Monday, August 29, 2011

Okay, I'll admit it, I only scanned this

But it echoes one of the problems I've consistently had with the school system:

If you fail in school, you tend to permanently mark up your record. Only certain types of problems can be solved by failure-averse behavior. Failure is valuable.

Worth a scan, for a few decent illustrations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Text is alive

I'm a big fan of non-text alternatives where it comes to imbibing knowledge. I love things like podcasts, video courses, and even more interactive tools like Memrise and Dual-N-Back tests.

But I still get lost in worlds of text - especially when it comes to gathering disparate information, nothing beats text. It's scannable. I can browse down a page. I can't do that (yet) with audio or video.

In that regard, here's a text-based resource I wish I had found years ago:

The National Academies Press. Lots to read there - and if you want to read it on your computer, it's all free. A few things I'm reading/scanning:

And a favorite quote from one of those (Rising above the Gathering Storm):

"The Gathering Storm committee concluded that a primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs in the 21st century will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only 4 percent of the nation’s work force is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent." (page 4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Neural Plasticity: What does it mean to you?

To me, it means I get to design my brain. How awesome is that!?

Best Basic Introduction

This is the best basic short introduction to Memory/brain training I've found:

I'm still trying to figure out the best tools for poetry memorizing, as that is one of my main hopes. The more I research, the more I believe that specific mental tools have to be used for rapid memorization of specific types of information - poetry one way, numbers another, etc.

Oh, by the way, Ed Cooke (referenced in article) fascinating fellow. More to come on him, certainly.

Also, a brief thought: Notice that breaking 1 minute, 30 seconds to memorize a pack of cards in the US is a US record, and still 3 times as long as the international record. Have anything to do with our much-commented-upon standard test scores? Methinks perhaps.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Coming up: Stuff!

As always, I apologize for the lack of weekend update. Many of you know this last weekend has been crazy - plus, less than six hours of sleep a night, for the past four or five nights running. That said, coming up soon:

pictured: Brain Food!

1. You think what you eat: experiments in carb restriction and thought.
    The brain loves glucose. The average brain consumes about 250 m&m's worth of glucose every day. The active brain consumes more. For the past four weeks I have been on a very calorie restrictive diet, especially restrictive of carbs, fructose, and glucose. I haven't been eating all that much protein either - or all that much of anything. I'm planning on making the transition out to a muscle building diet this week, and I was hoping to test my brain a few different ways before ending the diet (Dual-N-Back, 15 minute recall, Mind Tree exercises, Math drills, Word and number space drills). The thing is - I'm so tired any attempted study would be completely worthless. What I will try to test is my mind's change (if any) as I come off the caloric restriction - whether there's any difference one week into normal eating patterns vs two. I'm probably not done dieting before my life is over, so I think I'll have the chance to do this test again - and in that case, I'll already have the mental tests worked out before I start the diet (I'll share the best ones I find with you, so you can join in the experimentation!)
     Obviously, this is one man study isn't really a study at all, just a small piece of broken data. To really do this right, I'd want about two hundred subjects, one hundred tested on their way into caloric restriction, the other half tested on their way out. Testing would be widely spaced and highly controlled to make as certain as possible that learning wasn't messing with the results. But we have to start somewhere. (and I'm a big fan of personal experimentation.)
    All that said, regardless of the results of this test, I lost about 18 difficult-to-loose pounds (175-158) in the space of four weeks on this diet. Anyone interested, let me know, I'll point you to what I did.
    Oh, and calorie restriction seems to work in mice and (aged) people to improve cognitive function:
Or not:

Bonus: Curious male-female contrast:

2. Reviews!
    People review movies and books - but what about educational resources? I'm going to try to start reviewing educational and cognitive training resources over the next week, both to heighten exposure and to help myself decide which ones I personally should use.
    As I start reviewing more and more, expect to see a few "best of" posts - "best dual-n-back test" "best memory training" "best mnemonics" etc.
    Also, I hope to start heavily using a data-oriented review set - instead of doing the usual Roger-Ebert write-up, I'll be judging most resources on a set of standard qualitative and non-qualitative criteria, and entering all the numbers into a public Google Spreadsheet, so anyone can look at the numbers and make pretty graphs and stuff with them, if they want to. I'm already starting the spreadsheet here:

Feel free to include suggestions of measures you'd like to see included. I'd like to keep things brief, but I'll try to evaluate everything I can.

3. More pictures. I'll get some vacation pictures up by the end of this week, I promise.

4. Sometime: Budgeting a trip around the world.
   My wife and I just took a 10-month trip around the world for less than $10,000 total - less than $5000 a person. Not to brag, but I think this could be a textbook example of how to experience other cultures on the cheap. We did the whole thing on our savings. That price includes airfare, trains, a night in the oldest hotel in the world (awesome), and all of this in some of the most expensive and least dollar-friendly markets out there (Japan, Eurozone, UK). We could have easily done the trip under $7000 total ($3,500 a person) if we weren't splurging on the extra nights in Paris, London, the oldest hotel in the world, Tokyo, Kyoto, Rome, Florence, and a train trough Switzerland. If we'd decided to visit less expensive cultures, (say Korea-India-Russia-Eastern Europe) we could easily have completed the trip on even less. One of these days, I'll tell you what I learned. Probably not this week. I have more important things to do. Hopefully, I can also fit in some more culture-specific details with some of my picture postings.

I look forward to writing to you.
A Yeoman and a Scholar

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Read more efficiently: Spreeder

Traditional speed reading is a fake. It's really just skimming by another name, and while it can be effective, the idea that you will be able to read more than 800 words a minute is simply bogus. Even the best speed reading teachers say that you "chunk" information and "get rid of the fluff - meaning skip some words.

Paul Scheele says that meaning is conveyed by 4-11% of the words in any book. He has a point.

Of course, NASA said about his "photoreading" techniques:
"These results clearly indicate that there is no benefit to using the PhotoReading technique. The extremely rapid reading rates claimed by PhotoReaders were not observed; indeed the reading rates were generally comparable to those for normal reading. Moreover, the PhotoReading expert showed an increase in reading time with the PhotoReading technique in comparison to normal reading. This increase in reading time was accompanied by a decrease in text comprehension. These results were found for two standardized tests of text comprehension and for three matched sets of expository texts." (

Ah well. He still has a point. 

You see, the problem is that your eyes have to physically move. Their movements and focus are controlled by muscles. On top of that, you can only focus with the center of your vision (with enough focus to actually read). So, what do you do? You don't focus on words that you guess won't be important.

Recently, despite this discouraging news, I've been having some fun with a "speed" reading program, Spreeder:

Spreeder presents you with any text you like, in any chunk size you like, at any speed you like. Your reading speed increases because your eyes don't have to move across a page. Your eyes also remain focused on only one point. Your attention is improved, as you are presented with moving images instead of static pages.

While I wouldn't do this with some texts, I definitely appreciate it for others, especially those that are dry, but must be confronted, or those that repeat points and examples too often.

I'm currently enjoying spreeding:
Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fascinating Faces

Whether you are in education, film, novels, cars, technology, or politics, remember this:

Faces are important.

No, I don't think you get how important they are.

In Oliver Sacks' The Mind's I, Sacks cites cases of Prosopagnosia (brain damage resulting in inability to recognize faces) where other knowledge is lost as well. These cases are backed up by studies that show that, when people are asked to recognize items of their expertise (car afficianados certain models of car, nerds certain models of phone or camera, etc) the same areas that handle facial recognition in their brains start firing. (yes, there is a specific area for facial recognition in your brain - another interesting and important factoid.)

It seems that if we care about something enough, our brain will encode it as a "face" rather than as another type of knowledge.

This makes me wonder if an educational system could essentially "hack" into the facial recognition system, and get the information there more quickly, leading to faster information encoding and retrieval.

Also, a little bit of me worries about the rest of me being a mad scientist.

image from Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, used as an illustration under fair use.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My School

If I were to start a school, perhaps these would be the principles:

Read more efficiently.
Memorize more effectively.
Learn more quickly and completely.

Because if you have those - you will enjoy them, because knowledge that comes easily is enjoyable. If you enjoy them, and they come easily, the temptation to other things is greatly diminished.


Friday, August 5, 2011

What Now?

So, what now?

I have plans for this blog. Plans that are more exciting to me than any of my thoughts have been about posting volunteering pictures or describing difficult to communicate experiences. Plans that have more to do with the meaning of the title of this blog.

You see, I found a calling, or something like that.

From now on, my life is dedicated to education - the best possible education, so that's what this blog will be about. Reviews of educational tools (especially free ones) you might want to know about. Descriptions of my own study techniques as they develop. I'm going to do some crazy things over the next year - like try to learn how to learn an entirely unfamiliar language in three months. That sort of sensible, realistic goal setting. I'll try to post some research summaries, in modern and ancient education techniques. I will be my own experiment - in focus training, memory improvement and optimal scheduling.

And yes, for those who want them, there should still be some vacation pictures coming.

But compared to education, those are unimportant. That's why you can now depend on me to post more often. That, and the fact that I'm not on a train to somewhere unseen every other week.

So, if that sounds interesting to you, stick around. This should be really good.