Mental Swiss-Army Knife (in a Moleskine)
April 28, 2010 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I have a graph-ruled Moleskine that is begging to be turned into a compendium of obscure, fascinating, and perhaps occasionally useful reference material. Some of the things I want to put in there are Rubik's Cube algorithms, keys to reading non-Latin alphabets, some simple math formulas (Trachtenberg math, e.g.), rules of thumb for estimating distance/altitude, and whatever else. I'm imagining the user would bust it out of his/her bag and use the knowledge within to solve a wide range of MacGyver/James Bond/bar bet problems. An intellectual "Swiss army knife", if you will. Any and all ideas are welcome!
posted by holterbarbour to Grab Bag (55 answers total) 169 users marked this as a favorite
Just buy a Pocket Reference. It has everything you want, and much more.
posted by Netzapper at 7:48 PM on April 28, 2010 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Pi to a thousand places

Resistor color codes

PID loop tuning hints and tricks

BIOS entry keys for a large number of brands of computers

Nomographs for: F to C and temp/humidity to dew point

Look up tables for Sine, Cosine and Tangent

Common Op-amp designs like inverting, integrating, etc

Common transistor designs like Common Emitter, Common collector, etc

Integral and Derivative tables

Trig Identities
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:57 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

You'll probably find some good stuff in Schott's Miscellany. And this book on cryptography might provide some good tables. And Futility Closet seems to be in the spirit of your endeavor. Other than that, measurement conversion tables and currency tables would be useful (well, til they're out of date), and language/sign translations would be fun (morse code, hieroglyphs, the greek alphabet, semaphores, braille, etc . . . )
posted by Fifi Firefox at 7:58 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: Log tables, a guide to the scales, and a paper slide rule.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: A periodic table (I imagine you'll have to copy the whole damned thing!)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:14 PM on April 28, 2010

Some kind of cipher system? You will not be able to achieve more than trivial security, but it could be handy to have a way of encrypting something in a pinch. Maybe the instructions for Solitaire from Cryptonomicon?
posted by tss at 8:17 PM on April 28, 2010

Since others are pointing out that pocket compendia exist already, perhaps you could tailor the Moleskine to have knowledge specific to you. How about a scale diagram of your home, so that if you're buying furniture/planning repairs/etc. you will have the right dimensions handy?

Don't give to strangers!

Whatever you use, extra super bonus points if you express your computations with nomograms.
posted by tss at 8:24 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Star maps for different seasons in both hemispheres?
posted by padraigin at 8:29 PM on April 28, 2010

Statistical tables for the upper-tailed F-distribution (don't forget tables for each oft-used alpha! .2, .1, .05, .25, .02, .016667, .0125, .01, .005) and critical values of the studentized range statistic (again, for each of the aforementioned alphas). You probably want to include at least 120 degrees of freedom for each table.
posted by k8lin at 8:29 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: Time zones
zip and area codes
square root by hand
most common famous quotes
doing math with Roman numerals
commonly misspelled words
some words that start with each letter of the alphabet
Hebrew vowels
Historical periods
top 100 books/films
posted by eleanna at 8:34 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A ruler down the inside cover.
posted by kjs4 at 8:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Instructions for identifying, collecting, refining and smithing iron and for building a steam engine

Actually, to do what you want (macgyver/bond/bar-bet), you want a guide to building stuff / shooting stuff / drinking stuff, presumably like macgyver, bond, and heavy drinkers. So...
1. Table of things macgyver has built, sorted by ingredients (one axis) and application (other axis)
2. Guide to shooting technique, race driving, parkour, and being attractive
3. Instructions for drinking quickly

Unfortunately, the things you seem to want to do require muscle memory or training to do well.
posted by sninctown at 8:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Instructions for identifying, cultivating, and refining penicillin.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:09 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

A sizeable sting of randomly generated numbers.
posted by Widepath at 9:25 PM on April 28, 2010

Pictographic representations of key mathematical principles, so you can demonstrate to aliens that you are from a species that understands what, say, a prime number is?
posted by DetonatedManiac at 9:28 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: Instructions on how to fold a fabric napkin into a lotus?
Diagrams of the different types of nautical knots
Stats on your favourite sports dudes
Emergency services numbers for other countries
A list of the many uses of chocolate and/or electrical tape (a la macguyver)
posted by latch24 at 10:00 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: The Bill of Rights

basic recipes (brownies, lasagna, cakes, etc, that are the kind of thing you'll want to have on you if you remember right when you get to the store that you're supposed to bring something to the party tonight and oh shit I don't remember what ingredients I need to make X...I keep a notebook in my bookbag at all times that has my most frequented recipes in it--this has saved my butt more times than I can count)

airport codes
posted by phunniemee at 10:04 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Neat idea!

I have a little notebook where I add any neat little chemical reaction or practical chemistry trick I happen to learn about. Things like generating pure oxygen gas from hydrogen peroxide and brewer's yeast or the various color flame tests using ionic salts or how to perform the "water into wine" trick or the trick to turn copper pennies into gold and silver, etc. (I do a lot of demos and chemical magic shows for kids.)
posted by darkstar at 10:21 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are great, please keep them coming. In case anyone else is interested, I'm also thinking yoga positions/martial arts kata/bodyweight exercises would be good content.

Perhaps another perspective, alternative to the macgyver/bond angle, is to create a single volume that have enough information in there to keep a solitary confinement prisoner busy and sane for as long as possible.
posted by holterbarbour at 10:45 PM on April 28, 2010

Best answer: I have the dewey decimal classifications in my filofax because I just am that sort of person.

The phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie etc.) is also really handy.

Some origami instructions on how to make useful things like a paper kettle.

Furoshiki japanese bag ties - how to use a square of fabric to carry various objects.
posted by teraspawn at 12:00 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: basic conversions (yard to meter, pound to kilo but also kitchen conversion "cup of this equals x grams of that")
maybe weigh the book and you have a standard to compare with other things.
how to use your wristwatch as a compass instructions
time zones
if you can somehow fit a usb key with a bunch of portable apps
standard factory admin passwords to routers and bios, etc.
adhere a super thin mirror (maybe mylar) to one of the inside covers
phone numbers to global car rental, travel agencies, hotels and concierge services
posted by alchemist at 12:02 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: Draw some game boards across double page spreads, and keep paper playing pieces in the back pouch. My travel notebook now has boards and pieces for chess or draughts, backgammon and go. These pages get much more use (on flights, etc) than the foreign phrases, unit conversion tables (weight, volume, temperature, distance), time zone lookups, etc that I wrote in there.

How about a sundial with notes on its use? You just need the dial, use a pen, matchstick or finger as a gnomon. Only useful if you know where north is, of course.

Star map for your part of the world- find key constellations and the North star.
posted by metaBugs at 12:09 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Guitar tabs
Sketches of playing surfaces of major sports w/ dimensions
Simple religious iconography
Area codes of major cities by population
posted by minkll at 12:10 AM on April 29, 2010

Response by poster: The guitar tabs idea made me think I should also put tab notations for a whole set of guitar chords in there, as well as scales, modes, and note placement for various instruments. More ideas I'm getting: acupuncture charts. CPR procedures/basic first aid. Edible plants and other basic survival info. Keep 'em coming! Thanks all...
posted by holterbarbour at 12:43 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: You're going to need an index. Make sure you leave space for the index.
posted by handee at 1:44 AM on April 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

Dance steps
The catalogue of Messier objects
A copy of the human genome (you could get kidnapped by aliens and this might be a useful bargaining chip)
Various IP address ranges
BIOS error codes
Draw pictures near all the page corners and add Star Wars as a flickbook
posted by flutable at 2:15 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: Your local sign language alphabet and commonly-used phrases
Braille alphabet
IPA chart and vowel trapezium
posted by meosl at 3:26 AM on April 29, 2010

Seconding Pocket Ref. The only advantage to rolling your own is that you may end up memorizing a lot of it.

posted by phrontist at 3:39 AM on April 29, 2010

Pronunciation guide for saying, "hello" and "where's the bathroom" in the most common world languages
posted by hworth at 4:49 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

All known lyrics to the ditty "Barnacle Bill the Sailor."
posted by digsrus at 5:48 AM on April 29, 2010

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE PREPAREDNESS SECTION: Detailed instructions and blueprints on how to construct all manner of weapons, from flamethrowers to medieval siege engines, out of common household/garage/toolshed items.
posted by elizardbits at 5:54 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to edible plants, I'd include section with details and sketches of local poisonous/toxic plants, with info on how to immediately deal with exposure.
posted by hegemone at 6:12 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Times and locations of upcoming (and past?) eclipses and meteor showers.
posted by The otter lady at 7:26 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hierarchy of poker hands
Cocktail recipes
posted by Miko at 7:26 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pronunciation guide for saying, "hello" and "where's the bathroom" in the most common world languages.

As well as "Gimme a beer'.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2010

A lot of the information in The Art of Shen Ku: The Ultimate Traveler's Guide is along these lines. There's a preview available at Google Books.
posted by Anephim at 8:06 AM on April 29, 2010

Beer/wine and food pairings, while we're on the subject.
posted by clavicle at 8:07 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let's say you've gone back in time...

That was really cool, but I thought it was going to be a page containing all the sports scores and horse race winners for the past 100 years, especially the ones that paid out the highest yield. If you really think you'll be going back in time*, you should tape a few really old $100 bills in there, too. So you don't freak out the natives when you place your bets.

*Not that the question was about time travel, but still, it's a (possibly) valid reason for collecting all your data and you might as well be prepared.
posted by CathyG at 8:09 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also while we're on the subject, for a while it has been my ambition to be able to say, "Two beers please. My friend is paying." in 20 languages. So maybe this would be a fun addition.

And how about a page with pictures of things on it to help with translation where neither party speaks the lingo. Kind of like a more basic version of this: Point It.
posted by jonesor at 8:50 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: Morse code.
Instructions for starting a fire using different kinds of materials.
Conversion chart for all measurements. How many teaspoons in a tablespoon, how many kilometers in a mile.

On the practical side you should put down your medical history and any prescriptions you're taking. If you get sent to the hospital it would be very helpful not to have to remember all the names of the meds you're taking. Especially if you're bleeding profusely or just had a blow to the head. If you wear glasses or contacts, put that prescription in too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:04 AM on April 29, 2010

Field markings and other identification criteria for biting insects, poisonous snakes, etc.

Maps of your area, including:
Topographic maps
Maps with approximate angles of declination, plus a compass attached to the back of the book
Pollution maps (you'd like to know if you're bivouacing on a Superfund site, after all)
Road maps and public transit maps

Fold up a little Mylar emergency blanket and some other sneaky/flat survival gear (iodine tablets, etc.) and affix them to a pocket in the back.

Instructions for making a wide variety of emergency shelters

A list of commonly-grown food and/or medicinal plants, their preferred climate, sun exposure, and soil type, and how to grow them

Guides to the constellations and how to navigate by them

A list of some Zen koans and/or other meditation exercises

Highlights of the Kama Sutra, perhaps followed by the diagnostic criteria for common sexually transmitted infections and the failure rates for various contraceptive methods
posted by kataclysm at 9:10 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: Also, what about a guide to various animal tracks and sign? (Always helps to be able to identify bear sign if you're in the woods, for example...)
posted by kataclysm at 9:13 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: A basic guide to pronouncing things in various languages (such as "sz" in Hungarian is like "s" in English) would go far.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:15 AM on April 29, 2010

A list of collective nouns (eg a murder of crows).
posted by mippy at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2010

Morse Code? I didn't see morse code above

The sizes (shirt/pants/shoe/dress etc.) of everyone close to you as well as notes about their preferences

And common ratios for cooking and baking, as in this book
posted by cross_impact at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: I swear this question has come up before, but on a quick search all I find are these related questions - which might still be useful to you -
What permanently useful information should I get a tattoo of?
What permanently useful reference information should I put on the back of my business card?
Best small reference books to carry with you always
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:53 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't waste a page on a thousand digits of pi; you only need 41 to calculate the circumference of the universe, and to do so within a margin of error smaller than the diameter of a proton.
posted by decagon at 11:17 AM on April 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

A list of various countries' public holidays and appropriate gifts/customs for those days.

Offensive gestures for various cultures (to be avoided or used at your discretion!)
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 2:03 PM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: The Geologic Time Scale. I could NEVER memorize it.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:12 PM on April 29, 2010

Anatomic digrams of the heart, brain, and bones. Basic CPR instuctions and some first aid references.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:30 AM on April 30, 2010

A list of the best restaurants in your area and their phone numbers, and the best bar happy hours in your area and their drink specials.

$20 in cash.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:53 AM on April 30, 2010

Best answer: A perpetual calendar might be nice.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 12:54 PM on April 30, 2010

or: smart phone + internet.
posted by borkingchikapa at 2:07 PM on May 1, 2010

Best answer: Check out the book Mind Performance Hacks. It could very well be subtitled, "Amazing stuff to put in your moleskine."
posted by mecran01 at 8:25 PM on May 1, 2010

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