Free Software for Memory Training

Published on Thursday, October 27, 2005 in , , , ,

If your curiosity was aroused when I wrote about the 2005 World Memory Championships, you can get a taste for how you would do at this memory training website, courtesy of former world memory champion Andi Bell. If you can do well enough against the current crop of competitors, you might even consider competing yourself!

On the odd chance that you're not going to be competing professionally, but still want to be able to memorize important data for work, school or fun then I have some free choices that don't require you to be tether you to the internet.

For those running Mac OS X, version 10.3 or greater, there's Genius from jrc Software.

For Windows users, there's SuperMemo. Speaking of not being tethered, SuperMemo is even available in PocketPC and Palm versions!

The strong point of both of these training programs is that they quiz you based on a technique called "spaced repetition". This is a fancy term that simply means you're quizzed with a frequency that studies show is most effective for retaining memories, with the items you miss being brought up more frequently.

Both Genius and SuperMemo allow you to enter and save massive databases of whatever information you deem frivolous and fascinating (or important, if you must). For technical support, ideas, or downloading other's databases because you're too lazy to create your own, you can find Yahoo Groups for Genius and SuperMemo.

Naturally, I'm already working on a database for 400 digits of Pi.

Correction: SuperMemo 98 can be downloaded for free. The other versions are for sale for various amounts.


Site Overhaul Complete

Published on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 in ,

I've made many changes to this site. Some are obvious and visible, and others aren't. Working from the noticable changes to the more subtle ones:

* The look of the site is the most noticable change. The previous look was a standard blogger template, and I was beginning to see too many sites that looked like mine. This new look was chosen to make the site stand out more, as well as be more consistent with the feel of the site. Thanks for the new look should go to Blogger Templates.

* Both the Atom and the RSS feed now contain properly formatted and linked text. The feed section of the links column now include explanations of what the feeds are, as well as where to find readers for your system. The Atom feed has been upgraded from Atom 0.3 to Atom 1.0, as well. Simply use whichever feed works and looks better in your reader.

* I have added a "Past Highlights" section to the links column on the right.

* All links on the site now open in the same browser window, unless stated otherwise. This was done to simplify navigation, and make it easier to return to this blog, if you wish.

Now that I'm done straining my brain to improve this site's look and function, we return to training and straining your brain!


What's New in News?

Published on Saturday, October 22, 2005 in ,

I'm constantly trying to update Grey Matters not only to make it more useful, but to make it easier to use, as well. Towards that end, I've just finished several changes that will help make it easier to find what you want on this site.

First, the Grey Matters RSS feed has been updated to include the complete text of all the entries of this blog. Originally, each entry in the blog contained just the first sentence or so. Now, using your RSS reader, you can search all of the entries to quickly find what you want!

Clicking on the RSS feed link (or badge on the side), however, and you'll notice immediately that the entries are much harder to read, as there are no breaks between paragraphs.

To help make the news feed itself more readable, I've also added an Atom feed, too. An Atom feed is similar to an RSS feed, but you'll be able to see the entries formatted as they are in the blog itself. Also, the links and graphics in the entries remain intact in the Atom feed!

Because of this improved functionality, I've made the Atom feed the default feed for this site. I will continue to keep both the RSS and Atom feeds updated, and they'll both be easily accessible via their respective buttons in the side column to the right. For those not familiar with these technologies, I've included links to brief introductions right next to them.

If you haven't tried using feeds yet, I suggest you get an RSS and/or Atom feed reader and start experimenting. Why? Most importantly, they help you keep informed as to when your favorite sites (like this one!) are updated. They also make it easy to manage and search all the information within your sites. Many feed readers are available free and are very simple to use, as well.

Ultimately, they make it easy to stay informed while letting you pay attention to only the information that you deem important. With the information explosion caused by the internet, a tool like this can prove truly advantageous.


Mind-Boggling Amount of Mind-Boggling

Published on Thursday, October 20, 2005 in , ,

Prepare to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Don't worry, however, I'll at least start slow.

For that matter, I'll even start with a fun cartoon format. First, learn how to count to 1,023 on your fingers, courtesy of HowToons, which features many other fun do-it-yourself projects, as well.

Moving from simple counting to actual problem solving, the Vedic Maths Tutorial teaches 7 amazing procedures for simplifying various types of arithmetic problems with which you may have previously had trouble. Many of the techniques are so simple, the answers are easily done in your head! It even offers practice problems and feedback, so this is a great way to start looking like a math genius today!

Still with me? Good! We're going to start moving a little quicker now...

Our next mind-boggling stop is Cut The Knot: Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles. As you'll see by the index on the side of this page, there are many sections, each containing many explorations into various aspects of mathematics. If the sheer amount of content is too overwhelming, there's also a Java-based banner on the opening page to bring up random facts. This banner, when clicked, will take you to a further explanation of its content. If nothing else, check out the Games and Puzzles section, and learn how math can help you win money from your friends!

Numericana.com is a site that serves as a huge archive of mathematical and numerical facts, as well as a taste of the content of the website creator's upcoming book of the same name (well, not "Numericana.com", just "Numericana"). The Final Answers section is divided into a full table of contents for the brave, and a "most popular" section to help you feel less overwhelmed.

Finally, we arrive at his majesty, MathWorld. MathWorld is a site created by Wolfram Research, the creators of Mathematica (what PhotoShop is to Slashdot geeks, Mathematica is to math geeks), and Mathematica CalcCenter for us mere mortals without a mathematics department in our backyard.

Mathworld contains many explorations of various aspects of mathematics, all demonstrated and/or explained with graphics and results from Mathematica. Of all of the sites listed in this entry, this is the most well-organized and visually stunning of the lot. Even if you don't read or learn a single thing from this site, just explore for the graphics. Besides, if you find a particular graphic that you find beautiful, stunning and/or amazing, you'll have all the more reason to read about the mathematics behind it, won't you?


Memory In Moe-tion

Published on Thursday, October 13, 2005 in , , , ,

In the new October 2005 issue of Genii, Karl Fulves (about whom I've written here before) writes up a great variation of the classic "Moe's Move-A-Card" routine, called "Moe's Memory". In the new Fulves version, you actually have two people switch cards in a shuffled deck, and you are able to determine them.

Despite the effect, there's no memory work involved. I don't want to give too much away, but those who favor the use of the Epitome Location should check this out.

Also during this month, you can check out Doug MacGeorge's variation of "Moe's Memory", which he calls the "30 second Memorized Deck", for free, courtesy of Greg Webb Magic e-Books. It's only free during October 2005, so get over there and download the PDF file as soon as you can!



Published on Monday, October 10, 2005 in , , ,

For those who don't find the Knight's Tour challenging enough, try Troyis. In Troyis, you use a knight to move around the board, but you can only move on the white squares, and you must land on each of the white squares before time is up!

You can play solo for free, or play live with other players for an added charge. In both versions, you can see where you are in a full list of ranking players, as well.


Twain Crossing

Published on Monday, October 10, 2005 in , ,

Few people know that Mark Twain was interested in memory systems.

He even wrote an article in 1899, which was published posthumously in Harper's Monthly Magazine, called How To Make History Dates Stick. In this article, Twain describes his version of what is known today as the Loci system, and uses the reigns of English monarchs to show how it works. If you read it yourself, you'll be amazed at how easily you can pick up almost 500 years of history.

Towards the same end, he also developed Mark Twain's Memory Builder Game. The idea of this game was to play it regularly enough that you and your friends and family would retain important dates in history. Interestingly, the game divides historical events into three types - Accessions (Kings, Presidents and other heads of state), Battles and "Minor Events". Minor Events were considered to be any historical dates that didn't fit the first two categories. Is it me, or does it seem strange to consider things like the ratification of the U.S. Constitution or the Great Depression to be "Minor Events"?


Knight's Tour Excalibur

Published on Thursday, October 06, 2005 in , ,

Paging through the October 2005 issue of MAGIC magazine, one ad in particular caught my eye. It was the Hocus-Pocus ad for Knight's Tour Excalibur by Devin Knight.

Please keep in mind that I haven't had a chance to work with the routine or the props, so I will be limiting this column to my first impressions about it from the advertising.

In the magazine ad (I haven't found this picture online), Mike Giusti is shown next to a fully set-up chess board. This was confusing at first, as when I think of the Knight's Tour, I think of a single piece, but this is explained by further reading.

The second thing I noticed through my inherent geekiness was that the board was set up wrong. Regular chess players know that the board is set-up so that the rightmost square nearest them on the board is white, and that the queen is always set on the square of her own color. While the board is oriented correctly, the sides are set-up backwards. The lighter-colored pieces should have been at the bottom, so that the light-colored queen could be set on her light-colored square, and the darker pieces should have been set at the top, so the dark-colored queen could be on the dark-colored square.

This may seem like a minor point, but a mistake like this in performance will quickly tell any regular chess player in the audience that you're less knowledgable than you're claiming. For a feat like this, you don't want to sacrifice conviction.

Moving on to the internet ad, we find out that the spare pieces are supplied for a presentation in which you announce that you can do complete tours of the chessboard with any piece. At first glance, this sounds impressive, but again, this presentation has the potential to lose the regular chess players. Every piece in chess, with the exception of the knight, simply moves horizontally, vertically and/or diagonally. Not only will a chess player realize that the knight is the only piece whose tour offers any real challenge, but that a bishop's tour is impossible, as the bishop's diagonal moves limit it to only half of the board.

The picture on the Hocus-Pocus website is somewhat confusing, as well. If we are to assume that the board starts filled with the numbers, which are then removed as the knight moves around the board, then the picture in the ad shows a knight that has two more moves maximum to make before it must admit defeat. OK, this one is just me being picky.

Judging by the descriptions, though, there are still plenty of good things about the routine. First, Devin Knight provides several different routines, including ones for restaurant and close-up! Also, judging from the pictures and the ad copy, the board and pieces are contructed to make the following of the knight much easier, and doesn't involve lines being drawn all over the chessboard. This is always a welcome change.

The ad states that this method becomes self-working. Also, there are no hidden cue sheets used, and no memorization is used. For those of us who are actually disappointed that no memorization is used, Hocus-Pocus offers throws us a bone, as well:

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are one of those performers who has memorized all the charts and patterns you will love this outfit. You can use it for the most visual way possible of doing the effect for real without any trickery.
If you've pursued any of the other references I've written on the Knight's Tour, this sounds like it would greatly help in the presentation.

All in all, I do have to say that the ad has made me interested in looking into the Knight's Tour Excalibur set further, so it has done it's job.

As an aside: I didn't plan for my 64th post to focus on the 64 squares of the chessboard. It just worked out that way.


New Tool In About An Hour

Published on Thursday, October 06, 2005 in , , ,

Over at the Magic Cafe, Davide Brizio is generously sharing his approach for memorizing a whole deck in an hour.