Monday 29 November 2010

Usage:Asking for Directions

A short entry for a busy day.

I got an email from one student asking me how to improve their English in telling directions. I found a very useful video here with subtitles, real life one, no drama! Take a look!

This is quite fake, but the language is alright. Maybe a little too simple though.

This is obviously too much of a planning, but their accents are nice.

Do get back to me if you have any questions.


Friday 26 November 2010

Business Writing: How to write like a pro? -- Part 3

Blackadder and Baldrick
Image from leighkcunningham
So did you guys enjoyed the show? I wrote an article recommending this TV series to advanced learners on 21st December 2009, titled TV Drama: The Black Adder (for English lovers). It was meant to be a Christmas present recommendation for those who enjoy learning English through TV dramas. Thinking about it, it is time to rewatch it again. You know I am a big fan of Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and "S Baldrick" Tony Robinson.

The Black Adder series really allows me to appreciate the beauty of the English language in a hilarious way. Learning English can be so much fun!!!

Image from

Oh, by the way, Rowan Atkinson is NOW IN HONG KONG to film Johnny English 2 !!! I would dream of a chance to speak to him and tell him how much I appreciate his work! But I guess I will have to wait outside his Tsim Sha Tsui hotel all day and have the ability to lose his bodyguards first! HAHA!

Anyway, let's get back to our homework check (Note: There are many ways to rewrite this, I'm just showing one of them):

Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain. He was born on 18th September 1709. He was an author and he is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language. The dictionary was published in 1755. The dictionary took him 9 years to finish writing.

Black Adder the Third is a English TV series. In the episode Ink and Incapability (1987), Dr. Samuel Johnson has only one copy of his dictionary. Blackadder's servant Baldrick burnt it and Blackadder has only one weekend to rewrite it.

Locky's Version
Born 18th September 1709, British author Dr. Samuel Johnson is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language which he spent 9 years to complete prior to its publishing in 1755.

In the episode Ink and Incapability (1987) from the English TV series Black Adder the ThirdDr. Samuel Johnson's only copy of dictionary was burnt by Blackadder's servant Baldrick, forcing Blackadder to rewrite it in one weekend.

From the new version, we can see that the sentences flow because the object in one sentence is always chained to the subject of the next sentence, so forming one new sentence.

The first two sentences of the original version are easy to combine,

"Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain. He was born on 18th September 1709."

just take away the repeated "He was born",

"Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain on 18th September 1709."

In the next sentence,

"He was an author and he ..."

we only need the word 'author', so you can put it before the name,

"Author Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain on 18th September 1709."

Then we look at the rest all together,

"... and he is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language. The dictionary was published in 1755. The dictionary took him 9 years to finish writing."

removing all 'The dictionary', you can add some words to help you link up the sentences,

"... and he is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1755 and took him 9 years to finish writing."

Now, if we combined our two new parts together,

"Author Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain on 18th September 1709 and is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1755 and took him 9 years to finish writing."

Now, do a little "facial" for the sentence and you might arrive at my final version too!


Now, try the second half my yourself, step-by-step, and post them as comments for me to see.

Previous Entry -- Business Writing: How to write like a pro? -- Part 2

TV Drama: The Black Adder (for English lovers)

News Article from

News: Rowan Atkinson takes his life in his hands as he shoots scenes for Johnny English Reborn in London

Message: New Way to Comments on the Playground

Hi guys,

I have added some new buttons for you all to make simple comments even if you are too tired (or lazy) to write me comments.

Selected articles will be added the Facebook "Like" buttons as well.

Friday article will be posted today, don't worry!

Thursday 25 November 2010

News & Technology: Carbon Sciences Moves Closer to Turning CO2 Into Gasoline?

Wow, the discovery in this article could earn the company a Nobel Prize!

Article from Fast Company:

Carbon Sciences Moves Closer to Turning CO2 Into Gasoline

Is there a good way to release carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Carbon Sciences, a Santa Barbara, California-based startup, seems to think so. The company announced this week that it has discovered an efficient raw catalyst that can turn natural gas and CO2 into gasoline. Carbon Sciences claims that the technology could be used to meet all of the United States' gasoline requirements using 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 586 million tons of CO2--no crude oil required.
Here's how it works: Carbon Sciences gathers methane (from natural gas fields, landfills, and plant biomass) and CO2 (from coal-fired power plants and cement factories) and uses its secret formula to form low-level hydrocarbons and convert them into higher-level gasoline range hydrocarbons. This creates a gasoline-like substance that is free of heavy metals, carcinogenic compounds, and toxic oxides.
"The key features we have confirmed in our tests are high conversion efficiency and potential for catalyst longevity, which translates directly into commercial viability," said Dr. Naveed Aslam, Carbon Science's Chief Technology Officer, in a statement. "High conversion efficiency means lower capital cost to produce substantial quantities of fuel. Longevity means that our systems will not require frequent shutdown for maintenance and catalyst cleaning... unlike catalysts previously considered by others, our catalysts are designed using common metals that are plentiful and inexpensive."
The problem, of course, is that Carbon Science's technology doesn't prevent power plant CO2 emissions from hitting the atmosphere--it just recycles them into fuel along the way. Carbon Sciences argues that this process is still more sustainable than biofuels:
Most of the renewable alternatives to fossil fuel today, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are biofuels based on terrestrial crops such as corn and sugar cane. These sources of biofuel are not sustainable, as they compete with world food supplies and require large amounts of energy and time to grow, process, and ferment the crops into biofuels. Additionally, these biofuels...are either blended into gasoline in small amounts or require new or substantially modified vehicles and fuel delivery infrastructure. Most importantly, it is simply not possible to grow enough terrestrial crops to replace the 85 million barrels of petroleum the world consumes every day.
All fair points, but we're yet to be convinced that this is the most environmentally sound method of removing CO2 from factories and coal-fired plants. But if the process does work, it could have a dramatic impact on worldwide CO2 emissions--the transportation sector alone accounts for 74% of the total projected increase in fossil fuel demands from 2005 to 2030 (over 112 million barrels of crude oil used per day in 20 years). The largest source of CO2 emissions is coal-fired power plants, with annual emissions are projected to increase from 28 billion metric tons in 2005 to 34 billion metric tons in 2015 and at least 42 billion metric tons in 2030. If we could halve those emissions by recycling them and cut down on fossil fuel use, climate change could be slowed considerably.
This is still all a big "if," however. Carbon Sciences has yet to prove that its technology works outside of a lab setting, so it will likely be many years before we see any products from the company on the market.
Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

If you do believe that everything in this world is a cycle, and that there must be a way to reverse the damage human has done to the environment, then there is hope. In the case of the article, hope comes at a price of course, but the price is simply paying the company for its secret formula. I do hope it does really work. And if it really does work, the catalyst must be some kind of gem from Harry Potter -- magical!

To make this whole conversion process viable, power generated from fossil fuel must not be used, so I guess it is another biological process and most likely the catalyst is biological. What kind of germs and bacterias will do this task?

I found something that might fit on the internet, and it might just be the one that they are using, it is a soil-dwelling bacteria! Quoting from The Columbus Dispatch, 

"The idea is that soil-dwelling bacteria that digest carbon dioxide and hydrogen could be genetically altered to make butanol."

Which bacteria might that be? Nothing a little research can't find.

Wikipedia might have provided some clue,
"Nitrosomonas europaea, as well as populations of soil-dwelling AOB, have been shown to assimilate the carbon dioxide released by the reaction to make biomass via the Calvin Cycle, and harvest energy by oxidizing ammonia (the other product of urease) to nitrite."

Just to double-confirm this bacteria can do the job, let's look up on Calvin Cycle,
"The light-independent Calvin cycle, also known (erroneously) as the "dark reaction" or "dark stage," uses the energy from short-lived electronically-excited carriers to convert carbon dioxide and water into organic compounds[2]that can be used by the organism (and by animals that feed on it). This set of reactions is also called carbon fixation."

Looks like we have the world saver here! "Grow the bacteria, save the world!!!"

crude -- (n)  [U(also crude oiloil in a natural state that has not yet been treated
carcinogenic -- (adj) describes a substance which causes cancer
longevity -- (n)  [Uformal living for a long time
viability -- (n)  [Uability to work as intended or to succeed
substantial -- (adj) large in size, value or importance
dramatic -- (adj) very sudden or noticeable, or full of action and excitement

News Article @ Fast Company

Soil-dwelling bacteria @ Dispatch

Which soil-dwelling bacteria @ Wikipedia

Calvin Cycle @ Wikipedia

Tuesday 23 November 2010

News & Economics: 15 minus 15 Isn't Zero --The Tug-of-war between Demand and Supply

Took a short break on Monday and got myself a whole lot more work to do instead, which got me to sleep at 3:30am last night, so today, I'm mind-detached-from-body right now. Allow me to talk about something simple.

News from the Standard today:

Developers lash stamp duty hikes

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Real Estate Developers' Association lashed out yesterday at the government's stamp duty hike and other measures taken to temper runaway property prices, saying they will harm end-users more than speculators.

"Speculators would undoubtedly be hard hit directly," said REDA vice- chairman Stewart Leung Chi-Kin.

"But some end-users, who try to cut losses due to market changes, will suffer at least a 15 percent loss."

Raising the downpayment will also hurt potential homebuyers, added Leung, who is also executive director of New World Development (0017).

"This goes totally against what the government has been saying" to help the common man, he said.

Economic Synergy legislator Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun said raising the downpayments might make it harder for young people to buy their first homes. But Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng Yu-wah insisted that potential homebuyers would benefit if speculation is curbed.

Lawmaker Paul Chan Mo-po pointed out a possible loophole in the rules, as buyers and sellers could avoid paying the high stamp duty simply by putting the property in question under the name of a company registered overseas.

A sale would then involve selling the company - not the property - so there would be no stamp duty, he said.
Commissioner of Inland Revenue Chu Yam-yuen conceded speculators could take advantage of the situation as it's difficult to track share-holdings of offshore firms.

Meanwhile, several international fund houses said they expect home prices to slide by 5 to 10 percent in the coming months, and sales volume to tumble.

"Property transactions will fall by 20-30 percent," UBS researcher Eric Wong Chun-ya wrote in a report, released yesterday.

Credit Suisse analysts Cusson Leung and Joyce Kwock forecast home prices to drop 5 percent by the year-end, with transactions plunging 40 percent due to what they called "harsh" measures.

Lucia Kwong at JPMorgan described the step as "strong dose to calm down the housing market."
Agents reported many buyers are pulling out of deals at the last moment.

"Those who signed preliminary contracts between November 6 and 19 are leaving," said Patrick Chow Moon- kit, research head at Ricacorp Properties.

He added some sellers are now cutting prices by 10 percent.


speculator --  (n)[Ca person who buys goods, property, money, etc. in the hope of selling them at a profit
downpayment / down payment-- (n)[Can amount of money that you pay at the time that you buy something, but which is only a part of the total cost of that thing. You usually pay the rest of the cost over a period of time
curb -- (n) [C] a limit on something that is not wanted
loophole -- (n)  [Ca small mistake in an agreement or law which gives someone the chance to avoid having to do something
offshore -- (adj) (of companies and banks) based in a different country with different tax rules that cost them less money
tumble -- (vb)  [Ito fall quickly and without control or to fall a lot in value in a short time
harsh -- (adj) unpleasant, unkind, cruel or unnecessarily severe
pulling out of deals from "pull sb/sth out"-- (phrasal verbto stop being involved in an activity or agreement
preliminary  -- (adj) [before nouncoming before a more important action or event, especially introducing or preparing for it
wuss -- (n) [C] slang coward (= person who is not brave)


Image from

For those who do not own an apartment, like me, this seems like a really good news, and there is nothing better than to see the property price drop lower. The question is, when will the drop begins and when will it end? When will then be a good time to buy in?

5 to 10% drop in the coming months sounds like a pretty safe and reasonable guess by the international fund houses, but will it stop there and rebound? A number of famous people have said that price will jump 20-40% in the coming year too, but that was before the government took action, which proves that experts can be wrong, very wrong too!

I think, since the new rule of the game is that a stamp duty of 15% of the transaction cost will be charged upon the buyer, then logically thinking, a near 15% drop in property price is needed to regain the transaction activity before the announcement of new rule. However, there are some bad assumptions in this thinking......because "15 minus 15 Isn't Zero", because the Tug-of-war between Demand and Supply isn't linear.

The first assumption made by most bullish analysts was that HK government does not dare to do anything to harm the housing market after the 1997 "85,000 incidence" was already a really really bad assumption. It is like saying that a kid burnt in the fingers by lighter flame dare not use his stove. The fact is, any government has the power to ruin the property market if she wants to, the question is, do they need to go so far? I personally think that the John Tsang has done a great job here, showing speculators that the HK government isn't a wuss.

The second assumption is that, if the transaction activity really does return to the earlier level, when people were buying and selling quickly for short term gain, will the government just wait and see once more? Or will she say, "okay, let's make it 20% stamp duty if you sell within 6 months!" You see, once the rules are set, only a small amendment is needed to continue.

So, "to buy or not to buy?" "To wait or not to wait?" "To put your money in your pocket or someone else's?"

Fruit for thoughts!

Image from


Friday 19 November 2010

Business Writing: How to write like a pro? -- Part 2

First, let me thank those of you who did try. Well done. Like I always said, you will learn more if you do it. If you just read, that's okay, but you'll never learn as much. I hope I will see more readers of this blog trying.

Let's check our homework first. The question from last week was,

Poor show by MTRC
I think MTR Corp did not handle the situation well. It did not give enough information to commuters. There was a chaotic situation because passengers could not find their way easily to other transport modes. Perhaps the MTRC should send more staff and call the police for help in future situations.

Content words: 28
Total words: 51
Lexical density = 54.9%

And my version is as follows,

Poor show by MTRC
MTR Corp’s failure to inform commuters of the routes of transit to other means of transport caused chaos thus more assistance from staff and police is necessary

Content words: 17

Total words: 27
Lexical density = 63.0%
Words saved compared with previous version = 28 - 17 = 11 = 39.3%

Now, there are many ways you can rewrite that, so I am just suggesting one of them. If you look at my sentence and do the statistic, you will see that even though my version is not much more packed than the original version, the number of words I used is much fewer (only 27 words in total), so I can say that my version may be more difficult for beginner readers, but it is definitely more professional when you read it. 

And I have saved 11 words (39.3% ). If in one sentence I can save this much, imagine I am going to write an essay of 2500 words? How many words can I save? Or how much more information can I put inside with the same number of words?

How to write lexically dense sentences:
This is the easiest version I am teaching.

First, you need to know what is subject, verb and object, and write a simple sentence such as

  • MTR caused chaos.
Then you add pre-modifiers and post-modifiers

From Wikipedia, "premodifier is a modifier placed before the head (the modified component). A postmodifier is a modifier placed after the head".

Pre-modification : The mishandling by the MTR
Post-modification : MTR's poor handling of the situation

From here, you can expand 

"MTR Corp caused chaos, assistance is necessary" 

into something that looks like my sentence below, with keywords in bold.

  • (MTR Corp’s failure to inform commuters of the routes of transit to other means of transport) caused chaos thus (more assistance from staff and police) is necessary
After a sequence of pre-modification and post-modification, you can arrive at a very long sentence with lots of information in it.

Homework Time:
Try making this sound more professional, and also, have fun watching the videos.

Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in Great Britain. He was born on 18th September 1709. He was an author and he is most famous for his work Dictionary of the English Language. The dictionary was published in 1755. The dictionary took him 9 years to finish writing.

Black Adder the Third is a English TV series. In the episode Ink and Incapability (1987), Dr. Samuel Johnson has only one copy of his dictionary. Blackadder's servant Baldrick burnt it and Blackadder has only one weekend to rewrite it. (Image from
Blackadder the Third -- Ink and Incapability script

Previous Entry --Business Writing: How to write like a pro? -- Part 1

Premodifier and Postmodifier  @ Wikipedia

Blackadder the Third @ IMDb

Blackadder the Third -- Ink and Incapability script

Blackadder the Third -- Ink and Incapability @ YouTube

Thursday 18 November 2010

News: Government mulls bird flu response

Not much today, just some light reading, because tomorrow, it will be business writing and you'll need to pay more attention.

Image from

The first news is from RTHK and the second from Miami Herald, both from today's internet. You can also pay attention to the writing style.

Government mulls bird flu response
The Health Secretary, York Chow. File Photo
The Health Secretary, York Chow, is to chair an interdepartmental meeting today to decide if precautionary measures are needed after the government raised Hong Kong's bird flu alert level to "serious" yesterday. Dr Chow said raising the response level meant there was a risk of contracting bird flu in the region.The move comes after the territory confirmed its first human bird flu case in seven years yesterday. A 59-year-old woman is in a serious condition in Tuen Mun hospital. She had recently returned to the SAR from mainland China.
The bird flu virus first crossed the species barrier to infect people in the SAR in 1997. Six people died in that outbreak - and all chickens were culled locally.

Hong Kong officials meet after bird flu confirmed


Hong Kong has confirmed its first case of human bird flu in seven years.
Health Secretary York Chow said late Wednesday that a 59-year-old woman had tested positive for H5N1 bird flu after returning to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland, and is in serious condition in a local hospital.
With the announcement, the government raised the bird flu alert to "serious," meaning there is a risk of contracting the disease within the territory.
Chow said Hong Kong officials were meeting Thursday and would determine whether additional measures are needed to safeguard local residents.
The bird flu virus first struck Hong Kong in 1997. Six people died in that outbreak and all chickens in the territory were culled.

Looks like we will be seeing more government ads on TV. Lucky that I am not a big fan of chicken meat.

mull -- from "mull sth over" 

phrasal verb 

to think carefully about something for a long time
precautionary -- (adj) about an action which is done to prevent something unpleasant or dangerous happening
barrier -- (n) [C] anything that prevents people from being together or understanding each other
outbreak --(n) [C] a time when something suddenly begins, especially a disease or something else dangerous or unpleasant
cull -- (vb) [T] When people cull animals, they kill them, especially the weaker members of a particular group of them, in order to reduce or limit their number
contract -- (vb) [T] slightly formal to catch or become ill with a disease
safeguard -- (vb) [T] to protect something from harm


Miami Herald -- World AP

Monday 15 November 2010

Environment: Tetra Pak Carton Recycling

Okay, since I think you will need some time to try out the homework I have assigned to you last week, so I will postpone my blog entry on writing till Friday. Till then, we will look at some simpler things and hopefully I can raise your awareness in this.

When you buy some packet drinks from a supermarket, you actually buy the carton as well. You drink the liquid and throw away the carton. But do you know that the carton is actually designed to be recyclable?

Image from

Now, don't start throwing your milk carton into the recycle bins if you are in Hong Kong, because nope, Hong Kong doesn't help with the recycling of milk carton. In UK, they do. From the Local Government Channel,

"Tetra Pak
Tetra Pak is committed to boosting carton recycling rates in the UK. In this year alone, they have announced a £300,000 fund available for local authorities wanting to establish carton collection schemes in their area and have hired a national recycling officer dedicated to making sure it happens."

Exactly, how they do this? Here is a not-so-interesting but informative video to watch:

What is really inside a Tetra Pak container?
Image from Wikipedia

That means, it contain lots of plastics, paper and aluminium, which theoretically speaking, can all be recycled.

And here is a video of a recycle factory of Tetra Pak in action:

So, what has the Hong Kong government do about this carton recycling? They wanted more land for rubbish dumping, of course!

How come I used  "theoretically speaking" when I wrote "That means, it contain lots of plastics, paper and aluminium, which theoretically speaking, can all be recycled"?

Local Government Channel in UK

Recycling Tetra Pak Milk Cartons on YouTube

Tetra Pak on Wikipedia

Tetra Pak USA Environmental Video on YouTube

Friday 12 November 2010

Video and Slang: US-Sino Currency Rap Battle

Something extra for your weekend, found a new and funny animation on YouTube, with a few slang terms we have gone through in the class (for those of you who have completed level 3 with me).

Sounds like something for the G20 in Korea. Have a nice weekend!

frenemy -- (n) (humorous) Someone who pretends to be your friend, but is really your enemy.
manipulator --  [C] mainlydisapproving a person who controls people to their own advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly
wag sb's finger -- A motion done with the finger, usually done to scold someone. See The Other F-words
Smörgåsbord -- (n) s a type of Scandinavian meal served buffet-style with multiple dishes of various foods on a 
table, originating in Sweden.[1] In Norway it is called koldtbord and in Denmark it is called kolde bord
recession -- [C or Ua period when the economy of a country is not successful and conditions for business are bad
concession -- (n) [C or U] something which is allowed or given up, often in order to end a disagreement, or the act of allowing or giving this
discombobulated -- (adj) confusedembarrassedupset
denominate -- (vb) To specify a monetary unit
kibble -- (n) something that has been kibbled -- to grind something coarsely, especially grain for use as animal feed
smack -- (n) [C] a hit from someone's flat hand as a punishment