Friday, June 17, 2011

More Data Obscura – The Weird Accumulation of Stuff in My Messy Mental Filing System

Passwords. Loads of them. None of them mine. Yet there they are. All tucked into the overflowing inbox of my brain. Why? Wish I knew. How? Easy. I have a problem with pattern recognition. Once I’ve sussed a pattern, or even think I have, it’s in my brain to stay. I seem to be wired to look for connections between unlike things. It may have been part of what made me a reasonably good database administrator. The problem is that when I don’t find links between data points, I have the disturbing tendency to make them up. Perhaps this is why fiction writing works so well for me? I have so much practice making things up.
Most of the obscure trivia bits tucked into my brain are there because I did research for a book – it stuff I thought I’d need, so it got marked for long term storage. The other bits, like Iceland sitting atop the Atlantic Rift and being torn asunder by an average of 2.5cm per year isn’t because I lived there. I was too young to appreciate that when we lived there. No, that’s just geek fascination with geology and the power of natural forces. Niagra Falls wears the rock escarpment backward by 1.16 meters (nearly 4 feet) a year. Seven miles of erosion in 12,500 years. That’s superfast. Do I need to know this? No. But those bits are irrevocably in my head.
My husband likes to say that most of the trivia in my head is there because of my morbid fascination with how Mother Nature might one day kill off the human race: plague, catastrophe, what have you. It isn’t entirely true – there is some info about string theory and the extra potential dimensions the theory entails, some useless data on circadian rhythms, caving, how viruses infect human cells, as well as more plant recognition and critter recognition (several by sound alone!) than anyone would ever need.
It comes down to the fact that I’m an absorber, an observer. My brain and I are most comfortable when I’m sponging up data, as opposed to say, streaming it – super fast writers are streamers – very comfy with pouring stuff out of their heads onto virtual paper. I envy them. Absorbers have to work harder to achieve reverse data flow. It isn’t impossible, it just feels like it. And even then, I’d rather find a nice science video out on the internet about some arcane something I never knew. Failing that, I’ll go with videos or books that are sheer speculation bordering on wishful thinking about ‘facts’ that might never have actually been. We’re talking conspiracy theory and conjecture here, but what the heck.
Why? What makes me an absorber with all these useless bits of crap rattling around my head? Probably something my mother ate while she was pregnant with me. Beyond the genetic wiring component, it’s about feeling smart. Somewhere in my past, I got the message that smart equaled good and I wanted to be both. Having my head stuffed full of fun, cool stuff makes me feel like I might actually have an IQ. Granted, brilliance probably has more to do with curing cancer than being able to mention there’s a place in Antarctica called Blood Falls and that I desperately want to go see it with my own eyes. No. Really. Photo and article here. (In fact, Atlas Obscura is one of my favorite places for useless bits of trivia). The National Geographic Society website is good, too. Have you seen the Crystal Cave? Do you know how long you can survive in high heat and high humidity before you begin accumulating organ damage? I do and I’ve used it in a book. Have a look at some of the stunning photos here. You’ll know, too. See if it doesn’t get stuck in your head, too.


  1. With your pattern recognition talents, the CIA needs you for data analysis!

  2. I had a brilliant response to this...but I totally forgot it due to the last 30 mins of trolling through Atlas Obscura. That site is awesome.

  3. I'd totally go see Blood Falls with you. Sign me up!

  4. My brain is seeming very empty round about now -

  5. Laura, the CIA thinks I'm too sentimental. Old may have also been mentioned.

    KAK isn't that site the greatest? I knew the planet was cool, but not how cool until Atlas Obscura.

    WW's expedition to Antarctica? Surely we could negotiate some kind of discount rate.

    You're brain isn't empty, Kerry. You're thinking too hard about what might be in there and then making a judgment call based on what you think other people will find interesting, when really, it's all the little things you picked up as a kid that are so fascinating. That's the stuff it's so easy to dismiss. Because it's commonplace to you.