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The Whippet #175: Buttery soft conspiracy

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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Hello, so I've started noticing something that's driving me crazy, and I bequeath this curse to you, dear readers.

It's the term "buttery soft".

This phrase is used relentlessly but quietly by Lululemon to describe their leggings. That is, it's not a catchphrase, it's just a term they use constantly and repetitively in reference to their fabrics. It stands out to me because it's just slightly off – the way in which butter is soft is not at all the way fabric is soft. A knife sinks into soft butter, it has depth. Leggings have no dimensionality.

Politicians running for office do this buttery-soft trick – you'll see them use the same specific phrase over and over, in an attempt to get the media to pick it up. (Australians will remember Kevin Rudd calling everything "rolled gold", which actually sounds like a description of butter, COINCIDENCE?? Yes.) Anyway, even if the media uses the term ironically, the politician has still successfully set the terms for how they're talked about.

There was a band in Newcastle (NSW) when I was a teenager called "The Hauntingly Beautiful Mousemoon". That was their name – you couldn't just call them "Mousemoon" if you were reviewing them. I respect that sort of audacity in an indie band but not in a politican or a bizarre (1,2) multinational.

And it's worked for Lululemon – independent reviewers call the leggings "buttery soft" all the time. They're using Lululemon marketing language. Ordinary people have become little walking press releases. And then I started seeing the phrase used to describe other leggings and fabrics. And now everything! It's a memetic hazard!

graph of usage of the term "buttery soft" that massively spikes shortly before the year 2000
Google NGram Viewer (tracks usage in books). Lululemon was found in 1998.

If you're not the target market for Lululemon then you probably won't be subconsciously reminded of it, but that doesn't mean you can't catch "buttery soft" and pass it on to others like an asymptomatic carrier.

My partner tells me that the software/tech world has been overusing the phrase "buttery smooth" since maybe the early 2000s. (Found on Reddit: We need to stop calling things "buttery smooth") and with no evidence, I'm claiming this is leakage from "buttery soft". Why not?

I'm not saying Lululemon COINED the term "buttery soft" – let alone "buttery smooth", I'm not crazy – I just think they've creepily planted it in brains world-wide.

(i know i know, it should be when he's not wearing the glasses) [meme explainer]

'Articles' icon

Snakes bite so fast that they experiences greater g-forces than fighter pilots

(or just their head, really)

video is 8 seconds long

So firstly, that video above is incredible (cat doesn't get hurt).

But I was piecing together my little bits of wildlife knowledge and thinking, "Snakes are ambush predators – they lie in wait until their prey gets close enough. So doesn't that mean it's pretty normal to be faster than a snake? If the snake was faster, it wouldn't have to catch them unawares [fun cheetah fact coming later by the way]."

Anyway I checked and I'm wrong about that, snakes can't slither fast but their actual bite is ridiculously quick – faster than a jackrabbit's reaction time. (Cats are just also crazy fast, I guess "catlike reflexes" isn't empty flattery.)

In fact, snakes accelerate so fast that they experience g-force of 30g. Human pilots lose consciousness at 10g, because the blood gets pushed to their feet. And then they make contact with a solid object. Acceleration and impact is very bad for brains! Snakes should be concussed all the time and end up with acquired brain injury!

The working theory is it's because of all those stretchy ligaments and flexible bones (think of how a snake can dislocate its jaw to eat) – when the snake rapidly sharply accelerates then hits its target, the shock is absorbed through the give and stretch of their jaw.

[Full article]


Photos of old-timey fortune-tellers

A portrait of Stella May, a fortune teller offering “psychic life readings” at a carnival. Donaldsonville, Louisiana. 1938. Print for sale. Wideshot of whole stall.
Unsure, couldn't find original source

I saw these originally at Atomic Chronoscaph, which has a whole set of fortune-tellers, but the rest mostly seem to be staged photos of models or actresses looking glamorous and mysterious. It's seeing people's actual working lives that delights me. (I know they're con-artists, and that the models are also working, hopefully you know what I mean.)

Full photoset.


Where does the word "electricity" come from?

Given there's a Greek goddess called Elektra, and controllable electricity comes significantly later than that.

It means "amber"! If you rub amber, it generates tonnes of static electricity. Anything that generates static electricity used to be called "electric", in the same way that lots of things now are called "elastic" – just to mean they're a thing with a lot of elastic in it.

3000-year-old bear made out of amber, with small round paws and ears

Amber conducts heat badly, so when it's hot out, the amber feels cool, and when it's cool to the outside, you're coffee's still warm. I've never touched amber though, I don't think. Give me the little gummi bear please.

Unsolicited Advice

When forming a new habit: consider not starting small?

You know the advice re: atomic habits and so on, start with just one push-up, 1 minute of meditation, etc etc. Start so small that you've got no possible reason not to do it. Even very busy and tired people could set their alarm 1 minute earlier, right? And once you build up the tiny habit, you can make 90 seconds, 5 minutes, and so on.

This has been transformative advice for a lot of people, and I'm not criticising it.

But it did not work for me at all, so maybe it doesn't work for you, and we can talk about why.

(I have ADHD and that's blatantly relevant here, but my view here is "every brain is different and responds to different tactics, so you shouldn't let a diagnosis or lack-of-diagnosis limit what tactics you try out".)

Effort-to-reward ratio

The 'tiny habits' theory works by drastically reducing the amount of effort. It takes a lot of effort to do a whole strength-training routine, so that's a high barrier. Makes sense to reduce it. The problem is that you're often reducing the reward drastically as well. And miniscule-effort for zero-reward is still maths that works out to "not worth it".

I do strength training now, and some things that have motivated me a lot are:

  • Getting visible biceps and shoulder muscles
  • Doing my first full pushup, oh my gosh! Rad

If I had done one knee push-up a day, it would have taken me an EXTREMELY long time to get visible muscles and strong enough for full push-up (in fact, it would never have happened – you need to be able to to do about 10 knee push-ups in a row before you can do a full pushup).

There's only so long you can do even a low-effort task when it seems completely pointless.

Meditation is the same: 1 minute does nothing but mildly annoy me. I shut my eyes and am just like, getting my mind straight, remembering to let go of thoughts, and the guided voice is like "return your attention to your body". Lady, it never left. The effort is low, but the reward is non-existent.

The idea to think about is minimum effective dose. What's the smallest a habit can be and still have a meaningful benefit?

(Charles Duhigg would say that you're supposed to give yourself a different reward immediately after doing the habit, to fix the effort-to-reward ratio problem. But that's never worked for me because I can just go get whatever the treat is without doing the habit. The reward needs to be more built-in for me.

BJ Fogg recommends doing a "celebration" after a habit, and I think that has more legs. Like just try and feel really good about yourself for doing it. That's definitely one of the rewards of exercise, you think "good on me, I went to the gym, even though I really didn't want to. Nice one." You can also message a friend to say "I really didn't want to go the gym but I did anyway, give me kudos please" and they will.)

Activation / transition cost

The "low effort" thing is a bit of a trick, because it never really takes just 6o seconds to do a 60-second activity, does it? You have to stop, switch gears, maybe get out an app or something, have a drink of water so you won't be distracted by thirst. Not to mention the hour or so beforehand you spend trying to talk yourself into it, and how long it might take you to get motivated to re-start your work once you've stopped.

I sometimes think the biggest difference between super-successful people and the rest of us is how easily they transition. Like the person who can get home after work, get changed, and immediately leave again to meet a friend. Or put their stuff down, pick up their guitar, and start practising. People who don't need a bunch of time and energy to get over work and then gin themselves up for the next thing – my god. You live what looks like blessed lives to me.

For people who have very high activation/transition costs, the 60-second habit has the same logic as an Australian flying to London for the weekend, a 20+ hour flight in both directions. If I'm going to spend that much time travelling, I want the trip to feel pretty damn substantial.

So maybe for you the cost of a new habit isn't the effort or time of actually doing Whatever It Is, it's the task activation and gear-switching. In which case, it's not gonna bloody feel worth it for one push-up, is it! Maybe doing a much higher-effort version of the habit would actually be a better effort: reward ratio for you.

Interest-based nervous system

(This one is the most ADHD-specific.) In as few words as possible, ADHD isn't a deficit of attention, it's dysregulated attention. Generally, neurotypical people have a few different things that can arouse their nervous system to help them engage with a task. For example, seeing the task as important or a high priority. When someone with ADHD can't focus, it doesn't mean they don't think it's important. They do – they think it's very, very important. But that knowledge does not get their brain chemicals and such to activate and help them focus. It makes you sound like a child to say "I find it hard to focus on things that don't interest me", but it's happening at the neurotransmitter level – people who "knuckle down and just get on with it" are relying on neurological processes they take for granted (and honestly, fair enough. Who thinks about all the automatic processes going in your body all the time? People with ADHD are reading this right now and taking for granted all the neurotransmitters and brain pathways that enable them to read.)

ANYWAY, point being, building a habit that doesn't interest you is an uphill battle. Doing one push-up doesn't interest me. Researching and optimising does. Complex systems do. So going all-in and learning a tonne about muscle growth and putting together the optimal workout program and obsessing over the fine details is easier for me than doing one pushup a day, because my interest-based nervous system kicks in to support me. Meticulous calorie and macro tracking is easier for me than "eat

A good exercise (ha) might be to think about what actually engages your interest and curiosity, what you find easy, what things you can do for many hours in a row without noticing the passage of time. For me, it's research. For some people, socialising is big, and they listen to podcasts that make them feel part of a bigger community all doing the Habit they're trying to develop.

Again, I'm not critical of small habits. Just saying, if they don't work for you, maybe they don't work for you and you should try medium-large habits.

If you want to share just this bit on habits, I've made it a standalone article here:

When forming a new habit: consider not starting small?
The ‘tiny habits’ theory works by drastically reducing the amount of effort. But miniscule-effort for zero-reward is still maths that works out to “not worth it”.


I'm writing something about impulse-buying — or not necessarily "impulse", but "too much, not making my best choices". I'm interested in learning what category of thing you tend to buy too much of. For eg: clothes, paper notebooks, new varieties of Indo Mi, tech gadgets, online courses, etc. Not talking about collection, which is intentional and semi-planned – it has to be something you feel kinda bad about buying afterwards, something you didn't know you wanted it until you saw it for sale, something you probably didn't need another sub-species of.

Please reply to this email and tell me what that category is! (I will keep it anonymous and only talk about it like "one person said x" and "a consistent theme was people buying a lot of Y").  Or leave a comment below if you're happy to share with other readers (I still won't name you in the article).

                Or any non-impulse-shopping thing you want to talk about.



Thanks for reading!

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