Memory-Lane Monday: Self-inflicted

Things like this do tend to happen at 3:00 in the morning.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

It’s the 1980s, and this pilot fish works in a group at a big financial services company that provides 24/7 support. That means taking turns doing a weeklong on-call rotation.

Fish has done his on-call duty, with pager, before, but this is his first time with a new and improved pager. Now you don’t call back a prearranged phone number; you call the number that is displayed in a small window on the pager.

Come 3 a.m. Saturday, and the pager goes off. Fish gets up, sets up the take-home terminal and acoustic modem on his dining room table, grabs a cup of caffeine, and calls back the number on the beeper.

But what fish gets is a computer tone. Must be a home number sharing a fax, he figures. He hangs up and tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do next.

Then the beeper goes off again, displaying no number in the little window, suggesting the caller was impatient and didn’t even stay on the line long enough to enter the phone number.

Fish resents the impatience; he’s well within the 30-minute response time standard.

But he calls back the original number and gets the same computer tone response. Again he hangs up, thinking, What kind of pointy-haired idiot can’t even pick up his phone before the fax grabs it?

Then the pager beeps again, and again there’s no number. Fish dials the original number, and gets the same computer tone as before. He slams down the phone. A few minutes later, the pager goes off yet again.

Furious fish is ready to murder whoever is doing this to him at 3:30 a.m. when he happens to flip over the pager and spots the phone number taped on the back. It looks very familiar. It should — that's the number he’s been calling back, over and over.

“The idiot was obviously me,” admits fish. On first waking, he had called the number taped to the pager. He hung up quickly when he heard the computer tone, so no number was entered. But that call set off the self-inflicted page, and the cycle was begun.

In the end, no one ever called or complained about not getting a response to the page. Wrong number after all?

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