a place for the curious

Category: resources

Resources or tools for doing and being.

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?

Our dictionary

Have you ever heard an Australian say ‘our dictionary’ when talking about the Macquarie?

I think that’s partly because the Macquarie Dictionary is “Australia’s National dictionary”. But it also feels like it is ours. It has our slang, both old and new, and it captures the subtleties of Australian English. It’s also where we can find beautiful regional words and phrases, like three-corner jack.

All this is thanks to the hard work of the lexicographers and editors at the Macquarie. But it doesn’t stop there.

Baubles and word play

Recently, after a few too many hours editing and writing, I was troubling over of the definition of the word bauble. A lovely word, to be sure, but if you’ve stared at it too long it can – like any word – begin to befuddle you. I checked both the spelling and the meaning in the Macquarie and was quite surprised to find that it was not defined as a Christmas ornament.

After chatting with a couple of wonderful writers and looking in a few other dictionaries, we decided that the Macquarie might possibly be lacking something. I didn’t really believe that – I thought there must have been a system (read user) error.

One writer suggested I contact the Macquarie as she’d heard they are open to feedback.

So, I did.

I passed on our thoughts and our references. I couched it in terms of seeking their opinion. I’ll be honest: I expected no response.

And this is usually the where the story ends. In a dry, lonely corner of inattention. Yet another dull little ‘thank you’ auto-reply.

Not this time.

I heard back. I heard back quickly. And I heard back from the lady herself – Susan Butler, editor of the Australian Macquarie.

They listened. They welcomed our feedback. And here’s the big bit – they used it. With our information as the kick-off, their experts had prepared new entries and definitions.

The dictionary – our dictionary – will change. Next year, these new entries will go in when they upload all of the other updated words and listings in the online dictionary.

Would you like to see what will go in?

Too bad. No spoilers from me. You’ll have to wait.

Make it your own

As pleasantly surprised as I was, I shouldn’t have been.

The Macquarie has always been this way.

In the very first edition, a newsletter was included that encouraged contributions from dictionary users, as referenced in The Macquarie Dictionary, its History and its Editorial Practices.

The Australian Word Map has long been there to receive and discuss regionalisms. And if you have a brand new shiny word that you think should be in our dictionary, you can add a word yourself.

For me, this experience has been like manna from word-lover-heaven.

Next time you find yourself wondering at something in the Macquarie, don’t leave it at that. Question it, discuss it and send them your thoughts.

Our dictionary is our dictionary because, as always, it contains our words.

What more could you ask for?

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.

Morguefile – perhaps not quite what you think

This is the first brief article in the ‘pint-size’ post series, where I’ll be trying to keep it snappy.

Have you heard of the term ‘morgue file’ before?  If you have you’ve probably worked at a newspaper Cut to the chase:
an image resource, free for use in creative projects.
or in an archives department.  Or possibly even a morgue.  Don’t laugh. I’ve done that, so who is to say that you haven’t?

Originally, a morgue file meant a folder that held all the old notes, articles and other paraphernalia that criminal investigators and reporters kept.

In this case, however, I’m talking about all the source files of a creative project, digital or otherwise.  Let me introduce:

The morguefile contains photographs freely contributed by many artists to be used in creative projects …

What a wonderful notion – and resource.  And a quite different idea to the creative commons images available on Flickr.  Not heard of that?  Ah, well that’s one for the ideas box and a story for another day.  As is the reason I find so very, very useful.

The point is that if you are not wanting to maintain the original image, but radically – or slightly – alter it for your own design or educational needs, then this is the place for you.  On all of the images I’ve made use of so far, the license has been:

You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit the work and to adapt the work. Attribution is not required. You are prohibited from using this work in a stand alone manner.

screenshot of the morgue file website

Morguefile: where photo reference lives, original by Alivmann

How can you not love that?  Not only are you encouraged to modify the image, but you are prohibited from using it stand alone.  Attribution is a nicety – and one I have done in this article, as I have only slightly modified the original.  When I’ve used an image and hugely distorted it from the original, I’ve left it unattributed. I’m sure the original author is grateful to me for that.

Go on.  What are you waiting for?  Open up the morgue file and get a little creative.

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