Cash register nunismatics

I spent two long summers working the seafood counter at Nathans at Coney Island. One of the few joys of a retail job like that is looking for foreign coins in the cash register at the end of the shift.

I was freshly reminded of that this morning, noticing that some generous soul donated what looks like 5 shekels at the local Dunkin Donuts.

A lame startup idea occured to me: building a coin counting machine that would OCR all the coins, sorting out any coins that have a nunismatic value higher than face value.


When I worked at TV Guide I had a co-worker who frequently used a phrase “couldn’t we just” (pronounced with a whiney way with a New Jersey accent) to drive web developers to the outer reaches of annoyance. The thing is, in software development there are very few things that are “just” and a lot of resons why we couldn’t.

One of the main reasons is that people tend to abuse just about any feature that you is created for them. This goes doubly for nice features.

Let’s say you have an understanding boss who lets you have some flexibility in your workday hours. You can safely bet that without frequent admonitions to come in at a reasonable hour your fellow cowokers (and probably yourself) will probe the limits of when to begin a workday to a ridiculous degree.

When I worked at a clam counter at Nathan’s at Coney Island we used to have a set of one pint containers with horseradish and cocktail sause. My supervisor told me to keep them under the counter and only furnish when requested. After a number of annoyed customers asked me why “couldn’t I just” leave them on the counter, I complied. What could go wrong?

A day later two homeless gentlemen had an argument over something and used the containers as projectile weapons against each other. My supervisor sent me out to clean the mess with a dose of “I told you so” (apparently this same exact fight happened in the past).

The thing is, your fantasy is usually not enough to envision the ridiculousnes to which features can be abused. For instance, as a fisherman I’ve always had a fantasy of fishing out of a building’s window. When I was taking a cruise around Seattles’s waterfront with my wife, the boat’s guide pointed out the Waterfront hotel, and mentioned that in the past hotel’s management provided fishing rods and tackle in the rooms.

The problem turned out to be not that the clients did not catch fish. The problem was that instead, they caught too many, and left their catch to rot in sinks, toilets and bathtubs. Tired of antisanitary fish carcasses they nixed this feature.

When I came home, I looked up the hotel, and found the bit that the guide left out. This hotel was the place where the infamous Led Zeppelin “mud shark incident” took place. The link is certainly not PG 13, because rockstars, hotel rooms, fish caught out of the window, and groupies is a dangerous mix.

Has a feature that you created ever been mudsharked?


Jaunted to the mythical Isle of Coney with my wife last weekend. And when I say jaunted, I mean took the train, not teleported. Idiots at dictionary dot com say “origin unknown”. Unknown my ass. The term for teleportation (and by extension for quick trip) was invented by Alfred Bester in his sci-fi story “Tiger!Tiger!” and is one of the few words that kind of became a part of English language. Not in the “robot” sort of way, but still.

Here’s my old workstation. And when I say workstation I do not mean computer.

And here’s Coney Island’s famous non-functioning parachute training tower. For some pictures of the tower in use please go over here as I do not own any cool postcards of it.

As a child I remember being scared of a tall towering structure on some beach in Odessa. I wish I could find a picture… It looked nothing like the parachute jump tower, but left me with the same haunting feeling.

The Mystical Isle Of Coney

Wow, I haven’t been to Coney Island in years. Holy crap, just look, look what’s happening there!

The terminal is disassembled, Philips’ Candy Store is gone.

I probably purchased my first candy apple and salt water taffy in America there with hard earned money. I used to pass them by every day when I worked at Nathans. And now I don’t even have a photo of my own to remember it.

Well, on the other hand the new terminal looks pretty cool.

It reminds me of Tesla’s Wardenclyffe building.

Developers! Developers!! Developers!!!

is my favorite Microsoft blogger:

“… When I was interviewing for jobs, I got more questions about the very oldest job on my resume than any other. Interviewers would say “Monkey Boy? You put Monkey Boy on your resume?!”
“Well, sure. I spent a summer in high school in charge of the care and feeding of 120 juvenile new-world monkeys. And I learned plenty that was relevant to the software industry. Like, when someone is being really disagreeable, you can just pin their little arms behind their back with one hand and control the legs with the other. Just keep their teeth away from anything you don’t want bitten.” … “

(full article)

I used to include my job at Nathan’s Famous of Coney Island in my resumes. Coding is just like working in a clam bar — you hands hate you for it.

Bonjurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, Ya Cheese (ok, you know the rest)

From an article called The Problem With the French by Gene Weingarten. Washington Post, Sunday, September 7, 2003; Page W14

… “Well, we like big portions back in the States,” I say, patting my tummy. “I was wondering if you agree that American chefs are better than French chefs because they give you more food.”
Maurice listens to the translation. There is a moment of silence. And then he begins to speak very rapidly.
“He says French chefs make love to their food . . .” Jerome translates.
And American chefs? I ask.
Now Maurice is really elocutionizing. His hands are flying. He appears to be pointing to . . . his derriere. I don’t really have to wait for the translation, but when it arrives, it does not disappoint.
American chefs, he says, make love to the food, too. But in a most unnatural and deviant way.
Voilà. …

They are just jealous that they did not come up with deep fried Oreos.

Little known fact about : during his tenure at Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island sometimes worked at the seafood station, where among other things he deep fried and served frog legs. They taste like something that was breaded and deep fried.

It’s Story Time

This kind of reminded me of an incident from my years of work in the service industry. I used to work in a clam bar of Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island. I never sold hot dogs, opening clams was my specialty.

Anyway, this really drunk guy gets upset over the cost of a half dozen of clams (something to the tune of 12 bucks). But he still wants them. And here’s the twist – he wants them unopened. After asking the manager if it’s ok, I hand over six closed clams. The dude takes a huge Bowie knife and proceeds to try to open them. Of course, he fails at opening even a single one. He puts the knife back in his pocket and lets me open the damn clams for him.

Another time I learned why pint jars with condiments were to be kept behind the counter. I, seeking to improve usability, put them on the counter during my shift, so that the patrons would not have to ask for them. When I looked away, two bums got into an argument and one of them proceeded to throw a jar full of horseradish sauce and a jar full of cocktail sauce at the other.

Now here’s another one from my years as a doorman/porter in a Manhattan building. During one of my night shifts somebody stole a huge (probably two meters tall) potted pine. The pine in question was in a heavy bucket that was chained to the wall. That asshole uprooted the whole thing and dragged the tree for at least ten blocks leaving a trail of dirt. The pine was not recovered. I locked the door and was cleaning the lobby at the time, so nobody really blamed me.

Die Kunst der Rant : Contrapunctus 1

Like everybody else, I am frequently annoyed by waiters, clerks and salespeople. Like all geeks I am a little deficient in the communication department, which makes it harder.

After getting somewhat bad service from a waitress in Blue Note I even suggested to a friend of mine the following idea: a world where waiters are replaced by a computer interface. You study an interactive menu and your orders are transmitted directly to the chef.

Her argument against that was that some waiters are real characters and are really entertaining. And that’s entirely true! Howard Johnson’s in Times Square has a really unique staff of old timers, probably the most polite waiters I met. Waiters at Peter Luger’s are gruff steak experts. Without them the atmosphere would not be the same. On Dave Attel’s Insomniac I’ve seen a late night cheese steak joint where you are expected to curse out the servers and they are expected to answer in kind. It’s not a family restaurant, of course.

But on the other hand, I find ordering in fast food places somewhat tough. The dude in Coffee Connection (Dunkin’ Donuts rip-off) habitually adds milk to my coffee when I ask for cream. More than that, he lies when asked if that’s milk in the coffee. I carry special glucose detector sticks to check if the soda I get brought is really diet (because I am on a low carb diet). Sometimes it isn’t. Many ordering experiences go pretty much as described by J.S. Bach of the Rant, his coolness JWZ. (don’t be lazy, open the link. It’s short and hilarious).

Now, that I can understand. I worked at glorious Nathatns Famous at Coney Island, and I have a really bad short term memory. When you do mind numbing tasks all day remembering even the simplest instructions is very hard. Well, of course the menu was a bit more complex than popcorn and soda and I had to keep track of many more different things, but still…

All you need is a PDA. You get a menu beamed to it before you enter. You select your order. You beam the order to the waiter. When done, you beam the payment. Not a single word needs to be spoken. Ahh, future.