Xiao Gou’s Blog

After reading online how helpful blogging in languages you’re learning can be, I’ve decided to start a separate blog in Chinese so I can practice my limited grammar and vocabulary and maybe learn a bit too. The blog, Xiao Gou’s Blog, will only be in Chinese, and contain my simple random posts each week. I will try to only blog with the vocabulary I actually know (rather that fill it with dictionary Chinese) and will write it in Traditional Characters because those are what I’m studying. I hope to update it a couple times a week.

If those who are better than I see mistakes, please feel free to correct me. -_-

謝謝,

小狗

Note- I called it Xiao Gou’s blog, but it has nothing to do with the character of Little Gou. It’s just me blogging, journaling and embarrassing myself. 😉

Review- Dragon Blade (Jackie Chan) (Mild Spoilers)

I just finished watching Dragon Blade, and I have to say I have really mixed feelings about it. It’s a giant pile of awesome ideas and potential wrapped in a badly directed and mismanaged package. The core idea is great- a team of Silk Road mediators in Han Dynasty China lead by Huo An (Jackie Chan) have to keep peace among the 36 different tribes that control parts of the Silk Road which runs between China and Rome. One day, a Roman army shows up on the Chinese border city of Wild Geese led by Commander Lucius (John Cusack) on the run from Rome because they’re fleeing with their lord’s youngest son to keep his elder brother from killing him. The Romans and the Chinese are the two ends of the Silk Road, but this is them meeting for the first time and lots of cultural conflicts and misunderstandings ensue.

Great stuff, and the first half of the movie is actually pretty good with a nice mix of comedy, action, and some cool scenes where each side gets to show off what they can do. It was made for Chinese audiences, but the Romans are played as strong and heroic, and Cusack and Chan are fun to watch together, regardless of how awkward the English dialog is. (And it’s REALLY awkward- this movie needed an English re-write badly, the lines sounding like they used Google Translate on a Chinese script.) I especially enjoyed the portrayal of the Romans as builders and engineers as well as warriors.

However, then the second half of the movie hits and it turns into a nonsensical mess that pretty much squanders everything the first half built up. Things and characters appear and disappear, and stuff happens that makes sense but was never really explained or built up to. You can kind of piece most of it together, but you’re left scratching your head as to what the writer/director was thinking. For example, the version I saw has a bizarre flash-forward to modern day at the end that comes out of nowhere and seems to be part of a whole storyline that was left out except for this final scene. Stuff like that.

I blame a lot of this on the director, Daniel Lee, as you can see in this a movie that in the hands of a good director like Ridley Scott could have been fricken amazing, but was instead reduced to a dog’s breakfast of a film.

I give the first half a B-, but thanks to a D- second half, I can only give the film a C- in the end. Which is sad, because I liked so many things in this film, just not the film itself. See it on Netflix, it’s definitely not worth a theatrical price to see, unfortunately.

Rob

The School of Greatness Podcast

The other day I mentioned The Art of Charm podcast, which is about social networking and personal psych-social development. Another great podcast in a similar vein is The School of Greatness podcast, which has a focus more on financial (as well as social) success.

The School of Greatness podcast is one of those shows that rose out of necessity. As Lewis Howe (the host) puts it, he was “broken, broke, and clueless on how to make money or get a career” after a football injury shattered his lifelong dream to be professional athlete. So, he started seeking out successful people and recording his sessions with them, and when he started to share these sessions online The School of Greatness was born.

Now over 100 episodes in, Lewis’s interviews with business and personal development leaders are fascinating as he has a very humble and curious approach to conversation. Since he doesn’t come from an academic background or a media background, he approaches every conversation with these people as a true layman. This makes him ask the questions that might sometimes seem simple, but which can really help to find the advice that average people need and can relate to better.

So, give it a listen! I’m not going to recommend any special episodes since they’re all pretty interesting, but I can promise whatever episode you choose you’ll learn something that can help you in 2015!

Rob

Amazon’s “Secret” Kindle Category Passwords

Being a self-published writer is never an easy thing, it requires you to be half-writer/half-marketer to succeed, and the ever changing self-publishing world is full of all sorts of little tricks and traps. The traps are mostly about people trying to take your money for “services” you may or may not need, and the tricks are all about getting your book seen by the largest number of people. (And thus improving your chances of people buying your books!)

It doesn’t help that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform is itself a giant labyrinth filled with ever changing rules and channels. One recent change is to their “Refine By” sub-categories, which can make a big difference in how your books are shown and presented.

Normally, when you self-publish a book on KDP you get to pick two categories for that book to be in. Say, “Romance>Historical” and “Romance”, and your book would be cataloged under those two categories and subcategories. The problem is that each category already has a certain number of titles in it, arrayed by their ranking on the site as a whole and other factors Amazon doesn’t reveal. So, for example, Romance>Historical has 24,420 ebooks in it at the moment, and Romance itself has 194,408 ebooks.

Good luck getting anyone to notice your nice new book in those piles!

Now, to make things a bit easier on authors, you also get seven “keywords” (which can actually be more than one word) that you can pick to describe your book. Traditionally more keywords could be added later by readers as well, and Amazon would use your keywords and theirs to add your book to a few extra “Refined by” sub-categories that you could only get to by Amazon employees adding your book to them.

Say, for example- Romance>Military. It’s a sub-category that exists, but they had to manually add you to that list if they thought you belonged and you didn’t have any say about it. Being included in that list could also be huge, because instead of competing with 195,408 ebooks the Romance category, your book might now be one of 3,128 books moving up and down within Romance>Military group. This could really help up your odds of being noticed and your books being sold.

And now, Amazon has changed their system. Instead of them adding you, if you use certain keywords when you register your book they act as passwords that automatically get your books added to these select lists! For example, if I included any of the the words “military, navy, army, soldier” among my keywords when I added my book to the Romance category my book would automatically be added to the Romance>Military “Refined by” sub-category. You can find a complete list of the “passwords” and more details on the KDP Selecting Browse Categories page, which you can then use to more accurately get your books into the sub-categories you think they belong to.

These will get your books into the “Refine by” lists you can see under the main category lists when you’re Browsing on Amazon, and those are definitely places you want to be to reach the most eyeballs. I’ve seen “Refine by” lists that have as few as 1 or 2 books- I kid you not! Can you imagine what getting your book onto a list that small would do for your chances of being noticed?

Of course, this is all about gaming the system, and I feel a little guilty talking about it. But then again, Amazon isn’t really hiding this, so why not take advantage of it while it’s still an advantage?

Good luck!

Rob

 

Skritter

Hello, my name is Rob, and I’m an iPhone addict. No, I’m not addicted to Farmville, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, or any of the other hyper-addictive Apps that have come out for the iPhone. I managed to avoid all of those handily because I had no interest in wasting my time or money on something so pointless as those tricky games. I admit, I even considered myself better for not falling into those time-sucking traps and laughed quietly to myself at the people who did. But then, I found the most diabolical iPhone App I’ve ever seen, one that is now the first thing I do in the morning, and the last thing I do at night. I have dreams about this App now, and find my fingers twitching in patterns from playing the App. When I’m cooking or doing housework, I think about the App. I even learned how to play one-handed so that I could play with my poor dogs while I play with the App. I am hopelessly and totally addicted. So, what did this App do that none of the others did? How did it burrow so deeply into my brain that I can no longer even keep track of time? Those bastards made it educational! They made it fun to LEARN! God help me, I’m actually learning useful real-world skills, and I’m loving it. So what is this sick App? It’s called Skritter, and it’s a program to help people learn to write Chinese and Japanese. Available originally as a website in 2009, and now for iPhone and iPad as well, Skritter is an extremely advanced piece of Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) similar to Memrise (which I blogged about last week). In fact, it was while I was talking online to other Chinese learners about Memrise that I learned about Skritter and decided to check it out. Like Memrise, Skritter is quizzing you on decks of what are essentially Flashcards in an extremely advanced way that maximizes your chances of remembering the information you learn based on new neural research developments. Unlike Memrise, however, Skritter also includes a physical element where you don’t just have to recognise the Japanese and Chinese words and characters, you have to actually write them out.This really maximizes your chances of learning these characters, and makes it a lot more practical (since you’re developing motor skills for writing) and just plain old fun. Skritter’s iPhone app is lively, with sound effects and other extras to make it more like a game, and instead of learning being boring, you always want to do just one more character or word to see how far you can go. The knowledge that you’re learning real skills while you’re playing what feels like a game really helps push you forward, and maybe that’s why my chart for my first week with Skritter looks like this…

Week One

Week One

Yes, you’re reading that right, as of this screen capture I’d learned 406 characters, in a week, in a little less than 2 hours a day with a retention rate of 88.9%. However, before I toot my own horn too much, I should note that this isn’t my first time studying Chinese, and when you see that big jump between the 9th and the 12th, what you’re seeing is mostly Skritter refreshing me on characters I already knew to some degree. You could say that my real learning started on the 12th at around 370 and continued to the 16th at 406, so I only learned and mastered 36 new Chinese characters in 4 days. Still, not too bad, though. And that’s just characters, it doesn’t include actual words using combinations of those characters. (I learned 160 of those.) I love checking my stats each day to see how far I’ve progressed and testing myself to see what new words have managed to stick into my head. Getting back on the Chinese studying bandwagon was one of my projects for the Summer, and thanks to Skritter it’s now taken a huge leap forward. Now, if you choose to check Skritter out, I have a few recommendations.

  • When you sign up use a Referral Code (here’s mine), it gets you two extra weeks free. For better or worse, Skritter isn’t free, after the first trial week it costs US$8-$15 a month depending on how long you sign up for. That said, the program doesn’t stop working if you stop paying, it only stops adding new characters, so you can keep practising your current lineup for the rest of your life for free if you want, or pay for another month from time to time to add more content and then stop again.
  • My advice is to just do the free one-week trial, then if you like it do a month, and finally if it’s really something you want to invest in then get a longer subscription. View it as a language class you’re signing up for, not like a normal App. This is a life-long investment of time and knowledge. Viewed this way, the price of a single meal at McDonalds isn’t that much.
  • It’s best used on a Tablet Computer, Writing Tablet or Phone, since you want the real hand motion involved and not a mouse so you’re really learning to write the characters. I also recommend getting a Stylus of some kind so that it’s like you’re practising with an actual pen or brush. (You can also make your own stylus, and there are plenty of YouTube videos which will show you how.)
  • Don’t freak out or get intimidated when you see a large backlog of characters waiting to be reviewed. I’ve cleared away as many as 500 items in less than an hour, and if you feel overwhelmed it has various options to slow down the flow so you don’t get swamped.
  • Don’t be afraid to let the App guide you when you meet a new character. (Just tap the middle of the screen for the next stroke.) Yes, it means you don’t know it (duh! it’s new!) but it’s not about scoring points (since there are none), it’s about having the App repeat it often until you do know it, and if it doesn’t know you don’t know it, it can’t give you the right amount of repetition for your memory.
  • You’ll hate tones, we all do, just do your best.
  • You can’t share a Skritter account with another person. It’s customizing itself to your own personal learning patterns and what you know and don’t know. If you try to share it with someone else for any length of time it will mess up your own learning.
  • If you’re going to Taiwan or Hong Kong, then study Traditional Chinese characters, if you’re going to the Mainland, study Simplified. Skritter defaults to Simplified because China itself is the more likely place learners will go. You can also go back and learn Traditional or Simplified later once you’ve mastered one set. (Roughly 20% of the characters are different between the two writing systems.)
  • Skritter is a writing and vocabulary learning system, but they don’t teach grammar or  give you speaking practice (beyond repeating what you hear), you can’t really learn Chinese (or Japanese) just from Skritter, you’ll need other resources like a textbook or classes. However, it does make it easier to focus on grammar when you’re learning if you already know all the vocabulary in your textbook!
  • You can try the iPhone App free for a week through the iTunes App Store without creating an account or using any kind of credit card. (Be warned, any coupons or referrals can only be used when you first create your account!) I’ve heard the Android App is still under development, but you can use the mobile website on Android devices if you have an account.

The future of learning is all about Gamification (making learning into games), and if Skritter is any example, it’s going to be a great time to learn new skills! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my fingers are getting twitchy and I’ve got some Chinese characters calling to me! Rob

Two Stories

Got this in my inbox today, and thought they were worth sharing. -Rob

-———

It’s been told before, but still worth reading again…………..

BOTH are true and worth reading.
Read to the end!

STORY NUMBER ONE
Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago
Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason.
To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.
Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him.
Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object..
And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.
Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.
He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified.
Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street
But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay.
Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:
“The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.”

STORY NUMBER TWO
World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.
One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.

His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.
As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.
The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet.
Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another.
Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.
Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.
Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.
Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft This took place on February 20, 1942 and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.
A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.
So, the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?
Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie’s” son.
(Pretty cool, eh)

Flashpulp Podcast

flashpulpicon

Each Summer, as part of my change in routine, I go through the list of podcasts that I listen to and swap out a few old ones for something new. I might go back to the old ones in September, but to keep things fresh I like to try out new shows during the Summer when my news and politics podcasts tend to fall prey to the Summer doldrums.

One recent podcast I’ve begun listening to is the Flashpulp Podcast, written by fellow Ontarian JRD Skinner and produced by his partners in crime. For those who don’t know, The Pulps were magazines and books named for the cheap pulp paper they were printed on and filled with genre stories like detective stories, horror stories, romance, westerns, and whatever else people wanted to read. These were simple stories that focussed more on action and lurid details than any attempt at art or style, and they were churned out by an army of writers who were paid by the story and wrote fast and forumulaic. Characters like Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars were all pulp heroes from this period. The other half of the name, Flash, comes from Flash Fiction, which as a general rule are short stories under 1000 words in length.

So the Flashpulp Podcast is twice-weekly stories of (very) short fiction in a pulp-style genre and written by JRD Skinner, who has so far written and produced 337 of these little tales covering pretty much every genre you can name- detective, zombie horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, he does them all. Each story stands on its own, but is part of a larger set of stories about a huge cast of characters in different places in time and space who may or may not be connected to each other in some way.

Having listened to some, I have to say I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. He keeps the stories short and punchy because of their length, and not a word is wasted as he tries to pack everything into his limited time. Of course, I do have a few quibbles with his definition of a story (I’d describe some of them as scenes rather than stories) but since he’s limited for time I can forgive him. Also, his music is almost all period 1930’s and 1940’s music, but the stories are set in many time periods, which I find disconcerting since it can be a bit jarring to have what feels like a 40’s gumshoe story where the lead suddenly mentions his mobile phone!

That said, Flashpulp has developed quite a following, and now I understand why. If you’re looking for a few (hundred) fun, quick listens for your Summer commutes, then check it out! You might find yourself carried away into a world of two-fisted adventure you never expected to find!

Rob

X-Men: Days of Future Past (spoiler-lite)

I just saw X-men: Days of Future Past, and I have to say it’s probably the best X-men film by a large margin. It’s not a superhero film, and deviates wildly from the original comic storyline, but I’d argue those are it’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Overall, it’s a character-driven science fiction film that involves superpowers, as opposed to a superpowered science fiction film. The powers serve the story and provide nice visuals, but everything important comes from the very human characters making decisions based on their own goals and flaws, which is how it should be. The climax is one of character more than action, and surprised me with how it came together- always a plus.

The deviations from the original comic also work very well for the story it is. This isn’t a team-based superhero wrestling match, so using Wolverine as the focus works better than Kitty and keeps things at a more human level. None of the “good guys” are really high powered, and it keeps them at a disadvantage throughout the film, again, keeping powers from dominating the plot.

And the ending ties everything to date up in a nice bow, while leaving the future open for a new continuity. Good work all around!

4/5 stars.

Rob

Star Wars Rebels Trailer

Korean Drama- Three Days (Spoiler Free Review)

I just finished watching the Korean action-thriller drama Three Days, which I have to say I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a Korean series in the vein of the American drama 24, about the Personal Security Service (PSS) of the Korean President, and how they’re caught in a struggle between the President of Korea and a shadowy cabal of powerful men who are trying to kill him. The PSS are charged with protecting the President, but is the man they’re giving their lives for really worth that protection?

If I have to describe the series, I’d describe it like driving down a twisty mountain road at night at high speed with only a flashlight to guide your way. It’s incredibly twisty, with danger flying at the main characters at every turn, the odds stacked against them, and everything that can go wrong pretty much does. A true thriller, and while it does have its weaker points, it pretty much manages to keep you guessing right up until near the end.

It’s by the same team that did the drama SIGN and the more recently drama Ghost, so if you’ve seen either of those, you know what to expect. I’d actually say Ghost was the better series, as it had a much better villain, but Three Days does deliver the action and the production values are more like a 16 hour long movie!

One minor quibble is that the title is Three Days, but actually the story takes place over nine days. It’s broken down into three arcs, with each of the arcs being three days long, but the title of the show is a real misnomer. I guess “Nine Days” didn’t sound as cool or dramatic.

Rob