Creating a Commonplace Book with Google Drive

Here’s a problem I’ve had for a long time: I would invest a lot of time into reading a great book, then inevitably as time passed the insights I gained would slowly disappear from my mind. This was pretty discouraging to me and seemed to defeat the purpose of reading the book in the first place.

So, I was very excited to come across this blog post by Ryan Holiday on keeping a “commonplace book”: your own personal repository of important insights from the various sources you encounter throughout your life.

The source of these insights can come from anywhere, like books, blogs, speeches, interactions you’ve had with others, interesting situations you’ve been in, jokes, personal life stories, ideas, etc. I’ve been doing it for about a year and have added 220 notes and counting. 

There are a bunch of benefits from keeping a commonplace book:

  • You can easily review it and go back to categories of ideas as you encounter challenges in your life, and your commonplace book will have all the most important insights for you at your disposal, ready to go. For example, if you have a challenge with one of your kids, you have your “parenting” category in your commonplace book ready to go to provide you with support.
  • You improve your reading skills by consolidating and condensing the most important and relevant material from your sources, as it forces you to think more carefully about what you’re reading and what it means.
  • By reviewing and reflecting on your commonplace book entries, you improve your writing skills and increase your memory and comprehension about the materials you’ve read.
  • You can use the quotes from your commonplace book to enhance in your own writing. For example, I’ve noticed Ryan Holiday’s writing liberally uses quotes from other sources. These often come from an extremely wide variety of sources and are really effective at supporting the points he is making in his writing. This is clearly the result of his voracious reading habits and commonplace book note-taking.

A commonplace book is like an investment that grows and grows over time. Much like a stock or bond, the earlier you invest, the bigger the payoff.

My commonplace book system

There are a million different ways that you can develop a commonplace book. There’s obviously no one “correct” way to do it, but hopefully my personal commonplace book system gives you some inspiration.

My system uses Google Docs, using a template designed to maximize my retention and reflection on the commonplace book notes and make the commonplace book easily searchable. The system also uses the Google Drive API to send myself daily emails each morning with commonplace book notes to review.

As much as possible, I’ve designed the system to take advantage of scientifically proven learning and retention techniques, including testing and recalling, spaced repetition, varied practice, and elaboration.

Aside: I highly recommend the book Make it Stick, which outlines the best evidence-supported study and learning methods and debunks a lot of common misconceptions, For example, re-reading passages and highlighting are horribly inefficient learning techniques.

My Template for Notes

Here is the template that I use for each of my commonplace book notes:

I make one of these notes for each important point or insight that I come across. For a good book packed with useful information, I’ll probably create about 10-20 of these notes. Each of the components of this template have a specific purpose:

  • Title of Note: This typically labels the content of the note in some way to trigger my memory about what the passage is about. I try to make it somewhat vague so I don’t give away all the content. Then, when I review my notes, I’ll read only the title and then look away to try to recall what the passage is about. This is a way of incorporating testing and recall into my review. It helps improve retention and memory of the note and makes it more likely that I’ll have it in mind, ready to apply when the time is right.
  • Content: The main content of the note – usually a quotation, but not always.
  • Notes: A place where I can connect the content with existing knowledge and add any personal ideas or insights. Doing this kind of elaboration helps with understanding and retention.
  • Citation information: The author, source, page, and url so I know exactly where each passage came from and can look it up or cite it easily if necessary. This also makes the notes way more searchable. Google Drive has great built-in search features (as you would expect), making it easy to find notes from a particular author, book, or tag.

Here’s an example of a note I took from the business and management book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. I added this quote to my commonplace book because it had actually never really occurred to me that a job could be poorly designed and unfit for humans. Seemed like a good insight to keep in mind as a prospective employee and if I’m ever in the position of creating job positions myself. 

The Folder System

I divide my notes into folders and subfolders related to the topic. Often, one note could fit in more than one folder. To solve this problem, I make sure to write tags in the filename, and then randomly pick one of the relevant folders to put it in. Using tags, I can rely on search more easily for notes applicable to multiple topics. So if something belongs to both “Business” and “Productivity”, I can just add it to productivity and make sure I add both the business and productivity tags. 

The great thing about having your notes in Google Drive is that you can take advantage of Google’s powerful search feature to find exactly what you need. For example, you can see below the options available in the search feature. You can search by file type, folder location, filename, and contents. With the structured note templates, you can find pretty much anything you need at the snap of a finger. For example, finding all the notes from Peter Drucker is simply a matter of writing in “Author: Peter Drucker” in the “Item Name” option shown below.

Daily Reviews Using Python and the Google Drive API

If you don’t have any programming knowledge, this commonplace book system will still serve you well and you don’t have to read on. But since this is a blog about hacking APIs and open data for the purposes of automation and competitive intelligence, there is more to my commonplace book system than simply adding documents to a Google Drive folder.

The commonplace book notes aren’t of much use if they’re just sitting in Google Docs unused, so I wanted to create a system of regular and automated review. Specifically, I wanted to receive an email every morning with 5 randomly selected notes from and review these notes a part of my daily routine. This helps incorporate the learning techniques of testing, spaced repetition, and varied practice. Regular review emails also give me a chance to edit notes if there are things I want to change or add.

You can find all of the code for this review system here. Here is an overview of what it does:

  • Selects 5 documents at random across all the files in your commonplace book folder and subfolders
  • Builds an email template with links to the five randomly selected commonplace book notes. It does this using the Jinja2 template engine.
  • Sends the email of commonplace book notes to review to yourself (and any other recipients you want). See this previous blog post on how to write programs to send automated email updates.

I run the code on a DigitalOcean droplet, set on a cron job to run at 7 am every day.

Before you try to run the code, you should follow steps 1 and 2 in this Python quick-start guide to turn on the Google Drive API and install the Google Drive client library. This will produce client_secret.json that you will need to place in the top directory of the code.

You’ll also need to make a few substitutions to placeholders in the code:

  • Enter in your Gmail email and password in the file email_user_pass.json.
  • Enter in the email that will be sending the email update and the list of recipients in the file emails.json.
  • In, you need to provide a value for COMMONPLACE_BOOK_FOLDER_ID. You can find this by looking in the URL when you navigate to your commonplace book folder in Google Drive.
  • Install any of the required packages in

You can customize the way that the email looks by modifying templates/email.html.

Note that this code is useful not just for this commonplace book system, but any system where you need to receive automated email updates that randomly select files in your Google Drive.

Just do it

Start your common book now. Even if you don’t know Python and can’t do the automated email update stuff, it doesn’t matter. This is just icing on the cake, and there are other ways you can review your commonplace book notes.

Trust me, you won’t regret taking the time to do this. The only thing you’ll regret is the fact that you didn’t start doing it 20 years ago.

Roam Notes on “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker

  • "Title::" The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
  • "Author::" [[Peter Drucker]]
  • "Reading Status::" #Complete
  • "Recommended By::" [[Tim Ferriss]]
  • "Tags::" #[[Business]] #[[Productivity]] #[[Management]] #[[Time Management]] #[[Effective Executives]] #Book
  • What is Expected of Executives? (pp. 1, 2, 7) #[[Effectiveness]] #execution
    • To be effective is the job of the executive. “To effect” and “to execute” are, after all, near-synonyms. Whether he works in a business or in a hospital, in a government agency or in a labor union, in a university or in the army, the executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. And this is simply that he is expected to be effective…
    • [[Intelligence]], [[imagination]], and [[knowledge]] are essential [[resources]], but only [[effectiveness]] converts them into [[results]]. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained.
    • Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is [[knowledge work]] defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its [[results]].
  • Four Major Realities Over Which the Executive has Essentially no [[control]] (pp. 10-17)
    • Every one of them is built into the organization and into the executive’s day and work. He has no choice but to “cooperate with the inevitable.” But every one of these realities exerts pressure toward [[nonresults]] and [[nonperformance]].
      1. Executive’s [[time]] tends to belong to everybody else. Everybody can move in on his time, and everybody does (e.g. bosses, customers, city administration official).
      2. Executives are forced to keep on “[[operating]]” unless they take positive [[action]] to change the reality in which they live and work.
      3. He is within an organization. This means that he is effective only if and when other people make use of what he contributes. #[[Working with Teams]] #[[knowledge translation]]
      4. The executive is within an organization. He sees the inside—the organization—as close and immediate reality. He sees the outside only through thick and distorting lenses, if at all. #environment #bias
    • Mark’s notes:
      • 3 – [[knowledge translation]] is everywhere. Everyone specializes and there is this constant issue of communicating information to other groups that aren’t specialists. Without doing this effectively, the specialization is useless. “Each has to be able to use what the other produces.” #[[communication]] #[[Specialization]]
      • 4 – “The problem is rather that the important and relevant outside events are often [[qualitative]] and not capable of [[quantification]]. They are not yet “[[facts]].”” There might be an insight here about quantitative being systematically overrated. If it’s quantifiable, its being collected, which means systems are in place to collect it, which means people tend to understand its value and it’s more likely to be overrated. It follows that for unique [[insight]] or [[competitive advantage]], you need to use qualitative or use quantitative data in a way no one is currently using it. #[[Personal Ideas]]
  • The Five Practices of [[Effective Executives]] (pp 23-25)
    • They know where their [[time]] goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control. #[[Time Management]]
    • They focus on outward [[contribution]]. They gear efforts to [[results]] rather than to [[work]]. They start out with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools. #[[outcomes]]
    • They build on strengths – their own [[strengths]], the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, subordinates, and on the strengths of in the situation i.e.. What they can do. They do not build on [[weakness]]. They do not start out with things they cannot do. #[[comparative advantage]]
    • They concentrate on the few major areas where superior [[performance]] will produce outstanding [[results]]. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. #[[focus]]
    • **They make effective decisions. **They know that this is, above all, a matter of [[system]] – of the right steps in the right sequence. Making many [[decisions]] fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental [[decisions]]. #[[decision making]]
    • Mark’s Notes:
      • These practices form the basis of the book. Note that there is no “effective [[personality]]”. [[Peter Drucker]] has come across people of all [[personality types]] who are extremely effective.
      • Note that point 5 is in disagreement with advice I’ve heard from [[Patrick Collison]] and others in Silicon Valley where the [[speed]] and [[frequency]] of [[decision making]] is actually very important. However, they do add the caveat that [[decisions]] that are 1) higher [[impact]] and 2) tougher to reverse should be given more thought.
  • On the Scarcity Properties of Time (pg. 25-26) #[[time]] #[[Time Management]] #scarcity
    • Effective executives know that [[time]] is the limiting factor. The [[output]] limits of any [[process]] are set by the scarcest resource. In the process we call “accomplishment,” this is time.
    • Time is also a unique resource. Of the other major resources, [[money]] is actually quite plentiful. We long ago should have learned that it is the [[demand]] for [[capital]], rather than the [[supply]] thereof, which sets the limit to [[economic growth]] and activity. People—the third limiting resource—one can hire, though one can rarely hire enough good people. But one cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain more time. #[[To Ankify]]
    • The [[supply]] of [[time]] is totally [[inelastic]]. No matter how high the [[demand]], the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no [[marginal utility]] curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.
    • Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for [[time]]. Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”
    • Mark’s Notes: He goes on to note that people are terrible at estimating how much time has elapsed. It is therefore essential to track how much time you spend on things, and not just rely on memory. Make sure the record is made in “real” time, rather than later on from memory. Run a log on yourself for 3-4 weeks at a stretch twice a year (minimum), then rethink and rework the schedule. #[[time tracking]]
  • Instead of Starting with their Tasks, Effective Executives Start with This (3 Step Process) (pg. 25) #[[Time Management]] #[[time tracking]]
    • Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their [[tasks]]. They start with their [[time]]. And they do not start out with [[planning]]. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time. Finally they consolidate their “discretionary” time into the largest possible continuing units. This three-step process:
      • recording time,
      • managing time, and
      • consolidating time
    • is the foundation of executive effectiveness.
  • Things to Ask Employees in a Knowledge Work Firm on a Regular Basis (pp. 30-31) #Hiring #Management #[[performance reviews]]
    • Wherever [[knowledge workers]] perform well in large organizations, senior executives take time out, on a regular schedule, to sit down with them, sometimes all the way down to green juniors, and ask: “What should we at the head of this organization know about your work? What do you want to tell me regarding this organization? Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit? Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind? And, all together, what do you want to know from me about the organization?"
    • Mark’s Notes: An excellent [[leadership]] course I took with [[Linton Sellen]] offers advice that differs somewhat – Linton said the appropriate way to do this is for C mangers to query their B subordinates, and then C’s should tell B’s to do the same with their subordinate A’s and report back, and so on. C going directly to A undermines B’s [[authority]]. I’m believe Linton’s advice is better.
  • Why People Decisions are Time Consuming (pp. 33-34) #[[labour]] #[[Hiring]] #Management #[[people decisions]]
    • People-decisions are time-consuming, for the simple reason that the Lord did not create people as “resources” for the organization. They do not come in the proper size and shape for the tasks that have to be done in organization — and they cannot be machined down or recast for these tasks . People are always “almost fits” at best. To get the work done with people (and no other resource is available) therefore requires lots of [[time]], [[thought]], and [[judgment]]. #[[To Ankify]]
  • Script to Send Potential Meeting Participants from Attending Meeting if it is a Waste of their Time (pg. 39) #[[email scripts]] #meetings #attendance
    • “I have asked [Messrs Smith, Jones, and Robinson] to meet with me [Wednesday at 3] in [the fourth floor conference room] to discuss budget. Please come if you think that you need the information or want to take part in the discussion. But you will in any event receive right away a full summary of the discussion and of any decisions reached, together with a request for your comments.”
    • Mark’s Notes: This was a script used by a manager to make sure no-one felt left out and had the opportunity to attend. The manager invited all of these people to the meetings because of the culture in the company of being “in the know”. This message prevents people from wasting their time, while still making sure no one feels left out.
  • On the Risk of Cutting Back Tasks (pg. 40) #Delegation
    • There is not much risk that an executive will cut back too much. We usually tend to overrate rather than underrate our importance and to conclude that far too many things can only be done by ourselves. Even very effective executives still do a great many unnecessary, unproductive things.
  • Three big benefits of focusing on [[contribution]] (rather than [[effort]]) (pg. 70)
    • The focus on contribution counteracts one of the basic problems of the executive: the confusion and chaos of events and their failure to indicate by themselves which is meaningful and which is merely “noise.” The [[focus]] on [[contribution]] imposes an organizing principle. It imposes relevance on events.
    • Focusing on [[contribution]] turns one of the inherent weaknesses of the executive’s situation—his dependence on other people, his being within the organization—into a source of strength. It creates a team. #[[Team Building]]
    • Finally, focusing on [[contribution]] fights the temptation to stay within the organization. It leads the executive—especially the top-level man—to lift his eyes from the inside of efforts, work, and relationships, to the outside; that is, to the [[results]] of the organization. It makes him try hard to have direct contact with the outside—whether [[markets]] and [[customers]], patients in a community, or the various “publics” which are the outside of a government agency.” #[[outcomes]]
  • How to tell if a job is impossible, undoable man-killer (pg. 79) #Hiring #nonperformance #[[Evaluating People]]
    • The rule is simple: Any job that has defeated two or three men in succession, even though each had performed well in his previous assignments, must be assumed unfit for human beings. It must be redesigned.
    • Mark’s Notes: Interesting to keep in mind that jobs like this exist. Jobs are not created by an all-knowing God. Rather, they are created by fallible human beings. It’s an important insight that job may be poorly designed / impossible.
  • Why effective executives try to be themselves (pg. 97) #authenticity #[[comparative advantage]]
    • All in all, the effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else. He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern. “What are the things,” he asks, “that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?
    • Mark’s Notes: It would be useful to ask yourself this question on a weekly basis by adding this to your [[Weekly Planning]]. Have a document about what you do with ease that is hard for other people, and review it regularly.
  • The “Secret” of those people who “do so many things” (pp. 100, 103) #focus #concentration #Prioritizing #Productivity
    • If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time. #[[To Ankify]]
    • This is the “secret” of those people who “do so many things” and apparently so many difficult things. They do only one at a time. As a result, they need much less [[time]] in the end than the rest of us.
    • The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder. In the first place, they underestimate the time for any one task. They always expect that everything will go right. Yet, as every executive knows, nothing ever goes right.
  • On the Danger of Succumbing to Pressure for Decision-Making (pg. 109) #pressure #[[decision making]] #focus #priorities
    • If the pressures rather than the executive are allowed to make the decision, the important tasks will predictably be sacrificed. Typically, there will then be no time for the most time-consuming part of any task, the conversion of decision into action
    • Another predictable result of leaving control of priorities to the pressures is that the work of top management does not get done at all. That is always postponable work, for it does not try to solve yesterday’s crises but to make a different tomorrow. And the pressures always favor yesterday.
  • Setting priorities is easy…this on the other hand…. (pp. 109-110) #[[Prioritizing]] #focus
    • The job is, however, not to set [[priorities]]. That is easy. Everybody can do it. The reason why so few executives concentrate is the difficulty of setting “[[posteriorities]]”—that is, deciding what tasks not to tackle—and of sticking to the decision. #[[To Ankify]]
    • Most executives have learned that what one postpones, one actually abandons. A good many of them suspect that there is nothing less desirable than to take up later a project one has postponed when it first came up. #procrastination
  • Truly Important Rules for Identifying Priorities (4) (pg. 111) #[[priorities]] #Prioritizing
    • [[Courage]] rather than [[analysis]] dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:
      • Pick the future as against the past;
      • **Focus on **[[opportunity]] rather than on problem;
      • Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon; and
      • Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.
  • The Elements of the Effective Decision Process (pp. 122-123) #[[decision making]] #Process #[[To Ankify]]
    • They are:
      1. The clear realization that the problem was [[generic]] and could only be solved through a decision which established a [[rule]], a [[principle]];
        1. Ask “Is this generic situation or is an exception?” “Is this something that underlies a great many occurrences?” Four types of occurrences: truly generic (individual occurrence is only a symptom), unique for the individual institution but actually generic (e.g. mergers, happen all the time, but only once for an individual company), truly unique event (rare), early manifestation of a new generic problem. Effective decision-makers always assume initially the problem is generic, and they are not content with treating the symptom alone. #[[5 whys]] #[[diagnosing problems]]
      2. The definition of the [[specifications]] which the answer to the problem had to satisfy, that is, of the “[[boundary conditions]]”;
        1. [[boundary conditions]] usually determined by asking “What is the minimum needed to resolve this problem?” (most difficult step, apparently)
      3. The thinking through what is “right,” that is, the solution which will fully satisfy the [[specifications]] before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable; #optics #politics
        1. “It is fruitless and a waste of time to worry about what is acceptable and what one had better not say so as not to evoke resistance. The things one worries about never happen. And objections and difficulties no one thought about suddenly turn out to be almost insurmountable obstacles. One gains nothing in other words by starting out with the question: “What is acceptable?”
      4. The building into the decision of the action to carry it out; #action #Delegation #execution #Responsibility
        1. “no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility.”
      5. The “[[feedback]]” which tests the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events.
        1. “[[military organizations]] learned long ago that futility is the lot of most [[orders]] and organized the [[feedback]] to check on the [[execution]] of the order. They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback.” “Unless [the decision maker] accepts, as a matter of course, that he had better go out and look at the scene of action, he will be increasingly divorced from [[reality]].”
  • Most books on decision-making tell the reader: “First find the facts”. Instead, do this. (pg. 143) #[[decision making]] #[[scientific method]] #[[To Ankify]]
    • Most books on decision-making tell the reader: “First find the facts.” But executives who make effective decisions know that one does not start with [[facts]]. One starts with [[opinions]]. These are, of course, nothing but untested [[hypotheses]] and, as such, worthless unless tested against reality. To determine what is a fact requires first a decision on the criteria of relevance, especially on the appropriate [[measurement]]. This is the hinge of the effective decision, and usually its most controversial aspect.
    • Finally, the effective decision does not, as so many texts on decision-making proclaim, flow from a consensus on the [[facts]]. The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.
    • To get the [[facts]] first is impossible. There are no facts unless one has a criterion of [[relevance]]. [[Events]] by themselves are not facts.
    • Mark’s Notes: This is similar to the [[scientific method]] – you always start out with untested [[hypotheses]] (opinions) as the only starting point. But, can’t isolated facts be hypothesis generating? Yes, but you still ultimately start with a hypothesis. Drucker goes on to point out that, as in the scientific method, effective executives encourage opinions, but also insist on having people think through what is the corresponding “[[experiment]]” i.e. how do you test the opinion against reality and what would the [[facts]] have to be to support the [[opinion]]. [[Disagreement]] and [[conflict]] are important, because it helps ensure that you don’t just make a hypothesis and then only look for facts that support it, disregarding everything else.
  • Three main reasons for insisting on disagreement in the decision-making process. (pp. 149-152) #disagreement #decisions #reason #argument #debate
    • It is, first, the only safeguard against the decision-maker’s becoming the prisoner of the organization. Everybody always wants something from the decision-maker…The only way to break out of the prison of special pleading and preconceived notions is to make sure of argued, documented, thought-through disagreements.
    • Second, [[disagreement]] alone can provide alternatives to a decision. And a decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw, no matter how carefully thought through it might be.
    • **Above all, **[[disagreement]] is needed to stimulate the [[imagination]]…Imagination of the first order is, I admit, not in abundant supply. But neither is it as scarce as is commonly believed. Imagination needs to be challenged and stimulated, however, or else it remains latent and unused. Disagreement, especially if forced to be reasoned, thought through, documented, is the most effective stimulus we know.
    • Mark’s Notes: This is probably why people like [[Tyler Cowen]] emphasize how valuable it is do articulate and argue opinions you disagree with. It’s an extremely valuable [[mental exercise]]. #[[articulating positions you disagree with]]
  • Before you think about who is right and who is wrong, do this. (pg. 154) #[[listening]] #judgment
    • The effective executive is concerned first with [[understanding]]. Only then does he even think about who is right and who is wrong.
      • Mark’s Notes: This is similar to the advice from [[Stephen Covey]] – seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Why effective decision-makers don’t hedge bets (pp 157-158) #[[hedging]] #[[risk]] #[[decisions]]
    • The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection or shock as if he did the whole job. And he has not cured the condition, has indeed made it worse. He either operates or he doesn’t. Similarly, the effective decision-maker either acts or he doesn’t act. He does not take half-action. This is the one thing that is always wrong, and the one sure way not to satisfy the minimum [[specifications]], the [[minimum boundary conditions]].
    • The decision is now ready to be made. The [[specifications]] have been thought through, the [[alternatives]] explored, the [[risks]] and gains weighed. Everything is known. Indeed, it is always reasonably clear by now what course of action must be taken. At this point the decision does indeed almost “make itself.”
    • And it is at this point that most decisions are lost. It becomes suddenly quite obvious that the decision is not going to be pleasant, is not going to be [[popular]], is not going to be easy. It becomes clear that a decision requires [[courage]] as much as it requires [[judgment]]. There is no inherent reason why medicines should taste horrible—but effective ones usually do. Similarly, there is no inherent reason why decisions should be distasteful—but most effective ones are.
    • One thing the effective executive will not do at this point. He will not give in to the cry, “Let’s make another study.” This is the coward’s way—and all the coward achieves is to die a thousand deaths where the brave man dies but one. #research #procrastination #timidity #courage
  • The one area in which [[weakness]] in itself is of importance and relevance (pp 166) #[[To Ankify]]
    • The last question (ii) is the only one which is not primarily concerned with strengths. [[Subordinates]], especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, tend to mold themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in an organization than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Such a man might well operate effectively on his own; even within an organization, he might be tolerable if denied all power over others. But in a position of power within an organization, he destroys. Here, therefore, is the one area in which weakness in itself is of importance and relevance. #integrity #corruption #Hiring #character
    • By themselves, [[character]] and [[integrity]] do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else. Here, therefore, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on [[performance]] capacity and strength.
  • Why being an effective executive is good for you (for reasons unrelated to compensation / promotion (pg. 166)
    • The knowledge worker demands economic rewards too. Their absence is a deterrent. But their presence is not enough. He needs [[opportunity]], he needs [[achievement]], he needs [[fulfillment]], he needs [[values]]. Only by making himself an effective executive can the knowledge-worker obtain these satisfactions.

Combating Knowledge Interference (Flashcard Refactoring)

I came across this computer networking Anki flashcard I’ve forgotten over 7 times:

(NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

The card uses cloze deletions [] like this:

  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) [Address Resolution Protocol (ARP)] – [Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back].
  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) – Maps [Ethernet addresses] to [IPv4 addresses] and back.

Interestingly, I haven’t forgotten a single review for the right-hand side clozes. Turns out this was the one causing me trouble:

(NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) […] – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

Why? The issue seems to be another card in my deck that is very similar, and I’m confusing the two. The other card quizzes a networking concept called “Neighbour Discovery (ND)”, which performs a similar function to ARP except it maps IPv6 addresses to Ethernet and back rather than IPv4 addresses. This is a good example of interference, which refers to the fact that learning similar things can make you confuse them (see Rule 11 of Poitr Wozniak’s classic article on the 20 rules of formulating knowledge).

So the solution I’m opting for is pretty simple, just add a hint:

  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) ARP (hint: not ND) – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

One other small improvement is adding another card for the acronym alone:

  • Front: (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) ARP (Unpack Acronym)
  • Back: Address Resolution Protocol

These interference issues are tricky because you can’t really anticipate them in advance. You have to discover them as you review your cards.

Another annoyance is I’m not 100% sure that interference was actually the problem. Ideally, I would have discovered this troublesome card during review, so I could know for sure why I’m failing.

So here are some lessons learned from this little exercise:

  • Use hints as an effective tool for reducing interference.
  • Keep an eye out for interference during review of your knowledge. As soon as you encounter it, note it. In the case of Anki, there is a “mark card” feature. I also recommend actually writing text within the card to remind yourself exactly how you failed the card when you fix it later. It would be nice to be able to see basic card statistics, like number of lapses, during review without having to go into card statistics. I inquired on reddit whether there was an addon for this and while there are some good options for desktop, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that quite meets this need for mobile (where I do all of my reviews).
  • As you get better at knowledge building, interference will become your most common problem. As Poitr Wozniak says, interference is “probably the single greatest cause of forgetting in collections of an experienced user” of spaced repetition systems since it is hard (impossible?) to avoid even if you are really good. You typically discover it during knowledge review time, not knowledge construction time.

Flashcard Refactoring

I’ve started a weekly habit of flashcard review. I want to share with you my thought process for modifying my cards, because I think this will be valuable to help you improve your own knowledge construction skills.

I also want my flashcard development out in the open so you can call me out when I make mistakes and provide suggestions for further improvements. Please do reach out! I am by no means the ultimate expert in knowledge construction.

So, I will be doing a regular series I call “Flashcard Refactoring” (Refactoring comes from the programming term which basically means revising and improving your code).

To sniff out poor flashcards, I ran prop:lapses>7 in the Anki browser to get all the cards I’ve forgotten over 7 times. Here’s one I came across about a command in the Linux command line to a suspend a job:

  • Side 1: ^Z (Linux Command Line)
  • Side 2: Suspend a job running in the foreground (Linux Command Line)

The card is reversible, so are two cards in total: one with Side 1 as the question, and another with Side 2 as the question.

At first glance, it doesn’t look too bad. It’s fairly concise. But one quick and easy change is reduce words in Side 2, in accordance with the 12th rule of Formulating Knowledge (“Optimize Wording”):

  • Side 2: Suspend foreground job (Linux Command Line)

This is a nice little improvement, but why am I really forgetting this card? I think it’s because ^Z doesn’t really have any meaning – it seems arbitrary and it has no clear connection to suspending foreground jobs.

So, I’ll create a fake connection, i.e. a mnemonic.

The mnemonic that immediately came to mind was the fact that the beginning of “Suspend” kind of sounds like a “Z”, e.g. “Zuspend”. I think this is all that’s required for this to stick in my memory (but only time will tell).

When you come up with a mnemonic, it’s a good idea to create a separate card for it, so I added the following to my deck: 

  • Q: Mnemonic for remembering ^Z suspends foreground job in Linux Command Line.
  • A: Zuspend

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Roam Notes on David Perell Podcast: Tyler Cowen’s Production Function

  • "Author::" [[David Perell]] [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Source::"
  • "Recommended By::" [[David Perell]]
  • "Tags:: " #Productivity #podcast #writing
  • Expansion of David Perell’s Show Notes

  • [[Modesty]] signals high value.
  • 2:40 – What [[Tyler Cowen]] considers his compounding advantage.
    • Start early and keep going for many years. Many stop learning and self-improvement as they get older.
    • Why do people stop learning and self-improvement? Starting early you give up a normal childhood, which isn’t necessarily bad but many don’t want to do it. Once you reach a certain age (e.g. 45) you can take paths that have high income but low growth / learning (e.g. [[Consulting]])**, so why go the extra mile? **
  • 5:56 – Why being born as an intelligent person is not as important as developing knowledge. #intelligence #knowledge
    • A good lesson is there are many smarter people than you. Figuring out you’re pretty smart, but not that smart is actually a good combination.
  • 8:23 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] maximizes the value of his [[consumption]] and minimizes the drawbacks.
    • A lot of the value of [[consumption]] is [[memory]] or [[anticipation]]. You can cut consumption of bad things by 2/3, but still get most of the benefit (e.g. eating dessert).
  • 9:19 – What draws [[Tyler Cowen]] to the people he likes spending time with, and what he likes best about their friendship.
    • Advantages of people in [[Silicon Valley]]:** super smart but not necessarily highly educated so they don’t just believe what everyone else does. **They think outside the box. They’re thinkers as well as people that have had to do things and pass [[reality]] tests. The only test most academics face is "can I publish this piece?"
  • 12:33 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] feels that the way he has lived his life has meant has not given anything up.
  • 15:35 – How the fundamentals of productivity came intuitively to [[Tyler Cowen]].
    • He writes every day, with the exception of 10-15 days a year. If you write every day, you don’t have to worry about how much you’ve written, it’s going to add up. The regularity also pushes you along a learning curve so you’ll get more done. #writing
    • One thing he does is lay out arguments of views he disagrees with. You understand them better, sympathize with them more, and sometimes you change your mind. It makes you stupider to repeat views you agree with / are familiar with. #writing #Thinking
  • 17:41 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] writes in his particular style not by choice, but by necessity.
    • There’s a beauty / clarity choice in [[writing]]. He’s not good at the beautiful prose type of writing. He focuses on clarity.
  • 22:19 – Why the things in [[Tyler Cowen]]’s life that bind his [[output]] aren’t what you think.
    • Big binding factors: [[ideas]], time spent writing / thinking, and time spent talking to people (which helps him come up with ideas).
  • 24:06 – How to develop new [[ideas]] while staying focused on the subject and not getting tangled.
    • Just keep [[writing]] and re-writing. A book will typically be reworked 10 times. Effort and application – there are no tricks.
  • 27:36 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] sees [[art]] as one of the most important and beneficial things you can spend your [[time]] and [[money]] on.
    • You make your home special, learn other cultures, learn other points of review, develop judgement skills useful in other areas.
  • 32:41 – What writers can learn about inspiration and consistency from [[musicians]] and [[visual artists]].
    • Many [[artists]] tend to work in bursts. That’s not how he writes. Some writers are like that.
    • The half-life of ideas is very short. Be selfish, maximize your personal learning and your impact now. Don’t worry about [[legacy]]. Take [[Gary Becker]] – one of the top [[economics]] Nobel laureates. Nobody reads him now.
  • 37:16 – Why [[Peter Thiel]] has impacted [[Tyler Cowen]] so deeply and why Tyler believes he’s one of the greatest thinkers of our time.
    • He understands the [[humanities]] so well. [[Tyler Cowen]] sees him as a top thinker in this area.
    • He has the best [[bullshit]] detector of anyone he’s ever spoken with. He gets when people are bluffing. He’s probably the best selector of [[talent]], and to do that well you need to have a deep understanding of things that at least correlate with the [[humanities]]. #Hiring
    • He takes the [[humanities]] seriously, and takes a deeply [[moral]] perspective. This is looked down upon and discouraged in a lot of [[academia]]. He takes [[religion]] seriously, takes input from a variety of sources, has real-world experience with companies, fluency in two languages ([[English]] and [[German]]).
  • 40:30 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] is able to extract more from his [[reading]] than other people do.
    • He has [[hyperlexia]]
    • Talks about [[Norway]], some major figures there and why he has read up on major figures in the country.
    • Also talks about prepping for [[Margaret Atwood]]
  • 45:44 – How understanding most other people’s [[intelligence]] is higher than his in most fields gave [[Tyler Cowen]] an edge over other thinkers.
  • 49:00 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] sees a new visibility of [[talent]] in people and how he is using this visibility.
    • He’s bullish on [[Craig Palsson]], @marketpower on [[Twitter]]. He wants to be out there, determined, focus, and caring about getting things right. The emphasis on [[writing]] is commonly a big plus – it’s a sign of clear thinking.
    • [[David Perell]] sees his advantage as someone that takes action quickly. [[Tyler Cowen]] adds that successful people have an honest "what am I good at" [[metarationality]].
  • 55:24 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] constructs his [[interviews]] to maximize the freedom of his guests to speak freely on what they love.
    • His interview style likely doesn’t apply to most others, unless you read a lot.
    • He doesn’t [[probe]], because people repeat a lot and get defensive.
  • 1:00:03 – How to develop skills as a teacher and where [[Tyler Cowen]] believes the strengths of a good teacher lie. #Teaching
    • Student evaluations aren’t that helpful.
    • He gets better by just teaching a lot.
  • 1:03:34 – Why the novelty and beauty of visiting other cultures excites [[Tyler Cowen]] so much. #travel
  • 1:07:18 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] makes the most out of his travels. #travel
    • It wasn’t until he saw a large number of places did he start to love [[travel]]. The first place he went outside of the US was Oxford, England. He didn’t get much out of it, didn’t really enjoy it that much.
  • As you get older and more successful, it’s harder to get critical [[feedback]] from people. Hang out with critical people and hope you can get benefits. It’s hard to do this. If you are around people that are above you in the hierarchy, you should be critical too. #aging
  • He hasn’t seen anyone better than [[Patrick Collison]] at quickly learning new [[concepts]], by an order of magnitude.
  • 1:13:32 – Why sitting in a suboptimal seat at a concert may give you worse sound but a better understanding of the [[music]]. #concerts #[[live music]]
    • Mentions going to [[The Village Vanguard]] randomly, because you know whatever is there will be good.
  • 1:16:55 – Why knowledge workers are often not motivated to improve their [[skills]]. #[[knowledge work]]
    • Some of it is a fault in the market, because it’s hard to recognize talent. That’s why [[Tyler Cowen]] is writing a new book on spotting talent. You can do things to improve, but there is not always a return because the market doesn’t recognize it. If you’re better at spotting [[talent]], it makes more sense to invest in it.
    • You need a somewhat long [[time-horizon]]
    • You don’t really need [[discipline]]. It can be a form of entertainment or [[procrastination]] to improve your skills. Discipline and [[Conscientiousness]] are more ambiguous than we realize.
  • "The more you know, the more you can order things into coherent thoughts." Learning begets [[learning]]. True of reading, true of travel, true of food. #chunking #Thinking #skills
  • 1:20:48 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] still responds to every [[Email]] and loves it.
    • He finds time for this because of what he doesn’t do: he hardly watches [[TV]], **his social life is basically the same as his intellectual life **- his social life is geared towards thinking, discussing, exploring ideas. With no TV, you end up with a lot of [[time]]. #[[unproductive internet activities]]
    • Isn’t [[email]] a low leverage use of his time? **He learns a lot from people that email him, and has filtered his audience so it’s mostly smart people. **He does this by being "sufficiently weird". He’s not even sure it’s highly leveraged. He met [[Patrick Collison]] that way. He doesn’t care if it’s highly leveraged if he’s learning from it. #[[Audience Building]]

Anki / Spaced Repetition Tip: Review your Weak Flashcards

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I’ve been a long-time user of spaced repetition tools. I’ll never forget first hearing about SuperMemo from a close friend as I started my undergraduate degree in 2005. I was immediately sold on the value of spaced repetition, and I particularly liked the idea of computers automatically taking care of review scheduling for you. I started using SuperMemo as a central tool for studying, and saw my academic performance skyrocket.

Over the years, I’ve slowly improved my skill in designing flashcards. It is by no means a trivial skill: it took me years to get pretty good at it, and to this day I still often make flashcards that are complete failures.

I believe there will eventually be an open collaborative platform for flashcard development and sharing, where experts can contribute and refine perfectly crafted cards. Users contribute their deck statistics, revealing poorly formed cards and contributing to our understanding of optimal flashcards.

But until that day, it pays to develop your flashcard creation skills.

Flashcard quality is top of mind for me since I’ve revisited the classic article by Peter Wozniak (of SuperMemo fame), “Effective Learning: Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge)”. It is a must-read for anyone that creates flashcards for learning (i.e. almost everyone at some point in their life). I’ve published my summary notes on this article (aside: my notetaking tool of choice is Roam my notes are easy to copy-paste into your own Roam database if you happen to use it as well).

One great way to improve your flashcard development skills, while simultaneously improving the quality of your deck, is to review your old cards regularly. Review your top 10-20 most problematic cards weekly, and for each one you encounter, do one of the following things:

  • Revise: With the Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge by your side, refine your card or break it down into a larger number of small, easy to digest cards.
  • Suspend: If you don’t think you need to have a card in spaced repetition anymore, but don’t want to delete it entirely, suspending is a good option.
  • Delete: If you know the knowledge is completely useless to you, trash the card entirely.

But what cards should you review? If you’re like me, you have a pretty big collection, and it’s just not feasible to review all your cards every week to find the weak ones.

Anki makes it quite easy to find these problematic cards. Two main search commands in the Anki Browser are useful here:

  • tag:leech – this finds all of the “leeches” in your Anki deck, which are cards that you keep forgetting. By default, Anki tags your card as “leech” when you fail a card 8 times.
  • prop:lapses>n – this reveals all of the cards you have failed (“lapsed“) over n times. You can set n to whatever number you like. Start with high-n cards and work your way down.

In addition to using these search techniques, I try to make a habit of “marking” cards that are problematic or poorly formed in some way, during review. If it’s an easy correction (e.g. obvious suspension, or small text changes), I’ll make the change right away in the mobile app. Otherwise, I will simply mark the card and filter it out during weekly review to make improvements.

When you do revise your cards, I recommend “resetting” the card so it’s like a “do-over” – the card should be reviewed again as if you just created it. This serves two purposes: it ensures that the card will no longer show up in your “problem cards” lists when you do the above queries. It also provides you with more opportunities to review your new formulation of the knowledge.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way to do this in Anki is do create new card(s) with the information you want and delete the old one. There is an option for “rescheduling” the card, but this only restarts the review process and doesn’t delete your review history. As a result, the card will still appear as one of your problem cards if you do a query like prop:lapses>n. Luckily, it’s not much extra effort to do this.

I have to admit that I do not entirely practice what I preach here. Weekly review of my cards is something I haven’t fully incorporated yet, but I’m resolving to start doing it today. In the next weeks, I’m going to experiment with a Flashcard Refactoring series to illustrate the card refinement process. Stay tuned!

To receive content like this weekly in your inbox, subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter, which provides latest news, tips, and ideas about spaced repetition, using learning tools like Anki, and improving your learning productivity.

Roam Notes on “What the Pandemic Revealed”, By Brink Lindsey

  • "Author::" [[Brink Lindsey]]
  • "Source::"
  • "Recommended By::" [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Tags:: " #libertarian #[[COVID-19]] #politics #[[role of government]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Overview

  • [[Brink Lindsey]] discusses libertarianism in the context of [[COVID-19]]. While there was significant government failure in handling the crisis, Lindsey suggests that what we need is greater government capacity, not to cut government services. According to him, this is the only solution Libertarians have regarding government. They offer valuable points on the limits of government, but they do not provide insights on how to improve the quality of government.
  • Excerpts

  • On March 3, in response to reports that some Republican lawmakers favored free testing and treatments for [[COVID-19]], [[Derek Thompson]] of [[The Atlantic]] tweeted, “There are no [[libertarians]] in a pandemic.” The witticism bounced all over social media during the ensuing days and weeks – and with good reason, since the jab hit its target squarely on the nose.
  • When public safety is threatened, whether by war or disease, our dependence on [[Government]] becomes immediately and viscerally obvious.
  • In the first place, the fact that certain kinds of government action are necessary under the extraordinary conditions of a public health emergency – a fact freely acknowledged by many libertarians and partisans of small government – does not mean that expansive government across the board is a good idea in normal times. Further, in the emergency now upon us, overweening government has contributed significantly to the scale of the pandemic here in the United States. Effective responses to the outbreak have been badly hampered by inadequate supplies of test kits and equipment, and primary responsibility for this failure rests with the Food and Drug Administration and its heavy-handed regulatory approach. A key blunder was the decision in early February to allow only the [[CDC]] to produce and conduct tests; problems with the CDC’s initial test then led to weeks of disastrous delay. #[[FDA]]
  • Meanwhile, responding to the crisis has necessitated a string of regulatory waivers at the federal and state levels – to allow doctors and nurses to work out of state, to facilitate telemedicine, to expand the scope of work that non-M.D. health professionals can do, to allow restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to takeout customers, and more. The relevant rules have been put aside temporarily as obviously dysfunctional now – but perhaps that means at least some of them are dysfunctional, if less obviously, all the time? #[[regulation]] #[[deregulation]]
  • But if the pandemic has shown that a critical stance toward government is always needed in formulating and evaluating policy, it has demonstrated even more forcefully the limitations and shortcomings of libertarians’ exclusive focus on government excess. The gravest failures in the government response to the pandemic were sins of omission, not commission – not unnecessary and ill-advised interference with the private sector, but the inability to accomplish tasks for which only government is suited. Yes, at the outset of the crisis the [[FDA]] was disastrously over-restrictive in permitting labs to develop their own tests for the virus, but it is flatly risible to suggest that everything would have worked out fine if only government had gotten out of the way.
  • While the economic collapse was doubtless aggravated at the margins by forced business closures and stay-at-home orders, those interventions largely codified the public’s spontaneous response to the uncontrolled outbreak of a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease. It’s quite simply impossible to run a modern economy at anything near its potential level of output when people are afraid that going to work or going shopping might kill them or their loved ones.
  • [[Government excess]], in other words, was not the fundamental problem. On the contrary, a large and activist government was all that stood between us and mass privation and suffering on a mind-boggling scale. Only government can mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic – in the same way it responds to other shocks that lead to other, less drastic slumps – by acting as insurer of last resort, using its taxing, spending, borrowing, and money-creating powers to sustain household spending and keep businesses afloat until resumption of something approaching normal economic activity is possible.
  • In the current double crisis, what has been lacking is not restraints on government power. What has been lacking – shockingly, shamefully, tragically lacking – is the capacity to exercise government power effectively. #[[state capacity]]
  • As to how to close America’s deficit in [[state capacity]], a question with millions of lives in the balance, [[libertarianism]] has nothing to say. The libertarian project is devoted exclusively to stopping government from doing things it ought not to do; its only advice about how to improve government is “less.” When it comes to making government strong enough and capable enough to do the things it needs to do, libertarianism is silent.
  • As I’ve already argued, none of this means that libertarians are wrong about everything, or that [[libertarian]] ideas are worthless. But it does mean that skepticism about government, standing alone, is an insufficient foundation for good governance. The insights of libertarian thought – suspicion of centralized power, alertness to how even the best-intended government measures can still go horribly wrong, recognition of the enormous fertility of the marketplace’s decentralized, trial-and-error experimentation – are genuine and abiding. But they are not sufficient.
  • I say this as someone who discovered [[libertarian]] ideas in the 1970s. Back then, the intellectual orthodoxy tilted heavily in favor of top-down, technocratic management of economic life. [[Paul Samuelson]]’s bestselling [[economics]] textbook was still predicting that the [[Soviet Union]] would soon overtake us in [[GDP]].
  • The intellectual turn against markets had derived enormous momentum from events. The catastrophic collapse of the [[Great Depression]] had seriously discredited [[capitalism]], while the energetic experimentation of the [[New Deal]] showcased government activism favorably. Belief in the benevolence and effectiveness of American government, and the crucial importance of collective action for collective welfare, gained further strength from the experience of [[World War II]]. And the glittering economic performance of the postwar decades under the [[Big Government]]-[[Big Business]]-[[Big Labor]] triumvirate seemed to confirm that government management and economies of scale had permanently displaced upstart [[entrepreneurship]] and [[creative destruction]] as the primary engines of [[progress]].
  • But by the 1970s, events had turned. [[Stagflation]], the combination of soaring prices and slumping output, was afflicting the country despite the fact that its very existence was a baffling mystery to the reigning practitioners of macroeconomic “fine-tuning.” In cruel mockery of the noble goals and soaring rhetoric of the “War on Poverty,” a major expansion of anti-poverty programs had been followed by waves of urban riots, a soaring crime rate, and the catastrophic breakdown of intact families among African-Americans. The auto and steel industries, pillars of the economy and only recently world leaders in efficiency and innovation, were buckling under the competitive challenge of imports from [[Europe]] and [[Japan]]. Gas lines and periodic rationing suggested a grim future of ever more tightly binding “limits to growth.”
  • Against this backdrop, the rising movement of libertarian thought and free-market economics represented a much-needed corrective.

Roam Notes on Poitr Wozniak (Supermemo) Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge

  • "Author::" [[Poitr Wozniak]]
  • "Source::"
  • "Recommended By::"
  • "Tags:: " #Flashcards #[[Spaced Repetition]] #[[flashcard design]] #Learning
  • Summary

  • The rules are listed in order from most important / common to least.
  • Rule 1: Do not learn if you do not understand. Trying to memorize things you don’t understand increase the time to learn and more importantly, reduces the value of the knowledge to nothing (e.g. memorizing a German history book when you don’t know German – you won’t know any of its history). #[[Flashcard Tip: Don’t add Things you Don’t Understand]]
  • Rule 2: Learn before you memorize. He recommends building an overall picture of the learned knowledge before memorizing. You’ll reduce learning time when the individual pieces fit a single coherent structure. So, read the chapter first, then add the cards. #[[Flashcard Tip: Learn Before you Memorize]]
    • Notes: Why can’t you learn with [[Flashcards]] alone? Perhaps this is efficient if presented in the proper order. Also, perhaps the cards need to change when first learning when compared to committing to long-term memory. If so, how do they change? In other words, how are "questions for learning" different than "questions for retention"? #[[Personal Ideas]]
  • Rule 3: Build upon the basics. Start simple, and build from there. Don’t hesitate to memorize basic, obvious things. The cost of memorizing them is small, because they’re easy to answer. "usually you spend 50% of your time repeating just 3-5% of the learned material" source #[[Flashcard Tip: Build Upon the Basics]]
    • Notes: The basics provide [[scaffolding]] that you can build upon. This reminds me of the [[80-20 rule]], where a big chunk of your time is spent on a small number of [[flashcards]]. #[[Flashcard Tip: Track Down and Eliminate Your Problem Cards]].
  • Rule 4: Stick to the minimum information principle. Formulate knowledge as simply as possible. Simple is easy to remember, and having a complex answer means there is more to remember – a larger number of simpler cards covering the same knowledge lets you review each sub-component at its own appropriate pace. #[[Minimum Information Principle]] #[[Flashcard Tip: Follow the Minimum Information Principle]]
  • Rule 5: Cloze deletion is easy and effective. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Cloze Deletion]]
  • Rule 6: Use imagery. Our brains are wired for them. They usually take more time to create though compared to a basic verbal card, so weigh the benefits. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Images]]
  • Rule 7: Use mnemonic techniques. He makes an interesting point that these do not solve the problem of forgetting, since the bottleneck is long-lasting and useful memory, not quickly memorizing knowledge. For that, you need #[[Spaced Repetition]]. "Experience shows that with a dose of training you will need to consciously apply mnemonic techniques in only 1-5% of your items". #[[Flashcard Tip: Save Mnemonics for Difficult Cards]] #mnemonics
  • Rule 8: Graphic deletion is as good as cloze deletion. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Image Occlusion]]
  • Rule 9: Avoid sets. Sets are unordered collections of objects. Very difficult to memorize. If you must, use [[enumerations]] instead, which are ordered in some way. #sets #[[Flashcard Tip: Avoid sets]]
  • Rule 10: Avoid enumerations #enumerations #[[Flashcard Tip: Avoid Enumerations]]
    • He includes a nice method for [[memorizing text]] such as [[poems]] or [[prayers]], without using [[cloze deletion]]
  • Rule 11: Combat interference: #[[memory interference]] #[[Flashcard Tip: Combat Interference]]
    • Learning similar things tends to make you confuse them. [[memory interference]] – "knowledge of one item tends to make it harder to remember another item".
    • "**Interference is probably the single greatest cause of forgetting in collections of an experienced user of **[[SuperMemo]]."
    • The only strategy to work against this is detect and eliminate. It’s hard to know you’ll face interference at card creation time.
  • Rule 12: Optimize wording #[[Flashcard Tip: Optimize Wording]]
    • Shave down the number of words you use. Make your cards as clear and concise as possible. Focus on the piece of information that is important.
  • Rule 13: Refer to other memories #[[Flashcard Tip: Refer to Other Memories]]
    • When you add a new card, try incorporating things you’ve learned from other cards.
  • Rule 14: Personalize and provide examples: #[[Flashcard Tip: Personalize and Provide Examples]]
    • Link your cards to your personal life.
  • Rule 15: Rely on emotional states: #[[Flashcard Tip: Rely on Emotional States]]
    • We remember things better that are vivid or shocking.
  • Rule 16: Context cues simplify wording: #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Context Cues]]
    • They often reduce the number of words you need
  • Rule 17: Redundancy does not contradict minimum information principle #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Redundancy]]
    • Redundancy – more information than needed or duplicate information.
    • It can be good, and minimum information principle does not mean minimum number of characters in your deck.
  • Rule 18: Provide source: #[[Flashcard Tip: Provide Sources]]
  • Rule 19: Provide date stamping: #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Date Stamps]]
    • Particularly for knowledge that changes over time and can become obsolete.
  • Rule 20: Prioritize: #[[Flashcard Tip: Prioritize]]
    • There is way more knowledge in the world than you’ll be able to absorb and remember long-term.
    • Focus on adding knowledge that is most relevant and important to you.

Roam Notes on Atlantic Interview with Tyler Cowen “The Regulatory State is Failing Us”

  • "Author::" [[Conor Friedersdorf]] interview with [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Source::"
  • "Recommended By::"
  • "Tags:: " #[[COVID-19]] #[[regulation]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Summary Notes

  • [[Conor Friedersdorf]] interview with [[Tyler Cowen]] discussing failures of [[the regulatory state]], particularly in the context of [[COVID-19]]. They discuss what has gone wrong and some potential solutions.
  • Excerpts

  • “[[Our regulatory state is failing us]],” he has repeatedly warned on his blog, [[Marginal Revolution]]
  • He fleshed out his concerns and desired reforms in an interview conducted over email.
  • As for the South Korean government, once the coronavirus arrived in their country, the government sat down with the private sector, figured out what needed to be done, and started doing it right away, including very aggressive procurement of PPE and testing. I think there are at least three differences that partly account for this difference in response. First, the South Korean state has very recent experience building lots of quality infrastructure. Second, SARS was a very real risk in South Korea, which boosted their readiness and also response capabilities. Third, South Koreans are used to the idea of [[existential risk]], given their history and neighbors, and they do not regard themselves as invulnerable. #[[South Korea]]
  • I do not view the administrative state as extra-constitutional. That said, it has become far too inflexible, and not sufficiently focused on [[outcomes]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Friedersdorf: If you could change one thing about the culture of America’s [[Bureaucracy]], what would it be?
  • Cowen: [[regulation]] should be more goal-oriented, and less prescriptive in terms of the details. It should be easier to exercise judgment to meet particular worthy ends, rather than being hamstrung by restrictions and details. Regulation should recognize that emergency situations will come along when very fast action will be needed. Our current regulatory state is not built around those ideas, and its culture is accordingly complacent, and compliance- and process-oriented rather than success-oriented. These days, the American public sector just isn’t very good at getting things done.
  • Cowen: So much needs to be done. First, we need far more data on the scope of regulation, what it does and doesn’t do, and its costs.
  • Cowen: [[]] is a very good source for covering [[the regulatory state]] during [[COVID-19]].
  • Friedersdorf: [[Libertarians]] and small-government [[conservatives]] are highly skeptical of [[the regulatory state]]. What do they get wrong?
    • Cowen: Very often, the alternative to [[regulation]] is ex post facto reliance on the courts and juries to redress wrongs. Of course, the judiciary and its components are further instruments of governments, and they have their own flaws. There is no particular reason, from, say, a [[libertarian]] point of view, to expect such miracles from the courts. Very often, I would rather take my chances with the [[regulators]].
    • Also, let’s not forget the cases where the regulators are flat-out right. Take herbal medicines, penis enlargers, or [[vaccines]]. In those cases, the [[regulators]] are essentially correct, and there is a substantial segment of the population that is flat-out wrong on those issues, and sometimes they are wrong in dangerous ways.

Excerpts from “The Use of Flashcards in an Introduction to Psychology Class”


  • Abstract: Four hundred fifteen undergraduate students in an Introduction to Psychology course voluntarily reported their use of [[Flashcards]] on three exams as well as answered other questions dealing with flashcard use (e.g., when did a student first use flashcards). Almost 70% of the class used flashcards to study for one or more exams. Students who used flashcards for all three exams had significantly higher exam scores overall than those students who did not use flashcards at all or only used flashcards on one or two exams. These results are discussed in terms of [[retrieval]] practice, a specific component of using flashcards.
  • Despite their apparent prevalence and impressive claims regarding their effectiveness, there appear to be no published studies examining whether flashcard use increases students’ exam performance in a naturalistic context.
    • Researchers have investigated flashcard effectiveness in laboratory settings.
  • A [[crib sheet]] (or cheat sheet) is an index card that contains ‘‘brief written notes’’ for a class and that a student can use during an exam (Dickson & Miller, 2005).
    • some research on crib sheets may pertain to how [[Flashcards]] influence exam performance. Studies have shown that merely creating crib sheets does not aid in student learning because students depend on being able to use the crib sheets during an exam and may not actually learn the exam material (Dickson & Bauer, 2008; Funk & Dickson, 2011). Yet, Funk and Dickson (2011) found that when students created crib sheets but did not expect to use them during an exam, they performed better on that exam than on another exam for which they expected to use their crib sheets. The former condition may be similar to creating flashcards in that students generate and use flashcards with the clear understanding that these cards will not be used during the exam. #[[How Much Does Flashcard Creation Aid Learning?]] #[[Blog Post: How Much Does Flashcard Creation Aid Learning?]]
  • [[Descriptive Statistics About Flashcard Use]]
    • Overall, 69.9% of the class used flashcards for at least one of the three exams; 65.5% used written flashcards, 3.9% used computer flashcards, and 0.5% used both self-generated and [[computer flashcards]]. Also, 55.2% of the class used flashcards (either written or computer) to study for two of the three exams and 34.9% used flashcards to study for all exams.
    • The results showed that flashcards were also used in other classes: 48% used only written flashcards in other classes, 2% used only [[computer flashcards]] in other classes, and 6.5% used written and computer flashcards in other classes. About half of students (49%) who used flashcards in the present Psychology course used them in other courses. Only about a quarter of students (23%) did not use flashcards in any class. Finally, only a small percentage of students (7%) did not use flashcards in Introduction to Psychology, but used flashcards in other courses
  • In our study, students primarily used self-generated [[Flashcards]]. In fact, so few students used [[computer flashcards]] that analyses could not be conducted comparing the two types of flashcards.
  • it is likely that the proliferation of smaller computers and electronic devices (e.g., iPads) will lead to an increase in [[computer flashcard]] use in the years ahead.
  • Flashcard use should be examined in greater detail by investigating the composition of the flashcards that are generated (i.e., what is on each card), how students actually use the cards (e.g., how often do the students test themselves, how long do students spend generating and using flashcards), whether other study techniques are used in conjunction with flashcards, and how the nature of the materials to be studied impacts flashcard use. #[[Gaps in Flashcard Research]]
  • three important [[methodological limitations]] that should be noted
    • there is the possibility that students may have exaggerated or misremembered information about flashcard use
    • the survey was only conducted with a single Psychology class
    • the present study did not include information that might differentiate flashcard users and nonusers #[[selection bias]]

Notes on Balaji Srinivasan Interview: Technology Will Lead to a Borderless World

Overview: [[Balaji Srinivasan]] does a wide ranging interview with [[Nick Gillespie]] from [[Reason Magazine]] discussing his ideas around #Voice and #Exit, the relationship between technology and the logic of violence, his intellectual heroes, among other topics.

1:45 At least two responses you can make when encountering ossified systems that you don’t like:

  • [[Voice]]: Expressing dissatisfaction (e.g. democracy, revolution)
  • [[Exit]]: Recognizing you won’t be able to change the system, so you leave and start something new.

All progress takes this form: you build something up, and once you get to a certain scale it becomes ossified. At that point, people start to [[Exit]] to go build something better. #progress #innovation

4:35 Technology is reducing the barrier to [[Exit]]. Two ways it does this:

  • Cloud dimension: Because of the cloud, you can earn from anywhere, collaborate from anywhere. Eventually, [[Balaji Srinivasan]] believes this will be taken further using [[cryptocurrency]] and [[VR]].
  • Mobile: Geography becomes less important. Increasingly, you live in an apartment complex and wouldn’t recognize anyone, but you have hour long conversations with people thousands of miles away.

7:30 [[Bitcoin]] and other [[cryptocurrency]] lets you transfer funds without an intermediary. This is a huge win for small payments across borders, which would otherwise have not been feasible due to very high transaction costs.

9:00 [[Silicon Valley]] benefited from having a lot of people close together to create an innovative environment. Can you achieve that same effect virtually?

12:30 Talks about the book “The Sovereign Individual” #[[Book: The Sovereign Individual]]. It’s like the book of prophesies. It’s written in 1999 and many sentences seem like they’re ripped from last week’s headlines and many have yet to happen. Most books you can summarize into a sentence, but this book is the opposite. You take a sentence and you can expand it into a whole book. #[[To Read]]The book talks about how changes in [[technology]] change the logic of [[violence]]. What happens when you can’t see someone’s money? Good things and bad things. Good things: everything becomes voluntary and you can keep money you create. Bad things: it’s hard to track down robbers if they manage to steal some cash. So, more petty crimes. But fewer wars (government’s can’t seize funds).

19:45 Talks about his experience being considered by [[Donald Trump]] as a candidate for the head of the [[FDA]] and what he would have done if he was appointed.

21:30 When nations are on the rise, people are often more willing to take substantial risks to make [[progress]]. If you look at the [[history]] of [[aviation]], [[automobiles]], [[railroads]] a lot of people died. History of [[chemistry]] – the CRC handbook of chemistry and physics from a long time ago has a lot of tastes and smells for new compounds, because people would actually taste and smell new compounds! Wouldn’t want to be the guy that did this for cyanide.

23:45 [[Balaji Srinivasan]]’s intellectual and business heroes. He calls himself a pragmatist and technologist. Avoids political labels, because that can maximize your coalition to build something new.

  • [[Srinivasa Ramanujan]] (mathematician) is one of his intellectual heroes. He would like to build things to identify talent like that, giving them opportunity to rise.
  • [[Lee Kuan Yew]] – a founding father of [[Singapore]]. He wrote a lot and gave many interviews. He had a great book “From Third World To First” #[[To Read]]. His work, and [[Singapore]] generally, defies traditional “left” and “right” political boundaries. This influenced his thought on finding pragmatic best outcomes and not just going down partisan routes. #politics #ideology

30:00 Advice for his young son in this new world: “probably want him to go Satoshi”. You can’t discriminate against Satoshi – competes completely on the basis of ideas. Also, mobs can’t take him down and ruin his reputation by attacking other aspects of their life. #[[Satoshi Nakamoto]] #pseudonymity #Parenting