Travels Currencies Spaced Repetition and Development
Saturday, March 21, 2009
So where have I been?
Still here. Still in Tokyo. Life hasn’t changed much over the past 7 months or so. I’m very happy. I’m also very focused.
More than a year ago I broke my leg. It was an extremely unhappy time for me. I basically live alone. I have a roommate, but he isn’t much for cooking, so besides a few pity-onigiri brought over by my neighbor I had very few chances for a meal. There are only so many times you can hobble yourself down the road for ramen before you loose all motivation to bear the armpit sores and leave the house. Every time I see someone on crutches now I feel very bad for them. When I was in elementary school crutches looked like fun. They are not. They are absolute evil.
Anyway, while I was housebound I sunk into a deep enough depression and self-pity-party that I used up my lifetime allotment of Television Days. I spent more than enough time laying on the couch in front of the TV. That way once I was rid of the crutches and able to walk with a backpack with only minimal chance of collapsing into a heap, I had more than enough motivation to head out for Europe.
It was a relaxing, exciting and wonderful time, but as always it was too short. Even in the middle of it I could feel the pull of my responsible life. While I was in Liverpool on my way to Scotland a customer called me back to London for a meeting. Ever been in a meeting with an Investment Firms CTO wearing a sweatshirt and hiking boots? It’s only slightly more than extremely embarrassing.
After Europe there was some work in Tokyo; a few trips around Japan; and one to the US. It was during my month in America that I recalled a problem I had wanted to solve for years. It is such a pain in the ass to keep track of your expenses when traveling in other countries. Carrying around a computer with Quicken or whatever installed on it is no fun. It is even less fun when you need to record purchases in multiple currencies. It bugged me so much that when I got back to Tokyo I almost immediately reintroduced myself to MooTools and Symfony. A few days later I had a prototype for web application that would make it easy to record my purchases from anywhere and in any currency. A few months later and I had the app in a complete enough state to let other people in on the fun. Give it a try if you find your spreadsheet frustrating and this economy intimidating.
The economy is indeed intimidating. Things are slow as all-get-out for Helix Industries. That and with my visa situation changing I suddenly found myself looking for a regular desk job in Tokyo. There are jobs out there, but it has quickly become apparent to me that - especially in this economy - having a at least a JLPT level 2 certification is necessary. No matter how good my Japanese is in person or over e-mail it is just way too easy for companies to say, “no thanks, come back when you have at least JLPT 2”. It makes no difference that I can wow them during the interview if I can’t even get in the door.
Lucky for me there is are JLPT level 2 and level 1 tests this summer. So about a month ago I sat down to make sure I’ve memorized all the necessary kanji and vocabulary for level 2. I did the usual bit of going over flash cards every day. Me being me, I quickly found paper flash cards limiting.
It stinks that there are only two sides. Japanese writing is naturally three dimensional: Kanji - Pronunciation - Meaning. Knowing the meaning of a kanji is great, but if you don’t also completely know the pronunciation, including when the o sound is extended or short, it doesn’t really do you any good. Especially since the JLPT tests you on all three dimensions. The same is true for vocabulary words. The other problem with paper flash cards is the very real inability to accurately track your progress.
So I spent some time looking around for an online system that would give me multi-sided flash cards and track my progress. If found some sites and programs that would do one, but not the other. So about a few days later I finished a prototype web application that gave me both features: multi-sided Japanese flash cards and accurate tracking of my progress. A few weeks later and now I am ready to let anyone that wants to use it, use it.
It’s a Spaced Repetition flash card application based on the Leitner Cardbox System with a pretty darn convenient search feature and JLPT practice tests. I’ve got all of the JLPT level 4 and level 3 kanji plus vocabulary loaded into the system. About 40% of the JLPT 2 kanji and vocabulary are loaded today. We should be at 100% in a little more than two weeks.
Users can even add tags and rate cards making it easy to find the best or most appropriate cards for your situation. The system even keeps track of kanji that are similar to one another, so you can practice kanji that are a real pain to tell apart at first glance.
And yes, you can use the study kanji and vocabulary on the train even when you don’t have an Internet connection.
After a while we’ll be adding in cards for other tests and subjects too. If you’re planning on taking Japanese medical exams this will be the system for you.
I’ll be publishing blog articles on the system’s most useful features as well as strategies and tactics for getting the most out of the system, so subscribe to the news feed, or just check the news page regularly.