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Do Not Disturb

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The handling of requests for privacy.

This past week, I had business with a client in San Diego. While there, I stayed at the W, a rather nice place to spend a few days.

In the bathroom, a nice supply of towels sat on a shelf. At first, I thought it was nice that the room was not dominated by the zillions of towels that some hotels seem to think their guests will need every day. It then occurred to me that despite being somewhat out of sight, the towels were sufficient for several people for several days. Suddenly, I had a flashback to a rather different hotel experience nearly eleven years earlier.

My obligatory dot-com startup stint was held at Megasoft Online in the early dot-com days, 1996-1997. Aside from our primary business, development and support of software for automated distribution, installation, and management of software, we were engaged in a number of other related activities that largely amounted to ensuring that people would understand what the Web was about and how to take advantage of it.

In November of 1996, we (Megasoft Online) ran a conference called WebWeek '96. The conference made sense. People were just starting to understand that this thing called “the Web” was well on its way to becoming a Big Deal. The idea was to get people from both the business and technology of this industry of Web weavers together, to talk about the work that they were doing, and to share ideas for how to make it even better.

At the conference, I had a variety of responsibilities. My most visible role was in the presentation on Web security. I discussed hardening of operating systems and building applications for untrusted users. Jumping down into the details, I also discussed how technologies like the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) cryptographic protocol and firewalls work to provide secured Web serving environments. It was the first time that I gave a talk that completely packed the room out to standing-room-only. Many of the attendees treated me like a minor celebrity afterward. I also hosted an birds-of-a-feather (BOF) session, that is, a discussion group one evening.

Some of my less-visible duties included helping to run Ethernet cable to get a network up and running inside of the hotel to support the conference, arguing the merits of Lisp over Tcl with John Ellson at the bar, and debugging networking problems between the internal network and the Internet (after being fetched from the bar by a panic-stricken colleague).

Sleep was a luxury that could not be afforded until we were well into the production. Having been up since about five in the morning on Sunday, I finally finished what I needed to do at about six or seven in the morning on Monday. Good news: I could then sleep. Bad news: I could not sleep in the conference hotel as it was quite sold out. Good news: Reb, who managed to sleep that night—his wife Stef noted that he was “a connoisseur of fine sleep”—volunteered to drive me to the hotel where I did have a room.

Unfortunately, the “hotel” turned out to be a motel, whose standard of amenity was radically lower than what I would have hoped. Nevertheless, in the context of a startup business where cash flow is very important, there is plenty of reason to give the nice rooms to the guys paying the bills; certain minor indignities can be endured well enough. If nothing else, they make for good stories later.

But before actually checking into the hotel, Reb and I did what any pair of technical guys would do under the circumstances: had breakfast at the IHOP right next to the motel. The morning seemed officially underway by the time I actually got checked into my room.

Deciding that I really didn't need to have someone clean my room while I was trying to sleep in it, I hung on my room's exterior doorknob a very special sign indeed: Do Not Disturb. I promptly hurled myself headlong into bed where I hoped to be for quite some time.

I awoke to the sound of a loud ring: the telephone in my room was demonstrating its refusal to be caught up with all of that newfangled telephone technology. No electronic ringer here, thank you very much. We've got a nice, loud metal bell inside of this plastic casing! Brrrrrrrrrring! Good morning! Brrrrrrrrrrrring!

Not a particular fan of being violently ripped from deep repose that I figured the previous thirty-two hours of my existence had earned, I had several options available to me. Being utterly delirious, I had no idea what any of them might be. I answered the phone. Someone wanted me to have fresh towels.

“I don't need any, thank you.”

“But I have to give you fresh towels!”

“They are fresh. I haven't used a one.”

“But I've got new ones for you and I can't go home until you get them!”

“Really. I don't want any more. I just got here. I need to sleep. Say, I put out the do-not-disturb sign and everything.”

“I know,” she said. “That's why I called first.”

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-09-12 11:37 PM

missing the point

Posted by lnewton at 2007-09-18 02:19 PM
Calling in lieu of the Do Not Disturb sigh. Hilarious.

John Cage includes a story in his Indeterminacy lecture about attending a lecture where the lecturer began by telling everyone not to take notes. As he proceeded, Cage noticed the young woman sitting next to her furiously taking notes. Cage gently reminded her: "Didn't you hear? He said we should not take notes." "I know," she responded. "I have it right here in my notes."
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