Joined LinkedIn

View James Lick's profile on LinkedIn

Yeah, I know, I’m allergic to social networking sites, but this one seems to be OK. I already sent invites to those of you I could find, but it wants full name and current email address to make a connection request, which I don’t have for all of you. If you’re on LinkedIn and didn’t get an invite from me, go clickety click above and invite me to make a connection.


Last night Taiwan Beer (台湾啤酒) sponsored a Forumosa Happy Hour at Alleycat’s Lishui Jie. Sponsorship involved Taiwan Beer paying the entire bar tab that night after 9pm. They also invited a couple of TV crews to come in and film the festivities. So at some point you may see me on TV saying “I love Taiwan Beer! Cheers!”

I got there early so I could get a table and some food before the festivities began. I was the first Forumosan there, but a few people started drifting in later. People really started arriving past 9pm and my table was soon filled up with people, and Alleycat was going around delivering beers in bulk. Taiwan Beer was paying regardless of the type of beer served, so most of us started out Hoegaarden. When the cameras arrived suddenly dozens of bottles of Taiwan Beer sprouted in the middle of every table.

Final count for me was 1 small salami pizza, 1 Caesar salad, 2 large Hoegaardens, and 2 small bottles of Taiwan Beer. That may have had something to do with sleeping past noon today.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Last year we did a take-away packaged dinner from Landis Hotel for Thanksgiving. It was pretty good, but the turkey was too big, the pumpkin pie too small, and the trimmings a bit limited as well. Still, bacon wrapped turkey… mmm!

This year we decided to take a DIY approach. We were going to get a goose instead of a turkey, but they were out of them for some reason so we got a Beijing Roast Duck (北京烤鴨) instead. We also got a LARGE pumpkin pie from the Landis. Then I made mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce (well I opened the can), and marshmallow topped yams for the trimmings. I thought about doing stuffing too, but figured we had enough already.

The duck was actually a pretty good substitute. It’s a bit like dark meat turkey, and went well with gravy and cranberry sauce. Best of all, we finished about 80% of the bird, so we won’t be cursed with leftovers. (Last year we had so much that we were feeding the cat turkey leftovers and still had to throw some out when it got ripe.)

All the other trimmings came out nice as well, and everything was well received by the whole family, except Emily who was a bit picky. The marshmallow yams came out a bit too watery, but that was a minor thing. I haven’t tried the pumpkin pie yet, as I’m stuffed for now.

Rosetta Stone Chinese Review

NOTE: This review was of the old version 2 of Rosetta Stone. The current product is version 3 and is much improved. Please see my update in the comments section for details.

Crossposted from

Many written mistakes may lead you astray

As others have noted, this is an excellent way to learn spoken Chinese. However, there are many errors in the written sections that will end up teaching Chinese students the wrong things if they don’t have other resources to fall back on, and endlessly frustrate those students who do know the proper usage.

Some reviewers have criticized the lack of translations. However, this is an immersion program, and so that is something that should be expected. It can be daunting to approach the first lessons, but there are enough clues in the pictures and variations on usage that you soon figure things out. More importantly, because you are forced to figure things out it is easier to remember what you’ve learned. This is a big point in Rosetta Stone’s favor for those students who are seriously interested in actually remembering what they learn.

The spoken part is quite good. While the speakers use a Beijing style accent, it is not a heavy one. The student should pick up a more universal speaking style than other programs which use a heavy Beijing accent which can make one hard to understand in other parts of the Chinese speaking world. The speech is very clearly spoken, and is slow enough to be easily understood but not so slow as to be unrealistic.

At first the written portion looks very encouraging. Rosetta Stone offers the options of using Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks, simplified Chinese (used in China and Singapore), or traditional Chinese (used in Hong Kong and Taiwan). However, there are numerous mistakes which, if the student is unaware of them, will lead to learning incorrect information.

First with the traditional Chinese, many words in the traditional Chinese option are written using simplified Characters instead. In Unit 1 alone you have feiji (airplane) written in both traditional and simplified characters in different places, and mianbao (bread), pingguo (apple), huluobo (carrot) and gan (doing) are consistently presented in simplified characters. If someone is considering using Rosetta Stone to learn traditional Chinese characters, there are enough mistakes that you probably should take a pass.

Normally if you’ve selected the simplified or traditional character options, you’d never see the pinyin characters at all. However, in the written test portion, only pinyin is tested for. This may seem like a drawback but it is also a good way to test you on which tones are used. It would be nice if they allowed entering actual Chinese characters in the written portion though.

When learning spoken Chinese getting the correct tones is extremely important. Of course, good listeners can pick up the tones just from listening, but most Chinese language students need additional help and reinforcement on the proper usage of tones. Using pinyin with tones in the written test portion would be a good way to do this.

Again, though, we run into mistakes and inconsistencies. As a very basic example, ge (counting word) is used quite frequently in the pinyin as fourth tone. However, most of the time the proper usage is to use the neutral tone (it can also be used in fourth tone in some cases, but not in the cases they use it). To further confuse things, sometimes they properly use ge in neutral tone in exactly the same usage where a few screens before they used it incorrectly in fourth tone!

There is an additional problem in inconsistent placement of the tone mark. The tone mark is placed above a vowel in the word. If there is more than one vowel, such as the word zai (at), there are various rules for where to put the tone mark. However, it is usually considered unimportant for the student to remember exactly which vowel to place the tone mark on. It’s much more important just to know which tone should be used.

The written test portion uses a unique method for entering pinyin with tone marks. A more common system would be to place the number of the tone at the end of each syllable, for example zai4 to indicate zai in the fourth tone, and either using 5 or omitting the number for neutral zone. Instead, Rosetta Stone uses a system where the -, [, = and ] keys act as shift keys for tones 1-4 respectively. In additiona for the special umlauted “u” letter in pinyin, the common method in other input systems is to use “v” to represent this character, however Rosetta Stone uses “h” instead. These quirks are not too hard to get the hang of but it is regrettable that a more common input system wasn’t used.

Getting back to the mistakes, this system also means that the student must place the tone mark above the correct vowel when there is more than one. Again, that’s a rather nit-picking detail that will not add much to the student’s knowledge of Chinese.

But even worse, consistency problems again crop up. Again in the example of zai in the fourth tone, most teaching materials place the tone mark over the “a”. Rosetta Stone starts out in Unit 1 with the tone mark over the “i” instead, but in later units it switches to placing the tone mark over the “a”.

Rosetta Stone by default uses ‘strict’ mode in the written test where tone marks need to appear exactly where they expect. This increases the difficultly greatly for little learning benefit, and then frustrates the student by not following a consistent method of doing so. Alternatively one can turn off strict mode, but then tone marks are not considered at all. If the student wants to learn tones, he or she will need to put up with the frustration of also learning where to put the tone marks depending on which lesson you are on.

These are just some examples of incorrect or inconsistent usage in units one and two alone. The number of such mistakes are present throughout the lessons.

I’m not familiar enough with simplified Chinese to comment on the quality and consistency there.

It is frustrating and disappointing that such mistakes, problems and inconsistencies which should have been caught by the publisher have resulted in a mediocre product that could otherwise have been great. With these problems it makes it very difficult and frustrating for the student to learn proper tones or traditional Chinese characters.

Because about half of the features are badly broken, and because the problems are not apparent to the beginning student, this product only gets 1/2 the possible score from this reviewer.

In Progress

Restaurant #2 is now officially in progress as of last Wednesday. It is an existing Subway store in Taipei which I am buying. I will be less circumspect when things are settled. We signed the first round of paperwork last week, have a verbal agreement with the landlord that a new lease with same terms as before will not be a problem, and funding has been secured. The whole process will take over a month so it’ll be sometime in December (probably the second half) before the transfer is officially done. It’s not a done deal at this point, but unless there are major surprises then everything should go through OK.

There’s also some other Subway Taiwan news in the works that should be coming soon that I’m looking forward to sharing.

Also if you’re in the area, my original store has two specials currently.

Afternic to censor domains

Afternic Decides To Remove Adult & Gambling Domains From Web Site

After extensive consideration, we have decided to no longer accept domain names that promote hate, sex, obscenity or self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse, violence and gambling. The sole rationale behind our decision is to make Afternic a more comfortable site for mainstream domain name shoppers, especially small business owners. We recognize that taking a leadership role on this issue may have a negative financial impact on our business in the near term. Nonetheless, we believe strongly that it’s the right thing long-term decision for our industry and Afternic.

Philippe Marc at Landis Taipei’s Paris 1930

Our house is right behind the Landis Taipei hotel which has a quite well respected French restaurant called Paris 1930, but we had never been there before. Recently I read in the paper that Chef Philippe Marc would be visiting for one week only. Philippe Marc is a student of top French Chef Alain Ducasse and is currently executive chef at the restaurant A.DUCASSE in Paris. This is not an opportunity that comes that often, so I asked my wife to join me for a dinner there tonight.

It was, as expected, quite a nice dinner. There were two set meals available, and I chose set 1 while Maggie chose set 2. I ordered a glass of house red wine which was quite nice considering it was ‘just’ a house wine, and we also shared a liter bottle of San Pellegrino. After our meal Philippe Marc and the regular Paris 1930 Chef Michael came out to greet each table.

Set 1:
Amuse Bouche (shrimp with caviar and green peas)
Semi-Cooked Foie-Gras with Sangria Sauce
Millet and Vegetable Cooked “a la minute” with Red Crayfish and Basil
Artichoke Cream Soup with Black Truffle Flan
Sea Bass Fillet with Endive and Sour Truffle Sauce
Roasted Veal Loin with Potato Cake, Green Asparagus and Port Sauce
Poached Pear in Syrup with Vanilla Ice Cream and Warm Chocolate Sauce
Coffee or Tea
Petits Fours (a plate of two Macaroons, two candied apricots, and one chocolate)

Set 2:
Amuse Bouche (as above)
Red Curry Crab with Vegetable and Romaine Lettuce
Pan-seared Scallop with Sea Urchin, Chopped Borage and Ocean Vinaigrette
Cream of Celeriac Soup with Truffle and Egg Yolk
Turbot Fillet with Yellow Wine Mousse and Green Asparagus
Lamb Saddle Stuffed with Kafta, accompanied with Chick Pea Puree and Tomato Confit
Golden Chocolate Tart
Coffee or Tea
Petits Fours (as above)

Philippe Marc will be at Paris 1930 through November 15.

Basic Economics vs. Politics

One of the most hilarious things I found when filling out my absentee ballot last week was the summary of Proposition 87 [PDF]. Proposition 87 proposes to tax oil producers in California to provide funding for alternative energy research.

The hilarious part: The proposition would outlaw passing on the cost of the tax. Supporters of the proposition actually say with a straight face that this tax will have no cost whatsoever to the consumer.

Ignoring the goals of the proposition in general for the moment, this part of it is such complete and utter bullshit. If you know anything at all about economics, you will know that every cost imposed on a business is passed on to the customer. There’s actually no other way around it.

Critics of this will say that the business can just take it out of their profits. However, the primary purpose of a business is to make a profit. If a business cannot or is not allowed to make a profit, it will stop doing business. Businesses are funded by investors. Investors can and will take their investment dollars elsewhere if they can’t make money.

The supporters of Proposition 87 go on to claim that since the market price of gasoline in California is controlled by market forces and therefore the oil producers can’t raise prices. They are only partly correct. Market prices are an intersection of what a seller is willing to sell a good or service for and what a customer is willing to pay for the same.

What this boils down to is that if costs to a business rise, then the price they are willing to sell at will rise as well. Of course they cannot sell at any price because consumers will stop buying as much (because they are not willing to pay the price offered), or they will get some new competitors who are willing to sell for a lower price. However, no business will willingly sell a good or service for less than their cost for long (they will do so temporarily to promote their products or to clear out unsaleable goods but cannot do this on a regular basis). Neither will they continue to operate if the return on investment is less than they could get elsewhere.

In other words, prices will always tend to be at least how much it takes to sell a good or service and make a decent return on investment. So raising the costs to a business will absolutely raise the minimum price the business can charge and still be viable.

Proposition 87 supporters continue by saying that California oil producers also have to compete with outside suppliers. This is somewhat true, however it implies that California oil producers will be put at a disadvantage to out-of-state oil producers. In addition, bringing in gasoline supplies from out of state will increase shipping costs which again will tend to cause an increase in price. Out-of-state oil producers will also be able to raise their prices because they will have less competition to worry about from Californian producers.

In summary, Proposition 87 will limit the return on investment for Californian oil producers and put them at a business disadvantage to out-of-state oil producers. The long term effect of this is that there will be less investment in oil production in California, and supplies will be controlled by out-of-state business interests. In addition, employment in the oil industry in California will decline. This will probably not happen all at once, but do you really think anyone will want to invest in oil production in California under these conditions?

Proposition 87 supporters try to portray this as some kind of sin tax against ‘Big Oil.’ What it really is is an economically faulty money grab for alternative energy research. One of the big supporters of Proposition 87 is Vinod Khosla, a big venture capital investor. How many alternative energy companies are he and his partners invested in?

The propaganda about how the proposition prohibits higher gas prices is completely unenforceable, and has no economic basis whatsoever. It is nothing but a marketing gimmick to try to fool voters into thinking they get free money for researching green energy.

I think it is a good goal to encourage alternative energy research. I think that it is reasonable to tax energy usage to fund such research. However, this proposition is a poorly designed and economically faulty way to go about this, putting California businesses at a disadvantage to out-of-state companies and making false promises about the impact to prices. An honest alternative energy proposition would tax energy use directly.