Bimoji Training for Nintendo DS

Finally a new “game” has come out for the Nintendo DS that will make me start using it again. Last night I was surfing the Nintendo channel of our Wii while putting off going to bed and came across an advertisement for 美文字トレーニング, a program that helps you improve your handwriting in Japanese. I downloaded the trial version from our Wii to my DS and was instantly hooked.

Penmanship means a lot to Japanese. From kindergarten through high school, children spend countless hours in class learning and practicing how to write properly, and even as adults people still take courses in penmanship and calligraphy. Although I’m not Japanese and never will be, I still compare myself to those around me, and everyone–including my kids–have better handwriting than I do, and it bugs me. Every time I have to put pen to paper, I’m ashamed of my chicken scratch that looks like that of a four year old stroke victim with cerebral palsy.

Here’s how it works. The program shows you a character on one of the DS’s two screens and prompts you to trace it on the other screen in the correct stroke order. When you’re done it gives you grades for balance, detail and stroke width along with praise or advice on how to improve, just like a calligraphy instructor. It covers 3,119 characters including kanji, hiragana and katakana and up to six people can keep track of their progress on one DS.

For 3,800 yen it seems well worth the price and I’m going to stop off and buy it on the way home tonight.

Motoki Log

Motoki Log is the blog of a twentysomething gaikokujin mother of a 3 year old who was born prematurely. I feel like I’m invading her privacy by linking to her, but she’s a very good writer and her son is absolutely adorable. She also has a photo blog.

I’m still fighting back tears after reading her post about the birth of Motoki.

Free online Japanese lessons

A website called Mango, for some unknown reason, is offering free, high-quality, Flash-based language lessons in nine different languages, including Japanese. I took a quick look and there are 101 lessons for Japanese alone, and they teach you in hiragana from lesson one. Hover your cursor over hiragana words and it shows the phonetic pronunciation in English.

Lord only knows why the site is free and doesn’t have any advertising. Maybe from lesson 102 they’re going to teach you how to shop for Coca-Cola at Wal-Mart.

Update #1: Ha! I was right! A little Googling turned up this press release:

The site plans to offer free service through revenue generated by paid advertising as site traffic grows. That is planned to include both banner advertising and “product placement” within the actual language lessons. For example, instead of teaching someone to say “I would like to order a soda” in another language, someone would be taught “I would like to order a Coca-Cola.”

Update #2: Check out my Japlish Podcast with my son Tony.

Oh. My. God. (Unbelievably bad kanji tattoos)

I just came across a blog called “Hanzi Smatter,” which chronicles the butchering of Chinese and Japanese writing in the west.

Oh. My. God.

I can’t stop repeating that over and over as I see some of the tattoos people have gotten. They’re so horrible they’re not funny.

Chinese Tattoo Let’s use this one for an example. It’s no better or worse than any of the others, and that’s what’s so horrifying. It’s really, really bad.

First we have an old character for “money.” One of those big ancient coins, I think. Next, “fugu,” “buku” which means “poisonous blowfish.” absolutely nothing. Next, “a.” (Just the sound “ah.” No meaning whatsoever.) After that, “ouch.” And finally, “love”. Roughly translated, this means, “I’m a complete imbecile.”

Not even to mention the font. It looks like it came out of an inkjet printer.

Honestly, I don’t know what to say. I mean, I see people all the time here wearing T-shirts with English gibberish on them, but for chrissake, they can take the damn things off at the end of the day and throw them in the wash.

If anyone out there has a kanji tattoo, please, don’t ever ask me to translate it. Don’t even show it to me. After seeing so many really, really bad ones, I get the feeling that there’s probably no such thing as a “good one.”

A Blog Worth Reading

Miles Levin was 19 years old when he died of a rare form of pediatric cancer a few days ago. He kept a blog at hospital sponsored web site for people receiving medical treatment and their families. There’s a write up about him on CNN that I just came across, so I hunted down his blog, which is buried rather deep and can’t be linked to because you have to register as a user to access it. But here’s one of his posts from two years ago:

July 7th, 2005.

I went to the driving range the other day and I was thinking…
I was thinking how you start out with a big bucket full of golf balls, and you just start hitting away carelessly. You have dozens of them, each individual ball means nothing so you just hit, hit, hit. One ball gone is practically inconsequential when subtracted from your bottomless bucket. There are no practice swings or technique re-evaluations after a bad shot, because so many more tries remain. Yet eventually you start to have to reach down towards the bottom of the bucket to scavenge for another shot and you realize that tries are running out. Now with just a handful left, each swing becomes more meaningful. The right technique becomes more crucial, so between each shot you take a couple practice swings and a few deep breaths. There is a very strong need to end on a good note, even if every preceeding shot was horrible, getting it right at the end means a lot. You know as you tee up your last ball, “This is my final shot, I want to crush this with perfection; I must make this count.” Limited quantities or limited time brings a new, precious value and signficance to anything you do. Live every day shooting as if its your last shot, I know I have to.

I found out today 5 year survival rates are just 20%.


The latest tool in my video arsenal

SUPER © is a video conversion swiss army knife coded by an extremely long-winded and perhaps slightly insane Frenchman. Pick any two video codecs and SUPER © will convert between them. I’m using it to make the new flash videos you see here. This free utility works better than software I paid good money for. (Flash Video Studio 1.7, $50 wasted.)

Slickr: The Flickr screensaver

If you like browsing through Flickr as much as I do (or if you want your son’s latest photos to be your screensaver), get it here. It does what you’d expect it to, plus two tricks:

  • Press D and the current photo becomes your destop picture.
  • Press the space bar to go to the current photo’s Flickr page.

Kanji lookup

In Japanese Windows 2000 or XP there’s a utility to lookup kanji characters by drawing them with your mouse, but if you can’t draw them well enough you’re screwed.

This site will let you lookup characters by choosing radicals. I just found it and it saved me the embarrassment of having to ask a coworker to read for me. (I hate doing that. It’s a man thing, like refusing to ask for directions.)