Culture: 423 Days of Duolingo

Duo is the encouraging Owl mascot of Duolingo

Growing up in San Francisco is an experience I wouldn’t trade!! You can hear half a dozen languages spoken in a trip across town, have classmates and neighbors from around the world, celebrate the new year at least five different times/ways, and taste so many delicious, different foods!

I grew up in the Mission District, and was a tall child from about age 11, so I spent countless years of my life as ‘the tall girl that can get something off the shelf for your abuela.’ (Note: I am still that woman. I also open jars for other gals. Sisterhood is powerful.) The abuelas would politely ask me for the thing I should reach for them, usually in Spanish, and so I developed a reasonable Spanglish vocabulary for things you can buy in a shop and anything/everything I would want in a Mission-style burrito. (Burrito vegetariano con frijoles pinto, aguacate, y salsa picante, por aqui, por favor!) (Note: it still bothers me that our local shops insist that lemon is limón, and lime is limón verde. IT IS NOT JUST A VERDE LIMÓN! Noooooooo!)

I had been frustrated by being unable to read some books my father had at home from his prior life, when he was in the military and stationed in Germany, so I studied German for four years in high school. (I kept a diary in German, and got a German pen pal whom I’m still in touch with decades later!) I loved Japanese design, and so I casually studied Japanese before taking a trip there in the early 1990s, and was able to read Hiragana and Katakana briefly. (Other English speakers were so impressed when I could translate for them! “Where are we?” “We’re in Sendai.” “You can read that sign?” “Not the big characters, but you can see just below the big characters, it is subtitled, and I can read that.” “BUT THAT IS ALSO IN JAPANESE!” “Yes, but it is easier Japanese…”) In the early “aughts,” I took my then-spouse to Paris, and I studied French for about a week before going, which got me through ticket purchasing and train station announcements successfully. Years later when I began to work in Europe, I needed to brush up on at least German, and perhaps French.

I turned to Duolingo.

Duolingo is an app (and website) that turns language study into a game. The lessons are short; there are cartoon characters that speak the language you are studying, and respond when you translate them correctly; there are exercises in multiple choice, magnetic-poetry-style listening and translating in both directions (native to study language and reversed), and speech tests. It’s fun, like a little game, and there’s a tiny social network element to it, where you are ranked against others (if competition is your thing). It’s free if you want, or you can pay for it to be able to go faster (and be forgiven for making more mistakes).

I’d read that the well-intentioned company founders couldn’t actually speak in the languages they claimed to be studying, not even in their press conferences touting the tool. If you’ve read those stories, you may be wondering whether you’ll get anything out of it.

I’ve used Duolingo to study German, French, Spanish, and a little Dutch. Studying languages I have formal training in (German) and those I don’t (all the others), I can say that it is a nice tool for building vocabulary and expanding on foundational knowledge, but just okay for learning structural basics from scratch. My German lessons went VERY smoothly, especially in the mostly multiple-choice format, but I really struggled with the French lessons, and needed to find other resources to explain what it was about verb conjugations and gender patterns that I JUST COULD NOT SEE.

I can say that the style of lessons (and even some of the stories) are the same across languages, though the conversational content can differ quite a bit. (The French lessons were originally much more about being rich, liking horses, and going shopping than the German ones, which favored taking trains and telling everyone you are German; the lessons have all been updated since I started, often multiple times.)

After 166 German lessons/levels, I can say that my German vocabulary has definitely improved; words that never came up in the travel-books, but which are very practical, were great to finally see. I can read them, and hope to remember them. After 146 French lessons, I can read far more than I could previously, but I can’t start a conversation, my grammar remains awkward, and my pronunciation still sounds like my tongue objects to something. 62 Spanish lessons allowed me to learn waaaay too much about a party the girl behind me was describing to her friends on the phone, but were not enough to speak to my neighbor’s wife to tell him that a parking space he wanted was available, and he should take it immediately.

So: it is good! It is fun! It is bite-sized! You’ll be glad you did it! Yet know it isn’t enough on its own. If you want some tables of rules, clear patterns presented for reference, or to write things down to better remember them, you’ll need to supplement Duolingo with other materials. (I like Living Language books + audio recording packages for that.) It is good for what it is, but an app can’t do it all, and that’s okay.

And ALL OF US could use some encouragement in daily life from a cute owl.

Culture: Flag and a Positive American Manifesto

My favorite thing from this Independence Day is this vibrant, positive declaration reclaiming the United States for all of us from Jameelah Nuriddin and Erin Hammond.

Imagine a ‘New America’: reclaiming the American flag – in pictures

With the explosion of global protests and activism demanding an end to racial inequality, Jameelah Nuriddin and Erin Hammond consider the complicated relationship between African Americans and the American flag in a series of photos. The eight images capture a giant 200-year-old flag, a young black woman with a giant afro, and various postures combining the pledge of allegiance and black power poses.

… Envision a world where all humans are free and equal – where we prize each other over material things
– we stand against tyranny and oppression, hatred and fear

–Jameelah Nuriddin and Erin Hammond.

News: Happy Virtual PRIDE!

We can all use the positivity of PRIDE! The intersectionality, support for BLM, and festivity is truly encouraging.

Today’s Virtual Global Pride 2020 poster

If you haven’t been watching the Global Pride 2020 live stream, you can find it by clicking on the photo above. (It is delightful!)

News: Happy Loving Day!

Yes, inter-racial marriage used to be illegal in many parts of the USA. Until 1967. Which is SUPER RECENTLY.

Hooray for Loving v. Virginia!

Loving Day

Loving Day is an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states. In the United States, anti-miscegenation laws were U.S.

From the Wikipedia Article, above:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

-Mildred Loving, June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia

Film: Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint by Halina Dyrschka

I love ART. I especially love ABSTRACT art. Enough to make it in several media! Creating abstract drawings and paintings is liberating sometimes, and a refreshing change from representational drawing or photography, but a lot of it is mental work intended to… solve a conceptual problem. It’s not easy to explain: it is representing something, just not something material.

I’ve loved going to museums, and seeing a grid of pastel colors, and thinking, “YES! This artist was working on the same issue I was working on last month, and s/he solved it a different way! That is fantastic!”

The film Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint from Zeitgeist films is like a delightful visit to a museum, with lots of pleasant, knowledgeable, passionate friends along for the ride.

It’s well paced! The art is amazing! The representational early work by the artist is gorgeous, too! But the abstracts are just fantastic – the colors! The scale! The patterns! It’s the best field trip I’ve been on in ages.

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint – Roxie Cinema

Hilma af Klint was an abstract artist before the term existed, a visionary, trailblazing figure who, inspired by spiritualism, modern science, and the riches of the natural world around her, began in 1906 to reel out a series of huge, colorful, sensual, strange works without precedent in painting.

While my dear Roxie Theater is closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Kino Now link above allows me to watch the films they would be screening at home, and have part of the ticket price go to them. (Other indie theaters are available to support, too!) Go visit!

Science/Culture: Enthusiasm for both David Bowie and Nudibranchs

Tumblr is a site famous for sites/pages dedicated to a single topic, with great enthusiasm. A friend shared this link, in which a fan of David Bowie and the glamorous nudibranchs (which are soft, festive molluscs), found a way to match particular outfits of Bowie’s with a corresponding nudibranch. (And here I’ve just been using software to identify wildflowers!)

I find the site adorable. The author, Hannah Weller, is obtaining appropriate source credits for the images, which is always a good thing!

Bowiebranchia

Pantone predicted this. and now, perhaps the most vital work I will ever do: using colordistance to objectively prove which David Bowie outfit most closely matches a given sea slug.

She is a marine biologist, and of course you can follow her on Twitter.

Hannah Weller

The latest Tweets from Hannah Weller (@hannahiweller). 🐠 PhD candidate @elbrainerd lab, studying how behavior ↔️ morphology by way of mouthbrooding fishes🐟 image processing enthusiast 🤖 ginger nut 🍪. Providence, RI

Mood: Graffiti edition of a My Little Pony

I’m still reading Olafur Eliasson In Real Life, which is fantastic through and through, and got to his interview with Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Brathwaite).

F5F reveals how it was German TV (!!) that gave him the start up money for his street culture film, Wild Style (1982); OE reveals that he was a breakdancer with a crew in the Netherlands, who took the crew to see the film in Copenhagen, and the crowd went wild; F5F is talking about how moving it is to see kids around the world still influenced by this movement in art and culture… They are each giddy to be discussing these topics, and the giddiness is contagious.

Oh, F5F is/was a painter!

OE refers to 80s era early rap as “electric boogie,” and I burst out laughing each time.

(Aside: Wild Style features rappers wearing v-neck sweaters. Because: the 80s. )

Advocacy: Algorithmic Justice League

After reading about all of the biases that can be introduced into AI systems which can have life-and-death influences on real humans in real life, I remembered reading a GREAT interview with the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, who is helping people understand, and hopefully avoid, the dangers of blindly trusting software that may have profound flaws.

Prevent incorrectly trained software from mathwashing bad ideas!

AJL’s website is worth a visit:

Algorithmic Justice League – Unmasking AI harms and biases

Join the Algorithmic Justice League in the movement towards equitable and accountable AI. In today’s world, AI systems are used to decide who gets hired, the quality of medical treatment we receive, and whether we become a suspect in a police investigation.