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Archive for January, 2012

There’s one thing I’ve done a lot of while working at a platform for EDU iPhone/iPad apps and that’s playing educational apps. I’ve played dozens, if not hundreds of games designed to teach children ABCs or basic arithmetic. I’ve flipped through an equally formidable number of storybook apps, including some recreations of my childhood favorites. A lot of the apps have really been disappointing, but a few gems have stood out.

One of my favorites is a math app called Space Math. After it won the SmarTots Quest for the Best educational app contest, I had a chance to help the designer, Reese, add some more features to its newest version. In thing that I found interesting was the contrast between him and many of the other app developers I’ve worked with. While many others were either large companies converting various properties from browser-based flash programs to iOS or business people hiring outsourcers to make a variety of apps, Reese was a one-man hobbyist shop. More interestingly, his full-time job is teaching math to high school students and his app was driven partially by his experiences with some his students arriving to high school with weak foundations in more elementary math. As a former teacher who was drawn to build things to help my students, I find it very easy to empathize with him!

Here is the first version of the screencast I made to help promote his work:

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything here. Part of the reason is that I’ve made some fairly big changes. I moved away from Taiwan, where I’ve spent half my adult life, and I’ve moved on from EFL. When I first started this blog back in 2005, one motivation was to keep in touch with friends and family back home, but it also served as an outlet for my interests of learning Chinese and teaching English to others.

Why I stopped

I’m not teaching English anymore. My former students meant very much to me and I’d love to hear of their progress from time to time, but I don’t have the same passion for teaching that I did 3 years ago. Similarly, I’m not so as interested in studying Mandarin as I was before. I’m still interested in languages in general, but it’s way more exciting for me to learn a few phrases in a language I don’t speak everyday, like Swedish or Cantonese, than it is to study more Mandarin. I’m not in Taiwan anymore either, and a large chunk of this blog has been about living in Taiwan. I miss a lot of things and a lot of people in Taiwan, but it’s not home anymore.

Another reason I stopped blogging is that I’ve been weighing the upsides and downsides of having an online presence. On one hand, the vast majority of the contact I’ve had with others through the internet has been good. I’ve even made some good friends through this blog. On the other hand, there are a few truly nasty people and it only takes one to ruin my mood! Beyond them, there are a lot of people with various axes to grind that just get tiring to deal with. Worst of all, I noticed that arguing with people online has a tendency of locking me into whatever views I hold at that time, potentially retarding my personal growth.

I never made a conscious decision not to blog… I just started writing more an more in my paper journal. This was good in some ways. I’ve been more comfortable writing things I wouldn’t necessarily want on a fairly high-traffic website. One example was a dream journal. I’ve been fascinated in Lucid Dreaming ever since high school. Keeping a daily log of dreams is a basic tool in lucid dreaming, but it’s not necessarily the sort of thing that others would get much value out of reading. As I wrote more and more that wasn’t appropriate for and got busy with other things, weeks became months and now it’s been nearly an entire year.

Why I’m resuming

Despite its drawbacks, writing online is worth it for me. I organize my thoughts more clearly when other people will be reading them than I do in my paper journal. People drawn to what I write are self-selected and often have something to offer me in return. Some of the most interesting ideas I’ve encountered for language learning (and learning in general) were due to John‘s various now defunct blogs. In personal terms and even in professional terms, the good has far outweighed the bad.

Also, while I’m not in Taiwan and I’m not teaching EFL anymore… I am still me. I’m living in Beijing and I’m working at a tech start-up which has built the largest platform for educational iPhone/iPad apps. So there is some continuity. Even if I were to move to California or enter an entirely different career, I expect that an interest in technology and a love of education will still be a very important part of me.

Posting older journal pieces

I may post some of my paper journal entries here. My initial struggles adapting to standard PRC Mandarin, my visa run to Mongolia, my thoughts about Taiwan after leaving and a bunch of other entries fit the site well. If I do that, I’ll probably post them, and then after a week or so, update the date of the entries to the true date of when I wrote them.