What’s been happening lately?

Right now I’m in Phuket. I’m sitting in a room I’m renting for a month while trying to find a job here. It’s been a whirlwind of driving round different companies with a friend who lives here, but right now I’m taking it easy. Last post I mentioned that my laptop got stolen, on the nightbus from Medan to Bandah Aceh to be precise… Don’t get any doom ideas about Indonesia being a terrible place, far from it. Most people I mention (or mentionED, since I’m no longer there) are rather ashamed that it happened in their country.

It still sucks off course and I lost a LOT of work, photos etc, but at least I have some screenshots of the 3D stuff on facebook. Whenever I’m in a new place and I’m working on something and I show people they go oooh, aaah and wow. For the people who are a bit into 3D, my work is not so special, but still, I like it and I’ll keep doing it. Just not with the same enthusiasm as a few years ago. There’s just too much else to do out there 🙂

I wanted to update my blog with some “new” images. The ones I’ll post here are mostly from wok that has been stolen, so I don’t have the files anymore. Maybe next post I’ll update it with NEW things of which I DO have the files.

Get ready for a lot of images:

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Traveling

So hey, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for about a month now, and I’ll be staying for another month before traveling to the next country. You can follow all of this on my new site: http://thelowlander.org/ and I encourage you to do so, because I will be updating it more frequently than this site, and it has a lot more photos.

I’ve been staying mainly in Kosgoda for the first few weeks where I did volunteer work, with trips mostly taking place during the weekends. The volunteer work was with turtles, but you can see it as more of a holiday since most of the people who come here are gap year people. The work is not hard. And even though one might argue that cleaning the turtles and turtle tanks is dirty, it is still pretty light labor.

But now my time in Kosgoda has ended, and I’ve moved down south to a place called Weligama, where there is a big project about handicapped people. This project is so vast it makes the turtle project I was at previously pale in comparison. Not that it is any less luxurious, far from it, but there is just soo much more serious work to be done here. Stuff actually needs to be build and maintained here.

And that’s where Blender came in the second day I was here: They had previously built a tea nursery/plantage, but they used wooden poles, and woven ropes, which rot away very quickly around here. Which means the tea also rots/gets eaten by bugs, etc… So they asked me if I can weld one out of metal pipes. I can weld a little, so I said yes. But it turned out they did have the plans in their head, but not yet in paper. So to visualize it for myself, and to more easily calculate the lengths we’d be needing, I quickly drew up something in blender. The thing isn’t build yet, and I wonder how well it will go. The main idea is that the tea nursery is on flat ground, but the actual nursery is on an uneven slope. I’ll also be welding material I’ve never welded before, but hey I’m curious how it will turn out.

Here are some images. The blender drawing, and the photos of the current tea nursery:

Won't win any beauty awards, but it gets the idea across.

Welcome to Hellabeem.

The old tea nursery.

Final TEFL certificate

Last weekend I went to the Hague, to attend a workshop for the only TEFL module I didn’t have yet, the 20 Hour Classroom TEFL Course AKA weekend TEFL.
There were approximately 17 people attending, minus the teacher. It was a fun and creative experience.

The people all had very different backgrounds, and different reasons to go abroad. For a number of them, this was the fact that they had a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife in another country. This is, let’s just be honest, one of the main reasons for people to travel. It’s never about where you go, or just about the culture, it’s always about the people you meet that make something worthwhile doing or not. Another reason is that you genuinely want to experience other cultures and their way of life. Maybe because you are bored back home, or because you really want to get as much as you want out of life. But then again, what is it that defines culture? It all comes down to people again. When I was in Sri Lanka I met some of the friendliest people I know, and I also met some of the most vile people I’d rather not know. I also met a lot of cool people in Bulgaria, which is a reason I want to go back there, to meet more of them :).

So, let’s get back to the actual course, what exactly was it about?
Basically, we had to learn, or show we had the awareness of the basic concepts of language teaching.
We had to show an understanding of basic English grammar. This is something non-native speakers actually excel at. Native speakers have a lot more trouble with their own grammar. We had one assignment that had us match up cards that held sentences with cards that held grammatical structures. We solved it very quickly. Our teacher told us that native speakers really struggle with this. They asked: “Do we really need to learn this?” And our native speaking teacher told them: “Yes you do, because dutch people (non-native speakers) can do this in a heartbeat.” English may be our second language, but there is something about the way in which we are taught, that makes us remember these things better. If you have your native language, you tend to take all these rules and structures for granted. They come easily to you. But if it isn’t, you have to put in more effort to learn it, and it sticks in your mind better.

We were given a few language classes in a foreign language that none of us knew (Swedish), so we could better understand what we should, and shouldn’t do. The first lesson focussed on having us pronounce words, and sentences. We could speak the sentence at the end of the lesson, but nobody had any clue about its meaning. Then, we had another lesson with a few of the same words, but put into context with a flash card or a drawing. That way, it was much easier to remember both the word and idea or structure behind it. We were presented with a lesson with a cuddly toy, to say simple things like “hello”, “good/well done” and goodbye” in swedish.

From the coursebook:
When we teach our non-native students new language, we do it this way:

  1. Meaning Teach or show the meaning through context or story.
  2. Pronunciation Teach or drill the pronunciation until our students can say it naturally.
  3. Form Teach or show the way it is written

It makes complete sense to teach a language structure in this way:

  1. What does it mean? (Meaning)
  2. What does it sound like? (Pronunciation)
  3. What does it look like? (Form)

It does make sense, doesn’t it?
We were shown how versatile the game “find someone who” is.
We had to create a few lesson plans, and teach them to the rest of the students. This part was a lot of fun. Put a little role play into it, present the grammar structure somewhere during the lesson, but don’t make that the main target of the lesson. Don’t focuss on the actual structure. The desired outcome is that students can communicate with the structure. There are countries where English is taught in such a way that students understand English grammar close to perfection, and they can write English flawlessly. But put them in a situation where they have to use their English knowledge to have a real conversation, and they get stuck. Because they don’t know how. This is the difference between knowing a structure, and knowing how to put it to use in a real life situation.

We were shown (also mentioned in the rest of the TEFL course, but it is important, so it never hurts to mention it again) that it is better to elicit the meaning of something from a student, than to just explain it. You can use concept questions to make sure that students understand what you are trying to teach them.

Something else about pronunciation: I read somewhere on the internet, that a lot of schools want their teachers to speak as close to native English as possible, to have no accent whatsoever. There are some important overlooked aspects to that:

  • I’m not so certain there is one universal version of English. Not only is there a difference between American and British English, but there are a lot of accents in english as well, and English people with one accent can have difficulty understanding English people with another accent, apparently. When the English queen Elizabeth 2nd had her coronation, it was going to be broadcast on television. For the first time in history, there was a need for a version of English that all people could understand. A standard English (I haven’t researched this enough to be certain, I heard it, and did a quick search on the internet, there are a number of wikipedia pages about this).
  • I read on the internet that if students get taught English in their own accent, it becomes a lot easier for them to understand the structure, and communicate with it. To me, this makes sense, I haven’t traveled that much, but I found in a few countries that if you twist your accent to the way the local population speaks english, it becomes a lot easier for them to understand you. Indian people for instance are very good at speaking english, but a lot of us western people don’t see this because of their accent. While their level of understanding of the language is quite high. As an example, our teacher mimicked a french girl who wanted to take english classes. We (the students) had to assess her level. We all placed her much lower than she was, from elementary to intermediate. But she was actually at the level of advanced. Our teacher told us that this is a mistake almost everyone makes. Because of her intonation and pronunciation, we misjudged her, but her usage of english structures was pretty much flawless.

Not to say that it is bad to teach English with a more native pronunciation, but students learn to communicate more easily if you teach them with their own accent. And having an accent doesn’t make you less skilled as an English speaker.

There is loads more, but that is what the course is for. Either way, it was a very fun and at the same time productive weekend.

On another note, (switching to 3D artist mode), I read on the blenderartists forum about people who were wondering when or if Zbrush Zspheres would make it into blender. I figured if you create an armature, and use bones in envelope display mode, you could at least emulate how this looks. You can’t use this to automatically create automatic (heh, funny) geometry to work with, not that I’m aware of anyway, but it does help to quickly come up with a nice proportioned character. You could even pose it if you set up the base skeleton in a clear way. It is not a lot of work to go from there and create a lowpoly cage to start sculpting, similar to Zbrush. You could give this mesh an armature modifier with automatic weighting, and you’re good to go in different poses as well.
It is only a small test, but maybe some people like this approach… And I can use the extra character to try my new rig. People build 3D character models in various ways, this is an approach (sculpt from a mesh with very simple topology) that I have not done before, so it’s a good thing to try out. I want my rig to work on a lot of different characters.

Quick prototyping of different characters

Building a simple character mesh cage based on the rig's envelopes

Long post, I’m out… 🙂
See you later/Довиждане

Michael/Майкъл

Report from Sicily

So, last month I went to Sicily for a holiday/volunteer work. Here’s a little report:

After a few hours driving to the airport in Germany, and a flight of a few hours to Trapani, Sanne (the other volunteer on the same plane) and I are waiting for the bus to take us to Palermo. And from Palermo we would take a bus that would take us to the other part of the island, to Catania. The project we volunteered for was close to Catania, in a place called Biancavilla, but the cheapest flight was arriving on the other side of the island, meaning we’d have to take a few buses and travel a day to get to where we were supposed to be. With a few hours to wait between buses.  Quite original, and fun to do once or twice. After all, I can say that I’ve “crossed the island”, but next time, I’ll just take a ticket that costs a little bit more and flies straight to Catania 😛

So arriving at Catania airport by bus, Sanne and I wait for the guy from the project to come pick us up. This guy’s name is Rocco Pennisi, and he’s the son of the people who run the project. Basically, it’s a family living in the countryside that do volunteer work and do a lot for the local community. They have a volunteer organization: “Casa di Maria” (Maria’s house) and a commercial organization: “Vino di Cana, Turismo rurale” to support themselves.

Rocco drives us to Biancavilla where we meet the family and the rest of the volunteers.

The volunteers, no group photo with just the family, sorry.

For the rest and a LOT more photos, click the “Read the rest of this entry” link.

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Call for donations: Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home

Ayubowan (hello),
I mentioned in the previous posts that I had been to Sri Lanka to teach English at the Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home.
What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that this school runs on donations and volunteers, and that they are short on both. But money is a rather pressing issue.

So basically this is a call for donations.

You can’t really tell from the photo’s, because they do so very well with the very few things they have, but they are very poor, and can use all the help they can get.
A donation doesn’t have to be much, any amount is welcome, they are resourceful and can get far with little.
You can send a donation directly to their bank account (Vajira Sri Rehabilitation Children’s home, “Bank of Ceylon” account nr: 0000227418).
Stuti (thank you)