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I've been writing a personal encyclopedia for the last five or six years or so. I have some 1500+ articles multiple of which are 50+ pages. I think it's been really valuable. I think I get a few things out of it:

1. Perfect recall. Every little detail I read in a book/blog/article stays with me. Makes it easy to synthesize results from multiple pieces across time, which is useful when you only have a casual interest in something. (I really like downloading the cool education images/GIFs and and inserting them in articles- otherwise I don't know where I'd keep them.)

2. Reveals what I don't know about a subject. For example, whenever I start off writing a new article on some topic, the first thing I write is a definition, e.g. "A cat is an animal that ...". The process of doing that often reveals gaps in my understanding.

3. It makes me better at asking questions when I'm trying to understand something. The analogy I like to make here is that learning a second language is harder than a third language, because after learning the second you know what you need to know to understand a language. But there's no reason that should be limited to languages and couldn't apply to all things, and things themselves. Some questions I like to ask are "What is the function/uses of this thing?" "What are the parts of this thing and how are they arranged?" "How do we make this thing?" "What's the history of this thing?" "What subtypes of this thing are there?"

The downside is that it dramatically slows down my reading speed, since I now feel I need to take detailed notes, and then I often have to reconcile them with notes on other things which can be time-consuming. Considering the number of books a person could realistically read in their lifetime is limited, it's unclear if it's worth the tradeoff.

I'm curious how other people think about remembering things, and if they have a system, what tools they use. It seems unsatisfying to me to read a book and realize I'll probably forget it in four years, yet most people seem content to do so.

If anyone is interested in the specific software I use, here's the Github project: https://github.com/Ceasar/Encyclopedia. It uses restructuedText (as opposed to Markdown) for the text. I edit them using Vim. All the files are stored in Dropbox so it gets synced between my devices. A simple Flask web server renders the pages in a prettier format.

Still very primitive compared to what it could potentially be, but combined with regular Unix command line tools it's worked fine for my needs. (I like the idea of a hacker-wiki by the way, more than something like this which comes out of the box. Seems like an personal wiki designed for a power user could be way more interesting.)




I have the same fear of forgetting things and the desire to remember everything I've learned. I'm an academic, so mostly this means references to papers and books I've read, along with notes summarizing their contents.

(My PhD advisor used to say that a sign of learning isn't whether you remember something -- it's how quickly you can re-learn it. So I try to make it easy to find and re-learn things I need.)

Since I need to cite papers, I had to put together a system that can read BibTeX bibliographies and format them into references. I cobbled together a Hakyll config that uses Pandoc and KaTeX to turn Org files into HTML pages, with a simple chronological listing: https://www.refsmmat.com/notebooks/

I've found this useful for my own reference and to share with others -- if someone asks me about some topic I've read about, I can just send the notebook link with summary and citations.

I'd like a version that doesn't need separate BibTeX files (though that should be easy to solve with a couple scripts or some Emacs packages), and perhaps intelligent full-text search, but for the moment I like that it produces static HTML that will last forever.


Thank you for sharing. I have a system that is kind of like this. Except it's not meant for memory as much as analysis. And I don't consider the entries "articles" but rather refer to them as "models" as in mental models. Like a real life model, say a toy car, I try to cover enough bases that it--metaphorically--at least _resembles_ a car at first. Then as I identify needed leverage points in the model, I refine my analysis and expand the model. So maybe at that point it has a hood you can open, and an engine you can see, so to speak.

I think I'm at or near around 800 of these, and many are very short. But no matter how short they are, they are all there because they provided me or continue to provide me with needed leverage.

I keep the bulk of the information in markdown in a Dropbox folder and also occasionally try new methods. For example, for topics that will quickly benefit from hyperlinks, I developed a LibreOffice web template and a companion PHP script that indexes these files and inserts additional CSS, variables, JS, etc. when they are served up. For searching I like Regexxer a lot, but I also use grep quite a bit :-)

On my XFCE desktop are buttons for opening a random one of these files, and for opening a random journal entry to try to harvest new models, so to speak.

And there's some paper involved here too... Can't get away from it, because paper has its own special leverage points...

I'm not concerned about memory, knowing it's a special weakness of mine. If I'm working in a context where memory is super important, my energy is best spent moving to a more sustainable context. :-) Memory is a hobby for me, a side gig for memorizing pi, that kind of simple and fun thing.


I have no idea what it means for a piece of text to have "leverage points" or a hood you can open.


A model has leverage points if there are parts of it that can be useful for solving a problem. For example, a website-building model might provide useful links to software that can be used to build different kinds of websites. Those links are important leverage points.

Each model has different leverage points. Your comment, taken as part of a model of your psychology, provides leverage for understanding that part of my text was not well received by your psychology.

Regarding the hood, look at it this way: If you don't know much about cars, you might look at a simple toy car _without an opening hood_ and make assumptions about what happens in the front of the car. When you get a car where the hood opens, maybe all of a sudden you make a huge leap: There is stuff under here, and it does something. So at this point, maybe you start working on (by asking around, or reading), or building, a model with a working engine. Or even just a working dipstick, who knows. As the parts are revealed, the model gains leverage. Pretty soon you are able to run more advanced simulations and predict traffic dynamics, things like that. Or you change models and learn the leverage points of the tractor, or motorcycle. You begin to learn why a motorcycle is helpful and even necessary in some circumstances. Texts work the same way as they unfold. And there are also various text-creation methods that expose different leverage points. Reliance on charts and graphs, or emotive graphics, etc. All of it is helpful in some way, and maybe--like my original comment--low-leverage in other ways and for other people.

Anyway I hope that helps, but I know I'm still couching this in metaphor which isn't a high-leverage communications method for everyone. YMMV, which is what makes human psychology so cool.


> I have some 1500+ articles multiple of which are 50+ pages

Holy shit. Make it public.

The idea is fantastic. I would love to have something like wikipedia but people have separate pages on topic.

Or, in other words, if you want to find everything written by given person, why not that easy it is doable - it was more doable back when blogs were more popular.

But if you want to find everything on given topic written by different people that's not such an easy task. I feel like it should be solved soon by machine learning and evolution of search engines, but you still have the problem of which authors (or inevitably bots) do you actually want to see. This can be solved with a global web of trust.


'cbau, if you do make it public, I would humbly suggest making it very difficult for people to send you feedback. It would be awful if something as useful to you as this became something you "have" to maintain and keep up-to-date for the sake of anyone else reading it. Make it clear to any readers that this is strictly a resource for yourself that just happens to be publically browsable.


Very good point, integrating that into my notes now :) I know that burden too well.


Private encyclopedias just don't work for me.

Neither does keeping large amounts of well formatted documents privately. I can't hold myself accountable unless its public, and easily accessible with a search engine. Notes are primarily to break down topics and cement my understanding of it

Maybe this is just me but its pretty convenient to just type "name-of-article-you-made or name-of-video-you-made" on google and then get the files you've made.

Tiddlywiki's maintenance cost and learning curve / ability to create notes efficiently and effortlessly is not there to me. I've tried picking it up a dozen times in the last few year. A good notetaking app should get out of your way entirely, and only add a small cost of maintenance for the larger amounts of benefits you reap from it. Everything needs to be visible at a glance, with nothing hiding behind obscurity

Something like book reviews, you can write a review on goodreads to remember your opinions and thoughts were. You can bookmark things and use readwise to autosync and send you email reminders of things highlighted / quotes


Understanding is more important than recall. The brain does a great job at making connections and dumping what's not important. The important stuff gets absorbed like muscle memory. Even if it's not at the tip of the tongue, it's part of the knowledge borg and emerges at the right time.

Total recall might not even be possible. Information is relative. It transmits different messages to different people. Each of us is constantly changing, so the information also changes. Whatever thing that the information was at one time, that thing rots as soon as it's saved (same words, different thing.)

The rational brain likes to collect stuff and do busy work. Thank goodness for the emotional brain which gets tired, bored and concludes with "this is stupid" before nudging the rest of the brain to move on to something else.

Not sure what the point of my comment is. When I want to access information, I just Google it. Also, it's important to publish stuff. Get the work in front of people for feedback. If it's not paying some sort of rent (fighting off some other higher value of something to do) then it's just cargo-culting. Much better to pass the time by going outside to play and get in trouble like we did when we were South Park age.




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