Saturday, August 29, 2009

Random hints and tips

On Chinese, pinyin and spaced repetition

I've been spending the morning inputting some example sentences into Anki (by far the best flashcard program I've found - freeware, very well supported and, most importantly, built from the ground up on a spaced repetition algorithm). Doing this is always a bit hit and miss but I've found a useful series of steps which may be useful for some people.

For example sentences, you can't go far wrong using Chinesepod. The particular example I've been looking for today are sentences using the word 发生 (fāshēng - to happen). Searching in the glossary on Chinesepod you will find a list of around 20 examples which include this character combination - see here. This is all well and good but the pinyin (pronunciation of the hanzi) can only be found by hovering over the characters which makes it hard to copy the sentences directly into Anki without looking up any tone marks you don't know one by one. Perhaps the action of writing the pinyin may be worthwhile but I find writing tonemarks such a hassle that I'd rather spend the time in other ways (US extended keyboard on Mac: Option key + (a,e,v,`)+o=(ō,ó,ǒ,ò)).

The most efficient way I've discovered for getting pinyin directly is simply by copying the characters from the Chinesepod page and pasting it into the popupchinese adsotrans page and hey presto, instant pinyin. Copy this and paste it along with the hanzi and the meaning into Anki.

Update from the creator of Anki (see comments):

...there should be no need to generate the pinyin in another program. Install basic chinese support or the pinyin toolkit plugin in Anki (file>download), and Anki will insert the pinyin automatically
As an additional note I'd always wondered about the placement of tonemarks in pinyin which nobody had managed to quite explain to me. In fact the rules are simple, if not apparently terribly logical, and can be found here, where it says:
* A and e trump all other vowels and always take the tone mark. There are no Mandarin syllables in Hanyu Pinyin that contain both a and e.
* In the combination ou, o takes the mark.
* In all other cases, the final vowel takes the mark.
See the discussion here on Sinosplice with regards to spaced repetition software where several people, including myself mentioned the potential benefits of using SRS on Chinesepod.

Random addition: see here for a review of on Laowai Chinese. This looks like a potentially very useful resource.

On video lectures and time saving

It's been a long time since I mentioned the use of video lectures, but right now I'm going through a couple of courses online which I've found from itunes university (Berkeley, along with many other institutions now place many video and audio lectures online, making my gym time doubly useful!)

This is a great resource, but one of the particular lecturers I've been watching speaks and writes far too slowly for my liking. I'm watching the video in VLC and can increase the speed to about twice the normal rate while still being able to follow along quite happily. The only problem with this is the chipmunk effect by which on speeding up the voice, the tone is raised. A quick look around gives a solution to this too. If you go into the preferences of VLC and click on all in the bottom right you will get an advanced menu. In this menu, go to Audio:Filters and click the button marked "Audio tempo scaler synched with rate. This will activate a plugin called Scaletempo which brings the tone of the voice back down to the original while allowing fast playback.

These lectures (guide for the lectures here) by John Conway on the free will theorem are a lot of fun.

On Research

I've spent the last four days simplifying a series of equations by hand from around 200 lines of mathematica code down to around 20. Some day I'm going to set up a supervised neural network which will learn how to simplify equations a whole lot better than the current Mathematica algorithms can! Thankfully although this has been a painful few days of tedium the result is that all the numerical instabilities have vanished from my calculations and as I sit here (unless there has been another powercut) my code is churning out meson masses in a model I've been working on for a good few months.

In the next couple of weeks I have to write a talk on our latest paper which has just been accepted for publication, and get a little further through my To Read pile sitting precariously at home. September holds so far a trip to Milos to a conference which looks to be packed with people and talks (eight hours a day!), including my own.

Enough, lots to be getting on with but a couple of photos to finish both taken from my window zoomed in with a 300mm Canon lens.

The wind turbines in the sunset
evening light over the hills
And the moon with Arcturus:
the moon and arcturus


Colleen said...

You're rather brilliant. :)

Luca said...

Hey Jon,
a quick note on diacritics: it's the other way around on a Mac, that is
option+` + a → à
the letter follows the diacritic.

I'm sort of starting considering learning Chinese too, though I think I'd be better off having a better understanding of Japanese first (not because the two languages are related, but I'd prefer not mixing them up). Also the tones scare the hell out of me and I don't think I'll be able to learn them by my own.
If I'm remembering right you took some classes before going to China. Now you're studying on your own, though ... how does it go? I mean for the pronunciation part of it.

Damien Elmes said...

Unless I'm missing something, there should be no need to generate the pinyin in another program. Install basic chinese support or the pinyin toolkit plugin in Anki (file>download), and Anki will insert the pinyin automatically.

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Damien, many thanks for getting in contact. Indeed I remembered that in a previous version this had been working for me and I presumed that it was a version issue. I'll try and install the plugin in the new version when I get home and will update the post accordingly. Many thanks for all your effort with Anki, it's truly a remarkable piece of work.

Hi Luca, you're quite right re. the ordering of keystrokes - updated.

In fact I find the pronunciation about the easiest part of Chinese now, though at first it was not. Now it's simply the task of remembering new vocabulary, greatly helped by Anki. The tones do take a while to get used to but I would recommend Pimsleur Chinese for getting a good foundation in these. It's the best resource I've found for drilling the tones.