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 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 a bit compromised, but largely 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 while subvocalizing 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.