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I'm a man with a mission in two or three editions
This week: how not to sleep, the value of errors, and the Silicon Valley brand we still like.
Following exercise and healthy eating, sleep is the new obsession of the self-improving classes. There are endless magazine articles that all the say the same thing: sleep is really important, we're not getting enough of it, go to bed earlier, turn off your iPads, etc. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are winning investment for new devices that supposedly aid slumber. I worry that the constant reminders of how important sleep is, and how fragile it is, only make it harder to get some. Sleep happens when you're not thinking about it. Researchers use the term "rumination" to describe the recursive thought-pattern of insomniacs kept awake by worries about the negative effects of not sleeping. Wearable fitness devices like Fitbit and Apple Watch can monitor sleep patterns, but can do more harm than good. In this paper, scientists present case studies of people who have difficulty sleeping because they can't stop worrying about their sleep data. The scientists call this condition "orthosomnia" ("ortho" means straight or correct), to capture the way these patients are so concerned with perfect sleep that they can't sleep. It is the sibling of orthorexia, the unhealthy preoccupation with healthy eating. Both are symptoms of a general increase in perfectionism, which has occurred over the last thirty years. (By the way, my favourite solution to insomnia - at least in theory, I haven't tried it - is this one: deny yourself sleep until your body resets. The equivalent of switching your computer off and on again.)
THE CONFUSION MATRIX
This post is a good summary of interesting podcast discussion about the use of AI in medicine, specifically in diagnosis. It has a surprisingly long history - US hospitals have experimented with automated diagnosing systems since the 1970s, and they have performed quite well. The problem is who takes responsibility for misdiagnosis. The most interesting part of this, for me, is that researchers in this area know when an AI system is getting good because it starts making the same errors as humans. Best of all, they map the different kinds of error on something called "a confusion matrix".
DUKE TO QUEEN
This is a gorgeous essay about the Queen's Suite: a Duke Ellington composition that he recorded and presented to the Queen in 1958, then refused to release in his lifetime.
AIRBNB SAVES LIVES
Great story, even if it is essentially a kind of advertising. Of all the big tech brands, AirBnB is by far the best at marketing itself. At a time when Silicon Valley brands are becoming seriously tarnished - see this blistering new piece on Facebook - AirBnB somehow retains its aura of optimism and niceness. A lot of it is down to founder Joe Gebbia's native talent for storytelling - at least for story-spotting and story-making. Note how he inserts himself into the action here, knowing it will contribute to a great story (I don't mean he does it cynically, by the way, just that he has a flair for the dramatic).
CITIES KEEP YOU FIT
On average, people living in English cities walk 202 miles per year - almost twice as many as those living in English villages.
ELVIS AND RON
Elvis Costello and Ron Sexsmith sing Costello's Everyday I Write the Book. I always thought of it as fun but this lovely version makes you realise what an acutely observed song it is. (via Philip Collins).
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