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…and the Agony of the Cheap

The Joy of Excellence, and the Agony of the Cheap

Yes, this is a play on the old ABC Wide World of Sports slogan, “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” I probably should have used “The thrill of quality, and the agony of the cheap.” but my site isn’t called “ThrillOfQuality”.

The dilemma – With so much focus on cheap features in products and no focus on durability, is there any hope for the quality of days gone by?

My biggest frustration is that I cannot seem to find good quality regardless of how much I spend – with very few exceptions.

I wish I knew a solution, but I don’t. I started to write this post out of many years of frustration. I wrote much of it before deciding to do more research… and I’ve revamped it some after remembering the “Story of Stuff”. And from a site that puts much more thought into this dilemma than I have, it was of no comfort to see this on the site – “While I think the problems Leonard raises don’t have any easy solutions, it is certainly worth considering and stating a conversation about these issues.

I think that the Story of Electronicsactually offers some approaches to solving some of this and I’m happy to see some companies taking some of these measures before the laws take effect.

The Good Experiences

Red Wing

I’ve owned probably 3 pair of Red Wing boots and several shoes over the years. Sure, if you price them, they are expensive. But once I break in a great boot or shoe I like to keep them. Breaking them in isn’t particularly fun. I’m glad to see they’re still around. Just this year I bought one of my sons his first pair of Red Wing boots.

Hanover Shoes

Unfortunately they are not really around – at least not with the same passion for excellence I was able to experience. My first encounter with Hanover shoes with with my U.S. Army dress shoes. I kept buying poor quality shoes during an era of my life where I needed to wear dress shoes to the office every day. After going through shoes about once every year or two I thought, “Why can’t I find a quality shoe like my Army shoes?” So I pulled them out and discovered that Hanover made them.

I immediately sought them out and purchased two very nice pair. The cost seemed ridiculous until you looked at the long term. I believe I wore those shoes for over 10 years! I was saddened to see Hanover go by the wayside.

Handmade Desk

In 1994 I moved into a new home that had a home office. With pollution laws demanding less commuting, it looked like working from home several day a week was in my future. So when we bought that home I worked to make sure I had a comfortable workspace. I went to buy a desk that had a reasonable ergonomic design. The key to that is a well designed keyboard tray. Much to my surprise I could not find even one desk in Houston in 1994 that had a keyboard tray wide enough to also accommodate a mouse as well. It wasn’t like the mouse had just been introduced to computing.

Since I could not find one I found a local furniture maker and commissioned a desk. I had very detailed plans so that the keyboard and mouse were ergonomic, the docking station and notebook hidden from view, and even had a glass desktop where you would look down, as though reading a book, to see the monitory mounted beneath the desk. When I would push in my keyboard tray and have the desk closed, you couldn’t even tell it was a computer desk. Today I have my monitor set high since that’s the latest ergonomic advice for screen viewing.

Below you can see the desk… at that time it was packed full of reading material for the MBA in Technology Management I was pursuing.


In 2007 I went to look at desks again – I guess for a change of pace. At that time most desks still had trays that would only accommodate a keyboard and not a mouse… Quite sad. As I type this, I’m still using my commissioned desk.

Dell Computers

The Recycling Report Card site that I navigated to from the Story of Electronics shows a report card of various companies. I was glad to see Dell as the top rated computer company with a B.

I frequently purchase top end computers from Dell. While I feel a bit bad about that, I will say that as a result, my computers have a very long life. Just recently I completed a history of computers that I’ve donated to The Briarwood School over the past 10 years. At this writing, there are still 8 computers being used and there are several others that I’ve given to educators. Seven years is the least that any computer I’ve donated has been used (that has been decommissioned – there are several that are less than 7 years old, but they are still in use.)

It sure is nice that the same power supply will power every notebook our family owns!

I also have quite a few of their monitors that have endured well through the years, and I put those monitors to a great deal of use.


There are other experiences that I’ll chronicle here from time to time, but these are some of the ones that came to mind this evening as I’m faced with the repair of a television and a dishwasher.

I can say that I’ve had better luck with motorcycles (Honda), automobiles (Toyota, Honda, Ford), and air conditioners (Coleman, Trane).

Not So Good Experiences


I’ll be a bit less specific on my not-so-good experiences. This year we gave our 1984 TV to Goodwill. It still works, but the screen was quite small and we’d purchased the 3rd TV in our marriage in 2007. That TV is now the one that needs repair. It’s only 3 years old! It seems that this TV is known to have issues. When I asked the person at the repair shop “Do the new parts alleviated the problem?” they said, “No, it’s the same part. It will go out again in about 3 years. All TVs today are designed to go out in 1 to 3 years. That’s how the TV manufacturers make their money.


This area really makes me upset. It is in the dishwasher department that I’ve become most depressed. I was under the impression that the more money you spent, the longer the machine would last. After all, “You get what you pay for.” Right? It would appear not. Having been suckered into purchasing some rather expensive dishwashers in recent years, they have not lasted any longer than the lower cost machines. I do NOT like buying dishwashers. I just want a machine that will quietly wash my dishes – year in, year out.


I won’t really say too much here except that I believe they are the icon for a disposable world.

In closing…

I hope that campaigns like Electronics Take Back Coalition can put some incentives in place to drive quality up at a time when it seems to be vanishing.


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