Thursday, October 11, 2012

Incremental Reading: What is of Value?

Imagine you are an archaeologist exploring a cave that potentially has valuable fragments of a lost civilization. As you explore the cave, you find many rocks of little value (If any). However, as you find artifacts that might be relevant to your field of work, you pause, examine the artifacts, place them in bags, label them for future study, etc.

Incremental reading is difficult to describe; like traditional reading with books it involves exploring a line of thought, but unlike traditional, linear reading, you are encouraged to examine and constantly assign value to the material under consideration, much like an archaeologist exploring a cave. What information and articles are valuable can be very subjective, as people have many different motivations, hobbies, fields in which they are ignorant, etc. (After all, to a geologist, the same "valueless" rocks that were discarded by one might potentially be more useful than a valuable artifact at that same site!).

As you examine any text, you need to first ask yourself, "What information is valuable to me?" To do this you must first have a set of core values (Stated or otherwise). To illustrate, consider an article I just finished reading from Time magazine: "Red Truth Blue Truth."

What information is valuable to me? I have no political affiliation, I consider myself neutral when it comes to politics. While one might cut the top part of a weed every few years by electing a new face for the government, the roots of corruption, greed, etc. stay the same. Thus, while one political party might advocate a policy I feel is good, the corruption runs so deep on every level, the decaying institution is either beyond reform or very close to it. I'm not advocating that you adopt this viewpoint, I'm simply stating my core values that came into play when evaluating this article.

If I was a Romney supporter, I might be more inclined to look for knowledge and facts that would be detrimental to Obama's administration and something I could use to win an argument with a co-worker. If I was an Obama supporter, I might be just as inclined to look for things detrimental Romney's policies and track record. Because I don't have a stake in either side, going into the article I was looking for mainly historical tidbits and a more complete picture of the tattered state of political discourse.

(It is also good to remember that many statistics are greatly subject to change. To memorize them would be just as valuable to memorize the stock price of a company on any given day.)

I read the article, one paragraph at a time. If I didn't find anything enlightening, surprising, etc. in one of those paragraphs, I would delete that paragraph and move on to the next one. If I found something interesting in that paragraph, I would analyze what was valuable in that paragraph and try to condense each point into a single sentence (Very important!). After doing this, I would extract that sentence, delete the paragraph and move on. I kept this up until I finished reading the article.

Among the interesting points I found in the article were:
-Lies and mud-slinging is as old as US politics itself; it goes back all the way to the very first election involving John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
-The quote "We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers," is telling about politics in general.
-Those that subscribe to a political party are more likely to dismiss or downplay the lies said or endorsed by their own party (Basically "fanboy-ism," which works with technology, movie franchises, etc.).
-I never knew Ronald Reagan claimed that 80% of pollution came from trees and vegetation.

Other than the above points (Along with a few more), the rest of the article contained nothing extremely surprising or enlightening. Still, 6 or 7 good flashcards came from an article that took 10-15 minutes to read, so I'm satisfied with the result.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Incremental Reading Principle: Priority

(This is in response to a question asked in the comments section of the previous post)

I had been using Incremental Reading on-and-off over the past few years, but only recently do I think I have hit my stride when it comes to Incremental Reading. I am having fun reading more than a dozen recreational books, articles from various journals (Time, New Yorker, etc.), long blog posts, articles on TV Tropes (It's the only way I can read that site), reviews of movies, video games, etc. Obviously different texts receive different treatment. A fluff blog entry isn't analysed to the degree a book on string theory is.

Here is a rough way I mentally classify articles/books/etc. that I read:

HIGH PRIORITY (Methodical)
-Read every 1-5 days
-Create flashcards as soon as I extract noteworthy information
-Do not advance the article until I understand every piece of  information
-When I encounter difficult parts, endeavor to understand them ASAP

-Read every 10-30 days
-Extract topics, make flashcards out of them whenever I get to it
-Skip difficult parts that require further study

-Read a paragraph or two every 50-150 days
-Extract topics, but I don't really care about them unless I'm getting rid of old topics that clutter my database

So when reading a high priority article, I will methodically break down every paragraph and sentence that contains something noteworthy, creating flashcards as soon as I think I can create one adequately. If I find a piece of information that I do not understand but understanding it is necessary for progressing through the article, I put the article on "pause" (Delay it for a few days) while I endeavor to understand that piece of information, doing the same steps as mentioned above. Once I am done, I resume reading the original article.

When reading a medium priority article, I will casually read it and freely jump around from one section to another as I see fit. I don't really care about deeply knowing every thought contained. If, in order to understand the article, I must first consult a different source to grasp a concept alluded to in the article, I may or may not confront that gap of knowledge. If I choose to, I do so "when I get around to it."

When reading a low priority article, I am almost completely passive about the information I'm reading. Aside from a few interesting things that the article might potentially contain, I don't care very much whether the article lives or dies. It might be delayed for many months or years (Or deleted), and it doesn't take up any "mental RAM."

Some articles might start out as a 'medium priority' article, but as I read it I realize that it has very valuable information contained within, and it goes to 'high priority' for a few days. After I extract the most useful bits of knowledge from the article (If I do not delete it), it might go back to 'medium' or even 'low priority' for a few months until I put it out of its misery.

As you can see, how you incrementally read articles changes as your priorities change. What you consider valuable one month might not seem so valuable later. Although I never explicitly say to myself "This article is 'high priority' now," my thirst for the knowledge contained in the article compels me to gobble more and more of it, while an article that doesn't excite my knowledge apatite are delayed (and eventually discarded if they don't prove their worth).

As the SuperMemo web site says, Incremental Reading is more of a reading management technique than anything else. And while it has taken me a while to get used to it, it is one of the most compelling features of SuperMemo. Once you hit your stride, you can quite comfortably read hundreds or thousands of articles at the same time, although I didn't think that it was possible at first.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading books incrementally

Reading Books Incrementally

I love reading books, but I enjoy incremental reading too much to read books, blog entries, etc. in the linear fashion they were intended to be consumed. The negative aspects of linear reading will be covered in another post soon. Until then, to make it easier to read books using Supermemo, I have found this to be particularly helpful:
There are many sites that allow you to create text documents of .epub and .mobi files. Here is one that I have been using: Whoosh.

After I first acquire the epub or mobi file and convert it to a .txt file, I copy and paste 10 or so pages into Supermemo (Too much text slows Supermemo down). I use the "picture article" template so I can put a picture of the cover of the book on the opposite side of the page (I have always been fond of book covers, album covers, etc.). I delete the text that has no value to me, highlight and extract sentences or paragraphs that might contain a flashcard, and keep doing this until I read the end of the text I copied over. After this, I copy another 10 or so pages, and then continue on.

Right now I am reading at least 10 books (Two of which are fiction), and I have thoroughly enjoyed this way of reading. If you haven't tried it, it is a very fun way to read scientific and historical books (Which is what I enjoy reading the most).

To summarize:
-Incremental reading is superior and more fun than traditional reading.

-Convert an acquired epub or mobi file into .txt.

-Only copy 10-15 pages of text at a time to prevent slowing Supermemo down.