Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Remembering the tones in Mandarin

In Chinese on September 11, 2009 at 6:58 PM

This post was originally published on October 8, 2008 on another blog that I no longer use. I therefore move this post over here in hope that it will be useful to someone.

For a newbie like me on the Chinese language and Mandarin, remembering the tones of words is very difficult.

One technique that I’ve been using to remember the tones is to associate a person with each tone. Since there are four tones in Mandarin, and my family consists of four people, I have assigned one family member to represent each tone.

For example, the word shū (书) means book and has the first tone. Since the character looks kinda like a sail on a boat, in order to remember this word, I imagine my dad lying on a boat reading a book in the sunshine. My dad always represents the first tone.

This technique works quite well for words that consist of only one character. It does not work so well for words that consist of more than one character. That is because those words have multiple tones (one for each character). When I place my family members in a scene somewhere, it is difficult to remember the order in which the tones come. Maybe if I place me behind my dad, I can remember that the tone that I represent (which is tone three) comes before the first tone, but it gets messy.

Another disadvantage with this technique is that it is difficult to remember the tones for words like mom, dad, and sister if the tones do not correspond to the the ones that I’ve assigned my family members.

For example. The word for mom is mā ma (妈妈). A first tone followed by a neutral tone. But since I have associated the first tone with my dad, I can easily get confused here. But I guess I can learn these exceptions in some other way.

To address the problems of my current technique I have a new idea. I think it might work well, but I have not tried it yet. The basic idea is that you assign a combination of tones to a specific object and then associate that object with a word. For example, the word for Chinese language is Hàn yǔ (汉语). A fourth tone followed by a third tone. Lets say that I associate this tone combination with a panda. Then a panda will always represent this tone combination.

Now I have to learn two associations: that this particular tone combination is represented by a panda (I have to learn this once), and that a panda is related to Chinese language somehow (I have to relate the panda to all words with this tone combination).

For each tone combination I have to come up with an association to an object. This is a bit of work, but once it is done, it is done. For two character words, there should be only 4*4=16 such combinations (and maybe a few others if the fifth neutral tone is included). But I think this will help in the long run.

Another possible positive side of this is that I can maybe remember how a tone combination sounds like by associating a sound with the object associated with the combination.

But I have to experiment a bit more with this to be able to tell if it is useful or not.


A new help system

In Timeline on September 9, 2009 at 6:59 PM

The last couple of days I have been working on a new help system for Timeline. Instead of having a single user manual document which is hard to navigate, the new help system is more like a wiki with many small pages covering specific topics. All pages can also link to related pages. This approach has some advantages over a singe user manual document:

  • It is easier to write a help page about a topic because you do not need to figure out where in the manual to put it or be concerned that it will not fit the structure of the manual
  • It is easier for translators to translate a short isolated page instead of a long manual
  • It is easier for users to find information because you can organize the pages in any way you want: popular help topics can be linked to on the first page for example

The new help system is available in the development repository now and will appear in the 0.5.0 release scheduled for October 1, 2009. I believe it will make working with help easier for everyone.

Morning mist

In Photos on September 6, 2009 at 12:07 PM
The view that I woke up to this morning.

The view that I woke up to this morning.

Automatically rotate pictures from digital camera

In Tips on September 5, 2009 at 11:30 AM

A simple command that I use to automatically rotate pictures from my digital camera is this:

jhead -autorot *.JPG

From idea to reality

In Timeline on September 2, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Many times I’ve had ideas for programs to write: sometimes because I felt the need for a particular application and other times just because the programming task seemed challenging. Many of the ideas I’ve had never turned into more than incomplete drafts or half-broken programs. When I started The Timeline Project on of the goals was to actually finish this project and not stop halfway because of lack of motivation. Below I continue to list and discuss what I think are the most important reasons why I succeeded.

I made it public and real

Before I wrote a single line of code I registered the project on SourceForge. That forced me to write a description for the project: now the whole world, or at least all the SourceForge visitors, would know the purpose of my program. Since I decided to make this a free software project, everyone would also be able to see everything I did. Suddenly it was not just a couple of files sitting on my local harddrive. This was something real that I could tell people to have a look at.

I had guidance

I had no previous experience in neither running a free software project nor participating in one. I figured the best way to learn was to just to start a project. Without the guidance from Producing Open Source Software I don’t think I had been as successful. It was particularly useful for figuring out what documentation to write and what tools to use. (SourceForge also provided many of the tools mentioned in the book.)

I was not alone

Right from the beginning I involved another person in this project: my dad. Now everything I did in terms of coding and documenting also had to be comprehensible to someone else. This also made the project feel more real. Another benefit was that we could discuss problems and solutions with each other.

Other people got interested

Despite the reasons for success mentioned above my motivation still dropped at one point. Mostly because I felt the application would not be useful for me. That changed one day when an unexpected email reached my inbox: someone was interested in using Timeline. That person made me believe in the idea again and several improvements were made to the program after that.