miércoles, 18 de enero de 2017

Talking point: Change

This week's talking point is change. 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.

Compare today’s lifestyles with those of the 1980’s. Think about the differences in:
Working practices
Transport and travel
The ability to be patient and wait for things to happen
Communications at home and at work
Subjects people can study at school and university

Discuss the changes the main characters have in the films below.
Can you think of any other films, books or stories where the protagonist is transformed in some way?

Do you know any real stories of transformation?
Do you think change is important?
Is change always good?
Have you made any recent changes in your life?
(You can talk about appearance, relationships, something you have bought, some decision you have made.)
What is the most difficult change you have ever had to make?
What is one thing that you think you will never change about yourself?
If you won a million dollars, what would you change about your life?

martes, 17 de enero de 2017

The Art of Shoji

At Miya Shoji, a father-son team takes a different approach to business and to life, keeping craft as the guiding principle.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer the questions below.

1. What analogy does Hisao Hanafusa, the father, use to describe a business?
2. What did Hisao Hanafusa make for his mother and father as a child?
3. How did Zui Hanafusa, the son, apply for the job in his own father's shop?
4. How big was the workshop back in the 70's?
5. What is Hisao Hanafusa's approach to his work?
6. What do they not think about when they talk about their business?

Our business philosophy is something like every day we go to work, we try to make something beautiful, so it’s more of an artist’s way of thinking through business.
Many people ask about how we run the business or how business is successful or how does it actually revolve within the shop itself. My father always said it was like a bicycle business. You pedal, bicycle can move. No profit. But sometime, down he'll come. You don't have to pedal.  Still go. Then hit the bottom. Then you have to get off.  You have to push the bicycle with it. So it's going this.
Woodworking.  I'm always interesting philistine.  I was maybe nine years old. My mother said, I wish I had a window here. So I was nine years old. Cut the wall.  Made the window for her. Then my father say, I wish I had a fireplace. So I made a fireplace. I liked it something to make.
When I was in the corporate world, I was there constantly. One day I was walking down the street, heading towards the shop. And everything looked very not kept well. And my father was actually working on some designs. But you could see him from outside. I thought, one day, I should hang out next to him. Not just learn in depth about the business itself, but learn more about our family itself. That's where the whole thing kind of took off. Like, maybe I should just be here full-time. I applied for the job with a resume. And my father actually thought it was a joke, since most of the times I'm kind of taking everything for fun. I started the next week.
Growing up back in the 70s wasn't exactly like the situation we have now. Workshop was maybe 3/4 of the space. And the showroom was only 1/4. But every day after school, come back to help out, clean up, watch several carpenters working.
Why I create? Fun. Fun.  Should be fun, not serious. I check all my family.  They don't have a business mind, traffic mind. Nothing. Just art kind of stuff.
When people talk about certain things like, what's your business model? Do you have any annual reports?
You know, it's not about money that we're thinking. Actually, the first thing we're thinking is about the business itself, which would be the design.
With nature it’s easy. We don't have to work anything. We don't have to design anything. Just find a nice old wood. Slice it. Beautiful, you use it. If not beautiful, you don't use it. Very simple. We never learn business. More like a craftsman. 

1 He compares a business to a bicycle.
2 A window for his mother and a fireplace for his father 
3 He sent a resume.
4 Three quarters of the space
5 He wants to have fun and doesn't have the business in mind
6 Money

lunes, 16 de enero de 2017

Listening test: Blaenavon, the Book Town boom

Listen to a news report on the Welsh city of Blaenavon. Choose the option A, B or C which best completes each sentence. 0 is an example.

0 Example:
A. is an industrial village.
b. is in a prosperous region.
C. is trying to become rich and successful again.

1 For James Hanna New Orleans (...) than Blaenavon.
A. has better food and weather
B. has more honest people
C. is more violent

2 According to the reporter, Blaenavon
A. has never been known for its cultural life.
B. has tropical weather.
C. is well-known for its sophisticated cuisine.

3 James Hanna’s plan
A. consists of opening 40 bookshops.
B. involves selling second-hand books.
C. met the local council’s objections.

4 According to John Rodger, Blaenavon
A. declined because a lot of supermarkets were opened in the town.
B. had around 6,000 inhabitants in 1985.
C. has lost half of its population.

5 James Hanna's idea of transforming Blaenavon resulted from his
A. fascination for the Welsh landscape.
B. friendship with Richard Booth.
C. love for books.

6 Hay-on-Wye, the famous book town on the Anglo-Welsh border,
A. attracts literary tourists from around Britain.
B. became well-known in the 1970’s.
C. has a literary festival that lasts for 20 days.

7 Blaenavon
A. is a World Heritage Site.
B. is not attractive to tourists these days.
C. still has the most advanced ironworks in the world.

8 About the local population James Hanna says
A. hardly any of them reads books.
B. they are now outnumbered by foreign visitors.
C. they represent about 50% of bookshop customers in the town.

A visitor to the Welsh village of Blaenavon would never guess that it played a leading role in creating modern Britain. Today, the industrial activity that brought prosperity to this remote region has entirely disappeared. However, the community is now attempting to revive its fortunes with an unusual approach. The architect of its plan for regeneration is a bookseller called James Hanna. He has come a long way to revive Blaenavon's fortunes and now faces a series of formidable challenges. One of the least of these is to adapt to a way of life radically different from that of his native New Orleans.
Well, the weather, of course, is much better here and the food is superb! It is a jolt. It is a culture shock. I grew up in the American South and, frankly, I think being here is comparable to the '50s, or maybe `60s, in the rural South. So it's different, it's enjoyable. The people are honest and open and there's not the... in New Orleans, well, we were, for a number... I think two or three different times, we were the murder capital of the States and, you know, there may be a Saturday night fight here, but that's about it.
James Hanna was, of course, being sarcastic about the weather and the food. Relentless rain is the typical forecast for the valleys of South Wales, and their working-class communities are not known for sophisticated cuisine. In fact, the poor reputation of the area's cultural life was one reason why considerable skepticism met James Hanna’s plan for reviving Blaenavon — to open 14 shops selling second-hand books. But even if local residents are not great readers, the local council welcomed James Hanna with open arms. John Rodger, a council project director, explained why.
This community grew over 100 years. It was a kind of Klondike based on the iron and coal industry and these industries declined dramatically. So the population of this community fell from about 12,500 in 1921 to about 6000 in 1995; a town which was economically in decline, socially in decline and physically in decline. When you add to that the changes in distribution, the pressures from out-of-town supermarkets and this sort of thing, we ended up with half of the shops in town boarded up. We were looking for some sort of re-use for these shops, which would be of interest to tourists, and Book Town fits that like a glove.
The challenge facing James Hanna might seen immense, but he has a blueprint to follow. Hay-on-Wye, the famous book town on the Anglo-Welsh border, has already established itself as a Mecca for bibliophiles under the leadership of its unofficial 'king', Richard Booth, a close friend of and major inspiration for James Hanna. Since the '70s Hay-on-Wye has attracted literary tourists from around the world and its flourishing bookstores have stimulated the growth of hotels, restaurants, cafes and a literary festival. Booth's formula is now being applied in over 20 communities around the world. A major boost to Blaenavon's chances of enjoying similar success to Hay-on-Wye is its unique industrial heritage. The local ironworks — once the most advanced in the world — and the nearby Big Pit mining museum are the core of an officially designated World Heritage Site, and they already attract a steady flow of tourists. James Hanna is optimistic that he can induce many of these visitors to buy books. In fact, the village's recently-opened bookshops are already attracting a strikingly cosmopolitan range of customers and some of them even come from the surrounding area.
We had people here from Cyprus, India, South Africa, Italy, Greece, literally around the world. We have 50 per cent what I would call local, meaning within 30 or 40 miles of here, then 50 per cent coming from, literally, every place. It is really interesting, when we opened, because I had heard from some of the locals, "Why are you opening a book town in Blaenavon? Nobody here reads." Well, in fact that couldn't be more untrue. When we did open, we found that (the) valleys were flocking to us like they'd been hungry and we were feeding them. It was absolutely amazing. They came in thanking us for coming here.

KEY: 1C 2A 3B 4C 5B 6B 7A 8C

domingo, 15 de enero de 2017

Extensive listening: Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local

When someone asks you where you're from … do you sometimes not know how to answer?

Writer Taiye Selasi speaks on behalf of "multi-local" people, who feel at home in the town where they grew up, the city they live now and maybe another place or two.

"How can I come from a country?" she asks. "How can a human being come from a concept?"

A writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, born in London and raised in Boston, now living in Rome and Berlin, who has studied Latin and music, Taiye Selasi is herself a study in the modern meaning of identity.

In 2005 she published the much-discussed (and controversial) essay "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What Is an Afropolitan?)," offering an alternative vision of African identity for a transnational generation. Prompted by writer Toni Morrison, the following year she published the short story "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in the literary magazine Granta.

Her first novel Ghana Must Go, published in 2013, is a tale of family drama and reconciliation, following six characters and spanning generations, continents, genders and classes.

You can read a full transcript for the talk here.

sábado, 14 de enero de 2017

Reading test: Lark or owl, working nine-to-five will make you tired

Read The Guardian article Lark or owl, working nine-to-five will make you tired on the way our natural circadian rhythms doesn’t agree with the typical working day. Choose the best sentence (A - J) for each gap. There are two sentences you do not need to use. 0 is an example.

A - a stressful commute to reach a fixed point
B - and embracing flexible working
C - individuals have very different sleep-wake patterns – 0 Example
D - many expect workplace flexibility in the workplace
E - to beat their wings to a different rhythm
F - to fit the workplace around the worker
G - to reach peak alertness at around noon
H - what if that commute were simply eliminated?
I - when we experience jetlag, or a lack of sleep
J - which isn’t possible under a fixed structure

Lark or owl, working nine-to-five will make you tired

Every day, 21.18 million people in the UK work nine to five. This may seem intuitive – we all know people tend to work best during daylight hours. But even within these parameters, (0) … .

Our internal body clock is a natural process governed by circadian rhythms that regulate levels of energy and alertness throughout the day. So (1) …, this interferes with our ability to think.

Much research has been done on when we work best, but little of that knowledge has filtered through to the workplace. The average employee will take a few hours after arriving at work (2) … . This peak then subsides until around 3pm. After this low, alertness tends to increase again until a second peak at 6pm. Then it’s a steady decline until the ultimate low at 3.30am. Finally, alertness climbs again and the cycle repeats.

This, however, is the average cycle with people deviating hugely. Some fall into early morning achievers (larks), while others work better in the evening (owls).

Consider the typical working day: a 7.30am start; (3) … before 9am; an hour for lunch often spent at the desk; and a tiring commute home leaving work at 5pm each day.

The notion of the nine-to-five working day was established in Victorian times, not an age much aware of worker welfare, and it is easy to see the conflict between this fixed structure and our natural circadian rhythms. So how can businesses adapt? Already numerous companies are rejecting this outdated idea of a fixed working routine (4) … .

With the early evening peak of alertness occurring precisely when a vast majority of workers are wrestling with motorways or public transport on their commute home, (5) … . It’s won’t work for everyone, but there are a large percentage of professionals travelling unnecessarily to a fixed location.

Solutions are available today. Businesses of every size and in every sector are consuming flexible workspace and a new pattern is emerging which aims (6) …, rather than vice versa. Business leaders are listening to workers struggling with the daily cost and frustration of commuting. And they are embracing flexible working to attract the best employees.

Whether employers are quite ready to allow individuals to nap during the day during low-energy spells is a debatable point. But there is certainly receptiveness for improved workplace wellbeing and for trusting employees to maximise their productivity on their own terms.

Giving a little scientific thought to the process of productivity – and allowing owls and larks (7) …– works best for everyone.

1I 2G 3A 4B 5H 6F 7E

viernes, 13 de enero de 2017

Japan, speed dating with a twist

Finding the right partner in the modern dating world is not easy. And so in an attempt to prove that appearances aren't everything, one Japanese dating company is using surgical masks to force their clients to concentrate on character instead of superficial looks.

Some say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and eyes are all these Japanese singles have to go by while they search for their soulmates. They’re usually worn to stop the spreading of germs, during this speed dating session the surgical masks are worn to make sure the focus is on the personality and not appearance.
In order to achieve marriage, it’s important to provide people with the chance to know their partner’s personality properly in the early stages of a relationship, rather than start with the outward appearance. That’s why we use surgical masks. They are an essential tool to do that.
With fewer marriages and declining birth rates, dating services in Japan are gaining popularity. The singles in this room have not given up on finding the one but in a digital world, where online dating is the norm, they feel superficial first impressions are getting in the way.
People come to this event looking for someone with personality. So from the start I felt confident, not being judged by my appearance I think I was able to be more outgoing with women.
I think I was able to find out more about their inner selves and not just judge them by their looks. In this event personality matters. I quite like that.
And it works. These two young women have landed themselves a second double date, and this time they may choose to leave the mask at home.
Rebecca Lee, BBC News.

jueves, 12 de enero de 2017

A record breaking space suit

Alan Eustace is a senior Google executive who in 2014 broke the world record for the highest parachute jump. 

What goes up must come down, but simply reaching the Earth's stratosphere was the first challenge for Alan Eustace. It took more than two hours to ascend 25 miles and around 15 minutes to parachute back to Earth, at times travelling faster than the speed of sound. Previous explorers used complicated platforms and capsules. Mr Eustace used a balloon and a very special suit.
What was really unique about this was we tried to build a space suit which was equivalent to scuba diving, where the tanks were included, so I didn’t have to disconnect from the capsule, I didn’t have to have a heavy capsule to go up, all I had to do was like scuba diving. I just went up in a suit in an environment that was capable of sustaining me during a period of time.
That suit is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia, home to many other artefacts of space exploration which in the 1960’s inspired Mr Eustace.
Everyone I know dreamed of being an astronaut and everybody I know dreamed of being above the atmosphere to be able to look at curviture of the Earth, the darkness of space, the beautiful thin atmosphere. I guess in my case that dream never really went away, even at 57 years old I’m still dreaming.
Remarkably, the record-breaking suit was made relatively cheaply, using existing technology and materials. Mr Eustace and his team simply discovered new ways to apply it, such as how to heat thermal underwear with a water system.
The hot water circulates around my chest and then on my legs and then goes back to be reheated.
Why did you need to keep warm?
Because it’s cold out there. The higher that you go through the troposphere, the colder it gets, and eventually it will get up to -110, 120°F.
And Mr Eustace, a keen skydiver and pilot, didn’t have to spend years at NASA learning how to be an astronaut.
So can anyone do this? Can I do this?
You can certainly do this. The way we design the system was, you know, if everything went wrong, if I was unconscious, they had to be able to get me from 135,000 feet down to the ground safely if I did nothing. So, if you’re capable of doing nothing, I think you can do it.
With many sights set on the Moon and Mars, the Earth’s stratosphere remains largely unexplored, but this suit or something like it puts it within reach of scientists, and one day it might even be adapted to bring people back from the International Space Station.
How are you doing?
I am tired but healthy.
Jane O’Brien, BBC News, Virginia.