Language in 3 minutes a day (Day 45)

I’ve been meaning to finish learning spanish (then pick up mandarin), but the couple methods i’ve tried weren’t able to hold my desire sufficiently to keep me at it.

I’ve been very happy with Duolingo, a free phone app. I have it on the lowest daily setting, which is about 3-4 minutes daily. Its not *fast*, for sure, but its enjoyable and bite-sized enough that i’ve stuck with it for over 3 months now. According to the app pacing, I’ll be “fluent” in ~4-5 years at this pace…not fast, but better than not doing it at all.

Program is fun, seems to work well, and I’ve been fairly content with my retention, along with the general structure of the learning. Its got good reinforcement and reminder mechanisms, which has felt like all the difference between keeping me going and just putting it aside, just like that treadmill-turned-clothes hangar so many people own.

I’m not getting anything for plugging their program, in case anyone cares, and it is free. So if you’ve been contemplating de-rusting a language you learned long ago, or want to learn a new one, I’d highly suggest giving it a try.

I feel much better actually making extremely slow progress on this, but knowing I’m working on it, than my previous starts-and-stops attempts.

Thanking the fallen (Day 44)

So very many people have given everything for their country. It is a privilege to live in the amazing world we do, even with all of its flaws and imperfections, and while everyone who’s made the world a better place has contributed to that, only some were willing to sacrifice their lives for that goal.

Hopefully someday we will transcend the need to be able to resolve a conflict without violence. We are far from that day.

And until we reach that point, we will need people willing to sacrifice their life for what their government, their people believe is the greater good.

And those people deserve our mourning and respect, no matter how badly we may disagree with a given conflict.

And may we continue to dream and strive for a day those sacrifices are no longer necessary.

Look it up! (Day 43)

You could build a house, from scratch, without knowing anything about *anything* related to building a house, as long as you could follow instructions from videos on youtube.

There’s billions of people on the planet, and while everyone’s lives are a tiny bit different, most of us struggle with very similar problems. Occasionally, someone comes up with a brilliant solution. Sometimes they monetize that solution, but a lot of the time, they’re more than happy to give it away for free.

So if you’re ever struggling with *anything*, or you get a whimsical “it would be nice if”…type it into google. There’s a good chance somebody has a method that’s maddeningly fast and easy.

My most memorable from the last year: I *hate* scrubbing toilets, and it’s impossible to scrub out all the crud up in the rim, but I needed to get a couple clean for a job. Was ruminating about how I didn’t want to do it, and if there was a way around it, and randomly decided to see if anyone had a brilliant idea.

Turns out: stick a tiny outdoor fountain pump in the base of the bowl, fill the bowl full of bleach, stick the pump tube up into the tank, and let it run for 12-24 hours. Setup is less than 5 minutes, and got it pristine, far cleaner than I could’ve done with an hour of toilet bowl cleaner and vigorous scrubbing.

Its *amazing* how happy finding that little trick made me, and how much that feeling has stuck with me.

Animal Crossings and Car Insurance (Day 42)

Animal Crossings and Car Insurance (Day 42)

Cars hitting animals costs us billions of dollars a year (Last good estimate I saw was just under $10 billion direct costs, repair and medical) This ignores the indirect human costs: time, ease of life, and sanity lost while repairing or replacing the automobile and emotional trauma from the accident, among others. Also ignores the ecological costs: not only does it affect animal mortality (obviously), the splitting of ecosystems by difficult and dangerous to traverse roadways has wide-ranging effects on ecosystem health.

Research and investment into animal crossing overpasses and underpasses have shown they pay themselves back quite quickly for infrastructure (usually under 10 years, depends on location, cost, and human and animal traffic density). They’re also mostly inconspicuous, or fairly nice to look at: I enjoy the fusion of nature and ‘progress’ in the look of a grassy, curved bridge rising over a highway.

We collectively bear these costs via car insurance premiums. As government is almost exclusively involved in construction of road infrastructure, there’s a fairly large disconnect between preventative measures and cost, which seems unfortunate as economically it seems like a slam dunk investment. It would be sweet to connect these issues, as it makes the economics much easier.

So, I know this issue might not be as dear to your heart as it is to mine, but it’ll probably save you money either way. So if your insurance company or local government is considering something like this, bird them a bit, doggedly if you have to, to work on animal crossings.

People, Tubes, and Rubik’s Cubes (Day 41)

When I was in London for ~3 months for a graduation project for Undergrad, a friend taught me a way to solve a Rubik’s Cube. That toy was perfect for me: I have very willful idle hands, I enjoy puzzles, and I like things one can get better at. It was also perfect for the tube (subway): I had a ~45 minute ride to and from our project workplace every day, this was before smartphones, and reading on the tube made me sick, so something to do was invaluable (talking with my team members was the worst possible scenario, but that’s a different story).

The last 25 minutes of the ride out wasn’t very crowded, so I’d always have a seat, and there’d pretty much always be one or two people sitting directly across from me. I didn’t need to actually look at the cube for the last 5-10 seconds, it was just one of a few different patterns. So I’d watch the people across from me as I finished; they frequently were watching me solve the cube.

They all reacted almost exactly the same way. They’d be staring intently at the cube. I’d finish, rotate it in my hands a bit, and they’d be mildly surprised and very slightly impressed it was finished. Then they’d look up and our gaze would meet, and they’d startle; they always knew/felt that I’d been looking at them while they were watching me finish the cube. That the reaction was so *consistent* was what really stuck with me.

I didn’t fully get what was so interesting about it at the time: humans seem to have a near mind-reading level of prescient knowledge when it comes to eye contact. Was someone looking at me? We’re they staring for a while or just glancing? What were they looking at specifically, and how much attention were they paying?

Its pretty crazy that everyone seems to near-instantly know all of those things without consciously thinking about it. Also, entertaining other people and messing with them a tiny bit when you’re both bored in a subway car is pretty fun.

Shoplifting & wage theft (Day 40)

Shoplifting losses were estimated at $17.6 Billion dollars in 2016. Shoplifting is a criminal offense, with fairly steep fines and possible jail time. Being criminal, it also means the government picks up the cost of running through the legal system (and also ends up on one’s criminal record, with a variety of almost entirely negative consequences)

Wage Theft was estimated at just over $20 billion dollars in 2016, although that estimate is far less accurate; the actual number is likely to be much higher. Wage theft includes anything where workers aren’t paid as much as (or anything) they’ve earned. It ranges from violating minimum wage/overtime laws to simply not paying employees or contractors for work at all.

Wage theft is almost entirely handled as a civil matter: this means that, for the most part, the injured party pays the cost of going through the justice system to get the problem remedied. And there’s no criminal consequences.

I find the specific details and issues interesting by themselves. However, we are inconsistently handling legal issues with extreme similarities to one another in a way that disproportionately harms individuals, especially those with very limited capability to legally defend themselves.

Work to be done; market failure (Day 39)

We have so much we could do to improve our world: build more infrastructure, repair and improve current everything, clean and maintain roads/parks/etc.

We have enough food, energy, and random consumer goods for everyone to have plenty.

I’m not sure exactly where the market failure(s) are, but they certainly exist. I suspect they are the product of it being far more profitable to play games with other people’s money (or just made up money, in the case of many large business loans) than it is to feed or clothe a thousand people.

I’m afraid we’re too entrenched to get out of this mess without a lot of bloodshed.

Find the Meat! (Day 38)

No matter how worthless a news article may appear, no matter how badly you just want that acquaintance to shut up, there’s *some* content there. There might not be a lot of meat, and it might be buried under 10 tons of marshmallow fluff and hot air, but there’s always something.

So find the meat, note the texture of the fluff (its frequently relevant for identifying what the writer thinks and what groups they’re members of or trying to signal they belong to), and move on. Its obviously reasonable to avoid low-content objects entirely, but that’s not always possible, and there’s always *something* to be gained.

Even when there’s no discernable content, when you’re covered head to toe in fluff with nothing to show for it, the “why is this happening?!” answer is frequently useful.

The stupid list you have to click next for every sentence: creating content is harder than getting people to click more.

The news article with the inflammatory title, 3 paragraphs about how awful *insert person/country/organization* is and no new information: we don’t need to put effort into content, our readership is more than happy with emotional stimulation.

The acquaintance talking too much about nothing: “I love this topic significantly more than I have awareness of the interest of my audience.”

Content is always there.

Confederate memorial *relocation* (Day 37)

I’ve seen a few posts decrying the removal of these monuments, usually making reference to Orwell’s 1984 and the rewriting of history.

I appreciate these monuments symbolize something positive to many people: resilience, independence. To many others, they symbolize hate, fear, suffering, and alienation. And I think its reasonable to make decisions balancing these factors when considering public areas and displays.

In this case, these monuments do not symbolize the best aspects of American culture, rather some of the worst: the use of terror and violence to achieve an ignoble goal. And because of that, moving them out of the high traffic, high visibility areas seems extremely reasonable.

History isn’t being re-written. These monuments aren’t being destroyed. And I hope that most Americans will rally against whomever attempts to re-write history if it does come to pass: I know I will be there.

Remembering the bloodiest, most destructive war in America’s history is important, along with the variety of activities and organizations following it; but we can do that while still changing how we display the memories of those events.

New Orleans’ Mayor’s speech on this is excellent in my opinion. (Fair warning, includes racial microaggressions such as “melting pot”)

US Debt is roughly $60,000 per person and costs ~$1,300 per person per year (Day 36)

Our debt is currently floating at ~$20 trillion dollars, or about $60,000 per person. This is roughly 105% of our GDP (~$19 trillion).

Our debt service, or the money spent on paying interest on the debt, is about $420 billion dollars a year. About half of this is “intragovernmental”, which means things like the Federal Reserve and the Social Security Trust Fund are getting the interest payments (these are included in the number above)

In any case: I’m not trying to pick fights, or take sides on this issue. But I do want a level of awareness about the magnitude of our debt, and what its costing everyone, so people can better make decisions on how to handle it. We can solve a LOT of social problems with that money.