Saturday, July 23, 2005

Postcard from Darmstadt

German keyboards are particularly difficult to get to grips with when your name´s Zoomy. The Y and Z are in the wrong places. Also, the backspace button is too small, so I keep hitting the # when I want to correct a Y or Z. And the apostrophe is in the wrong place too.

All whining aside, though, I´m in a really good mood. It´s Saturday evening and the German Memo Open has just finished. Clemens won, in some style, with Gunther second, and I generally did very badly, but then cheered myself up no end by breaking the world record in the final discipline, speed cards. 32.13 seconds! Woo!

That aside, though, Clemens was the star of the show. If I´d been at my best (which I certainly wasn´t), and had English translations of all the word-based disciplines, it would have been very close. I have a feeling he might still have won. Gunther was also very much back on form, which means that the WMC might still be a great contest, even without Astrid, Andi and others. That´s just assuming Andi won´t be there, which I actually have no evidence of at all. He might come back better than ever and win by miles.

Anyway, going from memory, Clemens had a world record in the 30-minute numbers and Gunther in the 30-minute cards. I tried 15 packs, which I could do last year and had assumed (based on a single practice run with 12 packs) that I could still do now. I made a complete mess of it and ended up getting three right. I also did much worse with the binary than I´ve done for years, including practice over the last two weeks. I wasn´t confident of having memorised the numbers well enough after two runs through, so I only attempted 3000 and went through them a third time. And I still only ended up with a score of around 2000. I blame tiredness and the wrong mental attitude. Gunther broke his own record (but not quite mine) with just under 3500.

A bit of sleep later, today´s events were a bit of a blur. Clemens and Boris both got 71 on the historic dates, which is worrying. Looks like I might not have that much of an advantage there any more. Clemens also beat the world record on names and faces (poor Andi´s lost all his records now, we think[EDIT: of course he hasn't. He still holds the records in hour cards and spoken numbers]), and generally did well on everything else. He got 44 seconds in the cards and he´s capable of better.

So, can I win the world championship? I don´t think I´ve got any real chance, but I´m going to give it the old college try. I´ll rearrange my holidays and take three days somewhere over the next three weeks for some proper training - that way I can still go to Lursa´s so as not to upset Jenny, go and look at steam trains with my dad, and talk to the American reporter who´s been following us around all weekend. If I could refrain from promising to do things like this, I might be a better memory man, although I would have even less of a life than I do as it is, so I shouldn´t complain.

In other news, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is just as good as the rest. Damn, I wish I could write like that. I must write something else and make an effort to get it published while I´m still a tiny bit famous...

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Birmingham International Airport has the most boring departure lounge in the world. Luckily, though, I've come equipped with "At Swim-Two-Birds" by Flann O'Brien, as well as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I'll save for the journey home on Sunday. I'm hugely grateful to Charlie Garavan for alerting me last year to the existence of Flann O'Brien, and it's a shame really that I took so long to get round to buying this fine example of his work.

Everyone should check it out, if only for the discussion between the Good Fairy and the Pooka Fergus MacPhellimey, in which they hold anything up to five conversations at once, one of them starting with the Pooka's strange belief that kangaroos qualify as humans, which develops into a debate as to the possible kangaroolity of the Pooka's own wife, the question of how many tails a good or bad person should have, and a lot more that the three minutes left to me on this expensive airport internet access allow me to detail.

This really is a stupendously boring departure lounge. I wouldn't recommend living here if you have the choice between this and any of the decent London airports. There is a Burger King and no McDonald's, though, which is always a good thing. Bacon double cheeseburgers being the ultimate in fast food and everything. Anyway, the plane's boarding. Assuming it doesn't get lost, I'll be in Frankfurt in a couple of hours, bit of sightseeing then a train to Darmstadt. Bye!


I'm well and truly bored with not having a blog. And since I set this one up months ago and only posted some random nonsense and a picture to see how it worked, I might as well start doing it properly. After all, the world needs to know about memory competitions, othello, strange internet chatrooms, cartoons, superhero comics and the thrilling life of a soon-to-be-jobless financial analyst.

So to start off with, seeing as I've got an hour or so to spare, I thought I'd say something about every subject of interest to me. Let's start with that impending joblessness thing - yesterday we got a cryptic announcement that there was to be a meeting at 11:30 today that everyone had to attend, which immediately started rumours flying around the office. Today it turned out that they were all true, or at least the ones about us all losing our jobs if not the ones about Tony winning the lottery and offering to share it with everyone. It seems that the group are fed up with Parkhouse failing to make any money, so they're closing half the branches, handing the rest over to Select and leaving all of us at head office out on the streets.

Could be worse, really - we've got job security until October 31st, then a bonus of 10% of our salaries plus pay in lieu of notice, which will be a pretty nice lump sum. And I get the added advantage of this making my job (analysing past and present performance so the bosses can make decisions about the future) completely unnecessary, so I can look forward to three months of less and less financial analysis, more and more ad hoc cover for anyone in the building who needs it, no stress or anything like that. Of course, then I'll have to find a new job, but I'll cross that bridge when I can't run away from it any more. God, I hate job-hunting. Damn bridges.

Incidentally, this also stops me finding entertainment in the different ways people describe my job. As above, I've always said that my job description is to perform financial analysis. Tony the MD, on the other hand, feels that it's my responsibility to produce financial analyses. It's amazing that I haven't been fired, considering I'm not doing what the boss thinks I've been doing all these months.

Anyway, everyone's variously cheerful and miserable about the news, but they'll be all right, I'm sure. I had a bacardi and coke at lunchtime, which I never do, as my way of acknowledging the gravity of the situation, but I'm not honestly all that bothered. I'm sure if I keep this blogging up, I'll be able to fill everyone in on my adventures in the job market.

Moving on to the more important things in life, Boomerang is the greatest TV channel. Ntl are providing it as part of their base package nowadays, and it occupies far too much of my time. At any time of day or night you can find some old or new Warner or Hanna-Barbera cartoon - lots of Scooby-Doo, modern classics like Baby Looney Tunes (not everyone's idea of a classic, but expect to hear a lot about it from me, that's an advance warning) and Duck Dodgers, evergreen stuff like Wacky Races, Pink Panther, Josie and the Pussycats, and lots of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Three of them every evening at 6pm is ideal for when you're coming in from work.

From what I've seen so far, they've got quite a wide range of Looney Tunes on their playlist - mostly the ones featuring the celebrity characters, and it doesn't look like there's anything black and white or dialogue-free and musical, but they did show "Bacall To Arms" complete with the closing blackface gag, so they're obviously not too fanatical about censorship.

Today's selection were "Hair-Raising Hare" (a bit overrated, like all of Bugs Bunny's, but still fun), "Beep Beep" (which reveals that road-runners can't read and don't drink, although it might just have been saying that to wind up the poor old coyote - RR is unusually malicious in this one, at least by the standards of the Chuck Jones cartoons) and the brilliant "Canned Feud". Apart from Daffy, Sylvester's the most versatile and consistently funny star of the WB stable, and he's at his best in this one, being remorselessly bullied by a mouse who's stolen his can opener. This might be the only cat-and-mouse cartoon where the cat is entirely blameless - he's not trying to catch and eat the mouse, poor guy, he just wants to open a tin of tuna. This is what makes Sylvester work - you always feel sorry for him, more than you do with Tom, because he's just such a sap.

Anyway, 35 minutes into the spare hour, let's mention memory. I am, after all, jetting off to Germany tomorrow for the German Open. I don't think I'm in with any chance of winning, or even a decent placing, but my practice of the last week and a half has got me back close to form with the cards, a bit further away with binary (but still hopefully up to the standard of most other competitors) and a long way off with numbers. I'll go into more detail about what that means some other time - I appreciate that a lot of the people reading this don't know what I'm talking about, but I can't be bothered with a full explanation of the principles of memory sports right now.

My main interest this weekend will be seeing how Clemens Mayer performs. He might be the favourite for the world championships next month, if only because the other favourites won't be there, but he's been inconsistent in the long disciplines in the past. I'd like to see whether he can post decent scores in all three half-hour events on Friday - if he can't, I might harbour some hopes of managing to defend my title after all (assuming I don't go to the party on the 30th and do some training instead).

That'll have to do for memory for now - I'll go into more detail when I get home. Now, what else did I say I'd write about? I'm not scrolling up to the top to check, that's for non-world-memory-champions. Othello. Played very badly on VOG tonight, as I have been doing a lot lately. I really want to work on it before the nationals in September. I'm sort of formulating a good technique for memorising games, and I might spend the three days off between the WMC and MSO (the days I was going to use to rehearse pi - I'll explain that reference in a future post too) trying it out. Of course, memorising games won't improve my play in itself, but it might give me a better understanding of the principles that the good players use. Can't be worse than my current technique of playing based on vague instinct as to the best move.

Weird internet chatrooms - the Bridge is still dead. The best chatroom on the worldwide web is still an ex-parrot. Of course, if it wasn't, I wouldn't have spent the last 46 minutes typing this drivel, I would have been chatting, playing, huggling, laughing, and so on and so on with the world's most eclectic collection of intelligent, witty individuals with nothing better to do than chat on a message board. Maybe I'll develop the ability to blog here and chat at the same time.

Superhero comics? Hmm, what to say? What's coming out this week, not that I'll get a chance to buy them till next Saturday? (Quick check on Diamond) Astonishing X-Men #11, finally. The second arc has dragged a bit, to be honest. Perhaps if it was published monthly it would have been more fun. But it's still better than most of what's coming out lately, and Joss Whedon's genius always manages to shine through even in his more dull stories. GLA #4, finishing the miniseries that I can't praise highly enough. Dan Slott hits exactly the right tone for the Great Lakes Avengers - they wouldn't work with outright comedy, but they're perfect for a serious superhero story that happens to be madly silly too. It's funny - every other such joke character in comics has been overused and used badly in the past, but the GLA have always ended up written by John Byrne, Kurt Busiek and great writers like that, and they've been used so seldom, they're still fresh and funny. Here's hoping it continues, although a Slott ongoing series (complete with the same fabulous art from the guy whose name escapes me) would be wonderful. Ultimates 2 #7 - that's late too, isn't it? Shame, it was doing so well at keeping on schedule, compared to last time. The writing's been even better than volume 1, so I'm not complaining.

But it's really annoying when comics don't come out on time. The American monthly format is bad enough when you grew up in a country where weekly comics are the norm, but when there's six weeks or two months or more between issues, it ruins them. I'd stop reading American comics in protest and stick to 2000AD if only they'd publish something that isn't rubbish.

Anyway, that's 57 minutes. Have I covered everything I said I would? Better check. Yep! Shall I spend three minutes talking about Terry Klassen? Why not?

His voice for baby Sylvester in Baby Looney Tunes gets much better the more I analyse it - it's basically Sylvester Junior, only less squeaky so as not to sound so much like Tweety, and with a bit more lisping when the script demands it. It's very scientifically put together and very well done, and I did him an injustice at first by mentally assuming he was just doing the same voice he did for Cuddles on Pocket Dragon Adventures, so I apologise. Even though I didn't mention this to anyone, so he's unlikely to be offended.

And if Terry Klassen is in fact a woman, I apologise for that too. I've only seen the name and heard the voice. He sounds male.

That's all, folks. See you when I get back from Darmstadt.