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:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

World countries and their debt...

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

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?

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 (
Are you interested in seeing the international space station when it passes over your house? Follow this link:

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:

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 ( 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:

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

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.