Washington Crossing The Delaware

Published on Sunday, December 28, 2008 in ,

Washington Crossing The DelawareInstead of challenging you during the holidays with a puzzle or a new memory feat, I thought I'd share something fun and amazing that you can simply enjoy.

Christmas isn't the only thing that's ever happened on December 25th, of course. Mental Floss recently listed 9 other things that happened on December 25th, including Washington's crossing of the Delaware.

Back in 1936, David Shulman composed an amazing sonnet entitled Washington Crossing the Delaware, and I'd like to share it with you:

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands - sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens - winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern - so go alight, crew, and win!

You might be asking yourself, “History? Poetry? Why are these things on Grey Matters?”

As you can tell by this site's slogan, I enjoy all things that train and strain your brain to entertain. Believe it or not, this poem is a great example of that very concept!

Why? Take a close look at the poem, and you'll see that every line is an anagram of the title, Washington Crossing the Delaware!

For example, take the first line of the poem, as seen in the animation below (Java required), and see how it rearranges perfectly into the title, courtesy of the Internet Anagram Server:


Grey Matters Internet TV!

Published on Sunday, December 21, 2008 in , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get MiroGrey Matters now has an internet TV channel available on Miro!

Miro, if you're not familiar with it, is a freeware program that acts as a sort of DVR for internet videos, and that can handle almost any video format you throw at it. Besides using it to watch videos you already have saved to your hard drive, you can search several video sources at once, and download those to watch at your leisure. Yes, Miro even makes it easy to download YouTube videos to your hard drive!

In a similar manner to a DVR, the videos will ordinarily be deleted from your hard drive after a specified amount of time. The default is 6 days, but you can specify storage times from 3 hours to 1 month. Of course, if you find a favorite, you can easily tell Miro to keep it on your hard drive permanently. Miro will both manage your hard drive space (you can tell it to keep a certain amount of hard drive space free) and organize your video collection.

Another way to discover videos about your interests is Miro channels. These are akin to TV channels, but can be created by anyone on just about any topic! Using Miro to organize these channel can be a great way to keep your favorite podcasts manageable. A Miro channel is basically a specialized type of RSS feed, and they're available for free.

Now, I've tried to keep Grey Matters Videos going, but a blog is proving to be the wrong medium to keep the videos organized. Creating the Grey Matters Miro Channel is a far better medium for what I want to do with Grey Matters Videos.

To take advantage of this new video channel, first download, install and run Miro. If you're just getting it up and running for the first time, you may want to watch the pre-installed Using Miro channel to become familiar with it. To add the Grey Matters Miro Channel, copy the following address:


Next, go to Miro, and from the Channels menu, select Add Channel..., then paste the above address into the box and click OK. As it's brand new, there are only 9 videos from around the web at the moment, including the Martin Gardner documentary I discussed in my previous post. Note that even though it isn't hosted at a site such as YouTube, Miro can still find it, download it and organize it with no additional trouble.

Since it's easier to add a video to a Miro channel than to create a blog entry around it, this video collection will grow over time. I won't be adding all of the videos from Grey Matters Videos, but I will leave that blog up so you can find any past favorites. The purpose of the Grey Matters Miro Channel, however, will be the resource for all the future videos I add.


Martin Gardner Documentary

Published on Thursday, December 18, 2008 in , , ,

Martin GardnerToday's entry is going to be short, but a treat nonetheless. Because I talk about mathematic, memory and fun, it's only natural that Martin Gardner should be the only person who has his own category at Grey Matters.

If you don't already understand why I enjoy Martin Gardner so much, I've found the perfect way to explain it. In David Suzuki's documentary series, The Nature of Things, he filmed 1 episode all about Martin Gardner, which has been made available online, courtesy of the people at Encyclopædia Britannica. This episode is called Mystery and Magic of Mathematics: Martin Gardner and Friends (MPEG4 video, click here for Windows Media version).

This is a video not only about Martin Gardner, but about the curiosity, the wonder, the fun and the beauty of mathematics in science. As is often the case with any work where Mr. Gardner is involved, there are many things on the video you can try for yourself. Set aside 46 minutes and watch the entire documentary, and I guarantee you won't be sorry.

You can also purchase many of Martin Gardner's books through Grey Matters. They can be found in the Math and Mathemagic sections of the Grey Matters Store.


More Articles from Google's Magazine Archives

Published on Sunday, December 14, 2008 in , , ,

Popular Science - Apr 1950In my last post, I mentioned just a few ads and articles from Google Books' new magazine archives. As promised, I've been looking around more, and found more interesting tidbits.

We'll start with a great example of using memory in everyday life. Meet August Schalkham, a 1931 New York City policeman whose memory was solely responsible for recovering 183 stolen cars! As a child, he and his brother would watch the trains passing by, and made a game of trying to remember the numbers on the freight cars, so that they would recognize them if the same freight cars went by again. After joining the police force and being given a fixed post, he became bored with his standard duties. To relieve the boredom, he adapted the game from his youth. He would memorize the numbers from reports of stolen cars, and then try to see spot them as the day went on. His skill got him moved from that fixed post to his own police car, which was somewhat of a luxury in the early 1930s (Being 1931 - note the reference to the World War, as this was 8 years before World War II began).

Do you like the Day of the Week For Any Date feat? Popular Science seemed to have an appreciation for novel approaches to this challenge. Abel Stroock devised an ingenious formula for the problem that uses only 2 variables. The catch is that you have far into the year you are. For example, if you're trying to work out April 15th, you have to know that it's the 105th day of the year (or 106th, in a leap year)!

The most ingenious method I've run across though, is one that's only meant to work in the current year. Oddly, a few simple dots on your analog wristwatch give you the ability to quickly give the day of the week for any date in the current year. With analog and digital watches that can do this for you, this trick might seem dated, but the method shown here doesn't require you to press any buttons! This could even be used on a wall clock, especially if the dots were somehow disguised.

For those who have already learned the date feat, the number of dots at each number for a given year is just the year key plus the appropriate month key mod 7. For example, 2009's key number is 3, so January 2009's dot pattern would have 3 dots (2009 key: 3 + January key: 0 = 3), February 2009's dot pattern would have 6 dots (2009 key: 3 + February key: 3 = 6), March 2009's dot pattern would have 6 dots (2009 key: 3 + March key: 3 = 6), and so on. Changing the set-up each year is a matter of working this out and then performing the actual changeover accordingly.

Not to be outdone, Popular Mechanics taught the Knight's Tour back in 1922! It's a simple, memory-free version that uses a small card, but it is taught thoroughly and effectively.

A full article on memory improvement appeared in the December 1958 issue of Popular Science, called 6 Ways To Sharpen Your Memory (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). This article covers the memorization of names, instructions, and even the basics of the phonetic alphabet!

I still haven't covered all of the articles I've run across that would interest Grey Matters readers. Keep an eye open for these and others when I next update the Memory Effects list.


Free Magazine Archives From Google Books!

Published on Thursday, December 11, 2008 in , , , , ,

Popular Science - April 1950Google books has just taken a step beyond books by making complete magazine archives available!

The magazine archives contain the complete contents, including the original ads, of long runs of numerous magazines. In the case of magazines that are still being published, the archives won't contain the most recent issues, but that still leaves many issues! For example, the Popular Mechanics archive contains every issue from 1905 to 2005 - a full 100 year run!

At this writing, there's no way to list all the available magazines, but below is a list I've put together by searching the site and getting links from others. If you find any magazine in the Google books archive that aren't listed here, please let me know in the comments! Also, feel free to copy and expand this list (you'll probably have to view the source code of this entry in your browser to do so).

Already I've been perusing these magazines for items of interest to my Grey Matters readers.

Going back just a few months, we find that the March 2008 issue of Prevention called We Never Forget Anything (Anymore) (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). This is about the different memory problems of four women, what approaches they took, and the results they achieved. This is a great approach in making a technical subject like memory training far more appealing.

Jumping back exactly two more years, Women's Health's March 2006 issue featured 5 quick tricks to help you remember specific things better, called Total Recall (Part 1, Part 2). Above and beyond standard memory techniques, these are quick tips that can help improve your memory in many common situations.

Ebony Jr., a children's version of Ebony magazine, had an October 1981 article called The Mysterious Matter of Memory (Part 1, Part 2). While the information in it is somewhat basic, the article itself is an excellent lesson on how to talk to kids about a complex subject like memory. Speaking of children and memory, this article did bring to my mind the old 1972 Sesame Street animation about a young girl who has to remember the 3 things her mother wants from the grocery store. I hadn't thought of that in a long time. Talk about the effects of long term memory!

Our next jump takes us all the way back to the 1930s! Popular Science, in a September 1936 article after my own heart, published Memory Experts: Made To Order (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). It discusses how many extraordinary feats can be achieved with less training than most people would think. It also includes some ways to test your own memory! Obviously, the author John E. Lodge is a kindred soul to Grey Matters from long ago.

Memory must have been a popular topic in the mid-1930s, because more than a year earlier, Popular Mechanics published an article titled Have you a Master Memory? (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), which went into more detail about specific mnemonic techniques than any of the other articles here. It even includes an approach for the Day of the Week For Any Date feat!

Looking through the magazines, there are also numerous ads for memory courses. Yes, Harry Lorayne is well known for his memory books today, but it's fun to see his ads in older magazines. On declares, "I'll make you a mental wizard in one evening!", while another grabs you with, "Let this machine work on your mind for one evening..."

The ada I most frequently found for memory training were those for the still-available Roth Memory Course (If you take inflation into account, the price of this book has actually gone down!). The Roth ads usually used the headline, "Why My Memory Rarely Fails Me," in single-page and two-page versions. There was also the mysterious-looking "A Startling Memory Feat You Can Do" ads, which teased you with the ability to memorize 25 items!

Another approach for Roth ads included "Memory Power Instead of Memory Tricks", which touted the superiority of his course over external artificial memory aids. However, I can't help but wonder if the most successful ads were the ones that promised more money and better jobs, such as "Why He Earns $30,000 a Year" (akin to making $430,000/year in 2008!) and "The Man With a Million Dollar Memory".

There's far more than I could include in a single entry, but these are the highlights. As I uncover more articles and ads of interest, I'll post them in future entries. For now, I'm going off to add these entries into an upcoming edition of my Memory Effects list.


More Than 1,000 Timed Quizzes!

Published on Sunday, December 07, 2008 in , , , ,

1000 +Timed QuizzesChallenging your own knowledge with timed quizzes is proving more and more popular. As of Saturday, Dec. 6, my How Many Xs Can You Name In Y Minutes? post now features over 1,000 different timed quizzes!

It all started at 12:31 PM EST, back on February 27, 2007, with the Ironic Sans post 50 States in 10 Minutes.

The meme has spread so far and fast that I now have to keep up with at least 10 different sites that specialize in timed quizzes, in order to make sure my list stays current!

It's not difficult to see who dominates the list, either. Out of the 1,013 quizzes on my list at this writing, Sporcle accounts for 698 of them! Sporcle originally started with the idea of being a site focused on advice for picking winning sports teams, and they featured a few How Many Xs Can You Name In Y Minutes?-type quizzes as a diversion. However, the popularity of the quizzes proved so great, their focus turned to them as their specialty. Sporcle also just hit a special timed-quiz landmark of its own earlier this week when they reached more than 10 million plays of their quizzes!

Sporcle was also recently generous enough to thank Grey Matters for helping their site! As a reponse, I'd simply like to say you're welcome, and express my hope that they keep up the great work!

If you have a blog or a website, you can be part of the fun (and the list, too!) by creating your own timed quiz with the Grey Matters Timed Quiz Generator. Instructions are linked on the page, and the generator creates HTML/Javascript/CSS code that you can put on your site. Even if your blog doesn't accept full standard HTML, Javascript & CSS, you can host it separately, and simply include it in your blog via an iframe tag.

Mogroware was the first site I'm aware of that featured a timed quiz generator.

Please let me know if I've missed any of your favorites timed quizzes, so I can add them to the list!


Feed Sources Are Being Moved!

Published on Saturday, December 06, 2008 in , ,

New feeds!Freehostia.com, the company that hosts the Grey Matters Mental Gym, has announced that they will cease support of outgoing connections on Dec. 16, 2008.

This means that this site's RSS feeds and widgets that read information from Freehostia will no longer function properly starting Dec. 16, 2008.

The good news is that I've compensated for this via a few changes in the site.

First, there are changes that, if you're using them, will happen without you even noticing. If you're using the blog feed banner or the Timed Quizzes feed banner, these have already been updated, and will continue to work just fine.

The first change you may need to make is the locations of the feeds themselves. Update your bookmarks and feed readers to the following new locations:
Blog Summary Feed: http://members.cox.net/econalc/files/greymatterssum.xml
Video Feed: http://members.cox.net/econalc/files/gmvideos.xml
Original Products Feed: http://members.cox.net/econalc/files/greymattersstore.xml
Timed Quizzes Feed: http://members.cox.net/econalc/files/timedquizzes.xml

If you follow any part of this blog via the Google Gadgets, you can go to your Google homepage, delete the old gadgets, and replace them with the new version just by clicking on the links below:
Google Gadget: Blog Summary
Google Gadget: Videos
Google Gadget: Original Products
Google Gadget: Recommended Products
Google Gadget: Timed Quizzes

Finally, there are two OS X Dashboard widgets that display feeds from this site, and they will need to be downloaded and installed, as well. Just click to download and install them:
OS X Dashboard widget: Blog Summary
OS X Dashboard widget: Timed Quizzes

The links over in the rightmost column have also been updated to reflect these changes, so that they will always be available and accessible.

I apologize for the inconvenience.


Jill Price: The Woman Who Can't Forget

Published on Thursday, December 04, 2008 in , , , , ,

The Woman Who Can't Forget by Jill PriceYou probably first heard about her back in 2006, in the news story Woman With Perfect Memory Baffles Scientists, where she was known only as “AJ”.

Back in May of this year, she revealed that her real name is Jill Price, and she's just written a book about how her perfect memory, called The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living with the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science--a Memoir. Since she was 14, she is able to remember every day of her life. She can remember details of her life before that as far back as when she was only 18 months old, as well, but they aren't as strongly connected with particular dates.

This is due to a condition whose technical name is hyperthymestic syndrome, but which can be thought of as a perfect autobiographical memory.

Jill isn't the only person, or even the only woman, alive with this condition. Taxi star Marilu Henner also has it. Probably the most unusual version of this condition would Orlando Serrell, who only developed this condition at age 10, after being hit by a baseball.

As much as I talk about the positive and fun side of memorizing things in this blog, you have to remember that Jill has a perfect memory of not just the good things that happened to her, but the bad things, as well. It could be said to be just as much of a curse as it is a blessing.

Just this morning on Fox & Friends, Jill made an appearance in which she promoter her book and briefly showed off her skills: