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Radio Lab: Parasites and More

If you like to learn, even if you’re not particularly scientific, give Radio Lab from NPR a try. Today, like any that I listen, I learned heaps about a topic I’d never even think of. This time that topic was — parasites.

Yes, parasites. Not something we hear about on the daily news or in school or in conversation.

Listening to Radio Lab today, I came to respect, yes, respect parasites and the scientists who study them.

Here’s a bit that I learned that parasites like hookworm caused lethargy in the 19th Century South, which is said to explain in large measure economic slow down, that blood flukes can live in your system for 40+ years and eventually make you sick, and they’re monogamous. And that a parasite that thrives in cats can brainwash a rat it might have wound up in driving rats to fall in love with cats and as a result most likely wind up eaten so that the parasite is back at home in a cat. These parasites can also get in people and cause havoc. Some think there’s a relationship between schizophrenia and cats because after people started keeping cats as pets, schizophrenia became more common.

Parasites can be good. Good parasites are getting wiped out, and new diseases like Crohn’s disease have become common as sanitation has wiped out both good and bad parasites.

I’m not making this up. I came away thinking that nature is just astounding.

You can try Radio Lab here and choose a podcast on such topics as: color, synchronicity, time, God and many more. The tone, music and narrative used in these programs makes it fascinating.

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Virgin Atlantic

From the creative safety video to the actually yummy food, Virgin Atlantic was a joy to fly. I don’t know how I’ll manage with lesser airlines. The crew was genuinely polite and at the end of the flight they thanked us for letting them take care of us.

Amazing. I’ve never felt that American crews enjoyed that. I’ve felt that they put up with the passengers and I cringe when they sharply direct non-English speakers to “Stow your bags!” They don’t seem to realize the problem might be that they use uncommon words like “stow.”

The entertainment selection was vast and there was something for everyone to enjoy. The food, especially the mini strawberry popsicles were tasty.

I definitely aim to be a regular on Virgin.

Good Customer Service

Alas, it’s easy to come across bad customer service in the US. I abhor the automated phone (“Press 1 if you want our address, Press 2 if you want your balance,” etc.) service. I dread calling about problems. When I can, I’ve gone back to writing actual letters to companies. More and more, that’s not even allowed. O, mores! O, tempora!

Today, I called to ask American Express if they’d remove a late charge I incurred because I didn’t get home and see a bill till the day after it was due. Although the service could be better by eliminating the raft of “choices” callers are given and the request for a “security code” which isn’t a password or digits from your social security number so I don’t think I have one so that results in a loop that’s low grade frustrating.

Yet once I got a real live operator the conversation was almost ridiculously positive. Since I was an “outstanding” customer with an “amazing record for paying on time,”   they would wipe away the late fee. The operator could not praise me more for my excellence. It was over the top, but it made the call pleasant rather than a fight.


Another satisfying customer service was with Apple’s telephone service.  I chose the option to have them call me. There was a bit of a fail there as someone else answered the phone and though I hurried, by the time I got to the phone, the robot operator decided no one was there and  didn’t hear me so it hung up. Then I called them back rather than wait 10 minutes.

Apple makes you call them back when they call you, which is somewhat odd. I had to wait for assistance, but Apple gives you a choice of three types of music to listen to as you wait. That’s fairly good. (Though why did you call me, but not have a technician ready?)

The guy who helped me did a stellar job. His communication skills were top notch as he was knowledgeable, patient and sympathetic. We went through some processes with the Disk Utility feature and found out that the El Capitan operating system I’d recently downloaded was corrupted. Before fixing the problem, I had to back up all my files so I had to get a new external hard drive. (My current one had gone kaput.)

Saturday I called Apple back again and the customer service was mediocre. This clerk didn’t have the same communication skills and didn’t listen well so she had me do some of the same time consuming procedures I’d already done. She was reluctant to trust the first guy. She just wound up making a reservation at a Genius Bar where they did fix my computer by uploading El Capitan again.  The “Genius” I spoke with today was as good as good as the first Apple employee I spoke with. They all get extensive training, but the second person didn’t take it to heart the same way.

If you communicate clearly, treat me with respect and do what you say you’ll do, you’re well on your way to good customer service.

 

For College Success

Joan Keem offers good advice for advice for new and continuing college students.

Novotel Blackfriars, London

I just stayed one night at the Novotel Blackfriars in London, but I’d definitely go back. Though small, my room was nicely decorated and the bed was so comfy that I felt like a princess, like the princess in “Princess and the Pea.” The small bathroom was stylish with slate floors and chic toiletries.

Best of all, the location was great. I could walk to the London Eye in 10 minutes and to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in 15 minutes. It’s half a block from a tube station.

Of course, there’s free wifi and a fitness center, which looked clean and up to date.

As a gold level member, I usually get a plate of fruit and an upgrade. On my stay I didn’t get either. Perhaps there were no bigger rooms available. As for the fruit, which I missed, I got a free drink voucher. I’d hoped for fresh orange juice at the adjacent restaurant, but all they had was standard concentrate. Novotel should just get some fruit to welcome us.

I didn’t eat any meals there. They have a breakfast buffet for $13, but there were several other choices where I could get a good breakfast for less.

What to Wear, Teachers

As the new school season approaches, teachers, especially new ones may wonder what to wear to work. I’ve noticed a lot depends on the context. Yet overall, I tend to believe in looking professional. We’re not paid highly in most places so you don’t want to rack up dry cleaning bills so I’d go with pants, skirts and dresses (the last two for women) that are washable cottons or synthetics. I’m also conscious of the weather. Air conditioning isn’t a given everywhere and you don’t want to melt in August. The first week play it safe by going with short sleeves and skirts or dresses that go to the knee. Once you’ve seen how the other teachers dress and note any negative comments made about other teachers, you’ll figure out the norm.

You want the administrators to have a good impression of you so don’t be too rebellious.

If you’re teaching overseas note what the local teachers wear and be as or a little more formal than they are. While in North America some professors wear jeans, in Korea suits and outfits you’d see bankers wear was the norm. In China they’re less formal. Some men wear a nice shirt and pants, while women can wear dresses and skirts. A few would wear athletic clothes, but I would avoid that. We did have some foreign teachers who dressed like they were going to do chores, i.e. they wore an oversized t-shirt and shorts. None of them got a whole lot of respect.

Jeans are popular and can be dressed up. It all depends on what you wear with them. Still I’ve avoided jeans. Gossip is part of teaching and when someone’s writing an evaluation or criticizing they’ll say, “the teacher wears jeans all the time,” not “the teacher wears dark blue jeans with tops from Ann Taylor all the time.” I also figure if I want the profession to earn the sort of salaries business people and lawyers make, why not dress accordingly?

In Muslim countries women’ll probably be told what’s acceptable. Always ask first. In Indonesia most settings are pretty open, but cover your shoulders and knees. At my last setting we sometimes were asked to wear veils. It didn’t seem to be worth the fight for a three week stint, but we were told that the faculty was debating whether or not non-Muslim visitors from overseas should have to cover their hair. Thus a respectful conversation would be fine. What are the guidelines in the Middle East? Comment below if you know.

Below is a fashion take from an American Middle School teacher, who does go more casual some days than I would.

Miniso

miniso

Miniso shops started popping up around Jinan last spring. They have a bright upbeat look that beckoned me inside. At first I just walked around trying to figure out what the store was. They have gadgets for computers like earphones, cleaners, and chargers. They have snack foods, dishes, clocks, toys, make up, skin care products, shoes, socks and more. Best of all most items cost 10 rmb or about $1.60. Plenty of others are 15 or 20 rmb ($2.50 – 3.30 more or less).

The shops look a lot like the Japanese clothing store Uniqlo with their white decor with red signs and their cheerful, multi-lingual announcements. A lot of the packages say “Miniso Japan” so I thought the company was Japanese. I soon became a regular shopper as the quality seemed good and the prices were great. It was a way to reconnect with Japan. Why pay $10 and up for toner when you can get it for $1.60? Why pay $11 for a neck pillow for my flight home when I can get one just as good for $2.50? Why buy a new bag for toiletries for probably $10 when you can get one that’s just as cute and functional for $2.50?

Then my students informed me that Miniso is a Chinese chain that apes a Japanese look, certainly inspired by Uniqlo. Their packaging had Japanese labels with Chinese ones pasted over them just as all imported products do. I felt quite hoodwinked, swindled. How dare you, Miniso. I wanted to make sure so I went to the Miniso website and figured out it is Chinese. They’ve got thousands of shops throughout China and just a couple in Tokyo and no where else in Japan. A Japanese company would certainly have stores in Osaka or Hiroshima before they’d open one in Jinan.

For quite sometime I stopped going to Miniso, but now I have gone back. I won’t by their skincare or food because if they’ll be deceptive with their origins, why wouldn’t they use inferior, untested ingredients in make up or cleansers? I no longer feel as good about shopping at Miniso, which is a shame. It’s rather pathetic that they want to appear as if they’re from Japan. I understand the idea about distancing a brand from China, but isn’t it sad that China has such a reputation for schlock that it has to?

E-MBAs?

While in Beijing for a day Monday before I moved on to Japan for a conference and some sightseeing. I noticed some signs around town for “eMBA’s.” I assumed the “e” stood for online, aka electronic learning.

I was wrong. Last night on Channel News Asia they did a segment on parents’ efforts to get their children into just the right primary school. Seems Beijing is like New York in their desire for elite private schooling from grade 1. “eMBA” stands for Early MBA. In these expensive classes children some not yet 3 study economics because to paraphrase a parent, “you can’t start too young.” They showed the lessons and the kids while bright certainly weren’t getting it.

These kids are going to several afternoon lessons in addition to kindergarden — English, math, geography, soccer (which looked far more serious than what my nieces and nephews did at age 3 or 4). These kids were quite articulate on the process of gaining entry into a prestigious primary school. That might have troubled me the most.

A Night to Remember

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

A Night to Remember (1958) is a disaster film with dignity. It lacks the sentimental love story, which was central to Titanic, but that’s why it’s a better film. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film shows the swells enjoying the high life and the boisterous fun below in steerage mixed in with the misplaced wire messages about the iceberg and the frustrating refusal of nearby ship called the California to believe the Titanic’s distress messages.

The film shows people of all sorts, some willing to help their fellow passengers and others who’ll kick and claw their way into a lifeboat. The film weaves the facts in so you don’t feel like it’s a history lecture. You root for the characters all the while knowing most won’t make it. When the boat starts tilting so much that it’s at a 45° angle, you feel dreadful. Still the film is rather emotionally restrained, much more so than the more recent film with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Criterion Collection offers a good essay on the film here.

Mr Selfridge Poll #2

Another Selfridge poll:

What do you think?

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