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Topic Reading-Vol.1450-3/31/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
The Internet can't work out how many girls are in this Instagram photo
Another viral sensation on the Internet. This time it’s not just to see and laugh or smile. It looks like a simple task but makes you frown and scratch your head.
How many girls are in the photo?
Enjoy staring at the photo and figure out how many girls are there before reading the article.


Topic Reading-Vol.1449-3/30/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
New Zealand votes to keep flag in referendum
Another controversial referendum. Politicians ask the public directly their opinions by the form of referendum when they cannot make a decision themselves or when they propose a change in the constitution. British people seem to like this political process. The independence of Scotland is a recent example and the EU membership is another to be voted soon.
Interestingly, a former British colony has just had such democratic process to end a debate, at least for a while. The national flag. Some New Zealanders want it to show more independence from its former suzerain state by removing the iconic Union Jack from its national flag and present something distinctive to their country such as fern and the color black. Others don’t see the necessity of such a change or just want to keep the tradition. Such a sentimental issue can hardly be decided by the elected representatives. So, they spent NZ$26 million from the budget and unmeasurable amount of time and work for a referendum, which concluded that no change is more favored. It would cost much more if they had chosen the other option to replace the existing one with the new one.
Enjoy reading and thinking which option you would vote for if you were an eligible voter.


Topic Reading-Vol.1448-3/29/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
What really happens to food when you drop it on the floor?
To eat or not to eat. You may ask this question to yourself when you drop food on the floor especially when the food looks in good shape and the floor looks clean. But is it safe as it looks? How much will the food become contaminated once it’s dropped on the floor? The shorter the time it touches the floor, the lower the risk it’s contaminated?
You may struggle to make a decision psychologically and ecologically, and sometimes economically as well especially when the food is appetizing or you’re very hungry.
According to scientists, it seems quite ok to eat dropped food, provided that the place isn’t a doctor’s office or a slaughter house. It is because you are actually living with uncountable number of microbes anyway in the air, on objects and even on your skin. But most of them are harmless. Then the issue becomes more psychological. For example, if you drop a piece of buttered toast, you may judge whether to put it into your mouth or not based on which side of the toast touches the floor, not how long it stays on the floor.
Enjoy reading and learning about the world you’re living in.


Topic Reading-Vol.1447-3/28/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Dark side of India’s tea villages - Raid reunites trafficked tea plantation sisters
Are you a tea drinker? There is a story behind the tea leaves in your pot. India, the second most populous country in the world, is also the second most tea producing country after China. While drinkers of tea enjoy the flavor and taste and traders and producers make money, workers in tea plantations in India seem to earn no more than what can barely live with, and sometimes even own unrepayable amount of debts.
Then there are people who try to take advantage of such desperate lives of those tea plantation workers. They approach with money and promises that those poor labors can hardly resist, take their daughters from their families and sell them to places whose conditions are far different from what they had promised.
But if there is dark side, there is also a bright side. An organization founded by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bachao Bachpan Andolan, or the BBA, are working to protect children from child labor and trafficking.
Read the article and watch the video to learn what is behind tea leaves.


Topic Reading-Vol.1446-3/27/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
World's worst cities for rush hour traffic
Evening traffic. Everyone wants to get home as fast as they can. But that could be the busiest time of the day on the road, especially for the cities listed in this article. Most of them are the capital of the country or major regional center. Though there are good jobs and opportunities there, spending more time on the congested road daily isn’t that rewarding especially after a busy day. But life goes on and so does the traffic. When will those drivers and passengers get relief from such wasteful and painful commute?
Despite surging e-commerce and online shopping, many people are still physically commuting to their workplaces.
Which sounds more realistic, changing a place to live in or a job to commute?
For visitors to those cities, the answer is much simpler. Just choose the right time to visit and move around.
Enjoy reading and learning what cities are crowned as the most congested in the world.


Topic Reading-Vol.1445-3/26/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Living in chains: In Indonesia, mentally ill kept shackled in filthy cells
What a horrifying practice! Imagine a person being confined in a walled space for years, where there is no window or toilet. Eat, sleep, urinate and defecate all in one space.
This is not to punish someone who committed a crime or violated rules or anything. It is a common practice to heal mentally ill persons in many parts in Indonesia where there aren’t enough facilities or mental practitioners to provide proper treatment. In fact, many still believe that such mental disabilities are caused by being cast by someone, so that the family members try to hide the ill person from their society and give supernatural treatment such as …
If you’re interested to know what kinds of treatment are practiced, read this article.


Topic Reading-Vol.1444-3/25/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Inside the secret world of accent training
Everyone has a different accent. Everyone talks differently. But when you work at a call center, you need to deal with anyone who calls in. And in many cases, those callers are expecting you to solve his or her problems. They aren’t always nice and friendly but you have to be. Sounds very challenging, doesn’t it?
Business Process Outsourcing, BPO, industry is growing in the Philippines and is already vital for the country’s economy and employment. Although the country has relatively high English literacy rate, English isn’t their native language. Those who work for call centers still have to deal with all sorts of callers, not just native speakers but also non-native English speakers whose pronunciation, intonation or accent are so distinctive.
Enjoy reading and learning about the other end of the phone line.


Topic Reading-Vol.1443-3/24/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
How to make something go viral on the internet
Mime on the Internet. While many marketers make every effort possible to make their product or service go viral on the Internet, others simply does it without any intention or preparation.
Tuna the dog is one such example. A picture-sharing social network not only made him a celebrity but also his master a full-time marketer. He was abandoned by the roadside, adopted in a farmer’s market, uploaded on the Internet and adored by many. What are the odds for an abandoned cross-bred dog to be adopted and become a meme?
Enjoy reading and thinking if 'luck is when preparation meets opportunity,' as quoted in the article, is still vital to go viral.


Topic Reading-Vol.1442-3/23/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Why your next hotel will be staffed by robots
Are robots as welcoming as humans? Maybe depending on the location, situation or function. Robots are generally consistent and dependable though not as versatile or flexible as humans. But more and more robots are taking roles of humans even in hotels. In fact, there is a hotel in Japan that has robots do most of human-interaction jobs such as reception and cloak while humans clean and prepare rooms. It sounds like humans do just physical labor and robots interact and service the guests.
As google’s algorithm beat human go champion, robots are going to do more than just automatable jobs. Humans will need to provide more or better than what robots can do to get a job. So what skills or qualifications are needed in the future?
Enjoy reading and thinking what the world will be like just 10 years from now.


Topic Reading-Vol.1441-3/22/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Denmark the 'happiest country' and Burundi 'the least happy'
Does happiness mean the same to all? How should happiness be measured? How do people rate their happiness? Despite all these controversies, a report was presented by the UN's Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) to rank 156 countries by happiness.
It finds that the narrower the inequality is, the happier the people are. The size doesn’t seem to matter for happiness. What people feel happy about seems to be intangible but important to their daily life. Also, how people perceive their lives in their given situations affects the happiness index distinctly. For example, despite the poverty, inequality and security concerns, people in Mexico rated themselves much happier than those in the U.S.
Enjoy reading and learning what happiness mean to people in different places and cultures.


Topic Reading-Vol.1440-3/21/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
How airline pilots beat jet lag?
Like traveling but hate jet lag. Waking up in the middle of the night or feeling drowsy during the day. If you don’t have obligations or activities that require clear attention, it’s not a problem. Just take a nap or get up whenever your body wants. But such luxury is rarely enjoyed because most people are traveling to far-east or far-west on purpose.
So how are frequent long-haul flight crew members managing jet lag? Is there any one to work-for-all kind of trick or treat?
There seem to be only a few things can be commonly said. West-bound is more manageable than east-bound. Takes a day for a time zone. No one rule applies for all.
Enjoy reading and learning how people manage jet lag.


Topic Reading-Vol.1439-3/20/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Ransom; Kidnapping someone in Mexico is like being a rock star
Absolutely shocking. Not just the number of kidnapping in Mexico, but the fact that victims’ families aren’t reporting to police, only one percent of the estimated cases.
Why? Because people just don’t trust police. They think they are corrupt and suspect some them are even involved.
So what do they do? In Mexico, kidnapping seems to be part of business by gangs. The objective is clear. Money, whether small or large, depending on their project. The victim could be anyone, ranging from ordinary workers to rich business man.
How do they cope with the kidnapping? There are kidnapping insurance to cover the ransom and private negotiators who could be hired by the victim’s family.
If you’re interested in learning what this ruthless crime is about in Mexico, read this.


Topic Reading-Vol.1438-3/19/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Indian railways to wash blankets 'every day'
Wow! They haven’t been? If this announcement is official, how long have the present blankets been unwashed?
Whether or not a blanket is needed in India, if such blankets are put on the train, they must smell badly or even cause unsanitary conditions. They may better be removed from the fleet of 12,000 trains. Those who dare to use such blankets must be seriously in need of warmth or smellier than them.
Enjoy reading and imagining what a blanket in India smells like after 60 days.


Topic Reading-Vol.1437-3/18/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Opinion: China's military is gearing up to compete with the U.S.
Where is China going? Reclaiming the ownership and sovereignty in disputed seas doesn’t seem to be enough. They created an artificial island to serve as a military base. That isn’t just enough. They’ve started building a first of its kind oversea military base in Djibouti, a strategically vital spot in the horn of Africa.
While the only global superpower, the USA, seems retreating its role somehow, the new rising power is becoming more influential by money and force not only in the region but also in the world.
China is no exception to have to deal with domestic problems such as slowing economic growth and employment especially among the young and state-owned enterprises. They are much more aggressive in reinforcing their presence in the world by firepower.
Enjoy reading and learning what China and its PLA are up to.


Topic Reading-Vol.1436-3/17/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Artificial intelligence: Google's AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol
Another shocking defeat to human intelligence and instinct. It was 1997 when then the world chess champion was beaten by IBM’s Deep Blue. It was considered as victory of computing. But most humans, except for a few AI researchers, thought it was just a matter of faster computing than humans and had been in belief of the superiority of human ingenuity and instinct to machine intelligence until March 12, 2016.
Now, in a best of five Go match, Google’s AI player beat a legendary Go champion by 3-0.  Go is a 19x19 grid board game that is much more complex than chess. It was expected to take much longer to develop AI, artificial intelligence, to match the human brain.
Enjoy reading and thinking what AI will do to you in not so distant future.


Topic Reading-Vol.1435-3/16/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
The world smallest kingdom
No need for a crown because he has a palace. Though there are no permanent residents besides the royal family, this kingdom is now visited by enthusiastic divers and its GDP is growing accordingly. Tourism is the only industry and a restaurant is the only business in this tiny island kingdom, Tavolara.
Though it is registered as part of Italy now, it had been recognized its sovereignty by other royal families until about a half century ago.
The current king of this 180-year-old kingdom has privileges that no other majesty can enjoy. Majestic scenery and nature, complete privacy and freedom, no formal duties or obligations.
Enjoy reading and thinking of what the life is like to live in one’s own island.


Topic Reading-Vol.1434-3/15/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Women see little improvement in world of work – ILO
March 8th was the International Women’s Day. It is one of the UN recognized International Days to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
One of the reports released for the day shows very little improvement in work opportunities for women for the last twenty years. And when it comes to senior positions, women take only 24% even with a three-percent increase for the last five years.
Enjoy reading and guessing which country has the highest and lowest ratio for women’s representation in senior business roles. 


Topic Reading-Vol.1433-3/14/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Greece's 'warehouse of souls:' Refugees stuck in old stadiums, derelict airport
A stadium is a place where people gather to enjoy seeing sport games or music concerts. But here people gathered only to see others like them being stranded.
An airport is a place where people depart for or arrive from other places. But here people only arrive from the same place and go nowhere.
That’s the situation the refugees from Syria and some other countries are facing in abundant facilities in Greece. They left their homeland in danger and in a hope to get to a place where they can live in peace and get a job. However, because of the unsustainable number of such refugees, once-praised Schengen Agreement to guarantee free movement within participating EU countries is on the brink of collapse. In fact, some boarders are closed physically having been installed unpenetrable fences to block incoming refugees.
And they the life of the refugees is safer but their hope is fading away.
Read and watch the videos to learn what the lives of those stranded refugees are like.


Topic Reading-Vol.1432-3/13/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
South Korea tackles youth mobile-phone addiction
How much is too much? That is the question having been asked to the parent whose children are obsessed by TV, video games, the Internet and smartphone. Today, the most addictive device is no doubt the smartphone which can be held nearly all day. Once children are addicted, it’s hard to de-addict them from the obsessed gadget. There aren’t so many options their parents can take but to watch them in a hope that they will get bored someday.
In South Korea, where most of the population are highly skilled net users, the government is setting up a treatment center to de-addict those who can’t get away from their smartphones. There, children spend a few weeks without smartphones or PCs. Instead, they do what children used to do; read books, play games and talk with others.
Enjoy reading and seeing the video and think if you should be in the center for some time.


Topic Reading-Vol.1431-3/12/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Love is better than food, if you’re a pair of great tit.
Is it really love? Researchers in the UK found that these tiny birds prefer staying together rather than looking for food alone. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
In fact, they seem to be very smart and insightful. Getting food is of course essential to live for any animal or bird, but that could be just immediate or short-term benefit. However, staying together is essential for this species to raise their offspring, which could be viewed as longer-term benefit.
So they may be smarter and more patient than just being romantic.
Enjoy reading and thinking if staying together is romance or benefit.


Topic Reading-Vol.1430-3/11/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Peanut allergy theory backed up by new research
Peanut allergy causes an overreaction of the immune system and is recognized as one of the most severe food allergies. Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment to prevent or cure allergic reactions to peanuts. Thus, the only and the best way to avoid this allergic reaction is simply to avoid taking peanuts.
A recent study found that having babies eat peanuts in their very early lives seems to help avoid the risk of getting allergy. That sounds contradictory especially for babies who are already diagnosed to prone to peanut allergy.
Enjoy reading about this new experiment that could possibly same many children become peanut allergy.


Topic Reading-Vol.1429-3/10/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Why “bowl of food” might be tricking your brain?
Human perception doesn’t seem so accurate. When the same amount of fried rice is served on a large plate and in a small bowl, which one will you feel more satisfied before and after eating? Interestingly, the relative size often matters more than the actual size of food. It’s visual illusion. But that’s not it. You may actually feel more satisfied by the taste of the same food when it’s served in a bowl rather than on a plate. Is that still illusion or the perception mechanism?
There are all kinds of bowl food in Asia where rice is the main part of a meal. A variety of toppings are put on a bowl of rice. It is especially popular for lunch and among busy people. Now there are people even in western cultures who find it easier more satisfactory to eat an everything-mixed bowl meal than a typical dish.
Is that because people tend to eat more often on the desk than on the table? Or is that because people use only one hand to eat while use the other to touch their smartphone?
Enjoy reading and learning about this phenomena.


Topic Reading-Vol.1428-3/9/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Can 5,300-year-old mummy finally get its voice?
Otzi the Iceman. He’s a 5,300-year-old mummy. Unlike the royal mummies in Egypt, he was found alone in one of the glaciers in Alps, up 3,000 meters high in 1991. He is estimated to have been 45 when he was murdered by someone and then was unintendedly mummified by nature.
Now researchers are trying to bring his voice back. They are hopeful to recreate his vowel sounds and possibly some consonant sounds, as well. But just the voice, not words because they have no idea what kind of language he was speaking back then.
How will that be possible?
Enjoy reading and leaning what today’s archology and medical science can reveal or recreate from a mummy. 


Topic Reading-Vol.1427-3/8/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Why it’s so good to scratch an itch?
What’s the difference between an itch and a pain? They both are stimuli to the spinal cord and brain, one is caused by a weak stimuli and the other is by a strong one. Also, while one can be healed or eased by scratching, the other is certainly not.
Itches can be caused by an insect bite, dry air, skin disease, or other mental or physical disorders. And no matter what the cause is, scratching an itch always brings one immediate pleasurable sensation or relief.
Are you getting itchy or do you feel like scratching some part of your body? That may be because itches are often contagious, like yawning.
Enjoy reading and learning what an itch is about and why people scratch it.


Topic Reading-Vol.1426-3/7/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Scott Kelly: I can spend another year in space
How does this sound to you? You’re paid well for a year, fed nutritious food, provided free rent, Internet connection, 24/7 medical and biological monitor service. What’s more, you can enjoy astonishing view that nowhere on earth offers all the time. No labor work to lift or carry heavy things at all.
Interested? OK. But here are some drawbacks. The space is totally isolated and shielded from outside, food is neither fresh nor cooked but preserved, the roommates are just a few, and furthermore, no gravity.
Yes, this is what an American astronaut experienced in the International Space Station with a Russian mate. He is now thoroughly examined by medical and physical experts for some time to study how human body, brain and mind are affected in an isolated zero-gravity space.
Why do they do this sort of costly experiment?
Enjoy reading and learning what the life in and view from space is like.


Topic Reading-Vol.1425-3/6/2016

 Dear MEL Topic Readers,
What the march of the machines means for your job
It’s no longer science fiction, Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. It is happening and growing. Computers now learn from data and information by themselves. They can also learn from the experiences and results of their actions and outputs, and fast. They don’t need to be revised the programs but they modify and improve the algorithms themselves. Sounds impressive but also scary if robots think and act autonomously. Imagine they do your jobs more efficiently and economically, where would you go?
There seem to be jobs to be replaced by such intelligent machines, just like collateral or administrative jobs that have already been disappeared from most work places.
So what do you need to do to be competitive or valuable in the future work environment?
Enjoy reading and learning what you may want to or want your children to try doing to stay valuable in the world full of AI.


Topic Reading-Vol.1424-3/5/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Chinese test tube baby born from frozen embryo after 12 years
Smart choice and investment. This Chinese couple has been paying 50 cents a day to keep their embryos frozen for 12 years in case, or hoping, to have another baby. Thanks to the recent lift of the one-child policy, they took a chance to have their second child. And the second son was successfully born weighing healthy 3,440 grams.
The new born baby boy is one of the five million babies born through IVF worldwide since 1978. As nearly one in eight of the child-bearing age is estimated to have infertility problem in China, this news may further promote IVF especially when a second child is no longer a dream or breach of the law.
Enjoy reading and thinking if 12 years is possible, what about a couple of hundred years, like “The Songs of Distant Earth” by Arthur C. Clark’s novel.


Topic Reading-Vol.1423-3/4/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
What is India's caste system?
What is it like to live in a historically and religiously segregated society? Will you bear with your last name that identifies your social and religious class?
That what India’s caste system is like. There are four main castes and 3,000 castes that are further divided into 25,000 sub-castes. And inter-caste marriages had not been common until recently. In large cities where more people from different castes live, study and work together, the caste system has become less influential. But in rural or certain regions, the practice still remains firm even though it is legally abolished. In fact, there are quotas for certain low-caste people for government and teaching jobs as part of affirmative action efforts and political maneuvers.
So why have recent protests occurred leaving many to die?
Enjoy reading and learning what this India’s thousand-year old segregation is about.


Topic Reading-Vol.1422-3/3/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Why do the British say ‘Sorry’ so much? 
Is that the nationality or personality? Instead of saying, “Hey” or “Excuse me”, Brits seem to say “Sorry.” That doesn’t mean they are apologizing to the other but just asking for an attention or interruption. It may be part of their so-called negative politeness attitude, keeping a safe distance from others instead of being part of others. It is sort of self-protection in a culture where social classes had existed until recently. The same behavior can also be seen in Japan where sumimasen, meaning sorry, could mean both apology and calling for attention.
It may also be because of the weather in England where rain is part of life. People might feel natural and common to say “sorry about the rain” to start a conversation. In Japan, people also often start a conversation but in more positive fashion saying, “good day, isn’t it?”
Enjoy reading and finding this interesting British tendency.


Topic Reading-Vol.1421-3/2/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
Harvard abolishes 'master' in titles in slavery row
You needn’t worry about your master’s degree, if you have one at Harvard. They’ve just agreed to change the title of “House master”, who is in charge of residential halls at the university to "faculty dean," in response to the students’ protest that “master” echoes of slavery.
Such disputes about race and identity seem to have affected many universities and colleges in the U.S., about the seals, statues, building names and links used in the campus. They are also seen in institutions in other countries such as South Africa and England.
However, the way schools are handling these protests is quite different. Oxford rejected a demand to remove a statue of the 19th century politician from one of its colleges saying the world is not always comfortable for all.
Enjoy reading and thinking whether students should be able to confront ideas that make them uncomfortable.


Topic Reading-Vol.1420-3/1/2016

Dear MEL Topic Readers,
From Xi to shining Xi: China's propaganda machine goes into overdrive
Firm grip on Media, if not direct control. After solidifying the commandership of the military, China’s mighty leader seems to have demonstrated his force in the media.
There has been propaganda campaigns in English on the web to appeal to foreigners and domestic media how mighty and influential the communist party and the leadership are. Now, there are more appearances of the incumbent leader than any other his predecessor on the paper and the net. It looks as if they are creating and spreading absolute leadership, if not dictatorship, sentiments within the most populated country in the world.
The state media, being visited by the supreme leader, was left no choice but to vow its loyalty to the leader and party, and aired a special show in the most-viewed hour during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Enjoy seeing the funky show created by the state media and think what it would do and was meant for.