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The Whippet #75: Prepared, polished, or fractured

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read

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Listen: I'm mad about metal (the substance, not the music). I was just casually looking it up on Wikipedia, and it turns out it's not even... a thing. No one really agrees on what it is.

  • "A metal is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appearance [ie it's shiny], and conducts electricity and heat relatively well."
  • "In physics, a metal is generally regarded as any substance capable of conducting electricity at a temperature of absolute zero" [shininess no longer relevant]
  • "Many elements and compounds that are not normally classified as metals become metallic under high pressures. For example, the nonmetal iodine gradually becomes a metal at a pressure of between 40 and 170 thousand times atmospheric pressure." [WHAT]
  • "Equally, some materials regarded as metals can become nonmetals. Sodium, for example, becomes a nonmetal at pressure of just under two million times atmospheric pressure." [GO HOME]
  • "Around 95 of the 118 elements in the periodic table are metals (or are likely to be such). The number is inexact as the boundaries between metals, nonmetals, and metalloids fluctuate slightly due to a lack of universally accepted definitions of the categories involved."
  • "In astrophysics the term "metal" is cast more widely to refer to all chemical elements in a star that are heavier than the lightest two, hydrogen and helium, and not just traditional metals."

So even within pure table of elements, they can't decide what's a metal, and then astrophysics is like 'basically everything is a metal, when you think about it'.

The article then goes on to say '25% of the earth's core is made of metals' but how can they possibly know that when they can't even agree what a metal is??


Metal isn't real and we should all refuse to respect it for one second longer.

The Wikipedia article is good for some satisfying pictures of metal ("metal") crystals and chunks though.

Black Kite + Fire

"A black kite darts amongst flames as paddocks* are burnt in preparation for next years crops. I took these photos one afternoon last week and it was the most spectacular sight. The sky was thick with smoke and well over a hundred opportunistic kites, falcons and hawks descended upon the paddock as soon as the fire began. They dove and hurtled within inches of flames in an effort to snag any escaping rodents or insects, and stayed for hours afterwards to pick over the paddocks charred remains."

See the full photoset by Georgia Mann

Australian hawks and kites pick up burning sticks and carry them to new areas, deliberately setting fires to drive prey out into the open. [Source]

* in Australia paddock means a big field for farming.

Fidgeting is good for you

It annoys other people but they should learn to put up with it because:

1. It counteracts some of the negative effects of sitting (specifically, blood flow and artery health, the kind of thing that causes deep vein thrombosis on planes).

2. Uses a surprising amount of calories (100 to 800 a day [400ish to 3500ish kj]). It seems like your body uses it as a way to maintain its weight set-point - in this study, they gave a bunch of people too much food, and they started unconsciously fidgeting way more than the control group, who'd eaten their usual amount. (Source + more explanation)

Regardless of the kilojoules, most people are way too sedentary, and any movement we can get into our days is a good thing.

3. People fidget when they're stressed (it's called 'displacement behaviours') because displacement behaviours do seem to lower stress (this study says only in men, but they also say it might just be because women tend to be more aware of having their image scrutinised, and feel more pressure to behave in socially acceptable ways, which includes not fidgeting).

Anyway my theory is, that's probably exactly why fidgeting annoys people: we are highly attuned to stress and tension in people around us (think of meerkats - one acts as a lookout, and the others care enormously if the lookout seems concerned).

List of Displacement Behaviours

For the study above they had to categorise and count displacement behaviours. Please enjoy feeling immediately self-conscious about how many you do!

Groom: The fingers are passed through the hair in a combing movement.
Hand-face: Hand(s) in contact with the face.
Hand-mouth: Hand(s) in contact with the mouth.
Scratch: The fingernails are used to scratch part of the body, frequently the head.
Yawn: The mouth opens widely, roundly, and fairly slowly closing more swiftly. Mouth movement is accompanied by a deep breath and often closing of the eyes and lowering of the brows.
Fumble: Twisting and fiddling finger movements with wedding ring, handkerchief,
other hand.
Twist mouth: The lips are closed, pushed forward, and twisted to one side.
Lick lips: The tongue is passed over the lips.
Bite lips: One lip usually the lower is drawn into the mouth and held between the teeth.

'pig' is to 'oink' as 'pirate' is to 'me hearties'

A neural network was trained on language to pick up relationships and patterns - for example, figuring out that man : king is the same relationship as woman : queen, that Paris : France is the same as Tokyo : Japan.

But neural networks just pick up patterns, they don't actually understand them the way we do. So it also came up with the example in the title, and:

pig : oink = lion : roar
pig : oink = donkey : clip clopping
pig : oink = raven : nevermore
pig : oink = motorcycle : popping wheelies
pig : oink = volcano : spews ash
pig : oink = corpse : laugh maniacally

There's a tonne more.

Why people like metal (the music, not the substance)

A philosopher and metalhead explains what people who love metal are getting out of it, with deconstruction and example and music theory. Read it here.

The short version is that it's the same thing people get out of horror movies, or that Goya painting of Saturn eating his son, or any other creepy or deliberately tense or unsettling art. I wouldn't put it in my house, but it's compelling and visceral and makes you feel something.

(I don't like metal but I like to understand how other people are experiencing the world: more articles like this please!)

Unsolicited Advice: Useful words: fungible

pr. FUN-juh-bull

Fungible objects are interchangeable objects - they might have different characteristics (they're not identical objects), but the differences don't matter to you.

If you break a glass and your housemate says "hey don't stress I'm going to the shops tomorrow, I'll pick you up a new one" that solves the problem and you won't be too upset, assuming it wasn't a special glass. If your cat dies and your friend says "hey don't stress I'm going to the cat shelter tomorrow, I'll pick you up a new one", that is super-gross.

Glasses are fungible, cats are not. Maybe you need six glasses or whatever so you always have a clean one available, but you don't really care which specific glass it is. But there are people who view sex partners like that, and it is not rad. Treating something non-fungible as fungible comes across as really insensitive and sometimes morally revolting.

It can go the other way too: someone who sees every object they own as having its own non-interchangeable value, who can't throw something out because they don't see it as replaceable, even if they could buy an identical version of it in a shop in 5 minutes, or who is devastated by breaking the ordinary glass they have five others of.

And a certain amount of interpersonal conflict is caused by people disagreeing on whether something is fungible ("I ate your hummus but I replaced it" "But you replaced it with a different brand of hummus, it tastes different, it's not the hummus I like")

Money, obviously, is the ultimate in fungibility - $10 is $10 - but people often treat it like it isn't. For example, spending "birthday money" on a treat for yourself that you wouldn't ordinarily buy.

I think it's a useful lens for analysing bits of your life - what you do and don't consider fungible.

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

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