Friday, June 26, 2009

Characters Not To Confuse: Rorschach and Horshack

above: Rorschach

above: Arnold Horshack

In spite of their similar-sounding names, these characters are very different.

Rorschach is a vicious vigilante from the comic book (and now movie) The Watchmen.

Arnold Horshack is a character from the 70s situation comedy Welcome Back Kotter, known for saying "Oo oo ooo" when he raised his hand (pictured).

Not to be confused, indeed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Use SuperMemo

I'm about to suggest you spend about a half an hour every day (until
retirement) doing flash cards on a computer. I know it sounds nuts,
so let me explain.

You read stuff, you find it important, you forget it. It happens all
the time. We all know that repetition (repeated exposure to a
stimulus) helps you remember. It turns out that as you are able to
successfully recall facts, you need to review those facts less and
less often. This is spaced repetition, with the spaces expanding.
The trouble with normal flash cards is that you waste a ton of time
reviewing cards you already know by heart.

Now there are computer programs that decide which cards you'll look
at every day. The good ones are based on ``forgetting curves.''
These curves are from cognitive psychology. They determine the
probability of forgetting a reviewed fact over time. What these
programs do is show you cards to review at the right time-- just
before you would probably forget it.

The program I use most is the online SuperMemo.
You create cards, in a question-and-answer format. Every day you log on, and do the flash
cards for that day, which SuperMemo picks for you. So, for example,
a card might ask ``What is the Simon effect?'' You try to think of
the answer, then click ``answer.'' The program shows you the answer.
Then you indicate whether or not you recalled the answer correctly.
If not, you get the question again tomorrow. If you got it right, it
will create an even longer period of time before asking you that
question again. So if you get it right once, it will ask you in two
days. If you get it right again, you'll get the question again in
four days, then eight, etc. Some questions I only get asked a few
times a year, because the program knows that I know the fact very

I like the online version because I can update it from home or from
work, or even from a conference. There are also SuperMemo versions
for the PC, PalmOS, Macintosh, etc. In addition there about 250
flash card programs out there. I suggest you pick one and use it
every day.

How does this relate to processing what you read? Well, as you go
over what you've read, if you find a fact you want to remember, you
should create a card in the program for that fact. As long as you're
doing the program every day, you'll probably never forget it.

This is particularly useful for when you're taking classes. Make a
``course'' for the class, and put all of the facts you need to
memorize for the class in the course. When you're done with the
class and are no longer in competition with other students, release
it to the public, let the instructor know about it, and help future
students with it. This is especially helpful for domains with lots
to memorize, such as life sciences, medicine, and law. But all
fields require that you memorize some things.

I do it every day, and the more I do it the more uses I think of for it.
I'll make another blog entry for those uses.

I am so excited about this that I talk about it constantly. I use the online version and the version for my Palm (which, surprisingly, has many more ready-to-use courses than the online version). I bought the PC version but I find it buggy and difficult to use properly.

Here is a very readable article about SuperMemo and the eccentric guy who writes it:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Feel Like A Friend Has Let Me Down: Palm Problems

I have been a user of Palm connected organizers my friend Josh Berman gave me his old Palm III. Since then I've had a Palm V, and now I have a Palm Treo 650 smartphone for three years. I love Palm. I evalgelize Palm. I trusted Palm. Now something has happened, and I feel like an old friend let me down in big way. The feeling is terrible.

All of my calendar entries have vanished on my Palm Desktop. Thinking a synch would fix it, I then lost all fo them on my handset. This means that all future appointments are gone (including reminders for vaccinations, buying father's day gifts, anniversaries, many birthdays, etc.) but also my rich history, which my Palm had faithfully held since 1997.

It was nice to be able to search for when I had doctor visits, or when I first met someone, or just to peek back to August 2002 to see what I was up to. Now it's all gone.

I didn't have it backed up. And why not? Two reasons.

First, I felt no need. The desktop was a backup of the handset, and the handset was a backup of the desktop. That was the whole point.

Second, the Palm data is not kept in the documents folder. The documents folder is one thing I really like about Windows. Rather than spreading all of your stuff about the installed programs that made it, you just save all your stuff to "Documents." Unfortunately, not all programs want to play ball, and you end up getting your important data that you should back up scattered around your hard drive. In this example, my Palm data was under C:\program files\Palm\users\JDavies. My bookmarks are saved under the program files for the browers. So when I back up my stuff, I can't just backup the documents folder, which would make an enormous amount of sense. I need to think of all of the other niggling little places where I might have important data. I hereby encourage all software developers to save personal data to the user's Documents folder.

Looking on the web, I see that a few others have had the same problem. It's got to be some kind of bug with the Palm Desktop. If anyone has any idea of recourse for getting the data back, I would love to hear it ( But I fear the information is gone forever.

I feel a great loss, and I'm not being dramatic or funny about it. I was in tears yesterday over this.