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I’m hugely curious about when kids first learn things about the world.
Like when they first find out about death, and how they felt about it. Or maybe you find out about it early, but don’t really care because kids are pretty self-absorbed, and the thing that changes is you start to care? Does anyone remember? Does anyone with kids remember their kid finding out?
Is there any other fundamental “this is how the world works” thing that you have a memory of finding out young?
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One milestone: I remember when I first noticed my internal monologue. I thought it was a cool trick I’d learned to do, speaking without making any sound. Like riding a bike with no hands.
I wanted to show it off, but of course no one could hear me.
Survey: How many holes does each object have?
Result: We do not agree at all about what a hole is.
I’d have said a cup has no holes, for eg, because it doesn’t go all the way through. But as a commenter pointed out, neither does a hole in the ground.
Every day I learn a new way in which I took my perception of the world for granted.
Survey and image created by u/dyqz on Reddit. Sample size was 1600 respondents.
Less vs fewer: It’s not as simple as you think, also stop correcting strangers, it’s obnoxious
I’m an editor as much as a writer, and so people often share examples of people having made spelling mistakes, as a joke. If the ‘new’ word is an accidental pun in it, that can be funny, but often the “joke” is just “let’s feel smug about being smarter than someone else”. I hate it! And I hate that they think editing is just rules-persnicketiness instead of the much broader and more interesting task of helping someone communicate an idea that matters to them.
Tiger Webb, a person whose job it is to field calls from grumpy boomers about perceived lapses in the Queen’s English on our national broadcaster, wrote a great piece about this
The rule is ‘less’ for mass nouns and ‘fewer’ for count nouns, right?
Webb gives this example from a recent article:
A teenage boy was shot less than two minutes after police arrived at his home, south-west of Brisbane.
That’s clearly correct, even though it uses ‘less’ with ‘two’. Webb systematically breaks down all the exceptions and variants of the rule in this article, but the worst part I think is that there are people on this earth who can hear “a teenage boy was shot” and their first reaction is “actually it’s fewer”.
I’ve seen that so many times.
A Facebook post that said something like “visited my dad in hospital, doctors say their doing everything they can”.
The top reply: *they’re
And while it’s less offensive when the topic is something trivial, it’s still really cringey. It just… it always makes the corrector look worse than the corrected.
Which leads me to my favourite part of the Tiger Webb piece:
In No Country For Old Men, the mesmerising hitman Anton Chigurh is fond of mocking his opponents’ moral codes.
“If the rule you followed brought you to this,” Chigurh says before one particularly visceral execution, “of what use was the rule?”
If your rule has brought you to the place of being completely unable to engage with someone’s message if it has a typo in it, of what use was the rule?
(If you’re like “but I just can’t help noticing when I see a mistake and I need to say something”, I don’t know what to tell you, this is basically how all ethics works. You feel an urge to do something that would feel good for you but hurt others, so you resist the impulse.)
Oh also, the entire foundation for the less vs fewer “rule” is that in the 18th century a guy called Robert Baker said that he personally felt it was more elegant. That’s it, that’s the whole so-called rule.
Rescuing the crew of the fishing trawler F/V Jeanne Gougy (1962)
The French fishing trawler ran aground at Land’s End, Cornwall, England. You can see crew hanging onto the top railings too.
From This Day in Aviation History (because they rescued some of the crew via helicopter). More photos and details of the rescue at the link (mainly aviation nerd details like the make of the helicopter).
And the wreck:
Maybe a superintelligent AI would be fine
There’s a thing called “the paperclip problem” which says that, if we gave an AI a task like “make as many paperclips as you can, as efficiently as possible”, it would inadvertently enslave the human race and turn the entire world into a paperclip manufacturing system. If humans got in the way of making paperclips, it would kill them. It wouldn’t be evil, the theory goes, just single-minded and all-powerful.
I recently read a great short scifi story that goes the other way. A stock-trading algorithm — designed to do nothing but make money on the stock market — sees that nuclear war is about to break out and destroy all of humanity, and tries to save us (because no people = no stock market), using only its stock-trading abilities.
I’ve given you the set-up, not the ending, so it’s still really worth reading. It’s actually quite an emotional read imo.
“Flash Crash” by Louis Evans
It’s free in both written and audio form.
How to promote your stuff on twitter
If you have a podcast / newsletter / blog / etc, you might have noticed that when you share it on twitter, it gets hardly any likes or retweets, even if you have a decent-sized audience.
I found out why this happens (it’s the algorithm) and wrote an article explaining how to get around it.
Non-paywalled link, feel free to share with creators and others who begrudgingly do self-promo:
I probably wouldn’t bother reading this if it’s not relevant to you — it’s a straight-up instructional.
Unsolicited Advice: Treat your To Do list like a tech tree
A problem that many of us have:
We think up all these cool ideas for projects we’d like to do: get some potplants for the front room, learn how to make sourdough, start a podcast, take a writing workshop, build a huge robot costume for Halloween, hang up a painting, learn Spanish, try a new recipe.
They might be fun things, or things that will improve our environment, or cool skills to have — but they’re all things we want to do.
But if you are like me, once you’ve thought of a tonne of these, they stop feeling like fun exciting projects you could do, and start feeling like obligations you haven’t yet fulfilled. You don’t owe them to anyone, they were just plans to make your own life better, but now they’re making your life worse because you’re feeling bad how you’ll never get time to do even half of them.
Here’s how I’m trying to think about it:
A tech tree is a thing in videogames — basically it’s a flowchart for what new tech you can develop when you next level up, or get enough points, or whatever.
This screenshot is from Civilization so it’s all society-level technology, but it could also be a skill tree — maybe you’re an archer and when you next level up you’ll get to choose whether to learn Poison Arrow or Exploding Arrow.
The thing about skill trees is, they’re one of the things that make a game addictive. It’s extremely motivating to keep playing, knowing you’ll get to unlock a new skill soon.
It can be stressful to choose between them (since you’ll usually never get enough points to max out every branch) but it’s also fun.
You never look at a skill tree and go “uggghhh I can’t believe I haven’t got any of this done yet.” It’s exciting that you still have so many to unlock.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to see a genuine chore that way, but for all the side projects and cool ideas that were meant to be fun (or that will be a level up even if the task itself isn’t fun), I’m trying to remember that it’s exciting that I’ll get to unlock them in the future, not a debt I haven’t paid yet.
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