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The Whippet #143: Echidnas pacing the frozen forests

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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When I am very tired or overwhelmed, I make a Mini-Whippet, so I assume this is what everyone else does as well.

(I'm fine – if you make a thing literally every two weeks, it's gonna catch you tired and overwhelmed sometimes, it's just maths.)

I've become very Baader-Meinhof-Effect-y about the word "life-changing", which you see everywhere. Not just in marketing, which you'd expect, but by people describing books they've just read, seminars they've just attended, trips they've just taken.

And I always want to say: "Please tell me the ways in which your life has changed since reading this book. Have you started doing something you never used to do? Have you stopped doing something? What is changed, please."

The reviews often seem to come the day after the life-changing event has happened – how can they possibly know whether it will result in meaningful changes to their life?? In six months you can tell me whether it was life-changing or not.

So my conclusion is this: 'life-changing' is not a literal descriptor. It is an emotion state, which exists in the present tense and then is gone. The emotion is something like a mix of motivation, a sense of possibility, perhaps hope or joy. When someone says "this book changed my life", 99% of the time they mean, "I experienced a strong emotion when I read this book."

(I don't think it has to be a literal physical change of activities. For e.g. a very common experience is for someone with a messed-up childhood to think it's normal and the same as everyone else's, and then start talking about it with their friends, like "ha, remember when your parents would leave you outside overnight because you forgot to take the bins out?"* and the friends are like "No, that is not a normal thing for parents to do." A major re-understanding can count as 'life-changing', even if you don't change any of your actions as a result.

* Not autobiographical)


If you have an example of a book or seminar or youtube video etc. that really did change your life, where you can point to specific differences in your before-event and after-event life, I would be interested to hear! (My suspicion is that, unlike in fiction, change is caused by a slow drip of different occurrences, not one big revelation.)



"Personal epiphanies feel great, but they fade within weeks. Upon having an epiphany, make a plan and start actually changing behavior."

- from "100 Tips for a Better Life" [not all of which McKinley agrees with]

P.S. The discussion of the need for solitude in relationships in the last few issues reminded me of a poem/song I shared in Issue #12, a sea-themed issue.

Nantucket Girls' Song (1855)

I have made up my mind now to be a Sailor’s wife,
To have a purse full of money and a very easy life,
For a clever sailor husband is so seldom at his home,
That his wife can spend the dollars with a will that’s all her own,
Then I’ll haste to wed a sailor, and send him off to sea,
For a life of independence is the pleasant life for me,

But every now and then I shall like to see his face,
For it always seems to me to beam with manly grace,
With his brow so nobly open, and his dark and kindly eye,
Oh my heart beats fondly towards him whenever he is nigh,
But when he says Goodbye my love, I’m off across the sea
First I cry for his departure, then laugh because I’m free.

Little guys

See also:

discussion of Bes, a little guy from Ancient Egypt that I have a replica figurine of

an echidna
Breaking: Echidnas very cute

New discovery! Platypus and echidnas came from the South Pole!!



Among the many other weird features of platypus (the duck bill, the egg-laying, the venomous spurs, the sweating milk out of their whole chest area because they don't have nipples, the two-pronged penises, etc.) is that they hunt via electrolocation, the same way sharks do. If you've ever seen one at the zoo, they swing their heads back and forth as they swim, detecting electrical signals in the water.

The echidna (which, I regret to inform you, has a four-pronged penis) also has a sensitive snout, and it can detect the electrical signals of worms and bugs when it snuffles in the dirt.

And during the Early Cretaceous period, when the interior of Antarctica was a snow-covered, polar forest, their ancestor used its long shrew snout to detect where creatures were hiding beneath the snow.

Antarctica was (still is) dark for six months of the year, so finding prey by electrolocation would be a good skill.

Source: long and interesting article in Australian Geographic.

The other revelation I found fascinating (but is objectively much more dry) – platypus are very old, they were alive 0ver 100 million years ago, at the same time as triceratopses, but echidnas are very recent. We haven't found any echidna fossils older than 2 million years (babies!)

Tim Flannery et al. reckon that the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs also killed off all the land-based monotremes [egg-laying mammals]. Water-based monotremes survived because river ecosystems are based on decaying food matter, not photosynthesis. (The asteroid caused an 18-month winter). Then muchhhh later one group of platypus got stranded on an island in New Guinea and re-evolved into a land-based monotreme: the echidna.

“And we’ve got good evidence of that: some studies of the beak of the echidna show that as they develop through the embryo stage they have a flat bill, so they look more like a platypus as an embryo than an echidna."

This has ended up more of a 2/3rds Whippet than a Mini-Whippet, look I don't know.

Gmail extension: Rename email subject line

Chrome extension

This extension lets you change the subject* of an email someone has sent to you.

People are very bad at subject lines, and often the email with important info you need is buried in a thread of 20 emails, all titled "Re: today". Probably some people save that important info to a separate note-taking system, but if you're not that together, this extension is gold.

The UX isn't perfect, it has a pop-up when you use it for a second, but it's worth it to me. Also I assume it's selling your data, but if you cared about that you wouldn't be using gmail.

* idea: an extension that algorithmically generates a comment on the weather or local sporting team based on the sender's location. Someone sends you an uncomfortable email and you just hit the "change subject" button.

Alternative: Add sticky notes to emails

Chrome | Firefox

This extension puts a blank sticky note at the top of every email, which you can leave a note in for yourself:

There is a search function that lets you just search the sticky notes.

This also kiiind of functions as a subject-line replacer, because the first few words of the sticky note appear in the subject line. It's character-limited though, as you can see from the top note:

(Book Riot SFF is a science fiction & fantasy newsletter with recommendations and info on new releases. If you like spec fic, this is a way to be exposed to wayyy more of what's out there, and there's a quality filter, so everything recommended will be above a certain threshold, even if it's not to your personal taste. Seen here filtered to its own folder like a little bookstore.)

Unsolicited Advice: Put yourself in the receiver's shoes when writing email subject lines!

Be clear and direct. Think, "if my recipient wanted to quickly find this email later, what search terms would they use?"

(This is for functional emails, if you're just saying Hi, it doesn't really matter.)

Where possible, subject lines should be a summary of the content, not a teaser. So instead of "note about my availability", you'd make it "I will be unavailable in August". Or whatever. Think about what would make sense to the sender.

If you're starting a new topic, or sending key info, don't reply to the email thread. Start a new one, so your key info has a relevant subject line and isn't buried.

Similarly, if you're sending a file, title the file so it will fit with their filing system, not yours. I've (once) been involved in hiring someone, and we got so many files titled resume.docx or resume_placemckinleyworks.docx. You see how this does not help me differentiate between the different documents, yes? You want to title it something like yourname_resume_positionyoureapplyingfor.docx.

Mostly this is just considerate, makes other people's lives easier, which is the reason to do it. In the case of job applications, it kind of demonstrates a lack of theory of mind (i.e. you haven't put yourself in the shoes of the recipient). If that were a relevant skill for the job (which it very much is for writing, it's like half the job), then it would count against you. Not heavily, but some.

(I feel mean saying that, but you have to judge people based on their resumes when they apply for a job! That's the whole point of resumes!)

Forget the resumes, it's just a low-effort way to be considerate and nice to people.


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