Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's "terraforming?"

This video is slightly longer than the ones I usually post on the blog, but I hope you find the subject as fascinating as I do. Interestingly enough, it comes from a documentary made by Carl Sagan - a professor at Cornell University (of which I am an alumnus), and was first aired nearly 30 years ago. Nevertheless, the ideas discussed in the documentary, like terraforming, are very current, and Mr. Sagan was certainly ahead of his time. He was my hero when I was a teenager, and I applied to Cornell with dreams of meeting him some day (more on this in class). Listen to the video and answer the questions that follow. I think the subtitles should help, but only use them as a last resort!

1. Vishniac's machine to detect life on Mars was removed from the Viking mission because NASA is especially vulnerable ______________________________________.
2. Vishniac decided to use his machine to detect life in Antarctica because it is the most ________________________________________________.
3. In November 1973 Vishniac was left in __________________________________________-
4. Vishniac left camp on Dec. 10th to _____________________________________________, but never returned.
5. Carl Sagan says there will be a time when Mars is thoroughly explored. He feels that if there is life on Mars, then _______________________________________.
6. If there is no life on Mars, however, Sagan envisions something called _________________________, which is the process of rendering Mars suitable to human existence.
7. The problems Mars poses to human life are (name three):
8. These problems could be solved if we could make_________________________________________.
Discussion questions:
1. If life is discovered on Mars, even if it were a very simple life form such as a microbe, do you agree with Carl Sagan that we should leave it undisturbed? Why or why not? (Maybe in class we can have some of you play devil's advocate).
2. Do you think life in our solar system originated on Earth, or could it have once existed on one of our neighbouring planets?
3. Do you think the terraforming other planets is something you will see in your lifetime? Why or why not? Do you think we already possess this technology on a smaller scale? Explain.
4. Do you think terraforming is the only way our species (homo sapiens) will survive in the distant future? What is the ultimate fate of planet Earth? (What do you know about the evolution of our Sun?).
5. Would you like you children or grandchildren to live on Mars? (Or would you like to yourself?) Why or why not?

For the sake of argument

Here they are again - those Amazon women who have imprisoned all the men in their country! But I have to admit I'm hooked on their video lessons. They've expanded the lessons to include idioms and slang expressions. Here's a very useful expression to learn and use:

So, I'm going to play devil's advocate, just for the sake of argument (see comment):

Monday, February 22, 2010

A rash decision?

Well, here's one millionaire who decided to share a bit. Watch the video and answer the questions below.

1. According to the presenter in the beginning of the report, why did the Austrian millionaire decide to give away all his wealth? (And how would you describe the presenter's tone?)
BTW, what's the word he uses to describe a millionaire businessman (first letter t)?
2. What expression is used to describe his trip to Hawaii?
3. What kind of business did he own?
4. What was his hobby and where did he like to practice it?
5. The Austrian tycoon says that on his trip to Hawaii he had the feeling he was ____________.
6. How much is his house in Austria worth? What does he have in Provence?
7. Do you think he's given away all his wealth, or do you think he's still rich? Could this just be a publicity stunt?
8. Would you do the same?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


It's time to test your Famous Person IQ again. I try not to make it too easy - this young lady is not a superstar just yet, but her star is on the rise. See hints below:

1. Her surname is a kind of freshwater fish.
2. She starred alongside Bruce Willis in a recent sci-fi flic (the film was a bit on the mediocre side).
3. She put on a fine performance in the film "Pride and Prejudice."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Take advantage of this!

Let's get a dialogue started with expressions using take.

Much more than a red light district

Before you watch the video, answer these questions:
1. Have you been to Amsterdam?
2. What is Amsterdam famous (or notorious) for?
3. Is Amsterdam known for its beauty?

Now watch the video and answer the questions that follow.

This time we'll do this Cambridge exam style (fill in the blanks with a maximum of six words).
1. The presenter lived and worked in Amsterdam and even __________________________.
2. Amsterdam is _____________________ for many international companies.
3. Ms. Richards has heard that Amsterdam has more _________________________________.
4. The people of Amsterdam are ____________________________________________ (three adjectives)...and they really make ______________________________________ their time off.
5. If you're lucky enough to know someone who owns their own boat it's a ___________________________________ the city.
6. If you feel so inclined you can have yourself a smoke while playing _______________ or ___________________.
7. Cycling is brilliant because they have so many ________________________________.
8. Instead of hopping off the bike, Ms. Richards stayed on the bike and _________________________.
9. A good night out in Amsterdam usually starts with _____________________________.
10. Amsterdam is definitely the canals, ____________________________________________ (three more things).

Monday, February 15, 2010


It's time for FPIQ, the Famous Person IQ game! This is the first in a series of Famous People pictures I will be posting to test your gossip IQ: all of us occasionally browse through those intellectually stimulating magazines - you know, the ones with 10 times as much space for pictures as for text, so as not to make our minds work too hard. I may sound facetious, but let's face it - these publications serve a purpose. After all, it's important to know who's who, ain't it? Anyway, here it is - Famous Person #1. Answer the questions that follow:

1. Who is this guy? Hint: He's not Bon Jovi. And he's not rural.
2. What other famous person is he associated with? Why?
3. Was he famous in his own right before hooking up with this other famous person?
4. (If you don't know who this is, skip to #5). How did you know who this was?
5. Does it make you feel out of touch not to know who this famous person is?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What's mojofiti?

What are these people talking about? Watch this short video and answer the questions that follow.

1. What do you think mojofiti is? A religion? A cult? A business? All three? None of the above?
2. What does mojofiti claim to do?
3. What does the first speaker say about human nature?
4. What does the child say about mojofiti?
5. What phrasal verb does the first speaker use the second time he appears?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Latin grammar survives in the English language

Here's another one of those wacky videos. I really am intrigued about who's behind them and why they only feature young women with shiny, white teeth. Maybe they're a tribe of Amazon women and they've killed all the men in their territory! (Don't mind me, I've just had some very pure, organic chocolate and I think it's going to my head).
Anyway, I thought this one would be worthwhile, first, because the word in question is a false friend, and secondly, because it is quite commonly used in English, particularly American English. It is also a living example of how one feature of Latin grammar has survived in the English language to this day.
The word is often used in the context of "alumni associations," whose job it is to badger alumni and ask them for contributions. Private universities in the US survive on the donations of alumni.
Also popular in American culture are "alumni reunions," in which alumni (which if you haven't guessed by now, means former students - not current students) get together to meet their old classmates and compare their jobs, houses, etc. (sorry, that's the cynical side of me coming out again). Anyway, have fun with the video. I bet you'll never forget the word alumni after watching it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How to unite nations

What's the quickest way to make countries forget their differences? Former US president Ronald Reagan had the answer. Watch this video to find out, and then answer the questions that follow.

1. Reagan refers to a thought he had during a meeting with another world leader. Who was this other world leader and what was his exact title?
2. What was the thought that Ronald Reagan had, in your own words?
3. Do you agree that such an event would unite humanity?

Unmistakably American

I know what you're all thinking... wow, that is some real tacky American, old-fashioned corny music. It's also a favourite in Karaoke bars in Japan. I can't watch this without cringing, but I thought you might have a little fun with it. What's the horse's name?

See if you can make out the words to the chorus:

Oh, give me _____________, lots of _________________
Under starry skies ____________
Don't fence me in
Let me __________ through the _________ open country
That I ___________________
Don't fence me in
Let me be ____ ________________
In the evening __________________
And listen to the _______________
Of the cottonwood _______________
Send me off _______________
But I _______ you please
Don't __________ me in!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Don't fence me in.

The following video is a report about the fence built by the US Department of Homeland Security along the Rio Grande, the natural border between Mexico and Southwestern US. Before watching the video, answer the following questions:
1. In what instances, if any, do you think it's a good idea to build some kind of physical barrier along national borders? Give reasons.
2. Why do people risk their lives to cross borders?

1. When was Eloisa's family "given" this land? How many acres was her family originally granted, and how many has she got left?
2. Eloisa says "this is my history, this is my ___________" (word beginning with h). What does Eloisa say she will not allow the government to do?
3. The government official says that it is the civic duty of the public to collaborate with the project, as long as ______________________________ (fill in the blank).
4. Does the Rio Grande (BTW, how do you pronounce this in English) prevent people from illegally crossing the border? What proof is there?
5. According to the government official, what are the risks of not putting up the fence?
6. Why is the mayor of the border town opposed to the fence? What alternative is he in favor of?
7. How long is Eloisa willing to continue the fight to prevent the fence from being built on her land? What phrasal verb does she use ("I'm not b_________ d_____")
8. What's the reporter's name and where's she reporting from?

And for discusion
1. Do you identify more with landowners along the border or with the gov't?
2. Do border fences work?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who's Loma Linda?

Who the heck is Loma Linda? Well, it's not even a person - it's a place in California, actually. I'm writing from the Huesca public library, which is just about the only place I could find with an Internet connection in this (excuse me if I offend any "Oscenses") backwater provincial town!
But anyway, getting back to Loma Linda, California - I was going to ask if any of you knew what this place (Loma Linda, that is) has in common with Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy. I'm sure some of you may have guessed already. Post a comment! In the photo there's a not-so-subtle hint.
BTW, "not-so-subtle" is a compound adjective - just put "not-so-" in front of any adjective and you can create a bit of irony, which you all need at this stratospheric proficiency level!