Skip to content

The Whippet #151: Are you worried about OUTER SPACE?

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

On this page

Good morning friends!

Writing for Season 8 of Hard Quiz [Australian TV show] started a few days ago, which means learning a bunch of interesting stuff and not being able to tell anyone about it for a year! A terrible trial!

Here instead are some things I learned on my own dime:

'Articles' icon

The astonishingly punctual Bermuda fireworm

Bermuda Fireworm glowing with extreme precision
Photo credit: James B. Wood

Bermuda fireworms glow during the biannual mating season, to attract mates.

Specifically, female Bermuda fireworms begin glowing 22 minutes after sundown on the third night after a full moon. Every time.

"It's like they have pocket watches," said Mercer R. Brugler, research associate at the American Museum of Natural History

To which I would like to add, "😍".

Also at 22 minutes after sundown on the third night after a full moon, male fireworms' eyes spontaneously enlarge, so they'll be able to see the females more easily.

Mark Siddall, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, describes it as the most beautiful biological display he has ever seen.

“Imagine looking out over the water. It’s dark. On a clear night the moon is up behind you, looking very full. Then you see something faint, down in the water waist deep, up close and personal, it’s unmistakable. The female worms, which are maybe an inch and a half long or so, are swimming in tight circles of maybe four inches in diameter, and they’re shedding light. They themselves are aglow but the glow surrounds them and trails behind them like luminous blue-green milk. It looks like a field of little cerulean stars across the surface of jet black water.

Suddenly, and much fainter appears a tiny comet of light, streaking in a dead-straight trajectory on an angle from the bottom, a male homing in on a mate with incredible precision. There’s a little explosion of light as both dump their gametes in the water. And then it’s over. She’s gone.”

The full article is actually about how they glow (researchers discovered that they have a new variant of the makes-you-glow enzyme luciferase), so it doesn't explain the precision timing. There's an obvious evolutionary advantage (they mate by throwing their sperm and eggs in the water, so you want it to be at the same time), but I'd still like to know how.


NSA Security Posters from the 1950s and 1960s

These were released in response to a Freedom of Information request in 2018 (PDF of all posters here). Despite the title of the document, I think some are from the 1970s too.

I think they must have been internal, displayed inside NSA offices, not for the general public.

The weird thing about them is, the ones I've chosen are some of the most coherent. The majority of them are... sort of a cheer squad for the word security? With no actionable advice?


The first is actual nonsense, and as for the second... okay? I'll... do that, I guess?

Seriously, what is that poster meant to achieve. There's no conceivable way that's going to improve my security practices. I don't understand the point of it.

Oh my god, I just realised what it's like.

Have you ever worked in an office that participates in one of those days like International Women's Day or Reconciliation Day in Australia (referring to reconciliation between colonisers and First Nations Australians) or International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, but instead of having literally anything to do with protecting the rights of those people or making them feel safe and included in their workplace, or looking at ways the workplace could agitate for political change, it's basically just flags and people dressing up in relevant colours and a morning tea with themed cupcakes? (A friend referred to the Pride version of this witheringly as "Rainbow Awareness Day".)

Anyway, that's what those Security posters are like. Just generally promoting the word, devoid of all context or consequence.


Do you want to hear about a creepy plant defence mechanism?

It's genuinely quite creepy, but it only affects insects. Scroll to the heading about botox if you don't want to hear about it.
Ajuga turkestanica

Turkesterone is a new fad supplement that's supposed to be a natural anabolic steroid. (Don't get excited, there's no non-suss evidence it works, and some evidence it doesn't work.)

It comes from a variety of plants, including Ajuga turkestanica, and is used to protect the plant from being bitten by insects. It is actually a hormone – an insect hormone.

In the same way that mammal hormones trigger, for example, the shedding of the uterus lining, turkesterone triggers an insect to shed its exoskeleton. Whether it's ready to or not. Just forces it to shed its skin again and again even though it hasn't grown new skin underneath.

[pause for shuddering]

There's also a pesticide that works by stopping insects shedding their skin, so they can never grow to maturity aka breeding age.

Aside about assuming a natural version would be any better
If it did work, there's no reason to assume it wouldn't have the same risky side-effects as other anabolic steroids. And if it's side-effect-free and can be taken by anyone for any length of time, it probably doesn't work. It's so weird to me how certain natural product enthusiasts somehow fully believe in the power of herbal medicine etc, but also have no faith in its strength whatsoever. Like, people who say colloidal silver is an antibiotic (it is btw) and therefore they take it every day for health. You shouldn't take antibiotics every day! That's a terrible idea! That's how you get antibiotic-resistant diseases!

So do they believe in it or not believe in it? You can't have it both ways! Either it has biological effects in the body or it doesn't!

I'm not against herbal medicine – St Johns Wort genuinely has antidepressant effects, for example, and as a result, you have to be a bit careful about what you take it with. As careful as you would with a synthetic SSRI. Because a natural SSRI is still an SSRI.

Don't make the mistake in the other direction though, and think "Well, obviously, something that's a horrible poison to insects can't be good for you, idiot gym bros." One, and I really can't emphasise this enough, you're not an insect. Two, even if you were, you'd be an enormous insect, and turkesterone wouldn't be nearly a big enough dose to force you to shed your skin.

Re: botox

People dismiss botox because botulinism toxin is incredibly poisonous, but that's overly simplistic. It's not like a homeopathic poison, where even trace elements are just as powerful as a high dose. Botox can do a lot of good – eg helping with jaw clenching and headaches, hyperhydrosis (excess sweating), hayfever, incontinence, even cold hands. Overactive responses can be stabilised.

(I don't get kickbacks from Big Botox, I just think it's a really interesting substance. For example, if a baby is born with a cleft lip, you can do surgery on them to fix it. But it's really hard to get a baby to stop stretching their mouth and re-opening the surgical wound. So doctors are now giving babies tiny doses of botox to partially paralyse the muscles around the mouth while they recover from the surgery.)

Re: cleft lip scars

Not strictly relevant, but my theory is that the reason cleft lip scars make people more attractive is cause it's creating a mild version of the Billy Idol sneer. People like an asymmetrical top lip! It's just one of those things!


Kiki / Bouba

[Wikipedia page for the bouba/kiki effect if the title makes no sense.]


Big Joel Poems

Big Joel is a youtuber who also writes poems and posts them to twitter. Here are three of them:


When everything is rust,
then I will be rust, too.

And you (rust)
will ask me (rust)
how it all got like this.
And I will tell you that
metal oxidizes and that's just
what happens when we are outside too long.

The sun will also be rust
(since everything is)
and it will set in the sky (rust).

You will ask,
What is the difference between it (the sun, rust)
and the two of us (also rust).
And I will tell you there isn't one,
and we will set in the sky
and it will be night (rust).


When my mother died,
we didn't know what to do with the ashes.

Burn them again, I said.

Ashes to ashes to ashes to ashes to ashes
to ashes to ashes to ashes to ashes.

God When He Was Making Slugs

And now it's time to make a slug.
Just a dumb little guy.
He'll figure it out.
I love him.

Follow Big Joel Poems on twitter or just go look at his timeline, it's, well, it's poems by Big Joel.

Unsolicited Advice

How to start going to museums

I bet I seem like the kind of person who goes to museums a lot – and I do like museums and art galleries a lot – but I'm not very good at doing Activities.

So I appreciate this actionable advice from Dan Bruno:

First: go by yourself.

Going to a museum with someone else can be nice, but it’s its own thing. You might not match your partner’s pace, which can be tedious if they’re too slow or frustrating if they’re too fast. You might invent opinions about works that you don’t understand to make conversation. You might pretend to know more about some artist or movement than you actually do so that you don’t appear ignorant.

Try going alone. If you have any preconceptions that a museum visit must be some highbrow, enculturating experience to be worthwhile, this will remove them. Without the implicit social obligations, you can just treat it as a walk through a building filled with cool shit to look at.

I could give you the other two tips in bullet-point form, but if you look at the above, you can see it's really the explanation not the summary that carries the weight.

So you should just go read the rest of the post at Dan's website – it's short.

And finally a link to:

should you wish you wish to avail yourself of its services. Are YOU worried about outer space?


Thanks for reading!

If you've been forwarded this email, you can sign up for free here.


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.