2014-03-26

San Francisco

I recently traveled to San Francisco with a friend. He invited me out to the Game Developer's Conference. He paid for most of my trip or I wouldn't have been able to even fly there. I got some nice friends. ^_^ Any who, while I was out there I had a great time and thought I would share some things I noticed.

The Weather!

This was my favorite part. After being in arctic Missouri all winter, getting to be in 60 degree weather was bliss.Every day I was there was nice. There was usually a breeze and it was mostly sunny. Last year we were going over one of the chapters in our Chinese book. In it one of the characters was describing the weather of California as year round mild. At the time I thought it was just some filler conversation, but now I know better. I will probably come back to vacation in California just for the weather.

The People

This is my second trip to California. My first was to Los Angeles. In LA we had to rent a car and drive. While driving people there were extremely aggressive, and rude. I had taken that driving demeanor and just assumed that was how the average California person acted no matter the situation, and that my LA friends were the exception. I was wrong to do that. In SF we used public transportation and taxi's exclusively. Our first morning on the bus, 3 people were quicker to offer help than me. One of those times I didn't even think to offer. For the most part everyone we encountered was courteous, and kind. Two homeless guys even gave us the info we needed to find our bus back to the Hotel. 

And so on

I could go on and tell you about how much we enjoyed Chinatown's food, or the open city atmosphere, and I probably could talk for a day about what I saw and heard at the GDC. But I would rather recount a memorable experience.

9:30pm - On our last night there we tried to use the bus to get back to the hotel. This is supposed to take less than an hour. We didn't know what we were doing. We spent half an hour searching for our bus stop before finding it. 
10pm - Once we got confirmation from a homeless guys we were at the right bus stop, we started waiting on the bus. My buddy was in charge of reading the bus numbers as they passed. After the third or forth bus passed us on of us remarked "Man, that bus 14 sure is reliable." That's when it dawned on us. Maybe he's looking at the wrong number. As the next bus passed he found the right place to look, and we continued to wait, until the next #292 came around. 
11pm - After getting on the bus we realized we didn't actually know the name of our hotel's stop. My buddy was extremely tired and he tried looking it up on his phone but kept falling asleep while doing it. Finally we heard "Airport Blvd". We knew our Hotel was on this road so we quickly hopped off, and the bus drove away. 
11:40pm - We hopped off two miles too early, in an unfamiliar city/suburb, and we are both dead tired. So of course we decided to walk, rather than wait on another bus or call a taxi. The walk itself turned out to be mostly uneventful. We were not mugged. We did not see any suspicious characters. And there was sidewalks all the way to the hotel. 
12:15am - We arrived at our hotel, and made sure we had a 4am wake up call so we wouldn't miss our 5:50am plane back. ^_^

Oddly enough with all the things that went wrong, that is probably one of my favorite memories from this trip.

2014-03-24

Chinese status update #2

Suprise! You get a three month update instead of a six! Enough has changed, and more is happening that I wanted to post an update.

Goals Completed In The Last 3 Months

  • Found a teacher, and started knocking out lessons again.
  • Finished Rosetta Stone ( all that I had bought )
  • Took the HSK 4
Not a lot up on the bullet point, but since my last post a lot of my goals have been redefined. Since I was not able to continue learning Chinese at university, I had to find another way. I ended up using italki. This has turned out to be a great experience. I found a great teacher who will work with me. She even agreed to only talk in Chinese. Also we are working at a speed much faster than what university is currently moving at. I am getting one on one teaching, and I am doing about five hours a week with the teacher instead of the two and a half hours I would have done at university. So far my current method only has two problems that I can see. First skype sessions don't do much for writing (not typing), and second no one is holding me accountable to do my homework.

The next thing that changed was that after I completed Rosetta Stone Level 3, I found out I do not get access to levels 4 & 5. When I was sold my upgrade the the man selling it told me I would get the extra language packs as well. This turned out to be untrue. I spend a couple hours on phone support without much results. While I found Rosetta Stone an interesting learning resource, I decided it wasn't worth the extra money to buy the next language packs. 

I took the HSK 4. I prepared for it as best as I could, and I failed. This is ok. This is actually great. I wasn't taking the HSK IV to pass, tho that would have been nice also. I was taking it to see where I am at. After I got my test results I was able to see that I am doing good in listening ( passing actually ), but reading and writing were both below passing. From this I have been able to identify some things I can improve on. I still plan to pass the HSK IV this year, but I won't try again until the fall.

Goals For The Rest Of The Year

  • With my Italki teacher finish Integrated Chinese Level 2 Part 1 book
  • Pass the HSK IV
  • With my Italki teacher start and finish the Integrated Chinese Level 2, Part 2 book
  • Visit China
  • Reduce my accent
  • Read Ender's Game in Chinese
  • Learn more 成語
  • Complete Olle's Challenge
With my teacher We are going through a little over a chapter a week. We have already completed two chapters and are halfway done with the third. With this rate I may be done with these two Integrated chinese books in as little as 10 more weeks. Taking into account that I will take some time off around graduation, I am looking at being finished around June 6th. 

I have a few friends that are getting married, or having children in China. Since I have never been to the mainland, we may also be making a trip this fall. I am excited, I want to go as both a friend and a tourist. I will have to save up some extra time off, and money so I can do both.

Reducing my accent, and Learning more 成语 are both coming along ok. Studying and talking is helping with both. I plan to define a more concrete goal for the 成语 some time soon, I am not sure whether it will be an amount, or a frequently used list yet. 

Olle's Challenge is a new goal. I took part in his challenge last year, and made some good progress. This year I plan to use this challenge to help me stay on track with my studying. There are 942 new words left in my anki deck. I will be studying about 20 cards (10 words) a day except for right around my graduation. My milestones will look like this.
  1. April 8th: 157 new words
  2. April 30th: 314 new words
  3. May 31st: 471 new words
  4. June 30th: 628 new words
Wish me luck! I will have another update around July.

2014-03-21

Learning a second language using the second language.

你只有用汉语学习汉语吗?真的假的!?

When I first started leaning my second language, I leverage English (my native language) to help me learn my second language. In the class we had plenty of english and pinyin hand holding to help us get over that initial beginners stage. One thing that dawned on my during that period is even though I had 11 years of English throughout school, I didn't remember most of it. At the start I could have gave you a crap answer to "What the difference between adverb and adjective?" By the end I had reaquainted myself with clause, onomatopoeia, and so on. Learning this second language improved my ability to both use and break down my native language as well.

After my second semester I decided to spend part of my summer learning Chinese in a Chinese speaking country. The full immersion approach! I found my school, I got everything setup and I went. I showed up for my first day of class, and wow did they teach different than what I was used to. My teacher was part time receptionist, and part time teacher, so just 5 minutes before my class started we were communicating in english. Then class started and it was ONLY CHINESE. I don't get excited for much, but this was both extremely exciting, and extremely terrifying! And after my four hour session my brain felt like it had been to the gym.

When I got back people wanted to know about my experiences. I like to talk sometimes so this worked out. ^_^ When I got around to explaining the class and how we never used english, I got a lot of puzzled looks, and questions. How could that even work, was common. I know some people that have trouble making this mental jump. I hear this statement a lot.
How can you learn new words in a target language only using that target language?
 Depending on the person I choose one of several ways to explain. Their underlying misconception usually is they think you are creating something from nothing. This is not the case. One way I shed light on their misconception is to ask them one of the following questions.
  • Babies don't come preprogrammed with a language; how do they learn new words? 
  • How would you describe an apple to someone who knows nothing about apples? 
  • If I draw a picture of a person is that picture in english?
In my opinion these questions should lead to an answer of you're never learning in a vacuum or starting from absolute zero. You always have something to build on. Whether you need to describe it three different ways, use a synonym, or mime some action. Adults have a wealth of experiences and context to make our point.

One thing I quickly realized I was lacking, was language learning terms in my target language. I knew semester, and dog, but I didn't know noun or verb.I was missing the "meta." The language to describe the language. So I got my teacher to put together a quick list of words for describing words. It had the Chinese equivalent for noun, verb, adverb, verb-object, and so on. This made my studies a lot easier.

So anywho I came back state side and went back to university. I started learning with english being half or more of each class session, I got lazy, and I forgot all of those meta terms. Fast forward to today, May of 2014, I am no longer taking classes from the university due to scheduling conflicts, but I am still learning thanks to some wonderful teachers on italki. I started back on the no english learning style, and I have started back at reusing these meta chinese terms. This time, I am determined to not loose my list, so I have put up a 1.0 version on my website and I made an anki deck. I hope this helps others as well.

2014-03-12

Imposter Syndrome

I hate it when I feel like an imposter. It is a total buzz kill. For those who haven't come across the term, Imposter Syndrome, Wikipedia has a nice definition.
"The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."
Now don't get me wrong. I don't think I have a full blown disorder. It is more like, a negative thought process that crops up every once in a while. This thought process has to be reigned in and overrode. In my opinion cognitive behavioral therapy is something we should be taught as children.

When I experience it, and how I deal with it.

At work a jack of all trades is preferable to a domain expert in most instances. For me this means that on any given project I'm gonna be stumbling through parts of it.

  • Negative Thought: What would I have done without Google, and some API documentation to save my bacon.
  • Positive Override: Google is just one more tool at my disposal. The fact that I was able to finish the project without all the relevant knowledge beforehand is a huge accomplishment.
At school I occasionally fail at an assignment or test. When I first started taking college classes I saw college as a fresh start with a new reputation. If I missed a big assignment or two, I would often drop or stop going to class rather than facing the teachers judgment, or what I thought my peers would think of me. This caused me to have a terrible GPA, and spend lots of money to retaking a lot of courses. I was suffering from the belief that just a few bad choices in that class doomed me.
 
This semester I am taking my Senior Seminar/Capstone and I have been rocking about a 95% so far. Last night I didn't get my assignment finished. Old me, would have not even turned in what he did do. Current me, turned in what he had.
  • Negative Thought: I AM GONNA FAIL! I am an idiot, how could I not figure that out fast enough. My code looked like crap.
  • Positive Override: I turned in an 80% complete project. Even if I only get a 50% on all of the last 4 project I will pass the class with a C. I only got a day to do this project instead of a week like I needed. 80% in a day for a week project is awesome.
Another source I find is from a lack of a definitive standard. In Chinese, The book Series I am learning from Integrated Chinese, I am considered a Lower Intermediate student. Based on my vocabulary and grammar size Several standards put me at Upper Intermediate, and looking at HSK I have the vocabulary size to be considered Advanced, but as I have blogged before, my vocabulary and HSK's deviate. Also people are too nice. Because they are too nice I sometimes feel like I have tricked them into thinking I am better than I really am. 

The other night I was getting skype tutoring in Chinese, and my wife came into the room and I lost my train of thought. The teacher asked me to do something, but I had not heard her and I just tried to wing it instead of asking her to repeat what she wanted. When I did that I went off into left field and she immediately was checking if I understood her original instructions. What I should have done, and I am going to try to do in the future was tell her I got distracted and ask her to repeat herself.
  • Negative Thought: I didn't really understand. I am overreaching, I am not as good as my teacher thinks I are.
  • Positive Override: I understand enough to get the gist. I mostly asked for clarification when I had issues. I am keeping up understanding even with her talking at a normal speed. I have already answered several of her questions correctly.
Other issues occur when my wife and I meet up with other native Chinese speakers they may start to talk about some Korean Drama, or Obamacare, or some other subject with a lot of specialized vocabulary. I am usually keeping up with the listening until a bunch of new words flood in, it is like I fall off of a pit into word molasses. I am still trying to make sense of some word or phase a couple of sentences back. And the conversation soon leaves me behind. I need to make a choice, stop them and get clarification, or drop what's tripping me up and hope I figure it out later, from what's being said now.
  • Negative Thought: I am never gonna learn enough of this language to be fluent. I'm gonna look like an idiot if I say anything right now.
  • Positive Override: I have only had 2 years to learn this language, they have had 25 or more. It's better to fail early, so I can get back into the conversation. Just knowing that 來自星星的你 is the name of a Kdrama would have put the rest of the conversation into better context.

On the Daily

I think one problem we have is that people don't deal with this sorta negative thought until it happens. Reactionary response is usually not as good as preemptive. You have heard one person says "It's best not to dwell on the past." Whereas another says "Learn from history or it's doomed to be repeated." At first glance these seem to be contradictory pieces of advice. In my opinion what they both are trying to address are the extremes. If you learn no history, or if you only think on your best/worst times. We want to be somewhere in the middle. 

For me every once in a while ( Saturday morning before I get outta bed ), I stop and reflect for a few minutes. I look at what I did good, and what I did bad. I think on both, how I could do the bad better next time, and how great it was I accomplished what I did. Then, move on. 

2014-03-10

Unity, Dvorak, and Google Pinyin.... oh my!

Just a quick post today.

A month or two back I decided I should try out Unity instead of just using KDE all the time. I did this for a lot of reasons, but mostly cause I like to try new things. I went into this knowing that the newest Ubuntu has some issues with Chinese input. A few I had dealt with on the KDE side. So, I went ahead and just installed it alongside my Kubuntu packages. It 99% just worked, and that was great. One Issue that I ran into was my Google Chinese input seemed to be locked to the standard Qwerty keyboard.

This made me sad. I am a Dvorak guy, and I like typing my pinyin with Dvorak. So, I first tried to find "that setting", you know that one setting that will make everything right if you can just find it. I failed. Next, I went in search of how to fix my problem on the interwebs. I didn't see an answer that suited me. Man, I need to get better at interweb searching. So lastly I deded I would go at it terminal style.

Terminal style means you grep around for configuration files and modify them and see what happens. It's completely scientific. Did I mention I made up the term "terminal style?" Anywho I hit the jackpot, and fixed my problem. Hopefully this little tweak will fix your problem also. I assume your using ibus like me, if not you may need a similar file but in a different location.

  1. try to locate googlepinyin.xml
  2. sudo vi /usr/share/ibus/component/googlepinyin.xml
  3. modify the line that looks like this "<layout>us</layout>" to look like "<layout>us-dvorak</layout>“
  4. restart your ibus-daemon
Then all was right with the world. Now 6 - 9 months from now when I mess up this computer I'll have a record of what needs to be done. ^_^ Hopefully It will help someone else also.

On a related note while I was searching the interwebs I came across a post about Chinese pinyin frequency mapped to Dvorak. The poster shows some heatmaps and keypress frequencies. It's quite fascinating, and if I ever get fast at typing pinyin, Dvorak isn't a bad keymap to do it on.

下次见!