Periscope Depth

I'm not expecting to grow flowers in a desert

So the .avi of Battlestar Galactica (Episode 12, “Revelations”) that I downloaded from PirateBay had a crisper resolution than the video I watched of Battlestar Galactica (Episode 11, “The Hub”) on Hulu. Riddle me that, Caped Crusader.

I waxed enthusiastic about Mind Performance Hacks a few months ago. The book has a wealth of tips on how to optimize your mental performance – being more alert, remembering more, using your time more productively. But how well have I put these hacks into practice?

Here’s what I’ve been using regularly:

The Dominic System: I first discovered the Major System when I was 16 or so, in a thin, yellowing paperback at the public library where I worked. Most memory systems derive from it in some way: convert each of the numbers from 0 to 9 into a consonant. 1 = T or D (because of the vertical bar in T, like a vertical 1); 4 = R (because they sound similar); 8 = F or V (because 8 looks like a cursive f) and so on.

Now, instead of memorizing long and complex numbers, you convert the number into a string of letters and make it into a word or words. 29419229 becomes NPRTBNNP, or nap, root, bone, nap. Imagine waking up from a nap, brewing tea from a huge ginseng root, going out to the backyard to dig up a bone and lying down on the pile of dirt you just unearthed to take a nap again. It becomes easier to remember when you pick deliberately weird images – that’s why you’re the one digging up the bone, rather than a dog.

The Dominic System improves on the Major System because of a less arbitrary letter to number association. It goes like this:

1 = A
2 = B
3 = C
4 = D
5 = E
6 = S
7 = G
8 = H
9 = N
0 = O

Instead of remembering arbitrary rules about which consonants look like which numbers, you just memorize the first 5 letters of the alphabet. The last 6 digits all sound like their letters – except 7 = G, which I still don’t get.

Convert numbers into letters, as with the Major System. Then, use the letters as either abbreviations or initials. For instance, when I wanted to see if my queen size bed would fit in my new studio, I measured it first: 85″ x 60″. 85 = HE, which in my system is always “HE-Man, Master of the Universe.” 60 = SO, which I remember as “Han SOlo.” So I visualized Han Solo and He-Man curled up on my bed, taking a catnap – an image which is bizarre enough that I’m unlikely to forget it, and will also delight 10% of the men reading this entry right now.

How It Works In Practice: Aside from leading me down unexpected paths of homoeroticism, I’ve found that the Dominic System helps my memory work even when I don’t use it. For instance, whenever I think about it, I remember that my bed is 60 x 85 before I remember that weird image I used to cement it in my mind. I recall the fact before I recall the trigger I used to recall that fact. Which is probably for the best.

Building an Exoself: Step one requires you to build a Hipster PDA. Take a stack of index cards and bind them together with a binder clip or a large paper clip. You’re now done building a Hipster PDA.

Hale-Evans suggests using the PDA, in conjunction with any portable, audible timer, to create an exoself – an artificial construct that helps regulate your thoughts and emotions. Set your cell phone, or your digital watch, to beep every 30 minutes. When it beeps, flip over the next card in your PDA. “Sit up straight,” it says. Or “Take the dirty dishes out of the sink.” Or “Call your mom.” Or “Smile.” Or “Clench your fists, hold for ten seconds, then release.”

In addition to regular nagging, the exoself can also contain recurring tasks – stuff that you need to do every day. It should also have some inspirational reading. Print out a bunch of quotes that you find motivating in 4-up format, fold the sheet into quarters, and attach it to your PDA. Read them when you’re waiting for a bus or killing time in the dentist’s lobby.

How It Works In Practice: I don’t have anything that I like as a timer, so I have yet to fully incorporate the exoself. But just having a hipster PDA has already improved my life tremendously. I use it for shopping lists, stuff to journal about, ideas, reminders, notes – anything and everything.

Put Down That Calculator: The book contains a lot of simple tricks for doing math that we normally use a calculator for. Multiplication, for instance. 47 x 52 looks daunting, but you can do it in your head:

  • Let’s do 47 x 5 first. 40 x 5 is 200, and 7 x 5 is 35. So remember the 235 for now.

  • 47 x 50 is the same as 47 x 5, but with another 0 on the end. So our current tally is 2350.
  • Now let’s do 47 x 2. 40 x 2 is 80, and 7 x 2 is 14. 80 + 14 = 94.
  • 2350 + 94 might cause us panic, but remember that 94 is 6 less than 100. So just add 100 to 2350 – giving us 2450 – and then shoot back by 6, giving us a final result of 2444.

My calculator confirms that one (phew!).

Get into the habit of doing those sorts of tricks in your head and you’ll get faster with them. You might never beat a calculator, but you can probably beat your friend’s rifling through their pockets for their cell phone calculator functions in a short time.

How It Works In Practice: I haven’t used these tricks for anything but 2-digit multiplication yet. Works great so far, though!

More hacks reviewed tomorrow Monday.

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