The Pipwick Papers

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I’ve been absent the last couple of weeks – one sickness and one work trip that took over my week leaving no time for reading outside gaming. Sorry about that. I’m looking at ways to make this a regular thing without it being so affected by external factors and simultaneously not affecting regular work!

Here’s an accidentally science-themed compendium for you to peruse.

This is not the Sunday Papers:

  • Robotics operated by a surgeon making a grape all better (it’s called the Da Vinci Surgical System and it’s designed to help with delicate surgeries):
  • The opah, or moonfish, is the first fully warm-blooded fish that we know about. Discovery News has more. We’re not talking about the sort of warmth you might snuggle up to on a chilly night more just warm compared with the ambient temperature of the ocean.
  • Slate has these minimalist posters by Mick Watson to explain complex words – some I think work far better than others but I really like Contrarian, Apostasy and Obfuscatory.
  • So you want to know what it’s like to freeze people’s brains for a living… Hopes & Fears have you covered with this interview. There was also an interview a few months back in the weekend FT about a man who drives a cryonics ambulance which was really interesting too.
  • At some point, we remove the head usually because we don’t need the rest of the body. That’s not where the brain is. Sometimes we remove the brain also before we start the sub-zero cooling so it kind of depends on the patient. Then we take them down to -196 Celsius and immerse them in liquid nitrogen, and there they’ll sit.

    It’s not really a medical issue as much as a social issue. If the family is against Cryonics, sometimes you have to negotiate with them to just take the brain so they can have the rest of the body. Maybe they object to removing the head, so taking the brain makes it easier for them emotionally. Just keeping the brain in storage costs us a lot less, and we charge a lot less for storage, so sometimes it’s a financial issue. Sometimes it’s a transportation issue: it’s a lot easier to transport a smaller item. You can carry a brain on an airline and nobody would even know the difference. People don’t realize how small brains really are but we’re probably talking maybe five-times smaller than an entire head.

  • Raymond Bonner over on Politico has an in-depth look at Robert White in “The Diplomat Who Wouldn’t Lie
  • White was a rarity among diplomats. He not only spoke his mind, he spoke it on the record. During one briefing at the American embassy, after White, dressed in his diplomatic pin stripes, took his seat behind the microphones, the press officer explained the ground rules. “This is for background,” he began. White interrupted, “Hell, no—what I have to say is on the record! You can attribute to me.”

  • This New York Times piece about tagging animals to track their migration concludes with a story about how it caused a stork to be imprisoned as a spy..

    1. Borodin says:

      Glad you’re well again and back home Pip. Nice to have you back

    2. Stuie says:

      > This New York Times piece about tagging animals to track their migration concludes with a story about how it caused a story to be imprisoned as a spy..


      • Imbecile says:

        But that would make even less sense! I mean …. “to track their migration concludes with a stork about how it caused a story to be imprisoned as a spy”. Tch, what were you thinking.

    3. Jip says:

      Wouldn’t the whole world be a better place if all diplomats and politicians had the integrity of Robert White. A great article and nice find Pip.

      • RARARA says:

        The whole El Salvadore situation is something I can relate to. Just swap out Salvador for East Pakistan and Reagan for Nixon. It’s funny how unaware people are about America’s complicity in international atrocities.

        • Danley says:

          Our intelligence apparatus goes to a lot of effort to keep it that way.

    4. kwyjibo says:

      The best thing I read this week was about dying gracefully.

      link to

      Trigger warning – contains the word “gender”.

      • aequidens says:

        That is a good read indeed. Thanks.

      • Danley says:

        Oh bullshit. People don’t die gracefully, they live gracefully up until they die. Then they either continue to live in some way we don’t understand (spiritually, reincarnate, intersubjectively?) or they’re nothing. We should do everything we can to offer a graceful existence at any point in a person’s life, even the end, but ‘dying gracefully’ is just supporting a certain psychology so that it contributes to that grace, and I don’t think it should be respected any more or less than we respect suicide. Why is it that suicide is cowardly but pathology is graceful? It’s just a frame of reference.

        That said, our regard for death is all about supporting the people left behind, so if the notion of ‘dying gracefully’ helps the living to find some peace then I’m just making these remarks for my own sake (perhaps to find my own grace or peace regarding my own mortality or that of those people I would miss) and don’t mean to discount whatever solace others may get from it. I just think it’s delusional, and calling it delusional gives me solace of my own.

    5. thedosbox says:

      Aside from the wonders of the surgical robot, whoever chose the music for the grape surgery video is good at their job.

    6. eclipse mattaru says:

      Heads up: The link to the frozen brains piece has an error; a tag shows up at the end of the URL which takes you to a 404. Removing the fixes the issue.

      Great article by the way.

    7. FriendlyFire says:

      The whole notion of freezing your brain up continues to puzzle me…

      Beyond the fact that your chances of actually surviving through the ordeal are minuscule, and the expenses required to do this and to carry on doing it, the awakening would be absolutely brutal. You’d find yourself either attached to a computer or in a body that isn’t yours, in a world where all the people you knew and/or loved have died off or aged dramatically. You would be a walking anachronism, completely out of touch with the world on top of with your own body.

      … And that’s all assuming the cryogenic process doesn’t destroy your brain or impair you in a severe way, and that the company providing this service to you doesn’t go bankrupt in the decades or centuries before your brain can be reactivated. Oh, and of course assuming that we find a cure for whatever affliction caused you to get surgically removed from your body and thrown into the freezer in the first place.

      • Danley says:

        Some people don’t have that much attachment to the world as it is or the people in it, or the body they have now (or even a body at all). Nor do they think that the prospect of brain death due to bankruptcy/negligence/some other complication is somehow worse than certain brain death if they did nothing at all.

        I’m being hypothetical, but I’m young and, so far as I know, healthy right now, and think I probably already fall under the criteria I’ve named. I’m not even sure I wouldn’t accept the procedure tomorrow if someone offered me certain assurances — a thorium battery or equivalently long-term power source, orbital or extraplanetary storage, inclusion of gastrointestinal and spinal neurons in addition to those in the brain, a secret society of like-minded individuals who’d safeguard the process on a philosophical/ideological basis, etc. The only thing that I’m passionate about in the world we have now is contributing to scientific and social progress so that it would reduce if not eliminate suffering, greed, exploitation and hypocrisy. There’s work we all need to be doing rather than sitting in a freezer waiting for a time when that work has already been done. But if I had exhausted my usefulness (a term I use only for myself and not as some general measure of ‘usefulness’) I’d have no qualms about committing myself to some long-term process. At the end of the day, pursuing this technology is for anyone who wants it, and is irrelevant to anyone that does not. So let your concerns be yours, and leave me to my own.

        It just seems absurd to me that we take death so for granted when we’ve already tripled our average lifespan from that of Tudor England. If rather than a gradual progress that sort of change would have been proposed overnight, I’m sure a lot of people would have said the same thing then that you are now about medicine we take for granted. As far as I’m concerned, people don’t already have affordable cryogenics because of the very negligence you hypothesize about the future. An argument could be made that there are other concerns that should take precedent — hunger, peace, equality — but it’s not cryo that’s obstructing them.

      • manny says:

        Cryonics is pretty lame. Your neural pathways are preserved but your bioelectric activity is lost. That means best case scenario is they’ll wake you up with the same personality but no memories whatsoever.

      • NotGodot says:

        Human brains are, for whatever reason, wired for religious or pseudo-religious faith. I don’t think this is necessarily because there’s a God. I think it’s more likely that our ideas about God and the idea of a just world and the possibility of immortality emerge organically as a sort of side-effect of how we’ve evolved to think. Kind of like how some researchers think racism emerges from how we understand ingroups and outgroups in terms of physical similarity to ourselves.

        The problem is, if you don’t seriously believe in God… you’re still sort of set up to believe in immortality and all that other bunk. So you get cryonics, the belief in a transformitive AI singularity, the dream of long-range space colonization… all kinds of new age stuff dolled up as science by science fiction and pop science writers who have a receptive audience.

    8. Robert Post's Child says:


    9. Samuel Bass says:

      I love the “obfuscatory” and “scintilla” posters, might have to set about acquiring one of my own.

      Hope you’re feeling better!

    10. The King K says:

      The article on Robert White was pretty interesting. Depressing, but interesting.

    11. Danley says:

      It may not have broken by the time you published this, and maybe it’ll be in next week’s, but Wikileaks published an 18-page letter from a (former?) Royal Navy sailor who spent his last patrol trying to see how much he could breach the security on a Trident nuclear submarine. Among the numerous accusations he made about the broken culture/procedures in general, he pretty much made it sound like he could have launched 48 nuclear warheads …if his ship was actually in the condition to launch any missiles in the first place. Which apparently it was not.

      (While other stories talked about Saudi Arabia requesting nuclear weapons from Pakistan, and Israel publicly floating the idea of a nuclear first strike. Great fucking time to be alive, right now.)