Review: Geek Logik

Published on Thursday, August 30, 2007 in , , , ,

Geek Logik bookWant to look at the world through the mind of a geek? Geek Logik is definitely the way to go!

With this book, and the aid of the included calculator, you can finally answer all those seemingly-unquantifiable questions you come across in your life, such as: Should I get a tattoo? Can I still wear tight jeans? Is it time to see a therapist? How many beers should I have at the company picnic?

The author, Garth Sundem, actually has a great knack for taking the abstract, and turning into into somewhat precise calculations. He started out with his own Geek Logik blog, and now has his own Scientific Blogging column that feature these fun calculations.

To give you a better idea of the nature of this book, let's take a look at the example from one of Garth's early columns, which asks the question: Should I take the weekend off to go skiing?. The equation looks like this:

The variables are defined this way:

D= Do you have a doctor’s note? (Enter 1 for “no,” 10 for “yes,” and 5 for “yes, but it’s written in crayon.”)
S=How many inches of new snow fell at your ski area of choice overnight?
R= Degree of responsibility in your job (1-10 with 10 being “last time my sub caused nuclear winter—which is not as good for skiing as it sounds”)
M= How many days have you skipped in the last month? (double any days you then ended up on the A-Basin video clip of the day)
N= The daily amount you pay for a lift ticket
$= Your daily wage in dollars

Garth explains the result you get this way: If SkiersCough is greater than 1, you should hit the slopes, but consider a Groucho Marx moustache disguise in addition to your goggles and helmet.

While you could run these numbers with your calculator, I'll make it even easier for you. Thanks to instacalc, I can provide you with a custom calculator for just this equation. All you have to do is change the numbers (don't change the label names) to suit your particular situation and then hit the tab key! If the calculator isn't showing up below in your browser, you can use the calculator here.

(Note: The original instacalc tour no longer works. However, you can still see it via its Google cache or via its wayback machine cache.)

The fun thing about doing the equations this way is that you can see under what situations you should go skiing! Everything else being accurate, how many inches of snow would have to fall for you to go? How would a lift-ticket discount or coupon affect the situation?

How seriously should you take the results? Garth has an excellent answer for that question. Remember, for any important questions, the responsibility for the final decision is yours alone. Neither Mr. Sundem nor anyone at Grey Matters will take any blame (or credit) for the consequences of your actions.

There's many a geek who wants to see mathematical formulas simplify the problems of daily life. What makes this book so fun is seeing how far one particular geek has taken this desire and seeing the world through his eyes.


Offbeat Memory Techniques

Published on Sunday, August 26, 2007 in , , ,

brainMost standard memory challenges can be overcome by learning standard memory techniques. However, there are some memory challenges that, because of the way in which you need to use the information, don't work neatly with those techniques.

For example, what if you needed to memorize several essays for an exam? Steven Aitchison discusses the technique that he used to help his wife remember three 500-word essays. She managed to do this in about 9 hours, over the course of just 3 days.

John Place has a more general approach that will work for just about anything.

A key point in both techniques is being able to write and study distraction free. If you use a word processor to jot down notes, there are now several word processors whose main feature is that they minimize distractions. They do this by using a full-screen black page, and minimize features so that you can focus on what needs to be written. You can find versions for Windows, Mac OS X or your browser.

Now, this works well for when you have to remember just some main points, but what about when you have to learn something verbatim? I linked to one approach in my post on memorizing poetry. At the Productivity501 blog, there is an interesting method for learning text word-for-word. There is even a handy tool at the end of the article to help apply the technique!

Just to get our minds out of a scholastic mode, let's turn to memorizing something more fun. What if you were a casino dealer, and you needed to memorize the roulette wheel? This dicedealer.com article not only shows how to memorize the wheel, as it discusses both what exactly you would need to know, and why you would need to know it.

Even if you don't use any of these particular approaches, I suggest looking them over. Together, they're a wonderful lesson in figuring out exactly how you're going to use the information you memorize first, and then using that knowledge to find the most effective method.


15th Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Saturday, August 25, 2007 in , ,

CarnivalThe 15th Carnival of Mathematics has been posted! And on the correct day, too!

This edition of the Carnival of Mathematics has so many posts, it has 7 chapters and an epilogue! There are so many goodies there, I can't single out any particular posts, so I'll just recommend you go and explore.

The next carnival will be on September 7th over at Learning Computation.


Wolfram Demonstrations

Published on Friday, August 24, 2007 in , , , , ,

Mathematica Player logoYes, normally I post my blog entries much earlier in the day, but I've been distracted and fascinated by the subject of today's post, the Wolfram Demonstrations page.

Back in May, Wolfram Research released the newest version of their classic software, Mathematica 6. Of the numerous new features, one of the most eye- and mind-catching is the ability to export to their new notebook format (.nbp).

What is notebook format? Short description: It's like QuickTime player for mathematical demonstrations. Long description: It's a special file format that allows users, via the free downloadable Mathematica Player, to manipulate interactive mathematical demonstrations. Those who have Mathematica 6 can develop their own original demonstrations.

There are already over 1700 free downloads available on the Wolfram Demonstrations page, and more are being uploaded every day. The best place to start to give you an idea, while having some fun at the same time, is the puzzle section. You can try everything from the classic puzzles, like Towers of Hanoi and the 15 puzzle, to more modern puzzles, like Sudoku and Planarity.

From here, you can look through random demonstrations, search or browse by topic (via the menu). If you've enjoyed some of my mathematical discussions in the past, such as the Monty Hall Dilemma (demonstration), Buffon's Needle Problem (whose demonstration is cleaner than the frozen hot dog approach) and Prisoner's Dilemma (demonstration), you can now experiment with them more directly!

For the fullest experience, I suggest trying out the demonstrations that interest you, and do further research on those topics in Wolfram's MathWorld section. Which reminds me, I've got to get back to these demonstrations myself!


New Grey Matters Store!

Published on Sunday, August 19, 2007 in , , , , , , , , ,

Numb3rs First Season DVDTake a close look at the tabs at the top of the page. There's something new there. It's the Recommended Products tab!

For a year and a half now, I've had the Grey Matters Online Store for my own original items, such as my Train Your Brain To Entertain CD-ROM.

However, when I recommend other commercial products, I've had to link to numerous other websites. Finally, I now have a brand new store featuring many of the items I've mentioned!

One of the best things about this new store is that, instead of having a single set price for the items, the items will be listed from various sources so that you can compare prices! For example, take a look at the Numb3rs Second Season DVD. At this writing, there are prices listed ranging from $31.08 to $48.33!

Currently, there are 8 sections with over 80 products! Check out the DVDs, books, puzzles, games, brain training, magazines, kids & family and presentation sections.

Many of the items in the store I've mentioned or used specifically on here, such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, which I just reviewed last Thursday.

There are also items I think would be useful to the Brain Gang, such as Days, Months and Years: A Perpetual Calendar for the Past, Present and Future, which has obvious use for those of you who've learned the Day of the Week For Any Date Feat.

All the items, just as with the store of my original products, are guaranteed to fit in with the Grey Matters philosophy of helping you have fun while challenging and improving your mind! Please take a look around, explore the new store, compare prices, and maybe even help out Grey Matters by making a purchase.

Also, if you have any products to suggest, or other comments or questions about the store, please let me know in the comments, or via the Contact Me tab at the top.


Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

Published on Thursday, August 16, 2007 in , , , , ,

Every Good Boy Deserves FudgeI've frequently been jealous of Scrabble players, as they have their own dictionary, but those of us who memorize things as a pastime don't have such a handy reference work. At least, that we didn't until now.

Dr. Rod L. Evans has written a book called Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. This is a handy little reference book (218 pages) that is divided up in various topics, ranging from Astronomy to Zoology. Each section has various mnemonics related to the topic.

The topics are just academic ones, as you might expect. You can even find sections about hunting, birthstones and even distinguishing your right hand from your left!

Many of these you'll already know, such as “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” (the bars of the treble clef: E, G, B, D, F) or “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (mathematical order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction). However, you'll also find new and original ones, such as “My Very Eccentric Mother Just Served Us Nude” (the order of planets, without Pluto: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune).

If you're in school, this book will prove very handy in almost any topic. It's not just for the studious, though, but trivia lovers and bar-bet-settlers, as well. In short, it's fun, useful and handy.


Review: The Magic of Memory

Published on Sunday, August 12, 2007 in , , , , , ,

The Magic of Memory: Phonetic MnemonicsDr. Thomas Harrington has recently released an excellent new PDF e-book called The Magic of Memory: Phonetic Mnemonics.

Unlike most memory books, which try to cover as many aspects of the topic as possible, The Magic of Memory focuses solely on the phonetic alphabet. The phonetic alphabet will be familiar to many in the Brain Gang (that is, Grey Matters readers). If you're not familiar with it, see the explanations of the Major System in the Memory Basics section.

After Dr. Harrington finishes the basics of the system, he teaches how to use them to help remember mathematical constants. Once he finishes with the basics, however, he quickly begins taking the system in new directions!

One technique which is discussed here, but is rarely covered in great detail elsewhere, is the Memory Chart, or “trellis”, as Dr. Harrington calls it. Not only is it discussed in detail here, there are numerous trellises offered for use. They range from a classic list of nouns, as discussed in the Roth Memory Course, to an original 100-proper-name trellis.

Next, an original approach to the classic Day of the Week For Any Date feat is proposed. Above and beyond the classic approach, Dr. Harrington's approach can even enable to determine the time between any 2 given dates in the same year! The discussion of dates wraps up with a lesson in remembering the birth years of famous artists.

Another rarely-discussed mnemonic topic, that of clustering, is then examined. Clustering is using the same links for several items, such as the order of the elements and the order of the U.S. Presidents.

From here, several topics are covered using the techniques discussed, such as memorizing details on a map, playing cards, and long numerical sequences. There's even an excellent examination on the use of verbs alongside the traditional nouns.

As an added bonus, two mnemonic dictionaries are included. The first simply gives mnemonic words for each of the numbers 1-1000. The second dictionary contains the numeric sequences for a majority of the most commonly used words in the English language. This dictionary is so detailed, that it takes up over 90 pages of the book itself!

If you are interested in the phonetic alphabet, whether you're a new or veteran mnemonist, I highly recommend The Magic of Memory: Phonetic Mnemonics. The thorough examination makes it a valuable aid, even if the mnemonic dictionaries weren't included.


14th Carnival of Mathematics

Published on Thursday, August 09, 2007 in

CarnivalThese Carnivals of Mathematics keep getting earlier and earlier. The 14th Carnival of Mathematics wasn't scheduled until August 10th. I checked for it today (August 9th) and found it had been published on August 8th!

Well, early or not, at least Vlorbik has it up. Grey Matters readers should especially enjoy Trekking Into The Desert.

The 15th carnival will be posted at a mispelt bog on (theoretically) August 24th.


Back By Popular Demand!

Published on Thursday, August 09, 2007 in , , , , , , ,

PiThe original Mental Gym section (formerly a website called “Be A Genius*”) featured two feats that I removed when I incorporated them into my Train Your Brain and Entertain software. After various e-mails inquiring about them, the 400 Digits of Pi and Day of the Week For Any Date lessons and quizzes are back, and for free!

The 400 Digits of Pi lessons show you how to remember the digits in and out of order. You can learn to do this in such detail that you can even give, say, the 237th digit when requested! To help get the links down, you can practice with the 400 Digit Pi quiz. Practice with the various tests, and you'll be a Pi expert in no time!

The Day of the Week For Any Date lessons are broken up into 4 bite-size lessons, so that you can learn this classic feat at your own pace. First, you learn how to adjust for the days and months, then the years, followed by special years and even other centuries! Finally, you can practice with the Day of the Week For Any Date quiz.

If you've worked with these before, I hope you'll enjoy having them back. If these sections are new to you, I hope you'll try them out and amaze your friends and family with your new-found skills.

While creating these new sections, I've also removed several dead links in the Mental Gym section and fixed some problems that were slowing down the site overall. This should make everything on here faster and easier to use.


13th Root World Records

Published on Sunday, August 05, 2007 in , ,

Slide RuleEver seen a 200 digit number? For those who haven't, here's one:

Imagine being given that number and then being asked to find a number that, when multiplied by itself 13 times, will give that number as an answer (in other words, the 13th root). Oh, and you have less than 90 seconds!

That was the task set for Alexis Lemaire on July 24th of this year, and he did it in only 77.99 seconds at Oxford's Museum of the History of Science!

Back in 2004, Lemaire also set a record for finding the 13th root of a 100-digit number in only 3.62 seconds!

How does someone even begin to calculate a 13th root? The best way is to work up to the task slowly. The best place to start is to learn how to do cube roots. This gives you an idea of some of the processes and abilities needed to perform mental root calculations.

From there, you can work up to fifth roots, and then to square roots. Yes, it is strange that square roots are trickier to mentally calculate than 3rd or 5th roots, but that is indeed the case.

Once you're familiar with those, you can start working on 13th roots themselves. A knowledge and understanding of logarithms will be of great help here.

In case you've been wondering, I'll wrap up by ending the suspense. The 13th root of the aforementioned 200-digit number is 2396232838850303.


Magical Memory Routines

Published on Thursday, August 02, 2007 in , , , , , , ,

Question MarkI've noticed numerous new memory-related magic routines coming down the pipeline, and I thought I would share them with you.

Bob Miller, besides performing memory routines such as recalling the names of his audience members, also teaches memory techniques. His Memory Magic CD-ROMs have been featured on his site for some time.

However, Bob has just added something of great interest to Grey Matters readers. It's called BAM!: The Complete Course to the Borrowed and Memorized Deck. In this booklet, he teaches the Major and Journey systems, both of which are taught by numerous others. However, the difference with Bob's work is that you're doing the memorizing during the course of 2 other magic routines. You can also build your confidence by doing routines that require the memorization of only 5 cards, and then building to 10, then 26 and finally all 52 cards.

Another cool item is Jack Kent Tillar's Memory Pill Act. This is a 4-part act in which a pill apparently gives you a giant memory. There are several bonus memory feats included, as well.

While I'm discussing Jack Kent Tillar's work, I should explain who he is for those not familiar with his work. Probably his most famous original creation would be the now-classic blister effect, which has spawned numerous variations, often without the proper crediting to him. Fortunately, several well-known magicians are working to correct this oversight by contributing to Jack's new Blister Book. He also has made numerous other contributions to magic and mentalism.

One of the other contributions he has made is his book, The Memory Game: 7 Days to a Magical Memory. This is a week-long plan, requiring 35-40 minutes each day, that will improve your memory easily. Regular Grey Matters will find many of the techniques familiar, but there is also plenty that will be new for anyone. Just for fun, there are also 7 magical memory routines at the end that the reader can use to entertain their friends and family. As an added bonus, this book also includes the complete Memory Pill Act I mentioned earlier!

Besides being a wonderful course in and of itself, Jack also puts out a teaching guide and business plan for The Memory Game. This will show you how to make money hosting gatherings to teach memory techniques!

Lybrary.com recently added Thomas Harrington's The Magic of Memory to their shelves. This is a work that focuses on the Major System and several applications, and includes a mnemonic dictionary, which lists words that can be used as images for a given number.

Don't forget that Lybrary.com features an excellent memory and mnemonics section, including my own Train Your Brain and Entertain software!