Monday, February 25, 2008

L3 English Podcasts (Listening Practice)

What is a podcast? A podcast is an audio file that you download from the Internet. After you download it, you can listen to it on your computer or on an MP3/portable music player (for example, an iPod or iRiver). You can subscribe to a podcast so that it is delivered to you automatically each day, just like a newspaper.

ESL Podcast is designed especially for people who are intermediate or advanced speakers of English, but want to improve their listening and speaking skills. We plan on providing a new podcast every day, Monday through Friday. The daily podcasts are always free.

There will be many different topics for our podcasts. We try to talk about topics that you will find interesting. All of our podcasts use “real English”—the normal, everyday English you will find among native speakers in the United States. ESL Podcast is not a textbook or a course. It is a way to listen to real native speakers talking as they do everyday in English. ESL Podcast tries to provide you with English you can understand. We speak at a slightly slower rate, but always use normal, native speaker English to help you improve.

There are two parts to every podcast: After a brief introduction, there is a discussion or dialog of the topic of the day. This usually lasts 3-6 minutes. In part 2, there is an explanation of the vocabulary and expressions used during part 1. We explain how certain words and phrases are used by native speakers, including both formal and informal expressions. All of the voices you will hear on ESL Podcast will be native speakers. We suggest that you listen to the entire podcast at least once, and then re-listen to Part 1.

ESL Podcast is currently produced by a team of volunteers. It is a production of the Center for Educational Development, in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Jeff McQuillan, who is the host of ESL Podcast, has been teaching English as a Second Language for many years both in the United States and in other countries. He received his Ph.D., his doctorate, in applied linguistics from the University of Southern California. He taught as a university professor for several years in California and Arizona, and he has written many articles and books on teaching English.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Will Pearson: London Panoramic Photographer

Will Pearson is a London-based panoramic photographer. He has been taking panoramic photographs, stereographic images and virtual tours for more than a decade - both in London and around the world. His photography encompasses architechural shots showcasing sculpted lines and dynamic buildings to the wild landscapes of Andalucía and windswept Cornish beaches.

His panoramas and virtual tours have been showcased in the press, and the stills have been exhibited in various spaces in London. He is frequently commissioned to take panoramic photographs to be reproduced at large-scale, often more than 2 or 3 metres long.

You can see examples of Will's panoramas, full-screen virtual tours and stereographic images by clicking on his online gallery. Although panoramas naturally lend themselves to architectural projects and landscape, Will Pearson has always tried to push the medium further. His portfolio includes fashion shoots showcasing a collection of fetish wear and reportage style shots taking panoramas of the anti-war demonstrations in London.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hell Explained :)

The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term exam. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)? Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.
One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So, we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you", and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that, since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is, therefore, extinct... leaving only Heaven... thereby proving the existence of a divine being, which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh, my God!"


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Censored: One cheeky Venus

Louis Wise
The Guardian
February 14, 2008

If you're wondering what the Royal Academy's next show is, you may have to search harder than usual. That's because the RA's forthcoming Cranach exhibition - showcasing the work of Lucas Cranach the Elder, key German Renaissance painter and friend to Martin Luther - has had its posters vetoed by the London Underground authorities. The reason? The painting being used represents Venus, goddess of love. Naked.

And she's not just slightly undressed: strange as this is to say about an early Renaissance painting, Cranach's Venus is "full frontal", happily standing face-on with a wispy see-through veil as her only covering. But that's as much as you can use today's porn-tinged vocabulary to describe what's going on here - since if she looks cheeky, alluring, you'd have to be quite eager to describe her as indecent. Still, it's enough for the Underground authorities to ban her.

Apparently, in order to not offend customers, Tube advertising must not "depict men, women or children in a sexual manner, or display nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context". I never quite believe it when I hear that we are living in a more retrograde, conservative age, despite various "Nipplegates" suggesting it; but this does seem to take the biscuit. Since when does nudity automatically mean impropriety?

Assuming, of course, that sexual matter is immediately inappropriate; but I can accept that some sexual content can be too much for your average commuter, especially the very young ones. In other words, if this had been one of Egon Schiele's more explicit nudes, or some vintage Robert Mapplethorpe , I could maybe understand it, though it would make me a little sad; but this vetoing of what is a delicate, intelligent, sensuous picture, by no means abrasive, seems a real shame. It's the equivalent of Victorians painting fig leaves over those Adams and Eves they couldn't quite stomach. And if Cranach's nudes didn't prevent his friendship with Martin Luther - hardly a slouch in the morality department, what with the Reformation and all - you wonder if they are really, truly, inappropriate now.

It's also sad because this Venus would be a dose of fresh air for London's travellers. London Underground may like to consider that as its clients enjoy its vetted posters, they will still be bombarded by all kinds of adverts and freesheets promising perfect bodies, or disparaging the imperfect ones, as they go about their day. They'll have probably encountered nudity - or more importantly here, sexual imagery - by the time they reach the bottom of the escalator, let alone get onto the platform.

Cranach's Venus, with her curvy tummy, small breasts, and pinched face, represents a different ideal of beauty to the one we are subjected to today - and if you can't necessarily claim one is more "natural" than the other (painters, after all, have always tended towards some unrealistic kind of female beauty, be it pneumatic or not), it's nice to get a different perspective. I have no doubt that a little bit of a frisson was at the back of the RA's mind when they chose this picture for the poster - which museum can afford to ignore sex appeal these days? - but really, in what kind of a society does a frisson require censorship?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Si no hubiera cine español


A tenor de los últimos artículos publicados, parece que este diario también ha decidido sumarse a este pimpampum contra el cine español tan recurrente. Ya estamos acostumbrados a las diatribas [de algún periódico] contra los proetarras del cine, al señor de la radio episcopal y su boicot a los "titiriteros-pancarteros-rojerío-millonario", a ese autor de best sellers que nos describe siempre que puede como envidiosos, insolidarios y cutres, o a esos programas de televisión "informativos" que nunca hablan de cine sino de subvenciones, sin llegar a explicar nunca en qué consisten. Ahora hemos leído también en este periódico un malintencionado editorial (El Acento, hace unos días) en el que, por criticar, se criticaba incluso que la película por la que Bardem está nominado al Oscar no es española... Dentro de nada a Bardem lo habrán descubierto los Coen.
Pero de nuevo se insiste en otro artículo aparecido el viernes 1 de febrero en la recaudación de las películas para volver, por millonésima vez, a hacer un retrato triste y deprimente del cine español. Otra vez, un mal año significa un mal cine. En cambio, se olvidan de mencionar que también ha sido un año de incertidumbre en el que se ha debatido encarnizadamente la ley de cine, un año en el que las televisiones no han escatimado críticas, insultos y amenazas para defender su derecho a saltarse la directiva comunitaria que las obliga a invertir en cine el 5% de sus ingresos.
A los del cine se nos exige, entre otras cosas, autocrítica. ¿Podemos hacerlo mejor? Por supuesto que sí. Muchísimo mejor. Y también podemos incluso dejar de hacerlo. Porque entre unos y otros se va allanando el camino para que el cine español deje, definitivamente, de estorbar. ¿Pero a quién? ¿Qué se ganaría si desaparece? El espectador, ese 13 o 14% que ve nuestro cine, perdería. No más Volver, no más La comunidad, no más Lunes al sol, ni tantas otras películas. El que va esporádicamente, también. No habría, por ejemplo, un orfanato, ni un Los otros.
El contribuyente, ese que pone de su dinero para que los vagos del cine hagamos churros, no se enteraría, en su bolsillo no sonaría ni un céntimo más. Se perdería, eso sí, un escaparate de nuestra cultura, de nuestra lengua, de nuestra forma de ver el mundo. Se perdería la ocasión de hacerlo mejor, de que se incorporen más mujeres, nuevos talentos, nuevos guionistas. Se perderían cientos de miles de puestos de trabajo y se ganarían pantallas para el cine de fuera.
El cine y la forma de acceder a él están cambiando. Películas medianas que hace unos años encontraban su público, ya no lo tienen. Las Mujeres en el parque, de Felipe Vega, 53 días de invierno, Yo, y otros títulos interesantes de este año apenas encuentran eco. Vemos el cine en la tele, en el móvil, en el ordenador. En este río revuelto, si el cine español dejara de hacerse sólo ganarían las televisiones, que ya no tendrían que invertir ese 5% que tanto les duele. Y nos quedaríamos, además de huérfanos de Fernán-Gómez, sin descendencia cinematográfica. Y tendríamos a Medem, Querejeta o Trueba dirigiendo las voces de Blanca Portillo o Belén Rueda en el doblaje de mediocridades norteamericanas escritas y dirigidas por gente que poco o nada tiene que ver con nosotros.
Si queremos que siga existiendo una cinematografía nacional construyamos, no destruyamos. Déjennos trabajar sin estar constantemente bajo sospecha, bajo la lupa y bajo el peso de un desprestigio que apoyado a menudo en la desinformación va calando en forma de prejuicio como un chirimiri en el espectador.
(El País, 07/02/2008)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Dictations online

Native speaker dictations, FREE online at!
Choose your English dictation from a large selection. You'll hear it read four times: first, the whole passage is read at normal speed for you to listen for gist; second, each phrase is read slowly twice, with punctuation, as you write; then the whole passage is read again for you to check your work; finally, the written text is shown - count your mistakes. This is good practice for your exam.
Also, here are some other links to web pages where you might find some good listening practice: