Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Do You Know? Gallery

  • Excerpts from What Do You Know?, by Kenneth Allen, Neil Ardley, Arthur Thomas, Jean Stroud and Alan Blackwood (London: Hamlyn, 1973)

Why did Columbus sail westwards?

Christopher Columbus was an Italian from Genoa living in Portugal. Although in the fifteenth century most people still believed that the world was flat, others, including Columbus, had come to believe it was round. If this was so, he argued, a ship could sail around the globe and return to its original starting point. Thus the shortest route to the Spice Islands of the East Indies would be by sailing westwards. He sought support for his theory but it was rejected again and again. Finally, after years of disappointment, he gained the help of Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Spain. In August 1492, three small ships set sail from Spain, their bows pointing westwards across the wide, unknown Atlantic. They were the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta, On 12 October land was sighted. Columbus was convinced that it was an island off the coast of India. When other islands came into view he named them the 'Indies'. His 'mistake' was nevertheless a vitally important event in the discovery and exploration of the West.

Which is the fastest land mammal?

The cheetah is the fastest mammal on land. Although it can run at over 112 km.p.h. it can keep this speed up for only very short distances, a few hundred metres or less. A cheetah's acceleration is fantastic, reaching 72 km.p.h. in only two seconds. This outstrips all sports cars and although a number of antelope almost reach the cheetah's maximum speed, no other animal can accelerate faster.

What is the United Nations?

The United Nations is an organisation of countries who would rather talk over their differences than fight about them. It was formed in 1945 by the Allied powers who, after the Second World War, were determined that such a dreadful and destructive struggle should not take place again. It began with fifty members: now there are one hundred and forty-one. It meets in New York in a large skyscraper built for it by the American Government.
Although it has no permanent army, it can call upon troops of member countries to put down outbreaks of fighting in the countries of other members. It collects no taxes, but relies on members' contributions to pay for the things it does.

It has many activities, including helping poorer countries to fight disease and starvation.

What are computers?

Computers are machines, although they do not work like other kinds of machines. They are more like mechanical brains. By means of complicated electrical circuits, they can store information and then supply it again when needed. Some types of computer can calculate mathematical problems far more quickly than we could do it ourselves. Others are designed to check and control other machinery. To operate them they have to be supplied with a specially coded set of instructions called a programme, devised by programmers.
Today, computers are to be found in all branches of industry and commerce. From banking to space travel, they play a vital role.

Who were the Pilgrim Fathers?

In Tudor times a number of Puritans lived in Lincolnshire in England, where they were often badly treated because of their faith. At last they could stand the situation no longer. They decided to sail for Holland where other Puritans had already settled. Living in Amsterdam to start with, they moved to Leyden where they were warmly received by the friendly Dutch. They never forgot that they were English, however, and finally came to a great decision. They would sail to England's settlement in North America where they would have freedom to worship as they wished. About thirty-five of them arrived in England and with sixty-seven others - men, women and children - they sailed from Plymouth in 1620 in the Mayflower. After a voyage of two months during which the ship was blown off course, they anchored in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. They had hoped to settle in Virginia but their captain would not take them further. Some of the men went ashore to search for a suitable place for a settlement and found one with plenty of wood and water. They named it Plymouth because that city had been their last link with the Old World. Their first winter was a hard one^and by the spring of 1621 half of them had died. Even so, none wanted to return to England. Things slowly improved, especially when they made friends with their Indian neighbours. Other people joined them from England and the colony set an example of faith and courage to all future settlers who, in time, were to become Americans.

Who were the first Australians?

About 20,000 years ago a race of dark-skinned, curly-haired natives, known as Tasmanoids, paddled their canoes from New Guinea and settled in what is now Australia. At the same time, another race, the Australoids, arrived from southern India. These two races began a desperate fight for the land, which ended with the Tasmanoids being driven from the mainland and settling in what is now known as Tasmania. The Australoids remained to become the ancestors of the Australian aborigines.

How will space shuttles be used?

After experiments with the Russian Salyut space station and the American Skylab described on page 126, large space stations may one day orbit the earth like great hotels in the sky. Astronauts would work aboard the stations, and people may be able to visit these stations for holidays in space. Space stations would be set up around the earth and moon, and perhaps other planets. Special deep-space vehicles powered by atomic engines would fly between the stations, and space shuttles, powered by chemical engines like today's rockets, would fly between the stations and the ground below. Space stations may be doughnut-shaped, and rotated to produce artificial gravity in the living quarters.

  • Excerpts from 365 Things to Know, by Clifford Parker (London: Hamlyn, 1968)

What is the Kremlin?

'Kremlin' comes from a Russian word meaning 'citadel' or 'fortress'.

When we use the word 'Kremlin' however, we mean the old centre of Moscow, whose buildings have survived fire and destruction in various wars over the centuries. The Moscow Kremlin stands on a hill and is surrounded by a great wall, one and a half miles long and sixty-five feet high. Among its buildings are those which house the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., the government of Russia. It also contains some splendid palaces which were once the homes of the Czars, but which are now museums, and two beautiful golden-domed cathedrals.

What is a pygmy?

Pygmies are a race of unusually short human beings who live in parts of Africa and Asia. The African pygmies (Negrillos) live in the Ituri Forest of the Congo basin, and in Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon and Rwanda. They are generally between 4 feet 5 inches and 4 feet 8 inches tall. A pygmy man who reached a height of 4 feet 11 inches would consider himself very tall indeed. They are a shy, simple people and live deep in the forest. They keep no animals, sow no crops, wear little clothing, and build only the flimsiest of shelters to sleep in. They live by hunting and trapping animals, fishing, and gathering fruit, roots, nuts and honey. They hunt mainly with the bow and poisoned arrows, though some tribes also make use of spears.

Pygmies live in small groups, led by the oldest man. Though they generally keep to the forest, they emerge occasionally to trade meat and fruit with negro tribes for salt and iron tools and weapons.

Asian pygmies (Negritos) live in Malaya, Sumatra, New Guinea, the Andaman Islands and the Philippines. Like their African cousins, they live simple, backward lives in the deep forests.

Who was Garibaldi?

In the 1840, Italy was a collection of small states, mainly under foreign rule. Naples, in the south, was linkpd with Spain; Venetia and Lombardy, in the north, were governed by Austria; the Pope ruled the middle, and there were four independent states, Parma, Modena, Lucca, and Tuscany. Piedmont, in the north-west, was part of Sardinia.

Many people hoped to win Italy for the Italians, but while most of them just talked about it, or made feeble protests, a fiery soldier, called Guiseppe (sic) Garibaldi, refused to be kept down. With a band of volunteers, known as 'Red-shirts', he fought a series of battles with the outsiders.

In 1860, he conquered Sicily and Naples and marched north. Meanwhile, King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia was marching south. When they met, Garibaldi hailed him as the first king of a united Italy.

How does a compass work?

A compass tells us which way is north, south, east or west, and is of great help to sailors, airmen and explorers. It works very simply. When a needle or thin piece of steel is magnetised and balanced exactly in the middle, one end points to the north and the other to the south. No matter how much it is swung round, it always returns to this position. So the magnetised needle is placed on a dial, on which are marked all the points of the compass. To find out which way you are going, you let the needle point to north, then turn the dial so that the north marked on it points the same way. The other marks on the dial now point exactly to east, west, south and so on.

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