Notes on “Why Take Notes” by Mark Nagelberg

  • Author:: [[Mark Nagelberg]]
  • Source:: link
  • Reading Status:: [[complete]]
  • Review Status:: [[complete]]
  • Anki Tag:: nagelberg_why_take_notes
  • Anki Deck Link:: link
  • Blog Notes URL:: link
  • Tags:: #[[Spaced Repetition Newsletter]] #[[Blog Posts]] #[[PKM]] #[[note-taking]] #[[triple-pass system]] #retrieval #elaboration #[[knowledge management]] #[[articles]]
  • Notes

    • Two pillars of the "Triple-Pass System":
      • Note-taking
      • Spaced repetition
    • Why note-taking is necessary:
      • Preparing for [[Spaced Repetition]]
        • You don’t want to add directly to spaced repetition on first read – you’ll add too much unnecessary information or miss important context.
      • [[retrieval]] and [[elaboration]] practice
        • Reviewing, consolidating, and connecting your notes involves both retrieval and elaboration, which are beneficial for learning.
      • Computer-aided information [[retrieval]] and [[idea generation]]
        • Your notes can store more information and detail.
        • Digital search tools make it easy to look up information in your notes as well as find unexpected connections and insights you wouldn’t get from memory alone.

Why Take Notes?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

You can access an Anki deck and Roam Research notes on this article here.

My personal knowledge management system (the “Triple-Pass System”) has two key pillars:

  • Note-taking (AKA “second brain”) to store consolidated information on the content that I read
  • Spaced repetition to retain the most important information from my notes forever, at minimal cost

You might wonder: why is note-taking necessary at all when you have the powerful mental prosthetic of spaced repetition? Spaced repetition makes memory a choice. Why put in the extra effort to take notes when you can just add stuff to your spaced repetition system and be done with it forever?

There are a few reasons why note-taking deserves a place in my personal knowledge management system:

  • Preparing for spaced repetition
  • Retrieval and elaboration practice
  • Computer-aided information retrieval and idea generation

Preparing for Spaced Repetition

It’s usually not a good idea to add information directly to your spaced repetition system while you are reading content for the first time. You are much more likely to add unnecessary information or miss the crux because you lack context from reading the whole piece.

Instead, using your notes as an initial place to store information gives you time to let the information “stew” before you add it to spaced repetition. This helps you faithfully follow rule number 1 of formulating knowledge: do not learn if you do not understand.

Taking notes first has the added benefit of flexibility over when you add material to spaced repetition. You can add to spaced repetition right away, or you can do it later when you have more time. In contrast, going straight to spaced repetition requires you to either add material right away or re-read the entire source document later, essentially starting from scratch.

Retrieval and Elaboration Practice

The research literature on efficient learning tells us that retrieval and elaboration (i.e. recalling things you have learned and re-interpreting them) is extremely beneficial.

This is exactly what you do when note-taking:

  • Review the material (which usually requires some recall)
  • Consolidate it into a form that’s easily consumable (elaboration)
  • Make connections with existing knowledge (recall and elaboration)
  • Intersperse ideas and alternate interpretations throughout your notes (elaboration)

Computer-Aided Information Retrieval and Idea Generation

If you think of your brain as a computer, your spaced repetition system is like your RAM: quickly accessible information. This is ideal for knowledge that you will benefit from being able to retrieve quickly.

In contrast, your note-taking system is like a hard drive: it’s slower to access (since you have to open your note-taking app), but it is capable of storing much larger quantities of information. This is great for looking up details that were not practical to commit to spaced-repetition.

Most digital note-taking tools also have sophisticated search functions that allow you to efficiently look up what you need. These features not only help with information retrieval, but also idea generation by helping you make unexpected connections with other knowledge. Roam Research is particularly good in this area, using a graph-based data model that lets you explore connections between your notes.

Notes on “3 Things I Wish I did as a Junior Dev” by Theo Browne

  • {{[video]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rC4cTRZeWc}}
  • Author:: [[Theo Browne]]
  • Reading Status:: [[complete]]
  • Review Status:: [[complete]]
  • Tags:: #Video #programming #learning #[[Career]]
  • Blog Notes URL:: https://www.marknagelberg.com/notes-on-3-things-i-wish-i-did-as-a-junior-dev-by-theo-browne/
  • Roam Notes URL:: link
  • Anki Tag:: theo_browne_3_junior_dev_tips
  • Anki Deck Link:: link
  • Notes

    • Overview: [[Theo Browne]] talks about the 3 main tactics he used when he was a new developer to level up extremely fast.
    • Tip 1: Try to Get On Call
      • Extremely valuable to see how things go wrong, and how they are fixed when they do.
    • Tip 2: You Don’t Learn Codebases in the Code Tab on GitHub. You Learn Codebases on the Pull Request Tab on GitHub. #[[pull requests]] [[GitHub]]
      • It helps you get critical [[context]] to see how code changes, how teams work in a codebase, what features are being developed, and why. This is what helps you build a mental map around the codebase to become a successful contributor.
    • Tip 3: Interview More #[[interviews]]
      • Do more interviews at other companies to see where you stand, but more importantly, do interviews yourself of prospective employees. You learn a lot about how good a developer you are, what expectations are, and what makes a good engineer. The more interviews you do on both sides, the more you understand the field overall.

How to Improve your Flashcard Knowledge Base

Even the best flashcard developers among us create bad cards on a regular basis (e.g. too long, ambiguous, useless information).

Given the reality that we all are highly imperfect at developing our flashcards, what should we do to improve these crummy cards as they age so you can spend less time reviewing and remember the concepts better?

I call this process flashcard “refactoring” (a term borrowed from software development).

Why refactor flashcards?

Reviewing old flashcards requires time and effort. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the price:

  • It improves your understanding of the material. The process of breaking learning material down into the smallest “chunks” possible that fit onto flashcards is an extremely valuable exercise. Reviewing troublesome cards clarifies what you don’t understand and forces you to restructure your knowledge in a way that makes sense.
  • Your worst flashcards take up a disproportionate amount of time and effort, while yielding the worst results in terms of retention and usefulness. Following the 80-20 rule, 20% of your cards leads to 80% of the effort in review. So it’s a high value activity to hunt down this subset of your cards.
  • It provides knowledge construction training. Creating good flashcards is a nontrivial skill built over time. You can read Poitr Wozniak 20 rules for formulating knowledge, but actually observing your own performance on your cards and troubleshooting improvements takes your skills to the next level.

The process I use has two broad steps: selection and revision.

Selecting Problem Cards

I use two main methods to find cards needing review.

The first and most important method is finding cards I keep failing (“lapse” is the term in Anki). In the Anki browser, I can use the command prop:lapses>n to find the cards that have lapsed over n times. For me, cards are never lapse more than 8 times because Anki then marks it as a leech and automatically suspends it. Cards that have lapsed 5 or more times are great candidates for refactoring.

The other method is “marking” cards during review when I notice a card is poorly formed. I also try to make notes on marked cards describing what’s causing the problems (coming back to the cards at a later time, you can easily forget the specific issue that tripped you up).

Reviewing and Revising Problem Cards

The first step examining a difficult card is to ask whether I need this knowledge at all. If not, that’s the end of the process – I just delete the card and I’m done with it. I may also revisit the source material or do some Googling on the topic, which will sometimes reveal that the card is pointless or inaccurate.

If I decide that it’s important and relevant knowledge I want to keep, then I’ll examine the card for issues, using the principles from Poitr Wozniak Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge.

Example

Consider this data engineering card from my deck which was recently giving me problems:

  • Side 1: Tail latency amplification
  • Side 2: Even if small % backend calls slow, chance of getting a slow call increases if user request requires multiple backend calls, and so a higher proportion of end-user requests end up being slow.

First off, is this card relevant and worthwhile? For me, the answer is definitely yes: it’s both relevant to my job as a data scientist and my software engineering side projects.

Next, diagnose the problem. On closer examination, there are a few things wrong with the card:

In cases where I add material I don’t fully understand, I find the best approach is to go back to the source (which in this case is the book Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Kleppmann). I then refactored the card like this:

  • Side 1: Tail latency amplification (Kleppmann)
  • Side 2: Multiple back-end calls for a single user request increases chance of encountering a tail latency. (Kleppmann)

As you can see, I added a source to clarify where the information came from (Rule 18: Provide source).

I was curious what other cards I have about tail latency, and it turns out there are none! Seems ridiculous to have a card about tail latency amplification, but not have a single one about tail latency which is a more common term. Not having this in my deck probably contributed to interference since I never tested myself on the distinction between the two concepts. So I added:

  • Side 1: Tail latency (Kleppmann)
  • Side 2: High percentile response time. (Kleppmann)

Note that the tail latency amplification card uses tail latency in its response. I’m hoping this will limit confusion between the two and emphasize the distinction (Rule 13: Refer to other memories). I also italicized amplification, to hopefully further avoid interference.

Since I’ve made these changes, I haven’t had any problems with these cards and feel like I have a better grasp on the material. Consider doing the same for the important knowledge in your decks causing you trouble.

The Triple-Pass Method to Remember What you Learn, Forever

You read books. You watch videos. You listen to podcasts. There is a firehose of high-quality information available at your fingertips.

But how much do you actually get out of your media consumption? How much do you remember? For a long time, my answer was “not a whole lot”. I was often shocked at how few key points I could recall from material I had read only days or weeks earlier.

To me, this is unacceptable. Why bother doing so much reading if I’m just going to forget it all? Sure, if reading for entertainment, then no big deal. But most of the material I spend my time on is highly relevant to my professional and personal life. I want this knowledge to compound.

I’ve spent years experimenting, testing, and tweaking systems to get more value out of the media I consume and remember key points forever. I’ve eventually landed on a solution that I want to share with you: the “triple-pass” system. Using this system, I’m confident I’m getting everything I can out of my reading, and not a moment is wasted.

High-level Overview of the Triple-Pass System

At the highest level, the triple-pass system consists of the following stages:

  • First Pass: Active Media Consumption. Take notes and highlight important points from the media you consume (e.g. books, articles, videos).
  • Second Pass: Consolidate and Summarize Notes. Export notes and highlights from the first pass to a central note-taking system, then review, refine, and consolidate. This pass produces what Tiago Forte calls your “second brain“: an external system storing your knowledge in a format that can be easily searched and retrieved for use.
  • Third Pass: Commit to Long-Term Memory using Spaced Repetition. Add the most important parts of your notes from the second pass to a spaced repetition system. This stores the information efficiently in your long-term memory so you can access it in-the-moment when needed.

I go into each of these three stages in more detail below, including the technologies I use at each stage.

First Pass: Active Media Consumption

At this stage, you consume the media that you want to absorb. The key feature about this stage is that it is active media consumption, i.e. highlighting and taking notes as you read.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of the first pass:

  • Err on the side of more highlighting rather than less. It’s good to have a lot of context in your highlights. You can always eliminate things that are redundant or unnecessary in the second pass.
  • Highlight chapter titles. Titles provide useful context for organizing your notes and understanding the broader picture for an excerpt.
  • Prioritize the new, useful, and the interesting. There is no need for anything useless and uninteresting to exist in your knowledge base. Also, avoid including things you already know well.
  • Look for scaffolding. Keep an eye out for material that provides a “platform” to tackle more advanced concepts. For example, I always highlight definitions of important terms I’m unfamiliar with. I also like information about people, places, or things, since I can use these as context to learn related topics faster.

Technology I use for the First Pass

The tools I use at this stage vary depending on the type of media I’m consuming. There are two main criteria: i) the tool must allow me to record highlights and notes digitally, and ii) the tool must allow me to export materials to my note taking system (Roam) with little effort.

  • Books: Usually I purchase books on Kindle, which has excellent highlighting. I then use Readwise to automatically sync highlights to Evernote, and can copy and paste from Evernote to Roam (apparently Readwise now has a direct export to Roam, so it looks like I can cut out the Evernote middleman). For physical books, I use the Readwise mobile application, which has an OCR feature that lets you take a picture of the page you are reading and highlight it.
  • Articles / Blogs: I try to read all articles and blog posts on Instapaper, which allows me to highlight and take notes on articles. Again, Readwise allows me to import these notes into Evernote, which I copy / paste into Roam.
  • PDFs: At the moment I don’t have a good solution for PDFs. Since I can’t highlight them easily, I’ll often just take notes directly to Roam as I read, with the PDF open in one window and Roam open in another.
  • Videos: Typically I’ll sit at my computer when watching videos. So, I keep Roam open while watching the video and take notes, with timestamps. Here’s an example of video notes I put together for a Jeff Bezos Lecture on innovation.
  • Podcasts: I do listen to some podcasts (especially Conversations with Tyler), although I haven’t found a great tool for taking podcast notes. I usually listen to podcasts when I’m on the go, so note taking in the browser is typically not possible. Usually, if there’s a podcast that I listen to that’s really good, I’ll just revisit it and take notes while I listen at my computer desk.

Second Pass: Consolidate and Summarize Notes

In this pass, edit the highlights and notes that you’ve exported to your note-taking system. Activities here can include:

  • Deleting irrelevant or redundant notes
  • Summarizing excerpts into key points, while keeping some direct quotes from the material that is notable or quote-worthy
  • Reformulating material into your own words
  • Bold-facing the most important points so your notes are “glanceable”
  • Creating commentary on the material, expanding on points that you liked, critiquing points you disagreed with, filling in missing arguments, creating connections to other material in your knowledge base, or creating a high-level “book-review” style summary
  • Marking particularly important material for long-term memory

A key advantage of the second pass is it produces a valuable digital asset that you can draw on the rest of your life: you now have a searchable, quick-to-read summary of what you have read. The knowledge is now part of your “second brain” for easy access and connection to your existing knowledge.

Yet another advantage of this second pass is that the act of editing helps you absorb the material. This is because it requires elaboration and recall, which are both well-known to foster learning and memory.

Technology I use for the Second Pass

My note taking tool of choice is Roam. It is a fantastic piece of software, although it’s difficult to explain its value in words (you really just have to try it). I recommend looking into it if you are not already heavily invested in an existing note taking app. I find it allows me to easily make connections between knowledge, and its incredible functionality has led me to ditch Evernote, Asana, and 90% of Google Drive.

Third Pass: Commit to Long-Term Memory Using Spaced Repetition

In this third and final pass, add material material flagged “long-term memory” in the second pass to a spaced repetition system.

Spaced repetition is reviewing material at increasing intervals of time, allowing you to remember material with minimal effort. I won’t go into more detail here, but I highly recommend this overview by Gwern Branwen. You can also subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter.

The advantage of this third pass is access to your knowledge in the moment, when it matters, without any external note taking tools. This is useful for the many situations where it’s not feasible to consult your notes. For example: job interviews, meetings, or creative work where speed of thought is important and you need lots of in-memory scaffolding to make progress.

One nice feature of this third pass is you’ve thoroughly vetted the material in the first two passes. This means you’ll be less likely to add things you don’t need to your spaced repetition system, and you’ll only add information you understand (see rule 1 of flashcard knowledge construction: do not learn what you do not understand).

Technology I use for the Third Pass

Personally, I use Anki, which is probably the most popular spaced repetition software tool today. Some examples of other options include Mnemosyne, SuperMemo or even paper flashcards if you’re a technophobe.

Examples of the Triple-Pass System in Action

To get a feel for what the end result of this system looks like, here are a couple of examples:

This Seems like a lot of Work…

It’s true that using this system will almost certainly mean you’ll take more time to consume media. Compared to just passively reading a book, the highlighting, summarizing, and spaced repetition all add time.

But before you dismiss it, ask yourself a couple questions.

First: are you a genius that effortlessly absorbs the materials you consume? I don’t mean this sarcastically. People like this exist, like Tyler Cowen. If yes, there’s no real benefit to you from this system. It would just slow you down.

Second: why are you consuming the media in the first place? Is it something you really want to remember? If the answer is yes, then I believe using a system like this is a no-brainer.

Yes, it takes some extra time. But if you are consuming high-quality material relevant to your life, the benefits of that extra 10-30% of effort is well worth it.

For access to my shared Anki deck and Roam Research notes knowledge base as well as regular updates on tips and ideas about spaced repetition and improving your learning productivity, join “Download Mark’s Brain”.

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

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 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.