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The Whippet #162: Nectar Crash

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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Hello hello! My gosh we're already so far into the new year but also I feel like I just woke up 5 minutes ago and am still getting my bearings on things. Maybe the pandemic just broke time completely and it will never be possible to parse it again. Very often when I meet someone new, they (at some point) ask how long I've been married, and I don't think I've ever given a truthful answer, because it's impossible to remember and it would be rude to stop the conversation for the length of time it would take to figure it out. (The worst part is, it keeps changing. You think you've finally got the number locked down in your mind but it's already been more than that now.)

ANYWAY, a few issues back I shared that list of names some medieval guy "considered to be suitable for dogs" (Link: "Names of All Manner of Hounds"). Reader KB sent the following photo with a caption explaining it was a list of names his kid thought would be suitable for birds (I gather from context and quality that the drawings of birds are done by the parents, at the kid's* instructions).

[* phrased oddly because I forgot to ask permission to use the kid's name, but I can't change it to something else because KB is a real person whose co-workers read The Whippet, and so I can't just like... give him a fake kid]

Drawings of birds with the names Cob, Beb, Bug, BobGob, Babbub, Goah, Sheep, Chicken, Fence and Debobobobbah
Not pictured: Racecar, Bake, Drink, and Gairgahgaw. KB: "I suspect he requested too many Bird Friends and ran out of names."

Please enjoy the following sciencey issue.

'Articles' icon

How the heart actually works

(There is no weird twist – I just never knew the actual specifics before, and liked reading this clear explanation.)

I recommend opening this image in another tab and following along:

Image via MASS Research Review
"We’ve got to start somewhere, and there’s no better place than a pumped up bicep. So, let’s say you’re cranking out a nice set of curls. Exercise stimulates blood flow and oxygen consumption in the active musculature, so you’ve got some deoxygenated blood in the capillaries of your biceps. By way of the venous system, that deoxygenated blood makes it to your vena cava, which allows the blood to flow into your right atrium, and then into your right ventricle. The musculature of the right ventricle contracts, sending a large bolus of blood to your lungs (via the pulmonary artery). In the lungs, this blood ditches carbon dioxide and picks up some fresh oxygen.

After that, it’s ready to return to your heart, in order to be distributed to the body tissues that need some nutrients and oxygen. It enters the left atrium via the pulmonary vein, then makes its way to your left ventricle. The left ventricle has a large chamber, which allows it to hold a large volume of blood to be pumped out through the aorta to the rest of the body. It’s also surrounded by powerful musculature; the general term for the musculature of the heart is the myocardium, and the ventricular wall is the specific portion of the myocardium that surrounds the ventricles. The left ventricle is surrounded by particularly thick and powerful muscle tissue, because it has to forcefully pump blood all the way out to the most distant peripheral tissues. So, your left ventricle forcefully contracts, a large bolus* of blood is sent on its way to your peripheral tissues (such as your contracting biceps), and the cycle repeats for the rest of your life."

Eric Trexler, MASS
* Bolus!

The closest alternative term for this might be 'chunk' or 'dose' or 'lump' but of wet stuff. So a mouthful of chewed food is a bolus, but also in your stomach the food forms into a bolus that gets moved as one big liquid 'lump' through your digestive system. (When you hide medicine in a ball of food so your pet will eat it, that ball of food is a bolus too.) A single, large dose of medicine (e.g. the contents of an iron infusion) is a bolus. So in terms of the heart, blood doesn't flow out of your heart in a continuous stream, it's pumped out in like, a lump, then another lump, etc.

Regular aerobic exercise (cardio) increases the volume of total blood in your body, but also the size of each bolus of blood that the left ventricle pumps out. Your left ventricle gets bigger (in a healthy way) so it can hold more blood at once, and the muscle around it gets proportionally thicker and stronger. That's why athletes have lower heart rates – it's like a strong person who doesn't have to take as many trips to the car to bring their groceries in.

This is taken from a much longer article from MASS Research Review [paywalled], which is about how your heart adapts to resistance exercise, but they needed to begin with a heart primer, and I thought it was excellent.

MASS is an offshoot of the excellent Stronger by Science podcast – if you're interested in strength training and/or nutrition, I cannot recommend it highly enough, it's a field with a hell of a lot of misinformation out there, and even non-grifter personal trainers etc. tend to repeat a lot of outdated info. The hosts are likeable, funny, low-key and don't do the fitness bro thing of assuming there are no women or older people in their audience. They tend not to repeat information, so it's worth listening to back episodes rather than just new ones. I'm not getting kickbacks or anything, just a fan. They also have a free Research Spotlight newsletter.


Nectar Crash

I've titled it misleadingly for my own entertainment – this is a sunbird (not a hummingbird) bathing in the water-filled petal of an ornamental banana bush. Photo is by Rahul Singh and won the 2021 Grand Prize for Best Nature Photography (Asia).

Sunbirds mostly eat nectar and are very good at it –

Flowers that prevent access to their nectar because of their shape (for example, very long and narrow flowers) are simply punctured at the base near the nectaries, from which the birds sip the nectar. [Wikipedia]

but they also hunt spiders and feed them to their babies. Some members of the family are called 'spiderhunters' rather than sunbirds.

You know Wikipedia always has that section on whether an animal is endangered?

Overall the family has fared better than many others, with only seven species considered to be threatened with extinction. Most species are fairly resistant to changes in habitat, and while attractive the family is not sought after by the cagebird trade, as they have what is considered an unpleasant song and are tricky to keep alive.


Anyway, strong recommendation to go look at Rahul Singh's instagram, which is just wall-to-wall incredible bird photos with good vibes.*

* except for one photo of a monkey, which a) is not a bird and b) looks pretty sullen

"Nectar Crash" + cyberpunk, DALL-E 2

Mice love running on wheels, even in the wild

So if you put a mouse in a cage and give it a wheel, it will run on it. They do this by themself, you don't have to make them. Researchers use this for experiments on the effects of voluntary cardio exercise. But is it really "voluntary", or is it a neurotic response to being in captivity?

Okay I know I already spoiled this in the title, but researchers tested it by leaving a running wheel out in the wild with a camera focused on it.

We observed wheel running both in the urban area (1011 observations in the first 24 months, of which 734 were of mice) and in the dunes (254 observations in 20 months, of which 232 were of mice). Wheel movement not caused by mice was caused by shrews, rats, snails, slugs or frogs. Of these, only the snails caused haphazard rather than directional movement of the wheel and were therefore excluded from the analysis.

In other words, snails were just sort of wandering and ended up on the wheel, but the mice, shrews, rats, slugs and frogs all ran on it deliberately. Frogs!

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Many say exploration is part of our destiny, but it’s actually our duty to future generations and their quest to ensure the survival of the human species.

Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers, "Wheel running in the wild", Proceedings of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2014)


Cursed Knowledge: Parrot Mouths

Did you know that parrots have a mouth behind their beak? Like, their beak is not what they have instead of lips. Their beak is a hard, seed-breaking mask that hides their real lips, which are horrible.

The world you know turns out to be a thin veneer of reason over a yawning abyss of madness. Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen. Anyway here's the link:

Mellinext / TikTok

Cursed Knowledge: Numbers

A friend sent me that parrot TikTok and the algorithm was like, "I guess you're a fan of upsetting knowledge about ordinary, everyday things." It's not viscerally horrible the way the parrot mouth is, but it's the same kind of curse, once seen cannot be unseen, or to quote my partner, "this is a thing a demon would whisper to you from hell."

Goober Productions / TikTok. You can safely skip the first 30 seconds.

I mean, he's not wrong, is he? He's right, and numbers are wrong, and now you'll always know they're wrong, a little splinter burrowing further into your brain every time you see a phone number or expiry date.

(Comedians Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall and Andy Matthews noticed a totally different problem with numbers and address it from an engineering perspective at 1m 30 – I'd watch the clip from the start though, it's great, and I haven't been able to look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs the same way since.)

Lot of off-site links this issue, huh? Don't forget about me when you're out there in the wilderness.

Unsolicited Advice

Minor hack if you have an uncontrollable itch

I was listening to the aforementioned Stronger By Science podcast, and they talked about 'acceptance' as a response to (unwanted) food cravings. Like, assuming you've decided eating the craved food would not be in line with your goals, you can either act on the craving, try and suppress the craving, or... accept it. Just go, okay, I hear you, but so what?

We can think of it like receiving severely negative feedback from someone whose opinion we don't value all that much [McK: you can't make a podcast or write in public without figuring out how to do that].

We can say "Okay I accept that you think I did a terrible job, I can acknowledge that, but ultimately that's not gonna ruin my day or alter the way that I move forward or do what I do."

[YouTube 1:31:24]

When I heard that, I realised I'd developed exactly this strategy on my own when I was a kid, because I had eczema. Scratching eczema makes it worse, so you have to resist the urge, which is a tough ask for a kid. The method I figured out was, I'd try to interpret the feeling of itchiness as an unpleasant sensation, but not a demand. More like pain. Like it sucks, but what are you gonna do? It's not a compulsion to act, it's just a thing that sucks.

(A few people are laughing scornfully and saying, "that wouldn't work with the really bad itches that I get" so just to establish my credentials, my mum used to wrap my hands up at night because otherwise I'd scratch my skin in my sleep and wake up all bleeding. Sorry for the body horror, I just am aware that some people think these types of things are not worth THEM trying, and could only be suggested by people who barely have problems. Incorrect! It is worth trying!
PS you don't have to worry about me, I've aged out of it / know what allergens to avoid – I'd completely forgotten about it until the podcast reminded me.)

You could probably try this with any sensation that's accompanied by an urge to do something you don't want to do.

Second hack, pain does actually use the same nerve endings as itchiness, so you can also use the 'hot spoon' method. Pour boiling water over a metal spoon to heat it up, then very lightly & quickly touch the bug bite or whatever it is. You want it to be hot enough to hurt but not to scald obviously. The pain lasts for a second and the itch stays away for like an hour or something. With mosquito and some bug bites, the itch stays away for good, because the heat denatures the proteins in their itchy, itchy saliva.

You can also turn the tap water up high and put your itchy arm under it for a mini-second. I think I don't need to disclaimer the risks here? This is a risky-ish method that you can make pretty safe (eg, you don't heat the spoon on the stove, because then it can get wayyyyy hotter than it can from boiling water), but like – yeah. Don't do this if you're a child or not confident you know what you're doing. I'm only suggesting it because I know how bad itching is, and that I personally super am willing to risk a minor skin scald to get rid of it. You're an adult, you can use your judgement.

Third hack, take some antihistamines, jfc.


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