This Was Going to Be a National Geographic Post, but What the Heck

No, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. But I’ve been really exhausted after work and have been using the energy that I do have on my language-learning project (maybe I’ll start a topic for that . . .), so I haven’t had the time or energy to spend on reading magazines. Except for Vanity Fair, because I am one of that magazine’s tens of thousands of new subscribers. I’m considering subscribing to Teen Vogue, as well, for their political reporting. There’s apparently also a project going where people are subscribing Republican politicians to Teen Vogue as well (a subscription is only $5 per year).

As for the language-learning project, as of yesterday I have hit the $90 mark, and as of today I’ve finished Level 1 of Rosetta Stone Vietnamese. As far as Spanish goes, I’m apparently somewhere in the midst of heading towards CEFR* Level B1. B1 is a high intermediate/low advanced level, so I can live with that, I think (for now, at least). The only thing stopping me from being at a higher level is vocabulary, so I’m considering adding vocabulary flash cards to my regimen. One of the things that bugs me about Duolingo is that the gold circles (indicating that you’ve completed that exercise) stop being gold after a while (as a prompt to make you practice more). I wish Duolingo would let me specify that I use Spanish nearly daily in my job, so that the circles take longer to stop being gold. Having to do the same lessons over and over because Duolingo assumes that I don’t use the language enough to keep the vocabulary fresh can be kind of frustrating.

I’ve also discovered a new tool, Language Zen, which I’m trying out. So far they only have Spanish for English speakers (and their second plan is for English for Spanish speakers), but if the site takes off, they’ll be adding more languages later. It’s a little translation-heavy (they give you sentences in English and you have to write the Spanish for them), which doesn’t do so much to prepare you to speak the language, but it’s hopefully going to broaden my vocabulary.  There’s an odd “less than (number) words need practice” thing in the corner that I haven’t quite been able to figure out yet. I had 60 words at one time, then worked my way down to ten, and now I’m at 255. I can’t wait to figure out what that means. As I worked on this post, I was working on that site and I’m down to 245. Still don’t know 245 words until what, exactly.

There’s also been a change in plans for our bigger 2017 trip. Alex has a friend in California that he wants to meet in person, so we’re going to be going to Southern California for the week. I have been there four times before (and Alex went once as a baby), but, again, the now-ex (who still doesn’t have a pseudonym) has most of our photos from those trips. So I’ll be taking new pictures of those places to replace the ones that I no longer have. I also hope to make it to a few new places (the Queen Mary and Catalina Island, specifically).

*Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Just a Few Updates . . .

I’ve continued hitting the languages pretty hard. I’m listening to foreign language books and/or podcasts in the car on my way to and from work, I am doing at least two Duolingo Spanish lessons per day, and I also am doing Rosetta Stone for both Vietnamese and Mandarin. My employer requires us to do five hours per month to keep our access to Rosetta Stone and as we get farther into it, that has become more of a challenge. I’m on-target for January and may even exceed my five hours. Let’s see how I do in February, though, when the material is becoming tougher and I have three fewer days to get it than I will have had in January.

I really like Rosetta Stone, by the way (and you don’t know how tempted I am to link to their page at Amazon). The biggest challenge for me, the way they teach foreign languages in school, is to stop thinking in English and translating into my target language, because that’s how they teach a foreign language. Rosetta Stone doesn’t ever get you using your first language as a crutch by taking it entirely out of the equation. I have had to look up a couple of things where I couldn’t quite grasp what they were getting at. One of these was the difference between “chúng tôi” and “chúng ta,” which both clearly mean “we,” but I just couldn’t quite tease out the difference.*

In addition, I bought a copy of Pride and Prejudice in Vietnamese and am rereading the original paired with the translation. I’m still trying to avoid the whole translation trap, so I am doing it chapter by chapter. The night of January 24, I reread Chapter 8 in the original and then followed it up by the first two pages in the translation. My Vietnamese is not so good yet that I understand very much of it at all, but that’s okay. It’ll come with practice. Right now I’m just looking at the words for things that look familiar. There are so many diacritical marks on the vowels in Vietnamese, and I’m hoping that the book will also make those come a little more naturally.

I started paying myself to do this, and it looks like I’m on-target to have $70 saved up by the end of January. Once I have $100, I’m going to start investing the money that I’ve saved up. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a CD or putting it on the stock market. We’ll see what I decide once I get there.

Alex and I did go to the march. He told his dad that we were going, so I felt pretty much committed when he did that. We got there a little late, but managed to join up with the march and Alex and I walk pretty quickly, so it didn’t take long to reach near the center of the 1,500 people who were marching in San Antonio. I hope to keep up with the things that the Women’s March organizers are suggesting we do to keep up the momentum, including mailing my representatives about issues that are important to me. I’m not sure if I’ll use the official Women’s March postcards or just pick up a few touristy ones at my local store and use them.

And, finally, my planned trip to Canada is now less than six months away. That means that I can finally put in for the time off at work and can shell out the however-many dollars it’s going to take to pay for this trip. This is my least-favorite part of travel. The interface for putting in for time off is awkward, and then there’s the whole “paying for it” part, even though I’ve already got the money saved up.

*”Chúng tôi” is the exclusive “we” and “chúng ta” is inclusive. So, if I am speaking to you and including you in the “we,” I would use “chúng ta.” If I am speaking to you of something that affects me and someone who isn’t you, then “chúng tôi” is appropriate.

Women’s Marches 2016

As most of you likely know, there is a major demonstration for feminists (here defined as “people who think that women deserve to be treated like people”) in Washington, DC. You may also be aware that there are a number of “sister marches” being held in other cities (the official list is something like 673 marches with over 2 million expected marchers).

San Antonio is going to have a march today (as this posts, not as I’m writing it) and Alex and I are planning to attend the actual march itself, if not the rally part at the beginning or the planning part at the end. If we do make it, I’ll make a post updating y’all on what happened and what it felt like to participate in an event like this.

I’m categorizing this as “walking” as well as “2016 election” since the marchers will be walking nearly two miles just as the official marching part of the march. Getting there and then back to the bus stop will probably add quite a bit more.

Happy New Year!

Generally I write my posts ahead of time and schedule them to launch at midnight of the day in question, but since I’m up at midnight, I figured I’d write one in real time for publishing immediately.

This was an exciting New Year’s Eve. I’m trying to build on my current foreign language skills and pick up Vietnamese, so I spent most of the day working on that. On New Year’s Eve, I did eight Duolingo lessons, three each of Vietnamese and Mandarin Rosetta Stone lessons and read two chapters in Kiêu Hãnh và Định Kiến (Pride & Prejudice in Vietnamese).

I also have started doing the lessons at Codecademy. I don’t know if I’ll learn enough coding there to become employable eventually, but it’s worth a shot.

I can hear the amateur fireworks of my neighbors going off in the distance and hear Ricky Martin singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on television as I write this and think about things we can do to make the world (and the United States) a better place  in 2017.

Navy Pier fireworks August 10, 2016
Not my neighbors’ fireworks.

First, be kind. What’s that saying about how everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about? It looks like it was originally said by John Watson, under his pen name of Ian MacLaren, according to the Quote Investigator. So, yeah, do that.

Second, learn something this year. It doesn’t matter what. While I’ve loved my time in school, some of my favorite people are self-educated, and thanks to things like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, there is really no limit to the number of things you can learn for free, or at least for the cost of a textbook. I also love the mission of the University of the People. The University of the People is an accredited university with no tuition fees. Students pay a $60 fee to apply and $100 for every final exam they take. A bachelor’s degree takes around $4000, payable as students finish each class. Even spread out over a long period, $4,000 is a lot of money for some people, so there are also scholarship programs. And since it’s a distance learning school, they have students from all of the world taking classes together.

Third, support serious journalism. There’s so much emphasis on not taking sides in journalism today that people are getting the impression that nothing they do matters. And that’s just not true. There are serious journalists out there not taking sides. Support them. (If someone had told me ten years ago that I would someday subscribe to Vanity Fair magazine to support serious journalism, I would have asked what they were smoking).

Beyond that, be well. Exercise, and eat better than you did in 2016 and take some time off to have fun. Engage in your hobbies and pet the cats (or dogs or lizards or whatever).

A Post-Mortem on November 2016

I guess that “post-mortem” is probably as good a term as “look back” or “wrapup”or any other term that comes across more neutral, particularly after that election.

So, here goes.

  1. We all know how that election went. The less said about that the better. However, I did offer to do something to help the Bexar County Democratic Party. What will I do? No clue. Let’s see what I come up with. Perhaps I’ll have something definitive to say at the end of December or January.
  2.  I did catch up on my steps with one day to spare. I ended up averaging a little over 8700 steps.
  3. I did not win NaNoWriMo. 2016 may have been one of my worst years yet, with just a little over 10,000 words. But there’s always 2017. And I don’t mean just November. I attempt the same goal in February, April, June, and September, as well. If I make it, I at least will know that I can do it.
  4. I’m sticking to my schedule of working on my language skills. I’m doing a couple of Duolingo Spanish lessons every day and also a few Rosetta Stone lessons. My employer is one of the companies that gives access to Rosetta Stone to its employees and so, based on my experience with customers with limited English, I’ve chosen Vietnamese. I’m almost done with Unit One. If I keep to my schedule, I estimate that I’ll spend about six months learning Vietnamese. I also try to do an Italian and a German Duolingo lesson every day and I’m trying to get back into Rosetta Stone Mandarin. I’m paying myself more for Rosetta Stone because Rosetta Stone lessons take a lot longer than Duolingo ones. So far I’ve saved up over $14 and will have accrued at least a penny in interest by the end of the month.

The 2016 Election

So, the election is over and now it’s time to mop up. I don’t talk about politics, really, because that’s not what I’m here for, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say anything.  However, I’m not sure what to say about the election that hasn’t been said better elsewhere.

So here are some of those things that have been said better elsewhere:

The Day After

We lick our wounds, we grieve, and then we fucking fight

What Do We Do?

Content Warning: Language: Holy F*ck the Election

I’ll probably add more later. There are some other things that my friends have linked to that I need to dig up. Also some of my friends wrote some amazing things that I want to link to. I have to ask them whether I can link to them here.

Speaking of links, I may start linking to books here. I think that I need to start attempting to generate some income outside of my job sooner rather than later and that seems as good a way to do that as any. I won’t really waste too much effort on it because, again, that’s not what I’m here for. But if I happen to have read a particularly good fiction book set in a destination that I’m writing on, then maybe I’ll link to it. Maybe not. We’ll see what happens.