Life: Language Study (with Owls)

I made a cheerful little owl more excited.

Duolingo, the language study app/platform, showed me this cute graphic summarizing my progress this year. I study every day for a couple minutes, and I’ve been using it for about 550 days consecutively…

My eavesdropping in Spanish is getting better, and I made an actual (bad) joke to myself today (about podemos vs. perdemos) which is a good sign for me, though perhaps not for anyone near me.

My Spanish translation and/or guessing ability is improving, but my independent recall and sentence formation isn’t so great, so I’ll need to do some independent writing. I’ve only had spontaneous thoughts in grammatically proper Spanish a few times, whereas I have entire conversations in my head in German, so there’s a long way to go! The Spanish past tense has really bowled me over, perhaps because I hadn’t fully mastered conjugations for the present tense, and I haven’t recovered conceptually. (I ate, you ate, s/he ate, we ate, they ate IS SO MUCH EASIER than the Spanish versions of those: female: Yo comí, tú comiste, ella comió, nosotras comimos, ellas comieron; and then the same verbs for male, but different pronouns for those last three: Yo comí, tú comiste, él comió, nosotros comimos, ellos comieron. YES, German does something similar, but I’ve been practicing that for YEARS longer!)

On the days when I want to study, but can’t focus on Spanish, I return to German. I use German somewhat regularly, thanks to a friend and Postcrossing, so it feels like laziness. Or, less frequently, I switch to French, which I’ve still cumulatively spent more app time studying than Spanish. The issue with French is the random shared words: my trés bien could sabotage my muy bien. This is a really lucky problem to have!

It’s nice of Duo, the owl mascot of Duolingo (die Eule, le hibou, or el búho, depending), to encourage me with this certificate.

I still enthusiastically recommend Duolingo as a nice way to improve language familiarity as part of a bigger study plan suited to your personal learning/method needs.

SF Life: Slow Streets

Another thing that we’ve implemented in San Francisco that we should keep and expand is the Slow Streets program. With so many people cooped up and isolated in the city due to pandemic precautions, all needing to exercise and enjoy fresh air safely, this is a program whose time has come.

It’s like an expansion of the brilliant and popular Sunday Streets program (, organized by local non-profit organization Liveable City (

SF Life: Shared Spaces

SF launched an outdoor dining/business program called Shared Spaces to offer some relatively safe outdoor dining activities, and to support safer pick up for delivery services from food service companies. While I want the sidewalks to be kept clear for pedestrian use full time, especially for the unimpeded use of the disabled community, the approach of using car parking space for public enjoyment is a better, higher value, higher density use of public street space than storing privately owned cars, and so I zealously support it.

You can see the Shared Spaces interactive map here.

When I say that this offers a relatively safe outdoor dining, I mean that it is very relative based on how the space is configured. I’ve walked past some of these arrangements, and they vary widely. I won’t sit with unmasked strangers from other households while they eat within a high-walled area with a tent or overlapping umbrella roof. I wouldn’t sit that close to them surrounded by an enclosure if they were smoking, so there’s no way I would sit near them when they MAY have a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus! Those configurations aren’t “outdoor” enough for me.

“Outdoor” dining has become less and less outdoors as we move into our “winter” in North America, and that’s the safety issue:

If you are looking for a really GOOD outdoor dining set up, visit the Park Chalet at the west end of Golden Gate Park, which has an large lawn and can space tables 12 feet apart easily. Or visit any Parklet in the Mission District that is outside a cafe, where the walls are low, the air moves freely, and there is a decorative element that adds to the character of the street.

My hope is that the Shared Spaces approach for using street space for human uses – rather than car storage uses – will be implemented extensively and in the long term; and also that the execution of these spaces will be improved and measured against new, fit-for-purpose standards to ensure safety and appropriate air flow even beyond the pandemic.

News: New San Francisco / California COVID Precautions

San Francisco & California Regional Precautions & Restrictions

Here is how we here in San Francisco will be using California’s strictest regional approach through early January, in an attempt to hold down the ICU capacity numbers before the multi-week delay makes that impossible:

The regional stay-at-home order from the California Department of Public Health is here:

What is especially discouraging for San Franciscans, who had kept the numbers so low until recently, is that we had some incremental service / business expansions which required extensive planning and infrastructure investment. There has been so much effort on the part of locals, businesses, and the City to allow those to succeed. But the infection rate has climbed dramatically, and so we can’t continue as if it hasn’t.

The big question as we challenge restrictions on things like outdoor dining or museums at 25% capacity is: which activities are causing the spike? Indoor dining DEFINITELY contributes to infections, based on reports from other regions, and we can follow that science. Meanwhile, the data on unenclosed (truly outdoor) dining, outdoor playgrounds with managed capacity, outdoor retail, and similar approaches is lacking. That lack of data is frustrating! We want to adapt, and we need that data.

News: Johns Hopkins Vaccine News Hub

There is now enough good vaccine news that Johns Hopkins has a page devoted to these developments.

Here in the U.S., the vaccines I’m reading about daily and which give me encouragement are made by: (a) Pfizer and BioNTech, (b) Moderna, and (c) AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Vaccines in Russia and China are also ‘in play,’ which is hugely beneficial for the world, since as many nations as possible need to contribute solutions and ensure they are available globally.

News: Early December 2020 COVID figures

From, which is an excellent and reliable resource. I’ll also embed their video below.

This remains a peculiar time to be alive. There is so much happening that will be in history books, but the experience of being IN IT is different than the way it will be written about in retrospect. It’s one thing to read about past historic plagues and disasters long after they occurred; it’s another thing to be taking drastic daily precautions, to NOT know which of our loved ones will be harmed, and to not know when it will end.

Psychologically, we are at a point of juggling renewed hopes and great despair.

There is some great vaccine news that holds promise for managing the crisis in 2021. Meanwhile, many of the people in my country have decided that traditional holidays will not be changed for the survival of their neighbors and colleagues, and so we are bracing for a December/January infection and death spike from Thanksgiving week, which may extend the precautions for all of us. Hospitals in my state are approaching capacity, putting everyone who needs hospitals at risk, not only COVID patients.

Editorials ask us not to harshly judge people who are putting the lives of others in our community at risk, but this feels like asking us not to judge arsonists – as if starting fires one doesn’t control on public land is a personal decision.

National numbers

Here’s the always excellent Johns Hopkins on where we are with respect to disturbing upward trends:

The national news and government experts are all expecting a massive spike this month, and the causes are already behind us, so it’s a matter of watching the numbers in frustration, and having a very different Christmas season from most other years. Outside of continuing to limit our own exposure to other households, there isn’t much we can do about the decisions that others made, which impact our communities regardless of their intentions.

Internet Rabbit Hole: Caffeine toxicology… in frogs

Long story, short: someone was assaulted with a hot cup of coffee yesterday, and I wound up discussing the impacts of caffeine on the skin.

Caffeine CAN be absorbed through the skin (which was a running joke in the Sylvia comic strip by Nicole Hollander, in which the protagonist started developing elaborate wardrobes for her cats after using caffeinated soap, and the cats begged her to stop), and is a fashionable item in cosmetics (it constricts blood vessels, and so can reduce some types of swelling).

But somehow, I wound up reading that caffeine is also a highly effective pesticide against invasive species of frogs in Hawaii. This makes some sense to me, based on my limited understanding of amphibians and their sensitive, not-especially-protective skin.