Diwali around the world, AI and Beethoven’s 10th, Ireland’s microplastic sucker

Nov 3, 2021 Episode 71

“Festival of Lights” explained, Diwali around the world, artificial intelligence and Beethoven’s 10th, Ireland’s microplastic sucker

Episode Transcript

EPISODE 71 Diwali around the world

OPENING STING – LEELA: “New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!” 


LEELA: Hello and welcome to Newsy Pooloozi – the news pool for curious kids and adults!  

I’m your host Leela Sivasankar Prickitt and, as ever, I’m joined by my side-kick.

MAMA: Hello, hello – I’m Lyndee Prickitt. 

LEELA: And this week on Newsy Pooloozi – autumn festivities are in full swing. We’ll hear how Diwali – the “festival of lights’ ‘ – is being celebrated around the world. 

Plus, AI helps art again – reconstructing Beethoven’s unfinished tenth Symphony!

And you’ll never guess what’s helping clean up gnarly microplastics from the ocean.

You’ll just have to listen to the end to find out. Here’s a clue – (sings) it’s odd.

LEELA: But first, it’s time for… 

BIG NEWS STORY STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “The big news story of the week!”

MAMA: Well, it was Halloween a few days ago.

LEELA: And the Day of the Dead in Mexico two days after that. 

MAMA: Oh, yeah, that’s right. And we discovered last year that it’s a festival that’s not quite as scary as it sounds. 

LEELA: Like the Hungry Ghost festival in Asia. 

MAMA: Exactly – and they’re all explained in full in Episode 18 for anyone who wants to go back and have a listen. But we’re also going to dive into our archive of explainers – just for a couple minutes – because we’re a little busy preparing for another festival that’s huge here… 

LEELA: It’s Diwali! 

MAMA: Thank you. In fact, the festival season in India kicked off in September with Ganpati, or the Ganesh festival in Mumbai, then the Durga Puja up in Kolkata.  

LEELA: But Diwali’s the biggest.

MAMA: True, I’m just saying India is such a huge and diverse country with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains… And that even amongst the majority Hindus there are a lot of different festivals.

LEELA: But Diwali’s the biggest.

MAMA: To many people, yes.

LEELA: And since there are about a billion Hindus on this earth, we thought we’d mark the occasion and give a little explainer to those who don’t know much about it.

MAMA: Well, Take it away, Leela.

LEELA: Well, Diwali is the festival of lights. It’s celebrated either in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. In north India, Hindus believe lamps, called diyas, were lit to guide the return of Lord Ram, or Rama, and his wife Sita back home, after being in exile for 14 years

MAMA: And some also believe the lights, or diyas, are lit so that the goddess Lakshmi will find you and bless you and your home.

LEELA: But only if it’s clean and you’ve been well behaved!

MAMA: There’s that… Now in different parts of the country, other Hindus associate Diwali with Lord Krishna or other gods. Regardless, simply put 

LEELA: It’s the victory of light over darkness!

MAMA: Yep and I’m all about the lights. It’s starting to look like Christmas over here!

LEELA: Yeah, the gifts and the food are a comin’!  I can’t tell you how many ladoos – Indian sweets – I’ve eaten already. And I’ve made so many diyas at school too.

MAMA: Which are the little oil lamps or candle holders, usually made from clay and painted with bright patterns and then lit on Diwali evening. 

LEELA: But my favorite Diwali decorations are the rangolis patterns of flowers that people put at the doorstep of their homes. 

MAMA: Well, you’re not alone. Our trusty old correspondents well, adorably young in fact – Adhyant and Nirbhay agree with you.

LEELA: Over to you, boys. 

ADHYANT SINGH CHAUHAN: Hi, Leela. The festive spirit is here in Bangalore. We had so much fun painting colorful diyas. And I’m going to decorate our home with them this Diwali. Oh, yeah. I’m already drooling thinking about the sweets ladoos, halva, Gulab jamun. Delicious!

NIRBHAY SINGH CHAUHAN: I’m really looking forward to the special Diwali lunch we’re going to have on Lakshmi puja day. Our mom cooks up a feast and serves it on a banana leaf. We were making some rangolis too at the entrance to our home. With flowers, rock salt and powdered colors of course. 

LEELA: Thanks, you guys. Send me a picture of your rangolis, OK?!

MAMA: And it’s not just in India where Diwali will be celebrated. The Indian diaspora is also huge, so – 

LEELA: Hold on – dia -spor-whata? 

MAMA: Ah –


MAMA: A diaspora is a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland who’ve moved away to other places in the world. 

LEELA: Oh, well, there’s certainly a lot of Indians all over the world. 

MAMA: Yes, the Indian diaspora is huge. One of the oldest diasporas is in nearby Singapore – which is the island city-state that has a population which is about a third Indian. So, loads of people celebrate Diwali there. 

LEELA: And lucky we have Kabir and Aryana standing by to tell us how they’re celebrating in Singapore. 


KABIR: We normally eat festive Indian food have a party with our friends, burst crackers, light diyas decorate the house and do a prayer. My favorite part of Diwali is bursting crackers with all my friends this year because of restrictions. We can’t have cousins or friends over or have a big party but we can still decorate the house and we can still burst crackers.

LEELA: Thanks, you guys! 

MAMA: We’re gonna have to have y’all on again!

LEELA: Totally. So now I want to know if I lived in America – would people even know what Diwali is? 

MAMA: Probably not too many. But, there are lots of Indian diasporas all over the US, so yeah, some would. But if you had lights all over your house, they’d probably just think you were a little early for Christmas.

LEELA: Yeah…  I guess it’s kinda cool having Diwali and Christmas to celebrate. 

MAMA: Absolutely! And that’s just what one of our loyal listeners in Brooklyn, New York thinks. Vihaan  it’s over to you. 

LEELA: Thanks, Vihaan. Diwali in America doesn’t sound so bad – I’m with you on the missing school bit, ha!

MAMA: And a big, big thank you to all our contributors on the big story this fun and festive week. 


WORLD WRAP STING – LEELA: “What’s that? I’ll tell you what. That’s the halftime bell! Which means… It’s time to hear what’s making news around the rest of the world. Hold on tight, it’s around the world in 80 seconds.”

MAMA: More than a hundred leaders of countries around the world are in Glasgow, Scotland to talk about climate.  The conference is called COP26 and environment experts say this is humanity’s chance to decide what action to take to stop the world warming up at dangerous rates.

And it’s not just the adults in the room – loads of young eco-warriors are also chiming in – some have descended on the streets in Scotland and others virtually – urging their leaders to do more.

Facebook is getting rid of facial recognition software, well, to identify faces in photographs and videos at least. This comes amid growing concerns about facial recognition technology, with ethical questions being raised over privacy, racial bias, and accuracy.

In Mexico an ancient canoe is discovered in cenotes – that’s a big sinkhole filled with water. The canoe may be over  a thousand years old, belonging to the ancient Maya civilization for whom cenotes were hugely important, as they believed the freshwater pools were gateways to the underworld.


LEELA: As ever, thank you so much for that whippity-whappity-zippity-zappity world wrap of what’s making headlines elsewhere in the world, Mama.

MAMA: You’re so most welcome.

MAMA: So y’all might remember a few weeks ago we did a story about an unlikely partnership between art and AI.

LEELA: As in artificial intelligence.

MAMA: Exactly. Remember the story?

LEELA: You mean when AI was used to paint the lost bit of a canvas by the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt that had been cut off – yes, as in snip-snip-cut – some 400 years ago?

MAMA: That’s the one.

LEELA: Alright. So, what is it this time, a Picasso?


MAMA: Nope. Not a painting but this…


LEELA: Oh, no, not Beethoven’s Fifth!

MAMA: No, not Beethoven’s Fifth. And I must say Leela knows this piece of music well, because bizarrely her school has chosen to use the first “dahn-dahn-dahn-daaaahn” to precede their lock-down drills, thus instilling a sense of terror in all the students towards Beethoven’s famous fifth symphony. But don’t get me started…

LEELA: Yeah, I’m OK if AI doesn’t help create any more traumatic sounds.

MAMA: Ah, not traumatic at all. As our correspondent, Nick Van Hindenburg – who brought us the last AI-meets-art story – is about to tell us.

NICK: Thanks, you guys.

Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Germany over 250 years ago, is still one of the most famous musicians in the world. His music is, no doubt, played every day somewhere around the world.

Even if you think you don’t know his music, you’ve probably heard it – his melodies are often used in movies, TV shows, and even cartoons. Some are soft and tender, but many are famously dramatic.

In fact, given his loud music and notorious non-conformist personality – Beethoven is often considered the original “punk rocker.” The German composer is famous for his nine symphonies, which are long, complicated pieces of classical music. Well, before he died, he began sketching musical passages of a new symphony.

 But he never finished it.

 Enter AI.

(NB: Say this dramatically!)

Ten years ago, computer scientists, musicians and historians started using artificial intelligence to finish Beethoven’s 10th Symphony.

They fed all of his music into computers and let them do the hard work of “deep learning” his musical style – to try and figure out how the musician might have finished his last work. And this is what they came up with.


The reception has been mixed. Some say “bingo,” while others have said it’s just “so-so.” And a few of us think the original punk rocker might be turning in his grave. In Washington, DC, I’m Nick Von Hindenburg, reporting for Newsy Pooloozi

LEELA: Thanks, Nick. Personally, I’m glad this music is gentle.

MAMA: Yeah, I prefer my punk with guitars and a lot of “Oi! Oi! Ois!”

LEELA: I really hope you’re joking.

MAMA: Nope.

LEELA: Hmmm… Let’s head over to the lucky dip machine and see what final story it has for us this week.


ODDBALL STING – VARIOUS VOICES: “Step right up, step right up… Have a go at the lucky dip machine… What’s it gonna be today, eh? An oddball, no doubt!”

LEELA: So, Mama – earlier you’ve mentioned that loads of world leaders are in Glasgow, Scotland meeting for a massive big environment summit, right?

MAMA: That’s right – COP26, which we’ll probably have more on next week when it wraps up.

LEELA: And young environmentalists are getting angry that not enough is being done right?

MAMA: That’s also true.

LEELA: Well, the lucky dip machine is keeping in line with that theme – but, look, there’s a smiley face on this story?

MAMA: Oh, yeah, I can see that.

LEELA: Because there’s some good news on plastic that’s coming from a young activist.

MAMA: Plastic! What’s good about that yucky non-biodegradable stuff?!

LEELA: You’re right – the amount of plastic polluting the earth and, especially our oceans, rivers and lakes, is bad.  But… chalk another one up to science!

MAMA: Oh, another cool alternative to plastic wrap? We’ve had a couple of those recently.

LEELA: Nope. This one is a cool way to suck it up and remove it from our water. 

MAMA: Oh, wait – I’ve heard of this. This is that new installation out at sea that pulled 20,000 pounds – over 9 thousand kilograms – of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – that polluted spot in the Pacific Ocean that’s TWICE the size of Texas.

LEELA: Ah, no. Though that was a fab story. But the verb I used wasn’t “pull” but “suck.”

MAMA: Like a big sucking machine instead of tug-ropes?


LEELA: Noooo. Actually, it’s way weirder than that. Cue the music, Mama.

An 18-year-old from Ireland, Fionn Ferriera, figured out a way to remove microplastic from water – you know, those teeny-tiny particles of plastic that won’t break down any further, not for a few hundred years anyway, and get gobbled up by fish and us! Yes, they’re in our water supply!

Well, good old Fionn has realized just by mixing… wait for it… wait for it… wait for it…

MAMA: Aaah, I can’t wait any longer – get on with it!

LEELA: Just a little longer… Ok, fine. Vegetable oil!

MAMA: Vegetable oil? The stuff in the kitchen we fry fatty foods with?

LEELEA: That’s the stuff! But no frying here. Vegetable oil mixed with a magnetic powder – can be used to suck up – or magnetically pull up – tiny bits of microplastics!

MAMA: Whoa. Really? How does that work?

LEELA: So, Fionn has been upset about the plastic on the beaches near him since he was 12. And was first inspired when he found a blob from an oil spill and guess what was attached to it?

MAMA: Plastic?

LEELA: Bingo. So he went home and mixed vegetable oil with iron oxide powder to create a magnetic liquid, also known as ferrofluid. Which – fab fact alert – was first created at NASA as a way to move fuel in space. Some say ferrofluid could one day even be used to send medicine through your body.

MAMA: Wacky!

LEELA: But, back to Fionn. He basically invented a magnetic device that uses his ferrofluid mix to….

MAMA: Extract the microplastics from the water!

LEELA: That’s right. Now he’s scaling up the technology – that means make it bigger and better – so it can be used at water treatment facilities to hopefully prevent microplastics before they escape into the ocean.

MAMA: Well, that’s certainly one use of vegetable oil, I approve of.


FAB FACTS STING – LEELA: “And it’s time to wrap up the podcast with the top five fab facts heard today. Here goes…” 

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 1 – Hindus around the world are celebrating Diwali, the festival of light. Many believe lamps, called diyas, were lit to guide the return of which god and his wife back home after being exiled? 

Lord Rama and his wife Sita

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 2 – Indians around the world will be celebrating this festival. What’s the word for a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland, who’ve moved away to other places in the world?

A diaspora

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 3 – Musicians are using artificial intelligence to help finish Beethoven’s 10th symphony. What’s a symphony?

A long, complicated piece of orchestral music.

LEELA: FAB FACT NUMBER 4 – A clever young Irish scientist has invented a device to suck out microplastic from the ocean. But what’s the name of the spot in the Pacific Ocean that’s TWICE the size of Texas and polluted with plastic?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

MAMA: FAB FACT NUMBER 5 – Fionn Ferriera invented the device using magnetic ferrofluid – which is a liquid that becomes highly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field and was first created by….? 

NASA – as a way to move fuel in space 

And don’t forget, if you want to test yourself later on, then go to the Lucky Dip page of our website,  newsypooloozi.com, that’s pool-o-o-z-i, and take this quiz online in your own time!

LEELA: And that brings us to the end of this episode of Newsy Pooloozi!


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