Multifunction vs. Complexity Part 1



A key tenant to living a simpler life is having less stuff. Because stuff takes time and it takes space. It takes time to maintain, reconfigure, and mess with. And it takes up space. On walls, on desks, on walls, or more likely, anywhere that there is room.

One way to have less stuff is to have a smaller living area. A smaller house forces you to make decisions on what stays and what goes. But eliminating stuff does not necessarily eliminate the need for a given function. While some functions can be eliminated, many functions still need to be done.

I wanted to discuss a few trades in the area of stuff vs. function that I have made, and why...

No Television, Just iMac

A goal of mine has been to not have a television. A modern "status symbol", like "not being on Facebook", not having a television prevents you from wasting time watching television because you do not have one. But you still want to watch the occasional show or movie or play the occasional video game. So we spent six months in late 2010 with the television (46" LCD) stored in the garage, with a 27" iMac serving as an entertainment hub.

The mid-2010 iMac, with its mini Display Port input allowed scaled video content (with accompanying audio) over HDMI through the use of a converter box. In this case, the best on the market was the Atlona AT-HD620, which allowed this magic to happen. The new iMacs with Thunderbolt only accept Thunderbolt input, so this is no longer possible, as far as I know.


  • Could watch limited TV shows, plus BluRay disc movies, and play Xbox 360 (using an HDMI switcher)
  • Really nice screen on iMac


  • System eccentricities made it difficult for others to operate
  • 27" inches is smaller for a screen when you are not sitting right in front of it


The iMac would make a great TV replacement, if you could live with the small screen and did have to explain to others how to use it. The act of switching to a multifunction device (TV/Computer) from two independent devices (TV and computer) made things more complex, and no simpler, thus driving the complexity ratio in the wrong direction. And to get the functionality we needed, we probably would have ended up hooking the TiVo up as well, and we would have had just as much complexity as the dedicated TV setup, with a smaller screen and more quirks to the system.

Up next in future installments: Printers and scanners, road and mountain bikes, Blu-Rays vs. downloads, interchangeable lens cameras, harmony remotes.