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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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4 apps to help you learn a new language.
4 apps to help you learn a new language.

Learn another language with 4 easy apps

It's been a week since you resolved to change your life. How are you doing so far? Yeah, me too.

There is a belief that making small, incremental changes is the best way to go about changing your life. This is why big goals like exercising and eating right often fail. While these big goals are always a good idea they're just too disruptive to handle with ease.

How about learning a new language? That may also sound like "too disruptive" of an idea. Learning a language is complex, time-consuming, and schooling and software sounds expensive.

Well thankfully in the past few years a solid group of apps have risen to the challenge of making language learning easy, fun and for the most part, free.

Here is a comprehensive review of what I've tried:


1. DuoLingo – free (Android, iOS, Web)

DuoLingo is a real winner in terms of design, fun and effectiveness. DuoLingo's goal is to immerse users into a language, rather than explain all the stuffy rules. There are reading, listening, and even speaking activities. The app strikes the perfect balance between being quick, productive and fun. There is a point system to compete with friends, a reward system to cash in for prizes and races against the clock. Don't feel competitive? There is still a lot of fun to be had. The designs are cute and the sounds are top notch.

The website also offers additional features over the app, including discussion forums for each lesson and real-world document translation for a tougher challenge.

One of the few drawbacks with this comprehensive system is that they currently only offer six languages to learn (German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English), but there are plans to crowd source many more over time (Russian is next). Another problem is that immersion without rules can be confounding. For instance in German there are four versions of "you" that are never fully explained. It is best to pair your learning with a little online research. This goes for all apps.

DuoLingo was c…

Can you handle the madness?
Can you handle the madness?
500 Clown will turn your perception of this classic upside down.
500 Clown will turn your perception of this classic upside down.
What can a clown do with electricity?
What can a clown do with electricity?
500 Clown brings madness and sadness.
500 Clown brings madness and sadness.

"500 Clown Frankenstein" combines clowning, Frankenstein

"So I just got word that 500 Clown Frankenstein is coming to South Milwaukee," blinked my instant messenger. It was my brother, who lives in Chicago and is active in their theater scene.

Did I read that right? 500 Clown Frankenstein? "What is that?" I asked, confused.

My brother attempted to clarify, "500 Clown is a performance company in Chicago. They're doing "Frankenstein" this time around. They super-deconstruct stories and re-tell them with clowning. Good clown, not bad clown. I've seen their Frankenstein. It's really good."

Good clown? "I am skeptical," I said.

Skeptical, but admittedly curious. Clowns? Frankenstein? What can this possibly mean? My curiosity quickly overwhelmed my skepticism and I sought out a trailer. What I saw could not have possibly sold me any quicker on the idea.

Instead of your typical white faced, red lipsticked, balloon-covered clowns I saw plain-faced characters dressed in Edwardian costumes moving around in over-exaggerated, slapstick ways. It opens with a drum roll as a hat is tossed onto (who I can only assume is) Victor Frankenstein's head who then calls out, "Ha! Science!" What follows is the tipping of over-sized tables and chairs, exaggerated electrical shocks, hands shoved deep inside mouths,  and plenty of blood curdling screams all set to a cover of "Chick Habit" by the brash, gypsy brass band Mucca Pazza.

"Should the audience every be worried about the actors on the stage? asks cast member Molly Brennan in another promo. "500 Clown is about pushing that edge."

500 Clown’s "Frankenstein" features three performers who are charged with the task of making a monster. Bound in elaborate Edwardian costumes, the trio embarks on a journey to construct Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory while they struggle and battle through acrobatic feats.  The Chicago Sun-Times describes the performance as "A work of psychic combat and power games that will have you laughing and holding your breath all at the same time."

The whole produc…

Bike to Work Week happens May 13-18.
Bike to Work Week happens May 13-18.
The Bicycle Film Festival wraps up Bike to Work Week on May 18
The Bicycle Film Festival wraps up Bike to Work Week on May 18

Bike to Work Week 2013, May 13-18

Getting the average commuter to consider riding a bike is a difficult thing because it comes with negative perceptions. It looks slow and dangerous, cyclists come off as snobs, and it requires effort, which leads to sweat, a very un-businessperson-like accoutrement.

Cycling has to remove as many barriers as possible to make it easy in order to encourage more butts in the saddle. This is getting more difficult as Wisconsin sinks further down the list of "Bike Friendly States." Not too long ago, we were at the top of the list, but due to the decreased funding for bicycle infrastructure we have sunk to number 8. The miniscule amount of money that was already granted is being robbed to build a few feet of extra freeway.

All told, not ideal. But even with reduced infrastructure funding (number 8 really isn't that bad, considering), there are still a lot of benefits of riding a bike and perhaps it's time to reconsider the incorrect perceptions.

Sure, driving a car might get a person within their destination faster, but it doesn't consider the time it takes to find parking. Riding a bike might look dangerous, but it is actually significantly safer than driving a car. Cyclists may seem like snobs (especially from behind the wheel) but talk to most of them and you'll find people who are happy to share their passions, and happy to see more cyclists on the road.

And the sweat? Well, that might be mostly unavoidable, but there are some ways to regulate that, either with riding when it's cooler, riding slower, packing an extra set of clothes, or, if you're lucky, taking advantage of on site showers.

And there are still a wealth of hidden conveniences that come with riding a bike. Sometimes they just have to be demonstrated, and Bike to Work Week, which runs from May 13-18, is like a crash course in finding out what the city has to offer.

Don't feel like you need to ditch your car. The overall goal is participation. Don't feel bad if you can't ride all seven days, but don't…

The Fyxation Quiver.
The Fyxation Quiver. (Photo: Sam Dodge)
The Quiver frame comes paired with an aero fork design.
The Quiver frame comes paired with an aero fork design. (Photo: Sam Dodge)
Another shot of the Fyxation Quiver.
Another shot of the Fyxation Quiver. (Photo: Sam Dodge)
No handed track standing at Discovery World.
No handed track standing at Discovery World. (Photo: Sam Dodge)
The Quiver comes with removable cable stops (x4), a cable guide, and a slide in derailleur hanger.
The Quiver comes with removable cable stops (x4), a cable guide, and a slide in derailleur hanger. (Photo: Sam Dodge)

The Fyxation Quiver: The first and last bike you'll ever need

If you think fixed gear bicycles are not for you, I may have found the fixed gear bicycle just for you. You might think fixed gears are inferior bicycles compared to most other bicycles. They brake worse. They don’t shift and they don’t coast. They come with a sheen of smugness that is hard to buff out.

But it’s hard to deny they aren’t pure fun.

And that’s precisely why your next bike should be the Fyxation Quiver, a Milwaukee-designed swiss army knife of a bike you can ride into the future. The Quiver is a do-it-all, ready-for-anything bike. It is designed to be a fixed gear, a road bike, a cyclocross bike, and if you blur your eyes a little bit, it might even be able to pass as a mountain bike, too.

The Quiver manages to be everything to everyone without feeling like a kludge.

"The Quiver really represents a shift in design for road and commuter-type bikes," says Fyxation owner, Nick Ginster. "It was purpose built to accommodate the varying styles of today's riders."

The frame starts out as one would expect, with 4130 chromoly tubing in "a traditional double triangle design with a horizontal top tube, aero profile fork and horizontal dropouts to easily accommodate a singlespeed, fixed, or internal gear hub."

But here is where it gets interesting. "The Quiver also ships with our proprietary derailleur hanger and removable cable stops so it can be built up as a geared road bike with front and rear derailleurs."

Additionally tire clearance allows for anywhere from the skinniest tires to beyond 45mm (which is basically reaching for mountain bike territory), and the stays are drilled for racks and fenders. Another bonus: it was designed with Wisconsin climates in mind. "We expect that this bike will be ridden year round, so we amped up the corrosion protection by coating the frame inside and out with an highly corrosion resistant electro-deposited undercoating."

So what does this mean for you, dear friend, who is in the market for a do-it-all bike? I…