My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

New Book -- Love Undefined (Anthology)

The LDS Beta Readers group that I've been participating in lately has released several anthologies of short-short stories written by members.

The most recent is called Love Undefined. (No, I haven't got a story in it.)

If you are interested in Mormon versions of condensed sweet romances where the girl gets her guy, these tales will be interesting.

And if you enjoy clean, short romances of love, with a hint of O. Henry-esque twist, you'll enjoy them:

* A blood-sucking immortal night-flyer finds repentance, family, and salvation.

* A teenage girl in a clan of were-creatures finds that love is more than a prop for her ego and salve to her wounded pride, when an enemy saves her life.

* Two journals record two series of dreams running in parallel in reverse.

* Christian traditions and symbolism bring a soldier back to life twice under an alien sun.

* A single woman finds love looking through her list of old flames and crushes.

* Two tartaned warriors find a way to end the bloody conflict between their clans.

* A pimpled musical prodigy finds a blind fan for her music, who inspires her to excel.

* A soldier cruelly disfigured by war wins more than friendship with the congregation's chorister.

* An inhabitant of a cold, gray and blue world unwisely leaves the protection of her world and her pack, and goes through a magic portal to a bright, vibrantly colorful, and too warm world, only to discover she can't return in her new human form. But she finds a place in her new world with her new human friend.

* A mail-order bride escaping a brothel on a slum planet finds two kinds of welcome when she arrives at her new home under two suns.

* When the reasons for a father's odd arrangement for his son to spend summers with the widow and daughter of his father's deceased business partner become clear, he rebels against the arrangement so she can have her freedom.

* And a couple celebrates their feelings for each other with a dinner and a surprise diamond ring.

Twelve authors, twelve excellent stories. Judging from activity in the group, at least some of these will turn into sneak previews for coming novels. I kind of hope they all do.

In the meantime, the anthology is available on Amazon, or direct if you know a member of the group.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Learning a Foreign Language 外国言語を学ぶには

I had a chat about teaching foreign languages with a potential employer recently. Regretfully, it was not very productive.

Her idea of teaching foreign languages consists of subjecting students to two classes of activity:

Input and output.

At the risk of being rude, this sort of approach treats the student as a machine.

I guess the theory is that you shove a lot of input in, and the human machine (in self defense, maybe?) naturally begins trying to make sense of it. The sense it makes of the information you input would be the first step.

Then you give the human machine a chance to output what it has learned, and you give the machine feedback. The machine supposedly uses the feedback to correct what it has learned.

I'll admit that this is a partially valid view of part of the process. But it's fatally flawed because it is incomplete.

Many humans do not naturally try to make sense of all information they are given. Information that is not deemed important tends to get filtered out. You cannot overcome this filter by sheer charismatic force, and, when you try to do so, you end up creating learning blocks instead of learning.

Teaching is a communication process. It is not one-way, it is two-way.

There are four essential elements of learning a foreign language.

1: Courage, determination, perseverence, and desire;

2: Willingness to make mistakes;

3:  Developing learning strategies;

4: And acquisition of the target language itself.

The first element is obvious not something you can force on a student. If the student sees the teacher mindlessly repeating (for example) a set of flash cards, she might believe there is a reason, or she might believe the teacher is crazy.

Babies have to assume the people around them are doing something meaningful, but they usually don't see people mindlessly rifling through a set of flash cards. They usually see see older children and adults communicating, and the communication they observe is rich with clues.

Students learning a second language are no longer in the do-or-die mode (hopefully). But they still need to see people doing things that make sense in the target language. Mindless repetition is, by definition, not going to be an activity rich in meaning.

There is a theory that assumes immersing the student in a target-language environment. In the extreme implementation, there is no mother tongue help at all. Such help is considered a hindrance to the object of forcing the student to acquire acquisition skills.

It does produce results. Children learn patterned responses, but they don't, except for a few who start out with language acquisition skills, acquire real meaning with the patterns. Without the meaning, the language lessons quickly become little more than a pattern game, like those Simon Says electronic toys: beep-beep-beep gets beep-beep-beep.

But that's in the best case. In the worst case, the students just get discouraged, frustrated, angry, and finally lose whatever motivation they might have had.

What determines whether the students start learning the pattern game or just lose motivation? Nothing more or less than personal chemistry with the teacher.

However, in the language immersion environment, even a little bit of the mother tongue can help untangle this web of de-motivation. And it can also help break through the pattern game.

(Really, any extreme idealism in education can't be good.)

More important than the clues, appropriate use of the mother tongue can be used to encourage the students.

The second element is a purely personal thing, but without it no student is going anywhere very fast.

No one starts with perfect understanding, so everyone makes mistakes. The learning environment has to be somewhat forgiving of mistakes. Not too forgiving, because students need feedback, but somewhat forgiving. Otherwise, mistakes pile up and get in the way of learning. (And when they pile up too much, students get stressed out and maybe even commit suicide.)

Learning strategies, the third element are far more important than teaching strategies. If you ask why, I'll remind you. Learning takes place within the student, not the teacher.

How does a teacher teach learning strategies?

Every teaching strategy you use demonstrates a learning strategy to the student. So you want to use lots of different teaching strategies.

But, even better, letting the students see the teacher in the process of learning something demonstrates learning strategy directly.

What is teaching?

It's one half of a process where information is passed from one person to another. Together with learning, education is simply one form of communication.

Or, rather, communication and education are basically the same thing, with a slightly different emphasis.

The most important teaching strategy and the most important learning strategy are both communication.

When you communicate with the student, you are teaching. When you do not communicate, you are not teaching.

Finally, we get to acquisition.

And if you are paying attention, you will see that I have said something Terrible. Awful. Horrible.

A teacher who does not know the target language, but is willing to learn with the students, can, in fact, lead a clsss in learning the target language.


That pile of 500 flash cards is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.

That list of three thousand key vocabulary words is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.

That book of eighty grammar principles is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.

Tests are just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.

One of the primary tools are books in the target language, and a teacher willing to read with the students. Note that I say, "with" more than "to".

Another primary tool is a teacher willing to communicate, even if he or she has to give in and use the student's mother tongue sometimes to do so.

Other useful secondary tools?


Hangman or draw-the-flower, and other spelling games;

Word Bingo and other games that allow students to speak and listen to vocabulary;

AGO and Go Fish and other games that allow students to speak and listen to phrases and sentences;


Role-playing, pair practice, and skits (including English Rakugo) can also help, especially if they are made fun.

Why fun? Because things that are fun have meaning, and things that have no meaning are not fun. It helps bring meaning to lessons, and it is the meaning in the lesson that helps students learn.

Along with the flash cards, writing practice, vocabulary matching, pair practice, etc., use games. They aren't just sugar to help the medicine go down.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Basshook Revisited

Okay, so, in spite of a certain rant three years ago, I am on Facebook, now.

It has significantly improved, I think. Or maybe the avalanche that hit me on attempted signup three years ago was due to my path in.

It's still not half what it ought to be. No, it's well less than that. Social networking is thoroughly hamstrung by the underlying profit motivation. We shouldn't have to write all our social activities on a business ledger.

Why did I join Facebook? Lots of people at church are using it. It is a bit more convenient than e-mail for certain kinds of contact.

Also, I'm beginning to suspect that I should quit trying to put someone else between myself and the student and just open up my own English/eikaiwa school. SNS will help with that.

Bonus -- I found the LDS authors Facebook group, LDS Beta Readers. Look them up if you're on FB  and are interested.

Monday, October 9, 2017

New Book -- Grace from the Fall by Mike Mabe

An authors' group I have been participating in recently was invited to review a new book by Mike Mabe called Grace from the Fall. When I saw the title, I half-expected it to be a light young adult or teenage romance about a girl named Grace getting over some social embarrassment. I'm sure that had something to do with the predominance of light teenage/YA romance being written by members of the group. :-)

The title, being an inversion of the over-used title (and philosophical term), "Fall from Grace", interested me, so I read the blurb.

Teenage/YA, yes.

Light? Prison is not expected to be a light topic, although the movie, We Are Not Angels is not extremely deep.

Romance? This book could almost be classed as roman à clef.

But grace is definitely not a young woman in this story.

So now you know how I got interested in the book. I checked my schedule and thought I could squeeze in two reads and a review, so I signed up and got an advanced readers' copy.

Starting into the book was a little rough for me. I kept looking for a girl named Grace, and the writing style is definitely on the younger end of the generation gap. :-/

And the opening scene is a painful one, the start of a foot race. (Track was anything but my forté.) But something in the writing kept my attention, and Mike's description of sports from the point of view of a de-motivated youth is accurate, and not excessively painful.

I didn't put it down until the next morning.

About a week later, it held my attention just as well for the second read. (I did put it down twice, for work and to eat.)

The blurb pretty much tells you what is there -- Mike gives a very readable account of how his fall gave him the opportunity to feel and accept the Lord's grace in his life, which opportunity he had somehow been missing on his way through high school. And he shows us a sympathetic view of the people who find their way into prison without romanticizing prison or crime culture.

This is a book that should enlighten the national discussion on crime, prisons, and recidivism. I recommend it, if you have even a passing interest in the subject, and perhaps the more if you don't.

You can find it on Amazon by searching their books for "Mike Mabe Grace from the Fall", or even searching the web for the same.

I'm told that it will be available through other distributors soon.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

SNS Cold Calls the Wrong Way (Unsolocited Contact)

Message content on LinkedIn:
Hi! My name is [something cute] and I am 28 and looking for somebody to have a good relationship with. I'd like to know if you are interested?
All sorts of ways, that looks like SPAM. Except, well, borderline. The picture on her personal page, for instance, was demur -- pretty, but not sexy, at least, not selling-it-sexy. And it wasn't exactly a cold call. The request for connection which preceded it was a cold call, in the sense that this was someone I did not know. But the message was preceded by the request, so not entirely cold.

Typically, when I get a request for a connection from someone I don't know, I let it sit for a week. The throw-away accounts from which you get spatter-gun solicitation often disappear within a week, either because the owner runs and hides, or because someone has complained.

Being willing to point out abuse of the networking services is part of your responsibility as a user, of course. I've flagged a few users, and will do so again when I see serious abuse.

Even if the account hasn't disappeared, if you check it out, there are certain tell-tales. There usually isn't much there. What's there looks made up and just bare-minimum. It has usually been just recently registered. There's no depth, so it's hard to tell who or what you're looking at. And, of course, certain kinds of solicitation have that tell-tale appeal to the appetites with pictures that could easily be "borrowed" from who-knows-where.

So, it had been a week yesterday, and I thought I wanted to get rid of the nag. I checked out her personal page and it has reasonable depth. The photos are decent, she has friends who also have pages, and she has a link to an employer who is on LinkedIn and Facebook. She has a nice LinkeIn/Facebook persona to lose if I flag it for abuse.

So I think maybe she's a member of my church, maybe she's a missionary I've forgotten. Or maybe she's interested in the novel that I've been writing but am currently spinning my wheels on, trying to figure out a way to make a profit. Maybe I can connect and let her tell me why she wanted to connect.

So I accepted the invitation to connect yesterday. Today I found the above message waiting for me on LinkedIn messaging -- in French. (Google translate made a hash of it, but did well enough to both English and Japanese that I'm pretty confident of the translation.

So I just went back and looked at her personal page on LinkedIn and, actually, the pages only seem to go back two weeks.

I'm a little disappointed, but this gives me a good basis for a rant on this particular sort of misuse of social networking.

The advantage of social networking sites is that you do have the option of cutting a connection, and of reporting abuse.

But I'm not going to do that yet. Google Translate is not perfect. Maybe this is not a faked persona constructed two weeks ago for the purpose of defrauding lonely old men. A ten percent chance is worth a bit of follow-up. Try to ask if she really meant it the way Google Translate translated it.

But I will, of course, not give the person/people on the other end of this any information they can't find from my public profile -- not even an e-mail address.

(I'll post later on how it turned out, but it should not matter.)

I'm thinking I want to post some pointers on cold calls.

But I realize that I'm not particularly good at them. My sales approaches get ignored. If I try to do cold calls with my résumé, out looking for work, I never make it past the first secretary in HR. My mailed résumés often don't even get acknowledged. (Yes, I've sought professional help with this. It doesn't seem to make any difference.)

The only specific advice I can offer seems to be negative: Don't do it this way.

If you like a blog post, and want to actually establish a conversational relationship with the person who posted it, responding on the blog itself is a good start if comments are enabled. If you make contact via e-mail or SNS, make sure you mention that blog post early, preferably with the URL.

And I want to suggest to the spatter-gun solicitors with no real product that they get a real, legitimate product. Abstract product is okay. Just don't use deception to get money without giving a product in return. Getting money that way only leaves you desperate again for money tomorrow or next week.

And be patient. Legitimate relationships, business, friendship, or otherwise, take time to establish.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Your Memory Map is No Longer Trivia

You think you don't really care about how applications and such are laid out in your computer's memory, but you should.

I have worked up a little programming exercise to help you examine your computer's memory map, in my programming is fun blog (which I really wish I had more time for). It explains a little about what memory layout means. If you aren't familiar with the problem, or just want to look at a little trivial bit of C language code that can show something about your computer's layout, take a look at that.


gallier2 points out something I tend to forget about: pmap will give you much more information than the little (emphasis on little) program I wrote, posted and linked above -- stkreveal.c .
man pmap
It's a useful tool. And I think it's in cygwin, as well. If you don't understand what it's telling you, reading about and playing with that little stkreveal.c program might help.

(I need to spend more time working with the low level OS tools.)


You may recall some horror stories about stack smashing and stack crashing in the distant past -- maybe even within the last ten years. You may remember that it describes a technique for someone who wants to access the stuff on your computer without your permission to do so. You may remember feeling relieved when the various vendors said the problems were solved (for some domain of the problems).

Recently, one of the companies that is currently investigating computer security decided to revisit the problem. This time, the easy crashes and smashes are quite well protected, but they found some new ways to get around the protections.

I got the news on the openbsd misc user list today. And I found the report here.

(Together with the Kaby Lake and Skylake problems, I got motivated to write this rant and the programming rant.)

At first, I was wondering why they were misspelling "crash". But they were just having a little fun, and pointing out that the existing protections are not sufficient. (If you wonder why they can joke about something like this, you have to understand that waiting all day for a program to break something can get a little boring.)

If the waiting all day sounds like the problem isn't too bad, don't worry, some of what they found works in less than a minute.

Okay. Worry a little.

Most of the vendors have been implementing mitigation techniques, and they aren't hard. The guard pages don't consume memory, whether 4K or 1M, for one. They only consume mapping table entries (which Intel has been delinquent in giving us enough of).

Those techniques aren't perfect, either, but they help. Your average $Kr!p+ k!DDi35 may not have enough patience to use them, so you probably only have to worry about government security organizations and organized crime. (Organized crime doesn't get the tech until a little after the government, usually, anyway.)

Part of my purpose in this rant is to tell anyone who might be wondering, why I don't have a lot of positive thoughts for either Intel or Microsoft.

This problem has been known for a long time. Fixing it is not hard. I'll explain that in another rant, maybe today, maybe later. But it means the processors you make can't be quite as fast. And it means the OS and applications you make can't have quite as many features.

And that means there can be something besides price and apparent ubiquity to differentiate the competition's product from yours. It gives the competition more room to compete with you on their terms instead of yours.

(It would mean that Intel wouldn't be able to just buy up all the best semiconductor engineers, to keep them off of the competitions' payroll. And it would mean that Microsoft's sales department couldn't run their engineering.) 

(And it would mean you couldn't just smooth talk your customers and invite them out for a game of golf and a visit to the nearest mosh pit to seal your deal. You'd have to compete on meaningful functionality.)

If you've already read my Memory Layout rant, here's what the "Stack Clash" business is, in the overview. (If you haven't and are lost, go read that.) First, an early 32-bit addressing CPU might have memory laid out something like this:

  stack (dynamic variables, stack frames, return pointers)
0x000FFxxx ← SP
  heap (malloc()ed variables, etc.)
  statically allocated variables
  application code
  operating system code, variables, etc.


To make this really clear, I am intending, by heap, to include everything allocated by mmap() and brk() and such, as well.


That's way over-simplified, but note that the same problem remains. And faster processors can eat up memory faster, so the extra memory doesn't really help protect things.

A slightly more modern, 32-bit map might look something like this:

  stack (dynamic variables, stack frames, return pointers)
0x0FFxxxxx ← SP
  guard page (Access to this page triggers OS responses.)
  heap (malloc()ed variables, etc.)
  statically allocated variables
  application code
  operating system code, variables, etc.

This is also still way over-simplified, but the gaps are mostly mapped without physical memory, and so is much of the application and OS space. Accessing those gap spaces allows the OS to add more memory in some cases and terminate renegade processes in others. If the guard page is accessed, the OS can be
pretty sure the application is out of control.

This is much improved, and it is the way many 32-bit OSses were mapped ten years ago. But it can be a little tight, motivating us to use a small guard page, to avoid wasting address space.
The small guard page is an important part of the problems the Stack Clash uncovered. If a program has large enough local variables, particularly, larger than the guard page, it can sometimes be caused to allocate one of those large variables without hitting the guard page.

And there are similar problems that opening up the memory map makes a little easier to deal with. So, we'd prefer something like this:

  stack (dynamic variables, stack frames, return pointers)
0xFxxxxxxx ← SP
  guard page (Access to this page triggers OS responses.)
  heap (malloc()ed variables, etc.)
  statically allocated variables
  application code
  operating system code, variables, etc.

You can see how this gives lots more room. In particular, with this kind of map, we can usually use 1M guard pages, which are much harder to force a program to miss.

Taking this to 64-bit CPUs, you might think the addressing ranges pretty nearly completely mitigate the problems, but let's see what Intel, the motherboard vendors, and the OS vendors have given us. It looks something like this:

  stack (dynamic variables, stack frames, return pointers)
0x00007Fxxxxxxxxxx ← SP
  guard page (Access to this page triggers OS responses.)
  heap (malloc()ed variables, etc.)
  statically allocated variables
  application code
  operating system code, variables, etc.

That's roomy, but what we want, of course, is more like this:

  stack (dynamic variables, stack frames, return pointers)
0x7FFFxxxxxxxxxxxx ← SP
  guard page (Access to this page triggers OS responses.)
  heap (malloc()ed variables, etc.)
  statically allocated variables
  application code
  operating system code, variables, etc.

You want to get each major block in memory as far away from every other as we can. But Intel says that practical considerations give them an excuse to scrimp on decoding and claim higher processor speeds.

(Higher processor speeds than their competitors so they can maintain their stranglehold on certain sectors of the CPU market, and use that stranglehold to keep pushing relentlessly at the rest of the semiconductor market.)

I'm not explaining how Microsoft fits into this, but a little thought should produce the obvious.


We in the industry have been far too long designing to the black hat skills of yesterday. 1M guard pages are better than 4K guard pages, but they really aren't enough, either. (I will refrain from explaining why here, since I am not inclined to educate the black-hats. People who figure these things out on their own tend to behave more responsibly with the knowledge.)


Hopefully, I can I have now posted an outline of a different sort of solution one of these days, and a discussion of how to go one step further in hardware, to really protect the return addresses.

(OT, but I'm getting a little tired of the way Google's javascript gadgetry keeps mishandling characters used in XML tags when I try to edit things like the above as HTML. If it gets scrambled, that's probably why. And I do need to start using using my off-line tools and quit using their on-line tools, to just avoid the problems altogether. Or maybe Google didn't want me talking about government security organizations, since that's the paragraph that seemed to beak the round-trip editing.)