Posts Tagged ‘Books’

On School Start Times, ADHD, and Sleep

I’m currently looking into high schools for my son, and start times are playing a larger role than expected. Many are too early for us to be able to get there on time without waking at an unreasonable hour. According to sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker, early school start times are increasingly common, as he writes in his book Why We Sleep:

A century ago, schools in the US started at nine a.m. As a result, 95 percent of all children woke up without an alarm clock. Now, the inverse is true, caused by the incessant marching back of school start times—which are in direct conflict with children’s evolutionarily preprogrammed need to be asleep during these precious, REM-sleep-rich morning hours.

Many schools start at 8:00am, or sometimes even earlier. Some of these otherwise great schools have dropped far down our list because of their unreasonable start times.

Levels of ADHD have been rising steadily around the world. This might seem unrelated, but according to Walker, sleep deprivation symptoms are often indistinguishable from those of ADHD.

If you make a composite of these [ADHD] symptoms (unable to maintain focus and attention, deficient learning, behaviorally difficult, with mental health instability), and then strip away the label of ADHD, these symptoms are strongly overlapping with those caused by a lack of sleep. Take an under-slept child to a doctor and describe these symptoms without mentioning the lack of sleep, which is not uncommon, and what would you imagine the doctor is diagnosing the child with, and medicating them for? Not deficient sleep, but ADHD.

More research is needed, as correlation does not mean causation, but the possibility that some of the rise in ADHD can be attributed to early school times is intriguing. As someone who is both bad at sleep, and diagnosed with ADHD, these passages are making me think hard about my own experiences in childhood with ADHD medication, which I absolutely hated and stopped after a couple of days.

Your Undivided Attention on Social Media and Youth

As someone who is quite solidly anti-social media (this blog is the closest I come to taking part in social media), this episode of the Your Undivided Attention podcast is a sobering listen. It’s an interview with writer Jonathan Haidt, where they particularly focus on the mental health crisis among Gen Z, the first generation who have grown up completely in the social media era. Notably, Zoomers have much higher rates of anxiety and depression.

It starts with a sobering detailing of a slow educational crisis starting with Ben Z (generally considered to be kids born from the mid/late 90’s into the early 2010’s):

…humans had a play-based childhood for millions of years because that’s what mammals do. All mammals play. They have to play to wire up their brains. But that play-based childhood began to fade out in the 1980s in the United States and it was gone by 2010, and that’s because right around 2010 is when the phone based childhood sweeps in…

…scores in math and reading and those were all fairly steady, and then all of a sudden, after 2012, they drop. So that’s international. Around the world, our young people are… not learning as much as they would have a few years before.

Find The Episode Here →

Review of Every Living Thing

Friend of Elsewhat Jason Roberts has a new book, out yesterday, called Every Living Thing. His last book, A Sense of the World was beautiful and amazingly well researched, making this an instant buy (from your local independent book store, not Amazon).

The book follows the paths of two scientists endeavouring to come up with a taxonomy system to classify, well, every living thing. From the New York Time’s review:

Roberts’s exploration centers on the competing work of Linnaeus and another scientific pioneer, the French mathematician and naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Of the two, Linnaeus is far better known today. Of course, Roberts notes, the Frenchman did not pursue fame as ardently as did his Swedish rival. Linnaeus cultivated admiration to a near-religious degree; he liked to describe even obscure students like Rolander as “apostles.” Buffon, in his time even more famous as a brilliant mathematician, scholar and theorist, preferred debate over adulation, dismissing public praise as “a vain and deceitful phantom.”

Their different approaches to stardom may partly explain why we remember one better than we do the other. But perhaps their most important difference — one that forms the central question of Roberts’s book — can be found in their sharply opposing ideas on how to best impose order on the planet’s tangle of species.

Read the New York Times’ Review →

Sleeping With One Eye Open

Reading through Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, I ran across this bit about animals who sleep with one half of their brain at a time. This allows one side to be asleep (with the eye on its side closed), leaving the other side to be awake (with its eye open). Dolphins are known to sleep this way. But birds do it with an interesting wrinkle, taken from the book:

In some species, many of the birds in a flock will sleep with both halves of the brain at the same time. How do they remain safe from threat? The answer is truly ingenious. The flock will first line up in a row. With the exception of the birds at each end of the line, the rest of the group will allow both halves of the brain to indulge in sleep. Those at the far left and right ends of the row aren’t so lucky. They will enter deep sleep with just one half of the brain (opposing in each), leaving the corresponding left and right eye of each bird wide open. In doing so, they provide full panoramic threat detection for the entire group, maximizing the total number of brain halves that can sleep within the flock.

Pussy Riot

I spent my day off visiting the wonderfully punk Pussy Riot show at the MACM. Members of Pussy riot did all the installation themselves, using tape and sharpies to mount their impressive photo and video documentation on the walls of the museum.

I couldn’t help but remark about the ridiculousness of it all. That a global military power could be obviously so bothered, and even scared, of a few women with guitars playing sloppy punk music in public places. It underlined the power cart can have.

It all meshed with my concurrent reading of another politically-inclined artist’s biography, that being Ai Weiwei. In this quote from his autobiography he talks about the role of art in dissidence:

To conventional culture, I said, art should be a nail in the eye, a spike in the flesh, gravel in the shoe: the reason why art cannot be ignored is that it destabilizes what seems settled and secure. Change is an objective fact, and whether you like it or not, only by confronting challenges can you be sure you have enough kindling to keep the fire in your spirit burning. Don’t try to dream other people’s dreams, I told them; you have to face up to your own predicament honestly, on your own terms. There’s a huge gulf between your aesthetic passions as an artist and the indifference of the real world.

Profile of Vaclav Smil

The Walrus has a great profile of controversial writer Vaclav Smil, a prolific scribe of non-fiction about whom Bill Gates said “I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie.”

Smil is a complicated figure, often pitting himself against environmental activists. I expected to disagree with a lot of his points, but after reading the profile I find myself much more in sync with his views than I would have expected, particularly with his view that decarbonization of the economy is going to be problematic, if not outright impossible. It pains me, but I’ve thought that for years. I’ve gotten into more than one argument with positive-thinking people who told me straight-faced that our economy would be totally de-carbonized within a couple decades. I’m much more pessimistic, despite going to great lengths de-carbonize my own life.

As the profile reminds us:

Vaclav Smil has spent half a century provoking combatants on all sides to examine their assumptions.

Read the Entire Profile →

Book: Dilla Time

Don’t sweat it if you don’t know who hip hop producer J Dilla is. I only had a rough understanding of who he was, and what his impacts on music were, before I read Dan Charnas’ amazing biography.

Dilla was a hip hop producer in the 90’s whose programming of drum machines brought in a style of drumming which nobody had ever really heard before. His beats were erratic and off time, which on those early drum machines took some effort to achieve. They weren’t quite straight time, and they weren’t swing time. They were in Dilla Time. He used this technique to give his music a slightly off, slightly drunk, even slightly unsettling feeling.

A great read, especially for those who love 90’s hip hop and sampling. Buy it at your small local independent book store.

Book: The Lost Supper

Friend of Elsewhat’s Taras Grescoe‘s new book, The Lost Supper, follows the author as he tries to track down foods which have been lost to history, or otherwise forgotten or neglected by humanity. His journey is also a lens through which he looks at our own modern diet and its various impacts.

This has changed my day-to-day relationship with food, in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Before this journey began, I flattered myself that, with my diet heavy on small fish, vegetables, grains, and pulses, I was one of the world’s responsible eaters. My thoughtfulness, though, was limited to my consumer choices the items I picked off the shelves of local stores and markets. Thinking about the past of food has made me think harder about what I eat in the present, and every trip has changed the way I cook and eat.

Among the lost food he looks at are Garum (previously mentioned on this blog). He also looks at the (mostly) lost practice of eating insects, which lead to this little jab at paleo dieters:

“Paleo dieters are one of my favorite groups to pick on,” Lesnik added, with a chuckle. “They don’t have any real knowledge of what the paleo diet actually was. I always ask them, “Oh, so you eat a lot of insects?’ Consistently eating almond milk and bacon is not reflective of any form of the actual paleo diet. Eating bugs is.”

This was a great little book which combined food history with some healthy reflection on our modern diets, combined with some neat detective work and travel writing that is definitely off the beaten path.

Book: Gathering Moss

A couple of years after reading Robin Wall Kimmerer‘s Braiding Sweetgrass, I returned back to her 2003 debut non-fiction book Gathering Moss. Kimmerer is a Bryologist, or someone who studies moss. This short book gives an overview of these under appreciated organisms. Mosses don’t tend to get the sort of love or attention larger plants get. Kimmerer writes:

We carefully catalog the positions of all the moss species, calling out their names. Dicranum scoparium. Plagiothecium denticulatum. The student struggling to record all this begs for shorter names. But mosses don’t usually have common names, for no one has bothered with them. They have only scientific names, conferred with legalistic formality according to protocol set up by Carolus Linnaeus, the great plant taxonomist. Even his own name, Carl Linne, the name his Swedish mother had given him, was Latinized in the interest of science.

Her book explores many, many facets of mosses, from how they reproduce, to how peat bogs are formed. As in Braiding Sweetgrass, she also brings a perspective that blends science with an indigenous point of view. For example, this section where she describes her experience trying to figure out why a certain moss reproduces in a counterintuitive way:

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from the woods, it’s that there is no pattern without a meaning. To find it, I needed to try and see like a moss and not like a human.

In traditional indigenous communities, learning takes a form very different from that in the American public education system. Children learn by watching, by listening, and by experience. They are expected to learn from all members of the community, human and non. To ask a direct question is often considered rude. Knowledge cannot be taken; it must instead be given. Knowledge is bestowed by a teacher only when the student is ready to receive it. Much learning takes place by patient observation, discerning pattern and its meaning by experience. It is understood that there are many versions of truth, and that each reality may be true for each teller. It’s important to understand the perspective of each source of knowledge. The scientific method I was taught in school is like asking a direct question, disrespectfully demanding knowledge rather than waiting for it to be revealed.


Soviet Space Dogs

When on vacation in a new city I always make sure to drop into a used book store (if it has books in a language I can read). While visiting Portland, Maine in late summer, I visited a narrow shop with books piled high to ceiling. While in line to purchase a book, I stumbled on this little book about dogs going to space as part of the Soviet space program. Of course I had to buy it, and was not disappointed.

The Russian space dogs were all strays taken from the streets of Moscow, which they believed made them hardier than house dogs. They were chosen for health and size (they had to fit into a small suitcase-size habitat), but also for looks, as the USSR would end up putting them on all sorts of propaganda. See below, for example, Laika-branded cigarettes, or the matchbox label on the right.

Laika was the most famous of the soviet cosmonaut animals, but close behind her were the pair of Belka and Strelka, who grace the cover of the book. While Laika met a rather horrible end when the cooling system of her Sputnik capsule failed, the two cover dogs landed safely back on earth and were heroes in the USSR.