Perfect Isn’t Necessarily Better

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The fact that a thing can be done doesn’t necessarily mean it ought to be be done.

Even if it can be done “better.”

Put another way, functionality isn’t everything. If it were, then Soylent Green – handy, no-need-to-cook-‘em crackers made of highly nutritious you-know-what – would be a great way to feed the world’s hungry.

How about what are styled “autonomous” cars; i.e., the cars you no longer drive?

This can be done, too.

In fact, it already is being done. There are “autonomous” taxis in near-service and there are new cars available right now that have the capability. Well, they have the capability to function on par with the capabilities of a least-common-denominator “driver” who isn’t much of one. They can obey traffic laws to the letter – as well as the spirit; i.e., as by extremely cautious action and tepid movement. When they encounter a situation the parameters of which reach beyond their programming, they typically go inert – and await further instruction. 

Try to imagine all drivers “driving” this way – and you will have a vision of the “autonomous” future. Going for a drive will become a thing of the past. If you are a freak who likes to drive, you won’t like the ride. It will make you very glad there’s HoloRide inside. Maybe even an IV drip of Elvis-level sedatives.  

But maybe the controllers of this “autonomous” future of passive transportation will figure out how to program the cars they control – and so, you don’t – in such a way as to shame the capabilities of the most expert race-car-level driver. Who may be very good but not always perfectly so. Even the best race-car drivers sometimes shift gears too soon – or too late. Misjudge an apex. Apply a bit too much throttle at just the wrong moment – or not enough, at the right one.

Variables, intangibles.

It is why racing is more fun to watch than watching slot cars without race car drivers in them going autonomously around the track. The human element. Marveling at the skill – often intuitive – of the very best race car drivers (Ken Miles and Ayrton Senna come to mind) who do things that seem to most humans impossible. But even Miles and Senna weren’t perfect drivers. They made mistakes.

Fatal ones, in both their cases.

But let’s say it’s possible to program in Miles-Senna level capability – without any driver error. You are in for the ride of your life. Nothing much for you to do other than sit there and experience the programming. The human element missing. This gets boring very quickly because there’s literally nothing to it. Because anyone can do it.

Well, any thing can do it.

A parallel example exists in the form of what it styled – honestly, for once – launch control. Many of the higher-performance new models have this feature. There is no more shifting. No more timing. There is button-pushing. The “driver” – as the person who pushes the button is styled – engages the system. The car takes over. It brings the engine up to just the right spot in the RPM band. It holds the brake and readies the throttle. A perfectly timed launch ensues – followed by perfectly timed shifts that occur exactly as conditions indicate. The wheels slip just so much – but not too much. Any back-end wiggle is quickly managed and sorted, in such a way as to retain control without losing tenths of seconds.

Just like that, you’ve run the perfect quarter mile. Over and over and over again. And so can anyone else. Don Garlits literally could not have done it better. At least, he could not do it better every single time. Because even the best human drag racer will never be as perfectly consistent as a computer-controlled drag racer. It is why most new ultra-performance cars (including Corvette) no longer come with manual transmissions, either. These allow for human error; the computer-controlled automatic transmission eliminates that variable.

Other things, too.

What was art when expertly demonstrated becomes almost a vulgarity when literally anyone can do it. Or rather, when anyone can have the car do it for them.

It is the difference between going to see King Tut’s hand-hammered-gold sarcophagus and buying an assembly-line knock-off made in Chyna at the museum’s gift shop. There’s no longer anything preciously special about it when it becomes nothing-special.

Would you invest enthusiasm in the outcome of a slot-car road race, the winning car programmed to cross the finish line even faster than Ken Miles did, back in ’66? Who would care?

Why

The fact that a thing can be done better by machines – by programming – does not mean they are done better, except in the minds of mechanistic people who think life is all about the numbers, without the intangibles that make living (and driving) worth the bother.         

. . .

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31 COMMENTS

  1. For people who like driver’s cars they say there was one close to perfect car

    1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7

    The RS is the ultimate 911 and is special because of the way it drives. Sure it is rare and expensive, but it is the driving experience that elevates the 2.7 RS to icon status. The sound, the acceleration, the free-revving engine, the feel through the steering and chassis, the cornering poise, the wieldy dimensions, the look and smell of the thing. It is engaging, fun and it just sucks you in. Sure, 210 bhp and 188 lb/ft of torque doesn’t sound like much today but remember the RS Sport weighs only 900kg (2000 lb.) so that power is more than enough.

    It is genuinely fast, in both outright acceleration and point-to-point pace. It hits 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. It is small and narrow with deep windows and slim pillars, so there’s road to spare and you can see it all, it feels faster and the speed is more encompassing than in today’s models.

    You can do 100 mph in a McLaren 720S and not even blink an eye. Doing 60 mph in the 2.7 RS it feels like 100 mph and you are enthralled by the experience. Too many modern cars of great pace slip up here; the 911 RS 2.7 is more usable and enjoyable than any of them.

    It’s such an easy car to drive fast too. The rear engine and the plentiful high-revs torque simply make this a car steerable on the throttle. The sound is unmistakable – a deep bass driven yowl overlapped with fast-paced tapping and the rush of accelerated air. The higher the RPM, the better it sounds.

    The Carrera RS earned a reputation as the ultimate driver’s 911. Even today, superlatives like thrust, pointability and adhesion are levelled at the Carrera RS driving experience. It’s raw, unadulterated air-cooled 911 at its most focused. The signature flat-six wail, as it passes through the 4500rpm mark on its way to the redline is one of the more iconic soundtracks and, with such low weight and respectable power, it’s still quick by today’s standards

    the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 won world championship races including Targa Florio and the 24 Hours of Daytona where it beat all the prototypes.
    The Porsche Carrera RSR had proven its worth in its first race at the Daytona 24 hr. and would dominate GT racing for several years and become one of the most successful GT cars ever. The 2.8-litre engine would quickly be replaced by a more powerful 3.0-litre unit. The RSR would win Daytona again outright in 1975 and 1977 as well as Sebring in 1973, 1976 and 1977.

    None of the new cars including the supercars/hypercars can give you the same experience they are all over weight.
    The quickest cars in the world usually weigh 2000 lb or less, a modern 3000 lb to 4500 lb supercar/hypercar will never be as fast, you can’t overcome that much extra weight.

    To overcome the weight they add huge hp, this makes the car unstable so they control it with, stabilize it with AI, computers, they drive the car you don’t. These aren’t driver’s cars you are just along for the ride….
    The new EV’s are worse they are all far over weight and they lack any emotion, you can’t hear, smell or feel these cars.

    One auction result: 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS Lightweight 9113600883 – sold for $1,402,500.00

    https://www.supercars.net/blog/1973-porsche-911-carrera-rs-2-7-lightweight/

  2. I’d agree with “Perfect Isn’t Necessarily Better” in many aspects, but there are many cases where I’d prefer the perfection of a machine when I’m doing something that *needs* done versus doing something for the joy of it. The “TrackingPoint” rifle is a good example: with it, nearly anyone can shoot 1000 targets all day long, without it I’m lucky to hit something at 300 yards. It would be extremely unfair to use one in a shooting competition and definitely should not be allowed. However, if I *need* to hit something at 1000 yards, I don’t care about “fair”. I love to drive, but if a situation arose where I *needed* to go faster than I knew I could reasonably control, it’d sure be nice to have that option.

    • Hi Michael,

      One of the ironies of this business is that Least Common Denominatorism will assure that “automated” cars operate within the comfort level of the most fearful Clover-types, even if they could be programmed to operate at the level of a professional race driver. Besides which, the whole point of the thing is to turn driving into riding. As in the bus.

  3. Vulgar. Vulgarity. Words that have lost their meaning on a culture and an ethos that is indeed vulgar.

    Real men pursue purity- whether in word, deed, life passion or vocation. This entire Marxist culture loathes excellence- purity. It esteems commonness. Vulgarity.

    • Hi Eric the Redneck,

      Yup. Communists understand that individual excellence runs counter to the vulgar mob they need to establish the system they desire. None better than any other – except, of course, as regards themselves. A dreary sameness, at a low level. Hence uniform and uniformity. There’s a reason why the people who live in such societies often wear the same-looking outfits and all seem the same…

  4. “Our music is sampled. Totally fake. It’s done by machines ’cause they don’t make mistakes.”
    -KMFDM “Sucks”

    I’ve been making industrial music for many years: In fact, since the mid-’90s. It goes without saying that the great thing about technology is it allows you to do things you could never do otherwise. So it is with music. I can program and manipulate to my heart’s desire. I can certainly make sounds and music that no one person could otherwise make on their own. Even with a band, I’d have to suffer other opinions and refusals of my direction and ideas. Machines do my bidding exactly.

    That all said, one thing I’ve learned is that if the music is done TOO perfectly, it loses the ear’s interest. Programming tiny errors in the machine’s execution makes it much more palatable. Playing actual instruments in with the programmed music helps relieve the organically-foreboding mechanical meticulousness, IF done synergistically.

    I’ll always love the pounding machine music, but there is no true substitute for nature when it comes to stirring our animal emotions. Technology is to be used wisely, to supplement or augment, but not to replace what we are and do.

  5. Eric,

    Cars are already racing themselves; Roborace is doing it now! Their Devbot, a custom built, electric race car, can now do up to 230 km/h, or 142 mph, without a human driver. The Devbot’s capabilities are increasing all the time. You can learn more here: https://roborace.com/

      • Eric,

        I was just saying that the robo racers are here. While they can’t race against each other-yet-they have made impressive progress in recent years. The way competitions were conducted was to provide teams of university engineering and computer students with the Devbot, and they put their programming in to it. The Devbot then does a series of drills, such as evasive maneuvers, slalom, etc. The robo car uses four sensors: cameras, radar, lidar, and GPS. The car then synthesizes and processes these inputs. Anyway, whichever team gets the car to do the most, wins. They’re not racing each other yet, but that’s closer than we’d like.

        • Hi Mark,

          Yes, I get that. I just have nil interest in “self-driving” anything. It depresses and creeps me out. A race of Elio is in the making. And where there are Elio there are always Morlocks….

          • I’m not extolling the virtues of self driving cars; other than taking driving away from us, they have other problems, like limiting where we can go, or when we can go there. That’s the BIG THING people miss! I’m simply pointing out that, like it or not, these things are coming, and they’re a lot closer than most people think. Like it or not, we need to prepare for their arrival, and to learn how to live with them.

            • Hi Mark,

              I will learn to avoid them – as I have the Diaper and the Jab! I have zero interest in automated vehicles – other than seeing them crushed.

  6. The modern cars are getting too big and heavy that is why I like the Super 7.

    The driving experience in new cars is getting more and more isolated.

    If you want the ultimate top down driving experience get a super 7, it is also the exact opposite of a nanny state car.

    A super 7 (a 1957 design by Lotus), is the ultimate driving experience, buy or test drive one, it is a completely different experience. The most direct, analog, raw, visceral, unfiltered driving experience, perfect for the hard core driver enthusiasts, this is how a car should be, small, light, agile, fast, no frills, mechanical art made to go fast only, no luxury, no doors or roof, some have no windshield, nothing extra, with a 4 cylinder engine about 1200 lb.

    A Super 7 weighs around 1200 lb. a modern nanny state vehicle could be 4100 lb.

    The Super 7 is built with a steel tube frame like the older race cars, it is very strong, stronger then unibody design and very light (under 100 lb.), that is why the Super 7 handles so well, it is low, light and very stiff.

    A Donkervoort a Super 7 clone, with an Audi 1.8 lt. 20 valve turbo engine in 2003, 2004 had the world record lap time for any street legal car on the Nurburgring, (quite a bit faster then the tesla plaid lap time).

    A Super 7 is the 2nd most copied car in history, 160 companies made copies, (Cobra was the most copied car), the Super 7 is a close copy of a 1913 Bugatti Type 22, the specs are close, one of the first small light cars (did Lotus copy it?).

    Chris Harris reviews the Caterham Super 7…….
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAwNfgvF_Ww

  7. Great stuff and good timing Eric.
    I’m in the market for a new dirtbike I will race. My preferred brand just announced a new model coming for ’23 that has ‘traction control, quick shift (no clutching needed to shift), and launch control, change power setting maps on the fly’. So it’s $500 extra for all this vs the older model still avail. for another 1-2 years. It’s not the money, it’s the thought of it and would it do the things to me you mentioned Eric (basically get lazier vs the forever effort of mastering the ride, like golf)?
    So crap, what do I do? I go through dirtbikes like most people go through butter, so I called a ex-pro friend of mine for advice. He said “it will not make you, cause your an old man, any faster, the old model will do same-same for you, BUT when you go to sell it in 2-3 years it, everyone else will want it, and not the older model”
    So there’s that………darn it.

  8. “What was art when expertly demonstrated becomes almost a vulgarity when literally anyone can do it.” — eric

    And so it is for tweets, generated by bots convincingly enough. After all, Russian bots cost Hillary the election! /sarc

    No surprise then, that ‘Elon Musk said Friday that his plan to buy Twitter for $44 billion is “temporarily on hold” as he tries to pinpoint the exact number of spam and fake accounts on the social media platform.’ (source: AP ‘News’)

    Elon didn’t become a billionaire by overpaying for stuff. Twitter admitted or leaked a confession of double-counting within hours of his $54.20 a share bid — an apparent attempt to derail his acquisition which might just work.

    As the Everything Bubble fades into the rear view mirror, one will be shocked — shocked — as widespread fraud is discovered in many bubble stocks. It was ever thus.

    • Maybe it’s my age, but I just don’t get Twitter. Why would you give a rat’s ass about the random musings of anyone? If I want information I can look it up from knowledgeable sources; Twitter’s Babel of insults and counter insults is just another sign of the country slide down to perdition.

      • I reluctantly joined twitter to follow some accounts reporting on the Ukraine war. Very informative. Libs ot tik tok highlighta liberals frightening insanity

  9. More and more things we used to do for ourselves are now done by machines or others. How many people still bake their own bread from scratch (and bread makers don’t count), have a kitchen garden, perform home repairs or even rotate their own tires? I still do but many don’t. The less mental challenges you experience in life the more your brain atrophies and that might just be what the want.

    Whilst I understand all advances can be used for good or evil, I get the feeling that their leaning a little bit too much towards the evil side in my opinion.

    And while it’s not like TPTB are talking about it yet, Wired magazine had an article back in 2018 about using alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of bodies. Next step would be using that as a feed stock for lab grown food. Soylent green would be sold as as the “Green Miracle of Science” just in time to avert loss of life in a coming famine.

    • Landru, back when I was physically able, I did not pay others to do what I could do myself. Even if the time and labor involved was a bit excessive. Because next time it would be less so. And now I know how to do it, or know NOT to do it. And it engaged my thought process. Like your muscles and your immune system, your mind needs exercise. If you don’t use it, it will stop working. God bless Eric for providing an opportunity to exercise it.

  10. Perfect is in fact, the nemesis of good enough, regarding all endeavors. It’s called gold bricking when you make or build something. Given the current trajectory, you will no longer make or build anything. An AI robot will do it for you. Which is exactly what these “autonomous” cars are. Taking away any pride in accomplishment, any victory, and giving it to a robot. Men are allowed to compete as women, why not robots?

      • Hey Mike,
        By contrast German engineers typically don’t know when to quit. You end up with something like an Audi I once owned, where you had to take apart part of the car to change the oil. Which I did not own for long. Which is possibly why T34s ended up in Berlin.

      • Mike:
        Hard to argue with that. I’ve used the odd bit of Russian equipment and while it might be a little on the klunky side sometimes it works and if a Russian peasant can figure it out then I figure so can I. I would rather have simple than complicated.

        • Landru, you said, “I would rather have simple than complicated.”

          I started working around computers in the early 70’s. It wasn’t long before I realized what was driving much of the computer/IT/Tech world, Contrived Complexity for Job Security. It’s invaded every space that has a computerized control. It’s driving the logical insane.

          Rube Goldberg is a god to these people.

          • Mark- Amen to that. I’ve been in the industrial automation world for close to 40 years (dammit!) and have seen programmable control go from a miracle making stuff better/faster/cheaper, to a way to give an infinite number of shiny bells, whistles, and reporting features to help clueless affirmative action managers justify whatever actions they want to take based on tons of misinterpreted data. And yes, I run windows 7 and wish it was XP, and wish more I could run Linux but my industry doesn’t offer it and the emulators aren’t good enough.

            They love their complexity! Never do with a conveyor what you can do with a robot…

  11. As we learned during the covid control program, people need purpose. A person with nothing left to do has no control over their life. Something as simple as going shopping instead of having everything delivered is important. It allows one to contribute to their being.
    Otherwise, we become an animal in a zoo, a life form that just is, and that is mentally damaging.

    Everything can be done for us and we can live, but we will have no life. Have nothing, eat your bugs, and be happy.

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