Sometimes in IT classic "d'oh!" moments sneak up on you. This particular situation occurred sometime in the mid-1980s, back when the Web was in its infancy or maybe even before it was conceived.
I worked for a large corporation on a new project that involved shopping kiosks that one would use for purchasing goods from a number of recognized merchants -- a project considered quite high-tech at the time. The terminals featured a touchscreen, keyboard, credit card reader, and receipt printer for the transaction. In addition, it had lots of color images of products and an interactive touchscreen interface to make shopping for items on a computer more like shopping for real. We placed terminals in shopping malls and areas where there would be lots of foot traffic. In addition, we placed a terminal on the floor in our office so that we could use the system ourselves.
[ There are few jobs as, um, interesting as being in IT. InfoWorld has collected some of the most memorable 2008 experiences from the IT trenches | Do you know your geek IQ? Take our quiz and find out ]
As part of the pilot, we distributed about 40 of these terminals around the local metropolitan area to introduce the public to the kiosk's concept. I was a systems programmer and was responsible for the communications code that enabled price changes, sales information, and other data to be transferred to and from the mainframe computer. The protocol we established was that the kiosk would collect sales during the day, and at a configured time it would place a call (no TCP/IP) via an internal modem to the datacenter and upload the day's sales. Next, it would download from the host any price changes, identities of items to be removed, and so on. Finally, it would obtain from the host the next time it should dial in for data exchange and the phone number for it to call.
One day, we had to make a change to the communication software so we sent a programmer to the datacenter to install the change and test it. Later that afternoon, this programmer and I were hanging around the office of the CICS programmer and someone walked up and told us that the kiosk on our floor was constantly dialing. She was a project member and was able to obtain the phone number it was attempting to dial. When she told us what the phone number was, the CICS programmer reacted.
"That's my realtor's number."