The Whippet #64: snake-cop interviewing a snake-criminal


Hello, let's talk about deadly snakes! Bear with me I have a broader point.

So, non-Australians always want to talk about how many deadly snakes/spiders/sharks/jellyfish/etc we have. (Like, just apropos of nothing, it's weird. "Australian, eh? Throw another deadly snake on the advertisement that was never even shown in Australia because it was a tourism campaign, amirite?" Anyway. I recognise we get off pretty lightly as far as tedious national stereotyping goes).

Back to the snakes: so, in one way it's true. We have 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes. The inland taipan has just astonishingly toxic venom, more than any other snake in the world by a mile.

There are no recorded deaths attributed to the inland taipan.

It lives way out in the desert and it's a very relaxed, peaceable snake.

So what do we mean when we say "deadly"?

Here's a few factors:

  • How aggressive is it?

  • How high up can it bite?

    • Some snakes can raise up pretty high and hit you in the torso. Others are only going to be able to bite your leg, which buys you more time.

  • What percentage of its bites are "dry"?

    • Most brown snakes, which you do see around a bit if you live on a farm, only actually inject venom about half the time they bite. Black mambas, on the other hand, use venom every time.

  • Is there an antivenom? How effective is it?

    • People who receive black mamba antivenom still die 14% of the time.

  • Does it live where people live?

Australia is one of the most urbanised populaces on the planet. That means most snakes don't live near people, and the people who do get bitten are usually close to a hospital. And that hospital will be well-funded by global standards.

So how deadly are our snakes? They've killed 35 people in the past 20 years. And in 20% of those cases, the victim was trying to pick up the snake.

Compare that to the saw-scaled viper, which kills 5,000 people in India every year (and more in Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc.) Less toxic venom, but a rural population - higher exposure to snakes, lower access to healthcare.

The common krait kills 10,000 a year, again, just in India. The Indian cobra kills 15,000 people per year.

Obviously India has a significantly higher population than Australia, but even per capita, it's hard to argue India doesn't have much, much deadlier snakes.

Our other animals are pretty similar.
There has been no recorded death by funnel-web spider bite (the supposed deadliest in the world) since an antivenom was developed in 1982. Redback: 1 death in 60 years. Shark attack: 15 (horrible) deaths in the last 20 years.

Someone is killed by a crocodile every year or two in Australia. The Nile crocodile kills hundreds of people in Africa every year. Again, croc/human population overlap, access to healthcare, different lifestyles (people in Africa need to access rivers for day-to-day living. In Australia it's basically recreational). Even saltwater croc attacks, same species, result in death half as often in Australia as they do in South-East Asia, presumably because of medical infrastructure.

My broader point, which I did say I'd get to, is that a snake's deadliness is not an intrinsic property of the snake (and *certainly* not an intrinsic property of the venom, divorced from the snake's behaviour).

This is true of not just snakes but basically every trait, positive or negative. You can't separate a thing out from the system it operates in.

[I put this on Medium if you want to share it]

Snake-cop interviewing a snake-criminal who's agreed to make a deal. "I want NAMES and DETAILS"

Loofahs are just regular cucumbers

I thought they were at least sea cucumbers or something, but no. It's the fibrous bits left over when you dry out Luffa aegyptiaca, a cucumber common in Indian, Vietnamese and Japanese cooking.

Huge news for the exfoliation community.

Some of the ways I have prevented George R.R. Martin from finishing "The Winds of Winter"

"I introduced him to Pokémon GO. When he got bored with Pokémon GO, I introduced him to Fortnite. When he got bored with Fortnite, I trained a parrot to perch outside his window and respond to the sound of typing by screeching, “Not good enough! Not nearly good enough!”

"I hired a fortuneteller to warn him that he’ll die the day The Winds of Winter is published. He didn’t believe her, but the two of them hit it off and became friends. Last month he spent an entire weekend helping her move into a new apartment. Not quite the impediment I was hoping for, but I’ll take it."

Read the whole thing

[Note that you don't have to like or know anything about Game of Thrones to enjoy this! (There is a Stephen King joke in there though). It also doesn't rely on some weird gross fan entitlement to him writing a book. It's just delightful jokes about being a pest.]

P.A.K.i.S.Tan

So 'stan' means 'land of' right? Afghanistan, land of Afghans.

Kazakhstan, land of kazakhs (which you've probably heard as 'cossacks' - it means 'wanderers' i.e. nomads).

Pakistan...? No. Pakistan is etymologically ridiculous. It's an acronym. It was originally PAKSTAN (with the i added for ease of pronunciation) and stands for the five northern regions of what was, in 1933, British India: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan.

So a good rule of thumb is, if anyone tells you that the origin of a word is an acronym, it's almost certainly a myth. It's a huge red flag. That's why this seems so fake.

(One reason acronym-eymologies are fake though, is because the words predate general literacy. People don't think in terms of the initials words begin with when most people can't read and there's no standardised spelling of words anyway. So the fact this is from 1933 means is how you should know it's more plausibly true. Like LASER.)

Identical twins send DNA to 5 ancestry-testing sites

and all five returned backgrounds different for each company and different for each twin. So, grain of salt before you give your DNA to a company that will definitely sell it.

Cyberpunk DNA hack

It's now possible to use CRISPR to encode DNA with malware, so that it will infect the computer analysing it. [Source] There's probably cheaper and easier ways to hack Ancestry.com but are there cooler ways?

This reminds me of how the FBI brought down Ross Ulbricht ("Dread Pirate Roberts"), the guy running Silk Road (the most prominent Dark Net marketplace). He had incredible levels of encryption on his laptop. So they didn't try to hack into it. They followed him till they saw him using it in a cafe then grabbed it.

Huge numbers of successful hacks are so-called "social hacks" where you call up and say "uhh it's the boss, can you tell me the password, I've locked myself out of the system again" and the admin does not question this because it's pretty typical.

Sámi storehouse

The Sámi people are the indigenous people of the Scandinavian peninsula (which includes parts of modern Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia). The style of storehouse is pretty straightforward, keeps food out of the general path of vermin and scavengers.

Does it remind you of anything though??

Specifically Baba Yaga's cottage, the one that runs around on chicken feet. There's no evidence of these things being related, but surely it could be??

A thing that's cool is, Sámi seasons are not based (directly) on changes to weather, or to the patterns of deciduous trees, but to the lifecycle of the reindeer. I'd never heard of seasons based around animals more than plants, but it makes sense!

Because Australia's climate and growing conditions bear so little relation to the quartered euro seasons we use, I'm always on the lookout for different and more intuitive ways of dividing things. Seasons should be local. Project: re-define and re-name your seasons to suit your local circumstances.

Unsolicited Advice

Listen to me be interviewed on this podcast


A delightful complete stranger called Tom Rosenak asked me to come be interviewed, so I did! It's 22 minutes and I don't talk about snakes at ALL (mostly I talk about EQ / how people can communicate better ie Unsolicited Advice type stuff, which is why I'm shadily putting it here). It was super pleasant to do, so hopefully it's okay to listen to.

Listen here (SoundCloud)

In case you're wondering, yes I could be easily tricked into leaving my house by even a semi-competent burglar. "Sure I'll be on your podcast! Aw man, all my fancy hotsauces are gone."

If you want solicited advice, send questions to thewhippet@mckinleyvalentine.com or just reply to this email.

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