Friday, 23 October 2015

Navigating the landscape

I’m approaching four years remembering every day that passes and to my own amazement have still not lost a day.

I have recently made a philosophical change to the way I range over my mental calendar to refresh the images pinned as memory tags to each day (for details of the practicalities of the method, see the ‘refresh technique’ post - link under ‘about me’).

Looking back more than six months ago, I recall the images for two days per month. Today is the 23rd, so yesterday I recalled the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month from 2011 to end of 2013. Today, I recall the images for the 22nd and 23rd of each month from 2014 to the present.

This moving two day window brings the same days up each month, which is enough to stop them fading. Generally, I orientate myself if the images do not come immediately to mind by looking back to the preceding days, which will have been refreshed recently.

This linear approach sometimes left me a little panicked when the associations were difficult to find, as I could only see it would get harder as the days pile up.

The philosophical change is to look at my mental calendar as a landscape. From the beginning, I have visualised the dates on a month-per-page calendar, with the months stretched out from the numbers of the year. I have travelled these pages so many times. I realised the landscape as a whole should be familiar. The year as a whole has its story. A month, its place. Any particular day should locate me in the familiar landscape, even before I try to recall the specific memory tag. Instead of scrabbling around for the image and connections, I now try to feel the reassurance of familiarity first.

It is working. I am moving from this being a feat of memory linking consecutive images, to viewing a picture I have seen many times before.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Visualisation and memory

I ran a half marathon on 30 August 2015.

In preparation, I watched a video clip someone had posted of the route. This enabled me to think about how I would approach the run to pace myself, particularly with there being a long uphill section at the outset and the prospect of slower runners to overtake.

On the day of the race, I told myself to enjoy it. This was the race for real, not the visualisation.

It struck me that the memory I would be left with would be very similar to the visualisation, if everything went to plan.

Of course, the memory has real moments that I could not have imagined: the runner dressed as spiderman, the spectator who thought it hilarious to shout 'take your feet of the brakes' as the runners streamed past, the extreme weather during the last 5 km.

But much of what I recall of the race could just as well be from the visualisation. My memory tag is stopping at a prearranged point along the route for a photo with my wife. That image was already in my visualisation.

Visualisation and memory are both proxies.

The reality was the experience.

I have my next race already booked.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Perfect days

One of the pleasures of periodically reviewing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags is remembering those particularly special days I have lived.

The weekend of 18-19 July 2015 is a recent example. My wife and I took a coach to town an hour away and stayed at a hotel I had booked on the internet. It turned out to be better than the description led me to believe. And the nearby square had a great little restaurant.

I was up early for a 10 km race that was a short warm-up run away. That went well and I made it back to the hotel in time to grab breakfast at the hotel then take a taxi to the coach station with a few minutes to spare to buy a ticket to another town, arriving in time for a free open air concert.

Everything combined perfectly. Which happens sometimes. But my philosophy is not to expect perfection and to make the most of what life throws at me. If we'd missed the coach and the concert, we'd have come up with something else to do.

Part of the reason I gave up praying for things to work in my favour was I found it counterproductive. When things go wrong, is it because I did not pray sincerely enough? Is it because I have a lesson to learn? Is it because the alternative was what I really needed (often difficult to believe)? I realised it was better for me to pray for the strength and good humour to face whatever I have to face and not read too much into random effects as I am carried on the breeze of life.

The following week began well with the offer of a contract that would have doubled my income for the month. But rather than being confirmed the following day, the job was cancelled. It was a big disappointment.

I didn't view it as karma for my perfect weekend, but I felt better telling myself that in life: "you win some, you lose some".

Fortunately, the memory of my perfect weekend will be something I carry with me for years to come.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Taking a break

Refreshing the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to remember every day that passes is part of my daily routine.

But sometimes I am too busy to fit in the reviews, particularly the long-term review of selected days stretching back to 2011. When I become overwhelmed I now have a break and when things calm down use the memory reboot method I have described here previously.

Sometimes now I also have a break from the short-term review covering the past 6 months in more detail. Generally I pass a two-day window per week over my mental calendar and recall the images for every day of the past month. This provides an overlap from day to day. But if I miss a day, I can catch up.

As an example, in case that is not clear. On Thursday, I recall images for every Wednesday and Thursday of the past 6 months. In the normal scheme of things, I will have already called up the Wednesday images the day before. If I didn't do or complete the review, then, no worries, I can cover the two days fresh.

So recently I had a day off, putting my long-term review aside with plans for a reboot and leaving the short-term review for the next day.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Remembering too well

An unexpected problem has arisen now that I am well into the fourth year of remembering every day that passes.

When a memory of a past event in this period comes to mind it is sometimes difficult to know how long ago it was. It's not the old problem of having no idea of how much time has passed with no anchor to orientate me. It is because events from two or three years ago still seem fresh.

As an example, my wife and I have visited the coast around Christmas time for the past few years. My memory tag for one year is arriving at my sister-in-law's apartment in a taxi. Remembering it recently, it took me a moment to accept it was in 2013 as it was so clear.

I had to walk over my mental calendar to be sure.

A long time ago I introduced full date tagging for images. So the image has the date 27 December 2013. The trouble is that in running through my refresh technique (see link under 'about me'), I become lazy and miss off the year.

So I've changed the technique now to give the year first when I pull up an image during my regular run throughs.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Relaxed remembering

The memory reboot method I developed last year is becoming an occasional technique I use to make the process of remembering each day that passes much more relaxed.

As the end of March drew near, I switched to the reboot instead of the two-day window I usually pass over each month. I am tempted to do this when I hit the 28th of the month, because when I try to recall the images for the 28th and 29th day of each month, February presents a problem. Then in the following days months with only 30 days trip things up.

So I went back to the beginning, running through every day sequentially from when I began this process on 17 December 2011. I try to cover several months a day, but sometimes did not manage any. It took me until 10th April to catch up. Since then I've gone back to the two-day window, picking up recalling the 10th and 11th of each month.

Even taking over ten days for the sequential run through is no problem as usually images are only refreshed about every 30 days with the moving window.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lost image - 23 May 2014

I should not have lost this image. It never gave me trouble before when I ran through the images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags to remember every day that passes.

But when it came up in my review of 23 February 2015, I could not find it. The new review procedure I introduced recently had been going so well. It felt sustainable. It wasn't taking too much time to do.

Then I hit a wall with 23 May. I know it was the following day that usually pulled me up, but I remembered the image for 24 May with no problem. It was the day before my wife took a flight to her country to visit family and we had visited a botanical garden.

The 23rd eluded me and I tried all the tricks I have developed to find it to no avail. I moved on, making a note to find it later.

It still did not come. I spent time the following day trying to recall it, running through the months of April and May day by day until I struck the wall again. The images for surrounding days enabled me to delve deeper into the memories for them. The botanical garden came into vivid colour as I retraced our steps.

But the day before was a complete white out. It unsettled me when I came to do my run through for the 24th and 25th days of each month. I struggled with far more days than is usual.

It felt like the process was falling apart. I had lost my first day and now the rest were slipping away.

I tried to work out whether losing day had knocked my confidence or if  there was an underlying problem affecting my recall, such as my level of tiredness or stress. Could it be something I ate? Had I drunk too much wine recently?

It would not come back. I tried guessing what it might be, seizing on the vague recollection it involved a journey of some kind. The familiar places we visit did not fit. I wondered if I had confused the botanical garden trip and allocated it to the wrong day, but felt sure I was right.

I looked for evidence. In bank transactions. In my running log. I remembered I had sent a text to a friend from the botanical gardens and found it still on my phone on the expected date.

But there were no traces for the lost image. No clues.

I wondered friends were associated with the day and pictured their faces to see if they triggered something.

I told myself yesterday to let it go. It would come back today and I would kick myself.

It struck me while I was shopping. Out of the blue. I turned my thoughts to 23 May 2014 again and there was the image once more, like a puppy I had been desparately hunting sitting at my feet, wagging its tail with no conception of my concern.

I knew why it had returned.

The image was of a picnic with friends and their young daughter. Although I had pictured them as candidates for the image before, it was in a different context. It hadn't triggered the recall.

But five minutes earlier I had called them to discuss meeting up.

Without any conscious effort the image was clear on my mental calendar when I next looked.

I checked through my texts to my friend and there was the exchange on where we were meeting. Confirmation.

Now the image has returned, I've tried to connect it more strongly to the surrounding days. Adding the word 'plants' when I think of the picnic and the botanical garden provides a bridge.

I have found when I struggle to find a lost day, it is unlikely to be lost again.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Hitting the right note

When I was younger I was held back from rock stardom by two facts: I'm tone deaf and could never get to grips with the guitar. Otherwise I was a natural.

From time to time, I've returned to the guitar and tried to master a few tunes by watching online masterclasses. I've even had some real life lessons.

But I'm too much of a play by numbers musician, if I dare to use the word musician.

I once attended a singing class advertised as for people who are tone deaf. The instructor said that people who think they are tone deaf usually had an undermining experience before the age of 10 that put them off singing. Everyone could remember theirs.

I used to love singing in school lessons. One day I was off ill. When I returned, one of my friends told me the teacher had said how much better the class was because I was away. This is one of the images pinned to the smudged, stuck together pages of the mental calendar of my youth.

The instructor at my later class aimed to teach us the note recognition skills we would have naturally developed if we hadn't given up trying due to thoughtless - or cruel - teachers, friends or family.

One of the most effective, was standing face to face with a partner and singing a continuous note to be matched by the other. You could feel the resonance when you got it right, even if it was not always obvious whether to pitch up or pitch down.

I did try to persuade my girlfriend and later wife to do this exercise with me, but I think she feared losing me to belated rock stardom and so my dreams have languished.

That is, until now, with the help of two apps.

This process of remembering has taught me how memories can be held on to by repetition. So perhaps the same is true of notes and hitting them.

I was looking for an app to play Middle C as a starting point, so I could learn to recognise it and to match it with my own voice. There are various apps that play a note when you press a button, or the same not repeatedly in a loop. Others play a sequence of notes for you to pick out on a keyboard and repeat. I wanted something that would play continuously into my ear, even as I slept so it would become hardwired into my synapses.

In the end, I found it was not a music app. I needed, but a oscillator. The following one has the advantage of playing in the background. Others I investigated switch off if the app is not on the screen. (I have no involvement with any of the apps. and no financial or other gain from recommending it - see my advertising policy).

Oscillator is by Kymatica (Jonatan Liljedahl) and is available in the Apple App Store. Here is a screenshot with it set to frequency 261.60 Hz, which is Middle C (or C4).

With this playing in my ear, I try to capture the sound. Automatically I find I visualise the tone being at a particular height in my head. Higher pitches are higher in my head (perhaps because they are more nasal) and deeper ones lower, towards my throat and chest. Middle C is about the level of my palate.

With the noise in my ear, I try to hit the note with a hum. I don't have much sense of my own voice on those occasions I am singing along to something to even know if I am in tune. With the sound reverberating round my skull from the oscillator, I can match my hum to it.

I am using another app to test how well I have captured the tone in my memory. This is Hit the Note! by Visions Encoded Inc. Available in the Apple App Store. It randomly displays the notes in an octave. At the moment, I just tap the screen until it comes to C and hum or sing 'C' at the frequency that vibrates at the level of my palate to try to light the green light.

I aim to strengthen the correlation between the sound I hear, my recognition of it and how I reproduce it with my own voice. I want to learn to do what I should have learned by 10 years old: hear a note and sing it.

I hope the skill from one note will transfer to others and that I will only have to repeat this process with other notes. If I can programme this as a reference, it will give me absolute pitch - hitting a note without hearing it or a related one first - which is a rarer skill.

All the same, I do need to develop an ear for intervals. There are lots of apps to help with this. At the moment I am using Perfect Pitch Practice by Xilva. Available in the Apple App Store. This plays random notes from various octaves, the easiest levels being based on C4 (Middle C).

My memory tag for today is embarking on this new journey of discovery.

Before too long I intend to buy a keyboard so I can try once again to learn to play music.

And maybe become a rock star.

Saturday, 17 January 2015


I have realised that in this process of remembering every day that passes, older memories are easier to recall.

This makes perfect sense. I have been reviewing the earliest images pinned to my mental calendar as memory tags at least once per month for over three years.

As I've noticed before, the past week presents me with the greatest problems. My active memory creates noise with many recollections from those days and it is only with time that I settle on the key images, and possibly a theme for successive days, to pin down.

I don't know if I will ever reach the magical state of true hyperthymesia, where my brain serves up memories without the memory tricks I have developed to stop these memory tags from fading away.

However, I believe my review process will be sustainable for some years to come. So far I have not lost a day of the past three plus years.

The revelation that older memories become easier to recall through repetition takes away some of the apprehension that blanks will, at some point, start to appear.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Spatial awareness

Spatial awareness is key to how I remember every day that passes.

The images I select to capture the events and details of the day I want to remember are pinned to my mental calendar. I visualise this as traditional month-per-view pages laid out in front of the number of the year. On my calendar, the week ends on Sunday.

When I want to remember a particular day, I orientate myself on this calendar. It may take a moment or two to work out the day of a week to step onto the correct square. Sometimes surrounding dates come more immediately to mind and provide an anchor.

Moving towards the numbers of the year, leads to the earlier months. The year to the left is the preceding year.

I use full-date tagging for images, saying the day, month and year when I think of it. Yet, sometimes in a review, I have to reflect on the theme of the year - or the month in that year - to confirm the image belongs there.

I mention this now because closing 2014 has changed the layout. It is no longer the active year, open with possibility behind me and to the right. It is now sandwiched between 2013 and 2015, unchangeable.

New shapes and connections are becoming apparent. Particularly as every day now has a partner in 2014. Although that year is over, it is still weaving its way into my story.

Monday, 5 January 2015


I have barely left the house for two weeks as my wife and I look after my sick mother-in-law. She broke her leg and needs constant care.

The routine has been the same: providing care, eating, writing, exercising (see my prison regime), sleeping, with a very subdued Christmas and New Year being all that has broken the monotony.

Yet these days are not so monotonous to allow them to merge into one as would have happened before I began this process of remembering every day that passes. There are periods in the past where I have just one or two memories that represent a period that could be weeks or months. Sometimes I find it impossible to remember how long.

But these two weeks are made up of separate days and there is something in each of them to form the images pinned to my mental calendar. It may be the first time the nurse arrived to help provide care. Or the day I discussed soccer with one of my brothers-in-laws, who is mad on the sport (with that tag, I remember when he visited). Or when I first began my exercise regime. Or when my mother-in-law first sat at the dining table. Christmas and New Year are, of course, easy.

Yesterday, my image is watching a television programme with my wife, a delayed viewing of a Christmas special. It captures the day and will remind me of this much-needed moment of relaxation.

I won't remember every time I have lifted my mother-in-law into her wheelchair, but I will have rich memories of these monotonous days that help to measure their passing.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Running on the spot

When I stay at my mother-in-law's house, I am pretty much confined to it.

It is in a built-up area and my in-laws are against me going out for runs around the neighbourhood.

So I've gone from running 20 - 40 km per week to zero.

After I week, I was feeling imprisoned. Which prompted me to have a quick look on the internet for exercise regimes when in prison.

I haven't adopted any, but just reading that it is possible to stay fit and strong living in a cell set me on my way.

I now look forward to the opportunity to do exercises on my arms and stomach and some leg muscles that I have long thought I should do. Cross training is encouraged to develop strength that helps with running, but isn't necessarily developed by running.

I also realised I needed to get my heart racing to clear out the cobwebs. To begin with I tried steps for 20 minutes, which did the job, but brought on a twinge to the knee I injured last April (my memory tag for 23 April 2014).

Instead, I've introduced running on the spot. Which is surprisingly like running around the block, except I go nowhere, it is sweatier and I land much more on the front of my foot.

In fact, it turns out to be a good way to study my gait without worrying that I might veer into the road or the hedge. Plus my knee is now fine.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Closing 2014

I've already described what a shock it was to see the end of 2014 looming, when the year still seems so fresh.

I had the same feeling when 2013 came to an end. I conduct a detailed review of the past 6 months of images pinned to my mental calendar, so it takes that long to fully step from one year into the next.

Now I do have a foothold on my mental calendar for 2015 here, it feels like the door to 2014 has closed, even as I conduct my reviews.

I am very conscious that year in the calendar is full.

It struck me today, with a slight feeling of regret, that it will be a rare event for me now to run through the sequential images from January 2014, say. Sometimes I would do so during the year for that month and others that had dropped out of the 6 month window.

Partly, it was nice to reflect on what had happened. Partly, it was to make sure the images were secure.

Now that year has to fare for itself in my memory as I move on.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Month end 2

The transition to 1st January worked very well with my brand new refresh method.

This week I changed how I refresh the images pinned to the past three plus years of my mental calendar. I still feel the need to actively recall these images once per month to stop them fading.

The new technique is to run through consecutive days over the course of two days. So on 31 December, I recalled the images for the 31st and 1st of each month for 2011 and 2012. Then on 1 January I recalled the images for 31st and 1st of each month for 2013 and 2014.

This is much more manageable than recalling just the same day (e.g. 31st) for the whole period. I often recalled surrounding days to orientate myself, so two days per month takes no more time than one day per month, but I now spread the review over two days. Which means I've completed it while getting up and ready in the morning, rather than having to find some extra free mental time during the day.

There is another benefit.

Not all months have 31 days, or even 30 days. So the reviews at month's end would not run so smoothly. It is much easier with this new approach as for all but February, I have an image for one day at least.