Our Little Earth – December 07, 2007

December 07, 2007
Our Little Earth
The Electronic Newspaper for Kids
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New prime minister Down Under

Fig One On December 3rd, Kevin Rudd was sworn in as the next prime minister of Australia. He replaces John Howard. Rudd was born in a small town in Australia. His father, who was a farmer, died when Kevin Rudd was 11 years old. He went to a university in Canberra, the capital of Australia.

For many years, Australia was inhabited by indigenous people such as the Aborigines who are native to Australia. In the 17th century, European explorers started discovering Australia. Great Britain claimed part of Australia in 1770 and initially used it as a prison – it would send its criminals there. More settlers came in and Australia got divided into six colonies. In 1901, the six colonies became a federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was created. Australia has some very unique animal species not found in too many other places around the world: koala, wombat, emu, kangaroo, dingo, kookaburra, and platypus. Australia is also the first country to have all polymer (plastic) bank notes instead of paper. Plastic money has some benefits – it’s harder to create fake money, it doesn’t rip easily and lasts longer, and when it eventually does rip, it can be recycled!

Australia is often called “the land Down Under” because it lies entirely in the Southern Hemisphere and appears low down on globes and in maps.

Smartest kids in the world

Fig Two An organization called the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) runs a program every three years that evaluates children from all over the world. This program is called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). The results for the analysis done in 2006 were released this week. The tests were given to over 400,000 15-year old students from 57 different countries. The children were tested in reading, mathematics and science.

So, what do the results say? The top three countries in Science were Finland, Hong Kong (China), and Canada. Reading was dominated by South Korea, Finland, and Hong Kong (China). The most outstanding mathematicians were from Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Finland, and Hong Kong (China). The PISA tests have become a useful way for countries to measure how their education system is performing compared to the rest of the world, and how it’s improving over time. The next PISA is in 2009 and already 62 countries have signed up to participate.

Do you know what else is common amongst the three winners – Finland, South Korea and Chinese Taipei? These countries all have very high mobile phone usage – all of them have almost more phones in their country than people! So the logical conclusion would be that owning a mobile phone makes you smarter, right?

Chocolate to the rescue!

Fig Three- Andy Pag & John Grimshaw are driving a truck from England to Timbuktu, a distance of 4500 miles (7250 km). That’s a long ride, but the really interesting thing is that their truck doesn’t run on petrol (gasoline) or diesel. Instead, it uses chocolate!  It’s not quite the same chocolate that we eat – the truck uses cocoa butter that comes from waste chocolate. The whole trip will use the equivalent of about 80,000 chocolate bars!

Andy and John are making this trip to increase awareness about global warming. The chocolate-based fuel produces less carbon dioxide than petrol or diesel. Carbon dioxide and a few other gases such as methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide are called greenhouse gases because they help create something called the greenhouse effect. This is what keeps the Earth warm – without these gases, our planet would have been much colder. But human activity has now driven up the production of these greenhouse gases, and this is making our planet warmer than its usual state. Amongst other things, this can cause increased melting of the ice caps and flooding. The amount of greenhouse gases generated because of our habits and activities is often referred to as the “carbon footprint”. One can talk about the carbon footprint of a country, a company or even an individual. Our carbon footprint can be much larger than we think. Each of us can try to reduce our carbon footprint as well. Here are a few ideas – replace standard light bulbs with fluorescent ones, ride your bike or walk instead of using a car when possible, carpool to school, recycle as much as you can, buy recycled goods (such as greeting cards made of recycled paper), avoid wasting paper, don’t leave the refrigerator door or the water tap open for any longer than necessary, use tap water (if it’s safe to drink) instead of bottled water, turn off the lights and other gadgets when not needed, and plant a tree!

The reason Andy and John chose to go to Timbuktu is also interesting. Timbuktu is in Mali, and is often used to indicate a place that is very far away. For example, one would say “I will chase you all the way to Timbuktu”. Andy and John are saying that if one could use an efficient fuel to go all the way to Timbuktu, then the rest of us can try to use other such fuels as well.

Figure Visit Timbuktu. It’s a city in the African country of Mali. Timbuktu is most known today for its use in the English language to indicate a far away place. If you’ve seen the movie “Parent Trap”, you might remember a line there which says “The first change I make is to send that two-faced little brat off to a boarding school in Timbuktu”! In a poll in the UK in 2006, one-third of the youth polled didn’t think it was a city at all, while two-thirds thought it was an ancient city that no longer existed.

It turns out that Timbuktu really deserves a lot more respect! From the 14th to the 16th century, Timbuktu was one of the world’s leading centers of both trade and academics – a lot of gold and books passed through it! Word of this town spread to Europe, and many European explorers went out with the intent of discovering Timbuktu, but none returned. This is most likely why Timbuktu earned the reputation of being a far away mythical place. It was not until 1828 that the first explorer made it there and back. Mali became a French colony for a while. Today, the city is not as successful as it once was, and is also threatened by the great Sahara desert taking it over.

According to the Guiness Book of World Records, an Australian eats the most ice cream a year – 4.4 gallons (35 pints).
The word that was the fastest rising search term on Google in the whole world in 2007 was “iPhone”. The next few are “Badoo”, “Facebook”, “DailyMotion”, and “WebKinz”.
TEACHER: If you had one dollar and you asked your father for another, how many
dollars would you have?
VINCENT: One dollar.
TEACHER(sadly): You don’t know your arithmetic.
VINCENT(sadly): You don’t know my father.
Andy and John (from the Chocolate truck story above) will be driving through four countries to get from the UK to Mali. Which countries are these? Their names begin with the letters F, S, M, and M.
Jack has a 5 liter bucket, a 3 liter bucket, and an unlimited supply of sand. He needs to get exactly 4 liter of sand into one of the buckets. How can he go about doing that? There are no markings on the buckets so he cannot tell when the bucket is half full, etc.
Puzzle from last edition: The question was about getting the wolf, goat and cabbage across the river.
Solution: First take the goat across, come back, take the wolf, bring back the goat, take the cabbage, and then take the goat. There are other solutions too. The key is to use the fact that you can bring something back as well from the other side.
Puzzle from last edition: Can you find a way to get from Iran to Finland, by stepping through neighboring countries that were mentioned in the stories?
Solution: Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, Finland.
Credits: Andy Pag (www.biotruck.co.uk) for chocolate truck photo; Blueguy at Flickr for Timbuktu photo.
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