fun stuff, journal

Working memory workout

This week I am confronting myself! I have a not-so-excellent working memory and I am finally doing something about it.

Working memory is different to long-term (and even short-term) memory for recall. As is described in the book Human Physiology by Lauralee Sherwood, it is like “the erasable blackboard of the mind”. It’s the ability of the brain to contextualise information as it’s coming in, and using that to execute actions immediately/near the same time.

Image credit: pexels.com

So for example, I can spout silly trivia I learnt at age 10, such as ‘The longest recorded flight for a chicken was 13 seconds.’ = long term memory 🐔

But if someone was, say, giving instructions prior to starting a complicated board game, the verbal directions do not land well. The explanations go over my head, like a record-setting flying chicken. I have to participate in one/more rounds of the game first, then we are good.

I also misplace my keys a lot.

🎲🔑❓

Thankfully, I have discovered that neuroscientists designed a game for training working memory. The game is called N-back.

Basically, there are squares that pop up in a 3×3, like a budget game of Whack a Mole. Except, instead of hitting garden creatures, you hit a button that says Position Match when a square pops up in the same place twice in a row. ❗️This is N=1. Easy.

But then the level gets harder (N=2), and you press if the squares pop up not consecutively, but only after another square pops up (eg if the third square is a repeat of the first).

N, or the number of squares back that you have to remember, becomes +1 if you get 90% right.

Then you have to throw the audio into the mix because the app shouts random letters at you like an audio alphabet soup – you hit Sound Match if it repeated itself too.

Image: pexels.com

It sounds confusing because it is.

When I first tried to Google how to play, it made no sense. I thought, great, I can’t work on my working memory because my working memory isn’t good enough to understand the instructions.

Eventually I found a good app that came with an explanation, and have been trying it for a few days. My initial sense was overwhelmingly I don’t know what I’m doing after N=2.

But today, I noticed I remembered to do things, such as send a text message when usually I might have forgotten. Yay! Whether this is a coincidence, or an upgrade of some brain software, remains to be seen.

I like this app, because it records stats, but there’s a number of them out there.

Here are some cool papers I read.

The first one I found; How it Helps to Improve Post-error Performance; Supporting article.


My study&work life has had some developments … but no conclusions, so I will tell that story when the time is right.

*

What’s your go-to piece of trivia? Do you enjoy brain training games? Are you someone who loses their keys, or well organised?

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fun stuff, journal, news

Shining some Light

Recently, a serendipitous discovery was made at Cincinnati museum. There was a (in my opinion) fairly ordinary looking plate from the century with engravings of the Buddha’s name, that was kept in storage for the last six-ish decades.

The curator, Dr Sung, found that if light was shone and reflected off in a certain way, it depicted a meditating Buddha. Which I reckon is terribly clever on the part of the artist, who lived in the 15th-16th century and likely never looked up ways to make this happen on WikiHow.

The reflection in question:

Above images: Rob Deslongchamps from Cincinnati Art Museum

Quite cool!

I first saw this article on Good News Network, which is a network with only good news – a lot of which is relevant to historical discoveries (I’ve taken to blocking most news sites on my phone in the last few weeks because the headlines are all doom and gloom.*)

On the subject of light, there is currently an event this week/month across central city that is showcasing different light effects/art made by people, which is awesome.

Shiny!

Some fun stuff related to light:

• In ancient China, people believed that solar eclipses were happening because a giant dragon was eating the sun (talk about high on the Scoville scale 🌶🌶🌶🌶🌶)

• On Wikipedia, Nikola Tesla’s name does not come up on the list of scientists who contributed to the incandescent light bulb. (I wasn’t sure if it was one of the things he and Thomas Edison had competing bragging rights over so I checked).

• By a small degree, green light relaxes the eye muscles for focusing, more so than yellow or red light.

💡🐉🚦

I briefly did some homework about rock art while deciding on topics, but eventually decided to select the topic on looking at stone tools in Australia. This actually came down to scheduling, as it fits much better with everything else in my life. This particular topic is a short intensive that starts toward the end of the year.

Perhaps this means I will restructure this blog and/or diversify content – have to decide!

How are you? Do you peruse or avoid the news? What your tolerance level for spicy food? (Mine: mild) Has your blog changed as you changed, and how?


* I saw this quote the other day, and quite liked it:

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fun stuff, journal

Auckland Museum

I have been on a break to see fam. Here’s a smattering of random facts and photos I gleaned from a trip to Auckland Museum.

• New Zealand broke off from a supercontinent Gondwana millions of years ago.

• At one point, Gondwana formed the southern part of an even bigger supercontinent, Pangaea.

This big chicken bird, now extinct, is/was a Giant Moa. When it walked the earth it reached 3m in height. Sexual dimorphism meant that females were bigger than males.

The Moa egg had a volume of up to 4 Litres, or roughly the equivalent of 60-65 chicken eggs. That is one big breakfast…

Every bird is the cutest bird (says me), and this statement extends to the NZ national icon, the kiwi*. At school, I learnt that:

• the kiwi’s egg takes up more space inside the female’s body than any other bird.

• unlike most birds, which have their nostrils quite close to their face, the kiwi has its nostrils at the end of its beak for sniffing out insects.

🐜🦗🐜

Speaking of which, there were a lot on display.

The New Zealand weta is one of the heaviest insects in the world. It is herbivorous and presumably harmless, given circulating photos of people holding them with their bare hands, but I think I just wouldn’t.

These beetles look a lot like jewels.

There were a lot of bugs… all dead.

When I was growing up, the museum had a tank of live cockroaches, which I would stare at endlessly in horrified fascination. Sadly, it wasn’t there this time round.

🪲🪲🪲

Re: the natural world, there was a whole section on Volcanoes, as most New Zealanders basically live on top an active site.

• Volcanoes are necessary for life to form on a planet.

• The Jarkata Incident, is an aviation event which happened in June 1982. Mt Galunggung in Indonesia blew up, unbeknownst to the pilots of British Airways Flight 009, who were headed to Auckland, and the commercial plane flew right through the volcanic ash. All the engines failed, and the debris damaged the windscreen, yet the pilots managed to land the plane safely. What heroes!! Here’s the wiki page on it.

✈️✈️✈️

If you have ever wanted to experience a volcanic apocalypse, there is a simulator in the museum which shows you over 12 minutes how things might look and feel if a volcano erupted in Auckland. The simulation happens in a fake living room, with a large screen that resembles a window to Auckland harbour, and the room shakes as if in an earthquake as well.

Here is the fake living room and its aftermath, after the house had been engulfed by a fake tsunami.

🌋🌋🌋

So anyway, after the apocalypse we went to see bowls.

There was a room full of ancient art from around the world, including ceramics, I saw this humongous Japanese bowl, which was designed for bread-making, but really would have been perfect for the Moa egg.


Auckland museum has various sections dedicated to Polynesian and Māori culture and history.

Food knives. I would totally feel badass buttering my bread with something like this.
Check out these shields…

I found this little story particularly interesting:

This tea-towel was made in the 1960s, and was kindly gifted to Auckland Museum so that the woman depicted, Harimate, a respected ancestor, would be spared being treated like an ordinary dish cloth.

Would you, hypothetically, use a tea towel for drying crockery, if a family member’s face was on it? I think I wouldn’t, particularly for parents and grandparents. But if it was a sibling and I had lost a recent argument about who was doing the dishes … hmm.

🧽🧽🧽

*If you have ever wanted to see what kiwis look like when they are happy, here’s a video that was released from a sanctuary.


I received results for last semester. My grades were surprising, as I did better in the one I was worried about, and worse in the one where I thought I was kicking butt. As no one will see these grades, they may matter as much as Instagram Likes or high scores in an arcade game. But, I passed, so yay!

👾👾👾

I hope everyone is fine. Have you been to New Zealand? Have you slept through an earthquake? I have. Are you freaked out by bugs?

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fun stuff

On Blades and Boulders

This post includes some trivia and other updates:

• In 1907, the last mountain in Japan thought left unclimbed was Mt. Tsurugi. A team went up the mountain that year… and found that someone had left a sword there. Later this sword turned out to be over 1000 years old* (Wikipedia).

That sword is now enshrined in a museum, and you can read its leaflet here. A sword is a pretty badass way to leave a marker somewhere. Imagine if one had been left on the moon, instead of a flag.

🗡🗡🗡

On the topic of Japanese blades:

• Japanese chefs’ knives are some of the most expensive in the world. Making them is an art craft that has been handed down over many generations.


• I am deciding whether for Semester 2 I would prefer to take a topic on Rock Art or Stone Artefacts.

Fun fact:

• Some Indigenous cultures make markings on cave walls for gender-specific viewing – only women are meant to see some paintings, and men others. If I study rock art this coming semester, I could tell you why. 🎨🪨

• On the other hand, stone tools are the ancestors of knives, which is decidedly awesome.

• The above aside, I have not applied for further topics in Archaeology for 2022; the reason being that a clean multiple of X (ie X, 2X, 4X) number of uni topics have to be completed by December, to keep non-Archaeology options on the table for 2023. I could apply for more later, but won’t yet. Watch this space.

• I turned a year older. Encouragingly, a friend commented over one lunchtime that I was not fretting about the usual existential crises. This might be attributed to currently having partially-baked life goals, or being in a food coma that afternoon, or both.

One of my favourite cartoons. Artist unknown, but they are spot on.

Anyway, how are you? Do you like knives? If you were hypothetically forced to enter and view one of two museum exhibitions by a short and obsessed museum warden – one full of cave paintings and one full of stone tools – which room would you select?

Image credit: pexels.com

*Yes, I did read about Mt. Tsurugi in a viral social media post before recycling this here.

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Australia, fun stuff

Art Gallery of SA

If you enter the Art Gallery of South Australia, you will find many items, some of which may well have been found by archaeologists, as well as stuff by contemporary artists. I visited last week before the whole hospital/appendix* debacle and will now present some photos.



There are all kinds of fantastic, like this upside down tree…

And a framed image of someone having written pi to one million digits… (I wonder if the figure has been cross checked?)

The photo reel on my phone seems to go in for a while, so here are just a couple of favourites.

Here is a link to the directory of all the art in the galleries if you want to have a look.

A fitting thought:

What’s your favourite kind of art? Do you like art from a particular time period?


*Brief health update after the page break, for the non-squeamish and interested. TLDR; I am home and fine. Thank you for the kind wishes! 🌸

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journal, fun stuff

The archaeology of poisons and medicine

Greetings from a hospital bed in a friendly neighbourhood!

I rocked up to work on Saturday morning with what I thought was bad gas. I thought I would push through the day but it got difficult to stand and talk. Suspecting something was wrong, I left and checked myself into hospital. A few hours of worrying I would pass air in a busy waiting room, four different COVID tests and one blood test later, the doctors confirmed were extremely sure I had appendicitis.

Long story short, I had a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) and am now minus one vestigial organ, dosed up on a good number of painkillers, and feel great (for the time being, as the drugs are working).

Image credit: pexels.com

In the spirit of what’s been happening, I got to looking around about anaesthesia, then poisons and drugs, and ancient medical procedures. So here is a post on them! Warning: Skip if you are squeamish.

• The word “toxic” comes from the Greek word toxon, meaning “bow”. The association likely comes from hunting, and archaeologists think that Paleolithic humans poisoned the tips of their spears to hunt, but to prove this happened is tricky. The detection of these poisons is an area of archaeological research.

• According to this article on the history of anaesthesia, the ancient Italians would put a wooden bowl over a patient’s head and knock them until they were unconscious so they could carry on with surgery. Certainly seems a lot cheaper than hiring an anaesthetist.

Image credit: pexels.com

• Once upon a time, people tried to get around feeling the pain of doctors cutting them open with opium and alcohol.

• The first successful application of anaesthesia as we recognise it today was done by a dentist, William Morton, in 1846. What a dentist was doing knocking someone out to remove their neck tumour I am not sure, but hooray for Dr. Morton! (?)

Trepanation is the process by which folks as far back as the Neolithic period literally bore a hole in people’s skulls to get rid of something bad in the person’s head. The procedure was possibly superstitious in origin than truly medical (eg to get rid of bad spirits). Trepanation is the oldest surgical procedure discovered by archaeology.

Hieronymous Bosch’s The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, c.1488–1516

Couching is the earliest method of getting rid of cataracts. A cataract is the clouding of the crystalline lens in the eye (almost universal in humans as we age), and couching is when you literally poke them with a needle so the opaque lens falls into the eye. It was documented practice as early as 800BCE in ancient India.

Sadly, couching is still practiced in developing countries, and trepanation in … developed* … parts of the world.


How are you this week? Know any poisons/medical related trivia? Do you still have your appendix? 

*See first comment on this post by Ashley L. Peterson.

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fun stuff, journal

The World’s Oldest Song

Q: What sort of fish is the most musical fish?

A: A piano tuna!

(Learnt this when I was 8 from my Year 3 teacher and I thought it was lame even then. It is a free Dad joke for anyone adding to their repertoire that makes everyone groan.)


I’ve been dabbling around on an old piano I found for a steal on Gumtree, which is like Craigslist (I think) or TradeMe but for Australians. It is noticeably out of tune when you get to the higher registers, and its re-tuning is a work in progress (pending and not by me), but it makes noises that are non-offensive enough, so that’s cool.

Out of curiosity, this evening I Googled, “what is the oldest song in the world?”

Turns out that the oldest known piece of music is called Hurrian Hymn Number 6*, and dates to approximately 1400BCE, and is from modern day Syria.

The sheet music isn’t like anything we would recognise, because it was actually transcribed from Cuneiform.

An example of Cuneiform, probably. Image from pexels.com

How some clever musicologists figured out how to convert 3000+ year old dents in clay into an actual playable melody is beyond me. But its awesome that they did, because now we can hear what music from then sounded like.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from the oldest known song in the world:

YouTube also has a version, and the comments are pretty good. Top comment is someone saying the song was so metal, it created the Bronze Age.**

Thoughts on the tune? What instruments and/or music do you like? Any idea how to start interpreting Cuneiform? Know any good puns/jokes, of the fatherly kind or otherwise?


*No. 6 is the only surviving hymn of 36, according to Wikipedia.

**Bronze Age: 3300 – 1200 BCE.

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fun stuff, journal

Snipping Tool

Does everyone know about the Snipping Tool/App? I literally only learnt about it yesterday.

This essentially allows you to cut a section of your screen, and save it as an image. I have always been doing the cumbersome route of Taking a screenshot -> pasting into Microsoft Paint -> cropping the image -> saving the image.

Image credit: pexels.com

My mind was blown, because I have been using computers since I was old enough to draw in MS Paint with a mouse and adopt virtual pets despite the slowness of dial-up internet (which sometimes took 6-7 minutes per page load). I can navigate Photoshop comfortably, but never have I heard about the Snipping Tool.

Wow!

Here’s an excellent tutorial (Vimeo link) on how to use the Snipping Tool, for Windows. Mac users can learn how to use a similar app here (an article).

Yesterday I was fretting over my last assignment, which is to dedicate 2000 words to Designing Your Own Archaeology Project. Which involves doing things like Planning.

This has been stressful, because of a) juggling other commitments and b) the fact it runs counter to the way I habitually live life, which is to try do as many things as I can at once, and then forget about everything until later (there seems to be several layers of irony happening here).

Anyway, after some labouring I managed to make some semblance of an imaginary Plan…

This is part of a Gantt chart, which I learnt to make in Excel. (The image has come up illegally small. Sorry.) It is basically a fancy timetable with a calendar thingy at the top and highlighted timeframes in the middle.

I was getting frustrated trying in vain to fit the too-wide table into Word. Then my partner arrived with the solution out of nowhere: use the Snipping Tool. I was completely thrown.

Very happy to learn about it.

✂️✂️✂️

More to come. Assignments are nearly all done for this semester, and I owe lovely readers a post about the mystery house that burnt down.

Have you ever learnt something seemingly late and it surprised you? What was it?

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fun stuff, journal, university

What do Archaeologists wear?

I am off to a field trip tomorrow!

The university released a lot of online content as recommended reading, so of course I went shopping to prepare for the outdoors instead. Here is a list of what archaeologists should wear:

  • Sun protection ie a Hat
  • Waterproof, covered shoes/good boots
  • Long pants, which might protect from snake bites
  • A raincoat, because projects are not paused for rain
  • Gardening gloves (optional, good)
  • A watch (optional, good)
  • High-vis gear for safety (I think optional/mandatory depending on the site) 🦺

Regarding hats: I went to the local camping store, and stumbled on a table that might have belonged backstage to a movie.

Photo: mine

I vaguely remember reading on an archaeologist’s blog once that wearing a Indiana Jones-style hat at a an excavation site can really annoy other people, so I settled for something less splashy instead (and a bit cheaper than the ones made from kangaroo hide, I think one of the labels said $259??).

Fun story: In the excellent Archaeologist’s Field Handbook which I skimmed, one of the writers said they once wore non-waterproof shoes, and in their avoidance of walking on wet areas, they missed finding large amounts of obsidian. Their colleague found it instead, and cheekily hid this discovery from them for almost a year. The author never wore the wrong shoes on an archaeological field trip ever again. Conclusion: wear durable, waterproof shoes!

Which watch for the Archaeologist?

I made a separate section here due to some interesting findings. Usually I check my phone to find the time, but when I was Googling around for the ideal watch for the archaeologist, I didn’t find any blog posts about it.

Without linking to sites where people buy things*, here were some considerations which came up:

Analogue watches are great for helping a person find North if they don’t have a compass. Link takes you to a how-to guide.

• There are now solar powered watches, and some companies make watches from plastics that were fished out of the ocean. A family member warned me that the latter could just gimmicky greenwashing (aka marketing) as the environmental benefits aren’t really clear, but the idea is quite good.

• A number of activewear smartwatches now come with GPS, which sounds extremely useful for not getting lost.

I realised, though, that it’s not the same as using Maps on your phone. The routes must be pre-loaded from your computer; and all but the newest watches may not recognise if you stray off the pre-entered path. If you are willing to drop as much money as an iPhone 12 costs on a watch, it will probably have the features to guide you back while making your wrist look classy.

Pretty!

• Lastly, I discovered someone making these watches that contain tiny excavation sites:

It turned out that the bones are from actual small animals. For that it would not be my personal cup of tea, but the original idea is pretty cute. Probably not the most practical accessory for the real excavator though!

I often go down rabbit holes while shopping for something, and then leave the warren without actually buying anything (no watch this time round).

🐰

As preparation for the coming week, today we had multiple crash courses on Geophysics, ethics again, archeological recording, and how to use navigate using toys with GPS and using some special numbers we learnt called easting/northing coordinates.

Russell from Up with his GPS thingy, exactly what we toyed with today.

We students wandered around the university campus with the gadgets. It was rather fun, and the experience would have been replete if the faculty staff had hidden chocolate eggs for us to find, but I suppose one can’t have everything in life.

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter! Have you been (window) shopping recently?


*Trying to avoid advertising, but can supply sources in the comment section on request.

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