Welcome to the new ThinkMac

As you may notice, I’ve completely redesigned the ThinkMac website. Since I originally created the site for a student project 14 (!!) years ago it’s been hosted as static files. I feel it’s now long out grown this and it was time to switch over to a content management system. I’ve been really pleased with WordPress, which powered the old ThinkMac blog and my other business site Light Priority, so it made sense to use it here too. I’m using a customised version of the Business theme by Organic Themes with several plugins including Meta Slider, JetPack, Contact Form 7 and others.

As WordPress performs very poorly on MediaTemple’s Grid service I’ve also moved hosting providers to TSO Host in the UK. This marks the fifth migration this website has made since its inception. Hopefully it’s not something I’ll have to do again anytime soon!

ThinkMac's website back in June 2000

ThinkMac’s website back in June 2000, grammatical errors abound!

New features in iKanji touch 1.9

iKanji touch 1.9 (and 1.9.1 which should be on the App Store in a few days) introduce some handy new features for those using the app’s spaced repetition training system. If you don’t currently use the training system then hopefully this will give you cause to try it out.

Let me briefly explain how spaced repetition works in iKanji touch. Kanji move between five groups which have different testing intervals. All kanji start in group 1 which are always due for testing. As you learn about the kanji and answer the meaning, reading and stroke order test questions correctly, they move up into the higher groups. Group 2 kanji are tested daily, group 3 are tested after 3 days, group 4 after a week and group 5 after a month. As long as you keep answering correctly the group will keep increasing until it hits group 5 where you’ll be retested every month. But if you make a mistake when answering a question the kanji will drop back to group 1. This method of repetition insures you keep revising each kanji until you can answer the questions correctly every time.

Kanji to Study

Previously tracking trained kanji has largely relied on you using your practice sets or working through grades of JLPT levels. The new Kanji to Study screen gives you quick access to all previously trained kanji, including those due for testing at each level. This makes it much more convenient to stay on top of kanji due for testing.

Changing the retest date

iKanji touch 1.9.1 makes it possible to manually set the retesting date for a trained kanji. For example if you know a given kanji like the back of your hand and really don’t want to see it every month you can set the retesting date much further ahead. To change the date on a kanji, view its flash card then tap button with the group icon and test date in. In the panel that slides up you can pick any date you like.

iOS Simulator Screen shot 12 Apr 2014 1.49.09 pm

Dropbox Backup

Dropbox backup in iKanji touch 1.9If you have a Dropbox account, you can now link iKanji touch to it and store backups of your training progress. This is useful if you sometimes use iKanji on different devices and want to synchronise your training progress or if you’re migrating between devices and don’t want to rely on an iTunes or iCloud restore. At the moment it’s handled manually. Tap Settings from the main menu in iKanji touch, then under Data tap Training Progress. This takes you to a screen where you can link to your Dropbox account, make and restore from backups as well as reset your training progress entirely if you so wish.


iKanji now on the Mac App Store!

Well what do you know, iKanji has finally been approved for sale on the Mac App Store just 12 hours later than I released the direct sale version. So if you like you can now buy it from Apple.

Before you do though, please remember we make a lot more per-sale when you buy direct and we can offer you updates faster as they don’t have to go through Apple’s lengthy review process. You also don’t have to worry about some arbitrary App Store rule change effecting the functionality we can offer in the future.


iKanji 2!

Joining NewsLife and iKana, iKanji is the 3rd ThinkMac Mac app to graduate to version 2.0! It’s been under development for a good few months and it’s great to finally have it ready to put into your hands. As is starting to become the new normal, I find myself with a completed product ready to ship but with the Mac App Store version stuck in review land. So if you prefer to have slower updates and to give more of your money to Apple*, then please go ahead and wait for them to finish reviewing it. However if you’d like to try (and maybe even buy) iKanji 2 right now, here you go! (* we earn about 20-25% less per sale on the Mac App Store)

I’ve redesigned iKanji to be a lot more like its iPhone sibling. Kanji sets are now in a list and are subdivided into groups of 20. You can have multiple practice sets and I’m working on making syncing possible with iKanji touch. For now you can import and export your sets to share between computers, although you’ll have to do it sneakernet style. Kanji can be viewed as a list or as a bunch of tiny flash cards although gone is the cork texture and faux paper from earlier versions.

Cork’s out, linen is in and everything looks smarter and more modern

Search has been improved quite a lot. You can now perform multi-radical searches and search for more specific sets of kanji attributes including grades, stroke counts and so on. It’s very useful to be able to search by radical parts for identifying unfamiliar kanji.

Click the bits, find the kanji

iKanji 2 introduces the spaced repetition training system from iKanji touch. The SRS system will guide you through learning kanji readings and meanings. Testing stroke order on a desktop or laptop is hard because nobody wants to try writing kanji using a mouse or trackpad and you lose the 1:1 physical connection and muscle memory you employ when you’re writing on paper. So for now I’m leaving stroke order out – it makes sense on the iPhone and iPad so please use these devices to practice writing Japanese instead.

Following in iKana 2’s footsteps, iKanji now includes vocabulary training. Learning kanji in isolation is hard so I think this is a super important and useful feature for Japanese learners. Using the same spaced repetition system as kanji training, you can now learn thousands of words which will help you put kanji into context. The vocab browser also gives you a breakdown of the meaning for each kanji in a word. I find this absolutely fascinating and hope you do too. For example for “了解” you can see the two kanji mean “complete, finish” and “untie, unravel”. Can you guess the meaning of the word? It’s “comprehension”, i.e. once you’ve completely unraveled something you comprehend it.

Put kanji in context and learn words rather than just readings

There are lots of other little tweaks, fixes and changes too that will make using iKanji 2 a nicer experience but instead of me waffling on about them I recommend just downloading the app and trying it for yourself. iKanji 2 will run for 10 minutes at a time in trial mode so you can try all the features out before deciding if you’d like to purchase. It will be available on the Mac App Store in the next week or two hopefully, if you prefer to buy from there. iKanji requires OS X 10.7 (Lion) or later and is developer ID signed for Gatekeeper. This is a paid update for all customers unless you’ve purchased iKanji 1.5 recently. Specifically we’re offering free upgrades to customers who purchased iKanji on or after September 2012. Just get in touch if you qualify and we’ll send you a free iKanji 2 license.

iKanji touch 1.7 – whats new?

This is quite a big update to iKanji touch so lets look at what’s new:

Kana Chart

$0.99 / £0.69 / 0.89€ in app purchase

If you ever find yourself stumped looking kanji readings trying to remember if that’s a tsu or a shi or perhaps a re or a ne, the kana chart may come in handy. With a full alphabetical listing of all the hiragana and katakana characters with romaji.

Kana chart screenshot

Kanji Writing Practice

$0.99 / £0.69 / 0.89€ in app purchase

Have you ever wanted to just practice writing a kanji over and over until it sinks in? The Kanji Writing Practice feature offers just that. Watch the on-screen stroke animation or just work from memory. If you find it a little tricky using your finger to write the more complex kanji then a stylus, such as the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, works great. The first seven writing squares offer a guide to trace, after that you’ll need to draw it from scratch. iKanji touch automatically progresses you to the next square after you’ve drawn the correct number of strokes. You can also tap any of the squares to view what you’ve previously drawn.

Kanji Writing Practice screenshot

If you enjoy writing kanji on your iPhone please have a look at iKana Nōto for the iPad which takes the concept to the next level.

Other changes and updates

These features and fixes are free to all users:

  • A common complaint I hear from users is that the writing test is too unforgiving. If you’re training while commuting and hit a bump which makes you miss a stroke then you lose all your training progress for the kanji, which isn’t much fun. In version 1.7, iKanji touch now lets you make two mistakes before marking an answer as wrong. Hopefully this is a fair balance between making things too easy and forgiving accidental input. I’ve also increased the size of the touch zones accepted so your chances of missing them is reduced.
  • iKanji touch finally has stroke animations for all jōyō kanji including the 196 new kanji introduced in 2010! It’s taken a long time to get all the animations done but I’m happy to finally be able to offer such a complete set. There are still some missing for the more obscure kanji in the JLPT sets (mostly name kanji) but I hope to have those finished next year.
  • BLEEP! It can be embarrassing if your phone makes a loud noise while you’re using iKanji touch. However you might not want to silence your phone or turn the ringer volume right down. Version 1.7 adds a volume control to the setting screen so you can make the sound effects as quiet or loud as you like.
  • iKanji touch 1.7 also sports an updated icon to match the new version of iKana touch released recently. I hope you like it 🙂
  • I’ve made some further improvements to VoiceOver support for browsing kanji. Unfortunately the Japanese voice quality on iOS is pretty poor compared to English, but it’s still better than nothing.