Intermediate

New planets discovered

Scientists have recently discovered two exoplanets, Kepler-62f and Kepler 186f, which are located within the habitable zones of their respective stars, and the best part is that the planets probably have stable climates and regular seasons. The astronomers also believe that one of them is similar in size to our home planet. 

Researchers from the Georgia Tech and Harvard University found out that both Kepler-186f and Kepler-62f seem to be steadily tilted on their axis, just like Earth, giving them stable climates and seasons. "Our calculations show that their spin would have remained constant over tens of millions of years," said Georgia Tech's Assistant Professor Gongjie Li. According to the scientists, these exoplanets are capable of harboring life.

Discussion: 
How likely do you think it is that there is life on other planets?
Astronomy research is very expensive, with increasingly sophisticated telescopes, spaceships, and the International Space Station. Do you believe it is worth the cost? Why or why not?

Good news for coffee drinkers

Coffee is among the most commonly consumed beverages on earth. Because of its popularity, it has attracted a great deal of research over the years.

Scientists have now stacked up a fair amount of evidence proving that coffee can protect against certain diseases and may even extend lifespan. Studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption might protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, to name but three.

But the findings to date leave some unanswered questions. For instance, certain people have genetic variations that alter the way in which they metabolize, or break down, caffeine. How are they affected? Similarly, does the type of coffee — ground, instant, or decaffeinated — make a difference?

Discussion: 
Can you summarize the article in two sentences?
Are you a coffee drinker? If so, would scientific findings alter your consumption habits?
Why would so much time and money be spent on research about the health benefits of coffee?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are now experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a period of rapid change driven by progress in science and technology. The main drivers of 4IR are AI, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Japan will play a leading role in global innovation with a new World Economic Forum (WEF) center devoted to maximizing the potential of the 4IR, says Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman.

“Japan is not sufficiently recognized for its innovative capabilities,” Schwab said in a recent interview with Forbes Japan. “The world is speaking about what’s happening in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, but it is not aware that Japan has created a very successful startup community.”

Discussion: 
How does the Fourth Industrial Revolution differ from the Third?
Do you agree that Japan will lead the way in 4IR? Why or why not?
What are the benefits of 4IR? What are the risks?

New minpaku law regulates rentals

A new law will go into effect in June 2018 to regulate minpaku, private residences rented out by their owners as short-term lodgings. The new law will address changes that have occurred in recent years due to the rise of Airbnb, the worldwide online service that allows travelers to book rooms in private homes directly from the owners of those residences.

After June 15, minpaku rentals will be permitted throughout Japan. Under the new law, if owners don’t live in the building where they rent rooms, they will be required to hire a management company to take care of the property. 

Discussion: 
What is your opinion of minpaku?
Are you, or anyone you know, involved in the minpaku business? Do you think it has the potential to create significant revenue for Japan?
When you travel, do you prefer to stay in hotels or in more intimate lodgings such as Airbnb or minpaku rentals?

Migratory birds in danger

The Trump administration has announced a position on protecting migratory birds that is a drastic pullback from policies in force for the past 100 years.

In 1916, the U.S.A. and Great Britain signed the Migratory Bird Treaty, which became U.S. law in 1918. The measures protected more than 1,100 migratory bird species by making it illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell live or dead birds, feathers, eggs, and nests, except as allowed by permit or regulated hunting.

Now the Interior Department has issued a legal opinion that excludes “incidental take” – activities that are not intended to harm birds but do so in ways that could have been foreseen, such as filling in wetlands where migrating birds rest and feed. Why? For fear of “unlimited potential for criminal prosecution,” such as charging cat owners whose pets attack migratory birds, or drivers who accidentally strike birds with their cars, with crimes.

Discussion: 
The article says the U.S. "announced a position... that is a drastic pullback." What's another way to say that?
Why is the shift in U.S. policy concerning the MBTA relevant to other nations?
What other issues transcend national borders?
If environmental protections are a financial burden to a nation's economy, should business protections take precedence over environmental ones?

Blockchain technology in space

Future spacecraft could think for themselves using the same technology that powers Bitcoin.

A new $330,000 NASA grant supports work to develop autonomous spacecraft that could make more decisions without human intervention. One example could be enabling spacecraft to dodge space debris faster than a human on Earth could help out the far-away probe.

"I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically," principal investigator Jin Wei Kocsis, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Akron in Ohio, said in the statement. 

If proven, Wei Kocsis' early-stage research would be especially useful in deep-space environments, where spacecraft communicating back to Earth must currently wait for hours for a response.

Discussion: 
There is a lot of excitement about blockchain technology today. Do you think it deserves the attention it's getting?
What uses do you see for blockchain technology in Japan?
What do you think about deep space exploration? Is it worth the cost?

Native English teachers needed

More and more elementary school teachers in Japan are turning to English language schools with native speakers, as they seek to gain confidence in teaching the language before it is formally added to their curricula in the academic year starting April 2020.

Many teachers admit to lacking confidence in their English, in areas from vocabulary to grammar, expressiveness and pronunciation. Elementary school teachers say they are afraid of teaching their students “the wrong thing.”

In 2011 Japan made English compulsory for fifth- and sixth-graders as part of their extra-curricular “foreign language activities.” Last year the guidelines were further revised to start English education from the third grade as part of foreign language teaching, and make English a formal subject from fifth grade, starting in 2020, in an effort to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness.

Discussion: 
When did you begin to study the English language?
What are the advantages of studying a new language with a native speaker?
English education in Japan is generally thought to be lacking. Is the answer more years of education?
In your opinion, will improving English proficiency help Japan become more globally competitive? Why or why not?

Rare earths discovered

Every day, we use products that are built using “rare earths”—a group of 17 elements that are, as the name suggests, very rare. They’re used to make everyday items such as rechargeable batteries, LED lights and display panels, as well as larger products such as wind turbines.

Now, it turns out, Japan has an estimated 16 million tons of the stuff on its turf. Researchers claim the trove might be enough to supply the world with metals such as yttrium and europium on a “semi-infinite basis.”

This is good news for Japan’s industrial sector. The world’s biggest source of rare earths is by far China, which has in the past halted exports to Japan when the two countries have been at odds.

Discussion: 
Have you heard of these materials before?
Why are rare earths so valuable in today's world?
How will it change Japan's economy if these rare earths can be extracted?
In your opinion, would it ease tensions with China, heighten them or not effect them?

Luxury space hotel

Well-heeled space tourists will have a new orbital destination four years from now, if one company's plans come to fruition. The California-based startup Orion Span aims to loft its "Aurora Station" in late 2021 and begin accommodating guests in 2022.

"We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel," said Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger. A 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million, which is quite a bit less than orbital tourists have paid in the past. From 2001 through 2009, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station, paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each time.

Aurora Station will be about the size of a large private jet's cabin and will accommodate four paying guests and two crewmembers. Orion Span plans to add more modules onto the original Aurora Station core over time as demand grows.

Discussion: 
Do you think the start-up company Orion Span will be successful? Why or why not?
In your opinion, is the cost of LEO industries a good investment for the future?
Discuss the pros and cons of exploiting low Earth orbit space.
How much would you pay for a space holiday?

Let workers sleep

Many business leaders still believe that time on-task equates to productivity. However, studies have shown that shorter amounts of sleep lead to both lower efficiency and slower completion of basic tasks. That is, sleepy employees are unproductive employees, and they generate fewer and less accurate solutions to problems.

Many people don't understand that when you are not getting enough sleep, you work less productively and thus need to work longer hours to accomplish a goal, creating a negative feedback loop.

The effects of sleep deficiency on CEOs and supervisors are equally powerful. On days when the supervisor was under-slept, the employees rated them as having worse self-control and being more abusive to others.

Allowing and encouraging employees, supervisors, and executives to arrive at work well rested makes them productive individuals who inspire and support one another. Ounces of sleep offer pounds of business in return.

Discussion: 
How much sleep do you need to be productive on the job? Are you able to get that much sleep regularly?
If you talked to your CEO, what would your argument be for reducing work hours to get more sleep?
Why is getting enough sleep important?
Do you think an afternoon "siesta" is a possible solution?