lunes, 29 de mayo de 2017

Listening test: Are you clever

Listen to a segment of BBC's Today where John Farndon is interviewed about his book Do you think you are clever? Complete the blanks in the sentences below with up to THREE WORDS. 0  is an example.

0 Example:
One way to know how clever you are would be answering some of questions that are asked in Oxford or Cambridge entrance exams.

1 An example of a serious question is whether it is more important to focus on poverty at ____________ .

2 To weigh your own head, you find the volume of your body by immersing it ____________ , first without your head, then with it.

3 Students are completely shocked by ____________ and find them easier to remember.

4 These questions don’t normally have right or wrong answers but simply want to provoke you ____________ a bit.

5 The writer, John Farndon, thinks that in ____________ people would be driven into panic by some of these questions.

6 The reporter says that adults don’t get asked many questions like these, that it is ____________ where you get a lot of these questions.

7 Another example questions the reporter gives at the end are, If you’re not in California, how do you know it exists? Why are big fierce ____________? Are there too many people in the world?

8 When later in life you have young children and you get asked questions, the answer is always ____________.

Now, do you think you’re clever? One test would be how successful you are at answering some of the daft questions that are asked in Oxford or Cambridge entrance exams. John Farndon has compiled a book called Do You Think You’re Clever? which simply takes a bunch of those questions and he tries to answer them. He’s with us now. Good morning.
Good morning.
Let’s have some examples. There are the sort of deep ones like does a snail have a consciousness? There are the serious ones like is it more important to focus on poverty at home or poverty abroad? And there are the really interesting taxing ones like how would you weigh your own head? John Farndon, how would you weigh your own head?
Well that’s just a tricky one, it’s not one of those ones that you’re going to be asked in a scientific exam very often. Weighing it on a scale is not very practical because there’s a lot of muscle contraction, you can’t chop your head off and weigh it either, so the way round that is to use the volume, you find the volume of your body, you immerse your body in a bath to find out the volume of your body without your head and with it, and then essentially you weigh your whole body, you know what the proportion of your head is, and you can work it out from that.
Got it, it’s the use of water, very clever. These are real questions, are they? Because there are some apparently quite silly ones, aren’t there?
Yes, there are indeed, yes they are. Basically in fact quite often the silliest ones are the ones that have been memorable. They’ve all been compiled, they were compiled by the publisher and various other things, because the students who’ve been asked these questions are completely shocked and so they remember them, they report them and say, God did you remember the question I was asked, I was asked that really silly, what happens when you drop an ant?
So normally there aren’t right or wrong answers to a lot of these. [No.] They’re kind of provoking you to think a bit.
Absolutely not.
That may be the fascination of why a book like this is such a great book. You can hardly stop yourself wanting to just see the next question?
Absolutely, I think that’s one of the interesting things. I don’t think in an interview situation you… most of us would be driven into sheer panic by some of these questions, but out of that context it’s great, because what they do is they make you think along different lines, the more bizarre the question, the more thought-provoking it is.
And actually I suppose adults don’t do questions that often, do they? [No.] I mean basically you get a lot of questions at school, don’t you? And then you grow up and...
Absolutely. I mean even at school you stop thinking, but the nice thing is that actually we don’t, it’s so easy just to give a stock response to answer, and it’s the easy way out, so it’s actually very nice just to kind of relax and think, oh I can come up with an answer like this.
If you’re not in California, how do you know it exists? Why are big fierce animals so rare? Are there too many people in the world? Full of things. You’re appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival talking about it?
Yes indeed.
John Farndon, thank you very much. Thank you very much.
You do get asked questions later in life at one stage, and that is when you have young children, and the answer is always ask your mother.

1 home or abroad
2 in a bath
3 silly questions
4 to think
5 an interview (situation)
6 at school
7 animals so rare
8 ask your mother

domingo, 28 de mayo de 2017

Extensive listening: What you can do to prevent Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's doesn't have to be your brain's destiny, says neuroscientist and author of Still Alice, Lisa Genova. She shares the latest science investigating the disease — and some promising research on what each of us can do to build an Alzheimer's-resistant brain.

Lisa Genova wields her ability to tell a story and her knowledge of the human brain to talk about medical conditions like Alzheimer’s in warmly human terms.

Her writing, often focusing on those who are misunderstood, explores the lives of people living with neurological diseases and disorders. A bestselling author, her work has been transformed into an Oscar-winning film, Still Alice, but the real triumph is Genova’s ability to help us empathize with a person’s journey we otherwise couldn’t even begin to understand.

Her newest book, Inside the O’Briens, is about Huntington’s disease.

You can read a full transcript here.

sábado, 27 de mayo de 2017

100 Ways to improve your English

A few weeks ago Jeffrey Hill, the person behind The English Blog, started a number of posts under the title 100 Ways to Improve Your English.

Originally, Jeffrey intended to "post each 'way' to the blog as I finish it", having published six posts so far:

no 1 way was on Twitter.
no 2 way was on Podcasts.
no 3 way was on Language Exchange sites.
no 4 way was on Listening to the radio.
no 5 way was on BBC Learning English.
no 6 way was on Vocabulary.

At this stage the series of posts stopped because Jeffrey came up with news plans, which you can read about here.

viernes, 26 de mayo de 2017

How what we eat has changed

We’ve gone from roasting to processing over thousands of years. What does the future hold for our food? Watch the video above to see what we’ll be eating in decades to come.

Humanity’s relationship with food production has certainly been a fruitful one. Our constant pursuit of refining how we eat is one of the reasons there are billions of us alive today. But it’s also a key factor as to why we are greatly damaging the Earth.
It all begins with fire. As far back as 29,000 BC Central Europeans were using primitive forms of ovens, roasting pits covered by yurts. Back then, mammoth was on the menu.
As we invented tools like ploughs and mills to help turn resources from the earth into food in our bellies, we produced enough to feed houses, then villages, then towns. Human civilization established itself.
One feature of civilizations that evolved was a thing called trade, and we did a lot of it. That’s why most of today’s biggest cities are found close to rivers and trade routes.
As agricultural revolutions took place, our population exploded, our food became more resilient due to developments such as machine refrigeration and pasteurizing, invented by this guy, French chemist Louise Pasteur in 1864. We could send hundreds of thousands of men to war and feed them thanks to food storage in cans.
By the 20th century microwave ovens arrived, meaning the mammoth we cooked 30,000 years ago in a pit, could now spin around in our kitchens.
We reached a point where the scale of production needed to feed everyone was impacting the planet’s resources. By the 1990’s we were selling genetically modified tomatoes to ensure reliable crop results.
This brings us to today’s climate concerns. Current food production is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. How will we continue to feed a vastly increasing population while reducing damage to the environment? How do we tackle our global obesity epidemic and encourage healthier diets? One thing is certain, we must look immediately for new approaches. We’ve achieved it many times before, so it shouldn’t be too hard too swallow, right?
Well, that was delicious.

jueves, 25 de mayo de 2017

Capturing the scent of a book

A smell can evoke memories of a certain time, place or experience – now scientists at University College London are documenting scents as a way of recording culturally significant artefacts. Helen Drew explains.

We read them, we learn from them, some of us even write them. Books old or new, falling apart or unread. Here at University College London's Institute of Archaeology library it’s the largest collection of conservation-related books in London. But it's not just the words written on these pages that are important. According to scientists, the smell of these books has a significance that should also be recorded.
Smells have a big impact on our everyday life: how we feel, how we think and even how we behave, so we started looking into those smells that might have cultural value to us as a society and so our first challenge was to find, identify smell that we knew people valued and the smell of old books and historic libraries appeared as a very clear case.
In this lab scientists from UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage are collecting chemicals on a tiny sensor which they then pop into a machine to separate the individual chemical compounds. These chemicals can then be used to recreate that smell in the future.
What do you think of the smell of books?
They have a rather particular smell for sure and I think it’s lovely, it's sort of musty but it's… it's really enjoyable. I love the smell of old libraries.
The smell of a book becomes associated of what you read in the book, well that can lead to all sorts of associations and sometimes the smell is enough just to remind you of what a book is.
Always when you get a new book and it's like the new smell, it's a kind of part of the experience.
At the moment smell is rarely recorded.
If you go to a gallery or to a museum, a hundred percent of the time the objects communicate with you visually, you can see the shapes, you can see the colours but you cannot touch them and you cannot smell them.
There are also … archives to recreate the potpourri from a National Trust house in the 1700s, so that when visitors walk in, they're transported back in time. The whole project isn't just about recording smells but also the emotions they evoke.
Helen Drew, BBC London news.

miércoles, 24 de mayo de 2017

Talking point: Libraries

This week's talking point is libraries. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas come to mind more easily the day you get together with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.
  • Are libraries a thing of the past and e-Books and other mobile devices the present and future of reading?
  • Do libraries put pressure on users to read books quickly?
  • Where do you find it easier to study, at home or in a library?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
  • Is the Internet a much more resourceful space than a library?
  • Do libraries provide enough resources for everybody?
  • What is the importance of traditional books?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere of libraries?
  • Do you find them inspiring and encouraging to research and study?
  • What is the role of libraries in society?
To illustrate the point you can watch the video on Syracuse University Library.

    Welcome to the Syracuse University Library. We’d like to take a few minutes to introduce you to the resources and services that we have to offer at the SU library. There are five library locations on campus. Bird library is located on University Place next door to the Schine Student Center. Adjacent to Bird you will find the Belfer Audio Laboratory and archives.

    The Carnegie Building on the Quad is home to Science & technology and Mathematics libraries. The Geology library is in Heroy Hall. And you’ll find the Architecture Reading Room is Slocum Hall. The sixth storey E.S. Bird Library is considered the main library on campus. It’s home to the Learning Commons, an open active environment, where we can not only find traditional library services like the check-out desk, but you also find our Technology Assistant desk for borrowing laptops, headphones and cameras. You can get help with scanning and printing and photocopying.

    And of course there are plenty of places to study either on your own or with a group. Research assistance is available on the drop-in basis, or you can make an appointment to consult with the librarian subject specialist. The Learning Commons is also where you will also find Pages, the library café, where you can grab a cup of coffee or something to eat. The second floor is the great place to relax, read or study. You can browse the stacks. Use the reference collection or browse current periodicals. On the third floor you can get assistance with the Maps and Government Information collections.

    The Map Room houses thousands of maps and atlases. On the third floor you’ll also find the microfilm collections. As well as the Geographic and Statistical Information Center. The fourth floor is home to our fine arts collections. You’ll find a media area for viewing our film, video and DVD collections. And a listening area for LPs and CDs collections. Be sure to check out the exhibits and visit the Biblio Gallery.

    The fifth floor is a quiet floor with plenty of study tables available. Take the elevator to the sixth floor to find the Special Collections Research Center. There you can browse their exhibits. And get assistance with their collections by signing in in the Reading Room. On the sixth floor you will also find the Safire Room, a great place for quiet study. We hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of the Syracuse University Library. To learn more, visit us at

    martes, 23 de mayo de 2017

    Will fossil fuels run out

    Greg Foot, from BBC's Earth Lab, looks into the dirty world of fossil fuels. Will we run out of fossil fuels and what cost will we likely pay for their use?

    We've all heard that fossil fuels won't last forever but why. And if they are set to run out, how much is left and when will that happen. To dig to the bottom of this one, we first need a quick refresher on how the fossil fuels are created, and sadly, no, they're not mostly dead dinosaurs.
    You see, the vast majority of our fossil fuels come from the remains of plants and animals. They lived around 300 to 400 million years ago. We don't see the first dinosaurs until around about 230 million years ago, so when these plants and animals died, that very, very long time ago, they were covered in layers of earth or silt, and because of the combined actions of three things: one, the compression from the weight of all that stuff; two, the microorganisms in there decomposing the contents; and three, the heat underground that transforms them into potential fuels.
    Coal is the remnant of ancient plants while oil and natural gas mostly come from marine creatures. The natural gas being made in deeper hotter regions, where the oil gets a little bit more cooked.
    Now we dig or drill this stuff out of the ground, and because it has been accumulating for a long time, initially there was a lot, but because it takes so long to make, we're using it much, much faster than it can possibly be replaced. This means that there is effectively a fixed amount of fuel on earth and we're using it up.
    So, yes, fossil fuels are going to run out but what is left and when will that happen. Well, we can fairly easily tally up what's known as our proven resources, the supplies that we know the locations of and we think we have a good chance of getting to.
    In their statistical review of world energy, BP estimated that the world had just over 1,700 billion proven barrels of oil in 2014. That's enough to make 52 and a half years of global production. They also estimated just over 187 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. That's enough for 54 years. Then 891,531 million tons of coal, enough for a whopping 110 years of global production.
    But there's also the stuff that we know about can't reach but think we might be able to get to some day. Hard figures on that are understandably tougher to come by, but oil and gas consulting firm Rystad Energy estimates total probable global oil reserves at 2,092 billion barrels, which is enough for about 70 years if our use doesn't go up.
    The total fuel resource, the amount of fossil fuels that could be out there that we know nothing about, could, of course, be even higher, but around four years ago an idea came out that there actually is plenty of oil left, just that we haven't got around to getting it out of the ground yet. This means the numbers for the potential oil out there could, in fact, be way higher.
    We've already seen humanity use new technologies to access new fuels that we couldn't get to before. Things like new techniques to extract oil where it's all mixed up in fine grained sedimentary rocks like shale or using high-pressure fracking to extract more oil and gas from the ground. One thing stopping us using these new technologies to extract fuels is that the rising energy cost of extracting it could be just as damaging as the oil running out.
    Despite the cost of oil, the amount being extracted has actually remained constant, about 75 million barrels per day since 2005, and this means a plateau has been reached where supply cannot match demand. It's also worth pointing out that fracking is far from ideal. It's been claimed that it has been linked to earthquakes and toxic tap water.
    We've already seen how the economics of getting to the fuel can outweigh humanity's demand for it. In 2016 around 460,000 barrels a day of high cost production like fracking was shut down in the US due to the cost. But that just means surely it’s there for later, when the economics are right, right?
    Well, maybe we need to leave it there. The planet is warming due to the burning of those fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trap heat and it causes a greenhouse effect. It's been estimated that we cannot burn more than about a third of those proven resources if we have any hope at all of meeting plans to keep the temperature rise at 2 degrees centigrade or less. Although it may feel that we don't seem to be in a particular hurry to look for alternatives, energy transitions have always taken a long time. It took over 50 years for coal to replace wood as the world's leading source of energy, and another 50 years for oil to overtake coal.
    So here's a promising thought. In the end, with so many options for renewable sources of sustainable power being developed, we might actually never have to answer this question of what happens when the oil is finally all gone.
    Right, this is where we really want to hear your opinions about this whole subject. Put your thoughts down in the comments below, subscribe to the channel if you haven't already, and then you'll get to know whenever we release a new one, and if you'd like to know if you can become a fossil, click here, it's an interesting one. See you soon.