The Whippet #77: Any other edible being


One of my favourite things about the world is how, every time you talk to anyone with expertise in any area whatsoever, you find out there's this whole world of theory and technique and debate and opinion that you would never even have thought about.

For example! The other week I shared a picture of different shaped toe profiles. I don't know why, I was just struck by how it had been systematised. I mentioned toe separators, which yoga people are into so they can get more balance and grippiness with their feet.

And a ballet dancer (Som Liengtiraphan) sent me this email:

"In ballet they're wholly used to get ballerina's feet in the right shape to fit into pointe shoes. Toe shape is so big, we even have names for them:

"The ideal foot shape for ballet is the square toes. It equalizes all the pressure evenly over more toes than the typical big toe. That's why so many ballerinas use not just toe separators, but wool, silicone, tape, razors,* to shape their foot to the shoe and vice versa. We even have recommendations for what type of shoe you should get vs. what toe shape you have."

I am so delighted by the fact that I had literally zero inkling about any of this.** It was an unknown unknown. But as soon as I read it, I was like, "of COURSE this would exist. Ballet dancers spend years studying craft and technique, as if they would not have strong anatomical awareness of their feet and shoes, etc".

And that is true of every field. If people care about it even remotely, there will be a bunch of technical stuff like this that you don't know about. And every time I hear about a new type, I get that same feeling of delight+i had no idea+but of course.


* just for callouses, not for cutting their foot to fit, I asked.
** also kinda delighted by how vaguely un-PC the names are. I feel like these terms would not stand up to the full bore scrutiny of mainstream pop culture. "You can't just say someone has peasant feet!"

“I would like to dress in a loose and flowing costume made all of silks and velvets, resplendent with all the stunning dyes of the rainbow, and so would every sane man I have ever known; but none of us dares to venture it."
— Mark Twain

Death to business casual - here's the page of his autobiography that quote is taken from.

Crocodilians use tools for hunting

Mugger crocodiles in India and alligators in Louisiana have been seeing balancing sticks on their heads as a lure for waterbirds (who use need them to build nests). There aren't many good sticks in a swamp, so this is something the birds genuinely covet. And the crocodiles only do it during nesting season, not all year round, so they seem to be aware of the situation. [Source]

It's the first known example of reptiles using tools, and indicates (like every other bloody study on animal intelligence) that they might be smarter than previously thought.

"Relatively less is known about crocodiles and alligators than many animals, because, as large predators, they are difficult to raise in the lab and study up close in the wild."

Oh right.

A woman describes surviving a crocodile attack (1985)

Scary parts in the link, but this is some of her conclusions after the fact:

"Our final thoughts during near-death experiences can tell us much about our frameworks of subjectivity."

She's talking about how we all tend to see ourselves as the main character of the story - we can't really see ourselves as being totally equal to all other people in the eyes of the universe - smokers think they are less likely to die from smoking than other smokers, things like that.

"In its final, frantic attempts to protect itself from the knowledge that threatens the narrative framework, the mind can instantaneously fabricate terminal doubt of extravagant proportions: This is not really happening. This is a nightmare from which I will soon awake"

"...I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, 'This can't be happening to me, I'm a human being, I am more than just food!' was one component of my terminal incredulity."

A stunning rainbow made of junk and inspired by Philip K. Dick

Artist Dan Tobin Smith works with "kipple" - a term coined by Phillip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the book Bladerunner is based on).
"Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself."

“Not useful” is the main criteria for kipple, so the objects for Smith's The First Law of Kipple were either donated from charities who couldn’t sell them, or found in abandoned lots or on closed down studio sets. As Smith sees it, there are two main tentpoles of uselessness: by design (“Like ornamental things, or stupid things. We found a thing for storing like half a tomato in your fridge,” he says.) or by state (“There is some stuff that has become detritus, because it’s broken.”)"

(Note that I don't think an ornament is inherently junk! If it makes you happy to look at, it's not junk. In my view.)

The kipple isn't painted, it's painstakingly arranged by colour (more photos and description here).

I have strong, visceral feelings about the sheer amount of junk that is getting produced. Not even the stuff that gets discarded when it probably doesn't need to be, like a 2-year-old phone that you've upgraded unnecessarily - but the stuff that was worthless to begin with, like pretty much everything in the 'gifts' section of a department store (if it's something anyone wanted, it would just be in one of the regular sections of the store, because people would want to see it when they go shopping for themselves. 'Giftware' is by definition the stuff that no one actually personally wants.).

When I check the mail, there is a certain amount that goes straight from mailbox to recycling bin without ever being brought inside the house, and it's the same emotion. The wastefulness of something that literally never had value and is purely a burden on the recipient, and that people had to go to work to produce! If we just paid everyone who currently makes junkmail or junk objects to stay home, it would cost the same as paying them to go to work but they would be happier and the world would be a better place.

"Kipple is defined by its having these two self-cancelling faces – the one face which looks luxuriously rich and glossy and full of tacky promise, and the other which is mean and empty, and banal like a cheap and shoddy lie which has now been found out." - Nick Williams

See also: this tweet.

Unsolicited Advice

It's okay to do something in a sub-optimal way. More importantly: it's okay for someone else to do something in a sub-optimal way.


I am an optimiser, so this is one I have had to learn. If I decide to do something, I google the best ways to do it or the best version of the product, or whatever it is, it's just my way.

But:

It is entirely obnoxious to have someone constantly telling you how to do things, especially if it's in your own home. Which means, if you see someone, for example, cutting carrots and you know a better way to do it. Or using a drill but it's not the best drill for the job. And that person has not asked for help, they are just getting on with their life. And you really, really want to tell them the better way to do it.

You gotta ask first: "Hey I know a trick for doing that way faster, if you want to hear it?"

And if they do not want to hear it, you gotta just shut up. Or if you tell them, and they keep doing it the inefficient way, and it's infuriating to you, still, you just gotta keep your mouth shut. It's, I'm sorry, that's it. If you can't resist the urge, you are saying "my urge to say something trumps your feelings" and hooboy that is some basic boundary violations right there.

"But I just want to make their life better!" That is a good intention, but as soon as they indicate they don't want it, it's become about you, not them. At least be honest with yourself that it's a selfish urge at this point.

I used to bartend with a guy who stacked the glasses in a way that was genuinely worse (but not unsafe), and I would correct him, and he would get annoyed at me, and I would get more annoyed at him for continuing to stack the glasses badly, and we would bicker constantly. And eventually I had the extremely important life realisation that I was prioritising how the glasses are stacked over having a functional working relationship with a co-worker.

So now that's my mantra: "What is more important to me, how efficiently they [cut carrots or whatever], or us having a pleasant relationship, and them not finding me obnoxious and draining to be around?" Because you might optimise the carrots thing but you are absolutely not gonna optimise the relationship if you give unsolicited advice about the carrots. (I guess if you have a compulsive optimiser trying to optimise you all the time, you could try asking them that. There's a good chance they'll say "but I was just trying to help!" but it could be worth a shot. And at least then YOU'LL know what's more important to them. That's useful information.)

Plus, sometimes it's tiring to optimise every last thing! Sometimes you just gotta say: you know what? Whatever. the task is getting done. I don't care if it could be done better. I'm tired and this is good enough. I guarantee even the most optimising optimiser still has something they dgaf about, that some other optimiser is itching to correct them about.

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

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