Hidden Complexities In Simple Things

Hidden Complexities In Simple Things

Things always look simple when they are working.

When our electric piano broke down last month, we were at a lost. We have gotten so used to it coming alive at the flip of a switch, that we got angry with our domestic helper for not plugging the power cable back into the wall socket. On closer inspection, we realized that she was not the blame, and that the cause is something more… complex.

Nobody likes complexity, even engineers like me. To deal with complexity we come up with strategies like abstractions to hide away the complex details till the problem is simple enough to solve. We decided it was just not feasible to fix such an old electric piano like this. Besides, the piano came to us at no cost (it was a gift from an aunt ten years ago). It should be cheaper to just buy a second hand piano instead. Sounds simple enough, but a wise man once said:

“”When you start looking at a problem, and it seems really simple with all these simple solutions, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. And your solutions are way too simplified and they don’t work.” – Steve Jobs

I did a little googling to find a second hand piano, and while the cost is cheap, I have totally under-estimated the cost of moving such a large and delicate object between two location. Buying a piano direct from the factories does bring the delivery cost down, but it just means shifting the cost back to the piano itself.

So we went back to the drawing board and asked if it was possible to repair the piano? Not being naive this time, we did our research and found the cost to be more than we can justify. We did however find a friend who was willing to have a go at repairing the electric piano. If the problem was as simple as a blown fuse, this could save us lots of money. Furthermore, he offered to do it for free.

So last weekend, we got to look at the insides of the electric piano for the first time. Compared to the neat rows of black and white keys, the insides look like the final scene of a Mission Impossible movie. ‘Is it the red wire or green wire? Kaboom!’

At this point, most of us would have given up but our friend persisted to find where the problem lies, but despite hours devoted to it, nothing was found. We quickly put everything back together and went for a good dinner.

In the end, we settled on purchasing a smaller Yamaha keyboard instead. A smaller keyboard is actually more suitable for our three year old who has small fingers and still a few more years to go before formal piano lessons. While It may sound like a compromise, it works; And no matter how simple or complex a solution turn out to be, that is all that matters.


With a heavy heart, we will hand the old Yamaha Clavinova CVP-205 to our neighborhood recycler soon. As mentioned, the piano was a gift from our aunt when we moved into our first apartment over ten years ago. I remembered we had wanted to buy a second hand piano back then when this gift was offered us, shipping included, and we were so grateful. We had enjoyed the piano all through the years, but its now time to move on.

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