In the 1990's (or earlier?), an unattributed piece was written about an electrical engineer and a software developer who were tasked with building a toaster. You can view the piece in its entirety here.

It is unattributed. No copies on the Internet that I've found reference the author.

Does anyone know who wrote this piece?

Below is a quote of its introduction:

Once upon a time, in a kingdom not far from here, a king summoned two of his advisors for a test. He showed them both a shiny metal box with two slots in the top, a control knob, and a lever. "What do you think this is?"

One advisor, an Electrical Engineer, answered first. "It is a toaster," he said. The king asked, "How would you design an embedded computer for it?" The advisor: "Using a four-bit microcontroller, I would write a simple program that reads the darkness knob and quantifies its position to one of 16 shades of darkness, from snow white to coal black. The program would use that darkness level as the index to a 16-element table of initial timer values. Then it would turn on the heating elements and start the timer with the initial value selected from the table. At the end of the time delay, it would turn off the heat and pop up the toast. Come back next week, and I'll show you a working prototype."

The second advisor, a software developer, immediately recognized the danger of such short-sighted thinking. He said, "Toasters don't just turn bread into toast, they are also used to warm frozen waffles. What you see before you is really a breakfast food cooker. As the subjects of your kingdom become more sophisticated, they will demand more capabilities. They will need a breakfast food cooker that can also cook sausage, fry bacon, and make scrambled eggs. A toaster that only makes toast will soon be obsolete. If we don't look to the future, we will have to completely redesign the toaster in just a few years."

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See Red Dwarf for the ultimate toaster design - the talking toaster... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 5 '20 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ Obviously an electrical engineer forced to work with a department of software developers. $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '20 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ Someone called Ian Chai posted the story to the mailing list<HUMOR@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU> on 27th April 1994, and even then, he claimed that the origin of the story was 'lost in the mists of time'. $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '20 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ ... and there's a copy dated 9th December 1993 bearing the name "Lazar V. Mustur". $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '20 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielHatton Why don't you post it as a potential answer! $\endgroup$
    – r13
    Nov 27 '21 at 21:59

It was published in a magazine about database programming and design circa 1992-3. I cannot remember the name of the author or the magazine. It is quite possibly my favorite article about programming. I kept a copy for years but sadly it has gone walkies. Given the period, the specification of "An Intel Pentium with 48MB of memory, a 1.2GB hard disk" was beyond the wildest dreams of all but the largest corporations, which made it that much more amusing and validated the king's wisdom.


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