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Archive for May, 2012

Thursday - May 31, 2012

A Dying Breed?

Sam Zygmuntovich is a master craftsman, a violin maker. And I’ve been fascinated by him since I first heard about him a few years ago.

I’ve always admired craftspersons (the traditional word is craftsmen), also called artisans. They are highly skilled and experienced people who make or do things. They are usually manual workers (people who work with their hands) who make things that are both functional (practical; useful) and beautiful.

In Europe – which is what I’m most familiar with – the idea of a master craftsperson goes back to the Middle Ages. There, a young man would become an apprentice (learner) to a master. While he worked for the master, he would learn the master’s craft or trade (work that requires special skill and training). When he finished his training, the apprentice became a journeyman, someone who was fully trained but not yet a master. To become a master, he had to create and submit (present, show) a piece of his work to a group of masters. If they approved it (said it was good), he was accepted as a master craftsperson, allowed to open his own business, and began to enjoy the respect of people in his community.

In the Middle Ages, craftspersons would include carpenters (furniture, wooden houses), tailors (clothes), weavers (cloth), goldsmiths (jewelry and other gold items), cobblers (shoes), wheelwrights (wooden wheels), and others.

Craftspersons are not as prominent (important; well-known) today as they used to be. Many of their jobs have been eliminated (made unnecessary) by manufacturing and other technologies. In fact, some believe that craftspersons are a dying breed, a group of people that is slowly disappearing. But Sam Zygmuntovich is evidence (a sign that something is true) that we can still find them.

The most famous violins are those that were made during the late 17th and 18th centuries (late 1600s-1700s) by Italian masters like Antonio Stradivari. His violins are so respected that the name “Stradivarius” is often used to identify the best of anything. As you would expect, Stradivarius violins are very expensive. The cheapest (lowest price) Stradivarius violins cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in 2011 one was sold for almost 16 million dollars to help victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Sam Zygmuntovich has become one of the most sought-after (wanted but hard to get) violin makers in the world. He has made violins for well-known musicians like Isaac Stern, Joshua Bell, Cho-Ling Lin, and Maxim Vengerov. He has a long waiting list (people who have asked for something but have to wait to get it). Zygmuntovich admits (says it’s true) that he can’t compete with (compare with) the Stradivarius name, but he is confident (sure) that he can make violins that satisfy the requirements of professional violinists.

Zygmuntovich learned violin-making at the Violin Making School of America, where he studied with Peter Prier who was trained in Europe. As a journeyman, he worked at some of the best violin shops in New York, where he had the opportunity to study, restore (make like new), and replicate (make an exact copy) great violins.

Sam is the subject of a book, The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop, and several short videos: The Violin Maker (excellent!) and The New Science of Violin Making.

Craftspersons are certainly not a dying breed! What kind of craftspersons do you have where you live? Do you know any?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Monday - May 28, 2012

Podcasts This Week (May 28, 2012)

What do Jeff and Lucy do when they’re not recording podcasts or writing scripts? They’re preparing Learning Guides to help you learn English even better and faster.

Each Learning Guide gives you more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more. Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 794 – Getting Over a Fight

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to admit” and “slight.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the videogames “Mortal Kombat.”
““Mortal Kombat” is a series of “videogames” (games played electronically on a computer or an electronic game device), the first of which was…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 348

Topics: American Presidents – Ulysses S. Grant; James Beard and the James Beard Foundation Awards; limit versus border versus confine; sound; life-affirming

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the video game “Popular Cook-Offs.”
“A “cook-off” is a cooking “competition” (contest) in which a lot of people make the same type of food. The food is then tasted and “evaluated” (judged) by a group of…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 795 – Ordering Coffee and Tea

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “drip” and “room.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Independent Coffeehouses.”
“In recent years, “coffeehouses” or “coffee shops” have become popular meeting places in the United States, especially in the “Pacific Northwest” (the northwestern part of…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - May 24, 2012

Your Favorite TV Detective

The television detective has been a part of TV history nearly from its earliest days. Cops (police officers) and private eyes (private detectives) used to be the most common type of TV detectives, but anyone can be a detective on television: attorneys (lawyers), doctors, and even mystery novelists (book writers).  With so many TV detectives, can you pick a favorite?

My favorite American TV detective is perhaps an unusual choice.  This detective was most popular in the 1970′s, and I watched most of the shows in reruns (a later showing of the same episode) many years later. He is a cop, but not an obvious choice for a hero (someone who is brave, whose actions help people, and is admired by others).  His name is Columbo.

Lieutenant (one of the ranks (levels) in the police force below captain) Columbo is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.  He is not young, not good-looking, and he’s always rumpled (looking messy and wrinkled, like he just got out of bed).  But don’t let appearances fool you (trick you).  Columbo has the mind of a steel trap (can think quickly, clearly, and intelligently).  It is precisely (exactly) because his appearance (the way he looks) and his manner (way he behaves) are so unassuming (modest; humble) that the murderer often underestimates him (believes he is less able, skilled, intelligent, etc., than he is).  With persistence (not giving up; continuing to try even when the situation is difficult), Columbo always gets his man — or woman (finds the criminal).

Peter Falk was the actor who played (acted in the role as) Lieutenant Columbo and he died in 2011. He acted in many films and was twice nominated (named as a possible winner) for an Academy Award, but he was best known for his role as Columbo.  Columbo was on the air from 1971 to 1978, and then returned occasionally (from time to time) between 1989 and 2003 in TV movies.

Do you watch TV detective shows?  Who is your favorite TV detective of all time?  What makes him or her such a good detective?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Peter Falk Columbo from Wikipedia

Monday - May 21, 2012

Podcasts This Week (May 21, 2012)

What did you say? Can you repeat that?

If you’re tired of not understanding what you hear in English, get the Learning Guide and see a complete transcript of every word spoken in the episode.  You’ll also get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 792 – Business Zoning

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “zone” and “to live up to.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Eminent Domain.”
““Eminent domain” describes the government’s ability to “seize” (take without permission) “property” (land or buildings) that were owned by individuals without…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 347

Topics: American Authors – Erle Stanley Gardner and the Perry Mason TV Series; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; who versus which versus that; It ain’t over till the fat lady sings; to go/be all in

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Two Faces of American Lawyers.”
“If you’re a lawyer in the United States, you have a “dual” (two-sided) “reputation” (others’ opinion of you). You may be respected for your knowledge…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 793 – Signing Professional Athletes

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “pick” and “to land.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Sports Drafts.”
“A “draft” is a way to decide which athletes should play on which sports teams. A draft tries to make the process fair. Without a draft, the “wealthiest” (richest) team…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - May 17, 2012

Fallingwater

I don’t often surf (move from one site to another) the Internet. But I did recently. And it started at the Smithsonian Magazine web site (highly recommended!) when I saw an article titled “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Most Beautiful Work.” The article begins like this:

“If the skyscraper (very tall building) is America’s most iconic* building, a small personal residence (home) in southwest Pennsylvania (a state near New York) might be its most ingenious (the result of clever thinking and new ideas).” That small residence is called Fallingwater, and it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s greatest architects (building designer).

Fallingwater was designed and built for Edgar Kaufmann, a wealthy American businessman, in the 1930s. Kaufmann wanted a mountain retreat (a quiet place; vacation home) near the waterfalls of Bear Run, Pennsylvania.

When Wright looked at the site (location) for the house, he told Kaufman, “I want you to live with the waterfall, not just look at it.” In a 1954 interview, Wright said, “There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge (narrow surface sticking out from the mountain) rising beside a waterfall and the natural thing seemed to be to [extend] the house from that rock…over the falling water…. He [Kaufmann] loved the site where the house was built and liked to listen to the waterfall. So that was a prime (main) motive (reason) in the design. I think that you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design.”

Many people believe that Fallingwater is the perfect marriage (combination; mixture) of house and site. In the Smithsonian article, Eric Jaffe writes that the sound of the waterfall fills the house but is never too loud. A boulder (large rock) juts (extends) into the living room and becomes part of the fireplace. Windows open outward from the corners of the walls so they don’t hide the view of the mountain and waterfall. Most of the materials – the wood and stone, for example – come from the mountains and forests surrounding (around) the house.

One writer says that “you’ve never seen a building that fits with nature so tightly (closely; well)…. You’ve seen [Las] Vegas and Times Square [in New York], but you’ve never seen a building that’s in constant motion (constantly moving).”

A beautiful animated video by Spanish artist Cristóbal Vila illustrates (shows) what I’ve been writing about. In it, Fallingwater grows out of the ground in the forest surrounding the waterfall and becomes a very natural part of the landscape (an area of land). Be sure you take time to watch it.

If you’d like to learn more about Fallingwater, visit Cristobal’s web site or the Fallingwater web site, where you can find a set of plans (construction drawings) for the house.

*An icon is a person or thing that represents something else and reminds us of it. For example, The Statue of Liberty is an American icon: when people see it, it reminds them of the U.S. The writer is saying that skyscrapers, which were first built in the U.S. in the 1800s, have that same quality. That may be less true today because now there are skyscrapers in many countries.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English where you’ll find ideas to help you Fine-tune your reading for better English.

Fallingwater photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons.

 

Monday - May 14, 2012

Podcasts This Week (May 14, 2012)

We talk a lot about the Learning Guide that accompanies each podcast because we designed it to help you learn English better and faster, and isn’t that why you listen? Get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 790 – Giving Birth to Twins

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “twins” and “litter.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Trends in Giving Birth.”
“Many babies are born in the United States every day. Most are born in hospitals, where they are “monitored” (watched over) and cared for by team of doctors and nurses…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 346

Topics: Ask an American – Innovation; pain versus sorrow versus woe; manhood; to be over someone versus to be all over someone

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Dot Com Movies.”
“The movie “industry” (business) has “taken notice of” (given attention to) the quick “rise” (rise in popularity) of Internet-based businesses in the past 20 to 30 years…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 791 – Taking Photographs

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “still” and “candid.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about the “Invention of the Modern Instant Camera.”
“Today, most Americans use “digital cameras,” cameras that allow the user to save pictures to his or her computer instead of printing them out. This was not always the case…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Monday - May 7, 2012

Podcast This Week (May 7, 2012)

We are grateful to our members and donors, because we are only able to produce this podcast with the generous help of our listeners.

If you enjoy our podcasts, please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member today!

………

ON MONDAY
ESL Podcast 788 – Being Conservative and Daring

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to fall flat” and “sheer.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “What Color is Your Parachute?”
“Richard Nelson Bolles wrote a book called What Color is Your Parachute? in 1970. It was originally “self-published” (published, marketed, and sold by the…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON WEDNESDAY
English Cafe 345

Topics:  Famous Americans – Magic Johnson; the role of ham radio operators in the U.S.; understanding versus knowledge versus acquaintance; below the waist and below the belt; earth to (someone)

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Michael “Air” Jordan.
“Like Magic Johnson, many sports “figures” (famous people) are better known by their nickname than their “given” (real) name. Other sports figures’ names are…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ON FRIDAY
ESL Podcast 789 – Taking Care of Pets

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “treat” and “carrier.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Humane Society.”
“The Humane Society of the United States is a large nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC. “Founded” (established; created) in 1954, its mission is to…” - READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - May 3, 2012

Who Invented Jaywalking?

“If you ask people today [in the U.S.] what a street is for, they will say cars,” writes Peter Norton, according to a recent Atlantic Cities article. “That’s practically (almost) the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”

Norton reports that 100 years ago, streets in the U.S. were “vibrant (full of activity or energy) places with a multitude (large number) of users and uses.” The videos I included in an earlier blog post – The Big One – clearly show what he means. In those videos, the streets of San Francisco are filled with a constantly changing mixture of people, horses and riders, horses and wagons, trolleys (tram or streetcar), and a few cars.

When cars first appeared, they were considered “intruders (someone who enters an area illegally) and a menace (something dangerous).” And if someone was killed by a car, it was a public tragedy (sad event), not a private one. According to Norton, the death of someone killed by a car would be commemorated (to remember and show respect) with marching bands, flower-carrying children dressed in white, and even monuments (a structure to remind people of something or someone). If a car killed or injured (hurt) someone, most people assumed  (thought it was true even if they didn’t have proof) that the driver was responsible.

In 1923, people in Cincinnati, Ohio, became so angry about the danger of cars that they collected more than 7,000 signatures (written names) to support a law that would require a governor (a mechanical control) on every car so it couldn’t go more than 25 miles (40 km) per hour.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) – we often call it “triple A” – and other organizations began to teach children that streets were for cars, not children. They even provided money for safety patrols – older students who were trained to help younger children cross streets safely before and after school.

Car manufacturers were worried. They were afraid they wouldn’t sell many cars unless something changed. So they began to lobby (try to persuade someone in the government) lawmakers to write laws that restricted (limited) pedestrian (usually a person walking) use of streets so that only cars and other vehicles could use them. Lawmakers listened, and jaywalking became illegal (against the law) in the early 1920s.

Jaywalking is walking across a street or road where it is dangerous or illegal – Jeff talked about it several years ago in English Cafe 51. In the U.S., pedestrians may cross streets at places that are identified as cross-walks, a part of the road reserved (set aside) for pedestrians. Most cross-walks are at corners – with a signal light or stop sign – but they can also be located in the middle of the block (in between the corners). They are usually marked by white or yellow lines. If there is a signal light or stop sign, pedestrians must wait for the signal and for cars to stop before they walk across the cross-walk. While pedestrians are in a cross-walk, cars must wait until they cross the street.

If pedestrians cross a street at any other place, they are guilty of jaywalking and can be fined (pay money for doing something illegal) – in Los Angeles the fine is about $200. If they cause an accident, they may be legally responsible, even if they are injured.

If I asked someone where you live what a street is for, what would they tell me? Do you have jaywalking laws?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English.

 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - May 1, 2012

5 Things You Didn’t Hear When You Graduated

What advice would you give a young person who is about to graduate from (finish; complete) college in 2012? Last year I talked about the tradition of commencement speeches at American colleges. A commencement speech is usually given by a well-known or important person to the graduating class of a university at the graduation ceremony (official event or celebration). It typically has advice for the young people who are now about to move on to the “real world” of work (or, for many nowadays, unemployment). You can read an example of a speech here.

One writer recently published his list of “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You,” with his advice to university graduates this year. I’ve shortened his list to five. Read them and see if you agree with his advice:

  1. Don’t Make the World Worse. Most speakers tell students to make the world better, but Wheelan says he wants to “lower the bar” (make the minimum requirement or expectation less difficult). Instead of trying to improve the world, just don’t make it any worse! This is actually a variation (another version) of the traditional advice to medical doctors to “first, do no harm,” meaning don’t make the patient sicker than he or she already is.
  2. Marry Someone Smarter Than You. With the economy in tough shape (poor condition), it is often necessary for both spouses (husbands and wives) to work. Wheelan says that the commencement ceremony itself is a good place to start looking for a smart (or smarter) partner. This is because at many colleges, the best students get to wear special clothing and have their names listed separately in the program (the official booklet for the ceremony), so they’re easy to find.
  3. Read Obituaries. Obituaries are stories usually published in a newspaper about someone who has recently died. Families can pay for one of these in order to announce the death of one of their members. Wheelan says reading obituaries can show you how “interesting, successful people rarely (don’t usually) live orderly, linear lives.” An orderly, linear life would be one which is well-planned out and moves in a “straight line,” from A to B to C. Wheelan is saying that most of our lives are not that simple and straightforward, but involve unexpected changes.
  4. It’s All Borrowed Time. To borrow something is to have someone loan or give you something for a short time that you have to give back someday. Life, Wheelan says, is not something you get to keep forever. Every day could be your last. To live on borrowed time means to be able to live only for a short time before things will change or end. If that’s true, then we must ask ourselves whether the way we are living now is really the best we can do. This idea is related to what the ancient Romans called momento mori – a phrase or a physical object like a skull that reminds you of death, that we all live on borrowed time.
  5. Don’t Try to be Great. Wheelan says that being great usually involves some luck and circumstances (situations) that are beyond your control (that you cannot change or effect). Instead of trying to be great, Wheelan says we should try instead to be solid – that is, very good at what we do, reliable, and dependable.

Do you agree with Wheelan’s advice? If not, what advice do you have for our new college graduates this year?

~Jeff

Photo credit: St. Jerome by Lucas van Leydan, Wikipedia CC