Flashback to the 1980s, when handheld barcode scanners are just coming on the market, and this programmer pilot fish works for a small company that has big plans for them.
"We ordered one so that we could become familiar with it and write specialized code to make it read water meters," says fish.
"The spec sheet said the reader had 128K of memory, expandable to 256K -- in those days, quite impressive for something small enough to pick up with just one hand -- and could survive a four-foot drop onto concrete."
It's also hideously expensive, and when it arrives the company's entire staff gathers around to fondle it. One thing they all notice: The device makes an annoyingly loud beep with almost every key press, and there's no obvious way to turn that off.
Then the boss tells fish and the company's other programmer, Barney, to take more time with it, since they'll be writing the code.
Barney gets it first, and heads into his office. A moment later, fish notices Barney has closed his door -- odd, because everyone in the company tends to leave office doors open.
A few hours later Barney emerges, briskly walks into fish's office, lays the scanner on fish's desk and says, "It's all yours."
"As I was playing with it, I noticed that the annoying beep was gone," fish says. "I thought Barney had found a setting for turning down the volume. Good for him.
"We wrote the software, and that scanner became our demo unit. As sales were made and new units passed through our office, we noticed they all had that loud beep. But that was the customers' problem. They had the manuals, so they could turn down the volume if they wanted."
Flash forward several years. Barney is leaving the company -- and he finally confesses to fish why the demo scanner has no beep.
Turns out that the first thing Barney did with the scanner was to fumble it as he was sitting down at his desk. It only dropped about 12 inches to the desk surface, but the device split open and parts flew everywhere.
So much for surviving a four-foot drop onto concrete.
Afraid he'd be fired for destroying the pricey scanner, Barney shut the door and spent the next hours frantically trying to reassemble it.
And in the end it worked -- all except the speaker. Its wires had pulled loose, and Barney's attempt to reattach them with super glue failed to make the connection.
"I was with the company for several more years," says fish. "The demo scanner continued to work perfectly -- except for the beep."
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