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Archive for November, 2010

On the wikileaks documents

I’m not in the foreign relations profession so I don’t have much to say about the leaks.  I just thought, however, I’d point out this statement from an article in the Washington Post,

To prevent further breaches, the Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices.

What a brilliant idea!  Security auditors are always on top of everything…  Perhaps one day business and governmental leaders will get it in their head that it might be worth a little extra to pay for security rather than taking on the risk of security breaches and dealing with the blowout.  I happen to know for a fact that Mitsubishi-UFJ Bank in Japan has “dumb terminals”  in many of their offices.  “Dumb” terminals have no local storage and no removable storage like disk drives, and locked down USB drives–everything is done over the network, which can be audited and monitored in a central location.  If a relatively small bank on the scale of  world stage can do security right, why cannot the Dept. of Defense?  Mr. Gates, it is time to get your money back from all of the defense contractors who sold you these systems and provided the private-sector security auditors.

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Another Thanksgiving flies by

It was 26*C (80*F) around 13:000 and rather than taking what was supposed to be a nice long walk in the cool autumn weather, we turned back to the apartment after thirty minutes.  The sun was intense and the trees offered little shade mid-day; I think it was the first time in my life I’ve broken a sweat on Thanksgiving day  One day…one day I’m going to have my New England Autumn and Winter.  One day…

I tried to cook my second thanksgiving dinner, but I’m zero for two.  Last year my glazed duck was OK, but it was too dry and just not juicy.  Not being a real fan of turkey, I decided I’d try a glazed ham this year.  With the ham already being cooked, how could I possibly mess it up?  Well, once again I must have cooked it too long because it was quite dry.  Luckily it was not dry in a tough way, it just was not juicy and the meat fell apart as soon as I touched it with a fork.  My stuffing–obviously not stuffed in a turkey–was too soggy and not fluffy enough, but my garlic herb mashed potatoes turned out well. I skipped the yams and the cranberry sauce altogether, and just sauteed some vegetables in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The vegetables were the best part of dinner I think.

Ovens are very difficult, I think I should just stick to the grill…maybe I’ll just do yakitori next year.

It is not a four day holiday for me, however, because I went into work today for a half-day which turned out to be pleasantly quiet.  I do a lot of my shopping online now and I try to avoid Black Friday like it is the Black Plague.  It has been raining all day and I’m just going to take it slow, try to get in some quality reading time.  Hopefully it will be a slow weekend too.  I’m thinking about a day trip to Beaufort or Savannah next weekend, hopefully I can find something worth seeing in the meantime.

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Atlantic Coastline in Autumn

Have you ever been to the beach in autumn or winter?  If not, I highly recommend it.  Yes, the wind from the ocean is cold and of course you should not go for a quick swim.  But the beaches are deserted, quiet and peaceful–perfect for a picnic or just a place to sit and think while you enjoy natural beauty.

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South Carolina does not have big waves or rough surf, but the beaches are long, which is good for walks, and the water is shallow, which is good for kids.

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My son was fascinated by the sky and the airplanes flying overhead, he could not stop pointing to the sky

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The only time when I feel like a giant

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Autumn

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These beautiful colors only come in in Autumn

Perhaps I have reverse bipolar disorder?  The leaves are changing color, the humidity is all but forgotten, and the cool air in the mornings and evenings is heavenly.  Paradise!  I don’t feel tired anymore, I have more stamina when going for a jog, and I think that over all I’m in a better mood all around.  I’m comfortable in long trousers and long shirts, and I’m glad the pastels and yellows of summer have been shown the door.  Good riddance, hot, nasty and wet Summer!  Welcome back, beautiful Autumn!

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Chinese Reading Materials

Sponge Bear recently asked me about the materials I use for learning Chinese.  I thought I’d share here in the blog for the aid of the link surfers. Because I have not had much luck with 21st century learning methods like SRS, Podcosts, Heisig methods and what not, I won’t focus on them here.  I may address that in a future post when I also address some learning aides that make Chinese less painful.

After working 50+ hours a week (70+ during my years in Japan), I rarely have the patience to sit down and battle with resources used by natives.  Though the grammar is getting easier over the years, the sheer amount of vocabulary is just always too tiring and turns me away from learning.  To be honest, I really enjoy Chinese readers designed for learners because both grammar and core vocabulary are introduced at a maneagable rate, and reapted throughout the lessons for better retention.  If that is not your thing, don’t bother reading ahead then.

So my foray in Chinese language began in December 1999.  I had been trying to sign up for Japanese courses at my university, but being a lowly underclassman, the classes were always full.  The Mandarin course, however, had many vacant seats, and since I was interested in Chinese characters through Japanese anyways, I thought I’d give Chinese a try–a decision I am grateful for today.  My instructor was a Taiwanese Ph.D. student from the business school, and before the class began in January 2000, she asked that we all read Speaking of Chinese by Raymond and Margaret Scrogin Chang.  The book is dated now, and the topics addressing the technology required to work with Chinese electronically would make anyone laugh.  Yet the chapter on the Mandarin-speaking tourists in San Francisco’s Chinatown ordering from a Cantonese waiter by simply writing down their order has stuck with me to this day.  While this book does not teach Chinese, it introduces you to the Chinese language and is a great place to start if you’re completely unfamiliar with Chinese culture and language.

In the course we used two sets of textbooks.  The first is the dreadful Integrated Chinese from Cheng & Tsui, and the second was the fabulous Communicating in Chinese by Cynthia Ning from the Yale University Press.  Integrated Chinese is arguably the most popular Chinese textbook in the USA, and I don’t know why.  The units cover very little material, and the bubbly doodles that are used as an excuse for illustrations make the book feel quite cheap despite the rather expensive price.  Communicating in Chinese, however, came in two books.  The first was a listening and speaking book that focused on pronunciation and dialogs, with only pinyin and no Chinese characters.  The pinyin pronunciation table in the back was a great reference too.  The reading and writing book was also fabulous, because rather than using dialogs, it used signs, business cards, short sentences, and other visual aids.  You don’t need to read all of the characters in each part, you’re just supposed to be picking out the ones in the unit and understanding how they are being used.  I thought this was a very novel approach, and after living in Japan for five years I can vouch that such a method is useful…you’re never going to be able to read everything.

While in college, I struggled through Integrated Chinese with the help of some Taiwanese friends, but my study was not serious due to the immense amount of lab work from my engineering program.  After moving to Japan, however, I wanted to pick up my Chinese again so I brought two books with me, both published by Cheng & Tsui: Taiwan Today and
A New Text For a Modern China.  I have the dated versions from the mid-1990s, but I believe both have been renewed in the past few years.

Having been exposed to Taiwan through university classmates and flim, I thoroughly enjoyed Taiwan Today.  Each unit consisted of a one-page essay on some aspect of Taiwanese culture and society: night markets, women in society, pollution, education system, etc.  It also had grammar points with clear examples, and like Communicating in Chinese, there were often signs, menus, or other real language sources that were used to reinforce the ideas of the lesson.  It was through completely this text that I was able to make the transition to intermediate reading and writing skills.  I then moved onto A New Text For a Modern China, which covered social issues in the PRC and was also very fun to read, though much more challenging.  I largely worked this this text alone, often having to post questions on Internet forums so that I could further my understanding.  But the grammar skills gained from this text have stuck with me and I’m proud of the hard-work and sweat it took to get through this book.

In 2005, I flew to Taiwan to attend a friend’s wedding and do some site seeing.  I stopped by Caves Bookstore in Taipei to check out their Chinese learning materials.  I picked up a two-part set of the Suplimentary Chinese Reader Series (Vol. VII & VIII), titled Chinese Folk Tales(中國民間故事 I&II) by 正中書局, the publisher.  I haven’t actually completed this one yet, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  As you develop reading skills, you also gain exposure to traditional Chinese folktales as well as Chengyu(成語), sometimes translated as idiomatic expressions.

This past spring I decided to hire a Chinese tutor via Skype, and this has been working wonders.  My communicative skills were non-existent and my study regime was very infrequent, especially after my son was born.  Having a weekly one hour lesson has really helped me to focus and study regularly.  I made a detour from Traditional-character materials to Simplified-character materials since my instructor is in Tianjian, China.  At first I found it difficult, but if you can read Traditional you can pick up Simplified very quickly.  I don’t plan on giving up on Traditional characters though.  I selected the following texts for my lesson from the Peking University Press:

  • Cultural Interpretations of China, An Advanced Reader I
    文化中文 中国文化阅读教程I
  • Getting into Chinese Thought, An Advanced Reader II
    解读中国 中国文化阅读教程II

These books consist of 25 units each, and each unit has an essay of decent length exploring Chinese history and culture followed by exercises.  It introduces quite a bit of idioms, and the vocabulary I’ve picked up from the books has been tremendously useful.  Though some of the terminology for Confucius ideology is not useful, much of the vocabulary can be used in every day situations. Without an instructor or native-speaker to help you understand difficult parts, I think these books would be difficult.

For private study, I’m also slowly working through the following from the Peking University Press:

  • Intermediate Hanyu Listening 1-3
    中级汉语听力 1-3

I have a hard time sitting down and listening to recordings, however.  I need to find a way to focus more and work on the lessons to help supplement the conversation from my guided lessons.  Finally, for future use I purchased the following:

  • An Intensive Reading Course of Advanced Chinese I
    汉语精读教程 I  (Peking University Press)
  • 世一文化 兒童經典文學
    Journey to the West (西游記)
    Three Waring States (三國演義)
  • The Independent Reader by Vivian Ling
    從精讀到泛讀 (SMC Publishing Taiwan)

I purchased the third back in 2005 knowing one day I would use it.  I still don’t have the vocabulary level to really enjoy and it and get the most from the text, but I’ll get there one day.  The second set are actually children’s books that have Zhuyin Fuhao (BoPoMoFo) beside each character, and rather than having to spend a lot of time looking up character readings and meanings, I can focus on these two epic stories of Chinese literature.   The first book is just another advanced reader from which I hope to gain more grammar and vocabulary from before trying to tackle The Independent Reader.

So there you have it.  If you move to China or Taiwan and live there for a year you’ll probably be much better than I will ever be after reading all of these books.  If you’re like me and don’t foresee any opportunities coming your way anytime soon for living in a Chinese speaking society, then hopefully some of the book recommendations are helpful.  If an opportunity to work in Hsinchu Science Park ever came my way, however…

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Midterms in South Carolina

I stopped by the local elementary school to cast my vote today.  In South Carolina, the public schools are closed today so that the cafeterias and gymnasiums can be used as polling centers.  When I was in Virginia and North Carolina churches were always used, and I found it amusing that the kids get a day off.  Perhaps it encourages them to have an interest in government–it gets them out of class!

I wasn’t going to vote this year because South Carolina is a hopelessly Republican state with oddjob characters  like the late Strom Thurmond and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson.  Actually, Mr. Wilson is up for election down in Beaufort, but since I’m not in his congressional district I cannot vote against him.  He’s down there ranting about how he will fight for small government and fiscal responsibility, yet you aren’t going to take the jets away from his military base!  Let’s just cut everything but Medicare, Social Security, and Defense (the three largest expenses), and make sure we get some more tax cuts in there too.  That will balance the budget…right.  And forget about the Democrats too, with a majority in the Senate and House and control of the White House, they could still barely get anything done what with their blue dog mutts.  They deserve it if they are going to get the boot in January.

After Note: That Tom Clements was not seen as the opponent to Jim DeMint is a sorry sign of the state of South Carolina…I’ve got to get out of this place…this….

In the end I decided to go and cast my vote against Jim DeMint actually–that was the real purpose.  The Democrats are running Alvin Greene (no comment, just go read the Wikipedia page) and the Greens are running Tom Clements.  I’ve heard Clements on the radio before and I liked this stand on quite a few issues and his career experience really speaks for him, so I decided to cast my vote for him.  The only other interesting race here in South Carolina is for the governor’s post with Vincent A. Sheheen for the Democrats and Nikki Haley for the Republicans.  Actually, it was interesting up until the primaries and now it is quiet.  Ms. Haley has had a rough campaign with lots of stress, mostly from her own party of bigoted good ol’ boys here in South Carolina.  Between the racial slurs against her and the fabricated adultery accusations, you have to hope that she does win, almost.  She is, however, a protégé of Mark Sanford, the scandalous current governor of South Carolina.  He was a rising star in the national Republican party until he disappeared for a few days while having an affair with his Argentinean mistress.  Family values being a big deal for the largely Republican and Christian state of South Carolina, his career has been effectively rendered naught.

The rest of the ballot was uninteresting, most of the local government elections are uncontested seats for the Republicans.  There were however, four state constitutional amendments on the ballot.  I found the following most amusing:

Amendment 1

Must Article I of the Constitution of this State, relating to the declaration of rights under the state’s constitution, be amended by adding Section 25 so as to provide that hunting and fishing are valuable parts of the state’s heritage, important for conservation, and a protected means of managing nonthreatened wildlife; to provide that the citizens of South Carolina shall have the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife traditionally pursued, subject to laws and regulations promoting sound wildlife conservation and management as prescribed by the General Assembly; and to specify that this section must not be construed to abrogate any private property rights, existing state laws or regulations, or the state’s sovereignty over its natural resources?

Explanation

A ‘Yes’ vote will make it a constitutional right for citizens to hunt and fish and will permit the State to legally provide for proper wildlife management and the protection of private property rights.

Only in South Carolina.  However, I must say that I am impressed with the number of different parties in South Carolina.  Besides the Democrats and Republicans, there is also the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Working Family Party, and a few more.  In Virginia I do not recall any parties except for the two big tribes of knuckleheads.  And I remember in North Carolina the ballots are designed so that you mainly have two parities–I remember because Ralph Nader could not get on the ballot back in 2004.  Perhaps my memory is not so good though.

So that is it for midterms 2010 in South Carolina.  I’m just looking forward it to all being over.  I watched the President on the Daily Show, and he didn’t really impress me.  I suppose we’re going to have to wait another generation before we get some decent health care reform.  In fact, regarding the appearance on the show, the only thing that stood out to me is that John Stewart addressed the President as “you” and “dude”.  What happened to “Mr. President”?  I suppose those days are long gone now…

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