Practical Joke #13

1. Go to college. Study something in the psychiatry or counseling field.

2. Build a private practice as a counselor.

3. Wait for one of your clients to come to your office and reveal something particularly private and sensitive.

4. At this point fling open the false wall of your office to reveal an auditorium filled with thousands of people.

5. Stage lights come on. Music begins to play. TV cameras are switched on.

6. Dr. Phil comes in and begins addressing the camera: "Ladies and gentlemen, I've seen some pretty twisted, perverted individuals in my career, but I have never seen anything as disgusting as the guest we have today...."

Flash-card Case Study: My Chinese Anki Decks Structure, Part I


(First in a series of posts describing the Anki flash-card decks I use to study Chinese)

Previously I reviewed Anki software for electronic flashcards, and also about using multimedia flashcards. Currently I use somewhat more than 50 Anki decks (nope, that is not a misprint) to study various languages and other stuff.

Some decks are modest in size, for example to learn a new alphabet. For such I add no new cards once the deck is complete and the daily review time dwindles to a fraction of a minute. Others grow indefinitely, for example the various decks I employ to study Chinese. This reflects both the inherent complexity of the language and the level of effort I have put into it for the past several years.

As a case study, I outline here my decks for Chinese study. First, a list of the decks themselves:

Chinese characters: For learning the individual characters. This started based on Heisig's books and has been extended by myself based on Heisig's principles. Currently consists of 3952 "notes" and 23733 "cards." (To clarify, in Anki a single "note" links two or more pieces of information. From this one or more "cards" are created by specifying various pieces of information as the "cue" [front of the card] and others as the "response" [back of the card].)

Chinese vocabulary: Consists of words and some phrases or even entire sentences in (Mandarin) Chinese. Currently contains 4335 notes and 17311 cards.

Cantonese: Currently contains 296 notes and 1025 cards. These numbers reflect the fact that my Cantonese is at a much earlier stage than my Mandarin.

Cantonese Mnemonics: stable at 89 notes and 178 cards. Embodies Stefan's (of Language Ninja) system for memorizing Cantonese pronunciation.

Chinese 20000 HSK Sentences: I downloaded this as an Anki shared deck. True to its name, contains 22148 notes and 22148 cards, each with a single sentence. The HSK is a Chinese government test for evaluating Chinese proficiency.

Chinese Mnemonics: stable at 95 notes and 95 cards. Embodies my own system for memorizing Mandarin pronunciation of characters.

Chinese Williamson's Teach Yourself: When I first took up Chinese decades ago, it was with Teach Yourself Chinese by H. R. Williamson. I struggled mightily and never got past Chapter 10 (although having some worthwhile adventures in the process). This failure nagged at me ever since. A few years ago I set a goal to go back and crush Williamson's book. This Anki deck (125 notes, 125 cards) contains some oddities that I encountered in Williamson's book but haven't been able to cross-reference anywhere else. The Chinese in Williamson's book is old-fashioned to say the least.

Subsequent posts will outline the internal structure of the most interesting of these.

Some Aphorisms Apropos of Men's Rights

I chose this topic because there appears to be plenty of leeway for additional clear thinking on both sides (all sides?) of the issue.

1. Hysteria in the service of a good cause helps no one.

2. "Men's rights" is not an oxymoron.

3. "Men's rights" is not a synonym for Fascism.

4. If you know a woman living in a man's body, don't ridicule or dismiss her feelings. Don't tell her to "get over" the way she feels or that she can be educated out of it. Understand that gender identity is a deeply-rooted essential element of well-being. (Look up "David Reimer" if you don't understand what I mean.)

5. Of course the same considerations apply to a man living in a man's body.

6. A woman's (or a man's) body is her domain. It is not for others to dictate what she can or cannot do with it.

7. I refer, of course, to women who want to take their clothes off for money, or consent to sexual activity in the way they choose.

8. Feminism does not mean women should lead their lives according to your rules.

9. If your problem a minute ago was that the law/social norms don't allow you to behave like a man, don't complain now that they don't allow you to behave like a woman.

10. If you want to be free to behave like a man, a good first step would be to stop whining so much.

11. Someone else's choice of romantic partner, male or female, has no effect on you and you therefore have no standing to object to or dictate it. You are not the romance police.

12. If someone else's choice of spouse inspires in you uncontrollable feelings of disgust, this does not make you a bad person. Good manners, however, dictate that you keep your feelings to yourself. (This is by no means a new rule of etiquette. Disgusting spouses have been around for all of human history.)

13. The foregoing applies of course if a middle-aged man is interested in a much younger woman.

14. Or a woman is interested in a much younger man.

15. Or indeed any permutation you can think up.

16. If you exclude me from your discussion because of the accident of my gender, skin color, or whatever, that's up to you. Surely you are not surprised if I then have little interest in what you say?

17. If the women around you seem to object when you act like a man, perhaps you're not very good at it.

18. So why not learn to do it better?

Yet Another Benefit of Aging

Description of bifocals by Benjamin Franklin

Growing up, I was the one member of my household that did not need glasses. I mocked the other members of my family as they stumbled around the house, bumping into walls (or perhaps I exaggerate). Eventually, of course, time caught up with me. Now, like many or most people my age, I have different vision issues at different distances.

At long distances I am mildly astigmatic. This means that at night the moon and stars appear as vertical smears. I have a prescription pair of glasses that corrects for this, but my astigmatism is mild enough that I generally get by without them ("generally" meaning I haven't put them on in years). They would come in handy if I wanted to do some serious stargazing, for example, so I'm glad to have them on hand.

I also have increasing difficulty focusing on close-up objects. This is due to the increasing stiffness of the lens of the eye with aging. I can still read a newspaper with some effort, but tiny print is essentially unreadable without help. Also reading menus in dimly-lit restaurants, etc. I therefore keep several pairs of cheap reading glasses around. I try not to wear them habitually. This is not an issue of vanity (I have no problem pulling my glasses out and putting them on in front of people) but rather because I find the focusing muscles of the eye weaken if not used (just like other muscles).

Benjamin Franklin of course addressed this issue of different visual problems at different distances by inventing bifocals. As one can see in the illustration above (also photos if you seek them out), the original bifocals had a two-part frame for each eye. This was replaced with a two-part lens and later with bifocals with no visible lines (because needing bifocals is apparently some mark of shame). Personally I find the original two-pane design much cooler:

However, with no aspersions to Benjamin Franklin, I have decided that bifocals are definitely not for me. Not because visually I couldn't use them but as an antidote to multitasking. TV commercials for bifocals always show people instantly shifting attention from the book they're reading to their angelic kids playing in the sprinkler, etc., but what if I don't want to instantly shift my attention?

I've found I rather enjoy putting my reading glasses on as a gesture of deliberate commitment to focus on what is directly in front of me. Or conversely, taking them off as in order to focus on what is happening at a distance. I pity the young punks who have no such physical mechanism for deliberately directing attention.

Mnemonic Tip: Drift to Sleep in a Palace

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life--Youth

The third in a series of short posts on new wrinkles for old mnemonic techniques. What all have in common is that I have found them useful and have seen them described nowhere else.

The previous post discussed constructing a memory palace from a place you visit. I suggest reading that post before this one.

In any case, this post assumes you have constructed a memory palace, and that it is associated with pleasant memories. This post does not actually deal with a mnemonic technique as such,  but describes a related mental hack. I have found that a pleasant mental palace is a useful tool for falling asleep.

Falling asleep is never an issue for some people, but is an issue at least some of the time for many. That's why drugs are sold with the sole stated purpose of helping one fall asleep.

Assuming that one is prepared physically to fall asleep (i.e., bedroom conditions are suitable, one has not just awoken, etc.), a common source of interference is an overactive mind. On any given day I have at least nine different issues that I am capable of obsessing over while lying in bed. Some may be pleasant, others unpleasant but when trying to go to sleep I don't need them. Calming this internal mental chatter is necessary.

Much easier than trying to think of NOTHING is to replace the mental chatter with some other thought pattern. And for this the memory palace is useful. For me a memory palace typically consists of 50 to 100 locations.

The method consists of this: Breathe slowly and regularly, in and out. With each breath, visualize one palace location in succession. That's all there is to it. With a hundred locations (for example), it would generally take eight minutes to run through the entire palace. Usually I fall asleep before making it that far. Focusing on visualizing the palace locations quietens the mental chatter and replaces it with mental associations.

If you practice this, you may find you become aware of the peculiar mental activity that accompanies the process of falling asleep (the hypnagogic state). Generally I find my thoughts become chaotic or take a silly turn. It is as if dreaming begins before one is fully asleep.

When this happens to you, generally you will lose track of the sequence of locations you were sequencing through. You may come back to full wakefulness and realize this has happened. This is not an occasion for frustration, either because of the losing track or coming back to wakefulness. It is a good sign that indeed you are starting to fall asleep. Just pick up the sequence of locations where you left off.

For stubborn cases, you may practice refinements of the technique. Along with each location, pose yourself a simple problem (to be solved in the span of a single breath). What would the location sound like if your eyes were closed? What would it look like if it had existed in ancient Egypt? If built out of Legos? And so on.

Pleasant dreams.

Albert versus Jinx

This is an unusual type of post. I did not write it. It is a recently-discovered short story written by my mother's late husband "Rosy" (he himself always used quotes around his name).

The story is a bit of whimsical by-play with no deep meaning that I can detect. The title is mine. 

I have no idea when it was written. It is a rather untypical piece of work. "Rosy" wrote several pieces based on his life experiences as oil rigger, cow rancher, etc. You can find more here.

On a bitterly cold Saturday, Albert Ronoff hurriedly packed the few belongings he possessed into his compact duffel bag. He had been overcome with lethargy all day, for the dreary weather had comfortably surrounded him, but now he was all but comfortable. He quickly straightened his aching back and rolled his shoulders repeatedly. It was definitely time for him to move on to another country. The small-town animal shelter of Sun Valley had served its purpose all too well. He had successfully managed to make fur coats out of five hundred very unlucky little kitties Now Sweden’s cats had reason to be worried. One cat in particular, named Jinx, would be his first victim. Jinx was wanted mostly because he had no tail. Albert’s partner in crime, Gertrude Haag, had found the cat a month before and contacted Albert at once. Albert was more than happy to accept, especially since he felt like he was being watched.

He took one last final look around the room that had been his home for over a year. Cool wisps of air filled his lungs as he tried ever so hard to relax. Where was his taxi? A loud shrill honk that pierced his ears and made him jump interrupted that very thought. He hurriedly picked up the heavy suitcase and two shoulder bags that would accompany him on his trip to make fur his fortune. All at sat in his room was a looming heap of the itchy new sheets he had slept on just the night before and all the other nights. He would miss that harsh feeling against his resting skin.

Tripping and making a fool out of himself, Albert finally plopped into the back seat of the beat up-taxi. “Where to?” grunted the extremely overweight driver.

“Om, the airport. Gate 4C on Delta.”

“Great,” mumbled the driver sarcastically. “So are you traveling for business or pleasure?”

“I guess you’d call it business.”“Hmmm. Where’d you say you were going again? Was it South Korea?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly where I’m going,” lied Albert with all too much ease.


After ten more minutes of lovely conversation with the overly, enthusiastic cab driver, Albert was making his way briskly to the check-in counter at gate 4C departing for Sweden. With an alarmingly fast check-in, Albert was two bags lighter and slowly unwinding in a first-class airplane seat by the window. Life couldn’t get too much better so he let himself slowly enter the magical world of La-La-Land. For the next ten hours nothing would bother Albert because visions of Jinx’s fur filled his head.

“Sir, wake up, we’re in Stockholm.” called the piqued voice of a flight attendant. Albert, confused from sleep, sat up and rubbed his eyes vigorously. After his eyes again refocused, he slowly lifted his body out of the airplane seat and grabbed his two duffel bags from the overhead bin. “Thank you for waking me, madam,” Albert replied with an equal amount of happiness.

An hour later, Albert flipped through the damp soggy airport phonebook in search of Ms. Haag’s phone number. (357)-555-9638 Albert clumsily pushed the miniscule buttons of his cell phone with his fat fingers. “Hello, this is Gertrude,” proclaimed a very business-like voice.

 “Gertrude, this is Albert.”

“Hey, Albert!”

“Hey, I’m at the airport. My plane just landed. I wanted to know where to meet you.”

“Well, I was just heading out the door to the factory, so I guess you can just meet me there. Is that all right with you?”

“That’s fine. Where is the factory?”

“It’s on Smorgasbord Drive”

Albert caught yet another taxi. The trip to the factory was very scenic, even though they drove through downtown Stockholm. The taxi made its way across a dozen bridges that all crossed crystal-clear water of the frigid Arctic Ocean. After missing the tum-off for Smorgasbord Drive three times, the taxi driver finally figured out the confusing streets and let Albert out right in front of the towering factory building free of charge. Albert, with much effort, for he was pathetically out of shape, climbed the fifteen steep cement steps up to the entrance of  Gertrude’s factory. As soon as he walked in he was hit in the face with the warm air that that the factory’s many heaters were producing.
The weather in Stockholm was stifling cold, with a high temperature in the twenties.

Gertrude popped out from behind a dark comer causing Albert to grasp with fright. The coffee from Starbucks earlier had left him quite jittery and extremely jumpy. Gertrude seemed very pleased with herself at scaring him so and stared at him with a smile pursed on her lips. Albert suddenly questioned the woman’s sanity and almost decided to bail out when he remembered what he was there for. He would play her game, he decided defiantly. With newly found confidence, he straightened his back and asked in a clear voice “Where is Jinx?”

“Follow me!” grinned Gertrude excitedly.

She took him through a maze of dark hallways that possessed the aura of a dungeon. Finally, Gertrude paused at the heavy wooden door with a security keypad stationed right beside it. Secretly, she hunched her back just enough so that the highly interested Albert would be unable to obtain the confidential code needed to enter the important room. Three beeps and the dark splintery door slid open. The room was very small and contained only a small dusty television, and sitting in the middle of the room was the cage holding the beautiful cat that would make them both rich. It was just a shame that the cat’s eyes couldn’t be used as something for they were the biggest balls of yellow either one of them had ever seen. Both looked at the confused creature in awe. After Gertrude got hold of herself, she began to spurt off the cat’s history, which was of no interest to Albert until she stated “Jinx is actually King Eric’s kitty.” You would’ve died if you had seen him begging on the news for Jinx back. He even offered a one-million-dollar reward. It’s so pathetic.” Albert’s ears quickly perked up to this. One million dollars! Gertrude was a complete fool! She would never get even near that much money by selling the Jinx’s fur coat. All of a sudden, a very sneaky thought crept into Albert’s mind. What if he was to take the cat and return it to the King himself and get that reward money? The only problem was getting the cat out of the factory without Gertrude being aware. He innocently questioned where the royal palace was. “It’s only two blocks away!” she exclaimed and showed him the elegant structure through the small dirty window in the room. 

Albert thought of a way to get Jinx out when Gertrude announced that she had to go the bathroom. This was his chance, he realized. As soon as the bathroom door was shut all the way, he undid the dinky latch that held Jinx captive in the cold metal cage. Carefully he tiptoed over to the big wooden door with the furry bundle under his thin jacket. Fortunately, you didn’t need the three-number code to open the door, so he quietly continued out the door and through the maze of hallways until he found the main entrance and broke into a full run until the factory was out of sight. Only then did he slow his pace to a jog, which was incredible for his out-of-shape body. Adrenaline pumped through his veins in a tumultuous surge. By the time he fell upon the steps to the royal palace, he was nearly exhausted.

Back at the factory, the unaware Gertrude was just unlocking the bathroom door. As she opened the door, she was quickly let down when she realized that both Jinx and Albert were missing. Her biggest nightmare was now becoming a terrifying reality. Totally sure of defeat, Gertrude did not even bother to search the factory. While breaking down into hysterical sobs, Gertrude decided what she would do. Sadly, on that very cold day in Sweden, Gertrude hopped into an assembly machine and took her life.
Albert, not knowing that his evil decision would cause so much disaster, merrily recovered from his exercise and skipped up the two stairs that led to the palace doors guarded by two watchmen. He quickly explained that he had found the royal cat and even showed them the shivering ball of fur. In a matter of seconds, Albert found himself seated in an overstuffed chair in front of the King’s desk. He was in heaven when King Eric himself came regally into the room and sat in the chair behind the rich mahogany desk. In the King’s hands was Jinx himself sleeping peacefully, seeming to have forgotten the factory and the insane Gertrude. 

“I suppose you know of the reward I put out for the return of Jinx?”

“I certainly do, but you really shouldn’t.” lied Albert.

“No, I insist.”

“All right! Do you think I could hold Jinx just one more time, though?”

“Of course, go ahead.”

Albert picked up the cat with feigned affection. He again sat down in the chair across from the King with Jinx in his lap and began to make small talk when he felt something wet and slimy on his hand. He looked down and realized slowly what the wet liquid all over his hand was. Albert sprang from the chair and launched the cat through the air, yelling “You disgusting beast! I should’ve made you into a coat when I had the chance!”

The King watched the drama with his mouth hanging wide open, almost causing him to drool. When he realized that Albert was not indeed a hero but a thief, he quickly tore up the check that he had been writing. Five guards posted outside of the door quickly busted into the room and carted the hysterical Albert off. The King rushed over to his hurt kitten and yelled to his guards to behead the evil Albert.

Now, a month later, with thieves Albert and Gertrude dead, the King had two fur coats sent out to each mother with a letter written by that King explaining the incident. Although the King never received a thank-you note back from the mothers, he didn’t care, because he had his beloved cat Jinx safely at home with him.