October 6th, 2003


(no subject)

We see change. If you paralyse the muscles in the eye so it can't move, after a few seconds we're blind, it's only the constant movement of our eyes that allows us to see at all. We see edges and differences and changes from one moment to another, and if something doesn't change, then after a while it drops beneath our field of notice, becomes just another part of the background (leaving aside certain alarm signals like "my arm is on fire").

Some people seem to need more change than others in order for it to register. Some people adjust to change faster. If both of these things are true, then you probably have the attention span of a goldfish, failing to notice most common-place things around you and forgetting about the new things a few minutes after they occur. Repetitive tasks will take you forever, as the action's you are carrying out simply drop out of sight. In order to get at all involved in something you'll have to turn it into a game. You'll find that your speech and action tend towards the flamboyant, as you try to put a fresh spin on everything you do to stop it from boring your pants clean off.

As you may have guessed, I fall into this category (although not quite as badly as the symptoms listed above). And this, as far as I can tell, is where my problems with organisation come from - one half "tidying up bores me to death" and one half "the place is untidy?". To give an example of the latter problem, last week I was idling at the computer when I noticed that there were a few plates sitting next to me. I only noticed because I went to get a piece of paper I wanted and had to move the plates out of the way, but having done so, I thought "I ought to go and put those in/near the dishwasher. I'll do it in a minute.". When I stood up less than 5 minutes later, I had completely forgotten about the dishes (and because they'd been there for more than 15 minutes and weren't getting in my way I completely failed to notice they were there).

This is a constant problem in my life. Contrary to what my various flatmates think, I'm not enamoured of an untidy life - I genuinely prefer to live in neatness. But the combination of untidiness slipping beneath my radar and tidying up being repetitive and dull means that it just never tends to happen. Dull jobs get postponed and then forgotten within minutes.

I've found two solutions to this problem - patterns and game-making. While I'm very bad at remembering to do spontaneous things, like any animal I can be trained into a habit. So rather than following a rule of "When I notice dirty plates, move them to the kitchen.", an event guaranteed to occur once or twice a month, I'm currently building a habit of "Whenever leaving the living room, check it for dirty plates and take them to the kitchen." By building in a trigger that is easily triggered, I should be able to set up a habit that leads to an outcome I want to achieve.

The other technique means finding some way of making the task fun. And this is what my to-do list seems to have achieved. The PDA pops up a list of things I need to do and I knock them off. I've quickly developed a dislike of having outstanding items on the list, and of watching the balance-meter to see how what I've done has affected it. On Sunday morning I had a choice between tidying my desk or filling the dishwasher before I went out (not having enough time for both). Tidying my desk was on the list, filling the dishwasher wasn't. I found myself wondering if it would count if I put "fill dishwasher" on the list and then crossed it off immediately, before opting to tidy my desk instead. I've successfully fooled the "keeping score" part of my brain into thinking that doing housework is a competition, and it's keeping me on-track with getting things done. Whether I can fool it long-term is another matter, but hopefully I can keep it up long enough to build some good habits.

It's a sign!

It's frequently frustrating being a cat owner. Denver's main method of communication is to stare me right between the eyes and make a plaintive miaowing sound. Despite knowing her for over 2 years now, I've yet to manage to differentiate between "I'm hungry.", "I'm lonely." and "The Martians are coming!", resulting in a cat that frequently gets fed rather than petted. Luckily, with two other people in the flat that will happily play with her at a moment's notice, this doesn't tend to be too much of a problem.

My communication difficulties pale into insignificance compared to those faced by the mother's of very young children. Babies frequently stress themselves into crying fits as they attempt to get across their needs, randomly making noises and waving limbs in what must seem to them to be a perfectly reasonable request, only to face a complete lack of understanding from the one person that can deal with the terrible problem in their pants/stomach/hug centre.

In one of the older, funnier episodes of The Simpsons, Homer's half-brother invents a device to translate baby-talk into English, allowing parents to understand their baby's needs and bringing peace and harmony to harried mother's across the nation. While this kind of technological solution is unlikely to be in the shops in the near future, an article in today's Evening News outlines a different approach - sign language.

Children are capable of controlling their limbs long before they can manage the most rudimentary words, and research has shown that it is, in fact, possible to teach them to use sign language to talk. The "Sign and Sing" programme teaches mothers and parents a basic baby-form of sign language, with 80 different words to cover a variety of situations (including "food", "milk", "hot", etc.). It apparently only takes a few weeks for the babies to pick up the basics, and once they realise they can use it to get what they want, they're as enthusiastic as their mothers.

According to a study Mike tracked down for me, they can start learning as early as 10 months old, and by the time they hit second grade, these kids have an average IQ of 114 (as opposed to an average of 102 in the general population). If you know anyone with a baby, it might be an idea to pass this info in their direction...

Up my leg

theferrett is a fascinating chap, who gets thoroughly embarassed (and cheered) by mention of his name. He's a good writer and you should go check him out.

Oh, and he made today's quote of the day:

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes.