Sunday, December 10, 2017

Deep and crisp and even


Proper snow out there today! Keep it up, and I can be snowed in all winter - as long as people keep delivering food to me periodically, and the internet connection stays solid, I'd be fine with that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Augmented Memory Championship

So, I was in Lancaster University, giving a keynote speech on "A Mnemonist's Perspective on Memory" at a memory-themed workshop last week. I mumbled my way through a five-minute talk directed at an audience of science people (all of them with PhDs and probably loads of the extra special secret kind of qualifications you get after a PhD if you're really clever) and then resigned myself to two days of being bewildered by clever science-people ideas about memory that would mean nothing to me at all. But as it turned out, we spent the second afternoon making things with pipe-cleaners, coloured paper and other primary-school craft supplies, so they'd obviously geared the whole thing to my own level of intellectual development.

But while there, I found out that the Creative Arts building has two 'pods' outside it in the scenic woodland across the footpath from the main building (which is itself very scenic, with a wooden bridge over a moat to get to the front door, and lots of ducks). The pods (used as meeting rooms) are circular domes, little things just able to accommodate a central round table with seating around it for maybe six people at a squeeze. There's two round windows in each one and a circular skylight on top. Oh, wow, I said, this is just such the perfect location for the next UK Memory League Championship! Imagine the video footage we could put on YouTube of the two pairs of competitors walking through the woods to their Isolation Pods, with squirrels, ducks and who knows what else happily wishing them good luck on their way!

(When I mentioned this to Nelson, he said "Sounds great, did you take pictures?" and I said "Oh yes, I could have done that, couldn't I? I mean, I did have a smart-phone in my pocket and everything. But I'm still unused to the idea of mobile phones, so it never occurred to me." I might have to go back there and take pictures I can show to you all. Or maybe find them on the internet.)

So I mentioned this to the university people, and they said it would be great to have the competition there - especially if we could do it in conjunction with the other event we spent that afternoon discussing!

See, the main theme of this workshop was how technology could assist human memory. And a great way to promote and develop this idea for the future would be to have an Augmented Memory Championship! It would work like this - teams, consisting of a memoriser and their 'pit crew' of scientists and technologians, would compete against each other in disciplines that would combine human memory skills with the best assistance technology could provide.

In some disciplines, the technology would be used in the memorisation process, followed by an unassisted human memoriser recalling by themself. So for example, we could do speed cards in which (we're projecting into the future now, rather than anything available today) the memoriser picks up the cards, drops them into a hopper which the computer immediately reads and converts into an image (with sounds and any other sensations the memoriser might want) according to the memoriser's specifications, and plays it on the memoriser's VR headset. The whole process takes five seconds, and the memoriser has seen/heard/felt everything they need in order to know exactly what the sequence of cards was.

Then there's the disciplines where the memorisation is technology-free, but then the memoriser is able to use technology to prompt their recall - displaying the appropriate images to fill in the gaps in recall, pointing out pre-programmed instances of possible confusion, things like that.

And then there's the forgetting competition (because technology to help people forget is a goal as well as to help people remember), in which one team tries to memorise and the other tries to use as many technological means as they can to make the memoriser forget. All sorts of possible strategies there, and it might just hit on something that has a universal application...

And a team memorising competition, where people and technology (for example) watch a video and prepare to answer questions about what they've seen. Technology can be programmed to pick up certain details, the humans can co-ordinate with it to make sure everything's been covered by someone or some thing.

This is something that needs to happen - who would be interested in taking part? Memorisers seeking scientists and scientists seeking memorisers would be matched together by some sort of academic dating agency, and all the academics at the workshop were very confident that the whole event could get: 1) Funding, that all-important thing in the academic world; 2) The possibility of a really good academic paper about it; and 3) Genuine possibility that a spin-off from this competition could turn into a genuine new development that could really improve human life in general. I love it!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Amazing Alex Mullen

He did indeed blow away the rest of the world's greatest memorisers, finishing with a new world record 15.612 seconds (because these new-fangled devices record it to the thousandth of a second instead of the hundredth) in speed cards! It was a sensational kind of competition, and the live-streaming was a million times cooler than any memory competition ever before! Multiple cameras, zooms in to the competitors as they fleetingly glanced at the cards before stopping the clock, it was really fun to watch! Maybe there's hope for a televised World Memory Championship yet!

And people are even praising the prize ceremony for pronouncing people's names right, giving the right medals to the right people, knowing what the scores were, not going on until the small hours of the morning, and so on! What am I going to make fun of on my glorious return next year, if this keeps up? Great work from Yudi, Andy and everybody else involved!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Wonder Twin powers activate!

The World Memory Championship is happening in Jakarta, Indonesia! I'm not there, I'm currently on my way back from Lancaster, where I've also been doing very interesting things related to memory competitions that I will tell you about once I think people have stopped paying attention to Indonesia and might want to look at me again.

But the first day gave us the usual bumper haul of mind-bogglingly enormous scores! Well, is mind-boggling really the word now? After all these years, we positively expect people to do better than the years before, and can maybe even predict the degree to which the previous records will be beaten... but that still doesn't make us blasé about the whole thing. If nothing else, it proves what people have always been saying, that we haven't yet reached the limit of memory sport potential, and it all hinges on knowing what previous record-breakers have achieved.

In any case, binary digits gave us a mind-boggling (if not quite a world record) 5730 from Munkhshur and 5325 from Enkhshur - they really do call themselves the Wonder Twins, so I'm entirely justified in thinking of Zan and Jayna every time I mention them. Reigning champion Alex was just behind with 5235, and Lkhagvadulam and Marwin also did what used to be my exclusive thing, with scores over 4000.

Names and faces did give us a world record, with Yanjaa Wintersoul (as she's officially credited nowadays) beating her own score and racking up 212 points. Simon's 186 was second, and Sri (as usual) made the top three with 147. Enkhshur and Alex weren't far behind that.

Then in hour numbers, Alex flexed his mental muscles with a new world record 3238! Munkhshur also topped the 3000 mark (which in my day, ten years or so ago, seemed a long way off ever being done) and Enkhshur was third with 2770, just ahead of Marwin's 2740. Yanjaa had a very strong 2420 for fifth place too, and since the website's listing her as Mongolian this year, they have a good lead in the team competition!

Top ten after the first day:

1 Alex Mullen 2674
2 Munkhshur Narmandakh 2622
3 Enkhshur Narmandakh 2577
4 Yanjaa Wintersoul 2217
5 Marwin Wallonius 2148
6 Lkhagvadulam Enkhtuya 1990
7 Simon Reinhard 1912
8 Johannes Mallow 1893
9 Uyanga Munkhbayar 1683
10 Zou Lujian 1580

Alex narrowly leads, on course to what would be an almost-unprecedented third consecutive win (a "post-Dominic era" first? I can't think of a good way to describe it). Winning three in a row takes a certain kind of mental dedication; doing the same thing three years in a row gives you (or at least gave me) a real challenge of overcoming the been-there-done-that effect. Perhaps the new exciting novelty of this being the first IAM WMC makes a difference? Or perhaps Alex is just awesome.

But he hasn't won yet! The Mongolian team are closely behind him, as are the Swedish team in the form of Marwin and maybe partly Yanjaa, and the entirely German team of Simon and Johannes, and the Chinese team in the person of Zou Lujian in contention too. Everything to play for! Results can be seen here.

There really needs to be a British team giving all these foreigners a run for their money, but I still think there's a good chance I'll be there next year (albeit possibly not in the top ten unless I really get a lot better), and we're gradually building up a strong army of memorisers on these shores, after years in the wilderness...

Friday, November 24, 2017

I would be really good at this, too

I got this email today:


Yes, I've got a profile on StarNow, the website for people who really want to be actors. I created it years ago, and a while back (drunkenly) reactivated it.

Anyway, I've been saying for years that as soon as my beard's gone entirely white, I'll be all ready to make a living being Santa at Christmas time. I'm not quite there yet, but Great Grottos at least seem to think I am. I'd love to take them up on it, but I've got to work in my day job. Maybe next year...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy various!

Happy Thanksgiving to anybody who's American and reading this today. And Happy Dr Who Anniversary day to anybody who just likes it when it's the anniversary of the first episode of Dr Who.

Also, for tomorrow, Happy Silver Sonic Twosday! Remember all the excitement of 25 years ago, when Sonic 2 came out on the Mega Drive? It feels like only yesterday. Everyone needs to get out their old Mega Drives and Sonic 2 cartridges (what? I can't be the only one who's still got them, can I?) and play it - don't forget that if you play songs 1,9,9,2,1,1,2,4 on the level select screen, you activate the debug mode.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rest in peace Panthro

It's very sad that Earle Hyman has died, but then 91 is a good age, and at least most of the internet articles about him remember that he was one of the heroic six voice actors who between them did every character on Thundercats.

I think the high point of his Thunder-career was Nemex, owner of the eponymous jail in the episode "The Astral Prison". He has a brilliantly over-the-top voice, and I urge you all to get out your DVDs and video tapes and watch it again right now! "Brave words... FEEBLE FOOL!"