Memrise: learning languages mnemonically using spaced repetition

You might remember my recent post about “Moonwalking with Einstein” book about memory and mnemonics.

What you probably did not know though is that one of the characters, winner of multiple memory championships, Ed Cooke, launched his own web startup Memrise.com

I first read about it in The Guardian article “How I learned a language in 22 hours” by the book author, Joshua Foer. Although, the title is somewhat misleading, the approach is very interesting. So, what is so special about Memrise? They have an interesting learning model. Primarily, the focus is on languages, but there is a whole range of secondary courses, ranging from “How to say I love you in 100 languages” to HTML5.

memrise

The first principle: spaced repetition. The words you are asked to remember are spaced in time in a precise manner with intervals calculated based on your past performance. By the way, the same principle is employed by simple app Anki which I once briefly mentioned in my post about GMAT.

The second principle: mnemonic. You are usually shown a picture or an idea that helps you remember a given word using associations. These so-called mems are added by members of community in the best crowd-sourcing traditions. The most voted-up are displayed.

And of course, they also use gamification, who does not?

Overall, it appears to be an interesting tool. However, it remains to be seen whether it is really a good idea to invest one’s time in it without a firm intention to actually learn a language. But learning to read a Chinese menu sounds like a fun thing to try anyway, all serious goals aside.

By the way, Memrise is also discussed on Quora which I recently wrote about.

Quora: ask any question

I could not find enough time to post here recently. I certainly have been doing more reading than writing. So, I thought why not to share some of things I read? And I decided to tell you about Quora.

As you most probably already know, Quora is a questions-answers website which succeeded in doing what Google and multiple other companies failed at: provide a decent quality of responses.

Several months ago they even created their own book “Best of Quora 2010-2012“, compiled of best answers, available for free download. It covers quite a range of topics. From Steve Jobs to moldy cheese, from neurological basis of curiosity to Jay-Z. I hope to find time and selectively read the most intriguing ones.

quora

In a meanwhile, here is the short list of questions on the website itself that I found noteworthy:

Add me if you are there.

Venture Lab: free Stanford University online courses

I devoted some of my time to self-education in September-December using the opportunity provided by Stanford University Venture Lab‘s online courses. In this post I would like to briefly describe my impressions and share some useful materials from the courses. Venture Lab courses are somewhat different from other online courses in that they take place during a specific time with specific deadlines, and you need to enroll in order to participate.

I tried three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Crash Course on Creativity, and Finance. As they are very different, I will tell you about each one separately.

Technology Entrepreneurship

This is probably the best one. Although, there are multiple opinions on whether entrepreneurship can be taught, there are a lot of useful materials.

Lectures certainly vary in content. Some are quite theoretic and contain, for instance, large charts showing, how probability of team’s success depends on the number of members or on their background. Others are more about anecdotal. There was, for example, a story about history of skateboarding culture. I didn’t know that it originated from dry Californian summer during which many Californian pools were empty and people started using them to ride inside instead of swimming.
Aside from theory, there is also a team work that is highly encouraged and is in fact an integral part of learning process. Working in teams you are supposed to do market research, create and test the business model. Participants are very diverse. There are people from Pakistan, Belarus, Serbia, Russia, Canada and many other countries. You can pick any of already existing teams (hundreds of them) or create your own and invite other students to join.

If it is too late for you to participate, you might still benefit from these materials:

I think it takes about an hour a week or so to keep up with the lectures. But if you want to do more, for example communicate on forum, read recommended books, and actually try to apply ideas to some project, it will take longer, of course.

By the way, if you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend you these recent notes from Peter Thiel’s lectures. They also happen to be in Stanford. Computer Science dep. It will save another hundred thousand dollars. 😉

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TED-conference alternatives: best edutainment videos from PopTech conference, Singularity University, Learning Without Frontiers & OpenCulture

Yes, we all love TED. They probably have the best collection of video presentations online with most of them being either inspirational or insightful. But is it all there is?

Actually, there are few places where you can find some edutainment videos for you dinner watching. Here are the main alternatives to TED I stumbled upon and some introductory videos that I personally liked that can help you get started.

1. PopTech

According to the website:

PopTech is a unique innovation network – a global community of cutting-edge leaders, thinkers, and doers from many different disciplines, who come together to explore the social impact of new technologies, the forces of change shaping our future, and new approaches to solving the world’s most significant challenges. We are known for our thriving community of thought-leaders, breakthrough innovation programs, visionary annual conferences and deep media and storytelling capabilities.

A good video to start from: Sebastian Seung’s Connectome.

2. Learning Without Frontiers

According to the website:

Learning Without Frontiers is a global platform for disruptive thinkers and practitioners from the education, digital media, technology and entertainment sectors who come together to explore how new disruptive technologies can drive radical efficiencies and improvements in learning whilst providing equality of access.

A good video to start from: Gordon Brown’s Pirate’s Dilemma.

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If this then that review: a new web 2.0 tool

Just a couple of days ago I discovered a new promising Web 2.0 service called If this then that which is actually a new start-up project from San-Francisco.

Guys try to develop a kind of meta-tool which unites many others: GmailFacebookTwitterGoogle ReaderEvernoteDeliciousInstagram, etc. Quite an interesting thing to play with, although it lies in a kind of geeky/nerdy field. But I actually believe that normal people can also find it useful for few things…

In short, the idea is to connect all those services through simple rules set-up by user. For example, “if somebody tags me in a photo at Facebook, send me an email about it” or “if I like a post in Google Reader, save it in my Evernote”.

The coolest thing about is that they also have SMS-service that can be used in the same manner as everything else.

Here are some usage ideas that I could come up with:

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What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis, personal & business lessons

Recently I finished reading What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis. Judging by title I didn’t really expect lots of insights from the book but it appeared to be truly visionary and smart. It even made me kind of regret choosing Economics&Business major over Computer Science 7 years ago…

WWGD appeared not to be about Google itself but about the way business, economics, relationships and world in whole change as the result of technologies wide spread and simplification. So, in fact the book covers quite wide range of topics. From Google’s PageRank, to Facebook, new media, customized solutions, customer relations, blogging, Twitter, context advertising, search engine optimization, online communities management, government policies and many other.

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Save time by approaching your RSS subscriptions in a completely new way: 8 principles for effective reading of blogs

RSS feeds is an awesome tool to save lots of time. You can get them all in the same place and not visit every single web-site to check if there are some updates. But often it becomes quite the opposite.

I personally have 573 subscriptions. That’s a lot. You risk looking at your favorite RSS feeds aggregator (like, Google Reader for example), seeing 1000+ unread items there and then spending half a day passively browsing through them. Instead of pursing your purpose and doing something that will bring you closer to your goals.

So, what are the lifehacks to minimize the time and maximize the value of reading blogs or other RSS feeds?

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Magic shortcuts: 13 best chrome custom searches that will save you lots of time

As you may already know, Google Chrome has an amazing feature that let’s you edit search engines. And search engine means literally any website. What’s the practical application?

Well, if you type something like “great blog” and press enter, by default you’ll be redirected to Google. But you can set up your Chrome to use, let’s say, Yahoo when you type “y great blog” or Bing when you type “b great blog”. Sounds like a great life-hack and a time-saver, doesn’t it? So, instead of going to the other website you just add one letter before the query itself and Chrome uses the other search engine to find what you need.

First, you’ll need to know how to add a new search engine, I won’t go into details as there are a lot of tutorials on web at the moment.

I’m sure you can come up with lost of ideas on how to use this feature yourself, but let me sparkle your imagination a little with my own list of searches. Here is what I use and consider to be the most useful:

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How I saved hours and hours of time, reduced disturbances and stress level with a simple Gmail lifehack

“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”

I’ve been re-reading Getting Things Done by David Allen recently and thinking about other ways to get closer to the “Mind Like Water” state and suddenly I’ve come up with a very simple, but useful lifehack for GMail. It aligns very well with all the recent trends in productivity, time management and lifestyle design set by Tim Ferriss in his Four Hour Workweek and assumes you should minimize all the unnecessary disturbances and batch your typical actions in order to save time.

So, what I did is very simple yet really helpful and I highly recommend you to try the same approach.

1. Create 2 labels in your GMail.

First one is “! once a wk” and another one “! once a mnth”.
The idea is to group all the not so important mail and not to get interrupted every two minutes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be once a month or once a week. Probably once a day and once a week will work better for you. Anyway, you got the basic principle.

2. Create filters for these labels.

For example:

Matches: subject:(“Facebook” OR “Linkedin”)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “! once a wk

and

Matches: subject:(“Twitter” OR “Microsoft newsletter”)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Apply label “! once a wk

Obviously, “Facebook”, “Linkedin”, “Twitter” and “Microsoft newsletter” are just examples. The point here is to put subjects or email addresses of those letters that you receive from time to time, but don’t need to read/process/reply the same second it’s received. It’s up to you to decide what these letters are, but I’m convinced that absolute majority of the letters fall into this category.

Then, you should tell your Gmail to apply the appropriate label for those letters and skip the inbox.

3. Schedule checks

Put view “once a week mail event and view once a month mail on your Google Calendar (or whatever calendar you’re using), make this event repeat every week/month correspondingly and create an email reminder.

3. Now, the most difficult step to actually practice: do not (do not!) check these two labels any other time than your scheduled time. I know these two labels look so yummy-yummy attractive when the number is more than zero, like in this screenshot (which is BTW the final result), but believe this is the habit worth developing.
gmail-gtd

Putting it all together.

So, if everything is done properly, you will have all the important mail (which is usually 1-10%) in your inbox right away and all the time consuming stuff (social networks, subscriptions, newsletters, etc) that prevents you from doing really important and inspirational things with your life will be held under two labels which are always available. Usually it takes very little time to process it all at once instead of doing it every single time when letter is delivered.

This is pretty much it. Good luck with implementing and improving! Hope, you won’t be spending the time saved in Twitter, but do something that you always wanted to start doing, but didn’t have enough time. And of course, I’m looking forward for your feedback!