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If it ain't broke, don't fix it
November 16, 2010 5:53 AM   Subscribe

What are some famous examples of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?"

For example, sprinter Michael Johnson won gold medals and set world records with a seemingly flawed stride. Physical examples, like engineering or architecture things would be great.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes to Technology (53 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The first few attempts to correct the angle of it's lean made it worse.
posted by Ahab at 5:58 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry. "its" not "it's" and some of those attempts were to stabilize the lean, or prevent further leaning, rather than correct the angle.
posted by Ahab at 6:04 AM on November 16, 2010


Barbra Streisand's nose.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


New Coke
posted by decathecting at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


The Star Wars films. Someone needs to freeze Lucas in carbonite before he digitally replaces Carrie Fisher with Miley Cyrus and Harrison Ford with Justin Beiber.
posted by bondcliff at 6:13 AM on November 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


The automotive world is full of stuff like this, but the easiest example is the Porsche 911 with its incredibly stubborn commitment to a silly rear-engined layout.

The standard two-triangle bicycle frame probably isn't the best all-round design for most people, but we've stuck with it for a LONG time now.

QWERTY.
posted by pjaust at 6:17 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about GAP's recent take-back of their awful new logo?
posted by litnerd at 6:23 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which has been in use, in original form and variants, since 1962.
posted by ga$money at 6:37 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The 2007 Kawasaki KLR650 was basically the exact same motorcycle as the 1987 Kawasaki KLR650, just with a different paint job.

In the intervening 20 years, there had been no end of technological advancements in motorsports, but the KLR was reliable and did what it was supposed to, and so Kawasaki didn't mess with it. It remained a tremendously popular bike, despite being two decades out of date.

Then, in 2008, they decided to redesign it. Cue two years of broken components, electrical failures and recalls.
posted by 256 at 6:47 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Allegis, United Air Lines Corporation, for a brief period in 1987.
posted by crapmatic at 6:56 AM on November 16, 2010


The horseshoe crab. Still working fine after 450 million years.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:00 AM on November 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


@ga$money: I'll see your M113, and raise you the B-52 and the Tu-95, both still in service, introduced in the mid-1950s.
posted by kjs3 at 7:11 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


All languages vs. Esperanto.
posted by jefficator at 7:16 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The M2 Machine gun has been in use since the end of WW1.
posted by bondcliff at 7:17 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


There's a good bit of firearm tech that falls under that banner:

Colt Model 1911 automatic pistol (1911)
Winchester lever action rifle (1866)
Bolt action rifles (introduced in the 1860s, with recognizably modern versions around 1890)
The mortar

Lots of others.
posted by kjs3 at 7:18 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


George Gershwin told Ethel Merman to never take a singing lesson.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Douglas DC-3.
posted by mosk at 7:21 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The mousetrap.
posted by banwa at 7:22 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


BMW's mighty M10 engine 4 cylinder engine, introduced in 1961 and still available in new Bimmers 25 years later. The block also formed the backbone of both the legendary S14 M3 engine, and the stupendous M12 F1 powerplant, a turbocharged 4-banger that was pumping out 1500 horsepower in qualifying trim. BMW relied on that little engine (to their tremendous success!) for a long, long time.
posted by saladin at 7:29 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Soyuz spacecraft. While the U.S. went from Apollo to the Space Shuttle to plans for Constellation and the Orion capsule to...who knows what we'll be trying next, the Russians have been chugging along with relatively minor variations on a design that originated in the early 1960s.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:35 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tim Lincecum
posted by Thorzdad at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


You'll probably find considerable overlap with the answers to this question. To name one: The Toyota Hilux, which is legendary for being an unremarkable truck that is completely indestructible, and thus preferred over snazzier, newer designs the world over.
posted by googly at 7:42 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Green & Carter "Vulcan" hydraulic ram pump - unchanged since 1929, and essentially the same as (supposedly) their patent from 1774.

The Aermotor Windmill, since 1888.
posted by scruss at 7:45 AM on November 16, 2010


Everything covered by Henry Petroski in The Evolution of Useful Things.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:48 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The 3.8L Oldsmobile motor, designed in original trim in 1962, was still winning awards in the late 90s.
posted by notsnot at 7:54 AM on November 16, 2010


501 Blue Jeans and the old Optimus Hiker Stove (fuel could be anything from Vodka to Jet Fuel). Toyota Corolla. Mine's got 170,000 miles on it and I'm still getting 33mpg.
posted by jwells at 7:59 AM on November 16, 2010


Iraq.

Converse Chuck Taylor hightops. I would argue that they could be improved, but it's hard to argue with success. They've been unchanged since, what, 1926?

The Buick aluminum small-block V8. Introduced in 1961, still in use today by Rover.
posted by adamrice at 8:05 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pyramids.
posted by shinyshiny at 8:17 AM on November 16, 2010


Converse Chuck Taylor hightops. I would argue that they could be improved, but it's hard to argue with success. They've been unchanged since, what, 1926?

More like 2002, or even 1992 (ibid.).
posted by rhizome at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2010


In the military, the best example of that has to be the M2 Browning Heavy Machine Gun. It was designed in 1918 by the legendary John Moses Browning, and it has been in continuous service with the US military, and a lot of other militaries of the world, ever since.

Nobody messes with the design because Browning got everything right the first time.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 AM on November 16, 2010


Vladimir Horowitz's playing technique [youtube link; slow-motion version further down the trail]
posted by Namlit at 9:37 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Opposable thumbs.

Shakespeare.

The Beatles music.
posted by Giggilituffin at 9:41 AM on November 16, 2010


Vladimir Horowitz's playing technique

That clip seems to bear out something I read once.

That, contrary to the canon of piano instruction, Vlad played with his little finger curled up - waiting for when it would suddenly lunge forward like a striking cobra.

Obviously, he would fall into the "don't fix it" class.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:00 AM on November 16, 2010


Good stuff! Any more things that could be considered flawed, but still work well? Not so much of the things that have had fixes attempted—like New Coke and the Gap logo.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 10:44 AM on November 16, 2010


Astor Piazzolla was studying composition with Nadia Boulanger, he was composing heady, very 'serious' music. He mentioned to Nadia that he really grew up with the tango, and she asked him to play her one of his tango compositions. She then told him to never write anything but tango for the rest of his life. And he didn't.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:56 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a Susan Orlean article about the umbrella - that after about two hundred years of inventors and experiments, we have yet to improve on the design of the umbrella. Every change anyone makes makes the umbrella work worse.

I think it's a folk-wisdom kind of thing that the violin is the same way - perfected ~400 years ago, and there's not really any more fixing to be done with it.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2010


There's a possibly apocryphal story from the oil production business about a pipeline junction in the empty quarter that would leak a little on the hottest days of the year. Since it only leaked a little and was in the middle of nowhere, it was left alone by the engineers who commissioned the pipeline. Years later, after all those engineers had moved on, they built a structure around it to protect some of the monitoring electronics from direct sunlight and a few months later it exploded because the gas accumulated inside the building.
posted by atrazine at 11:18 AM on November 16, 2010


Any more things that could be considered flawed, but still work well?

The guitar comes to mind. Despite attempts to improve temperament/intonation (Buzz Feiten system, Just Intonation etc,) the standard "flawed" design prevails.
posted by Lorin at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2010


The Dutch language.

Over the past decades, there have been several spelling reforms which were supposed to make the language more "logical" and easier to learn for young children and foreigners. I'm not aware of any attempt to test whether these intended effects actually occurred. As far as I can tell, the only actual effects are that long-term native Dutch speakers are no longer sure how to write their own language, and that older texts are becoming increasingly inaccessible to contemporary Dutch speakers.
posted by rjs at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2010


Vinyl records, especially as it relates to DJing. Emulating the warm sound has so far been difficult for digital formats.
posted by the foreground at 12:02 PM on November 16, 2010


Very much along the lines of Vladimir Horowitz' piano technique, consider Janet Evans' swimming form.

Dizzy Gillespie was self-taught on the trumpet and never learned how to avoid blowing out his cheeks. Still not bad as a trumpet player.
posted by adamrice at 12:24 PM on November 16, 2010


Pneumatic tires.
posted by cl at 12:57 PM on November 16, 2010


The AK-47.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:55 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Books: the old fashioned kind. With (acid free) paper or parchment, they can last for centuries with proper care, and are very energy efficient.
posted by cool breeze at 2:18 PM on November 16, 2010


Windows XP , works great, does what I need.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:13 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chopsticks. Essentially unchanged for thousands of years.

Ditto for the spoon, I suppose.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:46 PM on November 16, 2010


Doc Martens boots - the base design has remained the same for years. Arguably flawed.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:56 PM on November 16, 2010


The paduka is probably the world's oldest (and maybe simplest) sandal design, and is still worn by some.

Kulhars have probably been used as drinking vessels for 5000 years. Despite widespread use of plastic and paper cups, they're still very common. It can be argued they do the job just as well, and maybe better in terms of their ability to be crushed and recycled.

That said, the first time you're handed a cup made from a mix of clay and earth you think it can't be sanitary, but then you realize it's been fired, it's single use, and it makes your tea taste good. No polystyrene cup will ever do that for you.
posted by Ahab at 1:07 AM on November 17, 2010


Technics SL-1200 record deck, in production from 1979 - 2010 with very little changed since the original model. Pretty much the only substantial change was removing the point at 0% in pitch slider where the slider would click into place, as if you're DJing and trying to fix the pitch just to either side of the click point often it would annoyingly click into the middle. That was only changed in 1997 with the move from the MK2 to the MK3, but the MK2 stayed in production even after the introduction of the MK3.
posted by iivix at 1:31 AM on November 17, 2010


Whether the original SL-1200 was flawed or not though is up for debate, but in recent years Vestax, Stanton, etc. have added various functional improvements to their range of vinyl decks, whereas the 1200 has essentially remained unchanged throughout.
posted by iivix at 1:33 AM on November 17, 2010


I'll refudiate my own wild claims once again. Perhaps "oldest continuously used sandal design" might be better.
posted by Ahab at 1:40 AM on November 17, 2010


I found a pair of bullnose pliers and a wooden plance in a Roman museum in Silchester. Both of them looked modern to me, and I commented as much to the curator.
I was told the only significant differences from the modern versions were: (a) for the pliers, the handles were longer for more leverage (but the grip pattern and side notches for cutting wire were there); and (b) for the plane, the blades nowadays would be better quality steel and set at a different angle. But otherwise, the design hasn't really changed.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 5:15 AM on November 17, 2010


Garrincha's legs.

Pelikan has made piston-filler fountain pens since 1929: from a mechanical perspective, there's really not much to differentiate the 100 from the modern M-series. In the same period, Parker went through button-fillers, lever-fillers, Vacumatic and Aerometric, among others. While there are flaws to the design, especially with wear to the stopper, it works.
posted by holgate at 6:41 PM on November 17, 2010


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