Blog Ian

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Insidiousness of Bob the Builder

Although not by name, Ian was featured today in a piece in Tusk, the entertainment supplement of the Tuscaloosa News.

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"Stuck on You"
By Mark Hughes Cobb
Tusk Editor
June 30, 2006Some songs stink up the mind. We’ve all got an achy-breaky, wimoweh, mmm-bopping hit or three we’d like to erase from existence.

Once inside the skull, those tunes burrow like the parasitic worms from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” eating their way out until the recipient goes mad and loses willpower.


Can we fix it?

Parents of 2-year-olds know the answer: “Yes, we can!”

That’s an exchange from the “Bob the Builder” theme, one of numerous insidious children’s TV tunes that bore into brains.

“Doubtless there is an entire genre of tunes-stuck-in-heads that consists of kid-vid themes that have been inflicted upon parents,” said Jeremy Butler, professor of telecommunication and film at UA, and host of Alabama Public Radio’s “All Things Acoustic” show.

“It’s a rich vein of irritation.”


A common belief is that one can dump a nagging song via viral transmission: Sing it away to someone else.

“I’ll find myself humming some undistinguished ‘80s disco song that I don’t even know the name of and can’t even remember hearing,” Butler said.

“Then I’ll realize that my wife had just been humming it – probably without even realizing it – and had transferred it to me.

“I believe it’s a technique commonly used at Abu Ghraib.”

Memory studies point to another solution to the stuck song: Do something complicated.

Working memory, used to complete complex tasks, to store and manipulate information, takes up so much processing power that other things, like songs, fall out.

“When people say they’re trying to stay busy, because they don’t want to focus on a death in the family, that’s actually a good strategy,” Black said.

“Find some hobbies or tasks to occupy the brain.”

Or if all else fails, just relax. Sooner or later the memory will dump the insignificant.

As in so many things, it turns out Mom was right all along: If the brain itches, don’t scratch. You’ll only make it worse.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Arizona Dust Storm

Ian experienced his first dust storm during our trip to Phoenix, on 6 June.

As our flight approached Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport (I've always liked the name "sky harbor"), we were immersed in an ominously brown cloud. As I commented to Marysia at the time, it looked too thick (and summer is not the right season) for it to be the smog that can engulf the city.

Then the turbulence began.

And we're not just talking about up-and-down turbulence, but side-to-side and on all sorts of odd angles. The flight attendant joked that folks in the back wouldn't need to go to Disneyland for thrills (the flight was to continue to Orange County).

I began to get concerned. And just about at the time that I was thinking, "This ain't right," we suddenly pulled out of the landing and made a rapid ascent. Never before have I been on a flight that aborted its landing so close to the ground. It was very scary.

Once we leveled off, the pilot explained that a dust storm had engulfed Sky Harbor and was accompanied by 45-mph wind gusts. All departing flights had been suspended.

For a sense of scale, note the office building in the middle of this photo:

We circled around, above the storm, for a few minutes. Thinking back to my experiences with dust storms as a youth, I thought to myself that one good thing about them is that they hit quickly and move on. Then the pilot informed us that we were going to make another attempt to land. (I can't say I was eager for us to be the first plane to attempt this.) If it still seemed too rough, he continued, we would be diverted to Las Vegas.

Why Vegas?, I thought. Tucson is much closer. And how would we get back to Phoenix if we landed in Vegas? Bus? A later flight? Ian had held up pretty well on our 4-hour flight, but how would he do if our journey were extended by five? six? eight? hours?

Fortunately, our second attempt to land was very smooth. Unfortunately, the damage to Ian's stomach had already been done and as we touched down, he threw up. He wasn't the only kid to do so, either.

Welcome to the desert, Ian Butler!