Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The fallibility of human memory

One of life's certainties has been the fallibility of human memory. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that's not the case anymore. It seems there is a woman out there with perfect memory.
James McGaugh is one of the world's leading experts on how the human memory system works. But these days, he admits he's stumped.

McGaugh's journey...began six years ago when a woman now known only as AJ wrote him a letter detailing her astonishing ability to remember with remarkable clarity even trivial events that happened decades ago.

Give her any date, she said, and she could recall the day of the week, usually what the weather was like on that day, personal details of her life at that time, and major news events that occurred on that date.

Like any good scientist, McGaugh was initially skeptical. But not anymore.

"This is real," he says.
McGaugh adds,
Also, her degree of recall is so much greater than any other person's in the scientific literature... She is...quite different from savants who have surfaced from time to time with extraordinary abilities in music, art or memory.

Some of them can remember every single detail about the particular hobby that they have, such as baseball or calendars or art, but they are very narrow.
McGaugh described one person who could memorize a piece of music instantly, and not forget it, but who,

...couldn't make change or couldn't take a bus because he didn't know where he was.
By contrast, AJ is a "fully functioning person."

I'm not sure whether this is encouraging or discouraging for the rest of us, but McGaugh hopes to determine what makes AJ so special. They will be using brain scanning techniques to see if there is anything unique about her brain.

We are truly left in awe of what the human mind could be capable of.

You may also have noticed my posting frequency dropping recently. As it turns out, these topics are related. The thing is, I do not have infallible memory. Thus, I am reviewing all those things from college that I've forgotten for an upcoming professional licensure exam. Therefore, until the test is over, I will be less profuse in my thoughts. I hope to be back fully into the swing of things in a month or so. Until then, pardon my infrequency.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A magic carpet

In the Sacramento airport is one of the coolest interior decorations I have seen.

The carpet in the pedestrian bridge that connects the terminal to the parking garage portrays an aerial image of approximately 50 miles of the Sacramento River between Colusa and Chico.
I know what kind of carpet I want in my house.

Monday, March 20, 2006


That famous bookreads,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...
And so it is in March. As spring fever begins to 'spring' into our consciousness, the best time of year rolls around. March has always been my favorite month for a few reasons. It is in March that one of the best sporting events of the year, the NCAA tournament, begins its mad action. In March, the weather begins to warm and the promise of another summer is again unveiled. In March, a new baseball season begins and the NBA gears up for playoffs. And, of course, in March I turn another year older.

But so many Marches, there is also a time when things are not the best. For in any tournament, there is only one winner. And on this grand stage that the NCAA tourney is, my team has never gone home the winner. And thus, every spring is marked too with an inevitable realization that I must wait until next year to see sports dreams realized. For the moment at least, I am disappointed.

As Greg intimates below, we have seen the end of an era at Illinois, but I look forward to being back in the national spotlight soon.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Are there really candy bars on Mars?
Now Google offers an answer to that age-old question. Following in the footsteps of their Moon offering, we now have a navigable Mars. Whoa! Pretty cool.

Is Venus next?

Friday, March 10, 2006

JC's Girls Girls Girls

Mark 2:17 -
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners*."
*The content of this linked website has neither been reviewed nor approved by Westy. Enter at your own risk.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Real Estate Agents

Is a real estate agent a good investment in selling your home?

That's the question many first-time home sellers are asking this century. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt (authors of Freakonomics) begins to analyze exactly what an agent brings to the table. Their conclusion is,
...it is hard to imagine that the market will allow Realtors to maintain their hefty commissions.
Needless to say, their opinions have generated a lot of discussion. Further background information can be found on their site. Most interestingly, it seems Levitt is planning a substantially more in-depth paper to properly evaluate the situation.

I have to admit I foresee the real estate agent going the way of the travel agent. Hello Internet, good bye 6% commission.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


A non-profit organization called Worldchanging runs a blog that has quickly gained a sizable readership. What is Worldchanging? According to their site,

Worldchanging shows us a different world - the future we could create. A bright green future, a sustainable, prosperous, dynamic future for all. On a planet full of problems, Worldchanging calls attention to solutions, illuminating tools, models and ideas for building that future.

Recently they announced a campaign to raise resources for their organization. No matter what you may think of some of their perspectives, the site has some very interesting tidbits and I have learned a lot from following its dialogue.

To help promote the campaign, photographer Edward Burtynsky has created a movie showing some of the devastating effects of rampant pollution in certain areas of the world. The photography is stunning. I encourage you to check it out.

nickel tailings

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blonds going extinct?

Will natural blonds become a thing of the past? A recent article in UK's Times said,
A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.
This 'study' has been cited by multiple news sources. My wife heard it being discussed on the radio. People are saddened--natural blonds will be no longer.

It turns out (fortunately, depending on your perspective) it's just not true. This story was somehow fabricated. It's only an urban legend that fooled a major newspaper, and seems to have been circulating for awhile according to the WHO response.

As we all should know, genetics is much more complicated than that. (see this pic) Skin color is believed to be determined by as many as seven genes. It's no simple case of dominant and recessive. It's pretty funny how popular the story became, however. Apparently the world would consider it a loss if there were no more blonds...