Ways you can use algorithms to improve your day-to-day decision-making, what astronauts say space is really like and the importance of plain language in communication — 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, interviews, articles and other media that will teach you something new, inspire you and hopefully cap off your week nicely. Let's get started.
What Space Is Actually Like, From People Who Have Actually Been There
I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and I'm willing to bet that most of you at some point have at least wondered what it was actually like to be in space — not just the whole microgravity thing, but what it's actually like, as in what it smells like in a spacecraft; how it feels on a day to day basis; what it's like to eat, drink, sleep and live in space. Well, a new book, What's It Like In Space? by Ariel Waldman, talks to some of the people who have actually been to chronicle their experiences.
Make Magazine has a wonderful interview with Waldman where they discuss how she got interested in the topic, how she chose the stories for the book and why she went with more anecdotal and interesting stories over the more educational ones you might find anywhere. One tidbit that stood out in the interview was this little story of serendipity, and how Waldman was inspired by one of my favourite documentaries ever:
I actually wasn't really a space or science geek growing up. I was in love with design and attended art school. But, a few years ago I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel called When We Left Earth about the early days of NASA trying to get a human into space. What really struck me was when they interviewed people who had worked in mission control at the time, they talked about how they didn't know anything about spacecrafts or orbits or rocketry and that they were essentially learning as they went along. I was watching this and said to myself, well I don't know anything about space exploration and I'd like to work at NASA — that sounds amazing!
So you never know. Sometimes an inspired dream is worth a shot in the dark. [via Make Magazine]
How Algorithms Can Improve Your Life (And When)
On last week's and this week's episodes of the Note to Self podcast (hosted by awesome person and friend of Lifehacker, Manoush Zomorodi), the crew tackled a topic close to our hearts: How you can use algorithms — or pre-programmed routines — to improve your life, sift through a ton of variables and ultimately relieve decision fatigue and paralysis and make easier choices. On the first episode of the two-parter (which you can play above), Manoush and Brian Christian, co-author of a book on this topic, discuss a few productivity and lifestyle tips that we've also shared, like the last paper or object on your desk likely being the one you need next, or why you should stop filing emails and just use search (seriously, really) to find what you need.
In the second part of the two-part series, Manoush actually tries out some of the algorithms and techniques described in the first half of the series, with some success. You can listen to her exploration of how she put some of these to work in the embedded podcast above. Listen to both episodes, then see how — and which — ones you think might work best in your own day to day life. [via WNYC, Part One, and Part Two]
The Science Of Chilling A Drink
We've discussed dozens of ways to chill a drink here at Lifehacker over the years, but the folks at Lucky Peach actually dove into the nitty gritty of why drinks chill the way they do, how different types of ice speed or slow the cooling process and how all of that knowledge can help you make better drinks and cocktails. Folks who just want to booze up to get drunk need not apply this time — this is a long guide for people who love the science of mixing up a tasty adult beverage, and want to apply it to their own repertoire. For example:
A little dose of science will do you good. Think like a scientist and you will make better drinks. You don't need to be a scientist, or even understand much science, to use the scientific method to your advantage. Control variables, observe, and test your results; that's pretty much it. This book shows you how to make your drinks more consistent, how to make them consistently better, and how to develop delicious new recipes without taking random shots in the dark.
OK, so I'm on board. The guide goes on to explain why ice type, size and shape matters:
Every gram of ice melted provides eighty calories of chilling power. To put that power in perspective, an average 3.5-ounce (90-ml) daiquiri will melt between 55 and 65 grams of ice when you shake it for 10 seconds. That averages 2000 watts of chilling power — per drink. Shake four of those bad boys at once and you are blasting 8000 watts of chilling power.
All ice has 80 calories per gram of chilling power, regardless of how big or how fancy it is, but how that chilling power is delivered depends on the ice's size and shape. The important difference between big ice cubes and small ones is their surface area. Smaller pieces of ice have more surface area for a given weight than larger pieces. These smaller pieces can therefore chill faster, which is good, but they also have more liquid water stuck to their surfaces, which is often bad. The surface of ice can also trap some of your cocktail so that it never makes it into your glass. Let's look at these three issues — surface area and chilling rate, surface area and trapped water, surface area and trapped cocktail — one at a time.
We don't want to give away quite everything here, but the whole thing is well worth a read. The guide moves on to talking about surface area (and why big spheres or cubes of ice are way better than multiple ice cubes) and about super chilled ice (which is a thing I didn't know was a thing). [via Lucky Peach]
A 1944 Memo Railing Against "Gobbledygook", and Praising Plain, Simple Language
The first known use of "gobbledygook" in the English language came from this 1944 memo (shown above), from Maury Maverick, then manager and chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation during World War II. He urged his staff to "stay off of gobbledygook language" and to "be short and use plain English", something that we could all use a reminder of from time to time.
It's important to note that he doesn't encourage dumbing down your message — in fact, he praises using statistical and other data to support your stories — he just points out that they should be saved as attachments for those who want to read more. The important story, the whole story and the point should be right up front. As for its origins? From the Wikipedia page about "gibberish":
Later, writing in the New York Times Magazine, he defined gobbledygook as "talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words". The allusion was to a turkey, "always gobbledygobbling and strutting with ridiculous pomposity".
Good reminder, and a good history lesson too. The full note itself is held in the National Archives, and the lesson comes to us courtesy of BoingBoing, who found it from the equally awesome Futility Closet. [via Futility Closet]
Are Payday Loans Really As Evil As People Say?
I'm not here to make the case for payday loans. I think they're awful, predatory and take advantage of people and communities most at risk for falling into crushing debt — and I think more people are coming around to understanding that. However, this week's episode of the Freakonomics podcast does address both sides of the coin, pointing out that a lot of people who rail against them so hard are also in financial positions where they have never needed the kinds of financial services these types of lending services offer, and that they're often services not at all provided by traditional banks and lenders.
At the end of the day, the podcast is worth a listen and consideration, even if to challenge your own confirmation bias one way or the other, and to learn a bit more about what's becoming an even more controversial industry, with even more light being directed onto it. [via Freakonomics]
A Beautiful Time-Lapse Of Some of America's Great Natural Spaces
I always like to end Thinking Cap with a little something inspiring or relaxing, and this series of time-lapse videos of some of America's greatest natural spaces and beauties fits perfectly. It's five minutes, but if you can, full-screen and enjoy. I'll let it speak for itself. [via National Geographic]
That's all for this week. If you have thought-provoking stories, interesting podcasts or eye-opening videos, share them in the comments below!