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The Whippet #16: Even the dead will drink tea if they can

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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My dear sunbears,

So I joined a gym last week, which is pretty off-brand for me (KIND of. My brand is “bookish, hates almost all weather” but it’s also “terrified of death, constantly yells about suncreen”. Besides, there’s no weather in the gym.)

Anyway, let’s call this :

why you might like the gym, for people who assume they would hate the gym

  • It’s an introvert’s ‘third place’. (Third place being the term for a place that’s not home or work, where you can just be. Cafes and bars are the main ones.) You are way less noticeable at a gym than a cafe. You can do whatever, roll around on the floor, and people are just gonna assume it’s some exercise you’ve been told to do. You’re not supposed to be dressed well, or look pretty. Everyone is in comfy clothes and no make up, and everyone is ignoring you, and you have an absolute right to be there. (Like, yes, you had to pay $80 for the month, but you don’t have to now buy a coffee, interact with anybody, etc.) Do you know how rarely I feel like I have an absolute right to be anywhere?
  • As someone with an almost perpetual nagging sense that I should be somewhere else, doing something important I’ve forgotten, the gym is a respite from that feeling. This is because being at the gym, you’re at the peak of smug “no I’m doing a proper thing that’s good for me.” I expected to do really efficient workouts and maximise my time there, but I ended up feeling so relaxed and not under pressure that I take my time.
  • For the same reason, any leisure activity you do afterwards feels better, because you already did your good deed.
  • Also, it breaks up the requirements on your willpower into two portions. Normally, you’re like “work out or go on the internet” and you will definitely choose internet. But this way your first choice is “go home after work or get off two stops early where the gym is”, which is easy, and then once you’re at the gym, “go home again, or lift a heavy thing” and you sort of might as well, since you’re there.
  • The no-weather thing is real. I get sad about having to wear so many layers in winter, and it’s lovely to be able to wear shorts and not be cold. If you’re a winter-sad person, don’t underestimate this.
  • The change rooms. It’s incredibly healthy for your psyche to occasionally be naked and around other naked people in a non-sexualised way. Much like the gym proper, everybody’s just getting on with their own thing, not looking at you, not acting like they expect to be looked at. It’s strange to realise that happens… never? Almost literally never? Even though we’re human animals with bodies?
  • The sauna. One, saunas are really good for your cardiovascular and brain health. Two, it does some kind of endorphin thing that means you feel really good when you get out. This matters because if you attach a habit (working out) to something that feels good, your brain will associate them and you’ll do the habit more. But because it’s ALSO good for you (unlike, say, candy), you just feel excellent about yourself and in yourself.
  • After I get out of the sauna, I just kinda pace up and down beside the swimming pool because the cool air feels so nice. And no one looks at me, or asks what I’m doing, or why I’m there! You can’t pace up and down in the city without people looking at you like you’re crazy! Especially not in your underwear, not that I’ve tried. I’ve only ever seen saunas in Seinfeld so I was worried there’d be a lot of small talk, but it turns out no, it’s public transport rules.

And listen, this is all from someone who doesn’t enjoy exercise, although I hate lifting weights a lot less than I hate cardio.I still don't enjoy the exercise part and I don't really ever expect to.

Oh also:

  • People who regularly lift weights (at age 65) have half the risk of developing dementia. I'm sure I'm not alone in being more afraid of dementia (which includes alzheimers) than any other condition. And this HALVES it.

The Barbie Typewriter is for spies

Literally, it's a an electronic typewriter with simple cryptographic capabilities developed in Slovenia. It had "4 built-in cipher modes. These modes were activated by entering a special key sequence on the keyboard."

"When the E-115 was adopted by Mattel as an addition to the Barbie™ product line, it was aimed mainly at girls with a minimum age of 5 years. For this reason the product was given a pink-and-purple case and the Barbie logo and image were printed on the body. As it was probably thought that secret writing would not appeal to girls, the coding/decoding facilities were omitted from the manual. Nevertheless, these facilities can still be accessed if you know how to activate them."

As a commenter said, for a children's toy company, they have a pretty poor understanding of girls if they think secret writing wouldn't appeal to them. h/t Marcin Wichary on twitter

Soldiers' wounds glow blue and heal faster

This is real. I mean not all soldiers, but:

"As the sun went down after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, some soldiers noticed that their wounds were glowing blue. Many men waited on the rainy, muddy Tennessee battlefield for two days that April, until medics could treat them. Once they were taken to field hospitals, the troops with glowing wounds were more likely to survive their injuries — and to get better faster. The mysterious blue light was dubbed “Angel’s Glow.”

Honestly, with the information available at the time, it would be weirder NOT to get religion after that. The cause of it was a bioluminescent bacteria called Photorhabdus luminescens. It has a symbiotic relationship with tiny nematode worms. The nematodes are parasites. So what happens is, the nematodes go into a host insect larva, and vomit up their P. luminescens - which are powerfully antibacterial and antimicrobial. So the nematode and the P. luminescens get to eat the larva with no competition from other organisms. When they're done eating, the nematode swallows the P. luminescens again. The bacteria glows blue, attracting insects, making it easy for the nematodes to find a new host. P. luminescens lives in the soil when its not inside a nematode, and was presumably in the mud of the battlefield .

You probably know enough of the 1800s to understand what a drastic effect an antibacterial substance would have had on wounded soldiers' mortality rate. So why wasn't this happening constantly? P. luminescens can't survive at human body temperature. It's too hot for them. The soldiers at the Battle of Shiloh had been left in the rain for two days, and had hypothermia. Source.

Wolverine Frog

Okay this frog is a) hairy. Why hairy. Anyway that's not the thing. The main thing is that it has claws. Or rather, it deliberately breaks its own toebones so that the bone splinters stick out through the skin. "Although a retraction mechanism is not known, it has been hypothesized that the claws later retract passively, while the damaged tissue is regenerated." That does not qualify as "retracting", excuse me Wikipedia. Here's its Wikipedia page. (It's actually called the Hairy Frog, not the Wolverine Frog, sorry, biologists burying the lede.)

Fiction: Telling the Bees

"There was a girl who died every morning, and it would not have been a problem except that she kept bees."

Extremely good, extremely short (723 words - much shorter than this email). Read it, fiction's good for you. Take your fiction medicine.

For context 'telling the bees' is a European tradition that says if you keep beehives, you have to tell them of any major events in the household - particularly deaths - or they'll get upset and stop making honey or leave. Wikipedia page.


Unsolicited Advice

"You cannot trust your own perceptions."

Last week I asked if anyone had any burning facts they wish they could magically teleport into everyone's brains. One reader suggested this, and they're absolutely right about it.

"The really hard-to-internalize knowledge I wish people had is just you cannot trust your own perception. Study after study have shown that no, your memory isn't reliable. Your anecdotal evidence doesn't hold up. A quick google search found this, which basically summarizes the whole concept:

That Black Mirror episode where everything is recorded would, contrary to whatever point they were trying to make, vastly improve the world IMO. No longer would we have those "no I swear you had the keys last" arguments, and of course there are much broader contexts also.

The issue with this stance, of course, is that there's a percentage of the population who don't trust their own perspective enough, which opens up a path to abuse. Alas."

I (McKinley) went to a super-interesting lecture on forensic psychology, which deals with some of this stuff - the unreliability of memory. At the beginning, they showed us some footage of a 'suspect', and at the end, we had to pick him up out of a line-up. I wasn't totally sure, but I picked the guy I thought looked the most like my memory.

And that was exactly the problem. None of the men in the line-up were the one from the footage, but the one who looked most like him got accused. They don't do line-ups like this anymore (or they shouldn't). You see each candidate once, and once only, and you have to say Yes or No. You can't say "hmmm, let me get another look at number 6". Either you recognise the guy or you don't. And you're not told how many people will be in the line-up, so you don't select the last guy out of desperation.

There's other things like - no one in the room should know who the suspect is. Even if they're not corrupt, they won't be able to stop their body language very slightly indicating more anticipation or interest, and the witness won't be able to help picking up on it. The worst bit is, neither party will realise there was any influence. The witness will just think "I had a sense about that one".

(In some ways this is a tribute to how incredibly observant humans are - we can pick up on the tiniest cues and synthesise them into what we call intuition. That intuition is not magic, it comes from real, but very subtle observations. But yeah it's a goddamn mess when it comes to forensics.)

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

All up, The Whippet takes me up to 6 hours a week to make. If you want to throw me a couple of bucks towards that work, I'd be so chuffed! Patreon here:
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