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The Science of Sleep Presents: A Better Alarm Clock

Although I can't quite find a reference right now, take it from me that it's well documented that we have much more trouble waking up from deep sleep (a.k.a. slow wave sleep) than from light sleep or from REM sleep. You've probably experienced this often enough: sometimes you've had plenty of sleep, but you still feel hopelessly groggy when the alarm wakes you up, and other times you've only had three hours but you feel amazingly alert! And you're like, whuuu?

Well, at least some of the time, the reason is that you woke up between sleep cycles rather than during slow wave sleep. So, in 2002, I had the idea of an alarm clock that would monitor your sleep cycle, and would only wake you between cycles, never during slow wave. Since cycles are regular and last about 90 minutes, if you absolutely needed to be up at a particular time, the alarm would calculate whether there is enough time left for another full cycle, and if there wasn't, it would wake you early.

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iPhone Jailbreaking

Last month, I jailbroke and carrier-unlocked my first-generation iPhone. I followed this iClarified tutorial. Near the end I got an "error 1600," which I was able to rectify by following the instructions found near the end of this MacRumors post.

No biggy. I can't say I wasn't a little nervous, but each time something went wrong, I just turned my phone off and on and it was back to where I'd started. After a few restarts, I became reassured that I wouldn't end up with a brick on my hands, so long as I was careful following the instructions.

After my eventual success, I became a staunch advocate of jailbreaking and unlocking (the latter currently only available on the first-gen iPhone, though the folks over at iPhone-dev appear to have finally broken through the 3G's defenses). For the coders among you, you get a cool terminal:

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Hi-def Music

Time for another great TED talk, this one more about art than science and policy.

Ever since I tried out first the Bose Tri-port headphones, and later the Shure E5c's, I've been convinced that we would all come to regret our current obsession with low-bitrate, high-compression audio files. 128kbps mp3 is often called "CD quality," which is a blatant lie. 128kbps AAC (.m4a files, as created by iTunes) comes closer but is still fairly high compression. 256-320kbps AAC files match CD quality and should be the default setting in all CD ripping software. (Of course, that would require Apple to cut the number of songs that they claim fits in an iPod by half, which is a big no-no.)

But in fact, even CD quality is nowhere near the limit of human perception. The end credits for the videogame Metal Gear Solid 2 feature a jazz piece titled Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday that is fairly good, but really, nothing special. The recording, however, was in Dolby Digital 5.1 channel audio, and on my surround sound system it was a stunning experience—you are literally placed in the middle of the band, surrounded by the instruments, with the singer right in front of you. Keeping all of our music in CD and CD-like formats is short-sighted. Neil Young recently lamented the dominance of CDs and mp3s in an era in which digital storage and powerful computers are increasingly cheap.

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Microsoft Silverlight

I have to say that despite the bad press Silverlight is getting at Wikipedia, I was pretty impressed using it in the NBC Olympics site. Four live feeds at once? Yes please. This is what digital television was supposed to bring us, but never did. More important, fast forward, rewind and skip were stunningly responsive, which is more than I can say for Flash-based video. Finally, over my decent but not world-class DSL connection, video quality was fantastic, even at full-screen.

Yeah, Silverlight uses proprietary software and eschews open standards. Like Facebook's closed platform and data policies, this bothers me. But like Facebook, Silverlight is simply ahead of the competition. Until the alternatives catch up, you can't blame consumers for sticking to the closed (but superior) platforms.

iPhone update quirks

Being an Über-Geek, I of course own an iPhone. This morning was therefore upgrade time for me, to firmware v2.0. Everything went pretty smoothly, save for this one nonsense error message:

Cancelling and retrying made the problem go away (why do computers always defy the most fundamental principle of physics?). You would think that -1.48GB would still evaluate to less than 12.06GB, and so that the backup should have been carried out anyway.

A Fantastic Neuroscience Talk by Jeff Hawkins

I thought it fitting that the inaugural post on my blog be about a talk at a symposium, specifically the TED conference in Monterey, CA. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, its original focus (foci?), but it has expanded to just about anything that's innovative. Huge names participate in TED (Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Brian Greene, to name a few), and attendance is limited to 1,000. The result is utterly fascinating. Many of the talks are free to watch online.

Jeff Hawkins (founder of Palm and the Redwood Neuroscience Institute) gave his vision on the past and future of brain science in the most entertaining fashion here.

[ted id=125]

Funny, funny stuff!

More to come! Do check out the TED site, an endless source of entertainment and illumination.