Nate Minor

New beginnings

NBM_0268The night sky looking south at Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area north of Buena Vista, Colorado.

You can’t really tell from this photograph, but those rolling hills are mountains. Taking this photo at night, about an hour and a half into the Rocky Mountains and away from my new home in Denver, and it felt like any other night I’ve laid in the duff and pine needles to take a long-exposure picture. I’ve done that at least a million times in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota.

The pines smelled sweet and the late-summer night air was chilly up in the mountains — no surprise there. But my bones were a little more tired than usual after just a eight-mile hike in — probably because of the 1,500-foot climb the photo doesn’t show. And finding water was a little trickier too. Who knew people camped away from lakes?

What I’m trying say, I guess, is that the whole experience was just different enough from what I’m used to that I had to think more consciously about my surroundings.

And so the rest of life is. One of these days I’ll remember to swipe my metro pass every time I get on the train, or remember that little quirk with the new CMS, or hit record before I start the interview. On the other hand, new tests are the most rewarding. Ever filed a web story and radio spots in 30 minutes? Neither had I, until recently.

I’m sure in a few months I’ll be a lot more comfortable with those things. But there’s always something new to learn. Challenges, and the sweet mountain air, keep life fresh.

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Map: Twin Cities life expectancies

Making this map turned out to be fun — at least after I had pulled much of my hair out dealing with KML issues. It’s published now (with context!) over at

Short version: The darker the area, the shorter the life expectancy. The lighter, the longer.

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Photos: Budapest, Vienna’s big cousin down the Danube

The last of my weekend excursions from Vienna brought me to Budapest, a bigger, rougher and more beautiful version of Vienna. Rougher in that there are a lot of buildings that are crumbling, but more beautiful in the stunning panoramic views that are easier to find. I noticed similarities in architecture, which makes sense given their close history. Two days wasn’t enough to draw any other conclusions about its culture, but it was certainly enough to make me want to come back.

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Photos: The stunning views and unique beinhaus of Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt is a scenic little Alpine village in one of the most beautiful places on earth I’ve ever seen. A big thanks to a friend for telling me about it.

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Learning German: Why immersion trumps Duolingo

Ain't no English translation in this German textbook.Ain’t no English translation in this German textbook.

I wrote last week about how it’s important to know German in Austria. Since then, I’ve survived 12 hours of German language instruction (Deutsch sprachkurse) and I’ve noticed a key difference between it and my college courses in Minnesota.

In a nutshell: English is not the base language. My classmates are all Eastern European — Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, etc. And while they all speak English, I very rarely hear it. I’m not learning to translate German in my head to English; I’m learning German. There’s a big difference between the two and I’m not sure I realized it existed until this week.

For example: When someone doesn’t understand a word, they’ll say so in German. The instructor will use a variety of methods to explain its meaning — by using other German words, or even acting it out or drawing it. The result is that on a very base level, I don’t associate the German word with the English word. I associate it with the action or thing it represents.

That’s the best-case scenario though; there are plenty of times I sneak a peak to my German-English dictionary in class. But I’m beginning to see that it’s doing more harm than good. The most valuable part of this class is that it provides a contextual arena to learn and practice a new language. That’s not something you can get from Duolingo (which I’ve spent HOURS on) or listening to podcasts.

That ties in with this post on Reddit about the best ways to learn a second language. “It’s not enough to drill patterns; the language has to be used to communicate with other people. This is my primary beef with Duolingo,” the post reads.

Not to knock Duolingo — the hours I spent with it this summer helped with building vocabulary. But there’s no way that program alone (or any other I’ve tried, for that matter) can teach me to communicate effectively in another language.

Read this on learning languages from The Atlantic’s Ta-nehisi Coates:

The Intoxicating Fear of Language Immersion

How Learning a Foreign Language Reignited My Imagination

Or Perhaps You Are Too Stupid to Learn French

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