– 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.

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