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The Whippet #39: With conquering limbs astride from land to land

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Good morning green pheasants!

If you read travel guides, they will usually have tips about etiquette: like, "in Japan it is considered rude to..." - stab food with your chopsticks, for example.

But I've been wondering about that word, rude, and what impression it gives about a culture when that's the only word you use for "don't do this stuff". This list is titled Chopstick Taboos, for example. Taboo is a strong word! I'm thinking about what rules you might give for Australia, and a lot of them are less rude and more "people find it gross" or "you will look like a huge idiot". (Stabbing stuff with your chopsticks definitely seems like it might make you look like an idiot.)

Would a guidebook to Australia say "In Australian culture, it's polite to put your knife and fork parallel together across the plate after you've finished your meal" (Non-Australians: you do this to indicate to the waiter that you've finished and they should clear your plate - leaving them spread at an obtuse angle tells them you're not done.) This is obviously very handy and it's annoying and confusing when someone gives the wrong signal, but it would be odd to say "it's considered rude to leave your fork and knife apart after you've finished eating" - it would give the correct rule but quite a false cultural impression.

If you flatten all the reasons down to rude vs polite, it gives an impression of tradition, arbitrariness, superstition, ceremony, respect, etc. It's kind of othering. It doesn't tell you what the subjective experience of seeing someone out and about with wet hair is, in a culture where that's not done. Is it like walking in on someone in the shower? Or like someone trimming their nails on public transport? Those are really different feelings, and both are different from generic rudeness.

Half your brain stays awake when you sleep in a new place

So it's pretty obviously true that you sleep badly when you're in a new or strange place, and even if you do sleep okay, you'll be groggier and perform worse the next day. So here's why!

Using neuroimaging, sleep scientist Masako Tamaki and her colleagues "found that the sleeping brains showed asymmetrical patterns of sleep activity, with one hemisphere humming along while the other slept. And while the sprightly hemisphere wasn't fully awake, it was much more active than the other—even responsive to external stimuli. Subjects in the study experiencing FNE, for example, were jolted awake by “deviant” sounds. A creaking door perhaps. Or a shrieking animal. For most of the subjects, the night watchman hemisphere of their brain was the left side, for inexplicable reasons."

This is actually how dolphins sleep - one hemisphere at a time - and birds with long, oceanic migrations.


Anyway it's 100% real and you're not just being fussy. [Full article]

Colossus of Rhodes: 5 best facts

The Colossus of Rhodes! One of the 7 Wonders of the World, often described as straddling the entrance to the bay, as with the picture to the left, but actually stood to one side, as the image on the right. (His thighs would have snapped if it's been

  1. Roughly 45m (150 feet) high: the tallest statue in the world at that time (280 BC). A fair bit taller than Christ the Redeemer (38m).
  2. 15 years previously, Rhodes was besieged by Antigonas I Monophthalmus (One-Eyed) of Cyprus. The city resisted the siege and Antigonas' army was forced to abandon much of their equipment and weapons
  3. THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES WAS BUILT FROM THEIR ENEMIES' WEAPONS, melted down bronze and iron, with the abandoned siege towers used for scaffolding.
  4. It stood 54 years until a severe earthquake toppled it backwards - onto the city of Rhodes. It was too heavy and big to move, so for 800 years, Rhodes was built around the giant, fallen Colossus. "Even broken, they were so impressive that many travelled to see them. Pliny the Elder remarked that few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues" [Wikipedia].
  5. The problem with modern cities is we are too quick to tidy up toppled statues.

The 12 Chinese Colossi

Semi-related true-story parable from Three Kindoms-era China: "12 Jin Ren were twelve huge bronze Colossi made after 221 BCE by the order of Shihuangdi, the first Emperor of China.

In around 190 AD, Dong Zhuo, in his efforts to finance a personal castle, melted nine of the Colossi, and recast them into coins. This influx of bronze coins flooded the market and caused serious inflation, rendering the currency useless."

Using fish skin to treat burns

Doctors in Brazil are experimenting with using sterilised tilapia skin - essentially a waste product from the fishing industry - to treat serious burns. "The tilapia skin is applied directly onto the burned area and covered with a bandage, without the need for any cream. After about 10 days, doctors remove the bandage. The tilapia skin, which has dried out and loosened from the burn, can be peeled away."

The fish skin has high amounts of collagen, a protein that is absorbed and used by healing skin, stays moist for a long time, and doesn't need changing every day the way gauze does. It's 75% cheaper than the creams currently used, speeds up healing, and reduces the need for pain medication. [Full article]

Amethyst etymology

A-methy-st means "not drunk" - methy being connected to words like methylated spirits, and coming from the Greek word for wine, methu. That originally meant honey, and is probably related to mead (honey-wine). Med means honey in most Slavic language, and the word for bear, medved, is literally 'honey-eater'.

It was believed that wearing an amethyst or drinking from a glass with an amethyst in it could prevent you from getting drunk. It's baffling to me how this could be believed for longer than about half an hour, but apparently so.

Jennifer Crupi’s unconventional jewelry highlights gesture as ornament

"In her series, Ornamental Hands, Crupi’s structural metal attachments hold the hand in various poses that are commonly found in traditional art historical paintings. Fingers and wrists are suspended in aesthetically pleasing cuffs and splints, which the artist makes by hand using aluminum or sterling silver. Despite the eye-catching nature of Crupi’s anatomical suspensions, the ultimate intention is to display the gesture itself as the ornament, with the jewelry acting as a supportive means to that end." [Read/view more]

Empathy Table

"Not having legs of its own, Empathy Table rests on the laps of two users. It is stabilized by their arms which are placed into the carved indents of the tabletop. In this work, I seek to point out how one can show agreement with another by assuming the same posture. As a result of interacting with this table, the two users are forced to be in "empathy" with one another, a comfortable conversing distance apart."

As you can see Jennifer Crupi's whole deal is around body language and communication and how external stuff shapes that.

Unsolicited Advice

The perfect $0 gift for the host of a party/event

I know it's perfect because I received it, loved it, and now I'm going to plagiarise it. The day after my wedding, one of my friends who attended sent me a Facebook message with "eight excellent moments from last night, in no particular order". It was little moments and vignettes, some that I was there for, but was so nice to hear they brought someone joy, and some that I wasn't there for and would have had no idea about. A conversation, a joke, a person they met, someone's rad outfit, it REALLY doesn't have to be big things.

When you are a host, you want people to have a good time, and you want to know your event was memorable. You might like to think you connected interesting people together. You are a bit anxious and fluttery and sometimes you can forget to have a good time yourself or have proper moments with people because there's a lot going on that's distracting. So this is a gift that matches the emotional things that a host wants. In the same way that it's lovely to look at photos afterwards, having little recollections through someone else's eyes was the nicest thing.

And it costs nothing! And I think, like flowers or a bottle of wine, it doesn't suffer from not being my original idea.

Seeing as I'm stealing and sharing her idea, the least I can do is mention Lisa-Skye's comedy gig, By the Time You Read This, Lisa-Skye Will Have a Girlfriend, which is on every night for the first two weeks of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I've bought tickets for April 2nd if you want to say Hi.

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

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