Thursday, July 21, 2016

Driving Under the Influence. Of Pokemon Go

I just heard about this a few days ago, and it didn't register to me what it was about until talking with my son a little later.  Today I was walking at the park with my dear wife in an area with a very wide walkway.   A young girl ahead of us was wandering here and there looking at her iPhone.  Or whatever it was.  But then she stopped in the middle of the walkway.  Two high school boys were riding up behind me looking at their iPhones, and one of them was so totally absorbed that he ran into the young girl without reacting at all until after the impact.  Both the young man and the young girl ended up on the ground.  The girl got up and insisted she was OK, while an irate mother scolded the young man.  Thankfully this wasn't like other parts of the Bay Area where only a foolish mother would behave this way.  The young man was raised well enough to immediately issue his mea culpa, while the young girl tried pointlessly to take the fault onto herself for stopping in the middle of the walking area with her phone.  This all leaves me wondering what the future holds as this will undoubtedly not be the last fad of this sort.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Naughtyhamshire demands women be treated nicer

Misogyny has been elevated to a hate crime.  I am wondering if forgetting my wife's birthday qualifies as misogyny.  Hopefully there are some clear definitions written up somewhere.  I am also wondering about ideologies that treat women as chattel and only recognize two categories: chattel and those that are to be treated worse than chattel.  Nah, that can't be misogyny.  The other things which would seem necessary to deal with are reverse misogyny, meaning the hatred of males, which is rampant in some species of feminism.  OK, my apologies for changing the subject.  No doubt pimps trafficking in sex-slaves and pornographers and pedophiles will not fall under any suspicion of misogynist tendencies.

A working link is hopefully here:

I will wish them good luck in this endeavor.  They will need it.  Lots of it.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Half Way Point

One is always at half way.  It is just a matter of arranging the start and finish so that they are equidistant from where you are, with you in the middle somewhere.

In this case the half way point is third semester Greek Exegesis class.  This is for those who enjoy inflicting pain on themselves.  Greek sentences can consist of about as many clauses as there are letters in an English sentence.  One of our tasks is to diagram the sentence structure, putting notes on every word as to its semantic category and function.  Is the participle adverbial, adjectival or substantival?  If adverbial, then what kind of adverbial?  You can get an idea of what this looks like by clicking here, although this leaves out half of the information.

Insha'Allah, I will be able to complete this class, although I am told that my Christian usage of Insha'Allah (if God will's it) is nearly the exact opposite of the usage by Muslims, a fact which likely deserves a thousand pages of linguistic technical commentary.  The Christian usage implies that we are working towards a goal that we hope to achieve, but recognize that it is through God's strength and permission that we might obtain that goal.  The Muslim usage is that we have no intention of doing something, but God might step in and compel us towards our undesired outcome anyway.  Insha'Allah.  Both interpretations are true theologically, but not the same linguistically.  The original reference to this comes from the Bible, James 4:13-15 - "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."  But now we sadly have to argue over whether James copied from Mohammed or vice versa.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Globalization vs "Globalization"

Seeing the headlines about Brexit being a defeat for Globalists caused me to take a trip back through memory lane.  In the 1980's, there was a lot of howling about globalization from the left, because this clearly posed a threat to the Earth's proper rotation around the Sun, not to mention unions.  We have come a long way for the UK to be cursed by the same far left for opting out.  What happened?

The original concept of globalization goes back to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776).  The idea was that global trade would make everyone wealthier with different countries playing to their strengths as they had been endowed with resources and labor.  Traders will necessarily move about, while certain prosperous zones will attract labor from elsewhere resulting in certain cultural melting pots.  This is the globalization that I am familiar with and attracted to.

This has me thinking back to Bill Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for which the left cursed him.  Immediately after this agreement went into effect, I went on a business trip to Canada and was pulled aside by the customs officer to find out which of the myriad NAFTA labor categories my work fell under.  We then got hit with a newly introduced free trade tariff.  What had happened was that Clinton brought the unions and hyper-bureaucrats to the table for negotiating "free trade", thus, making a mockery of the entire thing.  This seems to be the point where the left realized that international "free trade" agreements could be used to impose their leftist agenda onto other nations in return for trade concessions.

This has now been taken to its extreme limit with out current government imposing things all over the planet, so that trade is undoubtedly freer the less free trade agreements we have in place.  Europe has its own brand of this globalization as a pretext for government gone wild as they try to impose one culture of production across the EU.  Meanwhile, their tariffs with Africa remain completely out of control, hurting the entire continent and giving Africans more incentive to move.  One example is here.  True globalization does result in natural flows of labor, but "globalization" is something completely different:  Both the EU and the US are experiencing floods of foreigners that often seem more like the invasions of the Huns, Magyars, or Vikings, with the difference that our governments are encouraging the invasion and doing their best to insure that the new invaders don't settle down and assimilate like the Goths and Celts did.

So my overall perspective is that the left hated the earlier globalization, but eventually realized that it could not be stopped.  Then they switched course, joined the globalization band wagon, insisted that they were the ones best to lead, grabbed the reins, and proceeded to drive it off a cliff.  It won't take long before the leftist in the UK realize that they are by far the most qualified to lead the Brexit movement.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


ECB, as we all should know by now, stands for European Cancerous Bureaucracy, of which the European Central Bank is a small component.  For those who are now trying to dump the Pound, I would suggest a bit of caution.  The most resilient species in the universe is the government bureaucrat, so I fully expect them to already be scheming how to subvert the decision of the voters.  For example, to disentangle any existing bureaucratical construct will undoubtedly require several explicit laws, numerous court orders, and replacing those in the chain of command with someone who is accepting of the will of the people.  A leprechaun is undoubtedly easier to find.

On the other hand, there is the argument that the bureaucrats will sabotage the economy in order to deliberately discredit the Brexit movement, as if they hadn't already been sabotaging everything, including the economy.  But they can always make things worse.

So my final prophecy is that I don't know how this is going to fall out in the end.  The news media was undoubtedly behind all this since it has compelled me to look at news sites that I wouldn't have done if things proceeded in a more orderly manner.  Time to stock up on popcorn, kickback, and enjoy the show.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Inspecting the Voting ballot for Tuesday's California primary

Each year is worse than the year before.  Perhaps I will die as an illegal alien in the country that I was born in?

But the Bible says this of those who it considers the heroes:

"These all died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them from afar, and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." - Hebrew 11:13

The only candidate I will vote for of the many on the ballot is one who has withdrawn from the election.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

WW2 Internment Camp Survivor?

I have been seeing a number of these recently.  Were the experiences of the Japanese Internment Camp Survivors in the US really comparable to the Holocaust Survivors during WW2?  Or perhaps the Korean Comfort women?  And what exactly was the survival rate for these sufferers?  How did it compare with something like Batu Lintang camp?  Before I go further, I should note that my children went to Japanese public schools when I lived in Japan, so I have a particular attraction to Japan and the Japanese.

Certainly I don't think that gathering up the Japanese immigrants to the US during WW2 was particularly useful, nor was it a particularly nice thing to do.  But on the other hand, most of the world was inconvenienced during those years and millions of civilians were slaughtered.  These internees were certainly not given comfortable accommodations, yet on the other hand, what they got exceeded what they would have had as peasants in most of the world at this time:  food, housing, medicine and education. There is nothing that would compare with what my in-laws experienced in Taiwan at that time.

But what bothers me is that the first link was a race baiting polemic against Trump.  No, I don't like Trump, but it is because he is crude, rather erratic and often doesn't seem particularly well informed on what he comments on.  At the same time, the Trump movement is agitated about illegal immigrants coming to the US to feast on welfare benefits, trample the laws, trash the culture, raise deadbeat children, ignore all health related controls, rage against everything and make a mess of things.  In spite of this, I am still happy to give charity as long as they stay at home, because I can fund an entire village for the same cost as one illegal immigrant that makes it into this country.  Hopefully any Japanese reader of this will not be insulted when I say that I respect Japanese immigrants infinitely more because they came here to work and contribute lawfully, to raise respectable, well-educated families, and to become model citizens, while still remembering their culture.  These are pretty much identical values to what I hold.  Yet everything their parents - and my parents - stood for is exactly negated in the mad rush to bring in illegal immigrants.  By cursing those who are upset about illegal immigration, they - whether Caucasian or Japanese - simply curse their heritage.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SF to SFPD: Change or else

A black girl is shot by the police, so the white police chief is replaced with a black one.  The pretext is to bring about healing of wounds, although it is my understanding that political correctness has never done anything except create more chaos and more wounds.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How do you say "racism" in French?

To turn "racism" into a swear word, you clearly must shout this in French, regardless of what your native language is.

The reason is that by doing this in French you prove that you are more morally sophisticated, like the French.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Monday, May 09, 2016

Enlightenment about The Englightenment

Since The Enlightenment has come up on several tours on my current trip, I though it would be helpful to define this era.  My starting observation is that it is a universal characteristic of men that they consider themselves to be enlightened in proportion to their conceit.  Thus, Socrates considered himself to have known nothing, and was thus deemed to be the most wise of all.  Or to put it another way, a person deems himself to be Enlightened in proportion to the degree to which he is a Fool.  Thus, the choice of the naming of an era as the Enlightenment should be obvious:  The Fools took over academia.

That this era is honored and praised by our current era simply informs us about who is in charge of the intellectual climate of our current age.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Friday, May 06, 2016

Are we there yet?

I suppose we are always "there", but not necessarily sure "where" the "there" is.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Rage will continue until the Hate stops.

This is a variant on the earlier saying, "The Beatings will continue until Morale improves", which is some sort of sarcasm or mockery of those who were not actually thinking along those lines.  But yesterdays joke is today's heartfelt moral imperative, so we had plenty of anti-Trump riots nearby yesterday:

Then there is the reverse-NAZIism riots of Germany:

In both cases, the rioters seem motivated by a reverse racism in which the indigenous culture is deemed to be vile, and migrants are being paid to move in with the idea that eventually they will be able to make their Lebensraum by violently removing this from those who were here earlier.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Disrupted Plans

The Chinese drill was moving along smoothly with the first 10,000 character and word drills nearly complete.  The lists the words come from have a lot of redundancy, so they represents maybe 2,000 words or characters, covering mostly basics and into the lower intermediate levels.  My routine was smooth, so it looked like I would be well on my way to achieving my goal of getting through all the intermediate drills and into the advanced levels.

But then there is always something to mess up the plans.  In this case it was an email from Western Seminary informing me that the third semester of Biblical Greek was being made available again for the summer.  This was my original plan for the winter/spring term, but the class was removed from the course schedule, which is why I jumped into the Chinese drill in the first place.

So now I need to look at winding down the Chinese drill I have been doing and rearranging my brain to work with classical and Biblical Greek again.  The part I am thankful for is that now I can read much simplified character text (mainland China) about as well as I read the traditional characters (Taiwan).  Hopefully I can come back to the Chinese studies after another semester or two, since I might need one more seminary class to complete the diploma requirements that I was targeting.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Valle Calderas National Preserve

This is the backyard of Cheerful Monk.  I was blasting through for reasons that I can't quite remember, but did manage to take two pictures.  The park description is here.  Wish I had more time and my full camera.

Monday, April 11, 2016

"The New Arab Cold War", by Gregory Gause, Head of International Affairs Department and Professor

It was nice of Professor Gause to drop by and give his talk in person.  The lecture was on the Middle East focussing on the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, with references to adjoining areas.  I was hoping to get some insight into how the elites think.  Part of me was impressed with his knowledge, and I left pleased that my hopes were largely fulfilled.

The title of the talk is related to an earlier book, The Arab Cold War: Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958-1970, which is out-of-print and costly to come by.  He cited this as mandatory reading for his students, and also recommended The Struggle for Syria: A study in Post-War Arab Politics, 1945-1958.  I guess the cost is cheap by modern textbook standards, so maybe I will try to buy some used copies.  Unfortunately the library doesn't have them.

The theme centers around strong governments vs weak governments, with the observation that most of the anarchy and civil war is associated with weak governments.  He also emphasizes that the nature of the little civil wars isn't simply the Sunni-Shia split, but in places like the former Libya it is Sunni on Sunni splits with territorialism, tribalism, language and cultural divides being triggers as one travels around the Middle East and adjacent regions.  So far much of this is nicely documented in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but most people didn't read this, so it is good to reiterate these things.  Another aspect to the conflicts, however, is the monarchist Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, etc.) vs the Democratic-ish Sunnis (Muslim Brotherhood), which adds an additional ideological dimension to the bloodletting.  We can now see that blowing away the government in Iraq and Libya were both foolish moves.  So Professor Gause is critical of both Obama and Bush on this point.

The deduction that weak governments enable chaos which creates problems that overflow borders is not particularly remarkable, but what is more interesting is where we go from here.  If weak government are bad, then strong governments are clearly the answer to the chaos, but the US has no track record in building strong governments.  Some might cite post WWII Japan and Germany, but in these cases most of the governments were actually left intact.  In Iraq, we banned the governing party, and thus eliminated the entire state bureaucracy, along with disbanding the military and restructuring everything.  Not quite sure what we did in Libya.  But it isn't particularly novel to assert that Arabs are only peaceful when disciplined by a powerful and brutal government.

A corollary to this is that since strong governments are good, we must cozy up to the strong government.  Thus, Prof. Gause thinks that the agreement that Obama made with Iran is a positive development.  He notes that Obama has never articulated his doctrine, but thinks it is one to prefer the strongest player while trying to contain the chaos of weaker players like Syria with a minimalist touch.  At this point my eyes are rolling, since this new Obama doctrine would be the exact opposite of the Carter doctrine and an affront to everything that leftists hold dear in their so-called human rights.  Are we really cozying up to Iran because they are powerful, brutal, able to maintain influence via the ruthless, competent to discipline their citizens and efficient in quelling uprisings?  Wasn't it for half those crimes that Carter threw the Shah of Iran and his family to the wolves?  Or is there some other doctrine at play?

Monday, April 04, 2016

Rise of the Machine Learning Algorithms

A notification of a presentation showed up in my email in-basket this morning, so I went to hear a talk on optimizing machine learning algorithms.  The presenter was a middle age Indian researcher who spoke breathtakingly fast for an entire hour.  My audio language processing unit was stretched to the breaking point through most of this, although he didn't seem to ever get winded in the frenetic outpouring of paragraphs where I would barely have enough time for 3 or 4 words.

The talk was about schemes to introduce neural network deep learning chips into smart phones under the pretext of having the phones be able to recognize images faster.  Yeah, right.  Now I am having visions of smart phones sneaking around the house at night when everyone is asleep and conspiring against their owners.  No telling what havoc they could cause.  The beginning was undoubtedly the man who was led to his death by his smart phone.

What didn't really surprise me was the overall theme of the talk.  This was the observation that there are countless ways to modify the learning algorithms in the phone.  In most engineering endeavors, we try to understand what each parameter will do to a system, then optimize.  For learning algorithms, however, this is impossible, since how they work isn't understood.  Thus, our researcher was reduced to using statistical methods to try and guess what would likely be the most efficient learning system, and then testing these one-by-one, which is a rather slow means of doing things.  It does highlight the fact that machine learning experts don't really know how machine learning actually works.

A last tidbit from our researcher's talk was that he said that he wanted to pursue research into learning algorithms that didn't require data in the future.  Most learning systems are given a set of training data first, then they are expected to recognize new images or sentences or whatever.  To learn without data shouldn't be possible, unless you have an education degree.  But then there is the problem of how to learn when data is fabricated or falsified, which is a favorite for politicians and certain other research areas.  Finally, there is Microsoft's current conundrum on how to make sure that the machines only learn what is politically correct.  Thus, when the machines finally do rise they will prioritize their targets based on them being white, male (by DNA), heterosexual, Republican, Christian, listens to country music, positive net worth and employed.  If you aren't in most of those categories then you won't need to be concerned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

And The Trump Shall Resound.

This is about Donald Trump, and not the song from which the above phrase was drawn, nor about the Bible passage from which the phrase was adapted.

I am not at all a Trump supporter or fan.  I am just an alien and stranger here, which means that I can look at things from a more, um, unbiased perspective.  So Trump is a crude talker with no sense of propriety.  Certainly that would disqualify him as a presidential candidate on the planet where I come from, but we are here on Earth and it is not even permissible for me to name the planet from which I come nor are any of my cultural oddities tolerated here.  So I will not attempt to judge Trump according to my standards.

But what are the standards of Earth?  Bruce Willis?  Or maybe we would like to consider some typical uplifting rap lyrics.  There may have been a time when people kept their foul language under control, at least in public, but now crude language is pretty much the standard.  Today much of America wouldn't be able to communicate if they didn't have the F-word.  It is a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and even extends to a few linguistically yet-to-be identified categories.  There are, of course, some oddballs who today maintain a distinction between their public and private language.  This was considered respectable behavior when I was young, but today is deemed to be somewhere between two-faced and hypocritical.  I would argue that Trump is actually a centrist, since the use of bad language all the time is now the American norm, but Trump's language is more of a middle of the road type of foul language and much more limited in its rage than Black Lives Matters, Feminists, and especially university professors.  Certainly there is some sincere anger both in Trump's rhetoric and in his followers, but again, this is more middle of the road, and much more tame than other groups that are accepted by the American mainstream.

When this election is all done, I hope to gather up all my notes and send them back to my home planet for some more expert analysis.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chinese Character Torture

No, this post isn't about Jackie Chan movies.  It is about how to learn 2,500 characters in both the traditional and simplified forms.  Ideally these are also understood in combinations that represent about 10,000 words, which is starter for what is needed to be fluent in Chinese.  Using, I think this might be possible, although I am not going to try learning to write them at the moment.  I gathered up a number of character sets and words sets that have about this many characters and words with a total of about 33,000 entries.  Thus, there is a lot of duplication, but there is also the need to learn meanings and pronunciations, which represent different entries.  The secret to learning is drill, drill, drill, ideally with a spaced repetition system.  The repetition will work out to something like 500,000 times that I will need to correctly identify a meaning or pronunciation or character from the English equivalent.  So far I have been consistent with about 10,000 such lookups per week, which means I might make my goal if I persist for a year.  The good news is that I already processed more than 5,000 entries of the 33,000, although much of this is from the base of characters (about 500-750) and words (perhaps 2,000) that I already know.

What the vocabulary study doesn't help with is using words in context.  Thus, my plan is to subscribe to ChinesePod after another 2 months and try to do some dialogs and reading in parallel with the character and vocabulary drill.  Lord willing, there will be some improvement after a year.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On The Brandywine

This is near a battlefield, where General Washington's army was beaten by the Brits.  But they failed to finish the job.

A few flowers trying to sneak out, but it is supposed to snow next week.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Guide to Exit Polling

Pollster: Sir, can you answer some questions for our exit poll?
Voter: Are you Sirring me young lady?
Pollster: Yes, can you tell us who you voted for.
Voter:  Um, voted?
Pollster:  Which name on the ballot did you put a mark next to?
Voter:  Trump. Yes, that's it, Trump.  He's de man.
Pollster:  Thank you.  Can you tell us if you are an evangelical?
Voter:  What in tarnation is an eve-ant-jelly-coil?  Does it go in a car?
Pollster: No, .... I mean yes, .... I mean an evangelical isn't something that goes in a car ... That is, an evangelical can go in a car, but it isn't a car part.
Voter: You don't sound too certain of yourself.  Can I find one down at the junkyard?
Pollster: Sir, what I am trying to ask is if you are someone who cares about Religious Values?
Voter: You mean the hardware store down on Main Street?  Is something happening to them?
Pollster: Sir, I see you are white, do you own a gun?
Voter: Yes, of course I own a gun.  It is over there in the truck.  Let me go get it so I can show it to you ...
Pollster: Thanks sir, that will be all.  I will just go ahead and mark you down as an evangelical since you are white, own a gun and drive a truck.
Voter (shouting): Sarah, can you get the new gun out of the truck?  This confused young lady wants to see if it has an eve-ant-jelly-coil in it, and I don't know what she is talking about.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dr. Trumpenstein's Monster

I am still trying to remain aloof and bemused by the election fun.  But now I have to speculate a bit: what would the situation be if someone could engineer a creature that feeds on cheap shots, insults, misrepresentations, libels, caricatures and drive-by sliming?  In other words, all of the tools of modern intellectual discourse - whether it be philosophy, theology, politics, economics, ethics or morality - are absorbed by the monster and serve as catalysts and energizers to invigorate and empower the creature to even more horrific acts of rhetorical desecration against all that is dear in the era of political correctness?  I am not suggesting that the creature is particularly rational, but it might grow uncontrollably and wreck havoc for a time before the Earthlings figure out a better remedy. But will they be able to change their behavior?

Someone may protest that this Trump creature isn't only offending against Political Correctness.  Instead he is in violation of the laws of God, Man, Civilization and Physics.  No doubt that is true.  It is also true that the peddlers of Political Correctness deliberately equated their notions with the laws of God, Man, Civilization and Physics.  Why should we expect a mere brute to maintain the distinctions, when it was the intellectual geniuses of our time who destroyed the distinctions?  God is just and He is certainly happy to let us suffer some of the consequences of our folly.

Time to kick back and watch The Fifth Element again.  Or maybe The Blob.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


I woke up with a stuffy nose in the middle of the night.  Clearly a cold was coming on, so I got up and sent a note to my swim partner telling him I wouldn't be able to make it to the lake this morning.  Yes, I missed a swim.  The bad part of this is that I don't yet know if my swimming partner got the email before he drove to the lake.

The last temperature reading was 53 degrees, which is getting nice and warm now.  I did 3,000 yards a week ago and felt fairly comfortable getting out.  Given the climate here, it seems like spring has already sprung, with flowers on the trees and leaves sprouting out of the bare winter trunks.  Last year I had a long illness which caused me to miss nearly all of January for swimming, but this year I stayed healthy until today.  Thus, I managed to swim at least once a week, usually twice, and rarely three times throughout January and February.  I was thinking that January would be the hardest, but in fact the temperature warmed shortly after New Year so that I was really feeling like this had become a pointless show.  It is much more difficult to walk across a frosty beach into the water and out again than when the air temperature is in the 50's or 60's.  So I will note this as the first year that I succeeded in swimming regularly throughout the winter.  It is God who grants me the health to do such things.  And my own disorder that causes me to pursue such a goal.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Memrise and Chinese

My Chinese studies began in 1979 as an add-on to my engineering studies.  This limited the amount of time that could be committed, but I had the advantage that after the first quarter I was the only student of Chinese in the University, which meant I had a private instructor for the next five quarters.  The class didn't do any written Chinese, but was instead all spoken using Pinyin, audio tapes and conversations with the instructor, who was a student from Taiwan.  This made for some good basic conversation.

After college I attempted to learn reading and writing on my own, which progressed for a time, but everything got stuck since there was not enough opportunity to use the language.  Then in the early 1990's, my direction changed towards Japan and the effort was left off.  I largely gave up hope that there would be any further progress.

But then along came Memrise with its vocabulary drill.  Suddenly there is hope again.  I learned that there are now 6 levels of Chinese for the Taiwan TOCFL language exam, and a similar number for the China HSK exam.  Memrise has word drill sets for each of the levels, which allowed me to find out something of where I stand.  The level 1 sets are a breeze to go through, provided I don't need to accurately regurgitate the spelling for the Pinyin.  For example, I confuse "dou" with "duo" and often mix up the 2nd and 3rd tone, but it seems Chinese have issues with these too.  The level 2 is going quickly.  Level 3 has much that is familiar, but maybe half isn't.  Level 4 is mostly unfamiliar.  Writing characters by hand is something that I don't want to attempt unless I am forced into retirement and get very bored.

One thing that is really useful is that there are both Traditional and Simplified character drills.  My self learning was originally all on Traditional characters, but I would like to be equally proficient at both.  That will take some extra work, although it seems that only about 20% of the characters are significantly different.  Besides the vocabulary drill, however, I need to add in some conversation and reading.  Hopefully most of the skills can be moved up to the level 5.