Star Wars VII: A New New Hope?

Star Wars IV

Written by: George Lucas

very good

Star Wars V

Story by: George Lucas
Screenplay by: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (and George Lucas, uncredited)


Star Wars VI

Story by: George Lucas
Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas


Star Wars I

Written by: George Lucas


Star Wars II

Story by: George Lucas
Screenplay by: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales


Star Wars III

Written by: George Lucas


Basically, with the exception of the first movie, the more George Lucas writes it, the worse the movie is.  (This also aligns with my “one great idea” theory, where many writers have one really good first book or movie in them, and after that, not so much.)

Star Wars VII

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

With Abrams and Kasdan writing, I have a new new hope.

According to Vanity Fair:

Abrams and Kasdan took over the screenwriting process, starting more or less from scratch. “We said, Blank page. Page one. What do we desperately want to see?” Abrams told me. Though Abrams said both men had pet ideas from the development process they wanted to incorporate, and did, Kasdan made the process sound like more of a teardown: “We didn’t have anything,” Kasdan said. “There were a thousand people waiting for answers on things, and you couldn’t tell them anything except ‘Yeah, that guy’s in it.’ That was about it. That was really all we knew.”

By mid-January, Abrams and Kasdan had a draft, most of it hashed out in plein air conversations recorded on an iPhone as they walked and talked for hours at a time through cityscapes that changed according to the vagaries of Abrams’s schedule: first along the beach in Santa Monica, then through a freezing Central Park, in New York, and finally on the streets of London and Paris. One day, the two men spent eight hours at Les Deux Magots, the boisterous café on Boulevard Saint-Germain where patrons are jammed elbow-to-elbow and which is famous for having once been a hangout for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. “We’re like yelling back and forth in this noise, saying, This should happen, that should happen, he can’t do that…”

Ottawa restaurants and shopping

Ottawa is a fairly typical small North American city, transformed in the post-war by “urban renewal”, highway infrastructure, removal of streetcars and suburbanization.

It’s important to understand that the downtown core (Centretown) only has a population of about 20,000.  Most people commute to downtown.

Some good tourism articles and guides:

Restaurants – Map & Data

A map with some restaurants – mostly ones I have been to (and like a lot), as well as a few others that are highly recommended.  Most of these places fill up fast, so you should make reservations.  NOTE: As this map is from 2011, some restaurants have closed or moved; I will (eventually) be making a new map and an open data list.

There are restaurants and pubs along Elgin Street and Bank Street.  There are also lots in the Byward Market, but I don’t know the Market very well.

Restaurants – Downtown / Centretown

The downtown core is basically the Central Business District (CBD) north of Gloucester, and Centretown, south of Gloucester to the highway (the Queensway).  I know this area best.

The good news is there are many excellent places to eat in Centretown.  The bad news is there are many terrible places to eat (mostly serving the lunchtime commuter crowd).

The trend in Ottawa is small plates, with locally-sourced ingredients.

I have grouped somewhat arbitrarily into lunch/supper/brunch/takeout just based on when I usually go and what I usually do but obviously your schedule will be different.

Breakfast sandwiches:

  • Bread and Sons, 195 Bank Street, Mon-Thurs 6:45 – 18:30, Fri 6:45 – 20:00, Sat 8:30 – 19:30, Sun 9:00 – 4:00
    • this is a small bakery so mostly just grab and go
    • I usually get the bean rolls.  And the jalapeno quiche (but they don’t always have it).
  • Cafe Delice, 197 Kent Street

Note: DON’T go to Cafe Saffron (next to Cafe Delice).  Cafe Saffron is not good.

Here are a few places I like for lunch:

  • Grounded Kitchen, 100 Gloucester, Mon 7am – 4pm, Tue – Fri 7am – 9pm, @groundedottawa
    • if you have a large party or want a seat by the window, reservations recommended
    • also open for supper
  • Bread and Sons, 195 Bank Street, Mon-Thurs 6:45 – 18:30, Fri 6:45 – 20:00, Sat 8:30 – 19:30, Sun 9:00 – 4:00
    • this is a small bakery so mostly just grab and go
  • The Scone Witch, 150 Elgin Street (I haven’t been to the new location), Mon-Fri 7am – 7pm, Sat-Sun 8am – 4pm, @sconewitch

These are good for lunch or supper:

  • Clover, 155 Bank Street, Mon-Thurs 11am – 2pm, Fri-Sat 11am – 2:30pm and 5:30pm – 10pm, @CloverFoodDrink (I haven’t been)
  • North and Navy, 226 Nepean Street (between Bank & Kent), Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, Mon-Sat 11am-5pm, @northandnavy
  • Fauna, 425 Bank Street, Mon-Fri 11:30am – 2pm, Sun-Wed 5:30pm – 10pm, Thurs-Sat 5:30pm – 11:30pm (or “till late”), @faunaottawa
  • Whalesbone Oyster House, 430 Bank Street, Mon-Fri 11:30am – 2pm, 7 days a week 5pm –
    • reservations highly recommended (small space, very popular)
    • online reservations for lunch only, otherwise call 613 231-8569
  • Ceylonta (fantastic Sri Lankan food), 403 Somerset Street West (between Bank & Kent), Mon-Fri 11:30am – 2pm, Mon-Fri 5pm – 9pm, Sat 5pm – 9pm, Sun 12pm – 2pm, Sun 5pm – 9pm

For supper:

  • Town (this is my favourite restaurant), 296 Elgin Street, Wed-Fri 11:30am – 2pm, Sun-Thurs 5pm – 10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm – 11pm, @townlovesyou
    • reservations highly recommended (small space, very popular), call 613-695-8696 (613-695-TOWN)
  • Union613, 315 Somerset Street West, Mon-Sat 5:30pm – 10pm, Wed-Sat 10:30pm – 2pm, @unionlocal613
  • Share Freehouse, 327 Somerset Street West, @sharefreehouse (I haven’t been)


  • The Manx, 370 Elgin Street, Saturday and Sunday 10am
    • you will have to line up by 9:50am or so if you want to get in to the 10am first sitting
    • the Manx is downstairs (in the basement); you line up at the top of the stairs
  • Wilf & Ada’s, 510 Bank Street, Saturday and Sunday 8am, @wilfandadas (hipster brunch)
    • unless you get there by 9am you’re pretty much guaranteed to have to wait outside
    • they will take your number and text you when your table is ready, if you want
  • Erling’s Variety, 225 Strathcona (east of Bank), Saturday and Sunday 10am, @ErlingsVariety
    • this is in the Glebe (south of the highway), not in Centretown
    • can be a good alternative if Wilf & Ada’s is full as usual

Resturants – Lansdowne

Lansdowne is pretty much all generic chain restaurants, mostly Toronto chains.

The only local restaurant I know of is SEN.

Joey’s (a Toronto chain) also has a nice patio.

If you head north up Bank, a couple places are

(I don’t know the Glebe restaurants well.)

A short imperfect list of Ottawa restaurants by cuisine & specialty:

There’s lots of Chinese, Vietnamese (pho) and other cuisines along Somerset Street West starting roughly west of Percy and running to Preston.  The Chinatown Gate marks the notional entrance to Chinatown at Bronson and Somerset.

Little Italy runs along Preston.


I don’t know anything about coffee.  Some popular places I think are


There is good local shopping along Dalhousie, from York to St. Andrew.  L’Hexagone, Victoire, Wunderkammer, Cylie artisans chocolatiers, Goods Shop, …

On Gladstone, Seed to Sausage and Red Apron have lots of local food items.

Bookstores & Magazines

The very good Perfect Books, at 258A Elgin Street.  Also Books on Beechwood, at 35 Beechwood Avenue in the New Edinburgh neighbourhood and Octopus Books at 116 Third Avenue in the Glebe neighbourhood.

Most of the magazine stores have closed.  Mags at 254 Elgin Street is still holding on, but is mostly a gift shop now, along with its sister store boogie + birdie next door.  Byward Market News, which is now located in the Westboro neighbourhood, and is also the Toy Soldier Market, 1242 ½ Wellington Street West.

To Market, To Market

Despite its name, the Byward Market is no longer the central farmers’ market in Ottawa.  People still go to buy from various shops (cheesemonger, butcher etc.) but not so much from the stalls.

The primary farmers’ market is at Lansdowne Park, in the Aberdeen Pavillion and outside.  It’s open Wednesdays & Fridays (11am) and the biggest market is on Sundays (8am to 3pm). Twitter: @OttawaFarmMkt
The market is the main reason to go to Lansdowne, everything else there is a chain store or franchise.

There is another market closer to the downtown core, the Main Street Farmers’ Market which is temporarily (for the next two years) located at the Canadian Museum of Nature.  It’s open on Saturdays (9am to 2pm). Twitter: @mainfarmmarkott

Restaurants – Byward Market area

There is a restaurant in Nordstroms in the Rideau Centre (attached to the convention centre), one of their Bazille brand.  It has a patio.  I haven’t been.

Just east of the Rideau Centre, at 408 Dalhousie (east of Nicholas), is Kothu Rotti – Sri Lankan food, mostly for takeout.  You can get a generous portion of curries for $9.  Anne DesBrisay gave it a positive review.  I also really like its parent restaurant Ceylonta.

The Byward Market has a reasonable selection of restaurants and a nice street experience.  It is mainly visited by tourists and the lunchtime crowd, so it (like Sparks Street) has a bit of an artificial quality.

Some good places to eat in the market are:

You can get excellent sandwiches at La Bottega Nicastro, 64 George Street.  Go way in to the back of the store to the sandwich section.

If you want a really quick meal in the market, Shafali Bazaar is a small curry shop at 55 Byward Market Square (in the Byward Market Square building).  Shafali has two other locations in Ottawa.

Corazón De Maíz, 55 Byward Market Square (in the Byward Market Square building).

Ottawa’s inexpensive, ubiquitous fast food is shawarma, to the point that Ottawa calls itself the unofficial shawarma capital of Canada.  See e.g. The city of shawarma.  There are shawarma places everywhere.

Please don’t go to Metropolitain, on Rideau at the edge of the market.  It is not good.  I’m told Milestones (a Canadian chain on the upper part of the same location) is ok.

There is good shopping and some good eating along Dalhousie at the edge of the market.  It’s the only Market street I actually go to consistently.  It runs up basically to Das Lokal, at Dalhousie and Saint Andrew.

If you want a high-end dining experience, just go to Beckta.  It’s at 150 Elgin (a new location).

Food Trucks / Food Carts – downtown core

Yes, Ottawa has food trucks.  You can see 2014 vendors and added 2015 vendors.  At the time of writing, I haven’t tried most of them, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Dosa Inc. (truck), north side of Dundonald Park, Somerset St. West between Lyon and Bay, @Dosa_Inc
  • Sula Wok & SuzyQ doughnuts (cart), Bank & Sparks – east side of Bank Street, south of Sparks Street, @sulawok
  • Stella Luna Gelato Café (cart), Bank & Sparks – west side of Bank Street, south of Sparks Street

Many of the food trucks and carts can be tracked using

The Street Food Vendors open data (for the locations only) was updated March 27, 2015.  (Check the History to see updates, don’t look at Date First Published.)

Some street food vendors close in the downtown core are:

(This is a modified crosspost from my work blog.)

October 1, 2013  Centretown restaurants and shopping

science podcasts

There are lots of interesting science podcasts available, particularly thanks to the BBC and French radio.  English radio is almost always just continuous talking.  Some of the shows from France (maybe just France Inter) have (sometimes jarring) musical interludes (marked with ♫).

Interviews with scientists

  • The Life Scientific with Jim Al-Khalili – BBC, iTunes
  • Les savanturiers ♫ – France Inter, iTunes
    • Bernard Croisile, neurologue, August 30, 2015 (talking about his expertise in memory, particularly as it relates to Alzheimer’s) – France Inter, iTunes
  • Discovery (see below) sometimes has interviews
    • Life Changers – Anita Sengupta, September 14, 2015 – BBC, iTunes

General Science (separate segments)

  • Canada’s classic science show, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks (generally very short segments) – CBC, iTunes
    • New Horizons Reaches Pluto, June 27, 2015 – CBC, iTunes
    • Dinosaur Fossils Preserve Blood Cells, June 13, 2015 – CBC, iTunes
  • The Science Show (Australia) – ABC Radio National (RN), iTunes
    • The Science Show celebrates 40 years, August 29, 2015 – ABC, iTunes
    • Quirks and Quarks – also celebrating 40 years, July 11, 2015 (Australian tribute to Canada’s show) – ABC, iTunes
    • Current sleep patterns far from normal, June 25, 2015 – ABC, iTunes
  • Discovery (BBC World Service) – BBC, iTunes
    • James Watt and Steam Power, July 13, 2015 – BBC, iTunes
  • Future Tense (Australia) – ABC Radio National (RN), iTunes – more tech focused than science
    • Science Fiction: Earth’s repair manual, November 23, 2014 – ABC, iTunes

General Science (entire shows)

Single-Topic Science

(one topic or theme per episode)

  • La Conversation scientifique – France Culture, iTunes
    • Qu’est-ce qu’un minéral ?, September 19, 2015 – France Culture, iTunes – « A l’occasion de sa réouverture, visite de la galerie de minéralogie du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, en compagnie de François Farges, Brigitte Zanda et Etienne Klein. »
    • Rosetta, Philae, Mars Express et les autres, January 31, 2015 – France Culture, iTunes
  • Science publique – France Culture, iTunes
  • Continent sciences – France Culture, iTunes – usually starts with a segment about an animal or animals, “La chronique animalière” (about 5 minutes) and then the main topic

History of Science


Single-Purpose Shows

(single-purpose shows, a set of episodes on a particular topic, ends once the topic is covered)

  • A Brief History of Mathematics (10 episodes) – BBC, iTunes
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects (100 episodes) – BBC, iTunes
  • Seven Ages of Science (7 episodes) – BBC, iTunes


  • The Long Now Seminars about Long-Term Thinking – Long Now, iTunes – sometimes has science episodes
    • Beth Shapiro: How to Clone a Mammoth, May 11, 02015 – Long Now (video), iTunes (audio)
  • In Our Time – BBC, iTunes – sometimes has science episodes
    • The Photon, February 12, 2015 – BBC, iTunes
    • Note: Although iTunes and the BBC site have an In Our Time: Science feed, it hasn’t been updated since 2013, so subscribe to the main feed instead.

Shows that have completed

  • Frontiers – BBC, iTunes – completed in 2014
    • Crossrail – Tunnelling under London, July 10, 2013 – BBC, iTunes
  • History of Science (UK Royal Society) – iTunes – last episode in 2014 – appears to have been replaced by Lectures and events – iTunes

April 19, 2015  light and dark, night and day, asleep and awake
April 12, 2015  podcasts I like
December 13, 2014  two urbanism podcasts

France iDTGV train and iDCAB taxi

France has not one but three high-speed train companies that share the same rails.  There’s the traditional TGV which you can book about 3 months in advance, the low-cost iDTGV which you can book up to 6 months in advance (but only runs on certain routes), and Ouigo, which you can book up to 9 months in advance but which departs from outside Paris and runs only along a single route.

(There’s also TGVpop, where it takes a certain number of votes before the train is confirmed to run and can be reserved.  Voting starts 2 weeks before the train would depart.)

Booking iDTGV

iDTGV can be booked from its own website or app, which has the advantage of offering seat selection, or through voyages-sncf, which I gather doesn’t.

It has two types of “zone”, basically a quiet one (iDZEN) and a family/louder one (iDZAP).  See  It also has two classes, but in my experience it’s not worth getting 1st class on French trains.

It sort-of works for booking outside of France (including a good English interface).  There are a number of issues though (and some outright bugs / website errors).

To make it work without a European credit card and French phone number:

  1. When creating an account or checking out, do not try to enter a cellphone number unless you have a French cellphone.  The form only accepts French numbers (of form e.g. 06 xx xx xx xx).  The cellphone number is optional, except…
  2. When going through the booking process, on the options page, do not select the iDCAB taxi option.  It will make the entry of a cellphone number at checkout mandatory (this is a bug in the system).
  3. If you have a non-European credit card, your first checkout will almost certainly fail with “rejected”.

iDTGV support says « les cartes étrangères, non Européenne sont bloquées par défaut sur notre site par mesure de sécurité » which translates roughly as “non-European cards are blocked by default on our site as a security measure”.

However, having done the initial transaction and gotten your card rejected, you can email or contact form them and ask them to unblock it.  Just send them the last four digits of your card, not your entire number.  Thanks to Seat 61 for the info about credit cards.

If that doesn’t work, try also calling your credit card company to see if they have blocked the card on their end too.  Sometimes transactions on European websites trigger North American credit card company blocks.

I had to both email iDTGV to get the card unblocked at the website end as well as phone my credit card company to get the card unblocked on the card end.  I had the credit card support stay on the line while I ran the transaction through, a practice I highly recommend as it saves you calling back if it’s still not working.

Be aware that the iDTGV website will silently time-out if you’re idle for a while.

Other bugs:

  • In the Details of My Order section of Print My Tickets (the summary page), the links under “You Can Still” mostly don’t work (they just point to the summary page).  Use the links under My Booking (upper left) instead.
  • If you’re booking in English in the iDTGV app, check the dates very carefully.  it looks to me like there is an off-by-one error (e.g. you have to enter January 1 in order to get January 2), probably due to the fact that the French calendar week starts on Monday and the US/Canadian/UK calendar starts on Sunday.

Booking iDCAB

iDCAB is a taxi-like service for travel to and from the train station.  It’s available for quite a few of the major stations in France.
iDCAB 10 Euros
You can add iDCAB to your iDTGV booking (on the website) without any problems AFTER you’ve booked and paid for your main train trip.  However (if you have a one-way ticket at least) it appears to only offer the option for a taxi on the departure end of the trip, not the arrival.

In the iDCAB interface you can enter an international number (e.g. +1 xxx xxx xxxx) although it’s anyone’s guess whether it actually gets recorded correctly in the system.

iDCAB is not currently available as an option in the iPhone app.

You can also book iDCAB as a stand-alone service at (thanks to Jérémie Croyère, CTO of iDCAB for this info – @cpasbanal on Twitter).

On the SNCF site you’re supposed to be able to submit your train booking reference to get it to autoload your train stations, but I couldn’t get it to work with an iDTGV booking reference.

Unlike the interface at iDTGV, the SNCF interface won’t give you options for how early you want to arrive or estimate travel time to the station; you have to choose your pickup time yourself.  It also won’t let you specify the number of passengers (however this doesn’t really matter as it’s a flat price regardless, up to max 4 passengers).  The price on SNCF is also higher than on iDTGV.  The SNCF interface will tell you what car service is picking you up though.

Baggage Restrictions

Note that iDTGV has tighter baggage restrictions than the TGV:

You can take 2 pieces of luggage for free (details below).

If you take more than two pieces of luggage, you will have to pay an extra charge of €35 per piece of luggage (on the iDTGV website in “My travel options”), within the limit of 2 extra pieces of luggage per person.

If you did not pay this extra charge when you booked, the payment will cost you €45 on board.

The free pieces of luggage per person cannot exceed:
– two pieces of hand luggage (suitcases, rucksacks, travel bags) per traveller; or
– one hand luggage and an object per traveller (a children’s pushchair, a wheelchair, a bicycle with its wheels removed and placed together in a special protective cover of 1.20 x 0.90m maximum, a surfboard placed in a protective cover of 1.20m x 0.90m maximum, a pair of skis, a monoski or a snowboard, a bag containing a ‘small-sized’ domestic animal; or
– a piece of hand luggage per traveller and a piece of luggage of 50cm x 50cm x 50cm ; or
– a piece of hand luggage per traveller and a musical instrument.

For more details, check out the full page at Seat 61:

Cineplex VIP – there is a light that never goes out

Cineplex has VIP theatres, including one at Lansdowne.  It’s an ok idea but from my perspective appears to have a fatal design flaw.

VIP basically means:

  • a lounge/bar outside the theatres
  • a few one-person “executive” washrooms rather than large shared washrooms
  • larger seats, with seat controls to lean back and (I think) put up a foot rest
  • reserved seats
  • drink and food service at the seat (server comes and takes order before movie, then brings it)
  • smaller theatre

Because of the drinks, it is local legal drinking age only (e.g. 19+ in Ottawa).

So other than the 1% income inequality aspect, ok.

IMG_2888-12888-20150621 - Version 3

Except. Those seat controls. That glow bright blue. They never go out.  Here’s an artificially-darkened version of the above image.

IMG_2888-12888-20150621 - Version 2

Now if it were me, here’s how I would design these seat controls:

  • they would only illuminate, when the house lights are on, if someone was sitting in the chair
  • they would be illuminated in red
  • they would have distinct shapes or raised icons so that you could identify them by touch
  • the illumination would go out as soon as the house lights went down

At the absolute maximum, I might agree to a touch-activated, very very dim red illumination when the house lights are down.  So as to not distract the other guests.

These are not controls that you’re using all the time.  At most you might adjust your chair when you sit down, or just before the movie starts.  I didn’t actually see anyone using them at all.

Instead, at least in the movie I was in:

  • they never go out
  • they are illuminated in bright blue (which is not a natural light, and which is the wrong colour for any light in an otherwise dark room)

The fact they never go out might be ok if they were completely blocked from view.  But they are not.  Which means if you have good peripheral vision, you can see not just the light below you on your chair, but the lights on the chairs to the left and right of you.  Which means the entire movie experience is like this:

blue light blue light blue light blue light blue light blue light

Maybe your ideal experience of a movie is to have the rough equivalent of someone constantly shining blue laser pointers into the corners of both your eyes, but mine is not.

As a side note, Cineplex has started an autism-spectrum-friendly screening program called Sensory Friendly Screenings, with “2D projection, increased auditorium lighting, lower volume and smaller crowds” (Autism Speaks press release, PDF).  Other than the increased lighting, this actually sounds like a better theatre experience for everyone.  The VIP theatre would be ideal for this screening program… except it seems likely that the blue lights that never go off will be a distressing stimulus.

I very much hope they are supposed to go out, but just weren’t switched off.

In any case, I really only care about the the reserved seat part, so I will be going to IMAX instead.

(Also incidentally the three one-person washrooms may be nice in theory, but mean a giant lineup at the end of the movie – go down the hall to the larger shared washrooms by the UltraAVX section.)

Sidebar: There are three VIP theatres at Lansdowne.  Cinema 3 is bigger than cinema 2.  I don’t know about cinema 1.  Make sure you check not just the show but the time posted outside the theatre (all three VIP cinemas were playing the same movie, just at different times.)

light and dark, night and day, asleep and awake

There is pretty good evidence for how human sleep relates to cycles of light and dark.

Here are some podcasts and books about light and dark, night and day, sleep and wakefulness:

As you can probably tell from above, Roger Ekirch was a major force in bringing segmented sleep to popular attention, in part through his book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.  I actually find the book a pretty slow read – it’s a scholarly examination of how people perceived the night, it’s not just about sleep.  The TL;DR is that people basically thought night was pretty weird, with miasmic air drifting about.

Interesting historical sidebar 1: The European Celts apparently measured time not by days, but by nights.  They counted time by darkness, not by light.

Interesting historical sidebar 2: Lest you think people always fled the night, ancient Rome was so crowded that delivery vehicles were banned during the day, and had to deliver at night.  That being said, night in Rome was dangerous, with roving thuggish gangs.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert, everything below is based on my understanding of things I’ve learned from the above resources and other sources.

The lost night – how artificial light broke human sleep

We’re basically made for very bright light during the day, and very dark darkness during the night, with dawn and dusk transitions.  Our eyes and our brains have special sensors and systems that measure and act based on the light levels and the light change.

Sleep is a very different physiological state from being awake; the transition is traumatic for the body.  What’s supposed to happen is that about an hour before you actually wake up, the body is supposed to start preparing, based both on your internal clock and the light intensity and light change (rising with the dawn).  This depends on you getting up more or less at the same time each day.

During the day, you’re supposed to be outside in the very bright sunshine.  (If you ever emerge from your office blinking at the noonday light, it’s because our offices are dramatically less bright than being outside.)

Dusk is a signal to your body to start relaxing into the evening, and total darkness is the sign for your first sleep.

And slepte hire firste sleepe / and thanne awook/

Canterbury Tales

We’ve learned that sleep based on natural light and dark appears to be broken into two cycles, first sleep from full darkness until a bit after midnight (say 8:30pm to 2am) and second sleep beginning an hour or two later until dawn (e.g. 3am to 6am).  The phase between first and second sleep is physiologically different from either full sleep or full wakefulness – it’s a kind of relaxed state, ideal for contemplation.  And there is also an alertness cycle during the day, leading to a typical dip after noon, when it would be natural to have a nap (e.g. around 3pm).

You should think of these rhythms as also applying to your mental activity – you’re supposed to rise into alertness, be alert during most of the day, and then wind down in the evening.  You shouldn’t either go from rising from bed immediately to a complex mental task, nor do something mentally engaging or stressful and then drop yourself immediately into bed.  You’re supposed to ease your way into the day, and then ease yourself back into the night.

So we have these basic rhythms.  Our body’s natural clock actually runs longer than 24 hours, but it’s supposed to get reset every day by light.  Having predictable wake and sleep times helps too, as does a regular meal schedule (there is a secondary clock in the body, based on when you eat).  The body also has a much longer lunar clock, based on the phases of the moon.

Babies and teenagers have different body clock cycles – babies sleep basically all the time, teenagers’ clocks get skewed so that they fall asleep later and wake later.

In modern life we basically ignore all of these natural cycles.  This is manageable, as humans are not just biological machines – we have neuroplasticity; we can adapt.  But it has significant impacts nonetheless.  Our misalignment is on many levels:

  • we use artificial light to extend the evening, going to bed much later than we would naturally
  • we have overlit cities, overlit buildings and overlit bedrooms, which means the sleep itself is disrupted
    • including bringing blue light into our bedrooms, whether a television, a laptop, a smartphone or tablet, or bright blue clock LEDs
    • the smartphone in the bedroom is basically an anti-sleep bomb
  • pre-computer, and still very much for many people today, the TV is on and being watched intermittently for the entire evening (and all day for some)
    • this includes the TV in the bedroom, which is very bad, and watching TV to fall asleep, which is terrible for your brain on multiple levels
  • we expect to sleep in a single consolidated 8-hour block
  • we often force ourselves away to follow the clock, rather than our bodies – including forcing teenagers to get up much earlier than they would normally, and not resting when we feel tired or sleepy
  • we change the clock with Daylight Savings Time
  • we have months that don’t align with the lunar cycle
  • (we have a year that doesn’t align with the lunar months, but this is because the earth’s orbit around the sun doesn’t exactly divide into the lunar cycle)

Basically anything you do that isn’t aligned with the dawn – bright light of day – dusk – very dark night cycle will screw up your sleep.  And screwing up your sleep screws up your wakefulness.

In the Protestant work ethic countries, we got this idea that sleep and relaxation are wasted idle time, that we should maximize our wakeful work and activity time, above all other things.  So many of us are in perpetual sleep deficit.

There is good news for many people who sleep poorly, on two fronts:

  • one is that you may actually be sleeping normally, if you’re waking up for a few hours in the night
  • two is that if you’re sleeping poorly you may be able to improve things by taking some basic steps

Things you can do:

  • first and foremost, the bedroom must be dark.  like really dark.  like at the bottom of a coal mine without any lights dark
  • if you have way too much artificial light outside to be able to leave the window uncovered for natural dawn, get an artificial dawn alarm – this should both gently raise the light level in the morning, and optionally have a quiet sound that very gradually increases (could be radio, music, white noise, a tone etc.)
    • there is basically no natural sudden waking.  if you wake suddenly to an alarm, your body basically thinks you’re being attacked by a tiger or something.
    • always get up at the same time every day
  • take time during the entire work day to look out a window, to get the full brightness of the sun
  • go outside at lunchtime, in the full sun
  • dusk is basically a lost cause in the modern world
  • in the evening, wind down your screen time at least a couple hours before bed
    • yes, this means no computer monitor, no laptop, no smartphone, no tablet and no television for a couple hours before bed
    • no glowing screens in the bedroom.  An e-ink device is ok (e.g. a Kindle) because it’s reflected light, not direct projected light.
    • always go to bed at the same time every day
  • have dim lighting in the bathroom (if you e.g. brush your teeth while looking in the mirror before bed)
  • in general, no blue light in the bedroom (blue is the strongest trigger for the sensors in your eyes).  bright blue LEDs are terrible for your sleep.
  • set your devices to total silent mode (or just turn them off) – if your brain knows that the phone might beep or buzz with a text during the night, part of you will always be waiting for that to happen
    • plus which, as I mentioned above, there’s no natural sudden waking.  your phone buzzing and pulling you out of deep sleep makes your brain think it’s an emergency.
  • no bright light during the entire span of the night
    • cover your windows well (e.g. blackout curtain) if it’s bright outside
    • use dim nightlights (e.g. electroluminescents are good)
    • no switching on the lights or any screens – maybe a very dim light to read by between first and second sleep, but no screens (due to the blue light)
  • eat at the same times every day
  • eat breakfast (part of signalling to your body that it’s time to ease itself into the day)

That’s basically the best that I know that you can do.

I used to read (paper books) to fall asleep, but for me it creates two problems, one is that the book falls down when I fall asleep, which wakes me up (often falling on my face), another is that the light stays on and eventually wakes me up.  I found a solution in listening to audiobooks (and to podcasts) at night instead.  That way I can set the sleep timer and then I just fall asleep in the dark.

As a society, we could also:

  • design our cities to be dark-sky, rather than overlighting them
  • design our buildings to use natural light, and to be dark by default
    • for example in Europe, hallways usually have windows to the outside, and a minuterie (a light timer) that gives you only a few minutes of artificial light to get around
  • start school later for teenagers
  • let people nap during the day
  • spend more time outside, including walking meetings and outdoor lunch breaks
  • spend less time facing the computer screen, and more time working on paper (or e-ink screens) using natural light
  • use all our screens less
  • get rid of Daylight Savings Time, which is stupid on many levels
  • go to bed earlier

The above is pretty much all about light and dark and your body clock.  There are of course many other factors, including caffeine, stress, and noise.

If you want more info, you can google first sleep second sleep and a bazillion articles will come up.

iOS Travel emoji – railway vs tram

Apple iOS 8.3 adds many new emoji (these symbols are standardized by the Unicode Consortium, not by Apple).  It also has a new, much larger display (emoji keyboard) with clearer groupings.  But not quite clear enough.

Perhaps it’s because Apple has a giant suburban US campus, but some of their transportation emoji are difficult to distinguish (there is a whole separate issue, which is that you only get the tiny icon, instead of being able to tap-and-hold to get a much larger more detailed icon with a text explanation).

Here are most (but not all) of the selections

Travel Emoji - IMG_2152 - 12152

As you can see, two of the entries in the far-left column look almost identifical.  They are actually railway car and tram car.  Here they are at double size, with explanation and Twitter icons (apologies for my clumsy graphics editing skills).

Travel Emoji - railway tram Twitter - IMG_2152 - 12152

You can see good info, with the representations used in multiple different operating systems, at EmojiBase:

In short, if you want to tweet or text a RAILWAY CAR use the TOP icon.
If you want to tweet or text a TRAM CAR use the BOTTOM icon.

(In fairness to Apple, the Android emoji are much worse, rendering the railway car like a bus.)