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Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsoete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.


Introduction

On this page, I have collected references to a number of useful tools, some of them indispensable to learning Chinese efficiently. These tools include, but are not limited to:

Websites
Software
Hardware.

Useful websites

3000 most common Chinese characters – Rather self-explanatory, being a list of the 3000 most frequently used Chinese characters. I use it to check how much effort I should invest in a given character. Make sure to check on the author’s other pages and his collection of links.

Chinesepod – This is a must for students of Chinese on any level. Chinesepod provides hundreds of hours of conversation lessons in audio, which will enable you to listen to and learn Chinese at any time. The lessons themselves are free, but there is additional material on the website that isn’t.

Chinese Pronunciation – An indispensable guide for the beginner, featuring pronunciation for all possible syllables in Mandarin Chinese, including tone variations. Make sure you learn the sounds correctly from the start!

Mandarin Chinese Phonetics – A useful guide to Mandarin Chinese phonetics for those thus inclined. The site being written by the same person as the 3000 list, make sure you check out the various other sections of his website.

Nciku Dictionary – Probably the best all-round dictionary available online (or at least the best one I’ve found). Provides not only translations in both directions, but also lots of examples and idioms. This dictionary has a lot of words I’ve had difficulties finding elsewhere.

On-line Chinese Tools – The most comprehensive collection of useful links I have encountered so far. Includes links to software, websites and much more.

Yahoo Chinese Dictionary – One of the best English-Chinese-English dictionaries I’ve found online. Sample sentences make this dictionary truly useful even when writing stories or articles in Chinese. My defualt dictionary nowadays.

Zhongwen.com – Online, free edition of a popular Chinese-English dictionary, featuring a system of hyperlinked etymology which allows the student to smoothly browse components of characters and their origin. Indispensable.

Useful software

Anki – The most indispensable of all language-learning programs. It’s a must if you plan to learn lots of words in any language in any way that can be called efficient. I use this program more than any other software on my computer, including Firefox.

Chinese Perapera-kun – A must-have plugin to Firefox that provides the user with online, automatic translation of individual characters or words; all you have to do is hover over the character/word with the mouse.

DimSum Chinese Language Tool – Java-based dictionary software with excellent character recognition. Works with Linux and OS X, as well as Windows. Comes with flashcard capability.

Pablo – A handy dictionary with the extremely useful feature of being able to recognise characters written with the mouse (or otherwise). It also offers the function to break down characters into their component parts. Free to try, small and comfortable to use; very neat indeed.

Useful hardware

Besta CD-859 mini – At some point, you should buy an electronic dictionary. It’s extremely useful and the earlier you buy it, the better. Of course, any dictionary that suits you and has a handwriting function is adequate, I just happen to have bought this one and it works for me.

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Besta CD-859 mini



Product: CD-859 mini
Company:
Besta

The CD-859 mini is an electronic tool to learn languages developed by a Taiwanese company called Besta, primarily aiming for Taiwanese students learning English or Japanese (I use it to learn Chinese and sometimes English). However, the device is highly versatile and can probably be used from any of the main languages (there are seven) to any other. There are countless of similar products on the market and here I’ll try to explain why I think this one is pretty good.

First let us consider what the dictionary can do. Officially, it states that it can handle fourteen diffirent languages, but this is only true for travel dictionaries and phrases; full dictionaries are “only” available in seven languages. It also has some software for English learning, although naturally I haven’t spent much time exploring these. For Chinese, it has, part from the usual stuff, a very useful Chinese-Chinese idiom dictionary which is quite comprehensive. It also sports functions to read text on the device and look up chaarcters as you read, store them and then transfer them to your computer for later use. The display is multicolour and also features a touch screen, which is indispensible if one wants to look up new characters (don’t buy an electronic dictionary if it hasn’t got a touch screen).

In addition to these functions, it has a number of small but important bonuses (such as zooming for very complex characters which otherwise would look blurred), but which would take too much time and space to list here.

There are few disadvantages with the Besta CD-859 mini, but there are a few nontheless. One of them is the Chinese character dictionary: it doesn’t have enough characters. I don’t know if this is common or that my requirements are set too high, but now and then I run into characters that simply doesn’t exist in the dictionary (no, I’m not writing them incorrectly). It’s possible to buy expansions to the dictionaries, but this feel more like a cheap trick to earn more money than a serious business strategy. However, don’t misunderstand me, all common characters are in there, only very rare ones are omitted. An additional disadvantage might be the price (I bought mine on a discount, but it still cost me roughly $6600 NT or $200 USD when I bought it in May 2009.

Generally speaking, I should have bought something like this a long time ago. I use it everyday I read Chinese and it’s literally worth its weight in gold (I’m not kidding). Imagine being able to download texts from the internet and read them at you leisure, with the option of looking up and storing difficult words or characters as you go along! Having something like this, although not necessarily the CD-859 mini, makes studying much more efficient. If you’re studying Chinese and haven’t bought an electronic dictionary yet, do it now, because you don’t know how much easier your studying could become and you don’t know what you’ve been missing until you have it.

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Sony Ericsson W910i



Product: W910i
Company:
Sony Ericsson

Arriving in Taiwan a little less than a year ago, I thought it was a good idea to take the opportunity to buy a new phone along with a subscription valid in my new home country. However, I didn’t spend much time choosing, so the fact that I’m satisfied with my Sony Ericsson W910i is more due to luck than thorough research prior to purchase. I think almost a year is enough time to truly evaluate this piece of hardware, so this is what I’m going to do.

To start with, this phone is in the walkman category, which, to be honest, sounded more like hot air when I heard about it the first time. However, it turns out that the audio functions of this phone are its biggest advantage, being a lot better at playing audio books and music than any of my previous mp3 players (I’ve had a Creative MuVo and a nonome substitute). For instance, it allows access to sound controls without the need to see the phone or when using it for something else (such as a volume control that can be pressed longer for changing tracks and a special button on the shell for accessing the audio player instantly). Also, it has the extremely useful feature of remembering of long I’ve listened to any given track an automatically continuing from there the next time I change to that track, regardless of what I’ve done in between. This enables me to listen to several audio books and music alternately without problem. I should also mention that the included earphones are quite good (although not close to these beauties).

Moving on to more problematic areas, the phone has a few quirks. For instance, it’s not possible to access the memory from a computer without switching off the phone functions of the device (i.e. nobody can call you and it is a bit awkward if you’re in a hurry). Also, the device turns itself off sometimes, but that might be because I’ve dropped it a couple of times.

Apart from this, I’m satisfied. The camera is working okay (just browse this website, most photos are taken with this phone; see this post from Gaoxiong for instance) and it has whatever functions I feel I can demand of it. Bought in Taiwan, it can handle both Zhuyin and Pinyin entry of Chinese characters, which is very handy. Overall, it’s a solid product and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a Sony-Ericsson again, even though that’s hopefully a hypothetical situation which won’t turn real until this one breaks down a couple of years from now.

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Borrowed camera

Some people have asked my why I so seldom make use of photographs in my articles. There are three answers to this question. First, I have no camera. Second, I do not think my life contains many interesting things to photograph. Third, I think photographing an event removes focus from that very event (article in Swedish).

The first is now history, because I have borrowed a Canon Digital Ixus 500 from my parents (thank you very much!). The second will change this autumn when I go to Taiwan. The third will still persist, but I can promise that my articles in the future will sport more photographs. To start, I took a few pictures of my room, the dormitory in which I live and its immediate surroundings. There are also some random pictures towards the end. Enjoy!


The street outside.


My door.


Pigeon holes.


The door to my corridor.


Corridor living room.


Kitchen.


Corridor living room.


My door.


Shoes upside-down.


Elbow lever.


Handstand.


Handstand again.


Usually, there is more water.


But Niklas does not mind.


Unfortunately, no photo of the landing.


Super Rut with cape and all.


Ten out of ten for style.

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Nordic Media Player



Product: Nordic Media Player

This is the second review this week of a media player without a name (the other review can be found here). It is produced by Nordic, but that is all I know. I got hold of it very cheaply as part of a subscription to a magazine (which I duly cancelled), so I did not expect any miracles. Still, the player is functional and even if its interface is a bit tricky, it still serves as a USB-memory. I say that it is a media player, because it can play and record sound, show pictures and, allegedly (I have failed to get this to work), films. I have used it as a voice recorder and a as such it fulfills my needs.

The player feels (and probably is) extremely cheap. I am prepared to remove one entire snail from its grade only because of one silly, stupid, but unforgivable, mistake. The cord to the earphones is five centimetres too short. This is sloppy beyond understanding. Would it have cost much to make the cord five centimeters longer, so that a man of average height and proportions like myself could have used it? Instead, other earphones have to be used, because it is simply not possible to use a player when you have to have it somewhere else than in you pocket (no, there is no noose this time, which would have felt more appropriate). Since the whole point of this device is its cheapness, having to acquire new earphone just kills the entire concept.

I recommend it only if you are in desperate need of something cheap you do not plan to use for very long.

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Product: Clas Ohlson MP3/WMA player

Perhaps it is revealing that this mp3 player has no name, or at least none that is readily available on the retailers website. I bought it because my old Creative broke down after more than a years arduous use. Since I am addicted to listening to audio books, I need an mp3 player at all times. The mp3 player that is the subject of this review was bought locally for a very low price as a temporary solution.

To summarise, the player is functional. However, there are many flaws. The navigation system is horrible (the designers must have been drunk), sound could have been better and the player is fairly bulky. As for the earphones, no surprises. They suck. Also, they come with some sort of arrangement of strings that is supposed to go around your neck. Why? This is no good for listening since it puts strange tensions in the cords, which make the earphones slip out all the time. It could be to provide the buyer with a good noose, should the player prove too bad to live with. This mp3 player works, but expect nothing more.

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Zepto Znote 3215W



Product: Zepto Znote 3215W
Company:
Zepto

Six months ago, I bought a Zepto Znote 3215W laptop. After six months of use, I am now in a position to review this product properly. Before I begin, let me explain in what circumstances I have used the computer. My main reason for buying a laptop was related to education: I needed a laptop to take notes on lectures and to keep necessary digital data with me whenever I wanted to. In addition to this, my stationary computer at home is very unreliable, so having a second, newer computer as a backup makes me feel more secure.

Zepto is a Swedish company, selling tailored laptops fairly cheaply, which is why I became interested in the first place. They allow customers to choose a foundation, and then enable them to add, remove or upgrade components as they please. Operating system is optional, which is awesome for me, since I am running Ubuntu Linux on the laptop (apart from a minor fix with the sound, everything worked smoothly from the start). This is what I ended up with:

Zepto Znote 3215W
CPU: Intel Core Duo T2330 1,6 GHz 533MHZ
RAM: 1024 MB DDR2 PC5300 Org Zepto
HDD: 120GB SATA 2,5″ 5400RPM – SAMSUNG
DVD: SAMSUNG COMBO 6xx4w/6xx5WD/2xx5W
LAN: Intel Pro/Wireless 4965AGN
Power: Zn 2x25W 9 Cell Battery

Please note that the original package is much cheaper. I decided to upgrade a few things, including battery, HDD and CPU.

Advantages
I spent some time comparing prices for computers with long battery time, and Zepto came out on top without much doubt. I am not sure if this is the case today, but paying roughly 5000 Swedish crowns (approximately $820) for a battery life of more than eight hours when idle was very good. Also, the figures mentioned on Zepto’s website is not false in anyway. When using the computer for normal, office-related tasks such as writing and editing text, the battery is good for at least six hours. I have not tested battery time with very high CPU usage, but I have no reason to believe that almost four hours should be wrong. This is with the added 9-cell battery I upgraded to.

Installation of Ubuntu is supported officially, which means that they guarantee that the hardware works with that distribution of Linux. The sound card needs updated drivers to work properly, but I had no problems fixing this, even though I have never used Linux before (a discussion thread helped me out). Another, minor advantage is the four USB ports (many cheap computer only have two). Furthermore, the computer is delivered with two power cords, which makes it convenient to leave one at home and keep the other in the bag.

My dealings with Zepto as a company have been satisfying, but since I did not experience any problems, I suppose I am not in a position to truly evaluate the company’s customer service.

Disadvantages
There are several things which could have been better with this laptop. First and foremost, it is rather bulky. For me, this is not really a problem, but if you are aiming for something really lightweight, look elsewhere. However, if that is the case, you would probably not be interested anyway, because this computer is much cheaper than any of the slim laptops out there.

The keyboard could have been of better quality. I have accidentally managed to displace the backspace key, which is really irksome. I have glued it back in place and it works adequately, but of course I would have preferred if the keys had been fastened more securely in the first place.

Also, sound management is confusing and the special keys pertaining to mute, adjustment of volume and so forth, adjusts only one of several possible volume controls, frequently the one I do not use (i.e. the headphone volume).

Summary
To summarise this review, I think this computer does what I expected of it. I also believe that it does what it is advertised to do. It is a cheap, functional computer with long battery time, perfect for students. The negative aspects of Zepto 3215W can almost entirely be explained by the low price, and should therefore come as no surprise.

The laptop’s main advantage is its price.

The main disadvantage is its bulkiness.

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Sony MDR-ED21LP

I very seldom review hardware, mainly because I hardly ever buy new things. One thing I have learnt not to compromise with, however, is earphones. At first, I did not believe people saying that there was a huge difference between cheap earphones and expensive ones, but an audiophile friend of mine convinced me otherwise. I have now used Sony MDR-ED21LP for many years and I am now using my second pair, and the time has come to say something about this excellent pair of earphones.

The number one thing is of course that the sound quality is extraordinary good for earphones, especially bass reproduction. Note that even though they extend into the ear canal, they do not isolate exterior noise, which is a prerequisite for me, since I do not want to shut myself off from the outside world (especially not when in traffic). The result is a greatly improved sound, but without the insular effect which is the hallmark of so may other high-quality earphones.

Furthermore, they are quite sturdy and survives being accidentally sat upon, thrown about and generally living in my pocket for several years (literally speaking, I never go anywhere without them). The cord is made of some anti-tangling material, which actually works fairly well.

The only disadvantage is the price; 300 SEK ($50) at local retailers, but naturally cheaper online. Considering that I spend several hours every day listening to music or audio books, I think it rather a cheap way to increase comfort and enrich listening experience. If I lost my pair, I would probably buy another one straight away. I highly recommend these earphones to those of you who are prepared to pay and want high fidelity sound without insular earphones.

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Buy a scanner

Perhaps, this is not fresh news, but since I am currently updating my 101 list, I thought I might as well seize the opportunity and write about one task I have forgotten to write about: the scanner. When entering this task on the list, I had a very specific goal in mind. As you probably know, I am currently studying to become a teacher, and I have decided that computers and digital storage is the only way of handling large volumes useful exercises and teacher-related data. The idea is to scan everything I might need later and to keep the multitudes of paper away from my binders.

It is now a couple of months since I bought a CanoScan LiDE 60, which seemed to be rather good as well as not particularly expensive. It slim and has the feature of being able to scan when it is standing vertically, which means that it does not require much space. So far, I have merely scanned what I want keep, leaving till later the sorting and categorising of the data. I am quite satisfied with the scanner; the scanning itself seems to be working alright as well as OCR.

In a broader perspective, I do not really know if this endeavour is worth the effort, because I would need a laptop computer to bring with be to school if I were to test it properly. However, I am rather convinced that it will turn out satisfactorily and that my scanner will play its designated part.

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Creative MuVo v200

Produkt: MuVo V200 (1 GB)
Tillverkare: Creative Technology
Recenserad: 2006-02-15
Status: I fickan

Jag beställde en MP3-spelare några veckor innan jul. Tidigare har jag använt en MD-spelare från Sony som har fungerat helt okej. Det var skönt att kunna lagra mycket på skivorna utan att det kostade så mycket. Ett problem var överföringshastigheten. Visserligen gick det ganska fort att transportera data, men den är dessutom tvungen att konvertera den till ett specialformat. När jag så började lyssna på ljudböcker på allvar, var det helt klart dags för något nytt.

Mitt mål var att köpa något tillfälligt. Det jag egentligen vill ha finns inte på marknaden idag (i varje fall inte till någon lämpligt pris) och därför tänkte jag att jag köper något litet, behändigt och relativt billigt som klarar av vad jag vill (minst 1 GB lagringsutrymme bland annat). Creative Muvo V200 verkade passa bra och kostade mig 1300 pix, inklusive frakt och allt sånt.

Jag är mycket nöjd. Efter två månaders användande har jag egentligen inget allvarligt att klaga på. Den är lite, nätt, lätt att hantera och kostade inte så mycket. Ljudkvalitén när man spelar musik kunde varit bättre, men det är knappast dåligt. Navigeringen av data är utmärkt och så också gränssnittet i övrigt. Det är också smidigt att ha en USB-kontakt i själva spelaren (den består av två komponenter och när de tas isär kan man stoppa in den ena direkt i dator; ingen sladd behövs). Det gör den otroligt mycket smidigare att använda mot flera datorer, eftersom man annars måste bära runt på en USB-sladd också.

En annna positiv grej är de löstagbara batterierna. Jag kan inte nog poängtera hur viktigt det här är. En spelare med inbyggda batterier, men med i övrigt identisk med den jag har nu, hade varit totalt värdelöseftersom batterierna i bästa fall räcker tio timmar. Är du utanför ditt eget hem är man körd. Att använda den när man åker bort är inte på tal om i så fall. Men nu är batterierna löstagbara och jag har åtta laddningsbara AAA-batterier som cirkulerar mellan min ficka, spelaren och laddaren hemma. Med dem överlever jag nästan en vecka i vildmarken.

Rekommenderar jag spelaren? Ja, det gör jag. Den är eminent med tanke på priset och har du samma krav som jag ser jag ingen anledning att leta vidare (tro mig, jag letade en del innan jag bestämde mig). Vill du fokusera mer på musik och kan tänka dig att lägga en slant extra skulle jag dock uppgradera till något lite tyngre (bildligt talat).

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