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April 19, 2014 04:11 AM PDT
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Scene from Orientation at Massey University


The magnitude is the size or importance of something – especially problems, disasters etc. An order of magnitude is a kind of scale usually based on the power of ten – so each level in the scale is ten times the level of the one before.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

  • The magnitude of the site is approximately one hundred hectares.
  • We soon realised the magnitude of the problem and called in specialist help.
  • The scale of the project was comparable in magnitude to a military operation.
  • The intensity of wave energy is approximately one order of magnitude lower than initial projections.


What proportion of the New Zealand population were born overseas?

one in ten / one in four / one in three


This is a short video on a highly practical way to use maths to make informed guesses. It is presented by Michael Mitchell and comes from the TED site.

1) The speed of light is a _________ figure.

 infinite                         cumbersome                 approximate

2) In scientific notation, the first figure must be less than ____________

10                                one                            zero

3) The term ‘power of 10’ is also called the ‘order of _________’

magnitude                 magnification                   maximisation

4) ‘Ten to the power of seven’ metres is the approximate diameter of ____

The Earth                  The Moon                      The Sun

5) Enrico Fermi dropped pieces of paper in order to estimate the power of _____

the atom bomb              gravity                      tornados

6) Using the power of ten allows estimates to be made with limited _____            

data                            relevance                  convenience

7) Which figure is used to help to estimate the number of piano tuners in?

The number of pianos which are tuned every day

How often each piano needs to be tuned

How many pianos one person tunes per year

8) What assumption is the accuracy of Fermi estimates based on?

The tendency for overestimates and underestimates to balance each other out

The probability that more than half of the input will be accurate

The selection of an answer from a randomly selected population

November 15, 2013 08:27 PM PST
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Traditional drumming performance by the NZ-Korea Friendship Association at Massey University Albany Campus library


If something is versatile, it means that it can be used successfully in different ways. Versatility is important for people as well, especially in the modern, changeable society we live in. Companies look for versatile employees who can deal with a wide range of different and complex tasks.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

Her versatility is apparent from her appearance in both comic and serious roles in major films this year.

The off-road performance of the new model adds a new level of versatility to a well-known and dependable brand.

Carrots are among the most versatile of vegetables, featuring in salads, soups, main courses and cakes.

The programme is intended for a versatile audience, ranging from young children to the elderly.


Does your profession require more specialisation or more versatility?

Can you think of any examples of versatile tools, furniture or clothing?


What proportion of New Zealanders have Korean ethnicity?

one in ten / one in a hundred / one in a thousand


1)    Which kinds of organisation did Steve Howard work in prior to joining IKEA?

commercial                non-Governmental             Ministry of the Environment

2)    How many cities of more than 1m inhabitants are there in the world?

100 – 200                  200 – 500                  more than 500

3)    Because of the growth in urbanisation and prosperity, Steve Howard describes sustainability as  ________

desirable                    optional                      essential

4)    Earlier sustainable products were of poor quality because they were based on __________

cost savings              experiment                compromise

5)    LEDs are an example of a sustainable product that is ______

fit for purpose         multifunctional         demand-led

6)    In order to make sustainable products competitive in the marketplace, companies need to show 100% _____

commitment             versatility       diversity

7)    The environmental problems associated with cotton derive from the conditions of its ______

production               manufacture             modification

8)    Steve Howard feel that 100% targets provide greater ____

complexity                 clarity             ambiguity

9)    Steve Howard argues that deriving 100% of their energy from renewable resources will create ____ for IKEA

technical challenges           financial gains         marketing opportunities

10)  IKEA has 80 auditors worldwide whose responsibility is to assess the compliance of suppliers with their ______

code of conduct                 profit margins            just-in-time delivery

11)  What proportion of managers in IKEA are female?

approximately a quarter      nearly  half               two thirds

12)  Steve Howard feels that _________ need to be more discerning.

NGOs                                     designers                  consumers

November 04, 2013 06:39 PM PST
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Massey University Students creating an artwork


Controversy means strong disagreement over what is right or wrong in public life. For instance, the extension of marriage to gay couples in New Zealand provoked a good deal of controversy at the time. It was a controversial law change. Controversial proposals tend to be regarded as shocking by some people because they do not match traditional ideas about what is right or wrong.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

The game ended with a controversial penalty, awarded by the referee despite his assistant (who was closer to the incident) keeping his flag down.

Everyone agreed that the new system was controversial, but unfortunately there was no practical alternative.

The proposal to move the soccer world cup from the summer to the winter has sparked heated controversy in the sports world.

The Government is standing by its controversial decision to award a major defence contract to an overseas company.


Are there any controversial law changes being discussed in the media?

What issues cause controversy on your campus these days?

Which public figures tend to make controversial statements on a regular basis?


What is the young New Zealand singer, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, who has achieved worldwide success in 2013 better known as?


1)    In Santa Barbara, California, for $82 per night, you can have a more luxurious _________

prison cell  / hotel room / student apartment

2)    Since the 1980’s, Michael Sandell believes that Western countries have become market ________

economies  / societies / consumers

3)    The main problem Michael Sandell sees in market societies is that ______ affects access to fundamental aspects of a good life.

inefficiency / uncompetitiveness / inequality

4)    One argument against a controversial market solution to children’s reading is that it might have a negative impact on their _______

behaviour / incentive / attitudes

5) Michael Sandell argues that a fundamental misunderstanding among economists is that trade does not alter the ______ of goods and services.

value / cost / sale

6) Michael Sandell believes that the increasing application of markets to social practices is responsible for social ______

discontent / division / disorder


October 30, 2013 07:12 PM PDT
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Children preparing for a performance at the Diwali Festival in Auckland’s Aotea Square, October 2013.


Philanthropy is a social practice which involves people giving money (as well as putting in time and effort)  to good causes, such as education, the environment and the poor. Bill Gates is a well-known philanthropist, who has spent many millions of dollars on education and health projects. If you search on Google for Philanthropy New Zealand, you'll find more information about what's happening nationally.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

Andrew Carnegie set up a philanthropic institution which built free libraries and cultural amenities in many cities.

The organization is well-known for its corporate philanthropy, through which it has contributed to a wide range of charitable causes.

One of the key ways in which Government can support philanthropic activities is by allowing organisations to claim he tax paid on earnings which were donated to them.

Within a ‘Bear’ market, investors looking for long-term, modest but secure returns would be well advised to transfer a proportion of their portfolio to philanthropic ventures.


Have you – or have any organisations you belong to – been involved in philanthropic activities?

How much do you think we can rely on philanthropy to solve the social problems of the world we live in today?


Lydia Ko, from Albany, New Zealand, has just announced that she will become a professional sportswoman – in which sport?


This video features a short presentation by the American professor and management ‘guru’, Michael Porter. He critiques the notion that NGO’s can solve global problems and sees business as the only part of society with the resources and incentive to do so (Compare this with the opposing view on the role of business in society by the American philosopher Michael Sandell in the next podcast).

1)    According to Michael Porter, nowadays people are more _______ global problems than they were in the past.

worried about  / aware of / responsible for

2)    Michael Porter argues that in the current climate, business is typically seen as the __________

problem  / solution  / resource

3)    What does Michael Porter describe as a major organisational innovation of recent years?

philanthropy / NGOs / Government                         

4)    How does he describe the progress that has been made in solving global problems through government, NGO’s and philanthropy?

encouraging / incremental  / non-existent

5)    These methods have not been more successful because of a lack of ____

time /  expertise / resources

6)    Michael Porter feels that business solutions can provide the necessary resources for large-scale problems because they are ______

profitable / philanthropic  / efficient

7)    Michael Porter believes that it is a fundamental misunderstanding among economists and business executives that profitability can be _______ social improvement.

responsible for / engaged in / separated from

8)    What does Michael Porter describe as the largest business opportunity in the modern world?

solving social issues / globalisation / innovation

9)    Michael Porter views the main role of business as creating ______

philanthropy / social responsibility / shared value        

August 24, 2013 12:52 AM PDT
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Scene in Coromandel


When something is displaced, it is forced out of its original place. For example, when you get into the bath, you displace water (and might need to be careful that it doesn’t overflow). People can be displaced as a result of natural disasters or wars, which means that they are forced to leave their homes and move to a place of safety. People who have been displaced by civil war may need to spend years living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.


Where in New Zealand can you visit a building by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban?


1) What first surprised him when he began to test the potential of paper tubes as building materials?

how fireproof they were

how strong they were

how easy it was to make them waterproof

2) What was his main concern in designing the pavilion for the expo in Germany?

recycling the materials after demolition

making sure the structure was strong enough

ensuring that the buildings were energy-efficient

3) What was interesting about his office in Paris?

it was a traditional Japanese design

it was on top of the Pompidou Centre

it was created through 3D printing technology

4) What point does he make about earthquakes?

they can be prevented

they are unpredictable

they don’t kill people

5) What was his budget to create a temporary home for refugees in Rwanda using recycled paper tubes?




6) What did he use beer crates for in building temporary homes for the Vietnamese community who were  homeless after the earthquake in Kobe, Japan?




7) What happened to the ‘temporary’ church which he built in Kobe, Japan?

it outlived its intended lifespan by 7 years

it was used temporarily in both Japan and Taiwan

it has become a permanent structure

8) Which structure did he build in Aquila, Italy after the earthquake there?

a government building

the Japanese cultural centre

a concert hall

9) What social need did he identify in the shelters for people displaced after the tsunami in Japan?




10) What did he use to construct economical, but comfortable temporary housing in Miyagi in Japan?

recycled building waste

shipping containers

reinforced concrete

August 12, 2013 02:53 PM PDT
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Scarecrows in Hamilton Gardens


A scaffold is a frame that is used to support something – for example, what you see on the outside of a new building during the process of construction. In the old days, the scaffold was used for hanging people who had been found guilty of serious crimes. Nowadays, the word is often used with positive meanings. In education, scaffolding means the support which a learner receives while they are trying to complete new tasks. And scaffolding is used in engineering to describe a range of support structures. In today’s video, the examples of scaffolding are the support structures which biomedical scientists use to allow cells to grow and form new human tissue or even completely new organs.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

In many countries, scaffolding has traditionally been made out of bamboo, on account of its exceptional lightness and strength.

While learning a new skill, children need to carefully scaffold the example of their teacher or caregiver.

Biomaterials can act as scaffolding for the regeneration of human tissue.

The march to the scaffold, in which a condemned prisoner takes his or her last steps before execution, is a famous scene in art and music.


What examples of scaffolding have you seen in your neighbourhood?

What tools have you used to ‘scaffold’ your learning of new skills?


Which brand, focusing on ecological values, has been widely used to promote New Zealand trade and tourism?


1) During the last 10 years, the number of organ transplants has ________

changed very little / more than doubled / fallen steadily

2) The field of regenerative medicine is _________

a completely new area of science / still limited to laboratory experimentation / more than fifty years old

3) Which of these continues to be a major challenge for regenerative medicine?

muscularity / blood supply / biomaterials

4) Biomaterials work like a _______ to help the body regenerate tissue.

bridge / pump / engine

5) Where was the human bladder grown?

inside the patient’s body / inside a donor’s body / in the laboratory

6) The latest organ that they’ve been able to regenerate in the laboratory is the _____

liver / lung / colon

7) They have engineered human bone using _____

an iPad / a desktop printer / a laser device

8) Which organ is most in demand by patients waiting for transplants?

heart / liver / kidney

9) Luke feels especially confident about his new bladder because ______

it’s made from his own cells / it’s constructed from synthetic biomaterials / it can be replaced at any time




July 16, 2013 07:16 PM PDT
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Matariki Display at Massey University Albany Campus library


A critique is a well-informed, fair and logical summary of the value of something. In news reporting, the word critique is often used to describe films, books or television programmes which explore ethical issues and contradictions in public life. For instance, a play produced at Massey University, called ‘The Invisible Foot’ is described as ‘a critique of contemporary business practices’. In academic writing, if you are asked to critique a journal article, theory, policy etc, it means you have to summarise the strengths and weaknesses of the article, so that you can assess its contribution to knowledge. This is quite a common university assignment, especially at postgraduate level.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

The movie presents an unbalanced critique on the politicians whose selfish and corrupt practices caused the current crisis.

The assignment question is asking you to critique ONE of the following social policy initiatives with reference to at least TWO different ideological positions (e.g. neo-liberalism / social democracy / Marxism / Feminism etc).

Post-modernism can be understood as a critique of the narrowness and contradictions of rationalism in both the Arts and Society.

In writing your critique, I advise you to keep your descriptive summary of the original research study to a minimum and to ensure that more than half of what you write is an analysis of the research methodology and conclusions of the article you have chosen.


The film ‘Avatar’ has been described as a critique of multinational exploitation of natural resources and indigenous peoples. What other famous movies have you seen which critique social, ethical or political practices?


Why are Whakapapa and Turoa popular places for Kiwis to visit at this time of the year?


1) What was Lisa Bu’s childhood ambition?

Gymnastics               Opera                         Engineering

2) Lisa found in books an alternative to which aspect of Confucian culture?

Obedience                Diligence                   Modesty

3) Which academic practice did Lisa adopt in her general reading?

Comparison              Research                   Citation

4) Which religious figure experienced three psychological temptations?

Jesus                         Buddha                      Moses

5) Which of these practices has allowed Lisa to critique concepts in Chinese language and culture?

Speed-reading         Reading aloud         Translation

6) Overall, Lisa views reading as an ____________ practice.

Empowering             Intellectual                Abstract



April 24, 2013 12:22 AM PDT
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Sculpture at Waterworks, Coromandel, New Zealand


A futile action is a waste of time, because it has no real value. For example, spending time in the university library is futile, if all you do there is chat to your friends and look at Facebook! There have been many books, films and songs about the futility of war – in other words, arguing that war is a waste of time.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

He should have known it was futile to argue with the referee. He just got a yellow card for his trouble.

There’s nothing worse than working for a futile manager, who lacks the basic skills and motivation for the job.

Speculation regarding the reasons for his decision is futile, as he is unable to discuss these for legal reasons.

Her complaints were no more than a futile gesture, as it was already clear that she would lose the game.


Are there any aspects of your work or study which you regard as futile?

Are there any situations in which speculation, war or anxiety might NOT be futile?


Tomorrow, April 25th is Anzac Day, a public holiday in New Zealand and Australia, in which people remember those who served – and especially those who gave their lives – in wars. In which country, between Europe and Asia, is there an especially large celebration of Anzac Day?


 Today’s video (from TED) features the behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, talking about what makes us feel good at work.

1) How does Dan Ariely characterise the traditional view of human behaviour in Economic theory?

simplistic / animalistic / irrational

2) Dan Ariely uses the example of mountain climbing to illustrate the ___________ of human motivation.

unpleasantness/ simplicity/ complexity

3) Dan Ariely describes the Greek story of Sisyphus as ‘the essence of doing futile work’ because it involves ____________

a job that is never started

a project whose value continues to declinea

task that can never be completed

4) The difference between the two groups of participants in the first experiment was whether or not __________

they received less money for each new model they built

they saw their models being taken apart

they could create their own unique designs

5) When people were asked to predict the results of this experiment, they _________

correctly identified the condition in which participants would produce more

exaggerated the difference between the two conditions

were unable to distinguish between the two conditions

6) They also found that people’s enjoyment in the activity was dependent on how ______________ it was.

 meaningful / useful / achievable

7) The second experiment suggested that ignoring people’s achievements is _____________ destroying their achievements before their eyes.

much worse than /  nearly as bad as / the same as


8) Early cake mixes were unsuccessful because the instructions were too ________

complicated /  undemanding / unclear

9) The origami experiment showed a correlation between the amount people were willing to pay for an object and _______

the effort they put into making it

the objective beauty of the creation

the clarity of the instructions for making it

10) Dan Ariely believes that traditional, industrial economic theory, first formulated by the Scottish economist Adam Smith, puts a higher value on the  __________ of work than on its meaning.

value / efficiency / complexity

A Poem: Futility by Wilfred Owen (1915)

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

March 22, 2013 10:26 PM PDT
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 KIWI PHOTO View over Auckland from the West


If people, policies or attitudes are consistent, it means they follow the same basic patterns and values over a period of time. You can also use the word ‘consistent’ to compare actions and values. If an action is consistent with a value, it means that it follows that value, with no contradiction. For example, you would expect a person who tells you they are a vegetarian to say no to a kebab, because eating meat is inconsistent with their beliefs. It’s important in research to consider whether the findings of a new study are consistent with those of previous research, because any inconsistencies will need to be explained – and this may mean that existing theories need to be challenged.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

Although we sometimes disagreed with the manager, at least he was consistent in his approach to the
game, which meant that everyone knew what they were supposed to do.

It’s encouraging to report that, despite a challenging competitive environment, the firm’s market position has improved consistently over the last year.

Although never exactly a star, she was one of the team’s most consistent performers over a number of years.

The findings of previous research were not consistent with those which have emerged from this study, which may be attributed to measurement error.


How important do you believe it is that these people behave consistently? parents / lecturers / entertainers


In which sport is New Zealand’s national team known as ‘The Black Caps’?  Cricket / Netball / Rugby


This is the opening lecture in a course about moral philosophy at Harvard University in the USA. The lecturer is Michael Sandell. He first presents his students with four ethical dilemmas and then talks about the value of philosophy and what students might hope to gain by studying it.

1) The first dilemma involves a trolley car (a kind of vehicle used to repair railway tracks) which is out of control and going to hit five people. But you can turn it onto another track where it will only kill one person.

How many of the students would turn the trolley car?

all / most / few / one / none

2) In the second dilemma, instead of turning the wheel to save the five people, they have to push a fat man in front of the trolley car.

How many of the students would push the man?

all / most / few / one / none

3) In the third dilemma, they are a doctor who can choose to keep one badly-injured patient alive, or to let them die in order to save five other less badly-injured people. How many of the students would save the one badly-injured patient?

all / most / few / one / none

4) In the fourth dilemma, they are a surgeon who could remove organs from one healthy person (who would die) in order to save five other people who need organ transplants.

How many of the students would remove the organs from the healthy man?

all / most / few / one / none

5) The majority decision in the first dilemma (to turn the car so that only one person dies and five live) is consistent with:
Consequentialist Ethics / Categorical Ethics / Egoism

6) The majority decisions in the second and fourth dilemmas (refusing to push the fat man or remove organs from the healthy man) are consistent with:

Consequentialist Ethics / Categorical Ethics / Egoism

7) Which approach to Ethics, did Immanuel Kant contribute to?

Consequentialist Ethics / Categorical Ethics / Egoism

8) What is the main reason Michael Sandell gives for why philosophy is difficult?

It involves reading a lot of historical books

It means you have to deal with abstract concepts

It makes you question your values and knowledge

9) How does Michael Sandell describe the argument that studying philosophy makes students better citizens?

valid / misleading / false

10) How does Michael Sandell describe the view that philosophy has no value and we may as well accept that there’s no way to judge whether any views are right or wrong?

absolutism / reductionism / skepticism

11) Michael Sandell agrees with Immanuel Kant that skepticism is:

only a temporary escape from ethical problems

too restless to produce rational argument

an inherent part of human nature


Here are some more podcasts on Philosophical Topics:

Genetics and morality

Creative thinking (with Edward de Bono)

Business and morality


Bias in decision-making

Decision error


Philosophy of happiness

Ethics of Google ads

Religious intolerance

Business and morality

Politics of the Common Good

The value of compliments

Happy Planet Index

Ethics of graphic design

Neuroscience and the self

The philosophy of nothing

Ethical business and microfinance



Relational ethics



November 18, 2012 07:42 PM PST
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Staff at the Library and Centre for Teaching and Learning, Massey University celebrating Diwali, November 2012.


Conventional ideas or ways of doing things are accepted, common and familiar. Unconventional ideas can be new, unfamiliar and disturbing, but can allow for critical understanding and change.


Here are FOUR sentences with the word of the day. But only THREE are correct. Which is the Odd One Out?

Theirs was a highly unconventional home life, in which parental responsibilities were shared among several adults.

Her approach to design was unconventional and difficult for her colleagues to understand but no one could argue with her results.

His dress sense was, to say the least, unconventional, which certainly made him stand out in a crowd.

The introduction of new, unconventional laws led to widespread resistance and anger among the wider population. 


Would you describe yourself as unconventional in your _________  daily routine? dress sense? taste in music? religious beliefs?


Rhythm and Vines is a popular _________ festival which takes place at New Year in Gisborne, New Zealand.

Music / Food and Wine / Religious


1) According to 2010 estimates, in which year is China expected to become the world’s largest economy?




2) Martin Jacques believes that it is mistaken to assume that modernisation is ________________ westernisation.

independent of

dependent on

associated with

3) Martin Jacques argues that the Chinese concept of the state is different from that in the West because it is based on ______




4) What does Martin Jacques see as the disadvantage of the strong Han identity in China?

it has led to a lack of appreciation for diversity

it has kept China together as a single state

it has led to unsustainable centralisation of power

5) One reason Martin Jacques thinks that the Chinese state has legitimacy and authority is its ___________

democratic roots

long history


6) Martin Jacques believes that the Chinese identify the role of the state as similar to _________

the head of the family

an unwelcome intruder

a constraint on decision-making

7) What two major flaws does Martin Jacques identify in the conventional Western view of China?

laziness and superficiality

greed and hypocrisy

arrogance and ignorance

8) Martin Jacques argues that, compared to Europe, East Asian countries have a stronger sense of the ______




9) Martin Jacques believes that the global shift of power away from Europe and North America is generally  ______





Sentence Inversion. Sometimes, for extra emphasis, we put a negative phrase (Never ____, Only ____, Not only __, No sooner ______) at the beginning of a sentence. When we do that, we need to use the question form of the main verb. Here is an example from the lecture:

  • Never before, in the history of the modern world, has the world’s largest economy been that of a developing country, rather than a developed country.

Do the same with these sentences. Start the sentence with the negative phrase and make the necessary changes to the sentence, keeping the same meaning.

Sicily is the only place where you can only ski and sunbathe in the same afternoon.

Only in ___________________________________________

The new model is not only more powerful than the existing one; it is also cheaper.

Not only _________________________________________

I’ve never seen such maturity in one so young.

Never ___________________________________________

As soon as we had completed our exams, we started preparing for summer school.

No sooner ________________________________________

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