Wednesday 10 September 2003

A Kanji learning tool, er, toy…

Dave Rogers just bought himself Another New Toy, er, Tool… a Sony Clié PDA. And though Dave insists that he “didn’t acquit [himself] too spectacularly as a bargain hunter”, I vehemently disagree. The Clié 665C that he picked up at a discount for US$199.97 has a list price in Australia of AU$749—that’s about US$493/€440 (at today’s exchange rate AU$100 = US$66.07 or €58.73).

Dave bought his Clié 665C to replace a Handspring Visor that he clearly used regularly, whereas I recently bought a Clié to replace a Palm III I hadn’t used for years. Dave’s post prompted me to think about the convolutions we go through to justify certain purchases.

Animation of KingKanji screen showing a kanji being drawn and the correct stroke order being illustratedWhy was I in the market for a new PDA? Because somehow I’d stumbled across KingKanji, “an award-winning Japanese/kanji flashcard program [for Palm OS and Pocket PC] that emphasizes writing as well as reading”. I installed KingKanji on the Palm III and was immediately impressed. In addition to the flashcard lessons that test your knowledge of kanji and vocabulary, the program allows you to practice writing kanji with the stylus and includes stroke animations for over 1200 characters including the grades one through six Jōyō kanji (that Japanese children study in elementary school). This animation succinctly demonstrates the program’s intrinsic coolness. (I emailed Gakusoft, the developers, asking for permission to use it but haven’t heard back from them. If they object to my illustrating how great their product is, I’ll remove the animated GIF.) Gakusoft also offer a Chinese study program called KingHanzi but I don’t intend trying to learn Chinese in this lifetime.

Though KingKanji ran acceptably in the Palm III’s 2Mb of RAM, I couldn’t even load a couple of other applications:

  • CJKOS (which allows users of the English version of Palm OS to read and enter Chinese, Japanese and Korean); and
  • Dokusha (a freeware “integrated Japanese text reader, Japanese-English dictionary, Kanji dictionary and study system for Palm OS).

Dave Rogers legitimately justified his Clié purchase because he found last year’s model at a bargain price. I researched the available Palm and Clié models and went hunting for discounts. At the local OfficeWorks (the Australian equivalent of Office Depot), they had the grayscale Palm 125M on special for AU$300. While I was playing with a Palm Zire 71 (AU$599), a woman approached me and said, “Do you know much about these? I’m just not sure which one I should buy.”

I asked her what she wanted to use it for. “Organizing my appointments and addresses and taking notes,” she replied.

“Buy the cheapest model that has the features you need,” I advised her. A look of relief passed over her face, she plucked a Palm 125M box off the shelf, and walked straight to the checkout. I’d solved her problem though I didn’t realize I was on the way to solving my own.

Sony Clie PEG-SJ22OfficeWorks didn’t have any Clié’s so the following day I went to a Sony store to check them out. I’d already decided that AU$600 (US$394/€352) was my absolute limit. The PEGSJ33G—which Dave Rogers originally had his sights on—had a list price of AU$549 (US$360/€322) but I didn’t need MP3 playback. The PEGSJ22G—with a 33MHz processor instead of the PEGSJ33G’s 66MHz chip—was AU$449 (US$295/€264). Better still, the PEGSJ22G has a user-replaceable battery, accessed by unscrewing the backplate.

Unfortunately no one was offering discounts on the Clie so I was going to have to pay full price. My justification process ran like this:

  1. I was obeying the essential rule of computer purchasing—don’t buy the hardware for its own sake but because it runs a piece of software you need.
  2. I’d already tested the KingKanji on my old Palm III so I knew it was worth having.
  3. KingKanji looked miles better on a 320x320 pixel color screen.
  4. 16Mb of RAM was essential to run CJKOS and Dokusha (although, to be honest, I didn’t yet know how useful these programs would be).
  5. The SJ22 was the cheapest model I’d been able to find with all the features I needed.

Justification enough, one might assume. But one sticking point remained: How could I be sure I’d use a $449 Sony Clié to learn kanji when my $25 (cardboard) Tuttle Kanji Cards were gathering dust in a drawer?

I had no answer to that question. It would require a leap of faith. I remembered a woman who told me she’d finally given up smoking after attending a $300 Stop Smoking course. It must have been a really good course, I said. No, she replied, I kept thinking about all the money I’d wasted on cigarettes and couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the $300 course fee too.

I pulled out my credit card.

I already had a couple of spare 16Mb Memory Sticks (and relatively modest storage requirements) so, unlike Dave, I didn’t buy a 128Mb Memory Stick. But I couldn’t resist the AU$100 external battery holder that uses four AA batteries to either directly power the Clié or recharge its internal battery. I love accessories. As Dave says, “it’s a character flaw”.

I’m delighted with my Clié, which I use constantly—even though I haven’t stored a single appointment or address. I bought it to learn kanji and vocabulary and I have no interest in using it for anything else. Traveling by bus or train, waiting in line for tickets, for friends to arrive at a restaurant, or for a movie to start, I’m steadily improving my Japanese vocabulary.

A tiny voice occasionally nags me that the cardboard kanji cards would have been just as effective, that despite all my protestations I’m just as materialistic as anyone else—I simply put myself through more hoops than someone for whom shopping is an unalloyed (and guiltless) pleasure. But maybe I’m just typical of a generation for whom applying computing power is the natural response to any conceivable problem.

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So far I love my CliƩ, but my affection is attenuated by my experience thus far that the potential of the device still exceeds its realization by a wide margin. I'm documenting my trials at my page for the benefit of all humanity. Well, the part of humanity that uses a Mac anyway.

The basic functionality performs wonderfully, and it does everything the Visor it replaces did, only better. I find as I'm getting older that I genuinely _need_ a PDA to help me with all the things that are "too trivial to remember, but too important to forget," as some ex-Apple ATG member wrote about a Hypercard application he created for his Powerbook Duo, which is what started me down this PIM-path about half a dozen years or so ago.

I really don't understand the price differentials between the US and Australia. I'm sure some economist could explain it, but it seems as though you are being treated very unfairly "down there."

Posted by Dave Rogers on 11 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I like my Clie as well. There is a great "used PDA" store in Akihabara where I scored an older discontinued (but great model which I prefer to the newer ones) for a great price. They have full guarantees and support programs.

My biggest issue is that if you run Macintosh with OS X and want to synch with a Japanese Clie I have run into problems synching with the japanese Palm software. Syching only seems to work by switching to Japanese menus, logging out and logging in then synching...which is a big pain...I also bought (but no longer know if I needed) "Missing Sync" for this purpose.

Posted by Konrad Lawson on 13 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I love my Clie PEG-SJ33/U because of its bright colour display, but even more to play Glenn Gould MP3's under my pillow without earphones. I don't miss my Handspring Edge at all!

Posted by Marius Coomans on 13 September 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I bought a new computer to write my thesis. But it still hasn't done it!

Posted by Anthony Jukes on 3 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour