Friday, April 17, 2009

My Memory

I wanted to talk about how we remember things. A lot of people have studied how memory works, there've been some discoveries about long-term versus short-term memory, and how it's an exponential curve; if you study something again before you've forgotten too much of it, it's more entrenched in your memory, it will last somewhat longer now; you'll need to re-study it at a longer interval to retain it, then a longer interval still; and so forth, if you want to retain it forever. A man developed a piece of software called SuperMemo, which understands this principle. You put information into it which you want to learn, and it knows to remind you at those proper intervals, to keep it fresh in your mind. The problem is, with all the information we want to keep track of in our lives, you'd have to keep studying constantly; never missing any study-sessions, because that would throw off your study-timing.

There's another factor to memory that I've never heard anybody discuss, and that's Joy.

When you are reading something with a deep sense of joy, you automatically retain it longer. With a high-enough level of joy, seeing something once can help you retain it forever.

I was reminded about this today when I found a web site listing all the Eamon adventures from the old Apple II days, around 1979-1980. I had so much fun learning to program back then, playing all the games I could get my hands on, and the greatest adventure game at the time was the Eamon series. My friends and I would play for hours, trying to explore and conquer the various adventures. And there were many - I'm sure I had at least a dozen different ones. The Eamon series was what I would consider the first open source project, long before the term "open source" ever existed - anyone who wanted could look at the code, and build their own adventures.

When I stumbled over this web site listing the Eamon adventures, their list had about 300 titles on it - way more than I remember. Reading those names, it hit me - the name of the Eamon adventure I created! "Birds Paradise" I called it. I searched the list, but my adventure wasn't there. I google-searched for "eamon birds paradise", but no luck - no results. Even though I gave out copies of my Eamon adventure to a couple of my friends, evidently it didn't make it far enough to be listed on these sites. And I got rid of all my old Apple II diskettes a long time ago.

But then I realized - I hadn't thought about Eamon adventures or anything related to them for at least the past 15 years. So how did I instantly remember the phrase "Bird's Paradise"? How could I have, without "refreshing" that memory every few years or so? My brain's exposure to that phrase was many-daily-occurrences when I was young, then a 15-20 year span of never thinking about it once. That breaks the "exponential pattern" that psychologists have been talking about recently.

Upon reading all those adventure names, every single name I recognized brought back a huge swell of joy in my heart, and a couple of them made me laugh. Those were such happy times in my life, I was in middle school and later highschool, with lots of free time to play with computers, practice typing, saving my valuable files onto floppy diskettes, talking to my friends about the things I learned, the games I played, etc.

So I realize now - a super-high level of joy can implant memories so strongly, they don't need to be refreshed to be retained. The joy I felt reading those adventure names brought the phrase "Bird's Paradise" back into my mind in a single second.

I'm sure there are many factors to memory, and we're learning more about it all the time.
Just remember - joy is a powerful factor in memory. I hope somebody studies this some day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review: Success by Torkom Saraydarian

This is my review of the book "Success" by Torkom Saraydarian.  This title is actually a small booklet that is a summary of the full book by the same author, "Dynamics of Success".  I wanted to read this booklet first to see if I would like to read the full book. My conclusion is, yes, I would.

In Success, the author talks about true success - when you are successful both materially and non-materially (spiritually, socially, family, etc.) Sometimes people mistakenly think that having lots of money will solve all their problems. Having money certainly solves many problems, but being rich does not necessarily make you happy. True success is a balance between material success and non-material success - the best thing is to increase both of them in your life at the same time.

Now the author also talks at length about a third factor, which is the one I was most interested in:  hindrances and obstacles that block a person from being successful. This booklet discusses many of those hindrances within us, which qualities and skills we need to overcome those hindrances, and some practical ways to acquire those skills.

This little booklet is an excellent outline of what it takes to achieve success in all aspects of life. Distilled knowledge like this is timeless.  However I felt this booklet was a little terse, a little bit too short.  I understand the book it was derived from, Dynamics of Success, goes into far more detail and has loads more stories from the author's life, which are as entertaining as they are educational. I already received my copy of the bigger book and want to read it next.

Overall, I'd have to say I felt uplifted and inspired by Success.  It left me realizing that the knowledge of how to live a happy and successful life is out there, it's a known quantity. It's possible. It's worth learning about and working towards.

Torkom Saraydarian wrote over 100 books on a wide array of subjects before his passing in 1997.  The back page mentions that not all of his books have been published yet - new books are printed each year.

These books are printed and distributed by the TSG Foundation at They've set up a fund to raise money to publish the remaining manuscripts.  They also have an email based newsletter that's worth signing up for.

Check it out - they have books on sex & family, leadership, joy and healing, critical thinking, creativity, visualization, even a book called Hiawatha and the Great Peace.  It's worth a look.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Experience - My Stuck Day

Once in a while I have a day that doesn't go right, not at all, from beginning to end.  It doesn't happen very often, but happened again a few days ago.  I felt like my head was "under water" all day long, and I basically got nothing done at work all day.  I can't explain it, really, but everything goes wrong that can possibly go wrong, and I just have to sigh and commit myself to "getting thru the day".  Thankfully, the next day, things were completely back to normal.

Here's just one strange thing I experienced during my Stuck Day.

I needed to change the PIN number on the debit card I have with a credit union.  So I drove to the credit union and walked in. Amazingly, there was no line of people to wait behind; it looked like I was the only person in the whole place, aside from the 3 tellers - a rare start.

I handed the teller my card and told her what I wanted to do.  She took the card, typed some things into her terminal, and asked me to type my new PIN number on the separate keypad she has on the table.  I did, and she looked strangely at her computer, then asked me to type it again, so I did.  She typed something else and said, "it's not working, try it again," which I did; she said "the keypad's not working."  So she had to hand me her full keyboard so I could type the 4 digits of my new PIN.  And, of course, the system makes the customer type it twice for verification, so she had to take back her keyboard, advance to the next form field (I imagine - I couldn't see her screen), then hand the keyboard back to me so I could type it a second time, which I did.

"There," she said, and ran my card thru a card-device (which evidently reprograms the card with my new PIN #).  She said I needed to sign a piece of paper related to this transaction, but her printer was out of paper or something so she had to get up, walk to the far back end of the room behind me, open a locked door, go in and fetch the printout, close and lock the door, bring it back, and hand it to me - I signed it.

Happy with my reprogrammed card, I thanked her, and left the building.  When I got to my car I thought, "while I'm here I should test it out." There's an ATM right outside the front door embedded in the building, so I went over to it and put my card in, typed my PIN #, and selected the "show account balance" option.  It told me my PIN # was incorrect and printed out a little printout telling me so, and spit my card out.

That's weird, I thought, maybe I typed it wrong.  I tried it again.  Same result - error message, printed piece of paper, card ejected back to me.  "Glad I didn't just drive away," I thought, knowing how technology fails us way more often than it should.  I went back inside, but my teller was nowhere to be seen.  Another customer was already at the counter of the only remaining teller, now that it was close to lunch time, so I waited in line.

After a few minutes my same teller came out of a side office and said, "is anything wrong?" I told her my card didn't work with the new pin #.  "That's odd," she said, logged into her computer, and took my card from me.

She asked the teller next to her about it - yes, she's following the right procedure.  So she did the whole thing again - hand keyboard to me, take it back, hand keyboard, take back, walk over to closed door behind me, go in, get piece of paper, bring it back, I signed it.  "Try it again," she said, so I went outside and tried it at the ATM again.

I pushed my card into the ATM and entered my new PIN #.  This time it said something different.  "Pin number incorrect.  Your card is being held due to security reasons."  Oh yea, this was the third failed attempt to use my card in a row, so the system wants to confiscate my card!

Except for one thing -- after the third piece of paper with an error message on it was ejected from the ATM, so was my card!  It returned my card, even though it thought it was keeping my card!  Sheesh.  As a programmer, bugs like that are so frustrating for me, even when they're someone else's bugs.  Especially when they're someone else's bugs - because that means there's nothing I can do to fix them.

So I took my card back inside.  The girl looked at me with trepidation; I walked up and said, "it's still not working."

This time she got on the phone and called a manager or someone at another office.  I didn't understand the conversation, but something about having to log into some service first, that she hadn't logged in to.  She laughed, and told the teller next to her - she was locked out of the PIN changing service because she hadn't authenticated herself with the system, and now it was ignoring her, with no visible error message whatsoever!

Now, I have to stop here for a moment.  As a programmer I understand about security; you don't always want detailed error messages spelling out the tiniest details of what was wrong, because if there's a hacker trying to do something they shouldn't, those error messages will only help them do their wrong deed.  But, as a programmer, I know that when something is wrong, you HAVE to explain to the person that there IS an error, and what their next step is - which could be "call your manager/central office/whoever and report error 12345", or something like that.  Error numbers are a good way to obfuscate specific issues in such a way that a hacker is not likely to know how to decipher them.  This falls into the category of, "be nice to your legitimate employees so they can get their work done, but keep things confusing for intruders."  Apparently the programmers of this system chose not to do that.

The manager or whoever it was at the other end of the phone apparently reset something for her and told her to try again.


She types on the keyboard, hands it to me, I type my PIN, she takes it back, hands it to me, I type my PIN again, she scans the card, goes to the locked room, gets the piece of paper, locks the door, brings it back, I sign it, I go back outside to try it.

Put card into ATM.  Type new PIN #.  Same error message.  Same piece of paper.  Card is ejected once again (without telling me it's confiscated).  I go back inside.

Poor teller, I guess she's having as bad a day as I am!  45 minutes has gone by, at least, at this point; good thing there's only been 3-4 customers besides me during this whole thing.

She calls someone different on the phone, and talks for a while.  I hear her say, "issue a new card?" and she finishes her conversation.

"We're going to issue you a new card," she says, and begins doing that.  While I'm wondering how that's going to work, she does whatever you do to create a whole new debit card with my name & account & everything on it.  I enter my PIN number once again, twice, and she fetches the actual new debit card and hands it to me.  (I had no idea they can create them on the fly like that in just minutes).

I thank her for all the work she's been doing to help me today, she's been so positive and friendly, and I've tried to be as well.  I've learned that the most important time to stay encouraging and friendly is when you're the customer, and the employee is struggling for any reason to help you.  The ONLY way you're going to get the results you want at that point is to not piss them off and be all mean to them.  I just tell myself, "what if I were in her position right now? I'd be praying that this customer isn't an asshole.  Therefore, I won't be an asshole.  I can choose to be, or not be, either way. Today, no."  Because I'm just that good.  :)

I walk out of the building, over to the ATM once again, and try my card again.  Voila!  It worked!  The printout shows my account balance!  That couldn't have happened if my PIN number didn't work.  So I guess the system to change PIN #s is different than the one that creates new cards with initial PIN #s.  But who knows.

I peeked my head back in the building.  She was with another customer but her head snapped my direction - I gave her the thumbs up, and shouted "thanks again!!" and she smiled.

This was the least-crazy experience of my day.