30 Mar 2007

Many Lives, Many Masters

Brian Weiss is a psychiatrist who started treating a young woman with a number of fears. He was having trouble finding the causes of those fears, and eventually resorted to hypnosis. Even though he uncovered some potential causes from when she was three years old, her symptoms did not improve. So in the next session he told her, "Go back to the time from which your symptoms arise." She started describing a scene from 1863 B.C.

The book describes many of her past lives, as well as words from "spirit masters" when she is between lives. The author tries to be scientific but comes to strongly believe in reincarnation due to the experience described in this book. The patient was not just cured of her fears, but became beautiful and radiant due to this therapy.

Very interesting and definitely worth reading, and if you can do so with an open mind, all the better. It is an easy read. The descriptions of "how it all works" are consistent with the three books by Robert Monroe (also, highly recommend: I will review those soon), which in my mind gives it further credibility.

Amazon UK
Amazon JP (English)
Amazon JP (Japanese translation: 前世療法—米国精神科医が体験した輪廻転生の神秘)

26 Mar 2007


I recently made a serious attempt to learn Chinese, quite intensively, and ChinesePod.com was the main method I settled on. They release a 10 minute podcast each day: there are various levels but you can expect least one new newbie lesson each week, and there are over 160 archived lessons you can access.

The site is subscription-based, though the podcasts themselves are free (in fact, they are under an open source license). The first level of subscription gives you a PDF transcript. Not too expensive ($5 to $9/month), but, still, I think there is little value in it.

The premium subscription is more expensive ($20-$30/month) but much better value. It adds expansion sentences (each with audio, hanzi, and pinyin/English on mouseover - wonderfully helpful), and exercises (very nicely done, in Flash: drags words into the blanks, match up Chinese and English, choose correct Chinese translation of an English word, etc.).

There is higher level of subscription, which is an 8-week course ($400) with daily phone calls with an instructor. I have not tried it.

Every lesson has its own discussion board (open to non-members as well) and the staff are very good at answering questions. In fact you can find some real gems of explanation and vocabulary on the discussion boards.

The downside of the premium subscription is that it is only good value if you are studying intensively: in other words if you will be able to do a lesson each day. Conversely, that can be good, as it inspires you to study intensively: trying to squeeze as much into the month certainly helped me.

There is a 7-day free course, during which you can try out all content on the site. As mentioned above: save it for a 7-day period when you will be able to give it some focus.

Overall, highly recommended for anyone serious about learning Chinese:

I have a few specific criticisms, which is really just feedback for ChinesePod.com, but I thought it makes sense to put it here too.

* In every example sentence with a surname the person is either Wang or Li. This is missing an opportunity to introduce other surnames. (Surely not everyone in China is called Wang or Li??)

* No guidance on which lessons to do. After doing the 7-day free course I chose the newbie business lesson subset, which I imagine is very common, but it immediately uses words that have not been introduced.

* Old lessons are not as good as recent lessons. It seems they have experimented with the style over the 160 newbie lessons, and made many improvements. (The lesson level is more consistent - easy - in the newer lessons).
But the old lessons are still up there. I personally think their effort would be better directed in re-making the early lessons than in putting up a new lesson each day. Which is probably unacceptable to the marketing department. So in that case I think early lessons should be removed if they are not up to standard.

* Flash cards. Each word has three forms: hanzi, pinyin, English. Flash cards really need to show the other two when you turn it over; currently they are not useful. I believe this will be addressed at end-March.

* The pop-up showing pinyin and English is wonderful. But it misses some words, which is very frustrating. Again, I have heard they are working on it.

* There is no listening comprehension in the exercises. I.e. listen to a sentence and choose the word you think you heard. A surprising omission as they already have both the content and the technical skills.

Rapid Chinese

This is a CD, to teach Chinese. It is marketed as a revolutionary new method, but let us skip lightly over the hyperbole: it is a native Chinese woman speaker, with an English-speaking man, and there is a music track in the background. The 10 lessons are phrase book stuff, aimed at tourists; grammar is not introduced explicitly, just through example sentences. The music is nothing special but is easy to listen to.

I liked this CD, and have listened to it a lot. I think what I like best is that it is easy to have on while I am working: sometimes I listen actively, but most of the time it is just playing and does not distract me. Whether it is directly entering my subconscious or not I do not know. But I am as happy as if I had the radio on. Another thing that appeals is that I have sometimes played this CD while eating dinner with my family, and my children have picked up some phrases.

My opinion is that anyone learning Chinese should invest the effort in learning pinyin but unfortunately the pronunciation guide that comes with the CD instead uses its own English-like guide. To get pinyin and hanzi they have a PDF online that you can download. That PDF is riddled with errors: it was mostly wrong tones that I noticed. I intend to pass my list of errors on to them, and hopefully they will fix them quickly.

What else didn't I like? It is a little bit pricey. Also I do not think you will learn to speak the language using just this CD, as there are no quizzes or opportunities to speak. That is fine, it is outside the scope they are aiming at, but you should regard it as a support for a main course rather than self-contained. A guide to pronunciation would have been helpful, e.g. things like "qing" is pronounced like "ching" but with your tongue touching the back of your bottom teeth; for sh, zh, ch and r curl your tongue back until it almost touches the top of your mouth (try it - it is amazing how Chinese you suddenly sound!). This wouldn't fit the style of the CD but would be a nice addition to the PDF file.

Compared to ChinesePod.com the language taught on this CD is quite polite. I am not able to judge if the phrases are natural or not. I would love to hear from someone who is able to judge that.

They do other languages (see http://earwormslearning.com) and I intend to try the German CD soon. When volume 2 for Chinese comes out I will likely try that too. Immodestly, I hope and assume the Japanese CDs will be too easy for me, so I have not tried them. You can hear short samples of each on the earworms web site.

Rapid Chinese: Amazon UK, Amazon JP

Rapid German: Amazon UK, Amazon JP

Rapid Japanese, Vol 1: Amazon UK, Amazon JP

Rapid Japanese, Vol 2: Amazon UK, Amazon JP

25 Mar 2007

Winnie The Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner

In Japan Pooh is popular: even grown women will own Pooh key rings, bags, underwear, and so on. And many of those items get proudly displayed in public! Disney made Pooh popular, but these book are the original stories, and one of the lovely things about being a parent is being given the chance to read them. They are popular with my children, so I have had plenty of chances.

As a side note the Disney movie is also good. It is gentle, funny and the kind of thing you can show to your children without having to worry. There is just one scary scene (where rabbit is lost) for a young child. The animated TV series, and the Tigger movie, are only loosely based on the books and suffer for it. They are watchable enough, just not as good enough as either the original Disney movie or the books.

In the books the personalities of the main characters are more distinct and better developed than in the movie. Eeyore in particular is wonderfully funny. A few times my children have been almost asleep, as I have read them these books, and I have woken them up again by giggling at Eeyore's manic depression. "Daddy, why are you crying?"

(Note: I have the paperback editions, but it seems only hardcover versions are being published at the moment.)

Winnie the Pooh: Complete Collection of Stories and Poems (both books, hardcover): UK JP
Winnie-The-Pooh (hardcover): UK JP
The House At Pooh Corner (hardcover): UK JP
The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh (DVD): UK JP