Sunday, June 6, 2021

Jim Kwik Speed Reading On Mobile Devices

In Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, I reported how I found the speed reading method that Kwik describes to be effective. That was for printed books, where the method involves running your finger along the lines as an eye-tracking target, physically in contact with the page.

I also like to read on my Android phone and Galaxy Tablet. I have the Kindle app installed on both. But because they use touch-screens, the finger-tracking is problematic. I wanted to find a way to deal with that.

Touch Screen Pointer

It turns out to be trivially easy. Modern screens use capacitive-touch technology, sensitive to skin capacitance (they are not pressure-sensitive as people might think). This is why gloves prevent touch screens from working: they insulate the finger contact from the screen.

So simply folding a piece of paper such as a tissue, napkin, or receipt into a "pointer" that you can hold loosely in your hand under your fingertip allows you to run your finger along the screen without affecting it. Then just tap the screen with your pinky or thumb to change the page.

A pen or pencil also works as a pointer, but makes an audible tap touching the screen. The paper pointer is silent.

Kindle Setup

I did a little quick research on speed reading with a Kindle. The Kindle app provides a word-runner speed-reading method, but I don't like it as much as Kwik's method. 

It turns out there are entire religious wars over the effectiveness of various speed reading techniques. The only thing I'll say with respect to that is I have zero comprehension and retention of things I haven't read. If this technique gives me even just 10% comprehension and retention of things I wouldn't have read otherwise, that's a win. And I expect it will be much higher, especially as I gain facility with the method.

I did find a nice article that talks about how screen layout affects speed and comprehension, based on an academic study and resultant paper. The article does say eliminating subvocalization is not effective, but I disagree with that.

The article is How To Speed Read On An Amazon Kindle (or any digital format), by Jon Brooks, and the paper it links to is How physical text layout affects reading from screen, by Mary C. Dyson.

I had found the physical page layout of the Limitless printed book to be easy to read, so I set up my phone's Kindle app to be as close as possible, with a similar number of characters per line.

Starting with locking screen orientation to landscape (i.e. turn the phone sideways to wide view), these are the settings I came up with.

For Font, this screen shot shows the settings and what they look like:

For Layout:

  • Margins: widest margins (narrowest text line).
  • Spacing: largest line spacing.
  • Columns: one column.
Under Themes, I saved the customized settings as new theme "Speed reading size".

Other devices with different screen sizes may require different settings to match that physical layout, and might also be usable in portrait orientation.

For instance, my tablet is large enough that I can use portrait, with the next-larger font, and the narrowest margins (widest text line). It also has an extra Alignment setting, that I set to right-justified (fixed line width).

Reading PDF's On Kindle

I read a lot of things in PDF format, such as e-books and Dyson's paper. It would be nice to read these in the Kindle app with these layout settings.

One thing I don't like about academic papers is the typical layout of densely-spaced, narrow two-column lines of text. I don't like that in hardcopy print, and even less in electronic form. 

It makes reading with a typical PDF-reader application annoying, complicating page navigation. The page doesn't match the screen layout at all, so requires various scrolling, zooming, and panning, very disruptive to the reading flow state.

The Kindle app also doesn't have a way to open PDF's.

There's a simple solution to both of these: Amazon provides a Send To Kindle service that both reformats a document to work with Kindle, and adds it to the device library.

I used that with Dyson's paper, and voila! The paper shows up on screen using all my speed reading settings, nicely spaced single-column layout that is easy to navigate. The screenshot above is from it.

That makes the paper much easier for me to read. As we geeks like to say, how meta and recursive!

The service doesn't work with all PDF's. I tried it with an e-book I was reviewing, and received an email indicating it couldn't be converted. I don't know what the specific issue was.

For such documents, I'll still need to use conventional PDF reader apps, which means I need to read them on the larger tablet rather than my phone. But at least I have the touch-screen management resolved.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik

In the Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, the narrator says that Gates reads 150 pages per hour.

I'm totally jealous of that. Other people may be jealous of his wealth, but I'm jealous of his ability to absorb and digest information that fast. That's a superpower. With it, anyone can be successful.

I'm now developing that superpower, thanks to Jim Kwik's 2020 book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life. What's amazing is how trivially simple and effective the method is. The book is fantastic, a very easy read.

I found the book this weekend at my parents' house while visiting them in West Virginia. They were reading it as part of maintaining mental fintess in their 80's, which is what makes it relevant here.

Looking over the table of contents, I saw that chapter 14 was "Speed Reading". I thought, yes, I can use that! I read somewhere between 30-40 pages per hour.

So I read chapter 14, then used the method to read the rest of the book cover to cover. It worked amazingly well.

One of Kwik's premises is that many of our basic learning skills are things we learned at a young age, and never learned to advance them.

My interpretation of that is it's like we learned to read early in elementary school using training wheels to help, but then no one ever removed the training wheels. As we grew older and matured, we naturally improved, got better and faster, but were eventually limited by those training wheels.

Kwik removes the training wheels.

The book follows the typical self-help formula, with the author's story (the hero's journey), anecdotes about the people he's helped, explanation of why you should pay attention to what he has to say, and the actual methods and advice.

His methods are full of practical, actionable techniques. They cover memory, studying, note taking, focus, and of course speed reading (which should have been chapter 1 or 2, not 14, since you need it for the rest of the book!).

He covers the Pomodoro method for time management and to allow your brain to rest and consolidate information.

Another of his premises is that the brain is like a muscle, and skills like these are things that can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest, just as muscles can be developed with practice, exercise, and proper rest.

It's not that someone is inherently a fast or slow learner or reader and can never improve. It's that they simply need to be shown the methods and put them into practice, and they will improve.

I won't steal his thunder or his income by telling you the methods. The book does an excellent job of motivating and describing them, in an easy-to-follow form. I already use a few of them, so that was enough to convince me the others are worth trying.

The book is a worthwhile investment of your time and money. For the price of a lunch or two, you can use this information to truly advance your capabilities.

You might even change your life.

My return trip home consisted of two flights, an hour and twenty minutes for the first, an hour and fifteen for the second. I had brought two books by Dr. Herbert Benson to read over the trip, The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being, 2003, and Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, 2010. I had read his 1975 book The Relaxation Response a couple weeks before (how to call up on command a calming response to counteract our reflexive fight-or-flight response when you experience immediate or long-term stress).

At the start of the trip, I was up to page 182 of the first book. On the first flight, I read the remaining 106 pages. Given that flight time includes ground time and air time, with announcements and settling in, I spent roughly an hour of actual reading time. So I read roughly at the rate of 100 pages per hour.

That's somewhere between two and three times my prior reading rate. I felt my comprehension and retention were just as good.

Why was my previous rate so poor? I was a victim of two common habits that Kwik describes, subvocalization and regression (i.e. backtracking). Subvocalization means "reading out loud" in your mind, effectively limited to your speaking rate.

The problem with this is that because your brain is capable of so much more, it gets bored and distracted. Reading as fast as you can just isn't enough to fully engage your brain.

Then you find you can't remember the last sentence or paragraph you just read. So you backtrack, go over it again. That means your effective reading rate is even less than your speaking rate in order to get good comprehension and retention.

These are side effects of using elementary school reading techniques, the training wheel methods, with a fully-developed and much-more-capable adult brain.

For the second flight, I started the second book in the gate area. But first I downloaded the Brain Focus Pomodoro timer app to my Android phone. Why this one? It looked reasonable, so I gave it a try. I was very happy with it. I'm sure many of the others available are just as good, so you have lots to choose from.

I spent about 10 minutes reading while waiting for the flight, then during the flight, spent two and a half 25-minute Pomodoro work periods reading, with 5-minute break periods.

During the breaks, I used my slight variation of Benson's deep-breathing meditation for relaxation:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Relax your body head to toe: relaxing face, forehead, and temple; unclenching jaw; releasing neck and shoulders; opening hands; easing your back, legs, and feet.
  • Breathe deeply and regularly.
  • Silently repeat the word "one" on each inhalation and exhalation.
This is basically counting to one over and over, so you can't lose count, you always know where to return if your thoughts drift, and the oxygenation and brainless repetition trigger the Relaxation Response.

I'm sure I must have looked pretty crazy to my seat-mates.

In that roughly 75 minutes of reading (85 if you add the breaks), I read 151 pages of the second book. So roughly 110-120 pages per hour, again with comparable comprehension and retention.

That's huge. That's enormous. This was a technique I'd learned 3 days before and had only practiced using for a few hours.

Imagine what it'll be like after I've practiced it and built up the brain muscle over weeks and months, a year from now. I expect to improve all three metrics, speed, comprehension, and retention. So not only will I be able to get through material faster, I'll know it better.

Think what it would mean for you to have that ability. Think what it would mean to give your kids that ability.

I can't wait to apply his other methods and advice.

Read the book, chapter 14 "Speed Reading" first, and then practice that method on the rest.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Physical Fitness Program 2021-05

It's been over a year since my last update.

This is my current weekly physical fitness program, following my Physical Fitness Principles:
  • Monday: Free weights and weight machine for strength.
  • Tuesday: Running for endurance.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for flexibility.
  • Thursday: Repeat Monday workout for strength.
  • Friday: Repeat Tuesday workout for endurance.
I've made a few tweaks from the previous version 2020-03:
  • I eliminated the Pilates for simplicity and time.
  • I reduced the strength sets from 3 to 2, but increased the weight a bit.
  • I separated repeated workouts by 3 days, including across weekends. That allows a little extra recovery time to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
  • I use running on the treadmill for all endurance workouts and warmups/cooldowns. This was the result of participating in the Massachusetts Virtual Endurance Challenge, running a 55-mile virtual course on the treadmill. I enjoyed adding up the miles on my main run days and the warmup and cooldown segments on other days.
  • I shortened the run interval cycle to 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how I'm feeling. Once again, this is part of keeping it at a manageable level.
I continue to use the full sport-specific stretch routines from Bob Anderson's Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition.
This has worked well. I haven't had any back twinges or persistent muscle or joint soreness, and my left shoulder is doing much better, so for now this seems to be a well-balanced program. But it does show I can vary the specific details of workouts as my whim sees fit.

The other big thing of course is that we're still in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, it seems to be winding down in the US. I've had my first vaccination shot and will be getting my second in a couple weeks, and have been working from home for the past 15 months. Unfortunately, there are parts of the world that are not doing as well, with many people suffering.

For the most part our extended family has fared well; one person lost their job due to it, as well as suffered a mild case of it. But the overall stress has definitely taken its toll. I've put on 10 pounds that I attribute directly to stress eating, despite the exercise and otherwise eating healthfully.

One thing I've done to manage the stress is use deep-breathing meditation more regularly. That includes daily practice sessions to be able to trigger the relaxation response described in Dr. Herbert Benson's 1975 book The Relaxation Response. I've also been reading Dr. Judson Brewer's 2021 book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. I've found these to be genuinely helpful.

Benson's premise is that stress is a direct contributing factor to medical conditions that can lead to death. While that was controversial back in the '70's, we've come to accept it these days. Therefore, actively managing stress and anxiety is an important part of long-term health.

I've largely stabilized my dietary changes to about a 50% reduction in animal-based foods. Where I used to have some kind of animal-based item at every meal, now many meals are entirely plant-based, or only a smaller amount of animal-based foods. That strikes a balance with my wife's more animal-based diet.

As before, I generally don't work out on weekends, and I try to make sure to have time available for each full daily workout. If I'm short of time, I can cut the number of reps or sets down, cut the time down, cut the rest periods by 15-30 seconds, or skip some yoga poses.

Monday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's weightlifting stretch routine.

Strength part: 25-30 minutes of free weights and weight machine following Strength Training Past 50 by Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle. 2 sets of 8 reps for each of 11 separate exercises at slow, controlled pace, with 15-60 seconds rest after each set. I make sure the amount of weight I use doesn't cause any joint pain during or after completing all the sets.

The exercises and weights (pounds):
  • Squat, 85
  • Leg extension, 75
  • Leg curl, 25
  • Chest press, 75
  • Chest fly, 55
  • Seated row, 75
  • Shoulder press, 55
  • Lat pull-down, 75
  • Tricep push-down, 55
  • Bicep curl, 25
  • Ab flex, 65
These are mostly an increase of two 5- or 10-pound plates from the previous program, except for the squats, which is an increase of 45 pounds after my lower back recovered (which I did 10 pounds at a time each week for a month).

Since my weight machine doesn't have a leg press, I do squats with a barbell.

I don't like the bicep curl station on it, so I do those with either Cast Iron Hex Dumbbells, or the dumbbells that come with the barbell. I have a range of hex dumbbells from 10-30 lbs., which is convenient for doing a variety of free-weight exercises without having to change plates.

I use a Bicep Bomber for bicep and tricep isolation with both the free weights and the machine.

Weight machines generally isolate the targeted muscles and joints well, so all the effort is directed to them. While that's good for building just those areas, it also means higher force on them and higher risk of injury. I pay close attention to make sure I'm not overdoing it.

I built up from the previous level by adding weight every 6 weeks, cutting back to 6 reps for each set for two or three workouts, then increasing to the regular 8 reps.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Tuesday: Running For Endurance

This workout can be done almost anywhere outdoors, good for traveling. Also, many offices, hotels, and resorts have treadmills in their gyms. I do post-workout stretching to prevent tight or sore muscles the next day.

Warm-up: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Bob Anderson's pre-run stretch routine.

Endurance: 30 minutes on treadmill in 4-minute intervals: 1 minute walking at 3 mph, 3 minutes running at 5 mph. If I'm feeling tired, I use 3-minute intervals.

Cool-down: 5 minutes on treadmill.

Stretching: 10 minutes of Anderson's post-run stretch routine.

Wednesday: Yoga For Balance And Flexibility

This workout is very portable after memorizing the sequence of moves, good for traveling.

Because yoga workouts generally incorporate warm-up, stretching, and cool-down, I don't do those separately.

No matter what else I do during the week, if something disrupts my routine and I have to skip one or more workouts, I make sure to do this one, because of its general therapeutic and stress-reducing effects.

Balance and flexibility: 60 minutes of Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs by Rodney Yee. I cycle through the different programs on different weeks. They're all very similar, but with slightly different emphasis. I use a Yoga Mat, Block, and Strap Set. Sometimes it's convenient to have a second block. The 3rd program on that DVD shows best how to use the blocks and strap.

I also do some of the workouts on Yoga With Adriene for variety.

I'm not nearly as flexible as either of them, so I limit postures to only the degree I can do comfortably.

The postures, or asanas, not all of which appear in every program (most of the names from the book 50 Best Yoga Positions):
  • Tadasana, mountain pose
  • Adho mukha svanasana, downward-facing dog
  • sun salutation (this is actually a sequence moving through several poses, including mountain pose, lunge, plank, pushup, cobra, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, standing forward bend)
  • Biralasana, cat pose
  • Virabhadrasana I, warrior I
  • Virabhadrasana II, warrior II
  • Virabhadrasana III, warrior III
  • Trikonasana, triangle pose
  • Uttanasana, intense forward stretch/standing forward bend
  • Dandasana, staff pose
  • Navasana, boat pose
  • Balasana, child pose
  • Single-leg forward bend
  • Paschimottasana, double-leg forward bend
  • Upavista konasana, seated wide-angle forward pose sequence
  • Baddha konasana, cobbler's pose
  • Supta padangustasana, reclining big toe pose/raised leg stretch
  • Jathara parivartanasana, revolved abdomen pose
  • Marichyasana III, sage twist III
  • Garudasana, eagle twist
  • Kapotasana, pigeon pose
  • Anjaneyasana, crescent moon pose
  • Dhanaurasana, bow pose
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose
  • Purvottanasana, upward-facing plank
  • Urda dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose
  • Virasana, hero pose
  • Utkatasana, chair pose/power pose
  • Prasarita padottanasana, wide leg stretch/wide leg forward bend
  • Savasana, corpse pose/relaxation pose
I built up to this level by using Yee's Power Yoga - Flexibility, 25 minutes. This is mostly the same set of asanas as the Power Yoga Collection, so it's both good training to learn them, and a shorter session if I have less time. It's also a good light flexibility workout any time I need it.

Adrienne also offers a number of shorter videos, as well sessions targeting different body areas or situations.

Thursday: Free Weights And Weight Machine For Strength

This is an exact repeat of Monday's workout.

Friday: Running For Endurance

This is an exact repeat of Tuesday's workout.