Acme 2000 Toaster


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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 Starbuck's goes best with a precise level
of toastal 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. Toastal quality exceeds projections.

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 companywide 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 toastal-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Acme 2000 is obsolete -- something about using springs in the silicon age.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 toastal 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 user."

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 microswitches 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, 3-MIPS CPU.

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 pc board.

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, OK?"

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 boasted proudly.

Day 384: Toastal 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 around.

Day 410: New schedule: We now expect delivery in three months. We switched
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 SPARCstation.

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 multiplatform
software."

Day 610: The product shipped. It weighs 72 lb and costs $325. Bill was
promoted to CEO.






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