Saturday, October 21, 2017

Blown away by Brian

I do wish they wouldn't give names to the piddling little storms we get in this country. It makes us look like we're trying to be as cool as the places that get hurricanes. And Brian's a silly name anyway, that just makes me think of a Monty Python sketch. But at least it's an improvement on the previous one, which they saw fit to name after my mother. Imagine if I'd been somehow killed by Storm Aileen! I can just see Sigmund Freud watching from the hereafter and saying "See, that's exactly the kind of thing I was always talking about!"

And then my mother would say "It's not even remotely like anything you ever talked about. Stop taking credit for everything involving mothers!" and Sigmund Freud would say "Fair enough, sorry. Want another game of mah-jong, or whatever we do to pass the time in the afterlife?"

And then I'd come along (having, as I said earlier, just been killed somehow by the slightly-stronger-than-usual winds) and say "Are you talking about me?", and Sigmund Freud would say "No, not really. Want to play mah-jong with us?", and I'd say "No, I never really understood that game. I'll go and play badminton with my dad over there," and Sigmund Freud would say "There, see, that's exactly the kind of thing I was always talking about!" and the whole thing would go on in that vein for a long time. It'd get boring very fast, so it's a good thing I wasn't killed by the storm.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Holy Toledo!

It's the European Memory Championship in Toledo, Spain, this weekend, and I nearly let that happen without writing a blog entry entitled "Holy Toledo!"

This just goes to show how out of touch I am with memory competitions just lately, but I do have firm resolutions to go to more of them in 2018. Assuming I keep working at my current employers, I'll have more money to play with by the middle of next year, and will be free to trot around the globe to my heart's content. I might even do some training, but let's not get carried away...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rice pudding and income tax

I see our old friend AlphaGo is in the news again - or rather, a new improved version of it where they essentially just told it the rules of go and made it play a million games against itself until it had worked out the best strategies. This is very cool, and clearly leading up to the answer to the ultimate question any millennium now. It's a lot cooler than those robots they set to work bargaining with each other, who came to the conclusion that the one who shouts "I WANT" the most times gets the most stuff. That's the kind of thing that makes you wonder about the person who programmed them.

Anyway, it makes me think that memory competitions are on the low end of the 'humans beatable by machines' scale. We've basically been outclassed by machinery ever since it became possible to take photographs and develop them quick enough to fit in the competition time limits. Early Victorian machines could beat my score at hour numbers...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On the road to recovery

Having posted whining blog entries for the last two days about being unwell, I can't not post anything today, or you'll all assume I'm dead. But I'm going to start posting full and exciting daily journals just as soon as I feel like it, you'll see.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It's totally not my fault

I made a definite resolution to blog something interesting on a daily basis, but I'm still unwell. So I'll stick to the letter rather than the spirit of the resolution, and just say this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sniff, snort, snuffle

Clearly I've turned into an old man, because I can't even remember the last time I had a proper cold like this. But I feel really horrible today, so excuse me not writing about the whole red sun thing that everyone was excited about today. I'll just go to bed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Memory competition preparation

Nick "The Greek" Papadopoulos, who in recent years has become my indispensable arbiter-in-chief at memory competitions I run, asked me (three months ago) if I could give him a checklist of everything I make sure to bring along to events. I said yes, of course, I'll do it next week when I get a chance, and it's been on my to-do list ever since. So here we go! If you're interested in running a competition yourself, you can use this as a rough guide, though I can't promise it's anywhere near perfect.

I turn up at the Friendly Championship (or whatever) with a big pile of envelopes and a few other important accessories. The general accessories you absolutely need to have, in descending order of absoluteness:

A timing device. You have to tell the competitors when to start and stop, as well as giving them reminders at set intervals. I use my trusty stopwatch - probably not a good idea to use an app on your phone, because phones have a tendency to make unexpected noises if somebody calls you, and you do need to set a good example for the competitors. It's traditional to start each discipline with one minute's "mental preparation time" and then go straight on to the start of memorising time, so for a five-minute discipline I start the stopwatch, give them one minute, say "Neurons on the ready, go!" when the watch shows 1:00, "One minute remaining" at 5:00 and "Stop memorising" when it says 6:00.

Pens. Memory competitors will always forget to bring a pen. Have several spares with you.

Laptop. It's important to keep track of the scores, so do make sure you have your laptop with Excel spreadsheet, or the whole thing falls down a little bit.

A typical 'national standard' competition will run like this. Fitting it all into one day is quite difficult and involves a bit of a rush; lots of people prefer to spread it over two days now. It can be done, as long as you're organised! I always arrange my envelopes in the order I'll be needing them before I come to the venue - usually with memorisation papers in white envelopes and recall in brown, to avoid confusion. Specific things you need for each discipline:

5 Min Random Words; 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers will be in multiple languages (have each language in a separate envelope, and check before you hand them out!).
Recall papers are the same for everybody.

5 Min Binary; 15 Min Recall
Provide a 'sample sheet' (a memorisation paper with all zeroes) that competitors can use to draw lines on their transparencies if they want. Make sure it is exactly the same format as the memorisation papers. Make it available before the competition, and put it somewhere safely away before handing out the real papers.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers

5 Min Names; 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers - it's helpful to know how many pictures are on a page, and how big the pages are, before you open the envelope, because someone always asks.
Recall papers
Answer papers - do make sure these are in an envelope of their own and don't get mixed in with the others! These have the faces in the recall-paper order, but with the names underneath. For arbiters only! I print them out in 'draft' format so they look noticeably different, just in case I open a wrong envelope by mistake.

15 Min Numbers; 30 Min Recall
Sample sheets again
Memorisation papers
Recall papers - some competitors bring their own, though it's more common with the cards.

10 Min Cards; 30 Min Recall
Cards - the top competitors will always bring their own, which need to be handed in and shuffled by the arbiters before we get to this point in the competition. Newcomers will often not know it's "the done thing" to bring your own cards, so I always make sure to have a good supply (already shuffled) with me.
Recall papers - these can vary in format from one event to another, so it's more common for people to bring their own. It's important to explain before the memorisation time exactly how to fill them in, for the benefit of new people; don't keep people waiting between memorisation and recall with explanations.

This is a good time for a break. Classy competitions provide sandwiches or even hot meals as part of the entry fee! It's not essential, but it helps to know where's a good place to go and buy lunch, so you can tell the competitors.

5 Min Numbers 15 Min Recall
National standard competitions traditionally only have one go at this, but two trials can be done - make sure people know what you're doing in advance.
Sample sheets again - these might be the same ones as 15-minute numbers, as long as you've made sure the memorisation papers are exactly the same format.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers

5 Min Images 15 Min Recall
Important to remember the new 'concrete images' are only 5 minutes, not 15.
Memorisation papers
Recall papers
Answer papers - arbiters only; these will tend to be in the format of just a page of numbers, but make sure to keep them sealed away until they're needed.

5 Min Historic 15 Min Recall
Memorisation papers - multiple languages again
Recall papers - and this time, the recall papers are also language-specific.
Answer papers - these ones I normally print with a red heading, just so it's harder to accidentally hand them out to people.

Spoken 100 5 Min Recall
Spoken 550 25 Min Recall
Always worth checking immediately before the competition how many digits/trials is the 'standard' nowadays - it changes a lot.
I always make sure to have two sets of numbers prepared for each trial, just in case something goes wrong with the playback. This is the discipline where things are most likely to go wrong!
Recall papers - since the scoring is up to the first mistake, these don't have to be rows of 40; in fact, 30 is traditional for some reason.
Answer papers

5 Min Cards 5 Min Recall
5 Min Cards 5 Min Recall
Bring cards - as with the 10-minute cards above, a lot of people will bring their own, but some might not. There's no harm in re-using the cards from earlier as long as you make sure they've been extremely well shuffled. But if there are enough to go round, it's better to use different packs.
Also needed are 'speed stacks' timers, although again some competitors like to bring their own.
Some competitions like to have slips of paper to record the times on; it's not essential, but it's nice to have.

And finally
Don't forget to bring any prizes that might have been promised! Some people like to create certificates once the final results are known and hand them out in a prizegiving ceremony; Friendly Championships tend to be in venues where we need to vacate the room quickly after speed cards is finished, so the single most important bit of preparation for a competition is to know where there's a nearby pub everyone can go to celebrate when it's finished!

Did I forget anything important? Let me know, and I'll add it in before I finally cross this task off my list!