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Ask HN: What are the best-designed things you've ever used?
515 points by whitepoplar on Nov 26, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 972 comments
I'll go first. I think the Bialetti Brikka is exceptional: https://www.amazon.com/Bialetti-Stovetop-Producing-Crema-Ric...

One example of quality design which I gleaned from reading Don Norman's "The Design Of Everyday Things" is the metal plate I've frequently seen on doors which are meant to be pushed.

The only affordance of such a plate is its push-ability, and the fact that someone actively installed a metal plate (instead of just relying on the door's natural flatness), as well as its location at the point of maximum leverage (all the way to the right of the door, in the door's vertical center), is a clear signifier for such push-ability.

Not only that, but it does its job without offering any other confusing affordances (such as a vertical handle which is also technically pushable, but which many would interpret as being meant to be pulled).

Whenever I need a relatable, succinct example of affordances and signifiers for my engineering comrades, I turn to this one. Anyone interested in design is doing themselves a dis-service by not reading Don Norman's classic.

Here in the UK a lot of bathrooms in pubs and other places have push to get in, and handles to get out. Never understood that, I'd like to push to get out once I've washed my hands!

Those doors are often on corridors. You don’t want them unexpectedly opening at speed into passing non-bathroom traffic. Conversely, people approaching the door from the inside will be further away as they have their hand out in readiness to pull, will expect the door to open — it’s generally lower risk.

Inside the bathroom itself, the doors on individual stalls usually open inwards. One pragmatic advantage of this approach is that if the door opens while you are seated, you can push it closed without getting up. Or requiring help from someone else outside. This also drives the use of push-in-pull-out handles.

One major disadvantage of this approach is that if you are coming in with a bulky bag, or more (hauling carry-on luggage in an airport for instance), you have sharply limited space within to maneuver you and your stuff to a position where you can lift your skirts and do what you came here to do. Every time I go to a public bathroom with stall doors that open outward I am delighted.

IIRC the Dallas airport had large selves in the wall behind the toilets for luggage. It was extremely convenient.

You are forgetting about pregnants and bigger people. They usually have a hard time getting into the stalls.

Why don't someone design doors that can be both pushed and pulled, and locked

I guess this exists at some places

Plus a mechanism that prevents the doors from opening too fast outwards (so they won't hit anyone)

The bigger reason is that space is usually tight in bathrooms and you don't want to slam the door into someone waiting outside when leaving the stall.

In the US this is a fire code issue. Doors need to swing inward to avoid people getting trapped inside from outside obstructions.

edit: I seem to be misinformed about firecode. I may also be over extrapolating from what I know about bedroom doors as well. The general idea of obstruction is more valid there. It seems the more common reason bathrooms would not be allowed to swing outward is obstructing the minimum width of hallways.

Huh. In Finland, fire code requires that external doors swing outward. It's intended to make it faster to exit the building since you can just walk forward, and to prevent people getting trapped indoors if a panicked crowd tries to push out through the door.

I believe the post above was only meant to be applied to interior doors. The explanation I've gotten in the past is interior doors open in so they don't block people outside the room, typically in a hallway, from being able to move towards the exit; Exterior doors open out so that the crowd of people rushing towards the exit can leave and you don't have a mass of panicked people stopping those at the front from having room to open the exterior doors.

Same in Sweden.

Not sure where you picked this up, but I don't think it is correct.

From the 2018 international building code (which is what the US building code is based on): https://up.codes/viewer/illinois/ibc-2018/chapter/10/means-o...

FYI the international building code has a deceptive name. It's essentially the US building code.

> it is the International Building Code ... used in multiple locations worldwide, including the 15 countries of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), Jamaica, and Georgia. Furthermore, the IBC has served as the basis for legislative building codes in Mexico, Abu Dhabi, and Haiti, among other places.


Usually that's because the door is in the hallway and you don't want doors swinging out unexpectedly into people walking through a trafficked area.

Here in the United States, doors are generally required to open out towards the nearest exit. Helps prevent panic in case of fire.

> Here in the UK a lot of bathrooms in pubs

Wow! I've never known a pub with a 'bathroom'.

Whist those in the USA use euphemisms such has 'bathroom' (mate, where is the bath?) or 'restroom' (I don't need a rest, I need a shit), here it is perfectly acceptable to ask the butler in Buckingham palace where the toilet is, or the bog for that matter. :-)

Can you use your elbow to push your way out?

I ran into a door today that had a handle on the push side. Not even a crossbar - an aluminum folded-over handle, one on each of the double doors. It is, unmistakably, a pull handle, and it had "PUSH" written above it and even underlined, and still it gave me pause.

When I worked for squarespace, their beautiful new offices had glass conference room doors that swung one way, the other way, or slid on a track, depending on the room configuration.

However every one of those doors had the same handle on both sides, giving you no clue as to which scenario this door was providing. You saw people pull/push the wrong way all the time, and then look up/to the side to see the hinges and where the door stop was. I eventually mentally dubbed that quiet look upwards before you touched a door the, “squarespace peek”.

After a while I’d heard that the original plans had the typical plate and handle for push/pull and the ceo felt like it messed with the design of the doors.

It reminded me of my experience at a Japanese Onsen (hot spring) last week. While entering the Onsen, the sliding door is automated and slides to open on it’s own. While exiting, the automated sliding doesn’t work. It has handles with no indication of pull or push or slide. The design of handles suggest most probably pull. I kept trying to pull/push with no movement. Finally, realized I am supposed to use those handles to slide the door left and right. That was one funky design, imo.

Reminds me of this japanese comedy sketch https://youtu.be/ZkQNP2cqG2I

Another tricky thing is figuring out how to flush the public toilets. The user interface is non standard on every toilet. The most surprising way I've encountered was to step on a button on the floor. (Remember to never press the big green button)

> Remember to never press the big green button

One of my greatest fears :p I saw someone do that one time actually, and the door that the button opened was really slow moving and irreversible until it had completed opening fully. This was on a train, with all of the passenger seats facing the door in question. The guy that did it had to quickly pull his pants up and then stand there awkwardly while the door finished opening so that he could close it again.

Friend, you missed the biggest news of 2017:


Although it probably takes a few years for all toilets to be replaced...

Haha! It's almost the end of 2021 and I haven't noticed any changes! Squatters are still around too, lol

> Remember to never press the big green button

Is that one that automatically opens the door, or one which automatically starts a full wash of the entire toilet cabinet's interior?

Worse. It raises an alarm and automatically sends down a bunch of security guards to check on you, lol

Sometimes the button is red, but it can be any color, sometimes it looks like a flush button.

Wow, never heard of that one, pretty nice variation on an awful pattern. Is it in handicap stalls or does it also exist in "regular"?

Such a great sketch, even without audio!

I hate that we don't have a universal way to encode and decode how to use doors/buttons/levers.

That design is everywhere in Japan, and can be quite embarrassing for tourists.

First time I went to Japan I walked up to my hotel late at night. I went to the door. There was no handle or obvious way to open it. I stood there like an idiot for a minute or two. I walked back out to the street to make sure I'm at the right building. I walked back to the door and finally got it. The trick... you have to wave your hand directly in front of the door an inch or two. Places in Japan often do not put the motion sensor ahead of the door, but straight down. You start feeling like a Jedi at times, waving doors open.

They might want to prevent false activations since the doors tend to play annoying melodies when you go through them.

Usually, the doors have a strip or label indicating press/touch/wave here but typically in Japanese or hand wave/ double chevron symbols. As a visiting foreigner, we typically are not used to seeing such signage. Over the years living here, I have started to recognize tell tale signs of automated doors in Japan.

One possible saving grace for this design is that mechanical sliding doors/panels are "traditional" in Japan - ie: tradional architecture makes use of sliding doors - often without clear "handles".

See eg: https://youtu.be/MfQkeIf2IjA

Sliding doors are very common in Japan. My home has them and they are great for saving space. They are sometimes hard to spot outside.

There used to be a coffee shop opposite my office that had a pull handle on the push side of the double doors. The right hand side doors were also often locked. I once sat at the nearest table to the doors and watched a dozen people pull then push on the right door, then pull and finally push on the left door, and often end up visibly aggravated by the time they got in and joined the morning queue!

The next day my debugging instinct kicked in, I bought some PUSH stickers and did some covert guerrilla ergonomic stickering. Problem solved and it made me smile every time I went past that cafe!

Double doors where one door doesn't actually open are one of the most frustrating designs I commonly encounter.

To this day, I can't understand the thought process behind opening only one half of the door and locking the other one. I used to go around unlatching the offending doors, but got tired of it.

You’re doing the Lord’s work. I’ll buy you a beer if we ever run into each other.

I see so many glass doors designed like that. The doors usually have a sticker that says “PUSH” on the push side, however the sticker is invariably printed with a transparent background so you can read it from the pull side. I don’t notice when I am reading something backwards/mirrored, so I am always pushing on the pull side…… Arrrrrrgh!

I also often fall for those signs that can be read from behind.

Also somewhat related, I hate road signs written on the road that read bottom up.

The part of my brain that deciphers the mirrored text is so proud of its stupid little achievement that it shouts down the result from the easy version so that the part that tells my hands what to do only gets the mirrored instruction. Every single time.

At this point I believe it’s a tradition to design push doors this way.

I can think of one door in a place I frequent for lunch like this which I have repeatedly ran into. Now, 80% of the times I start thinking about it about 20 feet away as I’m approaching it. My internal dialogue goes something like “Ignore how it looks, it’s a push door.” The other 20% of the times I still fumble the opening. It’s the most unintuitive thing I’ve experienced in a while.

This is known as a "Norman Door". There's a great episode of 99% Invisible about them. https://99percentinvisible.org/article/norman-doors-dont-kno...

I use a similar example when explaining when to document code and when to write it so it is easy to understand. When coding, if you find yourself saying “I need to document this”, you should ask first if it is easily understandable by someone with no knowledge of the code and possibly rewrite it first. Only once you have exhausted how it is written should you document it.

Everyone always nods at this but often do something else in practice, so as an example I use the real-world example of glass doors that only open one way but have identical pull handles on both sides. Users always walk up and loudly and embarrassingly push/pull incorrectly. But instead of fixing the root problem, the people who put them in think, “I know, I will document them!” and put those plaques on each side that says “Push/Pull”. And true to nature, no one reads the signs and still loudly bangs the door the wrong way only then to look at the “documentation”.

Perhaps ironically, the opposite door design (one where it’s not clear whether to push or pull) is thusly called a Norman Door [1]. The term is sometimes applied more generically beyond doors.

[1]: https://99percentinvisible.org/article/norman-doors-dont-kno...

I’m guessing the vox office featured door has that bar because a flat metal plate wouldn’t seem right applied to glass? Going without the plate the glass would get dirty.

> "The Design Of Everyday Things"

That book changed my life.

Totally agree. Anyone that designs things to be used by other people, would be well-served, reading that book.

"When a device as simple as a door has to come with an instruction manual—even a one-word manual—then it is a failure, poorly designed."

I like the affordability too, but it also does not take into account edge cases.

Our office door has this metal plate, it pushes outside (I believe it is that way for fire safety reasons). If there is strong wind on the outside, the door has the habit of whipping around after pushing it a bit, leading to shattered glass once every year or so.

Closing the door in strong wind also means grabbing it on the edge and pulling it, the wind kind of reverses on the last couple inches, I have no idea how that did not lead to broken fingers yet (you do it once, then you never try to close it again).

I guess it's a failing to consider all use cases of the door, and the metal plate thing should only be used indoors.

I spent about a year living in Chicago (also very windy and cold) and many office buildings use revolving doors for their exterior-facing entrances/exits. I suspect for the exact reason you mention. I can imagine what a PITA it would be to close a traditional door while battling icy-cold wind gusts.

That is a great book! There is so much discussion around doors, and rightfully so! I can never walk through an unusual door again without thinking about it since reading that chapter.

I'm currently in a country where I can't read the language and memorizing push vs pull feels so unnecessary when you could just design a door with obvious operation mechanics

Well,learning a few words can help you anywhere really.

While this is true I often wonder why so many of those doors don't just open towards both sides. They exist and I think it's the best compromise because it's just not possible to use it the wrong way.

A couple of possible reasons: one-way doors can have a solid frame, making them easier to secure; and they are better at sealing against weather.

and fire. one way swing allows the frame to wrap around on one side – increasing fire resistence

If the door isn't transparent - it's a great way to collide with someone coming the other way... And getting the door in your face.

The plate also makes it easier to clean as without it peoples handprints will be in a wider area. For wood doors its even better as wood can be time consuming to clean well.

I always avoid touching that metal door plate, I've gotten 'stainless steel cleaner and polish' on my hands too many times for me to consider using it again.

Now that you mention it, I do the same unknowingly. I always go for the wood above the plate, just because unconsciously I think it's cleaner than the metal plate.

The metal is easier to clean, but the wood (depending on treatment) might be naturally a bit more antiseptic because it dries up quicker.

Unless, maybe, the plate is copper?

The natural wear or polishing that occurs further acts as a signal to draw one's attention to it as well.

It's well-designed as a means of exchanging viruses with all the other users. At least its purpose is clear, so I can avoid it when I see it.

They're traditionally made of brass, which is naturally anti-microbial (the copper, specifically). Not clinically secure, of course, but far better than nothing.

You can push them with a covered elbow as well, of course.

That’ll be (part of) why doors often also have a similarly designed ‘kick plate’ on the bottom edge

The natural wear or polishing that occurs further acts as a signal to draw one's attention to it as wwll

BitTorrent is amazing. It just works. Anyone anywhere can create a torrent of their files, dump the magnet link somewhere, and everyone else can reliably retrieve it. It is self-reinforcing; the more people using a torrent, the better the robustness, redundancy and download speeds. You can often get better speeds from downloading something via torrent than from a web server. It's an open protocol that is relatively easy to implement, it has a diversity of lightweight clients for all OSes and is fairly resistant to censorship. To me it's pretty much perfect tech that solves a real problem. I hope Bram Cohen got rich off of it somehow.

Wish browsers had built in support for it. Imagine if by default most downloads were through BitTorrent, and your browser would then seed the file for 1.5x the download size and time.

The Opera browser did for a short while. If I recall correctly, it was taken out since sysadmins at schools, workplaces, etc would ban the browser. Of course that behavior unfortunately ensured that bittorrent would remain a protocol mostly for piracy.

Support in the browser would require the browser to stay on the whole time, along with the computer. Bittorrent clients are better run on small less power hungry boards (RPi, etc.) or on hardware that is meant to be running 24/7 anyway. For example, I run the Transmission daemon on my XigmaNAS home file server. The NAS is headless, but I can control the daemon through its remote GUI, so as soon as I click on a torrent or magnet link on the browser, it calls the local Transmission GUI which sends the info to the client on the NAS which starts the download freeing the browser and the PC of any further work.



I don’t know about others, but my browser is open about 100% of the time

Yea this was a super weird complaint. My browser is open for far more time than my torrent app.

It would absolutely not require that, it only requires that someone's browser is open when you're trying to download, which is likely since most people have their browsers open a lot.

It doesn't require the browser to be always on, unless you want to download something (which is the same as a normal download). Do you mean it's better for the health of the swarm for a particular file? Otherwise I'm not sure I get your point.

> Do you mean it's better for the health of the swarm for a particular file?

That is one of the main points. Some files are shared by thousands users and can be downloaded in seconds, but others are much harder to find, so that I like to keep the client on to help other people getting it quickly. I usually am annoyed when a file with a single seed reaches like 97% then it dies until the following day because the seeder had to turn off the PC, so I try to avoid this, especially since it costs me nothing as broadband is flat and the client runs on a machine that is always on.

WebTorrent gets you pretty close.


Brave supports bittorrent natively and is basically a reskinned Chrome without the spyware.

..but includes a cryptocurrency scam scheme.

BitTorrent itself doesn't provide any privacy, which is critical for something like a web browser. If anyone in the world can query what you've downloaded, it can escalate into real issues.

A major browser supporting torrents would be a disaster for public torrent culture. Since everyone closes their browsers, people would seed substantially less. I have a theory that a good chunk of people seeding any given torrent on a public tracker are doing it unintentionally.

EDIT: closes their browser is a bad way to phrase it. The problem is that the fact that they are seeding would be more in their face instead of hidden away in a notification icon on hover.

I wonder if intellectually "property" groups thought of this playing out.

> a good chunk of people seeding any given torrent on a public tracker are doing it unintentionally.

a person i know (totally not me) only seeds the rarer things. for more popular stuff they only seed for a couple of days.

This would cripple home internet connections, where the upstream is usually a tiny fraction of the downstream bandwidth. Most of the stuff people download is created/hosted by big companies. Let them pay for bandwidth instead of individual home users (looking at you, Blizzard and other game companies who like to use torrents to distribute patches).

I'll give you some technobabble: traffic shaping, ack-priorization, quality of service, traffic class.

All things which your home gateway should have in one form, or another, where you designate torrenting a priority which doesn't interfere with the rest of your activities. And adapting dynamically. No need to think about how to slice available bandwith into pieces beforehand.

Nice in theory, but as far as I've seen, most home routers and devices don't utilize those, and most users don't know how to configure them, and the up/down ratio is so vast (like mine is 1000/20, a 50x difference) that it's hard to saturate the down without first maxing the up in a torrent. The exception to that is it you happen to get some phat-piped seeds who are willing to send to you super fast even if you're uploading at a trickle. But in that case, plain old HTTP would've worked better anyway.

At the end of the day the bottleneck isn't at the protocol level, but the asymmetry of home cable connections. Torrents are great when you have symmetric fiber, but very few homes do right now.

Brave Browser has it

But you also need to find the file first. And sites to search for files are unreliable, often get banned. I remember long before bit torrent there were protocols like napster, edonkey, imesh etc that included search function and were superior to bit torrent in this aspect. Unfortunately, bad design won.

> But you also need to find the file first

No. He's describing a distributor's options. You are describing a consumer's problem. Specifically pirate comsumers.

He doesn't need to find his own file; he needs to distribute it. Publishing is a separate issue. With napster, you only had one publishing option: napster.com. With torrents, you have many. As he said, "just dump the magnet link somewhere".

> Unfortunately, bad design won.

You're comparing apples and oranges. Napster and bittorent are different tools that solve different problems.

He's describing general issues involved in distributing something.

You're describing specific issues involved in stealing.

Saying "bad design won" is like saying hammers are a bad design compaired to hypodermic needles because you can't use a hammer to inject yourself with heroin.

Well, like it or not, stealing is 99.9% of practical usage of bittorrent.

Qbittorrent client has a built in search engine. Add the jackett plugin and you can search every public tracker in one click.

I haven't visited a torrent site in years.

This is cool, but unfortunately the best content is on private trackers (you also need them to reduce the risk of abuse reports to your provider).

Not sure if the need to use private trackers can be fixed by the protocol, though. But, maybe adding a bit more of anonymity would be enough? i2p torrents provide that, but sacrifice speed. Clearly it's a spectrum and we need more "points" in the middle of it.

I disagree completely. I downloaded my first torrent months after the first client was released and my latest yesterday. In those 20 years I've never failed to find what I need and never had any problems with ISP(and would use a VPN if I did). I've never felt the need to check out private trackers.

It depends on how niche your tastes are, or how specific you are about quality. Getting Blu-Ray REMUX files for smaller, forgotten movies on public trackers is nigh impossible in my experience. Meanwhile, private trackers gives the community incentive to seed these large torrents with tiny swarms.

It is probably a matter of what kind of content you're after. I do retro game preservation and private trackers are often the only option for certain sets and certainly the most up to date ones.

I disagree completely. I downloaded my first torrent months after the first client was released and my latest yesterday. In those 17 years I've never failed to find what I need and never had any problems with ISP(and would use a VPN if I did). I've never felt the need to check out private trackers.

I'd assume he got rich off Chia - not nearly as elegant as bittorrent.

Honest question: how much of the torrent content is corrupted in some way? I dabbled with file sharing back when Kazaa was a thing and I infected my computer to the point I had to reinstall the operating system and I "learned my lesson." But maybe I overlearned the lesson, and it can be used reliably?

Kazaaa has nothing to do with torrents, but what do you mean by corrupted?

Torrenting can cause a fragmenting issue, but defragging clears that up. And like anywhere else, random executables sometimes contain malware but there's nothing inherent in torrents that makes that more likely.

> Torrenting can cause a fragmenting issue...

It can, but the clients I use(d) had an option like 'preallocate space', or similar. Then it doesn't, at least not as much.

I meant “file sharing” more generally not “torrents” specifically (I edited my previous comment). I don’t know what exactly happened to my computer but I suspect malware. While not inherent to torrents, it does seem inherent in sharing of random executables. Have the trust issues improved? What are some good use cases of torrents?

So while Kazaa and the like eventually got the ability to actually download from multiple sources, and be able to see that a particular source is popular, as I recall from the early 2000 days, back then it was pure point to point. That is, if you chose to download something, you also were implicitly choosing what source to download it from. So even if five people had the file "Foo", you chose which one to download, and there was no way to know that 4 had the same file "Foo", and 1 person had something else, with no way to know which was what you wanted.

Torrents avoid many of those issues; you can see how many seeds a file has (though Kazaa and the like later added that). And you had to have gotten the magnet link from somewhere, which would have its own evaluatable trust. It's the difference between downloading file called "Foo" from random internet user's computer, and going to a website, that you know, and downloading a file called "Foo" that you also know has been downloaded, and retained, by X number of users.

It's mostly like the rest of the web, though another commenter is right that seeds demonstrate a small amount of trust. If I'm on some random public warez site, my executable is likely to be malware. If I'm on something like the Internet Archive, Debian's site, or /r/datahoarder, their torrents are likely just a more efficient way to share data.

I don’t think torrents are any different in that aspect from the rest of the web.

Just as you would download and run an executable from a trusted source, you can download a torrent of an executable (from that trusted source) and run it.

E.g. many Linux distributions offer torrent links next to regular downloads; if you trust that website, you can download either file.

> . I don’t know what exactly happened to my computer but I suspect malware.

Yes, that's very plausible.

> Have the trust issues improved?

If you're retrieving executable code, the source giving you the magnet link is usually given some implicit trust. A good practice is to distribute a hash or better still a signature of the file(s). Though I would expect BitTorrent is designed to protect the shared contents' extents via hashes too.

If the content is some multimedia, then ideally it could be untrusted. Your favorite OS probably has much more robust libraries handling the multimedia content than it did a decade ago. But ultimately if the content distributed is infringing then it probably comes from a less trustworthy source. In which case you should have a different posture when handling these untrusted files than the generally untrusted interwebs content.

Also getting to like 98% and not completing the download. Very aggravating

Does the BitTorrent protocol have an announcement / stored metadata of "recently highest percentage of file seen"?

This seems like one of the biggest problems with more decentralized torrents (i.e. ones not backed by a community / core seeder), but also most a UX issue and seemingly trivially solvable.

No, but clients do advertise how much of the torrent they have, so you can glance at your peer list and if you have 2 peers stuck at 10%... there's a good chance that you won't get more than 10%.

Yeah, and while current peer % is useful, it doesn't answer the other user question of "What percent of this thing has been seen anywhere recently?"

Which seems a pretty reasonable question for a user to have, if we're talking about fully decentralized torrents without a tracker.

QBittorrent will tell you if the swarm is currently missing any pieces. But it doesn't have historical data.

I'd add uTorrent... it was created in few kb and AFAIK that started the no-bloatware awareness for sometime.

I don't know if it started the no-bloatware awareness, that was a remnant of the 90s, where programs were non-bloated by default (with Winamp being the most non-bloated program to ever have been created).

Even just in the universe of piracy programs, Kazaa and it's offshoots got bloated, so Kazaa lite became the no-bloat version of that

I don't think he did unfortunately.

He's currently creating a cryptocurrency.

Why this over ipfs?

Because I pushed petabytes of data over it for the past 15 years and it never failed me, not once. Simple as that.

One benefit of ipfs is that you can use cloud flare as a gateway, which is pretty cool. Don't know of anything similar for torrents (from a reputable company).

Speaking from my own experience, I've had a harder time getting data from here to there via ipfs. It's been a year or two since I last tried, but as I recall my troubles were the following:

* Transfers never starting, or not being able to exceed kbps. * Large amounts of data makes client performance worse. * Adding data to the store doubles the disk space used unless you take extra steps to mitigate that.

Meanwhile, I can point mktorrent at a folder, load it in my clients, and have it saturate my link within seconds/a couple minutes.

I'm keeping a close eye on IPFS and the Dat Project to take over here (and my use of Syncthing), but I'm hoping some refinement can happen first.

BitTorrent is 20 years old, IPFS only 6. So, might just come down to familiarity. Definitively many more people, even outside tech crowd, have heard of BitTorrent whereas IPFS is still mostly unknown.


Fast, snappy, responsive. No banners or cookie prompts, doesn't ask my to sign up for a newsletter or an account to continue and see more selection, it doesn't load in megabytes of JavaScript to show me products.

Plus, responsive as all heck, and there isn't any bullshit prompts like "click here to see our selected offerings" or "check out our value products here" Like, from. The short url, I'm already looking at the products.

I think it works because it is like the best parts of a part catalog without being too cute or clever. There are issues with searching sometimes if you want to browse to the part you have in your mind but cannot think of the name of, but usually it works. And yes, it is expensive to buy everything from McMaster, but that isn't what they are for. They also can be quite good about identifying the actual product/source if you ask.

Drilling down into different categories is better than any other site I’ve used. And like Costco, they curate pretty well and just have one supplier for each part, although the supplier may change. If you need a type of gear or screw, there is one option only, no need to compare various brands.

It was just as good 15 years ago too! And it’s probably not true not but it used to be the least possible friction to order things. Even if you weren’t logged in, if ordering from a company premise it would just confirm the address and let you order and send you a bill later.

> Even if you weren’t logged in, if ordering from a company premise it would just confirm the address and let you order and send you a bill later.

This feature RIGHT HERE is probably what lends to McMaster’s retention. No futzing around with account numbers, customer IDs, etc. Nope. Just a real accounting department talking to your company’s accounting department. Onboarding 20 new engineers today? No problem, just tell them to make an account with the company email and fill out the billing info with accounts payable and the finance guys will take care of all the rest.

McMaster honestly is such a gem of a company. Quadruply so if you so happen to live within the same-day delivery distance of one of their regional centers. Then McMaster turns into a super power.

Only downside is that McMaster fails some more rigorous sniff tests on part traceability/quality/reliability for certain kinds of engineering orgs but honestly so much manufacturing is held together by the glue of McMaster.

And if in the odd case they ever fail to deliver, there’s always Grainger!

Plus CAD drawings available for every part. I love Mcmaster-Carr

yes, despite peoples complaints that it’s not mobile-first and pretty, it feels extremely futuristic to find a part number, download an stl, and 3D print to check for fit. never had a problem with ordering from them.

Love mcmaster.com. I spend plenty of time just browsing.

Might benefit from an image search feature.

Am noob DIYer. I often only have a vague sense of what I'm looking for. Usually by analogy. So I'll spend a lot of time both foraging as well as using any search term I can think of.

eg Most recently, I'm looking for "banker's clips", my SO's term for really long money clip looking things. Like sewing hemming clips, but wider, and with a finished edge (non sharp). Great for securing paper to backing boards. So artists can carry around their work.

There is a big banner on mobile, asking to download the app.

But the app is excellent, FWIW. No ads, more functional than the website on mobile. The website makes use of desktop screen resolution layouts and has mouse-appropriate links, checkboxes, and comboboxes for an appropriately dense layout instead of big touch targets.

Also the banner is easily dismissed, and doesn't come back when you revisit the site.

Its also an awesome repository of 3d models. Must use website for anyone with a 3d printer.

Bonus: Useful as a visual dictionary for us non-native english speakers.

That is a rewarding site to search. Reminds me of rockauto.

FYI: Just noticed that McMaster-Carr now seems to ship internationally - at least to some European addresses I tested. They didn't, for the longest time.

I love this site so much. I was amazed the first time I ordered when the parts showed up the next morning. Now I just deal with the shipping cost because it saves me so much time navigating websites to order from them. I wish there was a version for small computer bits, like generic HDMI cables or USB-SATA dongles.

Meh. Not so much. First time I opened it show half screen banner to download mobile app.

And the website wasn't designed for mobile at all.

or maybe mobiles were not designed to order screws

It doesn’t work on mobile at all.

It works perfectly fine on mobile.

I didn’t manage to hit the small cross I the window that asked if I wanted to download the app, so I was redirected to the App Store, which was extra useless since the app isn’t available in my market. The text is too small to read and it’s not possible to zoom in.

With the banner across 1/3 of the screen at the bottom

Scrolling on mobile stutters.

The UI is definitely not responsive and the website looks ugly.

That “ugliness” is beautiful because imo McMaster’s interface facilitates turning unknown unknowns into known knowns.

Having all the options and important specs laid out on one giant page lets you discover blind spots in your thinking. Need an tube adapter for a fluid systems? Open up that page and as your scrolling through, discover that you forgot to think about the pitch of threading when you find the size and psi rating adapter you were looking for comes in several thread pitch options. Not sure which? Open up the handy explainer at the top of the page that explains to you the different options available and what they mean.

McMaster is primarily a B2B tool whose goal is to facilitate their users finding what they need, buying it, and building in a manner that is fast, convenient, and informative.

McMaster is a masterclass in UX and understanding what is really important to their business model, and resisting the urge to switch to trendy, sleek designs simply because it looks prettier.

“content is beautiful” - old japanese proverb

The UI is very obviously responsive, usable and fast.

i think they mean responsive as in it doesnt rearrange everything to fit on a screen 500px wide

I know what responsive means. I went from maximized window to narrower than many websites can handle and it adapts flawlessly. No idea how anyone could call this not responsive.

...the site is not responsive at all to fit to a mobile device?

There's two definitions of responsive, both of which are used in this thread.

1. It responds to your actions. Click stuff and it does that and does it quickly.

2. It gives you a different response based on which device you are using. You log on with a mobile device, it gives you a screen suited to mobile.

It doesn't do the latter. I'm on a phone. It might resize screens on a desktop, but doesn't do it for a phone.

McMaster-Carr has the best shopping website I've ever seen. The UI is beautifully intuitive; even if I don't know exactly what I need, odds are I can easily find something that will work and they can have it at my doorstep in under 24 hours, no matter how obscure. Even if I don't plan on buying anything, it can be helpful to click through the site just to see what is available. Because most categories of parts have surprisingly well written descriptions and breakdowns, the sire can actually be a good engineering resource.

I've bought from them many times before and have yet to be disappointed with what I got. It is definitely expensive compared to other suppliers or Amazon, etc. But you pay for the convenience.

I hear they aren't very good outside the US though, which is a shame.

This has actually created a huge bias in my company. People try to solve problems with parts from McMaster because it’s so easy to search, but we often overlook other company’s (e.g. Cole-Palmer) products (which may be much better suited for our applications) because it’s a pain to find them on their websites.

> I hear they aren't very good outside the US though, which is a shame.

I hope that this comment won't be interpreted harshly, but their familiarity with mainly American measurements really handicaps them elsewhere. It's not really their fault, but counterintuitively from where I am it's still miles better than other (domestic or international) suppliers for smaller quantities.

I was more referring to issues with shipping and ordering outside of the US. But you are entirely right about them focusing on American measurements, their selection of metric parts is much weaker and more expensive than their customary (main?) Sizes of parts. I do wonder if they are or will be working on improving that any time soon.

What do you mean familiarity with American measurements? Unit conversion is a solved problem.

I assume they meant that they default to making things that come in imperial-unit sizes (e.g., quarter-inch nuts instead of 6mm ones or whatever). It's not really practical to mix and match.

McM is just a warehousing and distribution company; they don't make any of the things they sell. They define products by specs rather than manufacturer (is few brand names are used in the catalog/site), which makes it much easier to stock parts of every nearly every flavor (imperial, metric, dozens of odd pipe threading standards, thousands of ASME/ANSI/DIN/other-standards-body-standards).

McM absolutely mixes and matches.

> It's not really practical to mix and match.

Tell that to my computer, with both 6-32 and M3 screws.

Tell that to my computer, with a bunch of stripped out threads.

So both types of screws work?

Only if you try hard enough

It’s also a problem that shouldn’t exist any more in this day and age.

I'd love it if they added a price filter option! If I want a clear plastic tube I don't always know whether I'll get a cheaper price with acrylic, UV-resistant acrylic, static dissipative acrylic, ultra-strength polycarbonate, high-temperature polycarbonate, etc... It can take a lot of clicking to find the cheapest option!

Unfortunately I don't see them creating a price filter as they are mainly geared at businesses vs. hobbyists or consumers, where "get it here fast" is more important than saving a few dollars. That being said, I find adding all of the prospective parts to the cart works well for me when I want to compare prices

Often, the only reason you wouldn't choose, say, stainless steel over regular steel, or UV-resistant polycarbonate over ordinary polycarbonate, is because of the expectation that one is cheaper. So price can't be so unimportant. And one version always is cheaper, sometimes by a factor of five or ten times. But sometimes there are surprises and the stainless version is cheaper for other reasons. Maybe the non-stainless bars of that particular size are only available with super tight tolerances, for example.

So why force the customer to know and guess which material grade they want as a proxy for price, when you can directly let them find the selection that meets their needs at the lowest price?

As a business user, I’d like the price filter too. For instance, I might be okay with any material for a valve in a prototyping application as long as it’s the right size, I just need to find the cheapest one (with one day shipping of course!)

I’ve yet to work in a business that doesn’t care about the price of something. This is particularly true when we are evaluating parts that might be used in production at scale.

For what it's worth, I work in industrial controls. More or less all of the machines we design are one-offs so engineering and labor time dominates the cost of projects vs. materials.

Additionally, unplanned downtime is extremely expensive. If a machine breaks down and a replacement part isn't on the shelf, getting that part fast is much more important than saving a few dollars. Same goes for if we end up with a bunch of guys waiting around for a part to get installed.

Honorable mention to Rock Auto, which has a similarly dead simple shopping UI.

McMaster-Carr's website is great for finding items, but it's really irritating if you're just ordering one or two things and want to know what it'll actually cost. Unless it's changed in the last few years, they won't let you know the grand total until AFTER you place your order. Maybe it helps them simplify order fulfillment, but it's really annoying.

They changed it, you get a total before ordering now

Raptor supplies is the non usa equivalent but less usable

GearWrench ratcheting wrenches. They're compact and fit in places that sockets never will. The ratcheting mechanism is very fine, with low backlash, which matters a lot in those tight places. They feel great, and they're a delight to use.

Wirewrap tools. They're mechanically simple, easy to learn, and let you create neat, dense hobby prototypes faster and easier than soldering.

Wago Lever Nuts. These let you join a wide range of wires, from 24 to 12 AWG, stranded or solid. They're quick: strip, insert and flip. They're verifiable: you can check that it's done right just by looking at it. They're reliable: the spring pressure ensures they never come loose, even with vibration and heat over many years. I'm never going back to twist-on wire nuts.

Ruby. The seamless blend of OO, functional, and imperative programming is beautiful. It can be dense without being obscure. irb and pry make it easy to explore code and data. The syntax is mostly conventional and easy to learn. The standard libraries are well designed, and have consistent interfaces. The documentation is concise and easy to scan. I won't say its "The Best", but of the dynamic, interpreted languages I know, Ruby is the most fun to use, and it starts with the clean, well-considered design right at its core.

Speaking of hand tools, how about Channel Lock pliers developed by Howard Manning.


Pliers wrench are also excellent and a far better alternative to adjustable wrenches. The parallel jaws and pressure added from squeezing prevents rounding of nuts.


Wago connectors are great. I used them on my powered motorcycle panniers to make them field-repairable. They're brilliant little devices.

> GearWrench ratcheting wrenches

There are also hex bit ratcheting wrenches (go by a variety of names). They key is they take a standard bit, and are only the depth of the bit + a few millimeters. Lifesavers on doorknobs.

If you really needed the clearance, you could probably grind part of the hex end of a bit down too.

Something like this: https://www.homedepot.com/p/VIM-Tools-1-4-in-Hex-Bit-Ratchet...

Interesting, I didn't know they made those.

For quality hex wrenches Bondhus is a good brand. Having a quality set makes working on motorcycles, putting furniture together, etc. much easier: https://intl.bondhus.com/pages/hex-end

Great list. Having specialized hand tools and using them to great effect is an intoxicating experience.

"Wago Lever Nuts ..."

These are great but you need to strip a specific length of insulation of off the wire - within a certain range, that is.

That's not that difficult but I wonder if there is an adjustable stripping tool that can be fixed to a certain length to get repeatable strips over and over ?

It seems like this is what I am looking for:


... but the largest wire it strips is 20ga and I would (usually) be stripping 12 or 14ga ...

I use manual strippers because I only do small jobs. I compare the length against the template on the side of the lever nut and it's easy to keep it in tolerance.

If you want to do a lot of connections, I recommend using an automatic stripper.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003B8WB5U Knipex

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000OQ21CA Irwin

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BC39YFQ Klein

Largely agree about Ruby, but I'm still disappointed by how they implemented Refinements.

Google flights is fantastic. Don't know if it is "the best-designed thing I've ever used", but it is on top of my mind as I just used it yesterday. Google doesn't get enough credit for the things that they did do well - including Search and Maps.

Another is Macbooks - the pre-2015 ones at least. I haven't used the latest M1 ones, which I hear great things about. The Aluminum body, the flawless screen, magsafe, great sound - there is so many things I love about Macbook hardware. Such a beautiful marriage of form and function.

I must disagree with you on maps. Google maps is a fantastic geographic aware search.

It is a horrific map. On any given screen there is an 80% chance that the major road I'm interested in is not labeled. Finding the name of a relevant cross street is a nightmare.

I feel like it used to be better. Way better. I think the map aspect has been dropped entirely as a real feature now that they supply directions (search) primarily instead.

I have OSM and Google maps installed. If I'm trying to navigate to a specific town or street, I'll use OSM because it's "just a map" that isn't trying to sell me shit. But if I'm looking for a business (restaurant, shop etc) I'll always use Google Maps because they're trying to sell me shit, and because OSM is absolutely pitiful in this regard.

I have tried to help out here by adding business in my area but the process of slow. Not sure who is in charge of approvals. Google, on the other hand, almost defaults businesses to being on the map even when they don't want to be. (My wife ruins a small business that doesn't have a bricks and mortar store - it's just online. Since it's registered to our home address, she absolutely didn't want it in Google Maps, but it took a good bit of clicking to get it off the map. Hence, they're reliable A.F. for finding businesses, even if they don't want to be found

> I have tried to help out here by adding business in my area but the process of slow. Not sure who is in charge of approvals.

There are no approvals at all. After you submit your changeset, it's in the primary public database. Some relatively short time after that, the affected tiles are rerendered and the change is visible on the main map layer (Mapnik) on openstreetmap.org. But if you use an application (e.g. OsmAnd) or some third-party map rendering (e.g. by Mapbox), the changes might take quite some time to get there.

I agree with this 100%. And there needs to be something in the design to allow you to zoom the text size. It's comical to witness myself trying to read too small text and reflexively zooming only to have the same sized font.

Even worse, it seems almost random which zoom levels have text. Often, especially for train line and station names, zooming in makes the text disappear!

Use OsmAnd~ for lots of options and Guru maps for easy handling.

Both based on OSM, of course.

Agreed. As my eyesight has gotten worse, I rely more and more on being able to do a quick pinch-to-zoom to read small type. Ironically, this pushes me away from native apps and onto the mobile browser!

Honorary mention to altitude level labels in terrain mode. They're like one millimeter tall on mobile, and not much better on desktop.

I didn’t know how badly I would like to see this until now. I love static-ness in UIs.

Have you tried the alternatives?

If the alternatives include "Google Maps from about 6 years ago", then yes, yes I have.

I don't really fault Google that much for their design decisions here, as Maps have really morphed into "Local Search", which makes sense for most use cases, but I agree with the GP, if you are just, for example, wanting to look at a map of a new area (i.e. not where you live), I think Maps is worse than it was some years ago.

I just got an M1 Macbook Air this week to replace my 2014 Macbook Pro. Performance is cool (lots has already been documented about that), but the battery life is on another level. Charged it on 4 days ago and after about 7 hours of use, it's still at 48% at the time of writing this post. Ditto to what you said about "a beautiful marriage of form and function".

Typing from M1 MBA I picked this weekend. I don't think I enjoyed any device since 2012 MBA so much. Love keyboard, unlock by watch, portability, and unparalleled battery life. Screen is a compromise (coming from 2019 MBP 16") but I am okay with that.

Yep they are damn near perfect. I love mine.

You can add this Google Flights Leg Room extension on Chrome to see legroom on each flight too.


It's great that exists (I have long legs), but an extension for...legroom? Why is something that important treated as esoteric and not a native search feature or setting?

Because they get paid by airlines

I have multiple close family members who are still using the old Magsafe Macbook Airs. I ask them every year if they want to upgrade to a newer model, and they decline, they just love the laptop. I replaced the battery in each one to the OWC upgraded battery kit.

One incredibly irritating thing about Google Flights is it ignores and overrides my currency settings every time. And often my language settings too. At least on Safari. No combination of being logged into Google and selecting the currency in the sidebar will result in the currency, rather than the local currency, being set for next visit. That means every single use of Google flights involves going to the sidebar to set currency, either first or more likely upon searching.

One time I was in a foreign country but looking for hotels on Google Maps for a future weekend getaway in my home country. Despite being logged in and Google having my home address, and with each account needing a country to comply with differing data protection laws, it was still showing me prices for hotels in my home country in the foreign country's currency. Helpful? Not!

For flights I've never found a site that was better than hipmunk.com. its a shame they shut it down.

Recently bought transatlantic flights through Google Flights and it gave better results than all the traditional players in the space (skyscanner, kayak, etc). It's not just something to pad out search results, they put some effort into it.

Also, for every single flight they have the mass of carbon emissions displayed right next to it? Seeing that huge figure (1 ton!) definitely made me more hesitant to fly. Could this be... an altruistic design decision? From Google?

New MacBooks seem to be good again, especially the model with MagSafe. However, non-replaceable SSDs is a big deal for me. I know that a MacBook can have a long life span, but I'm not sure how long its SSD will work with any issues.

Still using my ~10 year old MacbookPro pretty much every day. The little plastic feet have fallen off and I'm on my second power adapter (and that is looking a bit ropey), otherwise it still works great.

You can get new feet for not much on ebay https://www.ebay.com/itm/174018177659?_trkparms=ispr%3D1&has...

I tried replacement 'feet'. They fell off as well. ;o)

ZFS. Complete research companies unknowingly depend on the utmost reliability and flexibility ZFS has to offer. Started right with the first version included in FreeBSD in production use and never failed once while being the central storage connected to multiple HPC clusters with millions upon millions of rather small but also some vary large files. While offering five nines of uptime we even had to ability to send efficient binary forever incremental differential snapshots to remote DR locations. Meanwhile we saw many large crashed sites at companies which had downtimes of weeks using lustre. ZFS even got hated by management because it's not giving them fancy relationships with the normies using HP/Dell. So the last ten years are probably the best ZFS got here because some instructed architect is looking for commercial replacement but nothing better seems available.

This. I replaced a couple of NetApp and Isilon arrays at a smallish HPC cluster with 1.2 PB of research data. Ended up saving a few million Danish Kroner every friggin year, and got so much better reliability than the commercial offerings. ZFS (by extension, FreeBSD) truly is an engineering marvel in our world.

The documentation is shit though, I spent a full hour digging through forum answers trying to increase my swap space. All this bpool zpool crap.

And then my system /boot got full of some snapshot (wtf I never asked for this), apt-get failed to live up to its promise of magic, got more hell about a 20% preservation rule (again wtf).

Was cutting and pasting some zpool zsysctl zc -a -f -foo -bar and then some sudo zfs destroy bpool npool zpool/blah/autosys@ubuntu_h2h3rc4h stuff. I cut and pasted a bunch of stuff off the forums I didn't understand until apt-get worked again.

I didn't understand a word of it, and there was zero documentation in the obvious places.

I'm done with ZFS. Back to ext4. It just works.

Solaris used to come with a user manual, it was easily the best thing about the buying experience because it was so detailed and obviously written for engineers.

If you can find one of those manuals on the internet you will be set for life on understanding ZFS and dtrace.

There’s also a C, C++ and ASM manual that is bundled too, but you can skip those.

If you can’t find any, I’ll send you mine.

I know it sounds like I’m asking you to RTFM- but the experience of reading these manuals is really a joy.

Is this the document you had in mind?


Looks extremely similar!

Well, it's an ROI judgement call at the end of the day. ZFS explicitly takes on significantly more irreducible complexity than ext4 so that it can cohesively tie together the features it offers into a complete system that is consistent for users to work with and for developers to maintain while introducing as few bugs as possible.

This reminds me that I wrote a little a while back about the occasionally nontrivial challenge of absorbing complex structures (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25760518) when learning new concepts. I would personally absolutely love to be able to ingest complex ideas while not having to deal with the heightened semantic overhead, but I think that might be the human-learning equivalent of the P=NP problem. (The only solution seems to be finding neat elegant ways to represent things that happen to take advantage of subconscious shortcuts intrinsic to how we reason about the world, but there sadly seems to be no research being done on how to find and exploit those paths.)

ZFS itself seems to suffer from a bit of an above-average "newbies on soapboxes" problem sadly - a bit like the Rust community's "memory safety" crowd that don't completely understand what's going on, except in ZFS' case there are more than a few people who only know just enough to be dangerous, and are excellent at articulating themselves, loudly.

The collective consensus about ZFS is thus mostly comprised of many small pieces of arguably technically correct anecdata that miss just enough nuance that the overall perspective is shifted from reality by a nontrivial amount. My current favorite observable example of this is this downvoted (grey) comment by one of the ZFS developers clarifying that the system truly doesn't need a lot of RAM to run: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11898292

Completely independently of this vocal-minority problem, ZFS' licensing situation inhibits the cohesive direction and leadership that would produce a fundamentally cohesive, holistic platform integration effort along with supporting documentation. There are hobbyists figuring things out as they go along on the one side, and commercial vendors providing SLA'd documentation as part of their enterprise support on the other, with a giant hole in the middle that in this case would probably be filled with a kernelspace documentation effort (which would be absolutely rock solid and excellent).

So if you can ignore all the vocal minorities and read between enough of the lines of the documentation you can find (is this valid for my OpenZFS version? is this FreeBSD-kernel specific? was this written by someone who knows what they're talking about? etc), you should be fine. You just have to accept the status quo and the tug of war that sadly tagged along with the excellent codebase.

Regarding the specific use case you described, I would point out a few details:

- AFAIK, ZFS pools (aka-but-not-exactly a partition) can't easily be resized; you generally have to recreate them

- When I was setting up my own ZFS configuration I repeatedly found warnings (without looking for them) in multiple setup guides and GitHub issue comments that swap on ZFS can cause deadlocks - hopefully you were using standard Linux swap partitions

- You aren't required to use the defaults of "bpool" and "rpool" (I chose my own pool and dataset names)

- Automatic snapshots on /boot sounds like a misconfiguration error (I never configured snapshots)

- Naturally I can only say that blindly copypasting commands that directly edit your filesystem is an excellent way to say goodbye to your data, with extra steps

My own experience was with configuring ZFS from scratch on Debian (following https://openzfs.github.io/openzfs-docs/Getting%20Started/Deb..., but mostly ignoring the Now We Setup 23489573647823 Separate Datasets Because We Can bits - I just have /debian (/), /data and /boot).

It sounds like you were fighting Ubuntu's autoconfigured setup, without understanding what defaults it picked or what things it did for you at install time. This is not at all ideal from a system-comprehension perspective.

So, it might be fair to shift some (maybe more than some) of the blame to Ubuntu for your negative experience, and not just associate ZFS on its own with that negativity.

I can highly recommend setting up Debian on a physical machine (that always helps me greatly, I find VMs too... intangible) and yelling at it until a) you understand everything you've done and b) ZFS works. In that order. Getting it working without needing to completely reinstall (ie breaking something, then fixing the breakage, without needing to wipe and starting again) would also be an excellent goal... perhaps on the 2nd or 3rd reinstall :P

I've also found it extremely useful to create a ~4GB or so partition at the end of my disk to store a "recovery" system; what I'll do is debootstrap Debian onto the recovery partition, boot that, install ZFS support, configure pools and datasets, debootstrap Debian onto the new dataset, get that working (might take a couple goes - I always miss a step, like configuring GRUB, or remembering to run `passwd`, or edit /etc/fstab, etc), and then I have a 4GB ext4 partition that knows how to mount ZFS if I need it.

This strategy actually came in handy bigtime a couple months back when I broke GRUB boot (unrelated issue) and was able to fallback-boot into the recovery partition to get everything working again: the recovery partition was able to mount / as needed so I could chroot into my main system and reinstall GRUB correctly.

> AFAIK ZFS pools can't easily be resized > you generally have to recreate them

Not anymore. There is RAIDZ Expansion available. Happens on the fly.

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF2KgQGmUic

- https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/06/raidz-expansion-code...

Huh, interesting.

This appears to be specific to RAIDZ though, which I think I'm not using. I'm just using mirrors at the moment.

I'm incidentally currently working through the logistics for a potential upgrade and am seriously torn about whether to switch over to RAIDZ2 or stick with a couple of independent mirror pools. The "all disks thrash on rebuild after failure" property of RAIDZ2 has me scrambling for the sequential simplicity of mirrors, but... giant contiguous datasets... hmmmmmm...

If you split your own firewood by hand, a Fiskars splitting axe is insanely better than any standard splitting maul you'd find in a typical hardware store: https://www.fiskars.com/en-us/gardening-and-yard-care/produc...

For mechanical pencils, the Rotring 600 is the best thing I've ever written with: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AZWYUA4/

Speaking of well-designed Fiskars tools, I got this weed puller recently: https://www.fiskars.com/en-us/gardening-and-yard-care/produc...

Videos of how it works: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=fiskars+weed+pu...

It's been making difficult weed removal trivial.

I just got one of these on Friday. It’s so so satisfying

I'm about to blow your mind: https://www.kindlingcracker.com/

A young kiwi girl Ayla Hutchinson designed that when she was only 13 years old - https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1222-ayla-hutchins... pretty cool seeing something like that get to market

I recently borrowed a Fiskars x25 for the first time, after reading about them for many years. They really are better.

Splits better than my maul and weighs less. I was surprised to find that the latter was more important. If it takes less energy to cycle, you can split the same log more times without it feeling like a burden to do so.

The next time I need to split more than a trifling amount of wood, my first step will be to acquire a new splitting axe -- the overall time to completion will be faster.

Someone I know designed a wood-splitting axe where the central part of the blade has a high center-of-mass and freely pivots in order to kick apart the pieces once the axe hits the wood. It’s an ingenious design based on simple physics, and works quite well. There’s no purchasing info at the link below; it’s a small company whose main focus is on machines for metal roofing, so I suppose it requires a phone call or email to them to find out more.

https://www.esemachines.com/hand-tools Search for “super splitter”

The patent description is more informative: https://patents.justia.com/patent/5020225

As a pencil enthusiast, I love the rotring 600. I have two. I also loved rotring’s Tikky 1 (not the subsequent ones)

Other great pen/pencil:

- Pentel Ortez. I have the 3 mm and, if used properly, the lead wont break

- Zebra delguard. Also wont break. I have it in 0.5 mm

- Rotring’s artpen. My favorite fountain pen, but it appears discontinued :S

I love Rotring pens and pencils - I used a Rapid Pro mechanical pencil throughout college. Nowadays I use a Rotring 600 or 800 with Ohto ballpoint refills. The knurled grip is great, the the overall weight of the pencil is much better than your average plastic pen.

My absolute favorite pencil with which to do math is the Pentel Kerry .7mm. It feels so good.

I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation in applied math with a Pentel 0.5 mm. Soooo, there's also a Pentel 0.7?? GOOD. Thanks!

Pentel makes 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9mm

After trying all of them, I really gravitate to 0.4 and 0.7 depending on what I'm doing with it.

0.7 is great for general writing and notation, while 0.4 is better for drawing figures.

I'm in the market for a new splitting axe - thanks for the recommendation!

I really like my Pentel Graphgear 1000s. The retractable tip means it doesn't stab you if you want to carry it in a pocket and at least somewhat reduces the probability of it being ruined by a drop.


Absolutely. I started felling trees and splitting wood recently, and I went through a few axes. The Fiskars have been amazing.

Any advice on technique with the splitting axe? Use the same way as the maul?

So happy to see the Fiskars mentioned. Grew up with farmers in the midwest US but love my fancy little splitter hitter from across the pond.

I find a subtle lift on the handle right at the end of the stroke, almost like a whipping action, seems to help a little. It may be in my head, but it seems to stick less.

Use the full length of the handle, the horn at the end provides a positive grip and you get more speed.

On large rounds don’t start in the very center, bisect the round but start near near the far rim so the crack is only supported on one side and has a better chance to propagate through the length of the round. Work your way back towards you and repeat if needed.

Always focus on where your strike lands. Most smaller logs will be one hitters but aim precisely anyway. On larger rounds stitch strikes together in one continuous line across the face. Don’t get sloppy, if you’re more than an 1/8” off left or right hit it again. Repeat across until she gives. Precision beats percussion.

Set your rounds on top of the biggest round you can find when splitting. This flattens the contact (tip #1) and the large round below provides some inertial resistance. Splitting directly on the ground provides more bounce, reducing effectiveness, and the bit gets dulled by contact with dirt and rocks.

Keep the cover, its durable, provides a great hanging handle. The blade doesn’t need to be razor sharp like you would want with a cutting axe, but it should be sharp and clean.

> Set your rounds on top of the biggest round you can find when splitting.

That's fine advice for someone who wants to burn a campfire for a night. I heat with wood in remote Canada and I estimate I split somewhere between 600 and 800 bucks for a season's supply of firewood. If I had to lift each one of those into the air and balance it (if possible, and it's often not possible) on another piece of wood I'd never get enough split to warm me the whole winter while my back recovers.

I just tip the buck up on the ground and use a dull maul because I don't have time to baby the edge of an axe. Mostly these days I just use a hydraulic splitter because I'm old and grumpy especially when I'm as behind in getting my wood in as I always seem to be.

You'll get no argument from me about using a hydraulic splitter. Around my property there are a few species (I don't know which) that are quicker to split by hand. Anything that I have to sit there and smack on gets the ram. I burn 3-4 cords per year but mostly to keep from going broke on propane.

>especially when I'm as behind in getting my wood in as I always seem to be.

I'm convinced anybody that isn't behind on getting firewood for the season has too much time on their hands. xD

I also use a manual hydraulic splitter as I never developed axe skills when young. It works fine for most sections of trunk and gives a nice upper-body workout. If I load it with two sections of trunk the rearmost one significantly reduces the distance I need to move the ram before the section at the front makes contact with the splitter.

> start near near the far rim so the crack is only supported on one side

I have no professional background, so maybe I'm totally wrong, but I would advise against that, because if you aim a bit too far or the wood gives too easily, most of the impact will be against the haft instead of the head, and the haft can break this way.

I usually start at the near side and then work towards the far side, which is only dangerous if you don't have a wide base (another log maybe) under the piece you're currently splitting, because if you miss the near side, the axe is flying towards your feet.

Good to call this out because it’s something people should think about.

> because if you miss the near side, the axe is flying towards your feet.

Had a close call here once and have gone the other way ever since. I’ve missed long and broken old wooden handle splitters this way, but the Fiskars are incredibly tough and just sting the shit out of your hands if you miss.

Put a heavy bungee cord (the rubber type) around the log a bit above the bottom, then the pieces don't go flying.

Even better, use an old tire.

I like to set the tire on a large round, place a few smaller pieces inside the tire (so they don’t go flying out) and then chop them all before clearing and refilling. Also works with a single medium piece inside the tire. Large pieces you can quarter first, I don’t have much trouble there with pieces flying around.

I split about three cords a year, all by hand. It's mostly hemlock and alder. The biggest rounds are 24-30" in diameter.

I thought I'd need a heavy maul for the large rounds, but I use the axe for everything. On the larger rounds, start at the edges and work your way around. One nice thing about working in from the edges is that the edge pieces with bark are thin and have lots of split surface area, and all the inside pieces have no bark. So everything dries faster. I don't have any trouble missing strikes with this method.

The knottiest pieces for me tend to be spruce rounds from mid-trunk. I use the axe to get as much off as I can, and then either stack the larger knotty pieces in one area and burn them whenever they've dried enough, or use the chainsaw to cut through them one more time.

I haven't picked up my maul in 3 years.

Wolf Garten tools are good, too.


I have this Fiskars model, but I haven't used it in more than 5 years. I had to chop up 2 huge cherry trees and this thing was useless.

For splitting wood, I now always use this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ochsenkopf-OX-3509-Log-Splitter-Rot...

Now THAT is really good design.

> Now THAT is really good design

Perhaps explain why it is better? A personal opinion is not as useful as an insightful explanation.

> was useless

You haven’t said what was wrong with it. Also I think your wording is awfully close to breaking site guidelines: "That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3." https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html Disclaimer: not a mod, I’m just a hippy that wants us all to get on well together!

Do you think their shorter axe (n12) would be good to take bike camping?

Unless you want to make a fort at night, I really would not bring an axe along. Finding firewood for a campfire is usually not a problem.

But a too heavy bike is.

I did it bike camping a lot and my advice is, only bring what you absolutely need. Without extra burden, everything is much more enjoyable and you will have more energy to reach the nice spots.

I do a lot of slow bike camping in Japan where the campsite will often provide firewood, but it's too large for the small solo stove I have. I've tried a saw, but what I really want is thinner wood split from the larger pieces, not lateral cuts. The axes being talked about are only about 470g, which doesn't bother me too much shoved in a pannier.

Ok, this is a very different scenario then, where it makes sense for you ..

X11 or X7 would probably be a bit lighter and more durable. I know its ‘plastic’ but I’ve beat the shit out of mine for 15 years and it hasn’t loosened up at all. Wood handles get finicky in the elements. The Fiskar plastic handles are hollow, too, you might be able to pack a flint kit up in there for energency use.

Something like an Eastwing is goong to be a better chopper, but these will split better. Both are useful.

To bike camp bring a small foldable saw, so instead of spending 1+ hour splitting wood after a long riding day you can spend that time enjoying camping

I have a carpenter axe which is very compact and somewhat lightweight, but gave it up because I never had to use it


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