When COVID-19 hit, my kids’ school, like many others around the world, moved over to a fully remote/online learning program. The school and some of the other parents were looking for ways to help the students keep in touch during lockdown. Over the course of a couple of weekends back in April, I built a little web app for them. It collects availability and matches kids for 1:1 online video playdates and allows them to sign up for extra “recess” classes facilitated by teachers. This was fun and it was nice to be able to give something back to the school community at such a stressful time. Building something that would be simple for the school to operate was an interesting challenge.
I want to share a few things I used on this project that made it much faster to build.
This is #NotAnAd - Duolingo is my favorite app of the year.
Duolingo is an app for learning a new language at your own pace and in your own time.
I recently achieved a 100 day streak on Duolingo, part of the way to my New Year’s resolution to do 365 days of French this year. I’m un peu fier (a little bit proud) of myself, but I’m also a little bit in awe of quite how polished, delightful and rewarding an experience Duolingo-the-team has produced. If you haven’t tried it, even if you don’t think you’re interested in learning a new language, you should, just to see how well put together it is.
Duolingo has a playful and intuitive interface that works across mobile and desktop and makes language learning feel like a fun game. The learning experience itself is impressive - combining implicit instruction (learning by example - e.g. throwing new words into the mix from time to time so you figure them out by context) with explanations (pedagogical cards that explain how to use a word / grammar construct) and mastery learning (you have to reach a certain level in a skill/area to unlock more levels or topics).
On top of that, the whole thing is gamified to next Sunday. There are delightful little dopamine hits every time you get a question right (“da ding!”), an in-game currency that you earn as you learn, badges and achievements and a leaderboard + community. They’ve even figured out how to make you feel better when you get a string of questions wrong “you’ve got to make mistakes to learn!” provided by a cute little owl (who can dress up in outfits you buy in the virtual store… it sounds ridiculous but it’s strangely enticing). Above all, they’ve figured out how to string all this together at just the right time to keep stretching or rewarding you just when you were about to give up.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve appreciated in the experience.
For the month of February, friends challenged me to produce a piece of art every day. I’m a little surprised but quite proud to report that I did!
In 29 days, I produced 25 pencil sketches, 2 photographs, 1 piece of graphic design and a study for a large art project I hope to complete later in the year.
Apple recently released SwiftUI, which is a new declarative system for building user interfaces across Apple platforms. When Mac OS X came out, Apple introduced Objective-C and Project Builder including the NeXT-inspired Interface Builder tools (since integrated in XCode).
I’m making wine. The process is a delightful combination of craft and science. I had no idea where this mission would take me - from harvesting grapes in bucolic Sonoma, to exploring the micro-biology of malolactic fermentation.