Friday, September 25, 2009

Can you name everyone on the bus?

Photo by Daryl Fritz on Flickr

Many years ago I spent 21 days on a bus/camping trip in Europe with Contiki tours. There were approximately 40 people in the group from Australia, South Africa, USA, Israel, England and Hong Kong.

Our tour guide had issued a challenge. Whoever could stand up at the front of the bus and name everyone by first name would get a prize. I thought this was a wonderful icebreaker activity to motivate people to make an effort and get to know their fellow travellers. Unfortunately someone else beat me to the prize.

How often have you joined a class, club or social group and been worried about meeting everyone? Are you interested in getting to know everyone there or do you try and avoid social encounters? You will never know if you have something in common with a stranger until you start a conversation and introduce yourself.

Become the kind of person who initiates conversations and gets to know others in a group. After you have spoken with someone and remembered the name you now have something you can build on for future interactions. You may have decided you don't have anything in common but at least you made the effort to speak and make a connection.

There are countless situations where you join a group where you are going to see the people on a regular basis - daily, weekly or monthly. University students starting a new tutorial class, starting work at a new job, joining a Toastmasters club or sporting club. Maybe you have enrolled in a personal enrichment course -- there are many friendships to be made by getting to know other people.

Go on. Don't be shy.

Introduce yourself to others in a group and see if you can name everyone in the group.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to remember a deck of cards

If you were given a pack of 52 shuffled playing cards, could you remember the sequence of cards? Does this sound impossible?

Memorising a card deck is part of Memory Sports and you could do it as well. There are two main skills required - developing a strong mental image for each card, then memorising the sequence of cards using a journey of 52 stages.

A playing card belongs to one of the four suits - Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds and is going to be a number between 2 and 10 or a Jack, King, Queen or Ace.

We explored the Journey method in an earlier article, but how can we make cards memorable? I chose the method described by Harry Lorayne in his book "How to Develop a Super Power Memory".

Each card is converted into a key image (known as a 'peg word') based on the suit and the value according to a pattern.

Every peg word begins with the initial letter of the card suit. Therefore all the words for the Spades suit begin with S, Diamonds with D, Clubs with C and Hearts with H.

Each word ends with a consonant sound based on the phonetic value of the card. The phonetic system converts 1 to T or D, 2 to N, 3 to M, 4 to R, 5 to L, 6 to G or SH, 7 to K or hard G, 8 to F or V and 9 to P or B.

The Ace is given the number 1 and the 10 card is turned into 0. The peg word for the Ace of Spades would begin with S and end in T or D - "suit". The peg word for the 10 of clubs begins with C and ends with S - "case".

The peg words for the Jack is the suit itself, so the Jack of Diamonds is a "diamond".

The peg word for the King is a word that sounds like King and starts with the first letter of the suit, so we have King, Hinge, Sing and Drink.

The peg word for the Queen is a word that sounds like Queen and starst with the first letter of the suit, so we have Cram, Queen, Steam and Dream.

A mnemonic for remembering the four suits is CHaSeD (Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds).

Here are my peg words which I based originally on Lorayne's list, then I modified to my own preference.

  • 2 Clubs - Coin (large gold coin)
  • 3 Clubs - Comb
  • 4 Clubs - car
  • 5 Clubs - Coal
  • 6 Clubs - Cash (pile of $100 bills)
  • 7 Clubs - Coke can
  • 8 Clubs - Cuff (of a shirt sleeve)
  • 9 Clubs - Cap
  • 10 Clubs - Case
  • Jack of Clubs - Club (golf club)
  • King of Clubs - King (fat man with a crown)
  • Queen of Clubs - Cream (pile of whipped cream)
  • Ace Clubs -cat
  • 2 Hearts - hen
  • 3 Hearts - Ham
  • 4 Hearts - Hare
  • 5 Hearts - Hail
  • 6 Hearts - Hash
  • 7 Hearts - Hog (a large pig)
  • 8 Hearts - Hive (bee hive)
  • 9 Hearts - Hub (car hub-cap)
  • 10 Hearts - Hose (green garden hose)
  • Jack of Hearts - Heart
  • King of Hearts - Hinge
  • Queen of Hearts - Queen
  • Ace Hearts - hat (Fedora hat)
  • 2 Spades - sun
  • 3 Spades - sum (Sigma sign)
  • 4 Spades - sewer (pipe)
  • 5 Spades - sail
  • 6 Spades - sushi
  • 7 Spades - sock
  • 8 Spades - sieve
  • 9 Spades - soap
  • 10 Spades - suds
  • Jack of Spades - Spade
  • King of Spades - Sing
  • Queen of Spades - Steam
  • Ace Spades - suit
  • 2 Diamonds - dune
  • 3 Diamonds - dummy (pacifier)
  • 4 Diamonds - door
  • 5 Diamonds - doll
  • 6 Diamonds - dish
  • 7 Diamonds - deck (of cards)
  • 8 Diamonds - dove
  • 9 Diamonds - DEB mashed potato
  • 10 Diamonds - dice
  • Jack of Diamonds - diamond
  • King of Diamonds - drink (tray of)
  • Queen of Diamonds - dream
  • Ace Diamonds - date
Now you will need a Journey of 52 stages to locate the cards in turn.

Shuffle the playing cards then reveal the first card. What is the peg word image? Create an association with the first stage of your journey. Draw the next card, recall the peg word and create an association with the second stage of your journey.

Practice using one suit of cards, then two and work your way up to the full deck. By the way, the world record for memorising a deck of cards is under a minute! With practice you should be able to memorise a deck of cards in under five minutes.

Now that you memorised peg words for the playing cards, you can use these images for other card games. In a later article I will write about "Memory" - a game of matching pairs of cards.
Read more about remembering cards at the Memory Sports web site.

Mind Your Mind - Alzheimer's Disease Awareness

Last Friday, schoolboys were selling fund-raising badges and toys. I noticed the toys included yellow elephants and squeezable brains. How could I resist buying these items with my interest in memory and brain skills?

The fund-raising was for Alzheimer's Australia research projects.

What is Alzheimer's disease and how can it be prevented?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the elderly and may start as early as mid-fifties. The cause is faster than normal loss of nerve cells in the brain, the cause of which is unknown.

Alzheimer's symptoms include recent loss of memory, loss of initiative and reduced physical activity. There is no cure and treatments are aimed at keeping the patient content. From diagnosis to eventual death takes seven years on average.

Dementia is a mental disorder in which the patient develops confusion, irrational behaviour. inappropriate reactions, poor or jumbled speech patterns, hallucinations and loss of short term memory. It is a permanent condition and unfortunately there is no cure for most causes.

How can you minimise the risk of degeneration of your brain? The Alzheimer's institute has some recommendations for brain fitness. Their campaign is called "Mind Your Mind" and is based on research that shows adopting a 'brain healthy' lifestyle may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The Mind Your Mind signposts are:
  1. Mind Your Brain
  2. Mind Your Diet
  3. Mind Your Body
  4. Mind Your Health Checks
  5. Mind Your Social Life
  6. Mind Your Habits
  7. Mind Your Head
A good way to exercise the Brain is to develop memory skills. Learn memory technqiues and challenge the brain each day. Crossword puzzles, word and puzzles, board games, thinking games like chess and Go.

Read more at the Alzheimers Australia web site where you can download posters and brochures.

Definitions from "The Complete Family Medical Guide" - Dr Warwick Carter - (c) 2003 Hinkle Books

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Remembering 20 items with the Journey method

How would you go about remembering these twenty items?

In the previous article I described the Journey method. Now let's see the method in action.

1. Use your Journey

First of all, I need to explain the steps of my journey. The journey starts in my bedroom then visits every room, going out the front door, along the driveway then down the street past my neighbouring houses.

You won't be able to visualise all my steps so I stopped the journey at the letter box. This should be sufficient to explain the process.

- Bedroom
- Ensuite bathroom
- Entertainment area (TV, sofa)
- Bookshelf out the back
- Toilet
- Laundry
- Kitchen
- Dining Room
- Lounge Room
- Front Hall
- Out on the porch (entrance lobby)
- On the driveway
- At the letter box

2. Assign each object to a stage and create a strong image

Bedroom - Lightbulb - Huge lightbulb lying on the bed shining brightly

Ensuite bathroom - Easter Egg - The bathtub is filled with easter eggs. The eggs are overflowing onto the bathroom floor.

Entertainment area - Saucepan - A large saucepan is on the television set. A cooking program is being shown with the saucepan bubbling and overflowing on to the floor/

Laundry - Wineglass - A large wineglass on the washing machine is filled with washing powder and overflowing on to the floor

Kitchen - bicycle - A bicycle has been parked in the kitchen and a chef is seated on the bicycle but still able to reach the bench to chop up vegetables and stir the pots.

Dining Room - Car - A small car is parked in the diniing room and the dining table is balanced on the roof the car. Guests are sitting around the table using very high chairs

Lounge Room - Chair - A very large dining chair is balanced on the lounge suitee. Each dining chair leg is pushed into one of the lounge chairs making it very difficult to sit on the lounge.

Front Hall - Pencil - A large pencil is lying in the hallway very similar to a cannon about to be launched when the front door is opened.

Out on the porch - Postage Stamps - The front door has been wallpapered with stamps and the front doormat is a very large postage stamp.

On the driveway - Toothbrush - The toothbrushes are laid out on the driveway to make an articial grass covering.

At the letter box - Apple - An apple has been pushed into the letter box. An arrow has been fired in to the apple and holds a letter, probably sent by Robin Hood.

3. Review the list

Go back to the beginning of the journey, the bedroom, and recall what was happening there. A lightbulb! Go to the bathroom and what is there? Chocolate easter eggs. Continue the journey to recall the main items.

Review the list about an hour later and you will be surprised to see how much you can recall.

4. Conclusion

The Journey method is very powerful and I am now developing more journeys for remembering different things.

All images from

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Journey Method (revisited)

The Journey method is a means of remembering items in sequence. The method is based on a mental journey along which is a number of stages or locations. Each stage in the journey is used as an anchor for placing the information you want to remember.

The technique is relatively easy to use as the steps of the journey should be well established in your memory provided you have chosen a familiar mental route.

1. Creating The Journey

Think about a journey you can recall easily. A good starting place is inside your home. Start in your bedroom and follow a path through each room in turn. You could leave your house and continue the journey through the garden all the way to the shopping centre, bus stop or train station.

2. Remembering Information

Information is stored by mentally walking the journey and placing the items at each stage. Pause at the location, then imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the location. Create a vivid mental image of the item you are memorising at this location.

Move on to the next stage of the journey then repeat the process with the next item. When you are finished placing all the items, review the journey and check the information at each stage

3. Recalling The Information

Recalling the items is now a matter of mentally walking the journey and pausing at each location. What is happening at this stage? Use all your senses to help recall the association you made earlier. Once you have recalled the information, move on to the next stage.

What Can You Remember With The Journey Method?

This is a great method of remembering longer lists of items. For example, if you were shown a set of 20 items and asked to remember them all, you could mentally place the items on the stages of your journey.

A deck of cards (52 in total) can be remembered using a longer journey of 52 stages.

Many Journeys

Just using one journey can be confusing for memorising multiple sets of information. Typically you could use the same journey for remembering things that can be forgotten after a while.

Dominic O'Brien (author of Quantum Memory Power and many other books on memory) recommends using different journeys for different purposes. A journey of 31 stages can be used as a mental appointment book. Another journey can he used as a mental intray.


I created a mental journey of 52 stages from my bedroom up to the footbridge of the Wahroonga railway station. I created a mental milestone every 10 steps to allow rapid access to different parts of the list. The image I use is of numbers 20 feet high glowing brightly like beacons. The milestones are useful for checking that I haven't forgotten one of the stages.

This journey is going to be used for remembering the sequence of a deck of playing cards. I won't list the stages of my journey in this article as it won't make sense, but I have a printed copy which I used to check my recall when first establishing the journey.

Practice Using The Journey

Use the journey for remembering lists of items. Gradually increase the number of items remembered. For example, remember this list of 10 items: teacup, chess set, milk, light globe, soccer ball, car keys, tape measure, mobile phone, compact disc and postage stamps.

Happy travelling on your mental journeys of memory!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Number Shape System

In an earlier post I wrote about the Number Rhyme system for converting numbers into memorable images. This required thinking of a word that rhymes with the numbers from zero to ten.

The Number Shape system requires you to think of something that looks like the number.

Look at each number in turn and think what it looks like. This is my list which I have attempted to illustrate above.

0 - soccer ball (football in the UK)
1 - candlestick
2 - swan
3 - handcuffs
4 - sail boat
5 - hook
6 - elephant trunk
7 - axe
8 - hourglass
9 - balloon and string
10 - stick and hoop

The numbers can be used as pegs for associating information just as I described in an earlier article on Number rhymes. A useful application of the Number shapes is explained in Dominic O'Brien's Quantum Memory Power CD set.

When you need to remember numerical information, use the Number Shape image. For example, to remember that Mars has 2 moons, imagine a swan flying gracefully around the planet Mars.

To remember there are 4 horses on a polo team, imagine a sailboat sailing around the polo field with the players hitting the boat.

To remember that Santa Claus's sled is pulled by 8 reindeer you could imagine Santa holding the hourglass shouting out "We're running late!". If you had used a snowman as an image for the number 8, then your mental image would be much easier.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How do I pronounce your name? Just ask the person!

When presented with a list of names, some people feel challenged by the task of saying the names out loud. Naturally there is a fear of making a mistake and offending the person by saying the name correctly.

So what is the secret? It is quite simple! The best way to learn how to pronounce a name is to Ask the Person! You can do this tactfully without offence. If the person's name is unusual or difficult, do you think you will be the first person to seek clarification?

If you are unsure, ASK the person for clarification, LISTEN CAREFULLY to hear the pronunciation, then REPEAT it back for clarification. I am amazed to see people ask for confirmation then ignore what they heard.

I recently attended a Toastmasters speech contest. During the speaker briefing, the contest chairman reviewed the list of contestants and confirmed the pronunciation of the names.
I was surprised at the difficulty this person showed in mastering the pronunciation. Why was this?

Take the first name of Megan. The owner of this name likes to pronounce it Meg-an, not Mee-gan. This is a common variation. But the chairman didn't really listen and said it wrong. We chimed in "It's Megan.. not Meegan!".

The second incident was with the surname of Dokulil. When you see it written you may wonder about the pronounciation. But it is quite simple. The owner of the name said "It is pronounced as it is written - Dock - oo - Lill". Quite simple.

The third name was a Greek surname of Sofatzis. Once again, let the owner of the name pronounce - So - far - tsis. Easy! Hear it, then repeat to confirm your understanding.

Confirming the pronunciation of a name shows respect to the person and shows you were listening. There are many ways to ask tactfully. Ladies named Karen sometimes prounce it Kar-ren. Sarah is sometimes pronounced Sar-ra. Make sure you use the name as its owner pronounced it to you.

"Do you pronounce your name Karen or Kar-rin". And if you make a blunder with the name when reading out loud, the person will probably tell you the correct way. So listen carefully.

A final reminder of the technique:
  1. Ask the person to say their name
  2. Listen carefully
  3. Repeat the name for confirmation.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chinese Names

I grew up in a culture where people had a surname, a "Christian" name (a term no longer used for various reasons) and a middle name. In my primary school days, boys used to call each other by their surname or a nickname.

Over the years I have strived to learn how names are used in other cultures. The first culture and country I am going to write about in this series of names from around the world is China. This will include names from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A lot of informaton in this article was taken from Wikipedia, but I have added stories of my own experience. I look forward to feedback from my Chinese friends on how you use your name, particularly in regard to your Chinese and "Western" names.


Several different conventions are followed by Chinese in the use of names.

First of all, the Chinese name is written with the family name first, followed by the given name. For instance, Lee Ming is "Mr Lee" not "Mr Ming". The family name of Chinese leader Mao Zedong is Mao and his given name is Zedong.


When Chinese people emigrate or do business with Western countries they often adapt their name by adding a Western first name to their surname, for example Fred Lee.

Other variations include combining a Western name with Chinese surname and given name, for example, Fred Lee Ming. Another variation is to follow the Western name with Chinese given name then surname, for example, Fred Ming Lee.


An interesting variation on adapting Chinese names is to use the initials of given names. I know a few Chinese men with two given names. Their "Western" name is their initials. For example, I have worked with "KK" Lam in Singapore and "KK" Leung from Hong Kong. The father of one of my daughter's classmates is "CC" Cheung, and another father is "CP" Chan.

I am curious about these abbreviations but I haven't always got the information. KK Leung was Kin Kwong Leung which always made me think of "King Kong".


Chinese names are written (not surprisingly) in Chinese characters. When translated to English, the Western spelling can vary. For example, on the list of 100 most common Chinese surnames published in 2006, the character for Li () is also shown as Lee. Spellings will be different depending on whether Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation is used.

Consider these Mandarin/Cantonese pairs: Zhang and Chang, Zhao and Chiu, Zhu and Chu, Wu and Ng, and Liang and Leung.

The spelling of these names can be your clue to indentify where the person is from. For example, I have a colleague with surname of Li and he is from China, but another fellow named Lee is from Singapore. I used to work with a Helen Lee whose accent was so Australian, that after a telephone call to a customer, she received a fax sent to Helen Leigh.


Although there are thousands of Chinese family names, the 100 most common surnames are shared by 85% of the population. The top 10 surnames account for about 40% of Chinese people in the world: Li/Lee, Wang/Wong, Zhang/Chang, Zhao/Chao , Chen/Chan, Yang/Young , Wu/Woo/Ng , Liu/Lau , Huang/Wong , Zhou/Chow.

Commit those names to memory and you will have a great conversation starter: "Did you know that you have one of the ten most popular Chinese names in the world? And 40% of Chinese have one of these names?".


I have two stories to share about marriages of a Chinese person and an Australian.

I used to work with an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) named Karen Chong. She was married and I naively assumed her husband was Chinese. I later found out that her husband was an Australian named Bruce. I asked her why she didn't use her married surname and she replied "When people hear the name Chong, they know what to expect".

I encountered the reverse situation at a client. I was studying a document which referred to a Denise Wong. I happened to be working with a Caucasian lady named Denise, so I asked her where I could find Denise Wong to ask some questions. She said, "Oh, that's me. My husband is Chinese!". This led to an interesting conversation and she said that bank tellers were always suspicious when she withdrew money.

The moral of these two tales is that you should never assume too much about a person, just looking at the surname!

Learn more about Chinese names and you will learn about the long history of China and its fascinating culture.

Suggested Wikipedia reading:
Chinese Name,
Chinese Surname
Chinese Given Name

A history of Australian names

Learning the history of migration in your home city, state and country gives you a useful background for talking to people about their names. This knowledge can be a great conversation starter when discussing a person's name. You can approach the topic by saying "My hobby is researching my family tree. What is the history of your name?".

I live in Sydney in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Sydney has become a multi-cultured society with over one quarter of the state's residents born overseas. My surname of Cave goes back to England and has been traced back to 12th Century France.

Here is a brief summary of Australia's immigration in the last two hundred years.

The colonisation of Sydney started in 1788 with the arrival of over 160,000 convicts from England and Ireland. From the early 1790s, free immigrants came to Australia fueled by the rapid growth of the wool industry in the 1820s. Many people migrated from the United Kingdom to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities in rural Australia.

The Gold Rush era of 1851 to 1860 attracted up to 50,000 migrants each year. The Chinese immigrants were the largest non-British group. Other events in the 19th Century attracted particular groups of migrants.

During the 1840s, a large number of Irish immigrants settled in Australia to escape famine in ther homeland. Labourers from Melanesia were recruited in the 1860s to work on Queensland plantations. Japanese fishers helped build the pearling industry in the late 19th Century.

A large influx of migrants occurred after World War II. Australia negotiated agreements with other governments to bring more people to Australia. British people could migrate to Australia for the princely sum of 10 pounds, earning the nickname of a "Ten pound Pom". Migrants from Hungary and Czechoslovakia (as it was then known) arrived in 1956 and 1967 following unrest in their countiries

At the end of World War II (145), Australia's population was just over 7 million with around 90 percent born in Australia. In 2006, the population had risen to nearly 20 million with neary 25 percent born oversears. 43 percent of the population were born overseas or have a parent born overseas, the most popular countries being United Kingdom, New Zealand, China and Italy.

New South Wales is a good example of multiculturalism. In 2006, twenty five percent of residents were born overseas. The top 12 countries of birth are United Kingdom, China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Lebanon, Italy, Hong Kong, Greece, Korea and South Africa.

The highest rate of growth in absolute numbers in the last five years has been from China, India, Philippines, Korea and Iraq. I will be writing articles on names from these countries.

Understanding the history of migration in your part of the world, and a knowledge of names from different cultures will help greatly in your new interest in names.

Australian information from : and NSW Information from NSW Department of Health:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nominating Facial Features, Morphing Names

In an earlier article, I described Benjamin Levy's NAME method of remembering names. NAME stands for Nominate, Articulate, Morph and Entwine.

In other words, you Nominate a memorable facial feature, say it (Articulate) quietly to yourself, Morph the name into something memorable, then create a strong active association between the facial feature and the morphed name. In this article I elaborate on the Nominate and Morph phases.


First of all, let's explore the challenge of closely looking at a person's face and identifying a key feature.

Levy writes, "There are a couple of ways to really examine a face.

One is to look at it and mentally draw the letter Z across it: start at the eyes and eyebrows on the left, zip across to the right, diagonally across the nose, then left to right across the mouth.

Another is to mentally draw a figure eight, circling down from the eyes to the mouth and back up again."

Practice this skill when looking at people when you are out, or on television or pictures in newspapers and magazines. As you practice this study of faces, you will develop your facial vocabulary for describing a person's features.

Morphing Names

How can you convert names (with no intrinsic meaning) into something memorable?

1. Add vowels. For example, Scott could be transformed into Scoott with the addition of an "o" and your morphed name could be Scooter. Try adding a vowel or two (A, E, I, O or U) tothe name.

2. Build your wordpower! Morphing names is going to depend on your personal history, backround, education and the associations you have build up in your life. Use wordplay to transform the name. Ask youself "What does sound like, or remind me of?".

"A great way to build your wordpower is to do Crossword Puzzles. This keeps your mind nimble and alive to new ways of looking at language" (Levy).


Here is Levy's summary of making effective Name morphs.

1. Begin with the same letter of the name you are Morphing.
2. Try to choose sound-alike jobjects, rather than verbs or adjectives.
3. Choose distinctive objects.
4. When necessary, you can make an effective Morph by using an image inspired by the name. Maybe ruby slippers remind you of Dorothy (in the land of Oz).
5. Be imaginative - what does the name sound like?
6. If the name seems overwhelming, break it down into one-syllable components.

Morphs enable you to see names that normally you only hear.

More interest in names leads to a better chance of remembering them.

Create your own list of Morphed Names and review it regularly. It is a good idea to have the same morph for the same name, as this is your personal collection of name images. Links to my personal list can be found in an earlier blog article.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nicknames - good and bad

Nicknames can be a useful technique for remembering people's names but inappropriate nicknames can be embarrasing. This leads to the story of why there is a picture of Brad Pitt at the top of this article.

In my workplace there is an employee named Brook who looks a little bit like Brad Pitt. It didn't help that our office nickname fanatic decided to call this fellow "Brooke Shields". Soon after, the feminine nickname transformed into "Brad Pitt".

Now that Brook was being called Brad, and all knowledge of his real surname was lost, meeting "Brad" in the kitchen required several seconds of thinking to remember his name.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to give someone a nickname, use a variation of the real name. For example, Larry can be Leisure Suit Larry, and Bob can be Bob the Builder.


I was reading on Wikipedia how George W. Bush ("Dubya") used nicknames to refer to fellow politicians and White House staff. Vladimir Putin was "Pootie-Poot", and Condoleezza Rice was "Condi".