All the things that are wrong with school

Length: 3000 words (pretty long)

Purpose: making you aware of best practices (and worst = school) for studying

Style: a recount of my actual (and random) study methods in high school, with a distilled summary of recommended study ‘tools’ toward the end

How do you expect pupils to remember the lesson if you just knock them senseless with homework, instead of first and foremost provide techniques for learning?

Executive summary: The first thing formal school should teach you is how to learn, but that never happens.

This article lists a few study techniques that I wish I knew about as a teenager, and are still highly useful for acquiring new skills within investing, sports or whatever you can think of…

…including: Motion/BDNF, Deep Work, Grit/Consistency, Sound Wall, Hyperthermic therapy, Spaced repetition, Word definitions, Novelty, Overreaching, Curiosity/Application, Gamification, Failing (deliberate practice)


Google it!

I was the worst kind of pupil in middle school; troubled, the youngest and smallest in class, bullied, fighting, divorced parents, a recently drowned big brother, good at math and English contemptuous of everything else.

When grades were introduced in 7th grade, I changed pretty radically (“soooo, you’re going to judge me, are you? Let’s do all the things that you wanna do” –Slinky Scene) and immediately moved to #1 in my school, but I was nevertheless no more than the cleanest dirty shirt.


“Do you know how exceptional this is?”

“Yes…” (I didn’t, but thought I would look stupid if I said ‘no’)

In the summer between 9th grade and high school, I happened to take an IQ test that kind of surprised both the supervisor and myself. That gave me some extra confidence going forward; from then on I ‘knew’* I should and could be able to learn anything better than other people.

However, more importantly, during the 10 minutes I waited to get started, I browsed a simple book about study techniques.  

I took away one single lesson that I have stuck to since then: If you loose track of what you’re reading go back and look for a word or a sentence you actually didn’t fully understand. Look up every word you can’t define and make sure you can before moving forward.

That’s how you start building a truly solid knowledge base. I think that single idea is what changed me from a very good pupil in 9th grade to a superior one in high school.

“You can’t build a skyscraper on sand”

-a high school teacher of mine to a friend

Not only does the word habit help you in keeping focused, making sure your knowledge is well founded and make you learn more words per se. It aids in and accustoms you to identifying what you don’t understand and enables you to ask the right questions. (so you can Google it)

*Today I know better than to subscribe any value to an IQ test, but back then it helped raise my level of self-confidence.


How to focus in less than optimal environments

In high school (10th-12th grade), I early on realized the benefits of focusing for longer stretches of time (as opposed to distracted and chopped up studying and reading). I also soon realized that listening to familiar music helped drown out any distractions, without breaking my focus by providing new ones.

I discovered the Sound Wall Technique when I started noticing that certain favorite songs “disappeared”, and had to be restarted, unless I actively paid attention. The songs became more or less invisible. That actually began as a problem of sorts, when I actively wanted to enjoy them. I soon understood, however, there was a valuable potential in the kind of immersion that playing ‘invisible songs’ on high volume provided.

The music I listened to btw was almost exclusively Sisters Of Mercy.


I had a cassette player with slots for two 90-minute cassettes, that could be set for endless repeat of all of the 180 minutes available. And I did, both when studying and otherwise. Gothic messages like the following were hammered into my subconscious a million times (3 years x 1000 hours/year x 3600 seconds/hour =>10 million seconds of goth)


Pain looks great on other people; that’s what they’re for

Because the world is cruel, and promises are broken


-No wonder I’m a little ‘dark’

Luckily, I later learned to like Britney Spears just as much. I still prefer SOM to Britney when going deep though.

Deep Work and Grit

Of course, I had no idea I was practising Deep Work behind my Sound Wall.

I didn’t even have a concept of good or bad study techniques. Just as everybody else I got my homework handed to me and was told to learn it until then next time, but not how to learn it, except answering the questions in the reading material and keep repeating until it stuck…

It’s just that I was actually a bit pressed for time. I only had about 2 hours a day to study, and I had to make that count for more than what everybody else did. Hence, I had to be effective.


-Yes. Pressed for time.

Yes, in high school.

This is why; I was a ninja:

ninja emoji


All through high school, I had ninjutsu (ninja) practice for two hours per session several times a week, and I often ran there and back (almost 10 kilometers, or 6 miles). I also spent a few hours a day in the school gym to beef up from my ridiculous 54kg on a 183 cm frame (119 lbs /6’0″). In addition I liked playing tennis as often as I could, playing computer games & coding every day, as well as tinkering with electronics.

Finally, as I still do to this day, I liked keeping my evening schedule open for fun with friends, or just sneaking around the neighborhood in ninja gear (that I don’t do anymore, though).

To make my days work with that schedule, I set aside exactly 2 hours every single day, from Monday to Sunday, of intensely focused studying. Sometimes a little more on the weekends (4h rather than 2h, if an important scheduled test or suspected unscheduled test was coming up next week).

Over the months and years that consistency (grit, if you will) accumulated to much more than most of my class mates. Intuitively I understood Anders Ericsson’s ideas about the value of practicing more than others. Unfortunately nobody told me it should be deliberate and smart practice, outside my comfort zone (even if some of that too came naturally).

sprezzaturian ninja

As an added bonus from keeping busy, I just didn’t have the time to procrastinate, and I knew I wanted my evenings as free as possible, so I always made sure to finish my 2 hours of Deep Work as soon as I got home from school or the gym. In thus very early on found out the joy and benefits of regularly finishing projects well before any deadline.

It seems I had stumbled upon the idea of consistently adding a set amount per day of time spent on whatever was important (exactly how the Prio One rule works, and how authors typically stay productive).

I knew most of my fellow students postponed doing their homework to the last moment in the day. Or, worse, didn’t even study every day but waited until there was a scheduled test. By going for 2 hours every single day, I kept pulling ahead of the pack.

Spaced repetition

Scheduled tests were one thing; by putting in 10s of hours shortly ahead of those, certain gifted students performed well on known tests (neurotic students even pretended to come down with a cold, to take a few days off, to study for the major scheduled tests).

However, my school had plenty of unscheduled tests, that were allowed (wtf?) to include whatever we had studied during the last four weeks. Since I wanted to ace every test, I kept repeating the last four weeks on a trailing basis (every day), while also reading one week ahead all the time (see next paragraph).

I read ahead (starting in 7th grade, i.e., 2-3 years before high school), since I figured it wouldn’t entail any extra work, while making me prepared in the classroom (prepared for sneaky questions by the teachers to keep students on their toes; and prepared for paying extra attention to whatever I might have struggled with during preparation), not to mention the extra repetition it meant.

The constant repetition, before and after the actual allotted teacher time, meant that whatever I learned eventually stuck forever (“neurons that fire together [often enough] wire together”, as brain scientists say).

What if teachers taught good study techniques early on, would that be something you could be interested in?

Wouldn’t it have been great, if teachers told students from the beginning that a certain schedule of repetition is more effective than other, when it comes to rote learning (foreign words, grammar rules, historical events etc)? Instead of having the students figure out the most effective ways of studying by trial and error?

In French and English, I “invented” the equivalent of flash cards, where I programmed my Spectrum to show words in English or French to translate into Swedish or vice versa, in a random order and random direction. The idea was to avoid going over the same list in the same direction over and over again (which otherwise risks conditioning one word to the word before, instead of having multiple contextual associations in the brain).

Thus, by chance, and by the luck of having a computer and knowing some simple coding, I introduced novelty, surprise, spaced repetition, redundant storage/contextual association, grit and curiosity (the struggle with staying a week ahead and having to understand the material beforehand, without the guidance of a teacher) – all of which have subsequently been shown to be some of the best practices for learning there is.


Brain research and motion

Don’t forget my physical regimen either; the constant running, biking (4km to school), ninja training, tennis, bodybuilding. If there is one place to start with a kid that’s struggling in school, it’s usually with getting him or her physically active.

Modern brain research (tip: listen to all 127 hour-long episodes of Dr Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcasts) shows brains evolved thinking in order to analyze motion. Daily physical activity increases the BDNF “learning hormone” that increases brain plasticity, both during and after the activity. In addition, a more fit body, including one that oxygenates efficiently, can focus for longer periods of time.

By pure chance, I can in retrospect check almost all scientifically proven boxes of study techniques. Almost…

Brain food

Oh, if only I had enjoyed fish more back in the day, not to mention eaten less corn flakes, ketchup and drunk less coca cola. Perhaps compensating for the nutritional offside, I only tried alcohol once in high school before graduation (and it was in the last semester as a senior, when I turned 18).



Further, I probably should have found other people like me to study with.

lone wolf

The lone wolf approach was good for improving, but a few fellow four-eyes would probably have added an extra dimension (as it did for the group of illiterate 3rd world kids that learned genetics by themselves).

There was only one subject in which I took advantage of the group effect, philosophy, and there I achieved a perfect score on exactly everything.

These days, thanks to the internet, you can collaborate on anything with like-minded people, from open source programming with Linux to Samir Madani‘s OOTT oil analysis Twitter project.


I remember one final trick I applied; taking saunas regularly:

My family liked hot saunas, so I took a lot of those, including rolling in the snow in between (saunas are good for so many things I won’t bother to go through them; however there is a link in last week’s post you should read, if you’re interested in some serious self improvement).

I took saunas for pleasure, for pain (competing against myself or others), for when I had a fever (perhaps not fully advisable, but felt very good when shaking from cold).


No wonder I co-founded this floating sauna company

My hyperthermic stroke of genius was to add “studying in the sauna” to the list of uses: I brought my math, physics or chemistry books into the sauna, and forced myself to complete one more question, one more chapter, one more test (when going over tests from earlier years ahead of a larger examination) before being allowed out of the torturously hot sauna.

In a way my sauna math sessions amounted to going outside my comfort zone (as recommended by Anders Ericsson), albeit probably not in the most effective manner conceivable for math and physics… To be honest, I tended to focus more on being extremely comfortable with whatever we were supposed to know, as opposed to actually overreaching into areas I didn’t know.

Some ten years later, in 1998, I learned straight from the horse’s mouth, that the world’s foremost cross-country skier, for several years during the period 1984-1991, had simultaneously applied a similar tactic of seeking out the worst possible environment for training.

Just as Gunde Svan revelled in seeing rain, wind or other kinds of bad cross-country skiing weather on the morning of a competition, I knew I would always stay cool and focused with plenty of time to spare for checks, re-checks, triangulations (alternative solutions) and verifications. I was used to solving three full tests in a hot sauna in less time than I would get for just one test in an air conditioned and tempered room.

full immersion


Moreover, I actually applied my knowledge, which is considered the final nail in the coffin for ignorance or poor memory:

I liked and needed to use formulas when coding, e.g., for natural jumping or breaking movements in a game. I liked reading books in English, and all my necessary computer literature was in English. Even if I didn’t care much for French, I made sure to read a few books in French to secure highest grade there too (a very natural conclusion after seeing how easy English became already after just reading “It” by Stephen King).

A similar approach is called immersion, e.g., going abroad to study a foreign language. Some schools currently experiment with local immersion emulation techniques.

So, that’s my specific high school experience of studying, but let’s summarize the general points and principles.

What’s wrong with school is that:

  • it doesn’t teach you how to learn (based on plasticity research), it only tells you what you should learn and then crudely tests and scores you on certain flat and dead facts that are easy to gauge
  • it doesn’t explicitly tell you to look up words you can’t define
  • it kills creativity, curiosity and questioning, by teaching only ‘the one truth’ in a machine like manner
  • it turns natural grit into hate of certain subjects, since temporary failure is treated as being ‘wrong, period’.
  • it focuses on rote learning, instead of research methods and searching, experimenting
  • the focus on forcing the same pace on everybody, kills enthusiasm in some, while ruining the potential in others as the latter have to move forward before building an adequately solid base
  • there is no sense of solving real and relevant problems, only abstract or ridiculous mathematical “problems”
  • it doesn’t inspire you to create, to seek out and solve problems, to help, to be an entrepreneur, to enjoy the process of being curious and to apply all your faculties in making the world better (just your vicinity or earth in its entirety), forwarding the fields of the big 5 technologies to solve the Big 5 challenges. Instead the focus is on making robots out of the students, to fit as workers in shrinking companies in a society that will look very differently once they are done with school
  • Among the worst of all, school makes you believe certain truths are set in stone, thus discouraging you from questioning. That is one of the reasons behind our economies being run by Keynesian madmen, since other theories have been discredited in favor of Keynes’ misinformed and misunderstood (mere) hypotheses.

Other tricks for learning would be gamification, as well as learning as a child. Children learn to walk, to speak etc. by an extreme application of broad perspective, trial and error, and fun. They simply play themselves to master a set of very difficult tasks. Grown-ups could just about replicate that, if we just dared failing more.

Older children gladly spend 100s or 1000s of hours to master computer games (while yet other groups of 3rd world children can learn biochemistry and genetics, in a foreign language, with no particular guidance, and just a computer [which was something they had never seen before] connected to the internet).

What school and parents should do is apply all the things I’ve mentioned in this article, including learning based on:

  • Motion/BDNF
  • Deep Work
  • Grit/Consistency
  • Sound Wall
  • Hyperthermic therapy
  • Spaced repetition
  • Defining words
  • Novelty
  • Overreaching (deliberate practice and temporary failure)
  • Curiosity/Application
  • Gamification
  • Not procrastinating (just do it right away)

Share these important lessons on how to learn

Apply: The reason I wrote this article is to encourage you to apply the above principles in your own life when acquiring interesting skills, or necessary knowledge for your line of work, investing, sport or other endeavors.

Dare: Not least I want you to see that the reason you’re sometimes discouraged to learn new things, is less because it’s hard, and more likely because school taught you that learning is boring and failing is bad.

Encourage: I also want to encourage you to forward this knowledge to younger people, perhaps your own children, and to authorities like teachers (who probably know this), and more importantly to the teachers’ bosses and relevant politicians.

Why Deep Work is essential for keeping up with robotics (career and investment opportunities)

Executive summary: AI is coming. You’d better think about your career and investment opportunities in AI and robotics. And the importance of Deep Work to keep up.

Hint: Google, FB, Amazon

Length: 2128 words

The robot overlords are drawing closer

Finally a machine beat a decent player at the ancient eastern game of Go. With decent I don’t mean an Asian grand master, but at least a three time European champion.

google deepmind

Artificial Intelligence keeps progressing, no matter whether you know about (or like it) or not.

First an AI application is typically seen as a curiosity. Then it becomes a tool you need to learn how to use. And eventually it will develop to the point where it could take your job.

IBM’s Watson easily beat the world’s best Jeopardy masters several years ago. Since then it has become the world’s foremost oncology expert.

Currently Watson is on its way to start replacing swathes of paralegals at law firms as well as finding new oil reserves. A few years down the road, anyone with a cellphone (or AugReal contact lens) will be able to tap into Watson-like powers for any kind of search or research.

IBM Watson onc 2

Over the coming 20 years, most jobs will be affected by the progress in robotics and AI. Hence, even if you are aiming for future-proof industries (The 5 Singularity Enablers or The Big 5 human issues, or, most likely, a combination*), you’ll nevertheless need to learn to work with robots and artificial agents, or risk replacement.

*I have mentioned the 5+5 in earlier posts on job security nr 1 and nr 2 and my post about programming: nanotech, biotech, AI, robotics, additive manufacturing and energy, water, pollution, food, longevity/health


Professions at risk

If you’re flipping burgers, sewing garments, assembling consumer electronics, building cars or houses, reading court cases, writing (sports) news, trading stocks or driving any type of vehicles for a living, you’ll soon be out of work (except if you can leverage the new technology in some creative way).


Deep Work makes you change-resistant

To stay one step ahead of the AIs; to be a fast learner as well as able to tap into your most creative powers, one indispensable skill for the future will be the ability to perform deep, focused thinking and problem solving, i.e., Deep Work, in the words of Cal Newport.

Rather than allowing various notifications from e-mail, Twitter, Facebook. Instagram etc. to force your days into shallow, responsive, always on-line type of activities, you should practice going off-line and “deep” for longer stretches of time (30-90 minutes) as often as you can.

deep work cal newport

Buy it, it may be your best investment ever

Deep work restructures your brain, making it easier going forward to enter a state of flow and focus, and thus becoming more and more effective, and increasingly able to perform above AI-level, not to mention quickly learn new skills, including how to use new (AI) tools.

Meditation helps too, but that’s just too weird and Eastern for most – at least if we’re talking about 30-minute long sessions or more. I myself had much rather turn everything off for 90 minutes and solve an intellectual problem at the top of my ability (writing a blog post, a new book, or working if I had a job).


If you can’t beat the robots, join them

This Tuesday I (and my dog Ronja) talked in front of 400+ engineering students at Sweden’s top technological university, Chalmers. I specifically remember three interesting questions.

  1. What made your fund so successful?
  2. What advice would you have given yourself as a student today?
  3. What would you have studied today?

ronja chalmers

Answers to important questions are superpositions of the entire spectrum of answers

What’s particularly intriguing about the first question is that my number one success factor was also the number one negative at the same time:

Being unbiased and fundamental

It worked extremely well over the several bull and bear waves during my career (1994-2015). On the other hand, being unbiased and fundamental also made it all but impossible to ride the bull waves (“bubbles”) long enough – in particular the last one (the quantitative easing bubble that finally seems to be bursting).

I often find that the most important questions are answered in the same “how long is a piece of string” fashion. Learn to recognize and acknowledge those situations, rather than dislike them. They provide you with a much wider range of choices than clear-cut 1 or 0 situations.


Have fun no matter what you do (Sinéad O’Connor)

Nr 2 is also easy: Direct your studies and career toward something that interests you, that you like, that gives you the “unfair advantage” of having your favorite hobby as your work.

No matter how successful (or not) you get, at least you had fun on the way. And, given the unfair advantage, you’ll probably change the world in some positive way and become rich/famous/of stature, no matter if you want to or not.

Build authority through usefulness (for you and others), not (empty and meaningsless) celebrity or wealth

Sprezza and Ronja at Chalmers

I however began by saying that I myself would never have listened to such advice, and that I didn’t expect anybody to do it today either. At 22 I was too focused on making money, or at least on getting a job, any job. In my eagerness to become independent I as quickly as possible put myself into wage slavery and the consumption rat race.

In my defense, I hardly understood the concept of starting a business. I had a very static view of the world and kind of thought all companies already existed.

Hmmm, that didn’t make me look any better did it?


Resistance is futile

The third question could have been answered in a myriad more or less complicated ways. To keep it simple and clear, I boiled it down to one single word: Robotics.

robot sprezzaturian

Going east, to Japan, China or South Korea, is preferable for anybody going into robotics. However, it probably isn’t necessary – and France, Germany, The U.S. and Sweden also hold their own within robotics. It’s even possible Google and other U.S. companies are on their way to overtaking the Asians.

Except for North Korea of course. Their mighty leader has already built a super strong general AI that will rain fire over the western subhuman devils. Just recently, e.g., Kim Jong Un’s AI crafted the most efficient and gloriously superior hydrogen fusion bomb that history will ever see.


I wonder if he has any idea how funny he is


Why robotics?

Because everything comes together there. And it’s the most future-proof industry there is.

If you want to get really dystopian, in the future the only humans left are the ones tending to the robots. In a parallel universe, robot owners and robotics stock owners are the ones holding the upper hand.


The geeks shall inherit the earth


Robotics is industry’s equivalent of Deep Work. Every single part of a robot is developed at the leading edge, at the top of everyone’s ability; technology, biology, biotechnology, neurology, philosophy, psychology, programming, materials, motors, artificial intelligence. The combination of these into useful and robust machines demands even more of the creators (i.e., you).

If you are wary of being made redundant by automation (and you should), the obvious solution is to be the one controlling the automation (and inheriting the earth).


It’s not “just robots”

There is so much to do in robotics: vision, balance, appearance, movement, safety, reasoning, emotion, interface, power source, touch, control. And each of those need to be craftily integrated with the others, e.g. vision, prediction and balance.

robot worm sprezza

Take just vision as one example. Ideally you’d want to combine radar, ultrasound, stereo vision, texture analysis algorithms, laser, object data bases, blueprints, recent memory, inference algorithms etc. in one single system, in order to rapidly and reliably map the environment in 3D, as well as make forecasts for the coming milliseconds, seconds and possibly minutes to prepare probable movements.

Similar issues are facing research teams within, e.g., balance/movement (motors, artificial muscles, scenario simulation, limb synchronization. machine learning) as well as other important sub-segments of robotics.

At the user end, there really are no limits to where robots and AIs might go: industry, care, household, status, services, shopping, news, education, search & rescue, surgery, research & exploration, sex/porn and on and on. Every single area of life and business will be affected in the coming two (or maybe three) decades. Read more about the steps to AI here, or read, e.g., Kurzweil’s book “How To Create A Mind”.

Simply put, robots is where all technologies converge. It’s a place to perform deep, accelerated, learning and highly value added work. It’s a place where cross-discipline knowledge and deep, associative, and lateral thinking will come at a premium.

My advice is to take your favorite area (hobby), and combine it with some supportive technology and apply those in robotics. I can’t see how you could lose.

If you are an engineer, or psychologist, or designer; if you go into robotics and AI, if you take the “unfair” angle of doing it from the standpoint of fascination, you just can’t lose.

I may have told these guys at Chalmers that aiming for an employment at a big engineering firm, rather than starting your own business, would be just sad…


On the other hand, I also told them they had no business worrying about the coming recession or not earning their livelihood. Very few, if any, of them will even notice the coming recession – except for from tabloid headlines.


Focus, go deep, and go robot

Don’t forget my message to prepare for a fast-changing world by practicing true, off-line, no notifications, focus, as well as perhaps playing Go and meditating, lest constant e-mailing every day will erode your protective myelin layers in the brain completely, making future deep work practically impossible.

Without the ability to perform deep work, even going into robotics won’t save you in the long run. So, leave the 99% behind and commit to stretching that brain of yours regularly.

But now on to something completely different, investing in robotics and AI companies


Investment opportunities

Sorry, there are no free lunches.

Well you didn’t think I would hand out free buy recommendations, did you?

handing out free stock recommendations

Anyway, here are some AI (and robotics) related companies to think about.

I’m not saying you should buy them (now) or sell for that matter, but they are definitely worth considering at the right valuations.

Since I’m sure you can come up with more companies, and more pure plays at that, I hope you’ll put those in a comment for all to share.

Top 5 most obvious AI companies

  • Alphabet (Google)
  • Facebook (M, Deep Learning)
  • IBM (Watson, neuromorphic chips)
  • Apple (Siri)
  • MSFT (skype RT lang, emo)
  • Amazon (customer prediction; link to old article)

Yes, I’m US centric. So sue me :)



  • SAP (BI)
  • Oracle (BI)
  • Sony
  • Samsung
  • Twitter
  • Baidu
  • Alibaba
  • NEC
  • Nidec
  • Nuance (HHMM, speech)
  • Marketo
  • Opower
  • Nippon Ceramic
  • Pacific Industrial

Private companies (*I think):

  • *Mobvoi
  • *Scaled Inference
  • *Kensho
  • *Expect Labs
  • *Vicarious
  • *Nara Logics
  • *Context Relevant
  • *MetaMind
  • *Rethink Robotics
  • *Sentient Technologies
  • *MobileEye

General AI areas to consider when searching for AI companies

  • Self-driving cars
  • Language processing
  • Search agents
  • Image processing
  • Robotics
  • Machine learning
  • Experts
  • Oil and mineral exploration
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Materials research
  • Computer chips (neuromorphic, memristors)
  • Energy, power utilities

No, I won’t help you with valuations. However, I just might tell you in my newsletter when I start buying.


Summary – deep work and robots

Rapid changes require fast learning of difficult material

Fast and solid learning requires deep concentration

Deep concentration demands time off from e-mail and social media

To prepare for the future, practice focus, use your time in deep focus to advance your skills and understanding of how you can contribute to the field of robotics.

And Go East (Japan, China, South Korea)

Or possibly west.

Or stay where you are.

And think about becoming an owner of AI and robotics companies while there is still time. I plan to buy some of the most obvious ones (including Google) in the ongoing market downturn (2016-2017).


Please help spreading this important post

I think this is the most important article I have ever written, and I would like as many students and other interested people as possible to get the chance to read it.

So, please help spreading it as widely as possible through your social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc., and tell your friends about it IRL too.

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P.P.S. “Glorious future” No, I’m not dystopian. I actually think we’re headed for a glorious future. After a couple of years of economic and financial rout that is.