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  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:57 am on May 27, 2003 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-drug site, Apu, Bob Cringely, Clam, food career, George Miller, , Long-term memory, Memory, , , Neuropsychological assessment, , , , serious online memory tests, Short-term memory   

    The Glory of Short-Term Memory 

    I am reading Bob Cringely’s monumental rant, “Accidental Empires“. One thing that he mentions in the very beginning makes a lot of sense to me.

    Cringely talks about the importance of short-term memory to programmers. He briefly mentions George Miller’s research and goes on to quote the Hungarian:

    “I have to really concentrate, and I might even get a headache just trying to imagine something clearly and distinctly with twenty or thirty components,” Simonyi said. “When I was young, I could easily imagine a castle with twenty rooms with each room having ten different objects in it. I can’t do that anymore.”

    Basically, Cringely says that while normal people have a short term memory of Miller’s magic 7 items, really great programmers have short term memory measured in the hundreds.

    I always knew that my painfully average short term memory is a horrible handicap. For instance, my inability to hold a large number of items in memory was a big drawback in my fast food career. I did great as working in the Nathan’s Famous clam bar where there were only a few types of items that I had to sell (namely half-dozens of clams, clam chowder and drinks). But when I had to work the seafood counter where orders included frog legs, clam strips, shrimps, fish fillets, crab patties, hot dog nuggets, onion rings, french (freedom) fries, clam chowder , drinks and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember anymore combined in all kinds of combos and specials — well, that was hard.

    When I worked as a doorman, keeping track of hundreds of guests, contractors and delivery people entering and building was also pretty tough for me. This kind of made me realize that I would not be able to become an efficient physician because a) I would not be able to keep track of all of my patients and b) although I could pull a 48 hour shift, I was barely fit to operate the mop after 24 hours. I felt kind of like Apu during his 96 hour shift.

    Woods: Hey, you’re Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, aren’t you? I mean, you’re
    the — you’re like _the_ guy, you’re a legend around here. Can I
    ask you, is it true you once worked 96 hours straight?
    Apu: Oh yes, it was horrible I tell you. By the end I thought I was a
    hummingbird of some kind.
    Woods: Oh yeah, you know, I studied your old security tapes.
    [On tape, Apu imitates a hummingbird, flying back and forth
    across the screen and emitting a high-pitched humming noise]
    Apu: In a few minutes, I tried to drink nectar out of Sanjay’s head.

    In any case, my fabulous associative long term memory, you know, the thing that enables me to spout Simpsons references and remember little details from books that I read serves me very well. But I feel that the lack of short term memory is what stands between me and the greatness and glory of being a great hacker. That and some other organizational and focusing issues.

    I really wonder if great hackers invariably possess abnormal short term memory. You know, I have no doubt that the greatest hackers of all time, Von Neumann and Tesla had tremendous short term memory which was different from that exhibited by circus performers. Not only could they remember thousands of objects, but they could also make machines or programs out of them, run them and debug them, all in memory.

    But what about a programmer of lj user=jwz’s, avva’s or brad’s caliber? I bet an above average hacker must have above average short-term memory.

    Anyway, it’s getting rather late and I can’t find any serious online memory tests. Maybe I’ll put one together myself later. Here are two simple ones:
    Picture Test
    Verbal test from some anti-drug site
    [Added this note in the morning] Try not to use any special means of remembering – for instance grouping of objects in any way, making up a story with the items or words, etc. We are looking for an effortless and natural above average short term memory.

    If you find a good memory test, let me know.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 7:54 am on May 24, 2003 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 16 Psyche, , , Cupid and Psyche, Gauntlet, , Goldogrin, , , , NestlĂ© Chunky,   

    Pure Gold I tell Ya 

    is pure gold. Brown and sometimes chunky gold. Workers in ‘s nightclub tell their stories. No stranger to toilet cleaning and puke cleanup myself (although not nearly as hardcore) I can fully appreciate the amazing poetic prose of and in :

    “The Latex Gauntlet is probably the single most important piece of armor in the gnomish armory. They, along with a generous annointing of holy water, known to alchemists as “bleach”, can render powerless even the most foul and vicious attcks from excrementals and vomitzombies.”

    “Had I known that the upcoming experience (lurking just beyond my sight, like some Lovecraftian THING living at the back of my Psyche) was even then unfolding in the Women’s bathroom ”

  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:41 pm on May 21, 2003 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Archangelsk, , , , , Baghdad, , , , Fuller Building, , Igor Sutyagin, , Nikolai Sutyagin, , , , , tallest cement building, , , Yurt   

    Can He Build It? Yes He Can! 

    Livejournal user gornev led me to a most excellent meme in his comment to my post about wooden NYC water tanks. You see, there is this humongous wooden skyscraper in the Russian city of Archangelsk.

    I wanted to post about this since I saw the picture of that building (which became my desktop wallpaper), but it took some time to find more information and to find the time to write it up. The sources that I used provide somewhat conflicting information, but that’s mostly because the articles were written at different points during the construction.

    First you’ve got to see it. The links keep failing, but this google search will lead you to at least some articles with pictures.

    I’ve obtained permission from Nikolai Gernet aka nixette to use this recent picture:

    Nikolai also has a nice collection of old examples of wooden buildings in Archangelsk.

    So here’s what I was able to find out about the building and the builder. The builder and architect is Nikolai Sutyagin, an owner of a lumber yard and a small construction company. He was brought up by a single mother in a crappy communal flat. At 14 years old he was sent to a youth correctional facility for “hooliganism” (probably a fight). When he came back he started working as a construction worker to help support his mother and younger brother. Turned out that he was a pathological workaholic. His supervisor advised him to try his hand at “shabashing”. “Shabashing” was a free market anomaly in a planned socialistic society. Because of the shortage of productive workers in the land of fixed salaries jeopardized the completion of five year plans, collective farms and factories were allowed to hire freelancers and offer pay based on performance. This meant that a skilled workaholic such as Sutyagin could earn about 2000 rubles a month when a college educated engineer’s salary was 200 rubles. Teams of shabashniks were universally hated by collective farmers and factory workers (as well as all other salary men and women), but were tolerated.

    When Perestroyka came about Sutyagin used his money to start a lumber and construction business which brought him a substantial fortune. Now he needed a suitable residence. At first he planned on building a huge two story wooden house. Wooden structures are limited by law to two stories for fire safety reasons. At first he built a refrigerator sized wooden mock up. He liked the scale, but didn’t like the proportion of the roof. He decided to elongate it to achieve a more pleasing proportion. Then he started building working with his team like in the old times, but using the timber from his own company. When he was about done with the roof, he decided to build it up a little higher so that he could see the White Sea from the very top. Even though his building has two stories, the roof spans 11 more (some articles estimate the structure to have 12 stories, others – 13 and even 15).

    The government and his neighbors hated Sutyagin’s masterpiece. Fire hazard or not, it stands in the middle of a rather poor village, yet it’s higher than the tallest cement building in the city of Archangelsk itself. The city government ordered the structure to be torn down, but the order was never realized as far as I know. But Sutyagin was accused by one of his employees (who supposedly stole $30,000 from Sutyagin’s company) of beating him up and imprisoning him in a shed. True or not, Sutyagin got 4 years of prison. He was let out in 2 years. While he was away his company was looted like Baghdad after the war. Now he and his wife and daughter live in the unfinished skyscraper that he built.

    Now, here are some of my thoughts. I am deeply disgusted by the messages on Russian bulletin boards. There are three most common attitudes there: mocking the unfinished structure as a glorified barn, lamenting about the “mysterious Russian Soul” and gloating about the fact that the builder was sent to jail presuming that the source of the money used to build the skyscraper is stealing. Most of the press coverage concentrates on the eccentricity of the builder rather than his genius, strength of will and work ethic.

    Sutyagin’s skyscraper takes up a very special place in my heart, right next to the AIG building, the Flatiron (Fuller Building) and all my favorite skyscrapers, remaining, gone and those that were destined never to be built.

    I’ve used a number of articles as sources, but they all went offline. You can use this google search to find new ones though.

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