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The Real Meaning of Brainstorming and How to Do It

A popular myth is that the meaning of Brainstorming is somehow related to generating a storm of ideas in a brain. While this makes sense, the creator had something slightly different in mind when he came up with the term: The word Brainstorming was coined by Alex Faickney Osborn (1888-1966) in his book Your Creative Power, published in 1948. Osborn was a very successful advertising executive and business owner during his time.

This is how Osborn explains how the name “Brainstorming” came about:
“It was in 1939 when I first organized such group-thinking in our company. The early participants dubbed our efforts ‘Brainstorm Sessions,’ and quite aptly so because, in this case, ‘brainstorm’ means using the brain to storm a creative problem and do so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.

What is brainstorming then?

Following Osborn’s definition, consider a problem a fortress we try to storm with a group of brains (our army):

The Real Meaning of Brainstorming

Classical brainstorming is a group technique to create new ideas. The group takes a specific problem and creates as many ideas as possible in a limited time.

Read moreThe Real Meaning of Brainstorming and How to Do It

Ankidroid – Anki for Android, A Great Companion to Learn Anywhere, Anytime

Ankidroid-2-Happy-Chinese-New-YearSpaced repetition software is very effective when it comes to reviewing information you want to remember. In my last post, I have described how to design Anki 2 vocabulary flash cards. While I create most of my flash cards on a PC, I do most of my reviewing on the go – using Ankidroid on an Android phone.

Last month, Ankidroid 2 was released – so once again, users of Android phones and tablets have a great companion to Anki for Windows or Mac. In this post, I am going into what I consider some outstanding features of Ankidroid. I will also briefly describe how to install and synchronize Ankidroid 2 with Anki 2 and share some tips and tricks that work well for me.

Who created Ankidroid and what is it?

Anki (Windows, Mac, and iOS), is a fantastic project and the work of Damien Elmes. Ankidroid has been created and is being maintained by a different group of great volunteers who wanted to bring Anki to Android. It is an open source flash card program and free for everyone to use. Ankidroid employs adaptive spaced repetition and synchronizes flash cards with Anki via Ankiweb (a free cloud service provided by Damien Elmes). Since version 2, media, such as images and sound, are also automatically synchronized via Ankiweb. It is a complete program, allowing users to create decks, create, edit, and review flash cards and include multimedia.

Read moreAnkidroid – Anki for Android, A Great Companion to Learn Anywhere, Anytime

How to Create Anki 2 Vocabulary Flash Cards


Anki 2 is a sophisticated computer flash card program that keeps track of the difficulty of individual flash cards (adaptive spaced repetition software). The program automatically schedules the next review of a card depending on how well a learner could remember that particular card. For you as a learner, this is great: You only have to follow Anki 2’s scheduling to attain and maintain a certain knowledge level.

For more information on spaced repetition software, and where to download Anki 2, please check this article.

Anki 2 goes beyond two-sided flash cards

Anki is very flexible. It allows you to design flash cards according to your own needs.

Traditional flash cards have two sides: On one side, you write a question, on the other side, the answer to the question. Let’s say, you are a native English speaker and want to learn French. On the question side, you place an English word, and on the answer side the meaning in French. You could also include the pronunciation, gender (for nouns), a French sample sentence, word usage, and collocations on the answer side.

When you want to test yourself from English to French, you look at the English keyword, and try to pronounce and spell the word in French.

To test yourself in the opposite direction, you just flip the card, look at the French word, and think of the English meaning. Unfortunately, you now also have all your additional notes on your question side (previously answer side), which provide unwanted cues and hints to the English meaning. Ideally, you now want to hide these notes.

Unfortunately, a two-sided flash card with notes doesn’t easily allow for testing in both directions.

Read moreHow to Create Anki 2 Vocabulary Flash Cards

Adaptive Spaced Repetition Software and Piotr Wozniak’s Quest to Learn for Life

Spaced-Repetition-Software-RememberEverythingIf you have read previous posts, you probably already know that I like using computer flash card programs to learn information in all kinds of subjects, including history, biology, geography, terminology, language vocabulary, and Chinese characters.  Modern flash card programs are also known as spaced repetition software (SRS). Programs I have used extensively include the free open source programs Mnemosyne and Anki, and Vtrain (a traditional card box program).

I believe spaced repetition software is very effective and should be a part of every learner’s toolbox.  This post aims to shed some light on the history of spaced repetition software, and encourages you to try one of the programs. 

Read moreAdaptive Spaced Repetition Software and Piotr Wozniak’s Quest to Learn for Life

The SQ3R Method of Studying – The Father of All Reading Methods is Alive and Kicking

sq3r-method-of-studyWhat is the SQ3R method and why was it developed?

SQ3R (also known as the SQRRR method) is an acronym for a 5-step reading and study method originally suggested by Francis Pleasant Robinson in his book Effective Study. Robinson (1906-1983) was a professor of psychology at Ohio State University (OSU). During World War II, droves of army personnel were sent to colleges and universities to attend intensive training in skills relevant to winning the war. Robinson headed the Learning and Study Skills program at OSU, and based on his research devised the SQ3R method and other techniques to help military personnel to learn specialized skills in as little time as possible.1 In his commentary ahead of Veteran’s Day in 2002, Thomas G. Sticht called it “The reading formula that helped win World War II”.

Multiple spin-offs of the SQ3R method, including PQRST and SQ4R have subsequently been suggested.

All of these methods provide a systematic approach to reading, and suggest that you write down a set of questions first and then read actively with the aim of answering those questions. Note that all acronyms contain a Q.

How does it work?

Read moreThe SQ3R Method of Studying – The Father of All Reading Methods is Alive and Kicking

How to Create a Secure Password You Can Remember

create-a-secure-passwordCreating a secure password is one of the most important things you can do to prevent break-ins into your Internet account.

How secure is my password?

One of the easiest approaches identity thieves use to get hold of other people’s accounts is just guessing their password. That’s right, many people make passwords that are not secure. They are either very short or contain information that a person only slightly familiar with them can guess. Slightly familiar might just mean – they know you from Facebook. If your password is less than 8 characters, or contains words, phrases, or names that can be found in a dictionary, your password is not very secure.

The problem many people face is to think up a password they won’t forget, but at the same time cannot be guessed by other people.

A secure password should be as long as possible and a combination of letters, numbers, and special symbols. It should be easy to remember and difficult if not impossible to guess.

Aim for a length of at least 8 character. If you want to protect sensitive data, (e.g., an encrypted hard drive) I would go for a password with at least 15 characters. The longer you can make your password, the better. Make sure you don’t use your spouse’s, child’s or dog’s name, birthday, or any other information that can easily be guessed. Also, don’t use your credit card number or the like as a password. – Or would you want the owner of a website to get hold of this information?

How to create a strong password?

Read moreHow to Create a Secure Password You Can Remember

The Mnemonic Keyword Method – My Wildcard for Foreign Language Learning

Keyword-Method-RememberEverythingThe keyword method, also known as the keyword mnemonic, is among the most widely researched mnemonic strategies. It is one of the most powerful methods for learning the meaning of foreign language vocabulary; you can also use it to remember how to pronounce a foreign language word when given a word in your native language. Other uses include learning of new terminology and facts.

The keyword method is an important tool in my personal language learning toolbox, so I want to share it with you.

How does the keyword method work?

Let’s go step-by-step through an example where a native English speaker wants to learn a German word. The German word for parachute is Fallschirm.

Read moreThe Mnemonic Keyword Method – My Wildcard for Foreign Language Learning

Zotero – Create Your Digital Library for Knowledge, Research, and Citation Management

Zotero-Research-Management-SoftwareIntroducing Zotero, free, open-source research software to collect, organize, manage, and share all kinds of information. This includes web pages, articles, research papers, videos, PDF documents and annotations, complete books, and your own notes. Zotero takes the pain out of managing citations and creating bibliographies. It features a Word plugin that works seamlessly with Word and formats citations in all common citation styles.

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Learning to Read and Write Chinese Characters the Heisig-Richardson Way

In their books, Remembering Traditional Hanzi and Remembering Simplified Hanzi, James W. Heisig and Timothy W. Richardson introduce the Chinese characters using mnemonic stories and a unique approach of ordering them.

Their objective is to offer a very fast method to learning how to read and write Chinese characters. The work is based on Heisig’s earlier work, Remembering the Kanji. Following the method described in this book, he learned nearly 2000 characters (Kanji, i.e. the Chinese characters as they are used in Japan) in about one month of full-time study. For each character, he learned its key meaning, how to recognize it and how to write it from memory. That is impressive.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I committed to learning the 2000 most common traditional Chinese characters (at a leisurely pace).

So where am I now? So far, I have used Heisig’s book for about 30 minutes a day for a bit more than two months. During that time, I learned the first 350 characters in the book. I can report that I could significantly reduce the time I needed to memorize each character compared to the approach I used to learn 1500 simplified Chinese characters a few years ago. What’s more, it is a lot more fun, and the characters stick better. I also have (almost completely) avoided confusing different characters (interference), or wondering how many strokes I needed to write.

To help you decide whether this method is for you, let me briefly outline how the “Heisig-Richardson” way of learning Chinese characters works:

Let’s take a look at the top-20 Chinese characters by frequency of appearance: 的不一我是人有了大國來生在子們中上他時小

They all look quite different, don’t they? How can you possibly memorize 2000 of them in a reasonable amount of time? How did Heisig do it?

Read moreLearning to Read and Write Chinese Characters the Heisig-Richardson Way

Exercising as Part of Time Boxing – Gangnam Style

My-Sneakers-RememberEverythingIn a previous post, I wrote about time boxing as a way to stop procrastinating and getting things done. Combined with a little bit of physical exercise, it does a lot more for me: It turbocharges my day, energizes my mind, and makes me happier. Mind fog is a thing of the past for me.

As a recap, with time boxing, all work takes place in fixed-duration time intervals (20-30 minutes) after which you take a break (usually 5 minutes). During a break, you get up from your desk and do something completely different.

Today, I want to encourage you to use at least 2 or 3 10-minute breaks for your daily physical exercise:

You certainly have been told, physical activity has been found to be absolutely necessary to maintain good health and a sufficient blood flow to your brain (blah blah…). I don’t want to bore you, so I won’t go down this road.

Before I go any further, I have to admit that I am by no means an exercise junkie. For a long time, my exercise regime was going to the swimming pool once a week. Yes, I sort of always knew that moderate exercise is an important contribution to maintaining one’s health, but it wasn’t something I really paid too much attention to.

What bothered me more was that I tired fast whenever I did some serious thinking or learning. As you probably know from my blog, I like learning a lot, and feeling tired after only 20 to 30 minutes of studying made me wonder if I had already gotten too old for it. Yes, you can counter that tiredness for a while with a strong cup of coffee, and I love coffee, but this isn’t really a solution to get through the day with a bright mind. In fact, even with coffee mind fog sets in way too soon.

What I didn’t realize for many years – I was constantly asking too much of my brain.

Read moreExercising as Part of Time Boxing – Gangnam Style


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