The Whippet #94: High-value cargo through difficult terrain

I heard someone say there are two kinds of self-isolaters: those who know exactly how many days they've been in lockdown to the digit ("Quarantine Day 31: I joined a Facebook group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony") and those who have lost all capacity to know what day of the week it is, let alone how many days it's been since any given previous event happened.

I am definitely in the latter group. When people try to organise things I just hear "Can we have a chat about it on Smarsday? Otherwise I won't be free till next Ritterday." Sure, I don't know put it in my calendar.

I started doing these flexibility/stretch classes* with a studio in Adelaide (half an hour behind Melbourne) because it doesn't matter if they're local anymore. You can watch Youtube videos of course, but having an appointment to keep makes me more likely to do it. Then I realised: hang on, why does it have to be Australia at all? If the classes aren't on at a time that suits you, just find a timezone that does. So I've switched to a studio in Boston.

I'm seeing an ADHD coach in Perth, two hours behind, and have regular writing sessions with a friend in LA, a whole day behind.

At the same time, I'm going for more local walks, because it's really the only non-house activity available.

So I'm simultaneously more locally grounded and more detached from place than I ever have been before.

And even though everyone's isolated, when I do see people on the street, people often smile at each other or say "thanks" for making a wide circle around them. When the guy who runs the corner store says "how are you?" and I say "how are you?" back it feels like we actually mean it, we genuinely do hope the other person isn't sick and their loved ones aren't sick. Not that I ever wanted this guy's loved ones to be sick before, but I would never have asked or even really thought about if they were or not. Now every person I interact with, I think about it and I care.

Anyway, that's how I've been going. How have you been going?

* Stretch Therapy, it's a flexibility-improving method developed in Australia that increases flexibility safely and much faster than any other method, although it's more 'work' and less relaxing/pleasant than static stretches or yoga. Online teachers here. If you're an optimiser nerd about this stuff, I recommend them.

Transporting a wind turbine blade


This is just a still frame of a gif of this blade being moved through difficult terrain: super cool to watch.

I also learned that "project cargo is a term used to broadly describe the national or international transportation of large, heavy, high value or a critical pieces of equipment."

So if you wanna see more huge things being transported, I guess that's the term to google.

If you landed in a foreign country with no documentation, could you prove who you are?

How would you do it?

For this hypothetical, assume you don’t know anyone, and you don’t have any online accounts or scans of your ID documents. It’s just you and your word.

This is actually an article I wrote for my work: they did this research project (before my time) to help refugees arriving from Myanmar, who are in the situation described above.

Citizen of Chin State, Myanmar, holding ID card. Photo by my Chris Marmo.

I heard my co-workers talking about it and thought it was incredible, because actually there IS a way you can prove your identity. So I asked to write about it.

Westerners tend to rely on two pillars of identity – documentation and biometrics (fingerprints etc). But there is a third pillar: your life story and your memories of place (for example, your ability to describe local landmarks).

I love that this is a legitimate form of identity - of course it is! - but it's so different from how we usually think. They also looked at different cultural ideas around naming practices and how that can clash with Australian expectations.

Read the article here.

I don't normally cross the streams between my work and The Whippet, just because they're different audiences, but if you're interested I do edit/shape another newsletter: Paper Giant, which is about design, ethics, policy, politics, that sort of stuff. Subscribe link here.

Surreal bus comics by Paul Kirchner

There are a tonne of these and they are all about buses and they are all delightfully strange.

Here's a link to Paul Kirchner's wikipedia if you want to see more of what he's done.

Bats have bizarre immune systems

Australian Fruit Bat Skeleton, 1838. Via Public Domain Review.

I was asking why viruses can't just chill like heaps of bacteria do - why there are no viruses that we can just live with like we can with the friendly bacteria in our digestive system. And it's because they hijack our cells rather than living alongside them. Even when you're asymptomatic, your body still wants that virus gone.

But it turns out bats can just chill with viruses. That's why they are 'reservoirs' of disease, including the strain of coronavirus that combined with a pangolin coronavirus to become COVID-19.

And they can chill with viruses by having a very strange immune system. Humans and most mammals, our immune system works by recognising foreign DNA and attacking it. But bats can't do that, because their DNA is constantly breaking down and being damaged, so it would look 'foreign' and be attacked.

Why is their DNA getting damaged all the time? Because they fly.

"Bats are the only mammals that fly. Flying is a really energetic process and can raise bats’ internal body temperature up to 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) for an extended period of time. That’s really hot. In humans, that would cause serious brain damage. In bats, it’s enough to damage DNA."

There's more to it than that, and the article is also fantastically well written if you're a fan of good science communication. It gives you all the background info you need instead of assuming you already have a biology degree.

I liked this description of the difference between two different types of immune cells, for example:

"While T cells kill any cell that displays signs of being infected, NK cells kill any cells that don’t display signs of being not infected. Viruses will frequently prevent cells from indicating that they’re infected, so NK cells just kill any cell that looks like it’s hiding something. Needless to say, this results in a lot of collateral damage."

Read the piece here.

Unsolicited Advice


There has never been a better time to try geocaching. Obviously this is going to depend on the lockdown restrictions where you are, and your personal risk factors. Where I am, if we have no reason to think we might be infected, we are allowed to go for a walk with people in our household, but not allowed to linger, and we have to keep 1.5m apart from anyone else obviously. Geocaching is really just a walk in your local neighbourhood, so it fits.

Except that it's nice to have a mission for your walk, and to maybe take a route you wouldn't normally, and to feel connected to the people who made the geocache and the other people who found it before you and will find it after you.

Geocaches are little boxes or hollow tubes hidden in public places. Like spy dead drops.

You download the Geocaching app and/or sign up online and it shows you where people have hidden secret caches in your local area. The map will lead you pretty close, but then you'll need to look carefully, sometimes solve clues or a puzzle to find the exact spot it's hidden. The cache will have a little logbook inside so you can see who's found it previously, and you can leave a record that you were there. Use hand sanitiser before and after touching the cache obviously, although they are not found very frequently, so the chances of someone touching the same cache as you within 48 hours, or even within the last week, is tiny. (You can tell when it was last touched by reading the logbook.)

You can see if there's any nearby geocaches just by going to the website, before you bother actually creating an account. In my local area there are only a few, but still! That's a few missions, which is more missions than I had before! And then you can make a geocache yourself and register it for others to find.

People from all over the world read this newsletter so this will not be appropriate for everyone; use your own judgement. If it seems like bad advice for you, then it is.

PS. Hi Ele, Liz, Michael, Tania, Amybeth, Rob, Alex, Kayla, Eileen, Graham, Erica, STS, and Angus! I read all your emails and thought about them, but still haven't replied, because I'm bad at replies! And in some cases because you asked me for advice before This Whole Situation and with every day that passes the advice I would have given seems increasingly alien and irrelevant.

Anyone else: if you reply to this email I will receive it and read it and be interested! My question at the start was genuine. But history tells us I may not reply in any kind of decent timeframe.

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