At the World Almanac
I research a lot of interesting topics every day. The trouble is I'm not very good at remembering details after a few days. I also usually forget names several minutes after I hear them. I have trouble remembering what I did last week, or sometimes even yesterday. Essentially I'm no match for the "Mental Athletes" that competed in the USA Memory Championship
qualifier last weekend.
Contenders had to memorize the first and last names of 99 faces, the order of a shuffled deck of cards, an unpublished poem, and 25 rows of 20 digit numbers. The first place winner, a software engineer from San Francisco, remembered 66 first or last names and recalled the entire order of the deck of cards in 2 minutes 27 seconds.
The seven finalists will be subjected to even crazier challenges in the final event on April 22. It'll be aired on HDNet if your television provider carries it.
Interested to know how you might do? There are some test examples on the page. Any permanent U.S. resident age 12 or older can compete. Two lines of Speed Numbers is enough for me.
Row 1: 9 6 4 7 7 9 9 7 4 7 0 8 0 6 4 2 6 0 9 4
Row 2: 8 6 7 6 4 3 8 1 8 2 7 9 4 3 9 6 4 3 1 4
USA Memory Championship
Event categories with links to examples
Image from the Flickr page of wetwebwork
New to the World Almanac blog? Today's your lucky day: here's a roundup of some featured entries from recent weeks.
The World at a Glance: 2008 Edition
What's the most popular tourist destination in the world? The fastest roller coaster? How much fat does the average American consume each year? A roundup of some of the year's most interesting facts, straight from the pages of The World Almanac 2008.
Less Reading in the United States
The National Endowment for the Arts says that teenagers and adults are reading less, and less well. What's on your reading list?
Word of the Year
What the heck is "bacn"? Read up on The Oxford Word of the Year (and its runners-up) to find out.
The truth behind the history of the Thanksgiving "turkey pardon" at the White House
A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth
For most people, Comet Holmes has grown too dim to see with the naked eye, but you can still spot it with the help of binoculars or a telescope. Catch up on all the Holmes-ian news with this previous post.
The National Endowment for the Arts released this week a report on reading habits in the United States. Their major finding is that older teenagers and adults are reading less, and less well. The report is composed mostly of national studies by the Department of Education, but uses several other third-party surveys and reports to bulk up their observations.
Some Notable Points
- Among 17-year-olds, the percent who read for fun at least once a week dropped from 64% in 1984 to 53% in 1999 and to 52% in 2004. The percent who never or hardly ever read for fun doubled from 9% in 1984 to 19% in 2004. Children ages 9 and 13 were also polled. Their numbers stayed approximately the same.
- The percent of 12th-graders reading at or above the basic level dropped from 80% in 1992 to 73% in 2005.
- In 2003, half of adults who read below the basic reading level had not completed high school and 45% were not employed either full- or part-time.
- On average in 2006, 15- to 24-year-olds read for 7 minutes per day during the week and for 10 minutes on weekends.
- The percentage of adults able to read at the basic and intermediate levels remained about the same overall. Fewer college graduates were proficient at reading in 2003 than in 1992.
To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence
Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading (New York Times)
OK, I know I told you all to get library cards, but I didn't expect you to do it so quickly...
Despite the rise of broadband Internet access in homes across the country and the ability to Google just about anything from anywhere, libraries are attracting record numbers of visitors.
Nationwide, visits to and items checked out of libraries are increasing steadily. According to the American Library Association, nearly 1.3 billion library patrons checked out more than 2 billion items in fiscal year 2005, the most recent figures available. That compares with 1.15 billion visitors checking out 1.7 billion items in fiscal year 2000.
Link: Libraries Attract Record Crowds (Denver Post)
Need some summer reading? The World eBook Library is offering more than 400,000 digital titles for free through August 4. Titles range from classics
to sacred religious texts
to children’s books
There is an annual fee to download books during the rest of the year, although Project Gutenberg is always free. Read up.
World eBook Fair
When one thinks of all the expenses associated with going to college, one may think of tuition, room and board, books, and possibly travel. But what about the added expense of paying somebody to land the student a key internship? According to a recent Chicago Tribune
article, a growing number of students are paying placement companies for internships at well-known companies. Because it is becoming more and more necessary for college graduates to enter the world with some sort of work experience (as the article notes), there is increased competition for good summer internships, many of which are unpaid. The internship-finders that students hire use their contacts at various companies to get their clients into desirable positions.
The whole notion seems a little exploitative. The quote that really struck me was the following, made by the head of one such internship-finding company:
"We go about it the same way we would if we were back at a corporation or an advertising agency marketing a product."
When I was in college, I had no idea I was a “product” that needed marketing. So much for grades.
“Students Paying Internship Search Firms,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2007
We're all going full steam ahead on The World Almanac for Kids 2008
, so apologies for the late (and light) posting today. To tide you over, here's another "World at a Glance" installment, this time a quick look at some notable changes in agriculture, health, population, and other areas in recent decades. Any other noteworthy trends we missed? Let us know in the comments.
1900-2000: The top country of origin for foreign-born U.S. residents shifted from Germany (26% of the foreign-born population in
1900) to Italy (13% in 1960)
(30% in 2000).
1940-2005: The total number of U.S. farms fell more than 66%, from
6.4 million to 2.10 million.
1960-2005: Americans’ average savings, as a percent of their
disposable income, fell from 7.3% to –0.4%.
1960-2002: The percentage of U.S.
adults who were clinically overweight climbed from 45% to 65%, and the number
of all U.S.
adults considered clinically obese rose from 13% to 31%.
1980-2005: Average annual tuition and fees for a 4-year
private college or university were 10 times higher in 2005 than in 1980, rising
from $1,809 to $18,838.
1980-2005: The percentage of high school seniors who had at
least one heavy drinking episode in the previous two weeks fell from 41% to
1990-2005: The median price for an existing single family
home in the U.S.
climbed 138%, from $92,000 to $219,000.
1990-2004: The rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions
in the U.S.
slowed dramatically: emissions increased by an annual
average of 1.7% from 1990 to 2000, but only 0.4% annually from 2000 to 2004.
2006-2050: The population of China,
the most populous nation in 2006, will climb from 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion in
2050, but India will surpass
by 2030, and is projected to top the list in 2050 with 1.8 billion people.
That's the tag line for Worldmapper
, a novel approach to visualizing global data, and a collaborative project of a group of cartographers, social scientists, and other experts at the University of Michigan and the University of Sheffield. From a recent article
on The Daily Telegraph
"You can say it, you can prove it, you can tabulate it, but it is only when you show it that it hits home," said Prof Danny Dorling, of the University of Sheffield, one of the developers of Worldmapper, a collection of maps — cartograms — that rescale the size of territories in proportion to the value being represented.
On the maps of public health spending, research expenditure and wealth, Africa appears tiny. But in those that show global malaria cases and the deaths due to drought, Africa appears enormous.
You'll find a year's worth of maps on the site, spanning categories from income and housing to pollution and "destruction." Each map is also accompanied by a brief summary of the topic, plus links to labeled territory and population maps, data sheets in Excel or Opendoc formats, and even a downloadable PDF poster showcasing the map and some of its key data points.
Choose a topic, and you're bound to find something interesting. I was struck by two maps, which are as good a place to start as any:
Child Labor (at left): "Nine of the ten territories with the highest proportions of child labourers are in Africa. . . . The map shows that most child labour occurs in African and Southern Asian territories. India has the highest number of child labourers, twice as many as China where the second highest population of child labourers lives."
Toy Imports (at right): "Most imports of toys (US$ net) are to the United States, followed by the United Kingdom. Toys are fun but not necessities. Thus toy imports give an indication of disposable incomes. The lowest imports of toys (US$ net) per person are to territories in Africa and also Tajikistan (in the Middle East)."
One can learn a lot about a place by looking at its schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (a World Almanac
favorite) has an online search page where you can look up any U.S. public or private school in any district and get, among other bits of information, a small demographic breakdown by race and sex of the students who go there.
After rediscovering this search, of course I had to go look up every school I had either gone to, wanted to go to, or otherwise had heard of for one reason or another (such as California's Torrance High School, where they shot the exteriors for Beverly Hills, 90210).
It was fun trying to remember what I could about the different kids in my classes and if the current data shows any change since then. In my case, it looks like there is a good deal more diversity today in the schools I went to as compared to when I was a wee tot. That says quite
a bit about the changes in population where I grew up, which I'm sure are minor compared to other school districts.
National Center for Education Statistics links:
Search for Public Schools
Search for Private Schools
Photo from Night Owl City's Flickr stream (CC)
This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Education category. They are listed from newest to oldest.
Economics is the previous category.
Employment is the next category.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.