Discussion With AnneB About Learning Motivation, Honesty About What You Know, Second-handedness

I realized that I need to rethink some things in my blog post on SICP Exercise 2.14, so I reverted it to a draft for now. Was that the wrong thing to do? I hadn’t gotten any comment on it so I don’t know if anyone read it yet. When I repost it, should I mark my changes as edits or just change them? (The big picture is that I forgot about the subtraction procedure and just focused on addition/multiplication/division.)

I’ve got a post in draft re: some grammar stuff

i made some errors and then have additional comments after the error

i’ve got stuff marked as

Initial Answer

Peikoff’s Answer

Answer after further thought

that kinda stuff

i think one of the ways you can mess up is

by fooling yourself about the state of what you knew at different points in time

and that the motivation for doing this is not wanting to admit your initial ignorance

i’m not accusing you of this btw, Anne, this is just like a general observation of possible relevance

generic “you”

anyways i think it’s interesting cuz

if you fool yourself about the state of your knowledge at the beginning of trying to solve some problem

then you can inflate how much you already knew

and if you inflate how much you already knew

then that can make the learning project look less valuable in retrospect

cuz you look back

and say

“oh well i didn’t seem to learn a lot”

but that’s just cuz you lied about how little u knew at the start

so i thought that was interesting

Yes, I’ve thought of that too, how if you pretend to yourself that you knew stuff already, you don’t see all the progress you made.

it’s kinda like if you lie about what your assets were before doing some business venture. say you had $100 but you say you had $50k. then after doing the venture you have $55k. if you fool yourself with the lie and believe your false estimate of your assets, it looks like the business didn’t do too well, but the reality is different.

it’s easier to see the issue in that case, cuz amount of $ is an easier issue to judge than “amount of learning of some set of topics”, which is much squishier

so then if you combine the squishiness of judging how much you’ve learned with a bunch of self-lying it can become a real mess

For that post, I’ll try to accurately portray what I thought at first and then what I thought later. There are plenty of other exercises where I write stuff in draft and then later change it as I think about it more. But usually the changes happen before I publish. I wonder if I should be explaining more of that, but I already worry that my exercise answers are long. I’ll think about it some more.

long for what purpose

if u care about ppl reading your stuff, you could do a short version or mark specific things for people to read

for my next post i’m gonna mark one of the answers as a “if u only read one thing read this” cuz i did a whole big analysis re: fused participles and i’d like feedback on that

anyways you should consider the goal of your stuff

you can’t optimize your stuff for every purpose

if you care a lot about accurately capturing your thoughts and the state of your knowledge then that’s going to make it longer compared to something more optimized for getting feedback from other people


Yes, I’ve thought of that too, how if you pretend to yourself that you knew stuff already, you don’t see all the progress you made.

i think that’s really interesting btw cuz

it shows you how insidious and destructive second-handedness can be

like you lie to yourself for second-handed reasons, cuz you don’t want to come across as ignorant or newb or whatever

and doing so messes up your motivation to learn

the operation of the secondhandedness on learning is kinda indirect though

like you cook the books re: learning project effectiveness and that has downstream consequences on learning project motivation later

Thinking, Learning & Activities – October 1, 2020

Trying Out Flashcard Software

In my last post I described my criteria for a good flashcard app as follows:

  • Has an elegant and easy macOS app for making the cards.
  • Has a companion iOS app for reviewing the cards.
  • Does spaced repetition.
  • Makes it easy to add pictures.
  • (Optional) imports from and exports to standard formats like CSV, MS Excel spreadsheets etc.

What looks to be the number one flashcard app on the Mac App Store, Flashcard Hero, has a free version, so I tried that out. There’s no iPhone syncing on the free version though. Alas!
In the course of analyzing Flashcard Hero, I thought of another criterion: Markdown support. I found a Mac app that has that called Mochi. So I’ll be looking at both apps. I first look at and give my general impressions of the respective Mac apps and then proceed quickly through my specific criteria before reaching a conclusion.

Flashcard Hero

macOS App

App interface looks straightforward.

You enter the stimulus/question of the flashcard in the top field and the answer in the bottom.

There are some formatting options and a thing to insert images. Also a multiple choice thing which I’ll show more of later.

In addition to separate decks, you can organize things into topics within decks. If you only want to study some topics, it looks like you can command-click on the topics you want to study and only study those.

When you go into Study Mode, the default is that the app “hides” the answer on the bottom of the card by covering it up with a blank blue card. That’s a bit too skeumorphic for my taste but not a big deal. You can hit command-+ to make the card pretty big.

You can indicate how hard the card was.

Some study mode configuration options. Switching question and answer is a paid version feature, apparently. Incidentally, I much prefer time-limited but uncrippled full versions of software over crippled free versions.

What multiple choice studying looks like.

The “Type” study mode is kinda cool. It blurs out the answer but slowly reveals it as you type. Could be particularly useful for learning languages. The Quizlet app has a study mode that asks you questions first in multiple choice and then makes you type them out, which I found quite effective for learning vocabulary.

“Type” study mode configuration options. Note especially the Letter by letter versus Word by word setting. Letter by letter reveals each word as you go, whereas Word by word doesn’t reveal words until you finish typing them.

There is a thing for tracking your progress. I’m not too interested in that feature so I’m not gonna go over it in detail.

iOS Companion App

Syncing to the companion app is possible outside the scope of the free version.

Spaced Repetition

They support it.

Adding Pictures

Another thing that exists but that I can’t evaluate cuz it’s a paid app feature.

Import and Export Formats

Okay import options.

Some export options but pretty limited.


Flashcard Hero is $12.99 for the macOS app and $2.99 for the iOS app.


macOS App

Mochi initially wants you to login but you can tell it that you wanna do guest mode and make an account later, which is a feature I appreciate.

The interface immediately strikes me as cleaner and more elegant in some way than Flashcard Hero.

They have some default cards to help show you how the interface works. The first view, Notebook view, tries to integrate note-taking and flashcard-building. See this Twitter video for an explanation and this Tweet for some feature explanation. (Note: one downside of Mochi is the documentation is kinda weak, I think because the software is being worked on by just one too-busy guy).

There is a “show all sides” button to make reviewing cards easier.

List view.

Grid view.
They’re big on promoting the use of keyboard shortcuts, which I appreciate.

Even their markdown formatting guide has a keyboard shortcut.

{{brackets}} appears to be formatting they use to hide individual words on a flash card.

You can cross-reference things! “Antiarrhythmic” on the flashcard, with the little document icon next to it, is a clickable link that takes you to the note depicted above.

I’m guessing this menu option is what you use to generate internal links/references.

Three dashes --- are what you use to divide a card into different sides. So the above card has two sides.

The finished card with the “back” initially hidden. This is a minor aesthetic point, but I like this style way more than the skeumorphic approach in Flashcard Hero.

You indicate whether you forgot or remembered a card with the x or ☑️ at the bottom of the flashcard and that determines the next time you’ll review it.

The review timing is configurable.

iOS Companion App

They have one, I haven’t tried it yet.

Spaced Repetition

They support it and market on it heavily.

Adding Pictures

Very easy, can just paste stuff into the Markdown editor.

Import and Export Formats

Pretty limited. This is it for import:

And export is only in the Mochi format.


Pretty expensive for a flashcard app if you want to use the mobile version. Price just for desktop is okay though 🙂

Additional Comment

One thing I noticed Mochi doesn’t have is tags but it looks like they’re adding that soon according to the website.

Conclusion on Flashcard Software

Both apps seem like they would do the job, but I liked Mochi’s support of Markdown and visual style more. OTOH it’s way more expensive if I want the iPhone app, but I think that probably isn’t a dealbreaker for me. Currently leaning towards using Mochi.

👨🏻‍💻 Activities


I signed up for the free tier of the Mailjet email API service. Their free tier seems pretty robust (6000 emails a month!) and I just need something to connect to docassemble for the purpose of having my docassemble server mail me PDFs. Using Mailjet, I successfully mailed a PDF from a test interview, so I accomplished my goal. My understanding is that docassemble and Mailjet are using TLS, which means that the emails are being sent in an encrypted and secure matter. That is very relevant/important to me.

I like the docassemble slack channel. There are a couple of people in particular who are really responsive and take ownership over replying to questions, which is important when you are trying to figure out a new thing that is pretty complex.



I mentioned in my previous post that my knee situation has improved. One thing I didn’t mention was that I’ve been experimenting with ankle weights while doing some exercises. I definitely think they can be worth trying and are fairly cheap. In particular, I find them helpful for adding resistance to things like side leg raises.

Justin’s Calorie Counting Guide 🤔🗯🍔📝

The purpose of this post is to discuss how I count calories.

The audience is someone who is interested in a perspective on how to count calories for weight loss purposes.

The post is not a general weight loss guide. It is focused on issues related to coming up with accurate calorie counts.

Some background: I used to be around 300lbs. I’m now ~180lbs. There were a lot of ideas that went into my successful weight loss, but a reality-focused and honest approach to calorie counting was key IMHO. So if this is a topic of interest to you, maybe you can learn from my experience.


The absolutely most important, totally non-negotiable factor for successful calorie counting is honesty.

There are various ways you can be dishonest with calorie counting.

You can intentionally not log food “cuz its just a little tiny bit.”

You can “forget” to log food.

You can give a too-low estimate of the calorie content of food you ate.

To succeed, you’ve gotta dump the dishonesty.

If you want to successfully count calories, you need to be energetically and enthusiastically figuring out ways to make your calorie counting more accurate.

If you don’t have that kinda attitude, you won’t succeed.

Some people make a half-hearted attempt to count calories so that they can convince themselves they “tried” and claim helplessness regarding being too fat. If that’s your goal, then this guide isn’t for you, cuz my purpose here is to give you some tips on how to actually succeed.

Get an app

You need a way to track your calories if you’re going to succeed at calorie counting.

You don’t strictly need a specialized app. You could just make a list of what you ate or something like that. The Notes app on iPhone could theoretically work.

But specialized apps have a ton of advantages, such as:

a. big databases of food pre-loaded in that you can search (like you can just type “apple” and get the nutritional information for an apple, or “mcdonald’s cheeseburger” and get the info for that)
b. nifty things like barcode scanners that can make calorie counting and getting other nutritional data for many things as trivial as pointing your phone’s camera at the food box
c. ability to set weight loss goals and see what your calorie budget should be
d. cool graphs and charts showing how you are doing as far as your goals this day/week, how you’re doing on your weight loss journey, etc etc

So get an app. They’re cool, useful, and cheap/free.

i’ve tried a few. I use MyNetDiary, mostly cuz I’ve been using it a long time and know how to get it to do what I want. There might be a better app out there, but I haven’t seen one yet that was clearly better enough and also worth figuring out how to use in the way I use MyNetDiary. Lots of what I say to do should work with tons of apps, though.

Get a kitchen scale (or two)

If you wanna know how many calories you eat, it’s very useful to know how much your food weighs.

A kitchen scale will help you tremendously.

Here’s an example kitchen scale.

When I say you should weigh your food, you may think there is a separate food weighing step and then a food preparing step. This is not necessarily the case. We can be efficient about this!

For example, say you are making a sandwich.

Basically every kitchen scale has a “Tare” button. This lets you reset the measured weight to 0 with some weight already on the scale.

So you can place the plate on the scale, then hit Tare.

Then put the bread† on the plate. Weigh it, log the calories in your app, hit Tare.

Put your deli meat on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your cheese on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your condiment on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

You’ve logged your food and now you have a sandwich on a plate ready to go 😀

Note that if you have the same thing a lot in the same amount, you may want to make a recipe out of it so you can skip the steps above. MyNetDiary (and I’d guess other apps) lets you save a set of ingredients as a recipe. But if you’re going to do that, make sure that you actually make it the same way, or alternatively, make sure you log the new ingredients in addition to your “base” recipe. E.g. if you saved a recipe for a cheesy omelette without bacon in an app, and then you make the omelette with bacon, don’t just log your cheesy omelette recipe; log the bacon!

†(Packaged bread typically comes pre-sliced with a given calorie amount per slice, so in that case you wouldn’t need to weigh the bread)

You may think scales are only useful if you cook at home. WRONG!

They can be useful on the go. I’ll talk about that more below, but for now know that portable kitchen scales are a thing, see e.g. this one.

Consider other ways to measure stuff

Scales aren’t the only way to measure stuff in a way that helps your calorie counting.

Volume measurements can be helpful.

E.g. these liquid measuring cups can be very useful.

I often put some milk in my coffee. Measuring e.g. an ounce of milk in a mini measuring cup is faster than turning on a scale, getting it set to the unit of measurement you want, Tare-ing it, and then weighing.

Make use of easily available information

Lots of the food you eat will have nutritional information already easily available for it. So use it!

Fast food places, fast casual places, and other big chain restaurants frequently have their nutritional information available in a variety of places, such as a) in calorie counter apps, b) on their websites, c) in their own proprietary apps, d) right on the menu.

Lots of the stuff you buy at the grocery store will also have nutritional information available in a variety of places as well, including right on the label. And as mentioned earlier, with a calorie counter app you can frequently scan the barcode and get the right information. Make sure you take serving size into consideration — like if you bar code scan a box of pasta in your calorie counter app, you will likely get the nutritional information for a single serving of pasta. So if you’re having two servings (or 1.5, or whatever), make sure you enter that.

BTW regarding correct serving sizes in calorie counter apps, you really need to be aware of the size of the item you are scanning. I have noticed errors of a particular kind sometimes which would throw your calories way off. This has come up with e.g. frozen meals and candy bars. Basically the issue is, when you scan an item, there may be an error where it gets the correct food but the wrong amount. An example: you scanned a 15oz stouffer’s lasagna and it gives you the calorie info for a 10oz box. Some solutions here could be a) just manually enter the correct amount of calories, as generic food calories, or 2) tell the app you ate 1.5 servings of a 10oz box 🙂

Another thing worth noting is that you should make sure you are looking at data for the actual configuration of food you are eating.

E.g. if you get a sandwich from Subway, and you get it with cheese, and you find an entry for the sandwich that reflects the calories without cheese, and you use that entry, you are faking reality. You ate cheese!!!

Sometimes there will be a nutrition calculator you can find online for a place, e.g. https://www.nutritionix.com/subway/nutrition-calculator or https://www.chipotle.com/nutrition-calculator. Other times you may have to reference a PDF file or something on the company’s website and figure it out yourself.

Proxies & Adjustments

Lots of people don’t always eat stuff they made at home, and don’t always go to some big chain place with easily available nutritional information.

What to do then?

One technique is to use some food with easily available nutritional information as a proxy for the food you are currently eating.

Here’s a practical example.

I sometimes eat at this no name mediocre pizzeria near work, and their kinda mediocre pizza seems roughly similar to me to a slice from Sbarro (of mall and airport fame).

So when I eat a pepperoni slice at Mediocre Pizzeria Place, i enter it as a Sbarro pepperoni slice.

There are perils here, both in terms of dishonesty and in terms of honest error.

In terms of honest errors, places make stuff differently, you might not remember what the proxy food is like super well, etc.

Also sometimes the first information you may find when researching is not good. For instance, literally as I was writing this and quickly looking something up, I discovered that my calorie counter app had an entry with a lowball estimate (by 70 calories) of Sbarro Pepperoni slices! This is the estimate I was using! Oops!

(Accuracy requires ongoing effort!)

If you have some information about the weight of a reasonable proxy food, one thing you can do is weigh the food you are eating now (perhaps using a portable scale like I mentioned earlier) and adjust for any differences in weight.

E.g. if some cheeseburger you are using as a proxy is 10ozs and the one you are eating right now is 14oz, then enter that you had 1.4 servings of the proxy cheeseburger.

Honesty is super important here. With kinda similar foods, some may have a higher percent of stuff that’s calorically dense (like meat and cheese). You wanna try and find a proxy that roughly matches the composition of the food you are trying to log. It’s fine if the proxy is kinda like a bigger or smaller version of what you are eating, but the composition should roughly match. E.g. some burgers are super meat heavy. If you are having one of those, don’t use a burger that’s heavy on bread and lettuce/pickles/tomatoes as your proxy!

Recipes & Servings

If you make a big thing at home that you’re gonna be eating a number of servings of over time (like a lasagna, say) it can be useful to use the recipe feature of an app like MyNetDiary. This involves you entering the amounts for all the ingredients of the recipe, and then saving the whole thing as a recipe with a number of servings you determine. So if you say a lasagna has 8 servings, it’ll give 1/8 of the calories of the whole thing to each serving.

Again, honesty is important. If you actually wind up eating all the portions and your initial tally of all the ingredients was accurate, you should be fine. But one way you could mess up here is by having irregularly-sized portions, eating the bigger ones first, then tossing the smaller ones (cuz they went bad or whatever). So try and cut the portions regularly, and if you’re not sure or its the kinda thing where determining portion size visually is tricky, weigh the portions.