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Driverless Cars To Hit UK Roads Next January

Cars of the future to be tested on public roads in the UK beginning January 2015.

Topics: Technology Our Future Skill Point: Yet  Already or Still

It seems like something out of the future: cars that can drive themselves with no help from human drivers. These machines are in testing or development stages by Google, Nissan, General Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and other manufacturers in an effort to keep up with the rapidly advancing technologies. Even the Chinese search engine Baidu claims its researchers are in the early stages of development of a driverless car. The United Kingdom is opening up its roads to these driverless cars, and has invited cities to compete to host the first driverless cars on public roads.

You might be surprised to learn that three states in the U.S. already allow driverless cars on the roads, California, Nevada, and Florida. In fact, Google’s self-driving cars have already covered over 300,000 miles. They may even be the first to manufacture cars for the public in 2015, though their prototypes aren’t the most attractive vehicles on the road.

While we already have automated features in current car models, such as cruise control, automatic braking, and even self-parking functions, turning over control of the steering wheel and gas pedal is another matter entirely. Autopilot for airplanes has been in existence for quite some time, but there aren’t as many obstacles in the air as on land, so government entities and engineers must work together to form and test safety precautions, rules, and regulations.

For the time being, these driverless car models will still have fully functioning steering wheels, brakes, and acceleration, with the ability to turn the autopilot system on or off as desired. We haven’t reached full automation just yet.

Futuristic technologies that are being used and tested for driverless cars include:

  • Lidar – light detection and ranging
  • GPS – global-positioning system
  • Computer vision – cameras attached to cars

Lidar is similar to radar, but instead of using radio waves, it uses light. This system measures how lasers bounce off reflective surfaces, and in doing so it captures information about millions of tiny points surrounding the vehicle every second.

GPS functions just as the system works in your car. The maps are uploaded to the driverless cars and the computer navigates the roads using the precise GPS locations, as well as a computer system linked to things like red, yellow, and green traffic lights.

Computer vision systems might be the most practical but least plausible option on their own, but will likely complement other technologies. Cameras attached to vehicles link in to a software program that reads the images and warns the car of things like pedestrians, construction, potholes, and cyclists.

There’s no doubt that many sensors will be involved with driverless cars out on the open roads, and hiding these sensors will be one of the manufacturers’ major challenges. While safety is the number one priority, it’s safe to say that today’s consumer economy still values a sleek appearance and decent horsepower, which is one reason why it took so long for hybrids and electric cars to make it in the automobile industry.

At this point, driverless cars are still in prototype stages but with so many big companies working on driverless car technology, we may see them on the streets sooner than later.

Reading Comprehension

Driverless Cars Quiz

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Would you feel comfortable owning a driverless car? In 200 words, give your opinion on the pros and cons of driverless cars, and make predictions about the future of automobile transportation.

ADVANCED: As driverless cars become more popular, responsibility for accidents and traffic violations will become more complicated. Discuss potential hurdles (parking laws, insurance, registration) in 200 words, and who might be responsible for them (manufacturers, owners, governments).

How BuzzFeed Uses Duolingo Learners To Increase Traffic

Are you unknowingly translating BuzzFeed’s “listicles” through Duolingo?

Topics: Business International Skill Point: Prepositions of Time

There’s a good chance that if you have the Internet, social media, and a decent understanding of the English language, you’ve seen a BuzzFeed article, or rather, listicle, somewhere on the web. With list-articles like “24 People Who Are Totally Nailing This Parenting Thing” and “The 21 Absolute Worst Things in the World,” the website has seen exponential growth over the last 1-2 years, and the strategic maneuvering it took is astounding.

BuzzFeed caught on quickly as a place to see humorous or otherwise entertaining lists about a variety of topics. From Game of Thrones jokes, to a list of pictures that will “restore your faith in humanity,” they eschewed the popular slide format of many other sites (such as The Huffington Post), and went straight for lists with images and gifs. This makes for a very easy-to-consume piece of content that gets passed around social media and email at a very rapid pace.

The founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, released a memo on LinkedIn in 2013 stating the site reached 85 million unique visitors that August. Peretti also prophesized, “By this time next year we should be one of the biggest sites
on the web.” According to Alexa, they haven’t quite cracked the top hundred, but their global rank is 111, and in the United States, they’re the 39th most popular website.

Over the last year and a half they’ve made major changes to continue that popularity. Instead of sticking with list-only content, they’ve branched out into a wide array of quizzes for entertainment purposes, which are easily shared on Facebook, plus they’re creating videos on their YouTube Channel. They’ve also expanded their role as a news outlet by hiring dozens of reporters to provide coverage and information on the latest stories.

These changes are all helping their growth, but the number one thing they did to fuel growth in the last 2 years was to go international. It isn’t just the fact that they did it; it is the way they did it.

Enter: Duolingo. As many language-learners know (and Summit students know works great in conjunction with our teacher-led EnglishNow classes), Duolingo is a free language-learning app that helps users learn and practice the basics of many different languages. What’s ingenious about DuoLingo’s business model, is that once learners reach a certain level of understanding, the text they translate while practicing in the app, helps Duolingo translate content for its clients.

While the company originally used dummy text, the text being translated now it serves a purpose. Much of that text from English to other languages (specifically French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese) comes from BuzzFeed. Duolingo’s founder, Luis Von Ahn, wanted to put his language learners’ efforts to good use, and BuzzFeed wanted to expand into international markets without spending 20 cents per word for a professional human translator, or using a machine. Now, they’re both benefiting from this partnership using what Von Ahn calls “human computation.” The language learners are doing something very useful, but they’re doing it incidentally, almost as a side effect of their language learning.

This method has proven especially successful with tricky parts of language such as colloquialisms and idioms. “The straw that broke the camel’s back” doesn’t translate literally to anything useful, but a human language learner can find an idiom that matches it in the new language, and translate it to that instead. Perhaps other companies will look to this method for international translation in the future, and kill two birds with one stone.

Reading Comprehension

Buzzfeed Growth Quiz

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Have you ever used a tool like Duolingo? In 200 words, explain your favorite methods of learning a language, and what different things you’ve tried.

ADVANCED: How do you think that this new method will affect future methods of translation and globalization? In 200 words, answer this question and discuss how you feel about the BuzzFeed-Duolingo partnership.

The New Sharing Economy

You no longer need a high income or a mountain of debt to live the life of luxury – as long as you’re willing to share.

Lifestyle Economics Skill Point: Demonstratives

If you’ve ever seen the Sex and the City movie, you probably remember a moment in a coffee shop when Carrie, the main character, known for spending exorbitant amounts of money on shoes, fashion, and designer labels, learns that on the website Bag, Borrow, or Steal, you can rent a designer bag for a couple of weeks. There are many reasons to do this; perhaps you want to attend a wedding with a matching purse, impress your former classmates at a high school reunion, or simply be a fashionista for a week.

We’ve been booking hotel rooms and renting cars for decades, but the new sharing economy takes things a few steps further. You can now rent someone’s entire house for a night on Airbnb, or book a car for your daily commute through city car-sharing services like Zipcar. It doesn’t end there. There are companies and website to help you share food and meals, clothes, books and textbooks, sports equipment, unused parking spots, party supplies, camping gear, and even solar panels. All through the magic of technology.

What brought about this new sharing economy, and is it good or bad? Capitalist companies might hate it – with more people sharing, there are fewer people buying – but with the sharing economy, the potential to make money is still there. Just ask some individuals recently profiled by Forbes, Sabrina Hernandez, a student at San Francisco State University, who makes an average of $1200 per month using the site DogVacay. She takes care of dogs in her apartment when their owners need a pet sitter, and rakes in more money than many part-time servers and bartenders. Dylan Rogers makes around $1,000 a month by renting out his BMW. Rogers says he can “Get the luxury of a vehicle,” in his crowded and expensive city of Chicago, without worrying about paying for it.

The best part about the new sharing economy is that it doesn’t have to be a big commitment. Do you have a bunch of tools in your garage that you rarely use? Put them on something like Neighborgoods and let your neighbors borrow them. And how about that extra bike you keep around, or the back-up surfboards? Sites like Spinlister let you lend out your “rides,” including bicycles, snowboards, and surfboards, by the day or by the hour. Now, when people show up on the coast of California using Airbnb, then can quickly rent a bike or a surfboard to enjoy their time without spending $25 an hour for a rental. Then, using a site like EatWith, the Airbnb for food, they can enjoy locally prepared foods from home chefs. So what’s the cost for day and night on the coast with locals? You can likely enjoy a weekend for two for under $100 a day, including one home-cooked meal, and bike or board rentals.

There are dedicated websites with safe and convenient ways to share all of the following items online, without resorting to Craigslist:

  • Clothes and fashion items
  • Cars
  • Food/Meals
  • Bed/ Accommodations
  • Books & Textbooks
  • Tools
  • Bikes
  • Sports Equipment, Snow Clothes
  • Instruments
  • Camping Gear
  • Solar Panels

Trends like these are spreading around the globe, and travelers can enjoy many of these services in countries all around the world, not just in the United States and Canada.

When it comes to the sharing economy, less really is more.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Based on the list of items above, are there things you would not feel comfortable sharing? Why or why not? Explain your feelings about this new sharing economy in 200 words.

ADVANCED: If you were going to participate in the sharing economy, how would you do it? Explain in detail how you would buy, sell, rent, or lend items, time, or services in the sharing economy.

The “Uber” Revolution: a New Future for Taxis?

Uber and Lyft’s popular smartphone apps threaten to disrupt the heavily-regulated Taxi industry.

Topics: Business Technology Skill Point: Adjective Clauses

If you live in or around a major city, you may have heard about Uber and Lyft, the popular app-based services that allow users to call a private cars with just a few taps on a smartphone. In most cases, the car arrives within a few minutes to take you to your destination. When you arrive, the ride gets charged to your account and no cash ever exchanges hands. Many find it more convenient than calling a cab, and if you opt for the standard version, (UberX or Lyft), it can be cheaper as well. But recently these and similar companies have become targets for demonstrations, litigation, and push-back from taxi organizations and municipal governments.

Uber has had controversial elements since its inception, for example its “surge pricing” strategy in which prices can reach many multiples of a normal fare during busy hours. In some jurisdictions the overall legality of the service has come into question. Why aren’t the drivers going through background checks? Why don’t they need permits and get taxed like other taxicab companies? Some, including most recently the city of Berlin, wonder if taking Uber is actually safer than calling a regular cab.

One of the differences with Uber is that you’re not dealing with a local cab company, whose company name is probably unknown. You’re dealing with individual, private drivers, and blasting the company on social media and Yelp when you have poor service. The driver knows your name, the cars are much nicer, and you can get a ride even if you’re out of cash, or quite far from home. This adds up to quite an enjoyable experience overall, and a pleasant one compared to many rough and rude taxi drivers that we’ve all had experiences with in the past.

You’re also dealing with market-priced fares. Instead of relying on a standard meter rate, the surge pricing strategy means the cost of a cab during rush hour goes up. During the middle of the day when there are more available drivers on the road, the cost goes down. You always know how much you’ll pay before you book the driver, tipping is easy (if you’re so inclined), and you simply pay through the app on your device, rather than dealing with credit cards or cash.

Beyond the issues listed above, Uber is fighting a battle with traditional cab drivers, who can’t seem to make ends meet with so many non-permit “cabs” on the road. The legality of Uber is definitely in a gray area in some cities around the world, but since the company calls itself a service that helps your find drivers, rather than a driver service, they’re free from responsibility. Without rules and regulations in place, individual municipalities have to decide how to handle these non-permitted drivers, and they often do so by issuing tickets to cars seen dropping off passengers.

In June of this year, taxi drivers throughout major European cities, including Paris, Madrid, London, Milan, and Berlin, blocked roads and caused massive traffic jams for a 24-hour protest against Uber and other unlicensed mobile car-hailing services. The London black taxis are often called the best cab drivers in the world, known for their rigorous testing of the area’s streets and traffic, and some drivers and passengers find it offensive that an app could possibly replace them. Despite this massive protest, the regulating agency, Transport for London, seems to favor the convenience of Uber, and is allowing Uber drivers to continue their service until the case is heard in court. Here in the U.S., NYC’s popular Yellow Cabs are likely to follow suit with their own protest if Uber isn’t regulated.

The “Uber” revolution is going strong for now, but there are challenges to be overcome in cities around the world.

Reading Comprehension

Uber Revolution Quiz

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: What are the taxi and cab situations like in your country? Do you have services like Uber? Answer these questions and explain whether you’d like a service like Uber in your city.

ADVANCED: Throughout Europe, taxicab drivers when on strike as a form of protest. Are there often protests in your country that are organized by industries or unions? Explain the types of protests that are common in your city or country, and give your opinion on whether or not they are meaningful or useful in enacting change.

The Future of Video and Advertising

Marketing and advertising is headed in one direction: online video.

Topics: Technology Business Skill Point: Forms of Used To

Many marketers and advertisers remember the day when it cost an arm and a leg to get just a few words or images in front of potential customers, but now those days are behind us. It used to be expensive, but now just about any business or even freelancer can afford to use text, image, audio, and video ads on the Internet.

More and more news networks are trying to become like online television. And we’re not referring to just Netflix and Hulu, who stream videos produced by other companies. AOL, Condé Nast, and Google all presented various news shows and elements to potential broadcasters in the last few months. Even Disney is looking to expand online; the Walt Disney Company recently bought Maker Studios, famous for producing the YouTube video series “Epic Rap Battles of History. Despite the content being a little risqué for their standard clientele, Disney wants an effective distribution platform in the changing media market.

The World Wide Web was a completely fascinating and confusing alternative universe when it was born; believe it or not, that was 25 years ago. The Internet has grown exponentially each year since 1989, and continues to evolve. From email and search engines to #hashtags and smart phones, the Internet is a hub for tech geeks, soccer moms, and teenagers alike as well as a tool with unequaled reach and influence. We’re used to the hyper connectivity of the modern world, and that’s not going away anytime soon.

Marketing is certainly finding a new home online, with videos at the helm. Cisco forecasts online video will make up almost 70% of consumer Internet traffic by 2017. Most companies are increasing their yearly video budgets, and hiring Directors of Video Strategy to manage those creative funds.

Michael Litt over at Vidyard gives a list of predictions for what all this means. Internet is replacing television, but it’s doing so with TV shows, series, and TV-like commercials. We’ve selected three of his predictions to discuss in more detail:

  1. The future of Internet is television
  2. Every company will become a media company
  3. The press release will become a video

The Future of Internet is Television

The first one is pretty obvious – the Internet is already pulling viewers away from cable companies, and with Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go streaming everyone’s favorite shows, it’s easy to see the Internet moving in that direction. If you want to stay in the game as an online advertiser, you’re going to need to branch out into commercials for online television series and YouTube videos.

Every Company will become a Media Company

Litt doesn’t mean that other kinds of companies will be going out of business, but that creative media is the future – and if you want to survive, you’d better embrace it. Regardless of a company’s area of expertise, all companies will have to get used to media as a way to attract and engage new and existing customers.

The Press Release will become a Video

This one is a little more interesting, and probably a little further on the horizon. Press releases began as a way for newspapers to share information about companies with the general public. Nowadays when things go “over the wire,” it usually refers to the Internet. PR Web, Marketwired, and other online press release services have quickly taken over the distribution market, and the next big step will be in the form of video press releases. This is a different ballgame for SEO marketing, but only time will tell how accurate this prediction is.

In marketing and advertising, all things lead to video.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Do you work for a company that takes advantage of clever online video advertising techniques? Do your competitors? Discuss the reasons to follow or ignore the statements and advice from this article in 2-3 paragraphs.

ADVANCED: In 200 words, explain one or more commercials or advertisements that you remember. Describe what made it memorable, and whether or not it encouraged you to buy a product or support a cause.

The Future of Materials and Dematerialization

Does dematerialization actually lead to more overall materials?

Topics: Our Future Lifestyle Skill Point: First Conditional – if Clauses

We like to believe that if we produce something using fewer materials, we will reduce material consumption for the future. In the last three years, China used more cement than the United States used in the entire 20th century. The world produced over twice as many aluminum cans in 2010 as we did in 1980, but with 680,000 fewer tons of aluminum. For regular cars, we’ve more than doubled the number of miles we can drive per gallon of gas since 1972, but we’ve also increased the weight of those cars by about 70% per car. We’re exponentially growing more efficient, and this efficiency leads to lower costs of production, higher accessibility, and an overall increase in materials used as consumer demand continues to rise.

There’s no doubt that the use of more and more materials has greatly improved the quality of life world wide over the last 100 years. The Industrial Revolution brought about a new era of technology and efficiency, and we haven’t slowed down since. Materials such as concrete, steel, and paper are crucial to middle class comforts and statuses, but as we attempt to bring the world’s poorest people into the middle class, what impact will these comforts have on the environment? Historian Vaclav Smil poses an interesting question in his newest book, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization – if we raise billions of people out of poverty (through materialization) will we destroy the environment?

On one hand, a simple material such as concrete has clearly contributed to pulling thousands out of extreme poverty by helping along the expansion of urban areas. Concrete is the foundation for the majority of infrastructure around the world. But at what cost to the environment? Where will all that concrete go? And as we bring more and more people into the urban world and expand modern infrastructure, what will happen to the first generation technology that is so quickly discarded?

Relative Dematerialization

In many cases, we like to believe that less is more. In Smil’s words, less has become an enabling agent of more, in something he likes to call “relative dematerialization”. We find a way to streamline production, such as with the aluminum can: each can of aluminum decreased in weight from 19 grams to 12 grams. We now save 7 grams of aluminum per soda can compared to the 1980’s. However, those savings mean we can actually make more soda cans, and we do. The total amount of aluminum used per year has gone from 817 million kg in 1980 to 1.1 billion kg in 2010.

While some people worry that the upper limit for our favorite materials is being reached, there’s no real fear of running out of most materials. As Bill Gates states, “Humans have an amazing capacity for finding ways around scarcity by using materials more efficiently, recycling them, or finding substitutes.” The bigger concern is the impact that finding, extracting, and using these materials will have on the environment for decades to come. It’s wonderful when we can come up with methods that use less energy and produce less carbon, but the end result is still more materials and nowhere to discard them.

 

Reading Comprehension

 

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Can you think of one or more situations in which you or someone you know discarded a material in order to upgrade to a newer model (a phone, computer, etc.)? What happened to the discarded version? How long was it in use before being replaced?

ADVANCED: Using information from the article, and your own knowledge or research, explain in 200 words how materials have in the past and can in the future help reduce poverty and increase the middle class.

Will Inequality Grow in the Future?

Eric Schmidt of Google predicts that financial inequality will be a major challenge for democracies around the world.

Topics:  Economics  Our Future  Skill Point: Future Tense

San Francisco is a favorite city for many people all around the world. A Mecca for tourists and foodies, but these days most definitely known for its booming tech market. According to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, this very this is creating a startling financial inequality that is sure to become the “number one issue of democracies,” in the coming years.

It’s no surprise that Google is concerned with growing inequalities. Activists in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are regularly targeting big-name bosses and investors like Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) and Ron Conway (angel investor) as parts of the problem. They’ve criticized the tax breaks given to the technology sector, and protested the private shuttles big companies like Facebook and Google provide to their employees.

The global wage gap continues to widen, according to the World Watch Institute. High incomes are inflating the costs of living, including rent, throughout tech-heavy areas. Meanwhile, the average worker’s wages are falling behind, and smaller companies are fighting to keep up with labor productivity growth. There are close to 200 million unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the income gap is more prevalent in some democratic countries than in others. In 2011, Norway had the highest hourly wage in the world, at $64.15, with the Philippines at the low end at $2.01.  The U.S. and Japan are in the middle, while Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the rest of Asia fall into the lower half of the hourly compensation numbers.

In a recent TED Talk, Schmidt promoted his new book, The New Digital Age, but not without a warning to the world regarding the changing future of democracies. We’ve known about the growing income gap, and even though Occupy Wall Street has fallen from the media’s eye, nothing seems to have changed.

Schmidt and Conway both believe we all, but especially the giants in the tech industry, have a responsibility to the future of democracies to try and reduce this income gap. Conway asks big tech businesses to donate their unused office space to startups that can’t afford raising rents, to adopt a school and provide guidance and materials to the teachers and administration, and to donate 1 million community service hours, among other charitable recommendations.

Schmidt provided three solutions:

1) Support Startups

The future is changing, and startups are shaping the landscape with new ideas and strategies. The main problem with the widening financial inequality is the high unemployment rate and the comparatively larger wage commanded by more tech-savvy workers. In order to keep new jobs coming, Schmidt proposes we support new startups as they spring up, and welcome their ideas. The next Twitter could be right around the corner.

2) Improve Education & Connectivity

One of the reasons there is such a gap in income is the small percentage of those able to do these high-paying jobs. With more education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM industries), there will be more and more individuals qualified for these positions. Both Schmidt and US President Barack Obama are pushing for more education in these fields in order to fill out the tech industry’s growing job market. (Schmidt even states that all jobs unrelated to “creativity and caring” will soon be replaced by robots.)

3) Build a Safety Net

There is a limit to how many people the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries can employ. Schmidt suggests building a (public) safety net for those who lose their jobs with the changing market, so they have access to necessary amenities like homes and healthcare.

This subject is one we’re sure to see more about.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Choose one of the solutions Google’s Eric Schmidt presents to combat the growing inequality gap. In 200 words, give reasons why you agree or disagree with his solution, and how you might implement or change it.

ADVANCED: Why do you believe the global wage gap continues to widen? Do you think a certain person, country, or demographic is responsible? Are there any reasonable solutions? In a rational and sensible way, answer these questions and defend your argument.

Why Germany’s Aggressive Talent Scouting Strategy Won The 2014 World Cup

Germany’s recent World Cup Championship is 14 years in the making.

Topics: International Lifestyle Skill Point: Present Perfect Simple

Now that we all know the final scores of the 2014 World Cup, it’s easy to reflect on the wins, losses, and coaches’ decisions. The host country, Brazil, suffered a devastating defeat by Germany, and another loss during the third-place round against the Netherlands, leaving their head coach unemployed shortly after the tournament ended. Although Brazil didn’t play as well as was expected, the 7-1 score against Germany might have more to do with Germany’s talent than Brazil’s performance.

When we look back at the great talent of this year’s tournament – Lionel Messi of Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Neymar of Brazil, and Robin van Persie of the Netherlands – we can reflect that we have seen quite a bit of luck (plus a lot of hard work). Luck that these players found a passion for soccer in their youth and have been playing since then. Luck that they were born in their respective countries where soccer is adored. And luck that their programs were funded. When it comes to Germany’s national team, they’ve gone beyond luck and taken matters into their own hands.

It’s hard to believe that until this year, Germany hadn’t won a FIFA World Cup since they were a divided nation. In 2000, they didn’t even make it past the group stage of the European Championship. An entire country was devastated and embarrassed. As a result, the Deutscher Fussball Bund (DFB), which is the organization responsible for Germany’s national team, decided to make some serious changes to the way talent was found and curated. Instead of letting the club teams find talented teens, and then poaching them for the national team, DFB decided to take matters into their own hands. In 2003, they launched a national program to find all of the nation’s young talent, starting with six-year-olds.

It might seem strange to start scouting at such a young age, but as this proven powerhouse has shown, it’s the best way to ensure no talent is left unclaimed. All six-year-olds around the country are taught the same basic skills by one of 1,000 nationally licensed coaches. The coaches both scout and train for a couple years, then professional scouts show up to watch them play around age eight, and come back every season to scope the talent. With these processes in place, Germany’s club teams can bring on more capable homegrown German players rather than reaching into the pool of international talent.

Not only did the DFB change the scouting and training processes, but they also changed the desirable traits in players. Before the new program, Germany’s players were picked for height and build; nowadays they’re selected for speed and technical skill. The German mentality for clean, clear plays by big athletes has been replaced with fluid formations and set plays by fast and nimble athletes, such as Thomas Müller.

They also made big changes to coaching philosophies and athletic facilities. It was once common for professional club players to seamlessly slip into part-time coaching positions without any experience as a coach. Now the coaches work full-time, and come with University educations, training, and experience. Even the facilities have seen upgrades around the country, providing better tools and injury prevention than ever before.

When you look at the effort put into curating the 2014 German National team, it seems almost embarrassing that Argentina even challenged them at all. But then you remember this fact: we haven’t even seen the talent that started in the program at age six. Those players are only beginning to turn 18. It is a dynasty in the making.

 

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE:  Based on your knowledge of the world of soccer, do you think Germany is in the beginning of a long-term domination of the sport? Will they become a soccer dynasty?

ADVANCED: After reading the article, what is your opinion of Germany’s methods for harvesting talented Germans? Do you agree or disagree? Explain.

Japanese High-Tech Indoor Vegetable Factory

We all know that plants require sunlight to grow, but maybe not for much longer.

Topics:  International  Our Future  Skill Point: Adverbs of Degree

The Japanese have a bit of an obsession with perfect fruit. You might have seen the headlines in May when Dole Japan announced it would sell their fancy bananas for $6 each. Dole developed these “perfect” bananas by selecting the best qualities from over 100 bananas and growing them 500 meters above sea level. Another Japanese fruit company, Toyoka Chuo Seika ripens bananas to the sound of Mozart, which apparently results in a sweeter final fruit. Tokyo has a luxury fruit boutique that sells strawberries for $3 a piece, and square watermelons for $212.

The most recent news in Japanese agriculture has branched out a bit from expensive luxury fruits to sustainable indoor vegetable factories. No, this isn’t a greenhouse; this is an indoor facility that grows vegetables without any sunlight.

Instead of harvesting the natural energy of the sun, Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura teamed up with GE to create an indoor plant-growing facility that uses specialized LED lights that emit wavelengths optimal for plant growth. The LED lights are probably the most important part of the farm’s magic. Shimamura controls the night-and-day cycle, and says, “We want to achieve the best combination of photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night by controlling the lighting and the environment.”

The benefits of growing vegetables in an indoor facility are many. Their initial motivation was born out of a desire to do something about the food shortage in the Miyagi Prefecture following the earthquake and Tsunamis of 2011. Shimamura found an old Sony Corporation semiconductor facility and converted it to the indoor farm. It is about 25,000 square feet, or almost half the size of an American football field. This small farm is already producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a day, without any interruptions by pests, viruses, or pollen, or the use of pesticides.

While an indoor vegetable farm is definitely one way to avoid a freak summer storm or a really bad drought, Shimamura says the vegetables themselves are healthier. They’re packed with more vitamins and minerals because of their growth cycle, and without soil cultivation, the risk of contamination by E. coli and Salmonella is practically nonexistent. Additionally, since 90% of the plant is cultivated for consumption, the food waste is reduced significantly. With the complete control of temperature, humidity, and irrigation, the farm uses just one percent of the water used by field farms. Considering these benefits, Shimamura estimates the indoor facility is 100 times more productive than a standard outdoor farm.

With better irrigation, higher productivity, and protection from pests and the elements, indoor gardens, farms, and vegetable factories might be a future we can all expect in the next few years. Shimamura is prophetic with the name of his company, Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese. Is the “future” of agriculture realistic? Is it better? Only time will tell.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: In 200 words, mention each of the benefits of this indoor farm, according to the article, and give your opinion. Write whether it is good or bad for Japan, the world, or your country, and how it might help or hurt.

ADVANCED: Explain how you believe agriculture, international trade, or your home meals might change as a result of worldwide indoor vegetables farms.

The Culture of Giving Directions

You might believe some cultures give terrible directions, but maybe you’re just bad at receiving them.

 Topics: Culture International Skill Point: Imperatives

When travelers and businesspeople set out for trips abroad, they sometimes forget that carrying a map is just as important as knowing your hotel name! When you’re lost in a foreign land, even if you do have a map, the first thing many people do is ask the safest-looking person on the street, be it a street vendor or a mother with kids for directions. Often, one simple question will lead to a slew of locals offering different advice, routes, arguments in another language, or even a ride on someone’s motorbike.

When you’ve done enough traveling, you realize that a country’s culture has a massive impact on the way they offer directions, and whether or not they give you the right directions to your destination. Let’s take a look at why.

Your Hometown’s Layout

Believe it or not, a lot of how we give and understand directions has to do with our hometown’s layout. If you are from a major metropolis with a grid system, you’re more likely to give cardinal directions with street names and map-like phrases in mind.

“Head west on 8th street and turn right on Park.”

This seems pretty straightforward to many of us, but what about those of us who grew up in rural areas with just a couple of main roads? The cardinal directions might be confusing to someone who’s never had to consult a map or street sign. These individuals tend to favor landmarks (commonly referred to as a “referencia” in Spanish).

“Drive until you see the McDonald’s on the left and turn right at the stop light.”

Now think even further to areas of the world without any street signs whatsoever, and landmarks in the form of hole-in-the-wall eateries and unnamed convenience stores. Direction in these countries are even more confusing, and tourists often feel they’ve been led astray when trying to navigate the alleys and dirt roads.

You might hear, “Take this road straight for, say, 10 minutes, and then you will see a road on the right, keep walking for 2 more minutes and you will see an alley on the left. Turn at the alley and you will get there in a few more minutes.”

If you’re from a developed country, the third example won’t be nearly as easy to follow as the first two. In short, one of the reasons we give directions the way we do is based on how we see our surroundings, which is often based on where we grew up.

High-Context vs. Low-Context Culture

Another huge factor in the way we give directions is based on cultural context. High-context cultures use fewer words, and more nonverbal clues, and are less likely to give direct or blunt instructions (They’re also less likely to say they don’t know where something is!). High-context cultures include those in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Southeast Asia, among others. You might have to judge the confidence of the speaker’s directions based on his or her body language, since many things are left unsaid in a high-context culture, letting the culture fill in the blanks.

Low-context cultures are much more direct, and rely on accurate words to describe a situation. Eye contact and body language are much less important, because they are more likely to say directly whether they do or do not know where something is. Directions will be much more direct, and are likely to use more specific instructions, like street names, rather than guesstimates of time and distance.

If you learn a little bit about the culture before you arrive, you’ll have a much easier time navigating directions given by a local.

Reading Comprehension

 

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Look at this map, and write directions from the following places, using proper grammar. 1) The Airport to the Belleview Hotel 2) The Pet Shop to the Zoo. 3) The Laundromat to the Fire Station to the Department Store.

ADVANCED: Write a 100-word dialogue in which multiple people from different countries offer directions.

All Work No Play in the 21st Century

Economists say we’ve got more disposable income than ever before, so why can’t we find disposable leisure time as well?

Topics:  Our Future  Technology  Skill Point: Contractions

In the beginning of the 20th century, capitalist countries were thriving. The nineteenth century was full of possibility, providing us with such useful technological advancements as petrol, electricity, steel, rubber, cotton, chemical industries, automatic machinery, and assembly-line methods of mass production. The economist John Maynard Keyes took these new efficiencies as a sign that we were headed in the right direction. He projected we would eventually become so efficient that a 15-hour workweek for his grandchildren would be the norm. He felt so strongly that he composed an essay titled, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” and listed the biggest future problem to be so much leisure that we’d have nothing to do.

Nearly a century later, Brigid Schulte, a reporter for the Washington Post, published a book titled, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” Much to the contrary of Keynes’ prediction, twenty-first-century Americans have less leisure time in their lives than ever before, and feel incredibly swamped and overwhelmed.

Schulte set out to find the reason for “the overwhelm” by tracking her own time, attending a seminar for time use and a focus group in Fargo, and visiting the stress center at Yale. To summarize, she gives us a number of theories.

Busier Than Thou: In our habit of keeping up with the Joneses, we want to out-busy them as well. Busy is a sign of success and prosperity, and though we complain about it endlessly, we’re slightly bragging about it as well.

Thinking about it too much: Another theory is that we actually do have a decent amount of leisure time, but we just don’t feel like it. If we’re playing with our kids or spending time with our spouses, this should feel like leisure time. However, we tend to think about our to-do list, check our phones, draft emails, and answer business calls during this “leisure time,” which eliminates any relaxation we might have gained.

Inequality at home: On average, women who work full-time jobs are still doing twice as much of the housework as their male counterparts. Their “second shift” at home is causing extreme feelings over overwhelm because, well, they’re doing two jobs. Yet, this theory only truly explains a working mom’s feeling over being overwhelmed.

While Keynes’ was correct about prosperity, and Schulte found many reasons for busyness, one thing she forgets to mention is consumption. Sure, we feel harried, and we have plenty of money to buy everything we need, but in our consumer’s economy, we continue to find new things to need, according to “Revisiting Keynes,” published in 2008 by two Italian economists, Lorenzo Pecchi and Gustavo Piga. We practice leisure through simultaneous consumption, according to Swedish economist Staffan B. Linder, by smashing our enjoyable activities all together (watching TV, drinking expensive craft beer, eating sushi, and hosting a party) and over stimulating ourselves for a couple of hours. We learn how to enjoy leisure by seeing people enjoying leisure all around us. Instead, we see people enjoying consumerism and we follow suit.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Select one theory presented by one of the economists above and write your reaction to it. It can be agreement or disagreement. 200 words.

ADVANCED: In 200 words, pretend you are writing from the viewpoint of a modern-day Keynes. What reasons might be give for why leisure hasn’t caught up with prosperity?

Learning Another Man’s Language – The Foreign Language Effect

It looks like Mandela was right: You should always talk to a man in in his own language.

Topics:  International  Business  Skill Point: Affect or Effect

When it comes to business and home negotiations, we know there are numerous factors that can affect our decisions. In general, rational and logical thought processes can help us to keep an even keel, but research on The Foreign Language Effect shows that simply conducting negotiations in a foreign language might be all you need to do.

Many remember the famous Nelson Mandela quote, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Little did Mandela know that he was right on the money, as a 2011 study shows. The Foreign Language Effect was working in Mandela’s favor, and he didn’t even know why.

It all comes down to logical and rational thinking. Our emotions are very strongly tied to our native language, but much less so to a foreign language. Therefore, when we speak in a foreign language, we can see things more clearly, and our decisions are less clouded by emotions. We know that Mandela learned Afrikaans while imprisoned, and used it to his advantage when negotiating the end of apartheid.

One of the strongest factors affecting our decision-making is the fear of loss, referred to as the loss-aversion effect. It is even stronger than the pleasure of gaining something. This bias in decision-making is closely linked to our emotions as well.

Hayakawa Keysar and his colleagues knew this when they set out to test The Foreign Language Effect. They set up a problem, and explained it in two ways: one in terms of losses and one in terms of gains, even though the results would be the same. The results showed the loss aversion clearly, but only when the respondents participated using their native language. When participants responded in a foreign language, they were equally likely to choose both options. Essentially, when engaging in a foreign language, the loss aversion effect disappeared across all languages and levels of fluency studied.

The authors of the study proposed that these effects took place because communicating in a foreign language “Provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does.” Essentially, our emotions are not as prominent in a foreign language, allowing us to think and negotiate in a more detached manner.

Further studies found that the foreign language effect is only related to emotional topics. When deciding on topics that are already free of emotions, it doesn’t seem to matter what language you choose. This information supports the idea that the foreign language effect happens due to the lack of emotional connection in a foreign language.

So next time you’re making an incredibly difficult emotion-laden decision, take a moment to write or speak about it in English! Maybe you’ll see things much more clearly.

Reading Comprehension

 

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: With your newfound knowledge of The Foreign Language Effect, how do you plan to use English to your advantage? Explain with examples in 200 words or fewer.

ADVANCED: How else do you think emotions affect your daily decision-making? Explain what you do when you have emotional decisions to make.

Will Robots Take All the Jobs?

The future of the workforce is upon us, and jobs left for humans might be scarce.

Topics:  Our Future  Technology  Skill Point: Fewer or Less

According to The Future of Employment by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, nearly half of jobs could be automated in the next 10-20 years. If you think the job market is bad now, imagine it with even more employable individuals and 50% fewer jobs.

Clearly not all jobs are easily replaced – we still haven’t found a way to replace health care workers, upper management, and decision-makers – but many jobs, including more dangerous ones, are better off handled by machines without risk of “human error.” Others are handled by machines simply because automation is more efficient. The tedious and repetitive tasks are first to go. Robotic arms can easily replace assembly line workers, automation can take over for telemarketers, and many of us have already replaced our tax preparers with online software programs. Until now, robots have stuck to more factory-related fields, but the newest innovations in computer technology will allow for more advanced artificial intelligence.

With an exponential rise of processing power, computers are getting smarter. They can quickly “learn” a set of human actions, and are increasingly more effective at recognizing fraud, identifying faces, and diagnosing illnesses. The Oxford University study thinks that 47% of all jobs will be capable of automation within the next two decades. It sounds like a disaster for the economy, but there are pros and cons to every type of innovation.

One thing we know is that history repeats itself, and no matter how resistant to change we may be, embracing innovation is the heart of technological evolution. The Industrial Revolution made a wide array of jobs completely obsolete, but launched dozens of new industries with even more jobs over several decades. Innovation breeds innovation, creates newer and better jobs, and supports safer and more efficient operations. More robots means fewer accidents and injuries, and more affordable goods and services for the general public.

We also know that the short-term effects are likely to be harsh. Income gaps will widen, several industries will shrink or disappear almost overnight, and it may take businesses years to rebound. Yet still, these problems are seen as temporary. Long-term benefits outweigh these issues. Each stage of advanced technology unleashes a new level of comfort and prosperity, and the highest skilled workers will be compensated the most.

Innovation in general is the perfect motivation for entrepreneurs. Huge companies in the tech industry such as Google and Facebook started as tiny entrepreneurs dreaming up new products that humanity never knew it needed.  These new and more advanced robots are likely to have a similar effect. The creative power of innovation is like a tsunami wave – you almost don’t realize what’s going on until you’ve ridden the wave a thousand feet and the landscape around you has changed.

Most of us agree that technological progress makes the world a better place. (For example, fewer than fifty years ago, dozens of diseases were certainly fatal, and those same diseases are now curable with a simple shot.) We know that streamlining work for the sake of efficiency is good, unless it sacrifices the quality or integrity of the product. And we never know if it will until we try.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: If you heard that a computer program was much more likely to diagnose illnesses more effectively than your general doctor, would you switch from standard care to automated care? In 200 words or less, answer this question, and discuss the potential pros and cons of automated health care.

ADVANCED: Come up with as many examples you can for when innovative technology replaced individual jobs. In 200 words, explain a few of them, and describe the pros and cons of these technological advancements. Feel free to include any type of pros and cons, such as social, financial, political, and environmental.

Alibaba’s IPO and What it Means for You

In a country where eBay rules supreme, there’s a new competitor in town, and its expected to have the largest IPO in history.

Topics:  Business  International  Skill Point: Relative Pronouns

Ten years after the ecommerce giant expected to take over China, eBay’s Chinese counterpart, Alibaba, is hitting the U.S. market with its initial public offering this year.  Many of us are clueless when we hear the name, but it is the largest international ecommerce site of its kind. Think back to a time when you searched online for wedding favors, party favors, cheap merchandise, and a variety of other international products; there’s a good chance that you have come across Alibaba in your hunt for cheaper products. Although Amazon and eBay currently rule the American market for ordering online, their days in power might be numbered. In 2012 alone, just two of Alibaba’s portals handled $170 billion in sales, which is more than Amazon and eBay combined.

Alibaba was started by a schoolteacher in China, hoping to provide a place where small manufacturers could connect with commercial buyers overseas, but since then it has become so much more. It became a place for middle class individuals in China to buy and sell products, and both TaoBao and Tmall were launched as offshoots for consumer to consumer selling and business to consumer selling.

In 2012, just two of the Alibaba portals handled more than $170 billion in sales, which is more than both Amazon and eBay combined. The company announced this month that it is planning its initial public offering (IPO) this year. The company will be floated on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) this fall, and it is expected to break the record book.

Even though Facebook’s IPO was a bit of a joke, they rebounded quickly. Alibaba remembers Facebook’s cautionary tale, but the company is still expected to launch the largest-ever IPO in the United States.

If there’s one thing you remember about Alibaba’s, it might be the high-profile fraudulent cases. The company’s history is marred by counterfeit products and fake companies, but as the company heads into the American market, those issues are being left behind. Another new portal, 111 Main, is in the beginning stages, and it combines elements from Etsy, Pinterest, and Amazon, to provide a more comfortable buying and selling experience without fear of fraud.

It’s hard to know exactly what will come of Alibaba’s IPO, but there’s one thing that’s certain: it is receiving a lot of hype. This could be the most impressive IPO of all time, even with conservative numbers. As part of a previous agreement, Yahoo! will be forced to sell over half of its 24% stake in the company, which is likely going to provide them with a gigantic chunk of change to use however they desire. (Buying even better talent in Silicon Valley?) With the numbers to pick and choose anyone you want from a highly concentrated talent pool, this IPO might make bigger waves for Silicon Valley companies than for anyone else. Only time will tell.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Have you ever bought anything online? Explain in 200 words the types of things you buy online and explain what you look for in an online buying situation and how you might protect yourself from fraud. (Ex: what makes you trust or distrust a company)

ADVANCED: In your 200 words, explain how you think this large IPO might affect the rest of the tech industry.

Helpful Motivation Tactics

Sometimes a little change in perspective is all it takes to get things done.

Topics:  Business  Lifestyle  Skill Point: Reflexive Pronouns

Regardless of the job – be it laundry, answering emails, or making dinner – there are times when you just don’t have the motivation to complete the task. Sometimes it comes down to discipline, but other times it is a fear of failure, or an unchallenging (or boring) task that we avoid. Once you discover the reason you don’t want to work, you can start finding a solution.

Find Your Inner Motivation

Does a craving for success or a fear of loss motivate you in daily life? While they may be two sides of the same coin, acknowledging the one that helps you stay disciplined and motivated can be the crucial step in creating personal discipline.

Promotion Focus

For the forward-thinking offensive type of person, discipline might come easy. Well-disciplined individuals are able to complete just about any task by using a promotion focus. This essentially means you look at the completion of a task as an achievement or accomplishment, and as a way to better your current situation. Perhaps this means you will impress your boss, or become eligible for a raise or promotion. Or maybe it just means you can cross one achievement off of your to-do list.

Prevention Focus

For those of us without this kind of forward-thinking promotion focus, but with constant worry about failure, a prevention focus might be the solution. Prevention focus is the defensive counterpart to promotion; you might have a fear of making mistakes, but you have to do certain tasks in order to avoid loss or to hold on to what you’ve already got.  This means your boss will be angry if you don’t do something, or you will lose out on this month’s bonus, or possibly lose the respect of your colleagues. Nobody wants that. It is important to perform to the best of your ability in order to prevent a loss of position, salary, or respect.

Create a “Must-do” Rather Than “Feel-like-doing” Attitude

Much like quitting your job, having a baby, or starting your own business, there’s never a “perfect” time where everything feels right. The same goes for tasks in your life. If you intend to start working out, being more productive, or eating healthier, you should look at it like something you have to do, rather than something you want to do. Sure, nobody wants to get out of bed an hour earlier to hit the gym or make fresh breakfast, and nobody wants to check emails or work on tedious tasks. If you wait for the moment when you feel like getting out of bed or completing undesirable tasks, you will never complete them. Instead, according to Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, you should ignore your feelings.

If you ignore that desire to sit on the couch eating ice cream and watching a marathon of your favorite TV show, and instead make yourself hit the gym, clean the house, make healthy meals, or work on your business, you will become increasingly more successful. Ignoring the lazier cravings will become easier and easier, and soon enough you will never again say you don’t “feel like” doing something productive. Instead, you’ll just do it.

 

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: What do you think are your barriers to productivity? In 200 words, explain some of the reasons why you might have trouble getting things done. Be sure to include at least three barriers to your productivity.

ADVANCED: Assuming the information in this article is correct, how would that change your tactics for productivity in your office, both for you and your employees? In 200 words, describe the changes you might make at work to help employees understand and benefit from either a promotion focus or a prevention focus.

Universities Around the World are Now Teaching Regular Classes in English

Would you take business, science, and mathematics courses in a foreign language?

Topics:  Culture  Business  Skill Point: Basic Auxiliary Verbs

 

Any glance at a “Teach English as a foreign language,” catalog will tell you that the English language is growing in popularity around the world. Some claim China will soon take over global manufacturing and they call for more Mandarin classes in business schools, others believe that Spanish will soon be battling English for the most spoken language in the United States. As for now, there’s no doubt that English is currently the language of global studies in the United States and around the world. Nowadays, more and more Universities around the world are offering regular classes in English, not just English classes, but regular science, business, mathematics, and technology courses taught entirely in English. This method is referred to as English as a medium of instruction, or EMI.

There are certain benefits to learning a new language by immersion, but the use of EMI goes beyond that. It labels English as the language of higher education.

In parts of the world where schooling is minimal, such as many villages in Africa, teaching in English is a great way to prepare students for studying elsewhere in the world. The English language is quickly growing into a sort of passport for international travel and global interaction. A large percentage of global business transactions take place in English, and more and more travelers are finding that the English language is the most common language spoken around the world. Even though almost two billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, followed by 414 million who speak Spanish, compared to just 375 people who speak English, these other languages haven’t spread around the globe nearly as much.

Many countries around the world, including Denmark, China, and Qatar, are mostly pro-English and choose to promote EMI. At the University of Copenhagen, you can earn your Master’s or PhD without knowing any Danish whatsoever. This phenomenon is what poses problems around the world. Many countries, including Israel and Venezuela have instituted anti-EMI policies in an effort to help the national language survive in academic life.

There are additional problems with the use of EMI in the classroom. For example, when Universities attract international students, there may be a classroom full of speakers from dozens of different countries, many of whom may not speak the teacher’s native language. This makes every teacher a sort of ESL teacher, but one who often has no interest or training in teaching ESL When the British Council and University of Oxford set out to find more information regarding English as a medium of instruction, their report shows that they discovered a major disconnect between students’ and teachers’ expectations.

Teachers of these non-ESL subjects don’t consider it part of their job to teach English to their math, science, or medical students. Many of them had no prior experience or education in how to teach in an EMI classroom, making it more difficult for the students to keep up. When the teachers don’t feel the need to improve their students’ English, the students are left to fend for themselves.

There are even more hurdles than students’ poor English. Many schools and programs in places such as China successfully attract English-speaking students to their EMI classrooms, yet the students arrive and find it impossible to understand their teachers. EMI seems like an excellent way to help students further their English fluency, and it allows universities to market to a global audience, but the problems are complex and varied. Additionally, EMI establishes a single language for global studies, which is especially useful in international courses such as mathematics and medicine. However, it seems that the EMI policies and training within the educational system, or lack there of, are the major barriers this method will face in the years to come.

Reading Comprehension

Universities teaching courses in English.

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: In 200 words, explain why you think some countries do not allow English as a medium of instruction, and give your opinion on whether it is a good idea or not for your country.

ADVANCED: List the cons of EMI (use those in the article and any others you might know) and write a potential solution to each issue. Each solution should be about 3 sentences long.

How Music Alters Our Perception of Time

Science explains why, “A watched pot never seems to boil,” is a more accurate adage.

Topics:  Business  Technology  Skill Point: Indefinite and Definite Articles

The old saying, “A watched pot never boils,” indicates that spending time watching or waiting for something to happen makes the time drag on and on. According to the study of time perception, this old phrase it is completely accurate. The adage has less to do with superstition or reality, and more to do with our actual perception of time. The more we learn about perceiving time through our five senses, the more we realize that occupying ourselves, even with something as simple as a musical melody, can drastically alter our perception of the passage of time.

If you think of situations in which time passes incredibly slowly – watching an uninteresting movie with your spouse, or listening to a long and monotonous sermon in church – it is often associated with boredom. Your enjoyment of a situation can greatly alter your perception of time, which is why the workweek tends to drag, but a 4-day weekend passes in the blink of an eye.

Jonathan Berger, a Professor of Music at Stanford University, and a composer, published an article detailing the effects of music on our perception of time: How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time Through his research, we can learn a great deal regarding the importance of this phenomenon and use it to affect your personal productivity, your marketing tactics, and the emotions of consumers in a store or restaurant. Four simple takeaways from his article detail the affects of different musical influences on our behavior:

1) Fast Music – Fast music is more dangerous for driving and other speed-related activities. According to the Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring, Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is the most dangerous music to listen to while driving. This fast-tempo composition is often used in films and television to score battles, and high-energy scenes.

According to the Royal Automobile Club, the frenetic tempo alters the driver’s sense of speed, they feel that they are going much slower than they actually are, and as a result, they speed. Perhaps there is something to be said about the dangers of loud and fast music blaring from teenagers’ cars!

2) Slow Music – According to market research, slower music seems to make people linger and as a result, spend more money. The 1982 Journal of Marketing found that consumers spend 38% more time in the grocery store when the music is slow, and the University thesis by S.J. Down discovered that more drinks are sold in bars when slow-tempo music is played, because customers tend to linger.

3) Familiar Music – Additionally, familiar music can lead us to believe that time is passing more slowly than it really is, particularly if you do not like the music being played.

4) Novel Music – New and more novel music is found to be more pleasurable, allowing time to pass more quickly.

Our perceived flow of time can also be expanded. If you are listening to music while performing tasks that require a great deal of concentration, looking back upon those hours of work will make you feel that the hours were very long. This is one of the reasons we often feel exhausted after just a few hours of concentrating on work. Some of it is true mental exhaustion, while some of it is perceived exhaustion.

There are certainly many other factors that alter our perception of time, and this perception is inherently subjective. If you enjoy a 5-minute song, it might feel as if it is only 30-seconds in length, while someone who dislikes it might feel it is 10 minutes long. This is part of the challenge marketers face when trying to select a slow but novel tune for callers on hold, or to set the right tone for a bar or restaurant.

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: Part one: Recall a vivid memory from childhood or adolescence and write it in detail. Part two: Recall where you were and what you were doing during a famous event in history in the last decade. Write 200 words total about these memories.

ADVANCED: If you were the marketing manager of your company, how would you use the information found in this article to your advantage? Explain your marketing tactic in 200 words.

Evolution Beats Genetically Modified Corn

Worm Evolves to Eat GM Corn Designed To Kill It

Topics:   Technology  Skill Point: Modal Verbs

Agriculturists’ worst nightmare is coming to fruition; genetically modified corn was engineered to kill pests without using pesticides, but in just a few decades, one worm has already evolved to safely consume the corn developed to kill it.

Genetic modification sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but in reality, it is all around us. About 80% of the corn and soy grown in the United States is genetically modified, and with great success. Crop yields soared in the wake of genetic modification, but some say this great success story is quickly turning into a cautionary tale. A species of corn created with the Bt protein designed to kill pests has created a new “super worm,” already developing resistance to the toxin.

The modified corn produces Bt, which is toxic to typical agriculture pests (and humans).  After Syngenta released the new corn in 1996, farmers everywhere bought into the very convincing benefits for the new high-yield crop, and most stopped growing their all-natural varieties of corn altogether.

According to Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist, “Unless management practices change, it [rootworm resistance] is only going to get worse. There needs to be a fundamental change in how the technology is used.” (Source)

Scientists and agriculturists have long advised against using genetically modified seeds for more than 50% of total crops, but many farmers grow between 80%-100% GM corn. Much of this is no longer resistant to many bugs it was developed to destroy. Farmers will most likely continue to use these GM crops since they’re still effective against other pests, but now they will have to spray insecticides again, which eliminates one of the original ecological benefits of genetically modified crops.

This raises many questions in regards to genetically modified organisms. For years we’ve seen debates regarding the health benefits vs. risks of genetically modified crops, and if the crops aren’t doing their job, are the health risks worth it?

Many staunch anti-GMO advocates have found evidence that these toxic Bt proteins have a similar effect on humans’ stomach linings, causing a condition called “leaky gut syndrome.” This can lead to allergies and stomach-related problems. While creating a superbug isn’t a good thing, does this mean that humans will quickly evolve to withstand the genetically modified foods without experiencing leaky guts and increases in allergies? Are we putting the human body under unnecessary stress or simply adding another environmental component only the strongest can withstand? Many countries around the world, like Mexico, have yet to approve genetically engineered crops, while others, including Peru, have banned them for now, and are awaiting further research before allowing their citizens and their land to become products of biotechnology.

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: Using information from the article as your guide, write 200 words or more on what the farmers must, could, will, or should do now that some bugs are developing resistance to these genetically engineered crops. You may choose to write in the past, present, or future tense.

ADVANCED: In 200 words or less, answer the following question: who do you think stands to gain, and who do you think stands to lose when it comes to genetically engineered crops?

Cord Cutters and the Death of TV

Video killed the radio star, but now it looks like videos are leaving cable behind for a new home – is the Internet killing TV?

Topics:  Lifestyle  Technology  Skill Point: Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

According to Business Insider, 2013 was the “worst year ever for TV.” Over a four-year period from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2013, 5 million people ended their cable and broadband subscription plans, and today, fewer people than ever regularly watch TV. What used to be one of America’s favorite pastimes is quickly fading into the background. What could be the reason?

Poor Customer Service

It is no secret that American consumers are fed up with poor customer service. With social media platforms, consumers now have easier access to the companies that wrong them. Rather than marketing their company on social media, many businesses are forced to handle customer service complaints and negative tweets via Twitter’s very public platform. Unfortunately, no company seems to have better service than another.

People Watch Less Television

Poor customer service just isn’t enough to cause so many cancelations; those consumers would simply switch to another provider, much like users hopping around cell phone companies. People are simply watching less and less television, and if their satellite or cable company doesn’t provide good service, they’ll simply sign off the service. This doesn’t mean they’ve stopped watching their favorite television shows. No, not at all, people are still watching television shows, just not on televisions.

The Internet is More Convenient

Facebook and Google have an audience whose reach is expected to overtake all of television’s reach within the year, leading advertisers to develop more Internet-based tactics. Facebook currently has 1.19 billion monthly users, while Google’s YouTube is the third most-visited website in the world. Over 4 billion videos are watched on YouTube each day, and tens of thousands of full-length movies are available.

Free WiFi is Abundant

With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that television has some serious competition, but the Internet alone couldn’t cause this change. Most people have Internet and cable from the same provider. Business Insider also reports that the shift from television to Internet is encouraged by an increase in free WiFi hotspots around the world. Many offices, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, and bars have free Internet access, and even convenience markets, retail stores, airports, and small business offices are offering free WiFi to their clients. For many people throughout the United States, there’s no need for wires and cables to bring them news, sports, television, or movies; it’s all available online.

Most of the world would say that Americans watch far too much television anyway, so perhaps this fall in viewership is a good thing. However, if the time spent in front of a television with family is being replaced by time spent alone watching shows on other devices – phones, computers, and tablets – are we pushing ourselves further into social isolation with nothing but technology as our friend?

It’s not just computers and laptops; mobile phone usage is quickly catching up with PC usage, and tablets and smartphones nearly doubled in 2013. Of the total hours spent watching online videos globally, 15% are now viewed on tablets and smartphones, with great thanks to services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube. Is it time for us to start mourning the death of our nearly 100-year-old friend television?

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: Write 200 words about your favorite television shows and movies. Compare and contrast two different shows or movies and discuss what you like best about each. Include where, when, and with whom you watch these videos.

ADVANCED: In 200 words, answer the following questions: How much time do you spend watching television shows and movies, and with whom do you watch them? Include where, when, and on what devices.

Brain Pain: Addressing Head Injuries in Sports Worldwide

In a world where hits and falls are harder than ever before, players are returning to the fields with concussions, at the detriment of their long-term health.

Topics:  Health  Culture  Skill Point: Phrasal Verbs

It’s no secret that a career in athletics often comes with a myriad of injuries – many of which end careers. Current research is focused on more serious long-term complications off the field, resulting from one of the most common injuries in high-impact sports: concussions. It’s not just the dizziness, nausea, memory loss, or disorientation that doctors are worried about; the more serious concern is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease caused by multiple concussions and head injuries. CTE was once called Boxer’s Disease, but is now commonly found in professional athletes playing ice hockey, rugby, American football, wrestling, and other contact sports.

With traumatic injuries like this on the tip of sports announcers’ tongues, you’d think players, coaches, and trainers would take CTE more seriously. In 2013, an Irish rugby player named Brian O’Driscoll took a hard hit in the Six Nations tournament, leaving him feeling disoriented and dizzy. He was escorted off the field. Just a few minutes later, he returned to the game, still concussed, with his head wrapped in bandages. In October of 2010, a 17-year-old high school (American) football player, Nathan Stiles, died after his homecoming football game where he took one hard hit after a series of concussive hits throughout the season. In 2012, two former NFL players committed suicide, and both autopsy reports confirmed CTE. And in soccer, those who frequently head the ball were found to have brain abnormalities similar to those found in concussed patients.

American Football is no stranger to concussions. For a long time, NFL players’ concussions were ignored so frequently that the NFL recently agreed on a $765 million settlement for a class-action lawsuit brought by NFL players regarding dangers of concussions. It’s taken 20 years, but the NFL is now forced to take these concussions seriously. They’re doing so by changing the rules of the game, giving more severe penalties to certain types of hits, and disallowing some of the more aggressive hits altogether.  The NFL has also teamed up with the National Institute of Health (NIH) to learn more about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries.

The prevalence of CTE among professional athletes is raising concern for parents of youth athletes as well, garnering attention from the U.S. government. The United States President, Barack Obama, is hosting the first-ever White House summit to address these growing concerns over head injuries in sports, particularly for youths, in an effort to improve sports’ safety measures for coming generations.

But when it comes to the rest of the world, not enough attention is being placed on the risks of concussions in sports such as soccer and rugby. According to The Rugby Football Union, there were 6.7 concussions per every 1000 hours played last season, but many doctors and players believe the real number of concussions to be double or even triple what’s reported. While the NFL can afford hundreds of billions to keep former players happy, rugby clubs can’t afford to pay settlement fees in the millions; they’d go bankrupt.

Many doctors and professionals are calling for safety measures such as the Zurich guidelines to be more exhaustive, and to be required rather than recommended in order to protect the players. Though the changes to rules in NFL might seem minor, at least they’re a step in the right direction.

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: In 200 words give your opinion on this article, and answer the following questions. Do you think the possibility if CTE should be taken seriously, or is it just “part of the job?” Knowing this, would you want your children to play hard contact sports?

ADVANCED: A lot of attention is being paid to this issue of head injuries in sports, but we’re still looking for solutions. Choose one or more contact sports (ice hockey, American football, soccer, or rugby) and explain what you would change to improve this problem and reduce the risks of concussions and CTE.

The Future of Science: Artificial Blood To Be Manufactured in Laboratories

Blood donation services have trouble meeting worldwide blood needs. Manufacturing artificial blood from stem cells might be the answer.

Topics:  Health  Lifestyle  Skill Point: Although, But

After dozens of stories of successful 3D-printed skin grafts, bones, and prosthetics, scientists have unveiled the latest in bioengineering technology. Using the stem cells from embryos or adult tissue, scientists can process these cells in a laboratory to produce large numbers of cells, and eventually manufacture blood on a large scale.

Although the concept has been around for quite some time, scientists and researchers are only now seeing real progress. The Wellcome Trust, a UK-based global charitable foundation, is funding the research team, but the benefits of these advancements would stretch far beyond the UK. For example, 150,000 women around the world die each year as a result of blood loss during childbirth. With manufactured blood, most or all of those women could be saved.

Donated blood must go through a rigorous testing process to ensure there is zero risk of contamination, and even then, human error can allow things to go awry with improper screening of individuals, or poor handling or storing. Manufactured blood has the benefit of being completely infection-free.

Blood donors are able to donate blood every 84 days, but most who donate blood do so less than once a year (often for specific blood drives at work or school). Individuals who are experiencing any abnormal health symptoms, anemia, or have had potential exposure to communicable diseases are ineligible. This leaves less than 40% of Americans eligible to donate blood, and less than 5% of them actually do so. According to the American Red Cross, more than 41,000 blood donations are needed each day under normal circumstances.

With lives becoming busier and worldwide needs for blood growing larger, it’s no surprise that scientists are working hard to find a manufactured solution. The basic process begins with the stem cells from embryos, which are young enough that they can make any tissue in the body. Over the course of 35 days, scientists implement growth factors like cytokines to signal the cells to become red blood cells, rather than say white blood cells or even skin cells.  The hardest part is not coaxing the cells to become O-negative red blood cells, but in finding a way to get the cells to proliferate at a rapid pace in order to meet worldwide needs. Right now, the world needs about 2 million bags of blood per year.

The process is complex and volatile, but once established, can have lasting effects in producing a variety of new cells, such as nerve cells or heart cells for victims of strokes or heart attacks. Professor Mark Turner, member of the research team, expects it will be another 5-10 years before the manufactured blood is ready for routine clinical use. According to The Wellcome Trust, the very first blood transfusions using the cultured red blood cells are scheduled to take place with volunteers in 2016.

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: What do you think of manufactured blood? Does it sounds like something you would be willing to support, or do you see problems? In 200 words, explain the pros and cons (in your opinion and using information from the article) of using manufactured blood.

ADVANCED: According to the pros listed in this article, what demographics (groups) of people do you think will benefit most from the manufacturing of artificial blood? Do you see anyone who will be negatively affected by this process?

IPA: the International Beer

The Original Global Beer, IPA, is Making a Massive International Comeback

Topics:  Lifestyle  International  Skill Point: Order of Adjectives

If you don’t know what an IPA is, you won’t be considered a beer enthusiast in most of the more exclusive beer-drinking crews around the globe. An IPA (India Pale Ale) is one of the most popular beers amongst small-batch brewers throughout the United States and abroad. Due to its current popularity (and varied flavor profiles), many beer lovers consider IPAs one of the newest styles around, but history tells us IPA is the original global brew, dating back almost two hundred years.

Any beer enthusiast knows the old IPA story by now: back when beer was used as a safe alternative to questionable water, excessive hops were added as a preservative to ensure that the beer would survive the journey from Britain to India. The details of the historical story are a point of contention, as the exact origins are debated by brew masters around the world, but one thing is certain: Britain’s territories in India were too hot for brewing, and the British stationed in the colonies wanted their beer!

Thus, the IPA-style of extra hops (and higher alcohol content) was created in Britain in order to ensure the beer would make the long trip. (Although Porters can also be heavily hopped, and likely make the journey from Britain to India as well.) But after the World Wars, breweries ditched this style in an effort to create more mass-marketable beers. The 20th century was full of bland, boring beers that were palatable to just about everyone, including light-style lagers and ales. American and British companies bought up their small-batch competitors and began making their own versions of thin beer.

Towards the end of the 20th century, small beer makers were interested in creating beers with more character, and became quite adventurous with different ales, lagers, stouts, and porters. Now, the craft beer industry is growing fast, despite an overall decline in beer drinking. In 1970, there were about 50 breweries in the United States; now, there are over 2,500. Right at this moment, the craft beer industry in the U.S. is all about IPAs. Whether you’re strolling around the streets of San Diego, Portland, New York, or Miami, you’re likely to see a wide array of IPAs available at every bar.

Now that small craft breweries throughout the United States are brewing up IPAs around the clock, the same is happening in countries around the world. Craft breweries throughout Europe are taking cues from the U.S. and are now unable to resist the temptation of showing off their skills by brewing hoppy IPAs. Some European nations are even borrowing recipes from the U.S. brewers and adjusting them to their own nation’s taste, bringing the history of the IPA-style beer back to where it began.

If you’re not into the distinctly hoppy and slightly bitter flavor of beer with excessive hops, you’re probably more interested in stouts, pilsners ales, lagers, and Belgian brews. However, the more beer you drink, and the more styles you try, the more likely you’re going to follow the same flavor-trails as brewers. According to the annals of history, it looks like all beer trails end at IPAs.

Reading Comprehension

Writing

INTERMEDIATE: Answer the following questions in 200 words. What kinds of beers are popular in your country? Have you ever heard of an IPA? Do you think beer is very popular in your country, and if so, do people prefer high-end beers with high alcohol levels, or standard mass-produced lighter beers?

ADVANCED: In your own words, describe what makes IPA the “original global beer.” Can you think of anything else that might fall into the category as historically global, specifically in your country’s history? Explain your answer in approximately 200 words. (ex: Spices like cinnamon were traded between countries long before currencies existed.)

Leisure vs. Work

How “Busy” Changed From a Sign of Poverty to a Badge of Honor

Topics:  Lifestyle  Economics  Skill Point: Present Continuousleisure-vs-busy

Many people these days are too busy to enjoy a real weekend, take a day off, or spend extra time with their families. We’re all working, commuting, and answering emails. Whether the tasks fall into our work hours or not, we always have meetings to attend, phone calls to receive, and the elusive “Inbox Zero” to attain. Today, busy is considered a good thing. It shows that you’re so successful that you don’t have a moment to spare on leisure. Business professionals, stay-at-home moms, and every person in between seems to wear “I’m too busy” like a Badge of Honor, but this wasn’t always the case.

A noted American economist, Thorstein Veblen, argued that just over 100 years ago, leisure was a badge of honor. In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen outlined how people with money could pay those without money to do the dirty, dull, and repetitive work, such as lifting or cleaning, while the rich spent time in more challenging and creative pursuits, such as philanthropy or writing.

Leisure as a badge of honor might surprise today’s workers, but societies and cultures around the world followed this belief, though none quite so fervently as those in the West. It is only in the last decade or so that we’ve seen this shift, where leisure is available to the poor, but not to the rich. By 2005, college educated people had 8 fewer hours of leisure time per week than those with only high-school educations. According to The Economist, “the share of college-educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006, but fell for high-school dropouts.” So why are successful Americans working so much when they have the means to afford leisure time?

They Want To

There are many different explanations for the current situation, but one argument is simply that people want to work. Now that there are fewer uninteresting jobs, the creative pursuits that might have fallen under the category of “leisure” previously, such as writing, philanthropy, or fashion, are now actual careers. We have replaced taxing jobs from the Industrial Revolution with challenging and interesting jobs in multiple industries. According to research by Arlie Russell Hochschild (UC-Berkeley), work has become more stimulating and more enjoyable than life at home. In her 1997 publication, Hochschild introduced the concept of the Time Bind: when work becomes home and home becomes work. Many people in her study go to work to relax, while others in more modern research are simply working so much because everyone else is doing it; they’re just keeping up with the Joneses.

Substitution Effect

Another theory is the economic theory called the substitution effect. To put it simply, the substitution effect refers to how higher wages make leisure more expensive. Not because the leisure activity is pricey, but because of the high wages lost when taking time off of work. When your income increases, each minute of work has a higher return, meaning an entire day off to go to the park with your family could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in missed wages. There are some people in the world who wouldn’t bother picking up a five-dollar bill they found on their way to an important meeting, and others who make so much money that it is not worth their time to pick up a $100 bill from the floor.

Winner-Takes-All Marketplace

Another explanation is the atmosphere of the current market. Modern economies have a “winner-takes-all” nature, where the most innovative company takes over the market and reaps a much larger share.  Beating your competitors (think Apple) can make or break a business, and the returns for success can be incredible. Many economists believe that this competitive winner-takes-all atmosphere “amplifies” the substitution effect.

There’s no single explanation, and no clear end in sight to this lack of leisure for the working professional. There are, however, clear differences from country to country. As the sayings go, some places encourage the “work to live,” mentality while other countries, such as The United States and Japan, are full of people who “live to work.” It is possible that a generation of entrepreneurs and fans of ideas like Timothy Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek will have the power to change our ideas of leisure and busy, but until then, we’ll all just have to get back to work.

Reading Questions

Writing Prompt

INTERMEDIATE: How many hours a week do you spend at work and how many hours do you spend on leisure? What do you do with your leisure time? What would make you spend more time on leisure? (More holidays where nobody works, more paid time off, higher income, etc.)

ADVANCED: Do you agree with any of the explanations in this article? Explain why you think business professionals have no leisure time in your country. Also give your opinion on why you do or do not have enough leisure time.