Friday, November 29, 2013

Why you should use RAW photos [non-China]

I've been getting into photography in the past few months - buying a used DSLR, experimenting with different lenses, taking pictures in different settings, etc. Most recently I've been learning how to edit photos on a computer. I remember reading Ken Rockwell's rather persuasive post on why RAW photos are unnecessary and not bothering.

However, after watching this tutorial I decided to try using RAW + JPEG mode with my Canon 350D, and the results were pretty convincing. (I use the freeware Lightroom replacement program Photivo.) Here's what five different processings of the same RAW file - a simple photo of a pie - look like:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

American food: a post-China perspective [non-China]

It's easy to make fun of American food. I mean, does America even have a cuisine - other than McDonalds and Burger King? Back in college my friend from China Mr. Ji would complain about the cafeteria food. There wasn't much I could say to his assertion that food in America just wasn't as good as Chinese food.

But in the time since I've come up with a couple of things that American cuisine can boast of having to itself. Consider the first thing I ate today after having gotten back to America, this bowl of broccoli and hummus:

Because the broccoli was already done, this took literally 1 minute to make (microwave and put the hummus on top). Even if it the broccoli hadn't been cooked already, steaming broccoli doesn't take much time or effort. So, in comparison with just about any Asian dish, this is still a ridiculously easy dish to make. Moreover, it tastes good, and is off-the-charts healthy.

Honestly, I'd put forward hummus as the essential American food item. It goes well with almost everything, is both healthy and convenient, and nowadays is easy to obtain in most places (at least in the Northeast). My two college roommates and I would go through hummus at an incredible rate, and it's amazing how many food groups it goes well with: vegetables, bread, dairy (cheese)... Obviously hummus is not what people think when they think of American cuisine, but I hope some day it will be.

This was an abnormally full fridge, but that
amount of hummus would be gone in 3 days

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Studying Chinese at NTNU's MTC: a guide

I've been studying Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University (師大)'s MTC (Mandarin Training Center/國語中心) for the past three months. It's far from the best Chinese program I've ever done, but it can be hacked for a decent learning experience. Here are some suggestions.

*Switch classes at the beginning until you find one you like - and one that challenges you. I sat in on at least 5 and probably more like 7 or 8 classes in total, since I had initially been placed in far too easy of a level. The MTC moves really slow in the middle levels so you should be able to skip through some of those.
*Consider your classmates. If they're Japanese your class will be better at reading, and you will be expected to keep up. If European, better at speaking. Koreans are good at everything.
*The MTC offers classes for heritage speakers. If your speaking is significantly better than your reading or writing, get in one of those classes.
*Sign up for a supplementary culture class if you have the money. I enjoyed the cooking class, and although we sped through the recipes too fast for me to actually learn them, I think I've got a better sense for the basics of Asian cooking.
*Intensive vs. regular: I ended up being happy with the regular class experience since I had time as well as pressure to attend the supplementary classes. My favorite of these was the Chinese movies shown on Mondays. The intermediate conversation class and the Chinese story class are also good.
*Get to know your fellow students. I didn't do this enough and I regret it.
*Do a language exchange. Check the bulletin board on the 7th floor.

You can find "language exchanges" of all sorts here
*Consider a different program, either a smaller one or a more intensive one. If I had to do it over again, I would go to the comparatively priced (i.e. incredibly cheap by American standards at $1000/semester) program NTU/台大, where my roommate takes classes, and which is far smaller than the gigantic MTC. Not because their pedagogy is necessarily better but because I much prefer the smaller academic environment. The NTU kids all go out drinking together on the weekends, which I'm jealous off.
*I wasn't looking for a super-intensive class because I did the Princeton in Beijing program this summer and found that three months of backbreaking daily studying was long enough. But if you've got the motivation, and the money, the ICLP, which is also at NTU but run separately, is widely regarded as the Chinese course par excellence.