TIME Smartphones

You Asked: How Can I Save My Phone’s Battery When it’s Cold Out?

Phone Battery Cold
Getty Images

Wintertime can be a big drain on your phone's battery

If you’ve ever had a hunch your phone’s charge doesn’t last as long in the wintertime, you’re not crazy: Cold temperatures have a nasty effect on batteries.

The scientific explanation for this lies in how batteries work. Basically, their job is to store chemical energy until you need them to power or charge your device. Then they go about converting that chemical energy into electrical energy. However, cold weather causes internal resistance, slowing down the conversion process and resulting in less overall capacity. The kinds of batteries used in most phones are particularly vulnerable to this effect.

Translation? Just like wintertime makes it harder to get your car to start, your phone won’t last as long in cold weather. However, all is not lost — there are some ways to keep your phone as warm and happy as a skier sipping hot cocoa after a day on the slopes.

First, keep your phone as close to your body as you can. Take it out of your backpack or purse and stick it in your jeans or, better yet, in the inside pocket of an insulated base layer. That’ll help your body heat keep things warm. Second, consider picking up an insulated case. These can be a little on the bulky side, but it’s better to have a cumbersome case than a dead phone.

And finally, avoid taking your phone out in really frigid temperatures — the ambient air will suck out your phone’s heat quicker than you can send a text to Mom.

TIME Research

You Asked: Why Am I Cold All the Time?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

The science behind your shivering

Frigid weather isn’t solely to blame for your chill.

Of course, frosty outdoor temperatures aren’t warming you up, either. Even if you’re layered in cozy sweaters and toasty corduroys, your hands and feet play an outsize role in determining how warm or cool you feel, explains Dr. Mike Tipton, a professor of human physiology at Portsmouth University in the UK.

Tipton studies the human body’s response to extreme environments—like being dunked in icy water. He says the temperature of your hands and feet dominate your overall sensation of thermal comfort. “You can be warm, but if your hands and feet are cold, you will feel cold,” Tipton says.

This is problematic for many women, who tend to have colder hands than men. A much-cited University of Utah study found that while the average woman’s core body temperature is a smidge above the average man’s, her hands are nearly three degrees cooler.

Tipton says the hormone estrogen contributes to the cold sensitivity many women experience. Estrogen triggers the mechanism that shuts down blood flow to your extremities, he explains. For this reason, research has shown women tend to feel colder during the parts of their menstrual cycle when their estrogen levels spike.

Your metabolism and vascular function also play major parts when it comes to your internal thermostat. “Metabolism is a more complicated concept than it’s often portrayed,” says Dr. Anne Cappola, an endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. But in oversimplified terms, those with a high metabolism burn more calories and enjoy increased blood flow, both of which help heat you up, Cappola says.

“The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism tends to be,” she explains. That’s another lucky break for guys, whose physiological makeup naturally endows them with more metabolism-boosting muscle—although women can counter that biological inequity with diet and exercise.

Cappola says your thyroid also plays an important role in your metabolism and heat production. While the condition is not common, an underactive thyroid—also known as hypothyroidism—is more prevalent in women than in men, and can lead to the kind of drop in metabolic activity that would explain your constant sensation of coldness.

There are many, many more explanations for why you may feel cold all the time, and nearly all of them have to do with poor blood circulation. Anything that messes with your vascular function—from diabetes to old age—will slow the amount of blood passing through your extremities, which in turn could cause you to feel cold, says Dr. Erika Schwartz, who’s written extensively about hormones and their role in how your feel.

So what can you do if you’ve caught a perpetual chill? Start by moving more, Schwartz advises. Movement increases blood flow, which will warm you up. “Sitting at a desk for hours at a time would make anyone feel cold,” she says.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are also essential to proper vascular function. Smoking, poor fitness, or anything else linked to bad blood flow could leave you hugging your shoulders and reaching for space heaters, Schwartz adds. She says a doctor can check your blood for signs of thyroid issues or any other health concerns that might explain your frequent shivering.

You could also embrace the cold. Tipton’s work has shown people have a built-in ability to acclimatize to cold temperatures, which is why you may feel colder in late fall and early winter than toward the end of the snowy season. (This also explains why you can comfortably bust out shorts and a T-shirt on that first 65-degree spring day, while the same thermostat reading would send you hunting for jeans and a sweater in late summer.)

If all else fails, Tipton says, just remember: warm gloves and thick socks are your friends.

Read next: You Asked: Is Sleeping In a Cold Room Better For You?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Gadgets

You Asked: How Do Virtual Reality Headsets Work?

Virtual Reality
An attendee wears an Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted display at he plays EVE: Valkyrie, a multiplayer virtual reality dogfighting shooter game, at the Intel booth at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

If it was a simple as strapping a video screen to your face, we’d all have iPhone visors

Microsoft surprised the world Wednesday with a futuristic headset that will beam 3D images right into users’ retinas. This eye-popping technology certainly looks like it’s on the cutting edge, but actually, the biggest part of it — virtual reality — has been around for years. No, I’m not talking about 1995’s Nintendo Virtual Boy, I’m talking about the underlying science of virtual reality, originally started at NASA 25 years ago.

In essence, virtual reality is taking what people expect to see in the real world as they turn left and right or move forwards and backwards, and replacing it with imagery that moves and behaves the same way, says Mark Bolas, associate director of the Institute of Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California.

“Your perceptual system doesn’t really have anything to tell it that it’s not in the virtual world, so it believes it, and you feel as if you’re present, Bolas says. But he isn’t just a mouthpiece for the head-mounted technology — his department at USC is a major reason why we’re seeing a boom in virtual reality today. His team once included Scott Fisher, who directed NASA’s early virtual reality efforts, and Palmer Lucky, founder of Oculus VR, a leading maker of virtual reality headsets.

To start, think of virtual reality as a stereo video instead of a 3D movie, says Bolas. “When you’re in the theater [for a 3D movie], you see a 3D picture, and you briefly feel presence,” he says. “But if you turn your head left and right, you’re going to see the edges of the screen, so presence is going to be broken.”

On the other hand, virtual reality uses computer graphics, algorithms, and lenses to hide that edge and recalculate the picture as you move. If you turn your head left or right, it will seem like there’s no end to the screen, like it surrounds you in 360 degrees. “All of a sudden, the trick’s complete and you feel like you’re in the space,” says Bolas.

Of course, a 360-degree screen would be prohibitively expensive to make. But Bolas’s lab at USC made a breakthrough in 2011 that helped make virtual reality more realistic, both economically and visually. “We found a magic number for field of view that really gave you this illusion of presence,” says Bolas.

Previous consumer virtual reality displays had fields of view around 40 to 60 degrees, says Bolas. “It’s almost like looking through a toilet paper tube.” By working with an expensive 150-degree screen, USC studied how narrow they could make the field before the feeling of presence was compromised.

“We don’t think about our peripheral vision very much, but it influences us quite a bit,” he says. “It’s wired deep in our brain as a survival mechanism so that if a lion jumps out at you and you see it in your periphery, you react before it ever even gets to the center of your field of view.” The sweet spot for where people catch the lion (or does it catch us?) is around 90 to 100 degrees.

With that figure in mind, USC produced an open source kit that has helped virtual reality developers make more convincing products. And since that time, the technology has taken off, with startups like Oculus getting acquired by Facebook in a $2 billion deal, companies like Sony and Samsung making their own gear, and of course, yesterday’s futuristic announcement from Microsoft.

But the funny thing is, you don’t necessarily need to wait for any of their inventions to try out virtual reality for yourself. In 2012, USC released FOV2GO, a free template for constructing your own virtual reality eyepiece using cardboard and an iPhone 4/4S for a screen. Then, in 2013 they followed up with another free template called VR2GO, which uses the larger-screened iPhone 5 and Android handsets as displays. And the newer model is a 3D-printing file, thank goodness, because mounting a smartphone to your face with cardboard looks awful strange.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Is It Bad to Eat the Same Thing Every Day?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You can get away with eating the same things on loop. But you have to be shrewd about the foods on your grocery list

Meal planning and prep is a pain—especially during the workweek. So it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying, making and eating the same foods day in and day out. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily bad news for your health.

For one thing, “More food variety universally leads to more food intake,” says Dr. Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.

Imagine a buffet of vegetable dishes versus one large bowl of salad. You’ll eat more from the buffet every time, Roberts says, since we’re “hard wired” for food variety. Unfortunately, that instinct kicks in even if you replace the healthy veggie buffet with its more realistic equivalent: junk food. For that reason, Roberts says trimming your mealtime array of food options is one way to control overeating.

MORE 5 Healthy Eating Habits to Adopt This Year

We have that hard-wired instinct toward food diversity for a good reason. “No one food has all the nutrients we need in the optimum amounts, so eating a variety of foods means you are much more likely to get enough of each one,” Roberts explains.

But how much variety is enough, and how much is too much? A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health found women who regularly ate 16 or 17 items from a healthy list of foods—which included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals like quinoa, fish, and low-fat dairy—enjoyed a 42-percent drop in death from any cause compared to women who ate fewer than nine of the foods on that list.

On the other hand, there’s some very preliminary research that suggests eating a varied diet may have some not-so-hot health effects when it comes to your microbiome. That’s the network of microorganisms that lives in your body and supports your digestive system, helps control your appetite and performs dozens of other essential functions.

MORE 7 Things You Should Know About Shrimp

Typically, microbe diversity is a good thing when it comes to your gut. But, according to Dr. Daniel Bolnick, an ecologist at the University of Texas, “We’ve shown that in some animals, mixing foods actually reduces the number and variety of gut microbes.”

Bolnick says the takeaway at this stage isn’t that eating a wide variety of foods is bad, but rather that combinations of foods can do unexpected things. “If you know the effect of Food A and the effect of Food B, you can’t predict what will happen to the microbiome when you eat both,” he says. “There’s no question that, as a species, we eat a greater variety of things now then we used to. But whether that’s good or bad for us is still in question.”

So is it good or bad to eat the same stuff every day? If you’re thinking a bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and meat with potatoes and a salad for dinner, you’re surely going to be deficient in a number of the necessary nutrients your body needs to thrive, Roberts says.

But if you’re packing plenty of healthful, micronutrient-dense vegetables into your simple meal plan—at least six, Roberts advises—you probably don’t have much to worry about. Just be sure the vegetables you eat come in lots of colors, which tend to correlate with different nutrients. And stay away from starchy vegetables like potatoes, which don’t offer a lot of nutrient bang for your buck, she adds.

MORE How You Can Eat More of These 5 Winter Fruits and Veggies

Roberts says the following sample menu would offer pretty much everything your body needs even if you ate it every day: Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for breakfast, a spinach or kale salad with chicken and vegetables for lunch, a fruit-and-nut smoothie for a snack, and some kind of vegetable-and-brown-rice stir fry for dinner.

Of course, there are a thousand other ways you could structure your meals to get all the good stuff your body needs from just a few dishes. And you don’t have to restrict yourself to such a limited plan. The big takeaway here is you also don’t have to go crazy trying to fit a million exotic “superfoods” into your diet if you want to be healthy, Roberts says.

Consider this permission to be monogamous when it comes to your favorite healthy meals.

Read next: You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Gadgets

You Asked: How Does 3-D Printing Work?

3D Printing
A bust of Star Wars film character Yoda is seen printed on a portable 3D printer during the Pravega 2014 science and technology festival at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore on January 31, 2014. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

It’s sort of like an inkjet or laser printer, minus the paper jams, of course.

It’s not every day that 3-D printing will make people’s mouths water. But that was the case at the 2015 International CES, when XYZPrinting unveiled a device that can output icing and dough-based goodies like cookies.

This sweet development is the latest in a long, gradual history of innovation for 3-D printing, which goes back to 1983, when engineer-turned-entrepreneur Chuck Hull invented it in his spare time. Back then, Hull’s day job was curing rugged coatings onto tables using UV lights. But he postulated that focussing that light like a laser would allow the liquid resin with which he was working to form shapes. That was the basis for stereolithography (SLA), the advent of 3-D printing, and eventually the basis for his company, 3D Systems.

Today, 3-D printing essentially lets computer users take digital files and turn them into physical projects. If that sounds like paper or 2-D printing, that’s because they’re very similar. In 2-D printing, a file is created and sent to a printer, and a page is output. 3-D printing’s workflow almost exactly the same: a file is created and submitted to a device, the product is output, and it may require some finishing touches when done.

SLA is the earliest form of 3-D printing, and it’s very high quality. Originally used for what product developers call rapid prototyping, SLA was designed to give designers the ability to touch, feel, and compare the goods they were making. A slow-moving technology, it can take hours or days to print using SLA machines, which shines a laser into a pool of liquid, building the form layer-by-layer as a base support gradually moves the shape that’s being made. Despite this painstaking process, SLA’s quality is so good that you might never know your object was 3-D printed. SLA is used primarily only in commercial printing.

Another kind of 3-D printing is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). “Selective Laser Sintering is a powder and laser type technology, but boy doesn’t that sound similar to toner and laser technology that’s used in a photocopy?” says John Hauer, founder of 3DLT, a company that prints 3-D products for retailers. And in essence SLS is very similar to a laser printer, only instead of scoring the toner onto a piece of paper, this three-dimensional technology shines its laser onto a bed of powder, turning it into hardened material. Also primarily a commercial technology, SLS can be used in many ways, allowing people to produce products in everything from nylon-based plastics to metals, including stainless steel, silver, gold, and titanium.

The third major kind of 3-D printing, Fuse Deposition Modeling (FDM), is the one that’s making the most waves with consumers right now. “That is what people envision as kind of like weed whacker string, where a plastic is inserted into a hot end and then melted, layer by layer, to achieve the product,” says Hauer. And to continue the paper printing analogy, FDM is also very similar to inkjet printing, where ink is extruded through a print head onto a page.

While this technology is getting better all the time, it still, literally, has some rough edges. But Hauer says some people like that. “You can feel the ridges—you can scrape your thumb along it and it’ll actually make a sound,” he says. “Because people are so interested in 3-D printing, the ability to touch and feel a 3-D printed product and tactilely know it’s different than a mass produced product has actually been advantageous. It’s helped them better understand the technology.”

And of course, food is something that everyone understands, which is why the edible printing technology made such big headlines at CES. Our future holds chocolate flowers, elaborate cake toppers, crazy confectionaries and other exciting edibles, says Hauer. “It has the opportunity to be a big thing,” he says. “We’ve even seen 3-D printed cheese, 3-D printed peanut butter and some of those things.”

But the real question is, will 3-D printed doughnuts taste as good as the real thing?

TIME Aging

You Asked: Can Smiling A Lot Really Cause Wrinkles?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

The answer will make you frown (another expression that creates age lines)

Whether you’re talking, scowling or smiling, a groove forms on your skin the moment you move one of your facial muscles. That groove is perpendicular to the movement of the underlying muscle, explains Dr. Anthony Rossi, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “For example, forehead grooves are horizontal because our forehead muscle pulls up,” Rossi says.

When it comes to your smile, the largest of the lines that form are the “nasolabial folds”—those big parentheses of skin that arc downward from the sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth, explains Dr. Marc Glashofer, a New York-based dermatologist. Those folds appear every time you smile. And as you grow older, those happy-face grooves don’t fade away once you stop beaming, Glashofer says.

But don’t blame your smile. The real culprit is your skin’s diminishing elasticity.

Rossi calls the biological changes that hurt your skin’s rebound abilities “intrinsic aging.” These include breakdowns to the underlying structure of your skin due to factors like fat loss and muscle atrophy. Rossi says your genetic makeup also affects how your hide holds up to years of smiling. “We know different ethnicities age differently,” he says, adding that your skin’s natural melanin concentrations and oil production also play a role in how quickly your smile groves will start to leave their mark. Unfortunately, many of those variables are out of your hands.

But here’s one factor you can control: ultraviolet radiation exposure from sunlight. “This is actually the number-one cause of winkles,” Glashofer says. The more sun your skin soaks up, the more its connective tissue breaks down, leaving it less firm and less elastic.

For that reason, Glashofer and Rossi recommend the daily use of a sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays. Both dermatologists also advise keeping your skin well hydrated, which starts with drinking plenty of water. Rossi says H2O is a major component of your dermis—the layer of skin that houses many of the structural proteins that keep you looking youthful. He also suggests using a skin moisturizer, which helps your skin lock in water.

Retinol-based creams are also aces at fending off age lines, Rossi says. “They not only promote the formation of new skin cells, but they also increase collagen production, which improves the appearance of wrinkles and slows their formation,” he explains.

Of course, you could also try to limit your smiles. But you’d be forgoing the immune system-boosting, stress-lowering benefits of a good laugh. “I would never tell anyone to avoid smiling,” Glashofer says. “You are truly blessed to have an abundance of smiles in your life.”

Read next: You Asked: Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Why sweet and good-for-you might not go together

You’ve heard sugar is bad news. But what about all those low-cal or no-cal substitutes? And organic honey! That has to be healthier, right?

“Honey, table sugar—doesn’t matter. It’s all sucrose, and your body metabolizes it the same way,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig is also board president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, and presenter of “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”—a much talked about YouTube lecture that lays out the perils of the sweet stuff.

Apart from its high calorie content, which contributes to weight gain and obesity, sugar messes with your body’s insulin responses, Lustig says. Heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease have all been linked to the types of insulin issues sugar provokes.

“Sugar also binds to proteins in your body and causes damage,” he says—the same kind that browns fruit left out on your kitchen countertop. “We’re all browning. That’s part of aging,” Lustig explains. “But sugar causes you to brown seven times faster.”

There’s more to say on the subject of sugar and your health, but the bottom line is that too much sugar is bad for you, and most Americans consume way more than they should. “Your liver can process roughly six to nine teaspoons a day without significant issue,” Lustig says. “The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons a day.” And while honey may contain antioxidants or compounds that, on their own, may offer some benefits, “The sucrose in honey is still sucrose,” Lustig adds.

Unfortunately, when it comes to artificial sweeteners and other sugar alternatives—from stevia to sucralose—the health picture grows foggier, not clearer. “Some people believe that, because some artificial sweeteners have no calories, they have no consequences,” says Dr. Yanina Pepino, research assistant professor in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “But we know that’s not true.”

Pepino’s research has demonstrated that sweet tastes—even those produced by non-caloric sweeteners—have the power to ramp up your body’s insulin responses. She says there’s also data suggesting non-caloric sweeteners contribute to the development of metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.

MORE: Should I Drink Diet Soda?

More new research has hinted that artificial sweeteners may mess with your gut’s microbes, the tiny organisms that live in your digestive system and help manage the ways your body breaks down and processes the stuff you eat. Like opening Pandora’s box, Pepino says any changes to the gut’s microbiota may lead to widespread negative health consequences.

“When it comes to sugar substitutes, we just don’t know enough,” she says—a sentiment Lustig repeats over and over again. And not knowing makes choosing between sugar and sugar alternatives a thorny proposition.

While some new sweeteners may claim to be healthier than others, the fact is they’re simply newer, so there’s not as much known about them, Lustig says.

In the end, both he and Pepino agree there’s only one right answer if you’re watching out for your health: Limit the amount of sweet stuff in your diet.

“I know people won’t like that answer, but that’s the only one I can give,” Pepino says. “There’s just no way to say one is better than another without a lot more data.”

TIME Research

You Asked: What’s the Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Pearly whites are just a dentist’s visit away, but they’ll cost you

Like a shiny new watch or a sparkling personality, white teeth are an ornamentation. Both men and women are attracted to a bright white smile, concludes a study in the journal PLOS One. Additional research has shown job applicants with white teeth are more likely to be hired than yellow-toothed applicants.

From whitening toothpastes and over-the-counter strips to dental office procedures, all tooth-whitening measures employ hydrogen peroxide to clean away stains. “The only differences are the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide employed and how they’re held against your teeth,” explains Dr. Matt Messina, an American Dental Association spokesperson who practices dentistry in Cleveland.

Of course, cost is also a factor. Starting with the least-potent (but least-expensive) whitener, Messina says toothpastes contain 1% to 1.5% concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. “That’s adequate to clean surface stains,” he says, “but it won’t penetrate your tooth enamel.” The enamel tends to hold the deepest, hardest-to-remove blemishes—that patina of black coffee or red wine that gradually accumulates on your smile like vehicle pollution on the sides of old brick buildings.

So if your teeth are seriously stained, a whitening toothpaste alone won’t get the job done—no matter how hard you brush. (In fact, brushing forcefully can damage your gums and is never advisable, Messina warns.)

Over-the-counter gels or strips are the next level up on the hydrogen-peroxide/price spectrum. “They’re usually in the 6% to 10% range, ” Messina says. At these concentrations, the hydrogen peroxide can penetrate microscopic holes and fissures in your enamel to bubble away stains.

While over-the-counter options can be very effective, Messina says the key is to apply them evenly and keep them on as long as directed. “I usually recommend the strips over the gels because they stay in place,” he explains. If the strips or gel are applied incorrectly, your teeth could look unevenly white. Gum irritation is also possible, he says.

But remember this important caveat: whitening agents do not work on caps, crowns or fillings. If you’ve had some dental work done, you should speak with your dentist before you whiten your teeth to be sure the results will look uniform, Messina says.

Another step up in both cost and potency is dentist supplied “tray-and-gel systems,” which contain hydrogen peroxide in the 10% to 15% range and can cost several hundred dollars. After custom fitting your mouth with a mold, your dentist supplies a take home tray and whitening gel for you to use at home. “The custom tray ensures the gel is evenly applied, and it can produce some pretty impressive results,” Messina says.

The final and most expensive option is settling into your dentist’s chair for a series of 10- to 15-minute whitening treatments. With hydrogen peroxide concentrations as high as 35%, these treatments can make your smile a dozen shades brighter, Messina says. They can also run you more than $1,000. “Whitening is a strictly cosmetic procedure, so it’s almost never covered by insurance,” Messina says.

So how white should you go? That’s really a personal preference thing, Messina says. While some people want their teeth as white as possible, the same PLOS One study mentioned above found that people with “natural” looking teeth scored just as highly in terms of attractiveness when compared to people with ultra-bright white smiles.

It’s also possible to over-whiten your teeth, Messina says. “If you whiten excessively, the tooth enamel can actually become translucent, which can make the teeth look blue or gray.” That’s not harmful in the long-term, but blue teeth isn’t a hot look.

While über-white teeth may not be any healthier than stained chompers, Messina says he thinks there are dental health benefits associated with a whiter smile. “I’ve found people who’ve had their teeth whitened are better at brushing and flossing,” he says. “When you’re proud of something, you take better care it.”

Read next: You Asked: Is Sleeping In a Cold Room Better For You?

TIME You Asked

You Asked: How Does the Internet Work?

Internet
Miguel Chateloin (L) and Lazaro Gamio (R) use their computers to write code that would allow people living in Cuba to use email to post to blogs during the Hackathon for Cuba event on Febr. 1, 2014 in Miami. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Spoiler alert — it’s not a series of tubes

Poor Ted Stevens. For the past eight and a half years, the world has had many a laugh at the late Alaska Senator’s expense after he described the Internet as “a series of tubes” while arguing against a Net Neutrality amendment in 2006.

Of course, anyone who’s ever sent an email or eyed a kitten photo online knows there aren’t any actual pipes involved. Still, the next time you hear someone essentially refer to the Internet as plumbing, ask them how the darned thing really works. According to Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University, not only is the web not tubes (or a “web,” really), but it’s actually just a set of instructions.

“It’s more of a process than a thing,” says Mueller, who teaches, researches and writes about problems related to global Internet governance. “It’s protocol for breaking down the data that comes out of your computer into little units called packets.”

So, let’s say you’re enjoying this GIF of an elephant playing with a giant rubber band. Wherever in the world it’s stored on a server, the file itself is 16.8 megabytes. But when you navigate to its address by clicking on the above link, it gets broken down into thousands of packets, each of which is routed separately over the Internet through devices known as routers.

These routers take each packet, read the origin and the destination addresses and figure out where the packet should go next on its journey through the Internet. The packets hop from router to router until they all arrive at your computer and are reassembled into their proper sequence. Then, voilà, you’ve got a pachyderm ribbon dancing on your computer screen.

That process works for most things you’re doing on the web, from getting email to loading up Facebook. But when it comes to streaming media, like listening to Spotify or watching Netflix, that procedure is less than ideal, so they do something a little different. Streaming files still get broken down into packets, but instead of going from random router to random router over the Internet, they all follow the same path, helping to ensure the files don’t seem laggy or jittery when they arrive at your destination computer, where they’re reassembled.

“Think of a caravan of packets like elephants in the circus,” says Mueller. Each packet holding onto the next, trunk to tail, ensures that the streaming file follows the same path of routers through the Internet. “If the packets are coming from different routers, different directions, then it would really mess up the synchronicity or the flow of the voice stream or the picture stream.”

And this takes us back to Senator Stevens’ comments on Net Neutrality. The above process of routing packets (officially called the Internet Protocol) works great for non-streaming files. But broadband carriers argue that the increase in streaming media has stressed their networks, making it harder to transmit other traffic. That situation has led to bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix paying for so-called direct connections to ISPs.

If some files have prioritization over others, however, the Internet is not actually neutral. That’s a situation worrying many consumers, non-streaming Internet services, and even business ethicists. The issue is much more complex than this, as this video explains, and everyone has an opinion on it, from President Obama to Comcast to The Oatmeal. And as you think about how you use the Internet, you’ll probably come up with your own opinion, too. But whatever you do, don’t explain the Internet as a series of tubes.

TIME

You Asked: Should I Go Paleo?

you-asked-paleo-diet-healthy
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It’s more than a diet; it’s a way of life. Just ask a Paleo person.

The Paleo premise seems tantalizingly sensical: For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings ate and lived in ways that bear little resemblance to our modern modes of existence. It stands to reason that our bodies and minds haven’t had time to adapt, and that the unhappy consequences are stress, obesity, disease and a general feeling that, well, our primitive ways were probably preferable.

The solution, according to Paleo proponents, is a return to our roots. From aligning your sleep schedule with the rise and fall of the sun to exercising like your ancient ancestors—barefoot running, climbing, lifting heavy stuff—there are countless ways to channel your Paleolithic predecessors. And for most people, “going Paleo” starts in the kitchen.

Eating a Paleo diet involves consuming lots of lean meat, as well as eggs, fruits, some nuts, seeds and vegetables—basically, the kinds of foods humans were forced to subsist on for most of history. Dairy, grains, beans and all other foodstuffs unavailable in cave-dwelling days are verboten. So are foods with added hormones and artificial additives like processed sugars.

MORE: What’s Right and Wrong About Eating Like a Caveman

Proponents of the Paleo diet claim miraculous gains in energy, mental acuity, physical strength and general health. But naysayers point out the diet is expensive, difficult and probably not sustainable. (There are 7 billion people on Earth, and there’s only so much meat to go around.)

But what does the research show? Several studies have compared Paleo-style diets to the average American diet and found, unsurprisingly, that Paleo pounds our standard fare. Among the Paleo crowd, weight fell off faster, body composition improved and both blood pressure and blood sugar scores tacked toward healthier numbers, found one paper from the University of California San Francisco.

Another long-term study from Sweden saw similar health gains after comparing a meat-centric Paleo plan to a carb-heavy Nordic diet. In particular, triglycerides—a type of blood fat that raises your risk for heart disease—plummeted among the Paleo dieters, the Swedish study shows.

MORE: Can the Paleo Diet Help You Lose Weight?

But not so fast. “I do not believe there is anything magical about the Paleolithic diet,” says Caroline Mellberg, a doctoral researcher at Sweden’s Umeå University and coauthor of the Swedish study, in addition to several others that have looked into the viability of a Paleo-style diet. While she doesn’t dispute the diet’s benefits, she says her team’s findings aren’t surprising when you consider all the foods you have to ditch when you stick to a Paleo-inspired menu.

“Most unhealthy food items are excluded, and no empty calories are allowed,” she explains. Take out the crap from any diet, and she says you’d likely see many or all of the same health benefits.

MORE: How To Be A Modern-Day Caveman

Other nutrition experts say there just aren’t any research-backed reasons to drop dairy, legumes and grains, and that doing so might have unintended health consequences. “These foods provide many nutrients that have been shown over and over again to be beneficial for optimal health,” says Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietitian at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Maxson is quick to add that she thinks Paleo diets can be healthy. Her point—and one that many others have also argued—is that the extremes Paleo diets prescribe are unnecessary. “Dieting is tough,” Maxson says. And when it comes to a meal plan that restricts you to a slim cluster of food groups, your chances of staying with it are just as small, she says.

If you’re in the market for a healthy diet, you might want to consider Paleo for its impressive health benefits—but only if you’re also ready to take a caveman club to most of your current kitchen, too.

Read Next: Are All Calories Created Equal?

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser