20 May 2005 forrest   » (Journeyer)

Well, mirwin's attempt to link to an essay my wife wrote finally got me to post here again (it's actually here; it ends in '.html' not '.htm'). It's a little stilted because her assignment required her to use specific terms from her Sociology class, but at least going to school can get her to write.

She has talked about writing some short stories to illuminate how China has changed in recent years. I hope she will.

I'm a temporary bachelor again, as my wife and half-year-old son went back to China to visit her parents. (Here are a few pictures.)

I'm a little disappointed my Hanzi Quiz program hasn't been more popular. It's popular in it's niche: it was number one in a Google search for "hanzi" for years, until it got beaten out by the venerable Hanzi Smatter.

The thing is, while I took special care to deal with the unique issues surrounding the use of Chinese characters, what I've written is a general purpose study program. The categories could be anything: a dozen different languages (see any one and guess any other), common names versus latin names for plants or animals, dates versus historical events ... absolutely anything. And nobody has taken advantage of this.

Even within the realm of Chinese characters, almost no one has changed the quiz data; many links to my site say "here's a very basic hanzi quiz", but none of these people even seems to realize they can take it and make it as advanced as they please.

Part of the problem is the difficulty of editing the utf-8 entries ... while I could enter the Chinese using emacs, I had to whip up a little perl program to convert "pinyin with trailing tone numbers" to "pinyin with (accent marks as) tone marks". I bundled that program in my tarball, but I don't think anyone else is going to use it.

A potential change for Hanzi Quiz, which I am half-done with but dropped becuase I doubted anyone else would be interested, is to translate that perl code into javascript, so the quiz entries (the "cards") can be written with tone numbers, helping somewhat with the data entry problem. That javascript's done, but that lets me do a second part:

Before the quiz begins, show a screen with all the accented characters used to display the pinyin. If the user can't see all of the characters correctly (which has been a problem in some environments) they can choose to use the tone numbers instead. Yay! What's more...

... using an intro page can allow the user to select which "quiz" to load (a trick I found that works on moz and ie, you have to do something like document.write("</SCR" + "IPT>") to keep the browser from getting confused, but you can choose which .js to load based on a choice from a dropdown list).

The problems are

  • The whole thing about the tone numbers pushes the code in the direction of being specifically about hanzi, especially with the "can you see these chars" intro page. (Although quizzes on any subject could still be run in it, and just not use the pinyin stuff.)
  • Being able to select many possible quizzes requires someone to come up with the quiz content. I was really hoping someone else would do this part, like a teacher or something. But I haven't had much luck getting anyone else interested.
So, that project languishes.

I could go on about other stuff (like should I try a new distro?) but I'm already up way too late as it is. Maybe later.

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