February 22, 2006
Japanese Status Check
Since I'm starting Japanese lessons again, it's as good a time as any to take stock.
Grammar/vocab: I've been continuing work in "Japanese for Everyone". As noted elsewhere I like the book, and it moves along quickly. Unfortunately due to my new job I have far less study time than I used to. I've been working on vocabulary by copying new words onto index cards, then studying them while walking places in the office, waiting in line at the store, etc. Lunchtime is good for working on the exercises in the book or on kanji. Unfortunately while working on my own I don't have much motivation to push forward (or as my wife says, "competition"), so I've only completed lesson 7. I think that going back to class will be a big help.
Since my birthday is coming up, I've asked for a bunch of those good little Kodansha grammar books. Since Amazon's prices are so good, I even have hope of getting some of them.
Kanji: I'm sticking with Heisig and plan to hit frame 500 by the weekend. I've learned that it's extremely important to follow The Method as he describes it: since Heisig's method depends on visualization and imagination rather than rote learning, it's important to take the time actually to work each kanji into a picture or a story. Simply trying to remember catchy phrases won't do the trick.
As much as I detest "Kanji Pict-o-Graphix", I looked through it again yesterday at the library and found some pictures which might actually be helpful. I'll have to check it out a little more for some of the kanji which are tougher to picture.
Video: As much as I'd like to keep working on the Yan series or "Nihongo de Kurasou", I don't have time to sit at the computer for 30-45 minutes in the evening. Since I can't install Divx on my laptop, I haven't been watching them there either. But now I've found out that mplayer can decode Divx without installing anything, so I've burned the video series to DVD-ROM and plan to start again.
Otherwise, we've started watching Trick, series 2, and I'm looking forward to the 3 new episodes of Lunch Queen. The other night I watched Ultraman with Simon too--he loves the battle between Ultraman and the bad guys.
Audio: Since I'm spending 2 hours in the car every day, I decided to do Pimsleur again, straight from the top, and am just beginning Level 2. Wow. There were some pieces of grammar in Level 1 which never showed up again and I'd forgotten. With as little speaking practice as I get these days, it's really good to be doing Pimsleur again. And that leads to:
Conversation: Hey, isn't that what it's all about? Unfortunately I know very few Japanese people (and none at work) and my work schedule means that my Skype availability is limited to Japanese daytime when many Japanese are at work or school. I need to work harder on tracking down the few who are available during the daytime.
Website: I've worked up a few items for this site, but since I don't have the IME on my work machine I'll need to spend some time on my home system to put in the Japanese. I'll get that done soon. In addition, it looks like I'll be doing a little writing for Japanese! Japanese!
I was thinking about spinning off a new site aimed at beginners, but there seem to be plenty of sites doing a great job already.
Overall I'm satisfied with this year's progress. Kanji learning is on track so far, and I should be moving steadily through "Japanese for Everyone." Now I just need to come up with some bigger and longer-term goals.
Goals: who needs 'em anyway?
This evening I'll be starting a second round of Japanese classes/lessons. It's hard to believe that I started the first round almost exactly a year ago (March 1, 2005); due to school and finances I was only able to attend until July. This time there will be 2 other students and I'll be able to jump in at almost exactly the point where I left off.
When I mentioned this to my friend (and former coworker) he replied, "Is the Japanese study purely academic for you, or do you have some longer term ambitions related to the language? You certainly have put a lot of effort into it."
Hmmm. That's a good question. For the last year and a half I've put a lot of my spare time into learning Japanese, and it seems like the primary reason has been an Everestish "because it's there." Originally I never intended to put much time into it: after a bad week at work (during which I learned that I'd be getting no raise after a year of working like a dog) I decided to take a week off and spend some time doing something different. I've always enjoyed languages, my new video gaming habit had put Japanese into my range of awareness, and it'd always irritated me that my web browser could render Japanese and Chinese sites, but I couldn't read them. So I got a few books, borrowed Pimsleur from the library and devoted a few hours to Japanese. Most of the time when I take up an interest on a whim, it doesn't last too long.
Over the last year and a half I've failed to come up with a long-term goal or higher ambition which might reasonably drive my Japanese learning. Yes, I'd like to go there someday, but that takes cash. For a brief time my former employer was courting a Japanese company, but (as usual) couldn't manage to get the contracts it wanted. I've had vague thoughts about directing some of my new business efforts at Japanese companies--after all, providing English business writing services to Japanese speakers does sound like a good prospect--but I need to get the thing started first.
So, right now my longer-term ambitions are fairly shortsighted: this year I'm going to learn the 2000 joyo kanji and take the JLPT in December. I do want to be able to read Japanese. But beyond that, nothing is really pushing me (or is it pulling?). Maybe it's time to start thinking up some larger goals.
February 17, 2006
Japanese IT Workers, Where Are You?
Apparently you're all staying in Japan.
Now granted, western Michigan isn't exactly the hottest destination for, well, any IT people, but it's getting a little ridiculous. Last fall I took courses at Grand Valley State, a local university. We had students from a number of different countries in the master's program--China, India, Croatia, Ghana--but no Japanese IT students. I know that the school had some students from Japan, but none in the IT master's program.
Now I'm working at the Lansing (state capital) office of a large worldwide IT corporation. I have coworkers from several different countries: India, China, Russia, and some have names and accents I can't yet place, but no one comes from Japan. If I wanted, I could practice Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Gujarati, and several other languages but no: I'm learning Japanese, and have no Japanese coworkers.
On the other hand, in the last 24 hours here we've had snow, rain, thunder, hail, an ice storm, and now the temperature is on its way down to the sub-zero range for the weekend. Maybe I shouldn't expect to see any Japanese IT coworkers here any time soon.
February 16, 2006
Back from the Future
One evening sometime late in 1987 or early 1988 I stopped at a local computer store and discovered that Borland Turbo C 1.0 had finally been released. That was big news to me: I was a poor college student who had been learning C on my own, and all commercial C compilers at the time cost at least $300-500, far more than my budget would allow. "Borland", "Turbo" and the $100 price tag made it a sure bet, and I plunked down my hard-earned cash.
I spent a lot of time in Turbo C's yellow-on-blue IDE, upgrading to 1.5, 2.0, and then Borland C++ over the next few years. After college I no longer had time to program, and Turbo C still remains packed up in a box somewhere (no, I never throw anything away).
Back in those days I had the dream of becoming a self-made C programmer, but it never happened. Until this year, when I finally (18 years after learning C, 7 years after becoming a self-made IT guy) was hired to be a C programmer, anyway. The large corporation where I work provides all employees with laptops, but we aren't allowed to install any software other than the officially approved packages. That's fine, but the officially approved packages don't include any C compilers. There's no way to do C programming unless we're connected to the corporate network and its servers.
Where there's a will, there's a way: I've figured out how to do local C programming on my (company-supplied) laptop. In November I bought a 512MB USB drive, very handy for carrying my own documents and software apart from the company laptop. And several years ago Borland (or whatever it's called nowadays) released several of its "antique" (hey, I think I resent that term) software packages free to anyone who wants to download them. One of those packages is Turbo C 2.0. After a short download and installation to my USB drive, I have a working C compiler without installing anything to the company laptop. After 18 years, I'm back to the familiar 80x25 yellow-on-blue text mode IDE.
Who says that you can't go back home?
I found some nice stuff for USB drives at portablefreeware.com, specifically MPUI, a media file player which can handle a bundle of different formats. SLAX includes MPUI, and it's very slick. It's even slicker to have it completely portable on my USB drive. Now I can watch my (DIVX-encoded) Japanese shows on the laptop without installing anything on their sacred hard drive.
For programming purposes, I'm also carrying elvis on the drive. Now I just need a nice portable version of ksh or bash for DOS/Windows, and my life will be complete.
February 10, 2006
Finally, Trick 2
After several wasted attempts, I've finally figured out how to convert episodes of Trick 2 with subtitles and burn them to DVD. Yesterday evening we watched the first episode (of the second season) and were pleased to see that it hasn't tampered with a good formula. It's a fun episode with a lot of Japanese wordplay and Yabe's sidekick is crazier than ever, but Ueda doesn't faint once during the entire episode. We have high hopes for episode 2 (the conclusion).
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that yet another episode of Lunch Queen has been subtitled. Unfortunately I'm now 3 episodes behind.
Remember to visit d-addicts.com for your Asian TV fix.