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

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

  • "Author::" [[David Perell]] [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Source::" https://www.perell.com/podcast/tyler-cowen-production-function
  • "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

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!

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

  • "Author::" [[Brink Lindsey]]
  • "Source::" https://www.niskanencenter.org/what-the-pandemic-revealed/
  • "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::" https://www.supermemo.com/en/archives1990-2015/articles/20rules
  • "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::" https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/the-regulatory-state-is-failing-us/612220/
  • "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: [[Statnews.com]] 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

How to Deal with Lists in Anki

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

When adding cards to Anki (or any other spaced repetition system), you’ll find you often need to deal with lists. In the spaced repetition community, these are sometimes called “Sets” (see Anki Essentials, Chapter 7, “The 20 Rules”).

For example, here’s a section from a book I’m working through called The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming, where he summarizes the main advantages of computers over humans:

“People are sure the machine can never compete, ignoring all the advantages the machines have…These are: economics, speed, accuracy, reliability, rapidity of control, freedom from boredom, bandwidth in and out, ease of retraining, hostile environments, and personnel problems.”

This is a frustrating passage, because it’s packed with valuable information but tough to turn it into flashcards.

One easy approach is to cloze delete each individual option, and then cloze delete the entire list to make sure you can recall the whole thing. While this makes the cards easy to create, you’ll run into these issues when reviewing them:

  • It’s a lot to read, and you have to read every option to know what the missing one is.
  • It’s hard to remember. Even if you do individual cloze deletions for each point, you will still be very likely to fail on the question where you are asked to recall the entire list. Also, many lists (including the example above), are open ended and not necessarily exhaustive. So, when it comes time to review, you’re not quite sure what’s on the list, and you may list things that are “correct” but just not included on that particular list.
  • It violates a fundamental rule of flashcard creation. The “Minimum Information Principle” states that your questions and answers should be as simple as possible. A large number of simple cards is far more efficient to remember than a small number of big, demanding, awkward cards.
  • It’s hard to rate yourself. How do you rate your performance when you get 9 out of the 10 answers in the list correct? Do you fail yourself if you only got one wrong?

So, what are our options for dealing with these annoying lists?

Break it Down

First, ask yourself: do I really need to memorize the list? Do you really need to be able to spout off the list of advantages of computers over humans, and not miss any of points? Probably not.

Then ask yourself, what do I really want to get out of this list? In my example, I want advantages of computers over humans to pop up in my mind when the time is right. For example, when I’m working on a process at work that is repetitive, rote, and requires accuracy, I want to recognize computer scripts as a good solution.

So, I would not Ankify this specific list at all. Instead, I would look in the source to Ankify material focused on each individual point. For example, I could add specific questions on the relative costs of computing compared to manual effort, or details about the speed of computing compared to hand calculations. Doing this will give a deeper understanding of the advantages of computers over humans. It will probably also increase the likelihood of being able to recall the entire list at once (even though it’s unlikely I’ll need to do that).

You can also lists into sub-categories and then add those smaller lists to spaced repetition. Aim for each sub-category to have 1-2 items.

Take Advantage of Special List Structure

Sometimes you can take advantage of the inherent structure of a list to break the flashcard down. For example, your list can take a special form of a “1-n relationship”, as discussed in this thread .

A 1-n relationship is best understood by example. Suppose you want to memorize the Provinces in Canada. This list has the special property where each province in the list is associated with one and only one country (i.e. 1 country – n provinces). With lists like this, you can add questions like “what country does the province of Manitoba belong to?”, “What country does the province of Alberta belong to?”, etc. Of course, this fails if there is a province in another country with the same name, (that would mean it’s not a 1-n relationship), but you get the point.

Turn the List into an Enumeration

One of the problems with the example list of computer advantages is the order of the items has no meaning. There is no reason why “personnel problems” should be last rather than first. This makes it far more difficult to memorize because it’s just a bunch of seemingly random points.

Enumerations are ordered lists. Although they can still be difficult to memorize, they at least have some structure that your mind can latch on to. You should always try to convert your list into an enumeration if it’s not one already.

Ideally, your ordering will contain useful knowledge itself. For example, you could list the advantages of computers over humans, from most important to least important according to the author.

There are many other possibilities for turning lists into enumerations, depending on what you are trying to memorize, such as chronological order, area of the body, size, popularity, population, etc. If you can’t find a meaningful ordering, you can always list items alphabetically.

Enumerations are a free lunch, because they make list easier to memorize and provide bonus knowledge about the material. For example, wouldn’t it be much better to know the order of the planets in the solar system from closest to the sun to furthest, rather than just knowing the individual planets?

Use Cloze Overlapper

After you have turned something into an enumeration. How should you design your repetitions?

One option is to do one cloze deletion per item in the list. For example, take the list (a, b, c, d, e, f). Your cloze deletions are then ([…], b, c, d, e, f), (a, […], c, d, e, f), (a, b, […], d, e, f), etc.

I have done this many times in the past, and while I can usually answer the questions quickly and accurately, I find it hard to retain the information. When asked to reproduce the whole list, I fail. This is because the questions are too easy – removing only one item provides way too much context.

Until recently, I thought this was the best option. Then I came across the “overlapping cloze”: close deletions on individual items in the list, but with only a small amount of context given. For example, something like this: ([…], …, …, …, …), (a, […], …, …, …), (…, b, […], …, …), etc.

It’s actually quite painful to create overlapping clozes in vanilla Anki. Luckily, there is an add-on for this: Cloze Overlapper. This video by Glutanimate, the author of the add-on, provides an overview of issues with lists in and illustrates how how to use the add-on (aside: the author is the developer of another great add-on, image occlusion enhanced). I haven’t tried out Cloze Overlapper yet, so I can’t fully vouch for the technique or the add-on, but it seems to be highly regarded in the spaced repetition community.

Use Mnemonic Techniques

With a bit of practice, mnemonic techniques can help you achieve incredible feats of memory. Many are easy to learn. Even doing a little bit of studying on these techniques can produce big payoffs for your memory.

The technique I probably use most is the link method. For example, one flashcard I have on computer networking asks me to recall the main types of datalink layer errors. I added it as an unordered list: frame errors, drops, collisions, and overruns.

It’s actually a pretty poor card, but I haven’t had much trouble memorizing it because of the mnemonic I used:

  • I think of Link (from Zelda) with a shirt that says ERROR on it (dataLINK layer ERRORS).
  • Then I imagine him putting on some glasses (frame errors)
  • Link throws the glasses down to the ground (drops)
  • A giant truck hits Link (collisions)
  • Finally, the truck runs over the glasses that are on the ground (overruns)

Sounds silly, but it works. Our minds are extremely good at retaining images.

I am by no means an expert in these techniques, but I’ve found that learning a little bit helps a lot. If you go deeper, I’m sure you’ll see even bigger benefits. Other useful memory systems include peg and Method of Loci.

If you use a mnemonic technique for a list in your spaced repetition system, be sure to add flashcards to remember mnemonic itself.


Avoid lists if you can, but if you must, try to break them down into sub-categories, make sure they’re ordered (preferably with some relevant meaning to the ordering), use cloze overlapping to implement the reviews and limit context, and use mnemonic techniques. Together, this will give you a solid arsenal for committing lists to memory without much pain.