(Source: Flickr / heliocentric)
After six months of blogging original (but not always new) content daily, and a month’s hiatus spent doing real life, I’m back with some different ideas about how I’m going to approach the blog in its next phase.
The biggest change: I’m going to try it without the strict post-something-anything-daily routine. Keeping to that schedule was difficult, and there were many days when I just phoned it in after work because I was tired or not in the mood. That meant settling for mediocrity.
But this daily routine was still a positive thing. It compelled me to produce things on many days when I would have otherwise only consumed things, leading to six of the most prolific months of spare-time creativity of my adult life.
So the new daily routine I’ll cultivate will be not to post something here, but instead to work on something that will end up here. I’ll post things not on a schedule, but when they’re ready to share; fewer posts that, on average, take longer to make. I’m not yet sure how often posts will appear, but seven days a week I’ll be making something; I encourage you to hold me to that and check up on me via Twitter!
So that’s Phase Two, wherein I push myself to do better. I hope the results will speak for themselves.
I’m taking a break from blogging for May. Marit’s here, and we want to spend as much time together as we can, so apart from possible sporadic entries, I’ll pick this up again in June. I’ve blogged something daily for the last six months, something I only hoped to sustain for November, so I think that’s a pretty good Phase One.
Thanks for reading.
Yesterday, in ten minutes, I did something for the first time that I would have previously judged to be very difficult to accomplish in an hour: memorising the sequence of reds and blacks in a shuffled deck of playing cards and recalling them with 100% accuracy.
I was prompted to do this by an audiobook I’m reading, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, a journalist drawn into the world of competitive memorisation while writing an article on its characters and competitions. It’s a fascinating work of narrative non-fiction, and to me it revealed the existence of a body of knowledge that I didn’t know existed, but which is 2500 years old—’the art of memory’ was the centre of a classical education in Ancient Greece or Rome.
There is, of course, a trick to the red/black thing. But competitive mnemonicists use many tricks, and claim that anyone who learns them can repeat the same feats (Foer’s experience backs this up, as he went from no prior experience to competing on a national level after about a year of practice). These champions say their memories are only average, but they’ve mastered techniques to convert meaningless data into memorable mental imagery, things we remember badly into things we remember easily. Their special skill, if anything, is not in a superhuman memory but in the ability to code meaningless data into unforgettable surrealism on the fly.
Here’s the simple system for committing card colours to memory. It relies on spatial and visual memory being much better than abstract memory, and codes every six cards to two letters of the alphabet. You then have to come up with a vivid mental image that will help you recall these two letters in this order, and visualise it in a particular place in a room you’re familiar with. This is called the method of loci, and the mental space is somewhat pompously known as a memory palace.
For example, my ‘memory palace’ was my living room, and the seventh locus was my kitchenette sink. If the corresponding cards in the deck had been: ‘red, red, black, black, red, black’, that would code to ‘Bottom, Outer’ or BO. So I could try to imagine Barack Obama sitting in my sink, water overflowing everywhere: certainly a much more easily recalled image than ‘red, red, black, black, red, black’, and one which comes to mind immediately when I mentally turn to the sink in my memory palace, but one which unpacks unambiguously to the exact sequence of six card colours.
If you do this repeatedly, in a specific, logical order around the room (e.g. clockwise) that you can easily reconstruct, you’ll have a mental image of a room full of bizarre people and objects, and if they’re vivid enough they’ll stick in your mind long enough to unpack them back to letters and then to cards.
Joshua Foer’s TED talk is a great introduction to this field, and the book is highly recommended; it’s thoroughly fascinating.
The next step for me: trying to remember suits and values!
There’s a real gem in the current Indie Royale bundle (available for another four-and-a-bit days). And it shows that the real value of these indie bundles is not always in their savings, but in their discovery.
I’d never heard of Cargo Commander. I’d never seen it in the Steam store, and missed the post where RPS gave it its only mention. If not for the bundle I would be unaware of its existence.
Which would have been a shame, because it’s excellent fun, with challenging play, nice social features and a just-one-more-game feel.
You’re a guy working and sleeping on a little spaceship, making a living collecting salvage by magnetising your hull and pulling in great hulks of container that come crashing into your own. It’s 3d-looking but 2d-playing, a bit Metroidvania, but it’s kept interesting with three mechanics.
Firstly: stuff’s destructible. You can drill through walls and make your own routes to the cargo you’re collecting, and blow stuff up. But you have to hurry—if you take too much time, it’ll all fly off into hard vacuum.
Secondly: each of these space hulks that come crashing into your ship in great pileups has independent gravity, and there’s no fixed ‘up’ to the camera: it rotates so down is always ‘down’. Some containers have malfunctioning gravity that slowly (or quickly) rolls 360 degrees, and some don’t have gravity at all. Stepping from one vessel into another can cause some disorientation, but it’s smoothly executed, and I’ve not been hung up on a wall yet, or any other implementation irritation.
Thirdly: the game is procedural, but the names of star systems are used as seeds. Therefore, one star system will provide identical waves of identical environments populated with identical enemies and salvage. Leaderboards show the top players in your friends list and in the world. This leads to excellent replay value as you seek to maximise your gains in a level guaranteed identical each time. Because there’s a time limit on each wave, you’re essentially being trained to speedrun individual levels picked from an infinite space. And because you can type in seeds, you can also share them with friends and challenge them to beat your score.
For me, Cargo Commander's already justified the price of admission for the bundle. I've played it for more hours this weekend than I care to admit. See you in Procyon and Fomalhaut, defending my high scores.
If you live in the UK and don’t own at least one Ordnance Survey map, that’s certainly your prerogative. But I think you should know that it might be a sign of some misguided decisions in your life.