Just another day, you and me in paradise

So, today I did this massive circuit board layout for our big Shaft Seal test fixture controller. All right, I mean, I really meant to. Honest.

Oh, and got on about half the company’s shit lists within a few days. It’s not everyday you can piss off two entire departments by accident.

Anyway, last Friday one of our Mechies CC’ed the EEs on an email about product development, and why a certain (halfway-developed-sitting-on-the-shelf*) electronic product of ours isn’t on our web site as a product, with some well-intentioned suggestions on how to get it there (such as license it to our huge competitor, who already has a product line of these things). I replied to it with an explanation of what would be involved in getting it there and unwittingly set off this whole firestorm. As previously mentioned, “List it on your own website and wait for Google to find it” does not a marketing strategy make. Sure, this strategy (along with qDot pimping it heavily at conferences, and links in The Register and a print magazine) made sales of the Drmn’ Trance Vibe soar to over 6 a month at one point, but in a Real Company, 6 sales a month does not brisk business make. (My company’s energy harvesting product, using the same “marketing strategy” (minus qDot), has comparable sales volumes.) Anyway, this did not go over well – our Marketing Department (webmaster), miffed that his mighty HTML efforts had gone underappreciated, shot back with some product placement suggestions of his own.

Now today, Production (2 guys) announces that the high voltage amplifier they’ve been borrowing in ELAB for the last year or so has been relocated to Production for the time being. Knowing why this is the case (they broke theirs a year ago and have been using ours rather than pay the upkeep on their own equipment), I wrote back a reply privately asking why they haven’t replaced their own yet, noting it isn’t really fair to push their operating costs off onto other departments. Crap, ‘nother firestorm.

Not two hours later, one of the production guys catches me at lunch with Yet Another Router Emergency. I had to ask him if he was serious at least twice, thinking ProdGuy2 copied him in on the shitstorm and he was dicking me around as payback, but I come downstairs to humor him and sure enough, the router is juddering around like a freshly-swatted hornet in response to any attempt to command it to home position. The problem only manifests right when it gets to the optical home switch (after which it fine-tunes its position using an index wheel), so it looks like an open-and-shut case of hosing some dust off the index wheel and going back upstairs to get some real work done.

Nyet.

Okay, how about changing out the indexer for a spare. Get into the storage room, and find that someone threw away one of the spare CNC routers, along with its accompanying sound-proofing dust hood. Not eBayed, not Craigslisted, not taken it home… put it out next to the dumpster without asking anyone, because it was taking space. What. The. Fuck. (Granted, this machine was non-functional due to previous part pilferings, but these machines go for about $50K new, and with some creativity, suitable replacement parts would have run less than a grand.) (Had I known, that shit would be safely in my basement, carving me some furniture right now.) Anyway, there was one indexer left and by the time 5:00 rolls around I’ve found the actual source of the problem, after changing out the indexer just made things worse (machine just sits there with the jitters). It was a worn-out control box connector; plugging it out and in to add wires for a ‘scope caused the machine to unfail, in true heisenbug fashion. Yeah, now I feel like an idiot, but a vaguely angry one at that.

* Hardware-wise, the device is developed, in the sense that there are working prototypes; we’re even using them in the lab and they blow the pants off of Futek’s boards and any of Omega’s anonymous little black shitboxes. The initial design was completed literally in two days during an oh-shit-emergency-we-need-this-yesterday installfest at a customer’s site. However, the other 90% needed to actually make a product of it — characterizing it over an entire range of temperatures, input voltages and other conditions, qualifying it, coming up with guaranteed specs, making a datasheet and user’s manual, idiotproofing, design-for-manufacture and setting up a production run, to say nothing of all the ass-kissing / gladhanding / marketing dollars needed to get it exposed — weren’t in the cards.

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