November 30, 2004

Learning languages

Posted in: Language

I've been (re)learning French ahead of a trip to Val Thorens (for which I've discovered French will be even more important since the other skiiers there won't speak English!), and Paris Santarchie right after it.

This last week I was in Vienna which meant exposure to German.

I learnt French in school for five years and had a three-week exchange trip to Bordeaux (during which time I seem to recall saying almost nothing). Since then I've been to France once or twice and earlier this year had a French speaker stay at my house and spoke a tiny bit. If I pay attention I can follow a non-idiomatic French conversation, slightly more than getting the gist.

I learnt German to theoretically the same level in three years. My exposure to a German-speaking country was about 10mins on an autobahn, and the only reason for that was being driven to see a sign saying "Ausfahrt" (which sounds amusing to English speakers with a sense of toilet humor).

I got As in both languages. I paid a lot more attention to French than German. At some point in my German education I took a dislike to the teaching style and lost interest. Yeah, I still got an A but at the risk of sounding like a dick right now getting an A at GCSE language level shouldn't be difficult. I'll expand on this below.

A few observations:
* Everyone I encountered in Vienna spoke high-grade English, and I encountered quite a few people that week
* Going to a foreign country I've during that time become really interested in learning their language
* Coming back my interest is by default back to baseline, i.e. not much, after about a week (I'm still interested as an idea but not as an action)
* Talking to people with different native tongues I find absolutely fascinating. I was up 'til 05:30 in a nightclub talking to Robert (a Viennese) about German-speaking culture, for example
* despite considering myself "OK" at French and having had much more experience of it if I switch my attention off I will pick up next to nothing of the conversation. Like if I was asked "so, what were we talking about?" I would get almost nothing
* despite having literally done nothing with the German I learnt at school, listened to no German beyond school, or in any way furthered my education there (that's 15yrs, folks) I could somehow understand chunks of the language spoken in Vienna. To me this is quite bizarre
* Even if I wasn't really listening to a conversation in German I somehow ended up with a sense of what was being spoken about. This is to me even more bizarre
* When I listen to French it feels like there's lag understanding it. Like, whichever bit of my brain it's going through either there's more of it or the bits are processing slower, or something
* When I listen to German, the bits that I understand I understand like *bam* immediately
* Again, all this is despite having had a lot more experience with French
* I've always found German easier to pronounce
* I've met probably two French speakers with even remotely good English accents
* I've met probably two English speakers with even remotely good French accents (yes, it's possible to tell, I think, even being lame at the foreign language)
* Conversely, the number of decent English accents from German speakers seems remarkably and embarrassing(to English world)ly high

So putting it summarily, German is easier for me than French.

Learning French

I'm currently thoroughly enjoying the Champs-Elysées French subscription. It's a nearly-monthly "audio magazine" that is sixty minutes of French with a booklet containing transcription and English commentary on not only language terms but aspects of French life and culture. The range of material (politics, finance, music, literature, current events, etc) is pretty diverse so there's plenty of range of vocab and interesting topics.

The BBC has a ton of good stuff too. When I see this kind of quality content online paying my TV license feels fine.

Effectiveness of modes of learning

I learnt French for five years in school with five hour-long lessons per week. (Conservatively, that's 500 hours of French instruction!) And yet my French sucks; my spoken ability for example is "Get By in French" standard. What's up with that? That's an absurd amount of time for that kind of result. Three weeks in Bordeaux did more for my French than possibly a whole year at school.

Here I am self-teaching via a CD/mag subscription and poking about online about an hour a day and my French has progressed (I think) dramatically in maybe a week. I'm hoping, realistically, that after this next couple of week's French learning, a week's skiing, and a day or so in Paris I'll be getting quite decent at it.

A week in Vienna listening to and occasionally asking speakers about German (not reading or speaking at all) and I could sense my German improving.

So, what the fuck? How is learning at school so apparently unbelievably inefficient? I hesitate, but only just, to say "useless".

A few factors: I'm motivated right now (altho' I did enjoy the educational bit of school, for the most part so this difference might be less than some people who, say, hated school); I spend most of my day learning stuff i.e. a decade and a half of post-school practice; I have studied in-depth the specific process of learning; I am, I consider, unusually in touch with how my brain works and how to influence it (many thanks to even more talented friends and mentors) so now have some bad-ass learning strategies.

All that aside, the benefit of going to a foreign country to learn a language seems to be so dramatically beyond what I experienced in a classroom that what immediately springs to mind is that kids simply need to be packed off to a foreign country for some time, as soon as possible, and that the current classroom teaching strongly deprecated.

The other depressing conclusion is that a huge chunk of my life wasn't used efficiently, and I didn't have a choice about it (to say my life is efficient now would be a gross misrepresentation, but at least if I stay in bed 'til 13:00 it's more often than not out of choice...).

And finally... check out Friends Abroad, a site to help meet other language students for mutual assistance. You've got to love a site that has "Relationship (status)" and "Starsign" as profile parameters... FWIW, I've never been contacted out of the blue on any site by so many cute folks in my life, let alone in the three weeks I've been a sweet FA subscriber...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 03:23 | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 26, 2004

Nike RunLondon counter-protests

Posted in: Events, Humor, Political

The 10km Run London event this weekend, which has been essentially co-opted by Nike, is bound to see a lot of protests owing to their ongoing use of sweatshop labour and well-documented disregard for employee health. Calls for action are popping up for meetings at the finish line.

SweatLondon is taking a different tack - rebelling against the "bunch of lefty morons" and organising a "counter protest", to "support Nike in their hour of need"...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 17:48 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

Fucking in Austria

Posted in: Drivel

From the Dept of Amusingly Profane Town Names... The girlfriend Karin of our exceedingly kind host just told me about the village of Fucking in Austria. also on Wikipedia "A considerable portion of Fucking's budget is spent on replacing stolen signs"!

Karin's work's pretty wacky - for example...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 21:46 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2004

Off to Vienna

Posted in: Travel, What am I up to

Plane leaves in a couple of hours. Going to see roboexotica and Karen. Back 28th!

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 10:39 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Zoom quilt

Posted in: Art

Simple, elegant, beautiful: The Zoomquilt. The Flash version of Zoomquilt version is probably the most fun/interactive.

This piece was created collaboratively as you can see from the home page. The organizer, razghul links to, a collaborative "quilt" (tiled image) community foundry. The entry requirements for iCE are pretty steep so they say and the artwork really impressed me: here's an example.

Click a tile to see how it's produced: a gap surrounded by a few pixels of its completed neighbors is sent out ("checked out") from the system to the artist and within a day it has to be filled out and sent back ("checked in"). The tiles are rated by fellow tilers which contributes to the artist's overall rating. These artist ratings are then used by others to set entry requirements for producing subsequent tiles. Each tile even has its own mini bulletin board where style, construction, and other artistic themes are discussed.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 15:44 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 13, 2004

Strida fold-up doesn't hold-up

Posted in: Drivel

A fresh episode in my history of run-ins with bus drivers...

Catching the bus earlier this evening with friends while on the phone (another friend had just spotted me in the street while driving by on her bus!) piled on and the bus driver said "You're not taking that bike on the bus". Being on the phone and trying not to hold anything up I basically ignored the dude and pulled the bike into the gangway, finishing up the phone convo. Bus driver unimpressed and shut the lights of the entire bus down; friends of mine are surprised and start questioning the driver. I fold up the Strida which I have down to about four seconds now (eat that, Brompton!), return to the cab and say "you can't seriously object to this". Folded, the Strida takes up almost no space, less than a sax case. Surprised and bemused the bus driver said "OK" and fired his rig up again. Dave laughed and said that the scene would've made an awesome Strida marketing video....

I love this bike!

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 21:51 | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Virtual Bartender

Posted in: Humor

Another do-as-I-say animated site in the mold of Subservient Chicken, comes's Virtual Bartender.

It recognizes a bunch of different words and phrases; I've collected a few like "beer", "hello", "kiss", and more below...

Continue reading "Virtual Bartender"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 17:16 | Comments (53) | TrackBack

November 9, 2004

Comment spam new direction

Posted in: Movable Type

Everyone knows about MT-Blacklist but there are some problems with it. This entry is a quick jot for an idea I had actually last year for re-using technology that's proving successful with rejecting mail spam: focussing specifically on identifying URIs of spammers, rather than looking at the whole comment/message body.

Continue reading "Comment spam new direction"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 19:36 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Firefox 1.0 released

Posted in: Drivel

Woohoo, my favorite browser officially had its 1.0 release earlier today. It's time to party! The last month has seen a money raising campaign operated from Spread Firefox to take out a full page NY Times ad for Firefox. They were after $50,000. They got $250,000.

With 5million people downloading the 1.0 Preview last time you can imagine the servers are completely caned right now with an official release. However there is at least one site that's still serving over 200KB/s: found via the Switch to Firefox site.

Get Firefox:

If you're still using IE you're really missing out. 1,000+ testimonials seem to agree. Don't be left behind!

Firefox sites

The first three are official sites so are suffering under download load at the moment.

Firefox at - the original Firefox homepage
Get Firefox - a simple site you can pass on to your friends
Spread Firefox - Firefox campaign site
Switch to Firefox - borrowing Apple's "Switch" advertising theme with plenty of info for new and potential users
Mozilla Release Party - any excuse to party! UK locations

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 15:42 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

FreeCycle London

Posted in: Drivel

A fantastic London resource to "freecycle" (i.e. give away) your unwanted goods, and occasionally request stuff: FreeCycleLondon.

There are over 1,300 London members at time of writing and despite this the group order is really good - manageable traffic, well administered, useful subject lines with local idioms like "OFFERED", "TAKEN", "WANTED" (links go to examples I've posted). Recommended!

The umbrella site which includes other places besides London of course is FreeCycle .org. Some cities have membership into five figures...

So, if anyone has any spare French language learning material... :-)

N.B. Please do not post your items to this blog! I am not freecycle support; do not email me about anything to do with freecycle (I will just delete it). Join the mailing list and post there.

In fact, I have turned comments off on this blog owing to the sheer number of people who don't actually read it and seem to post here anyway.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 14:32 | Comments (13)

November 7, 2004

Teeline shorthand progress

Posted in: Drivel

After starting to learn Teeline shorthand a little over a week ago I'm on page 47 out of 60 of Ann Dix's "Teeline Fast" book thanks to a week's travelling on the Tube. I've learnt a few surprising things from the experience.

Continue reading "Teeline shorthand progress"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 23:10 | Comments (81) | TrackBack

The Language Show

Posted in: Language

Spent a pleasant albeit brisk afternoon checking out The Language Show at Olympia. Picked up a French language DVD, met some Esperantists, and got some hints on internationalisation...

Continue reading "The Language Show"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 21:43 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Santacon in Paris!

Posted in: Events

Possibly the most exciting news of the day, a Santacon event happening in Paris! The very idea of attending two santacons, internationally, in one year arose a couple of weeks back on the uksantacon mailing list but I scarcely allowed myself to consider it, merely posting support for the date of Dec 18th, so exciting was it!

My new heroine, Susie Hollands, has taken the lead and posted as close to something official as it probably needed... the original message copied below (including the explanation why it can't be called "santacon"...)

Continue reading "Santacon in Paris!"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 20:47 | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 4, 2004

Dangerous intersections

Posted in: Humor

A while ago on a mapping site I saw a link to Top 10 Most Dangerous Intersections (in the US).

Months later I came across this priceless newsclip: Dangerous intersection: 119th St W and 53rd St N in Maize, KS. You can't make this stuff up! Why, lookee here, it's a story about putting extra warning lights on that intersection's stop sign. You've gotta love the interweb!

Be sure to check out the Top Rated Stupid Videos (click on tab on the left for Top Rated), esp. the #1 slot, Pet of the Week.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 14:17 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Canadian escape

Posted in: Political

United States of Canada + Jesusland
United States of Canada + Jesusland
mirrored from:

There's even a route out:
Marry an American .ca says:

Open your heart, and your home. Marry an American. Legions of Canadians have already pledged to sacrifice their singlehood to save our southern neighbours from four more years of cowboy conservatism.

Both these via winnie

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 12:43 | Comments (63) | TrackBack

Date format in Movable Type

Posted in: Movable Type

MT 2.66's default time format of "04:36 PM" is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Even a crappy digital watch doesn't add a zero to a 12-hour clock. That whole AM/PM thing is kinda last century too (sorry, America).

Fortunately it's easy enough to correct.

Continue reading "Date format in Movable Type"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 09:46 | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 3, 2004

Big man ... behind a keyboard

Posted in: Drivel

Recently brother Nik received an astonishing email from the new husband of an ex of his. There's nothing I can really add on top of his eloquent description, you have just got to read it yourself: Hello, Aaron Benedek. Be sure to check out Nik's reply and the alternative that was never sent...

I'm not sure Nik's site's ranking with Google but if I published something on this blog it'd be indexed by Google in less than 24 hours. In that time this guy's name in Google will be #1 for his, IMO, ill-considered piece of piffle. Makes ya think, huh?

While I am strongly opposed to revealing private correspondence and have never forwarded private email, seeing this kind of nonsense really makes me think publishing truly aberrant and abhorrent material can act as a regulator over time. Reputation is a powerful persuader.

(These days, after ongoing and repeated casual violation of what I consider private correspondence (forwarding my emails, including others in a reply with quoted text, Bcc, etc) by both business colleagues and friends I now pretty much assume everything I write is public. Fortunately this hasn't had much impact as there's not much to hide in my life but as a shift in perception it's potentially dramatic in its scope.)

"Nothing encourages good behavior like public scrutiny"    -- Neale Walsch aka "God"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 16:36 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cheney Scarface

Posted in: Humor, Political

Fantastic movie mod of Cheney at the RNC by the Dangerous Squid folk.

Cheney Scarface
Cheney Scarface

(The link above is to a mirror; nice one guys).

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 00:12 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 2, 2004

Crackpots, I tell you!

Posted in: Humor, Tech

Three entertaining quick reads,

The Ultimate Firewall Intrustion Prevention System. How to create a 100% secure firewall!

From the How-To-Tell-If Departments, rate your contribution to physics! And rate your Final Ultimate Solution to the Spam Problem (quite technical)

(Thanks to Simon for these via lpm)

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 14:56 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 1, 2004

Calm Kerry, Blustering Bush

Posted in: Political

The BBC is world-renowned for its impartial reporting. This series of images taken from the BBC News site of Bush/Kerry was spotted by Simon Wilcox and Paul Orrock. Apparently it didn't take long to come up with the series; about every page they looked at had the two candidates with similar expressions: Kerry looking calm and in control (even praying), while Bush has his appearance ranging from a mania to a monkey-face.

Mind you, this might just be an accurate portrayal ;-)

US rivals make closing arguments:

Continue reading "Calm Kerry, Blustering Bush"
Posted by Paul Makepeace at 16:07 | Comments (2) | TrackBack