Ramblings & ephemera

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

Vista & Mac OS X security features

From Prince McLean’s “Pwn2Own contest winner: Macs are safer than Windows” (AppleInsider: 26 March 2009): Once it did arrive, Vista introduced sophisticated new measures to make it more difficult for malicious crackers to inject code. One is support for the CPU’s NX bit, which allows a process to mark certain areas of memory as “Non-eXecutable” […]

Why we can easily remember jingles but not jokes

From Natalie Angier’s “In One Ear and Out the Other” (The New York Times: 16 March 2009): In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory. We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of […]

Chemically remove bad memories

From Nicholas Carr’s “Remembering to forget” (Rough Type: 22 October 2008): Slowly but surely, scientists are getting closer to developing a drug that will allow people to eliminate unpleasant memories. The new issue of Neuron features a report from a group of Chinese scientists who were able to use a chemical – the protein alpha-CaM […]

Bruce Schneier on wholesale, constant surveillance

From Stephen J. Dubner’s interview with Bruce Schneier in “Bruce Schneier Blazes Through Your Questions” (The New York Times: 4 December 2007): There’s a huge difference between nosy neighbors and cameras. Cameras are everywhere. Cameras are always on. Cameras have perfect memory. It’s not the surveillance we’ve been used to; it’s wholesale surveillance. I wrote […]

A Russian man with perfect memory

From Jonah Lehrer’s “Hell is a Perfect Memory” (The Frontal Cortex: 2 December 2008): This isn’t the first case report of a person with perfect memory. In the masterful The Mind of A Mnemonist, the Soviet neurologist A.R. Luria documented the story of a Russian newspaper reporter, D.C. Shereshevskii, who was incapable of forgetting. For […]

A woman who never forgets anything

From Samiha Shafy’s “An Infinite Loop in the Brain” (Der Spiegel: 21 November 2008): Price can rattle off, without hesitation, what she saw and heard on almost any given date. She remembers many early childhood experiences and most of the days between the ages of 9 and 15. After that, there are virtually no gaps […]

Matthew, the blind phone phreaker

From Kevin Poulsen’s “Teenage Hacker Is Blind, Brash and in the Crosshairs of the FBI” (Wired: 29 February 2008): At 4 in the morning of May 1, 2005, deputies from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office converged on the suburban Colorado Springs home of Richard Gasper, a TSA screener at the local Colorado Springs Municipal […]

Bruno’s memory structures

From Laura Miller’s “The heretic” (Salon: 25 August 2008): Still, the mental powers of Bruno and his fellow memory artists seem almost superhuman today. The basic principle, Rowland explains, is simple enough, “to link words with images.” Nevertheless, the structures employed were mind-boggling: vast, elaborate patterns and nested wheels within wheels (like the color wheels […]

What in our brains invest memories with emotion?

From Steven Pinker’s “What the F***?” (The New Republic: 9 Octobert 2007): The mammalian brain contains, among other things, the limbic system, an ancient network that regulates motivation and emotion, and the neocortex, the crinkled surface of the brain that ballooned in human evolution and which is the seat of perception, knowledge, reason, and planning. […]

More on memory

Memories are passive fragments. — Scott Granneman

How to exercise your brain

From Robyn Williams’s “How to Keep Your Brain Young” (The Science Show: 24 September 2005): Ian Robertson: Seven steps for keeping your brain functioning optimally when you’re older, but not just when you’re older but throughout life are: One, Aerobic fitness – amazing effects on the brain. Mental stimulation, both general mental stimulation and there […]

A living story, tattooed on flesh

From The New York Times Magazine‘s “Skin Literature“: Most artists spend their careers trying to create something that will live forever. But the writer Shelley Jackson is creating a work of literature that is intentionally and indisputably mortal. Jackson is publishing her latest short story by recruiting 2,095 people, each of whom will have one […]

Funes the Memorious, for real

From “New form of superior memory syndrome found“: Scientists at the University of California-Irvine have identified the first known case of a new, superior memory syndrome. Researchers Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill and James McGaugh spent more than five years studying the case of “AJ,” a 40-year-old woman with incredibly strong memories of her personal past. […]

3500 forgotten cans

From “Mental Health Association of Portland“: Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair […]

Pi to unfathomable places

From “Man recites pi from memory to 83,431 places“: A Japanese psychiatric counselor has recited pi to 83,431 decimal places from memory, breaking his own personal best of 54,000 digits and setting an unofficial world record, a media report said Saturday. Akira Haraguchi, 59, had begun his attempt to recall the value of pi – […]

Why can’t we remember our early childhoods?

From Dave Munger’s “Why do we forget our childhood?“: … [Freud] did discover an important phenomenon which continues to be investigated today. Freud noted that adults do not remember childhood events occurring before they were as old as six. This period of childhood amnesia is now generally believed to end at about age three or […]

Wordsworth’s “spots of time”

From Wordsworth’s The Prelude 12.208-218 (1805 edition): There are in our existence spots of time, That with distinct pre-eminence retain A renovating virtue, whence–depressed By false opinion and contentious thought, Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight, In trivial occupations, and the round Of ordinary intercourse–our minds Are nourished and invisibly repaired; A virtue, […]

How actors remember their lines

From “Research puts actors’ memory on center stage“: According to the researchers, the secret of actors’ memories is, well, acting. An actor acquires lines readily by focusing not on the words of the script, but on those words’ meaning – the moment-to-moment motivations of the character saying them – as well as on the physical […]

The late great Hungry Buddha

This was written 15 January 2002, & the Hungry Buddha is gone now, but this is still an interesting description. Just got back from lunch at the Hungry Buddha. Man, that was good. It’s a small place on Washington Street in downtown St. Louis. There are signs all along the walls: “Buddha would bus his […]