Pets, history, the universe, 'The Parent Trap'--Things I learned about this week

You never know where you are going to learn something interesting--on the ride to school, at a party, even, dare I say it, in a newspaper. Email me great things you hear so I can include them in my list.

1) You don’t want a male platypus as a pet.
It’s too bad, because they are very cute, if not funny looking, what with a bill similar to a duck’s, a beaver-like tail a beaver and otter feet.

But a fourth grader named Ethan said that the male adult has the ability to spew venom from a spur on the ankles of its hind legs that can cause serious pain to humans and kill small animals. (Venomous mammals are rare.) Also, they only live in Australia, some distance from Northwest Washington.

Some people call baby platypus “puggles.” That isn’t really what they are called, though it has been suggested that they be called “platypup.”

2) Astronomers have taken a good look back farther in time than ever.

Two teams of astronomers measured a powerful flash of light--called a gamma-ray burst--from a star that exploded just after the dawn of the universe 13 billion years ago.

The star is believed to have died 630 million years after the Big Ban that created the universe, which is a good long time to humans but not so much in cosmic terms.

The newfound gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB 090423, was first picked up in April by sensors aboard a NASA satellite and teams of astronomers in Spain and Chile began investigating. Their results were just published in the journal Nature.

Studying such gamma-ray bursts may help researchers learn about the very first stars in the universe.

3) The White House is a busy place. It welcomed lots of celebrities, lobbyists and other folks during the first months of the Obama administration, this according to a list released by administration officials. Notables included Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and Denzel Washington.

4) The Tea Act of 1773 wasn’t intended to raise the tax on tea.

I suppose I knew this once back in the day when I knew every single bone-headed move that the British made against the American colonists leading to the Revolutionary War.
But I was reminded as I helped my daughters study their American history that the Tea Act, which sparked the Boston Tea Party, was aimed at helping the ailing East India Company.

The company was failing financially and had millions of pounds of tea it could not sell, so Parliament passed an act that would let the company ship the tea directly to the colonies and sold at a cut-rate price. That meant the colonists had to buy the company’s tea, or pay a great deal more money for it. They were so angry they turned back some of the ships and refused to unload the tea from other ships.

Colonists, not leaving well enough alone, then staged the Boston Tea Party, boarding the ships and destroying the tea. The War of Independence was informally starting.

5) The Education Department’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study released a load of data about the approximately 4.1 million children born in 2001--including some that continued to show the central truth about the nation’s achievement gap.

Of those who first enrolled in kindergarten in the 2006-07 or 2007-08 school year, children in households with two parents, with incomes at or above the poverty threshold, or with English as a primary home language, had higher reading and mathematics scores than their counterparts (i.e., children in households with a single parent or some other family structure, living in households in poverty, or with a primary home language that was not English, respectively).

Also: 89.1 percent were enrolled in public schools, 8.6 percent in religious private schools, and 2.3 percent in nonsectarian private schools. Three-quarters (74.8 percent) were enrolled in full-day kindergarten. Approximately one-half (51.8 percent)2 started school in a school with 500 or more students. About one-half of children attending public school (49.5 percent) attended schools in which more than 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

The studies are conducted to better under children’s early development. You can find more here.

6) Professor Steven Krashen, an expert on how children learn to read, on an amazing reading device:

"Let me recommend another device for reading: It is random-access, highly portable, requires only natural, easily available energy, and is simple to use. You don’t have to shut it down when the airline people tell you to turn off your electronic devices and put your tray table up.

"These devices are already commercially available and can, in fact, be borrowed for free. They last for decades, even centuries, and no arbitrary changes are planned for the future.

"When using this device you don’t have to call for help to find the right command when the screen goes blank or freezes, or get a new equipment every few months because your electronic reader is now obsolete and your electronic books unusable on the new readers.

"The device is, of course, the book and its close relatives, the magazine, the comic book, and the graphic novel. Someday, electronic books will undoubtedly replace the book, but so far none of them has all the advantages of the book.

"Right now, they are only androids, approximations of the real thing."

7) "The Parent Trap," the one with Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson, holds up rather well after 137 viewings.

By Valerie Strauss  |  October 31, 2009; 10:44 AM ET
Categories:  Things I Learned This Week  | Tags: Things I Learned This Week Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | | Digg | Stumble Previous: Levine: Ed schools should grab Duncan's lifeline--and not 'carp' about his critique
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Cathy Manis has informed me that RJ Heathorn had the same idea I did back in 1980. He wrote a paper on a device called Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge (BOOK).

Heathorn also recommended a small inexpensive accessory that will enable users to pick up where they left off at a previous session, called the BOOKmark.

Here is the citation: "Learn with book,"R. J. Heathorn In: Hills, Phillip J., ed. The Future of the Printed Word. Greenwood Press, 1980.

Posted by: skrashen | November 1, 2009 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Years ago, Isaac Asimov wrote an essay in which he evaluated the idea of mechanical reading. I think this was back when the predictions were that in the future all reading would be done on microfilm. I have forgotten the title of the essay, but it's probably in one of the collections of his nonfiction work.

He took the basic microfilm reader and kept improving it step-by-step: it needed to be more portable, the reader needed to be able to turn back quickly to check something, etc.

Of course, once he had dealt with all the problems, he ended up with a book.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 4, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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