I started reading a few books this past week, each one more awful than the last. I didn’t get past the first 20 pages in any of them. Each time I deleted such a book from my Kindle, I’d gripe to Rachael, “I wish I had something good to read,” to which she consistently replied, “Then check out Moonwalking with Einstein. I think you’d really like it.” So I (finally) did.
I’m only 1/3 the way through the book, but I’m totally taken by it so far. Well, more than taken, I’m actually actually involved. Before I explain, let’s back up.
Moonwalking with Einstein is a true story. It starts with a twenty-something journalist, Josh Foer, at the United States Memory Championship, held in the Con Edison building in New York City. Josh figures this nerdy contest might give him material for next week’s column. But, as he discovers, this experience isn’t just a piece. Competing in the competition is Ed Cooke, a quirky, sloppily dressed Oxford grad, who quickly takes to Josh. Quickly developing somewhat of a rapport with Josh before he has to go back to England, Ed asks Josh if he’d agree to being coached. (As Ed and others explain to Josh at the memory competition, anyone can become a great memory athlete. All that is required is average intelligence and disciplined practice with an age-old technique, called the memory palace, that can make anything memorable.) Ed mentors Josh over the course of a year, transforming Josh from average-memory Joe into a bona fide memory competitor.
As far as I can tell, the book is 100% real. It’s a memoir, not a self-improvement book, so it isn’t Josh’s aim to turn the reader into a memory competitor (although he does repeatedly describe various instances of the memory palace). Rather, Josh chronicles this seemingly extraordinary feat of his, perhaps in the hopes of debunking outrageous myths about “geniuses” with infinite memories and illustrating that the art of memory isn’t so mystical and difficult to learn. After all, he claims, ordinary Greeks, Romans, and Europeans were taught the art of memory for many centuries; it was only after the advent of the Gutenberg printing press when the art of memorizing became much less of a day-to-day necessity. Today, the art of memory is all but lost: virtually all of today’s “memorizing” is done on cheap, massive hard disks that make it easy for multiple people to access the same Wikipedia articles, news bits, corporate spreadsheets, and more.
I won’t describe the little I know about the art of memory - yet. (For the intrigued…) But, I do want to say that despite my (extremely) limited experience with serious mnemonic techniques, I can attest to the fact that there is at least some truth behind Josh Foer’s words: today alone, I’ve memorized a list of about 30 seemingly random objects, and I can’t unmemorize them. For comparison, consider that the average person can memorize at most 5-9 random words from a given list of words, and long-term retention is unlikely without several mental repetitions. (The memory palace technique does not involve repetition, and long-term retention is all but guaranteed. Seriously, Google it, and give it a real shot. It should take you less than 30 minutes to read what exactly a memory palace is and to build one of your own that will help you to memorize, say, this week’s grocery list.)
For awhile, I’ve been looking for a hobby, something I can really get excited about and see through to the end. I’ve tried a few different things over the years, but either the hobbies turn out to be too expensive or just not that much fun (like, after a week). Improving my memory à la Josh Foer is my new hobby. It’s cheap (free, actually), and after my “holy shit!” moment this morning when I realized that there really is an art to memorizing, I’ve no doubt that this is something I can remain excited about. More than that, it’s a productive hobby, something I can use in any number of areas of life down the road. We’re always trying to remember what was on our to-do/grocery lists, those little but important facts that can help us do our jobs more efficiently, people’s names and birthdays, etc.
So, my journey into the sparsely populated, esoteric world of hardcore mnemonists has commenced. While this blog won’t serve as any kind of scientific log of my progress, I will occasionally write about interesting facts on the art of memory or little landmarks of my memory improvement.
And if you haven’t yet, search “memory palace” and try it yourself.
On an island far away are 100 serfs and their wicked lord. 50 of the serfs have green eyes; the rest have blue eyes. Being uber-logical beings, the serfs have little problem identifying others’ eyes as either green or blue. However, none of the serfs knows his own eye color. If this weren’t frustrating enough for the serfs - all of whom were very talkative in college (the economy crashed; what were they to do besides serfing?) - the lord has carefully selected his serfs from 100 different faraway lands so that the serfs have no way of communicating with one another. (As the lord would have it, this inability to communicate precludes any opportunity for mutinous collusion.)
On a particular summer day, after having knocked back a few Red Stripes, the lord makes a generous gesture toward his workers, who do understand what the lord says to them.
“Starting tonight at 7 o’clock, and at 7 o’clock every night from now on, a yacht will head from this island to a free land. If you can tell the yacht’s captain the true color of your eyes, you are free to embark. But be warned: if you tell him incorrectly the color of your eyes, he will feed you to the sharks, as I have ordered him to do!
“Oh, and one more thing,” says the lord at the end of his speech. “At least one of you has green eyes.”
Which of the serfs makes it to the free land, and when?
I get you, even if some of them don’t. Shit, judging by Facebook status updates, I think almost everyone isn’t with you.
But you know what? I say to hell with Dan Gilbert, the rest of whiny, why-doesn’t-anyone-visit-us Ohio, and all those people who just want to rip on you because you’re not on their team. Forget about them. You’re making the right move. I’ve been to Miami, and it is awesome. Beaches, Latin food, sun, women, water - life there must be great for someone with a little bit of cash like yourself. While you’re out there, get yourself one of those Royal Caribbean cruise ships and check out what the area has to offer. My advice: when you’re embarking from Miami, don’t go west. Head towards Aruba or something. Then, post your vacation pics to Facebook so we can all fantasize about having your life.
And, just to reinforce how correct your decision is, I’ll reiterate the obvious: there is nothing to compare between Miami and Cleveland. I was in Cleveland once. Played a hockey tournament, visited the Rock Hall, bought a Kiss CD, and left. Heck, Ohio should be thanking you for putting up with them for twenty-something years! Before you, 73% of Americans thought Ohio was that province between Ontario and Saskatchewan. Thank you, Lebron James, for making us aware of this, uh, cute state.
So, I just don’t understand all this crap you’re getting: why is everyone hating on you for moving to Miami? I mean, Oprah did it to Chicago (yep, she has some suh-weet digs in Miami), and no one rips on her. Sure, she comes back to tape her show, but you’ll visit Ohio to see your family, right?
Oh, and a big, big thank you for the ESPN special. I was eating sushi, so I missed it, but I heard all commercial proceeds were going to Boys and Girls Clubs. That’s pretty, frickin’ cool. I can’t say I’ve done anything that generous today. (Can you, America?) I’m sure you were more than happy to be in the spotlight, but you were also doing good for this country, which is what counts for me. And to think that people would talk more trash about you than Lindsay Lohan in a given day! God, what is wrong with this bass-ackwards country?!
Shake ‘n bake,
Jon, your newest fan
No post in a couple days. Whatever. Don’t read into it; I was on vacation. And when you’re on vacation, you’re supposed to unplug.
(I’m not saying that’s what we did.)
How was Maui? Maui was… well, here, take a look.
Sunsets, sunrises, fireworks, fresh coconut, sailing, snorkeling, reading, World Cup, rainforest. Yeah, it was a real struggle to deplane the red-eye this morning - on which I didn’t sleep a wink due to my shiny new blistering sunburn - and head directly to work.
Tomorrow, I want to write about our sailing and snorkeling excursion, which was totally worth the second-degree sunburn. Highlight: the speedy boat ride through choppy seas (8-foot swells!!) while “seated” in the hammocks at the bow of the boat. At times the bow was submerged in water; often momentarily afterwards, I was two feet off the deck. Visiting Maui? Do it: Trilogy Molokini trip. Great snorkeling (sea turtles *awww*), the crew feeds you authentic Hawaiian “mixed plates,” good sailing and motorboating, and a seven-hour trip full of million-dollar views.
the big, bad blue.
i always thought these colors were CGI-ed into movies.
What a day (and a couple hours) it has been.
I’m on vacation, which is good news for my currently empty, brand new blog. I’ve made no promises to myself as to whether or not I’ll maintain this blog, in light of past attempts, but we’ll see.
Rachael and I are in Lahaina, Maui from July 1-6. We’re only on Day 2, but Day 1 was so unbelievably scenic that I figure a post is already in order. We took off from Oakland, and while the flight was quite uneventful, the view of San Francisco on our flight path to Maui was anything but. Wow! From the air, on a beautiful day, you can see all of San Francisco’s seven hills (I’m pretty sure there are more), and the extra dimension makes for a view that beats the hell out of Google Earth’s bird’s eye view of the city.
Five hours and change later, we’re at Thrifty getting our car. A few grumbles about the exorbitant daily rates and extra - yet absolutely obligatory - fees, and we’re on our way. Slowly. Safely. Damn it, Jon, this would be a terrible time to get in your first accident, seeing as you passed on the $60/day liability insurance.
We get to our hotel, which is reputedly the Motel 6 of all Lahaina’s resorts, but I’m stunned. Palm trees and assorted tropical plants in the lobby? Wait, what? Tropical flora EVERYWHERE? In the hotel’s courtyard, around the POND? And the room comes with an outdoor patio? Wait, and… holy crap, the hotel ABUTS the ocean? To hell with Trip Advisor reviews and the five-star system.
We spend the evening sipping Mai Tais by the water, watching the tail end of the sunset. Palm trees overhead, Venus just above the horizon, beach-y drink in hand. This is a friggin’ Corona commercial.
We’re in bed at 8:30 HST, and that’s perfectly fine with my old self. At 2:20 am, that familiar, why-can’t-you-get-a-new-alarm-tone-Rachael alarm awakens me rudely. I lie in bed, pretending to not have heard that ungodly tone, letting Rachael decide whether or not this 2.5-hour drive to Haleakala is really, really worth it. I think I might get what I want (sleep), but she instructs me to go take a shower, pronto. Fine.
The drive isn’t all that bad. Except there are segments where I’m scared shitless. Straight ahead, I can see just fine. I’ve got the brights on. But to either side? Total black. Oblivion. And, I’m nearly certain, as we’re climbing a mountain on an only semi-legitimate road, death by rolling and bouncing down a mountain awaits if I commit just one tiny error.
But I’m better than the NASCAR guys. Seriously, ask anyone who’s ridden with me. So, we’re at the top of Haleakala Crater, and it’s 4:30. It took us a mere one hour and forty-five minutes to make the trip from our hotel, a whole 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
“Shouldn’t have any problem parking. I think we’re the first here. The sun doesn’t rise for another hour,” I say to my half-snoozing passenger.
The parking lot is packed. We get the fifth-to-last decent spot. Had we been 3 minutes later, we’d have had to park in the lower lot, which is about 300 feet below the upper lot.
After a quick bathroom break in the middle of what I soon discover to be a heavily trafficked trail, Rachael and I are standing at the summit in the pitch black, freezing our buns off. She shivers and says some things. I’m not paying attention. My head is cocked back, my eyes focused on the millions of stars above. This is unbelievable. Godly. If this volcano decides to blow right now, I don’t care. I’ll die at peace with the universe.
As is typical with sunrises, the sky gradually brightens. The colors in the clouds, in the mountains, in the sky above, are an ongoing show. The show runs from about 4:45 to 5:45, when the sun peeks over the horizon and finally colors the world as it will remain until sunset.
Cliche alert: words cannot describe the sunrise. Before actually making the trip to Haleakala, I did some Googling. In hindsight, the best description of the sunrise that I had read was, “My husband and I did this 9 months ago, and he still talks about it every day.” Now I get this guy. Maybe I’ll track him down and we’ll have coffee in a few weeks. During the sunrise, most of my thoughts on what I was witnessing contained the word “God,” despite the fact that I typically use this word in vain. If you’re ever so fortunate to visit Haleakala, try to find your own words for it.
I posted a couple pictures we took during the spectacle. Note that (a) we took 150+ pictures in the hour we watched the sun rise, and (b) none of the pictures does any service to the actual, in-person miracle on the summit.
The rest of Day 1 all runs together. Saw some shops, the big resorts - Marriott, Westin, and brothers - had a few Coronas, got a few hours of sun, read some of Outliers, went to the grocery store a few times. But, the entire day, my thoughts kept returning to Haleakala. If I ever invent a language, the word “Haleakala” will mean something like “heaven” or “holy f-ing shit.”
ah, to be young and in love.
made it to heaven this morning. taken at the top of haleakala crater, maui, hawaii.