Sharpen Mental Skills and Collect Memories

July 29, 2010
On vacation (or when you get home), play this game to sharpen your mental skills and help you collect memories for the future.

Alps from the airThere are two parts to this post’s Take-a-Break: curiosity and memory.

Develop Curiosity

An illustration for this first part is a picture I took while flying over the alps from Italy to Munich in early November 2007. I was puzzled by the patches of white against the dark ground. It looks as though this is snow on a hiking trail, or perhaps on a ski run, but it is only the beginning of November. Yet if it is snow, why would there be only white in these lines but not in the deep valleys?

There isn’t much snow yet on the peaks, so why are there breaks in the white, as though there are a deep holes filled with snow? If there wasn’t much snow on the mountains as a whole, why did the “snow” create a pattern like this? There are other areas that are in the shadow more than these appear to be and I assume they would continue to have snow, so what makes these areas special?

My interest in the photo is a little like that of members of the Google Earth Community who examine Google Earth pictures to find anomalies that are interesting to them. Look at an enlarged picture if you think that would help — and tell me if you have the answer.

Of course, there are many who would look at this and only think of it as a beautiful mountain scene. If they noticed the white at all, they would ignore it or file it as an-unknown-thing-not-worth-pursuing. Yet doesn’t it puzzle you? Don’t you wonder what it means?

What I’d like to suggest is that whatever you look at this summer (and of course, for the rest of the year as well), you look with questioning eyes. This could include pictures in print and on TV. Then, when you see something that is a puzzle, try to find out what it is.

There are a zillion things that I don’t know the why of, but whenever I take the time to see what they might be, when I ask questions about “why” they are the way they appear — even if I don’t find the answer — the mere fact that I’ve tried enriches my life.

Pay attention to at least one thing that you haven’t known how it is made, why it looks the way it does, or its possible purpose. Then pursue the answer.

Memory Recall Suggestion

The second suggestion for this take-a-break is to test your recall memory. For example:

If you look out the window of a plane, take a moment (15 seconds will do) to capture with your mind as much as you can. Then close your eyes and see how much you remember and open them again to notice what you missed. You’ll have to do this quickly, of course, since the plane is going so fast.

This is an interesting way to sharpen my mind when it’s feeling a little sluggish. And I think it helps when I play a game called pelmanism on the Internet that you may also enjoy. This is a memory card game in which a pack of cards is spread out face down and players try to turn up pairs with the same symbol. I use the easiest form with 12 pairs of animals. It helps me to make up a story about them as I go along, usually based on the first animal that appears. Try it. Keep your brain cells engaged.

Did you enjoy this post?
Here are a some related posts from this blog, and articles from the Support4Change website:


Statistics That Boggle the Mind

April 2, 2010
Are you amazed by outrageous statistics, the complexity and vastness of the world and our experience in it?

luggageWhen I go away and my husband stays here, he collects the Los Angeles Times so I can go through them on my return. That’s when I greatly appreciate the journalism style of giving informative titles and subtitles and then presenting the most important information at the beginning of an article. That allows me to go through nine days of several sections as quickly as I can to catch up on the news I missed.

Therefore, when I saw a short article from the “Late Briefing” page from March 23, I was excited to see the title “Airlines improve luggage handling.” Great, I thought, it’s about time! As I read the paragraph, I was thrilled to learn that:

Airlines mishandled 24% fewer bags last year as airports upgraded luggage-processing equipment and passengers either traveled lighter or carried their bags aboard to avoid fees.

The next paragraph was the kicker!

The number of checked bags that were late, misdirected, damaged or lost fell by 7.8 million to 25 million in 2009, SITA, the world’s largest provider of airline computer applications said in a statement.

Do you see what that means? 7,800,000 million bags ended up where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there that would not have be handled correctly if improvements hadn’t been made (or people hadn’t kept their bags with them on the plane). HOWEVER, that still means that O-N-L-Y 25,000,000 (all those zeros makes that 25 million in case you missed it) were late, misdirected, damaged or lost. Let’s hope these beautiful pieces of luggage from aren’t in that pile.

Incidentally, the paper did say that, “The single most important thing that passengers can do to avoid their bag being mishandled is to leave sufficient time between connecting flights.” And how often are passengers told there will be plenty of time between flights?

In any case, this is what I call a statistic that boggles the mind.

I had assumed that a 24% improvement would equal something like 25 thousand bags that had not been handled correctly. It’s a big world and some bags are likely to get lost in the shuffle. But I have a hard time picturing 25 million. It’s a little like trying to get my mind around a statement by CNN on Oct. 15, 2009, that in the third quarter last year 937,840 homes received a foreclosure letter. That sounds like an awfully lot of homes.

Guess that’s why I love these kinds of statistics. They give me a perspective on the vastness of life in all its complexity, which is why I like to read the TIME magazine section of “Numbers.” The March 15, 2010, issue pointed out that 1.26 microseconds is the “time that each day has been shortened as a result of Chile’s earthquake, which shifted the earth’s axis about 3 inches.”

According to the March 8 issue of TIME, there were 4.6 billion worldwide cell-phone users at the end of 2009, compared with 2 billion in 2002. Can you imagine how many cell phones that is, let alone how many people? What percentage of people have cellphones? You have to figure that out on the fly because if you go to Worldometers, World Statistics Updated in Real Time, the number of people on the earth was 6,835,736,195 when I first checked the page and when I went back there less than a minute later it was 6,835,736,507. How can you imagine those kinds of numbers? They are so huge, and growing by the second.

If you want an even more staggering number, why not click on the Worldometers link in the paragraph above and see how many more people have been added to the world since I visited?

One person that does a good job of explaining big numbers and complex ideas is Bill Bryson in his wonderful book A Short History of Nearly Everything. Somehow he is able to reduce massive figures to understandable ideas with clever analogies. It is because of his explanation of our utterly vast universe that I am convinced of the extremely unlikely possibility of flying saucers, but that’s another story.

The Ask Yourself Questions Club questions I want you to ask yourself today deal with statistics that you can’t get your mind around without resorting to an analogy. For example, to imagine the effect of 25,000,000 pieces of luggage that didn’t end up where or when they should, I wondered what percentage of passengers that would affect. Or if you set the bags on a highway next to one another, how many miles would they cover? If you did that with 4.6 billion cell phones, how far would that be?

All of this talk of trying to understand statistics gave me the idea for the following topics to consider.


  • What are the most outrageous statistic I have come across lately?
  • How would I explain that statistic in such a way that it would be more understandable?
  • Who does the best job of explaining statistics so I can understand them? [For me the answer is Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything