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Archive for the 'News and Current Events' Category

Tuesday - March 31, 2015

Headline English: A Video Experiment

I’m trying a little video experiment today. I decided today that instead of writing my blog post, I’d just shoot a little video. I did this first thing this morning, as I was drinking my morning coffee (and before I shaved, as you’ll see!). I love reading the newspapers when I drink my coffee, so I combined all of that with a little lesson about the English that appears in some of today’s headlines.

I recorded it on my iPad, edited in a video editing app right on my tablet (iMovie), then published it to YouTube. The whole thing took less time than it normally takes me to write a post, although I did have a little trouble getting the YouTube connection to work.

So, there you go! Tell me what you think.


UPDATE: I just realized that I misspelled the name of the U.K. Labor Party leader in the video. It should be “Miliband.”


Tuesday - August 12, 2014

Headline English: Private Equity’s Latest Fix

icon_59030Here’s a headline from a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Private Equity’s Latest Fix: Auto-Body Repair

A lot of newspaper headlines (titles of articles) are based on a “double meaning” of one of the words, where one word has two different meanings. Here the key word is fix.

The verb to fix means to repair, to take something that is broken (such as part of a car) and make it so that it works again, or looks the same as it did before.

But “fix” can also be a noun to describe something that you are addicted to, usually an illegal drug like cocaine or heroin. (To be addicted means you feel you MUST have something, even if it is causing you harm or injury.)

This headline is using both meanings of “fix.”

Let’s go back to the beginning of the headline: private is used here to refer to what does not belong to the government. (Things run by or owned by the government are called public.) Equity refers to money that people want to invest in something. (Remember to invest means to give money to someone in the hopes of getting even more money back.)

So private equity refers to people and companies whose main job is to invest money. This headline is telling us about one of the latest or most recent interests of these investment companies.

In the original article (paid subscription required), we read about equity firms (companies) buying auto-body repair places. An auto is a car (from “automobile”). The body of an auto is the outside of it (not including the engine or the wheels, for example).

If someone hits you with his car, you need to get your car’s body repaired or fixed. Private equity companies are buying these repair “shops.” In fact, they are buying lots of them, almost as if they were addicted, as if they needed their “fix” of them. That’s the double meaning of “fix” in this headline.

The word shop doesn’t appear in the headline, but usually we refer to businesses that do auto body repair as repair shops. A shop can be a place you buy something, but another meaning of “shop” is a place where you get something fixed. We even sometimes say, “My car is in the shop” when we mean our car is being fixed by a mechanic at an auto repair shop.

So, to summarize: Some investment managers are interested in buying lots of small auto-body repair shops and combining them to form a large company with the hopes of making more money.

I just hope no one hits my car so I don’t have to use one.


Image Credit: Car Accident designed by Hadi Davodpour from the Noun Project

Tuesday - July 22, 2014

Not All Hobbies are Created Equal

800px-Gee's_Bend_quilting_beeAs people get older, one of their biggest concerns is the loss of memory, of not being able to remember things. Most people know that keeping active is important, but not all activities are created equal (are the same; have the same results).

In a recent study about memory, groups of older adults learned new skills, either 1) quilting, a type of sewing activity where different pieces of fabric are sewn together to make a thick blanket called a quilt–see photo); or 2) digital photography, taking photos with a digital (electronic; using a small computer) camera.

The participants took memory tests before and after they learned these new skills, and their results were compared to other groups who had participated in enjoyable social or leisure (free time) activities, such as watching movies, listening to music, and playing easy games, but that did not involve learning new skills.

After three months of doing these activities for over 15 hours a week, the group that learned digital photography made the most improvement in the memory tests, perhaps because it was the more difficult of the new skills. It not only involved learning to use a digital camera, but also involved learning the photography software Photoshop and, for some, using a computer, since some of the participants had never used a computer before.

The psychologists (researchers studying the mind) who conducted the study believe that learning new skills helps to strengthen the connections in the brain. Learning new skills is better, they believe, than the games and computer programs marketed (sold) to older adults these days that tout (say is a benefit) improvement in memory.  They say that those commercial (sold to customers) games only improve short-term (recent) memory to a small degree (a little bit), but learning new skills — such as learning a new hobby — helps to strengthen connections in larger portions (areas; sections) of the brain.

In the past 30 years or so, there have been many media (news) reports about the benefits of keeping active as we get older. Physical exercise is important and so, it seems, is exercising the mind. Picking activities that challenge (present problems and difficulties to solve) the mind garners (gets) the greatest benefits.

If you’re an older adult, do you have hobbies that challenge your mind? If you’re younger, what new skills would you like to learn when you retire and have more time?

– Lucy

Photo Credit:  Gee’s Bend quilting bee from Wikipedia

Tuesday - June 24, 2014

A World Cup of Something Else


Teams competing in the World Cup, 2014

The World Cup is in full swing (is already in progress), and millions of people around the world are watching their favorite teams compete (play against each other). Even here in the U.S., there are millions who watch soccer (or “football“). You can’t go to a bar here in Los Angeles – a city of immigrants, after all – without seeing a group of people gathered around (next to) a large-screen TV watching a game (and yelling or screaming).

To win the World Cup, you need talent and probably a little luck. But what if the World Cup were not decided by two teams kicking a ball on a field, but rather some other measure or factor?

For example, if we took the 32 countries that are competing in this year’s World Cup and decided to give the victory to the country with the biggest population instead of the best team, the winner would be the United States (with 318.9 million people).

Here, then, are the “winners” of what we could call Alternative World Cups, according to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal:

  • Highest population density (most number of people per square kilometer): Korea, at 468.8 people per square km.
  • Lowest population density: Australia, with 2.9 people per square km.
  • Fastest-growing population: Nigeria, with 2.8% yearly increase.
  • Slowest-growing population: Italy, with -2% yearly change.
  • Most traffic deaths: Iran, with 34.1 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Fewest traffic deaths: England, with 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Most murders: Honduras, with 90.4 murders per 100,000 people.
  • Fewest murders: Japan, with 0.3 murders per 100,000 people.
  • Longest life expectancy (how long you will probably live): Japan, at 84.5 years.
  • Most unmarried women ages 45 to 49: Brazil, with 44.6%.
  • Fewest unmarried women ages 45 to 49: Iran, with 12.6%.
  • Most tourists per person: Croatia, with 2.45 visitors per person.
  • Cellphones per capita (for each person): Russia, with 1.84 phones per person.
  • Biggest smokers: Greece, with 2,795 cigarettes smoked per person per year (that’s 7.6 cigarettes per day).
  • Biggest drinkers: Russia, with 15.1 liters per person per year.
  • Biggest meat eaters: Argentina, with 570 calories per day of meat per person.
  • Biggest vegetable eaters: Korea, with 179 calories per day per person.
  • Biggest sugar eaters: United States, with 569 calories per person per day (as much as an Argentinian eats in meat!).

Not surprisingly…

  • Fattest: United States, with approximately 33% of the population classified as (considered) obese (seriously overweight).

What else could we use to determine the World Cup winner?


Image credit: Wikipedia

Tuesday - April 29, 2014

The Five-Second Rule

800px-Floris_Claesz._van_Dyck_001I have always thought that the five-second rule was stupid. The five-second rule is the belief that if food falls on the floor and you pick it up within five seconds, it’s safe to eat. Well, there’s actually some evidence now that shows that I may be wrong.

Researchers at Ashton University in the United Kingdom conducted a study in which they had students drop food on the floor, food such as toast (heated, crisp bread), pasta (Italian dish with noodles or other shapes made with flour), cookies, and candy. Then, they measured how much bacteria (very small living things that can cause illness and disease) gets on each type of food for different durations (periods of time) ranging from three to 30 seconds.

The longer the food remained on the floor, the more bacteria there was on it. How much bacteria gets on it depends on two other things.

Not surprising, wet foods pick up more bacteria.

Hard flooring also resulted in more bacteria. Tile (hard flooring in squares, made of material that has been baked) or laminate (hard flooring made of several layers of pressed material, usually made to look like wood) floors resulted in more bacteria on food than carpet (soft covering on the floor installed wall to wall).

However, the researchers say that this doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat off the floor, because your risk (chance of being harmed) depends also on what type of bacteria is on the floor at that time.

But these results are good news to most people. About 87% of people surveyed (asked questions for research purposes) in the study said that they ate food that had fallen on the floor.

Given (as a result of) these results, I will do my best to only eat dry foods while sitting on carpet, and not worry about the extra flavoring (something placed on food to enhance its taste) and garnish (something put on food to make it look more attractive) I get from that carpet if my food falls on it.  Yum!

– Lucy

Image Credit:  Floris Claesz. van Dyck from Wikipedia

Tuesday - March 25, 2014

Let Me See Your ID Again

Passport_cardWhen we think of IDs (identification documents), we often think that having our photo on it makes it impossible for anyone else to use it. That’s not necessarily (100%) true.

A study published recently tested how well people spotted (identified; found) fake (not real or authentic) IDs, especially in real-world (true; actual) situations. For example, one place where you want to know if someone is using a fake ID is in an airport security line.

But in that sort of real-world situation, the person looking at IDs is unlikely to come across (see) many fake IDs. The overwhelming (by a large amount) majority of people use their real IDs at an airport.

And that’s precisely the problem. According to the results of this study, the less frequently a person comes across a fake ID, the less likely he or she is able to spot one. In the study, when the frequency of fakes was high, the study participants were wrong only 20% of the time. But when there were fewer fakes, they were wrong 40% of the time.

Part of the difficulty in using photo IDs to identify people is that people age (grow older), change their hairstyles, wear glasses or not, or wear make-up or not (cosmetics worn on the face to improve one’s appearance). In the study, many of the photos were taken months or years before the time of the study, which also match real-world conditions. In the U.S., many passports and drivers licenses are valid (acceptable by law or rule) for 10 years or more.

I recently renewed (extended the period for) my California driver’s license. When I got my previous license, it was good for (valid for) 10 years. I was able to renew my license for five more years using the government website without having a new photo taken. This means that at the end of the five-year period, my picture will be 15 years old. Without plastic surgery (medical procedures to improve my appearance) or a wig, I will look very different and much older than when I first had the picture taken back in the Clinton administration (when Bill Clinton was president of the U.S.).

Who might be good at spotting fake IDs? In other words, what kind of person sees a lot of fake IDs as part of his or her job? One answer will not surprise you: bouncers, people hired by nightclubs and bars to keep out people who are underage (younger than the legal drinking age, usually 21) or who are causing problems. They encounter fake IDs all the time, especially here in the U.S.

Perhaps the solution is simply:  Hire more bouncers as security screeners (people who check documents to be sure that person is safe to allow into a place)!

– Jeff

Image Credit: Passport card from Wikipedia

Thursday - March 13, 2014

What Did Charlie Chaplin Sound Like?

OriginalNipperWikipedia is a useful, though not always reliable (able to be trusted), source of information about people in the news, in history, and popular culture. Now, it may also become a place to go to find out what people sound like (the characteristics of their voice).

Recently, Wikipedia started soliciting (asking for) 10-second sound recordings for the people who have entries (individual pages) on Wikipedia. People and organizations are being asked to supply (give for use) open-licensed (with its use not restricted) and open-format (not restricted by file type) recordings that can be added to entries. The main request is that the recording include the notable person pronouncing their own name to show their own preference, since there is often disagreement.

So far, only a few Wikipedia entries have sound recordings. Among them are those of Emma Thompson, an English actress, and Dustin Hoffman, an American actor. But there are also voices of non-celebrities (people known in popular culture, usually from TV, films, and sports), such as English scientist Jane Goodall, Burmese political figure Aung San Suu Kyi, and American author John Updike.

Unfortunately, so far, there is no recording of Charlie Chaplin, but the project is still in its infancy (at its beginning; only just begun).

Whose voice from today or from history would you most like to hear?

– Lucy

Photo Credit: Original Nipper from Wikipedia

Tuesday - February 4, 2014

Winter Olympic Events

800px-SnowboardingWith the Winter Olympics Games beginning this Friday, February 7th, I thought I’d talk a little bit about some of the major sports we’ll see over the two to three weeks at this sporting event. By my count (based on my calculations), there are about 15 major winter sporting events in this year’s Olympics. I won’t talk about all of them, but just mention a few.

Alpine skiing, also known as downhill skiing, is perhaps the sport people most associate with (connect to) winter. Skiers wear skis — long, thin pieces of a hard material such as metal, wood, or fiberglass — and slide very quickly down hills.

Figure and freestyle skating are usually indoor sports where skaters move over ice in graceful (elegant; not clumsy) movements doing very high and very fast turns and jumps. There are individual competitions, pair skating (with two people), and ice dancing. Since I’m pretty clumsy (not graceful) in real life, trying to dance on ice on a pair of ice skates is my ultimate nightmare (the worst thing I can imagine), but I still enjoy watching other people do it.

Now for a few less commonly talked about winter sports:

Curling is a sport where people move a stone over ice toward a target (place that you try to hit or reach) with the help of brooms (normally used for moving dirt on the floor when cleaning it) to change the stones’ direction and speed. I’ve wondered what I should be doing with that broom in my house. Now I know.

Luge is a very fast-moving sport, where one or two people place themselves in a supine position (laying down, facing the sky) and feet forward in a sled (small vehicle for moving over ice) moving on a downhill course (path). Speeds can reach nearly 90 miles (140 kilometers) per hour!

Another sport that requires sliding is the skeleton. The skeleton also involves a sled, but the athlete lays face down, head first and travels down a frozen path. This is also a very fast and dangerous sport.  Note to self (reminder for myself): Don’t buy a sled.

I’ll mention just one more sport you may see in the Olympics: the biathlon. A biathlon can actually refer to any sporting event that combines two sports (also popular are triathlon (three events), pentathlon (five events), and decathlon (10 events)). In the Winter Olympics, the biathlon involves cross-country skiing (skiing across fairly flat land, not down big hills) and rifle shooting. (A rifle is a gun you shoot from your shoulder that has a long barrel or hollow piece of wood or metal that the bullet travels through.) The athlete must cross-country ski to each target and either lay prone (on his/her stomach) or stand to shoot at it, then travel to the next target, and so on.

The other sports I have not mentioned include bobsleigh (also called bobsled), ice hockey, speed skating, ski jumping, and snowboarding, among others.

Do you participate in any of these sports? Which sports are you most interested in seeing in the Winter Olympics?

– Lucy

 Photo Credit: Snowboarding from Wikipedia

Thursday - January 30, 2014

How Technology is Changing Reading for the Blind

Refreshable_Braille_displayI am a convert (someone who didn’t believe but now does). For a very long time, I resisted reading electronic books. I like the look of physical books, I like the smell of them, and I even like the little yellowing that occurs on the pages in old books.

But a couple of years ago, I broke down (finally gave up) and bought an electronic book reader and downloaded reading apps (computer programs used most often with smartphones and tablet computers) onto my smart phone. Almost from the first (immediately), I could see the benefits of ebook reading. I can carry a lot of books around with me, I could change the fonts, and I could even read in low (not bright) light.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that ebook technology has also changed how the blind (people unable to see) read. Most Americans who are blind learn to read using the braille system. The braille system uses a series of dots (like a period ” . “) that represent letters. Each set of dots is called a “cell” and dots themselves are referred to as “raised dots,” with “raised” meaning higher than the area around it.

Using a device (electronic piece of equipment, usually a small one) called a refreshable braille display like the one in the photo above, each cell changes as the device “reads” different text. For example, one dot raised in the left corner of a cell represents the letter “a.” When the refreshable display is attached to a computer or similar device, the display turns the text into braille.

That’s where current technology comes in. New reading apps allow readers to download books they want to read onto a smartphone, tablet, or computer. When these devices are connected to a refreshable braille reader, a blind person has access to anything a sighted (not blind) person does. This has opened a larger world of reading for the blind.

We have the Frenchman Louis Braille to thank for the braille system, and technology and app developers (people who create apps and computer programs) to thank for opening up this new resource for an entire population of readers. I have an even greater appreciation of these advances knowing what they have achieved.

Is the braille system used in the languages you know? If not, what systems are used?

– Lucy

Photo Credit: Refreshable Braille Display from Wikipedia

Tuesday - January 14, 2014

Does the U.S. Government Owe You Money?

250px-New100frontWould it surprise you to know that the U.S. government has $18 billion that rightfully (legitimately; according to the rules) belongs to Americans? It’s true.

The U.S. government has a substantial (very much; very high) amount of unclaimed (not asked for; not collected by the owner) cash.

The first category of money that belongs to Americans is money that people have paid or lent (given as a loan) to the government but have failed to (not) ask to get back. This includes savings bonds and tax refunds.

Savings bonds are a type of investment sold by the government when it needs money to pay its debt (money owed to someone else). People buy these securities (investments) in different denominations (amounts of money), from as low as $25 to as high as $10,000. After (at least) six months, these bonds can be cashed in (traded for money) to get the original investment back plus a little extra in interest (a percentage of the money loaned). These bonds are considered very safe investments because they are backed by (supported by) the government. But some people buy savings bonds and then never cash them in! That’s a large part of the money the government owes Americans.

A tax refund is money that you’ve paid the government through your job, but because you’ve either (a) paid too much to the government in taxes, (b) made very little money that year, and/or (c) had special circumstances (called deductions) that allow you to not pay as much in taxes, you should get back from the government after you file your taxes (officially submit your tax documents, usually by April 15th of each year). But, again, some people never ask for their tax refund, and that’s also part of the money the government has that belongs to Americans.

Another large sum (amount) of money is related to lawsuits, where you take a dispute (argument) to court and let the court decide who is right. In the U.S., there are many class-action lawsuits, which are cases where a company is sued (asked to pay money) on behalf of (for) an entire group of people whom the company has wronged (treated unfairly), such as customers who bought a bad product or a group of people hurt by a company’s action. Oftentimes (frequently), the money that is awarded (given to) to the group of people suing is in a lump sum (one large amount), which should then be divided among (split and given to) the people in the group. Usually, the amount each individual is supposed to receive is very small, such as $2 or $5. Some people don’t even know they have been included in (are part of the group for the) class-action lawsuits and never claim their money. Others don’t bother claiming such a small amount. All that money remains with the courts (that is, the government) until it is claimed.

If you think the government owes you money, there are websites that can help you get your money back, such as this one and this one. If you get any money back, I will only claim half.

– Jeff

Photo Credit:  New100front from Wikipedia