Ruby & Elixir Conference

So, I went to a Ruby & Elixir conference this last weekend. It was a ton of fun. Below are some random observations.

First off, the conference itself was well done. They had, clever emcee's, strategically placed screens for better viewing of presentations, good audio, friendly staff, great food, and fun sponsors.

New stickers!
But it was more than that. The community was genuinely welcoming, ... even after some of em, found out I didn't use Ruby or Elixir at my day job. 😟😟 I met some amazing people that just treated me really well, and honestly this made all the difference.

Now your probably wondering why I went if I don't work with these languages. The short answer is:
A) I like learning new things, and am leaning Elixir in the off hours. I plan to do the same with Ruby in the future.
2) Since we are transitioning from Digital Nomads to living in Taiwan, I thought it would be nice to meet some people with similar jobs/hobbies that also live here.
Z) Bonus, it gave me an excuse to make some personal business cards. 😊😊

Since these aren't my work languages a lot of the takeaways I got from the talks were more business or meta. One thought I had multiple times was: These companies had the same growing pains my company currently has. Maybe we can use the same, or a similar solution as they did.

For me, and I suspect for many other IT/programming people, meeting new people is never easy. What I loved about this conference is that time and time again, I saw people going out of their way to interact with new people at the conference. I saw speakers talking to strangers like me with genuine interest. It's probably too early to tell, but I think the beginnings of friendships were formed with several people.

Another thing that was neat to me was not knowing who the key community players were. When I had went to Perl conferences in the past people could be like, "Wall did this, Merlyn is here, Miyagawa is presenting in room 3, ...", and I would immediately be in the loop.

When I first arrived I only knew who Matz was. Sorry José. Happily it only took a little bit to catch on to who was who. Several people were nice to me in that regard giving me the run down.

After the first day's talk, there was a party, and then after that I ended up at an after party. I probably had a bit too much fun the first night, because I kept dozing off during the last talk. Again, sorry José!

Will I be at the next Taiwan Ruby/Elixir conference you ask? Yes! I am looking forward to it.


Dvorak + Pinyin on Chromebook

So I bought a Chromebook, and found out that I couldn't via normal settings get it to use Dvorak with pinyin input. Luckily someone else also had this issue, and already found a way around it.

Warning: The method to update this is dangerous. You will delete everything, and could break your system. 

Also if you have never used vi before, practice somewhere else first. It is an advanced editor with a learning curve.

So before you can use the previously mentioned method you have to turn on developer mode. This will wipe the chrome book, so backup anything that's that important.

Here is a link explaining how to turn on developer mode.

I am extremely appreciative of the person who submitted the fix. I wanted to add 3 minor updates to their procedure.

  1. To open a crosh shell, press CTRL+ALT+T after you log in.
  2. After you do step 2, you need to reboot before you can do step 3.
  3. The Dvorak mappings are also in the .../symbols/us file you need to edit. Just look farther down. Use vi's visual copy feature to more safely copy those lines into the first section. 

Once you have done that and rebooted you should be good to go. Don't forget if you disable developer mode you will most likely loose this hack.


Chinese Homework: American food.

Because I like having control, I choose my own homework. Part of the homework is me teaching myself the new vocabulary, grammar, and idioms. Another part is basic sentence generation using terms my tutor and I find during conversation that I don't know, or don't remember. These two activities makes up what I most frequently work on. I don't let the tutor assign me homework that people traditionally think of like fill in the blank exercises, or writting whole essays on something I have no interest in. Rather, I self assign myself projects that I think would be both beneficial and interesting to me.

Some Lasagna we ate in Venice, Italy
Below is a language island. Language islands are a concept I came across in a book called "How to Improve Your Forign Language Immediately." by Boris Shekhtman. In short, it is a memorized statement on a topic that frequently comes up in conversation. The point is not to say the whole statement every time the topic comes up. The point is to give you a way to rest and regroup, and to make your speech sound more clear, or polished.

A few weeks back I finished the first section of the book I am currently working in. And to review and solidify the knowledge in that section, I wrote this island. It is full of new vocab, grammar, and so on. I plan to occasionally post this sort of thing to both, keep myself posting, and motivating myself to do better in my studies.

Parts of this island can be used for the following questions I often hear:
Some Berlin Pub food we had.

  • American food is just hamburgers? right?
  • Does America have any original food?
  • What types of food does your family cook?
  • What's your favorite breakfast/lunch/dinner dish?

美國漢堡家喻戶曉。仿佛是美國發明的,但是有可能是從德國來的。因爲美國人包括移民者,所以很多美國菜吃源於國外。在童年的生活,我還記得平日的晚餐,周一媽做意大利直面(意大利菜),隔天吃燉肉(法國菜但是德國移民者在美國改良的),再隔天吃肉餅(比利時菜)。美國集中了好多國家的食譜,但是我們也發明了好多菜。例如clam chowder, KC BBQ, chicken a lá king, grits, pork & beans, 等等。


Chinese Status Update March 2018

Wow, has it really been over a year since I last posted?! No worries, I'm settled for a while, and I plan to start posting again. I know, I know, promise, promises. Anyways I have started back on my studies at the beginning of February. For the time being I am staying put in Taiwan, and of course learning more Mandarin would be a great help.

So in February, once we got a bit settled I went about trying to evaluate my skills. Some things had atrophied, while others had improved. I found that since I had not been studying actively my reading comprehension had suffered, but too much. My writing, had suffered a lot. The first couple of lessons I spent a lot of time looking up how to write terms, as well as being reprimanded on my bad stroke order by my new tutor. My listening has continued to improve, and based on how people respond to talking to me I think my accent has gotten a bit better. I wasn't worried about my speaking ability because I have used it quite a bit while traveling. Outside the big four, the parts that I saw atrophy was, some lesser used grammar, and occasionally I am jumbling the order of a sentence. I think this may be a side effect of learning Japanese over the last year. Whether it is or not, I plan to step up and correct it.

After this self assessment I decided it was time to figure out some goals, and get some materials to help me push in that direction. Here follows my goals for the year.

2018 Goals:

  • Study from start to finish the Chinese In Motion two book series. 
  • Attempt to pass a high level TOCFL test in November.
  • Increase my reading speed to a level where I can follow your average TV subtitles.

So this Chinese in Motion series is extremely interesting to me. It was published by the same company that did the Integrated Chinese books. So far the IC books have been my favorite for learning Chinese. I should finish the series in June.

I like the book's topic matter. For example a deeper dive on cooking, and health. I also like a lot of the new words. With each chapter I feel like I can express myself in a more nuanced way as well as understand more nuanced speech.

Here is some numbers related to the two books.
  • Lesson Count: 24
    • It includes 8 sections with 3 lessons per section. 
  • Terms Taught: 1320 roughly.
    • They introduce around 55 terms per lesson. Many of these terms are new to me.
  • Grammar Points: 192 roughly
    • They introduce about eight grammar points per lesson. Some are very useful and I plan to add them to things I speak or write. Some are mainland specific, or of limited use to me. I am happy to learn them, but not too worried if I am unable to use them in my speech at will. 
The TOCFL is the Taiwan equivalent to the HSK. From what I have read, it sounds much harder than the HSK, but I have not taken it myself. I would love to pass the highest level in November, but there is a good chance that I won't be ready by then. If not I will attempt the second highest level, and use it as a benchmark. 

My choice in textbooks is not well suited for this goal, but I find this textbook much more enjoyable than the PAVC ones. I have only tried to map the first couple lessons but less than half of the word list matched the vocabulary given by the TOCFL test organizers. Also the book is in simplified, not traditional. I am not worried. June onward is the time I start focusing on this goal. I figure, once I finish the Chinese in Motion books I should have a better handle on the direction I should take to prepare for the test. 

For the TOCFL, I haven't gathered all the information I need about it yet. I may not even know enough to test either of the higher levels yet. What I can tell you is there is just under 8,000 terms in it. I am estimating that as of right now I probably need to learn around three thousand. For the related grammar I have no idea, but I will cross that road when I come to it. 

My last goal I think will come partially naturally. The more I read and write, and the more vocabulary I know, the easier it should be to read faster. I think to make it across the finish line I am going to need to practice some drills on how to read faster, and how much can I remember glancing at text for a short period of time. I will probably enjoy a bit of karaoke as part of the practice.

I am excited to see where this will take me. We'll see how it goes. I'll give another update in the Summer.


Chinese Status Update Winter 2016

Welcome back. 

It has been about a year since I last wrote a Chinese language status update. Since then I turned 33, read 22 books to completion, started 10 other books, have gotten my passport stamped by nine different places in Asia, and I am currently in the U.K.  Many things in my life have changed, including my language skillz. Yes with a Z. :-D

One big thing about this year that was, I had no permanent home. I was always traveling with about five weeks being the average I stayed in a place. What that meant was a lot of the normal routines I took for granted were thrown into complete chaos.

For example, in Thailand we had a gym on the ground floor, I would frequent it 3x per week, but in Malaysia, there was no gym near our AirBNB, and it was too hot to run outside, so I had to do body weight exercises in our apartment bedroom.

It forced me to think on my feet and have more than one plan for accomplishing a goal, and it also gave me the opportunity to face that inertia of restarting an activity you stopped, and push past it, over and over.

What about the Mandarin?

wrote in past posts, a LOT of my learning comes from passive activity and routine habits. This routine has almost completely been destroyed by becoming a digital nomad. There are pro's and con's to every lifestyle eh.

In last winter's post, I planned out a framework for using Chinese that I would put into action. Not long after writing that, I started to realize while this framework helped me maintain what I had, it wasn't pushing me to learn much. With that in mind I decided to try and figure out some alternative methods for studying.

It took me some time but here is where I am at.

  • Every day I speak some Chinese with my wife and/or friends. 
  • I use social media to read bits of news, or communicate with my friends in Mandarin. 
  • Two days a week are study days. What I do on these days depends on how motivated I feel. 

It's that simple. With that over the past year I have became comfortable in group conversations, increased vocab, learned new grammar, gotten used to hearing other accents, and even picked up some new slang.

Where Next?

This year should be even harder than last. We are not in Asia, and won't spend a significant amount of time in a Mandarin speaking country. I think my study schedule is almost enough. What I will probably need to continue progressing is add in some focused study every week. This means I will probably start taking 1-2 iTalki lessons every week to fill this need.

Starting January, for the next three months my goals are as follows.

I think that I have picked achievable, yet hard tasks. For all three tasks I am accountable in some way or another. With the PAVC I will be accountable to my teacher, and people can check up on my italki profile to see how often I am actually taking lessons.

Alright that is enough rambling from me. Wish me luck, and as always comments are welcome.


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."