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Is Good Enough Enough?

I enjoy using good technology. I like expensive toys. I don’t have enough money to buy any truly expensive toys (whenever I buy a Lotto ticket with friends at work I joke that I’m off to look up the phone number of the nearest Lamborghini dealer but I guess I’ll never actually have a genuinely expensive toy like that!) but some people still think I have too much “invested” in technology.

Good technology comes in many different forms. I want to list and discuss a few of them here.

My wife is a food and nutrition teacher and she likes to do some fancy cooking for our fiends and family occasionally. A couple of weeks ago we decided to buy her a good quality chef’s knife. It cost about three times as much as anything similar we have ever bought in the past (about NZ$240) but it’s quite remarkable how much difference it makes.

This knife is made in Germany from some high-tech steel and it’s very sharp and nicely balanced. You can cut through stuff like ripe tomatoes with no downward force at all. It’s brilliant! I actually quite enjoy cooking myself and using a really good knife like that makes it even better.

Near the end of last year I bought myself a new car. My previous car was quite nice: a Honda Prelude with a 2.2 liter VTEC engine and four wheel steering. It had decent power in a lightweight body and handled fairly nicely. But it was a bit short of space for the family! So I got a used (because remember that I do things on a budget) Subaru Legacy B4 RSK. It has a 2 liter quad cam boxer engine with two turbochargers and an intercooler, plus a whole lot of other high performance stuff.

We also have a conventional Subaru Legacy with a 2 liter engine. But it’s like they’re two totally different cars. The B4 has double the power, very sharp handling, a nice manual gearbox and clutch, and those turbos just make it fly! I just drove it up to Christchurch and the effortless power when overtaking and great handling on the corners makes it well worth the little bit of extra fuel it uses. You do have to watch the speed though because it accelerates up to 150 ks (and lots more) in no time and you don’t even notice!

I’m writing this blog entry on my iPad. Compact laptops, tablets, netbooks, and other handheld devices have been around for a long time before the iPad and I have tried to use them on occasions. But other company’s efforts at making a truly usable tablet just don’t work. You can look at the specs and it might seem that the other devices are fine. They often have good processors, screens, cameras, lots of ports, clever little keyboards, and all sorts of other paraphernalia. But you wouldn’t want to use them.

The iPad is another example where if you aim a little bit higher you will be well rewarded. It’s like using the beautifully balanced knife, or winding up the turbos in the B4. It just makes you feel good when you use it because it’s a thing of beauty!

I never get that when I use PCs. They are usually good enough. But is good enough really enough? Why not just put a little bit of extra effort in, or spend a little bit extra, and get something that’s better than just “good enough”. It’s something that a lot of PC users just don’t get. They quite rightly say their PCs do the job. They’re good enough for them. But they fail to see that they could get more than that if they wanted to. They could break away from their mediocre PC hardware, toss out Windows, dispose of that horrendous Microsoft Office, and join the minority who have discovered there is a better way.

There’s one other point I should make here. When I refer to the idea of computer hardware and software being “good enough” I’m not referring to the computing principle of good enough (also known as POGE). That principle relates more to creating simple but extensible initial systems instead of trying to do everything from the beginning. The products which I am referring to generally don’t try to do this. In fact they often try to do everything and that’s what leads to many of the problems. Microsoft Word would be a classic example of this. By trying to do everything it ends up doing nothing properly. Many people say that Microsoft Word is good enough but it’s the very fact that it doesn’t follow the principles of good enough that makes it only good enough and not excellent! That was a very convoluted statement so I hope it makes sense!

So in summary, I guess there’s no harm in using mediocre stuff. But for me good enough just isn’t enough.

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