On Buying Stuff…

I’m always amazing how complicated people make buying stuff, at least for basic things that they use everyday or  that aren’t part of the “Buy It for Life” category of items. I’m a big fan of the BIFL sub-reddit but it’s suggestions may not always be the best & you’ll have to dig through comments to find things that are gold, or, to your subjective standard of gold.

Generally when I purchase things (in particular tech, automotive or generally expensive things) I want them to last & am usually very picky. Sometimes, you have to learn what a product’s features are first hand — that’s where window shopping comes into play. These days, most people go to Best Buy or any other big box electronics store to handle an item & are able to find it cheaper, online from a reputable resource.

For most items, I generally stick to Amazon, Newegg or physically going to MicroCenter. I generally drill my search filters down as follows, we’ll use SSDs as an example.

You’ll want to pick the largest category that best represents the item you’ll be purchasing. In this case, Amazon is usually pretty good; in some cases, it can be hit or miss (for example, automotive or scientific tools)

I then drill down further.

* Seller – Amazon.com – I’ve had bad experiences with 3rd party sellers. Their packaging, shipping times & the fact I have to share my credit card data with another party are all undesirable attributes.

* Condition – New – this gets rid of any items that are considered ‘Used’ (who would buy a Used SSD anyway?) & in some cases any items that are returns, open boxes, etc. New stuff is good – unless you don’t care, or are buying some egregiously expensive like a camera.

* 4 Stars & Up – it generally isn’t worth searching for items that have less than 4 stars. From here, your selections will get fairly limited. depending on what your buying & the quality of products that exist.

* At this point, if there is a particular brand I want to filter by, I may pick a few options. For most things, people prefer name brands they recognize. This is where you’ll have to do some research depending on the item you’re buying.

– With IT equipment, sometimes several manufacturers may use the same OEM as someone else. It may pay to do research here. From my professional experience with SSDs, you want Intel and only Intel unless you are on a budget & attempting to prove a theory, using the disk for a throwaway laptop, or as a temporary drive/scratch disk. Why? The hosting industry almost exclusively uses Intel, with Samsung coming in at a distant second.

– Lastly, if you read up on wear level indicators, Intel is generally the most consistent with providing this data. For my selections, I went with Intel, Samsung & PNY.

* At this point, what are our technical needs for this project? Let’s assume we’re going for 2.5″ drives, as these are the most common out there.

* Now, my choices are getting limited (less than 50 results) — we want something that is future proof, so we want to go with SATA III

* The rest of the filters are irrelevant (at least for this example) because you can pick any size you want. This is the final point where you will filter all your options, via the upper right drop-down: relevance, price, average customer review, or featured. I heavily prefer average customer review. This is a combination of the number of reviews & how high they are. An item with 1, 5 star review may rank higher than an item that has 2, 4 star reviews.

* At this point, which item is best & what item is good for you? Well, read your reviews & do some research. Do you want what everyone has & is proven & tested? Do you want something that is a bit more expensive, but maybe not many people have tried it?

* Lastly, I take a lot of time reading reviews, especially the negative reviews. I do my best to ignore reviews that were “gift in exchange for review”, reviews that mention packaging or shipping errors (these are generally avoidable, customer issues, or a customer misunderstand that there is a different section to leave remarks on packaging of their order. The negative reviews will tell you what you’re in store for in a worst case scenario. Many times, you’ll see the manufacturer or company reach out to individuals who are extremely unhappy providing advice and/or replacement if a customer was unable to get something working right with a product.

* After all of this, I generally attempt to make my decision. This leaves me with several (A), different (B), options (C)! You’ll want to pay attention, at least with computer hardware that you aren’t buying a ‘pack’, or a set of drives that come with any sort of special care, data services or extra things you don’t need.

* This same process can work for virtually any site & helps narrow things down easily. There are some things that, if you are unfamiliar with the item, you may need to do research, or buy a cheaper version of the item to see what things you want or don’t want/need for a given item.

For example, I want to eventually buy a camera & microphone for YouTube to record videos for lockpicking, projects I’m working on & some of the gear that I have around the house. There are many, many choices out there. But what do I need? Do I need a camera? A camcorder? Is a cellphone sufficient? There are many options out there! Some things have to be attempted before you can create an opinion on what works for you.

I really love watching YouTube reviews for some things that I’m considering purchasing, but as always, it leaves a lot to be desired. For example, even though a person reviewing a camera knows all the functionality, I may not — and may consider the layout of a camera less than optimal. These are all things to think of when purchasing items online.

A good example that shows how purchasing an item can be very involved & personal is bags People love bags. I recently ran into this issue a while back myself — when I went to Hackers on Planet Earth, everyone had a bag they liked, that had cool patches, held all their gear & seemed to have a spot for everything! I needed one too! But how do I go about getting a bag? How do I determine what is good material & what fits my needs?

I know that I wanted something predominately black, red or gray. I know that I wanted something that had a chest strap or harness. It had to have a decent amount of space (it’s a backpack, not a duffle bag or Go bag). I wanted the bag to be made of materials that would last longer than me. I knew from prior experience with range bags that most high quality range bags are made out of ballistic nylon, which is almost impossible to rip or destroy unless you have a sharp knife.

One issue I came across is not a lot of bags had a hard base. Most bags had either a soft base, or no real bag so if you drop the bag on the floor, your stuff may get damaged. I am by no means a klutzy person, but I wanted the reassurance that comes with a hard base. These types of backpacks also ride better on your back when you wear them properly.

I went & did some research & searching. This is what I ended up going with — the Milwaukee Job Site Backpack . You can read my review of the bag here. I’ll have an expanded blog post on this bag & the modifications I made to it in a later post.

One thing you’ll notice is, compared to Maxpedition or other ‘bags’ that people go with, is this bag has no real MOLLE straps — I didn’t really consider having such a system with the bag I purchased. Another negative is, the bag has no velcro for affixing patches to the bag (easily solved). The last negative I had was, due to the bag being designed for job sites, there’s extra fabric & material to hold tools such as screwdrivers, hammers & drills. None of this was necessary for my needs. But, the price (the price keeps dropping), color scheme, materials & workmanship were enough to win me over.

I may consider looking at other bags, but there are many options out there. Using some research & some of the suggestions I provided here, helped me narrow my selection to what was a good fit for me. I have two of the Milwaukee bags & I use them for my meetups & hacker conferences. They carry everything I need — and with the hard base & heavy straps, I can carry a ton of locks without having to worry about hurting myself. I consider that a big plus. 🙂