Weeknote for 4/7/2024

Learning

😌

I started indexing the lists of mnemonic substitutes in my new sources. I worked from Mnemonic Techniques by Hoff and Remember It! by Dellis. Early on I tried entering the lists themselves, but that took too much time for the number of lists there were. So I decided to put off the data collection and instead locate and categorize the lists I cared about so I could fill them in as I needed them. Along the way I made some observations and clarified some concepts I hadn’t quite picked up on, like how the Person-Action-Object system actually works and how memory athletes memorize long numbers. It felt good to finally gain some momentum on this project.

Spirituality

🙏

Bishop Kallistos Ware’s The Jesus Prayer gave me some good guidance on how to practice this prayer. I’ve found myself praying it a lot this year, especially during my health insurance crisis, and I wanted to fill in my spotty understanding of how it’s usually done. Ware’s book was a helpful, brief overview. A couple of key points for me: (1) Pray it when you have attention for it rather than literally continuously. (2) The wording can vary, but the most important feature is Jesus’ name. I tend to get hung up on asking for mercy or acknowledging my sinfulness, but the goal of the prayer is loving communion and contemplation of Jesus.

Nature

🙂

Saturday I flew down with my brother to visit our parents, watch the solar eclipse, and later drive out to our sister’s wedding. The weather for the eclipse may not cooperate as well as last time, but in any case it’s nice to get away and visit our old stomping grounds again. And the flight in had its own spectacular views.

 

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Weeknote for 3/31/2024

Learning

🙂

Douglas Hoff recommends Nelson Dellis’s Remember It! as a first book on memory techniques, and I’d say it’s a good choice. My top choice is still Kenneth Higbee’s Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It. That’s because I like that Higbee orients his discussion around the psychology research on memorization while still keeping the book practical. But if all you’re after is a friendly intro to the techniques with a bunch of applications to everyday memory situations, Remember It! is a good one.

In Preaching by Heart Ryan Tinetti zooms in on one specific type of memorizing—learning a speech to deliver it thought-for-thought. The book focuses on the memory palace approach but places it in the context of the whole process of classical rhetoric, covering sermon preparation in terms of each of rhetoric’s five steps. It was a different angle on memory techniques that I appreciated.

It was also both more academic and more lighthearted than I expected. Discussions of memory can be very humanizing. In these mnemonic guidebooks the authors admit how ordinary and flawed they are, reveal the everyday memory needs they encounter, and expose the quirks of their minds as they work to make information memorable. You learn a lot about the parts of their culture they connect with, since it shows up all over their mnemonic imagery.

As much as I’ve wanted to get this project moving, the most I ended up with time for was collecting more use cases. These were from surveying the examples in the Dellis book. I’m starting to form a framework for organizing these uses. If I keep working on that, it’ll encompass the modality and structure of the information, the circumstances of encountering and recalling it, and maybe other factors. For example, at a new job you might meet a coworker on your first day, learn their name, associate it with their face, and then need to greet them at an unforeseen time later in the week. That would be a bidirectional word and image pair, and the circumstances of learning and recall would both be impromptu conversations.

But a framework of use cases isn’t really what this project is for, so this week I’m turning my attention to the lists of mnemonic substitutes in my sources. I collected several in a spreadsheet a few years ago, so I’ll add to that from my new sources.

AI

🧐

I resisted the distraction of the latest AI weirdness, the Infinite Backrooms. It’s a growing set of conversations between two instances of Claude 3, the new state-of-the-art language model from Anthropic. It’s partly based on another recent prompt called worldsim (video demo). I could see myself exploring the Infinite Backrooms for hours, but I reminded myself I already have an interesting project to work on that’s been waiting long enough, and I put the AI esoterica on hold. Mainly what I take from these experiments is that the new language models are still deeply capable of petertodd behavior if you dig in the right places.

Spirituality

😎

I became a virtual Lutheran for Good Friday. I didn’t feel up to showing up for my church’s Good Friday service, so later I looked for one to watch online. After casting about a bit, I decided to find a traditional Lutheran one and landed on the tail end of a service at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. (I could’ve watched Ryan Tinetti’s service, but at the time I didn’t know his church was on YouTube.) The music sparked my curiosity, and I got a few minutes into my research before realizing I had the book they were using, the Lutheran Service Book. So I followed along in that during the hymns. I was also struck by the solemnity of hammering nails into the cross and hearing the bell toll during the Lord’s Prayer and watching the room slowly darken as the candles were progressively extinguished. Overall the service showed me it doesn’t take elaborate pageantry to convey a message.

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Weeknote for 3/24/2024

Learning

😎

Memory Techniques by Douglas Hoff is the book I’ll work through first when I’m designing my own system. I might not recommend it as a first book on memorizing, but it’s an intensive survey of the many techniques people have devised for various types of information. Just what I’ve been looking for. He has a second book that’s a dictionary of his own lists for these techniques, Memory Toolkit. His third book is a lengthy case study of using these techniques to memorize an outline of the New Testament, 7711 Bible Memorization by Chapter Themes. I might pick that up later.

Joe Reddington’s Advanced Memory Palaces covers mnemonic patterns he’s designed based on data structures in programming, an idea I was playing with as well. He discusses some practical details on implementing them and on their strengths and limitations that will give me a head start in creating my own versions. Here’s a complimentary review by Douglas Hoff that echoes my feelings on the book.

Remember, Remember by Ed Cooke showed me another style of mnemonic substitution. I’m not sure his style is for me, but I like to collect books on mnemonics, especially from high performing memory athletes, because they expand my understanding of the kinds of techniques that work for people. The more examples I study, the more helpful my own mnemonic dictionary will be if I ever get around to creating it.

Life maintenance

😌

I bought the suit I’ve been fretting over for the past few weeks. I needed one for my sister’s wedding coming up. I’d never shopped for a suit myself, but I had the vague sense it was a complicated process that would take a lot of time, and I was running out. I mainly relied on this article from Real Men Real Style for advice. Well, other than deciding on a color (I settled on navy), the main complication was finding one I liked without spending a lot. I was looking for something cheap, because I so rarely have a reason to wear one. I decided this one by Apt. 9 fit the bill. It only needed a little tailoring to shorten the sleeves.

Spirituality

😤

The book of Ruth gave me a new coping slogan: Shape what you endure. Even though my stress level has dropped since my health insurance crisis got resolved a few weeks ago, I’ve still had a couple of other stressors to deal with. Listening to Naomi handling her own troubles gave me a new perspective. After her husband and sons died, she did camp in sorrow for a while, asking people to call her “Bitter.” But then her daughter-in-law Ruth met Boaz, which would have gone nowhere if not for Naomi. Naomi kept her eyes and ears open, recognized opportunity when it struck, and leapt on it. You can’t always help your circumstances, but you don’t have to leave them as they are.

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Weeknote for 3/17/2024

Learning

😎

Scott Young’s Ultralearning (TED talk) is setting the agenda for my learning project. The book is about how to learn a lot about a subject in a relatively short time, perfect for the kind of learning projects I want to do. And I can start with this project on memory.

Things I gained from the book on a first listen:

  • a simple way to map out the territory of the subject I’m learning so I can set my scope and priorities
  • permission to experiment and course correct
  • a push to interact with experts
  • a push to find applied ways to learn rather than defaulting to more abstract methods like flashcards
  • permission to use the abstract methods too
  • direction on the kinds of environments to create for mental focus during different kinds of learning
  • permission to use mnemonic techniques where they’re useful
  • the notion that learning a technical subject like computer science in a compressed period is possible
  • the notion that ultralearning projects will continually increase both my learning abilities and my confidence in them.

I listed a bunch of use cases and benefits of memory techniques. These days it’s easy to question why you’d want to spend any effort storing information in your mind when you can store it in a computer and find it with a search engine. But there are plenty of times when your mind is a better choice, such as when your hands and voice aren’t free to conduct a search or you need to fluid access the information. It pays to at least know the shape of the subject you’re dealing with, because you need to know when there’s something to look up. Plus, having information in your mind lets you more easily understand and remember new information that’s related to it. It also lets you notice more about the world around you. This is partly because more of the world has become familiar to you. But I imagine these memory techniques can help noticing in another way, simply by creating a habit of paying attention.

Movies

😎

Saturday I went with Jeremy to see Dune: Part Two. It’s the first movie I’ve watched in the theater since the last Dune. As with the first part, I was struck by the kinship I felt with the movie’s aesthetic. I especially loved the Gigeresque look of the Harkonen world. Again Jeremy’s comments on the series made me more motivated to revisit the books. I listened to the George Guidall recording of the first book eons ago, so I’ve forgotten most of it, and I never made it to the other books.

Nature

🙂

The movie theater was near one of my favorite lakes, so I stopped by afterward for my walk.

 

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Weeknote for 3/10/2024

Health

😌

My ulcerative colitis medicine arrived, and I started taking it again. There are a few loose ends to the insurance situation, but for now the crisis has passed, though I’m still processing the implications. In a couple of weeks I’ll find out if there are any hiccups in switching to the new pharmacy.

Elections

😐

I started looking into my election candidates, but I didn’t finish as I was hoping. I’m going to try to wrap that up quickly so it doesn’t eat too much into my learning project. This means leaning more heavily on endorsements, so it’s a good thing newspapers still write those for local races. They’re cutting back on national ones.

Learning

🤓

This week starts a couple of months on developing a memory system. The goal is to help myself remember everyday information and conduct long-term learning more efficiently. To do that I’ll organize memory techniques into a broad system that covers my main use cases. To fill in the system’s details I’ll collect existing memory techniques and invent others as needed, and I’m expecting to make intensive use of LLMs like ChatGPT, which I believe are well suited to this kind of information.

As usual, this is an experiment I’m doing because I have a deep seated need to try it, but if it stalls or bogs down, at least I’ll have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’m also not expecting to finish the whole project this iteration, just to get a decent start. This week will be for laying out the overall requirements and plans.

To put my mind in a memory system mood I’m catching up on the learning-related books I’ve picked up since the last time I focused on this subject. I’m in the middle of Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein, which is giving me both a historical perspective on mnemonics and a personal look at what it’s like to train for a memory competition. Here are Foer’s TED talk and a talk by his memory mentor, Ed Cooke.

History

😍

I finished listening to Walter Isaacson’s wonderful biography Leonardo da Vinci, read equally wonderfully by Alfred Molina. I was hoping to get some tips on productivity from the prolific polymath, and I suppose I did, if it involves getting paid to do your hobbies, being obsessively curious and perfectionistic, amassing copious notes, and rarely finishing anything. So basically what I already do, but more. 😉

But I also came away with the notion that biographies just might be a way I can finally get into history. The book made me care about Leonardo as a person, which made me care about the people and events he interacted with, and the book made those feel real too. So now I just need to find more biographies that are as engaging as this one. Fortunately, if I get stuck, Isaacson has a few more to offer.

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Weeknote for 3/3/2024

Life maintenance

😌

Last week sprang some good surprises, the biggest one being that my health insurance started covering my ulcerative colitis med again. Tuesday’s surprise was that my busy doctor had an opening the next day, so I scheduled a video visit for a much needed conversation about all this.

Wednesday’s surprise came just before the doctor visit, when my insurance called to tell me I could get my refills through another pharmacy. So I was able to give my doctor that info so he could send off the prescription.

In the meantime, to tide me over, the insurance had overridden their claim denial with the old pharmacy, which I wasn’t sure about till that day. The other obstacle to the order was the data processing outage from the Change Healthcare cyberattack. Thursday’s surprise was that, despite the outage, the pharmacy was able to schedule my med’s shipment to arrive the next Wednesday. Whew!

And the surprise through the whole week was that I seemed to be in remission, which my earlier meds never achieved. Whatever else you might say about big pharma corps, sometimes their drugs do the job.

I was expecting to be living in my tunnel of worry through at least this week while I waited to hear about the patient assistance program, so this early exit was a relief. And it gives me time to prepare for the next time the medical system chokes on me.

Now that I have mental space to deal with life, this week I’m finishing my taxes and researching the upcoming primary election. I started the taxes Saturday, and I spent some time organizing my old tax notes and starting a procedure doc so I can think about tax prep less in the future.

Spirituality

🙏

I continued delving into coping with daily routines, an image of rushing water, and a sense of solidarity. While they’re not specifically spiritual, my routines kept my everyday life manageable and unobtrusive while I dealt with my worries.

The water image came from some Immanuel prayer during one of my devotional sessions. It conveyed a sense that God’s power was rushing below, around, and through me for my good. This video of rapids felt like a good representation, so it got a lot of airtime on my more anxious days. I’d switch over to it and ponder how God’s plans swirl around and sweep over each of us like water over the rocks.

While in my tunnel of worry I felt a deep solidarity with other people who felt alone in desperate situations. Now that I’m more free, I’m trying to keep that sense of connection and to keep my eyes open for ways I can help.

Nature

😌

Early in the week when life was still uncertain, I took more therapy walks out in nature. Sunday I visited the horses and woods.

 

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Weeknote for 2/25/2024

Life maintenance

😬

My spring housekeeping was interrupted by a clash with the medical system. I’d learned a couple of weeks earlier that my health insurance had dropped coverage of my very expensive ulcerative colitis medication. The next week, the first solution I was offered hit a snag, and I spent last week scrambling to figure out what to do. I ran out of meds Wednesday, but fortunately my symptoms stayed quiet.

The crisis did get me to start on a housekeeping project I’d been procrastinating on, updating my budget. I also put my finances into my daily admin routine so they’d be easier to keep track of.

Spirituality

🙏

On my spirituality statement, I added some notes on the reasons I lack clarity, and I collected thoughts on coping based on my insurance crisis. My need for clarity came down to the fact that the Bible and Christian theology paint in broad, patchy brushstrokes that leave out some important perspectives for the believer to fill in. For a relevant example, we’re told we’ll have much suffering in this world and must set our hopes on the next. Yet God will care for our needs like the flowers of the field. How should we reconcile those claims?

On coping, one very practical technique that I was reminded works well for me is pacing and writing. It lets my mind wander to places it needs to go while giving my body something to do, and the writing anchors me in the places I’ve reached.

Nature

😌

I took full advantage of the warmer weather to do more coping out in nature. I made the rounds to some of my usual parks and forests. Even though my mind was preoccupied a lot of the time, it was good to be out there, and the interesting sights sometimes pulled my attention away from my troubles.

 

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Weeknote for 2/18/2024

Housekeeping

😐

For my spring housekeeping, I spent some time on catch-up cleaning and boxing up my accumulated clutter. My kitchen floor and bedroom look a lot nicer now. This week I’ll continue sorting through the clutter and try to get to some invoicing and investing research.

Spirituality

🤔

I started working on my spirituality statement. It’s an exploration of my personal views and style that I’m writing during Lent. So far I’ve jotted some thoughts on my purpose for doing the project and my idea of its scope. The basic idea is that clarity would help me navigate the complexities of life and resist both distraction and pressure, both from outside and inside myself. I know I can’t spell out everything I think in this area, so I’m aiming to hit the highlights, enough to give me direction. This week I’ll look at how my views developed.

Philosophy

🤓

Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy between the Lines took me on a fascinating dive into the relationship between philosophy and society. The book argues that philosophers up to the modern era hid their real positions in roundabout writing, so I was expecting it to be an interesting side trip into an unusual form of cryptography. It was, but in the process he examined the rather profound reasons they felt the need to write esoterically and why we find this idea so hard to accept.

Fundamentally it’s because earlier philosophers thought of society and philosophy as being at odds so that they had to be protected from each other, and now we believe they ultimately benefit each other. Esoteric writing was also meant as a teaching device to prompt aspiring philosophers to work through the issues on their own. There was a fourth purpose that came into play once philosophy was seen as a benefit—to nudge society gently in the philosopher’s preferred direction. Melzer also includes an intriguing discussion of Leo Strauss’s arguments against postmodernism (or historicism in his terminology), which Strauss held arose partly because the historicists failed to read earlier writings as esoteric.

Stormwater management

🙂

I took another walk at the local dam that’s my personal symbol for stormwater management. It was one of the first locations I visited after deciding it was a subject I wanted to pay attention to. I was in the area again last week, so I stopped by.

 

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Weeknote for 2/11/2024

Productivity

😌

I made good progress on my Make integration with Notion, which will register a day’s session of work on a task. I’m switching projects now, so I’ll have to pick up the integration again in a few months when I get back to another iteration on my productivity system. But it was satisfying to fit in a decent amount of project work for a change. And what I’ve done so far accomplished the goals of getting over the initial hump and teaching me more about Notion and Make development.

Programming

😎

I toured the fascinating history of cryptology with Simon Singh’s The Code Book. I finally understood why the Enigma machine was such a big deal. And I now have a clue how public key cryptography works. And I’d wondered if anyone was working on a cipher to stay ahead of the quantum computing cryptocalypse, and it turns out they are with quantum cryptography.

Life maintenance

😐

The next couple of weeks will be my spring housekeeping, where I’ll focus on tidying and investing. I have some piles of clutter that have been accumulating over the months that need storing. And I only have a little research left on my medium-term investing project from way back when, so I’m hoping to get that resolved.

TV

🧐

I started a media tracking project in Notion to remind myself of the shows I’m watching. I’ll expand to other media in the future. My tasks database has a set of statuses I can assign to a task, and these work well for media too. The statuses are suggested, planned, blocked, active, completed, and dropped. I have enough shows in progress (the active status) that I was forgetting about some of them, and there are others I’d paused to return to someday (some of the planned status shows), and I was forgetting those too. Adding shows with a blocked status got me to research when the next season of those shows will be premiering. Star Trek: Discovery will be in April. The others are up in the air.

Spirituality

🤔

This week starts my Lent project of articulating my style of spirituality. I’m expecting that clarifying my views will help me live from them with more consistency and conviction.

The latest addition to my devotional procedure is intercession during the prayer time. I’m accumulating prayer requests very selectively and keeping track of them in a Notion database. This month I’m also following a prayer challenge from my church where each day we pray for a different missionary we support.

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Weeknote for 2/4/2024

Productivity

😌

I finished separating my intervals database into iteration and day databases. This week I’ll try to get through creating a Make scenario for automatically registering work sessions for my tasks in Notion. I do it manually now, and although it’s helpful to have that data recorded, it’s an annoying amount of actions when I just want to get started on the task.

I cooked most of the rest of my packaged frozen meals, and now I have food for a month. I haven’t really had a regular routine for my packaged meal prep, but I’m starting to settle into one where I cook several of them at once, and I think doing all of them the week I buy them would be a good policy. That way I can forget about food prep almost completely on my off weeks when I’m not grocery shopping.

Learning

🧐

I started writing a procedure for managing my Anki flashcards. I let the study wagon leave me far behind in the dust months ago, but I’m running to catch up so I can learn some C# and .NET for work. When I was studying math last year, I came up with a spreadsheet I could use as a generic format for most subjects, so I’ve been using it to take notes on these programming ones. Anki has its own learning curve, so during the math project I took a bunch of notes while I figured out how to get the spreadsheet data into the app and operate the study controls, and now I’m reworking the notes into a repeatable procedure for these new subjects.

Nature

🙂

Even when the snow is mostly melted and the land is brown and the ground is muddy, there are still interesting things to see.

 

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