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The Whippet 148: The cool, high peaks of mountains

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning! Very science-y issue this issue, with some glaring exceptions.

Rice straw sculptures from the Wara Art Festival

rice straw sculptures of very large animals: gorilla, t-rex, rat and eagle

in Niigata, Japan. The straw is leftover from the rice harvest.

More images here.

Nobel Prize winners on what they don't understand about their own fields

Prof. David Macmillan (Chemistry, 2021)
Honestly, I couldn’t understand theoretical chemistry if my life depended on it.

Prof. Frances Arnold (Chemistry, 2018)
I've never fully grasped how enzymes do what they do. If you understand it, please explain it to me.

Prof. Anthony Leggett (Medicine, 2003)
Well, I missed out on standard high-school physics, so have always been a bit confused about simple things like why the noise from a kettle stops as the water nears boiling.

From magazine The Fence.

They went on to ask them if they can do long division and spell the word 'necessary' correctly on the first try.

Prof. Angus Deaton (Economics, 2015)
Now I will never know. You have spoiled it for me, unless you are misspelling it.

I also learned that the Nobel Prize medal doesn't have a loop or any way of wearing it. This is Prof. David Macmillan on where he keeps his:

My wife told me she would hide it in a place that no one would ever think to look. Literally, the next day, I open the drawer on my bedside table, looking for the tv remote and find the medal box that has ‘The Nobel Prize’ written on the outside in big gold letters. It was such a bizarre moment – to be looking for the tv remote, and to find the Nobel Prize – I couldn’t stop laughing for about 15 minutes. It was hands down one of the most surreal and funniest moments of my life.

The whole set of interview questions is delightful.

It's not just human females that feel the cold worse than males

sleeping fruit bat / flying fox (cute)
cutie fruit bat

Female mammals and birds have a lower metabolic rate – we need a higher percentage of body fat to be healthy, which means more of the energy we eat gets stored as fat, and less is burned to create warmth.

So, we're colder. I actually thought the higher body fat % would keep us warmer, but no – it means there's a layer of fat separating our blood vessels from our skin, so our skin doesn't warm up as much.  (We do have warmer core temperatures, but since you're not actually at risk of freezing to death at the office, this is not particularly relevant.)  

Studies on many species of birds and mammals report that males commonly congregate in cooler areas where there is shade, while females and offspring stay in warmer environments where there is sunlight.

Male bats prefer to rest at the cool, high peaks of mountains, whereas females remain in the warmer valleys.

(Middle-age bats doing tired standup routines about how men be sleeping on mountain peaks and women be sleeping in valleys.)

The links in that paragraph are all to research.

This journal article reckons the cold-feeling disparity (I mean, "sexual segregation in endotherms") might be because babies are terrible at keeping themselves warm enough to not die, so making mothers feel cold encourages them to take the babies to warm places and sleep next to them.

This whole thing is why arguments about who's "right" about whether the heater/AC should be on are stupid. Or like, "coriander is delicious!" "no, coriander tastes like a rotting dishrag!" You're having different experiences. You're not going to verbally bulldoze someone into speeding up their metabolic rate or switching out their OR6A2 gene. Give it up.

(OR6A2 is the gene that makes coriander taste disgusting.)

What 'metabolism' actually means

(No twists, I just felt satisfied having the whole shape of this in my brain, so maybe you will too.)

Metabolism is the chemical reactions in your body that:

  • break molecules down (e.g. split lactose into glucose + galactose)
  • stick small molecules together to make bigger molecules (e.g. build proteins out of amino acids)

Processes that break things down are called 'catabolic' and processes that build things up are 'anabolic'. Greek origins – kata means 'down' and ana means  'up'.

'Anabolic steroids' build muscle. But fat storage is also anabolic, because the body builds fat molecules out of smaller triglycerides.

You take stuff in, break it down for parts, build what you need, and get rid of the bits you didn't use.

New heading: McKinley gets off-track about plants

Metabolic waste is the left-over bits. E.g. a plant breaks CO2 down into carbon and oxygen and

are you kidding me?

I just googled this, and the oxygen that plants 'breathe out' doesn't come from CO2. It comes from water. They take in H2O, break it down into two hydrogens and an oxygen, and release the oxygen. Outrageous.

It is true that the carbon from carbon dioxide gets built up into leaves, branches, etc, which I find wild – I still have a 13th-century alchemist's believe that you shouldn't be able to turn air into wood because they're different elements.

A thread of awesome wuxia clips

GenreFilmAddict on twitter posts clips from, can you guess, genre films, and it's rad.

This thread is fantastic – this whole account is fantastic – but please note there's occasionally unrealistic but full-on gore (like, guy punches a guy's head off, the head looks like it's made of wax and spurts a fountain of red paint).

This is one of the weirdest and most delightful (no gore):

The opening of The Miracle Fighters is merely a tease for its nonstop madcap creativity. You could trace a line directly to Buster Keaton’s silent-era illusions; that same wonder courses through every scene of Yuen Woo-Ping’s martial-world sleight-of-hand thrills
link to clip

Another great one (also no gore):

Any movie where Andy Lau fights a mirror is worth your time
Saviour of the Soul, 1991. Link to clip.

There's also a bunch with your more classic fantastically choreographed fights between non-wizards who make a lot of use of the props and environment.

[PS if anyone needs it: you can safely pronounce wuxia as 'woo-shah'. It's not quite how it's pronounced in Chinese but it's the widely accepted Anglicisation.]

Unsolicited Advice: Pick something and do it regularly, whether you feel like it or not

Was listening to Jeff Nippard (a weightlifting youtuber) answer the question, "should you work out if you feel like a complete wreck?"

(and it's not from an infectious disease obviously)

How do you know if you genuinely need rest, or you're just using that to avoid having to go work out?

He said you should go to the effort of going to the gym, because then you've already overcome the lazy part, and now you're making more of an unaffected choice. It's like how voting is compulsory in Australia – it's not actually compulsory, because you can write whatever you want on the ballot paper, or not fill it out at all. But you have to show up and get your name checked off. So if people don't vote, it's because they make a conscious decision not to at a point when both options are equally viable – not because it's raining or they're hungover. (I know there are other reasons people don't vote in other countries, but I'm not talking about those reasons.)

Anyway, Nippard said that sometimes you go to the gym feeling like garbage but end up having a great workout, and sometimes you go feeling super-hyped and energetic, and have a bad one.

And I thought: you'd never learn that if you never went the times you were feeling garbage. You'd continue to believe that you had to be in a good mood to have a good workout, because you'd never have tested the hypothesis.

So my unsolicited advice is: test the hypothesis.

But it doesn't have to be working out, I think it could be anything. If you do Wordle semi-regularly, you notice some days your brain finds it much harder to wrench options out of your subconscious than other days. I've occasionally tried to do it when I'm really tired and I just blank completely, can't remember any words.

Sometimes when I really don't feel like going to a social thing, I will think of it like an experiment. Like okay, I really don't feel like it. Let's test if my feelings are a good measure of whether I'll enjoy going out. If I have a good time: great! If I have a bad time: also great! now I can trust the instinct without self-doubt and FOMO!

I think this might be especially valuable, because people who are sleep=de[roved stop feeling tired after a few days. They perform just as badly on cognitive tests, but believe they're now performing as well as they ever used to.

A worry! How would you self-test for that?

Do some generally similar activity on a regular basis, so you have a baseline to track against.

It would not have been fine.

See you next week!


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