Saturday, January 13, 2007

Near A Raven

I had an email today from Ulrich Voigt, inviting me to join him and RĂ¼diger Gamm in a pi-memory contest. He's got a program that asks you for, say, the 93rd digit and you have to fill it in, or else the next two or ten or whatever digits after that point. He says "I feel that RĂ¼diger Gamm / Ben Pridmore / Ulrich Voigt might suceed in getting some sponsor to make the matter financially interesting", which I'm a bit sceptical about, to be honest, but I suppose anything's possible.

The question that mainly concerns me is whether I could be any good at this kind of thing. For the first hundred digits it would be a piece of cake - just give me ten minutes or so to memorise a hundred three-digit numbers (01-1, 02-4, 03-1 and so on) and I can blitz that no problem. But for a task like 5000 places, 10-digit answers, I would have to not only re-memorise pi (like I've been meaning to do for quite some time), but memorise it in a way more conducive to naming the nth digit on demand. Because the way I did it before is rather inconvenient for that purpose.

So I think I might do it, just for the challenge. But will anyone want to watch? Ulrich is a very big fan of this contest, but what it boils down to is someone tapping numbers into a computer. It's a bit incomprehensible for spectators, even after the whole premise has been explained to them. Still, you never know what will catch on, and I'll try anything once.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Great World Memory Champions of History

In the fifteen years of its existence, the World Memory Championship has spawned many memorable world champions. Some of the most interesting are described here:

Rotisserie Vasquez (World Memory Champion 1654-1659) was conspicuous for his unusual hairstyle, refusal to wear clothing and utter disdain and loathing for every other competitor at the World Championships. He filed official complaints with the IFRS (the predecessor of the WMSC) on several occasions, saying that it was ‘unreasonable’ to expect him to have to compete against other human beings. He wrote several worst-selling books expanding on this theory, revolving around the general idea that the World Memory Championship each year should consist of himself in an empty room, performing whatever memory feat he saw fit, and telling the arbiters afterwards what he had done. In fairness, Vasquez was genuinely the greatest memoriser of his time. His achievements seem modest by 21st-century standards (his world record for memorising a pack of cards was seven years, three hundred and twenty-four days), but he outshone the other notable competitors of the sixteen-fifties by some margin, and seldom resorted to violence in his pursuit of the title.

Galadria Ntemi (World Memory Champion 1832, 1835, 1846, 1953) first competed in the world championships three weeks before her birth in 1827, finishing a creditable 7th out of 98 competitors. Dedicating herself to memory sports from an early age, she refused to speak to or acknowledge the existence of anyone or anything not directly related to the World Memory Championship, and astounded the pre-Victorian world with her capacity for recall of binary numbers, setting a world record of seventeen digits in thirty minutes in the course of winning her first championship in 1832. Prevented from competing in the majority of World Championships in the following years by repeated unrelated kidnappings by octopi (it has been speculated that she exuded a sort of pheromone irresistible to cephalopods), she nonetheless won with ease two more titles before drowning at the age of nineteen. Reincarnated in 1932 as a Glasgow fishwife, she struggled to adapt to the new century's advances in memory techniques, finishing in the top five every year for fifty-seven years, but only winning one more world title, in 1953 (aided by the ironic kidnapping by octopi of reigning champion and hot favourite Politesse Perkins).

Pippi Langstrumpf (World Memory Champion 1724-1739, 1815), who despite his name was male, was one of the two World Champions to hold the title without ever memorising anything. He inherited the title from his mother, Raymond Langstrumpf, during the period when the title of World Memory Champion was hereditary, rather than a contest of skill. Popular among memorisers, he attended the World Championship every year of his reign, but declined offers to compete, protesting that he was far too stupid. Eventually, it was decided that the hereditary title was unfair on the competitors and it reverted to a merit-based honour, after which Pippi retired from memory sports. He was awarded the 1815 title, nearly fifty years after his death, for largely political reasons.

Etsuko Teranishi (World Memory Champion 1901) was described by her predecessor "Le Clopinel", who had forgotten his glasses on every occasion the two memorisers met, as "the largest man I have ever seen, with towering beard and ears like goldfish". She in fact stood less than three feet tall and had ears more resembling bream, but her memory power was unquestionable. In the 1899 World Championship she astounded the competitors and spectators by memorising a three-digit number in five minutes, shattering the previous record of two, and followed it up with another world record of seven random words in fifteen minutes. She would probably have won the World Championship comfortably, had she not suffered a near-fatal heart attack during dinner on the second day which left her in a coma for eighteen months. Returning in 1901, not yet fully recovered and suffering lengthy bouts of unconsciousness during the competition, she won nonetheless when all the other competitors were kidnapped by octopi, surviving just long enough to receive the trophy before expiring.

All these champions and many more can be found in the Big Book Of The World Memory Championships, priced £352.95 in all good bookshops, and 27p in bad ones.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bless this mess

I'm very nearly in the mood where I want to clean this place up a bit. Let's face it, this flat is extremely untidy, or to put it another way, filthy. I really should devote a whole day some time to scrubbing and disinfecting things, hoovering, picking up the comics and magazines and clothes and playing-card boxes and cardboard boxes and videos and books and palm trees and bits of sofa and sweet wrappers and electric keyboards that cover the floor, that kind of thing. And maybe, if I'm really feeling brave, cleaning the bathroom.

Also, and I realise I'm not the only person in the world saying this right now, since when does Easter start immediately after Christmas finishes? There are creme eggs and mini eggs and hot cross buns in the shops and it's January 11th! No, wait a minute. I like creme eggs, mini eggs and hot cross buns. I don't really have a problem with eating them all year round. I'm obviously only complaining because everybody else is. Long live six-month Easter food sales!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Roman room

This is my 493rd post on this blog. That means that in a week's time, give or take, I'll reach the fabled five hundred! Unless I have more problems with mathematics than I'm aware of, of course. So what should I do for the big occasion? I don't believe in celebrating minor anniversaries and landmarks, but 500 posts is a pretty big deal. Perhaps I should devote the whole day to writing the blog, and see just how many words I can churn out? Perhaps I should write some nonsense story, because it's a couple of months since I last did that. Perhaps I should subvert people's expectations and write one word (I'm leaning towards "potato")? Any more suggestions will be gratefully received, mentally filed away and forgotten about next Wednesday when I devote the historic post to insulting commentary about a minor television personality who's annoyed me.

I also need to learn how to do websites. Having decided to organise another Cambridge memory championship in May, I would really like there to be a nice-looking website I can point people to, featuring example memorisation and recall papers, rules phrased in a way that is comprehensible to beginners, basic how-to-memorise-numbers-and-cards information, pictures that give the impression that memory competitions are fun, all that kind of thing. Because (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) you can't really rely on the WMSC website to publish this kind of thing in a half-decent way.

Once I've got this wonderful website up and running, I intend to try to infiltrate Cambridge University and the surrounding area with the information that this competition is taking place, and attempt to persuade impressionable young students to give it a try. And also pester local businesses to see if we can arrange any kind of sponsorship to pay for the thing. Hopefully there'll be someone wanting to film it for a prospective documentary again, and I'll be able to hype this fact up for the advertising-hungry entrepreneurs of Cambridge. Of course, while I'm great at vaguely planning this kind of thing, I'm really terrible at putting it into practice, so we'll just have to see what, if anything, happens.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I just don't want to offend anyone

But if you buy a video from eBay and rather than what's supposed to be on it it contains an edition of Top of the Pops from April 1993 and part of an episode of The Bill from the same kind of time period, that's probably grounds for asking for your money back, maybe even leaving negative feedback, right?

But on the other hand, I only paid 30p for the tape, plus postage and packing, and I don't really want the money back that badly, nor the hassle of posting it back to whoever I bought it from. And it was one of those Cartoons R Fun tapes that I've mentioned before, produced so cheaply that they don't knock the copy-protection tabs out, so it's easy to tape over them by accident. And I always did like "Young At Heart" by the Bluebells, which was number one when this TOTP was made, and it's got the brilliant video on the tape. So I probably got as much enjoyment from the actual contents of the video, if not more, than I would have done from "Porky's Pastry Pirates". I'll just leave my usual glowing and positive feedback, rather than complaining.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Slight Return

Back to the normal, boring, live-from-our-Derby-studio blogs, after another four-and-a-half-hour train journey. Places really should be closer together. Still, it's comforting to know that the two of us are still good friends, that I still lose two out of three chess games and three out of three pool games on average and that it really isn't possible to run out of things to say about Doctor Who.

Also nice to know that one of the videos I found over the weekend doesn't have "Hollywood Steps Out" on it, claims on the packaging to the contrary, but does have "Have You Got Any Castles", which I also needed to find. I officially now have more videos than can fit in a single pile on top of the boiler cupboard. Well, I could stack them a bit higher, but then I wouldn't be able to reach the top row without a stepladder (as opposed to climbing on top of my computer like I do now). I also have many more books than can be safely piled on top of the cupboard in my bedroom, and almost too many to coat the floor of the room like they're doing at the moment. I need a bookcase. Several bookcases, in fact. And another flat to store them all in.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

X Marks the spot

Something I could have mentioned yesterday, had I not felt that the joke about EastEnders was so much more important, was that during this Scottish sojourn I've been introduced to the wonders of geocaching.

It's a strange hobby involving tracking down hidden 'caches' by means of given co-ordinates and a GPS device. So this is a pastime combining healthy outdoor exercise with the latest in modern technology, and as such is something that I wholeheartedly approve of. On Saturday, we went to the extremely picturesque little town of South Queensferry to find three hidden containers - one of them we had to go on an educational treasure hunt to piece together the co-ordinates from dates on buildings and information boards; another, hidden near the Forth Rail Bridge, was a box containing not only the obligatory log book for everyone who finds it to sign, but various trinkets to swap and 'geocoins' to exchange. We had a delicious lunch in an extremely picturesque little cafe in between hunts, got lots of sea air and walking, and then came home to find that a brand new cache had just been hidden not far down the road, so had to rush out again to be the first to find it.

There's a whole huge community of people who hide and seek these little tupperware containers and the things inside them. Now that's the kind of subculture they should be making documentaries about! I find it fascinating, anyway, and I might just have to splash out on the technology and go treasure hunting around Derby when I get home.