Imagining my brain is exactly the right size

“Come on, Frank, an officer files things in his head. He doesn’t remember them until they pop up, you know that: a face, a street, a name, a number, zabba-dabba-doo, like that…”

Lieutenant Theo Kojak/1976


Listen to – Gladys Knight and the Pips “So Sad The Song” (I know that we both talked it over, said it’s best to forget)
Read or watch – Ray Bradbury “Fahrenheit 451” (people memorising stories because the books are being burned)


My avid consumption of books and videos about various methods of time management/planning has led me to an interesting juncture; a conundrum which is summed up by two equal and opposing concepts:-

  • “Use it or lose it”
  • “Your brain is not for storage, it is for creativity”

Most planning systems are based on the second of these two ideas and posit that you cannot trust your brain to store and organise all of the information about your life. You therefore need a trusted system to capture all your memories, all your thoughts, all your ideas, everything you need to do and everywhere you need to be so that your brain can be clear.

There is a barely disguised suggestion in this that life is so complex and so fast that your brain is not big enough for it.

However, there is an increasing amount of media coverage about the first of the concepts, advising us on how we need to exercise our brains and do crosswords, or Sudoku puzzles, or memorise poetry if we are to avoid our brains atrophying.

Oh, you are not memorising poetry yet? I have several large passages committed to memory and am currently working on “Meeting Point” by Louis MacNeice: I know all the verses, but struggle to keep them in the right order.

The idea of being able to trust my brain appeals to me, perhaps because I have never really been a list-maker and regardless of how many hand-written or device-orientated “to do” lists I have, I tend to do what is uppermost in my mind. Conversely, I find the idea of not being able to trust my brain very upsetting because I want to be in control of my direction; I don’t want to cede that control to a leather-bound planner or a whizzy device, however much I enjoy owning and playing with such items.

My brain, when I choose to use it, is actually pretty good at recalling things, and at prioritising what needs to be done. When I begin to lose track it is usually because I have become over-burdened, either with tasks that need doing or with more insidious “input”. It is not that I have forgotten what is most important at the time, more that I have successfully over-written it with fluff. In fact, I feel that often failure to accomplish something because “I forgot” is inaccurate and I should instead say “I chose not to remember”.

Of course, I am not espousing the rejection of all written or recorded material in favour of brain-power alone, just a more organic and more thoughtful use of both. And now I have to refer back to Kojak to illustrate a way of working that could be relevant now, either between managers and their team members, or just within your own personal task-setting.

Here is the scene – Kojak is sitting in his office and he yells “Crocker!” Detective Crocker appears and Kojak barks one concise instruction at him. Crocker doesn’t need to write it down, he has a single, well-defined task to do and he shoots off and does it. If it involves finding some information, he comes back, maybe with a brief written note, and tells Kojak the answer and that progresses the investigation. (I accept that sometimes even Kojak is a little blurry – like the episode that contained the line “Crocker – do it all.” On the whole he’s pretty good with his instructions.)

You will note that they didn’t have to book a meeting room and work through a long list of items of varying importance which they could only recall because they’d written them on a @Kojak/@Crocker list. I think in the modern workplace we can get bogged down in detail and lose immediacy. If we were giving our brains the leading role in our work, we might focus more on the really important and the really urgent and leave behind some of the purely bureaucratic and petty tasks that we consider so important in our current endeavours.

It is useful to write down times and dates in a diary, to remind ourselves of things that we need to attend to at a given moment and sometimes it is necessary to write a list of everything you need to do because you lack focus on that day, or in that hour. I just don’t want to delegate everything to some other system when using my brain could be a better way all-round.

So, this week I am trying to think hard about what I need to do next to make progress on the important things in my life and I am treating pen and paper, and my electronic devices, as aides-memoire instead of using my brain to assist the all-important List. I hope I will feel more human this way, because no-one wants to be just an organic limb carrying out the demands of a non-sentient catalogue of tasks.

Yes, I have no doubt there will be a lot of things that I forget, but I think that is how we sieve out that good ideas from the not so good ones. I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I might find that my brain is exactly the right size for my life.

Knitting photographs

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Close-up of Rowan Felted Tweed DK

There has been steady progress on my Gaudi cardigan and lace-back mitt over the past week, but nothing hugely interesting to photograph, so I thought I would talk a bit today about what I use to take my photographs.

This has been prompted by the fact that over the past few days I have been playing with my decent camera instead of just grabbing my phone to take snaps. My decent camera is an Olympus E-510 10 megapixel digital SLR camera. It is hardly in the first flush of youth, it seems this particular model debuted in 2007 and was superseded by the E-520 in 2008. I bought the camera second-hand and I’ve had it a few years now. I have three lenses for this camera, which include a macro lens for close-up photography – the one I used for these photos. My phone is the iPhone X with a 12 megapixel camera and it is a year old.

I have to say the phone suffices as a camera for pretty much all of my needs and I haven’t used my Olympus much at all in the past year. The one time this year that I have taken it out for a walk with me, I struggled to get it to focus; I am still not sure if that was due to the battery needing a charge, an actual issue with the camera, or simply me forgetting how to use it properly. However, this week, having charged the battery, I have grabbed a few photos and had no issue with the focus so I am hopeful that it is still in good working order.

The thing I really like about the Olympus, over and above the iPhone, is that I can use it with a tripod. This makes taking decent close-ups easier because even with image stabilisation my grip is prone to wobbliness. I have a remote control for the camera and that makes it a cinch to take photos of myself wearing my finished knitting projects. I know when I finish Gaudi I am going to want to take some photos.

On the other hand, the thing I really like about the iPhone camera is that it goes pretty much everywhere as a matter of course, and it’s easy to pick up to take a quick snap whenever I want. There is a lot to be said for convenience.

As to the picture quality, I honestly don’t know that there is much in it. In view of that I am just counting myself as lucky that I have a choice of cameras to suit different situations. If the Olympus does give up the ghost, I probably wouldn’t buy a replacement. Then again, if I decided to downgrade my phone next time it’s time to change (quite possible if my mood of frugality continues) then having the Olympus means my choice wouldn’t be narrowed to only phones with good cameras.

Here are some more photos of my knitting taken with the Olympus:

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Mitt progress
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Gaudi colour blocking – I really like the colour reproduction on this.

I hope your projects are going well and I’d be interested to hear whether you have a preference between a phone camera or a more standard camera for your photography.


 

Word of the Week – Explore

25-03-19 Explore

I have alighted on “Explore” as a word of the week because it seems like a good aim no matter what interpretation you choose.

Explore covers a whole host of activities, from actual physical travel to internal probing of your own psyche and pretty much anything in between. In fact, everything we do as human beings boils down to exploring; it seems to be the thing we have evolved to do.

I have always been more interested in exploring internal landscapes than external ones; I find the reasons why we are doing something fascinating – far more so than the thing that is being done. That may be why the traditional “whodunnit” type of murder mystery passes me by but I am gripped by the “why did they do it” sort. I still enjoy the whodunnits, because what the author puts in as red herrings are actually myriad reasons why anyone might have dunnit and that’s exactly what I am reading for.

I have been doing a little exploring of my own today, resurrecting a reasonably old piece of technology – the Palm Treo phone/PDA hybrid. It’s old and it’s glitchy and I think it is beyond the point of no return, but taking it out and charging it up, it has occurred to me that the original ‘personal digital assistant’ devices had a lot of good things going for them. They combined the portability and ease of use that have become a lynchpin of modern life since the advent of the smart phone, but they were slower and less ‘connected’ and therefore less demanding. They were an assistant, whereas the smart phone is more of a boss. I retain a lot of affection for the now-defunct Palm Inc. in the same way that I retain a lot of affection for the Commodore computer company and their Amiga range of home computers.


Did you ever delve into the realm of PDAs or was it a fad that passed you by?


 

Strike up the band!

I like to think I go my own way in life; stand apart; never follow the herd; make considered choices. Every so often, though, I’m right there, leaping onto the bandwagon and waving a flag with the rest of the human race. So, deep breath, I am experimenting with turning my phone screen to monochrome – a bang-up-to-date trend.

If you want to read the full low-down on why it makes sense to do this, try reading this essay on Medium (you can read up to three essays a month on Medium free of charge so I believe you should be able to follow this link). The gist is that all the bright colours on your device act like a sugar-rush to your brain and keep you coming back for more. Putting your device on greyscale is more restful to the eyes and more boring to the brain, so you reduce your desire to keep picking up the phone.

This intrigued me so I tried it yesterday and this is what I found. First, and most importantly, it wasn’t an epiphany and, unlike the writer of the essay, I didn’t find that colours in the real world seemed brighter, although yesterday was a spectacular day of bright, warm sunshine and deep blue skies so everything looked pretty bright to begin with. I am not sure if I used my phone less than usual, but I don’t use my phone as much as some people do so clearly mileage will differ from person to person. What I particularly did like about the greyscale screens was how easy it became to differentiate between the icons for different apps and I wonder if this is where colours mess with my head. I have struggled with situations where I open completely the wrong app, not just once, but every time I want to open one I consistently open another one, as if my brain has got a particular option wired into it and won’t be told that it’s wrong. With the colours gone, the symbols stand out better and are easier for me to comprehend.

To illustrate the point, here are comparative screenshots from my own phone:-

25-02-19 Std open screen
Opening screen standard
25-02-19 Grey open screen
Opening screen greyscale
25-02-19 Std phone screen
Apps screen standard
25-02-19 Grey phone screen
Apps screen greyscale

The greyscale is quite a warm grey and very pleasing to look at. I like the way the bubbles on the opening screen wallpaper look like pearls when the opening screen is translated to greyscale. The wallpaper is an old Apple desktop background from the days when iMacs came in colours like Tangerine and the Strawberry shade shown.

One important thing to note is that this is just about turning the display from colour to monochrome. For example, if you look in your Photos app, all of the photos show in monochrome; if you take a photo, the camera shows you the image as monochrome. However, the photos are all still in colour, the camera still shoots a colour photo. As soon as you turn your display back to colour all the colours are there. Also, this is not a ‘hack’, it is simply using a setting that is built-in, certainly to Apple phones. If you are interested in trying it yourself, the essay I referred to above directs you on the steps you need to take.

Will I keep my phone on this setting? Who knows? (Anyone familiar with the Dr Who 50th Anniversary episode will recall that the answer to the question “Who knows?” is Tom Baker, tapping the side of his nose.) And does it matter? Indeed, if it does matter, how far will this go? Will I end up with a black and white TV and only write in black ink on white paper? Anything is possible.


In other news, I dipped out of circulation a bit last week, but now I’m back and raring to go. It’s good to take a few days out, even when your days ‘in’ aren’t exactly bursting at the seams. I am going great guns with the InCoWriMo challenge and should complete it so long as neither of my hands drops off. I am working on a idea for a Mother’s Day card to sell in my Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/shop/pamalisonknits) and the latest Avon brochure is online (https://www.avon.uk.com/store/pamalisonbeautyshop/) – there is a nice new springtime perfume which comes with a generous gift with purchase, and also the launch of a Korean Beauty line which I can see being popular with the trendy set.

I hope your week is off to a good start and I’ll see you back here midweek.