– Learn Vocabulary and Fight World Hunger

I saw this incredible site,, mentioned at TreeHugger. The game is a simple concept: a word is shown, and you select the closest synonym from four choices. You’ll then be presented with a new word and choices. For every correct click, they will donate ten grains of rice to the United Nations’ World Food Programme. The site uses the first several words to estimate your vocabulary level and tailors the difficulty appropriately.

screenshot of

The implementation is wonderfully simple. There is no login, no registration required, and no e-mail address is needed. Just show up and start clicking. You can easily do it during downtime during work, between classes, or for a few minutes’ break at any time. It’s a great way to pass time, learn something, and help out an important cause. The distribution of difficulty levels ensures that people with a wide range of vocabulary levels will find the site engaging—the site easily found a level that would challenge me.

And you can be sure you’re effectively helping out a good cause. The money is donated directly to the U.N.’s World Food Programme, which as the food aid branch of the U.N. is the world’s largest humanitarian agency. ( is legitimate, too, so don’t worry.) Advertisers such as Office Depot, Apple, Fujitsu, and many more pay for rice. Their logos are small and unobtrusive at the bottom of the site, but I encourage you to patronize these businesses as a reward for supporting two excellent initiatives—stimulating learning and reducing world hunger

re: your brains (by Jonathan Coulton)

I was introduced to this song when my friend zld included it on a CD he gave me. And last week my good buddy Alithair found this video which was made for the song.

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton (wp) is the genius behind this one; he wrote the song as part of his ambitious “Thing a Week” project. Mr. Coulton makes his songs available under a Creative Commons license enabling others to make legal derivations of his work. The video shown here was made by Mike “Spiff” Booth using images from World of Warcraft.

Mr. Coulton says, “I write about a lot of geeky stuff because I am a geek”—this is one of the reason his music appeals to me. But this song is just ridiculous.

[Update: clarified wording]

Happy United Nations Day!

UN flag
Flag of the United Nations. Source: Wikipedia.

Today, 24 October, is United Nations Day (wp), the anniversary of the U.N.’s charter entry into force. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the following remarks (emphasis mine):

Message for United Nations Day

The world is changing in the United Nations’ favour — as more people and Governments understand that multilateralism is the only path in our interdependent and globalizing world. Global problems demand global solutions — and going it alone is not a viable option. Whether we are speaking of peace and security, development or human rights, demands on our Organization are growing every day.

I am determined to ensure that we make progress on the pressing issues of our time, step by step, building on achievements along the way, working with Member States and civil society. That means strengthening the United Nations’ ability to play its role to the fullest extent in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. And it means invigorating our efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation.

At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in Africa. I will seek to mobilize political will and hold leaders to their commitments on aid, trade and debt relief.

And I will continue to do all I can to galvanize global and decisive action on climate change. The United Nations is the natural forum for building consensus on this pressing issue, as we saw in the high-level event held a month ago on the margins of the General Assembly. The many leaders who attended sent a clear message to the Bali negotiations in December under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: this is no longer business as usual, and we must build momentum across industrialized and developing countries to ensure results. Protecting the climate for present and future generations is in the common interest of all.

If security and development are two pillars of the United Nations’ work, human rights is the third. I will work with Member States and civil society to translate the concept of the responsibility to protect from word to deed, so as to ensure timely action when populations face genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity.

Finally, we must transform the United Nations itself. We must adapt to meet new needs and ensure the highest standards of ethics, integrity and accountability, so as to demonstrate that we are fully answerable to all Member States and to people around the world.

We will be judged in the future on the actions we take today — on results. On this United Nations Day, let us rededicate ourselves to achieving them.

The United Nations has indeed been placing an emphasis on climate change. It is certainly the logical venue where the nations of the world will decide how to tackle this global threat. And the United Nations’ Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been instrumental in documenting, clarifying, and publicizing the science behind climate change (for which it recently shared the Nobel Peace Prize).

In a world where the consequences of our actions extend far beyond political boundaries, let us hope this next year brings improved international cooperation and collaboration to protecting the common good and the health of our planet.

Climate Change Affects the Whole World

Many people in developed nations like the United States understand that global warming (anthropogenic climate change) is a problem, but don’t appreciate how it will affect them. There is sometime a perception that poor areas in the tropics will face flooding and disease, but that it is not a significant matter for developed nations.

However, global warming will cause (and is causing) effects worldwide. A few may be positive, but they are grossly outweighed by the negative effects. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner) has been working on its Fourth Assessment Report, and recently released the Working Group II (“Climate Change Impacts, Adaption, and Vulnerability”) portion of it. It details the predicted effects of climate change for each continent over the next century.

It’s a thorough report, but daunting for the casual reader. However, Time magazine has created a great (Flash-based) interactive graphic simplifying and summarizing the predictions:

Effects of Climate Change
See full-sized, interactive version.

It’s great to see efforts in making this information quick and easy to grasp.

Map of the Oceans

I love maps, especially unusual maps. I came across this map of the world’s oceans at Wikipedia’s article “Ocean” (though it’s since been replaced with an animated version).

map of Earth's oceans
See full-sized version. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Alexandre Van de Sandre.

We naturally tend to focus on the continental land masses when looking at maps, since that’s where we live. Mr. Van de Sandre here attempts to fight that tendency, and I believe he’s done a good job. Though one still tends to pick out the familiar shapes of the continents, it is not difficult to make the water the center of one’s attention. It is easy to see the oceans as part of one major “world ocean” with the continents floating in between (though naturally the continents don’t actually float on the surface of the ocean).

Though almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, the oceans are still unexplored to a significant degree. Humans are descended from marine vertebrates, and life probably originated in or near the sea. Oceanography is a very important field since the oceans have a huge impact on land-based ecosystems and of course they are intimately involved with our climate.

Hip Hop Violin

As I’ve previously posted, I am very impressed with the musical skills some people possess. My friend Jux2p0ze introduced me to a very unique video today that combining remarkable violin skills with a hip hop beat. I’m amazed by this!

By the way, the URL listed at the beginning of the video is unrelated, not in English, and not safe for work, so don’t bother.

I love to see people developing their talent in this way and doing something constructive. And it’s great they’re sharing it with the world.

The violinist is Paul Dateh and is on the turntables. If you like, you may download an MP3 version of the song from Mr. Dateh’s MySpace page.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2007 Goes to Gerhard Ertl

As part of my series on this year’s Nobel Prizes, I’m highlighting the winner of each prize.

German scientist Gerhard Ertl won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces”. This is more important than you might think, but as usual, has the information you need. This is intended for laypeople, so you don’t have to have any special knowledge to understand it.

To begin with, editor-in-chief Adam Smith once again has written a wonderful “speed read”:

Exploring Chemistry at the Frontier

Like a successful dinner party, productive chemical reactions depend upon getting the right components to mingle in the right surroundings, and often the best environment for chemistry turns out to be a solid surface. From the cleaning of exhaust fumes in factory chimneys to the reduction of ozone on the outside of ice crystals in the clouds, surface chemistry surrounds us constantly. Developing ways to better understand the detailed dynamics of chemistry at these interfaces has been Gerhard Ertl’s life work.


And a six-page PDF shows us all the ways this field affects our lives. These are great resources for the public to use to stay in touch with science. Use them!

You may also enjoy videos of the announcement or the press release.

Related posts

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2007 Goes to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg for the Discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance

Winning the Nobel Prize is one of the highest honors one can achieve. Winners bring their institutions and their countries prestige. I’d like to highlight this year’s prizewinners.

The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was awarded to French scientist Albert Fert and German scientist Peter Grünberg. They were recognized for their independent discovery of giant magnetoresistance. The concept’s a bit esoteric, but the Nobel Prize site,, has some nice introductory material. In fact, it’s really put together well and you are advised to browse through it for more information about any aspect of the Nobel Prizes.

I especially like their “speed read” summaries. The Physics entry is quite easy to understand and begins as follows:

The Giant within Small Devices

Lying at the heart of the computer which you are using to read this article is a memory retrieval system based on the discoveries for which the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. They discovered, quite independently, a new way of using magnetism to control the flow of electrical current through sandwiches of metals built at the nanotechnology scale.


And if you have time, you should definitely read a nice 7-page PDF explaining the concept for the layperson, using illustrations and easy-to-understand concepts. I won’t bother going into detail here since the site does such a nice job. There’s no excuse not to know the basics of this discovery!

You can also see videos of the announcement, or read the press release.

Environment Quotes

Today, please enjoy a selection of quotations about the environment:

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.
—Henry David Thoreau
There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
—Mohandas K. Gandhi
Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.
—Henrik Tikkanen
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.
—Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732
There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.
—Marshall McLuhan
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
—Elwyn Brooks White, Essays of E.B. White, 1977
The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages.
—Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, États et empires de la lune, 1656
Such is the audacity of man, that he hath learned to counterfeit Nature, yea, and is so bold as to challenge her in her work.
—Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, translated by Philemon Holland
A living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist. If an omniscient, all-powerful Dad ignores your prayers, it’s taken personally. Hear only silence long enough, and you start wondering about his power. His fairness. His very existence. But if a world mother doesn’t reply, Her excuse is simple. She never claimed conceited omnipotence. She has countless others clinging to her apron strings, including myriad species unable to speak for themselves. To Her elder offspring She says, “Go raid the fridge. Go play outside. Go get a job. Or, better yet, lend me a hand. I have no time for idle whining.”
— David Brin
We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.
—David Suzuki
How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?
—Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader’s Digest, November 1939
Take care of the earth and she will take care of you.
The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.
—Ross Perot
It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.
—Ansel Adams
Why should man expect his prayer for mercy to be heard by What is above him when he shows no mercy to what is under him?
—Pierre Troubetzoy
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
—Chief Seattle, 1855
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
—John Muir
You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, 1755
Understanding the laws of nature does not mean that we are immune to their operations.
—David Gerrold
The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.
—Carl Sagan
Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock. Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history. Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day.
—Stephen Jay Gould, “Our Allotted Lifetimes,” The Panda’s Thumb, 1980
Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.
—Cree Indian proverb
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
—Albert Einstein
Space travel has given us a new appreciation for the Earth. We realize that the Earth is special. We’ve seen it from afar. We realize that the Earth is the only natural home for man we know of, and that we had better protect it.
—James Erwin, U.S. astrounaut
Eventually we’ll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves.
—Jonas Salk
Man is a child of his environment.
—Shinichi Suzuki
We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.
—Barbara Ward, Only One Earth, 1972
For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
—Sandra Postel, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, 2003
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.
—Joyce Kilmer, “Trees” – 1914

(Sources include the Environmental Protection Agency, Quote Garden, and Think Exist.)

Walt Kelly's Earth Day poster, 1970
Copyright 1971, 2005 OGPI. See full-sized image at Wikipedia.

But perhaps cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best in his 1971 Earth Day poster:

We have met the enemy and he is us.

I’ve written this post as part of the first Blog Action Day, in which blogs large and small have teamed up to write about the environment on 15 October, 2007. I’m planning to write another post highlighting some of my favorite entries from today, so feel free to let me know about yours. And keep writing about the environment!

Al Gore and IPCC win Nobel Peace Prize 2007


The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Oslo, 12 October 2007

Source: Norwegian Nobel Committee.

I am ecstatic. I’ll post more on this later.