Thursday, December 06, 2012

Color to Grayscale (3):

This morning I weighed 223.6 pounds. I think my diet is starting to work.

Yesterday I mentioned the TV studio video switch that our customer wanted for his process control system, to enable any operator to see what was on any color CRT from any workstation. For some reason, two of the CRTs had to be grayscale, not color. So we agreed to provide hardware to convert color video to grayscale for these two CRTs.

My company always did fixed-bid work. Each contract we took on had one price without any escape clauses. We had to calculate costs in advance, very, very carefully. We usually worked with one particular company to provide any special video needs, and we asked them to design the color-to-grayscale hardware. They estimated $20,000 (which might be about $100,000 in today's money) and we took that cost into account in our fixed bid. This particular contract was harder to implement than anticipated, and that $20,000 estimate stuck in our minds like a sore thumb, especially since the subcontractor, a very busy small company, seemed not to be working on it.

We pressed for status, for preliminary designs, and … nothing.

One day, shortly before we went into final testing, one of the senior guys from this subcontractor showed up with a metal box, about the size of a deck of cards. It was open on one side so we could see its innards. It had three video connectors for the R/G/B inputs and one connector for the grayscale output. Inside the box were a few wires and a few resistors. It worked perfectly.

When I proudly showed our director that the grayscale problem was solved, he exploded. “They charged us $20,000 for THAT???”

He demanded an explanation from the subcontractor's president. The guy mildly said, “You know what this fixed bid business is like. Sometimes you lose money, sometimes you make more than you expect. When we made our estimate, we thought the video converter was going to be expensive to develop.”

“I'm not paying $20,000 for THAT!” my director shouted. Eventually, I think we compromised for $5,000, which was still a great overpayment.

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