My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Inanimacy -- One of the Weird Things about Teaching English Grammar in Japan

One of my lead teachers is using a book called Grammar 80 or something like that.

It presents 80 examples of applied English grammar that some Japanese teachers of English seem to think need special attention.

I don't think the book itself is bad. It has issues. Any attempt to write such a book on budget and get it on the market is going to have issues. Some of the issues in the orginal printing have been addressed, or even fixed. Some remain.

I do not think the school that employs me is bad for using the book as a textbook. Well, not especially bad. It's typical of the things private schools do here, and the practice is, unfortunately, spreading to public schools. (Such as my daughter's school. Ick. The things I have to fix when she comes home. Talk about pushing that stone up that hill.

Teaching to the tests is not my present topic.

(You know, I'm sure Kate Bush was channeling Sisyphus when she did that song. Oh. Some people will think that video is not safe for work, I guess. I'm an aging dancer. To me it's more about responsibility in relationships in general than about sex in particular, but I do admit explaining that to some teen-agers is difficult.)

No, teaching to the tests is not my present topic. I think I've blogged about tests before, but I only find an incomplete post in the summer English blog from two years ago. Looking in the wrong places, maybe.

Tests are supposed to be an adventure. But that is not what I'm talking about.

The unit from Grammar 80 that inspired this rant was on the topic of inanimacy in English: 無生物主語、 or inanimate subjects.

Weather prevented the airplane from taking off. 
This seems to be a surprise to Japanese academics because "preventing" is something people do, not something the weather should do.

According to their incomplete dictionaries.

Another example:
How fast computers develop! New computers enable us to do a lot more work than last year's models.
Now I've fixed those examples, and I'll return to their original form shortly.

But what is this?

English is a language in which animacy, if it was ever a grammatical principle in the old language, has almost entirely disappeared. Some point to gender diferentiation as a vestige of animacy, but that is a theory.

Just a theory.

Animacy is a principle in Japanese grammar, yes.

But the problem is that dictionaries fail to provide sufficient definition, fail to point to both the animate and inanimate corrolary vocabulary and idiom in Japanese. Or that students don't look far enough.

We are wasting two hours of high school students' valuable time talking about examples of theoretical issues that are better the topic of post-graduate theses.

Ten words of explanation, two example sentences, move on to more important things.

And then there is this example about "my father preventing me from marrying an actor". Well, I guess, if they are going to use this as an excuse to demonstrate uses of "prevent", it's a good example, even though it seems to reach beyond the unit title.

(Not sure if it does to the Japanese academic. There may be some obscure grammar in operation on the Japanese side that drags certain animate subjects into the tangle of inanimacy grammar. Something to look into at some point.)

This one, I'm going to quote verbatim:
Law prevents lots of bad things from happening.
There was one student last week that came up to us after class and asked about the logical issues of that sentence. The lead teacher is not temperamentally equipped to deal with such questions, and, really, five minutes between classes is not enough time. But he seemed to be sufficiently satisfied when I admitted that the sentence has logical issues in either language.

(The teacher said, "Please don't confuse the students."


She's a good teacher, mind you. Very good.

The system is the problem, not the textbook, not the teacher, not the school.

I'm walking on thin ice, I know.)

Now, the original of the sentence about computers was something like this:

New computers enable us to do a lot more work than the computers sold last year.
(Ignoring the fact that it is an outdated bit of sales blurb, ....)

These poor kids are being taught the use of passive before they are being taught the use of active from junior high school.

They are being taught style instead of grammar, and, inevitably, they are being taught inappropriate style,

... because they are trying to teach English as if it were chained to ages of forced formalisms, just as Japanese is supposed to be (but is not).

Many good teachers. Lots of great students doing their best. Many good schools.

The problem, as it always is, is the system.

But there is good news. Modern Japanese is losing the formalisms. This also creates generation gap issues and other such problems, but, hey, we are problem solving creatures.

As long as the system doesn't get reactionary and try to keep individuals from trying to solve their own problems, we can work around these kinds of things.

Keeps life interesting.

Entanglement Easter Egg? 'Norah Jones — Pointer Song'

I was looking around for some indication that someone has had at least partial success in re-writing Unix in Ada, and found the Dargauds' pages on programming quotes (

There was/is a quote on the page about taking a break from programming and listening to Norah Jones's Painter Song (solopsism, "Pointer Song" was the joke), and I was feeling obtuse, so I took a listen on Youtube.

Returning to the quotes page as she picked back up after the bridge, I suddenly got a voice-over, "Don't use language like that! Use C++."

Weird timing for Guillaume's audio on that page. Had me wondering whether he'd written it to trigger only on Norah's song playing in another window. Or even to dig deeper and find open browser windows with pages about Ada showing.

Couldn't find the "show source" button in Firefox just now. I know it's there somewhere, just can't remember where in this "advanced" UI.

Climbed the URL to the home page and got more sounds. Now I'm assuming it was just a glitch in the event management that held the voice-over off.
 Well, reading a few more quotes, I see that when "C" (the language) shows up in the text, it often is linked to a page about C in particular, and those links have a rollover that activates the voiceover. It was just a coincidence.

(Still, I shut firefox down and rebooted. --> various complaints about javascript elided.)

Incidentally. I've tried C++. Don't like it. Sometime, maybe I'll blog about why, but I have more important things to do right now.

Thinking about Learning Ada -- Could You Write Unix in Ada?

I'm pretty much dissatisfied with every programming language I know. But I used to think Pascal was not too terrible, and Ada has a reputation for getting right many of the things C++ gets wrong.

The question is, Can it be used for the kind of programming I tend to do? If it is a good language, why hasn't anyone built something like Linux using Ada?

This is a list of stuff that came up when I started casually looking for work on implementing a Unixish kernel and userland in Ada:

I'm not finding all the links I found yesterday, but it's enough to make me curious enough to see if I can pick up Ada. I'll try to update this list as I do so.

I'll also try to post some of my self-education efforts on my languishing Programming Fun blog.

(By the way, I did find enough to be sure that Ada is not going to be my dream language. Just enough to get me interested in seeing what I can do with it.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why I Can't Use the Phrase "Re-inventing Wheels" as an Insult

Many times you hear someone accuse someone else of "re-inventing the wheel" in a tone of derision.

Sometimes I say that someone is re-inventing the wheel.

But, from me, that can't be an insult.

You see, if I could find someone to sponsor me, I'd be re-inventing the entire information industry infrastructure.

Information encoding? Yeah. I want to replace Unicode with an encoding standard that would encompass the functionality of asn.1 and sgml in one rational, accessible whole, not to mention make embedding binary data in text work much more smoothly. And reduce or eliminate glyph aliasing with out-of-context characters. And separate the international encoded sets from the national encoded sets, to help reduce such aliasing and make regular expressions work better in local contexts.

That's definitely re-inventing a lot of things perceived as wheels, not presently worth the attention of further refinement.

Programming languages? Yeah. I want to re-invent the language C, the runtime, add a couple of storage classes to reduce the problems of overwriting local variables and controlling concurrent access from separate threads, and add little bits to function declaration and call syntax. And I want to reinvent a language called FORTH, so it would be more amenable to being used as a user interface shell language, among other things. And re-invent Unix with a new executable object format supporting all this. That's going to be equivalent to an earthquake in userland, not to mention in the system itself.

Networking? Of course. I want to get rid of IPv6 and implement nested IPv4 addressing. Make NATted addresses optionally visible externally, to open up more static addresses and reduce the incentive for ISPs to charge through the nose for a static address, for starters.

CPUs? Those too. Intel has been burning up resources building their monopoly on the CPU market for far too long. ARM helps, but too many manufactures are too willing to play games trying to lock their customers in. And no one really supports proper separation of user resources in current CPUs. We need to focus away from raw speed and more on stability and securability.

And so on.

Yeah, I want to re-invent wheels. So, if I merely note that someone is re-inventing wheels, that, in and of itself, is not evil. And I do not intend insult by it.

Re-inventing wheels is good for many reasons, and not just to provide churn for the sales crew to work.

(Re-inventing wheels solely for sales churn is somewhat evil, but it can be better than keeping the world as it is. I should rant about that sometime, too.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

conspiracy update -- my siggy

Not wanting to take time for a complete re-write, I updated an old post on conspiracies today.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ender's Game -- エンダーのゲーム

[Update, 17 July 2015 -- There are many things I want to say about Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. Too many things. Could not get everything I wanted to say into a single post, so I ended up saying almost nothing beyond noting that the book was engaging enough to keep me up all night for a re-read. I'll add a few comments, mixed into the original weak post.]

I was at Kinokuniya on a Friday night a couple of months ago looking for some new teaching materials and thinking things like, "I could make something better than this if I had the time." and "Would this save me enough time to be the limits it imposes?"

And I found a novel from deep in my past.

A really good friend gave me a copy of the original novelette more than twenty-five years ago, so I picked it up to read a few pages. I ended up reading it until closing time, buying a copy, reading it on the train, and finishing it, standing up in the light by the ticket machines at my station, before I went home at about 3:30 Saturday morning.

[One of the less important thoughts I had was to compare the relationship of the original novelette to the novel by offering a parallel with Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night and The City and the Stars. But all that really does is to point out that authors do, sometimes, re-write their own works.]

I get lonesome for English, and, in truth, if I don't read, my English goes downhill.

But I can put Harry Potter or Heinlein or even Bradbury down. [Or Clarke.]

Ender's Game is a good book, very thought-provoking, and not badly written at all.

Orson Scott Card's prose is reasonably clean, so it should also be a good novel for non-native students of English, as well.

[I have noticed a trend, as personal computers allow people to write more and write more quickly, away from the careful editing and honing that used to be a part of the publishing process. 

Scott acknowledges the imperfections in the novel. Some of them were partially addressed, to varying effect, in producing the movie.

No literary work is perfect. So what? Go read Wuthering Heights, and think about what we'd miss if we insisted on perfection.

I'd still prefer to use Word Perfect 3 for serious writing, rather than any of the word processing software we have available today, but that thought has nothing to do with Ender's Game.]

The novelette and the novel are not the same. Some differences are minor, some not so minor. But it's the same story.

I also rented the DVD. Showed it to my daughter. She thought it was interesting, but not as interesting as her anime. She isn't going to suddenly decide to try to read the novel in English, at least, not until she's finished with The Wizard of Oz.

The movie is significantly different from the novel. Some of the differences are substantial.

[But they do not interfere one of the more important messages of the book, one which becomes more and more important as our modern society becomes ever more "modern". Bad things happen when people manipulate people, even with good intent. And then we have to let the world go on without what might have been.]

The DVD shows some cut scenes that I think I agree should not have been cut. It might have made the ending more readable, but the ending should be readable to any serious science fiction fan.

[Those scenes would have made the movie more satisfying, and more understandable, I think. Spoiling the ending should not have been a concern.]

Movies do not always have to have O'Henry-style surprises.

[I think I want to emphasize one message from the book: Failing banks, failing nations, marketing wars that destroy the foundations of the industries the markets were founded on. Why are we so sure have to win it all?

And I recommend the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, as well. It is not the usual more-of-the-same that you have in sequels.]

Thursday, July 9, 2015

reminder -- ssh fingerprints

This is a quick reminder to myself about connecting via ssh to various sites, such as with subversion or other source code repository tools.

When the site lists its fingerprint as something like

SSH2/RSA     2048     86:7b:1b:12:85:35:8a:b7:98:b6:d2:97:5e:96:58:1d

(Note, I am not trying to mirror keys here. If anyone reading this needs the keys for some site, such as the one I linked to above at one point, that person should go to the site itself, and complain loudly if keys can't be found.)

That format is the old, less secure MD5 format.

Go into the ssh configuration file for the user, probably something like


and add or uncomment this line:


But be sure to comment it back out when done, so you use the more secure protocol options instead.

(Should edit this when I'm awake again to add the site specifier line, which partially mitigates the problem of choosing the less secure protocol options. And otherwise say more sensible things.) 

(Also need to complain loudly to said site about not publishing the SHA256 fingerprint keys yet.)