I can learn exactly one set of facts - what should it be?
January 12, 2011 4:44 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to learn one set of facts (or other data) by heart. What should it be?

Right now, I'm working on software for use in training, which operates by asking the user questions, then telling him/her the right answer if it was answered incorrectly.

As I do this, I'm naturally testing it a lot - probably much more than any end user ever will! I first ran it off a question set about European capitals, but I think I know them all now.

So what should I learn instead? It has to be something that's easy to divide into questions and answers, but beyond that I'm open to anything useful, cool or fun.
posted by piato to Education (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Area codes.
posted by ChrisHartley at 4:46 AM on January 12, 2011

The periodic table. You could give element symbols and ask for the atomic number or weight, or vice versa.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:47 AM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: (Oh - I'm in the UK, I should have mentioned that!)

Periodic table is a great idea!
posted by piato at 4:50 AM on January 12, 2011

I would personally use it to improve vocabulary of a foreign language I am trying to learn.
posted by wile e at 4:54 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are still area codes in the UK. You could also try post codes too. I like the idea of European/World capitals. What about international heads of state?
posted by turkeyphant at 4:54 AM on January 12, 2011

Japanese "alphabet" (hiragana script). Helps you debug Unicode support too.
posted by msittig at 4:55 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The classic answer is Schiller's "Die Glocke," in German.
posted by Namlit at 4:58 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why stop with European capitals? Here are some more capitals to learn.
Also: vocabulary.
posted by davar at 5:00 AM on January 12, 2011

kings and queens and the dates of their reigns. It's a great way to cement the chronology of all the odd bits of UK history you likely know.
posted by Jakey at 5:00 AM on January 12, 2011

If you are at all interested in Geography you could check out the "Countries of the World" Shared Deck that is available in Anki. You could export it and import it in your own software. It has:

- Capital Cities
- Languages (official, recognised, and de facto)
- Population
- Area of the country
- Currency
- Human Development index (HDI)
- GDP (total and per capita)
- Dialling code and internet TLD
- Flags (all image files included)
- Location and bordering countries

(I wouldn't trust the data in Anki Shared Decks to be 100% correct, but I found them very useful anyway)
posted by davar at 5:08 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do not know how far you want to go with this, but Frances Amelia Yates wrote a terrific book about renaissance magicians called "The Art of Memory". She documents a legacy of a cult of memorization enthusiasts, proven technique, &c.

What I would memorize: the Shemhamphorasch. This is 72 triplets of Hebrew letters which legend has it was pronounced by Moses upon the parting of the Red Sea, said by Daniel in the den of lions, and proclaimed by Elijah when Yahweh sent the chariot down to pick him up.
posted by bukvich at 5:13 AM on January 12, 2011

I would like to have conversion factors for weights and measures (e.g. pounds to kilos, Celsius to Fahrenheit) memorised, but that's probably because I bake a lot and am always stopping to look this up when I use American recipes.

The geography set mentioned above also sounds cool - knowing population numbers would be an interesting way to 'scale' the way you think about the world.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:16 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Japanese "alphabet" (hiragana script). Helps you debug Unicode support too.

Alternately, Katakana, the Japanese syllabic alphabet used for foreign words. (Particularly if you think you'll ever go there, it's damned useful. You'll be able to read menus in non-Japanese restaurants, for one thing)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:50 AM on January 12, 2011

I would consider better knowledge of any of the following data sets an enhancement:
1) Latin roots
2) human anatomy (bones, cranial nerves, etc.)
3) stars
4) major world events by year
5) rivers

Alternately, memorize names as a form of remembrance. Honor the memories of people who lost their lives in a disaster or war by committing them to memory.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spanish vocabulary - or whatever other European language you are most likely to use.
posted by Flood at 6:23 AM on January 12, 2011

The periodic table was the first thing that came to mind for me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:26 AM on January 12, 2011

I'd learn Italian vocabulary, but in the past, I would have answered art history attributions. Of course, this supposes your app supports posting images as questions.
posted by advicepig at 6:37 AM on January 12, 2011

I would memorize the notes on a guitar neck.
posted by Clambone at 7:37 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would do muscle origin and insertion points, then which nerves innervate each, but I'm a health-science nerd.

Other ideas:
- % composition of various gases in air
- all the non-standard holidays, like at least one for each day of the year
- morse code letters
- the braille alphabet
- airport codes

If you can do image identification, maybe:
- semaphore codes
- bird species
- cloud types

I once had to test the computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and ended up knowing an awful lot of trivia about various countries. Have fun!
posted by vytae at 7:44 AM on January 12, 2011

I once spent my lap-swimming time memorizing all the 2-decimal square roots of numbers up to 20. Then all the squares of those same numbers (obviously I already knew them up to 12 from grade school). I was a junior high math teacher at the time, so it was good for me to have those on the top of my head, but it hasn't been very helpful since I quit. But maybe there are some other mathematical facts to learn.

One other is all the decimal/fraction equivalents: 1/8 = .125, 1/9 = .111, etc.
I do use this a lot when cooking or trying to divide a dinner check between 6 people.
posted by CathyG at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2011

Subway/tube stops on all of the lines.

I live in a city with a fair-sized transit system, and I have shower curtain with a map of the train lines printed on it. I frequently find myself referring to my mental picture of it when I'm oot and aboot, since much of it is committed to memory now. That it is color-coded really, really helps.
posted by heyho at 10:56 AM on January 12, 2011

I did countries in Africa recently. That was pretty cool.
posted by lollusc at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2011

Also, what about friends' phone numbers? (Unless you know them all already.)
posted by lollusc at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2011

If you lived in the US I would suggest US presidents in order of their presidency - there are a bunch of towns here with streets that are ordered by president. It would be nice to know exactly which street to expect next when driving! (luckily I live in a neighborhood with alphabetized street names)
posted by Maarika at 6:19 PM on January 12, 2011

Human calculators memorize their multiplication table up to 99x99. This lets them do math by the pair of digits instead of just one digit at a time. That's a lot of stuff to memorize.
posted by chairface at 2:24 PM on January 13, 2011

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