Putting a bow on 2016

Putting a bow on 2016

As I’m staring down a stack of papers representing my taxes and contemplating meaning in a world gone insane, I’m clearly procrastinating. Because instead of finishing either of those two necessary tasks, however noble or banal each is, I’ve cleaned every surface in my house and also decided “yes, I should catch up on my journaling from 2016.” Because priorities. 


New this year: stickers on the book!
So 2016 is all scrapped up and ready to go sit on the shelf with his buddies: eight other Farmer’s Alamanc planners and three rando planners I used before the OFA became my clear go-to. They represent over 10 years of hoarding papers. 


Some of the randos with the final version of what is basically a really lazy memoir
Or at least, 10 years of putting my paper hoarding to some sort of creative use. 

I can’t let go of paper. Ticket stubs, business cards, wedding invitations, even those little tags on tea bag strings. For years they sat in envelopes waiting for…well I didn’t know what. But finally after years of stacks of papers sitting around, I finally found a way to scrapbook/journal with all of that crap. As a result, I can get rid of most of the papers but keep the key elements that remind me of something that happened on a particular day: cards and notes, wristbands, ribbons, parking passes. They all go on their appropriate date page. And then I can throw the rest out. It’s still really weird, but at least now I have a hold of it. 

And as a bonus, I have a solid book of alibis* going back years. So that’s nice. 


alibis stacking up
*h/t to MBF for coining that. 

Duolingo cheat codes

Ok, not really. But I did wonder how fluency and progress were measured, and how I could boost my fluency score. Duolingo is pretty up front about it: it’s keeping your “strength bars” full. Aka, refreshing your lessons. Oh, and also something about how much vocab you know and how important those words are, etc. Pfft. Details.

Once I had a basic idea of their metric, I played around a bit with it, and made myself a 2% per day fluency goal. No probs.

I was chugging along, doing about 30 minutes of practice daily: a new lesson or two and as many reviews as it took to get my 2% (about 8 review lessons some days). I got to 41% fluent and wondered how far I could get doing just reviews, no new content. Around 47% is where things ran off the rails for me. Getting from 47 to 49% took 22 review lessons. Getting the last 1% took me 21 lessons, filling all of my past lessons to full. So, all my completed lessons look gold now:

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And my daily xp (about 10 xp per lesson or review) looks like this, which netted me 2% daily over the last week.

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And consequently, I’m now at 50%! I can’t imagine I’ll be gaining much from here without doing a ton more new lessons and keeping on with lots of reviews. In fact, I wonder if I can keep my 2%/day pace up. (In fact, today I haven’t yet hit my 2% goal. All those reviews went to just getting a single percentage point.) My goal is to hit 100% in 25 more days. We’ll see!

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Hat tip to Mags for inspiring me to hit the Duolingo mean streets daily!

Gamifying language learning

Well, as a gamer at heart, I of course found a way to hack the achievements presented in duolingo. (An awesome free language app, btw.) 

I noticed my fluency rating had slipped from 22% down to 12% in the app over a few weeks. My bad for not being consistent. 

When it slipped after I completed two daily lessons, I knew it was time for action. And since I quit WoW Monday, what other achievements am I getting? None, I tells ya. 

So I kept clicking “practice weak skills” over and over until my fluency rating came up from 9 to 12%. It took about 8 lessons to do it. 

Then I noticed a link to my dashboard. Voila! The web version has tons of other options like progress tests and timed tests. Neat!

After a timed tests I was back up another 5 percentage points: 17%. Oh, now it was ON. 

After a few more tests, all easily within 30 minutes or so, I was back to my original 22%. Then I beat that. 

Today I’m at 27% after two timed tests and my normal daily new lesson and one practice of weak skills. 

Commence project “new life goals”. Or “I think I’m addicted to leveling”. 

What’s the deal with my language thing?

Why? Why the hell am I still pretending I’ll ever learn even close to 50% of the world’s native languages? This:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  Nelson Mandela.

I voted today. I can’t believe my country is coming even a little close to electing a ridiculous xenophobe. Now it’s more important than ever that if we can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, we can at least understand what he’s saying when he tells us what it’s like.

More thoughts on languages

I’m super fascinated right now with languages: how many people speak more than one? Which ones? What would it take to be able to speak with 50% of the world’s population? 80%? Are there any speakers that are so staunchly monolingual that getting closer to 100% would require learning those languages?

I’ve started trying to answer some of these questions, cobbling together data from a few disparate sources.

This WaPo article starts to answer a few of the questions, but I’m not sure about their methodology. Do I really care? Meh. But here’s what grabbed me: “two-thirds of the world’s population share only 12 native languages“. Dannnnng. I had calculated it at 13, but for only 50% of the world. So ok, what are those 12 special languages one must know?


The Darling Dozen are Chinese (unfortunately they lump all dialects, which I think is short-sighted), Hindi-Urdu (which are separate in my calculations), Arabic, English, Spanish, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, German, Japanese, French, and Italian.

This is mind-blowing to me. 66% speak a common 12 languages? Natively?? Dang. That seems like a home run. However, looking more closely, there are lots of nuances that need to be delved into there, like that Chinese isn’t a single language and, from what I understand, isn’t mutually intelligible from language to language. However, using Wikipedia’s 2010 numbers, Mandarin is 955M, Wu is 80M, Yue 59M, Jin 48M, and Southern Min 47M. I can live with that inconsistency of only about 200M. I don’t have a single clue about the differences between Urdu and Hindi, but at least Wikipedia says they’re mutually intelligible.

In fact, even over at Mentalfloss, they’ve got a different number: “more than half of the world’s population speaks one of just 23 languages”. This is far more languages than I’d calculated, but again, I’m using old 2007 numbers as from Wikipedia. Still, they found a cool graphic from a dude on the South China Morning Post:


I think the number of languages you’d need to speak with half of the world natively is somewhere in between those two figures, perhaps even back at my original guesstimate of 13. So much guesswork, though.

Ethnologue, which I would trust much further than Wikipedia or WaPo—or my own guesswork, has this as the breakdown, which includes Javanese in the top 12 languages, well above Italian. Here’s a snippet of their chart, with the final column on the right being speakers in millions:


Well, I suppose if the goal is to travel a lot and speak with as many people when you get there, a traveler should live in the Venn diagram overlap between most-spoken native languages and most-learned second languages. Here’s the second language learners, again from that WaPo article:


So if you’re aiming to strike up a conversation anywhere in the world and have a good chance to find someone who can bend your ear too, aim for English, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi or Urdu, Arabic, and French.

Just the other day a friend told me he was nearing fluency with his Chinese (Mandarin), and already spoke Spanish pretty well. We had our conversation in English, and some quick math shows he can already speak with basically 1 in 5 people on the planet, in their native tongue. If we add in second language or learners to that, he’s looking at about 42% of the world’s population, or 2 in 5. Just one more language for him (the Hindi-Urdu two step) and he’s up to 49.88%. Wow!!

I wonder what one could do with this information…