Memory incident

Recently I had occasion to use one of the public computers in my local library. At one time this was a regular occurrence because I didn’t have internet access at home, but now it’s only something I do very occasionally.

The system is: you log in to the system with your reader number and passcode, and then get an hour’s use of the computer.

I typed in my reader number, then was surprised and horrified to realise that I had no idea what my passcode was. But I remembered from a previous occasion that it had been possible to log in as a guest, so I went to the desk to ask if I could do that.

The library assistant looked rather helplessly at me, said something about not having enough access to the system to do anything, and suggested I try entering my birthday as the passcode. I knew that my birthday most certainly wasn’t the passcode. But she also told me that the system didn’t have any limit on how many times I could enter the wrong code. I wouldn’t end up getting locked out if I tried everything I could think of.

What I knew, though, was that in the days when I had known my passcode, I’d primarily remembered it not by the digits themselves or some fancy mnemonic for them, but by the pattern of keystrokes needed to type them. I’d remembered them pretty much like a fingering pattern on an instrument.

I went back to my seat and stopped trying to remember the passcode. I typed in my reader number, thought about where my finger should probably go for the first digit of the passcode, then let my fingers type a sequence of keys that felt right on the keyboard. I clicked OK.

Immediately, on the first attempt, I found myself logged in. The key to remembering my passcode had been to stop trying to consciously remember it, and to let my fingers follow the pattern that they always had done when typing it before. The code wasn’t still programmed into my brain, but the movements for typing it were still programmed into my fingers.

That’s what musicians are talking about when they mention kinaesthetic memory.

Don’t follow the instructions

How many AAA batteries is it possible to need? How many non-rechargeable ones is it possible to need?

For myself, I don’t like the waste and expense of batteries that can only be used once. I use rechargeable ones wherever possible. When I’m in the supermarket and see packets of 16 AAA batteries, my usual reaction is “What sort of wasteful person buys 16 of those all at once?”

But of course you can’t sensibly use rechargeable cells in everything. In particular, they’re not suitable for anything that uses a tiny amount of power and takes months to run them down.

Well, a few weeks ago everything of that kind in the house ran down at once, and I had the unexpected experience of needing to buy a packet of 16 of the things.

However, the strangeness of finding myself buying them was nothing to the strangeness of what I found on the box.

Box with sticker: "Please remove prior to putting in microwave"

The label which Sainsbury’s chose to put on the box.

So there you go. I suppose it makes sense: microwaving the batteries seems likely to destroy both them and the microwave, but at least if you follow the instructions you’ll still have an intact, non-microwaved security tag afterwards. Maybe you can sell it on eBay or frame it.

I decided to go one better though, by not following the instructions at all. In fact I didn’t even microwave the batteries.

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

He hath indeed, and I discovered it yesterday. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find there:

O my gentil rederes, it hath been a thinge of muche difficultee and laboure for to type euen the smallest entrie in myn blogge. For somer, lyk vnto a songe of Barry Manilow, hath ydrawn alle the spirit and vigor from my limbes and hert. For the gretre part of the hot moneth of July ich laye in my garden on my comfortable lawn-chaire and langwisshed lyk vnto sum yonge lover who hath ydumpede been. Ich daubede myn foreheed wyth a moyste towel and did drinke mvch of somer drinkes swich as margaritae and daquiri.

That’s from the introduction to his post Ich pwne noobs! in which his son Lowys (who has an Exboxe CCCLX)  introduces him to the wonders of “games of video”:

Ther were no swich games of video whanne ich was a yonge man, and thus ich knewe litel of the sport and mirthe that ys in hem. For soothly, thei aren quite clever and also do improue the coordinacioun of the hande and the eye. Lowys and ich dide sette at pleyinge of the games and we stoppid nat vntil the cokke of morwenyge dide crowe. It rockede, and from thenne on ich was caught in the trappe. [. . .]

Syn ye, my rederes, are folke lyk myself who kanne noght of games of video, ich thoghte ich wolde here descriven the wondirs of thes tales, and liste the names of sum of the moore notable games, as Lowys hath informede me of hem and shewn hem to me on hys manye computirs and consoles of gamynge.

Descriptions then ensue of such games as Donkey-Kynge (“Ye playe a peasaunt who hath yn his care a smal donkeye. Ye use the gentil beeste to dryve yower carte and to transporte donge”); Civilisatioun; and Grande Thefte, Collusioun, and Mayntenance (“Ye run arounde and commit various actes of trespass with force and armes, and then use yower patrones and affinitee groupes to get yow out of prisone”).

I found the posts I read very entertaining. But it’s also worth mentioning that the sidebar includes a number of links to background resources about reading Middle English and about the real Chaucer.

The home page of the blog is at

Important notice

I had to pass this on to you. I particularly like the last line. Shame about the spelling of snippet.

"official" notice requiring all citizens to "constantly fiddle with their cell phones", "give full attention to the glorious technology" and "maintain unselfish love for the flimsy hardware"

Seen on Twitter

Source: @SimonChapman6 on

We not no understand

All the books [1] seem to describe Norwegian, Danish and Swedish as “three mutually comprehensible languages”. This seems to be true for the written languages: for example I’ve had one or two conversations on Twitter where the other person uses Danish and I reply in Norwegian, and I’ve noticed that the Scandinavians routinely converse in this way. I need to ask about the odd word here and there, but mostly the words are so close to Norwegian that the meaning is obvious if I know the Norwegian word. The spellings are different and sometimes the meanings aren’t identical or the grammar looks wrong, but it’s comprehensible. Swedish is more of a challenge, but still often guessable given a bit of effort.

Apparently Norwegians find spoken Danish a lot less comprehensible, though. @Sandramogensen on Twitter [2] recently introduced me to this sketch from a Norwegian comedy show. You don’t need to know any Norwegian or Danish to watch it.

Just so you know, there’s next to no Norwegian or Danish in the video. The parts that sound as if they might be Danish are actually in Danish-sounding gibberish.

There’s is, however, a sentence which might be in Danish. I’m not 100% sure what the shopkeeper says in his final attempt to communicate with the customer. It’s one of these:

  • Vi . . . forstår . . .  ingen . . .  ikke . . . !
  • Vi . . . forstår . . . hinanden . . . ikke . . . !

Those are both made entirely out of real words, but only the second is made out of real grammar. Vi forstår ingen ikke “translates” as something like “We not no understand”, while Vi forstår hinanden ikke is correct Danish and means “We don’t understand each other”.

I really want it to be the first one, since I think it makes the sketch funnier, but having listened a few more times I think it probably is hinanden rather than ingen.

I should probably also point out that kamelåså is an invented word. Google results for it lead either to the video or to pages talking about the video.


I’ve become aware of several things since writing this post nine months ago.

  • Several Norwegians and Danes have confirmed to me that the shopkeeper’s words are definitely Vi  . . . forstår . . . hinanden . . . ikke! (which I can also now hear quite clearly).
  • A Dane pointed out that the sketch contains one other snatch of real Danish. Towards the end, the milkman says [mumble mumble] tusen liter melk, just before saying in English “You just ordered a thousand litres of milk”. Tusen liter melk of course means “thousand litres of milk”.
  • There’s either an error or a pun in the Norwegian subtitles translating the English speech. The words “He gave me a file” are translated in the subtitles as Han ga meg noe feil, which means “He gave me the wrong thing”. “File” and feil sound identical and the file was in fact feil, so it’s hard to know whether that’s a joke in the subtitles or just an error.


[1] The two or three I’ve looked at. Which may or may not be a representative sample.
[2] And also at