Sunday, September 8, 2019

Language Learning with Duolingo. Does it Work? Is it Addictive?

I am a Duolingo user.  I have been using Duolingo to learn German for about a year.  There is almost nothing on the web about Duolingo, so I am writing something here for you. I will start with some Q&A.

Do you really learn a language with Duolingo?  After a fashion you do.  I listened to a German movie, "Das Boot," with English subtitles.  I could pick out a word here and there, but there was one short conversation that I completely understood.  I understood it well enough that I could see the translators did not translate the German precisely, but into an equivalent English idiom.

What is best about Duolingo?  That this app is free is obviously a major advantage.  A lesson takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete.  The earlier, simpler lessons are 5 minutes. Towards the end of a course the lessons are harder and might take 10 minutes.  Short lessons are great.  But here is what is best:  When they give you a sentence in German and ask you to translate it, they say the sentence out loud.  You can then listen to this one sentence repeatedly until your pronunciation matches the Duolingo pronunciation.  This part is great:  you can stab an individual word with your finger and that word is translated for you and it is spoken so you can practice that one word.  You can practice on an individual word.  I have also used the Pimsleur Conversational German course and you can rewind the CD, but you cannot work on an individual word.  The advantage of Pimsleur is that you get to hear entire conversations.

Is Duolingo addictive?  It does seem as though Duolingo Leaderboards can be addictive. If you make your profile public, then you get invited to participate in Leaderboards, a competition.  I have calculated that there are people in many of the leaderboards who spend 20 hours or more per week with Duolingo.  These people get hooked on the desire to finish in the top 3 places in their current leaderboard.  There are times you get your competitive juices going and you want to get promoted to the next league and you do 2 or 3 times more lessons than you objectively want to do.  The leaderboards and leagues have become like games and you want to play to win.

Here is a calulation.  First place player has 2000 XP points (experience points).  You average 12 XP points per 8 minutes.  Do the math and you see that 2000 XP points means 22 hours of play.  That is a bit ridiculous.

You must remember that internet game companies know how to make their games addictive.  Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri wrote an Op-Ed for the Thursday, August 29, 2019, Wall Street Journal entitled, "Big Tech's `Innovations` That Aren't".  The Senator writes, "... the dominant platforms employ behavioral scientists to develop interface designs that keep users online as much as possible.  Bit Tech calls it `engagement.`  Another word would be addiction."  Beyond a doubt you can get addicted to Duolingo competitions.  You look to see where you are in the ranking for your leaderboard.  You watch people above you and people below you.  You find yourself wanting to climb past people. You want to maintain your place on the ladder.  It does get competitive.

Tell me about the Duolingo Leaderboards.  First they place you in a Bronze league leaderboard.  A leaderboard is a group of 50 people. In a Bronze league leaderboard you must be in the top 15, the Promotion Zone, to get promoted to the Silver League.  Once you get promoted you find that the bottom 5 in the list of 50 are in the Demotion Zone.  (Oh no! Don't demote me!)  You are in the top 15 at the end of the week and you get promoted to the Gold League.  Surprise!  The promotion zone now changes to the top 10, so it is harder to get promoted from the Gold League. What do you get promoted to?  They do not tell you.  You have to get promoted to discover you are now in the Sapphire League.  The zones stay the same in the Sapphire league:  top 10 get promoted, bottom 5 get demoted.  What comes next is a mystery.  Duolingo is not informative.  On the Duolingo website there are discussion boards, but they are pretty useless.  Eventually you will find you are like a hamster running in a wheel going nowhere.  Enjoy the leaderboards for a while, but then move on to better uses of your time, like studying a book on German (or your chosen language).

What do you do when you get to the end of your course?  You have learned a lot, but you don't really know the language, so what do you do? On your phone you can scroll up to the top of the list of lessons you have completed and you can start over.  The lesson titles are the same, but the content changes and the presentation changes.  The second time through the course they will play a sentence out loud and you have to pick words from a list to show you understood what you heard.  There is a turtle button to repeat the sentence more slowly.  When you complete the lesson a second time then the crown on your lesson icon changes from showing a 1 to showing a 2.  I like this very much.  Getting to the bottom of a list of lessons is, I think, called "completing a tree."  I do not know at what point you are completely finished with a language course.  I just listened to a fellow Duolingo user discuss on YouTube his experiences and he did not mention repeating the course.

What else do I need to know about Duolingo?  I suggest you also pick up a free translation phone app.  I use iHandy Translator, the free version.  There are times you will find it helpful with your Duolingo lessons.  There are Hearts and Streaks in Duolingo, but you can learn about them on your own.  There are many tricks you can use to help you past tricky parts in the lessons.  When you get an item within a lesson wrong, they repeat it at the end so you are expected to get it right the second time around.   They showed you what you should have done, so it is up to you to remember that when you see the item again at the end of the lesson.  The tool is pretty intuitive.  I like it, but it requires a bit of shrewdness as a user to make the best of the Duolingo app.

The tool does not explain anything.  It is learning by doing.  If you want understanding, you do need a book.  What do they not explain?  Declensions, verb tenses, there is a lot that is not explained.  Even if you can master the formation of sentences in every instance, you won't be able to explain why you do what you do.  Because of this I would say you might learn a language with Duolingo, but you will not master it.

Tips.  Remember I said Duolingo does not explain declensions and verb tenses?  It turns out that there is a light bulb icon on the button to start a lesson.  Press that light bulb icon and you get a brief grammar lesson.  I have been using Duolingo for about a year and I just discovered the meaning of the light bulb icon.  Deduct points for being intuitive.  Let's say Duolingo is partially intuitive.

Conclusion:  Duolingo is definitely worth your time, but it has limitations.  There are Facebook groups for Duolingo that might be useful.  You will find out more about Duolingo by searching YouTube than by searching Google.  If Google has limitations, why shouldn't Duolingo?


From this website we have a list of the Duolingo leagues:
"...there are 10 as of May 2019. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, Pearl, Obsidian and Diamond."

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Graphical Displays of Inflation

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a great picture of inflation.  Look at the caption in the picture!

That is an easy picture to understand.  Here is a more descriptive graphic from the Federal Reserve.
Chart Title: Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Purchasing Power of the Consumer Dollar

Double-click on the image to get a better view.  The image is found at this location, from the FED. The chart shows the value of the dollar from 1913 (start of the FED) to today.  If you go to the website you will see that the $1,017 in January 1913 would be worth $39 today.  Another way of saying it is that $1 in 1913 would buy $0.038 worth of goods today.  A 1913 dollar would be worth 4 cents today.  The chart is interactive.  You can move your mouse back and forth over it and the value is visible in a cursor related box.

You might notice the graph says "FRED" at the top.  I think that stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data.  Here is a link to their "About Us" webpage.

We need to get our children to understand that inflation is bad for them and all of us.  Then we need to get our elected representatives to push the Federal Reserve to push inflation back down.

The money you have saved for retirement is shrinking.  The money your children will save for their retirement will be shrinking.  Only the U.S. government likes inflation because it pays its debts with cheapened dollars.

Robert Canright

Link to the inflation thread in this blog:
Teaching Our Kids About Interest and Inflation  April 11, 2015

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Shrinking Middle Class

I read an article once that said one third of middle class children slip out of the middle class and end up in bad financial circumstances.  I  have seen that happen.  I ran across a nice article by Charles Hugh Smith, Honey, I Shrunk the Middle Class: Perhaps 1/3 of Households Qualify.  I lifted this chart from it:
The illustration indicates that in 1971 the majority of families were in the middle class, but that is not the case in 2015.  If you look at the numbers,  the middle class actually grew in size, but the upper and lower economic classes grew more proportionally.  The fraction of families in the middle class is no longer the majority, but the number of families in the middle class still grew.  This shows how numbers can be interpreted in opposite ways.  The middle class is shrinking!  The middle class is growing!  Both statements are true, depending on your criteria.

The analysis by Mr. Smith is worth your time.  He also wrote another article worth your time and consideration: What Killed the Middle Class?    If we want our kids to be successful, we need to define success; we need to have a good idea of what it means to be in the middle class and what threatens our children staying in the middle class.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Inflation in Postage Stamps: Knowing the Formula

The price of a first class postage stamp has in the past gone up a penny or two at a time.  The current increase, just started, was a five cent jump:  from 50 to 55 cents per stamp.  Ouch!  I scratched my head and asked myself, "Wasn't the price a nickel when I was a kid?"  Looking at the History of United States postage rates on Wikipedia, I could see that in 1963 the price was indeed five cents.  I threw the numbers into a hand held calculator and failed to find the aggregate inflation rate.  You cannot just stuff these numbers into hand held a calculator, you have to use the precise formula.  You begin by writing out the compound interest formula and then solving it for the interest rate. As money in a bank increases with compound interest, so the value of money shrinks with the compound inflation.  Here is the formula for compound interest.

Interest in a bank or certificate of deposit compounds monthly, which is why the variable "n" is in the formula.  We will use an aggregate yearly inflation rate, so n = 1 in the equation above.  We have
A = P ( 1 + r ) **t
We started out in 1963 with P = $ 0.05.  We ended up in 2019 with A = $ 0.55.  From 1963 to 2019 is t = 56.   We solve this equation for "r" using algebra.
1 + r = 10.0 ** (log10(A/P) / t)

As I mentioned in an early post,  Calculating Inflation with a Practical Example, August 19, 2018, you can solve this with the Python IDLE GUI, but you have to import the math library first.  Then to find the inflation rate, "r", we subtract 1 and multiply by 100 to get it into percentage.  Division gives us  ($ 0.55 / $ 0.05) = 11.0.  Plugging the numbers into the formula in Python gives
>>> import math
>>> 10.0 ** (math.log10(11.0) /56.0)
>>> ( 1.043749542065121 - 1.0) * 100
This means the aggregate inflation rate for postage stamps has been 4.375% from 1963 to 2019, and the cost of postage went up eleven fold.  Back in my August post I calculated that science fiction books went up at rate of 4.22% over this time span for a ten fold increase in the price of paper-back books.  We again that 4% inflation over 50 years drives up costs by a factor of 10.  That is horrible for our children and grand children.  We have been experiencing 4% inflation over our lifetime, with spikes that  have been very high, like in the 1980's under Jimmy Carter.

The Fed Lies to Us

The Federal Reserve has been telling us that contemporary inflation has been about 1% and they wanted to raise it to 2%, but the Fed lying to us because it excludes food and energy prices from the number they quote to us.  From this article:  The U.S. Lies About Inflation, we have these statements:
  • The government-issued consumer price index (CPI) is showing that "core inflation" – which includes prices for all items except food and energy – was up only 1% from last year.
  • By excluding food and energy prices, as volatile as they may be, the CPI fails to convey the pain that rising prices are inflicting on American households. Indeed, the true rate of inflation could be closer to 12%.
  • The CPI is a joke. Every American knows that in reality inflation is far higher than the CPI tells us based on what they feel in their wallets every day.
  • Our research suggests inflation is really running between 9% and 12%, which is more commensurate with what we all feel in our wallets every day.
From this article, Adler: "The Fed's Been Lying About Inflation; It's Frighteningly High", May 18, 2018, we have this statement:  "... the fact is that we really have more – much more – inflation than they’re telling us."

What Should We Do?

We should talk to each other about inflation.  We should talk to our congressmen about inflation.  We need to get inflation and the national debt under control, otherwise we will ruin the lives of our children and grand children.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Are You in the Top 1 Percent?

I saw progressives on TV this week railing against "the 1%."  What does that mean?  The top 1% percentile for income is $434,454.80.  There are entire neighborhoods in Plano that fit into that category, but the median household income in Plano is $79,234. I would say many of the people of Plano fall into the 50 to 99th percentiles of income.  Here is a chart of income distribution.  Click on it to see it enlarged.
The graph is United States Household Income Brackets and Percentiles in 2018, Feb. 16, 2018, from the Don’t Quit Your Day Job (DQYDB) blog.  It is a great web page, I recommend looking it over.

How can we know there are people with this income in Plano?  The recommended price for a house is 2 to 2.5 times your gross yearly income.    2 times and 2.5 times the 1% cutoff income is
$434,454 * 2.0 =  $ 868,908
$434,454 * 2.5 = $1,086,135
The most expensive house in Plano at this time is $6,399,000.  The lower end of the top 10 homes in Plano is $2,375,000.  This indicates there are people in Plano with incomes exceeding the cutoff for the 1%.

Who are the 1%?  They are our neighbors.  There is a wide distribution of financial success in Plano.  I see no reason to resent some of our neighbors being more financially successful.  I find contemporary politics disturbingly divisive.  I think the children of Plano should get the education that enables them to pursue a spot in the top 1% of  income if that is what they desire.  There is nothing wrong with working hard and succeeding.