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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journal

Traps and PSA (Post-Subscription Agony)

PSA: In February, I was caught by a mammoth trap.

Of course, I mean this figuratively, and not literally. I did not stumble upon and fall into a 15,000 year old pit designed for the now-extinct fuzzy elephant, †Mammuthus primigenius*. That would have been very exciting, even if leg-breaking. Some researchers did discover these whopping 25m x 1.7m holes in Mexico, as was reported in 2019. Apparently we humans used to hunt them.

🦣🦣🦣

No, in February I signed up to a 30 day free-trial to the subscription company Scribd to check out an audiobook. It appears to offer like a gym membership where you pay monthly. Instead of doing exercises and getting buff you can sit on the couch and listen to books and podcasts.

E-library: Like a library but with e. Pexels.com

Shortly after, I cancelled my subscription. Fast forward to now, I noticed that the company has continued to bill me for what I thought was a cancelled subscription.

Subscribers beware

So at first I thought it was my own dumb fault, for not cancelling properly.

But after some digging, it turns out that this is definitely intentional on the part of the company: when you hit ‘cancel’, a confirmation page comes up to let you think you have cancelled, but there are several pages you have to wade through with “Are you sure?” AT THE BOTTOM which you can only see AFTER SCROLLING, after they let you think you’ve cancelled. Which is deceitful.

This interface design for conning money from users falls under dark patterns.

Scribd’s shady practice has been going for several years. I found many comments online angrily complaining about the same thing.

Scribd has a trustpilot rating of a spectacular 1.9/5 (2238 reviews)

Here is someone else’s blog article dated 2015, with another warning four years later.

Here is one Reddit post about it.

Wish I had seen all this earlier! I’m usually alright with doing my homework after some stupid mistakes in my twenties, but fell down a hole this time. Oops! Now passing this information about the modern-day trap on to fellow readers.

Happily, the bank is taking my side – almost as soon as I clicked “dispute transaction”, I received confirmation that a refund was coming (and no pages of ‘Are You Sure!’). This happened immediately outside office hours, which means no bank-human reviewed this dispute. I wonder if Scribd is on a refund list for dodgy charging?

Another good thing is that I signed up via PayPal, so Scribd never saw any card information, and have since removed my card even on there.

Stay safe! Have you truly cancelled your unwanted subscriptions? What’re some of your tips to stay safe online?


* † If you notice this symbol, the “dagger”, next to various species and genuses in Wikipedia, it is used in biology to mean they are extinct.

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journal

Pooling some trivia

In my role, I need to know how to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, so I attended a session this week. The cycle is a bit funny ironic: Need to learn CPR -> hope that you never need to use CPR -> wish fulfilled -> forget CPR -> need to learn CPR.

Anyway, some learnings from the session:

• As first responders, you are expected to Send for help. The instructor told us specifically not to say, “call an ambulance” – I guess if a pack of bystanders happened to be tourists from overseas, you waste less time in case they get the number wrong. 🚑🚑🚑

• The correct thing to say is “call 000!” (Or insert locally relevant number). The other number for Australians is 112.

• Nobody has ever been successfully sued for breaking ribs while administering CPR. People have tried, though. Seems a tad ungrateful, doesn’t it?

• Currently, the estimated time it takes for an ambulance to reach a victim/patient in our state is about 40 minutes, which is absolutely terrible.

• Parents can sometimes misjudge their child’s ability to stay safe in a pool – forgetting that swimming lessons might be in warm water, whereas cold water elsewhere gives the child a shock.

A pool. Image from pexels.com

• The blue-ringed octopus is found near our waters, and despite being tiny creatures, their bite can paralyse the muscles you use for breathing.

🐙🐙🐙

No real uni-related things in the last fortnight (and none for a while).

I have recently taken up tutoring some primary school kids, and that’s been fun. Out of nowhere, one child asked me if watermelons float or sink in water. I was completely flummoxed. I told her I would find out for her and come back with an answer next week – (“Do you have a swimming pool?” “No, I meant I’ll look on the internet for you”).

Turns out that:

• Watermelons are buoyant in water.

Image: pexels.com

Hope everyone is well in blog-land.

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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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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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forensics, journal, university

End of S1

Semester 1 is over. Goodbye, Surprise-4000-Word Assignment and 2000-Word Report on Planning A Project.

The plan I wrote basically involved driving a GPR over a disused cemetery where all the markers are missing (aka a Pioneer Park), then plug that data into computer software and create a rainbow “heat map” where all the old burials are.

You see, GPRs normally produce images called radargrams. Radargrams do not look dissimilar to grey TV static, and require a human interpreter to scrutinise patterns + see if they can detect changes in the masses of grey lines to find subsurface stuff. (Anyone who Google Image searches ‘GPR data’ will see examples of what I mean).

Image from pexels.com. Not far off from an actual GPR pic.

In contrast, below is an example of what a computer-modelled gravesite looks like (Minecraft anyone?):

3D plot of a real Cemetery in Nova Scotia, by Kelly et. al (2021)

Buried objects and people should become harder to miss when they are plotted intuitively like this. So this can be useful for forensic scientists too.

I borrowed the idea for this assignment, and that image, from this paper.

Just before I hit submit, I realised the marking rubric said the project had to span 4 weeks. With no good sense of how long archaeology projects take, I had written a lovely long Timeline that would have allowed project participants to dally around for 3 months getting materials together. Had to rewrite that section quick-ish.

Other things which have been happening:

• I found an old piano going second hand for $250, and have been noodling around on that.

• People at work know I’m enrolled in a certificate in Archaeology. I had only said that I had tagged along with researchers on a study when I took annual leave, but ex-students from the uni put 2+2 together. So it’s not really a secret now. Coworkers are pretty good about it. Only Corporate doesn’t know (yet)

• For the second time in my life, I have submitted an application to med school. This is an old dream. It took 15 minutes and was anticlimactic. Now I’m older and have learnt more things, I am okay with whatever the outcome is. We’ll see what happens.

Hope everyone is healthy, happy and well.


Reference

Kelly, T., M. Angel, D. O’Connor, C. Huff, L. Morris. G. and Wach 2021. A novel approach to 3D
modelling ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data – A case study of a cemetery and applications
for criminal investigation. Forensic Science International, (325):1-15.

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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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Australia, journal, university

Sweet mysteries of antiquity

A long long time ago, in 2012, the remains of the Lord of Ireland and last King of England to die in battle, Richard III, was found in a car park.

Above link leads to info page. Contains images of human remains.

Image: pexels.com

The Wikipedia page also says he happened to be right under a parking space where the tarmac had been painted R (for ‘Reserved’).

It’s a neat coincidence, and I like to imagine that in the spirit realm he trying to use the parking lot as a giant Ouija board* all that time to tell people where he was.

I found out about Richard III because I have been running around for another assignment, trying to come up with a Proposal. AKA: practice asking for money from hypothetical VIPs to invade sites to do archaeology. Number of words written: 0 out of ~2000.

A lecturer told me that in the 1960s and 1970s, some community clubs (think: similar to Rotary or Lions) would go to old cemeteries, and if the headstones were crumbling they would shove them to one side, and place a lawn over the graves so they could have spaces for lovely green parks.

Anything for lawn bowls, amirite?

Image credit: wikimedia commons

This is probably what I will write on when I am done typing frantically for the other 4000 word assignment on Glenthorne. Number of words written for that one: ~3800/4000.

To revisit, Glenthorne House was a 3 storey mansion built in the 19th Century, and burnt down mysteriously in 1932. Little about it was documented.

An interesting thing occurred yesterday as I was reviewing the historical records. I had a lightbulb moment 💡. The records only point to a vague possibility there was more than one fire, but I am entirely convinced that there were two events, about six years apart, that were critical to the destruction of the house. The evidence was always there, but simply jumbled.

It was quite exciting to have this realisation, and I hope to blog about in more detail once I’ve submitted the assignment. I wonder if they would accept a theory postulated by a student as mainstream.

I hope everyone is doing well! I am still reading WordPress posts in my feed, and will channel words towards commenting again when I have done more homework.


*You could pay me to survey graves but not any amount of money to use a Ouija board, as I find that stuff creepy AF.

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