok, so it’s not a good enough trick to quit your day job on, but it could be a nice way to raise a few coins for charity!

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Al Gore’s Challenge – 100% Renewable energy in Ten Years

July 20th, 2008 · No Comments

America’s borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Middle East, to destroy the environment in America. That’s the case Al Gore has made in his recent call for 100% renewable energy in the US within ten years.

You can see the 5 minute summary edit here:

Over in Australia (where I’m from), we’ve had an ‘options paper’ published by our government outlining the choices they feel are available to them to address the energy crises we are facing, and may continue to face over coming years.

Two young Australians have responded to the paper, lamenting that the government’s proposed scheme “fails to protect our inheritance. Instead, it is a giveaway bonanza, with the Government proposing to give 30 per cent of permits away for free to compensate to some of the most polluting industries in Australia.” Well worth a read

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