Blogging Again

I took some time away from blogging mostly because, I was lazy. We also have had a fairly busy time with all the travel. For the rest of the year I plan to get back onto my minimum one post a month schedule.
Some tastiness from Osaka

So what exactly have I been up to, you ask? Since we left Taiwan in March, we have visited Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan. Most of those have been short trips; less than two weeks. The longest has been Japan. We have been here for over two months. While we have traveled we have gotten to see all kinds of interesting things, reconnect with old friends, and made some new ones.

Besides visiting castles, shopping districts, and other local landmarks, we have also been engaging in one of our favorite hobbies, eating! Every place we go has some great food that is special and tasty in it's own way. For example, if you like spicy food Thailand is amazing. Even their salads are spicy!

As far as language learning goes, I haven't use much Chinese outside of the home, since we left Hong Kong. I am maintaining what I got, with the wife and some of our friends, I am probably averaging 5-6 hours of talk time a week, but no study for active improvement.

Since we have been in Japan, I have been learning **drum roll please** Japanese. I am not doing an intensive thing like I did with Spanish, but I am still learning a lot and having fun putting it to use. Since we eat out a lot here some of our best vocabulary and phrases involve food, and paying for it. Don't read too much into that, we are still very much at a Tarzan stage. For people that know the JLPT, we wouldn't even be near the N5 yet.

Speaking of Spanish, a few weeks ago I started reviewing and practicing that again. Then earlier this week I joined a community to help keep me regular and accountable. It has been a lot of fun to see how much I remember, and hopefully I can get up to an intermediate level by the end of the year. I will keep you posted on that.

We plan to hit up another place or two soon. After that, we will spend a few more months in Japan before heading to another region that speaks Spanish. With that in mind I will try to update you on how far we got with those two languages over the next six months.

I also plan to post a bit more about our travels,  what I thought about the various places we traveled, things to see, and so on. I will get the next post up here in the next 2 weeks.


First day in China

We are off traveling again, and I haven't had much time to blog. I did a bit of writing while we were traveling through China. I cleaned it up a bit, and figured I could share some.
October 3, 2015

Waking up, we looked down on Beijing in the morning light. We couldn't wait to explore … at six in the morning. Yay jet lag! We got down onto the street all chipper, walking around saying hello to everyone we saw. We were not sure why people weren't saying hello back. I blame the jet lag, but eventually we realized six a.m. is a bit early on this side of the globe also.

We found a dirty, well trafficked hole in the wall breakfast place, where the cooking was taking place on the sidewalk. My wife started ripping into our order before I could even tell her what I wanted. So when the waiter went away I informed her in my serious voice, "From hence forth, at each transaction I either get to do the ordering or the paying."

She laughed at my seriousness, but agreed. After we finished eating I had my first Chinese conversation in Beijing.

多少錢? ( How much? )
十二塊 ( Twelve dollars. )
不好意思,我們剛到了. ( "I'm sorry, we just arrived," as I handed him $100.)

After Lunch, we continued to explore our new neighborhood, and we came across a hair salon. I forget exactly how much they were charging but it was cheap, really cheap. Our stylist looked to be in her early fifties, and like most of these type places lived above her shop.

I saddled up, and the wife took a seat a few feet away. As we got started, she began chatting with my wife. Their conversation centered around me. The hair lady asked questions like, "Where is he from?", "How old is?", and "Are you his translator?" Upon finding out that my wife was, well, my wife. She had a whole new line of questions, like "Do you have any kids?", "Were you always this fat?", "Does he make a lot of money?", and "Does he own a house?" To a westerner these are invasive, and rude, but they are typical to a Chinese person. Also, to clarify my wife isn't fat by our standards. She isn't the super skinny girl that Chinese consider normal sized either.

Near the end, this kind, caring stylist imparts some important advice to my wife. She takes a moment to walk over to my wife, and whisper to her. "You need to hurry up and get pregnant. That way if he leaves you, you will still have something. Also, be careful, other women in China will snatch him up!" Again, as an American I consider this weird paranoid thinking, but listening to other Beijingers this thinking seems to be the norm. Our friend that picked us up from the airport, said something similar to my wife "Watch other girls around him, they may try to pounce."


Perl 6, Worth A Try

TL;DR; Perl 6 is fresh, and fun to use. The Perl 6 community is nice, don't be afraid. Also, I released a Lending Club API wrapper written in Perl 6.

Nice People

A butterfly against the sun.
In case you missed it, Perl 6 is officially out. Christmas has arrived. We use Perl 5 at work and I enjoy it immensely, but, I have been looking forward to Perl 6 for a while. I attended talks given about it at past conferences, and I read various blogs that showed off some of it's shiny bells and whistles. I even installed a version of it before it was officially out to play with it.

After seeing the Christmas announcement, I eagerly installed it, and began going through a tutorial website to get acquainted with it. At some point I came across a part of the tutorial where I thought it wasn't working. I decided to brave IRC for the first time in a few years, and to ask about my issue. A Christmas miracle happened, no one bit my head off. This was so wonderful, I ended up lurking even after my problem was solved to see if this was normal, and it was. Of course, not everything changed. After a few questions, back and forth, as usual the problem was revealed to be one of my own making.


A little known fact, I have always wanted to publish something useful on CPAN. Of course, life, the learning curve, an excuse, more excuses, and me not making it a priority, has held me back from completing this goal. Anyways, near the end of the tutorial, they talked about the community made modules that are available in Perl 6. And on that module page was a link to how to contribute.  I immediately skimmed this doc. The distributing part was only a page long, and didn't involve any arcane incantations, just some modern day ones. All of a suddenly contributing seemed a lot more doable.

Maybe, it was that contributing to Perl 6 was simple enough it didn't feel daunting. Maybe, it was that new car smell that kept me plugging away at it. Either way, I decided I was going to scratch my own itch and for better, or worse share some of the code that came from that.

What to share..

I recently became a digital nomad. With that came the awareness that managing money isn't as simple as pay the bills first, and spend the rest on fun. There is a whole other blog post in that statement I will save for later. The problem I have been struggling with for the last few months is understanding my retirement and investments. The tools I have make it about as clear as mud. I needed to write some code to help me look at the whole picture in one place. I figured if I had this problem others might too. With this in mind, I wrote a very small module to help me calculate a few different numbers related to compound interest. I even managed to throw in a few tests. Everything went well, and my first ever Github pull request was accepted!

This success totally psyched me up. So I went ahead and worked on another pain point of mine. That was taking control of my Lending Cub investments. Currently, I am using the automated investing tool in conjunction with custom search criteria, to pick my investments. While this is better than manually picking, there are some drawbacks. For the second module, I wrote a wrapper for Lending Club's API.

One big hurdle was, while that intro website had given me a basic, understanding of Perl 6 there is still a lot more you can, and should do with Perl 6. For me specifically, there was a lot more I needed to learn about Perl 6 subroutine signatures, and data types. Happily after reading the documentation, and experimenting a bit, I was able to get it all figured out. I even found and fixed a typo in the documentation, giving me my second ever pull request on Github!

This module turned out to be a LOT more ambitious, than the first. I needed the help of other modules, to keep my code simple, and clean. I had to try out several modules, before I found the right foundation to build off of. After finding two good modules, and about half way through writing the code, I found out, one of these lovely modules, needed a feature. This prompted my third ever pull request on Github! Happily the author was really cool, and accepted it within less than a day, with just a few modifications.

So after two weekends of working on it, the Lending Club API module was thrust upon Github, and accepted into the fold of Perl 6 modules.


I guess what I am trying to say with that little recount of events is: If you want to try a new shiny programming language, and have some nice people help you, Perl 6 is a good choice. As for me, I have quite a few more pieces of my financial puzzle to work on, and I am sure that will create new code, and improvements to the two I have already released. 

Thanks Perl 6 people for being awesome!


2015 Fiction Review

I enjoy reading, a lot. Since I started this blog I have reviewed a book. For someone who reads a lot that is kinda sad. So, instead of posting resolutions for 2016, I decided to look back and pick out the best ten books I read this last year.  This first post will hit fiction books, and next week I will do the non-fiction.

Over the course of 2015 I took part in the Goodreads reading challenge. I ended up reading twenty five fiction, and thirteen non-fiction, for a total of thirty eight. I have picked my top five for each. All book links are affiliate links.

Fiction Books

#1 Feed by Mira Grant - This is the first book in a zombie series was a lot of fun to read. It starts with us followed a group of up and coming bloggers who land a big contract following a presidential candidate. Our main character is a tough as nails female news blogger. Don't worry there are plenty of zombie chases, conspiracies, and unique characters to keep things interesting. I really like how the author took time to both develop the world, and really look at the different lifestyle choices people have to make to live in a world where zombies, and society needs to coexist. The first book is a solid story, and you could stop there and not read the  next two if you wanted.

#2 Brain Wave by Poul Anderson - Poul asks a simple question of "What if everything with a brain on Earth started getting super intelligent?" He then lets us watch as a mentally handicapped man, a scientist, and several others adjust to this new found intelligence. This book was originally publish in 1954, and some of the possible changes that he thinks up are brilliant. Besides being a big "what if" thought exercise, the book also question some cultural norms of that time, and some we still have.

#3 The Dwarves by Markus Heitz - This book was recommended to me by a friend. We all think of dwarves as short, loud, alcoholic, miners. They are side characters, not the hero.  The author decided to show us how complex a Dwarf could be. Our main character is a Dwarf who has been raised by humans, but is suddenly thrust into the middle of a quest to forge a blade that will save the world. There is political intrigue, fighting, magic, and of course, quests. Everything a good fantasy novel could want. What sets this novel apart besides the main character, is the level of detail and realism surrounding this dwarven world our author has created.

#4  Ringworld by Larry Niven -  I bought this book ages ago, but let it sit. For the last couple of years a coworker of mine would ask if I had read it almost every time we talked Science Fiction. He then would proceed to tell me all about Ringworld all over again. So this year, finally I finished it. So I can now say, "Yes, I have read that!" This book turned out to be way better than my coworker was able to sell it, or really I can sell it.  I found tons of things interesting about this book. First our author probably did tons of research to create this book. It feels so accurate and real to that possible future. Second, our main characters we a blast to watch. Each was so different from the other that it was a lot of fun to see them play off of each other, and change.

#5 Equal Rites by Terry Prachett - Hilarious. I have always enjoyed his Discworld books. In this book an old dying wizard passes on his powers to a just born eight son of an eight son. No sooner has this transpired does the wizard expire. The father then finds out they accidentally created the first female wizard. In this book we get to watch the younger years of our young female wizard, as the adults around her have troubles accepting the way things are, and to hilarious effect keep attempting to make things the way they have always been.


Chinese Status Update Winter 2015

Another three months have passed, and I am a little further along in my never ending quest. At the end of the last blog post I mentioned that I didn't really have any set goals while traveling. Instead I would be following more of a framework, or set of best practices. All of these guidelines I set, are about making myself available to practice and learn. Below are the four big ones.

Participate, Participate, Participate. When we had meals with friends, or their family, I would always try to have some sort of compliment, or conversation starter, ready to go. Also, when we looked at buying something, I always made sure I participated in the transaction. Either I would order the food, pay the bill, or ask questions about whatever we were looking at. This rule was especially important for me. With a wife who speaks the language it can be easy to just take a back seat and watch. This rule most importantly kept me practicing. As an added benefit, for any place that we went more than once I was building a good rapport with the staff. This helped me in other ways.

Don't hide in your apartment.  This isn't the same as the first rule. It is easy to only participate once or twice a week, and hole up at home the rest of the time. It is hard to talk with strangers, and be open to new experiences. That is what I am doing. I am a remote worker, and our apartments, and hotels always had WiFi, but I still forced myself to work at a cafe, bar, bookstore, etc, at least a couple of times a week. I would frequent the same places most of the time. As I did this I got to spend less time doing quick orders, and more time chatting with people about random stuff. These act as substitute water cooler breaks. Like I would normally get at an office, but with an added bonus of language practice.

Group selfie on our way to the waterfall.
Do leisure activities that put us in contact with the locals, not just the people paid to talk to you. How do you make friends as an adult? I know lots of people who struggle with this. I have friends who move to a new city, and it takes them months to even have a few acquaintances. I have other friends who after divorces they find their friend pool drastically reduced, and have to start all over. The formula to make a friend is fairly easy. Talk with people, find a common interest, and bond over it, or move on. Yet that find a common interest, and bonding is scary enough to keep many from continuing after a failed attempt, or worse not even trying.

In Beijing interacting with the locals was easy. We had friends, there and they introduced us to their friends, and our friends parents introduced us to their friends. In Xiamen, this was a bit harder, because I had to talk my wife into meeting total strangers. She ended up finding us a kinda "make friends" field trip. A couple of guys put about twenty of us on a bus and helped us socialize, while driving us to an old tea village. From which we hiked to a scenic waterfall, had lunch and did more socializing. In Taiwan we are again around friends and family. There is no shortage of opportunities to eat at uncles house, or meet up with old friends. A note for people without the established connections we have. China, and Taiwan both have tons of meetup groups. There should be one there that matches your interests. I think I saw twenty that were just about locals and foreigners meeting up to exchange culture, or language.

Limit consumption of native material. Even though I am in Asia, it is still easy to listen to English music, and watch American movies, and English news. In order to combat this, I usually just substituted a Chinese version for the English version. Every once in a while I would get a hankering for Cheerleader, and give it a listen. I tried not to force myself to a hardcore regimen. The point is not to burn out, but rather make it easier to absorb the Chinese around me.

What have I done?

For the better part of the last three months I have been traveling through China, and Taiwan. I have made new friends in Xiamen, and Beijing. I was able to participate in many conversations. Most of them I was not only understanding, but was also able to play an active part. I was occasionally able to use my Chinese to help people with various things, like directions or answer questions. Understanding the Beijing accent got a lot easier, and swapping to the southern Chinese accent wasn't as rough this time. Things are coming easier in general.

Where Next?

So at this point I am at a comfortable level. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. This is good because for my day to day I rarely encounter a situation outside my comfort zone. For this very same same reason it's bad. My learning has slowed down. It is once again time to deliberately practice and learn. This means I need to again, start setting goals, and study routines.

My new daily routine will be a lot like my previous ones, but less intense. A bit of study time spread out here and there through out the day. I will do some Anki here. Work on a textbook there. Do a bit of writing in the middle, and  listen to some Glossika. It isn't super intense, but should be enough to get me pushing forward again.

What about goals? 

So this is a tricky one for me. I have been reading a lot entrepreneurial, zen, and confidence books lately. These books advocating big outlandish sized goals. Their point being don't limit yourself. But at the same time I am a huge fan SMART goals. So in the upcoming couple of days I hope to find a way to marry the two, while avoiding the two obvious extremes of overwork, and un-achievable. Some of the area's I want to cover are things like review my tones, some specific topics, and be able to better understand the nightly news. I also want to get my writing back up to par. I have slacked on it too long, I have forgotten how to write a lot of characters. 

I plan to post some more about my trip to China over the next few weeks, and at the end of March, I will give you another update. I hope everyone has a fun holiday season!


General Thoughts on China

I just spent two months in China. I lived about a month in Beijing, and about a month in Xiamen. We also visited a friend in Jinggangshan, and went to a few rural places with Chinese tourist groups. China is a big and beautiful place, with an interesting mix of old world rural, and modern mega cities. 

Part of the reason we first went to Beijing, was to celebrate our friends wedding. While in Beijing, we stayed in a studio apartment, like something you would find on Airbnb.  Our friends mother helped us find and set it up. One convenient thing about staying here was that it was really close to her parents' home. 

That is one building.

We ended up having dinner at her parents place several times over the course of the month. This was great for me. I got to see inside someones home, and eat their home cooking, and enjoy diner conversation. Our friend's father was retired military, like several of my friends' parents back home. And like their parents back home, he had a really similar world view as them, with just a few governments, or organizations swapped around. It was a fun twist to listen to him. 

Beijing itself was big, noisy, and dirty. The pollution problem is real, but it didn't seem as bad as everyone made it out to be. Back stateside news, and people would make it sound like one every couple of months a good weather front would clean out the city, and provide blue skies. While we were there only about half the time was smoggy. 

It is also full of history, and we did a lot of touring while in Beijing. We visited several of the famous historic landmarks. While doing that I got to see one big difference between Americans and most people there. Forming lines, and waiting your turn, are not customs they have. People tend to crowd in, and squeeze in and out of the high traffic areas. With that being said on the flip side, if you watch people on a crowded bus in China, you will see almost everyone doing their best to make sure the elderly, sick, and people with small children, get a seat if at all possible. 
These are buildings made out of mud brick, and wood. They were made around a hundred years ago, and people still live in them today. This village is a tourist attraction.

Xiamen was very different from Beijing. It is considered one of the cleanest cities in China, and has a much warmer climate. It also helped me see the difference between Between the politicalness of Beijing, and other places. While in Beijing my wife who is from Taiwan, would be "corrected" by Beijingers. When she told people she was from Taiwan. They would say, "Oh, Taiwan, China!" Whereas in Xiamen, and Jinggangshan, they would say "Taiwan! We love Taiwan!" It was interesting to see how being near, or away from the political center, affected people's language, and actions. 

So one cool thing about my job is I didn't quit work to travel the world. In Beijing I took vacation for the first two weeks, but the last two weeks in Beijing, and all of my time in Xiamen, I worked like everyone else. I am still telecommuting in on the weekdays. I maintain a regular schedule. Most of our fun, travel, and other picture worthy moments come from the weekend. While working there I made sure to work outside the apartment at least half the time. By doing this I forced myself to use my Chinese, and make several local contacts. 
Some guys we met while on an outing.

Since my work is internet based, I got to learn how to live in a world without google. The Great Firewall blocked a lot of things, I had previously taken for granted. The whole Google ecosystem was blocked, as well as Facebook, cpan, jquery website, w3schools, tons of other websites, and random intermittent outages for things like my personal e-mail server, and AOL messenger. While dealing with this was by far the most frustrating thing about China, I did become adept at using Baidu, and got better at skimming Chinese to find the info I need. Most of the blocked sites mentioned have a Chinese equivalent. I ended up spending time finding and working with those.

Ok that is enough rambling for now. I hope everyone has a good weekend.


I am back!

I am back!

Since I last posted, the wife and I have flown to China, and lived about a month in Beijing, and a month in Xiamen. When I entered China, I ended up going dark on the blog. This was mostly because of how much of a hassle it was to get around the Great Firewall while inside. But I am out now. We landed in Taiwan a few days ago. I should start posting more regularly now. I journaled while I was there, and I am thinking about releasing some of those entries at some point.

China was a lot of fun. I got to use my Chinese, pretty much daily, and while in Taiwan I hope to continue this trend. The game plan is always fluid, but over the next twelve months we plan to hit Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and maybe a few more. Some places we will live at for a few months at a time, and some we will just visit for a week or less. 

That's it for now. I will post more about China next weekend.