Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Improve Your Short-Term Memory without Playing Computer Games

IF YOU WANT TO PLAY COMPUTER GAMES to shore up your memory and cognitive skills, go ahead. There are plenty of scientific studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of programs from LuminosityPosit Science and other brain exercise companies.

But if you are like me, the idea seems retrograde. When personal computers first came out in the mid-1970's, I played lunar lander on an Altair and was a fan of Microsoft's Flight Simulator which was once the most popular computer game for the IBM PC.

But that was then.

Today my work life revolves around computers. I spend hours every day writing articles, sending out tweets and positing on Facebook and LinkedIn.  I regularly use a dozen or more iPhone apps and I read books on my Kindle. The very idea of finding another reason to stare at a screen (big or small) is an anathema.

If you share this sentiment, you may be interested in the simple exercise I've devised to shore up my short-term memory which leverages off a daily ritual that I have been doing for at least 50 years.

It has been amazingly effective for me. I can remember names, facts, numbers, and visual images better than I could 20 years ago and while I can't back up my claims with double-blind studies, it won't take much of your time to try it out.

All you need is a daily newspaper.

Every morning I read The New York Times, usually but not always at a coffee shop. I read the entire front page first without turning to the pages where articles are continued.

Today's edition, for example, had six front-page stories and a striking photograph of Pope Francis waking though a large joyous crowd of presumably Catholic worshipers.

The lead story was about Iran seeking a nuclear accord to end sanctions that have pretty much wrecked their economy. There was a news analysis piece by David Sanger, one of my favorite reporters, noting how things in the Middle East have shifted dramatically in the past couple week with both Iran and Syria wanting to negotiate deals with the United States.

The other articles included one about the many signs of distress exhibited by the shooter who killed a bunch of people in a Washington, D.C. navy yard, a report that the Mars rover has failed to find signs of life on the planet, the surprising news that the textile mills in South Carolina are operating again, and finally, the shock waves created by the Pope who said the church had grown "obsessed" with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception (no duh).

While reading the front page I made a mental note to myself to remember the name of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, and also the name of the Mars rover, Curiosity.

Moving on, I turned the pages one after another, picking up the continued stories and reading the other stories all the way through to the final opt-ed page.

I usually read every article in the front section but only articles that interest me in the other sections.Reading The New York Times takes about 30-40 minutes (I'm not a fast reader). And of course it takes longer on Sunday.

The memory exercise comes during the 10-15 minutes it takes me to walk home. I simply try to remember as much as possible about what I've read, including names and numbers.

Usually I can I recall what articles were on the front-page and where they were positioned. Today, I remembered the photo of the pope, the name of the Iranian president. I chuckled thinking about David Sanger's observation "three chess players President Obama deeply distrusts" are pulling the strings in the Middle East:  Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Rouhani.

I try to remember every article I've read. I remembered how many barrels of oil are being stolen daily by thieves in Nigeria--100,000, and the annual cost is $3.8 billion. I remembered the phrase "Nigeria's larcenous ingenuity" was used in describing how the thieves tap into oil pipelines and even process the oil in makeshift refineries.
I remembered the somewhat weird article about John McCain's essay trashing Putin which was published in the old communist newspaper, Pravda.

I could picture the photograph of Syrian rebels teaching women wearing hijabs how to fire machine guns. By time I got home I've remembered about 25 specific articles, facts, names, photos, etc.

Some days I go back to this exercise later in the day or before going to bed just to see how much stuff I can still remember.

This may or may not work for you, it definitely works for  me and it doesn't cost anything, doesn't really takes much time, and I would read the paper anyway.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Old Are You When You Turn 60?

ALL I REALLY WANTED TO DO was read The New York Times and enjoy my “simple Mexican breakfast” of rice, beans, eggs, salsa and tortillas when I stopped in this morning at one of my favorite Berkeley lunch counters.
But the African-American man with salt-and-pepper beard, droopy but penetrating eyes sitting next to me just had to talk to someone, so I politely obliged him.
“Had your coffee, young man?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “first thing, have to have it when I get up or I can’t function.”
“I used to be like that,” he said.
“But after one cup,” I continued, “I am usually good for the whole day. Maybe I’ll have another cup in the afternoon, but not always.”
He laughed. “I only drink coffee every other morning, but I drink brandy every night. Brandy keeps you looking young. But you got to drink it every night.”
Somewhat incredulous, I prodded him, “how’s that?”
“Look at me,” he replied holding up 6 fingers, “this is how old I will soon be. Can you believe that, young man?”
“Well you only have 40 years to go,” I answered.
I thought about telling him that I’m 67 but decided not to. Didn’t want to ruin his day or his perceptions. I turned back to my newspaper, and he soon found someone else to talk to.
Seems strange to think of 60 as old. I think of 60 as young. 70 is middle age. At 80 you are older but still not old. 90 and above is old.
Death, when it comes, should only happen after age 100.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

day the towers come tumbling down

day the towers
came tumbling down
betty ong picks up the airfone
cockpit not answering
someone’s been stabbed
we’re getting hijacked
while george bush reads aloud
girl got a pet goat
she likes to go running
with her pet goat
sujo john bounds down 81 flights of stairs
the south tower collapses
he’s buried alive
but somehow survives
in the lobby lauren manning
catches on fire
when the elevator explodes
she runs shrieking outside
random brave man rips off his jacket
smothers her flames
we never learn his name
and yes 25 skin grafts minus-four-fingers later
lauren’s just fine
staircase blown asunder
fire captain jonas gropes in the dark
surfing down chunks of steel discovers daylight
turns around goes right back in
denise rabinowitz escorts her frail 75-year-old dad
takes the last elevator from the 90th floor
they walk home uneventfully
nicole simpson
decides not to get on the elevator
with her assistants at morgan stanley
floor 73
she lives on they all gone
10 guilty years later she dreams safely again
lucky ronny francesco he’s one-of-only-four
above the 91st floor
who tells tales to his grandkids
hazel gamal
seeks to escape billowing toxic grey asbestos clouds
the cacoffiny of howling sirens
unholy den of discombobulation
he ducks into a battery tunnel toll booth  
somehow hears his wedding ring drop
somehow finds it
in ankle high dust and guess what
still married
from nearby studio window
willy dubois witnesses all
second plane lumbers into second tower
fireball fills up sky
mammoth flames pour out gaping hole
then silence
air fills with papers
buy/sell orders personnel reports memos
to the boards of directors
and sadly yes
70 who work on floor 106
windows on the world
a restaurant whose name
the new york times claims
was not lightly chosen
plus 100 who show up that wretchedly sad
tuesday morning
for breakfast
all die but chef michael lomanaco
he’s at the farmers’ market buying vegetables
i do fondly recall his lobes of foie gras in sauternes
burnished ducks and butter-braised lobsters
the abundantly long list of napa chardonnays
thinking as i look down at toy taxis
i really should come here
more often
i could be one of those despairing patrons
hanging out the windows waving linen tablecloths
at passing helicopters
streets tightly packed below
people not knowing what to do
some look up
police dispatcher says ominously
bodies dropping like flies from the upper floors
and so they are
i suspect leaping beats searing pain
anonymous man
calmly embraces gravity’s ecclesiastic suction
drops head first
arms side-by-side
left leg bent at the knee
ever so casually
like a 150-miles-an-hour arrow
his final thrill
captured on film for the world to see
--David Bunnell