Thursday, April 22, 2010

Minding The Mind: Using Your Personal "Neck Top" Computer! (Part I)

In school, our teacher would say something like, "memorize the times table by next Monday".  HOW we set out to do that was never really explained.  It was usually accomplished by route/repetition.  My Mom finally got me a "sing along" album that I played over and over again until  it was all remembered. - hopefully I wasn't also being subliminally recruited for  who knows what.  (Sadly, all these efforts were before the advent of Sesame Street ... so the songs weren't as hip)  I know there is a cool niche of "educational singers" out there helping to make things memorable.  (I remember the "sneaky" [Saturday morning cartoon time!] educational Schoolhouse Rock episodes being a lot of fun) Anyway ... we were just never taught HOW to memorize things except through drilling.  Nothing wrong with drilling per se.  Just put in some hard work and you'll have those times tables memorized by Monday.  And so, learning things became equated with good old fashioned hard work (unless you really liked the subject).   Okay, I'll admit there were some people "in the know" who used some mnemonic devices to remember things ... Colors of the rainbow: BOY RIG V (Blue,Orange,Yellow,etc), Notes on Treble Cleff Stave: Every Good Boy Does Fine or HOMES: The names of  The Great Lakes (Huron,Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).  Here's one site for school age children:  KIDS SCHOOL HELP MNEMONICS.  I have it on good report that  medical students employ some special mnemonics as well while learning anatomy and physiology.  Here's a free site with medical mnemonics: MEDICALMNEMONICSBy the way ... if your doctor or nurse hesitates and starts reciting some memory device or nursery rhyme (in your presence) to help remember where something is located in your body before performing a procedure ... yeah, its probably time to ask for someone else or take the exit ramp and seek help elsewhere.  You may also want to RUN if you hear the expressions like "oops", "oh no, not again", etc.  (pardon my silliness)   

Every once and a while, television shows like The Mike Douglas Show, Johnny Carson, etc. would feature a "mentalist" or memory expert who would do incredible mental stunts.  The ones I remember involved the expert meeting each person in the studio audience (hundreds) before the show.  At the end of the show all of the audience members were asked to stand.  The expert would go up to each person and attempt to recall his/her name.  (I have see this done with just the first name as well as with first and last name ) If the expert got it right, the person would sit down.  It was awesome to see the person get everyone's name right. - and no one left stranding.  The performer never indicated that skill was something anyone could do;  I just assumed he was a genius, a savant ... some genetically derived human computer.  I remember thinking, "Wow!  I wish I could do that in school".  (I confess, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was a personal favorite of mine...)
Oh well, back to the salt mines...

No doubt, amongst magicians, some of this mental magic was published and taught. - albeit secretly.  It was not until 1977 when my friend Alan from Terry Parker High School, loaned me Good Memory Successful Student  by Harry Lorayne that I became aware of a whole new world of memorization techniques.  (He has co-authored some books with basketball player and memory expert, Jerry Lucas )  On and off over the years I have read books - old and new on memory techniques.  Some of the memory tricks employed by Lorayne are not new;  however, he has a great gift of passing this information along and applying it to several subjects - mathematics, chemistry, foreign languages, etc.  Some techniques covered include remembering numbers by rhyme (1 rhymes with bun, two rhymes with shoe, etc), shape (1 looks like a candle, 2 looks like a swan, etc.)  or by a phonetically based system.  I'm so glad Alan loaned me that book! 

Some people have a great gift for remembering long strings of numbers;  those who employ a good memory system can do the same.  Another expert - memory champion Dominic O'Brien can memorize the sequence of 54 packs of shuffled playing cards.  In his audio CD and in his excellent books on memory he guides the user through the same techniques that he uses.  He has a great way of explaining things and walks the reader through (pun intended) techniques like the journey method.  He helps the reader develop a tailored list of numbers 00 through 99 - which are transformed into memorable characters - real or fictional (eg, Orphan Annie, James Bond, etc).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pay It Forward

My wife, son and I went on an outing at Little Talbot Island this afternoon.  We walked two miles down a scenic and shady trail which eventually led to the seashore.  From there, it was about another two miles to traverse the beach and get back to where we had parked our van.  Just a few hundred feet from where we had started our walk along the seashore, we came upon an man who was taking a break from fishing.  There was little foot traffic and we couldn't help but ask the obvious question:

"Have you caught anything today?

"No.  My friend caught a lot of them of them earlier today when the tide was low.  Now, it's my turn to feed the rest of them" he replied with a smile.

 The way he answered that question made me want to stay and chat for a bit.  He introduced himself as Brad.  He wore a Florida Gators baseball cap, a teeshirt with "MAINE" on the front, shorts and a pair of surfing shoes.  He appeared to be in his late sixties or older.  He had a cart with two gray, wide over inflated tires which carried four long fishing reels and a cooler.  A few feet away was his fold out camping chair.  A gust of wind toppled the chair.  Before we could upright it, he said to just leave it - it had already been blown over several times.  As he baited the hooks and was taking a breather, he began to share a little about himself.

As we talked about our walk and what a lovely day it was, he mentioned that he comes here regularly and that every day - doing this [fishing] is a fantastic day.  He said that he was diagnosed 7 years ago with MS;  although he has to take medications, thus far he has not been confined to a wheel chair and is still mobile.

He asked us, "Have you seen the movie, Pay It Forward?"

"A portion, but not the whole movie", I replied

"Well", he said, "I have a plan for this cart" he explained.

"There is another man who comes to this location on the beach - a black gentleman in his 80's - who is my friend.  He also has a challenge in his life - cancer.  I have seen him come out here to fish during high tide in waders - carrying a fishing pole in each hand along with  his bait and equipment." he shared

Brad looked off into the distance for a second and then continued. "I have told him that when my time comes to sit in the [wheel] chair, this cart will be his".

"Do you know what he said?" he asked us.  He said, "Then I hope you never have to give it to me, my friend".

"Anyway", he continued, "that's my way of paying it forward"

We talked briefly about everything from seashells (he's looking for a whole sand dollar to give to a friend who is going through a tough time) to some of his experiences/background as a teacher/trainer with R J Reynolds, Nabisco.  His outlook was so positive!  I wish we could have stayed with him for at least an hour - I wanted to hear more.  We talked about just enjoying "now".  He talked fondly about his wife - "I have the degrees, but she's the smart one!  She has so much common sense".  He said, "Love is not all of this romantic stuff you see depicted in movies, books etc.  Love is down to earth and practical - like noticing your partner is out of toothpaste  and placing a new tube there for her/him.  My wife has taught me that and so much more".

We said farewell and I will not forget his parting words to us,

"See you here again next year!"

As I continued to walk along the shore and he faded from view, I whispered my prayers for Brad and his wife.  I also thanked the Lord for this diversion from my own concerns - which always seem so big until you see them in light of what really matters temporally and eternally.

Today's recommended resource is ... us!  Be on the lookout for creative ways to "pay it forward".  We have been blessed to, in turn, be a blessing to others.

(I will add some links with some ideas in a few days)