19 November 2018

“Moonwalking with Einstein”.

You are probably wondering what, with my level of ineptness in dancing am I doing with moonwalking and with my level of modest IQ, am I doing reading about Einstein. Actually, this book has nothing to do with either. This is one more of those great books suggested by the most well read persons (at least on relatively abstruse subjects) that I know of – my MBA classmate Somshekhar.

You might recollect that I have been trying to understand how to slow down my inevitable decaying of memory ever since I reached this side of half a century of revolutions around the sun. I even have tried learning by rote anything I can – country names, capitals, NATO alphabet code, periodic tables and so on.

That is when Somshekhar had pointed me to this fascinating book. If you have even the least bit of interest in understanding how our memory works, this is a fantastic read. And a reasonably easy read.

Some of the interesting snippets you are going to learn include:

(*) How our concept of who is “intelligent” changed dramatically as our memory became externalized (we could “store” stuff – on paper, pen drives etc)

(*) What does it mean when we say that we have “forgotten” something? Has it been wiped away from our brain? Or have we merely lost the ability to access it? Or have we lost the ability to access it directly, but if you give us some associated data, we regenerate the ability to access it?

(*) Why we forget certain things we spent a lot of time on – calculus after those long years – but never forget how to ride a bike after riding a few times successfully.

(*) How punctuation marks and spaces contributed heavily to our forgetting what we read.

(*) How chess players have no more IQ than you and me. But they have great memories – especially about board patterns.

(*) How we reach the “OK Plateau” in any learning. I know it has happened to me in motorbiking. It helps you understand why you reach that plateau and how to get out of it.

… and many such things.

Are you wondering if the book teaches you how to memorize more? It does and it does not. It is the journey of a young journalist who went from covering Memory Championships to becoming the US Memory Champion in about a year. You will learn about “memory palaces” and “PAO” – and they can absolutely help you remember whole decks of cards and sequence of random digits.

But, just like skills that win you car races are probably useless for you to drive from your house to the grocery store, those memory skills are probably impractical for you on a day to day basis. (I did use some of that to remember my grocery store list a couple of times though).

But the best thing you will learn is that forgetting is not a bad thing. If we did not, we would not know how to separate the important from the unimportant. That said, if you forgot to pick up the laundry that your spouse had asked you to, please do not use the above argument. The book has nothing to offer on post traumatic disorder 🙂

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17 November 2018

Weekend relaxation

‘Aashiqi sabr-talab aur tamanna betaab
Dil ka kyaa rang karoon khoon-e jigar hone tak.”
– Ghalib

Roughly translated (by somebody else)…
“Love demands patience but lust is relentless,
What to do with the heart till it bleeds to death!”

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16 November 2018

Aha! I got her now! … or so I would like to think

The two days in a calendar that I dread like the plague are her birthday and our anniversary. Not because I forget them. The school of hard knocks – also called Life – long back has taught me that the easiest way to forget your spouse’s birthday or anniversary is to … simply forget it once!!

The problem is that I am not the one who believes in grand celebrations and gifts and parties and special dinners and all that to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. A quiet drink together? Yes. But nothing more. I have always marveled at all those Facebook posts I get from my friends with sparkling photos of them surrounded by innumerable friends in dazzling dresses with a cake thrown in here and a candle over there on such special days.

And I have wondered – with no less measure than my marvel – what made them wait for a day decreed by some random Gregorian way of counting an integral number of times of the sun going up and going down repeatedly to show such love. Why not pick a completely random day? Or two days? Heck, how about every day?

If a silver jubilee of a marriage has taught me anything it is that such clinical assessment of sanctity of revolutions of the sun is not going to get me anywhere.

Fearfully, I admit her birthday is around the corner.

I can almost sense the tension growing from the pervious night.

“Will he get me something this year, at last?”, she will wonder, more hopefully than realistically.
“How weird is it that our mind believes that one thing one day somehow outweighs the value everything else done all the other 364 days? Have we all reduced our feelings to Hallmark card templates?”, I will philosophically wonder.

Both quietly.

Both waiting for the storm that is welling up not too far.

I will spare you all the details but the conclusion will not surprise anyone. Somehow I will be at fault. Somewhere, I will get a lecture that I do not care about her.

“But, I was the one who suggested that you go back to India
to be with your mom a month after you came back. It was I who told you that I will take care of the daughter in spite of having a job in a different city. How come that does not count?”
“I did not ask you for that”, she will righteously declare.
“And I was the one who searched online for two days and got you tickets. And arranged for all our travel in India. I even called up the driver to be at the airport to pick you up when you arrive at the dead of the night. How about that?”
“I did not ask you for that”.
“I even went to the extent of arranging you to be at the 24-hour restaurant in a five star hotel so that you can relax, eat and refresh while waiting for daylight so that the driver can take you for the ride home. How about that, huh?”
“I did not ask you for any of that”.

Normally, I would walk away trying to compute how is our brain wired that unasked for events carry less value than the expected-but-not-gotten ones.

Normally, like I said.

Not this time!!!

You see, her Highness after relaxing and refreshing in the aforementioned hotel, messaged me – a full half world and ten and a half hours away to call the driver – who was merely hundred yards away downstairs in the garage to come and pick her up from the lobby.

Might I mention, like always, I did what she asked me to?

I can’t wait to pick her up from the airport on her birthday when she comes back.

With a broad, all-knowing grin and folded arms. (Even I know it would be rude to tap my shoes and go Tut Tut along with that).

But no gifts.

“Did the driver show up when I called him?”, I will ask innocuously.

Ha! Ha! No more of those “I did not ask you to”, this year. Game, set and match.

I have to think about something else for next year now!!

If I am still married.

To the same woman, of course!!!

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27 October 2018

Interesting natural phenomenon

The flight took off from Atlanta airport on Runway 7 bearing an easterly direction. For as much as I fly every week, a plane taking off is still something that mesmerizes me. I cannot help but look outside as the buildings pick up speed running past us the other way and then in one big heave as the plane pulls it nose up, suddenly all the vibrations go away and those buildings keep running away – albeit at an angle – and off we go!

Last Monday as we took off, you could get a perfect bird’s eye view of the whole Atlanta and metro area trying to shake off its Monday morning blues under that canopy of crystal clear blue sky. Down below was the continuous rug of velvet green treetops – interrupted by long strips of roads and occasional buildings poking their heads curiously out of the tree-lines.

And then there was that weird looking cloud. It was very low lying. Very thin and meandering. Totally static. It was like somebody put some long yarn of cotton there and forgot to remove it. For a minute I kept looking at it – convinced that it was smoke. My eyes roved anon looking for a chimney from some factory or perhaps a kiln.

The plane, at that point, banked hard to the left and settled in a north by north west direction. So much so the better – since that would get us closer to that strip of a cloud. I was hoping to find that elusive chimney. Just as we aligned ourselves to the cloud – something else caught my eye. Directly below the cloud. There was our Chattahoochee river!! What is more, the cloud shape was an eerie replica of the river. It ran exactly parallel to the river – just a little higher!!

In a moment, the puzzle was solved!! The water vapor escaping from the surface of the river could not escape much. It was so cold that it condensed into a cloud close to the ground – maybe a few thousand feet high – and stuck together without a lot of diffusion for the exact same reason. As a result, there was the river below – and the replica cloud above!!

(Zoom in to the picture to see the river)

26 October 2018

All I had asked for was ideas on what I could try memorizing

Instead got sucked into one more of those fascinating books recommended by my scholarly friend – Somshekhar. He has now led me down the road to learn how our human memory works and how very ordinary people can learn how to commit to memory incredible amount of things.

Nippy weather in Atlanta… sitting out with my Dog Friday – Jay Jay… and reading this well written book is almost taking away the errrr… memory of four much-delayed flights of this week 😉

Admittedly, Jay Jay has that slightly impatient look of “I don’t need no stinkin’ book to remember that tonight is Pringles night and you have not taken me to the music room yet!!

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25 October 2018

As poignant as the cartoon is…

And it is true that I – probably like many of us – are doing less and less worth remembering… it is still even more true that being on the other side of 50, remembering itself can be a chore.

Medical science seems to point to how memory deteriorates after an age (unfortunately much before 50). However, science also is suggesting how we can exercise our memory cells and prolong their life.

Personally, it started with learning all the African countries since Natasha decided to spend half a year in Ghana. Then, it was about learning all the African capitals. Then it expanded to all the 195 countries of the UN. Then it was their capitals.

Now I have created a Frankenstein. I want to “remember” more things. Can you help me suggest some interesting things that would be worth (re)learning and remembering? I was thinking of the Periodic Table as an example. What other things are out there that might be interesting to “memorize”?

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