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The Whippet #176: Smeared across time

McKinley Valentine — 15 min read

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Thank you so much to everyone who wrote in to tell me what their Problem impulse-purchase category is! Super, super interesting, really varied but with a fair bit of overlap as well. You will not be surprised to learn that a popular category is "hobby-related stuff in a quantity completely disproportionate to how much time I actually spend doing the hobby".

Sometimes one must ask: "is my hobby Knitting, or is it Yarn Collecting?"

(I have come to accept that my hobby is not playing video games, it's reading reviews of video games and maintaining a list of the ones that seem like they'd be fun. But I enjoy it, so that's fine I guess?)

I am going to write up an article about this (for the next New Escapologist magazine) but the true glorious work will be an Excel spreadsheet.

What's going on with The Whippet, why has it been so erratic lately?

I'm going to put this at the end, after Unsolicited Advice but tl;dr physical health stuff swiftly followed by mental health stuff. I will just say though that I do always read emails, even when I fail to reply, or when I reply three months' later when you've completely forgotten the original context.

(Me: *asks 8000 people to email her about their impulse spending habits*
Also me: "WHY do I have so many EMAILS?")

The TV show I was working on is out!

Here's a clip of Lou Wall explaining why robots can't pass captcha tests:

I'm not sure if it's region-locked, sorry if it is

For an example of, "it's not obvious how much work goes into even a really short script" – you can see there's been research, but a really annoying element of this one came about because of the titles of these boxes. The generic term is CAPTCHA. One specific version called a ReCAPTCHA. And then the new iteration of the ReCAPTCHA is called the "CAPTCHA ReCAPTCHA". Can you imagine how abysmal it would be to hear something like "Google's new CAPCHA, the CAPTCHA ReCAPTCHA, is an evolution from their earlier ReCAPTCHA" .

Since we were hardline about accuracy, the script took a ridiculous amount of finagling to avoid google's horrorshow naming system. (I didn't do the finagling; I just presented Lou and Chas with the bad news about the correct names.)

First 3 episodes are on ABC iview (this is definitely region-locked; you'll need a VPN if you're outside Australia, and use the postcode from the footer of this email if it asks for one), or there's more clips on YouTube: WTFAQ segments

'Articles' icon

Great cheetah fact

Last issue I said I had a great Cheetah Fact that I'd get to later on, and then I forgot to put it in, which was a real betrayal and I'm sorry for it. A debt repayed:

Most predators sneak up on their prey and surprise them, because most prey is fast and if you don't catch it by surprise, you don't catch it.

But cheetahs are the fastest (land) animals in the world. They can outrun anything. So cheetahs don't have to get that close, they can basically just start running and they're guaranteed to catch up. (Wikipedia: "Cheetahs can overtake a running antelope with head start of 140 metres/yards.") Most cats hunt at dawn/dusk or night, but cheetahs hunt during the day, because they don't have to be sneaky.

The trade-off for cheetahs is that they have a very slight build and long spindly legs compared to other big cats (think of a greyhound compared to a pitbull). They can overtake an antelope, but they don't have the weight or power to bring it down.

So they hunt by tripping their prey up. They run up close and then do a sort of footsweep, which you can imagine is spectacularly effective on an antelope running full pelt. This is hilarious to me, it's such an unmajestic hunting method.

cheetah tripping gazelle, gazelle goes quietly
Full photoset in the Irish Sun

Two more neat things about cheetahs

  • As well as moving fast, they can make extremely sharp turns at high speed. Gazelles etc do erratic multidirectional leaping to get away, and cheetahs use their tail like a rudder to keep up. They can also stop on a dime, "slowing down from 93 km/h (58 mph) to 23 km/h (14 mph) in just three strides" (Wikipedia).
  • They burn so much energy in a chase that they are basically done afterwards. "Once the hunt is over, the prey is taken near a bush or under a tree; the cheetah, highly exhausted after the chase, rests beside the kill and pants heavily for five to 55 minutes" and by "resting" they mean, in a state of paranoid hypervigilance that someone will take their kill while they're too tired to prevent it.

Talllllll eucalyptus

This tree's name is Lathamus Keep – meaning, a fortress that protects the endangered Swift Parrot [Lathamus discolor]. It's a 92-metre (302-ft) blue gum [Eucalyptus globulus] in Tasmania.

This couple do "tree portraits" – going around the world and taking composite photos of giant trees, using rigging and climbing etc (no drones). Wearing red and blue is cute, it makes it easier to see that it's a composite image.

Some other tree portraits here, it is also available in poster form.

(Australia's tallest tree is a 100-metre (330-ft) mountain ash named Centurion. Mountain ash [Eucalyptus regnans] is the 3rd tallest tree species after the Coast redwood and and yellow meranti.)


My dumbest intrusive thoughts

Fairly regularly when my husband says "hey sweetheart", my brain responds internally in a Mario voice with "It's-a me, Sweetheart!"

And when they say "my love!", my brain auto-responds "mylar blanket" (you need to read that in a non-rhotic accent for it to make any sense, my-lah blanket). A mylar blanket is that silver foil sheet they put around survivors of hostage situations in cop shows and stuff. (I'm not outdoorsy, okay?)


How rare is 1 in 5000?

1 in 5000 = 0.02%. It's the equivalent of if I said "I have selected a random date, some time in the next 14 years. You have to guess it one go: day, month and year."

I found that helpful for conceptualising it. (The figure given later this issue is 0.002%, so 1 in 50,000.) 1 in a 1000 is "I've selected a random date in the next three years". (This method involves heavy rounding – there are 5109 days in 5 years. It's just for getting your head around the idea, not for actual probability calculations.)

The image below has 5000 dots. (This doesn't help me at all but perhaps you are a more visual thinker, dear reader.)

'5000 dots drawn by hand', Roger Steinberg, Del Mar College, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Bison licking an insect bite

Bison figure on ivory, 10 cm, Archaeological site "La Madeleine" in France. Credit: Jochen Jahnke

Paleolithic Era art, between 20,000 and 12,000 years old. For comparison:

stock photo spirals

It's one of the oldest pieces of art found, and I can't add a bunch of fun facts becaue there's just so little known about it. It's carved into a broken-off fragment of a spear-thrower; archaeologists think it broke off before being carved, meaning the artist found a use for the broken piece by making the bison turn its neck back on itself.

Someone asked an interesting question on Reddit: why is paleolithic art all so good? Like, this piece has a huge amount of charisma to it, as well as the fine detail. How did paleolithic artists get good? Where is all the bad, practice art?

This was all speculation by historians, but there's two strands: what gets made in the first place, and what is preserved for 20,000 years. You're more likely to practice with, say, a stick in soft clay, and carving into biodegradable woods; you might only get access to ivory once you're skilled and respected. Cave walls might be restricted in the same way.

Another place a lot of our evidence comes from is graves, so the items people are buried with. That's also gonna skew towards the high end of quality goods.

Of course, there could be heaps of bad paleolithic art buried in museum archives and they just never make it the centre of an exhibitions, but the "quality" angle is more than just subjective opinion.

Unsolicited Advice

Find an anchor spot

Here's something I've been doing recently that's good: visiting the same tree and sitting under it in the same spot several times a week. The idea is that when you return to the same place, you get to know it better through time, seeing how it looks different in different lights and seasons.

I've also found it helpful because I know that it's good to get outside, but I find it hard to just "go for a walk" – I need an errand or destination. "Visit the tree" gives me a destination. Rather than thinking "do I feel like a walk today?" (which is not a helpful question, my impetus levels are not a good guide) it's more like "is today's weather bearable enough to visit the tree?" It doesn't have to be nice, it just has to be bearable.

If you struggle to get around to meditating (or just like, sitting quietly and breathing slowly), having a location you go to to do that helps as well. You don't have to spontaneously get the idea to do it at some random juncture throughout your day; it's what you do when you're at your tree. And the visiting has time restrictions on it too, which help – I look at the weather app and see when the weather seems like it'll be nicest, and that's my window. Appointments are easier to keep than randomly scattered activities.

It doesn't have to be a tree, it can be a park bench or a spot of grass or whatever. It's called an "anchor spot" because it's where you're grounded in the landscape, and you go back to the same place each time.

I am visiting just an urban corner park with a playground and a dog-run-around area, by the way. I swear whenever writers on twitter talk about how good walking is for their writing, they share a photo and it turns out they live in the Scottish highlands or next to a babbling brook or something and you're like, well yeah, no wonder you find it easy and nice to go for hour-long rambles all the time. That is not my situation! Convenience is king; choose the nearest tree (or other spot) that's at all nice to be at, I reckon.

I'm not gonna pretend this has changed my life, but it's a good thing in my life.

This idea comes via Dana O'Driscoll, who's a druid, so it's full paganism/animism. But her suggestions for the practice are good ones; you can take or leave the spirit stuff. Besides, humans are anthropomorphisers: atheist or no, I challenge you to visit the same tree several times a week without starting to feel like it's a bit your friend.

A Druid’s Anchor Spot
Current statistics from the United States EPA suggest that Americans spend almost not amount of time outside: the average American now spends 93% of their total time enclosed (including 87% of thei…

Watching gardeners label their plants
I vow with all beings
to practice the old horticulture
and let the plants identify me

— Robert Aitken, I think from his "The Dragon Who Never Sleeps: Verses for Zen Buddhist Practice"

What's going on with The Whippet, why has it been so erratic lately?

So firstly, open discussion of mortality and intrusive thoughts about same, a trigger warning if you're currently grieving or in the midst of a health scare (or my sister, but I repeat myself). This is the end of the newsletter, you're not missing anything, goodbye and bless you!

I've written this long because a) it's easier and b) sometimes hearing about other people's mental health experiences can be helpful? If I'm going to talk about it at all, I might as well actually talk about it.

So a while back, my 18-year-old nephew died completely out of the blue, of the illuminatingly named "Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome", which later turned out to be cardiac arrest ("arrest" = "stopped") caused by a rare genetic heart defect. Because it's genetic, his blood relatives had to be tested too, each one of us with a 50/50 coin-flip outcome. I flipped snake eyes*: I have the same gene mutation ("genotype-positive"), and an MRI shows I have telltale scarring on my heart ("phenotype-positive"), so I am also at risk of sudden cardiac death (as are some more of my family members). Even if I completely escape that, I'll still have a progressive heart condition that accrues more and more scarring across my lifespan. This has all been on a horrible drip feed of tests and waiting for results and bits of news and hoping it's not too bad and more tests and blablabla.

twenty cent coin showing heads - the queen's head
* snake eyes

The heart condition is "arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy" – you know how sometimes some 25-year-old athlete will just suddenly die and everyone's like "whatt?? he was so young?? and he was super fit and healthy??" That's usually arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. The variant I have is a mutation of the DSP/desmoplakin gene, which is like a gold foil collector's edition of arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy.

So I've been having terrible anxiety and unhelpful thoughts like, right before I fall asleep, "What if you just don't wake up? What if this is the last moment of consciousness you're ever going to experience? Hey why are you getting up, you need to sleep!!" and have been in general falling apart at the seams.*

* Just my little DSP joke; desmoplakin is like a kind of glue that holds your heart cells together, and my body doesn't make it properly, "falling apart at the seams", you get it?

Hey did you know that people mention hearts and death constantly?? It's true! They're both very common casual metaphors! Above, in the "5000 dots" bit, I initially wrote that guessing the correct dot would be like "playing a single turn of sudden-death battleship, and your opponent only has one ship". I nixed it because it turns out the smallest ship in battleship takes up two dots, so the analogy didn't hold up to scrutiny, not because of "sudden death", but it really is everywhere when you're hyperalert to it.

Also, did you know that anxiety and impending cardiac doom have a lot of overlapping symptoms? This is a very clever prank on the body's part. Also (actually helpful) did you know it's free to call Nurse On Call in Australia, if you're like "I'm not sure if I should go to hospital or not, I don't want to mis-use emergency services, but also I can't wait two days for a doctor's appointment because I might be dying". It's open 24/7, phone number's different in each state so google.

Because DSP ACM is really rare (~0.002% of population), they can't tell me what my risk is (it's definitely in the "pretty bad" territory, but that's partly because it's so instantaneous – with cancer risk, there's an opportunity to treat it after the fact, so the total risk is smeared across time). Even the groups of people they do study, they're not a random sampling, right? They're families, because that's how you trace the gene. So they have heaps of genetic, social and environmental overlap, and it's hard to separate out confounding factors.

The rareness also means doctors have basically no advice, which I HATE, my god, please just tell me the right things to do. Everything it's like "well, we don't have any research on that so I can't advise you" MAKE SOMETHING UP. I think I am probably a very annoying patient. (The upside of rareness is that doctors are way more attentive and engaged than they would be for, say, chronic fatigue, and I have exploited this with an unending stream of questions.)

Ugh, yeah, so anyway, anxiety + high-stakes tests + not sposed to take ADHD medication (it increases risk of arrhythmia) + bad sleep = struggletown, not helped by obsessively researching fine-grained details of heart structure instead of stuff I can put in The Whippet.

One thing people never talk about with anxiety: the time cost. Like yes, I can talk myself down, I can do box-breathing, I can use grounding techniques, but all these things take time, it's like having passing asteroids knocking random chunks out of your day.

The other really stupid reason for things getting erratic is that I used to pull all-nighters whenever I got overtaken by work (including, often, to finish The Whippet) but I can't do that now because it's really bad for your heart to regularly miss a whole night's sleep, and especially to misuse stimulant medication to let you you do that. So I mean, it's obviously good that I'm not doing that anymore, it was pretty unhealthy even without a heart defect – but still, I used to have this little pocket universe of extra time that I could dip into if I needed, and I now I don't.

I should say: anxiety is not reality. Yes, this is a real condition to be taken seriously, but it's still very unlikely I'll die in the near-term. If The Whippet doesn't arrive on time, it's safe to assume I'm just having an anxiety attack, not dead. Please don't write and ask if I'm dead. After all, I've had this gene my whole life, it would be statistically strange if I happened to die almost immediately after getting diagnosed, my ventricles don't know anything's changed. Only the information is new.

Litany of Gendlin: "People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it."

Also jfc that poor kid died from eating a too-spicy tortilla chip, you can just fucking die for no reason without having a heart defect, none of us are safe.
^i did put a trigger warning.

Anyway. I think it will get better (anxiety + whippet regularity, I mean) – I've organised to see a therapist about it (anxiety, not the whippet), plus frankly I've already read all the available research on DSP, and there's a real diminishing returns once you're reading about like, dilated cardiomyopathy in bodybuilders.

I also like making The Whippet, I want to get back to when I can just be excited about stuff.

Fun fact, did you know "cardiac arrest" and "heart attack" are two different things? I didn't know that! A heart attack is when not enough blood can get to your heart (for example, because of clogged arteries). Cardiac arrest is when your heart just stops beating (for example, because an electrical signal got jammed, because it tried to cross a patch scar of tissue that's bad at transmitting signals). Although a bad heart attack can turn into cardiac arrest.

Bonus unsolicited advice: if you're a doctor, and you're giving a patient test results that could be quite bad news, don't make them do a bunch of small talk first? Probably they are going crazy inside and really just want to know the results immediately!

Anyway I'm gonna go back to not talking about it publicly probably, but thanks for bearing with me.

Please enjoy this issue's mascot, Sanrio character "Big Challenges". He was created in 1978 and then never really got put on a product or used for anything, until he became a minor character in a Hello Kitty mobile game in July 2023, 45 years later.

Big Challenges alligator by Sanrio
"Big Challenges" is his name, to be clear, like how Hello Kitty's name is Hello Kitty, not Kitty.

PS A subcutaneous implantable defibrillator is probably in the cards, so if anyone has an S-ICD and can tell me your experience of it (good and bad), I'd be very interested. Are they uncomfortable? They look uncomfortable. Or if you got diagnosed with something life-threatening and – important caveat – figured out a way to feel okay about it. Maybe share in the comments? DSP ACM is rare, but scary health news absolutely isn't, and other people might benefit.

Please don't feel like it's inappropriate to comment with something light/trivial/funny/unrelated! It's completely appropriate! For example, you could tell me what your dumb "mylar blanket" intrusive thoughts are, if you wanted.


Thanks all, I hope to speak to you again in two weeks

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