Sunday, April 25, 2010

"The Star Wars Robots" from Edcon Publishing

Some movie stars have never had an acting lesson.

The robot is a popular character in science-fiction films, for there is a special magic about a machine meant to take a human's place. A film robot displays an assortment of skills. It can do the work of a computer. It can lift heavy objects or walk through walls of solid rock. It can move with equal ease on strange planets or the hulls of spacecraft. It faces all kinds of dangers, even destruction, without complaint. And all of these marvelous feats are demonstrated only on the command of its human masters.

Perhaps best of all, robots can play many roles. They can walk, talk, eat, and smile like humans, never betraying that they are only machines. Or they can look like the machines they are, move about on tracks and wheels, and communicate only in beeps. Their wonderful skills can be used for Good, as when a robot aids the escape of the trapped hero. Or they can work on the side of Evil, their powers terrifying, beyond control. Over the years, science-fiction films have placed robots in all these roles, and more. Three popular movies - Silent Running, Westworld, and Star Wars - show just how different the roles of robots can be.

In Silent Running, a space station endlessly orbits an earth too crowded for its forests. On the space station a few clusters of trees have been placed under glass domes to preserve them for future generations. A small crew tends the trees, aided by a trio of robots. When the order comes from earth to destroy the space station and come home, the human crew prepares gleefully to do so. But one gentle, sentimental crew member, Freeman Lowell, makes up his mind to save the forests. He uses the three robots, whom he names Huey, Dewey, and Louie, in a plan of mutiny.

The three robots are tiny, barely reaching to Lowell's knees. They cannot even communicate with their master in human speech. They can only listen and obey. But Lowell is lonely and he begins to see the trio as friends and allies. He talks quietly to them of the forests and growing things and the earth becoming green again; he sings Smokey the Bear songs. At the conclusion of the film, Lowell lies dying but content, for the forests have been saved. He charges the only remaining robot with the task of tending the forests. The robot obeys, not because it shares Lowell's feeling, of course, but because it has been designed to obey.

The robots in the movie Westworld differ in almost every respect from those in Silent Running. The movie is set in a vacation resort where robots help to fulfill the resort guests' dearest dreams. Westworld is one of three separate parts of the resort (the others are Roman World and Medieval WorId). It resembles a frontier town of the old West, featuring an assortment of robot people and animals, including dance-hall girls, horses, gunfighters, piano players, and rattlesnakes. Each robot is a perfect imitation of the real item, with one important difference - it cannot harm a resort guest.

The guests may choose any role that is appropriate to their resort area. In Westworld, for example, a guest can be a bank robber, sheriff, cowboy, gunfighter, hotel keeper, dance-hall girl, or a cheater at cards. He or she is free to do whatever the role requires. He can hold up a bank, ride his horse into the hotel dining room, lock up thieves, or shoot it out at sundown. He is assured of adventure and excitement, whatever his role, and knows that he cannot be injured. In a shoot-out with a robot gunfighter, the robot always loses.

The robots are carefully controlled by a team of white-coated experts who watch computers and TV screens for hours at a time. When a robot is killed (damaged so badly that it ceases to work), it is dragged out of the way by other robots. Then, in the dead of night, after the resort guests are sound asleep, a crew comes out in a truck and creeps about collecting the damaged robots. Another crew, in a control center much like a hospital operating room, repairs the damaged robots. New wiring is put into place. New arms and legs are attached. New plastic skin is skillfully applied. The robots are then returned to action.

One day, without warning, the robots begin to turn on the guests. Within hours, an all-out mutiny has begun. The computer experts, trapped in their control room by an equipment failure, can do nothing to help. People are shot, stabbed, burned, and tortured by robots. One Westworld guest is trailed by a gunfighter robot through Roman World and Medieval World as he seeks aid. The robot has a special skill: it can track a human through a device that senses body heat. The gunfighter can follow its prey anywhere, simply by sensing the heat left by human feet on the ground. At last the guest is able to destroy the robot - but not until he has reduced it to a burned, staggering wreck.

That the robots in Westworld cannot be distinguished from real people and animals makes them especially terrifying. The guests cannot tell friend from foe. Worse yet, the robots are only machines and cannot reason. The only way to escape them is to destroy them. The greatest danger lies in the fact that they are machines with astonishing abilities, machines no longer obedient to those who created them.

Star Wars presents robots in yet another role. The film is set in the distant future, when people have colonized space. A battle rages between the evil, powerful government and an alliance of rebel worlds. The rebels steal the plans for a secret weapon. The plans are given to a robot named R2D2 (or Artoo Deetoo), who must get them into the proper hands. Artoo's squeals and beeps are the best it can offer in the way of speech. As for appearance, Artoo looks like a barrel on three clumsy metal legs. But he has his talents: he is a computer and able to plug into any other computer to drain its information as needed.

Artoo is joined in his task by a second robot, C3PO (Cee Threepio). Threepio is a bit more like a human in appearance than his robot friend, resembling a knight in golden armor. His speech, although stiff and formal, is quite human. This unusual alliance becomes important as time goes on. Threepio rescues Artoo from a junkyard, and the two work together to save a group of brave rebels from the hands of the evil government. And when Artoo goes into battle near the end of the film, Threepio pleads in sentimental tones, "Hang on tight, Artoo, you've got to come back. You wouldn't want my life to get boring would you?"

Artoo and Threepio are lovable characters. Threepio is practical, cautious, and, above all, dignified; Artoo is brave and loyal. Threepio's speech suggests real feelings of fear and love, and even little Artoo's beeps and squeals betray a tender heart. Of the three films, only Star Wars places robots in roles that win the viewer's sympathy and approval. In Star Wars the robots are very nearly human.

Film stars have long been admired and adored by millions, but science-fiction films may be providing new idols for the public.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher


1. A popular character in science-fiction films is the ______
a. spacecraft.
b. human master.
c. computer.
d. robot.

2. Three popular movies show _____
a. how alike the roles of robots can be.
b. space stations endlessly orbiting earth.
c. trees under glass domes.
d. how different the roles of robots can be.

3. A trio of robots is used for Good in the film ____
a. Westworld.
b. Silent Running.
c. Star Wars.
d. Mariner 9.

4. The robots in Star Wars were named ____
a. R2D2 and CP30.
b. Artoo Deepio and Ceetoopio.
c. Artoo Deetoo and Cee Threepio.
d. Good and Evil.

5. The personalities of the two robots in Star Wars _____
a. were similar.
b. were very different.
c. were exactly the same.
d. were annoying to viewers.

6. Robots won the viewer's sympathy and approval ________
a. in one of the films mentioned.
b. in two of the films mentioned.
c. in all of the films mentioned.
d. in none of the films mentioned.

7. The film mentioned second in the story is ______
a. Smokey the Bear.
b. Star Wars.
c. Westworld.
d. Silent Running.

8. The following person would probably be added to the staff of a film company producing a science-fiction movie:
a. an electronics expert.
b. a doctor.
c. a nutrition expert.
d. a teacher.

9. Another name for this selection could be _______
a. "Future Film Stars."
b. "Writing Science Fiction."
c. "The Thrill of Westworld."
d. "Stars of Star Wars."

10. This selection is mainly about _______
a. all types of film idols.
b. the popularity of outer space travel.
c. the role of robots in new science-fiction
d. the writers of science-fiction films.

The Droid, R2-D2, from Wikipedia
R2-D2 in Episode One of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in Episode Two of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in Episode Three of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in "The Attack of the Screwdriver."
R2-D2 Lament: Electronic Music for Diego, Youtube

This Youtube video from VOA shows where Robot technology stands now.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"To the Rescue" from Edcon Publishing.

Something you will read about: hospice, a place, often maintained by monks, where travelers can stop and rest. Alpine dogs helped many travelers reach safety.

Barry was a rescue dog at the Saint Bernard Hospice long ago. The hospice stood on a lonely peak in the Alps near the only passage between Italy and Switzerland. Travelers climbing this cold, icy path faced many dangers. Without warning, sudden storms would start, and a whole mountainside would thunder down in a rush of ice and rock. Instantly, snow would hide the path. Travelers could become lost and the victims of hungry wolves.

During storms, Barry searched for weary, half-frozen strangers and led them to the
hospice where they were welcomed with a roaring fire, hot food, and warm beds.
People were fortunate to find help on their journeys. Before the hospice had been built, there was no help for travelers. Savage men, who hid in caves, robbed and beat strangers roaming the mountain passes.

The pass was the only road to a valley where peasants found work. When returning to their homes, many met with misfortune. Protecting poor people was the responsibility of a nearby church. Injured people, who had been robbed and escaped to return home, were helped by kindly monks.

One day a monk from the church went into the mountains to help poor, lost wanderers. He persuaded the people who lived there to let him build a shelter where travelers could rest in safety. His love for helpless people caused him to exert all his efforts to this work for the rest of his life. When he died, he was remembered as Saint Bernard of Menthon.

The greatest accomplishment of Saint Bernard was to build a shelter high in the Swiss Alps. After nearly one thousand years, a shelter stands in the same spot and is known as the Saint Bernard Hospice.

Saint Bernard did not do all this work alone. Other monks went up the mountain to help, and they took guard dogs as protection from wolves. They did not know that the dogs would become famous for rescue work. The monks learned that their dogs could always find a way back to the shelter during dense fogs and blizzards. In snowstorms, even strong, mature travelers often lost the way and were led to safety by the dogs.
Sometimes, the dogs would stop suddenly on the trail and shift to a different path. The dogs could feel the earth vibrate through the deep snow. They knew that rocks and ice would come crashing down the mountain.

By exerting their natural instincts, the dogs rescued many wanderers. The monks trained them to go out in storms alone to search for travelers lost in the snow. The monks discovered that their dogs could find someone buried under seven feet of snow. The dogs dug away the snow, licked the face of the traveler, and then led him to the shelter. If the traveler did not move, the dogs returned to the monks for help. Many legends are told about these marvelous dogs. Once, in 1800, they helped the French general, Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was during his famous crossing of the Alps with forty thousand soldiers. The soldiers were exhausted from their climb up the mountain. They had worn out many pairs of shoes in their struggle over the rugged rock and ice. Ten men, pulling a heavy cannon, had a misfortune. They fell into a deep ravine hidden by fallen snow. Dogs from the hospice found them and led them to safety and a warm supper.

In that same year, Barry was born. He became the most famous of all rescue dogs. During his twelve years of work at the hospice, Barry saved forty lives - perhaps more. His greatest accomplishment makes an amazing story. It happened when Barry was a trained, mature dog. He had been helping the monks rescue a traveling party. As they returned to the hospice, Barry suddenly turned away. The monks called to him, but Barry would not return and the others had to continue without him.

The monks worried about Barry and watched for his return. Hours passed before they saw him come carefully up the path to the hospice with something on his back. The strange thing on his back was a little girl that Barry had found lying in the snow. She was too cold to travel further. Barry stretched out next to her in the snow, and she grabbed his fur and clung to his back. Then the dog arose and carried her to the hospice. He understood his responsibility.

Barry was an old dog when he died. According to legend, it was the evening of a furious storm. Slumbering on the floor, Barry felt the mountain vibrate. He barked as a warning of danger and paced the floor. The kind monks did not want to let the brave old dog out in the blinding snow, but Barry insisted and they opened the door. Barry raced into the icy night to find a soldier buried under snow. When Barry licked his frozen face, the soldier awoke and, thinking Barry a wolf, drove his sword through the brave animal. The wounded Barry returned to the shelter for help, leaving a trail of blood. The monks followed his trail, and the soldier was rescued.

To honor his great deeds, money was collected for a statue of Barry carrying a small child on his back. His body was preserved and is still in a museum in Switzerland.
These gentle dogs of mercy are called Saint Bernards in honor of the founder of the hospice. In two hundred fifty years, they rescued more than two thousand people. And always, at the Saint Bernard Hospice, one dog is named Barry in memory of the most famous of them all.

1. Barry was _______
a. a hungry wolf.
b. a victim of hungry wolves.
a lonely traveler.
d. a rescue dog.

2. People who traveled through the mountain pass faced ____
a. one kind of danger.
b. several kinds of danger.
c. no danger at all.
d. very little danger.

3. Saint Bernard's most important work was ______
a. the training of rescue dogs.
b. the building of a church in the Swiss Alps.
c. the building of a shelter for travelers.
d. reporting weather conditions in the mountains.

4. The fact that the guard dogs could do rescue work ______
a. had been known by the monks for many years.
b. came as a surprise to the monks.
c. was discovered shortly before the shelter was built.
d. was never discovered by the monks.

5. Saint Bernard most likely studied _____
a. religion.
b. government.
c. travel literature.
d. music.

6. When a person was buried under the snow, the second thing the dog would do was ____
a. lick his or her face.
b. dig through the snow.
c. return to the monks for help.
d. lead the person to the shelter.

7. One dog at the Saint Bernard Hospice is always named ______
a. Napoleon Bonaparte.
b. Monk.
c. Barry.
d. Bernard.

8. The gentle Saint Bernard dogs have rescued more than ______
a. two thousand people.
b. forty people.
c. eighteen hundred people.
d. two hundred fifty people.

9. Another name for this story could be ________
a. "Dog Legends."
b. "The Most Famous Rescue Dog."
c. "Winter in the Alps."
d. "The Founder of a Hospice."

10. This story is mainly about _________
a. the life of Saint Bernard.
b. the terrible weather in the Alps.
c. a famous St. Bernard dog.
d. the ways in which monks help people.

A journey to the Saint Bernard Hospice from Youtube:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"The Nightwalkers" from Edcon Publishing.

"The Sleepwalker" Ivan Kramskoi, 1871

The nightwalkers are people like you and me. They are perfectly "normal" during the day, but at night ...

Marcia Wollner woke up at three o'clock in the morning and found herself on a highway at the wheel of an automobile she did not know how to drive. A chronic sleepwalker, Marcia had risen in the middle of the night, gone to the garage, and climbed into her husband's automobile which had a manual shift, though her own car was automatic. After driving twenty-three miles, Marcia awoke in utter astonishment, managed to stop the car, and frantically summoned her husband to come find rescue her.

In Wisconsin, a male sleepwalker was strolling along the street at midnight, wearing only his underclothes, when he was halted by a policeman. "Why don't you let me sleep?" he complained. "Can't you see I'm tired?" And he stumbled on along the street, still asleep, leaving a totally bewildered policeman gaping after him.

A strange spectacle confronted firemen in Oklahoma one night. A naked woman was sitting in a tree, sound asleep, plucking the leaves off one by one while a crowd of spectators gathered, staring at her in amazement. Her name was Ione Weir, and she was a chronic sleepwalker, so her husband was accustomed to her nightly exploits and her tendency to appear in unexpected places. When neighbors called him, he climbed the tree, wrapped his shirt around Ione, and dropped her into the net which firemen had spread underneath the tree.

Weird mental feats are performed by sleepwalkers, too. A completely illiterate woman used to recite long passages of ancient Greek poetry in her sleep. She had once worked as the maid for a minister who read Greek literature out loud, and she had absorbed the words without knowing it.

Other sleepwalkers have written letters, carried on rational conversations, baked cakes, played the piano, or have gone shopping while they were asleep. An army officer used to sleepwalk on his hands on the roof of his house. A Florida man often sleepwalked to the kitchen of his mother's home next door and ate a dozen bananas from her refrigerator. Then he returned to bed.

The situation was somewhat different when 14-year-old Donald Elliott sleepwalked to the refrigerator, took out something to eat, and strolled out the back door. Unfortunately, he happened to be in a camper that was traveling fifty miles an hour along a busy highway. Miraculously, he suffered only a few cuts and bruises.

These cases are not as exceptional as you might think, since more than four million people walk in their sleep and most often they are children between the ages of five and twelve. Usually a sleepwalker's eyes are open, his facial expression is blank, his movements rigid, and his behavior may seem perfectly rational. He does not extend his arms in front of him, as some people believe. If he says anything, it is usually a question like "Have you got it?" or "Where is it?" and when somebody addresses him, the typical sleepwalker answers with just one or two syllables, as if annoyed at being interrupted.

What causes this strange habit?

Sleepwalking may be a symptom of a serious malady, either mental or physical, or it may be hereditary. Such was the case of a German teacher who came from a family of sleepwalkers and who married his cousin. Their children inherited the liability, and the whole family would gather around the dinner table in the middle of the night, all of them still sound asleep. Once, when a daughter knocked over a chair and broke a mirror, all of them woke up, realized they had been sleepwalking and sought the help of a psychiatrist.

Most often, sleepwalking is the result of emotional problems. When a second child is born in a family, the older child may walk to his parents' room because he feels jealous or lonely and is afraid of losing their love. An adult may walk in his sleep after the loss of a job, promotion to a more responsible job, the death of a relative, or a financial problem.

A chronic sleepwalker usually has deep anxieties that have been suppressed from his conscious mind. By day, he may seem happy and well adjusted, but at night, he may engage in such exploits as breaking dishes and furniture, or even committing crimes. A woman in Switzerland used to wonder why her feet were dirty when she woke up every morning and there appeared to be no rational explanation. One night the police arrested her in the local cemetery with a shovel in her hand. She had been robbing graves in her sleep!

In New Jersey, an expert swimmer sleepwalked to his bedroom window, assumed the position of a diver, and plunged down to the concrete steps below. He died from a fractured skull.

A teen-age girl in Kentucky had a nightmare about burglars invading her house, so she fetched a couple of revolvers from a cabinet and fired them, injuring her mother. Another woman dreamed that her house was on fire and so, while asleep, she got up and threw all of her furniture out of the window.

Psychiatrists say that these are not ordinary cases of sleepwalking. Individuals who commit such violent acts in their sleep are often suffering from a mental illness. To stop sleepwalking, some doctors say that a person who has this liability should take a brisk walk after dinner and should avoid watching violent movies or reading exciting stories late at night.

Others recommend rigging up devices that will wake the sleepwalker, such as a dish of cold water placed so that he will step into it when he or she gets out of bed. This is often successful at first, but the sleepwalker quickly learns to avoid such obstacles by climbing out on the opposite side of the bed.

Usually the most effective way to prevent sleepwalking is counseling by a doctor. Only when hidden anxieties are revealed and faced can the chronic sleepwalker be cured of his strange malady. If no cure works, sleepwalkers who commit violent acts must be guarded at night because of their tendency to hurt people.

This happened in one of the oddest cases in sleepwalking history. Some years ago, a body was found on the beach in Le Havre, France. The police could find no witness and no motive, so, since the great detective Robert Ledru was vacationing in the area, they asked for his help. Ledru was glad to oblige. He visited the scene of the murder and inspected it very carefully. There were only a couple of clues: the bullet which apparently had killed the victim, and a footprint in the sand. The bullet originated from a Luger, a very common variety of gun. Even Ledru himself possessed a Luger, so that was not very revealing.

Ledru transferred his attention to the footprint, but that appeared as if it were not going to prove much either, as the killer had not been wearing shoes; only socks. As Ledru studied the footprint with a magnifying glass, he noticed something odd. There was a hole in the murderer's sock. He then remembered that there was a hole in one of his socks as well.

The detective removed his right shoe, stepped on the sand, and examined his own footprint. It matched the other exactly. With growing uneasiness, Ledru remembered that his socks, which he wore to bed on chilly nights, had been soaking wet the morning after the murder.

Ledru removed the bullet that had been discovered on the beach, hurried anxiously back to his hotel room, and shot his own gun into the pillow. Then he compared the pattern of grooves from the two bullets, and as he expected and dreaded, they were identical.

He had discovered the murderer.

Detective Robert Ledru had committed the murder while walking in his sleep, so he turned himself into the Le Havre police, who at first refused to believe his story, but finally had to, in view of the overwhelming evidence. Ledru was not charged with murder. He was still respected as a brilliant detective, but was retired from the police department with a full pension. He spent the rest of his life in a quiet cottage in a rural area, with a guard to watch him while he slept.

1. Ione Weir _______
a. was fully aware of what she was doing.
b. did not want to go back home.
c. was not aware of what was happening.
d. had never gone out in that condition before.

2. Sleepwalkers ______
a. only accomplish physical feats.
b. never leave the safety of their homes.
c. accomplish physical as well as mental feats.
d. do not talk in their sleep.

3. Sleepwalking _______
a. is very rare in America.
b. should not be taken seriously.
c. is a perfectly normal thing.
d. should be given special attention.

4. People who walk in their sleep ________
a. will never hurt another person while they are asleep.
b. may have inherited the tendency.
c. enjoy a lot of exercise in the evening.
d. are not bothered by scary movies or books.

5. During the day, a chronic sleepwalker _________ .
a. may seem perfectly happy and well adjusted.
b. will remember everything that happened the night before.
c. will behave exactly as though they were still asleep.
d. performs his or her job while still asleep.

6. To avoid sleepwalking, a person might try ________
a. staying in bed all day and all night until cured.
b. taking a walk after dinner.
c. placing a dish of cold water near the door of the bedroom.
d. consulting another family member about his trouble.

7. Counseling by a doctor ________
a. is the only sure cure for a sleepwalker.
b. has not proven effective in helping sleepwalkers.
c. would probably prove to be a valuable aid for a sleepwalker.
d. should only be considered if the sleepwalker suggests it.

8. First, Robert Ledru noticed that the bullet was from a Luger. Then, he determined that the footprint was somewhat unusual. Next,_______________ .
a. he discovered a hole in the murderer's sock.
b. he found that the bullet matched the one from his gun.
c. he realized that his socks were full of sand.
d. he turned himself in to the LeHavre police.

9. Another name for this selection could be _______
a. "Daytime Delight."
b. "Violent Crimes."
c. "The Night Prowlers."
d. " Help is on the Way."

10. This selection is mainly about ______
a. the cures for sleepwalking.
b. a strange and bewildering state of mind.
c. how the police solve difficult crimes.
d. sleeping during working hours.

And now, two roommates document their roommate's somnambulism on videotape and submit it to
Youtube. You will be amazed:

Before we leave this subject, you should see that somambulism isn't limited to the
the human species. Dogs walk and bark in their sleep. Here is the strange case of