The Bastard Vending Machine

Nasty Cola

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Episode 15 BOFH 2002: Episode 15

I'm a little tired and, I'll admit, cranky after a hefty night with a Slave Trader who was trying to get me to outsource our IT. Admittedly, he for some reason (i.e. The PFY told him) thought I was the HR Manager for the Company,


didn't realise that we outsourced most IT staff anyway. But the truth didn't come up until much later in the piece, by which time we were great mates, so no real harm was done. Except me hurting my knee getting out the window after popping off to the toilet and not coming back, of course....

Well, it was that or get the rather hefty bill...

Anyway, I'm not in the mood for distractions, upset, nor the sound of The PFY beating the living crap out of the vending machine. True, it ate his coins without the customary dumping of a food item with the health potential of ground-zero Chernobyl - but that's not the point.

"It'll fall on you," I warn him, observing The PFY trying the rock and roll approach.

"No it won't - it's got bricks in it for stability!" he responds smugly.

"If they were installed for stability, they wouldn't fill it all the way to the top," I feel compelled to assert.

"You mean they're installed..."

"...as a deterrent, yes. I mean all you'd need is a couple of gruesome fatalities and the word would get around. Even a nasty crush injury or two would do. Before you know it, people start being a bit more careful..."

"I... Oh sure.." The PFY says, doubtfully.

"Right, I'm lying. And yet, they never seem to bolt the machines to the floor - 'for stability' do they?"

"But surely that would be illegal?"

"A fine point. It would be illegal if they made the machines easy to tip over. This way, it's just misadventure - you rocked a machine with a 'Do not rock' warning sign on it. In fact, if the company was progressive thinking, they'd have the word MISADVENTURE embossed in reverse into the front panelling, so the coroner can just read his findings off the forehead of your corpse."

"Well I feel like the thing is out to get me. Anyway, why don't YOU never have any problems with the machines!?!"

"Why? Because my needs are simple, unlike yours and the masses of other automatons out there. Let me show you!"

I wander over to the machine for a demonstration.

"You" I say, indicating the control panel "choose a popular carbonated beverage with the number 12, costing you the princely sum of one pound. Often, instead of getting the bottle of your choice, you will in fact get a bottle of carbonated water - with a flavour that was popular in the late 80s - FOR A DAY - and which the vendor probably has half a warehouse of, which he is slowly selling to the unsuspecting market."

"Yes, I think there's something wrong with the 1 button," The PFY comments, "a debounce thing, so when you press it once, it sometimes presses it twice."

"A button problem, of course!" I respond drily. "The machine sells 14 products and there are 16 keys, including A-F, on the keypad. Theoretically, you could just press one button to get your product. Instead you press two keys, both digits - not a number and a digit - to get your item. And the first key you always press, for every item has a debounce problem. And a product that no-one in their right mind would buy."

"Well it's the key most used," The PFY explains, "which means that it's bound to get some... I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY'D DO THAT TO ME!!"

"They're complete bastards!" I explain. "And you know sometimes, when the machine swallows a coin and doesn't register it - that's built into the ROM as well. It's called the 'Sucker Factor' and is an automatically generated number between 1 and the factory-set limit of 500. When the transaction number comes up, the coin gets swallowed, the number regenerated, and the machine continues as normal - until the new number comes up"

"You're joking!"

"Not at all. Some vendors reduce the transaction number to as low as 100."

"The bastards! But why doesn't someone do something about it?"

"Because most companies have a Service Person who's built like a minibin full of concrete - on legs - who deals with complaints. If they're really pressed, they replace the machine with a facelift model - after reducing the Sucker Factor upper limit number of course."

"Back to my original question - how come you never get stung?"

"Because as I said, my tastes aren't so mundane," I say, slipping five quid into the slot and pressing F F F.

"Bugger me!" The PFY cries, as a cool can of Lager pops out of the slot. "How did you do that?"

"The benefits of having met Stan, the aforementioned Service Person," I respond. "We had a great conversation, where he filled me in on what was what in the world of Vending Machines."

"I think I fancy a lager myself then!" The PFY burbles, slapping five quid down the spout.

"WHAT?! It says it's 10 quid for a lager!!!"

"Yes it doubles in price every time you buy a can."

"The Bastards!"

"Oh no, Stan did that at my request. I mean, if I could get cans for £1.25 continuously, I'd probably drink them all day every day. This provides a negative incentive."

"I wish you'd told me that before I put my money in," The PFY sighs. "Lend us FIVE quid?"

"Sure" I respond, handing over the dosh.

. . . Later that night at a pub in East London . . .

"So I think we can reduce the Sucker Factor limit to 50, only put two of the more popular drinks in at refill time, and don't reset the Lager Price counter till next refill. How's the Nasty Cola going."

"Still six pallets to go," Stan replies.

"Yes, but we're getting there," I say. "We're getting there..." ®

BOFH: The whole shebang

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