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  April 15, 2016
Overly Complicated...


If you can’t explain it to a six-year old... then you don’t understand it very well yourself.

                                        ~Albert Einstein

Ruben "Rube" Goldberg (1883-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist best known for his cartoons describing Complicatedincredibly complicated machines or contraptions accomplishing very simple straightforward tasks such as opening an umbrella or making breakfast.

Through a highly synchronized chain reaction of releasing stored potential energy in a variety of systems, such as falling / moving objects, pulleys, springs, ramps, levers, screws, pendulums, and fulcrums, the over-engineered task is eventually completed.

Rube Goldberg machines have been depicted in scenes of many animated cartoons and other animated films such as Wallace and Gromit and Robots Robots ... as well as live-action videos.

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to meet Adam Sadowsky. Adam is a former teenage television actor turned entrepreneur film-maker.

His company, Syyn Labs, has perfected the art of designing and filming Rube Goldberg machines including an award winning music video, "This Too Shall Pass", by the band OK Go.

After its completion, the video went viral amassing over 50 million views to date.

The most impressive feature of the video was, unlike animation, it was filmed using one continuous shot with a single camera. There was no after-the-fact editing in order to make everything work out perfectly.

The entire system of planned events had to occur This To Shall Pass perfectly or the take was ruined.

For over 3 minutes, machines and mechanisms worked in synchronistic harmony in order to keep the machine moving forward.

Of course, the idea of Rube Goldberg machines working in a real-life situation seems preposterous to most learned people... no one sets out to make life more complicated than it already is.

...but is it really all that crazy?

Let’s face it... we live in a highly complex society with millions of moving parts all synchronously timed to keep the flow moving along.

Many of the systems that we put in place to accomplish seemingly minor tasks can be complicated to a point where practically no one actually knows how or why the system was built that way in the first place.

Now in truth, many of these systems didn’t start out that complicated. In fact, many of our complex systems had humbly small beginnings.

Additionally, just because the system is complicated, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is somehow a worse system.

Think for a moment about the automobile.

The gasoline powered car was first invented by Karl Benz in 1886 (although many other steam engine powered cars were available before then).

The first cars were nothing more than a retrofitted horse buggy with an engine and steering device added. The power from the engine was transferred to an axle using a single belt.

It took nearly 10 year before brakes were finally added to the car!

Other safety, performance and comfort features were quickly added to production automobiles such as suspension, lights, drive-shafts, motor starters, windshields, transmissions and throttle controls.

Each of these new additions added a new level of complexity to the simple car...

In 1907, Henry Ford introduced the modern production line, giving the average person the means and ability to purchase their very own car.

As competition for the consumers’ money grew, so did the advancement and features.

Electric starters, safety glass, windshield wipers, turn signals, seat belts and shock absorbers were now standard on most vehicles.

Engines, transmissions, and onboard electrical systems became more and more sophisticated and complex.

By the 1980’s onboard computers were now being used to control the fuel/air mixtures, emissions, anti-lock braking systems, and air-bags systems.

Today, the modern car may have no less than a dozen microchip controlled systems that effectively prevents most of the population from even contemplating doing their our own repairs and maintenance to our vehicles.

Today’s automobile is faster, safer, more-comfortable, most fuel efficient and less polluting than ever before in history, yet it is also so complicated that many of us are only slightly qualified to do nothing more than drive it to our destination (and even in this case... Google would like to replace human drivers with self-driving vehicles in the very near future).

Simple becomes complicated...

Automobiles are surely not the only system to become more complicated and complex over the years.

As most of us are fully aware, today is April 15th, the day in which our income taxes are due (although this year, federal taxes are not due until April 18th - thanks to Washington DC celebrating Emancipation Day today).

Nothing exemplifies a Rube Goldberg machine - taking something simple and making it over-complicated - more than the United States federal tax code.

Paying taxes is nothing new. Since the beginning of civilization, taxes have been collected to provide for a society as a collective whole.

In 1913, the 16th amendment to the constitution was ratified, giving the federal government the right and power to directly collect taxes based on a person’s income.

Prior to 1913, taxes were still collected by the government, but these taxes were indirect taxes levied through tariffs and excise taxes (use taxes).

The entire federal tax code, as written in 1913, was "only" 400 pages long, which is still a tome by any other name.

Throughout the next 26 years, which included most of the "New Deal" years where the role of government expanded at an unprecedented level due to the effects of the Great Depression, the tax code grew to 504 pages.

World War II saw the tax code balloon to over 8,500 pages.

By the time Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, the tax code had grown to 26,000 pages and Americans were frustrated with the level of complexity needed to file their tax returns.

President Reagan listened to the American people and doing what politicians do best, added yet another 12,000 pages of new regulations to the tax code through the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Not to be outdone, his successors, Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, have helped to increase the tax code to over 75,000 pages in 2105.

The U.S. tax code is a Rube Goldberg machine on steroids... over complicating a simply task... namely each person paying their share to fund our pooled common interests, be it defense, security, education, health, infrastructure projects, and/or providing social safety nets.

I’m not advocating that we scrap paying or lowering taxes (at least not in today’s forum).

However there does need to be a way to simplify the process...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we try our best at making the complicated uncomplicated.

Jim Kalb

Jim Kalb President

Email - jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse

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