Friday, August 18, 2006

Concentration - try this at home!

A long time ago, I was flight-qual’ed for a systems integration job I was working on and they showed us what hypoxia was like. Hypoxia is oxygen deficiency that is common in airplanes above 14,000 ft, once they lose pressure. Often it is difficult to identify, as your brain begins to shut down and your cognitive ability drifts away with the air. We did this exercise:

Write your name, address, and phone number

Complete half a dozen simple addition problems (2 and 3 digit two number sums)

Read and transcribe a short paragraph

We did this in a big hyperbaric chamber with the relative atmospheric pressure at about 20,000 ft with no supplemental oxygen. Then, the trainers had us put on our oxygen masks (some of us actually needed help understanding the command, loss of cognition in those cases was pretty apparent. Then we exchanged papers and read them out aloud. Two things became immediately apparent: you can’t write straight, lines or no lines, and people’s brains work really weird when they are disconnected. The exercise was to show us that it becomes really hard to tell early stage oxygen depletion and the effects on cognitive abilities are pretty pronounced.

The reason I mention is here is to point out how hard it is to know when you are not concentrating and indeed when you are no longer physically able to concentrate. Never trust code written at 20,000 without supplemental oxygen!


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