27 February 2011


RUBBER DUCKIES. In Lost at Sea: On the Trail of Moby-Duck, Guy Adams describes how "a flotilla of 29,000 plastic ducks has been hailed for revolutionizing mankind's knowledge of ocean science .... They were in a crate that fell off the deck of a container ship during a journey across the Pacific from Hong Kong in January 1992. Since that moment, they have bobbed tens of thousands of miles. Some have washed up on the shores of Alaska and Hawaii; others have been sunk in Arctic ice. A few crossed the site near Newfoundland where the Titanic sank, and at least one is believed to have been found on a beach in Scotland.

" .... No one knows exactly how many containers are lost at sea ... oceanographers put the figure at anything from several hundred to 10,000 a year. While some sink, others burst open, throwing their contents into the upper layer of the ocean where they often pose a threat to wildlife.

" .... The fate of the ducks has been studied by a small but dedicated group of enthusiasts since roughly six months after the accident .... [A retired oceanographer] was able to locate the exact point at which their journey began. He was able to track their rate of progress on the constantly rotating circular current, or gyre (see image below, click to enlarge), which runs between Japan, southeast Alaska, Kodiak, and the Aleutian Islands .... a couple of thousand of the ducks are still in the gyre, and have completed half a dozen circuits. Others went south toward Hawaii or north toward the Bering Sea, through which they are thought to have reached Europe."

Understanding the major gyres that move water through the World Ocean is important, not only in tracing lost cargo, but also in helping to predict the effects of climate change on the marine environment. Rubber ducky, you're the one ! (Thanks to Bill for the link to this article.)

MEMORY. Joshua Foer is a mind-gamer and a world-class memory athlete. In his NYTimes article Foer demystifies human memory, and suggests that we all have the capacity to remember more, and in more detail, than we ever thought possible. He traces the history of the study of memory, as well as our current understanding of how memory works, asserting that, among other things,
  • Photographic memory does not exist. Even the most adept memory athletes have only average memories which have been trained and exercised, like the speed and strength of any physical athlete.

  • Until relatively recently, people read intensively. They had only a few books, and they read them over and over again, usually aloud or in groups, so that a narrow range of traditional literature became deeply impressed on their consciousness.

  • Today we read books extensively, often without sustained focus, and with rare exceptions we read each book only once. We have no choice, if we want to keep up with the broader culture.

  • Part of the reason that memory training techniques work so well is that they enforce a degree of mindfulness that is normally lacking.

  • What distinguishes a great mnemonist is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other that it cannot be forgotten.

Those are only a few teasers. Check out the article to learn more ... perhance to remember more as well.

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