Out of Scope March 2009

By Tim Moran Print this article Print

The few, the proud, the overcaffeinated.

I See Dead People . . . or Are They Just Other Programmers?

IT professionals and programmers are no strangers to caffeine in all its many and varied forms. There are even T-shirts and hats that define the programmer thusly: “an organism that turns caffeine into software.”

So whether you’re a coder or a CIO, if you drink too much Starbucks or office swill—or down the Red Bulls to keep going long after you should be home in bed watching Letterman—make sure that voice you hear or the curtain you see rustling is real. Why? Well, a new study out of Durham University in England says that high caffeine consumption could be linked to a greater tendency to hallucinate.

According to the report, “high caffeine users”—those who consume more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day—are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences, such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there, than are “low caffeine users.” In the study, 200 students were asked about their typical intake of caffeine. Their proneness to hallucinatory experiences and their stress levels were also assessed. Seeing things that weren’t there, hearing voices and sensing the presence of dead people were some of the experiences reported.

The researchers pointed out that caffeine has been found to exacerbate the physiological effects of stress. When under stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. More of this hormone is released in response to stress when people have recently ingested caffeine. It is this extra boost of cortisol that might link caffeine intake with an increased tendency to hallucinate.

So, should you be visited by computer pioneer Ada Lovelace when you’re working late and stressing about that budget spreadsheet or Java code, either dump the Colombian and grab a Poland Springs, or offer her a cup of Joe and ask her what she really thought of Charles Babbage.

‘Best Job in the World’ Site Crashes, and We Know Why

Many of you may think you have the best job in the world—or, at least, in these economic times, you act as if it’s the best job in the world. The state of Queensland, Australia, however, is convinced that it’s offering the best job, and it may be right. Quite a few others agreed because the rush to apply for the island caretaker job recently crashed the state’s Web site’s servers.

According to a Reuters report on Yahoo.com, the chance to get paid AUD$105,000 for a six-month contract to be the caretaker of the tiny Great Barrier Reef island of Hamilton created such worldwide interest that hundreds of thousands of applications from prospective candidates crashed www.islandreefjob.com for several hours.

Tourism Queensland was looking for someone “with an adventurous attitude, passion for the outdoors and good communication skills.” The island caretaker will be expected to post a weekly blog and photo diaries, as well as travel to nearby islands. As far as we can tell, there’s no need for applicants with corporate IT experience. Snorkeling, yes; Sarbanes-Oxley, no.

I Can Do That in My Sleep, but Should I?

We know, your BlackBerry sits right there on your nightstand ready for checking at any and all hours. But, chances are, once you go to sleep—if you haven’t had too much caffeine and aren’t hearing voices or seeing dead people (read “I See Dead People,” at left)—you stay asleep. Or do you?

A story on ArsTechnica.com tells us that researchers at the University of Toledo Medical Center, in Ohio, have reported the case of a woman who apparently was able to navigate through numerous password schemes in order to send e-mails while still asleep. She suffered from insomnia and was taking the prescription drug Ambien to help her sleep. At some point, she felt it was losing its effectiveness, so she upped her dose.

That’s when the nocturnal notes began to fly. A friend phoned the woman to inquire about strange e-mails she received the night before. The ArsTechnica story reports that the woman told ABC News that the subject of one e-mail was: “!HELP ME P-LEEEEESE,” while another read, “come TOMORROW AND SORT THIS HELL HOLE Out!!!!!!”

Of course, some IT pros may have sent e-mails like this when awake and at work.

This article was originally published on 2009-03-12
Tim Moran is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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