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The Worst (thoughtcrime.org)
770 points by ldayley 1341 days ago | hide | past | web | 207 comments | favorite

It's really quite something when an author manages to put down in words a thought or a feeling you were hitherto incapable of expressing. Bravo.

The dichotomy of best/worst — or, as I often think of it, acceptable versus available — is a tricky one, and it's not one which I feel I've yet solved. But I can certainly see how areas of my life tend towards the latter.

Take my dotfiles, for example. I spent ages writing a vimrc which sets up key bindings just so, the way I like them. Then one day I have to SSH onto a remote server and make a hotfix, and I start vimming files and get instantly confused when my muscle memory betrays me. I tried out Dvorak for a while, but then every time I had to help someone with their computer, or go to a client site, I was struggling to adjust to the 'normal' QWERTY layout. Eventually I realized it was better to learn the vim defaults like a pro, and then extend them without overriding them.

We can get very comfortable in environments we create for ourselves, expending huge quantities of energy to build a nest suited just for us. But Stoicism teaches us that fate is a lot more powerful than our nesting activities. One day a flood comes tearing through your house, or your hard drive fails, or you miss a credit card payment, and if you've wired your brain to only be happy in the environment you created, you are going to have a breakdown. In my childhood alone, I was evicted twice, moved countries several times, and had times when we were very well-off and times when we couldn't afford food. These things happen to all of us.

Nevertheless, in the Poisson distribution of cataclysms, before disruptive events, the Best approach may render you far more productive than the Worst. I consider this penalty to be my insurance policy; others have a different risk tolerance.

Just my $0.02.

Your point about key bindings is very prescient.

At my work, our book club is (re)reading The Pragmatic Programmer. There's a section which advocates picking one text editor, mastering its arcane secrets, customizing it until it's perfect, and never using anything else. All my colleagues happily agreed with this, and I couldn't quite express why I didn't.

Then I did a bit of pair programming with a few different people. In every case there was a significant learning curve just to follow what the driver was doing in their comfortable editing environment, and in the most customized cases, it was nigh impossible for me to drive at all.

So we relocated to my desk instead. I have a standard qwerty keyboard with vim, emacs, and textmate - all completely un-customized and ready to go. I couldn't care less which editor we use as I've learnt the bare minimum to be proficient in all of them. And importantly, so have my colleagues. Sure they grumble at not having their own autocompleting magic, but we can get our work done at a good enough rate, and either of us can drive.

(My previous work took this one (enterprise management style) step further and forced everyone to use the exact same model laptop, operating system, and editor. As a youngster I hated this required conformity. As a cynical old bastard I can see the logic...)

I definitely sit in the middle of the two camps. Not 'The Best', not 'The Worst'; just 'The Satisficing'.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisficing

I don't agree that in pair programming you should succumb to your pair or take a least-common denominator philosophy. When I pair, I always use a (customized) Vi, swapping between two editors if my pair's is different. I'm intimately familiar with mine (and he with his), so we're much faster this way (and happier, to boot).

Nice to learn that there's actually a word for this middle road!

Quickly getting off-topic, but you should have used vim's netrw instead of running vim on the remote host. You can use the remote host's file system as if it were local, over ssh.

I tried out Dvorak for a while, but then every time I had to help someone with their computer, or go to a client site, I was struggling to adjust to the 'normal' QWERTY layout.

I'm a Colemak user and while your point is on the mark (I do feel a bit stupid when typing on a qwerty keyboard now) I feel that using Colemak is still worthwhile for me as I spend over 90% of my typing time on my own computer and I type so much every day that I feel its worthwhile for me to optimize for that case, even if it makes the other cases much worse.

I did the same experiment with Dvorak and had the same experience.

At times my brain got really confused and I would mentally converge the convenient parts of both layouts (which brought up an idea of using predictive typing to use the most comfortable keystrokes of both layouts).

Interesting, why is it confusing to switch between two layouts? I speak both Russian and English and I can type without looking at the keyboard using either Russian or English layout (I'm sure this is not something outstanding). Perhaps when it comes to two layouts for the same language it might be more confusing.

I think the authors of "The Best" and "The Worst" are both right.

In fact, pretty much everything I own is either "the best" or "the worst" -- no middle ground. I identify the very few things that really make a difference to me (my laptop, my stereo, my kitchen pots & pans & knives, my jeans) and buy the absolute best I can afford. And I identify the things I don't really care about (the rug, the chairs, most kitchen utensils, my T-shirts, my toilet brush, my bike) and buy the absolute cheapest -- disposable, really.

So the real point is -- avoid the middle ground, which is muddled/confused life priorities. Do your best to figure out what actually matters and what actually doesn't, and spend accordingly.

Does the middle ground have to be so confusing? I mean, if you looked at your silverware and thought, "These forks are kind of ugly, and it's bothering me a little bit," so you went to Target and saw a $50 set of silverware that looked pretty okay and bought it, would that be confusing? I guess there's no way to spin it as being particularly awesome. You couldn't boast of being the most sophisticated and tasteful buyer of silverware, nor could you boast of being completely liberated from your belongings, since if you mangled a couple of forks in the garbage disposal you'd face the annoyance of going back to Target and paying $50 for another set.

But isn't that okay? Isn't it okay if I own something that can't be used as proof of how awesome I am?

The problem is, if repeated often enough, this process leads to a house full of crap, most of which you no longer care about.

With The Best philosophy, you have much less crap and clutter around you.

With The Worst philosophy, you may have a lot of crap and clutter, but at least you didn't waste much money on it.

Most of us in the rich world end up in an in between place that's not very satisfying.

This is silly.

If you cook, buy a great chef knife. It doesn't have to be the best in the world, but spending a little more will get you a terrific blade with a great service policy that you'll use constantly and enjoy forever.

Buy a bunch of cheap scissors though, and stick them in every room you ever find yourself wishing you had scissors, and then never worry about that problem again.

Some things you might need more than once, but not all the time, and you'd rather it didn't break, get old, or get lost but you wouldn't mind quickly replacing it if it does. I'm thinking shower towels on this one, but yours might be something different. That's fine. There's no reason to get the finest terrycloth, but I'd rather not rub my skin raw every morning with sandpaper. Whichever towel is slightly more expensive than cheapest on Amazon will do just fine.

Not every purchase has to be an uncompromising statement on your position and perspective on the world. Choosing something other than the absolute best in every category does not mean living a life of cluttered crap. This entire debate makes me seriously question the rationality of anyone with religious devotion to either extreme. There are better things for smart folk to be spending their time thinking about.

A thousand times yes. Do you want to know how I pick a product? Decide the features I want, then pick something that has those features and is either from a brand I trust, or seems to be well received by those who care more about that product than I do. Sometimes this means I get the cheapest thing available, sometimes the best, and sometimes something in between. Easy, and I am satisfied almost 100% of the time without overpaying.

I'm just curious, what does a service policy on a chef's knife get you btw? Will they sharpen it for you, or something? There's not much that can break on a chef's knife unless you really maltreat it, is there?

Yup, free knife sharpening is a common perk. I've also seen generous policies on repairing the grip etc - not because those areas are prone to breaking, but they expect you to use the knife for a long time and it's a way to stand behind their product.

"if repeated often enough, this process leads to a house full of crap"

So unless you buy the absolute "best" of a given product, it's just crap and couldn't possibly be satisfying? There's no middle ground there at all?

The idea here is the choice between:

easy/disposable/cheap combined with a wide selection of possessions and

requires research/lasts a long time/expensive combined with a minimal aesthetic about what you need to own.

Don't get stuck on the semantic argument of if "best" means absolute single best, it's that idea that is the interesting and potentially powerful part.

That's a false dichotomy, though. There's no reason I can't have a minimal aesthetic about what I need to own while also getting some things that are "good enough" (maybe even "crappy"), and getting other things that may be considered the "best".

The parent seemed to be saying that this state (i.e., between the two extremes) was "not very satisfying", and that without strictly adhering to "The Best" philosophy you'd end up with all crap. That's primarily what I'm objecting to.

Ah, I may have misinterpreted. I was assuming it was a given that one would choose either "the best" or "the worst" for each area of your life based on what's important to you. I took the "not very satisfying" part to refer to what happens when you regularly buy a specific thing that lives in the middle of those philosophies.

I agree that it would make perfect sense to have your choice about clothes differ from your choice about laptops or cars. A commitment to one philosophy for everything you own seems strict for no reason, although I have personally found that the minimalist aesthetic ends up spreading to seemingly unrelated parts of your life once you start enjoying it.

It isn't a matter of quantity. You need the same number of forks and knives no matter whether you find them at Target, Urban Ore in Berkeley, or the FT's How to Spend It[1].

[1] http://howtospendit.ft.com/

Edit: Oooh, even better How to Spend It link: http://howtospendit.ft.com/home-accessories/5004-tableware-t...

There's the art of disposing of not the cheapest things when they bother you. Then you get self-regulating process: you find disposing of some kinds of things too often and end up not caring about these kinds of things and buying the 'worst'.

Well, well, Mr. Galt: "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."

Much as absolutism makes for simple priorities, applying these general principles out of any context is going to make you wrong no matter what you choose. As in game theory, where mixed strategies often defeat any individual strategy, the best, the worst, and the middle all encounter their uses in different spheres.

Personal possessions? I'm fine with the best or the worst, but not always. For instance, I could buy one of the world's most powerful supercomputers if I were rich enough, but I'm fine with my MacBook Air.

Also, try political or religious thought. I typically prefer a moderate liberal or conservative to a fire-spitting Tea Partier or an ardent communist. I also prefer secular humanism to, say, fundamentalist Bible-bashing or virulent atheism.

I propose a different criterion: the right philosophy for the right context.

> I could buy one of the world's most powerful supercomputers if I were rich enough, but I'm fine with my MacBook Air.

A world class supercomputer isn't the same category of good as a MacBook Air. Most laptop owners would feel worse off in some aspects of the trade, as they would no longer have a portable computer to travel with.

If a Macbook Air nets you the most personal utility from a portable computer, as opposed to a 2003 Thinkpad, your ownership could be used to support rather than negate the "best or worst" heuristic.

A better example to support your position would be if you owned the 2011 model instead of the 2012 model of the same laptop. You could declare ownership of the newer models always nets you greater utility, but that upgrading every year isn't worth the opportunity cost, and that it would be silly to find "the worst" laptop to downgrade to every-time you decide to forego an upgrade.

True, I gave a suboptimal example, in that the Air may actually be the best tool for the job. However, as you said, we can easily adjust the example so that it demonstrates a suboptimal possession with diminishing returns on improvement. For instance, take my iPhone 4S. I could buy a 5 because it is "the best," and a solid improvement on my 4S, but I have no pressing need for it. While I would benefit from a usage perspective from upgrading, I can still place plenty of implicit trust (Dustin's term) in the 4S for the ways in which I value it. By not upgrading, I can take pride in the suitability of my choices to my needs, rather than in the shininess of my devices.

Of course, that doesn't cover the pressure of choice detailed above by the "satisficers". To paraphrase Dan Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness), adding more perfect options makes maximizers more stressed and less happy about what they do choose. Again, I prefer to place implicit trust in the quality of my selection process - its capacity to find me something good enough - rather than always in the quality of what I own. That latter threshold changes with the circumstances.

> Personal possessions? I'm fine with the best or the worst, but not always. For instance, I could buy one of the world's most powerful supercomputers if I were rich enough, but I'm fine with my MacBook Air.

Well clearly, it's about what is best for you, not the best in general. For you, the MacBook Air is probably the best option. The fastest car in the world is not the best road car. The most powerful computer is not the best for surfing the web and running your ruby scripts.

This is an argument against satisficing, since seeking the worst is a form of optimization. I don't want $50 spoons and I don't happen to want the worst spoons.

It depends on the function of the spoons. If it's to stir your tea for a few seconds, there's no need to spend money there, you're better off buying the cheapest spoons that perform that function (i.e they don't have holes in or are made of francium). If it's for hosting dinner parties, then clearly you want something more decorative and should spend an appropriate amount of money on them.

I agree completely. It's about spending money in the right proportions. I spend what others would see as an unreasonable amount on my keyboard, computer screens and headphones. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, it's my lively hood, so it makes sense to spend a proportionate amount of money on it, if they money spent makes a difference. I spend very little on more disposable things like socks or t-shirts. I bought 25 tea spoons for £2, I use them to stir my tea for about 2 seconds before throwing into the sink. I don't care if I lose them or if some housemates borrow them. It's about valuing things properly, purely from experience I know that better quality jeans and backpacks last longer, they're better value for money. I used to scrimp on those things, but it it's better economy not to. You simply don't need 'the best' cutlery you can buy, you use it and have to wash it up straight away because you don't have another fork for your desert. I'd rather have 10 pairs of cheap cutlery, and not need to run the dishwasher or get my hands dirty for a few days.

For the kitchen utensils example, I would also tend towards some kind of middle ground. I don't care at all about having the best but the worst is so cheap that if you aren't careful you will end up with more utensils than anyone really needs.

When I first moved out about 5 years ago I bought a kitchen set for under $100, bar plates, bowls and cups it had pretty much everything you would need in a kitchen. I am still using many parts of it today and slowly throwing out parts I didn't really use. I wouldn't buy one again because my kitchen would get to cluttered with too much stuff that I either won't use or use very little.

Agreed - my problem with "The Best" was the idea of spending weeks researching to find the best quality things, for every belonging you own.

For a while, I favored "The Worst" - I liked having a few missing keys on my laptop, and the challenge of programming with less RAM than I should have. I liked having an old car that barely scraped by. The freedom of not feeling attached to my belongings made me feel a sense of purity - like my code on github is the only possession I really cherish.

After a few car breakdowns and failed hard drives, however, I've learned to pick a few things worth focusing a little effort on!

I'm the opposite. Almost everything I have is at the knee of the price curve. Typically that's where I find good value.

I don't think they are both right.

It is very easy to find a situation where they are wrong that most HN readers can understand: CPUs.

The cheapest and most expensive CPUs are usually the worst in terms of Performance/Price.

This pricing scheme affects many items in life.

Price is orthogonal to best/worst.

Most people are constrained by price, so it is a factor in what is best/worst.

That is why both articles refer to the "best" being expensive and "worst" being cheap.

Could you people stop splitting hair in fours and get back to work? I'll be in the middle ground if I so damn please.

The dichotomy between Moxie and Dustin's posts illustrates an interesting split in the 'hacker' world.

Wheras Hacker and Startup seemed to represent the use of unconventional tools to achieve a unexpected results (often) in unpleasant or tedious circumstances, those connotations have become mixed with the sense glamor usually reserved for celebrities.

Now, the ostensibly boring (or at least detail-ridden, interesting only to those directly involved) practice of starting a business has taken a sort of crazy sheen, with list stories [1] written by starry eyed marketers praising the romance of the fast paced, powerful, and interesting startup industry shaping the public's view.

And Hackers, once conceptualized as loners fiddling with inscrutable technicalities, are now expected to attain material success and internet celebrity. After all, if you're a real hacker you should be pulling in at least $150k. (Though you'll have to spend some of that on a load balancer to handle your blog traffic.)

Dustin and Moxie seem to represent the two sides of this spectrum. Dustin, maybe hot off the aquihire of a desirable web property, looking for how to best direct his affluence. Moxie, pondering the important parts of the system he operates in, chooses to forgo what he considers symbolic representations of success with undeserved merit. It's as easy to imagine the dreadlocked Marlinspike talking to stallman (who is eating from his foot) as it is to imagine Curtis speaking to a crowd of socialites in a bell-aire hotel lobby.

At least for me.

A weird example I ran across, it struck me for its resemblance to a Cosmo article. [1] http://tech.co/the-top-10-tech-cocktail-stories-of-the-week-...

In those 2 articles, I see more a contradiction between design and function. In recent years, design for web sites, and mobile apps has been a major focus for startups and consumers. Simple functional products are seen with more skepticism from investors; that is the journey from Google to Pinterest or from Dell to Apple.

Not unexpected - as the technical cost for implementations of most ideas approaches the market minimum, it's only logical that the sell, the approach, and the design are the key factors in determining success.

Was Dustin Curtis or some company of his acquired, or is this just innuendo?

I'd also like to know the answer. I can't figure out what the guy actually does.

Besides running a blog network and designing websites?

Svbtle is new; I'm unaware of any sites other than his own that he's designed. What am I missing?

I have no idea who you are either, but my presumption isn't that you've done so little in your career that I'd wonder why I was reading your thoughts.

Take it easy. Dustin holds a lot of credibility around here, and I'm curious as to the source of it. I have no presumption one way or the other, and it isn't out of line to ask what a highly-regarded designer has designed.

I answered your question upthread.

Are you referring to "A blog network and designing websites"?

Dustin had his rep before Svbtle. In the quest for determining the source of his design rep, I'm not sure Svbtle counts.

As far as 'designing websites' goes, all I know of is his old blog (the AA redesign mockup). I can't find a portfolio or tweet or dribbble or github or... anything really showcasing even one thing he's designed for someone other than himself. Can you?

It's the notion that things "count" or "don't count" that is eliciting the snippy responses from me. We are not here to sit in judgement of Dustin Curtis. No, I don't think I'll build a case against your obviously implied argument that he's done nothing of note.

I find the idea that Curtis is accorded a lot of respect on HN amusing, because most of what he's accorded are comments like yours.

You're not getting it. This was my general train of thought:

-Dustin said he just got back from a few months in Asia. What'd he do for money? Maybe he's a startup geek and lives lean.

-Hmm, further down he says he bought flatware at $50/5pc, and everything he's purchased is of like quality. Kind of contradicts the 'living lean' thought, so scratch that.

And that got me to thinking of all the bits and pieces I've picked up about DC that I can't reconcile:

-He claims to live in SF and NYC. OK, maybe he's got some big projects? If so, I can't find any evidence.

-He claims to be "a designer", and also claims to "advise early-stage startups on design". Where did he learn these skills, and what startups has he advised? There are no forthcoming answers.

-He seems to have no trouble onboarding writers for Svbtle. He could be paying them, but with what funding? Further, his reputation pre-Svbtle is what enabled Svbtle in the first place; where did that come from?

In sum, the guy is an enigma to me. His stuff gets frontpaged all the time here, and so I (pretty naturally) assumed someone knew something about him... but it seems like nobody does. It's an odd thing because technology circles are so notoriously meritocratic.

You think I'm being flip about Dustin, but I'm really not. I actually agree with most things he writes, and found the AA articles to be very fascinating (and pertinent -- at the time I was going through my own version of the same thing). If all he's done (imagine finger quotes around 'all') is a markdown logo and a kudos button and Svbtle, that's fine. I'm not judging. But he illicits such strong reactions -- your replies are a great example -- that I feel like I'm missing something, that there's some great Secret of Dustin Curtis and I'm missing it.

I stand corrected.

Mensch of you.

> We are not here to sit in judgement of Dustin Curtis

Says the guy commenting on a website with buttons to up and down vote comments.


He was in an early YC class that exited.

Thank you. That article about "The Best" bothered me in a way I couldn't completely verbalize. Beyond a certain threshold, the quality of objects just simply doesn't matter.

The example of flatware was particularly annoying, because, really, in what way does a fork ever actually "fail"? Have you ever had food halfway to your mouth when the fork just suddenly collapses or something? As a tool, flatware is completely superfluous. Just ask the billion some odd people who eat with their hands.

Anyway, maybe some people enjoy the process of endlessly researching and hunting around for "the best" of something. If you do, more power to you. Personally, I think when you look back at the end of your life you're going to remember the meals you ate and the people you ate them with more than the utensils you used.

> Have you ever had food halfway to your mouth when the fork just suddenly collapses or something?

-- shaking fist -- One of these days, Uri Geller, you'll get yours!

The article annoyed me, about the flatware even.

Then I remember what I went through finding 'our' flatware for the wedding registry. I'm particular about it (weight, fussiness, traditional shape). So is my wife. The intersection of that set is really small. And it most definitely doesn't include the choice that he made.

On further reflections though, it sounds as if he's becoming attached to stuff, because he's made the investment in choosing it. I'd rather not have that attachment to the stuff.

There's a small selection of things that I consciously choose the best of, and they matter. There's a much larger selection of things that are good enough, in whatever metric that is, be it quality, cost, availability, or combination. My keyboards? They're the best. Model M13s, the best of which sells for $250 on ebay. The truck? It runs. It hasn't stranded me yet, and I don't care if I haul a yard of compost in it.

I am actually watching a set of cutlery gradually failing. My company relocated, and after spending lots of money on excellent desks and office chairs, facility management bought the cheapest cutlery they could get. After less than half a year, more and more of the cutlery is getting rusty. It looks gross (is it just rust or dirt?) and makes me wonder: If the quality is so bad, can I trust it to actually be reasonably "pure" stainless steel, or am I getting my daily dose of heavy metals. Also, the drinking glasses are corroding.

Wow. I on the other hand have drinking glasses, plates and cutlery I bought from a thrift store for like $20 for the whole set and it's been holding up fine for years. Maybe the lesson here is it's better to buy a decent product for cheap used, than to buy a new product that was cheap from day one.

Thrift stores are great ways to find durable products. If they weren't durable they wouldn't end up in a thrift store in a state anyone would want to buy.

Lots of flatware "fails" because the manufacturing is poor and leaves a nasty ridge on the bottom side, which is uncomfortable to hold. And plenty of cheaper forks/spoons seem to bend very easily. Sure, it's a small, but nevertheless annoying thing to deal with.

Declaring any particular design of flatware to be "the best" seems rather silly and just boasting of design they happen to like.

I bought some really cheap flatware on Amazon that was not very study at all. One of the knives bent when I was cutting a steak that wasn't even tough. Another cheap set I read reviews for I didn't purchase because people complained about a metal taste and it rusting after being put in the dishwasher. Yuck.

But I think you hit the point of what they call in economics "diminishing marginal returns" for flatware at a pretty low price point, certainly below $10 a piece. And now with the internet where you can read reviews of flatware sets, you can more easily hit that sweet spot.

However, the best is finding the really expensive stuff at garage sales since a lot of people get it as gifts and never use it.

The threshold point is a good one, here. I think there's always a way to maximize the curve: getting the best quality fork you can find given your budget, needs, propensity of friends to start a spoon band, etc.

To use Moxie's bike example, I wouldn't want to ride a rusty POS that's difficult to pedal and falls apart at every intersection any more than I'd want a five-figure custom carbon fiber jobbie that will be stolen if I blink too long.

Identify your variables. Maximize the curve.

Definitely agree with this. I ride a crappy bike I've been meaning to upgrade (it's heavy, rusted and tends to need lots of repairs), but the upside is no one's gonna work very hard to steal it. I'm loath to give up that peace of mind.

For the same reason I was reluctant to upgrade my old, slow Dell netbook to a MacBook Air but I ultimately decided the tradeoff was worth it (big productivity gain). It depends on the object, what you do with it and how big of a difference quality makes. An expensive fork or spoon obviously doesn't justify itself, but to a point, a chef's knife might.

My Global G-2, 8" chef's knife was not cheap, but it makes chopping shallots and tomatoes a joy. It's it by far better than the cheap crap you'd pick up at a department store.

However, spending an extra $1,500+ for a Bob Kramer 8" Carbon Steel Damascus Chef's Knife by Zwilling J.A. is not going to make a wild difference in my amateur chef'ing. And I would probably have an aneurysm every time it slipped and clanged off a mixing bowl.

So, I had a small spoon get scratched pretty badly by the dishwasher grinder the other day. On the back, still pretty useful, except for one detail: being scratched, it could hold much more bacteria for much longer. And though it could have been stainless steel, it wasn't underneath.

Furthermore, silver silverware, which is expensive, is very clean because it kills germs so well.

Silver silverware on the other hand, has to be polished by hand. This is not only time consuming but exposes you to harsh chemicals which probably negate any health benefit you get from not being exposed to (mostly harmless) bacteria.

Anything you put in the dishwasher is going to come out more or less sterile anyway.

> exposes you to harsh chemicals

Why not go the old-school way and use baking soda and lemon juice/vinegar? Organic!

> Anything you put in the dishwasher is going to come out more or less sterile anyway.

Dishwashers don't get nearly hot enough to properly sterilize, and they definitely won't sterilize the parts that most need sterilization -- deeply nicked flatware, for example.

Furthermore, I have no dishwasher.

There is some really shitty flatware on the market. My old roommate bought a cheap set that had handles constructed entirely from plastic. The connections between the plastic handles and the metal "heads" would often break.

I bought my current set at a restaurant supply store. It was really cheap and is really durable.

Yes. My kitchen is full of bent spoons, probably mostly from trying to serve ice cream that was too cold, although they predate me here, so I'm guessing. I've broken plastic forks innumerable times. A couple of hours ago, I cut the wrapper of the butter without meaning to, because I was using a steak knife to carve off a chunk. And, yeah, there's plenty of silverware that just doesn't feel good in your hands.

Flatware failure modes I've experienced:

1. Fork tines get bent into an uncomfortable pattern.

2. The side of a spoon accumulates rough scoring damage which is uncomfortable to the lips.

3. Bending

4. Rust

5. Breaking entirely

Cheap plastic forks and knives. Though in the food not so much in the mouth.

If forced to decide between Dustin's reality and Moxie's, I think I'd chose Dustin's. A world made up of overly-reviewed, pretentious gadgets slightly edges out a utilitarian, post-apocalyptic, hellscape Bartertown where people scavenge through wreckage looking for makeshift utensils and clothing. I picture oil drum fires.

Thankfully, I am not limited by those choices. I can continue to do what I already do, which is decide the level of attention that things require of me, optimize the ones I choose to, and not spend inordinate amounts of time fretting about the others.

When you say "utilitarian, post-apocalyptic, hellscape Bartertown where people scavenge through wreckage looking for makeshift utensils and clothing", you mean Wal Mart, right?

Don't be ridiculous, the post-apocalyptic, hellscape Bartertown will still provide health benefits for it's employees; they're not monsters.

That second scenario sounds great to me. Reminds me of Burning Man. You'd be surprised what tools you can cut out of a gallon jug.


Who is scavenging through wreckage? Moxie mentioned buying used at a thrift store, which many many people do out of necessity anyways. And believe it or not, oil drum fires are a pretty infrequent occurrence.

"Any reasonable person wouldn’t feel liberated by a $50 fork, but constrained by it. One wouldn’t be able to help but worry: is it being cared for correctly, is my friend going to mess it up when absentmindedly tapping the table with it, is it going to get dropped or stepped on if a dance party erupts in the kitchen? After all, it is the perfect fork, what if something happened to it to make it… not perfect?"

This is why, whenever I get something new and "perfect", I damage it in some slight way (nothing that hurts the functionality or will ultimately destroy the product). Every car I've owned gets a nick in the paint to remind me that it's just a "thing" and not to take it too seriously.

Indeed. I don't intentionally damage new things, but people are often surprised that I don't agonize over keeping my phone, car, or laptop looking brand new. The idea of a scratched Honda sort bothers people, but idea of a scratched Audi makes people crazy. Why waste your energy worrying about this?

A Audi with some scratches is a very nice car, and an iPhone with some scratches is a very nice phone.

> [the] idea of a scratched Audi makes people crazy. Why waste your energy worrying about this?

Because other people worry about it when buying a used Audi. And the obscene cost to repair auto paint. A carelessly placed shopping cart or thoughtless lean against the car in riveted jeans can cause thousands of dollars of damage.

But then you may end up worrying about scratching anything you own. Your phone, your leather lounge, your car, etc.

I guess there is a line-in-the-sand, probably around some dollar-value. I don't care if I scratch the aluminium case of my iPad, but I do mind if I scratch the paint of my relatively new car.

My parents-in-law are protective of their lounge. I don't mind. But I let my kids go crazy jumping on my own lounge, because I don't mind that either.

I fon't think resale value is why most worry about it, but ptobably some. If scratches decrease resale value so much, it seems those in the market for a luxury car should seek out a scratched one.

There's the rub -- dent/paint repair costs dealerships next to nothing. They often have a guy on staff to do it. So dealerships won't sell scratched/dinged luxury cars, they'll repair them for pennies and mark them up.

bumperless/caseless iPhone. Living on the edge!

New carpet is a big one, with people that insist not wearing shoes on it. If I do put new carpet in a house one day I will be making an effort to treat it exactly the same as the old stuff I have been using.

Kind of depends on the use case doesn't it? If you buy new carpet for a house that you are going to own for another five years, sure, step in an oil puddle and walk all over it. But if you have replaced the carpet to sell the house then it might make sense to tread lightly.

Could it be possible that there is a spectrum of choices which represent a trade-off between cost and quality? What if both authors took an already understood and practiced idea in our culture and took it to an absurd extreme? Every person will desire different quality for different items. Even Dustin Curtis doesn't get "the best" of all of his items. He says that he does, but if you keep reading, what he really means is getting "the best for him." That's what everyone does.

People just pay for as high of a quality as is justified to them by the price. Assuming perfect knowledge, that's theoretically what all consumers do. Different people desire different quality for different items, and have different amounts of money.

I love listening to music at work, so I did a lot of research and got a nice pair of $150 headphones with a $30 headphone amp. They're wonderful. Well, well worth the purchase price to me. Could I have paid $1500 dollars and gotten a higher quality set of headphones? Sure. But who the fuck would spend $1500 on headphones? It just wasn't justifiable to me. Some people will buy the $1500 headphones. Some people will buy the $15 headphones. None of these people are following some abstract philosophy. They're just regular consumers in a capitalist society, buying what makes the most sense for them.

This. Both articles seemed extreme to me, and then again, only the extreme will really make it to the front page. If you rewrote this comment in a blog post and titled it "The Middle-Point", it wouldn't make front page, because it's just plain obvious.

Buy what fits at the right point in the spectrum for you, and move on with your life.

> I love listening to music at work, so I did a lot of research and got a nice pair of $150 headphones with a $30 headphone amp.

I was looking into this very same thing yesterday, I'd be very interested in knowing what you decided on for the headphones and amp, or even particularly useful websites for research. (And does an amp make a big difference in your opinion?)

I was looking at a bit of a lower price point, around ~$80 or so in case you happened to accidentally soak up some information about that price point while you were at it, but I'm not really financially constrained at all so if you truly do get noticeably better performance a bit higher up I wouldn't mind spending the money. (Aesthetics are also rather important to me, for no particularly good reason since I'd never leave the house with them.)

I got the Audio Technica ATH-M50s headphones with a Fiio E11 amp. I don't think the amp makes a huge difference, but it does make some difference. For a lot of my research, I read reviews and opinions on head-fi.org and its forums. I picked the ATH-M50s because they seemed to have comparable sound quality of headphones in the ~$300-$400 range, but were reasonably priced. With the amp, they also have a good amount of bass. With and without the amp, they sound very clear, especially high up. This is the first "good" set of headphones that I have owned, so my ability to compare is limited, but I think they sound a lot better than the Bose noise-cancelling ones, and those sound pretty good to me.

Yes, from the research I did the M50's were maybe the most mentioned model....I was just having a bit of trouble pulling the trigger on the $150 price tag.

I have a feeling I'm going to end up with the Koss Pro DJ100, they're supposed to be pretty fantastic for ~$50.

One guy likes a set of dinnerware. One guy doesn't care about dinnerware. Religious war ensues.

...and everyone focuses on the dinnerware when really they were just examples held up in each author's actual point. A completely absurd amount of time and words have now been spent discussing a message that apparently nobody actually comprehended.

Two households, both alike in strength of opinion over spoons.

You're in a mood. This thread finally break you?

Where be these enemies? Spoonians! Antispoonians!

See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.

For some of us it is performance, for others, patronage. They are two sides of the same spoon, or, let us say, being as there are so many of us, the same side of two spoons.

I recently got into road biking and had to a road bike which can get quite expensive. I wasn't sure I would really stick with the sport in the long term so I bought a bike on the cheap end off bikesdirect.com. I have no doubt were a seasoned road biker to try my bike they would be frustrated by the overall quality of the ride. Because I'm a newbie, however, I have never ridden anything of better quality to compare it to, so it feels awesome to me. The point is, sometimes it's easy to forget that the worst products in a given category are still high quality, and that the premiums you pay for more expensive products give you diminishing returns. You end up having to trick your brain into believing the more expensive product is giving you increased value proportionate to the extra cost.

After years of having cheap, shitty can openers that made it a pain to do the task, I spent 20 minutes looking it up and bought the best that I could find on Amazon. While I may never figure out how to service it if something happens to it (the thought!), it has worked pretty well so far. Cans are opened with little to no effort. It stays out of the way, it does exactly the task it was designed for, and it does it well.

I think you're just hitting on a case where cheaper stuff is substantially less useful than more expensive stuff. One of the issues with "The Best" was how poor of an example flatware is at doing that.

Also, cost and utility are a sliding scale. There isn't "the best" and "the worst" and nothing in between. In fact, it's usually the stuff in the middle that makes the best trade offs between cost and functionality.

I thought the point of the article was that regardless of the cost of the item, you should try and get the best object you could possibly get.

I find it amusing that the article actually attacked the cost of the object not the utility. There seemed to be some sort of fear of the money lost if that object failed them. Moxie seems to think that if he spent 50 dollars on a single set of utensils he would be seemingly enslaved by them.

The original post was not about being enslaved by your possessions it was about not having to worry about them fulfilling their function. I could buy a cheap set of stainless steel utensils and watch them tarnish as well as leaving a metallic taste in my mouth (hypothetical utensils). Sure they may have saved me money, but was it worth it?

I can buy the worst car, be late to my meeting and lose my job. I can buy the worst computer and not only be frustrated by my computing experience but also question how long it will be until I need to replace it.

You never ever want to buy the worst, you /may/ not always want to buy the best

Thee "best" and "worst" are subjective. You need to define criteria for what makes something the best. In Dustin's case maybe it was the total blend of style and function. But for many people, that isn't what makes it the best. The best may be the one that has intricate designs and costs a huge amount of money to manufacture. The rarity, design, and expense makes it the best.

I agree, because some may think the best is a tool that does as much as possible, and others may think the best is a tool perfectly suited for a particular task. Some people swear by multi-tools and swiss army knives, but other people hate them.

The finest hand-cranked can openers you can find are about $20 and will last forever without worrying about servicing it. Then you spend another $20.

The author of this linked article has made an error: he assumes dcurtis' flatware is inordinately expensive. It is not; traditional flatware really is absurdly expensive.

Much of the author's article is based on this assumption. I'd suggest he familiarize himself with "wedding gift"-style flatware. Then do a rewrite because I think there is a good argument still to be had.

I don't know where you shop, but the "traditional flatware" of my people is whatever was cheap enough at the department store. Our rich native customs dictate that we spend $15 on a set, and then use it until there are not enough non-bent spoons, and then to spend another $15.

Thus resulting in an endless stream of quick-decaying stuff from china to your home.

And a hundred round-trips to the department store, if you apply that to everything in your life.

I hate to tell you this, but expensive spoons bend just as easily as inexpensive ones, and cost more to replace.

Some things really are consumable items. There's no t-shirt on earth that is going to last beyond about 200 wash cycles.

You obviously haven't bought many different spoons, and price is irrelevant. I can buy a well-made spoon from the Salvation Army store for less than a spoon made from pressed sheet metal available at a retail store.

1. Best doesn't always mean more expensive

2. That's not entirely true. Depending on the material and design some are very, very hard to bend

3. I have a t-shirt I bought in 2006 that is still going strong :)

I thought the author was suggesting that maybe flatware isn't worth that much. There being a bunch of expensive flatware in existence is just a straw man's rebuttal to the point that affordable flatware works just fine.

I think cutlery is probably the worst possible example to illustrate the argument. The cheapest cutlery you can buy is still works 90% as well as the best, and they last approximately forever. I've never in my life been eating something and noticed the quality of the cutlery.

I think a better example would be dress shoes. The cheap versions are uncomfortable and wear out all the time, where as a good pair of leather shoes should last so much longer they probably end up being cheaper in the long run.

Precisely. I know it's fiction, but Terry Pratchett sums it up nicely in "Men at Arms":

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

That might not be too far off. I actually already posted a comment regarding boots, but I know people with $400 boots that last 6+ years under hardcore/milaage whereas the $100 cheap boots give out once a year...and I'm not talking about worn out soles.

Do you not eat a lot of soup, or have you just never used a truly excellent soup spoon? Has it not occurred to you to replace your butter knives with something that has an actual blade on it, or do you just take for granted that we set places with pointless little paddle tools next to the forks?

I own $10 dinnerware (and very cheap shoes) but the notion that fine dinnerware is the reductio ad absurdum of materialism gets to me. But we cook a lot, and nerds tend to eat out, so maybe that's what's going on.

To illustrate: I wore nothing but cheap combat boots from 10th grade until last year (now I wear cheap slip-on dress-like shoes) and never once noticed any downside to it. I'm at the same time well aware of people who spend many hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes. This observation never really drove me crazy.

I've never in my life been eating something and noticed the quality of the cutlery.

I frequently notice the disappointing cutlery in restaurants and the apartments of friends-who-don't-cook. A bendy fork or spoon with sharp edges is a genuine annoyance - definitely a first world problem, but one that's absurdly easy to solve at home by spending $20 for a set rather than $10.

I think flatware is a great example of something which makes sense to economize in the middle - "the best" is silly expensive, but since you eat every day and a set lasts decades, so you might as well avoid the low end of the quality curve. $20-$30 at Target will get you heavy, stiff, polished stainless steel.

A good chef's knife, however, should be treated like a family heirloom.

Different people have different tastes. Disbelief that others are willing to spend a bit more money on stuff (seriously, $50 for that set isn’t very expensive in the grand scheme of things) is kind of stupid. Who cares, really?

You shouldn’t be so judgmental, especially about things like that. (And this also goes in the opposite direction: If you are happy with cheap flatware, nobody should berate you for it.)

What set? It was 50 dollars for 2 forks, 2 spoons, and 1 knife. To get an actual flatware set would cost something like 500 dollars at those rates, which is really an absurd amount to spend on such trivial bullshit.

Around $500 is what you pay for some pretty normal 50 piece sets. That $50 set is by no means especially high priced.

Why is it trivial bullshit to pay $500 on a set that might last a family decades? That’s $2.80 per month (assuming it lasts for fifteen years, which would be my ballpark estimate for a high-quality set that is nearly indestructible and will mainly need replacement because pieces are lost).

Others buy a $800 TV every five years. That’s $13.33 per month. I buy a $1,200 TV every twelve years (and might soon give up on TVs altogether). That’s $8.33 per month.

Can’t you see that both are valid approaches? I can totally understand why someone would pick the cheapest flatware he or she can get. There is less cognitive load. If you buy it and it turns out to be not so great it’s not a big deal. Why can’t you see my perspective?

If you include the time he spent researching flatware in the bill it would be probably hard to find anything more expensive south of diamond-encrusted things for oligarchs without taste.

Where in the heck do you research flatware in a reliable manner? Cost is easy, but finding out that $75 fork gets scratches like a carpet in a cat factory? Who publishes that?

I'm pretty sure I bought my cutlery at Target in one of those handy service-for-4 bachelor packs and maybe my plates at Ikea because I happened to remember I needed plates and I don't hate trees enough to buy paper all the time. But damned if I did any research on it.

Is this some niche of blogging as yet undiscovered?

Dustin definitely got us to discuss his blog post, but probably not for the reason we're expecting. That blog post and this comments thread are both huge advertisements for dcurtis.

And he spends an hour or so every day eating stuff with those. Every single day (presumably). If you divide the $500 those flatwares have cost him over that time period (a few thousand days, an hour each day), it turns out it's cost him about 10 cents per hour. And yet, he (again, presumably) has been enjoying it immensely. If you can be happier by spending 10 cents (per hour), why not?

I'm not a fan of expensive clothes, but buying an expensive utility that you use everyday (chair, mouse, keyboard, shoe, fork) makes a lot of sense to me.

It costs me less than ten cents per hour to power my entire house.

You can do anything with simple math and look like an economist, but the reality is that the guy bought a $10 fork.

That literally made me chuckle out loud. Thank you.

Because you can be a lot happier spending a lot less than 10 cents an hour, and not worrying about trivial bullshit like flatware.

But if you're going to include the time he spent researching then you also have to subtract the value he created for himself by blogging about it and generating massive amounts of traffic to his blog.

for example:

Wallace Silversmiths Five-Piece "Grande Baroque" Flatware Place Setting Original:$1,240.00 NOW:$992.00

- http://www.neimanmarcus.com/p/Wallace-Silversmiths-Grande-Ba...

I agree, if the best Jacket, piece of flatware, flash light, etc is more expensive, that doesn't correlate: the overly expensive products are the "best". Which I think the writer is suggesting. Sometimes the cheaper product is the "best".

If Dustin wants to buy reliable and highly usable stuff, I don't see what the problem is. That said if it leads him to become attached to his items in an unhealthy way, that could be a problem.

What you linked to would be referred to as "formal flatware". It's a totally different market than regular flatware. You're buying it because it has some intricate design or is made from some sort of expensive material. The pricing of it is not based on functionality.

This happens in the lower end, too, but there are lots of reasonable options that are cheaper than the stuff from "The Best" article, probably hold up the same, and the marginal loss in functionality is less than the marginal change in price.

I agree, in particular "and the marginal loss in functionality is less than the marginal change in price." However, the thesis of Dustin's essay is that there are products which are worth the additional cost due to an increased (and worth while) functionality, utility and experience.

The way I see it is this:

Dustin: "I have decided to only go to the best amusment parks. For me this is Disneyland. I can afford to go once every 4 years."

The average person: "I go to about 2 amusement parks a year. Some times I have a horrible time."

But replace amusement parks with house hold goods. Dustin would rather have a few great things rather than a bunch of mediocre things.

That said, I would agree with his essay more if he didn't use the word "Best", and replaced it with "Great". Trying to find the "Best" product could quickly lead to obsessiveness and wasted time, I figure settling at "Great" would bring more happiness in the long run and be less evil.[1]

"...premature optimization is the root of all evil" - Donald Knuth

This is non-formal flatware and you can buy it in every department store in Germany: http://www.wmf.de/shop/de_de/besteck/neuheiten/besteck-set-3...

It’s also a bit more than $10 per piece. It’s not even necessary to talk about sterling silver flatware ($200 per piece).

Did you even read this article?

Sorry, just putting the word 'Best' in double quotes wasn't clear. I am using the word "Best" to be Dustin's definition. Where the author is arguing the [best] is the "worst".

schraeds you are linkdead, for no good reason as far as i can tell from your history.

I, like many others, see a lot of self-serving "founder" spam on HN and at this point it's not worth commenting on. Except for a few grossly abhorrent pock marks, it's easier to let the posts have their time on HN - if not, something else will fill the void.

Since I read "The Best" I wanted to write exactly this answer. Thanks.

I'd have added a cultural point of view: This debate is likely typically American, and Americans may have a problem with their owning stuff. I'd bet it is a perverse fascination on physical things, maybe induced by some TV/Movie propaganda.

For instance, I remember fairly well an American friend I had 5 years ago. We discussed one night long on "consumerism" and how bad it was. Then, the /next/ day, this nice clever guy bought an extremely expensive backpack filled with useless gadgets (an incorporated lighter, a water bag with a pipe so you can drink without taking a bottle out of the pocket, etc. etc.), showing it to me with tears in his eyes: it was so awesome a thing for a kiker like him!

I couldn't help remembering the "other kind of" hickers I crossed in Nepal: those Nepalese, they /walk/ from Snow mountains to India back and forth looking for work, and their "backpack" is an empty tissue thing with 2 rupees and one toothbrush inside, and they wear plastic slippers, and they sleep outside every day.

So what? So, "the Best" philosophy is both producing sometime very nice little pieces of perfection, like the iPod, and I understand why a professional designer would bend on this side. But I fear it is also pernicient and overall negative for normal people and the hole society, because it generates waste, frustration, greed, and so on...

Disc: I live in China, where the Best/Worst dialectic exists, but is obviously drawn along very different lines.

This reminds me strongly of the arguments between the "Worse is Better" and "Do The Right Thing" philosophies. Buying ridiculously cheap forks so you can treat them like they're disposable is a perfect example to me of someone living out "Worse is Better".


This reminded me of my father. Expensive things only complicated his interactions with other people, because of our ability to potentially break or abuse the object.

There is a sweet spot in-between the highest quality, and poor craftsmanship. As well as between expensive and cheap. I like to operate somewhere in the middle.

So you are an Aristotelian of sorts.

Each of my forks cost 25c. Each of my knives and spoons too. They work great.

Buy the cheapest. Use it and learn your use case. If you ever need another, you'll know which quality of tool is the right one.

While I do like the look of the perfect spoons, I am an advocate of owning the worst. Actually I make my own bowls and plates, so while they are "perfect", it is okay to smash them, as I can always make another. When folks come over for a meal, they can pick the color and shape of their plates and bowls. And yes, my "silver" does come from the second hand store. Eventually I would like to cast my own utensils too....ah, too many hobbies, not enough time.

Whenever these posts come up I question to myself whether an ideology for "stuff" is actually required, desirable, or helpful at all. They are usually thoroughly entertaining and informative, but I always leave feeling it's been therapy for the writer, a defense of their preferences whipped up into a reassuring formal-looking philosophy.

Like much writing, the damage is in the contextual assumptions imposed on the reader before the article even begins. Once you've started reading and focusing on the details of the piece, it's too late - you've unwittingly accepted the assumptions and are playing by the author's rules. In these cases, one such assumption is that an overarching, complete and consistent methodology can be applied to personal property in the first place (and that certainly if there's a good one then it can be knocked out in a few hours on a blog post...).

This is part of a larger pattern I'm falling into of scrutinously questioning the motives behind articles posted on personal blogs. I could be going in the wrong direction entirely but it seems very often to be validation-seeking behaviour, whether by submitting one's views for the approval of others, or simply that writing it all down gives it some mental gravitas to assuage personal doubts that the individual might be "doing it wrong". It certainly appears consistent with the range of submissions to Hacker News related to personal improvement (or, "lifehacking", as the internet seems to be running with these days).

Why did these authors write these two pieces? It's very difficult to analyse! If "for validation" seems a little condescending...well, I'd prefer it to the standard interpretation: "The Best" is unsubtle status-signaling, "The Worst" is equally unsubtle counter-signaling.

First and foremost, I'd like to point out that the "The Best" article seemed to be roundly attacked here on HN, with critics and defenders alike chiming in; that might be a better indicator of why it stayed on the front page for so long.

Second, I'd like to point out that this article seems to be completely missing some of the points made, namely, when you invest in good tools you can rely on, you stop thinking about them because they just work, and you are therefore liberated to worry about more important things. Sure, you shouldn't let the things you own end up owning you, but if you have ever had something you rely on fail (and if you are working in technology, you have), you can appreciate doing research to make sure it doesn't happen again. Is this a waste of time? No. Is it stupid? No. Can it be taken too far? Yes. But it can also be taken too far in the other direction. The unexamined life isn't worth living.

BTW, partisans of the worst wouldn't get metal cutlery, they'd buy plastic and throw it out when they were done, thereby creating waste and showing how actually thinking about what you buy and whether it will last or not is a good idea.

And then somewhere in between are the partisans of "good enough" When I'm eating food I like to get as close to "The best" as I can reasonably afford (I'll spend $50 on a steak but I won't fly to Japan just to get some fresh Kobe). On most other things, "Good Engough" is a good enough. And when I buy a car, I ask myself if I'll care if the bumper get's scratched - if the answer's yes, I look for a different car.

Sometimes, it's worth it to splurge. If nothing else, think of it as investing in an experience rather than a thing, and treat yourself to a tasting menu with wine pairings at least once in your life. Take your time, smell, taste and feel every bite and every sip, and savor the moments. If you have a significant other, definitely take them.

I say try at least once, because in my experience my first one was the best (Chez TJ in Mountain View, CA). It's also bloody expensive (I usually don't do it more than once a year, and none of the other ones have been as expensive as Chez TJ). But sometimes just trying the expensive stuff (even if it's a test drive, a rental, or an experience) is worth it just to let you know what it's like, and if it's worth it to you. Or to let you know if it's just overpriced.

I think of the "middle" as a place where I put in enough energy to learn and do my research, but settle with what fits my needs both economically and ergonomically. For example, the "best" burger is the one I've learned to make on my own because it contains my favorite type of bun, meat I've ground up myself, etc. Other times I enjoy the quick fix at Carl's Jr because I'm in no mood to cook.

I've also learned that I prefer the "best" when it comes to hiking/hunting boots. The ok ones at $100 work well for a while because of their high economic value, but great ones are $300-$430 for a reason, such as having a higher heel, very aggressive tread, having lasting leather that dominates cheap boots, and being a perfect custom fit (Schnees Granite or Whites Smokejumper for example).

"But to me, “simplify” is about removing clutter"


"Partisans of the worst will get 15 sets of cutlery (out of a bucket that’s an overflowing fucking sea of cutlery)"

A massive bucket of cutlery sounds like clutter to me.

I don't think Dustin was arguing you should spend so much money on cutlery that you worry about it getting damaged/stolen, but rather the act of thinking about what you're buying will prevent you from buying low quality and unnecessary things.

I understood the bucket to have been located at a thrift store where he fished out the 15 sets that he bought.

I hope Moxie starts posting more frequently, especially if they're these these HN-popular posts, though I'd be interested in his security stuff too.


I read your "Money Machine"[1] in print and loved it. After becoming aware of your security work and browsing your website, I discovered you are the author. Small world.

My partner and I often fall asleep together listening to "Letters of Insurgents". Thank you for that!

[1] http://www.thoughtcrime.org/stories/money-machine/

Dustin's "best" philosophy: * depends upon a search for an expert designer * follows a "waterfall" process (large up front costs, infexible result) * trusts that the expert has made good decisions for you

Moxie's is a hackers approach: * A/B testing * learn what matters as you go * customise * exploration and innovation

Both strategies have different costs and benefits.

As some one who's only "best purchases" have included portable items like a good chef knife, MacBook Airs, iPhones etc over the last 10 years I agree with this whole heartedly. I've been able to live and work in 8 different countries. Experience amazing things and work with fantastic people. It frees you from all kinds of things to not have that $5000 TV, $1000 monitor and $5000 sofa.

It was big step (with a lot of fear) for me recently to buy a $180 24" monitor and a $800 Aeron chair as it implicitly makes my life less portable. I have noticed how these purchases have changed my thought patterns. Now before thinking about the future I'm actually thinking what to do with the Aeron. The funny think is that I'll hardly think twice about spending $800 on a flight.

I'm a hypocrite. Coffee, anyone?


I don't think you have to apply the same philosophy to absolutely everything in life. You can buy cheap cutlery and have nicely designed, expensive plates. As a matter of fact, a lot of people have two sets of dishes - a "best" and a "worst" because there's a time for each.

Appreciating a thing of beauty is not a bad thing. I'd add something to moxie's post: when you have already tested the worst and are intimate with it, you can choose, or find "a best." Just like you got beautiful china.

The "best"'s problem is that there is no clear "best" of almost anything. (Especially that silverware.) I think the point, though, is that buying highly-rated things tends to pay off in ways you might not be aware of, such as avoiding silverware with toxic chemicals. So let's say to buy "better" stuff.

The "worst"'s problem is he is only really concerned about the cost. Ultimately, I think this is a shift many people have as they get older and more settled - they want to buy a chair that lasts, silverware that is nice, etc. When you're 19 and moving every other year it doesn't really make sense.

> Dustin Curtis also suggests that as a partisan of the best, he is taking on the hardship of truly understanding a domain in order to identify the best consumer good within that domain.

Really? I am sure Dustin can speak for himself but I would have thought it obvious that is impossible to objectively assert that something is the best and that when you say that something is "the best", you are implicitly solving a matching problem given your constraints.

In general, I am not convinced by your case as to why getting something that you personally think is the best is so bad. Sure, there might be some people who would worry about the best getting damaged or whatever. Then again, I would argue that your matching algorithm should choose something that doesn't get damaged so easily. E.g. One of the best investments I made was in getting a pair of Shure in-ear headphones. They weren't the most expensive I could have got but they were five times as expensive as the skull candy crap that I get. Guess what though? They have lasted me 5 times as long. Sure, there has been some change in the way I handle earphones but still there are many days where I close my laptop and remove my earphones and leave the entire setup on my bed and go to sleep.

Having said this, I get the idea that the cognitive load created by having to make decisions about what to buy can be annoying at times. I have been putting off the decision of buying a bike because there is so much research to do.

I'm not sure either of these positions (the best or the worst) is really important. But it's absolutely important to be satisfied with your life, including what you "have". Just for the record, my favorite piece of flatware is a titanium spork from ThinkGeek.

And there's a lot more to owning "stuff" than anyone generally thinks about. So as I age, I'm actually finding that I want less stuff, but that the reliability of that stuff is important. The "opportunity cost" (paid for by time that you can't get back) can be high enough that it's hard to justify.

So ... things that simply "cost too much". Number one is TV/cable/satellite. It sucks time away faster than you could ever imagine. I haven't completely given it up, but I watch far less than the national average (and usually it's more about spending time with my kids). What else do you have that isn't really worth it? (my boat probably qualifies but I can't give THAT up).

I also see an issue with quality today. So much is designed to be thrown away, but I love to cobble pieces together enough to keep things working. Many devices in my house run on "Frankencords". An old computer power supply is a great source of +5V if you splice the barrel jack from a dead wall-wort to it. One of my favorite past-times is to fix things that other people have decided were junk ... just to say that I can.

I guess this is a long-winded way of warning everyone that you really can't buy happiness ... you have to find it within yourself.

I just bought a car for $1. The previous owner was frustrated by all the things that it wasn't great at. For a first car, I love the character of it, and learning how to fix, maintain, and control this beast. Like the article says, it gives me more experience and knowledge in this space, rather than reading textbook and articles about it.

In contrast, I love using LaTeX, even though it's a pain in the ass, because I know it's probably the best quality typesetting out there, and that people have spent decades perfecting it.

Look, I don't know why two extremities are battling it out like this when the reasonable and rational answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I care deeply about an item if it relates to a hobby. As a geek, I research every part of a computer I am building thoroughly. I read reviews, compare specs and prices, run it by friends on tech message boards for opinions, etc. When the time comes to play Skyrim on uber settings on the machine I built, I get more enjoyment out of it, and feel satisfied in knowing that the components in it won't melt.

Same mindset applies to my other hobbies. I always try to get the best and most reliable matches when I go cross-country backpacking, because if a storm comes and I need to light a fire, I want to make sure the matches won't fail me. Last month I bought a new set of tires for my commuter bike, and I did actually get the most tires because for the types of trips I make, it matters.

In contrast, I don't give a crap about things that don't relate to hobbies. I moved to a new apartment recently and was in need of a new trash bin. I went to the nearest Walmart (conveniently located across the across the street) and purchased the cheapest one that had a lid. Had I done more research, I might have gone with a metal one that had a mechanism for securing the trash bag in place, but I don't care. Here's why: a trash can is not something I want to be proud of.

This piece works well as a study in the absurdity of Dustin Curtis's thesis. That said, I can't help but observe myself leaning to The Best in some areas and The Worst in others.

For example, our cutlery drawer is full of decent, generic Ikea cutlery - except for a few random pieces that we have accumulated over the years, including an oddball fork and a couple of oddball spoons. I find myself actively avoiding using those oddball pieces because I don't like how they feel in my hand or my mouth. To that extent, I can appreciate just how much hedonic benefit comes from using cutlery that feels "right".

On the other hand, my bicycle is well over 20 years old and looks like a piece of garbage. In fact, it was actually retrieved from the garbage several years ago by a friend, who passed it on to me when he heard that my bike had just died. It's heavy and ugly, but these are features, not bugs: the heaviness means I get a better workout riding it, and the ugliness means it's less likely to be stolen when I park it downtown.

In short, both approaches to choosing consumer durables have their uses, and it's silly to elevate either to the level of a philosophy of living.


See also: http://www.jwz.org/doc/worse-is-better.html

As different as these two attitudes are, I'll stick up for Dustin Curtis by pointing out one thing he expressed in his post: the pleasure of owning a small number of things.

If I keep a small number of possessions, and their total value is a small fraction of the money I have in savings, I don't need to be too concerned about preserving them. I can easily replace anything that is damaged, lost or stolen, so these occurrences don't have to be a huge source of stress.

I like the idea of being able to go through everything I have and organize, clean and maintain all of it, say, once a week. If that's too much of a burden, that's a sign that I have too many things. Thinking in these terms also makes it very easy to give away things to lighten this load.

This thinking is partly informed by my experience maintaining software. Running and writing software means constantly keeping it up to date. New standards and new versions of dependencies are constantly being published, and security flaws are constantly being found, as Moxie Marlinspike certainly knows. Code needs to be updated to keep up with these things in order to be considered well-maintained or secure. Minimizing that burden gives you a better chance of keeping the quality high.

Most things that you can buy used are already so much better than the worst product you can buy new, but at a similar price. If you make the effort to bring something to the thrift store, donate it or put it on ebay, it shows that you believe it to be too good to throw away. This is usually stuff that has already seen some use (e.g. clothing that has been washed a few times) and is still OK, as opposed to shitty stuff you buy that breaks soon.

These are the ways you guys choose to buy your stuff. Cool. Still, I dislike ideas that you should 'always' do something, always buy best, always buy worst.

I'll take time, care (and my limited funds ;) ) to research and buy what's best if I think research will be fun. Or interesting. Or useful in the future. Or the item is somehow important to me (and the spoon sure as hell is not). Otherwise - first thing that seems to be good enough should do just fine.

I put on the song "Wing$" by Macklemore (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAg3uMlNyHA) right before I started reading "The Worst" completely by coincidence but the similarities in subject matter are striking:

"We are what we wear, we wear what we are

But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all

Will I stand for change, or stay in my box

These Nikes help me define me, but I'm trying to take mine, off"

The right answer I'd bet, is, as it so often is, "yes and no." Both this and "The Best" are extreme points of view, and extremes never strike me as particularly realistic. There's a happy medium for pretty much everything.

I've never found too much trouble in judging how much research and care I need to put into any given purchase. How often will I use it? How long do I want it to last for? Is it likely to break? How much will I care if it does break? There's a limit to this of course, I don't go to Curtis' lengths. Not enough hours in the day. I have put a reasonable amount of care into buying a good laptop, desk, piano, headphones etc though. These are important to me. The list isn't particularly long.

For just any old thing (including, I would say, cutlery), I have a rule-of-thumb that's served me well: never buy the cheapest, always the second-cheapest. The cheapest of any particular thing so often has had an incredible number of corners cut, but the next one up is usually just fine.

> both ideas and material possessions should be tools that serve us, rather than things we live in service to

I think dustin and moxie are talking about different things. For me, the philosophy behind "The best" is exactly that: you don't need to worry that your friends will step on your cutlery, because it's strong enough to not get damaged. You don't worry about replacing it because of rust or wear, etc etc (enough with cutlery).

By going for "the worst" you end up with a lot of crap that you don't really use or care about. It's what almost everybody does. The opposite means buying only what you need; the best == expensive, so you'll buy less.

The author also dismisses the environmental effect of this mentality; millions of people buying buckets of 50-cent crap every couple months equals a fuckload of plastic waste. This is preaching consumerism, and I'm surprised by how many people fall for it.

Who is using plastic? Not spending obscene amounts of money on things does not mean buying disposable.

Any reasonable person wouldn’t feel liberated by a $50 fork, but constrained by it. One wouldn’t be able to help but worry: is it being cared for correctly, is my friend going to mess it up when absentmindedly tapping the table with it, is it going to get dropped or stepped on if a dance party erupts in the kitchen? After all, it is the perfect fork, what if something happened to it to make it not perfect?

The flaw here is assuming getting "the best" also means it has to remain "perfect."

I tend to err towards the higher quality and (usually) more expensive side in my long term purchases but have no qualms about treating them as I would anything else. My 2 week old retina MBP has a funky dent in it now, for example. It's still a great notebook! And so would a $50 dinner set remain an excellent dinner set, even if someone did chip or tarnish it.

I somehow missed this post of his, but you are spot on and rightfully disgusted with both his post and HN reaction to it.

Stuff doesn't make you more free, it enslaves you. The stuff you have, more you need to care about it. Thoreau would be horrified :) ( Said he writing on macbook air, simbol of cult of stuff)

I'm surprised nobody here has yet mentioned Fight Club...

      "The things you own, end up owning you"

Or Erich Fromm, or Marc Aurel... etc., etc.... learn from the best or stfu, seriously. Both blogs should be shot.

I loved this. I admit I did not read Dustin's article, but it sounds like it could have been any one of thousands of fawning techno-fetishist blog posts made over the years.

I think an interesting thing that Moxie touches on tangentially, is that life does not go as planned; things break. Everything breaks, in fact. Learning to recover from failure is often more important (and personally rewarding) than learning to use the tool in the first place. You may choose to get better tools, but given time and use, these too will eventually fail.

Operating with the understanding that everything fails, allows us to be more flexible and pragmatic in our decisions and planning. Assuming that something will never fail only ensures that a disaster will eventually happen, and that you will be unequipped to handle it.

Dustin's article was worth a read. It was as enlightening to his perspective as this article was to it's author.

Everything fails, but poorly made things fail in less predictable manners.

Really this is a false dichotomy. Anyone who always buys the best everything or the worst everything is missing a whole lot of nuance.

Perhaps one ought to compromise on a "minimum viable fork."

One of my favorite song lyrics of all times:

"I've been losing lots of keys lately, I don't know what that means But maybe I've been better off with things that can't be locked at all"

I'm a happier person when I am using things that I don't worry about breaking or being stolen than I am taking care of nice things.

It's the classis "Worse is Better" debate, lived out via consumer objects instead of lisp and c.

Paging Richard Garbriel to Hacker News...


Reminds me of Fight Club's Palaniuk "sofa citation":

You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you. ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 5

As my friend Phelan put it: "The Best" and "The Worst" are both fascinating reads, although, in my opinion the authors completely missed the point. Here is my three-sentence rebuttal.

The point is not to place one’s possessions upon pedestals, only to bring them down for special occasions. In the same respect, appreciating something is not synonymous with being owned by it.

The point is to respect one's possessions, because they are the tools that enrich your life.

Why do I get the feeling that dcurtis' friends are going to endlessly chide him whenever they go out for dinner?

I wish one of my friends would write an anecdotal story like that.

Can "the best" (or worst, for that matter) even exist without the element of subjectivity? In other words, is there a fixed set of quantifiable and objective measures for anything one purchases? Across how many attributes could you rate a set of kitchen utensils? I get "the fastest runner in the world" or the "top-ranked college basketball team in 2012" -- but the words "best" and "worst" rely on a person's [subjective] opinion.

I like Ikea tables, dishes, and flatware because I can smash them into tiny bits and chuckle while I work, but they serve their purpose as well as any ten-times-as-expensive model of the same thing.

I think there's a threshold effect relative to the longevity and expense of material goods. It's better to buy durable goods with quality, but it's silly to buy consumables with the same strictures because they inevitably will be consumed.

Here is the discussion for The Best: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4755470

I think this can best be illustrated with drinking wine.

Some people have to have the perfect Amarone at precisely 21 degrees celsius in exactly those specific glasses in order to feel it's a good wine experience.

Other people, while they appreciate the same as the first group of people, can still enjoy a powerful wine a little to cold in whatever glass and still feel it's a great experience.

Quality of life really is about what you want it to be.

Forks and knives might not be the best examples here, but buying "the best" (as in the most likely to last the longest, has a generous warranty, and is relatively simple to repair) is often sound financial planning. It tends to be a more expensive outlay at the beginning, but it sure beats the disposable "planned-obsolescence" stuff we're usually suckered into buying.


Check out "Paradox Of Choice" by Barry Schwartz. It deals with this very subject but defines the two groups as "maximizers" and "satisficers".

Here is a good overview by the author at TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_ch...

ISBN-13: 978-0060005696


I would never give up my keyboard with cherry blues. But if I happen to be in a situation where my "best keyboard" is unavailable I will hack with whatever idiotic input device I manage to get.

Same is with the ceramic knife, and everything else. I like the best, but I never allow myself the illusion that it is irreplaceable.

It seems that Dustin Curtis and Moxie Marlinspike between them has re-invented "trading up": http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/12/08/acting-dead-trading-up-...

Thank you, that is a really interesting article, and appropriate for this period of my life.

I see a difference between having the worst flatware but the best laptop (I've used Apple for over 20 years and I'm perfectly content with it). By buying a reliable brand that I have experience with, I save a bunch of time.

All in all, I agree with the OP's article.

There's a new subreddit for this "Best" thing: http://www.reddit.com/r/buyitforlife

Some people just need expensive stuff to feel good, others don't. Whatever. Don't question the other's way of living and just be happy with your's.

Why is everyone telling me how I should live and what I should buy or not buy in order to maximize my happiness?

You're a consumer, fella, better get used to it.

To me the worst set of cutlery is not from the thrift store but a set made of lead.

And the winner for The Most Ambiguous Title of the Year Award is...

sounds like they are both optimising for value

Yes if you re-frame the whole discussion as pay for value then the concept of best or worst is irrelevant. What additional value does expensive cutlery provide over the bargain bin equivalent? Surly durability and use are comparable so it comes down to a subjective valuation of aesthetics. At the same token springing for quality stainless steel cookware can provide a lifetime of service vs. the cheap stuff.

Ah, what a fking wonderful nice philosophy. We should show the world that humans matter more than things.

They may disagree, but they're trying to convey the same message. And both of them are IMO way too extreme about it.

What both Curtis and Moxie seem to want is to not have to think or worry about their possessions after they bought them. You can do this by buying "the best" so you won't have to worry about breaking[1], or you can do this by buying the (cheap) "worst", so you won't have to worry about breaking. If you get "the best", you'll have the added benefit of them being extremely pleasant to use, but a second hand fork eats just fine, too.

And IMO, they're both "consumerism", though someone may correct me if the following is not exactly consumerism, but something else:

> Partisans of the worst will get 15 sets of cutlery (out of a bucket that’s an overflowing fucking sea of cutlery) for fifty cents at the neighborhood thrift shop, and as a result, won’t have the slightest reservation if five of their housemates simultaneously decide to start a band that uses nothing but spoons for instruments. Partisans of the worst won’t give a shit if someone drops a dish while people are hanging out in the kitchen. They can push their crappy bicycle to the limit without worrying if it gets scratched — without even being too concerned about it getting stolen.

Ugh. This is absolute bullshit. I used to feel this way, up to my first few years of college, but then I grew up.

If how much you paid for an object is the biggest factor in how much you care whether it breaks or not, isn't that consumerism too? At the very least it's disrespectful. At least Curtis cares about the things he owns.

See it's fine if you buy cheap dishes because you like to throw the type of parties where things sometimes break. In fact it'd be stupid to get expensive AND fragile dishes. But that's a whole different POV than when you buy dishes because you can just break them, Moxie makes it sound like he already stopped caring about such items the moment he bought them.

(also, it's nice to own some plates that share the same design. You can't really cook up a beautiful meal and then serve it up on heterogeneous plates--but that's a matter of taste)

You can also get plastic camping dishes. They may be ugly but they will not break. Same for cups. You'll have ugly plastic things in your cupboard drawers FOREVER!

And the few people I know that will say to get the most shitty bike possible so they won't care if it gets stolen, I usually want to slap in the face when I ask them where they would acquire such a bike. Invariably on the street, for 10 euros, from a junkie. Not saying the author would do that, but a real second hand bike costs at least 10x that much, which is more than I would not care about getting stolen.

He does address this later in the essay, but I think he still misses the point:

> Some amongst the best will resort to a resources perspective and say that in this increasingly disposable world, it’s refreshingly responsible for those of the best to be making quality long-term buying decisions. But we’re a long way away from a shortage of second-hand forks in the global north — let’s take care of those first.

Because that still sounds to me like he treats cheap second-hand forks as disposable. And makes a mockery of the "Green" in the title of that section, we're also a long way from a shortage of plastic shopping backs.

Now most forks don't break easily. They just become increasingly shitty. Especially the half metal / half plastic ones that will come apart a bit but are still perfectly serviceable as a fork. Those ones are the absolute worst. I bet even most thrift stores throw them away.

Sorry if this post might just seem overly critical at Moxie, I have similar (yet opposite) problems with Curtis' post.

[1] as far as I can judge from the pics, nothing short of a disc grinder would damage those expensive spoons.

Halfway through reading this I closed it with two conclusions:

1. Thank God I didn't read "The Best".

2. Why the hell am I reading this.

I don't have the energy to have such a trite opinion, let alone read a thousand words about it from someone else. I hate these pithy comments but this stuff feels like "Hacker Drama", not "Hacker News".

Now you made me wonder why I read almost the whole omment thread, additionally to two posts that both didn't really make a lot of sense to me.


SO MUCH THIS. fuck yes.

preach on brother marlinspike!

Glad I had a chance to read this today.

A large portion of the HN readership are DIRTY HIPSTERS whose support of well defined, but gimmicky ideas often leaves me at a loss for words. Much as the fork example from the article.

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