Getting Away from SRS (Spaced-Repition) For Vocabulary Learning

Ok. I admit it. I have a problem.

I use spaced-repition software (flashcard software) way too much when studying Chinese.

And, I always have. Ever since I started learning Chinese.

I wasted way too much time on Memrise, Anki, Skitter, Pleco Flashcards, the flashcard/testing feature on FluentU and even the Remember the Hanzi flashcard site.

Way too much time. Much of it useless.

Countless hours. Hours I’ll never get back.

I first fell in love with the notion of spaced repetition software back when I first heard about Memrise before I moved to Japan a little over 3 years ago. I used the Memrise site – basically just a website to aid with mnemonics and spaced repetition – to learn Japanese kana (both hiragana and katakana) in a little under 3 hours.

It felt like a god-send. I never would’ve learned two new alphabets that fast with out it.

I did pretty good then though, at least with that “deck”, or set, of “flashcards”. After I initially “learned” the two kana alphabets, I never reviewed that deck again. I didn’t have too. Kana was everywhere in Japan – I could reinforce it by reading menus at coffee shops, reading Dragonball Z manga, or anytime I looked up, or studied a new Japanese word or vocabulary list.

That was a good use of spaced-reption. I used it to be more efficient, and then no longer used it when it was no longer efficient. That was good. That time. For that set of cards. That “deck”.

After that, I wasn’t so good. And that’s when the inefficiency started. The countless hours of lost time.

I poured through the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) vocabulary list on Memrise until I “planted all the plants”. When I wanted to move more into grammar and sentences, I actually wound up abandoning Memrise for Anki – which was more customizable in what you could do and test yourself on.

When I decided to move to Taiwan and began studying Mandarin in Aug of 2013. I started with Anki, and Anki flashcard decks in Chinese.

Then, I switched to Pleco, then to FluentU, then I read Remember the Hanzi (RTH) and used a website that was an SRS system built for helping you remember your RTH stories/characters. Then, I switched to Skitter.

Then, most-recently, after about a month of being back in Taiwan I realized something. (I came back to Taiwan in November 2015, after being gone for over a year and a half)

I had a deck of cards in there, in Pleco, from the last time I was in Taiwan. A deck of cards I had built from words I came across back then. I looked through that deck and 1.) realized I didn’t know most of those words, and 2.) couldn’t even think of what context I’d come across them in, and couldn’t even think of what context they would even be useful.

So, I just deleted that deck. “If they are useful words, I’ll come across them again.” I thought.

A smart move. A step in the right direction.

The next step in the right direction was the next thought process. “Should I move the card decks I currently have in Skitter over to Pleco? (from Remember the Hanzi, recent ChinesePod lessons, etc.)?” “No, if I need those words, they will surely come up again in my studies.”

But, you know what they say: two steps forward, three steps back.

And, before you know it, I was reaching a point where I had 400+ vocabulary reviews a day again.

And I was saying things to myself like “Alright, I’m going to listen to this new ChinesePod lesson, right after I get these reviews out of the way.”

Only I would go through the reviews – and get a substantially large percentage of words wrong!

That’s not how SRS is supposed to work. You shouldn’t be getting 50% of your words wrong. Some words were just not sticking. Why? I started to dig deeper.

Luckily, I was putting words into different categories based on where I came across them. And, one thing was noticeably clear: words I learned from my girlfriend and her mom were sticking. I learned those words quickly, and tended to know them better when they came up in reviews. Words from other sources (reading material, ChinesePod lessons, even sessions with iTalki teachers) – not so much. Some of the words were sticking – but a lot of them weren’t.

Why is this? The biggest difference is that the words that were sticking were the words that were useful. Ie: they were the words I actually used after learning them. Because, they were words I actually learned. Words I learned in context, understand how to use in context, and then later actually used in similar context.

Other words weren’t. They were just words. Words from a list. A list my iTalki teacher gave me at the end of a session. Or a list of words from a chapter in a book. Even, if I was a list I made myself. It’s still just a list. And, a list is a devoid of a real context.

A vocabulary list is not a language.

So these lists were quickly becoming similar to the old list I found in Pleco, from two years ago. Lists of words, where I couldn’t even remember the context in which I added the words.

So, then, I abandoned SRS. For two weeks. I still studied Chinese, still spoke Chinese everyday, still did iTalki lessons, still (tried to) read the newspaper. I even still looked up words in Pleco and added them to lists.

I just didn’t study the lists. I didn’t do any flashcard reviews.

And what happened? I forgot everything and my Chinese atrophied to nothingness.

No, not really. Not much happened. My Chinese actually still probably improved. I still learned new words. Remembered some of them, even.

All that really happened was there was a couple of times, maybe three, maybe four. Four times, max, in two weeks, where I heard a word or came across a word in context where I felt like I know that word, but can’t remember what it is. Maybe if I had reviewed my flashcards I would’ve known those three or four words better.

Maybe not. Maybe I still would’ve struggled with them. It’s a toss up, really.

So, I’m getting off of SRS. Getting away from it, really.

Not entirely. It still has it’s use. One particular use case I’ve found, is to review words before and after a session. For example, I’ve noticed that if a review the vocab from a ChinesePod lesson, before listening to the lesson – I’m able to follow along with that whole particularly ChinesePod lesson much better than if I don’t.

So, yeah, SRS is useful in small limited doses.

But, SRS is not language learning.

(Also, see Hacking Chinese’s great post on this: If you think spaced repetition software is a panacea you are wrong)

The Importance of Passion and Hustle

When it comes to building a startup, its not just the idea that counts. Your idea should be good of course, but its far from everything. Even a great idea doesn’t equal future success.

Execution is far more important.

Which is why your team is so important. Are you right people to pull this off?

A good mix of past experience and raw talent is important. They help you have the confidence to step into the role you are now have to play. They help you put people in the team into the right positions.

I honestly think Malcolm is the most talented app developers around, and I think I am the one of the most talented business minds around, especially in relation to business strategy and strategic moves.

But, that only gets us in the door. That only helps shape our roles. It says nothing of how well DineMob will do.

We have to execute.

Execution

Execution really comes down to three things: passion, hustle, and an open mind.

There seems to be one alumnus in particular with a certain aura of respect about him in the Tech Wildcatters headquarters, and that’s TK Stohlman of FanPrint. From what I gathered just from his speeches and anecdotes on an alumni speaker panel here at TW a few weeks ago, is the dude pretty much embodies passion and hustle.

Passion comes first. You have to believe in the idea and have that passion for it. You have to want it succeed. Passion is the quality that drives people to do something “crazy” by others’ standards: like leaving a 6 figure job to start a new company and take $0 in salary for months to get things up and running, or like flying halfway around the world and setting up shop in a new city at the drop of a dime, because you feel like “I need to be here. For this. Right now.”

Passion drives hustle. Nobody hustles for something they don’t really believe in.

DineMob

DineMob co-founders William & Malcolm

 

The hustle is key

Here’s a quick humble brag: I graduated in the top 10% of my MBA class at Hult in 2012.

But, it gets more interesting.

At least 50% of our grades throughout the whole program came from team projects. The other 50% came from individual projects.

I’ve seen plenty of smart people go through that program and make excellent grades on individual assignments (exams, papers), but fail to graduate in the top 10%. Their most common excuse: they were on “weak teams” (they had weak teammates).

That’s not the case for me. My situation is almost the opposite.

My individual grades during my MBA program (exams, papers) were good, but often not great.

My team grades carried me into the top 10%. My teams always finished at or near the top of every class project.

In every class. Different teammates. Still at or near the top.

I’d like to think of myself as the common denominator here. Maybe I am. Or maybe I just got lucky and had great teammates.

The truth is: I hustled, and busted my ass for every team I worked on, led by example, and my teammates did the same.

Throughout the MBA program, no matter which course, my teams were often the last to leave the building.

We worked hard.

Now, at the helm of DineMob, here at Tech Wildcatters, I’m seeing similar scripts play out.

Investors, mentors, advisors, other teams, staff here at TW…. I’m starting to feel it: an air of respect, and notion that DineMob is at the top of their minds, and they are on board with what we are doing.

It’s the same kind of respect a white belt in jiu jitsu gets when he steps on the mat with a black belt and shows he’s willing to hustle and he’s willing to learn.

It gets noticed. It gets respect.

But, even more than that, it gets results…

 

– William Peregoy

co-Founder @DineMob

dinemob at tech wildcatters

Big News: I Moved Back to Texas (Alternative Title: I Co-Founded a Company – DineMob)

Big news.

I’ve moved back to Texas.

It seems like everything happened pretty quickly. A few weeks ago, Malcolm Woods and I got a chance to pitch a start-up idea to the top investor and incubator program in Dallas.

Only the top 4% of applicants get in. And we got in.

Tech Wildcatters, is the #1 B2B Start-up Accelerator in the US, it consistently ranks in the top 10 for incubators overall – by Forbes, TechCrunch, Inc

It’s a tremendous opportunity for us. It gives us a little bit of seed funding to go out and test and validate our idea and it also gives us a tremendous opportunity to be a part of the program over the next 3 months. It will be really intense and we’ll get to learn from successful entrepreneurs and investors – how to start a company, sell our products, and talk to investors.

I’m extremely excited. It’s always been a goal of mine to run a company.

And the start-up scene in Dallas is really getting underway – I’ve just spent a bit of time here so far – but I must say I’m extremely impressed with the start-up atmosphere in the city.

So. I’m here. Back in Texas. In Dallas this time around. For at least the next 3 months. And, now’s the time to make DineMob happen… look out for more news from us coming real soon.

http://dinemobapp.com/tech-wildcatters-class-of-2015/

dinemob at tech wildcatters

DineMob, front and center at Tech Wildcatters QuickPitch

On Day One, I Got My Ass Kicked

Not really.

I didn’t really do anything.

But, I didn’t know anything. So, I probably looked awful. Or at least I looked like the guy who didn’t know what he was doing.

But, I don’t care.

It was wonderful.

I quoted Nick on this before – when I wrote my “slapped by reality” post. I’ll drop the exact same quote in again here:

“Our local (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) club had an horrific churn rate as new guys would come in to class and not come back. It was easy to know who would stick around – the unassuming guys who had come to learn. It was equally easy to predict the first day dropouts. They’d be wearing some tough guy clothes, perhaps insisting on wearing a coloured belt they’d picked up in a sports centre grading mill. They’d certainly have a stiff pride about them. Then one of our scrawny blue belts would wipe the mat with them. The ego death was simply too much to take. Their buffer had been overrun and their self-image could not take the real-world evidence that they simply weren’t as tough as they thought they were.”

That’s right. In case you didn’t figure it out yet – I decided to get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Partly inspired by Nick’s and Masa’s assessments that training BJJ has given them discipline that has carried over into other ventures of their life.

Partly inspired by the inspiration of two of my best friends from my previous career Texas who are both heavily into BJJ nowadays. They’ve both gotten into much better shape than our days of sitting around an office all day and then heading to a happy hour to pound beers.

That applies to me as well. I was quite fat back then. In the worst shape of my life. At the age of 23.

I plan to keep it that way. I’ll never be that overweight again. I never have been since. And I never will be. Ever again.

The age of 23 – most people’s physical peak, is/will be my trough.

Anyway, back on topic.

Adding In New Habits Each Month

Who else inspired me?  Oh yeah, the other bloggers – Niall  has posted a lot about functional fitness : i.e.: being a man and not training for your “figure” or how you look in the mirror, but training for a functional skill set. In that sense – any martial art applies here. Any form of sports training really. Looking good should be a side benefit, not the main focus.

Niall also recently talked about focus, and how his current focus is on business and training (for him it was training Krav Manga while in Hong Kong).

And, Maneesh recently wrote about habits. He talks about building one new habit a month, and reinforcing last month’s habit.

What was my habit in August?  Practicing Mandarin.

If there was one thing I did everyday during the month of August, it was practicing Mandarin. Mostly pronunciation.

Damn tones pairs. Tricky bastards.

So – now what? I’ll follow Maneesh’s idea here. In September, I’ll reinforce last month’s habit – so I’ll continue to practice Mandarin everyday.

And then I’ll add something new.

But what?

Fitness was an easy place to look. I’ve been itching to get back into the gym. I haven’t worked out seriously in quite a long time. I did P90x a bit back when I was living in London, and then in Tokyo – I joined a gym. But, I half-assed it. I didn’t have a solid plan, so I just went to the gym to go.

The last time I really had a solid workout program was when I lived in Boston. And that seems so long ago.

So, when I got back to Taipei, I considered getting back in the gym. I considered joining a gym and getting a personal trainer and getting back on the weights.

Then, I had a change of heart.

Why? Well, I guess partly due to the inspiration of those mentioned above: AJ, David, Nick, Masa and their love of BJJ.

Oh, and I remember another friend of mine back in Texas ranting about how the Gracie’s were the best fighters ever and no other fighting style can beat BJJ and when you look at mixed martial arts, anybody who’s anybody has solid knowledge of at least one good grappling discipline.

There’s also one other big reason for

Choosing Sports Training over Weightlifting.

There’s the social aspect of it.

Training with and against other people – you make friends. It’s a social sport, even though it’s an individual sport. That’s only natural.

I’m a very social person – I ranked as an ENTP last time I took the Myers-Briggs and that E is very telling. I talked to the counselor at UT (where I took the Myers-Briggs) and her notion of extrovert was very important to me and stuck with me, “somebody who gets energy from other people”. When her and I talked about that I recalled when I worked as a trader – a job mostly full of introverts – and I just always had to get up from my computer and walk around and talk to people. Mostly the other extroverts. The same guys mentioned above – who are coincidentally all into BJJ now.

So, I need people in my life. I need social activity. If I were to spend all of my time writing, reading, and working on the internet – I would go insane.

Weightlifting is too easy to do individually. You show up to the gym with headphones in and lift. For that reason, it’s too boring. I have enough individual things going on in my life. I need something that requires constant interaction with other people.

Preferably something besides drinking, which is just too easy to fall into as a main social activity. That winds up being costly: time-wise and money-wise. Health-wise as well. Losing whole days to hangovers sucks. Getting drunk and hooking up with random girls is fun, but I’ve done enough of that in recent years. I need something more productive to focus on.

So, I guess these recollections hit me and I remembered Masa knew of solid place to train here in Taipei, so I hit him up and sent me the info of the gym.

I hit up my boys in Texas too to get their thoughts on BJJ and getting started in it.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is: Getting Started & Getting Dedicated

I popped over to the gym.

Then came the next day to sit in on a class. The only idiot in the class without a gi.

I bought a 6-month membership.

6 moths? For a couple of reasons:

  1. Well, I’ve decided to settle down and stay in Taipei for at least the next 6 months (this inspired more by my quest to speak Mandarin than anything else. But, also because I quite like it here.)
  2. You get a discount for signing up for 6 months rather than doing month-to-month.
  3. And – the biggest reason is: I’ve been down this road before. Not with BJJ, but with boxing. I got all hype and into boxing and joined a boxing gym. Went 3 times a week for a month – was sore as hell at work everyday the next day. But, then when the month ended, I didn’t renew the membership. Why? “Too expensive” and “I didn’t have the money”. Playing basketball was cheaper. I was going to come back and re-join the boxing gym again when I had the funds to do so. But… I never did.

I’m determined to not make the same mistake with BJJ. This one needs a longer commitment.

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Time to Work

The Day the Earth Stood Still: The End of My First “Career”

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I was once an equities trader…

Three and a half years ago, I was an equities trader. It was my first “job” out of college. I did it for a couple of years – I had some great months, had some crap months. It was fun. It was tough. It was… money.

And not just any money – but real money. Hundreds of thousands. Millions. Or at least dreams of it.

I hardly talk about it much these days. I haven’t looked at the market much at all since I left it. I heard the dow hit highs earlier this year. I’d short that.

Anyway…

The other day a young twenty-one year old dude at my hostel made some mention about how he wants to start a business, learn to trade stocks and forex, and some other things.

My response, “I’ve done all of that….”

I don’t know why I said it like that. It just came out.

I’m passed that phase in my life of chasing a quick buck. I did that for too long.

He kept asking me about it, and I told him the one story that popped in my head, the one that really stuck out. A day I lost about $8,000 because I was early and got shook out and then sat there as the guy next to me made $300,000 and the guy across from me made $1 million. In one day. Yes, they keep most of it.

It sticks out to me – because it was essentially the last day I traded. I mean, I stuck around for maybe a month or so after that – but mostly I didn’t come in the office much anymore. After that I was pretty much done. Pretty burnt out and ready to look around and pursue other career options.

After I told him that story, he asked me a few more things about trading and I figured – maybe I’d have something on my computer to show him to give him a feel for what I used to do. Not sure what I still had from those days, I went digging.

Interestingly enough the first thing I stumbled on was my trading journal from that exact day.

I figured it’d make for a good blogpost. It’s interesting to see something written so long ago from me. It’s interesting to read it and try to gauge how I felt at the time. It’s interesting to give up on your career when people around you just had “career days.”

It’s all in perspective. But, here it is. In full glory. Unedited from then. My thoughts on that day. The only thing changed is the names of people in it.

From the archives. May 6, 2010 (yes, those who recognize the significance of the day this was the “Flash Crash“)

I think it starts with this trade in EDD… but it gets better.

====

EDD – Spiked down, so I bought 300 at 14.80.  When it bounced a bit, I covered 100 at 14.94.  I was trying to hold the rest, but it went back to my breakeven price and I got out of it.

LPL – Was selling off, so I picked up 100 shares at 19.09 to watch it and play the bounce.  Changed my mind about it and covered at 19.04.

BCS-  – BCS- was down a lot on the day, as all the BCS preferreds were.  I had just seen them sell off yesterday morning and bounce all the way back, but today’s move had lasted longer already and was selling off further.  I bought 100 at 19.25 in order to watch it and get in it bigger when it did start bouncing.   A few minutes later it looked like it could be bouncing, so I picked up another 200 at 19.38.  Then, it sold back off to new lows.  I still felt like it was going to bounce and I felt like the whole number 19 could provide some support, so I picked up another 200 at 19.16 and another 200 at 19.08.

DNP – Sold off sharply on no news, so I bought 500 at 8.80.  I covered 300 at 8.88 on a bounce a little while later.

RBS-F – This stock also sold off on a sharp leg down, so I bought 500 at 18.89.  It bounced a bit and I covered 200 at 18.99.

LINE – another stock that sold off on a sharp leg down.  I bought 300 at 23.43.

HTD – Another one that sold off sharply that I picked up 300 at 13.08.

BAC-I – this sold off on a sharp leg down as well and it went into slow quote, while the ECN’s were still trading above where the specialist was printing.  I threw some orders at it and got filled on 3,000 shares at 21.07, but as soon as I got filled the ECN’s were down there now too.  I made the decision to hold it along with the other preferred and funds I was accumulating, because I still expected a nice bounce to occur.   Then, it sold off some more against me, so I grabbed another 1,000 at 20.70 in order to get my average price down.    I was scared of this because of how much size I was in.  I knew I was in more than I wanted to be in earlier than I wanted to be, but I made the decision to hold it since I expected a nice bounce to happen.

PFF – The preferred ETF was selling off hard as a lot of the preferred and funds were taking these sharp legs down.  I figured something was going on with PFF or it’s holdings – somebody was dumping preferred shares?  PFF was rebalancing or something?  I figured something was going on with this and had a flashback to that day last October when PFF and it’s holdings went up strongly and then eventually came all the way back.  I got long 700 PFF at 35.39 in order to watch it and my plan was to get big once it looked to really be bouncing.

FTB-C – another holding of PFF that did the same leg down type of move.  I picked up 200 at 24.15.

BAC-J – another one.  I picked up 200 at BAC-J.

Now, I was holding all of these positions – 4,000 BAC-I, 700 PFF, 700 BCS-, 200 DNP, 300 RBS-F, 300 LINE, 300 HTD, 200 FTB-C and 200 BAC-J, and more preferred stocks and small thinly traded funds kept making the same move.  A quick sweep down.  Then, they would bounce a bit, but not really go anywhere.  It kept happening, but I was in so much BAC-I that I couldn’t pick up any other stocks, I already felt like I had a lot at risk and I was already down enough in my positions to be past my loss limit.  PFF took another leg down and I decided to hold it, since I was past my loss limit and wanted to be in it when it bounced.  The stocks kept selling off on me, but I was holding out for the bounce.  I was turned off at this point and couldn’t open up any new positions, so I got up to talk to my coach to see if I could get turned back on when things started to bounce so that I could load up, particularly in PFF since that’s what I thought this move was based on still.  I was trying to hold for the bounce, but my positions just kept going against me.  I got down over 1.5 points in PFF and then I really started hurting when BAC-I took another leg down and I was now down a point in that position.  I was really watching my P/L now and trying to draw a line in the sand.  I was down $7K now and so I started to lighten up.  PFF and the others took another leg down as the whole market really started to sell off and pick up steam.  I covered everything once I saw my P/L go down over $8K.  Once I was out, I was down about $8.5K on the day.   I was definitely disappointed with how that turned out.  Pretty much as soon as I covered the market really started nose diving – the Dow went from being down 200 pts. to 400 pts. to 600, 700… all in a matter of minutes.  The market was tanking fast.  The Pit yelled out that the circuit breaker would be triggered once the Dow was down 1050.  Brad and Kyle start yelling and telling people to buy before the circuit breaker got hit, I thought that was a good strategy, but at this point, I was cut off and way past my loss limit and too devastated and disappointed to even think about opening another position.  The Dow went down as much as 998.5 I guess, it moved so fast, I saw it down 980 and then it was only down 930, then only 850 – It was bouncing back hard – V-bottom type of move.  Kyle yelled out to buy anything that was down, and next thing I know, my coach went from being down 10k on the day to up 30k.  Sam who sits next to me bought some PG and some GE at really low prices and was already up a lot now that they were bouncing.  I really felt like I was missing out on the action, so I went and talked to James about getting turned back on and he gave me a little more room, but the Dow was only down 400 now and I had missed most of the move and most of the craziness, but I was able to place the following trades:

CSX – CSX and plenty of other stocks were showing umode, so I went through them and tried to hang out orders on both sides away from the market and to the specialist.  CSX was the only one that printed me.  I got short 14,000 CSX at 52.50, and started covering instantly at 52.27 and 52.29.  It took me awhile to realize how much size I was in and how many times I had to hit my button to cover it all and the ECN’s bounced on me some, so that my last fills were at 52.48.  My average cover was around 52.40, so I pretty much made 10 cents on 14,000 shares.

BID – I tried to get a good fill on BID as well, but was only able to get 100 shares from 34.40.  Covered at 34.29.

HHH – HHH spiked all the way to 156 and it was normally a $56 stock.  I shorted some  at 116 as soon as I saw it, but I knew those prices would break, so I tried to wait for it to go back lower in order to get more.  I shorted another 800 at 62’s and then another 1,200 or so at 56.50 and 56.38.  Everything above 60.08 wound up breaking, so I didn’t get to keep my 62’s.  This didn’t break until way after the market closed, so I held the 1,200 from an average of 56.42 overnight.

SLM – I got filled long in SLM with 4,100 shares at 11.22, but was down about 10 cents as soon as I got filled, so I just covered.  Looking at the chart, I wasn’t long from a great price by any means.

BRK.A – I got the closing print on BRK.A, short 1 share from 113,500.  I pennied the bid at 112,500 and covered my share at 112,501. So, I made 1,000 pts. on that 1 share.

============

Three and a half years have passed. But reading this still spikes my adrenaline. Crazy. I remember a lot of it vividly – not the details and particular stocks, but the action on the trading floor and what was happening that day: where I was at certain times, who I was talking to, etc. – all of that is very vivid in my memory.

It’s hard to tell where I ended up on the day – because I made some of it back from the downward peak of being down $8,500 – including ending the day with a quick $1,000 trade on 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway.

But, basically what happened is this was a career-making day in a slow market. 2010 had been a shit slow year of watching paint dry. And this was the day. Some traders made their whole year’s income in this day. You just can’t miss days like this as a trader…. and I missed it. And, it wasn’t the first time – and I was sick of it.

That’s ultimately what ended that career. Missing out on too many “career days”.

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Life goes on…

 

Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge

I Never Wanted To Live In New York, but Tokyo is Awesome

I never understood why people wanted to live in New York. Especially when Houston and Austin are so much cheaper.

I never understood why people would leave Houston and Austin to go live in a box the size of a closet in New York.

It just seemed backwards to me.

Until I lived in Tokyo.

Tokyo is expensive as fuck. Kind of like of New York. You live in a tiny box that is way overpriced.

But it is so damn interesting.

Tokyo has 23 different wards. Each of them different from the next.

It’s more diverse than you think. Everybody always said the Japanese are shy, very polite and respectful. Most of the Japanese I met, even in Tokyo, were from Osaka. They weren’t so shy.

I was at an Izakaya (Japanese bar) with one of my friends once, and he was commanding the waitress to pour more sake into my glass: “Moto! moto!”  He would press the button to call the waiter before even looking at the menu and then make him wait on us when he showed up. My girlfriend who was with us, said to him, “you are not Japanese. Japanese don’t act like this.”

But, he wasn’t the only one.

My first 3 months in Japan, I met with 4 different language exchange buddies on a regular basis. To practice my Japanese. 3 of them were from Osaka. One of them was from Tokyo.

The one from Tokyo would hammer me on my writing saying “you can’t learn Japanese without learning how to write to hiragana and katakana.” And, later Kanji. We would meet in coffee shops and he’d make me write Japanese the whole time.

The 3 Osakajin, much different. After they met me once, their notion of language exchange was “let’s go to Izakaya!”

Hell yeah! Works for me.

Personally, I think a bar is a great place to learn a language. After all, that’s how I learned Spanish – asking Chilean friends what to say to the Mexican girl standing over there…

I once went on a job interview in Singapore where the guy basically offered me the job, but said he’d pay for me to take business Mandarin classes, so I could learn more than just the “chatting up Chinese girls in bar” Mandarin I knew at the time.

Hey, that’s still useful stuff…. my “chatting up Chinese girls in bar” Mandarin has proved to be very good stuff, mate.

Anyway. I think I think I’m getting off track. Back to Tokyo.

Living in the city really was amazing. Electrifying.

You look up and there’s Sony. Over there is Nintendo.

Sega is from here too.

That pretty much covers every video game system I ever owned.

Then, you realize that those silly key chains those nerdy kids had on the school bus in middle school called “Tomodachis” were from Japan. After all, “tomodachi” means friend in Japanese.

You realize Pokemon is Japanese.

So is Karate.

And Jiu Jitsu.

Of course you already knew Dragonball Z was Japanese.

Then, you look down the block and you see Nissan. The first car you ever bought was a Nissan.

Before you actually bought a car, you drove a Toyota. Oh yeah? They’re here too.

Most of the girls you dated in high school and college drove Toyotas. I don’t know why, they just did. Broke Americans love Toyotas.

Oh, don’t forget Honda. Your mom drove one your whole childhood.

And then you realize.. you grew up Japanese and you didn’t even know it.

This one city (Tokyo) on the other side of the world had more influence on your childhood then you ever imagined.

And, you thought Globalization was a new thing.

And, I’m not even one of those Japanophile dudes. I never really got into Anime or Manga – except for Dragonball Z. I mean, I would record Dragonball Z episodes on the VHS back in high school. But, then I would get home from track practice, take an ice bath, and fall asleep… and forget to watch the Dragonball Z tape.

But damn… Nintendo, Panasonic, Sony, Sharp, Nissan, Honda, Toyota… they’re all here…

Tokyo is amazing.

Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge

Tokyo!

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How I Used To Ace Accounting Courses; And What It Means for How People Learn

When I first decided to go back to grad school I decided to pursue a Master’s in Accounting.

Why?

Well, one of my main reasons is that I thought accounting would be really freaking easy.

And, it was.

I signed up for some accounting courses at the local university and I would ace them. In Financial Accounting the professor announced to the class that I was the first student to ever make a 100 on one of her tests. In the other courses it was much of the same. I took 5 accounting courses over the course of two semesters (and one statistics course) and then later in business school I would take two more. They were always easy. Granted, I learned new things… but they were always super easy.

Why?

Simple stuff.

Simple stuff.

 

Context

One of the students in one of my classes approached me to tutor her. She was really struggling. She claimed she was doing the homework and doing the readings, but then during test time her mind would just go blank.

I tried to walk her through one of the problems in the book to see her thought processes. And I saw her problem.

She was too rigid. Too structured. Trying to remember what the book had said earlier. “Naw, forget about all of that,” was my advice, “just think about how a business works. Everything in accounting can be figured out fairly simply if you just think of how a business would need to do it. So just try to think like a business. Think of how a business works.”

She looked at me blankly.

Then I realized she didn’t know “how a business works.”

And why should she? This is an undergraduate accounting course (I was taking it because I needed the pre-reqs. I had never taken any accounting courses before). She probably hadn’t done much else besides school and studying. Maybe a part-time job or two doing menial tasks that she never thought twice about. But, she’d never run a business or thought much about “how business works.”

Basically, she wasn’t me.

My Previous Accounting Experience

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. When I was in college, I ran a music business. A record label. We were in the business of recording CDs, pressing CDs, and selling CDs.

This included me driving all over the state of Texas (and occasionally to Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Florida) establishing relationships with music stores and putting product on their shelves. In order to keep track of it all I had a big white binder with a page in it for each store I had products in. I kept track of things like: how much inventory is on their shelves and how much money they owe me. I summed up all of that information up and put into Microsoft Excel and where I kept track of how much money I made every week, what my expenses were, and how much I owed to my artists.

I did all of this before I ever knew anything about accounting or took an accounting course. I did it without researching accounting at all. I wasn’t using definitions like debits and credits. I didn’t know what those were. I wasn’t using a double-entry booking system. I was just doing it to keep track of everything. It was a very rudimentary system. It wasn’t perfect. But it helped me keep track of everything. Which was necessary.

A few years later, when sitting in accounting courses and learning about the double-entry accounting system codified by Luca Pacioli in the 15th century it all made so much sense. Instantly it made sense. I was learning better methods, better systems that I could instantly apply to what I had previously done. It made perfect sense that a system codified 500 years ago and built upon since then would be more solid and be able to handle the different intricacies of different businesses much better than the rudimentary system one guy created on his own while driving across the Southeastern USA in his pick-up truck (hint: that’s me). It was easy for me to understand and comprehend, because it so easily fit into my worldview of how things work. My system would have surely fallen apart or at least need a lot of adjusting for new things as the business grew – but learning commonly practiced accounting standards just meant learning systems that had already taken all of these things into account already. Because the businesses that practiced these standards had already been through things my business hadn’t. It interested me because it was applicable to me. It was easy, because in some sense I already done some of it.

I barely even needed to study. All I had to do was just show up. “God-given talent.”

"Boobie, you didn't lift."

“Boobie, you didn’t lift.”

What This Means for How We Learn

What this all means is something that may already be painfully obvious for most of us: we learn from mostly from doing, not from reading or memorizing things in a book.

This has a lot to do with the current disconnect of the education system. College students cram for tests, take the tests, then forget the shit. Nobody really learns much because nobody really did much. Learning for a test isn’t really learning because it isn’t really doing.

This is why businesses are clamoring, saying they have to re-train grads because they didn’t really learn anything in school. This why internet pundits the world over are having a love affair with STEM – they see students are getting more practice actually doing things in STEM courses than they are in other courses.

We learn best through doing, through repetitive practice, through habits built over time.

Once we have enough context of doing something to understand it on a basic level then adding new information to it becomes easy. The context to apply the new information is already there. I already had a context for accounting, simplified in my mind as “how a business works”. It really is that simple.

 

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