“You Should Try More Fiction”

I really like our new public library and have always enjoyed the workers there (as opposed to the other local library where I have never heard anyone say anything nice about the workers). Of course our conversation is always about books we’ve read, are reading, or want to read. Admittedly I probably read more non-fiction than the average person. Knowing that the ladies at the library find some of what I read to be very boring, I intentionally mentioned that I just started reading a 500-page book on how to program computer chips at a low level without the need to load an operating system on them.

That prompted one of the ladies to comment, “You should try to read more fiction. I think you would really enjoy it.” Her comment wasn’t unkind, but it wasn’t in jest either. The implication was that I don’t enjoy reading what I read.

Of the 66 books I’ve read so far this year, I did read 1 fiction book. I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t poorly written, but it wasn’t the kind of story I like. It was recommended by one of the librarians. She suggested another book to try. I tried. But there was too much raw language in the first few pages that I really didn’t think I wanted to read any more.

While I read quite a bit of non-fiction, I would venture to guess that I still have quite a variety of content. Just scanning quickly through the books I read in the last two years, here are some of the broad topics: Bible, computers (hardware and software), missionary/church ministry, business, communication, adventure, travel, craft/making, self improvement (particularly in areas of brain development), politics, history, electronics, grammar, math, self-defense, Christian growth, creativity and productivity.

While I do read heavily in the business, communications, and technology categories, most fiction readers I know vary their reading tastes by only 2 or 3 genres.

I try not to berate fiction readers, though I really don’t understand why you would put forth the effort if your aren’t going to learn anything; however, I am amazed as to how many of them think that what I read is boring and that I need to “broaden my horizons” in my reading choices.

Though you may not enjoy reading what I read, that doesn’t mean it is boring to me. Who knows, you might find a book by Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin to be very enjoyable if you give it a try.

Language Proficiency – What I “Can do”

After returning from a great trip to Peru a couple of weeks ago, I got to thinking about my Spanish language proficiency. And, like many things, I think about stuff more often than I do anything about it. But a couple of days ago I finally did something about my thoughts and took an online assessment of my Spanish language skills.

Peru sign/logoI did a web search for getting started. There were several pages that popped up as possible places to do my assessment, but I chose the one from Lengalia to spend my time on. I chose this one because it looked like a more nicely designed website than many of the others I saw. Though not always an indicator of how careful they are about being accurate, it does seem to be that the better designed sites are also the ones with better information. I may go through tests at other sites later, but this is the only one I’ve taken so far.

Common European Framework of Reference

I scored a B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference scale that Lengalia uses. That puts me in the upper intermediate range on their scale. I don’t completely agree with their assessment because I don’t like the word intermediate, but I will accept it for the moment. I also choose to defend myself in that I was fighting Mr. Sandman when it came to reading some of the longer (i.e., boring) texts towards the end of the test.

To get into the C1 level I needed to have a better understanding of “implied” meaning. That is, I needed to be better at reading between the lines. (Like understanding the Mr. Sandman comment above). I know I did struggle with that a bit. Again, partially based on just trying to stay awake. Maybe I should take the test at 11 in the morning and not 11 at night next time.

Another area where I struggled was the fact that this was a European based test. That means they were testing on Iberian Spanish (mainland Spain) and not Latin American Spanish which is where my vocabulary has been built. There were some words here and there that were totally new to me. However, I resisted the urge to look anything up so that I could get a truer representation of my skills.

In their self-assessment chart I certainly fall into the C1 category on some things and B2 on others. So I guess I would be a B2+.

More Evaluation Options

Graphic of various Spanish dialect regions in PeruThere are many scales to rate your proficiency. Most of them are based on “can do” statements. These are self-assessment items that state at various levels you are able to communicate (or comprehend) certain types of information. These are based on functional proficiency as opposed to static, non-forgiving tests.

This language proficiency scale breaks things down into speaking, reading, and listening. On a speaking level with this scale I am solidly at an S3. Reading I feel like I am at R4+. Listening I am at an L4 level. So that puts me towards a more lower-advanced level as opposed to the dreaded intermediate.

I haven’t gone through the ATFL can do statements yet, but I look forward to seeing where I am on this one. It was a longer document than I wanted to read at the moment. I also want to go through some of the tests at the Language Testing International website. While I don’t know anything about their tests, they do provide a huge amount of information.

An Interesting Find

While looking for more proficiency level charts I found an interesting folder on the State Department’s website.

https://careers.state.gov/root/hidden-folders

I wonder if it is really supposed to be hidden since the name “Hidden Folders” is in the URL. The title of the page is “Hidden Documents.”

Really, I’m not a hacker! I just used Google to search for the State Department’s definitions of language proficiency.

I think I am between levels 3 and 4 in Spanish based on their self-assessment page.

Way Too Much Info (But Fun To Read)

And, as always, you can easily get lost in Wikipedia reading interesting articles about various Spanish dialects like this one on Peruvian Ribereño Spanish or Argentine Rioplatense Spanish. These are actually a great source of information and I wish now that I had taken the time to read the Peruvian article before I went there last month.

Maybe before my next trip I will remember to check out my friend Wikipedia.

Beating Your Problems

Some days I wished I had chosen the career of a carpenter. You still have problems to deal with, but at least as a carpenter you can beat the problem with a hammer. You may not be able to solve the problem that way, but it sure would help work out some of the frustrations.

Claw Hammer

Airports and Telephone Auto Attendants

I am traveling out of the country and needed to call my credit card company to make sure my card did not get frozen while traveling. I called the 800 number on the back of the card and intentionally did not want to speak any of my responses if not necessary. People are sitting around me. Unlike the man who planned a surprise retirement party while yelling into his phone, I didn’t want other people to hear my conversation. It is amazing how much private information people shout into their phones when they are in public.

Receptionist phoneAnyway.

When I sat down at this end of the airport an hour ago, no one was around and no planes were boarding near me. Therefore, there really weren’t any announcements that would interfere with my phone call.

I got through the initial parts of the call to the bank just fine. But when the auto attendant was asking me specifically what I was calling for and was about to wait for my response an announcement came over the speakers. The auto attendant waited patiently for me to stop talking.

The announcement finished and Mrs. Auto Attendant began speaking. She wasn’t but a couple of words into her apology for not understanding my request when another announcement started. She patiently waited again and when the announcement paused Mrs. Attendant said that she would transfer me to a real person who could better help me with my request.

Other than having to wait through the announcements, that was probably the fastest I have ever gotten a real person when calling a bank since the scourge of the auto attendant began.

ScratchGPIO Sound Problem

I am working on a project to demonstrate some of the things you can do with a Raspberry Pi. I am doing this for our local library. One of the things I thought about building is a drum machine or a piano. The premise is when you touch a switch it causes the Raspberry Pi to play a sound. Very easily done in Python (the language I know best).

However, since this project is to target new users of the Raspberry Pi, I thought it would be nice to use the Scratch programming language. This is a visual programming language that is very powerful and really kid friendly.

The problem with using Scratch though is that it doesn’t natively handle the GPIO interface (General Purpose Input Output). These are 40 pins (or 26 on the older models) coming out of the Raspberry Pi that you can use to control hardware such as robots.

ScratchGPIO

There is a project called ScratchGPIO that gives me the control I need. However, I had a problem with playing sound out of the computer when using the GPIO pins. Each time I would make the program play a sound, Scratch would exit (force quit). Looking through several forum threads did not turn up a solution quickly.

Finally, I found a forum post that gave an answer that solved the problem for me. I wanted to include it here in case it may be a help to others (and because I will probably forget the answer the next time I need it). Hopefully no one will have to dig as long as I did to find a solution.

The steps below assume that you have already read the instructions for getting the program installed. It is also probably a good idea to run the basic first program. Having said that, you probably wouldn’t have come here unless you already had the program up and running and fell into the same problem I had with sound.

Steps

  1. Start the ScratchGPIO program. When you install it, it will place an icon right on your desktop. Just double click the icon.
  2. After it is loaded, simply close it.
  3. Open a terminal window. I do this by typing “alt+F2” that will open a start program box. Inside that box type “lxterminal” and hit enter. Don’t actually type any of the quotation marks in this step.
  4. Inside the terminal window type “/usr/bin/scratch.old &” then hit enter. Again, no quotes.
  5. Scratch will re-open. Go to File | Open and select the “rsc” program (which is installed when you install ScratchGPIO).

That should make it so you can now use sound in your programs when using the GPIO interface.

I really don’t know if all those steps are necessary. I know I have opened a program I was working on in step 5 without opening the rsc program. It worked fine without doing that final step.

I would think that some of this can be automated with a script if someone wants to try and think that through. For me, the steps aren’t too cumbersome.

This is another one of the many things I have written up so that I can find the answer for myself when I need it in the future. I hope it is a help to others.

Buy a Raspberry Pi

If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi, head on over to MCM Electronics and buy one from the official US distributor.

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