Defining lines

October 10, 2015
 by Paul McGowan

When is it enough? Where does one draw the line? I suspect it’s a different point for each of us. And perhaps it’s those lines that defines who we are more than we would like to believe.

There has never been a product we’ve designed that couldn’t be better than it is. You spend upwards of a year refining and polishing the idea you started with: a new preamp, DAC, cable, tchotchke of some kind. And when it is finally done, you stand back and admire your work, enjoy the fruits of your labor, blood sweat and tears to get there–and you know you could do better–you could scrap all you have done and start over–or maybe just redo this one little bit…

Last night, as I cleaned up from dinner, I started the dishwasher, and wiped down the counters, and I felt satisfaction for a job well done. But then I noticed the floor. Damn! Prepping fresh tomatoes from the garden left shard of skins and a few green tops that had fallen, and as I looked closer, crumbs from that morning’s breakfast remained as well. As I swept I suddenly noticed the cabinets–fingerprints and stains–that could use a cleaning as well. But it was late. I drew the line. It was good enough. The rest could wait.

The work you’re doing, the book you’re writing, the product you’re designing, the house you’re cleaning, the lawn you’re mowing, could all benefit from more attention.

Perhaps it’s instructive to note it is the lines we draw, not the work we do, that better define who we are.

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16 comments on “Defining lines”

  1. Great analogy here, Paul. Either you are focused on improving a specific item or solving a defined and most specific problem in an evolutionary way or you sometimes are willing and able to look beyond your own nose. The first approach too often yield into over-engineering. The latter approach can yield into groundbreaking solutions due to a holistic view on the basic/ general problem!

  2. Audiophiles just want to have fun. They have no real goal in mind. There is no line to be drawn. It’s tough when you have OCD. You find fault in whatever you have and then you buy or build if you are a manufacturer something that doesn’t have THAT fault and you think aha, now I’ve got what I want. But it isn’t long before you find another fault and you do the same thing again. And again. And again. And it never ends. It’s a form of masochism. Audiophiles are hardly the only ones. If I only had that sportscar I’d be happy. If I only had that house I’d be happy. If I could only persuade that woman to marry me I’d be happy. But the happiness inevitably wears off sadly sooner or later and often far too soon. Oh I’m not saying I’m better than you guys, I’ve been there, done that myself more times than I can count. I’m not going into any details. All I can say is that I try to find joy in what I have rather than frustration pining for what I don’t and probably never will. It’s not worth the time or energy.

    When I was an audiophile a long time ago I played that game as a hobbyist too. But on the job I had definite goals including deadlines and budgets. I had to produce satisfactory result that met specific goals or find another job where I could. Those were the lines that were drawn, not by me but by my employer and his customers. Swim or sink. Lucky me, I never really sunk. I’ve seen others who have. Like the mechanical engineer I worked with who made a mistake on the installation of a gas fired generator we installed indoors for a client. His mistake was how he designed the penetration of the exhaust chimney stack. As a result the roof caught fire. Fortunately it was put out quickly and the building suffered minimal damage but we never got a project from that client again. Funny though, he didn’t get fired.

    So drawing a line means setting a goal and meeting or exceeding it. Anyone think they can run a four minute mile? That’s been done. How about a three minute mile. Now that’s never been done. One day long ago I got a crazy idea about how to understand sound and build a machine that might produce what I remember hearing at live concerts. In my mind I’ve crossed that line. The race is over for me. I’m done. Game over. Nothing left to do but fire myself. I’m no longer needed. Redundant as the Brits say. Find another job.

    1. Don’t be so hard on yourself and take your own advice-enjoy what you’ve got.

      Although your perception of audiophiles is a never- satisfied group always looking to make wholesale changes for the next best thing, I think that you’re describing a minority of audiophiles. I know that there is a silent majority that is happy with the systems they’ve acquired and have hunkered down to enjoy the music. Of coarse we’ll make some relatively small changes when new technology arrives but only to improve what we’ve already got in place.

    2. ”When I was an audiophile a long time ago…” I have often suspected that before Soundmind became a Cyborg, he was in fact fully human with accompanying frailties. This proves it

      1. Processing……Processing…..Processing. It does not compute! The biological unit is irrational and dangerous. It must be destroyed. Sterilize! Sterilize! Sterilize! Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

        We are the Cyborg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!

        I always thought Doctor Who was a really dumb TV program. It’s gotten a lot more special effects in its reincarnations than it used to but I don’t think it has improved even one bit. In fact, I think it’s worse than ever. The Daleks still remind me of inverted trash cans on furniture dollies with rubber baby buggy bumpers stuck on them, inverted mixing bowls for heads, and toilet plungers for weapons. Talk about a low budget show. But what ever happened to the 20 foot long scarf?

        1. Never got into Dr. Who, but my daughter is a big fan. I however, in another space and time, am in fact a Romulan. Friends of mine used to play a board game called Star Fleet Battles and I always flew the Bird of Prey! Plasma Torpedoes Rock!

  3. As good ole Americans we are taught the concept that “good enough” is never sufficient; it must be better. Part of the summer we spent remodeling the bathroom. The whole process overwhelmed me. Then I found a sustaining mantra: “Does it look better than what we got?” In order to get the job done, we settled for good enough and we are both happy with the results.

    1. When I take on a problem I visualize or in this case auralize what the end product should look or sound like and as many steps in between as I can. This is how I track my progress to know if something is going right or wrong. When I took on designing my audio system, I knew in advance how I wanted it to sound. That way each change could tell me if I was headed in the right direction or not. Heading down the wrong path meant going back to the last good point and heading somewhere else. This is how you know if you’ve achieved your goal, crossed the line you’ve drawn. I march to the beat of my own drum. If I’m headed the wrong way nobody can convince me otherwise. This is why it is just about impossible for people to sell me anything. Remember, I’ve lived in some of the greatest scam capitals in the world, New York City, California, and Europe. I’ve also met some great scam artists. BTW, here’s a tip from one of them I’ll never forget. Your worst enemy and a scam artist’s best friend is your own ego. If you’re smart, you’ll get rid of it. If flattery works on you, you still have it.

      1. I used to be a Project Manager and consequently I had to do some sincere planning. However I have a tendency to view my audio pursuits as a hobby. In other words my approach is helter-skelter. “What me plan?” Remind you of anyone? My system evolves. Currently I am in the hybrid phase. Paul’s return to that world has got me to thinking back to when I had a tube preamp (Counterpoint). So I am back to the valve world with a new preamp. I think within the next two months I will also own a hybrid power amp. I did not plan for this, it just happened over a short period of time.

  4. Paul your hard on yourself and In a way backed yourself into a corner.
    Although your dac is very good and sounds great on any system , there is always room for improvement. But that improvement should be on us alone not you.
    Meaning power cords and so on.
    I did mention a few times to you of external devices that really made things change add to this your new bridge that is on par with a simple setup to sound like a server
    But as most like me use usb that leaves us to tinker alone. Your willingness to show us your honestly is humbling and should be welcome.
    But just like my ramblings that test some here to try to improve things more some just hate the thought it’s not perfect as is.
    Add to this what your dealers and others might be saying and I think a single malt scotch is in order.
    This is a interesting situation you are in. I always enjoy your honesty and never feel it’s untrue or hurtful to anyone.

  5. Another way to look at the “Is it perfect?” situation and OCD, is the “What if…?” question, where pure curiosity leads to change and new inventions. Sure, it can lead to some dead cats, but it can also give rise to pleasure, a feeling of accomplishment, and in some situations it can even advance civilization…like “What if we learned to live in harmony with nature?”

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