Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The analogue computer of sleep

    In the days before ubiquitous digital computing, British academics modeled the flow of cash within our economy using water. They had an analogue computer, an assemblage of tanks, pipes and valves representing the different economic components and filled with water that represented the money. The idea was that a skilled operator could keep the whole machine running smoothly without any tanks running dry or overflowing, and the knowledge thus gained would allow the same operator to advise the Government on how to avoid the same fate befalling the country.
    Of course, it's never that easy. Like a music hall performer spinning plates on sticks, eventually they lose control of part of the cycle and something goes wrong. The academic could flush their mistake down the drain, the politician would be voted out into the wilderness, blamed for the woes of a cyclical economy.
     I've been thinking about that analogue computer of late. I'm sure you could construct one to model sleep patterns in the transgendered brain. You have two inputs: GD which causes insomnia, and sleeping pills which stop the insomnia. Your effects are extreme tiredness causing a vicious cycle of more GD and insomnia, or alternately an accumulation of the medication over time causing a spaced-out blunting of your mental faculties. The desired result is a point at which you get enough sleep to preserve normal function and perform at work without sliding  back into the insomnia or becoming a drugged-up zombie unable to satisfactorily do your job.
     Curiosity made me plot a rough graph a while back. It had three lines: one for how annoying I felt GD that day, one for how well I slept, the last for how useful my brain was feeling. Looking at the jagged lines didn't give any amazing insight beyond the obvious fact that it all goes wrong every ten days or so and I get to see what the world looks like at 4AM for a few days.
     You could probably reach the same conclusion by looking at this blog. Early posting times: no sleep. This post began early, yesterday was a spaced-out day so no pill last night. If I'm really lucky I'll be able to look at today's troubles in the world of database manipulation with something more than confusion, but I'm not holding my breath.
     Fortunately my problems are relatively minor compared to those faced by the economists advising those who run the country. Faced as they were yesterday with the shock news that we've slipped in the rankings of the world's top restaurants. Move over Greece and the National Debt!


  1. Well, I guess that British chefs will just have to get with it, and replace their dinner plates with large flat river rocks, or slabs of slate. ;-)

    Melissa XX

  2. Oh, and retirement solves the problem of insomnia. When you are no longer committed to being up at a prescribed hour, you can stay up until you are finally tired enough to fall asleep naturally.

    Melissa XX

  3. O happy memories! I worked with early operational amplifiers (op-amps) many years ago. You could make them do all sorts of interesting things, including analogue computing if you had a mind too. The only problem was that the early ones were made from discrete transistors, resistors, etc and were not as stable as later incarnations. Hence you could configure a circuit to answer a simple puzzle like 2x3 and it would respond with '6'; but as the components warmed up the answer would become 6.1... 6.2... 6.3..!

    All of which has precious little to do with your post, so I ought to add that I'm not going to Denmark just to get a good meal!

    Angie xx

  4. wow an analogue computer. A computer generating information and data using water. It sounds so cool!

  5. I've never had any problems in my life sleeping; only staying awake :-)

    Old joke, you've probably heard it:

    Definition of Heaven:

    French Chefs
    German Mechanics
    British Policemen

    Definition of Hell:

    British Chefs
    French Mechanics
    German Policemen


  6. British chefs :) Yes, we do rather lay ourselves open on that score. Our curse is to be placed next to France, meaning that we endlessly strive to copy them when we should stick with what we're good at. And yes, there is food we're *very* good at!

    Being a geek I've always been fascinated by analogue computers. Fortunately the op-amps I received my training on in the 1990s were integrated and didn't drift,though in my first ever job maintaining scientific instruments I encountered 40 years worth of attempts at stable DC amplification. Chopper stabilised, Mmmm! My career echoes Jamie's blog title, as an engineer I was born two or three decades too late.

  7. @Jamie - Loved the joke. Hadn't heard it.