Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Today as I was enjoying a bit of an indulgent semi-lunch at Bel Cafe consisting of a hazelnut danish, a Macchiato and a special hot chocolate creation, I started thinking about simplicity. This was prompted by the complex flavors of the chai infused hot chocolate with hazelnut oil scented whipped cream, sprinkled with granules of caramelized honey and garnished with peppermint leaves. It looks nice:

Now think of chocolate in its (almost) purest form:

I have to admit I prefer the latter. The hot chocolate was good with some very interesting flavors but when it comes to food, I prefer simplicity. A piece of 83% dark chocolate can be supremely flavorful and just simply taste like chocolate. The hot chocolate I enjoyed at Bel was good, the Chai flavors very comforting with the bright whipped cream and mint leaves complementing things nicely. Complex can be good, but simple usually is better.

My other favorite example are potato chips. A well made chip, the combination of good potatoes, high quality oil and sea salt can be delicious. For some reason however, people like to kill that flavor with vinegar or a plethora of chemically induced flavors. Sour cream and onion? Ketchup? Really?

I like to stick with the plain ones, Miss Vickie's being my favorite. The concept of simplicity goes a lot further, when I see really complicated and long menus at restaurants, I become a bit wary. The best places usually have a short menu, 5 or 6 items per section and dishes have short lists of ingredients. One of my favorite desserts to make at home is called a Tarte Tatin. It is a delectable combination of fruit, caramel and pastry. It has exactly four ingredients, sugar, butter, fruit (apple or pear usually) and flour. The end result however, of fruit stewed in a combination of caramel, butter and its own juices sitting on top of pastry that has been baked golden brown on one side and soaked in caramel and fruit juice on the other is gorgeous.

Simplicity also applies to what I do at work. Over the years, pragmatism and experience have led me down a path of least complexity when it comes to designing and implementing software systems. Engineers sometime like to build beautiful but complex systems that are hard to understand, have multiple failure points and can be impossible to maintain by others. Simple elegance however usually results in systems that are easy to understand. Combining these simple building blocks can still lead to complex results. Look in nature, a single ant is a very simple little insect. A few million ants together can build incredible structures and exhibit very complex behaviour.

So yes, simplicty. Something to strive for.

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