Nov 10, 2010

An Excellent Tool for Learning English

Are you looking for an online free dictionary?

Here is an easy-to-use English and multilingual dictionary, WordInn Dictionary 2010. It will definitely make your online reading hassle free just by double clicking the mouse left button on the word you don't know.

For better understanding and downloading, please visit the following link:

Nov 7, 2010

The Discovery Files: Tell and Show

Cognitive psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and University of California have shown that an image displayed too quickly to be seen by an observer can be detected if the participant first hears the name of the object.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Say It -- See It.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

The results of a study led by cognitive psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania say we're more likely to see and recognize an object flashed on the screen -- if we first hear what that object is. Even if it is only on the screen for a virtually invisible 50 milliseconds! That's half as long as the blink of an eye.

In some of the tests, participants were asked to detect the presence or absence of large capital letters that flashed on the screen. In other experiments researchers showed the object ahead of time instead of verbalizing but that didn't seem to help. Only the correct verbal cues consistently led to the most positive IDs; those verbal cues worked even if the object appeared in an unexpected part of the screen.

The study is part of a larger effort to understand how high-level expectations can affect low-level sensory processing. It's like a reverse game of show-and-tell -- if we tell first, the object is more likely to show. Perception being shaped by language.

There can be many factors that influence the way we see things. One of the strongest may be the power of the spoken word -- which -- I'm out of right now.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Play audio

For the original, please visit:
The Discovery Files

Nov 1, 2010

What's Up for November, 2010:
Crescent Venus, Brilliant Jupiter, and Shower Meteors

What's Up for November?

Venus in the morning, gas giants in the evening and meteors after midnight.


Hello and welcome! I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. If your skies are clear this month, you're in for some real treats!

Venus is up first ... literally. Start looking for our nearest planetary neighbor just before dawn. You'll be treated to a very slender crescent. On the fifth, two crescents rise 35 minutes before dawn: first Venus and then the Moon. By the 15th, the crescent Venus widens to 10% of the planet's disk. And by month end, it's 25 percent lit. Galileo captured sketches of the changes in the appearance of Venus 400 years ago.

Jupiter reigns supreme again in November. You can really see the light and dark bands of clouds on the planet.

Uranus and Neptune are both easy to see through a telescope, too.

Comets are storytellers, preserving the stuff from which our solar system's family was born. November 4 marks the EPOXI spacecraft's flyby of comet Hartley 2. Last month offered the best time to view this comet.

The bright and slow Taurid meteor shower peaks the first two weeks of November. You'll only see about 5 of the distinctive Taurids per hour.

November's more famous shower is the Leonids. The faint and swift Leonids peak on the 17th and 18th. Wait until the moon sets in the hours before dawn for your best chance of seeing them.
NASA's Year of the Solar System missions will shed light on our solar system family's birth story. The Cassini Solstice mission is making new discoveries about the mini-solar system at Saturn, complete with a disk of rings and moons orbiting the dynamic gas giant. JUNO launches in 2011 and will seek to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.

Learn more about this month's Year of the Solar System resources at

And you can learn all about NASA's missions at

That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.

Sep 21, 2010

Hidden Oil and Gas Plumes in the Gulf

Below the surface, thousands of marine creatures are still in danger from Gulf oil disaster.


University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye, like most scientists, always has a plan. Especially when it involves complex, expensive research cruises.

But the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout [1], and the enormous environmental destruction it is causing, forced her to change the way she works.

"As an oceanographer, you are trained to make these detailed cruise plans," notes Joye. "Everything is just so, 'I'm going to be here on day one and here on day ten'."

Days after the BP [2] oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people, Joye got the wheels in motion [3] to submit a proposal for a "Grant for Rapid Response Research" from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Her goal was to investigate underwater oil and gas plumes, and determine how this disaster was impacting deepwater organisms.

Within a week, NSF approved the grant. Joye and her team from the University of Georgia, along with researchers from several other universities, spent May 24 through June 6, 2010 aboard the University of Miami research vessel, Walton Smith, departing from Gulfport, Miss.

"I don't think I've ever flown by the seat of my pants [4] the way we were flying there. But these are dynamic features, changing every single day," says Joye.

One complication of this trip: the smells of the huge amount of hydrocarbons that started spewing on April 20th. It could sometimes be overpowering.

"It was nauseating," says Joye. She described the intense smell as something like a cross between diesel fuel, creosote, and gasoline.

"Just wretched, wretched, dense air and it's hot, it's humid, and the air is just saturated with these very uncomfortable smells," she explains.

The scientists and the ship's crew had to wear respirators and protective suits at times, especially near "ground zero" [5] where the blowout occurred.

Joye is a biogeochemist, who studies the natural seepage of oil and gas from the floor of the Gulf. At the time, the natural seepage rate in the Gulf of Mexico was on the order of 1,000 barrels a day, over the entire Gulf. But in a 20-mile-long, 3-mile-wide oil and gas plume Joye tracked, the amount of oil and gas was off the charts.

"The gas concentrations are outrageously high. We have measured concentrations up to 100,000 times what we typically see in the Gulf of Mexico," says Joye.

Some deepwater creatures in the Gulf process tiny amounts of oil and gas that occur normally in the water.

"There is a whole slew of organisms that depend on these natural seeps, and in these ecosystems, the one thing that these organisms need that can be taken away by this oil spill is oxygen," explains Joye. "That's because they eat oil and gas but the bacteria that sustain them are oxygen-requiring bacteria. So without oxygen, they can't survive."

Joye says that methane gas could create more zones of low oxygen in the Gulf, possibly choking off these deep water ecosystems.

To give a human equivalent, Joye says, "It would be like having your Thanksgiving dinner, but suddenly the living room is filled with argon or CO2 instead of oxygen. There's all this food around you, but you can't eat it because you are suffocating."

Joye says this prolonged environmental tragedy has had a profound impact on those who study life in the Gulf.

"I would characterize it as a transformative event because it changed the way I approached what I was doing. It was a disaster response instead of just a research cruise. There was this sense of urgency that I can't describe in words," says Joye.

Two of her students also were motivated to work as hard, and for as long as they possibly could, each day on the ship.

Microbiologist Melitza Crespo-Medina is a University of Georgia postdoctoral student.

"We started working at 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning. It was really intensive," says Crespo-Medina. "And I really remember this water looked clear, absolutely clear, but I remember the smell of it, I can't believe this water that looks clear smells so much like gas, like diesel. And that sticks in my mind."

The research cruise was the first-ever for undergraduate ecology student Chassidy Mann.

"So the experience wasn't just collecting the data, the experience wasn't just being amidst other people, it was science exploration, and for me, it was unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced," says Chassidy.

One night, the rescue of a single, oil-soaked bird had an impact on everyone on the ship.

"He was exhausted. His wings were covered in oil, his eyes, [and] his mouth. It was just gut-wrenching and everyone was in tears, myself included. You see this innocent animal, doing the same thing that it had done for all of its life. And instantly, he is coated in this stuff that weighs down his wings. And there's just this look of desperation and fear in his eyes," says Joye. "Animals like that bird, whales, and sea turtles, and fish, and every organism that inhabits the Gulf of Mexico are being exposed to an atrocity."

What has frustrated Joye and many other scientists since this disaster began is the lack of information about the precise amount of oil and gas that has spewed from the well site.

"It took two months to nail down the magnitude of this spill. I'm still not convinced that it's an accurate number; 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day, that doesn't even include gas flux. The gas flux is probably another 30 percent on top of that," she says.

Shortly after she returned from this research cruise, Joye testified before Congress about some of her initial findings, and the very long road ahead for the recovery of the Gulf.

"In my congressional testimony, one of the biggest things I hammered again and again was the need to document the size of this spill," she says. "You can't even begin to fathom the environmental implications if you don't know how much gas and oil have come out of this wellhead."

Since this NSF cruise, the Deepwater Horizon well has been capped. But Joye wants to make sure the public knows that just because the oil is no longer gushing out, the problems are far from over. She is especially concerned about the dispersants used to break up the oil and gas, to try to keep it from reaching shore.

The dispersant has not been widely tested on marine organisms, according to Joye. And it makes locating plumes of oil and gas much more difficult, even impossible, with satellite imagery.

"The volume, the sheer magnitude of dispersant application is mind-boggling. The fact is that we have no idea what this could do to the system. The dispersant is a complex chemical milieu of who knows what," explains Joye. "It [the use of dispersants] does one thing really well. It masks the magnitude of the spill, and it potentially does many, many things badly."

Joye wants a closer look at safety issues in offshore drilling. She also sees this horrible incident as a wakeup call for everyone when it comes to energy use.

"The impact of this is big, and it's wide, and it's bad, and it's ugly. The global appetite for oil and gas is driven by each one of us," says Joye. "And until each one of us changes our attitude, it's not going to get any better."

From Science Nation

[1] Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout
Please refer to the link below:

BP is summed up by two words 'beyond petroleum'. It’s one of the world’s largest energy companies.

[3]get the wheels in motion
Get something started; To cause a series of actions to start that will help you achieve what you want.

[4] Fly by the seat of one’s pants
Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.

[5] Ground zero
The point on the Earth's surface where an explosion occurs. For more detail visit at

Sep 3, 2010

What’s Up for September 2010: The moon

What’s Up for September?

The moon


Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

September 18 is International Observe the Moon Night.

This annual event is inspired by last year’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s journey to and orbit insertion around our moon. Images from its first year include all six manned lunar landing sites and close-ups of the lunar surface.

You can join astronomers around the world at lunar observing events and observe the ten-day-old moon. This is a night when many of the most recognizable lunar features are visible. Or you can even hold your own Observe the Moon event. And you don’t even need a telescope.

The moon takes about 29 days to go around the Earth once. And it also takes the moon about 29 days to spin once on its axis. This causes the same side of the moon to always face the Earth.

We can see the moon’s far side only from spacecraft.

Sometimes the moon’s far side is referred to as the dark side of the moon in poetry and songs. But this isn’t accurate.

As the moon orbits Earth, the portion we see illuminated changes. The first phase, called the new moon, is just a sliver. It’s difficult to see at first, but each night it gets bigger and brighter.

The next phase is called the first quarter, because the moon has traveled one quarter of its 29-day orbit around Earth.

International Observe the Moon Night falls halfway between the first quarter and the full moon.

A full moon is the next phase, on the 14th day of the lunar cycle. Don’t miss the full moon of September, called the Harvest Moon[1]. It rises in the east just before Jupiter on September 23rd.

Then the illuminated portion visible to us shrinks to the last quarter.

Use this moon observing journal[2] to record the lunar phases for yourself.

Be sure to check out the International Observe the Moon Night website[3] and join me, along with thousands of other amateur astronomers on September 18 sharing the moon views with your community.

That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.

[1] Harvest moon
The full moon that appears nearest to the autumnal equinox (秋分).
For more information, please visit

[2]Moon Observing Journal
Download the moon observing journal at

[3]International Observe the Moon Night
For the event of "International Observe the Moon Night", please visit

[4]Moon Map
Download the Moon Map at

[5]Star Chart
Download the Star Chart at
or (Use for September 18, 2010 only.)

Aug 24, 2010

Welcome to Toastmasters!










Aug 11, 2010

The Perseid Meteor Shower

What’s Up for August?

The Perseid[1] meteor shower.[2]


Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Padadena, California.

If you’ve never seen a meteor shower, this month’s Perseids are a perfect introduction.

Plan a summer getaway on Thursday night August 12. You’ll begin to see meteors by about 11 p.m. But the rates increase closer to dawn'

The Perseid meteor shower is named after the constellation Perseus[3]. And the meteors appear to originate near this constellation in the northeast sky.

This year’s meteor shower happens on a moonless night, so you’ll be able to see more of the fast, bright meteors.

Meteor showers are the debris of a passing comet, or sometimes the debris from a fragmented asteroid. Comets originally formed in the cold outer solar system, while most of rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

When a comet nears the sun, its icy surface heats up. This causes clouds of gas, dirt and dust to be released, forming a tail of debris that can stretch for millions of miles. As Earth passes near this dusty tail, some of the particles hit our atmosphere. They burn up and we see the result as meteors.

NASA generates meteor shower forecasts to prevent potential hazards to spacecraft that are launching and orbiting Earth.

You’ll see some Perseids all month long, before and after midnight. But the best fireworks display will be in the wee hours of Friday morning August 13.

The European Space Agency’s comet mission Rosetta flew by asteroid Lutetia last month and returned beautiful images of this battered world.

Now Rosetta’s on its way to send a lander to a comet.

NASA’s Deep Impact EPOXI spacecraft is on an extended mission to study and search for planets orbiting distant stars. But first, in early November this year, it will fly by Comet Hartley 2.
NASA’s Stardust NExT mission will fly by Comet Tempel 1 in 2011. And the Dawn mission arrives at asteroid Vesta in 2011, and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.

Despite that recurring email hoax about Mars being big and bright this month, it appears as a faint, reddish object near brighter Venus and Saturn just at sunset.

Jupiter shines as a brilliant beacon nearly overhead before midnight.

Through a telescope you might be able to see nearby Uranus.

You can learn more about NASA missions at
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.

[1] Perseid/ˋpɝsɪɪd/ 英仙座流星群之流星
[2] The Perseid meteor shower 英仙座流星雨
For more information about the Perseids, please visit

[3] Perseus/ˋpɝsɪəs/ 英仙座

Aug 9, 2010

Ice Breaking (C1)

Ying Chu

August 4, 2010

The purpose of the C1 speech is for “ice breaking”, so I would like to share my story about “ice breaking”.

When I graduated from college, my first job was in Taipei. So I had to travel between Taipei and Kaohsiung by bus frequently. It took roughly 5-6 hours one way. During this long trip, sometimes I was bored and felt like chatting with somebody. But striking up a conversation with a total stranger always made me feel awkward, so I never tried. Just read or took a nap all the way.

One day I read an article about two strangers who encountered each other on the train and developed a moving friendship. I always loved such warm stories and I wanted that to happen to me as well.

Few months later, it was time to go home again. When I got on the bus, I came up with an idea: I’ve got to do it today! No matter who sat beside me, I made up my mind to talk to him/her. A gentleman sat next to me before the bus started. Since the journey just began, why not relax first so that I could make a perfect plan? After a while, as I was trying to chat with him, he began eating. I thought it was impolite to disturb him so I kept waiting. Then, he seemed tired. Apparently, it was not the right time. I hesitated again and again, but I knew I must take a chance. After a while, he took out a book. Yes, books are always good topics. So I took a deep breath, opened my mouth and~ I shut up my mouth, looked outside the window, and pretended nothing happened. The title of his book was Leave Me Alone!

Is this the end of my story? Fortunately not. In 2007 I traveled alone from 上海 to 周庄. The passenger next to me was a Western lady. When we arrived at the destination, the bus driver announced some important information only in Chinese. The lady looked confused and worried. I knew how she felt because I had the same experience when I traveled in Europe so I translated for her. And naturally, we started a conversation. She told me that she was a zoologist from Italy and shared her unforgettable experiences in China. Such as how she was shocked when she faced various kinds of animals for dinner in Mongolia, and in Beijing, almost every taxi driver asked her if she would like to go to the Temple of Heaven, because that seemed to be the only English they could speak. We both enjoyed the chatting very much. Eventually, I accomplished my mission.

Aug 7, 2010

Two Education Problems in Taiwan’s Secondary Schools (C4)

Charles Lu
August 4, 2010

When I taught at a junior high school, one day I asked my students, “Why do you study hard?” I got some funny but weird answers. One student said,” If I don’t study hard, my parents would get angry with me.” One student said,” If I get bad grades, my neighbors would look down on me.” Another student said, “If I don’t study hard, some day in the future I may roam in the streets like a stray dog.” Almost all of the answers were negative. Only one student answered in a positive way. He said,” I want to make a lot of money.”

When I think about this scenario, I realize that students having this sort of thinking are common. There must be something wrong with our education. Why do students study hard just because of outside influences instead of having the desire to learn? Why do students study hard just to make money instead of helping others? I think about these two issues for a long time and finally reach to the following conclusions. The problems are the curriculum and moral discipline. Here is the reason why.

1. Students get bored with their studies because the curriculum is rigid.

Here in Taiwan, all textbooks in secondary schools are edited by the Board of Education. They hire experts to compile the textbooks. These specialists focus on the system of knowledge, ignoring the students’ interests and abilities to learn. Students spend all their time on these textbooks. They memorize the contents to get good grades. If they can get good grades, they can go to better universities. If they can graduate from better universities, they can get better jobs with higher salary. That’s the goal of their whole lives.

2. Students lack moral and ethical disciplines.

Most of our secondary schools in Taiwan neglect moral and ethical teaching. When students enter the workforce, they care only for themselves. In many workplaces, you can see people who just work for a paycheck instead of a purpose. They have no vision, no dream, and no ambition. They float along in life with a lot of complaint. This phenomenon is a failure of our education system. In our educational philosophy, there is no big-picture thinking, no inspirational and philanthropic spirits. Our education has created a lot of selfish, arrogant, short-sighted, and narrow-minded monsters. That’s the reason why our society is full of apathy and disorder.

The education system operates like a running train. Though there’s something wrong, it’s impossible to stop its momentum immediately. Yet if we acknowledge the problems now, when the train comes to a junction, we can change its course. It’s time to reform our education system.

My Autobiography (C1)

VPE's note: Tom's speech was delivered without a script, in accordance with what was suggested in the Competent Communication manual, in true Toastmasters fashion.

My Autobiography (C1)
Tom Liu
August 4, 2010

Jun 27, 2010

Learning English Through Role-Playing Games (C2)

Wen-Hung Fang
May 19, 2010

Learning English Through Role-Playing Games (C2)

There are many ways to learn and practice English. One interesting way that helped me immensely is through role-playing games. Today, I will first define and describe role-playing games, and then talk about their benefits for English learners, and finally I will give two examples of role-playing games that I used to play.

So, what are role-playing games?

Role-playing games are games that allow the players to act out various roles in a story and interact with each other within that story.

In a role-playing game, a Game Master is responsible for developing the storyline, while other participants play the story "characters." Within the bounds of certain game rules, the Game Master and the players are free to improvise. Together, their decisions determine the direction and outcome of each game.

And what are the benefits of role-playing games for English learners?

Role-playing games build vocabulary, in all kinds of subject matters ranging from medieval history to modern science, depending on the game genre.

Role-playing games enhance reading abilities, especially if you read all the manuals and novels to bring your story and your characters to life.

Role-playing games sharpen speaking and listening skills. Just like being a speaker in a Table Topics Session, you need to listen carefully to the Game Master, think on your feet, and respond quickly.

Role-playing games hone the art of storytelling, especially for the Game Master. The March 2010 issue of Toastmaster Magazine had an article that mentioned how storytelling skills can be useful for Toastmasters. So, as the logic goes, when you become a better Game Master, you become a better storyteller, and in turn you also become a better Toastmaster.

So, now that we have defined role-playing games and talked about some of their benefits for English learners...

What are some examples of role-playing games?

BattleTech, which I used to play in middle school.

In this science fiction role-playing game, you play the role of a soldier, or perhaps a mercenary, traveling from planet to planet, and fighting in a 10-meter tall war machine, either for money or glory. Perhaps you're helping rebel soldiers to overthrow a tyrant. Or perhaps you're working for that tyrant to put down a rebellion.

Through this fictional world, you can strengthen your vocabulary and knowledge in the areas of military affairs, physics, astronomy, technology, etc. You’ll pick up terms like "autocannons," "nuclear fusion," "interstellar travel," "electroactive polymers," and so on.

Now, let me give you another example. Even a demo. For this second example, I'll need the help of several members of the audience. Guys, could you come up and get ready? Thank you!

Dungeons & Dragons, which I used to play in high school.

In this role-playing game, you and your friends are adventurers in a fantasy world similar to the one in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, where there are many fantastic creatures like elves, goblins, and dwarves. You travel together to seek adventure, or go on quests sent by the King.

In Dungeons & Dragons, the bard characters are usually portrayed as happy-go-lucky traveling poets and singers. Bard players often make up lyrics and sing to the tune of popular songs during the game.

The fighters are often portrayed as simple-minded muscle heads, but that's just a stereotype. You can of course also role-play a fighter in a different way.

The mages or magicians are just the opposite; they are often portrayed as cautious and intelligent powermongers.

Now, we're going to start our demo. Listen carefully. What would you do if you were one of the players? Let's begin.


Game Master (WH): You finally clear the enchanted woods and come to the river. The rushing water looks too dangerous to wade across. There’s a nasty looking troll on a narrow bridge up ahead. What do you want to do?

Fighter (Jack): Kill him!

Mage (Daniel): [TO FIGHTER] Wait, not so hasty! [TO GAME MASTER] Isn’t there another bridge upriver or downriver?

Game Master (WH): Yes, you look at the treasure map in your hand, and there looks to be another bridge about five kilometers downstream; however, it appears to be guarded by a big red dragon.

Bard (Trinity): Dragon? Forget it! Let’s try our chances with this bridge. I just learned a magical lullaby last month. I can try to put the troll to sleep. Then we can walk past safely without having to pay any tolls.

Mage (Daniel): That’s a great idea! Let's hope it works! I'll have my magic spells ready, though, just in case.

Fighter (Jack): But I wanna fight! Charge! [WAVE SWORD IN AIR]

Mage (Daniel) & Bard (Trinity): [TOGETHER] Nooooooooooo!!!!

Game Master (WH): Freeze! Thank you, players! Please return to your seats, and let’s give them a big round of applause. Thank you! Remember, real games are unscripted, so players must improvise and give impromptu responses to problems presented by the Game Master. How would you have resolved the situation?


So, that's role-playing games in a nutshell. It has its benefits, and it’s fun. If anyone wants to go adventuring together, you can find me at the KTV, practicing my magical lullaby, just in case I come across a troll bridge someday.

Mister/Madam Toastmaster.

Jun 19, 2010

The Discovery Files: Buy Buy Blues (Learning English with Science)

For podcast please Visit:

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: overhead speaker in dep't store)"Attention Shoppers -- We have a special on happiness in aisle 5..."

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Money may not buy happiness, but science has at least pinpointed the kind of purchases that offer the most satisfaction. A new study out of Cornell shows that if you're shopping for good feelings, there may be ways to get more bang for your buck [1].

It basically breaks down purchases into two categories: "experiential" and "material." Experiential buys are the ones you experience like a massage, or a family vacation. Material purchases are things like flat-screen TVs, furniture, or jewelry.

The researchers tell us the most long-lasting happiness comes with the experiential ones. They seem to yield to selective memory, and get better over time. This type of purchase usually fulfills a quick set of expectations and usually makes it easier to decide upon.

Buying material things may give you a big jolt of happiness at first, but it can rapidly decline. You may not have full-blown buyer's remorse, but your happiness factor shrinks as you make comparisons, or think of how you might have done better.

There is one more dynamic -- how you regard a purchase. If you look at a material buy like a car not as a status symbol, but as hours of enjoying the experience of driving -- your long-term happiness will be greater.

As you buy your way out of the blues, we wish you happy shopping.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Play audio

For the original, please visit:
The Discovery Files
[1] (get) a bigger/better etc bang for your buck
Something that gives you a good effect or a lot of value for the effort or money you spend on it

Apr 3, 2010

The Discovery Files: On the Fly (Learning English with Science)

Audio Transcript:

Not Just Wingin' It...

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

If you could hitch a ride[1] on the back of a fruit fly -- WHOAAAA! You'd marvel at the stability of one of the world's most agile flying machines. It can react to disturbances in its flight pattern by making miniscule corrections -- adjusting its wing angle sometimes by as many as 250 times per second! Wind comes up -- no problem. Swatter? Ha! I scoff at you!

We're just discovering the secrets of flight of these acrobatic little buggers thanks to the work of Cornell researchers. The team studied the flies with the help of both computer modeling and the use of 3 high-speed cameras, so that every little motion during flight could be captured and documented. To interrupt their flight patterns, small pins were attached to the flies' backs. Then, a mild magnetic field could be used to knock them off-course. Talk about a buzz kill[2].

The fruit flies took it all in stride[3], and came through with 'flying colors.'[4] As soon as the magnetic field was applied, the flies made an instant correction. It seems their secret is a stabilizer reflex that tells the wings how hard to paddle to recover from a mid flight stumble.

We may someday fly in a flapping-wing aircraft modeled on the principles of flight we're learning from this tiny creature. Some 'fruitful' findings from a flighty little fly and we never once had to call in a 'swat' team.[5]

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Play audio

For the original, please visit:
The Discovery Files


[1]hitch a ride (with sb)
Get a free ride from a passing vehicle.

[2]buzz kill
A pun. The slang means a sudden undesired event that causes one's "high" or "buzz" to become of a lesser experience or depleted.

[3]take something in stride
To calmly and easily deal with something unpleasant or difficult and not let it affect what you are doing.

[4]come through/pass with flying colors
To complete a difficult activity very successfully.

[5]'swat' team
A pun. SWAT team, Special Weapons and Tactics team, a specially trained group of police who deal with the most dangerous and violent situations.

Mar 7, 2010

I tried. And I made it! -- How I harnessed the wind.

Here is a touching story from an African boy who harnessed the wind.


William Kamkwamba

Two years ago I stood on the TED stage in Arusha, Tanzania. I spoke very briefly about one of my proudest creations. It was a simple machine that changed my life.

Before that time I had never been away from my home in Malawi. I had never used a computer. I had never seen an Internet. On the stage that day, I was so nervous. My English lost, I wanted to vomit. I had never been surrounded by so many azungu, white people.

There was a story I wouldn't tell you then. But well, I'm feeling good, right now. I would like to share that story today.

We have seven children in my family. All sisters, except me. This is me with my dad when I was a little boy.

Before I discovered the wonders of science, I was just a simple farmer in a country of poor farmers. Like everyone else, we grew maize. One year our fortune turned very bad. In 2001 we experienced an awful famine. Within five months all Malawians began to starve to death. My family ate one meal per day at night. Only three swallows of nsima for each one of us. The food passes through our bodies. We drop down to nothing.

In Malawi, the secondary school, you have to pay school fees. Because of the hunger, I was forced to drop out of school. I looked at my father, and looked at those dry fields. It was the future I couldn't accept.

I felt very happy to be at the secondary school. So I was determined to do anything possible to receive education. So I went to a library. I read books, science books, especially physics. I couldn't read English that well. I used diagrams and pictures to learn the words around them.

Another book put that knowledge in my hands. It said a windmill could pump water and generate electricity. Pump water meant irrigation, a defense against hunger, which we were experiencing by that time. So I decided I would build one windmill for myself. But I didn't have materials to use. So I went to a scrap yard where I found my materials.

Many people, including my mother, said I was crazy.

I found a tractor fan, shock absorber, PVC pipes. Using a bicycle frame and an old bicycle dynamo, I built my machine. It was one light at first. And then four lights, with switches, and even a circuit breaker, modeled after an electric bell. Another machine pumps water for irrigation.

Queues of people start lining up at my house to charge their mobile phone. I could not get rid of them. And the reporters came too, which lead to bloggers and which lead to a call from something called TED.

I had never seen an airplane before. I had never slept in a hotel. So, on stage that day in Arusha, my English lost, I said something like, "I tried. And I made it."

So I would like to say something to all the people out there, like me, to the Africans, and the poor who are struggling with your dreams.

God bless! Maybe one day you will watch this on the Internet. I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don't give up!

Feb 18, 2010

The Discovery Files:Stop Lights on the Neural Highway (Learning English with Science)

Audio Transcript:

Stop Lights on the Neural Highway. (SOUND EFFECT: traffic -- tires screech)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Certain conditions such as Parkinson's[1], epilepsy[2], chronic pain and brain injuries are associated with abnormal brain activity. Up to now most treatments have dealt with stimulating that activity.

Researchers at MIT are looking at what may be a better way -- by selectively silencing certain brain activity -- and they've come up with an 'enlightened' method of doing it -- turning off specific brain circuits using light. (SOUND EFFECT: light switch)

The team found a type of protein that, when inserted into neurons (brain cells), allows the cells to be turned off by rays of yellow-green light.

When the scientists bathe the entire brain in the light (through the use of optical fibers), areas that don't have the light-sensitive proteins continue as normal -- but the light causes cells that are packing the proteins to pump protons out of them -- lowering the cells' voltage, and safely and effectively preventing them from firing.

This 'optogenetic[3]' technique has been used since 2005 to stimulate activity, but this is the first time it's ever been used to stop it.

The method shows promise for the treatment of some of our most serious brain disorders. So far it's only been demonstrated with mice -- the team will turn its attention to monkeys next.

Hey, I can use light to switch off parts of my brain -- it's called "TV."

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Play audio

For the original, please visit:
The Discovery Files


1 Parkinson's
►A serious illness in which your muscles become very weak and your arms and legs shake

2 epilepsy/ˋɛpəlɛpsɪ/
►A medical condition affecting your brain, that can make you suddenly become unconscious or unable to control your movements for a short time.

3 optogenetic/ˏɑptəˏdʒəˋnɛtɪk/
►An emerging set of methods enables an experimental dialogue with biological systems composed of many interacting cell types--in particular, with neural circuits in the brain. These methods are sometimes called optogenetic because they use light-responsive proteins (opto-) encoded in DNA (-genetic). [Science, 326(5951):395-9]

Feb 12, 2010

January/February Reading: Talk Smart at the Holiday Office Party

Stay clear of conversation faux pas that can derail your career.

By Don Gabor

As a Toastmaster, you know that all speaking is public speaking – whether you are giving a Table Topics presentation at your local club or making small talk with colleagues and clients at the holiday office party. Of course, if an “ah” or “um” slips into one of your speeches, probably no one (except perhaps another Toastmaster) will ever know.

Find the full text at:


faux pas /ˏfoˋpɑ /plural faux pas /-ˋpɑz/ [countable noun]
►an embarrassing mistake in a social situation
For more information, please visit at:
--She is renowned around the world for her sense of style, but yesterday she made an fashion faux pas of the worst kind.

letting your hair down
►Behave in a free or uninhibited manner.
For more information, please visit at:
--Now that he's passed his exams and got his qualifications he's decided to let his hair down (=behave informally).

passé /pæˋse/adjective
►no longer modern or fashionable
--A lot of people are down on Windows Forms as something passe.
--Neon colors are already passé.

Feb 6, 2010

Resume (Word of the Day, 2010/2/3)

►to start doing something again after stopping or being interrupted.
–-She hopes to resume work after the baby is born.
–-Not only is there an urgent requirement to resume economic growth, but we have to re-think where that growth takes place and whom it benefits.

Resume doing something
–-He will resume training as soon as the injury is better.

►if an activity or process resumes, it starts again after a pause.
–-Pumping operations would resume this morning.
–-Peace talks will resume tomorrow.
–-Economic growth resumed only in the late 1990s, but even today GDP (Gross Domestic Product) remains below that of 1990 in many of the countries.

Resume your seat/place/position
►to go back to the seat, place, or position where you were before.
–-Will the delegates please resume their seats?
–-Senator Arbib, resume your seat. When there is silence we will proceed.

resumption/rɪˋzʌmpʃən/[singular, uncountable noun]
►the act of starting an activity again after stopping or being interrupted.
–-Both countries are now hoping for a quick resumption of diplomatic relations.
–-Economic resumption is extremely important as it affects the entire community’s recovery efforts and is a major indication of how long it takes the community to redevelop.

►a short account of something such as an article or speech which gives the main points but no details [= summary]
–-He gave a resume of the year's work and wished the Society another successful year.
►[American English] a short written account of your education and your previous jobs that you send to an employer when you are looking for a new job. [=CV, curriculum vitae British English]
–-You're required to submit a resume.

e-resume/ˋiˏrɛzjume /
electronic resume
►an electronic written record of your education and previous jobs that you send to an employer over the Internet when you are looking for a new job.
–-Having an e-resume is a must for today's job search because the Internet has become a mainstream recruiting tool.

Innovation (Word of the Day, 2010,1/20)

Innovation [countable]
►A new idea, method, or invention
--What are the recent innovations in Information Technology sector?

Innovation [uncountable]
►The introduction of new ideas or methods.
–-We must encourage innovation if the company is to remain competitive.
–-We need to encourage innovation in industry.

Innovate [intransitive]
►To start to use new ideas, methods, or inventions.
–-Their ability to innovate has allowed them to compete in world markets.

Innovate [transitive]
►To introduce (something new) for or as if for the first time.
–-Our core business is to innovate a computer into a fully automated computer whereby the PC does not require additional administrator to look after the operation.

Innovative / also innovatory [adjective]
►An innovative idea or way of doing something is new, different, and better than those that existed before.
–-The city has introduced an innovative system of traffic control.
►Using clever new ideas and method
–-20 years experience in graphic arts coupled with an innovative design team we can make you look good either online or in print.

Innovator [countable]
►Someone who introduces changes and new ideas
–-However, after examining the evidence, I’ve determined that Microsoft is not a substantial innovator.

Yearn (Word of the Day, 2010/1/6)

►to have an earnest or strong desire; long:
--She yearned to visit the village where she was born.
--He yearned after letters from home.
--The slaves yearned for freedom.

►to feel tenderness; be moved or attracted:
--They yearned over their delicate child.

√ Verb Infinitive: to yearn
√ Third person singular: yearns
√ Simple past: yearned
√ Past participle: yearned
√ Present participle: yearning

Related forms (noun): yearner

√ desire
√ crave
√ long for
√ wish for
√ hope for
√ pine for