Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Indexes drop and computer power

Major market indexes were down quite significantly, it seems, on Tuesday. Dow Jones closed 3.3% lower, while S&P500 and Nasdaq dropped 3.5% and 3.9% respectively.

For Dow Jones, particularly, a computer problem contributed to the speed of the drop.

It started with huge trading volume -- computer calculation lagged -- switched to backup system -- correction (~an hour of trading reported in seconds) -- market panicked.


The malfunction in the oldest, most established benchmark for U.S. stock prices shows how a technical fault can worsen a market decline.

"I don't think it would have been as bad had there not been some technology issues,'' said Kenneth Polcari, a managing director at ICAP Plc's equities unit who has traded at the New York Stock Exchange for more than 25 years. "The technology issues created some anxiety, which exacerbated the market's move.'' (Bloomberg)
I wonder if someone will soon sue for the loss...

The story from LA Times:
Dow Jones' troubles started about 2 p.m. Eastern time when computer systems were apparently overwhelmed by trading volume, causing the calculation of the widely watched industrial average and other Dow Jones indexes to lag behind trading, spokeswoman Sybille Reitz said.

Once Dow Jones realized that the indexes were lagging — that is, not properly reporting the extent of the market's decline in real time — executives notified the exchanges by phone.

About 3 p.m., Reitz said, Dow Jones switched from its primary server to a backup system, which rapidly caught up with the trading. The result was that an extended period of trading, perhaps the better part of an hour, was reported to the market in a matter of seconds, she said, making it appear as though the Dow Jones industrial average had lost nearly 200 points almost instantaneously. At one moment, the Dow seemed to be down about 280 points; when traders glanced back at their screens, it was down more than 450 points.

That seemingly unprecedented swoon apparently sparked some panic selling that in turn caused a logjam at the NYSE and other markets amid a high volume of trades.

[Read more...]

Main root of capitalism?

A valuable lesson, I guess. But on the other hand, and at the same time, it could turn the religious people into capitalist... or turn capitalism into a religion. Someone has summarized the story below: "pennies are a message from heaven... pick it up!"


A man and his wife were invited to spend the weekend at his employer's home. She was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the water-way, and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well, and she was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the wealthy live.

The husband's employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. The wife knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so was enjoying herself immensely. As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of his guests.

He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment. She wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny along with a few cigarette butts. Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny. He held it up and smiled, them put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure.

How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up? Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her finally, she could stand it no longer. She casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.

A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this?

"Look at it," he said. "Read what is says."

She read the words, "United State of America."

"No, not that; read further."

"One cent?"

"No, keep reading."

"In God we Trust?"



"And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust him. Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me. Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!


Here's the official history of "In God we Trust" in the U.S. coins from the Department of Treasury...

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mile-high scandal: increase the risk of air accident?

Another air incident, another sea accident in Indonesia.

We all might have heard that the probability of airplane accident, or crash, is much lower than the probability of (fatal) car accident. Steven Johnson's the Risk summarizes a study on this topic:

" would seem to be reasonable for those in charge of our safety to inform the public about how many airliners would have to crash before flying becomes as dangerous as driving the same distance in an automobile. It turns out that someone has made that calculation: University of Michigan transportation researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan, in an article last year in American Scientist, wrote that they determined there would have to be one set of September 11 crashes a month for the risks to balance out. More generally, they calculate that an American’s chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the September 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America’s safest roads — rural interstate highways — one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles."
What if one drives in China? It might take only a short 2 miles to equal the risk! What if one flies one of the old aircrafts in Indonesia?

Regardless, is it really that low - one in 13 million? Statistically, perhaps. But for future forecast one must put the intelligence into it.

For example, if we will do some promotions three months from now, we gotta put in our best estimate of sales on that month, and not let statistical history figures forecast the sales. Especially if there hasn't been any regular promotion in that particular month in the past.

Through a friend who was visiting from Jakarta, I met these two Indonesian pilots of MAS and Lion Air (they were in the same company, Adam Air, if I'm not mistaken, before they parted their own way). It was around September 2006. Since these pilots haven't met each other for some time, they shared stories.

Apart from how the airlines industry has changed so much, their conversation was pretty much about flight attendants. Who slept with who. Who got this girl first. Who filmed who in what occasion. One even could persuade a flight attendant to sleep with him despite an approach from an Indonesian celebrity. And so on...

I've heard about this. But I've never heard directly from the one who did it. It was kinda fun at the beginning, but more of sick toward the end. With all my respect - what is wrong with the world?

A more recent one: "British actor caught in sky-high sex scandal." It was Ralph Fiennes in a flight on January 24, with a Qantas flight attendant who said:
"While conversing with Mr Fiennes during my break, I expressed a need to go to the toilet. I went to the nearby toilet and entered it, he followed me and entered the same toilet. I explained to him that this was inappropriate and asked him to leave. Mr Fiennes became amorous towards me and, after a short period of time, I convinced him to leave the toilet, which he did."
We can go into more detail... but I'd stop right here :)

It seems that when we fly, we are surrounded by more people who do adultery: some of the cabin crew and our fellow passengers, for relatively longer time.

Back to the intelligent forecasting. If we assume adultery is sinful and God will punish those who practice it, then won't it increase the chance of an airplane gets punished? If one can quantify the probability of getting punished because of sins, or being in the same place when the punishment happens, perhaps the one-in-13-million figure should be calibrated...

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Smacking and best/worst place for children

The irony of a recent UNICEF report is that the two, arguably, most pursued places for work are the two worst places for children to live - among wealthy nations. They're the U.S. and Britain, at 20 and 21 out of 21 nations.

The British government, of course, said that the data used by UNICEF was outdated. Duh!

The study was done in six main areas: (1) relationships, especially with their peers, (2) risky behaviour such as sex, drink and drugs, (3) children's own assessment of their happiness, (4) poverty and inequality, (5) education over the long-term, and (6) health and safety.

Overall rankings of the study is:
1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
19. Hungary
20. United States
21. United Kingdom

When I first met our Iranian neighbor, I wondered why their parents migrated to and now live in Sweden. Now, perhaps this study answers my question.

Almost a third of British youngsters aged 11, 13 and 15 reported being drunk on two or more occasions, against just an average of under 15 percent in the majority of OECD countries.

But I guess this is not a surprise. Nor when the United States ranked 21 for health and safety...

Another article, however, disputes the results as some of these nations, and most notably the Netherlands being on top, have not banned smacking. I don't really have strong opinion on either way - ban or not ban. Because parents have more problems with smack down on TV...

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Foreign workers revisited

In my previous post, I was curious whether countries that supply (low-skilled) foreign workers would benefit from these individuals. One thing for sure, the receiving countries would, by allowing the local workforce to pursue higher value activities.

Seems like a good thing.

On the contrary, however, the Malaysian government is proposing a bill that would restrict foreign workers to their work sites unless they receive special permission to leave.

Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said: "We are not trying to confine the foreign workers ... but it will be better to supervise them for law enforcement."

In the same article, Police Chief Musa Hassan said that foreign laborers may be restricted to their living quarters and their "activities monitored" as part of efforts to curb crime. Under the proposed legislation, foreign laborers will not be allowed to leave their homes unless they register beforehand, and their employers will be responsible their movements.

Not allowed to leave their homes?

Musa further added that about 5,000 crimes were committed by foreigners last year from a total of about 230,000 (232,620 cases, to be exact).

That's not even 3% of the total crimes committed...

Typically, people use the 80-20 rule, a general assumption that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes. Although it's highly dependent on how one stratifies the causes, but if foreigners-related crime is one of the causes, 3% is definitely too low to even spend resources for.

Unless, of course, there are other reasons.

But still, this doesn't feel right. Like a foreign construction worker said in the article: "To keep us in our beds when we have a day off is criminal."

There's gotta be a better, more effective way.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Jakarta flood - the aftermath

Many people here in Malaysia asked about the Jakarta flood. Not much I could tell about it, other than what I saw on the TV and read on the internet. I think pictures from Javajive and Marek Bialoglowy capture most of it.

One of my close relatives' home was badly hit by the flood. The family stayed at my parents' for a couple of nights, and the last two weekends my family has been going there to help clean the house. Almost everything is gone or no more usable. Sofa, mattress, TV, refrigerator, clothes, documents... We're now trying to get their life started and going again.

Letter from a Sun's reader questions the RM3.6 billion fund to help mitigate flood in Johor. That's about USD 1 billion (Malaysia's 2005 GDP was $290 billion.) The letter nicely put it that the flood could've been prevented if developments around Johor had been properly assessed.

"... The root cause is no doubt due to corrupt practices. The government is trying to fool people by putting the blame on global warming."

Quite a similar situation to Jakarta. What about the fund for tsunami , earthquake, and others?

Will the government ever learn?

Because anything that can go wrong, will -- at the worst possible moment.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Peanut butter recalled

Just got an SMS that the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia has recalled Peter Pan brand of peanut butter, following the first U.S. salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter. The product is manufactured by ConAgra Foods, Inc.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that causes typhoid fever and foodborne illness.

Please throw out jars with product code on the lid beginning with "2111".

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Here and there: roundabouts and traffic circles

Roundabouts are different from traffic circles. Since it confuses me, I'm just gonna use the term roundabout for both.

The number of roundabouts in Kuala Lumpur is much more than I've ever experienced or imagined. Especially the roundabouts without traffic lights. Not the one like in Jakarta's HI or Monas roundabout. (there are also traffic-light-less roundabouts in Jakarta, like at the intersection of Jalan Senopati and Jalan Rajasa.)

If I remember correctly, there's no roundabout in Ann Arbor, while only one in Durham.

Going to work, a 20-minute drive, I could pass one to four roundabouts in the past quarter of the drive only, depending on how the traffic on the highway that day. At busy times (like lunch hour or morning), these roundabouts are extremely problematic. Frustrating. Traffic is stuck around the island.

If this happens in KL, imagine how it will be in Jakarta.

Since the traffic-light-less roundabouts depend on the "yield" or "give way" sign, and in this part of the world most people don't really obey the sign, this type of roundabouts is not suitable anymore in high traffic areas.

Will traffic lights help? Perhaps a bit, to ensure less interruption to the circling traffic. But high traffic is high traffic, unless either the number of cars is reduced or the medium of cards is increased -- to reduce the density.

For now, I guess I should be thankful the traffic is comparatively not that bad.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

White house visits wisteria lane

Bush, the old one, had lunch with "Desperate Housewives" star Teri Hatcher. Apparently George Sr. thought that Teri really was desperate, because he ended their lunch date by giving her a couple of slaps on the ass.

Another reason not to be the biggest fan of the Bush family... what Bill Clinton did was more fun!

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Midday nap to live longer

In this demanding and fast-pace life, getting enough sleep is sometimes a big challenge. Some people even often skip lunch or have theirs while working. Work-life balance is out of the equation.

Taking a nap? Forget it.

Whoa, not that quick. A recent study ties drop in deaths to a little nap after lunch.

"... researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men."

It even concluded that napping was more likely than diet or physical activity to lower the incidence of heart attacks and other life-ending heart ailments.

The researchers mentioned, however, that while working men appeared to benefit the most from naps, they couldn't reach any conclusions for working women because there were relatively few in the study.

Midday napping, eh? Be sure this is the midday napping to improve health, not the other kinds of napping -- no study just yet... :)

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bird flu virus for sale: unethical opportunism or state of survival?

Indonesian government's decision to negotiate the bird flu virus with an American company has sparked some debates. Many, it seems, argue that this is just another vehicle for corruption.

My buddy Sheque wrote "Kisah Anta dan Prota", about antagonistic and protagonistic (?) characters in Indonesia's sinetron (soap opera) and in real life.

There are new cases of bird flu in Hong Kong and Korea. Not human cases, fortunately.

What if, a big if, one of the bird flu-affected countries sell the virus and make a lot of money out of it, while Indonesian government decides not to? What if, a bigger if, the Indonesian government, indeed, plans to use the "profit" for the welfare of its citizens?

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought ... it figures
-- Alanis Morissette

Ironic? Dreaming?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Barack Obama to run for president

Philips in his blog touched how Obama can be a friend to Indonesia if he becomes the president of the U.S.

At that time Obama hasn't decided if he would run. Last Saturday, he declared himself a candidate for the White House in 2008. Here's the full text of the announcement speech.

Is this good? If elected, will he turn the U.S. to be a friend to Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia?

I don't know. I don't intend to analyze that. But here's an interesting reaction to his announcement.

Australian leader slams Barack Obama for Iraq policy. John Howard, a staunch Bush ally who has sent troops to Iraq and faces his own re-election bid later this year, said Obama's proposals would spell disaster for the Middle East.

Obama's proposal, by the way, is to end the war in Iraq and to remove U.S. combat forces by March 31, 2008.

"I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Howard said on Nine Network television.
(-- and what are your motives there? Destabilize, destroy, chaos... specifically, what are you and your buddies doing there?)

He further said: "If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."
(-- oh, he's a Republican...!!)

"You either rat on the ally or you stay with the ally," he said. "If it's all right for us to go, it's all right for the Americans and the British to go, and if everybody goes, Iraq will descend into total civil war and there'll be a lot of bloodshed."
(-- Mr. Howard, aren't you aware of what's going on there now?)

Apparently, Howard is seeking his fifth term later this year.
Recent polls suggest voters are increasingly unhappy about his refusal to set a deadline for withdrawing Australian troops from the Middle East. He currently keeps about 1,400 Australian troops in Iraq despite domestic opposition to the war.

What does really Howard and Blair get from Bush, I wonder...?

[Read more...]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hair-pulling disorder

trich·o·til·lo·ma·ni·a (trĭk'ō-tĭl'ə-mā'nē-ə, -mān'yə). n.

Some definitions:

  • Dictionary: the compulsion to tear or pluck out the hair on one's head and face and often to ingest it.
  • Medical: a compulsion to pull out one's own hair.
  • WordNet: an irresistible urge to pull out your own hair.
What? Pulling your own hair (and ingest it)?

It came to my attention as a printed article on the Sun last week briefly discussed this type of disorder. Here's some of it:
Trichotillomania is a poorly understood disorder in which a person repeatedly pulls out his own hair, leading to visible hair loss. This disorder can have a crippling effect on the sufferers and treatment is rarely effective, notes a survey of patients with this condition.

“It has a much larger impact on people than I think even most mental health practitioners understand,” says lead author Dr. Douglas W. Woods, of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. “A lot of people will look at this and say it’s just a nervous habit, but it’s not really.”

I would seriously think this is just a nervous habit. In fact, I can't recall I saw anyone that I know of show the symptom of trichotillomania as defined above. Not until I found the definition of Trichotillomania from Wikipedia.
Trichotillomania (TTM) or "trich" is an impulse control disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pull out scalp hair, eyelashes, beard hair, nose hair, pubic hair, eyebrows or other body hair. It may be distantly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with which it shares some similarities.
So it's really about pulling many types of body hair. Now I can see why the study says up to 3.4% adults may suffer from this disorder. I think the number should be even higher. I can now recall some people doing it regularly.

Perhaps we need to worry about this not only because its negative effect on health (e.g. fatal balls of hair in the stomach), but also because it's disgusting.

Yes, because it's also disgusting...

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where is Winona?

Winona Ryder, that is. Perhaps the most beautiful actress ever.

She is still out there, acting. It has been much fewer and less popular movies, however, after the shoplifting incident in 2001. After starring in quite good movies, like Bram Stoker's Dracula, Reality Bites and Alien: Resurrection, the only big movie she did was Mr. Deeds in 2002. In fact, she didn't do any "movies" in 2005.

In 2006 Winona starred in A Scanner Darkly, an animated futuristic movie which I could only find in pirated DVD stores. I didn't even bother to buy despite Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson also starred the movie.

But I look forward to watching a couple of her new movies in 2007.

The first one is Sex and Death 101, a dark comedy movie about, as the title says, sex and death. The second one is the Ten, a comedy of ten stories, each inspired by one of the ten commandments.

"For a long time I was almost ashamed of being an actress. I felt like it was a shallow occupation. People would be watching my every move." -Winona Ryder

"Winona Ryder is to Hollywood what Superman is to Metropolis. They both live in the shadows, make newspaper headlines once in a while and live a pretty quiet life."

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Water fountain vs. dark force

The water fountain has now been (or actually was) turned on! There are now more happy, motivated faces, I hope. Just before the Chinese New Year.

It didn't start very well, though. Only after half a day since it was turned on, the pump broke. And now still waiting for the replacement pump. I guess the dark force is much stronger than the chi... :)

(The real water fountain is not as nice as this one...)

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2007 Super Bowl

I heard the Indiana Colts won the Super Bowl, beating the Chicago Bears 29-17. But Super Bowl is really not about the game, isn't it? It's the commercials and half-time entertainment.

Remember Janet Jackson in 2004? (Don't worry, the link is to Wikipedia)

Past commercials like Reebok's the Office Linebacker or Visa's Yo or Levi's Crazy Legs are pretty cool and popular. And if I'm not mistaken, some of those commercials were made and aired during Super Bowl only. Hang on, this one's cool too: FedEx's Caveman.

For this year, my favorite is Bud Light's Rock, Paper, Scissors.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Water fountain = no more issues?

Business has been tough for the past year or so. Despite the initiatives we have accomplished, challenges keep coming like there is no tomorrow. It started with one supplier after another. Raw and packaging materials. Capacity. Equipment. Process. The list is quite long...

What's happened?

Because last year, water fountain on the entrance was stopped and dried, some colleagues claim. It took all the good luck away.


Feng shui tip 83 from says that moving water brings prosperity and good luck to the home. Water fountains and aquariums are great feng shui enhancements because they are at the same time soothing and energizing.

"The sound and motion of gurgling water activates chi and adds humidity to a dry room, helping to balance chi. Moving water gets things going when the chi has been stagnant for a while (think of ice melting in the spring). Use moving water cures anywhere you want to enhance water or wood energy."

Chi, by the way, is kind of life force or spiritual energy.

Back to the issue - will having the water fountain running back again take all the bad luck away?

I'm not sure. I've never been a fan of this kind of "old sayings"; always try to rationalize it. If it works, in this case, there's a high chance that it's because people are psychologically and mentally more positive, more determined.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

The miseducation of George W. Bush

The latest edition of the Top 10 Conservative Idiots (#276) is State of the Union special. This one is about Bush's education policy.

The Miseducation Of George W. Bush

We all know that George W. Bush pays special attention to the nation's education. That's why you so often see him carrying books during the summer months and pretending to have read them. He understands his position as America's educational role model and standard bearer. Just listen to how well his No Child Left Behind scheme is panning out:

PRESIDENT BUH: Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life.
Whoa, hold on bub. We've seen how you "spread opportunity and hope" in Iraq. I'm not sure we need that in America, and certainly not in our public schools.

PRESIDENT BUH: Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, preserving local control, raising standards, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.
Which is great, except they're not. According to NPR:
There's no question the law has had a significant impact on the nation's 14,000 school districts. But the results from the tests known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress are more mixed than the president suggested. The administration can point to some modest gains in math and reading among fourth graders, and math among 8th graders. But in 8th grade reading, test scores fell from 2002 to 2005. And the achievement gap between black and white students in that period actually widened a little.

The less encouraging numbers among older students are troubling to many educators.
But hey, let's not forget that George W. Bush didn't have all the awesome advantages of No Child Left Behind when he was a young lad, so you can't blame him for being a little slow. Plus, NCLB is really great for finding and targeting those 17-year-old kids who don't know what they want to do after school but figure those Army commercials look kinda fun. So it's not all bad.

(from Democratic Underground)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

What is enough sleep?

A question posted in LinkedIn: "Sleep less, live longer? What is enough sleep?"

The responses are quite interesting. Most people would say 6, 7, or 8 hours is "right". Some even say that if they don't have at least 8 hours of sleep everyday, they can't function the next day.

One even go as far as: "I figure I'll get enough sleep when I'm dead. There's too many fascinating things to do in life -- including work... "

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has a leaflet on sleeping well. How much sleep do we need?

This depends mainly on how old we are.
  • Babies sleep for about 17 hours each day.
  • Older children only need 9 or 10 hours a night.
  • Most adults need around 7-8 hours sleep each night.
  • Older people need the same amount of sleep, but will often only have one period of deep sleep during the night, usually in the first 3 or 4 hours, after which they wake more easily. We also tend to dream less as we get older.
There are also differences between people of the same age. Most of us need 7-8 hours a night, but some (a few) people can get by with only 3 hours a night. It's not helpful to regularly sleep more than 7-8 hours each night.

The short periods of being awake feel much longer than they really are. So it's easy to feel that we are not sleeping as much as we actually are.
Of course, there are other studies and surveys. Each has its own conclusion, which makes it more interesting.

An article in says:
"There is really no evidence that the average 8-hour sleeper functions better than the average 6- or 7-hour sleeper," Kripke says, on the basis of his ongoing psychiatric practice with patients along with research, including the large study of a million adults (called the Cancer Prevention Study II).

And he suspects that people who sleep less than average make more money and are more successful.

The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.
Another one from an interview in CNN:
The sweet spot appeared to be somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night. Those are the people who lived the longest. Now if you got less than 4.5 to 6.5, you were probably going to live longer than those who slept more than the sweet spot.

Hmm... I would conclude that for most people "around" 7 hours of sleep is the best, i.e. healthy yet productive. Also, sleeping less seems to be better than sleeping more...

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