Category Archives: education

Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas

Every time I review one of these books from the Reader’s Digest Blackboard Books series, I struggle to find something new to say. So far they have all been so fantastic, and it is one of the few book sets I would recommend investing the money to own. The nicely-sized hardbound books are so full of interesting and useful information – but the design of each book is always so incredibly gorgeous.

This particular book, Spilling the Beans on the Cat’s Pajamas: Popular Expressions – What They Mean and How We Got Them, by Judy Parkinson, is probably my favorite since the origin of words and phrases is something I’ve always loved.

As much as I love owning the actual books, they are now available as E-books from Amazon.com (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (nook). The advantage of owning them this way, is that they’re searchable.

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E=MC2

Yet another great little book in the Reader’s Digest collection: E=mc² by Jeff Stewart is a handy guide to all the “must know” lessons of physics.

I’m not going to lie, science is not my area of expertise, and usually physics would be above my level of comprehension, but this book lays it out in simple terms in well-organized chapters.

I can’t say this enough – this Reader’s Digest collection should be the centerpiece of a family bookcase. My 12 year old has been enjoying these as much as I have, and it’s great to know he is supplementing what he’s being taught in school, (and in some cases, getting a head start on topics they haven’t even discussed in class!)

Another great reference book from Reader’s Digest, from content to design. Love these.

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The Classics (Reader’s Digest Collection)

I love these Reader’s Digest books! The latest one, “The Classics: All You Need to Know, from Zeus’s Throne to the Fall of Rome”, is by Caroline Taggert, the same author of “I Used To Know That”, also in the Reader’s Digest series.

This one does not disappoint. The quality is in keeping with the rest of the collection, from the book’s design to its content.

Like “Cliff Notes”, this book tells you everything you need to know in an easy to read format. Sections of the book include: Classical Languages, Religion and Mythology, Ancient Greek History, Roman History, Classical Literature, Architecture and Art, Math, Science and Inventions, and more.

Some of my favorite sections included: Translations of common Latin phrases, short profiles of Greek gods, and the history of the Olympics.

Conclusion: Another great book from Reader’s Digest and worth adding to your bookshelf!

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Easy as Pi

I love these Reader’s Digest books. They’re just so readable and interesting. This one is called Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day by Jamie Buchan.

Honestly, I can’t stand math. I’ve never liked it, for as far back as I can remember, but this book was great. The first part is definitely my territory, where they cover the origin of phrases such as “The Third Degree” and “Cloud Nine”.

The second section is another winner. This section covers numbers in Fiction and Movies, such as the book “Fahrenheit 451” and the Fellini film, “8½”.

The next two sections  cover “Numbers in Culture” and “Numbers in Mythology and Religion” and are equally interesting. The last section is called  “Numbers in Math and Science”.  I’ll admit that most of that very last section went completely over my head, but I really enjoyed this book over all. Easy as Pi is now officially math hater approved :)

Enjoy this article I’ve been authorized to share with you.

Brushing Up on Math is Easy as Pi
By Jamie Buchan, Author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day

“World War II? I don’t know much about it. You’ve lost me. I’m sorry, I was always terrible at history. I just don’t have the brain for it!”

Few people would willingly admit to this level of ignorance about key events that shaped the world. But when it comes to math — which shapes not only the world but the entire universe — many otherwise highly intelligent and educated people will happily proclaim ignorance. In many cases, there’s the implication that math is boring and difficult — the exclusive domain of the severely geeky.

This may seem merely frustrating for mathematicians and scientists in social settings, but it has serious and wide-ranging consequences. On an everyday level, a lack of confidence about math makes it hard to split a bill, work on a spreadsheet, or help a child with homework (and this can easily become a vicious circle, since anxiety about math can be passed on to the next generation).

If you feel like you’re math averse, be not afraid: the book Easy as Pi can help. Math itself is based on a limited number of very logical rules and, whether we like it or not, it surrounds us in everything we do. As Pythagoras (the guy behind the famous Theorem) remarked: “Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons.” The head of a sunflower has evolved with mathematical precision into a double-spiral pattern that packs the most seeds into the smallest available space. The computer on which you’re reading this, and every electronic device — from cheap digital watches counting seconds and minutes to NASA’s Columbia supercomputer, which simulates the collisions of entire galaxies — is powered by a vastly complex system of ones and zeros, which only works at all because they can be interpreted mathematically.

Just like our explorations of science, humanity’s understanding of math has advanced amazingly since we were counting how many mammoth hides it takes to wallpaper a cave. The concept of zero — a number representing nothing — is taken for granted today (apart from anything else, how could all that electronics work otherwise?). However, for centuries it was a thorny philosophical and mathematical question. Roman numerals stopped being used in Europe when medieval Italians learned the zero from the Arabs, who in turn had picked it up from India. The ancient Greeks gave us much of our understanding of geometry, and the Romans put it into practice with structural engineering. We’ve come a long way. The Pirahã tribe, a few hundred people living in a remote area of Brazil, reminds us just how far — with almost no contact with outside cultures, their math is limited to counting “one, two, many.”

Numbers have also slipped into our language and culture in various ways — the third degree, the fourth estate, and fifth columnists spring to mind. And have you ever been asked to “deep six” something? Intelligence agencies use “numbers stations” — radio stations broadcasting strings of numbers — to communicate in code with spies in other countries. And they’ve gained a cult following of fascinated civilian listeners. The controversial conviction of the Cuban Five came after FBI agents found a decryption program for a Cuban numbers station on their computers.

The influence of numbers in our everyday life also seeps into our superstitions. The number 666 — still feared by many people as the “number of the beast” — is believed to be based on gematria, a form of numerically encoding Hebrew words, which is also at the root of claims about a “Bible code.” Math anxiety and ignorance allows people who practice numerology and astrology to make a lot of money by claiming to imbue numbers with a spiritual and cosmic significance. Not only is this completely unproven, it masks the far greater beauty of a mathematically ordered universe.

To sum it all up, math and numbers are everywhere, and they are embedded in our lives in every respect. Anxiety about them is really worth trying to overcome. The benefits they bring us are countless.

© 2010 Jamie Buchan, author of Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day

Author Bio
Jamie Buchan was educated at Westminster School and is completing a Master of Arts degree in Architectural Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Many of his family members are involved in books: his great-grandfather John Buchan is the prolific novelist famous for The Thirty-Nine Steps; his grandfather D.J. Enright is a well-known Movement poet; and his uncle James Buchan is an award-winning novelist and historical writer. Both of his parents work in publishing.

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There Is An Urgency

Simultaneously difficult to read, and difficult not to read once you open it, There Is An Urgency, a memoir by Greghri Love, tells the painfully true story of a boy who not only grew up in an environment of heartbreaking abuse, but managed to come out the other side better for it.

The book is arranged in chapters alternating between childhood and adulthood, keeping the reader from completely losing heart, knowing that Greghri not only survives the horrors at the hands of his step-father, (who is also his mother’s pimp and a drug dealer), but Mr. Gregrhi Love grows up to be a teacher with a unique gift for touching the lives of other youth growing up in similarly difficult situations.

Deeply honest, disturbing, and ultimately inspiring, There Is An Urgency is a must read for anyone who came from an abusive home or who works with children who do.

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12 Days and 12 Facts for This Holiday Season

I have been authorized to reproduce the following. Enjoy!

12 Days and 12 Facts for This Holiday Season

By Caroline Taggart,
Author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School

Ever catch yourself saying I Used to Know That?

Each holiday season brings another round of cocktail parties, family get-togethers, and corporate gatherings — and invariably, lots of small talk. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when discussing politics, literature, and other intellectual “stuff,” especially when what is thought to be general knowledge is often long-forgotten. Enter I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School. From English and Literature to Math and Science, from History and Geography to Religion and Other-Worldly Topics, this book leaves you equipped to handle any topic of conversation.

Here we’ve cherry-picked twelve fun facts for the holiday season — one for every day of Christmas (or whatever holiday you prefer!) Quiz yourself to see how much “stuff” you need to brush up on before hobnobbing with the boss or office crush.

1. On building sentences: Just what is a “clause”? (Not to be confused with Santa Claus.)

Answer: A clause contains a subject and a verb and may stand alone as a sentence or as part of a sentence (when it is often called a subordinate clause): Santa Claus loves cookies but can’t eat them without milk.

2. How many bones is the spine made up of?

Answer: 26 small bones called vertebrae (Be careful lifting all those heavy holiday boxes.)

3. Acclaimed author Charles Dickens (1812-70) wrote which Christmas classic?

Answer: A Christmas Carol. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge tries to ignore Christmas and is haunted by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, and by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, who show him the error of his ways.

4. The fist chapter of this famous book opens with “Call me Ishmael.” Name the book and author. (Hint: it makes a whale of a gift!)

Answer: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Melville is also the author of Pierre and the unfinished Billy Budd.

5. There’s a name for the process of watering your Christmas tree? Who knew?

Answer: Grab the kids and give them this science factoid as they nurture the family tree: Osmosis is a form of diffusion that is specific to the movement of water. Water moves through a selectively permeable membrane (that is, one that lets some types of molecules through but not others) from a place where there is a higher concentration of water to one where it is lower.

6. Can you name all 6 wives of Henry VIII, father of the Church of England?

Answer: (Listed in order) Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Catherine. They are often remembered as divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Sure makes you think twice when complaining about bad relatives.

7. Who was the 16th President of the United States?

Answer: Abraham Lincoln (R, 1861-65) and yes — he really was born in a log cabin on a winter’s day. Notably famous for many reasons including his Gettysburg Address: “Four Score and Seven Years ago our fathers brought fourth upon this continent a new nation conceived in Liberty . . . ”

8. ‘Tis the season to be jolly giving! Don’t forget to tip well this season — etiquette coaches will tell you that means no less than 18%. So just how much should you tip on a bill of $50?

Answer: Percent means by a hundred, so anything expressed as a percentage is a fraction (or part, if you prefer) of 100. So 18% is 18 parts of 100, or 18/100 or .18. If your bill is $50, multiply 50 by .18 to get your tip total of $9. If you’re feeling generous, a 20% tip would require you to multiply 50 by .20, for a total of $10.00

50.00 x .18 = 9.00

50.00 x .20 = 10.00

Percentages can also be holiday-relevant when it comes to figuring out in-store sales. In this case, you want to multiply by the inverse of the percentage listed. So if you have a $50 sweater that’s on sale for 25% off, multiply 50 by .75 for your total of $37.50. That same $50 sweater on sale for 40% off would equate to $30, or $50 multiplied by .60.

50.00 x .75 = 37.50

50.00 x .60 = 30.00

9. Brr, it’s cold outside. But just how cold does it have to be to get some snow around here?

Answer: Did you know that the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit? Keep an eye on the temperature and watch your footing for ice on the ground. (See previous fact about those treasured vertebrae!)

10. Everyone knows Santa and his elves live in the North Pole. But what about the South Pole (aka Antarctica)?

Answer: The South Pole was discovered by Roald Amundsen (1872-1928, Norwegian), who was also the first to sail though the Northwest passage, the sea route from Pacific to Atlantic along the north coast of North America. Antarctica is the only continent that contains no countries — instead, it is a stateless territory protected from exploitation by an international treaty. A good place for the elves to protest low wages?

11. Which Ocean is bigger: the Pacific or the Atlantic?

Answer: The Pacific Ocean is larger at 69,374 square miles — that’s almost double the Atlantic, which comes in at 35,665 square miles. Making it evenmore astonishing that St. Nick can cross the globe in just one night.

12. Remember the reason for the Season! Can you name a few things that both Judaism and Christianity have in common?

Answer: Both are monotheistic religions that share the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. Both religions view Jerusalem as a sacred site, the former for the Wailing Wall (contains the remains of the temple that was thought to be the place where God resides on earth) and the latter for Christ’s burial and resurrection site.

Happy Holidays to all!

©2009 Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School

Author Bio
Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School, has been an editor of non-fiction books for nearly 30 years and has covered nearly every subject from natural history and business to gardening and astronomy. She has written several books and was the editor of Writer’s Market UK 2009.

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A library without books

A Massachusetts prep school, Cushing Academy, has decided that paper and hardback books are outdated. They’re removing them and “upgrading” to digital books.

The headmaster, James Tracy says, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

What do you think? Is this cutting edge, or just sad? Will this help students learn by giving them access to all the latest technology as well as millions of books – or will they be distracted by E-mail, chat, and other online socializing?

Source: Boston.com

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