Thanks to everyone who made kind comments about my behaviour grumble. They are appreciated, though there's an extent to which I might not have accurately focused on the largest issue. I can deal with accidentally putting my foot in it, because I can learn from it and make sure I don't make the same mistake again. It was the snotty little remarks, the wisecracks and the not-so-funny funnies that I need to work to eliminate by shutting up. The hypocrisies and hurtfulnesses will be tougher to strip out. I'll try not to go on about it because nobody likes to see someone whining about how hard they are trying to be good, in a simultaneously secular yet more-pious-than-thou fashion. Less chat and more action required here.
Enough of the grough stough for nough. Isn't it fun when two of your interests come together? You might have seen the following announcement, or something very much like it, around the Harry Potter fandom late last week:
WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT WITH ORDER OF THE PHOENIXThat's the company I work for, that is; I had the pleasure of surfing Potter news sites on work time in order to make sure that our announcement got to the right places at the right time. Unfortunately the initiative itself has no connection to me personally other than that I work for the company. Unfortunately I won't be there, there won't be much about it on the web site and there seem to be no opportunities to promote related activities. Never mind.
Anne Jones, a Leicestershire schoolteacher who is the Mind Sports Olympiad World Champion at Speed Reading, will devour the new Harry Potter book starting at 12.01am BST on June 21st. She is expected to read the entire book in approximately 2 hours. When she has finished reading the book Anne will be tested with several questions in order to determine her percentage recall accuracy and hence her effective reading speed. This is an attempt to break her own record of 1,347 words per minute. Competing with Anne will be 9 of her own pupils, all teenagers, some of whom have recently been clocking speeds better than Anne herself. Extensive press and TV coverage is assured.
This event is being organized by the Mind Sports Olympiad, which takes place in Manchester, England, from August 16th-25th (visit www.msoworld.com for details).
The Harry Potter speed reading will take place in Books etc., in the Printworks, Manchester.
One sidenote is the concept of reading speeds. The way you work out an effective "words per minute" speed is that you calculate a raw "words per minute" speed and multiply it by a comprehension score. So, for instance, Anne L. Jones' quoted figure of 1348 ewpm was produced by a raw speed of 2246 wpm (a 46,012 word book in 22'35") and a comprehension score of 60%. This is Anne's best score by some way, achieved at MSO 5; in MSO 4 she attained 1533 wpm * 56.7% comprehension for 869 ewpm and at MSO 3 she notched up 3288 wpm * 37.5% comprehension for 1233 ewpm. Quite a lot of variety, then. Anne is in fact the only person to have a 100% record in a non-trivial MSO discipline, having won the Speed Reading event at all of MSO 1 to MSO 5. She was the only entrant in the aborted MSO 6 Speed Reading championship, so I suppose she won her sixth title by the unusual verdict of a knockout (joke © the_maenad). Either way, she's long undefeated. By all accounts, she's very nice, too.
Still, these are all steeplechases of a few tens of thousands of words compared to the quarter-million-word marathon that is OotP, so it'll be interesting to see whether she can knock the book off in the "couple of hours or so" we're predicting, especially in the early hours of the morning. We have the media coming, so they will certainly hope so. There's also the issue of how the comprehension score is produced, which is done by a carefully-controlled recall question-and-answer paper of the style that you always used to do in English exams at school. The questions are more there to test gist rather than detailed recall, so Anne's typical 50%+ is pretty good. One ericklendl made a speed-reading joke back in 2000 that "I finished the latest Harry Potter in five minutes. It was about wizards." - that ain't going to cut it.
OotP offers some practical problems in the production of such a question paper in that nobody will get to see the book until midnight plus one. Normally we would be able to study the text for several hours in advance in order to set questions, but here it isn't going to be possible. My boss wanted me to send out a follow-up message to the HP news sites calling for paid volunteers, but he made the request while I was away at the weekend, so it didn't happen. Even then, a couple of days later, he sent out mail to me saying "Cancel the request; we sent out a request for question-setters to a Manchester student site and got 60 applicants." Admittedly this means that someone is going to be paid £30 to read Order of the Phoenix, which seems like a good job, but they will have to produce a bundle of questions on it within an hour and a half, which can't be fun. Presumably they will have to gist-read the whole book in that time to produce questions about the whole book, too. Would you self-spoil your OotP experience for just £30? I wouldn't.
addedentry pointed to this Times tabloid article on speed-reading and asked me about my experiences. It's interesting to see the claim quoted therein of "6,000 wpm with full comprehension", which is about four times Anne's rate. The highest claim that I personally believe at all is Sean Adam's 3,850 wpm - even then, he's still a bit twitchy about wanting to be measured on any more than general gist comprehension. I conducted an online interview with him for the MSO and we chatted for an hour or two afterwards. I'm not sure I believe the hype - it could be very advanced snake oil, after all - but if he's onto something, then he's really onto something. I don't even know where you'd go to get an independent measure of whether his courses and equipment are worth the money or not.
Nevertheless, the principles in the Times tabloid article do seem extremely sound to me and should be good for doubling most people's reading speeds with a little practice. I once read a list of techniques like that in Reader's Digest at a young age and decided I could speed read myself. This did not win me many friends with the teachers at school. I read Goblet of Fire for the first time in just under four hours, which is a rate of about 650 wpm (compared to a typical 200-400 wpm), but this was partly based on wanting to do it during a particular train ride and really sprinting towards the end. I would doubt that I would have scored more than 20%-40% on a comprehension test that day. No, I'll take my time with OotP and reckon on eight to ten hours. Really, not rushing and making sure I enjoy the book fully first time will be the real challenge.
Britfolk, you can go to the ball! The pound is strong (expensive) and the US dollar is weak (cheap) right now; the banks haven't been able to get $5 for less than £3 like they can right now since late '99. Accordingly, I reckon you can still pay for an entire trip to Nimbus - 2003 and back from the UK for about £600 or so. Sure, £600 still is a lot, but it's not the £1,000 people were initially expecting. Here's how...
Travelbag claim that BA will do you a £265 return from LHR to New York, even in July or August, if you book tomorrow - "Thumping" Thursday 19th June. From there, a Greyhound return from NYC to Orlando will cost you $139 (well, with a bit of help from a friendly American *grins at friendly Americans*) so the two together come to less than £350. On top of that, you need a ticket to Nimbus (currently $179.95, so a bit over a hundred quid) and a room (share with lots of people and you'll get a nice room for about £75 for three nights. Contact me and I'll get you into a fun room, moowoohahaha.) This still leaves you over a hundred bucks to spend on merchandise and sweeties and you've got by for under £600. OK, this relies on the BA-Greyhound combo being good in practice; a direct flight to Orlando will cost you more like £550 rather than the £350 we're talking about.
ADDENDUM! I have just now booked a return flight with BA for GBP 278.20 inc tax. OK, maybe a smidgeon more expensive than Travelbag, but the old "birds and bushes" maxim applies. I'll be flying out from LHR on Tuesday 15th July at 1025, arriving at JFK on Tuesday 15th July at 1305 (travelling down by Greyhound to Orlando to arrive on Wednesday 16th, travelling back by Greyhound from Orlando on Monday 21st), flying from JFK at 2300 on Tuesday 22nd and landing back at LHR at 1100 on Wednesday 23rd. You can fly to the USA for less than £300 in the height of summer! BOOK NOW!