Thursday, November 17, 2011

But then again, too few to mention

One thing I really do regret in life is never reciting pi to 50,000 decimal places. Particularly because I still come across people who credit me with the feat of memorising it, without adding the quite important qualifier that I never actually recited it, ever, and thus everybody only has my word for it that I memorised all those numbers in the first place.

For the benefit of people who haven't heard the story, this was back in 2005, I'd just won the World Memory Championship for the first time and I found myself completely and totally incapable of sitting down and training to win it again. Complete and utter mental block - my pile of packs of cards gradually fell down the back of my desk one by one whenever someone bumped into it, and stayed down there for months. There's probably still a three of diamonds down the back of the radiator in my old flat in Derby. So I decided that until I got over it, I'd do something else memory-related and break the world record for pi. The well-known story is that after several months of memorising, I'd arranged a date and place to recite it and then someone else recited 83,000 digits before I got a chance.

I still wonder whether I would have been able to do it. I think probably not, to be honest. Reciting out loud isn't a strong point for me, and however familiar I was with the sequence of numbers, I'm sure after a couple of hours in a public place, conscious that several increasingly bored spectators were following my every digit, my mind would have started wandering and I'd have got lost. But it still bugs me a little that I never made the attempt - at the time, it seemed like a better idea to give up on pi and throw myself into practicing for the world championship after all, since it was only six weeks away at that point (I came 4th, and was probably lucky to do that well), but now I wish I'd just accepted that it would have been an "amazing second-best-ever memory feat!" and done it anyway.

Because I've long since forgotten it, over the last six years. I recite 50 digits really quickly for a party piece (and sometimes 1000 digits at particularly boring parties), and I remember that the 50,000th digit was a 1, but the rest is lost in the darkest recesses of my brain's filing system.

One day, I'll finally have created by 4-digit number system, and then I'll memorise pi to 50,000 places again. And this time recite it properly and officially. Just to show I can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An example of my astonishing memory powers

There was a book I wanted and couldn't find in the shops, so I ordered it on Amazon on Monday. Today, I was in Nottingham, saw it on the bookshelf and thought "Ooh, there's that book I wanted! Excellent!"

So I bought it, and halfway home suddenly thought to myself "D'oh!" And sure enough, there's a little card through my letterbox waiting for me when I get back, saying we've tried to deliver a parcel but you weren't in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keep on scaling it back

I have to confess that I'd never heard of DJ Shadow, nor of Yukimi Nagano, before Ewan and Casey asked me to do this video for them - they told me he did "trip hop", which I'd also never heard of (I'm not 'hip', and only a tiny bit 'groovy') and imagined would be some sort of sampled drum beat overlaid with rapping, which made me almost reject the whole idea out of hand. But luckily, Ewan included a link to the actual track on YouTube, and it turned out to be absolutely beautiful, and also just perfect for this kind of video.

Please enjoy the many "making of" photos here - see the people in the 'ninja' costumes who manipulated the props! See the understudy parrots waiting in the wings, as it were, in case of punctures! See me explaining that I'm not a ballet dancer and couldn't possibly crouch down in that cake and jump out again unless they raised it off the ground quite a bit! Honestly, the children and animals were great, but you should never work with me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Scale It Back

One day, I got up at the crack of dawn to take the early train down to Cardiff, and waiting for me in the basement of an abandoned shop were a huge cast of unusual people and props. "Hello, I'm Ray, I'm the old man," said an old man. "Yes, I thought you probably were, but I didn't want to ask in case you were someone else," I replied. "Hi, I'm Toby, I'm doing the monkey," said someone else. A small girl called Teeohnee flapped by in a pterodactyl costume, and her mother Alison told me she recognised me from the telly. The giant green snake lying in the corner just grinned at us.

When Buzz the eagle owl arrived, he was immediately the centre of attention, and quickly proved to be the most reliable and patient of the actors, happy to just sit on his perch staring at people, making occasional squawky noises that reminded me of an electric screwdriver, and never failing to glare at the camera when it came over to him. He was a much more talented actor than the remote-control hummingbird, which quickly proved to be temperamental and moody.

But everybody was able to work together in the end to produce a masterpiece:

DJ Shadow "Scale It Back" from Ewan Jones Morris on Vimeo.

Okay, I'm not an actor. The music and fun start at about the 1-minute mark. Feel free to skip ahead.

The music is "Scale It Back", by DJ Shadow featuring Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon. The directors and creative geniuses who had the idea of making one of my mental journeys into a music video were Ewan Jones Morris and Casey Raymond. It was all filmed in one continuous take, which meant nine hours of continuous filming, a lot of it spent hiding in a rapidly-disintegrating cardboard cake. But it was well worth it for that finished product!

It's a real pack of cards: 5h 3h 8c 2c Ac 3d 6c 6d Ah 4s 2s Kc 9s 8s Ad 7d 4c 5d Qs 5s 10h 3c Jc 3s Kd 6s 9d 5c 8h Jd 7h 10c 4h 9c 2h Qd Qc Jh 10s Qh 7c 6h 9h 4d As 8d Ks Kh 2d 10d Js 7s. And I did actually memorise it, but what you see at the start of the video is take four or five, so I'm fake-memorising cards I've already looked at.

Some of the images are changed from the ones in my head, mainly for copyright reasons - the generic pterodactyl is actually Dac from the cartoon Dinobabies (this pterodactyl was much more nice and friendly than mean old Dac), the street-fighter in my head is actually Fuuma from World Heroes, but I just said "street-fighter" and the producers interpreted that as Chun Li, the owl should be an eagle, but eagles aren't easily available in Cardiff, and so on. But apart from that, the interactions and the flow from one scene to another are exactly as they appear in my brain! It's really an uncannily accurate representation of what I'm thinking!