MEMORY TECHNIQUE: A step by step guide for creating a memory palace

If there is one person whom I could meet in this world, it would be Derren Brown. The BBC recently broadcast a one-hour special to celebrate 10 years of the psychological illusionist’s work. I personally endeavour to watch everything ever made by Derren Brown and I’m currently­ immersed in his latest book Confessions of a Conjuror. Great read.

Although Derren Brown is something of a trickster — making use of suggestion and misdirection to manipulate people and accurately predict their behaviour — his skills are something to behold. His newer TV shows also seem to be about helping people in areas such as self-improvement and increasing self-confidence.

Thousands of ‘ordinary’ people apply to be on his shows where he teaches participants some of his psychological techniques. In a recent Trick or Treat episode, an applicant in his mid-40s claims to have a very bad memory (as many people of that age might advocate).

After teaching said participant to speed-read and passing on various memory techniques, Derren Brown enters the man in England’s top pub quiz. After just two weeks of preparation, the participant single-handedly earns second place.

One fantastically simple memory technique that is mentioned here is that of the memory palace. This creative approach is not only simple, but it is highly effective in committing long lists of information to memory that can then be recalled at will. It has been used since ancient Rome and goes something like this.

A Virtual Memory Palace

Virtual Memory Palace

The memory palace technique is based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know (image: web.science.mq.edu.au)

Step 1: Creating a Memory Palace

The whole memory palace technique is based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know. So, the first step is to create a memory palace of your choosing in your mind’s eye. A memory palace is essentially a physical location that you are very familiar­ with — such as your home or route to work. So long as you can clearly visualise each room or landmark within your memory palace, it will serve you well.

Step 2: Define a route

The second step is to trace a clearly defined route through your memory palace and visualise particular objects along the way. If you are considering your home for example, your route may start with your front door. You may enter into a hallway and notice a mirror hanging on the wall. Start with one object per room and follow an easy path (such as from left to right) until you are back at your starting point.

Practice following this route in your memory palace — making an effort to remember each specific object in order. This shouldn’t be hard to do if you choose a place deeply embedded within your mind; perhaps the house you grew up in. Each object is generally known as a “memory peg”.

Step 3: Peg it to memory

Now think of something that you’d like to remember, such as a shopping list or your agenda for the week ahead. Place items in a particular order and integrate each with a memory peg (object) within your memory palace. It helps to conceptualise objects as being bizarre or perhaps cartoon-like at this stage. Memory does, after all, perform best when operating in a strong, visual way.

For example: your week could start by going to the post office. If you have chosen your home as a memory palace, visualise a letter box spewing out envelopes. Perhaps your child is playing a school cricket match on Tuesday. Visualise a school cricket match happening inside the mirror in the hallway. Animate­ things as best you can and they’ll be sure to stick in your head. You could even add smells and sounds to things to remember.

Step 4: Remember to practice!

The memory palace has proven to be a powerful memory technique that anyone­ can use to awaken the memory they already have. Your imagination really is the limit. Also, remember that you can have more than one memory palace for dealing with different kinds of information. There is also always the option of upgrading your palaces once you’ve got the hang of it.

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PHOTOSHOP 101: How to touch up your photography

How to Photoshop your photos #1: Straighten skew pics

For most photos there should be some kind of visual clue that indicates whether a pic is skewed or not – such as a horizon in the background or something lying horizontally flat in the photo. Use a line guide to find the horizon and rotate the image until it’s straight. Go to “image” then “rotation” and play around until things are straightened out.

How to Photoshop your photos #2: Crop your way to the good bits

If your image was rotated it may have left behind ugly looking black triangles in the corners. There is often also a lot of excess background in photographs which can all be cropped off using the most popular Photoshop tool – the Crop tool. Crop closely around your subject(s) using the tool and hit enter to perform a crop. Holding down ctrl+shift while cropping will keep things square.

How to Photoshop your photos #3: Touching things up

The Clone Stamp tool is probably one of the most contested Photoshop tools as it can be used to change an image quite drastically. If there are a lot of similar looking objects or shapes that you want more of, simply clone them in. With the Clone tool selected, press alt+click over the object you want to clone. Alternatively, the Clone tool can be used to remove unwanted elements. Cloning the sky over storm clouds is a common example.

Photoshop Before and After pic

Photoshop Before and After. How to Photoshop your photos

Photoshop tends to judge, so touch-up your human subjects

How to Photoshop your photos #4: Heal your handiwork

If your image consists of close-up of a face, put your morals aside and get rid of any spots or blemishes using the spot healing tool. Zoom in close to achieve the best results and simply click on the spotty areas with this Spot Healing Brush selected. You can also use this tool to blend the edges of an altered subject to better fit with the rest of the background. It may appear as if you’re erasing the background, but worry not.

How to Photoshop your photos #5: Drawing and blurring details

Using the line or paint tools to fill in details is not recommended as things can get messy pretty quickly. Trying to draw freehand using a mouse rather than your own trusty digits is a whole different story. However, if you do decide to add in a little detail be sure to use the Blur tool afterwards to soften the edges. This will also replicate the look of the original photo.

How to Photoshop your photos #6: The quick and easy way

Photoshop takes a lot of practice to master as there are literally hundreds of things you can do to your photos. But if you are a little pressed for time or bewildered by all the tools there is a very quick touch-up method. Open your pic(s), go to “image”, “adjustments” and select “auto levels” (ctrl+shift+L). Viola!

- Article adapted from the December issue of Stuff magazine

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MOVIE MAKER: A simple guide to creating your own online videos

THE video-web is an exciting place to be involved in these days, particularly because it is constantly evolving and simply brimming with potential. If you have untapped creative juices, or any original video-related ideas, there is nothing stopping you from making a contribution to the growing videosphere.

If you have watched any of my videos, you will be intrigued to know that they were all created using Microsoft Movie Maker – a free program that comes standard with any Windows operating system. It should be right under “all programs” from your start menu.

-----> Capturing video

  • The first step to producing an aesthetically pleasing video is capturing good footage to work with. Whether you are using a handycam or a cellphone to film, ensure that you hold the device as still as possible and get all of your shots in frame.
  • Each shot should also be of appropriate length. A good guideline is to ensure that you have at least 10 seconds of still footage for each shot. Film for longer if you feel a little shaky during filming or if the scene warrants a greater length.
  • Cutaway shots are essential for keeping your video enticing. If you’re shooting an event, for example, film at different angles and alternate between long shots, side shots and close-ups.
  • Once you have all your footage, connect your device to a PC using a USB cable. Create a suitably named folder on your desktop and copy and paste all your clips from your device to your computer.
  • I find it useful to watch each clip a few times to decide which ones I want to use and then rename these appropriately. Delete poor quality and unsuitable clips.

--> Simple editing techniques with Movie Maker
Open Movie Maker and import all your clips from the folder you have created. (All the tools are along the left-hand side of the programme). Watch the clips again in Movie Maker to get a better idea of which ones you’re going to use and in what order.

Whip out your trusty notepad and pen and write down the names of the clips you want to use, a description for each if necessary, and the length of each. Then rank them according to how you would like your video to flow.

Along the bottom of Movie Maker are options for switching between a timeline view and a storyboard view. Stick to the timeline view for accuracy. Simply drag your first clip on to the timeline to begin editing.

Movie Maker

Movie Maker has a very user-friendly interface with the majority of the tools along the left-hand side of the programme. It also has an extensive help section (“Movie Making Tips”) if you get stuck. Movie making may seem difficult at first, but like any new program, practice makes perfect.

Movie Maker has a very user-friendly interface with the majority of the tools along the left-hand side of the programme. It also has an extensive help section (“Movie Making Tips”) if you get stuck. Movie making may seem difficult at first, but like any new program, practice makes perfect.

The most useful editing tool for any video-editing program is the cut or “split” tool, located under the video-screening box. Play the clip and pause it where you want to make a cut and delete all the unwanted bits.

You can zoom in for better accuracy and have the option of dragging a clip inwards from the end to make it shorter. This has the same effect as a cut and is useful if you make a mistake or wish to make the clip longer again at a later stage.

Continue this process with all your clips and re-arrange them as you see fit simply by dragging them along your timeline.

--> Transitions in Movie Maker
Transitions are the fades, wipes and other effects that occur between clips. There are several of these available under the “effects tool”. However, I personally prefer to keep things simple and stick to simple fade-ins and fade-outs.

You can create these by simply right clicking on a clip. One neat trick, however, is to blend clips into one another – something I discovered completely by accident. To create said blends simply drag one clip a little over another. Voila!

There are quite a few transitions at your disposal – some great, and some really cliché. Experiment to see which ones tickle your fancy and use whichever one’s you want. I don’t judge.

--> Audio in Movie Maker
No video is complete without decent audio. You should have natural sounds and ambience within your original footage, which is visible along the timeline.

You can separate this audio from a clip by dragging it to the audio layer. This is useful when you make lots of cuts and want your audio to flow naturally.

However, if you are not so set on the audio available to you, you can import your own, such as songs (bedding tracks) in mp3 format. There is also an option of importing pictures into Movie Maker along the same toolbar on the left-hand side.

When you place your desired audio beneath a clip, ensure that you mute the clips or simply lower the volume of the audio belonging to them. You can do this by clicking on “clip -> audio” found along the top tool bar.

When interviewing someone, it is always great to cut to different shots while the person speaks. Every 10 seconds or so is a good guide, but you can creatively time this to cut to shots of what the person is speaking about at different stages.

When creating such a video interview, first edit the entire interview clip into the segments you wish to use. Then edit the cutaway shots you wish to integrate into your video and mute (or lower the volume) of these. Place these clips where desired and simply drag the interview segments beneath them — place only the audio there.

Edit them to fit perfectly by zooming in and dragging both the interviewee audio and the cutaway shot to an equal length. Your video interview should now flow smoothly with cutaway shots in between!

--> Publishing & uploading with Movie Maker
Once you’re smiling and satisfied with your final version of your video, publish/save it to your computer. Publish for “best quality for playback on this computer” and choose a folder to place it in.

Video hosting websites are accepting huge uploads these days so there’s no need to save your video in a smaller format, unless, of course, you’ve created an epic and your video file size is massive.

Upload your video to YouTube, MyVideo or Zoopy, or all three if you wish. Give it a title, an enticing description and a few tags and offer your production to the online world.

Happy video making!

Some useful video making resources
www.papajohn.org
Download Movie Maker 2.6

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