Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mind Palace - Conversion

So far, we've talked about the basic framework for a mind-palace, and the general idea behind setting one up. Today, we're going to examine what goes in to actually internalizing information in a really concrete way. In order to do that, I thought I'd take you through one of my pet-projects that I work on when I'm bored - memorizing Pi.

NOTE: This is advanced. If you cannot use your mind palace to remember a shopping list, a list of 20 random words, AND the order of songs on your favorite album first, DO THAT FIRST. THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING. Everything after this will assume you are at a level where you are capable of the above tasks or better.

Now, since Pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal, you'll never actually be able to get it memorized by virtue of the fact that there's always one more number you haven't stored away (for more information, please Google "Pi"). This element of futility makes Pi an excellent way to "score" your mnemonic prowess. You'll never actually complete the job, but you'll have a number to point to - you'll be able to say, "I've stored X digits of Pi in my mind palace, and I know them backwards and forwards." For me, that number is currently 78. Nothing crazy, but then, I'm not trying to win any competitions.

In order to memorize something like Pi, which (after you get passed the 3 and decimal point bit) is just a series of numbers, you're going to need to figure out a few things in advance.
  • Chunk Size :
    • You're obviously not going to make one gigantic image by just combining all of the numbers together. This is a bad idea for two reasons. The first is that, depending on how you set it up, your image might change dramatically with every new number you add. The second is that even if you didn't hit the first problem, eventually your image would be so complex that you'd be better off just trying to remember the numbers in another way (perhaps a song?).
    • So what we're going to do is "chunk" the number up into manageable pieces that we can memorize and add to a list. If you're a world champion mnemonist, you may end up using a system that has 9 digit chunks. The system I use has 6 digit chunks (I'll explain why in a bit). If you're a total beginner, you can chunk 1 digit at a time too (of course, if you're a total beginner, perhaps memorizing Pi shouldn't be your first exercise).
  • Conversion Method:
    • We need to find a way to convert the data we want to remember (strings of numbers) into something our brain can more readily process (sensory-enriched images). So they question is, how do we convert a 6-digit string into an image?
    • Enter the PAO System (Person, Action, Object). The PAO system is one of the more popular systems for encoding any data that can be "chunked" into 3's. Essentially, we convert the first chunk into an image, the second into an action, and the third into an object to create a little scene which we can place into one of the loci in our mind palace.
    • But wait, above I said that I use chunks of six digits at a time. Still true. We're just going to use the PAO system to break it down further into chunks of 2. So for the purposes of this memorization exercise, the smallest mnemonic unit we'll be using is a 2-digit number. Sound fair?
  • Setup:
    • The setup required to create a successful PAO system is a tad daunting. For a 2-digit PAO system, basically you need to think of 100 people - numbered 00-99 - each one of these people has a unique action and object that is associated ONLY with them. They don't have to combine to create a sensible image as long as you can use any one to get back to the number associated with the person.
      • Ex1:     14 - Albus Dumbledore, Blackening His Hand, Elder Wand
      • Ex2:     15 - Albert Einstein, Writing Equations, Chalkboard
      • Ex3:     92 - Napolean Bonaparte, Posing For A Painting, White Flag
    • The above examples make use of a technique called the Dominic System, which you can feel free to Google at your leisure. Essentially it maps numbers onto letters, turning all 2 digit numbers into sets of initials, which you can use to associate people with numbers.
    • This is not the only way - feel free to use direct association as well (Ex: "01" could be George Washington).
    • From there, all you need to know is the location of the number in the chunk. We'll get there.
Now, once you've got all the legwork done, you're ready to actually memorize the data (I know, so excited).
  • Conversion Itself:
    • For this, we'll use as our example the very first numbers in Pi. It begins, for those of you who do not know, as 3.141592653589793.......
    • STEP 1: Chunk by 6 - Since I already know Pi begins with a 3 and a decimal point, we'll start just to the right of the decimal. This results in a 6-digit chunk of "141592."
    • STEP 2: Apply the PAO - The PAO System breaks down our chunk into 3 pieces, resulting in "14 / 15 / 92" where the 14 is the person, the 15 is the action, and the 92 is the object.
    • So "14 / 15 / 92" becomes "Albus Dumbledore / Writing Equations / White Flag."
    • From there, all you have to do is create a little scene out of the above phrases. For me, it's an image of Albus Dumbledore furiously scribbling equations onto a large white flag, accidentally tearing it in places from his efforts.
Then, take that image you created and place it in your mind palace. Finally, just repeat the conversion step for every successive chunk of 6 numbers and add the resulting image to the next location in your mind palace.

As always, if you have any questions, need some clarification, or just want to add a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment (or on Tumblr, just PM me). Happy memorizing!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Where to Look - Keys

Some of the most telling aspects of our appearance are the elements which are common from day to day. A perfect example of one of these elements are our keys. They tell us about our daily routines, our possessions, our level of organization, and the things we don't want to be without.

For the key ring in the above example, we can make the following deductions (which I will break down below). The subject most likely:

  • has two primary modes of transportation, a Hyundai car or SUV (pretty sure Hyundai doesn't make non-commercial trucks - an exact model could be determined by visiting a local hardware store and comparing the picture against the key blanks for Hyundai cars) and a bicycle.
  • is fairly computer savvy.
  • lives in a gated community or apartment complex.
  • lost a dog (dead, missing)
  • stores his/her keys in multiple ways or regularly removes keys from the key-ring

We should all be fairly aware of how to identify car keys at a glance at this point, but just in case, here's a tip - it's the big one. From there, it's a simple matter of recognizing the insignia (which will normally appear on both sides of the key) and going from there. Next, house keys will usually (not always, especially if it is a custom key) have the triangular holes in them like the key in the top left corner of the picture. That leaves two keys (one standard, one weird), a dog-tag, and a flash-drive. The flash-drive is easy - if the subject didn't use it / know how to use it, it wouldn't be in such an easily accessible location. The weird key is for a bike lock (P.S. It would serve you well to know how to identify bike lock keys - I may create a post to this effect at a later date). The dog tag appears to be for a dog named "Sherlock" (great name), and it not being ON the dog would seem to signify that he (probably a he) no longer has need of it.

Now for the tricky one. We arrive at the final key - a standard silver 5-pin key with "ACE" (name of a hardware store) on it. This would seem to signify that the key was is a copy and was manufactured with a key machine at an ACE hardware. If the key was for a padlock, it would have the brand name of the padlock on it (ex: "Master"), so it can't be that. It can't be a mail key due to the fact that the post-office maintains and distributes the keys to lockable mail-boxes (and therefore would not use ACE to make copies). What does this leave? We know it's a copy, so a logical next question is, "Who has the original?"

  • A roommate (flatmate) perhaps? But we already have a house key.
  • A friend/relative - perhaps the subject has been given a spare for surprise visits/emergencies. While possible, the subject would need to visit quite often for that to be the case. In order for such a key to be included on the key-ring, it would have to be more important than a mail key, which is not present on the key-ring. Result - such a key would probably be on a separate (secondary) key-ring with the mail key.
  • A landlord/property manager? But what key would a landlord need OTHER THAN a house key that a tenant would need as well?
It is also possible that an extra key may mean multiple different locks on a subject's place of residence. For example, one key may be for the deadbolt, the other for the door handle itself. If that were the case here, why would a single subject have the original of one and a copy of the other?

I submit that the key is for EITHER the main gate to the complex in which the subject lives (if one exists) OR a key to a communal area, such as a shared laundry room.

If anyone has any more questions about keys/key-rings (in general or specifically), or would like to provide some information, or feel I may have missed something, feel free to leave a comment (Blogger), send me a private message (Tumblr), or drop me an email: (either).

Happy Sleuthing!

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Schedule

Sorry friends, the start of the semester has been crazy. In addition to a few other life changes, I will be instituting a new schedule on the blog. Unless otherwise noted, I'll be posting once every two weeks minimum (should be more often). I have also been reading your suggestions and comments which I will be incorporating into these new posts. I'll be posting more "What to Look for," and I will be putting any references I find useful on the blog as well.

I also will continue to encourage viewer-submitted pictures of desks, rooms, etc. Those can be submitted here, or you can attach it to an email to Quick note about submissions - while I think your computer screens are fascinating, they are not the type of thing that I'm going to select. Your computer is configured according to very specific preferences you have. This means that any judgments made according to observations of your computer (particularly a screenshot of the desktop) will be based entirely on things which are completely within your control. In a perfect world, there are no scuffs, dings, scratches, or blood spatter. It is precisely because we live in a perfect world that the art/science of making deductions is possible and useful.

With that in mind, happy sleuthing!