Thursday, July 11, 2013

Formatting Flashcards

I've been both busy and without anything extremely relevant to say; rather than post fluff, I'll wait to I have something of substance to post.

In response to a question asked in a previous post: How do I format my flashcards in SuperMemo?

There are efficient ways of quickly importing flashcards in SuperMemo using excel, Q&A .txt files, and so on, but one unnecessary step that I enjoy taking is making each flashcard within SuperMemo itself. I do this by either pressing "ALT + A" to create a new flashcard or extract them from a topic as if I were incremental reading.

For example, to make flashcards of Pimsleur Spanish 1, I create a topic that features a picture of the product's packaging. As I hear a phrase that challenges my knowledge of Spanish, inside of that topic I record that phrase in English and then in Spanish; then I create an extract of what I just wrote down. After the lesson is done, I go through the extracted topics and make flashcards of that material. This way, the picture is featured in each Pimsleur Spanish flashcard (Pictures seem to be better at words in signaling what kind of knowledge is trying to be remembered).

Also, even though it is unnecessary I enjoy adding pictures to some of my newly created flashcards. I have a picture database of more than 2,000 pictures, and sometimes I will select a random picture to be shown when the answer is shown; sometimes the picture is relevant, sometimes it isn't. It's important that some pictures only be shown at the ANSWER portion of the flashcard, because if it were shown during the QUESTION portion the important link between the question and answer might be "overwritten" by the link between the picture and the answer. This is part of the reason why Rosetta Stone is so easy to cheat on, but that sounds like the subject of another post altogether, as I've had many friends of mine ask me if they should invest hundreds of dollars into that program... (Back to flashcard formatting)

The process of making flashcards from the topics can be time consuming, so while I make these flashcards I enjoy watching TV programs, "let's play" YouTube videos of long RPGs that I would love to play but don't have time for (I'm watching Mass Effect 1 now), my backlog of unwatched Colbert Report and Daily Show episodes and other general entertainment. It overall lengthens the amount of time spent making flashcards, but I get both the satisfaction of increasing my flashcard count AND being entertained.

I'm not against efficiently making flashcards using various methods (I had to do so when importing all of the Remembering the Kanji into SuperMemo), but sometimes I enjoy doing a few things inefficiently so I can have more fun.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finally Posting Again: Small Timer = Huge Success

I haven't been posting anything for quite some time for a number of reasons, but it all comes down to trying to strike a balance with posting things and keeping up with the thousands of other things I want to keep up with.

This is the main reason, though: for the past couple of months, I have been testing the use of a timer to "prime" memories for long-term retention by reviewing new material after 1 minute, 3 minutes, 10 minutes and 1 hour. It has been very successful at helping me commit very new things to memory. This includes:

-New Chinese characters
-Words in an unfamiliar foreign language for which I don't have an immediate frame of reference (Hindi, Russian, etc.)
-Location based mnemonic placeholders (Method of Loci) (More on this later)
-Dates and other number-based information

It has also been very helpful at committing to memory things that I already have an "edge" with, but it ensures that I almost always recall it after the first interval in SuperMemo. For example, in the past I would often learn a new Japanese or Chinese word, put that word into SuperMemo, but I couldn't quickly recall it when I had to review it for the first time in SuperMemo, often 4-9 days later. I would get the item wrong, then maybe get it wrong once more (2-3 days later), and after that I usually had no trouble remembering it. Since I began using this timer method for introducing material, very little has been forgotten when I review it for the first time. Words that I learn can be used almost immediately, which wasn't always the case in the past.

Since my previous post, I have added about 5,000 new flashcards to SuperMemo using the timer method to introduce and acquaint myself with the material. I have also been incrementally reading and learning various things related to science, art, religion, history, etc. (Which doesn't require using a timer to commit), but the bulk of my "experiment" time has been devoted to testing my capacity at learning difficult material using the timer.

Size of flashcard sets
I learned anywhere from 10 flashcards to 100 flashcards at a time (I went as high as 120 once or twice), and I found anything beyond 30 or 40 to be cumbersome, overly taxing and caused me to dread the review process. The "sweet spot" (For me, at least) seems to be 25-30 flashcards per set of new material. If the information is extremely difficult, 10-15 flashcards seems to be better.

Makeup of material
I found it helpful to mix extremely difficult material with slightly easier material. I'm not sure if this is for my own motivational benefit, but it was helpful at keeping me motivated. For example, one set of new material could consist of: 10 new Japanese words, 5 mnemonic items, 5 Chinese characters and 5 Hindi words. The mnemonic items and Japanese words are almost always easy to recall, while the new Chinese characters and Hindi words take a bit more effort. The smaller "easy victories" made it easier to exert myself at learning newer, unfamiliar stuff.

"Stickiness" factor
Since I began using a timer to commit "unsticky" information to memory,  it has almost always become "sticky" and therefore easy to remember in the short and long-term. A few items would be forgotten, but of the 5,000 or so items that I have learned over the past couple of months, a VERY small percentage of them have been forgotten (Less than 2%). In the case of those items, by simply "relearning" them using a timer to space out the short-term review intervals I've been able to "make sticky" those items also.

How I've integrated it
Whenever I have about 1 hour and 15 minutes of time, I start by reviewing the 25 new flashcards once or twice, then I start the first timer. After this, I surf the internet for a minute until the timer goes off; I then review the flashcards again and set the second timer for three minutes. During this time I typically do a small task (Clean up the immediate area, read a book, etc). After the three minute timer goes off, I review the flashcards and set a timer for 10 minutes. At this point I have quite a bit of time to do various things (Chores, prepare simple food, watch a TV show or news, incremental reading, etc.). After the 10 minute timer is done I review the cards again and set the timer for one hour. During this time, I can work on any extensive or engrossing task, and I often forget about doing flashcards until the timer goes off again. If necessary I can start learning another set of information during this hour, but I've enjoyed not doing that and chilling out a bit.

Thus, by adding just a bit of structure, I've found that I can quite easily integrate learning new, "unsticky" material while going about my day to day activities (Or at least the down time I have) so that I'm not spending 100% of my time on flashcards, but I still feel like I'm using my time wisely. As long as I have prepared material to learn, I can easily do 4 or 5 sets on a normal work day, which nets at least 100 new cards per day.

Having found a balance, I have been able to more precisely control the flow of new material into SuperMemo without overloading myself or creating a glut of incorrect responses. (For me) The obvious implication is that committing new languages to memory can become a very streamlined, steady and less painful process than it usually is. The same goes with things such as programming, medical information, etc., or careers that require committing "unsticky" frameworks of knowledge to memory. I'll elaborate on the language aspect in a future post, it's a different subject altogether.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Habit RPG: To-Do List RPG

For quite some time I have wanted to create a to-do list App that is also an RPG. I have many index cards with UI concepts written on it, equations for EXP, general story progression, and so on. Although these ideas were there, I did not know any programming and had no desire to commit a great deal of time to something that might not work.

Anyways, I have always imagined a to-do list RPG that makes my life more efficient (EpicWin was a good attempt at it, but it was a VERY thinly veiled to-do list), but recently I found someone creating just the app I wanted, and it is called "Habit RPG." It is a to-do list with the form factor and features of an RPG.

As you accomplish tasks, you get rewarded with gold and EXP. Get enough gold to buy items that make it slightly easier to level up (Sword that gives a +5% EXP bonus) OR items to recover HP. Get enough EXP to get access to more stuff. If items linger in your to-do list for too long, your HP and EXP takes a hit.

The system itself is surprisingly robust, and I am very excited for the future of this app. Their Kickstarter is nearly over, and it is fully funded (There will be native Android and iPhone apps on the way). Video games do a great job at addicting us to negative behaviors (Wasting time but feeling like we've accomplished something), and it's about time that those same shots of dopamine be used to make ourselves more productive.

I only post this because I wanted to do something like this for a long time.


I finally finished Pimsleur Korean I, and I began moving onto Pimsleur Korean II when I realized something: Many Korean words sounded like they used Chinese characters. Although there were no transcripts provided, I could easily imagine the Chinese characters used for certain words. After some investigation, I found this web site: Hanja Dictionary. It is a dictionary of Hanja, or Chinese characters used for Korean. Rather than there being a search box, you paste a Korean reading or a Chinese character into the URL and it displays the character along with word combinations that use that character.

I have a friend that lives in Korea and he told me that although Korean doesn't use the Chinese characters with the same frequency as Japanese (Japanese is not a Hiragana-only language), many words in Korean are Chinese character combinations not unlike ON YOMI character combinations for Japanese. Thus, by memorizing the readings to Chinese characters in Korean, you can learn BUCKETS of words with very little effort.

Which leads to another project: Korea-Town, or location based chain stories, with a different location for each Korean character reading. The amount of time required to create such stories is very small, and the long-term payoff is quite large (As I have learned with Japanese and Chinese). While making a "Korea-Town" mnemonic system isn't high on my priority list, it is certainly there now. I think I will hold off on learning more Korean until I can get flesh out the "Korea Town" mnemonic system.

Once I am finished with my other projects, I will use the above dictionary to group Chinese-derived Korean characters (Hanja) by common reading, and think of a story to link them all together. If you are learning Korean, please give this a try, as I think it will be just as beneficial as the "Kanji Town" and "China Town" mnemonics have been.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Language Sentence Packs?

I have a few questions:

1. Did anybody actually find my previously pre-made SuperMemo collection useful in any way? If so I will make more.

2. If I made SuperMemo collections for learning Japanese, would you find it genuinely useful?

3. If I made Japanese SuperMemo collections, what kind of stuff would you like to learn? Themed sentence packs? JLPT level vocabulary?

Just kicking ideas around.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Using Pimsleur's Algorithm To Remember Other Stuff

(Update: The incremental video is done, I just need to sync the recorded video and audio together. It's about 30 minutes long.)

First of all, I am very grateful to those that posted a link to the Pimsleur Method in Wikipedia, it proved most helpful. I am most interested in the intervals between reviewing newly learned information; here is what they (apparently) use at Pimsleur:

5 seconds,
25 seconds,
2 minutes,
10 minutes,
1 hour,
5 hours,
1 day,
5 days,
25 days,
4 months,
2 years.

In other words, after you first learn a new word, you are quizzed over that new word after 5 seconds. 25 seconds later, you are asked about that word again. 2 minuets later, you are asked again. etc. etc.
Once you begin discussing intervals that are days, weeks or months long, you are in long-term retention territory, which SuperMemo and Anki already do very well. But for those first six intervals, I think there is something very useful there: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours.

As an experiment, I tried to figure out if these same increments could be used to remember other things. To do this, I first found a timer app for my iPhone that supported multiple timers. Instead of setting a timer each time I reviewed something, I would rather start six timers at once and review the information when each timer went off. To do this, I simply totaled each increment with the previous one.

By adding 5 seconds to 25 seconds, you get 30 seconds. Adding 30 seconds to 2 minutes gives you 2:30 min. Adding 10 minutes to 2:30 min gives you 12:30 min and so on. For the first few increments, I decided that I should add 5 seconds or so to allow for actual reviewing time. Thus, I ended up with a little (fairly impractical) study system: Learn a new word (or two) with a physical flashcard, then start all six timers. Each time the timer goes off I review the word(s). In between I had to do something mentally stimulating (Play a game, watch the news, etc.) otherwise I would think about the flashcards I was learning and potentially skew the results.

Here are the intervals:

0:09 - (5 seconds plus 4 seconds to review when the alarm goes off)
0:45 - (25 seconds plus the 10 seconds of the previous interval, with 10 seconds to review)
2:30 - (2 minutes plus the 30 seconds of the previous interval)
12:30 - (10 minutes plus the 2:30 from the previous interval)
1:12:30 - (12:30 plus 1 hour)
6:12:30 - (1:12:30 plus 5 hours)

I thought adding a few extra seconds for review to the first two intervals would be good because the intervals are already very short to begin with (Otherwise the intervals might overlap). After you start waiting for more than a couple of minutes, having an extra few seconds seems to matter less, especially after 12 minutes.

But the result of this experiment was this: any word I put forth effort to learn (Which usually meant making a mnemonic or Chinese character connection with), was learned. It doesn't matter if the word I tried to learn was a Hindi word (Which I have no experience in) or a Chinese word (Which I have quite a bit of experience in). When I applied this formula to learning new words, by the time I hit the fifth interval (1:12:30), I had no problems recalling the word. After putting the word into SuperMemo, it has been stable in my mind and I use it with as much ease as I do other words.

Basically, I think we have found a reliable formula that  maximizes the solid, short-term retention on desired information.

Please try this yourself, but make sure you are doing something that arrests your attention in between the intervals (Play a video game, watch a TV show, etc.), don't think about the word you are trying to learn. Otherwise your mental grip on the word doesn't have a chance to strengthen.

While it is possible to use multiple timers to pull this off, it is not extremely convenient to do. If this entire thing were packaged as an app, I think it would be most useful (And perhaps profitable if it catches on). If anybody has any experience with Objective C, please leave me your info (I won't publish the comment if it contains your contact information).

Here's how the app would work (Roughly):

Create a flashcard of something you want to learn (Vocab word, phrase, etc.) and press "LEARN." This would start a timer that goes off after 5 seconds. The alarm goes off, you review the word. If you get it correct, it goes onto the next interval (25 seconds). Incorrect, it goes back to 5 seconds. Keep repeating this pattern until you hit the 5 hour interval, and you've now learned that word. The word can be put into Anki, SuperMemo, etc. and then deleted (From the short-term flashcard app). BUT, once a word has gone onto 2 or 10 minutes, it would be very easy to add another word into the mix (Each with its own set of timers). Once that word's intervals goes to 2 or 10 minutes, add another. Like trying to keep track of spinning plates, the app would keep track of which cards need immediate review, so you don't have to fiddle with timers and physical flashcards.

Also, if you know of an App that already does this, please mention so in the comments. Thank you very much.

I'm fairly confident this will be useful to lots of people (Myself included).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Incremental Reading Video?

Question: If I made a video of myself incrementally reading something, would that be useful? I enjoy thinking about incremental reading as a concept but would a video example be useful for all of you out there?

If so, what screen-capture software would you recommend for Windows?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Project: Pimsleur Everything

Just a small update to fill you in on what's going on in my life that is relevant to learning:

Other than the typical activity with Incremental Reading (I am really enjoying reading novels), I had a recent epiphany when using Pimsleur Hindi: it is not very difficult to get the bare basics of a language down (Using Pimsleur or other programs), and by using SuperMemo you can easily retain all of your progress. In other words long as you "back up" your progress using SuperMemo, there is no risk of EVER losing your hard-earned progress.

After finishing Pimsleur Hindi Comprehensive (And not relying on ANY other study materials during the time), I cannot say that I am fluent in the language. However, I now have a basic working knowledge of Hindi grammar. A few weeks ago, I didn't have it. Now I do. "That's pretty neat," I thought.

I hardly consider myself an expert in linguistics or learning languages; I can only base my conclusions on my own experiences. But for the last three languages I've started learning, while Pimsleur didn't give me fluency, my experience has been that it has constantly provided me with a solid first step in each language. Like a "starter deck" in a collectible card game, Pimsleur is a nice "starter deck" for a language. 

Over the last few weeks, my listening routine has changed slightly: Rather than making flashcards the first time I go over the material, I constantly keep an iPod Shuffle (A small iPod with a clip on it) with me that has only Pimsleur lessons on it. When I have more than 1 or 2 minutes of free time, I plug my headphones in and listen to the lessons. If I have trouble coming up with the correct responses taught in that lesson, I repeat the lesson again. Usually by the second or third listen even the most difficult lessons "clicked."

After I finish a few lessons, I make sure to add any notable phrases to SuperMemo. I do this by listening to the mp3s again on my computer using VLC (A really nice video and audio player for the PC and Mac). Because I have already heard the lessons before, I can speed up the playback without negatively affecting my comprehension. Thus, I have been re-listening to sped up lessons, pausing the lesson when a new phrase is introduced (Or one that I recall struggling with), put the phrase into SuperMemo, and move on. One 30-minute lesson can be covered in 15-20 minutes when sped up.

When I keep my iPod constantly attached to me, I am able to listen to at least one or two lessons per day. Driving to work, fixing a leak in the basement of my house, brushing my teeth, I was surprised at the amount of free listening time I had on my hands. It hasn't added any stress to my life, the only thing I have had to change is my listening habits (And the time I spend creating the flashcards, which is not very much). The flashcards added to SuperMemo are very easy-to-remember because they have already become a "stabilized" short-term memory.

This process has worked for Pimsleur Hindi, and over the past couple of weeks I have been going through Pimsleur Korean I (I am on lesson 15). I have had no problems recalling the phrases introduced, and I have made quicker progress on the Korean lessons than Hindi (Which I think can be attributed to a better structured listening and reviewing routine). As long as I can continue at this pace, I plan on using Pimsleur to learn the basics of as many languages as possible over the next couple of years. Pimsleur's catalog is quite big, and I plan on finishing every "comprehensive" course they have.

I'm not trying to show off or brag, but I am pleasantly surprised at how such a small change in my life (Listening to audio lessons instead of Japanese indie music or entertaining podcasts) can net such a positive result (And hopefully many more positive results in the future).

The main reason I think this is worth doing is because I absolutely love people; every person you meet has a unique backstory, likes, dislikes, aspirations, etc. I would love to communicate with as many people as possible. Thus, I have recently begun a new long-term project: relate to as many people as possible by learning as many languages as possible, and using Pimsleur as the starting point for each language, and keep doing this until I die.