Computer Flashcards: Overview

A computer flashcard program may be the most efficient tool out there for managing your memorized facts. But computers have their issues, too. Here are some tips.

A computer is amazing, but it’s also a highly specialized tool. Before you start storing weeks, months and years of memory work on a computer, make sure you consider how to avoid potential problems.

First, use computers responsibly.

Unfortunately, there are severe problems with the computer industry, such as sweatshops, poisons, and pollution.

Since you’re probably reading this on a computer, you may already be familiar with these issues. Personally, I used computers for many years without even thinking about how they were made, and what happened to them after they became “trash”.

It’s actually pretty grim. See the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition for some disturbing facts and photos.

So let’s use this tool as responsibly as we can. Here are some ideas; let me know if you have others.

Buying computers

Try to buy used. This may not be possible, especially for mobile devices, or if you do a lot of graphic or video editing. But you’d be surprised how often you can get a good deal on a used box.

If you must buy new, you can at least look for a company that’s making an effort.

For instance, look for the RoHS-compliant symbol. (Restriction of Hazardous Substances.)

Some companies will also take back your computer when it dies, to recycle it responsibly.

Using computers

Make your computer last as long as possible.

Avoid bloated software that makes your computer feel slow.

If something breaks, replace parts rather than buying a whole new computer. Again, probably not an option for many mobile devices, but sometimes you can do this with a tower, or even a laptop. I once replaced a laptop keyboard for under $30.

If you’ve never taken apart you’re computer before, don’t be frightened. Once you learn a few basic concepts, swapping in a new part is fairly easy. The parts themselves are incredibly complex, but they’re designed to be easy to plug or screw in.

Ending computers

When the computer dies, recycle this toxic waste responsibly

This may be the most important step of all, really. “Free” recyclers often ship this toxic waste to foreign sweatshops.

Check the Basel Action Network for a responsible recycler. If you don’t think this matters, you should really take a quick look at these photos.

Then, use a free Flashcard Program to track your facts.

So, you’ve got your computer. There are several flashcard programs out there that use spaced repetition.

I recommend Anki. Anki is open source and free. There are versions for mobile devices, too. See my Anki: Quickstart Guide for the essentials.

Even if you use a different program, the basic idea will be the same. Each fact is a card. Cards are stored in files, often called decks.

You can add cards yourself. Or download free decks. Or both.

Every day, the program shows you the cards which are due for review today.

How does it decide which card to show? The program tracks each card separately. Each card has a due date, based on:

  • how many times you’ve reviewed it
  • how well you knew it last time you reviewed it

You look at the card prompt, think or say the answer, and then view the answer to see if you were right. You rate yourself on how well you know the answer. The program stores this rating, and uses it to schedule the next time you’ll see the card.

If you review every day, you’ll soon build up a collection of hundreds, then thousands of facts. Most of them will have very long intervals between reviews. For a minimum of effort, you will maintain a huge collection of knowledge, and gradually strengthen it in your mind.

Back up your facts!

Computers save work, but they also make work. Back up your deck files! Every day. In theory, computer flashcards are far easier to back up than paper flashcards. But many people who rely on computers every day seem to have no idea that the hard drive could break at any moment. If you think losing a report is bad, try losing years of memory work.

If you’re going to use a computer to study, you absolutely must commit to daily, or at least weekly, backups of your deck files. You want your data safe on a medium that is offline and not plugged in, except when you’re backing the data up. If lightning strikes, your data is safe.

You’ll also need to keep the software up-to-date. Old software is much, much more open to invasion by viruses and other malicious attacks. Probably, the main dangers will lie more with your underlying operating system or web browser than with some (obscure) flashcard program. But if your computer is compromised by any program, it can affect every program, and more importantly, your data.

It’s wonderful that you want to start the habit of review. Don’t be too lazy to learn the basics of maintaining your software and backing up your data. Even if you start small, with a single USB stick backup, this is much, much better than just using your computer and hoping for the best.

And if you’re going to review decks on your phone … you’re not even going to think about skipping backups. Right?