Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 4 - September 2005 - by Phil Chambers

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Welcome to the September issue of the Learning Technologies Newsletter.

Following on from last month's subject of Memory we have a report on the World Memory Championships. We also have part two of our explanation of how memory champions achieve their great feats - looking at the 'loci' technique. As always, we also have our regular features of Quote of the Month and Mind Mapping TIp of the Month.

Quote of the Month

One of the really powerful things about the memory
championships is that it makes you feel great ...
to see normal, nice people who are not wearing anoraks
achieving these fantastic things and they're cool.
It's like WOW!
I wish when I was 17 I'd seen this and then
I wouldn't have been embarrassed about putting
my hand up in class and having the right answer.
There's nothing like knowing the right answer
- Life's about that, isn't it?

Lex McKee
(Speaking at the 2005 World Memory Championships)

For many more quotes click here.

Mind Mapping Tip of the Month

On the bottom corner of each Mind Map write the code "10-D-W-M-3M" this stands for the five reviews: 10 minutes, Day, Week, Month, 3 Months. Each time you do a review cross off one of the code letters. This gives a really good visual record of having completed the reviews.

For another 100 tips on Mind Mapping see "101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps" by Phil Chambers, available from our online shop, click here.

Inside the Mind of a Memory Champion (Part Two)

You may remember, if you have been applying the techniques, that last month's newsletter discussed how to convert numbers into images via a phonetic code. (If you missed last month's newsletter or would like a reminder click here) This month we take this a step further to see how you can string together many images and hence remember long numbers.

You are probably familiar with the link system of memory in which, to memorise a list, you imagine linking each item to the next via a wild and whacky story trying to make the images in your head a vivid and sensually rich as possible. This works well for short strings of data but if you get repetition of the same image at different points it becomes very easy   to   confuse the links and once one link is broken it becomes very hard to pick up the story again.

This limitation of the link system is overcome by using pegs. Pegs, like you have in a cloakroom, have coats and hats hung on them. Memory pegs have information hung on them in the same way. The benefit of pegs is that they provide an unmovable, stable support for whatever you are trying to memorise.

A peg can be anything that you already know well that you can link new information to. The most useful and flexible pegs are known as Loci. Loci are points along a route or journey. For example, take walking down the road to your local shop - You can easily remember the way and the things that you pass. Let's take this step-by-step. Imagine opening your front door and stepping outside. What is the first thing you see, maybe you have a doorstep, or a garden path, maybe a front lawn. What is the next thing, perhaps a garden gate. The third: maybe a tree, a post box or a phone booth on your street. Each minor landmark is a peg. A location where you can mentally position an object associated to a number (or any other piece of data) in a sequence.   

Let's say you had to remember the number 31 41 59 26 53 (The first 10 digits of pi, but it could equally well be a phone number or the start of a long number in a competition).   Your first 5 loci could be:

Garden Path
Phone box

Using the Major system that we learned last month:

31 = Mat
41 = Rat
59 = Lab
26 = Niche
53 = Lamb

Imagine stepping out of your front door onto a doormat - This can't be an ordinary doormat (that wouldn't be memorable). Make it a bright red doormat with bristles so long that they cover your feet and you have trouble wading through it.

The path is covering in thousands of rats scurrying to and fro.

The wooden bars of the gate are replaced by giant sized test tubes filled with multi-coloured bubbling liquids.

The tree outside your house has a large niche cut into the trunk.

As you walk past the phone box you hear bleating you see a little lamb jumping up trying to dial a number.

This may sound ridiculous but with five strange, memorable images you have learned pi to 10 decimal places. This is basically the same technique used by former World Memory Champion Ben Pridmore who is in the process of learning the first 50,000 decimal places of pi.

The 2005 World Memory Championships
Special Report by Chris Day (Secretary, WMSC) and Phil Chambers (Chief Arbiter, WMSC)

It is easy to overlook how young the Mind Sport of Memory is compared to all other physical and mental sports. Seeing the quality of competition this year in Oxford, and looking at the large number of countries participating, it would be easy to think that memory competitions had been taking place for far longer than the fourteen years it has been since Tony Buzan hosted the first World Memory Championships in 1991.

This year's event, organised by the World Memory sports Council and hosted by the UK Festival of the Mind was sponsored by Nat West Bank.

Without doubt, this was also the strongest field of competitors ever assembled with the reigning and a past World Champion, plus the current National Champions of Australia, Mexico, America and Germany all competing for the ultimate crown. Eight times World Champion Dominic O'Brien was also there to give his support, not competing this year, but giving a memory demonstration and lecture to the audience of the Festival of the Mind in the adjacent room.

From an organisational perspective, this year has also been highly challenging with Phil Chambers, the Chief Arbiter of the World Memory Sports Council arranging for translations of the disciplines into Hindi, Mongolian, Chinese, Norwegian, German and Spanish as well as locating volunteer arbiters in all of those languages.

To ensure all competitors were able to compete in their own language, new technology was also employed in the form of simultaneous translation head sets for the spoken number discipline, linked to an array of laptops.

This, coupled with the challenges of helping to arrange visas from obscure parts of the world and making phone calls to embassies and consulates in different time zone, certainly kept the organisers very busy up until the last minute.

This year the interest shown by the media in the UK and overseas was unprecedented. Competitors and organisers alike were often to be seen giving live telephone interviews for local and national radio stations. Film and television crews arrived from as far a field as Russia to cover the event and some competitors, who found themselves the subject of a documentary, were pursued into every corner by enthusiastic cameramen.

Considering the amount of time and the sheer dedication and effort that competitors have to put in to prepare for the World Championship, it was most encouraging to see them being properly recognised for their achievements.

The Oxford University Examination Schools Building could not have been more atmospheric and the ideal location for the Festival and the Championships. The pre publicity ensured that a sizable audience was in attendance to recognise our competitors and also to attend presentations on advanced learning techniques from Tony Buzan, Vanda North, Lex McKee, Phil Chambers, Jim Steele and Dominic O'Brien.   Closed Circuit television relayed pictures of the competition so the audience could watch the proceeding without spoiling competitors' concentration.

Another exciting element of the competition this year was the number of young competitors taking part. As a sport, Memory cuts across the barriers of age, gender, profession and nationality. It is truly accessible to all.

Ben Pridmore, the defending champion had publicly admitted to not having practised enough due to focussing on an attempt at the pi memorisation record. Last year's silver medallist Astrid Plessl from Austria was unable to attend the championships. Perhaps bronze medallist from 2004, Joachim Thaller - also from Austria - could take the title to become the youngest ever World Champion.

Event one was the memorisation of a poem with correct capitalisation and punctuation. This   event, dominated in recent years by Astrid, was dramatically won by 15 year old German girl Corrina Draschl with fellow German Brois Konrad in second place, Joachim in third place and Ben in fourth.

The second event, memorisation of a binary number in half an hour, was won by German Champion, Dr Gunther Karsten, with an impressive score of 3570 digits, as mere 135 short of the World Record. However, Ben Pridmore's second place score of 2670 was enough to put him in overall first place in the championship.

The final event of day one, the marathon memorisation of multiple packs of cards in an hour, saw Gunther gain the lead both in the event and in the championships with winning score of just over 18 packs. Clemens Mayer, also form Germany, came second with 15 packs putting him in overall third with Ben holding on well with 13 packs in overall second place.

After a well earned rest, the competitors returned on day two to the names and faces event. This event proved to dramatically upset the tournament rankings. American Champion, Ram Kolli won with a score of 143 moving up from 18 th to 14 th place overall. Gunther fell from the top place to third, coming a disappointing 18 th place in the event. Even more dramatically Ben fell from second to fifth, coming 21 st in the event. Creditable performances from Clemens and Joachim put them in first and second place respectively overall.  

Ben, fought back in event five, the speed number, with new Word Record of 333 digits in five minutes tacking him up to third place. Both Clemens and Joachim held onto their positions with 280 and 266 respectively. Gunther, despite coming second in the event with a score of 288 slipped one place to fourth overall.   

Event six, the historic and future dates event, had always been one of Ben's strongest disciplines. True to form, Ben came first with a resounding 78, just short of his own World Record of 80 set in 2004. This was enough to take him back to first place in the tournament. However, with Gunther second, Clemens third, Boris fourth and Joachim fifth the top of the leader bored was getting very close. A mere 500 points separated first and fifth.

The battle hotted up even further in event seven with a New World record from Gunther - 1949 digits in an hour - taking him once again to the top spot. So at the end of the second day the standings were Gunther, Clemens, Ben, Joachim and Boris.

Monday morning saw event eight - Random Words and once again a change in the championship leader. Clemens, despite coming fifth, moved up to first overall. Gunther coming in seventh slipped to second place in the tournament. Joachim and Ben exchanged places coming third and fourth respectively. Despite his winning score of 196 Boris remained in fifth place.

The penultimate event was the spoken number event and despite technical difficulties with the sound equipment, the Word record was beaten twice! First by junior, Katherina Bunk with 145 but this was smashed by Clemens with an amazing 198. Joachim and Gunther tied in fourth place and Ben came in a disappointing 11 th .

So going into the final speed cards event the competition was still wide open. Clemens led with 5764 with Gunther hot on his heels with 5445 followed by Joachim with 5249 and Ben with 5069. If Clemens were to forget one card in each attempt and hence score zero and Ben, the current Speed Cards record holder, was to score a full deck in 43 seconds, well outside his personal best, he could still beat him.

The event has two trials. In the first trial Clements and Joachim scored zero! Ben and Gunther both got 52 cards correct. Gunther in 57.3 seconds and Ben in one minute and one second. In the second trial Ben's clock stopped at 30.01 seconds. Had he pulled off a new World Record? Sadly he had pushed himself too hard and declared zero on the recall. Clemens meanwhile got 52 cards in a time of one minute 2.7 seconds - just enough to take the World title. Gunther took silver and Joachim came in with the bronze for the second year in a row.

2005 will go down in history as one of the closest and most nail biting World Championships. It is especially historic as the fist time ever that the World Champion hasn't been British!

Dominic O'Brien, previous eight times Champion, who has been retired from competition since coming 6 th in 2003, won the 'Lifetime Achievement Award'. In his acceptance speech he warned that Clemens had better watch out next year. Quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger, he said, "I'll be back!"

Click here to view a graph of the final results in PDF format.

That's all for this month. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. (Contact Details Here.) I look forward to hearing from you.