My Lockdown Project: Plestacks

Today is day 17 of a four-day lockdown. Lots of extra time on my hands means time to devote to my hobbies. This week I combined two of my hobbies, learning Chinese and web programming, to make a new flashcard app.

If you are learning Chinese, chances are that you’re using an app called “Pleco.” It’s a great dictionary app, really the gold standard of Chinese dictionary apps. And it’s loaded with features like live OCR, animated character drawing, and flashcards. I’ve been a happy user of Pleco for over ten years.

One of my many personality quirks is that I am a collector. The Chinese language, with tens of thousands of unique characters, is a hoarder’s dream nightmare. I have many, many “collections” of words that I’ve come across, and want to remember. When it comes to saving Chinese characters for later reference, I’m like that eccentric person who keeps every newspaper and magazine he’s ever bought, for years and years, cluttering up his house, just in case I want to read them later. Pleco enables this quirk with the function to create custom collections of words that you can review later, using the flashcards app. I have many, many collections.

I diligently organize my collections of Chinese characters, but each collection has hundreds of characters in it. If I use the flashcards function, it can take too long to get through a whole stack. Sometimes I have a few minutes, and want to spend it reviewing some of my collections. With Pleco’s flashcard system, you have to do the whole collection, no matter how many words it contains. It’s too cumbersome.

So I made my own flashcard app, that imports cards made with Pleco, and makes custom stacks of words to review. I call my creation Plestacks.

Plestacks is a web app; you can use it on a phone or a desktop computer. If you don’t use Pleco, then it’s pretty useless for you. I estimate that about seven people in the world will find this useful. However, I am one of those seven people, and in the immortal words of Dr. Frank N. Furter:

This was a fun project. I learned some new database functionality of modern web browsers, and applied some new web programming skills that I’ve been learning. If you’re a learner of Chinese and a user of Pleco, feel free to use Plestacks. You can access the program here: https://plestacks.denniehoopingarner.com/.

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