Sunday, February 25, 2007

For Your Brain

Keep Your Brain Alive, by Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin, is a fun little book of easy things to do to keep your brain happy and healthy. I like how it takes the view (supported by scientific-looking footnotes) that brain cells are not irretrievably lost as you age. Rather, you can keep your brain actively growing throughout life, if you give it the right kind of stuff to work with.

"Neurobic" exercises aren't about doing mental puzzles, like Sudoku or whatever, though those are good, too. They focus more on the act of learning, since that's what gets neurons to forge more connections and stay healthier. But since we don't all have the time to go out and be a full-time student, these exercises break learning down into its most basic elements: associations. You can play around with lots of associations in your daily life with very little time commitment, and it'll help keep your brain energized and happy.

To make new associations, try finding things that use different parts of your brain and connecting them. Writing or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand is a good one. (My right hand actually twitches, trying to get in on the action, when I write with my left, which shows how strong an association I'm working against.) Mixing and matching senses is another handy way to find neurobic things to do. If you try showering with your eyes closed, you'll start adding new little wires in your brain connecting your sense of touch to the process of finding the shampoo, which had previously just been a visual task. If you always start your day with the smell of coffee, spend a week with something else to get you going, preferably something with an equally strong smell or taste.

Another key concept is to find mindless routines and change them up so they engage your attention again. For example, after a few weeks at a new job, you probably stop noticing your commute. So experiment with different routes, or different modes of transportation for a while. If you buy the same things from the supermarket every week, go to a farmer's market instead, and decide on-the-fly what to get. Any thing you can do to turn something "mindless" into something "mindful" helps.

I want to give props to the illustrator, David Suter, here, too. The book is full of his great little drawings that play with visual similarities and connections in a lot of really interesting ways. The perfect style for the subject matter.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New York and Back Again

I just got back from a quick weekend trip to New York, visiting Miriam. I was there just shy of 48 hours, but we managed to fit in a bunch of fun stuff, including but not limited to the following:

Delta's OS
This part was technically still in San Francisco, but it cracked me up. Delta has a safety video they were trying to play at the beginning of the flight, but no sound was coming out with it, even after restarting the video three times. So they had to reboot the whole system, which turned out to be running Linux. So all of a sudden the screen in the back of everyone's seat was showing the Linux penguin and a bunch of white-on-black text output indicating whatever the heck it is that Linux needs to tell you about when you start it up. The incongruity was wonderful. I wish my camera hadn't been in the overhead compartment.

Miriam surprised me by getting us tickets to see Spamalot on Saturday afternoon. I had wanted to see that last time I was there, but we weren't able to. It was a lot of fun, though I was kind of surprised at how closely it followed the Monty Python & the Holy Grail movie. They did tweak the plot a bit, and there were all the extra musical numbers, of course, but nearly every classic scene from the movie was included almost verbatim. I was actually kind of ambivalent about that. Yes, they are some of the funniest scenes anywhere, but there's still the simple fact that nobody can deliver those lines as well as the original guys. So I found myself enjoying the new lines and other deviations more, since they were still in a very Monty-Python-esque style (which makes sense, since Eric Idle wrote it). But overall it was quite a good bit of silliness.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Beautiful place. And much nicer than the Cathedral of St. John the ClosedDivine, by virtue of being open when we went there. Also, there's a loose flagstone that I plan to pry up if I ever find myself there again, and unobserved. I suspect buried treasure, or a secret passageway.

Hot Chocolate and Scrabble
Cocoa bar in Brooklyn makes the most incredible spicy hot chocolate. "Wow" is really the best word to describe it. They had lots of other yummy looking stuff, but that hot chocolate is worth a visit all its own. Cocoa bar is a cozy little place, with couches and armchairs and books and games. Miriam and I played Scrabble with a highly inaccurate set of tiles, not to mention no pen (leading us to keep score using a system of chess pieces and trivial pursuit cards). But I finally broke her insane winning streak. By 3 points. Phew.

Breakfast Sunday was at Colson Patisserie, where they have "Ambrosia" tea. This is red tea with apple, mango, vanilla and chocolate. Good stuff. Also kind of makes me want to start designing my own teas.

The Met
We spent a good deal of Sunday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and probably didn't see even half of it. My favorite section was the musical instruments. I don't think it would ever have occurred to me that someone might invent a cello-accordion hybrid.

Grand Central Station
The main concourse of Grand Central Station looks like a ballroom, with marble everywhere and a high, arched ceiling decorated with constellations. Apparently this had been giving Miriam ideas for a long time, so she brought me there, along with dance shoes, a portable CD player, two pairs of headphones and a headphone jack splitter. I imagine you can see where this is going. We turned on some Strauss, dove into the slightly-denser-than-expected Sunday night crowd, and waltzed all around the main concourse. We got a mixture of people who laughed in surprise, hummed bits of The Blue Danube, or just barreled on by, determined to ignore us. It was quite amusing. We went for a polka next (The Russian Dance, of course, since we already know it's good for polkaing in unusual places). I think that was a little too scary for the general populace though, because a policeman asked us to stop (but we fooled him -- we were already done anyway).

More Dancing
After the Grand Central Station escapade, Miriam, on a hopeful hunch, took me to the 14th St. station. As luck would have it, her favorite subway accordionist was playing there. He was playing a polka-able tune when we arrived so we just dove right into dancing, which seemed to delight him. After the polka he played us a string of lovely but much-too-fast-for-boots-and-concrete waltzes, and we just zipped up and down the platform, where the assembled crowds had fanned out to give us space and watch.

Most of the time there the temperature was in the 20's or 30's I think. It was -3°F when I woke up this morning. The pilot said it was 57° when we were coming back into SF and I almost thought we were all going to burn up. I survived both the cold and the reentry into relative heat, though.

Anyway, I'm back now and probably going to sleep very soundly tonight. I was just about adjusted to the time change back there, when I screwed it up in the opposite direction by waking up at 5 AM New York time to get my flight. So now my body doesn't know what time to think it is (aside from bedtime).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Try to Find Me

Inspired by Lara's post on the same subject, I thought I'd list some of the more amusing searches that have led folks to my blog recently.

help i have too many books
Do you want a support group or someone to take them off your hands? I could probably go for either option.

a spell to ask for a particular thing
First step: decide which particular thing it is that you want.

paranormal monee
My grandmother is not paranormal. (At least, I think not.) Though on further Googling, I learned that Monee is actually a town in Illinois.

mandolin noises
I sound better than that, really.

today is my last day
And you're spending it reading my blog? Go out and tell your family you love them or something.

screwing at the contra dance
You, too. Go away. It's not that kind of a dance.

a sentence with the word iconoclast in it
"'Hello,' said I. 'Hello,' replied the iconoclast." (Courtesy of Rhymes with Orange, though I can no longer find the link to the exact strip.)

enunciation work on
Grammar fix you should first, Yoda.

they might be giants lindy hop
Off the top of my head, all I can think of is Too Cool Girls with the Velcro Horns. Any other ideas? (Miriam?)

concentrate on being good
I don't know if surfing the web will help with this. Though my blog is probably a safe place to land, amid all the smut and evil out there.

c.s. lewis terrarium
Really? He's in a terrarium? I don't actually know what to make of this.

cleopatra actual replica
Is "actual replica" an oxymoron or a tautology?

what is good for your false vocal chords
Singing songs about lies?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Name, Same Stuph

Thanks to one of Blogger's spiffy new features, I now have a new domain name for my blog. will now get you here, but you don't even have to bother updating your bookmarks if you don't feel like it. The old BlogSpot address still works too, so it's all the same. This can be either extremely exciting or a major yawn. Take your pick.

Of course, I realize I haven't been posting a whole lot here recently. Maybe that'll change soon. Maybe not.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Year Here

It's been a year now since I moved into the anagrammatic Live Light Ward. I have four more bookcases and a couple hundred more books than I did at the time, not to mention a table, chairs, coffee table, and full-size non-futon bed, but the place still feels comfortably spacious. In a much more lived-in way now, though. It's a good place.