Capn's Blog

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Classroom study on hold

Even though I want to learn Chinese so much, after a lot of soul searching, I have decided that I won't continue studying Chinese at university this year.

While I'm comfortable with some aspects of learning Chinese (especially vocab), I feel that I am falling further and further behind in all the other areas. In particular, I feel very inadequate in the areas of speaking and listening, and the gap between me and my classmates is only increasing.

As a result of student feedback, this year's course has much more interaction than last year, and I think Jiang laoshi's instruction using only Chinese is very good. But I think that unless I can find a solution to this problem of really using Chinese, further classroom study will not help me.

I need to find a way to use Chinese every day, not just learn in a classroom. I need to start living what we are learning, not just keep studying as an academic exercise.

If I can develop some firm foundations, I will be ready for more classroom study. Otherwise, class will just become more and more painful.

There will be a few things I'll miss. In particular, Yao laoshi's teaching. Classes with him are always fun and rewarding. His willingness to answer questions made all the difference last year, and his responses are always thoughtful and easy to understand. That helped me greatly in knowing how to use words.

This is a very hard decision for me to make. I don't like to give up, and my desire to learn Chinese is as strong as ever. But I need to find a way that is effective for me.

I have no idea of what that way is, and I'm so depressed about the whole thing that I'm getting depressed about being depressed. If anyone has advice (apart from the banal "加油!" or "should watch movies"), I would gladly receive it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Republishing my blog on my website

If you're reading this, you know I like to blog. Not often enough, and probably not interesting enough, but there you go.

One problem is that I have many friends in China, and they are unable to visit to see my blog. So I want to find a way to copy my blog pages from to my own website. That way, people in China can read my blog by visiting my website.

Here's a rough outline of my plan:
  1. Grab an XML version of my blog from
  2. Find the links to my other blog pages, and rewrite them.
  3. Find the links to Wikipedia articles and make a copy on my website. Rewrite the Wikipedia links.
  4. Use XSLT to convert the XML into XHTML.
  5. Put the XHTML page on my website.
  6. Add the blog page to an index.
That's easier said than done. At the moment I am struggling with step 4. While I can find plenty of XSLT transforms to convert RSS-to-XHTML, the XML feed is in Atom format, and I'm having trouble finding ATOM-to-XHTML XSLT transformations.

Been working on this for a couple of weeks, so far without success. Hope I can work it out soon.

Friday, March 10, 2006

"Are we there yet?" - I want to speak Chinese so bad.

I'm so sick of not being able to speak Chinese!!!

I started learning for a while way back in 1991 but didn't keep going. I seriously started again last year at University, and I'm continuing this year.

My marks at school last year were good, but I'm feeling very very frustrated at not being able to use the language. It's all very well to know a lot of characters (>1000 now), but without the ability to listen and speak to even the most basic of sentences, it's useless. To understand, it has to be slow and simple, or I just don't understand.

When people ask me why I don't practise with my wife, I usually point them to here:

And as you can see from that, we have never made a real effort to communicate together in Chinese before.

Finally my sense of frustration, knowledge of basic Chinese and my desire to learn has reached the point where it's more than the reasons we didn't talk with Chinese before.

I have a plan. The plan is that two nights every week, after our boys go to sleep we will only talk in Chinese. If it's necessary to say something in English (because I don't know the Chinese), she will tell me the Chinese for it and I have to repeat it.

I'm hoping that forcing the conversation to be in Chinese is a big help for both my listening and speaking ability.

We both did this together on Wednesday night - for the whole night, we only used Chinese. And actually, it went a lot better than either of us expected. It gives me hope that this plan can work, if we continue to do it.

We will do it again tonight, and I hope that each night, my ability grows a little more.

It's hard work and I feel a little scared, but I have a lot of desire.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Your carbon footprint

The first world is addicted to energy. From our cars, our houses, the food we eat and the things we buy, nothing happens without energy.

Most of the energy is produced from fossil fuels. Such fuels are a convenient and high density source of energy, but they are non-renewable and result in the production of carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.

While the impending shortage of oil may force a global rethink of the way we use energy, I've been thinking of the maxim "Think globally, act locally", first used at the June 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment.

How can we best act locally? And which areas should we concentrate on?

This calculator lets you assess your lifestyle and find out how the things you do and use contribute to carbon emissions. - carbon footprint calculator

Once you've answered the questions, you can go back over each page and alter your choices (clicking on numbers 1-6 for each page), which lets you see the impact of each carbon-producing area of your life.

For me, things were looking pretty good until I added the car. Oh my! Carbon output nearly doubled to 11 tonnes per year.

I've recently been thinking about hybrid cars. That is, cars with both a petrol engine and a motor/generator/battery system. My understanding is that the petrol engine is there to charge the batteries, for distance, and to provide peak performance when accelerating.

But I don't need peak performance. I have no need to scorch rubber at the traffic lights. And we rarely need to travel more than 50km. So why do I have to buy a car with a petrol engine I don't really need?

Here's my ideal solution: To buy a hybrid-car-without-petrol-engine (should be lighter and cheaper than existing hybrids), and charge it at home from the mains. Although most of Australia's energy is generated from coal (our major source of CO2), it's still more efficient and less polluting than the petrol engine in a car.

Even better, get a solar array and use that to charge up the car during the day. That way, the only carbon emitted is due to the manufacture of the car and the solar panel, and every kilometre is, more or less, completely carbon-free.

According to the calculator, doing so would reduce our carbon output from 11 tonnes/year to 7 tonnes/year, which is less than half Australia's average.

How much carbon does your household produce per year? I'm very interested to find out. Use the calculator then make a comment below or email me, along with where you live. I think comparing different countries would be very interesting.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Free Krispy Kreme donuts

I visited the USA in 1998, just before my first son was born. A kind friend of mine who lives in Alabama looked after me when I was in the area. Showed me the sights and made sure I had a good time.

One of the places we went was a donut chain called Krispy Kreme. They make the most wonderful, heavenly donuts.

Krispy Kreme has opened a few stores in Australia, but they are all in the state of New South Wales, not in Victoria where I live. They have, however, announced they'll be opening a store here in June.

As a promotion, Krispy Kreme handed out 10,000 donuts free yesterday morning. I got there half an hour early but the queue was already 100m long. By the time I got to the front of the queue, it was 200m long.

I got my free donut, ate it (oh so heavenly, no-one makes donuts like Krispy Kreme, no-one), found the second shorter queue (50m long) and got another one. I also asked for an empty box. I put the second donut in the box and shared it with my buddies in the office.

The best bit was walking through the city with an empty box, people giving me the most hateful looks because they all thought it was full... :-)

I really want another one. Maybe I'm addicted.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wednesday night: Teacher only speaks Chinese!

Wednesday night we had a new teacher for our Chinese class. He's from Tianjin and although he speaks English, he speaks to us only in Chinese.

Woah. Haven't had that before. I think we can all understand about 20% of what he's saying. The dictation he gave us was a bit of a farce, because he'd say a few words, then offer some explanation. We didn't know what was dictation and what was his comments and it was very confusing. Also, since he wasn't looking at his page carefully, his rereadings of a sentence would sometimes be different from the first reading. And we just finished our holidays, so we were a bit rusty on our characters. Hope things improve!

Then there's the "mouth full of marrrbles" problem. He's from Tianjin, so his "rrrr" sounds are very thick. That's ok, we have to understand everyone's Mandarin, but he's also giving us special instruction on how to make those "rrrr" sounds.

While I'd rather say 哪儿 (nar) than 那里 (nali) and 点儿 (diar) rather than 点点 (diandian), I don't know whether I want to learn to speak with such a mouthful of marrrbles. He seems to think that southerners don't use all the arrrs because they can't. But really, maybe it's because they don't want to!

Having said that, I think it will be very good in the long run. I think the dictation especially will keep us on our toes, and the strong verbal component is enough for me to want to continue this year. Could be just the thing I need.

If you're interested, the dictation for last night can be found here:

Right-click on this link, and choosing "Save Target As...". You can then play it as you usually would for MP3 files.