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."


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.