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The Whippet #27: Drink carbon, spin steel

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning!

Making The Whippet has done a few good things for my brain - got me into the habit of writing regularly, spending less time reading politics, etc, but one that came out of the blue was that I now have an enormous amount of faith that anything I look into will turn out to be incredibly interesting.

A few issues back I mentioned Greenland sharks - live for centuries, toxic flesh? Anyway, a friend sent me another article on them that casually mentioned that they're also all blind because their eyes get replaced by parasites. Sorry, that's also horrible. But the point is, I didn't know it. I already thought Greenland sharks were interesting, and they turn out to have a whole additional Thing.

When I wrote about naked molerats, I knew they are the only cold-blooded mammal and they can't feel pain. You'd think that would be enough. But just wiki-ing them turned up a half dozen other what-the-fuck things (seriously, if you didn't read this, you should, it's the second last article).

I would say I am almost complacent now in my belief that, oh, if I looked into any random thing it would probably turn out to be mindblowingly cool.

That is obviously an incredibly positive attitude to have, and I didn't develop it through CBT or other strenuous therapy efforts but just through, let's call it random audits of reality. In this issue: a cool thing you didn't know about goldfish! An animal I bet you thought you basically had covered!

There are more incredibly rad things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Making spiders drink carbon nanotubes

Mm, so, you know how graphene, made of carbon nanotubes, is one of the most amazing new substances? Ind that spider silk is another of the most technically impressive substances in existence? Both strong and light to a totally disproportionate degree. Well, some scientists in Italy realised that the easiest way to get spiders to incorporate carbon nanotubes into their silk was just to give them a water/nanotube cordial to drink. The natural structure they make it into is better than any attempt we've made to replicate it. The new carbon nanosilk is strong enough to support a human.

"We already know that there are biominerals present in in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles and teeth, for example," said Pugno.

"So our study looked at whether spider silk's properties could be 'enhanced' by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk's biological protein structures." [Source]

They don't explicitly say so in the article, but those two paragraphs pretty heavily suggest that the nanotubes are also being incorporated into their exoskeletons, meaning the spiders now have indestructible jaws, armour, teeth.

Also great: properties of regular spider silk

Why do women cry more than men?

(on average, at a population level. At an individual this doesn't hold true).

You've probably already thought of three answers:
1. Hormones
2. Social pressures
3. They don't, men just underreport how often they cry (see 2).

Well! All three are a factor (the hormone is prolactin) but there's a fourth reason that I was very surprised by: skulls of people assigned male at birth generally have bigger, more capacious tear ducts than skulls of people assigned female. So... their tear ducts literally just take longer to fill up and spill over.

This fits with my anecdotal experience of easy criers, which is them saying "please ignore this, I'm not even that upset, my eyes just do this."

"According to research, women cry 30 to 64 times a year, whereas men cry just 6 to 17 times per year. Crying frequency was not affected by age, presence of allergies or hypertension or use of birth control medication, occurrence of emotional stress, attitudes toward crying, or any of the scales of the Differential Personality Questionnaire." More stats on crying frequency and duration

Images from Johann Zahn’s Oculus Artificialis (1685)

The work is a treatise on optics and shows you all the good ways to look at a dragon. From The Public Domain Review, which curates neat stuff from the public domain.

Goldfish make alcohol to survive the winter

It's not the cold temperatures, but the fact that when a river freezes over for months, the water doesn't get much new oxygen and becomes unbreathable for fish. When most animals run out of oxygen, they switch to anaerobic respiration which produces lactic acid and can only be sustained for a pretty short period (lactic acid is super acidic so it's okay when diluted but big problem in high concentrations).

But goldfish and crucian carp have a mutant enzyme that allows them to produce the much less dangerous ethanol as a waste product from anaerobic respiration, instead of lactic acid.

"During the extended periods of ice cover in northern Europe, blood alcohol concentrations in crucian carp can reach more than 50 mg per 100 millilitres, which is above the drink drive limit in these countries,” co-author, evolutionary physiologist at the University of Liverpool, says in the press release." More info @ Smithsonian Mag

Tiny Russian Orthodox Church in Antarctica

The Trinity Church is part of Russia’s Bellingshausen Station on King George Island, on the tail bit of Antarctica, as it is officially known. "It’s located on a rocky outcrop separate from but overlooking a cluster of research bases." It's served by two Orthodox priests, whole year round, and would be a good place to set a murder mystery.

There's a tonne of gorgeous photos of the interior and more details of construction here.

Unsolicited advice

Be less easy-going about sickness

If you know me IRL you’ve already heard this rant: for you, The Whippet ends here.

Everyone else: stop being so dang casual about hanging out with people when you or they have a contagious airborne disease! Getting a cold sucks so much and most people don’t do the slightest thing to prevent spreading it.

You know when you’re trying to squeeze past a seated person, and they lean forward in their chair without pulling their chair in at all? That is a sick person going to work and brunch and parties and saying “haha stay away from me I’m sick.”

It’s illegal to recklessly, knowingly expose someone to HIV, and it should be the same for the cold (but obviously way less severe, in the way that kicking someone hard in the shins gets a way lower penalty than knocking them unconscious, BUT IS STILL A MESSED UP THING TO DO AND A CRIME). If your boss pressures staff to come into work sick, and someone else catches a cold, your boss should be charged with assault.

If someone asked you round for dinner, and said “FYI there’s a chance I’ll punch you so hard you won’t be able to function for two days” you would not go! But if you say you’re sick, people hand-wave and show up anyway.

And this is from people who mock anti-vaxxers, who claim to understand that being cavalier about your own health (re: viruses) has consequences for the whole community. Do you actually understand that?? WHY AREN'T YOU IN BED RIGHT NOW THEN?

I fully understand that this is lonely and sucks, but "I would rather spread disease than have a boring week" is not good morals.

  1. Colds remain contagious for 5-7 days, i.e. even if you aren't a massive sneeze-mess, you still gotta stay home, or if you do go out, PROPERLY avoid touching people, wipe down stuff that you've used, etc.
  2. If you live with other people, and you have a cold, wash your hands many many many times throughout the day, don't touch clean dishes, etc. People talk like it's inevitable that you'll catch a cold if your housemate has one, but it really isn't.
  3. Stop taking for granted that you will catch whatever's going round. You wouldn't if sick people were more careful.
  4. Just because a cold isn't affecting you that badly, doesn't mean the same virus won't really fuck someone else up. Your experience of a cold is a mix of the virus itself and your personal immune reaction.
  5. I wish it was universally culturally acceptable to wear masks in public when you're sick, that is extremely polite behaviour and should be encouraged (I don't do this but I would be a better person if I did).
  6. It's not arachnophobia if you don't want to pick up a redback spider with your bare hands, and it's not hypochondriac to take basic precautions around sick people.

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

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1. With money. A classic stand-by! Patreon lets you pay anything from $1 a month (25 cents an issue!) to infinity dollars a month (still infinity dollars an issue). It's not locked in or anything though, you can cancel/pause any time. Click here for Patreon

2. By telling a friend how it's good and they should read it:

3. By being kind to your friends and not recklessly giving them your cold.

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