Category: sage advice

The Argument of the Growing Heap

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project books and blog, despite the saccharine appearance and self-helpy feel, rarely fail to yield some useful or enlightening wisdom. For example, her recent post about what she calls the “One-Coin Argument“.

She starts from a long-remembered footnote to the 16th century writing of Erasmus, explaining “the argument of the growing heap”:

“If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

Which she goes on to put in perspective as follows:

I think the “argument of the growing heap” has stuck with me because it captures a paradox that I grapple with in my own life, and which is very significant to happiness: Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior.

Take going to the gym. You don’t feel like going to the gym, and you say to yourself, “What difference does one day make? It doesn’t matter if I skip today.”

True, any one visit to the gym is inconsequential, but the habit of going to the gym is invaluable. Does one visit to the gym make a person healthy? Ten visits? Eleven? Finally, you have to say that no one can be healthy unless one visit to the gym can make him or her so.

The Horror of Giant Corporations Making Good Stuff

I saw this recently on Buzzfeed: 19 Brands You Didn’t Know Were Owned By Giant Corporations. (Insert guilty acknowledgement of occasionally following links to Buzzfeed here.)

Pretty descriptive title there. It’s a simple page of product pictures, with the dark secret of their true corporate owners. Like this:

Odwalla products
Owned by: Coca-Cola

I’m not sure what the intent of this piece is. Well, the real intent is to get page-views and sell ads on Buzzfeed, of course. But as for the purported point, for my part, it made me initially feel like a sucker, a dupe, for using those products.

But once I thought about it a little more, I realized it’s actually fine, for the most part. In general, all things being equal, I would indeed rather support smaller, local, “mom & pop” kinds of companies rather than large corporations. Part of the reason for that is an expected correlation with higher quality, more well-crafted product. But these are known high-quality products, that happen to be made by a company owned by (usually bought up by) a large corporation.

Maybe Coca-Cola will start to cut corners on how Odwalla juices are made, or using cheaper ingredients. If and when they do, then complain about Odwalla. Until then, be glad that a giant company is investing in fresh, natural, healthful products, and that they’re being sold in a lot more places than the one hippie health-food store that a mom & pop juice company would be able to sell through.

Of course, if you come across tasty-looking juices that actually are made by a mom & pop juice company, by all means give them a shot. But absent such a choice, or even if you just prefer them, don’t feel bad buying Odwalla, Tom’s toothpaste, or any of these.* Be glad that you’re using your money to vote for quality goods.

* P.S. An exception to note, however, is beer (their examples are Blue Moon, made by MillerCoors, & Goose Island, made by Anheuser-Busch InBev). It’s a bit of a different category, in my opinion, because there are a lot more small, independent breweries around than there are small, independent toothpaste makers or pita chip companies. And their products are easier to find, even in regular old neighborhood grocery stores. However, the bottom line is the same. I won’t buy Blue Moon when there are more interesting options, but if I’m somewhere where the only other choices are Budweiser and Miller Light, then I’ll pick Blue Moon all day long.

P.P.S. That Buzzfeed page also includes Marmite, made by Unilever. I don’t really know what that is, except that it’s similar to Vegemite. I don’t know what that is, either, except that it’s the target of this hilarious, profane rant song by Amanda Palmer: Vegemite (The Black Death).

Who Gets To Be a Geek

This rant/beatdown by sci-fi author John Scalzi, Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be, is a couple of months old, but I just came across it. The beatdown itself is maybe a bit much, given the victim’s subsequent appearance in the (extremely long) comments section with claims of being misunderstood, feeling bad about it, being a big fan of Scalzi’s, etc. And Scalzi does destroy him; it’s Truly Epic.

But regardless of whether and how much of a smackdown was deserved or delivered, I thought the central points in praise of geekiness of all kinds were extremely well put. The following, on the difference between hipsters and geeks, is a great sample, but I recommend you read it all.

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”


I think I have a new hero.

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

The ‘Busy’ Trap, Tim Kreider on (via Mike Industries)

(I also love the following line, even though I don’t recall seeing any cats or boa constrictors developing software. Come to think of it, I don’t remember any boa constrictors. Surely he wasn’t thinking of Lowly Worm?)

More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.

New, more subtle, Twitter spammers

The @FCShirtsUnited Twitter account got an interesting new follower today. After a quick skim of the new follower’s recent tweets, I actually (embarrassingly) thought it was real. Later I got another new follower, who also looked real at first glance. But then I happened to notice one of their tweets that sounded oddly familiar, so I brought up the other new follower’s page. . . Sure enough. Spammers.

It’s a new (to me, at least) spammer scam. It’s more subtle than what I’ve usually seen, which is usually just an account with a crazy name that follows or mentions one of the accounts I run, possibly with a short phrase or a few random words, and then a link. Those are obviously spam, and I admit to a certain satisfaction in marking them as such in my Twitter app.

But this new style is more subtle, and seems aimed at a longer play. Before starting whatever spammy activity is surely planned, these accounts are being established more carefully. A single one of these accounts could almost be confused with a real (if annoying, repetitive, and kind of dumb) person. But two together clearly shows the pattern, including the intentional attempt to make them seem random, different, and more believable.

I give you: Exhibits A and B, “tomiko lykins” and “shaquita link”.
td, th { border-bottom: solid silver 1px; padding: 6px; vertical-align: top; }

tomiko lykins
tomiko lykins
shaquita link
shaquita link
My annoying sister has put something on my mac. Was that really necessary? #somad My cheeky brother has changed something on my mac. I wish I understood more about these things #somad
Feel great right now. Not sure what I consumed that has done this, but would like to feel it more often. :) Feel tip-top today. Not sure what I imbibed that has done this, but would like to feel it more often. :)
How come when I put the Sky control down, I can never find it for ages.!! How is it when I lay the Sky control down, I can never find it again#wtf
Taking my friend to a speed dating later. Should be interesting, lol Taking my sister to a singles night later. Weirdly nervous for her, :)
etc. etc.

(They aren’t tweeted in that same order; I found the similar ones and matched them that way.)

So, anyway — if you’re followed by similar fake young British-y women, mark them as spam ASAP, before whatever diabolical plan they’re part of can come to fruition!

Hark, Vagrant Advice

Last thing: Because we’re both on the internet right now and these answers are for people who want to know about webcomics, well, someday you are going to run into some jerks who will tell you your comic sucks the worst forever or something. Even though we’re all grown ups and you know better, you’ll probably feel pretty down about it. Remember that usually they really are jerks because jeez, are we on the internet or are we on the internet? That’s where jerks live. You probably already know the weaknesses in your work because you are a Great Artist in the Making and we are all our own worst critics. Remember that on the internet you can go to a place that reviews Citizen Kane and underneath it someone will have written “this is the most overrated piece of shit on planet Earth.” Then remember that whoever said that doesn’t matter. So keep it up! And nuts to the haters, you’re the best.

FAQ/About page for “Hark, a vagrant”, Kate Beaton

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