Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What's your Spanish Level?

Did you know there is an international grading system for judging foreign language proficiency? There is! "CEFR" is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Your CEFR level is mostly used when speaking with potential employers, but can also be used to predict and manage the time required to achieve your own language learning goals.

This article will show you how.

Best Way to Improve Your Vocabulary While Reading

You know reading foreign language books will help your vocabulary, but HOW exactly do you do that, in a fun way?

It is no secret I think the best way to improve your vocabulary in general is flashcards.

But...I will be the first to admit that creating flashcards is tedious.

I believe most people that commit to creating flashcards while reading will either stop creating the flash cards while they read, or just stop reading entirely.

There must be a better way, right? One that's fun, and also efficient? I believe there is, and it requires a little upfront investment but I feel like this trick is well worth the effort.

Best Way to Improve your Spanish Vocabulary

The average 4-year-old knows 5,000 words in their native language. By 8? 10,000 words. Most adults have a vocabulary between 20,000-35,000 words in their native language.

Amazing, huh? You can test your Spanish (or other language) vocabulary size to see where you are.

As an example, when I first took this test my vocabulary size was approximately 3,000 words, which explains why only understood half of what the average 5 year old said :-).

So what to do about this? How can I increase my vocabulary so I can hold a conversation with the average adult?

Friday, December 4, 2015

How to get a local SIM card in Chiang Mai, Thailand, c.2015

Very specific post, but this blog is all very specific tips and tricks anyway, so why not.
You find yourself in Chiang Mai, and even though you have T-Mobile's excellent roaming capabilities via their new Simple Choice plans (heartily recommend!), you want a local number so local folks can contact you more easily.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server in Amazon Web Services won't boot after yum update

Happy New Year, fellow people trying to make things work.

Hopefully everyone is mostly succeeding despite the fact the war on entropy cannot be won.

Interesting problem this morning, in a quest to live a more portable life I just moved all my services from a home network to Amazon Web Services. Great deal on the Free Tier there, perfect thing to evict all your local services and get them in the cloud.

Problem is, I did the normal thing you'd expect to work after bringing up the Amazon instances - a simple 'yum update'.

yum did it's thing, packages were updated, and things looked just fine. You can't be sure your changes are good until you reboot though, and here's where the trouble started.

After a yum update on the stock RHEL 6 AMI, your AWS instance will fail to boot. You go to grab the system log from the instance and you see this most unhappy nugget at the bottom:

VFS: Cannot open root device "LABEL=_/" or unknown-block(0,0)

That's not a good moment. You're not alone though. An example with links to more info:

So, root cause is that Amazon Web Services has to use custom kernels in order to deal with their storage infrastructure. Hey, that's totally understandable - I'm not sure how they'd implement it if not that way, and I'm not paying anything anyway so I am certainly not complaining.

But I'm still not booting, and that's not good.

So here's how you pull your instance back to the land of the living, courtesy of Alex Bell:

The thing you need to change (assuming you followed Alex's instructions to mount the EBS volume) is /mnt/boot/grub/grub.conf - specifically deleting the first kernel stanza and leaving only the entry for the Amazon-specific "ec2-starter" etc kernel there so your instance will boot.

Finally, to stop this from ever happening again what you need to do is fire up ye ol' 'vi /etc/yum.conf' and add an 'exclude=kernel*' as the last line in the block of header lines so the kernel is never updated again automatically.

Anyone else seen this? Any other "hey I'm an AWS n00b" problems I should look for next?

Hope this helps someone.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to make your Android home screen useful (iphone -> android transition 4)

Common preamble: I'm looking to break my Apple iDevice addiction so I can get off the expensive hardware treadmill. So I'm transitioning to Android. I have a MacBookPro running 10.8.x as my main device. I'm currently on an iPhone 3GS after I sadly lost a pristine iPhone 5 in the woods, and my wonderful mother donated her used Samsung Galaxy S3 when she upgraded, so here we go.

One thing Apple does well is allow you to unlock the phone and get into the app you need with 2 taps maximum, when configured well. You've got your most used apps on the bottom available on all screens, then you can make folders to collect most-used apps of a similar type on your main screen, and you're just about guaranteed to be 2 taps from getting something done.

Android by default appeared to me to be a big pretty wasteland when I first turned it on. You can't fit too much on any screen and things are spread all over the place. You have to tap a ton to do anything. What gives? Apparently this is another part of the "just works" vs "you can configure everything" iphone vs android philosophy. And I don't mind that, I guess I'm just surprised that the defaults are so awful so much of the time, and this is an area I think the iphone gets right.

So how to fix it so you're back to 1-tap mostly, and 2-tap max for your apps? You need a "Launcher".

I read a bunch of reviews and settled on NovaLauncher. It does exactly what I need and isn't too difficult to configure.

I went hog-wild at first and configured something like 7 virtual screens etc, before I realized I was having to think a lot about where things were, at which point I went the other way and have just two screens now - one that is as efficient and dense as I can make it, and the other for "everything else".

I configured it for a grid of 5x8 icons (I'm on a relatively roomy galaxy S3 remember) along with a dock. I have dragged my most used single apps to the dock (mail, go sms pro, etc) so they are all there, then for the other icon spots I've added any of the apps I use to the launcher, then dragged them into 4-icon groupings by plopping them on to each other. I added a 1-row google search widget at the top so I can find anything quickly in a pinch, then a 2-row weather widget (which is pretty ridiculously inefficient but I like weather), and I still have access to 104 different apps with 2-taps maximum, and I can see all the icons so I don't have to think about it.

Not bad.

I know my app usage patterns change over time so I put apps I'm trying out, or infrequently use, or that are being kicked out in favor of new apps on the other "everything else" screen, and keep the main screen efficient. That's worked for me on the iphone for a few years so I can't see why it wouldn't work here.

You guys have better ways of organizing a screen for maximum getting-things-done-ness and I'm missing the boat on something? Clue me in if so. Cheers!

Android Mail - using email on Android can be awesome (iphone -> android transition 3)

Common preamble: I'm looking to break my Apple iDevice addiction so I can get off the expensive hardware treadmill. So I'm transitioning to Android. I have a MacBookPro running 10.8.x as my main device. I'm currently on an iPhone 3GS after I sadly lost a pristine iPhone 5 in the woods, and my wonderful mother donated her used Samsung Galaxy S3 when she upgraded, so here we go.

As mentioned in passing in the second post in this series I have a lot of email accounts, and over time they've all ended up hosted by google.

You'd think the default Android email app would be great then, or the gmail app would be good on Android, but for a couple reasons I believe they suck. The main reason is that they don't provide a unified inbox for all your accounts on a single screen. I had no idea this was a thing, having gotten used to the built-in iphone mail app, but apparently it is. And the default clients just don't get it. I'm not going to get one new mail in each of 5 clients and spend a lot of time thumbing into and out of the various inboxes - that's my main use case and it's horribly inefficient. Unified inbox is non-negotiable.

Search around the internets and you see lots of reference to K-9, but apparently that app has gone rogue with offshoots from old forks, a new "Kaiten" version, and updates to the K-9 app itself which apparently suck. So I stayed clear, but it may work for you.

The one I finally went with was MailDroid. Configured it up pretty easily (or as easily as it can be when you have all 5 of your google accounts configured for 2-factor authentication and you have to generate application-specific passwords, which you do so your account isn't easily attacked, right?), et voila, pretty configurable control over how each account works (using server folders where desired, how many mails to load etc) and a unified inbox.

MailDroid gets bonus points for allowing me to shrink fonts for real to get more info on the screen, for allowing me to indulge my college-days hacker self with a reverse video theme, and for allowing me to easily set a global signature and global connection settings.

Have you discovered a client better than MailDroid? Any tips or tricks if you are using MailDroid?