I Quit: 2+ Years of Anki and the (Near) Impossibility of Learning Languages

Language learning sucks. It sort of sucks for kids, but it certainly sucks for adults. This is my journey trying to learn Korean, and slowly coming to the realization that our current learning tools are simply not adequate for the job.

I don't have answers, although I certainly have ideas.


For the past five years or so, I have been studying the Korean language. I began in 2010 as I was preparing to be a Fulbright Researcher in South Korea. (technically, I started studying months before hearing back from the U.S. government that I was actually going — call it youthful confidence).

Since then, I have spent hundreds of hours studying Anki flash cards, reading books and articles, taking classes, getting tutored, watching movies,

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Is San Francisco Too Expensive For Startups?

There is a growing international understanding that cities have become too expensive for the people who live and work in them. It is an affliction across the United States, but also around the world as well. Just take some recent coverage of the issue:

  • Vancouver has been one target lately, with home prices rising to an average of C$1.3 million. Unsurprisingly, many workers are leaving, decamping for other nearby cities in a bid to try to lower their housing bills.
  • London has experienced an almost apocalyptic increase in housing prices, driven by Russian and other oligarchs moving huge dollars into the city’s real estate market. Rowan Moore shows in his book Slow Burn City just what the cost of that situation has
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Political Disintegration and Realignment

Well, I guess it's news now: the New York Times is calling it for the end of the Republican party (and not on the editorial pages!). Party leaders are increasingly worried that the Republican party will split into two factions, a nativist/religious side and a free-trade/pro-government branch (as if it hadn't already been split for two decades).

They are probably right to some degree. It seems that the alliance formed between cultural conservatives and working-class white voters along with business elites in the mid-to-late 20th century is simply no longer viable. There are just too many points of disagreement to come to a consensus of exactly what the party platform should really include.

While the NYT took a narrow view of the problem,

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Reading Less, But Better

This is perhaps the obvious follow up to my article this weekend about my favorite long-form essays and books that I read last year. I read a lot last year, several thousand articles and two dozen books in total. And yet, for all of that information, how much insight did I really find?

Critics of the internet often talk about the issue of distraction. There is always another article that we can read or another video to be watched, and that constant bombardment kills our ability to focus deeply on the issues that matter to us. That's sort of the crux of Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows, as well as several other writers.

Distraction might be a useful framework for thinking about this, but I

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What I Read Last Year (2016 Edition)

As always, I read a lot last year. Pocket seems to indicate that the number of articles I saved for later reading was around 1,400, or roughly 3.83 articles per day. Add in additional newspaper consumption plus books, and it was another year in which my information diet goals were completely ignored.

It's hard to sort of explain all of that consumption – or to remember it. Reading is one of those depressing activities that sparks the imagination while we are doing it, but is so fleeting that just moments later we often forget exactly what we just saw.

That said, there were some excellent books and articles that I think stood out from the rest. I want to highlight them and encourage you

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The Housing Paradox

Yes, I am on a bit of a housing rant these days, what with rents increasing rapidly.

But as a venture investor, it pains me to see the prices of housing in relation to nearly every single good and service we offer in the economy. Nearly everything today is faster, better, and cheaper than before. Computers that once took up entire rooms to calculate a differential are now sitting in our pockets, and cost less than $1,000 to boot. Content has gotten to the point where the marginal cost is vanishing toward zero. Even taxis are getting better and cheaper!

Then you look at housing, and suddenly all of this progress -- all of our dreams of the future -- seem to have stopped.

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The Radical Idea of $1000/mo Rent

The Wall Street Journal had an article today talking about the plight of people with six-figures unable to rent in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Simply put, rents have increased far faster than incomes (in many cases, by more than 2:1), and that means that access to these cities is increasingly limited to an extremely small fraction of the population.

We have heard about lowering the rents, and programs like the one featured in the WSJ article that involve middle-class lottery allocations of rent-stabilized apartments.

Yet, we never really hear about the need for a much more radical approach: to simply do whatever it takes to drive costs of housing down to $1,000 for a one bedroom in rent,

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Universities Churn Out Junk, And Get Paid For It

Steven Pearlstein posted a call to arms in the Washington Post, calling on universities to aggressively cut costs through four strategies: 1) cutting administrative costs, 2) operating year round, 3) teaching more and researching less, and 4) reducing the costs of general education courses through technology.

As a PhD student who dropped out this year, all I can say: yes, one-thousand fold.

I realize that my experience is at two top institutions (Stanford and Harvard) that are in their own unique stratosphere of the academic world. As Daniel Drezner notes in a partial criticism of Pearlstein, there is an incredible diversity of university institutions in the United States, so any advice has to be directed more specifically to be meaningful. So let's focus just on

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Can We Just Ban Outrage?

Outrage is everywhere, lurking behind every news development around the world. Now it also includes my red Starbucks cup, and no, not because Starbucks serves a pumpkin spice latte (an absolutely outrageous drink). I didn't even notice the red cup yesterday until I learned there was something to be outraged about (and then was completely outraged once I discovered that I wasn't outraged about this outrageous event and had completely wasted my time).

Of all the emotions that have been heightened by the internet, outrage has to be the one that is most ... outrageous. It is the glue that holds so many stories together – political or not. It drives the press cycle, since first you have to have an event, then the outrage to the

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Where Do You Find Strategic Writers?

Perhaps as a corollary with my post yesterday on the status of journalists in 2015, one of the startups I work with is finding it hard to hire a content marketer / blogger. It's actually a really fascinating labor market segment, because these positions are materializing rapidly as companies discover the power of content, but there seems to be a dearth of people with the sort of creativity and strategic capabilities necessary to create it.

The challenge this startup is finding is that nearly all new college graduates are bad at writing something that people actually want to read. Universities have made writing skills a much more prominent component of their curriculums over the years, but those writing skills are often focused on pure academic research

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Some Thoughts About the Work of Tech Journalists in 2015

I am always amazed at how ignorant people are of the media and the people who work in the news industry these days. Despite the importance of a great press for democracy, public safety, and our wellbeing, next to one seems to care about how journalists get paid (or how much!), what their time commitments are, and in short, whether they have the conditions necessary to do their job for the public.

This is particularly important these days with the on-going Theranos saga. Whatever the final resolution of that story is, the WSJ's report on the company forced a secretive health-care startup to engage more with the public and prove that its Edison testing technology works (or perhaps does not). That's a win for transparency

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Boston's Seaport and Its Planning Disaster

There was news this past week that the Seaport in Boston, the center of the "innovation district" spearheaded by former mayor Boston Thomas Menino, finally got a massive developer to buy its mid-section in a whopping $359 million land deal (the second largest in Boston history).

Having lived in San Francisco and now Boston, I have lived on two opposite sides of the planning spectrum. In SF, nothing gets built because the planning process takes ridiculously long to get even a small apartment complex built. However, the final product is oftentimes a wonderful and very livable neighborhood, which works to drive up rents and prices as people flock to these well-manicured areas.

Boston is at the opposite extreme, being one of the most inhospitable places

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