“Makers”. Last night (yes, whole night) I had the pleasure of reading Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” sci-fi novel. My first novel in 14 years that I finished. Ok, I skimmed at times. But still. The great thing with inspiring novels like this is, they can create intense emotional impressions, and from reflecting on these, you learn a lot. Things you otherwise only learn by real-world experience. Here’s what I learned from “Makers”.

Cory Doctorow – Makers
(image by ben_oesteen on Flickr, licenced CC-BY 2.0)

The “ups and downs” theme. The novel’s main theme is the ups and downs, coming and going of all social and organizational development. In my words: Every empire starts with a kingdom, a kingdom with a chief of clan, a clan with just a household and somebody wanting to dominate. In the other direction, every empire ever built has also fallen apart. Rome disintegrated within decades in the third century.

Lifecycle, applied to grassroots movements. And here came the first key insight from “Makers” for me: this full cycle also applies to grassroots social structures. That’s a disappointing insight, but a true one. The novel illustrates it in two halves: for the rising half cycle, how these “ride” parks or museums agglomerated into coops and finally got associated with Disney, plus one of their creative brains bought by Disney. And for the decaying half cycle, how the Kodacell company, starting as a huge incorporated grassroots innovation network, fell apart completely in a wink. Let’s imagine a real-world example: the Open Source movement developed its own institutions by now, and these, over the course of decades or maybe centuries, will become so rigid and cold that a new movement will justifiably fight against them, and finally render them obsolete. (For me, socialized in “old school” Linux open source culture, it’s already weird to see how the thousands of young talented Android developers at XDA Developers have a near complete disregard for licencing: their full site and wiki does not mention what licence is applied to content and code.)

So is it all just a waste of our time? At this point we could argue that all this building, fighting against and rebuilding of society structures is a waste of resources. That we should rather invest to keep our social organization ever young and flexible. Indeed, a way to use your time more efficiently, by a tight bit. What you can’t argue is that maintaining great society structures is a lot of maintenance work. Even building completely new society structures from scratch is maintenance, in the bigger picture: you replace a failing part of global social organization.

Social change activism as maintenance. So, social activism is never going to be building a great society, once and for all. It’s always part of humanity’s “eternal” struggle to keep society in good shape, if necessary rebuilding it in a completely different way. Let this point sink in: activism is not building, engineering. It is maintaining.

Activists, relax. This also means that activists can all relax a bit: the fate of the world does not depend on their proper invention and construction of society, because society will have to be rebuilt again many times in the centuries to come. This should help activists to know their fair share of maintenance work to contribute, but to also know that “more does not make it better”. The big thing, society, will fail again anyways, just like it always has, and generations afterwards will have to build it again. Sure, one generation (like after-war) has a bigger way to influence how a society is built, a bigger workload, a bigger responsibility. But even they should not forget that what they do is the necessary maintenance of a constantly deteriorating and failing organism.

There’s more to life than activism. So let’s not forget that there’s more to life than fixing the fabric of society. What? It’s also in Doctorow’s book. The two things the protagonists of “Makers” did not regret were (1) doing what they like to do, like hacking and inventing stuff, and (2) investing in good personal relationships. Because, just like society, relationships need maintenance to be and stay enjoyable: they are also subject to these ups and downs, and you see how every relationship in the book is at least once on the brink of being destroyesd, and a lot of them are.

The danger of failing to relax. And there’s one special danger for personal relationships, exemplified in a sad twist in the epilogue. Revealing the only lack in character of the most glorious and brilliant woman in the book (which is, of course, Hilda). She took up her activist fighting again so hard to lose the beautiful relationship to Jerry over that. That annoyed me so hard thatI changed around the end for me (it’s a CC-BY-SA book after all). Mr. Doctorow seemed not to like the idea too much (he tweeted me back “Dude, spoilers!” – I understand the wit of course). And indeed, he has a point with that sad twist: society maintenance is infinite work after all, necessary, but not fulfilling after seeing its Sisyphus character. So better limit yourself to your fair share of maintenance and enjoy your mate. Somebody should’ve explained that to Hilda in time …

I guess I should change around the “Makers” ending again: rather than letting Hilda and Jerry just stick together happily ever after, I will now go for adding a few more pages where Hilda has learned her lesson. She’s smart enough, after all smiley And with that lesson learned, there’s indeed such a thing as permanent love, not to be destroyed by the rather unimportant coming and going of good state of the surrounding society.

Life is more than fighting something bad. Life is also about enjoying something good!

“But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.”

[The Bible, I Cor 13:13]


Detect language » English


Detect language » English

“For rent”. Too easy to find in some places …

Getting around a bit in Europe, you easily get to know how people’s life is not a box of chocolates. That guy who destroys his body and his really intelligent mind by too much weed and psychedelics, seeing no other way to get over a broken relationship. The young woman who suddenly expresses a desire to die, like by jumping from the mountain we sat on talking (but thankfully, she’s alive and well). All the nice-looking houses I walked by in Málaga, noticing people’s shattered dreams from their “For Sale” signs. It saddens me how we, the humans, search satisfaction in vain.

But aren’t we already very creative in our search? We try everything, from yoga to hashish, from power to strong opinions. Not to forget the favorite of Westerners: stuff for consumption, security and independence. Our effort to search and maintain satisfaction is so encompassing that it summarizes what we as humans do. Our whole culture (“non-survival activity”) is just about that.  Still, we mostly don’t find it.

What are we doing wrong?

What is it that we search?

The first reason for not finding might be this: because we don’t know what we search. We may feel a diffuse inner emptyness and try something to fix it, but don’t know that it is satisfaction we search. Which is “living in accordance with your ideas and wishes”, also called happiness. Without using the proper concept, we have difficulty choosing the right actions, and also cannot communicate properly to get help from our fellow humans, who also search the same thing but in something else.

The second reason is best explained along illustrations. Of my friends, only two I consider “satisfied”:

The first one “just” wants to have economic power, a family, and lots of interesting and expensive stuff to deal with. That’s still limited, because it is just about private life. It even worked out, as he met with a lot of luck: inherited wealth, “good genes” for motivation and bite, an economically valuable hobby. He has a high self-esteem, which allows his success in a challenging economic environment, but also hides his own failures and deficiencies from himself (so that they don’t affect his happiness). In case of failure, he uses his innate motivation and tries something new quickly, forgetting about the bad success. This way, in time, he arrives at a satisfying outcome. And for really bad personal calamity, he has a strong trust in God, protected from doubt by a strong self-confident opinion about his beliefs. And so it works.

Another friend is also satisfied, and it works completely different: he’s very relaxed and humble, not caring for his many bad successes and failures. He developed a sophisticated mental way, including both self-irony and deep philosophy, to admit his failures but keep them from affecting his emotions (they would rather infuriate others’). But he’s also very sociable and so, together with some luck, has found both a superb relationship to a woman and an interesting, well-paid, permanent job even before finishing his studies (in twice the normal time). Interestingly, he seemed just as satisfied when he had neither job nor girl, by means of his failure-ignoring capabilities. (Note: To illustrate, I remembered the pic below. We kinda shared a flat for two years. Once he completely forgot my birthday, but would show up at midnight with that improvised “cake” and a present he found in his room 😀 That was the kind of humble self-irony he was capable of, feeling not awkward, but happy in a hard to understand way when pulling something like this.)

The birthday cake I remember the most!

What these both have in common is that their satisfaction is provided not by one thing but by a system, “a set of interacting, interdependent components forming an integrated whole”. That may be the second reason why satisfaction does not work for most of us: we try one thing, tinker a bit, throw it away and try the next, unaware that we’re working on a system which needs several components and an informed design to work. Searching satisfaction in one component is as hopeless as driving around in a wheel.

Systems engineering for satisfaction

Of course, “system” is just a model. It helps discuss and understand satisfaction, but necessarily simplifies and distorts its reality. Other models can be just as valid. But because the “system” model proved useful above, let’s explore what systems engineering can teach us about building our own satisfaction system. (And yes, everyone has to build their own unique one, because some parts are unique: character, memories, body, personal situation.)

  1. It’s cross-discipline! In addition to needing several components, you need to integrate several types of them: genetic, mental, material, social and (I think) transcendent ones. To a limited degree, you can supplement one for another, like more meditation to cope with material scarcity. But what you can’t do is getting satisfaction from accumulating just one thing. But Westerners often try just that with materiel stuff, and advertising wants to keep us as unsatisfied consumers …
  2. Start with the parts you can’t change. Which is, your genetic disposition. Also, your character is super hard to change. The same for the general level of wealth. This is the stuff that has to be in the system because you have no alternatives.
  3. If you forget one part, it won’t work. That’s special about systems: they depend 100% on each and every component. You can’t drive a car without its steering wheel, accelerator pedal, petrol hose, … .
    My own story of forgetting a part is this: I had always focused very much to have “meaning” in what I do, and wondered why I lack motivation to live and to work, even to work for my meaningful tasks. Until I found recently: Everything loses its meaning when life is not enjoyable. Because what’s the meaning even of fixing the world and helping others, when after that, they would experience their life to be as joyless as your own? So now I added “beauty” to my life: just enjoying life, and it also motivates me meaningful work that provides a good life to others. At least that’s the idea now – it’s kinda hard to change own habits. But the insight is that, on their own, neither meaning nor beauty provide any satisfaction to me, yet together it can work.
  4. Design, try and error. When designing your own satisfaction system, you can’t really know if it works until you start living it. But you can let other designs inform yours, and profit from the experiences of others. But still, because everybody is unique, there is a place for try and error. And for the “try often, fail fast” approach of rapid prototyping, like in software development …
  5. Use compatible parts. If you want satisfaction, want it first. You have to throw out or modify other things you want or values you have, if it’s impossible to fit them into the “system”.
  6. Use a doable design. Some ideas how to achieve satisfaction are just too complex or too much work for one gal or guy. For example, some philosopher and activist folks can be constantly unhappy about “the state of the world”. I know it too well. But the world won’t become Utopia in our lifetime, so we can keep that as a grand goal but should tie our satisfaction to more modest successes. In my case, I want to be happy about every step towards a free-to-copy, small, local Utopia. Or, as it can happen to me, being happy during that work itself because I think it’s meaningful.
  7. Use a socially responsible design. This means simply: don’t derive satisfaction at the cost of others. For example: a person who constantly refuses to understand and discuss the problems of others, while constantly discussing their own with them, would rob the satisfaction of socializing from others. And if everybody employs an approach at the net cost of others’ satisfaction, it simply would not work out on society level. It works out only if “you do to others as you want them to do to you”. That simple Golden Rule 🙂
  8. Make it agile. As a person one always changes, and so do our surroundings and situations. So better don’t design a static satisfaction system, but make it easily adaptable and reconfigurable. (I admit this is a completely theoretic idea so far, but it “sounds good”. Maybe somebody can map this to the practical search for satisfaction. I recommend “Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems” for inspirations, esp. p. 13.)
  9. Make it redundant. A redundant system includes backups and provides n × 100% satisfaction in total. A scaled system provides 100% satisfaction in total, but in parts. So in case of a failure, all but one part still provide you satisfaction. That’s worse than redundancy, but better than zero. Both designs require that one has more than one way for satisfaction. That is also, more than one set of ideas and wishes in life.
  10. Make it sustainable. It is possible to derive some satisfaction from eating, recreational shopping, drugs, smoking and so on. But when overdoing these, using them as the basis of all satisfaction, in the long run it can ruin a person instead of providing satisfaction. Used carefully however, in the right amount, pretty much everything that humans can do and enjoy has its place. (Two female friends of mine enjoy special moments of the year by smoking a cigarillo together … so harmless!)
  11. And make it resilient. People care to go off-grid with their house, to make it resilient against failure of the central electricity and water infrastructure. In the same way, we should make our approach to satisfaction resilient against being crushed by external events. From this perspective, it’s for example not a good idea to make satisfaction revolve around a day job. When losing my job, I want still feel meaningful, valuable, and also my lifestyle or anything else relevant for my satisfaction should not collapse.

I will create a follow-up post to analyze my own (so far, largely failing) approach to satisfaction and ways to fix it. I also want to look into explaining a person’s satisfaction system as a diagram. And finally to develop best practices, patterns and instructions how to design and implement an own satisfaction system. This will also include ways to measure and track satisfaction, maybe a smartphone application that asks me about my satisfaction at random times. Ideas welcome!

(A ton of thanks to my friend María for the discussion that inspired everything above!)

On a nice evening with a friend in Málaga this October, we developed this idea for political street art. (We were kinda oversugared from the best icecream in town … it explains something, doesn’t it? 😀 ) Initially we wanted to cut our own “Espere Revolución” signs and install them over the city’s normal push-button boxes for pedestrian traffic lights. But for now, it’s a mockup.

Political street art: Espere Revolución (small excerpt size 1024×768)

Political street art: Espere Revolución (large size 2048×1365)

The pedestrian traffic lights sign in the image reads: “Touch the button”. Then you push it, and it says then: “Expect revolution.” (It’s normally “Espere Verde” – expect green light. Plus a standing person with both hands down.)

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0

Credits: The original image was created by flickr.com user david buedo and published as flickr image 6949945397 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0 licence. Thank you!

Modifiable version: Just tell me in the comments if somebody wants the GIMP .xcf.bz2 file of this, with layers for easy modification to make other signs as well.

It seems like this:

  • The lashing capacity LC according to the norm (EN 12195-2) means the maximum allowed force on the strap in straight pull.
  • When buying lashing straps, you might get an additional second LC measure that is double of the normal LC. This is the lashing capacity in round pull.
  • Why is round pull LC double that of straight pull LC? Think of an application where you connect two points have 180° deflection of the lashing strap (around a tube or similar) at each, in effect making the lashing strap go a full round. A model for this is a small set of pulleys with two barrels and double string. Each of the strings of the one lashing strap (one going forward, the other going back) now has only to bear half of the force between these two points that you pull together, which doubles the lashing capacity compared to straight pull. And as in a pulley system, the force on the belt is the same everywhere as it can distribute evenly, so the part in the 180° deflection point also bears just half the load of the full system.
  • To make the confusion complete, there is a code concerning straight line seams on the lashing straps. They are called “ton lines” (German: Tonnenstreifen) and people think that they indicate: one stripe per 1000 daN lashing capacity in round pull (not in straight pull). But I have yet to see the norm text for that and could not find any source (Hey regulators! You still don’t have these as open content? C’m on, nobody wants to pay 224 USD for the EN 12195-2). In case of lifting loops, they are called “load bearing capacity stripes” (German: Tragfähigkeitsstreifen) and there, indeed, one stripe seems to mean 1000 kg of capacity, but in direct pull.

See also another (German) site with explanations of the lashing strap norm’s abbreviations (LC, HF, SHF, STF, BF, BFmin).

Before using information in this text for security critical applications, check the facts for yourself. I do not take any responsibility!

Practice is the best way to learn a language. But of course. You don't need a school to practice, but still, my school English got me started. Now I'm starting at zero with Spanish, and I wonder how to do that. So here, I explore the best available tools. As usual for an open source enthusiast, I try to find free and open tools for it. Where unavailable, I'm content with just gratis tools for now 😀

As for learning style, I like self-study for the very basics and daily real-world practice beyond. I abhor educational course materials with conversations … the slow speaking makes me feel even more dumb than not understanding a word. So below, I focus on basics to learn by heart for bootstrapping and on real-world content beyond.

Goal Definition

Let's start with my modest set of goals for now:

  • Pronunciation.
  • Basic everyday conversations. Means, about everything that is not philosophy, rocket science or otherwise highly technical or complex.
  • Following conversations. Getting the meaning when following native speakers' conversations and talks in normal speed.
  • Computer aided reading. Understanding plain every text when reading it in the foreign languge, but it's ok to do so with software support at word level.
  • No focus on writing, though. It's the least required skill for cultural immersion. In my case I have English as my default language for writing, and need to keep it up or I would unlearn it.

Bootstrapping Toolkit

An intensive self-taught course to get you started with Spanish from scratch. This bootstrapping phase should not consume more than 150 hours, that's half way of what would make you reasonably fluent in Spanish for example [source]. In contrast to the "practice and refining phase" which is about learning alongside use, the bootstrapping is really work. Let's get used to the fact 😉 And see this Guide to learn languages [by yourself] for a successful training style and motivation management.

  1. Complete course. Choose according to your taste:
    1. ProSpanish course. Taste differs, and I found this one to be highly effective and relevant from the first word on to achieve fast results for speaking Spanish, as it teaches you basic sentence structure by example. (While the FSI courses below are a more traditional / school type version going through situations etc.). Also I found the ProSpanish course to be very "friendly" and patient, I really like to listen to it. It is however way shorter than the FSI course (about 3 hours compared to 30-40 hours), but might teach you enough for this "bootstrapping level" already.
    2. FSI Spanish Courses. Public domain and available online as both text and audio. This is esp. awesome as these are recommended as the best material in the "How to Learn Any Language" site [source], and they know what they're talking. Following a course is very convenient and you will not need most of the other things in this list. But some folks, including me, do not like courses (feels too much like school …). For these, the other items in this list are sufficient: learn some words and phrases, look up some grammar, then start consuming easy real-world content.
  2. Pronunciation. Spanish is said to be among the world's most phonetic languages: If you have the spelling, you can pronounce the word. How to learn the rules for that?
    • Spanish for Dummies: Vowels and Consonants. Two videos with the most concise and understandable presentation of Spanish pronunciation that I could find. Keep listening to them, and you'll know …
    • WordsGalore audio vocabulary. The best way to learn Spanish pronunciation that I could find so far. WordsGalore is a gratis (yet not free) vocabulary trainer software with the special feature that you can just scroll through its word list very fast, and it will speak the selected Spanish word. This way, I was able to infer the pronunciation rules from the examples in half an hour, while at the same time training pronunciation and memorizing the rules by example rather than in abstract form. See also my post on the WordsGalore installation instructions for Linux.
    • 123teachme.com: Spanish Pronunciation Lessons.
    • Mightyverse. Thousands of native speaker videos for pronouncing words, phrases and short texts. Indeed, watching people speak is another thing than just knowing the rules.
  3. Grammar cheatsheet. What I want is just a 2 page A4 grammar to fix above your monitor when instant messaging, e-mailing or writing in Spanish, and to learn by heart that way. I have not found a good free one, so I created this open content Spanish Grammar Cheatsheet (source here). Corrections to me, please!
  4. 1000 words. Learning the 1000 most frequent words makes you understand 88% of oral Spanish [source]. However: It's no good to learn more than these in list style (it does not work that way). Instead, start learning by example after that – see the other toolkit below. I also found that it makes the most sense to only learn the "production" direction: see the English word, say the Spanish one. It's the difficult direction, but you need it to speak, and it implies the other one. Options where to get the word list, by adequacy:
  5. 250 conversation phrases. Modules of daily conversation, to learn by heart and construct sentences with. Because grammar and single words do not help to create real-life sentences (want a funny illustration? see message 64).
    • Create your own list. I did not find a list that's really about the most useful phrases and sentence modules, so I'm compiling my own and will publish it here.
    • SpanishDict Phrasebook. 8000 phrases already – but the problem is, there's no help narrowing this down to the 250 most relevant ones.
    • WordsGalore: 1100 Spanish-English Phrases. Great list of short sentence building blocks. Gratis but not free.
  6. Desktop vocabulary and phrases trainer. There are several options of course. Here is my list of desktop vocabulary software for Linux, ordered by my own subjective evaluation (the best first):
    • Mnemosyne. Very very nice, free and open source software. You can add sound, images, videos etc. to question and answer sections, and it has a sophisticated algorithm to not waste your time on words you know. There's even an Android application for training; see below. See also my post on installation instructions for Ubuntu 12.04. Vocabulary card files for Spanish words and phrases are available via its old site; I propose to use the following:
    • Parley.A sophisticated vocabulary trainer application for KDE4, free and open source. Includes the option of playing sound files for the pronunciation when doing the flash card testing. Available in the Ubuntu archives. What got on my nerves however was the inefficient way it asked me for words I knew, so I chose Mnemosyne over it. Recommendations of word lists for it:
    • WordsGalore. A gratis (yet not free) software that comes with a vocabulary of the 1000 most frequent Spanish words (it's CC licensed now, see above). I missed a "ask the Spanish word" mode in this. For installation on Linux, see my instructions.
    • KWordQuiz. Also nice. Shares the same XML format with Parley, with a bit less featured interface (like, no lesson grouping for words).
    • granule. Quite nice and usable, including sound file support for pronunciation. However, unlike Parley it seems to be no longer in active development. Version 1.3.0 is available in the Ubuntu archives, but version 1.4.0 is already out.
    • OpenTeacher. I did not test this; yet it seems to have no support for attaching audio files for the word pronunciations.
    • KVocTrain. Vocabulary trainer application for KDE3. I used it in 2000 and contributed the first vocabulary file to it 🙂 Now it is superseded by Parley or KWordQuiz for KDE4.
    • Even more options. A German article listing even more Linux vocabulary trainer applications.
  7. Smartphone vocabulary and phrases trainer. I'd like to have an Android application that I can feed these 1000 words and 250 phrases into, for training in them whenever there's a spot of free time to do so. Proposals, as per my own evaluation:
    1. Mnemogogo and Mnemododo. An Android application and plugin for Mnemosyne (recommended above) to learn the vocabulary and phrases on the phone.
  8. Language basics material. Something to help learn and combine the above pieces. By adequacy:

Practice and Refining Toolkit

Once beyond the basics, I like to learn a language "effortlessly" while using it rather than as a dedicated activity. Here are tools to help with real-world content while refining pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar:

  1. Talk to a native speaker. The most fun and awesome way to learn a language. Either you are really lucky and have a patient native speaker friend. If not, you could go straight for an immersion experience. Or to fiverr.com, where nice native speakers are up for video-teaching you for $5 (for Spanish: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete … and many more).
  2. Content for practice. Not using a language in daily life makes you forget it again. In my case, I practice English by writing everything in it, but could consume content in Spanish. Just some stuff that I find interesting; only real-world content, no educational resources any more:
    1. Textual content. For example, read Google News in Spanish.
    2. Audio content.
    3. Video content. When using subtitled video content, I found it a good idea to progress from videos with English audio / Spanish subs to those with Spanish audio / English subs to those with Spanish audio / Spanish subs (the latter at first when watching a second time).
      • Of course there are thousands of videos on YouTube, with and without subtitles. You can download the videos for offline use with an open source tool like youtube-dl, and you can download the subtitles with various open source tools.
      • You can watch full movies online with added subtitles, at universalsubtitles.org. You can watch English full movies with Spanish subs and vice versaThey use their free & open source Amara software. It is not clear to me so far if the subtitles themselves are open content (see here vs. here). For offline use, again download the video with youtube-dl and the subtitles from universalsubtitles.org by clicking on the required language in the left-hand list ad selecting the "Download" button. Then play both together, for example in VLC: with the subtitles in SRT, SSA or TTML format, go to "Media -> Open (advanced) …", select your video, and and use the "Use a subtitles file" additional option to add the subtitles.
      • You can download free & open subtitles for movies you own at opensubtitles.org and watch both together (see last paragraph for instructions).
  3. Translator browser plugin. It has to be high-usability. I would suggest it has a mouse over mode that is active when pressing a dedicated modifier (like the Windows key, sitting quite lonely on the Linux machine keyboard here). The translator also should be capable of interlinear translation, displaying the translated words above the original ones in a separate line; that's even more comfortable for texts with lots of new words. By adequacy:
    • Hyper Translate Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. The most comfortable tool I could find, if you configure it so that it translates single words on double clicks and phrases when selecting them and pressing "Ctrl". Also, this works really fast. However, it seems to me that this plugin (in the version from mid 2012-08) has a huge memory leak, so I have to re-start Firefox from time to time to not run out of RAM. But I have to investigate further if it's really this plugin …
    • Wiktionary and Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. Double-click a word (or for hyperlinked words, use the context menu) to translate it. Also can be configured to use a mouse over mode (using a modifier key), but that mode is not really usable for switching between words to lookup, as the lookup itself is quite slow and the popup closes only when configured so and when the mouse is at least ca. 3 cm from it. Also, this cannot inline-translate whole phrases, so takes more work when not understanding a complete sentence (and you don't want to go for whole-page translation by Google, which is available from this). And what's really a nuisance: it always presents you the translation in the first language in which the word is found in on Wiktionary, with no way to configure lookup priorities. On the upside, the word lookup relies on free & open Wiktionary, the translation tooltip contains much information and is freely styleable.
    • Inline Translator Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. This relies on the proprietary Bing Translate API, and at least it stopped working because the author's account balance for that service ran out.
    • Easy Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. To be tested.
  4. Audio slowdown browser plugin. Something that can speed down the audio or audiovisual playback by a configurable amount, while keeping the pitch of the voice intact. This should enable you to follow regular speed native speakers' material. There's a speed setting on youtube.com (behind the gear button on all videos), and there's a way to play back with VLC in slower speed in two steps (using the "Arrow Left" key). But this will not keep the voice pitch intact. [TODO – Still to be found.]
  5. Writing assistant. A desktop application both for interactive and non-interactive writing. It should include a grammar checker, spelling checker, accent auto-correction and in-text commands for translating words (like typing "es:occupy", and it converts it to "ocupar").
    • LanguageTool. Open source software for style and grammar checking that is both available as stand-alone and LibreOffice plugin.
    • LibreOffice. For spell checking in non-interactive writing.
  6. Mobile phone dictionary. For Android, as we're about free and open here.
    • QuickDic [here on Google Play]. My current favorite: free and open source, fast, and independent of any Internet connection by offline storage of the dictionaries. It uses Wiktionary data, so has about 40 000 entries.
    • English Spanish Dict.FREE. Gratis but not free; ad-supported with an ad-less pro version available. Also offline, and with the advantage of having 86 000 words.
  7. Extensive online dictionary. Including all the really special and technical words. Should also include pronunciations of the words.
    • SpanishDict Translate. Phrase and word translator, including one million words with very informative output. Gratis but not free.
    • Wiktionary for Spanish. Upside: Free and open. It has ca. 40 000 entries as of 2012-07. Not that many, but a good start.
    • linguee.com. Not to be missed in this context, because it's very useful for exact translation of really special words and phrases. It's based on automatic evaluation of professionally translated texts, like EU laws.
  8. Spanish verb conjugation tool. Options:
  9. Grammar essentials. A ten-page or so short grammar to learn by heart over time. It's not meant to construct sentences (it does not work that way) but to have the basic rules in mind for recognizing them again in real-world examples, thus making the most of the examples you encounter. By adequacy:
  10. Extensive grammar reference. Word of caution on grammars first: open your grammar book only after having made good progress with learning by reading and listening — it will make no sense to you before [source]. There are several out-of-copyright grammars available; you might learn some funny ancient Spanish, but then that's what free and open Spanish sounds like 😉 The following recommendations are mostly from Google Books; they are available as downloadable PDF, but then lack the searchable text from Google's online version. But since it's public domain material, we could add it and re-publish. By adequacy:

 Background Tools and Resources

Standards for v-belt profiles

Basically, there are these groups of v-belt and other belt profiles in use in Europe today:

  • conventional or classic v-belts (German "klassische Keilriemen"): standardized in DIN 2215 / ISO 4184; using one-letter profile names in different sizes (Z, A, B, C, D, E), in many cases the profile is also named by its width in millimeters (10, 13, 17, 22, 32, 40).
  • narrow-profile v-belts (German "Schmalkeilriemen"): standardized in DIN 7753 Part 1 / ISO 4184; using SP profile names in different sizes (SPZ, SPA, SPB, SPC); maybe, "SP" means German "Schmalprofil"?
  • high-performance narrow-profile v-belts, open shoulder, toothed (German: "Hochleistungs-Schmalkeilriemen – flankenoffen, formgezahnt"): standardized in Europe in DIN 7753 Part 1; using XP… profile names in different sizes (XPZ, XPA, XPB, XPC).
  • wide-profile v-belts (German "Breitkeilriemen", "Variatorriemen"): standardized in DIN 7719 / ISO 1604.
  • flat belts (German "Flachriemen"): used in different applications such as tangential belts, folding and conveyor belts and machine belts [source]. There seems to be no widely accepted standardization in this area, they are named by the measures of their rectangular cross-section.
  • round belts (German "Rundriemen): mostly used for conveying and driving tasks in mechanical engineering.
  • ribbed v-belts (German "Rippenriemen", "Mehrrippenriemen"): in cross-section similar to flat belts, just that the bottom looks like multiple little v-belts running in parallel. Used for example in several modern vehicles.

For a short description of the different types, see HUG-Technik on Keilriemen [German]; for a more detailed introduction, read tedata.com on v-belts. For an overview about DIN and ISO standards relevant for v-belts and similar devices, see HUG-Technik on important standards for belts [German]. See also the English Wikipedia on mechanical belts and the German Wikipedia on v-belts; though both of them lack extensive information on belt specs yet.

The DIN and ISO standards cited above are used in Europe; in the US, the standard RMA/MPTA (and in the UK, BS 3790) specifies minimally different but overall compatible profiles with other profile names. [source]

Standards for v-belt length

Length conversion table. A very important tool to work with belt specs is a v-belt conversion table. That's because the type of length for nominal length (the length to give when specifying a belt) is different for the different types of belts (for example, it is "inner length Li" for classic v-belts – also the only error in the v-belt  conversion table linked above).

Li, Lw, La. For every v-belt, one can give three lengths: inner length Li, effective length Lw and outer length La. These abbreviations are derived from German words "Innenlänge", "Wirklänge" and "Außenlänge" respectively and might only be in use in Germany. Inner and outer length are the inner resp. outer circumference measure of the vee-belt, without any linear tension on the belt and in circular shape. Effective length is a fictive median length of a vee-belt that is the circumference at a certain depth of the belt profile. Namely, at a depth that has the "effective width" (German "Richtbreite"), for which see the corresponding column in the v-belt conversion table. Lw is used as the nominal length of belts with profiles SP*, XP* and X*. Synonymous to Lw, some manufacturers use Ld or Lp. [source]

Belt number. For classical v-belts, there is another identification system in addition to the "20 x 3500 Li" type: the belt number (German "Riemen-Nr."). It consists of the normal profile size designation letter and a number that normally corresponds to the inner length in inches (rounded, where necessary); for example, "Z 22" or "D 150". [source] A list of these numbers can be found on this v-belt index.

Measuring v-belt profiles

Real-life examples of measurements – all values below are measured with light touch of the caliper:

  • height of v-belts
    • nominal 10 mm; measured 9.3 – 9.7 mm (in convex curves, 9.8 mm)
  • width of v-belts
    • nominal 12.5 mm; measured 12.3 – 12.4 mm

Measuring vee-belt lengths

Measuring vee-belt length Lw. It is usually proposed to measure a vee-belt by cutting it and nailing it flat to a board [source]. However, this is not what you want if you need to determine the size of a new v-belt that has lost its labeling. So here is a different procedure that I developed and tested successfully:

  1. Mark a line on your flat, hard floor by taping 2 measuring sticks to it, and also tape an end stop marker like a flat wood piece to the start of the first stick.
  2. Add a small cable tie around the v-belt to be measured and use that for marking the start and aligning it to the start marker you taped to the ground.
  3. Roll your v-belt on the ground along the measuring sticks until you went one full circle.
  4. Take the measure and interpret it as effective length Lw of the v-belt (which it is, approximately).

You could do two or three measurements and take the average, but this seems not necessary as this kind of measuring, properly executed, has repeatable results that are up to 1 mm exact. In contrast, measuring with a flexible measuring tape while holding the vee-belt in your hands is not recommended, because the results are less exact (my experience: repeated measurement of a single belt resulted in 3505 mm Lw and 3520 mm Lw, while the result with the roll-on-floor technique was 3522 mm Lw). When measuring while holding the belt in your hand you have to take special care not to bend it during measuring, as bending will increase the measurement more towards La; for the above example, measuring with light bending increased the measurement to 3533 mm Lw while it should have been 3522 mm Lw).

It is said that the measure taken by this procedure is the "median length" of the v-belt [source], though "median" here it is probably not meant in the mathematical sense of "length at a profile height where half of the profile area is above and half is below that height". In practice, these measurements are said to be a good enough approximation of the effective length Lw. While it is a good enough approximate, my tests suggest that the length measured this way also depends on the properties of the belt buildup, so is not always the average, median or whatever length that could be generically specified. The measurement is for "something between inner and outer length"; exactly which mostly depends on how the belt is built, namely, how far to the outside the pull-resistant strings are located. Because, these seem to work like a hinge when bending or unbending the belt, affecting the depth of the area on each side that gets either compressed (so, shortened) or pulled on (so, lengthened). These fibers are normally located right below the upper edge of the belt, so the measure is normally more towards the outer length than the Lw measure is.

Measusing vee-belt length La. It is said that one can do that by placing the belt in circular shape on a flat surface and placing a flexible measuring tape around it [source]. However in practice, this is hard to do as you need some tension on the tape to not measure too much. It works well when the velt is still mounted, though.

Determining Lw without a belt. In case you have a device needing a belt but don't know which one, place a rope around the belt path that has approx. the thickness of the pulley profile grooves. Mark the length of rope you need, take it out again and measure that length when playing it straight on flat ground. This is a  good approximate for the effective length Lw of a fitting belt. (As an alternative, there is a forumla to calculate this from La or Li, and online calculators for that.)

Various experiences with measuring vee-belts

  • At times, some v-belts seem to use the wrong signing schema. One belt had the classic profile, so the sigining of "20 x 3550" was to be interpreted as Li = 3550 mm. However, all measurements turned out with Lw = 3522 mm, so an even larger measure of 3550 mm can only be La, not Li. The formula produces a result coherent with this: La = Lw + 31 mm = 3522 mm + 31 mm = 3553 mm. Another, quite old belt from Continental was SPA profile so should be labeled with Lw, yet the label said "12,5 x 1200 La".
  • Amount of difference between measured flat length and Lw. In one case, a classic 20 x 2000 mm Li belt was measured with 2060 mm flat length. Lw according to the formula is Lw = Li + 48 mm = 2048 mm Lw. The difference of 12 mm is quite small and probably comes from the fact that the pull-resistant fibers are not exactly located at the diameter corresponding to Lw; see above.
  • Different formulas for converting to / from Lw. Interestingly, there seems to be at times a slight divergence of what formula is to be used for converting from effective length Lw to Li and La. For example, this v-belt conversion table and basically all other such conversion tables on the web state for a 17 mm wide classical vee-belt: Lw = Li + 40. However, one 17 mm classical v-belt belt was found with an inscription saying "PETER-BTR 17 x 1320 Li / 1363 Lw", corresponding to Lw = Li + 43.

Storing v-belts correctly

It is said that v-belts are normally built by manufacturers to reach a lab runtime of 25 000 hours [source]. If this is reached in practice also depends on proper storage conditions.

If properly stored, v-belt properties do not change for several years. However, most rubber-based products will deteriorate if improperly stored or handled (like being exposed to oxygen, ozone, extreme temperatures, light, humidity or various solvent agents). [source]

Therefore, the storage location should be dry and dust-free and must not contain chemicals, oils or solvents at the same time. V-belts should be stored without any force on them (pressure or pulling force) to avoid any permanent shape changes and other damaged. This also means that they should only be stored in hanging condition if the hanger pin is at least ten times the height of the belt profile. Additional maintenance hints for rubber products are found in DIN 7716. [source]

I had a really, really strange dream yesterday in the morning, while I was half sleeping, half awake. There was a frame made, like painted from thick black lines, and in it there were simple color drawings of objects, two at a time. And these drawings were exchanged at a frequency of 6-8 times per second (which means wall clock time, as I could compare the dream frequency, or the subjective impression of that, with the real-world time while slowly awakening). At first (while mostly dreaming) I was able to recognize some of the objects being shown in that high speed, but later (when being more awake) not so any more. Too fast.

This made me get on an idea about the (yet largely unsolved) meaning and role of dreams: namely, to develop and to train the raw material and the speed for flow state thinking. Because dreams go much faster than the real world, and flow state imaginary thinking of “what probably happens next” is just like that, much faster than reality and than normal thinking.

You know “flow state” from these horrific little moments when you see something bad happening to you physically some 0.5 to 2 s before it happens indeed. These seconds feel like slow motion: you think so much in this time about what happens and what to do to avoid it that you later wonder how it all did fit into these fractions of a second. That’s because thinking is much faster in this state of mind – and because reality provides no training to react to such situations, maybe the fast pace of dreaming is this training for the dangerous situations in life, training our mental abilities to react fast enough to avoid the worst outcome.

All speculation of course, but perhaps somebody feels inspired to do some research 😉