Thursday, August 25, 2011

Boris Bikes!

London is awesome! You can hire bikes for next to nothing and ride them all around the city and then drop them off in the amazing computerised bike stands that know where you've come from and who you are! As well as cycling from the hall of residence to the competition venue and back, I decided to not buy a travelcard and cycle from Hoxton into the bit of London that I know (the bit with the comic shops and this internet cafe - which incidentally isn't the really cool internet cafe I always used to go to, because that's turned into a trendy wine bar, or a Co-operative Bank or something along those lines, but this one is nice too and actually cheaper than the other one used to be), but after half an hour of going in circles I realised that London is actually quite hard to navigate, so I got a travelcard anyway. But the point is, Boris Bikes are groovy.

Anyway, there was also the UK Memory Championship today. It's in another splendid MWB Business Exchange conference room, which is spacious, quiet and ideal for this kind of event. We had a total of seven people turn up at the start of the day - not so bad for a competition arranged at three weeks' notice - me, the double-act of Jameses Paterson and Ponder, Rick de Jong from Holland and Mattias Ribbing from Sweden, US Champion Nelson Dellis and newcomer Londoner... damn, I'm not sure about this now I come to think about it... Martin Mwaka. Something Mwaka, anyway. I wish I knew how to remember people's names. Anyway, new British memory competitor! These are rare and precious individuals who need to be celebrated! We'll assemble a team of three for the World Championships one day, I know it!

During the course of the day we were also joined by Florian Dellé, who'd been meaning to compete but ended up just watching, and American newcomer who happened to be in town with nothing to do Jay Adams. Or a name similar to Jay Adams, anyway. See above. The Filipino duo who were also expected haven't yet been spotted, but maybe tomorrow. The exceptionally smooth running of the competition was thanks to Phil Chambers, Chris Day, Nathalie Lecordier, Gaby Kappus, someone who I met last year who laughed at me because I couldn't remember him and whose name I've now forgotten again, and probably someone else too. Full credit will be given in my next blog, because these people really are wonderful.

We started with everyone's favourite, names and faces - this is the first time any competition has done fifteen-minute names and faces under the slightly different new rules, meaning that the winner would be the world record holder at least until the German Championship in a couple of weeks. I was experimenting with a stricter journey-based memorising method, and thought I'd got a score of seventy-something, but it turned out only to be fifty-something, which just goes to show that I remain rubbish at names and faces, if anyone had ever dared to think otherwise. James Paterson remains great at them, and set the new world record score.

Then we moved on to binary, and the inescapable fact is that I'm not as good at that as I used to be. A bit more practice could bump my scores back up over four thousand, but my recall is just too patchy at the moment and it's annoying. I got a score in the 3400s, which was good enough to beat everyone else, but is short of where I want to be by quite a long way.

Abstract images went rather better, though - I'm at a point where I can comfortably do four journeys (300 images) in fifteen minutes with only a couple of mistakes, and so that's what I did, but by the time the world championship comes round I'll need to have stretched that to five if I want to be competitive. Anyway, a score of 288 (58 correct rows and two incorrect) was good enough for now.

In speed numbers I started with a 'safe' 360, noticing in the process that I was feeling tired and wasn't anywhere near as fast as I've been in practice at home, but had a mistake and ended up with a score of 320. For the second trial I had a go at the big 480, but was nowhere near getting it right.

And finally it was 30-minute numbers, and my plan was to try for six journeys, seven if I was feeling stupidly optimistic. But by the time I got to the third one I noticed that absolutely nothing was sinking into my brain at all. So I switched tracks and decided to try an experiment I've been meaning to work on - just going for four journeys (936 digits) and trying to get them all perfectly correct. For devoted followers of my memory techniques, this involves going through each journey quickly twice, then closing my eyes and trying to recall everything, only looking at the page when I hit a blank, and then making sure I cement the missing digits in my brain. It's slow and laborious, but it does work. Then I had time for another quick run through the 936 digits before the end of the memorising time, and it was a pretty successful experiment all in all. I had a couple of very annoying gaps early on, but after that I had an unbroken sequence that I was about 95% confident was perfect (which means there will undoubtedly be some silly mistakes, but not too many).

This is quite encouraging, because my recall in everything, but especially numbers, has been very very gappy in practice lately, and this shows that I can still do a nearly-perfect recall if I just change my ways and don't try for too much. A near-perfect 1170 would be entirely acceptable in the German championship, and we'll have to see what I can do in the hour numbers once that's out of the way.

Anyway, that leaves me comfortably ahead of the field at the end of day one, for what it's worth. There's no way to say this without sounding conceited, but there was never really any prospect of me not winning here, the important thing was to see what kind of score I can get in a real competition, and I'm not unhappy with how it's gone. I'm lacking the stamina to do a full day without flagging, but I knew that would happen, it's the first time I've really done a long day's work since last December, and it'll come back with a tiny bit more practice.

So now to bed - should I take a bike, or the tube? Probably better play it safe.

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