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Memory Is Just Like RAM...Volatile

Memory Is Just Like RAM...Volatile

Human memory and Random Access Memory (RAM) share one thing in common: they are both very volatile. This basically means that once the power sources feeding the memories are terminated, the memories disappear forever (at least in the case of human short-term memory; more on that in a bit).

Human brains and computers share rather curious connections between data (stored memories) and access points (synapses). Dictionary.com defines a synapse as follows: "The junction across which a nerve impulse passes from an axon terminal to a neuron, muscle cell, or gland cell." That's well and good, but how does it compare with how a computer stores data in RAM?

Computers make connections between pieces of data through a hierarchy structure called a directory tree. A directory tree is very much like a real tree in terms of how it "sprouts" outward from a beginning point. A typical directory tree might resemble something like this:

/
/usr
/usr/hla
/usr/hla/hlalib
/usr/hla/hlalib/hlalib.a

"/" is the root, or where the directory tree first begins. It is followed by "/usr", which then leads to "/usr/hla" (and so on).

Without subtle connections between points along an expanding "directory tree," the computer would have virtually no idea of where to find the data the user requested.

Human memory is very similar. Our brains make subtle "connections" between a memory and something that triggers it. For example, whenever I hear the word "foodstuffs," my brain immediately associates the word with my uncle. Why? Because one time, while taking care of his dog, he showed me the pantry where "foodstuffs" were kept (and thus where I could find food to eat). I also associate my uncle with Bisquick, which is odd, unless you also consider that in this same pantry I found a box of Bisquick...filled with ants!

Short-term memory is a lot like volatile RAM. If you don't immediately store the memory into long-term data memory (a process known as "encoding"), the memory soon disappears. Consider that it is very difficult for most human beings to remember a sequence of numbers beyond seven in a row. But by using a mnemonic device (something that aids memory), the mind can store a rather complex sequence of consecutive numbers with little or no effort.

Long-term memory arises once short-term memories are stored for an extended period of time. Neuronal connections are formed, allowing a set of memories to last for a very long time (sometimes even decades). RAM is thus short-term memory, while a computer's hard drive can be considered long-term memory.

Remember, when it comes to memory, wisely choose how it will be used. Both the human mind and the computer are not infallible. Keeping backups of your data is vital, whether stored on a CD-ROM or deep within the regions of your own brain.

More Stories By Paul Panks

Paul Panks is the author of "HLA Adventure," an adventure game written in Randall Hyde's HLA (High Level Assembly) language. His ultimate intention was for others to eventually contribute to this project, so in May 2003 he released it into public domain, including the source
code, so others could add to the game over time. Paul is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, an avid fan of pro football and creative writing, and became
interested in Linux programming through Red Hat Linux and Fedora Core.

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