My So-Called Job

This story is from the Old Stuff Archive. I’m going through the archive and re-posting a bunch of old items that didn’t make the cut when I migrated this site from FrontPage to WordPress. Enjoy!

Some people are under the misguided impression that IT jobs are “glamorous” and “exciting”. They’re not. I was once hired by IBM to answer phones for their internal Y2K Help Desk. Initially, the job kept me pretty busy: my coworker Janette and I were getting a fair number of calls. After a few weeks, though, the calls really died down.

Since Janette and I were contractors, we were treated lower than dirt. And because the site was originally owned by GE Financial and had only recently been sold to IBM, corporate paranoia ran amok. We had to give our driver’s licenses to the security guards every day to get our “visitor’s badge”. We weren’t allowed to have a company email account. The firewall blocked access to 99.99% of all interesting content on the Internet. We were relegated to sitting in the training room and had to use the PCs there… and were not allowed to customize them at all. In fact, there were originally three of us, but one guy was fired for – I kid you not – moving the taskbar to the top of the screen. Because of all this, if our phones weren’t ringing we literally had nothing to do. And when the calls died down, I started to go a little crazy.

To explain it to others, I kept a diary for a day. This entry is from September 1st, 1998 and is absolutely true. Enjoy my insanity!

07:55 – Entered building
07:58 – Logged in the phone.
08:00 – Unzipped a file that had some bitmap flags I was designing with MS Paint (why, yes I am a geek).
08:01 – Played with the flags with MS Paint.
08:12 – Bored with the flags, play a few games of Solitaire.
08:30 – Bored with that, and tired too! I think I’ll take a nap.
09:20 – A nearby phone rings, which wakes me up. Need a cigarette.
09:30 – Back, with coffee for me and Janette.
09:35 – ANOTHER quick game of Solitaire.
09:45 – Back to the bitmaps; made an English flag and a couple of others.
10:05 – Started drawing a castle with MS Paint.
10:33 – Yawn. Going for another smoke and a bathroom break.
10:41 – Back. Janitor left the bathroom closet unlocked – briefly considered getting high off Endust.
10:42 – Hmmmm. Bored with the castle – I guess I’ll start reading Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.
10:50 – Woo-Hoo! The phone rings!
10:50 – Dammit! Wrong number!
11:35 – Read the first 28 pages of Wise Blood. Janette goes to lunch. Still no calls.
11:45 – Yawn again. Too sleepy for Wise Blood – back to Solitaire.
12:02 – WOO-HOO! A real call! A guy in Barrington, IL needs IDs created on the t2k4 mainframe!
12:05 – Through logging the call.
12:06 – Saw a commercial last night for a Carpenter’s CD; have “On Top Of The World” in my head – the Endust is looking better!
12:15 – Fuckin’ sick of Solitaire. Back to Wise Blood.
12:39 – Janette is back. Lunchtime!
14:01 – Omygosh! Another call!
14:18 – Well, that guy had the wrong number, only it took me 15 minutes to figure it out. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s still just 1 call.
14:21 – A maintenance guy comes in and fucks with a phone on the other side of the room. Leaves after 30 seconds.
14:25 – Maintenance guy comes back, picks up the phone, looks puzzled, leaves again.
14:26 – Mark comes in to say chat – he’s a guy who works in the NOC. I feel like a guy who just got off a deserted island….
14:42 – Mark leaves. I decide to write rant about a friend of mine that I’ll email ’round the world later.
14:50 – My friend Holly calls.
15:20 – Holly and I get off the phone.
15:32 – Holly calls back.
15:40 – Holly and I get off the phone.
15:43 – ANOTHER CALL! I’m getting carpal tunnel here! I log on to the mainframe and reset the ID.
15:45 – Finished rant, not in the mood to do my daily NT studying… Wonder where the maintenance guy went.
15:46 – Wonder if the Endust is still in the bathroom. Ah, never mind – back to Flannery O’Connor.
16:53 – No calls; I’m logging off for the evening.

Yep – eight hours and two phone calls that took a grand total of five minutes to log. We never used the same PC more than once and eventually I got so bored that I changed some of the hardware entries in the Registry so that in Device Manager all the hardware was listed as “another crappy IBM product”. I wonder if anyone ever noticed…

Top 10 Tunes

Here’s my top 10 song chart for the week ending August 26, courtesy of the home office in London:

1) Marsheaux – “Summer”
2) Class Actress – “Careful What You Say”
3) The Jam – “In the Crowd”
4) The Magnetic Fields – “Swinging London”
5) Marsheaux – “Empire State Human”
6) The Watson Twins – “Just Like Heaven”
7) Asobi Seksu – “Perfectly Crystal”
8) Junica – “Living In My House” (featuring Pip Brown)
9) Foretaste – “Alone With People Around”
10) Public Image Ltd. – “Deeper Water”

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Quote of the Day

“The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas.  But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas.  The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut.

Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus.  Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.  As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.”

– G.K. Chesterton

Top 10 Tunes

Here’s my top 10 song chart for the week ending August 19, courtesy of the home office in London:

1) Alpine – “Gasoline”
2) Ambra Red – “Beauty 606”
3) Blackbird Blackbird – “Hawaii”
4) Hefner – “The Hymn For The Cigarettes”
5) Wild Nothing – “Shadow”
6) The Magnetic Fields – “Swinging London”
7) Marsheaux – “Empire State Human”
8) Class Actress – “Careful What You Say”
9) Blackbird Blackbird – “Pure”
10) Alpine – “Seeing Red”

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RETRO TECH: Aromance Aroma Disc Player

One of my best friends in middle school was a guy named Scott. As it turned out, both of us had family in Lawrenceville, the next town over. Since “Larryville” was the largest city in the county at the time, Scott and I often wanted to go there for the better movie theatre, the bigger arcade, or the cooler pizza place. And since one of us was sure to go there almost weekly, that person would usually call the other to see if he wanted to bum a ride to (my) grandparents’ house or (his) cousin’s house.

And so it was one day back in 1983. Scott’s older sister – Theresa, a Joan Jett lookalike – was driving the two of us to Lawrenceville for some reason, and she needed to stop at Treasury Drug (how’s that for a blast from the past?) to buy some… “lady products”. Scott and I wanted no part of her tampon purchase, so we goofed around in the “general merchandise” section of the store while she did her thing. And there, we saw the coolest thing ever:


It was called the “Aromance Aroma Disc Player”, and it combined the age-old act of scenting a home with the Compact Disc, the latest and greatest music phenomenon. We were instantly hooked, and both of us whipped out the $19.99 (or whatever) to buy one.

The “player” sat on your desk and plugged in to the wall. You turned it on and inserted a “scent disc”, which was a piece of plastic slightly smaller than a CD. It had a thick piece of waffle weave fabric inside which had been doused in a certain scent. The player heated the disc, which caused the scent to emerge from the player, and a fan gently pushed the scent into the room.


The discs, which came in digipak type sleeves, had enticing names, like “Fireplace”, “Seduction”, “Mountain Top”, “A Dozen Roses”, “After Dinner Mints”, “Ocean Breeze”, “Passion”, and (to show you how non-PC it was back in 1983) “Oriental Mystery”. But my favorite by far was “Movie Time”, which smelled like buttered popcorn. I enjoyed the other scents, but went back and bought two more “Movie Time” discs, since the discs only retained their scent for a certain number of “plays”.

The device was originally developed by Charles of the Ritz back in 1982. That company was started by a hairdresser named Charles Jundt in the 1920s. In 1916, Jundt took over the salon at New York’s City’s Ritz hotel, which later became the Ritz-Carlton. In 1919, Jundt (who was known by his well-to-do clients as just “Charles of the Ritz”) began selling cosmetics. In 1927 he introduced a line of fragrances. Most have been forgotten, but his most popular, Jean Naté, is still sold today. And Enjoli, another popular brand, was created in 1978, long after Jundt’s death.

The ownership history of Charles of the Ritz is long and complex, so I won’t go into it here. But in 1972, the company was purchased for $100 million by pharmaceutical giant E.R. Squibb (now Bristol-Myers Squibb). It was during this time that the Aromance Player was developed. At some point, the product was sold to Remington. I know this because, in researching this article, I noticed that there’s a distinct physical difference between the early Charles of the Ritz models and the later Remington models. My version, pictured above, was made by Remington. Earlier models had an angled front and for some reason remind me of cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica series.

I miss my old Aromance player. It sounds silly, but the idea of sliding a disc into a player seemed so Space Age at the time. And while technology could greatly improve such a device these days, the underlying desire for what it did never really went away.


In 1948, a 24 year-old man named Glen Bell opened a hot dog stand in the sleepy town of San Bernardino, California. Business at Bell’s Drive-In was pretty good, so good that in 1952 he sold the stand and built a new, more perfect one based on his experience running the first.

As fate would have it, in 1940 two brothers named Dick and Mac McDonald took over their father’s barbecue joint in Monrovia, California. It had been known as “The Airdrome” because it was located by the airport, but the brothers moved the entire building to San Bernardino, where they renamed it “McDonald’s Famous Barbeque”. In 1948, the brothers sat down and figured out that their most popular items were burgers, fries and shakes. So they shut the place down for a while and streamlined the entire operation around only those items. They reopened the restaurant as “McDonald’s” on December 12, 1948.

The brothers’ new restaurant was incredibly popular, so Bell tinkered with his menu to differentiate his place from McDonald’s. Bell loved Mexican food, and tacos seemed like a natural fit. He tweaked his chili recipe into a taco meat recipe, and tacos were soon the best-selling item on the menu. Bell eventually ditched the dogs and burgers and started a small chain called Taco Tias. He took on a business partner, and when he and the partner clashed over expanding to Los Angeles, Bell sold out and started a new chain called El Tacos. Bell again feuded with his new partners, and in 1962 he sold his share of El Tacos and started a new chain of his own: Taco Bell.

But that isn’t the most amazing thing about Glen Bell. Sure, he probably did more than any single person to make tacos and burritos popular in the United States. And sure, he started one of the largest fast food chains in America, giving his shareholders untold wealth and many a teenager a summer job.

But did you know he was related to Sherlock Holmes, too?

Continue reading “Elementary”

Deleting Aliases

In case you missed it, Microsoft is overhauling Hotmail. The new service,, features a spiffy Windows 8-inspired interface and will eventually have tight integration with Skype, Office Web Apps and SkyDrive (the service is still in “preview mode” and many of the new features are incomplete).

One of the coolest features of the new service is that you can create multiple aliases for your account. Say you created your Hotmail account 15 years ago, back when you were in college. And, like a bad tattoo, you picked an email address that’s slightly embarrassing today, like or Now you can add a more professional alias to your account, like ( and domains are also available, but are pretty picked over by this point). So your friends can continue to email you at the old address, but you can also send and receive mail with your new address as well.

If you’d rather just rename your account altogether you can do that too. In that case, will make your new alias permanent, and you’ll have to log in with the new address. Outlook will retain your old address as an alias, so you will still receive mail addressed to the old account.

But what if you don’t want your old address? What if, like me, you used your Hotmail account just enough to get a lot of spam, but not enough to really care about any email you receive there? In my case, I used my old Live account mostly to sign up for free music downloads. So the only things I ever got at that address were newsletters from bands I might (or might not) care about these days, and a bunch of spam. And the spam from the address was clogging up my new account. Can’t I get rid of the old Live address and start fresh with just the Outlook address?

Yes, although the feature is hidden because it hasn’t been transitioned from the old service yet. To delete any alias from your account, login to your account and do the following:

1) Click the “gear” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Choose “Switch back to Hotmail” (you may be asked to provide feedback as to why you’re switching back; click “Skip feedback”).

2) Click on your name in the upper-right corner and choose “Options”:


3) Click “Email Addresses” under the “Account” section:


4) Click “Remove” for any addresses you no longer want.

5) Sign out of Hotmail, then sign back in at to go back to the new UI.

Aaaaannnddd there you go: a new account, minus the old Hotmail or Live address that was getting so much spam. I was receiving 4-5 spams a day from my old address, but haven’t received one since I got rid of my old address last week!