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Archive for March, 2008

This Chinese mother’s ability to block out her son is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Related Post: You Can’t Touch this English!

Hackers may have taken it down for a while, but the Taiwan Blog Feed is redesigned and up again!

I have no idea why it was under such a brutal attack. I added any sites which met the criteria of being about Taiwan, teaching English or learning Chinese, and promptly removed anyone who asked to be. On top of that the site was entirely non-commercial, with no self-serving purpose what-so-ever. Nonetheless, it was under constant bombardment; perhaps some Chinese activist was upset at all the political blogs being aggregated, but it seems unlikely. In any case, it was pretty clear that the attacker had a Drupal kit. I upgraded the site to the newest version of Drupal in order to close some of its security holes, but that broke half the add-ons I had used to make the site.

So, I’ve moved the Taiwan Blog Feed to wordpress, which I’m much more familiar with. It should be easier for me to keep on top of maintaining the site now, too. People can’t add their sites anymore. Just leave me a comment if you want a particular site added (or if you’re the author and you want it removed).

One of the really great teachers I’ve worked with before has put up what appear to be training videos for new teachers at his school. Ross’s school could be the best 1st and 2nd grade English program in Taiwan.
continue reading…

What a day. I rolled out of bed at 10am, brushed my teeth, and sleepwalked over to Starbucks for a business meeting. It went pretty well.

Then, it was to the school, where I had to so some last minute editing for my Tuesday/Friday class’s first semester exam. For some reason or another, the internet connectivity was horribly spotty (and it’s on a LAN, not a WAN), but I got everything done.

The Bookstore

Next, it was off to the bookstore. I went to the new Caves Bookstore, near 圓山 MRT, and what a bounty they had for me! Over fifty books I had ordered for my students were there waiting for me, and I found a new series of readers that may have some potential for curriculum.

I’ve been very satisfied with the Oxford University Press Bookworms series, on the whole. However, their “starter” level books are terrible. They use the simple present tense for just about everything, and do so in unnatural ways. Chinese speakers have a tendency to do that anyway, and the last thing I want to do is reinforce the problem further. The problem is that the level one Bookworms are a bit difficult for low level students. I push my kids pretty hard, and it takes them about year before they’re able to read them. Not only that, but I have to give them some vocabulary sheets are support so that they can get through them at a reasonable speed (15-20 pages/hour).

Today, I saw a series that just may fill in some of this gap for beginning level students– OUP Dolphin Readers. The entire series is at a very low vocabulary level, and the books are full of good illustrations that make them much easier for students to understand. Levels 3 and 4 include multiple verb tenses, and at least from the browsing I did, the 1st and 2nd level Dolphin Readers managed to avoid the unnatural usage of the present tense that’s so common in other EFL books. They even offer headword lists online. The only problem is that the Dolphin Readers have a lot of writing activities inside them, and I’m really looking for something that can be re-used from class to class. Few parents would be happy paying for all those little readers.

The Election

On my way home from the bookstore, some middle aged Taiwanese guy commented on all my books, and we got to talking. It turns out he’s a History teacher at a university near where I live. He gave me an update on the election– it was an utter rout. I had thought that Ma would win, but I’d never imaged that he’d pull in 140% of Hsieh’s vote total after his party already won three quarters of the legislative seats a couple months ago. The people have spoken for the KMT and spoken loudly. It will be interesting to see what they do with their mandate.

Wayne called me up and told me a bunch of people were meeting up for a post election party, so I hurried home, dropped of my stuff and headed out. I had expected it would just be the usual suspects– Wayne, Franc, and Poagao. I was pleasantly surprised to see that David and Maoman made it there, too. The food was great, and I’m sure those guys will have a zillion pictures online tomorrow.

All in all, it was a pretty good day.

For the last several days, I’ve been woken up by an obnoxious blaring sound coming from just outside my window. A “colorful feature” of Taiwanese life is to blame– trucks with loudspeakers that drive around just to get their message out. Back when I lived in Guishan, these trucks were around all the time. Trucks with loudspeakers telling me to buy their dumplings, trucks with loudspeakers offering to fix my windows, trucks with loudspeakers advertising new products, and trucks with loudspeakers for just about anything else I didn’t want to hear about.

My current residence doesn’t seem to have too many. Maybe it’s because I live near 101 in a more developed area where people don’t tolerate the noise pollution, or maybe it’s because they’re illegal. In any case, they’re rare enough that I decided to go downstairs and check it out this morning. Amazingly, the offending truck in question was campaigning for the political election. It was all decked out in campaign slogans and it was telling everyone who to vote for and why.

This doesn’t amaze me because it’s so obnoxious. What’s amazing is that it must work. They wouldn’t do it otherwise. The thing I have to wonder is, what kind of people would be positively influenced to vote for someone who sends those trucks around?

One of the weirdest things I found myself enjoying on my trip back to the states was Taco Bell. I’ve never liked their food. I still don’t. But it reminds me of high school.

Taco Bell: the good life

at Taco Bell

Too bad Jason wasn’t there, too.

I thought I’d seen everything in Taiwan’s English cram school market. Recently, I’ve had an experience that shows how naive I (still) am. I can’t really get into any details online, but here’s the gist: A school owner offered to sell her school’s students.

A school’s financial valuation

In general, when an English buxiban changes hands, the going rate is about the amount of tuition the students can be expected to pay in a single financial quarter. Thus, if a school is charging 3000NT per month and it has 200 students, then it would be worth 3000NT * 3 * 200 = 1.8 million NT. Location, curriculum and reputation obviously factor in as well, but these things are generally reflected in the school’s student numbers.

I can understand this. A school’s value is definitely dependent on the amount of tuition money it brings in, and while most schools lose some students as the result of replacing any teachers or making any other large changes, most students usually stay. Especially if the teachers stay, and the curriculum is left intact, it makes sense for students to continue. Why bother looking for another place to study if there’s a good chance that things will be fine?

Selling the students

I just can’t wrap my brain around this one. Say one owner decides to “sell” the kids studying at his or her school to some random other school owner who can’t attract students through conventional means. I suppose it’s possible to get them to go initially, if the first owner is pushy enough about it. If the first owner tells the children’s parents, “Sorry, we’re going out of business, but my buddy at another school will teach them for the rest of their semesters,” the parents would be justifiably upset, but they’ll probably take what they can get since they’ve already paid. The problem is, their kids will almost definitely get shortchanged educationally, and they’ll resent it. I can’t see that many staying long enough to ever pay tuition to the school owner who “bought” them.

I know education, even public education, is a business. But this is out there.

While getting dressed for work today, I noticed a new house guest! Right by my wardrobe, there was a gecko!

An Unexpected Guest

Geckos aren’t very big, but they’re great. They clean houses of pests, they don’t bite people like spiders do, and they aren’t nasty like cockroaches.

Meet Geckers

Something was wrong with Geckers, though. l stepped towards him and he didn’t even react. Oh, no! Stuff’s always dying in my apartment. It is nice that the only two cockroaches I’ve ever seen in here have been belly-up, dried up and dead on the carpet, but that’s just not a just fate for such a noble creature as this lizard!

I used to vacuum every couple of weeks, but with the trip to New Hampshire and everything, I let it go for about a month and a half, and my room was just too dusty. With a heavy heart, I went to get a kleenex to use for picking up the dead lizard. I got back to my room and carefully reached for it. It was soft! It reacted a little bit! Geckers wasn’t dead! I hurried to the bathroom for a paper cup, and put a bit of water in it. Then I put one end by Geckers and prodded him gently towards it with the kleenex I was holding in the other. Very slowly, for a gecko, he scrabbled into the cup.

He swished around a bit, and huge clumps of dust came off, but then he just went limp. Yikes. I took the cup out to my patio, and poured the contents, lizard and all, onto the tiles, next to a plant. Slowly, but surely, he dried out in the sun and actually managed to start foraging a bit. An while later, I checked back in a full recovery had been made! He was so startled by the patio screen opening that he ran about three feet up the wall, with the celerity that only a gecko can. Yay!

Geckers up close

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And to think, I used to consider Reddit a place for enlightened, rational discussion.

Reddit's Worthless

I’ve replaced Reddit’s former position on my blogroll with Y-combinator’s Hacker News.

Related Post: Good God are There a Lot of Morons on Digg

Suntech shares have become compelling enough that I’ve decided to sell my United Fire&Casualty position. When I have more time, I’ll update this post with why.

03/03/2008 Sold 50 UFCS @ 34.6006
03/03/2008 Bought 47 STP @ 36.9