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The Whippet #26: We don't have an official position on bats

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning my precious shining gems!

Firstly, I'd just like to apologise for The Whippet coming out a day early last issue: I forgot what day it was. We run a tight ship here at The Whippet, arguably too tight. *cough*

Moving on.

One experience that is just an unalloyed, perfect pure joy, is when you happen to see customer service people on their breaks, talking to someone they really like and feel relaxed and human around.

Like they're on the phone outside their cafe and smiling with huge heart-eyes and you know they’re talking to a love interest. Or their friend drops by the store and you see the way their face lights up and it is SO DELIGHTFUL.

Anyway the neat thing about this is, you only get to enjoy it if you’re capable of empathy. Instant karma. I hope you get a chance to feel relaxed and human this week, or like a cool gleaming robot, whichever you prefer.

Eerie ecosystem I: Whalefall

When a whale dies and sinks to the ocean floor, it creates a new ecosystem that changes the local food web for up to a century afterwards. They only occur in deep sea areas where the very cold water temperature slows rotting and there are fewer large scavengers, so it reaches the bottom in one piece.

First, as just a ridiculous amount of food, the carcass attracts mobile guys like sharks and hagfish, who eat the soft tissues. The sediment around it becomes incredibly nutrient rich from all the falling bits of whale, and attracts worms, lobsters, and clams that burrow into the ground. Bits of whale float up, too, and attract plankton, which attracts more creatures to the waters above it.

Finally, sulfophilic bacteria cover the bones and break down the lipids (fats) embedded in them. "The bacterial mats [see photo] provide nourishment for mussels, clams, limpets and sea snails. As whale bones are rich in lipids, representing 4–6% of its body weight, the final digestion stage can last between 50 and 100 years."

The amount of carbon tied up in a typical single whale carcass (about two metric tonnes of carbon for a typical 40-tonne carcass) is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon that would ordinarily fall to the same 50-metre area in 2,000 years. (see: marine snow)

Also, this is unique to whales: whale sharks, also huge, do not decompose past the scavenger stage because their bones aren't nearly as rich in fat. (Whalefall on Wikipedia)

Aaahh what

One of the organisms that eats whalebones is a worm that uses acid to drill into the bone to the marrow. Only the females can do this, and so to get at the fat and collagen, the males have to live inside the females. Up to a hundred males living inside one female. ALSO, the actual guy who studies these worms doesn't know how they eat the nutrients because the worms don't have digestive tracts.

Edit: I just remembered that corsets used to be reinforced with whale bones, there's a hook for a steampunk murder mystery right there.

Eerie ecosystem II: Sky Beam

It can't really compete with whalefall, but the Luxor Sky Beam is the strongest beam of light in the world, and it beams into the sky above the Luxor hotel and casino in Las Vegas. (You've probably seen images of it, it has a to-scale replica of the Pyramids, Sphynx, and King Tutankhamen's tomb.)

The Sky Beam "uses computer-designed, curved mirrors to collect the light from 39 xenon lamps and focus them into one intense, narrow beam." The lamp room is 150 C (300 F) when the beam is on, so throwing someone into that room would be a good Bond villain death. "Looks like it's lights out for that guy," you could say.

Anyway the Sky Beam can be seen from 450km (275mi) away so it attracts more moths than any other thing has ever in the history of the world. And the moths attract massive bat swarms, and the bat swarms attract owls.

"We don't have a position on the bats," said Luxor spokeswoman Hillary Bernstein.

Update on that witch flute

Last issue I posted an image of a carved flute made partially out of a rat's foot. It had some text I thought was French, and I asked if anyone could translate it. And because I have the smartest, best readers, someone did (Jacqui: you're ace).

"The Dutch text explains that the whistle is for getting rid of a rat plague. The plague could have been caused by a sorcerer, so you blow the whistle to summon a spirit (verzender = 'sender') to send the plague away.

The transcribed French text is difficult because of the 'larve' (which is hard to read, as well!) The actual word (technically, in current French) means 'larva' as in the actual grub / immature insect, but *that* came from the Latin 'larva' (ghost/evil spirit), because an insect larva is sort of transparent and creepy ('ghost-like'). So I'm going to take a leap and say here the French 'larve' is a now obsolete use (or 'black magic jargon' use) of the original Latin meaning of larva.

Option #2: Could be an (obsolete) indicative verb form of 'laver', to wash or 'cleanse'. To send the rats away."


Spectrum of Jokes

My friend Fraser (@heresathought) made this chart, based on Wikipedia's similar one for military deception (which charts ruses, feints, disinformation, camouflage, etc). It's missing shenanigans though, which should be near hijinks in my opinion. L'esprit d'escalier would be o% action and 1000% funny (staircase wit: the hilarious comeback you think of on the stairs as you're leaving the party).

Merriam Webster's Time/Traveller tells you when words were first used in print


This is neat! It makes you realise how much that's really recent you take for granted. Some of it is obvious (crowdfunding - 2006, humblebrag & selfie - 2002), others might not have occurred to me (speed dating - 2000). You can see medical advancements - leptin, the hormone that controls how full you feel, is only recorded from 1995. (Noting that words are usually in spoken use way before first print use, although there's probably only a short lag for medical terms.)

I reckon looking at the years just before you're born are going to be the most interesting, because they're the most recent words that will feel like they've been around forever to you. (Case in point, a lot of the new words from the early 80s are AIDS-related, and the idea of living in a time when HIV was not a Thing is unfathomable to me.)

Mostly it's being reminded that words you think of just existing were coined at one time or another to describe a new phenomenon (from the 70s: veggie burger, day job, spaghetti strap, plan B, butterfly effect, stressed).

It keeps going back through the centuries, which I like - there's no strong demarcation. 1505: gravity, disordered, unbreakable.

Anyway my favourite word is weaksauce, 1992. It's like feckless but more broadly applicable and fills an exact lexical gap.

Japanese depictions of hell from the 12th to 19th Century

A demon flattening someone out and preparing to cut them into soba noodles.

Click through for more images (a few are actually pretty gruesome, so - fair warning).

Unsolicited Advice: The moral of Wile E. Coyote

So the point about Wile E. Coyote is he has some pretty good tools for catching prey, namely: teeth, claws etc, and teaming up with badgers (this is true, coyotes are better at chasing and badgers better at digging so they often hunt together).

But he doesn’t do any of that, instead he tries all these elaborate ruses that he’s terrible at, that he's totally unsuited to, and he never gets to eat.

There’s a very strong and logical idea that you should work on your weakest points, but I’ve been editing a bunch of business / thought leadership type articles for a finance firm, and they’re really pushing the idea that you should put all your resources into your strengths (what they would call your ‘distinctive capabilities’) and only improve your weaknesses to the bare minimum needed to get by.

Like, if you have poor organisation skills, don’t bother going to some three-day project management seminar, just make sure you’re meeting deadlines and showing up on time and call it good. Spend those three days on the skills that distinguish you.

It made me think of one of Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules for Writing:

4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

Or how much better it feels, on the days you can manage it, not to wear clothes that disguise or balance or distract from your supposed body flaws, but to wear clothes that your fit your actual body, as it is, and make it look like the real body you have.

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