alexpgp: (Default)
Just how weird can this get?

You are walking along an enclosed passage, holding a rope tied to a striking-looking ram. As you come up against a barred door, a barrier slides down across the passage behind you, between you and the ram, and as the rope slips from your hand, the door in front of you opens. You are in an empty bullfighting ring.

Well, not quite empty. There is a bull in the ring, and it's looking at you. It seems annoyed. It paws the ground. It grunts. In short, it gives every indication of charging you and impaling you on its long, sharp horns.

Matching doors open to each side of the bull and two identical rodeo clowns—twins, as far as you can tell—run out into the ring. As one distracts the bull, the other runs up to you, looks up, and starts gesticulating as if guiding some piece of equipment.

Something grabs you by the shirt and lifts you out of the ring. You look up and see that it's a flying crab, which is holding you in one of its claws. It soon deposits you outside the outskirts of the town with the bullfighting ring.

Safely on the ground, you hear a roar and see a lion nearby. It does not appear to be aggressive, but—well, it is a lion, so you are wary.

A maiden emerges from some bushes near the lion, walks up to it, pets it, tells you not to worry about the lion, and motions for you to follow her.

She leads you through a small forest to a paved, two-lane road, where there's a set of truck scales. She instructs you to wait for someone to take you to safety and leaves the way she came.

The road is straight and deserted. There is no traffic. You hear a skittering sound and turn around. A scorpion, about the side of small cow, is coming at you across the surface of the scales. It moves mechanically, but steadily.

Just as you turn to run, an arrow strikes the scorpion and kills it. You look in the direction from where the arrow came and see a centaur armed with a bow. Seeing the surprise on your face at seeing him, the centaur notes that if you follow him, he'll show you something really strange.

He leads you some distance down the road to a bridge over a river. You descend to the river bank, where you are introduced to a being that is a combination of a goat and a fish, lying in the shallows under the span. After a brief negotiation, you board a skiff and the goat-fish tows you downstream to a stone jetty, where a water-bearer is about to carry an aquarium full of water up a hill. He asks for your help, and you pitch in.

It turns out the water-bearer is taking water from the river up to a swimming pool in which there lives a large fish. The fish sticks its head out of the water and suggests you might want to start at the beginning again.

* * *
It occurs to me that it takes a lot longer to commit this to phosphor than it does to remember the signs. This could easily be expanded to help with, say, the Latin names of the signs, e.g. each of the twins might have a gem in an eye (Gemini), or the goat-fish might be watching a film by Frank Capra while eating popcorn (Capricorn), etc.

And the purpose of the exercise? It's to strengthen the imagination and to create loci.

alexpgp: (Default)
Visualize a baseball field.

Now see a rat, wearing a baseball uniform with the number 36, running through the legs of an ox that's standing athwart a baseline. The rat slides head-first for the bag. The baseman, Tony the Tiger tags the rat, but the umpire, Bugs Bunny (think of him as a hare), calls "Safe!"

Tony bellows, "Oh, that's just GREAT!" so loudly that Bugs is knocked over, rolling like a bowling ball past the bleachers until he collides with a group of Chinese exchange students getting to ready to parade around the field in a dragon costume during the 7th inning stretch.

The person with the dragon's head is knocked down, so now the costumed group looks more like a snake. The crowd begins to hiss.

Just then, a horse comes out of the dugout to argue the call, wearing the horns of a sheep. A monkey jumps out of the stands onto the horse's back, yanks the horns off its head, and throws the horns at the flagpole. The horns land on the very top, where they turn into a rooster, who immediately cries "cock-a-doodle-doo!"

The rooster's cry causes every dog within five miles to start barking uncontrollably, and a few moments later, a boar emerges from the center field bullpen, chased by dogs.

As it approaches the infield, the boar turns into a rat, wearing a baseball uniform...

P.S. Strange things happen when you've got Surfin' Bird stuck on an endless loop inside your head, as I do. I mean, have you heard...?

UPDATE of 07/14/12, via the Building a Master Memory blog:

  • A large RAT jumps on the head of an OX.
  • The OX gets really annoyed and charges into a TIGER.
  • The TIGER is trying to eat a large grey RABBIT.
  • The RABBIT runs back into his burrow and finds a Golden DRAGON hiding inside with his eyes glowing and breathing fire.
  • The DRAGON's tail is like a SNAKE, slithering out of the burrow.
  • The SNAKE wraps itself around the leg of a HORSE attempting to strangle the horse.
  • The HORSE shakes its leg and a GOAT runs to the horse dislodging the snake with its horns.

  • The GOAT tosses the snake up into a tree where it is caught by a golden MONKEY.
  • The MONKEY laughs and shrieks, imitating a ROOSTER.
  • Another ROOSTER is running in the farmyard chasing a DOG.
  • The DOG is chasing the PIGS and trying to eat from their trough.
alexpgp: (St Jerome a)
The subject mnemonic for taxonomy in biology (kingdom, phylum, class, order, etc.) crossed my mind as I tried to figure out what the Russian text meant by тип (e.g., тип Mollusca) when listed in a column headed вид (species).

For some reason - fatigue, probably, as I was up until 2 am this morning - I figured тип was a subdivision of вид, but as far as I know, there ain't nothin' below a species (at least at the level I work at).

Of course, it would help if I actually knew anything substantial about biology (as taught in the classroom, natch), as the dictionary - and Google - coughed up the dope that Mollusca is the name of a phylum, at which point the structure of the table became crystal clear to me.

Live and learn.

alexpgp: (Default)
There is a class of mnemonics out there that provide only a minimum of help. Typically, these involve acronyms.

A good example is HOMES, to remember the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). Here, if you are familiar with the names of the lakes, but need a little nudge to remember them all, the mnemonic can be helpful. (Unfortunately, all the mnemonic does is help you recall the names; the mnemonic "Only Elephants Have Massive Snouts" both helps in recalling names and orders the lakes from east to west.)

One acronym that never made much sense to me was DR & MRS VANDERTRAMP, which purports to help remember French verbs whose compound past tenses take être instead of avoir (as in: devenir, retourner, mourir, rentrer, sortir, venir, arriver, naître, descendre, entrer, revenir, tomber, rester, aller, monter, and partir).

The main problem with this (aside from all the footnotes, so to speak, concerning derivatives) is that you have four verbs that start with "r" in this list, so that unless you create yet another mnemonic to remember them, you are very likely to sit there and know that there are four such verbs, but be unable to remember what they are. In other words, you have to be really familiar with the list of verbs, in which case the mnemonic will only be of limited value.

(Personally, I prefer to remember six pairs of opposites, plus "retourner.")

* * *
This whole ramble was triggered by the "anticipation resistor" I found in the Honeywell thermostat (Marcel Proust, eat your heart out). The 1/2-watt device was labeled with gray, red, and orange stripes, which make it an 82KΩ resistor.

That I was able to remember the color coding of resistors over these many years is due to a mnemonic that, frankly, some people would find offensive, so I won't repeat it here in its entirety. However, I don't believe that I am any less of person for having learned that particular menmonic (which, for the terminally curious, involves persons who "ravish our young girls behind victory garden walls," which very likely dates me, or at least dates the guy who taught me the basics of electrical circuits).

In fact, it seems to me that, to be effective, a good mnemonic is going to be edgy, outrageous, or even offensive to some extent. The point of the exercise is to remember stuff, and anything that supports that end is fair game in the mnemonic arena (which, IMO, hinders effective teaching of the subject). My personal mnemonic for the Russian grammatical cases, for example, is not suitable for genteel ears, but it helped me remember the cases.

Enough rambling. It's late now, and tomorrow promises to be an active day.



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