Saturday, 16 June 2012

Learning Norwegian - Mitt nye hus

Yep! We're moving, and we've found somewhere new to live, after lots of worry and stress. It's in Lewisham, and it's actually a house! Like, with an upstairs and a downstairs and stairs and everything!

In the video below, I take you on a little tour of the house in Norwegian (with subtitles!). I make a couple of mistakes, as always, which I was kicking myself about afterwards, but I didn't film it again as I wanted to keep it as natural as possible.

I notice that I mainly kept forgetting genders, and not using articles before nouns where I need to. They're things that I do know, that just slip away when I'm speaking, so it's something I need to work on, but the main focus for me here in these videos is my pronunciation and accent.

Constructive criticism and comments are always very welcome.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Arron or Chris: who goes? Big Brother decides

It's no big secret that the producers of reality shows like Big Brother strive to create storylines to provide the best entertainment and bring in the biggest ratings. It's also no surprise then that they try and control who is voted out each week.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in The X Factor, which sofabet have written about many times. But in Big Brother, where only two contestants each week are voted on by the public, the situation is a little different.

This week, the two housemates up for eviction are Arron and Chris. But who do the producers want out?

There's considerable evidence pointing to the idea that they're trying to steer the vote towards Arron (viewers vote for whom they want to stay). With no live feed, viewers have no choice but to be fed the version of events presented in each evening's highlights program.

Tonight, in a task where contestants are not allowed to laugh, Big Brother had Arron wear several silly costumes, putting him at the centre of events, in potentially sympathy-winning situations. The third of these costumes also allowed him to show off what's perhaps his best asset - his body. Shots like the one below are surely enough to win him some votes from a certain, not inconsiderably-sized demographic of viewer.

(yes, this whole post is just an excuse to post this picture)

Indeed, the theory is backed up by articles on DigitalSpy featuring the two nominees, both shirtless. There's an obvious voting pull right there, as there was in Tuesday nights episode when, right before the voting numbers, the pair discussed their nominations while Arron stood naked and dripping wet in the shower.

Elsewhere in tonight's program, Chris's edit featured him largely being unpleasant and argumentative, largely with Becky. However, the show did go out of its way to show a particularly odd disagreement between Arron and Deana followed by an almost comically insincere apology by the former. And while Arron is being given every opportunity to sell his body for votes, he's also being provided with all the rope he needs to hang himself as the show gives him reason after reason to display his vanity.

Overall, it's hard to say who the producers want to stay this week. I was initially leaning towards Arron, but Big Brother's Bit on the Side, the talkshow following each evening's episode, made a point of campaigning for Chris tonight. On a purely shallow level I'd personally prefer Arron to stay, as well as because I find Chris (more) annoying. And it would make sense if the producers did too. Arron's good eye candy, and while Chris causes conflict which will be seen as entertaining, Arron certainly has the potential to do the same.

I'm loving this series of Big Brother, and I'm very pleased that after so many years the contestants are finally allowed to discuss nominations and strategise. Let me know what you think about this, and about Arron and Chris, below.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Why I dumped Google Chrome - a review

As a long-time user of Firefox who's seen praised lavished upon Google Chrome, when I got my new computer with Chrome pre-installed, I decided to give it a go and see what all the fuss was about.

Six days later, I'm back to Firefox. But why?

Firstly, the positives. I'm a big fan of Chrome's clean, unfussy layout. The screen remains uncluttered by sidebars, toolbars and other buttons, leaving more space free for the websites the user visits.

I also really liked Chrome's automatic website translations. When visiting a site in a foreign language, the browser automatically pops up a bar at the top to ask the user if they'd like it translated into English. I normally didn't want that, as I was visiting these websites to learn the languages concerned, but it's very handy to have, and easy to turn off for specific languages too.

In addition to these features, like all good browsers these days, Chrome is very customisable, with lots of extensions to be added and removed at will. This is where my problems started however, and ultimately is the reason I switched back to Firefox.

Chrome and I didn't get off to a good start, as the version that Lenovo has pre-installed on my laptop was a little old, and wouldn't accept some of the extensions I wanted to use. (Incidentally, I wonder if this is by accident or design on the manufacterers behalf, as all the extensions it wouldn't install were ones relating to privacy or ad-blocking.) The browser then wouldn't allow itself to be updated; I eventually uninstalled it, and reinstalled it fresh from Google's website, upon doing which I was able to install AdBlock Plus.

There were three activities in particular where extensions to the browser were important to me.

The first is a service I use called Pocket (formerly Read It Later), which allows users to save webpages they want to read at a later time, and synchronises between computers and smartphone. The official Chrome extension didn't even let me read the pages I'd saved without going to Pocket's webpage, and the three different user-created ones I tried were all fiddly to use. I found a workaround using one of these, but it required more clicks than the simple Firefox add-on.

The second activity that I like to use browser extensions for is Twitter, and I had a terrible time trying to find a Chrome extension that suited the way I work. Very few seem to support managing multiple accounts, and similarly few are able to load your tweets from when you last read, instead bringing up the newest tweets each time the extension is opened. Echofon for Firefox manages both of these tasks beautifully, with a simple, inobstrusive interface, and it was my longing for this that was the tipping point, finally driving me back to Firefox.

In going back to Firefox, however, I was concerned that I would have to sacrifice one great extension I'd found, that automatically scrobbled YouTube videos to my account. I'd never been able to find a working Firefox add-on before, so I was surprised and pleased to find that now there is a Greasemonkey script that does this very well.

All of this means that I'm very happy to be back with Firefox. Other than the automatic translations, there's nothing that Chrome can do that Firefox can't, and plenty that Chrome fails miserably on that Firefox accomplishes with ease. And while Chrome is supposedly less demanding than other browsers, when extensions are taken into account it was sucking up far more system resources than Firefox ever does.

For some users perhaps, Chrome could be ideal. But for me, and for how I work, it was a total letdown. I'm pleased to be back on familiar ground with Firefox.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Rolling my 'r' - an update

As you may have read in my last blog entry, I decided to dedicate some time this weekend to training myself to roll my 'r' better, to improve my language skills, specifically for Norwegian and Serbian.

I promised to record a video, and you can watch me stumble through my attempts below (the words with 'r' are at the end, from 3:27). I introduce the video in Norwegian (with subtitles, don't worry!), and then continue in English, explaining some of the methods I used and problems I had. It was pretty difficult; I had some skills before, and I don't know if I particularly improved how I sound, but I do feel a little more confident than I did before, and, as much as anything, I know what I'm doing wrong! Now I just need to keep practising!

Comments and constructive criticism are particularly welcome.

The following sites and videos helped me this weekend, so thank you to them. - this girl explains things well, and is fun to watch too - a really great video, an accompaniment to the previous link, that shows how to make your tongue less stiff. - for Spanish learners, but the concepts are the same, and I feel I got closest to getting the vibrations right with this one.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Sorry, I'm not going to be writing about Eurovision for once! Instead, this post is about my goal for this long bank holiday weekend.

I'm going to spend some time with some internet resources I've found, and I am going to learn to properly roll my r's. Just like this man:

With the languages I'm learning, it's very important for me to be able to master this vital skill. It's one thing that's really held me back all my life when speaking foreign languages, from French to Serbian and now Norwegian.

Of course, all these languages have their own different sounds represented by the letter 'r', which are described in more technical terms that I don't really understand here. But when speaking another language, the fact is that using the English sounding 'r', where the top teeth meet the bottom lip, is a sure way to mark the speaker as a non-native, and is invariably recognisable as English.

That's why my goal now is to learn how to properly roll my r. I do have some approximation of it, which was taught to me by a friend in Serbia, and involves putting my tongue behind my top teeth and pulling it back. This isn't really enough though, as I can't maintain the sound, and I'm still not fully confident with it. Hopefully by putting my mind to the task this weekend, and really making an effort, I'll improve my speaking abilities and make myself more likely to be understood when using my languages abroad.

So, on Tuesday night, I'm going to record a video of myself speaking, and you'll be able to judge for yourself whether I've succeeded. It's a daunting prospect actually, showing my potential weakness to the world, but hopefully that'll help me to focus and overcome this barrier.