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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  February 18, 2007
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Topic category:  Other/General

These are improvements???

Another day. Another skirmish with the demons of our times. Last week, I heard from friend of 43 years and fellow observer of the human condition, Charlie Theriot. He’d called to tell me about his most recent experience with one of today’s "improved" products.

Regular readers of this column will already know that my response to any claim of "improvement" is a studied skepticism born out of repeated and, often, expensive frustration.

Still, before we proceed, I want to say that I’m foursquare for real improvement. For instance, I think that having a life span of approximately 80 years is – on the whole – better than assuming room temperature at the age of 40 or so.

I think that undergoing surgery while anesthetized is better than doing so while gnawing on a chunk of wood that’s been placed between your teeth.

I think that indoor plumbing, heat, and light are better than cursing the dark while getting up in a dank, cold cave to answer a call of nature.

My problem is mainly that, in the quest for progress, many of those responsible for "improving" things seem to lose sight of two fundamental laws of the universe that I’ve also mentioned here. To wit: "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," and "Better is the enemy of good enough."

Charlie told me about trying to change a headlight on his son’s car.

He’d thought this task would be fairly mundane and akin to what he’d done many times in the past. That is, the job would require a trip to the local parts store, spending a modest sum of money and, should anything need to be removed, the use of a screwdriver.

That idea died quickly.

Almost immediately after opening the hood, Charlie found that he couldn’t remove the old headlight. Perplexed, he consulted the owner’s manual only to find a very pointed statement that said: "Just what in the heck do you think you’re doing, stud? This isn’t your old beater and, unless you wish to learn just how it feels to be struck by lightning, you’d best call the dealer…and your bank."

Or words to that effect.

His son’s car had those headlights with that obnoxious bluish-white glow to them. Apparently, these are "improvements" over halogen (see, "hotter than the surface of the sun when touched with bare fingers") and incandescent (see: "inexpensive, but still work darned well) bulbs.

The warnings are apparently necessary because the voltages and gizzaflotchies (an automotive term) necessary to set these headlamps alight would probably scare old Tom Edison back to kerosene lanterns and guttering candles.

Charlie told me that the dealer did it safely and professionally, but the bill for parts and labor had three digits to the left of the decimal point and the first digit was greater than 1.

This, to my mind, ranks right up there with the "improvements" that’ve sent the price of ink in printer cartridges into the stratosphere.

In a similar vein, I offered him a story of my own.

Recently, the company I work for decided to upgrade its accounting software to the newer and (you guessed it) "improved" 2007 version.

Mind you, our "old" software worked just fine. It printed invoices, tracked expenditures, balanced the books, paid employees, allowed our computers to converse with each other, and generally kept us informed as to our current financial status.

The new software, however, came replete with giddy statements as to how its features would lighten our load, brighten our day, remove warts and liver spots, and have us praising its merits to no end.

The glow of those words lasted until our computers stopped talking to each other and declined to perform any tasks relating to accounting, payroll, bills, or bookkeeping.

We spent three days in software hell and more hours than I care to remember in absolute confusion while attempting to explain the situation to some denizen of a cubicle colony half a world away.

As I write this, the system still isn’t right and is running slower than cold molasses.

Needless to say, these two incidents have served only to reaffirm my belief in the need for some new rules as regards "improvements" to anything.

I say we tell those who foist this stuff upon us that whatever they’re about to sell us had better do what it used to do better, quicker, and easier or else.

And that "or else" would be a promise - made through clenched teeth - to drop them into the nearest body of deep water having previously wrapped them in all of the anchor chain we could beg, borrow, or steal.

Fair enough?

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2007 by Larry Simoneaux
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