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Category: Rants

Recently, I’ve been getting more and more bogged down in my EFL curriculum work. It’s a very rough process, but even so it’s become unwieldy. The problem is the way I’m keeping track of vocabulary words.

Frequency is key

Whenever I create a new lesson, I have to choose vocabulary items to introduce. Rather than do so on a strictly topical basis, I’ve opted to focus on usage frequency. In particular, I do everything within reason to teach the headwords used for the Oxford Bookworms series of graded readers. Extensive reading is possibly the single most important part of our program, and it’s worth it to make a few sacrifices to get the kids reading actual books as soon as possible.

Spreadsheets can save time

In order to keep track of everything, I’ve made a big spreadsheet for all the vocabulary items in the curriculum. One field is the word itself, another field represents which lesson I teach it in, another is the Bookworms level in which it first appears. The Chinese translation is in still another field, and there’s one final one for any notes I might have about the vocab item. I can sort this spreadsheet by column headers to see the words taught in a given lesson, or all the adjectives taught between any given lessons, or any number of other useful combination. It’s great for making review sheets for my students.

Spreadsheets still aren’t perfect, though

So what’s the problem? The problem is that I started the list with only level one Bookworms words. Before, when I made new lessons, I used to look through the remaining level one words and choose the most appropriate group of them I could. After exhausting the level one list, things got a bit tougher. Now, when make a new lesson, that means adding new words to my master spreadsheet. Obviously, I want to add level 2 words, but sometimes there’s a word that just has to be added regardless of where it appears in the Oxford frequency lists. When that happens, I have to hunt through the list of words that appear in level two readers. If the word I’m looking for isn’t there, I have to look through the level three list, and then the level four list. It sucks.

Worse still, if I were to just copy the entire level 2 list into my master spreadsheet, there would be hundreds of duplicates, which would take hours to remove by hand. No good. Especially since the task would just become all the more unmanageable when it was time to add the level 3 list into my master spreadsheet.

Aha! I’ll just whip up a quick program to parse my excel file and remove duplicates!

Ha! What a fool I was! After spending hours pounding my head against my computer desk, I came to the realization that the excel file format is pure evil. It has decades of cruft that hark back to the days in which desktops had less computing power than my sports watch! And it won’t yield its information gracefully! Had the .xls file format been the result of one particular person, I’d have said his decision making skills rivaled those of Easter Island native who said, “I know! Let’s cut down the last tree and commit suicide because we need more identical statues!“.

Finally, I came to my senses, saved the list as text file and wrote a quick python script to read the vocabulary list into a few big arrays of strings, and then it was easy to remove duplicates:

for i in range(0, len(b2words)-1):
	for w in l2words:
		if w == b2words[i]:
			del b2words[i]
			del b2pos[i]

Then I output my list of level two bookworms (that aren’t duplicates of any words already in my curriculum) into a simple text file, and the part of speech information into another text file. Finally, I used my good friends cut and paste to add them into my master spreadsheet and I set the Bookworm level for the whole group to two.

Why, oh why couldn’t I have thought of that solution before 4 a.m.?

I’m no fan of posts about the Top 5 thisses or Top 10 thats, but even I can hold out against the tide for so long.

The Top 5 Top 5 Blog Posts EVAR!

  1. The Recycled – this list will be comprised of only of points that you’ve seen in other lists, almost definitely in the same order. Under no circumstances will credit be given.
  2. The Obvious – One mind-numbingly obvious point after another, with an “ooh aren’t I so helpful” attitude suffused throughout.
  3. The Infuriating – makes claims of being “The definitive top five ____ ever!”, while replacing several absolutely crucial entries with whatever the uninformed author sees fit.
  4. The Anti-funny – not only is this list not funny, but it’s trying so desperately that reading it is like losing a piece of your soul… to Carrot Top.
  5. The Repetitive – a rundown of slightly different wordings of the same point that even a ward of OCD patients would disregard as just too damned repetitive. In other words, each item is pretty much the same, but worded slightly differently. Or you could say they’re repetitive.
  6. +1!!!

  7. The Neverending – has useless extra items tacked on at the end, prolonging the suffering even further.

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

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out list of political shortcomings he sees in the Bush administration but said he opposes impeachment for either President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.

“I think you reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches of the president’s authority,” he said.

USA Obama: Impeachment is not acceptable

At this point I’m wondering what Bush or Cheney would have to do in order for Obama to consider their actions a “grave breach” or “intentional breach of the president’s authority”. I guess lying to Congress, lying to the UN, breaking the Geneva Conventions, illegally firing federal prosecutors, claiming the authority to declare martial law, revoking habeas corpus and torturing people who haven’t even had a chance to see a lawyer doesn’t cut it. Would Obama draw the line at gas chambers?

Or, is he hoping to inherit those authoritarian powers rather than abolish them?

Thomas Jefferson was already onto this problem nearly 200 years ago. In 1819, he said: “Experience has already shown that the impeachment the Constitution has provided is not even a scarecrow.” Those who seek power are the last to condemn their authoritarian predecessors who extend its reach.

On Saturday, Martin and Rika sold all their stuff to the “Tealit vultures”. Within one day of posting an ad on Tealit, Martin got over 80 emails from people interested in buying the stuff he couldn’t take with him to Canada. It sounds great, but he didn’t call them “vultures” for nothing. Everything was on sale at ridiculously low prices, but people still tried to haggle. Unsatisfied with buying a four thousand dollar item for six hundred, they’d ask for five; unsatisfied with getting a nice leather couch for $700台幣, one guy actually asked him if he could get the couch shipped to him. I’m not sure what Martin said to him, but I know what he should have said:

Ship you a leather couch that I’ve already discounted to less than 10% of its value? Spend three times what you’re offering to pay me so that I can ship it to you? Sure! Of course I’ll spend my time shipping my things to you at a loss, because I live for you. Would you like it gift-wrapped, too?

I met up with him and a couple of Rika’s friends for dinner and then went over to his place to see the aftermath. Everything was picked and pawed over. The floor was a mess from people walking with their shoes on indoors. The bed was gone, sold to someone who haggled even though it was only selling for three US dollars. Those Tealit guys were scavengers!

Oh, how I’m starting to hate you, Netbank. First it was putting a block on my card because it looked “suspicious” when I, an American, left Taiwan to go back and visit my family in Colorado and used my debit card within a two mile radius of their address which you mouth-breathing idiots have on file! After that there was a brief respite from really bad service for a while. It ended when I got stranded in Shanghai with no way to get at my money thanks to the skull-brained set of regulations that herd of ass-ponies you refer to as “customer service reps” follow.

Oh, sure there may have been the occasional odd annoyance during that lull. continue reading…

Summer is here, and business is booming at First Step. More students have signed up for my first and second grade classes than I can teach, and fifty more are on a waiting list for our normal classes. Nearly every day, more students and parents are visiting or asking about our school. There is an unfortunate downside, however.

For some reason, regardless of how terrible their children’s English is, parents won’t just sign them up for a new class that starts from lesson one. Instead, they pretty much all take an entrance test to try to get into a more advanced class. So far, less than five percent of the students who have taken it have passed and been able to start from a second semester class. Sadly, few of the parents can accept this fact without spending 10-20 minutes pressuring me to put their kids in a higher level after having just seen their kids fail horribly. It absolutely blows my mind. continue reading…

I’m so shocked by the sheer amount of ignorant, yet argumentative idiots on Digg that I can barely even muster up a real rant. There’s an article by a math teacher explaining the common confusion his students have with the idea that 1 = .9999… repeating. He went to great lengths to explain very clearly why this is true, and wrote what I thought was a good article. What kind of response did I expect from the supposedly “techie crowd” at Digg? Well, I figured I’d see a few comments saying stuff like, “Hey, good explanation,” or “Duh…” How naive I was.

Instead, reading the comments was like going through a pile of essays written by a ward of lobotomy patients. Comments ranged from wack-ass idiotic unsupported claims such as:
continue reading…

Whatever demented individual who came up with the Taiwanese recipt lottery should be shot. There isn’t a single more evil institution anywhere. No matter how many times I tell myself that “playing lotteries” is stupid and that I want no part in it, it does no good.

At 7-11
Me: 發票不用.
店員: 你可以完lottery啊. 上次我中了! …一千塊ㄝ!
Me: 好吧.

Since everybody’s automatically over-taxed, and part of the sales tax revenues go into the recipt lottery, I get lottery numbers and a chance to win every time I buy anything at any legal business. Sure, I’ve decided it’s not even worth my time to count the recipts, but I still can’t make my self throw them out when any one of them just might be worth two million bucks.

Late at night:
Me: (thinking) Hmm… I guess I should get to bed.
Recipt: Psst! It’s getting a little crowded here in the recipt drawer! You should check to see if we’re winners.
Me: I’m tired. Leave me alone.
Recipt: You only have until the the 5th, and then we all expire.
Me: So?
Recipt: Remember that one student at Shida who had the recipt to win the grand prize, but didn’t realize it until 2 days after the lottery?
Me: Buzz off! That’s just an urban myth. Besides, I never win anything.
Recipt: You won $200 台幣 last time, and I might be worth $2 million…
Me: Arrgh! Fine, fine, FINE!

Then, whenever a deadline is approaching, or whenever I just get too sick of having so many damned recipts on the shelf, I just can’t take it anymore. Then, I waste an hour counting them all. Here’s a pick of my desk during that process last week:

[Load Image From Backup]

Lottery TicketsLottery TicketsHosted on Zooomr

How much did I win this time? Nothing.

Another blog in Taiwan caught my eye today. It was so funny, I had to link to it. Ryan Whalen’s talking about the ridiculously nationalistic/Taiwan-aggrandizing maps in every classroom at Shīdà. Ryan ridicules the side by side placement of the flags of Taiwan and the UN (which doesn’t even recognize Taiwan). Further confusing matters, is the fact that these maps adhere to the “One-China Principle”, but rename Bĕijīng to Bĕipíng and label Táibĕi as the capital of all of China. I noticed those same weird maps back when I was a student there, and often chuckled when I saw them. I’m sure glad that somebody blogged about them, though. Here’s an excerpt of Ryan’s rant:

PICT2404-01 Cartographer: Right, so here’s your map. As you can see I’ve put Asia in the middle, that’s standard for maps around here. Anything else you want before I send this puppy to the printer?
Publisher: Well, we were thinking we could have, I dunno, flags all around the outside. So like, if you want to know what a country’s flag looks like, it’s right there.
Cartographer: Sure we can do that. Lots of people like flags on their maps. Makes sense really. You want ’em alphabetical or what?
Publisher: Well the order really doesn’t matter. But we want a box in the middle for the Republic of China, OK?
Cartographer: Sure thing. You’re the boss.
Publisher: No make the box a bit bigger. Let’s put two flags in there.
Cartographer: Ummm…OK. Who else? America? They’re a good friend and ally, plus they’ve got a really pretty flag. I like stars.
Publisher: We were thinking the United Nations.
Cartographer: You mean that pasty powder blue thing with the weird laurel leaves?
Publisher: That’s the one.
Cartographer:: What the hell? They kicked us out! We’re not even a member country! Why would we put their flag in the box of honour? That doesn’t make any sense.
Publisher: Yeah, but you know…maybe…well, maybe they’ll see on the map that our flags are friends, then they’ll wanna be friends too. Then we can be a member country again.
Cartographer: What the hell is wrong with you?…

Be sure to see Ryan’s blog for the rest.

My first Truth in Advertising post generated the opposite reaction I expected. The “meat” spaghetti sauce which didn’t list meat on the ingredients not only didn’t inspire a single “WTF, that’s wack!” comment, but people actually leapt to its defence. Oh, it just says “肉味” in Chinese, said one poster. Oh, secretly listing an extra ingredient in the Chinese version was nothing more than “being lazy on the English” said another apologist.

Well, now I’m back. And this time I’m enjoying a “Nutrition Carrier”.
Nutrition Carrier
Now, check out the ingredients.
nutrition label
chicken egg, wheat flour, white sugar, vegetable oil, butter poweder, cream (including preservatives, water, and vinegar acid), sugar paste (including preservatives and some shit I can’t translate), leavening?, salt, flavorings, food colorings (yellow#4, #5), preservatives (blah blah blah).

Yeah, baby. It’s a “nutrition carrier”. Anybody wanna stick up for this one? Battle Panda? Mr. John “I live in the 8th nicest (and therefore extra lucky) city in China, and the rest of you can ‘take that’” Pasden? Anyone?