Archive for February, 2010

Memory, lack of

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I usually have a good head for remembering things. Heck, I play a memory game with a friend of mine and I (almost) always beat him, even though I don’t know half the things he’s naming.

The game works like this.

One of us starts with “Two Drow walk into a bar…”

Yeah, it’s based on D&D (though I’d say more GURPS, since that’s the game system we played at the time), and it stems from an old, quasi-forgotten joke on the best way to start a game with assorted (and conflicting) character types.

The second person adds another character to the list. It becomes, “Two Drow and a dwarf walk into a bar…”

And we have to remember the list in sequence until we’ve got an enormous list, like:

“Two Drow, a dwarf, two golems, a mechanos, an unicorn, seven leviathan, a two-headed hydra, a lich, a troll, a hill giant, an elf, a slyph, a werewolf, an air elemental, a seven-horned demon, and a dragon walk into a bar…”

Ad infinitum.

Anyway, it’s a fun game. Silly, and we come up with silly characters, but that’s not the point. The point is, I (almost) always win the game, and I have a good memory.

I remember all these things visually, but when it comes to numbers, I need to come up with an equation. So for a combination lock, I make up a mathematical formula to remember the sequence. Even if it’s a mathematical formula that defies all mathematical convention (and rules), it works because I can remember things that way.

Which is how I remember a combination to a combination lock that I’ve had for 13 years.

I have a second combination lock, one that I use at the gym. I don’t use the gym for 2 weeks because I’m alternatively on vacation and not feeling too hot on our return. Two weeks. That’s not enough to make me forget something, is it?

Well…

AFTER I lock my stuff in the locker, do my workout, and come back, I discover that I don’t remember the combination.

I remember the numbers involved, but not in what sequence. For a combination lock that has a NN-NN-NN code, that’s six possible numbers, and a gut-stabbing amount of possible combinations.

Not a problem! All I have to do is remember the formula!

Yeah, I don’t remember the formula.

And by some fluke of turning the combination lock by rote, I got it open, took out my stuff…

But I wasn’t paying attention, and I really don’t know what the combination is. Still.

A science post

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Not too long ago, someone posted a question to a scientific community, paraphrased here:

Is man-made climate change occurring?

I’m not surprised by the question given the flood of news reports and scientific evidence coming at people from all direction. There’s a lot of data out there. It’s enough to give me a headache, and I’m a scientist!

Granted, I’m not a climatologist. I’m an analytical chemist. Part of my job involves looking at reams and reams of data, often while forgetting to blink, and up to the point where my brain starts to implode under the strain.

But anyone familiar with numbers or who works with numbers on a routine basis will be able to look at a set of data and recognize a pattern. They might not know what the pattern means, be able to interpret the data, or apply the results for a specific purpose.

What that means is, without context, it’s only a bunch of numbers. And interpretation is completely subjective. In my opinion, that’s something of the problem we’re seeing with the flood of information about the state of climate right now. It’s all coming at people far too fast, without taking all the data points in context.

If you haven’t read Michael Crichton’s STATE OF FEAR, you should. If memory serves, it’s in this book that there’s an example of selectively applying data to come to a conclusion by narrowing the context.

(more…)

Geez whiz

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I’d started my last post, the one about the dogs, with every good intention of posting on a more regular basis — “more regular” defined less as the consequence of eating daily fiber, and more as an event occurring with more frequency than the appearance of a blue moon.

Dogs, general things, and work-related stories were among the suggested topics for blog posts, and I’ve already done the dog thing once. So general things and work-related stories for the next few, and hopefully those will come sooner than later.

I’ll have to come up with a list of topics…