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The Whippet #15: It beats martinis hollow

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Good morning, wild larks!

The list of foods that I have read about in books and then made and eaten for myself is long, but includes:

  • the hot marmalade roll from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
  • gimlets, the simplest and best cocktail, described at length in The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  • hot rolls and coffee, made by Kreacher and consumed while Making Plans in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (There are more famous foods in HP, but this one appealed to me the most because it's simple and makes you feel like you could make some good plans.)

Like a lot of fantasy, Steven Brust's Taltos novels also have plenty of descriptions of food and wine (it's a good sensory way of grounding you in a world), but unlike many fantasy novels, they're based around Hungarian culture and folklore, rather than British or generic pan-European. Which means they have a lot of descriptions of delicious Hungarian food. (There's a few Hungarian restaurants in Melbourne by the way, google if you're keen, it's good eats.)

And there's also a description of Hungarian egg coffee. Which I tried to make. Unlike Vietnamese egg coffee (or eggnog, say), you don't actually consume the egg. Here's how it goes:

  1. Boil water
  2. Mix up raw egg and ground coffee
  3. Drop egg/coffee mix into boiling water
  4. Boil for 5 minutes
  5. Turn off heat
  6. Pour half a cup of ice-cold water in
  7. Strain and drink

Now normally you would NEVER let coffee reach the boil. But how it works is, the egg proteins bind to the grinds, trapping the bitter parts of the coffee, and then when you pour the cold water in, they settle to the bottom. You can see how it would develop in a time with a lot more chickens than fine metal mesh easily available. You actually don't need a proper strainer, you can just a hold a spoon in place to keep the main egg out.

I really like the idea, because putting eggshells in with coffee - even just in the basket of an espresso machine - is an established thing that removes bitterness and gives a rounder flavour. And also because it's just cool to try a totally new way of making coffee, especially when it's from a book you like.

So like I said, I tried it, and it wasn't bitter - it was actually too weak. Maybe the trick is to let the coffee boil for a minute or two before adding the egg? Somebody please try it and let me know. Today we are talking about egg coffee, that's just how it is.

Interior of Queen Victoria's personal railway carriage, 1869

from Ducking History on Facebook

Take it from a cancer survivor: living each day like it’s your last is exhausting. Do small things that make you happy now instead.

tl;dr the small, everyday things matter more than the big bucket list things

"You want the lesson of getting a diagnosis that historically only grants a handful of months to live? Here it is: don’t jump out of airplanes unless you really, really want to. More importantly, though, get rid of that lamp you never liked. Try the chow fun, even though you always get the lo mein."

"I don’t know why I’d somehow lived as long as I had convinced that a waffle maker was too extravagant or space consuming and complicated a device to own. Before cancer, I would sometimes awaken on a weekend and dream of waffles, and then settle instead for the runner up breakfast of pancakes. Did you know that you can get a waffle maker at any major retailer for about $25?"

"Most of us think there will be time for the little things, the things that are in reach. We live our lives confident that we’ll read that book or we’ll hit that Mexican place we’ve heard is good, or we’ll try a V-neck instead of a crewneck, or find a use for that springform pan. We’ll have that lunch with our college roommate we keep postponing. We’ll get to it next week.

"And then there comes a day when we may have to consider that no, we won’t. There comes a day when there’s no more time. You may not have experienced anything like this – yet. But my advice is to love yourself enough for the small stuff, and love yourself enough now." Full article

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

— Annie Dillard

There's a lot of studies that show we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy or unhappy. We recover far better from major crises than we predict (divorce, cancer, etc) and are affected far worse by minor but regularly occurring irritations. The screen door that you have to jostle every time will cause you more misery than the big things you're most afraid of. These trivial things aren't trivial. Give them the urgency they deserve and get 'em fixed. (Related: this is why a long commute is one of the biggest negative impacts on a person's happiness. "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while." <- Gretchen Rubin.)
Book this is from: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Strength hack for lazy people

There’s a category of facts that you wish you could magically teleport into people’s heads because it’d improve their lives so much, and for some reason is under-known. This is one of mine.

You can see strength gains from doing strength training as infrequently as once a fortnight.

Once a week is significantly better. But three times a week is only a tiny bit better than once.

Related: you can get substantial strength gains from doing only one set (it has to be a serious, hard-work set though). There is a sharp law of diminishing returns, and doing 2 or 3 sets only gets you a tiny bit of improvement.

The article linked has details. “Every available experiment shows basically the same thing: across the board, low frequency training got the same or at least surprisingly good results as higher frequency. All are cited below, with links.”

The point here is that if you are currently doing zero strength training, because you aren’t going to do it three times a week, could you do it once a week? Could you do one set of push-ups once a fortnight? Maybe some squats as well? You probably could, right?

“Bodybuilders and gym nuts, please try to bear in mind that most people aren’t interested in optimization/maximization of results, but in a balance of effort and reward. We all know that you would exert 50% more effort to get a 5% greater reward, and good for you. But most people have exactly the opposite priorities: we would love to sacrifice 5% of our results if it meant we could spend (!) 50% less time at the gym.

I know this is going to upset people, because it’s so counter to both intuition and everything everyone in gyms will tell you. It might help to remember that muscle growth happens during recovery, not during exertion. It might help also to remember that you’re a pro-science person who heeds empirical studies above received wisdom and gut feelings. At least promise me you won’t refuse to believe this if you haven’t clicked through to the article.

Click image to see full comic. I couldn't find original artist though! sorry artist :(

What's your fact though?

If you have one of those burning facts that you wish you could magically teleport into everyone's heads because it would improve their lives, email me (hit reply // and I might put a few in the next issue.

Recreations of Viking Age burials, with grave goods

By re-enactment group Andrimners Hemtagare. Three more photos here. All these little details, like the carpentry tools, and the boardgame...

Unsolicited Advice

It’s actually insulting to apologise for boring someone

Specifically, I’m talking about the situation where you’re talking with a friend about an obscure shared interest – say, astronomy – and there’s a third person there, and you turn to them and say “sorry, this is probably really boring for you”.

I totally understand this impulse and I think it comes from a good, kind place.

But what it says is, “I assume you’re not into astronomy.” This assumption, in itself, is not great (and has the strong potential to stray into sexism – imagine the two friends are men, and the third is a woman, and the topic is in the STEM fields. Similarly women shouldn’t apologise for talking about traditionally feminine stuff in front of men, as though it's automatically boring).

Further, even if the third isn’t also an astronomy nerd: a trait that I admire in people is the ability to be interested in a wide range of topics. Like, you don’t have to be an astronomy nerd to be interested in a few astronomy facts. There are some cool space facts that anyone would like to know! So you’re saying both “I assume you’re not into astronomy AND I assume you can’t get interested in topics outside your personal interests.” That last is a brutal thing to say about someone! I hope no one ever thinks that about me.

It gets even dicier if you say something like “ahh sorry, this is probably too nerdy for you” since a lot of people identify as nerds and would be hurt to be automatically excluded from that category (again, especially groups who have traditionally been excluded from nerd culture).

The way to include people in the conversation (assuming you’ve already assessed that it’s not something they are already into) is to avoid using jargon, and give relevant context. (Like, why is it a big deal that the team lost? Have they never lost before? Was it a re-match with historical enemies? Etc). Any proper noun counts as jargon.


  1. Purely gossip level talk about mutual friends the third has never met and never will, although even this can sometimes be made interesting with enough context.
  2. If you know the third person well, and you've talked about astronomy in front of them a LOT, and they've made general bored sounds previously or jokes about how it's all you ever talk about or whatever.
  3. The topic is just complaining/venting.
  4. Look I'm sure you've got some other exception, that's fine, it can go here.

Lastly, don't feel like I'm saying anyone who's ever bored by a topic is garbage. I personally am bored by astronomy even though it's objectively interesting. I'm just saying don't assume, and find ways to include people by changing your language instead of shutting them out by saying they'd be bored.

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

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