Checking Your Facts

During some light conversation with my daughter, she mentioned a bit of trivia that the Great Wall of China was the only man made object that is visible from the moon. I don’t know why, but that didn’t quite sound right. So, where does one go now days to check their facts? Well, one Googles it of course.

Using the following fact checking websites, you can verify factual assertions. Any search engine is a good place to start when doing a little fact finding. Search engines are very usefull for helping with your homework as well. Google Scholar and Google Books are great starting places.

Snopes is probably the best site to make sure you don’t fall for an urban legend, myth, or other form of misinformation. Snopes is very good at listing their sources at the end of each article. All the sources can be searched.

Factcheck is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Factcheck describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception in U.S. politics.” That is quite a mouthful, but a good source for anything in the political arena.

WhoWhatWhen is a database that contains information about famous people and famous events. The data can be assembled in various ways to create graphic timelines of periods in history or of the lives of individuals. Being a history buff I discovered that the composer Johann Sebastian Bach was alive when the first elevator was installed. Now isn’t that a cool bit of trivia?

Finally, an old standby to quickly check basic facts, such as the meaning of words, medical information, or overview articles, is an encyclopedia. One of the best free sources is that of Merriam-Webster.

By the way, the Great Wall of China is not the only man made object visible from the moon. Any guesses before you find the facts for yourself?


A Worm, A Trojan, A Virus, Oh-Oh!

Before spring break one of our teachers was convinced that her computer had a virus.  Every few minutes a message would pop up saying that her computer had one. Most people call any type of malicious software a “computer virus,” which is OK and certinaly descriptive, but not quite accurate. Viruses, worms, and trojans are different types of malicious software with different behaviors. In particular, they spread themselves in very different ways. Malicious software in general is referred to as “malware.” If you want a catch-all term for bad computer software, malware is the word to use.

Viruses Infect Other Files:  A computer virus infects other files, similar to how a biological virus infects living cells. When you execute a virus by running an already-infected file, the virus infects other files on your system. In most cases, it adds itself to existing .exe files on your system, so it will run when they do. Viruses also wreak havoc on your system. In some cases, they may replace existing program files with themselves entirely, instead of just adding themselves to the existing programs. They may delete files, and take up system memory and cause crashes.

Worms Copy Themselves: A worm is a standalone program that doesn’t require user intervention to spread. Worms don’t infect existing files – they spread copies of themselves instead. Some worms, like the infamous Mydoom worm, email copies of themselves to every address in a computer’s address book. Some of the most dangerous and fast spreading worms, such as the Blaster and Sasser worms, exploit vulnerabilities in network services. Instead of emailing files, they travel over the network and infect unpatched systems that aren’t running firewalls.

Trojans Lie In Wait: Trojans are named after the mythological trojan horse. A trojan horse is the same sort of thing. Trojan horses masquerade as useful software, such as a legitimate program. Instead of being well-behaved software, a trojan opens a backdoor on your system. The trojan’s author can use the backdoor to make your system part of a botnet, use your Internet connection to perform illicit activities that will be traced back to you, download other malware programs onto your system, or do anything else they want.

Spyware spies on you: Spyware encompasses everything from “key loggers” that log your keystrokes to steal your credit card information and online banking passwords, to advertising programs that monitor your web browsing activity and send it over the Internet. Spyware is generally designed to make money for its creators.

Scareware, also known as Crimeware: Scareware often appears as a fake antivirus alert on a web page. If you believe the alert and download the fake antivirus program, which is what our teacher really had on her computer, it will inform you that you have viruses on your system, of course. The antivirus program asks for a credit card number, insisting on a payment before “fixing” your system. Scareware holds your system hostage until you pay or remove it. All was well after a little cleaning on her computer.

Our district does a very good job of protecting the schools computers, but some can, and do, slip through.

The Kids Should See This

The Kids Should See This is an ambitious project by an individual to de-clutter the millions of videos available to kids online and pick a few high-quality ones that kids should really see. These videos focus on subjects like science, nature, art, music, technology, story telling or simply videos that help kids growing up. The author, Rion Nakaya, has very good taste in videos that can hold the interest of even the most discrimenating kid.

The website is actually a Tumblr blog and hence eliminates any navigation complexity and issues. The videos are included from sites like YouTube, Vimeo and more. The videos can be browsed in chronological order or searched, although currently there isn’t an option to browse videos by categories or topics. Often, videos also include links to other reference material available for the topic. Maintaining this blog must be a lot of work. I applaud her efforts.

There is no denying that YouTube or Vimeo have millions of videos about every topic, but this gigantic size often makes it very complex for people to find the right stuff. WatchKnowLearn solves this problem, for at least the educational videos, by organizing thousands of videos into their specific categories. Free classroom accounts can be set up by teachers to organize and group videos to specific lessons. Teachers can even create a classroom page with student logins/passwords, their own logo, and their own color sceme.WatchKnowLearn Both of these educational video sites are excellent resources. Give ’em a try!



Small Demons

Today I found a web site that truely makes me wish I had thought of it. Small Demons is a web site for any and all book lovers. I know, it sounds like a name for a juvinile rock band, but it’s not what you think. We all read books. Some of us devour them. But more often than not we don’t go very deep into the people, places and things inside the story. We tend to think the details are simply a part of the plot and let it go at that-but there is more!

Small Demons goes behind the story, and picks up different threads and helps us discover where they lead. Small Demons is a comprehensive collection of all the details in a book. Details that live inside a book and their connection to other stories. Each book has it’s own page where you can check at a glance the people, the places, music, movies, events, gadgets, or vehicles.

Do you love books like I do? Small Demons is a whole new world of discovery. As I said, sure wish I had thought of doing something like Small Demons.


I’ll admit it. I am a confirmed fan of old “Gunsmoke” reruns on TV. I thought I had seen them all, but the other night I found one I had not seen before. The dialogue mentioned Custer’s last stand and the Battle of Adobe Walls as being in the same year, or at least, that is what was implied. Being a fan of history as well, I decided to question the shows facts. I knew that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was in 1876 but was not sure of Adobe Walls. My research found a terrific little web site simply called TimeSearch. Pick a year, a historic period, or evan a historic theme and TimeSearch will do the rest, complete with pics from Google. TimeSearch also features single-subject timelines or a picture search. TimeSearch should be on everyones favorites list.

Just so you don’t think I’m making all this up, the Battle of Adobe Walls was June 27th, 1874. That is almost two years to the day before Custer’s last stand. So ‘Gunsmoke’ had it wrong-literary license! But I learned something.


One of our first grade teachers recently asked me a question that was, as the saying goes, ‘right up my ally’. She wanted to know if there was a program to eaisly put one picture inside, or on top of, another picture. She politly listened as I launched into an explanation of ‘layering’ pictures. When I noticed her eyes glaze over I realized that I had, again, fallen into my bad habit of over explaining rather than simply answering the question. Yes, there is such a program; and a free one at that. Photoscape is a fun and easy photo editing software that enables you to fix and enhance photos. Combining photos, which is what my friend wanted, is just one of its many capabilities. Photoscape has a robust photo editor, viewer, photo splitter, animated gif creator, ability to add text, special effects, and a lot more.

Try Photoscape out. It’s free with no strings attached. It’s easy, and in no time you will be able to ‘spice’ up your favorite photos like you never thought possible.

Educational Blogging

Do you wish you could master a classroom Blog? Have you ever wondered what a classroom blog is, or how it could be used? Have you ever been in conversations about classroom blogs but didn’t feel competent enough to contribute?

While doing a bit of research on starting my own classroom blog I made a very fortuitious discovery in Mrs. Yollis’ classroom blog.  The site is actually a Wiki about educational blogging. The wiki includes class videos explaining the benefits of blogging, how to compose a quality comment, and the importance of the Creative Commons license.  Included are steps taken to teach students how to compose quality comments, and tips to help teachers develop their own online communities. Included are links to other educational bloggers and sample posts organized by subject matter.

The site contains almost everything one needs about educational blogging. Have no fear, the force is with you. Mrs. Yollis’ educational blog is one-stop-shopping for getting excited about a classroom blog.