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The Whippet #20: Should you rob a bank?

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Good morning, ghost slugs.

(It's winter, you can't help it.)

A lot of studies have shown that people aren’t made happier by any particular income, but only by having the same or a little higher income than their peers. This is used as evidence that humans care more about status than they do about wealth itself (and that's why communism will never work blablabla).

I’ve never heard anyone consider the possibility that being poorer than your friends makes it hard to socialise, which has an effect on happiness. If all your friends are poor, you hang around at each others’ houses drinking Aldi beers. If most of them start going to bars, and you can’t afford to, suddenly it’s harder to drink with them, or every time it involves feeling a bit guilty about having to rely on them shouting you.

Your friends start going to $30 restaurants instead of $11 restaurants, and you can’t get dinner with them much anymore. Or go to festivals with them, or concerts, or whatever.

Presumably if your friends are ultra rich and you’re only super rich, they’re all helicoptering to the Bahamas while you can only afford to helicopter to the Adirondacks.

This seems like such a blindingly obvious thing to miss that I wonder if it actually has been addressed and factored in, but also it’s exactly the type of human element that economists *do* tend to miss, so I wouldn't be surprised.

tl;dr humans aren't as shitty as economists think we are

You, if you weren't a ghost slug

(arctic hares aka "a goat that can puff down into a sphere" - @mcccclean)

Should you rob a bank?

I was heartbroken the first time I realised that a life of crime involved just as much hard work as a life of hard work (age 15, several months into my first real job as a check-out chick).

Some economists in the UK recently backed that up with proper data, saying “the return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish.”

"The typical haul for a UK bank robbery during 2005-08, the years their data covered, was a mere $31,700, with a third of the robberies yielding nothing at all. Bank robbers are more likely than not to work with a partner or two, bringing the typical haul per robber down to $19,800." On average, you'll end up in prison after four robberies.

Having a gun increases your haul, but drastically increases your sentence. (The most effective defence is those fly-up screens, but only 1 in 10 banks have them because they end up costing more than most banks lose in robberies.)

"It’s enough to make the aspiring bank robber wonder if he or she should get into drug dealing instead. Don’t even think about it: Research by sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, who ingratiated himself into a position where he could observe the financial workings of a Chicago gang as a grad student in the early 90s, found that only those on the top of the gang hierarchy actually made anything approaching a decent income from selling drugs. The typical street corner drug dealer made an average of $3.30 an hour.

"Over the course of 4 years, Venkatesh discovered, low-level drug dealers were arrested roughly 6 times on average and had a one in four chance of being killed. Most of them worked minimum-wage “straight” jobs to supplement their drug-dealing income." Source (Time mag)

The Mammoth Pirates: in Russia's Arctic north, a new kind of gold rush is under way.

"With the sale of elephant tusks under close scrutiny, 'ethical ivory' from the extinct woolly mammoth is now feeding an insatiable market in China. This rush on mammoth ivory is luring a fresh breed of miner – the tusker – into the Russian wilderness and creating dollar millionaires in some of the poorest villages of Siberia." Amazing photostory.

That tusk weighs 65kg and was later sold for US$34,000. Compare that with the bank robbery, above. This area is all permafrost, it must be miserable work. More like the Yukon goldrush than Sovereign Hill or California.

Ming the Mollusc: the world's oldest animal, killed at 507 years old by scientists trying to tell how old it was

I mean, the title pretty much covers it. Still:

  • ‘Born’ in 1499, meaning it was swimming in the oceans before Henry VIII took the English throne.
  • Named after the Chinese Ming dynasty, which was in power when it was alive
  • Picked up from an Icelandic seabed in 2006 by researchers from Bangor University
  • Who killed it, to count the rings in its shell, like you would an ancient redwood, if you were a jerk
  • The oldest living (non-clonal) organism is a bristlecone pine in California named Methuselah, at 4850 years old.
  • Methuselah's location is a state secret.

Unless this immortal jellyfish is the oldest

"Turritopsis dohrnii, a species of jellyfish, is biologically immortal: instead of dying it simply reverts to an earlier stage in its life cycle. This means that there is no theoretical limit to its life span but also that it is impossible to verify its age."

Favourite part of the Wikipedia page: "Keeping T. dohrnii in captivity is quite difficult. Currently only one scientist, Shin Kubota from Kyoto University, has managed to sustain a group of these jellyfish for a prolonged period of time. The plankton must be inspected daily to ensure that they have properly digested the brine shrimp they are being fed. Kubota reported that during a two-year period, his colony rebirthed itself 11 times.

Kubota regularly appears in Japanese media to talk about his immortal jellyfish and has recorded several songs about them." Delightful NY Times article on this guy. ("Eat by yourself!" he yells at one jellyfish. "You are not a baby!")

Using neural networks to name guinea pigs

More spheres. "Yesterday, I got an email from the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue. “Have you ever trained a neural network to generate guinea pig names?”

No, I hadn’t. In fact, I was fairly certain that this particular feat had not yet been tried in the history of machine learning research. Intrigued, I asked why.

It turns out that the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue often takes in many unnamed guinea pigs at once when they encounter hoarding situations, or sometimes they decide to rename a guinea pig to increase its chance of being adopted. They wanted to know if, given a list of typical guinea pig names (”Snickers”, “Pumpkin”, “Ginger”, “Rascal”, etc), a neural network could learn to generate more names. Yes, I said. Given a list.

The next day, I had a list. The Portland Guinea Pig Rescue gave me the list of every guinea pig they had ever rescued, the names of their own pet guinea pigs, and all the guinea pig names they could find online.

And that same day, I had an answer. Yes, despite having no concept of what these furry round rodents actually are, a neural network is indeed uncannily good at naming them." Full article

Tarot del Fuego

The Fool card from Ricardo Cavolo's Tarot del Fuego. (More images // Buy)
Turns out my aesthetic is 'way too many eyes', who knew. Oh wait I guess you could also call 'way too many eyes' radical animism, which is basically panpsychism, so everybody knew.

Unsolicited Advice

You shouldn't rob a bank.

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

Okay, okay. Real advice.

Things to do instead of checking your phone when you have a couple of minutes to kill.

Like your date's gone to the bathroom, or your lunch is in the microwave. You probably don't want to be so compulsive about your phone, but else are you gonna do while you wait?

Things to do instead of checking your phone when you have 5 minutes to kill:

  1. This is my favourite thing. The Poetry Foundation app has two settings, one for topic (family, death, etc) and one for mood (melancholy, nostalgic, etc). You choose and then spin and it gives you a random (curated) poem. This is so perfect for having a minute to spare. And suddenly you're a person who's read heaps of poems. I often don't get them, but I only read them in my downtime, and the ones that I've loved easily make it worthwhile. Android // ios
  2. Write a To Do List. Either minor errands or bigger things you want to get to if you can find a free evening. Both kinds of list can be soothing.
  3. Send that one email reply you've been avoiding.
  4. Do a 30-second stretch, 20 calf raises, or some countertop push-ups
  5. Pay attention to your breath for 60 seconds, or do a mental bodyscan (i.e. meditate)
  6. Come up with three things you're grateful about right now.
  7. Do a little sketch or scribble (I bet there's an app for that, but a notebook's probably better)
  8. Write a haiku about your surroundings, your date, or your lunch.
  9. Make a bullet-point plan for a story, blog post or letter you'll write later.
  10. List habits you'd like to try and develop. List habits you'd like leave behind at some point. List habits you'd like to try for 30 days to see what effect they have.
  11. List 10 ideas. ('How to become an idea machine')

These are pretty much off the top of my head, I'm sure you can think of others. What could you do with 5 minutes that would be better for you than social media? (List 10 things the first time you wait, do one of them next time.)

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