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how do you learn?

I have many interests, and theoretically all my time at the moment is free, beyond basic chores such as feeding and minimally grooming myself, and addictions such as the aforementioned food, and sleep (thankfully, breathing doesn't seem to get :in the way: of doing other things).

I don't have much of an attention span, so far as I can tell. Possibly working on a project that could possibly help measure that, to some extent (a super-duper-and-the-kichen-sink to-do list).

There are many fields I want to dive into, and many I just want to know better. There are things I want to do better than I currently do. There are things I want to do that I don't, yet. I don't progress in these fields nearly as well as I feel I ought to. Some fields I don't learn about at all--I buy the books and they sit on my shelf and I don't read them. I don't do anything. I really wonder where all my time goes... (writing posts like this? No, this post is far more interesting, I think, than my typical whine whine whine...)

I learn best by doing. This means learning things related to programming and writing tend to happen more (almost exclusively), compared to things like robot building and learning about neuroscience/psychology/biochemistry...

I had a year's subscription to Nature Neuroscience. I tried reading it. It was way beyond me. I got a subscription to Nature Biochemistry. I tried reading it. It was even further beyond me. I got a subscription to Nature REVIEWS Neuroscience, and while beyond me, I could get things out of it--at the very least, I could understand enough to get ideas for writing fiction. Possibly bad fiction, but something--an vague understanding of a single idea from a single article. And still, I couldn't find the time to read them. I can't find the time to read this backlog I have.

I really want to get into neuro-electrical engineering. I have since I was 12 or so. But I haven't done anything to move in this direction. Why? I do not know. I have books on ... cognitive science (old, used textbook), cognitive neuroscience (I started to audit but didn't like the teacher nor how he presented material), bioengineering (took a course that covered one chapter in this book), a lot of higher order stuff that's beyond me. I'm applying for a BS program in biochemistry because I think that's a big gap in my knowledge. I have taken basic bio and psych and psych of vision courses, and they were all well and good, but... I haven't gotten anywhere with them, don't use any of that knowledge, and it falls away. It is very frustrating.

The other end of the neuro-electrical engineering is my ee background. I supposedly have one, from four years of electronics courses in high-school and a fraggin BS in EE/cs. Right. So, I never use the material, and my math is weak. I need to rectify my math issues. I have a book on "elementary" linear algebra that I ought to work through, a book on "elementary" differential equations and boundary value problems that I ought to re-study, TWO books (from the two times I attempted the course) on "signals and systems" (continuous and discrete time fourier/laplace/z/etc... transforms). I have a book on "statistics for experimenters" (which is rather &^#%$&^# hardcore from the 70's or so; dense and proper; I started reading this a while ago "for my job", then lost the job with a general downsizing that dropped stock from $2.80 to $0.18), a book on chaotic dynamical systems (which at least is somewhat rigorous and helping me get back into reading rigorous texts and thinking "properly"). I did read a dense textbook on decision theory, but have been quickly losing all useful knowledge of that. I even did the homework problems out of the book. :/

Other interests I should mention, before I go on to where I do spend my time--I want to write (I want to be a published author, and I want to be proud of what I have written), I want to develop music (I have no background in music appreciation or music theory whatsoever...), I want to paint (I barely ever do), I want to be able to draw semi-realistically (I don't, and I don't take the time to learn... I should take a life-drawing class, or something).

Where do I spend my time? Well, a fair chunk is spent sleeping, but that's, to some extent, understandable. A large chunk is spent rebelling against myself, feeling unable to work or think or do anything but stare at the screen, refreshing livejournal, reading my comics (ooh, time to read another day's comics... okay, comics read--I think that took about 10-20 minutes.), reading and replying to email (mostly just reading), waiting for email to show up to read (i.e. really, REALLY procrastinating). Some time is spent reminding Amy that I love her, spending time with her.

And the tiny bit left over goes into writing and programming. (And occasionally, very occasionally, reading something--most likely fiction.)

As far as programming goes--I like it. I like it a lot. It's been a hobby for longer than I've been conscious of hobbies. I've done it for school, I've done it for pay, and I'd really like to do it for pay again (failing a more emotionally rewarding job in neuroelectrical engineering, but I don't see how the hell I'd pull that off at the moment).

First interview in 8 months yesterday. Phone. I don't think it went well, but they're supposed to call me back in about a week to let me know whether they went to do an in-person round. :/ The only reason I got that interview is because Paul knows the founder and recommended me to it, so far as I can tell. I owe him drinks or something for that.

The interview was on tuesday, and I'm fairly sure I posted about it already. But essentially, I really, REALLY don't think it went well. So last night I went out and bought a bunch of books: Design Patterns, Antipatterns, Refactoring, UML Distilled (those four so I would know more lingo), joe celko's sql for smarties and sql puzzles & answers (those two because I want to be better at sql than three years of hacking at it with no instruction has made me), and... mastering algorithms with perl, just because perl is cool and that book seems to go well with my "introduction to algorithms" (cormen, leiserson, rivest) book... not that I actually use perl for anything. :/

So I have all this stuff I want to learn. I have all these projects I'm working on (slowly making bits of progress here and there, but mostly whining about how I'm not progressing with anything...). eh? EH? YEARGH!?

I really should give up on my anti-addiction stance and become a speed freak. Or at least a caffeine freak. :/ I don't think I will, though. I don't think. Caffeine is such a little evil...

Oh yeah, and I really need to start working out. My waist-size combined with my lack-of-job combined with my just-turned-25 combined with my less-energy-than-I-used-to-have are all completely undermining my self-confidence. :/

and that took 43 minutes to write, including the time to read comics, send a few short emails, read some responses to them, and stuff like that.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
kaolinfire
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:09 am (UTC)
a corrolary of this is -- how well do you know what you know? [which, niftily enough, is two questions!]

how well do you know what you know, a) can you itemize your knowledge? do you know what it is that you know? I think the typical answer to this is... not as well as you'd think, as what you know depends on context, and someone else might want a different context's answers, or might simply see more or less of your knowlege than you can from a given perspective.

how well do you know what you know, b) of those things you think you know, which of them can you rely on? in what settings? I suppose this is another context-dependant question, as the "in what settings" shows. :/

context. fucking. grr. So I suppose another question is what context do you want to be in? and then apply all questions from that context. (makes sense, right?)

Though even with a chosen context I think questions a and b can less well be answered by us than by others who have watched us perform in a given context. Or perhaps I'm simply oblivious to/of myself despite all these attempts at introspection. Hmm.

There's a mailing list I should post all of this on. :)
(Deleted comment)
kaolinfire
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Knowing
If you're really interested in robotics, tinker. When you stop being interested, stop tinkering, and don't worry about it. If your heart's really there, you'll come back to it, and then you'll really start learning. And if it isn't, then you'll find yourself doing more things that you actually enjoy, rather than things you may have decided 5 years ago that you should enjoy. I mean, you always come back to programming, right? (and yet it's strangely fulfilling.... maybe because it's really a tool, not an end in itself, despite what the CS geeks may think....)

Must... tinker... :) Yeah, I really do need to. I think I'm searching for my energy of activation. I keep feeling almost there, but ... I don't have the parts. I need parts, but I don't know what to get. I'm worried that whatever I get will suck (I've got a LOT of cheap motors I can't do anything with). I need want to understand gearing or some other method of speed reduction / speed/power trading, torque redirection, that sort of stuff. I think my biggest hangup right now is motion. There was a kit at barnes and nobles I was considering getting, just because it was lots of parts to tinker with.

I do keep coming back to programming. Partially because I can't let go of the projects I've started, partially because I can't let go of the projects I've conceptualized, and partially because it's the path of least resistance, for me. (and partially because I belatedly think there's money in it, somewhere?)

I don't think I want to "not waste" "my talents" "for the good of the world"... it's just that there's so much that I want to do, so much I want to play with... some of it's just me stubbornly hanging on to the one thing that I wanted to do back when I was "such and such" a lad. [this seems to be the paragraph for quotation marks; I don't even know where those last ones came from.]

Err, and there's the "I want to see this done and I don't see it done yet, so I'm going to do it." Though these days, I'm more inclined to try and get other folks to help me do it (or even do it for me if I can be tricksy enough).

And then, I have to admit, there is the ego stuff involved. I want to write something more popular than poemranker. And then I want to write something more popular than that. My dream world still has me living off of royalties on something. ;)

Feyman's a really tricky dude. I need to read more of his stuff. I have several of his books, but. ;)

I managed to read the first few chunks of design patterns today. I'm enjoying them but not terribly impressed; useful to see everything spelled out, but I've been subjected to all these terms and "patterns" before -- java uses the terminology in its classes everywhere. I've had to puzzle out the patterns from the terminology to learn how and why java works. Which I suppose is a bit nifty, but. Eh. It is a bit nifty to get that validation. I'm really looking forward to AntiPatterns (I am *enjoying* Patterns, still).

I think I really will worry less about everything, and work on more interesting things, once I feel more secure--secure, at the moment, being a "nice" job. A nice job meaning that I probably won't be inclined to dump it in 6 months to go to school. (or maybe I will?) but school would mean a very short burning man, if any. :/ but school would be good.

life is hard, play soft? life is fun, play bored? life is alive, play possum. life.

getting sleepy; aiming to do an allnighter without caffeine tonight. must. do. offline qa for globealive. must stop thinking that globealive sucks. must stop reading the message board (formerly "suggestion board") and getting upset by people on it.
shamster
Feb. 26th, 2003 12:19 pm (UTC)
I've found the cure
I don't think you'll like it, but I've found a method that works for me. When I do this I find myself with too much timeon my hands, more energy - when performed for months at a time I found that my number of friends shot up by 300%. My vision gets better, I don't feel that pain in my neck, I lose weight, I sleep better - more deeply. I feel more sensitive and communicate better with others, and I regain my intrapersonal communication that I long for.

What is it? You may have already guessed - it's stepping away from the computer. I learned to juggle the last time it happened. I look for work outside of computers and I find it. Just applied for a position at a deli counter in a local co-op.
kaolinfire
Feb. 26th, 2003 04:44 pm (UTC)
Re: I've found the cure
Hmm. Unfortunately, stepping away from the computer, while solving some of my problems, would compound others severely. So I want to do more than just computer projects -- I want to do robotics. Unfortunately, stepping outside won't do that for me. I need ... more parts, more knowledge, and a tad bit more motivation. But mostly the first two. Which means I need to take time to read (at least for the knowledge).

And working a deli job would be, at the moment, less worthwhile than collecting my unemployment. And not really better than working on computers, as far as my goals go--I'll take the massive pay cut (presuming I had a computers job) to work in a neuroscience or bioscience lab, but. On the other hand, a deli job would definitely be preferable to having no income whatsoever.

The losing weight thing would be good, but with what I want to accomplish in any given day, I think I need some formal regimen. Or at least semi-formal. Considering yoga but want to be convinced that it will help. or something.

I do need to stop reading lj so much and staring at email and twiddling my thumbs. which could be helped by getting up and reading the aforementioned books in a different part of the house, maybe. But I need to figure out how to read them while retaining it. Which essentially means coming up with projects, and I have so many projects already... :/

bleah.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:21 pm (UTC)
Alan Nicoll of the yahoo group introspection replied:

> Okay, how's this to get people rolling? (maybe?)

Well, that seems optimistic, given the content you provide.

> how do you learn?

You go on about how you try to learn things from books. I've done
that, and I think sometimes it works. I recently read a book about
the Reformation and actually learned a few things from it.

But when it comes to a skill, such as drawing, a little practice is
better than a lot of theory. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
is worth reading, at least in part (it's very wordy; or if you
prefer, prolix). Also read Nicolaides, The Way to Draw (I think
that's the title). But better yet, "a line a day." Nicolaides put
me onto the one thing I think I've gotten about drawing from
reading. You put pencil to paper, look at the thing you want to draw
(i.e., use a model, anything, a sea shell), look back at the paper,
look again at the thing, focus on one line of it, try to fix that
shape, that angle, in your mind, then execute it on paper. If you
can, imagine your pencil moving along the line as you look at it. It
sort of gets into muscle memory, then when you draw it, it looks
almost right.

I've read more books about golf than I've played golf; I've read more
books about drawing than I've done drawing; I've read more books
about programming than I've done programming; and I've read WAY more
books about writing than I've done writing. At least, fiction
writing. This sort of thing doesn't count. But it's a foolish habit.

I want to be a really fine artist. I want to play the piano. I want
to write cool fiction. I want to write other stuff. Well, at least
I'm writing, a little. I've given up on programming; don't have the
time. Unlike you, I have too little free time, and this usually
focuses me on what I really want to do (at the moment), and I'm
seldom bored any more (when I can stay awake).

> I learn best by doing. This means learning things related to
programming and writing tend to happen more (almost exclusively),
compared to things like robot building and learning about
neuroscience/psychology/biochemistry...

Yeah.

> I really want to get into neuro-electrical engineering.

Funny, I've never heard of this, but it sounds like what I'm writing
about in my SF novel... i.e., building a silicon (or
something) "human brain."

> I have since I was 12 or so. But I haven't done anything to move in
this direction. Why? I do not know. I have books on ... cognitive
science (old, used textbook)

Dennett is great. Have you read Pinker's book? How the Mind Works.

(Anonymous)
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:22 pm (UTC)
[continued]
> cognitive neuroscience (I started to audit but didn't like the
teacher nor how he presented material), bioengineering (took a course
that covered one chapter in this book), a lot of higher order stuff
that's beyond me. I'm applying for a BS program in biochemistry
because I think that's a big gap in my knowledge. I have taken basic
bio and psych and psych of vision courses, and they were all well and
good, but... I haven't gotten anywhere with them, don't use any of
that knowledge, and it falls away. It is very frustrating.

Psych of vision sounds right up my street. Can you recommend a book?

> The other end of the neuro-electrical engineering is my ee
background.

I got a couple of courses in this when I was at Northrop Institute of
Technology. They sent a guy to my high school to recruit. I wanted
to be a scientist, not an engineer, but heck, nobody was beating the
bushes for scientists.

> Other interests I should mention, before I go on to where I
do spend my time--I want to write (I want to be a published author,
and I want to be proud of what I have written), I want to develop
music (I have no background in music appreciation or music theory
whatsoever...), I want to paint (I barely ever do), I want to be able
to draw semi-realistically (I don't, and I don't take the time to
learn... I should take a life-drawing class, or something).

You know, there are an AWFUL lot of books published. Does the world
need yet another angst-ridden novel?

> So I have all this stuff I want to learn. I have all these
projects I'm working on (slowly making bits of progress here and
there, but mostly whining about how I'm not progressing with
anything...). eh? EH? YEARGH!?

I have so been there, done that... I'm 55 now, have a 7 year old son,
and most of my projects have long since been abandoned. You need to
focus. I know, I couldn't do it, either.

> Oh yeah, and I really need to start working out. My waist-
size combined with my lack-of-job combined with my just-turned-25
combined with my less-energy-than-I-used-to-have are all completely
undermining my self-confidence. :/

My recommendation is to get into nature. After leaving the army, the
only time I actually got into anything like reasonably good shape was
when I was going to a nature center every day after work and climbing
the hills. Unfortunately, when winter came I stopped going, and when
spring came back, I didn't go back. Nature actually can get pretty
boring after a while.

> a corrolary of this is -- how well do you know what you know?
[which, niftily enough, is two questions!]

Can't really say. Most of what I read is gone, 100% gone, in six
months. But when I read the same book again, I keep going, "I
remember this!" So it's in there, but I can't recall it on demand.

> -kif

Thanks for the post. It was sort of like a time capsule for me,
remembering how I had so many projects... still do, really. Working
on 4 or 5 books at a time, have never finished a one. My files are
full of crappy old short stories and short-short plays, philosophical
crap that I won't throw away because someday I might want to read it
again. Stuff like that. The really annoying thing is that I don't
have (won't take) time to think about it. The days are frittered
away in just getting the dishes done and dinner cooked and the boy
entertained and so on, not to mention working to pay the bills.
kaolinfire
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:22 pm (UTC)
To which, I replied -- [fun, isn't it?]

> > how do you learn?
>
> You go on about how you try to learn things from books. I've done
> that, and I think sometimes it works. I recently read a book about
> the Reformation and actually learned a few things from it.

Okay. People learn by doing. Does anyone have suggestions on how to
get the most out of a book when you don't have access to the "doing" of
whatever the book discusses? For instance, I have a book on "how children
learn the meanings of words", but I'm not about to go out and find
children to torture, or create my own (at this juncture). However, I
do find the material very interesting, and I'd like to retain it better
than a few weeks. I'd like to retain it better than (yeah, that's
familiar) when I skim through it trying to find a specific something
that's suffering tip-of-the-tongue syndrome.

I don't have any answers for myself or anyone else. I've tried taking
notes by hand and by computer, but that doesn't seem to help. I've
tried "doing all the problems in the book", which I do think helps
solidify the actual understanding, but doesn't (at least for me) seem
to help with retention in the slightest (so far?).

> But when it comes to a skill, such as drawing, a little practice is
> better than a lot of theory. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Agreed.

> prefer, prolix). Also read Nicolaides, The Way to Draw (I think
> that's the title). But better yet, "a line a day." Nicolaides put
> me onto the one thing I think I've gotten about drawing from
> reading. You put pencil to paper, look at the thing you want to draw
> (i.e., use a model, anything, a sea shell), look back at the paper,
> look again at the thing, focus on one line of it, try to fix that
> shape, that angle, in your mind, then execute it on paper. If you
> can, imagine your pencil moving along the line as you look at it. It
> sort of gets into muscle memory, then when you draw it, it looks
> almost right.

That sounds interesting; I'll have to try it. I've been doing comics
lately, with little improvement--but that's largely because it takes me
so long to come up with something to draw that my hands have forgotten
once more what drawing is.

> I want to be a really fine artist. I want to play the piano. I want
> to write cool fiction. I want to write other stuff. Well, at least
> I'm writing, a little. I've given up on programming; don't have the
> time. Unlike you, I have too little free time, and this usually
> focuses me on what I really want to do (at the moment), and I'm
> seldom bored any more (when I can stay awake).

Bored definitely doesn't happen--I'm more often scrambling to support
some user of one of my projects... something stops working all of the
sudden, or a new user of some obscure (or ancient) browser can't access
everything, or ... if everything is just hunky dory ... folks demand new
things. Which I tend to cave to, which tends to break other things.


> > I really want to get into neuro-electrical engineering.
> Funny, I've never heard of this, but it sounds like what I'm writing
> about in my SF novel... i.e., building a silicon (or something) "human
> brain."

I don't think I've coined the term, though it's not much bandied about.
Essentially I want to tinker with electrical/neural interfaces. What
I actually do with it, well, that would depend on context, I suppose.

Asimov was big into his positronic brains.

> Dennett is great. Have you read Pinker's book? How the Mind Works.

No; I suppose Pinker is a classic, but I've shied away from his stuff.

kaolinfire
Feb. 26th, 2003 10:23 pm (UTC)
(more continued)

> Psych of vision sounds right up my street. Can you recommend a book?

Certainly -- "Perception" by Steve Palmer.

> You know, there are an AWFUL lot of books published. Does the world
> need yet another angst-ridden novel?

Hmm. I'm sure the world does, but that's not what I'm aiming for. My
writing is probably second to my programming--I do actually practice it.
I work on my stories every Tuesday (I find having a schedule of some sort
helps me keep from being TOO focused... or at least, as focused as I
would otherwise be). Maybe I need to assign Thursday as my "drawing"
day, and ... who knows? I know that I need to exercise more than
once a week. ;)

> My recommendation is to get into nature. After leaving the army, the
> only time I actually got into anything like reasonably good shape was
> when I was going to a nature center every day after work and climbing
> the hills. Unfortunately, when winter came I stopped going, and when
> spring came back, I didn't go back. Nature actually can get pretty
> boring after a while.

A definite thought. I'm really pretty good at not being bored, these
days. When you say climbing do you mean walk-climbing, or rock-climbing?
If I thought walking an hour a day would make a significant improvement,
I'd almost definitely do it, at the very least with a book in my hands.

Also seriously considering Aerobic Yoga. Anyone know about that? The
top two things showing up on a google query are "The Cosmic Fountain of
Youth" (book) and "The FLow Series" (video).

> > a corrolary of this is -- how well do you know what you know?
> [which, niftily enough, is two questions!]
>
> Can't really say. Most of what I read is gone, 100% gone, in six
> months. But when I read the same book again, I keep going, "I
> remember this!" So it's in there, but I can't recall it on demand.

So one would think that if mnemonics were associated with important
pieces of information, at least those would be retrievable. I think
one thing I've lost (or never developed, or something inbetween) is
the ability to fully concentrate on one thing at a time. I tend to
be able to keep four or five text conversations up at a time, as that's
how I grew up... but reading a book, my mind wanders... or if it's
not wandering, it's skipping around in the text without noticing what's
being skipped... hardly noticing what's being read. I think that it's
no so much I have a poor memory as that I don't make them poignant
enough. Or something.

> Thanks for the post. It was sort of like a time capsule for me,
> remembering how I had so many projects... still do, really. Working
> on 4 or 5 books at a time, have never finished a one. My files are
> full of crappy old short stories and short-short plays, philosophical
> crap that I won't throw away because someday I might want to read it

:heh: part of any writers' workshops? If you have the time, I recommend
critters. If you have less time, or like more freeform things, I
recommend imaginaries.

> again. Stuff like that. The really annoying thing is that I don't
> have (won't take) time to think about it. The days are frittered
> away in just getting the dishes done and dinner cooked and the boy
> entertained and so on, not to mention working to pay the bills.

Supposedly after some separation anxiety, 11 or so years from now
you'll get to rediscover the plethora of projects (well, depending
on whether you have more children or not).
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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