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How do you remember this stuff?

Someone calls and asks "How do I.. ?"

I respond "Just do xyz -foo -r"

Surprisingly often the next comment is "How do you REMEMBER all this stuff?"

How do you remember your dog's name, what color your car is, where you live?

The person asking the question usually has many other things to do other than taking care of a Unix/Linux server. But even if they don't, even if their entire job revolves around their company's computer system, that's still only one system: their experience is limited.

I, on the other hand, see hundreds of systems every year and am exposed to all manner of problems and challenges. I use Linux and Unix and Mac OS X every single day, year in, year out and it's been 23 years now that I've been doing that.

How could I NOT remember this stuff?

Yes, I do also have a pretty good memory. I don't need to write down phone numbers and I know a surprising number of passwords. But part of that is just constant repetition of skills: because I don't write things down, I rely upon remembering, and therefore have become good at it.

But most of it is simple exposure: I remember these commands because I use them constantly. No miracles, no wizardry. Just constant repetition.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Thu Mar 23 17:30:52 2006: 1812   BigDumbDinosaur

How could I NOT remember this stuff?

Interesting question!

The ability to recall arcane information (a LOT of what we do with these systems is truly arcane, when you stop to think about it) is one of those talents that not everyone has. I, for example, have poor short-term memory. Unlike Tony, I have to write down information that has been presented to me, as I will not remember it five minutes later. However, If I use that information for more than a few times I will have little difficulty in recalling it -- it apparently gets stored into long-term memory, which for me, is very reliable (my wife often refers to my long-term memory as a tomb of useless knowledge).

I think one of the biggest challenges we computer jocks have to face is the constant glut of new information that has to be absorbed and retained. The pace of change seems to be relentless and hardly a day goes by that some new concept or new technique doesn't surface (not that new stuff is necessarily good stuff -- consider new versions of Windows, for example). I look back at five or six years ago and shake my head in amazement at what has transpired since then. I often wonder how I do remember it all.

Of course, that brings up the issue of what some may call a "senior moment" and others might more crudely refer to as a "brain fart." As I've gotten older (I'm in my sixties) brain farts have slowly become a more frequent occurrence (Tony knows this, as I've had to query him on things that I know but can't always recall). I'm reasonably certain that the brain farts are more a result of information glut than aging -- I sure HOPE that's the case! The fact of the matter is as we cram more information into our brains the ability to recall a particular item on demand tends to become more difficult. If it is something that one uses infrequently, the odds are good that instantaneous recall is not going to come easily. I, having worked in diverse technical fields throughout my career, have learned to accept this limitation, and increasingly rely on reference materials (printed and on line) to help prod my feeble dinosaur brain into action.

So, when someone asks me "How do you REMEMBER all this stuff?" I may reply, "Beats me! Sometimes I don't."

Thu Mar 23 19:47:33 2006: 1814   TonyLawrence

Actually, I do NOT write things down. I found that I actually remember more if I don't take notes. I do write appointments on my calendar, but that's for my wife's benefit.

Fri Mar 24 15:20:11 2006: 1815   BigDumbDinosaur

Tony: Actually, I do NOT write things down.

BDD: Unlike Tony, I have to write down information...

Watch out for those brain farts! <Grin>

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