Thursday, August 4, 2011

Moonwalking With Einstein - Architecture Hunting

Moonwalking With Einstein is an interesting little "documentary" book about a man that wins a memory competition. While it does not try to be a "how-to" authority on how memory works, it is an enjoyable, casual stroll down "mnemonic lane." A couple of highlights that I enjoyed:

-Memory is a skill. People that memorize decks of cards aren't superhuman, they have simply perfected a skill.

-To remember more, think in a more memorable way (Having a mnemonic system in place to "encode" information on-the-fly is one of the extreme ways of doing this)

-Architectural hunting. Because our brains are very good at remembering locations, actual physical locations are a relatively"stable" place where memories can be stored. Although he did not state to do the following, I got the idea to simply walk around with a camera (Or video camera) and "map out" a location for future reference. The camera is merely to ensure that my memory is stable (Along with adding pictures to Supermemo). While scoping out a location, think of where "hooks" exist for you to place objects in the future.

For example, when walking around a small organic food store near a friend's house, I put my cell phone up to my ear while it was recording a video, and I faked a conversation in Japanese. I walked around the store, making sure I understood the general layout of the place. While doing this, I was looking for good places to "hook" information. I think I managed to get 8 to 10 memory hooks, and this was from a single small store that I will probably never visit again.

If this book has inspired me to do anything, it is to constantly hunt for memory architecture. It's not very time-consuming and the number of places you can use to store memories architecture is virtually endless.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WiseGeek: SparkNotes for Everything

WiseGeek advertises itself as a site with "clear answers for common questions;" that is a very apt description for the articles contained on their site. The main reason I love WiseGeek is that all of their articles can easily be converted into flashcards. If I ever wish to get a basic overview of any subject, country, etc., I incrementally read the WiseGeek article discussing it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Announcing: Supermemo Adventures Issue 01

Sorry for the dearth of updates, I've been fairly busy lately.

In my ideal world, after reading or listening to any news story, there would be an option: "Would you like to download flashcards based on the events you just listened to/read about?" Although I cannot fill that need, I can do something along those lines: Along with my [ir]regular posting, I could periodically release small collections of flashcards containing interesting information. "Why not give that a try?" I wondered.

Thus, as an experiment I'm posting this first "issue" of Supermemo Adventures: Issue 1

I enjoy staying up to date with current events, so this first "issue" is kind of news-focused. I'm not trying to further a cause or promote a political candidate/party/etc. If you find a flashcard that you think promotes something you don't agree with, delete it (Hopefully you won't ever delete a flashcard for that reason, though).

I will try to keep the flashcards rich with interesting photos and artwork, but this will (hopefully) not adversely affect the learning process. Many pictures will only be shown when the answer is shown, so this will rule out certain pictures becoming an unconscious "trigger" for remembering the answer. Think of it as giving a personal, "zine" like touch to information. Each issue should contain less than 50 cards (This database contains 39, I think).

Anyways, let's see what happens: Issue 1 (Again)
Let me know what you think of it :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blog is back

Sorry for the temporary down-time.
A few things needed being sorted out, and now they are done. Hopefully there won't be any down-time any time soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

ChinaTown Update: 100 Words in a Few Hours

Now that ChinaTown has been (at least partially) completed, I was eager to test it out on some vocabulary words. Within the past three days, with very little effort I have been able to learn 100 new vocabulary words (A single 100-pack of index cards), and I can recall almost all of them (95%) within three seconds. I was reviewing these flashcards during little chunks of free time throughout the day; waiting in line, traffic jam, etc. I estimate that I spent around 3 or 4 hours reviewing these throughout the past three days.
Index cards were used mainly for the sake of portability; I can also easily write additional information on them (Drawings, reminders, etc.) to help cement the ChinaTown locations in my head. Soon, new vocabulary words will go straight into Supermemo with no middle-man.

A couple of things I noticed:
-If I stress the location of the character, words come much quicker. The words I found to be the most difficult to remember all involve characters that have a somewhat "hazy" location. In other words, ambiguous location = ambiguous retention.
-Tones are not posing a difficulty. After reviewing a word a few times, the tones come naturally.

I'll update you again as I experiment more rigorously with remembering Chinese vocabulary.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ChinaTown Update (It Works!)

I have not posted anything recently for two reasons: 1) I am improving my incremental reading skills and 2) I have been working on the Chinese version of KanjiTown (A method of remembering Chinese character readings based on chain-stories using a central location). While I am still working on perfecting incremental reading, I finally finished the Chinese version of KanjiTown (Last night, in fact). Here was my three step plan:

Step 1: Learn the keywords of the Hanzi
Step 2: Link groups of keywords with a particular reading
Step 3: Learn vocabulary with ease (Profit!)

Step 1: Learn the keywords of the Hanzi
This involved working through James Heisig's "Remembering the Hanzi" book. Because I had already finished "Remembering the Kanji," this book was not very difficult. Many hanzi I already learned as kanji, I simply had to associate a different keyword with them.

Step 2: Link groups of keywords with a particular reading
To do this, I needed a list of the Hanzi along with their readings. After a bit of searching on the internet, I located this wonderful thread on the "Reviewing the Kanji" forums. The thread contains a spreadsheet of the Hanzi/Kanji covered in "Remembering the Hanzi." The spreadsheet contains the keyword assigned to each Hanzi, along with the corresponding reading (Woo hoo!). This spreadsheet allows you to organize Hanzi based on their reading.

Next, I spent a number of very long days studying at home or at the library, creating a story-chain for each reading, using a different location for each different reading. Keep in mind, the connection between the reading and the location does not have to be significant or meaningful. All we need is a connection, no matter how loose.

With the above sentence in mind, let's look at the reading "dian." "Dian" is used on a number of characters, but one of them is the character for "electricity." I have been to the Hoover Dam before, and the Hoover Dam is used to generate a great deal of electricity. Thus, I decided that "Hoover Dam" would be the location for all characters pronounced "Dian." Again, this connection is purely based on my own version of "six degrees of separation" so logic isn't necessarily required to create such a connection, as long as some sort of connection is established.

Here are my entries for Dian: (Note that each word in CAPS is a keyword assigned to the Hanzi)
Hoover Dam generates a great deal of ELECTRICITY 電
There are some shady men working at the Hoover Dam STORE 店.
These mischievous men decide to paint SPOTS 點 all over the smooth surface of the Hoover Dam. This causes the ELECTRICITY to go out (The Hoover Dam doesn't like looking bad, so it shuts down until it looks pretty again) .
These employees are going against the "CANON 典 of Hoover Dam Employee Code of Conduct Handbook." The police in the area are constantly on the lookout for these men.

Now, these four characters (典點店電) are all associated with each other, the connection being "Hoover Dam."
One thing to keep in mind: A single long and flowing story that incorporates all of the characters seems to work better than a series of bullet-points, such as "Hoover Dam has a STORE." "Hoover Dam has ELECTRICITY." "Hoover Dam has SPOTS," etc.
Each Chinese character should be a smaller part of a larger story. This also makes it easier to "expand" each story when you need to learn new Chinese characters.

The one flaw (Although I would argue that it is minor in significance) is that this system of reading memorization does not include memorization of tones. I have tried memorizing the tone AND the reading for quite some time, but none of the mnemonic efforts bore fruit, just a haze of noisy images that I could never recall with clarity. Even though I did not deliberately try to memorize tones, I had no problems recalling the appropriate tone when I spoke words that I had memorized (Using the ChinaTown/KanjiTown method). Why is this? I am no scientist, but I postulate that my brain treats tones in a similar way it treats sense stress in English or Japanese.

In English, there are certain syllables that are stressed. One does not say "memoRIZE" or "meMORize," but the word is stressed "MEMorize." Japanese is similar. The greeting "konnichi wa," is not stressed "konNIchi wa," or "konniCHI wa," but "KONnichi WA." I did not realize that I had adopted the correct pattern of sense stress of Japanese until I noticed incorrect uses of sense stress when spoken by other foreigners (I recall thinking "That doesn't sound right"). I do not think TONES are minor in significance, but the need to deliberately memorize them does not seem necessary; I highly doubt correctly recalling tones will be very problematic to the point that it requires another 1,500 flashcards to "patch up." I will update you on my progress.

Now that "ChinaTown" is complete (At least until Heisig releases a second book), it is quite easy to learn new vocabulary words. How? Simply learn new words as combinations of keywords: 手机 (Cell Phone) is "Hand - Machine." How do you pronounce it? Well, "Hand" is located in Tokyo Tower (Shou) and "Machine" is located in a big metropolitan area I visited while in Japan (Ji). So that's got to be "shou ji." I already know the correct tones for 手机 because I have used the characters in other words before, so it is not too difficult know how to properly stress the word (Shou3ji1).
词典 is WORD - CANON or "dictionary" (ci2dian3)
"Ci" is the boat from the popular Playstation 2 game "Metal Gear Solid 2" and "dian" is "Hoover Dam," as described above.

In the end, learning new vocabulary feels like stringing together quotes from a personal movie collection; the more words you learn, the more those mnemonic "movies" stick in your brain. Learning new words, reading, even guessing at words you haven't learned yet are enjoyable journeys as you explore a giant mnemonic landscape. Like building a bridge, it takes time, but in the end the benefits are immense and gratifying.

Along those lines, I remember the kanji section in the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). A number of the kanji test questions consisted of four different characters, each differing slightly from the other (Usually by only a few strokes). As I looked at each kanji, as if talking to them I would say "OK, you're in the desert, you're at the lighthouse, you're at the zoo and you're in downtown Tokyo. The correct answer is clearly x, because it's at the lighthouse." I easily breezed through the kanji section with much time to spare, all because I knew the kanji and their distinct meanings and locations so well. I'm starting to feel the same way about Chinese; and since Chinese is more dependent more on characters than Japanese (And Chinese characters usually have just ONE way of reading it), I have a feeling that my Chinese proficiency will greatly increase from now on.
When there is something worth updating, I'll post something.

(I just hit 50,000 flashcards in my Supermemo database. Yay for numbers!)
Also, here is a song by Jonsi (The singer in the Icelandic band "Sigur Ros"):

UPDATE: I just got a response from the author of Remembering the Hanzi. Right now "Remembering the Hanzi 2" is over 80% finished, and hopefully it will be completed over the summer of this year. Therefore, while I might learn the readings of a few significant characters, I will wait until the new book to "take the jump" to 3,000 characters.