Embedded Systems September 2000 Vol13_10

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Jack W. Crenshaw The Topic That Would Not Die BOy, when I predicted that this series was going to be the longest-running ever, 1 wasn'tjust whistling Dixie, was I? I had no idea it would drag out as long as it has. I'm detem1ined, however, to make a very large dent in the topic of minimiza- tion of a one-dimensional function this month.l want to get on witl1 it, so I won't spend a lot of time philosophizing. 1 do, however, have a couple of thoughts that I need/ want to hare. I'll try to make tl1em as brief as possible. First, you may recall that in my last column, I ranted pretty loudly about my expe1 ·ience with Dell Computers. ln tl1e interest of fairn ess, I think l should offer a view from tl1e otl1er side. o, Dell didn 't come back and address all of my complaints. No, tl1ey didn't offer to take the computer back or give me a new one. Dell 's service record remains as rotten as eve r; I haven' t heard from tl1em at all. I did hear from two other disgruntled Dell customers, whose stories are as bleak a my own . One has had tl1ree video boards replaced . vVhen he asked Dell to give him a different brand of board, one that actually work~, they refused . The ir position: you ordered Brand X, you get Brand X. Apparently, Dell is content to keep replacing tl1e Brand X board forever. Meanwhile, th is reader is tuck with a $3,000 boat anchor. Another reader, however, took me to task for be ing unfa ir to De ll . Considering that he had similar expe- riences with Gateway, I guess 1 have to agree. It's not that Dell is a bad com- metal was thick and ·trong, the parts ove1 ·-engineered, and th e designs intended to allow maintenance, essen- tially forever. My parents had an old GE refrigerator, th e kind with th e cylindrical evaporator on top. That sucker would freeze a milk bottle as solid as steel if you turned the thermo- stat far from "min." Likewi e, my wife and I had a portable Kenmore dish- washer that ran like a train for years. It was given to us used, and we handed it down to someone else. The only th ing tl1at stopped either one of those appli- ances wa tl1at the rubber gaskets rot- ted with age, and we couldn 't find replacements. We had an old '46 Buick which was once side wiped by a truck. It knocked about ] 00 pounds of caked mud out from under the car, but we were never able to find a single mark where tl1e u·uck hit it. One night, in a d1·ive-in theatre, a new Mercury side- already had one, and the products were so good, they saw no reason to "upgrade." In the '50s, some bean- counter invented a new concept. It's called planned obsolescence. Around that time, I worked for two compani es, GE and IBM, whose consumer products groups had what were argual ly among the best engi- neers who ever ea1 ·ned a degree. Their marching orders were imple: design the product so it will fai l the day afte r the warranty runs out. At first, every once in awhi le th ey would screw up and actually produce a qual- ity product. But over the years they got better, meaning that the products got worse. Today, thanks to comput- erized modeling tools such as Nastran and its kin , an engineer can design a part with a safety factor of 1.001 , and just enough mate rial in it so t.l1at it will ba rely hold togeth er, assuming Embedded Systems Programming SEPTEMBER 2000 17 pany to deal with , relatively speaking. It's that they' re all bad. I've been pondering tl1is matte1 · in great detail, and I tl1ink I've figured out what's going on. See whetl1er you agree. Back in tl1e '40s, when l was a kid, manufacturers built stuff to last. The swiped the same car. It ripped off his entire front-end grille, bumper, the works. We felt only the slightest bump, and again could find no damage. Then someone noticed that people weren 't buying Buicks, refrigerators, or dishwashers anymore. Most fo lks Locked in battle with his twin nemeses-Dell and minimization-Crenshaw pines for the good old days and gains some mathematical ground.

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