Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Year in Nerdiness

Last April I wrote here about timing my hobbies. This is an update.
In the graph below the blue sections at the bottom represent the time I spent doing Anki reps. It was more than an hour a day throughout last year. I added 1,333 new Anki cards during 2016, for a total of 21,636 cards. When I encounter a new word or concept, I often look it up and enter it into my Anki deck. In 2016 I didn't read as much in foreign-to-me languages as I usually do, so I added fewer cards. One usually spends more time on new cards than on old ones, so a decrease in the number of new cards leads to less time spent with Anki, and in fact you can see the blue portions of the bars decreasing as the year went on.   
The black portions of the bars, above the blue ones, represent the time I spent practicing the piano. And here's a separate graph for piano practice, an activity which I started timing two and a half years before the other ones:

During last year I recorded three piano pieces and posted them on YouTube. I can play a fourth one - Bach's Little Fugue - all the way through, but even worse than those three. I sometimes have to stop and look for notes. It's a difficult piece, and I don't know if I'll ever learn it well enough to want to record it. It's beautiful though, so I do love playing it.
In 2016 I was also busy learning Billy Joel's Honesty. I hope to record it this year, but you never know. If I do, Elton John's Your Song will probably be next.
The various shades of light green on the first graph represent learning various languages. Some of it was me reading the two French books I reviewed on this blog last year. Another part is me listening to France2's 8 PM newscasts. The first time I listen to a segment I understand about half of the words in it. That's a rough estimate. I think that by the 5th or 6th time I'm up to 99%. You can turn on the subtitles there to check if you were right.
One of the light green segments is me listening to Pimsleur Mandarin lessons. I'm usually against using language study materials. The best way to learn a language is to just read, listen and talk in it. But Chinese is so hard that I made an exception. Pimsleur has 5 Mandarin courses, for a total of 150 30-minute lessons. I'm now on lesson 105. I have some Chinese co-workers and I sometimes understand little parts of their conversations with each other. Not many though. Right now my plan is to start listening to Chinese news online once I'm finished with Pimsleur, or a little before that.
The dark green portions above the light green ones represent me reading books in one of my two native languages, Russian and English. I only timed myself reading books that I intended to finish and review here. If I took a book from a shelf at Barnes and Noble and spent an hour with it, I didn't make a record in my table for that. Why? I don't know. The criteria for including things here are somewhat arbitrary. I spend a lot of time reading and commenting on blogs, arguing with people in Twitter, reading news articles linked from my Twitter feed, working at my 9 to 5 job, etc., and I didn't time any of that stuff here either.
The yellow segments represent me writing blog posts and poems, and red is miscellaneous.
I wish I started doing this earlier so I could track the rise and fall of my past nerdy obsessions.
It would be fun to calculate the rate of language learning progress per hour of study. The increase in reading speed, in the percentage of words recognized, that kind of thing. Obviously, the same amount of study will lead to different results in different languages. Those differences could be used to objectively estimate the difficulty of various languages. It's something I might try to do in the future.


  1. I note that the three music pieces you posted to YouTube are the Turkish March, Für Elise, and the Moonlight Sonata (1st mov).

    All three figure in the couple dozen or so piano pieces I learned by heart back in the Triassic when I played piano.

    I suspect this is because they offer some of the highest aesthetic returns / effort expended in classical music for piano.

    1. At the rate I'm going I'll never learn a couple dozen pieces. People learn things easier when they're young.

      If I decide to learn a piece it's 'cause I like it a lot, but in music, unlike in literature for example, familiarity increases enjoyment. Not always - there are things that I've heard many times on the radio and will never like. But it often works. So I probably like those three pieces a lot because I've heard them so much, like most people.

      Maybe I'll do a post about this some day. I don't think a person can enjoy reading something that was written by someone who's less intelligent than he is. But that IS possible in music. I'm sure Beethoven and Mozart were geniuses, but, for example, I love lots of Keith Richards' songs and he's not a smart man. Why is it possible to enjoy music written by idiots? At least partly because in music familiarity increases enjoyment in an almost mechanical way. In literature it doesn't.