How I Beat Insomnia (Updated)

Posted on September 29th, 2015 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Don’t watch this to go to sleep…

Update 2015-09-29: This post is now over four years old, so I wanted to come back and update it. Happily, I still have no problems with sleeping (knock on wood). Second, the technology originally described below has been updated. I now use a small tablet (an old Microsoft Surface RT) that I set on top of the open middle drawer of my nightstand, and still use the Sleepphones plugged into the Surface. I then use our NetFlix, Hulu Plus (now commercial free tier!), and Amazon Instant/Prime Video for my viewing selections.

I have all of the video players configured to only play a single episode, then stop, which prevents video from playing all night. The position on top of the middle drawer means the screen is lower than my body line in bed, so there is no direct light shining over to Marie’s side. And I still keep the brightness at the lowest setting, to reduce flicker.

Over the years I have gone through a number of different series as my sleep-shows. The rotation has included Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Larry Sanders Show, Community, and 30 Rock. Suffice it to say that I have seen every episode of those sitcoms several times, so watch out if we ever play trivia games about any of them. To reiterate, the selection of viewing choice, for me, is based on the following criteria:

Something I already know, so it’s not engaging in the sense of keeping me awake to find out what happens next. I already know all the details of all the episodes for these shows, so I’m never kept awake waiting for a narrative surprise.
Something that’s funny. There are certainly dramatic/scary shows that I enjoy, but they don’t relax me and, for me, don’t hold up on repeat viewing in the way that a well-done sitcom can. Plus, I’d much rather go to sleep smiling and laughing as opposed to grimacing.
Something I like and that holds up to repeat viewings. This narrows it down to the shows that are, to me, reasonably timeless with their sense of humor.
No current events. If they are fresh they stir up my righteous outrage, and if they are old they irritate the heck out of me.
Nothing violent or scary, even if it’s funny. I’m a regular consumer of shows and movies that contain violence, horror, and scares, but not as a sleep aid, thank you very much.
No movies. This is a more recent guideline. Back in the day I used to watch movies to fall asleep all the time, but that was when I was just learning this technique and my sleep routine was still subject to regular disruption. The comfort of a two hour movie gave a nice runway to insure that I had enough distraction to get to the sleep part, even if it took a couple of hours. Now, however, I go to sleep within

Life on Mars (!)|(?)

Posted on September 28th, 2015 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Science by EngineerBoy
What's up with water on Mars, Doc?

What’s up with water on Mars, Doc?

Back when I was in college, I had a professor who had worked peripherally on the Viking Mars lander project in the 70’s. He said that before the probe was launched, the teams had decided that if the chemical and biological tests came out a certain way, that would be declared a positive test for ‘life’ on Mars. Lo and behold, the tests came back with the positive result. They all rocked back on their heels, told the White House, and were told in no uncertain terms to not release a statement saying there was life on Mars until there was absolute certainty – a prudent response.

The team went back over their protocols and said, hey, look, the test was positive, what do you want us to do? The powers-that-be then asked for some details, and it turns out that there were three separate and distinct experiments to test for ‘life’ using different methods, and the scientists had agreed that if any one (or more) of them came back positive, that was ‘life’. Well, what had happened is that only one had come back positive, so the powers-that-be said, nope, you only got one positive result out of three so that’s not enough to make such a momentous call.

Over the intervening decades, further analysis of the ‘failed’ tests resulted in a hypothesis that they had failed because at that time we didn’t know that the Martian surface contained a certain substance…my feeble memory wants to say some kind of chlorate? In any case, when the two failed tests were re-modeled taking into account the now-verified existence of this substance in the Martian soil, the two tests also came back positive.

So, for me, my original early 1980’s college class sowed the seeds of doubt for me, and I felt that there was a pretty good chance there was at least some kind of microbial life there. The intervening re-analysis of the two previously-failed experiments solidified this belief, for me, but again who was I to think I knew better given the lack of any unambiguous confirmation from the powers-that-be. However, from the late-80’s on, I have been pretty sure that a) there was life on Mars and b) the powers-that-be knew it but didn’t want to unleash the sociological impact that such an announcement could potentially engender, and so figured they would gradually work up to the announcement, and hopefully keep the info ambiguous enough to delay things long enough for it to become someone else’s problem.

Which brings us to today, when NASA announced the confirmation of flowing liquid salt water on the surface of Mars. The scientist releasing the findings (Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta) had this to say:

“If the water is completely saturated with perchlorates, then life as we know it on Earth wouldn’t be able to survive in that