Curious Bends – Pichai’s Google, oceanic river, mostly harmless MSG and more

1. Inside the mind of the man behind Google’s most important products​

“So when Pichai talks about the next billion people about to come online with smartphones, I get the impression that, for him, Google’s monetization strategy really is secondary to Pichai’s stated goal: giving people everywhere the power of Google’s machine learning whenever and wherever they need it. He’s clearly proud of the fact that Google’s products work the same whether you’re a billionaire or a rural farmer in a far-flung place. And Pichai’s vision is to ensure that dedication becomes a part of everything Google makes.” (15 min read,

2. There’s a 1,000km-long river in the sea in the Bay of Bengal​

“This very intense freshwater flux into a relatively small and semi-enclosed basin results in an intense dilution of the salt contained in seawater. The over 100 km-wide freshwater mass that is formed from river discharges and runoffs is transported down south by the East Indian Coastal Current, the western boundary current of the Bay of Bengal. The freshwater signal generally becomes smaller and occurs later while progressing toward the southern tip of India.” (3 min read,

3. Why we have become so anxious about MSG​

“Is MSG harmful? Not when you consider lab-produced glutamic acid and naturally occurring glutamic acid are chemically indistinguishable. When the compound from either source enters our guts, it’s digested in an indistinguishable way. Finally, here’s the clincher: despite what alarmist news reports will tell you, glutamic acid – and MSG, for that matter – is found naturally in mushrooms, peas, potatoes, soy sauce, tomatoes and walnuts. Yes, people can have legitimate allergic reactions to MSG, but no, its presence in Maggi Noodles doesn’t deserve to be uttered in the same breath as the presence of lead, a heavy metal with far worse consequences.” (6 min read,

4. Treatment for Ebola may have been in pharmacies all along

“An alternative approach is to check whether already-approved drugs could be used to treat the new disease. This process is called “drug repurposing” or “drug repositioning,” and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has applied it to find new drugs for Ebola. In a study just published in Science Translational Medicine, they report finding two such drugs that could be used in Ebola treatment soon.” (4 min read,

5. An effective way to stop invasive fish is to create disco bubbles underwater

“But bubbles do not stop all species. To make them scarier, Ovivo, another Quebec firm, illuminates bubbles with flashing bright lights and installs underwater speakers to produce loud noises. Although it seems a bit like an aquatic disco the constantly changing lighting and sound sequences are scientifically calculated to be as obnoxious as possible to various aquatic species. The combo works well enough to mostly keep Chinook salmon, a species not typically afraid of bubbles, out of a pumping station that draws water from the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in Tracy, California.” (4 min read,

Chart of the Week

“The authors do not claim to prove that religion causes an innovation deficit. However, they hypothesise that theocratic models of government, in which political leaders are strongly influenced by religious institutions, may provide a channel for anti-scientific views to influence public policy. As examples, they cite the banning of printing in the Ottoman Empire, and the controversial decision by the former American president George W. Bush to limit the federal government’s funding of stem-cell research. Even after taking into account these restrictions, the existence of the United States is still problematic for the theory: a fifth of the world’s GDP comes from a country that is both religious and innovative. And if religion does in fact depress innovation, that does not necessarily mean it is bad for economic growth. After all, faith could quite plausibly offer benefits, such as social cohesion, that outweigh its costs.” (2 min read,