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An Examination of Skill pt.3

The following is a recap of different facets of knowledge skill in how it applies to various hobbies and activities in my life. 

Memory Span

  • I've always made good grades since Elementary School. A large part of grade school testing was simply memorization based challenges. From vocab words, math formulas, presidents, states/capitols, to periodic table of elements all I had to do was figure out a way to get the information from the page, into my head, and then to the test and I was set. Naturally studying was a necessary step for success. As I got older, I challenged myself to memorize more in less time. Often times I found myself cramming with only minutes away from the test. This is where my memory span came into play. Whatever I didn't have memorized by crunch time, I would store into my fairly large STM (short term memory). Like all STM I could feel the data slowly decaying. By jotting down notes on the sides of my tests, I could boost my grades significantly without doing as much work. 
  • Perhaps the most impressive display of my memory span is from when I worked as a waiter. About half a year after starting work, I ditched writing down orders for 98% of my customers. The simplest of customers ordered water and some kind of food item straight off the menu. These customers aren't too picky and required me to remember just one thing. Most customers are far from simple. Drink orders can be complicated (tea? sweet? unsweet? diet? ice? lemon? soda? a drink from the thousands of combinations from the bar). And food orders typically have anywhere from 1 to 7 alterations and/or customizable options. This is not even mentioning appetizers and deserts.  Now imagine memorizing food orders for a table of 6+ people. That's 12-48 bits of information. Now picture a small yet busy restaurant where I'm the only waiter/manager on the clock! It's been about 3/4 of a year since working at that restaurant, and I still remember the orders of many of my customers (regulars or one timers). 

Coding / Decoding

  • Anything can be a coding system as long as it's meaningful to you. My house is a filing system. My inside jokes are a code. I use music as a code, and shapes, and stories to help my memories stick. Anything that I can't remember easily, I use one of my coding systems.
  • Take playing piano or violin for example. Before music gets worked into my muscle memory, I tend to code the sheet music so I can memorize it. Though I have a decent understanding of music theory, I code music into simple geometric shapes based on hand positions. It's a bit difficult to explain what the shapes look like in words. But for me it works, and that's the point. My piano teachers were always surprised that I memorized my songs as I went along. 
  • When cooking and devising new recipes, I tend to assimilate several different recipes. Even when making something I've never cooked before, I simply read through a bunch of recipes, code all the measurements, and get to work. I find it very useful to have everything in my head when I have 3 pots/pans going all at once with everything cooking on their own timers. I'm particularly proud of my ginger crunch catfish stir fry with a sweet-savory-spicy teriyaki wasabi sauce. 

Mental Channels

  • Being able to partition your brain power for multitasking is a skill that gives you flexibility and versatility. One practical application is being able to think and listen at the same time. You'd be surprised at how difficult this is for some people. To test yourself, try thinking about one thing in your mind. If you're like me, your thoughts have a "voice" inside your head. While thinking and hearing your internal voice, see if you can add another voice to the mix with its own subject or train of thought. If that doesn't work, try singing all the parts to a multi-voiced song in your head. I typically have up to 3 voices.
  • Try getting a group of friends to all pick a random topic and start talking to you all at once without stopping. If you can understand everything that's said, repeat back what each person said, and even answer their questions, then you have a powerful skill. I've done this trick with 4-5 people talking at once. 
  • For yet another test, try talking to someone over AIM or some other kind of text chat. While sustaining an active conversation (hopefully using complete sentences) try reading something completely unrelated like a page from a book or the subtitles on the TV. If you can successfully respond in your conversation and comprehend the outside reading, then you've got it. 

Brain Stamina

  • The mind, like any other body organ, can be strengthened, stressed, and overworked. Like exercising without stretching, pushing yourself in just the wrong way can severely limit your cognitive abilities. Knowing how much and how long your brain can run is key. Studies have shown that it's best to take breaks from learning or studying every thirty minutes or so. Personally, even when taking breaks I tend to overwork my brain. I run multiple channels of thought simultaneously sometimes 24 hours a day. Seriously, I consciously feel my brain working out problems while I'm dreaming. Sometimes I take in too much information and my brain gets overloaded. When this happens my brain cycles through a number of topics and problems until I resolve enough of them to go back to "normal." I don't recommend pushing yourself this far because this state of mind is crippling. 

Muscle Memory

  • My fingers have a mind of their own. I first started developing this skill with fundamental hand eye coordination from playing Super Mario Bros. From there I started playing classic piano when I was in 2nd grade. After piano came the violin. Most people think of the ability to execute long and complex strings of actions without conscious thought when they think of muscle memory. For me, when I'm away from a piano, I can't really tell you what the first few notes are to any of my songs. It feels like I don't even know how to play sometimes. But the moment my fingers touch the keys, they do all the work. 
  • For more check out this article I wrote a few years ago in which I experiment with decoupling deeply engrained sequences of my muscle memory


Deleting, Flagging, and Moving Data

  • Once you see something one way, how easily can you "unsee it?" A neat way to test your ability to see and unsee images is with optical illusions. The best example I know is the new classic; the spinning lady illusion. Click here. The video explains it all. 
  • Here's another interesting exercise you can do is while you're waiting to fall asleep at night. When you close your eyes, have you ever noticed the darkness isn't completely black? If you're anything like me, you see specs and swirls of color among the darkness. To challenge your mind, try "reading the back of your eyelids." Sure, you might know that you're eyes are closed therefore there's nothing to read or see. However, with some mental focus you can convince your mind that the specs and swirls aren't from a lack of light, but that you're actually staring into something vast like the night sky. If you get it just right, you'll convince yourself that you're swimming through the cosmos. 

Izanagi Memory

  • Putting small to large amounts of data into long term memory after being exposed to the data just once. If I had control over this ability/phenomenon, I could spend a lot less time studying. While I continue to work toward complete control, I'd like to share some of the things I've randomly memorized. 
  • At a sophomore high school pizza study party, Brian Huskinson called out the phone number for Pizza Hut across the room; (972) 539-0211.
  • In 2nd Grade when I my teacher told me how to spell the word "different." I haven't misspelled it since.
  • I memorized my brother's college mail box number; 19-21-20.


Hobbies are great and all, but it's time to get back to the video games side of this examination. 

Stay sharp. 

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