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A Decent Kettle


This essay does not describe an existing computer program, just one that should exist. This essay is about a suggested student project in Java programming. This essay gives a rough overview of how it might work. I have no source, object, specifications, file layouts or anything else useful to implementing this project. Everything I have prepared to help you is right here.

This project outline is not like the artificial, tidy little problems you are spoon-fed in school, when all the facts you need are included, nothing extraneous is mentioned, the answer is fully specified, along with hints to nudge you toward a single expected canonical solution. This project is much more like the real world of messy problems where it is up to you to fully the define the end point, or a series of ever more difficult versions of this project and research the information yourself to solve them.

Everything I have to say to help you with this project is written below. I am not prepared to help you implement it; or give you any additional materials. I have too many other projects of my own.

Though I am a programmer by profession, I don’t do people’s homework for them. That just robs them of an education.

You have my full permission to implement this project in any way you please and to keep all the profits from your endeavour.

Please do not email me about this project without reading the disclaimer above.

Introduction Toastess KJK-55
Attributes of a Good Kettle Oster 5966-33
Implementation Books
The Plumbed Kettle


My parents used the same dome-shaped GE electric kettle all their adult lives. A friend showed me a Sunbeam electric frying pan I gave her for her wedding back in the 1960s still working daily. Yet the kettles I buy today are utterly hopeless. They are designed to self destruct within 12 months or less. They scald the user with steam, hot water or hot metal. They are difficult to use. Making a something as simple as a kettle difficult to use takes talent. I have nothing but angry things to say about most kettle designs.

Your job is twofold, to come up with a decent mechanical design and to write the programming to simulate the control system for the sensors. You might look at high end kettles such as the Braun, Cuisinart, Oster and Toastess for ideas. Assume money is no object.

Attributes of a Good Kettle

Here are the attributes of a good kettle:

  1. Durable. It a crime against nature to create non-recyclable, disposable objects.
  2. The kettle should not scald or burn the user. This means it must be difficult for the user to get her hand in the flow of any steam or water. It should not burn you if you touch it in the wrong place. It should not spit if you pour while the water is still boiling. Perhaps the kettle could be designed like a steel Thermos bottle so that the outside surface stays cool, both to save energy and to avoid burning the user.
  3. It should be easy to tell from a distance the three states of the kettle: off (dark), coming to a boil (red) and ready (green). All of today’s kettles have at most a two-state indicator.
  4. When the water is ready, it should make a cheerful noise to tell you, not just in inaudible click. The sound can be made electronically. It does not have to be a steam whistle.
  5. People often set water on to boil during a TV commercial then forget and come back later and the water is cold again. Deal with this in three ways:
    1. a whistle when the water is ready (not necessarily a steam whistle). It can be a cellphone-style ringtone.
    2. Insulate the kettle so the water stays hot after the delay.
    3. Use an indicator to let the user know the water is still hot after the delay.
  6. The control to turn the kettle on and off should be large, prominent and obvious. You want guests to be able to use the kettle without training.
  7. The kettle should be easy to clean inside and out. You need to be able to scour out mineral deposits. This means the inside of the kettle should be cavernous without various pipes and protuberances that are difficult to clean.
  8. It should be easy to tell just how much water is in the kettle. Looking at water is a glass window is not good enough. You need an easy-to-read indicator. Perhaps you could use a LED (Light-Emitting Diode) strip that uses weight to calibrate the degree of fullness.
  9. If you turn the kettle on without water, it should immediately turn off, not fry the element.
  10. The kettle should encourage you, but not demand, that you empty boiled water from a previous boiling and refill with fresh cold water.
  11. The kettle should turn off before it boils completely dry to avoid baking on minerals and frying the element.
  12. Energy efficiency. Don’t needlessly radiate energy. See what you can with the kettle’s microprocessor to train the user to boil just the amount needed, no more.
  13. Consider warning the user about poor water quality, too warm, too cloudy…
  14. Design the base so that if the counter that the kettle rests on floods, it does no damage.


Your sensors might measure conductivity, weight, temperature, contacts with the base…

Consider using an induction rechargeable battery in the kettle so that the microprocessor can continue to function even when the kettle is removed from the base or is not firmly settled on the base.

The Plumbed Kettle

Consider a second design that uses a built-in unit with water supply plumbing. You would put your cup or pot underneath and push a button to select the amount of water you want boiled and poured. You put your cup on tray under the unit and it warms just that amount of water and trickles it into the cup. It does not maintain a hot water tank, unless you can figure out how to superinsulate it. It might keep a small supply, say a cupful ready to go immediately.

Toastess KJK-55

Toastess KJK-55

This was my immediately previous kettle that died a premature death.

Oster 5966-33

Oster 5966-33

This is the kettle I have now. It is a reasonably good kettle:


book cover recommend book⇒The Design of Everyday Thingsto book home
by Donald A. Norman 978-0-385-26774-8 paperback
birth 1935-12-25 age:82 978-0-465-06709-1 hardcover
publisher Currency 978-0-465-00394-5 eBook
published 1990-02-01 978-1-4526-0412-1 audio
  B003KVKYAM kindle
Though this is not particularly about designing GUIs, I love this book. It was like meeting somebody else who understood my frustration with the ineptness in the design of user interfaces for computer programs, household appliances and just about anything mechanical. He grabbed ill-formed ideas out of my mind and laid them clearly on paper. A classic. The principles behind creating simple, useful, easy to understand appliances. Much of this thinking also applies to computer programs. This is a great read, highly entertaining. This book is sold under three alternate ISBNS: paperback:978-0-465-06710-7, 978-0-465-05065-9, 978-0-385-26774-8.
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