Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How does AI dream of Spire City?

Have you heard of Google's DeepDream project? It basically takes images and runs them through algorithms to identify whatever patterns it perceives, then emphasizing those patterns and running the adjusted image through again and again. At least that's the simplified explanation for what it's doing.  The program at the moment apparently has a tendency to find eyes and dog shapes, as you can see. Well, I decided to run some Spire City images through the program to see what comes out...and it's suitably psychedelic. So without further comment, here are some images (from Worlds Beyond Art and KMD Designs originally), as seen by a dreaming artificial intelligence. (Click on the image to see it bigger.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Last chance to subscribe to Season One!

Episode 12 went out to subscribers and live on Amazon, etc. yesterday. That leaves only a single episode left, "Mint's Arrival." There is still time to subscribe, though. Sign up between now and next Monday, and I'll send you all thirteen episodes at once.

This is the perfect chance for those of you who prefer to read an entire season at once, instead of episode by episode. Get the entire season at one time and read through it at your own pace. But this is your last chance to be a subscriber. After next week, the only way to get the season will be to buy them individually from Amazon or B&N or wait for the full season bundle.

Now I'm planning on pricing the season bundle at $4.99 US, so you'll spend the same thing as if you subscribe, but you'll miss out on subscriber perks, including an exclusive Spire City poem and a special deal on a season two subscription. So subscribe today!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Duolingo update, Dutch

A half a year ago, I wrote an extensive post about my experience learning Portuguese with the Duolingo app. At the time I was just beginning to try to learn Dutch. As of this past weekend, I've completed all the lessons, so I thought I'd share a bit how that has gone.

First, the most obvious thing is that this took me only half the time it took me to get through Portuguese. Is there a learning curve to the app itself, and going through again with a new language is that much faster? I don't think so. Changes in the app itself? They made a few changes to how the app works--instead of running out of hearts and having to completely start a lesson over if you get more than three things wrong, it has a meter, which moves toward your goal with each correct answer and a step backward with each wrong answer. It's a good change, at least for how I learn, cutting back on the frustration of having to do an entire lesson over but forcing you to answer more questions when you do mess up.

So is it just that Dutch is so much easier than Portuguese? Actually the opposite. Portuguese was so similar to Spanish that it was easy for me to slack off, take my time. If I missed a day, no big deal. I could remember the vocabulary and grammar without much effort. I knew Dutch wouldn't be so easy to be casual about. So there was one weekend early on when I missed two days, but otherwise I've done at least one new lesson every day, usually two. I prefer not to do more than two new lessons each day. So if I had any extra time to do more (and more often than not, I made the time), I'd go through one or two review rounds ("Practice Weak Skills") as well.

That's still pretty casual, 10-15 minutes per day. If I were cramming to travel somewhere and wanted to have a good base before I arrived, the app would work for that. You'd just have to do a lot of lessons and have a good balance between reviewing weak skills and learning new.

(Worth mentioning that I think the total number of lessons for Dutch was fewer as well. Not way lower, but enough that it surely affects how fast I went through them.)

So how is my Dutch now? Well, there are really four ways to judge someone's ability in a language: speaking, writing, reading, listening. The app doesn't demand speaking. I do my best to say everything out loud that I can, so I think I could be understood, but it wouldn't be fluent, I'm sure. Of the rest, the lessons are split probably 50%-60% on reading, 30% on listening, and 10% on writing. Then with some basic vocabulary focus that could apply to any of those and bleeds into those categories here and there as well.

So that's probably reflected in how I'm doing on those skills--a pretty solid base for reading, some experience with listening (although it's always only one person doing the spoken parts, so it's specifically her accent and voice I'm used to--same thing with Portuguese when I did that), and a rudimentary base for writing. Probably not too far off how I was with French after a year of college classes or Portuguese after a year of Duolingo... Both of those being Romance languages, I could draw on Spanish to fill in many gaps. Dutch being Germanic, could I do the same with English? For some of it, but not as much.

Favorite sentences: "Vijfentwentig schildpadden zwemmen in het water." That sentence practically sings. And "De vriendschap dat ik had met de kooien koeien was heel special." I'm not sure I want to know the backstory of how that second sentence ended up in the app...

Of course, where am I going to use this? The vast majority of people in the Netherlands speak English anyway (not that I have any real potential to travel there any time soon, either...). It's really just a thing to learn, to connect with my ancestry. I'm hoping to dig around YouTube for videos just to broaden my familiarity with hearing it, and I may try to track down some written works to practice reading. In fact, I have a relative, Egbertus Ausema, who wrote some thrillers in Dutch. I discovered him a while back in Amazon and assumed he was some distant fifth cousin or something...and only just discovered the other day that he was actually my dad's first cousin. Huh. I may have to try to get a copy of one of those books...

And what's next? Not a new language at this point. I've been offered a job teaching Spanish this school year, so I'm going to be immersing myself in Spanish for a while at least. Hopefully still maintaining (and improving!) my Dutch and Portuguese, but not something new. I'd love someday to learn ASL or some non-European language (or both!). Re-try to learn Arabic? Learn Standard Chinese or Hindi or some other Asian language? Learn Quechua? Hmm, just typing it out makes me want to learn them all... But none are available in Duolingo at the moment, and it would be best not to tackle a new language for the time being. Much as I might like to...

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Bonus for Spire City subscribers!

Inspired by the poem in The Pedestal the other week, I decided this would be a great time to offer an exclusive bonus for Spire City subscribers. Eagle-eyed stalkers of this blog may have noticed a new poem listed on my bibliography, which I updated last weekend. Well, here's what that's about:

Next week Monday, subscribers will receive not only episode 11, but also a poem I first wrote about half a year ago called "The Exiles Pine for Home." It's a poem as written by the Neshini immigrants living in Spire City. (Some of you may remember a guest blog post I wrote last January, which appeared at The Oak Wheel, about using in-world poetry as a way to enrich a secondary world fantasy.) I have no plans at the moment for releasing this poem in any other format. It may eventually show up in a bundle of some sort, but the only way to be sure you get this poem is to be a subscriber.

Not a subscriber yet? I know a lot of you aren't keen on the whole waiting part of serials. If that's what's holding you back, then now is a great time to jump in and subscribe. Season 1 is 13 episodes long, so the two weeks between episode 11 and the season finale should give you a perfect amount of time to read them all--and get a bonus poem to boot.

So subscribe now and get your free poem, in addition to all the other benefits of being a subscriber!