Some morning inspiration, career options your careers advisor probably never suggested and the real health benefits of yoga (that don't require pricey pants), all in this week's Lifehacker Thinking Cap! Welcome to Lifehacker's Thinking Cap, a new series where we round up interesting, informative and thought-provoking podcasts. These interviews, articles and other media will teach you something new, inspire you and hopefully cap off your week nicely. Let's get started.
Jobs Your Careers Advisor Probably Never Mentioned
From snake milking to cheese carving, John Green over at Mental Floss rounds up a ton of hilarious — but important — jobs that probably weren't on your radar when you were thinking about what to be when you grew up, or what to do when you got out of school. And don't worry, if neither of those sound great, there are plenty of others to choose from, like ice cream taster (yum!), dog food taster (ugh), and even NASA chief "sniffer", who smells things before they go into space. The whole affair is both eye-opening and hilarious, and worth a watch. [via Mental Floss]
A Whole Computer Science Class Didn't Realise their Teaching Assistant Was a Chat Bot
We're probably already at the point where the Turing Test isn't a terribly meaningful way to discern a human on the internet from a computer — mostly because of the slowly degrading quality of human interaction online and the rapidly improving capabilities of chat bots and immature AIs that tech companies are programming to be our "virtual assistants" like Siri and Google Now, and other gatekeeping service tools (I see you, Microsoft).
So it doesn't totally surprise me that a university CS professor programmed a chat bot to essentially "be" his class's teaching assistant, and then ran a semester-long test on his students to see if they'd ever realise that they weren't talking to a human being at all on their class forum. To their credit though, many students did get a little suspicious, and the fact that the TA's name was Jill Watson (because the bot was powered by IBM's Watson) may have thrown up a red flag here or there. [via TheNextWeb]
The Actual Health Benefits of Yoga, Beyond Stretching and Flexibility
This video from DNews probably does the best job I've seen at breaking down the health benefits of yoga (alongside the dumbed down, reductive, blatantly misappropriative aspects of how it's practised in the West) that I've seen since, well, the last time we talked about it around here.
More than a few studies have pointed to the fact that the act of relaxation and meditation and focusing on your body in concert with exercise can bring the benefits of both at the same time. In the end, you get reduced stress, eased chronic (or acute, for that matter) pain from long-term conditions and improved bloodflow. While it's no magic ticket to a long and healthy life, it's certainly on to something — something more people could benefit from, and they don't have to buy expensive mats and brand-name tights to participate. [via DNews]
Finding Your Flavours in the Kitchen
The New York Times recently started a new documentary series called Taste Makers, each a profile of an interesting or outstanding young person in America who's doing something unique in their aspiring career in the food industry — whether they're a chef, a farmer or an entrepeneur. This video, one of the first in the series, follows Adrienne Cheatham, an executive chef at Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.
To say the series is inspiring is a bit of an understatement. I always knew that working in the food industry is hard, long, thankless work, but this shines a bit of a light on it, and is always a good reminder. Marcus' kind (but forcefully honest) words about his chef in front of the camera were also particularly interesting from a leadership perspective, where he was more than easily able to talk about Adrienne's strengths and growth areas calmly with her standing right there. Adrienne's work and passion — and then coming home at night to pour herself a glass of something strong after a 12-16 hour day and work on her inspiration board, even though she says she's not feeling inspired, is also amazing.
Seriously, give the whole thing a watch. I'll probably include a few others from the playlist in future Thinking Caps, so don't binge the whole series, OK? [via The New York Times]
The Theories on How We Experience Consciousness, and a New Challenger: Time Slicing
There are two prevailing theories on how we experience the world and reality around us. One says it's kind of like a movie, a constant stream of information and perception without a real beginning or end. The other posits that it's more like the frames of a movie, imperceptible bits of time stitched together into perception to create consciousness, and a brain that glosses over the missing bits on behalf of the conscious mind.
Now there's a new theory, posited in a recent paper, published at PLOS Biology (full text there, so feel free to read it,) by a team of researchers who suggest that it's a bit of a hybrid, with consciousness happening in "time slices" of about 400 milliseconds each, and our brain stitching it together in a coherent, consistent manner. From ScienceAlert:
In their model, 'time slices' consisting of unconscious processing of stimuli last for up to 400 milliseconds (ms), and are immediately followed by the conscious perception of events.
"The reason is that the brain wants to give you the best, clearest information it can, and this demands a substantial amount of time," said researcher Michael Herzog from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). "There is no advantage in making you aware of its unconscious processing, because that would be immensely confusing."
According to Herzog and fellow researcher Frank Scharnowski from the University of Zurich, neither the 'continuous' nor 'discrete' hypotheses can by themselves aptly describe how we process the world around us, as numerous studies testing people's visual awareness seem to disprove both notions.
... After this analysis is complete, the researchers say the features we've detected are integrated into our conscious perception, compressing all the unconscious recording into something we're actually aware of.
In other words, while we're taking the world in, we're not actually consciously perceiving it. Instead, we're just mutely using our senses to record data for up to 400 ms at a time. Then, in what could be called a moment of clarity, we consciously perceive the stimuli that our senses have detected.
Of course, like any preliminary research, this is preliminary — and you shouldn't take this as ummutable fact or anything. It's just very interesting, and insight into the study of exactly how we perceive the world around us, and how we understand it. [via ScienceAlert]
A Billboard that Kills Zika Mosquitoes
The mosquito that carries the Zika virus also carries a number of other illnesses that can be fatal to humans. Putting aside the pending global issue with the Zika virus and the Olympics, much less the ongoing public health emergency in Brazil because of it, this simple billboard is capable of killing hundreds of mosquitoes every day — and the people who made it have released the plans and blueprints to the public under Creative Commons, so anyone can make one of their own.
It's more than a big bug zapper though. The billboard releases a combination of CO2 and lactic acid into the air, mimicking human breath and sweat to attract the mosquitoes. It's also lit, making it more attractive to the bugs at night. At the bottom is a simple capture device, sucking in the mosquitoes that fly near it and trapping them inside until they die of dehydration.
It's a simple solution that's effective at killing the mosquitoes already in the air. Combined with disposing of standing water and disturbing water where mosquitoes breed, it's an easy one-two punch that towns and municipalities can put into action to control their mosquito populations, whether they're worried about Zika or not. [via Hackaday]
That's all for this week. If you have thought-provoking stories, interesting podcasts or eye-opening videos, share them in the comments below!
Title gif by Nick Criscuolo.