December 19th, 2015


#RetroHugos1941 Captain Future and the Space Emperor, by Edmond Hamilton

This marks the end of my project to get up to speed with the sf novels of 1940, and it's a reasonably high note to finish on. This was the first of a couple of dozen stories featuring the eponymous Captain, who goes around the solar system righting wrongs - in this case, liberating the grateful natives of Jupiter from the evil Space Emperor - with his allies, a brain in a box formerly known as Simon Wright, a robot called Grag, and Android called Otho, and a spunky gal from the Planetary Police called Joan. It's pretty formulaic but done with great enthusiasm. In a week when I went for a drink with Captain Europe, and the new Star Wars film, which stems directly from this tradition, came out, it seemd an appropriate and oddly comforting read. On my list.

Insomnia and smartphones

Like a lot of people, I have occasional battles with insomnia. The advent of the smartphone has made things worse. Whereas in the old days, you could pick up a book to read in the dark hours and put it aside when your eyelids finally started drooping, the phone is insidious - Let's click through to that last update on Facebook or Twitter! Let's check the BBC or Guardian one last time! - and tends to keep you awake raher than lull you to rest. I am told (and I can well believe it) that the mere fact of the lighting makes it more difficult for the eyes of the reader to relax and go to sleep; I would also observe that looking at people exchanging their views on the Internet is sometimes not terribly relaxing.

I have found a partial solution, which has made a positive difference for me at least. A few weeks ago I installed the Sleep Cycle app on my iPhone (there are presumably equivalents for other platforms). It claims to measure your sleep quality by listening to your breathing. This is the graph it drew of my sleep last night:

Now, I actually thought I slept rather better last night than this implies; certainly I don't recall the moments of blurry consciousness around 0415 which the phone thinks I experinced. (Er, on a different topic, er, yesterday was an unusually sedentary day - I normally manage 7,000 steps between various stations, but was lucky with public transport despite the lack of new train services. 2,556 steps is pretty pathetic.)

Imperfect though the app's measurement is, it mitigates one of the psychological exacerbating factors of insomnia, where you lie awake worrying about how much the fact that you are lying awake will impact you at work and at home the next day. The knowledge that the app will measure your lack of sleep so precisely is in fact welcome reassurance that you don't need to worry about it so much, because the phone is measuring it.

The other thing is that because the app reminds you that it is running on the phone, it's another incentive to put the damn gadget down and try to go to sleep.

So, it may not work for everyone, and it may not work for you; I can only say that it's made a tangible difference for me.