June 21, 2008

At just a little after 6am this morning (after just three hours of labor!) my wife gave birth to our first child, William Jeffrey Biesnecker (???), a 2.95kg (6.5lb) baby boy. While we weren’t expecting him to pop out quite so soon (the due date was July 13), both baby and mommy are doing fine. The nurses say he’s an eater — he goes through those 20ml milk meals like they were appetizers for the main course — and he’s barely cried even once (though we’ll see how he does tonight).

The delivery went smoothly, and my wife is expecting to stay in the hospital until Monday or maybe Tuesday. Her parents are staying with her during the day, and I’m going to be there at night.

The photo is of Will taken about 3 hours after delivery — he takes after his mom which, I think we can all agree, is a good thing given the options :) Thanks to everyone for their e-mailed, twittered, SMSed, and Facebooked well-wishes!

ItalianPod launched yesterday, joining ChinesePod, SpanishPod, and FrenchPod in the Praxis Language family of language products. Catherine and Marco have been a joy to work with, and their energy comes through in the podcasts (check out their first lesson, You Need a Girlfriend — it’s fantastic).

Having them around is enough to make me want to learn at least a little Italian, so I have been, working their lessons into my study. After reading this post on All Japanese All the Time and doing some research into how Rosetta Stone works (and has become successful) for work, I wanted to try incorporating images into my Anki flashcards to see how it affected recall, and decided to start with Italian.

So far I’m enjoying the addition — while it is time consuming, I think combining mediums is important when learning, and it certainly makes reviewing my flashcards more enjoyable (I crack up every time I see that poor cat). I’m adding photos to all (or at least most — some concepts just don’t lend themselves well to being represented by images) of my flashcards, and I should know in a few months whether or not it improves recall enough to offset the time it takes to create the cards (my gut says it does, though).

June 8, 2008

Yesterday it rained hard, twice (once in the afternoon and again at night), the sort of rain that punctuates every Central Florida afternoon but is seldom seen in Shanghai. We were thankfully inside during both, and were able to enjoy the thunder and lightning without any of the side effects.

Today it’s wet and muggy, the rain seeming to have none of the cleansing effect that rain should by all rights have.

Post: Is self-preservation a firing offense?, by Joel Martinsen. Danwei, 1 June 2008.

If running out of a classroom at the beginning of an earthquake and leaving your students behind is OK, asks Fan, then why is writing about it not? Maybe because saying things like “I’d save my daughter before I saved my mother, and I wouldn’t sacrifice myself for anyone else” makes you look like like a morally reprehensible bastard? There are probably quite a lot of us who would, in the situation Fan faced, do the same thing (it’s hard to predict how you’d react in an emergency until you’re in one) — but I hope we’d at least be able to eek out an apology.

Article: China’s Cyber-Militia, by Shane Harris. National Journal Magazine, 31 May 2008

The idea that PLA hackers are behind a pair of cascading power failures (including North America’s largest ever blackout) is an extreme one, but given the Chinese interest in asymmetric warfare it makes sense. I have no doubt that the military and industrial espionage described in the article occurs, and I would be ashamed and upset to discover that we aren’t giving as good as we are getting.

May 13, 2008

I woke up this morning with a fistful of e-mails in my inbox asking if my wife and I were OK. It took me a few groggy, half-awake seconds to connect their concern with the earthquake yesterday in Sichuan.

Thankfully, yes, we’re fine. Apparently tall buildings in Shanghai swayed, but our office is short and squat and, with the construction going on around it, if I did feel anything I probably just chalked it up to heavy machinery. My wife’s office is in a high-rise, but only on the 7th floor, and she didn’t feel anything, either.

Our ayi is from roughly the same area in Sichuan that the earthquake struck, though, and as of last night she had been unable to get through to any of her relatives. We hope they made it through.

P.S.: Shanghaiist is doing an excellent job covering the earthquake.

Update: My ayi got a call from her sister this morning telling her that everyone was fine.

May 12, 2008

Increasingly, I think that “willing suspension of disbelief” is the key to success. Coleridge may have been talking about literature when he coined the term, but suspending reason (for a little while, at least) is an important part of success in other endeavors.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to today’s Yomiuri News podcast — about 20 minutes of non-stop, high-level Japanese. There was a piece about the plight of typhoon refugees in Myanmar, and something else about attacks in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Now we’re on to the opinion piece, and I’m totally lost. It doesn’t matter — I don’t understand it now, but I know the exposure is valuable (particularly exposure to the parts I was able to follow) and that eventually I will be able to understand all of it. I’m able to shut down the part of me that’s screaming “but you can’t understand it!” because I’m able to suspend disbelief — I am working toward a future goal by taking actions that don’t make sense in the short term.

Progress toward long-term goals, particularly in the beginning, is often glacially slow. Having confidence that the quid pro quo agreement you’ve made with yourself — that work now will indeed lead to a payoff in the future — and the ability to do things that you know are helpful even if they don’t make sense when you do them is critical to success.