Kingfishers and owls and penguins. Oh my!

Train geeks and birdwatchers will like this story. It’s about how the newer shinkansen are modeled after kingfisher birds’ beaks because the guy who helped design them was a birdwatcher and noticed that nature’s designs can be pretty perfect. He also got hints from owls and penguins. The video goes on to explain biomimicry and how we can learn a lot from biology and nature.

Watch with the CC subtitles turned on to help you improve listening skills and learn some language. Like this phrase: “to make a splash” — which can be literal (a bird makes a splash when it dives into the water) or an idiom (to become noticed/gain a lot of attention because of something you’ve done).

My students will probably not get the title reference. It’s from this scene of the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz”:

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If at first you don’t succeed…

… try, try again. 失敗は成功のもと.

Another saying that’s relevant here: “Necessity is the mother of invention” — the problem with the first iteration of this invention was that nobody needed it.

Read more at NPR: “After A Failed Launch, Smart Shoe Benefits From A Reboot”

And find out more about SolePower

Debate and discussion questions / writing prompts:

  • Would you like to have shoes that charge your phone as you walk?
  • Would you be more interested if they came in other styles than work boots?
  • How much would you be willing to pay for shoes like this?
  • What ways can you imagine this “find me!” (like the “find my phone” app) technology might be useful?
  • But isn’t this just one more way our privacy is being breached?
  • What other kinds of technology would you like to have in your shoes?

First and last

This website is a fun way to look at the first and last lines of famous movies. Here are two examples. Can you guess which movies they are?


There are more first and last lines at the end, with no GIFs. Here’s one example. Can you guess which movie it is? (Yes, that’s easy, but which one?)

A challenge for students: do the same thing with one (or some) of your favorite movies, or books or manga, and add an original visual representation or illustration — think about what images and fonts will help you express the feelings and emotions in those lines.

“A cure for the day”

Halloween decorations are already up in some places and the supermarket in my neighborhood started selling Halloween themed sweets in the first week of September. Too soon?

But it may not be too soon to start planning your Halloween costume, if you’re doing that this year. Here’s a short video about people who are making amazing costumes for kids with disabilities, so people see the costume and the kid, and not the disability.

Did you notice that the word “cosplay” is now part of the English language? Add that to your list of loan words from Japanese.

Here’s the website for the non-profit introduced in the video, if you want to find out more: Magic Wheelchair