MemoryEffects.PDF updated

Published on Sunday, February 25, 2007 in , , , , , ,

BrainJust a quick note today. I've updated MemoryEffects.PDF (opens in a new window) with the numerous routines from Combo II.

If you're not familiar with MemoryEffects.PDF, it's a constantly growing list I keep of memory-related effects that can be found in the Downloads section over in the rightmost column. For more details about it, check out my Memory Effects Galore! post.


2nd Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Friday, February 23, 2007 in , , ,

CarnivalThe 2nd Carnival of Mathematics is now up! It includes a link to my post on the 15 puzzle magic square.

If you missed the first one, or you're wondering what exactly it is, check out my post on the 1st Carnival of Mathematics.


Review: Combo II

Published on Thursday, February 22, 2007 in , , , , ,

playing cardsJust under two years ago, I reviewed Combo, by Karl Fulves. One year ago, I learned about Combo II, the sequel, and promised to review it when I obtained a copy.

While it has taken me a year to keep my promise, this post will finally fulfill it.

Combo II is more than twice the size of the original at 125 pages. At first glance, it appears four times as big, since each page is only printed on one side. The new book has 10 chapters:

1) Binary Basics
2) Simple Memory Tricks
3) Small Packet Combo
4) Secret Outs
5) Faced Card Tricks
6) Thought Control
7) Extended Memory
8) The Long Form
9) Codicils
10) Extra Credit

For those who don't have the original, the binary basis of the combo system is explained once again, in more detail than the original. The thought, logic and inspiration behind each decision in the system is thoroughly explained.

The routines themselves start with an amusing and improvised routine that the author performed in a doughnut shop. When the doughnut shop worker brought up the subject of memory, Mr. Fulves offered a demonstration of his own memory. He had the clerk lay out a row of 20 napkins, and place a combination of a dozen doughnuts and 8 spoons in any order that the clerk chose, and stated he would recall the order with his back turned, and pay double for the dozen doughnuts if he missed even a single doughnut. Karl Fulves then memorized the order using the Combo system, turned his back, and named the doughnut order perfectly! Amusingly, with the doughnuts looking like zeroes, and the straight spoons looking like ones, the items practically provided their own binary mnemonic.

Granted, this routine isn't one you'll be doing in your shows, but it does give a basic idea of how flexible the system is, and helps inspire the reader to look beyond just the routines in the book. The other routines in the first chapter also show a wide variety of applications, including a routine in which you can identify an amazing amount of detail in one of 64 photographs, given only the number on the back.

The Small Packet Combo chapter turns its attention to routines involving only part of a deck of cards. There's some great work here on remembering the same packet in more than one way, making it appear you're remembering more details of the cards than you really are.

Those who have read Combo will appreciate the Secret Outs chapter, in which solutions to frequently-encountered problems are offered. Since the use of memory and the binary nature of the routines is so well disguised in most routines, several ways are offered to simply have cues available to you visually, without the audience realizing it.

Faced Card Tricks deal with applications of the Combo system to face-up and face-down cards, while Thought Control focuses on mentalism routines. The last routine in Thought Control, which is performed after Stewart James' Miraskill, is a perfect lead-in to the next chapter.

Extended Memory focuses on methods for making the system more efficient. In the basic system, you can remember the color order of 16 cards with just 4 numbers, while this chapter shows you how to cover the color order of 32 cards with the same amount!

Long Form features tricks that, while they require great detail to explain, usually are fairly quick to perform once practiced. After Moe uses some ideas from the Extended Memory chapter to create an impressive new version of the classic Moe's Move-A-Card routine. In the standard version, you're only claiming to memorize the entire deck to the point where you can identify a moved card, whereas in this version, whereas the secret to the Fulves version isn't too far from doing just that!

Winding up the book, we have the Codicils and Extra Credit sections, which offer further thoughts and details on items discussed on the book, as well as avenues for further exploration.

All in all, this is a very valuable addition to your library, especially if you're interested in both magic and memory. The Combo system is a subtle, simple, effective and unusual tool that is very flexible in application. I recommend both Combo and Combo II together. Combo II is available for $22 directly from the author at:

Karl Fulves
Box 433
Teaneck, NJ 07666

Combo is also still available for $18, from the same address. The shipping price suggested by the author is 20% of the purchase price, but no less than $5 for USA customers. For customers outside the US, the suggested amount is 25%, but no less than $10 postage.


Review: Ebbinghaus 1.5 (Mac OS X)

Published on Sunday, February 18, 2007 in , , , ,

EbbinghausWhat iTunes is to music libraries - free, simple, flexible and effective - Ebbinghaus is to flashcard libraries.

The influence of Ebbinghaus by iTunes is immediately apparent when you start it up. As you can see in the screenshots, you have your libraries on the left side of the of the window, and the details of your items in the main body. The titles of you libraries and how many flashcards they contain are listed in the library frame. The details include not only the text of the front and back of the flash card, but also any graphics used for the flashcard, their activation status (whether or not they should be included in quizzes), the name of their library and a progress rating. Also just as in iTunes, you can sort your libraries in the order of any of these details.

The progress rating is very powerful. As you quiz yourself with the flashcards, the progress rating will go from empty to red (critical), then yellow (warning), then green (mastery). In the preferences, you can set how many times someone must be quizzed on each card before they can progress from the various levels, and how many quizzes constitute total mastery (up to 20). If you sort your flashcards by progress rating and then highlight the ones with the lowest rating, it's a simple matter to quiz yourself on your trouble spots.

Across the top are the main controls, including study, statistics, export/import and inspector. Study is the button that starts quizzing you on highlighted libraries and/or cards. The Statistics button give you an average rating of your progress for a particular library, or an overall picture for all libraries. Import will load up files in a special XML format, as well as the standard comma separated value format (CSV) that can be generated by many database programs. The Inspector button shows you all the details of a particular card, and makes it easy to edit any mistakes.

Export, though, deserves some special attention. Export can, of course, create the aforementioned XML and CSV files for easy sharing with other Ebbinghaus users. However, there is also a feature to export your cards to iPhoto. When you select this option, your cards, including any graphics, are turned into images and added to iPhoto. From here, you can sync these images into your iPod, and quiz yourself on the go (albeit without any saved progress).

Speaking of importing and exporting, you can easily upload and download to the online flashcard directory. If you're looking for standard quizzes such as languages or world capitals, you might save yourself some time by looking them up here. You can learn more about this aspect of the program in the Ebbinghaus 1.5 release notes.

Apparently, the author doesn't plan to rest on this version. He's already taking feature requests for Ebbinhaus 2.0!

I've discussed other free applications for memory training before (here and here), but Ebbinghaus really stands out. I've found myself actually using it more than the others I've previously mentioned. I highly recommended it!


The BBC on Memory

Published on Thursday, February 15, 2007 in , , , , , ,

BBC's How To Improve Your MemoryLast year, the BBC ran a program titled How To Improve Your Memory. The series itself hasn't been posted online, but you can see clips online, featuring Dominic O'Brien (learn more about him here) and Aubrey Parsons.

Thanks to this interest in memory, the BBC site features an entire memory section. It's not just a section featuring information about their TV and radio programs on memory. Instead it's a rather thorough explanation of the topic.

With the help of people like Andi Bell, they've even posted some memory tests you can try. Try the Multi-Item Memory List. If you need help, try learning Andi Bell's method for memorizing long lists. If you have Flash installed, you can also try out Explore Your Memory, and get a closer look at your short term memory.

Take some time and check out the articles, tests and links on this site. If you want to learn or improve your memory, it will be time well spent.


Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Sunday, February 11, 2007 in , , , ,

Over at Abstract Nonsense, they're hosting a great blog carnival (a what?).

It's called the Carnival of Mathematics, and the first post is now up! Heath Raftery's probability paradox post is already generating the most talk. Although the scale is different, the ensuing discussion already reminds of the discussions over the Monty Hall dilemma.

Of special interest to Grey Matters readers would be Barry Leiba's Number Tricks post. Before you read it, though, check out this site (Flash required) so you can be amazed and understand what Barry is talking about.

Enjoy this one, and look for the next one on February 23rd over at Good Math/Bad Math!


Solving the Rubik's Cube for Speed

Published on Thursday, February 08, 2007 in , ,

Rubik's CubeProbably the best selling book on how to solve the Rubik's Cube would have to be The Simple Solution to Rubik's Cube, by James G. Nourse. This book offered a very practical, easy-to-memorize way to solve the puzzle. The major problem came if you wanted to use the method, as written, to solve the cube as quickly as possible.

There are also great methods for speed-solving, such as Jessica Fridrich's CFOP method or Philip Marshall's method, but the number of patterns and the situations you're required to memorize can seem daunting.

Fortunately, Cédric Beust offers a happy medium in his article, A Rubik's cube solution that is easy to memorize. It's taught with the help of some animated Rubik's Cube (courtesy of Java), to help make the learning easier. This method has the simplicity of the Nourse method, requiring the memorization of only eight sequences, yet can still help get your solution time under a minute with regular practice.

Now, if you do want to compete in competitions against people like these, you'll want to look deeper into the numerous more advanced algorithms. However, if you simply desire to impress your buddies with your speed, the Beust method is just the thing!


Memorizing Poetry

Published on Sunday, February 04, 2007 in , , , ,

PoetryAmong memory techniques, rote memorization has a bad reputation. However, it's hard to argue with the effectiveness of rote.

It wasn't that long ago that rote memorization of poetry was a normal part of school. In an article titled In Defense of Memorization, Michael Knox Beran points out the benefits of returning to such a curriculum. The same arguments could be held for simply adding the practice to your everday life.

With a great why, the how of memorizing poetry needs to come next. The ingenious methods linked over in the Memory Basics section won't help you here. The best methods I've found are described at About.com and Poetry X. Even with these methods, you still need to be flexible when you apply them. Sure, understanding the meanings of each and every word is usually quite important, but that technique won't work well for a poem such as Jabberwocky.

There is, of course, the matter of which poems to memorize. You can find several great suggestions for starting points in Poems to Memorize, Recite, and Learn by Heart: For Fun, Forensics Meets, and Profit or Poems To Memorize.

As you proceed, you'll find that you gravitate to particular subjects and/or authors. I'll leave you with one of my favorite poets, Shel Silverstein.


10 Online Memory Tools...For Free!

Published on Thursday, February 01, 2007 in , , ,

brainMy recent entry on Quizlet led me to explore what other free online tools are out there to aid your memory.

We'll start off with an amazing array of flashcard sites:
1. Quizlet - See the above link.
2. jMemorize - This flashcard program comes in a close second to Quizlet. It's written in Java, so it will run on most systems and browsers. In addition, it quizzes you more frequently on items with which you have more trouble.
3. Pauker - Very similar to jMemorize, with the added bonus that you can run this program on your PDA!
4. Memorize In A Flash - This site allows the most graphically impressive flashcards in the group. If you have a clip art library, it could be put to great use here.
5. Memorizable.org - Unlike these other sites, you create your flashcards using Wiki. If you've ever edited Wikipedia, you'll feel right at home here.
6. StudyStack - This flashcard site has an impressive array of quizzes. Beyond just the basics, you can also do matching quizzes, word searches, hangman and more with your cards!
7. Quiz Press - While the full version isn't free, you can download a free demo version for your system. It runs on your computer, but will allow you to make multimedia quizzes that you can upload to your website or blog!

The flashcard programs cover the "Train and Strain Your Brain" part, so I'll move on to the "to Entertain" part:
8. World Memory Challenge - Once you've trained your memory, test it under fire here, and see how you rank against everyone else who has played! You can also compare your statistics to others of your gender and age group.
9. Conveyor Belt Memory Test - This javascript test will scroll several items by. Once they've all run through, you must recall as many of the objects in their correct order as possible.
10. Flickr Memorize Game - Enter your favorite username from Flickr, and then play the classic memory game with their photos!