Telling You What's Good

Archive for September, 2011

Value vs. Expense (part 1)

The value of something – its worth to you – versus its cost is a crucial part of our philosophy. We enjoy the good things in life, but make no mistake – great expense does not necessarily bestow a great product or experience. Certain things have a universal or absolute price – for example, you will never find a transatlantic plane ticket for less than, say, a DC to New York or London to Paris train, but if you want to fly across oceans, this is something you must face. Do you really want to go from New York to London?  Then your options are limited and there’s not much you can do about it, so if you can afford it you will probably say “Screw it, it’s $1000 a ticket, but I really want to go. So be it, evil airline, here’s my money.”

On the other hand, many other things are greatly variable – You can buy a $20 pair of jeans or a $200 pair of jeans (possibly $2,000 but then you’re a total sucker and beyond our help). Is that $200 pair necessarily better than $20? No. It may be a bit more durable and stylish, but this is not to say a cheaper pair of jeans, or indeed anything, is by rule inferior.  Can I afford $200 jeans? Yes.  Would I ever buy them? No, because I’m not an idiot, and even though I can afford them, I would derive no greater utility than from a pair far less – I do not highly value expensive jeans.  Does that mean you’re an idiot if you bought $200 jeans?  While I’m inclined to say yes, you might not be. You might genuinely derive greater utility out of $200 jeans than I do. (Perhaps you hang out with billionaires who only wear haute couture and will mock you mercilessly if your socks aren’t made of gold thread and your jeans sewn by French maidens in a convent outside Paris.  Perhaps that’s a justification for buying $200 jeans.  Perhaps you need new friends, but that’s another subject…).

It comes down to knowing what you want, knowing the range of what things cost, and whether what you want is worth said cost. Let me give another example: I’m a car fanatic, and I love high-end, high performance cars. This does not mean, however, that I lust after the most expensive cars for the sake of them being expensive – a Porsche 911 S is cheaper, but arguably better performing than the 911 4S, and is considerably cheaper and more attractive than other options, such as the 911 Turbo.  One of the main reasons I like the 911 so much is because of its beautiful styling.  Of these three, the Turbo is the most expensive and in some people’s mind the most desirable, and indeed in terms of absolute performance it is superior. Compare the aesthetics however:

Non-Turbo

Turbo. Ick.

The Turbo has a rather nasty spoiler and large side air intakes that ruin the fluid, clean lines of the original car, thus ruining it, despite costing tens of thousands more. If someone were to give me money for the Turbo, and said “you must spend some of it on a Porsche,” I would firstly thank them profusely (WBH encourages politeness), then buy the 2S, because it has everything I want in a 911, and would pocket the remaining cash. Not only is the Turbo not worth the extra money (I mean really, it’s not as if you can drive it at top speed anywhere), but it’s also a question of taste, and the Turbo defiles the subtle beauty of the original.

Keep in mind these are my preferences, and while this example uses something out of reach of most people (the author included), I know what I want, I know the range of options, and I know that the highest option is not worth it. At this point it’s a question of: “Well, do I think it’s worth spending X amount on it?”  This applies as equally to jeans as to cars, or indeed as to anything. Ultimately buying something is your decision, but always think in terms of what you want/need, whether X product satisfies those desires, and whether it’s worth the cost.

Stay tuned for part 2 on reasons why spending more (though not always the most) can be better.

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Killer Kicks: Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66

Photo from the Onitsuka Tiger Store

Not the damn Kill Bill shoe.

Possibly the greatest sneaker/trainer ever – the Mexico 66 by Onitsuka Tiger, a brand of ASICS, shown here in the ultimate color scheme.  While you may think this is the Kill Bill shoe, think again, the Mexico 66 predates that one (the Tai Chi) by quite a bit and looks far more awesome.  Created in 1966 for the Japanese team to wear at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the design has stood the test of time and appears to have made a serious comeback in the whole retro-sneaker craze of the last decade.  Hip or not, they’re fucking incredible.  Light as a feather, ultra-comfortable, and exceedingly stylish – I’ve received innumerable compliments and have even had people start entire conversations about them.  The original color, yellow/black, inspired by a tiger’s coat, is almost impossible to find in the US (my three pairs have all come from England, both from mail order and physical shops), but numerous other color schemes are freely sold Stateside both online and in retail shops, and also look great.  Prices range from the mid $70s to mid $80s for the ones available here, considerably more (about £60 ~ $100) if you order from the UK.

Let’s face it though, you really want the yellow and black ones….

Apparently iPhones don't take clear pictures on London buses..

You got to coordinate!


El Centro DF – Mexican Excellence on 14th St

Note: The first installment in We Ball Harder’s recommendations of commercial establishments.  Unless otherwise specified, anywhere mentioned on WBH comes highly recommended, because why would we waste your time with mediocre places?

Quick: who has the best rooftop in DC, the best late night food, awesome drinks, and sweet music all in one venue?

The answer: El Centro DF, Richard Sandoval’s (Zengo, Masa 14, La Sandia) newest venue, located right next to Black Cat. You walk in on the ground floor to what looks at first like a spruced-up Chipotle, with a bare concrete floor, wooden bar tables, stools, and other wooden accents, a counter for salsa, and indeed a a menu hanging down from the ceiling over the cashier advertising tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and the like.  In the very back are stairs going downstairs, leading to the basement restaurant and tequileria, where they serve more formal sit-down food and a staggering array of agave and maguey distillates. More on that below.

(more…)


Mindblowing: Madeon – Pop Culture

I just saw this and am in awe.  Madeon, a 17 year old digital DJ on Youtube, is now officially God of Sampling Brilliance.  He calls it a mash-up, I say that’s an injustice.  This is rather THIRTY NINE songs with random snatches of each thrown in at one second and taken out at another, all creating a whole new and truly epic bouncy electro pop track.  Like Girl Talk, if Girl Talk didn’t suck.  Kudos to Madeon!

It also seems he’s done a pretty good remix of Yelle:


Great Ballers of Music: Marc Bolan of T. Rex

Fuck yes: if this song doesn’t make you rock the hell out and put a smile on your face, you have no business reading this blog and following our hallowed wisdom.  Marc Bolan, frontman of T. Rex was a rock god par excellence.  Taking his airy-fairy late 60s hippie folk band Tyrannosaurus Rex, shortening the title, adding distortion, glitter, amazing stage presence and personality, and and a simple but pervasive sense of fun, Marc Bolan INVENTED glam rock right around 1970, releasing an eponymous album that year and then the sheer masterpiece of Electric Warrior in 1971, which has unquestionably one of the greatest album covers ever:

ROCK AND ROLL!

Marc Bolan and T. Rex, who released six more albums, arguably inspired the entire glam rock movement, from Bowie to Sweet, and in turn influenced the punk movement.  We are ardent fans of the glam at We Ball Harder – it rocks hard, it’s unpretentious, you can dance to it, and it does it all with style, and Marc Bolan started it all.  Truly a legend among legends, and the world suffered a terrible loss in 1977 when he died (as a passenger) in a car crash at the age of 29.

All Hail

More brilliance (from Electric Warrior):

Also, for the guitarists out there, while Bolan played a Strat and a Flying V, both very cool guitars, he played one of the most distinctive original 1950s Les Pauls ever, a completely faded Burst with a Custom neck added later.  Sweeeet.

A baller guitar indeed.

Killer Stuff: Manual Focus and Canon DSLRs

I’m not a serious photographer, but I strongly endorse having a proper camera.  Ever want to take a picture of a castle in the distance only to have your point-and-shoot, or worse, cameraphone, focus in on the garish and embarrassing fanny-packed American tourists in the foreground, leaving your precious castle a blurry mess?  I have.  It sucks.

This can all be fixed with a little something called MANUAL FOCUS.  While you don’t need an SLR, let alone a Canon DSLR to have manual focus, you typically need something more expensive than your $150 quicky-clicky contraption.  Over here, we don’t stand by the belief that expensive is necessarily better, but we are strong supporters of buying legit stuff that works really well and will last, and just sometimes that costs more.

That being said, unless you’re still stuck in the twentieth century (or indeed the nineteenth, as some of my friends are) or miserably broke, your phone probably has a decent enough camera on it for casual snaps.  Did your friend not believe you and then take the Cinnamon Challenge, and then fail spectacularly, coughing clouds of cinnamon up into the air for the next ten minutes?*  By all means, use your phone to record the hilarity.

But sometimes you want really outstanding pictures, and a phone isn’t really sufficient, even it’s one of those newfangled 8 Megapixel ones.  While a point and shoot camera can take great pictures, your chances of photographic awesomeness are higher with a camera over which you have complete control of every aspect, such as a DSLR.  Canon is unquestionably the market leader, and I have one of their T1i models, and although it’s “entry-level” it’s Killer Stuff compared to my Canon point-and-shoot.  Nowadays, models such as that can be had used for around $500, and less on Craigslist, which in my book is a valuable investment.  Given the state of phones today, you can probably forget the point-and-shoot and just stick to your phone for quick snaps and your SLR for everything else.

* This happened a few days ago and was brilliantly amusing.  I recommend you convince your more easily-convincible friends to try it, and then enjoy about half an hour of solid laughter.


Tea: an introduction

Iraqi-style tea

Like many of you, I have a caffeine addiction.  Don’t deny it.  Are you an insufferable beast if you go a day without coffee? Can you not function until your first latte?  Do you crash in the afternoon or feel uneasy if you haven’t had any caffeine?  If you answered yes to any of those questions, congratulations, you too have a caffeine addiction!

I often need to start the day with coffee just to zap me out of “GOD DAMN IT, IT’S BEFORE NOON, GO BACK TO BED” mode, but my true addiction is tea.  I can go days without coffee and be OK, despite mornings sucking  (We Ball Harder does not endorse mornings).  But give me a couple days without tea, and usually by the second or third day, around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I’ll just stop and have a profoundly out-of-place, something-is-wrong feeling.  This has happened enough (by accident of course) that I know tea will remedy it immediately.  Comparable to the greatest endorphin rush or moment of ecstasy, a sip of tea after a few days off is a reward for enduring the punishment of being without it, which was probably your own fault because you were too busy to make some tea.  I suggest readjusting your priorities.

That being said, at We Ball Harder, as with everything, I must be specific about tea.  It can be black (my preference), oolong (interesting), green (also very nice), or white (subtle and refined yet lacking real zing), but if it’s made improperly you might as well just settle for Red Bull, Monster, Amp, Crunk Juice, or NOS.  At which point all your dignity and sense of class will be gone, so be sure to make your tea properly.

Proper tea is made from LOOSE TEA, not bags.*  Got some Lipton or Bigelow at home? Throw that shit out.   Brands, etc, will be recommended in a later post.  You also need BOILING WATER, preferably from a kettle.  Hot water from your tap or water cooler will not work.  Here is how a kettle works: You put water in it, you put it on the stove (or switch it on if electric), and when it boils (for black tea: identifiable either by whistling or lots of rumbling noise and steam emissions, or both), you pour it over your tea.  What your tea is contained in is less important.  Obviously a teapot is pretty sweet, but if you’re feeling cheeky and don’t mind the occasional tea leaf in your teeth, you can brew directly in your mug, or in a strainer fitted in your mug.  For black tea, water must be poured over the tea while STILL BOILING.  For greens, whites, etc, wait a minute or two after the kettle is taken off the heat/switched off, as the water should not be boiling.  I like my tea strong and put about a tablespoon per mug or two tablespoons per teapot, and if brewing Western-style tea, let it go for about 5 minutes.  Give it a stir, and there you have it: tea.  Some black teas can be drunk plain, others are rather strong and astringent even when brewed properly and are best complemented with milk.  Note, milk, NOT CREAM.  Cream ruins tea and once again you may as well go back for a foul, rancid, “energy drink.”  Milky tea is probably nicest in the morning (in which case coffee can sod off), though it’s excellent in the afternoon too.

Many more tea posts are forthcoming, concerning more specific types and their virtues.

For now, consider George Orwell’s masterful treatise on the subject, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”

Happy brewing,

C

*Note, certain brands of tea bags are acceptable.  For strong black tea with milk, I am rather partial to Ahmad English Tea No. 1.  Numi also do an excellent range of bagged teas, unquestionably the best I’ve had.