Tonight I learned how to sabotage the commercial monitors at Ralph's.
I went shopping for fried egg chili chutney sandwich ingredients. You know, typical grocery expedition. I was waiting in line for someone to stop stocking shelves long enough to notice I wanted to ring out. And I waited. And when I have a poor shopping experience, I generally start thinking about doing some crimes.
I considered walking out with my groceries unpaid for... it wouldn't have been hard with everyone busy, and I doubt I would have been noticed. But I didn't want to brave the possibility of being caught on camera. Normally nobody screens those things, but I was the only customer in the front of the store... so I started messing around with the flat-screen monitor that shows commercials to you while you wait for your groceries to be rung up. Not for the first time.
From previous experience, I knew that pushing the buttons in front did nothing. But since I was unwatched I tried them in various combinations, in case there was some sort of secret reboot sequence. Nothing. I felt around the back and the sides for a switch, and ran my fingers along the two loops of cable (signal and power) which stick out of the screen's armature. The plugs were inaccessible.
After looking again to see if anybody was aware of me, I poked around some more. I saw an oblong lozenge-shaped object tucked into a hinge in the armature. I pulled it out and discovered it was a Lucent wireless modem, attached to the monitor with a square-plug USB cable. Looking down the line, I saw all the monitors had them. Ahh, I thought. I can pull this plug out and the commercials will stop. After looking around again, I unplugged the cable-- the commercials went on. I returned the modem, still unplugged, to its shelf. After a few seconds I discovered what its function was.
I think the wireless modem was an afterthought. It's out in the open, unprotected and unincorporated into the monitor. I think they tested the monitors on an individual basis, and only when a bank of them was installed in a supermarket did they discover the problem which the addition of the modem was meant to correct. For after I unplugged it, this monitor gradually went out of sync with the others, until there was an interesting rolling echo like from a PA system in a featureless concrete room. If someone were to unplug three or four-- or all --of the modems, what you would get is a store full of unfocused echoey gibberish, a phantom sense of movement and illusory spatial relationships, which would unconsciously overwhelm the listener, distracting them from the content of the advertisements and possibly disorienting them. Maybe even make them feel unwell.
Compounding the disorientation would be the pitch differences in the out-of-sync monitors. They like to play a lot of old public-domain cartoons on these monitors, and it would be constant jangling notes each time two monitors of just the wrong pitch synced. The checkout lanes of Ralph's would be like a malevolent funhouse of dissonant carnival Muzak and racing, echoing sound. If someone were to do that. In the disused lanes during the evening when nobody was watching.
On the way home I caught a whiff of strong body odor, and announced, "I smell human" to whoever it was.