Instant Recall

Let’s say that Key to the Highway by Derek and the Dominos is one of your favorite songs, as it is one of mine.  How long would it take you to hear the first few notes and recognize that it’s being played on the radio?

According to some recent research, the answer is exactly 0.1 to 0.3 seconds.  That’s virtually instantaneous.

anim_homepageThe research focused on pupil dilation and certain brain activity that was triggered by hearing a favorite, familiar song and compared it to the reaction to listening to unfamiliar tunes. The study determined that hearing even a fraction of a second of a favorite song caused pupil dilation and brain activity related to memory retrieval — which would then cause you to immediately remember every note and every lyric.  One of the researchers noted that “[t]hese findings point to very fast temporal circuitry and are consistent with the deep hold that highly familiar pieces of music have on our memory.”

Why do researchers care about the brain’s reaction to familiar music?  Because the deeply engrained neural pathways that are associated with music might be a way to reach, and ultimately treat, dementia patients who are losing other forms of brain function.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing, and its immediate recall of music is one compelling aspect of its functioning.  But here’s the thing the researchers didn’t consider:  immediate recall isn’t limited to favorite music.  In fact, it’s provoked by familiar music, whether it’s a tune you’d happily binge listen to or whether its a piece of music that you wish you could carve out of your synapses.  If I mention the Green Acres theme song, and you then think of the first few guitar notes for that song, I guarantee that every bit of the song will promptly come to mind, whether you want it to or not.  (Sorry about that!)  And isn’t it a bit disturbing to think that, if you eventually lose your marbles some day far in the future, one of the last things to go will be the tale of the Douglases and their “land, spreading out so far and wide”?

Eau De Wet Dog

Earlier this week, it was raining when Betty and I took our morning walk.  It was pelting down pretty hard outside as we circled Schiller Park, and by the time we got home Betty was soaked.  She did a few of the familiar dog shakes to try to fling off as much moisture as possible, and I did my best to towel her off, but when I finally let her off the leash and she scampered upstairs, the damage was already done:

2019097024-780x0Our house was filled, to every remote nook and cranny, with the distinctive aroma of eau de wet dog.

The bouquet of wet dog is one of those highly distinctive smells.  It doesn’t seem to vary much from dog to dog, or from long hair breed to short hair breed.  To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s statement about pornography, you might not be able to accurately describe eau de wet dog, but you sure as heck know it when you smell it.  And once you smell it, you will remember the pungent, musty odor of wet fur and canine sweat and be able to immediately identify it for the rest of your life.

It’s not like one of those phony, instantly forgettable fragrances that people spray in their bathrooms.  No, the heady tang of canine cologne is clearly one of the most memorable smells in the olfactory catalog.  In the indelible odor category, it’s up there with wood smoke, a salty, algae-laden whiff of oceanfront air, or the inside of a brand-new car.

Not that you want eau de wet dog around your house, of course, but when you’ve got a dog in the house there’s not much you can do about it.

Old Bag, New Bag

We’ve got a retirement to commemorate in the Webner household today. Last night Kish surprised me with a bright, shiny, brand-new TUMI satchel. As a result, my old shoulder bag will be heading off to the glorious land of work bag retirement.

I’m sorry to see the old bag go. It’s been my trusted travel companion, work or play, for at least 25 years — and probably more like 30 years. It came to our household as part of a luggage set we got long ago. All of the other components of the set are long gone, but the little black satchel has steadfastly continued to provide faithful service. It’s been overfilled to the point of bursting, hurled onto passenger side car seats, thrust into the carry-on spaces of airplanes large and small, irradiated at countless TSA checkpoints, dropped fully loaded onto floors and tables, and lugged through rain, sleet, smog and snow, without problem or complaint. In short, it’s never let me down. You can’t say that about many people or things.

And yet . . . it’s time. All of the zippers are broken, the handles are frayed, I’ve had to replaced the shoulder strap multiple times, and the bag itself has holes. This reliable black satchel is breaking down and deserves some rest.

Moving to a new bag will be an adjustment. With the old black satchel, I knew where everything would go. Boarding passes in the side pocket, pen and chargers and power cords in the small storage pocket, laptop and papers and notebooks and folders in the big middle space, and books slipped into the side sleeve. With the new bag, I’ll have to do some experimentation to figure out where everything should go.

Farewell, black satchel! The office won’t be quite the same without you!

Dead Mouse

Unfortunately, we’ve got a dead mouse in the house.  Fortunately, it’s not a mouse of the furry, four-legged, cheese-loving, living in holes in walls and getting chased by cats in cartoons variety.

Instead, it’s our ancient computer mouse that isn’t working.  It was doused in coffee as a result of a desktop spill yesterday, and the soaking apparently has affected its innards and batteries enough to render it inoperative.  It’s an incident reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live “Pepsi Syndrome” skit, where a knocked-over soft drink on a computer keyboard caused a nuclear meltdown.  This morning’s task list therefore will include trying to figure out if there is some way to get the old mouse scampering again, short of going out and buying a new mouse — which might not even be available given the advanced age of our home computer.

And, by virtue of the spill, we are reminded yet again of interconnectedness of our modern world, where every link in the technological chain is important.  It’s great to have a fully functional computer, but there’s not much you can do with it when a working mouse is not in the house.


Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins out there!

Tonight is trick or treat night in Columbus, too.  That means we’ll need to lay in a sufficient supply of Halloween candy to distribute to any kids who might come knocking, because you obviously don’t want to get caught short.  Then we’ll eat most of the candy ourselves, and after we reach an appropriate level of disgust at our consumption we’ll take the rest of it into the office and leave it next to the coffee station for everyone to gorge on.

Loosen the belts, everyone!  The two-month holiday candy, pie, and all things sweet binge period is about to begin!

Dr. Toilet

We’re used to “smart” devices these days.  Smartphones, of course.  Smart TVs.  Smart security systems.  Even smart refrigerators.

So, is it really a surprise that people have been working on the “smart” toilet?

eut3628s__98071.1512066915An Asian company has created a toilet that has built-in sensors that can detect, collect, and analyze waste samples.  The test results are then transmitted to an app on your phone, which gives you health advice based on the test results.  This particular smart toilet is supposed to be able to monitor heart disease and also to evaluate urine samples for symptoms of cancer and heart disease.

Health advice and real-time test results, directly from your toilet to your phone?  We must be living in the 21st century!

But that toilet is not the only “smart” stuff that will soon be available to increase the IQ of your bathroom.  Other powder room devices that have been exhibited or developed include a toilet and bathroom mirror that use the Alexa voice assistant (although exactly how Alexa helps in this particular area isn’t clear), a pressure sensor toilet that measures heart and blood vessel information, a toilet seat that checks blood pressure, and toilets that are linked to wi-fi, analyze out sugars and proteins that appear in your deposits, and also evaluate your body-mass index.  And some of the new devices even helpfully have LED night lights built in to the toilet lid.

In short, we may be on the cusp of the next great advance in toilet technology, when your home bathroom turns into a laboratory of devices that collect and analyze number one and number two, evaluate the blood flow in your cheeks, and consider God knows what else in order to provide you with a detailed, up-to-the-minute report on your personal health status — all of which will be transmitted and stored somewhere.

Terrifying, isn’t it?