Saturday, May 19, 2012

Communication's what you need

Long time visitors to the Japanese Verb Conjugator website might remember the original comments box that used to be on the home page. This was a plug-in from Google Friend Connect.  I am a big admirer of Google (for most things); I don’t use anything else for Search, why would I?  The maps are brilliant as is their blogger which I’m using to write this message.  So a few years ago I decided to use the above mentioned Google social feature.  It did the job of providing a way for users to leave comments which could be shared with and responded to by other users. The best feature, however was that you could see the pictures of all the users who’d logged in. If you wanted you could view their profiles and send a message. Slowly but surely the membership built up until I had over 500 “faces” of members on the home page.

However on 1st March 2012 all the comments and faces disappeared – Google had “retired” Google Friend Connect on all non blogger sites. GFC obviously hadn’t taken off and they were putting all their efforts into their new Social platform Google Plus. There is apparently the ability to export your community data and send a newsletter to members. Google’s advice is to create a Google Plus page and invite your members to sign up to that.
Presumably Google’s  aim  is to challenge Facebook’s  dominance of the social media world. Now I don ‘t  know what the stats are but I don’t get the impression that’s happening.  I put Facebook ‘Like’ buttons and a Google +1 badge on my site at roughly the same time. At the time of writing I have 554 ‘likes’ and 64 ‘plus ones’, which says to me that Facebook is about 9 times more popular with my visitors than Google plus.
Leaving aside the fact that I’ve been burned by having the plug pulled on Google Friend Connect and the same could conceivably happen with Google Plus,  I decided to look around for other alternatives to make the site more ‘Social’ before rushing into the Google plus solution.
The first place to look was Facebook.  If I wouldn’t use anything else but Google for search, why would I look further than Facebook for social ? They have a massive user base and now have a useful ‘Facebook for websites’ feature that I’ve been trying out on the home page. I’ve also added Disqus comments to the individual verb conjugation table pages.  The advantage of Disqus is that it allows a number of ways of logging in, including anonymously as a Guest, as well as through Facebook , Twitter and Google accounts.
I’ve also created a Facebook page for this website where people can leave comments. This may attract visitors, and apparently there are quite a few, for who the Internet is Facebook. The problem with this is I’ve now got several places to check for comments: Facebook, the website (Facebook and Disqus comments) as well as this blog. I may still add a Google Plus page but will see how I get on with these methods first.
Which method of communication is best ?  Post a comment on one the above and let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's not new?

I was hoping to use this blog to announce all the exciting new features I’ve added to the Ultra Handy Japanese Verb conjugator. However in this case I’m going to explain why a couple of features have disappeared from the website: example sentences and the Ultra Handy Translator

Example sentences

There used to be a link from the verb conjugation page to page containing example sentences using that verb.  The same sentences were repeated in English, Romaji, Kana and Kanji.  These sentences were actually obtained in real time from
The sentences were entered by people who had signed up to the service to learn Japanese or other languages. The service was free so I signed up and gave it a go and it was great . 

The sentences were obtained in real time via the API (application programming interface). I gave them a Kanji and they gave me back the sentences in XML format. I then had to do a bit of work to get them to display in legible html format. It worked quite well – 99% of the time it displayed a list of sentences related to the relevant verb.  In fact it was so good I couldn’t work out how they could afford to make this sort of stuff available for free.
Unfortunately this did all turn out to be too good to be true. was re-branded as IKnow and became a paid service and the API was closed down.  However if you’re  serious about learning Japanese it may still be worth checking out. The pricing looks reasonable and there is also the offer of a free trial. Go to 

Ultra Handy Translator
This was achieved using the Google Translate API.  It gave you the same translation as you would get going via Google Translate without the benefit of having the Romaji  displayed. To make up for this functionality you got to type in the text in an Ultraman 7 speech bubble and get the results spoken by a random Kaijyu (Alien monster). 
Unfortunately the Google Translate API is another service that is no longer available for free and my web page stopped working.  According to Google this decision was “made due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse”
 In the meantime Google Translate itself is a great service that can still be used for free and can be found here

Will I re-introduce these features in the future?

Well  I’ve checked the pricing of the paid version of the Google Translate API and it’s quoted at “$20 per 1 M characters of text, where the charges are adjusted in proportion to the number of characters actually provided”. Now maths isn’t my strong point but based on the amount of traffic that page was getting $20 would probably keep me going for a few years. I’m also hoping IKnow  might reconsider and make a public API available again. The termination message they sent stated “When the API is available again publicly, we will provide
relevant information for you to access it.”

So the short answer is: maybe, watch this space!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Romaji is for wimps!

I’ve been asked a few times if I could do a version of the Japanese Verb Conjugator that displays proper Japanese text rather than Romaji. This is something I’d definitely like to do in the future however there’s a couple of things stopping me at the moment: firstly I don’t know how to go about doing the required programming using Japanese characters. Secondly even once I’ve worked that out it’s bound to be a pretty time consuming job to actually do it.

One thing I’ve noticed while trawling through the web is that some people  - language purists and/or serious students maybe – discourage or actually look down on the use of Romaji.  A link to this site from a well known Japanese language guru’s website is qualified with the statement “shame about the Romaji”;  Various statements I’ve read include “learning Romaji is lazy”, “Japanese people don’t learn Romaji “ and “Romaji is evil” (I think the last one was a joke). The logic being that you should do things properly and take the time to learn Japanese by using Japanese characters,  just like the Japanese people do.

A couple of things to say in defence of lazy Romaji users like myself…

1: In some cases Japanese people do learn Romaji. Firstly It’s sometimes used for typing Japanese text even on Japanese keyboards.  Even more strangely – according to my wife who is Japanese – some children’s text books use Romaji as an aid for Japanese children to learn Hiragana. Is that weird or what ? Learning a foreign alphabet in order to help you learn your own writing system! Ok this knowledge was gleaned from my son attending a Japanese school for children in London, but they are using proper Japanese primary school text books.

2: For many people who learn a foreign language, initially at least, their aim is to be able to verbally communicate - that’s what makes learning a foreign language fun after all. Saying the right words is what’s important – the fact that it’s Romaji in your head doesn’t matter to the other person. The only time I’ve reached anything like real fluency in another language was studying Spanish full time at university for four years including a year in a Spanish speaking country.  Most people haven’t got the luxury of that much time due to work and family commitments. In my own case I need to learn new stuff at work almost every day and only have a limited capacity in my head for other things. The priority for the average person planning a holiday or business trip is to learn enough of the language to find their way around and maybe make some friends with the locals. They don’t need the extra complication of learning hiragana and katakana, not to mention thousands of Kanji.

Don’t get me wrong – if you’ve managed to achieve fluency and master reading and writing Japanese I take my hat off to you, especially if you’ve done it without living in Japan and/or studying it in full time education. If you are planning to live and work in Japan then I would agree it's vital to learn as much as you can. It’s to my own shame that I haven’t even mastered Hiragana and my own son has been patronizing me since he was four. Maybe it’s about time I did that Kana version of the verb conjugator!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


This is the companion blog for the Ultra Handy Japanese Verb Conjugator website. I created this as it's easier than updating the website and hopefully less fiddly than the Google Friends Connect widgets I've been using to communicate with the site visitors. Also, being a bit of a techie geek, I've never created a blog before so wanted to see how it works!

I will be using this blog to post comments regarding my ultra exciting adventures in Japanese Verb Conjugation and web development. More posts coming soon.