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Frances, I think you goofed and logged in as Nick. ;)

That bolt is the derivative of a tight schedule, where serviceability reviews were chucked off the back of the truck.

Try a ratchet wrench.

you sure that's not something mazda put in there to discourage owners from doing their own work? that's certainly become common with american autos over the past 2 decades...

ie, dealer mechanics have a special tool designed just to remove the troublesome bolt...

Nick, you seem to have spun my view of the economic world upside down. From my perspective, macro-economics never reaches equilibrium due to price rigidity, unfathomable regulations, speculation, etc. but the micro-world of small markets with competitive producers and discerning consumers seem to reach beautiful solutions.

Rather than concluding we have to live with small-scale disequilibrium in pursuit of big-scale equilibrium, isn't a better question "which equilibrium should be pursued?"

By way of example, would the cottage in Ireland be improved if somebody showed up with a microwave?

And yet another economist realizes free markets aren't perfect.

I advise against driving for the next 24 hours, the effects can be intoxicating.

jesse: one guy said a ratchet wrench worked well for him. Would have to be a very compact one though, to fit in there. I expect I should try and find a set. A guy can never have enough tools!

rjs: if they wanted to do that, they would have put more special fasteners on the car, not regular bolts. And they would have done it all over.

Peter: that's normally my view as well. But there's a lot of imperfect competition at the micro level. Local monopolies, etc.

Determinant: What's it got to do with markets being imperfect? Markets can, under some circumstances, coordinate the plans of many individuals. Markets can't turn those individuals into geniuses. People will still screw up. Or simply not think of everything.

Nice. You could also think of it in terms of social policy or any organisation, that is global design vs. amendements or the process of re-learning the details and re-working the quirks after a big change.

Nick, great post. I'm thinking about cars v. bicycles, and the way that bicycle parts are standardized and interchangeable, so you can keep on replacing bits of a bicycle and keep it going for years. Is it just that cars are way more complex than bicycles, or is there a choice of technology being made here? I'm thinking, e.g., of PCs or stereos, which have interchangeable somewhat standardized components, v. things manufactured by Apple, which all have unique to Apple components.

My pet peeve: chargers. Do you have any idea how many chargers we have for computers, cell phones, digital cameras, etc around the house? (The digital camera ones are particularly annoying, there's at least four just-slightly-different Canon chargers). Why couldn't those just be standardized and interchangeable?

Determinant, thanks!

"Why couldn't those just be standardized and interchangeable?"

I'm told by the people who make these decisions where I work that it's to drive sales. At least they think so. The theory is that if that charger/connector/whatever is non-standard, it's harder for people to substitute away to a competitor. Also, if something breaks, they have to buy the replacement from you.

Taking it one step further, in some cases the firm simply decides to not offer replacement parts for sale. If your widget breaks, you have to call and get the guy in the little white van to come to repair the widget. But that might take a week. Or two. Want priority access? Sign a service contract and give us $X dollars a month.

Ain't monopolistic "competition" grand? Though I suppose I shouldn't complain. These shenanigans pay my salary.

Francis, you may soon need to find a new pet peeve because virtually all of the cell phone manufacturers have now standardized on the micro USB connector and charging specification so that you can interchange chargers and even buy a phone without one. By the way, this welcome development came from government pressure, not the market. Here's the European Commission mandate.

Gregory - coming to the US January 2012 apparently: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9214909/CTIA_chief_Common_cell_phone_power_supply_port_coming_to_U.S..

So they'll soon be here, too - which is excellent news.

I've spent a lot of time cursing the people who designed cars (like my old Mini - the radiator cowling screws could only be reached by a trained octopus, and you had to remove the cowling to do almost anything to the car). But there are interesting packages of design - eg Russian design is often excellent - simple, ingenious, but has to work around poor materials and a slapdash attitude to assembly. German design tends to the overcomplicated - stretches the technical limits. Many Japanese things reflect the input of the shop floor, while British things tend to be designed in isolation from it (and are poorer for it). There are, presumably, complex and persistent social structures behind all this. But it doesn't get the bitch bolts off.

Nick: Used to have a Mercury Mystique which was a descendant of the 626 via the European Ford Mondeo. Nice handling but bitch bolt a very polite term for what I thought about the head gasket..
Pdt: During WWII, German tanks were known to be over-engineered and couldn't be repaired in the field. Same for planes. Reduced markedly front line availability.
British tanks were british, usually very good concept, akwardly built. Americans were not very good but repaired in a dash. The first 4 crews would get killed but the fifth would get the sole German tank ( the others being at rear maintenance facility). Russians were crude, badly assembled but simple to use and did the job beautifully. Same thing with the AKM assault rifle ( mistakenly known as AK-47). The tolerances are so huge that you can get any amount of mud in it and it still work while the early M-16 would jam by itself and numerous GI in Nam were found dead beside their rifle.

Yes - a lot of military equipment illustrates the point. I had another thought - any complex industrial product involves lots of planning. the "market" gets to judge only on the totality of the finished product, and design issues may only be a small part of the overall outcome.
Bit like evolution - if you get eaten it doesn't matter to you if it's because of a (genetic) design defect or bad luck or accident. Which is why geneticists think in terms of gene frequency over a population, not in terms of individuals. Which makes market judgement of large-scale industrial production very different from judgement about, for example, the local baker's loaves of bread.

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