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Archive for October, 2007

One of the great things about teaching EFL is seeing the different responses of each class to the same material. My old Monday/Thursday class finished reading Pocahontas (the 45 page Oxford Bookworms version) a bit back, and they enjoyed it quite a bit. One student had a few difficulties with all the new words, and the Indian names in particular, but even she got into it by the end. The interesting thing with this class, though, was their reaction to the story.

Most classes talk about how they think it was great that Pocahontas lived with in Jamestown and learned English, or how it was exciting that she went to England, or how John Smith should have married her, or how the Indians should have killed the English settlers. Not this class, though. Nope. All they wanted to talk about was how bad John Smith was. And not for how he handled the Algonquin, either. Nope. He was veeeerry bad because he went back to England while nearly dying from an illness and didn’t send a letter to Pocahontas, who was only 14 and didn’t know how to read yet anyway. What an insensitive jerk!

I wasn’t kidding when I said I liked the new dictionary at labs.chinesepod.com. After getting used to using it all the time via the search bookmark I made last week, I started wondering why I still had the MDBG searchbar up on my page.

After I quick consultation with David (CPod’s CTO), I had my answer. There wasn’t a searchbar for CPod’s uber-adsotated dictionary with audio recordings. So I decided to be bold and make one. You can see it in context in the picture below, and it’s now a part of toshuo.com’s sidebar. I’ve already run this by David, and if anyone would like to copy and distribute the image or the code to make the searchbar, go ahead!

My searchbar for the new Chinese Pod dictionary

Here’s the code:

<!-- CPod Dictionary Search -->
<div id="cdict">

<form method="get" action="http://labs.chinesepod.com/" target="_blank">
<div style="border: 1px solid rgb(192, 192, 192); padding: 0px 3px 5px;
background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255); width: 200px; text-align: center;">
<a href="http://labs.chinesepod.com/dictionary"target="_blank">
<img alt="Chinese Pod Chinese-English dictionary" src="labsdict.png"
title="Chinese Pod Chinese-English dictionary" border="0"/>
<input value="node/4" name="q" type="hidden"/>
<div style="clear: both;"></div>
The Dictionary<input name="search" size="26" value="" onclick="this.focus();
 this.value='';" type="text"/></div></form>

</div><!--End Dictionary-->

And here’s the image (which you’ll have to upload to your blog host):

I have no design skills! If anyone can improve upon the look of the searchbar, I’m sure people would appreciate it.

I think it may just be because of the Apollo missions that I’m as much of a sci-fi geek as I am. Growing up with my grandparents, I remember hearing my grandfather and my uncle tell me story after story about the space program. For someone like my grandfather, who grew up during the depression and World War II, the idea of space exploration really must have been amazing. His grandparents had thought that human flight at all was improbable, and then not only did he live to see commercial flight become common, but he lived to see people sent to the moon. It’s only natural that these experiences set his expectations too high.

moon

I knew the names, color, and approximate distance of all the planets when I was seven. Within months I’d also learned how long their days and years were, how many moons they had and more. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I guess a lot of kids did. I stayed interested in space but, the progress I’ve seen has been the opposite of what my grandfather saw. I saw Challenger blow up when I was in elementary school. I read all kinds of exciting things about Mir, only to see it come to an unpleasant demise. I got fired up when scientists visited my school talking about possible life on Mars, only to see interest slowly fall apart. I saw space development funneled increasingly into weapons of war, and low-orbit communications. The US has spent eleven times what all the research and execution of a manned mission to Mars would have cost… re-invading Iraq.

After all of those disappointments, it was with great joy that I read about Yáng Lìwěi (杨利伟), and his historic first Chinese mission into space three years ago. If anything could get my fellow Americans interested in space again, rather than war, it’s the idea that the Chinese will go ahead without us.

In a perfect world, people would leave all their various petty brands of nationalism at the doorstep, but if there has to be competition, let’s see it in a way that will advance humanity rather than devastate it. This is good news.

SHANGHAI — China successfully launched the unmanned lunar space orbiter Chang’e 1 on Wednesday, fuelling Asia’s undeclared space race and moving a step closer to its goal of putting a man on the moon by 2020.

The liftoff in southwestern Sichuan province was broadcast live across the country as a demonstration of President Hu Jintao’s pledge of more science-based progress and to make China a competitor in the lucrative commercial space market in telecommunications.

The Vancouver Sun: China blasts into Asian space race with orbiter launch

I’ve long been a fan of David Lancashire’s Chinese-English dictionary and anotation engine Adsotrans. I’ll admit I’ve had my share of frustrations with its previously poor support of traditional characters, but I’ve always loved the engine.

Since he David joined Chinese Pod, his various technical marvels have been springing up here and here throughout their service, and I love it! Their new dictionary is huge and growing at a good clip– rapidly closing in on the total size of ABC Chinese-English dictionary. More common entries also have example sentences, which are fully adsostated with pinyin pop-ups and accompanied by voice recordings.

Here’s my Firefox search bookmark for the CPod dictionary: http://labs.chinesepod.com/?q=node%2F4&search=%s

Work is going well. Not astoundingly well, but a solid improvement from a month and a half ago. My student numbers are up, my 3rd semester class has finished reading a 40 page Aladdin book, and I don’t really have any lazy students anymore.

The social life has been good, too. There are definitely some people who have left Taiwan that I miss, but things are good.

In terms of personal study, once again, things are good. I’ve had time to study a bit of Chinese, a bit of Japanese, some philosophy and some finance. I guess being a net-addict has its advantages.

What’s really on my mind though, is a choice. If I sell all my investments, I have an opportunity to start an incubator hedge fund. It would be expensive and it would be risky, but as the 62nd rule of Ferengi rule of acquisition states, “the riskier the road, the greater the profit.”

Since I’m a long-term value investor, running this sort of fund would take about the same amount of time I’m currently spending on researching investments (relatively little), but oh the risk! If my investing performance of the last 6 years is due to skill, then taking things to the next level is the thing to do. If I’ve just been lucky though, I could lose quite a bit by betting that luck will continue.

It’s time for some thinking.

I’ve recently discovered that all the comments I’ve made on Reddit.com for over a month have been invisible to the rest of the world. I had no idea, though, because reddit makes it look like they’re visible by displaying them to me while I’m logged in.

Reddit Deceived Me 2

If you click through to Zooomr, I’ve set up some portals on the picture that illustrate what I’m talking about. On the left browser, I’m logged in as “xiaoma”, and my comment is visible. On the right side, I’m not logged in, and my comment is mysteriously missing.

I knew I’d been spending a bit much time reading and “participating” in reddit comment threads recently… but when I found out that all that time was spent in vain, it felt like I’d been punched in the gut. All this time I thought I was engaging with a discussion with netizens the world over, but instead, I’ve been typing in a vacuum.

Reddit, I used to be your biggest fan, but now I feel unclean even linking to you. Either your code is buggy, or you banned my account (except for my submission that hit #1). I can’t even fathom why my account would have been gagged, either. I’ve been reading through my comment history and both less profane and more thought out than most of what I see in the comment threads. You need look no further than the profane comment right below mine that wasn’t censored to see what I’m talking about.

Update 10/13/2007: It appears that Reddit is up to some other kinds of “covert” censorship.

Update 10/14/2007: My comments have mysteriously re-appeared, and this story has equally mysteriously been deleted from Reddit.

Update 10/21/2007: Now, reddit shows all my comments as “deleted”… unless I’m logged in, in which case it looks like nothing’s wrong. This whole business of trying to deceive the user is ridiculous.

Update 10/31/2007: The comments are visible again.

This was totally like, you know… not bad lip-syncing?

Stupid in America is a 20/20 investigation into the failures of K-12 schooling in the US. John Stossel interviews a variety of teachers, students, parents and administrators in the US and in Belgium. It’s particularly interesting for me because I’ve experienced it from so many sides. I’ve been at all kinds of schools, from public to Catholic, to one that had merit-based admissions. As a teacher, I’ve taught calculus and freshman physics in the US and more recently EFL here in Taiwan. It certainly doesn’t pay as well as my previous programming work, but it is interesting, and I enjoy it enough that I’ve thought about working as a public school teacher in the US after retiring.

I’ve seen some of the policy debates as well. In my high school district, a group of parents actually sued the school system and made them abandon a program called Direction 2000, that many considered an ill-advised attempt at political indoctrination rather than true education. It also turned out that the father of one of my good friends in middle school was the senator who proposed our voucher system. Anyway, it’s an interesting video… despite the Europeans claiming we’re stupid.

One final thought I’d like to share is that I see the school system in Taiwan as one of the biggest reasons to stay here long enough to have my own kids. Despite the complaints I hear from parents about the public schools here, the achievements I see in my nine and ten year-old students are so far ahead of what my peers in the US were doing at that age that it’s almost shocking. Especially in math, art and languages, the difference is stark.

Update: Michael Turton has written a response to this post.

Related Post: The New York Teacher of the Year is Against School

Mark S. made a great find over at pinyin.info:

Imagine some white guys in a fairly large U.S. city open a restaurant named “Mr. Taiwan Slant-Eyes Asian Cuisine.” And imagine that this restaurant specializes in distinctly Americanized dishes such as egg foo yong, fortune cookies, and California wraps. Now imagine the response. Isn’t this fun?

OK, now imagine a different situation: In Taiwan’s fifth-largest city some locals open a place specializing in Taiwanized Western food and dub their restaurant “Miss UK Cafe Pointy-Nose Foreign Food.”

As you’ve probably guessed, the second scenario is real. The “Miss UK Cafe ㄚ度仔 異國美食” (Miss UK Cafe a-tok-a yìguó měishí) recently opened not far from my apartment in Banqiao.

Asia really isn’t the place for people who are thin skinned about racial sensitivities.

Related Post: No Debit Card for Round-eye