The Multiplier Effect

Quickly now… If you multiply 633 by 11, what’s the answer?

No doubt, you recognize the pattern, and you may recall the mental math process:

633 x 10, plus 633 x 1, or 6,330 plus 633, or 6,963, which is the answer (or, in terms used by math teachers, the “product”).

There is another way to solve the problem, a faster way that assures fewer computational errors, and does not involve any sort of digital or mechanical device. It does, however, involve a simple rule and a different way to write the problem down.

The rule is: “write down the number, add the neighbor.” The asterisk just above each number is there only to help you to focus. If you prefer, think of it as a small arrow.

Here’s how it works:

Try multiplying 942 x 11  and you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Do it once more, this time with a much larger number: 8,562,320 x 11. It goes quickly, as you’ll see.

Multiplying by 12 is just as easy, but the rule changes to: “double the number, add the neighbor.” Here, my explanation includes specific numbers.

In fact, there is a similar rule for multiplication by any number (1-12). And there are rules for quickly adding long, complicated columns of numbers, as there are for division, square roots and more.

These rules were developed by a man facing his own demise in the Nazi camps during the Second World War. Danger was nothing new to him…this is the story and the enduring legacy of Jakow Trachtenberg, who first escaped the wrath of the Communists as he escaped his native Russia, then became a leading academic voice for world peace. His book, Das Friedensministerium (The Ministry of Peace), was read by FDR and other world leaders. His profile was high; capture was inevitable. He made it out of Austria, got caught in Yugoslavia, and was sentenced to death at a concentration camp. To maintain his sanity, Trachtenberg developed a new system for mathematical calculation. Paper was scarce, so he used it mostly for proofs. The rest, he kept in his head.

Madame Trachtenberg stayed nearby, in safety. She bribed officials, pulled strings, and managed to get Jakow moved to Dresden, which was a mess, allowing him to escape. Then, he was caught again, and was moved to Trieste. More bribes and coercion from Madame. He escaped. The couple maneuvered into a more normal existence beginning at refugee camp in Switzerland. By 1950, they were running the Mathematical Institute in Zurich, teaching young students a new way to think about numbers. A system without multiplication tables. A system based upon logic. A system that somehow survived.

A system that, against all odds, made it into my elementary classroom. One classroom in the New York City school district. For one year. The parents were certain that the teacher was making a terrible mistake, that the people in my class, myself included, would never be able to do math in the conventional way again. Of course, we learned a lot more than an alternative from of arithmetic.

And now, after decades out of print, in an era when arithmetic hardly matters because of calculators and computers, the original book is back in print. The brilliance of system remains awesome, and the book is worth reading just to understand how Trachtenberg conceived an entirely fresh approach under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Dream of a Nation: Inspiring Ideas for a Better America

Happy new year.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

That sentence, and the ideas below, are parts of a book entitled Dream of a Nation: Inspiring Ideas for a Better America. Here are some of those ideas:

Shift the rules for campaign financing so that most of the money comes from most of the people. Currently, one-third of one percent of the people provide 90% of campaign funds. This drives special interests, and encourages a system based upon lobbyists that was never a good idea. And, while we on this track, let’s reduce the ratio of lobbyists to legislators: the current ratio of 23:1 (lobbyist to legislator) is probably too high by half (or more).

Let’s take control of our Federal budget (and, in time, our state budgets, too). In Porto Allegro, Brazil, a “citizen participation” approach to budgeting resulted in a 400% percent increase in school funding, and a dramatic increase in funds for clean water and sewers. Budgeting by citizen participation is a new movement that we want to encourage.

If Americans cut bottled water consumption by 80%, then the number of bottles, laid end-to-end, would circle the equator just once a day. Right now, we can circle the equator with bottles every 5 hours.

If each of us thinks more clearly about what we spend, and where we spend it, then the people living in an average American city (say, 750,ooo population) can add over 3,000 new local jobs and shift about \$300,000 more into the local economy. How? By spending just 20% more on local, not national, businesses. Go to the local hardware store, the farmer’s market; don’t go to Wal-Mart or Walgreens. In the end, you’ll be richer for it. We all will.

Recognize that the high school drop out crisis is costing the U.S. at least half a trillion dollars each year. Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of school in the U.S. Encourage your legislators to take the time to fully understand the problem and to work with states and school districts to end this problem. The problem is not just the schools: it’s the support systems that do not provide sufficient support for lower-income families. An astonishing one in four American children live in poverty. We know how to change this: we need to focus on what worked during the LBJ years and the Clinton years, and do more of it. And, along the way, we need to invest about \$360 million to fix crumbling school buildings. This priority pays off in so many ways: GDP, elimination of crime, family stability, reduction in prison population, so much more. We should no longer accept the idea that 25% of earth’s prison population resides in a U.S. prison–an outsized number for a nation with just 8 percent of the world’s people. Similarly, we should no longer accept the high price of education and the middling results that we achieve with those dollars. Other countries do better because their systems are more reasonable. We need to change the way we think about all of this, and we need to make it clear to legislators that this will be their last term if they do not accomplish what we need done.

Let’s get started on two substantial changes in the ways we work with our money. First, let’s start thinking in terms of a V.A.T., as most Western nations do. If the book’s calculations are correct, this should increase our available funds by about 13%. And second, let’s eliminate the 17% (average) payroll tax, reducing hiring costs for employers, as this model is proving to be more effective than our current approach. For more about this, Get America Working! (not the easiest website for clear presentation of ideas; the book is better).

In Canada, they spend \$22 per person on noncommercial educational media (we call it public TV, public radio). In England, they spend \$80 per person per year. In the U.S., we spend \$1.37 per person per year (less than a bottle of water). If we increase funding to a more reasonable level, of, say, \$75 per person per year (one bottle of water per week), we get something as good as the BBC for ourselves and our children. Noncommercial matters.

There’s much longer discussion about carbon footprints, waste, overconsumption, and the need for cars that average 100mpg. And another about rethinking just about everything related to the outsized defense budget and its underlying strategies. We haven’t got the health care concept down yet, but moving it into the public goods shopping cart seems to be a step in an appropriate direction.

We should all become familiar with, and promote, the 8 Global Millennium Development Goals that aim to:

• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Achieve universal primary education
• Promote gender equality and women’s empowerment
• Reduce child mortality
• Improve maternal health
• Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases
• Create a global partnership for development

So that’s a start. It’s going to be a busy year. And, I hope, one of our best.

Unreasonable

As the year winds down, a call-out to some unreasonable people.

One is called The Unreasonable Institute.

Why We Exist: To create a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances.
Our Mission: To unlock entrepreneurial potential to overcome our world’s greatest challenges.

Three recent college graduates decided to take on the world’s biggest problems–no shortage of idealism here–by causing interactions between promising entrepreneurs with big ideas, mentors, and funders. They do all of this–quite reasonably, I might add–by having everybody work and live together in a big house for several weeks. I’m not sure that “institute” (their term) is the ideal description, but this combination networking fest and dorm experience makes a lot of sense. There are lots of informal interactions between smart, interested, connected people who want to make things happen. I love this idea, and I suspect you will, too.

The second is called Charity: Water.

charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

Two simple ideas here. One is clean water for everyone, everywhere in the world. That’s a tremendous challenge, one that can be solved only on a local level, well-by-well, source-by-source. It’s also a transformative idea: clean water means healthier people, far less time each day caring for the ill; empowerment of women (who, in many places in the world, expend an enormous amount of time at the well or other source, and carrying water home).

To play the video, please click on the image.

Both are mentioned here are examples of a new way of thinking about the world’s problems: a small entrepreneurial group with big ideas, unique approaches to management, operations and funding, plenty of attention to details, and, far less reliance upon large organizations to provide solutions. And one more thing: the internet is central to the success of these new conceptions. Be sure to explore Charity: Water’s use of internet mapping for every project, a solid example of things to come.

BTW: while searching for a link, I ran into a Huffington Post story that explains the trend in more detail. It’s definitely worth reading, especially at a time of year when we’re all trying to figure out how to do it even better next week.

A Great Idea for Great Ideas

Once upon a time, OmniGraffle software was provided free with every Apple Mac computer. That’s how I learned about it. Now, I use OmniGraffle on my iPad and the desktop. When it comes to sketching out ideas, and presenting them in a clear and colorful manner, there is no better (or easier-to-use) product.

So, what does OmniGraffle do? Well, it depends upon what you want it to do. Start with a blank sheet, or some on-screen graph paper, or set yourself up for a cloud cluster (also called a mind map), or a whiteboard, or a chalkboard. There are connected notes, so you can use it as a kind of bulletin board, Whatever works for you, you’ll find the basic template in the full Standard or Professional version for use on the Mac (a great many features are available on the iPad version, which may suffice for some users).

Choose the template, then start drawing. Easy enough to begin with a box, color it, shade it, add text, make a copy, the sorts of things that you do in PowerPoint or Keynote all the time. Here, the tools are more varied, more versatile, including a bezier tool to draw shapes as you would in Adobe Illustrator (if you don’t know how to do this, it’s worth asking someone for help, but once you understand how it works, you’ll find yourself using this tool quite often).

So, let’s say that you begin with a free-form drawing, a visual exploration, a sketch to explain an idea to yourself or to others. It begins to make some sense, so you want to change its form, maybe move into a cloud of connected ideas, or a set of related on-screen index cards, or an organizational chart with colors to indicate levels or positions. Easy to do–this software is designed for versatility, and for intuitive thinking. The results can become quite sophisticated–and yet, they are not difficult to pull together, even under the pressure of time.

Automatic layouts save time, and make everything look a lot tidier, a lot more clear. There’s quick and easy access to frequently used tools, like color palettes and the font selector. There’s a user community called Graffletopia that creates “stencils” that can be used to create, for example, a director’s plan for film, or visualizations for software programmers. Browsing through Graffletopia, the utility of OmniGraffle becomes very clear: this is a visualization tool for working professionals. It’s easy to use, versatile, and, you’ll find, quite popular among certain knowledgable groups.

OmniGraffle is not a drawing tool, but instead, it is a tool for making (and easily revising) diagrams. I like the language from Omni’s website: “OmniGraffle knows what makes a diagram different from a drawing, and gives you the tools to create amazing diagrams quickly and easily. Lines stay connected to their shapes, unlike with illustration programs, where you would have to redraw your diagram every time you moved something.” As someone who often uses visuals to explain–and has become quite tired of the limitations of, say, Keynote or the level of sophisticated required for Adobe Illustrator–OmniGraffle feels just right to me. I find that the interface is intuitive (best if you’re already a Mac user), and that, from time to time, I need to take a moment and figure out how a tool works. That’s good–it’s just a few steps more sophisticated than my current abilities.

Most of the time, I’m sketching a diagram between meetings, capturing the basic idea. And although I can complete a pro-quality diagram on the iPad (and often do), I find myself in need of some certain advanced features, such as import/export from/to Visio (a Windows-only product). Most of the time, my diagram is on the simple side: colored boxes with type, perhaps a cloud to indicate an interesting idea. By holding my finger down, then dragging, I can group my clouds and/or boxes. Better yet, a smart selection tool allows quick selection of, for example, just the blue rectangles. I can create Adobe-style layers, then copy, or turn them on and off. Very handy, qick, and effective. Easily learned, too, in daily use, the iPad version has proven to be extremely useful, in part because it combines some of the best features found in OmniGraffle Professional (such as tables) with a sophisticated automatic diagramming tool, and a freehand tool, too.

To be clear, there are three different OmniGraffle products, each with its own unique set of benefits.

OmniGraffle for iPad costs \$49.99 from the AppStore–a high-priced product that turns out to be a very good value because it does so much, so easily. OmniGraffle Standard, for Mac, costs \$99.99, and OmniGraffle Professional, also for Mac, costs \$199.99. Compare their features here. And, happily, you can get a free trial download for either of the Mac products (and any of the many excellent OmniGroup products). They do things the right way. It’s impressive.

Edward Tufte Kills Two More Kittens

Last night, I was one of two keynote speakers for an innovation event. As a speaker, I’m supposed to be the teacher. Three people in the audience were fast asleep. I am their grateful student.

I spoke for over a half hour. I’m pretty sure we should pass a law, or perhaps, a constitutional amendment, that assures no speech will ever run longer than 20 minutes.

I structured my speech with over 100 clever little slides (I used Keynote, which is cooler than PowerPoint). Every visual cue was carefully tied to specific words in my written script. So I paid more attention to the script and the visuals than I did to the audience. Occasional ad-libs only made the speech longer.

The gentleman who preceded me, a college president, used Prezi. What a cool visual presentation! I remember almost nothing he said. (Too busy looking at the cool imagery.)

So here’s a digital insider take on speeches, the morning after. Just talk to the audience. Tell them what you know. Allow yourself one index card with three key points.

Anybody in the audience who want to see the charts, graphs, photos, etc., tell them to visit your website or blog. In that environment, they can study the visuals in their own time, not in a crowded auditorium. When they hear hear you talk about an important idea, they can visit your website for more information.

Which is to say: speeches are terrific for revving up the audience and introducing new ideas, but they are not very useful for detailed presentation of ideas. Websites are not a good way to rev up the audience and introduce new ideas–there is no personal touch, except, sometimes, with an extraordinary video–but for details and the day-by-day updates, they’re terrific.

I trust the guys in the back row slept well. Last night, they were the most powerful teachers in the room.

For more on Tufte/kittens:

Tufte Kitten Kill Count

Intro to Tufte:

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information