a place for the curious

Category: learning

Tools and methods to help you grow your brain, online, offline, in a book, in a park, however and whatever works.

Who owns this book?

A question about unread books was posted on twitter today. It gave me pause for thought:

There’s little doubt that this question has more to do with hoarding than reading, but for me it soon became a question about ownership.

Wisely, Octavia (@ReadSleepRepeat) was careful to include e-books. If she’d just said ‘books’, I could have cheated by trying to interpret that as ‘paper books’, before walking around my house counting a few dozen unread books*.

Thinking of all my copyright-free e-books, I asked Octavia whether her query was also about books you get for free — the answer was a resounding yes.


With that answer my slightly-smug feeling of  ‘I don’t have too many unread books’ started draining away.

library, black and white photo

Books, beautiful books
National Library of Norway

Here’s my problem. When I’m bored I’ll trawl through places like Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive, searching for things that sound curious, intriguing or, at least, eminently readable. There are now hundreds and hundreds of tiny, little book bibelots, stored on my kindle and computer, waiting my possible perusal or swift reference.

Do I own these books? Of course not. Not in any financial sense. Do the ones I love belong to me as much as any book I’ve paid money for? I guess the answer has to be yes.

The question then becomes one of whether these great hoards of digital books can be counted. And to that I can say a resounding ‘not in this lifetime’. It’s just not possible. While I’m at it I might as well try and count all the pages on the internet. These books keep going out of copyright, getting uploaded and being downloaded.

It’s around about now that it all gets a little philosophical. Just who owns what anyway?

Octavia’s question was a good one as it got me to thinking. A wonderful outcome on any day. But, ultimately, it’s just not the question I want to answer. Ask me this:

What’s still out there that you haven’t yet managed to read?

The answer is, of course, everything. I can’t ever own all of it, but it’s all there. And, so, here I am. With the universe and everything in it still left to read.


* Is it just me or does the phrase ‘unread books’ conjure up images of story-less books roaming the midnight streets looking for words to devour. … No? Just me, then?

Memrise: the learning addiction

Memories, like the corners of my mind

This post is part one of a series on Memrise.

Last year, a supposedly good friend got me hooked on a new drug: learning. Or, more precisely: memorising.

To be fair, I’m already fairly hooked on learning new things. I’m constantly reading, learning and trying new things out. Although that last point might be more truthfully stated as ‘…trying to break things’. Cut to the chase:
an online social learning tool that uses brain science and mnemonics to help you learn and memorise.

However, this is learning through the science of memory training. Otherwise known to its learning community as Memrise.

Memrise feels like an addiction, because I get the cold sweats if I have to go too long without it.

So, be warned. If you don’t wish to become addicted to learning and memorising, read no further.

So, what is Memrise?

Memrise is, in its simplest terms, an online tool to assist you with memorising things. The main things available to learn are languages, but there are many others. If you have a list of anything you need to memorise, this is your place to be.

You will find some courses that are quite quirky and small, and some that are hugely popular and well-crafted. Because Memrise is a social tool, people create their own content and share it with you. You learn together and you share your best tricks to help you remember.

The ‘tricks’ are flashcards – or memes – that you or other learners create to help build an intricate and complex memory.

Making it more complicated to help you memorise something might sound strange, but it works. The details behind what makes Memrise tick are incredibly complex, but as they say:

…the more your brain has to work to recall a memory, the more it will strengthen that memory while recalling it.

Pod go … what now?

Here’s an example meme. This example is one I use to try and remember the capital of Montenegro.

The name Podgorica means “under the Gorica” in Montenegrin. And Gorica means “little hill”.

Thinking about Montenegro, I imagine a mountain eagle called Pod sitting under a little hill (Gorica), staring down at his town below.

I call it the scene of Pod-Gorica.

Does this all sound like far too much to remember?  Surely it would be easier to just remember that the capital of Montenegro is Podgroica?  Bear in mind that I’m trying to remember around 200 capitals.  These memes help me remember all of the capitals.  The more quirky and visual they are, the better.

Learning socially

Of course, that scene works for me, for that city. It might not for you, or for the next person, but as everyone is creating and sharing memes, you can try out different ones to see what works for you.

Is that it?

There’s a lot more to Memrise than this. There is the course creation, the more visual ways of meme creation, the competition …

… but lets save some of that for another day.

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