Apr 142009

Well, it’s certainly been awhile, hasn’t it?

It may come as little surprise that life back here at home is significantly less exciting, and thus significantly less interesting to write about, than life backpacking through Asia, South America, and the Middle East. But I suppose reality has to catch up with you sometime, so here I am doing my best to beat it back as quickly and thoroughly as possible πŸ˜›

So far, this bout in Los Angeles has consisted of five (main) rounds. The first of which is FP3D…

Over the past year or so, I’ve frequently referred to a coding project that Peder and I have been developing part time – interleaved with our other jobs and various international adventures. Finishing this project was one of my biggest factors in deciding to fly back from China this February; I figured it’s high time I really kick it into overdrive and push as far towards that final goal as possible.

So what exactly is FP3D, you ask? Many times now I’ve wanted to come out and share its full details, but to maintain a competitive edge (until we’re near ready to ship), I’ve refrained. What I will tell you is that it has to do with 3D visualization for interior design.

If you’re really interested, feel free to login to this page (left sidebar) – I actually have prepared a fairly detailed post that I intend to make public farther on down the line, but for the time being I want to keep it away from those nosy search engines. Once logged in, viewing it requires no special permissions – simply visit the main page and you’ll see it.

FP3D proved to be more than a full-time job for the first couple months I was home, but I’ve now progressed just about as far as I can until Peder returns from his current adventure in India and Thailand to link up our two halves. So for now, I’ve set it aside and moved onto several other projects…

…The second of which is Chinese. This I’ve really been enjoying. It’s now been more than four years since I moved to Kyoto and started studying Japanese – so long that I’d almost forgotten just how much I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of learning a language. But now I’ve got a whole new start, a whole new challenge, and I’m lovin’ it. I can’t wait to get to a point where I can actually converse (although I’m sure that’s still quite a way down the line).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of learning Chinese has been finding all the differences between it and Japanese. Learning the characters, for instance – one of my biggest challenges with Japanese – is an absolute cakewalk this time around; instead, it’s the tones that are really kicking my ass. Being able to correctly pronounce the difference between “ma” (mother), “ma” (hemp), “ma” (horse), “ma” (abuse), and “ma” (question mark) within a sentence is even harder than it sounds. As is pronouncing those weird phonemes that don’t even exist in English (like pinyin’s “qu” versus the retroflex “chu”).

Round three since returning home is another little entrepreneurial attempt that just made its way to the top of the queue late last week: setting up an online marketplace for a big diamond wholesaler downtown. Initially this will be done entirely through eBay – which surprisingly turned into quite a bit more work than I’d anticipated. Far from just “setting up a few auctions,” it’s thus far involved issues with bank accounts & credit cards, shipping contracts, international import/export tax laws, insurance for very high-value items, accepting international wire transfers, determining return policies, designing a nice storefront & per-item template, calculating store fees and seller fees and Paypal fees…lots and lots of logistics. Nothing’s up and running yet – and like FP3D, I still have little idea of when it will be. So for now I’ll just keep plugging away, and keep my fingers crossed that it ends up profitable. In any case, that’s round three.

Round four has been more of a personal project. Every time I return home to Los Angeles, I “set up camp” here at my dad’s house. No use in finding and renting out my own place when chances are I’ll be on the other side of the world in just a few months’ time. But the problem is that my “camp” here…sort of sucks. So with his kind help, I’m now moving into and revamping a different room of the house. I just climbed down from the attic not five minutes ago, and am coughing pretty bad from crawling through asbestos and running speaker wire. But in the end, it’ll be worth it: a nice, cozy place to call home πŸ™‚

Last but not least, round five: the ever-present fitness battle. Unfortunately, two of my favorite hobbies – weight training and world traveling – don’t complement each other very well, so life ends up turning into a bit of a cyclical effort. I train hard, get fit, go abroad, get skinny; train hard, get fit, go abroad, get skinny. Well, I’m happy to say that after just over 2 months (of 5-6 days a week) of hard lifting I’m finally back to where I consider “base-level fitness”…not peak level, but enough to feel comfortable.

So there you have it: the bulk of what I’ve been doing to keep myself busy for the past couple months. Not quite as glorious as sidestepping across kilometer-high rock faces deep in the heart of China, but hey, the bills have got to be paid somehow πŸ™‚

  32 Responses to “Life at Home”

  1. The cat sitting on you is really cute

    Nice GIANT reflective teapot…..I know exactly what you are focusing on with that πŸ™‚

    Glad you are enjoying Chinese πŸ™‚ The language is soooo interesting

    Nice cars

  2. ditto the cat comment πŸ™‚ good luck on all the rounds!

  3. Andy: Well, duh…I was thirsty. I felt like having a lot of tea πŸ˜›

    Linda: Thanx πŸ™‚

  4. yeah……50 gallons of tea sounds quite tempting πŸ™‚

  5. FP3D looks cool. Reminds me a bit of Autodesk’s Project Dragonfly…


  6. Yes,every Chinese character has its own tone.Same pinyin with different tone refers to different character so you must remember every character’s meaning with correct pronunciation (including tone ).Chinese pronunciation is difficult for foreigners to seize πŸ™‚ when i listen to what they said in incorrect tones or pronunciation i always feel very funny!!:-))) Is Chinese studying is more difficult than Japanese studying ?:)

    PS: I am happy that you enjoy studying Chinese!:)

  7. Scott: Cool, thanx for the pointer! I wasn’t actually aware of that product, but there is other very similar one already out there (http://www.floorplanner.com); still not quite what we’re making though πŸ™‚

    Julia: No, Chinese has so far been WAY easier than Japanese, for 2 reasons:
    (1) Chinese grammar is INSANELY simple. While the tones are certainly tough, having to remember 4 tones is still easier than having to remember 50 billion possible grammatical structures, and the SLIGHT nuances and differences between them. Once you do master the tones, in Chinese you can just power forwards memorizing tones – but in Japanese, the grammar never ends.
    (2) Since I already know many of the characters’ meanings, learning words requires memorizing their pronunciation and tone only (as opposed to having to learn how to identify them too). This makes picking up new vocabulary immensely quicker.

  8. You are clever Justin :)! the first photo of you with a cat here is really very cool,i think. who took the photo for you ? my brother thinks that your hair style is very cool,hahaaa !

  9. My mom took it…but I called her over when Booboo (the cat) jumped up and started purring πŸ™‚

    Haha hair “style?” That was right after I’d jumped out of the shower! πŸ˜›


  11. The USA: Yeah, not as interesting as traveling the world, that’s for damn sure πŸ˜›

  12. Hi:) nice to meet u.

    I’m Japanese and I happened to find your website through Why not? japan web-site.

    I have studied Chinese in past,too. But it was sooooooo difficult for me:O
    Enjoy studying!

    I love ur cat:-)

  13. This blog has become lame. Maybe it’ll be better same time next week? πŸ˜‰

  14. That, my friend, is as up to you as it is me πŸ˜‰

  15. Hello,

    sounds good your living place.
    I love Kyoto too.

  16. Justin, where are you?

  17. Hey Cibele! Ironic that you should comment, I was just thinking about you a couple days ago as I flipped through some photos from the trip to Brazil πŸ™‚

    Sorry I haven’t posted in sooooo long…I know…it’s bad. I’m still here back home in Los Angeles; I DO plan to resume this blog (promise!), just as soon as I finish up some (longish-term) personal projects and get back to the ‘fun life’ πŸ™‚

    Hope all’s been well with you~

  18. Hey –
    As a programmer learning Japanese and hoping to spend some time in the Land of the Rising Sun, I stumbled across your blog, and after reading… well, most of it… I’m completely floored and even more excited.

    I’ve been using Heisig’s method (and actually parsed a PDF into a Django site for the sake of randomized flashcards); I’m just closing in on 400 kanji, but it’s going well. Also using Pimsleur’s spoken course, which seems pretty good, and has no required writing portion to interfere with the former.

    Is Anki similar to Mnemosyne? I’ve been trying to use the latter but find it rather clunky, and its spaced repetition to primitive to be helpful.

  19. Hi Eric!

    Sounds awesome. Yeah, if you can make it happen you’ve definitely got some fantastic times ahead of you πŸ™‚ After a total of 2.5 years in Japan, I still can’t get that place out of my head – and ache to go back whenever I leave. My one tip for you: head to Kansai! Tokyo is fun, but for *really* living, 100% of the foreigners I know who’ve lived in both places would chose Kansai over Kanto in a heartbeat πŸ™‚

    Regarding Anki: yep, the concept is the same as Mnemsyne, but its implementation is FANTASTIC. There is a bit of a learning curve before you can appreciate all it has to offer, but it’s under very active development and the guy who’s writing it is lightning-fast on the forums. Not to mention that it’s opensource, so if you know Python you can do literally *anything* by writing your own plugins. It also has an importer for Mnemosyne decks should you decide to make the switch.

    Heisig is a must for self-study, as is SRS. In my opinion, Pimsleur is crap. It’s way too slow and mundane, and doesn’t reflect how people *really* talk. I’d recommend looking through AJATT; I haven’t read too much, but from what I’ve seen I agree with his method. For grammar, this series of books is invaluable: http://www.amazon.com/Dictionary-Advanced-Japanese-Grammar/dp/B001GOVW4M/ref=pd_sim_b_2. For conversation, I started by downloading TV shows from d-addicts and just trying to get off subtitles as quickly as I could, pausing to look up words constantly πŸ™‚

  20. Hm, interesting to know that you don’t like Pimsleur. I knew it was mundane and most likely not great for actual usage, but it didn’t seem completely horrible.

    Haha, d-addicts, huh? I’ll have to see if I can get into that; the only problem I have is zero speaking/comprehension ability. My Japanese experience extends to a couple months in a language club in college (Mandarin was the only Asian language offered as an actual course; the prof asked me not to take the second term — I did quite well but didn’t do, well, any of the homework; beer may have been involved).

    I’ll definitely check out anki; I had previously attempted to put it on my laptop, but I usually avoid qt-based apps, since they often don’t play happily with my oft-abused system (Gentoo). Time to try out the web interface… a quick search doesn’t suggest that the Anki Online code is available, that’d be ideal (Python is my current language of choice).

    Yeah, I definitely caught on that Tokyo is not the place to live… I’m a Minnesota guy, and downtown Minneapolis is big enough for me, so I have no plans to try and implant myself in that monstrosity. From reading your blog, it seems like Kansai is pretty amazing!

    Thanks for all the input! This site is a great motivator for people who are interested in visiting… well, all sorts of other nations, but particularly Japan. πŸ™‚

  21. Hm, interesting to know that you don’t like Pimsleur.

    Well, I guess I should characterize my Pimsleur opinion a little better: I do think it’s handy for getting down the absolute basics in a pinch – for example, I used it before going to Brazil last year. But if it’s a language you actually intend to master (or let’s say “get highly conversational”), I’m not a fan because you’re pretty much stuck with the specific example sentences they give you – which don’t really help comprehend how the language is structured in general (i.e. grammatical rules, individual terms, etc). I also think that using something like Pimsleur for a kanji-based language, where knowing characters immensely eases the task of memorizing vocabulary, leaves you at a bit of a disadvantage.

    The only problem I have is zero speaking/comprehension ability

    Hmm, yeah, d-addicts may be a bit high-level at this point then. But still, it won’t hurt to train your ear on the sound of Japansese – and even if you can pick out a few words here and there, little by little, the list will build… πŸ™‚

    A quick search doesn’t suggest that the Anki Online code is available

    Anki Online, while handy for i.e. smartphones, is definitely not a replacement for the main app. It’s really the ability to search & organize & structure your facts/cards that I love so much about it, and you can’t do any of that from online – that’s simply for drilling.

    I’m a Minnesota guy, and downtown Minneapolis is big enough for me

    Minneapolis! I’ve never been there, but it’s the hometown of one of my favorite Osaka party friends…not to mention the coolest/hottest model in Kansai (hi Em if you’re reading! :P)

    This site is a great motivator for people who are interested in visiting… well, all sorts of other nations, but particularly Japan.

    Thanks for the kind words πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to get back to writing…which will almost certainly coincide with getting back on the road. Hopefully sooner rather than later…

  22. Gotcha; that makes sense. I do have a (very, very) basic understanding of how verbs and particles work (or at least where they go and how they look/sound), so I also picked up a particle reference and have been taking some time to pick apart the (few and unimpressive) examples Pimsleur does provide. I do know I’ll end up still having plenty of tenses (are they even referred to that way?) I’m not familiar with, but in the apparent absence of better aural self-study materials, it seemed like an acceptable compromise — particularly since its utility ought to explode once I get through Heisig volume 2. It’s something to keep me fresh; I do love learning kanji, but the feeling of progress from picking up even a few bits of stilted spoken language has been helpful.

    Regardless, I’ll definitely be programming plenty of Japanese media into my evenings.

    Too bad about Anki Online being light on the feature set; perhaps I’ll see if my Eee wouldn’t mind accommodating the app.

    Minneapolis is a great town; plenty of good restaurants, breweries, etc. The Mississippi has a lot of history attached to it; there’s a Civil War fort that does recreations constantly, an old flour mill that mostly burned down decades ago and got converted into a really interesting museum, a great river walk that’s loaded with night life (well, for the midwest, anyway). And we’re about to hit winter — which isn’t for everyone, but man, it’s gorgeous.

  23. I do have a (very, very) basic understanding of how verbs and particles work.

    Japanese grammar is ludicrously complex, and seemingly endless. In my mind it’s by far the biggest hurdle in the language (moreso than kanji). I studied Japanese in college for a year, then at a Japanese university for a year, plus read two grammar books cover-to-cover and I still regularly come across grammar points I’ve never seen before. If you’ve never taken i.e. an “official” course, I’d at least read all of Tae Kim’s site to get a handle on the basics – pretty much every point on there comes up constantly, and he’s got a great section at the end specifically for colloquialisms.

    And we’re about to hit winter β€” which isn’t for everyone, but man, it’s gorgeous.

    Eeew, winter πŸ˜› A couple hours ago I was jogging along the coast in boardshorts and a tanktop. Now that’s how November should be! hehe πŸ™‚

    (PS, if you like the changing seasons, you’ll LOVE Kyoto…)

  24. Huh, good to know; checkout out Tae Kim’s site, I’ll definitely have to dig into that. No, I’ve never had an official course (the college thing was run by a well-meaning but untrained girl who didn’t do a whole lot more than giggle at us for speaking like women).

  25. Lol! Well-meaning but untrained language teacher eh? I’ve met my fair share of those in Japan…as the vast majority (but not all!) foreigners you encounter! heh πŸ™‚

  26. Argh, I’m used to having a ‘preview’ button and clicked blindly. πŸ™‚

    I’ve always been a fiend for winter — partially because Christmas is my favorite time of year (I’m an atheist, but I have a deep and abiding love for multicolored lights), and that’s just not nearly as impressive without nice big snowbanks to reflect those little incandescents (to hell with LED string lights!).

  27. I can see that. I totally agree that “white winters” are gorgeous as well as enjoyable – in small bits, though. I just don’t like spending multiple months out of the year shivering my ass off πŸ˜›

    If you like xmas, you should check it out in Hong Kong one year. It is a snowless and skyscraper-filled megacity, but the Christmas spirit is just amazing – carolers singing from doubledecker trolleys, multi-story decorated trees every few blocks, parades, and just an overall “Christmasy” feel πŸ™‚

  28. True; my current apartment is wonderfully spacious and HORRIBLY insulated. I think most people are unaware of the practice of plasticking over windows (and sliding doors) to seal up drafts; it’s a real life hack, humorous and a little questionable. And yeah, they get a little long up here… but at least it’s better than Iowa, where there’s NOTHING to block the wind.

    Your Hong Kong Christmas commentary did make it sound pretty brilliant; the decorations and celebrations seem absolutely awesome. That’s something I’m sure I’d love to hit at some point, if I end up in that part of the world during that season. The whole area seems excellent, particularly the areas outside of the city.

  29. Isn’t it time to announce that you passed your level one Japanese exam?

  30. I’m waiting until I finish the website overhaul (almost done) before generating any content activity πŸ˜‰

  31. Holy crap, seriously?! Congrats, that’s awesome! πŸ™‚

  32. Yep! Thanx πŸ˜€

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