Monthly Archives: May 2011

Before and after a tornado

Check out this interactive panoramas that compare two locations in Joplin, Mo before and after the tornado. Click and drag the images, in this page, to view the damage around the street. [source]

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You have to use both languages all the time

This is an interesting article published in the New York Times about the advantage of bilingual. The following are some questions to cognitive neuroscientist, Ellen Bialystok. She spent almost 40 years learning about how bilingualism sharpens the mind.

The Bilingual Advantage

By CLAUDIA DREIFUS
Published: May 30, 2011

 

Q. So what exactly did you find on this unexpected road?

A. As we did our research, you could see there was a big difference in the way monolingual and bilingual children processed language. We found that if you gave 5- and 6-year-olds language problems to solve, monolingual and bilingual children knew, pretty much, the same amount of language.

But on one question, there was a difference. We asked all the children if a certain illogical sentence was grammatically correct: “Apples grow on noses.” The monolingual children couldn’t answer. They’d say, “That’s silly” and they’d stall. But the bilingual children would say, in their own words, “It’s silly, but it’s grammatically correct.” The bilinguals, we found, manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.

 

Q. How does this work — do you understand it?

A. Yes. There’s a system in your brain, the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them.

If you have two languages and you use them regularly, the way the brain’s networks work is that every time you speak, both languages pop up and the executive control system has to sort through everything and attend to what’s relevant in the moment. Therefore the bilinguals use that system more, and it’s that regular use that makes that system more efficient.

 

Q. One of your most startling recent findings is that bilingualism helps forestall the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. How did you come to learn this?

A. We did two kinds of studies. In the first, published in 2004, we found that normally aging bilinguals had better cognitive functioning than normally aging monolinguals. Bilingual older adults performed better than monolingual older adults on executive control tasks. That was very impressive because it didn’t have to be that way. It could have turned out that everybody just lost function equally as they got older.

That evidence made us look at people who didn’t have normal cognitive function. In our next studies , we looked at the medical records of 400 Alzheimer’s patients. On average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who spoke only one language. This didn’t mean that the bilinguals didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It meant that as the disease took root in their brains, they were able to continue functioning at a higher level. They could cope with the disease for longer.

 

Q. So high school French is useful for something other than ordering a special meal in a restaurant?

A. Sorry, no. You have to use both languages all the time. You won’t get the bilingual benefit from occasional use.

 

Q. Many immigrants choose not to teach their children their native language. Is this a good thing?

A. I’m asked about this all the time. People e-mail me and say, “I’m getting married to someone from another culture, what should we do with the children?” I always say, “You’re sitting on a potential gift.”

There are two major reasons people should pass their heritage language onto children. First, it connects children to their ancestors. The second is my research: Bilingualism is good for you. It makes brains stronger. It is brain exercise.

Read more here.

I wish this scientific article, especially the last answer, can reach Arab immigrants. Unfortunately, many Arab families in the US speak English with their children at home.

My day with no geographical boarders

07:00 am – Woke up at Missouri, USA

08:00 am – Watched news on German’s DW TV

08:30 am – Chatted via emails with a Syrian friend in Canada

09:00 am – Went to a friend’s house to give him a ride to the airport. He is going back home, Uzbekistan, for good. I also had a chat with his Nepali roommate.

10:00 am – At the airport, I saw the Memorial Day Air show preparation

11:00 am – Called my parents in Jordan

11:30 am – Called my sister in Damascus

12:30 pm – Went to Five Guys for lunch. They serve America’s best Cheeseburger

01:15 pm – Called my uncle in Houston

01:50 pm – Received a call from a Tunisian friend

02:10 pm – Received a call from a Libyan friend inviting me to dinner. Oh, Mama Mia! I love Libyan food. I hope there is Libyan soup (Shorba Libiya – Libyan Lamb & Chickpea Soup) as well. This Libyan soup is the best soup ever.

02:30 pm – Drinking Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks while writing this post

I guess geography became so overrated nowadays.

Qwiki a visual interactive search engine

Qwiki is a new search engine tool. According to its founders Qwiki solves the problem of information overload. Here is Wikipedia definition:

Qwiki (pronounced Quicky) is a multimedia website that links a robotic reading of a text summary drawn from any chosen Wikipedia article with still and moving images drawn from many sources across the web including Wikipedia, Panoramio and Flickr. These attempt to contextually synchronize with the text as it is read with the aim of producing an audio-visual over-view of the subject.

Qwiki is still in its Alpha version, the information generated by machines can be improved by users suggesting more pictures or videos.

Here is what a search for Jordan produces:

You can watch this video below to learn more about Qwiki by the founders:

Qwiki at TechCrunch Disrupt from Qwiki on Vimeo.

Deadly Missouri Tornado

Here is what happened yesterday Sunday May 22nd, 2011:

JOPLIN, Mo. — A massive tornado that tore a 6-mile path across southwestern Missouri killed at least 89 people as it slammed into the city of Joplin, ripping into a hospital, crushing cars like soda cans and leaving a forest of splintered tree trunks behind where entire neighborhoods once stood.

… Much of the city’s south side was leveled, with churches, schools, businesses and homes reduced to ruins. Fire chief Mitch Randles estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of the city was damaged, and said his own home was among the buildings destroyed as the twister swept through this city of about 50,000 people some 160 miles south of Kansas City. [source]

 

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[click on picture above to play video on YouTube]

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The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd is one of the funniest British sitcom especially if you are in the IT field. Here is a clip of what usually happens in the IT department. My favorite part is the last 20 seconds of the clip.

Roy: Oh God, it’s about time you got back. It’s been all go.
Moss: You had a job?
Roy: Girl of fifth.
Moss: Did you and her hit it off?
Roy: Define “hit it off”.
Moss: Did she continue talking to you once you fixed her computer?

Poor IT guys 🙂

You can watch all episodes here.

Blackwater mercenaries hired by Abu Dhabi – Highlights from the biggest story in the MiddleEast

If you are rich you have the right to defend your wealth. If you can’t defend it yourself then you have the right to hire people to do it for you. But the decision of Abu Dhabi to hire Blackwater Worldwide, who changed their name to Xe because of the documented abuse including their criminal role in killing 17 Iraq civilians, is outrageous [source]. It seems the Middle East will for ever be in the front page of the international newspapers headlines.

Blackwater Worldwide is a private American military company that hires mercenaries. Mercenaries are civilians who kill people for money. Some mercenaries, not linked to Blackwater, latest criminal work can be seen in Libya after Qaddafi hired African mercenaries to kill his people.

Here are my highlights of this big story:

Who are those mercenaries?

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. 

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

The former employees [of Blackwater] said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims.

Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.

Why the founder of Blackwater left USA to live in UAE?

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Why those mercenaries are hired?

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.

How about professionalism and ethics of those mercenaries?

The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane, but it quickly became clear that the Colombians’ military skills fell far below expectations. “Some of these kids couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” said a former employee. Other recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon.

Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline began drying up. Former employees said that Thor struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the ground. Mr. Rincón [one of the mercenaries] developed a hernia and was forced to return to Colombia, while others were dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.

On a recent spring night though, after months stationed in the desert, they boarded an unmarked bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai, a former employee said. There, some R2 executives had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes.

So, what is the next step?

Emirati military officials had promised that if this first battalion was a success, they would pay for an entire brigade of several thousand men. The new contracts would be worth billions, and would help with Mr. Prince’s next big project: a desert training complex for foreign troops patterned after Blackwater’s compound in Moyock, N.C. But before moving ahead, U.A.E. military officials have insisted that the battalion prove itself in a “real world mission.”

Finally, to be fair, UAE imposed some kind of questionable ethics on the mercenaries:

The contract includes a one-paragraph legal and ethics policy noting that R2 should institute accountability and disciplinary procedures. “The overall goal,” the contract states, “is to ensure that the team members supporting this effort continuously cast the program in a professional and moral light that will hold up to a level of media scrutiny.”

Shouldn’t this story been called UAE-gate?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html?_r=1

Two stories of Arabs gone crazy

First story:Yemeni Man Screaming “Allahu Akbar” Tries to Rush Cockpit on AA Flight to San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO –  The passengers sat stunned as they watched a man walk quickly toward the front of American Airlines Flight 1561 as it was descending toward San Francisco. He was screaming and then began pounding on the cockpit door.

Within moments Sunday, a flight attendant tackled Rageh Almurisi. Authorities do not yet have a motive.

While authorities said that Almurisi, 28, of Vallejo, Calif., has no clear or known ties to terrorism, the incident underscored fears that extremists may try to mount attacks to retaliate for the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden last week.

Federal agents are investigating Almurisi’s background. He was carrying a Yemeni passport and a California identification card, authorities said. [source]

Second story: Saudi man charged in a bomb threat

BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) – A Saudi national studying English at Roger Williams University is charged with making a bomb threat, Bristol police confirmed Monday.

Investigators say Abdulrahman Khalid Althuwayb requested food when the dining hall was closed Thursday. After a worker asked the suspect to return during regular business hours, police said the suspect replied, “OK don’t worry, today is the last day, and tomorrow I blow the walls out.” [source]

Neither of these men,I think, has anything to do with any terrorist group. But the question remains why they did what they did? As if Muslims in America need more bad publicity.

The T letter in American English

If you speak English as a second language then you may had, or still have, a problem learning to pronounce an English letter that has no similar sound in your mother tongue alphabets. Many Arabs for example have a problem with the “P” sound confusing it with the “B” sound. But one of the most complicated American English letter is the “t” letter. It actually has few different sounds. Here are different examples of the “t” sound. Watch the video to hear the correct sound of the letter “t”.

True-T:

This is the “t” sound that every learner of English learns when learning English as a second language.

Example: Stop, try, ten, tomorrow, return. [video]

Deletion:

In this one, the “t” is completely gone. I am not sure if this one is practiced in all the states but I know people in Missouri overlook the “t” when it is in the middle of the word.

Example: interview, center, internet, enter, interstate, plenty, twenty, sentence, winter. [video]

Half-T:

When pronouncing a true-t there is a puff of air released at the end of the sound. When a word ends with a “t” the tip of the tongue touches the upper back teeth and stop (it doesn’t release air).

Example: Sit, get, forget, secret, benefit, account, payment, about, repeat, remote, candidate. [video]

Flap-T or tap:

This one is the most complicated and the weirdest sound. Sometimes when the “t” is in the middle of the word it sounds like /da/ but it is neither a “t” nor a “d”. It is called tap because the tongue touches behind the upper back teeth very quickly.

Example: water, little, Natalie, metal, lighter, daughter, waiter, lettuce. [video]

Strange things happen to the “T” in America!

Here is an American comedian takes of the letter “t” in the English/British accent:

American English for Jordanians

American English for Arabs

A different kind of love

It is an unconditional love. It is so huge we can’t comprehend it and can’t even explain it.  It just happens to some of us. It is the love of a mother to her children. Motherhood is one of the most stressful and taxing status, yet mothers endure it with a grin. This kind of love is so strong it never fades away even when their children become adults.

Countries around the world dedicated a special day to celebrate mother’s day. Every country celebrates in a different day. In Jordan, it is on March 21st and in the US it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, this year it is today May 8th.

In Islam, the love and respect of mothers is repeated many times in the Quran and in the Sunna. We even learned that we have to love our mothers more than our fathers, even maybe three times more.

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and asked: ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father (Bukhari, Muslim).

With such great appreciation to our mothers, no wonder then that being a good Muslim is not enough to reach our final goal destination without our mothers’ love. A man called Mu’aweyah Bin Jahemah (معاوية بن جاهمة) once asked Prophet Muhammad’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) opinion on going to Jihad. The Prophet asked him if he has a mother and when he answered positive, Prophet Muhammad told him to stay with her and said “heaven lies under her feet.”

If you live close to your mother, surprise her with a small gift. You don’t need an occasion or a special day to show her your love. Do it now, bring a smile to her face. You will remember this day forever.

Happy Mother’s Day, every day!