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March 31, 2006

New computer!

Since the motherboard on my 2002-vintage Athlon 800 system was on its way to computer heaven, and since Windows 98 was steadily becoming less and less stable, and since I got a job with much higher pay and almost zero commute, I decided to put together a new system.

The old computer had some salvageable parts--DVD writer, 120 GB hard drives--so all I really needed was a new case (with bigger power supply), motherboard and CPU, RAM and video card. I shopped Newegg this time and would definitely buy from them again. I got the parts last Friday and had the system together in an hour or so, but Windows XP took another 2 to install. Overall it's a great system:

Athlon Sempron 64 3100+
Biostar TForce6100 motherboard
ATI Radeon X1300Pro 256 MB video card

On Saturday morning I went to Meijer's and got Oblivion and am very pleased with its performance on the new system.

I'm also very pleased to be able to run Linux on the system without having to dual-boot, thanks to Qemu. Now I can run Slackware in a separate window on Windows XP, and it's even pretty snappy. What a crazy world.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

What a month, revisited.

March has been wild. I started out the month working in Lansing, an hour away. Sick of all the driving, I put out a few feelers for jobs in the Grand Rapids area.

March 3: phone interview for Job A and Job B.
March 5: birthday
March 7: notification that I've been hired for Job A. Job B disappeared.
March 9: interview for Job C.
March 16: began Job A.
March 20: losing my mind, I order parts for a new computer.
March 24: build new computer
March 30: second interview for Job C, and it looks promising.


So I'm currently working Job A, doing Perl at a local HMO. I've actually been trying to get hired here since last July but haven't been successful. At the end of February I received an email from a contracting house offering to submit my resume at the HMO, so I went ahead and a week later I was offered the job. It's a good place to work, the pay is 20% higher than the last one (and 50% higher than 6 months ago) but the contract is only scheduled to last 6 weeks and there are no benefits. Although there has been some mention of extending the contract, there are no guarantees and still no benefits.

That's where Job C comes in, a Solaris administrator job at a local office of a nationwide trucking company. It's still a contract, but it's a one-year contract-to-hire job WITH benefits. The commute would be 12 minutes instead of 7, but I could live with that. The second interview (meeting with members of the team) went well and I hope to hear some good news in the next week or so. If Job A were to offer to hire me full-time I'd stay, but I don't see it happening.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2006

Coming soon: new job!

Only 3 more days of The Commute Of Doom. On Thursday I'm starting a new job at a place 3 miles from home. Instead of an hour, I'll be driving 5 minutes. And the pay is almost 20% higher too. I can live with that.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2006

Japanese for Everyone Learning Tips

For the last year I've been using Japanese for Everyone as my primary textbook for learning Japanese. Overall it's a good book and a great value for your money, but it's certainly challenging. Here is my method for handling a lesson in the book.

1. Start with the lesson's vocabulary. Memorizing lists of vocabulary words is not glamorous, but it sure makes life more pleasant to recognize words when they're used in the Dialogues or exercises after you've already met them. The Dialogues at the beginning of the lesson seem to work especially hard to include new vocabulary. You'll save yourself a lot of time and confusion if you learn the new words first.

2. While working on the vocabulary, listen to the Dialogues. Wow. This one really makes a world of difference. You can read the vocabulary words yourself and memorize what you think they sound like, and you may even be right. However, there's nothing like hearing them in context, especially when that context is the Dialogues you're about to study. As you work through the lesson keep listening to the Dialogues, every day, several times per day. Before you know it, you'll be hearing bits of it in your head at random times.

3. When you have the vocabulary, work through the Dialogues. See what I mean? When you already know all the new words in the Dialogue, the battle is half won. Work your way through the Dialogues and do your best to figure out what each sentence means. DO NOT CHECK THE TRANSLATION.

4. Skim the lesson's Function sections to get a feel for the new grammar. Each Dialogue is going to contain new grammar which may really confuse you at first. Take a quick look at the Functions to get a feel for that new grammar, then

5. Read the Dialogues again. Now you have the words and a feel for the new grammar. You should be able to understand the Dialogues without too much effort. If you're still having trouble, now you can take a look at the translation.

6. Keep ahead on the vocabulary. Write down every single word on index cards and carry them around with you. When you're stuck in line at the store, or walking around at the office, or at any other spare moment, learn a new word or two.

7. Work through the Functions and exercises. Now it's time to grind that new grammar into your head. Read through the explanations until you understand them, until you can explain them to your cat. Get help if you need it (from a person or a book), but don't give up until you've mastered each new point of grammar. You'll need them all.

8. Memorize the Dialogues. If you've been listening to the Dialogues every day, this shouldn't be too difficult. In fact, it may only take a little effort to stitch together all the phrases and sentences in your head.

9. Wrap up with the comprehension exercises. Now that you've memorized all the vocabulary and worked through all the exercises, you should be able to handle the comprehension exercises.

10. Don't rush. When I first started Japanese for Everyone I wanted to learn it all and quickly, so I rushed through the lessons without spending enough time on memorizing new vocabulary and grammar. By the time I hit lesson 6, I couldn't keep up with myself and had to start over.

Don't waste time by making the same mistake. Festina lente: you'll make quicker progress if you take the time to build a good foundation.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I must be getting old: a disturbingly large proportion of my birthday cards came from insurance people and credit companies. Once upon a time 39 sounded ancient. Now it just sounds unfair.

Last night we went out to one of the local Japanese restaurants, and today I got a nice pile of loot:

a small set of computer tools from the boys;
Romancing Saga strategy guide (now I just need time to play it);
Alien and Aliens;
Futurama Season 3 (now I have the whole set, finally);
Japanese The Manga Way, which looks to be a lot more useful and coherent than Japanese in Mangaland;
Breaking Into Japanese Literature, which looks really cool;
and finally,
the Japanese Dreamcast game Atelier Marie & Elie. I fired it up for a little while and was able to understand a disturbingly large amount of it...yet an unfortunately large amount was still incomprehensible. I think it'll make a fun project.

Update for Heather

Thanks Heather. Is your boyfriend into Japanese as well? If so, here are a few other ideas from my birthday wish list:

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino, Michio Tsutsui

Japanese Verbs at a Glance (Paperback) by Naoko Chino

The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary (Paperback)
by Jack Halpern (Editor)

Remembering the Kanji II: A Systematic Guide to Reading Japanese

Basic Connections: Making Your Japanese Flow (Paperback) by Kakuko Shoji

Amazon has some really good prices on those nice Kodansha books, so I put a bunch of them on my list this year. Now I need to start reading and reviewing them!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)

March 03, 2006

Drive-by Chinese

Right after the beginning of the year a bunch of new contractors started at the place where I work, including one in the next cube down from mine. I didn't see the guy, but the manager introduced him to a few other people as "Sean".

The next day I did see him, and he was no "Sean": he is "Xiang", one of the growing number of Chinese at work.

I've done the first 15 or so lessons of Pimsleur Mandarin, at least 3 or 4 times over the last year. By lesson 15 I lose interest, or some other bozo has the set requested at the library. I've never inflicted my version of Mandarin on anyone. You're welcome, world.

This afternoon I got ready to leave at 5:30 and thought I heard a noise from Xiang's cube. Sure enough, he was still there. Several times when leaving the office at 5:30 or 6 I've found him still working and every time I whisper loudly, "Go home!" He smiles and nods and I leave. It's our standard ritual.

This time I whispered loudly, "Go home!" He smiled and nodded. I whispered loudly, "It's the weekend." He smiled and nodded. I whispered loudly, "Zai jian" (good-bye in Mandarin). He smiled and nodded--then his eyes flew open, it was my turn to smile and wave, and I left.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

Useless superpowers

What separates superheroes from the rest of us isn't necessarily that they have superpowers and we don't. Maybe the rest of us have our own powers, but our superpowers are useless. For example, I have the power of undesirable slogans. I can think up a motto or slogan for just about anything, but I'd never make a penny for most of them: "K-mart: now with fewer rat droppings." "Labatt's Blue. When you don't want to wait for the hangover."

I have the power of automatically getting into the checkout line where the person ahead of me wants the cigarettes which the cashier can only get from the very back corner of the store, and the person ahead of that wants to buy a cartload of groceries and pay with pennies, and the person ahead of that spends 10 minutes insisting that she found the item on the clearance rack, even though it's marked and rings up at full price.

I have one power which is useless but might have some potential, though. I have the ability to remember useless details: to picture where I was when I heard something. The other day I listened to a CD on the way to work. On the way home it played again, and as each song began I could remember the exact point on the highway where I had heard it in the morning.

That's nothing. It works for languages too. Last year I listened to the second half of Pimsleur Japanese while walking the dog, and I can still remember the exact conditions when I first heard many of the words and phrases. One winter day I learned atsui while walking up to Walgreen's on the corner. I was approaching the corner of our street. The sky was cloudy and the wind was very cold and from the northwest. A few minutes later I first heard nan to iimasuka? while walking through the parking lot and trying to avoid the icy patches. I first heard nanika otetsudai shimashouka? while walking the dog on a sunny spring morning, cool weather, approaching the bottom of the hill and about to turn the corner, and Amerika ni itta koto ga arimasuka? was a warmer day, approaching the far south end of our route, on a day when we were walking the route opposite the usual direction.

Books too: one day I looked at the frame for hito in "Essential Kanji." I can clearly remember the sun shining on the page, but naturally can't remember most of the readings for that kanji.

There must be a way to exploit this superpower to produce super learning. On the other hand, then it wouldn't be useless.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)

Isseki, nichou

The quantity, quality and variety of language learning tools available today is amazing. In the audio department, the mp3 player has made it possible to take language tools anywhere. If you're a Japanese learner, be sure to check out japanesepod101.com for some great 10-minute daily lessons.

If you're a Chinese (Mandarin) learner, don't miss chinesepod.com for a huge selection of lessons.

And if you're working on both you get a neat bonus: at chinesepod.com, go to the upper right corner and select Japanese as the language. You'll get the new Japanese version of the site, complete with beginning Mandarin lessons narrated in Japanese by Japanese speakers. Very helpful, very cool. 一石、二鳥

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)