Category: odds and ends

Travails of a Language Autodidact

A couple months ago, I put my Japanese study on hiatus and bought a copy of French for Reading, by Carl Sandburg and Edison Tatham. I did so partly because four years of studying Japanese started beating me down. Though I’d made several strides with James Heisig’s book Remembering the Kanji, my progress with that slowed to a crawl. So, I decided to move to a textbook that could be completed relatively quickly, but still give me something to show for my efforts at the end.…

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Dropping the Kindle

I bought the Kindle 2 early last Spring, but despite using it heavily through the following Summer I’ve essentially abandoned the device, not having used it for a few months now.

Partly the reasons are just practical things that will likely be (and in some cases have been) alleviated in future versions. No colour, no support for Japanese text, spotty availability for books I want, lousy formatting for others, and a few other nuisances. To the Kindle’s credit, there is still a lot of material available, I do like the iPhone app, and I especially like how it handles annotations and dicionary lookup.

However… however… I still have to drop it. The Kindle simply does not engage the reader as well as a traditional physical book. Though certainly better than a computer monitor or iPhone, following a story or argument remains more difficult than with print. I can only speculate why, but suspect that the reason lies largely with print’s more tactile experience. I remember a professor of mine, while discussing interactive fiction, commenting that one also interacts with print books by turning pages. At the time that seemed a bit silly, but looking back I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that. Though small, turning pages, physically taking a pencil or highlighter to make notes, even that used book smell, engage the reader more than just hitting a key or scrolling a mouse wheel.

In any case, I also happen to love used bookstores. Just randomly browsing bookshelves is a lot of fun for me, and I like seeing the annotations, doodles, and whatnot from previous owners. The Kindle does highlight frequently noted passages, but that’s just an aggregation with no personality, something like getting information about a show or novel series or whatever from a Wikipedia article versus a fansite. The aggregation may have more data, but lacks personality. In textbooks especially, those signs of life reminded the student of those who’ve struggled in the academy before. The days of print as a dominant media may, in the long run, be numbered, but I can see myself holding out for a long time.…

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Nico Nico English Version

So, nico nico now has an English version of their website,¬† and they’re doing a live broadcast from SakuraCon. Having comments appear directly on a video seems like it’d be really damn annoying, but honestly I’m finding it a lot more fun than YouTube. That may just be novelty value, but somehow it feels more like you’re interacting with other commenters than having comments appear just below the video as on other sites. Of course, the comments are pretty much smartass central, but I’m not one to take anything on the internet seriously anyway.…

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Pokemon Twelve Years Later

The last Pokemon game I bought was Red back in 1998, which I played so thoroughly over the next year or so that the resulting burnout has lasted over ten years now. A few days ago, while at work, I felt a strong urge to play again. Who knows why? The next day, though, I bought a copy of the recently-released Pokemon: White Version (not Black, because I prefer to hang around Pokemon that look like me lulz). Anyway, I thought the impressions of a prodigal Pokemon fan may interest those who’ve kept up with the series, so I’ll share my thoughts so far.

First of all, the basic gameplay hasn’t changed at all, as far as I can tell (I just got the first badge about 1.5 hours in). You wander around, catch little critters, train them, and fight them against other little critters. It’s still a great premise, and I can certainly see why the franchise has continued to sell so well.

As for changes, White and Black are more politically correct than Red and Blue. For one thing, instead of Prof. Oak we have some woman professor, and instead of having to play as a boy you can choose between a girl and a boy who looks like a girl. Enough girls play Pokemon that having a girl avatar is probably a good move (though I’m guessing it’s one that’s a few generations old now). Also, there’s a lot more talk about the special relationship between humans and Pokemon and what it means to be a good trainer. I think Red/Blue touched on this, but it wasn’t a major theme. I guess it’s a decent way to teach younger players to take care of animals, but really I just want to catch monsters and fight them.

Which brings me to Team Plasma, our antagonists who want to liberate the world’s Pokemon. They seem shady and I hear they have some ulterior motive, but… I don’t know. I always liked the original games’ simplicity. Not that White/Black is a new Hamlet or anything, but Red/Blue seemed to focus more on just catching and training Pokemon. Your rival there was Gary, who was your rival because he was a jerk and… that was it really. No motive that I can remember. He just was a jerk. Oh, and I guess Team Rocket was there too doing, ah, whatever their big plan was. Conquer the world or something. I realise that after over a decade you need to mix up the story a bit, but there’s something to be said about the almost perfect simplicity of the originals, which really captured that childlike feeling of adventure better than almost any other game I know of. I’ll wait until I finish the games to decide whether the new Pokemon measures up.…

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A Look at Student Government

Today, I got a glimpse future leadership of the nation, and the view is not good.

The venue was a debate at my university among Student Government candidates for president and vice-president. These five yammerheads went on for about an hour, mostly about the importance of representing “the students.” What none of them seemed to grasp was that “the students” are not a homogenous mass, but a collection of individuals who have differing, perhaps even conflicting, opinions on what their “representatives” should do.

Actually, the vast majority of students probably don’t care about Student Government, since they don’t seem to accomplish much beyond the occasional idiotic expenditure; for example, the purchase of three “spirit rocks” for students to express school spirit (i.e., graffiti) for several thousand dollars.

One of the vice presidential candidates was especially honest when he stated that he may not have totally agreed with a particular bill he had recently voted for, but since surveys indicated “the students” approved of the bill, “the students'” opinion became his opinion.

Too bad more politicians don’t admit they’re cowards who just do what’s popular!…

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How Austrian Are You?

I just took the Mises Institute’sAre You an Austrian?” quiz. Apparently, my economic views are 82/100 Austrian. A couple of my answers to the 25-question quiz were more in-line with the Chicago school, and a couple others with Keynesian/neo-classical economics. Somehow, I even managed to give one socialist answer(!).

Though my final score is probably accurate, and no such quiz is perfect, there were a few questions I had to hedge on. For example, one question asked about government involvement in endeavours like schools and roads. Well, I think government should build roads, but should not involve itself with schools.

It’s also really tough for an online quiz, with questions like “What is the reason for the interest rate, and should the rate be regulated?” Well, shit, I don’t know.

That aside, it’s definitely a step above the typical “What Pokemon type are you?” fare (I’m psychic-type, BTW). Check it out, and while you’re there read up on some Austrian economics too.

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Economics in One Post

With all the talk of the government needing to spend money in order to stimulate the economy, I figured now would be as good a time as any to break out Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

In short, based on my understanding of his book, a government has only two ways, besides outright seizure, of raising money. The first is taxation, and the second is inflation (the printing of more money). Every dollar the government spends must be paid for by one dollar of taxation or inflation. In neither case is there any real gain to the economy, because by taxation wealth is simply redistributed, not created, and by inflation the value of each dollar (or pound, or whatever) is reduced, making the additional money less meaningful.

That’s, uh, really about it. Hazlitt expands on that concept in his writings, of course, but really this seems like plain common sense. Why Congress fails to grasp such concepts is a mystery.…

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11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

On this day, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in A.D. 1918, ended what is possibly the most catastrophic event in human history. The Great War, as those involved called it, or the First World War, involved some of the most brutal fighting mankind has yet engaged in.

The word “tragedy” is overused in describing public events, but the Great War certainly fits, because most of those involved¬† were scarred, emotionally if not physically, or killed through no real fault of their own. Most of the combatants were drafted, and while most of the major wars in modern history have at least some pretext, the Great War was astoundingly unnecessary and wasteful.

Though the number of living veterans is now small, the impact of the war remains. Even the war’s political ramifications – great as they are – gradually dissipate. What, then, is the Great War’s relevance to the modern world? I can think of two reasons why the war is still relevant.

First, as one of history’s best reminders that the government is not your friend.

Second, its impact on art and literature. Very few writers of the early twentieth century were unaffected by the Great War, and its impact can be felt in most major works from the years following the war. Some of the greatest poets of their generation were themselves veterans, such as Siegfried Sassoon. Others were killed in the fighting, such as Wilfred Owen. No doubt other great men died who never had any chance to develop and share their talents, whether in poetry or another field, and that is possibly the greatest tragedy of the war.…

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