Sunday, May 27, 2007

New Zealand: Slight change of plan

As has happened for other destinations, when we look a bit closer and get down to booking flights, we swap things around. This weekend we booked the Australia-to-New Zealand leg of the tickets, and instead of flying into the North Island as originally planned, we are flying into Christchurch on the South Island. We've heard that the South Island is where it's all at, and that's where we'll get most of the traveling done before the winter sets in. Flights to and from Fiji afterwards will be from Auckland, so we really need to finish up there, rather than start there.

The question now is whether we base ourselves in Christchurch for the month, or try to find somewhere in Queenstown. Decisions ,decisions.

When we move to the North Island, we'll probably be basing ourselves in Wellington.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Review of Chinesepod

A fun and effective method of learning Chinese (oh - and Spanish!)

Review of Chinesepod

Rated as 5/5 on May 18 2007 by Brendan Lawlor

I came across this website early on in my (now 18 month old) efforts to learn Chinese. These guys are perfecting the practice of teaching language online, and having established themselves as the leaders in the business, they've started to use the same technology and techniques to teach Spanish (through the parent company Praxis Language).

I used the free service for the first 6 months - which allows access to their daily lesson podcasts. The next subscriber (US$60 per year) level adds PDFs and online dialog transcripts. I used this for another 8 months or so before finally moving to the premium subscription (US$150 for six months). At this level, you get to use all the great features and toys that come with the site - build up your own vocabulary and test yourself on it, listen to expansions of the dialog that build organically on the grammar and vocabulary that, do tests at the end of each lesson. You can set up your own schedule of lessons, and create an RSS feed of those lessons that iTunes or Google Reader can consume. And other new features are on the way all the time.

There is one further level which I will be trying out over the Summer, which involves daily 10 minute conversations (phone or Skype) with dedicated teachers based in the Chinesepod Shanghai 'factory'.

The teaching techniques used by Chinesepod are well thought out and allow students to concentrate on the topics and techniques that are right for them. The default philosophy of the group is grammar-light, but for grammar nerds like me, their is a grammar section on the way.

This is how online teaching should be done - an excellent combination of pedagogy and web engineering, that I can recommend wholeheartedly to anyone wishing to study Chinese or Spanish on their own terms. Two weeks of free premium membership are given to all new users - no strings attached - so it couldn't be easier to find out for yourself whether or not I'm telling the truth.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Zealand: Wellington and Queenstown?

If there something that the whole world appears to agree on, it's that New Zealand is a wonderful place. Much advice that we've been given has been to trade time from Australia to spend it in New Zealand. We're not going to do that - 12 weeks in both places is about right. But now that our China and Australia itineraries are pretty clear, it's time we planned where we're going to stay in NZ.

As with Oz, we'll spend 4 weeks on the road, and 4 weeks each in two fixed locations. At the moment, we're thinking about Wellington in the North Island and Queenstown in the South. We'll need to make some solid plans soon, as we're hoping to house-swap in both of those places, and we'll need to start making some contacts directly using our chosen exchange.

As for what we want to see when we're on the road? Well, from the hot sulphur of Rotorua in the North to the Franz Josef Glacier right down South...

...and most things in between.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Review of Sony Cybershot DSC-W50 DIGITAL CAMERA

Small, easy to use, plenty of features digital camera - perfect for travelers.

Rated as 4/5 on May 02 2007 by Brendan Lawlor

I've had to make some technology decisions for the upcoming trip. One of the important decisions is what digital camera to bring. I was looking for something small and robust with a decent battery life and a good sized memory. This camera from Sony ticks all those boxes.

I'm not a photographer so I'm looking for mostly point-and-click functionality to take clear pictures, keep memories, and show the folks back home what we're up to. While it is that easy to use, the camera also offers a lot of other features and levels of control for those who know their ISOs from their elbows.

I also want to leave the digital camcorder at home (ease of movement and peace of mind being the issues there) and the DSC W50 has the capacity to take small movies too.

It's one of the cheapest models that uses Lithium ion batteries, so you can go a fair amount of time between recharges. I bought it with a 2G Memory Stick DUO Pro so I always run out of charge before space, despite recording a lot of movies.

Occasionally I need to re-insert the memory stick, which I could do without. But overall I can really recommend this camera to tourists and tourers alike.

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