Working in the Brain I

I know I’ve written a lot about PersonalBrain of late, and I apologize for that if it doesn’t interest you. But partly in response to comments on an earlier post, and partly just because I think it might help, I wanted to give an example of how I use the program, in the hope it might inspire some of you to try it out, or at least to keep going if you’re trying and struggling to adapt the software to your daily life.

To me PersonalBrain is a place to dump what you know so that a) you’ll remember what it is you know and b) find a place for it amidst all the other stuff you know. You may not remember everything you know, but if you have it some place you can reach, you stand a better chance of recalling it when you need it. PersonalBrain helps you do this, and helps you link it to the other stuff you know, in ways that may surprise you.

This evening I watched a National Geographic special (yeah, another wild night chez moi) on the Lake Toba supervolcano eruption of 70,000 years ago, which may or may not have plunged the planet into a 1,000 year ice-age. I realized while watching it that I’d seen it before, but had pretty much forgotten all about it. A perfect example of how to use PersonalBrain, I figured. So this is how I did it:

First I looked for anything that was already in my brain that was volcano-related. This is what I found:


A thought on Tracking volcanoes — not directly relevant, but enough for me to start working backwards. This is one of the beauties of PersonalBrain — you can start anywhere, building hierarchies in reverse order, or sub-branches (what are called children) or jumps — links that aren’t necessarily direct, but ones you think may prove useful in the long run. So an obvious parent (the next level up the hierarchy) here would be Volcanoes (another could be Tracking stuff).

So I add that, as the  base for the child I want to add on the Toba eruption. But before adding the Toba link, I start to think what Volcanoes may itself be a child of. Disasters seems an obvious one, so I add that. PB, though, is a step ahead of me, since it turns out I already have a thought of that name:


So I try linking to that. It seems likely it’ll be relevant, and it is. Disasters already has as children things like Earthquakes and Tsunami. Earthquakes makes an obvious fit:


Of course, if I’d been more on the ball when I originally added the Disasters thought I could have added the Volcanoes thought at the same time. But that’s the beauty of PB: It doesn’t really matter. It’s not about thinking — a la brainstorming and mindmaps — as about adding stuff when it occurs to you. The skill is in ensuring the names of your thoughts are helpful to you, so the hierarchy and connections emerge naturally as you add material.

So now all I have to do is add the Toba thought and enough links and material so it means something to me later. This is easy enough: A Google search of Toba supervolcano throws up a feast of interesting links. I throw them quickly as attachments into a thought (they could as easily be separate thoughts; doesn’t really matter). I also copy the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article into the notes section:


And, just to be cute (and to make the thought stand out) I copy an image of the area as a thought icon:


Sounds fiddly? Actually all of this takes less than two minutes.

Finally, if you have time, it’s worth adding a few extra links to what you’ve created, which will really tap into the power of PersonalBrain. Lake Toba is in Indonesia so I should add it to an Indonesia-related thought. I decided to create one called Indonesian history which I then made a child of Indonesia. (Probably could be better, but we can fix it later. Because a child in PB can have multiple parents, it doesn’t really matter.)

I could add more parents or jumps (Possible weekend destinations? Human evolution? Bad things that may happen again? Ring of Fire?), but if they don’t jump to mind at the time, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is there is now something in my brain as a marker for this new cluster of information, this nugget, this little bit of knowledge, and it’s been connected to its natural cousins. Now I know I will find it again, and, as importantly, I will find it even if I’m not looking exactly for Toba and volcanoes.

Not everyone is going to want to rush to their computer every time they watch a documentary or read a book. But if you’re anything like me, frustrated that so much of what I see, read and hear gets lost and only half-remembered, and that my brain rarely makes the connections to other things I’m half remembering, PB is a powerful aid to retaining, inspiring and making those links. And, most importantly, it’s fast and simple.

What Early Groomers Used For Hair Gel

I don’t use hair gel anymore — no, really — but I do remember wandering around war-torn Kabul trying to find some when my stash ran out during an unexpectedly long stint there shortly after the Taleban takeover. Needless to say I felt somewhat superficial about it, given all the suffering around me, and was worried it was frowned upon by the puritanical Taleban. I shouldn’t have worried: most of them wore eyeliner, took way too much interest in my babyish features and in any case, there’s a long history of wearing hair gel, as National Geographic News reports:

Male grooming has an ancient history in Ireland, if the savagely murdered bodies of two ancient “bog men” are anything to go by. One shows the first known example of Iron Age hair gel, experts say. The other wore manicured nails and stood 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Disappointingly, you have to look elsewhere to find out what kind of hair gel. I personally like Slick from Body Shop, but it might not have been available then, namely between about 400 BC and 200 BC. Another piece from National Geographic, suitably titled ‘Iron Age “Bog Man” Used Imported Hair Gel’ details the product he was using:

The man’s hair contains a substance made from vegetable oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France. The man might have used the product, researchers say, to make himself appear taller.

Sounds like my friend John.