Monday, November 30, 2009

Biotechnology: a farmer's perspective.

As a follow-up to the "Doomsday Vault" activity, I thought we could discuss the issue of genetically modified seeds. This little interview with an American farmer is a good starting point, I think. Listen to the short video, and answer the following questions in your notepads:
  1. Why is Terry Waznek so pleased about "biotech" and what is meant by the term?
  2. According to Waznek, are farmers concerned with the environment? Why?
  3. What verbs are used to describe what farmers do with the land?
  4. Waznek says he would like to rephrase the question, "What are the risks of biotechnology?" How would he like to rephrase it?
  5. Waznek compares fighting biotech to what?
    And now your opinion:
  6. Do you think genetically modified seeds are good for farmers and consumers?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Polar Bear Alert!

Hello there, student-bloggers! Regretfully, I had to miss our session yesterday (doctor's orders), which was a shame, as I was looking forward to our discussion on the "Doomsday Vault" on the island of Svalbard in Norway. Incidentally, this frigid island is the northernmost (good proficiency word) inhabited piece of land on Earth. As you may or may not know, my mother is Norwegian, and my first cousin, Sigbjorn (most Norwegians have unpronounceable names) did his military service on this austere outpost in the middle of the Arctic Sea. He told me that on occasion alarms would sound, which didn't mean they were under attack (well, sort-of), but rather that there was a polar bear roaming around the premises and they were to remain indoors until the problem could be sorted out. What he didn't tell me is how this problem was sorted out. How would you deal with a polar bear walking down your street?
Would you consider living in Svalbard for a couple of years if you were offered a good job? Why or why not? Post your answers in a comment.

And here's a corny joke for you:
What did the polar bear eat after the dentist fixed his tooth? If you know, let us know in a comment.

Did Stone Age children play with dinosaurs?

Did our ancestors keep dinosaurs as pets? Does it require more faith to believe Darwin's theory of evolution than to believe the Bible's Book of Genesis? Is science compatible with the biblical account of the Great Flood?
Well, some people with deep pockets have invested $27 million dollars in a museum which seeks to provide answers to these questions, albeit very controversial ones. Listen to the video and answer the questions below Afterwards, feel free to post a comment (that's a subtle form of pressure).
  1. According to the BBC reporter, what is the goal of the museum?
  2. How would you describe the reporter's tone in the beginning of the video?
  3. What claim that the museum makes is so controversial?
  4. What does the woman say about faith and the theory of evolution?
  5. According to co-founder Mark Loy, was the Grand Canyon formed over millions of years?
  6. Does Mr. Loy think children may have kept dinosaurs as pets? Why?
  7. What groups of people are upset about the opening of this museum? Why?
  8. According to Professor Gene Kritsky, what is the only thing missing from the museum?
  9. What are the reporter's concluding remarks? Do you agree?
  10. Do you think this type of museum would be a success in Spain? Why or why not?
check out website:

Monday, November 23, 2009

The not-so-touristy carnival

I'd like to thank Daniel (obrigado!) for his colourful and and informative presentation on Brazil, the country where he grew up (and where his football allegiances still lie - does anyone recognize the coat-of-arms?)
We now know, thanks to Daniel, that the carnival in Rio is characterized by a large presence of tourists and skimpily dressed celebrities, whereas the one in Olinda is much more traditional an uncontaminated by tourist hype. Above we have a picture of a frevo dancer, delighting onlookers in Olinda with his sprightly footwork.
Did you enjoy Daniel's presentation as much as I did? Feel free to post a comment.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vocab review Nov. 20th

OK, here it goes! The first one of you to answer all these vocab questions correctly and post them in a comment will get a wonderful prize next Friday:

  1. another way to say get an injection
  2. what babies get to prevent catching illnesses like hepatitis, tetanus, polio, etc. (look up!)
  3. to make a lot of money (esp. quickly and via morally questionably means)
  4. synonym for protest or demonstrate beginning with "r"
  5. mental faculties - hint: first letter "w" and a short word
  6. when authorities do not allow certain stories to be published
  7. translation of "viene bien" (having an answer key, for instance)
  8. two words for a person without a home who wanders from place to place and lives a precarious existence (not homeless, which is an adjective)
  9. a substance extracted from plants used for colouring (remember Daniel's explanation of the origin of "Brazil") - hint: first letter "d" and very small word
  10. a synonym for fauna beginning with "w"

Over my head!

It is said that one of the last things one masters when learning a foreign language are its jokes. I know this feeling very well myself, because there are still times - even after nearly 20 years of living in Spain - when Spanish jokes go "over my head." This may be due, at times, to cultural references, or simply to a particular sense of humour, which, if not cultivated from an early age, is never fully acquired (a bit like accents, actually).

So, what I'm trying to say is don't despair if some of the references and corny jokes I make in class go "over your head." The expression is often used, as well, for subject matter that is too complex or difficult for the ordinary person to comprehend. For a nice definition of the expression, click here.
Do you "get" English jokes, or do they often go over your head? Feel free to add your comments below. ("Feel free" is a subtle way of saying, "C'mon everybody, participate!!).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Doomsday vault

With 2012 just around the corner, there's been plenty of hullabaloo about doomsday (click here for a definition), and Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on the occasion to rake in the bucks with box office hits of dubious quality, such as the recently released "2012" by director Roland Emmerich.
But is there anything behind all the fuss? Well, the world's governments seem to think so, as they have collaborated en masse in the creation of the "doomsday vault" project, about which you will know more after watching this video (scroll down). Answer the following questions in your notepad after watching:
  1. What exactly is the "doomsday vault" and where is it located?
  2. What four catastrophes is the vault secure against, and how does it guarantee this security?
  3. Why have they chosen such a cold location? Does it require refrigeration?
  4. How many seeds will be stored there and by which countries?
  5. Are there other seed banks in the world? What makes the Svalbard site different?
  6. Who owns the vault and the seeds?
  7. Where are the individual samples stored?
  8. Who is Kerry Fowler and what is his warning to mankind?
  9. What three modern developments does the reporter cite as justifications for the Svalbard project?
  10. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?

"Perfect pitch" kid or hoax?

Remember the term perfect pitch? Watch this video (click here) and answer these questions in your notepad (you might need to turn the volume up a bit to hear the kid):
  1. Do you think this kid really has perfect pitch or is this is actually just another youtube hoax?
  2. Are musical notes given the same names in English and in Spanish?
  3. What do the terms "flat" and "sharp" mean (in the video)?
  4. Do you think this kid was trained to recognize the notes, or is it an innate skill?
  5. What advantages do people with perfect pitch have over the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get vaccinated or get fired

Hello again, my faithful pupils! The following topic is a very controversial one. Listen to this video, and answer the following questions in your notepads (also, feel free to post a comment below):
  1. What are health care workers in NYS (New York State) so upset about?
  2. What would you do if you were a NYS health care worker in this position?
  3. What are Paula Small's concerns regarding the vaccine? (What adjectives does she use to describe it?). What happened in 1976?
  4. What does Frank Mannino mean when he says "This is still America"?
  5. Do you think this will happen in Spain? Why or why not?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ban smoking everywhere?

By C. J. HUGHES for the New York Times

Hello students! With new anti-smoking legislation imminent in Spain, I thought this article would be appropriate. Please read and add your comments below, answering the following questions:
  1. Do you share the opinions of Bryan Marx, or do you agree more with Dale Smith, and why?
  2. Do you sympathize with Brian Massotti, or do you think he is better off now and will be grateful in the long run?
  3. Do you feel anti-smoking legislation is necessary because otherwise smokers will always abuse the rights of non-smokers, or do you think the opposite is true?
The movement to ban smoking in New York City has grown so quickly that no place seems immune — certainly not restaurants or bars, and public beaches and parks may not be far behind. Now the efforts are rapidly expanding into the living room.

More landlords are moving to prohibit smoking in their apartment buildings, telling prospective tenants they can be evicted if they light up in them. This month, the Related Companies will ban smoking at some of its downtown apartment buildings because of health concerns about secondhand smoke, according to company officials.

Smokers who already live in any of these buildings will not be affected, according to Jeff Brodsky, a president of Related, which is a national developer with 17 buildings in Manhattan.
But any new renters must promise not to smoke at home, even if they continue to elsewhere.

Kenbar Management, a local developer, is going a step further. When its new project, 1510 Lexington Avenue, opens in December, smoking will be banned in all 298 units, in addition to private and shared terraces.

And the typical smoker’s refuge — directly outside the building — is also off limits; tenants must agree not to smoke on any of the sidewalks that wrap around the building, which takes up most of a block in East Harlem, according to Kinne Yon, a Kenbar principal.

The trend has predictably divided smokers and nonsmokers in New York. “I think it’s absolutely absurd,” said Bryan Marx, 53, a cabinetmaker who has lived at Tribeca Park, a Related building on Chambers Street, since 1999. He smokes hand-rolled cigarettes in his apartment, but said that he cut back on a cigar habit a few years ago to appease a neighbor.

Opinions among NYC residents are divided. “How about a little tolerance?” Mr. Marx added. “Smokers have become the whipping boys for everything that’s unhealthy about living in New York City.”
“I think it’s a bloody good thing,” said Dale Smith, 41, a Broadway producer who formerly worked in the health care industry. A resident of Tribeca Green for nearly three years, Mr. Smith, who does not smoke, said he had complained to his landlord about secondhand smoke in his apartment.

Yet some smokers seemed resigned to their fate. Brian Mossotti, 28, a day trader, moved into the Pan Am-run building on 23rd Street 14 months ago, after the developer’s ban had taken effect. After receiving three warnings from management about fumes in the hallway, including a stern letter in September, Mr. Mossotti finally agreed to take his two-a-day cigarette habit to the sidewalk, he said. “You can’t smoke in bars because of the whole secondhand smoke thing, so it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “But it is irritating.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Would you like one or two humps?

Yes, another poor attempt at humor, sorry (lumps, being terrones of sugar, as you will recall). We do have the word "dromedary" in English, after all. Interesting little article for y'all here:


Let's see how well you do on this little quiz, based on the HO you received for HW:

1. CIA agent: Now remember, Mr. President, this UFO file is confidential. We don't want the press to get wind of it.
Barack: Don't worry, Agent Starling. My ___________________________.

2. I think it's time I got rid of my Renault 5. It's on ____________________________________.

3. When I saw her for the first time, she took ________________________________________ (i.e., her beauty overwhelmed me).

4. Oh no! Here comes my gossipy neighbour. She's always asking me if I know the latest gossip about so-and-so. What a ____________________________________!

5. I was overcome by the emotion of the moment; I felt a __________________________________.

What's a lump?

So, I don't think I did a very good job of explaining what a lump is the other day. And I have a good excuse, as the word refers to something amorphous, in other words, without definite shape. So, only natural that I couldn't pin down its meaning. Do you buy my excuse? Anyway, for you bloggers:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 13th - Blade Runner

1.Rachel: Do you like our __________________?

2.Deckard: It’s _____________________?

3.Rachel: Of course, it is.

4.Deckard: It must be ___________________________.

5.Rachel: ____________. I’m Rachel.

6.Deckard: Deckard.

7.Rachel: It seems you feel our work is not a _________________________________

8.Deckard: Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a ________________. If they’re a benefit, __________________________________________.

9.Rachel: May I ask you a personal question?

10.Deckard: ______________.

11.Rachel: Have you ever ______________ a human ______________________?

12.Deckard: No.

13.Rachel: But in your position that is _________________________.

1.What does Deckard mean in line 4?
2.In line 11, what is Rachel referring to? What is Deckard’s job?
3.What do you think Rachel’s job is? Who does she work for?
4.Can you envision a future in which androids are indistinguishable (at first glance) from human beings?
5.Are we machines, in any sense of the word?
6.How old is Harrison Ford in this film? Is this one of his more well-known roles?
7.Are you intrigued about this film? Would you like to see the rest? Why or why not? (If you’ve already seen the film discuss your impressions with your classmates).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Class Notes - vocab from Nov 6

Hello there! Have you all decided to stay home on Friday night and study some English? What could possibly be more exciting, right?
Well, let's get straight to the point, shall we?
  1. First of all, customize does indeed have two possible spellings:
  2. What do you do with a Van Gogh painting (if you just happen to have one)? You can take it to Sotheby's and ______________ it for millions!!
  3. You will all recall the word hoax, which is used to describe an elaborate fraud carried out with premeditation to deceive a large quantity of people. We were wondering if the little snake show on the Greek island of Kefallonia was actually a hoax.
    On a smaller scale, as when a poker player uses a loaded deck, we prefer to use the word con, which is particularly common in the passive, eg. I've been conned. A person who makes a living out of conning people is called a con artist.
  4. Finally, for your writing assignments, you might want to employ the linker "Arguably,..." which is equivalent to saying "It can be argued that..."
  5. What's a synonym for weird, strange, or singular?
  6. Winning the Euromillions lottery: a blessing or a ____________?
  7. Mozart, who was a musical genius, apparently had perfect _________________.
That's all folks!...

Homework Friday Nov 6

Hello students!
So, here's the homework assignment I promised you. Simply listen to the video and answer the questions below in your notebooks.

  1. What great inventions has Germany given the world? (name three).
  2. The BBC reporter thinks none of the above inventions are as ____________ as this latest one.
  3. Each seat in the restaurant is _______________ and ________________.
  4. The chip card keeps a ________ of your order.
  5. They haven't found a way to ______________________ the chef yet!
  6. The spokesperson for the restaurant thinks it's a great way to save ____________________________
  7. The Germans think they have _____________________ a revolution in the restaurant industry.

Word of the Day

I am a subscriber to "Word of the Day," in which a new and interesting English word is sent to my email address every day. In case anyone is interested, here's the link for new subscribers:

"Moon" movie

Here's the movie trailer to "Moon" which we saw in class (I have extra worksheets if you need one):