Can't remember as many telephone numbers as you used to?

It’s not just you. The difference in the ability to remember 7 digits, chunked into 3 and 4 digit chunks (123-4567) versus 10-digit chunked into 3-3-4 (123-456-7890) is HUGE! Nobody can remember phone numbers any more. This explains the panic when:

  • you can’t find your PDA, or your organizer
  • your wireless phone dies and you have to replace it and you can’t get your contacts off of the old one
  • you leave the wireless phone in the car for five minutes.

In case you are interested in this kind of thing, here are some links with more information on the subject:

  • This is from Norway, which uses different telephone number “chunking”, but has some really neat information on memory, digits and chunking.
  • Even more is here, specifically about memory and the “magic number seven“.
  • Original source material, Miller 1956, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information as html or pdf


What I don’t write about here

Because this blog was related to work originally, and still is to some degree, I am specifically staying away from certain topics. They are the big three. Religion, Politics, and Sports. It’s very interesting to me that these still are the big nasties when it comes to open dialog and discussion. We can talk about just about anything except these three things. Actually, I stay away from sports because I am just not that adamant about it. Nothing against it, just don’t care that much to get all riled up. I may make the odd reference to certain beliefs, but only as a clarification of another point. It is not there to create controversy. That’s not the point of this blog. If you remember, this is a demonstration blog for someone who needed to see how a blog operated. In the range of things to do on a company blog, staying away from unnecessary controversy is pretty high on the list. The other reason is that I just don’t want to. There is so much division and derision when speaking on these topics that I don’t think that it is useful anymore. I am not trying to go down the middle here. I am in full-on avoidance. Pretty wimpy, I guess. I can live with that. Tom

What I learned from Anna Kournikova

I certainly didn’t learn anything about tennis from her. What I did learn is that in certain areas, computer training gets trumped by human nature, just about every time. In the words of Robert Heinlein, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

Many moons ago, there was a computer virus called Melissa that required users to open up an attachment to an email. There was this big sturm und drang all over the place in corporations and offices and the media all over the country about not opening email attachments you weren’t expecting. Big push on this. Not three months later, the Anna Kournikova virus comes to town where you have to do the same thing, open the attachment.

These viruses (virii?) used classic, hard core, brute force, social engineering. Melissa was also known as the I love You virus, where you received an email purportedly from someone who loved you and they sent you something nice. The Anna Kournikova virus was much simpler – it promised nude photos. You can’t get more basic than that, now can you?

What it taught me is that people are not very good at learning something in the virtual world and applying it in the virtual world. They thought these two things were different, while every network admin in the world saw these as exactly the same thing. This is not something that gets trained very well. Some people get it, most people don’t.

What this means to me is that I am loath to teach computer users too much about their computers because it ends up not being a good use of any one’s time. If something is important to them or their jobs, they will find a way to do it. That might include asking me – and that is great!! I am there in a shot for training like that. But if it is a conference room full of people who are required to do it, the only thing anyone gets out of it is possibly the free sandwiches and soda.

I am not saying that people can’t be taught computers; I am saying that most people will figure it out on their own, or not. They have to have the first step of motivation and action. Without that, training is pretty much a waste.

As far as viruses and spam are concerned, I have three levels of virus protection enforced on email, and two on everything else. There is no user intervention. I don’t tell them what or how I deal with viruses unless an individual asks.


Revisiting CD’s after iPod

Using the iPod for two or three years, I thought I was pretty much over CD’s. It was kind of a “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?” kind of thing. How can you go back after the convenience, selection, portability, quality, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the iPod. The design is brilliant to this day. The first time I put it in my hand and made some song selections, I went “this is the way it’s supposed to be.” I even splurged on a set of very decent headphones. I ripped my entire CD library to MP3, just like everyone else.

Something was missing. Some depth, some space, some imaging, some something. I found that something on the source CD’s played on very decent audio system with real speakers. I’m not sure this is going to make sense, but when I play an exceptional song on the iPod, I hear the music, and very well, too. When I play the source CD on my home system, I not only hear the music, I see it. I can tell where everything is placed in my head.

Most of the sound is there when I listen to the iPod. But there is a dimension missing. A dimension of space.

I have had a similar problem with remastered CD’s of albums that were originally released on vinyl. There is often something missing there. Usually, the CD sounds “colder” and “brighter” than what I remember the vinyl to be. Plus, if it is a remix, it’s usually pretty bad.

Will I go back to CD’s only now? Of course not. I’m not stupid. What I will do is to listen to my CD’s a bit more so I can remember the dimensions that I am missing and then use the iPod version to basically recall the images I hear when listening to a CD on good equipment.

This means that Anne is stuck with me having expensive equipment with pretty good size tower speakers. Sorry, dear.


Not sure about this post

When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a pop culture term called the generation gap. It sort of is still in use today, but not really. The main premise is pretty self-explanatory. I have a 16 year old son and find myself on the other side of it.

I was raised by World War II vet (both of them), Irish-Scottish Catholics parents. For their generation, they were on the older side when they had their four children, of which I was the youngest. Classic baby-boomer profile, home in the ‘burbs in Connecticut and Dad commuted by train to New York City for work.

My son was born when I was 32, about the same age as my dad was when I was born. This generational spread (32+ years per generation) puts the 1800’s easily within two generations from me and three from my son. That’s somewhat of an anomaly.

Some changes seem to take generations to manifest. The longer the space between generations, the fewer chances of change and, maybe more importantly, more change has to take place between generations. Socially, the big change between my father (and his generation) and me is how to deal with people who are different. I really don’t know the specifics about how he felt about different ethic groups, because he knew that things had changed during the civil rights movement, but he couldn’t get a true handle on what it meant. This is a classic first generational reaction to change.

Every generation has touchstone dates. With my parents, most were related to WWII (Pearl Harbor, VE day, VJ day.) There is one more, that is the transitional date between me and them – the assassination of JFK. I was in Kindergarten, but I remember the reactions of everyone around me as my mom and I went to pick up my older sisters at school. I knew something was going on and it meant something. I don’t know if there were anymore true “dates of importance” for them.

The next one for me was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember clearly when, when and how I heard the news and how things were different after hearing it than before. I getting a ride home with mom driving from swim lessons / award ceremonies for reaching some level of proficiency at the local Boy’s Club. We were on Glenville Rd between Valley Road and Sherwood Place in a 1964 green Ford Country Squire station wagon (I even remember the license plate and what month the registration tag expired – but that’s just more Tom craziness) when I heard the coverage on the radio.

Now, this event could have passed in my life very quickly. I grew up in a very rich suburb (we weren’t, but the town was.) Pretty darn white, great schools. Until 1962 (just a few years before we moved there,) the town I grew up in had the highest per capita income in the United States. Beverly Hills was #2. This is not a place where race relations needed to be a day-to day issue. It is where people hid from it. Some thought that was one of the things that they were paying for by living in this town.

Not sure what that was all about.

Anne asked me once about how I would feel if my son ended up dating someone from a different ethnic group or whatever. I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that it mattered, but only in regards to making something that was hard – having a good relationship – even harder. I couldn’t care less about race, color, creed, gender, whatever. It’s not the issue.

The problem is that he is going to have to live with that relationship in the world. Anything out of the ordinary for society is going to cause some grief. As long as he knows this going into the relationship and is willing to still move forward with the relationship, who am I to care about appearances? The only thing I have to care about is that the relationship is emotionally good for him.

Without going into details, with all the struggles that we have been through with my son, the appearance of who he chooses to date is far down the list of things that I need to worry about.


Redefining the Fourth of July

I was in the parking lot of IHOP today with my son Patrick. We were talking about how the Fourth of July this year kind of didn’t mean much. It had in other years, but it seems to have lost some of it’s meaning and importance.

I realized that I had been through this before. The 4th has a tendency to reflect how we, both as individuals and as a people, see ourselves as Americans. This year seems to be more of a transitional year where people aren’t quite sure what it means.

This is a good thing. One thing for sure, Americans certainly can change their opinions of themselves. I remember this same kind of transition in the mid 1970’s. Between the effects of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam war, there was a change in how we viewed what it meant to be a patriotic American. Some would say that this happened in the 1960’s, but I disagree. The stuff in the 1960’s didn’t effect the Fourth of July. It did in the 70’s.

It’s happening now again. Five or six year past 9-11, several years into a war that is having problems by any one’s measure, we are somewhat adrift for who we are. We’ll figure it out.


p.s. While I am not the biggest 4th of July fan, as mentioned here and implied here, this year is demonstrably different.