Weeknote for 2/16/2020

Conceptual modeling


I got through another two-and-a-half chapters and tweaked my note-taking method to take about half the time, at least in my very limited experiment. Instead of doing all my highlighting in one reading before taking notes, in the first pass I highlighted only the definitions and topic statements I could easily find and then in the second pass took notes while highlighting other points that jumped out. The definitions and topic statements (1) gave me a better sense of what the chapter covered before I began my notes, (2) divided the text into smaller chunks so it felt more manageable and gave me stopping points if I needed them, and (3) gave me a good sense of where the different topics were located in the chapter when I inevitably needed to revisit them.

This week I’ll get as far as I can in Meaning and Argument, and then next week will start the next month’s project, which will be on learning, and I’ll probably continue with that book and my RDF reading as a way to experiment with my learning procedure.



Even though my learning project technically doesn’t start until next week (2/23), I’ve been preparing for it with a bunch of reading and research, so yeah I’ve basically already started.

My main book last week was Problem Solving: Perspectives from Cognition and Neuroscience by Ian Robertson, which was about problem solving and adjacent topics, including learning and AI, and in contrast with the usual disappointing scientific treatments of the introspective topics I care about, the discussions in this book were satisfying and gave me a lot of welcome starting points for research. It also covered the whole spectrum of problem alignments (from well-defined “kind” problems to vague, messy “wicked” ones), which was gratifying because I mostly care about wicked problems and am disappointed when a discussion only speaks about problems in terms of predefined puzzles or exercises.

A debate with my foil Jeremy sent me down several rabbit holes of research throughout the week.

The question, “Are flashcards a waste of time?” led me to (1) the site Your Awesome Memory by Bill Powell (who loved them at first and then lost enthusiasm, then regained some of it, all of which gave him interesting things to say), (2) the idea of learning from students in medical school and other high-intensity learning fields like engineering and law, (3) the major flashcard apps Anki and SuperMemo, and (4) the Art of Memory forum, which is a hub of memory activity.

The question, “Is impractical knowledge a waste of time?” led me to two books based on an essay by Abraham Flexner: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, containing Flexner’s essay with a commentary essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf; and The Usefulness of the Useless by Nuccio Ordine.

The question, “Why memorize when you can look things up?” led me to various scattered articles, the most helpful of which was “Why Memorize?” by Scott Young.

Bill Powell’s blog raised another interesting question, “Do mnemonics weaken memory?” which led me to the old book Memory: How to Develop, Train, and Use It by William Walker Atkinson (ebook, audio). I’ll say more about it next time.



My sleep schedule is regressing to the late-night mean, though still without naps during the week, so I’ll need to make bedtime a priority again and think some more about my time management processes, which I didn’t do last week.



Over the weekend I watched The Godfather (in installments), which I’d forgotten I put in my Netflix DVD queue to get an idea of how organized crime works and maybe understand certain political situations. It’s not the kind of movie I expect to like, but it drew me in and stayed in my mind the following days, which for me is one of the signs of a good movie. I’m looking forward to II and III.

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