So yesterday my friend Matt in Williamsport, Pa and I were catching up on the phone. Text messages can take a conversation only so far, it’s best when during those times when you can’t meet in person that you can at least talk on the phone. We got to talking about our shared OCD tendencies, as we both tend to eat our food one thing at a time. For example, all the meat, all the potatoes and then all the vegetables, or whatever. We both agreed that our food can touch, that’s just fine, we just eat one thing at a time. Apparently I’m further up the spectrum than he is because I will disassemble hot subs or sandwiches and salads. It drives Earl crazy. When presented with a meatball sub, I eat all the meatballs first then I eat the bread. When eating a salad I eat all the tomatoes, then all the cucumbers, then all the peppers, then I finally get to the lettuce. It’s just the way I eat and I’ve always eaten this way. I’m not finicky, I’m just organized. Matt has labels on his light switches, so there’s our OCD trade-off.
This got me to thinking about some of my idiocyncracies that I’m aware of (I’m sure there are more that I don’t even realize that I’m doing) and then wondering about my steel-trap memory and observational powers. I notice things. I notice patterns, I notice changes in rhythm, I notice changes in appearance and I can easily follow a process. I think this has helped my computer-based career over the years as I can easily spot abnormalities. For example, if a pre-programmed routine is suppose to run every day at a certain time, I will instantly notice if something is amiss. I’ve been telling our Database Administrators that a completion email for a daily routine has been arriving 12-15 minutes late for the past two weeks. They say don’t worry about it. I tell them that something has to be off because the emails are arriving later. Computers don’t get lazy, something is impeding normal progress. Today the process finally failed. Something changed. They’re looking into it.
The process and consistency of computing devices, especially vintage devices, fascinate me. My initial interest in computing was sparked by the slow conversion of mechanical to electronic cash registers at grocery and department stores over the 1970s. I remember being fascinated by the space-age looking Singer-Friden cash registers at Sears and Roebuck (the first of their kind, by the way). When our local grocery store, the P&C converted to electronic cash registers in 1978 I was blown away. They were so cool. I watched cashiers do their thing and I learned the process of how the cash registers worked, even at 10 years old. In 1980, P&C hosted a “Food Fiesta” at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. The Center of Progress building was populated with food vendors giving tasting samples. There were cooking classes. And in one aisle, there was a display of the checkouts at your local P&C Food Store and the public could stand behind the counter, spin the counter belt and try ringing up items. It was 1980. I was 12 years old. I watched a couple of adults try to keep running the cash register and they couldn’t make it work. The “ERROR >” light kept lighting up on the display. The problem was easily apparent, the man was pushing the decimal key when he was trying to enter an item for 99 cents (this was before scanning was popular). He said the cash register was broken. A P&C representative started walking over to the register but I beat them to the cash register. I then hit CLEAR and promptly rang up about 75 items at rapid speed, using advanced functions such as split pricing, multiple departments, food stamp exceptions, taxable items and the like. I even added a few store coupons and double vendor coupons to the order before punching in split tender – so much in cash and so much in a personal check. The order completed, the receipt was ejected from the top and the cash drawer popped open. I kept the receipt as a souvenir. The P&C representative and the few adults around me all asked, “how in the world do you know how to do that”? I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on.
My steel trap memory and my ability to observe. I should have put that super power to good use.
As I was formulating this blog entry in my head earlier today, I got to doodling on my work notebook and sure enough, I was able to draw this, and several other like it, out. From memory.
This is the layout of a Data Terminal Systems Series 400 (actually model 440) cash register keyboard in 1980 in a grocery store configuration. There’s only one button I can’t remember.