Thursday, 28 May 2015

mindfulness: "too many people are avoiding using their brains"

One way to motivate your employees is with a little fish or even some cheese:
Jay Doubleyou: fish philosophy and the motivational mafia

You could just get them to chill out with some 'mindfulness':
Wellbeing is the key to keeping employees motivated | Guardian Careers | The Guardian

The health service is promoting it:
Mindfulness for mental wellbeing - Stress, anxiety and depression - NHS Choices

But not everyone thinks it's the best thing...

This is from this week's Telegraph:

People are wasting valuable thinking time on mediation and mindfulness and should stop trying to clear their heads, an Oxford University academic has claimed.
Theodore Zeldin said too many people were avoiding using their brains and instead escaping into a state of blank mental oblivion.
Mindfulness has been widely championed for inspiring creative thought,lowering depression and improving physical health and is even recommended by the NHS.

Mindfulness is stopping the world from thinking - Telegraph

This is from the Spectator:


Mindfulness is something worse than just a smug middle-class trend » The Spectator

And this piece isn't exactly positive either:


Mind Your Own Business - The Baffler

Friday, 22 May 2015

aero - denmark's sustainable island community

They call this place;
Aeroe - The Fairytale Museum Island in Denmark
Ærø - Aero Denmark, Aeroe Island Denmark, Aeroe Guide

It is charming:

Aeroeskoebing, Denmark - a 17th century island cobblestone village. Just 22 miles long with U-shaped barns. | Bon Voyage | Pinterest

Google Image Result for

But it's also a place looking to the future:

Aero Island, Denmark /Blend of Medieval churches and space-age power - SFGate

Denmark leads the charge in renewable energy | European Elections 2014 | DW.DE | 02.05.2014

An interesting question:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Aero Island in Denmark: Behind the Times or Way Ahead?

Aero is a small, idyllic island off the coast of Svenborg. To many people it is a quaint, historic relic, clinging to its past architectural and economic heritage. But, for us, their impressive ability to preserve and restore historical buildings, sites and landscapes, and their unique form of using renewable energy for most of the island’s needs is really quite progressive and certainly sustainable. Aero’s economy is mostly agricultural and tourism based; the island has three small towns (as a result of dividing up the original island land holding amongst three brothers); and it boasts one of the highest levels of renewable energy in the world, all based on local resources and design ingenuity. Our host for our day on Aero was Jess Heinemann, the community’s engineer involved in renewable energy as well as historic preservation. In fact, there seems to be little that Jess is not involved with. He lives in a restored historic house in Aeroskobing, the first town you encounter as you depart the ferry.

Aeroskobing remains as it has for hundreds of years with narrow cobblestone streets, historic houses and shops, and intimate plazas and public spaces. Their regulations for preserving history are strict and exacting, leaving little room for change and growth. Even windows and doors must conform to historic requirements. While this may seem limiting, it is designed to fulfill the community’s vision and serves to give the island its charm and tourist appeal. Preserving and reusing older buildings is a sustainable activity for various reasons: (1) retains the embodied energy of a built structure; (2) does not require new energy for construction; and (3) maintains physical scale and character at a time when auto use did not exist. They make provisions to upgrade buildings for energy efficiency, insulation and improved lighting and heating. Still, for many, the restrictions are too onerous and creativity in design reduced.
Sustainable Design: Aero Island in Denmark: Behind the Times or Way Ahead?

Denmark seems to be offering a positive future:
Solutions from Copenhagen & the Island of Aero in Denmark - Tom Brandstetter - YouTube
Isle of plenty - Denmark leading the way in reducing CO2 emissions | News | Sustainable Procurement | Action Sustainability
Brave little Denmark leads war against coal | Al Jazeera America

fish philosophy and the motivational mafia

How to motivate your workers is a key aspect of HR - or 'human resources' - or the 'personnel department'...
Top 5 Ways to Motivate Your Employees (It's Easier Than You Think) | Margaret Jacoby
Employee Inspiration And Motivation Kit

A big idea around at the moment is 'fish! philosophy:
FISH! Philosophy :: Home

Fish! Philosophy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

fish philosophy - YouTube

Not everyone agrees:


More On (Moron?) Fish! Philosophy

I finally bit the bullet and ordered a $3 used copy of the Fish! Philosophy book from Amazon. I'm about as infuriated as I expected to be.

The reason for burnout in most workplaces is that management has deliberately and systematically downsized staffing levels, trying to get more and more work out of fewer and fewer people. The management of the average corporation manufactures burned out employees like Carter manufactures liver pills. Through Fish! Philosophy, management attempts to deal with burnout entirely through cheerleading and slogans--Stakhanovism--without having to increase staffing levels or pay, or otherwise alter its own contribution to the problem. Fish! Philosophy, at its core, is an attempt to get something for nothing.
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism: More On (Moron?) Fish! Philosophy

This Fish! thing could be as bad as the Cheese thing:

And surprise, surprise, surprise: there's an entire Motivational Mafia out there focused on getting people to love Big Brother and think of their jobs as the center of their life. I don't think it's gonna happen, though. People will always wake up, like Winston Smith, with that instinctive groan at the prospect of dragging themselves into that shithole again.

And speaking of Ken Blanchard.... He also wrote the Preface to Who Moved My Cheese?. And one of the Fish! Philosophy coauthors of is a vice president in the Blanchard organization. So apparently there's an interlocking directorate in the Motivational Mafia.

Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism: More On (Moron?) Fish! Philosophy

But some people don't seem to get the point:
Need some Motivation? Join the family:

See also:
Who Moved My Cheese? - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Who moved my cheese? Full Movie - YouTube

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

the best websites to practice english pronunciation

There are lots of places to practice your pronunciation:
English Pronunciation Practice (For ESL Students)
BBC Learning English | Pronunciation Tips
Apps | LearnEnglish | British Council | Learn English Pronunciation: Sounds Right

This is from the excellent Antimoon website:


Josh Downing   Mon May 04, 2009 2:05 pm GMT
There is always someone around you trying to find a magical formula to improve their pronunciation. Some people have a pretty heavy accent, some others don’t sound so bad, and there’s always a group that sound like they are trying to destroy the language by mispronouncing every other word. We are all human, you know? Learning a new language is not always easy, and even though there are some people who have a special talent for learning new sounds, vocabulary, and structures, for most students, only the pronunciation area can make them feel like swimming up the river.

Unfortunately, there’s no magical potion to transform faulty pronunciation into a perfect one. The only solution here is hard work. “Be brave!”, is the motto here. Most people give you a special look in reply like saying “Yeah, yeah, bla,bla” with no words.
Whether you like it or not, it has to do with HARD WORK. Everything can be improved with a little practice. Even the worst ear can be trained, and with the correct instructions and practice, the most terrible pronunciation can sound at least “decent”. Your ESL teacher can give you some hints to practice at home, so as to solve whatever pronunciation problems you may have. If he doesn’t, or if you don’t have a teacher or you prefer to have some extra work on your own, there are lots of websites that can give you a hand with this…Here’s a list of the best 5 on the web:

1. Nice, clear website, lots of interesting material with audio. Diagnostic exercises to test how good or bad your pronunciation is. Textbook recommendations depending on your level. Learning strategies and pronunciation links to continue your practice. Downloadable material included.

2. Lots of pronunciation and intonation exercises, separated by type of sound (consonants, vowels, diphthongs) Mp3 audio, PDF explanations, even pronunciation software. Also quizzes to check your progress on the go.

3. Exercises separated by sound (including phonetic notation). Videos to see how each sound is produced. Minimal pairs exercises, dictation, Mp3 audio. Record your voice to have a conversation with a real native speaker. Really interesting!

4. Very orderly. They provide you with the basic pronunciation rules (downloadable in ZIP files), graded exercises, and pronunciation links. All material is downloadable (and free!)

5. An absolute favorite. Bilingual, so understanding the instructions is pretty easy. Exercises are separated by level of difficulty, including phonetic notation. Theory, exercises and games. Very practical.

You can use the websites separately or have a mix of your own. They all provide you with good pronunciation models, and many tools to help you compare how well or badly you are producing each sound. Phonetic notation can be difficult at first, but it is a good way to deal with difficult sounds (especially the ones not present in your mother tongue) and understand (at last!) all those strange symbols in the dictionary after each definition.

And remember, no matter how bad you think your pronunciation is, there’s always the possibility to make dramatic improvements…the main ingredients here are: patience and hard work. The combination of both will lead you to success. So, what are you waiting for?

Feel free to publish this article on your website or blog. If you do, please add this info about the author: “Written by Josh Downing. You can find more of his articles at

Josh Downing
2055 S. Oneida St. - Suite 390
Denver - Colorado - 80224
(001) 303-756-0760


reading skills with english corner

The website English Corner has a lot of useful stuff - especially on reading:

Welcome to the English Corner, a site for intermediate and advanced students of English as a foreign language. You will find English grammar exercisesgrammar rulesvocabulary games,interactive crossword puzzlesESL reading exercisescollocations, and more.
The Grammar Page features grammar sheets which explain English grammar rules, tables of English verb tensesinteractive grammar exercises for prepositions and verb tenses, interactive grammar games, as well as a grammar test and a preposition test for checking your English.
There are online dictionaries on the reading page, including four multilingual dictionaries, if you need to translate a word.

Popular Pages on English Corner:

English Corner: English grammar exercises, vocabulary games, reading exercises

Table of Contents

Reading Excerpts with Textual Gloss
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Each excerpt is taken from the readings below. By putting the cursor over an underlined word, you can see a definition of that word.
By clicking on the Related Audio button, you can see a list of audio selections related to the readings.
Audio selections related to readings


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Poems with Textual Gloss
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Difficult words in each poem are glossed. By putting the cursor over an underlined word, you can see a definition of that word at the top of the page.

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Readings with True/False Quiz
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Each exercise consists of a timed reading and a quiz.

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Readings with Multiple Choice Quiz
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Each exercise consists of a reading and a quiz.

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Story-Building Exercises
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These exercises contain fragments of sentences which you have to put in the correct order to make a complete story.

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Text Reconstruction Exercises
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In these exercises all the letters have been replaced by asterisks. You must guess each word. If your word appears in the story, it will appear in the text. You can also press "Hint" to get only one letter at a time. The fewer incorrect answers, the higher your score. It is easier to do these exercises if you do the exercise in Story-Building format (above) first.

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Cloze Exercises
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Fill in the blanks in a reading with the missing words.

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Online Dictionaries
ECTACO Electronic Dictionary

   Into English
   From English

© Ectaco, Inc

Babylon affiliates

Reading: English reading activities and links for ESL/EFL students

Saturday, 9 May 2015

in/equality - the pay gap - part 3

We've looked at whether equality or inequality when it comes to people's income is a 'good thing':
Jay Doubleyou: in/equality - the pay gap

And we've looked at the pay gap between men and women:
Jay Doubleyou: in/equality - the pay gap - part two

How does all of this effect society?

Some would say that inequality is actually bad for the economy:
Revealed: how the wealth gap holds back economic growth | Business | The Guardian

These books and theories are not only being looked at by academics:

Why is Thomas Piketty's 700-page book a bestseller? | Money | The Guardian
Here’s an unlikely bestseller: A 700-page book on 21st century economics - The Washington Post Capital in the Twenty-First Century (9781491534656): Thomas Piketty, L.J. Ganser, Arthur Goldhammer: Books

THE SPIRIT LEVEL (short film) - YouTube
The Spirit Level: Britain's new theory of everything? - BBC News
The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone: Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett: 9780241954294: Books
The Spirit Level | The Equality Trust

OECD inequality report: how do different countries compare? | News | The Guardian

If you look at Scandinavia (and the Netherlands and Switzerland), things seem to be very attractive:
Scandinavia, the Crown of Civilisation:Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland
Why the Danes are the happiest people in the world -The official website of Denmark
Better live in Sweden than in the US: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
Maintaining Sweden's equal society - BBC News
Gender equality in Sweden |

Especially when it comes to children:

“More equal societies, such as Scandinavian countries, tend to do better.
Children's well-being not looking much rosier | Prevention Action
Inequality says more than wealth about children's well-being | Prevention Action

Although the UK has since risen up the scale:
UK rises up Unicef child well-being ranking - BBC News

But not everyone thinks Scandinavia is the best place on earth:
Why Scandinavia is not the model for global prosperity we should all pursue | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

And there was quite an argument over the 'Spirit Level' book:
The Spirit Level Delusion: 20 questions for Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett
The authors respond to questions about The Spirit Level's analysis | The Equality Trust

Here's a video of that debate:

Uploaded on Feb 2, 2011
Kate Pickett, Richard Wilkinson, Peter Saunders and Christopher Snowdon debate the influential book The Spirit Level and ask whether the benefits of egalitarianism can be statistically proven?

RSA Debates The Spirit Level - YouTube
Peter Saunders - Debunking the equality myth: A critique of 'The Spirit Level' - YouTube

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

"we need to insist on english as our language in this country."

A possible candidate for the US presidency
Bobby Jindal - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

has spoken about the status of English in the States:

“We need to insist on English as our language in this country. I have nothing against anybody who wants to come here to be an American. But if people don’t want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they’re really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities. What they’re really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat — what that threat is to us. If we don’t, we’re going to see a replica of what’s happening in Europe in America. We’re going to see our own ‘no go zones’ if we’re not serious about insisting on assimilation and integration.”

Governor Bobby Jindal: We Need to Insist on English as America's Language

This has generated quite a lot of controversy:

The 2010 census found that over 380,000 Louisianans speak another language besides English. This number, just to name a few, includes French (194,314), Spanish (108,189), Vietnamese (23,326), German (8,047), Chinese (5,732), Arabic (5,489), Italian (3,730), Tagalog (Philipino-3,335), Korean (2,402), and African Languages (2,2278).
But what about “Speak English or Get Out?”  Look, I’ll stay out of your face and you stay out of mine.  Don’t tell me what language I can or cannot speak.  I don’t need some government official telling me what to do.  If I want to go around speaking any foreign language, that’s my right as an American.  I will not voluntarily stand by and let some politician or Big Brother set the parameters as to how I can or cannot communicate.  When you tell me what language to speak, then you start down the path of telling me where I can speak, what I can speak, or whether I can even speak at all.
Bobby Jindal, don't tell me to speak English or leave America

Mind Your Own Business, Bobby Jindal
In a recent speech Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced “… we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans. … If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India” (The Hindu, January 16). He also argued that it’s entirely reasonable for nations to discriminate between would-be immigrants based on whether they want to “embrace their culture,” or “establish a separate culture within.”
The irony gets pretty thick if you remember — unlike Jindal — that English is the native language not of America, but of England. The dominant culture of America descends from people who came to this continent adamantly set on remaining, not English-Americans, but English. They didn’t assimilate into the Iroquois or Powhatan Confederacies or the Five Civilized Tribes, or adopt their languages. They exterminated or ethnically cleansed those cultures.
And the dominant status of English has been contested since the beginning. Aside from First Nations languages, New York had a Dutch-speaking population in the Hudson valley well into the 19th century. Likewise the Germans in western Pennsylvania and the French in northern Maine. Also bear in mind that expansion outside the US’s 1783 borders involved conquering peoples formerly under French, Spanish or Mexican rule and imposing English on them. Those big agribusiness plantations worked by “illegal immigrants” in California were previously haciendas seized by white magnates who colonized Mexican California, taking over the former patrons’ role of relying on peon labor.
The “melting pot” is just another example of the ethnic essentialism and state-constituted monolithic national identity that has spread throughout most of the world since Napoleonic times. The model of international law Europe adopted with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 assumed as a norm that every individual must be the subject of a single, unitary, sovereign nation-state.
Coupled with the rise of nationalism during the Napoleonic Wars, this norm was extended to include the requirement that every nation-state, ideally, have a single official ethnic identity. France became the official state of the ethnic French, Germany of ethnic Germans, etc. Everyone within the borders of a nation-state was to be assimilated into the dominant ethnicity and adopt its language. And that language, in the most extreme forms, was the official dialect (BBC Standard or American Network Standard English, Standard High German, Ile-de-France French, Standard Castilian, etc.).
In the 20th century, colonial Europe and America imposed the Westphalian nation-state as the official model for international law on a global level. In Africa this meant the European powers consolidated hundreds of minor principalities, confederacies and custom-based societies into 47 artificial multi-ethnic states. The Middle East is still living with the consequences of the artificial states the Allied victors carved the Ottoman Empire up into at Versailles.
The “English only” movement is especially clueless. In most places practical necessity is a far greater incentive to learn English than anything they can come up with. And people are generally pretty smart about learning whatever languages they need to to function in a society. Even when the kids of Hispanic immigrants — who speak fluent English — speak Spanish to each other, it’s a Spanglish that would make their grandmothers throw up their hands in horror. As for older first generation immigrants who have trouble learning English, they’re no different from the Polish and Italian-speaking grandparents many people fondly remember in Chicago, or the Norsk and German speakers Sinclair Lewis portrayed in Minnesota. And, psst — I hear there are some American occupation troops, and corporate personnel extracting other countries’ resources, who don’t learn the local languages either!
Jindal belongs to a party that’s big on telling government to get off our backs and mind its own business. I heartily agree. One of the first items on its agenda should be to stop trying to define our ethnic identities for us, or sticking its nose into which languages we choose to speak to each other.

Center for a Stateless Society » Mind Your Own Business, Bobby Jindal

Saturday, 2 May 2015

duolingo: free language-learning app

This is the latest app which is making an impact:


Learn Another Language During Your Commute with Duolingo

I live in the Boston area, which means (as for many) I have a decent commute to work every day. I hate fighting traffic in the car, so I make this commute by train. I’ve written in the past about why I started carrying a Kindle rather than an iPad on this commute, so that I could read without being distracted by email, Facebook, and so forth.
I still keep the Kindle for my commutes home, but recently I’ve taken up a new activity on my commutes to work—the language-learning app Duolingo, which is installed on my phone. I start my lessons while on the platform waiting for my train, and continue them until I reach my daily goal (which is for me 50 points, or five lessons). I’ve found this a stimulating way to spend some of my travel time, allowing me to expand—admittedly slightly—my language skills during time that might otherwise be spent playing Words with Friends.
There are certainly problems with Duolingo that you can find written about by language experts on the web. The app’s automatically-generated exercises aren’t always directly applicable to daily life in another country—indeed, sometimes the sentences border on the absurd (I’m not sure I will need to emphatically declare “That is not my bird!” in German or Italian). And certainly if you need to learn a language for sustained academic work, an app like Duolingo probably won’t get you there. But if you are looking for casual exposure to another language, perhaps before a brief trip, Duolingo may serve very well. I’ve honestly been impressed with how detailed the lessons get. The translation model Duolingo employs can be quite frustrating—there’s not a lot of “telling how to”; instead you learn by doing, failing, and doing again. But I do find that model works, and if I persist through a lesson I do actually figure out both vocabulary and structure.
How about you? Have you found a great app for learning another language (or another useful skill)? Do you have any other go-to activities for creating rewarding commutes?Tell us about your favorites in the comments.
Learn Another Language During Your Commute with Duolingo – ProfHacker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Learning the Duolingo – how one app speaks volumes for language learning

Around 70 million people have so far signed up to Duolingo – the app which applies the language of computers to help students learn a foreign language for free
Luis von Ahn shows off Duolingo on his iPhone.

 Luis von Ahn with the Duolingo app. Photograph: Photo: Max Herman/Demotix

Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist, can lay claim to a lifetime of achievements, but confessed earlier this year that a foreign language was missing from his CV.
During an online chat, the former Microsoft chairman and world’s richest man said he feels “pretty stupid” that learning a foreign language had eluded him.
In an attempt to tackle the problem, he rejected using some of his $79bn wealth to hire a private tutor. Instead he joined the 70 million people around the world who have logged on to Duolingo, the free online courses that aims to democratise the teaching of languages to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or laptop and an internet connection.
Launched in 2012, the app applies computer science to the teaching of English, French, Spanish and German – as well as other languages – by developing a “tree” of skills in which the user goes from one challenge to the next. The method has been curated by examining how thousands of users react to learning one skill, for example verbs, before another, such as adjectives, and finding the most beneficial.
Learning the Duolingo - how an app is speaking volumes | Business | The Guardian

Duolingo | Learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English for free
Duolingo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Published on Oct 28, 2013
Find out why Duolingo is the #1 way to learn Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.

Duolingo teaches you to read, write, listen and speak. And it's extremely effective. In fact, an independent study found that 34 hours on Duolingo are equal to a whole university semester.

Duolingo is also completely free. No annoying ads, no misleading in-app purchases, no subscription fees.

Duolingo: The Best Way to Learn a Language - YouTube