Aspirational Sugar

Instead of a usual blog post I decided to do something akin to a “trail” that Vannevar Bush was talking about in his famous essay. It’s a jumble of quotes and a story all on the subject of happiness and wealth.

My grandfather once told me a story about aspirations in 19th century Russia. Sugar was considered a luxury item back then, and did not come in highly refined granules. Instead it was purchased in the form a sugarloaf, a gigantic cone of pressed sugar. A sugarloaf would be stored in a special box, and pieces of it would be snipped off. These lumps of sugar were not like modern sugarcubes, they were darker and did not dissolve as easily. Those Russians who could afford sugar would usually drink tea “vprikusku” — through a lump of slowly dissolving sugar held on a tongue. It was considered to be more economical than dissolving sugar in tea, which was known as “vnakladku”.

So the story goes like this. A peasant is drinking tea with no sugar. But he dreams: if I were a merchant, I’d drink tea with sugar “vprikusku”. If I were a nobleman, I’d drink tea with sugar “vnakladku”. But if were the czar, I’d make a hole in the sugarloaf and drink tea out of it.

Felix Dennis’ rich/poor scale from “The Narrow Road: A Brief Guide to the Getting of Money”

£1m – £2m The comfortable poor
£3m – £4m The comfortably off
£5m – £4m The comfortably wealthy
£16m – £39m The lesser rich
£40m – £74m The comfortably rich
£75m – £99m The rich
£100m – £199m The seriously rich
£200m – £399m The truly rich
£400m – £999m The filthy rich
Over £1bn The super rich

The famous dialog from Office Space:

Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I’ll tell you what I’d do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons: That’s it? If you had a million dollars, you’d do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I were a millionaire I could hook that up, too; ’cause chicks dig dudes with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well, the type of chicks that’d double up on a dude like me do.
Peter Gibbons: Good point.
Lawrence: Well, what about you now? What would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well, yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I would relax… I would sit on my ass all day… I would do nothing.
Lawrence: Well, you don’t need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: he’s broke, don’t do shit.

The story about how Derek Sivers gave away his company.

How To Become Rich By Reading (Not Writing) A Self-Help Book

There’s a moment in just about every reader’s life. A moment when you get a temptation to pick up and read a self-help book. Well, what if I’ll learn how to win friends and influence people (you do it with positive thinking), study the 7 habits of the highly effective people (most of the habits have to do with positive thinking and buying a nice leather organizer), learn “the Secret” (“the Secret” is positive thinking), get things done (you write down all your brilliant ideas in a whole bunch of folders and buy a really nice label printer) — maybe then I’ll become rich, you think.

random self-help book

Yes, the self-help industry probably created a lot of millionaires. Most of them are the people who sell the books, seminars and organizing tchotchkes. I’ve also heard about one dude who found an obscure Victorian era self-help book, scanned it, replaced all the outdated words in it, turned it into an eBook and made some serious bank selling it on a website.

Maybe there are people who have awoken the giant within and now have a 4 hour work week. I simply don’t know. I’ve met a few billionaires and a many millionaires, and I’ve listened to many of them telling the story of how they became rich. Most of the stories involved luck, very good sales and people skills, perseverance, and hard work. But only twice I’ve heard a self-help book with a preposterous title mentioned by these people. This book did wonders for them. I’ll tell you what this book if you’ll buy my book or send me $100 via PayPal. Well, all right, since you’ve been reading my blog for so long I’ll tell you. That one book is … drumroll … Sams Teach Yourself Perl in 24 Hours. The funny thing is that wealth creation can be accomplished with magic words that look similar to this:

my $dbh = DBI->connect(
        $user, $password,
    ) or die $DBI::errstr;

Side note: there’s no apostrophe in “Sams” because the company is named after not after somebody named Sam, but after Howard W. Sams, a contemporary of Dale Carnegie.

In any case, the internet is lousy with stories of absolutely ordinary people who became rich after picking up a computer language book. You don’t believe me? Read this one and let me know what you think.

The Turkish Coffee Syndrome

There are two Turkish restaurants near my house. Both are inexpensive, authentic places ran by native Turks. They sell the usual fare: lamb shish kabobs, adana kabobs, cigara boregs, tripe soup, fresh Turkish bread. There’s one thing that is missing from the menu: Turkish coffee.

Photo by vagabondtravels

That’s right. I’ve asked for it a number of times, and I’ve heard numerous other restaurant patrons ask for it only to be told that it’s not on the menu. Recently a friend of mine, also incredulous at this glaring omission, asked our waiter why exactly Turkish coffee is not served there. The waiter, apologetic, explained that they used to serve Turkish coffee in the past, but it encouraged local retirees to take up the valuable table spots while buying a single cup of coffee. He pointed out that they now migrated to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, where now you can’t find an empty table.

Interestingly enough, prior to learning the mystery of the missing coffee, me and my friend were talking about certain technological deficiencies which were caused not so much by stupidity, but by near-pure malice. I also told him about my (now over a decade old) theory that I call “Reverse Hanlon’s Razor“. I think “the Turkish coffee syndrome” is a much catchier name.

In looking at CMS design or hosting nightmare, I often remember this passage from Ellen Ullman’s book:

“It’s more like you’re hired as a plumber to work in an old house
full of ancient, leaky pipes laid out by some long-gone plumbers who
were even weirder than you are. Most of the time you spend scratching
your head and thinking: Why the fuck did they do that?”

Well, sometimes it is stupidity. But more often than not the problem is not technogenic in nature. Often it’s political or business-driven. It’s not that the restaurant owners don’t know how to make Turkish coffee. The coffee pots (cezve) and finely ground coffee are sold next door. It’s not even that it takes too long to make the coffee (although that might be a part of the reason). It’s just that the rents in my neighborhood are very high and the table space is at premium, and coffee drinkers tend to linger.