Hoch's device, which weighs about a pound and is the size of an external modem, repeatedly dials a busy number, sounding an alarm when it finally breaks through. And while most telephones include a redial button, the PowerDialer offers a hands-off alternative to hours spent huddled over a phone doing the flash-redial-flash-redial dance. Local telcos also offer repeat redialing (the *66 option), but this service operates slower than the PowerDialer.
As any frequent phoner could attest, repetitious dialing leaves you in a trancelike state where it becomes hard to discern the difference between a busy signal and a ringing line. Last year, I fell into this telephonic K-hole and twice hung up a ringing Ticketmaster line, tragically costing me World Series tickets.
In addition to convenience, Hoch's product is able to redial more quickly than a standard telephone and can also detect a busy signal -- whether it be a "fast busy," a "slow busy" or one of those grating "all circuits are busy" messages -- in a split second, thereby adjusting itself for maximum redialing efficiency. And compared to "wardialer" software used by computer hackers, Hoch said, the PowerDialer is far more technically advanced at detecting the cadences of these various busy signals. "It's super-robust," he noted.
Since inventing the PowerDialer about four years ago, Hoch has sold thousands of units (primarily via his Web site at www.technologyarts.com), with about half purchased by ticket brokers or concertgoers. Other big customers are serial radio-contest entrants and golfers forced to dial for premium tee times at public courses.
While Hoch touts a maximum redial speed of 25 times a minute, a road test of the PowerDialer -- conducted during Ticketmaster's May 22 sale of Bruce Springsteen tickets -- produced an average of 15 redials a minute. But that's all right with me, because the gadget produced results almost immediately.
After a 10-minute setup that saw the unit conduct tests to determine the fastest speeds at which Bell Atlantic could handle redials and how quickly the phone company could provide a new line following a hangup, I unleashed the PowerDialer on Ticketmaster's swamped line. Perched on my kitchen counter, the unit began redialing at 8:55 a.m. Saturday, five minutes before Springsteen tickets went on sale. At 8:58 a.m., the gadget chirped, indicating that it had broken through. The Ticketmaster recording, though, stated that order lines were not yet open.
The machine went back to work and was quickly chirping again. Were I not staring at my Caloric stove's clock, I wouldn't have believed that I was hearing the prerecorded "Thank you for calling Ticketmaster" greeting at precisely 9:01 a.m. After an hour and 15 minutes spent on the phone with an operator ordering the tickets, it took only 25 more minutes for the PowerDialer to get through again.
Yes, thanks to the PowerDialer, I gorged myself on orchestra tickets for multiple shows. But I'm now suffering from survivor's guilt: Why did I get 11th-row seats for one concert when my pal Andrew hammered away unsuccessfully for three-plus hours? Why did I get a pair in the fourth row for another show while poor Miles risked index-finger RSI only to come up empty-handed? I'm hoping to pull myself out of this funk by July 15, opening night of Springsteen's U.S. tour. I have two in the 10th row.
FROM THE KILLJOY FILES
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RUMOR: If you type "I'd like to kill Bill Gates" into some versions of Microsoft Word, highlight the phrase and invoke the thesaurus, the application offers the synonym, "I'll drink to that."
SOURCE: An e-mail in current circulation, detailing the accumulating wealth of the software magnate.
TRUTH: As much as we'd like to imagine code-writing miscreants waging internecine warfare on their nefarious boss, it turns out that "I'd like to kiss Bill Gates" returns the same synonym, as does any phrase beginning with "I'd like." In Redmond, it seems, to desire is to drink.
-- Judith Lewis (with research assistance from Connie Monaghan and Manohla Dargis)