As readers of this blog probably know, I am not an MITAdmissions blogger. It was kind of disappointing at the moment, but now I rarely think about it except when I come up with good reasons why I shouldn’t be an MITAdmissions blogger. One reason is that I am not very good at coming up with advice that could generalize to a wide audience, even an audience only as wide as people at or coming to the ‘Tvte. (There can be only one!) This by itself probably wouldn’t be so bad because there’s plenty of generalizable advice to go around, but I also don’t like repeating well-known stuff. Don’t skip class, except when you really know when you’re doing, which you probably think you do when you skip class. Get enough sleep, maintain good study habits, set aside time to keep up with old friends, back up your zarking data, alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, do not forget the factor of one-half when computing the area of a triangle. You get the picture.

There’s only one piece of advice I can say that I believe is generalizable to any degree, and in particular I think my past self would have appreciated and also had not heard, even in passing, from any other source: Get a Sharpie.

Immediately, an aside: the Sharpie® is a registered trademark, the thing where you’re supposed to put a circled R next to it because it’s the name of a specific brand by a specific company instead of the generic term for the product, and you don’t want to mislead people into thinking you’re talking about one when you’re talking about the other, because hey, if you say something bad and inaccurate, their sales could go down and they’d make less money for no good reason oh no! The generic term for objects that do what I expect them to do below, and thus would also be valid options if you wanted to follow my advice for some reason and make the impact of this blogging thing way too real, is “permanent marker”. On the other hand, by now the term “Sharpie” is somewhat of a generic trademark1, like we often describe any sort of image manipulation as photoshopping even if it’s not done in Adobe Photoshop. On the gripping hand2, I don’t think I’ve actually seen any permanent markers that aren’t Sharpies® since coming to MIT.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the advice. Well, it’s actually not particularly insightful because I think you’d figure it out when you need one and they’re easy to buy wherever you are, even off Amazon, but why wait? Sharpies, I mean permanent markers, are cheap enough anyway. And just that versatile.

  • You can use them to label your groceries and food. When I first got to MIT and had groceries I had to label so that I could store them in the communal fridge, I was writing my pen on and sticking these tiny thumb-sized stickers on my bags. Not fun and not efficient — they’re hard to find, and I barely had space to write my name; I certainly did not have space to draw the warning dragon head that’s now on all of my groceries. (Sadly, despite all this practice, I do not think I am getting better at drawing them.)

    Now, permanent markers still can’t write clearly on everything, unfortunately (I can’t get them to work on any of the soy milk cartons or apple cider bottles I’ve bought), so I think getting some stickers or adhesive labels is also a good idea; I did so. But you could still get by with the marker; worst comes to worst, you wrap whatever you’re unable to directly write on in a plastic bag and write on that. (The supermarket will give you a LOT of plastic bags for free.3)

    You might think this only applies if you decide to cook for yourself, but I think it turns out that there’s a lot of free food floating around everywhere and you never know when you’ll need or want to stash something away for later.

  • You can use them to label your non-groceries. Food storage containers, for example — I have four and they are also a highly recommended purchase, but that’s another post, or maybe one-tenth of a post. Or, you might buy notebooks that have those glossy covers that normal pens or pencils don’t write on really well. Sharpie to the rescue. I mean, permanent marker. Whatever. Just don’t screw up whatever text or label you plan to inscribe because, of course, they’re permanent.

  • You can use them to label other things that you don’t own. You can create makeshift signs for telling people when events have changed locations, or when something is broken and they should be careful, or, well, other things. Writing things is a very useful ability.

  • When one of your friends needs to do one of the things above, you can lend it to him/her! Bonus points because it’s more compact than a towel.

Buy one (or two because I’ve only ever seen them come in packs of two so I don’t know how you’d buy just one) and keep it with you!

(To whom it may concern, I made it to over a thousand words.)

  1. I wasn’t sure if it counted, or if it was just my own confirmation or sampling bias, until I successfully ctrl+F’ed4 it on Wikipedia’s list. Also, as this page will tell you, “[s]cholars disagree as to whether the use of a recognized trademark name for similar products can truly be called “generic”, or if it is instead a form of synecdoche.” Aren’t semantic arguments the best? ↩︎

  2. I think this is actually the right way to use this idiom, although, having never read the book it’s from, I don’t feel particularly justified in using it. Eh. ↩︎

  3. Because this is America, land of the free and home of the brave, amirite? Anyway, this is a slight culture shock for me since back home in Taiwan the recycling movement is strong enough that most supermarkets sell plastic bags for a small price to better incentivize people to use reusable bags. As far as I know, it works pretty well.

    I always feel kind of dirty loading three or four times as many plastic bags as I absolutely need into my backpack or carrying them home from the supermarket. I have a couple plausibly reusable bags, but I’m not sure how sturdy they are or how to offer them non-awkwardly to the people who bag my stuff. Fortunately, I figured out there’s a recycling bin for plastic bags at Shaw’s. Unfortunately, I don’t know if recycling my bags there actually makes a difference; as far as I know, plastic bags are pretty hard to recycle, and are downcycled at best. Then again, downcycling is better than nothing and there’s not very much plastic in them anyway. sketchy citation?

    Gee, I should probably try harder to put my reusable bags into use.

    edit from 2019: Cities around me have also started charging a small price for bags. ↩︎

  4. Also note the discreet use of “ctrl+F” as a substitute for searching in a browser even though not every browser does it that way. That was totally on purpose. I actually used cmd+F because I’m on a Mac, and also using Pentadactyl so ctrl+F actually scrolls down a full page, and if I had been in the right Pentadactylic mindset I would have hit /, and honestly I should start doing that from now on just to annoy people with my incompatible key bindings. Although I suspect I’ll never reach the level5 of some folks I know who design their own keyboard layout. ↩︎

  5. Speaking of levels, we’re three6 footnote7 levels deep now. ↩︎

  6. something Illuminati confirmed something ↩︎

  7. If you’re wondering why this post’s footnotes are formatted unusually, it’s because as of time of writing, Pandoc does not support nested footnotes (and may never do so due to it working poorly with many output formats), so this post is somewhat unusually rendered in Hugo’s default Markdown parser (blackfriday, I think). ↩︎

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