Mindhacker Notes

On this page, you will find synopses of each of the 60 hacks in Mindhacker, with late-breaking news, links, and supplementary material.

Chapter 1: Memory

Hack 1, Remember to Remember

Ever use a fancy mnemonic only to forget that you memorized anything at all? Prospective memory is remembering to do something in the future. Learn to cue your prospective memory in ways that go far beyond a string around your finger.

Hack 2, Build a Memory Dungeon (Paul L. Snyder)

Memory palaces are one of the most ancient and reliable memory hacks, but it’s not always easy to find a suitable real-life building for one. Today, role- playing games and video games offer rich, elaborate, and ready-made imaginary buildings and landscapes for use as “memory dungeons.”

Hack 3, Mix Up Your Facts

Expand your vocabulary and knowledge of general facts with Google, a voice recorder, and an MP3 player set on shuffle.

Hack 4, Space Your Repetitions (M. W. Fogleman)

Discover open-source flashcard software that makes memorization easy and astonishingly powerful by means of algorithms that optimize your review sessions for maximum efficiency.

Brent Edwards says he uses Anki to memorize not foreign language words, as so many people do, but APIs from a software development kit (SDK) in his work as a professional programmer.

Hack 5, Recall Long-Ago Events

You can improve your recall of life events with journaling, footwork, and other exercises. Remember more about your life than you ever thought you could!

Chapter 2: Learning

Hack 6, Establish Your Canon

“Great books” are the books that teach you more every time you read them. “Sacred books” are the books that made you who you are. What are your personal great books and sacred books, and what can you still learn from them?

Hack 7, Write in Your Books (Lion Kimbro)

Do you find it repellent, or even shocking, to write in a book? Learn why some of the greatest minds in history were obsessive scribblers of marginalia. Remember, a book isn’t really yours until you talk back to the author.

Hack 8, Read at Speed

Significantly increase your reading speed with a few basic techniques. Rather than slog through several books on the subject, just read this hack.

Hack 9, Learn by Teaching

Look for ways to learn by getting out from behind the student desk and into the front of the classroom.

Hack 10, Play the Learning Game

Are you smarter than your dog? Can you learn a complex action with extremely limited instructions? Trying to do so can help you understand the pitfalls of learning and teaching by stripping the process down to basics.

Hack 11, Pretend You're a Grad Student

Assuming you’re not, in fact, a grad student, learn to take advantage of both the privileges and the discipline of being one anyway.

Hack 12, Study Kid Stuff

Why read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yak-Shaving when Yak-Shaving for Kids is less condescending and will often get you up to speed faster?

Chapter 3: Information Processing

Hack 13, Polyspecialize

Instead of knowing a lot about one thing or a little about many things, why not become adept at several mutually reinforcing skills that don’t usually go together?

Hack 14, Integrate Your Interests

Use new software to cross-reference your interests and discover new web pages about them, and maybe even new friends who share them.

This is proving to be one of the more popular hacks in the book. Charles Cave has ported ii from Perl to Python and continues to improve the hack with features such as a graphical user interface. Go ye and do likewise!

Charles's Python port is now the preferred version for Mac and Windows users, because it does not require any particular browser; it uses whatever you have set as your default browser. Windows users will need to install Python first; Mac and Linux computers usually have Python preinstalled.

Hack 15, Sift Your Ideas (Chad Urso McDaniel?)

We often aren’t very good at making a choice from many similar options. Learn a technique that uses mini-decisions to enable the best options to rise to the top.

Hack 16, Ask the Hive Mind (Chad Urso McDaniel?)

Across the web, people share what interests them and what they prefer and like, as well as their personal funds of knowledge. We know more collectively than we do individually. This is the phenomenon of the Hive Mind. Learn how its honey is collected.

Hone your understanding of major issues and learn to see both sides of a question by using such "augmented rationality" hive mind sites as the following. (We didn't have room to discuss these in the book.)

Hack 17, Write Magnificent Notes (Lion Kimbro)

Maximally develop your thoughts with an advanced, seventh-generation note-taking system.

In response to this hack, Mindhacker reader Brad Bevers has created http://www.multi-pens.com/ to help other readers and geeks find multicolor and multifunction pens in the US.

Chapter 4: Time Management

Hack 18, Keep a Mental Datebook

Create an appointment book in your head so you need never miss a meeting or class again. You can implement this hack with your favorite mnemonic systems; our example builds on existing memory hacks to demonstrate how they can be combined into a custom system.

Hack 19, Tell Time Who's Boss

Tired of punching your 24-hour clock and watching the days roll by on your 12-month calendar? You can reorganize your personal time and open your mind to the vastness of cosmic time by experimenting with other clocks and calendars.

Hack 20, Meet MET

Use the clock NASA uses to deal with unforeseen hiccups and emergencies in your daily schedule.

Hack 21, Get Control of Yourself (Matthew Cornell, M.S.)

Lost control of your life? Get back in the driver’s seat with Jetpack, the pocket-sized system for managing your work and freeing up your brain for better things.

Hack 22, Locate Lost Items (Professor Solomon)

Did you know that most lost objects are found within half a meter of where they were lost? Learn a simple algorithm to find items when you lose them.

Hack 23, Huffman-Code Your Life

Make your life and thought more efficient by making more frequently used items and ideas smaller, more accessible, or otherwise easier to use.

Hack 24, Knock Off Work

Accomplish impressive amounts of work by simply doing things that are more fun and superficially less important.

Chapter 5: Creativity and Productivity

Hack 25, Manifest Yourself

Writing a manifesto — yes, like the Communist Manifesto, the Cluetrain Manifesto, or the Surrealist Manifesto — can crystallize your intentions about a creative project and light its fuse. Stop trying so hard to be cool, and get fired up.

Hack 26, Woo the Muse of the Odd

By focusing on the weird in your work and in yourself, you can break new ground, and have a lot more fun doing it.

Hack 27, Seek Bad Examples

Let others make your mistakes for you by experiencing their astoundingly bad works, and take courage from the fact that few works are so bad that they have no merit at all.

Hack 28, Turn a Job Into a Game

Mary Poppins had it right when she said, “You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game.” In this hack, we’ll survey some of the many resources that can make painful activities pleasurable, from housework to exercise.

There are now two new games for the FitDeck by Tim Schutz -- Make Frank's Monsters Fit 1 and 2.

Hack 29, Scrumble for Glory

Scrumble is a special case of turning a job into a game. It’s a role-playing game with a practical purpose: to help you accomplish things that are important to you.

Hack 30, Salvage a Vintage Hack

The DIY and Maker movements are full of people who resurrect old technologies, often because the conditions that made them obsolete no longer apply. The next time you’re up against a tangled technological problem, you may find your solution in the pages of a Popular Mechanics from the turn of the last century.

Hack 31, Mine the Future

Obtaining ideas from the imagined futures of science fiction is like having a time machine, with the advantage of being less likely to destroy the universe through paradox.

A greatly expanded, searchable version of an important reference work used in this hack, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, is now available online.

Hack 32, Dare to Do No Permanent Damage

When faced with an opportunity that carries risk, use the rule of No Permanent Damage and roll on to profit and glory.

Hack 33, Make Happy Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. Learn to take advantage of your good ones.

Hack 34, Don't Know What You're Doing

Regain your creative spark and your artistic voice by letting go of control, silencing inner critics, and focusing on process rather than product.

Hack 35, Ratchet

The Roman poet Ovid wrote, “Add little to little and there will be a big pile.” In many areas of life, from board games to the board of directors, a spectacular “win” is not as important as a steady gain-and-maintain.

Chapter 6: Math and Logic

Hack 36, Roll the Mental Dice

You need a random number, but you don’t have dice handy. Generate random numbers as large as you want by rolling dice in your head.

This hack was quoted and extensively discussed on Boing Boing the day the book was officially released. Commenters developed some nice, chewy alternatives to the method we describe in the book. Let a thousand algorithms bloom!

See Ron's game "Remainders" in his 2003 article Low-Tech Game Systems for another quick way to generate random numbers, anticipating the final comment in the Boing Boing discussion.

Hack 37, Abduct Your Conclusions

Most people know about deductive logic, and most scientists understand the role of inductive logic in science. Now learn about the neglected step-sibling of deduction and induction, abduction.

Hack 38, Think Clearly About Simple Errors

Strange but true: Many people frequently “flip the sign” on reality and logic, conflating true with false and existence with nonexistence. This defect, and a few others, can be unlearned. Here are the basics.

Hack 39, Notate Personally

If you’re American, do you really know how far a kilometer is? If you’re not, do you know how far a mile is? Why settle for measuring in feet, pounds, meters, and kilos, when you can get a better understanding of size by measuring in terms of things you already know, like your own body?

Hack 40, Notate Wisely

The invention of the numeral zero was a huge leap forward for mathematics, even though the facts of arithmetic didn’t change. Similarly, there are some little-known notations today, such as the Laws of Form, that can help clarify your thinking.

Hack 41, Engineer Your Results

Although mathematics, science, and engineering are related fields, the roles of mathematician, scientist, and engineer are often separate. Learn to bring them back together in your own thinking.

Hack 42, Enter the Third Dimension (John Braley and Ron Hale-Evans)

Spatial aptitude can be enhanced with practice. Whether you rotate irregular, concave polyhedra in your mind’s eye instead of counting sheep at night, or you can barely imagine a cube, this hack will help you improve your spatial visualization skills.

Hack 43, Enter the Fourth Dimension (Paul L. Snyder)

There is a fourth dimension, and we’re not talking about time. Learning how to visualize four-dimensional objects is a kind of mental calisthenics like no other, and in this hack you’ll learn several ways to do it.

Chapter 7: Communication

Hack 44, Spell It Out

Learn fingerspelling and the NATO phonetic alphabet — both often useful for disambiguation in noisy environments, and sometimes useful to conceal information as well.

Hack 45, Read Lips

Lip reading isn’t a magical way to know exactly what someone is saying from a great distance, as in the movies. Nonetheless, it can be a fun and useful skill to develop, and can even enhance your understanding of conversations you can hear.

Hack 46, Emote Precisely (Brett Douglas Williams)

The artificial language Lojban has special words for precisely and concisely expressing emotions inexpressible in English. Stick your toes into this ocean of emotion, and venture out onto the deep sea at your leisure. You might never use this hack in its entirety, but maybe it will help you find just the right words for an emotion you’ve never been able to express before. As a bonus, learn to communicate on two channels with a few gestures of your fingers.

Hack 47, Streamline Your Shorthand

Learn a few prefixes and suffixes to speed up your handwritten notes written in Speedwords, or almost any other shorthand system that uses the Roman alphabet.

You can learn the basics of Speedwords in our previous book, MindPerformanceHacks, specifically Hack 14, Write Faster.

Hack 48, Communicate Multimodally (Meredith Hale and Dave Howell)

Communicate information more clearly by providing the same information in more than one form — give them a “belt and suspenders” scheme.

Hack 49, Mediate Your Environment

It’s fun and productive to willingly suspend judgment on what people are literally saying long enough to find out what they mean. Build a mediator module, in your brain and in your browser, and watch some of the gibberish around you resolve into perfect sense.

Chapter 8: Mental Fitness

Hack 50, Acquire a Taste

Why be a hater? Acquire a taste for things you don’t like, from foods to ideas and art, and thereby stretch your mind to gain a few more degrees of personal freedom. Follow Ron as he learns not to loathe cilantro.

Hack 51, Try Something New Daily (Mark Schnitzius)

Do days, weeks, months, years seem to fly by for you, unremarked and even unnoticed? This may be due to a lack of variety in your life. The New Game is a game you can play that will ensure that every day holds at least a bit of uniqueness.

Hack 52, Metabehave Yourself

Work directly on your behavior, rather than your thoughts or feelings, to further your plans, break bad habits, and establish good ones, using the principles pioneered by behaviorism.

Hack 53, Train Your Fluid Intelligence (M. W. Fogleman)

Learn about a task you can perform online that can increase your intelligence by exercising your working memory. It may not be exciting, but it’s highly effective.

Hack 54, Think, Try, Learn (Matthew Cornell, M.S.)

Live life as a series of scientific experiments.

Hack 55, Take the One-Question IQ Test

Determine how smart you are at a given moment with a test that’s not much longer than this sentence.

Chapter 9: Clarity

Hack 56, Cultivate Beginner's Mind

You can learn nothing new about something you think you already understand completely. Learn why you must unlearn everything you know, at least once in a while.

Hack 57, Take a Semantic Pause (Jonathan Davis)

Some thinkers, such as Malcolm Gladwell, advocate the cultivation of first impressions. This hack advocates the opposite: taking a deep breath, counting to ten, and doing whatever else is needed to make a second or even third evaluation of a situation, so that you can avoid prejudice and hasty decisions.

Hack 58, Retreat and Reboot

Every once in a while, during a creative project, a relationship, or a lifetime, it’s helpful to withdraw from the world and collect yourself, or start your project anew.

Hack 59, Get Used to Losing

Most of us lose most of the time, but that doesn’t make us “losers.” Adjust your thinking about competition to gain more, even when you don’t win.

Hack 60, Trust Your Intelligence (and Everyone Else's)

You may not be the smartest person in the world, but you don’t need to be. Greg Egan’s concept of “general intelligence” and the mathematical model called the Universal Turing Machine suggest that, given time and resources, you can think and create along with the finest human minds.

Appendix A, Unboxed Games Manifesto

If you came across this appendix while browsing and wondered "What's this doing here?", it's an example manifesto for Hack 25, Manifest Yourself. We noted this fact in the hack but forgot to mention it in the appendix.

Appendix B, 3D Visualization (John Braley and Ron Hale-Evans)

John Braley created the illustrations in this appendix with Google SketchUp?. John and Ron co-authored the accompanying text.