The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

TED’s 30th anniversary + TOP 10 moments for women in TED

The article below was published on Glamour, March 5th 2014. Here it goes:

Today, TED announced that Charmian Gooch, an anti-corruption activist who cofounded the watchdog organization Global Witness, is this year’s winner of the $1 million TED Prize. (Gooch will explain on March 18 how, specifically, she will use the money to make her “wish” for the world a reality.) You can watch her incredible TED talk—and read through her detailed annotations—on ted.com. But that’s just one of many TED talks given by women that have inspired us. To celebrate Gooch’s win, and TED’s 30th anniversary (yes, TED turns 30 this year!), we asked Anna Verghese, deputy director of the TED Prize, to curate the top 10 moments for women in TED that we all need to see.

TED-Prize-Charmian-Gooch-Anna-Verghese
2014 TED Prize Winner Charmian Gooch (left), and TED Prize Deputy Director Anna Verghese (right)

“There are now more than 1,700 TED talks—”ideas worth spreading”—available online, many of them by badass women,” Verghese told Glamour. “I’m honored to make recommendations of just 10 of the many talks, from scientists to artists, writers to leaders, that have made me feel smarter and more prepared to take on the world in just 18 minutes or less.” Watch a few to get through the afternoon slump at work, or take ’em all in later. We guarantee you’ll be inspired!

Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders 


“This is the talk that preceded [Lean In],” says Verghese. “[It’s] a great, unconventional, persuasive take on the way that women take themselves out of the running for leadership positions.”

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story


“The young Nigerian author gives a beautiful, elegant, and at times hilarious talk about the danger of believing a single, narrow story about anything or anyone,” says Verghese. “My favorite anecdote: When she arrived at college in the U.S., her roommate asked to hear some of her ‘tribal music.’ Chimamanda pulled out a Mariah Carey CD.”

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


“An essential talk for all young women! Cuddy is a psychologist and Harvard Business School professor who explains how our posture and body language shape not only how others see us but how we see ourselves,” says Verghese.

Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

“The Nobel Prize winner from Liberia shares powerful stories about the unlocked potential of girls worldwide, who are still far from [being] treated as equal citizens,” says Verghese.

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

“This blockbuster talk came out of one of our TEDx events in Houston,” says Verghese. “Brené’s take on vulnerability—and why it’s essential to our relationships and to our success—has won her millions of fans worldwide.”

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius


“The author of Eat, Pray, Love offers unconventional advice on how to nurture your own creativity,” says Verghese. “Her advice: Take some pressure off yourself, but never stop creating.”

Courtney Martin: Reinventing Feminism


“A beautifully heartfelt talk, she describes the three paradoxes that define her generation’s question to define the term [feminism] for themselves,” says Verghese.

Angela Patton: A Father-Daughter Dance…in Prison


“The is the amazing and moving story of a group of preteen girls who organized a father-daughter dance in the prison where their fathers were incarcerated,” says Verghese. “I wept.”

Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight 


“Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who observed her own stroke as it was happening. This is one of the most popular TED talks of all time,” says Verghese.

Cynthia Breazeal: The Rise of Personal Robots

This MIT professor “talks about her love of robots—which began when she saw Star Wars as a girl (R2D2!)—and new kind of intelligent, personal robots she designs,” says Verghese.

Did any of your favorite TED talks by women not make this list? Do you love one of the talks Verghese selected? Share your top picks in the comments below!
Photos: James Duncan Davidson (Gooch); Mike Femia (Verghese); videos courtesy of TED

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ GLOBAL, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, ■ Women

Shh…tresss

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

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Kelly McGonigal interviewd by TED Blog (January 8th, 2014)

The Science of Willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do to improve it. (We also asked her about today’s talk — Why dieting doesn’t usually work.) Below, an edited transcript of the conversation.

First question: why is willpower such a struggle?

It’s a great question. I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

The reason that so many things can trigger that kind of conflict is because that’s the essence of human nature. Modern cognitive neuroscientists see this as the fundamental structure of the human brain — that there are competing systems that think about the world differently and that respond to challenges differently. I think of it as: the immediate self versus the future self. We need both systems for survival.  But a lot of our modern challenges really tempt us to be in the mind-state of immediate gratification, or escaping immediate discomfort. It can be quite a challenge to access the part of you who is willing to take that big picture and tolerate temporary discomfort.

So, given this idea of two competing selves who want different things, how effective are New Year’s resolutions for tapping into the ability to think long-term?

I think it depends on how you go about making your New Year’s resolution. Typically, when people are making a New Year’s resolution, they don’t start with the right questions, so they end up making a resolution that is ineffective. Most people start with the question: “What should I do?” It may not even be a conscious, implicit kind of thing, but they start from: “What do I criticize about myself that it’s time to change?” Or “what is it that I don’t really want to do that I know I should do?” It’s kind of a typical self-improvement perspective. “I don’t really like exercise, I guess I should do it.” Or “my closet is a mess, it’s time to get organized.” “I’ve never had a clean desk in my life, but I think that good people have clean desks, so this is the year I’m going to have one.”

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

The kind of New Year’s resolution that works is when you start really slowing down and asking yourself what you want for yourself and your life in the next year. What is it that you want to offer the world? Who do you want to be, what do you want more of in your life? And then asking: “How might I get there? What would create that as a consequence?” When you start from that point of view, then New Year’s resolutions can be incredibly effective. They begin to turn your attention to choice points in your everyday life where there really are opportunities to align your energy and attention in the direction that matters to you. I think most people start from the choice points, without wondering whether this is even the right thing to be choosing. People get to the behaviors too soon, in my opinion.

Any tips for how to find those big things and then narrow them down to specific resolutions?

A very practical way is to ask: At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

I was just doing a radio interview at one of the NPR stations in New York, and I was chatting with the studio producer. I asked her if she had any New Year’s resolutions, and she’s like, “Oh yeah — to stay fit.” She sounded so not enthusiastic. Then after a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’m kind of thinking about finding a way to play the piano again.” She was lighting up a little more. “It used to be so important to me, and I really miss it. It’s like my soul wants to play the piano again, and it would be giving it back to my soul.” And I’m like, “That’s your resolution! What is this getting fit stuff?”

By the way, you can spend the first week [of the year] looking around. One year my resolution was to focus on being a better mentor, and to look for ways in every professional relationship to do that. You start looking around, and you see every conversation as an opportunity to choose that value and move toward that goal. Just spend a week saying, “If what matters is improving my health, if what matters is spending more time with my family, if what matters is reconnecting to creativity, what choices do I make every day that either could get me closer to that?”

So on those things you feel like you should be doing — the going to the gym or the quitting smoking — is there a way to build your willpower towards those things?

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit. If it’s exercising, you should be doing it with a family member, a friend, a co-worker. Or sign up for a series of classes after work. Because then, it’s like a bigger pool of possible willpower. If you’re exhausted after work, and you normally would say, “Screw it, I’m going home,” if there’s somebody who is going to meet you in your office, and say, “Hey, aren’t we going for a walk now?,” it doesn’t matter if you feel like it in that moment. There’s going to be a bigger pool of motivation that will support you through when you’re feeling most exhausted or least motivated.

Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.

Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet. I wrote a review paper about two years ago showing that you can get pretty much the same health benefits from doing 5 to 15 minutes of exercise a day as from an hour. There are a lot of things like that, where we think, “I won’t get my novel done unless I can put aside a whole weekend to write.” Well, you could create a novel in a paragraph a day. So I encourage people to think: what’s the smallest step that they could take that is consistent with their goal? And not necessarily worry about whether they believe it’s sufficient.

That is actually very freeing.

New Year’s resolutions can be fun! If you think of them like a science experiment, you can always learn something from a resolution.  A lot of times, people aren’t willing to learn the lesson — and sometimes the lesson is that you think you want to change this, but you don’t really want to, and sometimes you don’t need to. That sometimes we look for the things we think we can control.

It’s funny how this happens sometimes even when we go after the things that really are core to our identity. I did this New Year’s resolution makeover once with this woman who had made the same resolution year after year to become a better cook, because she thought that’s what good moms and good wives did. She was a terrible cook, and she didn’t want to learn how to cook. That’s a mistake people make, is they think they’re just going to fundamentally change who they are with a resolution. “I’m going to become a morning person.” “I’m going to become a health nut.” “I’m going to become organized.” The best resolutions are ones that strengthen something you already are, but you may not have been fully investing in.

Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourselfDerek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself I wanted to ask about the idea of working with other people and outsourcing willpower. Have you ever seen Derek Sivers’ talk on TED.com? It’s called Keep your goals to yourself and it suggests that people are more likely to achieve goals if they keep them private.

There is some data that suggests you might feel like you have accomplished your goal if you can create a public identity as somebody who is pursuing that goal. And I have overwhelming feedback from my students in my Science of Willpower class that, if they actually can truly create the identity — that they really sense that “I am someone that trained for a marathon,” or “I am somebody who is committed to this” — that it actually makes it easier to make choices.

People are really interested in creating habits, and there’s so much excitement now about habit design. Habits are really, really hard to create because they require complete automaticity. You need to basically be making choices in the absence of any motivation and it takes a long time to get that in place. But when you have a value or commitment, that’s something different. It can be a conscious choice that when you’re in a restaurant — if your identity is as somebody who takes good care of your health — then that becomes a default way to make a good choice in that moment. Anything that you do to create that identity can actually make it easier to make choices that don’t feel like deprivation.

That’s one side of that research. Then there’s the whole other side of how social support and pride can support having more strength to move towards your goals. If you know that other people are paying attention to you, and you know that you’re going to be able to celebrate your success — you’re going to be able to post on Facebook that you actually did run that marathon, or even that you just made it to spin class, or whatever your version of that is — that anticipating that social sharing is very motivating for people. It’s more motivating than even success in itself. The self-savoring is not as motivating as knowing you’re going to be able to savor a success with somebody else. Then when you hit the wall — when you experience setbacks — social support encouragement is also so important for getting back on track.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

Sandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn't usually workSandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn’t usually work And did you see Sandra Aamodt’s talk, Why dieting doesn’t usually work?

Yes! My talk was right after hers at TEDGlobal 2013. I remember basically agreeing with everything she said.

So her idea — that the brain seeks to keep weight stable over the long-run, and so dieting can often backfire because it makes a person so focused on food — fit with the research you’ve looked at on willpower?

There are two things she said that really stood out to me, and that I agree with very seriously. One was that she talked about the importance of being kind to yourself. She made the point that self-compassion is much more motivating than self-criticism. That’s very important. When I first started teaching the Science of Willpower, it was the thing nobody believed — researchers and psychologists and writers have done a great job of getting this message out, because I don’t get near the resistance I used to get to the idea. And still, it’s so amazing how many people believe that they are more motivated by self-criticism and shame than anything else. They aren’t really paying attention to the effect on their behavior and choices when they are that hard on themselves.

The other thing I remember Sandra saying was about the futility of trying to lose weight. And that’s absolutely right. Whenever I’m in any situation where people are asking me to talk about losing weight, I always try to change the language to creating health because you cannot control weight. It’s exactly what Sandra said — the brain and the body, they will fight you. Losing weight is almost always a consequence of making good choices — but it’s not always a consequence. You can make good choices and not lose the weight. The most important thing in Sandra’s talk was the idea that making the healthy choices is going to give you the consequence of health, even if you don’t lose the weight.

She showed a really interesting graph of four health factors — eating fruits and vegetables, exercise three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation — and how, if people who are overweight do just one of those things, their risk of mortality lowers to the same level as a normal weight person.

I hope TED has more talks from obesity experts, because nobody knows this research about how weight doesn’t predict health. There’s so much important science out there that people are not paying attention to. That was my favorite part of her talk.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friendKelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend To bring it back to your TED Talk, How to make stress your friend, it sounds to me like what you’re saying about willpower is related — that it’s not so much whether you have willpower, but how you think about willpower.

I’ve been joking about that — that my work has always been to basically take an inner experience that people reject, force them to accept it and understand it, so that they can make peace with it. One of the reasons why I teach this Science of Willpower class and wrote the book is because I kept hearing from people that they felt like they had no willpower. They thought they were the only ones and that their willpower struggle was uniquely wrong with them — they were so lazy, they were so stupid, they were so hopeless. They didn’t understand the fact that we all experience willpower challenges. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It is similar to the way that I’m now trying to help people appreciate stress, and understand that this is human and that it can help us. It’s not always helpful, but there are aspects to it that, when we can make friends with it, we have a lot better chance of using it to good ends. I feel the same way about willpower. When you understand what a craving is and why it’s there, you can also appreciate the part of you who can make a different choice.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

That’s very similar to stress. If you think you can’t feel stress and that stress is always going to be toxic, you’re magnifying any of the toxic aspects of stress. By fighting stress, you’re making stress worse.

So, make friends with the fact that you can move towards goals that are really important to you?

Yes. Willpower is about being able to hold opposites. So I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives people willpower over time.

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ Stress, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

TED Talks Pinned: Speaking of HapPINness

Recipes for feeling happy? Browse through the talks & sites below and decide what suits you best.

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■ Stay in the moment

About Matt Killingsworth’s TEDTalk

When are humans most happy? To answer this question, researcher Matt Killingsworth built an app, Track Your Happiness, that let people report their feelings in real time. Among the results: We’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment.

About Matt Killingsworth

Researcher Matt Killingsworth designs studies that gather data on happiness. While doing his Ph.D. research at Harvard, Killingsworth invented the Track Your Happiness app.

He’s now a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar examining such topics as the relationship between happiness and the content of everyday experiences, the percentage of everyday experiences that are intrinsically valuable, and the degree of congruence between the causes of momentary happiness and of one’s overall satisfaction with life.

Web Resources

Related TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert on “The Surprising Science of Happiness”

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■ Slowing Down

About Carl Honoré’s TEDTalk

Journalist Carl Honoré believes our society’s emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there’s a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their modern lives.

About Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré is the author of In Praise of Slowness, which dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten to slow down. Honoré is an advocate of the Slow Movement, an effort by those all over the world to decelerate the pace of their lives, with everything from “slow cities” to “slow food.” He’s also the author of the book Under Pressure.

Web Resources

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■ Less = HappIer

About Graham Hill’s TEDTalk

Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? Writer Graham Hill makes the case for taking up less space.

About Graham Hill

Graham Hill is the CEO of LifeEdited, which works with developers to market buildings that embody small space living. Hill is also the founder of TreeHugger.com, which aims to push sustainability into the mainstream with a design-forward style.

Web Resources

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■ Misfortunes, Stops on the Road to Happiness

About Dan Gilbert’s TEDTalk

We’re doomed to be miserable if we don’t get what we want — right? Not quite, says psychologist Dan Gilbert. He says our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

About Dan Gilbert

Psychologist Dan Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where he runs the Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He’s the author of Stumbling on Happiness. In the book, Gilbert argues that our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes, Gilbert says, our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy.

Web Resources

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Be Grateful

About David Steindl-Rast’s TEDTalk

We all want to be happy, says David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

About David Steindl-Rast

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who writes about gratefulness. Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing.

He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground We Share, a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. His other books include GratefulnessThe Heart of Prayer and Deeper Than Words. His most recent book is 99 Blessings. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org.

■ ■ ■ Source

■ ■ ■ Links to be added

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ How to Live, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

1, 2, 3, Think, Read, Speak!!!

Like most students, Millenials or otherwise, mine love to stay current & be able to discuss the latest trends, so here’s a Think & Read three-pack I came up with to help the discussion flow & connect present to future technologically as well as linguistically. The texts below are taken from Content Loop, one of our latest favourites here at the ELB.

Have a fab Feb and keep your mind well fed with valuable information!

(Further reading suggested:

click the numbers pics 4 extra reads on senses, skating & L o V e <3.)

1

No.

 THINK about your TOP 3 most annoying habits people have connected with technology in your opinion (like spending time checking the phone during face-to-face meetings) and think of ways people should/could change those habits.
READ this article on technology etiquette for the emerging generation, write down any tricky words, phrases & questions you might have for further discussion.

2

 No.THINK about the specific traits of our generation, the Millennials. (In what ways are we different from other generations?)
READ this article on  how to grab the attention of Millenials via email and compare your ideas against the ideas presented in the text. Would you read mails written in the styles suggested in the text? Which style(s) would you find more appealing? Why? Why not? Be ready to speak your mind on the issues you find most relevant to you, your life & living today.

 3

No.THINK about the type of content/topics/styles/genres you like to read about and describe it/them briefly. Then try to analyse why  you are attracted to these types of content?
READ this text about the link between viral content and emotional intelligence. What do you agree and disagree with, and why?

Filed under: 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, ■ Communicate, ■ CONTENT LOOP, ■ Generations, ■ Inspiration, ■ Physics, ■ Relation ships, ■ Science & Technology, ■ Technology & Our Generation, ■ The W W WEB, ■ The World, ■ Thinking Space

Teacher’s Homework – [1.] A Matter of Taste

Saltwater Taffy

Oh, yes, believe it or not, teachers also have homework, and yes, it is homework they mostly give themselves after getting inspiration from their students. My homework today is, as the title hints, a matter of taste, and I would like  to start with one of the five, namely the sweet taste. This post comes with a warning for all of you out there with a sweet tooth.

It all started from the innocent little word chew, plural chews, the category of sweets which includes candy like Toffee and the traditionally American Saltwater Taffy. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with my topic, so I’ll reveal the red thread that led me to the “candy store online archives”, on the world wide web.

Without further ado, let’s click to find out:

Kitchen Utensils 1

1. Why is it called Saltwater Taffy?

2. How is Saltwater Taffy made?

Kitchen Utensils 2

3. Which utensils are essential for baking something sweet in my own kitchen?  

4. Where can I listen to and learn from great cooks about the art of baking?

Kitchen Utensils 3

5. How about an apple cake?   Sounds easy when you hear Deb Perelman pull up her sleeves and get on to baking it on this BBC podcastDeb's Apple Cake

6. Who is Deb Perelman and what connects her to the Smitten Kitchen?

7. Where can I find some pics of the best British sweets? The Telegraph has the answer

8. What about some traditional American treats? Or top 10 desserts?

9. Mmm… and Polish ones? Polish Krowki - Milk Toffee Candy

10. …Or RomanianSavarina

Oh, my, and this is just the beginning…  The rest coming up soon!

Adios, everyone!

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ BBC, ■ Cooking, ■ England, ■ Podcasts, ■ Poland, ■ Radio Shows, ■ Romania, ■ Taste, ■ The Telegraph, ■ USA, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

22 Animals Who’ve Been Hiding Out In The London Underground Map

Here’s a re-post from Buzzfeed by Robin Edds.

Finding animalsontheundeground will be your new favourite commuting pastime.

1. Barking the Dog.

Barking the Dog.

2. Elephant & Castle the Elephant.

Elephant & Castle the Elephant.

3. Angel the Angel Fish.

Angel the Angel Fish.

4. Hounslow West the Hound.

Hounslow West the Hound.

5. Perivale the Penguin.

Perivale the Penguin.

6. Oxford Circus the Ox.

Oxford Circus the Ox.

7. Whitechapel the Polar Bear.

Whitechapel the Polar Bear.

8. Caledonian Road the Reindeer.

Caledonian Road the Reindeer.

9. Queen’s Park the Cat.

Queen's Park the Cat.

10. Hornchurch the Rhino.

Hornchurch the Rhino.

11. Mudchute the Snail.

Mudchute the Snail.

12. Bayswater the Turtle.

Bayswater the Turtle.

13. Wapping the Bottlenose Whale.

Wapping the Bottlenose Whale.

14. Woodside Park the Woodpecker.

Woodside Park the Woodpecker.

15. Hounslow Central the Puppy.

Hounslow Central the Puppy.

16. Tufnell Park the Fox.

Tufnell Park the Fox.

17. Canada Water the Goose.

Canada Water the Goose.

18. Finsbury Park the Seal.

Finsbury Park the Seal.

19. Upney the Wallaby.

Upney the Wallaby.

20. Waterloo the Sperm Whale.

Waterloo the Sperm Whale.

21. Rotherhithe the Flamingo.

Rotherhithe the Flamingo.

22. Tooting Bec the Toucan.

Tooting Bec the Toucan.

You can find a whole host of animalsontheunderground products atanimalsontheunderground.com/shop.

Filed under: ■ Maps @ Play, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Congratulations Are in Order! David Crystal is Going Global

This post is dedicated to David Crystal, who has recently inaugurated his brand new website.

Here is the story behind it, in the great man’s own words.

The pregnancy is over. The conception was nine months ago, and I have been observing the slow but steady progress of the foetal website ever since. Yesterday and today saw its birth – two days because of the time it takes for the server to point everything in the new direction. This post is the equivalent of a birth announcement, except there is no gender or weight. You will find the baby here.

And also a response to a few correspondents who have asked me why a new site was needed. The motivation was actually the idea which became the Crystal Books Project, a feature of the new site. I am frequently asked for ways of obtaining some of my books which have gone out of print, and there was no easy solution. So the CBP is a way of solving that problem. The intention is to make available, in electronic form, my out-of-print back list. It will take a while for them all to get up there, because in the case of the older books they have to be rekeyed. No convenient electronic files in the 1960s – or even the 80s. Indeed, in the case of one of my books, published in 1976, I see that my first draft is entirely in handwriting – something I find inconceivable now!

The first few books are now available, in e-book form, and will shortly also be available as pdfs and as print-on-demand copies. The publishing firm that has provided the platform for the website, Librios, is exploring the best options as I write. Four e-books are now ready: the two Language A-to-Z books for schools (student and teacher book), which went out of print about 15 years ago; the Penguin book Language Play, which went o/p in the UK somewhere around 2005; and Words on Words, the anthology of language quotations, which went o/p at more or less the same time. All have a search function added, in their e-book incarnations.

 There is a complete bibliographical listing of books and articles on the new website, as there was on the old one, but with better search facilities. One can now order searches by title or by publication date. And there is a more sophisticated range of filters – for example, one can search for Shakespeare + books, or Shakespeare + articles, and so on. We’ll be refining the filter list in the light of experience.

You’ll notice that most of the articles are downloadable. The ones that aren’t are those I don’t have a copy of. So, if anyone ‘out there’ notices a missing download and realises they have a copy of it, would they let me know? We can then arrange a way of getting the text online?

And with a new website comes new e-publishing opportunities. I haven’t used the medium in this way myself yet, but I do have in mind some projects which simply would not work in traditional publishing terms, but which would suit an electronic medium. More on this in due course. In the meantime, Hilary Crystal has chosen e-publication for her first children’s novel, The Memors, and that is available on the site too. This is a techno-fantasy tale aimed chiefly at that awkward-to-write-for group, the 10-14-year-olds, or tweenagers, as they are so often called these days. This is very much an experiment on our part. For it to work, the news of the new product needs to travel. So, if readers of this blog have tweenage contacts, do tell them about it.

… which is what we proudly did! 🙂

Filed under: 9►EXTRA, ■ Books, ■ Celebrations, ■ David Crystal, ■ Generations, ■ GLOBAL, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Brain Plasticity and Empathy, Dealing With “The Impossible” and Other Thoughts

Imagine  A number of documentaries I watched recently on BBC Knowledge and Discovery have led me to an interesting net-surfing experience, in search of more info on two topics that I, among many others, find absolutely fascinating: the plasticity of the human brain – its causes and effects, as well as its connections with feelings like empathy. Listed below you will find some interesting links and quotes I came across during my search. Feel free to add to it any other sources/ links you consider of relevance.

1.  You can watch a short video on the BBC Virtual Revolution Blog from 2009, in which Baroness Susan Greenfield approaches the question: Is the web changing us? The transcript is available on the site. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important issues I think, as well as the good thing about IQ going up, is the issue of risk. Obama said that the current financial crisis is attributable in part to greed and recklessness. Now greed are recklessness occur as part of something called a frontal syndrome, when the frontal part of the brain is less active in various conditions.
Could it be – and also this frontal part of the brain only comes on stream in late teenage years – could it be, given the brain is so obliging in the way it adapts, that if you’re putting it in a situation where you are living for the moment in a rather infant-like way with lots of sensory experiences, that that could be being changed? And I think that’s one of the things that would be very interesting to look at.
My final issue is identity, and it does stun me, Twitter for example, where the banality of some of the things that people feel they need to transmit to other human beings. Now what does this say about how you see yourself? Does this say anything about how secure you feel about yourself? Is it not marginally reminiscent of a small child saying “Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I’ve put my sock on. Now I’ve got my other sock on,” you know? And I’m just being neutral here, I’m just asking questions, right… What does this say about you as a person?

2. On Top Documentary Films you can read about and watch for free brilliant documentaries. Take another great series by the same insightful Susan Greenfield, called Brain Story.

The greatest numbers of documentaries on this site belong to the categories of Science (350) and Society (304). However, these are only 2 of the 25 categories you can browse, so plenty of resources to delve into.

3.  On the topic of visual illusions, I think it is safe to presume that we all prefer and appreciate watching well-produced special effects in pretty much any kind of movie. The quality of the special effects in a science fiction movie is, for instance, what makes the difference between an A and a B movie  for meHollywood award ceremonies never fail to highlight the best special effects in movies on a regular basis. This being said, I was surprised to find out that Harvard University also has an awarding ceremony called: “The Best Illusion of the Year Contest”! 🙂

Here‘s the winning illusion for 2011. The effect is called  “silencing by motion” and its source is Professor Michael Bach’s “Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena”.  

Click this link to visit Professor Bach’s site and get access to 101 such illusions and phenomena. 

4. The link up next leads to a 2012 scientific research study from the biannual journal Essays in Philosophy  whose intriguing title instantly caught my eye: “On Being Stereoblind in an Era of 3D Movies”, by Cynthia Freeland. Put on a scientist’s hat, or any other kind that is comfortable and feel free to investigate its content.

5.  Can we adapt to unimaginable situations? How does our brain deal with catastrophes beyond our worst nightmares? The Impossible - UK Poster Such questions are the subject of a movie that reached the Polish cinemas this month and that I warmly recommend, called The Impossible (2102).

You can read about the real story that inspired the movie in this article from The Mirror: “Seemingly impossible: Miracle survival of family who inspired new tsunami movie”.

Last but not least on today’s list, the following article from the Health section of the Times investigating “How Disasters and Trauma Can Affect Children’s Empathy” can be placed in the same category of the effects that surviving catastrophes can have on the human brain and the human behaviour – in this particular case, on kids aged 6, 9, and 12. I selected below some of the findings of the studies discussed in the article. 

“There are developmental differences in empathy,[…] and younger children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as older ones because the prefrontal regions in the brain responsible for such control are less mature. Faced with extreme stress, their self-regulation capacities regress even further. “Adverse events appear to cause six-year-olds to revert back to selfish ways typical of early childhood,” the authors write. Even in situations with less tragic consequences, but which are nonetheless stressful, such as living through a divorce, or getting lost in a public place, many children may resort to more immature tendencies.

By age nine, however, most youngsters have mature enough brains to not only recognize the feelings of others, but to try to mitigate bad ones. Their increased altruism during distress reflects what has been seen in many disasters, from man-made ones such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. […]

While the results support the intuitive sense that the personal experience of pain can increase compassion, there are cases when it can have the opposite effect. Indeed, research shows that if suffering occurs too early in life, when young brains are not equipped to process the experience, or if the pain is too overwhelming, it can make people less sensitive and more focused on self-preservation, such as often occurs in cases of child abuse and neglect. “Painful experiences may increase empathy and care, provided that one can regulate one’s own emotion,” Decety says. The findings suggest that our social and biological structures may be biased toward cooperation and empathy for others: “Without caring for others, we would not survive as a species,” he says.

It would be interesting to compare the findings of this article with the development of Lucas, one of the heroes in The Impossible, who is only 10, in the face of the sixth deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, the 2004 tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, affecting Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives and killing nearly 300 000 people. The earthquake which caused the tsunami was the 3rd largest in recorded history measuring a magnitude of 9.19.3

Compared to being caught right in the middle of it,  it is much easier to make sense of “the impossible” from a desk in the living-room or from a cinema seat, which is why I wish you all safe trips to the cinema :),  tsunami-free vacations and peaceful school experiences, no guns involved… 

May you be safe, show empathy, and, regardless of situation, always navigate through unpredictable changes with fresh new breaths of faith!

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 9►EXTRA, ■ BBC: The Virtual Revolution Blog, ■ Books, ■ Brain Plasticity, ■ China, ■ Empathy, ■ Movies, ■ News, ■ The Mirror, ■ TIME, ■ TOP Documentary Films

On Erasmus in Barcelona

The essay below was written especially for the ELB readers by Nina Romanska, one of my former students. I would like to thank her very much for her insights and I would like to wish her “Happy Birthday!!!”, as she is celebrating her birthday on this very day. 🙂 🙂 😉 🙂 🙂 

The Erasmus Experience

in

Barcelona. 

A Student’s Account

Erasmus is a popular student exchange programme nowadays. As many other students, I decided to take part in it because I had studied abroad before and I knew that it would be an amazing experience. I love Spanish, so Spain was an obvious choice for me. I didn’t have any doubts about the city either, I knew that Barcelona would be a perfect place for me. It’s a big city, the capital of Catalunya, definitely one of the most interesting places in Spain. I had never been there before, but I simply trusted my intuition, the view of the city from “The Shadow of the Wind” written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and “L’Auberge Espagnole,” known as the “Erasmus movie,” which describes the Erasmus experience of a French student in Barcelona.

However, my beginnings in that beautiful city were like from some comedy-drama. I remember my first day there. I arrived in Barcelona at about 2 o’ clock at night, tired after the bus ride from the airport in Reus. It was really hot, but I was wearing the coat and pullover that I didn’t have place for in my luggage. I took the metro to a district nearby the Sagrada Familia, where my friend was living. The escalators were out of order, and I could’t find any elevator either, so, with no Spanish prince on a white horse to come to my rescue, I had to carry my suitcase and my backpack all the way… Finally, I saw the Sagrada Familia. I stopped for a while to admire it and then went to look for the direction of my friend’s place. I was really impressed with the church at first sight, but the truth is that I was more concerned with being robbed at the time, as I was carrying all my jewellery, and had the money to rent a room on me.

Next day I woke up at 6 and started to look for a room to rent. The experience was totally horrible. Even if, on the outside, the old buildings in Barcelona are very beautiful, inside I came across dirty rooms and flats, strange people of all ages (renting is really expensive there, so not only students share flats), old guys with propositions, loads of insects, lack of sunshine, funny smells. All of these at an incredibly expensive price. Until I found a suitable flat I decided to share a room with another Polish student. She lived with the owner of the flat, a guy from Morocco who was walking half naked in flat, wearing just pants and a DJ cap, so I felt like I needed to hide myself. He worked as a bodyguard in club, so I could go back to the flat after 11pm, when he went to work.

After six days of looking for a flat from 8 am to 11pm, I found my room and started my true Erasmus life. My new flat mates were three Erasmus students from Romania, Finland and Germany. My room was really small and without any windows, but somehow I got used to it. 😉

Once I got time more time on my hands to explore, I realised that Barcelona is a really great city. There are a lot of really interesting places to see. Thanks to Gaudi (the Catalan Modernist), no other city can be compared to Barcelona. This Catalan architect gave Barcelona a really beautiful gift: an originality and style that made me feel that buildings of his project were taken out of some kind of fairytale kingdom.  Barcelona has everything; we can lose ourselves in the narrow streets of the Barrio Gothic and Raval, admire the elegant buildings of Gracia, walk on the beach or go to a match of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou.

There are, however, some bad points of living in the city. Loads of turists… almost everywhere you look, and this results in high prices and robberies. Barcelona is a really cosmopolitan city, so I felt more Spain in Madrid or Sevilla.

Somehow, Catalan wasn’t a big problem for me. It’s something between Spanish and French, so I had no trouble understanding most of it.

Even though I really loved Barcelona as a city and my newly-found home, the best part of my exchange program there were the people. I met a lot of great people from all over the world. The community of international students became my family, which is something that I really miss right now. Meeting people of different cultures, religions, beliefs and from different continents is a beautiful experience and made me more open-minded. Poland is a country of one nation, one religion, so my friendships with other Erasmus students helped me realise that many stereotypes about particular nations and countries were totally wrong.

As a nation, the Spanish are really cheerful compared to the Polish. They don’t care so much about exams, money, or the perfect look. I would like to follow that joy and optimism in my life.

I studied at the Faculty of Law of the University of Barcelona. The lectures were quite interesting. They gave the students interested in international law a wide range of study opportunities. 

 I also took part in the special programme ‘Introduction to Spanish Law,’ which was organised for international students. The teachers were friendly and much less formal than in Poland. Half of the available courses were in Spanish, and the other half in Catalan.

I would recommend taking part in an Erasmus programme to any student out there. It’s a great adventure, one impossible to forget! 😉  

Filed under: ■ Erasmus, ■ Good Old Student Life, ■ Movies, ■ Nationalities and Stereotypes, ■ Spain, ■ The World, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Food – Then and Now

Today’s lecture on Food in Biblical Times delivered by Janna Gur, author of “The Book of New Israeli Food” and editor-in-chief of one of the leading culinary monthlies in Israel, was a wonderful source of discoveries and confirmations as to what we regard today as staples in our local cuisine, 

 whether we think about our home country or the country we live in.


Many of the vegetables we use today (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and any kind of potatoes, as a matter of fact, or even oranges) were not used by the ancient cuisine of Biblical times for the simple reason they did not exist at that time. Tomatoes only found their way to those land in the 15th century. What were the vegetables used in Biblical times? They were mainly green vegetables similar to what we know today as cucumbers, along with cabbage, lettuce, watermelons, garlic and leek.  Most of these were considered luxuries and were consumed mostly by the wealthy, who could afford to have a vegetable garden. There were also several kinds of wild veggies that were available at large, which everyone, especially the poor, could use as food.

An interesting fact I discovered was that the ancestor of wheat has been discovered to originate in Israel, which gives credit to the equating of bread with food, in general, in the Bible.

Wheat and barley were therefore among the staple foods in Biblical times, along with oil and wine. Back then people would always drink their wine with water, as they believed that water was purified by the addition of wine. This was the top 3 most important staples then, and I believe it continues to be today. 

The fruits of the land that the ancient region of Israel was renowned for were the following 7: barley, wheat, wine (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates or honey. To this day, dates are used to create a type of honey which has become increasingly popular in the Arab countries in comparison to the bee honey we are more familiar with in Europe. The molasses made of dates has also been a well-known sweetener over the ages.

Another interesting information concerns the identity of the forbidden fruit that is never specifically mentioned in the Bible. You might say, well, it was the apple. You might be surprised to know that historians think that the fig or the pomegranate make for more suitable candidates. If you have ever seen a pomegranate garden, you might agree with their theory.

The 4 best known spices of the Biblical times must have been pepper corn, salt, cinnamon and cumin. As far as herbs are concerned, dill coriander, mint and a wild herb in the oregano/thyme family were the most popular.

Dairy products and meat posed serious conservation problems. They were more frequently used by shepherds than farmers and one person’s intake of meat counted an average of 4 times per year.

Last but not least, Michelangelo went wrong when he seated Jesus and his apostles at the long, rectangular table in his depiction of the Last Supper. According to historians and reputed researchers, they must have reclined (not sat) along a U-shaped table that was popular back then.  Reclining was an attribute, a sign of social standing and a symbol of liberation – slaves could not recline. The menu might have included lamb roasted on sticks over hot coals in a pit served with bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and wine. 

I’m looking forward to Janna Gur’s next lectures during the Jewish Festival this week, that will further explore the historical, religious and cultural contexts of the cuisine of the times when the Bible came into being. 

 In the July issue of the Travel + Leisure magazine there is an article by Peter Jon Lindberg on The World’s Strangest Supermarket Items that gives an interesting perspective on contemporary food items. I invite you to read it and decide on your personal favourites. 

Wherever I travel, I’m pretty much consumed with eating. If I’m not eating, I’m probably looking for food. And when I’m not looking for food, you’ll likely find me looking at food, perusing the shelves of a local supermarket. Sightseeing? There’s no finer. Plus, you get to eat the sights. The Monoprix is my Louvre, Tesco my British Museum.

If one of the perks of travel is the chance to observe foreigners in their natural habitats—unguarded and wholly themselves—there are few better vantages than the corner grocery. No one postures in a supermarket; no one pretends to be someone else. (I once followed David Bowie around a Whole Foods in Manhattan. This was both more and less interesting than you’d think.) Under those too-bright fluorescents, we are all equalized and exposed, our appetites and eccentricities laid bare. You can learn a lot about a culture by watching it shop for groceries. It’s like sneaking into a nation’s house and rifling through the fridge.

At home the supermarket is the most mundane environment you know. Transfer that environment to an unfamiliar setting and our differences come into relief. At first it all seems boringly normal: the same motion-activated doors, whining toddlers, and treacly Muzak you’d find at your neighborhood Stop & Shop. But look closer and you begin to notice: something’s off. Milk in bags. Unrefrigerated eggs. Blatantly racist cartoon characters used to sell rice. Cucumber Pepsi. Hamburger chewing gum. Myrrh-flavored toothpaste. (Alas, no frankincense deodorant.) Globalization may or may not be flattening the world’s tastes, but all manner of regional quirks are still on display at foreign supermarkets. A walk down the aisle reveals the extraordinary range, and geographic particularity, of human cravings—for cephalopod-flavored potato chips (right there with you, Japan!), black-currant-flavored anything (good on you, Britain!), or rank-smelling durian fruit (you’re on your own, Southeast Asia!).

Browsing in supermarkets is also a fine way to hone foreign-language skills. The shelves are basically one long menu-reader, complete with handy illustrations. Let’s see…mulethi must be Hindi for “licorice,” berenjena is obviously Spanish for “eggplant,” and cavallo seems to be Italian for “horsemeat.” (Wait—horsemeat? That’s sick, Italy. Sick!)

Grocery stores offer a window not just onto the culture and cuisine at hand but onto that culture’s taste for othercuisines. Who’d have guessed that the Swiss have a jones for Mexican food? That Australians are mad for Malaysian? That Japan is obsessed with French pastry? It’s also curious-making to see which of our own foods have made the leap overseas. In Europe, high-end food shops stock “gourmet” imports from the U.S., which typically means Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Old El Paso taco sauce, and B&M Baked Beans. Do any Americans still eat B&M Baked Beans? Europeans think we do.

Some travelers go to supermarkets just to laugh at the inadvertently funny labels—your Bimbo-brand bread (Mexico), your Barf laundry detergent (Iran), your Jussipussi dinner rolls (Finland). Yet the packaging can also be seriously beautiful. In Denmark even the dish soap looks elegant; a tin of Spanish tuna could take your breath away. The best foreign groceries double as surveys of graphic design. I have a Neo-Constructivist can of borscht, purchased at a Perekrestok in Moscow, displayed on my living room mantel. But I’m weird like that. My collection of international novelty foods may soon outnumber the actual foods-for-eating in my pantry. I suppose in a really bad blizzard I could finally bust open the decade-old Laotian fish paste, though I’ll hold out as long as I can. That tube is really something.

When it comes to food packaging, few countries can compete with Japan, whose supermarkets are a wonderland of vibrant logos, kooky names, and cute (if occasionally creepy) mascots. Everything is packaged like sugar-charged breakfast cereal, even the bonito flakes; you’d think only children shopped for groceries there. Yet I know plenty of adults who queue up at Tokyo conbini stores to buy each seasonal Kit Kat bar on the day of its release: chestnut in autumn, candied potato in winter, cherry blossom in spring, and 200-odd other flavors throughout the year.

Of course there’s only so much cheese-and-fish sausage you can leer at without becoming utterly ravenous, which is another benefit of foreign grocery stores: they are the visual aperitif, the mental amuse-bouche that presages your next meal. Nothing fires an appetite like a stroll through the supermarket, especially if it’s really, really huge. The rule at home is never to shop for groceries hungry, but abroad I’d never do otherwise. By the end of a trip half my suitcase is filled with groceries. Indeed, some of my all-time favorite foods and ingredients were found—by sheer luck—in far-flung supermarkets: Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce, from Belize; Laxmi-brand dal from India; Capilano honey from Australia; Amora mustard from France; Yancanelo olive oil from Argentina. Drizzling that oil on a ripe tomato takes me out of my Brooklyn kitchen and straight back to Buenos Aires.

If U.S. Customs would let me, I’d fill a whole other suitcase with yogurt. The entire world appreciates yogurt more than we do; it is the soccer of food. Seriously—walk into any overseas market, go to the (never-less-than-vast) yogurt section, and buy the first brand you see. I guarantee it will blow your mind. And it comes in a little glass jar or a dainty ceramic pot! That you get to keep! For the frustrated American yogurt lover, this all seems patently unfair.

It’s not just about food, either. The pharmacy section is always a treasure trove of horse-tranquilizer-size malaria tablets, jars of “milking jelly” (for cows, not humans), vials of “lung tonic,” and a bunch of other potions and elixirs you never knew existed. (And I’m sure the FDA would like to keep it that way.) Buying medical products abroad is risky, though, since the packaging is usually so inscrutable you have no clue what you’re buying—could be antacid, could be oven cleaner. Maybe both. Traveling in Borneo years ago I came down with a nasty chest cold; at a Kuching supermarket the pharmacist sold me a bottle of cough syrup that I swear was 60 percent deet. Upside: I was cured in 40 minutes.

Regional peculiarities aside, our planet is undeniably shrinking, and foreign treats are increasingly available in our hometown markets or, more so, online. Whether we’ve really gained from this is unclear, but it’s true that something—a certain thrill—has been diminished. Back in my Anglophilic youth I visited London once a year, and my first stop was always at the local Tesco, where I’d buy sackfuls of the things I couldn’t yet find back home: Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Walkers pickled-onion potato crisps, Ribena black-currant juice, Flake bars, Crunchie bars, Lion bars, Batchelors Mushy Peas (I ate them straight from the can), and, most coveted of all, McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Hobnobs (“the nobbly oaty biscuit”!). The latter became a real problem for me for a while, as I would beg and pester any U.K.-bound acquaintance to please please PLEASE pick me up a dozen packets of Hobnobs here’s a £50 note and an extra suitcase please PLEASE don’t forget I love them so.Friends learned to stop telling me their travel plans.

Years later, when imported Hobnobs suddenly materialized at a yuppie grocery near my Brooklyn apartment—selling for three times the U.K. price—I briefly worried that I might go broke and corpulent from eating cookies 24/7. Turns out the novelty wore off quick. A Hobnob in any other country, I discovered, was simply not as sweet.

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ Food & Travel, ■ Israel, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Jewish Festival in Krakow, ■ Travel +Leisure Magazine, ►FESTIVALS & EVENTS▼

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