Musings, writing

Little pieces

I’m riding a train this morning to work. Not the subway but an actual train from Philadelphia to NYC. It brings back potent nostalgia for Barcelona.‬

When I was a teacher I would take a regional train from BCN to Molins del Rei. I didn’t mind the commute, in fact I got excited every time I got on the train. I got excited because I was SO new that I could feel myself getting better every class I taught.‬

I also loved the small amount of money. I can’t remember but I think it was about €60. I got paid daily, in cash. The day that it was enough to cover rent that month, felt like such an accomplishment: one more month I could make it as an immigrant.

In the United States right now that can be a heavy word, immigrant, but to clarify my circumstance: I moved to Barcelona with two suitcases of clothes, a good amount of savings and a plan to support myself teaching English. I used my savings, taught English, but was unable to secure a visa. So, being undocumented really limited my travel. I couldn’t hop around Europe as I hoped, but Catalunya was enough for me. I also couldn’t go back to the USA until I was comfortable with the possibility I’d be barred from coming back to my new home in Barcelona.

When I filled my envelope under the mattress markered with RENT, the rest was mine. Each day I went to work was another 40 to 60 euros for cheap beer, jamón serrano, galletas Principe, wine, subway tickets, pay-as-you-go cell phone “top ups.” They had ATM style kiosks around shopping centers where you type in your phone number, insert the cash, and then your available balance on the phone gets updated. Wow.

So, each time I got on a train I would look out the window and soak up the sequence of quotidian landscapes. I didn’t know how long I would be there. Each day was an exciting step and I just wanted to keep going.

I can’t help comparing this feeling to present day. Now I ride a train and feel that nostalgia, but rarely look forward to work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the daily reward and the Pavlovian effect has worn off. I definitely need work to pay the bills, but it’s no longer a day-to-day survival. I also don’t feel that daily progression that I did with being a new teacher. Now I work with a big company that only dares take incremental steps toward some undefined goal of “generate more money/customers.” Most employees aren’t needed for a specific day like a teacher is required each day for a class to happen. My work is spread out over the course of weeks, months, and then I don’t see a final result sometimes for a year.

There isn’t an inherent negative to taking the long view. In fact sometimes it is most valuable. [The Long Now Foundation] I also recall feeling a little lost in Barcelona, taking life in little pieces, with no idea how they added up to a big piece or what the next big piece should be. I’m sitting here on the train again, no longer at a loss for the big pieces, but missing the delight of the little ones.

Perhaps writing is one way to get them. Actually writing this very message feels like mixing the pallet of big and little, but to get meta about it, the act of writing is small in itself. I like that.


This is a quick note that I made for a class to have access to some reference links. I might expand on it later.

[edit: updated with moar links for another presentation]


Sketch Mirror (iOS)

Allows real-time device mirroring.

Prototyping with Invision

+ Craft Plugin

Hint: I don’t think it’s very clear, but you’re downloading an installer. That means after you install what you’ve downloaded, you actually have to go to Applications and open Craft (the installer) to install for Sketch or Photoshop.

+ Invision Viewer (iOS)

I use Sketch Mirror most of the time, but this does double duty of displaying prototypes as well as some “live” interactions that can’t be seen in your screens due to embedded web content. For a ton more about this app, read their blog post.

Sketch Toolbox

Use this to install and keep track of all your plugins. I usually browse around or discover plugins elsewhere, but prefer to use the Toolbox to install them.

Sketch App Resources*

Specific Articles

Discovering Sketch
Older article, mostly to convince people about how great Sketch is. It also works as a decent overview of some features, but not exhaustive.

Sketch Keyboard Shortcuts
If you love getting into the shortcuts like I do, this is a decent list of all you need for Sketch.

Getting Set Up With Sketch

Using Shared Styles & Symbols

Okay, just check out the author’s page. He has a lot of handy ones. Aaron Tenbuuren.

Collections of Articles

.Sketch App
Short articles about Sketch on Medium

Design + Sketch App*
Another collection of articles about Sketch, but these tend to lean more toward tutorials.

Sketch Tricks

Pretty self-explanatory ;)

*Warning: try not to get lost in the template swamp. Steal a few good things, make them your own, and build from there.

Links for Tools


Educational Websites —

University of Reddit

Poem Hunter

Academic Earth
C. G. P. Grey
Crash Course
Khan Academy
Minute Physics
The New Boston Tutorials
Unplug the TV

Documentary Heaven
Top Documentary Films

BBC Languages
Live Mocha

Eastern Philosophy and Buddhism
Audio Dharma [ podcast ]
Teachings of Ajahn Chah
Alan Watts Lectures

How to Play Piano
Justin Guitar

Music Theory
Play Bass Now

Programming / Development
Code Academy
Coding Bat
Learn Code the Hard Way
Ruby Monk

User Experience Design
UX How
UX Myths

How Stuff Works
The Daily Miscellany
Wiki How
Wonder How-To

Math Run
Project Euler
Wolfram Alpha

Cooking for Engineers
Reluctant Gormet


Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized: The Complete Interviews

This looks like a Kickstarter well worth supporting! My only wish might be that it comes with an audio collection as well. Obviously they took the time to transcribe these recorded interviews.

… while each conversation might last two hours or more, we only get to use maybe two minutes of it in the film. So if you’ve watched my three documentaries, you’ve actually only seen 3% of the conversations we recorded. That means there are almost 100 hours of amazing interviews that we weren’t able to show you. So we’re going to release the full text of these interviews in a book!
Gary Hustwit • Kickstarter


Spacing effect explained in 2 minutes — from:

Sometimes I repurpose entire articles on my website as a method of sharing. I just want to take yet another quick moment to explain that this is done all over social media (Facebook, Twitter Link sharing; Tumblr ‘reblogging’, and other new services ‘re-sharing’). For some reason, it feels plagiaristic to copy text from someone onto my site, so I make every effort to point to my sources. In fact, one of the links in the original article was broken, and this duplication has the correct link (to: “why do we forget?”).

I want to share this blog article with you because it directly relates to my experiences of learning language, and more specifically, I’ve found Memrise to be very useful (and when it works so well, it’s fun too). Memrise, as I’ve blogged about before, leverages current understanding of learning from cognitive psychology and language education; one of the most special ingredients to Memrise getting you to learn a lot of information (that sticks) in a relatively short period of time, is imposing spaced repetition. They explain it better than I do, so without further ado…

memrise blog

Spacing effect explained in 2 minutes

by benwhately on 6 August 2012original article

The spacing effect is one of many bits of science that Memrise uses to make learning as effortless as possible.

Here’s a quick explanation of what it is.

What is the spacing effect? Let’s compare two ways of learning. The first, massed repetition, is when you are repeatedly presented with an item to learn, in a short space of time. The second, spaced repetition, is when you are repeatedly presented with an item, but the repetitions are spaced out. As it turns out, spaced repetition leads to significantly better learning than massed repetition. This is called the spacing effect. The point is that the timing of your reviews makes a substantial difference to the payoff that you get from each review. Spaced out is better than massed.

How was it discovered? This effect was originally discovered by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850 – 1909). Ebbinghaus created 2300 nonsense syllables and spent six years memorising random strings of them. He diligently tracked all aspects of his learning, and the spacing effect was one of the things that he discovered. The effect has since been replicated a number of times across a number of domains.

Why is the spacing effect the case? That the spacing effect is true is well established, but explaining why it is the case is still an open question.

One proposed explanation is that you are more likely to pay attention in spaced repetition than in massed repetition. If you are shown an item that you saw very recently (massed repetition), you are more likely to see it as familiar, redundant and boring, and so you’re not likely to give it your full attention. On the other hand, if you are shown an item that you last saw a while ago (spaced repetition), your memory of it will be weaker, and so your interest will likely be higher and you’re more likely to pay attention. Given that failure to pay attention is one of the main causes of forgetting, this seems like a plausible explanation of why spaced repetition is more effective than massed repetition.

A second proposed explanation of the spacing effect has to do with context. When talking about memories, context is the huge number of external and internal factors which are present when you form and when you subsequently review a memory. For example, your location when you review an item, the last time you ate, how anxious you feel — these are all part of your context. It’s been found that when you try to remember something, it is easier if your context is similar to what it was when you learned or reviewed it.

Now there is likely to be more fluctuation in context across reviews in spaced repetition than in massed repetition. This means that by using spaced repetition you associate more contexts with a memory and thus create more pathways from which to subsequently access it. The memory becomes robust because it is not tied to a particular context and so you can access it more easily.

Summary The spacing effect is the finding that spaced repetition generally leads to stronger memories than massed repetition. One explanation of this effect is that we pay more attention to material that we haven’t seen for some time, and a second explanation is that spaced repetition embeds an item in our minds across a larger number of contexts. The spacing effect is just one small part of the science behind how Memrise tries to make learning as easy as possible!

For a thorough literature review on the spacing effect and related issues see here.
Memrise logo


TED: Your brain is more than a bag of chemicals

We are just now on the cusp of learning things about the brain. As Dr. Anderson points out in this talk, if you are concerned about a cancer, doctors will run a slew of tests; if you are concerned about depression or ADHD, doctors will hand you a questionnaire. Yes, we know a lot about the very basic details of brains – something I saw first hand while working at the Vision Neuroscience lab at the University of Barcelona. Unfortunately, we are still putting together these most basic pieces. It sounds similar to our understanding of the universe: we have impressive image studies from Hubble and cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation studies that paint a fuzzy but complex picture; we also know a lot about the basic principles of the celestial bodies and forces in between, but we are a long way from understanding the sum of these parts.

Modern psychiatric drugs treat the chemistry of the whole brain, but neurobiologist David Anderson believes in a more nuanced view of how the brain functions. He illuminates new research that could lead to targeted psychiatric medications — that work better and avoid side effects. How’s he doing it? For a start, by making a bunch of fruit flies angry.

Watch this video on
“How is emotional behavior encoded in the brain? And what parts of the brain are affected by depression, ADHD and anxiety? This is what neurobiologist David Anderson researches in his lab at the California Institute for Technology by studying the brains of lab mice and fruit flies. By looking at how neural circuits give rise to emotions, Anderson hopes to advance a more nuanced view of psychiatric disorders — that they aren’t the result of a simple “chemical imbalance,” but of a chemical imbalance at a specific site that has a specific emotional consequences. By researching these cause-and-effect relationships, Anderson hopes to pave the way for the development of new treatments for psychiatric disorders that are far more targeted and have far fewer side effects.”


Links to check this weekend

Ahh, I kept uncovering way too many interesting links this afternoon. I’ll be setting these aside for after work. Like a pile of good books, I love a nice stack of links!


Berg Connbox
Berg + Google
3 paths to a more creative life
World IA Day 2013 Videos
How To Think Like An Architect: Designing From Nature
Using White Space For Readability In HTML And CSS
Gizmodo: Kinetica Art Fair
Kinetica Art Fair
Mechanical Buddhas