Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cambridge Memory Championship 2009

The fourth Cambridge Memory Championship (gosh, has it really been so long since I started doing this?) will happen on Sunday May 3rd, in the delightful surroundings of Trinity College, Cambridge. Please come along! Memorise things and have fun! If you want any further details, please ask! I mean, I don't really know any further details yet, but I'll make something up.

Also, I've just watched both pilots of the US version of Red Dwarf on YouTube (I love YouTube), and they're really not anywhere near as bad as everyone says they are. It might have been a fun series. Craig Bierko especially is very likeable as Lister, it's a shame he didn't get the chance to play the character some more. What's he doing these days? Hmm, Broadway plays, it seems. And according to Wikipedia, he was offered the part of Chandler on Friends but turned it down. That's probably not true, but it does make him sound like a guy who has no luck with TV shows. If I make one, I'll offer him a part in it.

Tomorrow, I will be talking about Dragon's Teeth.

Friday, January 02, 2009

I'm a master criminal!

I've just realised something tonight. I took nine speed cards timers out to Bahrain with me for the world championship (I own a lot of them myself and lend them out to supplement the WMSC's supply at big events) and brought ten back with me. Nobody's complained, so perhaps they just called the police and left it at that.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I understand it's the done thing to resolve to do things at this time of year. So here's what I resolve. If I haven't done these things within the next twelve months, throw things at me. Heavy things. But no sharp edges.

1) Win the World Memory Championship again. I'm rather lacking in dedication right now, although I have done a little bit of practice today, despite my strategy of not being pleased with my winning performance last year. I really need to make an effort to win two years in a row, because that really would be a cool achievement. Clemens did it, and Andi, and I'm pretty sure I'm better than them.

2) Encourage the likes of Clemens and Andi to compete and try to win the World Memory Championship by taunting them like in the paragraph above, so as to make the whole thing more fun and challenging.

3) Break some world records at the World Championship. That was embarrassing and annoying this year.

4) Organise at least one big, successful memory competition (see tomorrow's blog for details of the Cambridge Memory Championship 2009) and get lots of new people competing in memory competitions.

5) Outside the world of memory competitions, win an othello tournament. I'm getting fed up with never having done that. I'm a wildly inconsistent player, so I'm sure at some point I'll have one of those days where I beat everyone.

I would resolve to do things not related to mind sports competitions, but frankly, five resolutions is more than enough. Sheesh, what do you want, perfection?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


What better subject to talk about on New Year's Eve than my coin collection? I think I mentioned it on here a little while ago - I own a "collection" of 14 interesting coins that I've had since I was little and recently rediscovered among all my old junk while in the process of moving house. Most of the coins were sent to me by some relative, probably Auntie Cath, perhaps with the intention of starting me off on a fascinating hobby or perhaps because she had a house full of old coins and had run out of other presents to send to her numerous nephews.

Anyway, last night there was a Simpsons episode on Sky involving a coin collection (they really have run out of interesting plots for the Simpsons, haven't they?) and it inspired me to wonder 'did they make any coins with Edward VIII on them?' And since when I get a thought like that I can't sleep or do anything else until it's resolved to my satisfaction, I turned to the internet to find out. Luckily, I quickly came across this excellent website that gave me a quick and interesting answer - they did, but they were waiting for the coronation to issue them, so they never came into circulation - and motivated me to do what I'd been meaning to do for at least twenty-something years, and find out for certain whether that 1806 penny, the oldest coin in the collection, was actually a penny or in fact a halfpenny. Weirdly, coins in those days all look the same and don't say on them how much they're worth. I would think this would have been confusing. Still, it turns out that mine is a penny, like I've been saying it was all along, which is nice.

Here are the coins, scanned for your fascination:

Left to right, top to bottom:

1966 sixpence - haha, all the sixes. I think this one wasn't part of the "collection" I was originally sent, but was one of the old coins my dad had around the house. They were mostly old pennies, but there was the occasional interesting one, like this. Young-looking Queen Elizabeth II on either the obverse or reverse, I can never remember which is which.

1920 silver threepenny - this is a rather cool one. George V on the back, and I always think a beard looks good on a king. William should grow one, it'd make him look much cooler. Charles is a lost cause, even if he does end up becoming king in the end. Anyway, I remember my dad also having one of the big twelve-sided threepences, but I never saw fit to add that to the collection. There's an old Oor Wullie comic strip where he thinks he's found a half-crown but it turns out to be a silver threepenny (worth a tenth of a half-crown) under a magnifying-glass - that's the kind of plotline that you just can't do with modern coins.

1806 penny - as mentioned above. George III, looking fat.

1882 half penny - added to the collection from my dad's old pile of coins because it had gone a really weird green colour. I'd love to know what this coin has been soaked in at some point in the past. You can just about make out Queen Victoria.

1950 farthing - George VI on one side, a cute little wren on the other. Farthings were cool. By 1950, what with post-war inflation, they weren't being used much any more, but they kept minting the things until 1956, apparently. Useful fact learned from that website - until 1949, coins had 'IND IMP' after the 'FID DEF' bit, but then there was that whole Indian independence thing so they had to change it.

1868 third-farthing - Worth a twelfth of an old penny, and a really titchy little thing. That website isn't clear on whether they were ever in common use in Britain itself, but they were introduced for Malta, which used British currency but had previously had coins worth such a tiny amount.

1852 quarter-farthing - Probably the tiniest coin in the universe, and apparently only used in Ceylon, where the cost of living was REALLY cheap. I think this is an extremely groovy coin to have.

1977 crown - This one was a special issue for Elizabeth II's silver jubilee, and it's something that's belonged to me since I was a tiny little baby. Awwww.

1975 decimal half penny - I remember when these were still legal tender. And when things were cheap enough that you could actually need a half penny. I'm old.

1972 crown - Elizabeth and Philip's 25th wedding anniversary. Don't remember where this one came from.

1985 five pfennigs (Germany) - I've got a few obsolete European coins too. It's good to remember those days before the euro. No king or queen on this one. Bring back the Kaiser, that's what I say.

1980 fifty pesetas (Spain) - A commemorative World Cup 1982 coin, minted two years before the World Cup. They'd have felt really stupid if the World Cup had been cancelled for some reason.

1967 five cent (Holland) - I know nothing at all about Queen Juliana. I should find out what she was all about.

1885 ten centimes (France) - I should try to find some more modern francs and centimes, to remind me of those school trips to France back in the late eighties. Nineteen-eighties, that is. I'm not THAT old.

So yay, groovy coins! I'm almost fascinated enough by the aforementioned website to start collecting the things seriously, but collecting anything nowadays is just a matter of typing into the internet what you want and buying it. Which is no fun at all. I suppose I could get a metal detector and only collect coins I dig up for myself, but I think I'd probably be better off just giving away my collection to some bright-eyed, less jaded young budding numismatologist. Do any young people read this blog? If you do, drop me a line and I'll give you some coins!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Concerned about my kettle

My kettle seems to be malfunctioning in an alarming kind of way. Two times now I've turned it on and left the kitchen, then come back at the sound of a loud splash to find that it's somehow flung boiling water in vast quantities all over the kitchen surface.

I'm mystified as to how it's doing this. It's a normal upright jug kettle, with no holes in it except at the top, it wasn't more than half full to start with, and I don't see how it could have ejected half of the water that was in it while remaining upright. It seems to defy all the laws of nature and makes me worried that it's come alive and is angry with me for some reason. Possibly because I don't drink tea or coffee and seldom have reason to boil a kettle. I was thinking of turning it on and watching it to see exactly what's happening, but it might be an even worse explosion next time and would leave me looking like Father Bigley. Plus there's the fact that watched kettles never boil, so I'd be standing in the kitchen for the rest of eternity waiting for something to happen. And I've got to work tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Work, sort of

Half of my department are on holiday, and the office is dead quiet for the bit-between-Christmas-and-New-Year. Which is annoying, because I've got quite a lot to do, and I can never work when I'm on my own in a quiet office. For some reason, my productivity is much higher when there's somebody else there nattering away for me to ignore. If I'm sitting in silence, my mind wanders and I find myself drawing pretty colourful pictures in Excel. Someone come into the office with me tomorrow and sit nearby, talking about the weather, so I can get some work done!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Horror of the Cheque Guarantee Card

"Flaming Nora!" Philip suddenly yelled, flinging his dinner plate across the bathroom and watching as it shattered in the washbasin.

"Is there a problem?" Samantha asked, perceptively. "Dinner too hot? Unusual choice of dining location causing distress? Sudden memory of past events causing alarming realisation? Existential angst of a non-specific nature?"

"The third one," Philip said, grimly. "And also the other three. Spaghetti was so hot it had melted into a bubbling pool of goo, sitting on the toilet to eat is uncomfortable and disturbing and the universe is cruel and overwhelming. But the main thing is what happened earlier this morning. Remember when I asked Cecil to return my library books while he was out in town?"

"No," said Samantha. "Did that happen?"

"I videoed it," Philip said, standing up and dragging Samantha by the hair into the living room. "I video everything now, because you never remember anything I've done. Watch this."

Philip put a tape into the VCR and pressed play. The screen showed Cecil sitting on the living room floor, cutting his toenails, and Samantha lying in bed reading a book. Philip then emerged from behind the camera. "Right, that's recording," he muttered. "Now if I have any reason to reference this conversation to you in future, Samantha, I'll have proof that it happened."

Samantha looked up from her book and said "I'll remember. I'm reading a book about how to have a good memory. It's by Ben Pridemore. Or Bridmore. Or something."

"Hmm," Philip said. "Anyway, Cecil, you're going into town today, aren't you? Good. Return my library books, would you? Here's my library card and here's fifty pounds to say thank you."

"Cheers," said Cecil, taking the card, the banknote and his leave, without even waiting to put his shoes on.

"You see!" Philip enthused. Not the Philip on the screen, who was pulling funny faces into the camera for his own amusement, we're talking about the Philip who just came out of the bathroom and played this tape for Samantha. He continued "Did you notice?"

"That Cecil didn't take your library books when he left the house?" Samantha said. "Yes, that was strange."

"No, I leave my library books on the front lawn," said Philip. "It was the card! That card I gave Cecil wasn't my library card! I took the wrong card out of my pocket! Cecil's got my cheque guarantee card!"

"He's got your what?" asked Samantha, scratching her head.

"You know, my cheque guarantee card," Philip repeated, unhelpfully. Samantha punched his face until he explained further. "It's the early nineteen-eighties, and the normal means of paying for goods and services is by means of a cheque, presented to the cashier accompanied by a plastic guarantee card. The cashier then copies the number of the card onto the back of the cheque and thus makes it legally binding or non-refundable or something."

"Oh," said Samantha. "I thought it was the year 2008."

"Ho ho," Philip laughed. "I think you've been reading too much science fiction set in the year 2008, Samantha. No, it's about 1983, I think. Give or take. Margaret Thatcher, Dexy's Midnight Runners, radios made of wood, all that kind of thing. Now we'd better chase after Cecil before he takes over the world!"

He made a packed lunch, a gesture for Samantha to follow him, his exit and his way to his car, while Samantha followed behind, querying "What? Takes over the world? I thought the card only enabled him to guarantee cheques in your name, with your signature, to a maximum value of fifty pounds. And also, did libraries use plastic cards in 1983?"

"Some did, I think," Philip mused, starting the car and driving off at top speed. "I mean, some do. We live in a major metropolis, let's say Nottingham, with a big library that is experimenting with a new computer database system and barcode reader. It's primitive, granted, but it's a major step up from the old paper-based records. Admittedly they probably don't need to scan the borrower's card if he's only returning books, but I forgot that in the heat of the moment."

"Right," said Samantha, fiddling with the car radio. "But what about the taking over the world thing? And if it's 1983, shouldn't this car have ashtrays in the doors?"

"What are you, a historian? Just shut up and wind down the passenger-side window using the time-period-accurate non-electric handle, will you? I think I see Cecil," commanded Philip.

"Noticed your mistake?" Cecil laughed, running alongside the car as it sped down the motorway at sixty miles an hour. "Too late! I've already taken over the world, Philip, and granted myself the ability to run at up to sixty-three miles an hour! And all thanks to your cheque guarantee card!"

"Only sixty-three?" Samantha gasped. "Then there's still a chance! Accelerate, Philip! If you can drive faster than Cecil can run, everything will be okay again!"

"There's no need to state the obvious, Samantha," chided Philip. "But we've got a problem. We're driving an Opel Kadett with numerous mechanical defects, similar to the one that George Pridmore drives around in right now in 1983, and I'm not sure it can get much faster than sixty-one mph!"

"Try pressing the accelerator!" Samantha urged. "And not the brake! Put it into the highest gear available, fourth I suppose! Sound the horn! Turn off the radio so that the slight vibrations caused by the jarring music of Culture Club don't slow the car down!"

"Good ideas," Philip said, doing all those things. The car sped up slightly, reaching a speed that, as best Philip could tell from the old-fashioned and inaccurate speedometer, was in the region of 62.9375mph. "No good!" he bellowed rather more loudly than was necessary, considering that Samantha was sitting right next to him and the radio was off. "We can't quite outrun Cecil and the car will explode if we keep pushing it so hard!"

"Then all is lost! Woe!" exclaimed Samantha, melodramatically. And indeed, all seemed to be lost, but just as the car was about to explode and shower the M1 Northbound with shreds of tacky orange metal debris, Cecil stumbled over a snail and fell flat on his face.

"Hooray!" Philip and Samantha chorused, bringing the car to a stop in front of him and getting out to see if Cecil was alright. Cars and lorries honked their horns and swerved to avoid them as they wandered cheerfully across the carriageway and helped Cecil to his feet.

"Ah well," Cecil mused philosophically. "Ruling the world was fun while it lasted. Here's your cheque guarantee card back. I returned your library books, but then the library closed down due to computer failure. That's 1983 for you!"

"Ha ha!" they all said.