Jul 272009

After seeing this post by Vosmiura on the RtK forums, I’m going to try Iversen’s method of learning lists of vocabulary before entering them into Anki.

I’m not usually obsessed with getting particularly high pass rates or having high long-term retention percentages (mine is already around 96%), but I have been noticing lately that there are certain words that just don’t seem to stick, no matter how often I see them, and it’s bugging the crap out of me.

If you jump down a few posts later on, Vosmiura provides graphical evidence of how his retention rates improved in Anki over a 47-day period. It improved for short, medium, and long-term retention, so that’s not too shabby.

The basic gist of Iversen’s method is simple. I’m paraphrasing from his post here. (Scroll down about halfway down to the big post.)

How to Make Word Lists Work

Take a list of 5-7 words in foreign language X you want to learn, which have corresponding meanings in your native language Y.

Write the words in foreign language X in a column on a piece of paper in one color of ink. Then learn all of the meanings in your native language Y, and only write them down in the next column when you know all of them and can write them without hesitation.

So if you go down your list of 5-7 words, and you keep missing one, don’t write down the translations for any of them yet. If you have to struggle to remember one word in your native language Y, don’t write anything down yet. Keep going at it until you can. If you have to look stuff up, then look stuff up.

Once you can remember everything, then write down all of the translations in your Y language in a different color ink.

Now go and cover up the original words in the foreign language X column. Based only on the words you see in your Y language column, use the 3rd column to reconstruct the X column the same way you had to construct the Y column. That is, you can’t write anything down until you can write everything down correctly.

So when you’re done, your sheet looks something like this:

X language --> Y language --> X language

With one column for each.

Now comes the tricky bit: applying it to Japanese, which has kana and kanji for a lot of words. If a word has no kanji, you’re fine. It’s just English and kana. Not a problem. But kanji will complicate matters, as they always do.

Vosmiura’s approach is to break it down like this:

Kanji --- Kana --- English

He covers the kana and English columns while looking at the kanji. That way he makes sure he has the meaning and the reading correct.

He also varies the way he tests the list. If the list has words in the order a-b-c-d-e-f-g, he doesn’t always test in the order abcdefg. He often tests gfedcba, or acfedgb, or any other random order.

I think it’s a good idea to avoid getting the cde words lost in the middle.

Remember, we’re good at remembering firsts and lasts, but horrible at remembering stuff in the middle.

I’m going to try messing with the order a little to fit my models better, and see how it works. It may work, it may fail spectacularly.

So I’m going to try setting it up like this for now:

Kana --- Kanji --- English --- Kana --- Kanji

That way, I get Iversen’s X-Y-X pattern, and I get my production needs met. Although in this case I guess it’s more of a X-X’-Y-X-X’ method.

Monolingual types will probably froth at the mouth a bit, but I’m not a monolingual zealot. Whatever gets my error rate down is cool with me.

I am becoming more and more “theory agnostic” and am just using whatever works best for me.

Oh, and the mountains are still gorgeous.


Bele Chere

 Travel  Comments Off on Bele Chere
Jul 262009

I’m in Asheville for the weekend, and I decided to take in the Bele Chere festival today. Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. According to the official website FAQ, it’s Scottish for something along the lines of “have fun.”

It’s definitely not a misspelling of the French phrase that refers to your beautiful loved one.

All disputes about spelling aside, this year’s festival was very enjoyable. Tons of arts and crafts, lots of food, and good music. The best part was that finding parking was relatively painless, in spite of the maps provided on the website.

I hope they provide a better map next year– or at least one that shows the approaches to downtown, rather than just showing where all of the roadblocks will be. For those of us coming in from out-of-town, it’s a little confusing to just see a small grid full of roadblocks, without any real clues as to what’s what.

I took some photos, but nothing really jumped out at me. There wasn’t a “wow” moment that I just had to get a picture of.


 Travel  Comments Off on Dis-AAdvantaged
Jul 192009

I just had a shocking discovery– my AAdvantage miles have been taken away from me. American Airlines pulled the rug out from under me when I wasn’t paying attention and expired them, since I haven’t flown American in the last 18 months.

So the 23,500 miles I had so diligently hoarded in hopes of getting a first-class upgrade are gone.

Well, sort of.

You see, if I’m willing to fork over the tiny little sum of approximately $290 (of which $30 goes to Uncle Sam), American Airlines promises to give me back my miles.

But I’m not sure if I’m going to fork over the money.

Even if I pay the fee,  if I let my account go inactive for another 18 months, they’ll take my beloved miles away again for good this time, because American is discontinuing this deal on December 31, 2009.

F-stop Bard is in the House

 Photography  Comments Off on F-stop Bard is in the House
Jul 162009

My Bard arrived from F-stop yesterday, and it is a very spiffy bag. It came with a free F-stop Sporty camera strap (a $20 value). Thanks for the strap! I already have a very comfortable camera strap made out of some kind of soft, squishy stuff that I wouldn’t part with. I’ll make sure the Sporty gets a good home.

Now, on to the bag. In short: it’s a great bag, and at $99, it’s a great deal.

The inner dividers are all attached to the inside of the bag with velcro, and are freely removable and adjustable. That kind of versatility makes the Bard really useful as a multimedia news-gathering bag.

I adjusted one of the dividers for a snug fit for my giant Canon 80-200 mm f 2.8/L (with lens hood) in one slot on one side, and shrank one of the slots on the other side to fit the stock 18-55 mm f.3.5-5.6 IS lens that came with my Rebel XSi. My 50mm f 1.8 pops in on top of the 18-55 with plenty of room.

I’ll remove the stock lens when I go shooting in the real world, and replace it with my digital audio recorder. It’s just to give you an idea of how much you can fit in the bag.

The Rebel XSi fit easily in the middle, with a 17-55 f 2.8 IS lens and hood attached, so the camera is ready to pull out of the bag and shoot.  There’s still room for a 550EX speedlite flash next to the two smaller lenses.

My 13″ laptop fits easily in the laptop slot in the back, with room to spare. I could probably fit a 15″ laptop in there instead.  But if I put a 15″ laptop in, I’m not sure if I could fit the power brick in without losing space somewhere else.

There’s still plenty of room to pack things on top of the camera gear, but then that defeats the purpose of having a bag you can quickly yank your camera out of.

The inner pocket that covers the main compartment would be even better if  it could be zippered out of the bag, making access to the camera a little faster.

As it is now, you have to open the main flap of the bag, push the little flap out of the way, and then grab your camera.

There are lots of little extra zippered compartments to put things like lens filters, cleaning equipment, spare batteries, chargers, and whatnot. (Digital cameras spawn whatnot like nobody’s business.)

The sides of the bag are good and rigid. I’m not a fan of mushy-sided bags, which is why I decided to skip going down the “Build your own camera bag” route.

I’ll be interested to see if the Bard will actually fit underneath an airline seat. The top will “squish” down about three to four inches, so as long as you don’t overpack, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t fit… unless my spatial perception is completely broken.

Nice bag. Worth the wait.

Waiting on the Bard

 Photography  Comments Off on Waiting on the Bard
Jul 112009

For the two or three of you wondering why I haven’t said anything about the F-stop Bard yet, that’s because it still hasn’t arrived. I ordered it on July 2nd, and didn’t actually get a message from F-stop saying that the order had been filled until the 7th. When I checked with UPS, the order hadn’t been shipped until the 9th. So it’s not here yet.

On the upside, F-stop apparently threw in a free camera strap worth $20. We’ll see how good it is. It would have been nice to get some sort of message from them explaining why it took them a week to ship the bag. I understand July 4 is a big holiday, but if you’re trying to sell to professionals, you need to turn over a lot faster than a week. Or you need to at least tell people why you’re not shipping right away.

Jul 022009

I’ve been hunting for a new camera bag. Specifically, I’m looking for a camera bag that doesn’t scream, “Hey, I’m a CAMERA BAG, full of expensive CAMERAS and equipment you just might want to steal!”

I also don’t want the bag to scream, “Hey, this guy has a CAMERA. He could be a JOURNALIST. You might want to walk over and HASSLE him,” to any cop or rent-a-cop in the area.

I know there are arguments both pro and con for the nondescript camera bag. Some people say it’s idiotic, because as soon as you pull out a big, expensive camera, a good thief will mark you.

True enough.

People have related having their diaper bag camera bags stolen, even full of dirty diapers. (You need to scroll halfway down to the page to find the story.) But there’s nothing you can do about that. Once you’re marked, you’re marked.

For me, it’s about what I look like when I’m not shooting, and when I’m walking from place to place. I want a bag that just says, “I’m a bag. The droids you’re looking for aren’t here. This person can move along.”

The only bags I have right now don’t serve that purpose. They say, “Hi! I’m full of cameras!” or worse, “Hi! I’m full of EXPENSIVE cameras!” I don’t even have to pull out a camera to have to worry about being marked.

And of course they also look amazingly dorky.

ThinkTank Urban Disguise

The first place I checked was my local camera store, because I’m a big believer in buying local, as well as getting my hands on the product before I buy it. I took a look at the ThinkTank Urban Disguise models they had there, but I dunno… they just felt clumsy. I know some people swear by them, but trying out the bag, it just felt a little awkward.

It also looked about as inconspicuous as a heart attack.

“Hey mister, what’s in that HUGE black bag?” “What, this tiny thing? It’s nothing, nothing!”

Yeah, I don’t buy it either.

It doesn’t look like any other kind of bag I’ve ever seen before, which would make me very, very suspicious of the person carrying it.


I love messenger bags, because you can dump a lot of stuff in them, throw them over your shoulder and go on your merry way… okay, in a giant man-purse sort of way.

But my masculinity is strong enough that I don’t care if it really is a big man purse. I’m a big enough man that I don’t care.

So I started looking at messenger bag style camera bags, and this is where it led me.

I looked at the Crumpler bags. They’re nice, but good God are they expensive. $150-$200 for a basic bag just doesn’t cut it. Also, they have the problem of being well-known as camera bags. (Everyone knows Crumpler is a camera bag maker now.) Their website didn’t really win me over, either.

I don’t like those “cute” Flash websites that are all glamor and no substance. Give me data. Facts and figures. Not a toy. It was very annoying.

The actual bags… I’m sure they’re great, but they’re very expensive and a bit on the flashy side. Maybe if I were a celebrity photographer, it would work, but I’m not.


I took a look at the Naneu bags on a recommendation of someone who liked them. They’re excellent backpack bags, but not quite what I need. I like how the camera compartment faces your back, so it can only be accessed by removing the pack from your back. That way, nobody can lift your camera if you have your pack on. But it’s just not easy to just pull out your camera that way.

I need speed and ease of access, which is why I want a messenger bag-style bag in the first place. This might be nice for when I climb Mt. Everest, though.

Lowepro Classified

I also took a look at Lowepro’s Classified series… it looks pretty much like the ThinkTank, only it’s by Lowepro.  I’m sure it’s a great bag, but I don’t carry the Empire State Building in my bag. I just want something a little more… inconspicuous. That Black Monster ain’t it.

Make Your Own Camera Bag

I found this post on just building my own camera bag with a messenger bag and some Domke inserts. Others have discussed the idea as well. Timbuk2 has a similar take on how to build your own camera bag, based on a flickr discussion.

Here’s another flickr discussion on using Tenba inserts instead of the Domke inserts.

But in the long run, I think both setups are going to be a little on the janky side, and frankly, a good Timbuk2 bag isn’t that cheap to begin with. That alone will run in the $100-$150 range. By the time you add in the inserts, you’re staring $200 in the eye again. Where are the savings?

Frustrated, I stumbled across this thread on flickr.

F-Stop Bard and Maverick

Now I must admit that I really like the look of the Bard and Maverick by F-Stop. They typically make a lot of adventure-type gear bags that you’d see people use for stuff like mountain climbing or skateboarding, or surfing on lava or something. But both the Bard and the Maverick have the kind of look I’ve been trying to find. Something that looks like a messenger bag, that has good padding, will hold my gear, and doesn’t scream “CAMERA BAG!”

The only downside might be the logos on the gear, but those can be covered with stickers. No biggie there. The pricing is good, too. The Bard runs $99 on their website, and Maverick runs $129.

This comparison of the Domke F2 and the Bard really got me interested. And Skye Nacel’s posts on the F-Stop site gave a lot of useful info on the Maverick and also his comparison shots with the Bard. He also posted some good short reviews on YouTube of both the Bard and the Maverick.

But I still didn’t have enough info to make a decision on which bag to go with, so I wound up having to contact the company.

Suggestion: use e-mail. They respond very quickly to e-mails.  I had trouble getting through over the phone.

I went ahead and ordered a Bard, because I want something as small as possible. If I need something bigger, I was assured I could exchange it for a Maverick.

I’ll post a review in a few days/weeks when the bag shows up. I’m hoping it’ll be small enough to fit under an airplane seat… that may be wishful thinking. But the price sure is right: $117, and that includes UPS ground shipping.

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