Always Learning!

The world through the prism of my mind

This blog is getting better – but not here

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 31, 2006

WordPress is a great service. But running as part of wordpress.com hosted solutions had a price. Not a cost (the service is free), but the price of limited flexibility and inability to tinker.

So I have moved to my own domain and will continue with the new blog there. All posts from this blog have been migrated across, though unfortunately not comments. Maybe later I will figure out how to do that, that will be part of the experimenting I wanted to do.

The learning never stops, it just moves on to the better pastures.

Posted in Admin | Leave a Comment »

Spam comments in esperanto?

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 28, 2006

Most of the comments to this blog are – unfortunately – spam. WordPress’s Akismet filters them out and I periodically review and delete them all. I don’t know why I bother, but once I had a real comment black-listed, so I keep making the effort. It is also semi-interesting to see how the spam attacks changed over time from automatic to semi-manual looking efforts.

Today’s  collection had a comment that gave me a double take. It went like this:

–strange junk–
Kiel
vi fartas?
–spam links–
G^is revido

Which is obviously esperanto for ‘How are you’ and ‘See you later’ (though I prefer x notation myself in Gxis revido).

So, what happened there? I can see three options:

  1. Esperanto speaking spammer who decided to switch the ‘hello’ text upon seeing an Esperanto category in my blog
  2. Automatic software that looked for all blogs that mentioned Esperanto with hopes that the ‘less frequent’ language will not trigger spam filters
  3. Some sort of automatic spam algorithm picking out greetings based on the content of the blog; if that’s the case, the fact that somebody bothered adding Esperanto to their list is – in a perverse way – a cause to celebrate

I don’t think I will ever find out what happened, unless the original spammer comes back and comments on this post with the answer. Still, it is a food for thought.

Posted in Esperanto, Weird Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The podcasts I listen to and how BusinessWeek got it wrong

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 3, 2006

Is Podcasting revolution over before it began? BusinessWeek seems to think so and quotes Pew Internet & American Life Project’s statistics. The topic is also generating some buzz in the blogosphere, with BusinessWeek’s interpretation being gleefully accepted by some and thoughtfully rejected by others.

I believe into podcasting‘s future because it is here already for me. I have a 40 minute walk to work each day, so I have over six hours of content a week I can consume. And being quite busy during days, nights and weekends, I try to use that walk time constructively as well. I have been listening to the podcasts from before they were called that and, so, had some time to get my bearings. And they are basically aligned with what the concept of Long Tail teaches us.

Strangely enough, BusinessWeek did not even mention any of the concepts that are important for me and my podcast consumption. That’s how I know the article is missing many points. It is not really unexpected, as it takes a while to get past the beginner’s understanding and actually see the real depth of the concept.

My current collection is at 25 podcasts and I have discarded over time probably twice that number. Less than a third of the podcasts on the list would be considered even vaguely popular by normal measures, the rest are plainly hyper-specialized to my needs and interests.

Over time, I had dutifully sampled and eventually discarded Adam Curry, Dave Winer and Gillmor Gang podcasts. They sporadically have some interesting content, but so infrequently that I find myself frustrated with all the filler. Gillmor Gang specifically I have given 3 or 4 tries over years, but I think they were most interesting during their ITConversations’ days.

I also don’t have any popular radio podcasts. I find the latest news to be easiest to consume in an aggregated or RSS format on my computer. That way if a news item is interesting, I can follow up on its references or setup keywords alert for the future notifications. Podcasts, in my mind, are much more suitable for content that has already undergone some thought process by its producer. I know that for some people, the reasoning is different but just as valid (for them).

I break my subscriptions into roughly 5 categories:

  • Technical News – In my industry (IT) it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. Without these podcasts I feel that I would not notice what is coming down the line until it would be too late and I would be stuck maintaining Cobol-equivalent systems forevermore.
  • Trend watching – Many interesting things are happening in the world if one just happens to be in the right place at the right time. These podcasts put me into that place and do it very early in the ideas’ lifecycles: somewhere between a cutting edge and an early adoption stage. I may not have time to participate, but sometimes the knowledge I get allows me to leapfrog the conventional process. For example, I have been on a cheap Voice-over-IP service (Lingo) for nearly two years and saved myself money and hustle of dealing with Verizon and its ilk.
  • Learning new skills in a background – I may not have time to allocate several active hours a week on a useful, but not currently essential skill, but podcasts in these category allow me to learn something through osmosis over time. Later, when I would need those skills, I would have already absorbed enough to be a very quick learner.
  • Language learning – I am studying Spanish now and before that I was learning French and Esperanto and there is always some improvement I could do to my English. These podcasts provide additional learning (or meta-learning) material. Some of them are also good edutainment.
  • Entertainment – Some podcasts are just funny or interesting or have my friends in them. They round up the collection nicely.

My full list is available publically, but here is the breakdown by the categories as I see it:

Are there more podcasts I would have liked to listen to? Certainly. I would love a podcast on computational linguistics. At the moment, even the bloggers on the topics are extremely rare.

I would also love a podcast on Scottish Country Dancing. There is just so much one could do with that. I know that at least one person have thought of it and given up as unsustainable, which is a real pity. I am tempted to start one myself just to prove her wrong.

Finally, I think there is a way to make a better language-learning podcast/video cast than the ones I found so far. I have mentioned some of the ideas to at least one person in a position to do that. Nothing happened yet, but such things take time. I will wait a while and, if nothing happens, will blog it here instead. I don’t mind prividing competitive advantage to a company that deserves it through good service, but will not sit on the ideas forever either.

To summarise the long post, I think that podcasting has legs and will succeed in the content niches that appeal to people based on their individual interests and needs. There is a lot of fluff and junk podcasts on the web at the moment, but it is getting better and, as with blogging, the absolute number of interesting podcasts is growing fast. It takes some time to find good content, but it really pays off in a long run.

Posted in General Education, Language acquisition, RSCDS, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Free spanish e-book for intermediate learners

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 3, 2006

It is quite frustrating how often a good material hides so deep in a random website that it can only be found by total accident.

Such seems to be the case with Suspense, no suspenso. From what I can tell, it is a complete detective story book written in Spanish for an intermediate language learner and even includes some exercises for the teacher’s use. It used to be a real book (with ISBN and all), but has obviously been released to the world at large since.

I cannot read it yet as I am still at the early beginner stage, but to find a text that is free, in plain HTML (for converting to other formats) and targetted specifically at the language reader is a rare delight. I hope someone ahead of me in learning spanish, will find it useful. Leave a comment, if you do.

And if there are enough people interested, maybe we could find some bilingual speakers to add an english translation to the text. Given that the book is clearly there not for commercial gain, I am sure they would not object if somebody offered to improve its value further.

Posted in e-books, Spanish | 2 Comments »

Language learning and public content – ‘I am Tarzan’

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on November 29, 2006

I frequently say that public domain books are a great source of further innovation and small business ideas. Today I found another example that brings together several of the themes I track: Language acquisition, Publishing and Public Domain books.

Mark Phillips has taken Tarzan of the Apes book that is now available in public domain and rewritten parts of it to teach grammar as part of the story. The resulting self-published book Tarzan and Jane’s Guide to Grammar (or Amazon link) has been selling quite well in schools for a year or so. The book’s idea is similar to the one of The Twisted Doors, but is targetted at English readers wishing to increase their vocabulary rather than at learners of a foreign language. It also feels to me like a precursor to my 3rd idea from the earlier article on How e-books could revolutionize language-learning.

About a month ago (from what I can tell), Mark decided to push the book to the general public more aggressively. He set up the website and sent some copies out as promotion. I heard of it in one of the Grammar Girl‘ podcasts.

He did not contact me (this is not a sponsored post), but I liked the idea of the book since – as I mentioned at the start – it connects to multiple of my interests. I hope his work will become more known and spur other people to experiment with using public domain material in innovative ways. Especially, if they are innovative language-learning ways.

Posted in Language acquisition, Publishing | Leave a Comment »

 
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