Friday, May 12, 2006


I would love to understand how the short term memory works in a human person, me, for instance. I am not so ambituous as to want solving the complete mystery of how the memory works. The problem is too large and may become intractable in a flash. I can count using the fingers of my two hands the different kinds of memory: short term, long term, conscious, unconscious (unconscious memory??? really???) implicit, explicit, procedural, semantic, episodic... and other types I can't remember their names... So, how does the short term, my short term memory work? I need to understand this in a hurry because I think it is failing! Because of this failing, I paid a heavy price this morning.

These days, I have to get in and out of an eight story parking garage several times a day for reason I would rather not dwell into now. Of course, mere mortals always get the treatment given to mushrooms. The first two floors are reserved for very important persons. The next two floors are reserved for valet parking persons to park the cars belonging to the second type of very important persons, but not high enough in the importance scale so they cannot park in the first two floors. Any unseasoned drivers who do not respect this rule run a huge risk of wandering for hours in search of their cars on exit, not knowing that they have been "towed at owners' expense." Not me, I am smart enough to skip the first four floors and fight for an invisible empty spot to park at higher up levels, five, six, seven and eight floor.

In lieu of regular exercise I do not do because I found a water tight excuse: I am way too busy, I made a solemn promise to myself to use stairs and never to set foot in elevators. That is my exercise regime and I always find reasons to climb stairs in both directions, up and down. Let me tell you another secret right here: count the steps when you climb stairs. It's great for memory. This of course leads me back to why I started this blog in the first place, my short term memory is waning... and I need to do something about it.

I am usually very absent minded. When I go to a certain place and park my car, upon return, I would have a terrible time to remember the place I parked it. I can affirm to you that that is a most perplexing thing that can happen to you. You can stand in this huge parking garage, or this boundless parking place, and God forbid, if you went to a big event like a football game, in this sea of cars, scratching your head wondering where your car may be. It is a hopeless problem to untangle. So, experienced as I am, I invented and patented a most ingenious way to solve this embarrasing misadventure. When I leave my car, I spend at least a few minutes to mentally mark the surroundings and write them in, you got it, my short term memory. For instance, I will note that my car is at a location where I can see the highway with the water fountain to the left of the Holiday Inn sign, and definitely not on the side of the beautiful scantily clad lady selling Victoria Secret wares. But the most important piece of information is THE FLOOR NUMBER if it happens to be in a multi story parking garage. However, it is never so simple. If you only remember the floor number, you will be pleasantly surprised that, surprise, they may have different colors! Yellow, red, blue and green are the most popular colors, so you'd better remember them too. If you do not write in your short term memory location 6 YELLOW, and only write 6, you'd spend at least an extra 30 minutes before you can get out of the garage.

OK. So what was the problem this morning? Did the patented method to remember parking location fail? No, it did not. What failed was my short term memory. I am sure I wrote it in there, but by the time I retrieved the information, my car wasn't there! Where the heck was it? Hmmm... Let's not panic and try to figure this out logically. It says here 5, and there are only two 5s. One going up, and one going down. Piece of cake, let's walk up first. Nope. Let's now walk down. Nope! What? This is seriously bad. I now realize it is a good thing this garage reserved the first 4 floors to important people. By process of elimination, I need not worry about 1, 2 and 3 and 4. So, my car must be at 5, 6, 7 or 8. But it is not at 5 as my short term memory is reading. I really hope I did not park it in 4. But it is very unlikely it's there.

For some reason, the city of Miami makes stair steps that are not uniform. You'd think since all the floors are of the same height, the number of stair steps would be the same, but they are not. Some floors have 8, some have 9, some have 10, but rarely more than 10 steps. Also, to give the climbers a break, or to give them the illusion of "you are almost there, buddy, keep it up," the stairs between floors are broken up into two stages so while climbing the stairs, you would have to step up or down an average of 17 steps or so for each floor. Eight floors will tax you with about more than a hundred steps. That's a lot when you work against gravity in the up direction.

After a lot of systematic steps, I found my car on the seventh floor! Seven! I was exhausted and determined to have my head examined. How could my memory miss the mark by so much? OK. Where is the short term memory center's at? Time to look up the map. So I asked a radiologist's friend of mine and he obliged. He gave me an off hour free CT scan of the appropriate part of my body and the answer is clear as day:

Male Brain

There is no screw loose, but the dual fans are clearly in a "stop" position. Overheat! No wonder it's faulty! A quick short research detour reveals that short term memory works just like RAM memory in computers. Scientists widely believe it is 7 chunks in length and is vulnerable to interruption and interference. Lo and behold, this memory decays as time goes by. Let me be realistic and assume that I am only average, capable of using 4 chunks. So, floor 7, down, overlooking sexy model only use 3 chunks with room to spare... but somehow it didn't work today. May be I only have the capacity of one chunk! I know what I'll do next. I'll go on line and look for a homing device... Let's see... Let's Google "car homing device." A mere 163,000 pages came back in 0.17 seconds.

Let's forget about the short term memory problem. Life is too short! I'll get myself one of those WAPs!