Do you know the scale of consumerism visually?

Chris Jordan shows our level of waste visually:

Can you visualise 106,000 aluminium cans thrown away every 6 seconds?How about 426,000 cellphones thrown away per day in the USA alone?? And what about 15,000,000 sheets of photocopier paper EVERY 5 MINUTES?

Fascinating talk and artwork…

Workshops and Brain Leaks

D-Day is almost upon us with both a Clever Convention (11th March) and the first Hack-Your-Head (12 March) workshop approaching fast.

Clever Convention promises to be very exciting as we have Dr. Sophie Billa coming in to talk about Neuroscience, brain structure and how disease and drugs effect the brain, while I’ll be rambling on about memory and demonstrating some mental memory gymnastics.

The Hack Your Head workshop will introduce some basic memory systems and the theories behind how we remember things. From this workshop the participants will come away with two great systems for memorising things and a better understanding how memories are stored (hopefully!).

On another more personal note, I have just started a full time degree in Industrial Design and have discovered that my brain leaks.

It’s not a physical thing, but it turns out that when you try and ram information into your head without suitable ordering, bits leak out and become less defined, which is very frustrating. Currently I am working on a way to do some mental housekeeping every evening before bed just to have a tidy up, store away the non-immediate items and list and prioritise everything for the next day. I guess this is essentially a form of pre-meditation to prepare yourself for a spotless mind. I’ll just add that to the to do list (memory image: on my sofa next to a fat little Buddha who is polishing a brain…)

Upcoming Talks in Brisbane

As part of the mental shenanigans that I am currently undertaking, we have set some dates for talks and workshops in Brisbane. The workshops will be held at the Edge and are currently set up as a Meetup group which can be found at

We’ll be looking at an introduction to memory techniques in the first one, and will be meeting once a fortnight to give ourselves a mental workout, share new learnings and generally have a chat.

This group will be an ongoing meetup for anyone who wants to get a mental workout and will cover, amongst other things, memory skills, speed reading, mental maths tricks and incorporating these systems into everyday life.

Workshops are free so come on down! First one is Wednesday 12th March at the Edge which is part of the State Library of Queensland. Map link here…

Life hack of the day – dinner.

I’ve just heard a great life hack that takes the stress out of the last minute evening meal:
 Next time you don’t know what to cook for supper, just go straight to the supermarket and look up a tasty dish in a cook book or magazine in the stationary isle.
 Surreptitiously take a photo and voila! A pre made shopping list complete with cooking instructions and photo!

Haptic Compass Sense V0.1

Yes, I know I’ve been hugely slack posting here, but my excuse is that I have been coding and tinkering to try and get an accurate haptic compass system working. The Haptic compass is part of my work in adding additional senses using the skin as an information input device. You don’t normally feel most of your skin unless there is a warning (hot, cold, spikey, ouch, etc) or unless you think about it. Think about the back of your knees now…. Feel them? Didn’t a second ago, huh?

As part of my research I’ve been using vibration motors to relay data, in particular, magnetic field data to myself in the hope that I can integrate a magnetic North sense into my unconscious gestalt picture of my environment.

Tricky thing with Magnetometers is this… They’re not compasses. They just detect magnetic fields and so you need to take into account both X and Y axis’s and then tilt compensate them with an accelerator or gyroscope. I’m sure other people have had similar frustrations with trying to use cheap magnetometers as compasses so I thought I’d paste a whole bunch of links here to provide a bit of a head start for anyone on the same quest…

Magnetometers to compass headings

HMC5883L Compass example and libraries for Arduino

Tilt compensation tutorial for magnetometer and accelerometer

I’ll pop my code up too when it’s ready!

Breaking my ability to read 2

While practising my latest speed reading challenge I have mad great leaps and bounds, rocketing from 187 words per minute to 795, (although with a drop in comprehension of around 20% ) but …. Much like breathing, once you start noticing how you read you can’t stop noticing how you read. I’m guessing this is just a move from unconscious competence back to conscious competence, but, damn it’s annoying….

Boost your reading speed with this easy hack.

As part of my ongoing project to hack my brain I have memorised many things and practised my recall and systems fairly(!) religiously, but while I’m able to store my data efficiently, the input side is fairly lacking with an average reading speed of around 185 words per minute at about 65-75% comprehension.

With the help of my trusty Buzan collection I have taken the challenge of reading and learning to speed read in one week with an average read of 50 pages per day. My target reading speed will be 1000 words per minute at an 80% comprehension rate.

One of the tricks of speed reading is to retrain your brain and eyes to forget 33 years of reading experience and stop the actions that slow you down such as sub-vocalisation, backtracking and word hopping. One interesting idea in reading is the technique of using an object for your eyes to follow, which instantly increases your WPM. The reason this works is that the human eye is a motion tracking device that works better following an object than trying to move in a pattern on it’s own.

Try this experiment with a friend: Have your friend watch your eyes. Try moving your eyes in a circle. Then reverse rolls and watch your friends eyes. You’ll notice that rather than moving in a circle like you think your eyes are, they are in fact moving in a jagged shape that is almost nothing like a smooth circle!

Now try again, but this time as you watch your partners eyes, have them watch your finger as you move it in a circle. You’ll notice that the eyes now move in a perfect circle. Using this technique you can run your finger or a pointer over text at speed and almost completely eliminate word hopping and back tracking and give your WPM score an instand boost!

Memorising Pi to one hundred decimal places

Last week I was set a number of challenges by my coworkers, one of which was to memorise pi to 78 places. Well, to get a nice round number I went Pi to a 100 places and using the SEM3 system explained in a previous post, came up with the following story which I’ve posted on my
 Blog over at the edge

Memory fun

So after an interesting day testing the memory and timed recall of The Edges wonderfully tolerant staff, I’ve been set the challenge of memorising an ever increasing shopping list, starting with 20 items today, and adding 10 items per day for the next 4 weeks to provide a grand total of 100 memorised items.

I’ve also been set the challenge of memorising Pi to 78 decimal places (we couldn’t fit any more on the blackboard). I’m sure this will come in handy at some point…

For both these challenges I am using the SEM3 system to (in the case of the shopping list) place each item on one of 100 memory ‘hooks’, or in the case of Pi, assign the system letters to each number and make a story with the memory words for easy recall.

I may have been a little pre-emptive in publishing a post on SEM3 when I haven’t described any other of the minor systems yet, as I’ve had a few blank looks and queries regarding it’s usefulness. So, with no further delay I shall introduce the Number Rhyme system…

The Number-Rhyme Memory system is a short, 10 hook memory system and is useful for introducing people to memory techniques. While most people can remember a list of 10 items, this system encourages the use of a longer term visual hook system.

Each number from 1 to 10 is assigned a mental image that rhymes with the (index) number. Each image is then easily recalled by just rhyming the number with the first word thought of. Here’s my list:

1 Bun
2 Shoe
3 Tree
4 Door
5 Hive
6 Sticks
7 Heaven
8 Gate
9 Vine
10 Hen

So, to use the system you must say the number and then the word and visualise the object in as much detail as you can manage. For example, One, Bun – imagine the bun fresh out of the oven, warm and crisp on the outside and soft warm and fluffy on the inside with a wonder fresh baked smell and delicious taste. Feel the bun. Be the bun ;) The more solidly you can burn this image into your mind, the better the hook will work. Now practice this with all the above keywords, bun through hen!

Once you have created you memory hooks you can now place items onto the hook, so, to remember celery, stick the celery through the bun! imagine the taste, smell and feel of a warm fresh bun with a cold crunch stick of celery through it. That’s item 1 remember – one, bun, celery!

Item tow could be tomatoes – Imagine your second memory hook – two, shoe – as a shoe filled with tomatoes that squish and squash every time you take a step. Remember -the more detailed the memory the better! Repeat with all the images!

Now, ‘why not just write a list, hur, hur, hur’ I hear someone heckle…. Good point, but remember the brain is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. By using this system you are training yourself to think visually in an ordered manner, and this system is like a gateway to the larger more complex systems that will let you memorise over 10,000 items with recall in any order! (if that’s what you actually want to do….)

Have a go, and let me know how you get on. We’ll be running workshops at The Edge soon, finishing up with a mental olympics!

Your burglar alarm is useless in a Queensland summer

Is your house as safe as you think? Yesterday I was forced to break into my own house due to an emergency key loss, and while sneaking under PIR sensors I discovered that these super hot days we’re having are rendering passive IR systems useless, here’s why…

Passive Infra Red (PIR) detectors work by measuring the level of infra red radiation in their field of view and measuring changes in this level. Changes above a certain threshold will trigger an output, thus triggering the alarm. When a person moves about within a room they either emit heat in the form of infra red radiation or they block sources of infra red radiation, causing a measurable change.

Yesterday temperatures in Brisbane hit between 35-40 degrees Celsius. Upon entering my house the internal temperature was easily in the high 30′s, and so my body heat (sitting at around 37.5 deg C) was completely masked by the IR radiation of the air itself, and so I was able to wander past the various sensors with immunity.

The fix? Cool your house with some rooftop whirly birds? My solution will be modifying my PIR sensors to include ultrasonic transducers and detectors so each unit is dual function. That should sort it.

Hacking eWaste

I’ve been playing with the idea of hacking toys in a ‘Hacking Consumer Electronics’ workshop at the edge recently, and then last night,  after many hours of struggle, my printer died it’s final death.

What can I do with this old printer? It’s an amazing bit of kit, it has a scanner, printer and fax, it would be a shame to throw it out. Then I thought that the hacking consumer electronics workshop could become a hacking consumer eWaste workshop. Maybe we could turn a printer into a vinyl cutter, or a laser engraver?

So my question is this: What electronic waste do you dispose of most? Phones? printers? TV’s?

Let me know in the comments and I will post the printer dissection tonight!

Random Hacks of Kindness

Random Hacks of Kindness is an organisation who organises hacks and hackathons to solve world problems. If one were to find the absolute diametric to the classic media view of a ‘hacker’ (evil computer dude stealing data for own profit), this would be it. Hackers finding solutions for world problems for the greater good. They define Random Hacks of Kindness as…

A rapidly growing global initiative encompassing a community of over 5,500 innovators in over 30 countries making the world a better place by developing practical, open source technology solutions to respond to some of the most complex challenges facing humanity. This is done by defining problems, organizing hackathons, and ensuring projects are effectively deployed.

This could be a fantastic platform for Queensland where there are myriad problems from substance abuse to suicide clusters, from Ocean acidification to apocalyptic flood/fire/disaster issues. Maybe it’s time to organise a RHoK event in Brisbane?

Self Enhancing Master Memory Matrix ™ 2

The Self Enhancing Master Memory Matrix, or SEM3 as it’s known, is a system for indexing ‘memory slots’ in your memory where you may place any item you wish to remember. Tony Buzan came up with the system in the 1970′s when he published a book called ‘Use Your Head’, which was an introduction to the brain and how it works. This book has been likened to an instruction manual for your brain as it contains a number of systems for using your full suite of cognitive features more effectively. Tony Buzan was also the man who invented mind maps and spider diagrams as a means of recording data in an associated system.

The idea of the various memory systems he wrote about is that of combining left and right brain function to create sensory memory ‘hooks’ on which to hang your information. These hooks are like fixed pigeon holes in which you may place your data, confident in the knowledge that the memory hook is indexed, organised and fixed in mind, so the various items placed ‘in’ this pigeon hole will remain fixed. In order to create a good memory hook you must use all your sense in imagining the mental image associated with the hook, so for a pigeon hook of a bun, you must imagine the feel, smell, taste and look of the object.

The SEM3 is a ‘Major’ system of memory and learning. This system uses phonetic numerical replacement to codify index numbers into mental images like so:

0 – Hard S / Z

1 – D or T

2 – N

3 – M

4 – R

5 – L

6 – Soft S, CH, soft G, soft J

7 – Hard C, K, hard G, hard J, QU

8 – F or V

9 – B or P

Vowels and H,W,X,Y are all wild cards that can be used to create number words. So for example, the first ten numbers in the SEM3 system are Saw,Day,Noah,Ma,Ra,Law,Jaw,Key,Fee,Bay.

The next ten memory hooks would use two numbers, and so two numbers, producing a words like: DaZe,DaD,DaN,DaM,DaLe,DaiRy,DaSH,DeCK,DaFFy,DaB.

By learning this system you can easily come to the memory hook word just through deduction alone which would then trigger the mental image associated with this word.

This system is excellent for memorising items you want, especially if you attach multiple items together, such as a persons name, their birthday and telephone numbers.

Next post we’ll look further at memory systems and their practical uses and we’ll also demonstrate an easy system to memorise ten items and recall them in any order. Sounds easy? Try it now, then come back and try tomorrows system!