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The Whippet #68: How to do things badly

McKinley Valentine — 7 min read

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Hello friends and people who are about to think "man i would not enjoy being friends with you"!

So one of the things The Whippet hopes to be a reprieve from is Hot Take Fatigue. Like, did you hear the latest awful thing someone said? It only happened an hour ago but let's read about how it's awful, or good actually, or a metaphor for Brexit, or completely taken out of context and you need to listen to the whole speech!

And I've heard people increasingly wanting permission to just not have an opinion.

And I get that. But at the same time, I kind of love an extreme take on something? When someone's drawn a ridiculously long bow* between two unrelated things, or just gone several notches past reasonable and absolutely won't back down.

And since that's problematic in the majority of political discourse and obnoxious in interpersonal relationships, the tongue-in-cheek-but-also-I-mean-it editorial pieces on really really petty issues.

Here is someone just really taking a stand on putting your knives in the dishwasher blade up (rather than handle up):**

"This isn't a silly thing. It matters because cutlery up or down is one of those key marker points in life where you decide how you want to live your life.

Are you fearful and nervous? Or do you back yourself and your judgment? Do you accept less because some appliance-maker's lawyers say knives down? Or are YOU in charge in your home?"

(Source for the full for and against rants.)

I absolutely love that they have taken it way too far. Petty issues: a refuge where you can still be totally uncompromising and hyperbolic in a quarantined zone that doesn't harm others.***

* In Australia, "drawing a long bow" means "it's a bit of a stretch" - having to really reaaaach to draw that conclusion. Google tells me in other countries it means "to exaggerate".

** The objective answer is = Yes because it gets them cleaner, but if someone in your house is klutzy and keeps accidentally cutting their hand, or is anxious they will, then their sense of safety trumps the extra cleanliness, sorry, you're right but you're still wrong.

*** Only if you don't actually have this argument with a housemate or partner! It has to be a petty issue that isn't a point of real contention with people you care about. And opinionated isn't an excuse for being controlling. You can be absurdly opinionated about the proper way to stack a dishwasher, but the only appropriate response to someone else stacking it a different way is to say "thanks for stacking the dishwasher".

Robot go-betweens let bees and fish talk to each other

Robots are good at communicating with animals because we can make them do things like heat up, change colour, fluoresce, wave fins - talk ito them in their own language. Otherwise we're limited to animals we can teach speech or signing to.

Previous experiments have involved teaching zebra fish to communicate with robots, or teaching bees to communicate with robots. So some scientists thought, if we could get those robots to talk to each other...

And now we have groups of fish+bees making collective decisions together. The full story is here (I don't want to overhype it, it's only a very basic form of communication right now, but still, the idea that we can connect two species who would never otherwise have known each other existed, I mean my gosh).

Two kinds of curiosity

More than two kinds, since it's really just a series of frameworks for slicing things differently to understand them better.

But here's the framework I just heard about:

Interest-based vs deprivation-based.

Interest-based is when you feel happy or excited or keen when you learn something new, and you seek out new experiences or knowledge because it's enjoyable.

Deprivation-based is when you realise you're lacking knowledge and it's annoying or frustrating and you feel an urge to remedy the gap. It might not be particularly fun. If you read a word you don't know the meaning of, and feel bad for not knowing, and that drives you to look it up, that's deprivation. But it's also riddles and puzzles: you become aware of a lack of knowledge and feel compelled to find out what you're missing. It's also been framed as 'diverse curiosity' vs 'specific curiosity'. Driven to learn anything vs driven to learn this one thing.

Interest-based is usually when you learn something completely new, deprivation-based is when you discover something missing from a set of knowledge you expect to have, and you want to complete it. For example, if you hear the phrase 'Hanseatic League' once, it might not bother you if you don't know what it is. But if you're reading a bunch of European history, and the phrase keeps coming up again and again, you might start to feel irked about not knowing what it refers to.

And then you look it up on Wikipedia and it's just this perfect storm of I-curiosity ("oooh Hanseatic League facts!") and D-curiosity (basically every hyperlinked phrase you don't already know about).

Deprivation curiosity is also the basis of clickbait: "find out which celebrities are secretly lizards! You won't BELIEVE no. 6!"

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." -- Ellen Parr

"My husband's other wife"

This is an old piece, from 2009, but I'm sharing it because it's one I re-read all the time. Emily Yoffe, the former Dear Prudence advice columnist, writes about her husband's first wife, who died. It's a really moving piece about honouring and making space for what made your partner who they are, rather than being jealous of their past or the other big passions in their life.


Lizard lays eggs then gives birth to live young

Do I need to tell you this is weird? This is super weird. Animals are supposed to lay eggs or give birth to live young, not both.

The Australian yellow-bellied three-toed skink - "which looks like a baby snake with tiny legs" <3 - gives birth to live young in the New South Wales highlands, but lays eggs in Sydney (where it's warmer). It seems to be evolutionary link between eggs and placental gestation.

And this specific lizard was pregnant with a litter (of 4), laying three eggs, then giving birth to the last lizard a few weeks later. Which is unheard of.

Making bureaucracy deal with the absurd is always a delight

"Bill Heine, the man who in 1986 stuck a giant shark on the roof of his terraced house in Oxford, has died. He fought planning officers all the way to the top for the right to keep it. The government's final ruling is thing of beauty." - tweet by Jim Watterson

"It is necessary to consider the relationship between the shark and its setting…. In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings,* but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them. The basic facts are there for almost all to see. Into this archetypal urban setting crashes (almost literally) the shark. The contrast is deliberate … and, in this sense, the work is quite specific to its setting. As a “work of art” the sculpture (“Untitled 1986”) would be “read” quite differently in, say, an art gallery or on another site.


The Council is understandably concerned about precedent here. The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and Heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the City. This fear is exaggerated. In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred."

The full ruling.

* that phrase, "in harmony with its surroundings" is crucial to how planning decisions are made. They offered to put it an aquarium display! What would be the point! - McK

Unsolicited Advice

When teaching someone how to do something, tell them how to do it badly.

The best example of this is Downward-Facing Dog in yoga (the upside-down V pose). You're supposed to straighten your legs, put your heels on the floor, hinge at the hip, and keep a straight back.

Most people don't have the flexibility to do that. And most yoga teachers don't tell them how to do it badly if they can't do it properly. If you google for help with this pose, you'll just get repeats of the instructions - "what most people get wrong is they don't straighten their legs!" "yeah it's not that I don't know that, it's that I can't."

There is an answer to this! The answer is really simple: prioritise having a straight back, bend your knees as much as you need to, lift your heels as much as you need to. Doing it the other way overloads your spine.

Yoga is just an example. Whenever you can't do something exactly as you should (or you don't have time), when something has to give, you need the expert to tell you what to prioritise and what to do 'badly'. If you're the expert, volunteer this info. If you're the beginner, make them tell you.

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

PS if you're actually interested in the yoga thing, there's a great explanation here.

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