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Daniel Tammet – The Brainman

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Top Gear’s Richard Hammond recently mentioned that the main benefits of his death-defying crash are a head for numbers and a liking for celery. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who have even more impressive “superbrain” powers, as immortalised in the movie “Rain Man“. Their condition is known as “savant syndrome“, a mysterious disorder of the brain where someone has a spectacular skill, even genius, in a mind that is otherwise extremely limited.
There’s one person that bucks the trend though. Daniel Temmet is an Englishman who had epilepsy, developed “savant syndrome”, but he has no obvious mental problems. And it’s amazing to watch. The guy can speak seven languages and can recite Pi to 22,000 places. He’d be useful in a pub quiz…
So, here’s a CBS News piece about him (video is top right of the page), some discussion on him, and below are two 45 minute long documentary on him. Get a cup of tea – there’s some amazing viewing here.

Great Balls of Pain

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“Would the birthday group please stay behind – the rest of you can go off and get changed.”
The words hit my ears like a juggernaut. We – Michelle, Lucy, Simon H, Jac, Shaun, Nick and I – had been fighting it out in the paintball battlefield somewhere in Horsley for the best part of five hours. Earlier in the month, Michelle had had the brainwave while trying to think of a birthday present for me, and knew that I’d loved paintballing when I’d been before. We’d arrived on time that morning – well, nearly. Jac had had “a hell of a night” and managed to arrive still drunk, still with most of the clothes he had on the night before and “unable to remember much before Junction 11 of the M25”. Still, it provided amusement for the rest of the group, if not for any policemen reading this…
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The Long, Dark Stag Night Of The Soul

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“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
Groucho Marx
Saturday was the Six Nations rugby cup final. Although, not least because the shower of fools managed to lose against the French, I won’t be talking about it. No, an event that eclipsed all others also took place that night – Matt’s stag do. Get a cup of tea – it’s a long story.
It was a cool, clear morning. The promise of copious drinking and a strip club brought to mind my mother’s advice – “Line your stomach, darling, and you won’t go far wrong.” This turned out to mean bananas and milk all round, and as I left home for Guildford that morning to meet Matt (Michelle’s brother), James and Paul, my lonely banana skin served as a foreboding reminder that things were about to get messy.
In fact, messy seemed an understatement. Take for instance our opening salvo, a few swift halves in Edwards bar in Guildford town centre. A quiet place, you’d think, at 2pm on a Saturday. Three scousers, who looked barely out of their nappies, decided that now was a good time to show how very hard they were, with the victim being some poor, misguided fool who had objected to them. Cue a minute of fighting, four on one, involving chairs and all sorts. It was a severe pasting, but the victim won no points for yelling after every break in pummelling “Come on then!”. They already had – and they did again five minutes later, finally finished with a blood-curdling sound of head against door frame. A good start, we thought, and swiftly left through the blood-spattered door to board a train for the Big Smoke.
Leicester Square was the obvious starting point and we made for the Sussex Arms, mindful of the need to pace ourselves to last the night. A few drinks and an Aftershock later, the plan was in ruins. We bounded merrily along, past the Nags Head, past Covent Garden with its wide, intricate arches and on to the Boks Bar. Rugby-watching was the plan, with a view to celebrating England’s victorious win, and the Boks Bar served us splendidly. A Female Tequila Dispenser was installed in this bar, and she had a particularly wiley way of getting a drink out of us. Togged up in Lara Croft garb, the shot glasses were arranged at conveniently racy points down her torso, which she proudly offered with minimal embarrassment. The picture of her kissing Matt was a great shot, and made us thankful we’d brought the camera. The tequila, however, was disappointing – at ?3.80 a shot, it was watered down, and Matt confronted her with the revelation that while we thought she was downing the shots with us, she was in fact swigging from another water-filled bottle on her left hip. To top it all, she walked off without giving change from ?16. By then, of course, alcohol had taken hold, and we couldn’t have cared less.
We watched the rugby. We cheered. We groaned. We threw things. We bloody lost. By then, Matt was suffering. He’d had his head in his hands for around 20 minutes, and we thought it was high time he got some air if he was going to last the night. It worked, in a way we’d never envisaged – within 2 minutes, he’d emptied his stomach. We pressed on.
Two more had joined us – Mo and his friend, who for completeness I’ll call Gunter. I have no idea of his actual name, but he was German, and a cheery bod. Eager to reach the climax of our night, we grabbed the fifth taxi we could find – the first four were either full or ignored us, rightly guessing we might be a bit of a handful – and sped away to Spearmint Rhino, the Gentleman’s Club.
We made it. More to the point, Matt made it. He was disasterously unwell, and his poor preparation (distinct lack of beer tolerance build-up, 3 hours sleep the previous night) was clearly telling. Once in, he headed straight for the great porcelain bowl, while we sped on to the main room.
And, frankly, what a place. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Caf? de Paris nightclub in my time. This was Caf? de Paris with strippers. If you’re going to go to a strip club, this is plainly the place to be. Mo got a round of drinks to shove in our gaping mouths, and we settled down on a plush red sofa. Topless women danced around, and homed in on us like flies. To save my mother’s blushes, I shall merely say that fun was had, especially by our german friend, who ended up ?120 lighter. After a brief geeky moment wondering if any of the young ladies was the “mysterious literary sensation” Belle De Jour, we left, noting that Matt the stag clearly wasn’t having the time of his life thanks to his unpredictable stomach.
We staggered home, amusing ourselves with the astonishingly near retail store of the company I work for, marvelling at the 130-step circular stairway down to Goodge Street tube station (possibly the most challenging drunken moment of my life), and bumping into my old friend Kate and her sister at Waterloo station. I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but she’d just been to the party I was due to go to before Matt’s stag night reared its head. I think I said “small world” several hundred times. We eventually surfaced in Guildford early on Sunday morning, considerably worse for wear.
A fantastic night, so thanks to James the best man, who conceived the whole sordid idea, and to Paul, whose witty banter had my cheek muscles aching with pleasure. And to Gunter and Mo, whose dad owns my local Indian restaurant the Madhuban (which happens to be the best I’ve ever been to). And to Matt, who provided endless hours of amusement looking like death warmed up. For all I know he’s probably still recovering.
Now all that remains is to get the long-forgotten camera back from the strip club…

Susan Watts and Richard Sambrook

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Talking of the Today programme, an interesting revelation spilt on to the airwaves after Rod Little’s little piece. Lord Gilbert, former defence minister, was giving his verdict. After a crescendo of anti-BBC superlatives, he singled out Richard Sambrook, Head of News at the BBC for special criticism. And then the revelation – “Lord Hutton never focused on… [Sambrook’s] relationship with one of his fellow employees, Miss Susan Watts”. The very same Susan Watts, BBC Newsnight reporter, who was one of the reporters at the centre of the Hutton Inquiry. At which point the presenter blusters, says that he doesn’t know what on earth he is talking about, and cuts him off. Here’s a recording of it – gilbert_watts.mp3 – check out the interview from 41 seconds onwards.
Will the media pick up on that, or protect their own?

Air Conditioning Calamity

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Ooooh, hot, isn’t it? I’m enjoying sitting in traffic jams for the first time in my life, thanks to the healthy portion of air-conditioning my wonderful car pumps out.
Which is more than can be said for my company’s Head Office. I pop up there twice a week for regular support problems and meetings, and the entire top floor has no air-conditioning, but does helpfully have at least 20 warm computers happily pumping out a lot of heat. The prominently placed thermometer (parked outside the Managing Director’s office, probably as a subtle hint), hit 34 degrees last Thursday. And it only stopped there because that was the end of the scale. Multiple fans have been set up in the vain hope of ridding the office of its tropical climate, but all that sadly does is push the hot air around the room.
I had a look at the laws on maximum office temperatures (yes, yes, i had a few idle moments this week). And amazingly, there’s no legal maximum temperature limit. It could be warmer than Marrakech in there (and from personal experience, that’s a scorcher), and there’s nothing you can do about it. Apparently, the American company that owns the UK branch told the MD that “we spend money on stores, not offices.” Bit of a false economy if it’s too hot to work, though…

Courtesy Car Blunder

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The service assistant was very helpful as I handed over my car keys.
I’d left work 2 hours early and driven 60 miles back from Head Office to get to the garage before they all went home, and my poor car was tested to the limit as I raced for Stag Hill Motors. I smiled as I got there just in the nick of time.
“I’ve come to collect my courtesy car”, I explained. He duly filled out all the various forms, ticking every conceivable box. Finally, he looked up, and said, “Do you have your driving licence, sir?”
I find that even at the grand old age of 24 I’m still learning about life’s little foibles. It was my first time getting a courtesy car. Of course I didn’t have my driving licence – I never carry it around. If my car was ever broken into, the thief would have access to all sorts of things with the licence. And anyway, the same garage only sold the car to me a mere 5 months ago – isn’t it obvious I have a licence?
As these thoughts turned in my head, the assistant again asked the question. “No, I don’t,” I replied, “shouldn’t you have told me I needed it?” The young bloke behind the counter reeled. “Well, sir…” “I’ve just driven several hundreds of miles to get here,” I exaggerated. The man, obviously tuning into my unpleasant riposte, busily searched through files. “Well, the best I can do is next Thursday.”
I gave in to the inevitably of it all, stomped off and drove home especially fast, just for the hell of it.