Saturday, December 31, 2011

Geography nuggets - Country Series - North Korea

Here is a little bit about the history and current situation of North Korea. Enjoy. As usual, all videos are uploaded on my website: www.geokid.org

Friday, December 23, 2011

What is North Korea like?

North Korea was not on top of my blogging priorities, but the recent death (December 17) of its leader Kim Jong-il, changed that.
North Korea is a communist country of which very little is known, so when I found this great 15 minutes BBC documentary about it, I thought it would be worth sharing it my readers. I may blog at a different time about the history of this secretive and poor country and how it has become what it is right now. In the meanwhile, I have added a Wikipedia map, to the picture below showing the location of North Korea.
Click on the picture to watch the "interesting" 15 minutes documentary.

Glimpses of real North Korean life behind the facade

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Geography nuggets - Country Series - Israel

As part of my Geography education program, I am going to start a series of videos about individual countries. It will not cover things like capital, longest river or highest peak but rather focus on history and current situation of each featured country. With Christmas approaching, it seems appropriate for the first video to talk about Israel, the land where Jesus was born and lived. After all, it is his birth that we celebrate every year on December 25. If Jesus had not been born and impacted so many lives throughout history, this special holiday would not exist on our calendar.
Of course, not everything about a country can be covered in 10 minutes, but I hope my videos will spur your interest to go find out more about places you might not know much about.
In the meanwhile, let me know which countries you would like me to talk about in my future videos and, once you have watched this first one, try to find out in which of the three occupied territories in Palestine is Bethlehem located. Let me know.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geography nuggets - Where on earth are you? (part 2)

I hope you enjoyed my first video about how to determine our position on the planet earth. This is part 2. It explains a little more about degrees of Latitude and Longitude and their divisions: minutes and seconds.
A future video will cover how GPS devices use and display this information.



What are the coordinates of your city?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Geography nuggets - Where on earth are you? (part 1)

Simple video about how to determine our position on the earth.
What are Latitude and Longitude and how do they work?
The explanation takes a while, if you are not familiar with the subject, so I broke this lesson up in more than one part.
The second part will be uploaded later. Let me know if you have any questions.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

7 Billion people - A problem or a blessing?

If you watched or listened to the news in the past month, chances are you have heard about the earth population reaching 7 billion sometime before the end of 2011.

Population is an important aspect of Geography, so for today's blog, I am presenting four very different perspectives about the birth of the 7 billionth person. Click on each picture below to read the articles.













(watch the video embedded halfway down the page in the article)









The BBC video points out that, if all 7 billion people lived in a city with the same density of Paris, we would all fit within the country of France, which is slightly smaller than the state Texas, with room to spare.

The CNN writer, on the other hand, asks the question: What does this mean for the environment?

My hope this Christmas season is that more people will come to realize that every single person on earth is an asset bringing his/her own unique gifts to this world, not just consuming the earth resources.

Here are a few examples: Benjamin Franklin was the 8th child of 17 children his father had.

Celine Dion is the youngest of 14 children. Queen Victoria of England had 9 children.

Wilma Rudolph, who was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in two Olympic Games, was born prematurely at 4.5 lbs. , the 20th of 21 other brothers and sisters.






Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Geography nuggets - Why we have seasons



Brief introduction to why there are seasons. A lot more can be said about "tilt of the earth axis", "distance from the sun", "equinox", "solstice", etc. Still, this should help you get a good basic idea of why we have seasons. It's my first Geography video lessons. Stay tuned for many more to come.
The video will also be available on my educational website: www.geokid.org

Sunday, November 27, 2011

World countries and their debt...

Preface
The locations of Italy and Greece, referenced in my notes below, are shown here







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I recently ran into the following graph on the BBC news website. Click on the image (or link) below to read the short interactive article that clearly and concisely illustrates the basics behind the current debt problem of Greece and Italy along with other European countries, Japan and the United States.















It would surely be interesting to see such a graph for developing countries, so I did some research. While I could not locate one, I did find out some interesting information. See the links at the end of this post, if you want to read more about it.
Reading about the debt crisis currently faced by so many nations brought about some questions that are not easy to answer, like:
Why are so many European countries that have been considered wealthy for a long time in such financial strain?
What are the causes of debt of the developing countries? What can be done to relieve their debt which often cripples their ability to improve their economy?
Why is there more concern about rescuing the economy of Greece and Italy than that of Somalia, for example?

While there is debate about the reasons as to why so many developing countries are buried under the weight of foreign debt, here are a few causes to consider:
Legacy of colonialism, debt accumulated during periods of war and political instability after their independence from their original colonial power, lack of natural and human resources (often a result of colonialism as well), lack of education, nutrition and infrastructure as a result of years of civil war.
Whatever the reason(s), I think it is hard to argue that the attention currently given to struggling developed countries versus struggling developing countries is very different.

A thought came to mind. All of us have been given a second chance at one point or another during our lifetime: maybe we did something wrong as a child, or at work or we may have hurt our spouse, and have been forgiven...
Shouldn't we give a second change to others as well?
If so, how can we relieve the pain of those struggling nearby or far away?

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For more in depth analysis, see for example:


Thursday, November 17, 2011

A world without boundaries

The video below was put together using a collection of photos taken from the International Space Station (ISS). It was assembled by an online newspaper. So forgive me for the 15 seconds advertisement at the beginning....



All the videos are courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, and the music is Chopin's Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, from the public domain music resource Musopen. Other videos are available for free download from this website (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Videos/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/).
Are you interested in seeing the international space station when it passes over your house? Follow this link:http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/

What locations do you recognize on the video?

City lights appear white, yellow or orange depending on intensity and concentration, so what are those red dots that are visible in some areas?

A couple of things strike me every time I look at images of the earth from space, especially at night. Although there is no clear boundary separating earth’s atmosphere and outer space, the Kármán line which lies at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 mi) above sea level, is commonly used to define this boundary. Our lives depend on this thin layer of gases containing the air we breathe. Amazing!

The second, even more striking thing is that political lines disappear when we look at the world from space. City lights of the same color dot the landscape in North America as well as in Africa and Asia. Rivers flow from mountains to oceans crossing international boundaries without passports. Snow is visible on top of mountains in both the northern and southern hemisphere and thunderstorm clouds move over lands and seas without following predefined flight paths over "friendly skies".

The world is one smooth continuum of wonderful places. We humans are the ones that have divided it up with boundaries that are so familiar to us on our colorful political maps. We are the ones who directly or indirectly contribute to radically different standard of living in countries far apart from each other, or in bordering cities like El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico:


View Larger Map


Or Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip:

Watching the world go by at night makes those flat maps come alive. It gives us a different prospective of cities and highways, of populated places and remote locations, of vast oceans and long rivers. If we take some time to reflect about it, it gives us a better understanding of how people and places fit together and how we are all connected. The ISS takes only about 90 minutes to travel around the earth. During that time, it flies over rich countries, city slums, people at war and people on vacation. So little time, so few miles, yet such striking differences.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How do I study Geography?

People often ask me: "How do you study Geography? There is so much to know and read about... It's overwhelming . Where do I start? How do I get a child interested in such a broad subject?"

As my wife often tells me: "Your first response to practically any question is to grab an Atlas..." When studying geography, you don't necessarily have to follow a set order. Start by looking up a locations of interest, possible vacation destinations, states or countries where friends live, etc. As you look at a map you will start noticing things like rivers, historical landmarks, funny names of locations. Look them up online, read and find pictures about them. Slowly but surely, you will start to make connections.
You read about Silicon Valley, but never thought about why it has such an unusual name. You heard about lake Okeechobee but never realized that its funny name, like many others in that area (Okefenokee, Seminole, etc.) are Indian names, given by the tribes that lived there.

Another important way to learn Geography is to make it a part of our daily life. A few days ago, I blogged about looking up the country of origin of the clothes in my closet. Below, is another simple way to learn about places. Check out the departure and arrival screens at your local airport. You may discover some interesting places. And, if you are from one of those cities I mispronounces the name of, please forgive me.



As we make connections, discover interesting and fun facts and associate names with events and pictures, we start to get a global understanding of the world around us. Give it a try, you may be surprised at what you will discover...

Friday, November 11, 2011

If I were born somewhere else... Part 2

What would I do if I were born in a Central American country, or in rural Africa without a job and the opportunity to support myself and my family? I often wonder about that...

As you ponder about what your life would be like "if you were born somewhere else", take some quiet time to watch this touching documentary, which follows the journey of a few young people leaving El Salvador in search for a better future.

Across Mexico: Chasing an impossible dream - Risking it all - Al Jazeera English

If you don't know where El Salvador is, an interactive Google Map is provided below:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If I was born somewhere else... - part 1

Have you ever stopped to consider what your life would be like if you had been born in another country? Not just another state (if you live in the USA), but another COUNTRY.

Last week, I went to visit a friend who came to Colorado from Mexico. He and his wife just had their fourth child. Their family has struggled to make ends meet since they arrived several years ago. They live in a poor neighborhood, in an old house with only very basic furniture. Yet, he works longer hours than most people I know.

As it often happens when I am exposed to people who were born and grew up in developing countries, I stopped to think about what my life would have been like if I had been born in a poor village of Mexico instead of the town of Verona- Italy, if my parents had been migrant farmers instead of working in a bank, if I had had to work in the fields every day instead of attending private school and being able to go to college.

In the end, a lot of what we have is a result of the country, environment and family into which we were born. What if we had been born in a place and family which had no running water or regular food or would not have been able to send us to school? Our life would, likely, be drastically different.

It is a sobering realization, but there are millions of smart children and adults around the world that will never be able to achieve their full potential because of the circumstances they are in, for no fault of theirs. What contributions could these persons provide if they had the opportunity? Find a cure for a disease? Negotiate a peace agreement in a war-torn area? Win the world cup of soccer? Or simply teach at an elementary school and empower children to strive for a better future….

There is a simple but interesting website that gives a glimpse into what our life would have been like if we lived in any other place around the globe. Just pick any country you are thinking about and check out the few simple statistics presented. Here it is: http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/

So, what should be thankful for today? Why have I been blessed to have hot water, a warm house and a job that allows me to have enough money to feed my children?

I will post a video-story about this subject in a few days. Stay tuned. :-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Countries in my closet

I spent some time looking at the tags of all shirt, T-shirts, sweaters and pants in my closet and recorded the country in which they were made and then generated the graph below using Microsoft Excel. It was an interesting exercise which I recommend trying. If you have children, it’s a fun educational activity to include them in. It will spur some interesting conversations.



What does this graph tell us?

Probably that I have too many clothes in my closet.

The next thing that comes to mind is that I bought all these clothes in the United States, yet only about 10% of them were manufactured in this country. That means that it is cheaper for American companies to have the product manufactured abroad and then shipped over here, rather than making it in the US.

Factory workers in developing countries, like Honduras, Bangladesh and Thailand are paid only a few dollars a day. This makes our goods cheaper, but it does not improve the financial situation of these workers, nor does it help US factories which cannot compete with developing countries waves.

My quick research on clothing labels also helps us to understand how connected our economy is with that with that of Asian and Central American countries, most of which are considered developing nations. These countries have a high percentage of people living under the poverty level, a poor infrastructure and might be governed by unstable or unfriendly governments. So, when any of them faces a natural disaster or political crisis, our economy and that of many other nations can be affected as well.

Geography affects our everyday lives in more ways that we realize.

How did Geography affect your life today?

Do you remember a situation in which Geography significantly affected your life? I will share a few of mine in a future post.

P.S. Two of the names shown on the graph above are not, officially, independent countries.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A New Start. - Geography nuggets. -

After coaching my daughter Isabella for 3 years for the National Geographic Bee, in which she placed in the top 20 nationally in both 2010 and 2011, I felt “depressed” by the poor level of geographic knowledge of most US students and educated adults, so I decided to do "a little something" about it... Using this blog and my website (www.geokid.org) I will deliver short, geography nuggets, in both written and video form.
But wait: isn't learning geography boring and useless?
I am asking you to give me the benefit of the doubt and let's find out together:
Japan Tourism Agency is thinking about offering free roundtrip flights to Japan to promote tourism, which has been very badly affected by the devastating earthquake of 2011. The final decision has not been made yet, but, if I were you, I would enter my name to be notified. To find out more follow this link: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/topics/2011/free_flights.html

So you may be lucky enough to visit Japan for free. But what do you know about it?

video
Video obtained using Google Earth

Japan is an island on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean than California.
It is about a 12 hours flight from Dallas, TX to Tokyo, the capital of Japan.
Japan has an emperor who for centuries was venerated as a God.

What else do you know about Japan? Try the following:
What is the tallest mountain of Japan, which is also a volcano?
Approximately how many people, do you think, live in the Tokyo metropolitan area? 2 million, 15 million, 35 million?
Did you know that Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world but also one of the fastest aging populations in the world? In 2009, about 23 percent of the population was over 65, and by 2050 almost 40 percent of the population will be over 65. Why is that relevant?


There are other geography blogs and websites out there, some of which I visit daily to learn new things. Here is what will make my offer different:

• Fun, Interesting and simple geography tidbits, focusing on useful and applicable information.

• Reader-driven content. Please submit suggestions and requests for geographic subjects to cover. Which foreign countries have you visited? Which ones would you like to visit and why? Have you ever completed a mission trip overseas? Do you support any nonprofit organization in developing countries? Do you speak a foreign language?

• And… starting soon, if readers like the idea, I plan to offer the opportunity for regular, geography live chats. Let me know what you would like to talk about. Maybe your social studies homework? Send me an email: info (at) geokid (dot) org and I will provide you with my Skype ID, for the weekly geo-chat sessions.

Looking forward to your feedback.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Pope in Assisi

This past week Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, convened in Assisi, Italy with the leaders of most world religions to reflect and pray about peace. The event did not make the first (or even third) page of the main news media, at least in the United States. It is not the first time that this event took place. 25 years ago, Pope John Paul II called a similar event. It happened just three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This week, in his closing message, Benedict XVI reminded all people (http://tinyurl.com/3ch5w9h)
that while religion is (and was) often used as an excuse to wave violence against others, this is not the true nature of religion. Its goal is instead goodwill and love for all people. Many today reject religion on the base of mistakes/scandals brought about by religious people or by the fact that it limits our freedoms. Sure, religious people and religions have made mistakes in the past and still do today, but that is because even religious people are human.
Assisi in central Italy is famous as the hometown of Saint Francis of Assisi. Here is his most famous, and my favorite, prayer.



Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.


Which statement best applies to your life?
Have you ever observed (or studied) the life of a deeply religious person?
What makes (or made) this person special?
Use the comment link below of my Facebook page to post your replies.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Abandoned in Guatemala: The Failure of International Adoption Policies

This is one of the main reasons why we don't support UNICEF:


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Geography is important (part 2)

I am only now following up a previous post (12/16/2011): why Geography is important. But instead of listing a bunch of boring reasons, I thought I would express a few considerations. The world is becoming smaller and smaller. Ease of communications and travel, imports and exports as well as tourism are making each country more and more dependent on other nations. First question: “how many countries are there in the world today?”


An economical, political and even environmental crisis in one country has repercussions all over the world. Prices of food and goods fluctuate, travel restrictions affect the ability of companies to buy or sell goods and, as a result, people can lose their jobs... It may not always be easy to see, but our dependence on each other is growing. Here are a few simple examples: the price of oil goes up when producing countries in the Middle East are affected by internal instability or just decide to limit production. This drives up the cost of goods, including gasoline for cars (which in turn affects transportation costs and therefore food costs) and other things like natural gas for heating houses and workplaces.


When a volcano erupted in Iceland two years ago (“do you remember that?” “Can you pronounce its name?”) it disrupted air travel across Europe. This not only affected tourists, but also business travel as well as goods shipped across the globe. Airlines lost a lot of money, as probably did many other firms that rely on quick and frequent air connections.


As our children grow up, this interdependence will only increase. That is why it is important for them to know where places are located, but also to understand other people, languages and cultures. Geography helps increase mutual awareness , better understanding and acceptance which hopefully leads to a better and more peaceful world. Yet, Geography is often overlooked in today's schools and the results show: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/07/most_us_students_lack_proficie.html,

http://nationsreportcard.gov/geography_2010/summary.asp


When we see pictures of starving children in the "Horn of Africa" (who knows which countries that part of the world include?) or of destroyed schools in Afghanistan, we feel sad and many of us are compelled to donate money. Often though, one tragedy follows another and soon we become immune even to the disturbing images that reach us from poor, faraway places. Instead, we should care for those people. Why? Here is one reason: A friend who grew up in Pakistan once told me: "Going to these countries with 21 century weapons to try and eradicate extremists will not solve US or world problems. There are thousands of people without jobs standing at street corners in those countries that would accept to strap a bomb around their chest in exchange for money that will feed their family.” The future of these countries and the people living there will deeply affect the world our children will live in as adults. We, who have the means, are called to help, if not out of compassion, at least out of concern for the world future. Education, mutual understanding and access to an acceptable lifestyle are some of the goals what we need to help them achieve. And, once we learn more about the children and the people living in Asia, Africa and South America, we will realize, that most of them are not so different from us and that, like us, all they strive for is to have a safe home for their children and some food on their table. Does anybody know approximately how many people in the world live on less than $2 a day? If you don’t, you have not been paying attention (to our video from December 16, 2010)


Learning geography will open our prospective to these realities and many more. Yes, because through geography we can learn about stuff that is fun too, like precipitation, different food and customs, history, weather and… if our GPS ever runs out of batteries, we may still be able to read a map and reach our destination. What does GPS stand for, anyway? Anybody?


Enrico at approx. 39N, 105W

www.geokid.org

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Best shots of Italy trip - summer 2011

Lonato's castle
Lonato's cathedral


Verona - Tomb of one of the Scaligeri family members


Verona, San Zeno


Assisi






Lake Garda


Assisi



Assisi- Santa Chiara




lots of flowers


Pasticcieria in Val di Fassa







Morning moisture




Mini Truck called "ape" (bee)




Rosengarten


Bolzano


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Assisi

Vacanze estive


on the way to Assisi. Italian beach :-)




Franciscan Friars




Old Olive Tree

San Damiano (http://www.bellaumbria.net/Assisi/san-damiano_eng.htm)







our agriturismo - www.malvarina.it




The Convent




Assisi






"Rosone" St. Francis balisica





St. Francis Basilica




We visited Assisi, in the Umbria region of Italy. Assisi is the hometonw of the famous Saint Francis of Assisi. We spent three days touring important religious sites, visiting medioeval churches, eating "gelato", walking cobblestone streets 4 feet wide build 1000+ years ago and sleeping in an "agriturismo" an italian style of bed and breakfast. Look up http://www.malvarina.it/



We had our dose of adventure as well, as Emma injured a finger at a pool and had to go to an emeergency room, where she was given four stitches. She was very brave-.



Finally, it was very hard to rent a vehicle that would fit our family of 6. We handed up with a 9 passanger Mercedes van built as a delivery truck that was as tall as a camper. Problem is that it did not fit in most of Assisi parking lots and small hilly streets... We felt like a bull in a china shop.



Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Dolomites Pictures































We spent our first week in the Dolomites (Val di Fassa). It is a wonderful mountain valley in the heart of the Eastern Alps. Here are some more pictures of it. To learn more you can check out: http://www.fassa.com/

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

first days in Italy






We are having a great time and eating amazing pizza and gelato. Internet connection is a problem to find and you have to pay for it by the minute, but that is good. Weather has been cold in the mountains where we are. We have met old friends and the children are trying to speak some Italian and learn magic tricks.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drought and tragedy in East Africa.

I follow the news online on the BBC. I find them more global, more balanced and less commercialized than that of the main US news channels. The BBC has been talking about the devastating drought affecting approximately 10 million people in East Africa.
Honestly how many of you living in the US had heard about it? Let me know using the comment button.

Here is a video and article from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14174893




Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reflections on a trip: VA, D.C., OH











Here are a few brief bullet points abut our trip. I will try to expand of them, as time permits, but for now, I don't want to lose the wonderful memory of them:

We spent ten days travelling across Virginia, D.C. and northern Ohio. Isabella competed at the National Geographic Bee in D.C. May 24. She was eliminated during the Tie-breaker round and so placed 11th.. So close to the top ten, but not there yet. She accepted the "defeat" with incredible maturity and comforted her room mate from Delaware.
Late that evening, she told me: "You know dad, I think God told me today: 'be patient Isabella, this is not your year.' Remember that bible passage that says: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."? I think God told me that today, after I lost...' 'I will have to try and come back again next year. I was 13th last year, I was 11th, this year. Next year, maybe I can take it all'
It was a great lesson for all of us. A lesson in spiritual maturity. We are blessed for that.

We visited Williamsburg and Jamestown in southern Virginia and drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. Wow! Jamestown was wonderful and surely worth a visit.
We walked around Mount Vernon. What a great place
We spent time with great and generous friends Maureen and Lisa in D.C.
We then drove to Cleveland to show our children where Norine and I were married and to thank the people that were such an important part of our lives during that blessed time: Fr. Tony S., Fr. Tony Fortunato, Ronnie, Peggy, Ellie, Dough and Roe...
We met new friends: Sofia M. from DE - Marlene K. and family in Wooster, OH
We have so many wonderful memories. We wish we did not leave so far away.