Thinking, Learning & Activities – September 29, 2020

🤔 💬 Thinking About Problems

Good Flashcard Software?

I would like good flashcard software.
Here are my criteria for good:
– 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.
Suggestions? Criticisms?


My knee has been doing better. I’ve been doing physical therapy exercise and varying my cardiovascular stuff. I also started taking short breaks every hour to do 1-2 strength training exercises. I find that pretty easy to do since I want a short break every now and then anyways. Exercise can get kinda boring if you do a lot of it, but if you just do it for 5 minutes it’s actually fine.


I’ve been having trouble with Ulysses lately. These include: 1) repeated problems with WordPress integration, 2) weird graphical glitches, 3) crashiness.
I’m getting support but am wondering if anyone knows of alternatives. I’ve looked into writing apps before but Ulysses seemed pretty solid.

📖 📝Grammar

Working on Verb Tenses

I’m looking at some materials outside of Peikoff’s grammar course as reference material for learning about verb tenses. I found Peikoff’s treatment a little fast and inadequate for me to do the homework confidently. I looked at a GMAT book and talk about that below. I looked at some grammar questions in an interactive GMAT question bank as well, but have more serious copyright concerns over that than over a couple of quotes and some paraphrasing of a book, so I won’t be going through those.

Past Perfect

A Manhattan GMAT test prep book had the following sentence (all grammar examples and problems are from this book, and my descriptions of the book’s content/perspective are paraphrases unless I indicate that it’s actually a quote):

The band U2 WAS just one of many new groups on the rock music scene in the early 1980s, but less than 10 years later, U2 HAD fully ECLIPSED its early rivals in the pantheon of popular music.

Normally, when talking in the past, you use the past perfect for the earliest action in a sequence of actions. Here, U2 WAS on the scene in the 80s, so that’s earliest. But book says “HAD fully ECLIPSED” is fine because of the “less than 10 years later.” Basically that phrase puts down a marker in time, and the eclipsing is happening before that marker, so it’s okay.

Present Perfect

Another thing the book talks about is time indicators that cross into the present, like “since” or “within the past x days”. For those, you’ve got to use the present perfect.

Wrong: Since 1986, no one BROKE that world record.
Wrong: Since 1986, no one BREAKS that world record.
Right: Since 1986, no one HAS BROKEN that world record.

I guess this makes sense because the record not being broken is a continuous thing up until the present moment, it’s ongoing, so that fits with perfect tense.

The book also mentions you can use present perfect to clarify stuff like when, which can mean “at the same time” or “after.” If you use present perfect, the when means “after” (e.g.  The company will reimburse when you have submitted the report. means you get the reimbursement after the report).

Practice Questions from Manhattan GMAT Book

Mozart, who died in 1791, has lived in Salzburg for most of his life.

My answer: Incorrect – makes it sound like Mozart is still living.

Correct would be “had lived” to use the past perfect to place the living prior in time to the death.

Book: should be “lived” or “had lived”. “Had lived’ is optional because the sequence of events is obvious but it’s fine to emphasize it if you want.

My thought: I guess the thing to keep in mind there is that these tenses are for the purpose of clarifying the sequence of events. So if the actual sequence of events is clear already then it’s not actually necessary to use an advanced tense. You can just write in a more simple tense and that’s fine.

The local government has built the school that was destroyed by the earthquake.

My answer: Incorrect: makes it sound like the school still exists. Correct would be “had built”, which would situate the building prior in time to the destruction.

Book: should be “built” or “had built”. Which one depends on the time frame the writer is focusing on. With simple past “built” version, author is focusing on the time the school was “built” (book suggests that the author would just be identifying the school with “that was destroyed by earthquake” and then might go on to talk about the building process or that kind of topic). With the “had built” version, author is focusing on the time frame when the school “was destroyed”.

The editor of our local newspaper, who has earned much acclaim in her long career, has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize yesterday.

My answer: Incorrect. Present perfect continuous is inappropriate for an action completed in the past. The simple past passive “was awarded” should be used.

Book agrees.

She already woke up when the phone rang.

My answer: incorrect, should be “had woken up” past perfect to situate the waking up before the ringing.

Book: Book puts the “already” inside the verb – had already woken up:

Already woke up (simple past) should be had already woken up (past perfect). You need to use the past perfect here because the word already requires this use for a momentary action such as wake up, when placed prior to another past action.

OK that seems consistent with what I wrote about needing to situate waking up before the ringing.

It would be fine to say she was already awake when the phone rang, because was awake is a state and thus takes up time. In that case, already would indicate that this state was in effect before the phone rang.

So you can use the simple past “was” with “already” in the case described above and the “already” helps situate the being awake in time relative to phone ringing.

However, when you use already with the simple
past of a momentary action, you convey a present perfect meaning.

So there is some distinction here between momentary actions like waking up and ongoing states like being awake.

As your spouse shakes you out of bed, you might say I already woke up, but in proper English, you should say I HAVE already woken up. In other words, the action is complete AND the effect (your wakefulness) continues to the present. In the sample sentence, since you want the subject’s wakefulness to continue up through some point in the past (when the phone rang), you must use the past perfect of wake up:

I think maybe the gist is that if we want to nail down the relative time of the wakefulness and have continue until when the phone rings, we need the past perfect. Not sure I’m following it 100% though.

Grammar Comments on Real World Writing Example

Quote is from an article by Pat Buchanan re: Amy Coney Barrett and comments are adapted from a Discord chat:

She is a non-Ivy League, Middle American and a devout Catholic and mother of seven, including a special needs child and two adopted children from Haiti.
I have issues with this sentence. “non-Ivy League,” is problematic imho.
I think it’s supposed to be an adjective modifying Middle American? but there is a comma separating it from the noun. my other reading was maybe it was trying to be a noun, like if u wanted to say “non-Ivy Leaguer“. So “non-Ivy Leaguer” would be the first noun in a series.

There appear to be three clear-cut items in a series: Middle American, devout Catholic, and mother of seven. But they are separated by and’s which is not wrong but seems a bit unusual stylistically.

Screen-time Self-Dialogue Tree

More screen-time self-dialogue. I’m adding stuff in tree form only to this at the moment. My stuff is in Red 🟥 and “Formidable Opponent” is in Yellow 🟨. Nodes that are newly added to the tree will be represented by ┈ dashed line borders. I’m not sure how much I’ll continue this particular tree. I’m getting pretty into the weeds with myself so maybe I need to take a step back and figure out a different way of organizing the discussion, heh.

PDF link for this one cuz the size makes an image or embed impractical.

🧠 🌩 Brainstorming: Things I Could Make/Cook/Sear/Crispify With a Cooking Blowtorch

  1. steak
  2. chicken
  3. fish
  4. mac + cheese
  5. pizza
  6. creme brûlée
  7. baked alaska

👨🏻‍💻 Activities


Went through more docassemble videos such as this one. I’ve been having my hand held a lot so far by these videos and tutorials but this time I actually had the experience of figuring out something on my own before the guy in the video said the answer, so that was nice. I also joined the docassemble slack and set up integration between my docassemble server and GitHub. I made a short interview and it filled in a field in a PDF, though I haven’t managed to get SMTP configuration to work yet.


Kept getting a bit distracted during today’s session (am doing 5 minutes at the moment).


I made some excellent gnocchi. I used a mix of blue cheese and cream cheese instead of gorgonzola and skipped the pine nuts. I made that substitution because Walmart didn’t have gorgonzola and I was trying to dial down the intensity of the blue cheese, which can be quite strong, by mixing it with something neutral and creamy. I also forgot to get heavy cream so I used butter + milk. Was quite pleased with the result.

🤔💬 Thoughts & Comments

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics Comments

From Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics:

I’d first met Elvis three years earlier, shortly after my first book came out. One day my Twitter feed was suddenly clogged with people telling me that someone named Elvis Duran had talked about 10% Happier on his radio show. I noticed my sales rank on Amazon—which (and I’m not proud of this) I had gotten in the habit of checking compulsively—go through the roof. I told Bianca about this, mentioning that I had never heard of the guy, and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Are you kidding?” she said. “I love Elvis Duran. I’ve been listening to him since I was a kid.”

I thought this was an interesting indicator of how much information spouses can have about each other’s interests. People can be married and say they love each other and not know what the other spouse loves and has listened to since they were a kid. And this isn’t some exceptionally bad or uncommunicative marriage, either – this sort of stuff is standard and common.

A related thought I had is that people in relationships often have various expressions of love, eternal commitment etc etc. And then when they stop sleeping together, they might never talk to each other again (either immediately or after some drifting apart). That seems a bit weird to me (objectively weird, not socially weird – socially it is normal).

A few weeks later, I went on his show. It was one of the only interviews I have ever done where Bianca insisted on joining. I was immediately impressed by Elvis. He was a stocky fiftysomething with salt-and-pepper hair—and very clearly not your usual morning shock jock. He is openly gay, and the two most prominent figures in his large crew of on-air personalities are women. The team members are nice to one another, as well as to the guests. And they do all this while still managing to be very, very funny.

I thought “they do all this while still managing to be very, very funny” was an interesting indicator of how humor is often associated with meanness. I also don’t think it’s that impressive to be able to be nice and do humor. There are people who do nice style humor. Maybe Ellen or one of the nicer late night hosts would be an example, but I don’t follow them close enough to say for sure. It’s a totally standard cultural thing though.

Another way to inject a dose of elasticity into your practice is something I call the “Accordion Principle.” It’s a combo of “One Minute Counts” and “Adopt an Attitude of ‘Daily-ish.’ ”
If your goal is to do five to ten minutes a day of meditation, one way to give yourself a break on really busy days is to do just one minute. It’s another hack that allows you to keep your foot in the game and prevent the turkey in your head from offering up pseudo-wisdom along the lines of “You fell off the wagon, you’re a hopeless case. Give up now before you embarrass yourself further.”

So basically, have somewhat flexible standards that you’re willing to lower sometimes instead of beating yourself up for failing to achieve goals that you currently don’t know how to achieve. Makes sense.

Thinking, Learning & Activities – September 27, 2020

🤔 💬 Thinking About Problems – Efficient and Effective Learning

(This is an issue I have but I think other people have it to so the writing below is somewhat directed at other people).

I think that I and other people misuse certain learning-related techniques (like note-taking). I think that school causes this problem. I think this is a serious problem and can be a difficult one to fix.

In school you often try to copy down what the teacher says pretty verbatim so you can have reference material for the test. You also try to cram the contents of textbooks so you can regurgitate them for the test. You’re not focusing on things like what concepts you’re actually having trouble with or interested in. You’re just doing pretty rote note-taking and memorization. In the school context, this approach makes some sense.

This approach works badly if you try to learn stuff on your own initiative. One of the problems with following this approach is increasing the cost and reducing the usefulness of trying to do things like taking notes. If you’re not selective and focused, you can get overwhelmed and tired. You make your learning more expensive (in time, energy, and effort) and less productive. That’s really bad. So this seems like an important thing to try to address.

Notes, flashcards, summaries, and other study tools are for you. You must keep this in mind. This stuff is for your benefit and your learning. So if you don’t see the point of using one of those tools for a particular passage, chapter or book, then don’t.

If you try to learn things while doing stuff you think is pointless, you will be less effective. I think that I and others do activities that we associate with learning in some way. This is a bit like cargo-culting. The activities can be good in the right context – the context being that you are actually using them in an effective way to accomplish a goal that you actually want to accomplish. But if you’re doing them out of habit without a clear reason why, that’s bad.

It is important to have a first-handed judgment about the utility of some activity that you are doing as part of your learning. Don’t take it on authority that, for example, making flashcards when trying to learn a language is a good idea. Rather, try it out some and do it if you have the experience that making flashcards is helpful. Also think carefully about the scope of the activity. You might only need to make flashcards for some vocabulary or conjugations you find particularly difficult, rather than everything.

📖 🤔💬 Thoughts on a Book – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

From Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics:

After spending years assuring people that the whole game in meditation is just to begin again, it turns out I was mouthing the words without truly absorbing their significance. It reminded me of how my two-year-old son, Alexander, would walk around the house, repeating our disciplinary injunctions: “Be careful!” he would cry as he was knocking over a lamp. Or “No circles!” as he whirled like a dervish. And my favorite: the singsongy “No, no, no!” as he inched his hand toward the electrical sockets.

I thought this was interesting. The “disciplinary injunctions” are apparently not doing the job that they were intended to do. The author does not appear to be treating this as a serious issue, though. It is a serious issue. Parents should be able to convey to their child why actions like sticking one’s hand in an electrical socket is a bad idea. Orders are apparently ineffective at this. The child’s life is at stake but the parent does not appear to be re-examining their ineffective methods.

Thinking, Learning & Activities – September 23, 2020

No grammar update here since my last post was a big grammar-only post.

👨🏻‍💻 Activities


I watched some more tutorial vids and read some of the documentation for docassemble. I also found more resources (1, 2, 3) that have relevant videos and tutorials, so that’s cool. 🙂


I made a big french bread loaf in my cheap-yet-effective breadmaker. Happy with how it came out. I do wish the loaves were more rectangular and less square. There are fancier breadmakers that do more rectangular loaves but they cost way more.

I discovered that I was cutting into my bread too early and that that can harm the texture. You’re supposed to let it cool for a while before slicing it. The amount of time people recommend varies a lot but on the lower end I saw stuff that said you should let it cool for 20-45 minutes.

Meditation book

I started listening to Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Seems okay so far.

🤔💬 Thoughts

I enjoy baking and overall it goes well for me. I came across some comment on the internet which I can’t find again now, but someone said something like “baking used to go badly for me, but then I started measuring things more precisely and that works way better.” And my thought in response to that was something like “what the heck were you doing before?!”

When I was losing a bunch of weight years ago, I measured my food very carefully using kitchen scales and other methods. So I got in the habit of being very precise about that sort of thing. So that habit carried over when I started trying to bake, so overall things went well. I still had problems but they were related to issues like e.g. not knowing about yeast’s propensity to die. So I still had errors to address but the number of errors was limited due to some relevant pre-existing skills.

🤔 💬 Thinking About Problems

Problem: How to Handle These Posts

I have a template file for these posts and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was feeling like I had to say something about every section each time. I now think that’s silly. I can treat these subsections as a menu of things I can try to say/do something about, instead of treating them as mandatory writing each time.

🧠 🌩 Brainstorming: Why Do People Favor Gun Control?

Lots of people favor gun control. I disagree with that perspective and think people should be able to have lots of guns. What sort of reasons do people have for favoring gun control, and what sort of things do they assume in holding their pro-gun-control positions (as in, what are their premises)? I’ll try to make a list just from my own current mental contents, without referring to the internet, and I’ll try to be as objective as possible. There is a U.S. focus here since I’m not really familiar with the international gun control debate.

To be clear, this is a list of stuff I disagree with. This is an exercise in trying to be more objective.

Pro-gun control people often believe stuff like:
– Gun control would save lives.
– Other countries use gun control successfully, so there are other examples in the world of the policy working.
– The U.S. has a unique problem with mass shootings.
– There are many instances in which guns are used ineffectively for self-defense purposes (e.g. criminal takes your gun and uses it against you).
– The police are an effective and sufficient form of defensive force for citizens.
– There isn’t anything immoral with the government trying to reduce the force/firepower citizens have at their disposal.
– Gun control could be effectively accomplished by the government, and the reason it is ineffective in the current U.S. is stuff like 1) laws aren’t stringent enough 2) lack of unified national policy (so guns can come in from other states).
– There is no legitimate reason to have some guns like “assault rifles”.
– Wide access to guns may have made more sense way back in the day but we’re in modern times, not the Wild West, so people don’t need to be carrying around guns everywhere.
– A single criminal person with a semi-automatic rifle can cause such death and harm that that outweighs any benefits there might be to letting the law-abiding people have such weapons.
– The Second Amendment was ratified in the era of muskets, not AR-15s, so it’s not very relevant for considering modern problems.
– The Second Amendment is about state militias anyways (i.e. the state National Guard), not individual people.

Self-Dialogue: Arguing For & Against Gun Control

A dialogue with myself about a political issue:

RealJustin: Hi.
GunControlJ: Hi.
RealJustin: So you favor gun control?
GunControlJ: Yes. I’d like to take gradual steps to move to a society in which only agents of the government can have guns.
RealJustin: Why?
GunControlJ: Because it would save lives.
RealJustin: I think gun control takes lives and does harm by disarming potential victims of crimes. The criminals don’t care about violating laws but the law-abiding people do and so they’re left defenseless at the hands of criminals with guns.
GunControlJ: Lots of people don’t even know how to use their guns effectively. E.g. the McCloskeys, who were paraded around at the RNC, clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing in handling their weapons for “self-defense”, as many commenters on Twitter pointed out. Lots of the people who claim to want to use guns in “self-defense” are basically incompetent and dangerous. That’s why I favor enhanced gun safety training requirements.
RealJustin: OK well there are a few issues there. I agree that there is a competency problem, but I think that’s a bit of a tangent and that what you want isn’t really related to that. It sounds like your overall goal is that you want to move towards getting rid of guns in private hands. You don’t actually want private people who own guns to get more competent, whether through government requirements or by, say, starting a gun safety company yourself. You want to use gun safety as a way to control people who have a different attitude towards guns than you do.

The competency issue is interesting. Like, lots of people are incompetent at lots of things. People start kitchen fires while cooking and accidentally hit the wrong pedal in their car. There can be deadly consequences to these things. You could burn down a building or smash into a store front and kill people. But I don’t hear lots of arguments that people shouldn’t be allowed to cook or drive.
GunControlJ: Well cooking and driving are essential activities but owning deadly weapons isn’t. Also the government does require drivers to get a license.
RealJustin: Defending your life isn’t an essential activity?
GunControlJ: The police can do that and anyways you don’t need military weapons to defend your life from a home intruder.
RealJustin: What about an angry mob?
GunControlJ: Are you making a coded reference to BLM? I think they are fighting for justice.
RealJustin: Imagine a mob you particularly didn’t like. Say some Nazis threatening a black man at his home. If there are 20 of the Nazis and one black guy with no gun that’s really bad. If there are 20 Nazis and one black guy with an “assault rifle” then the Nazis might think twice.
GunControlJ: So you’re in favor of black men having high capacity firearms?
RealJustin: I’m in favor of law-abiding citizens having access to effective firearms regardless of race, and I don’t get the memes and joking I’ve seen to the contrary regarding the attitude of right-wing people towards black people having guns.
GunControlJ: It’s just that lots of conservatives seem to blame black people for crime, so…
RealJustin: Conservatives point out that a disproportionate portion of total crime is caused by black criminals when you consider the relatively lower percentage of black people relative to other racial groups. But they recognize that most black people are law-abiding citizens and would be fine with them exercising their right of self-defense. As far as my own view, I think it’s probably disproportionately black and other people living in Democrat-run cities where crime is rampant who have the most urgent need for access to firearms, because the police were often straight-jacketed even before BLM and are now getting defunded, and I wish the GOP would run on that angle.
GunControlJ: Interesting.
RealJustin: Let’s switch subtopics a bit and try considering the driving thing. The government has some minimal standards for getting a license. I’m basically okay with that.
GunControlJ: So you’d be open to enhanced safety training requirements for people to own guns?
RealJustin: Not really.
GunControlJ: Why?
RealJustin: For driving, our society basically has the attitude that there is a minimal bar you have to pass and you can drive. It’s not really trying to be super rigorous and teach people, and I don’t think the government would do a very good job at that if it tried – the public schools have way more time to teach people stuff and do a really bad job. So the point of a driver’s license is just have some minimum standard or low bar. And I think the standard exists because people honestly think it’s a good idea to have something like that in place.
With guns, I think a lot of why people want various restrictions and standards is so they can deny people guns. They’re not trying to just have a minimal bar – they’re trying to set up a bar to take guns away. It’s kinda like the literacy tests in the old South – they were about disenfranchising people, not actually ensuring voters were literate. So stating the issue as being about gun safety is actually dishonest. They want disarmament through the back door.
GunControlJ: You seem to be assuming bad faith on the part of people who disagree with you.
RealJustin: Well I see little indication that the other side is actually interested in the problem of gun safety outside the context of using it as an excuse to control people more. They often make super flagrant mistakes in describing guns as well – they don’t seem that interested in guns generally, mostly in control.
GunControlJ: Well, we can’t have anarchy, so we need some control, and people’s lives are at stake, and lots of other countries manage to do gun control okay. We have a problem with mass shootings that other countries don’t.
RealJustin: Mass shootings overwhelmingly happen in “gun-free zones”. The idea that the U.S. has unique problems with mass shootings is heavily disputed and appears to be based on the research of one professor named Adam Lankford who won’t share his data and has been refuted by John Lott.

Broadly, I think that most Americans are pretty decent, and that them having more power to defend themselves is good. And I also don’t think the alternatives are “anarchy” or “control” (meaning government control). I think society works better when people take more responsibility and have more power. Society mostly works not because the government has a few men with sticks going around keeping people in line, but because of the responsibility and initiative of individual people. If more people could effectively defend their life, that would dissuade currently emboldened criminals and improve society.
GunControlJ: By that logic, people should have nuclear weapons, cuz it would make them more powerful in defending themselves.
RealJustin: I don’t think nuclear weapons actually have uses for defending against individual crimes or even a mob attacking your house. It’s hard to hit a mob with a nuke without it affecting your own house or innocent people. So they are different from guns or rifles in that respect. They do have defensive uses in terms of dissuading attacks from say a government, but that’s at more of a national level, not for defending a house or place of business.

Nukes also have unique risks, in that there are bad actors in the world – including whole governments or terrorist organizations with big resources at their disposal – who are interested in getting nuclear weapons to do bad things. So you need to be able to provide adequate safeguards against that. To have enough wealth to do that, you’ve either gotta be super super rich or be a government, I think.
GunControlJ: Okay maybe you’ve established a distinction with nukes but still I don’t think widespread gun ownership is good. I think it would lead to a wild west atmosphere and more violent escalation. Minor disputes outside a bar might turn into a shooting if everyone had guns.
RealJustin: I don’t agree that most people would willingly escalate things to a potentially lethal use of force if guns were more widely available. Most people don’t want to kill other people. They know there are serious consequences to shooting someone and generally act accordingly. The people that act otherwise – that do easily escalate stuff to lethal uses of force – are thugs and often already have a record of violent crime. I’m okay with keeping those people in jail longer.
GunControlJ: Are you in favor of preventing them from owning guns?
RealJustin: I’m kind of mixed on that. Overall I basically think if someone is still seen as a real serious danger, they should probably still be in jail, and if they aren’t a danger anymore, they should get all their rights back. Our system isn’t really set up in quite that way, so I could see some restrictions on gun ownership making sense for ex-cons, especially if they committed a violent crime with a gun in the past or something like that.

ending discussion here for now