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The Age of the "New and Improved"
Toaster Software Development Project History
Day 1: My boss, an engineer from the pre-CAD days, has successfully
brought a generation of products from Acme Toaster Corp's
engineering labs to market. Bob is a wonder of mechanical ingenuity.
All of us in the design department have the utmost respect for him,
so I was honored when he appointed me the lead designer on the new
Acme 2000 Toaster.
Day 6: We met with the president, head of sales, and the marketing
vice president today to hammer out the project's requirements and
specifications. Here at Acme, our market share is eroding to
low-cost imports. We agreed to meet a cost of goods of $9.50
(100,000). I've identified the critical issue in the new design: a
replacement for the timing spring we've used since the original 1922
model. Research with the focus groups shows that consumers set high
expectations for their breakfast foods. Cafe latte from Starbucks
goes best with a precise level of toast browning. The Acme 2000 will
give our customers the breakfast experience they desire. I estimated
a design budget of $21,590 for this project and final delivery in
seven weeks. I'll need one assistant designer to help with the
drawing packages. This is my first chance to supervise!
Day 23: We've found the ideal spring material. Best of all, it's a
well-proven technology. Our projected cost of goods is almost $1.50
lower than our goal. Our rough prototype, which was completed just
12 days after we started, has been servicing the employee cafeteria
for a week without a single hiccup. Toast quality exceeds
Day 24: A major aerospace company that had run out of defense
contractors to acquire has just snapped up that block of Acme stock
sold to the Mackenzie family in the '50s. At a company wide
meeting, corporate assured us that this sale was only an investment
and that nothing will change.
Day 30: I showed the Acme 2000's exquisitely crafted toast-timing
mechanism to Ms. Primrose, the new engineering auditor. The single
spring and four interlocking lever arms are things of beauty to me.
Day 36: The design is complete. We're starting a prototype run of
500 toasters tomorrow. I'm starting to wrap up the engineering
effort. My new assistant did a wonderful job.
Day 38: Suddenly, a major snag happened. Bob called me into his
office. He seemed very uneasy as he informed me that those on high
feel that the Acme 2000 is obsolete - something about using springs
in the silicon age. I reminded Bob that the consultants had looked
at using a microprocessor but figured that an electronic design would
exceed our cost target by almost 50% with no real benefit in terms
of toast quality. "With a computer, our customers can load the bread
the night before, program a finish time, and get a perfect slice of
toast when they awaken," Bob intoned, as if reading from a script.
Day 48: Bill Compguy, the new microprocessor whiz, scrapped my idea
of using a dedicated 4-bit CPU. "We need some horsepower if we're
gonna program this puppy in C," he said, while I stared fascinated
at the old crumbs stuck in his wild beard. "Time-to-market, you know.
Delivery is due in three months. We'll just pop this cool new
8-bitter I found into it, whip up some code, and ship to the end
Day 120: The good news is that I'm getting to stretch my
mechanical-design abilities. Bill convinced management that the old
spring-loaded, press-down lever control is obsolete. I've designed
a "motorized insertion port," stealing ideas from a CD-ROM drive.
Three cross-coupled, safety-interlock micro switches ensure that the
heaters won't come on unless users properly insert the toast. We're
seeing some reliability problems due to the temperature extremes, but
I'm sure we can work those out.
Day 132: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months.
We've replaced the 8-bitter with a Harvard-architecture, 16-bit,
Day 172: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months.
Day 194: The auditors convinced management we really need a
graphical user interface with a full-screen LCD. "You're gonna need
some horsepower to drive that," Bill warned us. "I recommend a 386
with a half-meg of RAM." He went back to design Revision J of the
Day 268: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months.
We've cured most of the electronics' temperature problems with a pair
of fans, though management is complaining about the noise. Bob sits
in his office all day, door locked, drinking Jack Daniels. Like
clockwork, his wife calls every night around midnight, sobbing. I'm
worried about him and mentioned my concern to Chuck. "Wife?" he
asked. "Wife? Yeah, I think I've got one of those, and two or
three kids, too. Now, let's just stick another meg of RAM in here,
Day 290: We gave up on the custom GUI and are now installing
Windows CE. The auditors applauded Bill's plan to upgrade to a
Pentium with 32 Mbytes of RAM. There's still no functioning code,
but the toaster is genuinely impressive. Four circuit boards,
bundles of cables, and a gigabit of hard-disk space. "This sucker has
more computer power than the entire world did 20 years ago," Bill
Day 384: Toast quality is sub-par. The addition of two more
cooling fans keeps the electronics to a reasonable temperature but
removes too much heat from the toast. I'm struggling with baffles to
vector the air, but the thrust of all these fans spins the toaster
Day 410: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months. We
switched From C++ to Java. "That'll get them pesky
memory-allocation bugs, for sure," Bill told his team of 15
programmers. This approach seems like a good idea to me, because
Java is platform-independent, and there are rumors circulating that
we're porting to a SPARC station.
Day 530: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months. I
mastered the temperature problems by removing all of the fans and
the heating elements. The Pentium is now thermally bonded to the
toast. We found a thermal grease that isn't too poisonous. Our
marketing people feel that the slight degradation in taste from the
grease will be more than compensated for by the "toasting experience
that can only come from a CISC-based, 32-bit multitasking machine
running the latest multi-platform software."
Day 610: The product ships. It weighs 72 lb and costs $325.
Bill is promoted to CEO.