2023 – Language Learning and A Five Year Duolingo Streak

I’ve posted a few times on this blog, sometimes in passing about my language learning goals. How language has always been interesting, but then, I feel like I find EVERYTHING at least somewhat interesting, which is kind of a curse. In 2023, I vowed to become, not fluent, but at least, “pretty good” with at least two other languages by 2030. My New Decade’s Resolution, among a few other (I have not learned any piano yet).

Duo does Year in Review deals, like a lot of apps. Here’s mine.

I’ve actually been super slacking on my learning this year, sometimes barely doing one lesson each day. This has become even more apparent because my Aunt and Uncle recently started using Duo and we became, whatever Duolingo Friends would be called. My uncle made like 2x my yearly total XP within a few months. Granted, they are both retired and thus have more time to learn. Also they both travel, they recently took a trip to Europe, which I am pretty sure inspired their learning.

At least I still have them beat for the streak, because that one increases at the same rate for everyone. Technically by the end of the year I was at a 1826 day streak.

Exactly 5 years.

I’ve primarily been learning Spanish in those 5 years, and the middle half of this last year, though Duo keeps changing the tree layout (it’s been like 3 layouts since I started) and it’s a little disenfranchising when it happens because it feels like I’m losing progress. I actually have an achievement for getting level 1 nodes in an entire tree. But that was like 2 revisions ago when each note had 5 levels to it. The current tree is literally a path with no choices, which sucks because I always would skip around the pain in the ass verb crap en Español.

I started off the year still on my Norwegian kick. I’m less excited about that one these days, mostly because it’s less practical in a lot of ways.

For the last month or so, I’ve picked up my third choice to learn with Duo, Japanese. I’ve actually been enjoying learning again, so it was a good course. I’m not super sure Duo is the best choice for a beginner to learn Japanese with, some of the methods don’t feel like they are very clear on some thing, but fortunately for me, I took Japanese in High School. While I don’t remember a lot of it, but it feels like “riding a bike.”

It’s all very familiar, and I breezed through a lot of the “learn the Hiragana page.”

I don’t only learn using Duo, but it’s the main conduit. For Spanish I’ve read through some books in Spanish, and occasionally watch movies in Spanish. I’m still not great at the hearing part, but I’m pretty good at the reading part. Case and point a bit, on New Years Ever, I was poking around on streaming looking for some New Years shows, and Hulu had a stream from New York going. The part I caught was doing a ball drop for the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and was almost entirely in Spanish. With the closed captioning on, I could read and understand the majority of what was going on. Which was fun.

Anyway, I don’t plan to drop Duo anytime soon, and I have more than the normal number of Streak Freezes because it occasionally gives you bonus freezes, if I get caught up and can’t learn. I’ll probably do most of 2024 in Japanese over Spanish though, I kind of feel like I’ve plateaued there for a bit.

100 Days of Python, Projects 32-40 #100DaysofCode

Things are ramping up a bit again here.  Now we get all sorts of fancy API calls for real time data.  This will definitely be useful for later personal projects, along with the email notifications.  I will probably be running dozens of scripts on a Pi or my web server by this time next year.  This is the sort of stuff I really dig, keeping notice of what’s going on with things.

As usual, my Github Repository for all this code is here.

Day 32 – Sendmail (Birthday and Quote Email-er)

So, I am sure on some level, I was aware that “Python can probably send an email”, but I’ve never really looked into it much.  But actually making it happen is a lot cooler, and it’s simple enough that frankly, I will probably build a class that I can stick in other projects, later.

Also fun, I already have a paid web host that can run cron jobs, or even just a bunch of Raspberry Pis, so anything I made on this next section of projects, I can easily automate to actually use right off.

The bigger thing I actually learned how to work in this chapter, is .gitignore.  Which was not part of the lesson.  I set up a fresh email account for sending mail with these scripts and it’s using easily revoked App Passwords, but since I am posting my work to Github, there is a risk of accidentally posting a file with actual authentication information to the public.  Fortunately, my experience in PHP kicked in immediately with how to handle log in data properly.  For starters, it all goes in it’s own separate file and imported.  This makes it easy to edit later if needed.  It also means, I can tell Git to ignore these files when posting, using the .gitignore file.  

Because I am keeping all of the projects (so far) in one repository, it did become tedious to .gitignore every copy of auth.py, I found that adding “**/auth.py”, which is a bit of bash shell script syntax, is enough to omit all iterations of auth.py, automatically, across all sub-directories.

So my local copy runs fine, but the online copies are all missing the auth.py files.  Easy.  And if I fuck it up for some reason well, you can’t log into the gmail account with the app token, so the account is safe.  It’s used only for this purpose, so nothing of value is on the email of that account, maybe someone could send emails as that account, but chances are I would realize I screwed up and immediately revoke and reset the App Password.

Day 33 – ISS Notifier

It’s too bad the International Space Station (ISS) is getting de-orbited soon, this nice little tool will, unfortunately, be useless soon.  Anyway, this lesson was more work with API calls.  The app pulls the current position of the ISS, in latitude and longitude, then compares it to the lat/lon entered for the app (the user’s position).  It also makes a second API call to check when Sunrise and Sunset are locally, to find out if it’s currently night time out, since you can’t see anything during the day.

If it’s night time, and it’s within 5 degrees Lat/Lon, of the user, it sends an email to notify that the ISS is potentially visible overhead.

I actually took this one and put it on my web server running every ten minutes, so we’ll see if I ever get any emails from it.

We also made a silly little Kanye Quote app, that pulls and populates Kanye West quotes to a quote box with a little cartoon Kanye.

Day 34 – Quiz Game Revisited

I called it, for the most part.  Back on Day 17, we made a simple text Quiz Game.  And the way it was put together, I was pretty sure it would come back to get a GUI in a future lesson, and here it is.  Additionally, it got a nice API call to the OpenTrivia API to get fresh questions every run.  

We also configured the Tkinter interface as a class, instead of as part of the main code, which was different, but not super tricky.  

I want to go back and add a title screen with options for topics, number of questions, and difficulty later.  I did make a few simple modifications.  I didn’t like the Red/Green for Incorrect/Correct, so mine just says “Correct” or “Incorrect”.  I also added a final splash screen of the final score.  Additionally, I use a try/except in the data gathering code, and left the original data in the file.  If the API fails to load, it will load the original tech questions I built for it.

Day 35 Rain Notifier

So, the main purpose for this app was to use apps which require authentication.  Also, to send a text message instead of an email, using Twilio.

Getting the weather wasn’t too tricky, except that the suggested API seemed really invested in getting a credit card from me.  I’m not adverse to this, and it looks like I would get 1000 free calls per month, way more than I would need at about 33 per day, but I opted to just use an alternative API.  The alternative I believe will only work for a bit before the “free trial” runs out, so this won’t be as useful in the long term without revision.  

The point is more the practice anyway.  There seemed to be a LOT of potential responses that included rain, so I made sure the code would loop through and check for any of them.  I didn’t use them, but I also picked out the responses that related to Snowy weather as well.  

I also used an alternative method for the sending a text.  Somewhat tangentially related, a few months ago, I played, most of this little Programming Practice game called “TwilioQuest”, which is put out by Twilio.  I skipped the API portion of that entirely.  It seems that because I created my account while using a VPN, it became instantly locked.  I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of unlocking it at the time, and it’s come up again for the exercises in this class.  

Fortunately, I can’t just send text messages by email.  Specifically, sending to (PhoneNumber)@txt.att.net will send an email to that number, on AT&T.  I am pretty sure this works on other carriers, but the to domain is of course going to be different.  The easiest way to find this is to send a “text” to an email address, since the phone number will be the “From” address.

In the end, I don’t really WANT texts anyway, so If I use this, I’ll just set it to send me an email instead anyway.  In fact, going forward, for these projects, I plan to just omit the Twilio/Text part and substitute in a regular email.  I just, prefer those. I even broke out my emailing code into it’s own class, which has been extremely useful for follow up projects since I can just drop that code into a new project, import it, then make a “Mailer” which I can call with the text of the message to send emails.

Day 36 – Stock Trading News Alert App

Just a more complex version of the “APIs with Authentication” as well as this lesson’s first “Do it all on your own” project with bare bones instructions.  It also involves two APIs, one for the Stock Prices and one for News Stories.

The end project, if a tracked stock price changes more than 5% up or down from yesterday and the day before yesterday, look up the top news stories about that stock, and email them to the user (originally text).  The overall project wasn’t that complicated, though I did make mine a bit more complicated than it needed to be.  Specifically, for the Stock Data, I created a function that accounts for the weekends when calculating yesterday and the day before yesterday.  It wasn’t hard, but, I guess the API data essentially already does this if you just read in sequence instead of by date.  

Oh well.  Both methods work fine and I used the dates in the News Story algorithm.

i also converted the whole system to work in OOP, so I could create several “Stock” classes for several companies, which were cataloged in an array and it would cycle through each one, maybe on a Cron Job and oh shit never-mind, the free version of the stock API is extremely limited on calls per minute.

Also oh well.  I don’t really follow stocks that closely anyway.

Day 37 – Habit Tracking App

I went ahead and put this one down on my “List of programs to improve later”, specifically, add a GUI, maybe the ability to manage multiple habits.  It’s a neat idea and concept and I like the API backend it used.  The real “hold up” is that I kind of already use a pretty robust Habit Tracking App that also does moods, called Daylio. I’ve been using it for…  it says 1740 day is my streak, which is almost 5 years.  Note to self, make a Daylio Blog Post in about a few months.

This is straight habit tracking/making though, without the mood.  So it still may be useful for tracking quantities over just straight “ifs” like Daylio is tracking.

Day 38 – Fitness Tracking with Google Sheets

Similar to last lesson, I already have apps that do this, though I am pretty sure most of the point here is to learn how to use the Google Sheets API.  Which actually will be useful for me, because I already have a few older, jankey, programs I have written that use Google Sheets as a back end, but make POST requests through Google Forms.  Connecting directly would be way way cleaner.

The more interesting part was working with an API that does natural language processing for work outs.  I kept trying to feed it weird things and it did a good job of translating it into the sheet dump.  Like “I climbed Mount Everest for 50 minutes” was found as “Rock Climbing”.  It also filled in for “I ran a marathon”.  Which was interesting.  It seems to have some basic idea of lengths to use.

Day 39 and 40 – Flight Deal Finder Capstone Project

I skipped the Day 39/40 Project.  Unfortunately there aren’t even any videos to watch over, but there is code to look over, so I did that. I literally, never, every fly.  And I don’t see myself every really having any use for this.  My wife isn’t going to fly, for a variety of reasons.  The only way I might fly, is if my job required it, but that’s going to be covered by my job, through their own travel management website.

Also the API wanted my payment information.  I’m not super keen on that one, especially because it seemed to want to connect to a bank account and not just some throw away CC number or an easily revoked Paypal connection.  

I updated the missing IATA Codes in the Google Sheet using Sheetly, and it’s PUT request API, which was the main “actually new” bit here.  I didn’t have the API for getting real IATA codes (see above) so I just took the first three letters for each city, upper cased them, and had the API put them into the sheet.

Also, Sheety has a limit on it’s free tier of 200 calls per month, and I’ve probably already used about half of them just testing the IATA Codes and the previous day’s code. Looking through the comments, it seems like everyone kind of disliked this project.

And this feels like a good breaking point for this section’s post.  The “Intermediate+” section isn’t done, but the next few lessons switch to a general over view of the web and HTML, before getting into other APIs.  I expect these next few lessons to go by quickly as well.  I am already well versed in HTML/PHP/CSS/etc, and there don’t really seem to be projects associated with the lessons.  I do plan to watch through them (mostly) to see if there is anything I can glean from them.

Endlessly Learning

One thing I have always done in my life is worked to constantly be learning something. It may not actually be a useful something, but it’s something. Back when I was finishing up my degree in 2003, I was telling people that I wanted to get the RA job in the dorms so I could just live there for the rest of my life taking classes. Granted, the RA position only meant your room was covered, I don’t think it covered any of the course work expense.

Fortunately, we live in a world of connected possibilities, or whatever buzz word you want to use. While I didn’t get to work from home or even end up with extra time at home from the Pandemic, it’s really given me a ton of extra online courses to take, mostly “just because”.

I have taken and completed several single courses over at Real Python. Though I am not entirely sure how useful some of them are, to anything I’ll ever do, but it was good to get some general incite into things like, Facial Detection and Functional Programming.

I took a multi week course called The Science of Well Being, over on Coursera. It was kind of more of a psychology themed course covering concepts behind what makes us happy in our daily lives. I kind of feel like I’ve already been sort of naturally using some of the ideas discussed in my life, but it was interesting.

I’m almost at 2 years of Duolingo learning spanish as well, with a 700+ day streak. Mi Espanol no es perfecto, pero es un poco bien. I guess. I’ve actually been branching out some and have been reading a few children’s books in Spanish. I’ve also been browsing bits of Spanish speaking Twitter and Reddit as well. While I can’t really speak or listen to it well, I am doing alright and comprehending the reading and okish as getting the idea across in writing.

It doesn’t always work out the first try though. Starting at the beginning of this year I started trying to learn how to play Piano. Though the Piano part is the easy part, what I’m really doing is trying to learn how to read sheet music. Unfortunately, I have not sat down at the Piano to practice in nearly 6 months now. Maybe next year on that one.

I get access to Linked in Learning through work as well, I’ve been taking a Full stack Developer course there as well. I kind of got distracted from it doing web development work at work, but it already helped improve my technique in managing PHP file layouts.

I have been doing some tutorials on how to write Markdown, which isn’t super impressive or complicated, but it’s a skill that I feel like may actually be more useful in the future.

I finished off a tutorial on basic COBOL programming. While I don’t think I could write a COBOL program if I had to, it did a pretty good job of giving me an idea of how COBOL is structured and flows.

This is all just scratching the surface of a long list of learning resources I’ve collected up over the past few months. I am hoping to pick up doing some art again next year, I used to be pretty good at drawing in my youth. If I every finish the Spanish tree in Duolingo, I hope to either brush up on the Japanese I had in High School or learn some Norwegian. I’d like to take up 3D modeling at some point as well, I always really enjoyed doing CAD work in College and 3D modeling is essentially just a less precise version of CAD.

In general, I just plan to keep on learning.

Learning Python with Udacity


Just a note, this is not any sort of advertisement…

So I know some basic programming syntax, generally centered around C and C++ which I learned in college.  The C was through several Engineering based classes and the C++ was from a single Computer Science course I took when I had a semester to fill before transferring schools and didn’t want to completely lapse on the studying, schooling lifestyle.  I also know how to code HTML but that is barely programming by any stretch. 

I have tried various self taught methods to teach myself more C++ and some Java with little success.  I have some books to make Android apps but I have yet to get anywhere with them.  Then, I believe through the Windows Weekly podcast, I found out about this deal called Udacity. The first course offering is to learn how to code a basic Search Engine using Python.  I’ve found it pretty well designed though a handful of the examples were a little too abstract to be meaningful (I’m looking at the one about cost and RAM and memory and compute cycles which I still don’t understand).

Anyway, I’m done three out of the seven modules and I’m rather proud of the fact that I’ve actually managed to stick with it and learn some things.  I’ve got a little script now that I could use to extract links from any webpage or even a number of webpages, though right now all I know how to do is display them.  Presumably we’ll learn how to compile them into some sort of file or database.  My biggest hurdle really is I keep wanting to use C and C++ syntax.  Things like adding ; at the end of lines or 1++ or variable++.

It’s not a terrible problem really.