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Last week one of my projects at Hack Reactor was to write a server (using Node.js) to emulate the functionality of the Wayback Machine– that is to download and archive copies of various web sites.

An interesting coincidence is that my old friend John just wrote about it yesterday. He’s designed and written numerous beautiful blogs and, sadly, destroyed them and broken all of my links to them. He’s started combing the wayback machine to bring some of that content back… for me. Now I can tell you readers who email me about not being able to find his content to go check out the dev.gd graveyard. Some of his old posts on language (and other) learning are great!

Recently, John has started up yet another well-designed and interesting blog. This one is called Global Maverick, and it’s focus is language learning. It’s also got a tools section where he’s sharing iPhone apps he’s written.

One series of posts I found interesting was his interviews of three successful language learners– Steve Kaufmann, Kelly McGuire and Khatzumoto of AIJATT fame. Steve Kaufmann is a Canadian polyglot who has achieved excellent proficiency in six languages and varying degrees of skill in another four. I’ve written about him on Toshuo before. Khatzumoto made a name for himself learning enough Japanese through self study in the US to get himself hired at a Japanese tech company before ever setting foot in Japan. He’s also written a very motivational if quirky guide on his site. I hadn’t heard of Kelly McGuire before, but her experiences with Mandarin, Dutch and Japanese were also interesting to read about.

Despite the fact that my work is teaching a second language to kids who rarely start out with any motivation at all, I’m very interested in self-directed adult language learning. Language learning has been an interest of mine for years. I haven’t really been that good at it, but I have steadily gotten better at it and examining the habits of more successful learners has been a big help.

John’s new blog is full of good stuff and just might be worth archiving, just in case.

How do you find the best? Whether it’s an apartment, a tenant, a job, or an employee, I don’t believe the answer is classifieds. As I wrote a few days ago, classifieds tend to aggregate the worst of what a market has to offer, since the poor offers remain while the good ones are promptly snapped up and removed from the listing.

Two really cheap apartments

Taking this thought a step further, the very best of what a given market has to offer likely never hit the classifieds to begin with. A great example would be my friend’s old apartment. It was in an absurdly expensive part of Taipei, had two rooms a kitchen and a great rooftop patio, all for just 14,000NT/month (~450USD). Why was it so cheap? For one thing, his landlady wasn’t very interested in the hassle of finding tenants. The reason Martin knew about the place at all was that he was friends with Rob, the previous tenant.

Martin isn’t the only one, either. I have a great deal on my place too, and I found it through a friend of a friend. I had just gotten out of work and ran into him at 7-11. He told me he was moving out, and he just happened to live in the area I wanted to move to. As soon as I heard the price, I pounced on it. Like many other great bargains, it never even got advertised before it was off the market.

The important factor in both anecdotes is that it helps to have the right friends.

A really skilled programmer

My college friend, Tom Kerrigan, was at least a couple standard deviations above the average programmer. He started working on a chess AI when he was 14 and by the time I met him as a freshman at UC Boulder, he was already earning significant royalties from it. Simply put, he was smart and applied himself. So, did his resume spend much time sitting around on job wanted boards? Not that I know of. Intel took him on as an intern before I even met him, and Microsoft snapped him up before he was out of school.

Really talented people never seem to stay on the market that long, unless by choice.

How I found our last two hires

In my last piece, I wrote about my unsuccessful use of classifieds to try to find a top notch EFL teacher. I did find two suitable teachers, though. One is teaching my Up&Away based curriculum for 1st and 2nd graders, and Simon hired the other to teach our advanced classes. Both of these guys have pretty much the exact skill set it would take to do our most demanding classes– they have experience with language learning and teaching, they speak and read Chinese pretty well and they’re eager and take pride in their work.

The power of social networks

We didn’t find them. They found us. Both of them did look at classifieds during their job search, just as I myself did in my first couple of years in Taiwan, but what brought them in was this blog. As a result, they each had a decent idea of what kind of place my school was and what was involved before they ever emailed me.

In a sense, they were self-selected to have at least somewhat similar ideas about teaching and work just by the fact that they didn’t close their browsers as soon as they got here.

In a similar way, this site is the entire reason I ever partnered with Pagewood to begin with. If it hadn’t been for my writing here, Simon never would have known who I was or we had a good friend* in common.

Concluding thoughts

  • Having a lot of friends helps
  • Keep in contact with like-minded people
  • Really great bargains don’t require much advertising

*It turns out that this good friend is the same friend who had the great apartment


Matt has republished some of our best iDrone posts:

Writing an accumulator generating function in Ruby (Mark Wilbur)
Thoughts on the Subset Sum Problem (Matt Ball)
On Google’s Evilness (John Pasden)
The Perfect Programming Language (Matt Ball)

We had some serious geekery going there while it lasted.

As you may have noticed, my Chinese blog has become completely wrecked over the last couple of weeks. It happened when I restored an SQL backup (made through phpmyadmin). 道聽塗說 became é “è ½å¡—èªª, and all the other Chinese characters (i.e. the whole blog) became similarly corrupted. I’ve tried deleting the whole database and creating a new one. It’s clear that the problem is related to SQL character set encodings, and so I’ve tried importing my .sql backup as a variety of character sets, including Latin-1 and UTF8, but to no avail.

However, I don’t think my blog is irretrievably lost. The Chinese in my .sql backup is readable in UTF8! If you know anything about SQL and have the inclination to help, I’ll get you a copy of it.

The file has to be viewed in UTF8 for the Chinese to display properly and it’s filled with DEFAULT CHARSET=latin1 commands. That’s probably what’s causing the problem, but I’m just not familiar enough with SQL to know how to repair it.

For the past week and a half, Wayne has been staying at my place. He just moved into the city from rural Yilan, and needed someplace to crash. What’s interesting to me, is that I even met him at all.

When I first created this site, my main inspiration was my favorite blog- A Better Tomorrow. Written by a young American who had studied abroad in Beijing, and then gone on to travel all over China, it represented the most credible, most human account I’d ever seen of someone of a similar background who had learned Chinese well. Since that had been my original goal in coming to Taiwan, I read each page of A Better Tomorrow with anticipation. The tales of being swindled at knife-point in the north-west, the updates about classes, the uncensored observations about people… all of it was fascinating to me.

After the Nanjing-Hopkins program that the author, the very same Wayne mentioned above, had been enrolled in was canceled due to SARS, I was shocked to learn that he was coming to Taiwan, the place I’d chosen to study Chinese! On, I kept reading, entertained with stories of “stuff you wouldn’t see in mainland China” (such as Buddhist televangelists), translations of Lian Zhan’s political ads comparing himself with Gandalf and his rivals with Sauron, and a hodge-podge of other things. Then one day, Wayne abandoned blogging in favor of photography.

After I started blogging myself and this site became one of the larger Taiwan blogs, I eventually met Wayne via mutual friends who blog, such as PR and Poagao. It’s kind of amazing to me that due to this site, I’ve been able to get to know someone who was once “that guy with the coolest China blog on the net”. Even more surprisingly, he’s restarted A Better Tomorrow… sort of.

After moving my sites to Dream Host, I made some upgrades the Taiwan Blog Feed.
continue reading…

I’ve decided to keep track of my diet, workouts and results in detail and put it all online. Blogging is a pretty social activity, and a social support network is a great thing for someone trying to lose weight. So, it seems fitting to put all of my diet info onto my blog. I don’t want to subject non-dieters, who could care less what I ate or what kinds of workouts I did, to all of this, though. From now on, unless there’s some big milestone to talk about, everything about my diet and workouts will be in my diet blog.

It’ll give me a chance to play around with the K2 Theme, as well.

Back when I first started this blog, the first one to link to me was Michael Turton. Every week he did a round-up off all the Taiwan blogs and somehow managed to dig up all the new and obscure blogs like mine. Truth be told, I’ve found most of the Taiwan blogs that I’ve really enjoyed through Michael’s blog round-ups. Unfortunately, like all good things, it had to come to an end. Doing a round-up of everybody’s blogging is a time-consuming task, and one that nobody could be expected to continue. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thankful for all the round-ups he did have time for.

Since the discontinuation of the Taiwan Blog Round-up, I’ve been thinking of possible solutions. For a while, I entertained the idea of trying to get some friends together to do a “roving round-up”, in which we could take turns reading and blogging about the highlights of the local blogosphere each week. In the end, though, it was just too daunting. Instead, I’ve made a set up a news aggregator, which parses in each blog’s RSS (and to a less perfect degree, atom) feeds and publishes excerpts and links in the style of Google News. I’m still in the process of adding blogs to the Taiwan Blog Feed, and categorizing them. Once it’s completely up and running, this should help readers keep up with what’s going on in the English-speaking blogging community and hopefully drive a bit more traffic to some of the less well-known blogs, too.

If you want to see a blog added, send me your RSS link. Please restrict submissions to blogs primarily about Taiwan. If you publish RSS feeds for your blog but prefer not to have them parsed by this news aggregator, then email me and I’ll remove your blog.

As my long-time readers know, I started my blog on Blogger at http://doubtingtoshuo.blogspot.com. I later moved it to http://toshuo.com mostly because John emailed me and told me I was blocked in China. WordPress kind of annoyed me at the outset, but I’ve since gotten pretty accustomed to running a blog on my own domain and like it.

There’s one problem, though. I still get a fair amount of search engine traffic from a page I wrote about the Back Dorm Boys at http://doubtingtoshuo.blogspot.com/2005/10/back-dorm-boys.html. That page is still just like I left it months ago. Unfortunately, some splogger has taken over my domain. I tried to set my blogger preferences to publish at my old address, just for the purpose of wiping out the splog, but it won’t let me. I had assumed that with my whole site still there, it was safe from being over-written. I guess I was wrong and that people are free to over-write my old entries with spam one URL at a time, and even cash in on the reasonably high page rank my blog had built up. I’ve emailed Google about it since they own Blogger, but they haven’t responded.

The moral: if you ever decide to host a Blogger blog on your own server, make sure you always set your site address back to your old blogspot URL after publishing in your own domain.