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I am about what a mess Christmas gift-giving is, just scroll on down to the deer if you're sick of that.
I came across this annual blog post - Gifts For People You Hate - and it's so masterful. It's how to get away with giving a gift someone will hate. Say you're forced to, through being family or a work colleague. They're all come with plausible deniability that you genuinely did think it would be a good gift.
I don't actually recommend this because of the vast waste of resources, but as an exploration of everything that's wrong with Gifts, it's perfect. Here is an extremely restrained sample from her previous 8 years of posting.
The Gift of Crowded Kitchen Counters
"Most people have less space in their kitchen than they would find ideal. They don’t really have enough space on their counters; they don’t really have enough space in their drawers and cabinets.
Consider, then, the sort of kitchen gadget that you can hand over with a smile in the knowledge that they are just useful enough that the person will hesitate to get rid of them, and so they’ll hang out in the kitchen, gathering dust and taking up space, for a good long time."
"This chemistry-themed spice rack really knocks it out of the park. It’s designed to go on the counter, first of all, and it’s fragile, so if you have badly-behaved cats you’re going to have to stress about them shattering all or part of it.
In order to use it, people have to conscientiously funnel bulk spices into teeny tiny flasks, which is a pain in the ass. Nine of the thirteen containers are test tubes with curved bottoms so you can’t put them down on the counter and have them stand upright. They have corks as tops so you need two hands to open them and there’s no shaker.
Finally — this is really the icing on the cake — they come with cute chemistry-themed labels but while they look like chemical formulas they’re super wrong, like “Salt” is “Sa” instead of NaCl, so if your recipient is a chemist, it is guaranteed to annoy the hell out of them."
"A yoga mat in a nice carrying case can be had for $20 or so at Target (you'll want to lose the gift receipt, of course). Every time they see it, they'll feel guilty. Getting rid of it involves admitting that they're never going to use it, so it'll keep sitting there, in the corner, working its magic (which is to say, taking up space and gathering dust).
If they actually do yoga, this gift still works, because in that case, they undoubtedly already have a yoga mat they like just fine, and it's probably a better quality one than the $10 model from Target so this is completely useless to them, and yet you look like you're really thinking about their interests."
"Some of the best bad gifts try to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and super-fancy bottle openers are a good example of this.
For the beer drinker, there’s a wide variety of novelty bottle openers out there, including mermaids, the Milennium Falcon, and a bunch of openers that look like weaponry. Pick something that looks uncomfortable. You can also go the overly bulky route with this complicated magnetic thingie, which is a large and complex alternative to one of the simplest mechanical devices in existence."
"This gadget only holds about 30 Q-tips and I’m pretty sure that you’ll spend at least 5 minutes trying to arrange them properly to actually get them to look like a cute little lotus flower like in the picture. Which means you’re not only giving someone a waste of counter space, you are also giving them a tedious and unrewarding chore that will renew itself every 30 Q-tips."
Go binge on more of this if you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Three deers align in the Lithuanian woods
by photographer Renatas Jakaitis (follow him on facebook)
Microgravity seems to neutralise the majority of cancer cells
(Microgravity is what an ordinary person would call zero gravity, but actually there's still a bit when you're in space just not compared to earth)
So one of the big forces that affects how are bodies function is pressure - bone density is increased by lifting heavy things, our jaws used to be bigger because we chewed more, sitting all the time is terrible for you, killer whale fins get floppy and collapse in captivity because they can't get up fast enough speeds to create pressure on the sides of it - even individual cells rely on the mechanical pressure of surrounding cells. It's a crucial part of the ecosystem of an organism.
This is why astronauts lose so much muscle in space (20% of their muscle mass on an 11-day flight), as well as bone density and red blood cell count.
So, what about cancer cells? It turns out they rely on mechanical pressure to signal each other to clump together and form a tumour.
"When placed in a microgravity environment, 80 to 90 percent of the cells in the four different cancer types we tested – ovarian, breast, nose and lung – were disabled," Australian researcher Joshua Choi said.
"By disabled, I mean they either die or float off because they can no longer hold on. Those four cancer types are some of the hardest cancers to kill."
It doesn't eliminate the cancer but it would dramatically slow its growth, creating much more space for traditional treatments to work.
This is early research obviously, but just jaw-dropping to me.
More like fin-dropping amirite.
No but the killer whales in captivity fin thing is true.
Desert beetle harvests water from thin air; researchers infringe beetle copyright
"To survive in the arid wilderness of southwestern Africa, the Namib Desert beetle 'fog-basks'. The blueberry-size, long-legged insect leans its bumpy body into the wind, letting droplets of fog accumulate and drip down its wing case into its mouth."
Researchers have spent decades trying to discover how the insect’s surface transports the droplets to its mouth. But first, the beetle must collect the droplets. So, Hunter King, a physicist at the University of Akron in Ohio, and colleagues focused instead on how the shape and texture of the beetles increased the amount of water droplets they could capture from the air to begin with."
Researchers have been experimenting with creating different surface textures to mimic the beetle's abilities.
"In some dry areas like the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco, residents have been harvesting fog for years. They use mesh that routes water into pipes, which transport it back to the village. Still, fog remains a hard-to-capture resource, Chan says, and even a slight increase in efficiency might benefit thirsty communities."
Lao Huang, Cormorant Fisherman
"Fisherman training their birds to catch fish in their throat and bring them back to the boat. The method was first described in a 636 CE text about the history of the Sui dynasty in China and, at one time, was a lucrative industry." Now it's done for tourism, or in Lao Huang's case, as a hobby.
Interview with travel photographer Peter Yan at My Modern Met.
Insta | Prints for sale
SIf someone says "I don't like [thing]", resist the urge to say "you just haven't tried the right [thing]!"
Or "But have you tried [specific version of thing]?"
You know this is annoying because it's annoying when people do it to you.
But when it's the other way around - when someone says they don't like, I don't know, brie, the belief forms in your heart that they couldn't possibly say that if they'd tried triple-cream duck-infused brie, or whatever brie changed your life. They've probably only had cheap supermarket brie. If they'd had the good stuff, they'd feel the way you feel.
Keep your mouth shut, seriously, don't do it. You know it's annoying so stop yourself. Sometimes people just have different tastes to you, it's not that they just haven't had the right experience. They have, and they didn't like it.
If you need a displacement habit when you feel the urge, like smokers who chew gum when they crave a cigarette, you could try saying:
- "What cheeses do you like?"
(we're still going with the brie example here, don't try and apply this exact wording to non-cheese situations)
You can also say:
- "Oh huh, I love brie, especially triple-cream duck-infused brie, on a cracker with half a grape, that is the best way to eat brie in my opinion."
A big theme of Unsolicited Advice is that "you" statements can be pretty irritating - you should do this, you should try this, you would like this - but they are super easily transformed into non-irritating statements by just making them "I" statements - I tried this, I liked this. Say how you feel, instead of insisting you know how other people feel.
We have a huge cultural problem of basically not believing other people are the experts on their own life. At its worst, that's doctors routinely not believing women who say they're in pain, resulting in horrendous medical mismanagement. But it's all on a spectrum, and this is springin from the same thinking mistake.
And this is the important bit:
You have to avoid doing it even if you're sure you're right. Even if they really only have tried shitty brie.
In my case this comes up because I like fantasy books, and you often meet people who say they don't like fantasy because they think it means dragons and Harry Potter or whatever.
They're almost certainly wrong. Fantasy is so broad that there would be something to their tastes, whether they like gritty military books, murder mysteries, slice-of-life burned-out married couple suburban malaise, post-modern stream-of-consciousness writing, etc etc, they would be able to find something within that style within the fantasy genre. They've probably actually read fantasy books they like, but think they don't count as fantasy because no dragons.
But so what! It is 100% harmless for them to miss out on some books they might have liked. There are other books - more good books than any of us will be able to read in our lifetimes. The fantasy-snubber will have a good life anyway. (We must also accept that people will be happy even if their life does not include the things that make us happy.)
Again it is *annoying* when someone ignorantly says they don't like an entire genre, and I understand the temptation to say "you should try..." When people say they don't like country music, I'm like, really? all nine decades of it, and there's not one single song you like? So I get it. If it wasn't incredibly tempting to say the thing, this column wouldn't exist. It's as much a reminder to myself to stop doing it has a PSA.
Anyway, you're always going to have a more interesting conversation talking about why you like something, or what the other person does like, than saying "you're wrong, I bet you do actually like it". It's honestly no loss.
In real life, Green Eggs and Ham would end up with the guy saying "you were right Sam-I-Am, these are delicious. Also, we're not friends anymore. Hope it was worth it."
If you want solicited advice, send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or just reply to this email.
Note about next issue!
There won't be an issue for the 26th of December, and the next few issues may be a bit lighter/shorter than usual, because I want to make time to write some fiction. (In particular, I want to get a bit of an internet break, but that's tricky when I need the internet to find content for The Whippet.)
Thanks as always for reading, it means so much to me that you do.
Have a happy new year's day ().
Make exciting plans, according to your own definition of what's exciting.
See you next year.
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