Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Random [sic] Bullets

Listserve winners are supposed to avoid cliches. Here are some haphazard (random means something else) things you won't hear just anywhere.

Google "learn acbl". This will show you how to learn to play bridge (the greatest card game of all). You'll thank me once you turn 80.

There are two kinds of friends: those who are friends when you need them, and those who are friends when convenient. I don't judge, since I think each kind is valuable. I do think it's important to distinguish between them.

Spend as much as you can on your reading glasses. Seriously, get the most attractive frames in the world. Then, each time you wear them, you won't think "I can't believe I need reading glasses!".

Understand apologies (particularly if you want a long, happy marriage). In particular, this is an apology:

I shouldn't have done what I did. I am sorry. I know better now. It won't happen again. How can I make things better?

This is NOT an apology:

I am sorry if anything I said might have upset you.

This is SOOOO not an apology:

I'm wrong and I'm sorry. Keep in mind that everything I did is EXACTLY what I should have done and, faced with the same circumstances, I would do exactly the same thing. Again and again, forever, but I do apologize.

Star Trek II is the best movie ever.

So yoga...

Do pullups. My wife's cousin build his house with a three story rope in the center. If you ever meet this guy, he'll insist you won't be able to climb it. Be ready.

I have no kids. My best friend has four. I think this is perfect for each of us. He gets to rationalize his suffering, telling me I'll die alone. I get to sit down with some snacks and spend an hour listening to him complain about parenting so I don't feel like I've missed anything. It would be a little better if I didn't live 2,500 miles from my niece, but that's nitpicking.

A 600 word limit is strict. You can't even play with the font to cheat...

The human brain is wired for gratification. That's basically what gratification means, I guess. Studies show that lots of little goodies make you happier, overall, than one big one (think several vacations vs. a big house) because we adapt to luxury, quickly.

Similarly, anticipation is underrated. I always choose 10 day shipping from Amazon because it stretches out the anticipation, increasing my overall satisfaction. Strange but true.

Watch The Mighty Boosh.

When you're about to click send, check the "to" and "cc" lines. Again.

Really, check again...

Math Stuff:

George Box said "Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." Keep that in mind with Big Data, Climate Change, Evolution, Particle Physics, etc. A model that describes reality is great, even if quarks are just mathematical constructs.

Read about Bayesian inference on wikipedia. It's popular now, so it's worth understanding. Make sure you understand how someone got a prior distribution before you believe their conclusions.

Read about linear regression on wikipedia. Anscombe's quartet is counter intuitive. Why? Because three of them don't meet the assumptions of the model. There, I said it...

In particular, google "standardized fruit regression".

Google banach-tarski-non-paradox. Mathematicians may tell you they can prove "you can cut a baseball into pieces, and re-assemble it into a basketball." Blah, blah. They don't understand the definition of the word "can".

The more someone insists they know the answer to the Monty Hall problem, the more annoying they are. They are just as wrong either way, though. This applies to me, too.

San Francisco, CA

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Joy of Languages & Advice

I speak more than 8 languages. But that wasn't obvious at all from the start. My parents don't know any foreign language and my first contact with another language was at high school. Classes were not particularly effective either - how could they be, with 45 minutes of speaking time divided between 25 students and a teacher?! I got C's and D's mostly. Until I discovered the internet. I found that I really wanted to be able to talk to people from all around the world.

German (my native language) didn't get me very far. English helped me make friends in the UK, Canada, USA and even as far as Australia. It was tempting to stop there, but I noticed that most of my contacts still came from Western countries and I didn't hear many voices from poorer parts of the world. Learning French, I suddenly had more contacts in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, where French is the language of higher education. Spanish opened up South America for me. Esperanto gave me a lot of opportunities to travel (google my name and "How Esperanto changed my life" if curious). Chinese provided amazing insights, since they basically have their own internet, just as large as ours but with different trending topics, different petitions, right down to different memes. A whole new world at my fingertips. Besides, speaking English in China I was seen as a walking wallet, while speaking Chinese earned me real friends and an unforgettable trip.

I love languages, I just had to try them outside the classroom. Classrooms are boring, real life is fun.


1. Look for the fun. Too many people think that language-learning won't "stick" unless they're bored. The opposite is the case. If you're having fun hanging out with foreign friends or reading cartoons, that's when you'll learn a lot, because the brain is relaxed.

2. Aim to spend 10 minutes studying languages every day. If you're tired, just watch "funniest Spanish ads" or whatever on Youtube for your 10 minutes, sing along to a song or read a newspaper article online. If you're more awake, study a course or learn some vocabulary. To increase your chances of studying every day, find stuff to do while commuting, cleaning or on lunch break, for example listening to podcasts or using a mobile app. Variety is the spice of life (and learning). Whenever you managed to do 10 minutes of study, mark the day in your calendar and don't break the chain!

3. Use any opportunity to apply what you learned. As soon as you know how to say "Hello. How are you?", start using those words with restaurant staff or other local native speakers. You can also find language exchange partners online.

For more tips, google "LearnLangs" (my blog). There are also other polyglot blogs, Youtube channels and forums giving tips on how to learn languages. Before you invest in an expensive course, check out what kind of high-quality courses are available for free online. I'm creating such a website myself right now, it's called LearnYu and will teach Chinese. At this point, there are so many resources that you can learn any major language for free online.

I'll leave you with something to think about: "Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned". Start learning!

Best wishes,

Judith Meyer
Berlin, Germany

Sunday, September 28, 2014


An organizer of the Climate March in New York City over this past weekend said the following: “Organizing a big march is like throwing a rock in a pond: The splash is exciting but the real beauty is in the ripples”.

The Internet is the ocean and even the tiniest of pebbles will create ripples. Each Listerv posting is a pebble with ripples that reach many thousands all over the world. The question for us Listservians should be what can we accomplish together to begin to engineer change that does not involve governments or corporations?

My concern for the past six years has been with the ever growing crisis of families and their creatures becoming homeless, including myself and the cats. The cats, Charlie in particular, have not been impressed with my efforts to obtain justice in a clear case of foreclosure fraud by a major bank acting as a trustee for a Mortgage Backed Security (MBS). So, Charlie has made a video “Calling All Cats The Series”. Charlie will shortly be launching a fund raising campaign called Saving Our Humans........another pebble!

We are all faced with challenges and difficulties in our lives so how can we help each other and save ourselves, the creatures and our still beautiful planet?

If you live in the USA and you know of some family that needs help to avoid becoming homeless please e-mail Charlie through me at the e-mail below. If you want to help Charlie and his human (me) please e-mail me and I will let you know how.

Robert Ashley
Catskill Mountains New York

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I wrote this a few weeks ago in response to an Uncommon "prompted." Uncommon is another listserve email and I highly recommend it. Google uncommon in common and you should find it.

On June the 11th, my boyfriend and I were offered jobs in Belize. The catch....they needed us there on July 10th.

We had 29 days to divest ourselves of our home and a very large portion of our stuff and things. We never really considered ourselves particularly acquisitive or consumerist but my 37 years and his 42 years of accumulation added up rapidly.

As we had only a general idea of where we would be living when we arrived in a country we had never before visited, we didn't really know what we would need. But we did know that customs duty would have to be paid on anything we brought. So things had to go. The furniture was returned to my great-grandmother's country home for the most part or sold. The bulk of our clothes went to the goodwill (I wasn't going to need my "lawyer clothes" thank goodness). Our crystal, silver, china and art were parceled out among our closest friends so that they might have the enjoyment of it rather than it sitting in a box in a storage unit. In the end, we managed to reduce three thousand square feet (plus an attic & a basement) of goods and chattels to 149 boxes....many of them quite small boxes. We were proud.

I will admit that I cried over the books, all of the books, so many old friends.

In the course of that same 29 days, my boyfriend became my fiancé and then my husband.

So, we have been in Belize for 40 days and married for 50. Both of these things have required major adjustments. This isn't the first time I have lived abroad but it is the first time I left the States with no intention of returning. It's a different state of mind entirely. There is no concept of if this doesn't work out we can just ditch and go back. Marriage, it turns out, is much the same state of mind.

We have been told that we are amazing, and adventurous, and just plain crazy. We are all of those things. And we are more, we are growing and adapting and, mostly, we are just damn lucky.

That's our story to date....I would love to hear about the time any of you completely left your comfort zone and any advice you might have on transitioning from the first world to the third world.

Have a lovely day.

Maya Beach, Belize

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dear Listserve Readers, I had a message all prepared ages ag...

Dear Listserve Readers, I had a message all prepared ages ago and of course I lost it. So I am having to wing it now that the moment has arrived to write something.

No life message here. I am asking for tolerance of you all. I am Transgendered, which means in my case I was born a male and I feel and present myself (sometimes) as Female; I prefer to describe myself as a "Non camp feminine male". All I want is to be able to wear the clothes that make me happy wherever I happen to be, home, work, social places, everywhere. I ask only for the same freedoms of expression that the majority of women (in the western world) enjoy. Without fear of censure, ridicule, prejudice or violence. Is that so bad? Most of what we consider the socially normal Male/Female split in appearance has evolved and sometimes swapped over the development of our civilisations, many “Aboriginal” cultures accepted the different varieties of sexuality among their populations and it is only recently and in western and middle eastern cultures that prejudices against these different people have arisen. Either through religious ruling or individuals scared of their own sexuality, of being attracted to same sex persons who happen to be dressed as opposite sex, which suggests it may have been the clothing, the presentation that they were always attracted to anyway, not the person inside. So please think carefully when you see someone dressed in a manner you might not personally approve of and allow them to be themselves, they’re not actually causing you a problem are they? thanks for listening.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What are you doing right now? #TheListserveAndMe

It's a simple idea. There are so many people and so many different lives. I'm curious to find out more about you and the other 25,000 others on the list. So.. Where are you and what are you doing in the moments around reading this e-mail?

If you want to play along and put it out there for me and others to see, then upload a photo to Instagram right now and use the hashtag #TheListserveAndMe.

I'll go first.

Jutland, Denmark

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

(Four Score) And Over Seven Years Ago

I had to pick a song, during my first week of my freshman year in high school, that was supposed to represent me. Most of the class picked ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, aka the Rocky song. I remember being particularly annoyed because I didn’t think these 14 year olds had a lot of ‘straight to the top’ survivor material, but perhaps it was more aspirational. I was never really able to do that, to say “this is how I’m going to succeed and just watch it’s going to be amazing.” I was more of a Little Engine That Could: I think I can, I think I can…

During college, I discovered someone else who had a similar style: the 16th President of the United States, better known as Abraham Lincoln. When running for the Illinois legislature, he wrote the following:

“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed. I am young and unknown to many of you. I was born and have ever remained in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of this county, and if elected they will have conferred a favor upon me, for which I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the back ground, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.”

He was 23 at the time, earnest, melancholy, and truthful. We would all look back now and say, but of course! Lincoln was always going to be President. He was destined for greatness. Maybe that’s so. But more often than not it’s perseverance, indecision, uncertainty, course correction, lots of standing still, impostor syndrome, and what feels like dumb luck. That’s the more common route to personal success.

For me too. I learned how to be good at my job by failing at it. I have never gotten a greater dose of preparation than the time I failed a college course with an 8% (though to be fair, passing was 12). When I finally got into a job I loved, I spent the first six months in awe of my luck. The next, terrified I would be fired for being awful at it. And another six months after that before I realized there was very little luck in involved. Working hard, showing up on time (mostly), always expressing a willingness to learn and try new things - these are things that got me there. Not luck. And failing had taught me how to admit defeat, when to ask for help, and how to break down what I didn’t know and cut through it piece by piece. If someone had told me that was what success meant, I don’t think I would have been quite so scared I would never get there.

But my freshman year of high school I was very uncertain, very earnest, and perhaps a bit too truth-telling. I picked ‘Hands’ by Jewel as my song. It was embarrassing in light of all the tigers in the room, but it’s what came to mind when writing this:

“If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be that we’re all okay.”

Brooklyn, NY