Learning Cantonese

For a while now, I've been wanting to learn Cantonese.  My first attempts to learn were straight from Jackie.  That probably worked for about 5 words, and at least got me introduced to the concept of a tonal language.

But there was only so much I could learn in such an unstructured way.  So I purchased a book and CD set for learning Cantonese.  Initially, this seemed like a pretty good method.  I got through a few chapters, and wrote some of my own notes, and listened to a bunch of the CD tracks.  I learned more words and phrases this way.  The book was built out of dialogues.  And even though dialogues are interesting examples to look at, they feel too set-up to be really useful.  It’s like the author was throwing me into the deep end of learning things instead of slowly building the whole process up out of smaller parts.  It felt like I was always continuously going back to the books and the audio, to learn on tiny particular things that was in the middle of a large amount of comprehension.  It never felt like it would stick.  There was so much context switching going on all the time.  Trying to break the dialogues into useful chunks that I might want to use; trying to learn what individual words meant; and trying to get the pronunciation of the individual words right.  The whole process felt like a jumble, I couldn’t get into the habit of studying.

My ability to learn Cantonese felt like it had stalled, so much effort for so little pay off.  But process is always in my mind. Generally I don't like to just plow my way through a problem.  I would much rather search around for the weak link in the problem, sharpen my tools to overcome it, and slice the problem into manageable parts.

At first I thought the solution might lie with using something like Rosetta Stone, a software program that is designed to teach language.  I don't know much about the details, but I suspected that there must be something to the software that would be more powerful than a book and CD.  Unfortunately Rosetta Stone doesn't even have a Cantonese learning package, apparently an audience of something like 80 million native speakers just isn’t enough to make it worth it.

After more searching I found a website called PopupCantonese.com.  It is a podcast styled language learning site.  And the most important thing I initially liked about the site was how personable the podcasts sounded and felt.  The original "Learn Cantonese" books and audio CDs I got felt so completely dead and fabricated that they were a pain to learn from and listen to.  Popup Cantonese actually feels like it has real people living in China learning the language, and are having some fun while they do it.

What really sold their website to me was their study tool section that they have.  For each episode there is an interactive transcript that allows you to play each word individually, create word study lists, and practice flashcards based on those lists.  And the most important feature of all, was an export button that allowed the study list to be made into a simple spreadsheet format that could be input into any learning system I could find.

Just seeing that the export button existed informed me that there must be software available that would import it and help me learn it in some useful way.  The software that I found is called Anki (http://ankisrs.net/).  It is open source and free (on PCs, android and web, you have to pay for the iPhone version apparently).  It is available on every platform and syncs through the web so that all the studying you do with it effortlessly flows between the different places you might study.

The basic concept of Anki is to present a flash card, have you think of the answer, show you the answer, and have you rate your answer on your ability to recall it.  Cards that you find difficult will be represented to you again soon, while easy cards will only return at a later date to ensure you memory of them.

The software is fairly advanced and provides a massive amount of control in the creation and presentation of cards.  It took me a few days to really get my head wrapped around setting up the cards that I wanted to use, though actually doing the studying is a breeze, just tapping buttons, having you rate your memory ability.

It feels easy to make using Anki everyday a habit.  It’s not really a gamified experience, but it has some simple bars that fill up that help show your progress.

So I am heading into learning Cantonese with a very potent process. I’m sure you will hear how I make out in the future.

And a wired article about this approach to memory.

Zoi Gin

Finally a phone solution

After having an Android phone for a year and dealing with a limited internal memory,I finally discovered an app call s2e that allows me to partition a section of the external memory to be used as internal memory.

It's a very stupid problem that should not have required rooting the phone to fix, but that is the environment that is Android.

So now I finally have space to fit the blogger app on my phone. Meaning I can post from nearly any where.



After two years of trying to get our balloon trip scheduled and have the weather actually be nice enough for a flight, it finally happened.

For a little while though it seemed like our Greyhound bus breaking down on the way to Ottawa might stop us, but the driver seemed to have some tricks that just kept the bus running.

Due to low winds, we ended up taking off outside of Ottawa in Kars.  The idea is that if you are going to take off in a balloon in the city, you want to get out of the city to land in a farmer's field.  So low wind speeds would make that very difficult.

And off we went.

 It really is the smoothest form of air travel I can imagine, except of course for the landing.  It was jostling and bouncy landing, ending up on our side, everybody giggling.

The real scary part was driving around in a fifteen person van, in the dark, in a farmer's field.  I think we only scraped one rock.

Vanishing Point Script

I've created a little George Script for Tvpaint Animation software that is used to quickly build perspective guides for drawing any type of perspective.

You use the script with any of the drawing tools with their drying options set to off.  I suggest the mechanical pencil with anti-aliasing on.

Once the script is active, just click were you want the vanishing point, and drag out a circle.

The radius of the circle defines the number of lines that will be drawn and how densely their centers will be packed together.

Here are a few images to show what is possible.

And I recorded a short video of the script in action.


Sketching in Europe

While we were in Europe I had a chance to sketch.  At first I didn't have any pencils.  And this lead to extremely sparse sketches.  The first two are in Bruges

 Here is the castle in Prague

Somewhere near the the Van Gogh museum

Here is a sketch of a Gustave Kimtl painting.  Some how me managed to see an enormous amount of his work while in Vienna.  It seemed his work was showing up everywhere.

A garden and palace in Vienna.  I finally got some pencils, which completely changes my style.

And finally we finish in a Venice.


Drawing hands feels as difficult as drawing faces in that you must fight a stronger part of the perceptual brain to succeed. This also means that the pay off can be all the more impressive.

How to organize your Computer

Organizing a computer can be a difficult task.  Surely you want to have a folder structure that will keep things organized, but how should that folder structure be divided up?

After many years of experimentation, I think I have come up with a system that keeps everything manageable over a long period of time.

The first thing is to keep different parts of your life separate.

In my case I have my projects, my photos, my writing, and my music.  This division of stuff has been fairly well established by the major operating systems, as they usually come prepacked for us with those folders.

Now here is my special recipe.

Inside of those folders make folders that demarcate years.  So you have something like this:

  • Projects
    • Pre-2008
    • 2009
    • 2010
    • 2011
And here is the very special sauce.  Inside of those year folders put project, or album folders that are prefixed with a 2 or 3 digit padded number, depending on how many projects or albums you expect in the year.

So you will end up with something like this

  • Projects/
    • Pre-2008/
      • 01TerriblePoetry/
      • 02FantasticPeotry/
      • 03TestingTypeWriterReviews
      • 04EnamellingPlates/
      • 05RemakeOfMouseCartoon/
    • 2009/
      • 01PizzaMaking/
      • 02Skydiving/
      • 03Roadtrip/
      • 04MotorCycleDesigns/
      • 05HighQualityLinensAcquisition
    • 2010/
      • 01MoreTeleportationDesigns/
      • 02TrashUnCompactor/
      • 03TrashReCompactor/
      • 04TrashUnCompactorFireSupressionSystem/
      • 05TrashUnCompactorFireSupressionSystemFireSuspressionSystem/
    • 2011/
      • 01TaiChi/
      • 02Teleporter/
      • 03HulaHoopExperiments/
      • 04TelescopeFilm/
      • 05HighVelocityCooking/
      • 06RembrantReproduction/
      • 07MagnificiantMagicAct/
And then whatever folder structure you need can go into each project folder.  In general, I would keep each project portable within the project file, to keep it as portable as possible, so that if you need to take it with you to another computer, you don't need to worry about it.

The reason that I keep my folders padded with numbers is that it ensures that the chronology of my work remains static, independent of me moving all of my files to a new hard drive or operating system.

I suppose that if I had way more projects going at a time, months could be implemented into this scheme, but I find that highly undesirable because most projects do overlap many months, but usually do not overlap more than 2 years.

Now honestly, only a small portion of my computer is actually so well organized.  I should probably do something about that.


The Photos I Took From Europe

When I am tourist, I try to take the pictures that the other tourists aren't taking.  Usually that means my attention is drawn away from the quintessential image of the sight that I am seeing, towards little unusual nugget of interest.

So at the end of the trip my photos do a rather poor job of telling a story about the vacation.  And in fact, most vacations lack a particularly intriguing story, being composed mostly of: airplane, train, bus, walk, hostel, eat, walk, hostel, eat, sight, walk, eat, bus, hostel, walk, bus, sight, museum, eat, eat, walk, shop, eat, hostel, walk, sight, hostel, bus, airplane.  The trip is literally thousands of small event which occur in foreign lands making them particularly interesting to experience first hand, but not compelling to hear about in series.

So here you will not find a set of photos that tell a cohesive story of the trip, but the photos, along with text which I hope explains why I took them.

The Eiffel tower is striking in person, in a way that is difficult to experience through low resolution photography due to the fractal nature of it's construction.  It's a lattice of beams which only seem to be constructed of a smaller lattices of beams.  It feels like there is no end to the detail.

For myself, half to fun of visiting another country is seeing their infrastructure.  They way they draw signs, construct side walks, hold up their electrical wires, fix there streets: these are things that vary between countries.  In a global market, so much of our merchandise is uniform across the globe, actually being able to see and think about these physical differences is compelling.

In one of my strokes of good travel luck, a contemporary prepare piano pianist that I particularly like was playing in Amsterdam while I was there: Hauschka.

Actually seeing the repaired damage of the war and all the different ways it affected Berlin, finally put the historical knowledge that I have into my personal cartographic conception of the world. Physically being in places made history feel like it took happened in the world I inhabit and not in a story that I had been told.

Right under this parking lot rest the bunker in which Hitler killed himself.

This plastic tie is all the memorial that can be found to Hitler, the remnants of a Neo-Nazi sign that had been put up and removed. 

I tried to get photos of paints I liked in ways that let me see what you can usually only see in person.

The toys that I saw at a toy museum in Munich were by far the most interesting artifacts that I saw on the whole trip.  They have to much peculiar life to them, and they all suggested wonderful backstories to their 

Little wooden cattle where scultped on a lathe and sliced off.

Neuschwanstein Castle is intriguing as it looks like a castle, but is actually a fairly modern building and serves as a remarkable precedent to the idea of a theme park such as Disney Land.

This is a map of the world.  If you look carefully on the right hand side, you can see the Mediterranean upside down.  It's amazing to see what humanity used to know about the world.

There are even more pictures available in the full album 

The trip itinerary was as follows:

Paris - Bruges - Amsterdam - Berlin - Prague - Vienna - Munich - Venice

All images are show chronologically, hopefully their location can be sorted out.