We can remember which folder we put that CSS file in, but we can’t remember the name of the guy we just met at the party.
- Why can’t I remember much of my childhood?
- What tactics work to enable me to remember something, especially for a test of knowledge, and what most certainly does not work?
- Why am I so bad with names and song lyrics and what an article was called, yet I can remember where I stored something?
- Are computers to blame for my brain’s inability to store and retrieve?
- How different is my muscle memory and my book smarts? Does “life knowledge” count or affect how I remember?
- Where do my emotions fit in?
- How did I get to the point where remembering was important to me?
These and other questions I hope to explore in a pop-up blog I’m calling One Stack Deep. The blog’s name refers to a passage in The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, a brief history of early 1980s computing. Kidder followed the engineers at Data General around as they built their new machine, codenamed the Eagle Project. When talking about the language engineers use when talking to each other, one engineer uses his vocabulary to describe another engineer in computing terms:
Give me a core dump meant “Tell me your thoughts,” for in the past, when computers used “core memories,” engineers sometimes “dumped” the contents of malfunctioning machines’ storage compartments of memory, a sort of in-box inside a computer; it holds the information in the order in which the information is deposited and whe it gets overfull, it is said to “overflow.” Hence the occasional complaint, “I’ve got a stack overflow.” “His mind is only one stack deep,” says an engineer, describing the failings of a colleague, but the syntax is wrong and he rephrases, saying “See. He can push, but when it comes time to pop, he goes off in all directions” ― which means that the poor fellow can receive and understand information but he can’t retrieve it in an orderly fashion.
I will mostly focus on the storage and retrieval aspects, with the occasional diversion to problem-solving and other interesting avenues, though only how they relate to memory. The unnamed engineer quoted above might have been describing me 30 years later. What follows is an personal journey to understand how my brain works, how it fails, and what I can do about it.