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.
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'.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Edit: Oooh, even better How to Spend It link: http://howtospendit.ft.com/home-accessories/5004-tableware-t...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
That is why both articles refer to the "best" being expensive and "worst" being cheap.
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  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.
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?
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.
-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.
Says the guy commenting on a website with buttons to up and down vote comments.
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.
-- shaking fist --
One of these days, Uri Geller, you'll get yours!
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.
Declaring any particular design of flatware to be "the best" seems rather silly and just boasting of design they happen to like.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Furthermore, silver silverware, which is expensive, is very clean because it kills germs so well.
Anything you put in the dishwasher is going to come out more or less sterile anyway.
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.
I bought my current set at a restaurant supply store. It was really cheap and is really durable.
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.
5. Breaking entirely
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.
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.
A Audi with some scratches is a very nice car, and an iPhone with some scratches is a very nice phone.
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.
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.
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.
Buy what fits at the right point in the spectrum for you, and move on with your life.
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 have a feeling I'm going to end up with the Koss Pro DJ100, they're supposed to be pretty fantastic for ~$50.
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
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 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
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.
And a hundred round-trips to the department store, if you apply that to everything in your life.
Some things really are consumable items. There's no t-shirt on earth that is going to last beyond about 200 wash cycles.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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?
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?
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.
You can do anything with simple math and look like an economist, but the reality is that the guy bought a $10 fork.
Five-Piece "Grande Baroque" Flatware Place Setting
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.
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.
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.
"...premature optimization is the root of all evil" - Donald Knuth
It’s also a bit more than $10 per piece. It’s not even necessary to talk about sterling silver flatware ($200 per piece).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'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).
"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 read your "Money Machine" 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!
Moxie's is a hackers approach:
* A/B testing
* learn what matters as you go
* exploration and innovation
Both strategies have different costs and benefits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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"
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.
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.
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.
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)
"The things you own, end up owning you"
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.
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.
"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.
Paging Richard Garbriel to Hacker News...
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
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.
I wish one of my friends would write an anecdotal story like that.
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.
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.
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:
All in all, I agree with the OP's article.
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, 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.
 as far as I can judge from the pics, nothing short of a disc grinder would damage those expensive spoons.
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".
Same is with the ceramic knife, and everything else. I like the best, but I never allow myself the illusion that it is irreplaceable.
SO MUCH THIS. fuck yes.