Posted in History & Literature

Zodiac: Leo

Leo is the Zodiac sign for those born between July 23 and August 22. The symbol for Leo is a ferocious lion.

The model for Leo is the Nemean Lion, killed by Hercules during one of his twelve labours. The Nemean Lion was a frightening beast with claws sharper than any sword and able to cut through any armour, with a golden hide that could not be pierced by any weapon. With its ultimate offence and defence, no warrior could defeat the Lion and it continued to wreak havoc in Nemea. As stated in the legend of Cancer, Hercules had to complete twelve challenges for his sins, the Hydra being the second. The first labour was to kill the Nemean Lion. Not knowing that the Lion had invincible leather, Hercules shot many arrows at it with no effect. The Lion laughed at his vain attempt and pounced, ready to shred him with his claws. Hercules understood that arrows and swords were no use, so he pulled out his club and smashed the Lion’s head with full force. The Lion was completely stunned by the impact and Hercules took this opportunity to strangle it with his bare hands. After a few minutes, the Lion collapsed and Hercules came out as the victor. He tried to take the hide by cutting it with his knife, but the knife did not even make a scratch. After thinking about it, he took the claws of the Lion and found that this could cut through the hide. With the golden hide, Hercules made the toughest armour that would protect him from much harm in the future. The corpse of the Lion was lifted to the heavens and turned into a constellation.

(Part of the Zodiac series:

Posted in Science & Nature

Slavemaker Ant

Slavery is considered one of the most inhumane acts in humanity’s history, where a group of people enslave another group of people to do their bidding in harsh conditions. Slavery is an interesting concept as at the cost of other members of your species, you can greatly increase the productivity of your own society. Some may argue that only humans are evil enough to enslave their own kind, but there is one other species that enslaves other animals: ants.

Certain species of ants, known as slavemaker ants, are known to enslave entire ant colonies to do the bidding of their own colony. The way slavemaker ants enslave colonies is as follows. First, a pregnant queen ant lies in front of an enemy nest after mating and feigns death. Scouts from the nest carry the “body” back to their queen so that she may devour the fallen enemy. When the two queens are left in the same room, the queen slavemaker ant springs back to life and proceeds to eviscerate the other queen ant. She then rolls around in her remains to coat herself in pheromones – the substance through which ants identify each other. The ants of the colony now believe the queen to be their own queen and serve her and her eggs. When the brood fully matures (only soldier ants), they swiftly overrun the nest and completely enslave the colony, forcing them to fill the role of the worker ants, which the slavemaker ants lack.

Eventually, the original slaves die out and the colony becomes short on worker ants (as the queen only produces soldier ants). To overcome this issue, the colony sends out massive raiding parties to attack other colonies, after which the ants steal the eggs and larvae of the captured colony to breed them into new slaves. Interestingly, it has been observed that slavemaker ants tend to attack the most defended nests, knowing that they contain the most eggs and larvae. There are variations on how the army attacks and raids a colony depending on the species. Some choose to launch a full-on assault, decimating the colony and leaving only the eggs and larvae. Some secrete chemical gases that force the colony to evacuate, leaving their young behind in the rush. In some cases, a fertilised queen ant will sneak into a raid and kill the queen ant in the midst of the battle, commandeering whatever is left of the colony following the raid.

One difference between human and ant slavery is that slave ants are not aware they are slaves. Since they have been brought up since birth to work for the colony, they simply believe that they are worker ants birthed by the queen. Thus, they have no objections to serving the colony as to them they are merely fulfiling their objectives. 

This type of interaction between species is known as social parasitism, where one group benefits and survives at the cost of another group. Interestingly, “parasitism” also suggests that slavemaker ants cannot survive without their host. The reason being, slavemaker ants are so specialised in infiltrating and raiding other colonies that they cannot feed themselves or construct a colony by themselves. Even their mandibles are evolved into perfect killing machines, so much that they cannot use it to feed (slave ants have to feed them). In some cases, it has even been observed that slave ants had to carry their masters from one colony to another.

Slavemaker ants enslave not because they are tough or superior, but because they are desperate and have adapted to this unique form of surviving. Thus, if there was an Abraham Lincoln ant, he would certainly kill his colony within one generation.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Do you want to gain trust and build intimacy with someone? That is easy – all you have to do is recognise and accept their identity. Every person tries to define who they are by building an identity or their “self”. This identity includes their personality, experiences, philosophies and interests. If you wish to have a deep and meaningful conversation, start off with a light conversation to explore the person’s identity. What kinds of films do they like? What leisure activities do they enjoy in their free time? What occupation are they in? If you slowly learn such superficial information, an outline of their identity begins to take place. Also, observe the person’s attitude as they speak and how they respond to certain topics. You will be able to know or at least guess what their interests are.

As the person slowly becomes fond of you through conversation, simply lead the conversation towards their interests that you found out. The person will talk excitedly about their interests. Now, respond accordingly with a smile and a look of interest (better if you are actually interested). A positive conversation has been established. Steer the conversation so that the other person talks as much as possible about their “self”. The person will think that you share their interests, and nothing is as attractive as common interests.

Shall we go one step deeper? Interests give an outline and begin to add colour to the identity, but to recognise their identity as a whole you must gather more specific data. Once a sense of trust and intimacy begins to develop, the conversation can develop into a more personal one. Talk about the person’s past, their philosophies, their dreams, hopes and aspirations. The more intimate information they share with you, the deeper the intimacy becomes and the more you learn about their identity. The important point here is that you not only learn about their identity, but acknowledge it every step of the way. The greatest gesture you can make to another person is accepting them for who they are. If you talk with someone that understands you and accepts you, you will talk as if time does not matter and share your deepest secrets.

On the other hand, if you wish to attack an enemy psychologically, what could you do? As you might have guessed, you should attack their identity. Pull out all of their weaknesses and faults and attack them, while logically disproving their fundamental beliefs and philosophies. Systematically pull apart their psyche and destroy the pride they have for their identity and even the strongest enemy will fall to their knees.

Posted in History & Literature

Thirty-Six Stratagems: Chapter 3 – Attacking Stratagems

(For all 36 stratagems, click here:

Attacking Stratagems are tactics that can utilised during a battle with the enemy.

Stratagem 13: Stomp the grass to scare the snake
Kill the startled snake as it leaps out of the grass. By taunting or provoking the enemy, you can lead them to give away their locations and create chaos.

Stratagem 14: Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul
Bring back something from the past that is believed to have no value and alter it so they have value.

Stratagem 15: Entice the tiger to leave its mountain lair
If you lure the enemy out of their heavily guarded camp and then attack, your chances of victory increase.

Stratagem 16: In order to capture, one must let loose
When capturing an enemy, do not corner them completely but open a small exit for them. A cornered enemy with no escape can attack with even more ferocity. Thus, if you allow them to escape and chase them until they run out of energy and the will to fight, you can capture the enemy with little sacrifice. Furthermore, if you set an ambush or trap for the enemy, you can easily decimate them.

Stratagem 17: Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem
This means to toss out something useless to gain something valuable. It is a tactic that utilises baiting the enemy. The point of the tactic is to throw out bait that does not seem like bait. On the other hand, it is important to have a keen sense of judgement to ensure you do not take the enemy’s bait. The ability to look past the immediate gain and see the long-term cost is a valuable skill.

Stratagem 18: Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief
This is a principle that states that if you kill the enemy’s leader or their key units, the rest will fall apart naturally. A group without a leader will run around like headless chickens until they are destroyed.

Posted in History & Literature

Thirty-Six Stratagems: Chapter 1 – Winning Stratagems

(For all 36 stratagems, click here:

The Thirty-Six Stratagems is a book from ancient China that outlines 36 stratagems (a ruse to change the flow of battle or aide a victory). The author and the time of writing are unclear, but it incorporates much wisdom from The Art of War and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Regardless of who wrote it, the Thirty-Six Stratagems is a must-read text as it outlines tactics that are very useful in war (especially the harsh battlefield of life) in a way that is easy for anyone to understand and learn. The thirty-six stratagems are divided into six categories: Winning Stratagems, Enemy Dealing Stratagems, Attacking Stratagems, Chaos Stratagems, Proximate Stratagems and Desperate Stratagems. Let’s learn them chapter by chapter.

Winning Stratagems are tactics that you can employ when you have all the conditions for a victory. They are tactics that utilise meticulous planning and deception to confuse the enemy and make victory certain.

Stratagem 1: Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean
People are not suspicious of things they have seen repeatedly. This is a perfect opportunity to seize. Give the enemy false reassurance through repeating a common act and strike when they are off guard.

Stratagem 2: Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao
Instead of facing the enemy head on, detour around them to strike their main base. It is a tactic where you capture something the enemy holds dear and using it to control the enemy as you wish.

Stratagem 3: Kill with a borrowed knife
Hide yourself while using a third party to bring harm to the enemy.

Stratagem 4: Leisurely await for the laboured
If you camp and rest at a strategic spot and strike the enemy after they have tired from a long march, you can raise the chance of winning. Also, laying siege to the enemy when they are short of food and tiring them out is another way to bring victory.

Stratagem 5: Loot a burning house
This means that you should strike when the enemy is in chaos when their base is on fire. In other words, take the opportunity when the enemy is in a tough spot and attack.

Stratagem 6: Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west
Distract the enemy’s attention to a different place and attack from a completely unpredicted location so that the enemy is unprepared.

Posted in History & Literature


In 305 BC, Demetrius I of Macedon waged war with the island of Rhodes, now known as the siege of Rhodes. During this siege, Demetrius utilised a superweapon that is, to this day, the largest siege tower ever built – the Helepolis. Helepolis loosely translates to “destroyer of cities”, which is interesting as Demetrius’ nickname was Poliorcetes, or “The Besieger” in ancient Greek. In short, Demetrius was set to raze Rhodes or wipe it off the map.

The Helepolis lived up to its name: designed by Polyidus of Thessaly, it was 40m high (about 13 stories), 20m wide, weighed 160 tons and had a crew of 3400 people. It had eight wheels, each 3.7m high, and had compound wheels that allowed it to move side-to-side. The 3400 men both pushed the tower and worked a belt system that moved the wheels forward. The entire structure was clad in iron plates, making it completely arrowproof and fireproof. 

Its armament was just as impressive. One face of the tower was covered in windows, with each concealing a catapult that could hurl heavy objects at the target. The first floor had a pair of catapults that could hurl 80kg projectiles (about the weight of a refrigerator) and one that launched 30kg projectiles. The second floor had three 30kg catapults and the third to eighth floor had ten 15kg catapults in total. Lastly, the roof had four dart throwers which could clear any defenders on the top of castle walls. Essentially, the tower had both the ultimate defensive and offensive capabilities.

Of course, there was no chance the Rhodians could stand a face-off with such a behemoth. So instead, they came up with a cunning plan that exploited the huge size of the Helepolis. The night before the siege began, the Rhodians channelled the water and sewage coming out of the city into the area they expected the attack to come from to create a vast area of mud and bog. When the Helepolis stormed in for the offensive, it immediately started sinking in the mire. Knowing that no amount of horses and men could pull the structure out of the mud, the soldiers abandoned the superweapon without even using it once. 

Ultimately, the siege of Rhodes failed (largely due to the failure of Helepolis) and the Rhodians took apart the Helepolis, melted the iron plates and used it to build the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders).

Posted in Science & Nature

Badass Weapons Of Nature: Mantis Shrimp

In April 1998, a shrimp by the name of Tyson punched through the quarter-inch-thick glass of his cell and attempted an escape. He was promptly caught and had to be sent to a more secure facility. Unlike his boxing counterpart, Tyson was merely 10 centimetres in length.
Mantis shrimp are well-known for their “fists of fury” – officially the fastest punch in the natural world.

Their weapons of choice are their clubs that can be retracted and folded under their head. Using a remarkable energy-storage system – much like the cocking mechanism of a gun combined with a spring – the mantis shrimp can unleash its rounded, stubby claws at a speed of 80km/h to hit its target in 0.003 seconds. This is an amazing feat given that it happens underwater, where the water puts up a significantly higher resistance compared to air. The acceleration needed to produce this awesome punch is 10,000 times the force of gravity (similar to a bullet). In simpler words, researchers could not film using high-speed cameras and needed to borrow a super high-speed camera just to see the punch happen. 

However, the surprises do not end here. Researchers soon found that each strike by the mantis shrimp not only inflicted heavy physical damage, but the sheer speed of the punch created cavitation (implosion of bubbles). Much like the pistol shrimp, this cavitation releases massive amounts of light and heat energy. This shockwave happens immediately after the punch, essentially resulting in the target receiving a deadly one-two hit combo which instantly knocks it out (or disintegrated). 

The force of the mantis shrimp’s punch can easily penetrate the hard shell of most crustaceans in the ocean, meaning no creature is safe. Mantis shrimps have also been observed beating up fish and octopi – and succeeding.

Not only does the mantis shrimp have the most powerful strike, it also has one of the most sophisticated eyes in nature and is extremely agile. This, combined with the shrimp’s cunning nature makes it the perfect hunter. It tends to ambush prey and swiftly knocks it out before it knows what hit it. If the one-hit KO fails, the mantis shrimp uses its agility to hit the foe and quickly swim away, then hit again from the other side until the foe is crushed.

Lastly, the shrimp described above is actually one type of mantis shrimp called a smasher. There is another subtype called spearer with claws modified into sharp spears that can be thrusted with the same force as the smasher’s clubs.

The only adequate metaphor to describe this awesome creature would be a Mike Tyson punching as hard as he can, in his prime, while his fist is attached to a meteor entering the atmosphere.

(Image source:

Posted in Science & Nature

Badass Weapons Of Nature: Pistol Shrimp

A gun is, without a doubt, a manmade object. It is an invention that has existed less than a thousand years in history. However, there is an animal that has been using firearms to hunt prey for a significantly longer period of time than mankind has.
The pistol shrimp is well known for its disproportionately large claw, with the other claw being much smaller like a normal shrimp. The massive claw is what is called the “pistol” and it is the weapon of choice for the shrimp.

When a pistol shrimp identifies a target, it swiftly takes aim with the claw and snaps it shut with enough force to create a bubble jet reaching a speed of almost 100km/h. Not only are bubbles produced, but the pressure wave created by the cavitation (the effect of a bubble imploding and generating energy) reaches a sound level of 218dB – which is about 100,000,000 times larger than a gunshot, or 10,000 times larger than a rocket launch. Furthermore, the energy is also released as light and heat, generating a temperature as hot as 4700°C (for comparison, the surface temperature of the sun is 5500°C).
The combination of the bubble jet, pressure wave and heat energy instantly stuns the target and the pistol shrimp proceeds to devour its prey.

Yes, the pistol shrimp has mastered a skill that humans can only dream of in comics such as the Incredible Hulk’s Thunderclap, or in games such as Guile’s Sonic Boom (from Street Fighter). It has also mastered the skill to the level of an effective ultimate move that is reliable as a hunting tool. In fact, it is quite possibly the closest any animal on Earth has gotten to an actual beam weapon.

Posted in Science & Nature

Badass Weapons Of Nature: Long-tailed Weasel

Long-tailed weasels are ferocious predators found in North America that likes to stalk its prey and pounce it with lightning speed. With small prey such as mice, the weasel will wrap its long body around the prey and then crush the head with a strong bite. As the weasel is very slender and sleek, it can easily dig into burrows to hunt hiding animals by crushing its skull, or to add variety, ripping out the windpipe.

Although it usually preys on small rodents, the long-tailed weasel is also known to fearlessly attack much larger animals such as birds and rabbits. As wild rabbits tend to be bulkier (sometimes even ten times larger) than the weasel, it cannot use its characteristic hunting style. To overcome this difficulty, these weasels have developed a strange behaviour that zoologists have labelled the Weasel War Dance. The War Dance (NB: two videos on what it looks like) is a chaotic set of movements where the weasel runs left and right frantically, jumping and flipping upside-down and almost appearing insane. This type of behaviour is observed in other species of weasels and ferrets when they are excited, but few use it as a hunting tool.

It has been observed that when the long-tailed weasel performs a War Dance in front of a rabbit, the rabbit becomes dazed and enters a trance-like state. It is possible that the chaotic and confusing movements disorient the rabbit. Once the rabbit has been disabled, the weasel promptly jumps on the rabbit’s back and delivers a powerful bite to the back of the neck, instantly killing the rabbit.
Wild weasels and stoats practise this skill by playfully ambushing each other when they are young.

Long-tailed weasels, despite their cute appearance, are notorious for their vicious temper. Being a carnivore that prefers fresh meat, it actively hunts and collects food. Despite seeking fresh food, the weasel also exhibits a curious behaviour of storing carrions, which is often only eaten in times of food shortages. This behaviour leads to the weasel going on killing sprees just because they can. Long-tailed weasels have also been observed lapping up blood from the wounds they inflict, and enjoys making their nest from the fur of their victims.