Quincy M.E. and Cameron Diaz doing the La Bamba

Pun intended : you may or may not remember that I have a particular interest in memory. If you read this post you can see why my interest would be piqued by a review of a book called “Moonwalking with Einstein – the Art and Science of Memory“, as it’s a very similar story to mine; someone with an average memory (or in my case, a terrible memory) discovers amazingly effective memory techniques, then spends a year memorizing all kinds of obscure things with ease, but ultimately, realises he still can’t remember where he left his car keys, or his car! and also realises that even though these techniques are very handy for some things, it’s still far easier to write down shopping lists and stick people’s numbers in your phone. The one big difference with my story and this is that I didn’t end up entering a national memory competition.

Joshua Foer is a journalist who began writing an article about the U.S Memory Championships, and then a year later gave as good as the other memory masters. “Moonwalking with Einstein” is bookended by those two events; his attendance at the 2005 U.S Memory Championship, and his entry into the 2006 event. What you get between the book ends is a fascinating exploration of the science, art, and history of memory, mnemonics and memory techniques.

When I first heard of the book, I thought it may only be for people like me who have an interest in mnemonics but it’s selling by the truckload and getting great reviews everywhere. The title “Moonwalking with Einstein” is a reference to the kind of mental image that’s all too familiar to anyone who uses these techniques. When the missus asks me for one of my numerous pin numbers, or the WiFi code, or similar, I say something like, “let’s see that’s a bear on a bike trying to eat a cat in a shell…. that’s 94977165.” So I found reading about someone else’s experience with all this stuff a fantastic read. Though everyone else seems to be enjoying it just as much.

– – –

And from a different angle, but wholly related, about a month ago I came across a website called Memrise. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while, rather than the usual quick tweet when I come across a site I like. Memrise is a really well thought-out site designed to help your learn, or rather, memorize the vocabulary of various languages. I’ve been on beginners Spanish for the last month. I’ve been on/off trying to learn Spanish for years.

Memrise is by far the best tool language tool I’ve ever used. There’s the usual stuff: english / spanish phrases, with audio snippets. But every phrase has a mnemonic suggestion, a mem. It’s crowd sourced too, so you can add your own mem. For example a Fortnight in Spanish is Los quince Dias. My mem for this is: “Picture a fort at night, and on top, Los lobos have Quincy M.E. and Cameron Dias dancing to La Bamba.” How much easier is that to remember than repeating the phrase over and over and hoping it sticks? I’ll never forget that image, another phrase memorised with ease. And at it’s most basic, that’s all the memory champions do, and to some degree Savants too. And Memrise utilises the technique quite well, you don’t even have to come up with your own mental images.

What other language courses fail to do is give you the tools to learn. It’s a bit like buying a wardrobe from Ikea but they don’t give you the tools to build it. Memrise supply the phrases, and the tools to memorise them. By the way, I swear I have absolutely nothing to do with the site, I’m just very impressed by it. Oh and it’s also free. Completely free, as in no ads either. It also works quite well on an iPad. It’s as good as an app, without having to install an app.

The site also uses gamification pretty well too, something else I have a passing interest in that’s growing in popularity. Memrise gamifies language learning by daily quizzing you on your phrases. You get points for every correct answer, and creep up the league table. It becomes quite addictive, like in any game, always wanting to improve your high score and go higher in the league.

They also employ the metaphor of a memory garden, which works quite well. You have to plant seeds (new words), and harvest plants (add them to the quizzes), tend to your garden (practise new words) and water your wilting plants (practice old words). I guess it’s a bit like Farmville, except, instead of annoying everyone else on Facebook, you learn a new language. I’m just so impressed by the level of thought and execution that has gone into this site, without any profit in mind.

– – –

And the thing that ties in “Moonwalking with Einstein” with Memrise is that over the course of the book, there are a few characters who coach Foer in his memory techniques, members of the K7 memory masters, whose initiation is memorizing a deck of cards in a minute, drinking two beers and kissing the knees of three women. Or variations thereof. And it is these two guys Ed Cooke, and Ben Whately who have setup memrise. So I feel like i’ve been surrounded by these guys for the last few weeks.

So there you go if you’ve any interest in memory or learning new language, there’s a 5 star book and a 5 star web site.

p.s. I was discussing this with a colleague, very recently, who happens to speak Spanish fluently, and he asked me “why don’t you just remember Los quince Dias, instead of dancing on forts and shit?” and I guess some people can, but he’s just reinforcing my idea that a lot of people make the terrible assumption that everyone else learns, and thinks, and remembers exactly like them.


Some Stuff, Wotsits and Thingy’s from Zefrank

I’m subscribed to the Ted Talks podcast, so every couple of nights I watch one of the talks in bed. And as much as I love them in general, I have to be honest, I’m getting really bored with the environmental ones lately. There’s only so many you can listen to. I scrolled past ten of them last night and then saw the name Zefrank which made me smile and I didn’t stop smiling until it was over, you gotta love a bit of Zefrank.

If the video doesn’t appear in your feed, you can watch it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ze_frank_s_web_playroom.html

Life password overhaul

So you’ve been building up a long list of login/passwords for years now and most likely use a life password for a lot of sites, like most people who don’t want to be driven crazy trying to remember a 100 different passwords. Most sensible people will have a unique secure password for their email, ebay and Paypal.  But then one day, you hear a site you use has had their database hacked, like boards.ie yesterday.

In my case, it was computerbits that was hacked last year, which resulted in someone hijacking my Facebook account and begging my friends for money.

So don’t take it too lightly, even silly sites like Facebook can be dangerous. My Facebook password was the same as the computerbits password. Then I changed every password I could think of, and every now and then I’d think of another site that may have used the same login & password that I was very glad the hackers hadn’t tried yet. Like a lot of ecommerce sites.

It’s a major pain in the cojones, but I’d recommend setting aside a couple of hours and changing all your passwords in one go, rather than changing them one by one as you remember, possibly months later for some forgotten sites. Here’s a list to jog your memory, starting with the obvious.

  • Gmail / workmail
  • Paypal
  • Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Skype, LinkedIn, youtube, (social networking list)
  • WordPress, Blogger, Blacknight
  • Amazon, Play, Pixmania, Dell (Top 50 uk etailers)
  • Ticketbastard
  • ebay
  • 02 / Vodafone
  • Your ISP / broadband supplier
  • Screenclick / Moviestar
  • itunes
  • Windows logon / network passwords
  • Remote backup
  • boards.ie, yahoo groups, creative ireland, askaboutmoney, imdb etc

Then search your email account for ‘password’ and see if you find some more. And also try an email search for your actual life password(s).

Something else you can try is: Open your browser and type the letter ‘a’, and your most used sites for ‘a’ will drop down; scan the list and see if any of the sites need your attention.  Then continue through the alphabet.

But before you start the overhaul, have a look at some options for securely storing a variety of passwords, rather than using a new life password. I’d highly recommend the Firefox plugin sxxipper for remembering your passwords and it also makes it very easy to login to sites with one click. You can also use it to generate random secure passwords. Or start using a Password manager like keepass (or 1pass for mac users) which will keep all your passwords secure in one place and you only have to remember one master password.

Facebook 419 Scam


Had a bit of high drama today. My Facebook account got hacked by a scammer. I got an email from Facebook asking me to confirm the change to my email address. I knew straight away I’d been hacked. When I followed the link to cancel the email change, I couldn’t log in to Facebook.

I thought that shit only happened to other people!

While I was scrambling around trying to find the best way of reporting it, The ‘other me’ was busy chatting to all my Facebook friends telling them that I’d been mugged at gunpoint in London and I was compeltely freaked and needed money to pay for my hotel and a flight home.  The funny thing is I never chat, so it took  me a minute to even notice the chat window after I got control of my Facebook again (took about 3 hours after I reported it).

Unfortunately I didn’t think to save all the chat histories straight away, they seem to disappear when people close Facebook. One friend said the scammer got quite aggressive when she asked him how I/he knew her. Another friend sent me an email asking me something unrelated, trying to figure out if the other one was me or not, (sounds like an episode of Star Trek, with two William Shatner’s fighting each other – and you only know the real one by the hammiest acting).

Another friend, who had his suspicions right from the start  sent on his chat which was amusing enough;

hi  Ray

hey john, need help with…?


I’m stuck in London England

I feel your pain

well…I had a visit to a resort in London and i got mugged

no way

it was so scary and i have been freaked out

where are you now?

I lodged in a hotell but im in a library as we speak

I have contacted the Irish Embassy but they told me to get a flight ticket back to Ireland

the problem now is that the cash i got on me for my return ticket got stolen….

I need your help?

you want me to buy a London to Dublin ticket for you?

Don’t bother about that…you can just have the money sent to me and I’ll sort everything out by myself

you want me to wire you cash?


Reason…I got to settle the hotel bills and the hotel accept cash for now cos their credit card machine is faulty

so where should I send the money?

alright…you can have it sent to my name and my present location

John Braine….United Kingdom

do I not need more details?

you don’t need more…that is all you need

Do you know any western union outlet nearest to you?

how do I send it, western union or something?

sure…Western Union

I don’t need to give an office number, or anything like that?

you don’t need that

how will I know if it gets to you?

as soon as you have sent the money, they will issue you a confirmation

so you will send me the confirmation and I’ll use it to pick up the money at the western union outlet



Do you know any western union outlet nearest to you?

it will probably be a few hours, I’ll have to go on my lunch


when will you be back? cos i might not be online on FB…

you can just drop me a message via email address

here’s my email address below

[email protected]



How much can you afford to loan me?

200 euros?

I need 500 euros…

I promise to return it as soon as im back in town

I think I’ll get a ham sandwich for lunch

Bye Blogger!

Have been meaning to move from the piece of shit Blogger over to WordPress for ages now. The only thing that was delaying me was that I wanted to re-design the whole site but could just never get around to it. So I grabbed the irrestable theme instead. It’ll sure do for now. I think most things are working but I’ll probably be tinkering with it for a while. Hope the feed is working as it was, guess we’re just about to find out…

Online payments site

A friend has set up a new informational site about web payments. Everything you need to know about online payment systems. So if you want to start selling something on your site and you want to give your customers some good options, or if you just not too sure where to start, check it out.

Webpayments.ie is a free and independent resource to help guide you through the process of setting up online payments in Ireland. The site has been setup in response to the difficulty often experienced when choosing and integrating a web payments platform.

And there are some really good animations explaining how online payments work.

Creepy voice: I see DEAD links

It’s official. I spend too much time with my brain directly connected to the Internet. See I’ve garnered this uncanny ability – hold on, stop everything, “garnered!?” where the hell did you pick that up? is it even a word!? bet you read it on the Internet somewhere – anyway, I’ve gained this sixth sense; I know which links people are sending me before I’ve even seen the link.

I got an email today and the subject line read “Cool video” and I knew straight away that it was going to be that tilt shift video that’s been doing the rounds recently. I even said it to the missus. “Oi Missus”, said I pointing to the unread mail on my phone. “I bet you anything the link in that mail is to that Bathtub IV video”. She did that grunt which to the uninitiated would sound like total disinterest, but is a sound I’ve come to recognise as utter fascination.

And I was right of course! T’was the the correct link indeed. And that has happened all too often recently. I can now read patterns in the Matrix. I can almost close my eyes and see a link floating around some blogs, flittering around twitter, then gently floating down to the seabed of The Web before getting a second wind and doing the rounds on email forwards and Yahoo groups. And I only have to see crazy video!,Amazing photo, or hilarious article in the subject line and I know exactly what link is in the mail.

So, that’s it. I’m clearly ovedosing. I’m going cold turkey, starting now. I’m disconnecting everything. No more internet on my phone or computer. If you want to get in touch, send me a letter. I’m getting off the internet for at least 12 minutes.


Voting is now open at Storyland.

Five months ago the call went out for new and established programme makers with exciting ideas to take part in a unique web drama competition.

The talented finalists have produced some brilliant content with buckets of tension, comedy and thrills. However it’s up to you to decide who goes through to the next round.

Watch episode one and vote for the drama you’d most like to see make a second episode. Voting opens 5pm Monday 16th March and closes 5pm Monday 30th March.

I’ve just watched them all and the standard is really good, Psych Ward was done by a friend but I would have voted for it anyway class, it’s class – get voting!