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October 31, 2005


Last week oil companies announced a record $100B profit. Within hours everyone all the way up to oil-friendly Republicans were questioning these record-high profits.

Today gas prices dropped 15 cents per gallon in my town.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:27 PM | Comments (2)

October 29, 2005

Tips for your language exchange

Over at Japanese! Japanese! Mike posted some useful phrases to know when speaking with your Japanese conversation partner. Rather than repeat his work, let me add a few I've found very useful:

すみません: Sorry
わかりません: I don't understand
もういちど: Once more

It's helpful to know a few phrases when listening too.  I frequently hear Japanese say something which sounds like なんだろ when they're trying to say something in English. I'm not sure exactly how it translates, but it's something like "What (なん)is(だ) it".

You'll also hear your Japanese partner frequently speaking or making noises while you're speaking. According to Nihongo Notes this is called aizuchi and is an accepted and expected part of Japanese conversation. The purpose of aizuchi is to let you know that the listener is still listening and to encourage you to continue. According to Nihongo Notes you should frequently hear "そうですか", "はい" or "ええ". However, I frequently hear my Japanese partners, whether we are speaking Japanese or English, saying what I thought was "Mmm" or "Hmmm". Wrong: they are saying "うん", a less formal form of "はい" or "ええ". You'll probably hear it too.

I will admit that even though I'm used to the English form of aizuchi, the Japanese make these sounds even more frequently than I'm used to. It can be a little disturbing at first, and can be a little difficult to keep right on rolling even when it sounds like I'm being interrupted. It's all part of learning to converse in a new language.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 08:58 PM | Comments (4)

More layoff details

It turns out that Wednesday's layoffs amount to more than 10% of employees. On Thursday the manager-type who announced the layoffs got promoted to vice-president. Bet he gets a nice bonus for making budget too.

But he might as well enjoy it while it lasts, because BT is running the company into the ground and I doubt it'll last long. Now I'm not a business-type, but it seems stupid to me to get rid of a steady and consistent moneymaker in favor of trying to grab high-profit but risky consulting jobs. Especially when you're going up against bigger name competitors who apparently charge less (to hear this manager tell it). You decide: do you award your project contract to IBM at a lower rate, or something called "BT" at a higher one?

Sheesh. Now I understand the BT logo (if you click the link, it's in the upper left corner): it's pies in the sky.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

Bad day

Well, it looks like I get to be one of the latest casualties in the continuing collapse of BT Americas. Yep, I got The Call today.

I can't say that I'm too surprised. For the last 5 years we've been living under the shadow of layoffs. This time they're cutting really vital people, and you can't keep doing that if you expect to continue running a business. They'll probably be gone in a year or so, at this rate.

So, if anyone needs a fairly-skilled Unix admin, Perl programmer, writer and/or theologian with a little bit of Japanese skill, let me know. Resume is here.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2005

Starting Heisig Bk 1...again

Late in August I reached kanji 652 in "Remembering the Kanji"...then school started and I didn't touch them again for several weeks. A few weeks ago I picked up a few at random and couldn't remember a single one. Ouch.

So, last weekend I resorted all of the cards (they'd undergone an "extreme randomization event") and today I started with the first 100. Most of them were pretty easy: they should be, since I've been reviewing them for a year now. I consulted the book on a few of them to make sure I'm getting the stroke order correct (I continue to have trouble with 上, believe it or not) and to make sure I have the correct primitives for others (like 朝). However, I don't expect to have to do any serious work till the 400s or so, and I'm going to get to that point as quickly as possible.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:20 PM | Comments (3)

October 23, 2005

They're flooding in!

Well, it may not be a flood, but this page has had more visitors today than it's had in the last few weeks combined. Welcome everyone! While you're here, you might also want to check out So you really want to learn Japanese? Enjoy your visit.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:25 PM | Comments (1)

Mini-review: Japanese for Everyone

Over at thejapanesepage.com a few forum members were asking about the textbook Japanese for Everyone. I've been using this book for about 6 months, first in Japanese class/private lessons, and then for self-study, so I can give a few thoughts about it.

For the price, the book is a good value. Amazon has it for about $20, it's almost 400 pages long, and those pages are literally crammed with content: the print is smaller than a lot of textbooks and there's far less whitespace than others too (JfBP, I'm talking about you). The book is 27 lessons long and introduces about 2500 words, enough to keep you making vocabulary lists and carrying them around with you. Romaji is limited: It's used with the dialogs and vocabulary for the first 3 lessons, with vocabulary only for lessons 4 and 5, and is gone by lesson 6. Kanji starts showing up right away, and each new kanji comes with furigana for a while to help your memory.

This "Japanese for Everyone" is subtitled "A Functional Approach to Daily Communication". "Functional" means that the book does not give you a systematic overview of grammar, but instead it tries to teach Japanese by using real-life situations and expressions. The book follows the experiences of a businessman and his wife who come to work in Japan. Lesson 1 starts with the businessman arriving at the airport and passing through customs; succeeding lessons continue their experiences until they leave Japan in Lesson 27.

As a result of this "functional" focus, grammar does not get extensive coverage. There's plenty of grammar, don't get me wrong, but you will not find exhaustive descriptions of The Way Things Work. Sometimes that can be a little frustrating. I often end up cross-referencing other sources for more complete explanations and other viewpoints. That's a good thing, though. Comparing and contrasting lead to better understanding.

A typical lesson consists of several dialogs, then grammar notes on new grammatical points from those dialogs and exercises to help you practice new grammar. Each lesson has numerous vocabulary lists and ends with exercises in reading and listening comprehension. Audio tapes were produced for this book, but appear to be impossible to purchase nowadays. However, you might be lucky enough to live near a library which has the tapes.

"Japanese for Everyone" is like every textbook: some will enjoy it, others won't. As for self-study, again, some will be able to use it, others will be frustrated. I think that the book is challenging: besides the fact that you have to face the kana and kanji from the start, the book also gives you lots of vocabulary to memorize and doesn't baby you in the grammar and usage department. You hit the ground running and you don't stop.

I enjoyed that: when I started this book I had completed 40 lessons of Pimsleur and had done some minimal work with other textbooks, so I had some background, and "Japanese for Everyone" really built quickly on what I already knew. On the downside, the other 3 members of our Japanese class all dropped out within 6 weeks. I think that they expected Japanese to be a "study one hour per week" pursuit, and it isn't. You'll need to put in many hours to master each lesson, but you'll learn a lot of Japanese in those hours.

I'd highly recommend finding a native speaker to help you with pronunciation in the lessons, and/or a partner to work through the book with you and keep you on your toes with the exercises and dialogs.

I guess that about sums it up: if you're a motivated learner who's willing to put in the time necessary to memorize and master the material, "Japanese for Everyone" may very well be the book for you.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:35 PM | Comments (1)

Next semester: only one class

And you can be sure it won't be a class with a "group project". The two classes I'm taking this semester, both with group projects, are eating up every spare minute of the day.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2005

Japanese worksheets?

This evening someone emailed me and asked, "Do you know where I can find Japanese worksheets for beginners?" My reply email bounced, so I'll post it here instead.

I think that someone has developed kana worksheets, but I'm not sure about grammar or vocabulary. I haven't used worksheets in a long time.

Here's an idea: make up some worksheets covering your topic(s) of interest. The exercise of building the worksheets will probably make you learn the topics more than following someone else's worksheets would. Then you can publish the worksheets on the web and earn the gratitude of many other learners, or publish them in a book and earn enough money to finance your trip to Japan.

Hmmm. That isn't a half-bad idea.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:31 PM | Comments (3)

October 16, 2005

Seasonal gripe

When your kids are sick, keep them home. How difficult is this to remember? Yet every single year October rolls around and people bring their hacking sneezing runny-nosed kids to church and like clockwork my kids pick up their diseases.

Last year we made it until October 6 before picking up someone else's diseases. A month later on Simon's birthday he was still sick, and a month after that he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

This year we've made it one extra week. Last Sunday the same family brought their sick kids and this weekend our boys are sick. I'd like to thank them for their consideration.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

Time for a study plan

Yesterday's Skype session showed me that my Japanese has not really improved lately and has probably taken steps backward. And it's no wonder. For the last month or 6 weeks I've had no time to study: homework and group projects have taken up all of my free time. My Japanese time has been reduced to Pimsleur once or twice a week, and an occasional episode of Japanese TV shows. No textbooks, no kanji.

Since time is very limited, I'm going to have to squeeze in smaller amounts of work during the week.

Audio: Normally mutt-walking time has been Pimsleur time, but after listening to Pimsleur Japanese for the last 15 months I think I've just about worn it out. Unfortunately there's no Pimsleur Japanese 4, nor does anything similar exist. I've been spending some mornings listening to courses from "The Teaching Company" (you know, those "Great Courses" from those catalogs you get in the mail). However, I think I'm going to revisit the NHK "Basic Japanese" and "Brush Up Your Japanese" lessons (available in mp3 format at http://mp3japan.freenethost.net/). They didn't impress me much at first, but the early lessons are pretty basic (as you'd expect them to be). Maybe if I put more time and attention into them, I'd get something out of them. Mihoko Honda's accent is fun to listen to.

I've also heard good things about podcasts, but haven't found any good candidates for Japanese learners yet.

Video: Those "Let's Learn Basic Japanese" shows from the 1980s aren't too bad, and there are plenty of them to watch. Unfortunately my early morning tea time (when I'd normally watch them) is getting eaten up by work and it's tough to sit down for them. However, I'm going to watch at least one per week, two if possible, and take time to work through the transcripts, memorizing vocab, etc.

Kanji: I love the Heisig method and made it to the 650 mark, but have stalled out again. The two killers are the comprehensive reviews and pushing too hard to make progress. I haven't touched the cards in several weeks, and have forgotten quite a few of them again. I'm going to sort and order my cards, then start working through the book again, giving every kanji enough attention and not pushing too hard. Even 10-15 minutes per day will be far better than what I'm doing now.

Grammar and vocabulary: I really like the "Japanese for Everyone" textbook. During the spring and summer we made it to lesson 7 in Japanese lessons, but since then I haven't made any progress. I've been reviewing the grammar and vocabulary in lessons 1-6 on and off for the last few weeks, but need to wrap that up and start progressing.

Speaking and listening practice: I once read that listening to Japanese regularly will help with listening comprehension, so I've been watching the first series of Trick, a show which really seems like it's trying to be a Japanese "X-Files" but with a very different style: the two cops are good for comic relief, and Ueda (the male lead) has an unfortunate tendency to faint when frightened.

I need to do more Skype sessions with my Japanese friends too. Weekly should be plenty.

The Plan: My study time is limited due to school and homework. However, I should be able to get in some audio time during dog walks 3-4 times per week, so I'll work on the NHK lessons. I should also be able to fit in at least one episode of "Let's Learn Basic Japanese" on the computer every week.

The tricky part is going to be textbook and kanji work. I don't think I can do an hour every day, but I should be able to manage 30 minutes. I think I'll do 10 minutes of kanji and 20 of "Japanese for Everyone", and take flashcards with me to use during otherwise wasted time. Now I just need to figure out when that half hour will be every day.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 03:48 PM | Comments (3)

October 14, 2005

Where did the entries go?

Apparently Movable Type only displays the current month's entries...and apparently I haven't written anything all this month.

I'm seriously wondering about my sanity in taking two graduate-level courses this semester while also keeping a full-time job and a full-time family. Yikes.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)