Archive for the 'computers' Category


What Jerusalem Day and Teachers’ Day and Spock have in common

spockWithout teachers, there might not be a Jerusalem.  How’s that, you might ask.  Well, it is a matter of “Tradition” as goes the song in “Fiddler on the Roof.”  There has always been the Jewish tradition of teaching the next generation.  The whole liturgy of the Passover is one big object lesson for kids.  While university professors were lecturing away, enjoying the sound of their own voice, doing a data dump in their bored students’ minds, rabbis were facilitating before facilitators were in vogue.  Talk about home-schooling, Jewish mothers would teach the Hebrew aleph-bet by baking cookies in the shape of the letters.

When will educators leave behind the old Greek oratory lecture method of teaching and enter into interactive learning?  The Digital Age of Education is how we will teach the next generation.  It has to be quick, memorable, visual, putting the student in the driver’s seat.  This is scarey for the 20th century educator.  But I say to you, give it up!  Even Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has given his mantle to Zachary Quinto, Elijah/Elisha style, ensuring future generation of Trekkies.   See them together in Audi advert.

Right now I am developing an online course for the most ancient of languages:  Hebrew.  This will not be a course for old fogies who want a grammar lesson.  This is meant for kids–because they are the ones who need to find Hebrew fun, because it is.  Through a company called iSpring, I have been able to make powerpoint presentations and upload them on their site.  They convert them to flash presentations.  But this is the kicker–they keep all my animations–which are essential to the method of the course.  Also, the student has control on the slides: the student can set the pace. Other website where you can upload your ppt don’t always offer these features.  That is where YouTube doesn’t cut it–a video is too fluid–it’s gone before you know it.  No time for reflection.  With iSpring, a student can stop one a slide as long as needed.  it’s easy to go back and repeat.  In learning languages, it’s all about repetition.  The student can hear the word as many times as necessary.  What is good about iSpring is that it accommodates a language written right to left. Also, there is no problem mixing the English with the Hebrew.

Also, at the end of each module, there is a game, what some would call a quiz. For learning to take place, real learning, students need to have the opportunity to check what they have studied, and many times, the learning actually takes place during the game.

This course is a great way for kids who are preparing for their Bar-Mitzva and Bat-Mitva to actually learn how to read Hebrew and have fun.  After this course, they can easily learn to read the prayers and scripture that they need to know.  And if some adults who are still kids at heart want to learn how to read Hebrew, they can enjoy it too.

In the Jewish tradition, I am searching for beta-testers.  I welcome interaction from participants where I can learn from you.


Spring is Here in the UK!

We have had a dreary winter so far.  After Christmas I felt like I was living in Finland but without the snow plows.  The rain makes life damp here and you feel it in your mattress when you go to bed at night.  But, somehow, Spring is here!  Well, virtually anyway. I am a lonely instructional designer who is holed up in my bedroom-office.  I am trying to get our business going since that is about the only way you can get work now in the UK–you got to do you own thing.  But of course, I’m in a Catch-22–no work–no money–no money–no business.  But then came iSpring to give me the leg up that I need.

You see, I am developing a new type of language learning concept — for Hebrew.  Since I am still learning Hebrew myself, and I’m doing the graphics, and I’m doing the IT, my mind is juggling quite a lot.

Once I got some prototype modules done for beta-testing, I needed a platform.  Who would host a powerpoint presentation and keep all my little animations and click when you’re done pages, and my sounds, and still give me quality.  And, who could keep it private for me?  For free.  Like I said, Spring came.  iSpring.

Not only that, when I had some technical difficulties, some one actually wrote right back THE VERY SAME DAY!  Yes, I said some one, meaning a real person like Helen.  A real personality.  No automatic email.

This is all for free.  Thank you, iSpring, for shedding a little bit of sunshine on the rainy UK.


What they don’t tell you that could help you learn a language

When you wonder why you have difficulty learning a foreign language, before you beat up on yourself, consider this: a lot of language learning programs are not just stuck in the 20th century, but they might even be in the Middle Ages.  Try some of these techniques and let me know how you get on:

1.  Listen.  Before you try to talk, listen–a lot.  The first thing you want to do is to learn how to hear the music of the language.  Just sit back, relax, listen, and let it roll into your ears.  Have fun with it.  Notice the funny sounds.  Listen for about ten minutes every day for a week.  See if you can pick out your target language from other languages.  Listen to a two minute recording over and over again.  See what works for you.

2.  Get movies in your target language with English subtitles.  Maybe some of the foreign films from the Academy Award nominations will help you. Enjoy the movie.  Get to know the culture of your target language.   If you can get a dubbed version of your favorite TV show like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, or The Office,  that helps too.

3.  If you want a tutor to help you, plan your own lessons.  What do you want to know how to say?  Do you want to know how to order at Starbucks? Write it down.  Give the list to your tutor.  Sometimes the best tutor is someone who knows your target language and will be willing to follow what you want.  Sometimes, the best tutors are the ones who had to painfully learn the language like you did. Their accent will be easier for you to understand.  A native speaker is good as you get further along.

4.  Don’t repeat what you hear.  Just learn to listen.  There is no rush to repeat.  Ask your tutor to teach you different commands to which you can respond–like the game “Simon Says.”  You only obey the commands without speaking.  It gets your body involved.  The language is real to you.  And you don’t have to say anything.  You just want to know how to start learning how to recognize words:  Close the window.  Open the door.  Can I have a glass of water please?  You don’t have to understand every word.  You succeed if you do what your tutor asked you to do.

5.  After you have listened to the language for a few weeks, have been able to fulfill requests, now you may want to talk.  But again, make sure that you have listened to what you want to say enough times.  Sometimes, you may need to slow it down.  Sometimes you may need to hear it many, many times–especially in the beginning.

6.  Do not repeat it aloud.  First, repeat your responses in your mind.  Don’t repeat them aloud until you are happy with what you hear in your head.  Each time you listen for it in your head, you are creating synapses which will help you be more successful when you say it aloud.  For instance, take a phrase that you want to learn how to say.  Listen to it three times at least.  Then listen and repeat it in your mind.  Do this three times.  Now you are ready to repeat it aloud–even if it is only to your golden retriever.  He’s very non-judgmental.

7.  Make sure that your tutor only corrects you if you cannot be understood–not if your articulation is not perfect.  You are just beginning.  Remember pronunciation is caught not taught.  It comes over a long period of time.  Be patient with yourself.


The Results of No Internet for a Month

I moved just a block away, but being in India, it took a month to get my internet connected again because I was in a postal Bermuda triangle.  The internet providers couldn’t agree in what sector I belonged.  It was a very interesting time for me, and afterward I considered having a Shabbat from the internet.

Being an ex-pat in India, the internet fills a special need for me–it helps me feel connected with my friends who have the same background as I do, the same memories. They take me back to my hometown without me having to mess with airport security in smelly bare feet after being ordered to take off my potentially lethal shoes.

Since I am not fluent in the local language here, I am isolated to an extent in my “real world.” Playing cultural bumper cars all day long, every day, gets tiring, confusing. Coming on to Facebook, iming, twittering, and getting emails from 10k miles away kept me centered. And then I was cut off and had to join the real world here–a National Geographic documentary that doesn’t stop and has no commercials. And this is what I learned:

1. Because I had more free time in the real world, my house was cleaner, more organized. I noticed dirt and clutter that my cyber eyes were blind to before.

2. I developed a hunger for human companionship, making me more patient listening to garbled English and more out-going in practicing what I knew of the local language. I took more time with people–just sitting around drinking tea. I couldn’t flip the web pages now. I had to stay on the same channel in the real world.

3. I cooked more interesting foods like hummus and sharma.

4. I re-decorated part of my house using clay pots I found at local markets I didn’t know existed.

5. I almost got back into drawing and painting again.

6. I started doing yoga again, and my backache from too much time at the computer was gone.

7. I spent more time with my dog, running around and playing, training him out of bad habits.

After a few days, I didn’t miss having the internet as much as I thought. I almost didn’t want the engineer to come and hook me up again. Did I really spend so many hours in that darkened dusty room?  Was I a mole?

And then, when I finally did get hooked up, I found a lot of my “friends” didn’t really notice. There wasn’t the avalanche of emails that I thought that I would be buried under. There were no desperate messages on Facebook. I was a tree that fell in the cyber forest and nobody heard.

And now, since I got an overseas contract to do some writing–I will be forced to connect my life with the internet as never before. I tried so hard to just teach English here and be with animate humans, but the pay is lower than my chances of getting the Pultizer Prize. Again, I am part of the Borg.

Since I am eccentric, only on the internet can I find people who think as I do. How many people do you know are interested in Canine Homeopathy, the Torah from a Christian perspective (especially if you live where I live), and watching Grey’s Anatomy in French (it’s too boring in English now) ?

However, the internet, just like the net that the fishermen use on the beach that I can see outside my window (not XP), it can be cut easily. Come on. You know that the day is coming where we better know how to live without the internet–when we have black-outs due to terrorism or stupid corporate cuts that lead to under-skilled engineers and poor infra-structure. The Y2K phobia might have got the actual date wrong, but we better be taking lessons from the Amish.

PS  Thanks to Alvin Saldanha for his inspiration.


Ten Signs that Showed Columbus He Wasn’t in India

Over 500 years ago, if Christopher Columbus had observed these signs, he would have known he wasn’t in India.

1. There was no sign of the British Raj. There were no pink men going around in tin hats speaking bad Hindi.

2. He saw women. The women of India would have been in purdah. The women he saw were wearing something like today’s  beach wear at Club Med. The women in India were/are wrapped in saris.

3. There was not the smell of curry. But to be honest, chilies hadn’t reached India either.

4. There was no Bollywood music blaring from a loudspeaker. But then in the West Indies, they would have had reggae music, no?

5. The beach wasn’t littered with trash from last night’s snack and drink like at Marina Beach.

6. When he got off the boat, there weren’t cab drivers offering him the scenic route and places to buy carpets.

7. No one tried to get him married to their brother’s sister cousin.

8. No one insisted that he and his crew come to their house for a masala dosa on a palm leaf (although they had the palm leaves).

9. There was no Keralite selling tea at a tea stall.

10. There were no off-shore IT businesses trying to recruit his crew.


When Your Dell Catches on Fire, Watch the Dell Warrenty Burn Up

One year ago around this time, early on a Sunday evening, my Dell Inspiron decided to catch on fire. This is according to the forensic evidence of the  fire cheif. The laptop had been a gift from a friend of mine in America. Being a true friend, she also bought me a three-year warranty. I had called the Dell helpdesk in the USA, and they had been very helpful. They even sent a motherboard to me by Fedex. But soon they told me that I my warranty would have to be transferred to the International Dell. So when I had the fire, Dell USA said they couldn’t help me because the warrenty was under the International Dell in India. India Dell wouldn’t help me because they said the laptop was bought in the USA.

Thank God that India uses concrete to build their homes or my neighbours would be living somewhere else. As it was, only my office and all its contents were destroyed.  Thank God also that the little white puppy I just got wasn’t in his cage near the computer. The smoke of course damaged the rest of my apartment. But Dell could care less. I’d upload the photos, but it’s too depressing. I have an Acer now.