28 February 2010

Word Links?

Years ago when we first settled down in the U.S. of A., there was a word game my sister CH and I used to play. We had one year of English private school before leaving Viet Nam as boat people and that helped but there was so much more to learn. The word game was supposed to help us increase our vocabularies. I am not sure if CH invented it or learned it from someone. Heck, maybe TOTA taught CH, for all I know.

Start the game by uttering a word. Almost any word, but not people's names or places. The other person would then have to reply with a word that starts with a letter that is the last letter of the previous word. For example, if the first word is BLOG then the second word can be GORILLA, then APPLE, which would be followed by EXQUISITE, and so on. I discovered that many words end in E, K, and Y and would focus on learning words that start with those letters. Thus I picked up K words like KITH, KIN, and KNOLL, or Y words like YOUTH, YODEL, and YOKE. I am sure playing the game helped me somewhat with my vocabulary.

I am really curious if CH and I, maybe TOTA too, are the only people who know about this game. I arbitrarily named this game Word Links, as in the post title, but maybe it has a real name. Maybe it's a common game used by English teachers? Let me know!

26 February 2010

Life, Out Of Touch

My iPod touch is dead. About a year into my ownership of the thing, the battery started to deplete rather faster than usual. If left on overnight, it would be totally dead the next morning. I think the normal thing would be for it to go into sleep mode and be usable the next day. Not so with this iTouch of mine. I made do with charging it often and brought the charger with me to work so that I would have something to use on the commute home. The strategy worked for a while, until the battery wouldn't charge any more. Connecting the Touch to the computer normally would also charge it as well as sync its content, but no such luck. My iPod touch really bit the dust.

The natural thing to do is shop around and buy a new one. I still can afford one, but there are two problems. One is that I was hoping that Apple would finally give the Touch a still camera. Many times I had the Touch with me and wanted to take a photo but didn't have a camera. My cell phone has a camera but getting photos out of it is such a hassle. A Touch with camera would be handy to have and not a hassle at all with syncing.

The other reason, a loftier one, is that as a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I should not be so quick to buy new things and immediately discard things as they become defective. Better to make use of existing things and repair the broken stuff. With that in mind, I took my second-generation, 10-gig iPod out of retirement and use it for what it's best at - music and podcasts. There are no useful apps like the American Heritage Dictionary or fun game like Trivia Pursuit, but it helps me keep up with This American Life and other podcasts. I even added The Brothers Karamazov audiobook, free from http://librivox.org , to the old iPod. I get an extra point, too, for re-using the 2G iPod in that it can only sync via FireWire 400, which is not available on my Mac Pro so that I have to also get the PowerBook G4 out of mothball whenever I need to sync the old iPod.

I do miss the dictionary on the Touch as it helped me many times when I play crossword puzzles. It is time to make more use of the Abest Chinese PDA. I bought it years ago primarily to use as an electronic Chinese dictionary but it also has the Oxford English dictionary. The lack of backlighting is painful, but again I just need to learn to make do. I even thought about getting the Handspring Deluxe out of retirement to use its address book, calendar, and notes.

One iTouch function I cannot replace is its photo storage. It was nice while it lasted to carry around my entire photo collection. A short while before the Touch expired, it could no longer store all the photos, music, and apps, so I had to cut back to just the last twelve months of photos.

I plan to make do with the old iPod, the Abest PDA, maybe even the old Handspring PDA, for a few more weeks. In the mean time, I plan a visit to Brooklyn's First Apple Authorized Repair Shop, the Mac Support Store, in the Gowanus area, to get the battery replaced. However long that takes I don't mind. Once the Touch is all good again, then I'll be able to carry around twelve months of photos again, and more.

16 February 2010


Is it not true that sometimes the news is always bad? That when good news happen nobody reports it? I am going to change that view now.

With the recent arrival of Lunar New Year, I had cousins on my side and wife's side visited on different days of the long weekend. They are all receptive in taking used toys and such and I was happy to pass along some of my worldly possessions that have outlived their usefulness. Some I have fond memories of but it was time to part with them. It is still good news to part with them by passing them on to someone who can use them.

  • A Woody doll from Toys Story, complete with pull-string and cowboy hat. I bought it back when I was still working in Jersey City near the Newport Mall. Back then my son still liked Toys Story. He watched the Toys Story 2 so many times the VHS tape showed sign of breaking up when viewed.
  • My son's kiddie bike. Altogether he had 3 bikes, one when he was really little, with no chain. Uncle Robert got him a better one and he used it for a while until the chain broke and I couldn't find the time to fix it. Finally, we got him one appropriate for his age and size. I had high hopes that he would learn how to ride with just two wheels but it never happened. I will try to get his cousin to resume riding bike first, then perhaps out of being competitive my son will take to the bike. This past weekend the latest bike, now too small for my son, went Cousin N. BTW, the other 2 bikes also found good homes years ago when I got rid of them.
  • Various Thomas the Tank Engine toys set and books, plus other train-related toys. Like most boys, J loved trains. I don't recall being so crazy about trains, perhaps because I never saw one, whether in person or on TV, when I was young. Long ago when my son still fitted in a stroller, we visited the MTA Train Museum. We left with my son's first train set, a set of wooden tracks and a few train cars, connected via magnets at the ends. I still remember my son fell asleep as we made our way from the museum to the Pacific Street station of the B train - maybe it was the W train, who knows. It was a hot summer day and I enjoyed a can of Coke bought from a pizza store while my son slept. Aaaaah, those stolen moment when the child slept and the parent had a break.
These days my son is into green toy soldiers along with battle sets (tanks, helicopter, etc) and Bakugan. And of course computer games. Who knows how long it will last, just cherish the moment.

05 February 2010

Audible Alternatives?

I am very tempted to cough up some dough and sign up with Audible.com. The thing that holds me back is I feel that it seems wasteful to spend money on something that will not be enjoyed over and over. There are songs that I listened to over and over yet not get tired, but movies and books are only used once. At least with movies they sometimes get loaned to friends. With digital audiobooks, I may have to loan the player as well, or burn the book onto CD and convert the CD back to MP3 format... too much work and the reading experience won't be the same.

There are some Audible alternatives out there. Note that I include a question mark in the title of this blog post. I admit that the experience of using these "alternatives" is certainly not exactly the same as using a paid service like Audible. You get to have someone read to you, alright, but the process of getting the content to your device, plus other steps, won't be the same.

For me, the most obvious alternative is the public library. One great thing about living and working in New York City is convenient access to its public libraries. I live near a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and work near one in the New York Public Library (NYPL) system. Both library systems offer at least audiobooks as sets of CDs. I think the BPL even offers audiocassettes audiobooks. My audiobook experience did start out with the Queens Public Library, with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Without Remorse by Tom Clancy, and some others. Yes, many times I fell asleep while listening to the audiotapes and had to painfully rewind the tapes back to some recognizable place, but I did finish a few books, for free.

If dealing with physical media like audiotapes and CDs is too cumbersome for you, the library systems can also let you borrow digital content. It seems only public domain materials can be used readily on both Macs and PeeCees. More current materials requires installing additional software like OverDrive. Last time I gave OverDrive a try, it was with using movies from the NYPL. I had to use Windoze emulator to be able to use the material on my Mac. There was much troubles, not worth the hassle. OverDrive does have Mac software now. I'll give it another chance and see how convenient it is.

Perhaps getting a library card is too much of a hassle to you. Or you don't live or work near a public library. If you don't mind being limited to classic books only, LibriVox.org is the place for you. LV's books are already in the public domain, i.e. their copyrights have expired. LV makes use of volunteers to do the reading in order to be able to provide the service free of charge. You don't have to register with LV in order to get audiobooks from them. Unlike Audible, where the books are broken down into one or two big files, LV's offerings come in many small chapters. You can listen to them right in the web browser, although for me I prefer to open them in iTunes for later syncing to the iPod. I do have to make sure the files are marked as audiobooks and that playback positions are remembered. It takes a little, just a very small little, extra work when dealing with LV. I already downloaded Chapters 1 through 5 of Book 1 of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Should you like LV's service so much and want to volunteer then you would need to open a free account with them.

Lastly, I cannot help but think back to the time a long time ago when I accidentally came across a reading of the book Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam on the radio. I think it was some time after 1985, when I started college, because I do remember that I listened to the reading in the afternoon on a weekday. During high school I wouldn't be home at that time of the day during that time of the week. I managed to remember the station and listened to it a few times but now of course I have no other recollection of the station. My guess is that it was some NPR station, maybe even WNYC. I wonder if the program is still around. Anyone with more info please post a comment.

04 February 2010

Do You Read Me?

With the announcement of the iPad, the world now has yet another e-reader. Maybe not just another e-reader, but still an e-reader nonetheless. Still, for me, as long as I live near a public library, I don't see myself getting into the e-reading business. For me, books are somewhat like movies in that you read a book once then it spends the rest of its life on the shelf, taking space and collecting dust. At least with movies you may pull them off the shelf to fast forward to a particular scene to settle a bet. Well, in this Internet Age, that may not even be necessary. From my point of view, books are best read as borrowed items from the public library. I don't read the latest and greatest books anyway so I can renew over and over if needed. I know, the booksellers of the world won't be sending me any huge checks any time soon.

By the same logic, much as I enjoy the convenience of Audible.com, I don't see myself signing up with it any time soon. It does not help that the typical e-book costs around $20. Audible does have a few monthly plans, with one that come out to about $15 per book or per month, but it still seems wasteful to spend that much money for something that would be enjoyed for a few hours or a few days. I do have plenty of free podcasts to keep me company during the daily commute and other times. During a good week, when I remember to keep the iPod touch properly charged every morning, I would sail through Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, This Week In Tech, This American Life, and perhaps even a Mac-centric podcast. Still, having taken advantage of Audible's free A Confederacy of Dunces, I felt the allure of digital audiobooks. In the past, listening to audiobooks meant occasionally flipping tapes or rewinding them. With today's digital versions, there is nothing to flip and rewinding is relatively easy. There is no risk of rewinding too much and having fast forward to make up. Having the books sync'd effortlessly to iTunes gives me peace of mind, that should the iPod gets lost, I still have a copy on the computer.

Audible wisely sponsors many podcasts so I'm constantly reminded of their great service. Who knows, someday I may get tired of the free podcasts and may spring for the convenience of Audible.