Learn Japanese writing from a native child’s perspective

At various points in my travels, I’ve picked up books for learning Japanese that are aimed at Japanese children. It is a fun challenge to try to use them in my own language learning. These books are aimed at kids who are native speakers but are now learning to write. In contrast, I already know how to write (hiragana well, still learning katakana) but my vocabulary is very small.

One book I have is titled “こくご” which translates to “national (Japanese) language.” It starts out by having you practice writing hiragana syllables and moves on to writing whole words. Some exercises have you draw lines to connect words with pictures.

The hardest parts for me are

  1. Reading the instructions (which are probably aimed at parents or teachers, since the kids are still learning to read and write).
  2. Coming up with the requisite vocabulary, which is simple but still a stretch for me.

For example, here is lesson 7 (click to enlarge):


I am using colored pencils because… why not use colored pencils? Much more fun that way!

You work right to left and top to bottom. First I wrote my name (キリ) and the date (month 8, day 5). The instructions translate as “in the box, opposite of meaning of word, let’s write.” So then I got to figure out what one phrase meant (read vertically) to figure out what to put in its vertical partner that would mean the opposite. #1 is “high mountain” so I entered “low” (mountain).

After completing a lesson, you get to put a sticker on it! The book came with a page of over a hundred stickers. I used a yellow mouse sticker on this one. :)

I also have “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein in Japanese. Someday I hope to be able to read it!

Flying to Santa Monica and Hawthorne… and over LAX!

Happy National Aviation Day!

I got to commemorate this day by visiting two new airports. My first stop was the Santa Monica airport (SMO). First I did a bunch of research on the SMO website. I appreciate the amount of information available, but this airport has so many rules and dire warnings (including written warnings and fines) that it is rather intimidating to plan your first flight there. They have specific procedures that include the following instruction:

“Maintain pattern altitude or above as long as practical. Approach as steeply as is safe and aim for a point further down the runway if your aircraft is capable.”

That is, they would like you to start high, land steep, and go long… all things one generally tries to avoid.

At any rate, I took off from El Monte and got flight following to SMO at 2300′. I had my GPS set with a direct route to SMO, but from my pre-flight planning I also knew that all I needed to do was follow the 10 freeway and stay under the LAX Bravo airspace (starts at 2500′). I kept it at 2300′ and was mindful of my heading. I didn’t encounter any other traffic, and it was a nice ~25-minute flight to SMO. I flew right between downtown L.A. on my left, and Dodger Stadium on my right:

Downtown LA Dodger Stadium

While 2300′ is still at least 2000′ feet above the ground, boy, it feels low when you are flying over the city! (I did not fly over the skyscrapers.)

I got a straight-in approach to runway 21 at SMO. It is a big, wide runway! I landed and discovered that they don’t have many painted taxiway exits. Instead you can exit the runway wherever it is paved. I got off the runway (I thought). It turns out that the huge asphalt expanse is still part of the movement area so you have to keep going and get on the taxiway itself before you’re officially clear of the runway. The controller prodded me and I got myself onto the taxiway. After I parked, I noticed several other arriving planes hesitate in the same way and then have to be urged to keep going. :)

A woman with two small children was watching planes land from the observing deck which is right next to transient parking. She was so thrilled that I had parked next to them (I guess because they could see a plane up close?) and wanted to know if I did it for their benefit!

I picked up Manuel and we took off, now headed for the Hawthorne airport (HHR). What lies between SMO and HHR is a really big airport called LAX. LAX offers a couple of ways that small planes can cross over it at low altitudes. The one we decided to use is called the “mini route”. I had flown it once before with my instructor (and my mom), but not as a licensed pilot! All the responsibility for an accurate and safe flight was on me.

SMO has strict instructions for how you depart it on runway 21: you take off, then at the end of the runway you turn 10 degrees to the left to get over a golf course, then turn to heading 225 to head out to the beach. You are not allowed to turn left before Lincoln Ave and you’re not allowed to turn right before the shore. We flew out over the beach and then kept climbing in a right turn to get us up to 2500′. I had plugged in the SMO VOR so we could fly precisely the right heading, 128 degrees straight at LAX. SMO handed us over to LAX and then I got to read back LAX’s magic words: “Cleared into class Bravo, maintain 2500.” We flew over all of LAX’s runways and planes and terminals, and then we were out the other side of the Bravo airspace. LAX handed us over to HHR, and I started descending (Hawthorne is RIGHT NEXT to LAX).

2016-08-19-laxI landed at HHR (my first time there too! It’s also a nice wide runway!) and we switched seats. Manuel took off and flew us to the Palos Verdes practice area and did some very nice steep turns. Then he took us in to the Torrance airport (TOA) which I also had never been to. Then we took off again and headed back north to SMO. That meant traversing the LAX mini route a second time, this time with Manuel at the controls. Because it’s the same altitude in both directions, it’s like a one-lane tunnel; you don’t get cleared in if someone else is coming in the other direction. (You can however get cleared in behind someone else going the same direction. There are rules for how to pass if you’re going faster than the plane in front of you.)

The picture at right is the view looking down on LAX as we crossed over northbound!

Manuel landed the plane at SMO. Unlike most airports in the area, SMO charges a landing fee, which will probably be two landing fees since we landed twice in that plane. I tried to find a way to pay it there, but apparently it will be auto-billed at some later point. Huh.

I flew back to El Monte (EMT) solo. Again I got to take off, fly over the golf course, head to the beach, and turn before heading back east. The SMO tower was giving flight following to EMT for two other planes, so he added me to his list; I never switched to SoCal. I also never got any traffic alerts – hopefully because there was no traffic :) Around downtown the SMO controller told me to contact EMT, who told me to make right traffic for 19. This was the first time I’ve approached EMT from the southwest and it was great! I made a precise 45-degree entry to the downwind, and I was cleared #3 for the runway. Uneventful landing and I was done! Fantastic day!

Learning Japanese through Spanish

I love to learn new languages, and I’ve been working on my español for a few years now. But I’m also tempted by Japanese. I took some classes on Japanese years ago, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit Japan twice – each time renewing my interest in the language! But who has time to learn two languages?

It occurred to me that there might be a way to learn them both AT THE SAME TIME. What if I tried to learn Japanese… in Spanish? That way I could leverage my (larger but still only lower intermediate) understanding of Spanish to learn Japanese.

I sought out some Japanese language learning materials aimed at Spanish speakers. They learn Japanese too, right? And I found this delightful website called Hablemos en japonés. It uses anime-style graphics and schoolgirl voices to illustrate sample dialogs. Each 10-minute lesson is conducted in Spanish (with adult Spanish voices)!

Here is a screenshot from Lesson 1 (I encourage you to check out the whole thing):

Soy Anna

I’ve gone through the first three lessons and enjoyed them greatly. (And already I learned that “haga clic” is how you tell someone to (make a) click!) At this level I already know both the Spanish and Japanese lesson content, but refreshers never hurt, and listening to the explanations in Spanish requires concentration. But who doesn’t want to know how to ask where the bathroom is in multiple languages?

I still haven’t figured out why Anna, who’s from Thailand, is somehow a native Spanish speaker (she writes in her diary in Spanish). But it’s convenient for me! There are 48 lessons total – enough to keep me busy for a while. :)

さようなら and adiós!

How to take apart an engine

Today I got to take apart an engine… and put it back together.

I attended a training class in small engines. Our idea is that this could be a great workshop for Kids Building Things. Getting to take apart an engine in middle school? Wouldn’t that have been awesome?

As it turns out, this class was also an unexpected refresher in basic engine knowledge that relates to my pilot training! We discussed 4-stroke combustion engines, why water in the fuel is bad, and what pre-ignition and detonation are. The plane I fly has a 4-cylinder air-cooled engine. The one we got to take apart in this class was a single cylinder, also air-cooled. I think it is the type of engine you’d use in a lawn mower.

EngineHere is the engine before we started disassembling it. The piston is in the big shiny hole at the top. The fuel/air mixture and exhaust valves are the smaller circles on the top. The shaft sticking out goes to the magneto/flywheel system (not shown) and the other end of that axis is the drive shaft (to actually do the work you want to achieve with the engine). The black radial looking part is the oil pan. In normal operation, that should be at the bottom, so this is a vertical mount engine, and it could (for example) spin a lawn mower blade).

UncoveredWe worked in pairs on our engines. After removing the oil pan, you can see the drive shaft (long cylinder pointing out) and the cam shaft (small plastic gear on the right). The cam shaft gives the valves their timing so they open and close at the proper points in the 4-stroke cycle.

Our instructor drilled us through the intake-combustion-power-exhaust process, which was nicely illustrated when you hand-turned the drive shaft and could see the piston go up and down and the valves open and close in synchrony.

Ring spreaderThen he had us extract the piston from its cylinder. It has three sets of pressure rings that help give it a good fit in the cylinder and also (apparently) wipe oil down from the cylinder walls. There is a really awesome tool called a “ring spreader” that allows you to easily remove and replace these thin metal rings. At right you can see the tool with some rings next to it. The dull grey slightly oval shape sitting above the rings is the piston head, with its disconnected shaft to its right. The piston itself is round, but underneath they apparently tweaked the shape to use less material (reduce weight) which is why it isn’t quite round.

We then removed the valve assemblies, including the springs. By then we were left with a metal block that did nothing. We then put all of the pieces back together. Re-installing the valve springs was definitely the trickiest and fiddliest part – my partner and I took several attempts before we got it (success!).

In a longer class, apparently you get to put your engine on a mount and fire it up! Seeing it run after you’ve taken it apart and put it back together must be really satisfying. But even without that, I can now see how you would go about getting in there and replacing a worn part. It’s not such a mystery. And now I understand a bit more about what probably happened when my ’86 Nissan Sentra’s timing belt broke. No wonder it was a major repair!

How to make paneer

I recently attended an Indian cooking class with a friend, and a couple of weeks later, we decided to put our new skills to the test. One of the things we needed was paneer. Paneer is that awesome cheese that comes embedded in saag paneer and other tasty Indian dishes. Instead of buying it, I decided to find out how to make my own. Turns out that it’s quite easy!

I used this paneer recipe. Believe it or not, paneer is just curdled milk! All you do is heat up whole milk, add an acid (I used lemon juice), and then once the milk curdles, you pour it through cheesecloth to strain out the whey and retain the curds. Here’s what it looks like:

MilkHeat up half a gallon (8 cups) of milk. This will yield about 1 cup of paneer.

CurdleMilk curdles!

The little brown bits are from the milk cooking on the bottom of the pan. The recipe says “stirring frequently” but really they mean “stirring constantly” to avoid this. I ended up fishing out as many little brown bits as possible, but it’s probably fine to leave them in (just visually a bit strange). Another method I later heard was to not stir at all and let the brown skin form at the bottom, then just leave it behind when you pour the mixture out.

DrainI didn’t actually pour the mixture out because the cheesecloth didn’t really cover my whole colander. Instead I skimmed the curds out and plopped them onto the cheesecloth, which worked just as well. I poured the remaining whey down the drain. Later I learned that you can save the whey to use when making bread for a little extra flavor.

SquishI twisted the cheesecloth around the curds and squeezed moisture out, then let it drip for a while, then put it on a plate, in the fridge, weighed down by other objects, to squeeze out more liquid. It worked famously!

I unwrapped the paneer and sliced it into cubes for the saag paneer.

DinnerHere is the final meal: tofu curry, basmati rice, samosa, saag paneer, raita, and homemade naan, plus cilantro monster sauce and mint “cocktail” (non-alcoholic) – the mango lassi came later. Phenomenal!

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