A short primer on your longest nerve
Ordovician life, the importance of dirt, and tips for being a lazy gardener
Is it really all just mumbo-jumbo woo-woo talk?
Hyperloop’s plans to cut your travel time by ten
Our incomplete education could end the world. Can the humanities save us from ourselves?
What our sense of smell can tell us about language, memory, and how we handle trauma
How do we prevent robots from turning on their human masters?
How you can use the hero’s journey to help you in everyday life
Hot springs, colourful microbes: surviving in a world that’s unique, beautiful, and hostile
Settling down is no easy task - especially when you're on a different planet
The ancient rules that lie behind divinity, democracy, and Daraprim
From backyards to backstreets, evolution marches on.
How come our Universe was fine-tuned to enable the miracle of Life?
Consider Omega. Commonly known as the density parameter, it tells us how
important gravity is in the expanding universe.
The highly processed history of a much overlooked fruit
When something is plain and boring, we call it vanilla. “Vanilla ice cream”,
we say, and think of the “default flavour”: a bit dull,...
Deciding which species to keep and which to discard? Maybe there’s a simple
This story can also be read on Medium
The world, and your phone, is dependent on chemicals. What happens when they run
When you hear the word “elements”, you probably think of the Periodic Table. A
large uneven grid, list...
Want to use land wisely? Then analyse the ‘skin’ of the Earth
This story can also be read on Medium
Are AI trained with computers and data? Yes — but first, you need a human.
Look closely at the image on the screen. Scrutinise each pixel. Trace out the
houses, the buildings, the lamp-posts...
Is fire really evil? Maybe it’s just a natural part of the environment.
This post can also be viewed on Medium
Ever wondered how to deep-fry without oil? This is almost, if not quite, the
Deep frying might be the only cooking technique that seems to make everything
better, from the mundane, l...
Here’s low-tech tool to reverse climate change
This post can also be viewed on Medium
How to measure the immeasurable — and why it can sometimes go wrong.
Different people have different swearing habits. Some people spew out
expletives at the drop of a hat, while others fee...
Criminals usually pay for their misdeeds. But who is really to blame for crime?
Adrian Raine is a renowned criminologist. He teaches psychology in the
University of Pennsylvania and has writ...
How your next word is predicted — and how you can make it more accurate.
Have you ever cursed the autocorrect on your phone?
Tried typing someone’s name, maybe, and had it changed to a rand...
Can diagnoses depend on your doctor’s mother tongue?
My passion for the nuances of language has deep roots in who I am as a person.
I study intercultural communication: it’s about how peop...
Camels in the land of kangaroos? Yes, you got that right.
It’s worth paying attention to what type of music we listen to.
“Where words fail, music speaks.”
~ Hans Christian Andersen
Growing up through my twenties, I mostly only listened to one ba...
Form bits to qubits: how computers leverage quantum quirks run things even
Superposition, tunnelling, entanglement, and other bits and pieces of quantum
In Part 2
Why duality is like an elephant: an overview of the double-slit experiment and
Is a particle a wave? Is a mango a line? Some things can never be known for
Quantum Physics has always been that one mysterious theory that has been really
difficult to understand...
Do users have a ‘body’ that exists independently from the online profile?
Is there life after deletion?
That’s a question that has never been answered. Or rather, it’s been answered
Dear Snipette readers,
This 11th of June, we are celebrating our second anniversary. (!!!)
That is not a sentence we ever expected to be able to write. Neither are the
ones that follow.
Most of our vegetables can’t fight back. So how do onions bring us to tears?
Onions are one of those flavourful foods that compliment almost any dish. So
much so, we’ve even learned to pow...
Don’t wait for creativity to come to you — create it yourself
Let’s travel back in time. Travel way, way back. Back to when our ancestors
roamed the wilderness with nothing more than anima...
Theories are great at describing the world—but we need to take them less
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
I agree, always start with the bad news.
As a former sc...
Hello, Snipette readers!
Change is afoot, and we wanted to let you all know.
Good news first: we’re glad to welcome a new member to the Snipette editorial
team. Trisha Sam [htt...
Join my journey from the mid-galactic black-hole to the keratin in your hair,
and discover the beauty of physics
The evening before my departure to Geneva, Switzerland, I was looking up in
Why does the Earth spin one way and not the other? There’s a logical reason.
The Sun sits, a big bright blob in the centre of the Solar System. Small and
smaller balls spin round in concentr...
The new climate movement that thinks Greenpeace isn’t green enough
One day in the middle of last October, Greenpeace experienced a sit-in by
climate activists at their headquarters. Apparent...
Or, how to make a telescope as large as the world
This is it. The first image that has ever been taken of any black hole.
And maybe it doesn’t look spectacular at first, but consider this:...
In Japan, an year is more than just a number. But is this culturally rich system
still relevant today?
30st April 2019 is going to be a momentous day for the people of Japan. For the
The hidden details that influence your decisions — and the Aztec way to deal
Suddenly, the subsidies stopped coming. They just didn’t arrive. Then, people
found the money going to ...
What lessons can today’s world learn from an ancient Mongol debate?
I was watching a Fox News video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XptovfGo1Xo]
the other day, about the Green New Deal.
Privacy, Patreon, and paywalled Papers: the ethics of payments on the World Wide
If there’s one way the State of Tamilnadu makes money, it’s through alcohol.
While all states levy taxes ...
White spots are good: are you throwing away a perfectly good cheese?
The funny thing about being a food scientist, is that before meeting me, most
people have never even heard of my field....
A super-smart AI may not be evil. But what it could be, is even more dangerous.
This year, SpaceX made it possible to reuse rockets, by making them land on
earth instead of burning up in t...
How were programming languages built? Here’s a brief history.
Who owns the Mound? The answer is not so clear.
The Mound rises up like a tiny mountain on the grass. Tiny compared to
mountains, that is: on the scale of those who live in it, the Mound can...
We’ve been catching it since time immemorial — so why does the cure still elude
Have you ever had a cold? I certainly have. In fact, I have one right now, even
though you (obviously) can...
Why can’t people from different social networks stay in touch with each other?
In two months’ time, Google Plus will be gone.
I first saw the message circulating sometime last October. “Sav...
Hello, Snipette readers!
This is to inform you of some upcoming changes in content and scheduling. A lot
of you sent in responses to our Year-End Survey, and after taking a careful look
Are we basically two people at once?
We like to think that each one of us is only one kind of person, a whole
comprised of various facets and feelings. And as an extension of that, we like
Most invasions are planned in advance. But this one was an accident.
He sets out in search of food every morning, his mighty wings keeping him aloft.
The food may be many tens of kilometres ...
How long does your brain take to buffer? And what’s that got to do with your big
If you get onto a bus anywhere in Tamil Nadu, be prepared for music.
Private and state-run buses alike ...
How fast does time move? The answer depends on what you’re thinking.
Time is fixed. A second is a second, there’s no question about it. Or so people
Then came Albert Einstein, with...
Taking a closer look at the inside cover of a book.
What do you own?A house, maybe? A car? Some land? Or, if you’re a teenager like
me, basically nothing?
Or, should I say, basically nothin...
How fast does time go, exactly? The answer can depend on who you are.
The screen flickers high and low, in bits and pieces. Some regions go dim for a
while, only to brighten up again. The pi...
Hello, Snipette readers!
It’s time once again, for a new year to come round — and with it, more new
things that we’re planning at Snipette!
In this email, we’ll take a brief look back, and...
All the dogs had a role — except for Mutt Lee Cole
All the dogs in Dog Town
were waiting for the fair.
All the dogs. Yes, all the dogs.
Those with and without hair.
The Dog Town fair was ...
What is a plant made of? The answer may surprise you.
Plants grow. Everyone knows that. But what do they grow from?
Animals take material from the food they eat: part of it comes out the ot...
Thin Air [https://medium.com/snipette/thin-air-1827216638bd]
The book that sparked ‘Thin Air’
This piece was inspired by Gabrielle Walker’s book An Ocean of Air. A
substantial amount of the ...
It’s not just about turning text to thoughts: how you read, and what you read it
on, can literally change your brain.
This piece began in my quest to try and find an answer to the age-old de...
Hello, Snipette readers!
Editors Badri [https://medium.com/u/72e9114ca8b3] and Manasa
[https://medium.com/u/76a7bca179b] here. We’ll be brief: When do you usually
We are pla...
Thinner than thread and stronger than steel, silk is not simply for snares.
She’s full of brains. Very full. That’s practically all she is — a brain with
its support system, carried on eight...
We asked you when you read Snipette. Thanks for letting us know the answer!
Your answer will help us decide the best time to publish Snipette articles.
We’ll let you know when the change is...
Long before JPEGs, typewriting and knitting were making pictures from dots
Type the symbols colon, dash, and right-parenthesis, and voìla, you get a smiley
face. (Nowadays, most people leave...
No matter where or how you write, a bit of you stays behind
The phone suddenly began beeping with SMSes. Your account has been debited by
ten thousand rupees, the first one said. It was foll...
The old type of printing-press is gone — but the lines they made us say are
still very much around
You press a button on the keyboard, and a metal block of the corresponding
Humans dream of contacting aliens — but will we understand what they’re saying?
“Are we alone in the Universe?”
That’s a question humans have been pondering all the time, including in this
How Diwali celebrations make for prettier sunsets
The sky is a picturesque watercolour blend of grey and orange, the tangerine
evening sun bleeding colour into the bleak grey dusk. There are...
The conscious, the subconscious, and the neural network of your smartphone’s
Before showing up for an examination, the man telephoned Sigmund Freud to fix an
appointment. He also ma...
A library without librarians, a bookshelf without books, and other wonders of
the modern word.
It’s late in the night, when most people are getting ready for bed — if they
aren’t asleep alre...
You can’t always trust people to pay you — but what if you could trust the money
Money: what is it?
We all use it. We all want it. We all think about how to make more. Money can be
I help water to freeze and ice to fall, and can make clouds rain at my command.
Birds have large wings and streamlined bodies to help them stay aloft. But if
you’re small enough, you don’t n...
A netizen’s guide to the postal service
These days, messaging is much easier than ever before. Apps and services like
WhatsApp and Telegram allow you to send not just short texts, but also p...
Nobody’s found signs of alien life yet. So why do they keep on looking?
Extra-terrestrial life. What images just popped into your mind? Little green
men? ET, the gnarly but ultimately friend...
Darkness is just the absence of photons. Or is it?
A National Heritage is something special. Whether it’s a work of art or a
natural wonder, it’s something unique that people are proud of. I...
They talk about Life on other planets, but have we even seen the limits of life
here on Earth?
Planet Mars is ice cold and desert dry. Except in the frozen ice-caps, there’s
not a drop of wa...
You go to sleep. What happens next?
We all sleep. Every night, we tuck ourselves into bed — or whatever nook we can
find — close our eyes, and escape into a faraway land of magic. Here, anyt...
Are today’s people really more tech-savvy? Or is it the other way round?
Smartphones now outnumber computers, in terms of customer usage. Not everyone
needs a laptop to work, but everyone ne...
Will the leguminous Prince find her? And what root will he take?
This story can also be read on Medium
I was reading a ‘book’ the other day. It was designed quite well.
The hardest part of software design (or so they say) is not the program logic or
intricate algorithms. It’s not the tracking...
No jaywalking allowed? Actually, roads were for people. Here’s how the cars took
The city centre of Bogotá is quiet. Well, quieter than you might expect. The low
purr of engines and th...
In order to truly read quickly, we need a language that’s seen and not heard.
There are no staff in the Ximen Intelligent Library of Taipei. You pick the
books you want, and an automated sys...
Drought, overuse, tourism, climate change? No: here, the problems are different.
There is a place, where the road narrows for a few dozen choked meters, and runs
right alongside the rajakalu...
When chess moves are logical but don’t make sense
My brother was once playing chess against a computer. He was winning the game,
though both sides had only a few pieces left.
The computer h...
They wanted to listen to Sputnik. Instead, they invented the GPS.
It’s interesting to track an Ola cab coming to you once you’ve hailed it. To
start with, the car is several feet wider than ...
Hello, Snipette readers.
We are now officially one year old!
While we published our first article in February of 2017, the magazine in its
current iteration of Understandability, Perspecti...
Thought climate-change would warm the world forever? Think again.
Today, humans are damaging the environment at an unprecedented rate. By the time
you are done reading this article, we will ...
How does a river fight disease? By making your illness catch a cold.
The river Ganga has always been known for its healing powers and the purity of
its water. Even when stored for a long tim...
How do you pick up a tune, and hold it in your hand?
A gentle music drifts around the room. It comes from the piano in the
middle — an antique, with a sturdy wooden body and ivory keys. Insi...
One year ago, when we sent out our first letter, Snipette was a small
publication with seven followers and a handful of stories under its belt. We’ve
come a long way since then. A hundred an...
Some organisms never quite worked out how to live with it. This is the story of
where they went.
Off the coast of Japan, for four months a year, the deep blue sea is transformed
into a stunn...
First there were six. Then there were nine. And then there were eight. Now, are
The English word “planet’ has been in use for centuries. It was being used in
the time of Old Engli...
Unless you’ve got around to unsubscribing, your email inbox is probably full of
updates and promotions and notifications and newslette...
Light, sight, and why things may not be the same colours they look
Did you know that the sky looks blue? You probably did, specially if you’ve seen
it. But just because it looks blue doesn’t...
When cars get self-conscious: a brief look at the Volkswagen scandal
Diesel is cheap — cheaper than petrol. That’s why car companies have been
investing heavily in developing diesel engines ...
When solutions end up creating more problems.
Earlier, people just made typos. They might write “onw” instead of “one” or
“teh” instead of “the” because their fingers touched slightly wrong ...
The little creatures that rule the world
Drifting through the warm ocean waters, the Portuguese Man-o’-War is no ordinary
jellyfish. It is not a jellyfish at all. In fact, it may not even be...
When you lose focus, what do your eyes focus on?
Sometimes, our thoughts drift during conversations, or we mentally ‘switch-off’
during a particularly boring lecture. I’ve especially notic...
They may seem still. But actually, they’re always on the move.
Ants move around while travelling. But when trees travel, they also stay put
exactly where they are.
Trees don’t travel like w...
Will Martian astronauts be able to load YouTube?
Mars rovers, as mentioned last week
[https://medium.com/snipette/rover-control-96d3acad4f5d], can’t be controlled
directly with a joystick. E...
4G is coming to the Moon. Can it be used for spacecraft on Mars?
“Download large files in a matter of minutes. Enjoy group video chat with your
friends and family. Stream movies and more, wh...
Hello, Snipette readers.
We hope you’ve been enjoying our articles so far. We’ve covered several new
topics these past three months — but before we look at them, we’d like to ask
you a ques...
Travel is fast, on the roadway that has no cars.
When Charles Dickens wrote about them in the 19th century, horse-carriages were
still new. Dickens marvelled at how fast these carriages coul...
In your telephone-line, it enables eavesdropping. In your brain, it could be the
mechanism behind metaphors.
I was speaking to a friend on the phone the other day, when I suddenly heard the
There’s General Relativity and Special Relativity. And then, there’s the
relativity we encounter every day.
I’ve noticed that, when Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is discussed, it’s often
Carbon is not alive. But without carbon, there would be no life at all.
This story can also be read on Medium
Computers are good at doing their job, but you should remember to tell them to
Have you ever spoken to a computer?
I don’t mean saying hi to Siri or Alexa, or asking Google what the ...
If Mars was magnetic, could Life have lived?
Among the swirling clouds of cosmic dust, small lumps were slowly forming. Tiny
particles happened to get together, and their combined gravity se...
Childhood memories of a Carbon atom
Actually, come to think of it, “life” may not be the most fitting term. To be
considered alive, I’d have to meet several criteria —being able to breathe,
Why does the moon stay up in the sky? Because it’s always falling.
If you go out at night on the 31st of January, remember to look up at the moon.
Wednesday’s full-moon is going to be a spe...
It was first invented in the 1970s. They’re still working on it today.
What if any surface could be digitally changed to show whatever pattern or image
you wanted? If you could change your r...
Why you may get WhatsApp messages from people you’ve never heard of before.
Suddenly, my friend got a load of WhatsApp photos. They were pictures the sender
had taken during a trip to the Hi...
Hello, Snipette readers.
Last month, by the end of the year, we realised we had reached a hundred
followers. Firstly: Hoorayyy!
Secondly, one hundred is a lot of people. So we’d like to th...
When you’re inside water, sleeping is not so easy.
At first glance, it looks like just a ball of baked mud. The scorching sun has
been shining down on the land for months, turning the very b...
Ever wondered where all those letters to Santa go?
Christmas. ’Tis the season to be jolly and deck the halls with boughs of holly
and everything else detailed in that carol that I can never ...
What you speak is what you think. Or is it the other way round?
What language do you think in?
Sometimes, thoughts come into your head. Just like that. It’s only later that
you put them int...
Fireflies blink their lights. In the ocean, it’s more dramatic.
Deep down in the ocean, there is no red.
The ocean is so deep and so filled with water, that even light has to fight to
The kudu antelope explains how and when to eat.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t eat a large amount of acacia leaves without
falling sick? It’s not that your body can’t handle so much ac...
Introducing vectors, the hidden arrows that make your images sharp
Normally, computers don’t draw lines. They only draw dots.
“Green dot,” they say, “green dot, green dot, blue dot, blue do...
How does money travel in time? Here are the details.
This article is a follow-up of Time Travel: How banks make money by borrowing
from the future [https://medium.com/snipette/time-travel...
How banks make money by borrowing it from the future
Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
Learning to drive is not easy. Especially if you’re a car.
The van in front was following the road rules a bit too meticulously for his
liking. It would stop the moment a signal turned red, ...
A multi-’fauceted’ analogy of LEAN process improvement
What is ‘LEAN’ process improvement? How does the LEAN way improve processes?
To gain an understanding, it’s best to start literally.
They can rise when they’re hungry. They can sink when they’re thirsty. And they
prefer things with a pinch of salt.
In the shallower parts of the Akanko, or Lake Akan, there live many round ...
The libraries of the future will be very different— and yet, their original
charm will remain much the same.
I’m an avid user of public libraries. During a recent visit, I began thinking
What’s a person? The answer’s not nearly as simple as you’d think.
On the 16th of March 2017, the Parliament of New Zealand passed a new law
recognising Te Awa Tupua as a legal person.
Dam It: Part 2
When what was river becomes land
Last time [https://medium.com/snipette/drowning-valleys-d280af3635c7], I
outlined the effects of dams on the areas immediately surrounding the...
Dam It: Part 1
When what was land becomes river
Dams. The only man-made constructions that can block the flow of the mighty
river. They stop the water from flowing where it is, and help the ...
Electric cars. How do they work? How do they feel? What would it be like to own
The first thing you’ll notice about the car is that it makes no noise. It just
starts moving, so silently...
As we gear up for electric cars, a smaller revolution has gone relatively
Last July, India announced it would end the sale of petrol cars by 2030, and
move towards electric ones i...
From Eberhard to Elon Musk, the short but swift history of the world’s most
It all started when Martin Eberhard thought of buying a sports-car.
He couldn’t bring hims...
Thomas Parker made his electric car in 1874. So why aren’t they more widely used
All cars need electricity to start. Even if they run on petrol or diesel, they
need an initial push to...
Countries around the world are pushing for an electric future. But they’re doing
it for different reasons.
Yesterday, we featured India’s plan to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars
India plans to make all new cars electric by 2030. Will it work?
For a brief while, Delhi was on the top of the list. The question you’d want to
ask next is, which list was that?
In this ca...
Is your planning system working? Or is it just another item on the to-do list?
Nowadays, there are many things that people need to keep track of. Many people
turn to productivity systems and...
Right from the beginning, we had planned to send a letter when we reached fifty
followers — but over the last few weeks, you people helped us cross fifty so
fast that we di...
A rambling review of This Is Not Your Story by Savi Sharma
Savi Sharma’s This Is Not Your Story came highly recommended by a friend over
email. A few weeks later, I discovered a signed copy ...
Stuck in a microwave oven? Here’s how not to get cooked.
If you get stuck in a microwave oven, don’t panic. As an ant, your body is small
enough to take the rays for a short while. The impor...
From door-latches to iris-scans, the art of blocking people has gone a long way.
And it’s still going.
In the beginning, people didn’t have passwords. They could just go wherever they
It’s written on practically every Indian lorry. But what does it mean?
Have you ever wondered about the meaning of “Horn OK Please” that comes on the
back of so many trucks?
The reason for ...
Messages may get lost in the post. But you can at least stop them getting lost
in your email.
Some people are always on their inbox. Send them an email, and you’ll get a
reply within minutes...
What if the main dish was really a dish?
It’s a common thing for people to carry their own food while travelling on a
train. But when I’m travelling on the 12677 Intercity Express, from Beng...
Imagine if you could pick up a drop of water, and carry it, just like that?
Sixteen thousand new plastic bottles are made every second. One week from now,
there’ll be enough new ones to circ...
My brother likes fact books. He has a whole pile of them, scattered around the
house; a “World of Facts” on the coffee table, a “How do they do all that?”
beside his bed, a “Mammals: The ...
Before leaves, and before coal, there lived the Lepidodendron.
Most of the coal deposits humans use today come from the great Carboniferous
forests of 350 million years ago. These forests sp...
Have you ever played a video game where an obstacle showed up on your screen out
of the blue?
What happened after that? Nothing too troublesome, I’m guessing. You probably
just restarted th...
Why do whales get beached? Now we know.
Have you ever tried to say something while your head is underwater? Did it end
up garbled, with too many bubbles coming in the way? That’s because you...
If planet earth was a company, it would be doing very badly.
Every businessman understands the concept of capital — the amount of money and
resources necessary to start a business. For insta...
Welcome to Snipette, where we write about everything — from Google to Garbage to
The range of articles we publish is diverse. They could be stories, info-pieces,
If you’ve ever clicked the first search result you received, then the answer is
Have you ever heard of the search bubble? It’s the term for what happens when
you use too much personaliz...
It might not seem something as constant as length would have a history, but it
In fact, it goes back to the times of ancient civilizations.
To begin with, you can’t really specify the...
There are hundreds of different kinds of pasta — you’ll never be able to
remember all of them! — but they’re all made from the same basic ingredients:
100% durum wheat, and water. More flavo...
Take control of your conversations with XMPP (part 2)
Most people assume that their WhatsApp or Hangouts conversations are private.
Actually, when you sign up for their services, you give th...
An brief introduction to XMPP
What with WhatsApp, WeChat, Hangouts, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger, not to
mention a lot of others, do you ever get tired of all the apps you have to run,
When you first start typing, it takes a long time. First of all, the letters are
in some strange order, and you have to search around the keyboard for every
stroke. Once you’ve finished one ...
The wildlife of Australia includes a lot of endemic species — that is, species
that are found only in Australia, and nowhere else in the world. 83% of the
Australian mammals are endemic, as ...
It was the solar-powered racing-cars in Australia that gave Abdul Malek Azad the
idea. Azad is a professor at BRAC University in Dhaka, and also the leader of a
project to make a solar-power...
If your pencil makes a slip,
and your straight line has a dip,
or you tried to draw a ship,
but messed the sail,
or lines were only needed when
you had not yet done the final pen,
— the era...
If you were a vulture flying for the first time across certain parts of the
desert, you would notice the waves. Not cool wet ones, but yellow, lumbering
ones spread out across the land. The ...
Note: This is the second installation of a 2-part article. You can read the
first part here
After a few days of waitin...
Alternating Current is called Alternating Current because it keeps changing the
direction in which it moves. That happens because it’s made by turning an magnet
round inside a coil of wire. ...
The little bits that reveal your secrets
When naturalist Gerald Durrell was on his way to the land of Bafut, in Cameroon,
he stopped at a marketplace on his way and tried to take photographs...
Imagine being one of your ancestors, hundreds of millions of years ago.
You look out of your cave, through the towering trees, and there is danger
everywhere. Through the forests run the two...
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