Votes get suppressed. What can you do to replace a vote?

Okay, for the last two elections, lines started to get really long. Now when I changed states, I couldn’t vote because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I take the metro. So apparently, anyone who takes mass transit is liable to commit voter fraud, or more likely, not Republican enough for the corrupt voting boards.

Voter suppression is the rightwing strategy to make voting difficult for women and minorities and city dwellers so that Republicans will remain a viable party.

Unlike the the poor, black, asian and so on that the Republicans really wanted to suppress, this time they suppress the vote of a white guy. I wasn’t going to vote for Republicans anyhow, but now I’m mad. So I’m joining as many progressive political groups as I can, top among those MoveOn and the ACLU, both which are working on voter’s rights. So here are some things I will be doing in my spare time over the next 40 years since voting isn’t a sure thing anymore. I’ve added my rough estimate of how many vote equivalents each is worth, and given that the Electoral College system makes the marginal vote about as important as mouse farts, maybe in the long run this will work out of the better. All the same, better than a successful revolution after a nearly stolen election, I’d rather not have the Sith Lords take over in the first place.

Donate to GA, TX and AR Democratic party. Worth 50 Votes.
Money talks, well, as long as you have an attractive candidate. And the Dems have more attractive candidates. If GA, TX and AR turn blue, the GOP will be excluded from the presidency for generations. There aren’t enough old white men in those states for the GOP to govern without repeal non-white and women franchise and maybe the repeal of voting altogether.

I’m going to read the news Worth 25 votes.
The poor and disenfranchised are getting screwed because they aren’t paying attention. I can read, I read fast and I use RSS and I can amplify the the news that is being ignored. I even have truth on myside– since as a progressive I won’t need to make up material.

I’m going to blog. Worth 6 votes.
My task as a political blogger is much easier than for conservative bloggers as I only need teach people how to resist voter suppression, where as conservatives have to move the opinions of their sole audience of old white men to political la-la land and get them to vote. Despite the barriers.

I’m joining about about 22-25 groups. Worth about 20 votes.
Votes in congress are only one way that policy gets made. I don’t have $300 million for attack ads, but I got a few hundred bucks to fund a variety of lawyers, think tanks, activists, watch groups that help decide what congress will be voting on in the first place.

I organize meetups. Worth about 15 votes.
I’ve organized so many meetups I’ve lost count. I create groups like I sneeze. In this election I saw that right wing literature is outselling progressive books. I suspect that in part that is because a lefty will read the original, say, Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is not the the politics section, while right wingers need to have their books written by ideological hacks, which will end up in the politics section.

I’m taking election day off. Forever. Worth 20 votes.
I’m not working class. I can afford to use my vacation days to vote and to spend the day driving people to the polls.

It’s time to take America back from the corrupt right wing voting boards.

(First posted Nov 12, 2012)

The uncle I never met has moved on

Some free verse my dad wrote on the passing of my uncle:

The Morning Sun

The sun is steaming through my window,
Gods gift of warmth for all people
Be you Jew, Muslim or Follower of Christ
The sun warms the body
His spirit warms our souls
How blessed  we are !

The sun will fade later and night will follow day
So it is in our personal lives
Sorrow follows joy
And then just like sun the coming up again
Joy warms our hearts again
How blessed we are !

I have been blessed all my life with a big brother
Last night his light went out and he is no longer with us
He will not be there in the morning to impart his wisdom
But his memory lives on in my mind’s eye
And in a sense he lives on within me
How blessed I am !

This morning my sister,Ann, called tears in her eyes grief in her heart
She  her self is near death, in constant pain
Yet she puts aside her pain to grieve for her brother
Her beloved husband is nearing his last days
But she has vowed to be there for him until the end
How blessed he is to have her love for him !

The sun is streaming through my window again
Reminding me that in life’s cycle warmth will reappear again
Even now my family grows with the birth of my grandson Tano
 And  my great grandson, Lincoln.
And if that is not enough a new great grandson is due in July
How blessed I am !

So for today grieve over the loss of Franklin Martin
But in the morning, as the sun comes up rejoice with me
As our lives are blessed with new new life !

Measuring myself

I’ve been super excited about my ‘quantified self’ project. I now measure:

Goals –  I use to track things like brushing teeth, sleep debt/sleep debt paid, doing flash cards

Weight – Usually 145, sometimes up to 155. Measured with Withings scale.

Blood Pressure- Usually 120/70, with BPM 60 to 80. Measured with Withings BP cuff.

Sleep –  Now that I have a fitbit, it says I’ve slept about 7.5 hours the last two nights and slept like a stone.

Steps taken per day-  Anywhere from 4000-10,000, typically 10,000, up to 15,000 if I go hiking.

In fact I now have two pedometers, the Nintendo DS pedometer and the fitbit.

The DS only displays if you hit your goal unless you tranfer the data to your device. The DS appears to be a bit stricter. It stops counting when I take off my cloths in the evening, but the fit bit gets moved to my wrist and keeps counting. And it seems that the Fitbit is just counting more things as a steps.

Flights of stairs. Thanks to the fit bit, but no data yet.

Challenges- Slowly changing metrics

The metris are the same day to day, except steps taken. If I don’t walk enough, I can do something about it, like go to the gym for 20 minutes. If no metrics have changes noticably from yesterday, then all I can do is carry on, since my metric are all in the healthy range (although my weight is chronically a bit on the low side and my blood pressure while in the ‘normal’ low range, could be lower according to some studies about strokes.  If I could get to 110 or 100, then my stroke risk would bottom out.)


Zombie Herder’s Almanac

Zombies love brains, so any zombie with a herd of humans will want to pay attention to folate since without enough folate, the humans are born without brains. The relationship between folate intake is strong and linear, and it appears reduce the incidence of neural tube defects all the way up to 700mcg, with most articles recommending at least 400mcg. This article is written from the vegetarian standpoint, since any Zombie farmer is likely to reserve livers for themselves.

So an obvious question is– Is there enough folate in the naive diet? After all, there is some folate in lots of common foods, and most bread and grain products have extra folic acid added to them. Probably not– the average from dietary sources alone is about 470mcg, and 20% of women don’t hit the minimal level from diet alone, probably fewer hit the higher number.

Like my previous article on vegetarian protein, nutrition labels can be full of mathematical traps if you are trying to get to a certain dietary intake of something, in this case 400mcg to 700mcg of folate. The trap is that nutrional facts are listed based either on 100grams, or some other unit of weight disconnected from typical portions. For example, Romaine lettuce has a lot of folate… but no one is going to eat a bucket of Romaine.

Brewers yeast, is packed with B vitamins, including folate. But typically it is consumed in small quantities, e.g. a tablespoonful here and there. Depending on who you read (or maybe brand) it’s a great or lousy strategy for getting folate into the diet, requiring 2 to 33 tbsps to get a days worth of folate.

Here is one better chart with folate quantities matched to plausible portions.

I think the conclusion is that one would want to follow a mixed strategy–no single source can provide a days worth of folate in a typical portion. Or take a pill, but there’s no challenge in that.

I got my Lamy Safari pen and ecosystem notebooks

The pen is just like the reviews. Very smooth to write with, feather-light. The fine nib draws a line that is almost identical up and across, but writes & writes with a thin line if the nib is upside down. The color of my pen is Charcoal, but it looks to me like a very, very dark brown. My handwriting still is blah, but the pen is more interesting to use.

I think a good analogy would be a hypothetical push button car. If you could drive to New York by getting into a car and pushing a button, driving wouldn’t be fun. As you move from that do-nothing car, to a automatic with a steering wheel, to a manual transmission, the driver gets some decisions to make again. At the far extreme would be the cars from right after the invention of combustion engines, which were a challenge to start, required goggles due to spewing bits of hot chemical nastiness, and other driver interventions that we don’t think about anymore.

Pens are like that. There is some point in between designing the user’s participation out of the product and designing a product where the user is doing all the work where you get optimal fun out of using something.

Project Triage

I’m working on too many projects at them moment. 7 meetup groups. Now some of these are 1x a month groups, and half are asleep or half asleep.

Successful Meetups I organize:
Icelandic Language Learner’s study group, 8 meetups/month- My favorite & most successful group, where I feel like I’m doing something for the community that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
Linguistics Book Club, 1/mo- After what feels like two dozen books (probably was only a dozen) this is a very solid group with lots of familiar faces.
Programmer’s book club 1/mo- Brand new, but I think this will follow an even better trajectory than the linguistics book club.

Less Active Groups I organize
Russian study group 4/mo if at all- I mostly organized this so my son would have a place to study. But he’s learning French and school.
Russian book club 1 every 2- 3 months- Can’t find enough in translation that I’d want to read :-( There are about 3 (max!) events I’d like to hold and then call it quits.
Asatru group – A vigorous local group has made mine unnecessary. It was a risky idea and led to 3 events, while individually rewarding show all sorts of unfavorable trends– low signup rates, esp, and low overlap with my other 2 Icelandic groups, even thought I thought they’d be complementary topics.
Icelandic/Scandinavian Fiction book club 1 every 1 or 2 months- This has had it’s up and downs. But it doesn’t have a cohesive core of attendees. This has some modest overlap with my Icelandic study group.

So I’ll probably open the 2 russian groups to member organized events and close the asatru group. That will leave me with 4 groups, which really works out to a biweekly book club and a study group.

And that is just my meetup projects. I’ve got programming projects, amateur linguistics projects, work projects, house projects.

News, if one could call it that

Meetups. The Icelandic meetup continues to be highly successful.  I think the central recipe a good meetup group is being genuinely excited and having an obscure topic.  Well known topics, like French, attract too many people who aren’t very interested.   And I haven’t been excited enough about Swedish recently to post another event, but I will tomorrow.

Moving. I hate where I live–the apartment and its landlord in particular, the neighborhood is okay.  I really want to move and I think the pain of dealing with this landlords business practices has finally motivated me to get serious about moving.


I used to have a blog about blogging, but it got hit by a php root kit. Then another an attempt to fix the Unicode encoding of my tech blog blew away many of my tech blogs posts.  Today the leading link on was that wordpress is again being attacked.  This makes we want to dump wordpress for something less vulnerable, or at least something that no one is targeting.

It all makes me wonder if blogging should be ephemeral or permanent.  Do I care to communicate with people in  the far future?

All I know is that writing well, and getting read are two different projects and both are a lot of work.

How to organize a successful language study group

What kinds of events are there?
There are only so many kinds of social events that work: conversation event, study group, translation group.  A conversation event is where people only speak their second langague.  In a study group, everyone works from a textbook.  A translation group takes a text and attempts translate it, usually from the second language to their own.

Something I won’t talk about is tutoring and classroom teaching because that is for real teachers who are teaching the language as a full time career.  Likewise, cultural events don’t necessarily involve doing anything in or with a foreign language, although going to a foreign film is close.

Tips for a good conversation event
Be strict about speaking the second language.
Fight the urge to be polite and constantly switch to English.
Bring a dictionary, but try to use it only in extreme  emergencies.
Absolute beginners will benefit, but will often feel awkward and uncomfortable.
Intermediate speakers will benefit the most.
Locations that are quite are best for communication, but people usually like to go to noisy bars and cafes if they go anywhere at all.
Having just over 50% of the poeople at the table who speak only English will often cause the entire table to switch to English.
The event works well for as many people as you can get to attend, unless the hosting restaruant gets mad at you.
Fluent speakers generally are happy to participate because a table full of people talking is entertaining.
You can organize a conversation event without yourself being fluent, but you run the risk of a failed event if no one shows up who is half fluent!

Tips for a good study group
Know that you can effectively organize a study group without yourself being fluent.
More than anything, the group provides the dicipline (via peer pressure) to show up and study each week. This compares to self-study which relies entirely on a learners own willpower.

Fluent speakers can be a blessing or a problem. The fluent speakers are likely to be pressed into service as unpaid tutors.  When they don’t have the leadership role, then often the fluent speaker just watches as the attendees read the texts and do the exercises.  In both cases, this can be rather dull.

Irregular attendance can be distruptive, be creative in encouraging people to attend for several session in a row.  If you don’t, you will likely end up with a new batch of people each week, all who want to do chapter one.  The organizerwill get rather bored doing chapter one over and over.

Consider charging to discourage the uncommited and strenghten the commitment of those who buy in and start. However, keep in mind charging changes the social contract, requires accounting and additional complications.  At a paid event, attendees expect the organizer to be professional. At an unpaid event, attendees tolerate a lack of structure.

Keep a few spare copies of the text book. The textbook should be on the easy side because often there isn’t a person at the table who knows for sure what the answer really is.  And the book should be easy to find.

Put a time limit on study–about an hour is long enough to get through a chapter.

A study group works well for about 6, may 8 people.  More than that and you will need to switch to a classroom format, or the group will just fall apart and not actually study the book.

Intermediate and advanced learners do not benefit as much from a study group, although they often are better helpers to the just beginning than the fluent speakers.

Tips for a good translation group

Pacing is important in translation groups because it can be very boring to  spend an hour on one sentence.  Pick a text that is easy enough to get through a few paragraphs an hour.
Looking up works in advance is good because dictionary lookups distrupt pacing.
If the text is interesting, then fluent attendees are less likely to be bored.  Also, when someone fluent is at the table, take the opportunity to tackle more challenging texts.
Comics are a good choice because attendees are less likely to get bored should they hit a long section of text that can’t parse at all. At least with comics, you can follow part of the story regardless to textual understanding.
Poetry and many songs are not good choices for translation because they are very non-typical exemplars of text from a language.

Picking a language

Every langauge community is different. For example, you’ll get different people showing up at your events depending on how many immigrants there are, how the langauge community feels about bilingualism, if the langauge is famous, if the language is popular with academia (like Latin, Sanskrit or Basque)

It is easier to organize a study group for an obsure language than for a popular one.  French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese all have large communities of paid tutors and teachers.  If you post an ad for a study group for Aramaic, Cherokee, or Pali, you probably will be the only choice in town.

If you  organize for a popular language, expect to get at all events a continuum attendees from those learning their first word to completely fluent, unlike for obscure language where most attendees will be learnign their first words.

Potlucks, Movies and Cultural Events
Language is a social skill, so contriving  a reason and place to use the language is a good idea.  If you are learning a language outside it’s primary community, i.e. if your not learning French in France, then you the relevant language community is those whom you are studying with.  It also is useful that speaking in a second langauge to those who are not fluent but just like you are learning a second langauge is easier.  Language learners tend to user smaller vocabularies, speak slower and user fewer constructs than fluent speakers.

Manage Expectations
Remind attendees it takes 100s of hours to learn a language, 500 at least.  Any social event, even if it is with several fluent   speakers,  or a one-on-one tutor can only cover so many of those hours.  Managing expectations is important for groups with a lot of people who’ve hit a plateau, such as learners that have taken 5 years of French in high school and college and still can’t speak conversatoinally or read a newspaper.  On its own, no one-hour languge event will change that.   Encourage attendees to immerse themselves in media, like radio and comics, for the second language when not at the study group or translation group.


Brand new french meetup was a success.  So if you send out 1000 invitations to join a French language study group, 3 people will show up, 7 will promise to show up.  There is a vast shallow interest in French. But of those do have interest, their French a  long way from “bonjour” and “merci”  It looks like I’ll have to re-do the planned format for my group– less of a textbook study group and more of a translation group. 

This week I had meetups for 5 days.  I wish I could have cancelled them all on account of a common cold, but so much work goes into getting one to happen at all, I’d loathe to cancel them.  So I’ve been doping myself up on cough suppressants and trying my hardest not to cough.  The hand shaking is trickier. You can’t win. If you shake hand you might give them a cold.  If you don’t shake hands, it’s unfriendly. 

The Pseudoephedrine I’ve been taking gave me two nights of lousy sleep with my mind racing on and on about trying to think in French.

Speaking of French, I discovered that has a large selection of French books that look like they can be ordered reasonably cheap to the US. might be cheaper, I still looking in to it.  And might be cheaper, too.  The US site seems to only have French books that ended up into the inventory by accident.

If there are almost no books in French available for US, this implies to me that the entire French langauge education project is probably failing.  Otherwise you’d expect to see people buying “Teach Yourself French” going to a few college courses in French and then going on to consume some fraction of their regular media in French.  That we don’t see the book sellers supplying this makes me think we must be doing something terrable wrong–even with all the resource we have for learning french, we haven’t gotten to the point where there is a massmarket for French comics!