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Are you a tinkerer? A designer, a geek, a maker, a co-worker, a free culture kid? Then there’s a festival that’ll knock your socks off. atoms&bits (a&b) kicks off this September 18-27th, and we’re looking for good people to join in and get creative. Read the festival pitch to learn more:

What is atoms&bits?

atoms&bits (a&b) are the smallest elements in our modern society. That’s what the atoms&bits Festival is all about: how we change society bit by bit, atom by atom – organized through the Internet and with real world results. a&b is a meet up for visionaries, tinkerers, activists, geeks, and artists – in short, everyone that celebrates a new culture of collective endeavor, and do-it-yourself. The five themes that everything revolves around are: (1) new forms of work (Coworking), (2) a fresh desire to tinker, (3) a new culture of openness (OpenEverything), (4) participatory politics, (5) the art of the production of art, as well as internet culture as the binding element that made all of this possible in the first place.

a&b Festival is a decentralized event that stretches over 10 days (September 18-27th). Individual events are taking place in different locations from Berlin to Brooklyn, from Munich to Montreal. The festival will reach beyond the physical boundaries of the event, allowing participation throughout the world. Globally more than a thousand participants are expected. In order to foster sustainable networks and collaboration, we’re creating connections to other events that complement the idea of the a&b Festival: all2gethernow (Topic: music; Location: Berlin), Breakout (Topic: coworking; Location: global); OpenEverything (Topic: open source principles; Location: global); Transmediale (Topic: art & digital culture; Location: Berlin).

a&b Camp is one of the central points of the a&b Festival. On the weekend of the German federal elections (September 26-27th) around 400 participants will meet at a&b Camp to discuss, plan projects, and to network. Borrowing from the Barcamp format, all participants will actively engage in the event; the presentations (“sessions”) are interactive and created by the participants themselves. In the open “Barcamp” area, participants will organize completely free sessions. Moreover, central themes of the a&b Festival will be addressed and discussed in several designated and curated rooms: Coworking, DIY, and OpenEverything. Spatial proximity and thematic ties will ensure intensive crossover among these topics.

The highlight of the worldwide festival and the kick-off for atoms&bits affiliated projects will be the atoms&bits weekend on September 25-27th. In Berlin the a&b Camp around Moritzplatz and several nearby events will take place then. The program includes exhibitions, live screenings, the a&b party, tinkering workshops, live coverage of the elections online, as well as an election party and more.

As you might’ve seen, OpenEverything is hosting a track at atoms&bits. We’ll be exploring how open principles bridge creative and technical fields, highlighting successful projects and talking hurdles and future plans. Leave a comment if you’d like to join.

Also, atoms&bits still looking for sponsors. The first bunch of sponsors is confirmed, but we need some more support. You won’t find a better audience than this. Please drop a line at, and we’ll send you the sponsoring options.

For more info, check out and read the great posts by Nicole Ebber, Peter Bihr, on Hallenprojekt, and a thematic warm-up in the Berliner Zeitung. There’s also pics on Flickr and of course some tweeting (@atomsandbits). And don’t forget: the Makers reading on Sept. 22 will also be part of the a&b festival.



Spotted on city trash cans throughout Berlin. The message: don’t throw your bottles in the bin. Instead, leave them outside on the ground.

Refunds for (beer) bottles supplement the livelihoods of many residents in the city. By leaving the bottles outside of the bins, people can make it easier for a second economy to thrive and, somewhat counter-intuitively, help keep the streets cleaner by supporting incomes of those less fortunate.

Interesting how public art (or public service announcements?) can endorse these norms and inform visitors of Berlin’s eccentric recycling policy.


One thing I appreciate about the net is that people are always compiling lists to share their experiences and help others find (or avoid!) certain tools and sites. With that spirit in mind, I thought I’d jot down some services I’ve come across so far on my journey to learning Arabic (and wow, it is such a long road).

With no further ado, here’s my must-have list:

  • Arabic Pod: This excellent and gratis podcast, run by Mohamed Moshaya and Ehab Saleh out of London, offers regular audio lessons for beginner, lower-, and upper-intermediate speakers. It has been my favorite language companion so far because Mohamed and Ehab have a wonderful delivery and knack for explaining tricky grammar and phrases. They alternate lessons between classical Arabic and colloquial, and their website features transcripts of their lessons, videos, and more at a reasonable price. I really appreciate these guys — shukran!
  • Alkitaab Podcasts: Jeremy’s an American grad student who’s put together a series of podcasts to accompany the ubiquitous Al-Kitaab textbooks (which btw is also a great site, for those advanced enough to decipher the syllabi). In Jeremy’s Alkitaab podcasts, he walks through each page and exercise in the famous textbook and explains the questions and provides example answers. It’s a really helpful homework complement.
  • Alkitaab Audio: Speaking of the glorious textbook Al-Kitaab, San Francisco State University offers the audio, re-recorded by their own native speakers, so you don’t have to buy/burn the Al-Kitaab DVD. The sound quality isn’t as good, and having the original DVD is actually really beneficial, but in a crunch, or for data exportability, use SFSU’s audio as a solid fix.
  • Al Jazeera’s Children Channel: You can watch and read plenty of things in Arabic on this channel’s website. The content is geared towards kids, so it’s colorful and interactive, and therefore good for people wanting to learn the language.
  • Arabic Internet Radio: Plenty of the links are broken, but you can still find some streams from radio stations in Lebanon, Tunisia, the UAE, and elsewhere.
  • Arabic transliteration can be hard, especially when you’re new to the language. This search engine suggests Arabic spellings as you type and brings you results usings several orthographic variations.
  • Nice Translator: This service builds upon Google Translate, but gives it a much better interface and immediate as-you-type translations. You can also set it up to translate into several different languages at once.

Update: An absolute gem for free Arabic tutorials can be found at Learn Arabic Online. It contains a real wealth of material, including audio lectures, conjugation charts, grammar study sheets, writing guides, history, and heaps more. I’m also very impressed by their vocab lists and poetry tutorials. I’ll definitely have to spend more study time here! (Thank you to the Shariah Program for sharing this link with me!)

we love arabic ..  نحب لغتنا العربية by place light – flying not physically / CC BY

Anyone familiar with the American vernacular knows that Americans are big on sports. An impressive number of expressions and phrases come from the sporting world — and often from games played primarily in the United States. Baseball, American football, basketball, and even horse racing have contributed heavily to the vocabulary of Americans. It’s no wonder folks learning English can feel overwhelmed. Here’s a list of some common phrases that have made the leap from American athletics to daily usage.

UPDATE: After writing this, I learned that Wikipedia already has a great list dedicated to the subject. Thanks, Parker, for the tip! I hope my linguistic contributions still make the cut. (^_^)


  • Touch base: To (briefly) get in contact with someone. From the rule in baseball that you have to return to a base, or touch it, before running to the next one.
  • Raincheck: To postpone something for another time or day. Originates from baseball games that get rained out, and the fans receive ticket refunds, or “rainchecks”, to return for the postponed game.
  • Out of left field: Something surprising or unexpected, as in “it came out of left field.” In baseball, left field is the side of the playing field with the least amount of action, primarily due to the fact that most batters are right-handed, so that they hit into right field. A ball in left field is a much rarer occasion.
  • Curveball: An action or discussion with a twist, often unpleasant. This word comes from a type of pitch that curves before reaching the batter, making it extremely difficult to hit the ball.
  • Right off the bat: To do something immediately. Comes from when a batter hits the ball, and the players spring into action right as the ball leaves the bat.
  • Winding up: To get ready for something. From the pitcher pulling back her arm before throwing the ball.
  • Home field advantage: The extra leg-up you get from being in your own territory. From the assumed advantage the home team has from knowing the field and having their fanbase in the stadium.
  • (Way) off base: Incorrect or out of place. Derives from being caught not on your base.
  • Ballpark figure: Rough estimate. From the approximate sizes of ballparks, as compared to the precise measurements of the playing field.
  • Bases covered: To have everything prepared. In baseball, the team in the filed ensures that they have a player marking or covering each of the bases.
  • Heavy hitter: An important or influential person. From a batter who has a successful batting record.
  • Strike out / Three strikes: To fail. California even adapted the “Three Strikes law” which stipulates a mandatory and extended prison term for people who commit serious crimes on three occasions.
  • Game on: To be ready; to begin. The origins are pretty obvious, eh?
  • Play hardball: To be or act tough. This phrase compares the type of ball used in baseball versus softball, as some consider softball a less difficult game than baseball.
  • To choke: to make a mistake, especially under pressure.
  • Play the field: To flirt with or date several people.
  • Get to first base: To describe physical intimacies. Most people call kissing “first base”, but the definitions really vary as to what each base represents.
  • Out of your league: Someone that is unobtainable, usually because they are perceived to be more successful or attractive. In baseball, when a competitor is more skilled and playing in a higher or tougher league.
  • Eye on the ball: To stay focused; to be on track for a target or goal. In baseball, just try hitting or catching without watching the ball. You’ll soon learn why this is good advice.

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American football

  • Pre-game: Drinking before going out to a bar or party. From the honored tradition of having beers before the football game begins. Closely related to tailgate parties, the alcohol-and-BBQ heavy gathering in the stadium parking lot, celebrated from the back of a pick-up truck.
  • Pep talk: To motivate or encourage someone. Comes from the locker room speeches given by coaches before a game or at halftime.
  • Take the ball and run / To run with it:  To move forward with something.
  • Fumble: To make a mistake. In football, when a player drops the ball — which in fact is also used as an expression in its own right.
  • Second string: Not the best; someone in reserve. Probably describes  someone who fumbles a lot.
  • Stalling for time: To delay a decision or information. From football (and other sports) that use certain tactics to delay the game.
  • Game face: To be serious or intense about something. An important trait in a sport like football, where intimidation counts a good deal.
  • Game plan: To have a strategy.
  • Time out: To take a break or pause. Strangely, this is what parents and teachers also call the corner where kids have to sit as a punishment for misbehaving. As in “Go sit in time out.”

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  • Call the shots: To make decisions. In basketball, to decide who shoots.
  • Caught flat-footed: To be unprepared. Players who are “on their toes” are prepared and quicker to move into action.
  • Cherry picking: To take of someone else’s work; to take the easy route. In basketball, a player standing under the basket collecting someone else’s shot and making the basket for themselves. Also sometimes used for preventing the ball from going in the basket by grabbing the ball from inside the net.
  • Out of bounds: To describe a taboo or unacceptable action. From many sports, including basketball, where the ball is out of play once it crosses the boundary lines.
  • Long shot: To have a low probability of success. In basketball, taking a shot from far away, a long shot, has a lower statistical chance of making it in the basket than.
  • Shag it: Now most speakers of British English will laugh at this expression, but no joke. American English uses “shag it” to say “fetch a ball”, for example after shooting it over the rim or, in soccer, over the goal posts. I won’t advocate using “shag it” frequently, but it’s a quirky enough sport phrase that I had to include it.

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Horse racing

I never thought horse racing would have such an influence on the English language, but when thinking about sports idioms, it turns out that many of phrases are drawn from the days at the tracks.

  • Homestretch: Near to completing a task. On a race track, the final leg of the race.
  • Jockey into position: Working to put yourself in a strategically good spot. From horse jockeys pushing into an advantageous position during the race.
  • Not up to scratch: Not having the right qualities or qualifications. In horse racing, this means the horse isn’t capable of winning.
  • Charley horse: A muscle cramp, especially in the calf. Ok, this phrase doesn’t actually have anything to do with horse racing. Instead, it comes from baseball players who commonly got this type of cramp in their legs. There’s some speculation about how the phrase was coined, notably from the pitcher Charley Radbourne who cramped in a baseball game back in the nineteenth century. What a linguistically infamous muscle spasm.

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Alright, that’s it for the quick & dirty run-through. For anyone daunted by the seemingly impossible range of American sporting expressions, don’t throw in the towel just yet. As much as Americans talk a big game, they have no problem using speech that’s not loaded with athletic nuance. Here’s my pep talk: The ball’s in your court. There’s still plenty of time to rally and get yourself up to speed. You can’t win ’em all, but remember, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.

Images: [John P. Henry, Washington AL, at Polo Grounds, NY (baseball)] (LOC), Fenner, Penn. (LOC), Carnegie playground 5th Ave. N.Y.C. (LOC), and Monmouth Horse Show [jumping] (LOC) uploaded by the Library of Congress. All images in the public domain.