Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 2020

Mickey Lee’s Bee Witched: Honey fragrance

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Another very pleasant limited-run novelty soap, and I have to say I do like the honey fragrance. L’Occitane makes this soap and this soap, but neither is a shaving soap. I could do with a honey fragrance as a regular shaving soap, I think. Certainly the lather was good this morning, thanks in part to the Phoenix Artisan Starcraft brush (“Roswell-grey” fibers….).

My Fine Marvel razor head on a UFO bronze handle did a very nice job, and a splash of Fine’s Clean Vetiver aftershave finished the job. I believe this aftershave has been renamed, since it implied that Fine’s other vetiver aftershave was not clean.

Very nice start to the morning, leading to reflections on the bee’s industry and harmonious community life.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2020 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

I love Esperanto’s correlatives

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That’s from Jirka Hanna’s Esperanto grammar, which is presented in outline form.

In addition the the basic correlatives, two particles are used to modify the thrust of some:

The particle ajn (pronounced like the “Ein” in “Einstein) is used mainly with relative KI-words, but it is also used with I-words and ĈI-words, and occasionally with NENI-words. Ajn is always placed after the table word it concerns. (See this article at Lernu.net.)

kiu = who, which; kiu ajn = whoever, whichever
kio = what; kio ajn = whatever
kia = what kind; kia ajn = whatever kind
kies = whose; kies ajn = whoever’s
kie = where; kie ajn = wherever
kiam = when; kiam ajn = whenever
kial = why; kial ajn = whysoever
kiel = how; kiel ajn = however
kiom = how much; kiom ajn = however much

And examples of other uses:

io = anything; io ajn = anything at all
ie = anywhere; ie ajn = anywhere at all
nenio = none; nenio ajn = none whatsoever

The other useful particle is ĉi (pronounced “chee”), used with ti- words:

tiu = that one; ĉi tiu = this one
tio = that; ĉi tio = this
tia = that kind; ĉi tia = this kind
tie = there; ĉi tie = here
tiam = then (that time); ĉi tiam = now (this time)
tial = for that reason, therefore; ĉi tial = for this reason; herefore
tiel = in that manner; ĉi tiel = in this manner
tiom = that much; ĉi tiom = this much

I just wanted to share that because the correlatives seem so nifty.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2020 at 8:33 am

Posted in Esperanto

Why Mitch McConnell Wants States to Go Bankrupt

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David Frum writes in the Atlantic:

American states are abruptly facing their worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than 25 percent of state revenues have evaporated because of the pandemic. Demands on state health-care budgets, state unemployment systems, and state social-welfare benefits are surging. By the summer of 2022, the state budget gap could total half a trillion dollars.

States need help. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not want to provide it. On The Hugh Hewitt Show on April 23, McConnell proposed another idea. Instead of more federal aid, states should cut their spending by declaring bankruptcy:

I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It saves some cities. And there’s no good reason for it not to be available. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don’t have to do that. That’s not something I’m going to be in favor of.”

McConnell expanded on the state-bankruptcy concept later that same day in a phone interview with Fox News’s Bill Hemmer:

We’re not interested in solving their pension problems for them. We’re not interested in rescuing them from bad decisions they’ve made in the past, we’re not going to let them take advantage of this pandemic to solve a lot of problems that they created themselves [with] bad decisions in the past.

McConnell’s words instantly attracted attention, criticism, even some derision. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the idea as “dumb,” “irresponsible,” and “petty”:

How do you think this is going to work? And then to suggest we’re concerned about the economy, states should declare bankruptcy. That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back? By states declaring bankruptcy? You want to see that market fall through the cellar? … I mean, if there’s ever a time for humanity and decency, now is the time.

Cuomo’s fervent rebuttal grabbed the cameras. It did not settle the issue. State bankruptcy is not some passing fancy. Republicans have been advancing the idea for more than a decade. Back in 2011, Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich published a jointly bylined op-ed advocating state bankruptcy as a solution for the state of California. The Tea Party Congress elected in 2010 explored the idea of state bankruptcy in House hearings and Senate debates. Newt Gingrich promoted it in his run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why Republicans want state bankruptcy, it’s necessary to understand what bankruptcy is—and what it is not.

A bankruptcy is not a default. States have defaulted on their debts before; that is not new. Arkansas defaulted in the depression year of 1933. Eight states defaulted on canal and railway debt within a single year, 1841. The Fourteenth Amendment required former Confederate states to repudiate their Civil War debts.

A default is a sovereign act. A defaulting sovereign can decide for itself which—if any—debts to pay in full, which to repay in part, which debts to not pay at all.

Bankruptcy, by contrast, is a legal process in which a judge decides which debts will be paid, in what order, and in what amount. Under the Constitution, bankruptcy is a power entirely reserved to the federal government. An American bankruptcy is overseen in federal court, by a federal judge, according to federal law. That’s why federal law can allow U.S. cities to go bankrupt, as many have done over the years. That’s why the financial restructuring of Puerto Rico can be overseen by a federal control board. Cities and territories are not sovereigns. Under the U.S. Constitution, U.S. states are.

Understand that, and you begin to understand the appeal of state bankruptcy to Republican legislators in the post-2010 era.

Since 2010, American fiscal federalism has been defined by three overwhelming facts.

First, the country’s wealthiest and most productive states are overwhelmingly blue. Of the 15 states least reliant on federal transfers, 11 are led by Democratic governors. Of the 15 states most reliant on federal transfers, 11 have Republican governors.

Second, Congress is dominated by Republicans. Republicans controlled the House for eight of the last 10 years; the Senate for six. Because of the Republican hold on the Senate, the federal judiciary has likewise shifted in conservative and Republican directions.

A state bankruptcy process would thus enable a Republican Party based in the poorer states to use its federal ascendancy to impose its priorities upon the budgets of the richer states.

When Cuomo protested McConnell’s bankruptcy idea, the New York governor raised the risk of chaos in financial markets. But McConnell does not advocate state bankruptcy in order to subject state bondholders to hardship. Obviously not! When McConnell spoke to Hewitt about fiscally troubled states, he did not address their bond debt. He addressed their pension debt. State bankruptcy is a project to shift hardship onto pensioners while protecting bondholders—and, even more than bondholders, taxpayers.

Republican plans for state bankruptcy sedulously protect state taxpayers. The Bush-Gingrich op-ed of 2011 was explicit on this point. A federal law of state bankruptcy “must explicitly forbid any federal judge from mandating a tax hike,” they wrote. You might wonder: Why? If a Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky is willing to squeeze Illinois state pensioners, why would he care about shielding Illinois state taxpayers? The answer is found in the third of the three facts of American fiscal federalism.

United States senators from smaller, poorer red states do not only represent their states. Often, they do not even primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races. The biggest contributor to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign and leadership committee is a PAC headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey. The second is a conduit for funds from real-estate investors. The third is the tobacco company Altria. The fourth is the parcel delivery service UPS. The fifth is the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation. The sixth is the home health-care company, LHC Group. The seventh is the Blackstone hedge fund. And so on and on.

A federal bankruptcy process for state finances could thus enable wealthy individuals and interest groups in rich states to leverage their clout in the anti-majoritarian federal system to reverse political defeats in the more majoritarian political systems of big, rich states like California, New York, and Illinois. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Does the GOP actively hate the poor? Certainly its policies and actions are consistent with that outlook, and presuming that outlook on their part allows accurate predictions of GOP initiatives and votes.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2020 at 7:51 am

Another novelty — and a very nice one: Chiseled Face’s Summer Storm

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After some period of time, it becomes oxymoronic to refer to something as a “novelty,” since newness is the essence of novelty. (I recall a new construction at my alma mater that was called “the new building” for a decade or more — something possible only in a college that doesn’t do all that much construction.) Chiseled Face’s Summer Storm, a novelty fragrance by my previous definition, has proved to have an enduring appeal: the fragrance of petichor is appealing, promising renewal after a storm has passed, a rebirth of possibilities, and a fine way to start a new day (a novelty day?).

It helps, of course, that the soap is excellent, and with my RazoRock 400 synthetic, I got a really excellent lather from that soap. As with all synthetics, I shook it well before starting to load so that excess water held in the knot would not hinder the loading.

Three passes with my RazoRock Lupo — a razor with distinct blade feel and a sense of great efficiency, white still being quite comfortable — left my face perfectly smooth and ready for a splash of Summer Storm aftershave, which seems to bring a slight (and appropriate) chill, presumably due to a touch of menthol…  yes:

Alcohol, Witch Hazel, Aloe Vera Juice, Fragrance, Calendula, Sodium Lactate, Menthol, Vitamin B5 Pro, Astaxanthin

I note in reading that perhaps one reason that Summer Storm has legs is that the fragrance is more layered and has more depth than the simplicity of the Dark Chocolate of yesterday’s shave: “Moist earth, oak moss, cut grass, pine needles, orange, lemon, ozone, white jasmine, lily of the valley, geranium and musk.”

I will note in passing, though, that the Dark Chocolate aftershave wore very well. I still enjoyed catching a whiff of the fragrance, which seemed to have changed character and acquired more depth over the day, well into the evening. If it ever returns, I recommend it. And in the meantime, Summer Storm seems here to stay.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2020 at 7:25 am

Posted in Shaving

New Model Shows How Deadly Lifting Georgia’s Lockdown May Be

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William Bredderman and Olivia Messer report in the Daily Beast:

Gov. Brian Kemp’s aggressive scheme to lift Georgia out of COVID-19 lockdown may cost many thousands of lives, according to models prepared by epidemiologists and computer scientists at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in partnership with The Daily Beast.

The findings come as governors across the United States aim to restore economic activity following months of pandemic-related infections and over 50,000 deaths—a number widely understood to be an undercount. Meanwhile, over 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in recent weeks, a number that is itself a likely undercount of the economic toll.

Georgia’s Kemp has perhaps been the boldest of any governor about moving on, issuing a pair of executive orders allowing fitness centers, tattoo and massage parlors, bowling alleys, and hair salons to reopen last Friday with some mitigation measures. Other businesses, like restaurants and theaters, began opening Monday. The state’s shelter-in-place decree, meanwhile, was slated to expire on Thursday.

Those policies are placing Georgians at spectacular risk, the new models found.

As of Friday, by official counts in Georgia, at least 871 people statewide had lost their lives to COVID-19. If Georgia had maintained its pre-Friday lockdown policy, the Harvard/MIT team’s simulation—which used data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and accounts for local demographics and health conditions based on Census and survey data—estimated the state would have logged a total of between 1,004 and 2,922 coronavirus fatalities by June 15. That fatality range, like all such ranges detailed in this article, includes deaths that had already been documented (in this case, 871).

By contrast, under Kemp’s current plan to reopen, if approved businesses returned to just 50 percent of their pre-pandemic activity (or “contact”) levels, that range could reach 1,604 to 4,236 deaths. At 100 percent of pre-shutdown activity, the projected final body count could soar to a range between 4,279 and 9,748.

Even if employee-on-employee contact returned to just one-quarter of what it was before the disease hit, and interactions among the general public—beginning April 30—reached 20 percent of the old norm, the researchers projected that deaths in the state could hit 3,563.

“What we find, no matter what we assume, is that reopening on Monday was just too early,” said Jackson Killian, Ph.D. student at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who worked on the models. “If you let people go out and have contact again now, you end up causing deaths that could have been avoided.”

Based on the nature and speed of COVID-19’s spread through Georgia, Killian and his team estimated the virus may have arrived in the state as early as Feb. 1, or at least weeks before the first diagnosed cases—a possibility Kemp himself has acknowledged. To be clear, the models cannot prove or verify that the first infection happened on that date, but used it as an assumed start date based on the available information and the spread to date.

The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

For their part, the team behind the models framed their approach not as an argument for absolutes, but a testament to dire stakes.

Continue reading.

Kemp will have blood on his hands.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2020 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Government, Medical

In the Midst of a Pandemic, Trump Continues to Cut Funding That May Prevent Pandemics

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Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.  Matt Stieb writes in New York:

Setting aside the bigger picture of how the United States should handle its relationship with China, the president seems to possess an instinct that drives him to take the exact-wrong approach relative to his short-term goals regarding Beijing. In the seemingly prehistoric trade war from the summer of 2019, Trump hoped to protect American producers from getting “ripped off” by China but wound up devastating farmers who spent decades building customer bases across the Pacific; to offset financial losses from a trade war designed to make money, the USDA paid over $20 billion to agricultural providers in 2019.

Two weeks ago, the president made the decision to cut American funding for the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic. Though the United Nations agency did bungle aspects of its COVID-19 response, Trump’s reason for the cut — that the WHO was “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus” and was biased to believe Beijing — were allegations that could be directed his way, as well. Despite the need for a reckoning within the agency, public health experts lambasted the president for cutting aid during a pandemic to the international organization designed to prevent pandemics. “During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,” the American Medical Association said in a statement.

Despite evidence that COVID-19 may have jumped from bats to humans — with a possible layover in the immune systems of pangolins — Politico reports that President Trump is now cutting funding for researchers determining how bat coronaviruses can infect humans because the project is linked to a lab in Wuhan, China. On Friday, the National Institutes of Health told the sponsor of the study for the past five years, EcoHealth Alliance, that all future funding was off the table and that the nonprofit would stop spending the remaining $369,819 from its 2020 grant. Politico explains why the cash flow was shut off to the project:

The group caught national attention a week ago after reports swirled that millions from its NIH grants had been sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research facility in the city where the coronavirus pandemic originated. In an email last week to NIH officials, EcoHealth Alliance President Pete Daszak denied giving any money this year to the Wuhan lab, although researchers from the facility have collaborated with EcoHealth Alliance scientists on research supported by an earlier grant.

The Wuhan lab is at the center of conspiracy theories alleging that the coronavirus outbreak began when the virus escaped the facility. U.S. intelligence agencies and scientists have not found any evidence to support the rumors.

The project, which received $3.7 million in federal grants over five years, first came to the political forefront on April 17, when a Newsmax reporter asked Trump if any of its funding had been routed to Chinese labs. “We will end that grant very quickly,” Trump responded. “It was granted quite a while ago. Who was president then, I wonder?” While the funding was first approved under President Obama, the NIH renewed it in July of last year.

There are a few logical flaws at hand. As Politico notes, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2020 at 4:20 pm

One Thing the Pandemic Hasn’t Stopped: Aggressive Medical-Debt Collection

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Alec MacGillis reports in ProPublica:

Darcel Richardson knows she’s fortunate in one sense: She still has her job as a vocational counselor in Baltimore. But despite that, she won’t be able to make her rent payment this month because she’s not getting her full salary for a while. More than $400 per biweekly paycheck — about a quarter of her after-tax income — has been siphoned off by Johns Hopkins University for unpaid medical bills at one of its hospitals.

Richardson, 60, got word of the garnishment from her employer just as the coronavirus pandemic was arriving in full force last month. “My job was going to take the money out. They don’t want to get in trouble,” she said. “I spoke with our payroll accountant, and the bottom line was, even though the crisis had begun, they still had to pay my money to them.”

In a moment when hospitals nationwide are being heralded for their role at the front lines of fighting the pandemic, some Americans continue to experience a less favorable side of hospital operations: aggressive collection for unpaid medical bills, even at a time when many of the debtors are seeing their income plunge. Debt collection is occurring on other fronts as well, over unpaid college and bank loans among others, prompting debates over protecting people’s economic stimulus checks from collection agencies or suspending garnishments outright. But collection by the very hospitals that are treating coronavirus patients brings the health and economic exigencies of the moment into especially stark relief.

In a few cases, hospitals have brought new cases against former patients in recent weeks, such as in Wisconsin, where Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee filed 46 small-claims lawsuits even after the governor declared a state of emergency on March 12, and other hospital systems in the state filed dozens more, according to a report by Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Watch. Steve Schoof, Froedtert’s director of external communications, told ProPublica in a statement that the hospital stopped filing small claims suits on March 18. “Moving forward,” the statement continued, “Froedtert Health will no longer be filing small claims suits for medical debt collection. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication that resulted in small claims filings after March 18. We immediately rectified this miscommunication and dismissed these small claims cases that were filed after March 18.”

More often, though, the collection stems from cases filed months before the pandemic arrived, as the legal process grinds its way forward. “Where debt collection is underway for pre-COVID medical debt, they will continue to do that,” said Jenifer Bosco, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

In Richardson’s case, the debt stemmed from a two-day 2018 visit to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in southeast Baltimore, one of a string of medical visits she has had to make over the years to deal with a knee injury from a fall, a hip injury from a car accident, hernia repairs and back trouble. She had insurance coverage through her job, which at the time was with the state Division of Correction, but it left a balance of almost $1,000 for her to pay. Richardson, who lives by herself in a modest apartment complex just east of the city, started hearing from a collections lawyer for Hopkins last fall and tried to work out a payment schedule with him, but she couldn’t make it work.

“I just didn’t have the money,” she said. “I said to the lawyer, I might be able to pay an amount monthly, but when it came time, I just didn’t have it. What can you do when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place? I prioritize. I’m going to try to pay my rent first, pay for gas and electric, cellphone costs. And I’ve got to eat.”

The court judgment was finally entered against Richardson in Baltimore City District Court in January: $923.21, plus $34 in court costs and $138.49 in attorney’s fees. The notice of wage garnishment went out on March 6 — the day after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state’s first three coronavirus cases. The garnishment was confirmed by Richardson’s new employer, the nonprofit drug treatment organization Gaudenzia, on March 16, the day that Hogan decreed the closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, and three days after Richardson and her colleagues were barred by safety precautions from providing counseling inside prisons. She now works at a small treatment center that houses seven women, where social distancing is easier.

Johns Hopkins, by far the largest private-sector employer in the state and the largest beneficiary of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s charitable giving, has long faced scrutiny for its aggressive collection of medical debt, including from the many low-income Baltimore residents it serves, who in theory should be able to qualify for the hospital’s charity care programs. In 2008, The Baltimore Sun reported that Hopkins and other Maryland nonprofit hospitals had filed more than 32,000 debt-collection suits over the past five years, winning at least $100 million in judgments. Last May, a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO and National Nurses United, which has been trying to organize Hopkins nurses, released a report finding that Hopkins had launched 2,400 lawsuits in Maryland courts since 2009 against patients with unpaid bills, increasing from 20 in 2009 to a peak of 535 in 2016.

In response to the 2019 report, Hopkins officials said they offered considerable free and discounted services, and that “for patients who choose not to pursue those options or who have a demonstrated ability to pay, we will make every effort to reach out to them and to accommodate their schedule and needs. In those rare occasions when a patient who has the ability to pay chooses not to, we follow our state required policies to pursue reimbursement from these patients.”

The cases have slowed in pace but not stopped altogether since the report. Bayview, one of several hospitals under the Hopkins umbrella, has filed about 60 cases over the past year, according to Maryland court records. Dozens of them, including Richardson’s, remain open. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2020 at 3:10 pm

Sobering column on what lies ahead, Covid-19-wise

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Andrew Nikiforuk writes in The Tyee (an independent on-line news magazine based in Vancouver BC):

We have now entered the most dangerous phase of this pandemic.

We are all tired of physical isolation.

We are worried about an economic depression in a global economy already undermined by gross inequalities.

We fear for the future, and yearn for something normal even though our exhausted civilization no longer behaves normally.

We want this emergency to end. And many want it to end at any cost.

And that is where the dangers lie. For we now live in the domain of a novel coronavirus.

The virus is but five months old, a mere infant in the scheme of things. By most accounts its global adventures could last two years.

One of the few political leaders who understands the dangers ahead is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a scientist by training. “Nobody likes to hear this, but it is the truth,” she said last week. “We are not living through the final phase of this crisis, we are still at its beginning. We will still have to live with this virus for a long time.”

But truth is usually the first casualty in any pandemic.

The historian John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, was dismayed to learn how authorities and the press regularly lied during the Spanish flu pandemic. Their key messages consisted of “don’t get scared,” or “it is just the old fashioned grippe” as tens of millions died.

By their very nature pandemics are irrational events that swallow up everything and everybody they reach. This methodical biological invader has barely begun to pull on the tattered threads of our overstretched industrial civilization.

There are only four ways out of this pandemic:

Herd immunity, which assumes immunity can be achieved and even if so will cost tens of millions of deaths while lasting no one knows how long.

A vaccine, assuming it can be made at all, and if so it is at least a year and a half away.

Elimination of the virus in geographies that seal their borders.

Or the virus gradually loses its most harmful effects on the human body and evolves into something like an old-fashioned cold.

Meanwhile, flattening the curve means beating the virus down to a tolerable level that doesn’t overwhelm hospitals and graveyards.

As we have learned, however, even flattening the curve doesn’t eliminate the reality of explosive outbreaks.

To date the pandemic has illuminated our industrial failings in spades. It exposed the fragility woven into the efficiencies we believed were designed into our systems, whether it be long-term care facilities or meat-packing factories.

The virus will continue to illuminate our weaknesses. Whenever and wherever we let down our guard, this virus will almost certainly explode with a bang.

Flattening the curve is not a victory or endpoint but a temporary holding measure. It is merely a behavioural choice that limits our mobility, and therefore the mobility of a highly contagious virus.

Even where the virus has raged explosively, such as New York City or Italy’s Lombardy region, no more than 20 per cent of the population has been infected.

That still leaves 80 per cent of the population susceptible to a second or third wave.

And so we must think clearly and do the following.

Admit what we don’t know

In these early days we don’t have answers to essential questions.

Does getting COVID-19 confer useful immunity and for how long?

If we do develop a working vaccine, how effective will it be? Will it immunize everyone all the time? Will it last for a year or a decade?

But we do know a few truths. We know that wherever this virus burns hottest, from Bergamo to Guayaquil, it kills readily.

We know the poor, the sick and the old are its primary targets. We also know that this virus can cause strokes in young adults and middle-aged people.

And we are just learning about long-term effects. It seems increasingly clear that even young, fit people can die if their level of exposure to the virus is very high.

Therefore easing restrictions before nations have developed disciplined protocols for testing, contact tracing and isolation of the infected will result in more pandemonium, and a longer emergency.

Get better data and act on it

In this dangerous phase, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading.

I do find having each paragraph be a separate sentence is tiring. Sorry about that.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2020 at 9:25 am

Dark Chocolate, a good novelty fragrance

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In reflecting on yesterday’s shaving post, I thought I should make clear that novelty fragrances are not ipso facto bad — indeed, they can be quite enjoyable. Phoenix Artisan’s Dark Chocolate that I used today, for example, has a fragrance I very much enjoy, and I think I would enjoy “fresh-cut grass” as well. However, these are not fragrances that (IMO) work well day in, day out. They are a wonderful change of pace, but daily use would dull the appeal pretty quickly, I believe.

They are like dessert: wonderful as an occasional treat, but if every meal consisted of dessert, it would quickly get old.

That said, I not only thoroughly enjoy today’s fragrance (in soap and aftershave), I also got a surprisingly good shave, especially given that I absent-mindedly did a two-pass shave instead of my usual three-pass shave. I started the second pass going ATG, caught myself, then thought, “Why not?” It’s the way I shaved in high school.

When I got to my upper lip, i remembered why not: the two-pass shave is for me very uncomfortable when it comes to the upper lip. Three passes means that the stubble on the upper lip is significantly reduced before the ATG pass (and the four-pass shave makes for an even more comfortable ATG pass).

The razor today is an Edwin Jagger clone (or perhaps even an actual Edwin Jagger), and I imagine this is a Maggard stainless steel handle.

Man, I do so enjoy starting the day with a good shave. And I have to say that this morning the dark chocolate really hit the spot.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2020 at 9:05 am

Posted in Shaving

The Role of Food Advertisements in the Obesity Epidemic

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2020 at 7:55 pm

Language learning is training a neural net

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I realized something as I thought about my earlier post on Duolingo. I described how I listened to many different speakers and listened repeatedly, and then gradually I could filter out the noise (slurred speech, bad pronunciation, different speeds, different voices) and hear the actual content. It suddenly struck me that this is exactly how neural networks are trained to, for example, recognize cat pictures. And then — duh — I realized that of course it’s like training a neural network, since that is what the brain is.

That explains the need for repetition and various accents, and it makes me more patient because I no longer feel that I have to get it immediately, I just have to keep up the process as the neural network in my head gets trained and rewires itself for this capability.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2020 at 5:00 pm

Transition on Day 9 of Esperanto studies

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I’ve been going regularly and fairly intensively at Esperanto for 9 days now. I started a little slowly, but 9 days ago I settled into a routine:

1. Go through the current Esperanto flashcards in several (free) decks I downloaded from Anki.
That takes about half an hour and goes fast because it’s easy. I don’t struggle over the cards. If I don’t know the answer, I click “Show answer,” note the answer, and click the button to show me the card again in a minute. The next time I get it right (or click “show me again in a minute” if I get it wrong), and from then on it’s just review.

The decks mix review with occasional new words, but some decks now are all review. For example, I’ve now completed Esperanto affixes, so it’s all review — 14 cards today, which takes less than a minute to go through. That particular deck is excellent deck — with Anki you can revise the deck to suit yourself once you’ve downloaded it (e.g., change the prompt or answer or add a card to the deck), and I’ve made only one or two minor changes to the cards in that deck.

2. Do Duolingo until it tells me “no more,” or until I give it up.
Usually I go to “no more,” but last night I finally gave it up after many (short) exercise/lessons. As I have noted, Duolingo offers excellent listening training, especially since some speakers mumble and/or mispronounce words (just as in real life, as I’m sure you’ve noticed). Gradually my adaptive unconscious is learning to filter out the noise and focus on the content. I have set my Duolingo settings to “serious” study: 30XP per day.

UPDATE: I misunderstood how best to use Duolingo. rather than follow the method above, take a look at Duolingo’s own recommendation: What’s the Best Way to Learn with Duolingo.

3. Study in the Lernu.net course, including making Anki vocabulary cards.
I’ve updated my Lernu-advice post with some recent realizations. One of the updates to recite aloud the text passages after listening to them and reading them and making Anki cards for any new vocabulary I encounter. (The exercises generally also include some new vocabulary, often introduced with images, so you connect the word directly with the image rather than with an English word: an idea I first encountered at Berlitz.) Eventually my Lernu.net vocabulary deck will be complete, but now it extends only so far as I’ve studied. It’s a shared deck, so you can use it. When you download Anki, be sure to click “Sync” in the top-line menu so that you can easily synch your deck. This is particularly necessary if you want to share a deck, which you do from the AnkiWeb site.

Reading aloud fluently, without stumbling over words, requires practice because speaking skills, like listening skills, are independent of reading skills and each of the three skills must be practiced separately for mastery (as must writing skills, and those I shall practice by keeping a daily ĵunalon in Esperanto). Speaking and writing skills seem mostly to be a matter of practicing new motor skills (for speaking, tongue, mouth, lips, vocal cords; for writing, muscles of the hand and fingers) so that they flow smoothly and do not require conscious effort.

“Not requiring conscious effort” means, of course, that the adaptive unconscious has picked up the ball and run with it, freeing the conscious mind from focusing the the minutiae of the task and looking instead at the big picture, much as a practiced and experienced fencer no longer focuses on his stance and how he holds the sabre but instead focuses on planning and executing his attack (and defense).

Indeed, this morning as I thought of things, I sometimes had the (still simple) though in Esperanto (or, as I just at first though as I wrote, Esperante). It doesn’t feel as though I (my conscious self) is doig that, but rather like a net is settling over my thoughts, or emerging from them, and pulliing them into Esperanto. I take it that is the adaptive unconscious beginning to get the idea and assimilate the language.

The same thing happens when you first immerse yourself in to learning and playing Go, in which a stone or group is captured by surrounding it (thus “The Surrounding Game” — worth watching). You are straining to detect how to surround and avoid being surrounded, and suddenly in daily life you start to be aware of being surrounded: you pull up to a stop light, and there’s a car on your left and one behind you and you feel (rather than think) that you are half-surrounded, and if a car then pulls up beside you on your right, the alarm bells go off because you now have only one liberty: straight ahead.

The physical sensation comes not from your conscious mind but from your adaptive unconscious exercising the skills of its new awareness.

That’s what seems to be happening with my learning of Esperanto: it’s moving from my conscious into my adaptive unconscious, so that as these thoughts in Esperanto emerge, it’s as if I’m just a bystander, observing it happen rather than making it happen. The adaptive unconscious has started doing the heavy lifting and is now flexing its muscles.

It’s interesting. I’m curious to know what the situation will be by, say, the end of May.

Reference: see Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson — one of the books on my list of book recommendations.

BTW, this is after 9 days of concentrated study. Esperanto is indeed easy to learn, and I suspect one reason is that the regularity makes easy the job of the adaptive unconscious so that it can move ahead more quickly with taking over the basic tasks from the conscious mind.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2020 at 11:26 am

Great shave and more ruminations on “novelty” soaps and scents

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An extremely nice result this morning. I did change the blade in the iKon 102 after the first pass, this time using a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge. I did have the benefit of a two-day stubble (and an extremely good slant), of course, but prep is also good..

As I lathered with Catie’s Bubble Waterlyptus and enjoyed the fragrance, I got to thinking again of what exact is a novelty fragrance.

As a species, we rely as much on vision as dogs do on smell and cats on hearing. I suspect that the languages of each (provided that dogs and cats developed languages) would rely heavily on metaphor in creating words, olfactory metaphors for dogs and auditory metaphors for cats, just as many common words and descriptions we use have implicit visual underpinnings.

So in talking about fragrances, I find I rely on words from a visual orientation (often in spatial terms). Now, mi ne estas odoristo, of course, and professionals who deal with scents (perfumers, chefs, and others) may well have an established vocabulary that works well, but I must go with what I’ve got.

In enjoying the Waterlyptus fragrance this morning, I realized that if it were purely watermelon, it would indeed be a novelty fragrance. I have a dark-chocolate-fragranced soap from Phoenix Artisan (a limited edition Valentine’s Day soap of a few years back), and though I enjoy it, it is clearly a novelty soap since it has but one note to its song. Similarly, I saw a shaving soap a while back that boasted the fragrance of newly cut grass. That’s a nice fragrance, but if that’s all that’s going on, it will not wear well.

What isn’t a novelty fragrance is a fragrance with layers — with depth (two visual metaphors right there). The watermelon fragrance in this soap is balanced by eucalyptus, which makes the fragrance of more lasting interest. Similarly, Meißner Tremonia’s Pink Grapefruit shaving paste (or soap) uses eucalyptus as a counterpoint to the pink grapefruit, and the result is an intriguing soap of enduring appeal. In both cases, eucalyptus modulates and modifies the sweetness of its companion note in the fragrance.

Going from a single note to two is not much (and indeed most shaving soap and aftershave fragrances are complex, with a variety of notes, but still there are some very nice two-note fragrances — cf. Planet Java Hive from Phoenix Artisan: coffee + honey), but it seems to be enough — there’s a jump in complexity and interest, much as in billiards (true billiards — table has no pockets and three balls are used). Play on a billiard table with one ball, and there’s zero interest: you hit the ball and it rolls arund, bouncing off the rails. That will get dull quickly — I’m already bored just writig about it.

Add a second ball, and now you can use the cue to hit the first ball and make it hit the second. That’s (barely) better, but that too would become dull in less than one minute.

Add one more ball. Now you can use the cue to hit the first ball and make it hit both the other two balls. Now we’re talking! (The sudden jump is reminiscent of catastrophe theory.) Add one small restriction — that the cue ball must strike the cushions three times before it hits the second ball — and you’ve not yourself a great game. Watch this (with sound turned off).

A splash of Woods, an aftershave I like because of its intriguing fragrance (but, alas, Saint Charles Shave has closed its doors), finished the shave and lifted my spirits.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2020 at 9:02 am

Posted in Shaving

Powers of Ten — a classic

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Science, Video

My discoveries about Lernu.net’s free Esperanto course

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Lernu.net is a site that includes an excellent course in Esperanto. It is free, but in order for the site to keep track of the lessons and exercises you’ve completed,, you must register to take the course. (If you didn’t register, the site could not tell what work you’ve completed.) Registration is free.

The site has several features I gradually discovered as I completed the first several lessons. I wanted to note here the things I wish I had known at the outset.

I’m skipping things that seem apparent, commenting only on the things that I did not at first realize.

Home Page

Start with the home page. (This link is to the English-language home page).

Right at the top of the page, you see a to watch a video. Skip it.

Right below that appears in large print the question What is Esperanto?, followed by a link. Click that link and read about what it is, its important traits (“Let me tell you its features!” — line from the Slingshot Channel on YouTube), and a history timeline.

Just below the timeline are six videos. Those I would skip. But the next thing comes with one of my (belated) discoveries: the grammar, beginning with the alphabet.

At the upper left of each letter in the alphabet display is a faint loudspeaker icon. The icon means that if you click on the letter, you’ll hear its name and its use in a word. For example, “B” has the name “bee” in English, but in Esperanto the name is  “boh.” You also hear the letter used in a word (“bela” for B).

The audio teaches you Esperanto pronunciation, and it also teaches you the names of the letters. Letter names are important because as soon as you ask someone to spell a word, they will recite the names of the word’s letters. (That’s why children are taught the ABC song at an early age.)

That little loudspeaker icon appears throughout the course, and much audio is available throughout the site. Following the alphabet on this page, for example, are images that include the loudspeaker icon. Click the image to hear the audio.

Continue down the page clicking. The final link would take you to the course, La Teorio Nakamura, but for now, click the back-arrow and return to the Home Page.

Once back at the Home Page, look at the six links to the resources on the site. Click and explore as you wish.

The course: La Teorio Nakamua

When you go to the course page, you see an icon for each of the 26 lessons. Click the icon for Lesson 1: What is that? (Kio estas tio?)

The green band at the top contains links. The logo is a link to your profile, and there’s a link to the dictionary search. Clicking the dictionary link displays a popup, so when you use the dictionary, you don’t have to leave the text you’re reading.

There’s also a link for a keyboard feature that doesn’t seem to work on a Mac. That’s not a problem because Lernu does diacritics using the “x” system: type an “x” immediately after the character that needs a diacritic, and it gets the diacritic — for example, “cx” immediately becomes “ĉ”, “sx” becomes “ŝ”, and so on.

At the right side of the green band is the “hamburger” that indicates a menu. I discuss that below, but one item in that menu is “Course,” which is where we have come. Lesson 1 serves as an example

The lesson – navigation

The lesson starts with an image and text in Esperanto. Note the green dot above the lesson title. That dot indicates which page of the lesson you’re on (hover the mouse over the dot, and the page number is displayed). If you click one of the other dots, you go at once to that page, which allows fast navigation and also serves as a progress indicator.

The lesson – listening

To the right of the lesson title is an audio bar. Click that to hear the lesson text read aloud. Since it’s important to train one’s listening skills (and reading skills do not carry into listening skills), I use this a lot. I first listen with my eyes shut, trying to understand the words (this doesn’t work so well with the first lesson, since most of the words are new, but as you progress through the lessons, you can understand more and more).

After my first listening, eyes closed, I listen to the audio again, and this time I read the text along with the audio. I then read through the text without the audio. To see the translation of a sentence, hover the mouse over the sentence; to see the definition of a word, click the word.

Once I’m familiar with the vocabulary, I again listen without looking at the text to see how much I understand. I listen a lot so that the sounds become familiar. (I also return to earlier lessons and listen to the audio of the text. after a while I can understand the entire passage without looking at the text — just listening.)

The lesson – speaking

I also have found it important to read aloud the text passage. Speaking skills are independent of reading skills and listening skills, and in particular speaking skills (like writing skills) require and rely on coordinated muscular movement. In speaking, your tongue, lips, mouth shape, and vocal cord control are all important, and the standard repertoire of coordinated movements varies by language — for example, English speakers cannot, without much practice, easily produce in speaking the glottalized clicks common to some languages.

The sounds and sound combinations of Esperanto are not so different as that from English speech, but they still differ in particulars and patterns, and practice is required to produce the sounds with ease and assurance. Reading aloud provides that practice. I occasionally record (using a voice memo app on my phone) my recitation and then play it back. Initially my speech was halting and awkward but — as always — experience results in efficiency, and practice produces progress. I can now read with some fluency.

The lessons do not specifically call for you to read aloud, but I recommend you try it. You’ll quickly see (a) initially it’s difficult, and (b) with consistent practice it becomes easy.

The lesson – vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is much easier with:

  1. active recall — rather than looking at the Esperanto word and the English equivalent side by side, you look only at one and try to recall the other; and
  2. spaced repetition — you periodically return to active recall of vocabulary you’ve learned —  more frequently for difficult words, less frequently for the words you know well.

Anki is a free flashcard program that uses active recall and spaced repetition. It took me a while to figure out how to install and use it — explanation here.

I’m building an Anki deck of flashcards for the Lernu coursse, lesson by lesson. Right now, it’s complete through Lesson 11, and I’ll update it as I move through the course. You can download it here. [3 May 2020: Download link updated once I figured out how to use Anki – LG] And Anki has quite few Esperanto decks. One I particularly liked was Esperanto Affixes. Another useful one is Ace Correlatives Like A Native

Lernu’s course does not explicitly list the new vocabulary in each lesson, and it also introduces a fair amount of new vocabulary in the exercises and examples. That’s why I recommend working with the Anki deck I created. My goals is to include all the vocabulary, from the text passages, exercises, and examples.

The lesson – scoring, and correcting errors

When you finish the first page of the lesson, click “Ready” and you’ll see a score — 10/10 — and you can then click “Next.” That is, you get 10 out 10 points for reading the page, and the same scoring holds for other pages that involve reading. However, for pages involving exercises, your work is scored.

The second page of lesson 1 again consists of reading, with a link for more information. Again, note (and use) the loudspeaker icons: ear-training is essential.

The third page is the first scored exercise. In the exercise, you listen to the spelling of a word and enter the letters in the right order. When you have completed the exercise, click “Ready,” and the program checks your work. If your score is not perfect (10/10),  click “Try again” and correct the errors.

To see which answers are in error, hover the mouse over the answers (before clicking “Try again”), and the answers will be displayed in a little popup. Incorrect answers are flagged with a black background. Once you know which answers are incorrect, click “Try again” and correct your work.

The idea of this approach is to ensure that you master the material, and you do that by continuing to work on the page until all the answers are correct.

I at first didn’t know about how to find the wrong answers, and I gave up on the exercise on page 12 of lesson 1. One answer was wrong, but I just could not see which. Once I discovered the wrong-answer display (hovering the mouse over an answer to see whether it is correct or not), I returned to that lesson and easily found the wrong answer: I had typed “Yes” instead of “Jes.” I corrected it and got the 10/10 result desired.

The course exercises are not to find out how much you know but rather to help you learn, so you keep working on each exercise until it’s perfect. The “Try again” option sometimes gets quite a workout, but when I finish the exercise, every answer is correct.

The “More Information” button that appears in various lessons offers in-depth information. You don’t have to absorb all of it, but it’s helpful.

Exercises that require you to match a word with an image by presenting a line of words at the bottom with each image having a box for its word can be done by dragging the appropriate word to the appropriate box. Easier, though, to move the words to the boxes in order by clicking each word in turn. Click the words in image order, going through the images left to right in each row, moving top to bottom.

Hamburger Menu

I mentioned the Hamburger Menu at the right of the top green band. It has links for these resources:

What is Esperanto?  — That was covered above, through the link from the home page.

Course  — already discussed

Grammar — This link takes you to the table of contents for a reasonably comprehensive grammar, which you can explore as needed. It’s a good reference and can clarify issues that might otherwise puzzle you.

Media Library  — This has a variety of media in various categories and at three levels — easy, medium, hard. You can filter the entries to find those of interest. Some  text materials include the audio bar so that you can test your listening comprehension. Clicking a word displays a popup with the translation — a big help for a beginner.

Teaching materials  — This is specifically for teachers — and a great resource for them.

Forum — a place to ask and answer questions and exchange information. I’ve used the forum to get help in understanding various things. And I shall post in the forum a link to this blog entry.


That summarizes my initial discoveries. Lernu.net is a good site that teaches an interesting language. Give it a go.

And if you do decide to learn Esperanto, take a look at this list of online resources.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 7:18 pm

A few observations on Duolingo’s Esperanto course

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First: Duolingo’s Esperanto course is free. For a good overview of the course structure, argot, and operation, see the Duolingo wiki, a site created and maintained by Duolingo users. Though it has no official connection to Duolingo, it is very helpful in explaining how Duolingo works.

Step 1: Sign up!
The language “skill tree”  (But: see below, Best strategy for working through the tree)
Inside Duolingo lessons
New vocabulary hints
If at first you don’t succeed…
Remember me?
Levels
But wait, there’s more!
The Duolingo community
Duolingo on the go
Looking for more info? We’ve got you covered.
See also
References

Duolingo lessons are extremely brief, so that you get a sense of rapid progress. (It reminds me of how War and Peace, though quite long, gives the reader a sense of rapid progress because in general the chapters are short.)

Update: After six weeks of daily use of Duolingo I had some insight into why it works (and I ahd learned a lot of Esperanto). /update

You can avoid excessive mouse use by typing your answer and using return instead of selecting words from a list and clicking “Check” and then “Continue.” I find using the return key is faster and more convenient than clicking buttons. Click the “Use keyboard” button to avoid the painfully slow process of word selection.

Duolingo uses repetition to build familiarity and quicker understanding of what is being said or written. You have the option to skip some items, but I never do. (I recall reading that Ben Hogan in playing would concede his opponent’s putts — a “gimme,” I think it’s called — for the first several holes and then would not concede any more, which increased the pressure.) I fear if I start skipping I’ll stop learning. Reinforcement is fine.

The audio (“write what you hear” for a phrase spoken in the language you’re studying) develops listening skills. This is important because the skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing are pretty much independent, and each must be practiced to gain mastery. The speakers vary, with the same phrase being presented with different speakers at different times.

The speakers vary in enunciation: some enunciate carefully and clearly. Some clearly enunciate but also speak very rapidly. One mumbles so that it is hard to hear whether he is saying “mi” or “ni” (or “li” or “ili”). One has a tendency to throw in an extra syllable, as when (say) an English speaker pronounces “grand” as “guh-rand” — this guy says “uh-li” for “li.” The extra syllables make it very hard to understand what is being said, and I tended to always get those wrong in my transcription (“Write what you hear”). The reason for the variety of accents is that Duolingo uses contributions from their students as well as professional voice actors.

The more I thought about it, the more I understand why this is good (or as that last guy would say, “uh-good”). When you are speaking with actual people, some will speak clearly and distinctly (but probably those are a minority), some will speak clearly but very rapidly, and some will mumble and mispronounce words. You, the listener, must make sense of what they all say. See this post: Oral typos and autocorrect by the unconscious.

If a speaker seriously makes an error (e.g., clearly says “de” when the correct word is “el” — and you are marked incorrect if you write “de”), you can report the speaker’s error by clicking the “Report” option that’s shown when the correct answer is displayed and then click “Audio does not sound correct.”

There’s also a “Discuss” option shown along with the correct answer. This provides a way of seeking more clarity on a particular question, and the discussions at the link often develop useful posts.

Duolingo lets you repeat the audio as many times as you want: just click the loudspeaker icon and it will say again. And (important) you can repeat the audio after you’ve been told your transcription is incorrect — thus after the correct transcription is shown. I use the correct transcription as a pony and listen repeatedly to the spoken phrase until I can clearly hear the meaning through the “noise” (as it were) of slurred speech and extra syllables. Then I listen to the audio with my eyes shut, getting the meaning purely from the audio.

I’ve noticed as I’ve progressed that I understand more clearly what is said. My unconscious seems to be filtering out the noise and focusing more on the relevant sounds — the cocktail-party effect in action. And there’s more at work than just the cocktail-party effect: see this post: listening is active, not passive. You don’t simply take in the sounds the speaker makes, you unconsciously (as you learn the language) begin to adjust the sounds so that you start to “hear” what the speaker intended and not necessarily what the speaker said. (More at that link.)

This sounds a lot like training a neural network, and the reason it sounds like that is because that’s exactly what it’s doing: it’s training a neural network (the brain).

I’ve been doing Duolingo only a week, but I can tell that it’s a valuable adjunct to the Lernu.net course (which also provides audio, though not so much).

The big discoveries in ease of use were keyboard entry instead of word selection and using the enter key to move along instead of clicking the buttons offered. [To that I must now add discovering the Duolingo wiki referenced above.]

UPDATE: Another useful discovery: how the lessons and levels and skills work, and a better study strategy. See this post. /update

I initially use the “Coach” setting to set my daily goal as 30XP per day (“serious”) but increased it to 50XP per day (“intense”) and usually do 100XP or more (which is easy).

Easy diacritics: Chrome has an extension Anstatauxi that allows easy entry of diacritics: type x following a letter that requires a diacritic and the diacritic will appear — for example cx produces ĉ, Cx produces Ĉ, and so on for the letters ĝ Ĝ  ĥ Ĥ ĵ Ĵ ŝ Ŝ and ŭ. This means you don’t have to click a button to get those characters when doing text entry in Duolingo. The extension also works in Opera, the browser that I use. Worth downloading. (And note that it doesn’t collide with regular use, since those combinations do not occur in words.) I use this extension and like it a lot.

The same capability is built into Lernu.net for the data entry within that course, and Firefox has similar extensions — the one I use is Ektajpu, but it’s not the only one. See also this general discussion of ways to type Esperanto diacritics.

Duolingo will also accept and score as correct a character combination using the x for a diacritic. That is, if the correct answer is “loĝi,” Duolingo will accept “logxi” as correct.

Note the Duolingo forum for Esperanto, and especially note the first post in the forum.  (It’s a “sticky” post so that it stays first.) It consists of links to resources.

Also useful: the Facebook group for Duolingo Esperanto students. This is a useful resource specifically for Duolingo.

Also note that Aniki’s collection of shared decks for Esperanto include three decks for Duolingo vocabulary. I use both of those to lock down my vocabulary knowlege. Also, this deck provides a great number of Esperanto words ordered by frequency of use (so that you learn first the words most frequently used). I study all the decks together since Anki’s spaced repetition makes it easy. More information on Anki in this post.

Best tactics with exercises

See Useful Duolingo Tactics for the tactics that proved to work best for me.

Best strategy for working through the tree

See Maximizing benefits of Duolingo’s spaced repetition in language learning.

See also this post by Duolingo’s learning designers: What’s the best way to learn with Duolingo?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 1:16 pm

How Trump Wasted the Best Tool He Had to Fight Coronavirus

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Eric Cortellessa writes in the Washington Monthly:

Out of all the responsibilities President Donald Trump has shirked during the COVID-19 pandemic, from not pressing China for information on the virus in its early weeks to not building up a testing regime in the United States, none has been more derelict than his administration’s failure to provide front-line healthcare workers with the medical and protective equipment they need.

What’s most exasperating is that there was a system in place to provide that equipment: the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, an integrated collection of secret, federally-controlled warehouses with billions of dollars worth of precisely the kind of critical supplies that were needed in this crisis, such as masks and ventilators.

Once the CIA warned Trump of a coming pandemic in January, his administration should have immediately ordered more such equipment to meet the coming surge. That he didn’t left American hospitals overwhelmed. It left states having to claw to obtain the materials they need to save lives. Of course, it didn’t help that Trump did nothing to replenish or update the stockpile in his first three years in office; by mid-April, it had already distributed 90 percent of the stockpile’s supplies.

The president and his administration then compounded these grievous errors with lies and misinformation. The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has said the stockpile was for the federal government, not the states. In fact, it was built precisely for states and localities to use in the case of an emergency. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly blamed his predecessor for leaving him with a depleted stockpile. “Our cupboards were bare,” he told reporters last weekend. Yet the Obama administration, having used the stockpile to deal with the swine flu and the Ebola crises, tried to increase funding for it, but was blocked by Tea Party Republicans and sequestration.

Trump’s mismanagement of the reserve is more than just another case of the administration’s tendency to shift blame and spew lies. It gets at the heart of one of the key roles of any president—to prepare for threats that have not yet happened.

One president who exemplified this foresight was Bill Clinton, who created the Strategic National Stockpile in his second term. For more insight into this, I spoke with Richard Clarke, Clinton’s chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council and the man the president tasked with building the stockpile.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What led to the creation of the national stockpile? It’s been reported that President Clinton came up with the idea after reading a bioterrorism thriller. Is that true? 

There were a lot of novels out. Richard Preston wrote one. The president was a great reader of everything. He stayed up late every night reading. He went through several books a week. I recall getting a couple bounced over to me, with questions like, “Could this really happen?”

But it wasn’t just that he had read novels. There were two events in the mid-1990s that, together, jarred the president: the Oklahoma City bombing, which was done by two Americans with an 18-wheel tractor trailer filled with explosives, and separately, in Tokyo, a fringe group called the Aum Shinrikyo developed their own biological and chemical weapons and tried them out on the Tokyo subway.

This caused the president, among others, to think: What if those two things came together? What if, suddenly, we had large attacks using chemical or biological weapons on our subways? President Clinton asked me to see if we were at all prepared to handle that. We came back to him and said we weren’t. There were no detection capabilities for most of these kinds of attacks. There were no response capabilities in most cities. Nobody was trained, nobody was equipped.

Not only would we not be able to deal with the consequences, we wouldn’t even have detected the attack. There was no detection equipment deployed anywhere. The Army had some for battlefield use, but there was nothing in any cities. There was nothing in the White House. We wouldn’t have known if the White House had been sprayed with a biological weapon.

So we started a program. It was originally designed to deal with bioterrorism. But we also realized that you could use it for a pandemic.

How did you realize that?

Well, in investigating all that, we found a lot of interest from the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They told us a very similar thing could happen naturally—an emerging infectious disease, like the 1918 flu. We weren’t prepared for that either. What we figured out was, we could set up a nationwide detection system and an international system that would work for both biological attacks from terrorists and emerging infectious diseases.

The president secured money from Congress to put into the Public Health Service and the CDC to create a stockpile. A lot of it was grant money that went down to the state and county level, so they could have labs that would be able to detect and test. They set up a system so that when people came to emergency rooms and reported illnesses, that information would go into a national monitoring system. We realized that if a big event happened in any city, the city would be overwhelmed. So we set up a national stockpile of emergency medical gear that included medicines, hospital beds, ventilators, and put it in warehouses around the country.

We had a plan that when the equipment reached near its expiration date, it would be rotated, either through the Defense Department or Veterans medical systems, so that the equipment would be used before their expiration dates.

How was the stockpile set up so that the government could use it if a real crisis happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:43 am

Blood Sugar Can Trigger a Deadly Immune Response in the Flu and Possibly COVID-19

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Tanya Lewis writes in Scientific American:

Many people dying in the novel coronavirus pandemic appear to be harmed more by their own immune system than by the virus itself. The infection can trigger a cytokine storm—a surge in cell-signaling proteins that prompt inflammation—that hits the lungs, attacking tissues and potentially resulting in organ failure and death. But this phenomenon is not unique to COVID-19; it sometimes occurs in severe influenza, too. Now a study sheds light on one of the metabolic mechanisms that help orchestrate such runaway inflammation.

Scientists have long known that viral infections can affect human cellular metabolism, the system of biochemical reactions needed to provide energy for everything cells do. In the new paper, researchers showed that in live mice and human cells, infection with an influenza A virus—one of two types that typically cause seasonal flu—sets off a chain of cellular events, or a pathway, that boosts the metabolism of glucose. This action, in turn, triggers the production of an avalanche of cytokines. And blocking a key enzyme involved in the glucose pathway could be one way to prevent a deadly cytokine storm, according to the study, which was published last week in Science Advances.

Although the research was not focused on the novel coronavirus, the team says the same mechanism is likely at play in the illness it causes: COVID-19. This connection could explain why people with diabetes are at a higher risk of dying from the virus.

When a virus infects a cell, it steals resources in order to make copies of itself, explains Paul Thomas, an immunologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., who was not involved in the new study. Infected cells have to boost their metabolism to replenish these resources, and healthy cells must also do so in order to mount an effective immune response, he says.

Prior research had shown that an influenza infection increases the metabolism of glucose, the sugar molecule that fuels most cellular activities. And in previous work, the authors of the new paper had identified a pathway, involving a signaling protein called interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), in which a flu infection can lead to a cytokine storm.

In its latest study, the team revealed, at a detailed molecular level, how a glucose metabolism pathway activated by flu infection leads to an out-of-control immune response. During such an infection, high levels of glucose in the blood cause an enzyme called O-linked β-N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT) to bind to, and chemically modify, IRF5 in a process known as glycosylation. This step enables another chemical modification, called ubiquitination, that leads to a cytokine inflammatory response.

The researchers infected mice with influenza A and then administered glucosamine, a sugar that kicks off this glucose metabolism pathway. They showed that doing so increased the production of cytokines. Next, they genetically engineered mice that lacked the gene that enables OGT production. These mice did not develop an over-the-top cytokine response when exposed to glucosamine.

Finally, the scientists analyzed blood collected from flu patients and healthy individuals in Wuhan, China, between 2018 and 2019. They found that the flu-infected subjects’ blood had higher glucose levels—and correspondingly higher levels of immune system signaling molecules—than that of the healthy patients. That result further supports the idea that glucose metabolism plays a role in flu infection.

The findings suggest that interfering with this pathway could be one way to prevent the cytokine storm seen in flu and other viral infections. Such an intervention would need to be done carefully, however, to avoid . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article, something particularly of interest to me:

Given the role of glucose in the pathway, could a person’s diet have an effect on his or her response to a viral infection? “That’s a very good question,” Wen says. “At this moment, I think it’s too early to make a judgment [about whether] a special diet can fight against virus infection.” What scientists do know is that people with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to severe flu infections. But that risk is not because they have higher glucose levels in their blood. The real reason, Wen says, is that they cannot use glucose effectively—and thus cannot initiate a proper antiviral response.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:38 am

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

You, Too, Can Acquire a Super Memory

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Catherine Caruson writes in Scientific American:

Elite memory athletes are not so different from their peers in any other sport: They face off in intense competitions where they execute seemingly superhuman feats such as memorizing a string of 500 digits in five minutes. Most memory athletes credit their success to hours of memorization-technique practice. One lingering question, though, is whether memory champs succeed by practice alone or are somehow gifted. Recent research suggests there may be hope for the rest of us. A study published in Neuron provides solid evidence that most people can successfully learn and apply the memorization techniques used by memory champions while triggering large-scale brain changes in the process.

A team led by Martin Dresler of Radboud University in the Netherlands used a combination of behavioral tests and brain scans to compare memory champions with the general population. It found that top memory athletes had a different pattern of brain connectivity than controls did but also that subjects who learned a common technique over a period of weeks, not years, greatly improved their memory skills and began to exhibit brain-connection patterns resembling those of elite memorizers.

Many of us learn new skills throughout our lives, and scientists have long wondered if, and how, our brain changes as a result. Previous research has linked some skills to specific changes. One well-known set of studies showed that London taxi drivers developed more gray matter in their hippocampus (a brain area linked to memory) as they acquired the knowledge needed to navigate the city’s haphazard maze of streets. Dresler and his colleagues, motivated in part by co-author and professional memory trainer Boris Konrad, decided to focus on elite memory athletes who utilize techniques to compete at highly specific tasks such as memorizing decks of cards or lines of binary digits in minutes. They wanted to know whether these highly skilled practitioners exhibit noticeable brain changes and how those changes occur.

In the first part of the study the researchers matched 23 elite memory champions with control subjects based on age, gender and IQ. Both groups underwent a series of brain scans, including anatomical scans and functional MRI during a resting state—one in which subjects were not doing anything—and during a memory task. The researchers found the memory champions did not differ from the controls in any particular brain region but rather had different patterns of brain connectivity during resting-state and task-based fMRI scans. To Dresler, these results suggested “there’s not a sort of general hardware difference in memory champions that allows them to reach these memory levels but that something subtler is going on,” which spurred the team to investigate further.

Next, the researchers took 51 subjects who had never previously engaged in memory training and divided them into an experimental group and two control groups. Experimental subjects underwent six weeks of intense memory training for half an hour each day using the centuries-old method of loci strategy still popular with memory champions: They learned how to map new information such as numbers or names onto familiar spatial locations such as those in their homes. The active control group trained for a working memory task called the n-back that does not train long-term memory. Meanwhile the passive control group received no training.

After training, the experimental subjects improved significantly at memory tasks (whereas neither control group improved) yet did not exhibit any structural brain changes. Their brain-connection patterns during resting-state and task-based fMRI scans, however, became more similar to those of memory champs, a change that correlated positively with memory improvements. “I think the interesting part is . . .

Continue reading.

For an entertaining book on memory training, I highly recommend Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:31 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

The Dead Sea and the S1

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That’s a pretty sharp image for a 1/2 second exposure — thanks Craig B for the tip on using the timer.

I went aggressively after the smooth supple soft shave today, with (a) The Dead Sea, which seems to promote such results, (b) a slant razor, in this case Above the Tie’s S1, and (c) Krampert’s Finest Acadian Spice Bay Rum, an unusually moisturizing splash.

The Plisson synthetic did a fine job — I know now to use a brush that’s merely damp when loading with The Dead Sea — and the lather was exceptionally good. I do like the fragrance: lemon, rosemary, cannabis, saffron, and sandalwood.

Three very comfortable passes and then a splash of Krampert’s — and I was quite close to the idea result. A very fine shave, though not so stellar smooth as the one I’m seeking.

So it goes. The journey continues.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2020 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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