So I recently started using a free online language program: Duolingo. Supposedly, it will help you learn a language in about three months. It's like Rosetta Stone, for people who don't want to drop big bucks.

Before today, I was relatively happy with it. There are some problems with the system, some odd translations and frustrating rules, but all in all, it's not a bad way to learn a language, and the fact that it's free makes it wonderfully accessible.

But wait ... there's more. 
It seems to be that the Duolingo community is not a welcoming one. As a social network, Duolingo seems just as bad as any other, specifically in the way moderators (if there are any moderators) allow sexist misogynists to run wild in the comments section. Duolingo's community appears to be populated by the sort of person many of us have come to expect when exploring the murky depths of the internet: The Troll.

This afternoon, I was working on the simple "adjectives" section of my French program when I noticed something interesting in relation to adjectives such as "fat," "round," and "large." They were only used in relation to women. For example, I was asked to translate "The woman is big" and "The woman is large" and "The girl is round." Never was the man any of these things. The man was "nice," "tall" and "handsome." I even had to type "Je suis une baliene" at one point. Want to know what that means? It means "I am a whale." 

If you read my work, you know that I'm trying to recover from an Eating Disorder. So maybe I'm more sensitive to this garbage than other people, but nonetheless, sensitive or not, it sure doesn't help.

What did I do? I decided to complain in the comments/forum. I regret it.

Here the first comment I received in response, from a fellow language-learner who calls himself "Zeimer." 
If that screen grab is too small, just click it and it should blow up. But also, let me help. His comment was: "If you don't like it you can always stop using duolingo. And if you'll [sic] continue to use it, please shut up. Normal people don't like feminists shitting about sexism, sexist insults etc." 

Here's a link to Zeimer's profile. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell me anything about him besides the fact that he's working on various language programs and doing reasonably well. Luckily, his comment tells me all I need to know about both the Duolingo community and the man himself. He's an awful person and Duolingo really doesn't care about moderating bigotry in their community. Pillars of humanity like Zeimer are allowed run wild with their offensive, ignorant nonsense.

So will Duolingo help you learn a language? Probably. But being part of the Duolingo community might not be worth it. I'd pay not to have to rub virtual shoulders with folks like Zeimer, that's for sure.
UPDATE: I have not let Mr. Troll Zeimer's comments stand and have been replying with my own snark at every opportunity. The first thing he told me to do was "please shut up" because he didn't like "feminist shitting," so in response, I haven't felt charitable and I haven't been nice. I've been super sarcastic and it's been great. I began with telling him that he could whine all he wanted, but that he wasn't going to shut me up. Here are some of his hilarious rebuttals. Remember, just click the screen grabs to blow them up.
This next one is one of my favourites. He went back to being mad about the fact that I used the fact that he'd told me to shut up as evidence of the fact that ... he'd told me to shut up. He's really riled about this.
He's really having trouble with the fact that he told me to shut up and I called him on it, so he's holding on to that as if it's the actual issue. It's adorable.
SIGH. I got tired of listening to this dude, and even of antagonizing him. At first, I felt like really pushing him with endless sarcasm, but then I started to feel a tiny bit sorry for him. I left the conversation with this final comment:
Okay, so this isn't exactly a review. It's more like a recommendation. It's a recommendation to buy a betta fish for the next little kid on your gift list.

Shown at the left is a picture of one of my first bettas.

His name was Princess Fancy Pants. Because he was... well, fancy. All pink and purple and pretty.

But most importantly, he was incredibly easy to care for.That's why bettas make such good little-kid pets.

This past weekend, Nathan and I bought two new fish for two very cute little girls. We got a red one for his little cousin Ella, who was turning six, and a teal one for my neice Katherine, who was turning four.

Don't worry, we asked their parents first.

Anyway, I highly recommend you go right out to get a betta. And if you do, here's what you need to know:

Creative Commons licensed blue betta by tarotastic from Flickr.
Creative Commons licensed red betta by Chlorine26 from Flickr.

How to Buy and Care For a Betta of Your Own
A good betta, complete with habitat and food (which, as a gift-giver, I think you should provide) will cost a minimum of about $20. The fish itself will cost about $5. They're available at all major pet stores. And while I'm not crazy about supporting the pet store industry, buying a fish from a pet store means rescuing a little guy who is living in a tiny beer cup and a couple of inches of dirty water. It's hard to squelch the desire to rescue a creature in such a bad situation.

Next, you'll need a home or habitat. I like a traditional glass fish bowl, but any large glass vessel will do. A big ol' vase, for example. Get one at Goodwill if you want. Or at the dollar store. That would be fine. You'll also need food, a tap water treatment solution, a bit of aquarium gravel, and a plastic aquarium plant. (Or a real plant, but that will result in more work.)

Approximate Prices
Betta Fish - Approx $5 (with good care, he should live 2+ years, easily)
Tap Water Treatment Solution - About $5 (a tiny bottle will last well over a year)
Betta Pellets - About $5 (will also last well over a year)
Freeze-Dried Blood Worms (alternate food) - Less than $10 (will last for years)
Aqua gravel (any colour) - Less than $10
Habitat or Vase - $0.99 + (depending on what you go for)
Plastic Plant - $2.99 to $10 (depending on what you get)

Strong Little Guys
Bettas are very hearty (unlike goldfish), and they come in a huge variety of colours (red and blue being most common). They are able to breathe both through their gills and by taking gulps from the air like a mammal. That's why you can house them in bowls instead of proper tanks. They are also very tolerant of odd feeding patterns. If you need to go away for a weekend, don't worry about it. You won't need a betta baby sitter. That's why they're great for kids.

Be Kind
That said, a fish is a living creature and deserves good care. I like to give my bettas five pellets a day. I fast him one day a week (usually Sunday), because he tends to become constipated and fasting helps. And I give him a treat of freeze-dried blood worms every once in awhile, just because the pellets can get pretty boring. I change his water every 3 - 4 weeks.

There are lots of other bits of care information online, and if you decide to buy a kid a betta I advise you to do some reading first, but even if you don't, I highly recommend this pet.

Betta are awesome.
Bettas I have know. (Some of my old pets, from when I lived in Vancouver.)

* Disclaimer: I'm not a fish expert or anything and I'm not saying this is the BEST way to deal with a betta. It's just what's worked for me. Don't sue me if your betta dies, okay? They're fish. They're not going to live forever. It's not my fault.
I hate my Nigella Lawson measuring cups. I know hate is a strong word, but I mean it. I hate 'em.
They were given to me as a gift about eight years ago. And at the time, I liked the look of them. (They were designed to look pretty, after all. Nigella herself has said that she designed them to stand apart from all the bland, stainless steel, functional measuring cups in the word.)

Fine. But after eight years of trying to cook with these things, I don't even like the look of them anymore. For one thing, they NEVER sit in the neat and perfect stack as shown. Never. They're always willy nilly. Willy nilly is their natural state. And when stacked, they're even less functional than usual. Only the top-most cup (teeniest) cup is easy to access. It takes two hands to dig down to the one you likely need. And they're heavy. And they're breakable, so they force you to worry about chipping them when you're busy trying to think about cooking. It's annoying.

Finally, the handles are pretty useless. I don't have fat fingers, okay? My fingers are perfectly svelte, but they don't fit through these handles. So I can only assume the handles are entirely for show.

Sigh. But they were a gift. Not from something I like or am even in touch with anymore, but still. It seems silly and wasteful to buy more measuring utensils when, with a little effort, these DO do the job sufficiently. I mean, it's not like the measurements are off or wrong or anything. The cups just annoy me.

Nigella, I have no problem with, by the way. I've even positively reviewed one of her recipes. (Chopped ceviche. Yum.) I don't hate her. I just hate her measuring cups. If you're serious about cooking (or if you cook on a regular basis) use regular stainless steel measuring cups with substantial handles. You'll thank me, I promise.

So there.