California Academy of Sciences

When my mom was here we went to the California Academy of Sciences, which is one of my favorite city attractions.

IMG 4260 764x1024 California Academy of Sciences IMG 4261 764x1024 California Academy of Sciences IMG 4265 764x1024 California Academy of Sciences Continue reading

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2014: Year of the Wood Horse

IMG 2939 764x1024 2014: Year of the Wood Horse

This year is the Chinese New Year year of the horse. More specifically, it’s the year of the wood horse. I admittedly don’t know a lot about Chinese astrology but I’m trying to learn a little bit here and there. Here’s what I’ve read about what it means that we’re in the year of the Wood Horse.

  • A year of clashes and conflicts, with people sticking tight to their guns and emotions tending towards the extreme; it’s a year historically associated with warfare (source)
  • Housing prices are likely to decline in most real estate markets; this one doesn’t seem to be true here in San Francisco! (source)
  • “Horse year is about freedom, returning to nature, and enjoying life and life’s adventures. You won’t always want to focus on work because it’s easy to be distracted by fun, good times, and parties in sexy Horse year.” (source)
  • “Do it. Since education is a wood industry, which is associated with growth, 2014 will be a good time to learn something new.” (source)
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Monterey Bay Aquarium

A little while ago I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’d been there once before but it didn’t feel any less magical the second time around. I love the room of jellyfish … there are so, so, so many different kinds! But my favorite animal at any aquarium is always the leafy seadragon (which you aren’t allowed to photograph because it’s bad for them) and its cousin the seahorse.

DSC 7011 Monterey Bay Aquarium

DSC 7009 Monterey Bay Aquarium

DSC 6998 Monterey Bay Aquarium

DSC 6996 Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Enjoying Spontaneous Jellyfish and Crabs

Some of the pets that I do petsitting for live out near Ocean Beach so when I visit them I end up spending time at the beach, which I have to confess isn’t a place I usually go much. Recently when I was walking along the shore I saw the sunshine glinting off of what looked like glass from far away. As I got closer I saw that it wasn’t glass but was actually hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands, of jellyfish. I have no idea why they were swept up onto the shore like that and it was actually kind of sad because some had already dried out and died but despite that it was a stunningly beautiful sight. I walked around there for a long time looking at them. I also spotted lots of crabs on the beach that day.

jellyfish beach 5 Enjoying Spontaneous Jellyfish and Crabs

jellyfish beach 9 Enjoying Spontaneous Jellyfish and Crabs

jellyfish beach 8 Enjoying Spontaneous Jellyfish and Crabs

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Space Facts Infographic

290674 zG136fZwf Space Facts Infographic
Astronomers have been uncovering mysteries of the solar system for hundreds of years. Check out what’s kept them captivated with this infographic on fun space facts.
 (Click to see the full infographic.)

This post is an advertisement through Reachli, an ad system I’m playing with to see if it works for me. I’d love your feedback on the post or on your own experiences with Reachli.

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Fun Video: Water Droplets Orbit Knitting Needle in Space

Just wanted to share this video that I saw this morning because it’s kind of awesome.

ZME Science explained:

“Astronaut  Dr. Don Pettit, currently on mission onboard the International Space Station, (used) an statically charged knitting needle made out of teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene), Pettit fired tiny droplets of water through a syringe towards the needle after which a marvelous display of physics unfolded. The droplets began to orbit around the needle, just like some satellites around a cylindrical planet. Pettit goes on to explain that it doesn’t have anything to do with gravity, but rather the attraction comes as a result of charged forces that exert a potential field.”

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Infographic: How Flowers Impact Emotions

purple flower Infographic: How Flowers Impact Emotions
I just wanted to share this pretty infographic I saw recently that shows how different flowers are related to our emotions. I knew that red flowers symbolized love but I didn’t realize that red was associated with a greater attention to detail. And I was kind of surprised to see that Thanksgiving ranks in the Top 5 for holidays people celebrate by giving flowers.
flowers and happiness 5090b3796c63b w587 Infographic: How Flowers Impact Emotions

Learn about infographic design, via Visual.ly

My favorite flowers are Oriental lilies, Birds of Paradise, snapdragons and traditional roses. What are your favorite flowers?

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Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

cabrillo marine aquarium Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

One of the things that my mom and I did alone together during our recent vacation to Los Angeles was we took a visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. I always love aquariums and it was neat to explore a new one.

About Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

whale fossils Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is an educational center that includes a research library and marine life exhibits. It is super affordable; they ask for a $5 donation per adult. It’s not as touristy as most of the other aquariums I’ve been to but it has a lot to see. In one building you can look at a bunch of different sea stuff under microscopes. In another there are some sort of experiments going on and you can kind of look around and see what’s happening with all of the lab equipment. In the main area there are rooms filled with taxidermy/fossil/bone displays and other rooms with aquariums of live animals. Outside is a touch pool that is only open at certain times of day and we were able to go out there and hear a little talk and touch things like anemones and starfish and limpits.

whale bones Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Although I say that it’s in LA, this aquarium is actually in San Pedro. I kind of count the whole LA area as LA when talking about it but it did take about an hour to get here from my brother’s place off of Malibu. The aquarium is just one of the sights at Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park where you can also see a historic bathhouse, a few statues of different people important to the area, and a coastal native plant garden among other things.

Out in the Touch Pool

aquarium touch pool starfish Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

aquarium animals Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

aquarium touch pool Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Other Favorite Things I Saw

seahorse Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

This aquarium didn’t have my favorite creature, the leafy seadragon, but they did have its cousin the seahorse

jellyfish Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

The aquarium had several different types of my other favorite sea animal: the jellyfish

And Some More Stuff

inside of aquarium Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

There were some fun exhibits for kids like this one where you can go stand inside the aquarium and see it all around you. My mom and I crawled in to do it and take photos as kids at heart.

sea otter skeleton Visit to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Some of the informative displays did creep me out a little bit …

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Do Visual Learners Have Better Memories?

Right now I’m reading Joshua Foer’s book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Do Visual Learners Have Better Memories?. It’s one man’s story about spending a year improving his memory after getting inspired by seeing the World Memory Championship competition. In this competition people perform amazing feats of memory like rapidly learning entire poems, memorizing the order of all of the cards in a deck and memorizing very long random numbers. The story is about Foer’s experience with this and through that story he teaches the reader about the history of memory training (very interesting!) and the basic techniques used by the memory champs to improve their memories.

The book is a good one. I’d recommend it.

Naturally, it’s got me thinking a lot about memory. The basic technique that Foer explains in the book, the mnemonic technique, is one that I’ve heard about many times before. (Coincidentally I just started watching The Mentalist and the main character describes the same technique in one of the few few episodes of season one.) The gist of it is that if you want to remember a series of things then you need to visualize them and visualize yourself placing them throughout a well-remembered place that you’re familiar with.

For example, let’s say that I want to remember the words “dog” and “bacon” and “breakfast” in that order. I might visualize my childhood home and picture myself greeting my childhood dog at the door. Then I go in and the first room I see is the kitchen where I picture a sizzling pan of bacon. To remember breakfast, the first thing that comes to mind is Breakfast at Tiffany’s so then I picture Audrey Hepburn sitting at my parents’ kitchen table. Of course, the technique is a little more detailed than that and it is used to remember much longer lists than three-item lists but that’s the basic idea of it. Like I said, it’s a technique I’ve heard mentioned many times before and it’s one that has been proven to work to help people remember things.

And yet, I wonder if it’s right for me. The main problem that I’m running into as I think about this is that I am absolutely not a visual person at all. This is something that I always knew about myself but my friendship with a visual artist named Anna has really made it clear to me over time because she is so visual and I am so word-based. I’ll tell you about two specific experiences with her that come to mind. First, let me tell you about a night that we got together with my friend Kelly to do some cooking at my house. I had picked up a really interesting book on Zen-based cooking ideas and that was what I was using to make my dishes. I was excited about it. When I showed it to Anna, the first thing she said was, “where are the pictures of the food?” I hadn’t even noticed that the recipes had no pictures or for that matter that this was unusual for a cookbook. I don’t think I ever even look at the photos of food in a cookbook even though I’ve noticed, since she pointed it out, that almost all cookbooks are image-based. Hm.

The other time I want to tell you about is when I tried to learn basic drawing techniques from Anna. She’s a terrific artist and I enjoy her work very much. And I’ve always wanted to be able to draw better. The class was fun. But it was challenging for me, not because I can’t draw but because I simply do not see things the way that you need to see them to be able to draw them realistically. Anna put a white egg on a white piece of paper and put a light on it to create shadows. We were to draw the egg using the light and dark spaces to create what we saw on our pages. It was difficult for me because what I saw was white on white. I saw an egg. That’s all. As Anna pointed out that this part was a shade darker or that was a shade lighter, I could see it, but when she moved away and left me to it I could hardly pick any of that out on my own. I recall asking her if she sees the entire world like this all of the time and she said that she usually does. It seemed to me like an overwhelming way to go through the world. Of course, I do realize that that’s just how she sees it and it doesn’t overwhelm her at all but trying to see shapes and shadows and lines is difficult for me so it seems draining from my perspective.

There are many more examples of this in my life. I am far more interested in the story behind something than the image itself. I read really fast and I think part of the reason is because I’m reading to get to the point of the story, not picturing every little thing the writer has etched into words. In fact, I get kind of annoyed by writing that has flowery language designed to create a visual image, especially if it doesn’t advance the story.

I remember having trouble sleeping when I was a kid. My dad told me on more than one occasion to count sheep. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to picture sheep and count them. The whole idea made no sense to me. If I’d been told to lay there and create a story in my head about a sheep’s life then maybe I could have relaxed and drifted into slumber but just trying to picture sheep visually was an almost impossible task.

Now this is not to say that I don’t appreciate beauty. I like sunsets just as much as anyone. I enjoy looking at art pieces. But when it boils down to it, I remain more interested in the words and thoughts and ideas of most things than I do in just looking at them. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I can easily play TV in the background while I do other things and not feel like I missed something because I wasn’t looking at the screen. And it’s certainly why movies that are built primarily on what you see (action flicks, silent films) almost never interest me.

Bringing this back to the original topic, I’ve always felt like I have a fairly bad memory. I used to keep scrapbooks obsessively and I half-joked that it was because I wouldn’t remember anything without those pictures to tell me what I did. In recent years, I’ve come to realize that my bad memory is due mostly to the fact that I don’t pay attention to a lot of stuff around me. I am often too wrapped up in my own thoughts about something to even take in the visual cues and see what’s in front of me. And because of that, I wonder if I’m doomed to have a bad memory.

Now, I do think that it’s possible that the mnemonic device for remembering things could be useful for me. When I do have a visual picture of something, I definitely remember it more clearly. That’s why the scrapbooks work – I see something visually and remember the whole story of what I did where and with whom. And if I stretch my brain hard enough to assign a picture to words and drop them in my memory place then I’ll probably remember them. I don’t doubt that. But here’s the thing… trying to come up with an image and then actually know where to place it is extremely difficult for me.

The thing with these “memory places” is that you’re supposed to have a bunch of them. So if I used my childhood home for that “dog”, “bacon”, “breakfast” list then I’d need to use a different memory place for my next list. That way every time I go to the childhood home in my mind, that first list will resurface. And every time I mentally go to the next place the next thing will surface. But to come up with multiple memory places is in itself very difficult for me because I don’t visually take in a lot of places. So for example the techniques in the book recommend thinking first of the “easy” places like your normal walk home. I’ve lived on my same block for two years and I’d have trouble telling you which stores or landmarks are there, especially in any given order. In order to be able to use this as a memory place, I’d first have to memorize that. It seems like a lot of work.

I’m not sure what my thoughts are at this point on the value of memory. The book talks about how before books all knowledge was passed on orally and had to be remembered so memory was really important to learning, personal ethics, culture, traditions, etc. Now we have everything at the tip of our fingers so why bother remembering it? I think that there’s some value to the idea that having a memory bank to tap into allows you a broader reference for things and there’s wisdom available to you as a result. I certainly wish I’d remember a fraction of what I read! But I also am really glad to live in a time when information is at my fingertips and I don’t have to memorize it to utilize it.

I guess I think that if I wanted to work harder to take things in differently and work at remembering them then I could, using a variety of techniques including the mnemonic option. And I think there’s some value to improving your memory. But it feels like a lot of hard work to me for very little reward personally. So while I’m really curious whether more visual people have better natural memories, I’m not really concerned with exploring my personal memory too much more at this time.

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