What is a computer virus?

A virus is a malicious software program that infects computer files or hard disk drives and then makes copies of itself. Many activities that kids do online can leave computers vulnerable to viruses. E-mail attachments are a common means of distributing viruses, but viruses can also be downloaded when you share files and open instant message attachments. In order to keep your computer safe, never open an e-mail attachment you haven’t requested.

Send an e-mail to friends to confirm that they meant to send you an attachment. Also, you can configure your instant messaging program so you can’t receive files from other users. Never download any program without checking with a parent first. You can protect your computer by always running up-to-date firewall software, by running antivirus software regularly, and by periodically scanning your computer for spyware or other unwanted software and immediately removing it.

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs bark to communicate with other dogs and with humans. Dogs are descendants of wolves, which are social animals that live in packs, and they share many of the behaviors that define the complex relationships that exist within such animal groups. Few domestic dogs live together in packs (though they often consider their human family their group), but they still use complicated behaviors that involve smell, sight, and hearing to communicate. A dog has many scent-producing glands that it uses to communicate. The scent that a dog leaves behind (in its urine, feces, and paw prints) can reveal its sex, age, and even its mood to other dogs that come sniffing by.

A dog uses its posture, facial expression, and ear and tail position to communicate with other dogs, too. And it uses its voice to communicate by whining, growling, howling, or barking. A dog usually whines or whimpers when it is in distress: when it is hungry, cold, or in pain. Growls indicate that a dog is angry and ready to fight. Barks usually show excitement.

Why are barns usually painted red?

Paint coats wood, protecting it from sunlight and rain damage and making it last longer. When early farmers had enough money to paint their barns, they usually used inexpensive paint because the structures were so large. Ferrous oxide, a chemical powder that gives paint its red color, was readily available and cost little. Thrifty farmers in New England, New York, and the upper Midwest region painted their barns red. In those places, red barns remain a tradition. But there are plenty of barns in other parts of the country that are not red. Early farmers that were poor—especially in regions like Appalachia and the South—left their barns unpainted because they did not have the money to do the job.

Unpainted wood usually weathers to a soft gray color. And in places like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and some southern Midwestern states, the most frequently seen barn color is white. Some people think that white barns grew popular when dairy farming became more important after the Civil War; white suggests cleanliness and purity, desirable qualities to be associated with milk production. Special farms where fancy horses or prize livestock were raised sometimes had barns painted unusual colors, like yellow, green, or black.

What is the difference between bravery and courage?

Both bravery and courage are acts of valour and imply a certain strength and fearlessness. There is, however, a subtle difference in meaning between the two words. Courage comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart. It is a quality of character that allows someone to carry through with a difficult premeditated plan of action.

Bravery, on the other hand, comes from the Spanish word bravado, meaning a single or spontaneous act of valour. It is not planned, but rather a kneejerk reaction that often occurs within a crisis.

How does a cellular phone work?

Cellular, or cell, phones first became available to consumers in the early 1980s, but the technology that made them small and truly portable evolved gradually over the next 10 years or so. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, millions and millions of people in countries all over the world were using cell phones on a daily basis. And it isn’t just adults who enjoy the benefits of completely mobile phone capabilities: in the United States alone, more than 20 percent of teenagers have a cell phone. That translates to at least one in five American teens. The cellular system divides each city into many small cells (a large city can have hundreds). Each cell has its own tower (which contains an antenna as well as transmitters and receivers that send and receive signals). Each tower can handle numerous callers at a given time, and their small size and weaker signal (compared to the radio antennae) means that their signals don’t interfere with those of nearby towers. When you call someone using a cellular phone, your phone is sending and receiving signals via radio waves, invisible bands of energy that work like light rays. In other words, your cell phone is a fancy, high-tech radio. After you dial a friend’s number, your phone must find the closest tower by searching for the strongest signal. Once that signal is located, your phone transmits certain information—like your cell phone number and serial number—that help your service provider make sure you are one of their customers.

Then the mobile telephone switching office (MTSO) finds an available channel where your conversation can take place. The MTSO then completes the connection (all of this happening in a few short seconds) and you are chatting with your friend, without wires or cords to hold you down. If you are sitting in the back seat of the car while talking, and your mom is driving you from one end of town to the other, your call will be switched automatically from one cell tower to the next without any pause in your conversation.

How long is each year?

Each calendar year is exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. This is the amount of time between two successive crossings of the celestial equator by the Sun at the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). The fact that the year is not a whole number of days has affected the development of calendars, which over time generate an error.

The current calendar we use, called the Gregorian calendar, attempts to fix this by adding an extra day to the month of February every four years. These years are called “leap years.”

Which planets experience the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect describes a warming phenomenon. (In a greenhouse, closed glass windows cause heat to become trapped inside.) The greenhouse effect occurs when a planet’s atmosphere allows heat from the Sun to enter, but refuses to let it leave. A good example of the greenhouse effect can be found on Venus.

There, solar radiation penetrates the atmosphere, reaches the surface, and is reflected back into the atmosphere. The re-radiated heat is trapped by carbon dioxide, which is abundant in Venus’s atmosphere. The result is that Venus has a scorching surface temperature of 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius). The greenhouse effect can also be found on Earth and in the upper atmospheres of the giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Why do we say that someone with a hidden agenda has “an axe to grind”?

As a boy, Benjamin Franklin was sharpening tools in his father’s yard when a stranger carrying an axe came by and praised the boy on how good he was with the grindstone. He then asked Franklin if he would show him how it would work on his own axe. Once his axe was sharpened, the stranger simply laughed and walked away, giving young Franklin a valuable lesson about people with “an axe to grind.”

What does it mean to “rest on your laurels”?

The practice of using laurels to symbolize victory came from the ancient Greeks. After winning on the battlefield, great warriors were crowned with a wreath of laurels, or bay leaves, to signify their supreme status during a victory parade.

Because the first Olympics consisted largely of war games, the champions were honoured in the same manner: with a laurel, a crown of leaves. To “rest on your laurels” means to quit while you’re ahead.

Why should I visit the library often?

Libraries offer books for people of all ages, and much, much more—they are places of learning and discovery for everyone. Besides books, public libraries offer videos, DVDs, free access to computers and the Internet, and many literacy-related programs.

For elementary school children, there are variations of the read-alouds and storytelling hours that often include discussions and presentations by the children themselves, as well as summer reading programs. For middle-school kids, there may also be book talks, summer reading programs, creative writing seminars, drama groups, and poetry readings. The more you read, the more you learn! In addition, the library is a place to find information and help with schoolwork. Your school library may offer some of these services as well.