Announcing DingLabs on YouTube

Yep, DingLabs now has a YouTube channel.

Now you can listen to audiobooks and see each word highlighted as it is spoken. This is great listening practice for language learners, or even native speakers looking for a more engaging listening experience.

Enough talk, let’s see a sample! Here’s one of the short stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales read by the amazing narrator, Bob Neufeld:

If you are an ESL / EFL student, you can get a lot out of watching these types of videos everyday. As you listen and read along, you’ll notice many new things about how words are spelled and pronounced. You’ll expand your vocabulary and gain fluency as you go.

For English learners, or any aspiring polyglots, I highly recommend this audiobook by Steve Kaufmann:

(Si usted es un hablante de español, primero vea la versión en español, entonces usted puede ver la versión inglés):

In addition to these audiobooks, there is also A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, impressively narrated by Bob Neufeld.

Your feedback and suggestions welcome! If you would like to be notified when future videos come out, please do subscribe to the DingLabs channel.

Learn Clojure with Clojure Koans Walkthrough screencast series

Clojure is a wonderful Lisp-like programming language.

I have created a screencast series introduces the language in bite-size pieces, by walking through the twenty lessons of the Clojure Koans project.

Jump right in here: 1. Introduction and Equalities

2. Lists

3. Vectors

4. Sets

5. Maps

6. Functions

7. Conditionals

8. Higher Order Functions

9. Runtime Polymorphism

10. Lazy Sequences

The entire YouTube playlist can be found here: Clojure Koans Walkthrough Screencasts

Enjoy learning Clojure. You’ll be a better programmer, no matter what language you end up using.

My Little Contribution to Language Learning

dinglabs.com Reader screenshot

I’ve been working on a “secret” project that may help people learn languages. It provides a way to listen to audio while reading along with the corresponding text. As the audio plays, the corresponding section of text is highlighted.  You can also click on any section of the text to immediately begin playing the audio from that point.

My dream is that all language learning podcasts will race to make their content available in this way.

WHY?

Listening and reading are critical components of language learning. But like oil and water, they’re not easy to combine, so each is generally practiced in isolation. Try listening to an audiobook while reading along with the real book.  What if you want to hear the last sentence again?  It’s a pain to rewind the audio.  What if you want jump to another part of the book?  What if you just listen for a while, but then need to refer to the book again later?  It’s frustrating because the audio and the book are not connected in any way.

But what if you could combine the two?

Peanut-butter jelly time! Here’s an example of a very short Chinese lesson (thanks ChinesePod). Try clicking the play button, or anywhere on the transcript:

DingLabsReader_embedded_screenshot

I have scaled this up to entire books! Click here to see the full book, Alice in Wonderland, in all it’s English glory:

dinglabs.com Reader screenshot

(text from Project Gutenberg, audio from LibriVox)

 

Benefits

  • Instantly accessible from any web browser — no special software to download/install.
  • You can still listen without reading, or read without listening. When you want to listen to a given part, or read a given part, you don’t have to struggle to find the right place in both the audio and text.
  • Since you’re reading along in a web-page, your favorite pop-up dictionary will continue to serve you!

 

The intent is that anyone can create their own synchronized text/audio to share with the world.  The player is just a tool that can play back an audio file with a given transcript. Anyone can host audio and transcripts on their own website, and use the player to present them together. The player can also be embedded in a webpage.

Why would any language learning podcast NOT make their content available in this fashion?

 

What’s Next

  • Connect with other people who are interested in seeing this type of idea come alive.
  • Make existing content available in this format (like synchronizing content from LibriVox,  Project Gutenberg).
  • Gather feedback from users to see what kind of crazy things become possible when you have text and audio aligned (e.g. easily generating flashcards with text and audio).

I welcome your feedback!  And feel free to notify your favorite podcast if you’d like to see their content available in this type of format.

Invest Some Money with Kiva.org

Kiva - loans that change lives

You should start doing some investing with Kiva.org. I mean why lose in the stock market — down 40% in 2008 — when you could put your money to good use, without such downside risk.

Micro-loans are different than charity because your money comes back. When it does, if you still feel generous, you can lend it again to help another entrepreneur. It’s literally the gift that keeps giving.

I have already seen this multiplier effect from my own meager contributions.

Here’s a video (with cool music) where you can see Kiva.org in action:

As Doug Casey has said, the longest and certainly most important trend in history is the “ascent of man”. But we are fortunate to be at the head of that curve while a greater majority of our fellow humans are back at the tail end. Our seemingly miniscule efforts can have great impact on real people.

Invest a few dollars with an entrepreneur, and see if it doesn’t come back to you.

Learn to Read with a Used Tablet PC

Fujitsu Stylistic LT C-500

Sweet language learning device.

I finally bought an old tablet PC from eBay, a Fujitsu Stylistic LT C-500, for $116. After a week of playing with it, I highly recommend this form factor for learning to read a foreign language.

I’ve often wanted to spend more time reading Chinese books, but couldn’t bear to read anything on paper, because there were just too many words that I didn’t know. And with Chinese characters, looking up unknown words can be particularly painful.

I tried reading books on the computer, with instant access to pop-up dictionaries, but I would often get overwhelmed by the sheer length of the text.

But with this little tablet PC running Windows 2000, I think I’ve found the solution. After rotating the display, I am able to read text on a screen that is roughly the same size and shape as a paperback novel. It feels just like reading a book, but with the magic of instant dictionary access to explain unfamiliar words and phrases. What other e-book reading device can let you install and enjoy your favorite dictionary software?

There’s a lot of potential here. I think this is a better option for portable reading than something like Pleco. One thing I haven’t tried yet is installing Transcriber and playing a synchronized audio book. I’d like to see a Kindle do that!

Transcriber – Secret Tool for Language Learning

I don’t know why nobody ever told me about Transcriber, but since it’s so useful for language learning, I thought I’d share it.

Transcriber can help you with your:

  • reading
  • listening comprehension
  • vocabulary
  • overall fluency

How does it do all of these things? Simply by linking together audio and text, making playback and navigation a cinch.

Here’s a demonstration of simple playback of a ChinesePod lesson. You’ll see how the text has been brought to life, by being aligned with the audio:

You can navigate to any section of the text and instantly hear the audio for that section.

The magic comes when working with materials that you can’t fully understand. You can load an audio, paste in the transcript and start listening, aligning the text as you go. When you encounter a sentence that you don’t fully understand, you can isolate just the word or phrase that gives you trouble and focus your listening on that.

Right now I’m using Transcriber to blast through some ChinesePod dialogues. ChinesePod provides exact transcripts with English translations underneath each paragraph. In Transcriber, I open the dialogue audio, paste in the transcript and process the new material in three passes:

  1. Listen through, aligning each English sentence to the audio.
  2. Take another, more careful pass, this time focusing on the Chinese text as I listen to the audio. When I hear new words that I don’t understand, I might segment the audio to listen carefully to those parts of the sentence a few times. Saying the phrases out loud, with the meaning in mind also helps. Then I might listen to the full sentence again, hopefully understanding it better.
  3. Taking a final pass, I again focus on the Chinese text, ignoring the English. Hopefully I’ll have an easier time understanding the sentences. I may pause a couple times to listen or practice saying some new words, but after that it’s time to move on.

Although Transcriber was not created with language learners in mind, there are many ways it can serve language learners. My little example just scratches the surface. What would a similar piece of software look like if it was designed with language learning in mind? Maybe you could instantly create flashcards with audio for a given sentence, etc.

Transcriber can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OSX or Linux from: here.

Ron Paul’s “The Revolution: A Manifesto” #1 on Amazon

CNN reports: “The Revolution: A Manifesto, released earlier this month, is currently No. 1 on the Web site’s list of top sellers, besting even Oprah’s latest Book Club selection.”

I picked up a copy for myself and have been quite impressed. By the response so far, I think this is going to be big.

I Want My $2 Back

I only had four dollars in my wallet but that would be enough to buy some food. But when I went to check-out at the store, I found two of my dollars were missing!

Where could they have gone?

I found out later on the radio: Bush gives $770m to aid Tanzania.
That’s more than $2 for every man, woman and child in America.

OK, so the money wasn’t actually robbed from my wallet, but philosophically, what is the difference? When people hear reports of government spending, I don’t think they make the connection that all of that money is coming from their wallets.

President Bush is strutting his stuff across Africa, protected by his Praetorian Guard, and raining down cash upon the meek leaders who kneel before him. Who let this spendthrift get his hands on this nation’s credit card?

If I want to give money to Tanzania, I can do so myself.

The government has no money of its own. It has to tax citizens, borrow from others, or simply print the money.

If the government was limited to raising funds via taxation, the people would immediately revolt against such reckless spenders. Instead, Congress simply raises the debt window, and the citizenry continue to believe that their nation is “wealthy”.

How long do you think the Iraq war would last if people had any clue how much it was costing them, this hypothetical situation is an eye-opener:

Gmail – Speed It Up

When Gmail first came out, it was exciting to use an “Ajax” style online email client that was so fast and responsive. By comparison, Hotmail ran like a dog, having to download the full page with every request.

But over the past year, Gmail has become agonizingly slow for me. The reason: the JavaScript processing would lock up my entire web browser for 5-10 seconds at a time! When loading Gmail, my web browser eats up 100% of the available CPU. I desperately wanted a better way to access my email.

To my delight, I tried the little “HTML” link at the bottom of the Gmail screen, and was surprised by the lightning-fast page updates. The HTML-only version of Gmail uses no JavaScript and runs fantastically fast by comparison!

You can bookmark this link to access your Gmail in HTML-only mode:
https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=html&zy=f

Note, however, you’ll miss some JavaScript features, such as the pop-up address list when composing email messages. So you might want to switch back to “molasses-mode” when you need those features. Otherwise, juice it up! Enjoy the speed of HTML-only.

U.S. Intervention Unsustainable

This post is adapted from an email I wrote defending Ron Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy.

Like most people, I desire a stable world, and don’t believe that Ron Paul in any way proposes the withdrawal of honest diplomacy.

At issue here is intervention. Reviewing our history of foreign intervention, can it be said that the U.S. has been a benevolent force, much less a “stabilizing” force? I think the exact opposite appraisal is more likely, even excluding from consideration the latest crimes against Iraq and Afghanistan. Noam Chomsky is perhaps one of the most informed authors on this topic and many of his writings touch on this.

But even if it were possible that our foreign military adventures could be considered a blessing to the world, the fact remains that they will come to an end because they are unsustainable. Chalmers Johnson, former cold-warrior and consultant to the CIA, has been making this point for a number of years. His latest essay (after the brief intro) reflects on our financial situation.

I would highlight the following excerpts (certain lines were made bold by me):

It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense’s planned expenditures for fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations’ military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The United States has become the largest single salesman of arms and munitions to other nations on Earth. Leaving out of account President Bush’s two on-going wars, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the largest since World War II.

…and later:

Such expenditures are not only morally obscene, they are fiscally unsustainable. Many neoconservatives and poorly informed patriotic Americans believe that, even though our defense budget is huge, we can afford it because we are the richest country on Earth. Unfortunately, that statement is no longer true. The world’s richest political entity, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook,” is the European Union. The EU’s 2006 GDP … was estimated to be slightly larger than that of the U.S. …

A more telling comparison that reveals just how much worse we’re doing can be found among the “current accounts” of various nations. The current account measures the net trade surplus or deficit of a country plus cross-border payments of interest, royalties, dividends, capital gains, foreign aid, and other income. For example, in order for Japan to manufacture anything, it must import all required raw materials. Even after this incredible expense is met, it still has an $88 billion per year trade surplus with the United States and enjoys the world’s second highest current account balance. (China is number one.) The United States, by contrast, is number 163 – dead last on the list, worse than countries like Australia and the United Kingdom that also have large trade deficits. Its 2006 current account deficit was $811.5 billion; second worst was Spain at $106.4 billion. This is what is unsustainable.

And he closes with:

Our short tenure as the world’s “lone superpower” has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written:

“Again and again it has always been the world’s leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence, and cultural influence. It’s no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over… the job of being the world’s leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country. In fact we are now the world’s biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone.”

Some of the damage done can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that this country urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States, and ceasing to use the defense budget as a Keynesian jobs program. If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don’t, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression.

I point to Ron Paul as the only politician I have found who is personally well-read on our foreign policy, and can offer a plan to address these issues.