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Learning

A woman learning how to play guitar

Learning a new skill, such as playing an instrument, gardening or picking up a new language, takes a lot of time and practice, whether that means scale training, learning about native plants or using flashcards to memorize new words.

To improve through practice, you have to perform the task repeatedly while also receiving feedback so you know whether you’re doing it correctly or not. Is my pitch correct? Did my geraniums bloom? Is my pronunciation understandable?

However, a new study by researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon shows that you can speed up the processes by adding a third element to practice and feedback: passive exposure. The good news is that passive exposure requires minimal effort and is enjoyable.


"Active learning of a... task requires both expending effort to perform the task and having access to feedback about task performance," the study authors explained. "Passive exposure to sensory stimuli, on the other hand, is relatively effortless and does not require feedback about performance."

listening to music, learning a skill, woman in bedA woman listening to music in bedvia Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

So, if you’re learning to play the blues on guitar, listen to plenty of Howlin’ Wolf or Robert Johnson throughout the day. If you’re learning to cook, keep the Food Network on TV all day to absorb some great culinary advice. Learning to garden? Take the time to notice the flora and fauna in your neighborhood or make frequent trips to your local botanical garden.

If you’re learning a new language, watch plenty of TV and films in the tongue you are learning.

The scientists add that auditory learning is especially helpful, so listen to plenty of audiobooks or podcasts on the subject you’re learning about.

Researchers learned the tremendous benefits of passive exposure after conducting a study with a group of mice. They trained them to find water, using various sounds to give either positive or negative feedback, like playing a game of “hot or cold.” Some mice were passively exposed to these sounds when they weren't looking for water. Those who experienced this additional passive exposure and their active training learned to find the water reward faster.

gardening, learning a skill, nueroscienceA woman reading a book about house plants.via cottonbro studio/Pexels

“Our results suggest that, in mice and in humans, a given performance threshold can be achieved with relatively less effort by combining low-effort passive exposure with active training,” James Murray, a neuroscientist who led the study, told University of Oregon News. “This insight could be helpful for humans learning an instrument or a second language, though more work will be needed to better understand how this applies to more complex tasks and how to optimize training schedules that combine passive exposure with active training.”

The great news about the story is that in addition to giving people a new way to approach learning, it’s an excuse for us to enjoy the things we love even more. If you enjoy listening to blues music so much that you decided to learn for yourself, it’s another reason to make it an even more significant part of your life.

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness explains one way the rich get richer.

Any time conversations about wealth and poverty come up, people inevitably start talking about boots.

The standard phrase that comes up is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," which is usually shorthand for "work harder and don't ask for or expect help." (The fact that the phrase was originally used sarcastically because pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is literally, physically impossible is rarely acknowledged, but c'est la vie.) The idea that people who build wealth do so because they individually work harder than poor people is baked into the American consciousness and wrapped up in the ideal of the American dream.

A different take on boots and building wealth, however, paints a more accurate picture of what it takes to get out of poverty.



Author Terry Pratchett is no longer with us, but his writing lives on and is occasionally shared on his official social media accounts. Recently, his Twitter page shared the "Sam Vimes 'Boots' Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness" from Pratchett's 1993 book "Men At Arms." This boots theory explains that one reason the rich are able to get richer is because they are able to spend less money.

If that sounds confusing, read on:

Pratchett wrote:

"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."

In other words, people who have the money to spend a little more upfront often end up spending less in the long run. A $50 pair of boots that last five years essentially cost you $10 a year. But if you can only afford $10 upfront for a pair of boots that last six months, that's what you buy—and you end up paying twice as much over a five-year period.

There are so many areas in which this principle applies when you're poor. Buying in bulk saves you money over the long run, but you have to be able to afford the bulk cost up front. A reliable car that doesn't require regular repairs will cost more than a beater, but if the beater is all you can afford, that's what you're stuck with. You'll likely spend the same or more over time than if you'd bought a newer/higher quality car, but without the capital (or the credit rating) to begin with, you don't have much choice.

People who can afford larger down payments pay lower interest rates, saving them money both immediately and in the long run. People who can afford to buy more can spend more with credit cards, pay off the balances, build up good credit and qualify for lower interest rate loans.

There are lots of good financial decisions and strategies one can utilize if one has the ability to build up some cash. But if you are living paycheck to paycheck, you can't.

Climbing the financial ladder requires getting to the bottom rung first. Those who started off anywhere on the ladder can make all kinds of pronouncements about how to climb it—good, sound advice that really does work if you're already on the ladder. But for people living in poverty, the bottom rung is just out of reach, and the walls you have to climb to get to it are slippery. It's expensive to be poor.

When people talk about how hard it is to climb out of poverty, this is a big part of what they mean. Ladder-climbing advice is useless if you can't actually get to the ladder. And yet, far too many people decry offering people assistance that might help them reach the ladder so they can start taking advantage of all that great financial advice. Why? Perhaps because they were born somewhere on the ladder—even if it was the bottom rung—and aren't aware that there are people for whom the ladder is out of reach. Or perhaps they're unaware of how expensive it is to be poor and how the costs of poverty keep people stuck in the pit. Hopefully, this theory will help more people understand and sympathize with the reality of being poor.

Money makes money, but having money also saves you money. The more money you have, the more wealth you're able to build not only because you have extra money to save, but also because you buy higher quality things that last, therefore spending less in the long run. (There's also the reality that the uber-wealthy will pay $5,000 for shoes they'll only wear a few times, but that's a whole other kind of boots story.)

Thanks, Terry Pratchett, for the simple explanation.


This story originally appeared on 01.28.22

Representative image from Canva

Because who can keep up with which laundry settings is for which item, anyway?

Once upon a time, our only option for getting clothes clean was to get out a bucket of soapy water and start scrubbing. Nowadays, we use fancy machines that not only do the labor for us, but give us free reign to choose between endless water temperature, wash duration, and spin speed combinations.

Of course, here’s where the paradox of choice comes in. Suddenly you’re second guessing whether that lace item needs to use the “delicates” cycle, or the “hand wash” one, or what exactly merits a “permanent press” cycle. And now, you’re wishing for that bygone bucket just to take away the mental rigamarole.

Well, you’re in luck. Turns out there’s only one setting you actually need. At least according to one laundry expert.

While appearing on HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast, Patric Richardson, aka The Laundry Evangelist, said he swears by the “express” cycle, as “it’s long enough to get your clothes clean but it’s short enough not to cause any damage.”

Richardson’s reasoning is founded in research done while writing his book, “Laundry Love,” which showed that even the dirtiest items would be cleaned in the “express” cycle, aka the “quick wash” or “30 minute setting.”


Furthermore the laundry expert, who’s also the host of HGTV’s “Laundry Guy,” warned that longer wash settings only cause more wear and tear, plus use up more water and power, making express wash a much more sustainable choice.

Really, the multiple settings washing machines have more to do with people being creatures of habit, and less to do with efficiency, Richardson explained.

“All of those cycles [on the washing machine] exist because they used to exist,” he told co-hosts Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson. “We didn’t have the technology in the fabric, in the machine, in the detergent [that we do now], and we needed those cycles. In the ’70s, you needed the ‘bulky bedding’ cycle and the ‘sanitary’ cycle ... it was a legit thing. You don’t need them anymore, but too many people want to buy a machine and they’re like, ‘My mom’s machine has “whitest whites.”’ If I could build a washing machine, it would just have one button — you’d just push it, and it’d be warm water and ‘express’ cycle and that’s it.”
washing machine

When was the last time you washed you washing machine? "Never" is a valid answer.

Canva

According to Good Housekeeping, there are some things to keep in mind if you plan to go strictly express from now on.

For one thing, the outlet recommends only filling the machine halfway and using a half dose of liquid, not powder detergent, since express cycles use less water. Second, using the setting regularly can develop a “musty” smell, due to the constant low-temperature water causing a buildup of mold or bacteria. To prevent this, running an empty wash on a hot setting, sans the detergent, is recommended every few weeks, along with regularly scrubbing the detergent drawer and door seal.

Still, even with those additional caveats, it might be worth it just to knock out multiple washes in one day. Cause let’s be honest—a day of laundry and television binging sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

To catch even more of Richardson’s tips, find the full podcast episode here.


This article originally appeared on 2.4.24

Woman shocked to learn about the history of the English alphabet.



An eye-opening video on TikTok by @ZachDFilms3 is an excellent example of how language constantly evolves. In a video with over 900,000 views, he explains that the English language had a 27th letter a little more than 200 years ago.

ZachDFilms3 is popular on TikTok for creating videos that explain surprising facts about science and history.

In a video posted on March 6, he surprised many by revealing that the ampersand ( or "&") once came after the letter Z in the English alphabet. “This is an ampersand and believe it or not, it used to be the 27th letter in the alphabet. You see, back in the day, this symbol came after the letter Z and signified the word 'and,’" he shares in the video.

However, incorporating the letter into lessons for English-speaking kids was a problem.



“But when reciting the alphabet, students weren't allowed to just say 'and' after Z. Instead, they were taught to differentiate the symbol by saying 'per se' before it, which sounded something like this: Q R S T U V W X Y Z &. And 'per se &' ampersand."

@zachdfilms3

Why Highway Signs Are Green 🤨

The melding of the words “and per se” eventually led to the strange symbol called the “ampersand.” According to ON Words, other names for the symbol included ampazad and zumy-zan, but they failed to take hold with the general public.

It’s believed that the symbol got its name around 1835, but it ceased to be part of the English alphabet by the late 19th century.

The symbol dates back to over 1700 years ago when Roman scribes wrote in cursive and commonly used the Latin word “et,” which means “and.” So, the cursive combinations of the E and T together came to symbolize “and.” The symbol evolved over decades into the ampersand we know and love today.



These days, the ampersand is relegated to informal English and is mainly used as an abbreviation or in the names of businesses (AT&T, US News & World Report) or partnerships (Simon & Garfunkel, Jacoby & Meyers). However, it’s doing far better than the 5 other letters ditched from the original Old English alphabet recorded in 1011 by the monk Byrhtferð.

In the original Old English alphabet, there were 29 letters, which included the ampersand and 5 additional English letters: Long S (ſ), Eth (Ð and ð), Thorn (þ), Wynn (ƿ) and Ash (ᚫ; later Æ and æ). During that time, 3 new letters were added: J, U and W.

So whenever people get stuffy about new slang that they are using or changes in style or grammar, remind them that language is ever-evolving and that what we accept as standard today may be archaic in just a few decades. As the writer Rita Mae Brown once remarked, "Language is the roadmap of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going." So, when a language becomes static, it’s safe to say that those who use it have failed to evolve as well.