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July 24, 2006

Japanese for Everyone Mini-Review

If you're looking for the Japanese for Everyone mini-review, you'll find it here. A few months ago I also wrote some study tips, and you'll find them here.

This week we're starting lesson 10. It's been slow going, but fun.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2006

Japanese Tidbits for Your Listening Enjoyment

(Let's see if I can get through this without deleting it again. That's extremely irritating.)

Thanks to the internet and mp3s, today it's easier than ever to listen to the sounds of spoken Japanese (unless you live in a household where it's spoken). Here are some fun sources for improving your language and your listening ability.

1. Tae Kim, author of Tae Kim's Japanese Guide to Japanese Grammar, has taken on the task of teaching beginner lessons in Japanese using Skype and a few random volunteers. The first few lessons are bare basic Japanese but worth hearing for Tae's strict insistence on proper tonality, something rarely or barely covered by most books and teachers.

2. J-Edutainment: Japanese Vocabulary over beats is a pretty simple concept: lists of vocabulary spoken over background music. Sure, vocabulary acquisition and review are tedious work, but this is far more interesting than staring at a printed vocabulary list. I'm going to take these along on my dog walks and see if I can use my useless superpower to nail these in. I also like the inclusion of the -te forms in the verb lists: I think that the -te forms are best memorized along with the verbs and their meanings rather than constructed when speaking. So far there are only 5 of these, but I hope to see more in the future.

3. Nihongo-Juku is aimed at intermediate to advanced learners and provides short texts with audio and vocabulary lists for practice in reading and listening together.

4. Osaka Dialect is somewhat similar, but contains English along with a taste of Osaka dialect.

5. NHK Radio News provides downloadable mp3 broadcasts at normal (ふつう), slow (ゆっくり) and fast (はやい) speeds. Yomiuri Online provides a single broadcast at normal speed.

There. That should keep you busy for a minute or two.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:44 PM | Comments (0)

Japanese Summer Vacation

Those of you who visit here for Japanese tidbits (both of you) are doubtlessly wondering about the lack of news lately. With the JLPT coming in December and kanji number 1000 in sight, I guess I'm taking a vacation.

Part of the reason is the lack of Japanese class lately. One of the guys has been out of town, so we've only had class once in the last month. When there's no class, there's less motivation to work. I'm also working a lot on some other career options, so that's taking some time. A little break has been nice.

Part of the reason has been a lack of motivation. I don't have a driving need to learn Japanese. I have no Japanese friends, no conversation partners, no job requirement. I've been going on personal drive and desire for 2 years now, and they're getting a little tired.

I still have some projects going, though. I'm still looking for a conversation partner, am working on some editing for The Japan Shop and a review of Kodansha's Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary. The review should be coming soon.

However, it's time to start getting back to work. Weekly class should start to be weekly again. I need to review those 950 kanji I've learned, and start breaking down the JLPT requirements into easily-digestible chunklets so I can be ready for December. More details coming soon.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

Finished: Final Fantasy

Last month at Circuit City's $8.96 clearance sale I picked up Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls for my Gameboy. I've already played a bit of Final Fantasy on my PSOne and was bored with it, but they say that the GBA version of Final Fantasy 2 is the best version available. For $9, why not give it a try?

Since I'm a stickler for doing things in order, I restarted Final Fantasy about 3 weeks ago. On Sunday I finished it with a total time of about 15 hours. I used the FAQ as a guide through the last 2 dungeons because I was really ready to get through the game. By the time I hit the last boss all my characters were around level 51 or 52, and he really wasn't too much of a challenge. Like the rest of the game, it was a matter of battle-heal-battle endurance. The ending was typical late-80s.

Overall it's been interesting to see the origin of the series. Although it was a pretty obvious ripoff of Dragon Quest (which itself was a rip of Ultima), they did add a decent battle system. Unfortunately it was too late-80s in the style of giving you few clues and little direction. Late-80s PC RPGs were the same way, but the world was big enough and had enough variety that you could eventually figure out what to do. The console was far more limited.

I can also see why it's a good thing that Square started experimenting with the game system to add variety. Altogether, 15 hours of nonfocused gameplay with way too many random battles was about all I could stand. It wasn't a bad game, but we can be thankful for the improvements of the last 10 years.

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

July 12, 2006

Finished: Book of the Dead

As a long-time fan of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's books, I've been waiting quite a while for this one, the conclusion of a series which began with Brimstone in 2004 and continued with last year's Dance of Death. Every summer we count on a good page-turner from Preston and Child, and this year's installment, The Book of the Dead, arrived right on schedule.

Preston and Child have a neat practice of introducing characters and then reusing them in later books; this book continues the story of characters who were introduced ten years ago in The Relic and have appeared ever since, along with characters from other books such as The Ice Limit. The bulk of their books center on the adventures of FBI agent Pendergast, with his almost superhuman intelligence and abilities. Many of their books create mysteries which seem supernatural but end up attributable to natural causes (though weird natural causes), while others ride the edge of science fiction. Ever since Michael Crichton stopped writing for his readers and started writing for Hollywood, Preston and Child have taken the page-turner crown.

The Book of the Dead wraps up the story of Pendergast's confrontation with his evil brother Diogenes. Pendergast is locked up in an escape-proof federal prison, charged with murders committed by Diogenes. The New York Museum of Natural History (employer of several recurring characters and itself a recurring center of action) receives its famous diamond collection (stolen by Diogenes in book 2), but ground down to dust. To compensate for the bad PR, the museum decides to reopen an Egyptian tomb exhibit which was closed 70 years ago under mysterious circumstances, not realizing that it's all part of Diogenes' evil master plan. But (soon to be former?) officer D'Agosta realizes that Diogenes is still out there, and starts working out a plan to spring Pendergast from that escape-proof prison.

Ok, so you don't want to read The Book of the Dead first. You need to start with Brimstone and Dance of Death before you read this one. Fortunately you don't have to wait a year between installments like I did. Be prepared for a lot of late nights while you read just one more chapter to find out what happens. Because I'm not going to tell you.

The Book of the Dead kept me up late turning pages, as do all of Preston and Child's books. But I have to say that I'm glad to see this story end (but does it really?). When the books only come out once a year, three books take too long to wrap things up. I'd much rather have seen another standalone Pendergast book (like Still Life With Crows) than have the Diogenes series dragged out into 3 books. And the long-hidden secret of what drove Diogenes to the dark side, along with Diogenes' master plot, seemed a little too far-out. Granted, it's far better than the exploding toilets you'd find in a Stephen King book, but in the end The Book of the Dead falls just a bit short of greatness.

But honestly, that's what makes Preston and Child books what they are. I've read them all. They're not Great Literature. They're not near-realism like The Andromeda Strain. They don't try with a straight face to convince you that black is white because you're too stupid to know better (Da Vinci Code). Preston and Child write books with interesting stories that keep you turning the pages, and when you finish you're satisfied that you've had a good, fun adventure. The Book of the Dead is no exception.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:40 PM | Comments (3)