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Mnemonic Devices and Learning

On January 1, 2009 CNN published an article on memory. Now would be a good time to review and expand on that article, in the hopes of improving our own memory. It may be useful to conceive of the Art of Memory as having four broad application areas, a set of techniques (often called mnemonic devices), and the underlying cognitive architecture which indicate how and why such techniques work in the first place. Ultimately mnemonic devices promise a significant return on cognitive and temporal investment -- spend time learning these techniques and save a lot more time and effort over the application area.

Background on Mnemonics

According to Aristotle, the art of memory was considered a part of rhetoric as much as dialectic in classical antiquity. Apparently, many mnemonic devices such as the Method of Loci and the Major System were taught in schools until at least the 19th century. It appears we have forgotten these memory systems. Now may be a good time to recall them to mind.

Underlying Cognitive Architecture

The underlying cognitive mechanism which are the basis for much of the mnemonic devices include the following elements, among others. - The Von Restorff Effect seems to be the basis for many other phenomena. The main point is that things that stand out are more likely to be remembered. This has many implications - The serial order effect includes two features: primacy (things first in a list are more likely to be remembered) and recency (things last in a series are more likely to be remembered). - The Picture Superiority Effect indicates that according to dual-coding theory, memories can exist as verbal and/or visual, and therefore pictorially represented ideas have the advantage of being coded twice, enhancing memorability. Use pictures and words when possible. - The Levels of Processing Effect is a complex phenomena. It proposes that depth of processing increases memorability. Semantic learning (meaning) is deeper than phonemic (sound) and orthographic (writing) learning alone. - In addition, specificity (the same medium of recall and production, such as auditory learning and recollection) increases depth. Self-reference indicates a connection between the object of learning and the subject doing the learning. Self-reference increases depth as well. Make learning specific in terms of medium, meaning (semantics), and learner self-reference (meaningfulness to the subject). This could be termed the three Ms of Memory: medium, meaning, and meaningfulness. - Implicit recollection is easier than explicit recollection. Implicit recollection effectively has context and other scaffolding features rather than requiring recollection without any related stimulus. However this effect does not have clear-cut support. - There is a hierarchy of sensory inputs for recall. Vision and touch are strongest with sound and smell less powerful sensory inputs. Incorporate vision and touch into sound-based memory inputs and outputs when possible.

Mnemonic Devices and Techniques

  • The Mnemonic Link System can be considered the basis of the Loci, Major, and Dominic systems. The main idea is to create connections between two unrelated things, thereby forging a memorable connection.
  • Peg systems are a memorization of visual associations with numbers, such that the numbers can be recalled by recalling the visual associations in a given order.
  • The Major System is a handy and flexible way of encoding numbers in sounds that can be memorized in words, and then decoded later to reproduce the original number. Created around 300 years ago, this is the most flexible system, though as it relies on sound it has a greater cognitive load rather than a straightforward peg system. However, it can be supplemented with software to help generate the most appropriate words to link to the target numbers. See also this article and this free software that can help with numbers-to-words association to help with major system.
  • The Dominic system is a shorter version of the Major system and associates numbers with letters, and pairs of letters with people. Then the idea is to memorize a set of people performing interactions, which can then be reversed back into the original number. (See also this phonetic mnemonic system.)
  • The Method of Loci is ascribed to the classical orator Simonides, who was speaking at a banquet, was called outside, when the roof collapsed. The bodies were so damaged they could not be identified, but he was able to identify the victims of the disaster based on where the people had been sitting. Loci (locations) are a well-known visual space which can be recalled readily to mind. The idea is then to picture objects in these places. The strengths of visual imagery and self-reference are combined to construct a powerful mnemonic.

Additional Practical Aspects

  • In the book Aspects of Memory: The Practical Aspects, there is an interesting article "Memory Aids, known how, knowing when, and knowing when not" introduces and discusses various memory aids (mnemonic devices) and their effectiveness compared with rote learning.
  • Another article in the same book, "The Facilitation of Memory Performance", discusses various memory and non-memory issues. Memory issues include using warm up, presentation rate, effective instructions, repetition, distributed study trials, use of external memory aids, and physical presence of objects.
  • Non-memory issues include physical, emotional, motivational, environmental, and social conditions. All of these non-memory issues are meant to increase both arousal and selective attention. Physically we are faced with the obvious importance of enough, but not too much, sleep, food, and water. Environmental issues include bathroom facilities, heat and cold, seating or standing, lighting, auditory and visual elements, and other comfort issues. Emotional state regards stress and relaxation training including yoga, meditation, and exercise. Motivation is a complex component best dealt elsewhere. Social environment has to do with interaction with others to reduce shyness and provide positive feedback and support.

Mnemonic Application Areas

  • Remembering Faces and Names are particularly important for rather obvious reasons. There are a few related systems, which usually rely on unique visual combinations, related to names, as well as previous memories and experiences, using the notion of self-reference.
  • A reviewer of "Remember Every Name Every Time" appears to provide most of the content of a given book, namely the two methods for remembering, the observational and associational systems.
  • There are several resources available as technique variations. The useful Nutt's How to Remember Names and Faces is now in the public domain. There is a video on how to remember names. A blog entry on ThinkSimpleNow has seven hacks to remember any name. And an additional site has more hints for name memory.
  • The Major and Dominic systems are designed for numbers, as well as reversing any peg system.
  • The linkword system is perfect for learning foreign language vocabulary. There has been useful research (constrained to case study) which indicates significant difference in using the linkword system. It is important that the linkwords, usually a visual combination based in L1 (first language) be focused on for a specific amount of time. Some studies indicate a 10 second time interval is useful and there is anecdotal evidence for great gains. Unfortunately, if native-speaker-level pronunciation is desired (which it usually is) then the linkwords must be created by bilingual teams who can work out the correct pronunciation. As we know languages have different sound sets, so even there a trained native speaker must conduct the listening and production aspects. For more thoughts on this topic, see this and this.
  • Textbook and Course Content is an obvious application area, though there is a sense that cramming is good enough for the majority of students, who don't want to commit to memory much of their higher educational experience. There is a useful resource on mnemonics for textbook memorization.
  • Another site provides some techniques for Listening in the article "How to listen for memory".

Final Note

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I didn't have much time, so I wrote a long article. A shorter one will be forthcoming once I boil this down into a few simple techniques and guidelines.

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Prehistory and Post Apocalypse

The thing about history is that there is a lot of it. And prehistory, well, so much more. The highlights: - carbon/methane sequestration - 50mya seas and temperatures - Return of the wooly mammoth - Arctic resources - Emigration for the next 1,000 years - O Canada

Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

> At least since 1997, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has become a focal point of considerable geoscience research because it probably provides the best past analog by which to understand impacts of global climate warming and of massive carbon input to the ocean and atmosphere, including ocean acidification. Although it is now widely accepted that the PETM represents a "case study" for global warming and massive carbon input to Earth's surface, the cause, details and overall significance of the event remain perplexing. - Wikipedia Around 50-60 million years ago there was a thermal maximum which is essentially the hottest the earth became most recently, with other significant heating events at around 500, 400, 300, and 250mya.

Earth an Ice Planet

Around 700mya the earth somehow began a massive erosional event that is presumed to be what is known as snowball earth. Basically Hoth.

Emigration for the next 1,000 years

Provided that things result as expected, and also that it is possible to consider a 1,000 year timescale for a family -- which is certainly possible when reviewing some of the world's oldest companies. Many of the oldest companies are local and family-owned. The question becomes, where should local be located, given the above? First, those countries whose temperature will become unlivable (which ultimately may be most), should be jettisoned. Low-lying, densely populated, ocean-dependent, and equatorial/tropical countries are particularly at risk (especially if several of these factors are combined). Granted, the worsening conditions will take some time to unfold, but the establishment of a new locale should be done within the existing generation. Inheritence, primogeniture, and the inability to break up a dynasty... World's oldest companies, why so many are in Japan... See Harari's book Sapiens See also the book on Russia...

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10 Trillion x 100 Billion

10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars. One trillion squared. That's what we are talking about. In addition, the universe is possibly 250 times larger than the observable universe. Mind boggling.

First Observed Interstellar Object

'Oumuamua is possibly a lightsail object sent for observation, and in any case is definitely from outside the solar system (from another solar system altogether). > Last year, the first unambiguously interstellar object, 'Oumuamua, flew through our Solar System, delighting and amazing astronomers worldwide. Coming in at a steep angle with an incredibly large speed and a bizarre, cigar-like shape, it must have originated far away and long ago, most likely from a distant star system.

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Notes on Sleep

How Much Sleep is Enough? (2018)

Now that my eldest son is 3 years old, there may be some changes to his schedule (he still takes a nap most days, but he is staying up past his traditional bedtime, so this became a question for me: How much sleep is enough? Well, there is a range of answers, depending on ages, such as:

Mayo Clinic Sleep Recommendations*

Age group | Recommended amount of sleep --------------- | --------------------------- Newborns | 14 to 17 hours a day 12 months | About 10 hours at night, plus 4 hours of naps 2 years | About 11 to 12 hours at night, plus a 1- to 2-hour afternoon nap 3 to 5 years | 10 to 13 hours 6 to 13 years | 9 to 11 hours 14 to 17 years | 8 to 10 hours Adults | 7 to 9 hours *Note that there are differences in particular circumstances such as illness, pregnancy, and the like.

CDC Sleep Recommendations

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
0–3 months 14–17 hours
4–12 months 12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
1–2 years 11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
3–5 years 10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
6–12 years 9–12 hours per 24 hours
13–18 years 8–10 hours per 24 hours
18–60 years 7 or more hours per night
61–64 years 7–9 hours
65 years+ 7–8 hours

Sleep Training (2016)

With teeth and teeth brushing comes the need to sleep through the night, or at least change the nighttime feeding into nighttime watering. Turns out that this happens about the same time as toothbrushing should, or somewhat thereafter. We are entering the zone of the final few months of the baby's first year. At 10 months, kicking dad throughout the night has gotten a bit old. So it is time to make several changes: - Co-sleeping - Nighttime weaning - More and better tooth brushing The question is the correct method and also sequencing. Probably the most traumatizing should come first.

Resources for Sleep Training

These articles are from the very informative Dr. Craig Canapari. - Learned Hunger and Nighttime Feeding - How to Stop Co-Sleeping - Sleep Training Tools for Parents - Top Sleep Training Mistakes - Bedtime Fading

Monophasic, Biphasic, Polyphasic Sleep (2012)

> There will be sleeping enough in the grave. --Benjamin Franklin Polyphasic Sleep is when sleep occurs at more than one point in the 24-hour cycle. Otherwise known as napping, it is possible to shorten the length of sleep for all sleep periods and end up with less time overall spent sleeping. The reason this is possible, is that the sleep periods (theoretically) become more efficient in delivering the kind of sleep needed for restfulness. Power-napping is another term for this, but the power part comes from a compression of sleep stages. Some people are able to supposedly get by on 3 hours of sleep this way, and it has been ascribed to such people as Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill among others.

Benefits of Sleeping Less and More Often

The purported benefits besides an increase in available time (quantity) include as well quality indicators such as increased alertness, creativity and health. However these benefits have been (somewhat) debunked on Supermemo. The main issue that they take with this practice is that sleep deprivation is necessary in order to entrain one's sleep pattern.

Naturally Polyphasic

This is obviously true... Or is it? If my current sleep pattern is not actually natural (quite a bit of historical as well as EEG evidence that humans are naturally diphasic).

Extreme Sleep Conditions

In extreme situations such as battlefields and extreme adventure sports, sleeping less is mandatory for success. Enter the Uberman (aka Superman, Uebermensch).

Uberman Sleep Schedule

The rather heroic Uberman sleep schedule, which is 20-30 minutes of sleep every four hours, is not something I am going to try for. I don't need that much of a change and also, there doesn't seem to be much room for error there regarding the actual function of sleep. Instead, all I need to do as a result is one more hour of productivity without any loss of energy/alertness, etc. I intend to do more reading and more exercise during this time bonus, if and when it arrives.

Five Interval Sleep Phase

My initial experiment (beginning 11-AUG-2012) will be one hour sleep periods five times per day, at approximately: - 8am-9am - 1pm-2pm - 6pm-7pm - 11pm-12am - 3am-4am This fits my schedule which is fairly flexible, but needs a 4am wakeup for early morning running, a 10am-12pm classes and 3pm meetings several times per week. This also allows me to have an early dinner (at 5pm) or late dinner (7pm+), and not need to sleep at night until 11pm. Also this would allow me to do a late night dancing from midnight to 3am (which my current monophasic sleep does not allow).

Updates on Sleep Experiment

  • Day 1: Took the naps during the day, and had more energy, but got tired (as always) later in the evening. Slept from 11pm-4am. Which means I had 8 hours of sleep (which is more than I usually do). Therefore slept more, ate more, and had more energy.
  • Day 2: Similar to day 1. Took naps (the 2pm was difficult, only 30 minutes and got back up). Instead of the 6pm nap, went for a two hour Thai massage. Then to bed at 10:30pm. Heard the 1am alarm but ignored it. Heard the 3am alarm (to nap again), thought of getting up, but didn't. Heard the 4am alarm and then stayed in bed. Got up at 5am for the run. This mean 8.5 hours of sleep. Even more!
  • Day 3: ...

Conclusion on Sleep

I've learned this isn't going to work out, I am sleeping more, not less. And there are times I put off the nap, can't get to sleep, can't wake up easily, and also the habit of sleeping through much of the night. However, my awareness of sleep and its effect has dramatically increased. There are some studies which conclude that modern man is basically sleep-deprived and this has disastrous effects regarding accident rates, attention in the workplace, not to mention basic physical well-being. I've come to realize, especially at my advancing age in the upper 40s, that sleep and naps should be grabbed at every reasonable opportunity.

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IPA Keyboard Layout

Well, it turns out, there is no such thing, per se, as an IPA Keyboard Layout, at least not in the sense that there are keyboard layouts for various languages and layout styles (e.g., English, Dvorak, etc.). This seems to me to be a tremendous oversight, though it obviously came about because someone thought supporting the entire Unicode space for the IPA was a great idea, and the only idea.

Continue reading IPA Keyboard Layout

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Spatial Visual Ability

I'll come back and write more about this later (especially how to help with this with one's children), but for now here are some resources: - Submenu Navigation - Nielsen Norman Group - Seeking information online: the influence of menu type, navigation path complexity and spatial ability on information gathering tasks - Online Spatial Reasoning Task - Recognizing Spatial Intelligence - Scientific American - Measuring Human Capabilities: An Agenda for Basic Research on the Assessment of Individual and Group Performance Potential for Military Accession (2015) - Chapter: 4 Spatial Abilities

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High-Achieving, Gifted, Highly Gifted

There are significant differences between high-achieving, gifted, and highly gifted children. When one recognizes unusual, advanced early development, understanding what one is seeing is important. There are different vulnerabilities and burdens for each of these groups: - The Burdens of Gifted Children - The Truth About Gifted Versus High-Achieving Students - Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children

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Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History

Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have similar insights when it comes to hiring the best. This is equally relevant when one is building a school. Hire the best teachers possible, if you want a high-performing school.

Three Questions When Making a Hiring Decision

From the 1998 Amazon Shareholder Letter: It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people. Working to create a little bit of history isn't supposed to be easy, and, well, we're finding that things are as they're supposed to be! We now have a team of 2,100 smart, hard-working, passionate folks who put customers first. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success. During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision: - Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you've admired in your life, they are probably people you've been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I've always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise. - Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, The standards are so high now -- boy, I'm glad I got in when I did! - Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It's often something that’s not even related to their jobs.

Steve Jobs on Hiring Truly Gifted People

> In Software, and it used to be the case in Hardware, the difference between the average and the best is 50 to 1, maybe 100 to one.... > > I've built a lot of my success off finding these truly gifted people, and not settling for B and C players, but really going for the A players. And I found that when you get these A players together, when you go through this incredible work to find these A players, they really like working with each other becuase they've never had a chance to do that before. And they don't want to work with B and C players, and so it becomes self-policing, and they only want to hire more A players. And so you build up these pockets of A players and it propagates.

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Time Horizons in Terrible Times

For various reasons, now is a terrible time (in the world). At the same time, my own time horizons have shifted due to having young children. My eldest may graduate from high school in 15 years, give or take a year or two. Fifteen years from now is 2033, which is a bit mind boggling. Though to be honest, 2018 is a bit crazy as well, having snuck up on us, in some respects. How can our actions remain relevant in the face of the likely dramatic and mostly unknown changes we will face by 2033? This is an actual question that deserves at least a method, an approach. To begin, it seems that we need an understanding the kind of world we hope it might be and the skills and abilities needed to get it there. - Human and humane - The robots have not taken over (everything, yet) - Resiliant, and moreso, able to rebound from severe shock (antifragility) What is most plausible as important and relevant to that time in the future includes: - War for talent and winner-take-all trends continue - Population demographics will shift, but current living populations and at least some continuation of demographic trends will have important effects - China and Thailand will be in population decline; India will have likely added 200m to its population and surpased China as most populous; USA will have increased by 10% to 360m. Indonesia will have increased by nearly 15% with likely 300m. Regarding some of the bad actors, I sure hope that by 2033 we see a vast diminishment of Facebook, at the very least. We need to see it as a very bad actor (profiting from and thereby enabling bad actors), and as something to shun. Gamification in general seems to be a bad idea, since it develops short-term reward-seeking behavior and has implications for personality development and psychological health. The ability to think deeply and reason effectively, and to fundamentally love truth and love wisdom. And with this kind of impetus to also include a strong safety net and services dealing with public health both physical and mental. A bias towards action and foremost action that is directed to realizing a better outcome in the world. Mere consumerism and mere activism are neither not enough. Embodying the mustering of forced directed toward the long term in a bohemian lifestyle rather than a political movement. That is a better lived reality, and one that is harder to attack and overturn. Yet it is fundamentally committed and progressive.