Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Good Enough" Revolution

The Future Of Computing Will Be Good Enough

Put simply, nobody wanted to upgrade. Everybody was happy with XP. Too happy, in fact, for Microsoft's business model to survive.

The lack of desire to relinquish XP by users was part of what became known as the "Good Enough" revolution in both software and hardware. At the beginning of the 21st century, computing hardware had evolved sufficiently to reach a level of performance that allowed for speedy execution of virtually all common computing tasks. Prior to this, the only way to guarantee good performance was to buy expensive cutting-edge hardware. But now chips costing just a few dollars offered more performance than most people would ever need.

I am a complete believer in the "good enough" revolution. I'm a former lead software engineer but I'm running a computer that was built seven years ago. It is still running Windows 2000! How's it working for me? Good enough!

It doesn't just apply to computers though. I'm not seeing much improvement in aluminum foil, ziplock bags, garbage bags, toilet paper, paper towels, t-shirts, sweat pants, underwear, socks, sneakers, bath towels, and anything else I've bothered to hoard based on my ongoing concerns about future prosperity. I figured they are all "good enough", so why risk having to pay more for them in the future if inflation actually does pick up at some point?

A few years ago Costco was selling bath towels for $5.99 each. They were certainly "good enough" for me so I backed up the truck. Costco doesn't sell those any longer. They have what looks like slightly nicer towels for $7.49. Do I regret hoarding? Nope! That's a 25% increase in price. As a side note, I figure I've got about 30 years worth of towels. Since I'm 45 years old, I'm probably done buying towels.

A few years ago Costco sold sheets for $54.99. I bought 10. From what I can see, those exact same sheets are now selling for $59.99. We have a 55 pound dog that sleeps on the bed. These sheets are strong enough to offset her claws. So far, they have proved to be more than good enough. All of them still look brand new. Most of them actually are brand new (as they are sitting in "hoarding" storage in another room).

Sneakers were $14.99, then moved to $15.49, and are now back down to $14.99. I might just as well buried the cash in the back yard it seems, which in hindsight would have not been all that bad of a plan. In any event, I've got plenty and they are "good enough" to last me for many years.

Here's my thinking. There was a huge price cut when we stopped making our own goods and had China do it. In order to get a similarly huge price cut in the future, China would have to stop making goods and find someone else to do it even cheaper. Just one problem. There isn't anyone left who can do it cheaper. Further, if China keeps using more and more oil, I find it hard to believe that China will be able to continue making goods as cheap as they are now. Therefore, it would seem that now isn't all that bad of a time to buy the things that are made in China. If I am wrong in my reasoning, how bad could it possibly hurt me though?

I drive a 13 year old Toyota Camry with about 75,000 miles on it. It still feels like a new car! It is plenty "good enough" to meet my needs. Cars are not something I'd hoard right now. Why not? China isn't selling them to us, yet.

How about hair dryers? Sure, what's the harm in having an extra one in reserve? We do. I haven't seen any worthy improvement in those in decades.

And lastly, here's a reminder that there is one thing you can buy today that is guaranteed to be good enough. Forever stamps! They go up in price on May 11th. Don't wait until then. This is the closest thing to "sure thing" investment advice this blog is ever going to offer, lol.

Americans can save by buying Forever Stamps now

Littleton CO - On Monday, May 11, 2009, new U.S. and international postage prices will go into effect. The cost to mail a U.S. First Class one-ounce letter will increase two cents, from 42 to 44 cents.

That's a 4.8% increase. Don't even ask me how many I have. Let's just say I won't need to buy more for MANY years.


dearieme said...

We inherited an anti-inflation stock of sheets from my mother-in-law - beautiful Egyptian cotton from, we guess, either the 1950s or 1930s.

Alex Pinsker said...

I think you are wrong about that "Good Enough" Revolution. Didn't you notice the "Good Enough" counterrevolution? Producers do not create goods that are designed to last any more. Almost anything you are buying nowadays is deliberately designed to last for a short, programmed time and then broke.
Your washing machine served you for 10 years? – I bet that a new one would not stand for more than 2-3 years. Your old electric kettle worked for 5-7 years? - Buy a new one and it would leak in a year or so. Talk to guys who are working in electronics service/repair centers and they would tell you that stuff nowadays is PROGRAMMED to work for a predefined time and then broke. A friend of mine who works in a big car repairs firm told me that every car accumulator that occasionally served significantly more than a guaranty period is sent to the lab for examination to check out why did it lasted so long and didn’t broke. Your observation about "good enough" was correct, but it's not applicable to the new goods - manufacturers are not interested in you wiping yourself with the same towels till your golden years. No, you should buy towels, use them and then buy new ones. We all are squirrels that have to rotate wheels of economy. No one asks squirrel whether it wants to get our of a squirrel-wheel marathon, right?

Stagflationary Mark said...


I wonder if there will be a sheet inheritance tax at some point, to thwart us! ;)

Stagflationary Mark said...

Alex Pinsker,

You make a great point! I agree with you!

In fact, why else would I want an extra hairdryer in reserve? I automatically assume that the one I've got will break. That's why! Oh yes, I VERY much agree with you.

I've actually got a hairdryer story. Years ago I was pointing one at my head as is typical after taking a shower. It broke. It sent a stream of flying superhot element parts towards me. Some stuck. Some bounced and landed in the sink. There were burn marks in the sink where they landed. My wet hair protected me long enough to get them off of me, but had my hair been nearly dry I might not have done well at all.

This doesn't change the main point of my article though. It simply changes how many of each product we need to hoard. Lock in that quality of today, today. That's my thinking. I doubt it gets any better in the future, especially if our country continues its debt-based decline.

Here's the current conversation, and I agree with it.

"Your old electric kettle worked for 5-7 years? - Buy a new one and it would leak in a year or so."

Will the following be the conversation of the future?

"Your old electric kettle worked for a year or so? - Buy a new one and it would leak in a month or so."

Hey, just a thought! A VERY scary thought!

One more story.

I had to replace a vaccuum cleaner several years ago. The previous
"cheap" one lasted about 15 years and didn't even technically die. it was just showing its age, that's all.

The new one died so fast I was still able to return it to Costco for a full refund. Using your theory (the truth!), they designed it TOO well, lol. It died in a blaze of glory! There was an amazingly bright light coming from it and a wave of smoke!

I ended up buying a German vaccuum cleaner (Sebo). I'm extremely pleased with it, but it was not even remotely cheap. It is what I would call "good enough" though.

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