Usually the lectures I attend at Caltech and JPL are about landing on asteroids, black holes and the composition of Jupiter’s Moons, but this month, they had a biologist who discussed sleep.
Years ago many scientists concluded that melatonin was the mechanism that causes people to sleep. Subsequently, many companies began manufacturing melatonin supplements. Later, science realized that melatonin was not actually helping their rat models sleep, so they pulled back on the claim of its value in sleep inducing.
Today scientists have stopped comparing our brains to rats, and, instead are using fish. Yes, turns out our brains are more similar to baby zebra fish brains that to rats!
Insomnia is a huge problem. Although science still does not know exactly what function(s) sleep exists for, they do know that all animals and bugs sleep. Some, like cats, sleep a lot. Others, like giraffes, not much (only 2 hours per day!). Whales and dolphins actually put 1/2 their brains to sleep at a time since they live in the predatory ocean and cannot afford to be asleep ever!
When humans are deprived of too much sleep it can cause or exacerbate depression, diabetes, bone loss, heart disease, all kinds of illnesses.
One of the functions we now know of the asleep brain is an act of pruning the new knowledge we put into it just that very day. A brain has 20% fewer neurons in the morning than it did when we fell asleep. The brain gets rid of extraneous material while we sleep.
The greatest problem we have with sleeping pills is that they all work by actually shutting our brains down. This, of course, is dangerous since we know that whatever the brain does at night under natural sleeping conditions is very important to our physical and mental well being. If we just shut it down with a sleeping pill, we may sleep, but our brain does not do the work it is supposed to do at night.
Studies of the zebra fish and sleep taught the scientists that melatonin actually is the trigger for sleep. It did not trigger it in nocturnal rats during the day or night, because their brains are not like human brains. In zebra fish it does trigger sleep.
The biologist said he is not a doctor and cannot recommend melatonin for sleep, but he did go ahead and explain that “if you do take it to help yourself sleep,” you only need 1/2 to 1 milligram of it. Part of the concern he has about the supplement industry, is that they sell it in 5mg to 20mg doses, which can actually be harmful and cause side effects.
He also recommended people with sleep problems first consult a doctor because, while lack of enough melatonin may be the main cause of insomnia, there are other possible causes, including brain lesions in the most serious cases.
Someone asked if there were natural forms of melatonin and he mentioned milk.
The next morning, I researched natural sources of melatonin, and learned something quite curious. I wish I had known this before his lecture, for I would have inquired about it of him.
The foods listed as having the highest and significant amounts of melatonin were milk and cheese (calcium), pineapple, oranges, bananas and oats (other cereals, too, but oats the most).
Does anyone reading here spot what is curious about these foods???
They are all foods we typically eat for breakfast!
I am not a biologist or a doctor, but this certainly gives me pause to learn that foods I frequently eat for breakfast are foods that will help me sleep. Do we have our meals backwards or what?? If I run into any more information regarding the specifics of this, I will write again.
So this morning I was looking for the vintage car rally event held in Pasadena every year the day before the Rose Parade, and this is what I discovered under "Events." In 2008 a few of my female college students "explained" to me that it is not like back in the day when their moms and I were growing up; they told me that they had equality. I wept a little inside at their words. What might help awaken a new generation of girls and women? "Maybe a Cultural Landscape Series," I thought this morning.
Update November 12, 2016: the web page where the interview podcast of Leonard Cohen about his new album, You Want It Darker, appeared has now been updated to be a wonderful homage to Cohen with links to many videos, podcasts, audio files, biography information etc. I learned on this page that he had suffered from cancer for some time, and that he actually recorded this entire last album sitting in a medical chair in his apartment's living room, And it is clear now that this album actually was Leonard Cohen saying his final words, and putting his house in order. Click here for the link.
Update November 10, 2016: I started this post on November 6. I have another painting finished for Part 2 and had planned to post the second half of this essay a couple of days from now. But, this evening word came that Leonard Cohen passed away. We thought he passed on the 10th, since that is when the news was published, but it turned out he passed on November 7, the day after I listened to the interview with him and began posting my essay. I am very sad about his passing. And I felt perhaps I should re-write this post's part one, because at the end of it I talk about his future; I have decided to leave it as is, as it came from my heart, having no idea that by the following day Leonard would no longer be on this planet. -- Terry
November 6 , 2016: The first Leonard Cohen song I sang was Suzanne. I was a teen-ager. I changed an A chord in it to an A major 7, embarking on a musical career of "interpreting" songwriters' songs for myself. It was kind of a big deal at the time. Before that, I studied songs by listening to the albums and learning to play and sing them exactly as originally performed. If it was a folk song, I sang the melody precisely and learned the same fingerstyle guitar technique used on the record - I even memorized the exact little guitar riffs the original players played in the songs' introductions and breaks. If it was a jazz song sung by Carmen McCrae or Anita O'Day, I practiced their phrasing by singing along with the records a hundred times so I could imitate their arrangements and singing styles precisely.
When I started practicing Suzanne, something pushed me, inspired me, to break out of the "as-written" mold and to throw in an alternate chord. A major seven just seemed more appropriate, more ethereal, more spiritual, more awe-inspiring, more question-mark to me. And that also seemed more Leonard Cohen to me. Suzanne and so many of his songs have such a spiritual, religion-of-some sort sense to them. I was not religious. But his poetry always spoke to me in that realm of human spiritual need. I don't even like to say "spiritual" because that implies "spirit" and takes us back to religion, doesn't it? We need new vocabulary for that need, for that aspect of human reality that speaks to our place, our values, our connections, our essence beyond the molecules that compose the matter that makes our human physical being.
I listened to an interview of Leonard Cohen on the radio last week and learned that he is not religious. That his choice of religious, biblical, spiritual vocabulary has to do with the fact that it is the vocabulary he grew up with, not because he has a religious leaning. That's important. Really important. I think the fact will resonate with lots of Leonard Cohen fans - who for decades have felt a deep human need fulfilled by his words, but were confused as to the why and the how of the religious bent to his songs.
I am going to put it down to poetry. Leonard Cohen's poetry speaks to the essence of what it is to be human, what it is to be surrounded by other humans, what it is to be mired or lifted by the human condition on any given day. What it is to wonder. Successful poetry is the most essential form of communication. It reduces its subject matter to the core, the essence, the critical. It throws away those superfluous words and meanings to get at the heart of whatever it is.
As a journalist, I learned to start an essay with a mind flush - anywhere from 2000 to 5000 words on my subject. Then I would edit to remove my digressions. I would edit again to establish a logical form. Both those edits reduced my essay to 1500 to 3000 words. At that point in the process I would despair for a time: there was no way I could cut any further and still say what I needed to say! A day or two later I would re-read and laugh at myself for thinking so many of my thoughts were so precious, and scratch out another thousand words by removing whole phrases. Eventually I would get to the level of eliminating unnecessary sentences, then words. Finally my column would be the requisite 750 to 1000 words, and I would submit it.
A few years later I studied poetry as part of my MFA college writing program, and began to learn what essence communicating was really about. The path I had learned as a journalist was a good start, but I still had writing roads to travel. Although my major was creative nonfiction and interactive media writing, the greatest ah-ha moments for me as a student of writing at Antioch were in the poetry lectures, readings and courses I took as part of my program.
Poetry, I found, is the pinnacle of pure communication. Great poetry not only reduces an idea to its absolute irreducible essence, it does so while drawing from, and appealing to, all our human senses, not just our intellectual perception. It also does so while appealing to our senses of place and time and history and humanity and aesthetics and wonder and . . .
Leonard Cohen is a master of poetry. You Want it Darker is a tour de force of a poetry collection that sends to the darkness the media pushed message that any artist over 40 is past her/his prime. Leonard Cohen said recently that at 82, he is ready to die. In the radio interview, he took back that statement. I am glad, for You Want It Darker is a necessary reflection on the human condition for our age. And with it Leonard Cohen has just hit his stride. He must continue.
(next, my review of the album coming soon)
Apples “New” Macs Not Much Help for Creative Developers Who Have Been Waiting and Waiting and Waiting
I was super disappointed in this "new" #Apple Mac laptop announced October 27. We have all been waiting for new Minis and desktop computers for several years now, and Tim Cook and company gave us only a laptop with a function strip. (And I am thinking about writing a streaming video app that mutes that Apple presentation crew and their chief every time they use the word "incredible.")
This was not incredible. I don't care if my laptop is a micro-something thinner or lighter, I want a new computer since my old ones are wearing out, and I would love to see some new ideas rather than engineering "feats."
Sadly for this Mac die-hard creative developer, the new Microsoft Surface line is looking a lot more interesting and user-inspired. It really feels like Cook needs to hire some design innovators, and target new hardware development for those of us Maker People out here who create the stuff - like games, books, apps, art, music, magazines, tv shows . . . - that all those masses use/buy his mobile Apple devices for !
I use my laptop for presenting and as my mobile teaching device. I do not want a laptop sitting on my studio desk, getting in the way of my work-space and view of my monitors. I was thinking I should write to Apple and suggest that they make the screen removable if they are going to insist on forcing all of us creatives and developers to use laptops rather than desktop machines. That way we could treat the laptop as a keyboard and still be able to place a drawing tablet, or keyboard, or microphone - or whatever device we are using while we create with our Macs in our studios - in front of our monitors and work efficiently. Then I read this article, and went to the Microsoft website, and discovered Microsoft already thought of that! Their laptop screens ARE removable!
Tim Cook, you are a money manager - clearly a very good money manager - and your team of engineers, I don't deny, are the greatest; you all need to set your egos aside and admit that you are not creatives and you need to bring in some people who are to imagine the things for you to engineer and sell!
Well, it's time for me to get back on the book and science lecture review wagon! I've been working more on short stories and my interactive multimedia book series, Light 2.0, and have neglected writing about the nonfiction and real life learning going on in my world.
Over the next weeks, I'll write about a great new book I am reading, Listen Liberal, by Thomas Frank (Of What's Up With Kansas fame), and a fun lecture about how JPL/NASA scientists are modeling climbing robots after geckos! (who knew??), and an eye openening lecture at Caltech last week that surprisingly pulled the Wizard's curtain on microloans. I might even make mention of some comments Kenny Loggins (of Loggins and Messina and House at Pooh Corner fame) made about the state of being a musician in the US; recently I heard him speak and perform at Pasadena's Vromans' Books when he came to introduce his new children's book and song, Footloose.
Want to know about fracking beyond the word? This link will take to to a book purchase and $9 of your cost will support progressive news site Truthout.org :
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is perilous to human health and terrible for the environment, and we have the ability to stop it. Mark Ruffalo calls Wenonah Hauter's Frackopoly "the definitive story on how big oil and gas corporations captured our political system and schemed to frack America—and the growing grassroots movement to retake our democracy and protect our planet."
and here is an article and interview of Wenonah Hauter, author of Frackopoly, on Truthout.org:
Dr. Marc Rayman, Chief Engineer and Mission Director of NASA's Dawn Mission told an audience at JPL last Thursday night: "NASA's motto is 'If it isn't impossible, it isn't worth doing.' "
I think this will be my new motto, too. It seems to be a pretty good description of my life!
I remember one of the first space scientist lectures I attended after moving to Pasadena. It was at Caltech, and it was celebrating all the scientists who worked on the various missions over the many years leading up to the Curiosity Mission to Mars. One of the speakers explained to us about the earliest space scientists: "You need to remember that they had no mentors, no role models! There was no such thing a a spaceship or space travel before they built the first one." Turns out many of them had been driven and "ideaized" by sci-fi! I love it!
When I finish my Light 2.0 interactive multimedia novel, I really want to write something that draws the parallels between these scientist starting off to invent space travel, and the life of a woman in tech and science - who typically has no role models or mentors simply by the fact of her gender. I'm starting here.
In college (BA Film Undergraduate) I was once hired to record the live performance of a 300 voice choir, with soloists and musicians and a pianist, in San Francisco's Civic Center Auditorium. Before that the most I had ever recorded on location was a band and a small school choir with a Nagra recorder hooked up to a film camera.
There were no mentors or advisors for me to turn to. On concert day, the director of the project simply pointed to a box of gear and told me where to set up my mixing station and whom to talk to if I wanted to tap into the auditorium's PA. When I opened the very large crate, I had no idea what half the items in it even were. I skipped the PA tap because, truthfully, I didn't know what that meant. I will save the details for some essay in the future, but, I will share here that somehow with the help of my little sister whom I had dragged along with me and who was furious because she knew that neither of us knew what we were doing, I pulled it off.
I put all that equipment together, remembered pictures in my sound books about mic placement, circumvented the PA, taught myself how to solder, mixed a 16-channel recording of a live performance, and a few weeks later got a call from the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in San Francisco (the performance I recorded was of a choir composed of choirs of every religion from all over San Francisco) thanking me for the outstanding recording I had created of the day's performance. To this day I can't believe I pulled it off!
For years when people asked me how I learned so much about sound in college (I wound up building an Academy Award winning sound post-production studio for producer Saul Zaentz after I completed my undergraduate degree in film), I used to tell them how I apprenticed with the staff engineer at my university. For years I did not know why I gave that as my standard answer. For it was a lie. I am going to speculate today, because I am thinking more deeply about these things now, that I said it because I figured it would give me more credibility than telling people I taught myself. Especially because I was a girl, and was always struggling to be taken seriously. That and the fact that the truth somehow embarrassed and humiliated (and hurt?) me.
The truth being that when I asked him if he would mentor me, he said no. Not only that, but when I went back to him, after learning he had a daughter, and posed the question to him differently, persuasively: "How would you feel if you knew your daughter, like me, some day went to some man and asked for help so she could get a leg up in the world and he said no?" - Unmoved, he still said no.
And yet for years I told people that I went to him with that question, and he agreed to mentor me and that was how I came to know all about sound engineering. When in truth I learned by doing my Workstudy in the sound lab of the university for 20 hours a week. And by engineering and mixing the soundtracks of all my peer's college movies. And by reading every sound recording and physics of sound book I could get my hands on. And by listening to sound. Everywhere.
So, yeah, I kinda know what it has been like for these scientists, inventing things that have never existed before, pulling off feats and expeditions of great complexity - each usually for the first time. But one big difference is that they have each other. Maybe no mentors of people who have gone before, but each other. Most of us women who have been raised in this patriarchal society have pulled off the things we have done for the most part on our own. I hope that will change one day.
P.S. If you would like to learn about the Dawn Mission to Vespa and Ceres (exoplanets in our solar system that were thought to be actual planets until the mid 1800s, but which are actually planetary bodies whose growth was stunted by other solar system happenings before they could become full-fledged planets), check out the video of Dr. Rayman's wonderful, and curiously amusing, lecture here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.php?year=2016&month=7
Yes, I am going out on a limb here. And if my words find any traction beyond my little corner of the Internet, surely there will be many people coming down hard on me. For there is BIG money behind this self driving car movement. Google is getting the most publicity for their efforts, but there are dozens of other companies staking their venture money (Tesla, Uber . . .) and their future reputations (Apple) in this zone.
Why am I dubious? Everyone KNOWS that Google and Apple and all the other Silicon Valley brainiacs can pull off just about anything, right? Who am I to doubt?
Well, I guess I’d say who I am is a woman who has a little more historical experience than some of the 20 and 30-something wunderkinds of San Fran, also a person who seems to have a bit more of a handle on the grey areas between the 1s and 0s logic of computer circuits. For starters.
Let me begin with something I tweeted recently (@TerryMediabench). It was in response to a tweet I read about how the Tesla Company was “discovering” (via accidents, I think it was) that human drivers cannot be counted on to be alert in all self-driving car emergencies when human intervention is called for.
Elon Musk Admits Humans Can’t Be Trusted with Tesla’s Autopilot Feature: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/543241/elon-musk-admits-humans-cant-be-trusted-with-teslas-autopilot-feature/
Here is what I responded on Twitter:
Triple A warned YEARS ago that speed control too dangerous due to drivers' attn lapses. I suggest you read history #Tesla #Musk & #Google
I remembered the AAA warning vividly because it was sent to me by a friend who knew that I trekked up to San Francisco (hometown) from Los Angeles (climate of choice) on a regular basis and made frequent use of my car’s cruise control on the straight and boring Highway 5 that connects the two metropolitan areas. I took the warning seriously and have not used cruise control since.
If humans can’t be counted on to take back their car’s speed control in an emergency, while they are still doing the steering and managing every other automobile function, how can they possibly be expected to pay the necessary attention in any other car emergency situation after the car has taken over ALL driving functions? Let’s get real here.
And now let’s add the element of time to this scenario:
Emergency, in most cases, refers to something that is occurring in the space of very limited time. Like milliseconds. So try to imagine this driver having time to take back car control after putting down her/his phone, video game, nail file, harmonica, _______________ (fill in your preferred human auto-car personal activity), when the car suddenly cries out “Alert! human intervention needed. Now!”
Clearly, the auto-car coders were not aware of the Triple A cruise control warning history. What other history and human illogic are they missing-ignoring as they push forward with total confidence that they can not only pull off fully self driving cars, but do it in the next few years, as so many are touting?
I’m just getting started here.