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Archive for the 'News and Current Events' Category

Thursday - November 7, 2013

Want to Feel Younger? Don’t Take a Memory Test

667px-MigraineA recent research study (a carefully controlled investigation to get information and explanations) published in a journal (professional magazine of scientific information) called Psychology Science is the reason I will only be taking easy tests from now on.

A recent news report about the study said that researchers found that older people with an average age of 75 who took a memory test (a test of how much one remembers) said they felt five years older after the test.

Maybe everyone feels older after taking a memory test. No so (true). When two groups of people — one group of older adults and one group of young people in their 20′s — took the memory test, only the older adults reported feeling older afterwards.

Maybe it’s taking any kind of test that makes people feel older. Again, not true. When two groups of older adults took two kinds of different tests — one group taking the memory test and one group taking a vocabulary test — only the memory test group felt older afterwards.

Why?

The researchers say that it’s because the test highlights (gives attention to) one of people’s greatest fears about aging (getting older): losing their memory. In a related study, when people were told that they did well on a strength test (test of how strong someone is), they not only felt younger, but did better on future strength tests.

The implications (what should be done based on this information) are clear. If you feel you’re getting old, only take easy tests. That may sound silly (not smart or wise), but the researchers themselves point out that older adults are good at vocabulary tests and puzzles, often acing (do very well at) these types of tests or activities. This may be because an older person’s life experience can be brought to bear (used to get results) on these kinds of challenges.

Do you have any concerns about getting older? Is losing your memory one of those concerns?

- Lucy

Photo Credit:  Migraine from Wikipedia

Thursday - October 10, 2013

The Inverted Jenny

693px-USA_inverted_Jenny_siegal_nov_07_$977,500_Stamp collecting was a much more popular pastime (hobby) 50 to 100 years ago, but philately — the technical name for stamp collecting — is still alive and well (existing and active) in the U.S. today. One of the most famous U.S. stamps that any philatelists — the technical name for stamp collectors — would like to own is known as the Inverted Jenny.  (“Inverted” means upside down, where the top is at the bottom and the bottom is at the top.)

In May of 1918, the U.S. government decided to try a new type of mail service that would use an airplane to transport mail between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City — all cities on the East Coast of the United States. For this new service, people would need to pay 24 cents, a significantly higher price than other letter-delivery services. So the government decided to print a new stamp just for this airmail service.  The stamp pictured (showed the image of) the Curtiss JN-4 airplanenicknamed (given the informal name) “Jenny,” which would transport the mail between those cities.

The U.S. Postal Service had only a short amount of time to produce this new stamp. The stamp also had two colors on it, which meant that it had to be fed through (put through a machine) the printing machine two times, first printing one color and then the second. Sometimes, when it was put through the second time, the sheet of stamps was upside down. All of the “mistakes” were caught (identified) during production, except for one. One sheet of 100 stamps with this mistake escaped notice (was not seen or identified). That sheet of stamps contained the only Inverted Jennys available today.

A stamp collector went to the post office to buy the new stamp in 1918 and quickly realized that he had something special. He sold the sheet of stamps quickly and with the proceeds (money received from the sale) bought a house.

Since that time, this sheet of stamps has been taken apart, and many of the Inverted Jenny stamps have been been sold separately or in small numbers. Each stamp is worth in the area of (approximately) three quarters of a million dollars ($750,000) to $1 million.

Now, you can own an Inverted Jenny. The U.S. Postal Service is issuing (producing) Inverted Jenny stamps for sale. But, there is a twist (something unexpected). One hundred of the sheets produced will be right-side up, meaning they will appear as they should have originally with the top on top and the bottom on the bottom. All sheets of stamps will be packaged so that you won’t be able to see them before buying. The government hopes to get people excited about the new stamps, to create new interest in stamp collecting, and to add to their coffers (make more money). These new right-side up stamps will, of course, become collectable (wanted by people who collect this type of thing) almost immediately.

Have you ever collected stamps? Is stamp collecting a popular pastime where you live, now or in the past? Are there any special stamps you remember owning or seeing?

- Lucy

Photo Credit:  USA Inverted Jenny from Wikipedia

Thursday - October 3, 2013

The U.S. Government: CLOSED

800px-United_States_Capitol_-_west_frontAs you may have heard, the United States government has shut down (stopped working) because the Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff (where neither side will compromise or give up what it wants). Federal (national) government and many military (related to a country’s security) offices and services are unavailable, national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite are closed, and federal workers are being furloughed (temporarily told to stay home from work).

At the heart of the matter (the main point or problem) is the new healthcare program passed in 2010 called the Affordable Care Act — often referred to as “Obamacare” — which offers people the chance to purchase health insurance who don’t have or can’t get health insurance in another way. The Republicans don’t like Obamacare and propose delaying its implementation (the putting of a plan into action) for a year. The Democrats say no. In fact, the Affordable Care Act went into effect (started working) this week, on October 1. Since the two sides are in a standoff, they cannot agree on a budget (spending plan) for the government and that’s the reason for the shutdown.

While politicians are battling it all out (fighting), some people have taken to (used as a way of communicating) Twitter with a little humor about this crazy situation. They’ve come up with some pickup lines (things you say to someone you’ve never met before to try to get him or her interested in you romantically).

Pickup lines are usually cheesy (with little value and considered of poor taste or unpleasant) and usually aren’t very effective, and these are no different. I’ll explain a couple that appeared in an NPR article, but some of them are just a little too risqué (with too much sexual content) for our blog. You can try figuring those out for yourself, if you want to.

“You’re all the stimulus I need.”
An economic stimulus is when the government does something to try to improve the economy, such as spending money on new projects to create jobs or cutting (lowering) interest rates (how much money you’ll earn by keeping your money in the bank) so people will spend more money instead of saving it. “Stimulus” is also something that causes someone to feel more energy or excitement. I don’t think I need to tell you what kind of excitement we are talking about here.

“Where have you been sequestered all my life?”
Sequester can mean to hide something somewhere so others can’t find it or use it, but it can also mean to take assets (money or things worth money) from people until they pay their debt (money they owe someone else). Earlier this year, “budget sequestering” became a common term in American politics. Once again, the Democrats and Republicans were arguing about money. Budget sequestering means that if the Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a budget, automatic spending cuts (reductions) in government spending occur as planned according to an earlier budget deal (compromise; plan). The Republicans wanted this to happen so that the government would be forced to cut spending, while the Democrats argued that cuts would eliminate (remove) or reduce (make less or smaller) important services to Americans and be bad for the economy. After a two month delay, the budget sequestration went into effect (occurred).

This pickup line is a play on (refers to in a amusing way to) the pickup line, “Where have you been hiding all my life?” meaning, I suppose, “I’m glad I’ve finally found you.”

If you’re trying to pick up an American girl (or guy), you could try these pickup lines, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope (wouldn’t expect success). These are some of the worst — though funny — pickup lines I’ve ever heard.

- Lucy

Photo Credit: United States Capitol – West Front

Tuesday - September 10, 2013

Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

Peaceful_ResolutionLet’s talk about a business headline today. This one comes from a recent issue of Bloomberg Magazine, one of the largest business magazines in the United States. Here’s the headline:

A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

The news story is about the president of the United States trying to negotiate (work out; come to an agreement over) a deal (agreement) with Congress. In the U.S. political system, as you probably know, Congress is a group of elected representatives in charge of (responsible for) passing or approving laws. After Congress approves a new law, the president has to sign or agree to the law. (It doesn’t always work exactly that way, but that’s the normal process.)

Now, one of the problems that we have in our modern American economy is the same as in many economies: how much should people pay in taxes? That is, how much money should businesses and individuals have to pay the government for the government to do its job?

The headline is about negotiations between the president and Congress. It begins with the words “a modest step.” The adjective modest usually refers to a person who is humble, a person who doesn’t brag, a person who doesn’t like to talk about himself or herself. If someone compliments (says something nice about) a modest person, that person might say, “Oh no, that’s not really true. I’m not very good at that.”

In the headline, “modest” is used to mean something slightly different. It means a very small amount of something. In this case, we’re talking about how much progress is being made toward a certain goal. A step is normally a movement of your feet, moving one leg in front of the other to walk. You have to take steps in order to walk, but we also use that expression, “to take steps,” to mean to make progress, to do things.

So, a modest step is a small amount of progress toward some destination, some goal. The goal in this case is a grand bargain. The word bargain can have a couple of different meanings. One meaning for bargain is a good deal, a cheap price for something that you’re buying. But a bargain can also be an agreement. To make a bargain is to agree to do something. That’s the meaning that is used in the headline.

Finally, we come to the word grand. “Grand,” like modest and bargain, has a couple of different meanings. Here, it means something important, something large, something that is very complex and complicated that is going to solve a lot of different problems at once.

This phrase, “a grand bargain,” is actually quite common in American politics. You will see it in reading about American history, usually to describe how different political groups come to some agreement that solves a lot of  important problems.

In our story, the president and Congress are trying to come to a grand bargain about how much people should pay in taxes. I’m not sure how exactly it will all work out (what the specific result will be), but I’m guessing that whatever they agree to, it won’t be a bargain (good deal) for American taxpayers.

~Jeff

Photo credit: Peaceful Resolution by Nomadic Lass, Flickr CC

Thursday - July 18, 2013

Twinkies are Back!

Hostess_twinkies_tweakedThere are few American foods more beloved (loved very much) than the Twinkie. This modest (not fancy) snack cake with a white filling (a type of food that is found inside other foods) is over 80 years old and is part of the childhoods of many Americans, at least the unhealthy ones like mine.

Since their invention (creation) in 1930, they had been made by the large snack food company Hostess. However, in May of 2012, Hostess filed for bankruptcy (officially stated that they had no money to continue) because sales were down, since many people had switched to (changed to; were selecting other) healthier snack foods. The costs of labor (worker salaries) and production (making the product) were now just too high.

The news that Hostess would stop production of Twinkies was shocking (very surprising) for many Americans. People who grew up with Twinkies had a hard time imagining the demise (death; end) of such an iconic (representing some idea, period, or experience) American food. In fact, there was a run on (selling very quickly until all are sold) the remaining Twinkies in stores.

But for those who can’t imagine life without Twinkies, there is good news. Another company purchased part of the Hostess company that makes Twinkies earlier this year. Twinkies returned to American stores this week.

To be honest, I have not had a Twinkie in over 25 years. The list of ingredients (things combined to make a food) is a parent’s or doctor’s nightmare (bad dream). However, I can’t deny (say it isn’t true) that Twinkies hold a special place in my heart and I’m glad they’re back. To mark the occasion (celebrate an event), I might go out and buy a package of Twinkies, open it, and take one bite. Eating any more might kill me.

Is there a snack food where you live that is beloved, but that is also very bad for you?

~ Lucy

 Photo Credit:  Hostess Twinkies from Wikipedia

Thursday - July 11, 2013

Where’s the Exit*?

VoyagerThe Voyager I spacecraft was launched (to send a spacecraft into the sky) into space almost 36 years ago, in September, 1977. That was the year Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the U.S. The year the Apple II, Atari, and Commodore personal computers first went on sale. The year Elizabeth II celebrated her 25th year as Queen of England. The year Elvis Presley died. And the year the first Star Wars movie was released.

Since its launch, Voyager has traveled more than 11.5 billion miles (about 18.5 billion kilometers). It flew by Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980 and collected important information and photos of both planets. But it didn’t stop there. It has continued to fly toward interstellar (among the stars) space. But to the surprise of many scientists, Voyager still hasn’t reached interstellar space. Rather, it’s “entered a region (area) that no one expected and no one can yet explain,” according to a New York Times article.

What has happened to Voyager is like walking out of your house to go into the backyard to play. But when you step out of the house, you enter a porch (an entrance at the front or back of a house with a floor and roof but no walls) you didn’t know was there. And the porch turns out to be much larger than anyone would have expected. In other words, the exit wasn’t where scientists expected it to be.

Voyager’s experience tells us that our solar system (our sun and its planets) is much larger than anyone imagined. Voyager has traveled more than 36,000 miles per hour (about 58,000 kph) for almost 36 years – more than 11.5 billion miles – and it’s only gotten to the back porch of our solar system, not yet into the backyard of interstellar space. Rebecca Rosen, writing in The Atlantic, says that “the hardest thing to wrap one’s mind around (think about and understand) in astronomy … is scale: just how big … objects are, how far away they lie, and how long ago they formed (started to exist).”

While the Voyager story tells us something about the absolute (total; not compared to anything else) size of our solar system, Rosen’s story illustrates (shows us) something about the relative (one thing compared to another) size of the planets that make up our solar system.

Rosen tells the story of Ron Miller, a space artist. While looking at a photo of the moon over Death Valley, a part of the Mojave Desert in eastern California, he wondered what would happen if he replaced (removed one thing and put in another) the moon in the photo with each of the planets. He calculated (used numbers to find out) how large each planet would be in the photo if it were the same distance from earth as the moon. Then he scaled (made larger or smaller) each planet to the correct size and put them in the photo in place of the moon. You can see the results here.

Imagine sitting in your backyard watching Jupiter or Saturn rise after the sun goes down. Or imagine the blue glow (soft light) of Neptune or Uranus while driving through the countryside (rural area) at night. How would you feel if one of the planets appeared on the horizon (the line where the earth meets the sky) rather than the moon?

*exit = the way out of a room, building, airplane, etc.; the place where vehicles can leave a freeway (high-speed road) and connect with another road

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - June 25, 2013

The Toilet Paper Wedding Dresses

800px-Bride_with_bouquetWe are in the month of June, a very popular month for weddings here in the U.S. According to an annual (yearly) survey conducted by a popular wedding website, The Knot*, December is the most popular month to get engaged (officially promised to marry), and June is the most common month for weddings.

A June wedding makes sense for several reasons. The most obvious reason is weather; you are most likely to avoid the rains in spring and the dogs days of summer (hottest days of summer). In June, you’ll also find many types of flowers in bloom (open and showing color) and there are many options for outdoor venues (locations for an event). Having a wedding in June also makes it easier for guests to attend, since many schools and universities are on summer vacation by the first week of the month. Lastly, finding an attractive honeymoon (wedding trip) destination (place to go) is also easier in June.

So you’re ready for a June wedding, but what is a bride (women getting married) to wear? If you’re very creative and unconventional (unusual; not following traditions) , you might want to opt for (choose) this recent creation. A fashion website and a popular toilet paper company teamed up (worked together) to have a contest (competition) to see who could create the best wedding dress out of toilet paper, and this was the winner. I personally think that it is a masterpiece (very fine work made with skill and an artist’s eye).

Seeing this creation got me thinking about the most creative things that could be made out mundane (dull; not exciting) things such as toilet paper. I have nothing against toilet paper, mind you (just so you know; for your information). I appreciate its existing many times each day, but it made me wonder what else can be made with everyday things.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve made or created out of unconventional materials?

~ Lucy

* “To tie the knot” = to get married

Photo Credit: Bride with bouquet from Wikipedia

Tuesday - June 4, 2013

Fat Cats

noun_project_1836_256x256x32When I was growing up, a fat cat was a very rich and powerful businessman who gave money to politicians and tried to influence the political process (and, yes, the term typically referred to a businessman, not a businesswoman). Today, the expression has taken on (been used to indicate) a much more literal meaning.

American cats really are overweight (weight too much). In fact, most American pets (animals that people keep in their houses but that they don’t eat), like most American humans, are fat.

According to the 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey (obesity is the condition of being very overweight), 52.5% of all dogs weigh too much, and 58.3% of cats are similarly chubby (fat).

Dr. Earnie Ward of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) feeds us the bad news: “Pet obesity remains the leading (most important; most common) health threat (danger) to our nation’s pets.” Fat animals can develop the same problems as overweight humans, including diabetes and the inability to say “no” to chocolate cake.

The folks (people) at APOP, perhaps fearing that pet owners and doctors will become as lazy as the animals in question (that we’re talking about), consider this problem to be a very serious one. And I mean very serious. Says one doggie doctor: “This is a war veterinarians (animal doctors), pet owners, and parents much win.”

So how do you avoid having a fat pet?

Consider getting a German shepherd. German shepherds are among the skinniest (opposite of fat) pets on average, with an obesity rate of only 2.1%. Sure, they may kill you or eat your neighbor’s children, but at least you won’t have to worry about people laughing at your fat cat anymore! And if they do still laugh, you can always sic your new dog on them (tell the dog to attack them).

Stay away from (avoid; don’t get) golden retrievers, though. An amazingly large number of them (62%) are overweight. These dogs used to be used for retrieving (bringing back to you; returning to you) ducks and other animals shot (killed with a gun) while hunting. Now I guess they are more like your typical college student, retrieving McDonald hamburgers and cold beer.

I’m not sure what is more depressing (sad) about this news: that American pets are just like their owners in eating too much and not exercising enough, or that there exists something called the National Pet Obesity Survey.

~Jeff

P.S. If you live in Europe, don’t laugh at us fat Americans. Your pets are fat, too!

Image credit: Cat by Lucie Parker, PD

Tuesday - May 28, 2013

Your One-Way Trip to Mars

534px-Mars_atmosphereA few weeks ago, a private Dutch company announced a plan to send people to the planet Mars. The plan, called Mars One, will send a group of people to travel to and live on Mars, but this is a one-way (without a return) trip. The people who go there will live the rest of their lives in an inflatable (able to be filled with air) habitat (place to live). Who are these “lucky” astronauts (people who travel into space)? People like you and me.

While this is not the first initiative (plan) to place people on Mars, it is the first that hopes to be completely financed (paid for) by sponsors, people and companies that give money to make something happen.

These sponsors are investing in a very unique (not like any other) reality show. On TV in recent years, we have had reality shows (television programs where “regular” people try to win some prize for their talent or abilities) that select the best singers (such as American Idol and The Voice), the best survivalist (able to stay alive under difficult physical conditions) like Survivor, and the best dancers (like So You Think You Can Dance). Why not select the best astronaut?

The organizers of Mars One plan to build reality shows around the selection of the people who will travel to Mars, the launch (sending into space of the spacecraft), and the landing (arrival of an spacecraft on the surface). The price tag (cost) is estimated to be $6 billion dollars ($6,000,000,000,000).

If you’re the adventurous (liking excitement and new activities) type, you can apply for this one-way mission (travel into space) by going to the Mars One website. You can upload (put on the website) a picture and a profile (set of information about you), and people who visit the website can rate (show their approval or disapproval of) you.

As I skimmed (looked quickly through) the profiles, I saw that applicants so far are from many different countries, but nearly all of them have something in common: they list English as their language. Why? Because although the project accepts people from any country, who can apply in 11 languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Russian, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Indonesian, and Japanese, the official language of the project is English. So if you hope to be one of these “lucky” astronauts, you are already one step ahead of the game (have an advantage).

Would you ever consider traveling and living on another planet, with no hope of returning to Earth?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Mars atmosphere from Wikipedia

Tuesday - April 16, 2013

Lawyers Suing Law Schools

599px-CourtGavelIf there is one group of people you don’t want to anger, it’s lawyers.

Right now, there is a class-action lawsuit (many people working together to sue) of recent law school graduates (people who have completed their degree) against their own law schools. They say that law schools falsely claim (say something that isn’t true) high employment rates (percentage of people working) of over 90% within a short period of time after graduation. In reality (in truth), they say, graduates aren’t working as lawyers and many not even in full-time jobs. They are working as salespeople, in restaurants, and not in their chosen field (area; type of) of work.

The litigants (people suing) not only claim that law schools inflate (make larger than something really is) employment rates to lure (attract) new students. Schools also do it to improve their rankings (positions among others) in lists of the best law schools in the country. They claim that law schools routinely (done all the time) misrepresent (show something to be different than what it really is) information, including starting salaries (money earned when you first get a job).

This is a difficult time for new college graduates in the U.S. With the economy in poor shape (condition), many are finding it hard to get jobs. Making it more difficult are the student loans the graduates took out (obtained; got) to pay their tuition (money charged by schools to attend).

Five of the law schools being sued are in California. Each of these five law schools charges about $40,000 a year for tuition, and it normally takes three years to complete a law degree if you’re a full-time student. After graduation, students only have a short time before they have to begin paying back their student loans.  With over $100,000 of debt (money owed), these law school graduates are particularly angry that they can’t get jobs as easily as the law school’s promotional materials (materials used to get someone to buy or to be interested in something) suggest. Now they’re taking their case to court.

In many ways, the law profession is changing. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, more and more tasks traditionally (normally; usually) done by lawyers are now being done by, or are made easier with, computers. It used to be that lawyers spent many hours in the law library looking up previous cases and getting other legal information. With the online services and electronic databases now available, these long hours spent — and those who worked them — are no longer necessary.

Online companies have also made it possible for people like you and me to file (to send or submit to some authority) routine legal documents ourselves, without the help of a lawyer.  Experts (people with a lot of knowledge about a subject) say that even when the economy improves, there will still be a glut of (too many) lawyers working in all 50 states.

What is the state of the legal profession (jobs related to the law) where you live? Are there professions (types of jobs) where things are changing quickly, leaving many out of work?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit:  Court Gavel from Wikipedia