We originally wrote about Duolingo two years ago for another website, with the caveat that you still needed an invite back then. Well it’s 2015 and things have changed!

Duolingo is a free website to learn a language. Currently, you can learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Swedish, Danish, and Turkish. You can also learn Norwegian (Bokmal), Esperanto, and Ukrainian, but these are in beta. I’m learning Esperanto right now. (There are actually a lot more ways to learn, if you want to learn English as a speaker of another language. There’s even a test to earn an English certificate!)

We love Duolingo, whether we are logging on to pretend to finish learning the language we chose 3 years ago or picking a random made up language in Beta. Read on for all the highlights of this great, free, useful website that makes language-learning into an awesome game.

Even though Duo the Owl no longer pesters you at each and every wrong answer, he appears to still be on the right side, crying over me not reaching my daily goal. Be good to Duo. He is there to help you on your journey.

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We have all seen the Fortune-Tellers in our local carnivals. If they are not working the Tarot Cards, they are Reading Palms. Palmistry isn’t just a vehicle for seeing into that person’s future, did you know? It can also be used as a way to see their personality! In fact, it is probably more reliable as a personality-figuring tool than as a fortune-telling tool, simply because they are always telling you that you “still have free will.” So any future-telling is meant as a guideline which you can change by making decisions that will lead you in a totally different direction. That will be $25, please.

Palmistry

Reading a palm is supposed to be able to tell you about the person’s character, too. An experienced palm technician can examine (which includes a fair amount of touching) the hand and know about this person’s traits and inclinations. Forget about the future! Let’s learn about now! On the INSIDE!

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Sometimes, while listening to old, obscure music, you happen upon some fine gems. Just because a tune wasn’t on the Top 40 station within the past five years doesn’t mean it’s unlistenable, whippersnappers!

However, as with all journeys, one risks running into perils involving distasteful subjects, awkward moments, or even human emotions. On the day that I discovered Baby, How Can It Be? I was not expecting to also discover a piece of recording history that would change my mood. I had gone from cheerful to unsettled in the time that it took to simply read the track titles. My good friend, Billy Holiday, was there to comfort me in my hour of confusion and slight need.

Then I drew this comic of our conversation.

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In this modern day and age, human beings are often too caught up in their busy lives. I’m told they have work to do, bills to pay, stressful situations to cope with, and entertaining distractions galore. These distractions are what people currently use to “unwind” from their other stresses, but they aren’t really that relaxing.

In the yesteryears before electronic fun, a person had a lot of time to think quietly to themselves. Their relaxation involved peacefully sitting out on the back porch and reflecting on life and problems while watching the sunset. Perhaps they would also be sipping on an iced tea and sitting in comfortable silence with a good friend and a kitty cat, listening to the ambient noises of the gentle outdoors and feeling glad.

Personality

But this article isn’t about how to really get in touch with the real you inside. Heavens, no!

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In my perfect dream world, legendary children’s show Sesame Street would be populated by old time movie stars parodying themselves outlandishly. I think I would have learned better lessons, and learned them better, if it had been this way. Are children supposed to identify with or look up to a fuzzy green monster with a bad attitude? Well maybe they do, but a magically re-animated Greta Garbo would have gotten the job done with so much more melodramatic class.

If I ever get a wish-granting monkey paw, this will be the reality of children’s television programming.

As always, click to see it in the full size. (You can see the other example of Greta in imaginary kids television in our Yo Garbo Garbo post.)

Garbo Street

Recently, I was speaking with my friend about books we enjoyed as children. She spoke well of a book she had read so many years ago that was about a mighty, wild stallion who was captured by humans. They tried to break his fierce spirit every way they knew how, but he endured and managed to live the rest of his days carefree on the range once again, a symbol of spiritual freedom.

I realized while I was listening to her that I had read a similar book, although not that specific one. Not only that, but I had read quite a few books with that general plot! There was one set in the Pioneer Times about a Moonstone Stallion who rescued some little prairie girl who had gotten herself lost from the wagon train. And another story I dimly recall about another white stallion who pranced around, inspiring these children while vexing the austere and practical adults. Of course Walter Farley wrote a whole horrible series of books about the Black Stallion and his Island Stallion counterpart, Flame. Those were just a few I had read as a small child. But obviously, there have been others, possibly a thousand others!

Horse Fiction

Equine literature aimed at children is a very strange genre of fiction. Mostly meant to entertain “horse crazy” little girls. Some of the books were about young girls just like the reader who enjoy being around horses and learning about them, riding, laughing with each other, and friendship. Or they were about wild horses that resist taming, display perfect carriage and conformation, and are far above the intelligence of wily and sinister men who cruelly break horses for a living. These stallions (almost always stallions) refuse to be broken by all! Well, except for the little girl, or occasionally little boy, who manages to tame the horse just by being kind or particularly helpless.

When I was eight years old, I didn’t think twice about the improbability of these plots. For those of you who do not know anything about horses beyond being able to identify one in a photo of various creatures, I will explain a little about how silly these books actually are. You see, the story generally revolves around a wild stallion. A stallion is a guy horse that has not been neutered, or “gelded” as it is called in equine glossaries. They are not really friendly animals, typically. Usually concerned with procreation, protecting a “herd” from other guy horses, and eating grass when he has the time, a stallion has no interest in a little human girl who has twisted her ankle while hiking alone. He certainly wouldn’t express any maternal tenderness.

Horse Reality

Also, wild horses are not beautiful and perfect awe-inspiring specimens. Their manes and tales are full of brambles, they have scars from horse bites and horse kicks, they are often scrawny looking, and their hooves are cracked from not wearing shoes on the hard rock surroundings. It is true that mustang horses that have been made into pets are often pretty, but they have been brushed and fed well. Not even those tamed mustangs are quite what the stories try to describe. Fictional horses have silky manes blowing in the wind, glowing coats kept sleek and groomed by rain I guess, are tall and imposing, perfect in every conceivable way, able to later win shows and races, if the plot decides to go in that direction.

The most outrageous part is how the same book has been written and published probably as many as sixteen times every year. Stupid little girls read this same story many, many times, not even realizing it until one grey afternoon twenty-five years later. I am shocked. I am even a little angry. I could write a story that trite, ridiculous, and horrible! I WILL write it! I know horse-related words! I can occasionally write in an engaging manner! By God, I am going to write the most ordinary story and it is going to be a HIT. And what’s better, I can actually illustrate it.

Readers, read on:

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Yo Gabba Gabba is a very good show for the very small child crowd, but it could be better. I am not at all suggesting that DJ Lance Rock is in any way deficient or lacking in wonderful personality. But imagine for a moment that a children’s show was designed to influence children to be haughty and urbane. What if instead of being taught to eat nutritious snacks and share with each other, they were taught to mix cocktails and silently arch their brows just so to convey snide judgment? Beatboxing and breakdancing are great, but are they as useful to know as how to seduce with a glance from across the room or how to melodramatically sigh before taking a deep drag from a ridiculously long cigarette holder that is perched in an impeccably manicured hand?

Decide for yourself. I know you’ll come to the correct conclusion. As always, click to make it larger. (You can see another example of Greta in an imaginary children’s television show on our Futility Street post.)

Yo Garbo Garbo! by Amanda Wood

Shopping for groceries is one of those annoying tasks you have to do once or twice a week, depending on your habits and needs. Maybe there are some people out there who enjoy the act. Perhaps for them, creating a list for a week, perhaps a carefully planned menu, all of that stuff, perhaps all of that is a pleasure for these people. It might fulfill an instinctual need to hunt and gather. God, who knows. What I DO know is that I am not one of those people. Grocery shopping is a boring old activity that involves many things I despise: making decisions, forethought, crowds, and being out in public.

I believe grocery store managers realize that there are all sorts of customers, and they try to make their stores as pleasant as possible to encourage repeat purchasing experiences. All of the items are arranged systematically, for ease of locating them. The workers are made to be friendly and happy. And they have installed a little sound system in most stores because someone somewhere must have done a study that says that people are more likely to shop happily if they can do so to a mild, inoffensive beat in the background.

I think it is a good idea, all of this playing music in the backgrounds of places. I do enjoy music, and even when they play songs that I would never hear on my own free time, such as, say, any song by Gwen Stefani ever (she and No Doubt in general seem to be a staple of grocery stores everywhere – it causes me to laugh in a way that is unkind), I can still say that I am glad that I am not left to shop in silence. That unwieldy sentence deserves a summary: I would rather listen to crap like Gwen Stefani’s annoying voice than eavesdrop on the often-bewildering drone of fellow shoppers punctuated by the shrill cries of their horrible infants. The songs played are often easily forgettable and mildly pleasant, or at the very least not at all distracting from the shop process. I might notice that Gwen Stefani is imploring me to “don’t speak” for the umpteen billionth time in the Pasta Aisle, but I can still select a pasta suited to my tastes.

grocerystefani1

But this article isn’t REALLY about how much I don’t like that ridiculous singer, no matter how many snarky observations I have on hand, or outright insults if we dare speak of the Hollaback Girl Fiasco. This is about the handful of times when I have been out shopping for food items, and the speakers in the store have played a song that was so noteworthy for its soul-sucking depression, its sheer catchiness, or its just plain old out-of-placedness, that I had to stop shopping until it was over.

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Amandoll likes to make comics based on real conversations she has. She has kind of a backlog set up, so this is just one out of a hundred. Some day, you’ll grow to love all of the characters. Here, she and Chris interact and a new facet of their personalities is revealed. Their personality? Shared personality? Gross, probably.

Click to make it bigger!

Priss & Demanda #1