Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Story - Chapter 01 (Welcome to the Matrix)

My first encounter with Supermemo was three and a half years ago. In an effort to remember Japanese vocabulary, I created many paper flashcards. The bigger these stacks of paper became, the more cumbersome it was to review them at regular intervals (I had different stacks that were reviewed on different days, all marked on a calender). Despite my efforts, over time I realized that my retention was generally low, and this was quite discouraging.

"Maybe software has already been written to handle this task of rescheduling flashcards," I thought. After a somewhat thorough search, I narrowed my search to two choices: StackZ and Supermemo. Although the Supermemo web site was somewhat hard to understand (It isn't very pleasing to the eye), the reasoning was sound. But StackZ ( had more instant appeal than Supermemo (At least to me), so I tried it first. Initially it seemed to satisfy my needs, but in the end I encountered the same problem: There was no "master stack" where all of my flashcards resided, they all remained in their "mini-stacks." In other words, if I wanted to review my daily flashcards, I would have to go to each stack of cards and review the allocated "outstanding" cards. If I had 200 small "stacks" of flashcards (Which would be a reasonable amount, theoretically), and each stack had only one card to review, I would have to check each of the 200 stacks and review the single flashcard. Could the computer not do this for me? After I realized this (And a few other things) I stopped using StackZ.

After this I began to use Supermemo. Two conclusions I figured out while reading about Supermemo's methodology were: (1) 'As long as you review all of your daily allocated cards, you can add as much material as you wish.' and (2) 'Because Supermemo's spacing algorithm is always trying to find the limitations of your memory (The furthest interval it could be without forgetting it), when it comes to learning vocabulary, SuperMemo appears to be the most efficient method that exists right now.'
Although such a conclusion seemed too good to be true, since I could not disprove the logic, I began using Supermemo every day.

Two weeks later, I effortlessly recall the word "doorbell" ( 呼び鈴). Even though I never used this word (Other than when making the flashcard), I had no trouble recalling it. Why was this? "Ah, I put this word in Supermemo," I thought to myself. I began adding even more words to Supermemo, almost all of which could be recalled with minimal effort.

"This is it. This is what I've been searching for," I thought.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Supermemo for the iPhone is out

I have an iPod Touch, and although the learning history cannot be carried over from the iPod to the computer, I have been experimenting with the iPhone version of Supermemo. It is available for free at the App Store.

Although I don't think I would enjoy using it for all of my repetitions (I usually have between 300-400 every day), I am interested in using it brush up on a few subjects for free. After I know the iPhone flashcards fairly well I can recreate the same flashcards in my master Supermemo database and they can be further remembered with little effort. It's like loosening up a pickle jar for later usage.

I think the "add x number of new flashcards every day" is a nice feature to prevent an overload of new items.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Learning Philosophy: Metaphors

Recently I've started to recognize patterns in how I go about learning things and making sense of the world. Hopefully articulating such patterns will make future posts be easier to understand.

When explaining something to someone, or trying to understand something myself, my preferred tool of explanation is the metaphor. Unless I can find a somewhat fitting metaphor to describe something, I find that I don't understand that particular subject well enough.

So as I continue to post about various concepts, I will use many metaphors. If they seem confusing, please know that I'm not trying to complicate things needlessly, it's just the way I make sense of everything. I've given up trying to fight against it; I live in a metaphor world.

Looking at things this way has made otherwise boring things seem much more interesting. For example, I don't have enough interest to play the black hole of time known as "World of Warcraft," but when I heard about how the game itself works, it became much more fascinating. For example, sometimes a group of players will attack a powerful boss with an arrow or gun, causing it to chase after the attacking player. The player then runs away from the boss, but would attack it again with another arrow/bullet to ensure that the boss would keep chasing the player. The player keeps this up until the boss is dragged all the way to a major city, killing many players. This is called "kiting" by people that play MMOs.

Even though I'm not going to play an MMO any time soon, "kiting" could easily be a metaphor for something else I encounter in the future. In the same way, Nascar, Noodling or Hannah Montana might not seem relevant to my life at all, but learning certain details about those subjects could serve as a metaphor for something in the future. One mustn't forget, though, that learning about real things (History, science, math, etc.) is much more beneficial than trudging through the glut of entertainment available to those in developed countries.

The point is this: Don't dismiss quickly. Anything could be relevant.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Art Appreciation

Over the last couple of years, in an effort to know a bit more about art history, I have been adding the works of famous artists to Supermemo. Among my favorite artists is Edward Hopper; even if people are present, his paintings evoke a calming atmosphere of solitude that I would love to escape to and spend time in.

Recently I had a conversation with someone about art history. I didn't realize until the subject came up that each of the paintings that I had put into Supermemo occupied a special place in my mind. Although I did not paint those pictures, I felt as though they were "mine," some sort of personal possession.

This leads to an interesting conclusion/question: If Supermemo can "force" one to become familiar with something (The works of a particular artist, for example), can Supermemo help shape your likes and dislikes? I think so, albeit in more subtle ways. For example, one could not simply make a flashcard that says, "I like Edward Hopper," and suddenly you enjoy the works of Edward Hopper; but you could learn about the artwork of Edward Hopper (What is the name of this painting? In what year was this painting made? etc.), and as time goes on, you become more and more familiar with his works. Eventually Edward Hopper's art will become like a familiar art gallery in your mind, and when you see one of his works "in the wild," you will say "Hey, that's a Hopper painting!"

To summarize: Spaced Repetition easily creates points of reference. This breeds familiarity, which begets a fondness for the subject under consideration.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

33,000 Items, yay!

Just recently I hit 33,000 items! Level up!

I have been out of town recently. When I get back I'll post a few interesting things.