Sunday, May 27, 2007

The move is complete!

The new address is, this accesses the main page and accesses the blog part. It makes more sense if you take a look.

This means that all posting will be on the new server from now on. So if you are looking for fresh content, is the place to be.

I'll put up a bigger notice here later, but since you just read this, you dont' need it. If you have bookmarked this page, please update your bookmark accordingly.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Site News: Changes are afoot

OK, there was a while when "" was pointing to nothing pretty much. It will now redirect to this page until I get wordpress running and sexy.

Thanks for you patience.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Site News: Where is Joshua?

Again, I am not posting regularly. I'm very sorry.

If you are wondering what I am up to, here is a short list:
Creating new layout for site
Writing an essay for the Queen's Purpose of Life Essay Competition
Working as a research assistant

It doesn't seem like much, but those three things take up more time than I would have expected. So bear with me, more posts will be coming. After this week, the pace should pick up!

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)


Random Interesting Fact #4: Colours (colors) of noise

You may have heard of white noise already. It is most often associated with that static sound when you get to a TV channel with no reception. However, there are many other colors of noise including: pink, brown, blue, purple and grey.

The colours of sounds are supposed to be analogous to the colours of light: for example, if you were to change the spectrum (energy formation) of purple sound and convert it into light, you get purple light.

Pretty weird. I came across this looking for a way to cancel the sounds from my fellow co-workers. It is said that pink noise can achieve this effect. But when it is playing directly in your ear, through earbuds, it's a little annoying.

Read more at Wikipedia: Colors of Noise

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Monday, May 07, 2007

The Value of Learning

A little while ago, I was reading The Value of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (from Problems of Philosophy). And now, it seems to be quite related to the previous post on finding powerful reason to learn.

Once upon a time, I was the biggest critic of philosophy. I couldn't understand it's appeal and thought it was totally useless. In fact Russell describes my old sentiment quite nicely:
[M]any men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible.
However, Russell goes on to describe that the main value of philosophy is to give us many different perspectives on even the most simple matters. In this way, we will not become so dogmatic in our ways, allowing us to accept the possibility of new ideas. (We should be humble in our knowledge.)

Russell writes in such a way as to make the idea of learning philosophy exciting and life-altering. I would tend to agree.

In a similar way, after reading this, I found that many of the benefits conferred upon learning philosophy apply to all learning in general. Our solutions to problems come from the framework of our knowledge. If we have many frameworks (if we know a lot from varied schools of thought), then will be able to find a greater number of creative solutions.

The quest for knowledge should not be limited only to one field, the sciences say, because then we will have only one perspective from which to view the world. In learning that there are more ways to perceive life, we are liberated.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Intelligent Attitudes (Part 2)

This is the second of several parts on attitudes that will put more information in your brain and keep it there. These tips are meant to be applied in all areas of life, so that maximal learning happens on every front, not just the academic ones.

The first part of Intelligent Attitudes lists tips 1 and 2 and is well worth checking out. Feel free to read them in any order.

3) Find powerful reasons to learn

Simply, we should answer to ourselves: Why do I want to learn this? or Why is this worth remembering?

Tasks get accomplished faster and with more enjoyment when they have meaning or purpose. For the most part, I would hope that we could all have lofty and noble reasons for wanting to acquire information. Reasons such as learning purely for knowledge's sake, intrinsic interest, or the hope to teach/benefit others later; even finding calm in the present moment can motivate one to study.

While these reasons may motivate us in a grander sense, I find they they may not permeate the present moment. Goals are only valuable to the extent that they affect us now. If the idea of teaching another is not exciting or powerful enough to motivate us to learn, then this idea is not useful. Often, it is other types of goals that drive our quest for knowledge.

Learning in order to improve your GPA or ensure your future success, in graduate studies for example, can be a powerful motivator. It is a very measurable factor, thus making it easier to analyze objectively and quickly. You can see if you are improving, and by how much. (Although grades and amount learned are not always directly correlated.) While some say that grades are not important, it is hard to deny their blunt efficiency as a tool to compare and rank people. From this (and for other reasons I won't get into), the grade point average can motivate.

Sexual drive is an ancient desire that can elevate people to untold heights or bring the mighty to their knees. Leaders can are often made or broken because of sex. Some even argue that this one desire is responsible for all great societies. As a result, to have this as a motivator for learning is very effective.

Yet how can knowledge be sexy? Oh, in ways too numerous to count. Common interests can often spark a magical sort of first impression. Someone mentions their philosophy course, you ask about a philosopher they might have studied, and your friend is subtly impressed. One is perceived in a better light if they are knowledgeable about certain subjects; depending on the person such subjects can include fine arts, economics, neurobiology, Tupac's greatest hits, Tupac's underground stuff, literature, etc. Even flirting and sexual practices are varieties of knowledge. Of course, this is a bit of a simplification, but if you can find personal reasons why learning a fact will improve your sexual potential, in any way, that fact will be firmly entrenched in your mind.

Related to the two above, there are cases in which specific knowledge can be impressive (or at least interesting). Cocktail parties were made so that people would have a place to talk about philosophy, among other things. People also love when you remember things about them, such as their favourite book, things about their family etc. Knowledge about a company or institution will come in useful during an interview to show that you are a thorough and intelligent person. Hell, even sports knowledge can impress your date's father in that awkward time by the front door. Remembering that all knowledge will be impressive in the future can help one to memorize even the most detailed facts.

Fuel for creativity:
Oh man, this is one of the greatest discoveries of my life. The reason I advocate creative outputs, such as writing, is that your vast pool of knowledge comes pouring out in ways that you may not have thought possible. Wit and humour are often simply the retelling of known things in a novel way. When you have more knowledge to draw upon, you can make connections between pieces of knowledge faster, these new connections are the basis of creativity. Creativity is not limited to writing; scientific discovery benefits greatly from the same fuel. Great scientist Louis Pasteur said that "chance favors the prepared mind." More knowledge about a subject will give one a larger platform from which to jump to creative solutions.

I'm always impressed with the crazy associations our minds can make. Try just going through a train of mental associations, just saying what pops into your mind after the word "coffee". If you tried it, you notice that you can get pretty far away from coffee. All knowledge is just more fuel for future creativity, helping those a-ha! moments come more and more frequently.

I would say that I use all of these desires/goals regularly in my learning. Some more than others, but I'll leave you to figure that out. One of the main factors that motivates all of my learning (from feminine hygiene products to philosophy of mind) is that I believe this knowledge will eventually have a use. I also believe that the process of learning is intrinsically valuable (a previous Intelligent Attitude [#2]).

Some may argue that we shouldn't have such "shallow" goals direct our learning and activities; however, I have two counter-points to this. Firstly, there is great energy in these desires that is often hard to embrace through other means. Ideas that can bring this energy are tremendously powerful and should not be ignored because of cultural biases. We should embrace the desires that motivate us, in order to learn and achieve more.

Secondly, to call the above categories shallow seems like a random categorization when we think about what results from them. (The ends justify the means?) Let me give you some examples. An Olympic athlete trains everyday for his/her whole life simply to qualify. The only things that motivate the athlete are the ideas that he/she will have the world record and that their place in history will be assured. After many hard years and one event, this athlete places first, giving hope and pride to their country. Is the accomplishment of the athlete less significant?

Songwriters write songs to soon women and men (often in sexual ways). Are these songs less beautiful and moving for their underlying motivations?

No, I would argue. Sometimes people, myself definitely included, get caught up in judgement of other or themselves based on the view that certain desires are wrong or bad. Yet they are quick to devour the fruits of the labour from these desires. Some dismiss those who experiment day and night to the chagrin of their families, but applaud the discoveries and prizes. People with far-out interests can be ignored, but adored for creative insight. This list goes on.

What I'm getting at here is that we shouldn't worry so much about what other people may think about our desires and goals. They should empower you, and it is you that will know if your underlying desires are "good" or not. So, remember to create goals and reasons that empower you to learn. Whatever your desires may be, if they motivate you, this makes them good.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Intelligent Attitudes (Part 1)

This will be the first of three (or four) parts on attitudes that will help you learn more in all areas of your life. Not only are these tips are useful in an academic sense, they are even more useful for learning as a whole.

1) Be humble in knowledge

No matter how much you know in about a subject, there is still always more to learn. There are so many different ways to view current paradigms, and theories are constantly in flux. It is very difficult to be sure that one has heard it all. If you believe you know everything, there is no room for education. Making mistakes is one of the best and fastest ways to learn. Yet when our minds are closed off because we think our knowledge is fixed, when we find out what we "know" is wrong, we just freeze. As the study in the link shows, what we believe can shape our brains.

I'm sure you have experienced this: you are so sure about some fact; let's say that it's about the capital of Australia, which you believe to be Sydney. You've known this for so long. They even had the 2000 Olympics there!

But then your friend tells you that Canberra is the capital. You flatly deny it. "No way, Sydney has so many people." You even start to yell, "what are you talking about?!" After much flailing and harsh words, you will come to accept that Canberra is the true capital; only through the influence of the internet's second greatest resource. This information could have been more easily learned without arrogance surrounding our opinions. In the cases where there is no other direct proof, I have been known to simply dismiss someone's claim as completely erroneous, rather than check it out.

My father once told me that one of his most cherished lessons came in university. Initially, I didn't realize its importance, but now I am beginning to see its power. "Be slow to form your opinions, and slower to say them."

The amount of knowledge out there is frightening and thrilling. To say that you have enough information about a topic to warrent having a fixed opinion is quite reckless. I have been guilty of running my mouth on issues from abortion to the importance of pi. Yet with such limited knowledge, I was a fool for doing so.

What is it that can change one's perspective from smug inflexibility to maluble humble pie? Simply more information, an understanding of perspective, and an open mind.

2) All steps towards learning are important (even small ones)

This is an intelligent attitude for a few subtle reasons. Firstly, it gets you to start working. Even if it's only a little bit of work, a little bit is way better than none. Such a seemingly obvious statement becomes more practical when we consider how many times we've done the opposite. We hesitate to start studying because it is complicated. We don't read a philosophy book or art magazine because we worry that we won't get it.

However, if we read over the text and understand even a little bit more, we have gained a greater footing on the mountain that is knowledge. In skimming over that magazine, the ideas and vocabulary are subtly entering your brain. All of this information will be easier to recall if it comes up again, and it will give you a peg for new knowledge on this subject.

Similarly, one of the great writing tips out there to get your flow going is just to write anything. You can let yourself write the crappiest first draft ever, but just write. When you forget about perfection, you allow yourself to get into a rhythm; this is when your real creativity can shine. In a similar way, when you untangle yourself from perfectionism, you lose the essence of the knowledge

The last way of looking at it is somewhat like the paradox of the heap. While we can all agree that one grain of sand doesn't make a heap. A heap of sand is just made up of single grains of sand. So when do grains of sand become a heap? Or when do isolated facts become a network of knowledge? Although this analogy is a little funny, you can see that in order to build this amazing network of information, you need to start (and continue) with single facts and relations.

So read that one extra page, watch that video that is hard to understand, keep going for one more minute. In doing so you're preparing your mind for future planting and harvest. And anyways, learning that one extra fact is much better than feeling silly when that exact section is on your test.

I have found that one of the best ways to implement this is through timeboxing. Just give yourself a set amount of time (like 30 mins) to work on something, say an essay. You don't even have to finish anything specific. Just work for that amount of time, and even if you think it's the worst work ever, it's not so bad that you can't handle it for 30mins . This is a really powerful technique to just get you going. And the awesome thing is that once you are moving, often your momentum will carry you a lot farther than you expected.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

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More posting, moving and a re-design

Even though this is the umpteenth time I've had to do this, I would like to apologize for my hiatus. As a result of exams and an overabundance of Korean food (don't ask), I have been shirking my duties to you. This summer will be filled with change.

A new post is coming later tonight.

I am going to create more pillar posts. Personally, I like when people offer specific plans for implementing ideas, but this site has been lacking in that department. Although high level thinking is important for setting priorities and understanding your goals, sometimes it helps to have those little specific tips that make studying easier. I will be analyzing what successful students do to succeed, and I will post my findings here over the summer.

As well, I'd like to continue to post about random things that I find interesting. In an attempt to fill the void that Collision Detection has left in my heart, I would like to post about cool/crazy/weird science topics that I read about, or anything else that strikes my fancy. I promise that it will not take away from the core postings, this will merely be icing.

In other news, I plan on purchasing a real hosting plan in the near future and redesigning the site. I'd like to make this site more accessible to new visitors, and have people more easily find topics important to them. While the new blogger layout tools allow for more flexibility, they are still lacking in many areas (namely technical ones). This move, however, may be slow in coming as I haven't programmed for a while, and I don't have much experience in the non-basic scripting languages. But a lack of knowledge never stopped me from trying before!

Sorry if you just fell asleep in the previous paragraphs, but now you up-to-date on my plans for this site over the summer. If you have any input, suggestions, concerns or really good math jokes, I'd love to hear them. You can email me at: joshua[at]gravyway[dot]com (remember to replace the [at] and [dot]) or just comment below.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)